Friday, July 3, 2020

Friday 5ive- July 3, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. It's hard to believe that it's the 4th of July already (or is it?). NYC was planning to allow inside dining next week, but that had to be put on hold due to an increase in cases in other states that may be partially linked to people inside restaurants. Sigh.

1)  I've talked about the Peleton bike we bought a few years back, and now that is looking like a really good purchase this year. I just hit my 400th ride this week, something I'm very proud of even as I hear shout-outs from the instructors for people who are celebrating 5000 rides. How do they that? Are they riding all day everyday? Yay for them!

2)  I was so sad to hear of the death of comedy legend Carl Reiner. I have been following him on Twitter, where he has been very active recently. I will remember him best as the creator/writer of the 1960s classic sitcom The Dick Van Dyke Show. When I was a little girl and I would see the show come on, I would excitedly tell my parents "Bin Bin Dyke is on!" There are not many sitcoms that can stand the test of time, and The Dick Van Dyke Show is one of them. CBS is running two classic episodes on Friday night (tonight) at 8pm, starring Reiner as Alan Brady, the egomanical TV comedy star for whom Van Dyke's character Rob Petrie was the headwriter for his show. Don't miss it.
Dick Van Dyke Show on CBS Friday night

3)  We haven't been watching a lot of television lately, but we streamed  Irresistible, the new comedy film written and directed by Jon Stewart, and starring Steve Carell and Rose Byrne as opposing political operatives who end up involved in a mayoral race in a small town in Wisconsin. It's very funny, and the twist ending is a lesson to us all in these heated political times. Chris Cooper plays the retired Marine colonel Carrell is trying to get elected, and he is, as always, perfection. I highly recommend it.  See more about it here.

4)  I've been ordering one book a week from independent bookstores, and I have to say that I am very impressed with their customer service. I ordered Jane L. Rosen's novel, Eliza Starts A Rumor, (after seeing her on Adriana Trigiani's Facebook Live) from Odyssey Bookstore in Ithaca, NY on Friday and it was waiting for me at my door on Monday. That is amazing customer service!
Today I received Megha Majumdar's debut novel, A Burning, which I ordered from Books & Crannies Bookstore in Martinsville, VA, a black-owned bookstore. I also received John Dickerson's book, The Hardest Job in the World- The American Presidency from Book Revue in Huntington NY. All three look wonderful.

5)  I've had a lot of time to read, and this week I finished four books and started a fifth.
Beatriz Williams' new historical novel, Her Last Flight recounts the story of a celebrated aviatrix (think Amelia Earheart) who disappears and is presumed dead, and the war journalist who finds her while looking for someone else. It's Williams' best book yet, and the twists in the novel will make you gasp.
Her Last Flight
Elin Hilderbrand is the queen of summer novels, and her latest, 28 Summers, (inspired by the play/movie Same Time, Next Year), is about two people who spend a romantic weekend together every year even as they are married and/or involved with other people. I read it in one day, it was so good.
28 Summers
Kelly Harms' new novel, The Bright Side of Going Dark, tells the story of a social media influencer who begins to question her lifestyle, and a woman who works for the social media company who ends up pretending to be her on social media. It's a timely story, and I liked the characters very much.
The Bright Side of Going Dark
Meryl Wilsner's Something to Talk About is a romance about a successful female writer/director who is caught in a photo with her younger female assistant at an awards show that sets people gossiping, and the two women begin wondering if maybe there is something more there. It's a charming, thoughtful novel.
Something to Talk About
I'm in the middle of Katherine St. John's debut novel, The Lion's Den, which is perfect for fans of Bravo TV's Below Deck. When a young woman invites some of her friends on her much older and wealthier husband's yacht for her birthday celebration, something bad happens. I'm liking it so far.
The Lion's Den

I hope you all have a very happy 4th of July, with hamburgers and hotdogs and lots of s'mores by the campfire. Stay safe, wear your mask, and wash your hands.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams

Her Last Flight by Beatriz Williams
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062834782
Hardcover, $27.99, 400 pages

Many readers know Beatriz Williams' Schuyler Sisters series of novels, featuring generations of her fascinating fictitious family. Her last novel, The Golden Hour, took place in Bermuda during WWII, with the infamous Duke and Dutchess of Windsor as major characters.

Her newest novel, Her Last Flight, combines the real with the fictitious with the story of a pioneering female aviatrix inspired by the story of Amelia Earheart. Told in two different timelines, in 1948 we meet Janey Everett, a WWII war correspondent and photo journalist, who is writing a book about Sam Mallory, a famous pilot who was once stranded on a deserted Pacific Island with Irene Foster, the iconic female aviatrix, after their attempt to fly from the United States to Australia ended abruptly.

Foster and Mallory became a cause celebre, as the world breathlessly followed the attempts to find the downed airplane. When they are eventually rescued weeks later, people all over the world want to hear about their escape and what really happened while they were stranded together on the island. Foster becomes a celebrity, and Mallory returns home to his wife and young child.

In 1937, Irene Foster disappears during an around-the-world race, her plane thought to have gone down in the Sahara Desert.

Janey Everett ends up in Hawaii, convinced that the woman named Irene Lindquist is in fact Irene Foster, who did not die in 1937. Everett supposedly wants information about Sam Mallory for her book, and she won't give up until Irene confesses her true identity.

Her Last Flight zooms back and forth between Irene and Sam's story on the island, Janey's attempt to get information about Sam Mallory from Irene, and parts of the book that Janey actually ends up writing. Each storyline is equally intriguing on its own, and Williams' skillfully weaves them together as the novel reaches its surprising conclusion.

I was so invested in each character- Janey's hard exterior and quippy dialogue, Irene's ambition to be a pilot and her love for her family, Sam's ambivalence between what he wants and his responsibility- I felt for each one.

Williams puts in a few twists that had me literally gasping as I read them, I love when a book surprises me like that. I always enjoyed history class in high school, and when an author writes a historical novel that captures me as much as Her Last Flight did, I can only say "Bravo". This one is Beatriz Williams' best book yet. I highly recommend it, especially for fans of historical fiction and strong female characters.

Tuesday, June 30, 2020

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan

Friends and Strangers by J. Courtney Sullivan
Published by Knopf ISBN 978052552059
Hardcover, $27.99, 416 pages

I'm a big fan of J. Courtney Sullivan's books, (her last one Saints for All Occasions was my favorite and made my list of the Most Compelling Books of 2017), because I want to meet all of her characters in real life.

Her latest novel publishes today, Friends and Strangers, and as always, her characters are so fascinating. Elizabeth is a new mom who has moved from Brooklyn to a small university town to be closer to her husband's parents.

She has been unable to meet the success of her first novel with her second one, and feels pressure to show people that the first one was not a fluke. Her husband Andrew left a good paying job to try and get his invention for barbeque grill that runs on solar power up and running.

Elizabeth spends a lot of time scrolling through her Brooklyn moms' Facebook group page, missing her friends. She decides that if she is going to write, she needs to leave the house to do it and hire a sitter for baby Gil.

She finds Sam, a student at the nearby university, who seems perfect. She bonds with baby Gil right away, and definitely needs the money Elizabeth will pay her. Sam doesn't come from money, like her roommate or most of the other students. She works in the kitchen at school, and sometimes feels more comfortable working with the older women in the kitchen than she does with her fellow students.

Sam also befriends Andrew's father (I adored him), who used to own a successful town car service until Uber came around and destroyed his business. Now he is going to lose his home, and he has become obsessed with the income inequality he sees. The gap between the top one percent of earners and the rest of the country disturbs him and he has formed a small group of people trying to raise awareness. Sam becomes intrigued and joins his cause.

Elizabeth is seeking a friend, and she becomes close to Sam. Sam comes over for Sunday dinner every week and stays to watch TV with Elizabeth, and Elizabeth frets over Sam's romance with an older man she met in London. The line between employer and employee becomes blurred.

Every character in Friends and Strangers is so intriguing and realistic. Like Kiley Reid's  Such A Fun Age, the book dives into class, money, marriage, family, older women and younger women, the meaning of friendship, employers and employees. I liked Friends and Strangers better.

I found myself thinking about the characters long after I finished the book, a sign that it is a good book for me. I felt that Sullivan brilliantly captured the struggles of college student who feels torn, the challenges of a new mother in a new place, and a man who finds the career he built gone due to changing times. I highly recommend Friends and Strangers, and once again Jenna Bush Hager and I agree as she chose it for her Read With Jenna book club on the Today Show for July.

Friday, June 26, 2020

Friday 5ive- June 26,2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. New York City has moved into Phase 2 this week, and that means restaurants can have people dining outside and retail can move to curbside pickup. So far, so good.

1)  This week's photos of flowers comes from our own apartment balcony. Our planters have really exploded this week, I'm not sure how much longer they will be able to be contained.

2)  Now that Phase 2 has started, restaurants in NYC can have outdoor seating. The problem with that is that there is very little space outside many restaurants. They have gotten creative in building outdoor dining areas right in the street, which I find a little disconcerting. It may work on a side street, but the first restaurant pictured has tables in the bus lane on Second Ave. I like what Petaluma did with their outdoor tables on the sidewalk- they have tall dividers that give some measure of privacy.

Formerly a bus lane, now fine dining

Tables on a side street

Tables on a sidewalk behind tall dividers- I like this one

3)  We were lucky enough to travel to Italy the last two years, and had hoped to return this year, but that was not to be. Our friend Alberto at Cortona Wine Tours started a Wine Club, and we were able to order a case of wine from him. It arrived this week and we will doing a live online tasting with him on Sunday. It's the next best thing.

4)  We had tickets to go see comedian Jim Gaffigan at Radio City Music Hall in April, but that too was a no-go. I signed up for text messages from him, and he has been sending videos of his comedy bits every day. They are just short 10 minutes or so, and it's always good to have a laugh during the day. You can subscribe on his YouTube Channel here. 

5)  I got a lot of reading done last week. For my Juneteenth Weekend Reads, first up was Jesmyn Ward's memoir Men We Reaped, about five young men (including her brother) from her hometown in the rural South who died at a young age. It's heartbreaking and illuminating, about race and poverty.

Saeed Jones' memoir, How We Fight For Our Lives, is about his life as black gay man growing up in Texas. He is a poet, and every word is deliberately chosen in this powerful, searing book. He won the LAMBDA Award for memoir this year and it is well- deserved. It's a good read for Pride Month too.

Imbolo Mbue's novel, Behold the Dreamers, was also a good read for Immigrant Heritage Month. It tells the story of an immigrant couple from Cameroon who come to New York City for a better life for their young son. The husband gets a job as a driver for a Lehman Brothers executive, and his wife studies to be a pharmacist. They work hard and life is pretty good until the destruction of Lehman Brothers at the beginning of the economic crisis of 2008 threatens everything. So many people recommended this one, I really loved it.

Connie Schultz's The Daughters of Erietown takes place in an industrial town in Ohio from the 1950s to the 1970's. Ellie, a young high school girl, becomes pregnant, and she and her boyfriend Brick put their dreams for college on hold, marry and move to Erietown, where he gets a job as a maintenance man and she raises their family. Like Behold the Dreamers, it's about what happens when your plans are derailed, and how that effects everyone. It's a terrific novel.

I hope you enjoying the warm weather and that you are staying safe. Wear your mask, socially distance, and wash your hands.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell

The Falling Woman by Richard Farrell
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616208578
Hardcover, $26.95, 336 pages

In Richard Farrell's debut novel The Falling Woman, Erin is fighting a tough battle with pancreatic cancer. When she and her husband Doug, who has been by her side caring for her, receive the latest test results, the news is not great. She is not in remission, but she will need to continue treatment, to keep fighting.

Erin is tired, and not sure how much longer she can fight. She decides to fly to a cancer survivors retreat, something that concerns Doug. The flight that Erin is on crashes over the Kansas farmland, and it appears there are no survivors.

But Erin is thrown from the plane and lands in a barn. She is found by the owner, and taken to the hospital. Before she can be questioned by the authorities as to what happened, Erin disappears.

Charlie is an investigator for the NTSB. This accident is the first major case he is assigned to, and if he does a good job, he will move up the ranks and gain respectability. He is assigned to identify the 123 bodies, a gruesome and difficult task, but one he takes very seriously.

When rumors of a female survivor swirl, the media leaps on the story. The lead investigator assigns Charlie to track the woman, and determine whether she exists or it is a hoax. This upsets Charlie, he feels it is a waste of time, and he is in a no-win situation.

Erin hides out in a cabin in Virginia, she has decided not to tell anyone that she is alive. Her husband and daughters have already mourned once, and they will have to mourn all over again when she dies of cancer.

Charlie tracks her down and tries to convince her that she must come forward. She owes it to her family, and the families of the other six women who hold out hope that it is their loved one who is the survivor.

The scenes between Charlie and Erin are the heart of this intriguing story. Can he convince her to come forward and save his job or will Erin convince him that she is entitled to live out her final days in peace? Charlie also confides in Erin about a major step he and his wife have to decide.

We see the government bureaucracy at work as the higher-ups in the NTSB want to shift blame for anything that can go wrong with the investigation, and I found the steps the investigators took at the crash sight intriguing.  I liked the character of Lucy, the investigator who put forth the idea that other people have survived plane crashes and maybe someone did here as well.

There is action and two characters thrown together who have to convince the other of what is morally right. The Falling Woman feels like a cross between The Fugitive movie and Ann Napolitano's novel Dear Edward.  Readers will spend time wondering what they would do in Charlie and Erin's positions. Farrell's first novel is thought-provoking, it will be interesting to see where he goes with his next one.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Richard Farrell's tour.

Friday, June 19, 2020

Friday 5ive- June 20, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. The weather was spectacular last week, sunny and warm, perfect for sitting outside and reading a good book (or two or three or four).

1) It's so wonderful to see all the flowers in bloom, like these beautiful hydrangeas. They just make me smile.

2) Speaking of flowers, I ordered these paint by numbers kits of flowers for the gals to do while the guys go golfing. One of my friends did something similiar with her family, and we ladies thought it looked like fun. I'll post the results on an upcoming edition of the Friday 5ive. (Warning- I can barely draw stick people, so we'll see if I am any better at this.) I ordered them from The BookMark Shoppe in Brooklyn on Tuesday and they arrived on Wednesday- what great customer service! Shout-out for indie booksellers!

3)  June is Immigrant Heritage Month and when I was looking through my bookshelves for books to post on the Book Cellar Facebook page, I came up with quite a variety of books. I've read seven of them (and all were great), so I think I will try to read one of these per week to catch up. #ReadingGoals
Immigrant Heritage Month books

4) We watched the last episode of Showtime's Billions this week (their season was shortened by the COVID outbreak), and I was so excited to see Rick Hoffman playing a small role as sleazy doctor. Hoffman played lawyer Louis Litt for seven seasons on USA Network's Suits, which my son, his wife, and I loved. I went on Twitter and discovered that many Suits fans were as thrilled as I was to see him back on TV. (It's the little things.....)
Rick Hoffman on the left on Billions

5) As I said, I read a lot this past week (four books) in the sunshine, and it was glorious. (Click on the book titles under the photos for links to purchase.)

First I read actress Hilarie Burton Morgan's The Rural Diaries, a memoir about her and her actor husband Jeffrey Dean Morgan and their young son moving from Hollywood to a farm in Rhinebeck, NY, a few hours north of NYC. It's terrific, and the perfect tonic for those of us stuck inside. Burton Morgan shares what life is like on a farm, her hands-on remodel of their farmhouse, and friends she made in a small town. I highly recommend it. I bought this from Oblong Books & Music independent bookstore in Rhinebeck, and Burton Morgan personally signed every copy they sold- they are up to 7355 so far- amazing!
The Rural Diaries

Another great book I read is Regina Porter's 2019 novel, The Travelers, which weaves the stories of several people from two families from 1954 to 2010. It's about love, marriage, family, race, friendship- in short, life. Porter is a brilliant writer, and if you are looking to read more black voices, pick this one up. I read it in one day, I couldn't put it down.
The Travelers

I also read Emma Jane Unsworth's novel Grown Ups, which for some reason I thought was a memoir when I started reading it. (My first clue it wasn't should have been that the narrator's name is Jenny, not Emma.) Jenny is a 35-year-old Londoner who writes a column for an online site called Foof, pitched for feminists. She lives with her somewhat-famous photographer boyfriend Art until they break up and she has to take in three roommates she doesn't like. She avoids her mother, until her mother shows up to move in with her. The book is a fast read, with texts, emails and social media posts interspersed. Jenny is kind of a mess, but she says things that will make you laugh out loud one minute and tear up the next. Although I am someone who is not the target age for this novel, I still enjoyed taking Jenny's journey with her. 
Grown Ups

And lastly, I read Richard Farrell's upcoming novel The Falling Woman, the story of Erin, a middle-aged woman facing a deadly pancreatic cancer diagnosis She gets on a plane that explodes over Kansas, and is the only survivor. She disappears from the hospital before Charlie, the young NTSB investigator tasked with finding out if it is truth or a hoax that there was a female survivor, can talk to her. This is Charlie's first time working a major disaster and if he can't get answers, his career will be finished before it begins. Why did Erin disappear? Why doesn't she want her family to know she is alive?  Fans of Dear Edward will want to read this one. My full review posts on Tuesday.
The Falling Woman

 Have a great week everyone- stay safe and healthy and wash your hands.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West

Saving Ruby King by Catherine Adel West
Published by Park Row Books ISBN 9780778305095
Hardcover, $27.99, 320 pages
I love reading a debut novel from a new author, the excitement of finding a new voice, knowing that the author has poured everything into this endeavor. Catherine Adel West's Saving Ruby King is a debut novel, and it's brilliant.

The novel opens with Ruby King's mother murdered in her own home on the South Side of Chicago. Many people suspect Ruby's father, a man with a bad temper who had spent time in prison for killing a man years ago. People suspected that Ruby's father Lebanon beat his wife, but that was a not so hidden secret.

Ruby's best friend since childhood, Layla, is concerned for Ruby's safety. Ruby is distraught, but won't allow Layla to help. Layla's father, Jackson, the pastor of Calvary Church, has known Lebanon since childhood, and has been secretly giving money to Lebanon for some unknown reason.

Layla wants to help Ruby, but Jackson orders her to stay away from Lebanon. Layla and her father have been butting heads recently, and things that have been simmering under the surface are coming to a head.

The story is alternately narrated by Layla, Jackson, Ruby, Lebanon, and even Calvary Church narrates secrets that have happened within its walls. The two families have grown up in that church, from Lebanon and Jackson's mothers as children, to Layla and Ruby.

Saving Ruby King has elements of a mystery to it- who killed Ruby's mother, why is Jackson giving money to Lebanon- as well as a multigenerational story about secrets and the damage that keeping those secrets can cause down through the generations.

I found myself totally absorbed in this emotional story from the opening pages, and every revelation was another gut punch. The idea of Calvary Church narrating parts of the story worked so well, the church is central to the lives of these people.

I highly recommend Saving Ruby King for anyone who likes a compelling story, with characters that you can empathize with, and a strong sense of setting. I hope to be reading more books from Catherine Adel West in the very near future, she is a wonderful writer. And if you want to read more books by black authors, Saving Ruby King is a good place to start.

That Summer in Maine by Brianna Wolfson

That Summer in Maine by Brianna Wolfson
Published by MIRA Books ISBN 9780778351238
Trade paperback, $16.99, 320 pages

Brianna Wolfson's first novel, Rosie Colored Glasses, is about a mother-daughter relationship. Her second novel, That Summer In Maine, tells the stories of two mothers and daughters and the one thing that binds them together.

Hazel is 16 years old, and her mom Jane raised Hazel all on her own. Hazel never knew her father and she and her mom were inseperable, sharing everything, including bowls of ice cream in bed at night.

Now Jane is married, and with her husband Cam has twin baby boys who take up all her time and energy. The relationship Hazel and Jane had has changed, and Hazel feels left out, never more so than when she sees her mother sharing ice cream in bed with Cam instead of her.

Hazel receives a message from a 16 year-old girl named Eve who looks like her and tells her that she thinks they are sisters. Eve tells Hazel that she is going to visit their biological father in Maine and asks Hazel to come with her.

Jane is shocked. She had no idea that Hazel's father Silas had another child, let alone one who was born so close to Hazel. Jane, Cam and Hazel meet with Eve's parents, and after Hazel insists she is going whether Jane approves or not, Jane relents and allows Hazel to go to Maine.

Eve's mother Susie gives Jane a notebook that she wrote to Eve, explaining everything that happened during that summer in Maine when she met Silas and returned home pregnant with Eve. As Jane reads the notebook, she decides to write her own story of how she met Silas that same summer in Maine, became pregnant, and left to have Hazel on her own.

We get to read both woman's notebooks, and follow Eve and Hazel's summer trip to Maine to stay with Silas, their artist father who lives in a cabin on a beautiful lake. Eve has already spent part of last summer with Silas, so she has established a relationship with him. Hazel has some catching up to do, but she enjoys having a sister and a father, something new to her.

Wolfson writes the mother-daughter relationship so well, and she captures the teenage voices of Eve and Hazel so beautifully and realistically. Eve has underlying anger issues, and she vacillates between wanting to be a fun party girl and being angry at her parents and the world. Hazel wants to fill the void left by her changing relationship with her mom, but is uncertain if Silas and Eve can do that.

I liked that the character of Silas is so layered. He's not just some guy who left two women pregnant, he has something in his past that he cannot seem to get over, a deep hurt. I didn't like that he gave teenage girls beer, though.  Bad judgement there, Silas.

That Summer in Maine is a novel that will appeal to adult women and teenage young women. I think many young women can relate to the feelings that Eve and Hazel have, as older women will to Jane and Susie's stories.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer Reads 2020 Tour.