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Saturday, February 28, 2015

Weekend Cooking- The Rainbow Room

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

I wanted to do something special for my husband's birthday, and when I saw that the fabled Rainbow Room had reopened at Rockefeller Plaza, I thought it would be perfect.

They have a special Monday evening of dining and entertainment and on the night before my husband's birthday, the entertainment was Max Weinberg and His Orchestra. My son and I are big fans of Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, and since Weinberg is the drummer, I was pretty excited that he was the entertainment.

Max Weinberg

We arrived at 6pm and visited the bar for a drink. The view from the bar on the 65th floor is just spectacular! You have a 180 degree view of Manhattan that takes your breath away.
The view from the bar

After our drink, we were ushered into the dining room, which is so lovely and sparkly. The band was playing, and we really enjoyed the music, a great combination of standards (Sinatra, Etta James) and Latin music that got people moving to the dance floor.

There were two couples on the floor who must work there. They were fantastic dancers, and although I was somewhat concerned that they were so good they may intimidate people from dancing, after a while the dance floor became crowded with couples.
We had fun watching the professional dancers

I was apprehensive about the food; the reviews on Yelp were not exactly sparkling. We were pleasantly surprised though. They started with  a bread basket, which had a small fried bread ball with a savory mousse inside that was tasty.

Next came a small plate with three amuse bouche for us to taste. I liked the one with the crispy chicken skin best.
Amuse bouche

The menu is prefixe, an appetizer, entree and dessert for $175 per person. For the appetizer, we both had the Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, which was silky and had a nice crunch.
Jerusalem Artichoke Soup

I chose the Lobster Pot Pie as my entree and it was delicious. The crust was light, the lobster was very tender, and the creamy sauce and tender vegetables all came together in a delicious combination.
Lobster Pot Pie

By the time dessert came around, I could not eat another bite, and although I had planned on the Apple Tart with banana donuts, I chose the gelato trio, which was refreshing.

We had a magical night at The Rainbow Room, maybe our favorite thing we have done since we moved to New York City, and I would recommend it as a special event night. It is expensive, but it will be memorable. They also do a Sunday prefixe brunch ($95 per person) that gets great reviews on Yelp.

 The Rainbow Room website is here.

Friday, February 27, 2015

I Regret Everything by Seth Greenland

I Regret Everything  by Seth Greenland
Published by Europa Editions ISBN 978-1-60945-247-6
Trade paperback, $16, 252 pages

Seth Greenland was a writer-producer on one of my favorite TV shows, Big Love, so when I heard that he had a recently published novel, I Regret Everything- A Love Story, I had to read it.

Jeremy Best is a 33 year-old trust and wills attorney in Manhattan. If that sounds like a boring job, he also writes poems under the name Jinx Bell, which doesn't sound like a poet's name to me, but it works for him.

He has minor success as a poet, and he is very good at his day job. So good that that the managing partner wants to offer him an early partnership, if he can settle a pesky matter with one of their biggest clients.

Spaulding Simonson is the nineteen-year-old daughter of said managing partner. She wanders into Jeremy's office and begins a conversation. The two have an immediate spark, and their banter is endearing. Spaulding is an intriguing young woman, and she is impressed that Jeremy is a poet.

 Spaulding had a serious nervous breakdown and she has problems with her divorced parents. Neither of them really want her around, and after a fighter with her mother, she ends up living with her father's new family in suburban Connecticut.

I Regret Everything starts off strong right away with a great first paragraph, and doesn't let go from there. The language is poetic, as befits a novel about a part-time poet. And as befits a screenwriter and playwright, the writing is also compact. There are no wasted words here, no long-winded descriptions of people or place.

And yet, the characters and storyline are well-drawn. We understand fully who Jeremy and Spaulding are, and watching their relationship develop is enjoyable. After dreaming that he killed a Minotaur, Jeremy describes himself:
"The dream made no literal sense because I was a coward, incapable of attacking anyone with a cutting remark, much less a blunt object."
Spaulding loved poems that rhymed because "it was a representation of order in the universe and that was something (she) craved." So Spaulding was attracted to Jeremy's poetry and Jeremy was intrigued by Spaulding's daring.

As circumstances throw them together, they are faced with obstacles (or else this wouldn't be a love story).  The obstacles are serious enough to force them to really evaluate what they want in life.

I Regret Everything is a modern-day love story that feels like a classic romantic novel. I loved both Jeremy and Spaulding, and if you are a fan of classic novels like Jane Eyre, you will love I Regret Everything.  And contrary to Jeremy's motto "never give in", I urge you to give in to this lovely story.

rating 5 of 5

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

Seth Greenland’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 23rd: BookNAround
Thursday, February 26th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Friday, February 27th: Bookchickdi
Tuesday, March 3rd: Bell, Book & Candle
Friday, March 6th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Monday, March 9th: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 11th: 50 Books Project
Thursday, March 12th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Friday, March 13th: Storeybook Reviews – spotlight
Monday, March 16th: Unabridged Chick
Thursday, March 19th: Bibliotica
Thursday, March 19th: Book Dilettante
Monday, March 23rd: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, March 25th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, March 25th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Date TBD: Life is Story

Monday, February 23, 2015

On Broadway- Fish In The Dark

The hottest ticket on Broadway right now is a play written by and starring Larry David, Fish In The Dark. My son and I are huge Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm fans, and we couldn't wait to see this show.

We attended the first Sunday matinee preview performance. We were told several times via email and at the theater that no one would be seated once the show started, and if we left our seats for any reason, we could not return until intermission.

I've been to many shows, and never has one been this strict. When the show began, there were at least a dozen empty seats in the few rows near us, which surprised me since the show's run is completely sold out. But at intermission, every seat was filled, so I guess they weren't kidding about their policy.

The show is about a family whose patriarch dies. The first scene is set in the hospital waiting room, where we meet the various family members. When Larry David makes his entrance, the audience enthusiastically applauds.

I had a hard time hearing David at first (the actors are not miked), but that was remedied quickly. David plays Norman, the older, less successful son. (He sells urinals.) He is married to Brenda (played by Rita Wilson), a woman who has the uncanny ability to remember the details of every single day of her life.

Ben Shenkman plays younger brother Arthur, a wealthy lawyer, who brings a well-endowed young woman as his date to see his dying father. Their overbearing mother Gloria is played to the hilt by Broadway vet Jayne Houdyshell, who is fantastic here. She hates her daughter-in-law, holding a grudge because Brenda won't wear a scarf she bought for her.

The show has many Seinfeld-ian and Curb-like storylines. Norman is really just another variation on David's personality, so he is very comfortable and hilarious in the role. The other characters may remind you of your favorite Seinfeld and Curb friends (George Costanza, Kramer, Mrs. Costanza, Marty Funkhouser, etc.)

The story is very funny, with a few crazy plot developments that will you remind of the best of David's writing. Small things are blown out of proportion, people are too honest, secrets are revealed.

Young Jake Cannavale has wonderful chemistry in his scenes with David, and he shows amazing restraint not losing it when Larry David goes on a full-blown physical comedic rant in his face. Cannavale has a big career ahead of him.

Norman's father's dying wish is that his wife go to live to with one of his son's, but who he was talking to is up for debate and the men fight to see who has to take overbearing mom. The solution is comedy gold.

Two of the funniest bits take place off-stage as phone calls with Norman- first when he gets the call about his father's illness, and then when he calls to cancel a food delivery.

Fish In The Dark is the second-funniest show I have seen on Broadway (One Man, Two Guvnors is the funniest), and we laughed non-stop. The audience roared with laughter, and my sides hurt after two hours. And Larry David received a vigorous and well-deserved standing ovation at the end.

This is a must-see show, unfortunately it is a limited run and tickets are extremely hard to come by now. (They already broke box office records at the Cort Theater, and it doesn't officially open until March 5th). I hope the Tony voters remember this one when the time comes.

The website for Fish in the Dark is here. 
A New York Times interview with Larry David is here.
A New York magazine story on Larry David is here.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan
Published by Knopf ISBN 978-0-385-35285-7
Hardcover, $26.95, 334 pages

If anyone had recommended to me a novel about Australian POWs in a WWII Japanese prison camp in Thailand, I would probably say "no thanks." But then I saw the book, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, on the bookshelf at the villa where we vacation and it kept beckoning to me. Every time I passed that bookshelf, the pull to read it felt stronger.

I finally gave in and picked up last year's Man Booker Prize winner and dove in. From the very beginning, I was in the thrall of this incredible story with writing that was beyond beautiful. Early on, the main character Dr. Dorrigo Evans has to write a forward for a book of drawings by a fellow POW.
"He looked at his forward, written, as ever, in his customary green ink, with the simple, if guilty, hope that in the abyss that lay between his dream and his failure there might be something worth reading in which the truth could be felt."
That sentence from page 21 is a stunning example of the gorgeous language in this emotionally powerful novel. Another is this one:
"Dorrigo Evans hated virtue, hated virtue being admired, hated people who pretended he had virtue or pretended to virtue themselves. And the more he was accused of virtue as he grew older, the more he hated it. He did not believe in virtue. Virtue was vanity dressed up and waiting for applause."
Dr. Evans becomes a celebrity in Australia because of his POW experience, and we see him as an older man looking back on his life experience. He is a famous doctor, long married to a woman whom he consistently cheats on.

As a young man waiting to go to war, he falls in love and has a passionate affair with his uncle's wife, a woman who becomes the love of his life, the woman he cannot forget. Although he loves Amy, he marries Ella, but it is Amy he keeps in his heart during his captivity and beyond.

The bulk of the story takes place in a Japanese POW prison camp. As an officer and a doctor, Dorry's rank gave him a little authority. The men in the camp were used as slave labor to build a railroad. The Japanese wanted to show the world their superiority by building a railroad from Thailand to Burma.

The camp conditions were brutal, and the Japanese soldiers running it were savage. Dorry did his best to shield the sickest prisoners from inhuman work, but he couldn't always win. We meet the men in the camp and see how strong the will to survive truly is.

The men are beaten and starved and forced to work at slave labor. They are pushed beyond human limits, and injury, disease and death are constant companions. The Japanese officers believe that the prisoners' work will glorify the Japanese empire, and their complaints about the brutal conditions confound them. They were treated similarly by their superiors, and feel the prisoners are weak-willed.

The scenes in the camp are horrific and hard to read. The men must work together to survive, yet each man is ultimately on his own as we see in the most harrowing and powerful scene. The one thing that shines through this astonishing novel is the power of human resilience, the strength of the will to survive.

 At the end of the novel, we see what happened to many of the men, including the Japanese officers, which I found enlightening.

My review cannot possibly do justice to this phenomenal literary achievement, I'm not sure any review can. The only thing I can say is that to miss out on reading The Narrow Road to the Deep North would be a huge loss. This is a book that will live on in my mind for a very long time.

rating 5 of 5

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

The News Sorority by Sheila Weller

The News Sorority by Sheila Weller
Published by Penguin Press ISBN 9781594204272
Hardcover, $29.95, 496 pages

If you have been following the news lately, you have no doubt heard about the suspension of NBC News' Brian Williams. If you are fascinated by this saga, you may wish to pick up a copy of Sheila Weller's book, The News Sorority- Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Christiane Amanpour and the (Ongoing, Imperfect, Complicated) Triumph of Women in TV News.

Weller 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 up the ladder 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.

Less is known about Christiane Amanpour, who 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 and 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 highschool 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

Monday, February 9, 2015

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs
Published by Scribner ISBN 978-1-4767-3190-2
Hardcover, $27, 402 pages
Sometimes you read a book that, when you finish, you want to put in the hands of everyone you meet. I feel that way about Jeff Hobbs' The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace.

Peace is the son of Jackie, hard-working single mom from Newark, New Jersey. His father Skeet is a drug dealer who is in his life, until he is convicted of murder and sent to prison. Jackie wants her son to have a better life, and she encourages him to read and get an education. Skeet wants him to be street-smart.

Jackie works hard at a minimum wage job to get Rob into St. Benedict's, a private Catholic prep school. Rob is smart, and Jackie hopes that he can use this as a stepping stone to a better life.

Not only is Rob smart, he is a hard worker. He works as a lifeguard at the school pool, and is a star on the water polo team. He has a core group of three other neighborhood guys he hangs out with, and if he can stay away from the dangers of the streets, he could actually go places.

When a wealthy alumnus from St. Benedict's offers to pay Rob's tuition at Yale, it seems that Jackie's wishes for her son may come true. Rob goes to Yale, but life there is very difficult. He needs money, and his janitor's job doesn't pay enough.

So Rob turns to easy money- selling drugs on campus. He makes a good living at this, and has enough saved up to take care of his mom. All along, Rob has been working on a judicial appeal for his father, spending free time in legal libraries trying to find a way our for his dad.

Rob's college roommate Jeff Hobbs was fascinated by the life Rob led, a life so different from everyone else's at Yale. They became good friends, but lost touch after graduation.When Rob's life was tragically cut short, Hobbs set out to find out what happened to his friend, and so he interviewed Rob's family and friends to create this stunning book.

Although you know by the title that it has a sad ending, you can't help but root Rob on in the book. How does someone with so much promise and energy end up drifting from dead-end job to dead-end job? Hobbs does his best to show how a life lived in grinding poverty in a country where upward mobility is prized and available slipped through Rob's grasp, through choices he made and circumstances he couldn't control.

The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace is about race, poverty, family, drugs, life on the street, education, and so much more. It's the kind of book that you must stop while reading to think about what is happening and question how we as a country can help people who work hard and want a way up succeed.

It brings out an empathy in the reader for people who face these challenges, but it would nice if it can bring about change too. It's the kind of book I wanted to speed though on one hand, and on the other, I didn't want it to come to its inevitable conclusion. It is brilliant and heartbreaking and honest. It is simply one of the most important books I have ever read.

My husband and I just finished binge-watching The Wire, and anyone who appreciated that show should read The Short Life and Tragic Death of Robert Peace. They share similar sensibilities and shine a light on the same issues.

rating 5 of 5

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Weekend Cooking- The Lone Star 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.

Every January, my husband, his brother and sister-in-law and I visit Barbados. The weather is always perfect, 80 degrees, sunny with a nice breeze. We rent a villa, spend days sitting by the pool and at night we have dinner at the many fabulous restaurants we have found there.

We started vacation with lunch at L'Azure at the Crane Resort. We had our first rum punch of the trip and each of us ordered the Oistins Burger, a mahi mahi burger that began the trip with a bang and beautiful scenery.
The view from L'Azure

Our dinner at the Tides is always a delight, with wonderful service and our favorite cocktail of the entire trip (and there were many), the Sea Monkey.
Three Sea Monkeys and a Corona from the Tides

Cin Cin is a newer restaurant, one we tried for the first time last year and returned to this year. The decor is modern, and we sat right on the water. Their starter special that night was a Warm Shrimp Salad with a creamy parmesan dressing that was amazing.

We tried a new restaurant this time, The Lone Star. It was purchased a few years and renovated, as it used be on the site of an old garage. The ambience was very inviting and sleek, and we were seated right away.

I had the Southern Belle cocktail, which had Grey Goose vodka, grapefruit juice, honey, mint and grapefruit bitters. I was a little hesitant, but the flavors blended together beautifully, and it went down very smooth.
My Southern Belle, front right

For our starter, I had a Warm Caramelized Onion, Tomato and Chevre Tartlet that was fantastic. And I don't like tomato. As an entree, three of us ordered the Maine Lobster and Prawn Risotto. It was heavenly, easily the best food I had the entire trip. We ended with the Banana Donuts with Coconut Ice Cream, Rum Sauce and Chopped Pistachios.
Warm Onion Tartlet
Lobster & Prawn Risotto

Banana Donuts
The views from our villa

This dinner was our favorite, from start to finish, and we can't wait to return next year to eat there again. The only minus was that the service was a bit slow, and we felt bad for the servers whose uniform consisted of white overalls, like you'd see in a garage. We get that they were trying to pay homage to the former garage, but it is a higher-end restaurant, and the uniforms detracted from that ambience.

The vacation was a hit once again, and we highly recommend Barbados as a vacation destination for people who enjoy dinners out. There are so many great restaurants, and we were so excited to find The Lone Star.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Beach Club Book Club Reads The Girl Who Came Home

The Girl Who Came Home by Hazel Gaynor
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-231686-8
Trade paperback, $14.99, 362 pages

The Beach Club Book Club, as part of Book Club Girl's book club, read Hazel Gaynor's historical fiction The Girl Who Came Home- A Novel of the Titanic. Taking the true story of a group of fourteen people from a small Irish countryside village who were on the Titanic, Gaynor uses the prism of one passenger, 17 year-old Maggie Murphy, to tell her tale.

Maggie's aunt Kathleen, who moved to Chicago to start a new life, returns to Ireland after Maggie is orphaned. Kathleen has come to take Maggie back to America with her, although Maggie does not want to leave behind the young man she loves.

Along with thirteen other people from their small village, they book passage on the maiden voyage of the Titanic, the most impressive ship ever built. Maggie and her friends meet a young steward Harry, who has eyes for pretty Peggy.

Gaynor's descriptions of life on the Titanic mesmerized us all. The opulence of the first class passengers, and life in the steerage, which was still impressive for many of the passengers, was so vividly portrayed. The author dropped the reader right onto this massive ship, making us feel as if we were along for the voyage too.

The action picks up when the ship hits the iceberg, and Gaynor also ratchets up the tension, and even though we know the outcome, it is startling and heartbreaking. The scenes of the survivors hearing the weakening cries from the sinking ship are gut-wrenching. For my money, this book was as good as the movie Titanic in creating that picture in the reader's mind, an amazing accomplishment for the author.

Maggie's story is interspersed with her great-granddaughter's Grace's. Grace loses her father when she is in college, and comes home to care for her mother. Maggie decides to share her story of the Titanic with Grace for a newspaper feature story Grace hopes to write to start her journalism career.

I liked the relationship between Maggie and Grace, and fans of Christina Baker Kline's Orphan Train will also enjoy this aspect of The Girl Who Came Home. But like The Orphan Train, I felt that the older woman's story was so powerful, it somewhat overwhelmed the younger woman's story. Fans of Kate Kerrigan's Ellis Island trilogy will like this book as well.

One of group mentioned that although she felt she knew what was going to happen (there is a surprise twist at the end) we all still greatly enjoyed The Girl Who Came Home. I am a big fan of stories that start with a true story or character and build from there, and The Girl Who Came Home scored a big hit with me.

 rating 4 of 5

Hazel Gaynor's website is here: http://www.hazelgaynor.com/

Here are some links for other historical fiction I have enjoyed:
Miramont's Ghost- set in a real castle built in Manitou Springs, Colorado
Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker
Orphan Train
Fever- about the life of Typhoid Mary

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

The Beach Club Book Club Reads Three Story House

Three Story House by Courtney Miller Santos
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-213054-9
Trade paperback, $14.99, 376 pages

The Beach Club Book Club, as part of the Book Club Girl's book club, read Courtney Miller Santo's newest novel, Three Story House.  The novel tells the story of three cousins, Lizzie, Isobel and Elyse, who spent a lot of time together as young girls.

As adults, they come together to restore a nearly condemned three story house in Memphis that belonged to Lizzie's grandmother. Lizzie' mom and stepdad own the house now, but they are in Africa doing missionary work with their young children. Lizzie has always felt like an outsider in her family, and she never knew who her real father was.

Isobel was a child star who starred in a long-running TV series when she was growing up. Now that she is an adult, she has found that TV roles have dried up, and she works on buying and restoring houses to sell them at a profit.

Elyse is a lost soul. She has never found her calling in life, flitting from one thing to another. She never seems to plan ahead and every action she takes is a reaction to something else, not something she instigates. Elyse is devastated when her younger sister announces her engagement to a man Elyse has loved since she was a teenager.

Lizzie is a soccer player, good enough to make the US Olympic team until a knee injury derails her dream. Isobel has been helping her on the mend when the chance to return to Memphis and Lizzie's grandma's home comes up. They decide to stay at the house, and using Isobel's knowledge, they attempt to renovate the home.

Elyse shows up with her broken heart, and the three cousins are reunited with a mission. The women face an uphill battle to fix the broken-down home. The contractor they hire, who knew Lizzie's grandmother, seems to be hiding something. Permits and inspections are daunting. There are also the requisite unattached males who attract the cousins' attention.

There seem to be a lot of mother issues in this story. Elyse's mom is a bridezilla's stereotypical control freak, unsympathetic to her daughter's feelings. Lizzie's mother refuses to tell her anything about her father, and appears more concerned with her religion than her daughter.

Miller's previous book, The Roots of the Olive Tree, has similar mother issues, and the lead character in that book, 117-year-old Anna, has a cameo appearance in this story. Readers of the first book will enjoy seeing Anna again, and they will like Three Story House as well.

While The Beach Club Book Club enjoyed Three Story House and the cousin angle was interesting (two of us are cousins in the book club!), we felt that maybe more could have been done with the story. We did like the home renovation storyline. As with many books who have multiple protagonists, one character seems to get a little lost in the shuffle, and we felt that way about Isobel. We also felt that the ending was somewhat abrupt.

At the end, Miller shares some of the history of so-called 'spite houses', which was fascinating stuff, that inspired her novel.

rating 3.5 of 5 stars

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Miramont's Ghost by Elizabeth Hall

Miramont's Ghost by Elizabeth Hall
Published by Lake Union Publishing ISBN 978-1477820469
Trade paperback, $14.95, 323 pages (Kindle $4.99)

I am a sucker for a good book based on a true story. Writers who can take an incident and spin off an imaginative story from it always impress me. The Book Club Beach Club recently read The Girl Who Came Home, based on a story of fourteen people from a small Irish village who were on the Titanic, and I just finished Elizabeth Hall's Miramont's Ghost, about a reported haunted castle in Manitou Springs, Colorado.

Young Adrienne lives in her grand-pere's castle in countryside of France, with her mother Genevieve. Her father is a diplomat who works in Paris and they rarely see him. Her aunt Marie is a malevolent presence, striking terror in the hearts of the servants, and her family as well.

Adrienne has the gift (or curse) of second sight. She can clearly see visions of things that will happen, but at the age of seven is too young to know not to speak of them in public. Her grandmother had the same gift, and the entire village shunned her. Adrienne's grand-pere fears the same will happen to Adrienne.

Lucie, Adrienne's governess, began writing Adrienne's visions in a journal, and the discovery of this journal has repercussions. Marie convinces Genevieve that it would be in Adrienne's best interests for her to accompany Marie to America to stay with Marie's son Julien, a parish priest who built a big castle for himself in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Marie's evil intentions become clear when she imprisons Adrienne in the castle.

Hall weaves an intriguing story, likened by many to the classic Rebecca, about a family with dangerous secrets, and a young woman who must use her wits and gift of visions to survive. I flew through this book, reading it in one day because I had to find out what happens to Adrienne.

The setting of late 19th century France was fascinating, and Hall's descriptive writing added greatly to the story. She set one scene at the Paris Opera House that was so beautiful, if I closed my eyes, I would swear I was there.

I loved how Hall took this true story of a priest's haunted castle and created this world. Giving Adrienne the gift of visions, the plucky governess, the evil aunt- all of these are combined to create an atmospheric suspenseful novel that is perfect for curling up with a cup of tea on a snowy day by the fire.

I also appreciated her Bibliography at the end, enabling the reader to find out more of the true story of Miramont.

rating 4.5 of 5

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

Elizabeth Hall’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 2nd: Read a Latte
Tuesday, February 3rd: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, February 4th: Luxury Reading
Thursday, February 5th: The Book Binder’s Daughter
Friday, February 6th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, February 9th: Life is Story
Tuesday, February 10th: History from a Woman’s Perspective
Wednesday, February 11th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Thursday, February 12th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Friday, February 13th: Book Nerd
Monday, February 16th: 100 Pages a Day
Tuesday, February 17th: Mary’s Cup of Tea 
Wednesday, February 18th: Bibliophilia, Please
Thursday, February 19th: Bibliotica
Monday, February 23rd: Reading Reality
Thursday, February 26th: Peeking Between the Pages

Monday, February 2, 2015

On Broadway- You Can't Take It With You

Last week I went to see the broadway revival of You Can't Take It With You, starring the great James Earl Jones, Anna Chlumsky (Amy on VEEP), Richard Thomas (John-Boy Walton), Annaleigh Ashford and Kristine Nielsen.

The story of an unconventional family set during the end of the 1920's, it is an utterly charming comedy with a fabulous cast. James Earl Jones, who is over 80, still has the stage presence perfect for the patriarch of the Sycamore family. The man is absolutely amazing!

His daughter fancies herself a playwright since the day a typewriter was accidentally delivered to the house. She works on many plays simultaneously, but doesn't appear to finish any of them. Kristine Nielsen shines in this wacky role, much like she did in Vanya, Sonia, Masha and Spike.

She is married to Richard Thomas, who spends his time creating fireworks in the basement with his assistant. Thomas looks like he is having the time of his life in this carefree role, smiling the entire show. (Considering the beating he took as Agent Gadd on last week's season three premiere of FX's The Americans, I can see why he enjoys this role so much.)

Annaleigh Ashford steals the show as the daughter who believes she is destined to be a dancer. Her crazy dance routines, set to her husband's xylophone compositions, are hysterical and had everyone is stitches. (I hope she will be back in next season's Masters of Sex on Showtime as sensible and smart Betty- I love her!)

Anna Chlumsky plays the Marilyn to this family's Munsters. She is the only one who appears to have a paying job, and when she falls in love with the boss' son, and he wants to bring his family to meet her family, hilarity and craziness ensues. Her frustration and terror when the families meet is palpable.

An ensemble of this size (20) can be difficult to manuever, but everyone works together like a well-oiled machine. There is a lot of physical comedy, and the choreography is brilliant. We have IRS agents,  Russian emigres, high-society possible in-laws, the maid and her boyfriend, and a drunken actress who all combine with this kooky family to create a show that will leave you smiling as you leave the theater.

You Can't Take It With You is a lovely way to spend a few hours forgetting your problems as you lose yourself enjoying this loving, delightful, if kooky (Corn Flakes for dinner every night?) family.

The show closes in three weeks, so get your ticket soon. Discounts are available.
The website is here.