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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Unforgiveable Love by Sophfronia Scott

Unforgiveable Love by Sophfronia Scott
Publsihed by WilliamMorrow ISBN 9780062655653
Trade paperback, $15.99, 506 pages

Author Sophfronia Scott is by her own admission obsessed with all versions (books and movies) of Les Liasions Dangereuses. When her friend screenwriter Jenny Lumet said that there should be a version of the story with an African American cast, Scott got to work.

Unforgiveable Love- A Retelling of Dangerous Liaisons is set in Harlem during the summer of 1947, when Jackie Robinson became the first black Major League baseball player, playing for the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Mae Malveaux is a wealthy heiress, her mother having made her money inventing a hair gel and using young Mae's picture on the packaging. When her best friend is torn from her, forced to marry in older man and move to Detroit, it is an event that changes Mae forever.

She doens't believe in love, she uses men's affections and throws them away when she is done with them. Valiant Jackson is a man who has a shadier reputation in Harlem- he is always seen in the clubs with a different beautiful woman every night, but Mae is the one woman he desires. He is obsessed with baseball, and follows Jackie Robinson's career rise.

When Mae finds an opportunity to gain revenge on a man who left her, she strikes a bargain with Val- if he beds Cecily, the virginal young woman (and Mae's cousin) who is to be engaged to the man, Mae will finally sleep with Val.

Much of the story takes place at Val's aunt's summer retreat in upstate New York. When Val arrives to begin his mission, he finds his aunt hosting Elizabeth, the lovely wife of a civil rights lawyer currently working down south.

Val decides to while away the time waiting for Cecily by playing a cat-and-mouse game with the honorable Elizabeth. He schemes to get her to into bed, but when he develops real feelings for her, and she for him, it shakes his world.

Even if you are familiar with the story of Dangerous Liaisons, Unforgiveable Love will still surprise you. Scott brings her characters to life, and 1947 Harlem is a terrific setting for this retelling. I also liked the role that baseball played in this story- Val teaching Elizabeth how to play the game is a unique and interesting plotline.

The denouement of the story is set in a church, which is an integral part of the Harlem community. It is a heartbreaking novel, one that had me gasping at times, but ultimately there is some redemption for some of the characters. I also liked how the author shows us that women can own their sexuality, but with that also comes a responsibility to themselves and others.

If you are a fan of Dangerous Liaisons,  you'll want to put Unforgiveable Love on your TBR list. I recommend it. It would make a terrific movie or play, and I found myself casting the roles in my head.

Sophfronia Scott's website is here.

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

Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 26th: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, September 27th: bookchickdi
Thursday, September 28th: G. Jacks Writes
Friday, September 29th: Sara the Introvert
Tuesday, October 3rd: History from a Woman’s Perspective
Monday, October 9th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.
Monday, October 9th: Tina Says…
Tuesday, October 10th: Openly Bookish
Wednesday, October 11th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, October 12th: Books and Bindings

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062645333
Trade Paperback, $15.99, 405 pages

I'm not sure there are many women who don't remember reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Women at some point in their lives. The characters were based in part on Louisa's own family- Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and of course Marmee and Father stood in for Anna, Louisa, Lizzie, May and the real-life Marmee and Father.

Elise Hooper's The Other Alcott fictionalizes the story of May Alcott. The book begins with the rave reviews for the recently published Little Women. May drew the illustrations for the book, which received much harsh criticism. May was devastated by this because she wants to become an artist.

Louisa isn't very understanding of May's feelings. She appears to be jealous of May's "lucky", sunny nature, claiming that everything usually always goes May's way; perhaps there is a little schadenfreude going on. May is unhappy that people have the perception that it is luck and not a function of her hard work.

May wants to get out from under Louisa's shadow and study art in nearby Boston. The money that Louisa earns from her writing supports her parents and May, and she is beginning to feel constrained by this obligation.

Louisa takes May to Boston with her, and then to Europe to study. May is thrilled to travel to Europe. While there, she meets many famous female artists, like Jane Gardner and Mary Cassatt, and becomes moderately successful, though it takes her a long time and much study and hard work to get there.

After Louisa returns home to care for their parents, she sends letters to May insisting she come home and take her place while she writes. May is torn between her love and obligation to her family and her desire to be her own person and pursue her own career.

The relationship between Louisa and May is complicated and at the heart of this terrific debut novel, and Hooper writes in her afterward that she embellished the length of the strained relationship for dramatic reasons.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the art scene in Europe in the late 19th century, especially how female artists fought for recognition denied to them as the "weaker sex". May made friends easily, and there are so many interesting characters in her life that are well-drawn here by the author.

People who love Little Women, as well as all the novels about wives of famous men like The Paris Wife, The Aviator's Wife and Loving Frank, will want to read the Other Alcott, as will people who enjoy stories about art and artists. I read it in one day, unwilling to put it down.

Elise Hooper's website is here, where you can read the first chapter of The Other Alcott.

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

Tour Stops

Thursday, September 7th: History From a Woman’s Perspective
Friday, September 8th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, September 13th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, September 14th: History from a Woman’s Perspective
Monday, September 18th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.
Wednesday, September 20th: Bibliotica
Thursday, September 21st: bookchickdi
Friday, September 22nd: A Bookish Affair
Monday, September 25th: Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, September 26th: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 27th: A Literary Vacation
Wednesday, September 27th: She’s All Booked
Thursday, September 28th: Openly Bookish
Friday, September 29th: Books and Bindings

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Weekend Cooking- My First Trip to Momofuku Noodle Bar

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

Every year, a group of my friends come to NYC to go to the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, where we eat, drink and laugh, all to excess.

This year, two of my friends and I spent an afternoon wandering around, stopping to visit Eataly, ABC Home store, Union Square Greenmarket, and one of us wanted to go to Momofuku Noodle Bar.

So we found ourselves in the East Village and we stopped into Momofuku Noodle Bar, after initially walking right by the restaurant and ending up at Fuku, David Chang's fried chicken sandwich restaurant which is just two doors away.

A gentleman sitting next to us at a U-shaped bar overheard our conversation deciding what to order, and he wholeheartedly recommended the Momofuku Ramen Bowl, so we all tried that and ordered pork buns to go with it.

He was right- the Ramen Bowl was delicious! And while only one of us braved using chopsticks, we all raved about the Ramen Bowl, which included a piece of crispy pork belly, pork shoulder, and a poached egg, along with the noodles and a perfectly seasoned broth.
Momofuku Ramen Bowl

The pork buns were tasty too, with cucumber, scallions and pork in a tangy hoisin sauce that paired so well with the Ramen Bowl we ordered a second helping.
Momofuku Pork Buns

I love Momofuku Milk Bar's famous Compost Cookie, and now that I've been to Momofuku Noodle Bar, I want to try Fuku and their fried chicken sandwich.

Momofuku's website can be found here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson
Published by Ecco ISBN 978-0062422088
Hardcover, $27.99, 520 pages

One of the great joys of reading is discovering an debut author whose work just blows you away. Eleanor Henderson did that to me with her 2011 novel Ten Thousand Saints, set in 1987 New York City and Vermont. It is such an amazing book (made into a movie in 2015), I put it on my Most Compelling Books of 2011 list.

I was thrilled to hear that Henderson would be at the Book Expo this year signing copies of her followup novel, The Twelve-Mile Straight.  I was first in a long line of people, all eager to tell her how much we loved Ten Thousand Saints and how we couldn't wait to read this new one.
Eleanor Henderson at the Book Expo

The setting for The Twelve-Mile Straight is a small town in Depression-era rural Georgia in 1930. Young Elma Jessup gives birth to two babies- one black, one white. Her daughter is the child of the grandson of the wealthy man who owns the farm that her sharecropper father Juke works. Elma and Juke accuse a young black man who works for Juke, Genus Jackson, of raping Elma resulting in Elma's son.

Juke, who made moonshine on the side that he sold to men in the town, convinced others to join him in making Genus pay by lynching him, dragging his body behind a truck and leaving it in the road in town. The death scene is horrific, and we soon learn that there is more to this story.

Elma's mother died when she was a baby, and Elma was raised by Ketty, their black housekeeper. Ketty's daughter Nan grew up with Elma, and they were best friends, even though Elma went to school and Nan worked with Ketty, eventually learning from her how to be a midwife.

As the story unfolds, we find out that there are many secrets in this house, secrets that will affect everyone who lives there for years to come. People are curious about Elma's two babies, and their two different fathers, and Elma eventually meets a doctor, Oliver, who wants to study this unique phenomenon.

Oliver is a terrific character; he suffers from polio and he wants to be a research doctor. He is fascinated and compassionate towards Elma and her babies. There is a couple, Sarah and Jim, who came from up North and work on Juke's land. Why they are there is a mystery, but they provide company for Elma, for which she is grateful. And gentle, quiet Genus is such a sweet young man, his murder is devastating.

There are some powerful scenes in the story, including a baptism for the babies, where several townsfolk turn out believing that at least one of the babies "has the devil in him." Oliver's memory of his time spent on a ship filled with other polio patients because people feared catching polio was heartbreaking.

Henderson creates such a sense of time and place, you can feel the blazing summer sun and see the dust kicking up on the twelve-mile straight road. The reader is transported to this world, one that she conjured from stories her father told of his growing up, one of eight children born to a sharecropper.

Her writing is so precise, it feels like she worked to craft the perfect sentence for each paragraph. I got so lost in The Twelve-Mile Straight that frequently I found myself completely tuning out my surroundings, losing all track of time and place.

But it is the relationship between Elma and Nan that is at the heart of this emotional, moving story. The two women are as close as sisters, but it is the secrets between them that drive the momentum of the book to its shattering conclusion.

I highly recommend The Twelve-Mile Straight, and if you haven't read Ten Thousand Saints, pick that one up too. I'm not the only one who feels this way, The Twelve-Mile Straight has made many Best of Fall lists. 

Eleanor Henderson is a professor at Ithaca College, and her website is here.
My review of Ten Thousand Saints is here.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Boca in Sarasota

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.

As I type this post, we are watching the local Sarasota news station listening for information on Hurricane Irma. We spent a lovely five days last weekend at our vacation home in that area, and at that time it looked like Irma was going to hit the East Coast, but now it appears that our area on the West Coast is going to take the direct hit. I hope that we have not spent our last time there, it is such a beautiful, peaceful place.

We visited a new restaurant in downtown Sarasota with friends, Boca. I loved the interior design of the restaurant, it has a very hip, industrial, yet warm vibe. Each table had a small herb plant in middle of the table; ours was a fragrant basil plant.
The view of the bar from our table above
Basil Plant

The menu was interesting as well. My husband and I chose to share the Zucchini Fries with a Green Goddess Dip. It was served in a cute little paper bag on a wooden platter.
Zucchini Fries

A couple sitting at a table next to us had the Grilled Hangar Steak Platter and Sweet Potato Gnocci that looked so appetizing that we said "We'll have what they're having". The steak platter came with roasted potatoes and vegetables, and my husband enjoyed it.
Grilled Steak Platter

My gnocci was wonderful. It had chunks of butternut squash and sliced mushrooms in a parmesan cream sauce. I would definitely order that again.

We shared a tasty fruit cobbler for dessert that was served in a small skillet, and even between the two of us we couldn't finish it.
Fruit Cobbler in a skillet
Before dinner we visited the new Westin Hotel rooftop bar, which has a gorgeous view of Sarasota Bay. I sure hope everyone makes it through Irma safely and that we get back there soon.

Boca's website is here.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Three Great Titles for the End of Summer

Reprinted from auburnpub.com:

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over. If you want to get in some good last minute reading before the leaves begin to change, this month’s Book Report has a few suggestions.

Don Winslow is best known for his crime thrillers, (“Cartel”) set on the West coast. His latest novel, “The Force” is set in New York City, and it is a propulsive, action-packed crime novel that will leave you breathless.

Denny Malone is the leader of the Manhattan North Special Task Force, known as “Da Force”. They are the alpha cops, the ones you see on the news, making big drug, gun and gang busts, putting the bad guys behind bars and making Northern Manhattan safer. “If there was a secret Da Force didn’t know about, it was because it hadn’t been whispered about or even thought about yet.” 

“Da Force” are supposed to be the good guys, but when the temptation of all that drug money and their desire to provide a good lives for their families collide, trouble follows. The novel opens with hero cop Malone behind bars himself in federal lockup with a big decision to make- protect his family or his partners.

The novel then tells how Malone got there, and it whips along at a breakneck pace. Winslow so submerges the reader into the grittier parts of Upper Manhattan, you actually feel like you’re right there along with him. And if you think only the cops are dirty, let’s just say that no one gets out of this unscathed.

Stephen King calls “The Force” “The Godfather, only with cops”, and that may be the best blurb I have ever read. It utterly describes the vibe you get from reading this heart-pounding book. Winslow dedicates this novel to the law enforcement personnel who lost their lives during the time he wrote the book, and names them all- the list is two and half pages and is a sobering beginning to this outstanding book, which I highly recommend.

Author Susan Elia MacNeal’s WWII heroine Maggie Hope returns in her seventh adventure in “The Paris Spy”. Maggie goes undercover working with the Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive in Paris during the German occupation. 

Her work is extremely dangerous, and when an agent who has valuable information about the pending Allied invasion is captured, Maggie and two of her colleagues must find that information and get it back to England, all while looking for the traitor in their midst.

Maggie must also deal with competing intelligence agencies who don’t trust each other, and she has a personal mission- find her missing sister, who was liberated from a concentration camp and hasn’t been seen since.

Maggie and her cohorts risk their lives, and there are many tense scenes in this outstanding entry in this historical mystery. At the end of the book, Maggie faces a troubling decision, one that will resonate in the next book, which I can’t wait to read.

MacNeal does impeccable research for her novels, and “The Paris Spy” is no different. She includes an Historical Notes section at the end, which is fascinating to any WWII history buff, and she gives the reader a list of books she consulted, in case you want to continue your own historical reading.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” may put people in mind of Elizabeth Taylor. Evelyn Hugo was a glamorous movie star during the glory days of Hollywood, beloved by millions and married to seven men. She has been out of the limelight for years, and an interview with her is coveted by many people. 

Only Hugo knows why she chose a relatively unknown reporter to secretly write her biography, each chapter about one of her seven husbands. Throughout the story, we find out that the love of Hugo’s life was not one of her husbands, but a complete surprise, a relationship she kept hidden from the public out of fear.

The characters in this fascinating novel are so well-drawn, particularly Hugo herself. She is a larger-than-life movie star and she jumps off the page as she tells her amazing story. It reminded me of Adriana Trigiani’s “All The Stars In The Heavens”, and if you are a Turner Classics Movie fan, “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is a must-read. It’s a heartbreaker.

The Force” by Don Winslow- A+
Published by WilliamMorrow
Hardcover, $27.99, 482 pages

The Paris Spy” by Susan Elia MacNeal- A+
Published by Bantam
Hardcover, $26, 301 pages

Published by Washington Square Press
Hardcover, $26, 400 pages