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Saturday, April 27, 2013

Weekend Cooking: The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore

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

The Life of Objects by Susanna Moore
Published by Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 9780307268433
Hardcover, $26, 256 pages

Some books I like right away, some take me longer to become invested in. The Life of Objects took me awhile, but once it got a hold of me, it didn't let go until the emotional end. Beatrice (known as Maeve) is a young girl living in a small town in Ireland. She has a talent for making lace items, and one day a mysterious woman comes into her father's shop, sees Maeve's work, and tells her she would like to take her to Germany to work for her wealthy friends.

Maeve agrees and is drawn into the world of the Metzenburgs. Felix is a learned man, one whom loves his books and all of the objects on his family estate. His wife Dorothea is much younger, and they are both kind to Maeve, as she becomes not only a servant, but someone they take into their lives. Germany is on the cusp of World War II, and Felix refuses to be a part of the Nazi party. At first, it is not a problem as they live in the countryside. As the war continues over the years, and Germany becomes more isolated, things become worse for the Metzenburgs.

The author draws us into the horrors of war through the eyes of this wealthy German family. It is interesting to see the war from the point of view of Germans, much like David R. Gillam's novel City of Women did. Although the British are the good guys, the  description of hundreds of bombers flying over Germany dropping their ordinance is described to frightening effect. When the Russians invade, their army takes revenge on the the Metzenburgs and the people who live in their home. That section was so difficult to read; the realities of war and what people do to each other in its name shows the worst of human nature.

One of the most interesting aspects of the novel is how the author uses food to show what happened to the family, and Germany. At first, there are sumptuous banquets of food served at each meal on beautiful objects, a feast for all the senses. As the war progresses, food decreases in quantity and quality, until there is almost nothing left. Yet the Metzenburgs share what they have with those in need.

At the first Christmas of the war, Maeve was invited to dine with the Metzenburgs and their guests.
"We were having smoked trout, partridges, potatoes Anna, and brussels sprouts, with apple tart for dessert, everything grown or killed on the estate. In the center of the table, four porcelain pheasant and a large porcelain turkey cock sat in the nests of holly. On a sideboard, a rhinoceros, a monkey, a ram a fawn and a lion, all in glazed bisque, stood around the tiny silver-and-velvet bed I'd packed in Berlin, patiently waiting for the Christ Child to arrive."
By the end of the war, Dorothea and Maeve were in Berlin, selling off whatever they had been able to hide in order to survive.
"We shared a pack of cigarettes a day, even though they made us sick. We consumed so much chocolate and tinned sardines and Nescafe with powdered milk that we sometimes spoke wistfully of our suppers of wild mushrooms and watercress." 

If you liked City of Women any of Irene Neviromsky's novels, you should read The Life of Objects. This haunting novel took me on an emotional journey, and I was completely wrung out by the end.

rating 4 of 5

Friday, April 26, 2013

Non-fiction Book Giveaway Blog Hop

Rikki's Teledidoscope is hosting a non-fiction book giveaway blog hop, where you can sign-up to enter to win a free non-fiction book from nine different blogs.

I am giving away a copy of Reader's Digest Diet Cookbook, which is filled with fantastic recipes and helpful tips for those who want to lose weight and eat healthier. My review of the book is here.

The contest runs from April 26-29, and the winner will be drawn on April 30th. (USA entries only please.) To enter, leave your name and email in the comments section below.

Other blogs participating in the blog hop are:

Rikki’s Teleidoscope (Int’l)

The Book Garden (Int’l)

Curiosity killed the bookworm (Int’l)

Ex urbanis (Int’l)

Snow Feathers (Int’l)

Buku-Buku Didi (Int’l)

Doing Dewey (US)

Saving in seconds (US)

Good luck to all!

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

New in Paperback: Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake by Anna Quindlen
Published by Random House Trade Paperbacks, ISBN 9780812981667
Trade paperback, $16, 224 pages

When I used to get my Newsweek magazine in the mail, I would immediately turn to the back page to see if this was the week for Anna Quindlen's column. She and her husband had children about the same age as our sons, and her politics were very similar to mine. It sometimes seemed that she was writing the same things I was feeling at that same moment.

Her fiction books are very emotional, from Oprah Book Club selection Black and Blue to the  heartbreaking Every Last One, her most recent one that tore me up. But I was thrilled to see that she had a new non-fiction book, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, sharing what it's like to be a woman over 50. As I just hit that mark, I couldn't wait to read it.

I read it on my Kindle while on the treadmill, and I knew that I would be adding many highlighted passages for review later, and I was right. Quindlen has been a big reader since she was child, just like me, and what she had to say about reading touched a chord with me.
"That's what's so wonderful about reading, that books and poetry and essays make us feel as though we're connected, as though thoughts and feelings we believe are singular and nutty are sometimes shared by others, that we are all more alike than different."
I think that what makes blogging so appealing to us too, that sharing of interests with others we might not otherwise get to know.

Qunidlen and her husband have three children, and I found her advice to them really hit the mark; she "believes the single most important decision they make is not where they live or what to do for a living, it's who they will marry." She says that "the span of their years will be so marked by the life they build, day by day, in tandem with each other."  Twenty-five years of marriage to my wonderful husband bears out her wise words.

She writes of her husband,
"He is focused, diligent, and funny; I am distractible, perapatic, sometimes overly earnest. He is the first to criticize me privately and the first to defend me publicly. He has my back and he always has. That's not romantic, and it's not lyrical and it's not at all what I expected when I thought I would never want to spend a night without him."
She talks about the importance of girlfriends, and the irony of the women's movement teaching us that we can be more than caregivers, and yet today many of us are now caring for not only young children but aging parents as well. Quindlen was raised Catholic and attended Catholic school (as I did), and I found her thoughts on religion intriguing and relevant in today's society.

As we age, our health becomes a big topic of concern for us, and Quindlen addresses the changes we all go through. She lost her mother when she was barely out of her teens and that loss colored the rest of her life.

Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake is a book that I will return to again and again, just to remind myself that there are others out there who are thinking the same things and walking the same path, and thank goodness Anna Quindlen is there to take us through it.

rating 5 of 5

My review of Anna Quindlen's Every Last One is here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Kinky Boots at Lord & Taylor

Cyndi Lauper and Harvey Fierstein, who wrote the music and book for Broadway's hottest new musical Kinky Boots, came to Lord & Taylor today to introduce two cast members who each sang a song from the show.
Cyndi Lauper, Billy Poter, Stark Sands, Harvey Fierstein

Stark Sands, as Charlie, belted out Step One to the large audience thronging the perfume department in the store.

Billy Porter plays Lola, and although he did not have his red sequins on still looked dapper, and he serenaded the crowd with his song Hold Me In Your Heart. That man can sing!

I'm looking forward to seeing this show.

The Kinky Boots website is here.

New in Paperback- Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff

Those We Love Most by Lee Woodruff
Published by Voice ISBN 9781401341978
Trade paperback, $14.99, 336 pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rating 5 of 5

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

Lee Woodruff's website is here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg

All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg
Published by Wm Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-222077-6
Hardcover, $25.99, 272 pages

When I heard that Mike "Greeny" Greenberg wrote a book, I figured it would be a sports book. Then I heard it was a novel, so I thought, 'oh, a novel about sports.' Then I read the description- a novel about three women dealing with breast cancer. Wait, what?

Greenberg had a friend who had breast cancer,  and he was amazed that her three best friends, one of whom was his wife, surrounded this woman with constant love and never left her side. They went to her doctor appointments, her chemo treatments; they were with her at all times.

This so impressed him, because he didn't think that men would be so present for their male friends. His friend succumbed to her cancer, and he wrote a novel about three women who each get a diagnosis of breast cancer.  The proceeds from this novel go to the V Foundation in his friend's name to aid in cancer research. (The V Foundation is named after famed North Carolina State University coach Jim Valvano who lost his battle with cancer at age 46.)

I can't believe a man wrote this book. Greenberg captures the voices of these three very different women so incredibly well, he must eavesdrop on women often. And take notes.

Samantha is newly married to an older man and on her honeymoon in Hawaii. She is blissfully happy, ready to start her new life when she finds a photo of a naked woman on her husband's laptop.

Katherine has just turned forty, a hard-charging career woman whose last serious relationship ended badly many years ago. Now the most important man in her life is her faithful driver Maurice. Her administrative assistant has set her up on a blind date with a handsome, eligible man- who happens to be twenty years older than her. How old does she think Katherine is anyway?

Brooke is happily married to Scott, and mom to two children, living in the suburbs, trying to figure out what to get her husband for his birthday. She is a good wife, a good mom and likes her life.

The first half of the book sets up each of these three interesting women's lives, all facing different daily challenges- work, home, family, loneliness. We become invested in them, and compare our lives to theirs.

Then they each get a diagnosis of breast cancer. Each woman reacts differently, and the reader is left to ponder how they deal with her individual diagnosis. The women do not interact with each other in the first half of the book, but they later meet on breast cancer message boards and we are able read their messages to each other, and see their relationships develop.

I had to admit I was skeptical about a novel some would call "chick-lit" about breast cancer written by a male ESPN host, but Greenberg does a terrific job here. I wanted to know more about these women's lives, and I found their reactions to their illnesses fascinating.

They each respond differently, and the way one woman deals with it will probably cause some lively discussions in book clubs, for which this novel would make a good choice. It definitely made me think about how I would react, and upon reflection, it also made me try to be less judgmental of other women and the choices they make in the lives.

rating 4 of 5

The V Foundation is hosting a Google+ Hangout on Tuesday, 4/23 at 1pm, EST with Mike and his wife Stacy to talk about the book. The link is here.

Mike Greenberg's website about the book is here.

Carrie and Me by Carol Burnett

Carrie and Me: A Mother-Daughter Love Story
Published by Simon & Schuster ISBN 9781476706412
Hardcover, $24.99, 224 pages

Carol Burnett's last book, This Time Together, shared anecdotes about her successful TV and stage career. I was thrilled to meet this amazing entertainer at a book signing, and she was just as kind and friendly as she appears on TV.

Ms. Burnett's latest book, Carrie and Me- A Mother Daughter Love Story is a much more personal book about her daughter Carrie, who first battled drug addiction and later cancer, which killed her at the age of thirty-eight.

Carrie's bright personality shines though in this memoir. She was a unique lady, so talented and she fought hard to make it through the terrors of drug addiction. Burnett tells a story of the young Carrie, who after her first day of school said to her mother, "Boy, Mommy, am I glad THAT'S over with!" Burnett did not have the heart to tell her that it would be much more than one day.

As a teenager, Carrie thought, like many teenage girls, that she was not pretty and shocked her mother when she asked her mom if she was ugly. Carrie's insecurity led to her drug use, which she hid from her parents. She was hanging around with a bad crowd, and by the time Carol and her husband discovered what was going on, Carrie was in trouble.

They sent Carrie to rehab, and any parent reading this will identify with the conflicting feelings that Burnett expresses so well. She bargained with God to save her baby, first from drugs, and then from cancer.

Carrie eventually makes it through, and ends up acting and writing like her mother. She was unique, from her pink-streaked hair to the tattoo of the bird of paradise on her shoulder. She was a regular on TV's Fame, and won an award at a Latino film festival for a movie she created, the first non-Latino to win.

Carol and Carrie wrote a play together, The Hollywood Arms, about Carol's childhood, that they eventually took to Broadway. It was at this time that Carrie became ill with cancer, and instead of railing against the unfairness of it, of beating drug addiction only to deal with this, she dealt with it calmly.

She became a warrior, using all of her positive thoughts to focus on beating cancer. I loved the scenes in her hospital room, surrounded by her family and friends, at peace with her life. She was a unique, special person.

Carrie was working on a project before she got sick, and she had been sending her mother the pages to read and critique. That story comprises the last section of the book, and it is so beautiful, about a troubled young woman who meets a man who is more than he appears. It is prescient, like she knew what might be coming in her life.

I'm ending this review with words that Carrie shared with Carol that describe her artistic philosophy.
"I think our legacy is really the lives we touch, the inspiration we give, altering someone's plan- if even for a moment- and getting them to think, rage, cry, laugh, argue, or walk around the block dazed. (I do that a lot after seeing powerful theater!)" 
After reading this moving book, I can safely say that anyone who reads it will be touched by Carrie's life story, as well as by a mother's love for her daughter. It would make a wonderful Mother's Day gift.

rating 4 of 5

My review of  This Time Together in the Auburn Citizen is here.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Different Aspects of Motherhood

Reprinted from the Citizen

Mother’s Day is three weeks away and that got me thinking about the slate of books I have recently read that deal with issues about motherhood: the good, the bad, the funny and, yes, even the sad.

Patti Callahan Henry’s And Then I Found You is fiction but it has its roots in reality. Henry, a well-known writer of contemporary women’s novels, was contacted on her Facebook page by a young woman who believed that she was the daughter given up for adoption years ago by Henry’s sister.

It turned out to be true, and Henry wrote a novel with this story as the jumping off point. Kate Vaughn finds an engagement ring in her boyfriend’s dresser, but realizes that she can’t marry him until she addresses head-on something from her past. When Kate was twenty-one, she became pregnant by her first boyfriend and gave the baby up for adoption.

Is Kate still in love with her first love? She must see him in order to move forward with her life. At the same time, Kate’s sister is contacted on Facebook by a young woman who has the same birthday as the baby Kate gave up for adoption thirteen years ago.

I found it hard to relate to Kate, as she makes decisions that I find perplexing. I think that being so close to a real situation may have made it difficult for Henry to write about this personal subject in a fictional story. (3 stars) 
Patti Callahan Henry's website is here.

Amy Shearn writes about the difficulties of motherhood in her novel The Mermaid of Brooklyn. Jenny Lipkin is married to Harry, who has a gambling problem. One day he says he’s going for cigarettes and doesn’t return, leaving Jenny to deal with their two very young children on her own in their tiny, toy-filled Park Slope apartment.

Jenny is at her wit’s end, and makes a bad decision that ends up with a mermaid rescuing her.  The mermaid inhabits Jenny’s body and tries to get Jenny to seduce the Cute Dad, the man all the mommies at the playground find dreamy.

The novel tells some truths about the difficulties of marriage and motherhood, with a splash of fairy tale thrown in. It is a witty novel, and the reader has to decide whether the mermaid is real or a manifestation of Jenny’s mind. (4 stars) My full review is here. 
Amy Shearn's website is here.

If mysteries are more your style, Hallie Ephron’s There Was An Old Woman has some motherhood issues of its own. Evie‘s sister calls because their mother has been hospitalized.

Their mother Sandra is an alcoholic, troubled woman. She rarely has a kind word for her daughters, and Evie hasn’t spoken to her in months. Her mother is in bad shape, and Evie is appalled by the condition of Sandra’s home. It looks like hoarders live there, and it wasn’t like that a few months ago.

Mina, a 91-year-old neighbor, suspects that something sinister is going on in the neighborhood. Houses catch fire, neighbors are dropping like flies and a developer is trying to buy up all of the property to build expensive waterfront homes.

Mina is a fantastic character and she teams up with Evie to find out what really happened to Sandra and what the new nosy neighbor who spent a lot of time with Sandra is really doing. (Gladys Kravitz he ain’t.) (4 stars) My full review is here.
Hallie Ephron's website is here.

On the non-fiction side, Carol Burnett’s Carrie and Me, is about her relationship with her daughter Carrie, who had drug issues and died tragically at the age of thirty-eight from lung cancer.

Burnett writes candidly about Carrie’s teenage drug abuse. Carol and her husband didn’t suspect that Carrie was using drugs until it was too late. They tried understanding, they tried tough love, and eventually they sent Carrie to rehab out of state.

This book deals honestly with addiction, and the effect on not only the one with the addiction, but on the entire family. Burnett describes the pain, the panic and the bargaining with God that she hoped would save her daughter, first from drugs, then from cancer. It is very moving and emotional. (4 stars)
More on Carrie and Me can be found here.

The last book is Don’t Lick the Minivan, which came out of Leanne Shirtliffe’s blog about motherhood. She and her husband have twins, a boy and a girl , and this book hilariously covers their first year in Thailand, then moves forward to Canada and preschool.

This book took me right back to when my boys were that age, many years ago. The best part of the book is when the children are school age, and she recounts the crazy things kids say and do. This book publishes on May 9th, just in time for Mother’s Day, and if you like to laugh about being a parent, you’ll like this one. (4 stars)
Leanne Shirtliffe's blog, Ironic Mom, is here.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Weekend Cooking- A Pinterest Trifecta

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 haven't had much luck with my Pinterest recipes lately. (I don't care how many times you tell me that you can make a KFC clone by baking chicken instead of frying it, I'm here to tell you that is NOT true. I know this through trial-and-error and I've given up trying.)

My son works very late every day, so I like to make a nice meal on the weekend. I had pinned a recipe for Skillet Steaks With Gorgonzola Herbed Butter, and when my nephew told me that his mother had made it and everyone loved it, I'd thought I'd try it.

We live in NYC and can't grill outside, so pan frying is how I make our steaks. I usually do filets this way and hadn't yet tried a ribeye. I was a little leery about it, but it turned out beautifully. I pulled them off at the just the right time, something I can have trouble with, even with a meat thermometer. The recipe came from Add a Pinch.com 

I started the dinner with another Pinterest recipe I found for Morton's Iceberg Wedge Salad. My husband loves the wedge salad, even though I prefer romaine to iceberg lettuce. It was so easy to make and the dressing was very tasty. One of the ingredients is  Durkee's Famous Sauce, which I had my doubts about finding in a grocery store here, but there it was just sitting on the Food Emporium shelf near the mayonnaise. It's not a healthy salad for sure, but it's the salad you will find on every steakhouse menu. This came from Delish.com, where I've found a few recipes lately.

I usually make baked potatoes to go with steak, and I found this recipe for Quicker Baked Potatoes that you slice in half, roll in olive oil and salt and bake on parchment paper on a baking sheet. I added black pepper too. This worked so well, and took so much less baking time. We had leftovers, and the next day I sliced them, threw them in the oven to crisp up, and made steak fries to go with Katie Lee's Logan County Hamburgers. They were fantastic the next day as well. This came from She Wears Many Hats.

So that was my trifecta of successful Pinterest recipes. This meal was a huge success, and I know with three men in the family, I will be making this one again.

Have you made a meal with all new recipes lately? Share your success in the comments section below.

Friday, April 19, 2013

A Surprising Book Club

My husband attended a conference for healthcare CEOs in San Diego and I accompanied him. The weather was lousy- cold and rainy, it was warmer in New York City that we left behind.

He enjoyed the conference, and I was struck by how many wonderful activities they had planned for the spouses. There was a walking tour of the Coronado Hotel, morning yoga, an interesting lecture from Dr. Kristin Reese (a naturopathic doctor) and the one thing that I was most excited to see- a book club event.

Janine was in charge of the spouses program, and she sent an email out before the conference asking us to name the best books we read in 2013. At the conference, we received a list called What's On Your Bookshelf?

Many of the books the spouses listed included many of my favorites, including:

  • Me Before You by JoJo Moyes
  • Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
  • The Paris Wife by Paula McClain
  • Still Alice by Lisa Genova
  • Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
  • Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon
  • Laura Lamont's Life in Pictures by Emma Straub
  • The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
  • City of Thieves by David Benioff
At the last morning's breakfast, they raffled off ten books from five of the favorites, and that was a big hit. I had read all of the books, so I was able to advise one of the winners as to which one she might like best. (I suggested Me Before You.)  I enjoyed talking with people who had similar tastes in books.

They also had a bookshop, run by Barbara Keenan who owned an independent bookstore for 30 years in Southern California. She now owns Books On Demand, and I had a lovely chat with her. She had several tables of books for sale, including many of the books on the spouses' list, books for the executives, mysteries, and a nice selection of children's books. She did a fabulous job curating her inventory, and she will be at BEA this year. 

Next year's conference is in Boca Raton; I hope the weather is nicer!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

New in Paperback- The World Without You by Joshua Henkin

The World Without You by Joshua Henkin
Published by Vintage ISBN 9780307277183
Trade paperback, $15, 336 pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rating 4 of 5

Joshua Henkin's website is here.

Monday, April 8, 2013

TLC Book Tour Stop- The Mermaid of Brooklyn by Amy Shearn

The Mermaid of Brooklyn by Amy Shearn
Published by Touchstone ISBN 978-145167824
Trade paperback, $14.99, 342 pages

What initially appealed to me about this novel was its Brooklyn setting. Jenny Lipkin is married to Harry, a man who works for his family's failing candy supply business. They have two daughters, preschooler Betty and baby Rose.

They live in a cramped (but expensive) Park Slope walk-up, and they seem to argue a lot. Harry has a gambling problem and feels  he is meant to do better things. One day Harry calls and says he is stopping to get cigarettes and doesn't return. Jenny is a little worried, but to be honest, Harry has done this before; gone on a gambling binge, and returned flush with enough money to buy off Jenny's anger.

But this time feels diferent. Harry's brother and mother seem to be more worried than usual, and there is money missing from the business. Jenny is angry, but she has two girls to care for, and has to figure out a way to make ends meet without Harry's sales commissions coming in.

Jenny takes the kids to the park everyday, where she hangs out with her good friend Laura and Laura's daughter while they swoon over Sam the Cute Dad, whom all of the mommies have a crush on. The playground scenes are so real, and as I pass the city playgrounds and parks I see these women and wonder what it is like to raise young children in the city. Thanks to Shearn, I now have some insight.

I had two children 18 months apart, and Shearn expertly captures the claustrophobia of two young children and a mom stuck inside. Trying to keep them fed, entertained, bathed and put to bed is exhausting, let alone doing in in a tiny, hot apartment with toys everywhere.

One day, Jenny reaches the breaking point. She makes a bad decision, and this is where it gets really interesting. Jenny is saved by a mermaid, a rusalka as they are known in the Slavic fairy tales that Jenny studied.

This mermaid now inhabits Jenny's body along with Jenny, and she is ready to have some fun. She encourages Jenny to get her act together, and to go after Sam the Cute Dad because the mermaid wants to have sex. The interaction between Jenny and the mermaid provides much of the humor in the story.

Jenny does get her act together, and finds that she is really good at sewing, starting a home business copying fancy boutique dresses for the other, wealthier Park Slope mommies. She is at odds with her husband's family, although her relationship with Harry's mother Sylvia improves as Sylvia comes to help with the children.

The Mermaid of Brooklyn is a story that combines some hard truths about marriage and motherhood with a splash of a fairy tale. There is some question as to whether the mermaid truly exists or is something that Jenny conjured in her mind to help her deal with her husband's desertion, and the fact that Jenny had some emotional issues in the past feeds into that speculation. It is up to reader to ultimately decide.

Shearn takes us inside not only this intriguing woman Jenny's mind and apartment, but also the unique world of Park Slope. Everyone there feels pressure to keep up, and we go inside the various haunts- Two Little Red Hens bakery, Donuts diner and of course, beautiful Prospect Park, where much of the action takes place.

Don't overlook the Q&A section at the end where Shearn gives the origins of her story and characters.

It took a awhile to get into this book, but once I did, I was hooked on Jenny's story. It is a smart, sparkling and well-written novel that captured my heart and my mind.

rating 4 of 5

Amy Shearn's website, Amy Shearn Writes is here. 

Other stops on the TLC Tour of The Mermaid of Brooklyn are listed below.

Wednesday, April 10th:  A Bookish Affair
Thursday, April 11th:  Literate Housewife
Friday, April 12th:  Books on the Brain – Friday First Lines guest post
Monday, April 15th:  Literally Jen
Tuesday, April 16th:  5 Minutes for Books
Wednesday, April 17th:  BookNAround
Thursday, April 18th:  The Five Borough Book Review
Monday, April 22nd:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, April 23rd:  Good Girl Gone Redneck
Wednesday, April 24th:  A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, April 25th:  Sara’s Organized Chaos
Friday, April 26th:  Books a la Mode – guest post/giveaway
Monday, April 29th:  the smitten word
Tuesday, April 30th:  girlichef
Friday, May 3rd:  Starting Fresh

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Weekend Cooking- A Conversation with Ina Garten

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.

Anyone who is a fan of the Food Network knows Ina Garten, known as the Barefoot Contessa. The popular cook appeared recently at the Providence Performing Arts Center in conversation with local restauranteur and her friend Johanne Killeen, owner of Al Forno.

The place was completely sold out, like Garten was a rock star, which in the world of food she is. The ladies joked that it was like an episode of James Lipton's Inside the Actor's Studio, which it did sort of resemble.

They reviewed Garten's life, which is familiar to most of her fans. Garten worked for the White House, writing papers on nuclear policy. She was married to the love of her life, Jeffrey, whom fans of her show and many cookbooks know very well. It was so sweet to hear her speak so lovingly about her husband, it is clear what a fabulous match they are.

Garten is a cook, not a trained chef, and learned much of what she knows she learned on her own, through trial and error. She is such an accomplished, determined woman so it is not surprising that she would succeed at cooking.

She was looking for a challenge, and while spending the summer in the Hamptons on Long Island, she found that a small gourmet food shop, The Barefoot Contessa, was for sale. She made a lowball offer, which and Jeffrey figured would not be accepted, but it was.

Now she was the owner of The Barefoot Contessa, with no real restaurant food experience to her name. It was hard work, but with the help of employees, it became a huge success. She told a story of working like crazy on Thanksgiving day, getting out hundreds of orders, then serving a small group Thanksgiving dinner and after that (as if that wasn't exhausting enough) completely redecorating the store for Christmas, decorated trees and all for tomorrow's opening.

My husband and I owned a fast food restaurant in a mall for many years, and all I could think of was us trying to do that on Black Friday. I was exhausted just thinking about it.

Garten also told a funny Martha Stewart story. She had invited eight people, including Martha, for lunch. That is a lot of pressure, serving a luncheon for Martha Stewart. Four people were unable to make it, so they were down to four. After prepping for that, the four people who cancelled showed up on her doorstep, saying they could make it after all, and they had a few extra people in the car with them.

Can you imagine? Garten didn't panic, instead, she smiled and starting splitting the four entrees and salads to make twelve servings. She joked that she and Jeffery ate leftover chicken salad at that meal. That woman is the definition of a cool cookie.

Garten was there promoting her newest cookbook, Foolproof, and she discussed her basic food philosophy, which is to use simple, fresh ingredients to make an enjoyable meal. She said something that really resonated with everyone there: No one will appreciate enough the fact that you spent all day making a complicated meal. You will end up being resentful, so why do it?

She decorates her table simply, but beautifully, and music is always important. When the first guest arrives, there should be lively music playing, so there isn't an awkward silence. Switch to Sinatra or Tony Bennett during the meal, so that everyone can chat and enjoy his or her meal. Always have a nice cocktail beverage ready as well.

The evening was quite enjoyable, and Garten took many questions from the audience. She also had a line of probably more than a hundred people eagerly waiting to get an autographed copy of Garten's book.

The link to Ina's website is here.

I will leave you with a link to my favorite Barefoot Contessa recipe, Chicken Piccata. It's my go-to meal when I have to get dinner on the table in a hurry.
The Barefoot Contessa's Chicken Piccata
 The video on how to make it is below:

If you have a favorite Barefoot Contessa recipe, I'd love to hear about it in the comments section below.

Friday, April 5, 2013

New in Paperback- Most Talkative by Andy Cohen

Most Talkative by Andy Cohen
Published by St. Martin's Griffin ISBN 978125003464
Trade paperback, $14.99, 304 pages

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rating 4 of 5

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Leaving Everything Most Loved- A Maisie Dobbs novel

Leaving Everything Most Loved by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Harper Collins, ISBN 978-0062049605
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages
Any regular reader of my blog knows that I am a big fan of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs novel. I look forward each March to catching up with private investigator Dobbs, her staff, friends and family.

Leaving Everything Most Loved is the tenth Maisie book, and big changes are afoot for Maisie. She is still living with James, but their relationship hasn't moved any closer to marriage, although James would like that. He keeps asking, but Maisie fears that marriage means giving up her career and the business she has built. I do find it interesting that in 1930s England there seems to be little disapproval of their living arrangement.

Maisie's case involves the murder of an Indian woman, Usha, who worked as a governess for an English family. Usha was a beautiful woman, and highly thought of by most people who came in contact with her. The police don't seem very interested in finding her killer, so Usha's brother arrives from India seeking Maisie's assistance.

Once again, we get a real feel for the atmosphere in 1930's London, and again Winspear tackles a societal issue. This time we see the problems that Indian immigrants, particularly women, faced. People fear things that are different, and that fear can manifest itself in prejudice. I always enjoy how Winspear relates the issues of the past with problems that still exist today.

One of my favorite characters, Maisie's assistant Billy, is having problems. He was severely beaten on the last case, and he is having a difficult time dealing with the aftermath. This troubles Maisie greatly. Billy and his family have faced many tribulations, and she wants to help, but is uncertain as to how.

Maisie is also having her own crisis. She feels restless and would like to see some more of the world, to travel like her deceased mentor Dr. Maurice Blanche did. But leaving means leaving her father behind, and closing her business and leaving her employees without work. James is going to Canada for awhile and would like Maisie to come with him as his wife.

This tenth novel continues Maisie's introspective look at her life that has been building in the last few novels. You can feel it all coming to a resolution in this tenth book, which beautifully sets up the next novel.

One thing I always enjoy in the Maisie novels are the descriptions of Maisie's beautiful outfits. This time, though, we get wonderful vivid descriptions of Usha's saris and the way she decorated her boarding house room. You can see it all in your mind's eye.

They mystery of who killed Usha is resolved, and as usual Winspear throws in enough red herrings to keep the reader guessing. This is another solid entry in the Maisie Dobbs series, but I don't know if I can wait until next March to find out what happens next.

rating 4 of 5
Jacqueline Wisnpear's website is here. 

The Great Gatsby trailer

This looks so spectacular!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

There Was An Old Woman by Hallie Ephron

There Was An Old Woman by Hallie Ephron
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0062117601
Hardcover, $25.99, 304 pages
I'm not a big suspense/thriller reader, but something about Hallie Ephron's novel, There Was An Old Woman caught my eye. Maybe it was the nursery rhyme title or maybe it was the fact that one of the major characters is an independent woman in her 80s.

Either way, I'm glad I read this unique novel. The book opens with Mina reading the obituaries in the Daily News. She spies the name of one of her neighbors and adds the name and date to her notebook. (The neighbor is number 151.)

Mina hears an ambulance and discovers another neighbor being taken out on a stretcher. The neighbor tells Mina to call her daughter Ginger and then says, "Please tell Ginger. Don't let him in until I'm gone."

And with those cryptic words she is loaded into the ambulance. Mina calls Ginger, who calls her sister Evie and tells her it is Evie's turn to care for their  bitter, angry, alcoholic mother. Evie reluctantly agrees and, after seeing her mother in the hospital, heads to her mother's house and is shocked by what she sees.

The house looks like an episode of Hoarders: garbage everywhere, a broken window, rotting food, dirty dishes and empty cat food tins. But her mother doesn't have a cat. And where did she get the brand new big flat screen TV on the wall?

There is a neighbor whom Evie doesn't know who has been hanging around her mother, and Evie doesn't trust him. Evie goes to visit Mina, and Mina tells her that several homes in their Higgs Point neighborhood have burned, or been sold and torn down. A developer is trying to buy up all the property on the cheap.

Evie stops in to the local neighborhood store and sees that it is run by the son of the owner. He tells her that he has formed a non-profit to try and save the neighborhood from the developers, and encourages her to join him.

Mina's nephew wants to move her into an assisted living home so that he can get his hands on her home. Strange things start happening to Mina- she loses important papers, leaves the stove on, gets knocked down by a car backing up. Is her nephew up to no good or is it too much for her to continue to live on her own?

Mina and Evie are curious to find out what is going on in the neighborhood and who is behind it. They  make a great team and their characters are so appealing. Evie feels guilt about not keeping in touch with her mother (who doesn't make it easy) and I think many readers will relate to her.

But for me, Mina is the real star. I love this character! She seems like the neighbor we all know, with her fastidious ways and fierce independence. She misses her beloved sister, whom she lived with for many years, but she continues on with her life.

The mystery keeps you guessing, and although I thought I knew who did it, I didn't know the all-important why. The writing is crisp, and this is the perfect book for a rainy day read.

rating 4 of 5

Hallie Ephron's website is here.