Eat Joy: Stories & Comfort Food from 31 Celebrated Writers, Natalie Eve Garrett

Eat-Joy-CoverI absolutely love the concept behind Eat Joy. Food — and often, the act of preparing it — brings more than mere physical nourishment. It brings memories, emotions, and often a strong, ineffable bond of connection.

As a physical object, the book is also beautiful. It’s the kind of book I’d see in a store and purchase as a gift for food lovers in my life, especially since it’s somewhat more unusual than the typical cookbook gift item.

However, I didn’t love this book as much as I thought I would. I’m a fairly quick reader, but it took me almost three full months to finish the book, and I almost gave up on it at times. As with any anthology, some stories were more engaging than others, and some recipes more mouthwatering.

Mostly, I think I failed to connect with this book because of the expectations I had coming in. With a title like Eat Joy and a concept like personal stories about comfort food, I expected the collection to be a celebration of food, and of the connections that food can foster within communities. I expected loving descriptions of the act of making food, and delicious recipes that make me long for home and for the people I love.

Instead, I found the book pretty bleak, and the food almost secondary, even an afterthought in some of the stories. The stories explore themes such as loss, loneliness and heartbreak. And while some of the recipes were interesting (I loved Lev Grossman’s General Tso tofu), other stories featured recipes like Duncan Hines brownie mix. This may be true-to-life — in times of sorrow, sometimes packaged brownie mix is the best source of comfort — but it’s a bit of a letdown in a food book.

That being said, one of my favourite stories — ‘A Grain of Comfort’ by Edwidge Danticat — features a bowl of steamed white rice. Edwidge Danticat writes about one of the last meals she had with her father, when he was too weak to eat anything richer than plain white rice, and the story almost made me cry.

I also really liked the first story, ‘Leaves’ by Diana Abu-Jaber, about how food is one of the ways in which children of immigrants try to honour their parents’ homelands. Diana talks about her family’s recipes, and the questions around how much she can play with the flavours while still keeping the taste of her parents’ home alive. Her writing is beautiful, and I related so hard to her story.

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Thank you to Publishers Group Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | The Opposite of Falling Apart, Micah Good

OppositeOfFallingApartThe Opposite of Falling Apart is a sweet story of friendship and romance. While the main character Brennan and Jonas were certainly attracted to each other, the story felt very much more about them finding comfort and belonging with each other than actually falling in love.

Brennan’s anxiety felt incredibly real — Good does a great job in making us feel just how terrifying it is for Brennan to do seemingly mundane tasks like going to the grocery. I especially love how Good takes us into Brennan’s head whenever she meets Jonas and feels incredibly awkward around him. Even though we as readers can tell that her words and actions aren’t as cringeworthy as she believes, we cringe along with her anyway, because her feelings are real.

Jonas was a bit tougher for me to warm up to, especially as a romantic hero. I found his flirting to be more arrogant than charming, and he was sometimes a jerk to his mom. That being said, I liked how real his PTSD felt whenever he had to get in a car — he lost one of his legs in a car accident, and there’s a scene near the beginning where he had to drive somewhere and almost had a panic attack.

Both teens’ self-consciousness over their respective conditions — Brennan with her anxiety and Jonas with his missing leg — also felt realistic. I love how sensitive Brennan and Jonas were to each other’s needs, and how they often understood what the other was going through even before the other teen was willing to open up about it. For example, Brennan was incredibly self-conscious over her anxiety, and worried that Jonas would judge her if he knew about it, when the truth was that Jonas could sense her worry about certain situations and so he’d do things to make her more comfortable. Brennan also helped Jonas practice walking with his prosthetic leg, and did so in a way that was encouraging but also not pressuring / judging. Both teens are vulnerable in their own ways, and I love how they made each other feel comfortable and accepted for who they are in their entirety, vulnerabilities and all.

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Thank you to Raincoast Books for an advance reading copy in exchange for an honest review.

 

Review | Of Curses and Kisses (St Rossetta’s Academy 1), Sandhya Menon

OfCursesAndKissesI’m such a huge fan of Sandhya Menon’s Dimple and Rishi series, so when I saw she was doing a contemporary boarding school spin on Beauty and the Beast, I was beyond ready to fall in love with her writing again.

I wanted to get swept away. Unfortunately, I couldn’t lose myself in this story enough to do so.

Of Curses and Kisses had the difficult task of straddling a super fine line between fairy tale and reality, and it didn’t quite succeed in that. It was too much of a realistic contemporary to buy into some of the more fairy tale-ish elements: Grey believing in the family curse and Jaya thinking there’s literally no other option but to marry a family friend she doesn’t love.

But the fairy tale elements were also so integral to the story that it was hard to get super invested in it either as a fully realistic story. For example, I was concerned about the hints of Catelina possibly having an eating disorder because of her heartbreak, but then I’d be pulled out of it by Grey’s worry over dying on his 18th birthday because of the curse. The characters themselves were skeptical of the curse — Jaya insisted it wasn’t true, and Grey knew it was illogical — yet the story took the possibility of Grey’s impending death so seriously that it was hard to figure out how to feel.

Some stories succeed at keeping the reader off-balance in a good way, so that you’re eager to see what the truth turns out to be. Here, I just felt like it was a fancy boarding school story (like Gossip Girl, maybe?) with Beauty and the Beast references crammed in. Even Jaya and Grey’s snowball fight, with its almost frame-by-frame reference to the scene from the Disney movie, made me laugh at the forced parallel rather than get all giddy with the flirtation. And Jaya and her girl classmates descend a long staircase to their dates for a dance, because of course we need that fairy tale glamour.

The ending is really cute and heartwarming, and I like how the curse unfolded in the end. I also enjoyed meeting the cast of characters at the Academy, and can imagine all the forthcoming romances blossoming among them. I just wish this book had had more of the kind of magic that made me full in love so hard with the Dimple and Rishi series.

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Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an egalley of this book in exchange for an honest review.