Foreword Reviews

Book of the Day Roundup: October 17-21, 2022

Mamacita

Recipes Celebrating Life as a Mexican Immigrant in America

Book Cover
Andrea Pons
Princeton Architectural Press
Hardcover $29.95 (192pp)
978-1-64896-171-7
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Immigrant Andrea Pons’s vibrant cookbook Mamacita gathers the dishes that helped her to maintain a strong sense of culture while she was away from her first home.

Noting that Mexican life “revolves around the next meal,” Pons’s cookbook includes dishes to fill the whole day, stretching from long mornings into late night snacks. It includes Mexican cuisine staples alongside fresh modern plates. Both are garnished with fascinating stories about their cultural and family roots.

Pons discusses the Aztec origins of guacamole, the regal roots of pozole, the way that aguachile is “a road map to the history of Mexican culture,” and the patriotic but anachronistic origin story of stuffed peppers in walnut sauce with pomegranate seeds—a visual evocation of Mexico’s current flag. There are no taco recipes herein—“if you want to eat a taco like a Mexican immigrant, you don’t need a recipe,” Pons winks.

Elsewhere, family tales—of hikes through Mexico’s hills; of how chicken bouillon powder tastes like home; of warm family feasts replete with chilled delicacies in dry months; and of gossiping while rolling tamales—exemplify Pons’s maxim that “there is no better feeling than showing you love someone by making them a meal.” The crave-worthy dishes that she walks her audience through include papaya with mint; prickly pear and yogurt, spiced up with Tajin; and cold cucumber soup with mint and dill, for those hot summer months. There are corn cakes that pair equally well with savory pork accouterments and morning coffee, and desserts including melon with white wine and bananas in cream.

“Cooking these dishes was an act of self-love,” Pons says, in a place where she was told she could never fit in. Her story, paired with her accessible recipes for cultural favorites and future classics, makes Mamacita a welcoming introduction to home cooking Mexican cuisine.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (August 27, 2022)

Singer Distance

Book Cover
Ethan Chatagnier
Tin House
Hardcover $27.95
978-1-953534-43-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Singer Distance is an exquisite first contact novel in which interplanetary communications expose the infinite and infinitesimal distances between human hearts.

At the close of the nineteenth century, scientists carved out a rudimentary greeting to Mars in the Tunisian desert. It was an audacious project that produced immediate rewards: Martians responded, in the language of math. Blue equations lit up Mars’s surface, beginning with arithmetic and proceeding to more complex proofs. Einstein was the last to nod a theorem to Mars in the Arizona desert; the Martian response stumped Earth’s greatest scientific minds for decades after. Until Crystal. The precocious MIT student thinks she’s finally decoded the message.

In the 1960s, Crystal heads out into the desert with four colleagues, including her doting fiancé, Rick, who is enchanted by scientific wonders, even when their nuances elude him. Their team hopes to jar Earthling-Martian communications back to life. When the Martian surface beams out a reply, their credentials are sealed—as is Crystal’s fame. Hoping to decode one more level of the Martian language, but needing peace to do so, she slips from the grasp of her Stanford post-doc—and from her future with Rick.

Directed by scientific and mathematical wonder, a sense of the poetry of the universe and its untapped dimensions, and by the searing yearning of committed love: Singer Distance is the most piquing and arresting science fiction novel in recent memory. It poses questions about entropy, metaphysics, and humanity’s place among the stars alongside explorations of the bonds between people, which it renders just as pertinent. Its turns are both intelligent and magical, and its surprises are heartbreaking and boundary-testing. As Rick, Crystal, and their ever-inquisitive colleagues learn after painful seasons of searching: true communication, even on interplanetary and interspecies scales, requires art and heart, just as much as it does ingenuity.

MICHELLE ANNE SCHINGLER (August 27, 2022)

The Journey of Marcel Grob

Book Cover
Philippe Collin
Sébastien Goethals, author, illustrator
Dead Reckoning
Softcover $27.95 (192pp)
978-1-68247-821-9
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

A soldier with the German SS during World War II is confronted about his involvement sixty-five years later in the gripping graphic novel The Journey of Marcel Grob.

Marcel is an eighty-three-year-old retired engineer when he faces a formal inquiry into his conduct during World War II. Through a series of extended flashbacks, Marcel’s experiences during the war are shown, beginning with his being drafted into the Waffen SS, which he accepted in order to protect his family from the retribution that he feared would have followed had he refused. Grob struggles to balance survival and morality in a war wherein civilians are murdered with little explanation, and wherein any refusal to follow orders risks a death sentence—or worse. Through him, historical events like the Massacre of Marzabotto in Italy are seen from a new perspective.

Marcel was Philippe Collin’s great uncle; the story’s primary source is Marcel’s personal archive. This results in an intimate viewpoint of the internal and external conflicts involved in serving a cause that one doesn’t support. The prose is excellent at providing context for Marcel’s experiences, and a section of short informational essays by historian Christian Ingrao results in wider understandings of the people, organizations, and events depicted. The artwork is vital or subdued, as needed, and the images give another dimension to the story’s horror and immediacy.

The Journey of Marcel Grob is an unforgettable account of World War II, its consequences, and the impossible decisions that were faced within its grasp.

PETER DABBENE (August 27, 2022)

Breathing Lake Superior

Book Cover
Ron Rindo
Brick Mantel Books
Softcover $19.95 (252pp)
978-1-956897-11-1
Buy: Local Bookstore (IndieBound), Amazon

In Ron Rindo’s gripping novel Breathing Lake Superior, a grieving man goes on a troubled religious odyssey.

Sixteen-year-old John lives in suburban Milwaukee with his mother and stepfather, Anna and Cal, and his stepsister, JJ. David, the adored baby of his family, seems to possess a special aura. He’s the one sibling “biologically linked to both parents,” and his surprise conception defied his father’s vasectomy.

Despite being a blended family, the group experiences minimal conflict. Anna is nurturing and protective, JJ exhibits general teenage rebelliousness, John is intelligent and insightful, and David spreads joy and constructs Lego mini-masterpieces. But when David drowns at the local pool during the summer of 1999, his family is overwhelmed by shock and sadness. Cal, in particular, veers into a deep depression. And then Cal’s despondency turns to spiritual fervor. He insists that he, Anna, John, and JJ move upstate to an abandoned farm near Lake Superior, where he builds the New Eden Church of God with Signs Following.

Though the novel begins with deceptive complacency, the events following Cal’s conversion spiral into gradual madness. His manic behavior endangers the family’s emotional and physical well-being. They endure life on a failing farm without electricity or plumbing. Even supportive Anna struggles to comprehend her husband’s actions.

As Cal’s church becomes more established, he develops distinctive charisma. His initial sermons are admirable, advocating for charity, direct action, and the rejection of “braggy” materialism. Passionate and committed, Cal even seems to be able to perform faith healings. Cal’s subsequent visions, however, lead to chaos, as he changes from a former teacher inspired to preach God’s word to a gun-toting zealot.

Amid wondrous descriptions of rural, seasonal beauty, the novel Breathing Lake Superior examines moments of intimacy, love, and humor against a formidable biblical background.

MEG NOLA (August 27, 2022)

The Story of the Hundred Promises

Book Cover
Neil Cochrane
Forest Avenue Press
Softcover $18.00 (400pp)
978-1-942436-51-5
Buy: Local Bookstore (Bookshop), Amazon

Touted as “a loose retelling of Beauty and the Beast,” Neil Cochrane’s The Story of the Hundred Promises blends fairy tale magic with unabashed “queer optimism.”

After ten years, trans sailor Darragh thought he’d left the pain of his exile behind him. He built a new community among people who love and accept him as he is. When his sister urges him to reconcile with their ailing father before he dies, however, memories of his bitter departure return in force.

Determined to find a path to true reconciliation rather than just assuage their shared guilt, Darragh goes in search of the enchanter who helped him become his true self. He hopes to heal his father and give them both the time they need. But no one but Darragh has seen the enchanter for centuries, and the stories that persist suggest that someone far less benevolent than Darragh remembers.

Multiple fairy tale references weave into the novel, lending their magical touch. But the book’s true magic lies in its close studies of Darragh and his allies. Darragh’s purpose for undertaking his quest is clear, if complex; others’ motives are slow to reveal themselves and defy assumptions. Here, heroes face peril not in search of power or wealth, but to find purpose and redemption. Questions around generational trauma and the burden of forgiveness arise; quiet, soulful, and philosophical Darragh’s struggles are resonant.

The prose is accessible while maintaining a lyrical quality befitting the fairy tales it draws from. This is most evident in the lush descriptions of natural settings, which come complete with enchanted silver trees; menacing, thorn-wrapped vines; and a wise, albeit cryptic, fox.

A trans- and queer-fronted fantasy novel infused with fairy tale magic, The Story of the Hundred Promises reflects love in all its forms.

DANIELLE BALLANTYNE (August 27, 2022)

Barbara Hodge

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