Powered By Blogger

Friday, February 23, 2024

Friday 5ive- February 24, 2024

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish featuring five things that caught my attention this week.

1) I attended a luncheon at the beautiful Sarasota Club featuring a discussion with the popular The Thursday Authors talking books and the friendship they formed over Zoom during the pandemic. Fiona Davis, Lynda Cohen Loigman, Amy Poeppel and Susie Orman Schnall were led in discussion by Lea DeCesare. They talked about their current books, how they got their starts (all were not published until the age of 40+), the importance of sitting your butts in the seat and just writing, their favorite writing spots,  (Lynda writes at her kitchen table- how does she do that?) and so much more. The talk was interesting, inspiring and lots of fun. Many thanks to the Kappa Kappa Gamma alumnae of Sarasota/Manatee who put this terrific program together. (And Amy Poeppel is one of my go-to authors. I've read and loved all her books.)
Amy Poeppel and Susie Orman Schnall signed copies of their books


2) I had the most delicious appetizer at Café L'Europe in St. Armands Circle in Sarasota. It was deviled eggs topped with caviar and it was amazing. I will definitely be back.


3) What is the deal with this car parked on the Upper East Side? I don't know what it is trying to say. Any guesses? 

4) I saw the play "Doubt- A Parable" starring Liev Schreiber and Amy Ryan. I bought my tickets months ago when Tyne Daly was scheduled to play Sister Aloysius and I was so excited to see her back on Broadway as I have seen her in other shows and she is amazing. It was announced a few weeks ago that Tyne had to bow out for medical reasons and Amy Ryan was tapped to take over with just a few rehearsals. Amy's role is the biggest one in the show (Meryl Streep played the role in the movie). Amy Ryan was phenomenal, she hit it out of the park and should definitely get a Tony nomination for her performance. The show is set in the early 1960s at a Catholic school. Sister Alyosius suspects that a priest has been inappropriate with a young male student and she looks to a young nun, played so wonderfully by Zoe Kazan, to confirm her suspicions. Liev Schreiber plays the priest and this revival of John Patrick Shanley's 2004 play about doubt and convictions is timely and thought-provoking. Go see it if you can. 

5) The New York Times ran a piece featuring Oscar-nominated actors in their "Secret Places". Paul Giamatti, nominated for Best Actor for his role in The Holdovers, which he is brilliant in, chose to be photographed in a used bookstore.  As someone who runs a used bookstore in NYC (Paul lives in Brooklyn), I'd like to invite him to come see the Book Cellar. Here is the piece from the NY Times website:


Have a great week all, stay safe and healthy. Until next time.


Tuesday, February 13, 2024

Three Terrific Books For Galentine's Day

Reprinted from auburnpub.com


Valentine’s Day is February 14th but have you heard of Galentine’s Day? Fans of TV’s Parks & Recreation will recognize it as a holiday made up by the main character Leslie Knope to celebrate her friends. It took off in the popular culture and now is celebrated by many people every year on February 13th.


This month’s Book Report features some books that celebrate and honor female friendship and would be perfect gifts to give your best gal pals for Galentine’s Day.


Robyn Carr often writes about female friendships in her wonderful novels, and her latest is titled The Friendship Club. Marni hosts a popular cooking show on television filmed in her fantastic California kitchen (think Ina Garten). 



Ellen is the behind scenes person who does much of the creative cooking while Marni is the face of the show followed by millions. Marni is outgoing whereas Ellen is shy and has no interest in being in front of the camera. 


Sophia is their young college intern who is just starting a relationship with a man who showers her with attention, perhaps too much attention? Marni’s daughter Bella is awaiting the birth of her first baby, and is uncomfortable at the end of her pregnancy.


The four women bond together and help each other through the day-to-day of life. Marni and Ellen become concerned about Sophia’s boyfriend, fearing that he is trying to isolate Sophia. 


There is much to like about this story, and if you enjoy foodie fiction, your mouth may water at the descriptions of the food. It’s also nice to see that romance is not confined to young women, as Ellen and Marni are each delighted to find themselves in relationships with good men.


In a more serious vein, Kristin Hannah’s The Women takes the reader to the Vietnam War in in 1965. Frankie McGrath decides to follow her brother to war when she enlists as a nurse in the U.S. Army. 



Frankie is just 20 years old and has led a sheltered life, so life in a war zone is a complete shock. Her two bunkmates- Barb, a young Black tough surgical nurse and Ethel, who plans on becoming a veterinarian when she returns home- take Frankie under their wing and the three become inseparable.


Hannah does a great job putting the reader in Frankie’s shoes, we can feel the unbearable heat, the soaking rains that pour into her living quarters, and the confusion of being under attack from enemy bombs. Frankie goes from not knowing much to becoming such an outstanding nurse whom doctors trust her to do procedures. 


We also see the burgeoning anti-war movement growing back home through letters from Frankie’s mother, a conservative woman who doesn’t understand what is happening in her own country. 


When Frankie comes back home, she is lost and severely depressed. People spit at her when she arrived back in the U.S., and her service to her country is downplayed and even challenged by her father. She is told time and time again that “Women weren’t in Vietnam”.

Ethel and Barb reach out to Frankie when she is at rock bottom and the three women live together for awhile knowing that not many people understand what they went through, and trying to process how to move forward.


The Women is an emotional rollercoaster, and if you were a fan of TV’s China Beach or M*A*S*H, this is a book you won’t want to miss. 


When I think of the perfect Galentine’s Day read, Amy Poeppel’s The Sweet Spot comes to mind. Melinda’s husband leaves her for a hot young successful entrepreneur, Olivia loses her job at the entrepreneur’s fancy store after an unfortunate customer experience with Melinda goes viral, and Lauren designs ceramic pieces for the fancy store while trying to raise her three young children with her husband and deal with her mother-in-law (Evelyn, my favorite character) who comes to stay. 



How do these three women end up caring for a baby they are not related to? Well that is the question in this charming and delightful novel that is set in a fantastic New York City neighborhood that makes you feel like you’re sitting on the building stoop with these three women who form an unlikely friendship over a baby. The Sweet Spot will put a big smile on your face.











Happy Valentine’s and Galentine’s Day to all!


The Friendship Club by Robyn Carr- A-

Published by MIRA

Hardcover, $28.99, 336 pages


The Women by Kristin Hannah- A-

Published by St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover, $30, 471 pages


The Sweet Spot by Amy Poeppel- A

Published by Emily Bestler Books

Trade paperback, $17.99, 392 pages




Monday, February 12, 2024

The Last Days of Lilah Goodluck by Kylie Scott

The Last Days of Lilah Goodluck by Kylie Scott
Published by Graydon House ISBN 978152804809
Trade paperback, $18.99, 304 pages



From the publisher:

Red White and Royal Blue meets The Last Holiday in this delight of a novel, about a woman who unexpectedly finds "fall in love with a prince" on her bucket list after a fortune teller tells her she only has a week to live. Ideal for fans of Sophie Cousens and Rebecca Serle.

Your boyfriend is cheating on you

You will be passed over for the promotion

5-8-12-24-39-43

Your soulmate is a royal prince

And your time is up a week from Monday

When Lilah Goodluck saves the life of Good Witch Willow as they’re crossing a busy LA street, the last thing she expects is five unwanted predictions as a reward. Who gives someone the lotto numbers then tells them they’ve only got a week to live? And who believes in that nonsense anyway?

But when the first three predictions come true within twenty-four hours, Lilah’s disbelief turns to mild panic. She’s further horrified when she nearly runs a car off the road that belongs to Alistair Lennox, the illegitimate son of the English king.

Alistair is intrigued by her preposterous story, but Lilah is adamant about resisting the heat between her and the playboy prince. If he’s not her soulmate, then the last prediction can’t come true. But as the days count down, they become maybe friends…and then maybe more. Between the relentless paparazzi and his disapproving family, dating a sort-of prince isn’t easy, especially when you have death on your doorstep.


My Thoughts:
 
Kylie Scott writes novels that have unique concepts, touched with a little bit of the unknown. Her last book, End of Story (my review here), told the story of Susie a young woman renovating a home she inherited from an aunt. She hires Lars, a handsome contractor who happens to be her ex-boyfriend's best friend. When they find a divorce decree hidden within a wall that has Lars and Susie's names on it and it is dated 10 years in the future- mayhem ensues.

The Last Days of Lilah Goodluck's concept is similarly unique, with a psychic giving Lilah five predictions, the craziest of which is that her soulmate is a royal prince, who Lilah then proceeds to meet when she almost runs his car off the road.

In order to avoid the last prediction- that her time is up a week from Monday, Lilah and the prince cannot fall in love. We all know what will happen, but the fun is in the journey. Alistair (the prince) intends to help Lilah with her own bucket list, which includes having the best sex of her life before her time here is done.

Lilah and Alistair are wonderful characters, but my favorite character is Alistair's mother. She is sassy and tough, but has a heart of gold when it comes to her son. 

If you're looking for a clever, fun, spicy romance novel for Valentine's Day, you can't go wrong with The Last Days of Lilah Goodluck. 

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Winter 2024 Blog Tours.




Sunday, February 11, 2024

The Unchartered Flight of Olivia West by Sara Ackerman

The Unchartered Flight of Olivia West
Published by MIRA, ISBN9780778369516
Trade paperback, $18.99, 384 pages

From the publisher:

1927. Olivia ‘Livy’ Jones is a young and determined pilot with a love of adventure. She’s been bit by the flying bug and yearns to cross oceans and see the world, pioneering the way for other women pilots. When she learns of the Dole Air Race–organized immediately after Charles Lindbergh’s famous flight–a race to be the first to make the 2,400 mile Pacific crossing from the West coast to Hawaii, with a huge grand prize of $25,000–she sets her sights on qualifying. But it soon becomes clear that only men will make the cut. In a last ditch effort to take part, Livy manages to be picked as a navigator for one of the pilots, before setting out on a harrowing journey that will change her life forever.

 


1987. Wren Summers is down to her last dime when she learns she has inherited a remote piece of land on the Big Island with nothing on it but a dilapidated barn and an overgrown mac nut grove. She plans on selling it and using the money to live on, but she is drawn in by the mysterious objects kept in the barn by her late great-uncle—clues to a tragic piece of aviation history lost to time. Determined to find out what really happened all those years ago, Wren enlists the help of residents at a nearby retirement home to uncover Olivia’s story piece by piece. What she discovers is more earth-shattering, and closer to home, than she could have ever imagined.

My Thoughts:

Last week there was a news story about the possible discovery of a plane submerged in the Pacific Ocean and there was speculation that it was the plane of Amelia Earhart, who was lost at sea in 1937 during her attempt to be the first woman to fly around the world, so it's a great time to read Sara Ackerman's novel The Unchartered Flight of Olivia West.

Frequently in dual timeline novels, one storyline is stronger than the other, but in this one, I was equally invested in both stories and both women. Livy Jones is an intelligent young woman who figures out a way to make into the boys' club of aviation by working hard and taking advantage of every opportunity to be around pilots and eventually convincing one pilot to let her fly with him. 

In the 1987 timeline, when Wren's life appears to be falling apart, she leaves her home and when she sees the dilapidated barn, pulls herself together and works to make a new home for herself. Ackerman paints such a vivid portrait of the barn, I felt like if I closed my eyes I could see it.

Both characters are well-drawn and I enjoyed following the progress that Livy made during her flight to Hawaii and Wren made restoring her great-uncle's plane. There's history, romance, some interesting Hawaiian culture, and a nice twist at the end that careful readers may be able to guess. I recommend it for fans of historical fiction featuring strong women.

I reviewed Sara Ackerman's previous book Radar Girls here.

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Winter 2024 Blog Tours.




Friday, February 2, 2024

Friday 5ive- February 2, 2024

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caught my eye this week. Can you believe that it is February already? Where did January go?


1) Tuesday evening we went to the Cutting Room in midtown to hear Steven Maglio and his 12 piece orchestra. Steven Maglio sings mostly Sinatra songs and he plays a tight set of about an hour and fifteen minutes. There was a nice mix of the usual Sinatra classics and a few more obscure songs. We arrived at 6pm when the doors opened, enjoyed a Caesar salad and strip steak dinner and a bottle of Oregon Pinot Noir. It was a good-sized crowd by the time Maglio ook the stage after an opening act of comedy by Chris Monte. The whole night had a Rat Pack feeling and we really enjoyed it. I'd love to return to the Cutting Room to see more live entertainment. They have a lot of tribute bands (Fleetwood Mac, Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young) and original music. I highly recommend it for a great NYC evening out. 



2) We noticed that our neighbor across the way still has their Christmas tree up on February 2nd. I enjoyed our Christmas tree but I don't think I could have it up until February. What do you think?


3)  It was a week to watch documentaries. First we watched American Nightmare on Netflix like everyone else in the country. It tells the story of a woman kidnapped from her boyfriend's home in the middle of the night in California. The cops zero in on the boyfriend immediately after he tells them a crazy story of how the kidnapping happened. After searching everywhere for her dead body, the woman turns up 400 miles away at her father's house where she says the kidnapper dropped her off. The cops brand the incident as a hoax perpetrated by the couple, similiar to the movie Gone Girl which was popular at that time.
But it wasn't a hoax, it was a horrible story and this couple's lives were destroyed first by the kidnapper and then by the police and media who hung onto the story like a dog with a bone. 
A few years later, a female detective in another California town is investigating a sexual assault and she works hard to put the pieces together to solve her crime and the kidnapping from years ago. I wonder if anyone in the media apologized? (Nancy Grace). It's a riveting story and an example of how women who are victims of sexual assault are treated so poorly. 


 4) The second documentary we watched was much happier. The Greatest Night in Pop (also on Netflix) gives a true behind the scenes look at the making of the 1985 song We Are The World, featuring 40 of the biggest names in music gathering together on one night to create a song whose proceeds went to famine relief in Ethiopia. Michael Jackson and Lionel Ritchie wrote the song, and cassettes were sent to the hottest names in pop music inviting them to show up for one night to make the record in Los Angeles. They decided to do it the night of the American Music Awards when most of the performers would be there. Everyone was put in cars and driven from the awards ceremony to the recording studio. It was very hush-hush, they didn't want word to get out and fans to show up. 
Bruce Springsteen flew in from his last concert on his Born in the USA tour in Buffalo to perform. (Fun fact- I was at that Buffalo concert and it was amazing.) They all sang the chorus, and then the musicians who had solo parts stayed to sing their parts. Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Kenny Rogers, Daryl Hall, John Oates, Harry Belafonte, Huey Lewis, Cyndi Lauper, Dionne Warwick, Willie Nelson,  Ray Charles, Bob Dylan, my favorite Bette Midler- it was an astonishing group and Quincy Jones had to herd them to get them all together to complete the recording in one night. If you remember the song, you'll love this documentary and if you're too young to remember, watch it anyway. It's fabulous. 
 


5) Sticking with the theme of true stories, I read Lara Love Hardin's memoir The Many Lives of Mama Love.  Lara was a surburban mom to four boys, Little League coach, and PTA mom whose descent in drug addiction led her to steal pills, cash, credit cards and more from neighbors and cars in the school parking lot and eventually to jail. She ends up in county lockup where she becomes Mama Love to the younger prison residents as she tries desperately to work within the system so she doesn't lose custody of her four year-old son. Her husband, who was also arrested with her, is bailed out by his wealthy mother, and somehow he ends up with a better deal than Lara. Lara ends up on probation for nine years until she can make restitution and the labrynth of red tape that she goes through to get out from under her legal case is confusing. It's an honest look at addiction, and if she doesn't always take responsibility for her actions, that too is a honest look at an addict. Eventually Lara ends up working at a literary agency where she ghostwrites books for Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dali Lama because someone believed in her and gave her a chance. This is an eye-opening book and she makes a point of how the system makes it difficult for people to get a second chance. (And her point about using the female prisoners as cheap labor to clean the county jail and sheriff's office is enlightening.) I highly recommend this book.  

I hope you all have a safe and happy week. Until next time.



Saturday, January 27, 2024

Friday 5ive- January 26, 2024

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

1)  It was a bookish week, with two events. It began with Zibby Media's New Year, New Chapter event at the Whitby Hotel on Saturday. There were over 40 authors speaking at several panels, including Rom-Coms, Your Deepest, Darkest (Thrillers), Advice for Debut Authors, and Don't Make Me Laugh among them. The great Anna Quindlen gave the keynote address (more on her later) and the discussions  and authors were so interesting. I got to connect with authors I've met before, like Jane L. Rosen (whose upcoming June novel Seven Summer Weekends is one I can't wait for) and Caroline Leavitt (her upcoming book Days of Wonder is on several lists of 2024 Eagerly Anticipated Books). I also got to meet in person Nancy Johnson, whose debut novel The Kindest Lie holds a place on my All-Time Favorites Shelf. That was such a delight! I met a few Instagram friends, and connected with some people I used to see at Book Expo (I miss that.). It was a great day and the turnout was so good I hope it encourages more bookish events in the future. Zibby Owens and her team did a wonderful job.


The authors



Meeting Nancy Johnson


Keynote speaker Anna Quindlen






2)  On Tuesday evening, the Book Cellar Book Club gathered at the Vanguard Wine Bar to discuss Helene Hanff's classic book 84, Charing Cross Road. The book consists of twenty years of letters written between Hanff, who lived in New York City, and the Marks & Co. Booksellers in London following WWII. Hanff was a freelance writer and literature lover who would order books from London to be sent to her. She struck up a friendly correspondence with the used book dealer and her letters were funny and a bit snarky at times. Eventually she got to know his family and others who worked at the bookstore, and she would arrange to have food and other items sent to them that were hard to find in post-war England. It's a lovely little book that restores your faith in humanity.
While on the way out, we ran into a group of women who were meeting for a book swap and we had a lovely chat with them. Apparently Vanguard Wine Bar is the literary salon of the Upper East Side.
Our new friends

3)  On Saturday evening, my husband and two of our friends went to see the fantastic Nick Fradiani portray Neil Diamond in A Beautiful Noise- the Neil Diamond Musical on Broadway. If you are a Neil Diamond fan this show is a must-see. The music will make you smile and dance in your seat, but please don't sing until the Sweet Caroline singalong at the end. Nick sang at the ArchCare gala in October and we went backstage after the show to congratulate him on an amazing performance. He graciously took a photo with us on stage. With so much bad news and chaos in the world, this show will leave you singing and smiling. 




4)  Somone suggested we watch Beef , a limited series on Netflix, and after it won several awards at the Golden Globes and Emmy Awards recently, we gave it a try. It is crazy good! Ali Wong and Steven Yeun play two people who have a road rage incident that spirals out of control. Both of them make one bad decision after the other that threatens their work, family, sanity and even their lives. Everyone involved deserves all the awards, especially Wong and Yeun who are just brilliant. 


5)  After hearing Anna Quindlen speak at New Year, New Chapter, I couldn't wait to dive into her upcoming novel, After Annie, publishing in February. From the first sentence- "Annie Brown died right before dinner", I was hooked.  Annie was a 37 year-old wife and mom to four young children who worked as a nurse aide in a nursing home. After she dies in their kitchen, her husband Bill, who owns his plumbing business, is lost and doesn't know what to do. Thirteen year-old daughter Ali becomes the caretaker to her dad and three younger brothers, and we see the story of what happens 'after Annie' through Ali, Bill, and Annie's lifelong best friend Annmarie's eyes. They bring Annie to life in this heartbreaking and emotional story. Annie was the glue that held the family together, and helped Annmarie through her addiction to pain killers. We watch these people as they grieve, which Quindlen likens to spring. "Grief was like spring, maybe. You thought you were getting out from under it and then it comes roaring back." After Annie is one of the most visceral novels about grief that I have read, and it will stay with me for a long time. I started reading it and five hours later I finished it because I could not put this book down. I give it my highest recommendation. 


 I hope you have a safe, healthy week, Until next time.



Wednesday, January 24, 2024

The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan

The Missing Witness by Allison Brennan
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778369653
Hardcover, $30, 416 pages

I have always wanted to read one of Allison Brennan's novels so I jumped into the fifth book in her Quinn & Costa series, The Missing Witness. While it can be difficult to join an established series without having read the previous books, I was able to catch up, though it did take awhile to place all the characters relationships.

The book begins with LAPD Detective Kara Quinn returning to Los Angeles to testify against a dangerous human trafficker she went undercover to catch. Kara Quinn has been on loan to the FBI in Washington DC where she works closely with Agent Matt Costa, and with whom she has a more than collegial relationship.

Kara is eager to testify, and threats against her life by the trafficker's people have given her LAPD and FBI colleagues concerns about her safety. When the trafficker is shot and killed on his way into the courthouse, there is one witness to the killing- Amy, a civilian IT consultant who has been working undercover to get information on white collar financial crimes that may implicate people high up in the city government as well as the trafficker. 

Amy disappears following the killing, and there are questions as to whether she is a witness or the killer. Quinn and Costa and Quinn's former unit in the LAPD have to work together to find Amy and unravel the white crime syndicate that has now turned to murder to protect their secrets.

Brennan does a good job explaining the complicated scheme that involves nonprofit organizations that have contracts with the city to build housing for unhoused people, and the web of deceit that has created millionaires out of people high up in the government and their family members.

There are some truly tense scenes in this fast-paced novel, including a few shoot-outs, a rooftop chase, and Kara racing away on a motorcycle from killers on her trail. I was biting my nails on these scenes.

I found it interesting how Brennan built her story around a real world problem, the homeless issue, and dealt with it from the perspective of people living in the middle of it. She clearly did her research on it. (Here is a link to an essay Allison Brennan wrote about this.)

For people who have read the previous Quinn & Costa novels, they will no doubt enjoy seeing what their favorite characters have been up to in the interim, and there are a few surprises for them. After reading The Missing Witness, I will be looking the first four books in the series- Kara Quinn is a badass.