Monday, November 30, 2009

AuburnPub.com - Family tragedies a moving memoir

AuburnPub.com - Family tragedies a moving memoir
The Kids Are Alright is a fantastic memoir written by four siblings who lost their parents within a year of each other and ended up split apart.

Meeting Regis Philbin






Is there anyone who doesn't know who Regis Philbin is? He and his lovely wife Joy, who looks fabulous, have recorded a CD of duets titled Just You. Just Me..

They held a CD signing at Barnes and Noble Lincoln Triangle in NYC on November 30, the day before Regis goes into the hospital to have hip replacement surgery. The crowd was told that Regis and Joy would not be speaking, just signing the CD and leaving. But the moment Regis and Joy arrived, it was clear that they would spend time with their fans.

They were so gracious, and Regis poked fun at the sparse crowd (maybe 75 people showed up), but he gave those people a great show. He talked about how the CD came about. He harkened all the way back to his childhood and his love of Bing Crosby. He listened to Bing on the radio, and wanted to become Bing when he grew up.

He told of graduating from Notre Dame and how he decided to tell his parents that he wanted to become a singer, after they put him through college. He brought them into a room on graduation day at Notre Dame and sang "Pennies from Heaven". He said that his Italian mother had tears running down her face, and his Irish father was making a fist in anger. A classic Regis story told in his inimitable style!

Then he moved on to his career meeting Joey Bishop, working as the announcer on his show and getting to sing "Pennies from Heaven" to Bing Crosby when he appeared on Joey's show. His love and admiration for Bing is genuine.

Joy told how she played piano as a girl and loved singers like Sarah Vaughn and Edye Gorme. Regis also pointed out his neighbors and good friends Alan and Arlene Alda who showed up to support Regis and Joy. I got to meet Alan and told him how much I enjoyed his books and how my son loved his portrayal of Arnie Vinick on "The West Wing". I forgot to tell him he wrote, directed and starred in one of all-time favorite movies "The Four Seasons"!

Regis and Joy were so kind to everyone as they signed CDs and even personalized them. I told them that they are such good examples of married life and Regis gave me one of his patented looks- it was priceless! I wished him well on his surgery tomorrow and was on my way.

Meeting Regis was one of the high points of NYC life. He was just as he is on TV, so funny and genuine, and I felt like I was watching him doing host chat as he talked about how he came to record his CD. Enjoy the pictures!

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

BURN THE FLOOR tears it up


Fans of Dancing with the Stars and So You Think You Can Dance can't miss Broadway's Burn the Floor, a two hour non-stop salute to dance playing on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre.

I saw a preview of the show at Bryant Park's weekly Broadway series in August. The energy from the dancers on the small stage was contagious. After seeing that, I put it on my must-see list of shows.

Burn the Floor has eighteen dancers from all over the world, plus two dancers from either Dancing with the Stars or So You Think You Can Dance. (Pasha and Anya performed when I saw the show.) Singers Ricky Rojas and Rebecca Tapia add an extra bit of spice to the show.

The show is divided into four sections, Inspirations, Things That Swing, The Latin Quarter and Contemporary. I liked the Latin Quarter best, with Tanguera my favorite performance, although Proud Mary from the Contemporary set was a close second.

The waltzes were so lovely and delicate, like the dancers were floating on air, and the Latin dances tore up the stage with their high octane energy. The dancers dance down the aisle of the theater, and I saw a older woman who ached to join them. This theater should install seat belts to keep the audience from jumping up because it is that difficult to not want to join in the fun.

The show is non-stop and these dancers go all-out. Giselle Peacock was a standout performer, not an easy task among all of the talented dancers on that stage. If you want something that will wake you up and make you want to run out and sign up at Arthur Murray, run over to Burn the Floor before the show ends in January.

Hugh Jackman & Daniel Craig...swoon


Sometimes big stars in Broadway shows don't translate into success. That is not the case with Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig in A Steady Rain, a two character play by Chicago playwright Keith Huff.

Jackman and Craig play two Chicago cops, best friends forever. Craig's Joey is a single, alcoholic, lonely guy. Jackman's Denny is married with kids, the kind of guy who always seems to be taking care of everyone around him.

The characters tell their story about an incident the author based on a true story of two Chicago cops who unknowingly returned a young Vietnamese boy they found on the streets to serial killer Jeffrey Dahlmer, who claimed to be related to the boy. Dahlmer later killed the boy.

The actors are both quite good in their roles, and both characters are not what they appear to be in the beginning. Their friendship and partnership change during the course of the play, which is a tight 90 minute show. The audience slowly learns the truth about these two men, as events spiral out of their control.

This is more an actor's play than a writer's play, set up to showcase two fine performers, who more than give the audience their money's worth. Their Chicago accents are perfect, and I was there at a matinee during preview performances when a cell phone rang during the show and Craig, in character, told the person to go ahead and answer the phone, we'd wait. This happened at more than one show, and someone actually videoed Jackman yelling at someone and it ended up on YouTube. It's a clever way to deal with this problem which I have seen repeatedly at Broadway shows. Even more annoying are the people who leave the phones on vibrate- WE CAN STILL HEAR IT- TURN IT OFF!

Now that I have that off my chest, go see A Steady Rain for the strong performances by two of Hollywood's hunkiest leading men. They are not difficult to stare at for an hour and a half.

Harry Connick Jr. Sings Love Songs


Bloomingdales hosted Harry Connick Jr. as they revealed their holiday windows for 2009. The set up was, let's say interesting, as they had people standing on 3rd Ave., with traffic zooming by. I don't think the rush hour drivers appreciated two lanes of traffic being closed off.

People waited in the street and across the street on the sidewalk. The manager of the Bloomingdales store introduced three contemporary ballet dancers who performed a dance to U2's "Vertigo". I don't attend the ballet much, but the dance didn't do much for me.

Then the manager came back to introduce Harry Connick Jr., who wasn't there yet. The first rule of emceeing an event- make sure the performer is ready to take the stage before you introduce him.

Finally, out came Harry Connick Jr., who joked about his dressing room in the personal shopper's area and the fact that Bloomingdales won't give him a discount. I really enjoy his snarky sense of humor- he's as funny as he is a good singer.

Connick opened up with a jazzy version of The Carpenter's "Close to You", which is fantastic. He segued into the Beatles' "And I Love Her", which I remember singing at my cousin Bonnie's wedding. (FYI- Connick sings it better than me). He also performed "Mona Lisa", Elton John's "Your Song" and my favorite "The Way You Look Tonight", all accompanied by a 15 piece orchestra. The songs are from his new CD, "Your Songs", which has lots of great songs, including my wedding song "Can't Help Falling In Love With You". This is a terrific wedding song CD.

The first 50 people who bought his new CD got to meet Connick and get it autographed, and I was lucky number 24. He's a very handsome man, and he was nice enough to pose for a photo with a mom and her young daughter who were in line ahead of me. "Your Songs" would make a wonderful Christmas gift for someone you love, and if you know of a bride and groom heading for the altar, it would be perfect.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Love, Loss and What I Wore


Love, Loss and What I Wore is a show written by sisters Nora and Delia Ephron. Five actresses sit in chairs on the small stage and read stories told in women's voices about clothes and how it relates to their lives.

While waiting for the show to start, the music played was fabulous- all songs about clothes. Dolly Parton's "Coat of Many Colors", Prince's "Raspberry Beret", Bruce Springsteen's "Girls in Their Summer Clothes"; it made me want to create a new playlist for my IPod.

The five actresses on the stage the day I saw it were Mary Louise Wilson, Lisa Joyce, Mary Birdsong, Tyne Daly and Jane Lynch. Lynch (GLEE, 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN, ROLE MODELS) got the loudest applause when she took the stage. I'm so glad that she is getting the recognition she deserves; she is one of the funniest actresses working today.

Tyne Daly looks fabulous and she is fantastic. I would pay to listen to her read the phone book. She works so well with the others, they all worked like a well oiled machine.

Many of the stories were so relatable- the one on bra fittings, the one about a great pair of boots, why we always wear black. The audience laughed with recognition.

Some of the stories were funny, some poignant. Tyne Daly read one that sounded like it was Rosie O'Donnell's story (Rosie is listed as a story contributor). A young girl recalls that when her mother died, her father took the children on a trip to Belfast, Ireland. When the family returned home, all of her mother's clothes were gone from the closet.

The young teen girl recounts seeing her new stepmother wearing a maroon velour zip bathrobe, and she remembered that her deceased mother had the same robe in electric blue. When she told her stepmother that her mother had the same robe, the stepmother never wore it again.

Tyne Daly also read a story about purses and how women carry their lives around in them. I recognized myself in that one for sure. I can never find anything in my purse, even though I have everything in there (just in case the world ends and I am caught outside of my home).

The cast of the show rotates every few weeks, and it's a good one to take in with your girlfriends or sisters or mother. It may even make you want to clean out your closet and remember all of the great clothes that bring back strong memories. Nora and Delia Ephron did a terrific job putting these stories together.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Harlan Coben kept me up for hours last night


I should know better than to start a Harlan Coben book ten minutes before the World Series game between the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies. Thinking I could start Long Lost and then put the book down while I watched the game was foolish.

Once Coben gets his hooks into you, you're stuck. His tightly crafted story keeps you turning the pages until you finish the book and realize that not only has three hours flown by, but so has the baseball game.

But during those three hours, the reader is captivated. Long Lost is the newest entry in Coben's Myron Bolitar series, but if you haven't read any of his other Myron books, you will still be able to enjoy the story without being lost.

Bolitar is a sports/entertainment agent in New York City. He receives a phone call from a woman he had a torrid affair with ten years ago, asking him to join her in Paris. Although memories might make any man run for the first available flight, Myron is involved with a single mom who lost her husband in 9/11.

Myron and his loyal best friend/multimillionaire Win (think Bruce Wayne/Batman) are forced into a fight with a bully of a middle school basketball coach (anyone who has ever been involved in youth athletics will recognize the type). The coach humiliated Myron's girlfriend's son in front of a gym full of people, and when Myron calls him out on it, violence follows.

Myron's girlfriend tells him that she is moving to Arizona, and when word comes down that the coach and his buddies are cops and Myron and Win could be in serious legal trouble for the beating they gave them, Myron decides that a trip to Paris is a good idea.

Nothing is ever easy in Myron's life, so naturally his trip to Paris is fraught with danger. Terese, his long lost love, has brought him to Paris to help her find her ex-husband, whom she believes is in trouble.

Terese's ex-husband is murdered, and she becomes a suspect. While Myron tries to help her clear her name, he runs afoul of Paris law enforcement, and somehow Homeland Security, Israeli Mossad, and Interpol become involved. Add in some weird kind of cult, genetic disease, and the possibility that Terese's daughter whom she believed she killed in a car crash years ago may still be alive, and you've got yourself a barn burner of a story.

The great thing about Coben's books is that you never know where he is taking you. You can try to figure out where it is all going, but he always manages to surprise the reader in the end. You find yourself literally holding your breath as you read, and when you get to the end, you can finally let it out. Sometimes I'm surprised that I don't pass out from lack of oxygen before I finish reading.

His characters are well drawn, and Myron is one of the classic good guys in comtemporary fiction. His relationship with his parents is touching, and he and Win make one of the best buddy teams around.

One section of the book particularly interested me- Myron makes a visit to a doctor at the Terence Cardinal Cooke Health Center in New York, and I was so excited when I read that because my husband has a connection to the center. It was such a cool shout-out!

I give Long Lost my highest recommendation. If you are looking a thriller with terrific characters, a fun sense of humor (his one-liners are hysterical)and one that will keep you turning the pages, pick this one up. Then get busy with the rest of the Myron Bolitar novels.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

Monday, October 26, 2009

Friday, October 23, 2009

100 Mile Fitness Challenge update


I have joined the 100 Mile Fitness Challenge (100milefitness.blogspot.com)and since October 1st have walked 24 miles on the treadmill at the gym. TVs on the treadmills help immensely! I can watch all of Regis & Kelly and the time (and miles!) just fly by.

Only 76 more miles to go :)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

BRUUUUUCE!...


Last February, I tried to get tickets to Bruce Springsteen's May concert at Giants Stadium and was caught up in the nightmare of TicketMaster's snafu. I got so mad that I called Channel 7 Eyewitness News and was interviewed at my apartment by their 7 on Your Side reporter about the problem. Even after attempts to get somewhere with the New York and New Jersey Attorneys General, I was out of luck.

So I was very happy when Springsteen announced that he would be back at Giants Stadium in October. I promised my sons that I would get tickets, and was lucky enough to score seats just to the right of the stage in the first level up.

Springsteen and the E Street Band were in fine form as usual. They rocked out, even if they were just a step slower than when I saw them just over a year ago in the same venue. They played most of their big hits, including Tenth Avenue Freezeout, a song my older son was waiting for. During one of my favorites, Hungry Heart, Springsteen ran around the stadium like a man thirty years younger, and then body surfed the crowd.

Max Weinberg's son pounded the drums during Born to Run, adding a new energy to the song. Springsteen tried a new idea, playing one entire album beginning to end, and on the night we were there, it was Darkness on The Edge of Town, a band favorite, but not necessarily a fan favorite. I think it took the energy down a bit, and I would have enjoyed Born to Run or Born in the USA, which they did on the other nights.

During the section when Bruce runs through the crowd pulling out signs with song titles on them that people held up, he chose Elvis' Jailhouse Rock, which I loved. Their rendition was faithful and fun.

American Land ends the show, which is fun because the entire band comes out and plays this Irish tinged tune with joy. Springsteen and Little Stevie dedicated encore Rosalita to the missing Mrs. Springsteen, Patti Scialfa.

There's always a song that you wish he would have done, and for me that was Glory Days. It's such a Jersey song, I'm surprised he didn't do it. But no one gives you more for your money than Bruce and The E Street Band- three hours of non-stop music that leaves the audience drenched and happily exhausted.

Carrie Fisher's WISHFUL DRINKING




Carrie Fisher turned her funny book Wishful Drinking into a stage production and it's now on Broadway at Studio 54.

I enjoyed her book and her first (autobiographical) novel, Postcards from the Edge, which was turned into a brilliant movie starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine, so I looked forward to seeing the show.

Fisher engages the audience right away, tossing gobs of glitter on the front row as she wanders among them. She involves a few of them in her show, and it definitely enhanced the experience.

The show is about Fisher's life- her family, her iconic role in Star Wars, her marriages (first to music icon Paul Simon and then to a closeted gay man with whom she has a lovely daughter), her addiction to pills and eventual diagnosis of bipolar illness.

She starts out right away talking about her gay male friend who died in her bed right next to her. She explains the circumstances and finds some humor in what was a horrible experience for her.

The funniest part of the show occurs when a board of photos descends and she uses it to show how she explained to her daughter, who wanted to date Elizabeth Taylor's grandson but feared that they were related, how the family tree worked.

She explained that Debbie Reynolds (her mom), Eddie Fisher (her dad) and Liz were the Jennifer Aniston, Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie of their day. She shows how Debbie had terrible taste in men, which Carrie seemed to inherit, and how Eddie's wives got progressively younger as he aged. She involved Greta, an audience member, in this howlingly funny explanation. She calls it Hollywood Inbreeding 101.

Her impression of her mother is so delightful, and it is sweet that they live right next door to each other in California. Carrie has clearly inherited her mother's sense of humor and survival.

Also enjoyable were the stories she told of working with George Lucas in

Star Wars. She pokes fun at her infamous hairstyle that highlighted her pudgy cheeks, the merchandising juggernaut and how George Lucas owns her likeness and so she appeared as dolls, shampoo bottles, soap, and a Pez dispenser. A life-sized concrete likeness of her (with enhanced breasts) that is sold as a sex toy on Ebay comes down from the ceiling to emphasize her discussion.

Fisher uses several photos as backdrops, including a photo of her in Princess Leia regalia that is in a textbook on mental health, illustrating the Bipolar Disorder chapter. At the end of the show, tabloid headlines about her and her family fly across the screen behind her as Fisher sings "Happy Days Are Here Again" in a lovely, strong voice. She sings as well as she writes, and that's saying something.

The show is very funny, and touching as well. Fisher lays bare her life- her successes, her failures, her frailties- for all to laugh at and empathize with. That she made it through and is able to laugh at it and make us laugh at it, is a gift. If you want a good laugh, go see Wishful Drinking before it closes in December.

I waited outside the stage door to get my copy of her book signed, but was disappointed when Fisher's people told us that she would sign only the stage program or ticket. She came out right away after the matinee, but seemed much more reticent towards the handful of people waiting for her than she was onstage. I guess I'll chalk it up to the fact that she just spent two hours talking onstage and had to come back in a few hours and do it all over again.

100 Mile Fitness Challenge


I just saw this on stephanieswrittenword.com and thought it would be fun to join. Trish is hosting this challenge to walk 100 miles from October 1- December 31. Since I recently joined a gym, this fits perfectly.

I usually do 4 miles a day on the treadmill while watching Regis & Kelly or West Wing on TV- it really makes the time fly by. I've done 20 miles since October 1st, so I'm feeling good about completing this challenge.

If you want to join us, go to http://100milefitness.blogspot.com.

Kathy Griffin- comedian, actress, now best-selling author



People either really like Kathy Griffin, or they really don't. I'm in the really-like-her camp. (Although I will admit she does cross the line at times with her comedy.) I started watching her "Life on the D-List" show on Bravo TV from day one, and was impressed with her work ethic. No one works harder than Kathy to get her name out there.

A stand-up comic who performs all across the country, she is best known for her costarring role in Brooke Shields 90s sitcom "Suddenly Susan", but my sons knew her from her hilarious guest turns as a standup comedian who causes trouble when she puts Jerry Seinfeld in her act on "Seinfeld".

Kathy has won two Emmys for her Bravo TV show and was nominated for a Grammy for her comedy CD, "For Your Consideration". Next she tackles the publishing world with Official Book Club Selection: A Memoir According to Kathy Griffin, which debuted at number #1 on the NY Times Non-fiction bestseller list.

I saw Kathy at a book signing at Barnes & Noble in Tribeca on the day of the book's release. I had to get there at 9am to get a wristband to get back in for the 7pm signing. I returned to the store at 5pm and there were already well over 50 people in line with wristbands, and easily another 50 in a stand-by line. Over 300 people showed by 7pm.

The only other person I had to get a wristband for ten hours early was Liza Minnelli- I'd say Kathy is in A-list company now! She arrived on time to hoots and howls from the audience. She looked fabulous in a jeweled-toned dress, and regaled the audience with stories about doing "The Today Show" with Kathie Lee Gifford that morning.

There wasn't time for a reading or questions because there were so many people there and Kathy wanted to sign everyone's books, which disappointed me. I would have loved to hear her read from the book!

The book is very good- not your standard haha book written by a comedian to make a quick buck. Griffin has obviously given this endeavor much thought for a long time. There is a lot of funny in here, lots of celebrity dish, and some heartache as well.

Griffin is brutally honest about things her family probably wishes she weren't. She is the baby of a large Irish-Catholic family from a Chicago suburb. Her parents liked to drink, and Griffin herself is a tee totaler today probably because of that.

She writes candidly about her brother Kenny, a man with a drinking and drug problem. Kathy says that he was a pedophile, preying on young girls, and this revelation has caused hard feelings with her family who wished she hadn't written about it. Her point is that many families have difficulties like this, and maybe her honesty will help others deal with their family issues. That chapter is moving and honest, and at times, hard to read. It doesn't seem done for sensationalism, but simply as a part of her life that greatly affected her.

She has met many celebrities in her career, and she is honest about them as well. Steve Martin comes off a real-life jerk as they shared a talk show couch. A comedy stunt Kathy pulled interviewing celebrities on the red carpet at the Academy Awards angers Steven Spielberg, and Star Jones and Thomas Haden Church probably won't be happy to see their names in the book either.

On the other hand, it's nice to know that George Clooney is the sweetheart we all believe he is. He was kind to Kathy's parents when she did a small guest spot on ER-he even took a photo with them.

But the funniest celebrity jibe is taken at Oprah. Griffin consistently pokes fun at the all-powerful Oprah and it is a hilarious running joke in the book. The title of the book is even an Oprah-esque joke about Oprah's Book Club.

Griffin also writes openly about the difficulty of being a female comic in a man's world, the disappointment of her failed marriage and even shares horrible photos of her botched liposuction surgery.

Kathy Griffin has been around a long time in show business, and she is a testament that hard work and perseverance eventually pays off. The love she has for her parents shines through as well, as she credits them with her sense of humor, although her mother is often mortified by her daughter's actions and has been since Kathy used to go to the neighbor's house as a child to share with them family secrets.

Official Book Club Selection is a well written look at Griffin's life, filled with humor, honesty and the outrageousness we expect from one of the hardest working people in show business.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

Fall Festival Recipe Exchange


My Friend Amy has come up with a terrific idea- Fall Festival Recipe Exchange. Most of us cook more when the cooler weather hits, and if you are like me, you get bored cooking the same old things. This is a great way to add to your repertoire!

Check out her website by copying the link here:
http://ow.ly/u4ZU

One of my favorite fall recipes is perfect for lunch, dinner and makes a great first course for Thanksgiving. It's from Rachael Ray and its in her BIG ORANGE BOOK cookbook, and she cooked it on her 2004 Thanksgiving in 60 Minutes Special on the Food Network.



PUMPKIN SOUP WITH CHILI CRAN-APPLE RELISH
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons butter
1 fresh bay leaf
2 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 medium onion, finely chopped
Salt and pepper
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons poultry seasoning
2 teaspoons hot sauce
6 cups chicken stock
1 (28-ounce) can pumpkin puree
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

Relish:
1 crisp apple, finely chopped
1/4 red onion, finely chopped
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 cup dried sweetened cranberries, chopped
1 teaspoon chili powder
2 teaspoons honey
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Directions:
Heat a medium soup pot over medium to medium-high heat. Add the olive oil and butter and when the butter melts, add the bay leaf, celery, onions. Season the veggies with salt and pepper and cook for 6 or 7 minutes, until tender.

Add the flour, poultry seasoning, and hot sauce, then cook for a minute. Whisk in the chicken stock and bring the liquid to a bubble. Whisk in the pumpkin in large spoonfuls to incorporate it into the broth.

Simmer the soup for 10 minutes to thicken a bit, then add the cream and nutmeg. Reduce the heat to low and keep warm until ready to serve.

While the soup cooks, assemble the relish: Combine the apple, onion, lemon juice, cranberries, chili powder, honey and cinnamon in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Adjust the seasonings in the soup and relish. Discard the bay leaf. Ladle the soup into shallow bowls and top with a few spoonfuls of relish. (The relish adds a fabulous crunch to the soup!)

Serves 8 first course, 4 main entrees.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Her Fearful Symmetry


Audrey Niffenegger wrote the highly praised novel, The Time Traveler's Wife, which was recently turned into a movie starring Eric Bana and Rachel McAdams (who I just love- so talented!). Her newest novel, Her Fearful Symmetry has just been published, making it a good couple of months for Ms. Niffenegger.

The story begins in London, where Elspeth Noblin has just died of cancer. Her younger lover Robert is devastated by her death. Robert lives in an apartment in the same house as Elspeth, located on the edge of the grounds of the famous Highgate Cemetery.

Also living in the house are married couple Marijke and Martin. Martin has OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) so severely disabling that he cannot leave his apartment. Martin and Marijke are fascinating characters, and their relationship is fractured by Martin's illness. The author skillfully brings the reader into their struggle to live lives defined by mental illness.

Elspeth left her apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina, daughters of her own twin sister. Elspeth has not seen her nieces since they were young children, for mysterious reasons that are revealed later in the novel.

Julia and Valentina are unusually close sisters, even for twins. Their relationship is overly dependent on each other, perhaps to the point of dysfunction.

It was a delicate thing, their private world. It required absolute fidelity, and so they remained virgins and waited.


Other people start to infiltrate this private world, in the form of a love interest for Valentina. Julia has always cared for her asthmatic sister, and Valentina's desire for more independence panics Julia.

A ghost also drives a wedge between the sisters. Valentina can feel the presence of the ghost more deeply than Julia. When the ghost reveals its presence to the girls, Julia compares it to being "like the sheep at Jesus' birth". It's an interesting comparison, foreshadowing the ghost's plan to rise from the dead.

Niffenegger weaves a magical spell in this beautiful novel. Her characters are complex, painted with shades of grey, matching the grey atmosphere of the cemetery in rainy London. The ghost story is intriguing, so different from other ghost stories in the way that the reader steps into the lonely life of a ghost.

The denoument of the story is heartbreaking. This is a novel that takes the reader on a remarkable journey, filled with secrets, love, sisterhood, loneliness, and the desire to live. I found myself thinking deeply about this haunting ghost story long after I finished it, a sure sign of a successful book.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

MORTAL FRIENDS a seductive mystery


Jane Stanton Hitchcock's newest novel Mortal Friends is a seductive mystery set in Georgetown, where the real Washington DC power lies.

When the Beltway Basher's latest victim is found in a nearby park, best friends society matron Violet and antique shop owner Reven get involved in the crime. Violet is obsessed with true life crime stories, and Reven becomes entangled when a police detective asks her for help in solving the case.

Hitchcock expertly draws the reader into this story and the world of political high society in Washington DC. She gives enough clues for readers to think themselves very clever when they figure out a few of mysteries, then throws in some twists that will send the reader reeling with surprise.

Her descriptions of characters place them firmly in the mind of the reader.
"Grant was Mr. Straight Arrow. No, actually he was more like a totem pole: tall, wooden, and joyless."
You get Grant right away from that. She describes an obscenely wealthy woman as wearing jewelry
"clearly designed to illuminate her bank account as much as her face".


Grant's statement about his overbearing mother
"Mother can't admit she's wrong, therefore she never is"
explains a lot about Grant's relationship with her. But my favorite line is Reven's about her boarding school reunion
"Nobody looks great after forty. We just look better or worse than other people our age".
That gives one pause to think.

The story moves along at a brisk pace, and Hitchcock spikes her novel with references to real events, like the Chandra Levy murder and the Washington DC sniper attacks, that add to its authenticity. Hitchcock clearly knows Washington DC society, and gives the reader the inside scoop on the intrigue of it.

Those who like mysteries that challenge the reader to pay close attention in an attempt to figure it out will appreciate this clever, seductive society story.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Monday, August 3, 2009

Win a copy of THE PLIGHT OF THE DARCY BROTHERS


Stephanie of thewrittenword.wordpress.com has a great giveaway of THE PLIGHT OF THE DARCY BROTHERS as part of her The Everything Austen Challenge.
Read her review and enter the giveaway here:
http://thewrittenword.wordpress.com/2009/08/02/the-plight-of-the-darcy-brothers-a-giveaway/

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Jane Austen's EMMA a delight



When Stephanie from thewrittenword.wordpress.com put up her Everything's Austen Challenge (Link here: http://thewrittenword.wordpress.com/2009/06/22/introducing-the-everything-austen-challenge-with-prizes/), I was excited because I had just bought a hardbound collection of Jane Austen's novels at the new Barnes & Noble on Lexington & 86th St. in NYC, and now I had the perfect excuse to crack open the book and read.

Stephanie has challenged us to do six Austen-related things (read her novels, watch movies based on her novels, read novels somehow related to Austen), and I resolved to meet the challenge. I had never read any Jane Austen novels (mea culpa!), but I had always wanted to; now I had someone who was willing to hold me to it.

I started by reading Emma, the novel considered by many to be Austen's best. From the very beginning, I was under Austen's spell. "Emma Woodhouse, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her." The opening sentence entices the reader with the enchanting Miss Woodhouse.

Austen's characters are memorable, from the worry-wart widowed father of Emma, who is constantly in a state of concern for other's health and well being (I think the stereotypical Jewish or Italian mother from sitcoms were based in part on him), to the insufferably egomanical Mrs. Elton, who believes herself to be the sun upon whom all of the other planets (people) revolved around. She is a hoot!

We see everyone who lives near Emma's home of Highbury through her eyes, and she has is a keen observer when describing her family, friends and neighbors. We know that Miss Bates is "full of trivial communications and harmless gossip", and that Mr. Knightley is a "sensible man", who "has a cheerful manner which always did him good". Each character is easily distinguishable from the others, not an easy task when the book is populated by so many characters.

One can see the origins of today's chick-lit in Emma. The people in the novel are most concerned with matters of the heart, and who was dating whom, with Emma as matchmaker extraordinaire, at least in her own mind. When more than a few of her machinations go awry, she is dumbstruck, and vows to mend her ways.

Reading the novel was like being dropped into Highbury for a long visit. I became invested in these characters' lives, and felt as if I had attended their gatherings, right along with them. Austen does telegraph where she is going with this story, and readers should be able to predict the conclusion, which will bring a smile to the reader's face.

Up next in the Everything's Austen Challenge for me: Watching two versions of Pride & Prejudice. I also hope to get to the other six novels in my Jane Austen Collection. Thanks to Stephanie at the Written Word for providing this enjoyable summer entertainment.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

BENNY & SHRIMP an adult love story (no, not that kind!)


If you are tired of reading books that have gorgeous heroines with fantastic jobs and great bodies who find love with a handsome, rich guy, and are looking for something a little more realistic, Benny & Shrimp by Swedish author Katerina Mazetti is out there for you just waiting to be read.

Shrimp is a young, sad widow visiting the grave of her husband, who died several months ago. On the bench next to her is Benny, visiting his parents' gravesite. Whereas Shrimp's husband's grave is spare, just a natural stone chunk with plain lettering, Benny's parents' gravesite is garish, overly decorated with white marble, gold lettering, lots of plantings and statues.

Benny is a thirty-something milk farmer, living alone on the family farm, trying desperately to make it work. Shrimp works at the town library, lonely except for a single friend Marta. Benny wants to date, and his mum used to nag at him to find a girl.
As if they existed somewhere, a flock of willing girls, and all you had to do was go out and select one. Like taking your rifle out in hunting season to bag yourself a hare.


Benny decides to take a chance, and he follows Shrimp back to the library and taps her on the shoulder. Although she is at first rude to him, they go to lunch and when Shrimp tells Benny it is her birthday, he takes to her a department store and starts picking out gifts for her. (Aww- so sweet!)

So begins their intense love affair. Shrimp is not a woman many people would notice. She is thin, mousy and people were surprised when she married her much better looking husband. Benny is overweight, has three fingers on one hand, and smells like manure. But their physical relationship is hot. Shrimp says
He hadn't just turned my head, he rotated it so many times that it came off and I had to hold it on a string like a balloon, while my body twisted and wallowed.


Mazetti's way with words is delightful. She crafts her sentences so thoughtfully, it is a joy to read them. Benny describes Shrimp's all white and metal decor in her apartment by saying that
(B)efore I know it, somebody will stick their head around the door and say, "Do come in. The doctor will see you now!"


Benny and Shrimp are really opposites in many ways. He spends twelve hours a day farming, in muck and mud. He is looking for a wife, a partner to help him and live his lifestyle. Shrimp likes her lifestyle- she enjoys her job, books and opera. The life of a farmer's wife does not suit her. Can their love overcome these differences?

The author has written an adult novel, one in which two people who love each other have to decide if they can make a big sacrifice for the other. She puts her characters in situations that people can relate to, and just when you think you have this story figured out, she throws in a big curveball at the end of the story that you don't see coming.

I read Benny & Shrimp in one evening. I fell in love with Benny and Shrimp, (more Benny than Shrimp) and rooted for their unlikely love affair to last, even though a voice in my head said the obstacles were likely insurmountable. (Be quiet, voice in my head!)

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Look at this cute book handbag!



I just bought the most darling handbag from Michelle at spoonfulofchocolate.etsy.com. She takes books and turns them into custom-made handbags. I asked her to find a copy of Gone With the Wind, my favorite book (and movie), and she took this 60th Anniversary edition of the book and created this beautiful handbag.

I can't wait to take it to the next book signing I attend, and I think it would make a great gift for book lovers. She makes new covers for the books and donates them to a charity, or you can have her make a matching cover for the and get the book too. (That's what I did.)

Thanks to Stephanie at thewrittenword.wordpress.com for tweeting about Michelle. Check out Michelle's website and see all of the stuff she has for sale- lots of great classic children's books, and cookbooks too.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

THE LIE by O.H. Bennett


A teenager in trouble will often find it easier to lie when confronted with a bad situation. When Terrell Matheus accidentally shoots and kills his older brother Lawrence, his instinct is to lie. He tells his parents and the police that a truck with white boys accosted Lawrence on the front porch of their home and shot and killed him.

So begins The Lie, the powerful debut novel by O.H. Bennett. The African- American Matheus family moved from the projects to a nice home in a middle class neighborhood in Evansville, Indiana. Mom and Dad both work full-time jobs, the boys go to a good high school.

The story is set in the 1970's, but if I didn't read that in the book summary, I might not have known that. The situation is one that could be seen on the nightly news today, and there isn't much in the story that struck me as 1970s. The clothes, the language- it all seemed contemporary.

Terrell sticks to his story, somehow thinking that it will be less painful for his parents than the truth. Students at the high school lionize Lawrence, making him into a martyr. Tensions between blacks and whites rise in the community.

When Terrell's uncle believes he has found the men who killed his nephew, and the police find the evidence doesn't fit Terrell's version, his story unravels. Terrell's parents, destroyed by their older son's death, come undone when the truth of how he died is finally known.

The scene where Terrell is forced to confront his lie will leave the reader stricken. As a parent of two college aged sons, I related to the worst pain a mother can feel- one son causes the death of the other. Bennett writes with such power and emotion, it literally took my breath away.

Terrell's road to redemption is a long, difficult one. He has no friends, and his parents can't have him at home; he is a pariah. He forms a bond with his brother's girlfriend, a young woman with many problems of her own. Their fragile relationship is the one hopeful thing in his life.

Bennett captures the family dynamic; this is a family that could live down the street. The way in which the parents deal with the pain of their loss of both sons hit home for me. The relationship between the brothers- close when they are young, changing as they became teens, reflects the reality of many families.


The Lie will break your heart, and though it is not aimed at high school students, it would be a great book for them (especially young men) to read. It reminded me of George Pelecanos's The Turnaround, another powerful novel about race relations and how one lie can damage the lives of many people for years to come.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Monday, July 27, 2009

BEST FRIENDS FOREVER


Jennifer Weiner hits all the right notes in her latest New York Times #1 best selling novel, Best Friends Forever. Anyone who has ever had a best friend will relate to the story of Addie Downs and Val Adler, who became fast friends the day that nine-year-old Val moved in across the street from Addie.

The book opens with Val at their fifteen year high school reunion. She has an altercation with a man from high school who hurt her and tormented Addie in their senior year. Val fears that she has accidentally killed the man, and runs to Addie, whom she hasn't seen in fifteen years, for help.

Addie decides to help Val find out if the man is dead, and the (mis)adventure is on. Weiner has stated that the thought "what would happen if Thelma and Louis survived?" started her on the path to this novel, and their comical journey provides much humor for the novel.

However, it is the poignancy of the story that most appealed to me. We meet Addie and Val as girls, and follow their friendship through high school. Addie came from a loving family. Dad served in Vietnam, and suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome. He loved his wife, a greeting card writer and terrific cook, who suffered from obesity. Older brother Jon was a popular jock who became increasingly embarrassed by his family. Val lived with her mom, who seemed incapable of caring for her daughter.

Addie and Val drifted apart in high school, after an incident in their senior year ended their friendship. Addie looked forward to a new start away at college, but family tragedies put an end to that. She came home, took care of family business and never left again. She became an obese loner, rarely leaving her home.

Weiner creates empathy for Addie and Val. She drives home the point that people tend to think everyone else's life is easier that his or her own, and that people are generally surprised to discover that other people envy them. High school can be a difficult time for most people, and Weiner expertly brings that time back to the reader.

Addie Downs quickly became a favorite literary character of mine. While most people don't have her particular story, I related to her life. I felt like I knew Addie, her story was so authentic. Best Friends Forever will appeal to anyone who survived high school, and it may encourage you to reconnect with an old friend. Just hope that she doesn't turn up late at night on your doorstep in a bloody coat!

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

COMFORT FOOD a treat for Food Network fans


Author Kate Jacobs , who wrote the successful The Friday Night Knitting Club , moves to the culinary world in her new novel, Comfort Food. If you enjoy spending the evening watching Food TV, this novel is for you.

Augusta "Gus" has been hosting a successful TV show on the CookingChannel for years. She was widowed several years ago and left alone to raise her two young daughters Aimee, a global economic analyst, and Sabrina, an up-and-coming decorator. Gus is about to turn fifty years old when she receives news from her boss- the format of her show is going to be changed and she is getting a sexy young co-host, Carmen, a former Miss Spain.

Carmen appears to be a manipulative woman, gunning for Gus's job. Somehow, Gus's daughters, Sabrina's ex-fiance Troy, Gus's reclusive neighbor Hannah, and new chef Oliver all end up on the TV show, making for a crowded kitchen, with insults being tossed around the kitchen, along with the ingredients.

Gus has been told that if this doesn't work, she will be out of a job. So as she has always done, she rolls up her sleeves and is determined to make it work.

Jacobs writes interesting characters, and the family dynamic amongst Gus and her daughters is very real. They never dealt openly with the loss of their father and husband, never spoke about it. Eventually all of the repressed feelings come to light and must be dealt with. Many families handle situations like that in the same manner, and readers will identify with this. A passage that I found thought provoking was this:
"You don't know what it's like to struggle." Gus was getting angry; her cheeks were turning red. "I have done everything for you two."
"Maybe don't do so much, then," Aimee said quietly. "We may not have had your struggle, but we've had our own."

That sounds like a conversation many families could have.

All of the characters have strengths and weaknesses, they are three dimensional, and for the most part likable, just as most people are. Everyone is just trying to do their best to get what they want out of life. Gus meddles in her daughter's love life, Hannah is reclusive for a good reason, Troy wants to win Sabrina back, and Oliver has his eyes on romance; Jacobs manages to keep all of these plates spinning while the story unfolds.

Many people watch Food TV for the personalities as well as the food, and if you are one of them, you'll find Comfort Food a tasty treat. You get a bit of a backstage look at how those shows work, and for good measure, Jacobs gives the reader a few recipes mentioned in the story at the end of the book.

Rating 3.5 of 5 stars

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

9 to 5 cast at Barnes & Noble



I was lucky enough to get to see the cast of the Broadway musical 9 to 5 at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle NYC yesterday for a CD signing and performance. (My blog post on that here: http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com/2009/04/9-to-5-will-make-you-smile-for-two.html)

The events room was packed to capacity as Marc Kudish took to the stage as the MC. This guy is so funny and he relishes the role of Franklin Hart Jr. I don't think I've ever seen anyone who seemed to enjoy playing a role as much as he does! His performance of "Here For You", where he pours out his feelings of lust for Doralee, included his choreography from the show, with a few added touches. A comic masterpiece from a man who can sing.

Megan Hilty (Doralee) sang "Backwoods Barbie" which she explained wasn't supposed to be in the show because it sounded too 'Dolly'. The three ladies, Hilty, Stephanie J. Block (Judy Bernly) and Allison Janney (Violet Newstead) gave me chills as they harmonized on "I Just Might", a song that combined three songs into one to cut time from the show. If you closed your eyes, you would have sworn you were listening to a fully mixed recording.

The cast happily signed copies of the yet-to-be-released CD soundtrack, so everyone there got a special treat. If you haven't seen 9 to 5 The Musical, plan a trip to NYC to do so. I was sorry that composer/lyricist Dolly Parton couldn't be there as well. Her songs are wonderful in this, her first Broadway show.

I'd also like to compliment the staff at Barnes & Noble Lincoln Triangle; they did a fabulous job keeping everything organized and all of the customers informed of what was going on.

Jennifer Weiner and all her BEST FRIENDS




I had the pleasure of seeing the delightful Jennifer Weiner last night at Barnes and Noble Lincoln Triangle NYC promoting her newest book Best Friends Forever. She had packed the room with excited women, all eager to ask her questions about her books.

Jennifer seems like your best friend, and she started her talk with some naughty words that had the mostly women in the room howling with laughter. Then she proceeded to dish on things her best friend, editor, sister and sister-in-law had told her. When her sister-in-law told her that she had been married once before for a brief time, Jennifer and her sisters pressed the woman to tell them why the marriage ended. Reluctantly she told them, and Jennifer's recounting of the story was hilarious. (It had to do with soccer- sort of!) My advice to anyone who is related to, works with, or is friends with Jennifer, is be careful what you tell her. It will repeated or used in one of her books, reflected through her prism of humor.

Listening to Jennifer was just like sitting with your best friend, and there was a feeling of being at a lunch with all of your friends last night. Everyone was happy and chatting with the person sitting next to them who, although a stranger a few moments ago, now feels like a friend you have had forever. I've never quite had that experience before at a book signing.

She reminded me of Adriana Trigiani the way in which she spoke so openly with people and made them feel like her friends. She saw one woman in the audience and asked if she was Lauren- she recognized her from her Facebook picture on Jennifer's fan page and gave her a copy of her book because Lauren won the book but hadn't received it yet. She also seemed to remember other fans which whom she had made a previous connection. This is a an author who cherishes her fans and her friends.

I was able to read about 100 pages of Best Friends Forever while I waited, and it is terrific. It's full of humor, pathos and characters you will want to be friends with. I'll post a full review soon.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Angela Lansbury on Broadway


I got to see the fabulous Angela Lansbury on Broadway last night in Blithe Spirit, a revival of a Noel Coward play. At 80+ years of age, she has the energy and vitality of a woman half her age. Critics agreed as she was awarded the Tony award for this role last month.

The dashing Rupert Everett is right at home on stage playing Charles, an author who invites a medium, Madame Arcati (Lansbury) to hold a seance at his home. He hopes to study her as research for a new book.

Lansbury goes into a trance, complete with a silly dance that had the audience in stitches. She conjers up the dead wife of Charles in the form of the luminous Christine Ebersole. She plays the role of Elvira as a cross between Carole Lombard and Judy Holliday, even down to the platinum wig. You can't help but giggle when she throws her little tantrums and stamps her feet.

Since only Charles can see Elvira, this is a problem. Charles current wife, Ruth, portrayed magnificently by Jayne Atkinson, thinks that her husband may be losing his mind. The repartee between Everett and Atkinson is priceless, and although Atkinson gets fourth billing in the show, for my money she gave the best performance of the four.

Noel Coward's dialogue requires actors to be on their toes, and all of the actors are more than up to the task. It was like watching ping pong players the way they quickly bounced their witty lines off each other.

The conflict between Elvira and Ruth, with Charles stuck in the middle, provides big laughs, and Lansbury is so expressive and so in-the-moment in each of her scenes, you could see her reactions all the way in the back of the theater.

One thing I have noticed in many plays (particularly in revivals), the role of the maid/butler is a richly humorous one. Christine Baranski in Boeing Boeing, Charles Kimbrough inAccent on Youth and now Susan Louise O'Connor as Edith, the maid with nervous energy in Blithe Spirit. The audience loved her performance.

Blithe Spirit closes July 19th, but if you have an opportunity, you should see it for the lead actors' performances. (I loved the costumes too, especially Ruth's.) It will give you a good belly laugh, and my only complaint is that is went on too long; a cut of ten minutes in the last act would have been prudent.

AuburnPub.com - Jackson novel cerebral mystery

My review of Joshilyn Jackson's The Girl Who Stopped Swimming.

http://auburnpub.com/lifestyles/article_5b765c75-e124-5861-ac8a-feff662a7d61.html

A Ghost Story/Murder Mystery/Southern Gothic tale

Read my review of the The Girl who Stopped Swimming, a Southern gothic mystery.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

THE CASTAWAYS Giveaway from drey's library


Enter to win a good summer read from drey's library here:
http://dreyslibrary.blogspot.com/2009/07/tour-giveaway-109-castaways-by-elin.html

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A novel that transports the reader


One of the best things about reading a good book is that it can transport you to a time and place that you could not visit any other way. Lisa See's new novel, Shanghai Girls immerses the reader in 1930's Shanghai and Los Angeles.

I am more familiar with the immigrant stories from Europe, having read two interesting Irish immigrant novels recently, Brooklyn by Colm Toibin, and Mary Beth Keane's The Walking People, which also dealt with two sisters who had a secret. I was not so familiar with immigrants from China, which made for an enlightening experience.

We meet two sisters, Pearl and May, who are the only children born to a well-to-do businessman and his wife. The young women live a good life, buying beautiful clothes, going out every evening, working as models for a man who paints calendars. They can almost ignore the poverty surrounding them in Shanghai.

When their father loses all his money gambling, he sells his daughters into arranged marriages with two Chinese brothers who live in Los Angeles. The sisters are horrified and plot to escape from their father.

When Japan invades China, the girls and their mother must flee inland to avoid the war raging around them. The characterization of the mother, who at first appears to be the stereotypical subservient Asian wife, right down to her bound feet, is a revelation. It is their mother who shows inner and outer strength, willing to sacrifice herself to save her daughters.

The sisters end up at Angel Island, an immigration station in San Francisco akin to Ellis Island in New Jersey. Their time there mirrors the experiences I have read about at Ellis Island. I had never heard about Angel Island before this.

Their journey takes them from Shanghai to Los Angeles, and it is riveting. See has set her novel in a momentous time in Chinese/American history. The Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor had repercussions for all Asian immigrants, as many Americans were unable to differentiate Chinese, who also disliked the Japanese after they invaded China, from Japanese. When China became Communist, Americans were undergoing the Red Scare, led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. People feared Communists, and that fear and hatred was transferred to Chinese immigrants.

As the immigrants worked to build a life in this country, they faced racial discrimination. Since these immigrants looked different than European immigrants, it was easier for people to identify them as immigrants. Their customs were different from European immigrants, whose ancestors settled America hundreds of years ago, and this separated them from many Americans.

Along with the history lesson, See has written a beautiful story about sisters, love, loyalty, sacrifice and family. Pearl and May are fascinating characters, and their sisterly relationship is one that many can identify with. The family that they both marry into is also interesting, and the relationship that develops between Pearl and her husband is tender.

Shanghai Girls is a beautifully crafted story that will keep the reader turning the pages. The fact that the reader learns much about the history of Chinese immigrants at this time period is a bonus.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

Finger Lickin' Fifteen Funny


From the book jacket:
UNBUCKLE YOUR BELT AND PULL UP A CHAIR. IT'S THE SPICIEST, SAUCIEST, MOST RIB-STICKING PLUM YET.

Recipe for disaster:

Celebrity chef Stanley Chipotle comes to Trenton to participate in a barbecue cook-off and loses his head --literally.

Throw in some spice:

Bail bonds office worker Lula is witness to the crime, and the only one she’ll talk to is Trenton cop, Joe Morelli.

Pump up the heat:

Chipotle’s sponsor is offering a million dollar reward to anyone who can provide information leading to the capture of the killers.

Stir the pot:

Lula recruits bounty hunter Stephanie Plum to help her find the killers and collect the moolah.

Add a secret ingredient:

Stephanie Plum’s Grandma Mazur. Enough said.

Bring to a boil:

Stephanie Plum is working overtime tracking felons for the bonds office at night and snooping for security expert Carlos Manoso, A.K.A. Ranger, during the day. Can Stephanie hunt down two killers, a traitor, five skips, keep her grandmother out of the sauce, solve Ranger’s problems and not jump his bones?

Warning:

Habanero hot. So good you’ll want seconds.

My review:
Another June has rolled around, and that means another New Jersey bounter hunter Stephanie Plum adventure from author Janet Evanovich. Finger Lickin' Fifteen is one of the more humorous entries in the series.

This book focuses on my favorite characters- Lula, the larger-than-life (in every way) hooker-turned-office assistant, Grandma Mazur, and Stephanie's protector and sometime employer, sexy Ranger.

The crime/mystery storylines (Lula is being chased by bad guys after she witnesses the decapitation of a famous TV chef and someone breaking into the homes of Ranger's security clients) are not really the focus here; this is a more comedic novel than some of the other Stephanie Plum novels, and I enjoyed it.

A funny subplot concerns a young man who flashes the unsuspecting women in Stephanie's parents neighborhood. Grandma tries to explain to Stephanie why the women aren't upset with the flasher:
"Well, technically none of us was unsuspecting," Grandma said. "We wait for him to show up. I guess it's one of them generation things. You get to an age and you look forward to seeing a winkie at four in the afternoon when you're peeling potatoes for supper. The thing about Junior and his winkie is, you don't have to do anything about it. You just take a look and he moves on."


Readers of the series will be happy to know that Stephanie ends up with cars on fire, her apartment on fire, paint poured over her head, falling down the stairs, sleeping in Ranger's bed-all of the usual Stephanie Plum mishaps.

This is a quick, funny, take-it-to-the-beach kind of book. It made me chuckle more than a few times, especially when Lulu and Grandma team up. They are the Jersey girl version of Abbott and Costello.

If you are looking for a clever mystery to be solved, you may be disappointed. And if you are offended by flatulence jokes or cursing, you may want to skip this. But if you think of Stephanie and the gang as friends you love to visit, and you want a good laugh, pick up Finger Lickin' Fifteen. It's fast food reading: maybe not so good for you everyday, but every once in a while, you just have a craving for it.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Enter to win Julie & Julia


A Sea of Books is giving away a copy of JULIE & JULIA by Julie Powell. Copy the link to enter.

http://aseaofbooks.blogspot.com/2009/06/giveaway-julie-julia-by-julie-powell.html

Can't wait to see the movie with Meryl Streep and Amy Adams!

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Great Giveaway from bookingmama


This book looks like a fun summer read. Copy the link below to get the details to win LOOKING FOR SALVATION AT THE DAIRY QUEEN by Susan Gregg Gilmore.

http://bookingmama.blogspot.com/2009/06/guest-blogger-susan-gregg-gilmore.html

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lewis Black of Little Faith


Lewis Black, whom many people know from his 'Back in Black' segment on Jon Stewart's The Daily Show, was at the new Barnes & Noble store on East 86th St. & Lexington in NYC last night promoting his book Me of Little Faith.

He drew a large crowd for the inaugural event at the new store, and he started in immediately poking fun at the sparse decor on the walls, and the wallpaper pattern, which he said looks like what you see just before you pass out. (It actually does!) Then he turned serious, describing his writing process.

Black writes in longhand on paper, believing that the process of physically writing with a pen differs from typing on a computer. He says that one thinks differently writing by hand. Then he proceeded to rant about the kids today "who type with their thumbs on Blackberrys." (I left a few descriptive words out.)

Black answered many questions from the audience, and he gave thoughtful answers. He is a graduate of Yale Drama School, which he likened to mental torture. He said that the professors tore students down to build them back up, like soldiers. He told a cautionary tale of asking a professor for a letter of recommendation. He ran into the professor a few years after he graduated from Yale, and the professor expressed surprise at the fact that Yale accepted Black into the drama school because in his recommendation he stated that Yale should not accept Black into the program. Black cautions students to ALWAYS read the letters BEFORE you send them with your application. Funny and true.

When it came time to get autographs, I told Mr. Black that I have two college ages sons who are, to my disappointment, die-hard Republicans. (If you don't know, Black is not a Republican- he spent the last eight years railing against them in his comedy act. Rent his Washington DC HBO Comedy Special if you haven't seen it- the funniest standup performance I've ever seen.) I asked him for advice, and he said not to worry, they'd grow out of it. Then I told him that they idolized Dick Cheney, and he said something very funny, but not for print here. When I introduced him to my husband and said that he was to blame for my sons's political leanings, Black burst out laughing and shook my husband's hand.

Black is very funny, intelligent man. He says that he is hopeful that he will return to Broadway sometime next year. I'll be in line for those tickets!

Monday, June 22, 2009

A Jane Austen Challenge


Stephanie from The Written Word has created a cool Jane Austen Challenge- click on the image at the right.

Since I just purchased a hardcover Jane Austen collection of books at Barnes & Noble for $5 during their grand opening special at their new Upper East Side store on 86th & Lexington, this is perfect timing! For the six month challenge I will:

Read SENSE AND SENSIBILITY by Jane Austen
Read EMMA by Jane Austen
Watch the BBC version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (love Colin Firth!)
Watch the 2005 version of PRIDE AND PREJUDICE
Read PRIDE, PREJUDICE & ZOMBIES by Sean Grahame-Smith
Read CONFESSIONS OF A JANE AUSTEN ADDICT by Laura Viera Rigler

Join in the fun with us!

Sunday, June 21, 2009

You Think You Don't Know Your Husband...


In Lisa Unger's Die For You, Isabel thought she knew her husband, until the night he didn't come home. Married to Marcus for five years, and except for one brief indiscretion by her husband, Isabel thought they were happy. After alternating between anger and panic all night, she finally gets a phone call from his cell phone- and hears a violent struggle and a man scream on the other end of the call.

A call to the police goes nowhere, as a husband who doesn't come home is not high on the priority list. Isabel goes to her husband's office, a successful high-tech game software company, to talk to his partner. The partner is evasive, angering Isabel. Before she can get any more information, the FBI raids the office. Confusion reigns, and Isabel is knocked out.

When she awakens in the hospital, she finds out that it wasn't the FBI, and several people were killed, including her husband's partner. Her apartment has been trashed, and all of the money she and Marcus had in the bank is gone. Isabel discovers that her husband conned her brother-in-law Erik out of his life savings as well.

Police Detective Grady Crowe is wary of Isabel's claims of ignorance of her husband's activities. More bad news arrives when it is discovered that her husband is not the real Marcus Raine- that man was murdered years ago, and it appears that her husband assumed his identity. Did he also murder the real Marcus Raine?

Isabel is determined to discover the truth about her husband. Crowe warns her against that, particularly when more people show up dead, and Isabel seems to be the one closest to the dead bodies upon discovery. Is she a victim or a murderer?

Unger writes a fast-paced thriller, and she uses the setting of New York City to good advantage. Anyone familiar with the city will recognize the spot in Central Park where a confrontation takes place, and the Upper West Side area where Isabel lives. A journey to Prague brings that city to life as well.

Some thrillers/mysteries sacrifice character for action, but Unger's characters are fully drawn. The family dynamic between Isabel and her sister Linda, Erik and their kids is realistic and interesting. Erik and Linda's relationship is loving, even though both make big mistakes that threaten that relationship. Even Detective Crowe and his partner have a good chemistry.

One thing bugged me though. Isabel's actions frequently put herself in danger, but also endanger her family. Isabel's quest to find out the truth about her husband caused her family great pain, and I couldn't understand that. Was her need to personally discover the truth about her husband worth the agony she put her family through?

Isabel also knew nothing about her and her husband's finances. She signed papers he put in front of her, and agreed to use her name on all the paperwork for his company. Could she be that naive, particularly since her father left her mother, sister and her broke when he killed himself. Yet her sister makes a similar mistake. Perhaps this is a cautionary reminder to the reader to always pay attention to your family finances.

I didn't understand Isabel, but maybe that is the point of the story. Maybe we never really know anybody, even the person sleeping next to you for five years. I give Die For You three and half stars because Unger kept me turning the pages when I should have been sleeping.

A Moving Family Tale


Alice Hoffman is an author known for her novels filled with magical touches. Her latest, The Story Sisters, continues that, when a magical world created by three sisters collides with the reality of the world in which we all exist.

Elizabeth, called Elv, Meg and Claire Story live with their mother in a small town on Long Island. Their parents are in the middle of a bad divorce, and it has affected the girls deeply. When they were young children, Elv (whose nickname connotes the fairy-like elves) created a fairy tale world, Arnelle, which had its own language. It slightly concerned their mother Annie when they would continue to speak this language, even as they grew out of childhood. Annie's mother Natalia warns her that this behavior could isolate the girls from the real world.

This fantasy world contrasts with the physical world in which they live. Annie has a large garden, and grows heirloom tomatoes. The girls are knowledgeable in all areas tomato. They love animals: Elv likes dogs, Claire rides horses. Elv is artistic, attracted to painting and color. Meg is a voracious reader, and a very good student. They sleep in the same bedroom, and are each other's best friends.

The horrors of the real world intrude on the girls of Arnelle when a bad man hurts Elv, who saves the younger Claire from his clutches. They never tell anyone about "the day the bad thing happened", not even Meg. This bad thing, and her reluctance to tell her mother, causes Elv to act out. Annie is struggling too, "she felt as if everything she did was in halves: half a mother, half a teacher, half a woman". In that one sentence, Hoffman articulates the feelings of so many women.

Elv begins to believe "that evil repelled evil, while good collected it", and she is determined to become evil in order to expel it from her life. She uses drugs, becomes promiscuous, steals- everything a young woman with low self esteem does to dull her pain. Meg is angered by her sister's behavior, but Claire vows to remain loyal to Elv. Elv's behavior breaks the bonds of sisterhood she so tenderly nurtured.

Hoffman uses imagery and metaphors so beautifully. When Elv saves a kitten thrown into a river, she tells Claire that she is haunted because she couldn't save a second kitten thrown in. Claire reminds her that it is important that she saved one, but Elv can't get over that she couldn't save the other, echoing the fact that she saved Claire once, but was unable to save herself.

The author's writing hits home with the reader, as when following a death, Annie's cousin says,
"Call me the minute you need something," she told Annie and Claire, but neither of them could think of a single thing they might need that anyone could possibly give them.
Everyone who has lost someone knows that exact feeling.

This is a moving, haunting novel that will make you cry. There is so much sadness, so many tragic things that happen, and we all know people about whom we say, "haven't they suffered enough?" About a good man who becomes involved with the Story family, Hoffman writes
He stayed in the kitchen with the dog for a while. He covered his face and wept. When he was done, he patted Shiloh's head. This wasn't his house or his family or his dog, but it was his sorrow.


Hoffman broke my heart with this beautiful story of how secrets can destroy, but ultimately about the power of love to redeem. I became deeply invested in her characters, and will not be able to get them out of my thoughts. It is so powerful, so moving, it is the best of what fiction attempts to be.

Rating 5 of 5 stars

Friday, June 19, 2009

A true story of humanity during World War II


Don't let the title fool you; It Happened in Italy is not a chick-lit book. The subtitle, Untold Stories of How the People of Italy Defied the Horrors of the Holocaust, gives the reader a better idea of the substance of this non-fiction book.

Told in simple style by author Elizabeth Bettina, it recounts her discovery of how Jewish people fled to Italy from Germany to escape the Nazi regime, and were hidden by many courageous Italians, one of whom, Giovanni Palatucci, was sent to a German camp and killed for his participation.

Bettina fits the description, coined by Malcolm Gladwell, of a "connector"; a person who connects other people together. In this case, she connects Jewish survivors with the Italian people who saved them and their families, and with the Vatican. Her persistence that this unknown story must be told forms the basis for this intriguing book.

She uses many photos and documents kept by survivors and the Italians and sprinkles them in the text where relevant. I liked this format as it allows the reader to see immediately what she is referring to, rather than placed in the middle of the book where they are often found.

The stories of the survivors and their benefactors are interesting, a tale of true humanity during an inhumane period of history. The contrast between how the Jews in Italy were treated, with dignity and respect, and those Jews who were sent to death camps in Germany, is startling. This is an important story; thank goodness Elizabeth Bettina told it.

Rating 3.5 of 5 stars

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Enter to win JULIE & JULIA from Readaholic


You can win a copy of JULIE & JULIA by Julie Powell, courtesy of Readaholic. Enter here:
http://bridget3420.blogspot.com/2009/06/giveaway-julie-and-julia-by-julie.html

Book Review- PAUL NEWMAN, A LIFE


Paul Newman is one of our true movie stars, back when that phrase really meant something. His death last year reminded us what a unique individual he was- an actor, movie star, race car driver, husband, father, grandfather, businessman, humanitarian.

Shawn Levy has written a new biography, titled Paul Newman- A Life. And it was quite a life he lived. I vividly remember my mother taking me to see The Sting, starring Newman and Robert Redford. It was one of the first grown-up movies I saw, and I felt very sophisticated. Redford was gorgeous, but it was Newman who charmed me. There seemed something mischievous behind those blue eyes and that knowing smile.

Levy does a great job chronicling Newman's early years, and he footnotes and endnotes extensively, not something you normally see in a biography of a movie star. He quotes from reviews of Newman's plays and movies, and that helps put Newman's work in context of the times.

The author delves into Newman's youth and his college days at Kenyon College, where Newman realized he had the desire to act. Newman was a bit of a rascal who loved to party and was not opposed to imbibing in beer, something that he continued to do throughout his life. Levy states that as an adult Newman would often drink a case of beer a day. (Budweiser sent Newman ten cases of beer a week as payment for advertising for them, and they didn't go to waste.)

Levy spoke with several people who went to school with Newman, and their memories of a young Newman are insightful. Newman loved to rehearse, to dig deeply into his character and their motivations, and as this practice grew with his career, it was not always appreciated by his costars or directors.

He married young and had two children with his first wife, but their marriage didn't last. Levy points out the irony of a man who was well known for having one of the most successful, long-lived marriages in Hollywood, actually falling in love with his second wife, actress Joanne Woodward, while he was still married to wife number one.

I did not know that Newman also had an affair (while married to Joanne) with a reporter he met while filming Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. It lasted for over a year, and nearly ruined his second marriage, but after the affair ended, he and Joanne worked it out. Again, they were an example for people that no marriage is perfect, but it takes work, love, patience and forgiveness to make it last.

Newman had such a long career, Levy does his best to get it all in this book without making it 1000 pages, which it easily could have been. The one thing that gets short shrift is Newman's role as a father. It is touched on, but it would have been interesting to know more about how he parented from his children. They seem like people who like their privacy, and after the death of Newman's son Scott from a drug overdose, and the publicity surrounding it, I imagine they were leery of the press.

Newman is quoted as saying that "What I would really like to put on my tombstone is that I was part of my time". Levy makes the correct statement that he was, and that is one thing that shines through in this fascinating biography. Newman really was a man made in his time, an embodiment of a true American individual.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars