Monday, April 20, 2015

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg

The Dream Lover by Elizabeth Berg
Published by Random House ISBN 978-0-8129-9315-8
Hardcover, $28, 361 pages

Author Elizabeth Berg became interested in the life of 19th century writer George Sand. She told her friend Nancy Horan, who has written historical novels such as Leaving Frank and Under a Starry Sky, based on real people, that she should write a book about George Sand. Horan said "Write it yourself!", so she did.

The Dream Lover tells the story of George Sand, born Aurore Dupin to a wealthy soldier from a respected French family and his wife, a former courtesan who followed the military during battle and left a general to marry Aurore's family.

Aurore narrates her own story, from her upbringing with her strict, controlling, wealthy grandmother through her marriage to a man who was a poor steward of her inheritance to her success as a novelist and her many love affairs along the way.

I knew little about Sand, other than she was a French novelist who dressed in man's clothes. Sand began wearing men's clothes when she was a theatre critic, and she could buy tickets to the cheaper seats if she were a man. She liked wearing stylish men's clothes so much, she continued it most of her life.

Aurore's great love of her life was Marie Dorval, a famous actress who loved life freely. Marie captivated Aurore, and Aurore fell madly in love with her. They remained friends most of their lives, until a falling out left Aurore bereft.

Aurore's marriage constrained her, though it did give her two children- a daughter, with whom she had a strained relationship throughout their lives (like many mothers and daughters), and a son, with whom she had a better relationship.

I found the sections on her feelings about motherhood fascinating, and it gave you a real feel for how Sand balanced her work with her family life. She had an agreement with her husband that she would spend three months at a time in Paris, where she would write, and then three months at home at her grandmother's estate that she now owned.

Her months in Paris gave her a freedom she relished. She cultivated a group of intellectual and artistic friends, including Gustave Flaubert, Franz Liszt, Eugene Delacroix and Frederic Chopin, with whom she had a long term affair.

Sand had many affairs, although some were with men who left her unfulfilled and unhappy. Reading how an intelligent, inquisitive, artistic woman like Sand had to deal with a society where women were discouraged from such behavior was fascinating.

Sometimes when a story is told in different time shifts, as Berg does here with three basic alternating timelines, it can be confusing, but Berg weaves the timelines together seamlessly. Switching back and forth gave the book a coherence.

I'm not a huge fan of historical fiction, but I enjoyed The Dream Lover a great deal. I felt dropped into Sand's story, like I was right there in France with her and she shared her story with me. Telling the story in her voice worked brilliantly here.

George Sand is an amazing woman, and after reading The Dream Lover, I am heading out to find some of her novels. Fans of historical fiction should put The Dream Lover at the top of their must-read list.

rating 5 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of Elizabeth Berg's tour stops are here:
Monday, April 13th: Reading Reality
Monday, April 13th: Books on the Table 
Tuesday, April 14th: Let Them Read Books
Wednesday, April 15th: History from a Woman’s Perspective
Monday, April 20th: Bibliophilia, Please
Monday, April 20th: Bookchickdi
Tuesday, April 21st: Unabridged Chick
Tuesday, April 21st: The Novel Life
Wednesday, April 22nd: Books on the Table – Bookstore Event post
Wednesday, April 22nd: Kritter’s Ramblings
Thursday, April 23rd: Unabridged Chick – author Q&A
Monday, April 27th: Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, April 28th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Wednesday, April 29th: Bibliotica
Thursday, April 30th: Life is Story
Monday, May 4th: Laura’s Reviews
Monday, May 4th: Book Babe
Wednesday, May 6th: Unshelfish
Monday, May 11th: Broken Teepee

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Root & Bone Restaurant

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.

There are so many wonderful restaurants in New York City, that it would be impossible to eat at all of them. For my birthday, I wanted to try Root & Bone, located all the way down on 3rd St. and Avenue B. They specialize in Southern comfort food, and I just can't resist a good fried chicken.

Root & Bone is a really small restaurant, but one that utilizes its space well. When you walk in, there is the small take-out area with delicious smelling baked treats piled on the counter just tempting you to try and walk away without one or two.

The hostess seated us in the small dining room (with four tables) that also had one counter lined up facing the windows and one counter facing the open kitchen for extra seating space. Another small dining room with a few tables and a tiny bar that had four stools completing the seating spaces. It is a terrific use of a limited space.

We began with a couple glasses of wine, but they do have a cute cocktail menu. As an appetizer we shared the Drunken Deviled Eggs, which are an adorable pink color,

Deviled Eggs

and Grandma Daisy's Angel Biscuits, served with a side of chicken au jus.

 I ordered the Free Range Bucket of Bird, which is brined in a sweet tea and does not have a traditional heavy breading. It is served with a Tabasco honey sauce on the side. I got the Buckwheat Waffles with Cheddar on top and a Maple Syrup Sauce on the side.
Half Bird Bucket of Chicken

Buckwheat Waflles

My husband ordered the Short Rib Meatloaf, which he enjoyed a great deal. I liked my fried chicken, but we both agreed that the waffles were out of this world and the highlight of the meal. Definitely get them if you go.

For dessert, we shared the Banana Pana Cotta that was very tasty and light, and served in a cute mason jar.
Banana Pana Cotta

The ambience is a funky, rustic casual feel, and with the small space the tables are close together, so you can make friends with your dining neighbors. The table next to us ordered the Shrimp and Grits, and it looked so good we decided we will get that next time.

It's a not a place where you can linger, they like to turn over their tables since they have so few, but for a quick, tasty meal, it's a place I can recommend.

Root & Bone's website is here. If you are lucky to live near there, they deliver.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Kate Mulgrew at Barnes and Noble

Kate Mulgrew at Barnes & Noble

When I was in middle school back in the 1970s, a new soap opera called Ryan's Hope was broadcast on ABC. A new young actress named Kate Mulgrew played fiesty Mary Ryan and I was hooked. The show was great and she was fantastic. Years later, Mulgrew played a feminist icon, Captain Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, and recently, she plays tough prison inmate Red on Orange Is The New Black.

Mulgrew just wrote a memoir, Born With Teeth, and the release was celebrated at Barnes & Noble in Union Square in New York City this past week. A full house was there, with fans from all of her TV shows (it was easy to distinguish them from each other) showed up to hear Ms. Mulgrew in conversation with Augusten Burroughs.

After Mulgrew opened with a brief reading from chapter, dealing with her steely mother, an Irish Catholic woman who danced with President Kennedy at his inauguration, Burroughs made a comment stating how impressed he was with the "stylishness of her prose, it's stunning", and I wholeheartedly agree.

He asked her why she wrote her memoir, filled with "lots of love, and lots of darkness" now. She replied that her parents were now dead, and that at her age (she was 58 when she wrote it two years ago), she had a willingness to face difficult things.

Growing up in an Irish Catholic family, she quickly learned that stoicism is key. Important things and emotions were never spoken of in her family. "Austerity, spartan, simplicity- that is the Irish way" she said.

She decided if she was to write a memoir, it had to be honest. She learned that she had a "vast vulnerability" and her book "summed up everything that defined me". She believes that she "put out something that portrays a deeply flawed person", and after reading the book (I will link to my review at the end of this post), I find that to be very true. And aren't we all flawed people?

The process of writing her memoir was a process she "adored from the first moment." She rented a beach house on Long Island, and had a strict schedule. She loved her "solitary life" and "felt blissfully happy" during the process of writing.

Writing a memoir is different from acting in that she was putting herself out there, not becoming a character. The hardest chapter of the book to write was about going back to work right after she gave birth to a baby girl she gave up for adoption. That decision colored her entire life, and is an important theme in her book.

In the scene, Mary Ryan had just given birth and was talking to her baby about the life she would give her. Holding the stunt baby and giving that monologue was incredibly difficult, and reading that chapter was heartbreaking.

Mulgrew took several questions from the audience, about her favorite role (Capt. Janeway of course), what's on her bucket list (mostly travel) and how her memories came back so vividly as she was writing her memoir.

Ms. Mulgrew was very respectful of her fans, and took time to talk to everyone as she signed. I have been an admirer of hers for years, and was delighted to find that she is as intelligent, gracious, kind and interesting as I hoped she would be.

My review of her brilliant, honest and heartbreaking memoir is here.

Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew

Born With Teeth by Kate Mulgrew
Published by Little Brown, ISBN 978-0-316-33431-0
Hardcover, $28, 302 pages

I was very excited when I heard that actress Kate Mulgrew had written a memoir, Born With Teeth. I have been a big fan of her since her days as Mary Ryan on the ABC soap Ryan's Hope, through her groundbreaking role as Capt. Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, and in her current role as tough and literate inmate Red on Orange Is The New Black. (Red always has a book with her.)

She begins her honest, brilliant, heartbreaking memoir by talking about her large Irish Catholic family. Jiki and Ace, as her parents were called, lived in Iowa, and had a typically large brood of children. They lost two of their daughters, one to SIDS, whom four year-old Kate mistakenly believed she had killed, and a teenage daughter who died a slow, painful death.

Kate's mother was a steely, artistic, not very affectionate woman who loved books. Books were important to the Mulgrew family, and when Kate decided she wanted to be a poet because she was chosen to read her poem at a school assembly, her mother convinced her to read The White Cliffs of Dover after she read her poems, and when the nuns sobbed during her Kate's rendition, she knew she had found her calling: acting.

Born With Teeth recounts the important events and people in Kate Mulgrew's life. She stated at an appearance to launch her book that it "summed up everything that defined me", and that may be the best way to describe this stunningly written book.

If you are looking for a run-of-the-mill celebrity biography, look elsewhere. Fans of Ryan's Hope may be disappointed that there is no juicy backstage gossip here. Only producer Claire Labine and Nancy Addison (Jillian Coleridge) are mentioned, and that is because they were good friends of Mulgrew.

When Mulgrew was working on Ryan's Hope and just in her early 20s, she became pregnant. She came to the agonizing decision to give her baby up for adoption, and that decision changed and colored her entire life.

Mulgrew worked hard at her craft, and the stage was her first love, even though she had huge success on TV. The chapters on working on Mrs. Columbo (and how she got that job after turning it down)  and Star Trek: Voyager give an insider's look at the incredibly long days and hard work it takes to be a major TV actress.

She wasn't as lucky in love though. After meeting a wealthy Italian man and giving up her career to be with him, she fell in love with a man in Seattle who worked on the play in which she was cast. The love of her life came later, in Ireland, where she met a man for whom she fell head-over-heels in love.

Mulgrew and her husband had two sons in two years, and trying to be a working mother and spend time with her children was a struggle, one that many women will be able to relate to. There is a chapter where she takes her sons to the Star Trek premiere,and their behavior embarrasses her, that will make any mother cringe.

Born With Teeth is so beautifully written, and so honest. Mulgrew doesn't shy away from her mistakes and her flaws. She comes from an Irish family, where stoicism was the watchword, so this makes it even more remarkable. She is not afraid to portray her warts, whether as a woman or a mother, and I find that refreshing.

It feels like each word is so carefully chosen, yet it also feels like it sprang full-blown from her head, ready to publish. The Irish are known for their eloquence, and Mulgrew clearly inherited that from her ancestors.

I know we will see her again as an actress (season three of Orange is The New Black will be available on Netflix on June 12 and season 4 will be filming soon), I hope that we will hear again soon from author Kate Mulgrew as well.

rating 5 of 5

I saw Kate Mulgrew at her book launch, and that post is here.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah and Skye Chatham

Read Bottom Up by Neel Shah & Skye Chatham
Published by Dey St. ISBN 978-0-06-226213-4
Hardcover, $16.99, 239 pages

Read Bottom Up is a modern day romance; boy and girl meet, and much of their relationship takes place in emails and text messages. The authors wrote in the Authors' Note that they wanted to see a more realistic modern dating experience in a novel. So they wrote it.

But they added a twist. Neel and Skye each wrote as their corresponding character- Elliot, a hip restaurant owner who just went through a bad breakup, and Madeline, who works for a publisher marketing cookbooks and searching for a real, fulfilling relationship. There are two other characters in the book- Elliot's best friend David, and Madeline's best friend Emily, an elementary school teacher.

Neel wrote his character's emails and text messages to Madeline and David and Skye wrote Madeline's emails and text messages to Elliot and Emily. The twist is that Neel never saw Madeline's correspondence to Emily and Skye never saw Elliot's correspondence to David until the novel was finished.

It's a clever concept and one that works beautifully, giving the novel a realistic feeling. Even though I am older than the target market for this book, I loved it. It's a Sex and the City for this generation, where every piece of their life could be played out on social media for all to parse and ponder.

Elliot is witty and charming, and maybe just a little bit flaky. When Madeline arrives at their second date, she finds an entire table filled with Elliot's friends, and she hardly speaks to Elliot all night. What does this mean? She turns to Emily for advice.

They have been dating for awhile, sleeping at each other's apartments, spending most of their time together, when Elliot informs her that he will be spending an entire week in Vermont at the wedding festivities of a college buddy. (I guess that's how it works today, weddings are a weeklong process.)

Elliot doesn't ask Madeline to accompany him, and while trolling on Elliot's friends' Instagram accounts, she sees that Elliot's ex-girlfriend is also at the wedding. What does this mean? Again, she turns to Emily.

Elliot spends much time sharing his thoughts about Madeline with David. There are times when he doesn't understand why Madeline is angry with him, and he wonders if they are truly compatible.

Read Bottom Up is a fun, quick, addictive read. You feel like you know these characters, and for a minute I expect to see them turn up somewhere on my Facebook news feed. There is a real twist at the end of the story, one I did not see coming, but enjoyed immensely.

rating 4 of 5

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

Tuesday, April 7th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, April 8th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, April 9th: Sara's Organized Chaos
Friday, April 10th: A Bookish Way of Life
Tuesday, April 14th: BookNAround
Wednesday, April 15th: bookchickdi
Thursday, April 16th: Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, April 17th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, April 20th: Booksie's Blog
Wednesday, April 22nd: Bibliotica
Thursday, April 23rd: Thoughts On This 'n That
Monday, April 27th: Mom in Love With Fiction
Tuesday, April 28th: Walking With Nora
Wednesday, April 29th: The Book Binder's Daughter
Thursday, April 30th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, May 4th: Svetlana's Reads and Views
Wednesday, May 6th: 100 Pages a Day ... Stephanie's Book Reviews
Friday, May 8th: The Discerning Reader

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Muscle Cars by Stephen G. Eoannou

Muscle Cars by Stephen G. Eoannou
Published by sfwp ISBN 9781939650221
Trade paperback, 244 pages, $15

I have a husband and two adult sons, and so when I have an opportunity to read a book that gives the male perspective I like to take it. Stephen G. Eoannou's new short story collection, Muscle Cars features stories about men in all stages of life, from young boys to young adults, middle-aged men to older men in all their complicated situations and feelings.

Many of the eighteen stories in this collection were previously published elsewhere. In short stories, the author has to capture the reader's attention quickly and successfully establish characters in just a few sentences. Every word must count for something if a story is to work.

Eoannou does a terrific job creating memorable characters, especially in the stories that are more than a few pages. The title story Muscle Cars sets an emotional tone for the book. Tom's wife asks him to please go talk to the young neighbor who spends all night partying loudly with his friends and keeping her awake. The young neighbor lost his mom last year and soon we see what he and Tom have in common.

The way men bear responsibilities in silence, rarely sharing their feelings are highlighted in Welcome Home Xmas 1945. A man is going through his father's personal effects following his father's death. He finds a photo of his father as a young man with a beautiful woman, along with an engagement ring. As he tracks down the story of this photo, he discovers the biggest disappointment of his father's life and the unwitting role he played in it. It is heart-wrenching and enlightening.

The Wolf Boy of Forest Lane is one of my favorites as well A young male teacher is doing his best to reach his students, and when he discovers that one of the students is obsessed with the story of a young boy who was lost on a school field trip to a local cemetery, he decides that he can use that to engage the class. It is a story of good intentions gone awry, a theme that resonates through many of these stories.

Since it is opening week of baseball season, I must mention Stealing Ted William's Head. Two almost thirty-year-old men decide that is a good idea to drive all the way from the east coast to Arizona to steal the frozen head of deceased Boston Red Sox slugger and bury it in Fenway Park to bring good luck to the Red Sox. One is a new father with a colicky baby wreaking havoc on he and his wife's life, and the other guy is the one who won't grow up.

I grew up in Central New York, and many of these stories have references that I am familiar with, like  the name Genesee, Utica Club beer, Friday night fish fry, and fried balogna sandwiches. One rang strange to me, calling apartments "flats" (that is more of a British term).

If you want to learn what is going on in the male of the species' head, reading Muscle Cars will give you great insight and empathy. There are some of the usual suspects here- violence, men and their crazy plans, and Peter Pan Won't Grow Up Syndrome- but Eoannou has a refreshing and empathetic take on them that will engage any reader.

rating 4 of 5

Thanks to Poetic Book Tours for putting me on Stephen O. Eoannou's tour. The rest of the stops are here:
April 7: bookchickdi (review)
April 14: Everything Distils Into Reading (Author Guest Post)
April 20: Svetlana’s Reads and Views (review)
April: 21: Everything Distils Into Reading (review)
April 23:  Emma Eden Ramos (review)
April 25: Bell, Book & Candle (review)
April 28: Savvy Verse & Wit (interview)

Monday, April 6, 2015

The Whites by Richard Price

The Whites by Richard Price writing as Harry Brandt
Published by Henry Holt ISBN 9780805093995
Hardcover, $28, 352 pages

Reprinted from the Citizen
Last month I binge-watched “The Wire,” the HBO series that many people consider the greatest TV drama ever. After I finished the five fantastic seasons, I discovered that Richard Price, the novelist who wrote for the show, had a new crime novel publishing in March.
He wrote “The Whites” under the pseudonym Harry Brandt. Many famous writers write under pen names — Stephen King (Richard Bachman), Ruth Rendell (Barbara Vine) and Nora Roberts (J.D. Robb) among them. Price did it because he said he wanted to write a story different than what he usually writes.
The first thing you notice about “The Whites” is the striking cover. It is stark black and white, with four cops walking up steps, and under them is the skyline of New York City. The type is raised, giving it a rich feel, something not usually seen in crime novels.
“The Whites” is a literary reference to Moby-Dick, the great white whale that destroyed Captain Ahab’s ship and took off his leg. Ahab vows revenge, no matter what the price.
The whites in this story refer to criminals who got away with heinous crimes years ago. When Sgt. Billy Graves, who commands the Manhattan Night Watch detective unit that investigates overnight crimes then hands them off to the unit detectives in the morning, comes upon the murder of a man who was one of his old unit’s “whites,” it brings back bad memories.
Back in the 1990s, Graves was part of “The Wild Geese,” a tough anti-crime unit consisting of four cops: Billy; Yasmeen, the only woman in the unit, now head of security at a local college; Pavlicek, retired, who now owns apartment buildings; and Redman, who owns a funeral home.
Graves accidentally shot and killed a 10-year-old boy while trying to arrest a crazed drug addict, and the fallout from that created a media circus, complete with protests outside his home; that cost him his marriage and put his career in the dead zone, going from one lousy posting to another.
Graves is now married to a nurse, who has some sort of emotional/depression problems, and they have two rambunctious young sons. He does his best to be a good dad and husband, but he feels there is something behind his wife’s problems that he can’t get to.
When another of the Wild Geese’s four whales is killed, and then a third is seriously wounded, Graves becomes convinced something is going on with the members of his old unit.
But how does he get to the bottom of it without questioning his old partners? After all, they all stuck by him following the shooting, and when his wife was hospitalized with a nervous breakdown, they helped care for his sons.
A reporter from a local newspaper claimed she had information that Graves was high on cocaine when he shot the young boy, but she lost her job when her information was determined to be incorrect.
The reporter, who now writes a sex column for an online magazine and works as a private investigator, calls Graves to tell him she has some information he may might want about the shooting he is investigating.
While all this is happening, a man named Milton Ramos is plotting revenge against Graves’ family. He has something very personal against Graves and his family, and as the story progresses we find out what it is.
Ramos accosts Graves' son at school, leaving a red paint handprint on the boy’s coat. A stranger picks up Billy’s dad, who has dementia, and leaves the older man to wander the streets of Harlem. A bag of bloodied clothes and toys are thrown on his porch.
Graves must find out who is after his family and why, and if it has a connection to the whites or his old partners, who once again rally to help Graves when his family is in trouble.
“The Whites” is a crackling good crime novel, one that you will stay up all night to finish. Its themes of family, honesty and the price of loyalty are beautifully done, and give the reader much to contemplate. And the city of New York is a terrific character here as well.
I liked the relationships, especially between Billy and his father, and Billy and his wife, and the writing is superb, definitely a cut above most crime thrillers. Fans of “The Wire” should pick up “The Whites”; it’s a great follow-up.
rating 5 of 5

Monday, March 30, 2015

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson

The Bookseller by Cynthia Swanson
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-233300-1
Hardcover, $25.99, 336 pages

Kitty wakes up and she's not in her bedroom. She is in an unfamiliar room, but the last thing she remembers is painting her bedroom with help from her best friend and co-owner of their bookstore. What has happened?

So begins Cynthia Swanson's compelling novel, The Bookseller. A handsome man comes into the unfamiliar room, claiming to be her husband, and reminding her that she has two young children who need her, one of whom is running a fever.

But Kitty is not married and does not have children, and why is this man calling her Katharyn, her given name, instead of Kitty, the name everyone calls her?

Kitty awakens from the realistic dream and it's still 1962 and she has to get to work at the bookstore, where Frieda will be waiting for her. Slowly we find out more about Kitty: she used to be a 5th grade teacher, she is very close to her loving parents, she was jilted by her long-time boyfriend and hasn't been dating much lately.

Things at the bookstore haven't been going so well since the bus line that ran right in front of the store changed routes, and Frieda wants to consider moving the shop to a better location in a shopping center.

But the dreams continue, where it appears that Kitty leads a completely different life. We find out more about her family, including the fact that her young son has autism. I found this fact very intriguing as I don't know how much was known about autism in 1962.

In her dream life, Kitty and Frieda no longer own the store together, and they don't see each other anymore. She has trouble dealing with her son, while her loving husband seems more capable in this area.

Some things are the same in her dream life and her real life. She has the same cat, and in her dream home, her photos are on the wall are the same ones in her real life.

As her dream life goes on, it appears that something traumatic has happened. Her husband is concerned about her and he references things that have happened that neither the reader nor Kitty seem to be aware of.

In her real life, Kitty begins to lose days. She doesn't know what has happened in the days prior, and things begin to confuse her. Fans of Liane Moriarty's What Alice Forgot will enjoy this page-turner of a novel, one that I finished in two sittings.

Swanson weaves a riveting story, one that will keep the reader guessing as to what exactly is going on in Kitty's life to cause these dreams. Her descriptions of Kitty's surroundings are particularly well done, and that is no surprise considering the author is also a mid-century designer.

I liked the characters, especially the relationships between Kitty and her parents and Kitty and Frieda. I found it interesting that the father knew how to better deal with the autistic son than the boy's mother, given that back in 1962 generally fathers were less involved with their children's daily lives than their mothers.

The resolution of the story surprised me a bit, and I'm not sure exactly how I feel about it, but the journey Swanson took us on to get there was a thought-provoking, emotional and compelling one.

rating 4.5 of 5