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Tuesday, April 25, 2017

By The Wayside Stories by Anne Leigh Parrish

By the Wayside- Stories by Anne Leigh Parrish
Published by Unsolicited Press ISBN 9780998087238
Trade paperback, $16.99, 238 pages

A few years back I read a collection of linked stories, Our Love Could Light The World, by Anne Leigh Parrish. The stories were about a family with five children, set in the Finger Lakes region of New York state. Since I grew up in a family with five children in that region, I had to read it.

I loved the book, and it reminded me of Elizabeth Strout's Pulitzer Prize-winning linked story collection, Olive Kitteridge, but I enjoyed Parrish's book even more.

Parrish is back with a more traditional collection of stories, By the Wayside. Instead of linked stories with the same characters appearing in the stories, these stories have similiar themes. Many of the stories have appeared in other publications as well.

The eighteen stories in By The Wayside deal mainly with young women facing a crossroads in life. These sassy women are dealing with dead parents, mental illness, sibling animosity, disappointment, marriage, and unrequited love. Many of these women are lonely, and some have adult responsibility beyond their young years.

In the first story, An Angel Within, Leet is a twenty year-old woman whose parents are gone. She is responsible for her two younger sisters, a sixteen year-old obsessed with nail polish, and a thirteen year-old whose obsession with beautiful clothes and handbags sometimes led to shoplifting.

Leet believes that an angel lives inside her; it is the only way she can get through her days at her lousy job as a grocery bagger in a town that requires a two-bus communte, only to return home to deal with her sisters.

The second story, How She Was Found, is one of the strongest. Fiona is on an archeological dig with her male professor and three male fellow students who treat her with disdain until she makes a significant find. I particularly liked Fiona's spunk. (Lou Grant would not like it- Mary Tyler Moore Show shout-out.)

Short stories require that the author get right to the point with her words, there is no room for flowerly descriptions. Parrish excels in that, using indelible phrases and sentences that set the mood and character in the reader's mind, like these:

In the terrific Where Love Lies, she writes "Dana figured nothing had been her fault. Bruce figured everything had been his fault." You learn a lot about that married couple in one sentence.

When Anna and her newlywed husband Paul move to the dusty town of Huron, South Dakota in 1920 in An Act of Concealment, Paul "thought the place he looked at nothing like home. His heart sank a bit. Anne's didn't. To her, home was an idea, not a place." I absolutely loved that passage, and again we know who these people are immediately.

When Anna says to another man that she believes marriage causes a kind of blindness, he tells her that "marriage alters one's vision... I mean that he doesn't see you well enough and (that) you see him too clearly."

Another story I loved was The Lillian Girl, about a teen who runs away from her disinterested parents and finds a woman looking for her daughter. It's the last story, and a fitting end to the this wonderful collection.

I found that I enjoyed the stories that were longer, the stories that were but a few pages seemed to end too abruptly for me. I recommend By the Wayside for those looking for a good short story collection, written beautifully. It's a perfect one-day read, but one that you'll contemplate much longer.

My review of Our Love Could Light The World is here.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Anne Leigh Parrish's tour. The rest of the tour stops are here:

Anne Leigh Parrish’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, April 3rd: Dwell in Possibility
Wednesday, April 5th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, April 6th: Lit and Life – author guest post
Monday, April 10th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, April 12th: Mama Vicky Says
Thursday, April 13th: Bibliophiliac
Monday, April 17th: Books ‘n Tea
Wednesday, April 19th: Susan Peterson
Thursday, April 20th: Dreaming Big
Monday, April 24th: BookNAround
Tuesday, April 25th: Bookchickdi
Wednesday, April 26th: Maureen Downing
Thursday, April 27th: Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Monday, May 1st: 100 Pages a Day – author guest post
Wednesday, May 3rd: Good Girl Gone Redneck
Thursday, May 4th: Seaside Booknook
Friday, May 5th: Readaholic Zone

Monday, April 24, 2017

On Broadway- Sweat

Sweat by Lynn Nottage

More than a few years ago, I saw a wonderful play by Lynn Nottage, By the Way, Meet Vera Stark. It was a remarkable play, one that I never forgot. When I saw the ads for another play by Nottage, Sweat, I knew I had to see it.

And when Nottage won the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for drama for Sweat, I ran to get a ticket. Set in Reading, Pennsylvania in 2000 and 2008, Nottage takes on the topic of factories closing in small cities and what that does to the town and the people who worked there.

Most of the action takes place in a bar, where we meet Cynthia, Tracie and Jessie, celebrating a birthday in 2000. Times are pretty good, the ladies are having a good time, dancing and drinking until Cynthia's troubled estranged husband shows up. His union has been on strike for years, and it has turned him inside out.

Cynthia's son Chris and Tracie's son Jason also work at the factory, although Chris wants to save his money to go to college to become a teacher, which Chris and bar manager Stan scoff at. Why give up a steady job, good pay, health insurance and more to teach?

The good times don't last. There are rumblings that the factory may move to Mexico because of NAFTA, and that leaves these people without many options.

Nottage takes on class, race, immigration, friendship, loyalty and much more in this powerful, searing drama that left me shaken and shaking at the end. Although set in 2000 and 2008, and written well before the election of 2016, Sweat resonates like nothing I've seen since The Normal Heart.

She provokes thought and emotion in the rapt audience. You could literally hear people breathing, it was so quiet in the theater.

All the performances are astonishing, with Johanna Day, Michelle Wilson and Krhis Davis particular standouts. Alison Wright, who is having quite a career now, first as Martha in FX's The Americans and as Pauline in FX's Feud: Bette and Joan, has a smaller role as Jessie, but she makes the most of it.

Nottage brings these people to vivid life, and helps us to understand why people feel left behind in this economy. Things changed too fast for them, and caught them by surprise. Everything they thought would continue has gone away, for many different reasons.

I got a discount ticket to Sweat, but this is a show I would gladly pay full-price to see.

Watching Sweat put me in mind of ABC's brilliant drama, John Ridley's American Crime, which this season deals with similiar themes- people who are in bad situations, often not of their doing. They feel disposable. If you haven't watched it, stream it. It is very sad, but must-see TV.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Weekly Organizer

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.

A new store opened up near me called The Flying Tiger. It's a Danish upscale dollar store. They sell kitchen goods, toys, arts and crafts kits, party supplies, all kinds of cool knickknack-y type items. (Their website is here.)
The Flying Tiger on the Upper East Side

The last time I was there, I found this Weekly Planner. It is legal pad-sized, and each week has a tear-out sheet. I decided to use it to help plan meals, grocery lists, and to keep track of what nights my husband would be home for dinner and what nights he would be at work dinners.

I've had it three weeks and so far it's working out well. At the beginning of the week, I review my husband's calendar and mark off when he will be home. Then I can plan what I will cook, instead of thinking about it each morning.

When we lived in central New York and our two sons were young, I would plan out our weekly meals and we would grocery shop as a family every week after church. It was efficient and fairly well organized.

When we moved to NYC, and now that our sons are on their own, grocery shopping is different. I go to the grocery store almost every day, since I walk to the multiple stores I shop at- Agata & Valentina for meats and produce, Morton Williams for canned items and frozen foods, various bakeries for desserts and breads- and can't carry too much at one time.

So now I put my weekly planner right on the refrigerator and as I look at the dinners I have planned, I write out my grocery list on that day. When I'm ready to head out to the store, I take a photo of the grocery list, and it's on my phone. (This eliminates the dreaded lists I used to write on paper and continuously forget on the kitchen counter.)

I think it will also help me to stop repeating a recipe too often, which I tend to do because I can't remember the last time I made something- two weeks or two months ago? I hope it will increase my creativity in the kitchen.

Putting the list on the refrigerator means I will be looking at it frequently, and it also has made it easy for me to add an item to the list as I run out of something. I can also add things like doctor's appointments or anything else I need to remember.

Do you plan your meals and have a system that you use? Let me know in comments.

This post was inspired by Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity's blog post from 2014. You can find that here

Friday, April 21, 2017

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline

Reprinted from the Citizen:

A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062356260
Hardcover, $27.99, 303 pages
Christina Baker Kline’s breakout novel was Orphan Train, which published in 2013 and is still selling well. Orphan Train brought attention to a little-known story, that between 1854 and 1929, thousands of young children were put on trains to the Midwest, stopping for people to adopt the children. Sometimes they found loving families, other times they were merely used as free labor.

Kline’s novel told that story through the character of Vivian, an elderly widow who shared her life’s story with a teenage girl doing community service work to stay out of trouble. Her next book, A Piece of the World, takes a true story, artist Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting entitled “Christina’s World”, and fictionalizes the lives of Wyeth and his model Christina Olson.

Christina Olson was born near the turn of the 20th century in the small town of Cushing, located on the rocky coast of Maine. She lived with her brothers, Sam, Fred and Alvaro, and her parents on a small farm, and times were difficult. 

She had a degenerative disease, one that left her in constant pain, and made it difficult to walk. Christina was a smart girl, and her teacher had given hope that one day Christina could be the town’s schoolteacher. 

But her illness and the subsequent debilitation of her mother and father made that dream impossible. Christina was needed at home to care for her parents and help with the farm. 

As the years went by, Christina became more of an invalid, and her brothers Sam and Fred married and moved to their own homes. Christina and Alvaro stayed home to care for their parents and the farm.

One day a summer person came by, a young woman named Betsy, bringing along a painter named Andy Wyeth. Andy’s father was a famous painter, N.C. Wyeth, and Andy fell in love with the farm. 

He called it “a place filled with stories” and maneuvered his way into Christina and Alvaro’s house, taking over an upstairs bedroom with his painting supplies. Every day, Andy would troop up to the farm and after talking with Christina, head upstairs to paint.

Andy felt that he understood Christina, because he too was sickly as a child. He was also somewhat introverted like Christina. They had a connection, and that connection led Wyeth to paint his most well-known work, “Christina’s World.”

Kline’s novel is beautifully evocative, placing you inside Christina’s world, the farmhouse on the hill, a place Christina called “sometimes a sanctuary, sometimes a prison”. 

Her writing is exquisite, and she can make you sigh with emotion, like when a young man says to Christina, “I’ve already discovered the treasure. All this time you were here, waiting to be discovered.”

She writes some emotionally charged scenes, especially the ones between Christina and her brother Alvaro as Christina fears that he is falling in love and will leave her behind. Those scenes are heartbreaking, and you can actually feel Christina’s panic and Alvaro’s pain at wanting a life of his own, but also feeling responsible for his sister. 

Kline also excels at character development. Even the less prominent characters, like Betsy and Christina’s father, are well-drawn and fleshed out. But it is Christina who owns this book, she is such a complicated, complex woman.

Her stubborness costs her friendships, and maybe even a chance at finding life in the bigger world. Her sense of responsibility may have also cost her those as well. 

Kline did a great deal of research for this novel, and reading the Author’s Note at the end gives one a terrific look at how she created this masterful novel. She spoke with members of the Wyeth family and the Olson family, and that gave her insight that adds a deeper dimension.

The Olsons were related to John Hathorne, a presiding judge at the Salem Witch Trials, and one of the women hung for witchcraft cursed the Hathorne descendents. That specter hung over Christina’s family in this novel. 

Reading A Piece of the World will send you looking for Wyeth’s painting, “Christina’s World”, which Kline helpfully includes at the end of the novel. I found myself studying it with a much deeper appreciation after reading this haunting, heartfelt novel.

I’ve read most of Kline’s novels, and A Piece of the World is by far her best work yet. If you were one of the millions who loved Orphan Train, A Piece of the World is one you must put on your To-Be-Read list. I highly recommend it.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Weekend Cooking- The Birthday Excitement Continues....

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 our children were young, it seemed that birthday celebrations were neverending. Between bringing in cupcakes for classroom celebrations (this was back in the day when that was allowed) to family parties and then the parties with friends (we had various parties for our sons at a Single A baseball games and professional hockey games, among other places), it often went on for a week.

As you get older, your birthday is relegated to one day- a nice dinner and a cake if you are lucky. This year, my birthday celebration was a multi-part event.  (I felt like the sultan of a faraway country, the only thing missing was paying a million dollars for an American celebrity like Britney Spears to appear and sing Happy Birthday to me!)

It started with my sister-in-law, who also share a birthday with me, coming to NYC to spend the day at the Macy's Flower Show and wandering the city doing fun things. (See last week's post here.) So I had a fabulous lunch at Butter and then dinner at Quality Italian. (And too many drinks for a weeknight!)

On Thursday, I came home from work and found that I received a HUGE bouquet of gorgeous flowers from my husband. (They were so big, I couldn't carry them, a porter had to bring them up to my apartment on a cart!)

Friday was my actual birthday, and I had planned on cooking dinner, but my wonderful husband took me to dinner at my favorite neighborhood restaurant, Lusardi's. Since it was a Friday during Lent, it was lucky that my favorite meal there is a pear salad and spinach-filled tortelli. We shared a fantastic bottle of wine, and it was a fabulous evening.

Saturday I worked at the Book Cellar, and we always have a nice lunch break, where the volunteers sit and chat. We finished our lunch (I was good, I had a yogurt and cranberry orange bar), when I turned to get up from lunch, I saw Dorothy carrying a cake with a candle on it that read "Happy Birthday Diane". That was such a surprise!

There was the traditional singing of Happy Birthday, with customers joining in as well. (Who needs Britney Spears?) It was so unexpected and sweet, and the cake was my favorite Strawberry Shortcake from Agata & Valentina.

We wrapped things up with a family dinner at Trattoria del Arte, located on 7th Ave. near Central Park. My whole family was there- my wonderful husband, my sons and their girlfriends. We don't get to see each other very often at this time of year (tax season), so it was especially nice.

And so ends the Birthday Extravaganza of 2017. It must be officially over, as I just tossed out the beautiful flowers, but the memories will last much longer.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

To The Stars Through Difficulties by Romalyn Tilghman

To The Stars Through Difficulties by Roamlyn Tilghman
Published by She Writes Press ISBN 9781631522338
Trade paperback, $16.95, 303 pages

I volunteer at the Book Cellar, a used bookstore located in the basement of the Webster Library on the Upper East Side in Manhattan. The Webster Library is one of the original Carnegie libraries, built in 1905.

Andrew Carnegie gave money to build nearly 1700 libraries across the country, many in small towns like the town of New Hope, Kansas, the setting for Romalyn Tilghman's novel To The Stars Through Difficulties. 

The novel opens with a newspaper clipping of a an EF-5 tornado that destroyed the entire town of nearby Prairie Hill, where the only thing left standing was one wall of the old Carnegie Library. The story is told through the eyes of three women- Gayle, a woman who lost her home in the tornado, Angelina, who is writing her PhD thesis on Carnegie libraries, and Traci, an artist from New York who relocates to New Hope for the promise of a job teaching at an art center, formerly a Carnegie library in New Hope. (I did not realize that many small town libraries were turned into media/arts centers in the 1970s.)

Angelina's grandmother lived in New Hope and she played a major role in procuring money from Andrew Carnegie to build a library there. Some of the most interesting sections of the book tell the story of how the women in the town banded together to raise the necessary funds to get the grant.

Those women would let nothing stand in their way in their determination to get a library for their town, not their husbands, and in Angelina's grandmother's case, not the expectations of what a woman is capable of doing or the opinions of others as to how to accomplish that.

Angelina needs this trip to complete her thesis. The family print shop she ran with her late father is about to close, her mother is not supportive of her goal, and it has taken her too long to get this far academically.

Traci is a fish out of water in New Hope. She is a young woman from a big city, and she has nothing to lose. Her new job is tenuous, and depends on the town to raise funds for her salary. She finds it hard to relate to the women in this town, and the troubled teens she is charged with teaching challenge her in many ways.

To The Stars Through Difficulties is the motto of the state of Kansas, and it is the perfect title for this wonderful book. It is about women banding together to create something lasting, something that will better their communtity and the people who live there. It is a story about women empowering themselves.

We see how much Angelina's grandmother's generation and the women of today have in common. They set a goal and come hell or high water, it was going to be achieved. I enjoyed seeing how supportive the women were of each other, even while being wary of each other at times.

The characters are so realistic, and those who long for small town living will truly appreciate To The Stars Through Difficulties. When I was a child, I loved The Little House On The Prairie books, and this felt like a modern, grown-up version of the those books. I got the same warm feelings reading To The Stars Through Difficulties.

I highly recommend To The Stars Through Difficulties.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Diane and Brigette's Excellent Birthday Culinary Adventure

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.

Two of my sisters-in-law and I share a birthday, so whenever we can, we try to get together to share our special day. This year, my husband's sister Brigette came to NYC and we had a whirlwind ten hour adventure, mostly revolving around food.

We started out at the Macy's Flower Show, which is always so much fun. Brigette is an avid gardner (and I nearly flunked leaf identification in college), so I try to pay close attention and learn something. (I'll post about the show this coming week.)

We take the guided tour, and this year we had the same interesting tour guide we had last year. The theme was Carnival, which I had my doubts about, but as usual they did a marvelous job.
A rooster filled with flowers from the Macy's Flower Show

Next we headed for a leisurely lunch at Butter, chef Alex Guarnischelli's restaurant in midtown. Brigette ordered the Marshma llo'Bomber drink, made with chocolate liquer and homemade marshmallows. It was a warm drink, which kind of surprised us both. She enjoyed it.

Then we split a Butter Burger and fries and the Fried Chicken Waldorf Salad. The burger was very tasty, and it came with a side of a cheese sauce that added a nice flavor to the burger. The fries were crisp and hot too.
Butter Burger and Fries

The Fried Chicken Waldorf Salad was interesting- it came with fried chicken strips and on the side were lettuce leaves, each with an apple slice, half of grape and a walnut. The plating was fun, and the dish was wonderful.
Butter Fried Chicken Waldorf Salad

It was off to Eataly, where a cup of gelato was on the menu. I got my traditional pistachio, Brigette had a few scoops of some kind of chocolate. We wandered the store and couldn't resist taking a few photos of their lovely fruits and vegetables displays.

We headed down Fifth Avenue to check out a sandwich shop recommended by my co-workers, Eisenberg's Sandwich Shop, a real old-fashioned shop. The walls are lined with photos of celebrities (Leo DiCaprio, Paul Giamatti, Katie Couric), and there is a long counter with stools that runs along the opposite side. I will definitely make a stop there for lunch someday soon.

Turning down Broadway, we stopped into a few kitchen shops- Whisk and Fishs Eddy, which are always fun to visit and see the cute things I don't have room for in my apartment. We also passed by Maille, which is a shop that only sells Maille mustard. The pretty spring colors caught our attention.

We made it just in time to visit Union Square Greenmarket, and just looking at all of the pretty plants and flowers made us wish for spring to have sprung already.

Our last stop was dinner at Quality Italian, where we met my husband and shared their famous Chicken Parmesan, which is pounded so thin, it is served like a pizza. The nice thing about that is that there is always leftovers for dinner the next night.

Brigette and I walked off some of our dinner as we headed over to the Port Authority Bus Terminal so she could catch her bus. We just missed the three manhole explosions and fire that happened a few hours earlier and still had traffic snarled with all the police and fire trucks there. It was a miracle that no one was injured.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue

Every Wild Heart by Meg Donohue
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062429834
Trade paperback, $14.99, 304 pages

When we used to vacation in Cape Cod, after the kids were put to bed, my husband and I would listen to Delilah After Dark on the radio. People would call into Delilah, tell her a story about a lost love, a current love, anything to do with love, and request a song. It was very soothing to listen to Delilah's voice and drift off to sleep.

Meg Donhue's protagonist in Every Wild Heart, Gail Gideon known as G.G. to her many listeners, hosts a nightly radio talk show (Donohue says that Delilah was an inspiration). G.G. gained national prominence when a YouTube video of her on-air rant the day that her husband asked for a divorce went viral.

G.G. used to play music, but once people heard her rant, she became one of the most popular talk radio hosts in the country. Each night people call in to her show and she doles out advice, basically telling them if she could get over her divorce, they can make it too.

G.G. has a 14-year-old daughter, Nicole, whom she loves more than life itself. She is on good terms with her ex-husband Tyler, now happily remarried with two boys, although she still has feelings for him.

Nicole has a stutter, and that makes her reticient to speak in class. Everyday after school she goes to the stable where her horse is kept. She rides, helps clean out the stables, and is well-liked by Denny, the stable owner.

Nicole has one good friend, and no boyfriends. She is a good kid, with a strong sense of fairness. She can't abide the bullying that goes on at her private school, and wishes she could do something about it.

One day Nicole takes a terrible fall from her horse, and is knocked unconscious. After the fall, her personality changes. She becomes more daring, willing to take risks she never would have thought of trying before. This worries G.G. a great deal.

Also worrying G.G. is the fact that it appears she has a stalker, one who wishes to do her harm. G.G. goes into Mama Bear mode to protect Nicole from the stalker and her own reckless behavior.

Donohue has a way with a phrase, like these:
"I would have taken the opportunity to remind him that he adored the beast in me right up until the moment he decided he didn't."
"The strange thing about crazy people, I'd noticed in the years since my rant about Tyler had gone viral and I'd become a household name, was that they all shared a similar vocabulary, as though love could be found in a million variations, but hate was just hate, any way you slice it."

Every Wild Heart has packed a lot inside- the depth of parental love, teenagers who want freedom to make decisions but don't yet fully understand the consequences of those decisions, chasing your dreams, women trusting themselves, and opening yourself up to love.

The characters are fully drawn, and I particularly liked that the ex-husband isn't 'the bad guy', he loves his daughter and cares about his ex-wife. The story is told in the alternating voices of G.G. and Nicole, making this a great book for mothers and teenager daughters to read together.

If you are a fan of Delilah After Dark, like to ride horses, or enjoy rock'n'roll music (there's a playlist at the end of the book), you'll get an extra level of enjoyment out of Every Wild Heart.  

Meg Donohue's website is here.
Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Meg Donohue's tour. the rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, March 14th: Tina Says…
Thursday, March 16th: Kritters Ramblings
Monday, March 20th: Art Books Coffee
Tuesday, March 21st: A Bookworm’s World
Wednesday, March 22nd: A Bookish Way of Life
Thursday, March 23rd: StephTheBookworm
Friday, March 24th: BookNAround
Tuesday, March 28th: Comfy Reading
Thursday, March 30th: Kahakai Kitchen
Friday, March 31st: Mama Reads Hazel Sleeps
Monday, April 3rd: A Chick Who Reads
Tuesday, April 4th: Books and Bindings
Wednesday, April 5th: Girls Just Reading
Wednesday, April 5th: Back Porchervations
Thursday, April 6th: bookchickdi
Friday, April 7th: G. Jacks Writes
Monday, April 10th: Mama Vicky Says