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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Death Takes a Holiday CD signing

I'm really sorry that I didn't get to see the Roundabout Theatre Company's Off-Broadway production of Death Takes a Holiday, particularly after being treated to a performance of seven (!) songs from the cast recording, now out on CD.

Barnes & Noble 86th St. store in NYC has become the place to see and hear Broadway's best, and that makes me very happy, as I live just a few blocks away.

Maury Weston, who wrote the music and lyrics and is a Broadway vet (Nine, Titanic- both of which won the Tony for best score and best musical) and Thomas Meehan, who wrote the book for Annie, The Producers and  co-wrote Hairspray,  were in attendance as well. Weston introduced the songs and the cast, giving the story behind each of the songs. This was very helpful for those few of us in the audience who did not see the now-closed show.

Kevin Earley & Jill Paice
Kevin Earley played Death, disguised as Prince Sirki, and he has such a powerful voice, on fine display as he sang "Centuries". His lovely co-star Jill Paice played his love interest Grazia, and she showed off her gorgeous voice on "How Will I Know".

Earley returned with Mara Davi as they sang a saucy "Shimmy Like They Do In Paree", which brought a little levity to the performance.
Mara Davi & Kevin Earley

Matt Cavenaugh performed "Roberto's Eyes", which told the story of his friend dying in battle in WWI. Rebecca Luker, one of Broadway' best singers played Roberto's mother, and her tender rendition of "Losing Roberto" was very moving, especially for any mother in attendance.
Matt Cavenaugh
Rebecca Luker

Earley returned for "I Thought That I Could Live" and the final song was an amazing duet from Earley and Pace on "More and More".

This was one of the best cast performances I have seen, not only did they sing seven songs, but every single performer was wonderful. They really gave the audience a true representation of the entire show, one I wish I hadn't missed. The CD itself is beautifully packaged, too with stunning photos.

Meehan, Weston, Greg Jarret (Accompanist), Cavenaugh, Davi, Luker, Paice, Earley

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Meeting Kate Kerrigan, author of Ellis Island

Ellis Island by Kate Kerrigan
Published by Harper Collins, ISBN 9780062071538
Trade paperback, $13.99

Nicole, Kate Kerrigan, Diane LaRue, Cindy Thomson

A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of meeting Irish author Kate Kerrigan at a luncheon hosted by Harper Collins. She was a delight, and  even baked Irish Soda Bread and Honey Bread for the luncheon, which were delicious. She shared the recipes with us, and you can find them on her blog here.

We met Kate in the lobby of the building, but I didn't recognize her because she looks so different from her author photo in Ellis Island. Her dark hair is now lighter, and it's very flattering. She warmly greeted myself, Nicole from Linus' Blanket and Cindy Thomson (and her husband) from Cindy's Writing in the lobby, and I liked her right away.

Kerrigan spoke warmly of her family in Ireland, and showed us some videos and audio tapes she made of her mother sharing family stories. We also saw her lovely writing cottage in her home in Ireland, where this book and the next two in the trilogy will be written.

I enjoyed talking with Kerrigan, and asking her questions about her novel, about Ellie Hogan, a young Irish woman who comes to America in 1920 to make money to send back to Ireland for an operation her husband needs.

Two key scenes take place on Ellis Island, in the huge building where immigrants were ushered through interviews and health inspections before being allowed into the United States. Anyone who has visited the  building, which is now a museum, will recognize these scenes that Kerrigan brings vividly to life as Ellie first comes to America.

There is a scene where one immigrant has to undergo an eye exam with a hook that lifts the eyelid. This hook is memorably on display in the museum, and if you do there, make sure to take the audio or docent tour to get the most out of your visit.

In a later scene, Ellie is waiting on the balcony looking down on the crowd to find her husband, and after standing there myself, I felt this scene was so well written. I remember wondering what it would feel like to be waiting for someone, and Kerrigan crystalizes that feeling through Ellie.

Another great scene is the one where Ellie has gotten off of Ellis Island, and is walking up Broadway to her new job. Kerrigan paints such a sensual picture of the streets of New York, all of your senses are aroused by her description, and you feel that you are walking this trip along with Ellie.

Ellie adjusts to life in New York, and betters herself by going to school and learning how to type. Although she misses her husband and faithfully sends him money, their letters become less frequent. Ellie likes her independence, and likes the niceties of New York (electricity, beautiful clothes, appliances and convenient foods).

When a tragedy forces Ellie to go back to Ireland, she is torn. She loves her family, but she has gotten used to the finer things, and now finds the poverty of Ireland nearly unbearable. Kerrigan described it as a conflict between monetary things, progress and love of family. Ellie's sense of identity is confused.

Although this story takes place in the 1920s, Ellie's story felt timeless to me. A young woman, making her way in the world, has to choose between her loyalties to her family and her wish for greater independence. Many women can relate to this.

The end of the story is surprising to me, and I can't wait to read the next two books in the trilogy, which Kerrigan said take place in New York in the 1930s and Los Angeles in the 1940s. If you liked Colm Toibin's Brooklyn, put Ellis Island on your list.

rating 4 of 5 stars

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Robin Takes 5 by Robin Miller

Robin Takes 5 by Robin Miller
Published by Andrews McMeel Publishing, ISBN 978144-408459
Paperback, $29.99
It's a common experience to get home from work and have to get dinner on the table pronto because someone has baseball practice, someone else has to go to work, someone has a meeting. Robin Miller, host of the Food Network's Quick Fix Meals, has a solution for us with her book
Robin Takes 5: 500 recipes, 5 ingredients or less, 500 calories or less, 5 nights a week at 5PM.

Five hundred recipes is a lot, and many of them can be repetitive (and a good number of them use mustard for some reason), but I found several recipes that I will use. I'm trying to get more fiber in our diet, and Miller has some good recipes using all kinds of canned beans.

I know my college aged sons would enjoy Chicken Nacho Dinner, made by topping corn tortilla chips with a can of black beans, shredded chicken, shredded cheese and salsa and baking for 10 minutes. It also has 6g of fiber.  I love that there are so many recipes in this book that have lots of fiber, including Cheese Tortellini with Wild Mushroom Gravy (9g), Pasta Spirals with White Beans, Broccoli and Parmesan (9g) and Penne with Zucchini-Roasted Garlic Sauce (8g), and one that I have already tried, Tuscan Chicken with White Beans, Tomatoes and Oregano (5g) that was really tasty and reminded me of one of our favorite dinners at an Italian restaurant we frequent. Next time, I would cook the chicken breasts whole, instead of dicing them, but another good thing about this book is that it is easy to tweak recipes to your own liking.

The book is divided into eight chapters, like Soups, Stews & Chowders, Pasta, Risotto & Rice, Chicken & Turkey, Side Dishes and Desserts. Now that fall is here, I can't wait to try Carmelized Onion Soup with Melted Swiss & Croutons, Wild Mushroom Soup, and Corn Chowder with Shrimp.  

I made Chocolate Raspberry Sorbet, which was simply adding hot fudge sauce and mini chocolate chips to your favorite store bought raspberry sorbet and refreezing. It got rave reviews from two gentlemen who love gourmet foods, and had them fooled. One recipe I did make, Butterscotch Brownies, did not turn out as I hoped, but you can't win them all.

I like that the nutritional information for each recipe is located in a prominent box to the left of the recipe. It makes it so easy to compare and find what you're looking for, whether's it's calorie counts, carb counts or fiber content.

Robin Takes 5 is perfect for busy moms and dads, for people just learning how to cook, and college students. It has easy, clear-to-understand instructions and uses ingredients that most people already have in their pantry. If you want to make healthy, easy dinners for your family, instead of picking up fast food, pick up Robin Takes 5; your family will thank you.

rating 4 of 5

Monday, October 3, 2011

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman

Next to Love by Ellen Feldman
Published by Spiegel & Grau ISBN 978-0812992717
Hardcover, $25

A look at WWII and its aftermath on three women who sent their men off to war, people who liked Sarah Blake's THE POSTMISTRESS will be drawn to this well-written novel. Feldman based this book on a small town in Virginia that lost 19 men in a population of 3000. From that true story, she imagines the effect of losing so many young men on such a small town.

Babe finds meaningful, if many times sorrowful, work at Western Union, relaying telegrams to waiting families. I found this section of the book haunting, particularly the days following DDay when the town lost many young men, men Babe knew well.

Babe's husband Claude comes home maimed physically and emotionally, but two of his friends didn't make it home. Grace and her baby daughter Amy suffer the loss of Charlie, loving husband and father, a loss that resonates deeply for a very long time for both of them. Millie and her baby Jack lose Pete, but Millie finds a new love, and her remarriage faces ugly anti-Semitism that effects them all in different ways.

The author makes you care about the characters, all of whom deal with war and death in their own way. Grace is so overwhelmed with sadness, it it something she feels she cannot escape. I felt so bad for Grace, even when she appears to overcome, it is a hollow victory. Babe is a character who shows the most depth and growth, and her relationship with Claude was realistic. Millie seemed the least well drawn to me, I found her son Jack's story more interesting.

The constant time changes in the story took awhile to get used to; I found it at times difficult to keep things straight. I also would have liked to heard more from Claude, and Mac, another war survivor and Pete's brother, but at heart this is the women's story. So many women lost the loves of their lives in WWII, and the ones that did come home were often different men than the ones with whom they fell in love. Feldman succeeds in recreating a time in our history with characters you feel deeply for and want to know more about.

rating 4 of 5