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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

New in Paperback: Elegy for Eddie by Jacqueline Winspear

Elegy for Eddie:  A Maisie Dobbs Mystery by Jacqueline Winspear 
Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 978-0062049582
Trade paperback $15.99, 368 pages 

The BBC's Downton Abbey caused quite a stir (I myself was late to the party, watching both seasons on two marathon weekends), and increased interest in the post-WWI world in Great Britain. But readers have for years been immersing themselves in the same era with author Jacqueline Winspear's fascinating Maisie Dobbs' novels, set in London at the same time.

Maisie was a young maid in Lord and Lady Compton's home (think Anna from Downton) who was caught by Lady Rowan in the library late at night reading. Lady Rowan realized Maisie's intelligence and potential and arranged for her to be schooled by Dr. Maurice Blanche, a well-renowned psychologist and private investigator.

Maurice became Maisie's mentor, and Maisie was able to rise above her station and eventually became a nurse serving in France during WWI. Maisie was severely wounded and returned home to recuperate, and eventually take over Maurice's private investigation business.

After Maurice died, he left his home and much of his fortune to Maisie. Overnight, she became a wealthy woman. She also fell in love with Lady Rowan's son and heir, James Compton. Maisie is a woman who owns her own business, has enough wealth to own a home and an apartment in London, and is able to financially help her friends and colleagues.

In the newest novel, Elegy For Eddie, Maisie is visited by men she knew as a child, fruit peddlers from Lambeth. They ask her to investigate the death of Eddie, a forty-six-year-old man with the mind of a child. Eddie had a job running errands for workers in a newspaper plant and was killed when a bolt of paper crushed him.

Maisie knew Eddie and the single mother who raised him. She took the case, and it brought forth many feelings to the surface for her. The class system in England was fairly rigid, and it was unusual for anyone, particularly a woman on her own, to move up. Maisie was living a life about which she felt increasingly uncomfortable.

When she stays at James' family estate, she doesn't like the staff waiting on her. Ringing a bell for the next course of dinner feels unnatural to her. While she loves James, she begins to feel that the life he leads is not one she wants.

Now that Maisie has money, she uses it to help her employees. She purchases a home in a good neighborhood and rents it to her loyal assistant Billy and his family after they lost a daughter to illness. She hired Sandra, who lost her husband, and let her move in with her. She also paid for Sandra to further her education.

When Billy is seriously injured investigating Eddie's death, Billy's wife blames Maisie for putting her husband in danger. Maisie feels guilty, arranges for Sandra to help care for Billy's children, and gets him the best medical care.

A doctor confronts Maisie about her 'helping' her employees. She asks Maisie to consider whether her help is "affecting their lives, making decisions on their behalf that they might not have made for themselves, or might come to at a different time." She suggest that Maisie may have been trying to get others conform to Maisie's view of the world.

Maisie's best friend Priscilla tells her that by coming to the rescue of everyone, she could be causing people to resent her, as Billy's wife does. She explains that people don't like being beholden to someone, and that Maisie is depriving her friends of the "opportunity for them to be proud of something they've achieved.''

This book in the series doesn't have much action, it is much more introspective. We see Maisie coming to a fork in the road of her life. She has to decide whether she wants to move forward with her relationship with James, and how to deal with her new station in life and her control issues.

Maisie is an independent woman living in a turbulent time. This story is set in 1933, and England, weary from the losses of so many men in WWI, is now facing the possibility of another war. Hitler is causing problems in Europe, and Eddie's death may be tied to a newspaper publisher who is using his power to drum up war propaganda to get the people of England ready for confrontation.

I love being immersed in Maisie's world. Winspear does meticulous research, which is available on her website.( If you want to know more about that time in history, click on the link.) Maisie is a strong woman, but she has her doubts about her abilities and where she is going in life. She feels so real and I think many women today can relate to her.

I always look forward to catching up with Maisie, and if you are a fan of Downton Abbey and are suffering from withdrawal, the Maisie Dobbs series are a wonderful way to immerse yourself in that time.

rating 4 of 5

I have reviewed all of the Maisie Dobbs books during last year's Mad for Maisie readalong on BookClubGirl.com;  the links are below:

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Jackie After O by Tina Cassidy

Jackie After O by Tina Cassidy
Published by ItBooks, ISBN 978-0-06-199433-3
Hardcover, $24.99, 276 pages
The fascination with the Kennedy family is perpetual, and even though Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis was a Kennedy by marriage, her life still generates books, films and even a jewelry line bearing her influence and name.

Tina Cassidy has written a book, Jackie After O: One Remarkable Year When Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis Defied Expectations & Rediscovered Her Dreams, that gives a brief overview of her subject's life, concentrating more on the work she accomplished and less on her well-documented personal life.

Most people know about Jackie's work restoring the White House, and the famous television interview she did showing the results to the American people. Less well known but just as fascinating were her efforts to preserve the historical architecture on Lafayette Square, which surrounded the White House on Pennsylvania Avenue. She fought developers and convinced her husband of the importance of preserving the historical buildings.

Onassis again put her name and efforts behind saving another American landmark in 1975; the beautiful Grand Central Terminal in New York City. At that time, New York City was on the verge of economic collapse, and the city could not afford to fight developers who wanted to put a skyscraper on top of Grand Central Terminal to house office space.

The Municipal Art Society was formed and as part of that committee, Onassis lent her prestige and name and appeared at a prominent press conference that announced their efforts to sue to preserve the historical landmark. When she spoke at the press conference, she garnered much more press attention to a worthy cause than would have otherwise been created. She wrote letters and strategized as to how to preserve this indelible New York landmark, and thanks in part to that committees's efforts, Grand Central Terminal is now restored to its rightful grandeur.

After her second husband died, and her children were teens and off to school, Onassis was looking for another challenge. She wanted a job, a career. Literature was always important to her and she ended up at Viking working as an editor.

The most interesting part of this book is related by Rebecca Singleton, the young editorial assistant who was given the task of working with Onassis. Singleton was hoping to be promoted to editor herself as she was an ambitious go-getter, and her work was well liked by her supervisors.

Singleton recounts so many wonderful, warm stories about her working relationship with Onassis. It is intriguing to see this side of Onassis; someone who wanted to learn, be accepted and be good at her job.

One delightful anecdote concerned the rule at the office that the first one in had to make the coffee. A director of publicity recalls arriving "to find Jackie wrestling on the floor with a bag trying to open it. She sheepishly handed it to him. He opened it. And then she took it back to brew a pot for the office."

We do see some of her troubled marriage with Ari Onassis, and her difficult relationship with step-daughter Cristina, but this book is strongest when relating Jacqueline's passion for preservation and literature, using her talents and name to do good works of which she could be proud.

Fans of the Kennedy mystique will enjoy this refreshing and interesting take on a different side of Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, a woman who will always intrigue us.

rating 4 of 5

On Broadway: Chaplin, the Musical

Charlie Chaplin is an American film icon, although he was born and raised in England. The Broadway musical Chaplin takes us from his childhood through his triumphant return to America at the 1972 Oscars with a story that keeps the audience interested and involved all the way through.

Rob McClure gives a star-making performance in the title role. The role is very physical, and McClure doesn't so much mimic Chaplin as he brings him to life before our very eyes. Many people don't know much about Chaplin, just that he was a silent film actor who was called the Little Tramp for the character he created.

Chaplin was brought to America by silent film producer/director Mack Sennett and after a rocky start, he became a powerhouse writer, actor and director. We see his climb up the ladder, his genius in creating films that the American audience wanted to see. With his brother as his manager, he moved from studio to studio, earning record sums of money before starting his own studio.

He also had a taste for women- young women, mostly. He married and divorced three times, and there is a funny song and dance about the three wives who received record divorce settlements from Chaplin.

The show really takes off in the second act with the introduction of Hedda Hopper, the famous powerful Hollywood gossip columnist. Chaplin refuses to go on her radio show for an interview, and Hopper becomes enraged at this. Jenn Colella is spectacular as Hopper and her powerful voice shines in two of the best songs in the show, "Just Another Day in Hollywood" and "All Falls Down."

Chaplin is disturbed by Hitler's actions in Europe and after his movie, The Great Dictator parodying Hitler is a huge hit, Chaplin is asked to speak at rallies supporting American intervention in Europe. Many of these rallies were attended by Communists, and Hopper used this fact to try to get the US Attorney General to arrest and deport Chaplin.

We see how these two powerful, egotistical and stubborn people, Chaplin and Hopper, butt heads and when Hopper finds a young woman who says that Chaplin is the father of her illegitimate child, public sentiment turns against Chaplin. He takes his loving (and much younger) wife Oona and moves to Switzerland.

The last scene is Chaplin's triumphant return to the 1972 Oscars, where he received a standing ovation from the audience. He feared they would boo him, or worse be silent, but the thunderous ovation he received is something I vividly remember watching as a 10-year-old girl in front of my TV set. I got chills watching McClure give Chaplin's speech; it was an incredibly powerful moment on stage.

This is a show that has a great book, wonderful performances, and if many of the songs aren't particularly memorable, that is OK. My husband, who is not a big musical fan, thought the show was fantastic. Chaplin led an amazing life and seeing his story brought to life on stage by these performers is a treat not to be missed.

Jenn Colella singing at Broadway at Bryant Park Summer 2012

Rob McClure singing at Broadway at Bryant Park Summer 2012

On Broadway: Grace

Some plays you should see because the story makes you think about something in a different way, others you should see for the performances of the actors. Grace, starring Paul Rudd (The 40 Year Old Virgin, Knocked Up, Role Models), Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, TV's Boardwalk Empire), Kate Arrington and TV legend Ed Asner (The Mary Tyler Moore Show, Lou Grant) falls into the latter category.

Rudd and Arrington play Steve and Sarah, a couple from Minnesota who move to Florida to start a chain of gospel-themed hotels. They are true believers, preaching their religion to anyone who listen (and even those who won't). Sam, their neighbor in the apartment next door played by Shannon, is a recluse. He was in a car accident that killed his fiancee and left him disfigured.  Asner plays Karl, an exterminator, the only survivor in his family of the Nazi occupation.

Karl's story is revealed as Steve asks him questions about faith and God. Karl doesn't have faith or believe in God because he has seen horrible things, the worst of humanity. How could there be a God who would allow those things to happen? Asner hits all of the right notes here, playing humor and pathos in equal measure.

Shannon is simply amazing as Sam. If you have seen his performance in Boardwalk Empire,  there are similarities between Sam and the character he plays in Boardwalk. Nobody plays quiet desperation and loneliness like Shannon; he is simply brilliant here.

 Sara is lonely, waiting at home while Steve works to line up financing for their venture. She makes numerous attempts to befriend Sam, to draw him out of his shell, to bring some measure of human interaction to his life as well as to her own. Arrington and Shannon play this budding relationship with such delicacy and sweetness, I was not shocked to discover they are married off-stage.

Steve's relationship with his wife is more troubling. Steve is somewhat of a bully towards his wife, and the flashes of anger we see in him when things do not go his way match his nearly manic display of religious fervor as he tries to logically explain why Karl and Sam should have faith. Rudd plays this outwardly cheerful character who hides his rages quite well.

The play starts at the tragic end, so the audience sees that Steve kills everyone, and then we go back to the beginning of this unraveling. I'm not sure how I feel about this conceit or why the playwright began the play this way. Maybe it was to grab the audience right away and to have them look for signs that led up to this violent end, but I wondered if it would have been more powerful to not have known it was coming.

This is a show to see for the performances, and if you can get a discount ticket. I saw the cast after the matinee, and they all graciously signed and posed for photos, no one staying longer than 82-year-old Asner, who was a fan favorite. (He also told me this play was exhausting him.)

Ed Asner

Kate Arrington

Michael Shannon

Paul Rudd

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Weekend Cooking- A Pie Recipe from One Good Deed

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'm just finishing up a fantastic memoir by Erin McHugh, One Good Deed.  Every day for a year, Erin set about to do one good deed; it didn't have to be big, just one good deed for someone else. Her journal is inspiring, funny, moving and thought-provoking. McHugh also has a website, One Good Deed, where people can talk about their good deeds.

I love this book for many reasons- Erin is Irish (me too), raised Catholic (me too), loves to read (me too), thinks the movie Love, Actually is the best Christmas movie (a no-brainer) and we even live in the same neighborhood. It made me look at the many, many people I am surrounded by here in NYC differently.  I am more aware of them and try to be more gracious to them.

Erin's simple ideas, from donating money (however small) to good causes to picking up the trash you see around you to bringing flowers to cheer up a friend are very doable, and I'll be darned if they don't make you feel pretty good when you do them.

It also made me conscious of the good things I try to do, like sending everyone in my family a card on their birthday/anniversary and going to book signings for authors and buying their books as gifts for friends and family (two good deeds in one!).  I like thinking I'm a pretty good person, but also knowing that I can always do better.

In her book, Erin posted a family recipe for Cranberry Surprise Pie, which she always makes for Thanksgiving family dinners, and then makes an extra one to give to family friends. Erin gave me permission to post the recipe here, and I can't wait to try it this year at our family holiday table. (I love cranberries)

Cranberry Surprise Pie
2 cups fresh cranberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 1/2 cups white sugar
3/4 cup butter, melted
2 large eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
1 tsp. vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Butter a 9 1/2 inch pie plate. Pour the cranberries into the bottom of the pie plate and sprinkle evenly with the walnut and 1/2 cup of the sugar.
Mix the eggs with melted butter, 1 cup sugar, the vanilla, and the flour. Pour over the cranberry mixture. Bake for 50 minutes at 325 degrees F.

I can't speak highly enough of One Good Deed, and I bought four copies of the book already. I know I'll be back for more as my Christmas gift list grows. I'll post a full review next week.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel

Goodbye for Now by Laurie Frankel
Published by Doubleday ISBN 978-0-385-53618-9
Hardcover, $25.95

When Sam Elling creates an algorithm for the internet dating company that employs him that matches people with their soul mates, two things happen: he gets fired and he meets his soul mate.

The owner of the internet dating company decides that people actually finding their soul mates would end his company, which relies on people continuing to search for that perfect person, so he fires Sam.

Sam's algorithm matches him with Meredith, who works in the company's marketing department. We watch as they fall in love and as Sam searches for his next career move. Then Meredith's beloved grandmother dies suddenly, and Meredith is bereft. She spent a lot of time with her grandmother, and all she wants is to talk to her again.

Sam can't stand to see Meredith so sad, and he comes up with a crazy idea. He creates an algorithm that  goes through the deceased person's emails, video chats and social network messages that allows the deceased person to communicate with loved ones left behind. The caveat: they can only say things that they have actually said in the past, so it is essentially having the same conversations over and over.

Initially he does just to make Meredith feel better and it does. But Meredith thinks others could use it to make them feel better too. She convinces Sam to start a business, and Meredith's cousin Dash joins them.

Their first customer is Eduardo, whose brother died suddenly in an accident. Eduardo tells his brother that the brother is dead in their first chat, and Sam has found a bug; the dead loved one can't understand that he is dead. The first thing rule has become "Don't tell your loved one he/she is dead", and every single person breaks the rule.

The business takes off, and they meet many kind, loving and sad people. Meredith handles the people part of it, Sam the tech part. Things go well, until they get some bad publicity. Questions are raised about the ethics of doing this, and whether they are profiting from other's people tragedies.

I read this remarkable book on a plane and I flew through it. A tragedy occurs in the last third of the book, and although it is one that a careful reader will see coming, it is still devastating. I sobbed and read through tears.

Frankel has written a novel that asks you to question how much technology is too much, and I guarantee that you will be much more conscious of your social media and email communication after reading it. She has taken something that seems at first so fantastical, yet makes you believe it is possible.

The end of the story reinforces your faith in humanity, and the importance of the human connections we make. Facebook friends are nice, but when the chips are down, it is the actual, physical relationships we create with each other that sustain us.

I loved the characters, and the story is just beautiful. We have all faced loss; Frankel takes that universal experience and the desire to keep our loved ones with us forever and touches your heart with her moving, emotional novel.

rating 5 of 5

If you liked Lee Woodruff's Those We Love Most, you'll like Goodbye for Now

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Pinterest Testing Three Chicken Recipes

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.

As I posted last week, I spent a few hours updating and reorganizing my Pinterest recipe boards last week. I made a pledge to cook more recipes from Pinterest, and this is a round-up of my week.

Sunday- I tried a new recipe, Firehouse Chicken Bleu. I enjoy taking dishes we like and deconstructing the flavors, putting them together in a different way and this one was a winner. Instead of a whole chicken breast with ham and Swiss cheese rolled inside, it is a pasta dish with chunks of chicken and cheese in a swiss cheese sauce.
The Pros- It had good flavor. I bought a 1/2 lb. of glazed ham from the prepared foods section of our Italian grocery store and shredded gruyere cheese to give it a flavor boost. I also used fresh penne instead of boxed. It's even better the next day as leftovers, as the original poster mentioned.
The Cons- I thought this would save a lot of work- pounding, rolling the chicken- but I used so many pots! One to cook the chicken, one for the pasta, one to make the sauce, and a baking dish. Whew! I thought it would be easier than making cordon bleu, but it wasn't.
Tweaks-I added paprika instead of cayenne pepper, and I would maybe cook in 400 degree oven for 10 minutes, then broil for 4 minutes to brown. When I took it out from the broiler I had to microwave to heat it through.
Verdict- My husband really liked it, and I know my sons will enjoy it.
Served with- Jamie Oliver's Corn Chowder (foolproof!), Trader Joe's banana bread, caesar salad.

Monday- Firehouse Chicken Cordon Bleu leftovers- yay, no cooking!
Tuesday- We had company and tickets for the Broadway show Chaplin, so we had dinner at The Capital Grille on West 51st St. We got the $39 Pre-Theatre Dinner, a great bargain and the Flourless Chocolate Espresso Cake for dessert was the highlight.
Wednesday- Still had company and had a kgb deal for Tony DiNapoli's restaurant. The meal was terrific, especially the White Sangria and Pear & Gorgonzola Salad and we have a new favorite dessert- Tartufo Exotic, four slices of fruit gelato covered with white chocolate and whipped cream. It was delightful!

Thursday- A new Pinterest recipe- Outback Steakhouse Aussie Chicken. 
The Pros- I had all the ingredients on hand, so no need to go to the grocery store. The recipe was easy to follow, not a lot of chopping, very few ingredients. It has cheese, bacon and mushrooms, so it tastes good.
The Cons- It calls for bacon, which I don't like to cook because the apartment smells like bacon grease all night. The cheese and bacon add a lot of calories, so this is a dish I wouldn't serve very often.
Tweaks- The recipe calls for 1/2 cup of cheese on each chicken breast, I cut that down to 1/4 cup and the flavor was still there.
Served with- Smashed potatoes would be great with this, but my husband had a craving for rice, so it was rice and Trader Joe's crescent rolls.
Verdict- My husband enjoyed it, and I would make it again, but not too often.

Friday- Another new Pinterest recipe- Honey Beer Chicken. I was looking for a quick, easy recipe since I got home late and the Yankees playoff game began at 5pm. 
The Pros- This one was very easy, and used ingredients that I had on hand. It only took about 30 minutes total. The sauce was full of flavor, and the soy sauce gave it a beefy taste. You only use 1/2 cup of beer, so you can finish the can while you cook. The recipe came from Cooking Light magazine, so it is lower in calories. I used to cook from that magazine all the time, they have many terrific recipes.  
The Cons- The chicken itself was a tad bland.
Tweaks- I didn't add the parsley at the end; my husband is not a fan of parsley (or cilantro).
Served with- Leftover rice (the sauce was good over that) and we started with Rachael Ray's Pumpkin Soup with Chili Cran-Apple Relish, which had honey in the relish that echoed the honey in the chicken sauce
Verdict- This is a good, healthier entree and I would make this entire dinner again. My husband gave it an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
Source: betsylife.com via Diane on Pinterest

Did you cook any new recipes this week? Let me know in comments.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Weekend Cooking- Playing With Pinterest

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 week I decided to work on my Pinterest boards. I reorganized my Food & Recipes boards, making subcategories of Main Dishes, Side Dishes, Soup's On, Desserts etc. It was very rewarding, and then I proceeded to spend nearly three hours surfing Pinterest for more recipes to add to my boards. My goal is to cook at least four Pinterest recipes a week; I'll post my results as they occur.

I began the week by making Carol from There's Always Thyme to Cook 's Chicken Parm Meatballs for my husband and son. Carol always has terrific recipes, and once again she had a winner. My guys loved this one.

I had plenty of leftovers, and I usually make hot meatball sandwiches with them, but I found this recipe for Meatball Casserole on Dishing with Leslie, and they loved this one too. It was similar to hot meatball sandwiches, but the guys liked this better. The only tweak I would make is toasting the bread a little before placing in the casserole dish.

I saw my sister-in-law this week, the one who loves to cook, and we worked a little on her Pinterest boards. I can't wait to see what she comes up with!

Are you on Pinterest? Do you use it frequently? Let me know in comments.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Cursing Mommy Book Of Days by Ian Frazier - Audiobook Excerpt

 Is this the distaff S*&t My Dad Says.  If you are offended by cursing, DO NOT listen. Everyone else, enjoy listening to Miranda from Sex & the City (Cynthia Nixon) curse like a sailor.