Saturday, June 15, 2019

Those People by Louise Candlish

Those People.  Louise Candlish. Penguin Publishing Group.  June, 2019; pb, 368 pp.; ISBN #: 9780451489142.

Lowland Avenue is an upper middle class street in a perfect neighborhood, where the residents get along and cherish the Sunday street rules which ban parking and establish a place where children can draw in the streets, ride bikes, skateboard and all in all play without fear of approaching danger from encroaching transportation.
But the peacefulness and perfection are about to disappear.

For Darren and Jodi, a young couple, move into the neighborhood.  Their noise of blaring rock music at all hours of day and night along with their car business manifest in dozens of cars and vans parked on the lawn and around the street immediately draw the ire and complaints of their neighbors.  Efforts at talking out the problem result in the hurling of foul language and angry diatribes. 

At first there are efforts to band together but it turns out that nothing being done is illegal. But the spreading of the neighborly hate is fast spreading through the internet and yielding some protesting articles in  a local newspaper.  However, all of this turns ugly very fast with no change looming on a street fast moving toward attitudes that could become very dangerous.

Finally, a disaster happens with the collapse of a scaffold for renovations and the death of a resident on the street.  Accusations fly and now it’s hard to figure out who is throwing legitimate protests and threats of a response and what turns out to be another death before the end of this riveting but virulently angry novel.

What is most amazing is how what starts out as a disagreement quickly destroys the peace of home owners, frays the tempers and marriages of some, and elicits a response that becomes criminal. Astonishing and violent story that doesn’t end soon enough!

Natalie Tan's Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim

Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune. Roselle Lim. Penguin Publishing Group.  June 2019. pb, 320 pp.; ISBN: 9781984803252.

Natalie Tan returns home to Chinatown in San Francisco after the death of her mother or Ma-ma.  Her Mom was agoraphobic, never leaving her home until the day she died.  Her grandmother or Laolao was famous for the Chinese restaurant she successfully ran in Chinatown, cooking authentic Chinese dishes that fellow neighbors, families and visitors relished and which they sorely miss.  But the neighborhood is now in a crisis and in danger of disappearing with each bankruptcy or sale that occurs!  Natalie, however, has a rich and audacious dream, an achievable goal albeit fraught with immense challenges!

On opening the restaurant doors, Natalie is struck by the deteriorated condition of the statue of Guanyin, the goddess of mercy and compassion.  Her response? “A revered goddess shouldn’t be treated this way.” It’s clear that Natalie is rejecting her mother’s avid belief in ghosts and demons.  At the same time, a Chinese realtor is banging on the door, intensely and immediately trying to get Natalie to sell the restaurant.  Natalie is made of tougher stuff, although she certainly doesn’t realize it yet. 

Great food with beautiful music makes for a phenomenal combination that makes people, especially Chinese people, happy and successful.  A neighbor gives Natalie a book of Laolao’s recipes – not just any book of recipes but dishes that if cooked just right will bring healing and happiness to the person eating this blessed dish, whether it be of savory dumplings, scallion pancakes, succulent dishes with oysters and so much more.  Natalie also finds a picture of her grandmother and is told a prophecy that Natalie will do the same thing. 

This is the outrageous and oh so beautiful plot of this simple yet profound story, and Natalie sets about making it happen.  For those who are adventurous, the novel also holds recipes of the best of the dishes Natalie prepares.

And to add to the sparkling excitement of this venture is a romantic element for which Natalie is now ready. 

Some might say this is a simplistic story but the ideas behind the preparation of exotic and exquisite dishes, as well as familiar selections, is something desperately needed in these fraught and constantly challenging times.  Roselle Lim gets my vote of confidence for a lovely story that will capture the interest – and appetite – of many, many readers.  Oh, and would love, love, love to see more about Natalie in the future! Happy Reading and Eating because you will be hungry during this memorable read!