Thursday, December 1, 2016

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard

Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-225766-0
Trade paperback, $15.99, 327 pages

Joyce Maynard's fantastic novel Under the Influence is one of those books that grabs your attention right from the beginning and never lets go. It doesn't start flashy, with a grisly murder or great drama, rather we learn that protagonist is moving to a new town with her son when she sees a woman she hasn't seen in ten years.

Maynard takes the rest of the novel to share why Helen hasn't seen Ava in ten years and tells us the story of how they came to be friends. Helen was thirty-eight, divorced from her husband and trying to raise her three-year-old son on her own. She had no family to speak of, and she adored her husband's family who took her in and loved her, and then threw her out when her husband left her for another woman.

Helen turned to alcohol and when she was frantically driving her son to the hospital with a burst appendix after she had been drinking, the police stopped her and she watched helplessly as her son was taken away in an ambulance while she was taken away in handcuffs.

She lost her license and then she lost her son to her ex-husband. She had visitation twice a month for six hours and felt that her life was over. Then she met Ava and Swift, a wealthy couple who made her feel like she was worthy again.

Ava was confined to a wheelchair and her husband Swift was a larger-than-life bear of a man, a self-made millionaire who lived life to the fullest. They took Helen in under their wing, inviting her out to dinners, bringing her into their home, and eventually hiring her as a photographer.

Helen blossomed with Ava and Swift, and soon her young son Ollie, now eight, was brought into this makeshift family. Ollie was mesmerized by Swift, who acted like a child himself- all id, no superego.

Helen also began dating Elliot, an accountant she met through online dating. Elliot was the anti-Swift. He was not flashy, boring even, but Helen and Elliot liked the same things- staying in and watching old movies, trying new restaurants.

Ava and Swift did not approve of Elliot; they told Helen he was a dud and not good enough for her. Ollie didn't like Elliot either; he wasn't as exciting or cool as Swift.

The title refers not only to Helen's DUI conviction but to the way in which Helen fell under the influence of this golden couple, two people who picked her up when she was at her low point. Why couldn't Elliot understand that?

Maynard reveals these characters so slowly and brilliantly, they feel very real. Helen's anguish, loneliness and humiliation at losing her son, the only light in her life, is so visceral, you can feel it vibrate on the page.

Her imagery is vivid too, such as her description of Helen's childhood with a mother who didn't love or want her:
"I remember a great many bologna sandwiches and granola bars. A Top 40 station playing seventies hits, and the television always on. Old lottery tickets piled on the counter, never the winning number. The smell of marijuana and spilled wine. Stacks of library books under the covers of my bed: the thing that saved me."

The story has a sense of foreboding throughout. We know that something happened to destroy Ava and Helen's friendship, we are waiting for it to be revealed.

At the end of the book, the Author's Notes share that Elliot (my favorite character) is based on Maynard's husband and it made me wish that everyone had an Elliot in their life as Maynard and Helen did.

I read Under the Influence in a few hours, I truly did not want to put it down. It is a book that I will recommend and ponder and know that my thoughts will return to many times in the future. I will not forget Helen and how she loved her son with a ferociousness most mothers have in them. I give it my highest recommendation.

Joyce Maynard's website is here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 22nd: BookNAround
Wednesday, November 23rd: Books and Bindings
Monday, November 28th: I’d Rather Be At The Beach
Tuesday, November 29th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, December 1st: bookchickdi
Monday, December 5th: Comfy Reading
Tuesday, December 6th: Dreams, Etc.
Wednesday, December 7th: Vox Libris
Thursday, December 8th: A Splendidly Messy Life
Friday, December 9th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, December 12th: Ace and Hoser Blook

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

New in Paperback- The Passenger by Lisa Lutz

The Passenger by Lisa Lutz
Published by Simon & Schuster ISBN 978145686647
Trade paperback, 320 pages, $15.99

Lisa Lutz’s “Spellman Files” series is a comic look at a family of private investigators. Those light-hearted books are a world away from her latest, “The Passenger,” which begins with a woman on the run after her husband dies falling down the stairs. 
It is not the first time Tanya has been on the run. The story of her background slowly unfolds and she has to deal with someone from her past who wants to kill her. But why?
Tanya meets another mysterious woman named Blue, who also appears to be on the run, she claims from an abusive husband. The two reluctantly team up — but is one of them using the other to cover up another crime?
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“Tanya” ends up on the run again, taking different identities along the way. She moves from place to place, shedding her identity like a snake sheds its skin. She has to decide who she can trust, and just when Tanya decides she has had enough of life on the run, she returns home to face her past — and Blue is there, too.
“The Passenger” is a twisty, can’t-stop-turning-the-page thriller that will have the reader trying to figure out exactly what happened to start Tanya on this path and what kind of person she truly is. You have to ask yourself, “Would I go as far she did to save myself?”

Monday, November 28, 2016

Books Are Great Gifts Guide 2016

reprinted from the Citizen.

Now that all the turkey has been used up in casseroles and hot sandwiches, it’s time to turn to thoughts of holiday gift shopping. Books make great gifts because they are never the wrong size or color, and they can take the gift recipients to places they could never have imagined.
And so here is my annual Books Are Great Gifts Guide. We begin in the fiction section. For the person on your list who likes romance and football, Stephanie Evanovich’s “The Total Package” is the perfect choice. Superstar quarterback Tyson Palmer has trashed his career and is given one last chance to make a comeback. Dani Carr is beginning her career in sports journalism and is assigned to help Palmer stay on track. But of course there are secrets and romance and very sexy scenes.
The Total Package
For the person who listens to the “Hamilton” cast recording on repeat, Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie’s historical novel “America’s First Daughter,” about Thomas Jefferson’s daughter Patsy, is a fascinating look at a founding father and the role of women at the time of America’s founding.
America's First Daughter 
For your friend who believes that good fiction creates empathy, Jodi Picoult’s “Small Great Things” tells the story of a black nurse accused of causing the death of a white supremacist’s infant son from the perspective of the nurse, the father and the female lawyer of the nurse. It is thought-provoking literature.
Small Great Things
For the person who likes to have the wits scared out of her, B.A. Paris’ debut novel “Behind Closed Doors” will keep her up at night finishing this story of what appears to be the perfect couple. But why is the wife never seen outside of the house without her husband at her side? It’s a creepy story.
Behind Closed Doors
From the non-fiction section, fans of TV’s “Seinfeld” (which would be everybody, right?) will adore Jennifer Keishin Armstrong’s “Seinfeldia," which takes a deep dive into the show about nothing. What makes it most entertaining is Armstrong’s interviews with the writers of the show, who provide an interesting perspective on the iconic comedy.
Seinfeldia
For the science and math enthusiast on your list, Margo Lee Shetterly’s “Hidden Figures” tells the story of a group of black female mathematicians who worked for NASA and helped the United States win the space race with Russia. You can give this book along with two movie tickets to see the film adaption out this winter.
Hidden Figures
If Erma Bombeck (remember her?) made you laugh out loud, Laurie Notaro’s “Housebroken” is the 21st century incarnation of Bombeck. She uses inappropriate language as she hilariously describes how she is definitely not the heir apparent to Martha Stewart.
Housebroken
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For those who do know their way around the kitchen, Ina Garten’s new cookbook “Cooking For Jeffrey” shares her recipes of her husband’s favorite dishes, along with lovely stories of their life together.
Cooking With Jeffrey
In the children’s section, preschoolers love trucks, and Hope Vestergaard and David Slonim’s “Digger Dozer Dumper” is a cute book with the story told in poetry. Add a toy truck and you’ve got a great gift.
Digger Dozer Dumper
For the elementary school set, Andrea Beaty and David Roberts follow up their “Iggy Peck, Architect” and “Rosie Revere, Engineer” picture books with “Ada Twist, Scientist.” These stories encourage young children’s interest in science, technology, engineering and math, and are fun as well.
Ada Twist, Scientist
The middle schoolers on your list will devour “The Secret Keepers” by Trenton Lee Stewart, who wrote the popular “The Mysterious Benedict Society” series of children’s mysteries. He has created an imaginary world filled with magic, humor and secrets, and this one will keep the kids busy reading at over 500 pages.
The Secret Keepers
Young adults who loved Rainbow Rowell’s “Eleanor & Park” will appreciate Nicola Yoon’s “The Sun Is Also A Star,” which was nominated for this year’s National Book Award. Natasha is spending her last day in New York City when she meets Daniel, who is applying to attend college in Yale. They each alternate chapters telling the story of their time together.
The Sun Is Also A Star
If your young person prefers his history in graphic novel form, the winner of this year’s National Book Award for Young People's Literature is “The March Trilogy,” written by Representative John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell. The three graphic novels tell the story of the Civil Rights movement as seen through the eyes of a young John Lewis.
March
I hope you have enough suggestions here for everyone on your holiday list, and that you all had a very Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Thanksgiving Dinner for 36

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.

This year my husband's entire family, plus a few extras, made it home for Thanksgiving. My sister-in-law and her husband hosted all 36 of us for Thanksgiving dinner and that is no small feat. But my sister-in-law was well organized and with everyone pitching in, bringing side dishes, desserts and helping with set-up and cleanup, it was a fantastic day.

We started with appetizers- bruschetta with a fig jam, blue cheese and walnut topping, along with a spinach dip and a vegetable tray and two antipasto trays, one of which had prosciutto-wrapped asparagus spears that disappeared quickly.
Appetizer table

A few hours later, we brought out the stuffed mushrooms and Rachael Ray's Pumpkin Soup with Cran-Apple relish that was served in little shooter glasses. The mushrooms and soup were voted among the best dishes of the day.

At 4pm, dinner was served. The cold food table was set just outside the dining room and it held the breads (pumpkin, cranberry orange and apple cinnamon) and jello salads (cranberry and fan favorite lemon).

The kitchen island held all the hot foods- three turkeys, fifteen pounds of mashed potatoes, three stuffing (two with sausage, one without), two broccoli casseroles, two green beans wrapped in bacon, roasted squash and fennel, sweet potato casserole, sausage rolls and Plainville Turkey gravy.
The turkeys looked beautiful

The ovens worked overtime

The feast

The feeding frenzy

Red Velvet, Brooklyn Blackout and Pumpkin Harvest cakes from Two Little Red Hens

Krause's Candy- yum!


We all retired to the dining room to eat and reflect upon our many blessings. Everything was so delicious, it became very quiet as 36 people thoroughly enjoyed their meal and each other's company.
The dining room for 36

Such beautiful place settings


We began the following day meeting for lunch at Dallas Hot Wieners, a family tradition, and then we headed for the bowling alley to celebrate one of the cousins' 13th birthday. I haven't bowled in over 25 years (and my previous record high score was 63), but I won my grouping with a 96 much to the dismay of others in my group. I had great accuracy, right down the middle but if I had more speed on the ball I would have broken 100.

It was back to the sister-in-law's for leftovers (which we completely polished off) and then we celebrated all the November and December birthdays-8 of them!- with a cake my mother-in-law brought.
The November/December  birthday cake

We headed home to go to the Syracuse University basketball game on Saturday at the Barclay's Center in Brooklyn (don't ask how that went- we lost big-time) and then it was home to our apartment in NYC to recuperate.

All in all, it was a terrific weekend, and many thanks to my sister-in-law and her husband for hosting the entire family.
This is what our Thanksgiving looked like


Saturday, November 19, 2016

Weekend Cooking- The Winter Village at Bryant Park

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.

Each year Bryant Park, which is located behind the main branch of the New York Public Library on 42nd Street between 5th and 6th Avenues, hosts a Winter Village. There is a big ice skating rink, a Christmas tree, a pop-up sit-down restaurant, and close to 100 tented vendor stalls where people can buy holiday gifts. It's modeled on a European market look and it draws big crowds. 
It was 60 degrees at the skating rink

In addition to the handmade jewelry, Christmas ornaments and children's toys, there are many food vendors. In years past, the food vendors have been scattered about, but this year they placed several new and exciting food vendors along the periphery of the village on the 40th Street side of the park.

The focus seems to be on food from all over the world- I saw KAYA Taiwanese burgers, Dulcinea Churros, Jicama California Street Food, Domo Taco, MATZAHBREI (Jewish vegetarian), Mr. Bing Beijing Street Food, Veselka Borcht Bar, and Iron Burger Bar among the dozens of new food vendors this year. 


Chick'n Cone drew many visitors eager to try their take on chicken and waffles- chicken tenders tossed in one of three sauces (Carolina BBQ, Ranch and Cinnamon Maple), placed inside a waffle cone. I saw a lot of people eating those.

I wandered among them for a very long time, trying to decide before settling on La Sonrisa Empanadas, where I got a ham & queso empanada which was delicious and just the right size to allow me to try a Breads Bakery Nutella Cretzel- a pretzel shaped croissant drizzled with Nutella. They have savory and sweet cretzels to satisfy every craving. 
Nutella Cretzel

If you find yourself in NYC for the holidays, make sure to stop by Bryant Park and hit up the food stalls, I intend to visit there often enough to try some more delights.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Grape, Olive, Pig by Matt Goulding

Grape, Pig, Olive by Matt Goulding
Published by Harper Wave ISBN 978-0-06-239413-2
Hardcover, $35, 368 pages

Grape, Olive, Pig- Deep Travels Through Spain's Food Culture begins with Matt Goulding as a high school senior traveling with his class on a trip to Spain in 1998. Goulding fell in love with Spain and on a return trip in 2010, he fell in love with a Catalan woman named Laura, a woman he was destined to marry.

Goulding takes the reader on a journey through Spain through the eyes of someone who has found his calling and his home. In addition to taking us on a culinary tour of Spain, Goulding gives the reader a historical perspective, from the Romans who built Barcelona to the flourishing of Barcelona in the early 14th century to the dark days of fascism under Francisco Franco to the desire of the Catalan province to succeed from Spain that exists today.

We start in Barcelona, home to to the now-defunct El Bulli, considered for years to be the best restaurant in the entire world. Many of world's greatest chefs passed through the kitchens of El Bulli and four of the top six restaurants on the 2015 list of the World 50 Best Restaurants are run by chefs who worked in El Bulli.

Goulding takes us through the streets of Barcelona, stopping in The Boqueria, one of Europe's best, biggest and oldest food marketplaces, where each day people shop for fresh seafood, fresh-baked loaves of bread, cheese and charcuterie.

We go to Salamanca, where we meet Fermin Martin who shares the secret to jamon iberico (Spanish ham)- it's the diet of acorns fed to the pigs that give the jamon its deliciousness. Martin discusses the the problems in dealing with the USDA and all its myriad rules and regulations that are keeping us in the US from enjoying this delight.

We learn how to make the perfect paella in Valencia, and how the sushi craze in Japan has caused an explosion in bluefin tuna fishing in Cadiz. We travel with world famous chef Jose Andres to the cheese caves in Asturias.

The most interesting people we meet are a trio of sisters, the Gonzalez sisters. They are percebeiras, "hunters and gatherers of the gooseneck barnacle of the Spanish Atlantic". Gathering barnacles is a difficult and dangerous job, and the fact that they are women has created conflict with the men who do the same job. Their story is fascinating.

Grape, Olive, Pig is an essential book for foodies, armchair travelers and anyone who is planning a trip to Spain. Goulding's love for his chosen home is evident in this fascinating book, filled with great stories, lots of fun facts and lists and mouth-watering photos of food and drink one must try when visiting Spain. After finishing Grape, Olive, Pig, you will be checking online flights to Spain. I highly recommend it.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, November 15th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, November 16th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Thursday, November 17th: bookchickdi
Friday, November 18th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, November 21st: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, November 22nd: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, November 28th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Tuesday, November 29th: Kahakai Kitchen
Wednesday, November 30th: Cooking with Amy
Tuesday, December 6th: BookNAround
Wednesday, December 7th: A Bookish Affair

Monday, November 14, 2016

On Broadway- The Front Page


One of the hottest shows on Broadway this season is the revival of the play The Front Page. It has a powerhouse cast including Nathan Lane, John Slattery, and John Goodman. Set in 1928 Chicago, the comedic play takes place in the press room in the Criminal Courts Building and revolves around a group of newspaper reporters covering the upcoming hanging execution of an accused murderer.

Given that the feeling about today's media is not one of trust, this play certainly resonates with today's audiences. Truth isn't necessarily of the utmost importance, but getting the scoop is.

This is a show where for me the performances were more enjoyable than the show itself. Nathan Lane gives his usual larger-than-life performance as Walter Burns, the editor and boss of John Slattery's star reporter Hildy Johnson. Lane doesn't show up onstage until Act II, but he makes the most of his time.

The actors who really drew my attention included Tony Award-winner Jefferson Mays as a fussy, germaphobic reporter tormented by his fellow reporters, TV veteran Holland Taylor as Johnson's impatient future mother-in-law, Micah Stock as a police officer of German decent, and Sherie Rene Scott as the doomed man's girlfriend.

Mays gets a laugh every time he opens his mouth and his physicality is spot-on as always. Taylor owns the stage whenever she bursts into the scene. I saw Stock last year in his Broadway debut in It's Only A Play, where he earned a Tony nomination and also starred with Nathan Lane. Once again he upstages veteran performers with his impeccable timing and comedic instincts. He has a bright future indeed.

Scott plays a more serious role and you might think that would be jarring in a comedy, but she pulls it off beautifully. Although she is more dramatic than comedic, you cannot take your eyes off her when she is on the stage.

It was fun to see Robert Morse and John Slattery, two stars of TV's Mad Men, reunited.

The Front Page has a limited run, and it is difficult to find discounted tickets, but this is a show worth seeing for the performances of so many talented actors. You can find more information about the show here.