Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Saving Grace by Jane Green

Saving Grace by Jane Green
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 9781250047335
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages

In Jane Green's Saving Grace,  Grace is married to Ted, a successful author described as a "thinking man's Grisham". They have been married for over 20 years and have a lovely adult daughter Clemmie, who works as a reporter at a small newspaper.

Grace began her career as an assistant cookbook editor, where she met the dashing and older Ted and fell immediately in love. Now she volunteers her time as a chef at a home for abused women and addicted women and children. She and Ted are well respected in their community, and envied by many in literary circles.

She loves her life, except for the rages that Ted flies into, screaming at her and throwing things. These rages are unpredictable and understandably cause Grace physical and emotional problems.

When their longtime assistant Ellen decides to move away to care for her sister, Grace has to find someone who can work for Ted and help run the household. Into their lives walks Beth, a thirty-something rather nondescript woman who is looking for a job.

Grace likes Beth right away. Beth is organized whereas Grace is not, and soon she becomes indispensable to both Ted and Grace. She even calls her a cross between Mary Poppins and Mrs. Doubtfire. But something is just not right.

After a big fundraiser that Grace has planned is a disaster, things go downhill for Grace. She becomes depressed and refuses to leave her room. Ted and Beth suggest she a psychiatrist, and he diagnoses Grace with bipolar disorder and puts her on a cocktail of several medications.

The overmedication destroys Grace and she completely withdraws. Yet through the fog of this, she begins to realize that something is not right with Beth. It seems like Beth is taking over her life- dressing in her clothes, taking her job at the home for abused women, and getting very close to Ted.

Grace runs away back to her home in England to sort things out and try to understand what is happening to her. Can she stop Beth before it is too late?

I had the chance to participate in a Facebook conversation with Jane Green through Reading With Robin's Book Club 411, and we got to hear the story that inspired the book. Green said that she had gone through a similar thing as Grace, being misdiagnosed by a doctor and given too many medications that didn't help, but instead, hurt her.

This kind of thing happens way too often, especially in the US who, as is stated in the novel, has 5% of the population but writes 95% of the prescriptions for psychotropic drugs. Clearly there is a problem here, and often menopausal women are erroneously prescribed these dangerous medications to ease their symptoms.

Green also had a situation where her family hired a bookkeeper who ended up stealing a great deal of money from them. Like Grace, she didn't thoroughly check references and paid a dear price.

It has been said that Saving Grace is very different from Green's other novels, which I can't attest to as this is the first novel of hers I have read. I like that Green's own personal experiences influenced this novel, it definitely comes through in the story. It feels very real and urgent, and many women will feel an affinity for what Grace is going through.

Since Grace is a chef, there are many recipes sprinkled throughout the book, and many of them look like ones I would like to try. I also liked the inside look at the publishing industry, what a successful author like Ted deals with in terms of how he writes, his relationship with his editor and publisher, and what happens when success begins to fade.

Saving Grace is a little heavier than most books in this genre, and the personal connection the author has with her protagonist gives it more depth and meaning. It is a cautionary tale for those who don't follow their own instincts when it comes to their medical care or the people in their life.

rating 4 of 5

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Weekend Cooking- The Rainbow Room

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

I wanted to do something special for my husband's birthday, and when I saw that the fabled Rainbow Room had reopened at Rockefeller Plaza, I thought it would be perfect.

They have a special Monday evening of dining and entertainment and on the night before my husband's birthday, the entertainment was Max Weinberg and His Orchestra. My son and I are big fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and since Weinberg is the drummer, I was pretty excited that he was the entertainment.

Max Weinberg

We arrived at 6pm and visited the bar for a drink. The view from the bar on the 65th floor is just spectacular! You have a 180 degree view of Manhattan that takes your breath away.
The view from the bar

After our drink, we were ushered into the dining room, which is so lovely and sparkly. The band was playing, and we really enjoyed the music, a great combination of standards (Sinatra, Etta James) and Latin music that got people moving to the dance floor.

There were two couples on the floor who must work there. They were fantastic dancers, and although I was somewhat concerned that they were so good they may intimidate people from dancing, after a while the dance floor became crowded with couples.
We had fun watching the professional dancers

I was apprehensive about the food; the reviews on Yelp were not exactly sparkling. We were pleasantly surprised though. They started with  a bread basket, which had a small fried bread ball with a savory mousse inside that was tasty.

Next came a small plate with three amuse bouche for us to taste. I liked the one with the crispy chicken skin best.
Amuse bouche

The menu is prefixe, an appetizer, entree and dessert for $175 per person. For the appetizer, we both had the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, which was silky and had a nice crunch.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

I chose the Lobster Pot Pie as my entree and it was delicious. The crust was light, the lobster was very tender, and the creamy sauce and tender vegetables all came together in a delicious combination.
Lobster Pot Pie

By the time dessert came around, I could not eat another bite, and although I had planned on the Apple Tart with banana donuts, I chose the gelato trio, which was refreshing.

We had a magical night at The Rainbow Room, maybe our favorite thing we have done since we moved to New York City, and I would recommend it as a special event night. It is expensive, but it will be memorable. They also do a Sunday prefixe brunch ($95 per person) that gets great reviews on Yelp.

 The Rainbow Room website is here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

I Regret Everything by Seth Greenland

I Regret Everything  by Seth Greenland
Published by Europa Editions ISBN 978-1-60945-247-6
Trade paperback, $16, 252 pages

Seth Greenland was a writer-producer on one of my favorite TV shows, Big Love, so when I heard that he had a recently published novel, I Regret Everything- A Love Story, I had to read it.

Jeremy Best is a 33 year-old trust and wills attorney in Manhattan. If that sounds like a boring job, he also writes poems under the name Jinx Bell, which doesn't sound like a poet's name to me, but it works for him.

He has minor success as a poet, and he is very good at his day job. So good that that the managing partner wants to offer him an early partnership, if he can settle a pesky matter with one of their biggest clients.

Spaulding Simonson is the nineteen-year-old daughter of said managing partner. She wanders into Jeremy's office and begins a conversation. The two have an immediate spark, and their banter is endearing. Spaulding is an intriguing young woman, and she is impressed that Jeremy is a poet.

 Spaulding had a serious nervous breakdown and she has problems with her divorced parents. Neither of them really want her around, and after a fighter with her mother, she ends up living with her father's new family in suburban Connecticut.

I Regret Everything starts off strong right away with a great first paragraph, and doesn't let go from there. The language is poetic, as befits a novel about a part-time poet. And as befits a screenwriter and playwright, the writing is also compact. There are no wasted words here, no long-winded descriptions of people or place.

And yet, the characters and storyline are well-drawn. We understand fully who Jeremy and Spaulding are, and watching their relationship develop is enjoyable. After dreaming that he killed a Minotaur, Jeremy describes himself:
"The dream made no literal sense because I was a coward, incapable of attacking anyone with a cutting remark, much less a blunt object."
Spaulding loved poems that rhymed because "it was a representation of order in the universe and that was something (she) craved." So Spaulding was attracted to Jeremy's poetry and Jeremy was intrigued by Spaulding's daring.

As circumstances throw them together, they are faced with obstacles (or else this wouldn't be a love story).  The obstacles are serious enough to force them to really evaluate what they want in life.

I Regret Everything is a modern-day love story that feels like a classic romantic novel. I loved both Jeremy and Spaulding, and if you are a fan of classic novels like Jane Eyre, you will love I Regret Everything.  And contrary to Jeremy's motto "never give in", I urge you to give in to this lovely story.

rating 5 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Jeremy's tour. The rest of Jeremy's stops are here:

Seth Greenland’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 23rd: BookNAround
Thursday, February 26th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Friday, February 27th: Bookchickdi
Tuesday, March 3rd: Bell, Book & Candle
Friday, March 6th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, March 9th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 11th: 50 Books Project
Thursday, March 12th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, March 13th: Storeybook Reviews – spotlight
Monday, March 16th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, March 19th: Bibliotica
Thursday, March 19th: Book Dilettante
Monday, March 23rd: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, March 25th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, March 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Date TBD: Life is Story

Monday, February 23, 2015

On Broadway- Fish In The Dark

The hottest ticket on Broadway right now is a play written by and starring Larry David, Fish In The Dark. My son and I are huge Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fans, and we couldn't wait to see this show.

We attended the first Sunday matinee preview performance. We were told several times via email and at the theater that no one would be seated once the show started, and if we left our seats for any reason, we could not return until intermission.

I've been to many shows, and never has one been this strict. When the show began, there were at least a dozen empty seats in the few rows near us, which surprised me since the show's run is completely sold out. But at intermission, every seat was filled, so I guess they weren't kidding about their policy.

The show is about a family whose patriarch dies. The first scene is set in the hospital waiting room, where we meet the various family members. When Larry David makes his entrance, the audience enthusiastically applauds.

I had a hard time hearing David at first (the actors are not miked), but that was remedied quickly. David plays Norman, the older, less successful son. (He sells urinals.) He is married to Brenda (played by Rita Wilson), a woman who has the uncanny ability to remember the details of every single day of her life.

Ben Shenkman plays younger brother Arthur, a wealthy lawyer, who brings a well-endowed young woman as his date to see his dying father. Their overbearing mother Gloria is played to the hilt by Broadway vet Jayne Houdyshell, who is fantastic here. She hates her daughter-in-law, holding a grudge because Brenda won't wear a scarf she bought for her.

The show has many Seinfeld-ian and Curb-like storylines. Norman is really just another variation on David's personality, so he is very comfortable and hilarious in the role. The other characters may remind you of your favorite Seinfeld and Curb friends (George Costanza, Kramer, Mrs. Costanza, Marty Funkhouser, etc.)

The story is very funny, with a few crazy plot developments that will you remind of the best of David's writing. Small things are blown out of proportion, people are too honest, secrets are revealed.

Young Jake Cannavale has wonderful chemistry in his scenes with David, and he shows amazing restraint not losing it when Larry David goes on a full-blown physical comedic rant in his face. Cannavale has a big career ahead of him.

Norman's father's dying wish is that his wife go to live to with one of his son's, but who he was talking to is up for debate and the men fight to see who has to take overbearing mom. The solution is comedy gold.

Two of the funniest bits take place off-stage as phone calls with Norman- first when he gets the call about his father's illness, and then when he calls to cancel a food delivery.

Fish In The Dark is the second-funniest show I have seen on Broadway (One Man, Two Guvnors is the funniest), and we laughed non-stop. The audience roared with laughter, and my sides hurt after two hours. And Larry David received a vigorous and well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

This is a must-see show, unfortunately it is a limited run and tickets are extremely hard to come by now. (They already broke box office records at the Cort Theater, and it doesn't officially open until March 5th). I hope the Tony voters remember this one when the time comes.

The website for Fish in the Dark is here. 
A New York Times interview with Larry David is here.
A New York magazine story on Larry David is here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Published by Knopf ISBN 978-0-385-35285-7
Hardcover, $26.95, 334 pages

If anyone had recommended to me a novel about Australian POWs in a WWII Japanese prison camp in Thailand, I would probably say "no thanks." But then I saw the book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, on the bookshelf at the villa where we vacation and it kept beckoning to me. Every time I passed that bookshelf, the pull to read it felt stronger.

I finally gave in and picked up last year's Man Booker Prize winner and dove in. From the very beginning, I was in the thrall of this incredible story with writing that was beyond beautiful. Early on, the main character Dr. Dorrigo Evans has to write a forward for a book of drawings by a fellow POW.
"He looked at his forward, written, as ever, in his customary green ink, with the simple, if guilty, hope that in the abyss that lay between his dream and his failure there might be something worth reading in which the truth could be felt."
That sentence from page 21 is a stunning example of the gorgeous language in this emotionally powerful novel. Another is this one:
"Dorrigo Evans hated virtue, hated virtue being admired, hated people who pretended he had virtue or pretended to virtue themselves. And the more he was accused of virtue as he grew older, the more he hated it. He did not believe in virtue. Virtue was vanity dressed up and waiting for applause."
Dr. Evans becomes a celebrity in Australia because of his POW experience, and we see him as an older man looking back on his life experience. He is a famous doctor, long married to a woman whom he consistently cheats on.

As a young man waiting to go to war, he falls in love and has a passionate affair with his uncle's wife, a woman who becomes the love of his life, the woman he cannot forget. Although he loves Amy, he marries Ella, but it is Amy he keeps in his heart during his captivity and beyond.

The bulk of the story takes place in a Japanese POW prison camp. As an officer and a doctor, Dorry's rank gave him a little authority. The men in the camp were used as slave labor to build a railroad. The Japanese wanted to show the world their superiority by building a railroad from Thailand to Burma.

The camp conditions were brutal, and the Japanese soldiers running it were savage. Dorry did his best to shield the sickest prisoners from inhuman work, but he couldn't always win. We meet the men in the camp and see how strong the will to survive truly is.

The men are beaten and starved and forced to work at slave labor. They are pushed beyond human limits, and injury, disease and death are constant companions. The Japanese officers believe that the prisoners' work will glorify the Japanese empire, and their complaints about the brutal conditions confound them. They were treated similarly by their superiors, and feel the prisoners are weak-willed.

The scenes in the camp are horrific and hard to read. The men must work together to survive, yet each man is ultimately on his own as we see in the most harrowing and powerful scene. The one thing that shines through this astonishing novel is the power of human resilience, the strength of the will to survive.

 At the end of the novel, we see what happened to many of the men, including the Japanese officers, which I found enlightening.

My review cannot possibly do justice to this phenomenal literary achievement, I'm not sure any review can. The only thing I can say is that to miss out on reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North would be a huge loss. This is a book that will live on in my mind for a very long time.

rating 5 of 5

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The News Sorority by Sheila Weller

The News Sorority by Sheila Weller
Published by Penguin Press ISBN 9781594204272
Hardcover, $29.95, 496 pages

If you have been following the news lately, you have no doubt heard about the suspension of NBC News' Brian Williams. If you are fascinated by this saga, you may wish to pick up a copy of Sheila Weller's book, The News Sorority- Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News.

Weller takes us on a tour of the interesting lives of these three successful women. Diane Sawyer was the daughter of a successful judge and a "1950's version of a Tiger Mom" in Kentucky. She idealized her father and his death when she was a young woman devastated her.

Sawyer wanted a job in news, and with her steely reserve and driving ambition, she started at the bottom and worked harder than everyone else to work her way up the ladder from reporter to the press office for President Nixon to morning anchor at the CBS morning show to her latest home at ABC, where she became the face of ABC News, anchoring at various times Primetime, Good Morning America and finally ABC World News Tonight before recently retiring.

Katie Couric was raised in an upper middle class family in Virginia, and she was the youngest of three daughters, all of whom were intelligent and successful. Couric was a cheerleader in high school, and she used everything in her arsenal from her smiling, chipper personality to tenacity and strong work ethic to move up the ladder from reporter at a Miami TV station to a mostly forgettable CNN reporter stint to Pentagon correspondent at NBC News to her breakout at The Today Show, and her short-lived stint as anchor of The CBS Evening News.

Less is known about Christiane Amanpour, who has been at CNN for many years. Her wealthy Iranian family fled their homeland when the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Amanpour was sent to a boarding school in England. Amanpour was star-struck and kept scrapbooks of Hollywood stars. She loved fashion and didn't seem to be the serious minded woman we know her as today.

The book takes us through the well-known aspects of these women's lives- Sawyer working with President Nixon on his memoirs after his resignation, her marriage to Mike Nichols, Couric's famous "ambush" interview with President George H.W. Bush and the terrible loss of her young husband and sister to cancer, Amanpour's war reporting and on-air confrontation of President Clinton over his policy in Bosnia.

Less is known about Amanpour, and perhaps that is why her story seemed more interesting. Her reporting from war zones, as in Bosnia, are harrowing and heart-pounding. Weller spoke with reporters and producers and tech people who accompanied Amanpour and these sections of the book are the most compelling.

Amanpour's zeal to bring an important, horrific story about the genocide in Bosnia drives her to nearly single-handedly bring this story to the attention of the American people and politicians and demand action.

We get a lot of behind-the-scenes information, with the story of the early days of CNN being most intriguing (they had no bathroom in their building and had to use a nearby motel and gas station). The egos involved in the news business (Peter Jennings and Charles Gibson do not fare well here), the jockeying for position, and the politics of it all are enlightening.

The one thing that bothered me was the "unnamed sources" who were willing to say not-so-flattering things about the women without putting their name to it. The highschool gossip-y feel of that detracted from the book for me. I found the things said by people willing to put their name to it more credible.

What shines through is that these successful women all had faced adversity and loss, and were driven to succeed in their field. They felt a calling to bring important information- Saywer's reports on childhood poverty, Couric's drive to inform people about colon cancer, and Amanpour's reports on war and religion- to the American people.

Fans of TV news will appreciate this book most, and I would love to read a book about the early pioneers of women in TV news, women most of us have never heard of who paved the way for today's well known successful women.

rating 4 of 5