Friday, June 11, 2021

Friday 5ive- June 11, 2021

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

1) I made a Costco trip this week, and there were so many people there for a weekday. My sister-in-law had these delicious Lemoncello Chocolate Almonds from Sconza Chocolates at a family gathering last week and I loved them. If you've been to Italy and enjoyed limoncello, these white chocolate covered almonds will take you right back there. They're my new obsession.

2) Speaking of Italy, we did a wine Zoom with a family Italian winery we visited two years ago. NostraVita combines their beautiful winery, with its gorgeous views of the hills of Montalcino, with owner Annabale and Elena's love of art and local history. When we received our shipment of wine this time, we also got a original drawing from their daughter Carlotta, who is is well respected artist. When we visited in 2019, we bought three of her paintings. 

3) I passed a big milestone this week on my Peloton bike- 1000 rides! My two sons (who were doing their 1200th and 1300th rides) and brother-in-law joined me on my favorite instructor Jenn Sherman's Sold Out Show Ride on Sunday morning. All of the songs were from live shows, and she played songs by four of my favorite artists- Fleetwood Mac (The Chain), Bruce Springsteen (Promised Land), Donna Summer (No More Tears) and I got a shout-out from Jenn during one of my all-time favorites, Heart's Crazy For You

4) Before Hamilton- The Musical became the juggernaut that it is, Lin-Manuel Miranda's musical In The Heights about the members of a neighborhood in Washington Heights in Upper Manhattan surprised everyone by winning the 2008 Tony Award for Best Musical. When I saw it, I thought it was the best musical I had seen. The movie version of In The Heights is now playing on HBOMax until July 11th and it is spectacular. It's about the lives, loves, and dreams of a community and the everything about this movie is fantastic. Some of the standouts include the song 96,000 (filmed at a local public pool that rivals anything ever done in Esther Williams' films), the joyous choreography by Christopher Scott, brilliant direction by John M. Chu (Crazy Rich Asians) and fantastic performances by Anthony Ramos as Usnavi the bodega owner (a star-making turn) and Olga Merediz as Abuela Claudia (whose song Paciencia y Fé is astonishing). This is the perfect movie for summer, the joy we need now. 

5)  I read two terrific books this week. First up, Anne Leigh Parrish's A Winter Night (set near the Finger Lakes region where I grew up) continues the story of the Dugan family, this time focusing on 34 year-old Angie. She works as a social worker at a retirement home/nursing home, dealing with families and helping new residents adjust. Angie is dating Matt, a bartender, her first serious relationship in a long time after a series of bad ones, but trust issues get in the way for her. Reading it felt like catching up with old friends (we met the Dugans in Our Love Could Light the World, and continued with their story in The Amendment). These are characters that feel like real people, people who live in your neighborhood. My full review posts here on June 17th.

Matthew Norman's new novel, All Together Now is a story of friendship. Four friends who were kicked out of their private Baltimore High School years ago reunite after the most successful of the group, hedge fund billionaire Robbie, invites them for a weekend at a Rehoboth Beach mansion. Wade is about to get evicted from his New York City apartment after his second novel fails to attract attention from publishers. The woman he loved in school, Blair, is a mom of two young children with a marriage on the rocks who gave up her artistic endeavors. Cat is a morning television show assistant producer in Los Angeles who doesn't know her clandestine relationship with the married female host of the show is about to blow up. The world knows Robbie as a math genius, philanthropist, and astute businessman but they don't know that he is dying, and neither do his friends. What else is Robbie hiding from them? I'm a big Matthew Norman fan, (Domestic Violets, We're All Damaged, Last Couple Standing) he puts his characters in interesting situations, and he writes some pointedly funny stuff, and although this one is more serious, it's still a great book. It's got a Big Chill vibe. (80's movie reference there).

Have a safe week, I hope you're able to get out and enjoy the nice weather now that things are returning to normal.

Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Summer Reads

Reprinted from :

With Memorial Day in the rearview mirror, it’s time to turn our attention to summer reading season. There are so many books in so many different genres, what should we read?

For traditional beach reading, while fans of the Amazon show The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel are patiently awaiting the next season, Elyssa Friedland’s novel, The Last Summer at the Golden Hotel with its Catskill vacation hotel setting and family dynamics will fit the bill. 

In Mary Kay Andrews’ The Newcomer, a woman flees to a small beach town motel in Florida with her young niece after her sister is murdered. The retirees and snowbirds of the small town are suspicious of them, and a handsome cop becomes a romantic entanglement. (The hotel/motel setting is popular this season). 

Taylor Jenkins Reid, who scored big with Daisy Jones and the Six two years ago, is back with Malibu Rising, another rock’n’roll affiliation. The four adult children of famous rocker Mick Riva are throwing their annual summer blowout at their Malibu mansion. Everyone wants to be there, and the craziness that begins ends with the home burned down by morning.

The Queen of Beach Reads, Elin Hilderbrand, has Golden Girl as her annual entry. When a popular female novelist is killed in a hit and run accident while jogging, she ends up in the Beyond, where her guide allows her to follow her family for one last summer, and give her three adult children each one “nudge” to guide their behavior. 

If mysteries and thrillers are more to your taste, Laura Lippman channels Stephen King and the #MeToo movement in Dream Girl, as a famous novelist, laid up in his apartment after an injury, receives disturbing phone calls from a woman claiming to be the protagonist in one of his novels. No one believes him. Is he losing his mind or is he in trouble?

Fans of John Grisham’s legal thrillers will like Stacey Abrams’ While Justice Sleeps. When a Supreme Court justice mysteriously slips into a coma, his law clerk discovers that she has been named his legal guardian. She uncovers that he has been researching a controversial case before the Court, and now she is the middle of danger. 

Good historical fiction abounds this summer. Alka Joshi’s The Secret Keeper of Jaipur follows the characters from her brilliant 1950’s India-set novel, The Henna Artist as they move into the 1960s and try to find their way in the changing world. 

Chris Bohjalian goes back to 1662 Boston in Hour of the Witch.  Mary fears for her life after her husband’s violence towards her escalates. When a young boy she treated with herbs dies, Mary is accused of being a witch, and must fight for her life. It’s The Crucible meets The Handmaid’s Tale.

Beatriz Williams takes on Cold War spy novels in Our Woman in Moscow. In 1952, Ruth McCallister receives a postcard from her twin sister Iris who disappeared with her husband and young children four years ago after Iris’ husband defected to Russia when he was uncovered as a spy. FBI agent Sumner Fox convinces Ruth to travel to Moscow to help extract her sister. It’s a tension-filled narrative with twists and turns that will keep your turning the pages.

Nonfiction fans have many choices as well. Continuing with the Cold War, Anne Sebba’s Ethel Rosenberg- An American Tragedy  takes a fresh look at life and the case against the wife and mother who was executed with her husband in 1953 accused of for spying for Russia. 

Ashley C. Ford’s memoir, Somebody’s Daughter shares her story about growing up as a young black girl in Indiana. She had a troubled relationship with her mother, and her father was imprisoned for reasons no one would tell her. Brene Brown, Glennon Doyle, and Oprah have praised this powerful memoir. 

There are a few suggestions for Father’s Day gifts as well. Popular business/current events writer Michael Lewis’ The Premonition tackles the COVID crisis through people who saw it coming when the CDC didn’t and tried to warn others. 

Sy Montgomery’s The Hummingbirds' Gift takes a deep dive into the world of that beautiful bird, perfect for the nature-loving dad. 

Tom Coyne takes readers on a trip across the country to the best golf courses in A Course Called America. If your Dad spends his weekends hitting the links, he’ll love this one. 

Happy summer reading to everyone!

Saturday, June 5, 2021

The Happiness Thief by Nicole Bokat

The Happiness Thief by Nicole Bokat
Published by She Writes Press ISBN 9781647420574
Trade paperback, $16.95, 280 pages

How can you resist a book that opens with "I think I killed my mother."? Nicole Bokat's novel The Happiness Thief begins with that intriguing sentence that encourages the reader to discover why Natalie would think that.

When Natalie was thirteen, she was in a car accident that killed her mother. Natalie suffered a serious brain trauma, and she can't remember exactly what happened, except that she fears that she shined her flashlight in her mother's eyes and that is what caused the accident.

Natalie is with her stepsister Isabel on a Caribbean island where Isabel is speaking at a Happiness Conference.  Isabel is a self-help guru (think Glennon Doyle or Brene Brown) who is trying to build her brand after writing a successful book, and working to finish a second book. People surround Isabel at the conference, wanting any piece of her and her advice that she can give them.

"Isabel was the powerhouse and the bulwark, while Natalie was the sensitive one" in the family. Natalie's husband recently left her and their teenage daughter Hadley for a younger colleague. The dissolution of her marriage has left Natalie depressed, and this trip is supposed to cheer her up.

While driving on the island at night, a car follows them and shines highbeams at them. Natalie is driving and hits something in the road, leaving blood on the bumper. She panics, and flashes back to the accident that killed her mother. Isabel and the man in the car behind them get out and look for what was probably an animal, but Natalie is convinced it was a person.

When they return home to Boston, Natalie receives an email from somone who says he knows that she hit someone on that road. Even though Isabel does her best to prove Natalie that she didn't hit a person, Natalie is not convinced.

There are two mysteries here- was Natalie responsible for her mother's death and did she hit someone on the island? I didn't find myself as invested in the mysteries as I did with Natalie's home life. The relationship between Natalie and her daughter Hadley was the strongest part of the book, that felt true and honest.

I found it difficult at first to keep track of the family situation- Isabel's mom (deceased), Natalie's mom, Natalie's dad who died when she was young, her stepfather who is Isabel's father. It took awhile to get it straight. 

There are a lot of moving parts in this story, this is the kind of book you have to pay close attention to when you're reading. If psychological suspense and family drama is something you enjoy in a book, The Happiness Thief will quench your thirst.

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

Review Stops

Friday, June 4th: Instagram: @readyourworriesaway

Saturday, June 5th: bookchickdi

Monday, June 7th: Books and Bindings

Tuesday, June 8th: Stranded in Chaos

Wednesday, June 9th: Write – Read – Life

Thursday, June 10th: Instagram: @whatalyssareads

Friday, June 11th: Instagram: @berittalksbooks

Monday, June 14th: 5 Minutes For Books

Tuesday, June 15th: Instagram: @babygotbooks4life

Wednesday, June 16th: Instagram: @sealedwithabook

TBD: Wednesday, June 2nd: Live, Read, and Prosper

TBD: Thursday, June 3rd: What Is That Book About

Friday, June 4, 2021

Friday 5ive- June 4, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. We made a trip to Pittsburgh over the holiday weekend to visit family, and it was wonderful to see loved ones we haven't seen in over a year.

1) My sister-in-law took us on a quick tour of the area, and we made a stop at one of their favorite breweries, Hitchhiker Brewing Company. There was a food truck parked there, Bridge City Brinery, and we got some delicious food to go with the beer. Bridge City has a Korean inspired menu, and I loved the Onion Tots with Honey Mustard best.

2) We also visited the Strip District which has lots of cute shops, including some great foodie shops. Shop In The Kitchen has every possible kitchen gadget you could want (and many you didn't know that you needed). We spent too much time in there. Pittsburgh Macaroni Co. is an amazing Italian food import shop. They have so many pastas, sauces, meats, prepared foods, and my daughter-in-law was excited to find a cheese from back home in Catalonia that she has never seen in the United States. Check out their their website, they ship.

3)  We stayed at the Marriott hotel near the airport, and they gave people the option of using a qr code to put the television remote on your phone via an app. What a great idea! The remote is one of those things that I don't like touching in a hotel, and this eliminates that. This is a photo of what it looks like.

4) I started watching Hacks on HBO Max. Jean Smart is phenomenal as a Joan Rivers-type stand-up comedian who has been around a long time. She's based in Las Vegas now, and works constantly, hawking items on a shopping channel and even showing up at the opening of a pizza joint. She is forced to hire a struggling young writer, wonderfully played by Hannah Einbinder, to update her act for the 21st century. It's a fantastic show, with the brilliant Mike Schur (The Good Place) executive producing. You can the watch the trailer here

5) Romance was on the menu this week in my reading. Historical romance novelist Eloisa James moves into contemporary fiction under her real name, Mary Bly, with Lizzie & Dante. Lizzie is a Shakepearean scholar traveling with her best friend to the Italian island of Elba to help his boyfriend, a famous mega movie star, write a script for his version of Romeo & Juliet. Lizzie meets a handsome Italian chef and falls in love with him, his twelve year-old daughter Etta, and their dog. But Lizzie has a serious illness and if they get more involved, she could hurt Dante and Etta deeply. You can feel the warmth of the Italian sun, hear the sea roar, and taste the delicious food Dante creates in his restaurant in this novel that appeals to all your senses. You'll be packing your bags for Elba before you finish this wonderful book.

Kate Bromley's contemporary romance novel, Talk Bookish to Me, is about a historical romance novelist. Kara is struggling to complete her latest novel as she prepares to be maid of honor at her best friend's wedding. When she discovers that Ryan, the man who broke her heart in college ten years ago, is one of the groomsmen, she is unhappy. After Ryan and his bulldog Duke are kicked out their hotel, Kara offers to let them stay at her apartment for the weekend of the wedding. The banter between Kara and Ryan made me laugh out loud, and you'll learn about romance novel genres, subgenres and tropes in this delightful, sexy story. My full review is here

After last weekend's freezing cold weather, we're getting ready for 90 degrees for the next few days. Stay safe and cool everyone.

Tuesday, June 1, 2021

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley

Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525806438
Trade paperback, $15.99, 320 pages

Give me a funny, sexy novel with books thrown in like Kate Bromley's Talk Bookish to Me, and all of the boxes are ticked for me.

Kara Sullivan is a 32 year-old romance novelist, successful in romance on the page, but not so much in her real life. She is maid of honor for her best friend Cristina, and it is wedding week, which means there is a lot to do.

At a pre-wedding party, Jason the groom is waiting for the arrival of his groomsmen. Kara is astonished when she turns around and comes face-to-face with the man who broke her heart in college- Ryan is one of Jason's best friends from childhood and he is standing in front of her.

Kara hasn't seen Ryan in ten years, and she can't believe he is in the wedding. When Ryan gets kicked out of his hotel because of his high-maintenance bulldog named Duke, Kara offers to let Ryan and Duke stay with her. 

The banter between Kara and Ryan is snappy and often hilarious. I confess to laughing out loud more than once. The sexual tension can be cut with a knife, but Kara is leery about getting involved again with Ryan even as she finds herself attracted to him. On the plus side, the writer's block that has been plaguing her as her next deadline approaches seems to alieviated by Ryan being in her apartment.

Bromley knows how to write sexy scenes that will leave you hot and bothered. We also get to read excerpts from Kara's historical romance that in some ways mirror her new relationship with Ryan. If you are a big romance reader, you'll enjoy Kara explaining the genres, subgenres, and tropes of romance novels to Ryan.

The characters are interesting and I loved the New York City setting. Kara's references to specific NYC touchstones- dinner at Butter, brunch at The Smith, the digital lottery for Oklahoma! tickets- give a great sense of place. 

If you're on Instagram, you'll recognize Kara's work as a bookstagrammer, she puts a lot of effort into making her photos look enticing. If you're a dog lover, Duke's antics and Ryan's comprehensive list of  rules for caring for Duke will make you smile. (When did dogs become more involved to care for than children?)

Talk Bookish to Me reminded me of Stephanie Evanovich's novels- sassy and sexy. I loved so much about this book, it's a terrific read for the beach or back deck. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Summer 2021 Beach Reads Blog Tour.

Friday, May 28, 2021

Friday 5ive- May 28, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. The Friday 5ive took a few weeks off because we finally made a trip to our home in Florida after 15 months.

1) Every time I see the calming blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico, I feel so peaceful. It was great to walk along the beach every morning, feel the warm water and sand between my toes. 

2) We had lunch with friends at Columbia restaurant, where our server was an amusing gentleman named Norbert, who put on quite a show as he prepared our sangria and Columbia 1905 salads tableside. 

3) I made a new recipe this week- Joy Bauer's made a healthier Egg Roll Bowl on the Today Show. It was delicious, made with ground turkey, cabbage, chopped mushrooms, and soy sauce, rice vinegar and a homemade duck sauce. We loved it and it moves into regular dinner rotation. 

4) I finished another virtual bike race- 750 miles from Boston to Bar Harbor. The t-shirt for this one is so soft, I think it will be a favorite for awhile. 

5)  I finished nine books in the two weeks we were away and there were a few standouts.
Chris Whitaker's novel We Begin At The End had me gasping out loud at a few points. Walk is the chief of police of a small tourist town. When he was a teenager, he testified against his best friend Vince in the hit and run case where a young girl was killed. Thirty years later, Vince is released from prison. Star, the sister of the young girl killed, was Vince's girlfriend. She now has a teenage daughter, Duchess Day Radley, who fancies herself an outlaw, and cares for her younger brother Robin, and Star, who is an alcoholic and can't hold a steady job. All these lives collide in ways that bring more misery to everyone. It's a remarkable story about the family you're born with and the one you create. It's a powerfully emotional novel. 

Beatriz Williams' spy novel, Our Woman in Moscow, takes place at the beginning of the Cold War. Iris Digby's husband is accused of being a Russian spy, and her family defects to Moscow. When she sends her estranged twin sister Ruth a postcard asking her to come to Moscow to help her when she gives birth to her fourth child, FBI agent Sumner Fox convinces Ruth to help him extract Iris from Russia. It's a real page turner, with twists and turns you don't expect.  

I hope you all have an enjoyable and safe Memorial Day weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Rooftop Party by Ellen Meister

The Rooftop Party by Ellen Meister
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778309512
Trade paperback, $15.99, 336 pages

If you are someone who enjoys watching the home shopping networks, Ellen Meister's novel The Rooftop Party is a must-read for you. It's the second novel featuring Dana Barry, a successful host on the Shopping Channel, who once again finds herself in the midst of a death at the network.

At a party for the Shopping Network staff,  Dana tries to convince Ivan, the new CEO, that her idea of selling a new skin care line is a great idea. Ivan wants to eliminate all the fashion product lines, the bread-and-butter of the Shopping Channel, and sell only electronics. This idea panics the staff as they assume most of their jobs will be eliminated.

As Ivan is hitting on Dana, and grabbing her, the lights suddenly go out and Ivan's body is found on the sidewalk below. Dana doesn't know what happened as someone put something in her drink, and all she remembers is someone pulling her away before she passes out.

Dana's boyfriend, police detective Ari, is called to the scene to investigate. Dana is desperate to find out what happened; what if she was the one who pushed Ivan over the edge? She must find out what Ari knows.

She turns to her assistant Ashlee, a former beauty contestant from Tennesee, to help her uncover what happened at the roof party. Ashlee is my favorite character in the book, she is such a hoot. She always has a hilarious way of saying things- such as "she squeezes a quarter so tight the eagle screams". Ashlee is one smart cookie, and always up for a scheme. She's Ethel to Dana's Lucy.

Another thing I enjoyed was Dana finding a great deal on an apartment on the West Side of Manhattan. When she saw how fabulous it was and what a steal it was, she snatched it up without consulting Ari, even though he would be moving in with her. That infuriated Ari, but as someone who lives in Manhattan, I know Dana made the right decision. You do not wait if you find a good apartment, that is rule number one.

The Rooftop Party is a rom-com mixed with a mystery that adds up to a highly entertaining read. I truly enjoyed the behind-the-scenes look at a shopping channel, even though I don't usually watch them on TV. The characters are interesting, the plot moved along, and even though I felt the ultimate reveal of the murderer was a bit of a letdown, it is still a terrific book. I didn't read the first book in the series, Love Sold Separately, but I am going to buy it because I like these characters so much. (You will not be lost if you didn't read the first one.) I hope there is a third book coming; who knew working at the Shopping Channel was so dangerous?

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer 2021 Women's Fiction Tour.