Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick
Published by Harper ISBN 9780062285560
Hardcover, $25.99, 400 pages

Some books just grab you right away, and I can add Matthew Quick's Love May Fail to that list. It begins with a card that reads:

Portia Kane, Official Member of the Human Race! This card entitles you to the ugliness and beauty, heartache and joy- the great highs and lows of existence- and everything in between. It also guarantees you the right to strive, to reach, to dream, and to become the person you know (deep down) you are meant to be. So make daring choices, work hard, enjoy the ride, and remember- you  become exactly whomever you choose to be.

Then we jump into the first chapter where Portia Kane is hiding in her bedroom closet with a gun, ready to catch her pornographer husband red-handed in the act of cheating on her. Portia ponders how she got there. She used to be a feminist, but as she says,
"Being a feminist is so easy when you're a college freshman with enough scholarship money and financial aid to cover tuition, room and board. A woman with a clean slate. Compromises come with age." 
The scene between Portia and her husband, (with a very young naked woman also in the mix) is just funny and crazy and brilliantly written. My favorite line happens when Portia tells the young woman exactly what she is in for sexually with Ken, and as she is throwing her clothes into a weekend bag, she thinks, "Naked Ken watches me with his mouth hanging open, like I just invented fire." That one just had me laughing out loud.

Portia gets on a plane to go home to her hoarder mother. She sits next to a nun, who offers her an ear and some vodka, even though Portia has already got a good start on getting drunk. Portia spills her guts to Sister Maeve, who is a real pistol herself. Quick creates characters with whom I connected right away.

Portia's mother is clearly mentally ill, as most hoaders are, and Quick handles the character with empathy, creating a woman we care about and ache for, just as we ache for Portia having to deal with this alone her entire life as there was no father in the picture.

While she is home, she wants to find the high school teacher, Mr. Nate Vernon, who gave all of his students the Human Race card, and showed Portia particular kindness in her life when she needed it. She discovers that Mr. Vernon left teaching after an incident, and she becomes determined to help him.

As the story advances, Portia reconnects with a high school friend, now a single mom of a five-year-old boy. We also see what has become of Mr. Vernon, as he narrates the second part of the story. His story is moving.

Fate plays a big part in the story, and as does Portia's quest to prove that Mr. Vernon was right: there is human decency and goodness in the world, and people can become whomever they choose to be.

There are some plot points that may seem obvious, and then there are some that, when they come together, made me smile. Quick has put a lot into his story- faith, mental illness, family, love, friendship, a belief in yourself, and how handling things when life doesn't go your way builds your character.

I absolutely adored Chuck, a man who works hard to maintain his sobriety and wants to be a teacher. He is Quick's alter ego in this novel,  (Quick was a teacher) and I felt he was the most believable character.

I sincerely hope that Love May Fail is turned into a movie like Quick's previous book The Silver Linings Playbook was. There is so much to love here and the characters are so strongly developed, they leapt off the page and into my heart. I give Love May Fail my highest recommendation. It's funny, sad, messy and complicated, just like life.

Matthew Quick's website is here. 
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Matthew Quick's tour. The rest of the stops are here.

Matthew’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, June 16th: Book Hooked Blog
Wednesday, June 17th: Novel Escapes
Thursday, June 18th: 5 Minutes For Books
Friday, June 19th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, June 22nd: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, June 23rd: A Bookworm’s World
Wednesday, June 24th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, June 25th: Chronicles …
Monday, June 29th: she treads softly
Tuesday, June 30th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, July 1st: Into the Hall of Books
Thursday, July 2nd: Many Hats
Monday, July 6th: Bibliotica
Tuesday, July 7th: Becca Rowan
Wednesday, July 8th: For the Love of Words



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell

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.

Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062270306
Hardcover, $26.99, 304 pages

When chef Cal Peternell was getting ready to send his son off to college, he decided to create a small cookbook of the twelve recipes that he felt were most important for his son to have. They were for food he had made for the family, his son's favorite dishes, things everyone should be able to make.

The book turned into Twelve Recipes, simple but standard dishes that everyone should be able to make and enjoy. Each chapter also has variations on those recipes, something that you can add to the repertoire to kick things up a notch.

Peternell is a chef at Alice Waters' famed Chez Panisse, so his food is clean, fresh and flavorful. He divides his twelve categories in this way:

  • Toast
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Salad Dressings and What To Dress
  • Pasta With Tomato
  • Pasta Otherwise
  • Rice, Polenta, and Mashed Potatoes
  • Only The Best Vegetables
  • Roasted Chicken
  • Braises
  • Sauces
  • Cakes
In addition to recipes, Peternell shares his best tips- when cooking in a skillet the pan should be dry until hot then add the oil, have two kinds of olive oil on hand, use sea salt, when cooking with garlic add something wet (wine, chopped tomatoes, stock) to prevent it from burning.

Twelve Recipes is a wonderful book not only for the new cook, but even as someone who cooks often, I found it very enlightening. I made many notes from the book, got great tips and recipes that seem simple and flavorful. 

His recipe for Shallot and Sherry Viniagrette is a terrific example:
1 small shallot
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
good pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil

Peel and mince the shallot, like you would an onion. Mix with the salt, vinegars, mustard and pepper and let sit for 5 minutes to marinate and temper the shallots. Stir in the olive oil with a fork or whisk. If it thickens and emulsifies, fine. If not, also fine- just stir before using.

Peternell also sprinkles some family stories throughout, and you can feel the love he has for his family in this wonderful book. It makes a terrific gift for a new cook, and yet the experienced cook will also get some great recipes to add to their collection.

Cal Peternell's website is here.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Beach Club Book Club Reads The Precious One

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062323804
Hardcover, $25.99, 368 pages

As Marisa de los Santos' The Precious One opens, Taisy Cleary receives a phone out of the blue from her estranged father Wilson, the man who left her mother, twin brother Marcus and her to marry a young sculptor. After not hearing from the man in ages, he calls her to inform her that he had a heart attack two weeks ago and summons her to his home to discuss an important matter.

Marcus tells Taisy she is crazy to go see the man, but Taisy cannot say no. When she arrives, she finds that her father- a brilliant professor, inventor and self-made millionaire- wants her to help him write his memoir. Or rather, he will dictate it to Taisy and she can interview the many people who think he is brilliant too.

Taisy says yes, even though she has to stay in the poolhouse. (You wouldn't expect her to be allowed to stay in her father's house with his wife and brilliant and beautiful golden child Willow, would you?)

The only thing Willow knows about her half sister is that Taisy committed some horrible act when she was a teenager that made Wilson infuriated and lose all respect for her. Now Taisy is in their lives and Willow feels she must protect her father from her.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Taisy and Willow. Taisy is curious about her father and his other family and slowly comes to care for Willow and her mother. Willow has been isolated from most other people, being homeschooled and smothered by her father's attention.

As Taisy and Willow get to know each other, they come to understand and even like each other. Taisy helps Willow join the outside world, teaching her the things she needs to know.

As I read this book, I felt like Taisy could be a character in an Adriana Trigiani novel. She is a hardworking woman with a good sense of humor, and an even more developed sense of right and wrong.  There's even a crazy family dinner scene that reminded me of the Roncalli family ones from Trigiani's Valentine series.

The ladies in the book club all agreed that we liked Taisy, she might even make a great addition to our book club. Her growing affection for Willow and Willow's mother was touching and sweet. One of our members has twins, so she especially enjoyed the relationship between Taisy and Marcus.

We did not like Wilson, he was pompous and self-righteous, although Taisy's discovery of his past helped to mitigate that feeling somewhat (OK, just a little bit).

This was the first book I have read of de los Santos, and I would like to read more of them. I like her style of writing, and the way she was able to write in the voices of two distinct characters.

If you're looking for a good family story, The Precious One is an excellent choice.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Beach Club Book Club Reads The Daughter

The Daughter by Jane Shemilt
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062320476
Trade paperback, $14.99, 341 pages

Jenny is a hardworking doctor, married to a successful surgeon and mother to three teenagers. Her fifteen-year-old daughter Naomi has been acting distant lately, which bothers Jenny since they have always been close. She attributes it to all the pressures of school, working hard on the school play and just normal teenage angst.

Then one night Jenny doesn't come home from play rehearsal. Jenny and Ted call her friends, drive around the town, and still no Naomi. Shemilt captures the raw fear and panic of realizing that your child is missing. Any parent reading it will have a visceral reaction to this story.

The story is told in alternating time lines, from the day she disappears and then one year later, with Naomi still gone and no answers from the police. Writing it this way made the story stronger for me, knowing that Naomi hasn't been found allows the reader to concentrate on the emotions of the family, rather than the actual search for Naomi.

Naomi's disappearance reveals many secrets about Jenny's family. She discovers that the things she believes to be true about her marriage and her children aren't necessarily so. Naomi hid many things from her mother, and one thing you find from reading The Daughter is that you may think you know everything about your children, but they may have an entirely different life than the one you think they do.

Watching Jenny suffer through her daughter's disappearance is tough. She tries to get through each day, wondering where her daughter is and what happened to her. Then there are the reactions of her two sons; as time goes on, she discovers things about them she never thought possible.

I'm not sure how I feel about the resolution to the story. It is definitely one that will engender conversation and controversy. One of our members said she felt it fell flat at the end, and she wasn't crazy about the characters.

The Daughter is a suspense thriller that does make a good book club pick because it will have people, especially mothers of teenagers, talking. It provokes strong reactions, and as a mother to sons, I wonder if I have a different reaction than mothers of daughters.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Harper ISBN 9780062220554
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages

Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the Maisie Dobbs series of books by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie is a private investigator/psychologist working in London following WWI. She was a nurse stationed in France, where she saw the terrible things war does to people, including being injured herself.

A Dangerous Place is the 11th book in the series, and we pick up the story in 1937, four years after the last book ended. Maisie and her husband James are living in Canada, where James is working on planes for the government.

After a tragedy, Maisie decides to return to India to heal. When her stepmother wires Maisie asking her to return home to England, Maisie decides to go, but ends up in Gibraltar, a British garrison town off the coast of Spain.

Maisie discovers the dead body of a photographer, a Sephardic Jew, and feeling that the police aren't interested in finding the killer, Maisie uses her skills to solve the murder, and gets involved in a dangerous political situation.

Winspear always does a great deal of research for her books, and in this one, we learn a great deal about the Spanish Civil War, including the bombing of a marketplace in Guernica, where many women and children were killed by fascist forces. For someone who doesn't know much about the politics in Spain at this time, it is enlightening.

Since Maisie is alone in Gibraltar, we don't see many of our favorite characters from previous books- no Billy, no Priscilla, no Lady Rowan. I have to admit I miss Maisie's interactions with the characters I have grown to like. The only one who makes an appearance is Inspector MacFarlane, Maisie's sometimes nemesis, sometimes reluctant police partner.

At the end of the story, Maisie assists some nurses who are traveling to care for the men fighting the civil war. This part was most interesting for me, as Maisie seemed to come out of her funk, and was at her best organizing the makeshift hospital and helping the nurses care for the men under difficult conditions. It was a welcome callback to Maisie and her nursing days in France.

We'll have to wait until next year's book to find out if Maisie returns home and resumes her life as a private investigator. I can't say that this one was my favorite in the Maisie Dobbs series, but as always, I learned something about a time and place I knew little about, and that is always a good thing.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Tucci Table by Stanley Tucci

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.

The Tucci Table by Stanley Tucci and Felicity Blunt
Published by Simon & Schuster ISBN 978146738567
Hardcover, $30, 256 pages

 Stanley Tucci is an actor, known for his roles in The Devil Wears Prada and Julie & Julia. In 1996,  Tucci co-wrote and starred in a movie called Big Night, about two brothers who have one night to save their Italian restaurant. The movie has achieved cult status, earning many fans for Tucci and his costar Anthony Shaloub.

Tucci has always loved to cook, and follows his successful 2012  The Tucci Cookbook with a new cookbook, The Tucci Table, filled with recipes from himself, his family and even some famous friends, written with his wife Felicity Blunt, sister of actress Emily Blunt.

From his late friend actress Natasha Richardson, whom he said was "an extraordinary cook who threw some of the best dinner parties I have ever attended', he shares her Pissaladiere, topped with anchovies, onions and olives.

His son Nico's Pasta with Proscuitto, Onions, Peas and Pancetta looks like a winning dish to me, and I appreciated the detailed instructions on the carbonara finish to the dish.

He also tells some funny stories, like the time he asked Felicity what she wanted to cook for a dinner party the following weekend. She decided on a suckling pig, which was problematic since neither had ever cooked one before. They got a whole pig from the butcher, but it was too long to fit on their barbeque spit. So they got out the hacksaw and tried to cut off the pig's head, when their children came home from school to see the carnage.

The book is heavy on Italian food, naturally, and I am tempted to try his Polenta Fries, which Tucci calls a great alternative to French fries. They look delicious.

The first dish I want to try is a light and simple one:
Cannellini Bean and Tuna Salad With Red Onion
Serves 2-4
5 oz. can good tuna, packed in olive oil, drained
15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, finely sliced into half-moons
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
chopped fresh parsley

Gently mix the tuna, beans, and onions together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then toss with a glug of olive oil, followed by a good pinch of fresh parsley.

Tucci formatted the book so that the directions come first, then the ingredients, which may confuse some people. This is a book for confident cooks, more casual cooks who like to go more by instinct than exact measurements. (See glug of olive oil, above)

Reading The Tucci Table is like sitting in Tucci's kitchen, and you can hear his voice as you read his stories about how his mother-in-law makes it this way, and he got this recipe on location in Atlanta for The Hunger Games. 

Here is a video from The Tucci Table :

Friday, June 19, 2015

Whisper Beach by Shelley Noble

Whisper Beach by Shelley Noble
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062319180
Trade paperback, $14.99, 401 pages

Summer arrives today and has many of us in mind of spending time at the beach. Shelley Noble's new novel, Whisper Beach, is set at a Jersey Shore beach town, a place where the economy of the town depends on the tourists who visit each summer, and where Hurricane Sandy took its toll.

Vanessa Moran is returning to her hometown for the funeral of her cousin's husband. She left home suddenly fifteen years ago after finding herself pregnant at the age of seventeen, and after finding her boyfriend with another woman.

Van made a life for herself, building a successful career as a life organizer for wealthy Manhattanites. She is nervous about coming home and facing the people she left behind.

Her cousin Gigi, who lost her husband, breaks down when she sees Van. Gigi gave Van $2000, all the money she had saved for college, so that Van could leave town fifteen years ago. Suze, a good friend who became a college professor, convinced Van to join her at the funeral.

Dorie owns the Blue Crab Restaurant where all the girls worked in high school, and her home was always open to anyone who needed guidance or a place to stay. The restaurant has fallen on hard times, and Van decides to stay in town for a week to use her organizational skills to help Dorie.

And then there is Joe, the man Van loved and left all those years ago. He never knew why Van left, and no other woman could fill the void she left behind. Although I did think it was strange that when Van returned home after twelve years, all anybody asked her was if she was getting back with Joe.

Noble really nails the feel of a small town, how everyone knows everybody's business, and how a lethargy can sometimes become overwhelming for those whose lives stay the same day after day. They don't seem to have the energy or gumption to make life happen for them, they just let life happen to them.

There's the one bar that everyone goes to, the town bully who became a cop, throws his weight around and hits his girlfriend, and the bartender who listens to problems and tries to keep the peace.

I enjoyed the storyline about Van reorganizing the Blue Crab. My husband and I owned a few small restaurants, so I found that interesting on a another level.

Reinventing oneself is a big theme here, as Van did when she left town, and Joe does when his family loses the farm. He teaches himself how to grow grapes and plans on building a winery on the land his family has left. And someone whom Van would never have thought could ever change, shows up at the end of the book a completely different person.

Uncle Nate, Van's drunken father's brother, is a great character. He loves his family and is concerned about his daughter Gigi and how she has just given up on life. He tries to explain to Van that her father wasn't always a terrible man, he had some terrible disappointments in life and Van's mother had issues Van didn't know about.

Noble has a great take on friendship here, on how you can not see someone for a long time, but still care for them and even fall back into old patterns when you see them. Time and experience also allows you see things in a different light, and to see how changing old patterns can be enlightening and helpful.

Whisper Beach is deeper than a traditional beach read, with more substance to it than the usual boy-meets-girl. The characters are deeper and therefore more interesting. Fans of Kristin Hannah and Elin Hilderbrand will like this one.

Shelley Noble's website is here.

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

Shelley’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, June 16th: Book by Book
Wednesday, June 17th: BookNAround
Thursday, June 18th: Book Nerd
Friday, June 19th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, June 23rd: Becca Rowan
Wednesday, June 24th: Wall-to-Wall Books
Thursday, June 25th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Thursday, June 25th: Hot Guys in Books
Friday, June 26th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, June 29th: Under a Gray Sky
Tuesday, June 30th: Time 2 Read
Wednesday, July 1st: 5 Minutes For Books
Thursday, July 2nd: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, July 9th: Kritters Ramblings