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Friday, March 29, 2019

Friday Five- March 29,2019

Welcome to the Friday Five, where I talk about five things that caught my attention this week.

1) First up on the list, I like to listen to podcasts when I do my four mile beach walk when in Longboat Key. An NPR This American Life podcast from 2010 titled Petty Tyrant was riveting. It tells the story of the head of maintenance for the Schnectady, NY school district who terrorized the people who worked for him and how he got away with it for so long. It's a crazy story and you can find it here.

2) I volunteer at the Book Cellar, a used bookstore located in the basement of the Webster Library branch of the New York Public Library. (Our proceeds benefit branch libraries of the NYPL.) All of the items we sell are donated, and sometimes we find something really great. In one of our recent donations, we found a copy of Hamilton, the Revolution, a book about the phenomonal Broadway production. What made this so special is that is is signed by Liin-Manuel Miranda. A few weeks ago we discovered a signed copy of George W. Bush's book Portraits of Courage. We're on a roll!

3) I went to see a revival of Lanford Wilson's play Burn/This on Broadway. Keri Russell (whom I loved in TV's The Americans) and Brandon Uranowitz (whom I saw in An American In Paris and Falsettos on Broadway- he was wonderful in both) play NYC roommates whose third roommate died in a boating accident. When the dead man's larger-than-life brother barrels his way into their apartment, he causes problems when he won't go away. Adam Driver (nominated for an Academy Award this year for Blackk Klansman) plays the brother and he will probably get a Tony nomination. He was astounding, playing all shades of a very complex character.  It's only on Broadway through July, you can find more info here.  

4) Season two of Good Girls (Monday at 10pm on NBC) is so addictive. Christina Hendricks (Mad Men), Mae Whitman (Parenthood) and Retta (Parks & Recreation) play three Detroit suburban women who rob a grocery store out of desperation, only to find that the store was laundering money for a group of thugs. They get themselves in deep in season one, and in season two each episode just gets more and more tense. My stomach is in knots (in a good way!) the entire time I watch it. Retta plays a mom who used the money to pay for her young daughter's kidney transplant and she just breaks my heart as she struggles with the morality of her actions. If you liked Breaking Bad, give this one a try here

5) I read two wonderful books this week- Elinor Lipman's Good Riddance is about a young woman who throws her mother's yearbook away in the recycling bin and what happens when her neighbor picks it up and creates a podcast out of it. It's funny and clever and pure Lipman. 
I also read Helen Ellis' book of essays Southern Lady Code, about her adventures living in NYC (in my neighborhood). Helen is from Alabama, and she recounts the words of wisdom her mother gives her about things a southern lady says and does. I loved Helen's last book, a short story collection titled American Housewife that is demented and delightful, and Southern Lady Code lives up to that one in laughter. (Full reviews on both to follow.) 

What did you do this week? Let me know in comments.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Two Novels by Wonderful Writers

Reprinted from the Citizen:
March is set aside to celebrate Women’s History Month, and in that spirit, this month’s Book Report will feature novels written by women and set in different time periods.
Elizabeth McCracken’s “Bowlaway” begins at the turn of the 20th century in small New England town of Salford, Massachusetts. A woman named Bertha Truitt is found unconscious in the town cemetery with a bowling ball, a candlepin and some gold bars on her person. 
The entire town is curious as to where Bertha came from, but she either doesn’t know or won’t tell. She marries an African-American doctor, Leviticus Sprague, and opens a candlepin bowling alley in the town. (Apparently, this was a very New England activity.)
She hires two men, Joe and Jeptha, who are considered outcasts in the town. They are fiercely loyal to Bertha, and even when Bertha encourages the town’s women to bowl at the alley, people come to accept this unusual woman and her ways.
Bertha and Leviticus have a baby girl whom they dote on. When Bertha dies in a bizarre accident, Leviticus falls apart and sends the young child away to live with his family. Soon, a man named Nahum shows up claiming to be Bertha’s son from a previous marriage and wants to claim the bowling alley as his inheritance.
This intense story weaves its way through the years. We follow the large cast of characters throughout their lives, all revolving around the bowling alley. McCracken writes the novel with some magical elements within it, and it is a unique story, but she is such an amazing storyteller the reader becomes captivated by it.
Her characters and their journeys are fascinating and heartbreaking. We see how the past influences the present, and how secrets and choices can have such lasting consequences. McCracken’s writing is just stunning and lovely, and this book has received much critical praise.
“Bowlaway” is not for everyone, but if you are looking for a big, sprawling story set in a small bowling alley with characters who are unforgettable, definitely give it a try. McCracken’s previous book, “The Giant’s House,” also featured characters that are outside the societal norms, and is just as wonderful.
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s last book, “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo,”  (my review here) featured an Elizabeth Taylor-like movie star, and her story as told by a young journalist who has been chosen by Hugo to write her biography. It was fabulous and garnered much critical praise. 
Her latest novel, “Daisy Jones & the Six,” is about a 1970s rock band, similar to Fleetwood Mac, who have a meteoric rise and fall after releasing a monster-sized hit album. This story also involves a journalist who writes this book as a series of interviews with members of the band, their producers, friends and others.
Billy Dunne begins a rock band with his brother Graham in their hometown of Pittsburgh. They eventually end up in Los Angeles, where they begin to have some success. Billy writes most of the songs and wants to be the one with final say on everything, something that rankles others in the band (now called The Six), including Graham.
Daisy Jones is gorgeous and a terrific singer. She signs with The Six’s record company and struggles with the fact that she wants to record the songs she has written, but the record producers want her to sing something else. Daisy also drinks too much and ingests too many drugs, and she has no one looking out for her, save her friend Simone (a Donna Summer-like singer).
The record company has Daisy sing a duet with Billy, and the song becomes a huge hit. Soon, Daisy joins the band and they become known as Daisy Jones & the Six, which angers Billy. The band tours arenas throughout the U.S. and Europe, and we see their love affairs, shifting alliances and fights as they become one of the biggest bands in the world.
Through the interviews we see how everyone feels throughout this, including Billy’s alcoholism and struggle to stay sober and faithful to his wife, Daisy’s drug use and many men, and the other band members' frustration at being left out of the creative process. It’s interesting to see everyone’s perspective on events, such as their first big album cover photo shoot.
If you have a worn-out copy of Fleetwood Mac’s famous album “Rumours” in a closet at home, “Daisy Jones & the Six” is for you.

If you read

BOOK: “Bowlaway” by Elizabeth McCracken
COST: Hardcover, $27.99
LENGTH: 384 pages

PUBLISHER: Random House
COST: Hardcover, $27

LENGTH: 368 pages

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Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at http://bookchickdi.blogspot.com. You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed at laruediane2000@yahoo.com.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Friday Five-March 22,2019- Florida Edition

This week's Friday Five comes to you from Longboat Key, Florida where we have been for the past week. Between the rainy cold first few days and the beautiful warm sunshine of the past three days, I have gotten in a lot of reading and catching up on Netflix and Hulu.

1) I read two big books- big in scope and page numbers. The first was Kate Quinn's The Huntress. I  received an ARC at the Book Club Girls' Night Out at Harper Collins last summer, where I listened to Kate and Jennifer Robson (The Gown) talk about their books. If you read Quinn's The Alice Network you will love The Huntress. It tells the story of female Russian fighter pilots in WWII,  and the hunt for a female Nazi who assassinated innocent Polish children during the war. It's brilliant and you will find yourself holding your breath as you read certain passages. (Full review to come)

2) The second big book I read was Jennifer Weiner's upcoming  June novel Mrs. Everything, which tells the life story of two sisters from the 1950s to the current day. Beth is the pretty one who works hard to be the good girl, and Jo is her older sister who tries to fit the mold of what a good girl should be but just can't do it. We follow their lives through college, careers, marriage and relationships. It reminded me so much of Irwin Shaw's Rich Man, Poor Man, which I loved in high school. It's Weiner's best book yet. (Full review to come)

3) Tuesday was a rainy day all day, so I caught up on some Netflix, Amazon and Hulu series. I finished season 5 of Netflix's Grace and Frankie, starring the incomparable Jane Fond and Lily Tomlin. I have to say that this season didn't grab me as much as the previous ones, but it's still a shining star. I started and finished the fourth and final season of Catastrophe on Amazon Prime, created by and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney. It was a fitting end to this fantastic series, and I especially loved the sendoff they gave to Carrie Fisher, who played Rob's mom and passed away before the final season. I also started and finished the first season of Shrill on Hulu, starring Aidy Bryant from SNL. I love that Julia Sweeney and Daniel Stern play Aidy's parents, and Aidy is fabulous at playing such a complex character who doesn't always do the right thing.

4) I read two shorter books- Susan Silver's memoir Hot Pants in Hollywood- Sex, Secrets & Sitcoms and Laura Pedersen's Life in New York. I would have enjoyed Silver's book if it focused more on her experiences writing for sitcoms and less on her sex life. I really liked Pedersen's book. I loved her book Buffalo Gal about growing up in Buffalo in the 70s (as will anyone who grew up in the snowbelt), and this book had me laughing almost as much.

5) I watched the Paley Fest live stream of one of my all-time favorite sitcoms, Parks and Recreation or Parks and Rec as the cool kids call it. Patton Oswalt moderated the panel with all of the stars of the show, (Amy Poehler, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones, Nick Offerman, creator Michael Schur, etc.) It was an hour of pure joy, and watching Aziz Ansari crack up at everything Chris Pratt said was priceless. It was definitely worth the $7.99 price to watch it.
Credit- Getty Photos

I'm almost done soaking up the sun and it's nearly time to head back to NYC and reality. What did you do this week? Hit me up in Comments.  

Thursday, March 21, 2019

How to Know the Birds by Ted Floyd

How to Know the Birds by Ted Floyd
Published by National Geographic ISBN 9781426220036
Hardcover, $28, 295 pages

Although the beautiful cover of Birding magazine editor Ted Floyd's How to Know the Birds may lead you to believe that this will be your typical book about birds, you would be wrong.

Many bird books are field guides, with page after page of color photos or drawings of birds, along with short descriptions of what the bird look like and where you find them. Floyd's book is different. He begins by describing the history of birding, referencing the seminal books in the field. It was a quiet, gentle, often solitary study by people with sketchpads, pencils, binoculars and notebooks.

Then he takes us into the present, where birding has evolved like most things- people use their smartphones to take photos to upload to numerous Facebook pages devoted to birding. There are apps to help birders organize and connect with other birders. It is much more immediate and social.

Floyd introduces us to 200 bird species, each one getting a page but not necessarily a drawing. (There are a small number of beautiful pencil drawings by N. John Schmitt that accompany some of the text.)

The contents are divided into six sections, organized by the calendar year, beginning with Spark Bird, which covers January-February. He discusses the birds you will likely find during those months in North America, gives the common name for the bird, such as American Robin, then its scientific name Turdus migratorius, which always capitalizes the first letter of the first name and the second name always begins with a smaller case letter.

He gives you a short description of the bird, and interesting fact about the bird that is the title of the page. For the essay titled He Says, She Says, we learn about the Great Horned Owl and the difference between the sounds the male and female makes. In The Upside of Human-Modified Landscapes, he talks about the Canada Goose and how these geese have evolved to "flourish in human-dominated landscapes" living near high-rise office buildings, on golf courses and wreaking havoc near airports.

Floyd sprinkles in pop culture references, talking about the movie On Golden Pond in the essay about the Common Loon, or comparing a Star Trek TV series scene to a large nest which holds a tiny Bushtit. He of course mentions the Jack Black/Steve Martin movie The Big Year, perhaps the only movie about birding ever made.

The book ends with a helpful checklist of all the birds described by species.

How to Know the Birds is really written for the person who enjoys birding as a serious hobby more than for a person looking to get into birding. It would make a wonderful gift for your favorite birder, maybe in an Easter basket.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Ted Floyd's tour. The rest of his stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, March 12th: Just a Secular Homeschooler
Wednesday, March 13th: Man of La Book
Monday, March 18th: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
Tuesday, March 19th: Doing Dewey
Wednesday, March 20th: Broken Teepee
Thursday, March 21st: bookchickdi
Monday, March 25th: The Birders Library
Tuesday, March 26th: Instagram: @dropandgivemenerdy
Wednesday, March 27th: Instagram: @bookishinmpls
Thursday, March 28th: View from the Birdhouse
Friday, March 29th: Based on a True Story
Monday, April 1st: Pure Florida
Date TBD: 10000 Birds
Date TBD: The Birdist
Date TBD: Jathan & Heather

Friday, March 15, 2019

Friday Five- March 15, 2019 Edition

A few years ago I started a weekly post called the Friday Five, about five things that I found interesting that week. I'm going to revive this and try to be really diligent about posting, so here goes Friday Five 2.0

1)  I first discovered Paula Pell at the Saturday Night Live exhibit in NYC. They did a video interview with former head writers and she was in it. I found her so interesting, and didn't really hear too much about her until I watched the NBC sitcom A.P. Bio. She plays the school secretary and she is hilarious, especially in her scenes with Patton Oswalt, who plays the principal. Then I saw her on IFC's Documentary Now! in the episode that spoofs the famous documentary about the Broadway show Company. Pell takes on the Elaine Stritch role and she is nothing short of phenomenal. Watch part of it here:

2)  Speaking of TV comedies, I'm addicted to Brooklyn Nine-Nine on NBC. It's made by Dan Goor and Michael Schur, who did one of my all-time favorites Parks & Rec. I have no idea why it took me so long to find this, but I have four seasons to catch up on.

3)  I've seen some terrific Facebook Lives, all having to do with books. Author Adriana Trigiani has been doing them weekly, and it's like chatting with a good friend. She has some exciting movie news on this week's episode. If you like her books, check her Facebook page for these fun visits.  You can see it here.

I also watched two other recent Facebook Lives- Harper Book Studio 16 talk on Historical Fiction with author Lauren Willig and editor Rachel Kahan was the first one. They mentioned so many of my favorite books- The Thorn Birds  and Gone With The Wind. You can see it here.

The last one I watched was a Library Love Fest interview with actress Kate Mulgrew, who many know from Ryan's HopeStar Trek Voyager and Orange is the New Black. She wrote a book called How to Forget about her parents. If it's half as good as her memoir Born with Teeth, it will be fantastic. I saw her speak about that book a few years ago at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, my post about that is here. The Facebook Live video is here.

4) As I've mentioned before, I volunteer at the Book Cellar, a used book store located in the Webster Library branch of the New York Public Library. All of the staff are volunteers, all of our books are donated, and our profits benefit the local branch libraries of the NYPL. People are very generous to us, we get some wonderful books, including rare and new books. This week we got an exciting book- an inscribed copy of Hamilton- the Revolution about the smash Broadway musical. The book is signed by Lin-Manuel Miranda, and I was so happy when I saw that signature. This is a big find for us.
    5) Author Laura Lippman is trying to encourage people to read 100 pages daily for her #AlwaysForPleasure Twitter reading challenge during this Lenten season (although there is no correlation). I decided to follow her example and I finished two books- Jacqueline Winspear's 15th Maisie Dobbs book, The American Agent (which is one of her best!) and Jennifer Robson's historical novel about the women who made Queen Elizabeth's wedding dress, The Gown, which I also liked. I'm in the middle of two other books, Jennifer Weiner's Mrs. Everything and Kate Quinn's follow-up to her hit The Alice Network, titled The Huntress. I saw Jennifer Robson and Kate Quinn at HarperCollins' Book Club Girls' Night Out last year, where they talked about their books. That post is here.

    Whew, this is a long post. Most of the Friday Fives won't be this long, I promise. Let me know what you've found interesting this week in the Comments section. Have a great weekend!

    Thursday, March 14, 2019

    The Gown by Jennifer Robson

    The Gown by Jennifer Robson
    Published by William Morrow 9780062674951
    Trade paperback, $16.99, 400 pages

    If you were one of the many people who arose at a very early hour in the morning last year to watch Meghan Markle marry Prince Harry and were wowed by Meghan's stunning wedding dress, then Jennifer Robson's dual timeline novel The Gown is perfect for you.

    It begins in 2016 as Heather receives a phone call from her mother that Heather's beloved grandmother Ann has passed away. Among her belongings was a box with a label that read "For Heather". Inside were some beautiful embroidered applique flowers.

    Heather did a liitle online research and found that the designs matched the embroidery on Queen Elizabeth's wedding gown from 1947. When Heather loses her journalism job in Toronto, she plans a trip to London to learn more about her grandmother.

    In 1947, Ann Hughes works as an embroiderer for the esteemed London dressmaker Mr. Hartnell. She enjoys her job, but times were difficult in post-war London. Rationing of food was still going on, and Ann lived with her widowed sister-in-law Milly to make ends meet.

    When Milly moves to Canada to be with her family, Ann takes on a new roommate. Miriam Dassin is a French refugee who shows up at Hartnell's looking for work. She and Ann become coworkers, friends, and roommates, even though Miriam is closemouthed about her life during the war.

    The news that Princess Elizabeth will marry brought great joy to England, and when Mr. Hartnell is picked to design and make her wedding dress, Ann and Miriam are chosen to embroider the dress.
    While everyone is excited about this, they must be cautious- there are newspapers who have a put a bounty out for any information about the dress. (In case you thought that paparazzi are bad today, there were many pre-TMZ organizations back then as well who used lowdown tactics to get information.)

    When Ann is swept off her feet by a handsome man she meets at a dance, she can hardly believe her luck. He takes her to nice restaurants and makes her feel so very special. Miriam too meets a wonderful man, an editor for a local newspaper. But both women remain on their guard, knowing that people want information on the gown.

    The Gown is treasure trove for those who love fashion. There are so many wonderful scenes set in Hartnell's, where the ladies work hard to create the gown that the whole world will see.

    Robson also gives the reader a look at post-WWII London, which still reels from the bombings and losses sustained. I loved reading about Ann and Miriam's quiet evenings at home, listening to the radio and drawing in their sketchbooks, and Miriam's delight at finding a French grocer, where she purchased green olives, prunes, fennel seed and dried orange zest to make her grandmother's chicken dish.

    When Milly sends Ann a huge care package from Canada, the ladies are overwhelmed with her generosity:
    "There were tins of corned beef, salmon, evaporated milk, and peaches in syrup. Dried apricots and raisins. A big jar of strawberry jam. Packets of powdered milk, cocoa, tea, sugar and rice. Yards of heavy woolen suiting, finely woven tartan, and bolts of silky printed rayon, one of pale blue and the other a smoky purple, all with thread and buttons to match."

    Heather eventually gets some answers about her grandmother's life before she moved to Canada and why she hid her involvement in creating Princess Elizabeth's gown (which you see on the cover of the book).

    I enjoyed reading The Gown, for the setting and the story of female friendship between Ann and Miriam. I read it in just two days, completely absorbed in the story, and I highly recommend it for anyone who likes books set in WWII.

    Last summer Jennifer Robson appeared at Book Club Girls' Night Out with Kate Quinn and she spoke about writing The Gown. My post about that is here.

    Friday, March 8, 2019

    Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid

    Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
    Published by Random House ISBN 9781524798622
    Hardcover, $27, 336 pages

    Last year I read Taylor Jenkins Reid's wonderful novel, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and loved it. Her take on an Elizabeth Taylor-like character was so engrossing, I couldn't put it down. So when I heard that her new novel Daisy Jones & the Six was publishing, I put it on the top of my To Be Read list.

    Daisy Jones & the Six is a take on a Fleetwood Mac-like band. It is written as a series of interviews with the band members, producers, friends and others, so you get everybody's point of view to the meteoric rise and fall of a rock band.

    Daisy Jones wanted to be known as a singer-songwriter, and with her gorgeous look and voice, she quickly garnered attention of men. She also used and abused drugs and alcohol and looked for love in the wrong places.

    Billy Dunne started a band called The Six with his brother Graham in their Pittsburgh hometown and build a solid following, eventually signing with a record company. He fell in love with Camilla, and even through the physical separations of him on tour and with his alcoholism, they managed to marry and start a family.

    When the record company had Daisy sing a song with The Six, it was lightning in a bottle. Daisy joined the band and wanted to contribute her own songs to the band, something that the controlling Billy wanted no part of. But when their album becomes a monster hit and they have a sold-out arena tour, there is no going back, through the love affairs, breakups and band fights.

    Writing the book as a series of interviews works very well here, and at the end of the book you discover why it was written that way. You see the ups and downs of being in the music business from a first-hand perspective.

    Jenkins Reid also includes the lyrics  (that she wrote) to all of the songs from their breakout album and reading them feels like songs from the 1970s California rock scene. I wondered if someone will eventually put them to music.

    We may find the answer to that- Reese Witherspoon has optioned the book to turn into a 13-part TV series on Amazon. This book is tailor-made for a TV series and I for one can't wait. If you had a worn put copy of Fleetwood Mac's album Rumours, Dais Jones & the Six is for you.

    Wednesday, March 6, 2019

    California Girls by Susan Mallery

    California Girls by Susan Mallery
    Published by Mira ISBN 9780778351252
    Trade paperback, $15.99, 417 pages

    To say that the three Schmitt sisters are having a bad week in Susan Mallery's California Girls is an understatement. Finola, the hardworking host of a Los Angeles morning show has just been told by her husband that he is having an affair- right before she is to interview the much younger woman, a Taylor Swift-like popular singer, live on air.

    Sister Zennie is single and her latest date, a nice guy named Clark, has just broken up with her. She isn't that upset about it, she's happy being on her own, but she dreads telling her mother who will try to set her up with both men and women.

    Ali, the youngest, has just been informed by her fiance's brother that the wedding is off the day after the invitations have gone out. Her fiance wasn't going to tell her, he was just going to leave her at the altar until his brother stepped in.

    Top that off with their disapproving mother's insistence that the sisters must come help her clean out the home they grew up in because she is moving, and you've got a lot of stress for these ladies.

    Finnola thought that she had a solid marriage, so her husband's declaration has thrown her for a loop. They were preparing to go to Hawaii on vacation where she was planning to tell him that she was ready to start a family. Now she is dodging paparazzi and trying to hold it all together without her producers, fans, or heaven help her, her mother, finding out.

    Zennie's best friend , who survived ovarian cancer, comes to her with a huge favor to ask- would Zennie be their egg donor and surrogate mother for the baby she and her husband want to have? Zennie agrees, much to the consternation of her other friends and Finola, who think this is a very bad idea. And don't tell her mother who spends much of her time lamenting that her daughters have yet to make her a grandmother.

    Ali has to undo all the wedding plans, try to get deposits back, and find a new apartment since she was planning on moving in with her husband. His brother Daniel gallantly offers to help Ali with all of this, even though Ali always thought he never particularly liked her.

    The relationships between the sisters is very believeable and the characters are well-written. They have shifting alliances, and we get information about their upbringing that informs their relationships today. They are all at a crossroads in their lives and have to lean on others even though that may not be easy for them.

    They have to balance their careers and relationships, something that many readers will be able to relate to. Will Finola lose her job and her husband? Can Zennie really give up a baby she carries for nine months, and will her friendship survive her now-overbearing friend, and how will this affect her career as a surgical nurse? Will Ali finally speak up for herself and go for the job and man she wants?

    Mallery prides herself on always have a satisfying ending, so all of these storylines get wrapped up, if not in the obvious way, they all get an ending that will make readers happy. California Girls is a perfect beach read book, which is where I read it.  If you're looking for a quick, easy read to take you out of  this dreary weather, California Girls is it.

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

    Review Tour:

    Monday, February 25th: Reading Reality
    Monday, February 25th: Book Reviews and More by Kathy
    Monday, February 25th: @booknerdingout
    Tuesday, February 26th: The Book Date
    Wednesday, February 27th: Palmer’s Page Turners
    Friday, March 1st: Books & Bindings
    Friday, March 1st: Not in Jersey
    Monday, March 4th: Bewitched Bookworms
    Monday, March 4th: Patricia’s Wisdom
    Tuesday, March 5th: Odd and Bookish and @oddandbookish
    Wednesday, March 6th: Bookchickdi
    Thursday, March 7th: Running Through the Storms
    Thursday, March 7th: Why Girls Are Weird
    Friday, March 8th: View from the Birdhouse
    Monday, March 11th: The Romance Dish
    Monday, March 11th: Tar Heel Reader and @tarheelreader
    Tuesday, March 12th: Girl Who Reads
    Wednesday, March 13th: Kahakai Kitchen
    Wednesday, March 13th: Romantic Reads and Such
    Thursday, March 14th: Moonlight Rendezvous
    Thursday, March 14th: Cheryl’s Book Nook
    Friday, March 15th: Mrs. Mommy Booknerd
    Monday, March 18th: Jathan & Heather
    Monday, March 18th: Rad Babes Read and @radbabesread
    Tuesday, March 19th: Thoughts on This ‘n That
    Wednesday, March 20th: From the TBR Pile
    Wednesday, March 20th: A Splendid Messy Life
    Thursday, March 21st: Broken Teepee
    Friday, March 22nd: Girls in Books and @girlsinbooks
    Monday, March 25th: Eliot’s Eats
    Tuesday, March 26th: A Chick Who Reads
    Wednesday, March 27th: Into the Hall of Books
    Thursday, March 28th: A Holland Reads
    Friday, March 29th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
    Friday, March 29th: What is That Book About

    Monday, March 4, 2019

    Bully Brother by Craig Dial

    Bully Brother by Craig Dial
    Publsihed by Craig Dial ISBN 9781982991272
    Available on Kindle for $4.99, free on Kindle Unlimited, $9.99 trade paperback 252 pages

    What drew me to Craig Dial's memoir Bully Brother is that Craig is one of five children who grew up in the 1960s and '70s, like my husband and I both did.

    The book opens with a disturbing scene where eight-year-old Craig's older brother David has him pinned to the ground and is tormenting him. Craig screams for help, but no one comes. David torments Craig physically and emotionally, and Craig is fearful of him. Brothers tease each other and fight with each other, but this is something more disturbing.

    Craig's mom told him just to stay away from David, but David would seek him out to hurt him. On the occasions when David was nice to Craig, like when he would help him improve his baseball skills, things were good.

    The Dial family lived in Marin County, near San Francisco and growing up the late '60s and '70s, that meant the height of of the hippie movement. When the Dial family would picnic in Golden Gate Park, Craig would be fascinated by the people, especially the beautiful young women.

    His dad had to drive hours in awful traffic to get to his stressful white collar job as a cost estimator for a construction company, and was exhausted by the time he got home. The chapter when Craig gets to spend the day at his dad's office is a real eye-opener for the young boy, and I found it interesting as well.

    His mom is Italian, and she believes that food can solve any problem. She is a fantastic cook, which gets her in trouble when her husband hires contractors to work at the house and she makes them big lunches that take up hours and make them logy. The job took longer than it should have.

    There are lots of great scenes in this book- the family packing up for their annual camping trip to Yosemite, where Dad would construct an elaborate addition to their campsite and Mom would prepare delicious meals for all, was wonderful.

    When Craig is old enough to work, he gets a job cleaning at a meat company. He hosed down and cleaned all the butchering implements, a disgusting, dirty and dangerous job. I think young people today might be shocked at what he had to do. Craig had a second job washing dishes at a restaurant, and third job at a food packing plant and again, it might surprise many teens today that he worked three jobs and went to high school.

    Craig's relationship with his brother is at the heart of this story, and the end is a sad one. It's a very complicated sibling relationship, and one that haunts Craig to this day.

    What I enjoyed about Bully Brother is Dial's story of growing up in a family of seven in the '60s and '70s. He had the same cultural touchstones as I do, so I loved the music references and the playlist he curates at the end. The descriptions of his mother's food had me drooling.

    Reviewing self-published books is always tricky. I really liked the story, but the grammatical errors and sometimes stilted dialogue were distracting.  (A good copy editor could have helped.) If you are the kind of person who can't overlook that, maybe this isn't for you. But I was able to overlook that and I'm glad I read Bully Brother. I find myself thinking about it long after I read it.

    Saturday, March 2, 2019

    On Broadway- The Ferryman

    A few years ago I saw a production of Jez Butterworth's Jersusalem, starring perhaps the best stage actor on the planet, Mark Rylance. It was amazing. This past October, I got to chat with actor Brian d'Arcy James, a three-time Tony nominee, and we both confessed to our admiration for Rylance. (I recounted that I met Rylance walking his dog outside the theater and almost passed out with excitement). Brian told me I should go see The Ferryman, Butterworth's brilliant new play that just opened on Broadway.
    The Ferryman

    Other people I respect had also told me to go see it, but I never got around to it. Then I heard that Brian d'Arcy James was going to be in the cast of The Ferryman starting in February and that sealed the deal for me.

    The Ferryman tells the story of a  Northern Irish farming family in 1981, right around the time when Irish prisoners (including Bobby Sands) were on a hunger strike, asking to be recognized as political prisoners, something Britain's Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher was unwilling to do. There was a lot of violence between the IRA and the British forces.

    The Carney family is preparing for the harvest, and the annual celebration that goes along with that. The huge household consists of Quinn and his wife Mary, their seven children, two aunts, an uncle, a sister-in-law and nephew. There is much joy and merriment, singing and dancing, until the local priest shows up.

    Father Horrigan (a great performance from Charles Dale) has some troubling news for Quinn, news that once it gets out turns everything in the household upside down.

    The Ferryman has 21 speaking parts (and a baby!) and Butterworth manages to make each character distinct, a remarkable feat. Quinn holds his boisterous family together, with the help of his brother's wife Caitlin, who cooks and cleans, as Quinn's wife Mary appears to be fragile. She spends much of her time in her room. (To be fair, she has seven children.)

    Uncle Pat recounts humorous stories to the children, while his serious sister Aunt Pat monitors the hunger strike situation on the radio. Aunt Maggie gets wheeled in to sit fairly motionless in the corner, waking occasionally to speak to the children, telling them of the futures she sees for them.

    Neighbor Tom Kettle (wonderfully portrayed by Shuler Hensley) is a large man who lives nearby and spends time with the family. Because he is English, some people are suspicious of him. But he is gentle giant, prone to pulling a stray rabbit of his pocket as a gift to people.

    As the harvest continues, the Carneys' young cousins come to help, and as young men sometimes do,  get caught up in the situations over their head. When the local IRA boss comes to visit, things begin to unravel.

    As I sat in the audience, I was wondering how this play was going to end. I truly had no idea, and when the end came, the shock of it deeply affected the audience, their gasps proof of that. (That being said, there is one plot point that pretty much everyone can guess at.)

    Normally I would be wary of going to a play with a running time of three hours and fifteen minutes, but Butterworth has packed so much into this production I never once checked my watch. This is a show that I could imagine seeing more than once to go back and try and absorb things you missed the first time.

    Brian d'Arcy James is perfection in the role of Quinn. He is a proud man, trying to keep all the balls in the air, keep everything together, all the while hinting at something simmering under the surface.

    It is truly an ensemble production, and the young children in the cast are wonderful. They seem like young children, not actorly in any way. Emily Bergl (Mary), Holly Fain (Caitlin) and Fionnula Flanagan ( Aunt Maggie, who I fondly remember from TV's Rich Man, Poor Man) are particularly strong in their roles.

    I think I would like to find the book of The Ferryman to truly get everything I can from this stunning play. It has rightly been lauded as one of the best plays of the year, and it will surely be up for many Tony awards in June, including for the brilliant direction of Sam Mendes. There are discount tickets available for this, including rush tickets. Go see it, this is a don't-miss play.

    Friday, March 1, 2019

    On Broadway- To Kill A Mockingbird

    The hottest ticket on Broadway right now is To Kill A Mockingbird, based on Harper Lee's classic novel of the same novel. The novel was recently voted by the public as the Great American Read, and most Americans who have read the book read it in high school.
    To Kill A Mockingbird

    If you haven't read the novel, perhaps you saw the 1962 movie, starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the upright and moral  laywer who defends a black man accused of raping a young white woman in 1934 small town Maycomb, Alabama.

    To take this iconic book and movie and turn it into a Broadway play requires a certain amount of nerve, and the road to the stage was a rocky one, including litigation between the estate of Harper Lee and the producers. Once settled, playright and screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (best known for creating TV's West Wing) wrote the script, and acclaimed actor Jeff Daniels took on the role of Atticus Finch.

    Although everyone knows the story, Sorkin manages to create such tension in the courtroom scenes that you could hear a pin drop in the theater. He had previous success with another courtoom drama, A Few Good Men.

    Sorkin also manages to include plenty of humor in this serious story, thanks mostly to the dialogue of the children, here played brilliantly by adults as children- Celia Keenan-Bolger is fabulous as Scout, our main narrator. She is a sure-fire Tony nominee this season. Will Pullen is also excellent as her older brother Jem, and Gideon Glick is a revelation as their friend Dill (a character Harper Lee reportedly based on her friend Truman Capote, whom she knew when they were children).  They break the fourth wall in this production with their narration.

    Jeff Daniel's Atticus Finch is somewhat different than Gregory Peck's Finch. Daniels' Finch shows his temper and frustration more, and his interactions with the children is somewhat more playful. He gives new shades to his interpretation of Atticus Finch, not an easy task for a character so imbedded in the American psyche.

    Gbenga Akinnagbe brings the accused Tom Robinson to life, and his courtroom testimony is absolutely riveting. You cannot take your eyes off him in that scene. Frederick Weller is also fantastic as the racist and menacing Bob Ewell, spouting language that made everyone in the audience cringe.

    The biggest controversy in the show is the relationship between Atticus and Calpurnia, his black housekeeper who also cares for the children. Latanya Richardson Jackson's steely Calpurnia has a scene where she strongly shares her true feelings about the trial with Atticus, something than some people feel whould never have happened in 1934 Alabama between a white employer and his black employee. (This scene was not in the novel.) While I understand why people feel this way, I think the scene works very well for this production.

    This production of To Kill A Mockingbird is a profoundly moving piece of theater, and although written in 1960 and set in 1934, sadly some of it still resonates in today's America. There is a short speech by Atticus about the danger of mob mentality that so affected much of the audience that you could hear murmurs of agreement and people catching their breath.

    I'm happy to say that playwright Aaron Sorkin, director Bartlett Sher, Jeff Daniels and the rest of the cast have honored an American classic novel and movie, a Herculean task, with their unforgettable take on To Kill A Mockingbird. It is a production not to be missed at any ticket price.