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Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Introducing the Comedy Team of Jack Gray & Anderson Cooper

Jack Gray & Anderson Cooper at Barnes & Noble

Last night I attended a book talk and signing for Jack Gray's collection of humorous essays Pigeon in a Crosswalk: Tales of Anxiety and Accidental Glamour at the Barnes & Noble on the Upper West Side.

Gray is a producer of CNN's Anderson Cooper 360 and he was lucky enough to have his boss, Anderson Cooper, interview him about his book. These two men are hilarious together as they joked about Gray's huge Twitter following (over one million!); he claims that he is "huge in Malaysia. Most of my followers are spammers."

Cooper joked that he was glad Gray wrote a book because "I didn't know who you were. Now I know your last name", and Gray retorted by stating that while working for Cooper one rule is that "eye contact is a privilege, not a right." Much of the interview was that back-and-forth joking, and had the standing-room-only audience laughing at many points.

Gray said that one of the rejected titles of the book was "Openly Gray", a word play on the fact that Gray is gay, but he thought it sounded like the memoir of "Evelyn Gray, a 6'5" lesbian basketball coach."

Cooper stated that he learned that Gray was a good writer when Gray started writing on CNN's 360 blog, and the book deal came from there. Cooper sarcastically noted that his own book was "A New York Times bestseller for several weeks, but this is not about me", which drew guffaws.

There was a lot of name dropping- Gray told a hilarious story about giving Cher a Twitter lesson over the phone (complete with a Cher accent), spending the weekend at Cooper's summer home with Kathy Griffin (they expected a Downton Abbey estate, it is more of a cottage), a Twitter feud with Star Jones (she is not a popular person), and he told of a party at Larry King's Beverly Hills mansion where the Kings' forgot to get a caterer (what Gray referred to as a "first world" problem).

Speaking of parties, Gray talked about what it's like to go a party at Nervous Nellie Anderson Cooper's home. Cooper spends the entire party in monitor mode, fearing that "someone will fall and I'll get sued." He even has his assistant videotape the entire party in case there is an incident.  Cooper says two hours later after a work party, he'll "find the makeup department in an upstairs bedroom applying makeup to each other."

I read about half of Gray's book while waiting and it so funny and sweet; it reminds me of Andy Cohen's memoir Most Talkative: they both came up in news organizations, love pop culture and are so entertaining. Gray's personality pops off the page and I honestly laughed out loud many times while sitting there; this is a book I will give to many people. I'll post a full review soon.

Jack Gray talks about  Pigeon in a Crosswalk CBS This Morning's Gayle King (his new best friend)

You can buy it here
My review of Andy Cohen's Most Talkative is here

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

New in Paperback- Defending Jacob by William Landay

Defending Jacob by William Landay 
Published by Dell 978-0-440-24613-8
Paperback, $7.99, 496 pages

There are a two books that published within two months of each other last year, both about fathers dealing with their sons being accused of murder. The first is Defending Jacob by William Landay. The other is Noah Hawley's The Good Father.

The main character, Andy Barber, is an assistant DA in a town in Massachusetts. When a teen age boy is murdered, he is the prosecuting attorney until his son Jake is accused of the murder. The dead boy bullied Jake, and Jake was tired of it. But Andy believes that a man previously accused of molesting a young boy, and who was seen in the park where the boy was murdered, is the real killer.

Andy is forced to take a leave from his job, and his wife Laurie has a hard time dealing with the accusation, the loss of her friends and the isolation of her family. She finds out that Andy has been keeping a big secret from her, and this causes her to pull farther away from her husband.

There is a lot of suspense in this novel, and Landay excels in the courtroom scenes, especially the scenes with Andy on the stand battling against his former colleague who wishes to takes Andy's position in the DA's office.

This novel is unsettling for parents, and will cause you to ask yourself if you really know what's going on your child's life. With all of the social media and helicopter parenting today you may think you know everything about your child, but this novel may disabuse you of that quaint notion. Laurie has a line early in the book after the murder but before Jake is accused, talking to other mothers she says,
"I think we overestimate what we can do as parents. Your kid is your kid. You get what you get."
The nature versus nurture question definitely comes into play in this novel.

This novel drops a bomb at the end, one that the author only slightly hints at, but I got a sinking feeling about where it was going. Yet I still didn't know exactly how it would end, and it is a shocker, one that almost caused me to fall off the treadmill when I got there.

Landay skillfully takes the reader on a roller coaster ride, and this is one crackerjack of a novel. Defending Jacob is a best seller in hardcover and made many best of lists last year.

rating 4 of 5 stars

My review of The Good Father is here. 

Circles of Time by Phillip Rock

Circles of Time by Phillip Rock
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-222933-5
Trade paperback, $14.99, 425 pages

For fans of Downton Abbey going through withdrawal, the rerelease of Phillip Rock's Abingdon Pryory trilogy is a welcome relief. The first novel, The Passing Bells, introduced us to the Greville family, owners of Abingdon Pryory, which is very similar to Downton. Sir Anthony has the title and his German-American wife Hannah has the money.

The first novel took us deep into WWI- the politics of war, the horrors of the fighting, the loss of vibrant young men and women. The second novel, Circles of Time, deals with the aftermath of the war, both personally and nationally.

Charles Greville is suffering from post-traumatic stress, as well as the effects of a tragedy he caused. Charles begins the novel living in a mental hospital and his family fears there may be no reaching him.

Charles' sister Alexandra is back home after losing her doctor husband to a heart attack. She brings their young son Colin back to Abingdon, but she too is lost in a cloud of sadness.

Jamie Ross is the Greville's former chauffeur who worked for a tank manufacturer during the war. Ross  moved to America, started his own company building airplane engines and became wealthy. He returns to England on business and befriends Colin and Alexandra.

American cousin Martin lost his wife Ivy during the war and has thrown himself into his work as a journalist. He has written articles on how generals made bad decisions during the war that cost many British men their lives needlessly, and his views are riling feathers.

The first novel had more of a sense of urgency and drama to it because of the war. This second novel deals with the aftermath of the war on its participants and the society at large. So many changes came to  Britain; the rigid class system was loosened. People from the working class, like Jamie, were able to use their skills and knowledge to advance their lot, something unheard of before the war.

The war also brought changes to the ruling class. Sir Anthony came to accept that his sons would not follow the career paths he laid out for them; they would follow their own ambitions and dreams. He even came to accept the path that Alexandra chooses to follow much more readily that the usually more practical Hannah. For goodness sake, Sir Anthony is even driving his own car by the end of the story!

One of the more interesting sections of the novel concerns the rise of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. Martin returns to Germany, where he finds that the monetary reparations that Britain and France have imposed on Germany is impoverishing that country.

The people are starving, inflation is outrageous and certain politicians are exploiting this to further their cause. Martin uncovers information that an assassination is being planned and he tries to stop it. His German cousins are involved in this and he even meets Hitler at his family's home.

History buffs will once again be satisfied with this part of the story. We see how certain people in Britain did not want another war and were willing to ignore the rumblings of trouble in Germany. The generals were reluctant to face their culpability in the slaughters that occurred overseas and still do not want to modernize their equipment or strategy to deal with another possible looming war.

The last novel, Future Arrived, deals with the storm clouds of another war and the next generation's coming of age. I'm looking forward to continuing on this journey.

rating 4 of 5

My review of The Passing Bells  is here.
There is a read along and discussion of these novels at Book Club Girl here.

Monday, February 25, 2013

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

The House Girl by Tara Conklin
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-224164-1
Hardcover, $25.99, 384 pages

Black History Month is wrapping up and I just finished a novel that fits in well with that celebration. Tara Conklin's debut novel, The House Girl first beckons to you with a stunningly beautiful cover; a silhouette of young woman against a serene green background of what looks like wallpaper, with birds and flowers.

While the cover pulls you in, it is the beautiful writing that urges you to keep reading. The story takes place in two time frames- 1852, where we meet Josephine, a 17-year-old house slave who cares for the ailing mistress of the house, LuAnn Bell. LuAnn is a painter, and from time to time she allows Josephine to paint as well.

LuAnn also taught Josephine how to read. Josephine yearns for freedom, and we discover throughout the story that she once tried to escape but was returned to her owners.

In 2004, Lina Sparrow is a corporate lawyer, the daughter of Oscar, a famous artist. Lina's mother died when she was a child, and she has very few memories of her mother. Lina is chosen by one of the partners at her law firm to work on finding a plaintiff for a big case- a slave reparations lawsuit that a big client wishes to bring against corporations that made lots of money off the labor of slaves.

Lina attends a show of LuAnn Bell's paintings, and hears about a controversy surrounding the show. Some people believe that Josephine is the actual artist, and the controversy has made headlines. Lina believes that descendants of Josephine would make the perfect plaintiffs for her case, so she travels to Virginia in search of them.

The story alternates between Josephine and Lina's point of view, but the most interesting parts of the novel for me were the letters written by Dorothea Rounds (an abolitionist who helped her undertaker father as a stop on the Underground Railroad) to her sister Kate, and a twenty page letter written by Caleb Harper, a disgraced medical student and brother-in-law to Dorothea.

Dorothea's letters to her sister explain in great detail how she and her father cleverly hid slaves in coffins destined for shipment up North. As someone who grew up in Auburn NY, the last home of Harriet Tubman and a stop on the Underground Railroad, I found this so fascinating. How their scheme ends is a sad tale and the author tells it in such a compelling manner I found myself on the edge of my seat as I read it.

Caleb's story is a sad one too. He has a alcohol problem and after he is blamed for a family tragedy, he completely falls apart. He ends up working for a slave catcher, medically treating the slaves so that they can be resold further South. When Caleb meets up with Josephine, he sees a chance at redemption.

I raced through Caleb's 20-page letter because his story was so interesting, and he is such a well-written character. Many other reviews have mentioned that Josephine's story is more compelling than Lina's, and I think it is partly because of these two primary sources that Lina uncovers. They are quite well done.

The House Girl is one of those books that slowly pulls you in, and once you are in, you can hardly come up for air. Josephine's story and her yearning for basic human dignity and what she is willing to endure to find that are inspirational and heartbreaking. If you are a fan of historical fiction, I highly recommend this irresistible debut novel and I look forward to more to come from Tara Conklin.

rating 4 of 5

Maeve Binchy's Last Book- A Week in Winter

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
Published by Knopf ISBN 978-0307273574
Hardcover, $26.95, 336 pages
Reprinted from auburnpub.com

Irish author Maeve Binchy came to the attention of American readers in the 1990s when one of her novels, “Circle of Friends”, was made into a popular movie.  Soon we were all reading her beautifully crafted books of middle-class Irish, usually from the rural areas of Ireland, who often moved to the big city looking for love and a career.

Binchy passed away last year at the age of 72, and her many worldwide fans were saddened to hear of the news. Many of her novels featured recurring characters and settings, and readers lost not only her, but those familiar friends as well.

Her last novel, “A Week in Winter”, is vintage Binchy at her best. We have a large cast of characters, each telling their own stories, as they come together to spend a week in a beautiful Irish hotel set on a dramatic cliffside in the small town of Stonybridge.

Chicky Starr is a young Irish lass living in Stonybridge with her family. She falls in love with Walter, a handsome young man traveling through Ireland who convinces her to leave her family and come with him to America.

Her family is dead set against her doing this, but Chicky is in love. They end up in New York City, but Walter is a wanderer and he soon leaves Chicky stranded alone in a foreign country.

Chicky finds a job and a home at a boarding house where she cooks and cleans. She is too embarrassed to tell her family what has happened to her, so she tells them that Walter and she were married, but he has died in a car crash.

Eventually she decides to go back home to Stonybridge, and with the money she has saved over the years buys a large Irish home and turns it into a hotel. Her family believes she will fail, but Queenie, the elderly woman who owns the castle-like home, casts her lot with Chicky and they begin to make it a reality.

Rigger was a young man born out of wedlock to Nuala, who left Stonybridge to work in Dublin. He fell in with a bad crowd and got into trouble. Nuala sent him to Stonybridge to work with Chicky, and there he changed his ways, fell in love and became Chicky’s right-hand man.

As the hotel prepares to open, we meet the first week’s guests. Each guest gets their own chapter to tell their own story, and this is vintage Binchy. We even see some characters from our favorite Binchy books, like the Signora from “Evening Class”, and some of our favorite places, such as Quentin’s restaurant and Whitethorn Woods, make cameos. It will bring a smile of recognition to regular Binchy readers.

There are many interesting stories here, including Winnie,’s, a thirty-something unmarried nurse. After giving up hope, she finds love with a wonderful man. The only problem with him: he has an unusually close relationship with his mother, Lillian.

Winnie tries to engage with Lillian, but it is clear that Lillian won’t approve of any woman her son dates. Winnie arranges for a romantic week away with her man, but it ends up he cannot go due to a work commitment, and suggests that Winnie takes his mother instead. It doesn’t look like a promising week.

Freda is a young librarian who loves her job but hasn’t been lucky in the love department. She meets a man whom her best friend and aunt have their doubts about, and soon Freda is abandoning her work and friends for this man. Freda also has a secret; she has visions of things to come.

There is a husband and wife doctor team who have seen some sad and troubling things and long to have a baby. An aging American actor is (he thinks) incognito, but everyone recognizes him. An older couple who spends their free time entering sweepstakes wish they had won the first place trip to Paris instead of the second prize of a trip to Ireland. A hard-working Swedish man loves music and has doubts about taking over his father’s business.

All of these people converge at Chicky’s hotel for a week in winter. We get to know them- their longings, their fears, their hopes, their sadness, and their joys. Binchy is a master at showing us their humanity and making us care about them. The reader identifies with something about each of them.

Binchy tells universal stories about people we know, people we are. They strive to have better lives, work hard and long for true love. She sets these stories in her beloved Ireland, and we learn a little bit about life in the Emerald Isle.

If you are a fan of Maeve Binchy, “A Week in Winter” is not to be missed, even though she most certainly will be.

Rating 5 of 5 stars

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Weekend Cooking- More Pinterest Testing

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.

It's been awhile since I wrote a post on my Pinterest testing of recipes. I have some successes, but recently I've hit a patch of a few ones that didn't work. First, the successes:

This Smothered Chicken Casserole is something that looked like one that my husband and I would enjoy, and I was right. It's got chicken, bacon, mushrooms and it's served over angel hair pasta. The only tweak I made was instead of using heavy cream, I substituted half-and-half to cut the calories and fat. This will definitely go into the rotation. It comes from Heather Likes Food.

My mom makes this Orange Fluff Jello Salad for Easter and it is frequently served at bridal showers. I lost the recipe during our move a few years ago, so I was thrilled to find it again on Pinterest. I made it for my husband's recent birthday celebration and he was very happy I found the recipe again. This came from Six Sisters' Stuff.

I was looking for a special cocktail for Valentine's day dinner, and this Cranberry Raspberry Flirtini was perfect. It's red, it's tasty and it goes down smooth. The only drawback is that it has Chambord, a raspberry liqueur, which if you don't already have is expensive to buy. It was so good, we had it again for the birthday dinner! It came from Drink of the Week.

I had leftover mini marshmallows from the Orange Fluff Jello Salad and strawberries were on sale, so I made Fresh Strawberry Upside Down Cake for dessert last night. This one was just OK, not something that we all loved, but we liked it. It was on Chefs' Tricks website.

And now, the misses:
One thing that I thought my son would like was Two Ingredient Creamy Garlic Broccoli. Basically, you mix hummus into cooked broccoli. It just didn't taste quite right; we really just like plain broccoli seasoned with a little lemon juice and garlic salt.

I was looking for a soup to make on Friday's during Lent. We had Jamie Oliver's Corn Chowder the previous week (a big favorite!) and I recently made Broccoli Cheddar Soup, so I cast about for a new one. I tried this Crock Pot Baked Potato Soup, put the ingredients in the crockpot, went to the movies, ran some errands, and when I came home, it just did not look good. It didn't taste good either and the cream cheese addition couldn't save it. I guess they can't all be winners.

Have you had any luck on Pinterest lately? Let me know in the comments section.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Published by Crown ISBN 978-0-307-58836-4
Hardcover $25, 415 pages

Gone Girl has lit up the bestseller lists for many months. Everyone I know is reading it and people are somewhat divided between loving it and thinking it is "meh".

The biggest issue seems to be the unlikeable characters. Nick and Amy have been married for five years and things have taken a bad turn. They both lost their jobs and had to move from New York City to Nick's hometown in Missouri to help his sister care for their ailing mother. Amy's parents had to borrow money from Amy's trust fund because they are broke. Amy loaned Nick the rest of her savings to open a bar in his hometown with his sister Go.

Amy is unhappy and Nick is having an affair with one of the students taking his college writing course. On the day of their fifth anniversary, Amy disappears and the first place they look is the husband. Nick doesn't have an alibi and it looks like a struggle has taken place at the house.

The story is told alternately through Nick's eyes and Amy's diary entries. Flynn weaves an intriguing story and you will turn the pages ferociously to find out what really happened to Amy.

The problem for me is the characters. I don't mind unlikeable characters, as long as they are interesting. That being said, I do think there should be someone to root for in a story, and the ones who come closest in this novel are Go, Nick's sister and Boney, a female police detective. Unfortunately, both these characters don't seem well drawn enough to care too much about them.

Flynn had fun mocking the whole lawyer/television personality driven media. They are easy to dislike and good for a chuckle here. She skewers the whole cottage industry that sets up once a pretty wife goes missing.

The novel will definitely appeal to those who like a crackling good thriller/mystery, and Flynn has been compared to Patricia Highsmith (The Talented Mr. Ripley) and Alfred Hitchcock, both of whom made a good living with unlikeable characters. It is well paced, and Flynn keeps you guessing most of the way. It has been purchased for the screen and will make a pretty good movie in the right hands.

 But if you are going through a rough patch in your marriage, you don't want to see you spouse reading this.

rating 3.5 of 5

News from Heaven by Jennifer Haigh

News From Heaven: The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-088964-7
Hardcover, $25.99, 256 pages

I have one shelf on my many, many bookshelves devoted to my all-time favorite books. Jennifer Haigh's debut novel Mrs. Kimble holds a place of honor there. She is remarkable writer, and her last novel Faith just reaffirmed my belief that she is one of the best fiction writers out there.

She recently published a short story collection, News From Heaven: The Bakerton Stories, set in different eras in the coal mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania. Some of the characters were featured in her previous novel, Baker Towers. 

Each of the ten stories is moving, and anyone who has lived in a small town with one major employer will recognize the people in these stories. Haigh's describes people in just a few sentences and you get them right away. Teenage Regina describes her mother this way in Broken Star:
"She greeted all presents this way- you shouldn't have- no matter how worthy the occasion or how trifling the gift. It was a habit born of embarrassment. No gift- even one she'd always wished for- was worth drawing attention to herself."
I feel like I know this woman because I know people just like her.

She also has such a sense of place, as with this sentence from the same story:
"Night was falling as we left the bus station, an amenity that, until then, I hadn't known the town possessed."
There are many people who live lives in a small box, and even those who live in a large city may contain themselves to just a few blocks.

There were a few stories that really moved me. A Place in the Sun is about Sandy Novak, one of the characters from Baker Towers.  Sandy is handsome man who left Bakerton to head west. He ends up living hand-to-mouth, bartending here, working as short-order cook there. He sleeps with his boss' wife, then steals from the boss and takes off to Vegas with a younger woman. Life hasn't turned out the way he hoped, and he thinks he has one last chance for a big score.

Sandy's story continues back in Bakerton in To The Stars, where Sandy's siblings Joyce, Dorothy and  George are left to deal with the fallout Sandy leaves behind. We see the family dynamic in this encounter about Joyce:
"She accepts condolences and prayers. It is her role, always: the public face of the family. Dorothy, whose backwardness is known and accepted, busies herself in the kitchen. George is nowhere to be found."
Again, in just a few sentences we know so much about this family and each sibling's place in it.

We see what happens to the high school football hero who can't make it in college in Favorite Son, which also has the best line in the book:
"For a certain kind of teenager, a small town is a prison. For another, it is a stage."
 A lonely nurse meets a handsome younger man and her life changes in Thrift. What Remains tells the  sad story of Sunny Baker, the last remaining descendant of the Baker family, the founders of the Bakerton.

The story that moves me most is The Bottom of Things, which features Ray, someone who made it out of Bakerton and ended up with a good life in Houston. Ray reluctantly goes home for his parents 50th anniversary party, and feels guilty for what he left behind. His has no relationship with his sons since he divorced their mother years ago. His brother Kenny has never gotten over his time in Vietnam; it is this relationship that seems to hurt the most.

News From Heaven is about family, relationships, loyalty, guilt, and the sacrifices people make. It's about the people who live in this decaying town and how that decay affects them. As I read this, I felt like I was peeking in the windows of these people's homes and watching them live their lives. The lyrical writing soars, and I wish I was reading this again for the first time. It's one of the best books so far in 2013.

rating 5 of 5

Jennifer Haigh's website is here.

Listen to Jennifer discuss News From Heaven on Book Club Girl's Authors on Air.

Listen to internet radio with Book Club Girl on Blog Talk Radio

Ragtime At Lincoln Center

I have attended close to one hundred Broadway shows and concerts and I have never actually seen an audience leap to its feet at the end of a show until last night's Manhattan Concert Production's performance of Ragtime at Lincoln Center.

It was a glorious show, with each role cast to perfection. Some of the highlights included the incomparable Norm Lewis (Porgy & Bess) as Coalhouse Walker Jr., who transforms from a soulful musician desperately in love with the beautiful Sarah to a vengeful man seeking justice after a racial incident spirals into tragedy. His deep, rich voice is best expressed on Make Them Hear You and his beautiful duet with Patina Miller (Sister Act), Wheels of a Dream.

Miller had the audience in the palm of her hand as she sang Your Daddy's Son, and she somehow made the audience believe that the binder she held in her arms was her son.

Lea Salonga (Miss Saigon) was a clear audience favorite in the role of Mother, and the audience roared their approval after she sang Back to Before.  The humorous performance of What a Game had a joyful energy as the ensemble guys praised the great American past time of baseball.

The group numbers, Ragtime, which opens the show with a bang, Til We Reach That Day (which closes Act I) and the reprise of Ragtime/Wheels of a Dream that closes the show filled the auditorium with such a joyful noise, it gave me chills.

Other standout performers were Michael Arden as Younger Brother, Manoel Felciano as Tateh, Howard McGillin (the Phantom in Phantom of the Opera) as Father, Kerry Butler as a bubbly Evelyn Nesbit and an incredible young Lewis Grosso as The Little Boy. Remember that name, you will hear from him for a long time to come. It was also great to see the amazing Tyne Daly as Emma Goldman; I just wish she had a larger role.

A chorus filled with high school, college and community choirs from around the country added their voices to the ensemble, along with over a dozen ensemble performers I recognized from Broadway shows.

This was one of the top five shows I have seen since I've been in NYC; it will be difficult to top this experience and I think many of the hundreds of people at Lincoln Center last night agree with me.

Here are some backstage photos from last night's show via Broadway.com

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Shred by Ian K. Smith, M.D.

Shred: Revolutionary Diet by Ian K. Smith, M.D.
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 978-1-250-03586-8
Hardcover, $24.99, 259 pages

Sometimes a diet book breaks through the clutter to become popular- think The Scarsdale Diet back in the 70s. One that has caught the zeitgeist recently is Dr. Ian Smith's Shred Revolutionary Diet- 6 Weeks, 4 Inches, 2 Sizes.

The book evolved from Smith's Twitter feed, where people who had hit a weight loss plateau had been asking him for help. After getting many requests and hearing back that many of them had lost up to 20 pounds, he created Shred.

Shred is a six-week program that must be followed exactly to obtain the maximum effect. Each week is designated- Prime, Challenge, Transformation, Ascend, Cleanse and Explode- with its own goal. Prime sets you up to begin the program, for example.

The book is well-laid out. Each chapter takes you through every day with specific instructions as to when to eat the four meals and three snacks, giving you the options for each meal and snack and choices for the exercise requirement for the day.

While Smith is very rigid in his instructions, there seems to be enough choices that make it doable for most people. He gives you the calorie counts for each meal and snack, and options to get to those calories. Fruits and vegetables are key, as is drinking a cup of water before each meal. I think it would easy to follow this book day by day.

I talked to two women who are in the fifth week of this program and they generally had good things to say. They both found the most challenging part was to eat at the specific times required- 8:30am, 10am, 11:30am, 1pm, 3:30pm, 7pm, 8:30pm. It requires a lot of planning, and you must stick to these times to be successful.

On the flip side, the schedule means you don't have to think about it; you know you will have to eat at these times. One woman believes this plan is best for someone who has "hit a plateau or just wants to reset the kind of food" one eats. It has helped her break her addiction to sugar, and she has cut way back on drinking diet soda. She has lost 9 1/2 pounds, and may do another six weeks to continue her progress.

Another woman I spoke with says she feels great. Her skin and hair look better and she has been "sleeping better than I have in a long time." She does wish that the portion sizes were more specific and the week where you have to drink the pure cranberry juice was very difficult (the Cleanse week). She has lost 7 pounds and believes that if " you are willing to put in the time, money and energy" you can be successful.

I think if you are the kind of person who follows instructions closely (say someone who attended Catholic elementary school), this diet will work for you. There are enough options for your meals and snacks, and Smith lists lots of 100, 150 and 200-calorie snacks in the back of the book that I found so helpful even if you are not on the diet.

He also has several Smoothie and Soup recipes (both are big options in the diet) that look wonderful too. You don't need to be on the diet to find these delicious and helpful.  The Raspberry-Orange Elixir is calling my name now.

Raspberry-Orange Elixir
Under 200 calories
1 cup diced orange slices
1 cup raspberries
1 tablespoon honey or sugar
1 cup of ice

Combine all ingredients in a blender and puree until smooth.

For more information about Shred- Revolutionary Diet, visit Dr. Ian Smith's website here. 

rating 4 of 5

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.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

New in Paperback- Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon

Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
Published by Ballantine ISBN 978-0345527968
Trade paperback $15, 416 pages

Alice Buckle is a middle-aged wife and mother of a teenage daughter and twelve-year-old son. Her husband works in advertising, and she is a part-time elementary drama teacher. On the outside, everything seems good, but the facade soon starts to crack.

Her husband William loses his job, and their relationship has been strained of late. She thinks that her daughter may have an eating disorder and she believes her son is gay but he just doesn't know it.

One day she gets an email request to join a research project about 21st century marriage.  She has to answer a series of questions about how she met husband, fell in love and about their subsequent relationship. Alice begins to develop a on-line relationship with her researcher, and they eventually begin talking on Facebook (with fake profiles) and agree to meet.

The novel is novel in that much of it consists of email messages between Alice and her researcher, and uses Facebook status updates to convey some of the story. We get to know some of Alice's friends and family through the Facebook updates, and since my sons constantly remind me that now only "old people" like my friends and me use Facebook, this book should hold appeal for our age group.

The characters in the book are interesting and well-developed, and I particularly liked Alice's friend Nedra, a divorce lawyer who is finally marrying her girlfriend of many years. Nedra tries to be the voice of reason for Alice as she falls farther down the hole, like her literary doppleganger in Wonderland.

As a mother of two grown children, I could relate to Alice's connection with her children, and the relationship she had with her son was particularly touching.

As Alice answers the questions, she reflects back on her marriage, where it began and how it ended up where it is. I think that many women reading this may do the same. One thing I found interesting was that we saw Alice's answers, but we didn't see the questions; we had to guess what they were.

I read the book on my Kindle, and at the end of the book, the questions are given, but you had to go back through the book to match them up. This would be easier to do with actual physical book rather than an ebook, so I would recommend reading this in physical book form.

I have to admit that halfway through this book, I thought I saw where it was going and I was not happy about it. But I have to give to credit to Gideon, she took what could have been a cliche and skillfully created a satisfying resolution to the story.

One sign of a good book for me is that I continue to reflect upon it after I finish reading it, and weeks later, I'm still thinking about Wife 22.

rating 4 of 5

New in Paperback- The Newlyweds

The Newlyweds by Nell Freudenberger
Published by Vintage ISBN 978-0307388971
Trade paperback, $15.95, 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

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Some Great Meals in Barbados

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 have visited the Barbados for the past three years in January and it's a wonderful winter get-away. We chose a good time to get away this year- it was 12 degrees in NYC when we left!

It's always sunny and 86 degrees in Barbados, with a nice breeze blowing; the weather is truly perfect. The food is very good, and there are several terrific restaurants that we like to visit. We had dinner at The Tides and Champers as usual, but we added a few new places.

The first night we visited Tapas, which is right on the water, close to our hotel. The food was really good, lots of small plates to share (I had the shark fritters), and the highlight of the meal was my brother-in-law's Mixed Seafood Grill. They also had a nice wine list, though the service left something to be desired.
The Mixed Seafood Grill at Tapas

Of course, we wouldn't miss the Friday night Fish Fry at Oistins. We ate at Uncle George's again, but this year the line was not a hour's wait. We love Uncle George's, it reminds us a little of Doug's Fish Fry in Skaneateles. You wait in a long line, and then you sit at long picnic tables to eat. 

We met a lovely couple from Britain at our table and enjoyed their company, along with our grilled shrimp, mahi mahi, and macaroni pie (what we call macaroni salad). They served the shrimp on a bed of pasta that was absolutely delicious, and you can't beat the price- less than $20 for the whole meal, and the food is so fresh. 
Uncle George's at Oistins

We had lunch at L'Azure, a restaurant at the Crane Resort, and in addition to a fabulous meal- we all ordered the Oistins Burger, a mahi mahi burger with fries- we had the most gorgeous view of one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. Seriously.
Crane's Beach- so beautiful!

Oistins Burger- yum

My husband and his brother visited a rum shack last year that they enjoyed, so this year they brought us ladies for a visit. There are lots of rum shacks roadside in Barbados where people stop off for a drink (or two) and sometimes food. We visited Jenny's Rum Bar, and had breakfast- Chris had fish cakes and the rest of us had egg, ham and cheese on a roll. It was delicious, and the ambiance was even better. Jenny is a lovely woman and we met some of her regular customers, who were friendly and gave us some good tips on where we should go. If you ever visit Barbados, be sure to stop by Jenny's.
Jenny and the guys

Jenny's Rum Bar
Our last dinner was at Champers, which was fabulous as always. We sit right out over the water, with the waves crashing underneath us. The food is amazing; the highlights were Crispy Vegetable Spring Rolls, Shrimp & Mango Salad, Grilled Sea Scallops and Parmesan Crusted Barracuda. Between the food, the ambiance and the service, you can't beat it.
Champers (from their website)
If you are a big fish eater, Barbados is the place for you. It's such a lovely place to visit, I'd like to spend more than a few days there next time.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Dave Bing- A Life of Challenge by Drew Sharp

Dave Bing- A Life of Challenge  by Drew Sharp
Published by Human Kinetics ISBN 978-1-4504-2352-6
Paperback, $17.95, 306 pages

I grew in Central New York, so of course the name Dave Bing is a familiar one to me. He played basketball for the Syracuse Orangemen, well before they were the powerhouse team they are now. He put SU basketball on the map, and then went on to be drafted by the Detroit Pistons, where he helped to build an NBA team.

Drew Sharp has written Dave Bing- A Life of Challenge, the definitive book on Mr. Bing, who went on to found a multimillion dollar company, Bing Steel, and to become mayor of Detroit during its most challenging time.

Bing is a fascinating man. He grew up in Washington DC and credits his father Hasker with giving him the morals and work ethic, the tools he needed to succeed not only in basketball, but more importantly, in life.

Bing wasn't the most talented basketball player, but he made up for that in brains and his capacity for sizing up a situation and figuring out how to make the most of his opportunities and talents. He committed to Syracuse University for college, a school where there weren't many black students, but the fact that Ernie Davis played football there and was the first African-American to win the Heisman Trophy weighed in SU's favor.

While I read this book because of the SU connection, and I found that section of the book very interesting (especially with the quotes from legendary SU basketball coach Jim Boeheim, a former teammate and still a good friend), as well as his spectacular NBA career with the Pistons (where he was named one of the 50 best NBA players of all time), it is his post-basketball career that ends up being the most impressive.

Bing knew that a basketball career wasn't forever, so he strategized as to what he would do when basketball was over. During the off-season, he worked as a bank teller and learned the business, just like he did with basketball.

Detroit was Motor City, and the car business was king. Bing figured that car manufacturers needed steel, so he gathered investors and began his own steel company, Bing Steel. Over the years he grew Bing Steel to be a $350 million company, and he became one of the most visible and successful black business owners in the country. A highlight for him was meeting President Reagan as he was honored for his success as a minority businessman.

The recent recession hit Detroit very hard, and along with a corruption scandal that undid mayor Kwame Kilpatrick, the city was in big trouble. Their finances were decimated, their infrastructure was crumbling, homes were abandoned, and people were fleeing the city. People turned to Dave Bing for help.

Bing was talked into running for mayor, a huge challenge for anyone, let alone someone who had never been involved in politics. Sharp tells an amazing story here, and this is the strongest section of the book. I was riveted by it, and the book became not only Bing's story, but the story of a once-proud All-American city that was coming undone.

Personal health issues, problems with the unions, a possible takeover of the city's finances by the state of Michigan, and a political scandal of his own created the biggest challenge of Bing's life. Could he turn it around and be successful one more time, when it was most critical for his adopted city?

Sharp shows Bing's successes and failures, his strengths and weaknesses, and we see the personal side of him as well as the professional. Dave Bing- A Life of Challenge brilliantly profiles one of the most interesting American men of the past 50 years, a man who lived up to his father's high standards and made the world around him a better place.

rating 4 of 5

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

New in paperback: A Good American by Alex George

A Good American by Alex George
Published by Berkley Books ISBN 978-0425253175
Trade paperback, $16, 400 pages

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

Amy Einhorn Books has a reputation for publishing novels by writers with a unique voice and a spellbinding story to tell. She published the most successful novel in recent years, “The Help”, by Kathryn Stockett, and followed that with Sarah Blake’s “The Postmistress”, and last year, Eleanor Brown’s “The Weird Sisters”.

A recent novel from Amy Einhorn Books is Alex George’s “A Good American”, the engrossing story of an immigrant family. Most of us came from somewhere else, and James Miesenheimer’s grandparents came from Germany in 1904.

His grandfather Frederick loved opera, and had a beautiful singing voice. He wooed Jette,, who was “ a good example of Teutonic rude health: six feet tall and robustly built. She clomped through the park with none of feminine grace that was expected from ladies of her class.”

They fell in love and, much to the consternation of Jette’s social-climbing mother, Jette became pregnant. Fearing that Jette’s mother would have Frederick arrested, they fled to America. They planned to go to New York, but ended up on a ship to New Orleans, and that became their destination.

A man on board ship told Frederick that many Germans went to Missouri, so they set their sights on Rockport, where the man told them work could be found. Jette went into labor before they reached there, and a kind man who spoke German arranged for Jette to get to a doctor.

When Frederick said he could not thank the man enough, he was told, “Go to your new home…go and be a good American.” Frederick promises the man he will do just that.

The doctor was in the small town of Beatrice, Missouri, and that is where Frederick and Jette’s son Joseph was born. They decide to stay there where Frederick finds work at the local tavern as a bartender.

Frederick loved America, “its big open spaces, the sunset that drenched the evening sky in blistering color. He loved the warmth of the people. Above all he loved the smell of promise in the air.”

Jette however was unhappy and “rather than directing her eyes toward the future (she) instead turned her gaze back toward the home she had left behind.”

Like many immigrants, Frederick worked hard. He had the opportunity to buy the tavern, and began to feature his beloved music as entertainment. A black piano player came into the restaurant on day and introduced Frederick to jazz music.

Joseph had his father’s talent for music and began to take voice lessons. Frederick planned for Joseph to surprise Jette by singing in the tavern, but Jette was furious about this and Joseph, upset at his parents’ constant bickering, could not perform.

World War I was brewing overseas, and German immigrants were treated with suspicion. Frederick remembered his promise to be a good American, and decided to enlist in the Army.

“Going to fight for his adopted country would root his family in this soil. America had welcomed him and asked for nothing in return. But there was debt to be paid, and he intended to pay for it.”

Jette did not understand this, how her husband could leave her and their two children behind to fight a war against his homeland. She took over the tavern in his absence and turned it into a restaurant, featuring her German food.

One day, a black man named Lomax came into the restaurant and recognized Jette as someone he met when she and Frederick landed in New Orleans. He stayed on and helped Jette and Joseph make the restaurant a success.

Joseph falls in love with a young neighbor Cora, and they marry and have four sons. They live next door to his family, and Joseph eventually runs the restaurant. His four sons show great promise musically, and he turns them into a successful musical quartet.

At this point, James is telling his own story. He does not want to spend his life working in the restaurant kitchen as his father did. He is jealous of his older brother, who feels no obligation to stay in Beatrice.

His younger brothers escape by going to college, and James feels trapped, spending his free time with his ailing grandmother and unmarried aunt Rosa.

Music is woven throughout this beautiful novel: Frederick’s operas, the emerging popularity of jazz in the South, the American standards that the boys sing.  The book opens with the line “Always, there was music”, and you can almost hear the music as you read. I think that there should be an ITunes playlist to go along with the book.

The harm of keeping secrets is a theme as well. Jette hides her pregnancy from her mother, Frederick hides the fact that he bought the tavern from Jette, Lomax keeps a secret that leads to trouble, and a big secret is kept from James. Keeping secrets builds a wall between people, and when that wall comes down, the damage can be irreparable.
“The Good American” is the story of 20th century America as seen through the eyes of one family, a family that could be yours. It is beautifully written, with characters you care about. Like every family, there is great joy and sadness, sacrifice and reward. It feels like a new American classic, destined to be read for many years to come.

Rating 5 of 5 stars