Ep. 92 Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li — The Stacks Book Club (Vanessa Hua)

It is a brand new year, and a we’ve got a brand new episode of The Stacks!
We’ve brought back Vanessa Hua (A River of Stars) to discuss Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, a novel about a family restaurant and the drama that comes along with it. We talk about how books are edited and streamlined, immigrants working in food industries, and what it means to be authentic.
There are spoilers on this episode.

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Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Connect with Vanessa: Twitter | Instagram | Website

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

The Best Things We Read in 2019

Dear Listeners,

I’ve reached out the guests from the 2019 season of The Stacks to share with us the best book they read this year. I enjoyed talking to each and everyone of our guests, and hearing from them again is a great way to end the year. Each guest shared with me their favorite read in 2019 and one book they hope to read in 2020.

Thank you all for listening to the show, and thank you again to this group of amazing humans for sharing their reading life with all of us.


Vanessa McGrady
Author of Rock Needs River: A Memoir About a Very Open Adoption

Of course this is a very hard question. I loved two books A LOT: Mother Winter by Sophia Shalmiyev because it’s such a gripping tale of survival and redemption told through a feminist lens, and Shalmiyev is such a gorgeous writer. I also really enjoyed Jia Tolentino’s Trick Mirror: Reflections on Self-Delusion because she’s so smart and, honestly, this woman could write a grocery list and it would be a deeply fun and engaging and insightful read. (I realize I’m adding another here but …) I also finished Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and I can’t stop thinking about it. I mean, every day it comes up.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 45, and then joined us to discuss All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung, Episode 46.


Ben Blacker
Author, Podcaster, and Comedian

I did a lot of reading for homework this year, which included exploring a lot of horror novels and stories I’d somehow missed (turns out We Have Always Lived in the Castle is pretty great!). The books that stayed with me the most of those are two short story collections: Tananarive Due’s Ghost Summer and Alexandra Kleeman’s Intimations. Due isn’t afraid of genre. In fact, she leans into everything that makes both horror and short stories wonderful– deftly drawn characters, warm, spooky, dangerous nostalgia, and an immersive sense of place. Kleeman’s stories are wilder, more surreal, and are horror-adjacent. Kleeman is a master at exploring language, and those unexpected turns of phrase somehow inform her characters’ world views; as the author is confined by available linguistic constructs, so are her characters trapped in their own bodies, their own homes. Unnerving and beautiful writing.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Horror Stories by Liz Phair

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 53, and then joined us to discuss The World Only Spins Forward: The Ascent of Angels in America by Isaac Butler and Dan Kois, Episode 54.


Gabrielle Civil
Performance Artists and Author of Experiments in Joy

In 2019, two of my favorite books insisted on the urgency of life, love, and black feminist creativity. Tembi Locke’s memoir From Scratch swept me away in its depictions of an Italian love affair, cross-cultural family drama, untimely loss, grief, and deep family bonds. Locke’s voice is vibrant and the descriptions of food are mouth watering! More experimental and spare, Aisha Sasha John’s poetry collection I have to live.  transported me from Montreal to North Africa, from dance studios into the poet’s very heartbeat. No matter what happens, John insists on her own observations, insights, and indomitable existence.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Dub by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Gabrielle was our guest for Episode 55, and then joined us to discuss Wild Beuaty by Ntozake Shange, Episode 56.


Joseph Papa
Book Publicist

My favorite read of 2019 was Good and Mad: The Revolutionary Power of Women’s Anger by Rebecca Traister. Though I was a year late to it, it transformed the way I engage in many political discussions. It’s an urgent book that I genuinely think should be required reading for all adults with applications that go far beyond politics. 
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Deviant’s War: The Homosexual vs. the United States of America by Eric Cervini

Joseph was our guest for Episode 61 , and then joined us to discuss Tinderbox: The Untold Story of the Up Stairs Lounge Fire and the Rise of Gay Liberation by Robert W. Fieseler Episode 62.


Lori Gottlieb
Therapist and Author of Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, HER Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed

My favorite read of 2019 was Olive, Again, by Elizabeth Strout. Olive Kitteridge absolutely slayed me, so I wondered how a sequel could possibly match the original. Turns out that Olive, Again, is possibly even more compelling as we see an older Olive woven into the lives of the residents of Crosby, Maine. Strout’s sentences are gorgeous, her plot twists surprising, her humor razor-sharp, her compassion deep, and her understanding of the human condition moving and profound. Olive is a both highly original and entirely universal, by turns hard to love and entirely lovable, like most of us. If this book doesn’t break your heart in two, make you cry in public or laugh so hard that water spills out of your nose, change the way you see yourself and others, and leave you with a grand sense of hope, you might be a hologram and not a human.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: I’m eagerly awaiting suggestions for what to read in 2020! In fact, I’ll be making good use of this blog post for that very reason!

Lori was our guest for Episode 63 , and then joined us to discuss The Unwinding of the Miracle by Julie Yip-Williams , Episode 64.


Dave Cullen
Author of Parkland: Birth of a Movement

I was blown away by The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood this year (yes, I was officially the last person to get to it). But I have some advice: when an instant classic comes out, wait 34 years, so you can start the sequel the day after you finish. I DON’T recommend that, but it sure worked out well. I hate waiting! Everything was fresh. (by the way, I also loved The Testaments, though it won’t squeeze into my all-time top ten list like The Handmaid’s Tale).

Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Fortress of Solitude by Jonathan Lethem

Lori was our guest for Episode 65 , and then joined us to discuss Jesus’ Son by Denis Johnson , Episode 66.


Rachel Overvoll
Author of Finding Feminism

My favorite read of 2019 was Attached: The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help YouFind – and Keep – Love By Amir Levine, Rachel Heller. This was my favorite read because it dove deep into attachment styles, relationship pit falls, and how to achieve a healthy partnership. I highly recommend this to anyone interested in personal development or personal growth.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Recursion by Blake Crouch

Rachel was our guest for Episode 67, and then joined us to discuss Miracle Creek by Angie Kim, Episode 68.


Dani McClain
Author of We Live for the We: The Political Power of Black Motherhood

My favorite read of 2019 was Julián Is a Mermaid by Jessica Love. I read a lot with my 3-year-old daughter and this is one of our favorites. It’s about a boy named Julián who dreams of becoming a mermaid. His grandmother makes a simple, meaningful gesture to affirm his dreams, and then they go on an adventure to the Coney Island Mermaid Parade. The illustrations are gorgeous and I appreciate that there’s an imaginative children’s book that helps my toddler and me talk about gender.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Dub by Alexis Pauline Gumbs

Dani was our guest for Episode 71 , and then joined us to discuss The Light of the World by Elizabeth Alexander, Episode 72.


Allison Punch
Reader and Bookstagrammer, @allisonreadsdc

My favorite book of 2019 was Pleasure Activism by adrienne maree brown. brown brings Black feminism, sex positivity and harm reduction to talk about how to seek pleasure in all aspects of our lives and thus radically liberate ourselves and others. It was an essential read for me at this point in my life to heal myself and transform the world.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Allison was our guest for Episode 73 , and then joined us to discuss The Cadaver King and the Country Dentist by Radley Balko and Tucker Carrington, Episode 74.


Sarah Enni
Host of the First Draft Podcast and Author of Tell Me Everything

The book I enjoyed the most in 2019 was The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden. A feminist fable retelling set as Christianity was sweeping through the medieval Russian countryside, the magic in this story swept me away.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: The Chosen Ones by Veronica Roth

Sarah was our guest for Episode 77, and then joined us to discuss Educated by Tara Westover, Episode 78.


Chris L. Terry
Author of Black Card

My favorite read of 2019 was Ramayana: Divine Loophole by Sanjay Patel, an exciting retelling of a 2500-year-old Hindu myth. The story is fast-paced with ornate, bold, and dazzling art, so it was perfect to share with my five-year-old, whose interest in the story had been piqued by a picture of Hanuman moving a mountain.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Wow, No Thank You by Samantha Irby

Chris was our guest for Episode 83, and then joined us to discuss We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin, Episode 84.


Vanessa Hua
Columnist and Author of A River of Stars

My favorite reads this year include the twisty turns of Susan Choi’s Trust Exercise and Elaine Castillo’s funny and poignant America is Not the Heart.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Home Baked: My Mom, Marijuana, and the Stoning of San Francisco by Alia Voz, The Mountains Sing by Que Mai Phan Nguyen, and She Votes: How U.S. Women won the Suffrage & What Happened Next by Bridget Quinn

Vanessa was our guest for Episode 91, and then joined us to discuss Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li, Episode 92.


Traci Thomas
Host of The Stacks

I read so many wonderful books this year, and one of the standouts was How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones. This memoir is all about Jones coming of age as a gay Black man in Texas, his relationship to his mother, and the ways he fought to survive and thrive. The book is so well written, Jones is a poet and his use of language and craft is evident in every sentence.
Book I’m looking forward to reading in 2020: Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X. Kendi


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

Ep. 91 The People Who Change Us with Vanessa Hua

Our guest today is Vanessa Hua. Vanessa is the author of A River of Stars and a columnist at The San Francisco Chronicle. We talk today about the differences between writing a column versus a novel, the people who change our lives without knowing, and untraditional motherhood.

LISTEN NOW

Apple Podcasts | Spotify | PodcastOne | Google | Android

Everything we talk about on today’s episode can be found below in the show notes. If you’d like to support your local indie, you can shop through IndieBound.

Books

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Everything Else

Connect with Vanessa: Twitter | Instagram | Website

Connect with The Stacks: Instagram | Twitter | Facebook |Apple Podcasts |The Stacks on PodcastOne | Goodreads | Patreon

Support The Stacks

To contribute to The Stacks, join The Stacks Pack, and get exclusive perks, check out our Patreon page. We are beyond grateful for anything you’re able to give to support the production of this show. If you prefer to do a one time contribution go to paypal.me/thestackspod.

Audible– to get your FREE audiobook download and FREE 30 day trial go to audibletrial.com/thestacks.


The Stacks received A River of Stars from the publisher. For more information click here.

The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.

October Reading Wrap-Up 2019

October was my best reading month so far in 2019. Not only did I read the most books I’ve read in a month (eleven), but I also had the most five star reads (three). I did have a few two star reads, which is never fun, but you can’t win them all. The stand outs this month were Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds, Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson, and Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat by Samin Nosrat. Read below for mini-reviews of everything I read in October.

October by the Numbers

Total Books Read: 11
Audiobooks: 2
Five Star Reads: 3
Unread Shelf: 1
Books Acquired: 26

By Women Authors: 5
By Authors of Color: 10
By Queer Authors: 2
Nonfiction Reads: 3
Published in 2019: 6

Another Brooklyn by Jacqueline Woodson

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of August, a twelve year old Black girl navigating a new life in Brooklyn. She moves north, with her father and brother, after her mother’s death. It’s the story of August growing up, finding new friends, and creating space her own space in the world.

This book is the best coming of age story I’ve ever read. She nails what it feels like to be Black and young and fearless and terrified and longing and female and free. Woodson understands what it means to be searching and to be found. The complexities of getting older are handled with care but without any sense of preciousness. And she does all of this in less than 200 pages. That kind of brevity is rare, and a sign of true mastery.

The love between August and her three friends speaks powerfully to beauty of Black female friendships. At times it took my breath away. There is an ease to Woodson’s writing that makes these young women come to life wholly and authentically. She doesn’t attempt to smooth over the traumas or stifle the triumphs Instead there is a reality filled with pain and heartbreak, and with so much joy.

Five Stars | Amistad | May 30, 2017| 192 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


A River of Stars by Vanessa Hua

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

Two pregnant women living in a secret maternity home in Los Angeles decide to escape north to San Francisco and raise their children free of constraint and expectation of their Chinese families in this novel.

First off, Hua is a really beautiful writer, she balances her sentences between art and information in a way that is enjoyable to read. The truth is, I just couldn’t connect with the story. I liked the lead characters and the plot moved, but nothing grabbed me. I didn’t feel that I had a stake in what happened to the people in this story one way or the other. I did listen to this book on audio, and its possible that the narrator was what didn’t work for me. All of this is to say, if you like novels about unconventional women who blaze their own trails, this might be a book for you.

Two Stars | Random House Audio | August 14, 2018 | 10 Hours 54 Minutes | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Black Card by Chris L. Terry

(Photo: amazon.com)

In this lightly satirical novel we follow our narrator as tries to get back his Black card, that’s been revoked. If you’re looking for comparison, this book felt like the mixed kids version of the TV show Atlanta. It’s funny, a little surreal, and sometimes felt smarter/more clever than me.

Overall I liked it. Terry is clearly a creative thinker and grappling with what it is to be mixed, and how that relates to both Blackness and Whiteness, and why that matters. I love seeing stories told about being more than one thing when it comes to race and ethnicity, because there are so many of us mixed kids out there (not just Black and White, but all sorts of combinations).

Three Stars | Catapult | August 13, 2019 | 272 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
Hear our conversation with Chris L. Terry on The Stacks HERE.


Henry V by William Shakespeare

(Photo: amazon.com)

Henry V, a play you might not know, but you’ve probably heard a few famous lines from.
“Once more into the breach, dear friends, once more”
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers”
The play follows Henry, the new king, as he grapples with the responsibility of going to war, and what that says about him as a leader and as a man.

While I’m pretty over stories about Kings contemplating and ultimately going to war, I did get a lot out of this play. Henry has some wonderful speeches and meditates on some pretty heady stuff. This play got me thinking a lot about the responsibility of our leaders to the people versus the well being of the nation versus their own lust for power and legacy. It asks questions of who has blood on their hands? Is it the soldiers or the king that sends them to war? It all feels topical given what is going on in the world.

As a reader I loved reading the monologues from King Henry, but other parts fell flat, like the comedic bar scenes. There’s also a pretty spectacular courting scene in the play’s final act that shows how lacking in humanity our king is when he’s faced with courting (or conquering) a woman.

Three Stars | Pelican Shakespeare | September 1, 1999 | 121 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Look Both Ways by Jason Reynolds

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

A collection of short stories of middle school kids walking home from school. The stories are all unique and individual, but they intersect with the other stories in one way or another. It is a beautiful book about the few minutes a day kids are left unsupervised and get to experience the world on their own.

Something that Jason Reynolds is able to do with Look Both Ways is see the humanity in his characters. These kids have all had experiences that have shaped them, some more traumatic than others, but he finds a way to present this without making the kids their trauma. The characters are full of life and joy and they are impossible to forget. Its also worth noting, Reynolds can write! His prose are rich without being over worked. He doesn’t preach to his audience, he sees his reader and shares with them. As someone who doesn’t read YA or middle grade books, Look Both Ways was a welcome surprise that brought me to life as a reader and reminded me of goodness. It is a favorite read of 2019 for sure!

Five Stars | Atheneum/Caitlyn Dlouhy Books | October 8, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Movies (and Other Things) by Shea Serrano

(Photo: amazon.com)

Shea Serrano is hilarious and so smart. In his book Movies (and Other Things) he asks questions about movies and then answers them. It sounds like a pretty straight forward concept, but the genius in Shea Serrano is that he finds new and exciting ways to look at movies and the world. He opens up the conversation around movies so that you feel like you’re debating with your friend, and challenging yourself to see movies differently.

This book is laugh out loud funny. Not just the ideas behind it, but there are sentences that are so accurate you can’t help but laugh. Its not all funny (mostly it is) there is a little more going on in this one, for instance, the chapter on Selena talks about what it means to be Mexican American and the struggles of being two things at once. Of course, Serrano infuses his signature voice and his humor, but its more than that, trust me.

The only complaint I have about this book is that if you don’t know the movies or the genre, it can be a little harder to engage with certain chapters. Gangster movies aren’t my thing, so I felt a little lost when looking at the quintessential gangster movie scenes. Overall, if you like movies, you’ll get a kick out of this book.

Four Stars | Twelve Books | October 8, 2019 | 256 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Number One Chinese Restaurant by Lillian Li

(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of the Han family and their Chinese restaurant, The Beijing Duck House. When there is a fire that sets the restaurant a blaze the world of the Han family and their employees is shaken up and we’re left to sort the pieces.

This one wasn’t for me. It was too long and felt repetitive. I wasn’t excited by the characters or the plot, but rather felt like I was just going through the motions to get to the end of the book. There were some cute moments, and one scene at the end that was wonderful, but overall this wasn’t something that I enjoyed reading. I do think, however, this books would make a fantastic movie, in fact the whole time I was reading it I was wishing the movie already existed. The nuances of family drama might translate better to the screen, and certainly the food would be more appetizing that way.

Two Stars | Picador | June 19, 2018 | 304 Pages | Paperback | Purchase on IndieBound


Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson

The Stacks received this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. For more information click here.
(Photo: amazon.com)

The story of one Black family through time and place. We start in 2001 at 16 year old Melody’s coming of age ceremony and then unwrap the layers that make her family fragmented, strong, unique, and whole.

Woodson understands and articulates what it means to be Black and female in America, and this book puts her ability on display. She captures the delicious subtleties of life. In Red at the Bone we see class and race and gender norms and sexuality and so much humanity, and we get to see it all through the beautiful prose of Woodson. Woodson who is a master of brevity that lands a punch. I’m not sure this specific story will stick with me in five years, but I know that the feeling of reading Jacqueline Woodson will never fade.

Four Stars | Riverhead Books | September 17, 2019 | 208 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat: Mastering the Elements of Good Cooking by Samin Nosrat

(Photo: amazon.com)

We don’t normally read and review cookbooks around here, but we also are willing to try anything once, and I’m so glad we did. Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat is a cookbook about the elements that make up everything we eat. Nosrat breaks it all down in the first 200 pages of the book, explaining each element and how to use it, and then give us 200+ pages of basic recipes to practice our skills.

This book is simply fantastic! I like to cook, but often feel I don’t know how to without detailed instructions. I find myself glued to my recipes and in a mild state of anxiety when trying something new. This book gives anyone the tools to make choices about how to cook and how to improvise. Its empowering. I would be remiss not to mentions the gorgeous illustrations from Wendy McNaughton. I can honestly say this is one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned.

Three Stars | Houghton Mifflin Harcourt | October 22, 2019 | 480 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss Salt, Fat, Acid, Heat on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE.


Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know About the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell

(Photo: amazon.com)

A look at why humans are so bad at understanding and engaging with “strangers”. This book is deeply flawed and highly problematic. I found the arguments made to be harmful and irresponsible. In the past I’ve considered myself a Gladwell fan (I’ve read all his books and listened to his podcast) but this book feels like he’s reached his own tipping point, it is Gladwell for Gladwell’s sake.

One glaring is that there is no clear definition of the word “stranger”. We’re led through stories of people meeting for the first time and then of colleagues who’ve worked together for decades, and both are treated the same, we’re told they’re strangers. That can’t be.

Gladwell is a gifted storyteller (which is made all the more clear through his fantastic narration of the audiobook) and is known for making compelling arguments. Our understanding of who he is helps as he shifts from interesting scientific studies to unsubstantiated claims without batting an eye. He is riding on intellectual credit, but the arguments are weak at best when we look at them more deeply.

The most offensive piece of this book is his unwillingness to take power, sexism, and racism into account when discussing people and events like Larry Nassar, The Stanford Rape Case, and Sandra Bland. Instead of discussing racism and race he opts to discuss “misunderstanding”. Instead of discussing the power dynamics of sexual assault he expounds the harms of binge drinking, but nothing of misogyny. It’s a big mess, and he should’ve done better.

The book feels like an attempt to be both relevant and placate people who are tired of “identity politics”. He moves from one hot button issue to the next without any subtlety or nuance. He is name dropping iconic incidents to insure buzz for the book, instead of crafting compelling arguments that stand up to scrutiny. This book was enraging and irresponsible.

Two Stars | Hachette Audio | September 10, 2019 | 8 Hours 42 Minutes | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound


We Cast a Shadow by Maurice Carlos Ruffin

(Photo: amazon.com)

This satirical novel takes place in the near-future American South where Black people are caged in ghettos, and there are experimental treatments that will “demelanize” the black out of people (if you can afford it). It is in this world, where we find our narrator, a Black man, his White wife, and his mixed son.

More than anything else, while reading this book I kept thinking to myself, “Maurice Carlos Ruffin” is a smart person. His writing left me feeling taken care of, and I trusted that he had put thought into this world. That’s not to say that I always felt connected, or that I liked everything in this book, or that I didn’t think it could be cut down by at least 70 pages. I felt those things, and that I was reading the words of a smart and thoughtful author. My biggest issue with the book is that I wanted more world building. I wanted to know how America got to where it was when the reader shows up. I felt there were details missing that I wanted to know. Overall the book is thought provoking and examines race in a way that we so rarely see in literature these days.

Three Stars | One World | January 29, 2019 | 336 Pages | Hardcover | Purchase on IndieBound
We discuss We Cast a Shadow on The Stacks Book Club, you can hear that conversation by clicking HERE. You can also hear author, Maurice Carlos Ruffin on The Short Stacks HERE.


The Stacks participates in affiliate programs. We receive a small commission when products are purchased through links on this website, and this comes at no cost to you. This in no way effects opinions on books and products reviewed here. For more information click here.