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Saturday, September 29, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian

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.

Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian: Big Flavors, Small Plates by Mike Isabella
Published by Da Capo Lifelong Books ISBN 978-073821566235
Hardcover, $35, 352 pages

Bravo TV's Top Chef fans will recognize the name Mike Isabella. On his first go-round on the show, he came off as kind of a jerk. He was asked to be a part of Top Chef All-Stars and to the surprise of some, he very nearly won it, finishing a close second to champion Richard Blais. (Even his detractors had come to admire his kitchen skills.)

Isabella has a cookbook out, Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian, which celebrates his Italian heritage and has lots of wonderful memories of his grandmother, who gave Mike his love of cooking. What I like about this book is that many of the recipes are for small plates, which I enjoy. Some of the small plate recipes I want to try include:
  • Deviled Eggs with Bacon
  • Baked Ricotta with Scallion, Speck and Saba (which sounds fancy, but looks fairly easy. Speck is a cured ham and saba is a thick concentrated syrup made from sweetened grape juice. I did not know that.)
  • Crispy Mushrooms with Sweet and Sour Apricot Sauce
Isabella is Italian and Greek, and there are many recipes he has created that combine those two heritages, which he has in a chapter titled Family Secrets. Some of those recipes are:
  • Aunt Connie's Pepper Rings
  • Grandma Antoinette's & Mike's Favorite Gravy, which has a pig's foot as its special ingredient
  • Meatballs, made with mortadella and mint 
There are lots of authentic Italian recipes here for serious cooks, ones that use ingredients such as octopus, calamari and squid.  When I visited Rome this past February, there were many dishes with those ingredients and reading Isabella's book brought me right back there. Some of those recipes from the chapter Not Your Sunday Macaroni are:
  • Baby Cuttlefish with Salt Crusted Potatoes & Pancetta Pesto
  • Black Spaghetti with Clams, Pancetta, Red Chili & Squid Ink
  • Pistachio Fettucine with Lamb Ragu, Feta & Mint
The dish that came Isabella created for the Top Chef All-Star final challenge, his Pepperoni Sauce, is in this book. Gail Simmons from Food & amp;Wine Magazine went crazy for this dish, and here Isabella uses it over chicken wings. It's one of the most requested dishes at his Washington DC Graffiato restaurant, and I'm going to make this one for Sunday football for my guys. This is a link to the recipe and a video of Isabella making the dish on the Today Show this past week.

There are gorgeous photos in this book, and at the end of the book there is a section called Menu Suggestions, where Isabella categorizes his recipes under Date Night, Entertaining, Family Night and Dinner Party Time. I liked that added touch.

I met Isabella in June at the Book Expo, and snapped a photo of him. He handed out Rainbow Cookies along with a blad from his book and the recipe for the cookies. 
Mike Isabella at the Book Expo
This is a cookbook for the more adventurous and serious cooks in my opinion. If you have someone on your Christmas gift list who fits that description, Mike Isabella's Crazy Good Italian would be a wonderful holiday present.

rating 4 of 5

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Published by Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 9780307268846
Hardcover, $25.95, 352 pages

I was drawn to this book because it was about a Bangladeshi woman who marries an American man and moves to Rochester, NY, and I'm originally from a city near there. The first reference to Wegmans grocery store in Pittsford made me smile wistfully. I enjoyed reading of Amina's journey from the only home she has known to marry a man she met on the Internet. She and her parents plan for Amina to marry, become an American citizen, and then bring them to live in America.

But George, Amina's husband, is not aware of these plans. He is an engineer, bought a home for Amina and himself, and wants to start a family. Their tentativeness in beginning a life together when they don't know each other very well is the most interesting part of the book. The story is told from Amina's point of view, so we don't get as much of George's side of things. He tries very hard to please to his wife, to make her feel welcome and loved, but he is a little rigid. We find that there is a secret he has been hiding, one that devastates Amina when she discovers it.

Watching Amina adjust to life in cold, snowy Rochester, trying to get a job, make friends and work towards her goal of bringing her parents over fascinated me. Freudenberger does a terrific job of putting the reader in Amina's shoes, of empathizing with her. You can actually feel her loneliness, and you root for her when she gets a job and goes to school. Like the immigrants who built this country, Amina desires to build a better life and is willing to work hard for it.

But Amina is not entirely noble, she has her flaws. When the story shifts to Bangladesh as Amina goes home to prepare to bring her parents back with her, we see a different side to her. She fears that something may go awry and her parents will be denied visas. After her discovery that George had lied to her about something important, she begins to question whether she belongs in America. She is attracted to a man from her past, and this confuses her. Her father is involved in a deal gone bad, and her mother is becoming somewhat erratic. Are her plans falling apart around her?

Freudenberger puts the reader in Amina's home country and reading about Bangladeshi traditions, foods, clothing and lifestyle intrigued me. Her writing and characters drew me into this engaging story of a marriage that leads to love.

rating 4 of 5

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

New in paperback: The Odds by Stewart O'Nan

The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O'Nan
Published by Penguin ISBN 9780143122272
Trade paperback, $14, 192 pages

I've never read a book by Stewart O'Nan, though I have heard good things about him.  His latest novel, The Odds: A Love Story, tells the story of Marion and Art, a middle-aged married couple on their way to Niagara Falls.

They are in severe financial trouble, about to lose their home to foreclosure and have a plan to hit a casino, with Art's sure-fire system to win enough money to save them.

As the story quietly unfolds, we find that Art and Marion are planning on separating, but I wasn't clear if it was related to the finances or because Marion was unhappy. We learn that Art had an affair a long time ago, and Marion has never really forgiven him. Marion recently had an affair with a woman, but Art is unaware of that.

Each chapter begins with a statistic, like the "odds of getting sick on vacation 1 in 9", and each statistic relates to the chapter. In this one, Marion gets food poisoning. It's a clever way to tie everything into the gambling theme.

This is basically a two-person story, and as I was reading it, I thought it would make a good stage play. We spend much of time getting to know this couple, and the insight into each character is revealing, like this passage of Art describing himself:
"If, as he liked to think, his greatest strength was a patient, indomitable hope, his one great shortcoming was a refusal to accept and therefore have any shot at changing his fate."
Marion says of herself:
"What had she done with her life? For a moment she couldn't think of anything. Become a wife and a mother. A lover, briefly, badly. Made a home, worked, saved, traveled. All with him. For him, because of him, despite him. From the start, because she was just a girl then, she'd thought they were soul mates, that it made them special, better than other couples they knew. She'd learned her lesson. She swore she'd never be fooled again, not by anyone, and yet she's fought for him as if he were hers, and then, having won, didn't know what to do with him."
That passage just blew me away. I found the writing to be concise, and so profound. Marion and Art each take chapters sharing their thoughts and moving the story along. The overwhelming tone of the novel is sadness, with Art hoping that his gamble can make this last trip together something memorable, that he can be a hero, and they can regain the intimacy they lost.

Marion does not appear to want to reignite their marriage, she sees this as one last reluctant fling. She is an unhappy woman, and the only time she shows any sign of joy is when they get drunk at a Heart concert, reliving her youth.

The one nitpicky thing that bothered me about this book is the character names. Art and Marion are about the same age as me, but their names make them sound like they are 70 years old. I don't know anyone my age named Art or Marion. I wonder if the author intentionally did that?

Their literal gambling to win enough money to save themselves is a metaphor for the gamble they are taking on their marriage. Can they win at either? Anyone who has been married may see themselves in certain parts of this book. It is an insightful look at a marriage in crisis, and the writing is so brilliant, you'll feel like you are eavesdropping on this couple.

rating 4 of 5

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Weekend Cooking- A Visit to Columbus Ohio

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.

We went to visit family this weekend in Columbus Ohio to take in an Ohio State University football game. The game was at noon, so we began tailgating at 9am.

The first thing we saw in the parking lot was a man taping a sign to a port-a-potty that read- "Private Use- Keep Out". That just cracked me up!

There were your standard tailgaters with chips, dips, and crockpots, but I wasn't prepared for the vans with big screen televisions; I had never seen that before.

I also saw three food trucks parked in the stadium parking lot; Pitabilities, which sold pita sandwiches
Pitabilities Food Truck

Bob's Burgers, which had your standard burger fare with all the fixins
Bob's Burger Truck

And the one that caught my eye, Market District's Foodie Truck, which sold Vietnamese sandwiches and Indian curry plates. What a great idea for an interesting tailgate food option.
Market District Foodie Truck
Foodie Truck menu
My husband's brother Chris wanted to go to a place called The Thurman Cafe because he saw it on the TV show Man Vs. Food. We waited two hours (!) to get seated so he could eat the Thurmanator, 24 oz. of beef with ham, bacon, two kinds of cheese, mushrooms, onions, pickles, and banana peppers. Four of the guys split two of them and they pronounced them worth the wait.
1/2 of the Thurmanator
I've never waited two hours for food, (for a book signing yes, but not food), but we had fun while we waited and my regular cheeseburger deluxe was pretty darn good too. (If I was a cardiologist in the Columbus area, I would have my business cards in the waiting area of that restaurant.)

It was a great weekend, we look forward to making it an annual event. 

If you've ever waited two hours for a table seating, let me know where in the comments section.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
Published by Scribner, ISBN 9781451681734
Hardcover, $25, 352 pages

One of Oprah's first book club picks was Jacqueline Mitchard's The Deep End of the Ocean, about a woman whose young son disappeared from a crowded store. Over ten years later, the boy is discovered living with another family and returned to his home.

M.L. Stedman's book, The Light Between Oceans not only shares the word 'ocean' in its title, but the storyline shows the flip side of Mitchard's book. In Stedman's book, a young couple lives on a remote lighthouse island in Australia in the years following WWI. Tom is a war veteran, Isabel is a young woman who lost two brothers to the war.

They have tried to have a baby, but Isabel has miscarried three times and after the last loss has been inconsolable. When a boat washes ashore with a dead man and live baby, Isabel convinces Tom not to report the incident, but to keep the baby girl and pass her off as their own.

Tom is torn between his conscience, his duty and his love for his wife. He has taken her from her family and community and brought her to this desolate place, and he cannot stand to see her so sad. He fears for her sanity.

The baby girl, whom they call Lucy which comes from the Latin word for light, is the light of their lives. Tom is enchanted by the baby, and so thrilled to see his wife happy. Yet keeping this secret gnaws at him, as secrets always do.

The second half of the book revolves around the consequences of the secret being revealed. Stedman has written an amazing debut novel, which puts the reader square in the middle of this situation. You can't help but think as you read, 'what would I do in Tom and Isabel's shoes?'

Much like Jodi Picoult's books, Stedman allows the reader to see both sides, and you like and understand the characters even when you disagree with their actions. Her characters are drawn out through passages like these:

"But he's scarred all the same, having to live in the same skin as the man who did the things that needed to be done back then. He carries that other shadow which is cast inward."
and "It occurs to him that there different versions of himself to farewell- the abandoned eight-year-old, the delusional soldier who hovered somewhere in hell; the lightkeeper who dared to leave his heart undefended. Like Russian dolls, these dolls nested within him."
The author does a wonderful job making the reader feel the desolation of living at the lighthouse alone.
"Tom can go for months and not hear his own voice. He knows some keepers who make a point of singing, just like turning over an engine to make sure it still works. But Tom finds a different freedom in the silence. He listens to the wind. He observes the tine details of life on the island."

The book really comes alive when baby Lucy is introduced into the story. The early chapters deal with Tom's life, and his work at the lighthouse. I heard Stedman speak at a reading and she spoke of the great deal of research she did for this novel, which clearly shows in this remarkable debut, which has received much critical praise, being chosen as an Amazon Best Book of August 2012.

The Light Between Oceans transports you to a different time and place yet asks you a universal question- what would you do for someone you loved?

rating 5 of 5

You'll like this if you liked The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards.

Bruce Springsteen at MetLife Stadium- a Set List & Video

My older son and I went to Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band's first show at the new MetLife Stadium in his home state of New Jersey and it was fantastic! He played a lot of favorites, and the new horn addition to the band gives a fuller sound and some more playmates for Bruce. (Although it cut into his playtime with guitarist Little Stevie VanZandt, which I've always enjoyed.) With the death of the Big Man, sax player Clarence Clemons, there is a huge hole, but the new horn section with Clemons' nephew Jake on sax really add a fresh dimension. They did a nice tribute to Clemons during 10th Ave. Freezeout.

The horns really revved up Johnny 99, and I love the Johnny Cash- Ring of Fire sound on We Are Alive. Springsteen pulled a young girl (maybe 8years old) up to sing the refrain for Waiting on a Sunny Day and she was terrific, sang on key and was so cute.

Another cool thing was a Dance Party during Dancing in the Dark. People held up signs saying they wanted to dance with various band members, and Springsteen pulled them up on stage to dance. One guy's sign said he wanted to dance with Patty, Springsteen's wife, and he played with the audience on that one, but he let the guy dance with her. Springsteen himself danced with a little girl who shyly just moved her arms, and he mimicked her moves like a little boy at a school dance; it was adorable!

I've seen Springsteen four times, starting with the Born in the USA tour, and this show ranked up there for energy and a great song list. The show started at 8:30pm (supposed to start at 7:30, but we're on Springsteen time here) and ended at 12:15am.

His set list:
Opened with a Frank Sinatra recording of my favorite Sinatra song, The Summer Wind
Shackled & Drawn
Prove It All Night
The Ties That Bind
Hungry Heart
We Take Care of Our Own
Wrecking Ball
Death to My Hometown
My City of Ruins
Spirit of the Night
E Street Shuffle
Jack of All Trades
Human Touch
Johnny 99 (horns)
Darlington County
Working on the Highway
Easy Money
Promised Land
Waiting On a Sunny Day (little girl)
Mansion On the Hill
Racing in the Street
The Rising
Land of Hope and Dreams
We Are Alive

Thunder Road
Born to Run
Dancing in the Dark
10th Ave. Freezeout
Twist & Shout

Monday, September 17, 2012

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich

The Good Girls Revolt by Lynn Povich
Published by PublicAffairs ISBN 978-1-61039-713-3
Hardcover $25.99

My sons like to tease me and call me a feminist (yeah, they don't get it), a badge I proudly wear, so I was surprised that I knew nothing about the revolt by the women working at Newsweek magazine, who in 1970 brought a complaint to the EEOC against the magazine charging discrimination against them in hiring and promotion practices.

Lynn Povich, a writer who worked at Newsweek and was part of the suit, brings the story to life in The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women at Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace. The women were employed at the magazine as researchers, but were never promoted to writer or editor, even though they had similar education and experience as the men hired as researchers and quickly promoted to writer and editor.

Nora Ephron, who worked at the magazine, described the "caste system"
"For every man there was an inferior woman, for every writer there was a checker", said Nora Ephron. "They were the artists and we were the drones. But what is interesting is how institutionally sexist it was without necessarily being personally sexist. To me, it wasn't oppressive. They were going to try to sleep with you- and if you wanted to, you could. But no one was going to fire you for not sleeping with them."
Mad Men's Madison Avenue offices weren't the only places where sex and booze ruled the workplace.

Povich is an excellent writer, and parts of this book, especially where the women were secretly meeting and trying to recruit other women to join the suit, read like a tense spy novel. Will they get caught?

They hired a young and pregnant Eleanor Holmes Norton to represent them. "The editors, who had supported the struggle for civil rights, were completely baffled by this pregnant black woman who questioned their commitment to equality."

The male editors, some of whom seemed like great guys, just didn't get it. What was worse in many of the women's eyes, was that Katherine Graham, who owned The Washington Post and Newsweek, didn't get it either. There is a powerful scene where Graham meets with the women and appears baffled by their action.

Along with the historical context of this story, I enjoyed reading about the inner workings of the magazine. We had a subscription for many years, and I always turned to read Anna Quindlen's back page column first. I had no idea that the struggle for equality there was so recent.

I recognized so many names in this book- Qunidlen, Ephron, Eleanor Clift, Jane Bryant Quinn and Maureen Orth among them. But it is the names that I didn't know, they are the important names, the ones who laid it all on the line so that the above mentioned women would be well known. Women like Povich, Pat Lynden and Lucy Howard paved the way for the other women with this lawsuit.

This book is essential reading for all young women starting out in the workplace. They must know who fought the battles for them so that they have the opportunities now available to them. The women of Newsweek are heroes, and I think that this book would be perfect for a high school or college journalism curriculum. I was also lucky enough to meet Ms. Povich at this year's Book Expo America, a true honor.

rating 4 of 5

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Three new fiction books make gripping, serious fall reading : Diane Larue

My monthly Book Report column
Three new fiction books make gripping, serious fall reading : Diane Larue

Weekend Cooking: Feast of San Gennaro

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.

This year marks the 86th annual Feast of San Gennaro in Little Italy, one of the biggest festivals in NYC, and we were lucky enough to have our friends Barbara and Mike visiting.

We watched the annual parade from inside a restaurant on Mulberry Street that provided much more entertainment than the parade. The place was maybe half-full, but the staff was running around like   chickens with their heads cut off.

At the table next to us, a woman was justifiably upset as she showed her waiter the glass of wine that he brought her was dirty; it had a brown stain on that that looked like dried chocolate mousse. That table left.

We ordered two glasses of sangria that were served in large soda fountain glasses and did not taste like sangria. There was no fruit, no spritzer, it just tasted like watered down wine. The guys got Peroni beer, first served in tall beer glasses, the second round served in wine goblets. There seemed to be no rhyme or reason to what beverage receptacle one received.

We got two small pizzas that were tasty and came out to our table before our beverages. We were lucky; the table next to us waited forever for their food and when it finally came, it was not their order. It took them three tries to get it right. There were many waiters just wandering around, carrying trays of food asking people if this was their order. It was comical, almost like watching a movie. (Sure we could laugh, we got our order.)

Then when the checks were brought, we noticed several tables saying their checks were wrong. (Ours was right.) The waiters were frazzled, the manager was screaming ("WTF Nesto?" was a popular refrain and is now my go-to phrase when things go wrong), and I just wanted to stand up and say "Keep Calm and Carry On." Our poor waiter wistfully said he was going back to Italy for a vacation; I'm not sure he'll return to this place.

Things looked up as we moved north up Mulberry Street. My husband was dying for sausage, peppers and onions, and he and Mike shared a sandwich from Marie's.

My favorite is the zeppoles, small balls of fried dough placed in a bag with confectioners sugar and shaken. We all shared those and even took some home for breakfast the next day. It was warm and melty and oh so tasty.

Mike likes cigars, so we stopped the cigar man who hand rolls the cigars in front of you. He also bought some torrone (a hazelnut nougat candy) for the trip home.
The cigar man

sangria container
We stopped at another bar/restaurant and the guys had two more Peronis, while we ladies were reluctant to try any more sangria, but I did like their sangria container sitting at the end of the bar.

The highlight of the Feast of San Gennaro this year was the grand marshal, Miss Connie Francis. We ended up near the main stage and got in line to get a signed photo and the chance to meet her. By the time we got to her, she was getting very tired. She said she had fifteen minutes and then she was going home.

Scott, Connie Francis and me

The festival was a lot of fun, and if you ever plan an early September visit to NYC, be sure to check out the Feast of San Gennaro. This year's lasts until September 23rd.  It helps if you fast the day before so you can taste all the goodies. We didn't even get to the cannolis or gelato this year!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

True Believers by Kurt Andersen

True Believers by Kurt Andersen
Published by Random House ISBN 9781400067206
Hardcover, $27, 448 pages

True Believers is a novel recounting the life of Karen Hollander, a well respected lawyer, political pundit and a possible candidate for the Supreme Court. She and her two compatriots, Chuck and Alex, grow up loving the James Bond novels and recreating secret missions. They attend Harvard together during the turbulent late 1960s and get involved in political protests, one of which turns into something more dangerous.

Hollander is going to write her memoir and she wants to include the incident that changed her life, but first she wants to reach out to her friends to let them know what she is planning to do. She has held various government jobs, received national security clearances and can't understand how what she and her friends did was never uncovered during those searches. She enlists the aid of a sometime lover, a man who is in the intelligence community, to find out what the feds know about the incident and why it has been covered up. Karen's relationship with Stewart and their conversations are the liveliest parts of the book, and I picked a lot of cool lingo from Stewart.

I also liked the relationship between Karen and her granddaughter Waverley, but Karen's other relationships (with her children, parents, siblings and Chuck and Alex) seemed a little flat to me; they were not as interesting.

The author teases the reader with the actual mystery incident, which we do eventually find out. I think people who were of that age in the late 1960s may better understand this story having gone through those turbulent times first-hand. I was just a child when the '60s ended, so I couldn't really relate to the things that happened to Karen and her friends.

Although the book clocks in at 438 pages, I don't feel like I know Karen Hollander as well as I should. I wanted to like it much more than I did.

rating 3 of 5

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

New in paperback: If Jack's In Love by Stephen Wetta

If Jack's in Love by Stephen Wetta
Published by Berkley ISBN 9780425247785
Trade paperback, $14, 368 pages

Amy Einhorn Books excels at finding debut novelists with unique voices- Eleanor Brown's The Weird Sisters, Alex George's The Good American and most famously, Kathryn Stockett's The Help. All of these books draw the reader into another world with strong characters and writing.

Add to that list Stephen Wetta with his debut novel If Jack's In Love. Set in a Virginia suburb in 1967, Jack Witcher is a twelve-year-old boy with a gifted intellect and a difficult home life. His mother is a kind woman burdened with a husband who cannot hold a job, fights with the neighbors and holds his intelligent son in disdain. Jack's older brother Stan follows in their father's violent footsteps, drinking, smoking pot, fighting and getting in trouble with the law. Needless to say, the Witcher family is not a popular one in the neighborhood.

Jack has a crush on beautiful Myra who responds to Jack's sweetness. But when Myra's brother, the high school football hero, goes missing, Stan is the prime suspect after having a fight with the boy. Once again, Jack's family has hurt him.

Mr. Gladstein is the owner of a local jewelry store and Jack's only friend. The man tries to help Jack woo Myra, and he is one of the few people in town who show Jack's plain mother any type of kindness or interest. Jack's father comes up with a plan to rob Mr. Gladstein, and Jack must thwart the plot without his father finding out.

Jack is a wonderful character, and watching him try to survive and thrive in a home where his intellect is stifled and mocked is difficult. His poor beaten-down mother does her best, but she is no match for her physically powerful husband and other son.

The book grabs you from the opening line:
"I'll never know for sure whether I'd have fought my brother or not. Maybe I might have killed him. The day came and I made the decision. But I will never know."
How can you resist reading on?

The author's take on the complexities of love and family intrigued me. Jack's mom explains why she married his dad this way:
"I knew he'd never get it in his head he was too good for me. He has an inferiority complex a mile wide. Most people can't see that, but I saw it right away." Jack "went to (his) room and meditated on the mysteries of women, deeper that all the philosophies of humankind put together."
On families, Jack thinks:
"Families live on loyalty more than love, and it wasn't fear that made me keep my mouth shut. I could never forget that Stan bled for me. And yet I was terrified of him."
If Jack's In Love is a book written for adults, but there is much here for teens to appreciate. Jack is an outsider, torn between his love for his mother, and yes even his father and brother, and his desire to have a different, better life. His feelings are no doubt shared by many adolescents, and this book would be a great one for high school English classes.

rating 4 of 5

New in Paperback: I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck

I Married You For Happiness by Lily Tuck
Published by Grove Press ISBN 978-08002145918
Trade paperback, $14, 224 pages

Lily Tuck's I Married You For Happiness is a quiet, lovely look at the marriage of Nina and Phillip after Phillip dies unexpectedly. The writing is sparse, beautiful, sad and packs such a punch. The hardest parts to read are when Nina puts her hand in her husband's coat pocket after he dies and pulls out bills, a to-do list, tickets- all the stuff that accumulates with life, and when Nina realizes the little things that will change. Who will open her jewelry safe? Now she can throw away the rowing machine in the basement. No one will care if she brings the bottle of wine in the bedroom. Those little things just pierced my heart.

It is written in Nina's stream of consciousness, her memories coming out in dribs and drabs. The day their daughter was born and Phillip was stranded in Miami and missed the birth. Secrets about an expensive purse purchased, infidelity, an abortion, that he will now never know. She'll never know the entire truth about the girl killed in Phillip's car when he was in college.

Phillip was a mathematician and Nina an aspiring artist, two people who come from different mindsets, yet they made a life together in spite of their differences. They met in Paris and vacationed in France every year. You will get more from this novel if you read French, as both characters speak it occasionally. Phillip references mathematical theories that would more interesting to me if I understood them, but Nina doesn't either.

I think that anyone who has been married for many years will read this remembrance of a marriage and recognize themselves in Nina and Phillip. And one line that keeps coming back to me is "time is what prevents everything from happening at once."

Although this is a slim book, it will stay with me for a long while.

This is the second book I have read recently from Atlantic Monthly Press, the first being Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante, and I think that I will definitely have to look deeper at their catalog; they have great literary fiction that require the reader to think.

rating 4 of 5

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff

Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff
Published by Hyperion Voice ISBN 9781401341787
Hardcover $26.99, 320 pages

I love a book that has such powerful emotional honesty that you just can't help becoming invested in it. CBS This Morning journalist Lee Woodruff's first novel, Those We Love Most, is one of those books.

This is a multigenerational story, about Maura, wife and mom to three young children, and her mother Margaret. A moment of inattention by Maura forever changes their lives, one that will cause her to feel incredible guilt and pain. The tragedy that follows is compounded by the secret of betrayal that Maura carries.

Margaret is a rock for her daughter, doing all she can to get her and the family through the aftermath of a beloved child's death. She loves her husband Roger, and when he faces a health crisis, she is also forced to face a secret that he has been hiding from her, one that if she were honest with herself, she already knew.

This is a novel about how hard it is to be married, and the resilience of the human spirit. Margaret describes her life with Roger after many years together:
"The patterns and paths of their life together, especially in the past decade, had become more and more divergent. She had her set schedule: gardening, bridge, exercise, and the occasional lunch with friends. Being a devoted grandmother, a role of which she was immensely proud, also took up a large portion of her time....But Roger spent too much time in the office at his stage in life, in her opinion."
Margaret is a character that many women will relate to: the one who keeps things together, who never falls apart, soldiers through everything.
"Margaret believed it was wife's job to keep the exterior facade spackled and impenetrable, to prevent the cracks from showing on the outside. In her mind, a classy woman never broke rank."

Maura and her husband Pete had their own problems before the tragedy.
"Things had been operating on this half-speed for a while, Maura acknowledged, each of them heading down an easy slipstream in marriage where the valuable, intimate parts begin to erode in a tidal wave of banality." 
Woodruff succeeds in bringing these women to life; indeed, they are women you feel that you know in your own life. Her observations about marriage at its different stages will resonate with many women.

The writing is insightful, and the scenes at the hospital will break your heart. It is clear that Woodruff drew on her own experiences with her husband ABC Bob Woodruff's traumatic brain injuries suffered during the Iraq War to write these emotional passages.

I can't remembered being so viscerally affected by a novel; Woodruff's first work of fiction is emotional, heartbreaking and ultimately uplifting. This is a book I will recommend to anyone looking for a story to lose yourself in.

rating 5 of 5

Here is a YouTube video of Lee Woodruff discussing Those We Love Most

Weekend Cooking- The Taco Truck & Lunch Hour NYC

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 friend Esther came into the city on Thursday and we did a little sight-seeing. We started at the Strand Bookstore, a reader's paradise, and the one place I always take someone who is visiting. With eighteen miles of books, there is something for everyone's tastes.

Then we headed to the Highline, which is a former elevated freight train track that has been turned into an eighteen city block long walkway, filled with wild flowers and plants. It was the first week of school, and we ran into a large school group drawing the plants.
People enjoying the Highline

I haven't been to the Highline since they added food vendors. We stopped at the Taco Truck and tried their Chilaquiles which was absolutely delicious. They start with homemade corn chips, top that with grilled chicken, black beans (my favorite!), queso cotija, shredded lettuce, roasted red salsa and crema. I added a Mexican Coca-Cola and was in heaven.

We couldn't leave without having a small cup from L'Arte del Gelato, one of the best gelato places in the city. I had my favorite, Pistacchio del Bronte, and Esther had chocolate.


Our next stop was a tour of the New York Public Library, where they have an exhibit titled Lunch Hour. It's all about lunch in NYC, with pizza joints, food trucks, lunch boxes, white tablecloth two hour business lunches and the highlight, an automat display.

We couldn't take photos at the exhibit, but they did have recipes available for take-away from Horn & Hardart's Automat and I'll share one with you for
Pumpkin Pie
2 cups cooked pumpkin (mashed)
3/4 tbsp. salt
1 can (14 1/2 fl. oz.) evaporated milk
2 eggs
3/4 sugar
1 tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. cinnamon
1/4 tsp. ginger
1/4 tsp. nutmeg

Heat oven to 425 degrees. Beat all ingredients together with a rotary beater or wire whisk. Pour into a pastry-lined 9-inch pan. Bake 40-45 minutes. Insert a silver knife into the filling about one inch from the side of the pan. If the knife comes out clean, the filling is done.

There were also recipes available for Creamed Spinach, Baked Macaroni and Cheese, Baked Beans and Burgundy Sauce with Beef and Noodles.

I'm leaving with one final photo- the Children's Room at the library has the original Winnie-the-Pooh dolls on display, and it is darling. We ran into a twenty-something young man there who was filled with such joy at seeing these dolls, it touched my heart.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman

And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-04-170687-5
Hardcover, $26.99 311 pages
Source: sent unsolicited by the publisher

Crime fiction is not a genre I frequently read, but I am a fan of the TV shows Weeds and Breaking Bad, so Laura Lippman's novel And When She Was Good, about a suburban single mom who runs a prostitution business, intrigued me. (I also live a block away from the place where a woman in NYC was accused of running a high-priced call girl ring.)

We meet teenage Helen, verbally abused by her unemployed father, a man separated from his wife and children, and living with Helen and her mother. He becomes more and more erratic and Helen becomes involved with the son of the owner of the restaurant where she works to make money for college.

The boyfriend is a troubled guy, a drug user, and convinces Helen to run away with him. Helen ends up working at a strip club and eventually as a prostitute. She trades in the bad boyfriend for Val, who is even worse, a serious pimp with a bad temper and a gun. When Val kills a man and Helen becomes pregnant, she plots her escape.

Flash forward and Helen is now Heloise, living in the suburbs and raising her twelve-year-old son. She is also running an internet prostitution ring, along with the help of her au pair/assistant Audrey. The only other person she can count on is Tom, a cop who knows what she does and protects her because she once helped him.

Heloise keeps a low profile:
"She always stands apart on the soccer field, her conversations with the other mothers polite yet fleeting. She's not sure whose fault that is. She stopped trying to figure out if she's standoffish because other mothers snub her or if she's snubbed because the other mothers sense she's standoffish. For the most part, she tells herself that's she's happy for their neglect... True, she encourages incuriosity in most people. Yet it's still hurtful to see how easily people fall into line with one's desire to be ignored."
When another suburban madam's murder is made to look like suicide, and Heloise discovers that the man she put behind bars may be getting out of prison and one of her former employees tries to blackmail her, things begin to fall apart.

And When She Was Good is a page-turner of a novel, with twists and turns, and you will read it in one sitting. Helen is a tough, smart, resourceful lady, but like Walter White from Breaking Bad and Nancy Botwin from Weeds, Helen sees a secret life of crime as her only solution to the problem of making enough money to support her family, but also like them, she discovers that her decision is bound to catch up with her.

The writing is crisp, the characters (even the minor ones) interesting, and the tension ratchets up with each turn of the page. I chewed off more than a few fingernails by the end. (I know, a bad habit) Lippman writes a crackling good novel, and I will be looking for more of her books when I'm in the mood for crime fiction.

rating 4.5 of 5

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier
Published by Crown Publishing ISBN 9780307887801
Hardcover $24, 309 pages

A beautiful story about how well you think you know your friends. Kate moved away from her best friend Elizabeth a few years ago. When Elizabeth dies tragically in a plane crash, she leaves her journals to Kate, with no instructions on what to do with them. Elizabeth's husband is uneasy about this, he thinks he should have the journals.

Kate discovers that Elizabeth has journals back to her teen years. She begins reading at the beginning, and is shocked to discover many things she didn't know about Elizabeth. She never knew Elizabeth had a younger sister who died as a child. Her look into Elizabeth's life reveals an entirely different woman than Kate knew. I liked the author's message that we really don't know the people we think are closest to us. Everyone keeps secrets, and has hidden feelings that are kept from friends, and yes, even a spouse.

We get to read some of the journal entries, and through them, we get to know Elizabeth.  She not only hid her feelings, she was also hiding the real reason that she was taking that fateful trip. Kate is determined to get to the truth, but once she finds it, should she share it with Elizabeth's husband? What if Elizabeth was having an affair? There was an interior life that Elizabeth led about which Kate had no idea. She was Elizabeth's best friend and she feels that maybe she failed her friend.

Kate is also on her own journey. She was a successful pastry chef, winning a James Beard Award. She and her husband have two young children, and Kate has an amazing offer to work for a new restaurant. She is torn between her passion for her work and her love for her family. It's a tough decision women face and I think that many women will really relate to Kate's dilemma.

The characters in this novel got under my skin, and the conceit of using Elizabeth's journals to get to know her character is an effective, emotional one. The relationship between Kate and her husband was well done too, it was believable, and you felt like they could be your neighbors. This beautiful story will make you think about your life, your friends, and your marriage.

rating 4 of 5

I posted about The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. in a Weekend Cooking post here.