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Saturday, June 29, 2013

Weekend Cooking- The Last Original Wife

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 called Dorothea Benton Frank's The Last Original Wife the beach read for boomers in my recent review. I loved so much about it- the characters, the humor, the sibling relationship between Les and her brother Harlan, being introduced to author Josephine Pinckney, and the setting of Charleston.

My husband and I visited Charleston two years ago and we fell in love with the city. We ate in some amazing restaurants (my husband said he had the best meal ever at Hall's Chophouse), toured the city, wandered around and just relaxed.

Frank gave some great restaurant recommendations in her novel, and I immediately pinned them to my Charleston Pinterest board, which you can see here. I can't wait to go back to Charleston and try these new places.

There was also a paragraph in the novel that had me salivating. Les has just arrived at her friend Danette's new home. Danette's husband had left her for a younger woman, leaving Les as "the last original wife" in her social circle. Les brought over some snacks to share.
"I've got enough food for an army." I began unpacking. Imitating the voice of Rachael Ray, I said, "We've got pimiento cheese with pickled jalapenos to be served with crostini and EVOO, butterbean hummus presented with pita chips and EVOO, a baby spinach salad with sliced turkey and tahini green goddess on the side for you and muffaletta for me with balsamic and EVOO. Oh! And a brownie to share. Without EVOO. Ha-ha-ha."
This is the kind of friend we all want, and the next time I'm having a friend over, I am so stealing this menu.

Frank is signing books at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth, DE on July 2nd, and I will be there on vacation. I can't wait to see her again and tell her face-to-face how much I loved her book.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Grace's Pictures by Cindy Thomson

Grace's Pictures by Cindy Thomson
Published by Tyndale House Publishers ISBN 978-1-4143-6843-6
Trade paperback, $12.99, 385 pages

This must be the month for Irish immigrant stories. First we had the second in a trilogy, Kate Kerrigan's City of Hope (my review here). Now we have Cindy Thomson's Grace's Pictures, a story about a young Irish girl who comes to America in 1900, hoping to earn enough money to bring her mother over.

Grace was sent to live in a workhouse in Ireland after her mother was thrown out of their home. With no money, her mother was able to get Grace the opportunity to go to New York, where a church organization would help Grace find a job.

It always amazes me how these young people left their homes and families, got on a ship, and traveled across the sea, never truly knowing what would be awaiting them on the other side. What bravery that took!

Grace is taken to Reverend Clarke, a man of God who helps immigrants find work and form a community. My favorite line in the book is from Reverend Clarke, who said to Grace, "And I ask myself, is there more love in the world because of what I'm doing? If not, I need to change that." Imagine if everyone in the world followed that idea, what a lovely place this would be.

Grace finds work as a nanny to a family of five young children. Their mother appears indifferent and their father is a busy businessman, who wants to control everything and everyone. Grace has a hard time at first dealing with them all, but she grows to love the children.

Thomson has a way with a phrase, like this one: "Owen's mother and her friend jabbered so much a candle didn't have a chance of staying lit in the room." She drops us right into the setting, teaching us the slang of the day, such as "peeler" for police officer.

Her visual imagery is strong as well, describing a group of newsboys sleeping in a doorway as "huddled together like puppies." I immediately had that picture in my mind. Grace takes her young charges to Battery Park, and Thomson's description of that scene brought the place to life, as they dodged pretzel vendors and young boys" hawking trinkets".

The theme of immigrants and how they are perceived by the society is a timely topic, as Congress is now debating how best to deal with the immigration issue in our country. We can see in this novel that, although set over 100 year ago, the treatment of immigrants is a topic our country has grappled with for a long time.

A unique aspect of this story is Grace's infatuation with the newfangled Brownie camera. Grace meets a photographer and is entranced with his work. She saves her money, buys herself a simple camera, and teaches herself to takes photos. At times, this gets her into trouble as she accidentally takes photos of a mobster who doesn't want to be photographed. This storyline adds an interesting piece to the novel.

There is a love story, and some action as Grace's camera gets her into trouble. I liked that Grace found people who helped and encouraged her, rather than took advantage of her as we often see in stories like this. We also see New York at the turn of the century, along with the internal politics of the police department. Thomson clearly did a great deal of research for this novel.

If you like immigrant stories, Grace's Pictures is one you should not miss. I'm hoping that we meet Grace and her friends again in the future as she surely has more of her story to tell.

rating 4 of 5

Cindy Thomson's website is here (and you can read Chapter 1 of Grace's Pictures).

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Winner of Our Love Could Light The World

 by Anne Leigh Parrish is JoAnn! Congratulations JoAnn, I hope you enjoy the book.
Thanks for reading bookchickdi.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan

City of Hope by Kate Kerrigan
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-223729-3
Trade paperback, $14.99, 400 pages

A few years ago I had the pleasure of meeting Kate Kerrigan, the charming Irish author of Ellis Island, a novel about a young Irish woman who came to America to earn money to pay for an operation her husband back in Ireland desperately needed after an injury.

Set in the 1920s, Ellie comes to New York to work first as a maid, and then learns how to be a secretary. She falls in love with a wealthy businessman and when it comes time to go home to Ireland, she is torn.

City of Hope opens in the 1930s back in Ireland, on the farm where Ellie lives with her husband John. John loves his life as a farmer, but Ellie wants more. She opened a shop near the farm to sell grocery items and products grown on the farm. She started a secretarial school and a beauty salon. Ellie was quite the businesswoman and always looking for ways to expand, much to John's consternation.

When John dies unexpectedly, Ellie is devastated. She runs away, back to New York, to try and pick up the pieces of her life. A chance meeting with a mother and her children, homeless and living in Central Park, convinced her to try and do something to help them.

She buys a home that has been foreclosed on and moves this family in, along with Bridie, an older woman who worked with her as a maid many years ago. They work to rebuild the house, and find that there are many men with construction skills looking for work in the Great Depression.

Ellie finds a new mission for her life- refurbishing homes and giving people a chance to rebuild their lives. She hopes that all of this will keep her from missing John. She meets many new people, and puts her talents to good use. She starts a cooperative, where the women open a cafe and store, selling their prepared food to the wealthy women in the neighborhood.

Then people comes back into her life unexpectedly: her old friend Sheila and a man from her past. Ellie must face up to her past and decide what path she is going to take.

I have to admit that at times I did not understand Ellie's actions. She seems to run away from her problems rather than face them. After John's death, she runs to New York and hides out, leaving John's mother all alone. At the end of the novel she makes a decision that I find baffling. Although I would make different decisions, Kerrigan skillfully creates such an intriguing character that I found myself rooting for her even as I found her maddening.

I love books that take me into a completely new world, and City of Hope does just that. I did not realize that there were Hooverville tent cities in Central Park during the Depression. Kerrigan clearly did a great deal of research to bring this interesting period of time in New York City to such vivid life.

The characters are so well drawn, and I found that if I closed my eyes, I could picture the street in Upper Manhattan where Ellie created new lives for so many people. The problems that Ellie's friends faced during the Great Depression resonated with the problems that face many people today- the loss of jobs and their homes, forcing their families out into the streets. I liked the parallel there.

My favorite line in the book is one from Ellie during John's funeral.
"I shut down. I did not have the room to absorb all their grief, when I could not accommodate my own."

That just hit such a visceral note for me.

If you have read Ellis IslandCity of Hope is a must read. Even if you haven't read Ellis Island, City of Hope stands on its own, a novel about grief and new beginnings, and a wonderful piece of historical fiction set during the Great Depression in New York City. (And if you are a fan of Downton Abbey, Bridie reminds me so much of Mrs. Patmore!)

rating 5 of 5

Kate Kerrigan's website is here.
My review of Ellis Island is here.

Other stops on Kate Kerrigan's TLC Tour are:

Tuesday, June 25th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, June 26th: Books in the City
Wednesday, June 26th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, June 27th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Friday, June 28th: Diary of an Eccentric
Monday, July 1st: A Book Geek
Wednesday, July 3rd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, July 4th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Monday, July 8th: Dwell in Possibility
Tuesday, July 16th: Peppermint PhD
Monday, July 22nd: Becca’s Byline
Tuesday, July 23rd: The House of the Seven Tails
Thursday, July 25th: The Maiden’s Court

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me and William Morrow for providing a copy of the book.

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank

The Last Original Wife by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-213246-8
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages

One look at the cover of Dorothea Benton Frank's The Last Original Wife, with a woman lounging on the sand near the ocean, wearing a stylish red sun hat, and you know right away this is a book that will be accompanying you to the beach.

Les is the title character, a middle-aged wife and mother of two adult children, doting grandmother to sweet little Holly. Married to Wes, a driven businessman, they dine at the exclusive country club each Saturday with their group of friends.

But that group is changing. Les' best friend died tragically, and the widower (too) quickly remarried a young, sexy woman who is not popular with the children. When Les' other best friend gives her husband an ultimatum- stop texting his hot young personal trainer at the dinner table or she is leaving, it leaves Les as The Last Original Wife.

Forced to spend time with her husband's friends and their new vapid, young wives, Les starts to wonder if this is what she has to look forward to in the coming years. After a trip to Scotland with her husband and his friend and new wife, Les falls into an open manhole and her husband gets all the way back to the hotel (a 40 minute walk) before he realizes that Les is no longer there.

Call that the straw that broke the camel's back. Les decides she is not happy with her life. Her daughter uses her as a babysitter whenever she feels like it, her son lives overseas and only calls for money, and her husband refuses to allow Les' gay brother Harlan to come visit so Les hasn't seen her him in forever.

She goes to Charleston to stay with her brother. There she runs into an old high school boyfriend and begins to see that she can have a different life, one where she can be in charge of her own happiness.

I loved everything about this novel- characters, the story- and the setting made me want to book my airline ticket for Charleston right now. Frank takes us to this beautiful city, and she gave me some fabulous suggestions for restaurants, for which I promptly made a Pinterest board.

Harlan is a fantastic character, with an even better dog, the supremely spoiled Miss Jo, who has a closet full of beautiful clothes. I really enjoyed his and Les' sibling relationship. Harlan lives in a historical home, once owned by Josephine Pinckney, a prominent feminist and author. I loved the historical homes in Charleston, and you can bet I'm looking for Pinckney's books now.

The novel is told from alternating view points- Les' and Wes'- so we know what each of them is thinking. Wes is completely blindsided and extremely myopic when it comes to his wife, but give him credit for trying to understand. He even agrees to therapy to save his marriage.

The Last Original Wife is the beach read for boomers this summer. I think most women who read it will be able to identify with some part of Les's story, and cheer her on as she makes the decisions that will lead to her living a happy life. I like that it is not just a light read with a lot of humor (Les' one-liners crack me up); it has a lot of depth to it and it is surprisingly moving for a summer book.  I'm buying extra copies to bring to my sisters-in-law for our beach vacation next week.

rating 5 of 5

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. You can read reviews of this and other Dorothea Benton Frank novels here.

Dorothea Benton Frank's website is here.
My review of Return to Sullivan's Island is here.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Weekend Cooking- A Family Vacation

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!

Every few years, my husband family of 28 (!) tries to get together for a weeklong vacation. We are heading back to a beautiful house in Dewey Beach, Delaware where we enjoy sun, sand, the ocean, great meals and each other's company. This year, we are leaving next Saturday, enjoying the 4th of July together.

With that many people, we try to be as organized as possible. We divide up kitchen supplies- paper products, condiments, cleaning supplies- and everybody signs up to bring what they have stocked in their homes (and can fit in their car).

There are six families, so we each take one night to cook dinner for all. It has worked out wonderfully in the past, with each family making their specialty. With Pinterest, we can share the recipes we are making and ask for input from the rest of the crew.

I made a board called Food For A Party, and I put recipes in there that I can make for just this occasion. My sister-in-law (the foodie) even created a board with restaurants she wants to try there; I love that idea!

This year we are bringing the first night's meal, which I will make this week and freeze. When we get to Dewey Beach, I'll put it on the stove and reheat. I'm making Pulled Pork Sandwiches from a recipe by Robert Irvine from the Food Network. I made this for New Year's Day a few years ago and it was a big hit.

We'll pair this with a pasta salad and a fruit salad, and for dessert, I found this super simple Reese's  Cookie Brownie Stack. I made trial run this week and they were gone in a very short time. It's got all of the sinfully good things we love- cookie dough, Reese's Peanut Butter Cup and brownie mix.

We're doing Happy Hour too, and for that I'm making this new recipe I found for So Cal Fajita Dip. It's perfect to make using leftover steak and roasted peppers from the night we have roasted vegetables. I made this last week and the guys gobbled it down.

With this, we're making Raspberry Mango Sangria that we tried a few months back from Martha Stewart. It is a refreshing summer drink we first made a few weeks ago.

It's going to be a busy week leading up to vacation and I've got to make a Costco run to prepare. If you have any favorite recipes to feed a crowd, share them in comments.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Remarkable Ronald Reagan- Cowboy and Commander in Chief by Susan Allen

The Remarkable Ronald Reagan: Cowboy and Commander in Chief by Susan Allen
Published by Regnery Publishing ISBN 978-1-62157-038-7
Children's Book, $16.95

A few years ago my husband, two adult sons and I made a trip to Los Angeles, and one of the highlights was visiting the Reagan Presidential Library in the beautiful Simi Valley setting. Surrounded by stunning mountain vistas, it is the perfect place to host the library of the man who loved and is so associated with the California ranching landscape.

Susan Allen, wife of former Virginia governor George Allen, has written a children's book about our celebrated 40th president, The Remarkable Ronald Reagan- Cowboy and Commander in Chief.

Reagan was a man who personified much of what America is about. He came from a family of limited means to whom hard work and religious faith were important. Reagan, called "Dutch" by family and friends, was athletic, playing football and running track in high school.

Allen covers all of the touchstones of Reagan's life in chronological order- lifeguard, radio sports announcer, Hollywood actor, his two marriages and four children, becoming governor of California.  She writes of his political beliefs in a manner than children can understand.

The memorable moments of Reagan's eight year presidency each get a page, with the quotes that are associated with them prominently mentioned. His first inauguration ("Those who say we are in a time when there are no heroes just don't know where to look"), the assassination attempt ("Honey, I forgot to duck"), his Berlin visit ("Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!")- they are all here.

The lush, lively artwork by Leslie Harrington perfectly captures the spirit of Ronald Reagan, and I particularly liked her renditions of his beloved Rancho del Cielo. She also reinforces the special relationship between Ronald and Nancy Reagan with her work.

At the end of the book, Allen lists "Highlights from a Life Well-Lived", with important dates at a glance. A terrific page titled "Ronald Reagan: Pen Pals" has reproductions of a few letters Reagan wrote to his seven-year-old pen pal, (a relationship that continued for five years) and would make for another great children's book if it hasn't already been done.

The last section is "Important Things Ronald Reagan Said", with funny, wise, and profound sayings from a man known as the Great Communicator. My one criticism of the book concerns this section. In the "Sometimes Funny" section, Allen includes a quote from Reagan's California years- "A hippie is someone who looks like Tarzan, walks like Jane and smells like Cheetah." This quote is not appropriate for a children's book, and the author (and editor) should not have included it here.

The Remarkable Ronald Reagan- Cowboy and Commander in Chief is a wonderful introduction to children who are interested in American presidents.

rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for including me on this book tour. The rest of Susan Allen TLC Tour dates are here:
Tuesday, June 18th: My ordinary, every day, happily ever after 
Tuesday, June 18th: Babblin Brooke
Tuesday, June 18th: Maureen’s Musings
Tuesday, June 18th: And Here We Go
Tuesday, June 18th: 5 Minutes for Mom
Wednesday, June 19th: Geo Librarian
Wednesday, June 19th: Delightful Education
Wednesday, June 19th: No Doubt Learning
Wednesday, June 19th: Kid Lit About Politics
Wednesday, June 19th: Pragmatic Mom
Wednesday, June 19th: Grandma’s Briefs
Wednesday, June 19th: Simple Things
Wednesday, June 19th: Starts at Eight
Thursday, June 20th: Teaching Stars
Thursday, June 20th: Homeschool Circus
Thursday, June 20th: A Stable Beginning
Thursday, June 20th: Everyday Snapshots
Thursday, June 20th: Walking in Faith
Thursday, June 20th: Hope is the Word
Thursday, June 20th: Margo Dill’s Read These Books and Use Them
Friday, June 21st: Melissa Northway
Friday, June 21st: bookchickdi
Friday, June 21st: Kid Lit Reviews
Friday, June 21st: Storytime Books
Friday, June 21st: Tina Says…
Friday, June 21st: West Metro Mommy
Saturday, June 22nd: Teresa’s Reading Corner

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

BEA 13- Speed Dating

Last year at BEA (Book Expo America), one of my favorite things was attending the Book Group Speed Dating, where publishers moved from table to table talking about books that would be perfect for  book clubs. It was hosted by Carol Fitzgerald of BookReporter.com, and it was a huge success.

I was so happy to hear that they were continuing with it this year and signed up right away. At my table, we had someone from Hachette Book Group, and their big upcoming book is Burial Rites, an historical novel about a woman in Iceland accused of murder in 1829. It is Hannah Kent's debut novel and has "great writing, great characters, and a great landscape." (September)

The other books from Hachette were:

  • That Part Was True by Deborah McKinlay- a novel that will appeal to people who liked The Guernsey Potato Peel Pie & Literary Society, One Day & The Bridges of Madison County. (February)
  • Schroder by Amity Gaige- This one we were told "will cause passionate conversations". It is a based on the Clark Rockefeller story, about a man who assumes the identity of a man from a famous American family and kidnaps his young daughter when things fall apart. (October)
  • The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent- an adventure novel set in the 19th century west coast that "connects well with readers." (September)
  • Eloise by Judy Finnigan- the debut novel from the co-host of Britain's answer to Oprah, The Richard and Judy Show. (September)
Harper Perennial showcased four books, highlighted by National Book Award winner, The Round House, by Louise Erdich, featuring stunning new cover art by Erdich's daughter. (Paperback in September)
The hardcover cover
Also from  Harper Perennial:
  • Telegraph Avenue by Michael Chabon- This also has a gorgeous new cover for paperback, and it is about a white man and black man who own a used record shop in Oakland. (September)
  • The Cutting Season by Attica Locke- Set in present day on a New Orleans plantation where a murder has occurred and may be tied into a murder that happened over 100 years ago. (September)
  • The Death of Bees by Lisa O'Donnell- The story of two young sisters who try to keep the mysterious deaths of their parents a secret. (October)
Berkley's books all had beautiful cover art that would encourage bookstore browsers to look further inside. The one that interested me most was Dollface by Renee Rosen, set during the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in Chicago about a flapper who becomes a gun moll.  (November) After reading The Other Typist and seeing The Great Gatsby,  I'm obsessed by this 1920s time period.
Other Berkley books are:
  • The Serpent and the Pearl by Kate Quinn- a historical romance "from a brilliant storyteller" set during the rise of the Borgias in Rome in the late 15th century. (August)
  • Between a Mother and Her Child by Elizabeth Noble- For fans of Elizabeth Berg, this novel tells the story of family in the aftermath of a tragedy, but is "not depressing." (September)
  • The Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister- is "foodie fiction" set in Seattle, coming in trade paperback. (November)
  • You Knew Me When by Emily Liebert- A debut novel set in New England where two best friends who had a falling out inherit a house together. For fans of Jane Green and Emily Giffin. (September)
Picador had four books to talk about, including one that was chosen for the Editor's Book Buzz panel, Amy Grace Loyd's The Affairs of Others, about a young widow who owns an apartment building and becomes involved in the lives of her tenants. It should appeal to women in their 20s and 30s. (August)
Other books from Picador are:
  • Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan- Sloan is a founder of Twitter, and this is the trade paperback version of the popular and quirky novel, also aimed at the younger reader. (September)
  • The Good House by Ann Leary- is about remaking life in middle age, where the protagonist is a real estate agent who is in denial that she has become an alcoholic. (October)
  • Havisham by Ronald Frame- tells the story of a young Miss Havisham from Dickens' Great Expectations  and how she ended up the way she did. (November)
  • The Heart Broke In- by James Meek- is a "big, sprawling family novel about midlife crisis and marriage" set in present day London. (October)
For more information on these and all of the books presented by the 21 publishers, click on this link from Book Reporter.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish

Our Love Could Light the World by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published by She Writes Press ISBN 978-1-938314-44-5
Trade paperback, $15.95, 192 pages

When I received an email asking me if I was interested in reviewing a book of linked short stories about a family with five children set in the Finger Lakes region of New York State, I jumped at the opportunity. I grew up in the Finger Lakes region and I am one of five siblings. The description intrigued me.

That is where most of the similarity ends, although many of these characters seemed like people we all have known. After introducing the five children- chunky teenage Angie, who "ruled her siblings with a steady stream of insults", Timothy, close knit twins Marta and Maggie, and Foster the youngest, a happy child born with a twisted leg, this wonderfully sums up their relationship:
"All in all, the five children didn't particularly care for one another, and they didn't dislike each other, either. One thing they knew was that they stood as a pack against the rest of the world."
Mrs. Dugan worked and Mr. Dugan didn't due to an injury. She worked long hours and came home only to have to do most of the housework that husband Potter wouldn't do because he wanted to spend the day drinking. When she gets the opportunity to attend a three-day work conference out-of-town, she jumps at it and it becomes a turning point for the family.

The title story takes place as Lavinia is off at the conference. Angie has to take charge when Potter won't; she does the laundry, and sends her siblings to the store to get detergent and other necessities. They return with an elderly confused man, but without the needed items.

It is here that we see Angie's compassion and kindness, something she seems to hide behind her gruff, green-haired, nose-ring wearing exterior. This trait comes into play in later stories as well, when she bonds with a child who has Down's Syndrome (and a mean grandmother), and in her choice of career.

Angie was my favorite character, I liked the arc of her growth; it felt authentic. She occupies many of the stories, and I had a real empathy for her. I loved Parrish's honest portraits of this family that you feel could have been your neighbors.

Lavinia is also in many of the stories, and I felt badly that she couldn't really be happy. Even when she got what she thought she wanted, it still didn't fulfill her. A character like her could be shrill and unsympathetic, but Parrish writes her so beautifully that we care about her, even if we can't relate.

The men in this novel- Potter, and his sister Patty's boyfriend Murph- don't fare as well. They are willing to live off the labors of the women they live with, and don't seem to want to contribute or better themselves. While they could have been one-note, Parrish gives you a reason to root for them as they try to grow.

The Dugan family are a group of flawed people, yet we care about them even as we want to throttle them. They have ties that bind them as shown in this passage.
"Angie knew that Potter couldn't stand Brett. She also knew that he'd never say so. They had always been like that, she thought. Aware of each other's truths without needing to say much."

That really gets to the essence of this family, and probably many other families as well. They might not say it aloud, but they know each other's truths. Maybe that is the definition of a family.

I found that this book and these characters wormed their way into my heart. This collection of linked stories deserves its place right up there with Elizabeth Stout's Olive Kitteridge.

rating 5 of 5

The publisher has provided a copy of Our Love Could Light the World as a giveaway. To enter, leave your name and email in the comments section. One winner will be chosen on June 26th. US/Canada entries only, please.

Thanks to TLC Tours for providing me with the opportunity to be on this tour. Other tour stops are:

Monday, June 3rd:  Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, June 5th:  What She Read
Thursday, June 6th:  The Relentless Reader
Monday, June 10th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, June 11th:  Seaside Book Nook
Wednesday, June 12th:  Conceptual Reception
Thursday, June 13th:  Books Speak Volumes
Monday, June 17th:  The Best Books Ever
Tuesday, June 18th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, June 18th:  BookChickDi
Wednesday, June 19th:  Camilla Stein Review
Monday, June 24th:  BookNAround

Anne Leigh Parrish's website is here.
You can buy Our Love Could Light The World  here.

Monday, June 17, 2013

My Planet by Mary Roach

My Planet by Mary Roach
Published by Reader's Digest ISBN 978-1-62145-071-9
Paperback, $14.99, 191 pages

I know Mary Roach as a bestselling author of books, like Stiff and Bonk, (wait, they sound slightly pornographic) that incorporate science with humor. But I never knew that she wrote humor columns for Reader's Digest, mostly about her life with her husband Ed.

These columns have been compiled in My Planet: Finding Humor in the Oddest Places, and it had me laughing so loud as I read it, my family stared at me as if I were crazy. I was crazy, crazy with laughter and recognition at Roach's observational humor.

From page one, I was a goner. She describes her first date with her husband Ed, who got up from the table to wash his hands almost immediately upon being seated at the restaurant "like a little raccoon, leaning over the stream to to tidy himself before eating."

She goes on to discuss their "hygiene gap". Ed immediately replaces the toilet seat when he moves to  a new place because "he didn't know who'd been sitting on it." (I'm with Ed on that one.) Mary flossed her teeth in bed and drank straight from the OJ container. (Again, I side with Ed.)

Mary used the "Designated Countertop Sponge to wash the dishes and the Designated Dishwashing Sponge to clean the bathtub" an act she describes as "tantamount to a bioterror attack", according to Ed. Ed had what Mary called "crud vision" and she didn't.

She said that "like any normal couple, we refused to accept each other's differences and did whatever we could to annoy one another." It just got funnier from there.

Mary makes lists: "daily, To Do lists, long-term To Do lists, shopping lists and packing lists." Ed reluctantly makes lists on the corner of newspapers that are illegible. Making lists keeps her anxiety levels down, while Ed controls his anxiety by forgetting to make lists.

Her best list is composed of party guests that dates from 1997. On occasion she updates it, deleting people who have moved away, adding new friends. They are never having this party, but just updating the list is a party for Roach. (I think I know some people like this.)

Her essay on relatives visiting struck a chord of recognition. After day six, she says that
You begin to view your guests through the magnifying glasses of the put-upon host. A TV set turned four decibels higher that you like it registers as "blaring." Making a 13-cent long-distance call is perceived as "running up my phone bill!"
She concludes this essay by saying
Family are people who live together- if only for a week at a time. They're people who  drop towels on your bathroom floor, put your cups and glasses in the wrong place and complain about your weather. You do it to them, they do it to you, and none of you would have it any other way.

One of the essays I most related to was about conjugal hearing loss that affects married couples. She says that married couples attempt to communicate with the other person is in a separate room or on separate floors, "preferably while one is running water or operating a vacuum cleaner or watching the Cedar Waxwings in the playoffs." (This is one of my pet peeves.)

Other humorous topics include entering the Age of Skirted Swimwear, dropping off her car at the mechanic because it won't start only to have him call her and tell her he's charging her $50 because "she is stupid" (the car was out of gas, but she praised him for not ripping her off by claiming it was something more serious), and arguing about buying a sofa.

Roach's essays reminded me of Erma Bombeck. She deals with life's issues in a relatable, funny and  good spirited manner. This is a wonderful book to stick in the car and read while you are waiting for the kids at baseball practice or in a doctor's waiting room. It's good for laugh and you'll want to read aloud from it so that others can enjoy her humor too.

rating 4 of 5

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Weekend Cooking- An Excerpt from The Execution of Noa P Singleton

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!

Elizabeth L. Silver's debut novel, The Execution of Noa P. Singleton, unravels the story of woman who has been on Death Row for ten years in Pennsylvania for the murder of a young woman and her unborn child. (My review is here.)

It's a dark tale, and the story is revealed in Noa's words and letters that the murdered woman's mother Marlene writes to her dead daughter. Slowly we find that things are not exactly as they appear to be, but can we trust either Noa or Marlene's words to be the truth?

We learn a lot about what it's like to live in prison, specifically on Death Row, and at the end of the story, Noa tells us about ordering her last meal. She wants to order hers from a fancy restaurant.
I'm pondering chicken parmesan, a thick New York strip steak (medium well), or a three-course meal from Le Bec Fin. Yes, if the system worked the way it should- truly granting us a proper last meal- then I would have someone get for me from Center City Philadelphia. After all, isn't that why we overspend at expensive restaurants? We want to feel good about ourselves, despite the fact that the food we are eating costs no more to make than a tightly sealed plastic carton of drumsticks from your local grocery store. We celebrate events at fancy restaurants; we introduce friends, future spouses, in-laws. We propose in them, we divorce in them. We tell our world we are pregnant in them. What we don't do in them is request our final meals. I mean, wouldn't we all go back those special-occasion restaurants if we knew it would be our final meal on the outside? Of course we would. We'd waste no time at KFC or McDonald's; we'd go straight for Stephen Starr or Gordon Ramsay and tea at the Plaza.
Noa also talks about what other inmates have ordered for their last meal.
Over the past few weeks, I've learned that one inmate requested steak with A.1 sauce, jalapeno poppers with cream sauce, onion rings, and a salad with cherry tomatoes, ham chunks, shredded cheese, bacon bits, and blue cheese and ranch dressing. Lemon iced tea and coffee to drink and ice cream for dessert. Another wanted four fried pork chops, collard greens with boiled okra and "boiling meat", fried corn, fried fatback, fried green tomatoes, conbead, lemonade, one pint of strawberry ice cream, and three glazed donuts. Others in coalescence: four buns with lots of butter, lots of salt, and two slices of banana bread. Nine tacos, nine enchiladas, french fries, a salad with ranch dressing, beef fajitas, a bowl of picante sauce, a bowl of shredded cheese, six jalapeno peppers, a strawberry cake with strawberry frosting, and there it is, the sixteen Pepsis. 
This is my favorite, though. One man, who had no final request, asked that a vegetarian pizza be purchased and donated to a homeless person for his his last meal. The prison officials refused. 
I enjoy reading books and finding passages that fit in the Weekend Cooking meme, but I have to say that this was a first for me- reading about inmates' last meals. Maybe I find this interesting because my dad worked at a maximum security prison for many years.

Have you read any non-food books that had interesting food passages in them? Let me know in comments.

Friday, June 14, 2013

BEA 13- Editor's Buzz Panel Books

This is the first year that I missed the Book Expo's Editor's Buzz Panel, where six editors each present a book that people will be talking about in the fall. Luckily, the next day, Ron Hogan moderated a panel where the six authors of the books each had a few minutes to talk about their books to an eager audience.

I got to attend that, and I enjoyed hearing these passionate writers speak about their books. The first one up was a book I really wanted to get (and I'm totally absorbed in it right now)- Sheri Fink's Five Days at Memorial: Life and Death in a Storm-Ravaged Hospital. Fink is a physician who has worked in emergency situations in natural disasters (like Haiti) and her book sounds totally fascinating.

She writes about Memorial Hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. Patients and staff were trapped there and doctors were later arrested for euthanizing patients who were very ill. She interviews people who were there to get their stories, but it is also an indictment of how hospitals and medicine have become big business. It was my one  must-have book of the show. (I didn't get it there, but did get it through Edelweiss.) Five Days at Memorial publishes in September from Random House.

On a similar note, Katy Butler wrote a book Knocking On Heaven's Door- The Path to a Better Way of Death. Her premise (and I agree with it) is that our society does not know how to die. We spend so much money prolonging lives, thinking of the quantity of years, not the quality of life.

She spoke passionately of her father, who had a pacemaker put in at the age of 79, and how his years after that were spent dealing with chronic illnesses; he led a very unhappy, unhealthy few years. When her mother became older and frail, after seeing what her husband went through, she chose a different ending. No extraordinary measures were taken, and her last years were a life filled with joy. Knocking on Heaven's Door publishes in September from Scribner. Butler's website is here.

Wendy Lower's Hitler's Furies: German Women on the Nazi Killing Fields is about a subject not extensively studied- there were German women who worked with the Nazi's as secretaries helping to decide which people lived or died in the Eastern front. Some of these women even personally shot women and children themselves. The book is from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and publishes in October.

Still another non-fiction book is Jennifer Senior's All Joy and No Fun: The Paradox of Modern Parenthood. Senior says that there are many books out there that discuss how parents affect their children, but none on how having children affect parents. It's an interesting premise, and she interviewed many people on the topic. It publishes in January 2014 from Harper Collins.

There were only two fiction books on the list this year, the first one is The Facades by Eric Lundgren. Set in a fictional city that the author says is a "cross between Kafka and Gotham City", a man searches for his famous opera singer wife, who has gone missing. The city itself is an important character in this provocative novel. Overlook Press publishes this novel in September.

Lastly, Amy Grace's novel The Affair of Others tells the story of a young widow who buys a small apartment building. She carefully chooses her tenants, expecting to be left to her grief. But when a female tenant moves in and turns things upside down, bringing sex and violence into their quiet lives, everything changes. This one looks like it would appeal to fans of The Other Typist, a book I just loved. Picador publishes this in August.

Ron Hogan did a great job keeping things moving along so that we could hear from all of the authors in the allotted time slot. I can't wait to read these buzzy books.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton- A Novel

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton by Elizabeth L. Silver
Published by Crown, ISBN 978-0-385-34743-3
Hardcover, $25, 308 pages

 Noa P. Singleton has resided on death row in Pennsylvania for ten years and is within six months of being executed for the crime of murdering a young pregnant woman in Elizabeth L. Silver's thought-provoking debut novel The Execution of Noa P. Singleton.

Marlene, the mother of Noa's victim Sarah, argued persuasively and successfully for the death penalty, but now ten years later, she has changed her mind. She now believes that no one has the right to take a life, and that includes the state in retribution for murder.

Noa is rightfully suspect of this change of heart, and as the story unwinds in Noa's voice and letters Marlene has written to her dead daughter, we can see why. It is difficult to review this intriguing story without giving too much away, but here goes.

Noa is what is known as an unreliable narrator; we cannot trust that what she has said is the truth. This novel tries to untangle Noa's story, beginning with life with a sometimes-actress mother who lived with a lot of men as Noa grew up. Did any of them molest Noa, and if so, did that effect her later behavior?

Her father left Noa and her mother, and she had no contact with him until she went to college and found that he owned a bar in the city where she went to school. Noa left college after an incident in the college library that left her physically and emotionally scarred.

She is reluctant to become involved with her father, an ex-con with a lot of problems. He wants to become a part of Noa's life, but she is leery of him. Still, she spends more and more time with him. One day Noa runs into the bar and tells her father a man was following her. Her father chases after the man and catches him.

That sets in motion a chain of events that leads to Noa being convicted of Sarah's murder. The trial scenes that Silver writes are fascinating, from the 12-hour police interview to the juror selection (after just having served jury duty, I found this part really interesting) to the actual trial, conviction and sentencing. Silver is a lawyer and worked on several death penalty cases and her expertise shines through here.

Silver writes Noa's incarceration scenes with empathy and integrity. The reader is dropped into a world not many of us know (thank goodness), and Noa's sense of isolation is palpable. Noa comes to believe that she belongs there, saying
"it's the internal acceptance that finally you have become the person you were meant to be. When you enter, true, you are given a new number, a new residence, and a new wardrobe; but is is only when you place those garments upon your limbs that realize they were meant for no one but you. No former splinters of your personality carry over into prison life. No relationships, fictional or otherwise, accompany them either. Any superficial intimacy you claim to have experienced with another (whether consanguineous or not) when you wore any color other than cocoa brown fades as quickly as a puff of smoke. You are now the person everyone knows you to be."
Reading this deeply affecting novel will have you questioning the use and human cost of capital punishment. Silver sprinkles in some jaw-dropping revelations, from secret relationships to incidents in the Noa's past that are stunning and also explain much of Noa's willingness to accept her fate. The suspense here is so well done.

The Execution of Noa P. Singleton put me in mind of another novel I read with an unreliable female character- Marcy Dermanksy's Bad Marie. They have the same dark tone, and unforgettable protagonists.

If you like a story that will make you think and question human nature, this is the novel for you. I'm still thinking about it days after I have finished it. Silver's debut novel has me looking for more from her in the future.

rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for providing a copy of the book and hosting this tour. Other stops on the tour are:

Monday, June 10th:  A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, June 12th:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, June 12th:  No More Grumpy Bookseller
Thursday, June 13th:  BookChickDi
Monday, June 17th:  Read Lately
Wednesday, June 19th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, June 19th:  Man of La Book
Thursday, June 20th:  Simply Stacie
Monday, June 24th:  The Best Books Ever
Tuesday, June 25th:  BookNAround
Wednesday, June 26th:  River City Reading
Wednesday, June 26th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Thursday, June 27th:  Booksnob
Monday, July 1st:  The Scarlet Letter
Tuesday, July 2nd:  Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Wednesday, July 3rd:  A Bookworm’s World
Friday, July 5th:  Book Hooked Blog
Friday, July 12th:  Sweet Southern Home

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Foodie Books from BEA 13

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!

One of the things I look for at BEA (Book Expo) is food related books. I don't have a lot of room for cookbooks, so I  have to be picky. Unlike some people, I do like the blads and the excerpted books they give out because I can get a flavor of the actual book to see if it something I would like to buy.

These are the foodie related books I got this year:

Jamie Deen's Good Food publishes September 19th from Kyle Books, and is his first solo cookbook. His goal is to "create great family dishes that are fresh, seasonal, healthy, and appealing to adults and kids alike." One of the best looking recipes in this excerpt is Fall Harvest Salad with Maple Vinaigrette, which has butternut squash, greens, red grapes, feta and roasted pistachios.

Ann Romney was at BEA signing excerpts from her book The Romney Family Table: Sharing Home Cooked Recipes and Favorite Traditions from Shadow Mountain in October. There are many dozens of traditional recipes in this book, divided into three sections- Family, Traditions and Holidays. It looks like there are lots of family photos in this one, and one recipe I would like to try is Jen's Lake house Enchiladas.

Another excerpted book is Fix-It and Forget-It New Cookbook by Phyllis Good coming in October from Good Books. There are 250 new recipes in the book, all made in your crockpot. One that caught my eye because we are going on a family vacation soon (although with 28 of us, we'd need multiple crockpots for this) is 
Omelet Camping Casserole
32-oz bag frozen hash brown potatoes, divided
1 lb. cooked ham, cubed, divided
1 medium diced onion, divided
1 1/2 cups shredded cheddar cheese, divided
16 large eggs 
1 1/2 cups 2%  or whole milk
1 tsp. salt
1 tsp. pepper

1. Layer 1/3 each of frozen potatoes, ham, onions and cheese in bottom of greased slow cooker. Repeat  two times.

2. In a good-sized bowl, beat together eggs, milk, salt and pepper. Pour over mixture in slow cooker.

3. Cover and cook on low 4-5 hours until set in the middle and lightly brown around the edges.
This is a great camping recipe, because you can put this together in your crockpot just before you leave. When you get to the campsite, plug it in and you have a tasty brunch, lunch or light dinner.

I also got Daphne Oz's Relish, a gorgeous book featuring healthy, tasty recipes. I enjoy watching her on TV's The Chew. Reader's Digest has Foods That Harm, Foods That Heal that I have heard so many good things about. Workman handed out copies of Caroline Wright's Twenty-Dollar, Twenty-Minute Meals which has a Spring Green Salad with Poached Chicken + Buttermilk Dressing that I want to try.

Two books featuring food that are not cookbooks are Dorothea Benton Franks' The Christmas Pearl, which Whoopi Goldberg has optioned as a film (the paperback has several new recipes included in it) and Deborah McKinlay's That Part Was True, a novel ala The Guernsey Literary and Potato Pie Society written as a series of letters between a British woman and an American author who both love cooking and food. It sounds like the perfect book for the Weekend Cooking crowd, and it publishes from Hachette in February 2014.

What new cookbooks are you looking forward to this fall? Let me know in comment below.