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Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston now Nicole Henry

Nicole Henry at Dizzy's Coca-Cola Club

I have a friend named Flo who has been raving about this jazz/R&B singer named Nicole Henry for the last few years. You know, you hear people talk about someone and you think to yourself, "yeah, yeah I'm sure she's good, but.." Finally I got the opportunity to hear for myself when Nicole played Dizzy's Coca-Cola Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center last night.

The venue was sold out, but Flo managed to finagle our way from the back sets to a table, which we shared with two very nice gentlemen, Fred, who has seen Nicole several times in New York and Miami, and his friend Chris, who has heard Nicole's CD but not seen her live yet.

Nicole took the stage and started singing and she has such a stage presence, along with the voice to match. She is a combination of Natalie Cole, Whitney Houston and a little Aretha Franklin. I was blown away by her, and a little shocked that she is not better known. I'm afraid that in this age of American Idol, good old fashioned singers like her get lost, and what a shame that is.

She and one of my all-time favorite songs, Since I Fell For You from her CD Embraceable, and I loved the arrangement. Her next CD, out in October, features songs from her show at the Metropolitan Club, where she performed '70s songs. How I wished I had seen that one, because her best song of the night was from that show, a Bill Withers tune Use Me that had everyone mesmerized.

After last night's performance I am officially in the Nicole Henry fan club, along with everyone else who was there last night. If anyone ever asks you to go see Nicole Henry, don't hesitate to enthusiastically say "yes!"

Nicole Henry's website is here.
She is also on Facebook here. 

Sunday, July 29, 2012

I Never Promised You a Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert

I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag by Jennifer Gilbert
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 978-0-06-207594-9
Hardcover $24.99

When Jennifer Gilbert was just 22 years old, she was attacked by a crazed man who stabbed her repeatedly with a screwdriver. He had followed her from the subway to her friend's apartment and brutalized her right outside her friend's apartment door. This event begins her memoir I Never Promised You A Goodie Bag- A Memoir of a Life Through Events- the Ones You Plan and the Ones You Don't.

Jennifer screamed and pounded on the door and when her friend Andrea opened the door and saw what was happening, Andrea panicked and closed the door. The man still came at her, and she used all her might to avoid being stabbed in the head.

Andrea opened the door again and Jennifer scrambled into the apartment, with the attacker on her heels. Andrea ran into her bedroom and locked her door. Finally the man gave up and left, but Jennifer was in bad shape, losing a lot of blood.

Later she found out that there were four other women cowering in their bedrooms in the apartment, but no one came to her aid. Remarkably, she didn't hold it against Andrea, trying to understand how frightened Andrea was too, but their friendship didn't last.

Jennifer's parents and sister brought her home and tried to comfort her, friends and neighbors stopped by, but it didn't help. Her view of the the world and her place in it had been shattered, and now she was labeled "victim".

She moved to Boston and stayed with an old boyfriend, but was stuck in a state of fear and inertia. She couldn't work, focus, or leave her apartment. Then she decided to fight back.
"Where was that girl and why had she given up? I had let the attacker frighten me out of the city I loved and into a deep hole that I had dug for myself to hide in. This was not my fabulous life. This wasn't why I had fought so hard to survive that day. If I was going to be afraid to live, then that man might as well have killed me. I was lost and alone and scared, and I was headed down a road of not just feeling nothing, but being nothing."
She decided to work on her career and applied for jobs in event planning; she received two offers, one from Bear Stearns and one from a small events planning company. She chose the small company because she would be getting a commission on any event she booked and because of the freedom her boss gave her to help build the business.

Corporate clients were cold called, and she pestered them until they gave her a chance; she was relentless in her pursuit, finally getting Salomon Brothers as a client in 1992. Gilbert was great at her job, and her "AA-type personality" served her well. No detail was overlooked and she became well-known to caterers, party venues and hotels.

She learned "not only how to function in stressful moments, but also how to make those moments less stressful for everyone else involved." I worked in marketing for a mall, and events planning was part of my job, so I very much enjoyed reading how Gilbert solved problems (a bride locked in the bathroom crying, a venue that promised it would have a liquor license by event day didn't, running out of beer at a Salomon Brothers party at Tavern on the Green) with her can-do attitude.

Eventually Gilbert started her own events planning company, Save-the-Date, and because of her attitude and reputation, was successful. Her love life was another story. She had some long-term relationships, but none worked out. The only steady man in her life was her friend Bennett, who loved her and was convinced that they should be together, but Jennifer couldn't see it happening.

The title of the book comes from her idea that goodie bags are over. Her description of wealthy, high society women climbing over each other to get a bag that has nothing more than "a granola bar and a bottle of shampoo" had me chortling in recognition. I've seen that happen time and again, and I'm with Jennifer on this- get rid of the goodie bags!

What I took away from this book was the resiliency of the human spirit. Something horrible happened to Jennifer Gilbert, but she was determined not to let it stop her from living her life. That experience colored everything that came after, but she worked hard to overcome it and live "her fabulous life". You can let things in life defeat you or you can fight back and make a better life; it is all up to you. It's a lesson many of us can learn.

rating 4 of 5

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Weekend Cooking: My Sons' Anniversary Gift

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food!

My husband and I celebrated 25 years of marriage last month, and on the special day we awoke to find a card made for us by our sons. They went through my IPhoto account and chose photos going back many years and put them on the card.
The front of our anniversary card
On the inside of the card were another dozen photos; it must have taken them quite some time. I was so moved, it was a wonderful, meaningful anniversary gift. It brought me right back to when the boys were little and they would bring home cards they made in school.

They also gave us a certificate for a homemade meal from them. A few weeks ago I took them up on their offer. They lived together with two other guys at college in Albany, and they cooked dinner pretty much every night.

For our special dinner, they made sliced steak, which they rubbed with salt, pepper and Worcestershire sauce, then broiled to perfection. They baked potatoes, rolling them in olive oil and salt and pepper before baking and topped with butter and sour cream, and added spaghetti salad on the side. It was delicious, and such a thoughtful gift. I enjoyed not cooking or cleaning up!
Our anniversary dinner
It was a fabulous anniversary, and it's been an amazing 25 years. I'm looking forward to the next 25!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Most Talkative by Andy Cohen

Most Talkative : Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture by Andy Cohen
Published by Henry Holt and Company ISBN 978-0-8050-9583-8
Hardcover, $25
Source- won on LibraryThing

I first saw Andy Cohen when he hosted the reunion show for Bravo TV's Flipping Out, a reality show about house flipper/designer Jeff Lewis. I wondered who this Cohen guy was and from where he came.

Cohen is an executive at Bravo TV, and besides foisting on the American people The Real Housewives of  (insert one of many cities here), he also hosts Bravo's Watch What Happens Live, a crazy nightly talk show that has counted among its guests Jerry Seinfeld, Ralph Fiennes, Holly Hunter and every real housewife. Oh and they frequently drink on that show, so it's hilarious.

I confess that I used watch the Housewives franchise (NY, NJ, Atlanta, Beverly Hills), but it began to consume me, so I gave it up. (I still like Flipping Out.) I won a copy of Cohen's memoir, Most Talkative: Stories From the Front Lines of Pop Culture, and I have to say I was utterly charmed by this book.

He begins by recounting his interview with Susan Lucci, (Erica Kane of All My Children, Cohen's and his mother Evelyn's favorite soap opera) while a student at Boston University at the time. He also ends his book with another Lucci encounter, and it is the perfect way to bookend his pop culture life story.

Cohen interned at CBS News, and ended up working on CBS This Morning for a decade. The show was  the lowest rated of the morning shows, but I found this section of the book the most interesting. His story about accompanying Dan Rather on a story about western wildfires was fascinating, although I recently read Rather's latest memoir and Cohen is sadly not in it.

There are lots of pop culture references here, including Cohen's obsession with Oprah Winfrey and the few times he got her to agree to interviews did not go well. He has his own Ah-ha moment when he learns that trying to trick Oprah is a big mistake.

Fans of the Housewives shows will be enthralled by his chapter on hosting the reunion shows. He gives the reader the inside scoop, and even though I swore off the Housewives, I admit to enjoying this chapter immensely.

Cohen's love for Battle of the Network Stars took me back to my childhood and love of the show. He even tried to emulate it with Bravo's version, Battle of the Reality Stars, which didn't take off (and that is probably a good thing.)

There are some serious moments here too, and Cohen struggling with telling his friends and family that he is gay really tugs at the heartstrings. I think anyone who is going through the same thing (or has gone through it) will get something from this book.

The only chapter that fell flat for me was the one about pulling pranks on his mother with his best friend; that was the only miss in this delightful book.

The book is very funny, reading it is like sitting down and listening to Cohen tell you his life story, warts and all. You can hear his distinctive voice and see his head tilting in your mind as you read of his  delightful walk through pop culture. I think the audio version of this book would be amazing.

rating 4 of 5

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Broadway in Bryant Park 2012- Week 2

The second week of Broadway in Bryant Park featured five shows and cooler weather. First up were the entertainers from Zarkana from Cirque du Soleil, which isn't really my cup of tea, but the crowd seemed to enjoy them.

Next up were the ladies from Wicked, a real crowd favorite. Donna Devino (Elphaba) sang "The Wizard and I", followed by Kate Vahrner (Glinda) performing "Popular" in a humorous style. The ladies teamed up on "For Good".
Kate and Donna from Wicked

Following them was Memphis, with Kevin Massey singing "The Music of My Soul", joined by Danyelle Williamson, who then blew the roof off the joint (if there was one) with her rendition of "Colored Woman". They then teamed up for a medley of songs from this wonderful show, which unfortunately will be closing next week. If you have a chance to see the tour, do yourself a favor and go see it, the music is fantastic.
Kevin and Danyelle from Memphis

Danyelle from Memphis just killing it

The ladies from Sister Act performed "I'm Fabulous Baby" and then Rashidra Scott powered through the title song, "Sister Act"' This show too is closing soon, and will be on tour as well. I enjoyed this show and especially the R&B music. I was sorry to see that the guys from the show didn't perform as they did last summer at Broadway At Bryant Park, they were hysterical, and the audience loved them.
Sister Act

Finally, the stars of Ghost, Cassie Levy and Richard Fleeshman sang "Here Right Now" and I loved how their voices blended together. I wasn't as thrilled with Fleeshman's rendition of the iconic Righteous Brothers' song, "Unchained Melody", the arrangement didn't work for me. Tony nominee Da'vine Joy Randolph, who plays the role made famous by Whoopie Goldberg, showed why she got her nomination as she belted "I'm Outta Here". It's really great when the actual stars from the show perform at Bryant Park, kudos to them. Again though, this show is closing, a recurring theme for this week's shows.
Cassie and Richard from Ghost

Da'Vine Joy Randolph from Ghost

Thursday at 12:30 on July 25th,  it's Voca People, Traces, The Fantastiks and Jersey Boys.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Weekend Cooking: An excerpt from The Sandcastle Girls

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food!

I've read and enjoyed several of Chris Bohjalian's novels, including Midwives, The Double Bind, and Secrets of Eden.  His books are thought provoking, with characters who are three-dimensional and complicated, and I get lost in the worlds he creates.

While reading his latest novel, The Sandcastle Girls, which I think may be his best one yet, I came across an excerpt that fits beautifully within the Weekend Cooking meme. Laura Petrosian is a novelist, whose grandfather is Armenian, and here she describes making a cheese boreg, a puff pastry filled with cheeses.

"Among the strangest, most unexpected elements deep within my DNA is the reality that I am able to work seamlessly with phyllo dough. In all other ways I am an unbelievably bad cook and my kitchen is a very scary place. I am just like my mother in that regard. I cannot bake a cake unless it comes from a mix, I have never roasted a turkey that did not wind up dry as a bloated vacuum bag, and my rice is either soggy or burned. The inside bottoms of a lot of my pots and pans have been scorched black.
And yet I am capable of producing savory cheese triangles that are flaky on the outside, moist on the inside, and aesthetically perfect- each an obtuse isosceles with crisp edges and sharp points. The Armenian name for the cheese triangle is boreg, and it was my aunt- my father's much younger sister- who taught me to make them. What makes their preparation such a culinary tightrope has nothing to do with the filling; that's easy. In the recipe my aunt shared with me, it was simply feta cheese, parsley, diced scallions, eggs and black pepper. What makes the boreg such a feat is the necessity of working with phyllo dough, each sheet as thin as a tissue. Phyllo is the Greek word for "leaf", and the sheets dry out and become brittle- and, thus, completely useless- moments after being exposed to the air. Phyllo can be demanding for even a seasoned baker. And so, in theory, working with the stuff should be a nightmare for a hook-handed chef like me, and the kitchen should become a Hades-like inferno of frustration. But it's not. I seem to be able to thaw phyllo, fill it, and fold it. I seem to know precisely how much browned butter to paint on each sheet."
Here is a link to a recipe from the website Armenian Food

The Sandcastle Girls tells two stories, one set in Syria in 1915, during the genocide of Armenians. Young Elizabeth Endicott has traveled with her father and the Friends of Armenia from Boston to bring food and medicine to the refugees. She is horrified by what she sees and what the world does not know about, the extermination of an entire people. She falls in love with Armen, an Armenian engineer who has lost his wife and young daughter to the slaughter. Along with the American consul, Elizabeth tries to save whom she can and help tell the true story of what is happening.

In 2012, Elizabeth's granddaughter, Laura, is trying to find out about her Armenian heritage when a friend tells her that she has seen a photograph of Laura's grandmother in a museum exhibit. Laura goes there and discovers a secret that colors her family's life.

It's an incredibly emotional and moving novel, and one that I could not put down. My review will be posted soon.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin
Published by Pantheon ISBN 978-0375424366
Hardcover, $25.95

Some books are all about plot, some are more character studies. Joshua Henkin's novel, The World Without You falls in the latter category.

The Frankel family, father David and mother Marilyn, are preparing for the arrival of their three daughters,  Lily, Clarissa and Noelle, along with their spouses and children, and their daughter-in-law Thisbe with her young son for a memorial service for their son Leo, a journalist murdered last year covering the Iraq War.

The story revolves around how Leo's death has affected the family. Marilyn, a doctor, turned outward; she consistently wrote op-ed pieces for newspapers against the war and worked on John Kerry's presidential campaign. David turned inward, taking up running to deal with his loss.

Marilyn decides that it is too painful to stay married to David and asks him for a divorce; he is devastated by the request. Marilyn intends to tell the family while they are visiting for the memorial, and they are completely blindsided by this announcement.

Henkin makes this characters so real that reading this novel felt like I was eavesdropping on this family during a particularly tough time. They are complicated people, who make mistakes and love and fight and misunderstand and are misunderstood; you know, just like your own family.

"Noelle is her sister, but the fact is they can't stand each other, and when Lily feels uncomfortable she goes for high drama; histrionics is her point at rest."
After a wild, promiscuous adolescence, Noelle moved to Israel, married and became an Orthodox Jew, closely following all rules. She felt that "she was peeling layers of herself, molting an identity she had wanted to molt for years and hadn't realized she was capable of molting."

Clarissa "didn't say a word until she turned three, at which point she began to speak in full sentences. She suspects the story is exaggerated, but it gets at an essential truth about her." Lily "throws herself into things, whereas (Clarissa's) a watcher, she's cautious, she's a student first and she doesn't like to make mistakes."

Henkin's describes his characters as they see themselves and as they are seen by the people who knew them best- their siblings. Anyone with siblings will get that right away.

Thisbe describes what it's like to be a widow:
"Everyone, she thinks, wants to know about the milestones- Leo's birthday, their anniversary- those are hard, of course, but it's the everyday things that are the toughest. When she used to shop for groceries, she would get this cereal Leo liked, Great Grains Raisins, Dates and Pecans, and she mustn't have been thinking because a couple of months she ended up with a box in her shopping cart."
Describing what's it's like to become part of the Frankels, Thisbe says:
"That's one of the things that appealed to me about Leo- the tumult of you Frankels, as if in your presence I am being swallowed by a many-tentacled beast and made into a tentacle myself. Clarissa, Lily and Noelle- you were older by the time I came along, but I still felt that in marrying Leo I was getting you as sisters and when he died, I lost you too. I know that losing a husband is different from losing a sibling, and it's especially different from losing a son." 
That paragraph states the theme of this beautiful, insightful novel- loss is different for everyone, and in The World Without You, we see how parents, siblings and spouses deal with that loss and the life that goes on.

rating 4 of 5

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

New in Paperback- Bond Girl by Erin Duffy

Bond Girl by Erin Duffy
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 9780062065902
Trade paperback $14.99

The cover of Erin Duffy's debut novel, Bond Girl, is striking and catches the eye right away. A black stiletto with a blood red sole placed on top of The Wall Street Journal newspaper. So if you thought by the title alone that this book was about a female spy, the cover sets you straight- it's about a woman working in the world of finance.

We meet Alex, a twenty-something who works in the bond department at Cromwell Pierce, "one of  Wall Street's biggest powerhouses". She describes an overheard encounter in the elevator between two men trying to one-up each other in where they went to college, what college their sons' attend, which lacrosse position their sons' play, which golf course they played at this past weekend, and says that she works in "the giant sandbox from hell".

Duffy herself worked in the financial industry and this book is filled with anecdotes that you just know are true. On a slow day, one coworker takes a bet that he can eat one of everything in the vending machine before the end of the day. Alex is forced to keep track of everything he eats on a clipboard and keep every wrapper. That scene just rang with veracity, it made me wonder if the guy who did this has read this book.

Alex is a female in a mostly male environment, a hostile environment at times. The men that work at Cromwell are competitive, masters-of-the-universe type. Her boss, Chick, tells Alex that the job won't be easy but he will cut her no slack.

She doesn't get a desk, she has to sit on a folding chair while she shadows salesmen at their desks. Since she is the last hired, she has to do the scut work- making several trips up to the trading floor bringing boxes and boxes of pizza to rally the troops, running to Starbucks to get 33 cups of coffee, (each with specific instructions), and once as punishment, she had to go from lower Manhattan all the way up to Arthur Avenue in the Bronx to get hot sandwiches and a 50 pound wheel of parmesan cheese and get back before the sandwiches got cold. (Food is a big part of the reward system there.)

Working at Cromwell isn't for sissies, and Alex has to prove herself. She battles sexism, long hours, and a powerful, lecherous client who wants Alex to sleep with him or lose her job. She makes a few friends at work, and eventually becomes romantically involved with a good guy whose biggest fault is that he disappears on the weekends.

I don't know much about the bond trading world, and Duffy educates her readers while keeping them interested in her story. This is a fantastic debut, with terrific, real characters and snappy writing. Her characters aren't stock; her boss Chick at first seems cruel, but he grows on you once you get to know him, and Alex herself changes as she gains more confidence.

I raced through this book and thoroughly enjoyed my trip through the hectic, crazy finance world of Bond Girl. This book is ripe for a movie treatment, and I would look forward to seeing on screen soon. This is a terrific book to curl up with on cold, snowy day; once you start it, you will want to finish it in one sitting, rooting Alex on the whole way. It's one of the most enjoyable reads of this year.

rating 5 of 5 stars

For a look at a real life female trader, read Play Money: My Brief But Brilliant Career on Wall Street by Laura Pedersen.

America, You Sexy Bitch: A Love Letter to Freedom

America, You Sexy Bitch:  A Love Letter to Freedom by Michael Ian Black & Meghan McCain
Published by Da Capo Press ISBN 978-0-306-82100-4
Hardcover, $26
Source: copy provided by the publisher through NetGalley

Comedian Michael Ian Black is a forty-something comedian, happily married, father of two and a liberal. Meghan McCain is a twenty-something Senator's daughter, admittedly unlucky at dating and a Republican TV commentator.

They met when McCain was a guest on Black's pilot talk show for the E! network that did not get picked up. One night after he had taken an Ambien, Black and McCain were 'talking'  on Twitter when he suggested that they take a road trip across America to see if the country was as divided as our politicians are, and write a book about it.

McCain said sure, and the experiment was on. Black met McCain in San Diego at his mother's home, where his mom lives with her same sex life partner. McCain took Black to her family's home in Arizona, where Black met her mother and brothers, and they taught him to shoot a gun, which he thought was pretty cool. (Except for the part where Meghan's brother told Michael he was wearing his cowboy hat backwards.)

Then it was on to Vegas, where for some reason they thought it was a good idea to hang out with strippers. (It wasn't.)  Now I've been to Vegas, and there are plenty of opportunities to meet a wide cross section of Americans, and in my mind, they could gotten a lot of interesting opinions about what is right and what is wrong with this country, but that either didn't happen or wasn't exciting to enough to make the book. (Although I did learn that strippers are independent contractors and not employees of the club, which means they get no benefits, like health care, unemployment insurance and the club pays no employment taxes FICA, Social Security on them.)

The trip to New Orleans I found more interesting. They talked with some people about Katrina and how the government mismanaged the aftermath of the storm, how the Ninth Ward is still not back,  and the homes that Brad Pitt and his organization is building. (If you want to read a terrific book about New Orleans, try Nine Lives by Dan Baum.)

They made trips to Branson, where they mostly talked about how Yakov Smirnoff refused to meet with them and how dated and unfunny his show is, and Little Rock, where Bill Clinton has his presidential library and there is apparently no night life. They visited Memphis (Graceland!) and Nashville, and finally Washington DC.

They met Meghan's dad, Senator John McCain and Democratic Senator and perennial presidential candidate Dennis Kucinich, both of whom are hard-working and dedicated public servants who respect and like each other.

The book was really more of a travelogue than a book about how Americans feel about our political atmosphere and government. There was too much "this RV smells" and not enough opinions from everyday Americans who don't live in DC or New York.

As a travelogue, it works pretty well, and I'm not sure how Meghan, Michael, Michael's assistant Stephie and their driver Cousin John made it through the trip without someone totally freaking out; I mean, I couldn't make that trip with  people I know and love, let alone strangers. Kudos to them all.

Michael and Meghan take turns telling their story, and we get to know much about their thought process and why they are who they are politically. It is interesting that Michael is a liberal, yet he fits the mold of a stereotypical conservative: married over twenty years, lives in the suburbs, concerned about raising his kids. Meghan is a conservative, but she is young, single, and an advocate for gay marriage and women's rights, all traits you might say fit a stereotypical liberal. Maybe that is why they got along.

America, You Sexy Bitch website is here.

rating 3.5 of 5

Monday, July 16, 2012

Jennifer Weiner Goes Hollywood

Jennifer Weiner at Barnes & Noble
I've been to three book signings for Jennifer Weiner over the past few years, including this one for Best Friends Forever, and I enjoyed her keynote speech very much at this year's Book Blogger Conference during the BEA. This week, I attended a book signing for her novel The Next Best Thing, where she wore very hip hair extensions and gorgeous metallic espadrilles with a cute bow.

After writing nine best-selling novels, Jennifer was given a development deal with ABC to produce a TV series for their ABC Family channel. She was excited to work with Jeff Greenstein who wrote for Desperate Housewives, and they wrote a pilot called The Great State of Georgia, about a bigger girl who moves to New York with her science-geek best friend to live with her sassy aunt and conquer the world.

That was the plan. First, the network had a deal with actress Raven-Symone, and wanted her to star in the pilot, now called The State of Georgia. That meant that now, as Weiner put it, "I guess she's not Jewish anymore", to which the audience chuckled. That was just the first of many compromises Weiner  had to make in order to get her series made.

But Weiner was excited about Symone, whom she described as a good actress and a curvy girl. She tried unsuccessfully to arrange a meeting with her new star to talk over the show, but was rebuffed with "she's on vacation". Weiner wondered from what Symone was vacationing, but when she was finally allowed to see her star just a few days before shooting started, it wasn't good.

She waited at a restaurant, and in swept Symone "swaddled in a pashmina sleeping bag". Weiner, being a producing novice said she didn't know that she could ask Symone to take off her wrap to see what she looked like.

The next day at 'chemistry reads', where the actors are put together to see how they fit, Weiner said that Symone was "a teeny thing". She had lost a significant amount of weight, and Weiner said that "no one said anything. It was like the Emperor's New Clothes."

When Weiner brought this to the attention of the network, that their star who needed to be a big girl in order for the whole premise of the show to work, they replied that she was "Philadelphia-thin, not Hollywood-thin" and that everything would be alright.

Weiner also told a funny story about casting a goat for one episode. The casting people brought her head shots for the goats and told her that they even have "reels and resumes", which Weiner found preposterous. She said she told them she was "looking for goatishness" and finally after spending too much time on this nonsense, she just said "F-it, let's go Hollywood and cast the thinnest goat".

The show ran for eleven episodes and Weiner found out that the show was cancelled by seeing it on the website Deadline. After all this, she decided that she had to "write about it- it's too funny", and so her experiences went into her tenth novel, The Next Best Thing.

All of the above incidents are in the book, along with lots of other great stuff. The talk covered a few more topics, including Weiner's recent public comments about discrimination against female fiction writers by such austere book review publications as The New York Times Book Review. 

Weiner is angry that the The New York Times Book Review regularly runs a Crime Fiction Wrap-up, but never a Romance Round-up, even though romance novels are the largest selling genre of books by far. She says "they are ignoring my readers, and saying that you don't matter to us." I'm glad that Weiner and Jodi Picoult have started this discussion and I think the attention they have brought has created some changes.

Other topics covered included the movie adaptation of her book "In Her Shoes", in which she told a hilarious story about being an extra in a scene with her agent,  and her mother coming out to her grandmother during a family Thanksgiving celebration.

She described her grandmother's Florida retirement home, Century Village, as a "place where ambulances just drive around waiting for someone to call them", and where there are "20,000 Jews waiting for death or their grandkids to visit, whichever comes first." Another funny line- "J-Date- you know, for the unchosen chosen people."

After mentioning that she finds it difficult to know whether someone is a lesbian or from New England, "they both have short hair and wear lots of LL Bean", it was time to end the evening.

Weiner has been very supportive of new writers, and at the table display of her books near the event were not only her books, but books she has been talking up, such as Sarah Pekkanen's The Opposite of Me, and Between You and Me by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Strauss, and I think that is a great thing to do, to help promote other writers.

She also is a big tweeter and she said on Twitter that anyone who wore a vest to the signing as part of her brilliant marketing promotion (poking fun at Jonathan Franzen's Times Square billboard for his last book) would get a prize and I got a very cool tote bag that I have been using all week.

My cool Jennifer Weiner tote
My review of The Next Best Thing from the Citizen newspaper website, auburnpub.com.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

I Love Jennifer Weiner's Hollywood Alter-Ego, Ruthie Saunders

My review of Jennifer Weiner's The Next Best Thing, from my Citizen newspaper column, The Book Report.
Weiner's latest inspired by TV disappointment : Diane Larue

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Broadway in Bryant Park is Back!

One of the most enjoyable free things to do in NYC in the summer is Broadway in Bryant Park. For six weeks in July and August, you can hear songs from current Broadway shows on Thursday afternoons at 12:30pm. If you get there early enough (and you should to get a good seat), you can hear the rehearsals too.

Sponsored by 106.7 Lite FM Radio, there are four to five shows each week, and this year's kicked off with an appearance from Joey, the star of War Horse, who drews oohs and ahhs and choruses of "we love you Joey!" from the crowd as they trotted him through the park. (Joey is a puppet of sorts.)
Joey the horse from War Horse

First up were perennial favorites from Phantom of the Opera. Raoul  (Kyle Barrish) and Christine (Trista Moldavan) sang the love ballad "All I Ask of You" and when they kissed at the end, the audience swooned.
Raoul & Christine from Phantom

Then the Phantom, as sung by Paul A. Shaefer, brought the crowd to a hush as he powerfully sang "The Music of the Night". (If only the young ladies seated next to me weren't yakking the entire time!)
The Music of the Night

Next up was the crew from the off-Broadway show Stomp, who brought the house down with their drumming. Everyone loves when the little guy joins them on stage and when they try to get the audience to keep up with their clapping. (They always lose us at the end when it gets more complicated.)
Stomp, with the little guy

Matthew Thomas from Spiderman sang three songs, "Bouncing Off the Walls", "Rise Above" (with Katrina Link) and as he sang "Boy Falls From the Sky", the crowd went wild when three costumed Spidermen joined him stage. (The press went crazy too, rushing the stage, knowing a great photo op when they see one.)
The three Spidermen drove the crowd wild

Last up was the Tony award winning best musical revival, The Gershwins' Porgy & Bess, which I saw and loved. They performed the gorgeous "Summertime" (Trevon Davis and I believe Bryonha Parnham) and led into the dance number "A Woman is a Sometime Thing".
Dancing to "A Woman is a Sometime Thing"

Nathaniel Stampley as Porgy closed out the show with "I Got Plenty o' Nuttin'", a song that whenever I hear it, gets stuck in my head. I end up singing it all day long.
I Got Plenty o Nuttin'

Next week's shows are Wicked, Zarkana, Memphis, Ghost & Sister Act. For more information on Broadway in Bryant Park, visit their website. Hope to see you there!

Friday, July 13, 2012

Weekend Cooking- The Body in the Boudoir

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food!

The Body in the Boudoir by Katherine Hall Page
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-206548-3
Hardcover, $23.99
Source: Provided by the publisher

Katherine Hall Page writes the Faith Fairchild series, combining mystery with food.  Her 20th book and the first one I have read is The Body in the Boudoir, which begins with Faith and her husband, Reverend Tom, on a plane heading to Italy to visit a friend.

We flashback to Faith and Tom's first meeting, as Faith's company, Have Faith, is catering a wedding, where she meets the handsome and charming Tom. They flirt, they dance, she finds out he is the officiant at the wedding. Faith and her sister Hope have grown up in a religious family, as their father is a pastor at a large church in Manhattan, and Faith is not interested in becoming a pastor's wife.

But life is funny that way, and Faith and Tom fall quickly in love. Tom proposes on the back of a beautiful vintage watch, and soon Faith is planning a wedding. She wishes to marry at her Uncle Sky's gorgeous mansion on Long Island, and when things start to go wrong- she is almost hit by falling debris, someone tries to push her onto the subway tracks, the titular body found in the boudoir- Faith does not change her wedding plans.

Faith is an amateur sleuth and she becomes enmeshed in one of her new employee's quest to find an American soldier who spent time in Italy with the employee's family during WWII. Is this the reason that these accidents have befallen Faith?

The murder takes place almost halfway through the book, and when the killer is finally revealed, I found it slightly implausible.  If Faith is supposed to have such good instincts, how did this person fly under the radar for so long? It was an issue for me.

Faith also helped her sister try to find out who was sabotaging her at her finance job, but this was a secondary mystery, although the outcome was more realistic in my view.

I liked two things in particular about this novel: the New York setting and the catering. I live in New York, on the Upper East Side, and I really enjoyed how Page integrated the setting within the story.

I also have a background in restaurants, so I found the catering parts of the book very interesting. Page gives some recipes from the story in the back of the book, and there are some I want to try, including this Veggie Mac & Cheese, which can be found on her website.

What yeed:
  • 6 ounces sharp cheddar cheese
  • 2 red bell peppers
  • 3 large garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons milk
  • 1/4 teaspoon paprika (preferably smoked)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 6 ounces penne, ziti or elbow macaroni
  • 5 cups cauliflower florets

Shred the cheese and set aside. Reserve 1/4 cup to sprinkle on top.
Dice the peppers, mince the peeled garlic cloves, and place in a saucepan with the 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil and lower to simmer until the vegetables are very soft, about 15 minutes.
Boil water for the pasta.
Steam the cauliflower and when it is soft, transfer it to a bowl and mash roughly—you want some texture.
Cook the pasta according to the directions on the package and in the meantime place the contents of the saucepan, the butter and milk in a food processor or blender. Pulse until smooth. Add the mixture to the cauliflower along with the shredded cheese, paprika, and salt. Drain the pasta and fold it into the sauce. Stir well so all the pasta is coated. Pour it into a casserole and top with the reserved cheese. Bake in a preheated 350 ° oven until nicely browned and bubbling. The red peppers give the sauce a bright color and the smoked paprika, widely used in Mediterranean cooking, adds a subtle flavor as well as more color.
Serves six.
You may also serve this sauce over pasta without baking.

Note: You can make a tasty, easy soup with any leftover florets, if the head is a large one, and the stems. Simply chop roughly and put in a saucepan. Add a small sliced yellow onion and cover with chicken broth, your own or store bought. Bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are soft. Puree in a blender or food processor until smooth. Return to the saucepan, add 1 cup half and half or milk and 3/4 cup grated white cheddar cheese. Add a pinch of salt if your broth was no-salt. Simmer, stirring occasionally until the cheese is melted and serve or freeze. A curry spice blend is also nice in this. (Faith, and I, hate to waste food. You can use this recipe for broccoli stems and other vegetables as well. )

I would like to read another of the Faith Fairchild mysteries to see if I like the resolution of the mystery any better. If you have read any of them, do you have a recommendation? Let me know in the comment section below.

rating 3.5 of 5

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Now in Paperback- Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan

Very Bad Men by Harry Dolan
Published by Berkley ISBN 9780425247617
Trade paperback, $15
The latest paperback from Berkley is Harry Dolan's Very Bad Men. It is the second novel in the series featuring David Loogan, an editor for a mystery magazine who lives with Elizabeth, a detective, and her teenage daughter Sarah, in Michigan.

Loogan gets drawn into the case of Anthony Lark, a man who has murdered two men and is on his way to murdering another. All of the dead men were involved 17 years ago with a bank robbery that went bad, leaving a robber and a cop dead, and another cop paralyzed from the waist down.

The story is told mainly from the points of view of Loogan and Lark. Both men are interesting characters, and seeing the story from each of their perspectives makes this a much stronger book.

Senate candidate Callie Spencer, whose father is the paralyzed cop, is involved in the murders. But is she a target, a participant in the murders, or is Lark trying to protect her? Lucy Navarro, a reporter for a tabloid newspaper, is snooping around, and Loogan becomes her protector of sorts. When she gets too close to the truth and disappears, Loogan gets angry.

Dolan takes care to create fully realized characters. I particularly enjoyed his portraits of the teenagers; Elizabeth's daughter Sarah, and Nick, the teenage son and brother of two of Lark's targets, were really on the money for me.

The mystery of why Lark is killing these men is complicated and the reason really comes out of left field. I have to say I had absolutely no idea where it would end up, but it was a crazy trip getting there. If the author left clues as to what motivated Lark to kill, I did not pick them up. I found it satisfying that I really did not know where he was going until the end.

This novel is crackling good literary crime fiction; it put me in mind of Sara Paretsky's novels. I'm going to seek out the first novel in the series and anxiously await the third one.

rating 4 of 5

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Now in Paperback- The Homecoming of Samuel Lake

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield
Published by Random House Trade Paperback ISBN 978-0-385-34409-8
Trade paperback, $15

I put The Homecoming of Samuel Lake on my Most Compelling Books of 2011 list., and now it is in paperback with a gorgeous new cover. The story begins with the patriarch of the Moses family killing himself at the annual family reunion. Set in Arkansas in the 1950s, Samuel Lake is a preacher who has once again lost his job and retreats back home to his wife Willadee's family to regroup.

Samuel and Willadee have a wonderful marriage, they are very supportive of each other. They have three young children, Swan being the only girl. Samuel used to date Bernice, who later married Toy, Willadee's brother. Bernice is still in love with Samuel, and decides to use her beauty and feminine wiles to get Samuel back.

Samuel sets up a tent revival, hoping to get enough people to come and perhaps getting a permanent preaching job out of it. Willadee works during the day at her father's bar, Never Closes, which is attached to their home, and also houses the grocery store that Willadee's mother runs.

Swan and her brothers find Blade, a mysterious young boy, hiding in their barn and discover that he has been badly abused by his father, Ras Ballenger. Ballenger is evil personified, and every time he makes an appearance in the novel, I got chills. He beat his wife, sons, and the horses that he was supposed to be training. He is one bad, bad man.

When Swan's family takes the young boy in, Ballenger swears vengeance against the Moses/Lake family, and waiting for his plan to take place ratchets up the tension in this heartbreaking, beautifully crafted novel. I finished the book on the treadmill and almost had to get off because I was sobbing so hard.

I loved the characters in this book, with Toy being my favorite. He is man of few words, so when he speaks it is powerful. He also has a sense of sadness about him. Seriously injured in WWII, there is a question of whether or not he killed a man involved with his wife while he overseas. He forms strong bonds with the children, and his tenderness with them melts your heart. His evolution is moving, and Toy is a truly unforgettable literary creation.

So many of the characters are well-drawn- Willadee, Swan, Samuel, Blade, Bernice, even Ras. The way the Lake family lived their faith was inspirational. They loved God and each other, and tried hard to embody their faith everyday. I liked the way that Wingfield wrote how important it was to the family and the story.

The difficulty of being married plays a large role in the book. Willadee and Samuel's marriage is tested, but is strong. Contrast that with Toy and Bernice's unhappy, lonely marriage and the sadness that Willadee's mother feels about how the last years of her marriage unfolded. I think the author is saying that marriage is something that needs to be cared for and tended if it is to survive.

My favorite lines from the book are from Willadee and Toy's mother, about Blade's effect on Toy:
"She had no idea that Swan was also doing something special for Toy, or that Toy's life was changing in ways he could have never anticipated. All she knew was that this little boy was doing a kindness for her own little boy- the man who had been her little boy- and her gratitude knew no bounds."
As a mother of two sons, those lines killed me.

I could go on and on about this book, but all I really need to tell you is that if you love beautifully crafted books, with a compelling story and characters that feel so real, you will love The Homecoming of Samuel Lake.  I almost wish I were reading again for the first time.

rating 5 of 5

If you liked To Kill a Mockingbird, you will like this book.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Jean Zimmerman Brings a Slide Show

I've been to many book talks and signings, but a recent one by Jean Zimmerman for her debut novel, The Orphanmaster, added a unique dimension that enhanced the evening- she had a slide show featuring some of the things that inspired her historical novel.
Jean Zimmerman at Barnes & Noble on Broadway and 82nd St.

Zimmerman has written non-fiction books, including Love Fiercely: A Gilded Age Romance and The Women of the House: How a Colonial She-Merchant Build a Mansion, A Fortune and a Dynasty, so research has been a big part of writing life. It was fascinating to see some of her own research up on the screen and her enthusiasm was contagious to those of us in the audience.

She describes her novel as a "thriller horror romance, a love story wrapped around a mystery set in a small town of New Amsterdam in Lower Manhattan in 1663." The Orphanmaster follows Blandine van Couverling, a young female trying to make it as a trader and Edward Drummond, a British spy who fall in love while trying to discover who is killing young orphans in New Amsterdam.

Zimmerman showed us some maps from 1660 of Lower Manhattan that look eerily familiar to today's maps.

We could even pick out Broadway and Wall Street!

We also saw slides of some of the paintings of people who inspired Blandine's look, and objects that she may have traded, and it was utterly fascinating. Margaret Hardenbrook was the richest woman in New York, and she was one of the real women on whom Zimmeman based Blandine.

Zimmerman though that this photo of a female and male trader bartering was a good representation of how Blandine and Edward may have dressed.
I always enjoyed history class and Zimmerman gave us a quick lesson in her short talk about the Dutch who settled the colony. Women were educated in Holland and allowed to be merchants, so it was not unusual to see that the women who moved to New Amsterdam were intelligent and able to support themselves and their families as merchants and traders.

She also told us that eighteen languages were spoken in New Amsterdam,  about which I had no idea; I guess it's not to different from the Manhattan of today in that respect.  We saw lots of representations of beavers, the main source of fur and a huge basis of the economy.  (Beaver hats were the hot trend then.) The fur trade was centered in Albany, which was a more dangerous place than New Amsterdam.

Zimmerman liked writing this novel, "creating a real world grounded in details" that are historically accurate. I'm looking forward to reading The Orphanmaster, a historical novel written by someone who loves history and the role of women in society at this time. I'll post a review soon.

Zimmerman is also participating in Bryant Park's Word for Word Author Series on August 1st at 12:30pm in their Reading Room along with other debut novelists including Cristina Alger (The Darlings) Karen Walker Thompson (The Age of Miracles) and Karl Taro Greenfield (Triburbia), and I can't wait to hear more about this intriguing novel.

You can read more about Jean Zimmerman and The Orphanmaster on her blog.