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Thursday, January 29, 2015

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis

One Step Too Far by Tina Seskis
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-234007-8
Hardcover, $25.99, 304 pages
Suspense novels about disappearing spouses, from Gone Girl to the recent blockbuster The Girl On The Train, are all the rage, and Tina Seskis' novel, One Step Too Far, is a worthy addition to this genre.

Like The Girl On The Train, One Step Too Far is also set in London. As we meet Emily, she is on a train running away from her husband and young son, but we don't know why. We learn that she is a twin, and her sister Caroline has led a troubled life, in comparison to Emily, who was always the good girl.

Caroline always felt that her mother didn't love her as much as she loved Emily, a feeling that is based in fact. Their father Andrew is a womanizer, and had a distant relationship with his daughters.

When Emily met Ben, they fell in love and began a wonderful life together. Their wedding was beautiful, until a drunken Caroline ruined the day, and Andrew slept with Caroline's friend. But Ben and Emily did their best to not let family bring them down.

Something bad happens, we don't exactly what it is, but it causes Emily to run away to London, change her name to Cat and move into a disgusting flat with several other strangers. Angel, a flatmate, can see that Cat is fragile, and takes her under her wing.

Cat gets a job in marketing, and works her way up the ladder. She also drinks too much and uses drugs to mask her pain. What happened to Emily to drive her to abandon her old, happy life?

My initial thoughts had something to do with her twin sister, and I kept looking for clues along the way to confirm my suspicions. But Seskis does a marvelous job getting the reader turning the pages to find the answer, and the tag line on the book's cover- "No one has ever guessed Emily's secret. Will you?" is pure genius, keeping that uppermost in the reader's mind. Kudos to whomever came up with that one.

We are drawn into Cat's new world, feeling her pain as she tries to start over and forget whatever it is she is running from, while Ben searches frantically for her. Although we are constantly wondering what caused Emily to run, she is such an interesting character, and I found her journey, particularly her determination to decorate her new room, completely engrossing.

When we do find out what happened to Emily, I confess to being totally shocked and gasping audibly. I was reading on a beach, and I could see heads around me turning when I found out, wondering what I was reading.

One Step Too Far is a perfect beach or airplane book. It's a propulsive page-turner that is best read when you have uninterrupted time because you will become obsessed wondering what caused Emily to run. But it is not only the plot that will move you; Emily/Cat is an unforgettable character and you will pull for her to find peace.

rating 4 of 5

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins

The Girl On The Train by Paula Hawkins
Published by Riverhead ISBN 9781594633669
Hardcover, $26.95, 326 pages

Reprinted from The Citizen:

One of the most buzzed about books has published this past week. Paula Hawkins “The Girl On A Train” has been called this year’s “Gone Girl”. (It even has the word ‘girl” in the title.)

Like Gillian Flynn’s “Gone Girl”, “The Girl On A Train” features an unreliable narrator, a twenty-eight-year old woman named Rachel. Rachel rides the train everyday from home in Ashbury to work in London.

We get a little foreshadowing when Rachel looks outside the window on the train and sees a pile of clothing lying on the side of the train tracks. Her overactive imagination wonders what could have possibly befallen the person who belongs to those clothes.

Every day, Rachel passes by a neighborhood where she frequently sees a young, attractive couple on their terrace. She has named them Jess and Jason. She imagines Jess is involved in the arts, and Jason works for an NGO, helping poor people. Each day, the story she creates becomes more elaborate.

Slowly we get more information about Rachel. She likes to drink on the train, not only on the way home, but also on the way to work. Rachel has a serious drinking problem.  She lost her job because of her drinking, but hasn’t told anyone yet, so she takes the train everyday with nowhere to go.

We also find that Rachel’s husband had an affair, divorced her and moved his new wife into their home. Rachel was forced to rent a room in the home of a college acquaintance. She lives in a room basically, has no job, no husband and drinks too much. Life is not good for Rachel.

One day, she sees Jess on her terrace, kissing a man who is not Jason. Rachel is upset about this, for in the world she created for them they are blissfully in love. A few days later on the news she sees a photo of Jess, whose real name is Megan, and discovers that Megan has gone missing.

Rachel goes to the police to tell them what she saw. The police take her information, but have questions about her. Rachel decides that she must tell Jason, whose real name is Scott, what she saw.
Her only hesitation in seeing Scott is that her old home, the one that now houses her ex-husband, his mistress-now-wife, and their young daughter, is just four doors away from Scott and Megan.

When Rachel gets drunk, she calls Tom, her ex, and cries. His new wife, Anna, has had enough of Rachel’s harassment, but Tom still seems to care for Rachel. He says he is sorry for what has happened, and wants Rachel to be happy and move on with her life.

Rachel goes to Scott and tells him that she was friends with Megan, and she saw Megan kiss another man the day before she disappeared. Scott is devastated, and while he wonders why he never heard Megan mention Rachel, he begins to question if he really knew his wife.

The story is told from the perspective of Rachel, Anna and Megan. Megan’s dead body is found near her home, and the race is on to find her killer. Of course, the husband is a prime suspect, as is the man Rachel saw kissing Megan on the terrace.

Rachel insinuates herself into the police investigation. She meets with the boyfriend, and becomes closer to Scott. Anna doesn’t like Rachel hanging around her and Tom’s neighborhood, and wants Tom to cut all ties with Rachel.

On the night that Megan went missing, Rachel was in the neighborhood, very drunk, stumbling, and Tom found her bloody and dazed under an underpass. She had a bump on her head, and remembers nothing after leaving the train stop. Did she see who killed Megan?

Careful readers may pick up a few of the clues Hawkins has placed to figure out who killed Megan, and there is a “holy cow” moment halfway through the story that explains a character’s motivations.

“The Girl On The Train” is a fast-moving, heart-pounding thriller that keeps the reader on the edge of her seat, particularly the tension-filled last chapter. Fans of “Gone Girl” will like it, but it also reminded me of another terrific book with an unreliable narrator, “The Other Typist”.  You can’t trust anyone’s memory or motive.

rating 4 of 5 stars 

This book satisfies my Book Set In A Different Country for Reading Challenge 2015

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

A Matter of Mercy by Lynne Hugo

A Matter of Mercy by Lynne Hugo
Published by Blank Slate Press ISBN 978-0-9858086-1-7
Trade paperback, $14.95, 263 pages

Using a real lawsuit from 1996 between wealthy vacation home owners and sea farmers who cultivated oysters and scallops on the outer banks of Cape Cod as a stepping off point, author Lynne Hugo weaves an intriguing story in her terrific novel, A Matter of Mercy.

Caroline, known as CiCi to her high school friends, moves back home to Wellfleet, a small fishing community in Cape Cod to care for her dying mother Eleanor. Slowly, we find that something bad happened to Cici, something for which she served time in jail.

Eleanor would like to see CiCi settle down, marry and start a family. She reminds CiCi that Rid, an guy whom CiCi knew in high school, is working as an aquafarmer and looking very good. I love that Eleanor describes him as "built like a brick s@#thouse. Eleanor had abandoned prim language with no explanation after she was widowed."  That is a fabulous line, such a great way to establish Eleanor's character in one sentence.

During a bad storm, CiCi runs out to help Rid, and they end up at her home where they have sex. Rid spent some time in prison for a drug charge, so he and CiCi have something in common. The next morning, Rid races out, leaving a confused CiCi.

The aquafarmers, who have owned and worked oyster beds in the water behind the now-ubiquitous McMansions forever, are being sued by the new homeowners, claiming that the farmers are trespassing on their property to harvest their oyster beds.

Some of the farmers believe that CiCi may be involved in the lawsuit, even though the home she inherited is modest in size and scope, and her family has been in Wellfleet forever too. When someone starts stalking CiCi, trying to scare her and throwing rocks through her window, she becomes afraid.

CiCi accidentally runs into someone she hurt in the past, and she desperately wants to find out how the person is doing, almost to the point of obsession. Does CiCi hope to be forgiven or is this person the stalker?

The characters in the story- CiCi, Rid, Terri the librarian, Elsie (Eleanor's hospice nurse), Billy the bartender- are fascinating and completely realistic. If I ever visited Wellfleet, I believe I would run into them somewhere in the village.

The relationships between the characters are well-drawn too, between Rid and CiCi, Rid and his fellow aquafarmers, with the one between Rid and his faithful dog Lizzie being my favorite.

Hugo's language is beautiful too, with these sentences really moving me:
"And suddenly, she was crying at the too-largeness, the mystery of things, needing to make them small enough to think about, to get her arms around."
"The mercy I can show you is in not asking for your forgiveness."
Hugo manages to beautifully blend a love story with a mystery, with a story about forgiveness, all set in a fascinating place that becomes an important character in the book. My family has vacationed several times in Cape Cod, and so I was particularly interested in reading A Matter of Mercy.

She manages to put us in CiCi's shoes, and had me wondering if I would make the same decisions the characters did. I became completely invested in this amazing story, my heart aching for the characters and what they went through. (Bonus: I learned a lot about aquafarming, something I knew nothing about.) I read A Matter of Mercy in just two sittings, unable to break away from this emotional, moving story.

rating 5 of 5

In Reading Challenge 2015, A Matter of Mercy fulfills my A Book By An Author You've Never Read Before book.

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

Lynne Hugo’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, January 5th: Life is Story
Thursday, January 8th: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, January 13th: Bookchickdi
Thursday, January 15th: Book Chatter
Monday, January 19th: Too Fond
Wednesday, January 28th: Suko’s Notebook

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Food, A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan

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.

Food: A Love Story by Jim Gaffigan
Published by Crown Publishing, ISBN 9780804140416
Hardcover, $26, 352 pages

Jim Gaffigan is a well known stand-up comedian and actor whose biggest claim to fame is his "Hot Pockets" routine about the frozen food item eaten mostly by drunk college students and/or lazy people with a microwave.

He has written two books, Dad Is Fat, about living with his wife and five young children in a one-bedroom New York City fifth-floor walkup, and his second is Food: A Love Story, about his love affair with food.

As a stand-up comic who has traveled all over the world, Gaffigan has eaten in many restaurants. When he travels on tour, he tweets to his fans, asking them where and what he should eat. This section of the book is terrific, and in addition to being very funny, it includes wonderful tips for traveling "foodies" (a term Gaffigan disdains).

Gaffigan divides the United States into five major food areas-

  • Seabugland (Northeast Coast)
  • Eating BBQland (Southeast/Parts of Midwest)
  • Super Bowl Sunday Foodland (Midwest/Parts of East)
  • Steakland (Texas to Upper West)
  • Mexican Foodland (Southwest to Texas)
He is not a big fan of seafood, especially shellfish, saving particular distaste for oysters. His discussion of barbeque, which is used as "a verb, noun, and adjective and even a potato chip" is funny and informative.

Gaffigan recounts how each city is proud of its own unique recipe for barbeque, and that in every Southern city he meets the same guy who says the same thing "Obama ate there, and you can get it shipped anywhere you want." He also mentions places that you can get great BBQ not in the South, with Syracuse, NY (Dinosaur BBQ) on that short list.

He tells a funny story about dragging his family to a gas station in Kansas City, MO to eat at Oklahoma's Joe's, where Gaffigan joined a very long line at 11am. The line was filled with "predominantly, pudgy, balding, exhausted men in their thirties and forties," all happy to be there, though if these same men were confronted with such a long line at a grocery store to get milk or diapers, they would leave the store rather than wait for such unimportant items for their family.

Another hilarious story had him following a man in Kmart, who was drinking gravy from a styrofoam cup he got in the KFC located in Kmart.  His description of the ambience of Kmart as a store that always looks like "it was just attacked by a flash mob" brought a chuckle of recognition.

Food: A Love Story, had me laughing all the way through it, and as I was reading in on the treadmill (Gaffigan would disapprove of this- exercise, I mean), my fellow exercisers would look at me as if I was a little crazy. (Note: laughing while reading on a treadmill can be dangerous. If you get doubled up with laughter, you can potentially fall. Not that that almost happened to me.)

Serious foodies may take offense, but Gaffigan is a comedian who has found his niche in poking fun of his eating habits, and most of us can find something to relate to in this humorous book. He also loves his family (I adored his section about taking each child individually to his favorite deli, Katz's), and I got some great ideas on where to eat. (And anyone who believes that Shake Shack has the best burgers in world is my kinda guy.)

If you need a good laugh, and like to eat, (which is, like, everybody) Food: A Love Story, is for you.

rating 4 of 5

In my Reading Challenge for 2015, Food: A Love Story fulfills my Funny Book selection.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg

Reprinted from Auburnpub.com 

Delancey by Molly Wizenberg
Published by Simon and Schuster ISBN 9781451655094
Hardcover, $25, 256 pages
Molly Wizenberg writes a blog, “Orangette”, named by the London Times as the best food blog in the world. She has written columns for Bon Appetit magazine and her first book, “A Homemade Life- Recipes From My Kitchen Table” was a New York Times bestseller.

After writing that book and while waiting for it to publish, her husband Brandon decided that he wanted to open a pizza restaurant in Seattle, where they resided. That journey to owning and operating a pizza restaurant is recounted in her second teriffic book, a memoir titled “Delancey”.

Never mind the fact that Brandon has never operated a restaurant, and that prior to this, he wanted to make violins (he is a music teacher) and after that he wanted to build boats.

She describes her husband in this way- “I love that he‘s the first person our friends call when they’re in trouble. I love that he likes to make people happy. My mother once told me that the reason she fell in love with my father was that she knew she could always learn from him. When I meant Brandon, I knew what she meant.”

Life with Brandon was never boring, and even though Molly was a little wary of the fact that Brandon always threw himself completely into whatever he was doing for the time being, she knew she wanted to marry him.

Wizenberg brings the reader right into the middle of all of the decisions one makes when deciding to open a restaurant. She admits that many people dream (albeit briefly) of running a restaurant, thinking it will be like “having a dinner party every night. Most restaurants are not like dinner parties. Most restaurants feel more like Thanksgiving dinner.”

Once the decision was made, Brandon and Molly went to their friends who had experience in this area. Her brother David, who co-owns several Washington D.C restaurants, advised them to pick a location with other successful businesses.

The great researcher, Brandon traveled the country tasting the best pizzas, and picking the brains of the owners. He became an expert on what makes the best pizza dough, how much yeast and salt to use, and the ideal temperature needed to make the dough rise.

They found the right location, and gathered their friends around to help them physically build the restaurant. They demolished the interior and set to work. Wizenberg’s descriptions of all their hard work exhausted me just reading about it.

As someone who once ran a restaurant with her husband, I understood so much of what Molly and Brandon went through. Dealing with vendors, hiring and managing a staff, and dealing with inspectors from different departments who contradict each other, cooking every night, things that break down- it never ends.

Molly and Brandon’s day would start at 9am, when they would meet the food vendors making the day’s deliveries. Then they prepped the food, dealt with problems, made sure the dough was rising properly, greeted the employees, set the tables, made the pizzas and salads and desserts, served the food, closed up, cleaned up, and made the dough for tomorrow. They were home by 2am.

Wizenberg’s does a wonderful job dispelling the romance of owning a restaurant. It is hard work, and it’s like having a newborn baby, but one that doesn’t ever grow up and need less constant attention.

Eventually Molly realized that working at the restaurant was Brandon’s dream, but not necessarily hers. She wanted to get back to her writing and she missed cooking dinner in her own home at night. Working as the salad and dessert chef was making her miserable.

She screwed up her courage to tell Brandon, and although he was taken aback, he understood. One story she tells about Brandon coming home after a terrible day and saying he wanted the close the restaurant is compelling, and a lesson that all married people eventually learn about being supportive.

Wizenberg has also put in some wonderful recipes , including Sriracha and Butter Shrimp, a Meatloaf using fish sauce, and a Winter Salad with Citrus and Feta that all look amazing.

Wizenberg is a terrific writer with an interesting and conversational voice, and “Delancey” is a fascinating look at the inner workings of running a restaurant. If you have ever worked in one (which many people have), this book is for you. And if you have ever worked with your spouse, you’ll enjoy it too.

rating 5 of 5

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Weekend Cooking- The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook

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 Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman
Published by Alfred A. Knopf ISBN 978-0-307-59565-2
Hardcover, $35, 311 pages

It's been over a month since I've blogged. Between decorating, buying gifts, wrapping gifts, writing out 85 Christmas cards, attending all of the many Christmas work events for my husband's job, and volunteering four days a week at The Book Cellar, (the used bookstore at our local NYPL Webster Library run by all volunteers), blogging was the one thing that got put on hold.

Last week, I found a copy of The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook by Deb Perelman and I promptly purchased it. It's a gorgeous cookbook, written by a popular blogger who cooks in her tiny New York City apartment kitchen, which is no bigger than mine. (So there goes my excuse that the reason I can't cook anything in my kitchen because it's too small.)

I love that for each recipe Perelman gives the reader a little story about how she came up with the recipe. The ingredients are listed to the side, along with directions, and sometimes a 'cooking note' or 'do ahead' suggestion.

The photos in the book are simply stunning. I drooled just looking at them (the potato frittata with feta and scallions, butternut squash and caramelized onion galette, and peach dumplings with bourbon hard sauce in particular caught my eye), and there are 452 full color illustrations in the book for those of you who like your cookbooks with photos. (Which I do)

The book is divided into the typical sections- Breakfast, Salad, Main Dishes- and close to one-third of the book is devoted to Sweets. At the end, she has a chapter, How To Throw a Dinner Party, that gives you a entire party's worth of appetizers and a few drink recipes that you could follow in its entirety to host a smashing get-together that will impress your friends.

The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook is not for beginning cooks. I'd put this in the category for fans of Martha Stewart or maybe The Barefoot Contessa (if you know what grissini and gougeres are, this book is for you). It is a gorgeous book, and would make a lovely gift for someone you know who is an accomplished and enthusiastic cook.

rating 4 stars

The Smitten Kitchen website is here.