Thursday, May 18, 2017

On the Bestseller List

Reprinted from the Citizen:


There are many places to find bestselling books list- The New York Times, Publisher’s Weekly, and Amazon- just to name a few. This month’s Book Report is a rundown on some of the books on bestsellers lists, in a variety of genres.

George Saunders is known for his brilliant short story collections, “The Tenth of December” being his most recent one loved by critics. He tackles historical fiction in his first novel, “Lincoln in the Bardo”, which is a tour-de-force in literary fiction. 
Lincoln in the Bardo

“Lincoln in the Bardo” takes a real event- the death of Abraham Lincoln’s young son Willie- and creates a masterful novel, posturing what happens after death. Saunders has multiple characters speaking here, most of them residing someone between death and the afterlife, and they tell the stories of their own lives and how they came to be “in the bardo”.

His Lincoln is a father torn asunder by grief, mourning not only his own son, but all the sons he has sent to death in war. Interspersed is dialogue from people who knew Lincoln, some real excerpts and some Saunders himself has written. It is unique and inventive.

Angie Thomas’s debut novel, “The Hate U Give” has also gained critical acclaim. Her novel tops the Young Adult bestseller list but I found it to be just as appealing to adults who don’t necessarily read YA fiction. 
The Hate U Give

Starr is a sixteen year-old young woman who lives in with her parents in an inner city but attends a private suburban school. She straddles both worlds, and has a boyfriend from school that her parents don’t know about. When Starr sees a friend from her neighborhood killed by a police officer during a traffic stop, her family’s life is turned upside down.

I loved Starr’s family- her hardworking mother, her father who is dedicated to bettering his part of the world, her half-brother, her policeman uncle who is also torn by this incident. They love each other fiercely and work hard to get what we all want- a good life for our families. I highly recommend “The Hate U Give” for teenagers on up.

Anne LaMott writes fiction, but is better known for her nonfiction works, like “Grace (Eventually), Thoughts on Faith”. Her latest work is a slim book, “Hallelujah Anyway”, a book about mercy, a timely topic as Pope Francis has spoken and written extensively on this issue as well. 
Hallelujah Anyway

LaMott works hard to be be a better person daily, but she often falls short, as do we all. She asks us all to show mercy to each other, even to those with whom we don’t seem to share much in common, and in today’s divided nation her words are a welcome reminder.

It’s baseball season, and former Atlanta Braves superstar Chipper Jones’ memoir, “Ballplayer” has broken through to hit a Nonfiction bestseller list that is filled mostly with political books. Jones was a mainstay player for the Braves, the only team he played for in his nearly twenty-year Major League Baseball career, which doesn’t happen often in today’s world of free agency. 
Ballplayer

Jones was part of the 1995 Atlanta Braves World Series champions, MVP in 1999, and certainly will be a Hall Of Famer in 2018. He shares stories of his baseball journey, as well as his personal life, which had a few missteps. This one is for baseball fans of any team.

Alyssa Mastromonaco grew up in a small town in upstate New York, and although she didn’t attend an Ivy League school like most of her coworkers, her hard work and intelligence paid off as she rose to become President Obama’s deputy chief of staff and chronicles her life in “Who Thought This Was a Good Idea?” 
Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?

Mastromonaco’s book gives an insider’s view of working in the White House, and I admired how she worked hard at every job- whether a cashier at her local grocery store in Rheinbeck while in high school or her job at Sotheby’s in New York City. This is a wonderful book to give to a college graduate, a how-to on how to get where you want to go.

As today is Mother’s Day, I’d like to thank all the moms who gave their children the gift of of a lifelong love of reading, including my own Mom, who read me “Miss Suzy” until I could recite it word for word. Happy Mother’s Day!


Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Same Beach Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank

Same Beach, Next Year by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062390783
Hardcover, $27.99, 384 pages
It's almost a shame that Dorothea Benton Frank's books always have such gorgeous covers because every year when I buy the newest one, I inevitably mess up the pretty covers with sunscreen. I guess she shares some of the blame, after all, her books are a summer right of passage. Summer has not officially arrived until I have the latest Dorothea Benton Frank book in my beach bag.

This summer's book is Same Beach, Next Year set in her beloved Lowcountry of South Carolina. Each year Adam and Eliza and their young twin boys Luke and Max spend a few weeks at a vacation condo not far from home. Adam is a hardworking successful construction business owner and Eliza is a fabulous cook, who yearns to write a cookbook.

One year, a new couple takes the condo next door and it turns out the woman is Eve, Adam's first love. Eve is married to Carl, a hardworking, successful pediatrician and they have a young daughter, Daphne, about the twins' age, and they are joined by with Eve's mother Cookie.

The two couples get along famously, and although Eliza has her antenna up a bit about Adam and Eve, the fact that Carl is extremely handsome and shamelessly flirts with her distracts her somewhat.

The four become fast friends, and along with Ted, Adam's father, and Ted's girlfriend Clarabeth, it's one big happy family as they meet every year for two weeks and swim together, golf together and eat together.

Cookie likes to stir trouble, and she is hyper-critical of her daughter, which literally drives Eve to drink. Time flies by and Eve turns to Adam when she fears that Carl has been cheating on her. That sets in motion an incident that threatens two marriages and their friendship.

One of the things I love best about Frank's book is that she makes her characters relatable. Eliza has two sons (so do I), her dog Rufus is her best friend (mine was Malcolm, my late beloved basset hound) and Eliza loves to cook, as do I (well, most of the time).

This book is written from the perspectives of both Eliza and Adam, and I found it intriguing how Frank got into Adam's mindset. I have to say, though, I found his behavior and rationalizations puzzling, although I think each character makes some head-shaking choices here.

Since Eliza is a cook, we get some wonderfully descriptive foodie scenes, from Eliza's trip to the Piggly Wiggly grocery store to Eliza's family Christmas breakfast (I could almost smell the cinnamon on the page) to the feast that Eliza has with her Greek family in Corfu.

Same Beach, Next Year is another Dorothea Benton Frank winner, it's got everything you want in a summer beach read- great characters, sassy dialogue, interesting family and friend dynamics and a road trip to Greece. Maybe I should try covering my book in plastic so the sunscreen doesn't ruin the beautiful cover.

You may recognize the book's title- an homage to the Alan Alda-Ellen Burstyn movie, Same Time, Next Year, which if you haven't seen, you should. The IMDB link is here. (It was a play first.)


Dorothea Benton Frank's website is here.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Dorothea Benton Frank's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, May 16th: Girl Who Reads
Wednesday, May 17th: bookchickdi
Thursday, May 18th: Kritters Ramblings
Friday, May 19th: Mom’s Small Victories
Monday, May 22nd: Stranded in Chaos
Tuesday, May 23rd: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, May 24th: Into the Hall of Books
Thursday, May 25th: Tina Says…
Friday, May 26th: The Book Bag
Monday, May 29th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Tuesday, May 30th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, May 31st: Girls Just Reading
Thursday, June 1st: Jathan & Heather
Friday, June 2nd: 5 Minutes For Books



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Murder Between the Lines Book Launch

Murder Between the Lines by Radha Vatsal
Published by Sourcebooks ISBN 9781492638926
Trade paperback, $15.99, 314 pages
One of the best advantages to living in NYC is that you get to attend some teriffic book events. Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Radha Vatsal, author of Murder Between the Lines, the second book in the Kitty Weeks mystery series, at the Mysterious Bookshop in Lower Manhattan.

I'd never been to the Mysterious Bookshop, and was very impressed. The shop is small, but wonderfully organized. They have bookshelves that line the perimeter from the floor to the very high ceiling. They host many events there, and have an extensive collection of signed books, which are helpfully labeled with a bright pink label on each book.



A standing-room only crowd was in attendance to hear Radha Vatsal speak about her newest book. I first heard Ms. Vatsal at Bryant Park's Author Series talking about her first Kitty Weeks' book, A Front Page Affair, which I enjoyed very much.

I'm happy to say that Murder Between the Lines is even better. This time young New York Sentinel Ladies' Page reporter Capability "Kitty" Weeks is writing a story about Westfield Hall, an exclusive girls' school in New York City in 1915.

Kitty is delighted to speak with Elspeth Bright, a student whose interest in science is ahead of her time. When Elspeth is found dead in Central Park, the result of her freezing to death during a sleepwalking episode, Kitty is led to believe that there is more to it than just an accident and begins investigating.

Vatsal does a great deal of research, which she said is made much easier now that old copies of The New York Times are now archived online, and she saw a headline "Girl Somnambulist Freezes" that gave her the storyline.

I love the historical context of these books, and Vatsal's research is evident on the page. In Murder Between the Lines she manages to work in sleepwalking, Thomas Edison's new batteries to be used in naval technology, President Woodrow Wilson's marriage to Edith Galt, and the burgeoning suffragette movement into her story. You get a real context for events of that time period.

The scene set in the Waldorf Astoria, where President Wilson is set to give a speech and where the suffragettes hope to meet with him, is so evocative. If you close your eyes, you feel as if you are walking in Peacock Alley in the iconic hotel, which, sadly, is closed for renovations now and under new ownership. I was glad Vatsal chose to read from that section at the book launch.

During the Q&A period, Vatsal spoke of how women in the 1910s had more opportunities, particularly in the fields of film and academia. There were many more female silent film directors than there are even today. There were over 600 epsidoes of 30 film series featuring female heroines, like The Hazards of Helen. Vatsal describes a scene of Helen chasing down men who stole money from her, fighting them on top of a moving train.

I'm sure that we will see some of these women in future Kitty Weeks mysteries. Vatsal explained to the crowd that in the 1920s, professional requirements such as more education in areas of law and academia meant that women were increasingly shut out of those professions.

If you are a fan of Victoria Thompson's Gaslight Mysteries, or Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, you will want to read Radha Vatsal's Kitty Weeks mysteries. I highly recommend Murder Between the Lines.


 The Mysterious Bookshop can be found here.
A video of The Hazards of Helen can be found here.
Radha Vatsal's website is here.


Monday, May 15, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Sugar Butter Flour- The Waitress Pie Book

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.

Sugar Butter Flour by Daniel Gercke, Sheri Castle and Evan Sung
Published by Pam Krauss Books/Avery ISBN 9780735216334
Hardcover, $25, 160 pages

A few months ago I had the great joy to see Jessie Mueller in the Broadway musical Waitress, based on the movie of the same name written by Adrienne Shelly. It tells the story of Jenna Hunterson, an unhappily married waitress in a small town with an amazing ability to create delicious pies based on what she is feeling at the moment.

It is a teriffic show, filled with wonderful songs by singer Sara Barielles, with a good book and a great ensemble. As I was watching the show, I was thinking, wow, these pies sound so great, I'd love to be able to make them myself. (They sell mini pies in a small jar at the theater.)

Cue the new cookbook from Pam Krauss Books/Avery- Sugar Butter Flour- The Waitress Pie Book. The book is credited to the character Jenna Hunterson, but the recipes are actually by Sheri Castle, with the text by Daniel Gercke and photographs by Evan Sung.

The book begins with Jenna's Rules for Baking (and Life), with helpful tips for those of us to whom pie crusts are a puzzle (guilty). Then we get right into the pies, starting with Fruit Pies like Sweet Victory Pie (a cherry pie), Banish the Glum Plum Galettes, and Big Guy Strawberry Pie, topped with a basil whipped cream.

The photos are gorgeous, and I like the layout. It begins with an explanation, then lists the ingredients in bold in the middle of the page, making it easy for you to write your grocery list from this. The instructions follow, along with tips and a color photo of each pie.

The Savory Pie section has some fabulous pies, like Betrayed by My Eggs Pie (chorizo, eggs and butter), My Husband's a Jerk Chicken Potpie (chicken with peppers and onions- my husband will love this one) and Old Joe's Horny Past Pie (a traditional Southern tomato pie).

The Chocolate and Nut Pies section has the most creative-named pies- I Wanna Play Doctor With My Gynocologist Chocolate Mousse Pie, and I Can't Have An Affair Because It's Wrong (and I Don't Want Earl To Kill Me) Marbled Chocolate Cheesecake Pie- among them.

The last section is titled Lulus: Blue-Ribbon Winners. Lulus are are showstopper pies, and here you'll find Deep-Dish Blueberry-Bacon Pie (described as a "perfect diner breakfast all cozied up in a slice of pie"), Mermaid Mashmallow Pie (like an ambrosia salad in a pie) and Thanks For Taking Me To The Moon Peanut Butter MoonPie Pie (peanut butter cream topped with marshmallow whipped cream and MoonPies).

If you are a pie baker or you want to be, Sugar Butter Flour is a book you will want to have on your shelf. I'm pretty sure my brand spanking-new copy will soon be covered in sugar, flour and butter very soon as I attempt to make my husband these luscious dessert treats. And if you are a fan of the film or Broadway show Waitress or know someone who is, this is a must-have.

The website for Broadway's Waitress is here.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson

The Marriage Bureau by Penrose Halson
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062562661
Trade paperback, $15.99, 320 pages
Before there was E-harmony or Tinder, there was The Marriage Bureau, which is recounted in Penrose Halson's book of the same name.

In 1938, twenty-four-year-old Audrey Parsons had already been through a litany of jobs near her home in England. She worked in a factory (too boring), as a dental receptionist (too bloody- she had to pick up teeth off the floor!), as a photographer's assistant (the darkroom was too dark), as a delivery girl for a cake shop (fired for eating the cakes) and as a riding instructor (she refused to muck out the stables).

Audrey went to visit her Uncle George in Assam, India and he gave her the idea of starting a marriage bureau in London. There were so many young men working overseas looking for a wife to join them, he thought Audrey could do something about that.

So Audrey found a partner in Heather, who was practical and logical in contrast to Audrey (now called Mary), who was more romantic and imaginative. They made a perfect team for this job!

The Marriage Bureau was formed, and thanks to a slew of good publicity in local newspapers, it was successful right out of the gate. The idea was that people would come in and be interviewed, giving their requirements for a potential spouse. They paid a small fee, and if a match led to marriage, they paid an After Marriage Fee.

The Marriage Bureau: The True Story of How Two Matchmakers Arranged Love in Wartime London is filled with stories of the many clients who came in looking for love. Their first wedding was a 68 year-old bride to a 70 year-old groom, which garnered so much publicity (including a short documentary film) that the bureau was overrun with inquiries across the world- India, dozens of African nations, and once WWII broke out, even American servicemen stationed in England used their services.

The stories are charming and sad, and some are even maddening. Mary and Heather were so successful, they even found a match for Cedric, a man they both found unappealing and disagreeable. Maybe there is a lid for every pot.

At the end of the book, there are two lists that must be read- Requirements for Female Clients 1939-1949 and Requirements for Male Clients 1939-1949. These lists contain such specific client requests as:
Women required:

  • Not too sophisticated but not too dumb
  • Man who will cherish a large woman
  • I divorced my husband who was teacher. Not another teacher
  • No bridge, pub crawling, golf, passion for The Club or Americans

Men required:

  • No hysteria, no gold diggers; likes mountaineering
  • Able to play a portable instrument (string or woodwind) well. Rather a prairie than a hothouse flower
  • Someone who doesn't expect too much
  • A nice, stylish girl, not too brainy, with the appearance of a West End mannequin. No objection to a rich widow. Someone who likes living and is human.
Reading this put me in mind of PBS' series Home Fires, and if you like that, this book is for you. Mary and Heather were women ahead of their time, and I enjoyed reading about their successful business and all of the lovely people they helped to find love. I recommend The Marriage Bureau.

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


Tour Stops

Thursday, May 4th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, May 5th: BookNAround
Monday, May 8th: Always With a Book
Tuesday, May 9th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, May 10th: bookchickdi
Thursday, May 11th: Man of La Book
Friday, May 12th: Reading is My Super Power
Friday, May 12th: View from the Birdhouse
Monday, May 15th: StephTheBookworm
Monday, May 15th: A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, May 16th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Wednesday, May 17th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Thursday, May 18th: Just Commonly





Wednesday, May 3, 2017

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward by Mark Lukach
Published by Harper Wave ISBN 9780062422910
Hardcover, $25.99, 320 pages

Mark Lukach fell in love at first sight with the beautiful Italian woman Guilia when both were freshmen in college. They had so much in common- they're both lefthanded, their moms have the same birthday, she grew up in Italy and moved to the US, he grew up in the US and moved to Japan in the same year. They felt these coincidences were part of their mythology that they were destined to be together.

Mark and Guilia planned a future together, one where Guilia would have a fabulous job in fashion marketing, and they would have three beautiful children. Family was important to both of them.

For awhile things were looking like they would follow the track they had planned. Until Guilia began to act erratically. She had a great job, one that she was good at. One day she started emailing Mark during the day with work emails that she was agonizing over for hours. She would waste an entire work day worrying about these simple emails she had to send.

That is how Guilia's mental illness manifested itself, as Mark describes in his heartbreaking memoir My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward. Soon she began to believe that the Devil was tormenting her. It got so frightening that Mark took her to the local ER, where the doctors decided that Guilia must be admitted to the psych ward for her own good.

Mark and Guilia's world was turned upside down. Everything became about her mental illness, which the doctors couldn't really pinpoint with a diagnosis. Was it schizoprehenia? Was she bipolar? Her symptoms didn't exactly fit any diagnosis.

Mark takes us inside the world of mental illness with a loved one. The unpredictability, the unbelieveable emotional and physical stress on not only the person with mental illness, but also on loved ones.

Guilia's parents came over from Italy and were heartbroken at what had happened to their daughter. Mark's parents also came from Japan to lend support, but no one knew exactly what to do.

Guilia was heavily medicated, and it took a long time to find the correct medications that would abate her depression and suicidal thoughts, and those medications frequently left her lethagric and zonked out.

Mental illness is so debilitating because the sick person often cannot help themselves, as someone with a physical illness can. Mark was responsible for Guilia, but when she requested that he not be given information about her from her doctors, the doctors had to respect her decision, making the situation even worse.

Guilia did get better, and their dream of having a child was realized. She went back to work and things seemed better, until she relapsed. Now Mark had to balance Guilia's illness with caring for their infant son.

My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward is a moving memoir about loving and living with someone with mental illness. It will break your heart, and enlighten you as to how difficult it is to deal with an issue that our healthcare system is woefully unprepared to do, although Guilia was lucky enough to have doctors and hospitals that were caring and professional.

If you read Susannah Cahalan's Brain on Fire, I recommend My Lovely Wife in the Psych Ward as a good followup to that book.


Thansk to TLC Tours for putting me on Mark Lukach's tour. The rest of his stops are here:


Tuesday, April 25, 2017

By The Wayside Stories by Anne Leigh Parrish

By the Wayside- Stories by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published by Unsolicited Press ISBN 9780998087238
Trade paperback, $16.99, 238 pages


A few years back I read a collection of linked stories, Our Love Could Light The World, by Anne Leigh Parrish. The stories were about a family with five children, set in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. Since I grew up in a family with five children in that region, I had to read it.

I loved the book, and it reminded me of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning linked story collection, Olive Kitteridge, but I enjoyed Parrish's book even more.

Parrish is back with a more traditional collection of stories, By the Wayside. Instead of linked stories with the same characters appearing in the stories, these stories have similiar themes. Many of the stories have appeared in other publications as well.

The eighteen stories in By The Wayside deal mainly with young women facing a crossroads in life. These sassy women are dealing with dead parents, mental illness, sibling animosity, disappointment, marriage, and unrequited love. Many of these women are lonely, and some have adult responsibility beyond their young years.

In the first story, An Angel Within, Leet is a twenty year-old woman whose parents are gone. She is responsible for her two younger sisters, a sixteen year-old obsessed with nail polish, and a thirteen year-old whose obsession with beautiful clothes and handbags sometimes led to shoplifting.

Leet believes that an angel lives inside her; it is the only way she can get through her days at her lousy job as a grocery bagger in a town that requires a two-bus communte, only to return home to deal with her sisters.

The second story, How She Was Found, is one of the strongest. Fiona is on an archeological dig with her male professor and three male fellow students who treat her with disdain until she makes a significant find. I particularly liked Fiona's spunk. (Lou Grant would not like it- Mary Tyler Moore Show shout-out.)

Short stories require that the author get right to the point with her words, there is no room for flowerly descriptions. Parrish excels in that, using indelible phrases and sentences that set the mood and character in the reader's mind, like these:

In the terrific Where Love Lies, she writes "Dana figured nothing had been her fault. Bruce figured everything had been his fault." You learn a lot about that married couple in one sentence.

When Anna and her newlywed husband Paul move to the dusty town of Huron, South Dakota in 1920 in An Act of Concealment, Paul "thought the place he looked at nothing like home, His heart sank a bit. Anne's didn't. To her, home was an idea, not a place." I absolutely loved that passage, and again we know who these people are immediately.

When Anna says to another man that she believes marriage causes a kind of blindness, he tells her that "marriage alters one's vision... I mean that he doesn't see you well enough and (that) you see him too clearly."

Another story I loved was The Lillian Girl, about a teen who run aways from her disinterested parents and finds a woman looking for her daughter. It's the last story, and a fitting end to the this wonderful collection.

I found that I enjoyed the stories that were longer, the stories that were but a few stories that seemed to end too abruptly for me. I recommend By the Wayside for those looking for a good short story collection, written beautifully. It's a perfect one-day read, but one that you'll contemplate much longer.


My review of Our Love Could Light The World is here.

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


Anne Leigh Parrish’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, April 3rd: Dwell in Possibility
Wednesday, April 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, April 6th: Lit and Life – author guest post
Monday, April 10th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, April 12th: Mama Vicky Says
Thursday, April 13th: Bibliophiliac
Monday, April 17th: Books ‘n Tea
Wednesday, April 19th: Susan Peterson
Thursday, April 20th: Dreaming Big
Monday, April 24th: BookNAround
Tuesday, April 25th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, April 26th: Maureen Downing
Thursday, April 27th: Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Monday, May 1st: 100 Pages a Day – author guest post
Wednesday, May 3rd: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, May 4th: Seaside Booknook
Friday, May 5th: Readaholic Zone