Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: January 11-15, 2021

The Great Gatsby

A Graphic Novel Adaptation

Book Cover
F. Scott Fitzgerald
K Woodman-Maynard, illustrator
Hardcover $24.99 (240pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

K. Woodman-Maynard adapts F. Scott Fitzgerald’s classic into a gorgeous graphic novel. Set in 1922 New York, the story follows Nick Carroway, a young man who’s come to New York to get into the bond business. He reconnects with his cousin Daisy and her wealthy husband Tom, and soon meets Jay Gatsby, a mysterious former suitor of Daisy’s who has also grown rich and is determined to win Daisy back.

The original’s themes of obsession, deception, reinvention, and the dissatisfactions of the wealthy are all captured in this adaptation. But the graphic novel has its own distinct style, helping to elaborate on those themes—and on the characters. Every part of the book, no matter how minor, is crafted to better convey the world of Gatsby and company. The text is set in typical word balloons, but also in a distinct, ornate balloon pattern that’s personal to Daisy, emphasizing her sometimes ethereal, sometimes flighty nature. Nick’s narration is placed along sidewalks or on buildings, and the chapters are marked in a perfect, period-accurate Art Deco lettering.

The book’s painted watercolors summon the decadence of the Gilded Age and offer their own powerful and creative images, like a depiction of Gatsby’s house made of cards and falling apart to match a description in the text, or a scene where Daisy floats into a room as if an “anchored balloon.” The Great Gatsby is a faithful version of Fitzgerald’s story, with new insights that come from the merging of the written word and graphic arts—the mark of a successful adaptation.

PETER DABBENE (December 27, 2020)

All That We Carried

Book Cover
Erin Bartels
Hardcover $29.99 (368pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

In Erin Bartels’s novel All That We Carried, two sisters undertake a hiking trip that’s fraught with perils.

The Greene sisters have been estranged for a decade, ever since their parents were killed in an automobile accident and Melanie chose to forgive the person responsible for the deaths. When Melanie convinces Olivia to join her on a trip to the Porcupine Mountains, the women carry more than just their backpacks into Michigan’s wilderness.

The tension between Melanie and Olivia combines with the tension of them dealing with the challenges of the wild. The novel is taut and engaging as the sisters meet disasters, one after the other. Their accidents cause additional friction, although they help one another through each ordeal. A fisherman, Josh, shows up when he’s most needed, assisting the sisters as they navigate the remainder of their trip.

As the sisters are tested physically, they also debate God’s existence, with Josh contributing to these religious exchanges. After their parents’ deaths, Olivia no longer believes in a benevolent God, while Melanie’s beliefs are a smorgasbord, with Christian elements included. Their mutual assessment of their differing religious stances helps to bring them closer to understanding one another and themselves.

Bartels’s descriptions of the Upper Peninsula’s natural wonders and beauty are vibrant, encompassing trails, rivers, lakes, and waterfalls with in-the-moment details. Lake Superior is depicted as powerful, while the image of a divided waterfall becomes a metaphor for the issues that the sisters face. While not all of their problems are resolved by the end of their trip, they attain spiritual growth and needed maturation because of their grueling experiences.

In the novel All That We Carried, troubled sisters take a challenging trip into the wilderness.

JILL BEAUCHAMP (December 27, 2020)

The Double Happiness Cookbook

88 Feel-Good Recipes and Food Stories

Book Cover
Trevor Lui
Figure 1 Publishing
Hardcover $32.99 (240pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Accomplished chef Trevor Lui shares delectable, Asian-inspired recipes in his inventive The Double Happiness Cookbook.

These recipes, which break the bounds of cuisine and culture, begin with Lui’s story. He grew up as a first-generation Canadian with Chinese parents, and spent hours of his youth in a commercial kitchen. Many years later, he declared himself a “food guy.” Lui knows that there are strong connections between food and identity, and each recipe names its own influences and inspiration.

Beginning with a list of pantry essentials that explains ingredients like sambal oelek and doubanjiang paste for those who are unfamiliar, the book makes use of generally available items. For Western-style cooks, this will be a vital primer. Dozens of creative dishes with international influences are then organized by type. The book’s street snacks section includes small bites that are packed with flavor, and its sections on family style dishes and cooking with friends, which includes recipes from other chefs, emphasize the social element of cooking and eating.

While fusion food may seem too cliche, these recipes show the beauty of cultural melding. They include Mexican-Asian delights, like Bulgogi Beef Tostadas and Guacamame (edamame guacamole). But they also exhibit true reverence for their culinary roots, with classics like tea eggs and egg drop soup. Recipes are marked when they are gluten-free, dairy-free, or vegetarian; variations are suggested for taste and dietary needs.

Like eating, this book is a multisensory experience. Its photographs are vibrant, and there’s even a kitchen playlist. Between sections, the book includes personal stories and reflections on the dishes and the art of cooking, all packed with pop culture references. Helpful sidebars on the finer points of flavor, like a sidebar on garnishes, also factor in.

The Double Happiness Cookbook celebrates both cooking and culture.

MELISSA WUSKE (December 27, 2020)

Roger and Matthew

Book Cover
Michel Thériault
Magali Ben, illustrator
Fitzhenry & Whiteside
Hardcover $18.95 (24pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Renowned singer-songwriter Michel Thériault channels his lyrical talent into this picture book about two childhood friends falling in love and growing old together, despite threats to their happiness. Earth tones blend with the ruby red of a bluebird’s breast and the roof of the men’s lakeside home in intimate watercolor illustrations, the sparse words placed organically within them. An ode to the quiet constancy of love, Roger and Matthew knocks on the doors of our hearts and invites conversations.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (December 27, 2020)

At the Edge of the Haight

Book Cover
Katherine Seligman
Algonquin Books
Hardcover $26.95 (304pp)
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Unsparing but sympathetic, and with journalistic details, At the Edge of the Haight begins on an ominous note: a young runaway, Maddy, and her rambunctious dog, Root, happen upon a dying man in Golden Gate Park. A stranger threatens to harm Maddy if she identifies him. But while the dead man and the stranger suggest a mystery story, Katherine Seligman’s novel has broader intentions. It focuses on Maddy’s trials as part of San Francisco’s large homeless population, and is an intense, personal drama about wayward lives positioned between redemption and disaster.

Told from Maddy’s point of view, At the Edge of the Haight travels to places of the City by the Bay that few have seen: abandoned flats, chaotic shelters, and secluded encampments in parks and hills. Forever on the move, Maddy and her homeless friends scrounge for food and shelter while staying one step ahead of belligerent drug dealers and intimidating police officers. These downtrodden characters act like many families do: they bicker, drift together and apart, and find room for love and compassion.

While the central mystery about the dead man generates some tension, the novel’s true suspense lies in whether Maddy has the inner resources, or even the desire, to escape the life that she’s fallen into. She first refuses the help of the dead man’s family, who offer her friendship, but is later forced to choose between her uncertain present and the unknown future. Her realizations about what it truly means to be free are undeniable in their emotional pull. Putting a human face on those who live at society’s margins, At the Edge of the Haight is an intimate novel whose young characters struggle for survival and a little bit of dignity.

HO LIN (December 27, 2020)

Barbara Hodge

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