Flora by Gail Godwin was lovely but almost too sad. It's 1945, and 10-year-old Helen lives in North Carolina with her father. She has no mother, and her beloved grandmother recently died. When her father is called away to work on a secret military project at Oak Ridge, Helen's 22-year-old cousin from Alabama comes to stay with her for the summer. Helen is angry and mean, and Flora is extremely innocent and open-hearted, so the balance of power is out of whack in the house from the get-go. There is so much loss, and sadness, and hurt feelings, and unexpressed (or mis-expressed) emotion that you almost can't tell that there is a plot unfolding, but it's there. The story is told by the elderly Helen, who has become a writer and is looking back on that fateful summer. I do recommend this book, mostly for the beautiful writing, but it's definitely not a "feel good" read.
Poor Man's Feast is Elissa Altman's memoir of being in love with food and then falling in love with a person who loves food in a different way. Altman is a born-and-bred New Yorker and pretty much obsessed with the food world—buying every trendy ingredient she hears about, preparing the most elaborate dishes for her friends, and endlessly talking about it all. There are names dropped throughout, mostly brand names of expensive knives and cookware, plus jaw-dropping prices she pays for tiny amounts of exotic ingredients (some of which she doesn't even know how to use but just must have them). These parts I found very tedious, despite (or perhaps because of?) my love of cooking and eating. But the point was to contrast Altman with her new girlfriend (whom she meets online). Susan lives in a tiny house in a rural part of Connecticut. She too loves food, but more for the beauty and simplicity of, say, a freshly picked tomato, still warm from the sun, with just a sprinkling of salt. She can't understand why her new girlfriend is forever lugging all these fancy-shmancy ingredients from the city to her house and and spending hours preparing elaborate (usually very tall) dishes. Spoiler: They manage to work out their differences.
A huge detraction for me was the lack of decent copyediting for this book—in particular the rampant misuse of commas. I could bore you with dozens of examples, but here are just a few: "checkered, French picnic oilcloths" and "enormous, vintage Kohler sink" and "two immense, kosher beef franks." She also overuses certain words—every time someone turns on the broiler, you know something is going to be "immolated," and everything makes her "swoon." But it was a sweet enough story to read on a summer weekend.
I also read Euphoria by Lily King, which I loved, but I will wait to tell you about it until after my book group meeting next week.