Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming

Not My Father's Son by Alan Cumming
Published by Dey St. ISBN 978-0-06-222506-1
Hardcover, $26.99, 288 pages

Alan Cumming is an actor who can be unrecognizable from role to role. Today, for instance, he has a costarring role as tightly-wound political operative Eli Gold on the excellent TV drama The Good Wife. At the same time, he is starring as the let-it-all-hang-out Emcee in Broadway's Cabaret.

He is incredibly talented, and a very funny presence on TV talk shows. His dressing room at Cabaret is a nightly dance party, one of the hottest invitations in New York City. He is happily married to his husband Grant, and they split their time between New York City and Edinburgh in Scotland, his home country.

In his memoir, Not My Father's Son, Cumming divides his story into then and now. Then describes his difficult relationship with his sadistic father, a man who terrorized his entire family, saving particular wrath for his younger son Alan. The family lived on pins and needles, waiting every night to see what would set the father off on a violent rampage.

Cumming describes one particularly horrific scene where his father dragged Alan into the barn and chopped his hair off with clippers used on sheep. You can feel the terror on the page as Cumming shares this incident.

Now tells the story of Cumming's 2010 participation on a BBC TV show Who Do You Think You Are?, which explores the genealogy of a famous person. Cumming wanted to know what happened to his maternal grandfather, who had fought in WWII in Singapore. His grandfather stayed in Singapore after the war, leaving his wife and children behind in Scotland. In 1951, he died from a gunshot wound under mysterious circumstances.

The juxtaposition of the two stories form the basis for the beautifully written, emotionally moving memoir. Cumming writes very openly about the horrors of his childhood, and how that affected him and his older brother Tom, as well as his mother.

As Cumming grew older, he had no relationship with his father, and had no contact with him until the week when he was scheduled to film Who Do You Think You Are?. His father contacted Tom and told Tom that he had something to tell Alan, something that would perhaps explain his behavior towards Alan.

I have always admired Cumming as an actor, and now I admire him as a writer. His book shows how through pure dint of will, hard work and love, one can overcome a horrible childhood. If memoir is a genre you enjoy reading, put Not My Father's Son on your to-be-read list today. I hope Cumming shares more of his story in a future book.

rating 4 of 5

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Weekend Cooking- Arnold's Kitchen in Nashville

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. 

My husband had a conference in Nashville last week, so I got to sightsee while he worked and golfed. I did my research, as I always do, and had to find us the restaurants where we were going to eat.

The one place that kept showing up on many "Best of Nashville" list was Arnold's Kitchen. Owned by the same family for 40 years, it's a small, one story cement building that looks more like a garage than a restaurant. It's the kind of place where you'll find the mayor dining at a table next to a guy who works in the sanitation department- everyone loves Arnold's!
Arnold's Kitchen exterior

They only serve lunch, and it's a place where you find the people who live in Nashville, not the tourists. You walk in and see a cafeteria-style line, like you'd find in school. On the back wall is a chalkboard with the daily menu.The first stop is desserts, where we picked up pecan pie.
Arnold's menu board

Then it's on to the Meat + 3, as they call it in Nashville. You choose one meat; our choices that day included fried chicken, kielbasa and sauerkraut, catfish, liver and onions and our choice, carved roast beef. Then you choose your sides; we got mac and cheese and fried apples.

The food was so fantastic! The roast beef was tender and juicy and with the au jus, it was just heaven. They know how to do mac and cheese down South, and it was just an explosion of cheese in your mouth. The fried apples were crunchy and sweet.
My fantastic lunch

The pecan pie was the best I had ever had, and we were so happy that we made Arnold's our last stop on our way to the airport. If you ever find yourselves in Nashville, do yourselves a favor and find Arnold's Kitchen and stop by for lunch.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Land of Dreams by Kate Kerrigan

Land of Dreams by Kate Kerrigan
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 978-0-06-234052-8
Trade paperback, $14.99

Readers first met Ellie Hogan in Kate Kerrigan's novel Ellis Island. We followed Ellie as she married the love of her life John, came to America to make money for an operation John needed, and was emotionally torn as she built a life in New York while missing her husband back home.

The second book in the trilogy, City of Hope, covered Ellie's life back home in Ireland with her husband. It was a difficult adjustment, moving back to a farm in rural Ireland after living in an exciting, vibrant city. After John's death, a grieving Ellie comes back to New York and opens a home for people who lost their homes during the Depression, eventually building an entire community.

The third book in the trilogy, set in 1942, is Land of Dreams, which finds a middle-aged Ellie living on Fire Island working on her art. Ellie is a painter, and she has a bit of a following. She has two sons, Leo, the sixteen-year-old son of her second husband Charles, and seven-year-old Tommy, who was left as a baby by his mother in Ellie's care.

When Leo runs away from his boarding school, Ellie tracks him down in Hollywood, where he hopes to find a career as an actor in the movies. She intends to take him back home, but after finding him, she decides to give him a chance at the screen test his young agent Freddie has set up for him.

Leo gets a small role in a war movie, and Ellie doesn't have the heart to make Leo give up his dream. As an artist, she understands Leo's desire to express himself. She brings Tommy and Bridie, the elderly woman whom she first met when they both worked as household staff years ago in New York, to Hollywood.

The family sets up in Hollywood where they seem to enjoy the sunshine lifestyle. This is a different Ellie than we have seen before. In the first two books, she was working and struggling to build a life for herself and her community. Now Ellie is middle-aged, and responsible for her two sons.

Ellie had miscarriages during her marriage to John, which brought her great sadness. She never thought she would have children, and now her life revolves around her children. Many women who have children will understand Ellie's feelings about her children growing older and needing her less.

This Ellie is more contemplative, more reflective about her life. She doesn't have to work so hard, she has more time to think. She met an older man, a music composer, on the train to Hollywood, and they continued their relationship in Hollywood.

Kerrigan's characters are so multi-dimensional, even the minor ones. Stan, the composer, loves Ellie, but he is not willing to pine for her if she will give him no chance. Freddie, the agent, is not some sleazy Hollywood type, but a young man with a goal and he becomes a part of Ellie's family. Even Freddie's actress-girlfriend, who could be a golddigger, is interesting.

Many times in trilogies, the main character remains stagnant from book to book. In Kate Kerrigan's Ellis Island series, we experience the growth and depth of Ellie from young girl desperately in love with  her husband and willing to move to America to save his life, to grieving young widow who channels her grief by building a community for those in need to middle-aged mother who loves her children enough to give them their dreams and in turn find her own.

rating 4 of 5
My review of Ellis Island is here.
My review of City of Hope is here.

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

Kate’s Tour Stops

Thursday, October 9th: Drey’s Library
Friday, October 10th: A Book Geek
Tuesday, October 14th: Kritters Ramblings
Friday, October 17th: Diary of an Eccentric
Monday, October 20th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Tuesday, October 21st: FictionZeal
Wednesday, October 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, October 23rd: 5 Minutes For Books
Friday, October 24th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, October 29th: The Gilmore Guide to Books
Thursday, October 30th: The Reader’s Hollow

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Memory Card Full by Liz Weber

Memory Card Full by Liz Weber
Published by Greenpoint Press ISBN 978-0-9226968-7-7
Trade paperback, $20, 232 pages

Memoirs are only as interesting as the people who are writing them. At first glance, a memoir about a 37-year-old woman who works part-time as a bartender but wants to be a writer may sound like, oh, no, not another story about someone who can't find her way, but in Weber's hands, Memory Card Full is an honest, fascinating read.

Liz is the youngest child in her family. Her older brother and sister have successful careers, and her parents are very supportive and loving, but at the age of 37, Liz is frustrated that she doesn't have a career or even a full-time job.

Her dog Rufus is the one mainstay in Liz's life. Coming home to him every night after work keeps her grounded, and as any dog owner knows, a dog's love is unconditional. Liz is never completely alone as long as Rufus is waiting for her at home.

The book begins with Liz in Mexico in 2009 on vacation, and we know that Rufus has died. She wants to take a photo, and her camera tells her that the memory card is full, and she has to decide whether to erase some of the pictures of Rufus on her camera.

Then we flashback to 2007. Liz breaks up with her boyfriend, and she realizes that she has a bad habit of staying in relationships long after she should have ended them. She works as a bartender at a South Street Seaport restaurant, and her boss is a truly crazy, evil woman whose behavior is appalling.

Crazy boss fires Liz, and Liz has to scramble to find another bartending job. Liz also models lingerie, working four weeks a year modeling for manufacturers trying to sell to distributors. Between that and bartending, she manages to cobble together enough money to pay rent, buy groceries, but not much more.

She wants to be a writer, but isn't making enough progress there. She has to take a job working days in a law office, which she hates, and between that job and bartending, she has no time or energy to write. She is stuck and her life is in a rut. How can she move forward?

Liz's description of working as a bartender is fascinating. Her descriptions of coworkers and customers made me feel like I was right there at the bar, drinking a white chocolate martini. Likewise, her claustrophobic job at the law office had me anguished watching the clock along with her.

Rufus is 12 years-old and has a difficult time walking due to his arthritis. Her parents help Liz by taking them to the vet, and paying for it, but it is obvious that Rufus is probably only going to get worse. Liz must face facts that a decision must be made soon.

The section on Rufus's dying really moved me. We had to put our beloved dog to sleep a few years back, and I was taken right back there as Liz movingly describes watching Rufus fail, and knowing what she must do.

Her grief is palpable, and anyone who has lost a dog will cry along with Liz. She is brutally honest about how painful her grief is, and how it takes her a long time to get through it. I totally related to her.

While I didn't totally understand all of Liz's life choices, she writes so honestly and openly about her life that I always found her interesting, and you can't ask for more than that in a good memoir.

rating 4 of 5
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Liz Weber's tour. The rest of the tour is here:

Liz’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, October 21st: bookchickdi
Thursday, October 23rd: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Monday, October 27th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, November 3rd: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, November 5th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, November 6th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, November 10th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, November 11th: My Bookshelf
Thursday, November 13th: Priscilla and Her Books

Liz Weber's website is here.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

How To Bake A Man by Jessica Barksdale Inclan

How To Bake A Man by Jessica Barksdale Inclan
Published by Ghostwood Books ISBN 978-0-957627-15-4
Trade paperback, $13.99, 256 pages

Becca Munchmore is 27 years old and the oldest student in her graduate level marketing class. She's worried about fitting in, and wearing her mother's old discarded denim skirt that she found in the Goodwill bag doesn't help.

She comes to the realization that school is not the answer. Her boyfriend left her to work in Africa to help the poor, she quit the job she had, and now she has a idea. She loves to bake; why not sell her baked goods to offices? Though her mother hates the idea, she loans Becca the money to buy supplies.

Now she just needs an office to start. Her best friend Dez lives across the country, but Dez' husband has a contact in a San Francisco law office and gets Becca an interview. Becca's delicious baked treats win over the friend, and she has her first client.

Sal, her downstairs neighbor, drives a taxi and works as a bouncer, but he wants to help Becca with her business. Since Sal has a car and she doesn't, she takes him up on his offer and along with Mom's occasional baking and freezer storage, Becca can make this work.

People in the law office love Becca's Best's muffins, cinnamon rolls and breads. She and Sal make twice daily rounds, and they even make friends with a few of the office staff. Except for Jennifer.

Jennifer is a lawyer with a bad reputation; people actually run and cower when she shows up. Jennifer also looks just like Becca, so much so that Jennifer's boyfriend Jeff, also a lawyer, begins to show an interest in Becca.

Becca thinks Jeff is way too nice to be in love with the horrible Jennifer, and when he kisses Becca, she falls for Jeff. Then she discovers that Jennifer is cheating on Jeff with a married lawyer. Should she tell Jeff?

This story could be a typical chick-lit novel, where the kind-hearted heroine gets the rich, handsome guy after he realizes the woman he is dating is no good, and that would have been okay. The story is interesting enough, and I liked the food angle. (The descriptions of Becca's baked goods made me drool.)

But the story takes a turn I wasn't completely expecting, and that elevates this novel to a good story. As I was reading How To Bake A Man, all I could think of was that this would make such a cute romantic comedy movie. The characters are interesting, the story has some twists-and-turns, and I could see Emma Stone or Rachel McAdams playing Becca in the movie.

How To Bake A Man is the perfect book to pick up on a Friday night after a hard week's work, it's a fun, light read. And it will inspire you to run out to the grocery store to stock up on baking supplies as Inclan includes her delightful recipes for the reader to recreate and enjoy.

rating 4 of 5

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

Jessica Barksdale Inclán’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, October 13th:  Book Marks the Spot
Monday, October 13th:  A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, October 14th:  girlichef
Wednesday, October 15th:  Nightly Reading
Thursday, October 16th: Bookchickdi
Monday, October 20th:  Bewitched Bookworms
Tuesday, October 21st:  Giraffe Days
Wednesday, October 22nd:  WV Stitcher
Thursday, October 23rd:  Leigh Kramer
Friday, October 24th:  Books à la Mode
Monday, October 27th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Tuesday, October 28th:  From the TBR Pile
Monday, November 3rd:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Tuesday, November 4th:  Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, November 7th:  Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers

Jessica Barksdale Inclan's website is here.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

New In Paperback- This Is The Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 9780062236687
Trade paperback, $15.99, 320 pages

I have loved Ann Patchett since I read her phenomenal Orange Prize winning novel Bel Canto, about a group of people held hostage by terrorists in the home of the vice-president of a South American countryLast year's fantastic State of Wonder again dropped me into an unfamiliar world, this time the Amazon jungle where an American medical researcher has gone to find a missing colleague.

Patchett's latest is a brilliant book of essays, This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage. Patchett made a living writing non-fiction articles for such publications as Esquire, Harper's Magazine and Bridal Guide before hitting it big as a novelist.

The essays in this book take us through Patchett's life, as a daughter of divorce, a graduate student, a unhappily married woman, a dog owner, a friend, a writer, editor and bookstore owner. These essays feel like a patchwork quilt of her life.

In The Getaway Car, Patchett takes great umbrage when a woman tells her that "everyone has at least one great novel in them." She asks the woman if everyone has a one great floral arrangement, algebraic proof, five-minute mile or Hail Mary pass in them. The woman replies that no, but everyone has the story of their own life to tell. Just because you have it doesn't mean you can write it well.

Patchett then writes about the happiest time in the arc of her writing process:
"This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life."
There are so many great essays, and some of ones that spoke to me most are:

  • The Best Seat in the House- about Patchett's new love for opera
  • On Responsibility- about taking care of her failing grandmother
  • The Wall- about taking the LAPD police academy test and her father, a retired LAPD captain
  • Dog Without End- about the loss and of her beloved dog and the grief that followed
Patchett lovingly articulates what writing has meant to her life. I read each poignant and incisive essay slowly, wishing to savor the beautiful language and thoughts in each one. I know that this is a book I will return to again and again, gaining insight with each reading and finding new things to appreciate in them. It has a permanent place on my bookshelf.

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage is a wonderful book to give to someone who appreciates good writing, and I think women in particular will relate to Patchett's story of love and trying to lead a fulfilling life.

rating 5 of 5

Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books' website is here.
My review of State of Wonder is here.
My post on Ann Patchett's visit to Barnes & Noble on 86th St. in New York is here.

Friday, October 10, 2014

Enter To Win One of 1000 Advanced Reader Editions of Tina Seskis' ONE STEP TOO FAR

William Morrow is giving away 1000 Advanced Reader Editions of Tina Seskis' upcoming novel One Step Too Far. If you like to read books before the publication date (and who doesn't?), this is a terrific opportunity to be part of the buzz before everyone else knows about it. Enter through October 27th.
You can enter by following the link to the Facebook page here:

It looks like a terrific read- Emily is happily married, with a beautiful family and a lovely home until the day she walks away and starts life over as Cat, working at a hip London ad agency. Why did Emily do that and will she be found out?

Fans of Gone Girl, Before I Go To Sleep and The Silent Wife will love this intriguing story. Enter to win and let all your friends know about the contest. Good luck!