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Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Most Compelling Reads of 2015

My annual end of the year column from the Citizen:
This is the time of year when many publications create their "Best Books of 2015" lists.
Each year I compile my annual list of "The Most Compelling Books I Read This Year." These are books that I read this year, though not necessarily published in 2015. They are books that made me think of them long after I finished reading them, books that deeply affected me in some way or another.
Lauren Groff’s “Fates and Furies” has made many best-of lists this year and deservedly so. She tells the story of a marriage between Lotto, a golden boy, successful playwright and his enigmatic wife, Mathilde. We see their story first from Lotto’s point of view, and then from Mathilde’s, which is dramatically different. 
Fates and Furies
Wendy Francis’ “The Summer of Good Intentions” is a fantastic family story, with the relationship among the three sisters particularly strong and relatable. They face a family crisis with their aging father and it is a heartrending novel. (My full review here.)
The Summer of Good Intentions
Sara Gruen’s “At The Water’s Edge” takes us to World War II Scotland as three people go in search of the Loch Ness monster. The woman of the group struggles to comprehend her husband’s increasingly abusive behavior and learns to find her voice as this intense story builds. (My full review here.)
At the Water's Edge
Victoria Hislop’s “The Sunrise” has a real sense of time and place as this story of a young couple in Cyprus in 1972 who see their dreams of owning an upscale hotel fall apart during the Turkish-Greek war. This wonderful novel resonates today with the refugee crisis and war in Syria taking center stage in the world.  (My full review here.)
The Sunrise
Richard Flanagan’s “The Narrow Road to the Deep North” is the story of an Australian doctor in a Japanese POW camp during WWII. It is harrowing and gut-wrenching and not for the faint of heart, but this is the most powerful book I read this year. It also won the Man Booker Prize in 2014. (My full review here.)
The Narrow Road to the Deep North
Anne Tyler says that “A Spool of Blue Thread” may be her last novel, and if that is true, she is going out on a high note. She is a master of family stories, and this is no exception. We see a family in Baltimore struggle with aging parents, a prodigal son returning home, and a tragedy halfway through the story that changes everything. (My full review here.)
A Spool of Blue Thread
On a lighter note, Patricia Park’s “Re Jane” is a spin on “Jane Eyre” telling the story of a young Korean/American woman who longs to leave her uncle’s home in Queens and escapes by becoming a nanny for a Brooklyn family. When she falls in love with the husband, she runs away to her mother’s family in South Korea. Park immerses us in these disparate cultures to great affect. (My full review here.)
Re Jane
Moving on to non-fiction, Kate Mulgrew’s memoir “Born With Teeth” made many best-of lists as well. Mulgrew is an actress best known for her roles on the soap opera “Ryan’s Hope” in the 1970s, as a Starfleet commander in “Star Trek: Voyager” in the 1990s and now as prison inmate Red in “Orange is the New Black.” Her memoir is nothing like the usual star-turn, but an honest look at what it meant to be an actress and the sacrifices she made to get there. (My full review here.)
Born With Teeth
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Comedian Jen Kirkman’s “I Know What I’m Doing — and Other Lies I Tell Myself” is not a laugh-a-minute book, but rather a candid look at her life as she nears 40 and finds that she wants out of her less-than-two-year marriage. I didn’t know much about Kirkman, but I really appreciated her honesty about where she is in life.
I Know What I'm Doing
“The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace” tells of Jeff Hobbs’ quest to learn what happened to his friend from college. Peace was a young black man who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, the son of hard-working blue-collar worker who sacrificed so her son could go to a good private school and on to college and a drug-dealer who was convicted of murder. Peace was torn between these two worlds and this is an eye-opening book, a must-read for everyone. (My full review here.)
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace
Mary Pflum Peterson’s “White Dresses” relates the story of her mother, a woman who became a hoarder. Peterson shows us with great compassion how a devout young Catholic woman who left the convent after nearly dying and married a closeted gay man with whom she had two children, descended into this mental illness of hoarding. (My full review here.)
White Dresses
I hope you read many great books this year, and will read many more in 2016.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

New in Paperback- The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978006167091X
Trade paperback, $15.99, 384 pages

As Marisa de los Santos' The Precious One opens, Taisy Cleary receives a phone out of the blue from her estranged father Wilson, the man who left her mother, twin brother Marcus and her to marry a young sculptor. After not hearing from the man in ages, he calls her to inform her that he had a heart attack two weeks ago and summons her to his home to discuss an important matter.
Marcus tells Taisy she is crazy to go see the man, but Taisy cannot say no. When she arrives, she finds that her father- a brilliant professor, inventor and self-made millionaire- wants her to help him write his memoir. Or rather, he will dictate it to Taisy and she can interview the many people who think he is brilliant too.

Taisy says yes, even though she has to stay in the poolhouse. (You wouldn't expect her to be allowed to stay in her father's house with his wife and brilliant and beautiful golden child Willow, would you?)

The only thing Willow knows about her half sister is that Taisy committed some horrible act when she was a teenager that made Wilson infuriated and lose all respect for her. Now Taisy is in their lives and Willow feels she must protect her father from her.

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Taisy and Willow. Taisy is curious about her father and his other family and slowly comes to care for Willow and her mother. Willow has been isolated from most other people, being homeschooled and smothered by her father's attention.

As Taisy and Willow get to know each other, they come to understand and even like each other. Taisy helps Willow join the outside world, teaching her the things she needs to know.

As I read this book, I felt like Taisy could be a character in an Adriana Trigiani novel. She is a hardworking woman with a good sense of humor, and an even more developed sense of right and wrong.  There's even a crazy family dinner scene that reminded me of the Roncalli family ones from Trigiani's Valentine series.

The ladies in the book club all agreed that we liked Taisy, she might even make a great addition to our book club. Her growing affection for Willow and Willow's mother was touching and sweet. One of our members has twins, so she especially enjoyed the relationship between Taisy and Marcus.

We did not like Wilson, he was pompous and self-righteous, although Taisy's discovery of his past helped to mitigate that feeling somewhat (OK, just a little bit).

This was the first book I have read of de los Santos, and I would like to read more of them. I like her style of writing, and the way she was able to write in the voices of two distinct characters.

If you're looking for a good family story, The Precious One is an excellent choice.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

On Broadway- The King and I

You know you are in for something special in the new Broadway production of The King and I as it opens as a huge ship moves along the stage and out into the audience.

Kelli O'Hara has finally won a Tony for her role as Anna, the English widow who brings her son to Siam when she takes a job as a teacher to the King of Siam's many children in the 1860s. O'Hara is simply stunning as Anna, letting us see how steely Anna must be to hold her own in a land where women are relegated to an inferior role.

Jose Llana played the King in the performance I saw (the role has seen two Kings since he departed), and he did a masterful job in a very demanding and dialogue-heavy role. He and O'Hara had a wonderful chemistry, especially in the audience pleasing song and dance of "Shall We Dance?", one of the highlights of the show.

I'd never seen the show, and was so impressed with this glorious production. Everything from the sets to the costumes to the music and choreography were perfectly done.

The young actors who play the King's children are delightful, and O'Hara clearly enjoys her scenes with them. Her interactions with the wives is interesting too. As hard as it seems, Ruthie Ann Miles steals the scene from O'Hara as she leaves the audience breathless when she sings "Something Wonderful". She received a standing ovation in the middle of the show for it.

It is a very long show, but you are so absorbed in this amazing production, you will jump to your feet at the end of the show to applaud this pitch-perfect production. The King and I is a show worth seeing, even if you have to pay full price for a ticket. You will get you money's worth.

More information about the show is here.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

On Broadway- Sylvia

Annaleigh Ashford follows up her Tony-winning performance in You Can't Take It With You with another comedic tour-de-force in Sylvia.

She plays a dog that Greg, a man who seems bored with his job and his life played by Matthew Broderick, finds wandering in Central Park. Greg names the dog Sylvia and brings her home to his New York City apartment much to the dismay of his wife Kate, wonderfully played by Julie White.

Kate and Greg are now empty nesters, and Kate has gone back to school and found a job that she loves. She and Greg seem to be in a different place in life. He is bored with his job, looking for something fulfilling, and after years of raising children and caring for her husband, Kate is ready to dive into her career, and caring for a dog is not in the picture for her.

Anyone who has ever owned a dog will be charmed by Ashford's fantastic performance (and judging by the roaring laughter from the audience, most of them owned dogs). She is sassy and funny, and when she curses other dogs at the park, I laughed so hard because I imagined my dog used to think the same things.

Ashford has said that to prepare for her role she took dog obedience lessons with her own beloved dog, and her commitment shines through in her performance. She even managed the wet dog eyes. (I absolutely love her in Showtime's Master of Sex as office manager Betty, another award-winning worthy performance.)

Robert Sella steals the scenes he is in as three different characters, especially as Leslie, the therapist and Phyllis, the socialite. Broderick is very low-key in his performance, and I guess that is because Greg is so low-key.

I wasn't crazy about the ending to the show. You can't compromise when it comes to dog ownership, and someone has to give in. Let me just say that it's clear the author of the play is a man.

This is a show worth seeing for Ashford's performance, and I would recommend it as you can find discount tickets. It is a limited run show, so if you want to see it, more information is here.

Monday, November 23, 2015

On Broadway- Fool For Love

Nina Arianda & Sam Rockwell
Sam Shepard's Pulitzer prize-winning play Fool For Love has finally come to Broadway, with two powerhouse performances from Sam Rockwell and Tony winner Nina Arianda at the center of it.

The show opens in a small hotel room, an elderly man sitting off to the side of the stage, a man in cowboy hat in a chair and woman sitting on the edge of the bed, her hair covering her face, not moving. The scene is silent for more than a few minutes, making some in the audience uncomfortable.

Finally, the cowboy Eddie speaks, asking the woman May if she needs a glass of water. We find that Eddie has found May here, claiming that he has been searching for her. She doesn't believe him, and we slowly discover that he left her behind, running off with another, wealthier, woman.

Over the course of the 75 minute show, these two spar verbally and physically, and the emotions are tense and intense. They circle each other, pushing each other away, yet seemingly unable to pull away from each other. There is clearly something in their past.

May tells him that she has a date coming to pick her up, and he refuses to leave, wanting to meet the man. The poor guy, Martin, shows up, and while totally confused by what is going on, he tries to follow the action. Tom Pelphrey gives a terrific, winning performance as the confused Martin.

Eventually we find out what the deal is with Eddie and May and the old man. It's a stunning revelation, and when it happens, you can audibly hear the audience takes in its collective breath.

Fool For Love is a testament to great writing and brilliant acting by Rockwell and Arianda. It is a not-to-be-missed show, even at full price, but you'd better hurry, its run ends December 13th.

I saw Nina Arianda in her Tony-winning performance in Venus in Fur, and she proves here that she is a talent to be reckoned with.

You can find more information here.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Weekend Cooking- A Crazy Busy Week

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.

Last week was a crazy busy week. We were out almost every night, which while it can be usual for my husband, is not so much for me.

  • On Sunday we had dinner with my husband's aunt who was in town for a wedding. We had dinner at The View, the revolving restaurant on the top floor of the Marriott Marquis hotel in Times Square. I started with a White Berry Cosmo, which had just the right blend of sweet and tart. It's a three course pre-fixe, so I had the crab cake appetizer (fine) and the Roasted Breast of Chicken, which was very tasty, as was the side of Pumpkin Risotto. The Chocolate Gianduja Lemon dessert was OK.
  • On Monday, I did cook and I made a new recipe from Pinterest- One Pot Greek Chicken & Lemon Rice from Recipe Tin Eats. My husband enjoyed it, and we had enough for leftovers the next night.  

From Recipe Tin Eats
  • On Wednesday, we attended a gala for the Path to Peace Foundation at the United Nations. Princess Haya bint Al Hussein, the daughter of the late King of Jordan and the wife of the Prime Minister of the UAE and the ruler of Dubai, received the award for her work with children's and hunger organizations. She gave an impassioned speech about how the people who are terrorizing the entire world do not do it in her name (she is Muslim) or in the name of Islam, and how the world must pull together for light to defeat darkness. The dinner was salmon or vegetables, which was different from most galas, where the norm is a filet of beef and some kind of potato. 
    Princess Haya bint Al Hussein
  • Thursday evening found us at the Arlington Club, where we had dinner with a couple from Sarasota. It was raining cats and dogs and so my between wonderful Cosmo and their famous popovers that they serve the table, I was a happy camper. My husband and I split their Chopped Greek Salad and their dinner special that night of a 28oz. bone-in sirloin steak with truffle fries. For dessert, we shared a Banana Cream Pie, which is served with rum ice cream and nutella fudge topping. It was delicious, and fortified us for our dash back into the rain.
  • A friend came into town, and we took him to dinner at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Lusardi's, where my husband and he talked shop. I had a lovely pinot grigio with my favorite dinner of their Insalata Piemontese (pear salad) and Tortelli en Salsa Tartufata (ravioli with mushroom and spinach and fontina cheese in a white truffle sauce). It's always good at Lusardi's.
  • I had every intention of making dinner on Saturday, but after working my shift at The Book Cellar, I did not feel much like cooking, and was relieved when my suggestion of going to Finestra, a little Italian joint across the street from our apartment, was met with enthusiasm from my husband. The Cheese Tortellini Soup with herbs warmed me right up, and I ate half of my Spaghetti Carbonara, which was delicious but very filling (the leftovers will be lunch).
  • Back to Sunday, and I am finally cooking- Mississippi Roast in the crockpot with mashed potatoes, and a broccoli, mushroom and onion saute. French onion soup will be my starter. I hope I remember how to cook!
How was your week of eating? Let me know in comments.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Weekend Cooking- 100 Years of Family Dinners

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.

As I began to write this post, I was interrupted by a matter that needed attention in the kitchen, which is either ironic or appropriate depending on your point of view. I took care of the issue, and so I am back to work.

I saw a post on Facebook this week from Mode.com which created a video "100 Years of Family Dinners". They started in 1915 and showed a plate that represents what American families would eat for dinner.

It was fascinating, and only takes a few minutes to view.

It begins in 1915 with Roast Beef and Franconia Potatoes, which I thought looked very appealing. Fast forward ten years and in 1925, we get Chicken a la King, which sort of surprised me.

We see how the economic times changed the meals. During the Great Depression, 1935's meal was Creamed Chipped Beef on Toast with Buttered Peas, and in 1945 as WWII was ending, we see Spam, Baked Potato and Lima Beans, not my favorite meal, but representative of the depravation of the war years.

In 1955 TV was king, and so the invention of the TV dinner was popular. They show my favorite, Roast Turkey, Gravy, Mashed Potatoes and Peas. (I used to eat this after I got home late at night from work at the movie theater when I was in high school, which was the late 1970's so its popularity continued on for decades.)

The "Mad Men" decade brought us Chicken Kiev, Potatoes with a Cream Sauce and Boiled Carrots in 1965, while in 1975, Cheese Fondue with Ham and Bread Cubes celebrated the Me Decade with a communal dish. (Now that is ironic.)

When so many women entered the work force, 1985 saw Sloppy Joes and Boxed Macaroni and Cheese on family tables, a meal that could be put together quickly.  Ethnic foods entered supermarkets, and in 1995 we see Tacos and Refried Beans, followed by Sushi in 2005.

As people turned to healthier fare for their families, we end up in 2015 with Grilled Salmon and a Quinoa and Kale Salad.

Which one of these meals is your favorite? Let me know in Comments.

Friday, November 13, 2015

At The Movies- Brooklyn

A few years ago I read Colm Toibin's beautiful novel Brooklyn.  He told the story of Eilis, a young Irish woman who leaves her home, her mother and sister in Ireland to come to America for a better opportunity in 1951.

Eilis' sister Rose arranged for Eilis to move to move to Brooklyn where a kindly priest found her a job working in an upscale department store and a place to live in a boardinghouse with other young women.

Eilis was frightened and very lonely, and Toibin made her loneliness feel palpable on the page. I can remember feeling that so many of our own relatives must have felt the very same way, moving away from home and family all alone to a new country.

Toibin's novel was turned into a movie, also called Brooklyn, and I saw it last week. It is such a beautiful work of art, it felt like an old-fashioned MGM movie from the 1950s. The colors are so vibrant, the costumes just so lovely, and Saoirse Ronan is absolute perfection as Eilis.

Her beautiful face just registers all the emotions that Eilis feels- the loneliness, homesickness, fear, and eventually joy and love. Ronan gives a stunning performance, and is in nearly every scene of the movie. Oscar buzz is already building for her, and I would be shocked if she is not nominated.

Director John Crowley creates a work of art here, and Nick Hornsby's script perfectly captures the essence of Tobin's book. All of my favorite book scenes are in the movie.

As Eilis falls in love with Tony, wonderfully played by Emory Cohen, you can feel Eilis coming out of her shell and believing that she can be happy and have a future. Watching them fall in love was so heartwarming.

Tragedy intervenes and Eilis must return home for awhile. When she gets there, she feels torn between her home and her new life, and you will be on pins and needles waiting to get to the end. And even though I knew how it ended, I still felt anxious, that's how well done this movie is.

In the lobby
I give Brooklyn the movie my highest recommendation. Take your mom or your grandma to see it with you.

The City Cinema 1-2-3 on the Upper East Side had a display of one of Eilis' costumes, a black sweater that I coveted from the movie. Maybe there will be a fashion tie-in with the movie?
A closeup of Ellis' sweater and skirt

The link to the homepage for the Fox Searchlight movie is here.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

In A Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware
Published by Gallery/Scout Press ISBN 9781501115523
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages

People looking for a read similar to The Girl On The Train have a new mystery to savor. Ruth Ware's In A Dark, Dark Wood is a worthy successor, also featuring an unreliable narrator.

The story opens with Nora waking up with a head injury in a hospital bed. She wonders what has happened and what she has done. And why is her room being guarded by a police officer? Is it to protect her or keep her from leaving?

Earlier, Nora received an invitation to a hen (bachelorette) party for someone she hasn't seen since high school. Since she didn't get an invitation to the wedding she finds this strange, but when her friend Nina calls and begs to go with her to the party, she reluctantly agrees.

The party takes place in a secluded house in the woods, and we meet the people at the party- Nora (a writer), Nina (a doctor), Melanie (a lawyer and new mom), Tom (a playwright), Flo (the party hostess and best friend of the bride) and Clare (the bride).

We slowly find out that Clare and Nora used to be best friends until something drastic happened to end that. And now Clare is engaged to Nora's ex-boyfriend. Why would Clare invite Nora to her hen party?

In A Dark, Dark Wood has a setup reminiscent to an Agatha Christie novel: a small group of people trapped in a place, when strange things begin to happen. There is too much drinking, some drug use, a ouija board, a shotgun on the wall, and then the truth telling begins and people begin to turn on each other. (There's even a Ten Little Indians shout-out in the story.)

When it appears that someone out there is trying to break into the house, the shotgun comes into play. And Nora ends up in the hospital with ahead injury with only flashes of a shooting and a car accident.

Like The Girl On The Train, the reader is led to believe that our narrator may be responsible for a death. Nora's head injury, like Rachel's alcohol-induced blackouts, causes her to wonder what she may have done. Ware does a terrific job creating an atmosphere of panic and confusion, and even though the reader feels confident she has cracked the mystery, she begins to doubt herself just as Nora does.

In A Dark, Dark Wood is a page-turner, the kind of book you can curl up with on a rainy day and read all the way through. And if someone you know from high school invites you to a weekend at a secluded house in the woods, you will know enough to decline. I recommend this book for those who liked The Girl On The Train and Agatha Christie mysteries. It was an Editor's Buzz book at BEA this year, and a well-deserved choice.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

New In Paperback- The News Sorority by Sheila Weller

The News Sorority by Sheila Weller
Published by Penguin Books ISBN 9780143127772
Trade paperback, $18, 496 pages

In Sheila Weller's book, The News Sorority- Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News, 
she takes us on a tour of the interesting lives of these three successful women. Diane Sawyer was the daughter of a successful judge and a "1950's version of a Tiger Mom" in Kentucky. She idealized her father and his death when she was a young woman devastated her.

Sawyer wanted a job in news, and with her steely reserve and driving ambition, she started at the bottom and worked harder than everyone else to work her way up the ladder from reporter to the press office for President Nixon to morning anchor at the CBS morning show to her latest home at ABC, where she became the face of ABC News, anchoring at various times Primetime, Good Morning America and finally ABC World News Tonight before recently retiring.

Katie Couric was raised in an upper middle class family in Virginia, and she was the youngest of three daughters, all of whom were intelligent and successful. Couric was a cheerleader in high school, and she used everything in her arsenal from her smiling, chipper personality to tenacity and strong work ethic to move from reporter at a Miami TV station to a mostly forgettable CNN reporter stint to Pentagon correspondent at NBC News to her breakout at The Today Show, and her short-lived stint as anchor of The CBS Evening News.

 Christiane Amanpour has been at CNN for many years. Her wealthy Iranian family fled their homeland when the Shah of Iran was overthrown and Amanpour was sent to a boarding school in England. Amanpour was star-struck and kept scrapbooks of Hollywood stars. She loved fashion and didn't seem to be the serious minded woman we know her as today.

The book takes us through the well-known aspects of these women's lives- Sawyer working with President Nixon on his memoirs after his resignation, her marriage to Mike Nichols, Couric's famous "ambush" interview with President George H.W. Bush and the terrible loss of her young husband and sister to cancer, Amanpour's war reporting and on-air confrontation of President Clinton over his policy in Bosnia.

Less is known about Amanpour, and perhaps that is why her story seemed more interesting. Her reporting from war zones, as in Bosnia, are harrowing and heart-pounding. Weller spoke with reporters, producers and tech people who accompanied Amanpour, and these sections of the book are the most compelling.

Amanpour's zeal to bring an important, horrific story about the genocide in Bosnia drives her to nearly single-handedly bring this story to the attention of the American people and politicians and demand action.

We get a lot of behind-the-scenes information, with the story of the early days of CNN being most intriguing (they had no bathroom in their building and had to use a nearby motel and gas station). The egos involved in the news business (Peter Jennings and Charles Gibson do not fare well here), the jockeying for position, and the politics of it all are enlightening.

The one thing that bothered me was the "unnamed sources" who were willing to say not-so-flattering things about the women without putting their name to it. The high school gossip-y feel of that detracted from the book for me. I found the things said by people willing to put their name to it more credible.

What shines through is that these successful women all had faced adversity and loss, and were driven to succeed in their field. They felt a calling to bring important information- Saywer's reports on childhood poverty, Couric's drive to inform people about colon cancer, and Amanpour's reports on war and religion- to the American people.

Fans of TV news will appreciate this book most, and I would love to read a book about the early pioneers of women in TV news, women most of us have never heard of who paved the way for today's well known successful women.

rating 4 of 5

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

The Beach Club Book Club Annual Meeting

Every year the Beach Club Book Club holds an annual meeting at the beach. We meet periodically during the year, but the beach club meeting is our favorite one, where we review many of the books we read during the year.

This year's meeting took place on a perfect summer day. The sky was bright blue, and the sun was shining. We grabbed our beach chairs, ate our delicious deli sandwiches and tasty Italian cookies and got down to business.
The Beach Club Book Club Annual Meeting

The books we talked about were:

  • Marisa de los Santos' The Precious One
  • Robin Antalek's The Grown Ups
  • Jane Shemilt's The Daughter
  • Ellen Herrick's The Sparrow Sisters
  • Laura Lippman's Every Secret Thing
  • Dorothea Benton Frank's The Hurricane Sisters
We noticed a theme here- many of the books were about sisters. The Sparrow Sisters was enjoyable for many of us because we have sisters whom we are close to, like in the book, and many of us grew up in a small town like the setting of the book. 

We understood the closeness of the sisters and the blessings and curses of living in a town where everyone knows everything about you. There were comments about how quickly the town was to turn on Patience when a tragic event occurs. It was noted that the men in the town turned against her more quickly. The women in the town supported her. 

Some of us felt that the doctor, Patience's new boyfriend and newcomer to the town, was little wimpy. He claimed to love Patience, but when she needed him most, he was more than willing to allow her sisters to care for her while he stayed away.

One character we liked was Charlotte, who could have been a stock wealthy, self-involved woman out to keep a rival away from her husband, but she had a lot of depth to her and was very supportive of her husband.

The Precious One also revolved around sisters- Taisy, writer whose father deserted the family when she was teenager, and Willow, her father's teenage daughter with the woman her left his family for years ago.

Taisy and Willow get to know each warily, and we liked both characters, feeling that Taisy could be a character in one of Adriana Trigiani's books. One of our group has twins- a boy and a girl- and she loved the fact that Taisy has a twin brother whom she is close to.

Dorothea Benton Frank's The Hurricane Sisters was another good read. We like Frank's writing style, especially the sense of humor she injects into her stories. There is a more serious side to this story, with a young woman dating an older man who is very controlling, and this sparked some conversation in the group about women we know in a similar situation. 

Every Secret Thing sparked a lot of conversation. Alice and Ronnie were young girls when they are accused of kidnapping a baby from a porch. The girls went to prison and when they were 18, they were released. Soon another child disappears and the girls are again suspect.

We enjoyed Lippman's way with the story, we felt that she kept the suspense all the way through. She develops her characters so well, and throws in a lot of red herrings that kept us guessing what would happen, even beyond the ending of the story.

There was one character we didn't particularly like, and that was the high-priced lawyer recruited to help. Some felt that she was weird and not fleshed out as a character. The female detective assigned to the new missing child case, Nancy, was an intriguing character. She had a connection to the original case, and Lippman had us wondering what her real story is.

We also talked about reading in general. We all love to browse in book stores and card stores. All of us have ereaders, so we compared reading on ereaders versus reading print books. There is a tendency to download many books on the ereaders that don't necessarily get read. 

Print books that we own we tend to read more. Maybe it's a case of "out of sight, out of mind"; we don't see our ebooks, but we do see our print books, beckoning us from our bookshelves.
It was also felt that we tend to skim books more on the ereaders, and we read print books more thoroughly.

We see many people reading actual books on the train, and we agreed that we like to give kids print books as gifts.

It was a terrific day and the Beach Club Book Club looks forward to meeting in the city to see the holiday displays and talk more bookish things.

Thanks to The Book Club Girl Book Club for providing books.

Monday, November 9, 2015

All The Stars in The Heavens by Adriana Trigiani

All The Stars In The Heavens by Adriana Trigiani
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-2319191-7
Hardcover, $26.99, 464 pages

Reading Adriana Trigiani's newest novel All The Stars In The Heavens feels like watching a fascinating Turner Classic Movies documentary. I felt like putting on my best peignoir, slipping on my feathered mules, applying the reddest shade of lipstick, and mixing myself a martini garnished with olives as I dove into the story-behind-the-story of Loretta Young and Clark Gable's forbidden Hollywood romance while reclining on my bedroom chaise.

Loretta Young was a hardworking, well-known young actress when she was cast as the thirteen-years-older Clark Cable's love interest in the movie The Call of The Wild. The movie was to be shot on location in a remote area near Seattle.

Young's assistant, the former-almost-nun-until-she-was-told-by-Mother-Superior-that-she-was-not-nun-material Alda Ducci accompanied Loretta. They were among the very few women on the set, so they managed to attract the attentions of more than a few of the men.

Clark Gable avidly pursued Loretta, even though he was married. Loretta had just ended a romantic, though chaste, relationship with actor Spencer Tracy and even though she had a reputation for falling a little bit in love with her leading men, she was determined not to do so with Gable.

She resisted until she couldn't anymore, and when Loretta and Gable traveled to Seattle to be witnesses to a wedding between Alda and a set painter after a whirlwind romance, she gave in.

The affair had long-lasting consequences, and although Gable promised that he was going to divorce his wife to be with Loretta, he strung Loretta along. Loretta had a career to worry about, and home wrecker would not look good in the tabloids or on her resume.

There were so many things I loved about All The Stars In The Heavens, it could be a multi-part post, but I will just touch on the highlights.

  • The novel takes real people and a true story and imagines what really happened, and those kind of stories I find irresistible when done well, and Trigiani aims high and hits a home run here.  
  • I love Hollywood behind-the-scenes-stories, and to see a different side of have such unforgettable characters as Young, Gable, a young David Niven, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy and Hattie McDaniel was thrilling.
  • The scene with Gable and Hattie McDaniel on the set of Saratoga, the 1937 movie where Jean Harlow died on set, made me giddy. We see their bantering and flirting, and now I remember why I loved the scenes between Mammy and Rhett Butler in Gone With The Wind so much. (GWTW is my favorite movie!)
  • Women in Trigiani's books are strong women, and always strive to have a career. Here we see that Loretta worked hard to support her mother and sisters, and invested her money in real estate. How many women (or men) in Hollywood were smart enough to do that? Loretta's mother, a single mom, had to raise her four daughters, and built a stellar career in real estate investment and interior design. She was a terrific example for her girls, and Trigiani's protagonists are good examples for women to work hard and follow their dreams to get ahead.
I could go on and on, but I'll just tell you that I loved that Trigiani has stepped up her already stellar game in All The Stars In The Heavens, and you will lose yourself in a dazzling Hollywood love story that will have you googling Loretta Young/Clark Cable to find out the story that inspired this gorgeous novel. I give it my highest recommendation.

I wrote a #WeekendCooking post about the foodie passages in All The Stars In The Heavens here. 
Adriana Trigiana's website is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Adriana's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Adriana’s Tour Stops

Wednesday, October 14th: Time 2 Read
Thursday, October 15th: Kritters Ramblings
Friday, October 16th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, October 19th: A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, October 20th: View from a Birdhouse
Thursday, October 22nd: Walking With Nora
Friday, October 23rd: BermudaOnion’s Weblog
Monday, October 26th: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, October 27th: Booking Mama
Wednesday, October 28th: Curling Up by the Fire
Thursday, October 29th: Jen’s Book Thoughts
Monday, November 2nd: Kahakai Kitchen
Tuesday, November 3rd: Books on the Table
Thursday, November 5th: I’m Shelf-ish
Thursday, November 5th: Beth Fish Reads
Friday, November 6th: Read. Write. Repeat.
Monday, November 9th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, November 10th: Drey’s Library
Thursday, November 13th: Book Journey
Friday, November 13th: Write Meg

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Weekend Cooking- New Pinterest Recipes

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.

Although I haven't been cooking too much lately, mostly because between my husband having lots of work dinners and us staying at our new vacation home in Florida we haven't been home too much,  but I have tried a few new Pinterest recipes that have worked out quite well.

One recent Friday night, my husband asked me to make him Spanish Rice. I'm not a big fan of Spanish Rice, so I checked out Pinterest to see if there was something new that would be easy to make alongside the rice dish for me to eat.

I found this Chicken Meatball Orzo Soup that turned out so well. I was a little afraid that the chicken meatballs would be dry, but these were very juicy and tasty. This recipe is one that I will make again when the weather turns cool.

 The recipe came from Will Cook For Smiles, and it is a winner. The link is here.
Photo from Will Cook For Smiles

I made this recipe for Rosemary Chicken with Mushrooms and Caramelized Onions because I looked in my refrigerator and I had rosemary, mushrooms and onions, and just had to pick up some chicken cutlets at the grocery store.

It's another easy one, great for a simple weeknight dinner when you don't have much time to get dinner on the table. I added some rice and a green salad on the side and Bob's your uncle, dinner is served.

This recipe came from Recipes, Food & Cooking, and can be found here.
Photo from Recipes, Food & Cooking
This last recipe I made because I had delicious pears from the fundraising dinner we attended for Hudson River Healthcare Foundation a few weeks ago. (My post about that is here.) This one is from Cooking Light, called Prosciutto, Pear and Blue Cheese Sandwich, and is great for a ladies luncheon.

The recipe is here.
Photo: John Autry; Styling: Cindy Barr- Cooking Light
One last thing- my friend's daughter Hannah just started a blog called Me Oh My Ohio, and she has some very cute photos of her holiday decorations for her mantel in her new home in Ohio. She is very clever, and uses inexpensive things like dried corn and beans in decorative jars that is so clever and cute. Check out her blog here.

How great does this look? Photo from Me Oh My Ohio

Have you found any great new recipes lately? Share them in comments.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams
Published by Putnam ISBN 9780399171314
Hardcover, $26.95, 464 pages

A few months ago, I read three of Beatriz Williams' novels revolving around the Schuyler family- One Hundred Summers, The Secret Life of Violet Grant and Tiny Little Thing. All of the Schuyler women are intriguing, but I found myself drawn to Pepper, who had a prominent role in Tiny Little Thing.

I hoped that the next book would feature Pepper, and lo and behold, we get Pepper's story in Williams' newest novel, Along the Infinite Sea. The novel picks up a little while after Tiny Little Thing, in 1966 Palm Beach, Florida where Pepper is selling the special vintage Mercedes that she, her sister and her sister's lover found in a shed in Cape Cod and restored.

The buyer is a woman named Annabelle Dommerich who has a connection to that car- she and her husband escaped the Nazis in it in 1938. Annabelle takes the pregnant Pepper under her wing and into her palatial home to hide out from the baby's father, a connected and married US Senator from a prominent family.

When Annabelle mysteriously disappears, her son Florian and Pepper go looking for her. We get alternating stories, Annabelle's from 1937 and Pepper's from 1966. While I love Pepper and her snappy talk and tough-gal attitude, it's Annabelle's story that truly fascinates.

When Annabelle is 17-years-old, she falls madly in love with Stefan, a Jewish man, after nursing him back to health after an encounter with the Nazis. They spend a glorious time together, and when Stefan disappears, Annabelle finds herself in trouble.

She ends up married to Johann, a general in the German government during the rise of the the Nazi party. Annabelle and Stefan cross paths at various times over the next few years, and she is torn between her love and desire for Stefan and her duty to Johann, who took her in and gave her a home and a life.

There is so much in Along the Infinite Sea to love. There's a little bit of the Sound of Music (Nazis and a daring escape attempt- what a scene!), a little bit of Les Miserables (the Valjean/Javert relationship) and Williams rolls these all into her can't-stop-reading-it novel. The relationship between Annabelle and Pepper is terrifically done, they are such intriguing and strong women.

Nick Greenwald and Budgie Byrne from One Hundred Summers make a few appearances, which is a lovely touch to readers of the Schuyler women books, and Williams made a pretty cool connection between Annabelle and Pepper and the mysterious car.

You don't need to have read any of the previous books to understand and appreciate Along the Infinite Sea, it stands alone on its own quite well. But if you are a fan of the Schuyler women, you will fall in love with this one. I highly recommend it.

My review of the other Schuyler family novels is here.

Real People in Fiction

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Novels that incorporate real people in their stories are fascinating. The author takes a familiar person and the kernel of a story and, using his or her imagination, creates an interesting and vivid portrait.
There are three recent books that fit this category: Homer Hickam’s funny and poignant “Carrying Albert Home,” Adriana Trigiani’s glamorous “All the Stars in the Heavens” and Paula McLain’s engrossing “Circling the Sun.”
McLain wrote the hugely popular “The Paris Wife,” about Ernest Hemingway’s first wife, Hadley. She follows that with the story of Beryl Markham, who wrote her own life story in “West With The Night." 
Markham was raised in Kenya by her father after her mother took her brother and left to return to London. Markham was a tomboy, and like her father, she trained horses and rode them in races, where she became successful.
She fought the prejudice of men who didn’t believe a woman should be doing a man’s work, and had a disastrous marriage that she tried for years to extricate herself from. Markham also became entangled in an affair with Denys Hatten, who was also involved with Karen Blixen (also known as Isak Dinesen, author of “Out of Africa”).
McLain makes you feel the dust and heat of Kenya, and she paints a riveting portrait of Markham, a complex woman ahead of her time. Markham thirsted for adventure, and although she became best known for being the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean from east to west, “Circling the Sun” mostly deals with her interesting life before that achievement.
Homer Hickam’s “Carrying Albert Home” tells the story of his parents, who, during the Depression, had an adventure of their own. According to his mother, she used to date actor Buddy Ebsen before he was famous. He was the love of her life, and she was crushed when he left her to make it big in New York. 
So Elsie marries Homer’s dad (also named Homer), and becomes the thing she dreads most: a coal miner’s wife. Buddy Ebsen sent a gift to Elsie for her marriage: an alligator she named Albert.
After a few years, Albert became too big to live in their home, so Elsie wanted to take him home to Florida to set him free. Homer goes along with this crazy idea because he loves his wife dearly, even though he fears she still loves Buddy.
Along the way from West Virginia to Florida, they have a series of adventures and meet many people, including the author John Steinbeck, who hitches a ride with them while he does research for a story he wants to write about coal miners.
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When they get to Florida, they end up having dinner with Ernest Hemingway, just as a hurricane is bearing down on the Keys. The Hickams reminded me of Forrest Gump with the way they ended up in the middle of some crazy adventures, including foiling a bank robbery and acting as stand-ins in a Tarzan movie.
Young Homer is not sure exactly what is true about his parents’ stories and what is exaggeration, so “Carrying Albert Home” is a novel, but it is rollicking, fun and yet poignant at the same time as the Hickams try to find a way to make their marriage work, even when they seemed ill-suited at times for each other.
Adriana Trigiani takes her writing in a different direction in “All The Stars In The Heavens." She takes the old Hollywood story about Loretta Young giving birth in secret to Clark Gable’s child and claiming that she adopted the baby, and adds in an Italian woman named Alda, who was asked to leave the convent where she planned to be a nun, as Loretta’s assistant, and weaves a story that will hook you from the get-go. 
You’ll feel like you are watching a behind-the-scenes documentary on Turner Classic Movies as you read about the glory days of old Hollywood, when studios controlled their stars and scandals ruined careers instead of creating them, like in today’s atmosphere. (Kardashian, anyone?)
Trigiani gives us another side to such stars as Young, Gable, Spencer Tracy, Myrna Loy and David Niven, and you’ll be Googling Loretta Young the minute you finish this amazing, gorgeous story.
If you like your fiction with a little (or a lot) of reality, each of these novels should be on your to-read list. They are all enlightening and enjoyable.

If you read

PUBLISHER: Penguin Random House
COST: Hardcover $28
LENGTH: 384 pages

PUBLISHER: William Morrow
COST: Hardcover, $25.99
LENGTH: 432 pages

COST: Hardcover, $26.99
LENGTH: 464 pages