Friday, September 18, 2020

Friday 5ive- September 18, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. This week, it's all about entertainment, most of it streaming.

1)  When I first came to NYC about a twelve years ago, I bought a ticket to Miscast, a fundraiser for MCC Theater. Juliana Marguiles was the honoree, and I got to meet Chris Noth while getting a drink at the bar. (Yes, he is that handsome.) The entertainment at Miscast consists of performers singing songs from Broadway shows that they would never get cast for- usually men singing songs usually performed by women, and women singing songs tradtionally performed by men. This year, the gala was online, and free so many more people got to see the amazing performances. My favorites were Norbert Leo Butz singing "I Don't Know How to Love Him" from Jesus Christ Superstar, Phillipa Soo singing "Some Enchanted Evening" from South Pacific and Heather Hedley closing the show with a powerhouse performance of "Endless Night" from The Lion King. I entered the drawing to win a table for 10 for the 2021 Miscast, if I win, maybe I'll take you with me! You can see the performances on MCC Theater's YouTube channel here. (While you're there, check out this classic Miscast performance of "Cell Block Tango" from Chicago) 

2)  HBO premiered a series of five monologues titled Coastal Elites, written by Paul Rudnick and directed by Jay Roach. Bette Midler's portrayal of Miriam Kessler, a retired Jewish schoolteacher who gets into a scuffle with an obnoxious man was so brilliant. She looked directly into the camera, speaking to a police officer investigating the incident, and it was as if she was speaking for me and a whole lot of other people. Give her an Emmy! Dan Levy, Issa Rae, Sarah Paulson and Kaitlyn Devers also had monologues that represent what so many people are feeling today, they were all so fantastic. The group was interviewed on Wendesday by CNN's Alyson Camerota about the show for the 92nd St. Y in New York City, and it was interesting to really get into the creative process behind the show. You can see the trailer here.  

3)  Paula Pell is having a well-deserved moment. First, her Qubi series, Mapleworth Murders, debuted in August. It's a satire of Murder, She Wrote and the 12 ten-minute episodes are nothing short of comic perfection, with lots of great guest stars, like Tina Fey and Maya Rudolph. Now the new Peacock streaming platform premiered the 3rd season of the comedy A.P. Bio, about a Harvard philosophy professor who ends up back in Toledo, Ohio, living in his deceased mom's home, and teaching AP Bio at the local high school (played by Glenn Howerton of It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Seasons 1 & 2 were on NBC, and so hilarious. The show has moved to Peacock for season 3, and the first episode of the new season is comedy gold. Pell has a physical comedic performance that would make Lucille Ball proud. Patton Oswalt plays the principal, and he and Pell are a comedy team for the ages. I hope there will be a season four. 

4) My husband likes action movies, so we caught up on season 2 of Amazon Prime's series Jack Ryan, based on the Tom Clancy character from his series of novels. John Krasinski plays CIA analyst Jack Ryan who gets involved in the murder of his US Senator friend while in Venezuela. There is lots of action, and Krasinski and Wendell Pierce, who plays CIA agent Jim Greer, make a great team, with their humorous quips in between action scenes and political intrigue. Michael Kelly, from House of Cards, joins them as well as the Chief of Station at the American Embassy. I'm looking forward to season 3 of this one as well. The trailer is here

5)  I finished one book and I'm in the middle of two others. Sue Miller's Monogamy tells the story of Graham and Annie, a long married couple. Graham owns a bookstore in Cambridge, and Annie is a photographer readying for a gallery show. Graham is a big, gregarious man, who always loves to talk to people and put them at ease. When Graham dies, Annie has to deal with her own grief and more when she discovers that Graham was unfaithful. It's a beautifully written story. 

I'm in the middle of Marilynne Robinson's new novel, Jack, the fourth in her series of books about the residents of Gilead. Jack is the prodigal son of the Reverend Ames Boughton, now living in St. Louis during WWII after a stint in prison. He falls in love with school teacher Della Miles, a black woman. We watch their romance begin against all of society's conventions. It's a very quiet story, one that you don't rush through, but slowly read  to savor the gorgeous language. 

It'a Hispanic Heritage Month, and I just started Angela Cruz' Dominicana, about fifteen year-old Ana, who leaves her home in the Dominican Republic to marry an older man and move to New York City in the 1960s, in the hopes that she can bring her family to the United States. I'm enjoying this look at immigrants in New York City during this time period in history. Good Morning America chose it for their book club.

I guess it was a week for the Jacks and novels with one word titles.  Stay safe, socially distant, wear a mask and wash your hands everyone.

Thursday, September 17, 2020

Two Tales of Hollywood

The Comeback by Ella Berman 
Published by Berkley ISBN 9780593099513
Hardcover, $26, 376 pages

A Star is Bored by Byron Lane
Published by Henry Holt ISBN 97881250266491
Hardcover, $26.99, 352 pages

I recently read two novels set in the world of Hollywood- Ella Berman's The Comeback and Bryon Lane's A Star Is Bored. After reading these two intriguing books, I'm not sure that I'd want a career in Hollywood.

What sets Berman's novel apart is the strong first person narration of the story. It begins with 23 year-old Grace Turner being recognized by a fan in the CVS store where she is picking up her mother's diet pills. Grace is known as Grace Gold, teenage star in director Able York's most successful movies. 

Grace was discovered by York as he was looking for a young teen to star in his movie. He brought Grace and her parents from their home in London to Hollywood, where he convinced her parents that he could make Grace a star- and he did.

York became her mentor and she became his muse. She bought her parents a home in nearby Anaheim, but became estranged from them as she appeared in all of Able York's movies over the years. He became a celebrated auteur, and she was his muse. She did the whole young Hollywood thing- drinking, drugs, marrying young.

Able and Grace had a falling out, and Grace's latest attempt in film without Able left her confidence shaken. She slunk back to her parents, where she has been hiding out for a year, eating dinner on TV trays with them and hiding from life outside.

Able is set to be awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award and Grace is asked to to present it to him. She sees this as an opportunity to tell the world what happened between them, but does she have the strength to do so?

Grace's voice is so vivid in this intensely personal story. We see Grace as her star is rising, and the aftermath of her destructive behavior. Moving back and forth in time gives this story a jarring juxtaposition, letting us in on Grace's state of mind. Given the reckoning in Hollywood recently, this is a timely story. I recommend The Comeback, and look forward to Ella Berman's next book. The Comeback was a recent Read With Jenna pick.

Bryon Lane had a job as an assistant to actress Carrie Fisher, and in the write-what-you-know line, his novel A Star Is Bored tells the tale of Charlie, a young man who longs to leave his job on the overnight shift at a local television news station. He gets the opportunity to become the personal assistant to Kathi Kannon, daughter of a Golden Age of Hollywood star, and a star in her own right, having created the role of Priestess Talara in the worldwide phenonomon series of science fiction/action movies. 

Kathi has a drug problem and suffers from bipolar disorder. She has wild mood swings, spending days in her bed alternating with expensive shopping sprees and trips to Vegas. She gives Charlie a highly inappropriate nickname (she needs her own Human Resources Department), and he is charge of waking her each day with her medications and Diet Coke.   

Charlie organizes Kathi's life (the label maker gets quite a workout), and spends a lot of time keeping her out of trouble and on track writing the book she has already spent the advance money on. As difficult as she is, she is also raucously funny, and there is never a dull moment with Kathi. They form a friendship, but as anyone who has dealt with a drug addict knows, that bond gets tested. Charlie discovers that his life is not his own, but belongs to Kathi, day and night.

A Star is Bored is hilarious, and also moving. Kathi and Charlie have a sweet relationship until they don't. Kathi's mom (the Debbie Reynolds doppleganger) fiercely loves her daughter, but all her efforts to help and protect her don't work. 

If you have read Carrie Fisher's memoir Wishful Drinking or saw the HBO version of the stage show based on that, you will get an extra level of enjoyment from this endearing novel. I recommend it.

Hollywood is a tough place people.

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

Remedios by Deborah Clearman

Remedios by Deborah Clearman
Published by New Meridian ISBN 9781734383508
Trade paperback, $18, 228 pages

Two of the most intense television series I have watched are Breaking Bad and Ozark. Both deal with seemingly average people who become involved in the drug trade, dragging their families into the situation.

Deborah Clearman's novel, Remedios, is the literary equivalent of those two series. Fernando is a college professor, living with his wife and three children in Guatemala. They have a comfortable life, although Fernando borrowed money from a loan shark to renovate their home, and the payment is due. Fernando is unsure how he will be able to repay the money.

A childhood friend, Memo, shows up on his doorstep after nearly thirty years. The last time Fernando saw Memo was when they were teenagers, at a meeting that was violently attacked by the military. Fernando and his brother escaped, but Memo was caught and forced to become a soldier.

Memo now works for a dangerous Mexican cartel, and he comes to Fernando with a offer:  let them build a meth lab on his property. The money Memo will give him will enable him to pay off the loan shark, and  no one but Fernando needs to know what is going on. Fernando resists, but ultimately he agrees.

They concoct a story that Memo is building a cleaning supply manufacturing plant on Fernando's property, and Fernando is able to live with that until he discovers that his 14 year-old son Felix is working with Memo. 

Fernando's younger wife Sandra has also become entranced by Memo, bringing him food and spending time with him. Memo encourages Felix and Sandra's affections for him, pulling them deeper into his web. Fernando feels helpless and impotent to save his family. 

Remedios is a taut, intense novel that had my stomach in knots. Like Breaking Bad and Ozark, you watch as good people make bad decision after bad decision, wanting to warn them away from the danger. Reading Remedios also gave me a better understanding of the history of the civil war in Guatemala in the 1980s, and how drug cartels were able to use that to gain a foothold in that country.

If you're looking for a book that will get your pulse racing, a quick read at only 228 pages,  put Remedios on your list. I highly recommend it.

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

Tuesday, September 8th: JulzReads

Wednesday, September 9th: Instagram: @bookin.good

Thursday, September 10th: Thoughts From a Highly Caffeinated Mind

Friday, September 11th: Helen’s Book Blog

Monday, September 14th: Barks Beaches Books

Tuesday, September 15th: bookchickdi

Thursday, September 17th: Kahakai Kitchen

Monday, September 21st: Literary Quicksand

Tuesday, September 22nd: Jessicamap Reviews

Wednesday, September 23rd: Girl Who Reads

Thursday, September 24th: Instagram: @mentallybooked

Friday, September 25th: Instagram: @my_read_feed 

Monday, September 14, 2020

Chance of a Lifetime by Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets

Chance of a Lifetime by Jude Devereaux and Tara Sheets
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778309932
Trade paperback, $17.99, 336 pages

I'm not a big reader of time travel novels (although one of my favorite books of 2019 is Lisa Grunwald's Time After Time) but something about Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets' novel Chance of A Lifetime called out to me.

Agon and Samael are two angels who work for the Department of Destiny. They summon the soul of Liam O'Connor, an impoverished petty thief from Ireland in 1844 who fell in love with Cora, the daughter of wealthy landowner. Cora was engaged to marry Finn Walsh, and their child was destined to help the world.

But Liam disrupted those plans when Cora fell in love with him and broke off her engagement to Finn. Because of that, "Cora's soul has never found peace, and in each new life she has been given, she has been afraid to fall in love in" with Finn and fulfill her destiny to help the world. (I hope this is not responsible for all of the problems we are having in 2020.)

The angels send Liam to Providence Falls, North Carolina in the present day where Cora is a police investigator. Finn Walsh is there too, a "reserved and somewhat stuffy" defense attorney who has a crush on Cora. But Cora is not interested in Finn.

Cora's father calls her to tell her that he has found a roommate to replace the woman moving out of Cora's apartment. His name is Liam, and he is the newest member of the police department, where he will be Cora's new partner.

If Liam wants his soul to enter heaven, he has to convince Cora to fall in love in Finn and fulfill their destiny. The only problem is, now that Liam sees Cora in the flesh again, he realizes he still has feelings for her. What if she feels the same way?

Liam has to learn all about life in the 21st century- cars, cell phones, computers, etc.- and now he is on the other side of the law, which is amusing. People he knew in 1844 Ireland are also here in Providence Falls- his fellow petty thieves, and the wealthy married woman he had an affair with is now a wealthy married woman who wants to have an affair with Liam. 

Chance of A Lifetime is the first novel in the new Providence Falls series, so the reader is introduced to the small city and all its residents. It's an enjoyable read, a cross between TV's The Good Place and Diana Galbadon's Outlander novels. Can Liam sacrifice his happiness to achieve his mission? You'll have to stay tuned, because there is no answer to that question in this novel. That may be my biggest criticism of this charming novel, it ends rather abruptly with a lot of unresolved issues. I'll happy return to Providence Falls to find out what happens next.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Women's Fiction & Romance Fall Reads Blog Tour.

Friday, September 11, 2020

Friday 5ive- September 11, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. Labor Day was Monday and that means the unofficial end to summer, even though the weather outside my window says otherwise.

1) Today is 9/11, and every year I listen to the roll call of names of people who died during the terrorist attack on that day 19 years ago. This year, the names were not read in person at the 9/11 Memorial, but we heard the recording of names from the 9/11 Museum in New York City. Below is a photo I took at the museum last year of the wall of rememberance. Each blue square is a different shade and represents a soul lost. We must never forget.

2)  I saw this box labeled "trampoline" waiting in the package room of our building this week. I wonder who has room for a 12 foot trampoline in an apartment? At least they don't live above me, I checked.

3)   I watched the movie Strange But True on Netflix this week. It's based on the book of the same name by John Searles, and even though I read and loved the book, I was still gasping at the turn of events in the movie. The story is about a young woman, played by Margaret Qualley (who is wonderful here), who visits the family of her high school boyfriend who died five years prior. She is nine months pregnant, and claims that her dead  boyfriend is the father, which seems impossible and infuriates the mother of the young man, portrayed brilliantly by Amy Ryan. The cast is outstanding, with Brian Cox, Blythe Danner, Greg Kinnear and Nick Robinson all doing stellar work. 
Strange But True

4)  I started a new podcast this week, from the same people who brought us Serial. It's called Nice White Parents, and it tells the story of a Brooklyn public school in Cobble Hill, where the student population is mostly students of color. The principal worries that with only 30 students registered for the 6th grade that the school will close. She encourages parents from the neighborhood, who are white, to send their children to the school and when nearly 100 of them do, it changes the dynamic of the school when the new parents form a committee separate from the PTA to fundraise for a French language program. I just started it and it is riveting and thought-provoking, I can't wait to keep going. 

5)  I didn't do a lot of reading this week, just two books. The first one is Seinfeld- A Cultural History by Paul Arras. The author looks at the iconic show in the context of what it means to our cultural history. He includes his ranking of each episode, which is fun to look at and decide if you agree or disagree with him. 

The second book is Rachel Beanland's novel, Florence Adler Swims Forever. Set in 1934, it tells the story of Florence Adler, a young Jewish woman from Atlantic City who is training to swim the English Channel, inspired by Gertrude Ederle. Her older sister is on bedrest at the hospital due to complications during her pregnancy. When tragedy strikes, the family grieves and the secrets that are kept from each other threaten to tear them apart. The story is told from many viewpoints, including Florence's 8 year-old niece Gussie, her father, mother, brother-in-law and swim coach. It's a deeply felt family story, and based on the author's own family history, which adds a fascinating layer to this wonderful novel. 

I wish all the teachers, students and parents a safe, healthy, and successful school year ahead. See you next week!

Thursday, September 10, 2020

Three Books About People in Crisis

Reprinted from :

This month’s Book Report features three new novels about people each facing a serious crisis. Each author has written characters that we can empathize with and care about.

Ellen Marie Wiseman’s The Orphan Collector is set in 1918 Philadelphia, during the Spanish flu pandemic. Thirteen year-old Pia lives with her German immigrant family- Mom, twin baby brothers, while her father is away fighting for his new country in Europe in WWI as part of the U.S. Army. 

The war has just ended, and thousands of people attend a celebratory parade, including Pia, her mother and brothers. Soon, people all over Philadelphia are dying from the Spanish flu. It is a gruesome death, and people fear seeing the black fabric tied to doors indicating a death there.

Pia is left to care for her baby brothers, but soon the food runs out and she must venture outside to find supplies. When she faints and comes to in the hospital, it is days later and Pia is panicked about her brothers.

Unbeknownst to Pia, her neighbor Bernice sees her leave and hears the babies crying. Bernice   is bereft after losing her beloved baby boy to the flu, and makes a decision that will define her and Pia’s life going forward.

Pia ends up in an orphanage, filled with children who have lost their parents to the flu. Even though she is trapped, she cannot stop searching for clues as to what happened to her brothers. 

Bernice meanwhile has come upon an idea. Angered at the immigrant families she believes responsible for the deadly flu, Bernice uses the children in orphanages to fulfill a greedy plan.

When Bernice and Pia’s paths cross, can Pia discover what happened to her brothers? 

The Orphan Collector is a brilliantly written, riveting piece of historical fiction. Every detail feels so authentic. You will find yourself dropped right into 1918 Philadelphia, and feel like you are right alongside Pia as she never gives up her quest to find her brothers. Fans of Christina Baker Kline’s The Orphan Train and Lisa Wingate’s “Before We Were Yours” should put this next on their reading list.

Helen Cullen’s The Dazzling Truth takes place on an Irish island near Galway, where Murtagh and Maeve are raising their four children. From the moment Murtagh saw Maeve at Trinity College, he was smitten. 

Maeve was from America, studying acting. Murtagh made ceramic pottery, and they both loved art. He was given the opportunity to apprentice with a famous potter, and Maeve gave up her dreams to follow him and raise their family on the island.

Maeve also suffered from severe depression and anxiety. She would spend days, sometimes weeks in bed, and nights wandering the countryside. As her children got older, they didn’t understand what was happening, as it was never discussed openly. 

The story moves back and forth in time so we get to see Murtagh and Maeve’s courtship, and their lives of the children as they grow older. The characters are so well drawn, you care for each of them, and ache for each of them as Maeve’s illness affects them. Your heart will break for them.

In Caroline Leavitt’s latest novel, With Or Without You the main characters deal with a physical illness. Stella is a 42 year-old nurse who longs to settle down and have a child with her longtime love Simon, a rocker who has one last chance to make it in the music business with his bandmates. 

When Stella falls into a coma, it upends both their worlds, as well the life as Libby, her best friend, a doctor who is caring for Stella. Libby becomes close to Simon as they bond together working and hoping for Stella’s recovery. Simon also becomes close to Stella’s mother who moves in with him. Their relationship is so touching.

We see the story through Stella’s eyes as she is in the coma, and Simon who gives up his last chance to stay by her side. When Stella awakes, her world is completely different. She has a new artistic ability that eventually brings her the fame that Simon had once hoped would be his. 


Caroline Leavitt excels at writing characters facing a crisis not of their doing, and this is her best book yet. 

If you want to get lost in a good book that makes you feel something for the characters, take you out of your everyday sameness, each one of these three is a great choice.

The Orphan Collector by Ellen Marie Wiseman- A+

Published by Kensington Books

Trade paperback, $16.95, 400pages

The Dazzling Truth by Helen Cullen- B+

Published by Graydon House

Trade paperback, $17.99, 336 pages

With Or Without You by Caroline Leavitt- A

Published by Algonquin 

Hardcover, $26.95, 288 pages


Friday, September 4, 2020

Friday 5ive- September 4, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. I can't believe that it is September already, and yet this year seems to have lasted about five years. Does that make sense?

1)  While we were upstate, we ate at a fantastic Mexican restaurant, Armadillo, in Kingston NY. I had a frozen margarita, which was frosty cold and refreshing. For my entree, I chose the Taco Platter special, which is two tacos (I chose chicken) and a delicious side of refried black beans and rice. It was some of the best Mexican food I've had, and I highly recommend it. They space their tables more than socially distant,a nd they have a Taco Trailer in the parking lot for atmosphere. If you find yourself up that way, make this a stop. 

2)  Like the rest of the world, I was shocked and saddened by the death of actor Chadwick Boseman. He died at the age of 43 of colon cancer, which he had for four years, and his loss affected so many people, especially young children who saw him as their first Black superhero on screen in Black Panther. I first saw him as Jackie Robinson in 42, which the Paramount channel showed on Monday night. It's such a powerful performance that led him to stardom. 

3) I found a new podcast that I'm enjoying, it's called Smartless, hosted by friends Jason Bateman, Will Arnett and Sean Hayes, three very funny actors. Each week, one of the three invites a guest who is a surprise to the other two and they have a free-wheeling discussion. There are seven episodes up so far, with people like Kamala Harris, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and my favorite so far, Melissa McCarthy. It's funny, irreverent and relevant. 

4)  This week celebrated its 24th anniversary with a special Zoom featuring nine of their fantastic team of book reviewers talking about the books they loved most. It was an interesting discussion led by Carol Fitzgerald, the founder of Book Reporter. You can watch it on YouTube, and if you don't get their weekly newsletter on Fridays, you don't know what you're missing. 

5) I got in lots of reading this week. Ella Berman's novel, The Comeback, is about a young actress whose life has been destroyed by the man who was her mentor. It's a very strong first person narration, and it was a Read With Jenna pick for August. 

Historical fiction fans will love Jennie Fields' Atomic Love, about a female scientist who worked on the Manhattan Project and three years later is asked by the FBI to spy on her former lover, a fellow scientist they believe is a Russian spy. I could not put this one down. 

In addition to being a fantastic mystery writer, Laura Lippman writes wonderful essays, and she has a new book out, My Life As A Villainess, filled with her smart, crisp essays about life as an older mother, her first job as a reporter in Waco, Texas, and how the first few hundred pages of the seminal TV show, The Wire, ended up on her computer. (PS- she's great on Twitter too.)

Jude Deveraux and Tara Sheets team up for a romance novel, Chance of A Lifetimethat's The Good Place meets Outlander, about Liam, an Irish thief from 1844 who falls in love with Cora, the daughter of a wealthy man. Cut to present day when Liam is summoned by two angels to return to Earth to help Cora fall in love with Finn, the man she was fated to be with in 1844 when Liam came along and messed up the plan. Cora has lived many lives since 1844, but she has never fallen in love with Finn, which is her destiny. Can Liam fix this? It's the first book in a new series, Providence Falls. My full review publishes on September 14th. 

Stay safe, socially distant, wear a mask and wash your hands everyone. We'll see you next week.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Here For It by R. Eric Thomas

Here For It by R. Eric Thomas
Published by Ballantine Books ISBN 9780525621034
Hardcover, $26, 264 pages

I admit I had not heard of R. Eric Thomas or his humor column "Eric Reads the News" for But so many people that I respect told me I must read his book of essays, Here For It or, How to Save Your Soul in America, and when Jenna Bush Hager picked it as one of her Read With Jenna selections, I knew I must buy it.

I'm so glad I did. Here For It had me chuckling throughout the entire book. Thomas burst on the scene when he referred to a photo of President Obama, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and Mexican President Enrique Peña Nietro as "the new interracial male cast of Sex and the City." That Facebook post went viral and came calling with a job offer.

From his childhood obsession of the puppet Lady Elaine Fairchilde, whom Thomas calls "essentially a reality star" because she has a royal title and is "constantly in feuds with her brother" to knowing that his mother meant business when she put on her "Betty Grey suit" (so called because a woman named Betty Grey gave it to her mother) to confront a school principal over a racial incident, Thomas shares how his growing up black, gay, and Christian in a dangerous area of Baltimore, raised by parents who sacrificed by not buying any clothes for themselves for ten years so he could attend a private school, informed the man he grew up to be.

As one of the few black students in his school, he bonded with Electra, a black transfer student from New York City. They worked together in the school library, went to prom together, and Electra shared her deep obsession with Madonna, which Thomas did not necessarily share.

Thomas ends up at Columbia University, where he spies on people entering the Queer Student Alliance meetings "with all the attention and nuance of Gladys Kravitz, the nosy neighbor from Bewitched" afraid to go inside. When the Black Student Union informed him he was to mentor a younger student, the younger student ending up being more of a mentor to him.

After leaving Columbia and returning home to go to a local college, Thomas ends up in Philadelphia, living with a man who encourages him to join the gay softball league. I found this chapter very amusing, as Thomas knew nothing at all about softball, and he ended up having to take a remedial softball class for those who needed extra help. 

There are poignant sections in the book as well, with Thomas trying to find love, bringing home a boyfriend to Thanksgiving dinner to meet his truly wonderful parents, his grave upset on election night 2016, and his wedding to a pastor, which put him in mind of himself in the Whitney Houston role in The Preacher's Wife. 

I love a book that makes me feel something, and Here For It gives me a lot of that. From his howlingly funny way to look at the world, to his loneliness in the search for love and friendship, R. Eric Thomas is the kind of person you want have his cell phone number so that he can text you during the day with his thoughts and emojis. Jenna Bush Hager and Adriana Trigiani were right- I needed to read Here For It. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie

His Only Wife by Peace Adzo Medie
Published by Algonquin ISBN 9781616209155
Hardcover, $25.95, 288 pages

The first sentence of Peace Adzo Medie's enthralling debut novel, His Only Wife, captures your attention immediately- "Elikem married me in absentia, he did not come to our wedding." Afi is a young woman in Ghana, she lives with her mom and works in a small shop as a seamstress, dreaming of studying to become a fashion designer.

When the matriarch of the wealthy Ganyo family decides that her son Eli will marry Afi, people are surprised, including Afi who didn't know Eli well. Eli spends most of time traveling for the family business, all over Africa and overseas. 

After the wedding, Afi waits at her home for Eli to come to her. A few weeks later, she and her mother are whisked away to a beautiful condo in the big city of Accra, where Afi is to live. But she still hasn't seen her husband.

Eli's family wanted him to marry Afi to get him away from a Liberian woman with whom he has fallen in love. They believe that the woman is not suitable for Eli, she does not respect his family. His brothers tell Afi terrible things about her. They believe that if Afi can show Eli what a good wife she is, he will leave the other woman.

Eventually Eli comes to the condo. He seems tentative, but kind to her. He gives her money to shop, cooks her breakfast, and even encourages her to follow her dream of studying fashion design and offers to help her open up her own clothing boutique.

He spends a few nights with Afi, and she falls in love with him. When they are together, spending time with Eli's family and friends, life is good. But will Eli stay with Afi or return to the other woman?

As time goes on, Afi becomes unhappy about her marriage. She loves her new career, and has even made a few friends, but she must ask herself what price is she willing to pay for it? She loves her husband, and although her family and Eli's family encourage her to just accept that many men have two "wives", Afi must decide how important her own happiness is.

One of most compelling books I read over that past few years is Ayobami Adebayo's novel, Stay With Me, about a young Nigerian couple who, when they cannot conceive a child, are encouraged by their families to take on another wife. His Only Wife mines similar territory, and just as strong.

I loved the character of Afi, she isn't willing to follow tradition if it makes her unhappy. She works hard, and follows her dreams. The women in this story are strong-willed, and many of them start their own businesses, not willing to rely on men, including Eli's mother and Evelyn, a woman Afi befriends in the condo next door. One of Afi's sister-in-laws is even entering politics now that her children are grown. If the world is to change, women need to be economically independent.

Reading takes us all over the world, and in His Only Wife, we go from the small village of Ho, where Afi grew up, to the glittering big city of Accra, where, as in any large cosmopolitan city, wealthy people live a lifestyle that only money can buy. I enjoy reading about the food people eat, what clothes they wear, and where they shop, and Peace Adzo Medie does a terrific job putting right there in Ghana with her characters.

I highly recommend His Only Wife.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Peace Adzo Medie's book tour.

Friday, August 28, 2020

Friday 5ive- August 28, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. We are slowly sliding towards Labor Day and the unofficial end to summer. Are you ready for that? Nah, me either.

1) One of my favorite people in the whole world, my friend Dorothy, gave me this lovely tote bag that she found in an independent bookstore in Vermont. I will carry it proudly around the city. #Vote

2) Speaking of literate, while walking down 74th Street, I noticed this sign in a first floor window that reads "What Are You Reading?" above a small collection of books. One of my favorite books, Mary Beth Keane's Ask Again, Yes, caught my eye, and I really wanted to knock on the window to tell this person what great literary taste she has. I also loved The Vanishing Half and just got Atomic Love

3) Speaking of independent bookstores, Saturday, August 29th is Indie Bookstore Day. While our own Book Cellar is still closed and can't participate, there are over 600 indie bookstores who are participating with online events and special items that you can only get on that day.. You can go to the website here to find out more about it. And even better, Washington Nationals pitcher Sean Doolittle, is our Bookstore Ambassador this year. Books + baseball = awesome! #SupportIndies

4) I watched 6 episodes of Ryan Murphy's Netflix limited series Hollywood on Sunday. Several of the performances are nominated for Emmys this year, including Holland Taylor (who is always fantastic), Broadway star Jeremy Pope, and Jim Parsons in a very un-Sheldon (Big Bang Theory) like role, who are all great. It's set in post WWII Hollywood as several young people are trying to make it as screenwriters, actors and directors. This Hollywood has its share of a dark underbelly, and it addresses sexism, racism and homophobia in a unique way. This is an adults-only series. 

5) I read three books this week. Peace Adzo Medie's debut novel, His Only Wife, is about a young woman in Ghana married to a man she barely knows who has another wife. If you liked Ayobami Adebayo's Stay With Me (one of my favorites), this is a perfect read for you. My full review publishes on September 1st.

I have not read anything by James McBride, and now that I have read his latest, Deacon King Kong, I will be looking for his backlist of books. The novel is set in Brooklyn in 1969, when a young drug dealer is shot by a church deacon and the entire community becomes involved. It is brilliantly written, with a cast of unforgettable characters. I highly recommend it. I bought this online at Loganberry Books, an independent bookstore in Ohio.

Lauren Willig's Band of Sisters doesn't publish until March of 2021, but I got to read an early copy of this fantastic historical fiction about a group of women from Smith College who, during WWI, traveled to France to help villages decimated by the Germans. The research is impeccable, and the story and characters are all based on actual events and real people. I tore through the book, astonished at what these young women did, never having heard this story before. I will be talking about this book for a long time, and Maisie Dobbs fans should put this one on their list. (And oh, that gorgeous cover!)

Stay safe, socially distant, wash your hands and wear a mask. See you next week!

Tuesday, August 25, 2020

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim
Published by Park Row Books ISBN 9780778310174
Hardcover, $27.99, 384 pages
One of the reasons we read fiction is to put ourselves in the shoes of other people, people who have different life experiences than ourselves. Nancy Jooyoun Kim does that beautifully in her novel, The Last Story of Mina Lee.

Margot is a 26 year-old Korean daughter of Mina Lee, who raised Margot on her own in Koreatown in Los Angeles. Margot lives in Seattle and hasn't seen her mother in awhile. She is driving to LA to bring a friend to his new home, and after being unable to get a hold of her mom by phone, she stops by her mom's apartment and finds her dead on the floor.

It appears that Mina fell and hit her head, but after the landlord tells Margot that he heard Mina arguing with a man, Margot becomes suspicious that perhaps her mother was killed.

Margot begins to dig into her mother's life, discovering things that she didn't know about Mina. They had a difficult relationship. Mina owned a clothing shop that burned down during the LA riots in 1992. She worked her way back to opening a small shop at a swap meet in Koreatown, but her business never recovered.

Growing up was difficult for Margot. She wanted to be like other kids, act American. She had to work at her mother's store after school and on school breaks, and her mother never learned English. Margot resisted learning Korean, so communication between the two was never good on several levels.

The story is told in two different timelines, so we see Margot working to learn what happened to her mother in 2014, while we see Mina's story in 1987, when she came to America. Mina became separated from her parents as a young child when they were fleeing the war in Korea, and ended up in an orphanage. She never knew what became of her parents.

She came to America as an undocumented immigrant, and found work at a Korean grocery store. She made one friend at the boardinghouse she lived in, and led a fairly lonely life. There was a deep sadness about Mina, something in her life in Korea that she wanted to put behind her.

I found Mina's story compelling. She came all alone to a country where she didn't speak the language. Imagine doing that; leaving your home to go to a place where you know no one, and starting over. We see how hard Mina worked to make a life for herself and later for her daughter, the sacrifices she made. Mina just broke my heart.

Foodies will find many references to Korean dishes here, and book clubs could create an entire evening's feast with them. The Last Story of Mina Lee would made an excellent book club choice, as the mother/daughter and immigrant themes would make for a rich discussion.

If you liked Jean Kwok's Searching for Sylvie Lee, this book would be a good read for you. Both feature a mystery about a person, and a family member who must discover what happened to their loved one, while dealing with the issue of living in a different culture. I highly recommend The Last Story of Mina Lee, I will not forget her.

Thanks to Harper Collins for putting me on Nancy Jooyoun Kim's book tour. 

Monday, August 24, 2020

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost

A Very Punchable Face by Colin Jost
Published by Crown ISBN 9781101906323
Hardcover, $27, 312 pages

If you know Colin Jost as the Weekend Update co-anchor for Saturday Night Live, you won't be surprised to discover that his memoir, A Very Punchable Face, is very funny. If you know that he was the head writer for SNL, you may not be surprised to know that his book is also very well written. 

I have to say I was mildly surprised to discover that A Very Punchable Face is one of the laugh-out-loud funniest books I have ever read, and I read a lot of books by funny people. The only book I laughed harder at was Justin Halpern's S*it My Dad Says.

Jost grew up on Staten Island, on a block where his extended family owned all of the houses. He didn't speak until the age of four, and when he did he said he talked like he was Carmela Soprano. He was a chubby kid, not very athletic until he took up swimming. As a lifeguard at the local beach club, he lists his seven most important duties, five of which involved monitoring the beer kegs for the members.

After getting accepted to the prestigious Regis High School in Manhattan, he took a ferry, bus and subway one and a half hours each way to get to and from school. He ends up at Harvard, where he works hard to get onto the staff of National Lampoon.

There are chapters about the seven times he got stitches, spending a semester abroad in Russia where he didn't speak Russian and his hosts didn't speak English, and his job working on a local newspaper after college.

And then he lands a job as a writer on SNL. Jost gives us some great backstage information, from his meeting with Lorne Michaels where he was unsure if he was hired (he was), a chapter on some of the memorable sketches he had a part in writing, his successful partnership with Michael Che, his co-anchor on Weekend Update, and their disasterous co-hosting of the Emmy Awards.

Some of the funniest parts of the book are his footnotes at the bottom of the pages, which contain some of his best one-liners of the book. His chapter "Why I Love My Mom" about his mom responding to 9/11 and nearly dying twice, is harrowing and a beautiful tribute that any mom would love to receive from her son.

This world can be so troubling at times, it's great to be able to pick up a book and have a laugh. I give Colin Jost's A Very Punchable Face my highest recommendation.