User Reviews

Reviews by Katie M
The Austin Cookbook by Paula Forbes features a wide variety of recipes from Austin’s award-winning, destination food scene. The author says that this book highlights what’s “unique, beloved, and/or especially Texan” about each of the restaurant and food truck recipes in the book, and I would agree. It’s a cookbook filled with detailed information about its recipes with lots of Texas recipe and restaurant history sprinkled throughout.

This book may not be meant as a quick weeknight meal book, but these recipes are attainable. Because many of the recipes are restaurant recipes, with a focus on developing flavors, some have multiple steps or components as part of the recipe and might take some time to put together. I tried the Lentil Chili, Buttermilk Pie, and the Jalapeno Cheese Grits and all came out great and were easy to make. As someone who grew up eating authentic Tex-Mex, the book covers many of the classics, with a variety of recipes for enchiladas, queso and margaritas, but also features “New Austin Classics,” with modern food and drink recipes, like the popular Beet Fries from East Side King and the Grilled Quail with Green Mole from Lenoir. Some other recipes that I plan to try are the savory Everything Bagel Kolache, the Salted Brown Butter and Dark Chocolate Pecan Cookies and the Grapefruit Salsa.

I think this book is ideal for anyone homesick for Austin, craving some Bob Armstrong Dip or Central Texas-Style Smoked Brisket, or interested in reading more about the current Austin food scene.
Refuge
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Dina Nayeri’s novel, Refuge, focuses on a father-daughter relationship after part of the family flees Iran in the 1980’s.

Dr. Bahman Hamidi’s wife and children leave Iran for the United States, while he chooses to remain, tied to his life, love of home, and an opium addiction. As Bahman’s daughter, Niloofar (Niloo), transforms into an overachieving Westerner, and eventually a European transplant in Amsterdam, the story follows her relationship with her father, as they interact during sporadic visits. Nayeri explores their intimate family relationship during these visits, as well as the cultural differences and changes that occur over the decades, to the members of the family, and in Iran and the world, through the lens of Bahman, as an Iranian citizen, and Niloo, as an Iranian refugee.

I found this book insightful, thoughtful and threaded with relatable humor, as Nayeri captures the complicated roles that time and place play in the idea of “home,” while maintaining characters and storylines that are candid and realistic. Nayeri skillfully writes about the conflicts facing refugees of all nationalities in Europe, as well as the interconnected role of family relationships and the refugee identity. This is a well-written, poignant book for those who enjoy literary fiction and who want to learn more about contemporary Iranian experiences.
Bikur Ha-Tizmoret: The Band's Visit
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The Broadway musical, The Band’s Visit, based on the 2007 Israeli film, Bikur Ha-Tizmoret, won ten Tony awards earlier this month, prompting my interest in the movie.

The movie follows an Egyptian police band that has booked a performance at an Arab cultural center in Petah Tikva, but end up in the wrong town, (fictional) Bet Hatika, in the middle of the Negev Desert. When there is no transportation out of the city that day, and no hotels for them to spend the night, the eight male band members, through a fortuitous encounter with a café owner, are taken in for the evening by different people throughout the town. The situations that ensue highlight relationships built by finding common ground.

This has been described as a quiet film, and I would agree. It is a sweet charmer about a group of people, who meet under unusual circumstances, and experience life together over the course of one night. There is no great narrative or major action, but it is a lovely, and sometimes funny, story about the human experience.

For those who enjoy well-reviewed, award-winning independent and foreign films.
Everything Is Horrible And Wonderful : A Tragicomic Memoir Of Genius, Heroin, Love, And Loss by Stephanie Wittels Wachs is the author’s absorbing account about coping with the death of her brother, Harris Wittels, from a heroin overdose. The book spans the few years between the time that the family learns of Harris’ substance addiction, to the year after his death, and details their attempt to make sense of everything. Stephanie openly discusses how concurrent to Harris’ addiction, she gives birth to a baby with a permanent hearing disability, and writes about the emotional stress of these parallel events.

Stephanie is unflinchingly honest in this memoir, and with her background in education and performance, her audiobook narration is a real standout. I listened on Hoopla, and highly recommend the audio format of the book, as the story, in her voice, is powerful; it’s tender and evocative and her love for her brother and her family is potent.

This is one of those books where you’ll laugh and you'll cry – the humor can be dry and quirky and laugh-out-loud funny (Harris was a professional comedy writer) and the tragic moments incredibly dark – but part of the strength of the story is this concurrent thread of humor and sadness. This book is for those who like modern memoirs, and anyone interested in reading a detailed personal account about addiction and grief, told through the lens of a candid, close-knit family.
White Tears
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Hari Kunzru is the award-winning author of five novels and a short story collection; his most recent book, White Tears, was a PEN/Jean Stein Book Award finalist and listed on many Best of 2017 lists. I picked it up after seeing it on the list of finalists for the community read for New York City and found it to be compelling, haunting and original.

Described by the publisher as “a literary thriller and a meditation on art–who owns it, who can consume it, and who profits from it,” it centers around two college friends, Seth and Carter, who start a music production business, with a focus on serving artists who want their music to sound authentically timeworn, like the old blues vinyl they obsessively collect. One day, Seth discovers he’s recorded an unknown blues singer in a park and Carter puts the file online, where he claims it’s an old recording by a made-up musician named Charlie Shaw. In action-packed and dramatic fashion, both young men find themselves in over their heads, to great consequence, after a music collector tells them their recording is genuine.

The book has a strong start, becomes confusing and a bit muddled at its climax, only to finish in a shocking, if not completely unexpected, manner. Overall, this is a well-written, thought-provoking and timely novel that looks at cultural appropriation and power in American culture head-on. I recommend it to those interested in modern literary fiction or noir mysteries.

 
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6.012 Patron-Generated Content

04/27/2011
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