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Monday, November 20, 2017

#HockeyStrong by E. Robuck

#HockeyStrong by E. Robuck
Published by Elysian Fields Press ISBN 9780982229811
Trade paperback, $15, 324 pages
Ebook available $4.99
I just read a news article that said that the night before Thanksgiving is one of the busiest nights of the year for reading. I guess everybody traveling by plane and train leaves lots of time for a good book. (Just please don't read and drive- I can't believe that people actually do that.)

If you're looking for a good, quick read for the night before Thanksgiving, I have a great suggestion.

E. Robuck has written a very funny and pointed satire #HockeyStrong that will appeal to anyone who has spent time freezing their gloved hands off at a hockey rink, football stadium or baseball field. (My sons played high school baseball in Central New York in April- yeah, I wore my winter coat, hat, gloves and boots.)

Kate and Charlie Miller's 11-year-old son Brett made the cut for the elite travel team for hockey. Coach Butch has declared that hockey comes first- before school, before family, before vacations. When he sends a group text announcing an emergency practice IN ONE HOUR, if you don't show up, you are benched. If he can get them into a tournament at the last minute, you end your family vacation and come back. In "a season that will last as long as a pregnancy, and costs as much as a small island in the Caribbean", your family life will revolve around hockey and nothing else.

The Millers don't completely buy into the entire 'hockey is life' scenario. They don't think that Brett is headed straight to the NHL, even though he is the best scorer on the team. Coach Butch doesn't like Charlie because he never played hockey as a kid, and he takes that out on Brett. Brett just wants to play hockey with his buddies.

Robuck's hockey parents are an exaggerated group (or maybe not?). There is a dad who keeps a detailed binder for his son titled "Kyle's Path to Hockey Greatness."  Bill and Tina Church's wardrobe consists solely of clothes emblazoned with their son's name and number (in team colors of course- and they are sales representatives for the company that sells them if you would like some for yourself. The team gets a cut of the action!). They also host a podcast about being a sports parent.

Piper ignores her two young daughters, and is social media maven, immediately posting updates about the team and her son's progress to Facebook. The competition between Kate and Piper to post first is hilarious. Piper also has a drinking problem and embarrasses herself and her family more than once.

There are parking lot fist fights between moms, a child disqualified because his parents lied about his age, a child trying to play with a broken foot, a parent who surruptiously sprinkles protein powder on her son's Nutella- the level of craziness seems both unbelievable and familiar at the same time.

Robuck spent many years sitting on the sidelines, and her imagination ran wild in this book, which she states is based on no one in particular, but the reader may recognize the character types here.

I highly recommend #HockeyStrong for those who have already finished with the sports parent scenario or those just looking for a really good laugh. Maybe your family won't seem so crazy this Thanksgiving once you've met the Polar Bears' parents.

Erika Robuck's website is here.

Thursday, November 16, 2017

The Garden of Lamentations by Deborah Crombie

The Garden of Lamentations by Deborah Crombie
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062271648
Trade paperback, $14.99, 414 pages

The first book I read by Deborah Crombie was the 14th in her Gemma James/Duncan Kincaid mystery series No Mark Upon Her. When a female rower, who happened to be a Met detective, drowns under mysterious circumstances, Scotland Yard detectives James and Kincaid are on the case.

I was immediately drawn into the story, thanks mostly to the interesting characters. Gemma and Duncan are work and life partners, and we get to know the other detectives, Melody and Doug, who assist them. The central London area where the action takes place is also an intriguing character.

Crombie's 17th book in the series, The Garden of Lamentations, begins a few years later. Although I have missed a few books in between, I was able to pick up without missing too much.

A young nanny is found dead in a walled off garden area, accessible only by the people who live adjacent to it. Gemma is drawn into the investigation by a friend of hers who lives near there.

Meanwhile, when an undercover cop is found dead, a suspected suicide, Kincaid is contacted by his former boss, whom he hasn't talked to since the boss abruptly transferred Kincaid. After Kincaid meets with his boss in a restaurant, the boss is attacked and left for dead.

Kincaid becomes obsessed with the attack and the possible connection to the undercover cop's death. Was it really suicide or is it something more sinister? Are cops being targeted and is he next?

In this story, everyone seems to be split up and pulled apart. Melody takes over Gemma's responsibilities while Gemma is pulled into the dead nanny's murder. Doug is no longer working with Kincaid. Kincaid's preoccupation with his case has kept him away from his and Gemma's children- teenage Kit, seven-year-old Toby and three year-old Charlotte. Gemma is upset that he is not confiding in her.

It took me awhile to get into The Garden of Lamentations, but once I did, I couldn't stop reading until I was done. The neighborhood where the nanny was killed is filled with many interesting Agatha Christie-like characters- the parents who lost a young son last year and blamed the dead nanny, a busybody woman obsessed with the garden, the nanny's highstrung boss and her son who wants to be a ballet dancer- that took a bit to keep straight.

Kincaid's investigation leads him back to the case from No Mark Upon Her, as well as to an incident from 1994 involving an undercover police operation infiltrating possible terrorist organizations. There is alot to keep track of here, but Crombie keeps her eye on the ball and everything comes together in the end.

I liked that there are so many female police officers in the story. Gemma, Melody, Gemma's new partner in the nanny investigation is a woman, and later in the story we meet a high ranking woman in Scotland Yard. It's no big deal here, the way it should be.

Fans of Irish mystery writer Tana French (The Dublin Murder Squad series) will like Deborah Crombie's The Garden of Lamentations. They both write taut, character-driven mysteries that immerse the reader in the location of the story. I highly recommend The Garden of Lamentations, although I will say that this perhaps is not a good book to jump into the series with. People who have read previous books in the series will get much more out of it.

Deborah Crombie's website is here.
My review of No Mark Upon Her is here.

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

Tour Stops

Wednesday, November 15th: Into the Hall of Books
Thursday, November 16th: bookchickdi
Friday, November 17th: 5 Minutes For Books
Monday, November 20th: Tina Says…
Tuesday, November 21st: Tales of a Book Addict
Wednesday, November 22nd: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Monday, November 27th: Books and Bindings
Tuesday, November 28th: Jathan & Heather
Wednesday, November 29th: Mama Reads Blog
Thursday, November 30th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Friday, December 1st: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Monday, December 4th: Ace and Hoser Blook

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Weekend Cooking- The Comfort Food Diaries by Emily Nunn

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 Comfort Food Diaries by Emily Nunn
Published by Atria ISBN 9781451674200
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages
Emily Nunn, a former New Yorker magazine editor, was in love and living with her fiance`, "the Engineer" she called him, and his lovely young daughter in Chicago. While on vacation in Barcelona, she got word that her brother Gil had committed suicide.

Emily was devastated and the Engineer was upset that Emily couldn't just snap out of her depression and move on. The Engineer broke up with her and she lost her fiance, his daughter, her home and had no job. She began to drink heavily, and one night she poured out her heartache on Facebook.

The next morning, she discovered many of her Facebook friends had responded to her post, asking Emily to come visit them. Her sister Elaine got Emily into the Betty Ford Clinic to deal with her alcohol problem, and took charge of Emily when she got out of rehab.

But things soured quickly. In Emily's family, her mother and one of sisters didn't speak to anyone else in the family. Elaine would decide not to speak to Emily for long periods of time, and Emily never knew why. Emily grew up "in a family of seven- an exquisitely dysfunctional southern family, in various members stopped speaking for years in various convoluted and confusing configurations."

Emily decided to go on on comfort food tour. She would travel the country, visiting various extended family and friends, and that led to her memoir The Comfort Food Diaries: My Quest for the Perfect Dish to Mend a Broken Heart. She stayed with an aunt and uncle in Virginia, trying to learn why her family acted the way that they did. Childhood pals, high school friends, college chums, cousins- they all invited Emily to come visit and cook with them.

The Comfort Food Diaries is part food memoir, part travel guide, part family story, and part self-discovery story, filled with wonderful recipes for the food that nourishes the appetite and the soul. Emily found that she wasn't the only one who had been hurt, and she discovered the resilience to face her life head-on.

The most moving part of the story was when Emily and Elaine went to see their long-estranged father. He was suffering from dementia, lonely and living amid squalor . He had left the family when Emily was a young girl after her mother had taken up with another man and he moved out. It was heartbreaking to hear his story.

There are so many fabulous recipes in this book that I want to try- Toni's Tomato Sauce, Great-grandmother's Mean Lemon Cake,  Bea's Magic Salad Dressing, Aunt Mariah's Pot Roast, Magnificient Sour Cream Corn Muffins- it is a nice mix of traditional family, and more modern restaurant fare.

If you like memoirs about families and food, The Comfort Food Diaries is a good read for you. I recommend it.

Friday, November 10, 2017

On Broadway- Come From Away

Last year on Broadway, the musical Come From Away drew crtitical praise and everyone who saw the show raved about it. It was nominated for Best Musical at last year's Tony Awards, and won many awards across the country.

The musical tells the true story of the small town of Gander, in the Newfoundland province of Canada. On September 11th, 2001, the town of less than 10,000 residents added over 7000 more people as planes flying from Europe to the United States were forced to land in Gander as all air traffic was grounded due to the terrorist attacks that day.

The twelve actors in the show play multiple roles- residents of Gander, (such as the mayor, the police chief, two teachers, a bus driver, a news reporter on her first day) and as travelers on the planes forced to land (such as a female American Airlines pilot, a gay couple, a woman whose son is a NYC firefighter and an Egyptian chef).

The ensemble nature of the play works beautifully, and the actors work so well together in their dual roles. The songs are terrific, and there are very few solos, adding to the ensemble nature of the show.

Come From Away shows us the best of humanity at a time when perhaps we need to be reminded of that. The residents of Gander took in these 7000 people, finding them shelter, food, and most importantly, giving them comfort in a frightening situation.

As we meet the people on the planes, and see their confusion and fear trying to understand why they have been forced to land (they are not told what is going on, and most people then didn't have smart phones), the feelings of that day all come rushing back to audience members as well. We all remember where we were and how we found out, and hugging our family members closer. These poor people didn't have that, many of them were alone.

As serious as the subject is, there is plenty of humor in Come From Away. The show pokes a little fun at the residents of Gander, with the people on the planes not quite understanding why these Canadians are so friendly and willing to go out of their way to help them.

Come From Away is a show that I wish everyone could see; I hope that PBS' Great Performances tapes it for future broadcast. It gives you faith that we can all come together when times require it.

The most interesting aspect of the show is that the stories of these characters are true stories- these people are real people, and that makes the show even more extraordinary. Your heart will be full after seeing Come From Away.

There are discount tickets available for Come From Away, but this one is worth paying full price. I would compare it to another Broadway show I absoultely loved- Once. The website for Come From Away is here.

Below is an interview that Tom Brokaw did with the cast of the show for the Today Show.


Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman

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 Welcome Home Diner by Peggy Lampman
Published by Lake Union Publishing ISBN 978-1542047821
Trade paperback, $14.95, 352 pages

Peggy Lampman previously owned a specialty food store, The Back Alley Gourmet, in her college town of Ann Arbor before writing a weekly food column for the Ann Arbor News. Now she writes a food blog, dinnerfeed.com and all this led her to write two novels- The Promise Kitchen (2016) and this year's The Welcome Home Diner.

Addie and Samantha open a diner in Detroit. Detroit has been through some rough times, and the cousins hope to help resusitate an area of Detroit with their neighborhood diner.

They got their love of cooking from their Babcia, their Polish grandmother. She inspired them, and her photo hangs up in a corner of the diner to remind them of how they got here. Addie and Sam share a two-story house- Addie lives upstairs with her boyfriend David and they seem very happy and well-suited to each other.

Addie is the organizer and planner, she handles the ordering, and the paperwork, along with the front of the house issues. She sees a future for her and David, marriage and children, but David is happy with things the way they are.

Sam runs the kitchen, she is beautiful and a great cook and after getting out of a bad relationship in New York, she is trying to find her footing again with men. Meanwhile, she has Hero, her dog who watches over her.

The Welcome Home Diner has money issues, as most new businesses do. They don't have much money leftover after payroll and food costs, but Addie and Sam are committed to making the diner work, sacrificing much to make it successful.

They draw a decent crowd from the young professionals in the area, but they are perplexed as to why the neighborhood residents do not eat at the diner. Their prices are reasonable, the food is delicious, and there isn't another comparable restaurant in the neighborhood.

In addition, there is a person giving them bad and inaccurate Yelp reviews, a next door neighbor who is openly hostile to them, and a business vendor who is menacing them.

I loved the characters in The Welcome Home Diner. Along with Addie and Sam, they have an interesting staff- Braydon, who started with them on day one and has worked his way up to floor manager, Quiche, a cook who brings her smart young daughter Sun Beam to work with her, and Sylvia, a young woman rescued from sex traffickers whom Addie and Sam take under their wing.

Having owned a restaurant with my husband, I found The Welcome Home Diner fascinating. Lampman gets so much right, such as the stress, the hard, physical work and the comraderie of the team effort. You get a great look at the day-to-day grind of running a restaurant.

The setting of Detroit is a character as well. We get a real feel for what a once-vibrant city is now going through, the struggles of the residents to get back on their feet. Some people appreciate the efforts of newcomers investing in their city, others fear the gentrification and the strangers moving into their neighborhoods.

I recommend The Welcome Home Diner for those who like foodie fiction, and family stories mixed with serious issues and there are even some recipes at the end, like Lamb Burger Sliders with Tzatziki and Beetroot Relish,  and Sylvia's Heartbreakers, which are similiar to the amazing Levain's Chocolate Chip Walnut Cookies, famous in NYC (and my guilty pleasure).

Peggy Lampman's website is here.

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

Peggy Lampman’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, October 16th: Books and Bindings
Tuesday, October 17th: A Thousand Books to Read
Wednesday, October 18th: Books a la Mode – author guest post
Thursday, October 19th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Friday, October 20th: Katy’s Library blog and Instagram
Saturday, October 21st: Beth Fish Reads
Monday, October 23rd: The Sketchy Reader
Tuesday, October 24th: Savvy Verse & Wit
Wednesday, October 25th: Kahakai Kitchen
Thursday, October 26th: A Chick Who Reads
Friday, October 27th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Monday, October 30th: All Roads Lead to the Kitchen
Wednesday, November 1st: Why Girls are Weird
Thursday, November 2nd: Bookchickdi
Friday, November 3rd: BookNAround
Monday, November 6th: Read Write Repeat
Tuesday, November 7th: Booksie’s Blog
Wednesday, November 8th: Bibliotica
Friday, November 10th: What is That Book About