Tag Archive for: jgockley

Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Diana O’Toole has her life completely mapped out – educational aspirations, career goals, engagement and marriage plans, timeline for kids, when to move out of the city to the suburbs – but when the COVID-19 pandemic hits things start to become unpredictable and move far beyond Diana’s control. 

First, her new high-profile client decides to postpone a big art sale, one that would have earned Diana a big promotion at Sotheby’s, the large auction house where she works.  Second, her boyfriend Finn, a surgical resident at a hospital in New York, is unable to go on a pre-planned trip to the Galapagos with Diana because all medical personnel are needed at the hospital.  Since it is very early days in the 2020 pandemic timeline, the couple have no idea how bad things will soon get, but Finn encourages Diana to go ahead with the trip, solo.  

Apprehensively she does, but things continue to be unpredictable.  First, her luggage is lost, then as soon as she arrives at the island, it is placed under a quarantine order, and will close for two week.  All other tourists are leaving the island, trying to catch flights home, but Diana, committed to taking this once in a lifetime trip, gets off the ferry only to quickly discover that her hotel is closed and she has no place to stay.  

Fortunately for Diana, a local woman named Abuelita, takes pity on her and puts her up in a small apartment, but Diana’s stay continues to be a difficult one.  She has to navigate an unfamiliar town, where most everything is closed, lack of cell phone or internet service, and a language barrier.  She is forced to abandon all her pre-made plans, and not only try new things, but create some local connections. These connections turn out to be life changing for Diana and she is soon evaluating her former life with a more critical eye and wondering how things will be when she returns home.

Since reading Jodi Picoult’s mega hit MY SISTER’S KEEPER, I have been a big fan. This newest addition to her extensive title list is excellent. It is the only title that I have read so far that is written in the present day, with the pandemic as a central focus of the plot. Plus, readers are sure to appreciate the author’s attention to detail and the amount of time she must have spent researching the various topics to create a cohesive, believable tale. 

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A Knock at Midnight by Brittany K Barnett

I had the pleasure of getting to hear lawyer, criminal justice reform advocate, and author Brittany K. Barnett speak at the 2022 Public Library Association Conference in Portland, Oregon, in March.  She was one of the conference’s “Big Ideas” speakers.  Speakers that were invited to share information and ideas that would take the 4,000+ conference members outside of their comfort zones.  

I had not heard of Barnett before, but after her noteworthy, moving speech, I will not soon forget her.  I was so inspired by the content of her talk that I just finished reading her book, A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT

A KNOCK AT MIDNIGHT is Barnett’s story, but also one of others who have greatly impacted her life. Barnett grew up in Texas, the daughter of a loving mother, but one that struggled with addiction. Struggled so much that she ended up going to prison because of it.  Barnett uses the first part of the book to share this deeply personal story and the lasting effect that it has had on her and her family.   

Despite her mother’s addiction, or maybe because of the trials associated with it, Barnett had big dreams. Since childhood she dreamed of being a lawyer, like Clair Huxtable, the only lawyer she “knew” who looked like her, but her path took her to the world of banking and finance first, but eventually, she attended law school.  

Her plan was to become a corporate lawyer; however, while in law school she took a class where she studied legal injustices, and became familiar with the Sharanda Jones case.

Sharanda Jones was a young entrepreneur, in her early twenties, when she became a casualty of America’s War on Drugs campaign and sentencing disparities. In what she and her attorney, thought was an easily won case, due to a lack of evidence, she was convicted to serve life in prison without parole. 

In researching Jones’ case, Barnett saw herself in the young woman. In fact, if circumstances were different, she thought she could have been Jones.  It soon became her mission to do everything she could to get Jones released from prison.  So in addition to working as a busy corporate lawyer during the day, she started working tirelessly on Jones’ case, pro bono, in her limited free time.

And soon, it was not only Jones that Barnett was trying to help; she had a group of people who had been harshly or wrongly convicted of drug-related offenses. All of which involved sentencing disparities. 

Barnett’s book is a powerful work. Devastating and difficult to read, because it is told in such a manner that readers get to intimately know Barnett and the individuals that she works with so closely. These individuals become just more than names on a page or numbers assigned to a prison system. They become someone’s parent, someone’s child, or someone’s friend.  And if like me,  readers will be shocked upon understanding the sentencing disparity between those individuals sentenced for crack cocaine and powder cocaine drug offenses. Barnett’s debut memoir is a must read.

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Ready, Set, Cook: How to Make Good Food with What’s on Hand by Dawn Perry

I usually leave reviewing cookbooks to the talented Lisa Brown, who has a much more worldly palate than I, but I have checked out “READY, SET, COOK: HOW TO MAKE GOOD FOOD WITH WHAT’S ON HAND” at least once a month since we added it to the collection in December, so I just had to share my enthusiasm for it.

DAWN PERRY, the creator of this cookbook, is a genius. Simple, delicious foods that you can make with items you have on hand. I have found only one other cookbook that I think accomplishes this well. I am sure there are more, but my pantry and refrigerator staples are usually pretty limited. I hate finding a new recipe I want to try, but I need to buy two new sauces and five new ingredients, all of which will sit in my pantry or in my refrigerator after I have made the new dish and just take up space. Not the case with “Ready, Set, Cook.”

Easily laid out and not overwhelming to new or less than enthusiastic cooks like me, the book has three sections. Part One: What to Buy; Part Two: What to Make; and Part Three: What to Cook. They are each colorful, with many pictures and large clear fonts that help draw the reader in. Perry has a casual way of writing that includes loads of tips and tricks.

In part one, she talks about where to start, what to stock and how to organize it. I had most of the items that she recommends as cupboard staples — oils, rice, onions, garlic, pasta, beans, dried spices and honey — and all but a couple of the refrigerator staples. She finishes the chapter talking about organization and equipment.

In part two, her focus is building a collection of homemade staples for your pantry and refrigerator. This includes how to make meatballs, flatbreads, pie dough, sauces and cooked vegetables.

I did not spend much time here — just read through quickly, as I wanted to move on to part three to see what I could manage to whip up for breakfast or dinner.

Part three is mapped out in this order: breakfast, salads and veggies, starchy sides (my favorite kind), main things, afterthoughts, snacks and a couple of drinks, and sweets. I love the versatility of Perry’s recipes. She gives you a recipe for things such as muffins, yogurt parfaits, salad, bread and boiled potatoes, but then provides five variations for each one to easily mix it up.

The Afterthoughts section is devoted to lessening food waste. According to Perry, “leftovers need to be made over.” I love this idea. I made the “Office Bowls” from this section. They are, at their simplest, grain or rice bowls with a few veggies and dressing, but so easy to put together that most anyone can handle it using leftovers and pantry or refrigerator items. Plus, there are six variations and the photographs are so helpful in visualizing what you are making.

Speaking of the photographs, this is my favorite element of the book. Large, colorful images that showcase the food. But unlike some cookbooks they do not feel overly staged or complicated. A simple white plate with food on it, sometimes arranged less than neatly, is the highlight.

I highly recommend this cookbook. Especially to anyone who is busy but still wants to put together a home-cooked meal. Perry has done much of the heavy lifting here. She has created and shared 125 recipes that will hopefully make your mealtime more streamlined and your palette happier.

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Meet Me in Paradise by Libby Hubscher

Marin Cole is not a risk taker.  When she was seventeen the death of her mother caused her to alter her lifelong dream of becoming a globetrotting journalist, like her mother had been, to instead become a responsible caregiver to her twelve year old sister Sadie.  

Years later, Marin has grown into a homebody who has never seen the ocean or climbed a mountain, much less traveled to an island paradise. But all of that is about to change.  

Sadie, her younger, thrill-seeking photographer sister returns home from a trip to China looking worse for wear and manages to convince Marin they need a trip together.  They are soon booked for a girls trip to the beautiful, remote island of Saba.  Marin thinks it will be the perfect opportunity to convince her free spirited sister to settle down and start working at the same advertising agency that Marin works for in Tennessee. Little does Marin know that Sadie has other plans.  

The big day arrives and Marin is headed to Saba, only Sadie is nowhere to be found.  Thanks to turbulence, Marin ends up in the lap of a handsome stranger, mixes up her luggage with another passenger, and loses her passport; all before arriving in Saba.  Once arrived she does her best to book it right back home, but without a passport that is difficult.  She has little choice but to accept the generosity of the handsome stranger from the plane and try some new experiences.

At first glance this book seems like your typical fun, breezy romance.  Clueless uptight girl, handsome mystery man, island getaway; all the usual elements set to combine into a perfect beach read to soak up the rays with, but there is more to this book than meets the eye.

Divulging Sadie’s plan and motives would spoil the book, but thanks to it Marin is able to take the trip of a lifetime and in the process learns so much about herself.  Hubscher has crafted a funny, clever, and at times, gut wrenching tale.  Readers are in for a special experience as they travel alongside Marin.

Favorite Reads of 2021

As we kick off a new year, I like to reflect on what I have read during the previous year.  And for the third year in a row, I kept track of the books I read, for a grand total of 30. That is down a little from last year, but I started several things that I read half way through and then quit reading, so I am still pretty happy with it. 

Of those thirty titles, I would like to tell you about a few of my favorites.  Below are my top eight picks, in no particular order:

THIS IS HOW IT ALWAYS IS by Laurie Frankel – Upon finishing this book, I knew it was going to be my top pick for 2021 – BEST BOOK OF THE YEAR!  And really, truly it is.  It is the story of a family – Penn, Rosie, Roo, Ben, Rigel, Orion, and Claudie Walsh-Adams.  With five boys Penn and Rosie barely have a spare minute, but they are caring, thoughtful parents who encourage their children to be independent thinkers, dreamers, and ultimately, whoever they want to be.  This is no different with their youngest, Claude, even when he wants to wear dresses, carry a purse, and play with Barbies.  They have always told him, and his siblings, they can grow up to be whoever they want to be; and what Claude wants most is to be a girl.  Penn and Rosie support this, but they struggle with how to help Claude transition to Poppy and keep her safe.  At its simplest this book is about a family that has to make some tough decisions as they grow, learn, and support each other, but really it is so much more thanks to Frankel’s beautiful writing and accessible storytelling style. The way she frames and tells the story made this book extra special to me. It really spoke to my heart. Do not miss this one, it is powerful.

THE FIREKEEPERS DAUGHTER by Angeline Boulley – Boulley’s debut novel has been getting noticed all year – from numerous starred reviews to high acclaim on best book lists to having the production rights purchased by High Ground the Obama’s movie company.  The buzz is real! Marketed as a title for older teens, but with much crossover appeal for adults, it is the story of Daunis Fontaine, a girl who has never felt like she fits in.  On one side she has her native, firekeeper heritage and on the other her white, French heritage; she has always felt like an outsider in both worlds.  She navigates this with the help of her best friend Lily, but after Lily is murdered Daunis finds herself at the center of an FBI investigation focusing on exposing the drug trade in her hometown and on the reservation.   Complicating things further is a new-to-town, hockey-playing hottie and unanswered questions about her uncle’s recent death.  I could not put this book down and highly recommend it. Not only was the mystery/thriller elements compelling, but Boulley’s spotlight on Native American culture was a highlight. This book is a gem. 

THE GUNCLE by Steven Rowley – Despite the serious themes of this book – loss, death and grief – I smile every time I think of it.  Much of my smile has to do with Rowley’s ability to create well drawn, flawed, yet loveable characters, but it also with the upbeat, fun nature of the book.  Patrick, or GUP (gay Uncle Pat) for short has been hiding out from his former actor life in Palms Springs, but his life is quickly changed when his nine-year-old niece Maisie and six-year-old nephew Grant come to stay with him temporarily, after they suffer a huge lose. GUP is not used to having kids around full time, however, the time he spends with them gives each of them, including GUP, exactly what they need to heal and grow.  This book is the perfect combination of a light beach read and something with a hint of seriousness. It is a treat! 

MAC B KID SPY: MAC UNDERCOVER” by Mac Barnett – This is one of my favorite series to read with my son.  We were introduced to it when he participated in a virtual children’s book club sponsored by the Joplin Public Library.  One of the talented staff members recorded herself reading the book in four separate segments and then shared the videos with the kids on a weekly basis. We both loved listening to her narrate the clever, humorous book that is set in the late 80s.  Kids learn about Gameboys, the KGB and the Queen of England’s love of corgis. It is a blast from the past with full color illustrations. It is most appropriate for children in grades 2 to 5, but with an adult reading it aloud definitely fun for the whole family. 

A SONG OF FIRE & ICE Series (Books 1 – 5) by George R. R. Martin – I had the pleasure of listening to all five books over the course of 2021 – A Game of Thrones, A Clash of Kings, A Storm or Swords, A Feast for Crows, and A Dance with Dragons – and they were all excellent. I LOVED this epic series!  I will not give much detail since the popular Showtime series made them so well known, but will say, this is a series for readers who like a well built new world, knights, castles, bloody battles, plot twists, and dragons.  It is a big investment of time, and your friends will wonder why you are canceling plans to stay home and read; yes, they are that good, but so worth it. I just hope Martin releases the final two books in the series soon so I do not have to read the series all over again to remember what happened. But wait, maybe that would not be so bad, since they are so good.

PROJECT HAIL MARY by Andy Weir –  I wrote a full review for this one in September, but could not pass up a chance to mention this book again.  This well-crafted, science fiction that reads like an adventure tale should not be missed.  The book’s main character Ryland Grace is on a mission to save Earth; however, when he wakes up aboard a spacecraft in outer space, he has no idea where he is, much less, why he is there.  He cannot even remember his own name, but as he begins to explore his surroundings, parts of his memory slowly return.  He soon realizes he has been left to deal with a monumental task – figuring out how to save Earth from a parasite species that is killing the sun. Weir creates an engaging and compelling story that spans genres – science fiction, adventure, and mystery fans will all find elements they enjoy.  I highly recommend this one.  

PEOPLE WE MEET ON VACATION by Emily Henry – I am always down for a good beach read and this one was right up my alley.  Poppy and Alex have been friends for 12 years.  Seemingly they have little in common; Poppy is always looking for a good time and Alex is more introverted, but over one fateful summer they bonded, became great friends, and have been taking a special summer vacation together ever since.  Except last year, something happened that made things weird, ruined everything, and caused the friends to stop talking.  Poppy is looking for an opportunity to get the pair back together and she soon finds it in the form of Alex’s brother’s wedding in Palms Springs.  I had read Emily Henry’s previous book, BEACH READ, and really liked it, but this one is even better.  The characters are well drawn and the story seems more plausible. This book made me laugh out loud several times. Poppy and Alex both have a wickedly sarcastic sense of humor and the writing of their dialog is so good.

NEWS OF THE WORLD by Paulette Jiles – I missed this one when it first came out several years ago, but I am sure glad I found it this year.   Set in 1870, Captain Kidd has been tasked with returning a ten-year-old rescued captive girl to her relatives in southern Texas. The journey is over 400 miles through wild, dangerous territory and the girl does not remember how to speak English and only wants to escape back to her adopted native family.  To say Captain Kidd has his hands full is an understatement.  Jiles is a masterful storyteller and gets to the heart of the matter with sparse, but powerful narrative. Her character development and description of the land and people make this story shine. Short and compelling; readers will be hard pressed to not finish this Western in a single sitting. 

Thanks for taking the time to share in my reflection and reading about my favorites.  I wish you a wonderful new year of reading! 

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

Have you ever gotten a book recommendation that was so good you could not wait to tell everyone else about the book? This is that book! This epic multigenerational story draws you in and pretty soon the characters feel like your family and friends.

I love multigenerational tales – The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See and Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi are two of my favorites. While reading Pachinko, I joked with the person who recommended it to me, that I could barely live my life. All I wanted to do was read the book. It was so compelling that I could not wait to see what happened next.

The novel, set in Korea, starts in 1910, and focuses on a family who runs a boarding house in a small village by the ocean. This couple has only one son, Hoonie, who was born with a cleft palate and twisted leg, but manages to survive childhood and grow into a dependable son who makes his parents proud. Hoonie eventually takes over the boarding house with the help of his wife, Yangjin, and the couple have a daughter named Sunja.

As a naïve, sheltered teenager, Sunja makes a mistake. She meets and falls in love with a much older, Korean man. Unbeknownst to her, he is already married to a Japanese woman and when Sunja becomes pregnant, he offers to take care of her as his Korean mistress. Sunja refuses, and thus, starts a family-centered tale that readers will be unable to put down.

After Sunja’s rejection of Hansu, an unusual and timely solution is provided for her situation, and soon she is on her way to Japan to start a new life. Over the course of the next several years she deals with many struggles. She and her children and grandchildren endure harsh discrimination, financial troubles and have their lives impacted by world events, but despite the hardships, Sunja’s life has love and friendship, and raising her children brings her much joy.

I am not sure how I missed this captivating book when it was first released four years ago, but if you have not read it, I highly recommend it. Min Jin Lee has created a beautiful, enthralling tale of family. The characters are well written, flaws and all, and the setting and use of world events creates a strong, thought provoking novel.

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Project Hail Mary by Anthony Weir

“PROJECT HAIL MARY‘s” main character Ryland Grace is on a mission to save Earth; however, when he wakes up aboard a spacecraft in outer space, he has no idea where he is, much less why he is there. He cannot even remember his own name. Quickly, he manages to figure out that he has been sleeping for a long time and is still alive thanks to being cared for by a highly specialized robotics system.

As he begins to explore the ship, he discovers that he was not always alone. His two roommates did not make it through the voyage, they are mere husks in their sleeping chambers. Also, as he explores, parts of his memory slowly return, but only in bits and pieces. He soon realizes he has been left to deal with a monumental task — figuring out how to save Earth from a parasite species that is killing the sun.

As he gets to work on this problem, he continues to regain some of his memory, but more importantly, he realizes that he might not have to solve this problem alone.

Technically, “Project Hail Mary” is science fiction, but it reads more like an adventure story. Fiction lovers will almost certainly enjoy it. The author does a great job telling the story in alternating scenes from the present-day action to flashbacks. Bit by bit, the history of the main character is revealed — just the right amount per page. Readers will not have a full picture of how or why Ryland Grace ended up in space until toward the end of the novel, but they will know just enough to make them want to keep turning the pages.

This is not author ANDY WEIR‘s first time writing a compelling and believable science fiction story. In fact, he’s the bestselling author who rose to fame in 2014 for penning “The Martian,” which was later turned into a blockbuster movie.

I was so impressed with Weir’s “The Martian” that I thought he might have a hard time creating something just as good. After reading it, I am happy to say that my fears were completely unfounded. His latest offering is just as good as the first, maybe even better. Weir is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.

Readers will be left in awe of his grasp of physics, engineering, mechanics and outer space. It is mind blowing how much math and scientific knowledge is packed into this one book. More impressive is his ability to create a story using all these technical elements and still make it interesting for a broad readership.

Weir creates an engaging and compelling plot by including unique and entertaining elements and he has great storytelling timing. He knows how to share a story and build suspense, all while making readers identify and empathize with the characters. Thanks to the excellent character development I periodically find myself thinking about “my friend” Ryland Grace and his quest to save planet Earth. I highly recommend this one.

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The Art of Gathering by Priya Parker

”THE ART OF GATHERING” is PRIYA PARKER‘s gift to those wanting to put together a successful and memorable gathering. She has used her years of field work to create a guide for planning and hosting more authentic and people-centered gatherings.

According to Parker, gathering “is the conscious bringing together of people for a reason” and she feels event planners and hosts have a responsibility to think outside the box and create something meaningful and unforgettable. She believes that the “way a group is gathered determines what happens in it and how successful it is; the little design choices you make can help your gathering soar.”

What makes this book special is Parker’s unique experience. She is an expert in conflict resolution and has planned events for leaders from around the world, so she has had a lot of practice in bringing people together. In this one-of-a-kind offering, she translates her passion around gathering into eight concise chapters that teach the reader the highlights of gathering.

To say Parker is a frequent host is an understatement. She is almost always planning an event or is being invited to a gathering. This allows her to give numerous examples of successful events and, more importantly, examples of lackluster or failed gathering. She talks frequently of what parts of her gatherings have not been successful and the things she has done to remedy the issues either during the gathering or at future gatherings. Readers can tell that she is constantly observing all the gatherings she attends for ideas and ways to strengthen her own events.


Chapters are focused on such topics as:

1. Determining if a gathering is necessary.

2. Being selective during the invite process.

3. Being a generous host.

4. Creating a temporary world for guests

5. Logistics are not the way to start an event

6. Being vulnerable both as a host and an attendee

7. Creating a little controversy can make some gatherings more interesting.

8. Ending the gathering in an appropriate way.


Key takeaways for me:

• The event is not the be all, end all. Start “priming” guests well before any gathering. Parker suggests naming the gathering in a way that suggests expectations, and reaching out between the invitation and the gathering.

• Create an alternate world (it can be simple, with ground rules that exist only during the gathering) and welcome guests across a “threshold” into that newly created world.

• Logistics should not be covered first. Her chapter title, “Never Start a Funeral With Logistics” and the example of the funeral director giving parking instructions while people are weeping for their loved one, further drives this point home.

• Foster authenticity and vulnerability among guests; hosts should help lead the way with their own vulnerability.

• A gathering’s final moments “should be authentic” and hosts should prepare their guests for reentering the real world after the gathering is finished.

The only chapter that I struggled with was “Creating a little controversy can make some gatherings more interesting.” In this chapter, Parker talks about incorporating “good controversy” into gatherings. While we often hear other experts saying we should not air our differences of thought on certain subjects, such as politics and religion, at gatherings, Parker disagrees. She does not advocate talking about hot button topics willy-nilly and writes that they need to be “designed for and given structure” with a plan for adding some “heat” to gatherings without letting them “burn up in flames.” And the end goal must be worth the discomfort the controversy brings.

She shares several examples of incorporating “good controversy,” with the most interesting being a “cage match” style debate session for a design firm she was working with. This controversy added a fun, passionate and helpful element to the gathering and in turn helped the participants make a pivotal work decision that they had been dancing around. It was her ability to plan for and manage the controversy that made it work. This might be harder for inexperienced hosts, which is why I may have struggled with this chapter.

As a whole, Parker has created a well-written and compelling guide. As I work to plan gatherings, I find myself thinking about her book and what she would suggest for each element. I am eager to continue to practice her suggestions and make the gatherings I am a part of more authentic and distinctive. This book is a must read for anyone planning a gathering — weddings, meetings, conferences, funerals, birthday parties, dinners, etc. No matter the size or scope of the event, there is something for everyone.

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The Chicken Sisters by KJ Dell’Antonia

When I heard of this book — “THE CHICKEN SISTERS” by KJ DELL’ANTONIA — thanks to Pittsburg (Kansas) Public Library’s “Chickenstock” campaign, I was intrigued. I had eaten at both Kansas restaurants — Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s — and loved the idea of basing a book on a rivalry between two local restaurants, even if it was very loosely based.

Sisters Mimi and Frannie used to operate a restaurant together in Merinac, Kansas, but when Frannie met and married Frank, they split off and opened their own restaurant. Fast forward three generations, both restaurants are still in operation. Chicken Mimi’s and Chicken Frannie’s both claim they serve the best fried chicken in Kansas. Today, Chicken Mimi’s is operated by Barbara Moore, and Chicken Frannie’s is operated by Amanda Pogociello, Barbara’s daughter, and Amanda’s mother-in-law Nancy Pogociello.

Amanda has lived in Merinac her whole life. She grew up working for her mom at Chicken Mimi’s, but when she met, fell in love with and married Frank Pogociello, she was no longer welcome at her mother’s restaurant. She’s been part of the Chicken Frannie’s operation ever since. Her two teenage kids, Gus and Frankie, and her mother-in-law are her world. Though she has had dreams of going to art school, after her husband and father-in-law both died, she did not feel like she could follow her dreams.

It is this restlessness that inspires Amanda to reach out to “Food Wars,” a restaurant competition reality television show that awards the winner $100,000. Things get even more interesting after Barbara only agrees to participate if Amanda’s sister, Mae, comes to support her during the competition.

Mae Moore has been away in New York City, working to make a name for herself in television thanks to her skills as an organizing expert. She is ambitious, and few know she is from a tiny town in Kansas. She has even told her husband that Merinac is a suburb of Kansas City. But after her latest foray into television falls through, helping her mom with “Food Wars” seems like a good idea to keep her brand and name in the forefront. Soon she, her two kids and her nanny are on their way to Merinac.

The television cameras bring out the competitors on both sides. Amanda is soon doing and saying things that will place Chicken Frannie’s as the front-runner, and Mae is quick to respond with her own antics. Family friends are soon involved, and thanks to the scheming “Food Wars” host, the competition is shaping up to be a heated one. Soon, the families will have to decide what is more important: winning or their relationship.

Dell’Antonia’s book was a New York Times bestseller and a Reese Whiterspoon’s book club pick and it is no wonder. It is a fun story. Dell’Antonia crafts a beautiful tale of family rivalry, sprinkled with secrets, love and mystery.

The characters are well developed with everyone’s flaws and strengths on full display at different points in the tale. It is sure to leave readers wanting to take the short drive to Kansas to pick up some fried chicken from Chicken Mary’s and Chicken Annie’s for a taste-off of their own.

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Moxie by Jennifer Mathieu

A couple of months ago I saw a Netflix trailer for a movie called “Moxie.” It was set to be released on March 3, 2021. Looking further, I discovered that it was a book. Exciting news, so I placed it on hold, determined to read it before I watched the movie.

A bit of background before starting the review — the young adult novel “MOXIE” was published in 2017 by JENNIFER MATHIEU, and comedian Amy Poehler, who is also the director of the Netflix movie, is quoted on the cover of the book as saying, “Moxie” is sweet, funny, and fierce. Read this and then join the fight.”

Quiet, dependable, rule-following Vivian Carter has had enough of her small town high school’s tendency to support male football players over anyone else. The football players, especially principal’s son and quarterback Mitchell Wilson, get away with treating the girls at East Rockport High as second class citizens. Mitchell and his buddies continually harass Vivian’s classmates and friends, and despite complaints from the female students to the school’s administration, they are never disciplined, punished or even corrected.

The school administration’s lack of support for the females at the school shows through in the form of surprise dress code checks focused completely on the females, not doing anything about hallway and classroom harassment, and hosting expensive pep rallies for an average football team, while the winning girls’ soccer team wears dated uniforms and gets little recognition.

Inspired by her mom’s Riot Grrrl past and a box of paraphernalia labeled “My Misspent Youth” that she discovers in the attic, Vivian creates a zine that she is soon distributing, anonymously, from the restrooms at East Rockport High. Her first call to action is mild, with a request to decorate hands with stars and hearts, but after continued harassment, Vivian and Moxie supporters put an ambitious call forward that has the principal threatening suspensions for anyone participating.

Poehler’s book cover quote is accurate, Moxie is “sweet, funny, and fierce.” Vivian’s character is hard not to like, even when she’s acting like a stereotypical, hard-to-understand teenager. Her growth through the story is marked and interesting to follow. As is that of her friends, mom — all those around her. While she is the lead in the book, there are many strong supporting characters and Mathieu does a good job developing their personalities. It is a good introduction for teens to the topics of female empowerment, zine creation, and the Riot Grrrl movement of the ‘90s.

About the movie — I did watch it after I finished the book, but as is my usual experience with book-to-movie offerings, it was not my favorite. I liked the book so much better.

It must be hard to translate a book into film and keep all the fun things about it. I do not envy screenwriters and directors this challenge. They changed a lot of the original storyline — the calls to action, who was the top administrator, even how the zines were created — and I am not sure why. I do not feel like the changes made the film any more interesting, but I was probably too focused on the changes to really enjoy it.

I will say though, the movie props were great — I loved Vivian’s room decorations — and the diversity of the cast was refreshing.

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