Sunday, February 19, 2017

Weekend Cooking- A Trip to Amelia Island

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.

Last week my husband had a conference in Amelia Island in Florida, so I went along and his brother and sister-in-law met us there for a fun little weekend.

One of my coworkers at the Book Cellar, the used bookstore where I volunteer in NYC, has a brother who owns two restaurants in Amelia Island, so we stopped in for lunch.

It was the coldest day in a long time in Amelia Island (57 degrees- I know, I know, my Central New York hometowners are laughing at that right now) when we visited Cafe Karibo for lunch.

We walked into the cheery and inviting bar area, which has three shiny vats of small craft beers on tap for the beer drinkers in the crowd.
KariBrew- clever name!

Just outside the bar area is a beautiful outdoor patio with a huge stone fireplace which was all fired up on the cold day we visited. It is so lovely!
The inviting patio area

I had the Pig & Apple sandwich, which was delicious, as was everything we ordered. I really liked their inventive pub grub menu, there were so many things I would have ordered.

The next day we visited Cafe Karibo's sister restaurant, Timoti's Seafood Shak, similar to ones we visited in Cape Cod. We placed our order for fish inside, and headed outside to soak in the warm sunshine at one of the picnic tables.

My husband and I ordered the fried fish and sweet potato chips, and the others ordered blackened and grilled grouper. All of our meals were fabulous, some of the best fish we have had. The blackened grouper looked like a work of art.
Grilled, fried and blackened grouper

It was Super Bowl Sunday when we were there, and we headed over to the Falcon's Nest sports bar located at the Omni Resort where we were staying on Amelia Island. The gang decided to start with a HUGE platter of nachos, topped with smoked brisket, chicken and guacamole. We weren't sure we could eat it all, but that was an unnecessary worry. We demolished it!

For dinner on Monday we visited Le Clos, a lovely French restaurant in the downtown area. My husband and I each had the escargot appetizer, which was fabulous. I ordered the shrimp dish, which was served in a white wine reduction of shallots, garlic, fennel, sundried tomatoes, herbs and chevre over pasta. It was so light and tasty.
Shrimp dinner

My sister-in-law had her favorite, scallops, served with a citrus beurre blanc sauce over spinach and pasta.

The ambiance was very intimate and it feels like you are in someone's beautiful home as you dine. If you are looking for something a little more upscale, this is the place.

We enjoyed all of our dining experiences in Amelia Island, I can recommend each of the restaurants we visited. In a future post, I'll share some photos of the other fun places we saw in Amelia Island, including a wonderful bookstore.

 Cafe Karibo's website is here.
Timoti's webiste is here.
Le Clos' website is here.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The Runaway Midwife by Patricia Harman

The Runaway Midwife by Patricia Harman
Publsihed by William Morrow ISBN 9780062467300
Trade paperback, $15.99, 416 pages

Sometimes a book just draws you into its universe so deeply, you feel like you are part of the story. I felt that way about Patricia Harman's The Runaway Midwife.

Midwife Clara Perry is dealing with her husband's recurring infidelity, her painful estrangement from her daughter, and the shocking suicide of her best friend when a tragic end to a childbirth she was attending occurs.

Fearing the consequences of that tragedy, Clara decides to runaway to a remote island town in Canada. She changes her name, rents a small house, and hopes to just hide out.

Soon Clara finds that cannot live totally off the grid. She meets her neighbor Molly, a mom who befriends Clara and offers her a ride to the closest grocery store. Pete is the local cop who takes it upon himself to check up on everyone in the area, making sure they are OK. Jed runs the local clinic and recruits Clara to help him out, which she agrees to do.

There is a group of people who live on a commune, and there is friction between the townies and them. Clara tries to keep a foot in both camps, as she likes Molly and Rainbow, who lives on the commune.

There is conflict between the people who want to see a casino built, because that means jobs and more tax money for schools and roads, and those (like the commune residents) who love the pristine nature of the beautiful land surrounding them and don't want to ruin that.

Harman does a wonderful job creating this small community. As a reader, I felt like I was right there, living among the community members instead of reading about it in a book. I grew up in a very cold, snowy region of the country, and related to the climate of this tiny island outpost off Lake Erie.

The Runaway Midwife harkened me back to my days reading Little House on the Prairie books, with the townspeople banding together to help one another. I loved the characters, they felt like real people you would meet, and Clara's evolving story kept me interested. There are secrets (will Clara's identity be discovered?), sex, true friendship and community, and although The Runaway Midwife isn't necessarily a book I would have thought I would like, I truly loved it and highly recommend it. Now I will look for Patricia Harman's first book, The Midwife of Hope River.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 31st: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, February 1st: bookchickdi
Thursday, February 2nd: West Metro Mommy
Monday, February 6th: The Book Bag
Tuesday, February 7th: M. Denise Costello
Wednesday, February 8th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 9th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Friday, February 10th: StephTheBookworm
Tuesday, February 14th: Art Books Coffee
Wednesday, February 15th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Thursday, February 16th: Tina Says…

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel

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.

Small Admissions by Amy Poeppel
Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books ISBN 97815011122521
Hardcover, $26, 384 pages

Once I saw the hilarious trailer for Amy Poeppel's novel, Small Admissions, I knew I had to read it.
See for yourself. (Note- there is language in this that some may find objectionable.)

I'm about three-quarters of the way through the book, and I love it. Kate is a twenty-something young woman who just went through a terrible breakup with her boyfriend. Kate has fallen apart, she has no job, she drinks so much the neighborhood liquor store owner looks upon her with scorn, and her friends and family do not know how to help her get out of her funk.

Kate's sister Angela gets her an interview for a job in the admissions office of the prestigious Upper East Side of Manhattan Hudson School, where to everyone's surprise, Kate gets the job.

I am loving everything about this book. The characters are wonderful, and Poeppel seamlessly weaves the various characters into the story- Angela, Kate's friends Victoria and Chloe, the admissions staff at Hudson, and the parents desperate to get their children into Hudson.

I laughed out loud so many times, mostly at the craziness of the private school admissions process. Poeppel clearly knows this world well and skewers it with a sense of gentle love.

Kate and Angela's parents are professors, "nerdy academics" as Angela calls them. There is a scene at the family home, back when Kate was just about to graduate from college, that applies to Weekend Cooking.

At the house, they convened in the cluttered kitchen over a meal that their mother called "Kaltes Abendbrot" or sometimes "Smorgasboard," depending on the selection, which in either case referred to black bread and things to put on black bread. Sprigs of dill were tucked between tiny shrimp and sliced eggs, not-quite-cooked to hard-boiled, and there was a chunky pate that made Angela wonder, "Chunks of what?"  Kate took off her jacket and pushed up her sleeves, saying "Mmmm, what a spread!" while Angela felt her usual disappointment, wondering what would be wrong with a nice chicken Caesar salad for once.
The four of them together (otherwise known, their parents had taught them, as a clan, or kinship unit, or conjugal family) stood around the butcher-block island to eat, as they had every school night. "Like pigs at the trough," their mother used to say happily. "Standing promotes digestion," their father reminded them. So did the tiny glasses of digestif they always drank after dinner. Lots of words for that too: Obstler or akavit. Kirschwasser or Schnapps.  "Corrupting a minor" was what Angela's friend's mother had called it when she notified the police on the evening of the dinner-balls.
Small Admissions is a gem of a book. If you're looking for a story that will make you laugh and have you rooting for the main character, this is it. People have compared it to The Devil Wears Prada and The Nanny Diaries, but I enjoyed Small Admissions much more than those. I highly recommend it.

Amy Poeppel's website is here.
Reading With Robin interviewed Amy Poeppel on her podcast here.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Chris Bohjalian at Barnes & Noble

Although this past Tuesday was pouring rain outside, it didn't deter a full house of hearty New Yorkers from joining author Chris Bohjalian to hear about his latest novel, The Sleepwalker, at the 86th St. Barnes & Noble in Manhattan.

Bohjalian began his talk by saying that in the not-too-distant past his book sold briskly only to people with his same last name. He then gave a few examples of book events that he said we designed by the gods to humble him.

 When he arrived at a bookstore signing in Seattle, he didn't see any of his books in the store. Thinking they were sold out (yay!), he found a staff member who told him that they ordered three copies and they were still in the store. He was taken to a dark place in the back of the store, and on a high shelf that only Shaquille O'Neal could reach, were his three books. He asked the staff person if he should sign the books, and was told "No, our readers are very discriminating." Ouch.

At a book signing in San Francisco, a man came up to him and asked him if her had heard that author Robert Parker had died that day. Bohjalian said yes, he had heard. Then the man asked if he knew that J.D. Salinger had recently died, as did Howard Zinn. When Bohjalian told the man he had heard that as well, the man asked him "Are ya worried?"

At another panel discussion, Adriana Trigiani and Alan Tennant were also on the stage. Tennant brought out a falcon and for an hour, everyone was entranced by the falcon. After an hour, Bohjalian finally got a question from the audience, someone asking him how the reviews were for his latest book. When he was about to answer, the falcon pooped on Tennant's arm, prompting the the comment "At least we know what the bird thought."

After these chuckles, Bohjalian got down to business, talking about the research he did for The Sleepwalker. He learned that people sleep-cook, sleep-drive, have sleep-sex, and even sleep-murder, all while having no memory of this at all. People who sleepwalk, their motor activity part of their brain is awake, while the judgement part of the brain is asleep.

He cited a statistic that in the 28 times that lawyers have used the sleepwalker defense for their clients accused of crimes while asleep, 15 acquittals were won. The audience found that fascinating.

Bohjlalian also shared a sleepwalking experience his family had. They were on vacation in Rome, staying at a small boutique hotel. They were awakened in the middle of the night by a breeze coming in their room from the open doors to the balcony. There was their 9 year-old daughter ready to climb on top of the balcony. She was sound asleep, sleepwalking. (Children are more prone to sleepwalking and frequently grow out of it.)

That incident inspired an important scene in The Sleepwalker.

What Bohjalian's books have in common, since he writes about so many different topics, are two things- a sense of dread and characters dealing with regret. His daughter, now a young woman, told him that messed-up women seems to be "his sweet spot", and Bohjalian says that he finds it more interesting to write about women. "Women are better people", he said.

During an interesting Q&A session, in which tote bags filled with Bohjalian's books were given away, he said The Sandcastle Girls, his amazing book about the Armenian genocide of 1915 "was the blessing of his life." He also said that he doesn't outline his books, he prefers for his characters to lead him through the story.

Then we got to my favorite part of book talks- what is the author reading? Bohjalian showed the audience his current favorites:
Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, which he said deserves every award it has gotten. (I agree.)
American Housewife  by Helen Ellis, which is hilarious (I also agree!). Helen was in the audience as well.
Dead Wake- Erik Larsen's newest book about the Lusitania
Small Great Things- Jodi Picoult's latest book about race
Political Suicide - Erin McHugh's timely books about the crazy things politicians have done
Black Water - a mystery by Louise Doughty
This Was Not The Plan- Cristina Alger's new book (Cristina was in attendance as well)
Blackout - Sarah Hepola's memoir

Bohjalian also mentioned that The Sandcastle Girls will be a movie. The producer has funding and casting has begun, with filming to begin this summer in the Middle East and Spain. That is great news!

He closed by praising bookstores who host author events, and asking the audience to support bookstores by buying books- any book, not necessarily his. I bought two copies of The Sleepwalker and a copy of Jane Harper's The Dry Season  because I have heard such good things.

My review of The Sleepwalker is here.
Chris Bohjalian's website is here.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin

Victoria by Daisy Goodwin
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 9781250045461
Hardcover, $26.99, 413 pages

Fans of PBS's Downton Abbey and Netflix's The Crown now have their new fix- Victoria. Author Daisy Goodwin's novel Victoria, about the life of the young Queen of Great Britain who ruled for 63 years, is also the basis for PBS's Masterpiece Classic Victoria, now showing on PBS.

Goodwin also wrote the screenplay for the PBS series, which follows the novel very closely. The novel only covers a few years of Victoria's life, from age 18 until she decides her future husband will be her cousin Albert a few years later. The series, on episode three so far, moves much faster and will clearly cover more of Victoria's life.

Most of the novel deals with the beginning of Victoria's reign. She has a strained relationship with her mother, whose companion, Sir John, wants desperately for Victoria to appoint him as regent and allow him to closely influence her governance.

But Victoria doesn't trust Sir John, instead turning to Lord Melbourne, the Prime Minister. Lord Melbourne becomes fond of the young Queen, and Victoria is besotted with Melbourne. Their relationship consumes much of the novel, and Rufus Sewell and Jenna Coleman, who play them in the series, have a wonderful chemistry onscreen. (And Coleman is luminous as the young Queen.)

The series portrays more downstairs activity with the servants, perhaps to appeal more to fans of Downton Abbey.

I truly enjoyed seeing some of the more cinematic scenes from the novel come to life, such as the costume ball, where Victoria goes dressed as Elizabeth I. The ballroom and the costumes are just so stunning, especially Victoria's crown.

I'm glad I read Victoria before watching the series, I felt I had a better sense of the many characters and their relationships and motivations. The book really puts you in the head of Victoria, and what it felt like to be an 18-year-old young woman, who had led a sheltered life in Kensington before ascending to the throne.

Masterpiece Classic Victoria continues on Sundays on PBS and I will be glued to my seat, as by the end of episode three is where the book ends but Victoria's fascinating story continues on. I highly recommend both Victoria the book, and Victoria the series.

More information on Victoria  on PBS is here.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian

The Sleepwalker by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Penguin Random House ISBN 9780385538916
Hardcover, $26.95, 304 pages

Chris Bohjalian chooses fascinating topics for his novels, and then pulls the reader into these worlds that one gets lost in for a few hours. His 2012 novel, The Sandcastle Girls,  about the 1915 Armenian genocide in Syria, a story that sadly resonates too much today, is a novel I frequently recommend to shoppers at the Book Cellar where I volunteer.

A Light In The Ruins takes us to Italy during WWII, with a family caught up in the crosshairs of war.  His novels set in contemporary times, like the brilliant The Double Bind, which deals with a young woman violently attacked on bike ride, and The Guest Room, about a bachelor party host who gets involved with a young woman forced into sexual slavery, have twists that leave you gasping.

Bohjalian's newest novel, The Sleepwalker, takes on a topic not frequently dealt with in fiction. A woman prone to sleepwalking disappears from her home while her husband is out of town. Her two daughters, college-aged Lianna and 12-year-old swimmer Paige, were home that evening and heard nothing.

As searchers look for Annalee Ahlberg's body in the nearby river, we slowly find out more about her life. She only sleepwalks when her husband is out-of-town, but why that is remains a mystery. The girls, particularly Lianna, feel guilty about what happened.

The Ahlberg family is falling apart. Dad Warren retreats into his job as a professor at the local college and drinks himself into oblivion at night. Lianna takes a leave of absence from college, smokes weed all day, and gets side jobs as a magician while caring for her sister Paige.

One of the police officers on the investigation becomes involved with Lianna. She discovers that he and her mother met at a clinic that deals with sleep disorders and they became a kind of two-person support group. But was that all they were to each other?

The Sleepwalker has a very eerie quality to it, and as Bohjalian slowly unwinds more information about Annalee's disorder and her relationship with her husband and the cop, an uneasy feeling overcomes the reader.

There is a shocking twist at the end, but upon reflection, Bohjalian gives a few clues that could be picked up on by a careful reader. The Sleepwalker would make a fabulous movie, as it has a very cinematic element to it. The characters are intriguing, the story moves briskly, and watching this family fall apart is heartbreaking.

I highly recommend The Sleepwalker, both for fans of mysteries and of family stories. If you read Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, you'll want to put The Sleepwalker on your list.

Chris Bohjalian's website is here.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Books About Celebrities

Reprinted from the Citizen.

Books by and about celebrities have a built-in audience. People are curious to read more about their favorite stars, how they got to be where they are, who influenced them and yes, even for some good old gossip.

Three recent books by and about celebrities have published, all different and interesting in their own way.

Leslie Bennetts “Last Girl Before Freeway”: The Life, Loves, Losses, and Liberation of Joan Rivers” is the lone biography here. Bennett covers Rivers’ entire life, where she was Joan Molinsky, to her rise as a stand-up comedienne, her successes and failures, to her eventual death in September of 2014 during what was supposed to be a simple surgical procedure. 

The book is comprehensive, and with a subject such as Rivers, who accomplished so much in her life, it flies by quickly. Joan Molinsky grew up in a household where her doctor-father, a kind and hard-working man, never made enough money for his wife, who feared poverty and always tried to keep up with the Joneses. 

Joan was one of the first successful female stand-up comediennes, and the book is filled with anecdotes from younger female stand-ups who sing the praises of Joan’s generosity, even though Rivers often resented being called a mentor. She always wanted to be hip and relevant, and her fearless stand-up routines, which she continued weekly even up to her death, reflected that.

The early sections of the book rely on material from Rivers’ own writings (she wrote several books, including two memoirs), but once Bennetts interviews people who worked with Rivers, who knew her well, the book gives the reader a better overall picture of this complicated woman.

Rivers was driven, and her many self-reinventions, rising from the ashes of her failed Fox talk show after her very public falling out with Johnny Carson to become not only a successful stand-up comic but also a hugely successful businesswoman designing and selling jewelry in the fledgling QVC network, are an inspiration to anyone who has been knocked down in life.

Actor Bryan Cranston’s “Life in Parts” tells his story of a journeyman actor, where he began as a soap opera actor on “Loving” and became famous as the goofy dad on “Malcolm in the Middle”, and then hit the stratosphere playing high school science teacher-turned-drug-kingpin Walter White on “Breaking Bad”.  

“Life in Parts” recounts his childhood, with a father who wanted to be a successful actor but failed, and then takes you through the life of an actor trying to make it. Cranston is successful because he treats acting as a craft, something to be finely honed. 

He shares stories from his early days on “Loving”, including how he found out he was fired, and there is a little good gossip here. He speaks fondly of his days on “Malcolm in the Middle”, and there are a few chapters on “Breaking Bad”, with some interesting inside information for fans.

For anyone who loves the craft of acting, “Life in Parts” is wonderful book. Cranston has such a reverence for the work of acting, and reading about his process, about how much he cares about doing good work, is fascinating. 

Trevor Noah is best known as the new host of “The Daily Show”, but his book “Born a Crime: Stories From A South Africa Childhood” is about his life growing up as the son of a black African woman and white Swiss man in South Africa. 

Noah is a terrific writer, and he grabs your attention right from the beginning. He grew up when apartheid was ending, after Nelson Mandela was freed from prison, but things didn’t get easier for South Africans right away. There was a strict caste system, and black Africans were pitted against colored Africans, and since Noah was half-white, he didn’t fit in anywhere.

“Born A Crime” gets its title from the fact that it was illegal for blacks and whites to marry, so his parents had to hide their relationship, and Trevor was never allowed to walk next to both of his parents.

The book is a really a love letter to his mom, who pretty much raised Trevor alone, although Trevor spent a lot of time with his grandmother. His stories of childhood are touching, funny and sad.

Anyone who likes a good memoir will enjoy “Born a Crime”. It gives the reader a look at a place many of us are unfamiliar with, yet his story of a mother who worked hard to give her son a better life is universal.
Last Girl Before Freeway” by Leslie Bennetts-A 
Published by Little Brown
Hardcover, $28, 433 pages

A Life in Parts” by Bryan Cranston- A-
Published by Scribner
Hardcover, $27, 289 pages

Born A Crime” by Trevor Noah- A+
Published by Spiegel & Grau

Hardcover, $28, 304 pages