Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Erin McHugh at Barnes & Noble

Political Suicide By Erin McHugh
Published by Pegasus Books ISBN 9781605989785
Hardcover, $26.95, 256 pages

In a political season that no one could have seen coming, Erin McHugh has written the perfect book to accompany all the craziness- Political Suicide- Missteps, Peccadilloes, Bad Calls, Backroom Hijinx, Sordid Pasts, Rotten Breaks, And Just Plain Dumb Mistakes In The Annals Of American Politics.

McHugh spoke at Barnes & Noble 86th St. store in Manhattan a few weeks ago, the day after Ted Cruz dropped out the Presidential race, a week after he chose Carly Fiorina as his imaginary Vice-Presidential running mate. She introduced herself by saying "for those of you who don't know me, from Monday to Tuesday, I was briefly Ted Cruz's Secretary of State", which elicited huge laughs from the crowd.
Erin McHugh

Although we think this year's circus atmosphere is unusual, McHugh's book belies that fact. She read a few pieces from the book, starting with Robert Potter, a Congressman from North Carolina who castrated not one, but two men- a minister and a young boy, both of whom he believed were having an affair with his wife. In the South, castrating someone is called "potterizing".

She spoke of Marion Zioncheck, a Washington state Congressman who has the distinction of being the only sitting congressperson sent to an asylum. (I'm sure some citizens have other nominations for this category.)

Rita Crundwell committed the largest municipal fraud we never heard of, stealing over $53 million in her position as comptroller and treasurer of Dixon, Illinois, Ronald Reagan's hometown. It took her 30 years, and while she was stealing from the town to fund her horse farm and expensive clothes, furs and jewelry, the town literally fell apart. Roads didn't get paved, police cars went unrepaired. This one shocked me.

Familiar scandals like Senator Bob Packwood and Congressman Wilbur Mills sexual escapades were recounted, and although we have had some more recent scandals, like the Anthony Weiner sexting incident, McHugh's book features incidents that have already completed their story. We'll have to wait for the sequel to hear about those other ones.

In the lively Q&A section of the program, McHugh talked about the huge amount of research she did for this, starting with lists on Google and then researching many hours at the library. When asked what the standards of conduct are today versus history, McHugh replied that today's standards are low.

McHugh bemoaned the fact that people seem to have no manners anymore in the political arena. "They go one more step and one more step and next thing you know, you're talking about your member" in a national debate for President.

The media and the 24-hour news cycle contributes to this course discourse, and with the 2016 Presidential race gearing up, Erin McHugh's Political Suicide is the perfect book to pick up to remind yourself that our nation has survived political craziness before, hopefully we can yet again.

The short chapters make it an easy read, and political junkies will want to add this fun book to their collection. I highly recommend it.

McHugh also has two other timely books- Like My Father Always Said for Father's Day and Like My Teacher Always Said, which makes a great teacher's gift. You can find them here and here.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Three Recipes From Marlene Koch

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.

A few years back I picked up Marlene Koch's Eat What You Love Everyday. The cookbook is filled with simple recipes that cut fat, sugar and calories but not the taste. I pulled out the book and her followup, Eat More of What You Love, to make a healthy dinner this week.

We've been eating a lot of takeout lately, so I wanted to eat something a little healthier. My husband loves chicken fried steak, and Marlene has a Chicken Chicken Fried Steak with Cream Gravy that looked like it would fit the bill in Eat More of What You Love.

In her Menus section of the book, she paired this with Sour Cream and Onion Smashed Potatoes in her Sunday Dinner Southern-Style menu, and I found a 10 Minute Peanut Butter Pretzel Pie for dessert in her first book. I added roasted asparagus and we had ourselves a delicious meal.

Koch uses ingredients you would generally have on hand, like onion and garlic powder, and since I had buttermilk in the frig, the chicken dish would be a good way to use it up. I only had to buy corn flakes for the breading and fat-free half-and-half for the cream gravy.

Chicken Chicken Fried Steak from the book- mine didn't look as pretty

Cauliflower is mixed with the potatoes, and even though I had never made cauliflower mashed potatoes, we eat them at restaurants and love them. This dish turned out fabulous, and we ate the leftovers the next night.

Although the Peanut Butter Pie is easy to make, it takes more than 10 minutes to make as it has to freeze for two hours. But it was worth the wait; we ate the leftovers on that all week with no complaints!

My husband loved the meal, the chicken was crispy and juicy, and even though the kitchen looked a little disheveled, this meal was a definite keeper. I know that Koch has a new cookbook out and I will be looking for it, as well as pulling more great, light recipes from the two I already have.
Peanut Butter Pie from the book

10 Minute Peanut Butter Pie
3 cups light, no-sugar-added vanilla ice cream, slightly softened (I used Edy's)
1/3 cup creamy peanut butter
1 chocolate or Oreo pre-made pie crust
1 tablespoon sugar-fee chocolate ice cream topping
1/3 cup roughly crushed pretzels
1 cup light whipped topping (optional)

Directions: I a medium bowl, combine ice cream and peanut butter until well mixed. Spoon mixture into the crust and smooth the top. Drizzle the filling with ice cream topping, and sprinkle pretzels over the top.

Freeze for at least 2 hours before serving. Let pie sit at room temperature for 5 minutes before cutting and garnish with whipped topping if desired.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Three Stand-Out Stand-Alone Mysteries

Reprinted from the Citizen
Mystery and thriller novels are a hugely popular genre. Many authors publish a book each year, some writing a series of books featuring the same cast of characters and then once in a while writing “standalone” books featuring a new character. There are three recent additions to standalone books by popular authors that merit mentioning.
Laura Lippman writes the Tess Gerritsen series, about a female private investigator in Baltimore. Her newest mystery is a standalone crime thriller, “Wilde Lake.” The novel is also set in Baltimore, but in the suburb of Wilde Lake. The main character is Lu Brant, Howard County’s first female state’s attorney. 
Lu Brant is a recent young widow and mom to twin 8-year-olds. She moved back into her father’s home in Wilde Lake after her husband’s death. Her father is a retired beloved state’s attorney who raised Lu and her brother on his own after his wife died one week after Lu’s birth.
Lu's first big case as state’s attorney is the brutal murder of a woman in her apartment. A mentally ill homeless man is arrested, and Lu believes this case is a slam-dunk. Then an incident from her family’s past comes back into play and may be tied to the case.
“Wilde Lake” tells the story in two different time frames: When Lu was 8 years old and her brother was involved in a fight that resulted in the death of a young man, and the present day. It is beautifully written, with fully realized characters, and Lippman said she was inspired by Harper Lee’s “To Kill A Mockingbird.” Fans of that classic novel will enjoy “Wilde Lake.”
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?
“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?”
Harlan Coben takes a break from his Myron Bolitar P.I. series with his newest thriller, “Fool Me Once.” Julia Roberts has already optioned this fast-paced thriller and is set to star as Captain Maya Stern, a special-ops pilot who flew missions in Iraq. 
Maya’s husband, Joe, was murdered during a robbery gone bad in Central Park, with Maya running for her life at the scene of the crime. Her sister Claire had been murdered a few months earlier, when Maya was away fighting in the Middle East.
She has trouble sleeping as she is haunted by an incident that happened during a firefight. Video from that firefight, during which civilians were killed, caused Maya to leave the service and return home to teach flying lessons at a local airport in New Jersey.
Two weeks after her husband’s death, Maya is looking at her new nanny cam and sees her dead husband playing with her two-year-old daughter. Is Joe still alive? He had a closed casket funeral, so she never saw his dead body.
“Fool Me Once” continues Coben’s streak of writing books that you race through, unable to put it down once you start. There are a lot of characters, and it is a complicated plot with an ending that is completely shocking. You will hold your breath until the end and shake your head at all of the crazy things that happen.
Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Breakfast Treats

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 weekend my husband had a conference at the Ritz-Carlton resort at Laguna Niguel in California. The views were spectacular, and it is located near a public beach where lots of surfers hang out. They all look like birds in the water, hanging out looking for a wave.
My breakfast view

I had breakfast at Raya, which has has huge windows overlooking the ocean. It is a spectacular view and what a way to start the day. Since it was California, I had the Breakfast Tacos of course. The tacos were soft flour tortillas filled with shredded hash brown potatoes, bacon, scrambled eggs, cheddar cheese, and pico de gallo. A side of black beans with queso fresco and guacamole accompanied this delightful dish.
The breakfast tacos were delicious

We enjoyed lunch at 180Blu, an outdoor terrace overlooking the ocean. We shared the nachos, which had cheese, shredded chicken, chorizo, jalapenos and fresno chile peppers. The nachos were the perfect size to share and the view was even better.
Our lunch view

Dinner was at their steakhouse, EnoSteak. We were not pleased with the dinner. There were three of us and dinner came to $400, and that was only with two glasses of wine total for the table. We all ordered the Wedge Salad, and we were served a wedge of lettuce with the core intact. I found that strange. The salad had chopped bacon, blue cheese crumbles, chopped red onion and just a scant tablespoon of a very thin buttermilk dressing. The salad really needed more dressing.

Two people at our table ordered the nine ounce beef tenderloin, and I ordered the nine ounce strip steak. The steaks were fine, done to medium as we asked, but all three steaks looked exactly alike to me, which I found odd as they had tenderloin and I had strip steak. That perplexed me.

We skipped dessert, as there didn't seem to be anything on a rather limited menu that appealed to us. The service was fine, and even though we are used to paying Manhattan prices for dinner, we thought that $68 for the steak alone was pretty pricy. I can't really say I would recommend EnoSteak.

This morning my sons took us to brunch for a belated Mother's Day celebration. We went to Uva, a lovely local restaurant that specializes in Italian food. We each got the brunch special, a brunch entree, side dish and a cocktail for $19.50 per person.

I chose the chocolate crepes with nutella filling, topped with whipped cream, a side of sausage and a Fragosa- prosecco with fragioli wild strawberry liqueur. Brunch was delicious and we ate in the garden area. The restaurant opened at 11am and the place was full within ten minutes. I enjoyed the company even more than the brunch.
Chocolate nutella filled crepes
I hope you all had a great week. I missed the Book Expo this year, as it was in Chicago and after traveling to California, another trip in the same week wasn't in the cards. I did follow BEA on social media and it looked like another great year. We'll see you all in NYC next May!

Friday, May 13, 2016

New in Paperback- The Santangelos by Jackie Collins

The Santangelos by Jackie Collins
Published by St. Martin's Paperback ISBN 9781250048240
Mass Market Paperback, 624 pages, $9.99

Sadly, the world lost Jackie Collins last year and she will be greatly missed. I had the pleasure of meeting her at a book signing a few years ago and she was such a joy! She spoke about her career and her life and she made you feel like a dear friend as she signed your book.

Her last novel ties up loose ends for her best protagonist, Lucky Santangelo in The Santangelos. I have been reading about Lucky Santangelo and her family, friends and enemies since Chances was published back in 1981.

 Collins is an expert at creating a perfectly blended cocktail of sex, ambition, drugs, alcohol, mayhem and murder, and The Santangelos continues in her winning tradition. She manages to create several storylines that you know are going to intersect at some point and just explode, like cars on a collision course, but getting to that point keeps you turning the pages.

Lucky is still running her fabulous Vegas hotel, and still happily married to filmmaker husband Lennie. They are a great couple, who compliment each other's strengths and balance out each other's weaknesses.

Lucky is waiting for a visit from her beloved father Gino, who has moved to Palm Springs with his new wife. Lucky's son Bobby has just opened up another successful nightclub in Chicago, and 18 year-old daughter Max is in Europe partying and trying to get a modeling career going.

As usual, there are a few bad guys who want to cause problems for Lucky. A Middle Eastern king vows vengeance, holding Lucky responsible for his son's death, and when Bobby is framed for a murder and someone Lucky loves is gunned down, Lucky goes into fifth gear to find out who is targeting her family.

We see several characters pop up here from previous books- former child star Willow Price, mega movie star Billy who once loved young Max, Bobby's business partner M.J., and his girlfriend Assistant District Attorney Denver Jones- among others. I particularly enjoyed the funeral scene when many previous characters made cameo appearances.

You know what you are getting in Jackie Collins' Lucky books- lots of sex scenes, opulent homes, behind-the-scenes Hollywood stories, fabulous clothes, great parties, drugs, really bad guys, violence and loyalty- and that's what makes it so much fun.

Lucky is a terrific character, a strong-willed, ambitious, hard-working, smart woman who loves her family and friends and would do anything for them. And that's a good thing for her family and friends, because they seem to need her help a lot.

The Santangelos is a fabulous book to while away the days under the sun getting your Vitamin D. And even though it's 600 pages, you will tear through it quickly. The good news is that after you finish The Santangelos, you can start with Chances and read the entire Lucky Santangelo canon if you haven't already.

You don't need to have read any of the Lucky series to enjoy this one, Collins gives you enough information in this book that you aren't lost, but those who have read the Lucky books will get an extra level of enjoyment.

(Warning- there are graphic sex scenes in this book. If that is not your thing, don't read this one.)

Jackie Collins's website is here, and you can read an excerpt from The Santangelos there.
I met Jackie Collins  a few years ago at Barnes & Noble

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman

Wilde Lake by Laura Lippman
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062083470
Hardcover, $26.99, 368 pages

Laura Lippman writes mystery novels that are not only page-turners, they are thought-provoking and very well written. Her latest stand-alone novel is Wilde Lake, set in Baltimore as most of her books are.

Lu Brant has just been elected the first female state's attorney in Howard County. She is a single mother of eight-year-old twins, Justin and Penelope, after her wealthy husband died of heart attack. Lu moved back to her childhood home to live with her father, a former state's attorney.

The story has two time settings- the present day and when Lu was an eight-year-old girl. Lu's mother died one week after Lu was born, so she never knew her mother. Her brother AJ is eight years older, and the golden boy at his high school.

As AJ and his friends were celebrating their upcoming high school graduation, three brothers crashed the party and accused AJ's friend of ruining their sister. A fight broke out, one young man died and AJ's friend was seriously injured.

In the present, Lu is proceeding to prosecute the murder of a woman in her apartment. A homeless man is accused of the brutal crime and as the investigation proceeds, the case looks like a slam-dunk for Lu until she digs deeper and finds a connection to an old incident.

A woman has also come to Lu claiming that she has information about a famous murder conviction Lu's father had obtained thirty years ago. The woman said that she was the convicted man's alibi but Lu's father ignored her all those years ago.

Lippman has said that this story was inspired by Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird. It does have several of the same elements- a young girl worships her honorable lawyer father, a trial that envelops the entire town- and adds many more intriguing ones.

Lippman brings her characteristic thoughtfulness to the societal change in attitudes about sex and rape over the last thirty years. She also unravels many secrets in the Brant family and among AJ and his group of high school friends. I love a book that keeps me guessing, and Wilde Lake certainly did that. I actually gasped at one sad event late in the book that I didn't see coming.

One thing Lippman excels at is ending the chapter on a sentence that forces you to keep reading, like this one:
"Besides, if Fred wanted to make it personal, there were better, juicer-truer-rumors to spread. He just didn't know where to look."
How can you stop reading there?

The characters in Wilde Lake are fascinating too. From Lu to her father to her brother to even less important ones like AJ's friends Bash and Noel and Teensy, the Brant's housekeeper, all are fully realized people.

Wilde Lake is a literary mystery that will keep the reader guessing as she is compulsively turning the pages. It is a worthy homage to To Kill A Mockingbird, but one that stands on its own as a terrific story. I highly recommend it.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, May 3rd: Reading Reality
Wednesday, May 4rd: she treads softly
Friday, May 6th: A Bookworm’s World
Monday, May 9th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, May 11th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Thursday, May 12th: bookchickdi
Friday, May 13th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, May 16th: Back Porchervations
Tuesday, May 17th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, May 19th: Luxury Reading

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

On Broadway- She Loves Me

I was so pleased to see that the Broadway revival of the musical She Loves Me is nominated for eight Tony awards this year, including Best Actress (musical) for Laura Benanti, Best Actor (musical) for Zachary Levi, Best Supporting Actress (musical) for Jane Krakowski and Best Revival of a Musical.

The show is just such a lovely production, and the performances from all are just spot-on. Benanti and Krakowsi are previous Tony winners, but this is only Levi's second Broadway musical and he is a marvel. Those who only know him from his NBC TV show Chuck will be pleasantly surprised by his terrific singing voice.

The show is based on 1937's Parfumerie, and the story has been retold in other forms, such as The Shop Around the Corner and You've Got Mail. Set in a perfume store in 1930's Budapest it tells the story of Georg, who is a salesman in  Maraczek's perfume shop.

Georg (Levi) has a Lonely Hearts correspondence (think Tinder of yore) with a lovely woman who calls him "Dear Friend" in her letters to him. Although they haven't met, Georg is deeply enamored of her.

Amalia (Benanti) comes into the shop looking for a job and shows Georg up in front of the store owner. She is hired and Georg and Amalia spend their time circling each other and clashing.

Amalia also has a Lonely Hearts correspondence with a lovely man she calls "Dear Friend". Yes, unbeknownst to the other, Georg and Amalia are sweethearts by night and competitors by day.

Ilona (Krakowski) is having a relationship with Steven (Gavin Creel), a lothario who juggles more than one woman. Krakowski and Benanti sparkle in this delightful, sweet show and one of the many highlights is their duet of "I Don't Know His Name". Their gorgeous voices blend together in a way that gave me goosebumps.

Levi and Benanti have a fantastic chemistry, whether they are fighting at work or unknowingly falling in love with each other. The audience waits impatiently for them to realize what we already know- they are perfect for each other.

If you are looking for a show that bring a smile to your face, with lots of laughs and wonderful performances, She Loves Me is just the ticket. Discount tickets are available for this show and I highly recommend it.

The website for She Loves Me is here.