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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman

Terrible Virtue by Ellen Feldman
Published by Harper ISBN 978-0-06-240755-9
Hardcover, $25.99, 272 pages

There has been a recent trend of historical novels featuring women many of us don't know much about. Paula McLain's The Paris Wife about Hadley Hemingway, Ernest's first wife, began the trend a few years ago, and some more recent ones include McLain's Circling the Sun (about aviatrix Beryl Markham) and a book I recently loved and reviewed The First Daughter, about Thomas' Jefferson's daughter Patsy. (My review here)

Ellen Feldman's Terrible Virtue tells the story of Margaret Sanger, widely regarded as the woman who helped bring about birth control education for women and the founder of Planned Parenthood. I didn't know much about Sanger, so I was curious to read more about her.

Sanger's mother had thirteen children and her father was an alcoholic who fancied himself a socialist atheist philosopher. Sanger watched her mother give birth year after year and become a shell of a woman, worn out by caring for so many children without any help from her husband.

Margaret was intelligent and thanks to her older sisters who raised enough money, she was able to attend nursing school.  She also became passionate about social justice, as well as men. She had relationships with many men and believed in free love.

Yet she married Bill Sanger and they had three children- two sons and daughter named Peggy. Peggy was diagnosed with polio, a diagnosis Margaret disagreed with, and she refused to let her daughter wear a leg brace.

One day Margaret was asked to speak to some women about health issues, and she began to talk about contraception, which was a forbidden topic at the time. Women were hungry for more information and soon Margaret's talks drew more and more women.

She also drew attention from authorities and Margaret was arrested. Margaret fled the country for Europe, leaving behind her family. When she eventually returned, she devoted so much of her time and energy to the issue of contraception and women's health that her relationship with her husband and children suffered.

The story is told from Margaret's point of view, with some characters- her husband, her son, her sister, her lawyer and others in her life- telling their story in small doses. I think the novel may have been stronger if we heard more of their voices.

It was difficult for me to completely empathize with Margaret. She is, to say the least, a very complicated character. She was a pioneer in women's health, and her determination to help women understand and have access to contraception changed the world for women. So many poor women were trapped, forced year after year to have babies because contraception was not available to them.

But she wasn't a good mother or wife. It's one thing to say that her husband knew what he was getting into with Margaret and her extramarital affairs, but her children didn't deserve to have an absentee mother. They were sent a boarding school that was horrible, and at the end of her life, I wonder how much she regretted not having a better relationship with them.

I recommend Terrible Virtue as it brings to light how difficult life was for women because they didn't have any control over basic health care regarding contraception. The world changed dramatically for women once this happened, and Margaret Sanger was the one who changed it.

Ellen Feldman's website is here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, March 22nd: Sara’s Organized Chaos
Wednesday, March 23rd: Doing Dewey
Thursday, March 24th: Bibliotica
Friday, March 25th: Books on the Table
Monday, March 28th: A Literary Vacation
Tuesday, March 29th: Lesa’s Book Critiques
Wednesday, March 30th: bookchickdi
Thursday, March 31st: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, April 4th: The Feminist Texican [Reads]
Tuesday, April 5th: From the TBR Pile
Wednesday, April 6th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Thursday, April 7th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, April 11th: Puddletown Reviews
Tuesday, April 12th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, April 13th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, April 14th: Time 2 Read
Thursday, April 14th: Literary Feline

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Weekend Cooking- Kitchens of the Great Midwest

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.

Kitchens of the Great Midwest by J. Ryan Stradal
Published by Pamela Dorman Books ISBN 978-0-525-42914-2
Hardcover, $27.95, 310 pages

J. Ryan Stradal's novel Kitchens of the Great Midwest received a great deal of buzz at last year's Book Expo of America (BEA) and for good reason: it's one terrific book.

It's also hard to describe, there is not a lot I can compare it to. His voice is unique, and the way in which he tells the story of young Eva, a girl with an incredible ability to be able to eat the hottest, spiciest foods imaginable, is spellbinding.

When you read Kitchens of the Great Midwest, you think you know where it is going, and then Stradal takes the reader on a detour. For awhile, you are not even quite sure whose story he is going to be telling, but you sit back and enjoy the ride.

The story is set in Minnesota, where a mixed race marriage is considered one between a Norwegian and a Dane. We think the story is about Lars, a chef who falls in love with Cynthia, who wants to be a sommelier. They have a daughter, Eva, whom Lars absolutely dotes upon.

Then we skip ahead eleven years to find Eva on the brink of adolescence. She grows hot peppers at home and gets a job working in a restaurant. She doesn't really fit in with her peers.

You just get comfortable with Eva, and we jump ahead to Braque, Eva's single-mindedly athletic cousin. Will this be Braque's story then? It doesn't really matter, the book is that consuming.

Each chapter has the name of a food- Chocolate Habanero, Walleye, Sweet Pepper Jelly-culminating with the Dinner chapter where the story comes full circle. There are some terrific recipes in the book, including some for county fair dessert bar contestants like Mississippi Mud Bars and Pat Prager's Peanut Butter Bars which had won five times. (I will be trying both of these.)

For someone who only knows Minnesota from  The Mary Tyler Moore Show, I like how this novel immerses you in the culture, the language, the people and the food of the region. It's Stradal's love letter to his home.

We get to know Eva's story through the people around her, much like we got to know Olive Kittridge through the stories of the people in her orbit in Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Eva is somewhat inscrutable, but also incredibly interesting.

If you are willing to try a book that is a little bit different, you will be rewarded with fascinating characters in a story that stays with you for a long time. I highly recommend it.

Pat Prager's Peanut Butter Bars
2 1/2 cups crushed graham cracker crumbs
1 cup melted Grade A butter
1 cup peanut butter
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup milk chocolate chips with 1 teaspoon Grade A butter

Mix together the graham cracker crumbs, melted butter, peanut butter, and sugar. Put into a greased 9x13 pan. Melt the chips and butter and spread them on top of the bars. Set in the refrigerator until firm. Cut into bars.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray & Laura Kamoie
Published by William Morrow ISBN 978-0-06-234726-8
Trade paperback, $15.99, 624 pages

When the hottest thing is entertainment is Broadway's hit musical Hamilton, the timing is good for a novel about President Thomas Jefferson's daughter Pasty. Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie combined to give us a fascinating look at not only Patsy Jefferson, but also at a fascinating time in our history in America's First Daughter.

On Patsy's mother's deathbed, she told young Patsy that it would be Patsy's job to look after her father Thomas and that is what Patsy spent her life doing. She accompanied her father to his post as ambassador to France, served as his hostess when he became President and became mistress of his famous estate in Monticello, Virginia.

Patsy also cared for her younger daughter Polly, and then married and became mother to eleven children. The man she married, Thomas Randolph, was left penniless due to a family fight, and he descended into anger and alcoholism which left Patsy to care for her family on her own.

Her first love was William Short, a man her father considered his adopted son. Patsy and William's path to a happy future was a rocky one because Thomas Jefferson believed that Short would not be able to provide adequately for his daughter, and would not give his blessing. How different her life would have been if only he did!

Short believed that slavery was an abomination, and because Jefferson's home state of Virginia depended on slave labor, this was a problem. Patsy also believed that holding people captive was wrong, and when she discovered that her father was carrying on with Sally Hemings, a household slave and his wife's half-sister, she was bereft and conflicted.

I was particularly impressed with how the authors dealt with the complications of slavery in this novel. Jefferson famously wrote that "all men are created equal" while he himself owned slaves and depended on them to operate his beloved Monticello. He had several children with Sally Hemings, children who were slaves on his plantation.

There are many wrenching scenes in this novel, but none are more disturbing than the one of Patsy attending an auction of her family's worldly goods, including many of the slaves. She is heartbroken that families will be broken apart and sold South, and yet she feels there is nothing she can do to stop it.

We also see in this novel what little say women had in their own lives. There are scenes of domestic violence where women are beaten and abused by their husbands and no one, not even a former President of the United States, is allowed to intervene. Married women are at the mercy of their husbands whims and decisions no matter how intelligent or wealthy they may be.

I read America's First Daughter on a plane and was so totally lost in this world I was shocked at how quickly the time flew. Dray and Kamoie clearly did a great deal of research and used letters recently released by the Jefferson estate as a jumping off point. There is a terrific conversation with the authors at the end of the book that should not be missed.

I highly recommend America's First Daughter, especially for people who like to read about historical figures. Patsy Jefferson comes alive in this wonderful book, and I am now going to read the Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Hemingses of Monticello by Annette Gordon-Reed to find out the real story of Sally Hemings and her children.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. The rest of the stops can be found here:

Tuesday, March 1st: Broken Teepee
Wednesday, March 2nd: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, March 3rd: From L.A. to LA
Friday, March 4th: Read-Love-Blog
Monday, March 7th: Luxury Reading
Monday, March 7th: Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Tuesday, March 8th: Just One More Chapter
Wednesday, March 9th: Reading Reality
Thursday, March 10th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, March 11th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews
Monday, March 14th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, March 15th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, March 16th: bookchickdi
Thursday, March 17th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, March 18th: Peeking Between the Pages
Monday, March 21st: Puddletown Reviews
Tuesday, March 22nd: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Book Report- Books Make Great Broadway Shows and Movies

Many of the movies nominated for Oscars this year have their roots in books, including a few of my favorites, Colm Toibin's Brooklyn and Emma Donoghue's Room. I discussed this in my March Book Report column in last week's Citizen. Click the link below to read it.


Saturday, March 5, 2016

Weekend Cooking- More Foodie Fun in Florida

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

Last week we returned to Florida and this time the weather was much better and I wasn't sick, so it was a win-win. My brother-in-law and his wife stayed with us and we had fun exploring Sarasota Bay and the Gulf of Mexico in our rented boat.

We also tried some new restaurants and returned to a few favorites. There was new food to try and new beverages to consume. A great time was had by all!

First, the drinks. We stopped at The Old Salty Dog, which is very close to our house but we had never tried. In honor of our annual trip to Barbados (which is now a trip to Longboat Key instead), Kay and I tried their Rum Punch, and we were very happy that it was almost as good as the rum punch Darlene used to make for us in Barbados. The decor in the restaurant was fun too.
Rum Punch

Another drink we really enjoyed was the Raspberry Lemondrop Martini at Michael's On East, where we had a fabulous meal. Our server, Kimberly, was terrific and the piano player was singing our favorite songs.  The presentation of the drink was just lovely. If you ever go to Sarasota and want a special evening out, Michael's On East is the place.
Raspberry Lemondrop Martini

We rented a boat and cruised around, ending up at the Star Fish Company in Cortez for lunch. After docking, we ate on the boat as their was a crazy long line for the picnic tables. Their blackened grouper sandwich was the best fish we had all week. It was so simply prepared, it got raves from all of us. They have a fresh fish market there as well.
Grouper Sandwich
My brother-in-law went out fishing one day and he caught a ton of flounder, sheepshead and even a few snappers. The man who took him out on the charter arranged for us to have a local restaurant, Harry's Continental Kitchens, cook up the fish fresh for us for dinner.

They started us out with an appetizer of sheepshead, which they fried and plated over an Asian slaw with a sauce on top. It was so fresh and delicious, we all loved it.
Sheepshead appetizer
They cooked the flounder two ways: one simply in a white wine, caper and lemon sauce and another with a coconut breading. Again, it was tasty and there is just nothing better than eating fish freshly caught. Everyone at Harry's made us feel at home.
Chris' Catch
I do have one funny anecdote for the week. We went to the Ritz-Carlton Spa for couples' massages and while I was being escorted to our treatment room, I ran into Joe Torre, former NY Yankees manager and now an executive with Major League Baseball, in the hall. We were both in bathrobes, otherwise I probably would have tried to chat him up. Next time.