Memoirs

Book Review: Notes From A Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi

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I first knew about Onwuachi when he was a contestant on Top Chef. I was excited to see a Nigerian name on such a global scale, even though I was confused that his first name was not. Even though I was rooting for him, I was a bit disappointed that he didn’t seem to embrace his Nigerian side fully and even the judges told him he needed to find a point of view. I say this to say, my knowledge of him via the show made me form a not so keen  opinion of him especially now that he is the executive chef of the widely popular Kith/Kin which fully embraces Nigerian cuisine with a flair.

Onwuachi tells us about his life growing up in the Bronx to a Nigerian father and Louisiana mom. The marriage was not a good one and his parents split. Onwuachi suffered physical abuse from his dad (who overall just sounded like a horrible man). His love of cooking stemmed from his mother who was a caterer. He never told his mom about how his dad beat him up and instead acted out which led to his mom sending him to Nigeria to be with his grandfather. This was a short section but had a major impact on him. He connected with his grandfather who told him stories of his ancestors and he learned about Nigerian dishes.

By the time he made it back to America, he had forgotten all the lessons he had learned and started rolling with the wrong crowd. Onwuachi tells us how he got involved with gangs and dealing drugs. He didn’t last long in college and feeling lost on his mother’s couch he got a cooking job on a boat which started his rise in a career as a chef.

So I will admit, I pegged Onwuachi wrong. So wrong. I had a better understanding of why he was the way he was on Top Chef. While addressing the racism he has encountered in his career he mentions how a producer told him that America was not ready for a black chef who did fine dining.

I always say the best ingredient for a memoir is being open. I originally wanted to say that Onwuachi was open because he was about his life although he mentioned nothing about his personal life until the end when there was a random mention of a fiancee. He had no qualms mentioning names including a racist chef in a Michelin star restaurant. He was very detailed about the rise and fall of his restaurant Shaw Bijou within months. I feel like I got a good sense of who he was and who he is. I thoroughly enjoyed the flow and how it was written.

I was disappointed that the book didn’t extend to how Kith & Kin was borne. Another thing that irked me was that every chapter included a recipe and during the Nigeria section he kept calling Egusi soup, Egusi stew and I cringed every time I heard it.

Overall, I really liked this one. Onwuachi’s unwavering belief in himself was palpable and motivational. He is not humble about it and is very confident in his abilities and what he can do, which is a much needed quality for a black man in America, regardless of your field. It was a quick read that you would easily find yourself immersed in.

Taynement

Book Related Topics

Our 2020 Reading Goals + Giveaway Winner!

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Leggy:

Happy New Year, everybody! Hope the holidays treated you well and you got to spend time with people you love and who love you back! Last year was such a busy work year for me that I barely completed my Goodreads reading challenge. I set my goal for 70 books and read exactly 70 books. One of reasons I continue to set number of books goals is that it pushes me to turn to reading when life gets busy instead of just turning to my TV screen . This year my Goodreads challenge will still be set at 70 books as it has been for the past 3 years because it is a number I feel comfortable with but as usual, I’ll try to always do better. We’ll see!

I had two big reading goals last year, both of which I failed miserably at.

1. I was supposed to read more self help books and actually try to apply them – didn’t read more self help, therefore failed woefully at applying any new principles.

2. I was supposed to finish Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I picked up this book from the bookstore, read 100 pages, raved about it on twitter, stopped reading it for a bit and then never came back to it.

This year, I’m going to finish Anna Karenina and that’s the only reading goal I’m setting this year!

Taynement:

Taynement did not have a good reading year in 2019. You are probably tired of hearing this. I take responsibility into why this is the case and maybe because just like Leggy, I failed miserably in my goals. I know there are people who look down on people having goals, much less reading goals but it helps me focus and like Leggy said helps me do better with my reading life. I tend to read books I otherwise might not have.

Last year, I had a goal of 35 books and actually thought I didn’t meet it as I did not count books I started and did not finish due to being uninterested (a good habit I picked up last year). I ended up with 37. I read quite a number of memoirs (a fact I found interesting, I definitely didn’t set out to do that) and I answered my question from last year’s goal wondering how audio books would fare. I definitely read more audio books. I think life got too hectic for me to sit and get into an actual book. Following a goal of reading 3 books by the same author let me know that I am not a Curtis Sittenfeld fan. I did try to read a classic and started Little Women but never got to finish. Yay for trying?

Well this year, I reduced my goal to 30 because the year is already looking like it will be something. I honestly don’t know if I have any different goals. I want to diversify my genres. I am always envious of how vast Leggy’s tastes span. When I deviated from my old faithful, fiction and read Malcolm Gladwell’s Talking to Strangers, I really liked that so I should put it out here that this is the year I make it a goal to finally read Red Rising, the fantasy book that Leggy has been trying to make me read. I should probably start reading synopsis and this will inform better choices in my reading. I intend to read books that I have seen on 2019 Best Of lists repeatedly and see which I agree with.

Wish me luck!

AND NOW WHAT YOU ARE HERE FOR!

THE WINNER OF THE GIVEAWAY IS…

 

 

 

 

 

CURIOUSSHE!

Congratulations!!! Send us a DM on our twitter page and we will follow up with you on next steps on receiving a book of your choice.

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR EVERYBODY!

LEGGY & TAYNEMENT

 

 

 

 

Book Related Topics

Our Best and Worst Books of 2019 + Holiday Giveaway!

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It is kind of crazy that we have somehow reached the end of the year again. With it comes our annual mention of the best and worst books we read this year (You can see last year’s here). In addition, and in lieu of the holiday spirit, we will also be doing a giveaway as a thank you to all our readers for supporting us this year. Rules of the giveaway will be at the end of our best/worst list. Be sure to read and enter and good luck!!!

Taynement’s Best:

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I struggled this year, reading wise. I didn’t read a lot of books that really tickled my fancy and I hope I have better luck next year. The best book I read this year was Trevor Noah’s “Born a Crime” but it was a back list I read later, so I didn’t think it qualified so then, my favorite book this year was Daisy Jones & The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid. You can find my thoughts on it here. It is also being adapted to a tv series with Riley Keough as lead.

Other favorites:

  • Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar by Cheryl Strayed (Review here)
  • Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane (Review here)
  • Notes from a Young Black Chef by Kwame Onwuachi
  • The Farm by Joanne Ramos (Review here)

 

Leggy’s Best:

A Woman Is No Man

The best book I read this year, hands down – A Woman Is No Man by Etaf Rum and you can read my full thoughts on it here. The day I read this book, I told Tayne that it would be my best book of the year and here we are at the end of the year and nothing has knocked it off.

Other favorites:

  • The Rage of Dragons by Evan Winters (This was my favorite fantasy read of the year. Full review here)
  • The Flatshare by Betty O’Leary (Favorite romance of the year, full review here)
  • The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead (Full review here)

 

 

Taynement’s worst:

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Absolutely terrible book. Terrible writing. Terrible retelling. This book propelled me to be serious about dropping a book if it is not doing it for me. You can find my review on it here.

Leggy’s Worst:

Waiting for Tom Hanks (Waiting for Tom Hanks, #1)

Hands down, the worst book I read this year was Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey. I’ve never met a more annoying and delusional heroine in my entire life and I’ve read some pretty out there romance. You can read my full review here. I also gave this book one star on good reads.

GIVEAWAY

Okay so the rules are simple – Leave a comment listing your favorite and worst book of the year and interact with us on twitter (@2nightstands) or instagram (nightstands2). Whether it’s a like, retweet, comment, repost – your choice. We will announce the winner when we return next year and the winner gets to have the book of their choice purchased for them. Easy peasy!

Happy Holidays!!!

Taynement & Leggy

Book Related Topics

‘Tis The Season – Gift Ideas For The Book Lovers In Your Life

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It’s officially Christmas season. The malls are packed, you can play Christmas music without being judged and the decorations are up. Finding gifts for the book lovers in your life can be tough, so we’re going to give you some ideas on what to get!

Subscriptions:

Everyone knows about Audible, Book of the Month and Scribd which are amazing services and you should definitely consider it but we want to introduce you to some cool literary services like

  • Owl Crate – This is a subscription service for young adults and people who enjoy YA books. Not only do you get a new YA book every month but you also get really amazing bookish accessories too! It’s $29.99 per month.
  • Bawdy Bookworms – This is for the romance readers in your life and the price is quite steep ($44.95 a month)! This subscription box is definitely exclusive for adults because you get one steamy romance book and a couple sexy adult surprises. If the book lover in your life only likes closed door romances then this is not the box for them but otherwise, go wild!
  • My Thrill Club – This is for the thrill readers in your life. Do they enjoy thrillers, horror, mysteries? They’ll love this box! For just $18.99 a month, My Thrill Club sends you 2 books, an e book and a few extra surprises every month. This is such a great bang for your buck!

Cookbooks:

There were so many great cookbooks out this year and it’s easy to figure out which one the book lover in your life already has.

Some of our favorites this year:

  • The Pioneer Woman Cooks : The New Frontier by Ree Drummond
  • Cali’flour Kitchen by Amy Lacey (one of the few healthy and plant based cookbook, I didn’t find annoying!)
  • Life is a Party by David Burtka (Husband of Neil Patrick Harris)
  • Midnight Chicken by Ella Risbridger (This is the cookbook I’m personally getting myself this Christmas! – Leggy)

Also, you can find stocking stuffer cook books for Keto, Air Fryer and Instapot recipes online or at your nearest local bookstore! (images appear bigger than they really are, they are really bite sized)

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Coffee Table Books:

I can’t wait to grow up, actually decorate my apartment and get a coffee table book for my living room. Anyway, these are our recs for the holiday!

  • The Rihanna Book by Rihanna – A visual autobiography of the star’s life
  • 21 Nights by Prince -(This includes the book and a CD)
  • Black is Beautiful by Kwame Brathwaite
  • The NASA Archives: 60 Years in Space by Andrew Chaikin and Piers Bizony

Stocking Stuffers:

All the bits and bobs you can gift the book lovers in your life!

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Good Old Books:

It’s hard to find someone the perfect book especially when it’s a gift. You have to find out what they enjoyed, what they didn’t and the genre they’re usually most comfortable in and then hope they don’t already have whatever book you come up with.

We have a lot of recommendations on the blog and you just have to search the genre tags to see what we thought of whatever book you’re considering. Celebrity memoirs from people they are fans of,  is always a safe bet. Also, getting them books on subject matters they’re actually interested in.

Some general book recs that are not already on our blog are:

  • Movies (And Other Things) by Shea Serrano
  • Game of Thrones: A Guide to Westeros and Beyond, The Complete Series by Myles McNutt
  • I’ll Be There for You: The One About Friends by Kelsey Miller
  • The Complete Novels of Jane Austen
  • Michelle Obama: Her Essential Wisdom edited by Carol Kelly-Gangi

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Giving back (Bonus):

The Stacks Podcast is currently doing a book drive that will benefit the kids of Rocketship Delta Prep in California. The students in this school come from extreme poverty and rarely ever have access to actual, hardcover or paperback books, most of their books are photocopied. This Book drive strives to provide these kids with an amazing Christmas present. They have a book list received from some of the teachers and are asking people to buy at least one book each! Also, you automatically get entered into a giveaway by participating in this book drive. You can read all about it here!

This was a fun post to curate for us and we really hope you find something your loved ones will truly enjoy. If all else fails and you can’t decide what to get, you can always fall back on a good ol’ trusted gift card, so they can get whatever they want for themselves. Happy shopping and hope you have a lovely holiday season!

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Leggy & Taynement

 

Chick-Lit, Fiction

Book Review: The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

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“Being nice is a good thing. You can be strong and nice. You don’t have to be one or the other.”

Tiffy just broke up with her boyfriend and needs to move out from their shared flat ASAP,  but living in London on an assistant editor salary is no joke. She finds an ad in the paper asking for a flatshare. Leon works nights as a nurse in a hospice and needs the extra money, so he decides to rent out his flat for the time he isn’t there. He offers Tiffy the apartment from 6pm to 9am. They never have to meet and it’s temporary – just for 6 months. Leon’s no-nonsense girlfriend Kay handles the transaction, thus ensuring Tiffy and Leon don’t even meet during the lease signing. And since Leon will be spending weekends with Kay, there’s no reason for any interaction. What starts as Tiffy leaving a note to remind Leon to leave the toilet seat down turns into a correspondence between friends. The two interact via post-it notes and memos, which grow from basic requests to much more personal conversations.

“…there is no saving of people–people can only save themselves. The best you can do is help when they’re ready.”

The best types of books are books that absolutely surprise you when you have little or no expectations at all. This book checked out to me and I had no memory of even requesting it from my library but I didn’t have anything else to read so I downloaded it and gave it a go. I absolutely adored this book. It’s fun but very well written and manages to deal with some serious topics like gaslighting, emotional abuse, false incarceration, friendship, family etc. I really like romance novels where the people involved build a friendship first, it made their coming together seem so logical and authentic. There was no love at first sight here and the two individuals were fully developed human beings who had real life problems. It was so amazing to see how they supported each other through their life struggles even before anything romantic occurred.

“My dad likes to say, ‘Life is never simple’. This is one of his favorite aphorisms.
I actually think it’s incorrect. Life is often simple, but you don’t notice how simple it was until it gets incredibly complicated, like how you never feel grateful for being well until you’re ill, or how you never appreciate your tights drawer until you rip a pair and have no spares.”

Beth O’Leary writes a captivating novel that shines thanks to her stellar characterization. You cannot help but fall for Tiffy and Leon, and the brilliant supporting cast of Richie (Leon’s brother), Gerty, Mo and Rachel (all Tiffy’s friends). Even Leon’s patients at the hospice are so endearing and show how much of a wonderful nurse Leon is, even though he is a man of few words. His patients’ love for him makes it easy for readers to fall absolutely in love with him and seeing him root for them and vice versa, was fantastic to read.

This book was absolutely lovely and charming and made me happy. I like books that don’t pretend to be more than what they are and what they are is done really well. It was a typical rom-com that didn’t pretend to be anything lofty and that’s exactly what I wanted from it. I gave this book 4 stars on Goodreads and this is hands down my favorite romance book of the year.

 

Leggy

Memoirs

Book Review: Darkness to Light by Lamar Odom

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Darkness to Light is a memoir by Lamar Odom who is known either as a basketball player or better known as Khloe Kardashian’s ex-husband. Much of Lamar’s life has been played out in the media for better or worse but I think the difference with the memoir is that we get to hear from Lamar’s point of view.

Using a ghostwriter (who was not very good), Lamar tells us about his life which is riddled with issues from the start with his parents. Lamar had a hard life. His parents got together young but it did not last long and his father left and became an addict. He loses his mother young and honestly, I think that was the catalyst to a lot of his problems because he never really dealt with it and he was filled with a lot of grief and confusion.

He discovers his talent for playing basketball and throws all his focus and emotions into basketball. He meets the mother of his children, Liza in high school and chronicles his journey into the NBA. His deep spiral into drugs and how he hid it – including the dodgy ways he bypassed drug tests. His constant cheating and sex addiction diagnosis. The many deaths of loved ones, he has to go through. Dating Taraji P Henson, meeting, marrying and being part of the Kardashian clan and his infamous overdose at the Bunny Ranch.

The good thing about this book is that Lamar is very open and vulnerable in this book and he shares things that he didn’t need to. Although, I always say the key to a good memoir is laying everything out on the line, if you aren’t then there really is no point. If I am being honest, a big propeller of reading this book was to get to the Kardashian bits and see if there was tea to be gathered.

I think Lamar was very respectful of everyone he mentioned in the book and while still being honest, was not disparaging. For example, he doesn’t hide his distaste for Mavs owner, Mark Cuban and says being a part of the Kardashians was one of the best times of his life as he felt like he belonged to a family unit, which is something that he had never really had.

Lamar used a ghostwriter for this book – Chris Palmer, and I have to say, he had to have been the cheapest one they could get because he was not a very good one. It was such basic writing, that the book read like a middle school essay. He particularly had issues with transitioning. I can’t tell you how many times he had a sentence that said “xyz did I know that this will be the day that would change my life forever”. In a particular instance where he describes the death of his best friend on Khloe & Lamar, Jamie (who we find out wasn’t really his best friend but the producers wanted him to have a white best friend and they did drugs together so he won the spot of best friend) it basically was reduced to one page and that was that.

On the flip side, I couldn’t help but think that Lamar seems quite detached from the world. While you sympathize with all he had to go through, I couldn’t ignore how he also did a lot of things that hurt people. I couldn’t understand why Liza stood by him and even had more kids with him even though he constantly cheated and ignored her (Lamar claims he has been with over 2000 women and has paid his fair share in abortions). His wily ways to beat a drug test, shows insight into a side of him that some may say just comes with being an addict.

Overall, I think I got what I wanted from the book. I’ve seen a lot of people comment that he was name dropping in the book and I find that ridiculous because he was a famous man moving in famous circles, it is expected. You get a better picture of how Lamar ended up as a drug addict and you feel some kind of sadness wondering where he would be if he had dealt with the depression from losing his mom or losing his child instead of turning to drugs.

It was a quick, easy read but don’t go in there expecting quality writing but instead expect to ponder life and how the little or big things change the trajectories of our lives.

 

Taynement

Fiction

Book Review: The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

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“The country was big, and its appetite for prejudice and depredation limitless, how could they keep up with the host of injustices, big and small. This was just one place. A lunch counter in New Orleans, a public pool in Baltimore that they filled with concrete rather than allow black kids to dip a toe in it. This was one place, but if there was one, there were hundreds, hundreds of Nickels and White Houses scattered across the land like pain factories”

Based on the real story of a reform school in Florida that operated for one hundred and eleven years and warped the lives of thousands of children, The Nickel Boys is a dramatization of real American history. Set in the early 1960s Civil Rights time and all the horrors of the Jim Crow era in Frenchtown, segregated Tallahassee, Florida. The civil rights movement is gaining ground, the bus boycott happens, restaurant sit-ins, demonstrations, Martin Luther king’s words are spreading across America. Elwood Curtis believes Martin Luther King that he is just as good as his white counterparts, he gets an early enrollment into college to take a couple of college classes during his senior year of high school but one small mistake on his first day of college gets him sentenced to The Nickel Boys Academy.

“Make a career of humanity. Make it a central part of your life.”

The Nickel Academy is a segregated juvenile reform school run by sadistic and racist Maynard Spencer. Elwood finds himself in a terrible school filled with vicious brutality, sexual abuse, torture, and actual killings. As Elwood struggles to maintain King’s higher ideals of love, trust and freedom in the face of his new reality, he meets Turner. Turner has a more cynical and honestly, quite accurate view of the world, believing Elwood to be naive, as he plots and schemes, trying to avoid as much trouble as possible.

“Perhaps his life might have veered elsewhere if the US government had opened the country to colored advancement like they opened the army. But it was one thing to allow someone to kill for you and another to let him live next door.”

I never read Whitehead’s blockbuster book, The Underground Railroad. I don’t know why, I was adequately assured that it was fantastic but I never had any interest in it. So, this is my first Whitehead book and I loved it. It’s short and still manages to convey a great deal of details and emotion. This book is under 250 pages, I read it in one afternoon. This book is an incredibly devastating story that deserved to be told. The goal at Nickel Boys is to rack up points for good behavior and graduate early or just serve your time sentenced at the school but with school officials who have it out for the boys and a corrupt system in place to exploit the students, nobody ever gets reformed. You either graduate when you’re due or you end up dead and buried in the dirt behind the school.

“Problem was, even if you avoided trouble, trouble might reach out and snatch you anyway. Another student might sniff out a weakness and start something, one of the staff dislikes your smile and knocks it off your face. You might stumble into a bramble of bad luck of the sort that got you here in the first place.”

The Nickel Boys is based on the accounts of the real life Dozier School for Boys, once the largest training and reform school in the country. Hundreds of boys died while wards of the state at Dozier, including from gunshot wounds, blunt force trauma, numerous broken bones, or being locked in solitary confinement when a fire broke out. Archaeology students at the University of South Florida have been working for years to uncover graves, document remains and try to trace them where possible to their families of origin. While Whitehead’s dramatization was intense and made me cry, the real true story is even more devastating and insane and it blows my mind that nobody has been punished for it.

“The boys could have been many things had they not been ruined by that place…. denied even the simple pleasure of being ordinary. Hobbled and handicapped before the race even began, never figuring out how to be normal.”

The ultimate sadness of this book is watching so many colored boys’ futures and potentials wiped out. This was supposed to be a school but there was no serious learning, they loaned the boys out to the men on the school boards to be practically slaves, using them to tend farmlands, house chores and in many cases, for sexual favors. The Nickel Boys packed quite a punch and was really difficult to digest considering how even worse the real life events were. I gave this book 5 stars on Goodreads.

 

Leggy