Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Review: Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro

In Cutting Teeth by Julia Fierro, a motley crew of five families and a nanny from Brooklyn head to a shabby house on Long Island for a long weekend. The parents have largely been thrown together by their children who share music classes and the playground. Personalities abound among the parents as well as the children and those personalities eventually clash as the group spends a weekend in close quarters in the house where they face each other's idiosyncrasies. The parents are most challenged over the weekend, however, when they face their own limitations and insecurities.

 Nicole leads the group to her parents house in Long Island for the weekend. Mother to Wyatt who has his share of behavioral issues, Nicole has a disproportionate anxiety about disasters and her car trunk is stocked with gas masks and non-perishables. Her husband has grown weary of her worries and finds Wyatt challenging at best leaving Nicole feeling very alone. Tiffany leads the music class all the children attend and her daughter, Harper Rose, is a born leader who frequently bullies the other children. Tiffany is too focused on trying to bury her own working class background by helping her daughter achieve and climb socially (at age 3!) that she is oblivious to Harper's poor treatment of the other children. Tiffany is strikingly attractive and used to getting her own way. The daddy in the group, Rip, is father to Hank and a stay-at-home Dad while his wife works at a high-powered job. He desperately wants a second child but is having difficulty convincing his wife to get pregnant again. His resentment of her reluctance to have another child only stokes his attraction to Tiffany which is hard to keep under wraps while they are all together for the weekend.

Allie and Susanna, a lesbian couple, are also no strangers to ambivalence about expanding their family. Susanna is pregnant with their third child but Allie resents the ways in which their lives have changed since having children. She loves their boys Levi and Dash but she also longs for the couple they were before children - she is only along for this trip to the burbs to satisfy her heavily pregnant partner. Leigh, the daughter of a wealthy family, has two children - Chase and Charlotte. Chase is on the spectrum and challenges Leigh every day. In addition to the trials of a child with special needs, Leigh is quietly dealing with financial issues and has gone to great lengths to keep them hidden. All of this pressure is somewhat alleviated by the help offered by her beloved nanny, Tenzin. Tenzin is along for the weekend.

My Thoughts
Through chapters that alternate from parent to parent, this book presents parenthood unvarnished. The parents are inherently flawed and it is a good reminder that parenthood doesn't transform everyone to better, higher human beings. Although all these parents love their children unconditionally, they still grapple with their own insecurities which sometimes cloud their ability to model the best behavior for their children. Tenzin, with limited means and living far away from her own children, is the moral compass for this crew and is able to see truths that the other parents cannot see because they are so wrapped up in their own issues. She offers an excellent balance to a dysfunctional cast of characters.

It takes a special talent to make unlikable characters compelling and that is just what Fierro does in this book. I would like to think I have little in common with these characters and on the surface I probably don't but we all have insecurities and on that level I can relate to these parents. The honesty of this story is refreshing and its use of parental stereotypes is spot on.  Definitely recommend.

Thank you to TLC Booktours for having me on the tour.  You can find links to reviews from others on the tour here.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Review: The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee: After the ultimate betrayal by her husband, Portia Cuthcart flees her proper, wife of a politician life in Texas and takes up residence in the garden level of a NYC townhouse previously owned by and left to her by her aunt. Portia has many fond memories of summers spent there with her Aunt and hopes returning there will bring her some comfort. Practically, she is broke and the inherited townhouse gives her a place to live. Her sisters, also living in NY now, sold their floors of the inherited townhouse to financier Gabriel, who lives upstairs with his two young daughters. Portia's talent for cooking which is tinged with a bit of magic in that she has visions compelling her to cook dishes which turn out to be exactly what someone needs has her tending to the two young girls in no time. As she gets more involved with their family, and especially complicated Gabriel, Portia begins to question why she has tried to suppress her gift.

Portia grew up at the feet of her grandmother who owned a restaurant in Texas called the Glass Kitchen. Like Portia, her grandmother had the gift and could divine what a customer needed before they even understood that they wanted or needed it and why. This ability to provide comfort with food but on a level much deeper than satisfying a craving or physical hunger, kept the restaurant bustling. When her grandmother dies tragically, though, Portia blames the gift and immediately closes the restaurant and attempts to suppress her culinary instincts. By the time she arrives in NY, she is still trying to shut down those instincts but when she meets Gabriel's young daughters, Ariel and Miranda who are so in need of comfort after the recent death of their mother, it becomes more and more difficult to deny cooking what they need and Portia begins to value the unique gift she has to bring people comfort and healing.

My Thoughts
This book successfully brings many themes together - sisterhood, acknowledging and embracing who you are, and transformation achieved through healing. Sprinkle that with some romance and the foodie culture and you have a delightful book. Although I liked Portia as a character, my favorite character was Ariel. As a young girl with the weight of her mother's death on her shoulders, Ariel tries to cope with humor and a precocious way of seeing people for who they really are;  but she is still only a young girl and grappling with so many emotions. I found her funny but also touching and wanted to take of her myself.

I also enjoyed reading about the delicious meals whipped up by Portia. The descriptions were vivid and included all the senses. Beyond that, however, was the description of the experience which was always more of the focus than just the taste of the food or the nourishment it offered. For example:
For a meal to work truly, it must be an experience. From the moment a guest arrives in the Glass Kitchen to the moment they set their napkin down, they must be enchanted. More importantly, the giver of the food must believe that they have the power to enchant. No person, whether she is a scientist or a cook, can find success if she doesn't first believe that she has power in her hands-not to use over people but to use for the good of another. Food, especially, is about giving.
Who wouldn't want to eat a meal prepared by someone with a philosophy like this? The Glass Kitchen transports you into just such a meal many times over.

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