Friday, October 11, 2019

Friday 5ive- Catching Up

The Friday 5ive is a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention that week. The last few posts have been about our trip to Italy, so I've got some catching up to do.

1) Our annual team trip to the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy was in September. This year, we had a outing to see the Broadway Ain't Too Proud to Beg, about the R&B group The Temptations. It was a fantastic show! If you've ever seen The Jersey Boys, you must see Ain't Too Proud To Beg. There's so much about the evolution of the Temptations that I didn't know. Members came and went, drug abuse, dissension in the ranks about the direction of the group, it's all here. You'll know most of songs (and want to sing them, but please don't do that during the show) and the choreography is phenomenal. It was a thumbs-up from all seven of us. You can get more information and tickets here.

2) We had another guest visit us and we took the tour of Old St. Patrick's Cathedral in Little Italy. It was so interesting, our tour guide Mike was great.  We got to go upstairs and see behind the massive pipe organ that has over 2600 pipes. It is massive! The highlight of the tour is going into the catacombs where several bishops and wealthy patrons are buried. The tomb that caught my eye was for Countess Annie Leary, a wealthy heiress who, when she died in 1919, donated a great deal of her money to the Archdiocese of New York, including $200,000 to build the sacristy at the new St. Patrick's Cathedral on Fifth Ave. She was supposed to be buried in a vault there, but for some reason it didn't happen.  She had fabulous parties at her Fifth Avenue townhouse and was reported to be a hoarder. There is a story in the New York Times about her here, I'm going to try to find a book about her. Tickets for the tour can be found here.
The catacombs

The view of Old St. Patrick's from the choir balcony

3) We took our visitor to Sant Ambroeus to get some gelato after dinner and when we came out of the restaurant, I spied Billy Joel sitting on a bench outside. If I had know he was there, we would have bought him a gelato too.
Billy Joel

4) Singer/actress/dynamo Kristin Chenoweth visited the Barnes & Noble Upper East Side to promote her new CD For The Girls. She was interviewed by Frank Dilello from NY1, and then signed copies of the CD. She talked about choosing the songs for the CD (so many had to be cut), the time when seven-year-old Ariana Grande came backstage when Kristin was in Wicked on Broadway (and now Ariana does a fabulous duet of Lesley Gore's You Don't Own Me on the CD), and how her father told her she forgot to wear pants on the cover of the CD. I play For The Girls constantly, I love all the songs on it.

5) I've been reading a great deal since we got back from Italy, and one of the best books I read is J. Ryan Stradal's The Lager Queen of Minnesota, about a young woman raised by her grandmother who, when she is at odds with her life, ends up working in a small craft brewery and becomes, yes, The Lager Queen of Minnesota. It's got great characters, (sisters who have a lifelong falling out), a terrific Midwest setting, and Stradal is a fabulous writer. Read this book, I'll post a review soon.

Friday, October 4, 2019

Friday 5ive- The Five Best Food Items I Had in Italy

The Friday 5ive is a weekly post about five things that caught my attention. This week's post is about the five best foods I had on our trip to Italy.

1) On our first night in our first stop of Naples, we had dinner at the Sea Front Pasta Bar. We sat at a u-shaped bar surrounding the chefs making our meal. We had a three course pasta tasting menu, complete with wine pairings. Our first wine was a bright prosecco that made us very happy. The first pasta they made for us was my favorite of the three, a linguine with a very light lemon/olive oil sauce. It was perfection.

2) On day two in Naples, our guide Vincenzo took us to what he promised was the best gelato we'll have in Italy and I'll be darned, he was right.  If you go to Naples, you must stop in at Il Gelato Mennella. It's a tiny shop, but they have lots of interesting flavors, and I can highly recommend the pistachio. It was fabulous.

3) While researching restaurants at our second stop in Sorrento, La Locanda del Gusto had great reviews on TripAdvisor. A small restaurant, with just two dozen seats, the owner and only chef, Chef Carmen, ran a well-respected cooking school for years in Sorrento before opening up her own restaurant last year. We were all very happy with our entrees, including a Misto Salad, Lasagna, and my favorite, homemade gnocci that was light as a pillow in a silky tomato sauce. We went back for a second evening it was so good. Their house wine was fantastic too.

4) We moved on to the small town of Montalcino in Tuscany. Our traveling companions had been to the town many times, and took us to an authentic little old restaurant, Osteria di Porta al Cassero. It was filled with townspeople as opposed to tourists, and we were made to feel very much at home. We started with a lovely Brunello wine, and I ordered the Cinghiale, a specialty of the house. It's a wild boar stew over polenta. I'd never had wild boar and it wasn't gamey at all, rather it melted in your mouth. I made a good choice!

Cinghiale over polenta

5) Last year when we went to Florence, we ate at a terrific restaurant, Antico Ristora di Cambi. No one there really spoke English, and our poor waitress acted out the entire menu that was in Italian. They must have gotten a lot of English-speakers from their great TripAdvisor reviews because this year when we returned, we had the same darling waitress, but she spoke more English and the menu was in Italian and English. We sat near the prep area and watched the owner prepare the charcuterie platters, including cutting the proscuitto right off the leg. We ordered the specialty, Bistecca di Florentina. When my husband tried to order it medium, our waitress shook her head and said "No". They just sear the beef on each side briefly, and then it's brought to your table. They gave us a smaller piece and it was the best beef we have ever had. They serve it on a platter with a side of salt, just the way I like it.

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.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Two under-the radar books

If you liked watching TV’s Parks and Recreation for the description of small-town government, Nina Bocci’s latest novel, On The Corner of Love and Hate is perfect for you.  
Emma Peroni works in the economic development office of her small town in Pennsylvania. Emma’s dad is the popular mayor of the town, and now ready to leave politics and enjoy retirement. He would like to see Emma’s coworker, handsome, charismatic Cooper, run for mayor, and he asks Emma to help Cooper win the election, just as she had done for her ol’ dad.
The problem is that Emma is not a fan of Cooper’s. They have known each other since high school, and Emma feels that Cooper tries to skate by on his charm. She has been picking up his slack at work while Cooper has been courting the voters, and she has no desire to help Cooper even more.
Being from a small community also means the dating pool is smaller than in a big city, and Emma’s love life is less successful than her work life. Her mother would like her to date someone nice (like Cooper), and Emma’s recent dates haven’t exactly been winners, but Cooper is catnip to all women and that does not appeal to Emma. But when Cooper appears to be involved in a scandal, Emma has to come to the rescue.
On The Corner of Love and Hate is a delightful, sweet story, with characters who seem like people from your own small town.
Now that school is back in session, Laurie Gelman’s You’ve Been Volunteered (her sequel to Class Mom) is a timely September read. Jen Dixon has three children, two adult daughters and an elementary-aged son. Her best friend has moved away, and her husband is preoccupied with trying to expand his sporting goods store business.
Once again Jen has been asked to be room mother for her third-grade son’s class, and since she was so successful at that, she has also been asked to head up the volunteer program for safety monitors. As we all know, the better you are at a job, the more jobs you are given. Unfortunately this job is not as easy as class mom.
And once again, readers are treated to Jenn’s hilarious emails to parents about classroom activities, parent/teacher nights and what not to bring to the Halloween party. We delve more into Jen’s life, and I especially liked Jen’s interactions with her aging parents and her loving, supportive husband.
If you enjoy American Housewife on TV, You’ve Been Volunteered is a book for you.
BOOK: On the Corner of Love and Hate by Nina Bocci
PUBLISHER: Gallery Books
COST: Trade paperback, $16
LENGTH: 336 pages

BOOK: You’ve Been Volunteered by Laurie Gelman
PUBLISHER: Henry Holt & Co.
COST: Hardcover, $26
LENGTH: 268 pages

Monday, September 30, 2019

Two of the best books I've read this year

If you’ve been nostalgic for the 1960s after hearing about the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing and the Woodstock concert, this month’s Book Report will bring you right back to that time with two of the best books I've read this summer.
The first book is a memoir by Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy about growing up with her eight siblings in her Catholic family in Iowa of the 1960s and 1970s. Her father’s favorite saying, Many Hands Make Light Work, is the title of this sweet family story. 
Joe Stritzel was a professor of agronomy at Iowa State University. He and his wife, Marcella, and their nine children lived in a big, rambling home near the campus. “Mom radiated calm as powerfully as Dad radiated action,” explains how a family of 11 managed to get through the days in an orderly fashion.
Joe began buying up homes in the neighborhood to fix up and rent to the ever-increasing number of young adults heading to college. He managed to accomplish that by an using inexpensive labor force: his nine children, whom he dubbed “the baseball team.”
While other kids were spending their summers at the lake or playground, the Stritzels were hard at work on the houses. The little ones pulled nails out of wood and stacked it; the older kids tore up carpets, torn down wallpaper and dragged out furniture left behind.
There are so many wonderful scenes in this charming book. The kids like to sing, and Joe thought they were good enough to be on "The Lawrence Welk Show." They had an assembly line going when it came to pick the numerous cherry trees in their backyard. And once, Cheryl babysat for a family that had a lion as a pet — who hung out in the living room with her. That was crazy!
They rarely took a vacation, but one year they all piled into the station wagon and drove from Iowa to Ohio to visit Joe’s family. Mom made sandwiches for the two-day ride, but the highlight was stopping at A&W to get 11 root beers (the little ones got baby root beer mugs) and as a special treat, 11 ice cream cones, all vanilla.
Many Hands Make Light Work will inspire nostalgia for a simpler time. It is a book filled with humor and joy and you’ll find yourself smiling the entire time you’re reading it.
Cara Wall’s debut novel, The Dearly Beloved, is set in the 1960s New York City. Two young ministers — Charles, the son of academics who are perplexed by his choice of career, and James, whose father came home from World War II a broken alcoholic — are hired to be pastors of the historic Third Presbyterian Church in Greenwich Village. 
Charles is a student of scripture and wants to tend to his parishoners’ spiritual needs. James finds that he is drawn to the social justice needs of the people living in the city. He sees poverty and neglect, and believes that the church should be addressing society’s larger problems.
Charles’ wife, Lily, is not religious. Her parents died when she was a teenager, and she lost her faith because of it. She was a good wife to Charles, but she had no interest in being a traditional pastor’s wife or being involved in the church in any way. As society was going through major upheaval in the 1960s, Lily became more involved in women’s issues.
James’ wife, Nan, came from a religious family. Her father was a popular minister and her mother was a traditional pastor’s wife, something that Nan did her best to emulate. Nan became very involved in the church, starting a youth choir, and sat in the front row each Sunday.
Nan wanted to be friends with Lily, but Lily wanted nothing to do with Nan. The other thing Nan wanted was to have children. Lily didn’t particularly care for children. When Lily became pregnant, it caused further friction.
The Dearly Beloved is a moving story about faith, family, friendship and love. Charles loved Lily and respected her choice not to be involved in the church. Nan respected her husband’s choice to be more socially relevant, but she encouraged him not to neglect his own parish.
Both couples are tested by personal challenges over the years, things that could tear apart a marriage and friendship. I found myself involved in their stories, and moved by their circumstances. Wall writes these characters so beautifully, you may not understand their choices, but you will care deeply what happens to them.

If you read

BOOK: Many Hands Make Light Work by Cheryl Stritzel McCarthy
PUBLISHER: She Writes Press
COST: Trade paperback, $16.95
LENGTH: 289 pages

BOOK: The Dearly Beloved by Cara Wall
PUBLISHER: Simon & Schuster
COST: Hardcover, $26.99
LENGTH: 352 pages

Friday, September 27, 2019

Friday 5ive- The best views from Italy

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, where I talk about five things that caught my attention. This week it's the five photos from our trip to Italy that were just stunning.

1) I loved the town of Sorrento, right on the Bay of Naples. This photo is one of my favorites, taken from the main street in town, looking out to the bay.

2) We took a private boat around the island of Capri, and Captain Franco took us to the Green Grotto, which was just so pristine and beautiful. My advice if you go is to skip the touristy and very busy Blue Grotto and visit the Green Grotto.

3) The view of Capri from the boat was pretty cool, seeing those buildings stacked up the mountain.

4) When we were walking in Siena, we came up a hill and this view of the Cathedral literally took my breath away. The interior was just as amazing. 

5) We walked up the 463 steps of the Duomo in Florence and the it was worth the effort to get a view of the city that was spectacular.

I'll have more Italy photos next week. Ciao!

Thursday, September 26, 2019

September Books From the Book Expo

Continuing in my series of posts from the BookExpo, I'm posting about the books I picked up at the Book Expo in June. September is a big month for publishing, and I got nine books that I'm looking forward to reading.

Jacqueline Woodson's novel Red at the Bone is described as "an extraordinary novel (that) uncovers the role that history and community have played in the experiences, decisions, and relationships" in "two families from different social classes joined together by an unexpected pregnancy." It tells the story of 16-year-old Melody and her relationship with her parents and grandparents. It's getting rave reviews.

The Starlet and the Spy by Ji-Min Lee is a slim historical fiction set in Korea immediately following the war. Alice is a translator for the American forces when she meets Marilyn Monroe, who is in Korea on a USO tour. The two women make a connection and it changes Alice's life.

Cathleen Schine's novel The Grammarians introduces us to twins Daphne and Laurel, who are obsessed with words. One grows up to become a poet, the other a famous language columnist. You know this book will be filled with beautiful language.

Dominicana is Angie Cruz's novel that was inspired by her own mother's story.  Ana is fifteen years old when she is married off to a thirty-year-old Juan who takes her from her home in the Domincan Republic in 1965 to move to New York City. Ana's family hopes that Ana will be able to bring them all to the United States, so Ana lives with her unhappiness for her family's sake.

William Kent Krueger's novel This Ordinary Land is set during the Great Depression and tells the story of four Native American orphans who escape from the school where they were sent to live, and make their way across the country, encountering others who are also lost souls.

The World We Knew is Alice Hoffman's highly-anticipated new novel. Set in Berlin in 1941, it's about a young girl sent away by her mother to escape the Nazis. She meets a rabbi's daughter, who creates a golem to protect the young girl. Fans of The Book Thief will like this one.

Ann Patchett's newest novel, The Dutch House, has been getting fantastic reviews. Set over 50 years, it tells the story of the Dutch House, a hugh estate outside Philadelphia, and the two siblings who grew up there and then were banished by their stepmother. Patchett never disappoints and I'm looking forward to reading this one.

Akin is Emma Donoghue's latest novel, about a retired chemistry professor who receives a phone call that he has an eleven-year-old nephew who is immediate need of a caretaker. He agrees and takes the young boy on his planned trip to France to discover more of his family history.

Lara Prescott's debut novel, The Secrets We Kept, was chosen as one of the BookExpo Buzz Books. It's about an attempt by secretaries recruited by the CIA to help smuggle the novel Dr. Zhivago out of Russia. This one has been talked about by everybody.

I've got to get busy catching up with all these great September books.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Don't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane

Don't You Forget About Me by Mhairi McFarlane
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062958464
Trade paperback, $15.99, 432 pages

Mhairi McFarlane's novel Don't You Forget About Me opens in 2007 as high school student Georgina Horspool is paired with shy Irish transfer student Lucas in her English class to discuss the book Wuthering Heights.

They get along so well that Lucas becomes Georgina's first real boyfriend, and when he asks her to prom, she is so excited, especially since they plan to spend the night of the prom together in a hotel. But as the most popular athlete pulls her off to the side, their plans are derailed.

Fast forward to today, and Georgina is a waitress at the worst restaurant in her town. When a food critic comes into the restaurant, and the food is abysmal, the owner throws Georgina under the bus and publicly fires her.

Her prospects for employment are dim, her roommate is awful, she catches her boyfriend in bed with his assistant, and her family thinks her life is going nowhere, so things are bleak.

When her kind brother-in-law gets her a job as a bartender for a hot new place opening up, Georgina is excited when she hits it off with one of the new owners, Devlin. Then she meets the other owner, his brother Luke- as in Lucas, her first love from high school.

Lucas doesn't remember her (or he pretends not to remember her), and Georgina is torn. She loves this new job and she is good at it, but she doesn't know if she can work with Lucas. He lives above the bar, and she will have to see him every day.

Devlin really likes Georgina, and he is impressed with how great she is at her job, so she decides to stick it out. A contest comes along where people are urged to talk about your worst date, and Georgina's screws up her courage to tell her story about her worse date with old boyfriend, and she is a hit with the crowd.

Just as you are wondering what happened back in 2007 to cause Lucas and Georgina to never see each other again, the entire story is told. Can they forgive each other and become friends or even get back to where they were?

Don't You Forget About Me is a terrific story, and I really liked Georgina and the brothers, and seeing their relationship grow. McFarlane has some very funny turn of phrases here, and the TripAdvisor reviews for the awful restaurant are classic and had me laughing out loud.

If you liked Bridget Jones Diary, and you want a book that will take you away for a few hours, Don't You Forget About Me fits the bill. I recommend it.

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

Instagram Features

Tuesday, September 10th: Instagram: @owlslittlelibrary
Wednesday, September 11th: Instagram: @booksandblends
Wednesday, September 11th: Instagram: @somekindofalibrary
Thursday, September 12th: Instagram: @readingmama_reviews
Friday, September 13th: Instagram: @lauralovestoread
Saturday, September 14th: Instagram: @bookishanki
Sunday, September 15th: Instagram: @beritaudiokilledthebookmark
Monday, September 16th: Instagram: @bookapotamus
Monday, September 16th: Instagram: @kmc_reads
TBD: Tuesday, September 17th: Instagram: @book.hang.o.ver

Review Stops

Tuesday, September 10th: Instagram: @diaryofaclosetreader
Thursday, September 12th: A Bookish Way of Life
Friday, September 13th: Satisfaction for Insatiable Readers
Tuesday, September 17th: Stranded in Chaos
Wednesday, September 18th: PhDiva
Thursday, September 19th: Reading Reality
Friday, September 20th: Instagram: @bookishanki
Monday, September 23rd: Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader
Tuesday, September 24th: bookchickdi
Thursday, September 26th: Instagram: @storiesandcoffee
Friday, September 27th: Instagram: @beauty_andthebook_
Friday, September 27th: Booked J