Wednesday, May 20, 2015

New in Paperback- The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank

The Hurricane Sisters by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062132543
Trade paperback, $14.99, 352 pages


You can always count on Dorothea Benton Frank to deliver a terrific summer read to hunker down with on the beach. New in paperback is The Hurricane Sisters, which once again features a gorgeous cover. (Her 2015 summer book All The Single Ladies publishes on June 9th.)

We meet eighty-year-old Maisie Pringle, celebrating her birthday with her driver-turned-boyfriend Skipper, who is a much younger (65!) man. He and Maisie are very happy together, much to the chagrin of Maisie's daughter Liz, who at first glance is kind of a stick-in-the-mud.

Liz's twenty-something daughter Ashley lives in the family's somewhat rundown beach house on an island off of Charleston, South Carolina. Ashley works in an art gallery for ten dollars an hour and aspires to be an artist and visit Rome, Paris and New York. Her college friend Mary Beth can't find a teaching job, so she works for a caterer and lives with Ashley.

Liz is married to Clayton, who works in finance and spends most of his week in New York City. They also have a son, Clayton, called Ivy because he is Clayton IV in the family. Ivy lives in San Francisco with his business and life partner James, and though his parents had a difficult time with the fact that he is gay (they sent him to a conversion camp when he was a teen), they all seem to have made their way back to each other.

Ashley has a crush on a state senator, Porter, who is a bit John Edwards/John Kennedy-ish. She dreams of being his Jackie Kennedy, and when she meets him at an event and they start dating, it seems that her dreams may come true.

But Porter proves to be very controlling. He tells Ashley how to speak, how to act, and is generally very critical of her. Mary Beth and Maisie warn Ashley about Porter, but Ashley makes excuses for his behavior. When one of Porter's ex-girlfriend's tries to warn Ashley, she chalks it up to jealousy until the situation worsens.

Frank tackles the issue of domestic violence here, in a manner that may surprise people. South Carolina has the highest rate of women murdered by their husband/boyfriend, and Frank shows us how insidious domestic violence can be.

It doesn't just happen to women who are trapped, have children to support and nowhere to turn. It can happen to an intelligent, educated woman from a good family who should know better because her mother works for a domestic violence program. Frank definitely gives the reader something to think deeply about, and even offers the reader a way to help at the end of the book.

Of course, she still has her fabulous sense of Southern humor. I cackle at her one-liners, like this one from Liz, who says "Let me tell you, my friend, the gene pool is a mighty big place and like they say, there's literally no lifeguard."

Frank also again has an interesting take on marriage, and how difficult it can be and how much care you must take to stay connected, like she did in her last book, The Last Original Wife.  And again, I got lots of great restaurant suggestions for my Charleston Pinterest board.

There is so much in this fantastic book, told from the alternating perspectives of Maisie, Liz, Ashley and Clayton, that I would love to read a prequel, telling us more about Maisie, Liz and Liz's sister Juliet who died young. I feel there is an amazing story there as well.

The only problem with my Dorothea Benton Frank novels is that they all have sunscreen on the pages from turning them so quickly.

rating 4 of 5
My review of The Last Original Wife is here.
Dorothea Benton Frank's website is here. 


Monday, May 18, 2015

A Spool Of Blue Thread by Ann Tyler



A Spool Of Blue Thread by Ann Tyler
Published by Knopf ISBN 978110187271
Hardcover, $25.95, 368 pages


Ann Tyler’s novels reveal the inner workings of marriages and families. Her 20th novel — and, sadly, her last, she has said — is titled “A Spool of Blue Thread,” and like many of her books, it takes place in Baltimore, this time revolving around the Whitshank family.
The novel opens with a late-night phone call from 19-year-old prodigal son Denny. Father Red answers, and after a brief statement from Denny, the phone call ends. Mother Abby tries to get information from Red about the phone call — where Denny is, what is he doing, did he sound nervous or upset?
Red and Abby have a fight about it, not the first time their wayward son has caused them to argue and worry about him. Abby accuses Red of always finding fault with Denny, while being soft on their two girls, Jeannie and Amanda, and relating better to their son Stem because he and Red are so much alike.
Reading this chapter sets the tone for this insightful family novel. Anyone who is a parent will understand the Red/Abby relationship right away, and compare their own family dynamic to the Whitshanks.
Abby recalls a story about taking Denny to the grocery store when he was 10, and feeling that Denny was embarrassed by his mother. “He acted as if he’d been assigned the wrong mother, and she just didn’t measure up.”
Red owns a home construction business, founded by his father. Stem works with his dad, is married to Nora, a devout woman, and they are parents to three young boys. Jeannie also works in the family business, but feels like she isn’t treated as much as an equal because she is a woman.
Amanda is a lawyer, married to Hugh, also the name of Jeannie’s husband, and they have a teen daughter.
The Whitshanks are a close-knit family, but they have their quirks and disagreements. The girls seem to feel that because Denny disappears and reappears that he has always gotten all of their parents’ attention. Abby and Red spend so much time worrying and arguing about Denny, there is little leftover for them.
As time goes by, it is apparent that Abby is having cognitive issues. She seems to lose time, and doesn’t know where she has been or what she has been doing. Red is having hearing and health problems.
Amanda, Jeannie and Stem get together and it is decided that Stem, Nora and the boys will move in with Red and Abby to help them out. After this happens, Denny shows up unexpectedly and is upset that no one thought to ask him to move back in and help.
The three siblings remind Denny that he has a habit of just showing up and then getting peeved about a perceived slight and disappearing for years again. He is not the most reliable caregiver.
But Denny insist that he is staying, and the house becomes crowded with an additional six people and an extra dog. Abby and Red do their best to adjust, but the living situation is difficult. Daughter-in-law Nora tries to be helpful, doing the cooking, cleaning and running errands, but Abby understandably resents this intrusion into her home.
A tragedy occurs that devastates the family, and they must adjust to new circumstances. Tyler excels at dropping the reader into this family’s life, so that we feel like we are their neighbors, watching our friends next door make their way through life.
The novel then takes a turn as we shift time to learn about Red’s parents. We discover how Junior Whitshank and his wife, Linnie, met and married. That story is a great reminder that our parents were young once, and what we think we know about them is not all there is to the story. They had interesting and surprising lives before we came along.
Junior wanted to be someone important, and he found a way to do that through building up his construction company and finding a way to own the one house he truly loved — a house he designed for a wealthy family. He managed to buy that house and live his dream.
If this is how Ann Tyler ends her writing career, it is a fitting coda. “A Spool of Blue Thread” is a story that could be any of our family’s stories, but in the hand of a master like Ann Tyler, it is emotional and heartbreaking and relatable.

rating 5 of 5

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Roast Beef from Costco

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.


Every month or so, I make a trip uptown to go to Costco. I always pick up at least one of their rotisserie chicken because at $4.99 a chicken, you can't beat the price, and I can get two to three meals out of one chicken. (Crispy Chicken Wraps are my favorite.)

Last month I found another great item at Costco. In their refrigerated meat department, they have a package of fully cooked sliced beef from Cuisine Solutions. Inside are two pouches of cooked beef, in a delicious au jus. I open one pouch, pop it in the oven and 20 minutes later, I have an entree ready to go.


The beef is partially sliced and the only ingredients are beef chuck tender, kosher salt and black pepper. No caramel coloring, no preservatives, nothing else. It's so easy and the beef is tender and tasty. This time around I paired it with a homemade potato salad, fruit salad and spinach salad, and it made a simple and easy weeknight meal.

I hope Costco keeps this product in rotation. I've often discovered that when I find something I like at Costco, it disappears a few months later. If you shop at Costco, keep your eyes open for this one.

Speaking of grocery stores, the big news this week in NYC is that Wegmans is coming to Brooklyn. Everyone here went crazy with joy, there was singing and dancing in the streets, and although it will be two years before it opens, that gives me time to look for a house in Brooklyn.






Monday, May 11, 2015

The Dismantling- by Brian DeLeeuw

The Dismantling by Brian DeLeeuw
Published by Plume Books, ISBN 978-0-14-218174-4
Trade paperback, $16, 272 pages

Brian DeLeeuw's novel The Dismantling has some topical elements in its plot- injuries suffered by NFL players, the lack of available organs for those needing a transplant- and combines them with a young man trying to come to terms with the loss of his younger sister years ago and a woman with a mysterious past into a fast-paced thriller that also makes you think.

We meet Simon, a twenty-five year-old man who has dropped out of medical school but has yet to tell his father. His friend hooks him up with a under-the-radar company that connects people who need kidney or liver transplants with people who are willing to sell them their body parts.

Simon lost his mother to a horrible death when he was just a young child, and his teenage sister died, the circumstances of which are unraveled during the story. We do know that Simon feels that her death was his fault, but we don't know why for a long time.

Simon is tasked by his boss to find a liver donor for Lenny Pellegrini, a retired NFL player with a drinking problem who suffers from too many hits to the head during his playing days. Lenny's friend Howard, also a former NFL player, is paying for the liver and he and Simon must convince Lenny to do this for his wife and two young children.

Through their website, Simon has found Maria, a single young mother willing to sell a piece of her liver to Lenny. Since it is illegal to sell organs for transplant, the woman is presented as a cousin of Lenny's, and she is flown in and coached as to how the process works.

Maria seems like the perfect candidate, but things start to unravel shortly after the transplant. Maria disappears and Lenny is still in a state of severe depression. Simon's boss threatens him that he better fix this situation before too many questions are asked.

The Dismantling is a fast read, one that you want to finish in one sitting while at the same time taking time to ponder all of the bigger issues here. At its heart, it is Simon's story, about his coming to terms with everything in his life, where he has been and where he is going.

While Simon is in medical school, he has to participate in autopsying a cadaver, and the scenes set there are vivid and not for those with weak stomachs. It is in these sessions that Simon's past comes back to haunt him, and he ends up in the dangerous situation he finds himself in.

Simon is an interesting character, and his relationship with his dad was so real and heartbreaking. The Dismantling combines a thought provoking story with some heart-stopping action scenes and twists and turns, and seems tailor-made for a movie, maybe for a Hemsworth brother. I also enjoyed the New York City setting, especially since Simon and I lived on the same street.

rating 4 of 5

Brian DeLeeuw's website is here.

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

Brian DeLeeuw’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, May 4th: Kissin’ Blue Karen
Monday, May 4th: Vic’s Media Room
Tuesday, May 5th: 5 Minutes for Books
Wednesday, May 6th: Reading Reality
Thursday, May 7th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, May 8th: Life is Story
Monday, May 11th: Bookchickdi
Tuesday, May 12th: My Bookish Ways
Wednesday, May 13th: A Reader’s Oasis
Monday, May 18th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Wednesday, May 20th: Books a la Mode – author Q&A
Thursday, May 21st: Read. Write. Repeat.
Friday, May 22nd: Kay’s Reading Life
Monday, May 25th: Books on the Table
Tuesday, May 26th: Bell, Book & Candle
Wednesday, May 27th: She Treads Softly
Thursday, May 28th: Drey’s Library
Friday, May 29th: The Discerning Reader


Saturday, May 9, 2015

Weekend Cooking- A Great Birthday/Mother's Day Gift

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.

My birthday was last month, and I posted about the terrific dinner my husband and I had at Root & Bone that week to celebrate. As my birthday gift from my two adult sons and my son's girlfriend (in addition to the gorgeous flowers they sent), they are giving me a home cooked meal that we will be having tonight. (The timing is perfect- I have to work at the Book Cellar today, and Saturday night's dinner always vexes me.)

Birthday Flowers

They will also be able to combine it with my Mother's Day dinner, making it a double celebration. When we lived upstate, for Mother's Day my husband and sons would grill my favorite sandwich- a BBQ chicken breast with mushrooms and green onions on an onion roll. We miss grilling on the deck, but I am happy that I will get my chicken sandwich today!

In my birthday card, they enclosed a Happy Birthday Dinner Menu, listing all of the courses. We start with homemade mango salsa (I love mango anything) and homemade guacamole (my favorite). The salad course is a Caesar Salad, and then we have the chicken sandwich entree, along with grilled vegetables with olive oil and Parmesan cheese and loaded baked potatoes. We finish with cupcakes from Two Little Red Hens (Red Velvet, please).
Birthday Menu

We'll get to see JD, Ryan and Monica and I won't have to do the dishes or empty the garbage- I can't wait!
The chefs

I want to wish all of the mothers out there a very Happy Mother's Day- I hope your families treat you like a Queen!


Thursday, May 7, 2015

On Broadway- Doctor Zhivago


When I was in high school, I worked at a movie theater, and we had a re-release of the 1965 movie, Doctor Zhivago. I was mesmerized by the beautiful movie, and Omar Sharif and Julie Christie were unforgettable as Yuri and Lara, star-crossed lovers during WWI and the Russian Revolution.

Doctor Zhivago is now a Broadway musical, and I had the opportunity to see it last night. From the opening scene, I was again mesmerized. I thought it would be daunting to bring such an iconic movie to the stage, but the show was stunning from beginning to end.

The sets, from the grand wedding of Doctor Yuri Zhivago to Tonia, his childhood sweetheart and daughter of his benefactors, to the battlefields of Germany are brilliantly executed, simple yet effective in aiding in the telling of the story. The costumes are wonderful as well.

Yuri becomes entranced by Lara, a revolutionary who attempts to kill Victor Komarovosky, a man who is always involved in something shady and manages to keep his head above water. Victor and Lara are having an affair, one she regrets.

Lara is married to Pasha, a firebrand who wants to change Russia through revolution. They will do so through violence if necessary, since nothing else seems to work.

Pasha enlists to fight in WWI, and Yuri volunteers to offer his medical services as well. Lara becomes a volunteer nurse to be closer to her husband, but it is Doctor Zhivago with whom she falls in love.

The score is powerful and emotional, with the strongest songs being "Love Finds You", sung by the five leads, and "It Comes As No Surprise" sung by Lara and Tonia as they confront each other over their love for Yuri. And yes, "Lara's Theme" is here, sung beautifully by the nurses.

The acting is terrific, with Kelli Barrett, as the strong-willed Lara reminding me of another Kelli, Broadway powerhouse Kelli O'Hara. Tam Mutu has a tough job following in Omar Sharif's footsteps, but he does so admirably. I do wish their chemistry was a little stronger though.

The audience really loved Paul Alexander Nolan's performance of Pasha. He got lots of whoops and hollers from the audience, as did Tom Hewitt as Victor. Both men gave strong performances.

I'm sad to report that the show is closing on Sunday, but if you can get there before then, I recommend it. Fans of Les Miserables will love this one, as well as fans of the movie.

The Doctor Zhivago website is here.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Beach Club Book Club Reads A Memory of Violets by Hazel Graynor

A Memory of Violets by Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-231689-9
Trade paperback, $14.99, 386 pages


The Beach Club Book Club enjoyed Hazel Graynor's historical fiction The Girl Who Came Home, and so when the opportunity to read her novel A Memory of Violets came up with the Book Club Girl Book Club, we took it.

Irish sisters Florrie and Rose live in poverty in 1876 London, selling small posies of violets and watercress at Covent Garden's flower markets. Their mother is dead and their father is an awful man. Florrie always cared for her little sister, but one day they are separated and Florrie is panicked looking everywhere for Rose but not finding her.

Rose ended up hiding in the carriage of a wealthy woman, who took pity on the poor child and eventually convinced her husband to raise the child as their own. Florrie found refuge working and living with other young girls who made flowers to sell.

The conditions were nice, and the program was run by a kind, wealthy man who believed that helping these girls find a better life was his calling. But Florrie never stopped looking for Rose, hoping that one day they would be reunited.

The story moves forward to 1912, where a young woman named Tillie ends up working as a housemother's assistant in one of Mr. Shaw's Training Homes for Watercress and Flower Girls. She finds a journal written by a former resident, Florrie, and tries to find out what happened to Florrie and Rose.

The Beach Club Book Club loved A Memory of Violets. One of our members praised the sister theme (she has three older sisters), and compared the flower storyline to another book we had read, The Language of Flowers.

She also enjoyed the theme of how fate plays such an important part in our lives. Two quotes that resonated with her were:
"There is a reason for everything and everything has a reason. Keep a close eye on life and you'll know what the reason is."
And one quote that her children used in their yearbook was also in the book:
"Give the world your best and the best will come back to you."
Since some of us in the club are Irish, we enjoyed that aspect of the story. Irish families tend to be big and like to stay together, something we could relate to. Among the final thoughts about A Memory of Violets were that it was an enjoyable and heartwarming read, and we liked it even more than The Girl Who Came Home. We can't wait to read Hazel Gaynor's next one.

rating 5 of 5

Our review of The Girl Who Came Home is here.