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Thursday, January 31, 2013

The Expats by Chris Pavone

The Expats by Chris Pavone
Published by Broadway, ISBN 978-0-7704-3572-1
Trade paperback, $15, 352 pages

I was watching Bob Schieffer on CBS News' Face the Nation, and as his guests he had four authors who had written books that he had recently enjoyed. One of them was Chris Pavone, who had written a spy thriller, The Expats. 

Pavone said that his inspiration came when his family moved to Europe for his wife's job and he became a full-time dad. I had heard of the book, but Shieffer's enthusiasm and Pavone's description convinced me to put it on my TBR list.

Kate Moore is a CIA agent married to Dexter, a nerdy computer geek who works in banking security. Kate worked in the field for the CIA and we discover that she is more than an analyst; she was field agent who killed people. Her husband knows nothing of this, and thinks she writes position papers for the government.

So when Dexter comes home and tells Kate that he has a fantastic opportunity in Luxembourg. Kate quits her job, (no easy task) and off they go with their two young sons in tow. Kate makes friends with other expats, and she and Dexter become close friends with Julia and Bill.

Kate begins to become suspicious of the couple. Is it because she worked for the CIA that she harbors the idea that Julia and Bill are perhaps assassins? She contacts someone she knew in the CIA and puts her spy skills to the test to find out what is going on.

Meanwhile, Dexter is working longer hours and spending little time with the family. Their marriage is strained and soon Kate is snooping on her husband wondering what he is doing. Is he cheating on her? Is he involved in something illegal?

Pavone expertly unravels his story slowly, going between the present day in Paris and their time in Luxembourg, yet the story feels so fast-paced. This is a story that you will zip through to find out what is going on, yet at the same time you want to savor the writing and the relationship between Kate and Dexter.

I enjoyed being dropped into Luxembourg, watching Kate find her way becoming a full-time mom. Pavone brilliantly compares marriage to the spy game, intimating that people in a marriage may not really know their spouse as well as they think they do. I guarantee you that after reading this terrific novel, you will look a little closer at your spouse.

There is a nail-biting action and interaction between Kate and Julia, and between Kate and Dexter. As the story reaches it's crazy climax, I found I had to slow down reading in order to understand exactly what the heck was going on. There are double-and-triple crosses, tables become turned again and again and at the end, I'm still not completely sure what the heck happened.

This is a book that will appeal to John Grisham fans, although I like this better than I like most Grisham novels. Pavone combines heart-pounding action with fascinating characters, and I read it in two sittings. This is a very cinematic book, I'd love to see it onscreen, and I hope to read more of Kate's future adventures.

Watch Chris Pavone on Face the Nation 

rating 4 of 5

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Nicole Henry Returns to Dizzy's

Nicole Henry at Dizzy's

Last August, my friend Flo took me to Dizzy's Coca Cola Jazz Club at Lincoln Center to hear Nicole Henry perform. I was blown away by her, and was excited when Nicole mentioned that she was releasing a CD of 70's music in 2013.

Henry returned last night to Dizzy's to celebrate the release of the CD, titled So Good, So Right. She performed most of the songs from the CD and as a child of the 70's, I was taken right back to my AM radio days.

If Henry had been around in the 70's, she would have given Gladys Knight and Aretha Franklin a run for their money. She has a powerful and sultry voice, and I loved the song choices. She wore a lovely, flowing Badgley Mischka sand colored gown, echoing the era she was honoring.

One of my favorite performances from last night was the opening song Stuck in the Middle With You. I can remember my mom singing that song, it was her favorite and a great way to open the show. Gladys Knight got a shout-out with Henry's soulful rendition of Neither One of Us.

Although known as a jazz/R&B singer, Henry sang some pop songs too, including Joni Mitchell's Big Yellow Taxi, James Taylor's Fire & Rain  and a plaintive Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word by Elton John.

The audience went crazy for Home Alone and Bob Marley's Waiting in Vain and a gospel-tinged Spirit in the Dark that would have made Aretha proud. The soulful Use Me was a highlight as well.

Henry chose as her encore one of my favorite 70's songs, Stevie Nicks' Landslide, which the Dixie Chicks also had a hit with a few years back. I adored Henry's take on this song, maybe even more than Nicks' version.

If you enjoy jazz, R&B and 70's music, I can't recommend Nicole Henry's So Good, So Right enough. You can buy at ITunes here:
or if you want an actual CD, the Amazon link is here:

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Can't get enough 'Downton'? Try 'The Passing Bells' : Diane Larue

My monthly column in the Citizen is a review of Phillip Rock's novel, The Passing Bells. It is a must-read for Downton Abbey fans. (And note to self- I should have washed off my mascara before I watched this week's episode. I cried my eyes out!)

Can't get enough 'Downton'? Try 'The Passing Bells' : Diane Larue

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Love Is a Canoe by Ben Schrank

Love Is A Canoe by Ben Schrank
Published by Sarah Crichton Books FSG ISBN 978-0-374-19249-5
Hardcover, $26, 340 pages

I have read a few books lately whose topic is that marriage is not what it seems. Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl shows us the remnants of a bad marriage through the unreliable eyes of both spouses. Chris Pavone's The Expats uses the spy game as a metaphor for how little we really know how our own spouse.

Ben Schrank's novel Love Is a Canoe has a different take. Peter Herman wrote a hugely successful self-help book titled Love Is a Canoe, filled with the wisdom his loving grandparents shared with him as a teen. They taught him the importance of being respectful, treating the person you love with kindness, and many other bromides.

Peter fell in love with a young girl one summer when he was with his grandparents, and following his grandparents' advice, he pursued this girl and eventually married her. They bought an inn and restaurant in upstate New York and lived a happy life.

His wife fell ill and died, and now Peter is dating someone. He hasn't written anything else, and his publishing company has reissued his book many times, still selling a few copies here and there.

Stella is a young editor at the publishing house trying to move up the ladder. She comes up with an idea for a contest where couples would write in asking for marital advice. The winner would spend the day with Peter, stay at his inn and get some helpful guidance from him.

There were a few problems: Peter has had little contact with his publisher over the years, and they had to find just the right couple. Only one couple fits the bill- Emily and Eli. They have been happily married, until Eli cheated on Emily with a work colleague. Will Peter be able to help them? Stella's career depends on it.

There is a lot of inside stuff about working at a publishing house. The woman who is running the company is feared by all, and she was the editor on Peter's book. Schrank works for Penguin publishing and he shows us the pitch meetings, the jockeying for position, and the day-to-day inner workings. It is great fun to read, and this was my favorite part of the book.

This book surprised me with where it was going, and I truly like that in a novel. Taking that ride and not knowing where we'd end up was exciting. People are not necessarily who we have been led to believe, and things are not as they always appear.

The characters are well-drawn, although I thought people were too hard on Stella, ascribing character flaws to her that I do not believe she had. Schrank juggled the various storylines- Peter, Stella at the publishing house and Emily and Eli's marriage- so well that each one of these stories could have made for an interesting book. He brings them together skillfully.

In the end, my general feelings about self-help books were vindicated, but I'm not going to tell you what they are for that would ruin the ending of this wonderful book.

Ben Schrank has a website devoted to his book here.

rating 4 of 5

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New in Paperback- Ali in Wonderland by Ali Wentworth

Ali in Wonderland by Ali Wentworth
Published by Harper Paperbacks, ISBN 9780061998584
Trade paperback $14.99, 272 pages

Ali Wentworth's Ali In Wonderland And Other Tall Tales follows in the footsteps of other recent books by funny ladies, such as Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling. Like those, it is not so much a memoir as it is a series of essays. Ali wanted to write a book about the advice her mother Muffie, a Democratic social secretary in the Republican Reagan White House, gave her and Muffie does play a big role in the book, but perhaps her next book will be all about Muffie. She is one very interesting lady, and any woman whose advice in most situations consists of "get to the Four Seasons" should have her own book deal.

You might think that Wentworth's most frightening tales might be from her days trying to make it as an actress in Hollywood. And except for one horrifying robbery/rape attempt where her male friend was stabbed, most of her scary tales came from boarding school. As someone who didn't grow up with anyone who went to boarding school, I find this concept odd. I don't understand sending your teenage child many states away to school where you don't what she is doing or who she is with. And there are some scary girls at her boarding school. Apparently some people send their seriously disturbed daughters away to boarding school rather than to a psychiatric hospital.

Wentworth's mother worked in the White House and her description of life in Washington DC is amusing. She describes a dinner party where she performed a Shirley Temple song and dance routine while staring at an unsmiling Henry Kissinger. Years later, her life comes full circle as she ends up back in Washington with her husband George Stephanopolis and two daughters. Her tale of a dinner party at Donald Rumsfeld's shows a different side to the serious defense secretary as he shares his love of dachshunds with Wentworth. It was a bit surreal.

There are many chapters that mention Ali's various engagements to different men. I'm not sure I could tell you how many different guys she was engaged to, but she kissed a lot of frogs to get her prince. I really enjoyed her story of her first date and quick courtship with George, but I guess when you've had many failed engagements, you know right away when it's right. She writes about how she never was the kind of girl who planned her wedding since she was a little girl, which worked out well since George's Greek family had the wedding all mapped out. (I do find it funny that the church hall where they had their reception is the place where I vote.)

Wentworth states that "names and faces have been changed to protect her innocence." But in one chapter, she describes a relationship she had with a studly British actor that was pretty one-sided. She gives some clues as to his real identity, even though she changed his name, and later in the book she pretty much confirms his identity when many years later when she is married, she is offered a job playing the actor's love interest on his series. Since it was an HBO series, she thought it might be weird to have to get naked with the guy who just up and left her abruptly all those years ago.

The book is funny, showcasing Ali's sunny, skewed sense of humor. I most enjoyed the later chapters where Ali describes married life with kids. (Maybe it's because I could identify with that, well except for her obsession with seashells.) There is not much here about working in Hollywood, just a small part about getting her role on "In Living Color", and I hope that her next book will be more about that part of her life.

rating 4 of 5 stars

If you liked Ali in Wonderland, you might like Kathy Griffin's Official Book Club Selection

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Weekend Cooking- A Visit Back Home

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 got a job in New York City seven years ago and so we packed up and moved from the only place I had ever lived. My family still lives in Auburn, and we go back home to visit family and friends at least twice a year.

One of my husband's favorite activities back home is planning where we will eat. He always looks forward to making a list of restaurants and getting his favorite meals.

Our home was close to Nino's Pizzeria and on the way back from baseball games, we always stopped in to get a half cheese, half pepperoni pizza and mild charbroiled wings. (Their cold turkey subs were my favorite.) We got a pizza on our first night there and even though we live in NYC, the home of amazing pizza, we still love our Nino's.

Lasca's Restaurant is probably Auburn's best-known restaurant, and people frequently come from Syracuse (30 miles east) to eat there. We love to get take-out from there; I get the Lasca's Chicken, which is two chicken breasts stuffed with ham, broccoli and Swiss cheese and covered with a cream sauce and a little spinach on the side. I get it with rice, but this time they told me they don't make rice anymore. What??? I found that strange. But still, it was mighty good, and there always leftovers for another meal.

My husband gets the Veal and Jumbo Shrimp, served in a champagne cream sauce with a baked potato, one of his all-time favorite meals. Everyone else loves the Chicken Parmigiana, and their salad with house Italian dressing is a winner. It's funny, the restaurants in Auburn all have delicious homemade house dressings.
Chicken Parm from Lasca's
Parkers Grille & Tap House is located downtown, and we would stop in for lunch on our errands when we lived in Auburn. My husband is crazy for their Combo Platter of mozzarella sticks, chicken fingers, and potato skins, and I get the Beef-on-a-Weck, roast beef on a Kimmelwick bun. It's a fun place to go, and whenever we stop in, we always see someone we know.

We stayed at the new Hilton Garden Inn and met friends at the BeauVine Chop House & Wine Bar for drinks and snacks. I love that they specialize in Finger Lakes wines, there are so many wonderful wineries in the region. I highly recommend a winery tour if you ever find your way to the Finger Lakes.

I found a new Pino Grigio, Il Giardino, that I really enjoyed and will be looking for at my local wine shop. My friend suggested we share the Truffle Parmesan Fries served with Garlic Aioli and Homemade Ketchup and we shared a burger. Both were very tasty and they gave you so many fries, it was plenty to share. My son enjoyed the filet mignon he had, pronouncing it one of the best steaks he has had. We had breakfast there as well, eggs, homefries, bacon and toast and it was tasty and quickly prepared. The Hilton Garden Inn is a wonderful new addition to Auburn, and the atmosphere at the Wine Bar is relaxed and enjoyable. It the perfect place to meet up with friends and have a conversation.

And of course, I made several trips to my beloved Wegman's. How I wish we had one here in the city! We missed some of our other favorites on this trip- Michael's Restaurant, Rosalie's in Skaneatles- but we'll be back in August.

What are some of your favorite hometown restaurants and foods? Share them in the comments section below. 

Friday, January 18, 2013

Penny Marshall's My Mother Was Nuts

My Mother Was Nuts  by Penny Marshall
Published by New Harvest ISBN 9780547892627
Hardcover $26, 352 pages
Penny Marshall is best known as Laverne from TV's popular 70's sitcom "Laverne & Shirley", and she shares some of her memories of that wild time in her memoir. But for my money, the last section of the book is the best. She describes how she became the first female director to have a movie make $100 million. That movie was "Big" with Tom Hanks, and she describes how Robert DeNiro was originally considered for the role. What a different movie it would have been!

Marshall directed one of my favorite movies, "A League of Their Own" about the All-American Women's Baseball League, formed during WWII when most of the men were at war. Hanks also starred in that movie and we get a lot of details about the actors, the auditions, shooting the film on location, and Jon Lovitz's hilarious ad-libs. She takes us through "Awakenings" with DeNiro and Robin Williams, working with Whitney Houston and Denzel Washington on "The Preacher's Wife" and her first gig, directing a difficult Whoopi Goldberg in "Jumpin' Jack Flash".

She also shares her upbringing in the Bronx, with her mother whom she calls "nuts" in the book title, a dance instructor who instilled a love of entertaining in her children, Garry, Ronny and Penny (actual name- Carole), all of whom grew up to be successful in Hollywood. Penny danced on the Jackie Gleason Show as a child, but hated taking lessons with her mother. It was a battle that lasted a lifetime for them.

Her first marriage in college after becoming pregnant produced a daughter Tracy. She later married Rob Reiner, and her memories of their love story were very sweet, and even though the marriage didn't work out, they still remained friends. Speaking of friends, Marshall names many, many of her friends- from the Bronx to Hollywood to New York- at times it seemed a little overwhelming. Carrie Fisher became a very good friend, introducing her to boyfriend Art Garfunkel, and Marshall's description of the classic Simon & Garfunkel reunion concert in Central Park was fascinating.

She covers a lot of ground moving quickly through the book, mostly glossing over Laverne & Shirley days and her costars, although she does try to explain the rift that developed between her and Cindy Williams. Her serious illness of a few years ago is dealt with in detail, with a happy ending thanks to billionaire Ronald Perelman's assistance.

Not many people would have believed that Penny Marshall from the Bronx would have become the star of one of the most successful TV sitcoms of all-time, let alone become one of the most successful film directors of the 1990s, but she did it. Her life story reads like a movie she'd one day direct.

rating 4 of 5

Book Review: Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman

Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman
Ebook published by Open Road Media

Last fall, I saw that one of the books that I loved as a high school student, Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman, was being reissued as an ebook. I can vividly remember reading the slim book, a fictionalized account of Kaufman's experiences teaching in the New York City schools system in the 1950s and 60s.

The book became a movie starring Sandy Dennis, and I loved that too. Although at times it paints a very bleak portrait of NYC public schools, what shines through is the main character Miss Sylvia Barringer's love of teaching and her students. This book was responsible for many young women choosing teaching as a career.

The book covers Miss Barringer's first year teaching in a poor city high school. Most of the students came from poverty stricken families, and had so many other problems at home that school was either a refuge for them or a place they went to until they dropped out to get a job to help support their families.

Miss Barringer is baffled by the students' actions and the ridiculous clerical work required from the administration. She quickly learns the language:
"Keep on file in numerical order" means throw it in the wastebasket. "Let it be a challenge to you" means that you're stuck with it; "interpersonal relationships" is a fight between kids; "ancillary civic agencies for supportive discipline" means call the cops. "Non-academic minded" is a delinquent and "it has come to my attention" means you're in trouble.
She makes friends with an older teacher, Bea, who shows her the ropes and encourages Sylvia to hang in there and try to reach her students. (I think the author is a combination of Bea and Sylvia.) She puts a suggestion box in her classroom and she shares many of the notes that her students leave there.

The notes are funny, profane, and sometimes heartbreaking. We meet many of the students through them, including Edward Williams, who deigns to be class president and tries to impress Miss Barringer with his knowledge. Joey Ferrone is a tough guy, the one kid Barringer really wants to reach. She believes he hides his intelligence behind his rough exterior, and they have one interaction that is filled with tension.

The book started out as a magazine article containing many of the real student notes that Kaufman kept from her teaching days. The magazine liked it so much, it became a full-fledged novel.

I thought that in reading this book, it might feel dated to me, but it did not, and I'm not sure how that makes me feel. Schools are still filled with bureaucratic nonsense, and students in poor schools still get the short end of the stick. It makes me sad that in some ways we haven't come very far.

After we saw the heroic teachers in Newtown who gave their lives to save their students, it is the right time to read or re-read Up the Down Staircase. It's good to be reminded of the many people who believe in the importance of teaching our children, and the challenges they face as they do it.

rating 4 of 5

Thursday, January 17, 2013

My Good Deed- Helping to Build a Library

My husband is the CEO of ArchCare, the healthcare ministry of the Archdiocese of New York. They operate nursing homes, hospitals and provide home care and day care for the frail and elderly. During Hurricane Sandy, they took in 59 refugees from an adult home in the Rockaways. Their home was severely damaged.

These people were left with nothing but the clothes on their backs and maybe a garbage bag of personal belongings. They are some of the kindest, sweetest people I have met, always looking out for each other, taking care of each other.

We took some of them to a luncheon on Arthur Ave. in the Bronx last month, and I noticed one of the women had a book on the table in front of her, a Margaret Truman mystery. I asked her if she enjoyed the book and if she had read any other Truman books. I told her that I could buy her some more Margaret Truman books at the local used bookstore in my local library. She was thrilled.

I asked other residents if they liked to read, and they came alive. One man likes James Ellroy crime novels, another woman enjoys books about travel and explorers. I had the pleasure of sitting next to a former children's librarian and we chatted up a storm about books. She is a big Maurice Sendak fan.

When we visited my husband's family in Kingston, NY, I stopped in Ollie's Bargain Outlet and loaded up on books. If you have an Ollie's near you, GO THERE. It's like a Big Lots, and this one had a huge book section, bigger than most bookstores, and they had tons of books for $2 and up. We're starting a library for these people!

Today I stopped at Webster Library Book Cellar used bookstore and picked up all these books for just $30. I found Ellroy, Truman, some travel books and others books I think they may like.

Some of the residents are blind (including my librarian friend), so I told them we could get them audiobooks. This where I am looking for help. If anyone out there has a good resource for audiobooks (they would have to be CDs) I would appreciate if you could point me in the right direction.  Do you know of any websites or stores that carry discounted audiobooks? Any contacts that you have would be so wonderful. I'm also looking for some children's books for my librarian.

So many people have been so generous, donating money to help care for these displaced people, and The Gap donated winter coats, hats and gloves to them. As I love books, I think this is a great way to bring them some joy as well as myself.

Thanks in advance for anything you can do, I'll keep you updated!

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Norbert Leo Butz Sings at Barnes & Noble

Two time Tony winner Norbert Leo Butz (Dirty Rotten Scoundrels  & Catch Me If You Can) released his first CD, Memories & Mayhem, a live recording of his cabaret show at the new Live at 54 Below venue, and he had a performance and signing at Barnes & Noble on 86th St. in NYC yesterday.

He performed four songs from the CD, The Way Young Lovers Do, Killing the Blues, I Could Be In Live With Someone Like You  and If These Walls Could Speak. He played guitar on the first two songs and he sounded so fantastic, even though he shared that he had been ill this week with what he called "the crud" and a 102 degree fever.

Below are the last two songs he sang, hope you enjoy them as much as we did.

Live at 54 Below is hosting several Broadway performers doing cabaret shows, and I hope they have all of their CD releases from Broadway Records at Barnes & Noble.

Broadway Review: The Heiress

Everyone is in full-on Downton Abbey mode, and for all you Matthew Cawley lovers, if you are in New York City before February 10th, you have the opportunity to see Dan Stevens, the actor who plays Matthew, on Broadway in The Heiress.

The show is filled with fantastic actors who are having a good year. Jessica Chastain just won a Golden Globe Award as Best Actress for Zero Dark Thirty, and she stars as Catherine Sloper, the titular heiress. Catherine is a shy young lady who has not attracted any suitable suitors. She lives with her father, played by David Straitharn, who brilliantly plays William Seward in the movie Lincoln. 

Based on Henry James classic novel Washington Square, it is set in the Washington Square area of New York City in the mid-1800s. Straitharn is amazing as Dr. Sloper, who has no confidence in his daughter's ability to attract and marry an appropriate man. Dr. Sloper may love his daughter, but he frequently bullies her, putting her down and undermining her confidence. He doesn't love her for whom she is, he pushes her to be someone else.

The incredible part of Straitharn's performance is that even as he is saying horrible things to his daughter, things that made the audience groan and gasp in shock, he still manages to make his character somewhat sympathetic. I doubt many other actors could pull that off as well as Straitharn does. He makes you believe he loves his daughter even if you don't want to believe it.

Stevens is Morris Townsend, a suitor who lacks money. The ultimate question is does he love Catherine or is he only after her money? Those who are familiar with his good guy character from Downton Abbey want to believe he truly loves her, and Stevens uses that belief to good effect. The audience is kept in suspense, wanting to believe in him, yet having that nugget of doubt.

It is Chastain who is a wonder. A beautiful woman, she hides behind a prosthetic nose and unattractive wig as Catherine. She plays the shy, unassuming heiress who lives to please her father, although it seems to be out of her grasp to do so. Her father's constant comparison of Catherine to her deceased mother is troubling. Her character shows the most growth in the play, as she falls deeply in love with Morris and this love allows her blossom and become her own woman.

The play gives us a fascinating glimpse into the social mores of the time period, and I loved not only the costumes but the set design as well. The actors are all brilliant, and the last scene of the play will have you on the edge of your seat. I would not be surprised to see Chastain, Straitharn and Stevens all nominated for Tonys, they are all that good.

The only regret I have is that Judith Ivey, who usually plays the key role of Aunt Lavinia, was not performing at the show. I would have loved to have seen her performance.

After leaving the show, I put Washington Square on my Kindle, so I hope to have a review of that in the future. There are discount tickets for this show, but it is one I would pay full-price to see.


Tuesday, January 8, 2013

New in Paperback: The Good Father by Noah Hawley

The Good Father by Noah Hawley
Published by Random House ISBN 978-0-307-94791-8
Trade paperback, $15, 320 pages

There are two books that published recently, Defending Jacob, by William Landay and The Good Father by Noah Hawley, that deal with fathers struggling with the accusation that their sons committed murder.

In Landay's novel, an assistant district attorney's teenage son is accused of killing his classmate. In The Good Father, Dr. Paul Allen's estranged college drop-out son is arrested for killing a senator, a popular family man on his way to winning his party's presidential nomination.

Allen divorced his son Danny's mother when Danny was a young boy. He left them and moved across the country to take another job. He remarried and began a new family, now father to twin boys. Danny spent time with his dad and his new family, summer vacations, but he was basically raised by his mother, a woman who was prone to "intense manic interest followed by long stretches of epic boredom", as Danny was.

Paul is shocked when he and his wife see on the news that Danny is the one arrested for killing the senator. He cannnot believe that his son did this; there must be a mistake. He hires a lawyer for his son, but his son will not cooperate. Danny is being held in federal custody and no one is allowed to see him.

Paul becomes obsessed with proving that his son is part of a conspiracy, a fall guy for the murder. He travels across the country, trying to piece together the last few years of his son's life; where he was, who he met, what he did.

This obsession endangers his marriage, and he and his new family are hounded so much, they  move to a rural community in Colorado to escape and start over. His wife is patient, but she firmly tells him that if Danny will not cooperate, they must let him go and concentrate on saving their own two sons.

Hawley is a good writer, he really makes the reader empathetic to Paul's pain and anguish. He writes a great line, "Father and sons. What we wouldn't give to trade places with our boys, to absorb their suffering and ease their pain."

And yet here is my thought on that. Dr. Allen divorced Danny's mother because he couldn't take living with her anymore, that she may have suffered from depression. But he thought it was OK to leave his young son to be raised by her alone, while he starts a new life far away. Would it have been better for his son if he had his father around growing up? If he had made that sacrifice for his son, would things have turned out differently? I think that is something that Paul will have to live with for the rest of his life.

The Good Father haunts you with its sadness and despair, with a puzzling mystery thrown in. Did Danny kill the senator or was he a pawn in a conspiracy? It makes you uncomfortable, and gets you to think that you may not know your own child, the things he has gone through, what he is thinking. I do like that we get to see what Danny has gone through the past few years, and how he got to where he sadly ended up.

rating 4 of 5

My review of William Landay's Defending Jacob is here

New in Paperback- Home Front by Kristin Hannah

Home Front by Kristin Hannah
Published by St. Martin's Griffin, ISBN 978-1250023278
Trade Paperback, $15.99, 432 pages

The horror story of the US soldier accused of murdering 17 innocent civilians in Afghanistan blares on the nightly news and we all have a difficult time understanding how this could happen. The accused soldier is on his fourth deployment, something unheard of in previous wars.

In author Kristin Hannah's 19th novel, Home Front, a lawyer married to a female National Guard Black Hawk helicopter pilot is defending a soldier accused of snapping and killing his wife. When she wrote the book, I can't imagine that Hannah could have known just how timely her novel would be.

Michael, the lawyer, has been depressed since he lost his father and law partner recently. His wife Jolene, who lost her parents when she was 18, goes through life always looking for the positive. She and her best friend and neighbor Tami fly choppers for the National Guard.

Tami's husband and 12 year old son are proud of her and the work she does. Michael doesn't understand why Jolene wants to be a soldier; they have two daughters- Betsy, 12 years old and Lulu, four years old- and he thinks she should leave the Guard.

After Michael refuses to attend his wife's birthday party at the Guard base, Jolene hides her disappointment again. Then Michael tells her that no longer loves her. Jolene is devastated and can't understand what has happened.

Jolene and Tami's unit gets called up and off to Iraq they go for a year's deployment. Michael is angry that he has to change his routine to take care of his daughters, and he resents the detailed binders of information that Jolene has left for him. Schedules of meals, doctor's appointments, and household maintenance are all laid out by the efficient Jolene.

Hannah does an amazing job showing how these families' lives are turned upside down, and having the wives as the deployed soldiers and the husbands left behind to handle the home front made this novel that much more interesting. The contrast between Tami's supportive husband and Michael is jarring.

We see how hard it is for those left behind and how difficult it is for forty-something women in a war zone. Jolene tries to protect her family by downplaying the danger, and Michael is willing to play along.

She writes emails to her daughters, but nothing to Michael, believing that their marriage is over. Michael makes no effort to reach out to Jolene either, even though he feels badly that she left believing he no longer loved her.

I saw Kristin Hannah a book signing at Barnes & Noble on 86th St. in New York City in February and she said that she wanted to write a book about the price of deployment on military families and a marriage in trouble. She said "some books I like more than others, and this one I like."
Kristin Hannah at Barnes & Noble

She interviewed a chopper pilot and "didn't understand one word she said because she used acronyms." The pilot, Chief Warrant Officer 5 Teresa Burgess, is thanked in the acknowledgments, and it is clear that she was the inspiration for Tami and Jolene.

There is a turn of events halfway through the novel, and it reminded me very much of Anna Quindlen's novel, Every Last One. Just like that powerful novel, I cried all the way through the last half, and my heart literally hurt reading it. It was a emotionally draining experience reading this book.

The characters are well drawn, and the story is well written. Betsy going through her teenage angst, Michael struggling and Jolene's withdrawal felt so real. I read this book in two sittings; I couldn't set it down or get these characters out of my mind.

Home Front takes you on a emotional journey, and it reminds us of the hugh sacrifice that a small percentage of Americans make on behalf of the rest of us. It is shameful that we as a nation have not done enough to help the families left behind or the soldiers upon their return, and thanks to Kristin Hannah for reminding us that we have a responsibility too.

rating 5 of 5 stars

Another excellent book about soldiers and the families they leave behind is Siobhan Fallon's You'll Know When the Men Have Gone.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Two Pinterest Recipes from New Year's Day

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 tried two new Pinterest recipes for New Year's Day. Normally for Christmas Day I make Scotch Pecan Pull-Aparts, which require frozen rolls that thaw overnight with a mixture of butterscotch pudding mix, butter, brown sugar and chopped pecans.

After searching fruitlessly for frozen rolls at every grocery store on the Upper East Side (and even asking my husband to check at Whole Foods), I had to give up that idea and one of our favorite family food traditions.

I found this recipe for Mini Muffin Cinnamon Rolls on Rachael Ray's website and thought maybe it would make a decent substitute. It calls for two cans of crescent rolls, which I had in the refrigerator. I also used a mini muffin tin, one of the few baking pans I still have in my cupboards. (There is not much room in a n NYC kitchen for all of the baking utensils I used to have.)

They turned out quite well, everyone enjoyed them, especially my husband who prefers just a small bite of something sweet instead of the massive cinnamon buns made by most bakeries in our neighborhood. The link is to the recipe is here.

I made a big brunch for New Year's Eve, so we skipped lunch. Instead I made another Pinterest recipe, Taco Pizza, again featuring crescent rolls. This one was a huge hit and very easy: rolling out the rolls, baking them, topping with refried beans, taco seasoned ground beef, cheese, green onion, black olives and tomatoes and baking for a few minutes more. It was the perfect snack, I will make this one again, and it came from Real Mom Kitchen's website.
The Taco Pizza was delicious
If we had been home for New Year's Eve, I would have served crescent rolls for dinner, thereby having a trifecta of crescent rolls for the day, but we went out to dinner that evening.

I hope you all had a wonderful New Year, and that 2013 will be a great year for you all. I'd love to hear what you made for New Year's Eve/Day in the comments section below.