Thursday, August 10, 2017

On Broadway- Hello, Dolly!

My sons and their girlfriends got me the most thoughtful gift for Christmas- a ticket to see my all-time favorite Bette Midler in Hello, Dolly! The tickets are hard to get, especially since Bette Midler, who won the Tony this year for her spectacular performance, recently announced she will be leaving the show in January.

I had read all the rave reviews and sometimes that makes me feel like it couldn't possibly live up to the hype. I'm happy to say that Hello, Dolly! is even better than you have heard. It's been said that this is the perfect show for these turbulent times, and I agree with that as well.

Everything about this show is glorious. The performances, the sets, the songs, the choreography, and the costumes (oh, those stunning costumes)- they all work together to create an unforgettable theatrical experience. You truly lose yourself in the show.

Bette Midler and Dolly Gallagher Levi are the perfect pairing of performer and role. You just can't imagine anyone else as Dolly. Midler is as hilarious, sly and even poignant as any Irish widowed matchmaker could be.

She has one scene where she is eating a huge turkey leg that just goes on and on, building in laughter until everyone, including actors on stage, can't help but giggle. It reminded me of Jackie Gleason and Art Carney in The Honeymooners. 

The highlight of the show is the title song, where Midler comes out in a radiant red dress, complete with headdress, and sings and dances with the men onstage with such joy, it brought tears to my eyes and gave me goosebumps. She earned a rare midshow standing ovation for that. (And I have found my Halloween costume for this year.)
Oh, that red dress! (Photo by Julia Cervantes- from Hello, Dolly website)

David Hyde Pierce is amazing as Horace Vandergelder, the Yonkers businessman looking for a wife who doesn't stand a chance against Dolly's machinations. Gavin Creel won a well-deserved Tony for his role as Cornelius Hackl, finding love and freedom. I've seen him in more a few shows, and I just think he is wonderful.

Beanie Feldstein turns in a star-making comedic performance in her first Broadway show as Minnie Fay, we will see her again for sure. Kate Baldwin was not performing the day that I went, and Analisa Leaming was terrific as Irene Malloy. Midler brought her out for a special bow at the end, which was so special. Jennifer Simard has a small but unforgettable role as Ernestina, I only wish we had seen more of her; she is comedic wonder.

The choreography for "The Waiters' Gallop" must be mentioned as well. Choreographer Warren Carlyle created a take on Gower Champion's original choreography that left me breathless.

I could go on and on, but suffice to say that this production of Hello, Dolly! is one of the greatest joys to ever hit the Broadway stage and I hope that they will tape this production so that people all over the world have the opportunity to experience it for themselves.

Tickets for Midler's performances are scarce, but if you can find them, this is a must-see. And one final note- please don't take photos during the show. So many people were doing that, and it endangers the performers. The orchestra pit is downstage, so there is a hole in the floor that the performers must avoid. The flash from your cameras can distract them, and one misstep can cause an injury.

The website for Hello, Dolly! is here.

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

New in Paperback- Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt

Cruel Beautiful World by Caroline Leavitt
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616207373
Trade paperback, $15.95, 384 pages

Author Caroline Leavitt took an event that happened to a high school classmate of hers as a jumping-off point for her incredibly riveting novel “Cruel Beautiful World”. Charlotte and Lucy were just young girls when their parents died tragically and they went to live with a distant older relative Iris.

In reality Iris is their much older half-sister, a fact Iris conceals from the girls. Iris never had children of her own and she grew to love the girls. Set in the late 1960’s, during the time of great social and political upheaval, Leavitt drops the reader into the time of hippies and free love and the frightening Manson murders that gripped the nation.

When Lucy is sixteen, she falls in love with William, the cool teacher at her school. She runs away with William to a dilapidated old farmhouse, where William gets a job teaching at a school that basically has no rules, while Lucy stays hidden at the farmhouse, all alone except for the chickens.

Lucy’s disappearance devastates Iris and Charlotte, who is ready to go off to college. Iris fears that something terrible has happened to Lucy, and the police are of no help as they tell her that so many teenager girls are running off nowadays and that she will probably return.

Charlotte goes off to college, which is much more difficult than she thought. She excelled in high school, but at college, the classes are much harder and she spends all her time studying. She has no real friends and travels home frequently to check on Iris.

Iris is getting on in age and eventually she must face the fact that for her own safety, she has to move out of her home and into an assisted living facility. Leavitt does a beautiful job with the character of Iris, and some of the most compelling parts of the story belong to her.

We see her as a young woman during WWII, who falls in love and marries the man of her dreams, a young soldier. She believes she will finally have the simple, happy life she longs for, but a secret builds a wall between her and her husband.

When Iris is in the assisted living facility, she is unhappy. She mourns the loss of her freedom to choose when to eat and what to eat, and the ability to go where she wants, when she wants. 

Lucy’s life is not turning out the way she had hoped either. William has isolated her, and she isn’t even allowed to let her aunt and sister know that she is alive for fear that William will be arrested.

What Lucy believed to be a romantic life ahead turns into a nightmare. William is gone all day at work, and when he comes home he is unhappy because his teaching job is not what he thought it would be. She is expected to cook dinner, but William insists on a very specific all-natural diet and Lucy doesn’t know how to cook.

One day Lucy takes a walk and ends up at a farm stand. There are lots of people there and she befriends the owner, Patrick, who gives Lucy a job. Lucy is overjoyed at having someplace to go and something to do.

Patrick is kind to her, and he is interested in what she thinks, something William is not. Patrick is hiding out from his past too, a tragic loss that he has not yet overcome. 

Halfway through the book something happens that changes the lives of all the characters. It is a real blow to the reader as well as to all of the characters, something that made me literally gasp out loud.

By that point we are so invested in these characters and their stories, we feel like we know them as real people. Leavitt has written terrific books, “Pictures of You” and “Is This Tomorrow” among them, but “Cruel Beautiful World” is her best book yet. She has taken her writing to an entirely new level, and she has garnered so much deserved praise for this one.

“Cruel Beautiful World” is the simply the best novel I have read in a long time, and if you enjoy a story that you can lost in, this is the one for you. The characters are simply unforgettable and I give it my highest recommendation.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Doubleheader- Two Great Books About Female Spies

I read not one, but two, fabulous novels about female spies recently- the seventh book in the Maggie Hope series by Susan Elia MacNeal, The Paris Spy, and the newest pick in Reese Witherspoon's Book Club, Kate Quinn's The Alice Network.

You don't need to have read any of the previous books in the Maggie Hope series to enjoy her latest, The Paris Spy. (That being said, anyone who has read the series will find this exceptional.) Maggie Hope is working as a spy in WWII Paris for the SOE, Special Operatives Executive, under the direct orders of British Prime Minister Winston Churchill.

She is working with two other operatives, Sarah, posing as a ballerina, and Sarah's husband Hugh, posing as a musician, both with the Paris ballet. Maggie's cover as an Irish socialite shopping for her wedding trousseau in Paris brings her into contact with famous designer Coco Chanel, who plays an important role in this fascinating and heartpounding story.

Maggie is looking for her half-sister Elsie, hoping to bring her home to England, when she gets caught up as a female operative goes missing, along with important information that will help England decide where best to land in France as a final push to destroy the Nazis and win WWII.

MacNeal does an impressive job with her research into the use of female spies in WWII, used because it was felt that the Nazis would not suspect that women would be involved. (Indeed, it was an international violation to send women behind enemy lines during war.) She helpfully lists the books she used as research at the end of the book for anyone who wishes to learn more.

We also get a look into the British war effort, complete with warring factions in the espionage agencies and the mistakes that were made that endangered not only the operatives, but the war effort itself.

There is so much tension in The Paris Spy, I found myself gasping out loud more than once, and if this were a movie, I would peeking between my fingers at certain points. Maggie Hope is one of the most interesting characters in mystery series, and the crisis of conscious she is faced with at the end of the story is one that will propel the next entry in this most interesting and informative series. I give The Paris Spy my highest recommendation, and I read it in one sitting.

Kate Quinn's The Alice Network also deals with female spies, but is set in WWI and the aftermath of WWII. Young, pregnant and unmarried in 1947, Charlie is traveling with her mother to Switzerland to end her pregnancy. She makes a detour in London to search for her cousin who has been missing for three years in France.

Charlie finds Eve, a middle-aged woman, who is drunk, angry and has a gun. Charlie convinces Eve and Eve's Scottish driver/assistant Finn to help her find her cousin. Eve reluctantly helps, but she has an ulterior motive- she wants to find the man who tortured her during WWI and kill him.

The story shifts in time to WWI, where Eve is working as a spy in France with the Alice Network, run efficiently by Lili, a small woman of large talents. Eve works as a waitress in a restaurant frequented by Nazis, where she is able to gain information useful to the British government.

But getting this is information comes at a high price for Eve. She becomes involved with a French collaborator, and this relationship will haunt her for the rest of her life.

As with The Paris Spy, The Alice Network is a pulse-pounding read. Eve's mission is dangerous, and she and Lili risk their lives more than once. Also like The Paris Spy, The Alice Network is based on true events- there was an actual Alice Network, a spy ring run by women in France. The characters are brilliantly drawn, and although both stories are intriguing, Eve's story is truly astonishing. I can't get her out of my mind.

If you're looking for two amazing books about strong women, you like history, and your heart needs a good workout, check out The Alice Network and The Paris Spy now. 

The Paris Spy by Susan Elia MacNeal- A+
Published by Penguin Random House ISBN 9780399593802
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages
Susan Elia Macneal's website is here.

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn- A+
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062654199
Trade paperback, $16.99, 528 pages
Kate Quinn's website is here.

Monday, August 7, 2017

Tom Perrotta At Barnes & Noble

Mrs. Fletcher by Tom Perrotta
Published by Scribner ISBN 9781501144028
Hardcover, $26, 307 pages

The first book I read by author Tom Perrotta, like many other people, is Little Children, about an affair between a stay-at-home mom and a stay-at-home dad who meet at the playground. Perrotta had young children at that time, so the novel's characters were at the same place in their lives as he was.

Now Perrotta is in his fifties (as am I), and he is facing empty nest syndrome as is the main character in his latest introspective novel, Mrs Fletcher. Perrotta visited Barnes & Noble's 86th Street store on the Upper East Side to talk about it, and other things, last week.

He began by reading a chapter Trouble In Sunset Acres, which is told in the voice of Eve Fletcher's young coworker Amanda, events coordinator at the senior community center where they both work. (The best line in that funny chapter is when Amanda says that "when you are an events coordinator there is always someone to make you miserable." I used to be an events coordinator, so I can totally relate.)

Perrotta then took questions from the audience, which were particularly insightful. One questioner commented on the topic of gender appropriation, as Perrotta wrote from the perspective of Eve. As Perrotta mentioned, it is usually a question of race appropriation that is brought up, but since sex and identity is a major theme in Mrs. Fletcher, it was a good question.

Perrotta responded that "novels can't exist in a world where a writer's imagination is limited". He believes that identity "is at the heart of what divides us as a culture", and that it is "important to find the balance between appropriation and inclusion".

In Mrs. Fletcher, Eve and her college freshman son Brendan are both struggling with identity. Eve is a single mom, now all alone, and after she receives a sexually explicit text message from someone calling her a MILF, she Googles MILF and falls down a rabbit hole of pornography.

She starts a habit of searching out MILF pornography almost every night, and the night class that she takes at the community college on Gender and Society is taught by Margot, a transgender woman who used to be Mark, a college basketball standout, so sex and identity is explored in this intriguing novel.

Perrotta said that he has a fascination with the cultural discourse of sex and gender, and that he wanted to write about pornography because everyone is affected by it, but we don't talk about it. He wanted to embed it in the normal suburban world he knows about.

A question was asked about why he wrote son Brendan in the first person, but Eve and the others are written in the third person. Perrotta responded that he knows that "young man jock" voice well, and thought that it would be more jarring to hear Brendan speak, thus showing the sense of the different worlds that Eve and Brendan inhabit.

What I found most interesting about Mrs. Fletcher is that Perrotta really seems to inhabit each of these characters- Eve, Amanda, Brendan, Amber, Margot, Julian. They are all distinct and feel like people you would meet in this town and college campus.

He also nails the pervasive feeling of loneliness: of a mom whose only child is now gone to college, the jock who goes to college to party and finds that it is not what he expected, the young woman starting a career and looking for friendship, a young man who falls apart after he is bullied in high school.

I have to say that the end of this book truly surprised me. I thought he may be going in one direction, and he went a different way (which I liked). I asked him if he knew the ending before he wrote the book, and he said no, the characters take him to where the story will end.

Perrotta also spoke of his experience working on HBO's The Leftovers, which recently ended its three year run on a high note. He loved the experience, and we discussed how the show will probably be treated more kindly by people as the years pass. (Maybe like The Wire?)

Mrs. Fletcher is a fascinating look at a moment in time when gender and identity are being explored by so many in our culture. Social media and the easy availablity of the internet allows people to be exposed to people and ideas that we may never have been before, in the privacy of our own home. Perrotta places his story in everyday suburbia to emphasize that fact.

I highly recommend Mrs. Fletcher; it's funny, poignant, thought-provoking and yes, even a little provocative, everything you want in a good novel.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Visiting CineBistro in Sarasota

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.

On our last trip to Florida, we ran into Tropical Storm Emily so we decided to get out of the rain and go to a movie. We both wanted to see Dunkirk since I reviewed the book (here), and we headed over to the CineBistro in Westfield Siesta Key.

When I was in high school and college, I worked at a mall cinema, and it was the best job a young person could have, but that was many years ago. The CineBistro we visited was a stunning sight to behold, and nothing like where I used to work.

After you buy your ticket (or in our case get our Fandango ticket scanned), you enter a huge full bar area, with plenty of seating for those who are having dinner. You don't even have to go to the movies to hang out at the bar.
The bar area

To the left of the bar is a small private dining room that you can rent to have a birthday party. It really seemed like more of an adult place to have a birthday party, rather than for kids.
Party Room

You then walk down a long hall, and you'll see a cart in front of the theater where the next movie starts. On the cart are bottles of wine from Francis Ford Coppola's vineyard (where else?), and samples of the Chef's Menu for the day. Today's menu featured Mojito Chicken Flatbread, Grouper and Guava Empanadas.
The Food Cart

You can order food to be delivered to your seat up to thirty minutes before showtime. Each seat is a huge recliner, with a food tray that swivels in and out for access. We didn't get there in time to order food, so we got popcorn from the concession stand. The popcorn is served in a white ceramic bowl, and the sodas are served in actual glasses. How very grown-up!

Ad we ate our popcorn and watched the coming attractions with our feet up, we decided that this is the only way to see a movie. We will do all of our movie-going at the CineBistro, even if we have to fly to Florida to do it.

By the way, Dunkirk is an amazing movie. I'm not big on war movies, but this is really the British counterpart to America's Saving Private Ryan. Writer/Director Christopher Nolan is sure to get an Oscar nomination for this incredible cinematic achievement, and my favorite actor, Mark Rylance, is wonderful in this movie as well. I highly recommend you see Dunkirk at your local cinema. And if you have a CineBistro near you, give it a try. Their website is here.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Two More Books About Marriage

Last month my Book Report featured two novels that revolved around marriage- Dennis Lehane's Since We Fell and Deanna Lynn Sletten's One Wrong Turn.  I recently read two more books that featured marriage in very different lights. (My review is here.)

Sarah Dunn's The Arrangement revolves around Lucy and Owen, who moved from hipster Brooklyn to quiet upstate Beekman, a bucolic little Norman Rockwell-y commuter town. They have a son Wyatt, who is on the autism spectrum, and whose illness has caused strain in the marriage.

When friends mentioned that a mutual couple they know have decided to have an "arrangement", whereby both of the spouses can have lovers outside of the marriage, both couples laugh at the notion, even though it apparently has worked for Frank and Jim.

After a particularly stressful day, Lucy and Owen jokingly make up a list of rules for their own little arrangement- no one can know, they can't fall in love, they must use condoms and there is a time limit of six months. They call it their own little "rumspringa" (like the Amish do) and shake on the deal.

Owen meets a woman at the supermarket who flirts with him, and Lucy meets a divorced father of two in New York City. At first it seems to be working, but like all bad ideas, this one falls apart too.

The Arrangement is quick page-turner of a book, with solid, interesting characters that the reader invests in. Peeking into someone else's marriage is an eye-opening experience. I think this would make a fabulous book club selection, the conversations would be fascinating.

My only minor complaint is that it may have been more interesting to go against stereotype with Lucy and Owen and their respective experiences, but I do enthusiastically recommend The Arrangement.

Michelle Richmond's The Marriage Pact is about a newly married couple, Alice and Jake. Alice is a respectable lawyer, who at one time was in a rock band. Jake works with troubled teens. When one of Alice's very wealthy clients gives them a special wedding present, the trouble begins.

Alice and Jake are invited to join a group, The Pact, whose goal is to help couples stay happily married. At first it seems like an admirable goal, making your spouse feel loved and cherished, doing special things for him like buying presents, and planning trips away. But again, things fall apart.

The Pact has very specific rules, and violators of those rules are punished in very specific ways. At first the punishments seem minor, but repeated violations result in more severe punishments. If you are deemed to not be 'with the program', you are whisked away to be reprogrammed- or worse.

The Marriage Pact is a crazy novel. It's sort of like Scientology in its cult-like secret society, but when Alice and Jake find out exactly what they have gotten themselves into, the story takes off like a rocket. You will find yourself holding your breath and saying "what the what?" is happening here. My heart was pounding at times reading this. It's been awhile since I read The Pact, and I still find myself pondering it. If you thought Gone Girl was nuts, read The Marriage Pact.

One thing I learned from reading both The Arrangement and The Marriage Pact is to be very careful what you and your spouse agree to, you never know where it will lead. The Marriage Pact and The Arrangement read together would make for a very intriguing book club meeting indeed, especially if it was a couples book club.

The Arrangement by Sarah Dunn
Published by Little, Brown ISBN 9780316013598
Hardcover, $26, 357 pages

The Marriage Pact by Michelle Redmond
Published by Bantam ISBN 9780385343299
Hardcover, $27, 432 pages

Thursday, August 3, 2017

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman

Class Mom by Laurie Gelman
Published by Henry Holt and Company ISBN 9781250124692
Hardcover $26, 304 pages

Summer is a great time for light reading, and I love nothing more than picking up a really funny book and laughing my head off. Laurie Gelman's debut novel, Class Mom, caught my eye with its title. Since I was a class mom more than once, I bet I could relate to this one.

From the very beginning, Class Mom had me in stitches. Jen Dixon has two daughters (by two different men) in college and is now happily married to "Baby Daddy #3 and Husband #1" Ron Dixon. They have a young son Max, now headed to kindergarten.

Jen gets a call from her best friend and "reigning high priestess of the school's PTA" Nina, begging her to be class mom for Max's class. Jen was class mom for seven consecutive years when the girls were in elementary school, a record that still stands at William Taft Elementary, and it was the worst job she had since she worked at Allstate.

Now she is the oldest, "oh, sorry, wisest" mom in kindergarten, and she reluctantly takes the job as class mom. The highlights of the book are Jen's hilarious and sarcastic emails sent to the parents that, according to the author, were based on the ones she sent to parents when she was class mom at her child's New York City school. (She was fired from her position.)

Jen's emails are everything every class mom wishes she had the guts and humorous instincts to send, including rewards for those who respond quickly to emails and punishments to those who don't. They are filled with shout-outs, un-PC statements, and cutting sarcasm that some of the parents either don't understand or are very upset about. Jen does get called to the principal's office.

We meet the various parents, including one whose child is allergic/sensitive to everything (or maybe it is the mom who is that way?), one family who always volunteers to bring cups, and one mom who always sends the fastest response stating that she is out of the office. Every. Single.Time.

Miss Ward, the kindergarten teacher, is a bit of a puzzle too. She is young, dresses way too provocatively for Parent's Night, and doesn't believe in celebrating class holidays, like Halloween and Christmas. Her idea of a class trip is to go to the city recycling center.

One of the dad's in the class is an old high school crush's of Jen's, separated from his child's mother. There is some fun sexual tension there, though Jen deeply loves her wonderful husband Ron.

Jen and Nina try to figure out who is the mysterious "out of office" mom (why has no one met her?) and what the deal is with Miss Ward, as well as work to keep Jen from getting fired from her volunteer class mom position.

You don't need to be a former class mom to enjoy Class Mom, but if you are, you will laugh until you cry with recognition reading this hilarious book. I gave my favorite class mom friend a copy and she agreed with me.

I give Class Mom my highest recommendation- an A+.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Life And Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein

Lift And Separate by Marilyn Simon Rothstein
Published by Lake Union Publishing ISBN 9781503940307
Trade paperback, $14.95, 304 pages

Marilyn Simon Rothstein's funny and poignant novel Lift And Separate opens with middle-aged Marcy Hammer in her bedroom with her best friend Dana three days after her husband Harvey has left her.

Harvey is the owner of a major brassiere company, Bountiful Bosom, (whose archrival is Victoria's Secret), and he has left his wife of over thirty years, the mother of his three adult children, for a young brassiere model. It's bad enough to be left, but to be left for a cliche, well that's too much for Marcy.

Rothstein writes some great scenes, like the one where Marcy goes dress shopping to find the perfect dress to win back Harvey.

In the middle of all this, Marcy has to deal with her mother, who ends up in the hospital. There Marcy meets Candy, a woman who is dealing with a sick father and a mother in a nursing home with dementia. Candy and Marcy become good friends, supporting each other in this time of crisis.

Soon Marcy learns something about Candy that will probably end their relationship, and this upsets Marcy. She is also dealing with her daughter Liz, a doctor who is involved in a relationship with a married man, her daughter Amanda who works for Bloomingdales and is supposed to take over the family business from dear old dad, and son Ben and how they are handling their parents' dissolving marriage, as well as her mom's illness.

Through it all Marcy keeps her sense of humor and manages to dig down deep to discover what she really wants out of life. Does she want Harvey back or is she ready to be on her own?

Rothstein has some funny lines that will make you chuckle, like "Mom had contributed so much 'gently used clothing' to the Salvation Army I was surprised she wasn't a general", and "I had received his name from a haggard woman in the cemetery office, who most likely was wearing the same cardigan she had thrown around her shoulders on her way to vote for Nixon."

Life And Separate will appeal to woman of a certain age, as they say, and fans of Dorothea Benton Frank will also enjoy it and root for Marcy to get the happiness she deserves.

Marilyn Simon Rothstein is hilarious on Facebook, and I recommend that you like her here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Marilyn Simon Rothstein's tour, the rest of her stops are here:

Marilyn Simon Rothstein’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Thursday, July 6th: BookBub Blog– 6 Books That Will Have Women Laughing
Monday, July 17th: Novel Gossip
Wednesday, July 19th: West Metro Mommy Reads
Monday, July 24th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, July 26th: A. Holland Reads
Monday, July 31st: Girl Who Reads
Tuesday, August 1st: Why Girls are Weird
Wednesday, August 2nd: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, August 3rd: Readaholic Zone – author guest post
Friday, August 4th: BookNAround
Monday, August 7th: Must Read Faster
Tuesday, August 8th: Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, August 9th: Jathan & Heather
Sunday, October 1st: Writer Unboxed

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Quality Eats

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.

New restaurants open in our neighborhood frequently, and when I saw a sign go up for Quality Eats, I was so excited. It's a special treat going to Quality Meats and Quality Italian in Midtown on the west side, so to have a Quality Eats in walking distance is a good thing.

The day that reservations opened up, I snagged us a Saturday evening one.  The day of our reservation, I got a text reminding me of our dinner, and thirty minutes before dinner, I got another text reminding me. That is a first for me, getting a thirty minute warning.

When we arrived, the place was already very busy, with most of the tables already taken by 6pm.  We got a cozy little table in the back corner of the restaurant, and our server promptly appeared.

My husband reviewed the wine list and chose a bottle of a Rhone blend that was very smooth. For starters, I chose Grilled Boucheron Cheese, served with a side of a toasted pear baguette. It was sinfully good, crispy on the outside, gooey on the inside. I was glad I ate yogurt for lunch that day.

Grilled Bouceron Cheese
For our main course, we both chose the Don Ameche steak, which was a filet that was buttery tender, grilled perfectly medium, and served with a side of salad on top of chicken liver topped toast. (Toast is the big thing here.)
Don Ameche Steak

We shared two sides- Baked Potato Money Bread, which are rolls topped with bacon, butter and chives and quite similar to the delicious bread served at Quality Italian, and Creamed Spinach Hush Puppies, which were also crispy on the outside and filled with gooey creamed spinach inside.
Baked Potato Monkey Bread & Creamed Spinach Hush Puppies
Quality Eats is all about ice cream for dessert, and since I adore the ice cream at Quality Meats, I had to have the Birthday Cake dessert, which is chocolate malted ice cream with diced vanilla confetti cake and vanilla frosting and sprinkles on top. It even comes with a candle, and was the perfect little ending to dinner.
Birthday Cake Ice Cream

Quality Eats is trying to appeal to a younger crowd than its other two restaurants; the prices and portions are smaller, and the atmosphere is a little hipper and more casual, but the food is just as tasty as at Quality Meats and Quality Italian. We'll be visiting our new neighbors often.

Quality Eats website is here.

Monday, July 17, 2017

How To Start A Fire by Lisa Lutz

How To Start A Fire by Lisa Lutz
Published by Mariner Books ISBN 9780544705180
Trade paperback, $14.95, 352 pages

The first Lisa Lutz's book I read was The Spellman Files, the first in a series of mysteries about a family of private investigators. There is a delightful sense of humor in these books, and if you like Janet Evanovich's Stephanie Plum series, you should give The Spellman Files a read.

The next book I read of Lutz's was The Passenger, a tense psychological thriller about a woman on the run after killing her husband. She was already on the run from something else, and when she meets a mysterious woman who saves her life, things get even more complicated. The Passenger made my list of Most Compelling Books of 2016 and I recommend it to everyone.

My friend and bookshop colleague told me I should read Lutz's 2015 novel, How To Start A Fire, and I finally got around to it. Boy, am I glad I did.

Kate and Anna are college freshman. Kate is an orphan who lives with her grandfather and hopes to take over his diner one day, living out her life in familiar surroundings. She finds things fascinating that other might not, like the ancient medical use of leeches. Anna is from a wealthy family back East, always up for an adventure and getting herself (and others) into trouble without much thought.

One night after leaving a frat party, they find a tall young woman lying drunk in the grass. They put her in a shopping cart and bring her back to their dorm. Her name is George, and she is a star athlete, very close to her dad after her mother died.

The three women become best friends, living together and planning their respective futures, which included medical school for Anna if she could get her grades up. We follow the women back and forth through the years. A tragic incident occurs that changes all of their lives and threatens their futures.

Lutz writes her characters so beautifully, and her words on the page are so stunning, I often found myself stopping and rereading them over and over, like this passage:
"Edgar had fallen in love with George's knees first, but he was also a back-of-the-neck man, a breast man, a shoulder man, even a foot man, just not in the fetish-video kind of way. An entire woman was too overwhelming. He preferred them in sections, the way one would study a map."
Lutz's sense of humor is here in smaller doses as well, as when she describes Anna's mother this way:
"Her mother's full-time job for the past nine months had been planning her son's wedding. Somehow Lena Fury had managed to shove aside the mother of the bride and the bride herself to become the chief operating officer of the Fury/Wentworth nuptials."
Kate, Anna and George are truly unforgettable characters, and Lutz tells their story with a compassion and clarity that resonates long after you finish their story. I highly recommend How To Start A Fire, and anything Lisa Lutz has written, in any genre.

Lisa Lutz's website is here.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams

Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062681690
Hardcover, $27.99, 384 pages

One of the great pleasures of reading Beatriz Williams' books is that if you are intrigued by a secondary character, frequently you will get more of them in a subsequent book. In a previous book, A Certain Age, set in the jazz age of New York City, Virginia Fortescue is the older sister of Sophie, who is a major character in the book. We learn a little bit about Virginia, enough to peak our interest.

In Cocoa Beach we get Virginia's story. During WWI, Virginia volunteered to work overseas in France, driving an ambulance to bring wounded men to get medical attention. She meets a handsome British doctor, Simon, and they quickly fall in love, even though Simon is married.

Simon has a difficult family situation, as does Virginia, perhaps that is one thing that attracts them to each other. They marry, but soon something tears them apart. They are separated for three years, and then Virginia is notified that Simon has died in a fire on his property in Cocoa Beach, Florida.

Virginia goes to Cocoa Beach with her three year-old daughter and finds Simon's brother and sister waiting for her. She has her doubts about her husband's death, and is determined to get to the bottom of what Simon has been up to for these three years.

Williams' drops us into the humid, muggy atmosphere of south Florida, and you can almost smell the sea air, taste the sweet oranges, and feel the hot sand under your feet.

One thing I find interesting about many of Williams' female characters is their interest in cars. In Cocoa Beach, A Certain Age, and Tiny Little Thing, the women learn not only how to drive cars, but to repair and maintain them as well. This is most unusual for women of these times.

The writing in this story reminds me of watching a 1940's Barbara Stanwyck movie on Turner Classic Movies. The dialogue is rat-a-tat-tat, and the repartee is snappy. Cocoa Beach could have easily been a movie about the 1920's made in 1947.

 I also enjoyed the British slang in this book- "dosh" (money), "rotter" (a bad guy, a "player"), and "skint" (broke). Fair warning: I will be tossing these terms around in my everyday language.

You don't need to have read A Certain Age to enjoy Cocoa Beach, but you will have a deeper appreciation if you did. And I was happy to see Marshall, the Prohibition agent from A Certain Age, pop up here; I hope the end of this story leads us to see more of him in the next Beatriz Williams book.

Cocoa Beach is a terrific beach read, a book to get lost in while you are lounging on your porch with a glass of iced tea. (The cover is gorgeous too.)

Beatriz Williams website is here.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson

The Almost Sisters by Joshilyn Jackson
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062682130
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages

I really enjoyed the last two books I read by Joshilyn Jackson- Somebody's Else's Love Story and The Opposite of Everyone. The characters pulled me in right away, and I love the setting of the stories in the South.

Jackson's latest novel, The Almost Sisters is also set in the South. Leia wrote a hugely popular comic book, Violence in Violet, a few years ago, a book with a decidedly feminist story. From that, she began a career illustrating other people's stories and became pretty much in demand.

At a comic convention, she meets a handsome "Batman" and has a one-night stand. That night results in her pregnancy. At the age of thirty-eight, this is not something Leia expected, and since she doesn't remember Batman's name, she can't even tell him about it.

Leia is summoned to her grandmother Birchie's home in small-town Alabama by townspeople concerned about Birchie's outburst at a church fish fry, an outburst that results in the church being turned upside down.

At the same time, Leia's perfect stepsister Rachel has just thrown her husband out of their home. Leia is shocked by this, as Rachel appears to have the perfect life. Rachel asks Leia to take her thirteen year-old daughter Lavender with Leia to Alabama while she tries to pick up the pieces.

Most of the story takes place in Birchie's small town, as Leia arrives to find her grandmother has a serious illness that effects her mental capacity as well as her body. Birchie's best friend and housemate Wattie has been hiding Birchie's illness from everyone, something that makes Leia very unhappy.

Fiction frequently uses secrets as a theme, and Jackson has a lot of them here- Leia hides her pregnancy, Rachel hides her marriage troubles, and Birchie and Wattie have more than a few secrets, including a whopper of a one that threatens to hurt many of them.

I love the setting of Birchville, a town founded by Birchie's ancestors. You get a real feeling of place here, and if you close your eyes, you can almost see Birchie's house, the church and the town square.

My favorite characters are Birchie and Wattie. I really wanted to know more about their younger days, how they got to be so close in a era when blacks and whites were not supposed to be friends, these two are closer than sisters. I would love a prequel to this story.

Fans of comic books (and other nerds as Leia frequently refers to herself) will have an added extra level of enjoyment here. Leia's comic Violence in Violet is dissected here in great detail, something I would have enjoyed more if I was into comic books. And Jackson's trademark Southern humor does shine through in Leia's character.

There is a lot here in The Almost Sisters- sisterly relationships, what makes a family, small town life, race relations in the South today and of course, the danger of keeping secrets. I can't say that I liked this one as much as her previous two books, but readers who enjoy a good family story set in the South will enjoy it.

Joshilyn Jackson's website is here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, July 11th: Book by Book
Wednesday, July 12th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, July 13th: bookchickdi
Friday, July 14th: Time 2 Read
Monday, July 17th: Tina Says…
Tuesday, July 18th: StephTheBookworm
Wednesday, July 19th: BookNAround
Thursday, July 20th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Friday, July 21st: Bibliotica
Monday, July 24th: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, July 25th: Leigh Kramer
Wednesday, July 26th: Always With a Book
Thursday, July 27th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, July 27th: Wining Wife
Friday, July 28th: SJ2B House Of Books
Monday, July 31st: she treads softly

Monday, July 10, 2017

Two Novels About Marriage

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Marriage is a topic that has been covered extensively in books, from self-help books to romance novels to literary fiction to mysteries and thrillers. Today’s column reviews two novels with the theme of marriage, albeit with a slightly different take.

In Dennis Lehane’s newest novel “Since We Fell”, Rachel Childs is a local TV reporter sent to cover Haiti after a disaster. Her reporting earns her a chance at a network TV assignment, but when she has an on-air breakdown, she loses her opportunity and her husband leaves her. 

She becomes a recluse, rarely leaving her apartment. She reconnects with Brian, a man she knew as a private investigator while looking for information about her birth father. Brian rescues her from a man in a bar, and they begin to date.

Brian is patient and loving with Rachel, and soon they marry. One day Rachel sees Brian coming out of hotel in Boston when he was supposed to be in London, and she begins to question if he is the man she believes him to be.

The beginning of this fast-paced novel hooks you right away. “On a Tuesday in May, in her thirty-seventh year, Rachel shot her husband dead. He stumbled backward with an odd look of confirmation on his face, as if some part of him had always known she’d do it.” How can you not read on?

“Since We Fell” packs so much in this fast-paced novel. At first it’s about a young woman looking for her father. Then the story moves to cover Rachel’s breakdown and her subsequent marriage to a seemingly wonderful man. The last third of the book is a straight-out thriller, as Rachel uncovers the truth about her husband and fights to stay alive.

Fans of “The Girl On The Train” and “In A Dark, Dark Wood” will love “Since We Fell”, and I liked it better than those; Lehane is a superb writer who knows how to write terrific characters while ratcheting up the tension.

For a more optimistic view of marriage, Deanna Lynn Sletten’s new novel, “One Wrong Turn” tells the story of Jess and Clay. The book begins when Jess is rushing home and has a car accident that results in her becoming comatose. 

Jess is living with their two daughters, twelve year-old Maddie and seven year-old Jilly, working to open a bed and breakfast in a home left her by her grandmother. Clay is summoned to the hospital, where he sees his comatose wife and two daughters for the first time in two years.

The story goes back and forth in time, beginning with the first meeting of Jess, a waitress in beach bar and Clay, a guitarist in a rock band. At first Jess wants nothing to do with a musician, but Clay wins her over.

They marry, and Jess becomes pregnant with Maddie. Clay’s career begins to take off, which means he is off touring with bands, in addition to becoming a highly respected and in-demand studio musician. Musicians like to drink, and Clay begins to drink too much.

Jess puts up with Clay’s drinking until she returns home one day and finds him passed out when he is supposed to be caring for their baby. Clay’s attempts at sobriety include stints at rehab facilities, and he manages to stay sober for periods of times.

Eventually Jess has had enough and she takes the girls and moves away when she inherits her grandmother’s house. They build a life for themselves, and make friends, until the accident.

Maddie is old enough to remember good and bad times with her father, but young Jilly doesn’t remember much. Clay vows to the girls that he will care for them, but Maddie fears they will be abandoned by Clay once again. In addition, there is the question of whether Jess will ever come out of her coma. 

“One Wrong Turn” is the story of a marriage that tries to overcome the illness of addiction, and what happens when the unimaginable occurs. It’s beautifully written, and the characters, particularly Maddie and Clay, are ones that readers will identify and empathize with.

Sletten’s last novel, “Finding Libbie” was about love, marriage and mental illness, and she approaches her books with such sensitivity, I admit to tearing up more than once while reading her. Fans of Elin Hilderbrand's books should seek out Deanna Lee Sletten’s books.

Since We Fell” by Dennis Lehane- A
Published by Ecco
Hardcover, $26.99, 432 pages

One Wrong Turn” by Deanna Lynn Sletten- A-
Published by Lake Union Publishing

Trade paperback, $14.95, 204 pages

Sunday, July 9, 2017

New In Paperback- Behind Closed Doors by B.A.Paris

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Published by St. Martin's Griffin ISBN 9781250132369
Trade paperback, $16.99, 352 pages

Jack and Grace seem like the perfect couple to their friends. When they give dinner parties, Jack helps Grace in the kitchen. He lavishes her with beautiful clothes, gifts and compliments, and while it's true that Grace frequently cancels plans for lunch or shopping with her friends, well there can't be anything behind that, can there?

Grace met Jack in the park where she takes her sister Millie every weekend. Millie has Down's syndrome and lives in a boarding school near Grace. Millie was dancing to the music in the park and when others were laughing at her, Jack came over to Millie and danced with her. Grace was immediately smitten.

Jack courted Grace fervently. He was a perfect gentleman, a lawyer who represents victims of domestic violence. When he proposed marriage, he told Grace he would like to build her the house of her dreams where they could live with Millie happily ever after. It was a fairytale come true for Grace.

B.A. Paris' novel Behind Closed Doors takes off from there. To say anything more about the plot would be to give away too much, but suffice it to say I spent three hours reading this propulsive thriller without looking up until I finished, finally letting out a long breath. It reminded me of reading Harlan Coben's thrillers.

I'm not one for thrillers because I find them too gory and scary, and while this one did have my heart racing, it wasn't gory. You will get completely lost in Grace and Jack's story, trying to figure out how it will all end.

B.A. Paris has crafted a crackerjack of a thrilling debut novel, and she is an author that I will be looking forward to reading more of in the future. Her new novel, The Breakdown, publishes July 18, and has already garnered similar high praise. You can find out more here.

Friday, July 7, 2017

On Broadway- A Doll's House Part 2

Lucas Hnath's brilliant play, A Doll's House Part 2, is a sequel of sorts. It had the same characters as Henrik Ibsen's classic A Doll's House, and it picks up the action fifteen years after the end of Ibsen's play. But you need not have read or seen Ibsen's play to enjoy Hnath's work.

The action begins with insistent knocking on a door. Anne Marie, a servant, opens the door to find Nora standing on the other side. Nora, who left her husband and three young children fifteen years ago. We find out that Nora has not communicated with her family in the intervening years. They did not know if she was dead or alive.

Nora, played by Laurie Metcalf who won the Tony Award this year for her role, is a ball of fire. She is well dressed, and the intervening years have apparently been good to her. She asks Ann Marie, the women who was left to raise Nora's children to guess how she made her money.

Anne Marie, played by the fantastic Jayne Houdyshell, is curious but after guessing actress and model and maybe prostitute, Nora is miffed that Ann Marie only guesses stereotypical female-centered careers that rely on women's beauty. Nora proudly tells her that she is a writer, a successful writer, whose first book was a bestseller about a woman who leaves her family.

Anne Marie tells Nora she should leave before Torvald, Nora's husband returns home, but soon Torvald appears. Chris Cooper is hypnotic as Torvald, you cannot take your eyes off him when he is on stage, although at times he was difficult to hear.

The scene between Nora and Torvald is nothing short of astonishing. These are two actors at the height of the talents, and the stage crackles with tension and residual feelings between them. You could hear a pin drop during their big scene. I could have watched them talk for hours.

Condola Rashad (Showtime's Billions) plays Nora and Torvald's daughter Emmy. Emmy is curious to see her mother, who left her when she was three years old. Emmy is about to be married and she doesn't want her returning mother to ruin her life.

A Doll's House Part 2 has much to say about marriage and the role of women, which for some hasn't changed much in the years since the setting of the late 19th century. You could hear many in the audience audibly reacting to some of the more intriguing ideas.

All four of the actors, the entire cast, were nominated for Tony's this year, with Metcalf winning for Best Actress in a Play. They were all amazing, and the extended standing ovation at the end of the show reflected that. The show is funny and though-provoking and a must-see.

There are discount tickets available but A Doll's House is a show worth paying full price for. Note- Metcalf just announced she is leaving the show on July 23, and the equally talented Julie White will be replacing her.

A Doll's House Part 2's website is here.

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Cafe By The Sea by Jenny Colgan

The Cafe By The Sea by Jenny Colgan
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062662972
Trade paperback, $15.99, 432 pages

I recently read my first Jenny Colgan book, The Bookshop On The Corner, (review here), and was utterly charmed by it. I recommended it to several people, and each one enjoyed it as well. When I heard that Jenny had a new book publishing, I was excited to be offered a spot on her TLC book tour.

Like The Bookshop On The Corner, The Cafe By The Sea is also set in a small town in Scotland. Flora is working as a paralegal for a law firm in London, having left her home in Mure and her fathers and brothers behind after her mother passed away.

She has a few friends in London, and a major crush on her boss at the firm, Joel, an enigmatic, hard-driving man who serially dates women but doesn't appear to have anyone serious in his life.

When one of Joel's biggest clients, Colton Rogers, buys up property in Flora's hometown, Flora is assigned the task of returning home to help Colton smooth over relations with the townspeople to get approval for his building plans.

Flora does not want to return home to face her family and friends. Something happened at her mother's funeral, and she is afraid of having to deal with everyone in that aftermath. Flora's brothers and her father don't appear to be too happy to see Flora either.

She is dismayed to find the family's home in disarray; the men don't keep it neat and tidy, and although they live on a farm, they seem to only eat takeout from the fish and chips place or eat food out of a can.

Flora finds her mother's old recipes and cooks up some family favorites. In order to schmooze the townpeople, Flora opens up a cafe in town in a building owned by Colton, and right away it is a hit. Cooking helps Flora feel alive in a way that her law work doesn't allow her.

I adored The Cafe By The Sea.  The setting of the Scottish town by the sea is so vivid, and the characters are so wonderful, I wanted to know them all- her brothers Fintan, Innes and Hamish, Colton, Joel, Flora's friend Lorna, even Bramble the dog- they were all so endearing.

There are romantic entanglements- Flora and Joel, Flora and Charlie the local hunk, and a sweet surprise romance for Fintan. (I confess that Fintan was my favorite character.) There are delicious food descriptions that will have your stomach growling (but fear not, Colgan includes recipes at the end of the book) and the setting is so enticing, you will want to book a ticket to Mure so you can eat at The Cafe By The Sea. I highly recommend this delightful novel.

Jenny Colgan's website is here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, June 27th: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, June 29th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, July 3rd: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, July 4th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Wednesday, July 5th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Thursday, July 6th: bookchickdi
Friday, July 7th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, July 10th: Tina Says…
Tuesday, July 11th: Vox Libris
Wednesday, July 12th: A Wondrous Bookshelf
Thursday, July 13th: Just Commonly
Friday, July 14th: StephTheBookworm