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Friday, February 26, 2010

The Friday 56

Here's a fun meme from Storytime with Tonya and Friends called The Friday 56.

* Grab the book nearest you. Right now.
* Turn to page 56.
* Find the fifth sentence.
* Post that sentence (plus one or two others if you like) along with these instructions on your blog or (if you do not have your own blog) in the comments section of this blog.
*Post a link along with your post back to this blog and to Storytime with Tonya and Friends at http://storytimewithtonya.blogspot.com/
* Don't dig for your favorite book, the coolest, the most intellectual. Use the CLOSEST.

My book is Jackie Collins's Poor Little Bitch Girl

Senator Stoneman and his lovely wife, Carolyn. Mrs. Gregory Stoneman. Carolyn Stoneman. They all sounded so perfect. She was ecstatic.

C'mon- it's Jackie Collins. You know it's going to be a fun, sexy read.


The worst pain a person can feel is the death of a child. Roger and Ginny Rosenblatt's 38-year-old daughter Amy, a doctor and mother of three young children, died on her home treadmill of an asymptomatic heart condition.

Roger and Ginny left their home on Long Island and moved to Bethesda, Maryland to live and care for son-in-law Harris, and their three grandchildren: six-year-old Jessie, four-year-old Sammy and eighteen-month-old James, called Bubbies.

Rosenblatt's memoir paints a portrait of the beautiful daughter they lost. He describes her as "a very clear person, even as a small child, knowing intuitively what plain good sense a particular situation required. " She was "both self-confident and selfless, (and) when she faced you there could be no doubt you were the only thing on her mind."

While her clarity sometimes caused her to be brusque with her brothers Carl and John, it also "contributed to her kindness". Rosenblatt tells of a time when Amy was six-years-old, and a friend got carsick in the backseat of his car. The other two friends in the car moved away from the sick girl, but Amy moved closer to comfort her sick friend.

Roger and Ginny were thrown back into a world of caring for young children. Roger is in awe of his wife, who jumps right in and with boundless energy helps with homework, makes school lunches, comforts a crying baby, and attends soccer games with the moms and dads of her grandkids' friends.

He writes of her selflessness, and in what I think is the saddest sentence in the book, Ginny states, "I am leading Amy's life", she says in despair, yet comfort too." It breaks her heart when she eats dinner alone with her son-in-law, knowing that it should be his wife, her daughter, there listening to him talk about his day.

Roger bonds with a man he hires to turn his garage into a playroom for the grandkids when the man's college-aged son dies. Men generally don't share deep feelings with other men, and this relationship is moving. He also hears from so many other people who have suffered a similar loss, and it surprises him how many people there are in the same situation.

After a year passes, Roger and Ginny wonder if their son-in-law still wants them to stay. There is no question that they are where they need and want to be, and they sincerely wish for their son-in-law to someday find a new woman, knowing that he "will choose well".

Making Toast puts me in mind of Calvin Trillin's memoir about his wife, About Alice. Both books are slim, yet Rosenblatt, like Trillin, paints a full portrait of a special person he loves with carefully chosen words. It's about coping with unexpected loss, raging against the unfairness of it, while at the same time carrying on the day-to-day living that must continue. Roger and Ginny's tribute to their daughter's legacy is to step into her life and care for her family. Their story will touch (and sometimes break) your heart.

Rating 4 of 5 stars

Thanks to Kayleigh from Harper Collins for providing me with a copy for review

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

GAME CHANGE plays for keeps

I have been drawn back into old episodes of The West Wing on Bravo TV weekdays mornings at 8am. It's a great way to pass time while on the treadmill, I get so engrossed that before I know it, an hour has disappeared.

Anyone who loved The West Wing will want to read Game Change- Obama and the Clintons, McCain and Palin and the Race of a Lifetime by political reporters John Heilemann and Mark Halperin.

Now that some time has passed and election fatigue is over, (and with all of the stunning events that have plagued this country in the past year, it seems like the election was years ago) it is time for an analysis of that historic election.

The authors spoke to many people on the inside of the presidential campaigns, and their insights are fascinating. This book is written in such a compelling manner, it reads more like a page-turning fiction book. And honestly, how many people just ten years ago could have predicted an African-American candidate would come out of nowhere to defeat a controversial former First Lady for the Democratic nomination and then win the Presidency?

One of the main themes of the book is that people who run for president have big egos. Obviously, you would have to have a big ego to believe that you should be the leader of the free world. Barack Obama's ego is on display when he whines that John Grisham's non-fiction book, An Innocent Man publishes on the same days as his, thus bumping him to second on the best seller list. "But I want to be number one" he whines.

When Hillary Clinton is deciding whether she should run for president, it is her husband Bill who clarifies for her, asking her a question that, reading this book, I had to wonder whether the other candidates asked themselves
You have to ask yourself one question, he replied. Of all the people running, would I be the best president? If you can answer yes, then you need to run. If you're not sure, then you need to think more about it, and if the answer is no, then don't do it.

Reading this book, I got the impression that some of the people working on these campaigns asked a different question: Can I get this person elected? Not whether this person is the most qualified, but the most electable; an important distinction in my mind.

John Edwards and his wife Elizabeth fare poorly in this book. Edwards' behavior is most appalling. When Edwards' affair with Rielle Hunter begins to become common knowledge in his inner circle, he rips into a young, idealistic staffer, blaming the 27-year-old man for leaking the information. Edwards has the utter gall to scream at the young man "Why didn't you come to me like a (expletive deleted) man and tell me to stop (expletive deleted) her?" He actually blames this aide for not stopping him from committing adultery! That one incident alone tells more about Edwards lack of character than any other.

This book's account of Sarah Palin's rise to national prominence differs greatly from her Going Rogue. She is depicted as being in way over her head as a Vice-Presidential candidate. The campaign's attempts to bring her up to speed on subjects she needed to know for interviews and her debate with Joe Biden are disturbing. She wrote out flash cards to help her learn, and the stack was so big, it was overwhelming her. It reminds me of a college student cramming for a final when she never attended the class during the year.

There is so much crammed into this book, political junkies will be in heaven. It is also must-reading for anyone who is engaged in current events, and it puts into question whether the complicated primary process in its current form is the best way to elect the most important office in the land.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars

Thursday, February 11, 2010

A View From the Bridge

The Broadway revival of A View from the Bridge is playing for a few more weeks, and if you have the opportunity to see it, you owe it to yourself to see this powerful production of the classic Arthur Miller play.

Liev Schreiber plays the lead role of Eddie Carbone, a dockhand in Brooklyn who works hard and comes home to his loving wife Beatrice and his 17 year-old niece, Catherine, whom he and his wife have raised since the death of her mother.

As the play begins, Eddie is a happy guy; he stands tall and proud, he smiles frequently. He brings news home that two cousins of his wife have arrived from Italy. They are in the country illegally, and will be staying with the Carbones and working on the docks with Eddie. Many families had relatives from back home staying with them; it was something everyone in the neighborhood knew about. People went to great lengths to protect their families from the immigration officials.

Eddie becomes unnerved by Catherine's burgeoning romance with one of the cousins. Catherine loves her uncle, but she is growing into a young woman, and Beatrice is becoming concerned with Eddie's reluctance to let Catherine grow up.

Liev Schreiber is a fantastic actor, and while you are watching the play, you believe he is Eddie, not an actor portraying Eddie. As he becomes more discontent, his posture physically changes. He no longer stands proud, he slumps his shoulders and walks with his head hung low. A shadow falls across his face, and you can see anger and jealousy eating away at his very core. He makes you feel Eddie's growing despair.

Jessica Hecht is stunning as Beatrice. As the action unfolds, her face registers her anguish as she realizes that her husband cares too much for their niece. She tries her best to get Catherine out into the world to save her marriage and her husband from something sinister. I have seen Hecht mostly in comedic roles (Friends, Seinfeld guest spots), and I can't wait to see her in more dramas.

Scarlett Johansson plays Catherine in her first Broadway production. Although she is older than the 17-year-old Catherine, she imbues the character with the energy and innocence of a teenager. She is all bounce and puppy-like in her desire to please her Uncle Eddie, and she shows delight as her romantic feelings grow for Rodolpho. The role requires an actress to show a range of emotions, and Johannson does that well.

Morgan Spector plays the role of Rodolpho and his charismatic performance is winning. I hope to see him in another big role on Broadway soon.

A View From the Bridge is a strong, emotional play, one of Miller's best, and although the audience knows what will happen, the production does well building the sense of foreboding and dread. Come Tony nomination time, I would be surprised if Schreiber and Hecht are not nominated.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

An evening with Adriana Trigiani

How does one describe attending a reading with author Adriana Trigiani? You can sense the moment she walks in the room, the air becomes vibrant, and you can hear her booming voice greeting the overflow audience.

Usually at a reading, someone from the bookstore reads a short bio about the author and introduces her. Adriana strides up to the podium, gushing over the bountiful bouquet of flowers on the desk, a gift from the founders of the Barnes & Noble chain, who were represented in the audience and introduced by Adriana. (I've been to many book signings, but I've never seen flowers given to the author by the store.)

She launches into a story about her father, stops and says, "You need to introduce me, right?" to the Barnes & Noble manager, which elicits a huge laugh from the crowd. She was off and running, and we clearly did not want to stop for an introduction now.

As people came into the room, Adriana would stop and acknowledge them "Nice beret, Elaine", "How you doin' Joe?", and as three young women came in, she exclaimed "How cute are you? Get in here!" She said that they were clearly Italian girls, and they took the time to blow out and style their hair, something that Adriana did not do herself, having done her hair once that day for an appearance on "The Today Show". Once you get to certain age, and you are married, you are not going to do your hair twice in one day.

Adriana joked about her looks, saying that on her mother's side of the family, everyone looked like Armand Assante, the handsome Latin actor, and on her father's side, they all looked like a cross between Louis Prima and BB King. She said it was obvious which side she favored.

As anyone who has read any of Adriana's books knows, family is a big topic for her; she has four sisters and two brothers. She likened her family to an octopus, connected by tentacles. She joked that it took her and her sisters 35 years to figure out that if they needed to give their mother bad news, they would have their brothers do it. Their mother thought that her sons walked on water, whereas the daughters were a repository of their mother's litany of aches, pains and complaints.

Jokes about marrying an Italian man elicited many laughs. She claims that it is not in an Italian man's DNA to be faithful, and that she did not want to spend her Saturdays ironing her husband's shirt so that he would have something nice to wear when he went out later that night with his girlfriend. She said that non-Italian men are so grateful when their wives cook them a meal, but Italian men expect it. It's much easier to please a non-Italian man. (Her husband is of Scottish decent, like Jack Mac from Big Stone Gap)

Her impression of Italian women saying with a sad sigh, "Where'm I gonna go?" when asked why they don't leave their straying husbands had all of the room in stitches. I'm still laughing about it today.

Adriana told stories about her friends in the audience- an older couple who were the first people to be married at Leonard's, the reception facility featured prominently in the delightful first scene of Very Valentine, a hilarious story about her tough negotiator of an agent, which involved a phone call her agent made to a man that referred to her taking a part of his male anatomy "putting them in a ziploc bag and placing the bag on her desk", and then inviting an audience member she had met at a previous book signing to come and tell how Adriana ended up taking her and her entire family to lunch when they didn't win a contest to have lunch with Adriana.

In the Q/A section of the event, movies were a big topic. Adriana is set to direct a big screen adaptation of her Big Stone Gap novel, with Ashley Judd to play Ave Maria. The big scoop is that Very Valentine has been optioned by Lifetime TV as a movie, and although they changed the ending of the novel, I am so excited to see this movie. I can't wait to see how gorgeous the Angelini shoes look!

The funniest comment of the night came when an older woman in the audience told Adriana that she'd be "so pretty if she just fixed her hair". It was if she was channeling Adriana's grandmother!

Her readers mean a lot to Adriana. Not only does she personalize each book (and most people bought multiple books), she takes the time to speak with everyone in line. She makes a personal connection with each person, asking about family, telling people to call her, and you believe she really means it. When I told her who I was, she said that someone had sent her the review I had written for Brava, Valentine and how much she appreciated it.

If you have the chance to see Adriana in person, you MUST do it. I have not laughed so hard in a long time, and she makes everyone feel like an intimate friend. If you weren't one of her friends when you went into that room, you were definitely one when you left. If you haven't read Very Valentine or Brava, Valentine yet, go get both books. It's going to be a lousy weekend to go out, and a great weekend to stay in and read.

Her tour schedule is here: http://www.adrianatrigiani.com/dates.html

My review of Very Valentine, is here:

I met Adriana last year at BEA:

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

A novel for fans of IT'S COMPLICATED and SEX & THE CITY

For full review in Auburn Citizen, click here.

With Valentine’s Day around the corner, what better way to celebrate than by curling up with a book titled BRAVA,VALENTINE by Adriana Trigiani?

The Valentine series tells the story of Valentine Roncalli, an unmarried over-30 something shoemaker who lives among her close-knit Italian family in New York City. BRAVA, VALENTINE begins right where the first novel,VERY VALENTINE left off- with Valentine’s widowed grandmother marrying the man of her dreams in beautiful Italy.

While in Italy, Valentine reunites with Gianluca, the older man she fell in love with on her last trip to Italy. Gianluca makes the leather that she uses to make her beautiful custom wedding shoes at Angelini Shoes in Greenwich Village in New York City. But for Valentine, a career woman, love is a difficult road to maneuver.

Until the recent wedding, Valentine had worked with her grandmother. Upon her retirement, Gram left her business to Valentine and Valentine’s brother, Alfred. Alfred is a good businessman, and Valentine is an artist, and the two sensibilities frequently clash, bringing up with them the residual effects of childhood familial relationships.

Trigiani comes from a close-knit Italian family herself, and she excels at the family relationships and scenes. Everyone can relate to the family dynamics that occur during weddings and family dinners, culminating with a Thanksgiving dinner that starts out with such promise and high hopes, only to disintegrate into a truth-telling, secret-spilling train wreck.

The author does terrific job creating characters whom the reader cares about. I like that Valentine doesn’t have it all figured it, that she struggles with family, career, love and friends. Even the minor characters are real and well-drawn, from June, the fabric cutter to Roberta, the new-found cousin to Pamela, the sister-in-law who doesn’t fit in.

Tough topics, such as infidelity, job loss, death and racism are also tackled in the novel; Trigiani does not shy away from the tougher things in life we all face. She also does humor very well; you will find yourself laughing out loud when Valentine and Gianluca are almost caught naked in a hotel by her young niece.

Trigiani is a very visual author. Her scenes are so detailed, and they scream out to be made into a visual medium of some type- a film or a TV miniseries. Luckily, Lifetime TV has optioned the novel for a movie; I can't wait!

She describes the shoes she creates in such detail that I had hoped to see sketches of them in the novel. Her trips to scenic Italy and Argentina, her Greenwich Village neighborhood and the extreme home makeover of Gram’s apartment above Angelini Shoes by her gay best friend Gabriel are so vividly described, the reader can picture it all so clearly in her mind.
“The living room is wallpapered in cream with a black-striped border. Gabriel has positioned his zebra-print love seats in front of the windows. He created draperies that mimic stage curtains, opulent turquoise silk drapes with black silk braid tiebacks. He used Gram’s simple black onyx-based lamps to anchor the love seats.”

Food is another important element in her novels, and I swear you can almost smell the cannolis the Roncalli sisters are stuffing for dessert. (In the paperback version of VERY VALENTINE Trigiani added a section titled “Eat and Read” containing recipes for some of the dishes in the novel- a definite incentive to buy the paperback.)

Readers must be prepared to use all of their senses when reading BRAVA, VALENTINE smelling and tasting the Italian delicacies, seeing the beautifully designed shoes, and the scenery of Italy and Argentina- it is truly a sensual experience.

Trigiani also pays tribute to music in BRAVA, VALENTINE. Gram has a collection of Frank Sinatra albums, and the author has titled each of the chapters a different Sinatra song- “It Isn’t a Dream Anymore”, “Autumn in New York”, “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” are examples. It’s a clever homage to a great Italian-American singer.

BRAVA, VALENTINE is a must-read for fans of Meryl Streep’s film “It’s Complicated” and “Sex in the City”.

Rating 4.5 of 5 stars
Thanks to HarperCollins for providing an advanced reader copy of this book for review.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

A Common Pornography by Kevin Sampsell

Despite the bad publicity of a few memoirs by people who were later determined to be less than truthful, the genre is still flourishing. I recently reviewed The Kids Are All Right, the story of the four Welch siblings, who were left orphaned after their father's death in a car accident and their mother's death by cancer a short time later.

The four siblings took turns writing about their memories in short, one and two page sections. It has been said that each child in a family grows up with different parents, and their story illustrates that point.

Kevin Sampsell's memoir A Common Pornography is written in a similar style. His one-and-two page mini-essays read like diary entries. Reading them is like sitting with Sampsell while he is looking at a family photo album, each page a picture triggering a memory. The pictures add up to a life lived in a family that is deeply troubled.

Sampsell has two older half-brothers who were pretty much out of the house by the time he could remember. His half-sister spent ten years in a psychiatric hospital, and while there gave birth to a child who was taken from her. She later married an abusive man who pimped her out for sex to other men. She again got pregnant and again gave up her baby. She was impregnated once more, this time by her stepfather, Kevin's father.

Two other brothers lived with Kevin, one of whom was black. Matt was the product of an affair that Kevin's mother had with an African man when she and Kevin's father had been estranged. Kevin describes a beautiful story Matt told him about going to Africa and meeting his father's relatives. He had several mannerisms of his father, and they were mesmerized by this young man who looked and acted so much like their deceased relative.

Out of this sad, violent, strange family, Kevin managed to grow up. His stories of loneliness, isolation and attempts to connect with girls are heartbreaking, and yet familiar to many. His description of working at a donut shop and the friends he made there had me flashing back to my first job working at a movie theater.

His stories about his his father's funeral and the feelings it triggers in him and his siblings almost hurt to read. His brother Mark, the one who stayed behind to care for his ill father, seems almost totally unable to function as an adult. Following the funeral, Kevin's mother attempts to share all of the secrets that she had been keeping, answers to questions the children were never allowed to ask.

A Common Pornography is heartbreakingly sad, speared with humor, yet above all it is honest. Sampsell speaks truth to the difficulty of finding oneself in this lonely world, made all the more frightening by the horrible dysfunction he grew up in. It is not for everyone, there is rough language and tough situations, and it is not written like a conventional memoir, but many will find it comforting to know that there are people out there who share their struggles.

Rating 3.5 stars of 5

Thanks to Harper Perennial for providing me with a copy for review.

Monday, February 1, 2010

The Marriage Ref a sure-fire TV hit!

I was lucky enough to get to attend the tapings of a sneak preview and the first episode of a new NBC show, The Marriage Ref, starring comedian Tom Papa and executive produced by Jerry Seinfeld.

The premise of the show is that married couples have the same fight over and over again. What if there were a referee who could decide who the winner of the fight is? That's where Tom Papa comes in. He is hilarious, and this show should deservedly make him a star. He has a winning personality and comes across well on this show.

Couples are videotaped in their homes, fighting about the things we all fight about. (One observation: people are a little nuts about their pets. I know, I know, I was too when I had a dog, but not to this extent.) After the video, Tom asks a panel of three who should win the argument. On the premiere episode, the panelists were Jerry Seinfeld, Kelly Ripa and Alec Baldwin.

The panelists were quite humorous, Alec Baldwin in particular was an audience favorite. He seemed to take his role seriously, but he has a wicked sense of humor that fans of 30 Rock well know. His comments were funny and dead-on. All of the panelists meshed well together, and it was great to see Jerry Seinfeld back on TV. As anyone who saw Curb Your Enthusiasm this past season knows, he has not lost his comedic touch; if anything, he has sharpened his wit.

Legendary sportscaster Marv Albert has a role on the show, and he plays it deadpan for laughs. The Today Show's Natalie Morales is the "Just the Facts" person, whom Tom goes to for interesting facts that shed light on the argument. While Natalie is gorgeous, she doesn't have much to do here, and it is the one part of the show that needs work. She's a smart lady, and her talent seems wasted here. Hopefully as the weeks go on, this part will work better.

Comedian Joey Kola, a veteran at warming up audiences (The Rosie O'Donnell Show, Martha Stewart), got the crowd revved up and ready to go for the show. This is his forte, and his cat impression is one that won't be forgotten for a long time. Tom Papa said that it is one of the funniest bits he had ever heard, and I agree.

I think that everyone who is married will identify with The Marriage Ref. The arguments I saw were relatable, and the couples seemed natural. The couples are seen live via satellite to get the results from the ref, and this part of the show is really funny. Fighting over a mean dog, where to park the husband's motorcycle, a Mariah Carey obsession- it's all funny and it's all real. Watch it with your spouse; it's sure to spark conversation and laughs. Even better, invite your married couple friends over for a Marriage Ref party; you'll all have a blast!

I think The Marriage Ref will be a HUGE hit for NBC, and they sure can use it now. The sneak peek will run on February 28th , following the Olympics closing ceremony on NBC, then it moves to its regular time slot of Thursdays at 10pm on March 4th. If you need a good laugh (who doesn't?), don't miss The Marriage Ref.