Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Tony's Wife by Adriana Trigiani

Tony's Wife by Adriana Trigiani
Published by Harper ISBN 9780062319258
Hardcover, $28.99, 496 pages
Adriana Trigiani's newest novel, Tony's Wife, begins in 1932 Detroit. Saverio Armandonada (that's a mouthful!) is on his way to work in the Ford motor plant, along with this father Leone and all the other men in the neighborhood.

Saverio's job is to bolt the driver's door handle on 978 cars every day, ten hours a day, six days a week. On the seventh day, Saverio sings in the church choir. He has the loveliest voice in the choir, everyone said so.

On Christmas Eve, he was all set to give fellow choir member Cheryl a beautiful necklace and declare his love. When his love life doesn't work out as he planned, he gets an offer to audition for a band. His father is furious that Saverio would give up a good steady job for the unknown life as a singer, and throws him out of the house.

Chi Chi Donatelli lives in New Jersey with her family, where they all work in a textile factory. But Chi Chi dreams of being a singer, and her father supports her, even building a studio in their garage to record Chi Chi and her sisters in the hopes of becoming the next big girl group.

Chi Chi meets Saverio, hoping that he can get her record to a music label. They spend the day at the beach, and Tony is smitten with Chi Chi, although she is wary of his playboy ways. Tony is invited to the Donatellis for Sunday dinner, and he envies Chi Chi the warmth of her family. How he wished he had that!

Saverio and Chi Chi both dream of becoming stars, and they fall in love and marry. Chi Chi fears that becoming a wife and mother will force her to give up the life she has come to relish- writing and recording songs, performing on stage with Sav (now known as Tony Arma).

They move to Hollywood, where Chi Chi writes songs and cares for their children, while Tony tours the country and works as an actor in films. Chi Chi wants the traditional Italian family that she grew up with, but it appears that Tony may no longer want that. Can their marriage survive?

Anyone who loves the music of the 1940s and 1950s will adore Tony's Wife. Trigiani names each chapter as a direction in music- Feroce, Crescendo, Teneramente- adding to the authenticity of this engaging story. She even includes song lyrics throughout and a Tony Arma discography at the end of the book.

I found Chi Chi's story so very captivating. She is such a strong woman, a woman who took care of her family's finances and took charge of her career and life, all the time remaining traditional to her family values. I absolutely fell in love with her!

As with everyone, there are ups and downs in Chi Chi's life, happy times and incredibly sad and challenging times too. Once again, the cover art work is astonishing, and the descriptions of family meals and the beautiful clothing so evocative that you use all of your senses while reading this gorgeous story.

Tony's Wife would make a perfect hostess gift if you are traveling for Thanksgiving, as well as a lovely gift during this holiday season. Pair it with a Frank Sinatra record and a bottle of good Chianti as a gift to your best friend as well as for yourself.  I highly recommend Tony's Wife.

Adriana Trigiani's website is here, and you can follow her on Facebook here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 20th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, November 21st: Life By Kristen
Monday, November 26th: she treads softly
Tuesday, November 27th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, November 28th: The many thoughts of a reader
Thursday, November 29th: Instagram: @shereadswithcats
Friday, November 30th: Instagram: @sweetbookobsession
Monday, December 3rd: Instagram: @bookishmadeleine
Tuesday, December 4th: Wining Wife
Wednesday, December 5th: Instagram: @ladyofthelibrary
Thursday, December 6th: Velvet Spade Reads
Friday, December 7th: Instagram: @ciannereads
Monday, December 10th: Kritters Ramblings
Tuesday, December 11th: Instagram: @storiesandcoffee
Wednesday, December 12th: View from the Birdhouse
Thursday, December 13th: Instagram: @owlslittlelibrary
Friday, December 14th: Always With a Book
Monday, December 17th: Instagram: @direads
Tuesday, December 18th: Instagram: @books.tea.quotes
Wednesday, December 19th: Instagram: @girlwithnoselfie
Thursday, December 20th: Instagram: @createexploreread
Friday, December 21st: Instagram: @strandedinbooks
Wednesday, December 26th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, December 27th: Instagram: @crystal_clears_the_shelves
Wednesday, January 2nd: Lit and Life
Thursday, January 3rd: Based on a True Story
Friday, January 4th: A Night’s Dream of Books
Friday, January 4th: Thoughts On This ‘n That

Monday, November 19, 2018

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman

Start Without Me by Joshua Max Feldman
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062668738
Trade paperback, $16.99, 276 pages

If you're dreading your Thankgiving visit home, just be glad that you are not Adam and Marissa, the two main characters in Joshua Max Feldman's novel Start Without Me. 

Adam awakens in the basement of his parents' home, his first visit back home in many years. After years of alcohol abuse, rehab stints and disappointing his family, musician Adam wants to surprise his parents and siblings by making the morning coffee. When he knocks the coffee pot off the counter and it shatters, he takes off, not wanting to disappoint his family once again.

He ends up in a restaurant where he meets Marissa, a flight attendant who is on her way to her husband Robbie's family's home in Massachusetts. Robbie is from a wealthy family, and his father is planning a run for governor of the state.

Marissa and Adam bond over breakfast, and she ends up taking him to her husband's family Thanksgiving. Robbie is unsuccessfully trying to make a living as an independent filmmaker, and he resents Marissa being away so much.

His father is often absent, and when he is there is distant. His mother is overbearing and domineering. Sister Laila is home, and Robbie and Laila instantly revert to their childhood roles once back in each other's sight.

Marissa's family life was nothing like Robbie's. She grew up poor, her mother an addict who frequently left Marissa and her younger sister alone, like the time she left them at a McDonald's alone for five hours on Thanksgiving Day when they were just young children.

When Marissa's sister calls and asks her to come spend Thanksgiving with her family at their mother's home, Marissa resists. She'd love to see her sister and niece, but seeing her mother is not something she is ready for.

After Adam tells Marissa about his former girlfriend, the love of his life, she gives him money for a bus ticket to go see her and make amends. But Adam hasn't told her the whole story.

Start Without Me is a sad tale of two people who try to resolve issues in their past that threaten their future. They both are looking to escape the bad knocks life has dealt them, as well as deal with their own bad choices.

Feldman's writing conjures up some vivid imagery, as when Adam dreams of "the texture and resistance of the keys under his fingertips, the beer residue in the metal mesh of the mic on his lips, the bass rumble from the stage through his torso." You can actually feel that as you read it.

Two important things I learned from reading this book: don't ever ask a band to play "Freebird" and do not hit the call button on an airplane to complain that the tarmac delay (or anything else) is "unacceptable". Both are good to know.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Joshua Max Feldman's tour. The rest of his stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 13th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Thursday, November 15th: Write – Read – Life
Monday, November 19th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, November 20th: Wining Wife
Monday, November 26th: Instagram: @kate.olson.reads
Tuesday, November 27th: Staircase Wit
Wednesday, November 28th: Instagram: @the_need_to_read
Thursday, November 29th: Instagram: @notthepathtonarnia
Tuesday, December 4th: Comfy Reading
Wednesday, December 5th: Jackie Reads Books
Monday, December 10th: As I turn the pages

Monday, November 12, 2018

Tasting Italy- A Culinary Journey

Tasting Italy- A Culinary Journey by National Geographic & America's Test Kitchen
 Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426219740
Hardcover, $40, 383 pages

National Geographic and America's Test Kitchen have teamed up for a beautiful coffee table book, Tasting Italy- A Culinary Journey. Combining what they both do best, they take the reader on a journey through Italy, using the food of Italy as the basis.

America's Test Kitchen's Chief Culinary Officer Jack Bishop explains in his introduction how the differing climates of Northern and Southern Italy influenced the way that people in these regions ate. Traditionally pasta is a staple in the south, whereas corn polenta is the staple in the north. Olive oil is used more in the south, butter and cream more in the north.

The book is divided into three main regions- Northern, Central and Southern. The North is bordered by Switzerland, France and Austria and so their food is heavily influenced by those countries. It is surrounded by mountains, and therefore has a cooler climate. Fontina cheese and Nutella are among the most famous products made here.

The book is filled with gorgeous photographs of the region, as well as 100 recipes that the reader can try at home. Savoy Cabbage Soup with Ham, Rye Bread and Fontina and Spaghettini with Shrimp are two recipes from Northern Italy calling to me.

Central Italy, home to Florence, Rome and the Tuscany wine region, is probably what most people think of when they think of Italy. We took a trip to Florence this past summer, so I was most familiar with this section of the book, and I enjoyed reliving some of the best meals we have we have ever had by reading this.

Proscuitto wrapped in melon, figs, bistecca (steak), porchetta (pork) and the luscious Chianti wines can be found here in glorious abundance. The Hunter's Chicken recipe will find a place on my table soon.

Southern Italy has the hottest temperatures in all of Italy. The pace of life is a little slower here and  you'll find tomatoes, eggplants and lots of fish (anchovies, sardines, cuttlefish and octopuses) and not as much meat. The recipe for Eggplant Parmesan looks incredible.

Tasting Italy- A Culinary Journey is a wonderful book to give as a gift to anyone who has traveled to Italy, and with the holidays coming up it's the perfect time. National Geographic covers the fascinating history of the different regions, and America's Test Kitchen perfectly pairs their best authentic Italian recipes with the history. Even armchair travelers will be entranced by this beautiful book.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Tasting Italy's tour.  The rest of the stops can be found here:

Tour Stops

Wednesday, October 31st: Bryanna Plog
Thursday, November 1st: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Sunday, November 4th: Instagram: @lavieestbooks
Tuesday, November 6th: Kahakai Kitchen
Tuesday, November 6th: Wining Wife
Wednesday, November 7th: Getting On Travel
Thursday, November 8th: Staircase Wit
Monday, November 12th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, November 13th: Thoughts From a Highly Caffeinated Mind
Tuesday, November 13th: Traveling Between
Wednesday, November 14th: Man of La Book
Thursday, November 15th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, November 16th: Broken Teepee

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Family Trust by Kathy Wang

Family Trust by Kathy Wang
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062866257
Hardcover, $6.99, 400 pages

Kathy Wang's fantastic novel Family Trust opens with Silicon Valley resident Stanley Huang being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Divorced from his first wife Linda, married to his second, decades-younger wife Mary, father to two grown children, Fred and Kate, suddenly Stanley's life is turned upside down.

Each chapter is narrated by one of the main characters- Linda, Fred, and Kate take the lead, with Stanley and Mary each taking on a smaller role. Linda has been divorced for many years, and has decided to take the advice of her friends and try online dating with Tigerlily, a dating service geared towards Asians.

She connects with Winston online and he seems to be the opposite of Stanley. Winston appears to be an open, caring, outgoing man. Stanley was prone to violent outbursts, sometimes frightening his children.

Linda was the financial wizard in the family, and although Stanley liked to portray himself as worth millions, Linda had her doubts. She kept pushing Fred and Kate to talk to Stanley and get information about his will. Whenever the topic was brought up, Stanley was very vague about details.

Fred worked in finance, but he felt stuck in his role at Lion Capital. When an old college friend dangles a huge opportunity in front of him, Fred finally feels that his luck may be changing.

Kate is married to Denny, and a mom to two young children. She works for X Corp, a huge Silicon Valley company, where she has been for several years and is a valued employee. Denny is trying to get a startup going, with little success (or ambition) so far.

Fred and Kate both could use the money from their father's will to make their lives easier. Linda fears that Stanley will leave most of his money to his new wife, leaving their children out in the cold.

I found Linda's story to be the most intriguing. She is a smart, tough, hardworking, clear-eyed woman. Her interactions with her circle of female friends and her sharp-tongued observations made me laugh.

Mary had one chapter to tell her story and I found it surprising. Up to this point, we only saw her through the eyes of the others, it was a revelation to see her innermost thoughts.

Family Trust is a remarkable novel. Each character's story draws the reader in, and each person''s story could stand on their own in their own novel. The ingenious way that Wang weaves their stories together is a marvel.

It is a novel about a family who came to here to find the American dream. Both Stanley and Linda worked hard to make a good life for their children, pushed them to go to good schools and be successful. It has been compared to The Nest and Crazy Rich Asians, both of which I read and enjoyed, but Family Trust is the best of the three. Wang successfully combines humor and pathos in a deeply rich novel.

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

Instagram Features

Tuesday, November 6th: Instagram: @kate.olson.reads
Wednesday, November 7th: Instagram: @tbretc
Thursday, November 8th: Instagram: @diaryofaclosetreader
Sunday, November 11th: Instagram: @booksugar
Monday, November 12th: Instagram: @jackiereadsbooks
Tuesday, November 13th: Instagram: @the_grateful_read

Review Stops

Tuesday, November 6th: BookNAround
Thursday, November 8th: bookchickdi
Friday, November 9th: Man of La Book
Monday, November 12th: Books and Bindings
Tuesday, November 13th: Literary Quicksand
Wednesday, November 14th: Instagram: @writersdream
Thursday, November 15th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Monday, November 19th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, November 20th: As I turn the pages
Wednesday, November 21st: She Reads With Cats

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Two of Fall's Best Books

Reprinted from the Citizen:
Fall is a big season for publishers, one in which books with high hopes for success hit the shelves. Two books that fit that category are by a well-respected author of fiction, essays and nonfiction, and a debut author whose name is well-known to anyone who has followed television and movies for the last 40 years.
The debut author is actress Sally Field, who took seven years to write her memoir In Pieces. 
Field grew up in a decidedly female household with her mother, grandmother and great-aunts, all strong women. She tells some of their fascinating stories, explaining how they got to be where they were. It will inspire the reader to talk to their own mothers and grandmothers about their life experiences.
The biggest influence on Field’s life was her beautiful mother, an actress who had a modest film career. Field had a complicated relationship with her mother growing up, made more so when her mother married an actor/stuntman, Jock Mahoney. Mahoney sexually abused Sally at a young age, and that relationship resonated with her for the rest of her life.
As Mahoney’s Hollywood fortunes waned, Sally’s interest in acting earned her a starring role in the 1960s sitcom “Gidget.” It was a good first experience, but her second television show, “The Flying Nun,” was a deeply unhappy one.
She didn’t want to do it, but Jock convinced her that she may never work again and she needed to take the job. After a few desperately unfulfilling years there, she was introduced to the Actors Studio, where she came alive. She studied and worked hard to become a serious actress.
Field details the highs and lows in her personal and professional life, from her marriage at a young age and subsequent divorce to raising her three sons and working to get the kind of serious roles she wanted.
From her breakout role as a severely mentally ill woman in “Sybil” to her Academy Award-winning performance in “Norma Rae” to her very complicated relationship with actor Burt Reynolds, Field lays it all on the line in an honest portrait of her life.
Although her mother had a drinking problem as Sally grew up, it was her mother she turned to when she needed someone to care for her sons when she worked. And her mother was there for her and her sons at every turn.
She ends the book trying to understand her mother, what drove her and why they had such a complicated relationship. In Pieces is an indelible portrait of a woman we all thought we knew.
Barbara Kingsolver has written some of the best books of the past 30 years, most notably The Poisonwood Bible. She writes about big issues as illuminated by her brilliantly conceived characters. 
Her latest, Unsheltered, tells a story that many people can relate to today. Willa Knox is a middle-aged mother of two grown children, happily married to Iano, a college professor she has loved forever.
When Iano’s college closes, they are forced to move to New Jersey, where Iano found a one-year teaching position at a small college. His very ill father, Nick, lives with them, a man who loves cable news and talk radio and loudly, and profanely blames anyone different from himself for the woes of the country.
Soon their son Zeke arrives with a new baby in tow, progressive daughter Tig comes home after two years incommunicado, and life becomes more difficult, made even more so by the fact that the home left to Willa by her aunt is literally falling down around them.
Willa lost her job when the magazine she wrote for folded, and money is tight. She discovers that their home may have historical classification, and she begins to research the previous owners in hopes of saving it, and them.
Thatcher Greenwood was a science professor who lived in the home after the Civil War. He believed in the work of Charles Darwin, which caused him trouble with his own family and the townspeople of Vineland. People believed Darwin's science was sacrilegious, and it frightened them.
Kingsolver writes brilliantly and beautifully in a novel that touches the reader emotionally and rationally. Her characters feel like real people (and some of the historic ones are), and the relationships between them (especially Iano and Willa) are moving. She really nails the family dynamic, especially in times like these when it can be problematic.

If you read

BOOK: In Pieces by Sally Field
PUBLISHER: Grand Central Publishing
COST: Hardcover, $29
LENGTH: 417 pages

BOOK: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver
COST: Hardcover, $29.99
LENGTH: 480 pages

Friday, October 19, 2018

Great Reads by Emily Giffin, Susan Elia MacNeal & Beck Dory-Stein

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Why does summer fly by so fast? If you need a good vacation book or you just want to escape for a few hours at home, this month’s Book Report has some great reads for you.

Author Emily Giffin’s novel All We Wanted will resonate with anyone raising children in a world where social media impacts nearly everyone. Nina Browning leads a charmed life. She and her husband Kirk are part of Nashville’s elite, living in a mansion, attending countless galas, and raising their teenage son, Princeton-bound Finch. 

The perfect veneer cracks when Finch takes a photo of Lyla, a young woman who had passed out drunk at a party. When the photo goes viral, the lives of Finch and Lyla, and their families, are turned upside down.

Lyla is being raised by her single father Tom, and her mother occasionally pops in to wreak havoc. Tom is a working-class guy, and he is infuriated by what he sees as the wealthy getting away with bad, possibly criminal, behavior.

Giffin could have taken an easy way of out the story, but she digs deeper and writes a compelling story about money, privilege, class, social media, the treatment of women, and the values we teach our children. 

Susan Elia MacNeal’s eighth book in her Maggie Hope WWII series, The Prisoner in the Castle is an homage to Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None. Maggie Hope, a British spy whose last assignment was in France for Britain’s SOE, now resides in a deserted castle on a Scottish island with other British spies. 

No one but a few government officials know where they are or why. When a dead body turns up, the spies are concerned, and that concern turns to fear when one by one the residents of the castle are murdered.

Maggie teams up with Sayid, an attractive doctor, to figure out what is going on and to try and stay alive. The problem they all have is knowing whom to trust. They are all spies, trained to gain the trust of people and then betray that trust.

MacNeal does a great deal of research for her books, and if you close your eyes, you’d swear that you are right there in the castle, on that island. There is an incredibly tense scene near the end, with Maggie’s life in danger, that will have your heart pounding as you turn the pages.

For those who prefer nonfiction, Beck Dorey-Stein’s memoir From the Corner of the Oval begins with Beck answering a Craigslist ad for a stenographer in Washington DC. It turns out that the job is at the White House, and Beck would be one of a few people who record President Obama’s public remarks and then type them up for official transcriptions. 

Beck has a boyfriend who works on various political campaigns (including both of Obama’s) so he frequently travels. It takes her awhile, but Beck makes good friends, and even plays basketball on Tuesday nights with the guys.

She also finds herself in love with Jason, a man who works closely with the President. Jason is a womanizer, and he is engaged to a young socialite who lives in Los Angeles. That doesn’t stop him from pursuing Beck and, unbeknownst to her, several other women simultaneously.

They have an on-again, off-again secret affair that leaves Beck desperately unhappy with own dishonesty toward her boyfriend and other friends. 

From the Corner of the Oval is a true story that reads like a terrific novel. Beck Dorey-Stein perfectly blends a young woman’s doomed romance with a fascinating workplace study where the workplace is the Oval Office.

As she travels with President Obama, we get a seat on Air Force One as they go to Europe, Asia, Africa and on an exciting visit to Cuba. We see Secretary Clinton as she spends an hour shaking hands and speaking with the kitchen staff in Myanmar, run next to President Obama on the treadmill as he teases Beck about her speed, and fear the sound of the Rattler, a mean woman who dislikes Beck and gets her nickname from the jangle of the ever-present bangle bracelets warning of her approach.

Beck Dorey-Stein is a fantastic writer and, for anyone who would love a peek at being close to the highest office in the land, this is a must-read. 

All We Ever Wanted” by Emily Giffin- A-
Published by Ballantine
Hardcover, 334 pages, $28

The Prisoner in the Castle” by Susan Elia MacNeal- A
Published by Bantam
Hardcover, 320 pages, $26

From the Corner of the Oval” by Beck Dorey-Stein- A+
Published by Speigel & Grau
Hardcover, 352 pages, $28

Thursday, October 18, 2018

The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish

The Amendment by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published by Unsolicited Press ISBN 9781947021099
Trade paperback, $17, 336 pages

We first met Lavinia Dugan's family in Anne Leigh Parrish's fantastic book of linked stories Our Love Could Light the World. (My 5-star review is here.)

We catch up with Lavinia in Anne Leigh Parrish's marvelous novel, The Amendment, where Lavinia now-Starkhurt has to deal with the sudden death of her older husband Chip, struck down by lightning on the golf course. Chip was Lavinia's second husband and generous stepfather to her five children.

Chip loved Lavinia, and Lavinia loved Chip, even if he didn't excite her as much as her ex-husband Potter. When she and Potter were married, he couldn't hold down a job and he drank too much. Chip owned his own company, where Lavinia worked before she married Chip, and provided a lifestyle for Lavinia that enabled her to lead a life of leisure.

After Chip's death, Lavinia decides to leave her Finger Lakes region home and take a road trip across the country. She needs to get away from Mel, Chip's golfing buddy who loves Lavinia, and Alma, Chip's housekeeper who adored Chip (but not Lavinia). After her daughter Angie's attempt to get Lavinia to participate in group grief therapy goes terribly awry (Lavinia says some very inappropriate things), Lavinia hops in her car and takes off.

Along her travels, Lavinia picks up random items as totems of a sort- a stuffed teddy bear, a thimble collection she finds at garage sale, and a vase for the fresh flowers she buys every day. She stays at small motels along the way that have a diner nearby.

She meets people on her journey, listens to their stories and tries to help them, which is unlike her. She gives rides to people who need her help: a woman who was abandoned by her boyfriend at the laundromat, a teenager on the run from his uncles.

Lavinia stays for awhile at the home of her ex-sister-in-law. Patty and her husband Murph take her in and Lavinia stays for a few weeks, working for a few hours at a flower shop, trying to get a volunteer job as a driver for social services (until a previous DUI is discovered), and even has an affair with a cowboy.

I found Lavinia to be a fascinating, multi-dimensional character. She reminded me a bit of Olive Kitteridge from Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize novel of the same name. She is prickly and speaks her mind whether people want to hear it or not. She wasn't the best mother, maybe not affectionate enough. She wasn't the best wife to Chip, realizing that she married two men who were afraid of her. Some people call her a "straight-shooter", and she describes herself as a bitch.

I powered through The Amendment, turning the pages furiously because I couldn't get enough of Lavinia. She is funny and fierce and truly one of the most interesting characters I have found in a long time. I thoroughly enjoyed taking to the road with Lavinia and I highly recommend The Amendment.

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

Instagram Tour

Monday, October 1st: @readvoraciously
Tuesday, October 2nd: @read.write.coffee
Wednesday, October 3rd: @brookesbooksandbrews
Thursday, October 4th: @happiestwhenreading
Friday, October 5th: @novelgossip
Saturday, October 6th: @brokenteepee

Review Tour

Tuesday, October 9th: @readingwithmere
Wednesday, October 10th: @lavieestbooks
Thursday, October 11th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, October 12th: Wining Wife
Monday, October 15th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Tuesday, October 16th: Novel Gossip
Wednesday, October 17th: BookNAround
Thursday, October 18th: Bookchickdi
Monday, October 22nd: Seaside Book Nook
Wednesday, October 24th: Run Wright
Thursday, October 25th: Patricia’s Wisdom