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Friday, September 24, 2021

Friday 5ive - September 24, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) post about five things that caught my attention this week. We visited Napa last week, so this week's Friday 5ive is an all-Napa edition.

1) We had planned on taking a hot air balloon ride there, but the weather didn't cooperate for us. However, on our way to the airport to go back home, we saw this beautiful sight- balloons being blown up and some already in the air.

2)  If any of you are familiar with Thomas Keller's famous restaurant, The French Laundry, in Yountville, our hotel was nearby and we wandered through his huge garden where he grows produce for his three restaurants in town. It's beautfully laid out, we saw all kinds of lettuce, peppers, zucchini, pumpkins, and they even have chickens on site for the eggs.

3) We had a special lunch at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, where the chef paired a wonderful four course meal with lovely wines. The most beautifully presented dish was dessert- a Bakewell tart with figs and a homemade basil gelato. It was all delicious.

4) We visited Chateau Montelena, and if anyone has seen the movie Bottleshock with Alan Rickman, you'll recognize the stunning exterior of the chateau. Our taste guide Michael gave us an interesting history of the winery, and of course we bought wine to send home. 

5) The reason we made the trip was to attend a VIP dinner at Del Dotto Vineyards, and that was so spectacular. The building is beautiful, and the last time we were there, we were able to tour the caves and taste wine right from the barrel. The food was amazing,  and they had singers from the San Francisco Opera perform during dessert. It was a magical evening.

Looking into the wine caves

It was a fabulous trip and next week, I may share more with you. In the meantime, stay safe.

This post was shared on Weekend Cooking hosted by Marg at The Intrepid Reader. You can find more Weekend Cooking posts here.

Friday, September 10, 2021

Friday 5ive- September 10, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) blog post featuring five things that caught my attention during the week. I took a long weekend last week, I hope you didn't miss me too much.

1) I'm not a beer drinker at all, but while we were at our favorite lunch spot in Cortez, Tide Tables, we saw a bartender pouring a pitcher of beer from this cool looking tap. It had a pelican head on top that read "Strawberry Orange Mimosa" from South Beach Brewing Company. The bartender gave us a taste and you would swear you were drinking a mimosa (which I like) not a beer (which I don't like). It was light, but contains 5% alcohol so these would sneak up on you pretty fast. I finally found a beer I would enjoy!

2) We had a tasting for a dinner we're hosting at Gotham Hall in October. The new hors 'oeuvres were all fantastic-  a pumpkin mousse tart with goat cheese, fig and pistachio, a duck spring roll with a sake plum glaze, sunny side up blt topped with a quail egg , and a short rib rigatoni. The big winner of the tasting was eggplant meatballs, served over zucchini noodles topped with a marinara sauce. We are not vegetarian, but we would consider serving this a main entree instead of beef, that's how tasty this was. 

3)  I haven't watched Dancing With The Stars in ages, but I will be throwing all my votes to Cody Rigsby when the show returns on Monday. Cody is one of my favorite Peloton cycling instructors, he never fails to make me laugh when I take one of his classes. I hope all the millions of Peloton riders show up to support Cody. 

4) We watched The Chair on Netflix, a six episode series about Ji-Yoon, the first woman of color to head an English department at a prestigious university. The English department is losing enrollment and some of the older professors don't understand how (or care) to reach their students. The cast is fantastic: Sandra Oh is Ji-Yoon, Jay Duplass, Bob Balaban and Holland Taylor (who is phenomenal as always) are professors at the university. The show deals with the current cancel culture, single motherhood, and our society's celebrity fascination, among other topics. We really enjoyed it. 

5) I read three really terrific books. Deanne Quinn Miller's The Prison Guard's Daughter shares her story as the daughter of Billy Quinn, the only corrections officer killed by inmates during the Attica Prison Riot in 1971, the worst prison riot in US history. Twenty-nine inmates and ten officers were killed by state troopers and prison guards during the violent retaking of the prison. Quinn Miller describes her decades long search as a member of the FVOA (Forgotten Victims of Attica) for justice for the widows and survivors of the riot. The FVOA wanted an apology (still waiting for that), counseling made available, and monetary compensation equivalent to what the inmates received in their settlement with New York State. It's a stunning book, cowritten by Gary Craig, a reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. My full review publishes in The Citizen (Auburnpub.com) on September 26th. 

The beach was the perfect place to read Taylor Jenkins Reid's newest novel, Malibu Rising. It's the story of four adult children of 1950's mega-crooner (think Sinatra) Mick Riva. In 1983, Nina Riva, the oldest daughter of Mick Riva, is preparing to host her annual summer bash at her cliffside mansion in Malibu. Her tennis superstar husband has just left her, and she is getting tired of being known as the hot chick surfer with the best selling calendar. Her brother Jay's surfing career is going great, brother Hud is hiding a big secret from Jay, and youngest sister Kit hopes she'll be kissed for the first time at the party. The book moves back and forth in time from the children's childhood being raised alone by their mother June to an hour-by-hour chapter-by-chapter decription of a party that becomes so out of control, Nina's home ends up in flames. Jenkins Reid pulls the reader in with her story and her characters are so well drawn. I loved The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, and Jenkins Reid tops that book with this book of the summer. 

Speaking of rising, Katherine Heiny's novel, Early Morning Riser, may just be my favorite book of the year. When new second grade teacher Jane locks herself out of her home, Duncan the town locksmith comes to her aid and doesn't leave. They become a couple, and Jane learns that Duncan is the town lothario, having dated pretty much every woman within a 50 mile radius. Along with Duncan comes his ex-wife Aggie (gorgeous and a great cook but bossy), her new husband Gary (an oddball) and Jimmy, a man who works with Duncan and lives with his elderly mother. The story begins in 2002 and takes us through 2018 as Jane tries not to love Duncan and fails, and when a tragedy brings him back into her life, she realizes it's the family you choose who make you who you are. The characters become your friends, the writing has such humor and warmth, you just want to move to the small town of Boyne City, Michigan (the 21st century version of Mayberry) and hang out with them all. Early Morning Riser is the kind of book that restores your faith in humanity. 

I hope you are all safe and healthy, that you wash your hands, wear a mask, and stay socially distant when possible and that you are vaccinated to protect those who can't be vaccinated yet. It's the only way out of this bad situation.

Tuesday, September 7, 2021

The Archer by Shruti Swamy

The Archer by Shruti Swamy
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616209902
Hardcover, $26.95, 293 pages

The first thing you notice about Shruti Swamy's novel The Archer is the striking cover- a young woman dancer caught in midspin. I immediately wanted to know all about her.

The story opens in 1960's Bombay with a young Vidya, who is not living with her mother or brother, but with her father, aunt and two cousins.  After a time, her mother and baby brother return home, but Vidya cannot remember why her mother and brother disappeared for a while, it is a mystery not to be discussed at home.

Vidya is dark complected like her mother's family, and her father's family treats her differently as they are lighter-skinned. Her paternal grandmother says Vidya also has her mother's temperament, calling her "restless and unsatisfied", and it telling her it will lead to problems in the future.

While her mother is taking singing lessons, Vidya wanders into a kathak dance class and is mesmerized. She wants nothing more than to dance like the young women she saw. When Vidya's mother discovers that she wants to take dance lessons, she tells Vidya that it takes discipline and practice. Then her mother tells her the story of Eklavya, a young boy who wanted to be an archer and what he had to sacrifice to do it.

Vidya is accepted into dance class, and her teacher requires complete dedication to dance, which Vidya is only too happy to give. As the years go by, we see Vidya attending an English scholarship school where she excels in academics and continues her dance instruction.

When Vidya goes to college, she studies electrical engineering, and does very well in her classes. She finally makes a good friend in Radha, a fellow female engineering student, who tells Vidya that she may have to make a choice between dance and engineering as both require rigorous devotion.

In her heart, Vidya is a dancer. She trains with a reknowned teacher who requires perfection, something that Vidya strives for in her life. When Vidya earns a solo dance performance, she is so filled with joy, but her teacher's comments take her aback.

The Archer is a beautiful coming-of-age story for Vidya, with the book divided into five sections, each one dealing with a different part of her life. We see her grow from a young girl who finds her passion in dance, and how she strives to continue to live a life that honors her art, even though society asks something else of her. If you are someone for whom art is your passion, you will get even more from this beautifully written story. If you loved Alka Joshi's The Henna Artist, put The Archer on your list.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Shruti Swamy's tour.

Monday, September 6, 2021

Ultimate Journeys For Two by Mike & Ann Howard

Ultimate Journeys For Two by Mike & Ann Howard
Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426218392
Paperback, $26.99, 270 pages

If you know a couple who love to travel to exciting places and do extraordinary things, the new National Geographic book, Ultimate Journeys for Two is a perfect gift. Mike and Ann Howard, along with other travel-adventurous couples, take us along as they travel the world. 

The book is divided into chapters like Mountains, Lakes, Rivers & Falls, On Safari, and seven others. Each location has two pages devoted to it, with tips on the best time of year to visit, places to stay (both inexpensive and luxurious), ideas for romantic rendevous, and "honeytek tips". There are gorgeous photos and ideas for Couples Adventures for each location.

Besides Mike and Ann, who have traveled the world and share their ventures on their blog, HoneyTrek- The World's Longest Honeymoon, other couples share some of their favorite trips and advice. (Most of them also have blogs too.) The advice they share is interesting, and many have recurring items: dividing up responsibilities, communicating clearly, and taking time away for each other came up frequently. When traveling for long periods of time with just one other person, it's important to do that.

Many of them were able to travel by housesitting, an idea I found intriguing. There are communities out there where people look for housesitters, and doing this enables people to see other parts of the world inexpensively.

The couples also enjoyed getting to know people from other parts of the world. Mike and Ann love sports, so they would try to get involved in a volleyball game they ran across. Instead of using public transportation, they would catch a ride with a local who would often show them more interesting sights and invite to dine with the local's family.

I loved learning fun facts from their travels:
  • You can cruise the canals in the Mekong Delta in your own floating hotel with a captain, chef, maid, barman and bikes and a rowboat for excursions
  • Giant tortoises in the Gal├ípagos nap for 16 hours a day
  • The mating rituals of ostriches (the males dance for females' attention)
  • There is a resort in Vietnam that is known as "Little Moscow" because Russians can visit visa-free via cheap flights
  • You can enjoy a spa session in a rain forest waterfall in Daintree, Australia
If you're not ready to travel just yet, you can still enjoy reading all about the beautiful, exotic places across this planet. And if you are planning on trying out for Jeopardy!, this book is an excellent resource for all the geography questions.  The Howards and company take us to places I have never heard of, and what a journey it is.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Mike and Ann Howard's tour. 

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

Three Fascinating Family Stories

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

I enjoy a good family story, one that gives the reader insight into family dynamics. This month’s Book Report has three novels that delve into interesting family stories.

Naomi Hirahara’s Clark and Division is set during WWII. Aki and Rose are two sisters, born in America to Japanese parents. They lived in a California community, and their father has a good job managing a food market. 

They faced prejudice and racism at their mostly white school. When Aki was invited to a white classmate’s birthday pool party, the other girls refused to swim in the pool with her, and the hostess was ashamed to ask her to come back and swim at another time. Rose earned the starring role in her high school’s stage production, but parents again complained, and she was bumped to a lesser role.

Then the attack on Pearl Harbor happened. The family was forced to leave their home and most of their belongings behind to move to an internment camp. The living conditions were appalling, and they lost all of the freedom they came to America to find.

Rose is sent to Detroit, and the rest of the family would follow in a few months after she was settled. When Aki and her parents arrive in Detroit, they discover that Rose was hit by a train and killed.

They were told that she committed suicide, but Aki does not believe it. In addition to trying to adjust to life in a new city, Aki makes it her mission to find out what happened to her sister.

Clark and Division blends historical fiction about the treatment that Japanese-Americans faced in America during WWII with the mystery of what led to Rose’s death. It’s an enlightening novel that immerses you in a time and place, as well as keeping you turning the pages to find out what happened to Rose. 

Tracey Lange’s We Are the Brennans takes place in Westchester County in New York. When Sunday Brennan is seriously injured in a car accident in Los Angeles, her older brother Denny travels there to bring her back home. 

Sunday left the family home suddenly five years prior, and no one knew exactly why. Her brother Denny and his best friend Kale own Brennan’s pub, and are planning on opening a second pub in a nearby town.

Kale was Sunday’s boyfriend when she left without a good explanation why. He is now married and the father of a four year-old boy, and Sunday’s return home creates problems in his marriage.

Unbeknownst to Kale (or anyone else), Denny borrowed money from someone he shouldn’t have to finance the new pub. The stress of keeping that secret from everyone is causing him trouble.

I loved how the Brennan family worked their way into my heart. Brother Jackie is an artist who is so kind to the youngest son Shane, as is the entire family. The family rallies together to help Denny and Kale keep their business afloat.

We eventually discover why Sunday left five years ago, and that leads to more trouble for the Brennan clan. The secrets each family member keeps come to the surface and it will either save them or destroy them.

In Sara Nisha Adams’ The Reading List, Mukesh is a widower outside London in mourning for the loss of his beloved wife a year ago. He is lonely, only seeing people at his local temple and neighborhood grocery store. 

When his young granddaughter Priya asks him about the books her grandmother loved, Mukesh decides to visit the small local library that his wife frequented to get some books for Priya.

Mukesh meets Aleisha, a young librarian who lives with her seriously depressed mother and her older brother. Aleisha doesn’t like to read, but when she finds a paper in a library book that reads “Just in case you need it:” followed by a list of novels, she suggests one of these books to Mukesh.

Aleisha and Mukesh bond over these books, and it brings them both out of their shells. They become friends, and share their lives with each other. Mukesh and Aleisha work together to save the library from closure.

I enjoyed learning about Mukesh’s Indian customs, especially the food his family enjoys. If reading and libraries are something you enjoy, The Reading List should be on your To-Be-Read pile. The way they tie the Reading List to characters at the end is sweet. (A warning though- there are some sad events in this book as well.)

Clark And Division by Naomi Hirahara- A-

Published by SOHO Crime

Hardcover, $27.95, 312 pages

We Are the Brennans by Tracey Lange- A

Published by Celadon

Hardcover, $26.99, 288 pages

The Reading List by Sara Nisha Adams- A-

Published by William Morrow

Hardcover, $27.99, 384 pages

Monday, August 30, 2021

The Wellness-Empowered Woman by Reena Vokoun

The Wellness- Empowered Woman by Reena Vokoun
Published by Fuchia Rose ISBN 9781736364703
Trade paperback, $16.95, 175 pages

In 2012, Reena Vokoun was a mom of two boys, 2 years and 5 years old, and working 60+ hours a week at Google, where her husband also worked 80-100 hours a week, as she recounts in her new book, The Wellness Empowered Woman

She and her husband rose early each day and worked late into the night at home. They had insomnia, had no time to workout, ate the scraps of food their sons didn't finish. She began to suffer from high stress and anxiety which manufactured in chronic sinus infections and asthma. 

While she loved her job, Vokoun had a lifelong passion for fitness, dance, and nutrition. As a first-generation-born, Indian-American, her family had introduced her to yoga and meditation, an important part of their culture.

Vokoun's grandfather encouraged her to follow her dream and start a wellness and health business. Finally, in 2014, Vokoun made the leap to begin her own business, called PassionFit.  The PassionFit motto is "Pursue your passions, be fit, and the rest will follow." 

Pursuing your passions, doesn't necessarily mean quitting your job. Vokoun suggests ways to incorporate your passions into your life- take classes, join organizations, work on side hustles. She says that by enjoying your passions, it adds a richness and depth to your life in other areas as well.

In the fifteen chapters of her book, Vokoun concentrates on the importance of maintaining a balanced life, get your body moving, sleeping enough and eating a balanced diet. At the end of each chapter. there are questions to answer to help you move forward and improve your life.

Some of her biggest takeaways include making a list of top three things personal and professional tasks to accomplish each day, celebrating your own individuality by prioritizing your physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being (something social media can harm), and stepping out of your comfort zone to try something new.

During this last year of pandemic, when many people's physical, emotional and mental health suffered, The Wellness Empowered Woman has much to offer readers. When many have recently taken stock of their lives and what is truly important, her book comes at just the right time. I recommend it.

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

Instagram Features

Tuesday, August 24th: Instagram: @everything.is.words

Wednesday, August 25th: Instagram: @rozierreadsandwine

Thursday, August 26th: A Bookish Way of Life

Saturday, August 28th: Instagram: @reading_with_nicole

Sunday, August 29th: Instagram: @workreadsleeprepeat

Monday, August 30th: bookchickdi

Tuesday, August 31st: Instagram: @meghans_library

Thursday, September 2nd: Instagram: @neverthless_she_reads

Tuesday, September 7th: Living My Best Book Life

Wednesday, September 8th: Instagram: @joannasbookshelf

Thursday, September 9th: Instagram: @bookishbadassthings

Thursday, September 9th: Instagram: @nurse_bookie

Friday, August 27, 2021

Friday 5ive- August 27, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my eye this week. The Friday 5ive took last week for a mini-vacation.

1)  Can you believe August is almost over? Why does summer go by so fast? I love summer, but my youngest sister loves autumn and can't wait for it to begin so she can have her pumpkin spice latte. Our brother made her a board for her "Coffee Corner" at her house. I'm always impressed by anyone with artistic skill (as I lack it). 

2) We traveled to Boston last weekend to visit our youngest son. He took us to his golf club, Granite Hills Links in Quincy, for lunch and the view there is incredible. You can golf while overlooking the skyline of Boston as seen in this photo. Apparently the club is one of the most popular wedding venues in Massachusetts and there was a wedding and a bridal shower there on the day we visited.

3) While the guys golfed, the gals spent the day at Nantasket Beach in Hull, and while walking the beach we came across a large group of young children talking surfing lessons. It was fun to watch them get up on their boards.  

4) Speaking of different seasons, I watched the Christmas episode of Ted Lasso on Apple TV+ and it was so delightful. If it didn't put a smile on your face, you are truly a Grinch. I particularly enjoyed the homage to my favorite Christmas movie, Love, Actually. Whenever I am feeling down or losing faith in humanity, I will play this episode. 

5) As I spent time in airports and on planes, I was able to read uninterrupted.  First up was Kristin van Ogtrop's memoir Did I Say That Out Loud-Midlife Indignities and How to Survive Them. Ogtrop, was the former editor of Real Simple magazine, and her essays on such things as her climb up the corporate ladder from joy to agony as magazines folded up publication, to the time she nearly died from accidentally swallowing a plastic fork tine, to the vacation home her family bought with her sister's family will have you laughing and crying. It makes a good pairing with Sara Arnell's midlife crisis book from a few weeks ago, There Will Be Lobster. While I've been reading books about midlife crisis, I don't think I'm in one. (right?) 

Laura Dave's suspense novel, The Last Thing He Told Me, tops the bestseller list and I can see why. When Hannah receives a note from Owen, her husband of one year, reading "Protect her", she is totally unprepared for what is ahead of her. Her husband has disappeared after the company he works for is raided by the SEC and FBI and the head of the company is arrested. What happens next as Hannah attempts to keep her 16 year-old stepdaughter safe and unravel Owen's true identity kept me frantically turning the pages. Dave has written a few other books, but not suspense novels like this. I think she has found her genre and this is scheduled to be a limited series on Apple TV+ with Julia Roberts. 

I also read a psychological thriller, Where I Left Her, by Amber Garza, about a parent's worst nightmare. Whitney drops off her 16 year-old daughter Amelia at a sleepover with her new friend Lauren. When Whitney returns to pick Amelia up the next day, an elderly woman answers the door and says that no one named Lauren lives there, Whitney agonizes over what happened to her daughter. Like The Last Thing He Told Me, this book keeps you turning the pages, and the ending twist is a shocker. My full review is here. 

We seem to be going backwards with COVID, so please wear a mask, wash your hands, stay socially distant and get a vaccine. It's the best way to keep each other, especially young children who can't get a vaccine yet, safe.