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Friday, December 1, 2023

The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor

The Fiction Writer by Jillian Cantor
Published by Park Row ISBN 9780778334187
Trade paperback, $17.99, 304 pages

I am a big fan of novels that retell or reframe a classic- Ann Napolitano's Hello Beautiful (Little Women) and Curtis Sittenfeld's Eligible (Pride & Prejudice) are two of my favorites- so when I heard that Jillian Cantor's new novel The Fiction Writer paid homage to Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca, I was intrigued.

Writer Olivia Fitzgerald is having a bad year. After the success of her first novel, her second novel (a retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca) doesn't sell well at all. Her live-in boyfriend moves out, and her editor is not excited about her next effort.

Her editor says that billionaire and People's Sexiest Man Alive Ash Asherwood has requested that Olivia ghost-write a book with him about his grandmother and her relationship with Daphne du Maurier. The money is too good to turn down, so off Olivia goes to Malibu.

Ash is a widower, his wife perished in a car accident (was it an accident?) and he is reclusive. His housekeeper seems to be very attached to him and is hostile to Olivia.

While Olivia is becoming accustomed to life in Ash's beautiful ocean front home, Ash is pulling her more into his orbit. But when Olivia tries to get down to work discovering what exactly his grandmother and Daphne du Maurier's secret is, Ash becomes cagey and puts her off.

Olivia decides to investigate on her own, and discovers that Ash has not been truthful with her. What is he hiding and what is his real purpose for bringing Olivia to Malibu? 

Fans of Rebecca will enjoy The Fiction Writer on a deeper level, and the controversy around Daphne du Maurier's novel (other people claimed that she stole their story) adds an interesting aspect to the story. Pairing a nice copy of Rebecca with The Fiction Writer would make a great gift for the classic literature lover on your holiday list.
Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Fall 2023 Blog Tours.

Sunday, November 19, 2023

The 2023 Books Are Great Gifts Guide Is Here

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

Thanksgiving Day is coming upon us and that means holiday gift shopping gets into full gear so it’s that time of year for the annual Books Make Great Gifts Guide. Books make great gifts- they always fit, are never the wrong color or size, and easy to wrap.

For your best friend whose television is tuned permanently to the Hallmark Channel this month, Sarah Morgan’s The Book Club Hotel has a charming Vermont boutique hotel setting at Christmas, best friends, and a romance. 

Jenny Colgan’s The Christmas Bookshop is set in lovely Edinburgh, Scotland and centers on a young woman determined to save the bookshop where she is employed from being purchased and turned into a tacky tourist shop. 


Mary Kay Andrews’ annual holiday book Bright Lights, Big City takes place in New York City as a brother and sister come up from North Carolina to sell their family’s Christmas trees in Greenwich Village in New York City and save the family business. 

For your sister who loves true crime podcasts and fictional mysteries and thrillers, Jessica Knoll’s novel Bright Young Women tells the story of two women connected to the crimes of real life killer Ted Bundy. 

Tess Gerritsen starts a terrific new thriller series with The Spy Coast, where a few retired CIA spies have settled in a small town in coastal Maine. When one of them is threatened by someone from her past, the spies bond together to save the day. 

For your aunt who likes to read historical fiction and recently binged the miniseries All the Light We Cannot See, Kelly Rimmer’s The Paris Agent is a tense novel about ordinary British women who become undercover spies in WWII France, and the price they pay to try and save the world. 

Turning to Nonfiction, for your uncle the history buff, David Grann, author of Killers of the Flower Moon, has a new book, The Wager about a shipwreck, mutiny, and murder in 1740. It’s gotten rave reviews. 

Rachel Maddow’s new book Prequel has been getting a lot of buzz. It tells the true tale of Nazis sympathizers who infiltrated power positions in Congress, media, and religion in the United States in the lead up to WWII. 

Moving up chronologically, Loren Grush’s The Six is about the first six women in NASA’s space shuttle program in the 1960s and 1970s. This one is for your niece who read Hidden Figures.

Speaking of the 1970s, Henry Winkler’s fascinating memoir Being Henry takes him from his childhood through his breakout role as the Fonz on the TV hit “Happy Days’ through his struggle with dyslexia to his Emmy-winning role on HBO’s “Barry’ and more. This one will be a great gift for so many people on your holiday list. 

“General Hospital” heartthrob, Uncle Jesse on “Full House” star, and perpetually youthful-looking John Stamos has a memoir out as well that will appeal to fans of his many years in popular culture titled If You Would Have Told Me. 

For the person who loves to be creative in the kitchen, there are two good cookbooks out. Natasha’s Kitchen by popular blogger Natasha Kravchuk has 100 “family-friendly and foolproof” recipes, including some from her native Ukraine.  

Molly Baz shares her motto More is More in her cookbook that is great for cooks of all skill levels. Molly believes in intuitive cooking not so much in exact measurements. 

 Fans of The Games of Thrones have their next read in Rebecca Yarros' two novels

 Fourth Wing and Iron Flame.  

For Young Adults, Rebecca Ross’ Divine Rivals is a popular fantasy one, the first book in her Letters of Enchantment series. 

Jenny Han’s The Summer I Turned Pretty trilogy has been repackaged in a three-book set for those who love the Prime series it is based on. 

Middle grade readers are big fans of Rick Riordan’s series of novels, and his new one in the Olympians series is The Chalice of the Gods. 

Christopher Paolini’s new addition to his popular Eragon series is Murtagh

Other popular series for children are The Magic Tree House which has over 50 books in the series, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and The Bad Guys series. 

Mo Willems has a new picture book for youngsters, Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Sleigh and poet Amanda Gorman’s Something, Someday teaches about kindness. And you can’t go wrong with a Sandra Boynton board book for babies.

Remember that you can support independent booksellers buy purchasing on bookshop.org.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Friday, November 10, 2023

Friday 5ive- November 10, 2023

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

1)  Manhattan has its first Wegmans grocery store  (there is a Wegmans in Brooklyn) and it is a stunner! The 6 train lets you out right across the street from the store so it is convienent for me to get there, although carrying groceries back can be a bit tricky. The layout is beautifully done, and they have so much product in the store. The prepared foods section has something for everyone in packaging for one, two, or more people. I picked up a chicken francese, potato au gratin, and broccoli for my dinner and it was delicious. They have a wing bar, a huge charcuterie section with packages of sliced meats of all kinds, and an amazing cheese section stocked with products from their own cheese cave, overseen by their own Cheese Cave Affineur (that is a new term for me). The edible Chocolate Tea Cup in the bakery is adorable. I will be making many more trips to Astor Place to visit Wegmans.
Chocolate Tea Cup

Charcuterie as far as the eye can see

2) The NYC Marathon was this past Sunday and it's always fun to go cheer on the runners. It's a real team building exercise for New Yorkers and something we sorely needed this year, everyone on the same side, encouraging the brave souls running through all five boroughs. I love all the clever signs, like this one below.

3) I went to a live taping of Hillary Clinton's podcast You and Me Both at Symphony Space. Her guest was Broadway legend Patti LuPone and the conversation between this two iconic women was enlightening and intelligent. Amber Ruffin- comedian, author, actress, Broadway creative (she wrote the book for Some Like It Hot and the upcoming revival of The Wiz)-hosted and joined the ladies for a funny and interesting Q&A at the end. (Who knew Amber Ruffin and Hillary Clinton were such good friends?  It makes sense though, they are both accomplished and funny people. They should auction off dinner with these two ladies for charity,) Once again it was great to be among a community of people joined together for an activity. We even got to hear Patti sing Make Someone Happy. They did. (And Patti's red shoes were to die for!)
Hillary Clinton, Patti LuPone, Amber Ruffin

4) I watched all four episodes of Netflix's All The Light We Cannot See, based on Anthony Doerr's novel of the same name. I read the book when it published in 2014, and I think they did a good job with the miniseries. It tells the story of Marie-Laure, a blind French girl in WWII who, along with her uncle and aunt, work for the French resistance using her uncle's radio to send secret coded messages to the Allies to help them defeat the Nazis. Even though I knew how the story ends, I was on the edge of my seat as director Shawn Levy rachets up the tension, especially as Marie is being stalked by a Nazi who wants something he believes she possesses. Aria Maria Loberti does a good job as Marie, as does Louis Hoffman as Werner, a reluctant Nazi soldier who has an unknowing connection to Marie. Hugh Laurie is fantastic as Uncle Etienne as well. 

5) I finally read Toni Morrison's Pulitzer prize-winning novel, Beloved. I can't believe I never read this incredible novel. It was my October Banned Book read gifted to me by my daughter-in-law, and it is a novel that everyone should read. Taking place shortly after the Civil War, former slave Sethe and her daughter Denver live in Ohio and are haunted by spirit of Sethe's dead baby Beloved. No one in town will associate with them for reasons that become apparent. Another former slave Paul shows up to stay with Sethe and Denver, and soon a young woman appears who shakes up things in the household. Sethe is traumatized by her life as a slave, and Morrison shows the reader the horrors and dangers of treating people as less than human. It is brutal and eye-opening, and heartbreaking. This book should not be banned, it should be required reading. 

Stay safe and healthy all, and we wish all of our veterans who sacrificed for our country a Happy Vaterans' Day tomorrow.

Friday, November 3, 2023

A Dish Best Served Hot by Natalie Caña

A Dish Served Hot by Natalie Caña
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778333500
Trade paperback, $18.99, 352 pages

Last year I read and loved Natalie Caña's first novel in her Vega Family Love Story series A Proposal They Can't Refuse. I loved it so much, it earned a place on my Most Compelling Books of 2022. (see post here.) Two grandfathers scheme to get their grandchildren to fall in love, which of course they do after much ado. The characters and story drew me in right away, and it was steamy.

Her second book in the Vega family series is A Dish Best Served Hot. Saint Vega is single dad raising his young four year-old daughter after the death of his wife. He discovers that his daughter's new teacher is Lola Leon, who was his high school love.

Saint left to join the Marines and Lola moved away with her mother and the two never had closure to their budding relationship. Each believes the other was responsible for the ending of their relationship. 

Saint's grandfather and Lola's grandfather (who raised her) are "mortal enemies" who live in the same assisted living facility. The pranks they pull on each other may amuse each other but as they escalate, Saint and Lola are being called constantly to come to the facility to deal with the men. If they don't behave, they will be forced to move out.

Now Saint and Lola are being thrown together, sparks begin to fly again. Can they reignite what they had years ago? Lola's family is very different from Saint's- her father and brother are in prison, and Saint's family are very close, upstanding members of the Puertominican community of Humboldt Park outside Chicago.

Lola volunteers for the community center that not only houses a school but also a shelter for LGBTQ+ youth, a cause close to Lola's heart. When Saint's family gets a construction contract from the company that bought the center's building and plans to kick the shelter out, Lola and her friends mobilize to stop the demolition. This puts Lola and Saint on opposite sides, until Saint offers to help the shelter find a new home.

A Dish Best Served Hot takes on some timely social justice issues which elevates the book from the usual romance novel fare. Of course, Natalie Caña's steamy scene (or two) heats up enough to fog up your glasses as you read them. Characters from the previous Vega novel make some cameo appearances, but this book belongs to Saint and Lola, and once again Caña mixes the right blend of heart and heat to the delight of readers. I recommend it.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Fall 2023 Blog Tours.

Saturday, October 28, 2023

Friday 5ive- October 27, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. Like the fact that as I write this, it is 75 degrees in NYC. It was a busy week, we were out everywhere.

1) The ArchCare Gala was held this week and they raised over $2 million to care for the frail and vulnerable in the archdiocese of New York. It was a fantastic evening, with Good Day New York's Rosanna Scotto once again emceeing, and she had a terrific interview with New York Giants legend Eli Manning. Everyone was excited to meet and get a photo with Eli (who is very tall). Nick Fradiani, who now plays Neil Diamond  in Broadway's A Beautiful Noise- The Neil Diamond Musical, performed four songs-America, I'm A Believer,  I Am I Said, and of course Sweet Caroline. We saw Nick in A Beautiful Noise earlier this year and he is phenomenal in the show. If you get the chance to come to NYC, definitely go see it. 
Our team with Eli Manning

Nick Fradiani, my husband Scott and myself

You can see some of Rosanna's interview with Eli Manning here.
You can see some of Nick's performance here.

2) We had dinner with two friends this week at Sartiano's in the Mercer Hotel in New York and it was quite an experience. Apparently it is the hot spot, drawing lots of celebrities. It's a gorgeous restaurant, and the food was amazing. I had the Agnolotti, made with sweet corn, chanterelles, and pecorino cheese. It was the best pasta I've had outside of Italy. It's a special treat dinner, and I highly recommend it. 
Photo from Sartiano's website

3) After dinner we attended a talk at the Sheen Center featuring television producer Matt Williams reading from his memoir Glimpses- A Comedy Writer's Take on Life, Love and All That Spiritual Stuff. Williams, who co-created and produced Roseanne and Home Improvement, two of the biggest sitcoms of the 1990s, also teaches at Columbia University, so he knows how to speak to an audience and keep us engaged. Author Adriana Trigiani came onstage after the reading to discuss Williams' book and career, and I found the talk so interesting. Williams' book talks about how throughout his life he has found glimpses of grace and goodness when he needed it most. In the scary world we find ourselves in, glimpses of grace and goodness are so important. I'm looking forward to reading Glimpses.  

4) It was a week of bookish lunches. The first was with a new friend, Alexa Weijko, an editor at 
Soho Press. I've seen Alexa on Zoom presentations with publishers speaking about their upcoming books, so I was excited to meet in person this week. We talked books we like, my work at the Book Cellar, and I learned all about the job an editor does (which I found fascinating). We're also from the same hometown of Auburn, New York, so we caught up on all things Auburn. I can't wait to hunker down with these terrific upcoming Soho Crime books, they're always intriguing reads.

My second bookish lunch was catching up with two of my Book Cellar friends. We talked books we've recently read and loved and books we're looking forward to reading, as well as new restaurants and shops in the neighborhood. I even stopped into the recently opened Caroline's Donuts and picked up a few treats for me and one doggie treat for my son's dog Otto. Mmmm, donuts as Homer Simpson would say.

5) I read two good books this week. The first is Jean Kwok's The Leftover Woman, the story of two women whose very different lives intersect in ways they couldn't imagine. Jasmine secretly leaves her home in China for New York City to look for the daughter she was told by husband had died at birth. Rebecca works in publishing and lives in a beautiful New York City home with her handsome and charismatic husband and young daughter they adopted from China. Jasmine deals with the challenges of being an impoverished immigrant while trying to find her daughter, while Rebecca's carefully manicured life is becoming unglued with problems in her marriage and her career in her father's legacy publishing house crumbling. Kwok masterfully manages to keep the story suspenseful while at the same time throwing a light on the intensely competitive publishing world, the invisibility of immigrants, and the repercussions of the one child policy in China. It's just brilliant. 

The second book is Tess Gerritsen's thriller The Spy Coast. Maggie Bird, a retired CIA spy moves to a quiet coastal town in Maine where some of her former colleagues have already quietly settled incognito. When someone from Maggie's past comes looking for her, the team, who calls themselves The Martini Club, band together to find out who is after Maggie. They also have to deal with Jo, the new chief of police of this quiet town, who wonders what is the deal with this so-called Martini Club of older people who keep insinuating themselves in her investigation. It's a fast-paced story with terrific characters and I'm happy to see that this is billed as the first in the Martini Club series, I will be impatiently waiting for the next book in the series. Gerritsen got the idea for the book from the fact that she discovered the little town she lives in in Maine has a group of retired CIA agents living there. 

Stay safe and healthy all. Until next time.

Friday, October 20, 2023

Friday 5ive- October 20, 2023

The Friday 5ive is back! I've been traveling recently and so have missed a lot of Fridays, I will try to do better. Now let's get to the important things, like when is this rain going to end? The last 20 of  21 weekends have seen rain on at least one of the weekend days and it is wreaking havoc in New York City. Here are five things that caught my attention this week:

1) On the local news this week, New York City "elected" an honorary Dog Mayor, and the winner by popular vote was a basset hound named Sally Long. Sally is the first female dog elected mayor of New York, it's too bad we've haven't elected a woman as the real mayor of New York City. We used to have a basset hound named Malcolm, and he would have made an excellent mayor. 

2) You never know what you'll see walking around New York City. We have a lot of new restaurants that recently opened, and in my neighborhood I saw a new Jello Shot store. That's right, if you find yourself strolling and think, "you know what I could really use right now- a Jello Shot", well here is your place, called Spoonable Spirits.

3) I love a good bookish podcast and one of my favorite authors, Adriana Trigiani, has a new one called "You Are What You Read". Adriana, who is one of the best interviewers in the business (her Facebook Live shows featuring authors from all genres are wonderful), interviewed Sarah Jessica Parker on the premiere broadcast, and it was a fascinating discussion. I love hearing stories from Sarah's childhood and how her mother insisted that each of her children never leave the house without a book. I'm looking forward to the discussions with cookbook author Lidia Bastianich and Jacqueline Woodson. You can find it here. 

4) I watched the first three episodes of Lessons in Chemistry on Apple TV+ this week. Based on Bonnie Garmus' debut novel, Brie Larson is picture-perfect as chemist Elizabeth Zott who battles sexism in her 1950's workplace, and ends up hosting a hugely popular television show where she shares recipes and the science behind cooking. If you liked the book (it has been on the bestseller list for a long time), or if you enjoyed the Julia Child miniseries on Netflix, you'll want to watch Lessons in Chemistry. It's very well done.

5) While visiting Bookstore1 in Sarasota, I picked up a copy of Abraham Verghese's 700 page doorstopper of a novel, The Covenant of Water. Set in the southern Indian coast from 1900-1977, we meet three generations of family who has lost members through drowning. We live alongside these characters, through good times (marriages, births) and bad times (monsoons, illness, untimely deaths). We also learn about the history of India during those years, something I knew little about. The characters propel this fascinating story- from a 12 year-old girl who is married off to a 40 year-old man and becomes the matriarch of an important family, to Digby, a Scottish doctor who ends up working at a leper community, to Elsie, a artist who wants desperately to be allowed to create her art, to Mariamma, who trains to become a doctor trying to discover why her family members die from drowning- all of their stories intersect until the surprising ending that had me gasping. It's a true commitment to read this novel, but so worth it.

I know the events of the past few weeks have been sad and horrifying, we should all pray for peace in this troubled world. Until next time.