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Friday, January 31, 2014

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson

Someone Else's Love Story by Joshilyn Jackson
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-227849-4
Hardcover, $26.99, 320 pages

The strength of Joshilyn Jackson's latest novel, Someone Else's Love Story lies in the terrific characters she creates. Right away, from the first sentence, "I fell in love with William Ashe at gunpoint, in a Circle K.", you know you are in for a fantastic ride.

Shandi is a single mom of a extraordinarily intelligent four-year-old boy Natty. They are headed to Atlanta with her best friend Walcott, when they stop at the Circle K to get Natty a ginger ale to settle his upset stomach.

Shandi notices the ruggedly handsome William Ashe in the store and when the store is held up by a young gunman and William moves to protect Natty, she is completely smitten. A hostage situation occurs and William does his best to try and keep everyone safe.

When the standoff ends in an injury to William, Shandi makes it her mission to care for him. She also discovers that he is a research geneticist, and she hopes to get William to help her discover the father of her son, whom she does not know.

As Shandi and William and Natty grow closer, William's best friend Paula becomes angry. She is openly hostile to Shandi, and tells her that William will never love her. He loves his wife Bridget, whom he lost in a car accident, along with their two-year-old daughter, two years ago.

Walcott also discourages Shandi from beginning a relationship with William. Shandi doesn't understand why Walcott, her best friend since childhood, has become so distant since the robbery. He has always been there for her, through her high school pregnancy, and he loves Natty, but recently he has been AWOL.

William is very intelligent, but socially he is very awkward. As his story unfolds, we find that he is probably somewhere on the autism spectrum, perhaps closer to Aspergers Syndrome. He struggled socially as a child, and only connected with people when he was a high school football star. Paula and Bridget were the only two people who understood him.

Jackson has said that this is William's story, and in a story filled with so many interesting characters, he stands out. His wooing of Bridget, with help from Paula, is so moving and sweet. The someone else in this love story is Bridget and William.

I loved Shandi's fearlessness, her willingness to put herself out there and work to find love. She is a wonderful mom too, and her love for Natty is stronger than iron. She would do anything for her son, who is so different from other kids his age. Part of her attraction to William is that she thinks Natty might be like him- a brilliant mind, but maybe socially different.

There is big twist at the end, one that totally took me by surprise. It changes everything in the story and kudos to Jackson for not tipping her hand.

I loved this book, and felt like these characters were real people, people I would love to know. I adored the friendships, the romance, the family, the whole package. Jackson took me on a ride that I won't soon forget.

Joshilyn Jackson appeared on Book Club Girl On Air and discussed her book and you can listen to that here.

She also wrote a short story featuring Shandi, Natty and Walcott titled My Own Miraculous and you can find that here.

rating 5 of 5

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Weekend Cooking- Vacation in Barbados

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

We made our annual vacation trek to Barbados last week with my husband's brother and his wife, and once again it was a relaxing, fantastic week. We even got a bonus day due to the snowstorm that socked in NYC! (I know, aww, poor us.)

This time instead of staying at the Hilton Resort, we rented a villa right on the beach and this was the way to go. It was a gorgeous home, with a huge veranda, private pool, hot tub, a gazebo overlooking the sea and a private entrance to the beautiful beach.
Looking out from our veranda

A private cook came with the villa, and Darlene cooked us breakfast and lunch most days. Each morning we had scrambled eggs and bacon with fresh fruit and it was the perfect way to start our days.

We asked her what was the one dish that her children asked to make, and when she said chicken and rice, we asked her to make it for us. Boy, was it delicious! She marinated the chicken in lime juice, salt and pepper, then breaded it and fried it on the stove top.

It was the best fried chicken I ever had! It didn't taste greasy at all, just juicy and full of flavor. She added beans and pigeon peas to the rice, and made a sauce that my husband his brother raved about. Darlene's homemade coleslaw and a fresh salad rounded out the fabulous meal.
Darlene's lunch

This disappeared off my plate pretty quickly
If you visit Barbados, going to Oistins Fish Fry on Fridays is a must. We always wait in line at Uncle George's for our meal of grilled shrimp and mahi mahi, with grilled potatoes and macaroni pie. It is the freshest, most simply prepared and most delicious fish you will ever eat.

Everyone sits at picnic tables, and you will always meet someone interesting to chat with while you eat. You can wander the shop stalls and get some souvenirs (I got a cross necklace) and watch the guys playing dominoes. We look forward to this every year.
The crowd at Uncle George's

Our delicious meals at Uncle George's

The guys playing dominoes

Working the grill at Uncle George's
There are so many wonderful restaurants in Barbados, and we visited an old favorite, The Tides, and tried a few new ones. Scarlet is a tiny restaurant in a small building that you might pass by if you didn't know any better.

The interior decor is red walls with reproductions of Andy Warhol's iconic paintings of Jackie Kennedy along one wall and Marilyn Monroe along the opposite wall. The presentation of each plate was as wonderful as the food itself. The appetizers were particularly good, with the sesame prawn toast with a sweet and sour dipping sauce and crusted and panko crusted chicken strips with pesto mayo the big hits.
The sesame prawn toast presentation at Scarlet

The other new place we tried is a restaurant new to the island- Cin Cin. It has a very Miami Beach vibe, all sleek glass and white walls. It is gorgeous! We ate out on the terrace, right on the water. The service was impeccable, and the food was amazing.  I had the crabcake appetizer, which was fabulous. Three of us had the mahi mahi special, poached over linguine with shaved zucchini, cherry tomatoes and asparagus. The fish was so tender, it melted in your mouth. Our specialty cocktails were rather enjoyable too.
Cin Cin, from their website

Mahi Mahi over linguine at Cin Cin

Crab cakes at Cin Cin
I highly recommend visiting Barbados if you have never been; the weather is always a perfect 84 degrees, the view is spectacular and the food is top notch.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Golem and The Jinni by Helene Wecker
Published by Harper Perennial ISBN 978-0-06-211084-8
Trade paperback, $15.99, 484 pages

I had heard a lot of great things about Helene Wecker's debut novel, The Golem and The Jinni, but not being a big fan of fantasy, I didn't read it...until now. I tore through this 484-page novel, and loved being dropped into the Arabian desert of hundreds of years ago and turn of the 20th century New York City following the adventures of trapped jinni and lost golem.

We all know what a jinni is (1001 Nights  and TV's I Dream of Jeannie), but this jinni follows the folklore more than the fantasy of something that can grant three wishes. This jinni is freed from the copper flask where he has been trapped for hundreds of years and ends up working as a tinsmith in a shop in the Little Syria section of New York City in the early 1900s.

The Golem in the story reminded me of Frankenstein. She was created out of clay (and other things) to be a wife for a man who dies on a boat from Europe to New York City. The Golem ends up in New York City, all alone and unsure of what to do. A rabbi finds her, recognizes her for what she is and takes her in.

Along the way we find out how the jinni came to be trapped and who is stalking him. The evil person who created the golem comes looking for her when he discovers her master has died. A doctor who performed an exorcism that left him blind ends up in New York working in Little Syria as an impoverished ice cream vendor, and  ends up involved with the jinni.

The jinni, called Ahmad, and the golem, named Chava by the Rabbi, live their lives, but are truly strangers in a strange land. Ahmad works as a tinsmith by day and wanders the city by night. Chava works in a bakery and at night takes in work as a seamstress as she requires no sleep.

Ahmad and Chava eventually meet and wander the city at night together. I was entranced by their journeys through a New York City I recognized- from the Bowery to Madison Square Park to the mansions of Fifth Avenue and Central Park, which plays such an important role in this book.

Golems are able to hear the secret desires of their master and are made to protect their masters with superhuman strength. When Chava's master died, she could hear the thoughts and desires of everyone around her and it was too much for her to take. And when she or someone she cared about became threatened, she could not control her impulse to physically lash out, leading to bad situations.

The writing is exquisite, and Wecker knows how to turn a phrase. She says of a cemetery headstone that has the name and dates engraved on only one side, "The other was still blank, as though it hadn't yet heard the awful news."

As someone who rides the NYC subways, I appreciated this: "The more he rode the trolleys and trains of New York, the more they seemed to form a giant, malevolent bellows, inhaling defenseless passengers from platforms and street corners and blowing them out again elsewhere."

This is a rip-roaring, page-turning story that dares the reader to put it down. I stayed up til the wee hours of the morning finishing this book, barely breathing until this brilliant, totally engrossing novel was finished. Bravo, Ms. Wecker, I can't wait for your next creation.

rating 5 of 5
Helene Wecker's website is here. 

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of Helene Wecker's tour is here.

Helene’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 7th: Bookshelf Fantasies
Wednesday, January 8th: Book Hooked Blog
Thursday, January 9th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, January 13th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, January 14th: My Shelf Confessions
Wednesday, January 15th: BoundbyWords
Monday, January 20th: Book-alicious Mama
Tuesday, January 21st: bookchickdi
Wednesday, January 22nd: My Bookshelf
Thursday, January 23rd: Books Without Any Pictures
Monday, January 27th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, January 28th: Ace and Hoser Blook

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Star For Mrs. Blake by April Smith

A Star For Mrs. Blake by April Smith
Published by Knopf, ISBN 978-0-307-95884-6
Hardcover, $25.95, 352 pages

As a young child in the late 60s- early 70s, I can remember walking to school and passing by a house that had a gold star in the window. When I asked my mom what that meant, she told me that the woman who lived in that house lost a son in the war. It always made me sad thinking about that mom and her son.

April Smith's new historical novel, A Star For Mrs. Blake, tells the story of Cora Blake, a woman who lost her only son in battle in France during WWI. She has had a tough existence since then, losing her mother and sister, and moving in with her brother-in-law to care for him and his three daughters.

The Great Depression has hit the coastal rural area of Maine particularly hard, and Cora scrapes by working occasionally at a fish canning manufacturer, difficult dirty work that pays little. Her saving grace is volunteering at the local library, which would not be open if not for Cora. She has a beau, a geologist who wants to marry her.

An opportunity arises where certain Gold Star mothers whose sons were buried overseas can go to France to visit their sons' graves, located in a big military cemetery. Cora jumps at the chance and in her small group are Katie, an Irish working woman who lost two sons, Minnie, a Jewish woman, Wilhemina, whom they discover spent time in an asylum, and Bobbie, a wealthy Boston socialite.

Lt. Tom Hammond is their military escort, along with Lily, a young nurse from Chicago. The women, who come from such different places, do not always get along and have more than a few skirmishes. Along the way, Cora meets Griffin Reed, a war journalist who was severely injured in battle and now has a tin mask covering part of his face and a morphine addiction. (Anyone who has watched HBO's Boardwalk Empire will understand about the mask, worn by WWI vet Richard Harrow in the show.)

Cora and Griffin become friends, perhaps because they both are hiding behind a disguise- Reed behind his mask and Cora behind a lie she has been living with for many years. I liked the growing relationship between these two people.

The women are taken from place to place in France, and soon strafe living under the military rules they have been forced to follow. Seeing these women who, once away from their husbands and families, become stronger and bond together is satisfying and learning more about their home situations is interesting.

There are some secrets discovered along the way, and I admit that I found at least one incident at the end of the book a little too soap opera for my taste, but overall I really enjoyed this book. The mixing of politics and military is also an intriguing aspect of this book.

Reading books based on historical facts interest me, and in the acknowledgements Smith shares her real life inspirations for her fascinating book. I had never heard about these Gold Star mother pilgrimages and will be looking for more information on them.

Fans of Sarah Blake's The Postmistress and Laura Moriarty's The Chaperone (who also had a protagonist named Cora) will find much to like here, with women who, once away from home, find something in themselves they may not have known existed.

rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for including me on this tour. The rest of April Smith's stops are here.

April Smith’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Sunday, January 12th:  Writer Unboxed  author guest post
Monday, January 13th:  BookNAround
Tuesday, January 14th:  A Bookish Affair
Wednesday, January 15th:  Cici’s Theories
Thursday, January 16th:  Bookchickdi
Monday, January 20th:  Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Tuesday, January 21st:  Drey’s Library
Wednesday, January 22nd:  Jorie Loves a Story
Monday, January 27th:  Book Snob
Monday, February 3rd:  Diary of an Eccentric
Tuesday, February 4th:  The Lost Entwife
Wednesday, February 5th:  Books and Movies
Tuesday, February 11th:  Savvy Verse and Wit
Wednesday, February 12th:  Library of Clean Reads
Monday, February 17th:  Reading Lark

Monday, January 13, 2014

Labor Day by Joyce Maynard Is a Movie

Joyce Maynard's novel, Labor Day, is now a movie starring Kate Winslet (nominated for a Golden Globe award for her performance) and Josh Brolin, scheduled to open wide on January 31st.

My book club was lucky enough to be chosen by William Morrow publishers to receive copies of the book and movie passes to see Labor Day, and we are all excited to be a part of this promotion. Our book club likes to do road trips, as we have discussed books at the beach and the Botanical Gardens, so this continues our tradition.

I read the book in just a few hours yesterday and it really touched me. As I was reading, I could picture Winslet and Brolin in their roles, but the key will be the actor who plays young Henry, the thirteen-year-old boy who narrates the story of an escaped convict who hides out with him and his withdrawn, lonely mother.

After the cold weather we have had, it was good to read a book set on a hot Labor Day weekend in New Hampshire. The story in the mid-1980s, and Adele is a divorced mom who lives with her teenage son in a home set away from their neighbors. Adele rarely leaves the house, and works sporadically selling vitamins over the phone.

Henry loves him mom, and has few friends of his own. They really only have each other, except when Henry goes to dinner each Saturday with his father, his father's new wife, her teen son and their new baby, which he doesn't really enjoy.

When Frank approaches Henry at the local Pricemart store and asks for his help, his mother readily agrees, though Henry isn't sure why. They bring Frank home and Frank proceeds to insinuate himself into their lives. Does he really have feelings for Adele or is he manipulating them?

Frank fixes up the place and cooks for them. He makes eggs and homemade biscuits for breakfast and a delicious chili for dinner. And when a neighbor brings over some fresh peaches, he shows Adele and Frank how to make his grandma's peach pie, with her secret ingredient, Minute tapioca to soak up the fruit juices. (I'm definitely trying that next time!)

Reading about all this delicious food, there are many opportunities for a great book club discussion with  food. I only wish it was summer so we could have fresh peaches, but I'm thinking a nice crock pot full of chili and this Sparkling White Peach Sangria from The 10-Minute Happy Hour website is the perfect accompaniment.

I will post our thoughts on the film after we see it, but until then, here is the official movie trailer.

A full review of Mayard's Labor Day will also be posted after our discussion. You read more about the book here.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Weekend Cooking- 21-Day Tummy by Liz Vaccariello

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.

21-Day Tummy by Liz Vaccariello
Published by Reader's Digest ISBN 978-1-62145-111-2
Hardcover, $25.99, 320 pages

21-Day Tummy not only aims to help you lose stubborn belly fat, it also is designed to help people deal with the stomach problems that plague so many people- gas and bloating, heartburn and acid reflux, constipation, diarrhea and Irritable Bowel Syndrome.

Millions of Americans suffer from these stomach issues, and this book, written by Liz Vaccariello from Reader's Digest, along with Kate Scarlata, a registered dietician, share the science behind their methods in easy-to-understand language, and if you are one the people who suffer from any of the above stomach problems, this book is more than worth your time.

Vaccariello recruited eleven people to try the diet with her (she lost 10 pounds in 21 days) and their stories are interspersed throughout the book. They lost of a total of 90 pounds in the three weeks, with the participating men losing slightly more than the women.

The book's main goal is to balance gut flora (bacteria in the GI tract) and reduce inflammation by eating more magnesium-rich foods and anti-inflammatory fats and reducing carb-dense foods and carbs that ferment rapidly.

They describe foods to avoid, called Belly Bullies, which include such surprising foods as garlic, onions, apples, asparagus and the popular agave sweetener, which contains fructose, a big no-no. Belly Buddies, foods that you should eat, include fiber-rich foods magnesium-rich foods like spinach, kale, peanut butter, bananas, blueberries, quinoa, whole oats, almonds, chia and pumpkin seeds and Greek yogurt.

The book lays our the three-week meal plan, divided into three phases. Each day has its own page with a breakfast, lunch, snack and dinner menu. All of the meals seem very doable, with no crazy food supplements or ingredients that you have to shop for at specialty stores.

Recipes follow the menu plan, and there are several I would like to try, including

  • Scrambled Egg Quesadilla
  • Mini Quiche
  • Hearty Roasted Vegetable Soup
  • Grilled Turkey Cutlets with Grape Salsa

There is also a week-by-week shopping list, which is very helpful, and a simple exercise plan, with an interval walking workout and core routine laid out clearly and simply for the reader, with illustrations of the each exercise.

With so many diets out there, including the Paleo Diet and Mediterranean Diet, the 21-Day Tummy Diet seems to be a sound, scientific way to lose belly fat and help people with their myriad digestive problems. The eleven people who tried the diet shared interesting results, including being able to eliminate prescription heartburn medication completely in one case.

The website for the 21-Day Tummy contains more information, and there you can try the book free for 14 days to see if it can help you. The website is here.

rating 4 of 5

Thursday, January 9, 2014

What I Had BeforeI Had You by Sarah Cornwell

What I Had Before I Had You by Sarah Cornwell
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-223784-2
Hardcover, $24.99, 288 pages

What I Had Before I Had You opens with fifteen year-old Olivia seeing her twin sisters for the first swimming in the ocean off her Jersey Shore home in Ocean Vista. As the story unwinds, we discover that Olivia's mother, Myla, miscarried her twin daughters a year before Olivia was born.

Myla decorated a nursery in their home, and acts as though the dead girls are ghosts, living with them. Olivia has grown up with this, and her mother claims to be a psychic, so she doesn't know that this is a manifestation of her mother's mental illness.

Sometimes Myla will disappear for days or weeks, leaving a young Olivia alone. James, Myla's married boyfriend, would bring by groceries and check up on her. Eventually, Olivia rebels, as teenagers will, and when Myla causes an incident that threatens Olivia's status with her new friends, Olivia runs away.

Years later, Olivia is bringing her teenage daughter Carrie and eight-year-old son Daniel back to New York City after a separation from her husband. While visiting Ocean Vista, Daniel disappears and Olivia and Carrie must find him.

The storyline moves back and forth in time, and as it progresses, we see how the bipolar disorder that plagued Myla is genetic. Olivia has bipolar tendencies, and although her husband at first is able to handle the situation, when Daniel begins to exhibit the signs of it at a very early age, he bails on the family, throwing them away like he throws away broken household items.

The last half of the story is really gripping, and there are some twists to the storyline that I didn't see coming, but they add so much to the emotional power of this sad story. Cornwell does an amazing job putting us into the middle of this family and showing us how Myla's illness rips through her family and causes repercussions even many years later.

Cornwell's writing is lyrical and her descriptions put such vivid pictures in your head, like the "crepe-paper elbows" of elderly women swimming in the ocean, and her realization that her teenage Carrie is becoming her own person, imagining her "writhing on her bed, shedding her skin, moving from a larval to a pupal state".

The title of the book comes from this passage about the power of the past.
"The past, I feel in this moment, is something that parents dangle in front of their children, something hoarded and valuable that we can never touch. They pretend to share, pulling out old albums at Christmastime, but under their breath, they are saying, This is what I had before I had you."
Mental illness is something that our society ignores and doesn't want to face. Cornell shows us the despair and difficulty of living with people who have bipolar disorder, the not knowing what to do to help someone who doesn't seem to want help.

This is a heartbreaking story that has stayed inside my head and heart, and if good fiction creates empathy in the reader, then What I Had Before I Had You qualifies as good fiction.

rating 4 of 5

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of Sarah's stops are here.

Sarah’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, January 7th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, January 8th: Books à la Mode
Thursday, January 9th: bookchickdi
Monday, January 13th: missris
Tuesday, January 14th: …the bookworm…
Wednesday, January 15th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, January 20th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, January 20th: Sweet Southern Home
Wednesday, January 22nd: Books in the Burbs
Monday, January 27th: The Well-Read Redhead
Tuesday, January 28th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, January 29th: Conceptual Reception
Thursday, January 30th: Turn the Page
Monday, February 3rd: Book-alicious Mama
Tuesday, February 4th: BoundbyWords
Sarah Cornwell can be found on Facebook here.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

New in Paperback- A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy

A Week in Winter by Maeve Binchy
Published by Anchor ISBN 978-0-307-4550-3
Trade paperback, $14.95, 416 pages

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating 5 of 5 stars

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Weekend Cooking- Three Restaurant Outings

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.

On the weekend before Christmas, my husband and I visited three restaurants, which is unusual for us as I normally cook.

As our Christmas gift, our sons treated us to dinner at Quality Meats, a fantastic steakhouse near the Plaza Hotel. Reservations are difficult to get and we got them for 5:30 on a Saturday night and the place was full.

As soon as we received a complimentary amuse bouche from the chef, we knew why this place was so popular. The food was amazing! The amuse bouche was a poached pear in a red wine sauce with rosemary and sea salt. Oh my gosh, it was so fantastic- the exact perfect combination of sweet and salt.

They brought out some homemade rolls topped with thyme and sea salt and again, it was incredible. I had the filet and it was the best steak I have ever had; it melted like butter in my mouth. The creamed spinach had a nice zing to it, but it was the dessert that put us over the top.

They make their own ice cream, and the Orange Creamsicle Sherbet was so good we kicked ourselves afterwards for not bringing a pint home with us, which they sell for $10. I had the Take 6 dessert, which was peanut butter and chocolate and so scrumptious. I highly recommend Quality Meats if you are looking for a special occasion dinner.

On Sunday, my husband and I treated ourselves to a couples' massage at the Guerlain Spa at the Waldorf Astoria and dinner afterwards at the Bull & Bear. We lucked out and had Travelzoo and Gilt City deals, so it was our Christmas present to ourselves.

My favorite was the Lobster Bisque soup which had pumpkin and pumpkin seeds in it. I liked the flavors together, and never would have thought of that. My husband loves their French Onion Gratinee, the best he's ever had. His entree was the Dover Sole and boy was that tasty.

On Monday, we went upstate to visit family and my husband's parents treated us and his sister and her husband to dinner at the Red Onion near Woodstock, New York. We have eaten there once before and really enjoyed it. The food is phenomenal and the ambiance is lovely and relaxed.

For my appetizer, I had the pierogi, made with black truffle potato puree, onions, brown butter, sage and sour cream. If I could have that as an entree too, I would have done that. It is so delicious and my favorite item on the menu.
The pierogi appetizer

homemade ravioli

It was Mussels Monday, and people at the table enjoyed their mussels. Most of us ordered the homemade ravoli filled with goat cheese and ricotta. Everyone declared it a winner. The desserts were a hit, with homemade cookies and Jane's Sorbets they were the perfect ending to the meal.

If you ever end up near Woodstock, make a reservation to eat at the Red Onion.

I hope you all had a wonderful holiday season, now it is back to the daily grind.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

The Twelve Most Compelling Reads of 2013

This is from my Book Report column in the Auburn Citizen.

One of my favorite things about the end of the year is reflecting on all of the wonderful books I read this year, and so I present my Twelve Most Compelling Books of 2013.

The book that affected me most is a debut novel by Anthony Marra.  A Constellation of Vital Phenomena recounts the story of people caught up in the second Chechen war. The lives of an eight-year-old girl whose father was taken away by secret police, the neighbor who rescues her and a young doctor looking for her sister all collide in a fascinating way. My review is here.

Donna Tartt takes ten years to write each novel and her latest one, Goldfinch, is more than worth the wait. Twelve-year-old Theo Decker loses his mother in a terrorist bombing at the Metropolitan Museum and his journey to find a home and the people he meets along the way makes for a breathtaking book.

Alice McDermott’s quiet Someone tells the story of Marie, a young girl growing up in Brooklyn in the 1940’s. She reflects on the big and small moments of her ordinary life and she will touch your heart. McDermott is a SUNY Oswego graduate, and this continues her remarkable writings of the Irish-American experience.

Mary Beth Keane’s Fever takes the Irish historical character Typhoid Mary and brings her to vivid life. The characters, the setting, Keane gets all of the details right, and we see how immigrant women, particularly those who were not servile in attitude, were looked upon with suspicion.  My review is here.

In Me Before You, British writer Jojo Moyes brings us two intriguing characters- a vital, wealthy young man who becomes paralyzed after an accident and the working class young woman hired by his parents to care for him. Their relationship starts out rocky, but soon we see why she was hired and how they change in each other in profound ways.  This is a wonderfully sad love story.

Another sad but thought-provoking debut novel is Priscille Sibley’s The Promise of Stardust about a doctor whose young pregnant wife has an accident that leaves her brain dead. This will make you realize the importance of having a discussion about tough issues with your loved ones. My review is here.

Laura Hemphill spent time working on Wall Street and puts that knowledge to good use in her novel Buying In. We see the inner workings of financial analysts and any book that can make aluminum manufacturing this interesting is one worthy of being on this list.  My review is here.

Meg Wolitzer’s novel The Interestings intersects the lives of six teenagers who meet at a summer camp for the arts in the mid 1970’s. Jules is the outsider who is thrilled to be involved in this in-group and we see how their friendship changes over the years and how we are never really as interesting to the rest of the world as we are to ourselves. My review is here.

There were many terrific non-fiction books this year and Robert Hilburn’s Johnny Cash-The Life tops the list. Cash is a true American story, from his poverty-stricken days picking cotton on his family’s small farm to his rise as a country music superstar, through drugs and alcohol and infidelity and his strong faith that sustained him through good times and bad. My review is here.

Sheri Fink’s meticulously researched Five Days at Memorial shows us all sides of what happened at a hospital in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina. A doctor and two nurses were accused of fatally injecting patients with morphine and other drugs in mercy killings, and Fink writes the book in a way that reads like a fast-paced mystery.  My review is here.

The bodies of five young women, all of whom worked as prostitutes, were found buried on Gilgo Beach on Long Island and Robert Kolker tells their stories in Lost Girls. Kolker interviewed the families and friends of the women, as well as the people who live on Gilgo Beach, to discover what happened to them, but no one has been arrested. We see how poverty, sexual abuse, and lack of education can create an almost inescapable downward spiral. My review is here.

Darlene Barnes was looking for an empty nest job and she found one cooking at a fraternity house. In Hungry she shares how she worked to use more organic, locally sourced food to create a healthier way of eating for her customers. I loved her prickly personality and her relationship with the young men. My review is here.

I hope you have read some great books in 2013, and I look forward to more in 2014.