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Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick

Love May Fail by Matthew Quick
Published by Harper ISBN 9780062285560
Hardcover, $25.99, 400 pages

Some books just grab you right away, and I can add Matthew Quick's Love May Fail to that list. It begins with a card that reads:

Portia Kane, Official Member of the Human Race! This card entitles you to the ugliness and beauty, heartache and joy- the great highs and lows of existence- and everything in between. It also guarantees you the right to strive, to reach, to dream, and to become the person you know (deep down) you are meant to be. So make daring choices, work hard, enjoy the ride, and remember- you  become exactly whomever you choose to be.

Then we jump into the first chapter where Portia Kane is hiding in her bedroom closet with a gun, ready to catch her pornographer husband red-handed in the act of cheating on her. Portia ponders how she got there. She used to be a feminist, but as she says,
"Being a feminist is so easy when you're a college freshman with enough scholarship money and financial aid to cover tuition, room and board. A woman with a clean slate. Compromises come with age." 
The scene between Portia and her husband, (with a very young naked woman also in the mix) is just funny and crazy and brilliantly written. My favorite line happens when Portia tells the young woman exactly what she is in for sexually with Ken, and as she is throwing her clothes into a weekend bag, she thinks, "Naked Ken watches me with his mouth hanging open, like I just invented fire." That one just had me laughing out loud.

Portia gets on a plane to go home to her hoarder mother. She sits next to a nun, who offers her an ear and some vodka, even though Portia has already got a good start on getting drunk. Portia spills her guts to Sister Maeve, who is a real pistol herself. Quick creates characters with whom I connected right away.

Portia's mother is clearly mentally ill, as most hoaders are, and Quick handles the character with empathy, creating a woman we care about and ache for, just as we ache for Portia having to deal with this alone her entire life as there was no father in the picture.

While she is home, she wants to find the high school teacher, Mr. Nate Vernon, who gave all of his students the Human Race card, and showed Portia particular kindness in her life when she needed it. She discovers that Mr. Vernon left teaching after an incident, and she becomes determined to help him.

As the story advances, Portia reconnects with a high school friend, now a single mom of a five-year-old boy. We also see what has become of Mr. Vernon, as he narrates the second part of the story. His story is moving.

Fate plays a big part in the story, and as does Portia's quest to prove that Mr. Vernon was right: there is human decency and goodness in the world, and people can become whomever they choose to be.

There are some plot points that may seem obvious, and then there are some that, when they come together, made me smile. Quick has put a lot into his story- faith, mental illness, family, love, friendship, a belief in yourself, and how handling things when life doesn't go your way builds your character.

I absolutely adored Chuck, a man who works hard to maintain his sobriety and wants to be a teacher. He is Quick's alter ego in this novel,  (Quick was a teacher) and I felt he was the most believable character.

I sincerely hope that Love May Fail is turned into a movie like Quick's previous book The Silver Linings Playbook was. There is so much to love here and the characters are so strongly developed, they leapt off the page and into my heart. I give Love May Fail my highest recommendation. It's funny, sad, messy and complicated, just like life.

Matthew Quick's website is here. 
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Matthew Quick's tour. The rest of the stops are here.

Matthew’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, June 16th: Book Hooked Blog
Wednesday, June 17th: Novel Escapes
Thursday, June 18th: 5 Minutes For Books
Friday, June 19th: Jenn’s Bookshelves
Monday, June 22nd: Raven Haired Girl
Tuesday, June 23rd: A Bookworm’s World
Wednesday, June 24th: Bibliophiliac
Thursday, June 25th: Chronicles …
Monday, June 29th: she treads softly
Tuesday, June 30th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, July 1st: Into the Hall of Books
Thursday, July 2nd: Many Hats
Monday, July 6th: Bibliotica
Tuesday, July 7th: Becca Rowan
Wednesday, July 8th: For the Love of Words



Saturday, June 27, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell

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.

Twelve Recipes by Cal Peternell
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062270306
Hardcover, $26.99, 304 pages

When chef Cal Peternell was getting ready to send his son off to college, he decided to create a small cookbook of the twelve recipes that he felt were most important for his son to have. They were for food he had made for the family, his son's favorite dishes, things everyone should be able to make.

The book turned into Twelve Recipes, simple but standard dishes that everyone should be able to make and enjoy. Each chapter also has variations on those recipes, something that you can add to the repertoire to kick things up a notch.

Peternell is a chef at Alice Waters' famed Chez Panisse, so his food is clean, fresh and flavorful. He divides his twelve categories in this way:

  • Toast
  • Eggs
  • Beans
  • Salad Dressings and What To Dress
  • Pasta With Tomato
  • Pasta Otherwise
  • Rice, Polenta, and Mashed Potatoes
  • Only The Best Vegetables
  • Roasted Chicken
  • Braises
  • Sauces
  • Cakes
In addition to recipes, Peternell shares his best tips- when cooking in a skillet the pan should be dry until hot then add the oil, have two kinds of olive oil on hand, use sea salt, when cooking with garlic add something wet (wine, chopped tomatoes, stock) to prevent it from burning.

Twelve Recipes is a wonderful book not only for the new cook, but even as someone who cooks often, I found it very enlightening. I made many notes from the book, got great tips and recipes that seem simple and flavorful. 

His recipe for Shallot and Sherry Viniagrette is a terrific example:
1 small shallot
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar
good pinch of salt (1/8 teaspoon)
1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard
fresh ground pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil

Peel and mince the shallot, like you would an onion. Mix with the salt, vinegars, mustard and pepper and let sit for 5 minutes to marinate and temper the shallots. Stir in the olive oil with a fork or whisk. If it thickens and emulsifies, fine. If not, also fine- just stir before using.

Peternell also sprinkles some family stories throughout, and you can feel the love he has for his family in this wonderful book. It makes a terrific gift for a new cook, and yet the experienced cook will also get some great recipes to add to their collection.

Cal Peternell's website is here.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Beach Club Book Club Reads The Precious One

The Precious One by Marisa de los Santos
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062323804
Hardcover, $25.99, 368 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.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

The Beach Club Book Club Reads The Daughter

The Daughter by Jane Shemilt
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062320476
Trade paperback, $14.99, 341 pages

Jenny is a hardworking doctor, married to a successful surgeon and mother to three teenagers. Her fifteen-year-old daughter Naomi has been acting distant lately, which bothers Jenny since they have always been close. She attributes it to all the pressures of school, working hard on the school play and just normal teenage angst.

Then one night Jenny doesn't come home from play rehearsal. Jenny and Ted call her friends, drive around the town, and still no Naomi. Shemilt captures the raw fear and panic of realizing that your child is missing. Any parent reading it will have a visceral reaction to this story.

The story is told in alternating time lines, from the day she disappears and then one year later, with Naomi still gone and no answers from the police. Writing it this way made the story stronger for me, knowing that Naomi hasn't been found allows the reader to concentrate on the emotions of the family, rather than the actual search for Naomi.

Naomi's disappearance reveals many secrets about Jenny's family. She discovers that the things she believes to be true about her marriage and her children aren't necessarily so. Naomi hid many things from her mother, and one thing you find from reading The Daughter is that you may think you know everything about your children, but they may have an entirely different life than the one you think they do.

Watching Jenny suffer through her daughter's disappearance is tough. She tries to get through each day, wondering where her daughter is and what happened to her. Then there are the reactions of her two sons; as time goes on, she discovers things about them she never thought possible.

I'm not sure how I feel about the resolution to the story. It is definitely one that will engender conversation and controversy. One of our members said she felt it fell flat at the end, and she wasn't crazy about the characters.

The Daughter is a suspense thriller that does make a good book club pick because it will have people, especially mothers of teenagers, talking. It provokes strong reactions, and as a mother to sons, I wonder if I have a different reaction than mothers of daughters.

Monday, June 22, 2015

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear

A Dangerous Place by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Harper ISBN 9780062220554
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages

Readers of this blog know that I am a big fan of the Maisie Dobbs series of books by Jacqueline Winspear. Maisie is a private investigator/psychologist working in London following WWI. She was a nurse stationed in France, where she saw the terrible things war does to people, including being injured herself.

A Dangerous Place is the 11th book in the series, and we pick up the story in 1937, four years after the last book ended. Maisie and her husband James are living in Canada, where James is working on planes for the government.

After a tragedy, Maisie decides to return to India to heal. When her stepmother wires Maisie asking her to return home to England, Maisie decides to go, but ends up in Gibraltar, a British garrison town off the coast of Spain.

Maisie discovers the dead body of a photographer, a Sephardic Jew, and feeling that the police aren't interested in finding the killer, Maisie uses her skills to solve the murder, and gets involved in a dangerous political situation.

Winspear always does a great deal of research for her books, and in this one, we learn a great deal about the Spanish Civil War, including the bombing of a marketplace in Guernica, where many women and children were killed by fascist forces. For someone who doesn't know much about the politics in Spain at this time, it is enlightening.

Since Maisie is alone in Gibraltar, we don't see many of our favorite characters from previous books- no Billy, no Priscilla, no Lady Rowan. I have to admit I miss Maisie's interactions with the characters I have grown to like. The only one who makes an appearance is Inspector MacFarlane, Maisie's sometimes nemesis, sometimes reluctant police partner.

At the end of the story, Maisie assists some nurses who are traveling to care for the men fighting the civil war. This part was most interesting for me, as Maisie seemed to come out of her funk, and was at her best organizing the makeshift hospital and helping the nurses care for the men under difficult conditions. It was a welcome callback to Maisie and her nursing days in France.

We'll have to wait until next year's book to find out if Maisie returns home and resumes her life as a private investigator. I can't say that this one was my favorite in the Maisie Dobbs series, but as always, I learned something about a time and place I knew little about, and that is always a good thing.

Saturday, June 20, 2015

The Tucci Table by Stanley Tucci

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 Tucci Table by Stanley Tucci and Felicity Blunt
Published by Simon & Schuster ISBN 978146738567
Hardcover, $30, 256 pages

 Stanley Tucci is an actor, known for his roles in The Devil Wears Prada and Julie & Julia. In 1996,  Tucci co-wrote and starred in a movie called Big Night, about two brothers who have one night to save their Italian restaurant. The movie has achieved cult status, earning many fans for Tucci and his costar Anthony Shaloub.

Tucci has always loved to cook, and follows his successful 2012  The Tucci Cookbook with a new cookbook, The Tucci Table, filled with recipes from himself, his family and even some famous friends, written with his wife Felicity Blunt, sister of actress Emily Blunt.

From his late friend actress Natasha Richardson, whom he said was "an extraordinary cook who threw some of the best dinner parties I have ever attended', he shares her Pissaladiere, topped with anchovies, onions and olives.

His son Nico's Pasta with Proscuitto, Onions, Peas and Pancetta looks like a winning dish to me, and I appreciated the detailed instructions on the carbonara finish to the dish.

He also tells some funny stories, like the time he asked Felicity what she wanted to cook for a dinner party the following weekend. She decided on a suckling pig, which was problematic since neither had ever cooked one before. They got a whole pig from the butcher, but it was too long to fit on their barbeque spit. So they got out the hacksaw and tried to cut off the pig's head, when their children came home from school to see the carnage.

The book is heavy on Italian food, naturally, and I am tempted to try his Polenta Fries, which Tucci calls a great alternative to French fries. They look delicious.

The first dish I want to try is a light and simple one:
Cannellini Bean and Tuna Salad With Red Onion
Serves 2-4
5 oz. can good tuna, packed in olive oil, drained
15 oz. can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 red onion, finely sliced into half-moons
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
extra virgin olive oil
chopped fresh parsley

Gently mix the tuna, beans, and onions together in a bowl. Season with salt and pepper, then toss with a glug of olive oil, followed by a good pinch of fresh parsley.

Tucci formatted the book so that the directions come first, then the ingredients, which may confuse some people. This is a book for confident cooks, more casual cooks who like to go more by instinct than exact measurements. (See glug of olive oil, above)

Reading The Tucci Table is like sitting in Tucci's kitchen, and you can hear his voice as you read his stories about how his mother-in-law makes it this way, and he got this recipe on location in Atlanta for The Hunger Games. 

Here is a video from The Tucci Table :

Friday, June 19, 2015

Whisper Beach by Shelley Noble

Whisper Beach by Shelley Noble
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062319180
Trade paperback, $14.99, 401 pages

Summer arrives today and has many of us in mind of spending time at the beach. Shelley Noble's new novel, Whisper Beach, is set at a Jersey Shore beach town, a place where the economy of the town depends on the tourists who visit each summer, and where Hurricane Sandy took its toll.

Vanessa Moran is returning to her hometown for the funeral of her cousin's husband. She left home suddenly fifteen years ago after finding herself pregnant at the age of seventeen, and after finding her boyfriend with another woman.

Van made a life for herself, building a successful career as a life organizer for wealthy Manhattanites. She is nervous about coming home and facing the people she left behind.

Her cousin Gigi, who lost her husband, breaks down when she sees Van. Gigi gave Van $2000, all the money she had saved for college, so that Van could leave town fifteen years ago. Suze, a good friend who became a college professor, convinced Van to join her at the funeral.

Dorie owns the Blue Crab Restaurant where all the girls worked in high school, and her home was always open to anyone who needed guidance or a place to stay. The restaurant has fallen on hard times, and Van decides to stay in town for a week to use her organizational skills to help Dorie.

And then there is Joe, the man Van loved and left all those years ago. He never knew why Van left, and no other woman could fill the void she left behind. Although I did think it was strange that when Van returned home after twelve years, all anybody asked her was if she was getting back with Joe.

Noble really nails the feel of a small town, how everyone knows everybody's business, and how a lethargy can sometimes become overwhelming for those whose lives stay the same day after day. They don't seem to have the energy or gumption to make life happen for them, they just let life happen to them.

There's the one bar that everyone goes to, the town bully who became a cop, throws his weight around and hits his girlfriend, and the bartender who listens to problems and tries to keep the peace.

I enjoyed the storyline about Van reorganizing the Blue Crab. My husband and I owned a few small restaurants, so I found that interesting on a another level.

Reinventing oneself is a big theme here, as Van did when she left town, and Joe does when his family loses the farm. He teaches himself how to grow grapes and plans on building a winery on the land his family has left. And someone whom Van would never have thought could ever change, shows up at the end of the book a completely different person.

Uncle Nate, Van's drunken father's brother, is a great character. He loves his family and is concerned about his daughter Gigi and how she has just given up on life. He tries to explain to Van that her father wasn't always a terrible man, he had some terrible disappointments in life and Van's mother had issues Van didn't know about.

Noble has a great take on friendship here, on how you can not see someone for a long time, but still care for them and even fall back into old patterns when you see them. Time and experience also allows you see things in a different light, and to see how changing old patterns can be enlightening and helpful.

Whisper Beach is deeper than a traditional beach read, with more substance to it than the usual boy-meets-girl. The characters are deeper and therefore more interesting. Fans of Kristin Hannah and Elin Hilderbrand will like this one.

Shelley Noble's website is here.

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

Shelley’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, June 16th: Book by Book
Wednesday, June 17th: BookNAround
Thursday, June 18th: Book Nerd
Friday, June 19th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, June 23rd: Becca Rowan
Wednesday, June 24th: Wall-to-Wall Books
Thursday, June 25th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Thursday, June 25th: Hot Guys in Books
Friday, June 26th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, June 29th: Under a Gray Sky
Tuesday, June 30th: Time 2 Read
Wednesday, July 1st: 5 Minutes For Books
Thursday, July 2nd: Peeking Between the Pages
Thursday, July 9th: Kritters Ramblings

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Reading With Robin at Word For Word at Bryant Park

Bryant Park, located right behind the New York Public Library, hosts a fabulous literary series each summer. Word For Word features authors in conversation about their works on Wednesdays during the lunch hour, and a few weeks ago I saw a really terrific program.

Robin Kall, who hosts a radio program Reading With Robin, hosted four authors talking about Family Drama in Fiction.
Kall, Dubow, Genova, Hughes, Thomas

Charles Dubow, who wrote Indiscretion, a book I really liked, is back with Girl in the Moonlight, a love story about "a first love that lasts a bit too long." It has compelling characters, and he said "the moral of the story resonates with me, hopefully with you too."

Lisa Genova, whose novel Still Alice, was recently made into a heartbreaking movie that won the Oscar for Julianne Moore, is back with Inside the O'Briens about a family dealing with the diagnosis of Huntington's Disease, a fatal neurodegenerative disease that is passed on genetically. She says it is about "how to find hope in a hopeless situation." I read it and it is amazing. (My review is here.)

Mary Beth Hughes' The Loved Ones is "essentially a story about a marriage." Set in 1969-70, a couple who lost their son two years ago are trying to find their way back to each other amidst problems with their 13 year-old daughter, and a brother who is trying to involve them in an embezzlement scheme.

Matthew Thomas' We Are Not Ourselves was on my list of The Most Compelling Books of 2014, and as Robin stated "is destined to be a classic." His story is about a Irish immigrant's daughter born in the 1940's who aspires to become middle class and achieve the American dream. He says it's about "how to deal with life with grace." (My review here.)

Kall asked some great questions of the group, including asking what kind of eavesdropping they did as part of their writing. Genova is from a large Italian family (she is the 26th grandchild!), a group she called "loud and boisterous", so there were plenty of opportunities as a child to listen.

Thomas declared that he was "an inveterate eavesdropper", claiming that as a writer he is always listening to the story being told off to the side.

Hughes's father is one of 12 children and she has 72 first cousins, so she always was surrounded by people talking. Now that she is a writer, her aunt is always telling her that she "has a lot of stories."

Dubow comes from a small family, and he was born with a stutter, so always listened much more than he talked.

Kall then asked what determined the time period setting of their novels, which was a good question I hadn't heard much before.  Thomas said he told a "story of time and place." It needed context, and called it a historical novel, not one "shot through with cell phones."

Hughes said that setting was very important to her story, calling it "Mad Men-esque" in 1969-70 when women's consciousness groups were beginning, and what that meant to the teenage daughter.

Genova's novel had to be set after 1993, when the gene that causes Huntington's was isolated. The fact that genetic testing is available is a key plot point in Inside the O'Briens.

Dubow needed to set his novel at the beginning of the AIDS crisis, when AIDS shaming was prevalent, as that is important to his plot as well.

When Kall asked if any topics were off-limits, Genova burst out with "Hockey. I'm not writing about hockey", which elicited chuckles from the audience.

Thomas said "this sounds like a challenge", then said he would "stay away from something that was unnecessarily painful to others." Dubow said he would not write about something he knew nothing about, while Hughes would "find it difficult to write about dance."

Kall said that some of her favorite family drama authors are Jonathan Tropper and Phillip Roth and asked the authors to name some of the favorites. Hughes loves Penelope Fitzgerald, saying that Blue Flower and Gate of Angels were favorites.

Thomas believes that everything is family drama, and called out Alice McDermott (one of my favorites) as well as the Russians, like Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky.

Genova liked All The Light We Cannot See, last year's Pulitzer Prize winner, and Dubow also cited the Russians, along with William Faulkner and James Salter's The Light Years.

Kall closed with a fantastic question- "What is the hope for your families in your book?" Hughes has great hope for her character Lily, " a beautiful spirit with great faith."  Thomas hopes that his character Eileen has grandchildren and learns to "feel the joy and forget the things that drove her and that she is more present in the moment."

Genova hops that her characters, who face chronic health issues can "be present to love, and the feel the gratitude of the joy of today.

Robin Kall was a wonderful moderator and this was one of the best Word For Word events I have attended. The rest of the summer schedule is here.

You can follow Robin Kall here.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Summer Reads 2015

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

Summer is right around the corner (isn’t it?), and that means it’s time to search out books for the beach, lake, pool deck, summer cottage or back porch. Click on the title below each book to get more information.

First up, there are the so-called beach reads. The Fifty Shades of Grey fans may have to wait for the next installment Grey, but in the meantime they may want to check out the latest chapter in Jackie Collins’ ‘Lucky’ series, titled The Santangelos. Once again she blends a cocktail of sex, violence, and general mayhem amongst Lucky and her extended family. It’s a real page-turner, and there are graphic sex scenes, so fair warning. 
The Santangelos

Dorothea Benton Frank returns to the Lowcountry of South Carolina for her summer novel, All The Single Ladies, the story of a nurse caring for a patient who becomes good friends with her patient’s best friends. There’s lots of female bonding here, and this is aimed at women who have lived life, and have to deal with adult children, and mothers and grandmothers too. 
All The Single Ladies

Shelley Noble’s novel has an actual beach setting. In her novel Whisper Beach, Vanessa left her home there at age seventeen when she became pregnant. Fifteen years later, she returns home for a funeral, and ends up staying for awhile to help a old friend with her failing restaurant. This one is also about friendship, lost love and coming home. 
Whisper Beach

If fast-paced thrillers are more your style, Jessica Knoll’s novel Luckiest Girl Alive has been favorably compared to Gone Girl. Ani FaNelli has a glamorous job, a handsome, wealthy fiance, and the world on a string. But a secret from her past has threatened to derail all that she has worked for. Critics have been praising this debut novel from Knoll, a Hobart and William Smith Colleges graduate. 
Luckiest Girl Alive

Author Charles Dubow's followup to his novel Indiscretion is Girl In The Moonlight, about Wylie, a young man who has been enchanted by Cesca, a wild, spirited, beautiful young woman. Cesura toys with Wylie over the years, destroying him in the process for any other woman. Their passionate relationship over the years takes the reader from the East Hamptons to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to Paris and Barcelona. 
Girl In The Moonlight

Judy Blume, best known for her iconic children’s books like Are You There God, It’s Me Margaret? and Forever, has written an adult novel this year, In The Unlikely Event. Taking place in Elizabeth, New Jersey, it tells the story of Miri, who returns to her hometown thirty-five years after a series of plane crashes occurred there (which actually happened). We see how all these years later, people in the town are still haunted by the plane crashes, and Blume brings to vivid life the feelings of growing up in that place at that time in history. 
In The Unlikely Event

If you prefer to read non-fiction, Los Angeles Times reporter Jill Leovy’s Ghettoside- A True Story of Murder in America takes a look at murder in Los Angeles. Los Angeles has almost one murder every day, and many of them go unsolved because no one seems to care about the victims. 

Leovy writes about the case of Bryant Tennelle, a young black man who was murdered and doomed to be an unsolved and forgotten homicide until detective John Skaggs caught the case. Skaggs doggedly pursued justice for Tennelle, and by telling this story Levy shares how the epidemic of young black men killing each other exists and how it could be stopped. 

Joseph J. Ellis, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his book Founding Brothers, returns with The Quartet- Orchestrating The Second American Revolution, 1783-1789 about the four men- George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, John Jay and James Madison- who, after the American Revolution, worked to draft the Bill of Rights and ensure that the states would accept the powers of the federal government in order to create a strong national union. 
The Quartet

Actress Kate Mulgrew has been working on TV for over thirty years, best known as Mary Ryan on the ABC soap Ryan’s Hope, as the first female captain of a Starfleet vessel on Star Trek-Voyager and can currently be seen as tough prison inmate Red on Orange Is The New Black, and she recounts her life’s story in the brilliantly written memoir Born With Teeth. It’s honest and fascinating, but fans looking for gossip will be disappointed. 
Born With Teeth

Whatever you read this summer, I hope you enjoy it.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

All The Single Ladies by Dorothea Benton Frank

All The Single Ladies  by Dorothea Benton Frank
Published by William Morrow ISBN9780062132567
Hardcover, $26.99, 368 pages

One of the great things about summer is that I get to spend some time in South Carolina's Lowcountry when Dorothea Benton Frank's latest novel publishes. This year's terrific novel All The Single Ladies shows Frank in fine form with wonderful characters in a great story, topped off with Frank's signature one-liners that crack me up.

Lisa St. Clair is a divorced nurse, struggling to make do with a part-time job working at an adult home, sad that her 18-year-old daughter has moved to Colorado, where her estranged father has help set her up in her own legal marijuana tourist company.

Lisa has become close to Kathy, fifty-year-old patient who is dying of cancer, as well as the woman's two best friends, Carrie and Suzanne, who hold a constant vigil at her bedside. When Kathy passes away, Lisa, Carrie and Suzanne join forces to clean out Kathy's apartment, and they become closer.

What I liked about this book was that these are women of a certain age, who haven't been lucky in love up to this point, but they don't close themselves off to the possibilities in front of them. They support each other, and when Lisa loses her apartment, Suzanne offers her a room in her grandmother's home near the beach.

Suzanne grandmother Miss Trudie is an unforgettable character, the kind of grandma we'd all wish to have. She's 99 years-old, sassy, and full of life and advice. I fell in love with Miss Trudie.

Carrie is a thrice-widowed woman, and she is always on the lookout for husband number four. Suzanne owns her floral shop, but she doesn't have time or the inclination to look for a husband. Taking care of Miss Trudie and trying to keep her shop open takes all of her time.

Lisa not only has to deal with her strained relationship with her daughter, but her phone conversations with her parents are hilarious. I can almost see her banging her head against the wall as she tries to get through a call with them.

The friendship these women develop is heartwarming, they support and encourage each other in their individual endeavors. And the men that come into their lives are not stereotypical clueless guys, they feel like real men, trying to do their best for the women they care about.

One of the men even gives a great piece of advice; he tells Lisa that children don't do things to hurt their parents, they don't even consider that their actions have anything to do with their parents. Smart man.

One of the best things about reading Frank's novels is that I can add so many great restaurants to my Charleston Pinterest board. Frank helped me add close to a dozen more, and the Chamber of Commerce of Charleston should send her a big bouquet of flowers because no one encourages more people to visit (and maybe even retire) to that beautiful area.

Grab a beach chair, your best girlfriends, a couple of bottles of Pinot Grigio, and a few copies of All The Single Ladies and make a day of it. Then go to dinner and plan your girls' vacation to Charleston.

Dorothea Benton Frank's website is here.

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

Dorothea’s Tour Stops

Tuesday, June 9th: Many Hats
Wednesday, June 10th: A Chick Who Reads (spotlight)
Thursday, June 11th: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Friday, June 12th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, June 15th: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, June 16th: bookchickdi
Wednesday, June 17th: Always With a Book
Thursday, June 18th: Dreams, Etc.
Monday, June 22nd: Time 2 Read
Tuesday, June 23rd: Peeking Between the Pages
Wednesday, June 24th: Novel Escapes
Thursday, June 25th: Raven Haired Girl
Thursday, July 2nd: A Chick Who Reads (review)

Monday, June 15, 2015

BEA 15- Book Group Speed Dating with Publishers- Part 2

Continuing on with Part 2 of BEA's Book Group Speed Dating with publishers hosted by BookReporter.com, we have five more publishers who shared their favorite upcoming books with us.

Henry Holt had two books I liked:

  • Tenacity by J.S. Law is psychological thriller set on a submarine. When there is a murder on the submarine, a tough female naval investigator must solve the case and bring the murderer to justice. There seems to be a theme this fall of strong female characters in books, and I like that. On sale November 3rd
  • Being Mortal by Atul Gawande was a big book talked about at last year's BEA. Dr. Gawande shares his thoughts on how the medical community and society seems to avoid planning for the end of life, and to celebrate the fact that the book is still on the bestseller list, Henry Holt gave each participant a copy of this most important book that everyone should read. On sale now
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt presented three interesting books:
  • Girl With A Gun by Amy Stewart was a big presence at BEA, with over 1000 advanced reader copies being handed out. Stewart, the author of The Drunken Botanist, based her novel on the true story of one of the first female deputy sheriffs, set in 1914 Hackensack. I'm very excited to read this one. On sale September 1st
  • Dietland by Sarai Walker  is a provocative novel about an overweight woman saving up money for weight reduction surgery who gets involved with a "shadowy feminist guerilla group". They are calling this one "Bridget Jones meets Fight Club", which sounds too crazy to pass up, and Dietland received a rave review in Entertainment Weekly. On sale now
  • How To Start A Fire by Lisa Lutz is not the next book in Lutz's hilarious The Spellman Files, but more of a traditional women's fiction book, about friendship and secrets, but still retaining Lutz's signature sense of humor. A friend of mine read this already and loved it. On sale now
Other Press had one book I was intrigued by:
  • Couple Mechanics by Nelly Alard was described to us as a "yummy French novel". Who can resist that description? Based on a true scandalous story, Juliette and Oliver are a modern busy French couple, parents to two young children. Oliver confesses to an affair, and after a Fatal Attraction scenario, Juliette must decide whether to kill or help her husband. On sale January 19, 2016
Penguin shared two books with us that excited me:
  • Eileen by Ottessa Moshfegh was an Editor's Buzz Book. Eileen is a young woman working a dead-end job in a boy's prison in 1960's Boston area, supporting her father. When a glamorous woman joins the staff, she sweeps Eileen up in a crime scheme, and Eileen is both delighted and horrified. On sale August 18th
  • Fates and Furies, by Lauren Groff and from their Riverhead Books imprint, tells the story of marriage, told from both the perspectives of husband and wife. It reveals how "the key to a great marriage is not in its truths, but in its secrets." I loved Groff's The Monsters of Templeton, and she writes so beautifully I know this one will be great. On sale September 15th
St. Martin's Press also had two books I wanted to hear more about:
  • Everybody Rise by Stephanie Clifford was a book everyone was buzzing about at BEA. Clifford, a journalist at The New York Times takes on in hot topic- Upper East Side wives- in her debut novel. Her main character is a transplant from Maryland who does her best to fit in with the wealthy women in her new neighborhood. Called "a 21st century Bonfire of the Vanities mixed with Prep and Rules of Civility", this one is at the top of my TBR list. On sale August 18th
  • Hemingway in Love by A.E. Hochner is one that fans of The Paris Wife will enjoy. Hochner, who was good friends with Hemingway, writes a lyrical, beautiful account of Hemingway's Paris affair that destroyed his marriage to first wife Hadley, the woman he called the love of his life. This is a great opportunity to hear about Ernest Hemingway from someone who knew him well. On sale October 20th

Again, I'd like to thank Carol Fitzgerald and her terrific team at BookReporter.com for putting together this fantastic opportunity for all of us to speak with the publishers and hear about what they think will be the big books of fall.

Part 1 is here.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

BEA 15- Book Group Speed Dating with Publishers- Part 1

One of the events that has grown over the past few years is Book Group Speed Dating with publishers. Carol Fitzgerald and her team at BookReporter.com invite publishers to go from table to table to talk about their upcoming books with librarians and book club leaders. This year there were 27 publishers, and over 250 people eager to hear what is on deck.

This is one of my favorite BEA events, I particularly enjoy the interaction with the publishers. The most successful presentations are by publishers who have perfected their 'elevated elevator' pitches. They have less than 10 minutes to cover 5 or more books, and get us interested.

Each table had nine different publishers, and these are the highlights from my table:

Corsortium Books presented two thrillers, Lost Canyon and The Do-Right. 

  • Lost Canyon  by Nina Revoyr, from Akashic Books, was described as "Wild meets Deliverance" about four backpackers who find more than they bargained for while backpacking in the Sierra Nevadas. On sale August 25th
  • The Do-Right  by Lisa Sandlin from Cinco Puntos Press is getting rave reviews already for her story of a PI's secretary who, after spending 14 years in prison for killing one of the men who raped her, runs into the other man who raped her. The main character here is described as "kick-ass", and the dark side of the city of Beaumont is a major character as well. On Sale October 13th
Hogarth also had two books I am interested in:
  • The Gap of Time by acclaimed writer Jeannette Winterson kicks off their Hogarth Shakespeare series as authors reinterpret famous works by the Bard. Winterson retells The Winter's Tale,  set in 2008 London and a storm-ravaged city New Bohemia in America. Ann Tyler and Margaret Atwood will be taking on other Shakespeare works, and this is a very exciting project. On sale October 6th
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra, called a modern day Tolstoy, are linked short stories that continue in the vein of his brilliant novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, which I loved. I can't wait to read this one.  On sale October 13th
Little, Brown and Company had three books that piqued my curiosity:
  • Early One Morning by Virginia Bailey is being compared to The Lifeboat and The Paris Wife. Set during WWII, it tells the story of a woman who sees a family being loaded onto a truck to go to a concentration camp. She makes a split second decision to claim one of the children as her own and rescue him. This decision has long-lasting complications. On sale September 29th
  • The Three-Year Swim Club by Julie Checkoway and published by Grand Central, will appeal to readers who liked Unbroken and The Boys in the Boat. It's about a group of young children from Maui who became Olympic-level swimmers in the 1930's to escape poverty. This one was an Editor's Buzz Book selection. On sale October 27th
  • After the Crash by Michel Bussi and published by Hachette, is translated from a hugely popular French novel about a plane crash in the Alps. There is only one survivor, a three-year-old girl, and two families fight over whom the girl really belongs to. On sale January 5, 2016 

Harper presented three books that intrigued me:
  • The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop's comparison to Beautiful Ruins captured me right away because I loved that book. We meet a Greek family and a Turkish family whose lives are destroyed during the Cypriot coup of 1974, and it's about love, loss, loyalty and resilience. On sale July 7th
  • The Story of Land and Sea by Katy Simpson Smith is published by Harper Perennial and like The Orchardist (which I loved) and Geraldine Brooks' books is a lyrical, quieter book  about three generations of family during years after the American Revolution dealing with love, war and slavery in North Carolina. On sale July 21st
  • The Art of Crash Landing by Melissa DeCarlo is a debut novel from a fresh, funny voice about a lovable character who always seems to mess things up and the family secrets she uncovers. On sale September 8th

Part Two is posted here.

Saturday, June 13, 2015

Weekend Cooking- Bern's Steakhouse in Tampa

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.

When my husband and I visited Tampa last month, across the street from The Epicurean Hotel where we stayed was Bern's Steakhouse. We were told that we simply must eat there, that it was the best restaurant we will ever eat at.

As we live in NYC, where some of the best restaurants in the world are located, we thought, oh how cute, these people here think their steakhouse can compete. We smiled politely and said we'd try it.

Well the only reservation we could get was for 5:30 on a Saturday night, so we took it. When we arrived, the restaurant was packed- at 5:30pm. We've never seen that. Walking in, the interior is very dark, lots of wood and many small dining rooms with a dozen or so tables in each room.

Our server Lisa was amazing. She welcomed us, explained how Bern's worked and told us that we would be well taken care of; and we were. We started with a Macadamia White Chocolate Martini that was one of the most delicious drinks I have ever had- and I don't like chocolate drinks.
Macadamia Martini

Lisa brought us homemade crackers with cheese baked on top to eat with our drinks, and then we moved onto the extensive menu. It is the War and Peace of menus, 16 pages long, and containing 20 types of caviar, among many other interesting items.

Each meal comes with a house salad (I had a bright citrus vinaigrette dressing), French onion soup,  baked potato, crispy thin onion rings and side vegetable.

The French onion soup came in a little crock and was simply perfect- the perfect size to start the meal, perfectly flavored and not overwhelmed by too many onions or too much cheese. They used fontina and asiago cheese on top, which was delicious and different.
A little crock of French onion soup

We had the surf and turf, and my husband said it was the best filet he has ever had, and he has had steaks in the best steakhouses. It was so tender and well seasoned. The lobster was out of its shell and topped with a light sweet coconut sauce.
Surf and turf

After dinner, you are taken on a tour of the kitchen, which as former restaurant owners, we appreciated on a another level. The kitchen has a level of organization that must be seen to be believed.

We also toured the wine cellar, called the largest privately owned wine cellar in the country, and they serve each bottle of wine by the glass as well, so you have glass of any bottle of wine they serve. That is unheard of, usually you get a choice of a few white, a few red, but at Bern's, you can have it all.

At the end of the tour, you are whisked upstairs to the Harry Waugh Dessert Room. They halve huge wine barrels vertically and place a small table and booth seats inside. We got to sit next to the piano player who takes requests.

Again, there are several small dessert areas, and each of these tables had a phone where you could call in a request to the piano player. We laughed when we heard the phone ring and a young boy requested a song, it was too cute.
The request phone at the dessert table

I had the Macadamia Nut Sundae, which had delicious macadamia nut ice cream served in an orange scented waffle dish with hot fudge, whipped cream and macadamia nuts. It may be the best dessert I ever had and I ate almost all of it, not letting my husband have much more than a spoonful.
Hands off my Macadamia Nut Sundae!

Eating at Bern's Steakhouse is not to be missed. Even us jaded, snobby New Yorkers were impressed and had to eat our words (although there wasn't much room, we had so much fantastic food!). It might be the best culinary experience we have ever had, and we didn't want to leave three hours later. (Yes, you need to plan on three hours for this dinner.)

If you find yourself planning a trip to Tampa, the first thing you have to do is make a reservation for Bern's Steakhouse. If you can't get a reservation, change your travel plans until you can. Their website is here.

Friday, June 12, 2015

The Santangelos by Jackie Collins

The Santangelos by Jackie Collins
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 9781250048233
Hardcover, $27.99, 535 pages

Well, it's finally feeling like summer around here (it's been nearly 90 degrees for the past three days) and that means beach reading is on. (Well not at the beach for me, up on the apartment roof pool deck, but still.)

What is the perfect book to commence beach reading? Nothing beats Jackie Collins, and she has a new installment in her long running Lucky series, The Santangelos. I have been reading about Lucky Santangelo and her family, friends and enemies since Chances was published back in 1981.

 Collins is an expert at creating a perfectly blended cocktail of sex, ambition, drugs, alcohol, mayhem and murder, and The Santangelos continues in her winning tradition. She manages to create several storylines that you know are going to intersect at some point and just explode, like cars on a collision course, but getting to that point keeps you turning the pages.

Lucky is still running her fabulous Vegas hotel, and still happily married to filmmaker husband Lennie. They are a great couple, who compliment each other's strengths and balance out each other's weaknesses.

Lucky is waiting for a visit from her beloved father Gino, who has moved to Palm Springs with his new wife. Lucky's son Bobby has just opened up another successful nightclub in Chicago, and 18 year-old daughter Max is in Europe partying and trying to get a modeling career going.

As usual, there are a few bad guys who want to cause problems for Lucky. A Middle Eastern king vows vengeance, holding Lucky responsible for his son's death, and when Bobby is framed for a murder and someone Lucky loves is gunned down, Lucky goes into fifth gear to find out who is targeting her family.

We see several characters pop up here from previous books- former child star Willow Price, mega movie star Billy who once loved young Max, Bobby's business partner M.J., and his girlfriend Assistant District Attorney Denver Jones- among others. I particularly enjoyed the funeral scene when many previous characters made cameo appearances.

You know what you are getting in Jackie Collins' Lucky books- lots of sex scenes, opulent homes, behind-the-scenes Hollywood stories, fabulous clothes, great parties, drugs, really bad guys, violence and loyalty- and that's what makes it so much fun.

Lucky is a terrific character, a strong-willed, ambitious, hard-working, smart woman who loves her family and friends and would do anything for them. And that's a good thing for her family and friends, because they seem to need her help a lot.

The Santangelos is a fabulous book to while away the days under the sun getting your Vitamin D. And even though it's 535 pages, you will tear through it quickly. The good news is that after you finish The Santangelos, you can start with Chances and read the entire Lucky Santangelo canon if you haven't already.

You don't need to have read any of the Lucky series to enjoy this one, Collins gives you enough information in this book that you aren't lost, but those who have read the Lucky books will get an extra level of enjoyment.

(Warning- there are graphic sex scenes in this book. If that is not you thing, don't read this one.)

Jackie Collins's website is here, and you can read an excerpt from The Santangelos there.
I met Jackie Collins  a few years ago at Barnes & Noble

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Like My Father Always Said by Erin McHugh

Like My Father Always Said by Erin McHugh
Published by Abrams Image ISBN 9781419716218
Hardcover, $14.95, 142 pages
Last year author Erin McHugh had a big hit with her little book, Like My Mother Always Said, filled with bits of wisdom, advice and humorous sayings from moms, shared by their children. It was funny, sweet and touching.

McHugh is back this year with her logical followup, Like My Father Always Said- Gruff Advice, Sweet Wisdom and Half-Baked Instructions on How to Fix Your Stuff and Your Life, just in time for Father's Day.

Speaking before an enthusiastic group at her book launch at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side in New York City, McHugh shared how after Like My Mother Always Said was published, she heard from so many people who asked her "don't you want to know what my dad said?", and she was off and running.
Erin McHugh at Barnes & Noble

McHugh said that within a day of asking people on Facebook and Twitter to send her their dad-isms, she started getting a feeling that this was going to be a different book from the mom's. Mom's advice was about watching out for the child- their safety, their emotions. Dads, however, wanted to make sure you "had a firm handshake and a secure 401K."

Dads seemed to be more a product of their time, and some of their sayings "sound like they came from a 1940's movie", like the one dad who would say "Give me a drink, I can still hear the kids", or the one who asked his rambunctious kids "Who put a nickel in you?", a reference to the days when you would find mini jukeboxes on restaurant tables.

Some of the dads had some good serious advice. Casey told his sons Peter and Paul:
"There's only one thing you can both keep and give: your word."
Keith told his son Connor:
"Just don't be 'that kid'. Whatever the situation, you never want to be the one everyone else refers to as "Oh yeah, I know that kid.' It's never good."
Some dads had funny things to say. Bob told his son Dick:
"Stay single! But if you're going to get married, get married in the morning. Because if it doesn't work out, you haven't wasted the whole day." 
Jim's older brother frequently invited Jim and his wife to join them at Red Sox games or out for a sail on the weekend, and kept getting turned down. Finally, an exasperated Jim told his older brother that they couldn't go out on the weekends, because he had teenage children and had to wait at home for the police to call. (This was pre-cell phone days.)

Erin's own father is in the book. When Erin was away at college, her dad would send her cards and letters and he would always include "photo of Andrew Jackson to add to her Presidential portrait collection."

Like My Father Always Said is a wonderful book to give to the favorite dad in your life.  Reading it aloud will encourage you and your siblings and friends to share your own dads' hilarious and worthwhile pearls of wisdom. I guarantee it will bring a smile to your face. (And how can you resist the cover photo?)

rating 5 of 5