Friday, April 9, 2021

Friday 5ive- April 9, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week.


1)  Sunday was Easter and this year for dessert I ordered a cake from Carousel Cakes in Nanuet, NY. One of my sons is not a fan of chocolate (I have no idea where he got that from), so this pretty vanilla cake with strawberry custard filling fit the bill. Not only was it pretty to look at it, it was tasty too. We ordered it from Goldbelly, and we have had such good luck ordering from there. If you're looking for a tasty treat to send to someone special, head to Goldbelly.com, they have all kinds of foods from all over the country, many from famous chefs and restaurants.


2)  Continuing with the cake theme, my birthday was this past week, and we had a special dinner with our sons at Ocean Prime in midtown. I knew our older son would be there (he lives in NYC), but I was happily surprised to see our younger son from Boston sitting there with him when we arrived. It was such an enjoyable evening, and the guys even had these beautiful flowers waiting for me on the table. For dessert, they brought out two lovely little cakes- one chocolate and one carrot cake. It was a memorable birthday.




3)  Another reason to love Dolly Parton is that she worked with Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams in Columbus, Ohio to create a new ice cream flavor- Strawberry Pretzel Pie. The cream cheese ice cream has strawberry sauce and pretzel streusel swirled through it. It sold out immediately, crashing Jeni's website. The best part (besides the heavenly sounding taste) is that proceeds from the sale go to Dolly's Imagination Library, a program that sends books each month to children from birth to age five. The program has gifted over 155 million books to children. I'm not sure any one person has done more for the cause of childhood literacy than Dolly Parton. Follow Jeni's Splendid Ice Creams social media for more information on the next release. I know I will.

4)  We watched The United States Vs. Billie Holiday, starring singer Andra Day in her Golden Globe winning and Academy Award-nominated performance as Holiday. The movie tells the story of how in the 1940s, the FBI went after Holiday over her singing her powerful song, Strange Fruit, about the lynching of Black people. Day is astonishing in the role, and it reminded me of Bette Midler's amazing performance of a rock'n'roll singer (based on the life of Janis Joplin) in her Oscar nominated performance in The Rose. Holiday battled racism, drug and alcohol abuse, abusive relationships with men, and the FBI's constant harrassment. It is a performance not to be missed, the music is fantastic, and it's streaming on Hulu now.  




5)  I read two books this week. Wendy Francis' Summertime Guests is for those of us who love to people-watch. Set at an historic Boston waterfront hotel, when a woman falls (or did she jump or was she pushed?), the story of how that came to be is told by four different people- a young engaged couple, the hotel's general manager, a couple celebrating a birthday, and a middle-aged journalist whose last article has caused the mob to sue her newspaper. Who is the woman who fell? It's a mystery, and a good book to tuck in your bag when you head on vacation. My full review is here.


Patry Francis wrote a book years ago that has a place on my Favorites Shelf- The Orphans of Race Point. Her new novel, All the Children Are Home, tells the story of a couple who take in four foster children in the 1950s. The characters are unforgettable, including mom Dahlia, who is afraid to leave their home, hard-working husband Louie, older brother Jimmy who is protective of the younger children, Zaidie and her younger brother Jon who came to live with them when their mother died, and the youngest girl, Agnes, who suffered terrible abuse as a baby. How this family loves and supports each other in the face of disdain from neighbors and harassment from schoolmates is heartwarming, heartbreaking and hopeful. I read this book in one day and I will be recommending it to everyone. My review will follow soon.



Stay safe, socially distant, wash your hands, wear a mask and get a vaccine when it's your turn. (I did!) We'll soon be able to get back to some sense of normal if we all do our part.

This post was shared with Marg at The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader.


Tuesday, April 6, 2021

Summertime Guests by Wendy Francis

Summertime Guests by Wendy Francis
Published by Graydon House Books ISBN 9781525895982
Trade paperback, $16.99, 320 pages

If you're the type of person who, when you are staying at a hotel, likes to people-watch and wonder about the lives of the people visiting there, Wendy Francis' novel  Summertime Guests is the perfect read for you.

Riley, her husband-to-be Tom, and Tom's mother Marilyn are at the Seafarer for a tasting for their wedding. Marilyn would love for her son to be married at the Seafarer, whose guests have included everyone from Winston Churchill to Jennifer Lopez. Riley would prefer a small, intimate wedding in a meadow, and Tom is just trying to keeping both women happy.

While they are discussing ideas with the Seafarer wedding coordinator, they hear a horrifying crash and discover that a woman has fallen to her death from a balcony right in front of them. Did she fall, jump, or was she pushed?

 Jean-Paul, the general manager of the hotel, has recently relocated to Boston from Paris with his wife Marie, who recently gave birth to their daughter. Jean-Paul's job has been all-consuming preparing the hotel for its remodel and reopening, and Marie is having difficulty adjusting to motherhood.

Jean-Paul now has to deal with the police, TV news crews, staff, hotel guests, and a huge wedding party set to arrive, as well as alerting the wealthy hotel owner of the situation.

Gwen has arranged for a special birthday weekend for her boyfriend Jason at the Seafarer. They both teach at a college, but what Gwen doesn't know is that Jason has given up on both teaching his classes and working on his dissertation.

Jason has an explosive temper which has resulted in him attacking people unprovoked. He is jealous of anyone who disrespects or flirts with Gwen. He has even hurt Gwen, something that upsets him because his father used to beat him and his mother when he was a young boy.

Claire is a 61 year-old recent widow who has come to Boston to look up her old boyfriend, hoping that he may still have feelings for her. She is on a leave from her job as a journalist at a Providence newspaper, where a story she wrote about a mobster has had repercussions for both her and the paper.

Wendy Francis successfully combines a summer romance novel with a mystery- we know a woman died, is it someone we have met in the story? The book goes back and forth in time over the week of the death, so it could be.

It can be difficult for an author to keep separate storylines equally interesting, but Francis does a terrific job of investing the reader in each of the four stories, and intersecting them at the right time. 

I enjoyed the Boston setting, I felt like we were right there on the water in a beautiful hotel, and found the glimpses of the inner workings of the hotel enlightening.

Now that many of us will be returning to traveling soon, Summertime Guests would be a great book to pack in your suitcase, and pull out on the beach or by the hotel pool while you sip a cocktail and people watch. Wendy Francis pulled me into her story so enticingly that I read it in one day. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Wendy Francis book tour.

Monday, April 5, 2021

No Pain, No Gaines by Chip Gaines

No Pain, No Gaines by Chip Gaines
Published by Thomas Nelson ISBN 9780785237914
Hardcover, $26.99, 190 pages

One the shows that put HGTV on the map is Fixer Upper starring the husband and wife team of Chip and Joanna Gaines, owners of Magnolia in Waco, Texas.  Chip handles the demolition and remodeling of a house and Joanna does the creative and design of the home. 

Chip is known as a goofy, funny, hardworking guy and he shares his philosophy of life and the things he has learned along the way in No Pain, No Gaines. Not the best student growing up, Chip found more value on hands-on, physical work. 

He was a hard worker, a go-getter, even as a child, when he sold snacks at the local public tennis courts. In college, while others were having a good time, Chip had a lawn mowing business and earning nearly $30,000 annually. Sales always interested him, and he even had a stint selling books door to door.

When it became apparent that his career as a baseball player wasn't going to happen, Chip had to pivot.  He was devastated at getting cut from the Baylor University baseball team, but meeting a guy who lost an eye in high school, and then had an aneurysm that led to brain surgery in college, woke Chip up.

Chip learned to "see the life in front of" him. He began to pay attention to life as it was happening around him, "ready to shift gears whenever necessary." 

He also discovered the importance of having a network of people around him, people who will support and cheer you on. He gives his family- parents and sister, his in-laws- an opportunity to share their insights into and anecdotes about Chip that are so enlightening.

According to Chip, one of the most important things in understanding who you are involves making a list of Nonnegotiables, "a list of qualities that are an unwavering part of who you are", your core values. When your actions don't line up with your nonnegotionables, you become unmoored.

Gaines believes in taking chances, and listening to your gut. He says you also have to be willing to fail; as successful as he and Joanna are with their media empire (a TV network, retail store, restaurant, magazine, decor line at Target, etc.), they came close to declaring bankruptcy at one point.

I'm not someone who watched Fixer Upper, but I have to say that I found much to like in No Pain, No Gaines. I'm also not someone who reads a lot of self-help or business advice books, but much of Gaines' advice and experiences he shares are interesting, useful, and thought-provoking. It's written in an easy, conversational voice, and if you are a Chip and Joanna Gaines fan, you'll get even more out of this book.


Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Chip Gaines' tour. The rest of his stops are here:

Print review tour:

Monday, April 5th: Bookchickdi

Wednesday, April 7th: Mammanatty’s Raves and Reviews

Thursday, April 8th: Literary Quicksand

Friday, April 9th: Running Through the Storms

Monday, April 12th: @workreadsleeprepeat

Monday, April 12th: Palmer’s Page Turners

Wednesday, April 14th: Leighellen Landskov and @mommaleighellensbooknook

Thursday, April 15th: Living My Best Book Life and @livingmybestbooklife

Friday, April 16th: @books_faith_love

Monday, April 19th: Nurse Bookie and @nurse_bookie

Tuesday, April 20th: What is That Book About

Wednesday, April 21st: @stumblingintobooks

Thursday, April 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life

Friday, April 23rd: Pacific Northwest Bookworm and @pnwbookworm





Friday, April 2, 2021

Friday 5ive- April 2, 2021


Welcome to the Friday 5ive,  a weekly blog featuring five things that caught my attention this week, and welcome to April where one day it can be 60 degrees and the next day it's 36.

1)  While exiting the TJ Maxx store in my neighborhood, I noticed a small garden area behind the store with this beautiful mosiac. I've been to that store many times, and this is the first time I've noticed it.



2)  I have this app called Citizen that notifies me when there is police or fire activity nearby. This notification popped up on Saturday. You'll be happy to know they caught the offender.


3)  My mom sent me a set of postcards from my hometown of Auburn, NY for my birthday. Each postcard has a photo of some iconic sight, and they brought back so many memories. There are historical sights, like the statue of Harriet Tubman, and things that have personal memories- Falcon Park, where we watched many a baseball game, Springside Inn, where we had our son's wedding reception, and Angelo's Pizza, the place where everyone ended up after an evening dancing the night away. What a fun gift! You can find them at auburnpcproject.com


4) As a huge fan of Tina Turner's (her Private Dancer album is one of my all-time favorites)I was so pleased with the new HBO documentary on her life. The archival footage they had of her early performances with Ike Turner was truly incredible, and the documentary was broken into five parts, covering her entire life. How she reinvented herself in the 1980s as a rock'n'roll queen through sheer will, hard work, talent, and finding the right manager was so impressive. I found it very telling that she does not want to be known for surviving the abuse she took at the hands of her husband Ike. She was done with that part of her life, and constantly speaking about it brings up painful memories, I wish people would let her move on from that. I'm really glad I got to see the Broadway show Tina Turner the Musical before everything shut down last year. I'm happy she finally found love with her husband of thirty years, Erwin Bach. This is must-see TV for music fans.


5) Two books were on my reading list this week. I read the second book in Lauren Willig's Pink Carnation spy series, titled The Masque of the Black Tulip. The books are set in the early 1800's, with England worrying that Napoleon will try to invade. There are a series of spies, including the Pink Carnation, embedded in Paris society, sending information back to England. Young Henrietta Selwick is taking after her brother Richard, known as the Purple Gentian, acting as a courier for the Pink Carnation's information. She has a crush on her brother's best friend Miles, who will not act on his growing feelings for Henrietta out of respect for his friend. Henrietta and Miles end up working together to discover the identity of the dastardly French spy, the Black Tulip, and mayhem ensues. It's a fun, action-filled romantic romp that is a perfect read for those who enjoyed Bridgerton on Netflix. Lauren Willig is hosting a year-long readalong of the Pink Carnation books, and each month she and a different romance author host a Zoom chat about one of the books. This month, Tasha Alexander, author of the historical fiction Lady Emily series, led the discussion. It was a fun and informative evening, check out Lauren Willig's Facebook page for more information.

 I'm in the middle of Chip Gaines new book, No Pain, No Gaines. He talks about the importance of networks, the people in your life who can help you achieve your goals. He's a real people person, very curious about what makes people tick, and if you are a fan of he and his wife, Joanna Gaines, HGTV show, Fixer Upper, this is a book you will enjoy. I like it so far, and I'm not particularly a fan of their show. He has an easy conversational style, and I particularly liked that he allowed his family and Joanna's family each to share their thoughts. My full review publishes here on Monday. 




Stay safe, socially distant, wear a mask, wash your hands, and get the vaccine when it's your turn. Good times are ahead!



Monday, March 29, 2021

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Libertie by Kaityn Greenidge
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616207014
Hardcover, $26.95, 336 pages

Kaitlyn Greenidge's historical novel Libertie is the second book I've read in two weeks dealing with the role of women in the Civil War era (Dorothy Wickenden's nonfiction The Agitators about the lives of Harriet Tubman, Frances Seward and Martha Wright is the other), and it's a revelation.

As the novel opens, Libertie is a dark-skinned Black 11 year-old daughter of Cathy, a light-skinned Black female physician living in Brooklyn during the Civil War. Libertie's father is dead, and in addition to caring for the people of her community, Cathy also aids people on the Underground Railroad.

Madame Elizabeth, whose husband is an undertaker, brings Cathy an escaped slave hiding in a coffin. Cathy resusitates the man, Ben, and then Ben is sent to live in town with other escaped men. Libertie is drawn to Ben, and he has a strong effect on her.

In one striking passage in 1863, during what became known as the New York Draft Riots, mobs of Irish people burned down a Black children's orphange to protest being drafted to fight in the Civil War, and the children that could be saved were rowed across the river to Brooklyn where Cathy and Elizabeth and others rushed to help the refugees. I don't recall learning about this horrifying event in history class.

Cathy and other Black women formed the Ladies' Intelligence Society, and they planned to build a hospital to treat Black people, with a focus on women's health issues. Soon, she began to treat white women who turned to Cathy with reproductive issues they couldn't get help with in their own communities. They allowed Cathy, with her light skin, to treat them, but many wouldn't allow the dark-skinned Libertie to touch them.

Cathy arranged for Libertie to attend a Black college in Ohio to train to become a doctor like herself. While at school, Libertie does not get the grades necessary to continue, and she is afraid to tell her mother when she returns home. 

Libertie meets the doctor who is now assisting her mother, and she agrees to marry him and move to Haiti, where his father and sister have fled the scourge of slavery in the United States. Cathy is furious that the dreams she had for her daughter are gone, that Libertie has chosen to be a wife and mother as her life's ambition.

Adjusting to life in Haiti is difficult for Libertie, her father-in-law and sister-in-law do not treat her kindly, and her husband appears too busy to notice. She becomes attached to TiMe, the family servant, and discovers a troubling situation, one she will not ignore.

Libertie tells her own story here, and people who love Toni Morrison's novels will find themselves drawn to Kaitlyn Greenidge's lyrical style of writing, with an element of magic involved. Libertie has a strong mother-daughter story at its core, and I for one would love to read Cathy's own story told by her as well.

We read to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and read historical fiction to feel how people lived in other times other than ours, and Libertie accomplishes both of those brilliantly. I can see why so many publications called it one of the most anticipated books of 2021. Libertie the book and Libertie the person are unforgettable.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Kaitlyn Greenidge's book tour.

Just My Luck by Adele Parks

Just My Luck by Adele Parks
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778331735
Trade paperback, $17.99, 384 pages

Adele Parks' domestic drama Just My Luck begins with an intriguing premise, one that many of us wish for- what would you do if you won the lottery? 

Three families have been friends since the birth of their children fifteen years ago. Each month they get together on a Saturday evening for dinner, and they put money into the pot to play the national lottery. Lexi Greenwood, "the woman everyone knows as the fixer, the smiler- some may even slightly snidely call a do-gooder" collects the money and buys the ticket, playing the same numbers each month.

Lexi and her husband Jake are less-well off than the other two couples, and one Saturday evening the other two couples decide that the lottery is "too common" and decide to stop playing. The following week their numbers were drawn, and Lexi and Jake are the big winners of nearly 18 million pounds, a life-changing amount of money.

Lexi is cautious about their win, wanting to take it slow and figure out how best to handle their new situation. Jake and Emily (their 15 year-old daughter), buy expensive new clothes, a fancy sportscar for Jake, luxury vacations, and a huge new home. Lexi fears this money will turn them into people no one likes.

Right away things become complicated. Three people break into their home while Lexi is home demanding money and threatening her. Family, people they don't know, and charities all over the world send them requests for money. The two couples who stopped playing demand their fair share of the money, claiming that Lexi and Jake are cheating them.

Emily's best friends are the children of the two couples, including her boyfriend Ridley. The lottery win shows the cracks in all their friendships, and even in Jake and Lexi's marriage. Lexi is forced to take a leave of absence from her job at the Citizen's Advice Bureau helping people in need when people mob her place of employment.

Just My Luck has some twists and turns you don't see coming, and Parks does a good job keeping the reader engaged and guessing. As you read it, in the back of your mind, you wonder how you would handle the situation. Would the money change you or reveal the person you truly are? Jake and Lexi are both keeping secrets from each other, secrets that create an crackerjack of an ending. Adele Parks does a fantastic job combining domestic drama with suspense, in a page-turner of a story.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on the Winter 2021 Mystery & Thriller Tour.








Friday, March 26, 2021

Friday 5ive- March 26, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. Can you believe that it is the last Friday in March already? This month has flown by.


1)  Spring is here and we passed by The Mark Hotel in our neighborhood which has this lovely cart of flowers outside their front door to brighten everyone's day.



2)  We had our annual St. Patrick's Day dinner on Saturday, a few days late. I made the traditional corned beef and cabbage dinner, with carrots and Irish champ potatoes. The highlight of our dinner is always the Irish Bread Pudding with Caramel Whiskey Sauce, our favorite dessert of the year. I found the recipe in Cooking Light magazine years ago, and it is a family legacy now. The recipe is here. This year I also found these cute cookies at Citerella, a gourmet food store in our neighborhood. They were tasty!



3)  With the weather turning nicer, I met my husband at La Villetta, a local Italian restaurant halfway between his office and our apartment. We ate outside, and I ordered an appetizer of figs stuffed with blue cheese and walnuts and wrapped in proscuitto, over a bed of greens with a light creamy dressing over all. The presentation was so pretty and it was delicious.



4)  I watched the Academy Award Best Picture nominee Nomadland on Hulu this week. Frances McDormand is deservedly nominated for Best Actress in her role as Fern, a 60-something woman who lost her husband, and then her job and home when the manufacturing plant where she worked at closed. Fern ends up living in a van, and traveling around the west looking for work. She works the holiday season at an Amazon fullfilment center, and follows her friends around working in jobs like maintenance at a campground. The movie is based on Jessica Bruder's book of the same name, and Chloe Zhao's magnificent direction of the movie has earned her an Academy Award nomination as well. The one thing that you take from this movie is how invisible women of this age can be. It's a thought-provoking, heart-breaking piece of art.



5)  I read two books this week, one nonfiction and one fiction. Dorothy Wickenden's The Agitators, tells the true story of three women who lived in Auburn in the 1860s- Frances Seward (wife of Henry Seward), Martha Wright, and Harriet Tubman- and fought for women's suffrage, and the abolition of slavery. It's filled with lots of fascinating historical facts about my hometown of Auburn, NY, and students of Civil War era-history will want to put this one on their To Be Read list. My full review will publish in April in The Citizen newspaper and online at auburnpub.com. 


Adele Parks' domestic drama, Just My Luck, asks the question "what would you do if you won millions of dollars in the lottery?" Three couples who have been friends for fifteen years since their babies were born play the lottery once a month together. When two of the families decide they no longer wish to play and drop out, the lone couple left hits the winning numbers the following week. What happens next reveals cracks in their friendship and marriages, affects their children, and may make you rethink playing Lotto every week. My full review publishes on Monday. 



Stay safe, socially distant, wear a mask, wash your hands, and get the vaccine when it's your turn. We are so close to getting back to some type of normalcy.

This post was shared with The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader's Weekend Cooking posts.


Tuesday, March 23, 2021

The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne

The Path to Sunshine Cove by RaeAnne Thayne
Published by Harlequin ISBN 9781335665430
Harcover, $27.99, 336 pages

Sometimes you just need a comforting read, a book that you curl up with at the end of hard day. RaeAnne Thayne's new novel, The Path to Sunshine Cove, perfectly fits that bill.

The setting is Cape Sanctuary, a California coast town "defined by whimsical houses, overflowing gardens, wind chimes, and Japanese fishing balls." Jess is in Cape Sanctuary for work; she travels the country helping people clean out and reorganize their homes. Her task is to help Eleanor, a woman who lost her husband six months ago, and now wants to downsize her beautiful home.

Eleanor's adult son Nate and his teenage daughter Sophie live in a home on the property and are taken by surprise when Jess shows up in cute little Airstream trailer to help Eleanor. Nate is gruff with Jess, and not happy to be blindsided by her presence.

Jess will also visit with her sister Rachel, something that doesn't occur too often. Jess unexpectedly shows up at Rachel's home, just as Rachel is dealing with two young daughters and her three year-old son, who is on the autism spectrum and having a bad day.

We are given clues that something traumatic happened to Jess and Rachel, and that incident caused the two sisters to become estranged after the death of their parents. Jess joined the army and served in the Middle East, and Rachel married her high school boyfriend Cody and started her family.

Rachel is an Instagram influencer, and projects a happy, wonderful life to the world. But her son's diagnosis and husband's consuming job as a construction company owner has been causing her stress she is unwilling to admit to anyone, particularly her sister.

Jess is a loner, with only one close friend, her fellow soldier and business partner. She finds herself attracted to Nate, and enjoys the company of his mother and daughter, but is wary of becoming more involved with the family.

Thayne does a wonderful job with the sibling relationship between Jess and Rachel, and the marital relationship with Rachel and Cody. Cody wants to help Rachel, and he is a good father to his children, but Rachel can be too rigid and it could drive him away. I think many women may be able to see some of themselves in Rachel.

You know what you are going to get in a RaeAnne Thayne novel- characters you care about, in situations that you can relate to (and some you thankfully can't), in a beautiful setting. I enjoy learning about other people's jobs, and I found Jess' career going into people's homes and helping them organize fascinating. I have a friend who is so good at this, all she needs is an Airstream trailer.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Women's Fiction Winter Blog Tour.