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Saturday, July 27, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Wild by Cheryl Strayed

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

I'm late to this party, being of the last people to read Cheryl Strayed's Wild, her memoir of her hiking trip up the Pacific Coast Trail. Strayed really had no business taking on this journey, having never really hiked anything like this, and she was woefully unprepared.

At the age of 22, she had lost her young (45 years old) mother to lung cancer. It devastated Strayed, and she began a downward spiral that included drug use and infidelity that caused her marriage to a man she loved to end.

She was completely lost and after seeing a book about the Pacific Coast Trail in a store, she decided she would hike it from the Mojave Desert in California through Oregon to Washington- by herself. It really was a crazy idea, but she felt that it was chance to get her life back on track.

How does this relate to Weekend Cooking you may ask. Well, food played a big part of Strayed's journey, or more accurately, a lack of food played a big role. She had to pack as light as she could as she had to carry everything in her backpack nicknamed Monster because it was so big. (She took a lot of heat from other hikers because of the size of her backpack.)

Her saving grace was the next stop she would make at a campsite that would have a store where she could buy real food- cheeseburgers and fries were a staple, and where she would pick up a resupply box that she had arranged for a friend mail to her.

This passage illustrates Strayed's food thoughts on the hike.
All morning, as I walked west to Bucks Lake, then north and west again along its shore before coming to the rugged jeep road that would take me back up to the PCT, I thought of the resupply box that waited for me in Belden Town. Not so much the box, but the twenty-dollar bill that would be inside. And not so much the twenty-dollar bill, but the food and beverages I could buy with it. I spent hours in a half-ecstatic, half-tortured reverie, fantasizing about cake and cheeseburgers, chocolate and bananas, apples and mixed-green salads, and, more than anything, Snapple lemonade. This did not make sense. I'd had only a few Snapple lemonades in my pre-PTC life and liked them well enough, but they hadn't stood out in any particular way. It had not been my drink. But now it haunted me. Pink or yellow, it didn't matter. Not a day passed that I didn't imagine in vivid detail what it would be like to hold one in my hand and bring it to my mouth. Some days I forbade myself to think about it, lest I go entirely insane.

The drink I would probably fantasize about would be Dr. Pepper 10 calorie- tell me yours in the comment section below.

Friday, July 26, 2013

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio
Published by Plume ISBN 978-0-452-29839-2
Trade paperback, $15, 304 pages
Reading Sarah Jio’s The Last Camellia makes me wish I knew more about gardening. If I did, I think I would better be able to appreciate the lovely descriptions of the gardens and flowers in them in this novel.

If you like to garden, enjoy a good mystery, and are a fan of TV’s Downton Abbey, The Last Camellia is the book for you.

Like many novels written today, this story features characters from different eras who are somehow tied together (like Tara Conklin's  The House Girl and Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls).

Just as WWII is about to begin, Flora, a young woman who works in her parents’ bakery in New York City and volunteers at the botanical garden, is approached by a man who tells her that she can make enough money to get her parents out of debt if she helps him find a rare camellia on an estate in England.

Flora reluctantly agrees to help and finds herself working as a nanny to four young children whose mother has died, and whose father seems too busy with work and grief to pay attention to his children.

She intends to find the flower quickly and get out, but comes to care for the children and a man she meets on the ship on the way over. The man who gave her the assignment becomes increasingly impatient and threatening, and Flora discovers that the children’s mother, Lady Livingston, died under mysterious circumstances.

Flora also finds that four young women were missing near the estate, and she comes across a book of Lady Livingston’s that contains some information about the missing girls.

Mrs. Dilloway, the head housekeeper, comes to like and trust Flora, and shares a secret with Flora. Could Lord Livingston be responsible for the missing girls?

Fifty years later, Addison is hiding a secret of her own. She hasn’t told her husband about an incident in her past, when she was living with her aunt who had taken in foster children.  A man from her past is threatening her and she wants to escape.

Addison and her husband go to England to stay at the estate that his parents bought, which happens to be Lord Livingston’s estate. The housekeeper there is an elderly Mrs. Dilloway, who has been with the family all these years.

Addison’s husband is writing a mystery novel and they become intrigued with the story of the rare camellia and of the missing girls from the past, one of whom is Flora. Addison finds Lady Livingston’s book and uses it to try to solve the mystery of the missing girls.

There were some things in this novel that echoed familiar for me- the relationship between the servants at the estate seemed very Downton-esque, and the scene where the children are afraid of thunder and Flora calms them reminded me of The Sound of Music (minus the singing).

As is sometimes the case in novels with different characters in different eras, one story seems more interesting than the other. Flora’s story intrigued me more, and I would have liked to known more about Lady Livingston’s years in Charleston, South Carolina. Perhaps there will be a prequel?

Rating 3.5 of 5

Sarah Jio's website is here.

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for putting my on this tour. Sarah Jio's other stops are here:

Monday, June 24th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Wednesday, June 26th:  Utah Mom’s Life
Friday, June 28th:  Book Addict Katie
Monday, July 1st:  A Bookworm’s World
Tuesday, July 2nd:  Ageless Pages Review
Wednesday, July 3rd:  A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, July 8th:  Write, Meg!
Thursday, July 11th:  Patricia’s Wisdom
Monday, July 15th:  Amused by Books
Wednesday, July 17th:  Guiltless Reading
Thursday, July 18th:  Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Monday, July 22nd:  Book Dilettante
Tuesday, July 23rd:  Jenn’s Bookshelves
Wednesday, July 24th:  2 Kids and Tired
Thursday, July 25th:  Peeking Between the Pages
Friday, July 26th:  Books a la Mode - guest post
Friday, July 26th:  BookChickDi

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Orphan Train by Christina Kline Baker

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-04-195072-8
Trade paperback, $14.99, 273 pages

Two years ago I read Laura Moriarty’s novel The Chaperone, about a woman who chaperoned a young Louise Brooks on a summer trip to New York City in the 1920s. As a young child, the woman was part of the orphan train, coming from New York City to Kansas to be adopted.

I had never heard of orphan trains and was shocked to discover that 200,000 children from 1854-1929 were taken on these trains to be adopted. Many children were adopted by loving families, but many others were used as indentured servants to work farms and care for other children.

Christina Baker Kline’s novel Orphan Train shares the story of two women- Vivian and Molly. Molly is a teenage foster child, living with a couple in a small harbor town in Maine. The situation is not ideal; the woman of the house mistrusts and dislikes Molly.

Molly steals an old copy of Jane Eyre from the library and as punishment has to do 50 hours of community service. She ends up helping 90-year-old Vivian clean out her attic.

Molly discovers that Vivian was on the orphan train and this is where the story is strongest. Vivian and her family came over from Ireland to New York City. Her father and brothers were killed in a fire, and her sister was also believed to have perished. Her mother became mentally ill and Vivian was put on the orphan train, hoping to be adopted by loving parents.

Vivian’s story is heartbreaking and so hard to imagine. She was eight-years-old and in charge of caring for a baby boy (whom she had never met) on the train. The story is so vividly written, and Kline’s thorough research adds so much to this sad tale.

Just thinking about those children, forced to stand on a stage and be inspected by people looking at their teeth, their bones, their skin, like they were some kind of farm animal, shocked me.

Vivian is taken in by a couple and when she arrives at their home, finds that they have several women working for them sewing clothes. Vivian is expected to join them as free labor. She sleeps on a pallet on the floor and is not sent to school as is required by the law.

When the Depression hits, the business disappears and Vivian is sent to another family. This situation is even worse; a severely impoverished family with too many little children and not enough food. Vivian is expected to care for the children, but her saving grace is that she goes to school.

There she meets the teacher Miss Larsen, who comes to Vivian’s aid when her situation at the new place becomes intolerable. Vivian ends up at the home of a shopkeeper and his wife, where she blossoms helping the shopkeepers in their business.

Molly’s story is less intriguing, perhaps because it is more familiar to us. She begins to bond with Vivian, as they have more in common than they could have imagined.  Molly gets Vivian to open up about her past and it changes both of their lives.

The characters in Orphan Train, particularly Vivian, Molly and Molly’s boyfriend Jack (who is reading Junot Diaz in a passage) are fascinating and multi-dimensional. Vivian’s story made me wish I had talked to my grandparents about what their lives were like, the things they dealt with and overcame.

This book, like Adriana Trigiani’s The Shoemaker’s Wife, will make you look at your grandparents as people who had lives so different from our own. This was a strong generation.

If you read The Chaperone, Orphan Train is a must-read for you. Anyone who like stories about strong women and historical fiction, will enjoy Orphan Train. The P.S. section at the end is also interesting, where Kline shares how she found this amazing story.

Rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Christina's other stops are:

Tuesday, June 25th: BoundbyWords
Thursday, June 27th: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, July 2nd: Turn the Page
Wednesday, July 3rd: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Monday, July 15th: Tina’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, July 16th: A Patchwork of Books
Tuesday, July 23rd: Time 2 Read
Thursday, July 25th: bookchickdi
Thursday, August 1st: Life in the Thumb
Friday, August 2nd: West Metro Mommy
Thursday, August 8th: Literary Feline
Tuesday, August 13th: A Bookish Way of Life
Monday, August 19th: nomadreader

My review of The Chaperone is here.
My blog post on Christina Baker Kline's talk at the Center For Fiction is here. 
My review of The Shoemaker's Wife is here.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

LInda Eder at Town Hall

Linda Eder

I had the opportunity to see Linda Eder perform at Town Hall this week. She is best known for her powerful performance on Broadway in Jekyll and Hyde, where she tore the roof off the house every night.

Her set was filled with eclectic songs- Broadway, jazz, pop, country- she can sing it all. Her voice is so clear and pitch perfect, it stunned me.

She opened with the song that won her 12 straight weeks on Star Search, what she called "the kindler, gentler American Idol", Looking Through the Eyes of Love.

Eder spoke of her upbringing in Missouri, where her dad was a chef and owned a restaurant with an attached dance hall. She was a dishwasher, but every night she sang one song with the band- Jesse Colter's I'm Not Lisa. We were treated to a reprise of that song, which I haven't heard in years.

Of course, we got her two big songs from Jekyll and Hyde- Someone Like You and A New Life. It was wonderful for those of us who never got to hear her sing it on Broadway. She also gave us two more iconic Broadway songs- Don't Cry For Me Argentina from Evita and I Dreamed a Dream from Les Miserables. If she had just sung those two songs, it would have been worth the price of admission. Throw in her rendition of Climb Every Mountain from The Sound of Music, and it was heavenly.

The Young Voices of New York Choir joined Eder onstage and they added a new dimension to her performance, especially on the pop classics Adele's Rolling in The Deep and Dusty Springfield's Son of a Preacher Man. Both songs were highlights for me.

Eder performed in Atlantic City for a few months- four shows a night in six hours. Oh my goodness, that is crazy! The most popular song for that crowd was Abba's Fernando, which seemed like a bit of joke, until she started singing it and the entire audience went crazy. She made it so much fun.

The one song that is her favorite is one co-written by her ex-husband Frank Wildhorn, Vienna, which is on the CD I have of hers from 1999, It's No Secret Anymore. You can see all of Eder's CDs here on her website.

Eder has been compared to Barbra Streisand, and that is an apt comparison. Her musicality is impressive and if you have a chance to see her in concert, jump at it.

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

He's Gone by Deb Caletti

He's Gone by Deb Caletti
Published by Bantam Books ISBN 978-0-345-53435-4
Trade paperback, $15, 323 pages
When Dani Keller wakes up after a party at her husband’s work the night before, she finds him gone. She knows she had one too many glasses of wine, and she can’t remember everything that happened. Did they have a fight?

She figures he’s off sulking or went to get coffee, but when he doesn’t return, she begins to realize He’s Gone, the name of Deb Caletti’s incredibly tense, punch-to-the-gut examination of a marriage.

Dani was married to an abusive husband with an adorable daughter Abby when she met Ian. His daughter played on Abby’s baseball team, and Dani and Ian were immediately attracted to each other.

They weren’t the kind of people who had affairs, but this was different. Ian’s wife Mary liked to drink, socialize and spend money. Ian was more introspective.

Dani and Ian have an affair, and though they are conflicted about it, eventually they end up together. Mary and her daughters are furious, and cut Ian out of their lives. Ian is tortured by the breakup of his family.

As the hours tick by, Dani calls everyone Ian knows, but he is nowhere to be found. His car is parked by their houseboat, no one has used his cell phone or credit cards. Finally Dani calls the police, they start an investigation, but there is no sign of Ian.

Ian’s daughters blame Dani, and soon the police focus in on her. Not only does she have to deal with not knowing where her husband is, but she could be a suspect in his disappearance.

As the story unwinds, we see that things are not as perfect as Dani first tells everyone. She and Ian call each other their soulmates, but what does that really mean?

More than a mystery, this is an examination of a relationship. Dani must dig deep to answer some hard questions not only about her marriage, but also about herself.

The writing is superb. Upon discovering Ian gone, Dani thinks
 “I didn’t think about discovering someone else’s breakfast dishes or the change from their pocket left out on the dresser, their presence sitting right next to their absence.”

Her descriptions of people are vivid too. Of Ian, Dani thinks
 “Ian likes things to go right. He liked the towels folded a certain way; he likes the car vacuumed a certain way; he likes an email to be written in a certain way. He doesn’t like errors of balance or manners or grammar. He never makes mistakes, I swear. Never a misstep. It can get exhausting, trying to measure up. You start to feel as if you’re on a perpetual job interview.”

Since Ian isn’t available to tell us his side, we have to rely on other to tell us about him.

Caletti’s observations about relationships rang so true. 
“When you love a person, you come to know so many things about them. You know what they’ll order in a restaurant, and you know that they’ll cut the scratchy tags off their shirt collars and that they get cranky when they need to eat or when the bed sheets become baggy. You know by the lilt and rhythms of their voice if they’re talking on the phone to their mother, or their daughter, or their lawyer. But, maybe most of all, you know their relationship to criticism.”

Dani goes through all of the things that could have happened to Ian- he ran away, he’s injured, he’s dead, he went back to his first wife. But in order to do that, she has to face some hard truths about who Ian really is and who she is, and what they were together.

The resolution to the mystery is my original theory, though Caletti does a good job throwing people off the scent until the last moment. He’s Gone evokes so many emotions as you read it, you’ll find yourself thinking about it for a long time to come.

Some people may compare it to Gone Girl, as they are both mysteries about what happens to a missing spouse, but He's Gone is so much richer and deeper in its themes and execution.

Rating 4 of 5

You can read an excerpt here.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Broadway Visits Barnes & Noble

Barnes & Noble on East 86th St. hosted two Broadway-themed events in the past two weeks that were fun and informative.

The cast of Pippin were there on July 9th to sign copies of their cast recording. They opened with a video of the first song on the CD, Magic To Do. It was a unique way to begin and got everyone in the mood.

Then Rachel Bay Jones (Catherine) took the stage and sang Kind of Woman. I swear, she reminds  me so much of Jane Krakowski, with her killer voice, blonde hair and big smile. She’s got a great future ahead of her.

Matthew James Thomas (Pippin) joined Jones for a duet of Love Song, which was so sweet; their voices melded together beautifully.

Patina Miller 
The last performance was from Tony winner for Pippin, the amazing Patina Miller (Leading Player), singing Simple Joys. I’ve seen her in Sister Act and at Lincoln Center for a one-night concert performance of Ragtime, and she is one of the most talented people on Broadway today. 
Terrence Mann

The cast, including Tony winner Andrea Martin (Berthe), whom I have loved since her days as Edith Prickly on SCTV, and who has the most incredible scene singing a song while on a trapeze- upside down, Terrence Mann (King Charles), Charlotte d’ Ambroise (Fastrada) and composer/creator Stephen Schwartz all signed CDs following the performance.
Pippin cast

If you haven’t seen Pippin yet, make sure to put it on your to-do list. It is spectacular!

The second CD performance and signing was Carolee Carmello singing songs from Scandalous, which closed on Broadway after a brief run last winter.  Book and lyric writer Kathie Lee Gifford and music writer David Friedman were also there, and they talked about the inspiration for the show, and how it came to be.

Normally you just get a few songs and a signing, but this was so much more interesting. Gifford has been trying for thirteen years to bring the remarkable story of Amy Semple McPherson, a superstar evangelist from the 1920s, who was as famous as Madonna in her day.

We heard about the various iterations of the show in DC and Seattle, and the tough decisions they had to make on what to cut (Gifford said that there were 15 more songs that didn’t make it in the show, including a gospel song that was her favorite).

It was an eye-opening look at how difficult it is to get a show to Broadway, and the heartbreak at seeing it close. I saw the show and liked it, though I could see how difficult it was to tell such a rich story in such a short time.

The Tony-nominated Carmello brought down the house (and brought Gifford to tears) as she belted out three songs from the show, Stand Up, Why Can’t I? and How Could You? (Gifford likes songs that ask a question. See also- Lost or Found? and What Does It Profit?)

Carolee Carmello, Kathie Lee Gifford, David Friedman

I literally had goosebumps listening to her sing and recorded two of the songs, which you can see below. Carmello is such a talent, I hope to see her back on Broadway soon.

The Smart One by Jennifer Close

The Smart One  by Jennifer Close
Published by Vintage ISBN 978-0-307-74370-1
Trade paperback $15, 432 pages

While vacationing at the beach, I read the perfect beach book- Jennifer Close’s The Smart One. I read her previous novel, Girls in White Dresses, and liked it, but found it hard to relate the 20-something single girls, as I have passed that mark awhile ago.

But The Smart One refers to Weezy Coffey, the fifty-something wife and mother of three adult children, so I was all about this book. Weezy is knee-deep in preparations for her daughter Claire’s wedding. Then the wedding gets called off and Claire goes into a tailspin, quitting her job too.

So she must move back home to Pennsylvania, where oldest daughter Martha also lives. Martha was a nurse for a short time, but that didn’t work out, so she has been working as a manager at J. Crew. Martha has social issues; she really has no friends and never had a boyfriend. Coping with the world is not her best skill.

Son Max is eighteen and away at college. Then he gets his girlfriend Cleo pregnant and they move into the basement.

So now Weezy and her husband Will, who had been looking forward to an empty nest, find themselves with all three adult children back home. How did this happen?

Weezy so enjoyed all of the wedding planning that she just never told the florist or the caterer that the wedding was off. She continued to meet with them, tasting menus and looking at gorgeous floral arrangements. What was the harm in that?

I identified with Weezy, and winced when I saw characteristics in her that I do not like in myself. “Weezy had a high horse. And she could get on it whenever she wanted. Maureen used to always tease her when she’d go off on other people’s behavior. “Uh-oh”, she’d say. “Giddyup! Here comes the horse.” Ugh.

Weezy not only had to deal with her children, but her elderly mother Bets and sister Maureen. The descriptions of family Thanksgiving celebrations and all of the maneuvering and trying to keep peace and not blow a gasket, well if you can’t relate to that, you’ve never had a family Thanksgiving.

The story is told from alternating view points- Weezy, Martha, Claire and Cleo. Their voices are all distinct and strong , something I found a bit lacking in Girls in White Dresses.

The details in this novel are so perfect. I loved the list of THINGS WE NEED that is taped to the refrigerator. When things got purchased, they were crossed off, and a new list was started.

Max played hockey, and the descriptions and feelings that Weezy had about being a hockey mom brought me back to my days as a baseball mom. I don’t know how someone as young as Close was able to tap into that, but she sure did.

She also nails the new parent feelings that Max and Cleo have when their baby is born. Those feeling you have of love mixed with sleeplessness mixed with exhaustion mixed with joy; it’s all right there.

And I loved the idea of naming tables at your wedding after favorite books! Oh I wish I had thought of that 26 years ago.

One of the characters, Jaz, a wise woman, tells Martha “It’s funny, you know. Not what I had planned for my life, but that’s how it works sometimes.” That pretty much sums up the theme of The Smart One. Life isn’t always what you dreamed; you play the cards you are dealt.

The Smart One bridges the gap between young women starting out and older women, watching their children make mistakes and not knowing what to do. I think that women of all ages should read this, it will help them empathize and understand each other.

Rating 5 of 5

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Old-School Comfort Food by Alex Guarnaschelli

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.

Old-School Comfort Food-The Way I Learned to Cook by Alex Guarnaschelli
Published by Clarkson Potter ISBN 978-0-307-95655-2
Hardcover, $30, 304 pages
I didn't know much about chef Alex Guarnaschelli until I had the pleasure of hearing her speak at Random House's Open House in May. I knew that she was on the Food Network shows Iron Chef and Chopped, but that was about it.

She was very funny and blunt in her talk, and I enjoyed her stories about growing up on 55th Street and 7th Ave. in Manhattan. Her mother edited cookbooks and her father was an adventurous cook himself, so Alex learned much about food from both of them. (My post on her talk is here.)

Her cookbook Old-School Comfort Food- The Way I Learned to Cook is a terrific blend of stories and recipes that she created. She is a wonderful writer, and her voice comes through clearly in her stories. The beginning of the book, with her fascinating food history from helping her mother with recipes in her childhood to her culinary education working in the kitchens of famous chefs like Guy Savoy in France and Daniel Boulud in New York, could be expanded to a full length autobiography it is so interesting. (I loved the Prince story!)

Sometimes cookbooks by chefs contain recipes that as I peruse them I think "that is too complicated for me", and frankly after reading Guarnaschelli's history I thought that might be the case here. She has incredible skills that I do not possess.

But looking through the book I had over a dozen post-it notes for recipes I want to try, including:

  • Broccoli and Onion Dip
  • White Mushrooms on Toast
  • Arugula and Strawberry Salad
  • Beef Meatballs and Sauce with Rigatoni
  • Braided Short Rib French Onion Soup
The recipe for Beef Meatballs and Sauce with Rigatoni is available on her website here.

At the end of the book Guarnaschelli has a section titled "Sources" that lists some of her "old-school favorite places to explore new ingredients or taste a bit of nostalgia." Since she lives in New York, many of the places are there, and that means I will be adding them to my list of places to explore. It's great that she tells you which vendors to visit at Union Square's Greenmarket.

I wasn't sure that this would be a cookbook that I would like or use, but I'm so glad that I got a signed copy at the Open House. It's always fun to find something you didn't expect.

rating 4 of 5 

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Indie Thursday- Browseabout Books

Today is #IndieThursday, where we talk about the great indie bookstores we love. A few weeks ago, my husband's entire family went to Rehoboth Beach in Delaware, where one of my favorite indie bookstores is- Browseabout Books.

Not only did I get to visit Browseabout, but they had two terrific signings- Dorothea Benton Frank and Hoda Kotb. Dottie gave a wonderful talk and Browseabout had wine, cheese and fruit for the happy participants. She was gracious and asked us all where we were from, and talked about how she got started in her writing, her process and the true story  she heard that she couldn't wait to put in a book. (It's in her new novel The Last Original Wife and it's a doozy. My review of the book is here.)

Dottie has very loyal fans, and many of the women there had read most of Dottie's books and talked about their favorites. Some of the women had driven more than a few hours to get there; now that is dedication.
Dottie Frank and me

A few days later, Hoda Kotb, who co-hosts the 4th hour of the Today Show with Kathie Lee Gifford, had a signing. There was a long line for one of their favorite part-time residents that started two hours before signing time. People had signs, boas and it was a party attitude. I met a lovely woman, a preschool teacher named Amy, who was so friendly and full of great tips for a vacationer like me.

My sisters-in-law came along and were pretty excited to meet Koda. She has such a bubbly personality and a great smile. She is really quite lovely, both inside and out.
Such a cute sign in front of the store for Hoda
The sisters and Hoda

I bought these signed books from Browseabout

If you ever get to Rehoboth, you must stop into Browseabout Books. Everyone is so friendly and it is such a lovely place to shop. It is the perfect beach town bookshop.

Browseabout Books' website is here.
You can find them on Facebook here.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

LaRue: Visit another time with historical fiction : Columnists

This month's Citizen Book report column is full of historical fiction choices from Cindy Thomson, Chris Bohjalian, Kate Kerrigan, Therese Ann Fowler and Colum McCann.

LaRue: Visit another time with historical fiction : Columnists

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Weekend Cooking- My Food Week in Delaware- Part II

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.

In last week's Weekend Cooking post, I wrote about some of the great food and restaurants from our family vacation in Dewey Beach, Delaware. One of the most fun foodie things we do is having each family take one night and being responsible for dinner.

It all starts early on, where emails go back and forth, deciding who is bringing what supplies (coffee, condiments, paper products). Then we segue into what each family is cooking for dinner. We don't want duplicates, so everyone responds with their menu. (And one person, who shall remain nameless, critiques everyone's menu ideas.)

This year we added appetizers and adult drinks. We had some real winners, including Brigette's 7-Layer Greek Dip along with a Raspberry Peach Prosecco Punch on our first night. They were both so good they made return appearance later in the week.

Another terrific appetizer was Sausage, Bean and Spinach Dip that everyone devoured. I made two dips- Pepperoni Pizza Dip (an old stand-by) and So-Cal Steak Fajita Dip ( a new one). Twenty-nine people had no problems eating them all up. I did two beverages- Raspberry Mango Sangria that was a big hit, and Root Beer Shots, that was not so much a fan favorite. I tweaked the second batch to change the ratio of root beer to vanilla vodka from 1:1 to 2:1 and it was a little better.
Root Beer Shots-needed work

Mom made a Drunken Watermelon that was refreshing and even did a non-alcoholic version for the kids. Dad made his world famous milkshakes, using his new milkshake machine he got for Father's Day. He had a longer line than Cafe Papillon's crepe line.
Dad working the milkshake machine

Sister-in-law Sue did a Mexican night and made a new recipe- Black Bean Enchilada Casserole from America's test Kitchen that may have been everyone's number one dish. It was so tasty! She also made a Taco Bar, Mexican Bean Salad and for dessert, her family made "Fried" Ice Cream Balls that were totally amazing and easy to do.

Brigette made a new recipe for her main entree- Sicilian Meatloaf. I am not a meatloaf fan, but this was so tasty with a delicious sauce on top. The best part was that she made enough for sandwiches the next day, which was even better than day one, if that is possible. She did two yummy desserts- Brownie Trifle and a Lemon Berry Cake. It was hard to choose which to have, so most of us had both.
Lemon Berry Cake

Sister-in-law Kay made a wonderful homemade salsa to accompany her bbq chicken dinner that was fantastic. We all love her Grilled Vegetables, and were very happy to see them on the menu. Even people who don't like vegetables gobble these up.

The Young Chefs
The grandkids got in on the action too. The older ones took a night and treated us to JD & Ryan's Famous Grilled Steaks, along with Crack Potatoes made by Sarah and Adam. Mackenzie whipped up his Grilled Asparagus with Parmesan Cheese and Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches made the perfect ending. It was great to see the tradition passed down.

Homemade Ice Cream Sandwiches

I made a Pinterest board with some of these recipes and if you want to see them click here.

Friday, July 12, 2013

What Species of Reader Are You?

Oh dear, I'm a hoarder....

Please include attribution to Laura E. Kelly with this graphic. (Click to view at original large size.)
What Species of Reader Are You?--Infographic
Visit Laura-e-Kelly.com for more about books, reading, and authors.

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich

Big Girl Panties by Stephanie Evanovich
Published by William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-06-225369-9
Hardcover, $26.99, 336 pages

Logan Montgomery is a hot-shot personal trainer to many popular athletes, including his best friend and major league baseball star Chase Walker. When overweight Holly Brennan sits next to him on a flight back home, he is annoyed.

Holly is thirty-two year old widow who, after nursing her husband through a painful, deadly illness, turned to food for comfort. She and Logan begin a conversation, and after he learns of her history, he offers to help Holly get back into shape.

Logan loves nothing more than shaping the human body, helping people become a better physical specimens, and he feels that Holly could be a good project for him. Holly has had enough of sitting around and is ready to get on with her life- and besides, Logan is very easy on the eyes.

Chase's wife Amanda feels that Holly could be the woman who could capture Logan's heart and begins to include Holly in their little group. Logan is a playa with women, but he enjoys spending time with Holly and they have an easygoing rapport with each other.

This is a romantic comedy, so of course the question is will Logan and Holly become a couple? (If Amanda has anything to say about it, the answer is a resounding yes!) They have many obstacles to overcome, and watching them maneuver the course is a great deal of fun.

Big Girl Panties is a sexy, steamy, sassy debut novel from Stephanie Evanovich. I'm a big baseball fan, so I loved that Chase is an MLB player and I adored his relationship with his spunky wife Amanda. They have a little sexy secret that becomes public knowledge when a videotape of them is leaked to the press (think a little 50 Shades of Grey), but their marriage is rock solid.

Chase and Amanda were my favorite characters, and I had the opportunity to speak with the author (who is so delightful and friendly) and she told me that we would be seeing more of Chase and Amanda in the future. That made my day!

This novel is one that should be read near a pool or a shower, so you can jump on in and cool off after the hot sex scenes, but it also has a lot of heart. In a touching scene, Logan helps Holly clean out her husband's stuff. That brought tears to my eyes.

Holly and Logan are terrific characters, and I liked that they both have some flaws. What starts out to be Holly's journey ends up being a journey for Logan too. The life he thinks is so good is really missing something essential.

I read this in two sittings, and it's a fantastic and funny beach read. It will bring a smile to your face and make your heart race a little faster. And it make bring some business to personal trainers.

rating 4 of 5

Follow Stephanie Evanovich on Facebook here

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian

The Light in the Ruins by Chris Bohjalian
Published by Doubleday ISBN 978-0-385-53481-9
Hardcover, $25.95, 320 pages
I've read some WWII books set in Germany (City of Women, The Life of Objects), France (Suite Francaise)  and England (The Guernsey Potato Peel & Literary Society and Phillip Rock's Abingdon Pryory trilogy), but I hadn't read many set in Italy.

Chris Bohjalian returns to historical fiction again after his last novel, The Sandcastle Girls, was set after WWI in Armenia during the genocide there. This time in The Light in the Ruins, we meet the Rosatis, Italian descendants of nobilty. They have a lovely large mansion near Florence and life is good until Italy decides to throw its fortunes in with Hitler's Germany.

What I find interesting about many of these books is the theme of what happens to people who want nothing to do with war, who do not support their government. They cannot openly defy their government, and they can hide from the war for only so long before it comes to their doorstep.

The story takes place both during WWII and ten years later when someone begins to murder the surviving members of the Rosati family. Daughter-in-law Francesca, who lost her husband and children to the war, is brutally butchered. It is thought that she picked up a strange man who killed her, until another Rosati is murdered.

We meet a female Italian homicide detective, Serafina Bettini, which is a unique job for a woman in Italy in the 1950s. Serafina has a fascinating past, and as the story unfolds, we discover her connection to the Rosatis. I loved this character and would enjoy seeing Serafina in another book (hint hint Mr. Bohjalian). Bohjalian has a knack for writing interesting, complicated female characters (Midwives, The Double Bind,  The Sandcastle Girls).

The book moves back and forth in time, and we see how the Rosatis are drawn further into the war. One son, Francesca's husband, is an engineer who ends up on the front lines. Another son is an art historian, and his job is protecting art from falling into the hands of the Nazis. This part of the story intrigued me, and I learned much about a topic I had not known about before.

The youngest Rosati, Cristina, falls in love with a young German soldier, and this complicates matters. Her family is upset, and the townspeople, some of whom are resistance fighters, distrust the Rosatis. They feel that the Rosatis have thrown their lot in with the Nazis and deserve whatever misfortune comes their way.

War is hell, and their is plenty of horrific atrocities that take place in the book. Even though as a reader you brace yourself for it, the things that happen are shocking and brutal. The Rosatis have to deal with the Germans, and then the Russians as they come through looking for the Germans. The horrors of war come right into their home and the result is devastating.

There is so much in this book to recommend. The history, the characters, the setting (it has increased my desire to visit Italy), the mysteries (who is killing the Rosatis and why, and what happened to Serafina during the war), they all come together in the skilled hands of Chris Bohjalian.

I lost myself in The Light in the Ruins and isn't that really why we read books? This is one of the best books I have read this year.

rating 5 of 5

Chris Bohjalian's website is here.
Read an excerpt here.