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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Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner

When I saw this title come out a year ago, I was hyped. JENNIFER WEINER is a New York Times bestselling author, and I typically find her books engaging and hard to put down. And her newest title, “MRS. EVERYTHING,” does not disappoint. This multigenerational novel that spans six decades is about two sisters and how their lives are altered by the events around them.

Bethie and Jo Kaufman are young girls growing up in Detroit during the 1950s. Younger, beautiful, self-assured Bethie is more easily understood by their mother, as she is drawn to clothes, boys and knows she is destined to be a star; whereas, smart, tomboyish Jo — who much prefers dungarees over a dress and itchy tights — better relates to their father.

It is easy to see that Bethie will grow up, marry her high school sweetheart and mother equally adorable children, while Jo will struggle to find a place where she fits in the world and may eventually — if she is lucky — carve out a path that works for her.

However, these cliched roles do not hold true. Key events transpire that send each girl down much different paths. Jo’s differences give her the need to conform, and she is compelled to live a life untrue to herself for much of her life, while Bethie eventually feels the need to rebel and not walk the path that everyone has laid out for her.

To share more would give away too much of this novel. Throughout, Weiner explores each character’s choices. The novel covers various topics that include the loss of a parent, sexual experimentation and rebellion.

While the novel is predictable at times, it is also compelling. Weiner’s use of alternating chapters, told by each sister, moves the story along and draws in the audience. This double perspective balances the story and creates a richer viewpoint. Readers will want to see what happens in this brilliant tale focused on emotionally tough subjects such as family, hardship, love and loss.

Jeana Gockley is the director of the Joplin Public Library.

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