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Saturday, April 27, 2019

Weekend Cooking- Easter dinner

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.

We had an early Easter dinner this year, celebrating on Saturday night. The entire gang was here, so I wanted to make everybody's favorites. It took an entire day of shopping (in NYC, you walk to multiple places to get all your supplies), and I broke the cooking down into two days.

On Friday, I made the Strawberry Jello Salad because, you absolutely have to have a Jello salad on Easter. I believe it may be constitutionally required. I also made Pistachio bread, (from Better Than Burgers) which I usually make on St. Patrick's Day, but since we weren't all together then, it found a place on the Easter table.

My mom always makes deviled eggs, and my sons have come to expect them at Easter. Mine aren't as good as my mom's, but she couldn't send them through the mail, so they had to make do with mine.

I also made Barefoot Contessa's Tarragon Potato Salad which is kind of my go-to dish. Everyone I have ever made it for absolutely loves it.

On Saturday, I made Simple Scalloped Potatoes, which my husband requested. I underestimated how many people would eat that (the potato salad is more of a fan-favorite), and we barely had enough.

John Legend's Macaroni and Cheese was on the table for our vegetarian fans. It is another recipe we have often at family gatherings as well as Broccoli Salad, another popular request that made the cut.

The star of the show was Barefoot Contessa's Herb Roasted Lamb. I get a six-pound boneless leg of lamb at Ottomanelli's butcher, and they never disappoint. My husband makes a mean gravy from the drippings, and everybody was loving the lamb.

We paired the lamb with two bottles of Benovia Winery's 2017 Liberation Pinot Noir, which was delightful. It was bottled to commerate the upcoming 75th anniversary of D-Day, and there is an interesting story about it on Benovia's website here.
Benovia Winery's Liberation 

We finished up with Irish Bread Pudding, an old Cooking Light recipe that we normally have on St. Patrick's Day. We've been eating that for probably fifteen years and it's always an annual treat.

On Sunday, we had a simple brunch before our travelers left. I made Buttermilk Blueberry Breakfast Cake (from Alexandra Cooks) and a new recipe- Baked Western Omelet Casserole - (from the Seasoned Mom) that was such a hit, four of us ate almost the entire dish.

My family surprised me with a beautiful Easter basket, which you'll see below. It was filled with my favorite things and made with love. All-in-all, it was an Easter to remember.
My Easter basket

I hope you and yours had a blessed Easter and Passover as well. Did you make any family favorites? Let me know in the Comments section below.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Friday 5ive- Post-Easter Edition

The Friday 5ive

The Friday Five is a post about five things that caught my attention this week.

1) Sunday was Easter, and we had a lovely pre-Easter dinner on Saturday at our apartment. It was great to sit down together and enjoy each other's company, good food and a lovely wine. And my family surprised me with a sweet Easter basket! Anna painted the basket (she is very creative), and Monica was tasked with shopping with Scott to pick out some beautiful gifts from Lily Pulitzer. (Nice job Monica!)
My pretty Easter basket

2) I went to see the Broadway revival of Kiss Me, Kate, starring the incomparable Kelli O'Hara. I've seen her in several shows- The King and I, South Pacific and The Bridges of Madison County, (which was my favorite). She was marvelous as always, and I have to say that Will Chase, who played her ex-husband and current co-star and director, was absolutely fantastic. I saw him in The Mystery of Edwin Drood and Something Rotten! and he gets better each time. The ensemble performance of Too Darn Hot, led by Corbon Bleu and James T. Lane, blew the roof off the house. They will be performing that song on Tuesday's Today Show, and you're going to want to see it. The website for the show is here.

3) This week I attended a book signing for Alafair Burke's latest suspense novel, The Better Sister, at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side. I read this timely, twisty mystery in one sitting. Burke read from the prologue of the book, and then spoke and took questions. I didn't realize that she has written 18 books (five of them with the legendary Mary Higgins Clark). My review of The Better Sister is here. It's a must-read for suspense fans. 

4) Today is a rainy, gloomy day in NYC, so this cheery sign that I saw on the exterior of the Church of the Epiphany is a good reminder that if I want sunshine today, I'm gonna have to be it.

5)  I'm halfway through Lisa Scottoline's newest suspense novel, Someone Knows, and it is as good as Adriana Trigiani has been saying. I've read several of Scottoline's stand-alone mysteries and each one is better than the last. This one is about four people who as teens are involved in a tragic incident that haunts them twenty years later. She really nails the mind of teenagers, and how they often can't comprehend that the decisions they make have long-lasting consequences. Put this one on your list too, mystery fans. Read more about it at Lisa Scottoline's website here.

What caught your eye this week? Let me know in comments.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke

The Better Sister by Alafair Burke
Published by Harper Books, ISBN 9780062853370
Hardcover, $26.99, 320 pages

The Better Sister is the third book from Alafair Burke that is related thematically, although the characters are different in each book. The Ex deals with a lawyer called upon to defend her ex-boyfriend from a murder charge. The Wife features a woman whose high-profile professor/author husband is accused of preying sexually on young women. And in her latest, The Better Sister, a high-powered magazine editor finds her husband murdered in their  East Hampton vacation home.

Chloe worked her way up in publishing to become the editor-in-chief of the last successful feminist magazine standing. She married Adam, a former prosecutor for the Southern District of New York, now a lawyer in a white shoe firm. Adam was previously married to Chloe's older sister Nicky, who was always the wild-child bad sister to Chloe's rules-following, hard-working good sister.

One day Adam found Nicky floating facedown in their pool, with their toddler Ethan next to her. She had been drunk or on drugs (not unusual), and Adam divorced her and took Ethan to live in New York, where Chloe began to spend all her free time with them.

Adam and Chloe married, and Chloe became Ethan's defacto mom. Nicky was out of the picture, staying back home in Cleveland to care for their parents.

When Chloe finds Adam stabbed to death in their East Hampton home, she knows that the police will look hard at the spouse, they always do. She also has to contend with the fact that she is not legally Ethan's mother and has to contact Nicky, who soon shows up.

Chloe and Nicky revert back to their sibling relationship- Chloe is the responsible one, Nicky is the screw-up. But when the police turn their attention to Ethan as a probable suspect, Chloe and Nicky must make amends and decide to work together to prove Ethan innocent.

The Better Sister is a twisty, timely suspense story. Chloe is a women who is a prominent media person, and with that comes the trolls who send her hateful, even threatening, messages on social media. Chloe believes that perhaps one of them could be the killer.

Burke throws in a lot of red herrings, and she excels in letting the reader believe they may have solved the mystery, only to be surprised at the big reveal. Being a former prosecutor, she brings a sense of reality and tension to the courtroom scenes.

As the mother of two young men, I really felt such empathy for Chloe as a mother, trying to protect her son. I had a pit in my stomach during many scenes.

One thing you learn from The Better Sister is that secrets can destroy people, and I can only think that if they communicated better, some of their big problems could be avoided.

I read The Better Sister in one sitting, furiously turning the pages to find out who dunnit and why. I highly recommend it for anyone who likes a great suspense story.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick
Published by Park Row Books 9780778369356
Hardcover, $24.99, 348 pages

Martha Storm, the main character in Phaedra Patrick's The Library of Lost and Found, describes herself as "a guardian of books". As a volunteer at her local library, she is "an event organizer, tour guide, buyer, filer, job adviser, talking clock, housekeeper, walking encyclopedia, stationery provider, recommender of somewhere nice to eat lunch and a shoulder to cry on- all rolled into one."

Martha takes on projects for people- laundering and mending clothes, reparing a tapestry for the church, caring for a friend's fish and plants that he has no room for, and so much more that her home verges on looking like a hoarder's house. People take advantage of Martha- her boss asks her to work holidays since she doesn't have a family, people at the library ask her to run errands for them.

She lives in her parents' home, where she cared for her them until they both passed away. When her boyfriend moved to America, Martha gave up her chance at love and happiness to stay behind and care for them.

One day a man who owns a nearby used bookstore leaves a book for Martha at the library. Inside the book is an inscription-
"June 1985, 
To my darling Martha Storm, 
Be glorious always, 

Zelda was Martha's grandmother who passed away in 1982, according to Martha's parents. How could this be? And the book is filled with stories that Martha wrote as a child with her grandmother. Martha sets out to learn where this book came from, much to the consternation of her younger sister Lilian (who doesn't treat Martha any better than everyone else).

Lilian tells her not to look any further, but Martha must find out if her beloved grandmother is still alive. As the story progresses we learn more about Martha and Lilian's childhood. Lilian was close to their father, who was harder on Martha (even unkind), discouraging her from writing her stories.

Patrick's story is sweetly moving, with characters who have many shades to them. It would be easy to make people villains (Martha's dad) or heroes (her grandmother Zelda), but each character does good things and not-so-good things. I found them to be realistic, especially the familial relationships.

I enjoyed seeing Martha learn to stand up for herself and not let people continue to take advantage of her. She decides to ask for things that she feels she deserves- like a a paying job at the library- and she grows as a person. Many readers will identify with Martha.

If you like Elizabeth Berg's The Story of Arthur Trulov and Night of Miracles, and Patrick's first novel, The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper, put the lovely The Library of Lost and Found on your list.  (And the cover is so beautiful!)

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

Review tour:

Monday, March 25th: Reading Reality
Tuesday, March 26th: A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall
Wednesday, March 27th: A Bookish Way of Life
Wednesday, March 27th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, March 28th: The Sketchy Reader
Friday, March 29th: Tar Heel Reader and @tarheelreader
Monday, April 1st: @bookstackedblonde
Monday, April 1st: Into the Hall of Books
Tuesday, April 2nd: Cheryl’s Book Nook
Wednesday, April 3rd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Thursday, April 4th: The Hungry Bookworm
Thursday, April 4th: @worldswithinpages
Friday, April 5th: What is That Book About
Monday, April 8th: @thegraduatedbookworm
Monday, April 8th: Amy’s Book-et List
Tuesday, April 9th: Novel Gossip and @novelgossip
Wednesday, April 10th: Read Eat Repeat
Thursday, April 11th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, April 12th: Kahakai Kitchen
Monday, April 15th: Jessicamap Reviews and @jessicamap
Tuesday, April 16th: Books & Bindings
Thursday, April 18th: A Splendid Messy Life
Friday, April 19th: @jackiereadsbooks
Monday, April 22nd: Jathan & Heather
Tuesday, April 23rd: @novelmombooks
Wednesday, April 24th: Bookchickdi
Thursday, April 25th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, April 26th: Thoughts on This ‘n That

Friday, April 19, 2019

Friday Five- Good Friday Edition

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

1)  The flowers are finally in bloom in NYC. It made me smile to walk out of our apartment building and see these bright, beautiful tulips greeting me.

2)  My eyeglasses fell off a shelf and so I had to add a trip to Warby Parker to my errands to get them fixed. While I wasn't too thrilled with their customer service when I purchased my glasses, their customer service to get them repaired was quick and efficient. I waited less than five minutes for a optician to straighten those babies out. In the middle of their store is this huge round column, and at the top of the column are color-coordinated books, sans their dust jackets.
Warby Parker

3)  While I was walking the Upper East Side getting all my Easter items, I listened to the latest Conan O'Brien Needs A Friend podcast. This week's guest was Patton Oswalt, a comedian who right now is starring on NBC's comedy, A.P. Bio, which is hilarious. Oswalt has guested on so many TV shows (Parks & Recreation, Justified, Veep, the narrator on The Goldbergs), I can prett much guarantee you've seen him somewhere. I laughed so hard listening to him and Conan that my side literally hurt by the time I got home.
Conan O'Brien's podcast is https://teamcoco.com/podcasts

4)  The second episode of FX's limited series Fosse/Verdon aired this week. Sam Rockwell plays choreographer/director Bob Fosse and Michelle Williams plays Fosse's wife and partner, Gwen Verdon who inspired him, worked closely with him, and was betrayed by him, and they are both brilliant. This week's episode dealt with Fosse directing the movie Caberet, and we got deep into their relationship from the first meeting to their affair while he was married to someone else, and his affair while married to Gwen. Williams was amazing in a recreation of a dance sequence from the Broadway show Damn Yankees. Don't miss this one.  The link to the trailer for Fosse/Verdon is here.

5)  So many great books published on Tuesday, April 16th! Last week, I told you about Stephanie Evanovich's Under the Table (my review here) and Helen Ellis's Southern Lady Code (my review here). I read Irish novelist Sally Rooney's Normal People, which tells the story of two young people, a wealthy young lady and the son of her mother's housekeeper, who have an off-an-on relationship over the years. It's beautifully written, and it's hard to believe Rooney is just 28 years old.

I read Alafair Burke's The Better Sister in just a few hours because I could not put it down. When Chloe's lawyer husband is murdered, she and her estranged sister Nicky (and his previous wife) come together to protect Ethan, his son who the police believe to be a suspect. The are so many secrets here, and I gasped more than once as they were revealed. It's a great airplane/beach read .My reviews of the last two books will be up soon.

I wish you all a Happy Easter and Happy Passover.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Two Novels Featuring Women During War

Reprinted from the Citizen:
This month's Book Report highlights two novels written by women that deal with women living through war and working in traditional male roles.
Author Kate Quinn's previous novel, The Alice Network, was about a female spy network in World War II France that helped the Allies defeat the Germans. It was a best-seller and even today still resides on the paperback best-seller list. Her new novel, The Huntress, is also partially set in World War II. Following the war, Ian, a Brit, and Tony, an American, have teamed up to find Nazis who have escaped punishment for their crimes. They are looking for a Polish woman known as the Huntress, who is known to have slaughtered innocent children. 
Nina is a Russian woman who escapes her hardscrabble life to join a cadre of female fighter pilots. The most interesting parts of this big, sprawling novel deal with Nina's experiences as a fighter pilot. The Russians created a team of all-female fighter pilots who had to work twice as hard as the male pilots to prove themselves worthy. Nina found a family among these women, and the descriptions of their battles is heart-pounding on the page. 
Nina has personal reasons for wanting to find the Huntress, and joins up with Tony and Ian, who have a lead that the Huntress may be hiding in America. They turn the tables on the Huntress, as she now becomes the hunted.
In a small Massachusetts town, a teenage girl named Jordan is happy that her widowed father has finally found love again with Anna, an immigrant widowed mother of a young girl. They have become a happy new family, but something nags at Jordan about her stepmother.
All of these stories intersect in an intriguing way, and Quinn certainly knows how to ratchet up the tension in this thrilling story. Sharp-eyed fans of The Alice Network will recognize a cameo appearance by one of the main characters from that novel.
Lisa See's novel, The Island of Sea Women, is set on Jeju, an island off the coast of Korea. Young-sook and Mi-ja are best friends who are learning how to become divers, like Young-sook's mother. In their culture, the women are the breadwinners of the family, while the men stay home and take care of the young children and the home. 
Diving for fish (abelone and octopus are prized) can be dangerous, and the women work as a team to keep each other safe, but accidents do happen. Young-sook becomes betrothed to a teacher, but she is jealous that Mi-ja has captured the attention of a handsome businessman who lives in the city. Young-sook and her husband happily welcome three children into their lives. Mi-ja and her husband have a son, but Mi-ja's marriage is troubled.
The Island of Sea Women begins during the Japanese occupation of Korea, and the people of Jeju fear the soldiers. When the Korean War begins, their country is torn apart as Russia and China back North Korean communists and the United States back South Korea. See describes what became known as the 4.3 Incident, where Koreans massacred their own people, including many people on Jeju, while the Americans did nothing to stop it. It is told in horrific detail, and the losses suffered by Young-sook cause a permanent fracture between her and Mi-ja.
The book begins and ends in 2008 as a family of Americans have come to Jeju, now a popular tourist destination. A family of four are looking for anyone who knew a family member who used to be a diver on Jeju. Young-sook avoids the tourists in general, happy to just spend her time on the beach, but this family, particularly the teenage daughter, is persistent.
The Island of Sea Women"is the kind of book you get lost in, taking the reader to an unfamiliar world. See clearly did a great deal of research to create her brilliant novel (as her acknowledgments pages attest), and it adds to the authenticity of the story.
It is an emotional book, one that will bring tears to your eyes as you read about the inhumanity people inflict during war. But at its heart, it is a story of the friendship of two girls and what happens when that friendship is tested. This is a must-read book.

If you read

BOOK: The Huntress by Kate Quinn
PUBLISHER: William Morrow
COST: Trade paperback, $16.99
LENGTH: 560 pages

BOOK: The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See
COST: Hardcover, $27
LENGTH: 384 pages

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Under the Table by Stephanie Evanovich

Under the Table by Stephanie Evanovich
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062887580
Hardcover, $26.99, 272 pages

Under the Table is a slight departure from Stephanie Evanovich's first three novels, which featured sports more prominently, and characters that appeared in all three books.

Her new novel, Under the Table, introduces us to Zoey, a young Midwestern woman who separated from her husband and moved to New York City to live with her sister Ruth.

Ruth has a good job and loves to go out at night, flitting from guy to guy. Zoey is trying to get her personal catering business off the ground when she meets Tristan, a shy, wealthy tech guy who appears to lack social skills.

Zoey falls in love with Tristan's state-of-the-art kitchen, and anyone who loves to cook will swoon as well as the description of his kitchen. (And as someone who lives in a moderately small NYC apartment, I definitely had kitchen envy!)

She befriends Tristan and after hearing the story of how he grew up with his grandparents, Zoey vows to help him become a little more hip. She takes him clothes shopping, and they enjoy each other's company.

Tristan, in return, takes Zoey golfing. Now I have to admit that I don't really think of golfing as sexy, but Evanovich is such a terrific writer, she makes a golf outing hot. (I tip my golf cap to her.)

Zoey doesn't want to fall for Tristan as her marriage situation is an issue, and Tristan doesn't want to fall for Zoey for the same reason, but of course they do as the course of love never runs smooth as they say.

I adored Under the Table! Nobody does sassy, sweet and sexy better than Stephanie Evanovich. You want to be friends with her characters, and my favorite one in this book is Phyllis, the truck driver who picks up a hitchhiking Zoey.

I also loved that Tristan was a big reader, and the shout-out to Jackie Collins made me smile. (I got to meet Collins at a book signing, and she was one of the loveliest people I have ever met.)

I always say that you should read Evanovich's books by the pool because there are always a few sex scenes in them that after you read them, you're gonna need to cool off a bit, and Under the Table is no exception. I highly recommend Under the Table, it will take you away for a few hours and boy do we need that nowadays.

Monday, April 15, 2019

Southern Lady Code by Helen Ellis

Southern Lady Code By Helen Ellis
Published by Doubleday ISBN 9780385543897
Hardcover, $22, 224 pages

In 2016, I read American Housewife. a hilarious collection of short stories by Helen Ellis  I literally laughed out-loud at the stories of women with neighbor problems, reality show aspirations, book club issues and more. Her women get things done, and take no prisoners doing it. Given what happened since 2016, Helen Ellis was a little bit ahead of her time.

Her latest book is Southern Lady Code, a book of essays that is just as hilarious, though it is nonfiction. She opens with a story Making a Marriage Magically Tidy, where she confesses to not being the neatest housekeeper. When her patient husband asks her a year into their marriage to please keep the dining room table clean, as it is the first thing he sees when he comes home, Helen fears he wants a divorce.

She calls her mother in Alabama, who tells her that she married a saint and she needs to clean the damn table! Her mother is a frequent commentator in these stories, beginning her sentences with "Helen Michelle" followed by advice only a Southern mother can give. (Side note- my middle name is also Michelle, and after reading this I'm going to insist that my mother begin calling me "Diane Michelle" in a drawling Southern accent.)

The essay that I now consider a classic is The Topeka Three-Way which begins at a dinner party for three couples where the host asks "Have I ever told you my Topeka Three-Way Story?" How a person cannot want to hear what comes next is unfathomable to me. It begins on an airplane with a man who asks to switch seats with our host so he can sit next to a beautiful woman.  People were staring at me on the beach as I guffawed reading this.

Many of the essays deal with being married, and in How to Stay Happily Married, Helen shares some very sage advice for wives:
"Don't let him see you get out of an athletic bra or into a pair of control-top pantyhose. Don't wear eyeglasses on a leash. Don't lotion your elbows in front of him in bed. Don't remake the bed after your husband has made it."
She talks about her Grandpapa who insisted she write thank-you notes and "carried grudges like handkerchiefs". When she references Julia Sugarbaker's "The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia" rant, I could see and hear Dixie Carter giving that speech on Designing Woman. 

We learn that "a hair bow clip is a Southern lady's tiara". Ellis says that she is "not a dresser-upper" but she is "put together" which in Southern Lady Code means "you can take me to church or red Lobster and I'll fit in fine." You can fill a notebook with all the new phrases you'll learn.

I could go on and on (and if you should ask me what to read, you will hear more about Southern Lady Code), but suffice it to say that this is wonderful book to give all your girlfriends, sisters, cousins, your hairdresser, favorite grocery store cashier, anyone you truly like. Then you can all get together, make Helen's grandmother's favorite things (cheese logs, onion dip, mail-order ham), drink wine, laugh, and take turns reading aloud from your post-it note stuffed copy of Southern Lady Code.  Now that's a party!

If you like David Sedaris, Sloane Crosley, and Laurie Notaro, put Helen Ellis on your must-read list.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Friday Five- April 12, 2019

The Friday Five rolls on with five things that caught my attention. This week was a two-part one as well- we went back home to central New York for the weekend and returned to NYC.

Dinosaur fossil
1) We attended a fundraiser for Catholic Charities, which was held at the American Museum of Natural History near Central Park. I'd never been to an evening event there, and it was pretty cool. The cocktail hour was held in the main foyer, where the huge dinosaur fossil stands guard. Then we descended the stairs where the dinner was held under the Great Blue Whale model suspended from the ceiling.
The tables under the Great Blue Whale

2) We made a quick trip home to Auburn, NY where we attended a very successful fundraiser for our sons' Catholic School, St. Joseph School. It was so wonderful to see family and friends! We began our visit with dinner at my husband's favorite area restaurant, Rosalie's Cucina in Skaneateles. We shared their delicious warm spinach salad, and my husband had his favorite veal dish, while I had the Farfalle Con Pollo, which is fabulous and filling. At the end, they brought out their Banana Budino dessert, which is heavenly for banana lovers. Our dinner companions were a joy as well.
Banana Budino

3) On Wedneday, I attended a matinee performance of Broadway's Hillary & Clinton, starring the always amazing Laurie Metcalf (The Conners) and John Lithgow (The Crown). The show takes places in 2008 in a hotel room in New Hampshire during the Democratic primary. It also takes place in an alternate universe, so things are slightly different. The show is fantastic, and the performances outstanding. It is hilarious one moment, and heartbreaking the next. At its core, it is about a marriage, and it's very poignant. I highly recommend it.

4) I watched Mrs. Wilson on PBS' Masterpiece. The story revolves around Alison who, while working as an typist for MI5 during WWII, meets the charismatic Alexander Wilson. They fall in love, marry and have two sons. Alex is a spy for Britain, so he is gone for long periods of time. When he dies at home in the early 1960's, Alison discovers that she is not his only wife. Her journey to find out the truth about his life drives this fascinating story. An interesting piece of the story is that Ruth Wilson (The Affair, Jane Eyre) plays her own grandmother Alison in this three-part series. Again, I highly recommend it.

5) There are two amazing books publishing on Tuesday, April 16th. I got to read  an early copy of Helen Ellis' essay collection, Southern Lady Code, which is laugh-out loud hilarious. While reading about her adventures in NYC, I felt like I was right there along with her, and I can hear her mother's Alabama voice in my head drawling "Helen Michelle" and then sharing her bits of Southern wisdom with her. If you need a laugh (or two or three), pick this up next Tuesday. 

The other book I read was Stephanie Evanovich's novel, Under the Table, about a private chef who left her husband behind in the midwest to move to NYC with her sister. Her newest client is a millionaire who knows technology but is socially clueless. Zoey offers to tutor Tristan, and their friendship turns into something much more. Evanovich's books are always sexy and sassy, and who knew that a game of golf could be so hot. If you need a spring break read, put this one in your tote bag. 

I hope you had a great week, let me know in comments what you found interesting.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear

The American Agent by Jacqueline Winspear
Published by Harper ISBN 9780062436665
Hardcover, $27.99, 364 pages

Count me in as one of the many Maisie Dobbs series fans. I always look forward to March when the new Maisie Dobbs novel publishes. The 15th in the series is The American Agent, and with its setting of London during the German blitz, it's one of the best in the series.

Maisie is balancing working as a private investigator and volunteering with her best friend Priscilla as ambulance drivers, ferrying civilians injured during the bombings of London. Maisie and Priscilla worked as ambulance drivers when we first met them many books ago during WWI.

When an American female radio war correspondent is murdered shortly after Maisie and Priscilla meet her, Maisie is asked to team up with an American Department of Justice official, Mark Scott, whom she met when she was in Spain during their Civil War.

Unlike some of the more recent Maisie Dobbs books, the action takes place all in England, and most of Maisie's friends, colleagues and family are all here- Billy and Sandra, who work for her at her private investigations agency, police investigator MacFarlane, Priscilla and her family, and Maisie's father and stepmother, along with the young orphan girl Maisie is trying to adopt.

The stakes in The American Agent are so much higher as everyone in London is endangered by the nightly German bombings. In addition to Maisie trying to find out who killed Catherine Saxon, she and her friends must worry about being killed themselves.

Real people, like a young Edward R. Murrow, make cameo appearances, and Catherine's family has a resemblance to US Ambassador to England Joseph P. Kennedy's family here. (Catherine reminded me of Kick Kennedy, who tragically died in a plane crash during WWII.) Winspear's research and attention to detail are so appreciated here.

If you are a Maisie Dobbs fan, you will enjoy this latest entry into the series. If you are not a Maisie Dobbs fan, I recommend you get on the bandwagon and start with book one, Maisie Dobbs. It's a wonderful series for high school women to read, as Maisie is a strong, smart and caring female role model. She makes mistakes, but she learns and grows from them, something we can all aspire to.

I recently saw Jacqueline Winspear speak at Barnes & Noble, that post is here.
Jacqueline Winspear's website is here.

Jacqueline Winspear at Barnes & Noble

There is only one long-running mystery series that I have read all the way through- Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series.  We first met Maisie as a young child and have watched her as she worked as an ambulance driver and nurse in WWI France, followed in her mentor's footsteps and became a private investigator, and now in the 15th book in the series, The American Agent, Maisie is again working as volunteer ambulance driver in WWII London during the Blitz.

Winspear made an appearance at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side in Manhattan last week and a fellow Maisie fan (and Book Cellar volunteer) Allison and I were thrilled to be part of the standing-room only crowd to hear her speak.
Tom Santropietro and Jacqueline Winspear

Tom Santropietro interviewed Winspear and he began by asking her to describe how she got the idea for Maisie. Winspear said she was driving in a rainstorm in her home in California when she saw Maisie coming up from a train station in London in a fog. She knew Maisie's story right away, everything about her in that vision, which she called a "moment of artistic grace". She came out of it when the car behind honked his horn, asking what particular shade of green she was waiting for the light to turn.

In The American Agent, Maisie is called upon to assist an American Department of Justice official in investigating the murder of an American female war correspondent. Winspear spoke of all of the female war correspondents who inspired her character (Martha Gelhorn, Margaret Higgins, Dickie Chappell).

I particularly liked Winspear's comment that whereas male war correspondents wrote and spoke about tactics, military strategy and weapons, the women "bore witness to the human cost of war", how it affected men, women and families.

She also spoke of how the wireless radio made a big change in how WWII was viewed differently than WWI. The advent of everyone having a radio meant that the war was immediately broadcasted into people's homes. A young Edward R. Murrow's radio broadcasts back home to America helped push American sentiment into entering the war to aid the Allies. (He makes an appearance in the novel.)

Winspear grew up in England, and her parents lived through WWII. She spoke about how little they talked about their experiences. The people of England truly followed the adage "Keep Calm and Carry On".

Santropietro asked Winspear about her most famous fans, the Clinton family. She said she was gobsmacked  when Bill Clinton was quoted in the NY Times saying that Maisie Dobbs was one of his favorites. Then she learned that Hillary, her mother and Chelsea all loved Maisie. She has heard from many fans that they read Maisie Dobbs as a family, and how that delights her.

The American Agent is one of the strongest books in the Maisie Dobbs series, perhaps because the stakes are so high here as everyone is affected by the war coming to London via the Blitz. My review of the book can be found here.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Garden Lady by Susan Dworkin

The Garden Lady by Susan Dworkin
Published by Divided Light Projects ISBN 9780989284820
Trade paperback, $14.99, 210 pages

Susan Dworkin's novel, The Garden Lady, opens with a delivery man bringing Maxine Vandeblinken, wife of wealthy aviation businessman Albert Vandeblinken, an urgent envelope to her mansion. Inside is a photo of a murdered Albert, bringing Maxine to her knees.

Sam Euphemia worked his way up the chain in Brights International Express. His boss tasked him with finding out if Albert Vandeblinken was behind a criminal enterprise that sold faulty airplane parts to airlines which has resulted in multiple airplane crashes and deaths. He is disappointed that he is not the one who will bring to Vanderblinken to justice.

The story goes back and forth in time as we learn about Maxine and Sam's pasts. Maxine and her best friend CeeCee grew up during the Depression in Arizona. On the run from immigration authorities who were after CeeCee, Maxine faced a horrible traumatic experience.

Eventually Maxine worked her way up to become Maxi Dash, a successful model/actress. In her 50's, she met Albert, who wooed her until she agreed to marry him. He gave her a huge mansion that had a large vault hidden behind the refrigerator. He showed the many treasures stashed away there and told her to never go into the vault again.

Another one of his rules to her was that she was never to ask about his business. He hosted many business dinners with men from all over the world, where Maxine was to be beautiful, and seen but not heard.

Maxine asked Albert if she could have a garden outside, and she went about creating an immense garden, one that would take her years to complete. She discovered that the land was on top of a landfill, and she begin to intensely study what kind of plants could adapt to growing in that type of soil. She wanted to start a training farm, like the one her aunt had built to "teach us how to cope with the new world order."

Sam also had a traumatic incident in his life. While negotiating a deal for Brights Express in a foreign country, he was taken hostage and held for a very long time in horrible conditions. This scarred him physically and emotionally.

Sam decides the best way to get to Maxine to find out about Albert's business dealings is through her garden project. He gets himself appointed to the board of directors for the charitable foundation overseeing the garden.

Learning about the international transportation business was interesting, and Maxine's childhood captured my attention, but for me the intersection of the stories didn't work well. I think if the book concentrated more on either the Maxi or Sam character it would have worked better. There is a twist at the end that some people may have seen coming and will find intriguing.

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

Tour Stops

Friday, March 22nd: Jathan & Heather
Monday, March 25th: Bibliotica
Tuesday, March 26th: Instagram: @book.hang.o.ver
Wednesday, March 27th: Life By Kristen
Friday, March 29th: A Chick Who Reads
Monday, April 1st: Eliot’s Eats
Tuesday, April 2nd: Jennifer ~ Tar Heel Reader
Thursday, April 4th: Wining Wife
Monday, April 8th: bookchickdi
Thursday, April 11th: Ms. Nose in a Book
Friday, April 12th: Broken Teepee

Friday, April 5, 2019

Friday Five- April 5, 2019

This week's Friday Five begins with a quick road trip.

1) We spent a day in Washington DC, where my husband had business and I visited the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery. They have such interesting exhibits, like Votes for Women: A Portrait of Persistence and One Year 1968: An American Odyssey. I really went to see the Barack and Michelle Obama portraits, which are marvelous. Barack's looks almost 3D like, and Michelle's is magnificent. It was great to see so many school groups there looking at them. While there, I heard the best thing I've ever heard in DC. A young boy, maybe 8 or 9, was talking to his older sister and while standing in front of the huge portrait of Bill Clinton, he pointed at it and said to her, "Look, it's Hillary Clinton's husband!" He couldn't understand while he was there and not Hillary.

2) I've always wanted to eat at Jaleo, chef Jose Andres' DC restaurant, and since it was down the block from the National Portrait Gallery, I finally got the chance. I had a JLT- jamon (Spanish ham), lettuce and tomato on grilled brioche bread with a tasty mayonnaise sauce. The best homemade chips I've ever had came on the side and I added a red sangria for a delicious lunch. 
Lunch at Jaleo

3) Tuesday night I attended a book talk and signing of Jacqueline Winspear's 15th book in her Maisie Dobbs series, The American Agent, at Barnes & Noble on the Upper East Side. I've read all of her books, and this is one of her best in the series. It's set during the London Blitz during WWII, and Maisie and company are back together again. Winspear's talk was very interesting, she spoke about how the character of Maisie came to her at a stoplight during a rainstorm in California, fully formed. 

Jacqueline Winspear at Barnes & Noble

4) The season three finale of This Is Us was on this week, and it was everything you would want it to be. I have been a fan since day one, and seeing into the future of the Pearson family was so heartbreaking and emotional, I can't wait for season four. Everyone associated with this wonderful show is top notch- writers, producers, directors and actors. If you don't watch it, I highly recommend it.

5) Speaking of things that make you emotional, I finished reading Lisa See's newest novel, The Island of Sea Women, about two female divers who lived on Jeju Island, off the coast of Korea. I knew very little about the history of Korea prior to the Korean War, and this takes place between the Japanese occupation of Korea, through the Korean War, and ends up in 2008. It's a stunning novel, and as I read the saddest, most horrifying part, I had to stop myself from sobbing on the train. It's one of the best books of 2019.