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Tuesday, November 26, 2013

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani

The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 9780062136589
Hardcover, $25.99, 352 pages
Although you may not know it from the title, The Supreme Macaroni Company by Adriana Trigiani is the third book in the saga of Valentine Roncalli, following Brava, Valentine and Very Valentine. We pick up our story on Christmas Eve as Valentine and her fiance Gianluca are headed to Christmas Eve with the raucous Roncalli family.

My favorite scene in all three books has been the family holiday dinner scene; it doesn't matter if it is Thanksgiving or Christmas Eve, these scenes are pure joy. Trigiani makes the reader feel like she is a guest, and you'll want to pull up a chair for this party.

There is Aunt Feen, who says everything that is on her mind, and that is not a good thing. When Valentine's father Dutch gets nervous, he confuses words to everyone's embarrassment. Her brother Charlie just lost his job and is getting roaring drunk. And just as Valentine has second thoughts about subjecting Gianluca to this,
"On cue, as dramatized in the biblical epics, the Israelites came pouring from out of the living room as they did during the parting of the Red Sea. In this sweet, small house, they appeared like a cast of thousands, except that unlike the people of peace, my family was arguing. They shouted. They shoved. They threw their hands in the air. "
Valentine is trying to have it all, but as most of us know, that is impossible to do all at the same time. Angelini Shoe Company, her shoe design and manufacturing business, is going great guns, until her cousin who owns the manufacturing plant in Argentina that makes her shoes decides to close her plant.

And so Valentine has to find another manufacturer, not an easy task for her labor intensive shoe creations. Thus the title of the book comes into play. The Supreme Macaroni Company is an old closed plant in the midwest that could possibly be the answer for Angelini Shoes, and I particularly enjoyed this part of the novel.

Trigiani gives the reader a look at the challenges facing small business owners, the backbone of our American economy, and I liked that her family is so involved in saving the business begun by her grandfather.

And Valentine has to balance work with family life. Gianluca left his family back in Italy to move to New York with his fiancee. He sacrificed much to make his wife happy, and is seems as if Valentine is not appreciative of this.

The author laces this novel with her trademark humor, though the reader senses something tragic lay ahead. Soon Valentine has to dig deep within herself, and allow herself to rely on those surrounding her, to make it through.

Reading Trigiani's novels is like catching up with a good friend, and I always look forward to a new novel from her. Her characters are interesting and have a sense of reality about them; they could be your friends or family. (Who wouldn't want a best friend like Gabriel?)

These novels are a treat for all of your senses. You can see the beautiful shoes she designs in your mind's eye, and smell the delicious food being prepared for Christmas Eve. They are screaming out to be put up on the big (or little) screen.

I also must mention the cover of this book. Trigiani's last novel, The Shoemaker's Wife, featured a gorgeous book cover and The Supreme Macaroni Company follows in that vein with a beautifully rich cover. What is on the outside more than matches the inside of this lovely novel that will touch your heart. This is a book to give your sister, sister-in-law or girlfriend this holiday season.

rating 5 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for including me on this tour. The rest of Adriana Trigiani's tour can be found here.

Adriana’s Tour Stops

Monday, November 11th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books
Tuesday, November 12th: Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Wednesday, November 13th: Becca’s Byline
Thursday, November 14th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, November 18th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, November 19th: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, November 21st: Always With a Book
Monday, November 25th: Broken Teepee
Tuesday, November 26th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, November 27th: Bibliophilia, Please
Friday, November 29th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Monday, December 2nd: Book Addict Katie
Tuesday, December 3rd: Alison’s Book Marks
Wednesday, December 4th: Ageless Pages Reviews
Thursday, December 5th: Seaside Book Corner
Friday, December 6th: Lavish Bookshelf
Monday, December 9th: Joyfully Retired
Tuesday, December 10th: A Book Geek
Wednesday, December 11th: Love at First Book
Thursday, December 12th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, December 13th: Books and Movies
Monday, December 16th: Read Lately
Tuesday, December 17th: Lisa’s Yarns
Wednesday, December 18th: Col Reads
Thursday, December 19th: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Friday, December 20th: Drey’s Library
Monday, December 30th: red headed book child
Wednesday, January 1st: The Lost Entwife
Wednesday, January 1st: Tiffany’s Bookshelf
Tuesday, January 2nd: Book-alicious Mama
Monday, January 6th: Reflections of a Bookaholic
Tuesday, January 7th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, January 8th: Time 2 Read
Wednesday, January 8th: Stephany Writes
Thursday, January 9th: Walking With Nora

Adriana Trigiani's website is here.
She is on Facebook here and Twitter here.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Emeril's Cooking With Power by Emeril Lagasse

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.

Emeril's Cooking With Power by Emeril Lagasse
Published by William Morrow Cookbooks ISBN 9780062300171
Hardcover, $25.99, 272 pages

While on the treadmill a few weeks ago, I found Emeril Lagasse on Good Morning America making lasagna in a slow cooker. "Hmm," I thought, "Maybe I should try this in my new crock pot." My only worry was that the noodles would be mushy, but I remembered that my husband saw a recipe for Crock Pot Lasagna on my Facebook feed and mentioned that he would like me to try it, so I did.

Everyone raved about it, and although I personally thought the noodles were a little mushy, I was clearly in the minority on this one. (I'm making it again tomorrow by request.) Then I remembered that I had an ARC of Emeril's Cooking With Power on my Kindle, so I flipped through it to see what else was there.

The subtitle of the book is 100 Delicious Recipes Starring Your Slow Cooker, Multi-Cooker, Pressure Cooker and Deep Fryer. Now as many of you know, I live in an NYC apartment and my kitchen is not big, so I don't have the space for all those electrics. But for those of you who do, this is a book you may want to pick up.

At the beginning of each section Emeril lists the gadget he cooked in, all of them available from his line of cookers, but if you don't own his brand, he helpfully lists the requirements you will need- size, timers, warmers, etc.- in your own electric appliance.

This book is for the more sophisticated cook; it's not a throw-it-in-the-crockpot-and-forget-it type of cooking. Many of meat recipes call for browning in a skillet, and some vegetables have to be sauteed before going in. There are multiple steps before placing in the cooker.

I liked that there are so many varieties of ethnic dishes here, perhaps because Emeril is from the melting pot of New Orleans. In the slow cooker section, he has recipes for Risotto Milanese, Cuban-Style Slow-Cooked Black Beans, Colombian Chicken, Corn and Potato Stew, and Duck Confit.

The Multi-Cooker recipes includes Seafood Soup with Coconut Milk and Tamarind, Baby Bock Choy with Black Bean-Garlic Sauce and S'mores Pudding.

He makes Lamb Stew with Israeli Couscous, Sweet Potatoes and Preserved Lemon, Quick Osso Buco, and Korean-Style Beef Stew in the Pressure Cooker section.

Classic Crab Rangoons, Crabmeat Beignets, Southeast Asian Egg Rolls and Natchitoches Meat Pies can be found in the Deep Fryer section.

If you are an adventurous cook who owns these electrics and likes ethnic foods, I would recommend Emeril's Cooking With Power; I think it could expand a cook's palette.

If you want to see Emeril's segment on Good Morning America, the link is here.
His recipe for Slow Cooker Lasagna is here.

rating 4 of 5

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Big Fish- On The Page and On The Stage

Big Fish by Daniel Wallace
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616201647
Paperback, $13.95, 196 pages

I recently saw the Broadway production of Big Fish, based on the 1998 novel by Daniel Wallace. Algonquin Books has re-released  the novel to coincide with the musical, and although I had seen the movie, I hadn't read the novel, subtitled "A Novel of Mythic Proportions."

First the book. William is a young adult who has never gotten to really know his father, Edward Bloom. Edward hid his true self behind mythic stories he told about his larger-than-life adventures, stories that frustrated William the older he got.

The elder Bloom recounted his encounter with a giant, how he met the girl in the river who came into his life at various points, and how he came to own an entire town, all of which made it into the Broadway show.

Bloom always wanted to be "the big fish in the little pond- that's what I wanted. That's what I wanted from day one." William didn't understand this; he only wanted his father to be home, but Edward was restless, and his job took him away for long stretches of time, something for which William resented him.

When Edward got sick and was close to death, all William wanted was an honest conversation with his dad, to find out who he was underneath all the jokes and fables he told his son. William was stunned to find that their yard started filling up with dozens of people who came to wait vigil for Edward.

It turns out that many of the stories his father told had some truth to them. At the end, Edward asks William to sneak him out of the hospital to a special place. William does this one last thing for his father, and in the end, Edward gets to show William that he is a big fish after all.

The story is mythological, and the magical elements bring whimsy to this novel about the difficult relationship that exists between fathers and sons. The Broadway show stars Norbert Leo Butz as Edward Bloom, and there isn't anyone who could play this part better. Kate Baldwin is radiant as Edward's wife and William's mother, and it is clear why Edward fell head over heels for this woman.

Susan Stroman directs and choreographs, so the dancing really matches the magic of the story, and Butz is a wonderful dancer as he has proved in many other shows. The girl in the river has been turned into a mermaid in the show, maybe to give it a more magical element. The dancing elephants from the circus scene (which is not in the book) are cleverly done and inspire awe.

A few of the scenes don't work as well, such as the war scene, which is also not in the book. The songs are not as memorable as the performances by Butz and Baldwin, but overall it is a good show. Unfortunately, the show is closing on December 29th, but if you can get a discounted ticket, I would recommend going just to see Butz's performance.

rating for Big Fish the novel- 4 of 5
Daniel Wallace's website is here.
Big Fish on Broadway's website is here. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Short & Sweet Review #4- The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer

Book: The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer
Publisher: Riverhead ISBN 9781594488399
Hardcover, $27.95, 480 pages (Ebook available)

Genre: Literary Fiction

The Story: Jules Jacobson is a fifteen-year-old who just lost her father. Her mother sends Jules to a performing arts camp, hoping to get her away from the sadness. There Jules meets and falls in with a group of wealthy, artistic teens- siblings handsome Goodman and beautiful Ash, sad, introverted guitar player Josh, dancer Cathy and witty, geeky Ethan. They become a tight knit group and their lives become entwined until an incident occurs that threatens to tear them all apart and forces them to take sides. Ethan and Ash end up together and Ethan becomes wealthy and famous, while Jules struggles financially and artistically.

The Short & Sweet Review: As someone who came of age at the same time as Jules in the 1970s, I felt very connected to these characters. Wolitzer perfectly captures how it feels to be the outsider in a group, as well as the longing for success and what happens when the reality of your life doesn't meet the fantasy you have created. Wolitzer confronts what happens to young people when people expect too much- or not enough- from them. We all have roles that we end up playing, but what happens when they don't match up to who we really are inside?
The books covers much of the characters' adult lives, so we see them fall in love, start families, have career successes and failures. There is so much here, and Wolitzer's characters feel like people we could know in our own lives. The writing is so gorgeous, and the setting of New York City is the perfect place for this group of golden ones to explore life as young adults. My favorite character is Dennis, the only one who seems to be truly authentic and honest about himself.

The Interestings has been placed on many Best of 2013 lists, including Amazon's best literature and fiction, and is sure to be on many more before the end of the year.

5 of 5 stars 
Meg Wolitzer's website is here. 

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Francois Payard at the 92nd St. Y

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.

Francois Payard made an appearance at the 92nd St. Y this week at their Daytime Talks series, sponsored by Kitchen Arts and Letters bookstore, which caters to professional chefs and casual cooks, with over 13,000 titles in stock. I have yet to visit there, but I am putting it on my list of Must-Sees.

I love hearing from smart people who are passionate about what they do, and Payard certainly fits that bill. He was there to talk about his new book, Payard Desserts, which contains recreated recipes from his days as a pastry chef at such esteemed restaurants as Le Bernadin and Daniel, as well as from his own Payard Patisseries.

He had planned on making squid ink macarons for us, but there was no oven or stove, so we had to settle for macarons he brought in. (Poor us!) After his talk, we got to taste chocolate, passionfruit, vanilla bean, raspberry lycee, and my favorite pistchio. I'm not a macaron fan, but these were delicious- not too sweet or crunchy, but pillowy. We actually stopped at Francois Payard's Patisserie on 74th and 3rd Ave. on the way home to stock up.
Macarons from Francois Payard's

Payard spoke about the importance of using fresh, seasonal ingredients (he like to visit the Union Square Greenmarket to get his in NYC), as well as his work with a new type of sugar that has 25% of the calories of regular sugar without giving up much of the taste. He hopes to be able to use that soon.

The book is not a coffee table book, but I think it is one for people who have more than moderate skills in baking. Baking is a science, according to Payard, in addition to being artistic. It takes years of study as well as practice to master the skills.

With Thanksgiving coming up, he told us that it is not necessary to make everything the day of, he encouraged us to make use of our freezer. Make pastry crusts and breads ahead of time and freeze them, make the stuffing the day before, spread out the work so you are not going crazy on Thanksgiving day.

Macaron shells are not easy to make, but he did say if you have macarons, it is important to put them in the refrigerator for 24 hours, then take them out three hours before you want to eat them. He told us there will be a big announcement next week on his website concerning macarons, so I'll include the link if you are interested.

Francois Payard at 92nd St. Y
Payard says that he "drives his employees crazy", but he drives himself crazy as well. People like him are perfectionists, and that might make him difficult to work with, but it is also why he is at the top of his profession.

Francois Payard's website is here.
Kitchen Arts and Letters website is here.
More information about Payard Desserts is here.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Ann Patchett at Barnes & Noble

I remember falling in love with Ann Patchett's writing when I read the elegant Bel Canto, about a group of people held hostage by terrorists in a South American country at the home of the country's vice-president in honor of Powerful Japanese businessman. One of the hostages was opera singer Roxanne Cross, a truly unforgettable character in literature. I was mesmerized living in this world as I read.

Patchett recently appeared at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side to discuss her latest book of essays, This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage.  There was a full house of Patchett enthusiasts, many of us who dragged our extensive collections of her books for a signature. One woman brought her little dog, which drew an delightful "So glad you brought a dog!' from Patchett, who explained that they have four store dogs that hang out at Parnassus, the bookstore she co-owns in Nashville.
Ann Patchett at Barnes & Noble
This book of essays came about when Niki, a young friend of Patchett's who came to live with her and her husband, was organizing the bins of tear sheets filled with articles that Patchett had written over the years for many publications, including Vogue, Harper's and Bridal Guide. Niki told her that there was a book in there, and she set out to pull out the ones she thought would work.

Patchett wasn't sure; she re-read many of them and said "there were three or four brilliant ones, the rest were grocery lists." So she would take one of the essays out of the running, write a new one in it's place, and eventually the collection came together to stitch together the quilt of Patchett's life.

The book is marvelous. It takes us on Patchett's journey, from a young girl, a daughter of divorce, through her marriage to an older man that ended badly, getting her M.F.A., the importance of writing in her life, her best friend Rosie (her dog), through her second marriage and opening up her bookstore.

Some of the strongest essays in the book are Dog Without End, (about the end of Rosie's life and the horrible grief that Patchett went through; anyone who has lost a beloved pet will relate), The Wall (The story of her taking LAPD police academy test and her relationship with her policeman father) and the title essay, about love and marriage.

She read aloud The Bookstore Strikes Back, about her interesting journey to owning an independent bookstore. Sometimes authors read from their book and they are not exciting readers, but Patchett was a great reader, full of enthusiasm, with the listeners hanging on her every carefully chosen word.

When I came into the store, I saw some of Patchett's backlist and two other titles: Jeannette Haien's The All of It and Geoffrey Wolff's (Tobias' brother) A Day at the Beach. Patchett ended her talk by imploring us to buy these two books. She gushed over them and if I am a sucker for anything, it is an author I love telling me to but someone else's book. So of course, in addition to the two Patchett titles I didn't have, I bought these two.

This was one of the most stimulating book events I have attended. I felt smarter just being in that room with such a gifted writer.

Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books' website is here.
My review of This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage is here.

This is The Story of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper Collins ISBN 978-0062236678
Hardcover, $27.99, 320 pages (Also available as an Ebook)

I have loved Ann Patchett since I read her phenomenal Orange Prize winning novel Bel Canto, about a group of people held hostage by terrorists in the home of the vice-president of a South American country. Last year's fantastic State of Wonder again dropped me into an unfamiliar world, this time the Amazon jungle where an American medical researcher has gone to find a missing colleague.

Patchett's latest is a brilliant book of essays, This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage. Patchett made a living writing non-fiction articles for such publications as Esquire, Harper's Magazine and Bridal Guide before hitting it big as a novelist.

The essays in this book take us through Patchett's life, as a daughter of divorce, a graduate student, a unhappily married woman, a dog owner, a friend, a writer, editor and bookstore owner. These essays feel like a patchwork quilt of her life.

In The Getaway Car, Patchett takes great umbrage when a woman tells her that "everyone has at least one great novel in them." She asks the woman if everyone has a one great floral arrangement, algebraic proof, five-minute mile or Hail Mary pass in them. The woman replies that no, but everyone has the story of their own life to tell. Just because you have it doesn't mean you can write it well.

Patchett then writes about the happiest time in the arc of her writing process:
"This book I have not yet written one word of is a thing of indescribable beauty, unpredictable in its patterns, piercing in its color, so wild and loyal in its nature that my love for this book, and my faith in it as I track its lazy flight, is the single perfect joy in my life."
There are so many great essays, and some of ones that spoke to me most are:

  • The Best Seat in the House- about Patchett's new love for opera
  • On Responsibility- about taking care of her failing grandmother
  • The Wall- about taking the LAPD police academy test and her father, a retired LAPD captain
  • Dog Without End- about the loss and of her beloved dog and the grief that followed
Patchett lovingly articulates what writing has meant to her life. I read each poignant and incisive essay slowly, wishing to savor the beautiful language and thoughts in each one. I know that this is a book I will return to again and again, gaining insight with each reading and finding new things to appreciate in them. It has a permanent place on my bookshelf.

This Is The Story Of A Happy Marriage is a wonderful book to give to someone who appreciates good writing, and I think women in particular will relate to Patchett's story of love and trying to lead a fulfilling life.

rating 5 of 5

Ann Patchett's Parnassus Books' website is here.
My review of State of Wonder is here.
My post on Ann Patchett's visit to Barnes & Noble on 86th St. in New York is here.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Short & Sweet Review #3- Lost Girls by Robert Kolker

Book: The Lost Girls: An Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker
Publisher: Harper Collins ISBN 978-0062183637
Hardcover, $25.99, 416 pages
Genre: True Crime, Current Events

The Story: Kolker's book grew out of a New York magazine article he wrote about the disappearance of Shannan Gilbert, a prostitute who ran into the dark of the isolated Oak Beach area of Long Island. Months after her disappearance, the bodies of four other young women, all prostitutes, were found buried in Gilgo Beach and a serial killer was on the loose. The book examines the lives of all five of the women, how they got involved in prostitution and what led them to their deaths.

 The Short & Sweet Review: Kolker does an amazing job examining this story from all angles. He talks to all of the families and friends, and draws sharp portraits of each of the women. These women had much in common: many of them were born to young women themselves, lived in poverty, dropped out of school, used drugs, had sex at a young age, did not use contraception and ended up having babies of their own at a young age and unable to support them. They turned to prostitution because they saw no other opportunities and because social media like Facebook and Craigslist made it easy.
After we meet all of the women, Kolker turns his attention to the place they disappeared and the police investigation. No one has been arrested for these murders, but Kolker interviewed people who lived in this unique oceanfront community, some of whom have been considered suspects at one time.
The Lost Girls is a meticulously researched piece of well-written narrative non-fiction. It reads like a good mystery novel and this is one of the best non-fiction books I have read. This year Publisher's Weekly chose it as one of their ten best books of 2013.

rating 5 of 5

Robert Kolker's website is here.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Short & Sweet #2- Self-Inflicted Wounds by Aisha Tyler

Book: Self- Inflicted Wounds: Heartwarming Tales of Epic Humiliation by Aisha Tyler
Publisher: It Books, ISBN 978-0062223777
Hardcover, $24.99, 256 pages (Ebook available)
Genre: Humor, Memoir, Essays

Plot: Aisha Tyler is a standup comedienne, co-host of TV's The Talk, voices a character on FX's Archer, hosts Whose Line Is It Anyway and has a hugely popular podcast Girl on Guy. (She is a bit of an overachiever.) One of the features of her podcast is asking guests to recount a self-inflicted wound, something incredibly stupid that they have done in their lives. She turns the table on herself in this book, recounting her own self-inflicted wounds in humorous and touching essays.

Short & Sweet:  I have seen Tyler at her various jobs, and always thought she was funny, but I never realized how smart she was. She is a terrific writer, and her misadventures on the way through life had me laughing out loud. 
She says that she wants "this book to inspire you to be yourself. I hope this book will encourage you to follow your dreams." It does do that. If this too tall, intelligent, nerdy girl with a smart mouth can succeed in a business where women are not often welcomed, you may have a shot at success in life too.
She opens each chapter with a quote from someone smart, such as "The wound is the place where the light enters you"-Rumi, then one from her- "This thing is gonna need ointment", which opens the chapter "The Time I Cut Myself in Half", about the time when, as a child, she rode on a rusty, broken rocking horse she found in an alley and fell off, cutting her stomach wide open.
You'll laugh and feel empathy for Tyler, and even recall your own self-inflicted wounds and realize they weren't that bad after all, and just maybe they help to make you the person you became. (A note to anyone who goes to lunch with Tyler- she has been known to throw up on people. Consider yourself warned.)
I saw Tyler this summer at Bryant Park discussing her book, and she is as funny and direct in person as she is on the page.

rating 4 of 5

Aisha Tyler's website is here.

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Weekend Cooking- Preparing for Thanksgiving

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 biggest foodie holiday of the year for most of us is quickly coming up- Thanksgiving. This year we  will be upstate at my sister-in-law's where we always have a fabulous meal. There will be a lot of us there- maybe 25 people, and that takes a lot of preparation and mobilization of resources. Luckily, our captain Brigette is in charge.

This year I volunteered to make the stuffing and bring desserts. My mother makes the best stuffing ever, and she doesn't use a recipe, but it always turns out fantastic. After watching her make this year after year, I have inherited her ability through osmosis to make a pretty mean stuffing myself.

Mom starts with loaves of white bread torn up and put in bowls to set out overnight. (I always remember how much fun it was as kids to tear up the bread.) The next morning, when the bread is hard, she adds milk, eggs, lots of poultry seasoning, salt, pepper, and diced onions and celery that have been sauteed until soft. And then she mixes it up with her hands until it is just the right consistency and has just the right amount of seasonings. Somehow she just knows when it is perfect.

You can put it in the turkey or in a separate pan to go in the oven. (We do both.) The only change I have made is to add browned sausage because my husband loves sausage in stuffing. I have to admit, it is better with sausage.

We are also bringing desserts, and I have so many choices living in New York as to what to bring it can make you dizzy. Of course I will order Pumpkin Pie and Chocolate Pecan Pie from Two Little Red Hens. And I can't leave there without getting two of their best known desserts- Red Velvet Cake and Brooklyn Blackout Cake.  Everyone there is so friendly and they have quite the sophisticated system for pickups on the day before Thanksgiving. Their website is here.

They also make an amazing cheesecake, but if I were bringing cheesecake (and I am not because Brigette is making her scrumptious Pumpkin Chocolate Cheesecake), I would bring Junior's Cheesecake, a NYC tradition for good reason. I like that I can order a cheesecake to send anywhere in the US, and if you are ever looking to send someone a food gift, I highly recommend them. Their website is here.
Junior's Cheesecake- from their website

Momofuku Milk Bar also has an interesting Pumpkin Cake, and that can be sent anywhere in the US as well. I haven't tried it yet, but I love their Compost Cookies, with pretzels, oats, butterscotch chips, chocolate chips and potato chips. The website is here.
Momofuku Pumpkin Cake-from their website

If I were bringing little treats, I would get some mini black and white cookies from William Greenberg. You can get any color combination you like, making them perfect for graduation parties and their Red Velvet black and whites are always a big hit. (We had some this week- I couldn't help myself, they were on the way home from my doctor's appointment.) William Greenberg's website is here.
William Greenberg Mini Black & Whites- from their website

I could also pick up some "schmall" cookies from Schmackary's near Times Square. They do an assortment of 20, 40 or 60 cookies and when I brought these last year upstate they didn't last long. Schmackary's website is here.
Schmackary's "schmall" cookies- from their website
Are you cooking for Thanksgiving this year? What is your best Thanksgiving recipe? Let me know in comments below.

Friday, November 8, 2013

Short & Sweet: Indiscretion by Charles Dubow

I read so many books that I don't have time to post a full review for each one. To that, I will post shorter reviews on books titled "Short & Sweet". This is my first post.

Book: Indiscretion by Charles Dubow
Publisher: William Morrow, ISBN 978-0-062201065
Trade Paperback, $14.99, 400 pages
Genre: Literary Fiction

Plot: Harry and Maddy are a happily married middle-aged couple with a young son who has health issues. Harry is a famous author, Maddy the party hostess and friend everyone adores. They have a social circle that includes Walter, a lonely man who is our narrator. A beautiful young woman named Claire enters their lives and they take her under their wing, and all is well until their happy little world is shattered by an indiscretion.

The Short & Sweet: Most of these type of  novels are about the woman wronged, but I found this look at adultery from the male perspective intriguing. Walter, the friend, is the narrator and given that this takes place mostly on a summer place in the Hamptons and is about an obsessive love affair, it echoes The Great Gatsby. 
The characters are interesting, especially Maddy, and the plot keeps the reader invested in the story. The last few chapters are incredibly sad  and devastating, and I found myself impressed with Dubrow's ability to move the reader so deeply in his debut novel. There are some explicit (and well written) sex scenes, so if that offends you, this book may not be for you.

rating 4 of 5

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Buying In by Laura Hemphill

Buying In by Laura Hemphill
Published by New Harvest, ISBN 978-05444114579
Hardcover, 304 pages, $24

Last year I read a dynamite book about a woman working at one of Wall Street's big banks, Erin Duffy's Bond Girl. I loved it, putting it on my Best Of The Year list. Recently I had the opportunity to read another debut novel in the same setting by a woman who also worked in the industry, like Duffy. My return to that world was rewarded with another terrific read, Laura Hemphill's Buying In.

Sophie Landgraf grew up in a small town to parents who owned a sheep farm. They were hippies, and none too happy when their  child decided to get a degree in finance and pursue a job with Sterling, one of the big New York City banks.

One of the first things we see Sophie doing is going through the desk drawers of the people whom she works for, trying to understand something about them. I liked this quirk of Sophie, and it gave us a look at the secret side of these single-minded people. She goes through her boss Ethan's desk.
"One peek inside his top drawer had been enough for Sophie. Swimming goggles, nail clippers, a Ferragamo tie wound into a tight coil, and packets of Gulden's Spicy Brown Mustard. None of that compared to Ira Blumenstein's gold tooth, Kenneth Yang's Darth Vader lollipop, or Rich Angstrom's Magic 8 Ball."
Sophie is a first year hire, so she does all of the grunt work: research and plugging numbers into Excel formulas, then analyzing the data. This world is so foreign to me, and I was fascinated by my immersion into it, thanks to Hemphill's skilled storytelling.

Ethan's team consists of Vasu, an Indian man with a wife and two children he loves but rarely sees, and Sophie. They work in the Industrials division, and their big project is convincing their client AlumiCorp that they should merge with another aluminum manufacturer, whether or not it is in the best interest of their client. This would bring Sterling huge fees, along with a gig as a consultant to the newly formed company.

If you had told me that I would find a novel about a big bank and the aluminum industry so intriguing, I would have said "I don't think so." And yet that is exactly what happened. As the merger goes through ups and downs, at times looking like it was all going to go down in flames, the tension builds and Hemphill has the reader on the edge of her seat, like a great spy thriller.

The story is told through four different points of view- Sophie, Vasu, Ethan and the CEO of AlumiCorp. Sophie's story is more prevalent, but Vasu's is the one that is heartbreaking, and I would have liked to have heard more from him.

There is one vignette that I also read in Duffy's Bond Girl. Two men compete to eat one of each of the items in the vending machine. Sophie was a referee for this contest (as was Duff's female protagonist), so I'm going to guess that this is something that goes on at all big banks. It epitomizes the testosterone driven mentality that exists. Vasu compares Sterling and all of the other banks who caused the subprime economic crisis to the Vending Machine Challenge guy, who "swallow(s) too much too fast, (then) throw(s) up."

The novel takes place just prior to the Lehman collapse, and like many of the other banks, Sterling is in trouble for their reckless ways, affecting all of the major characters. We see that for all of their sacrifices- having no social life, missing holidays with family, working insane hours- their loyalty and hard work means nothing to a corporation.

I bought into Buying In. I was swept into this crazy world of high finance along with Sophie, and taken on a fast-paced ride learning more about aluminum factories that I thought possible, and liking it. This is a smart novel, and one that will have you turning the pages to see how it all comes crashing down, and if Sophie is a survivor.

rating 4 of 5

Laura Hemphill's website is here.
My review of Erin Duffy's Bond Girl is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for inviting me to participate. The rest of Laura Hemphill's tour is here:

Laura Hemphill’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, November 4th:  Kritter’s Ramblings
Tuesday, November 5th:  Entomology of a Bookworm
Wednesday, November 6th:  Peppermint Ph.D.
Thursday, November 7th:  BookChickDi
Friday, November 8th:  Bibliotica
Monday, November 11th:  The Well Read Redhead
Tuesday, November 12th:  Tiny Library
Wednesday, November 13th:  Staircase Wit
Thursday, November 14th:  Hopelessly Devoted Bibliophile
Monday, November 18th:  Luxury Reading
Tuesday, November 19th:  Sarah’s Book Shelves
Wednesday, November 20th:  A Bookish Affair
Thursday, November 21st:  Walking with Nora
Friday, November 22nd:  Classy Cat Books
Monday, November 25th:  Reading Reality
Tuesday, November 26th:  Books and Movies

Monday, November 4, 2013

LaRue: 'The Life' chronicles Johnny Cash vividly : Diane Larue

Nicole from the blog Linus's Blanket and the Bloggers Recommend newsletter raved about this book and I couldn't agree more. I reviewed it this month in my Book Report column in the Citizen.

LaRue: 'The Life' chronicles Johnny Cash vividly : Diane Larue

“Hello, I’m Johnny Cash”. If you remember hearing that phrase in that iconic baritone voice, then Robert Hilburn’s comprehensive new biography, Johnny Cash: The Life is one of fall’s not-to-be-missed books.

Hilburn was the editor and pop music critic for the Los Angeles Times from 1970-2005, and his meticulous research and flowing writing style elevates this biography from good to great.

The book takes the reader through Cash’s entire life, from his days as a child, living with his family in Dyess, Arkansas, picking cotton on their land and singing gospel songs his mother taught him.

When John’s brother Jack died tragically in a farming accident, it devastated the entire family. John admired and loved his older brother and was destroyed when his father said aloud that it was John’s fault Jack died, even though there was no basis in fact for that.

Jack’s death colored the rest of John’s life; he never got over it. John loved music and after a stint in Germany in the military where he began to write songs and wrote to a young girl, Vivian Liberto, whom he met back home.

John courted Vivian, and when he came home they married and ended up in Memphis. There he met two other men, and they played music together. When Sam Phillips opened Sun Studio in Memphis, they began to get serious about a career in music.

Hilburn interviewed many people for this book, and at the end, he lists chapter by chapter with whom he talked. Over the years, he had interviewed Johnny Cash and June Carter Cash, so he had a personal knowledge of his subject, which adds a great deal to this book.

This is a big book at 688 pages, but Cash led a big life, and calling Johnny Cash- The Life is more than apt. From the successes and good times to the pervasive drug use and infidelities, not only with June but with other women, and dwindling sales and creative dry spells, this book covers an amazing American life.

There are so many fascinating stories, and many of them have been covered before in other books and the terrific movie 2005 “Walk the Line”, but there is a depth here that gives a much more complete picture of his life.

After the success of the late 1960’s with the incredible “Johnny Cash at Folsom Prison- Live” album, Cash hosted a successful variety show on ABC. He clashed frequently with ABC executives about the format of the show; he wanted to feature interesting musical guests and themed shows revolving around gospel music and folk music, they wanted circus themes and popular country music stars.

The 1970s and 80s were less kind to Cash. He recorded dozens of albums, few of them successful artistically or commercially. He was dropped by Columbia Records and moved to Mercury, but his slide continued.

Cash was supporting a large entourage, and June spent money extravagantly, so he had to tour hundreds of days a year to make enough money to support everyone. It was exhausting, and the drug use continued, much to the dismay of people close to Cash.

At the end of Cash’ career, he met iconoclastic producer Rick Rubin, best known for his collaborations with hip hop and rap artists. Rubin spoke extensively to Hilburn, so this part of the book is especially vivid. 

Cash did four CDs with Rubin, and it revived him artistically.  Although his health was deteriorating to the point where he couldn’t see or walk, his sessions with Rubin were a high point creatively. He won multiple Grammys, and was even nominated for an MTV Video of the Year Award for his video “Hurt”, which is now considered by many to be one of the finest videos ever made.

Hilburn brilliantly conveys the life of an American icon. From the Depression-era impoverished family life to musical superstardom to eventual decline to phoenix-like rise at the end of his career, from a failed first marriage to finding lifelong love with June and becoming a good father, from drug use to failing health and losing his beloved wife, this is a book not only for Johnny Cash fans, but for everyone who likes a good biography.

If you weren’t a fan before reading this, you will be after, and you’ll be searching out Cash CDs as well. This is simply one of the best books of the year, I give it five stars.

You can read an excerpt from Johnny Cash- The American Life on Hilburn’s website at roberthilburnonline.com.

Bloggers Recommend review is here.