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Friday, January 31, 2020

Friday 5ive- January 31, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. Can you believe we are already through the first month of 2020? Time flies by, even during the bleakest winter months.

1)  Saturday evening we were invited to a family dinner at Bacaro, a fantastic little Italian restaurant on the Lower East Side. The food is very authentic Italian, and we had a wonderful time. There is a small bar upstairs, and downstairs is the restaurant, which feels like you are in an Italian tavern in Italy. We had a family table in a separate area, with long benches around the table. It's perfect for small private event, and the 12 of us were very comfortable and we were able to visit with each other in comfort. The photos below are from their Instagram account.
The private table
The pork shank over polenta was delicious

2)  Sunday started off with the sad news that NBA basketball legend Kobe Bryant, his 13 year-old daughter Gigi, and seven other people died in a helicopter crash in Calabasas, California. Kobe was my younger son's favorite basketball player, as Kobe was to many people my son's age. My older son said that Kobe was the first athlete most people their age really knew. People my age and older will remember feeling the same way when baseball great Roberto Clemente died in a plane crash at the height of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, bringing aid to earthquake victims in Nicaragua. On the day after the crash, I saw this on the NYC Link charging station up the street from me.

3)  Wednesday night, two of us from the Book Cellar took a road trip up to the Barnes & Noble store on 86th Street to listen to authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig talk about their third collaboration with Karen White, All The Ways We Said Goodbye. It's a wonderful story set in three time periods- WWI, WWII, and 1964- featuring three female protagonists and their connection to the Ritz Paris Hotel. It was a fun evening, the ladies really enjoy working together. My blog post on that evening is here.
Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

4)  I just finished listening to a true crime podcast, The Shrink Next Door, about an NYC psychiatrist who takes over his patient's life, his business, and gets him to cut off all ties to his only sister and her children. It's a crazy story, told by Joe Nocera of Bloomberg and Wondery (who did the Dirty John podcast). You can find the podcast here. (Thanks to Rick for the suggestion.)

5)  I started reading Susan Elia MacNeal's upcoming novel, The King's Justice, the ninth book in her Maggie Hope series. It's 1943 London, and Maggie has left the SOE, where she had been working as a spy for the British government. Now she works diffusing unexploded bombs that the German had dropped, another dangerous job. She and her friends and roommates all are having problems coping with the stress of living through the war. Maggie is unwillingly drawn back into one of her old cases when a sequential (serial) murderer is on the loose, and it looks like the killer has a connection to a monster she helped put away. It's a terrific read so far, and I'm fearing for poor Maggie who is drinking too much. If you are a fan of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series, this is the next series you should be reading. I'll post a full review closer to publication date of February 25th. 
The King's Justice

Thursday, January 30, 2020

Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig at Barnes & Noble

Last night I attended a book talk and signing by authors Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig who, along with missing member Karen White, wrote the wonderful historical novel All The Ways We Said Goodbye (my review here) at the Barnes & Noble store on the Upper East Side. Karen White, a Georgia resident, refuses to go above the Mason-Dixon line until late spring.
Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig

Williams and Willig launched into the origin story for Team W, as they have dubbed themselves. When Beatriz Williams wrote her first novel, Overseas, which she thought would be a smash hit, sell a million books and be made into a movie, she had the unfortunate timing of being published at the same time a little book called Fifty Shades of Grey was released.

Her new author friends Lauren Willig and Karen White (who all met at an Romance Writers of America event when they were seated alphabetically at the signing tables) tried to cheer her up with lots of cocktails and wine. They came up with the brilliant idea of writing an anthology together set in Scotland called Fifty Shades of Plaid, combining two hot romance trends. (White's editor told them to go back to their rooms, drink some water, take some aspirin, and sleep it off.)

What sounded great after an evening of drinking turned into an actual collaboration and their first Team W novel, The Forgotten Room (my review here). It was set in three different time periods with three different lead women characters, all connected by this forgotten room in a Manhattan townhouse mansion (based on a building once owned by Williams'  husband's family, now a medical facility).

They met at Alice's Tea Cup in New York City and outlined the entire book, something no one had ever done for their individual books. The authors each chose the character they wanted to write, and then wrote her chapter and sent them round robin to the next chapter writer. They had a legendary text chain where they would ask for advice, make changes, and have brilliant strokes of genius. (They joked that they could release a 40-volume set of the text chain, but would have to redact all the many inappropriate ones.)

Karen White's editor bought the book, and the authors laughed because she sounded surprised as she said "it's actually very good". The Forgotten Room hit the NY Times and USA Today bestseller lists, and Team W decided to write a second book.

Their second book, The Glass Ocean, (my review here) also had three female leads and was set mostly on the Lusitania, a cross Atlantic passenger ship that was bombed by a German submarine in 1915 during WWI. Nearly twelve hundred people perished.

Again, it was a success and Team W began plotting their third book, the recently released All The Ways We Said Goodbye, set during WWI, WWII, and 1964 at the Ritz Paris Hotel. Unfortunately, the authors' idea to spend three weeks at the Ritz Paris Hotel to research was shot down by both spouses and the publisher, so the authors had to do their impeccable research online.

Their collaborative novels are seamlessly written, and very few people can tell which writer wrote which character. (The authors keep that secret.) Even their editor can't tell- she has sent the edits to the wrong author on multiple occasions, which makes the authors laugh.

Their next book will be set in Newport, Rhode Island during the Gilded Age, the 1950s and the present day. Here's hoping they all get to go the beautiful mansions there for research on this one.

The capacity crowd on a very cold evening truly enjoyed listening to Beatriz Williams and Lauren Willig. They have their humorous patter down, and you can tell they are truly friends and enjoy working together. If you haven't read anything from Team W, I highly recommend you do. You should also read their individual novels, they are all wonderful writers.

Beatriz Williams' website is here.
Lauren Willig's website is here.
Karen White's website is here.

I saw the fabulous Tavia, cohost of the Book Club Girl podcast, there

Monday, January 27, 2020

Such a Fine Age by Kiley Reid

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid
Published by Putnam, ISBN9780525541905
Hardcover, $26, 320 pages

Kiley Reid's debut novel, Such a Fun Age, opens with Emira, a twenty-five year old black woman out celebrating her friend's birthday. She gets a call  at 11pm from Alix Chamberlain, the woman she works for taking care of Alix's two young children. Alix has an emergency and offers to pay Emira double and her cab fare if she can come right away and take her toddler Briar out of the house for a little while.

Emira needs the money, so she leaves the party and picks up Briar and takes her to the fancy neighborhood grocery store that's open late. Emira is dressed for a party, and when she and Briar got to the grocery store, Emira's friend is along too, and the three of them have a dance party in the frozen food aisle.

Another customer, a white woman, smiles at them, but soon the store security guard comes over and asks Emira why she is with this child this late at night. The woman decided that Emira may have kidnapped Briar and notified the security guard.

Emira calmly tries to explain that she is the babysitter, but when the security guard accuses her of kidnapping, another man in the grocery store takes out his phone and films the altercation. Emira is embarrassed and angry, and she calls Mr. Chamberlain, who comes to the store to straighten it all out.

The opening scene plays out like so many stories we have seen on the news in the past year, and from there we get a deep dive into Emira's life and the life of Alix, a mommy blogger who gave up her friends and job in New York City to follow her husband's career as a TV news reporter to Philadelphia.

Reid draws us into the lives of these two women as they intersect. Emira is a college graduate who can't find a job that pays enough, so she babysits for Briar. She adores the curious little girl, and feels that Alix pays more attention to her new baby because she cannot understand her own toddler.

After the grocery store incident, Alix wants to make things right for Emira, get to know her better, make her part of the family, but she doesn't know how to go about that. Their two lives couldn't be any different- Alix a white woman of privilege, Emira a young black woman, working as a babysitter without health insurance, a 401K, or vacation pay.

Things culminate on Thanksgiving when Alix invites Emira and her new boyfriend, the man who took the video, to dinner. All hell breaks loose when Alix realizes who he really is.

Reid writes an engrossing story about race, class, friendship and privilege. She puts you into the shoes of Emira and Alix, and often times it is an uncomfortable fit. I cringed at some of the things Alix said and did, and it does make the reader become more introspective of one's own behavior. You also get to see how stressful it is living moment-to-moment, paycheck-to-paycheck. Not everyone is benefitting from the record-breaking stock market bull run.

If you like a novel that will make you think inside of a fascinating plot, I recommend Such a Fun Age. Reese Witherspoon recently chose it for her Hello Sunshine book club.

If you read Stephanie Land's nonfiction book, Maid (my review here), give Such a Fun Age a read.

Friday, January 24, 2020

Friday 5ive- January 24, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. It was a quiet week, not much going on except for work and a quick trip to Wegmans in Brooklyn.

1) Today is Lunar New Year's Eve (otherwise known as Chinese New Year) and Williams-Sonoma has a lovely display in their store in Columbus Circle. Their dishes looked so enticing, if I had the room for them I would have been tempted.

2) I also visited the new Nordstrom store on 57th Street. It is massive, and if you want to catch a glimpse of fashionistas, head over there. There some very stylish people in that store, working and shopping there. The Beauty Floor is huge, and gives Bloomingdale's a run for its money. This display of bathing suits caught my eye as the escalator stopped on the 2nd floor.

I wasn't sure what to make of this next one- is it a vest or a dress? 

3) The Sign of the Week comes from Mel's Burgers, with a nod to Britney Spears.

4) We watched two Oscar-nominated movies this week. First up was The Irishman, starring Robert DeNiro, Al Pacino and Joe Pesci and directed by Martin Scorcese. I liked the first hour and the last hour, the hour-and-a-half in-between I found repetitive. They could have cut 90 minutes out of the three-and-a-half hour running time and I would have liked it much better. Joe Pesci was fantastic, and Ray Romano held his own against these veteran actors. 

We also watched Quentin Tarantino's Once Upon A Time In Hollywood. Leo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt both deserve all the accolades they have received for their acting, and I liked Margo Robbie and Margaret Qualley's performances as well. Tarantino really dropped the viewer into 1969 Hollywood, and every detail seemed perfect. My biggest complaint was the gratuitously violent ending. As usual, Tarantino way overdid it, and that ruined the movie for me.  (If you watch it, turn off the movie when the intruders break in. Email me, I'll tell you the ending.) Like his Inglorious Basterds, he rewrites history, but while that type of violence works in a war movie, I found it overkill here- actual overkill. I'm not a fan of violent fairytales. 

5) I read Ronan Farrow's book about his investigations into the Harvey Weinstein and Matt Lauer's sexual harassment cases, Catch and Kill. He takes the reader step-by-step into working on his investigative reporting on women accusing mega-Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of rape and sex abuse. He and his producer followed leads, and had several woman willing to go on camera and talk about their experiences. Executives at NBC were at first willing to let Farrow investigate, but pressure from Weinstein and his lawyers flowed down to Farrow and his producer and they had to take the story to The New Yorker magazine. It's a riveting read, with corporate intrigue and Eastern European spies, and topical since Weinstein is currently on trial this week in New York City. 

I followed that intense book with a lighter one- Gigi Levangie's upcoming Been There, Married That, about a woman married to a Hollywood producer who decides he wants a divorce. It's a real skewering of Hollywood, and Levangie knows of what she writes as she is the former wife of uber-producer Brian Glazer (Ron Howard's producing partner). It's hilarious and sometimes inappropriate (and not for everybody), but if you watch the Real Housewives of  Orange County, you'll love this. (I don't watch those shows, but I find this book very funny- Levangie has a great sense of humor.) It publishes February 11th. 

We're supposed to get a lot of rain tomorrow, so it's looks like I'll get a lot of reading done (after work on Saturday, that is). Have a great week, all!

Thursday, January 23, 2020

All The Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White

Parts of this review first appeared on auburnpub.com

All The Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062931092 
Hardcover, $28.99, 448 pages

All the Ways We Said Goodbye, a triple timeline saga, is the third collaboration by authors Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White (collectively known as Team W). 

All The Ways We Said Goodbye opens up in 1964 on an estate in Devonshire, England. Babs is still mourning the recent loss of her beloved husband Kit, who spent time in a prisoner of war camp in Germany during WWII. 

Babs receives a letter from an American lawyer whose father also fought in WWII and is now dying. He asks Babs’ to meet him at the Ritz Hotel in Paris to discuss La Fleur, a famous female French spy whom Kit knew, and who betrayed his father.

Aurelie is a young French woman living with her mother at the Ritz Hotel in Paris in 1914 during WWI. Aurelie’s mother entertains German writers and philosophers in her salon, much to the dismay of Aurelie. 

When Aurelie leaves Paris to go to her father’s ancestral estate in the countryside, the German army is not soon behind, and they confiscate her family’s estate to make it their headquarters during the invasion. The Germans take over the town and force the townspeople into starvation and humiliation. Aurelie does her best to help her friends, even at risk to her own life.

Daisy lives with her American-born grandmother at the Ritz Paris in 1942 during WWII. Daisy’s grandmother is part of the Resistance, and soon Daisy helps the cause by delivering messages hidden in books from the local bookstore.

All these stories collide, and part of the fun is watching these three authors skillfully blend their storylines together to create one taut mystery. Who was La Fleur and what is her connection with all three women?   

The research that goes into all of Team W's books shows up on the pages here. I'd love to see their notes and photos for this one. I also appreciate their strong female characters, they all show great growth as they realize what they are capable of doing.

Fans of Team W’s previous two books- The Forgotten Room (my review here) and The Glass Ocean (my review here) will enjoy the cameo appearances by characters from those two books  (especially the annoying Prunella Schuylerin this latest one.  And if you liked Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, Anthony Doerr's All The Light We Couldn't See and Amor Towles' A Gentleman in Moscow you will want to put this one on your to-be-read list. I highly recommend it, it is Team W's best book yet.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins
Published by Flatiron Books ISBN 9781250209764
Hardcover, $26.99, 400 pages

Sometimes when I hear that a book has a lot of buzz around it, I am cautious about reading it, fearing it can't possibly live up to the hype. At last year's Book Expo America, one of the books that was getting a lot of buzz was American Dirt, a novel by Jeanine Cummins.

Set in Mexico, it tells the story of Lydia, a bookstore owner married to a journalist, and mother to their eight year-old son Luca. The book opens with five pages that hook and horrify the reader. Lydia's entire family is brutally murdered by a drug cartel. Lydia and Luca, hiding in the shower, are the only survivors.

Lydia knows that she must take Luca and run. Javier, the head of the cartel, will be after them as well now. She doesn't know whom to trust, and therefore cannot trust anyone. She cannot mourn her family or worry about how Luca is feeling- "She doesn't ask if he is okay because from now on that question will carry a weight of painful absurdity."

The story flashes backward so we see how Lydia came to be in this situation. Her family had a good life, she loved her husband, and they were happy. But if you end up in the crosshairs of the drug cartel, you are in danger.

Lydia decides the fastest, safest way to get to the United States border is to hop a train. They meet two teenage sisters, Soledad and Rebeca, who show them how to drop from an overpass onto the top of the train, where they find an entire community of migrants fleeing danger and poverty.

Their journey is long and dangerous. They must hide from the cartel and the police. Javier has tentacles that reach far into Mexico, and there is a bounty on Lydia's head.

There are many people who show the migrants kindness. At one shelter for the migrants, a nun offers Lydia advice and a place to stay for a few days, and warns Lydia to be careful who she talks to. At many points along the way, there are kind people who offer them refuge, food and kindness.

But there are also people who will take advantage. Lydia has a good sum of money with her and she is warned that at some point she will be robbed. Women are particularly vulnerable, and Lydia becomes protective of Soledad and Rebeca during an frightening encounter. The humanity of some people versus the inhumanity of others is a thought-provoking concept here.

Cummins writes a heart-pounding and heartbreaking story. She combines a propulsive thriller with a timely take on an issue that gives the reader a look into people who are forced to flee their homes to save their lives. Their resolve and resourcefulness is amazing.

American Dirt is simply one of the best novels I have read in a long time. Lydia and Luca are unforgettable characters, and you will furiously turn the pages to find out what happens to them. If you only read a few books this year, be sure one of them is American Dirt. I give it my highest recommendation.

Friday, January 17, 2020

Friday 5ive- January 17, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. The weather here as everywhere has been crazy- 68 degrees on Sunday to 20 degrees today.

1) I heard such great things about the movie Little Women so I bundled up and walked 15 blocks to go to the nearest theater showing the movie. It was fantastic! The performances, from the Oscar nominated Best Actress Saoirse Ronan to Best Supporting Actress  nominee Florence Pugh (whom I have never seen before and she knocked me out), Timothy Chalamet (wonderful as Laurie) to the veteran actors Laura Dern (Marmee), Meryl Streep (Aunt March), Tracy Letts and Chris Cooper (he'll make you cry as Mr. Lawrence) are all brilliant. Greta Gerwig should have nominated for Best Director, she does a phenomenal job here. Every detail is perfect- the cinematography, the production and set design, the costumes- it is all gorgeous. It takes a skilled director to take the story back and forth in time and not once confuse the audience, and Gerwig does it beautifully using color palettes and hairstyles. If you only see one movie this year, see Little Women.  Take your mom, sister, aunt, daughter, sons, husband, and girlfriends too. (And don't forget the tissues.) Find showtimes here.

2) When I go to the grocery store in NYC, I carry my big, sturdy Costco bag that can hold a lot of groceries, but sometimes I go out and can't carry a bulky bag. My sister-in-law gave me this sweet cloth bag with a book design, and it rolls up small enough to fit in my big wallet that I carry everywhere with me. Today I used it when I stopped at the new Target store after my movie theater trip and it is perfect.
My new bag

3) The New York Public Library is celebrating its 125th birthday this year with a new library card honoring the most checked out book in their history- Ezra Jack Keats' The Snowy Day. I fondly remember my mom reading that book to us as kids, and I loved reading it to my boys too.  (We had a lot of snowy days in central New York.) I also learned from our Book Cellar historian Dorothy that Ezra Keats drew a self-portrait that is hanging in our Webster branch of the NYPL. Keats gave it to a woman who founded the Friends of Webster Library years ago, and they gifted it to the branch. It's hanging right inside the door of the library.
Keats' self portrait

4) While shopping in Agata & Valentina, our local Italian specialty shop, I saw an interesting new item- Black Spaghetti. It's made with squid ink. I've seen it on restaurant menus, but never in a grocery store. I'd like to try it, but I'm not sure someone else would be as adventurous. Has anyone made this?

5) What I'm reading this week- I read Michael Finkel's The Stranger in the Woods, the true story of a young man who one day just left his car by the side of the road and disappeared into the woods of Maine for 27 years. He built a tented domecile, and didn't interact with another human being all that time. He broke into vacation cabins to steal batteries, food, books, and propane tanks, and although he never hurt anyone, he made the people in the area very uneasy as you can imagine. It is an unusual story, made more so by the fact that he lived on someone's property and was so close other people but was not caught for 27 years.  People who like true stories will want to read this one.
The Stranger in the Woods

I'm in the middle of a debut novel, Adequate Yearly Progress, by Roxanna Elden, which is billed as "the Office but set in an urban high school" by The Washington Post book reviewer. The setting is a high school in Texas which has a flashy new superintendent who hires a consultant who turns things upside down with all kinds of "improvements" that have long acronyms of nonsense. The more the teacher characters are developed, the more I'm liking it. I think my teacher friends will relate. I'll have a full review when I'm finished.  It publishes February 11th. 
Adequate Yearly Progress

Stay safe and warm my friends!


Wednesday, January 15, 2020

The Most Compelling Books of the Last Decade

Every year since I had my Book Report column in the Citizen newspaper, I have written a year-end column called the Most Compelling Books of the Year. Since we have hit the end of a decade, I decided to review those columns and create the Most Compelling Books of the Decade, pulling one book from each of my annual selections, along with their orginal descriptions. These are books that still today evoke such strong feelings in me, I hope they will in you as well. (Click on the book title under the photo for more information.)

2010- Mary Karr's memoir Lit- This is Karr’s third in a series of memoirs (Liar’s Club and Cherry being the first two), and for my money it is the best of the three. It deals with Karr’s life as a wife, mother, literature professor and alcoholic.  She is a poet, and her prose is so beautiful and deeply felt. Her attempts to get and stay sober are touching, but it is her search for religion that really moved me. Some of this book is set in Syracuse as she teaches at Syracuse University, and the local angle is interesting. 

2011- Jennifer Haigh's novel Faith- Jennifer Haigh wrote one of my favorite novels, Mrs. Kimble, a few years ago, and this year her novel Faith made my list. Set in Boston, a sister tells the story of her half-brother, a priest accused of a crime by a woman he befriends. It is a story not just of faith in religion, but faith in your family. Beautifully written, it will make you think. My full review is here.

2012- Adriana Trigiani's The Shoemaker's WifeAdriana Trigiani has written her most epic novel to date, The Shoemaker’s Wife. It takes us from the Italian Alps in 1907 to New York City and the Metropolitan Opera and ends up in Minnesota, sharing the stories of Ciro and Enza and their lifelong love. It is based on Trigiani’s grandparents, and pays respect to the immigrants who built this country. My full review is here.
The Shoemaker's Wife

2013-  Mary Beth Keane's Fever- Mary Beth Keane’s Fever takes the Irish historical character Typhoid Mary and brings her to vivid life. The characters, the setting, Keane gets all of the details right, and we see how immigrant women, particularly those who were not servile in attitude, were looked upon with suspicion.  My full review is here.

2014- Matthew Thomas' We Are Not Ourselves- Matthew Thomas’ debut novel, We Are Not Ourselves is an emotional book about the daughter of Irish immigrants who lives in Queens, New York, and whose goal is to become part of the middle class. She is on her way, until her husband’s illness derails her plans. My full review is here.
We Are Not Ourselves

2015- Jeff Hobbs' The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace- The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace tells of Jeff Hobbs’ quest to learn what happened to his friend from college. Peace was a young black man who grew up in Newark, New Jersey, the son of hard-working blue-collar worker who sacrificed so her son could go to a good private school and on to college and a drug-dealer who was convicted of murder. Peace was torn between these two worlds and this is an eye-opening book, a must-read for everyone. (My full review here.
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace

2016- Lisa Fenn's Carry On I didn’t read much non-fiction this year, but two titles in that genre made the list, including the one book I was most moved by: Lisa Fenn’s Carry On. Fenn, a producer at ESPN, was looking for a good documentary subject when her father told her about two high school wrestlers — one was blind, the other lost both legs in an accident, and both lived in poverty. Fenn becomes involved in trying to help these young men make better lives for themselves. It restores your faith in humanity and helps you to understand the world better. My full review is here.
Carry On

2017- Ayobami Adebayo's  Stay With Me- The best book I read this year is Stay With Me a debut novel by Nigerian author Ayobami Adebayo. It tells the story of a young married couple in Nigeria who are having trouble conceiving a baby. When the husband’s family insists on bringing in a second wife, it begins a downward spiral. I cried throughout this stunning novel, and when someone asks me what to read, Stay With Me is it.  My full review is here.
Stay With Me

2018- Tayari Jones' An American Marriage- And finally, the book that everyone from Oprah to Michelle Obama has been talking about: Tayari Jones’ An American Marriage. It’s the story of Celestial and Roy, married for a short time when Roy is falsely imprisoned. It’s about loyalty, love and faithfulness set against the subject of mass incarceration. It’s better than everyone says it is, a true American story. My full review is here.
An American Marriage

2019- Lisa Grunwald's Time After Time- I’m not usually drawn to books with a time travel feature, but Lisa Grunwald’s Time After Time utterly captivated me. Set in 1937, a young woman named Nora returns every year on the same day to the place where she was killed in a train accident at Grand Central Station in 1925. When she meets Joe, a railman, they fall in love, but the fact that she disappears complicates things. It is a love letter to Grand Central Station, and a love story for the ages. It asks the question, what would you sacrifice for love? My full review is here.
Time After Time

Monday, January 13, 2020

When Life Gives You Pears by Jeannie Gaffigan

When Life Gives You Pears by Jeannie Gaffigan
Published by Grand Central ISBN 9781538751046
Hardcover, $28, 303 pages

If you're familiar with comedian Jim Gaffigan, you know from his standup routines that he has five children and an amazing wife Jeannie. In addition to parenting their five children Jim and Jeannie write together- his standup comedy specials and books, and they created and produced his sitcom, The Jim Gaffigan Show, based on their family life, that ran for two seasons on TV Land. (You can watch it here- it's fantastic.)

In 2017, while Jeannie had coralled the children to their pediatrician for a visit, the doctor noticed that Jeannie has troubling hearing out of one ear and recommended that she see an ENT doctor. What the doctor found was that Jeannie had a brain tumor the size of a pear.

Jeannie describes what happened next in her memoir When Life Gives You Pears- The Healing Power of Family, Faith, and Funny People. She takes the reader along on her medical journey, through the fears and pain, and yes, because she sees everything though the lens of comedy, the laughter too.

Jeannie Gaffigan is a woman of strong Catholic faith, and she relied on that to help get her through this frightening event. Being the mother of five young children and living in New York City, she is also an extremely organized woman. (Just trying to get the children to their various schools located in all the different corners of Manhattan is a Herculean task.)

And even though the Gaffigans were able to find and afford the best doctors, things can go wrong. After a successful surgery to remove the tumor, Jeannie aspirated and got life-threatening pneumonia in both lungs.

Jeannie's road to recovery would be long and difficult. She and Jim had to rely on neighbors, family, and friends to help care for the children, and for Jeannie when she came home. She takes us through the various nurses, doctors and therapists who helped her get better to get home to her family.

A Shift Schedule was created so that Jeannie wouldn't be alone in the hospital. Her mom flew in to stay with the children. Her many siblings left their own families and jobs to come help out. As the oldest child of nine, Jeannie helped raise some of her siblings and they came to help her in her time of need becasue that's what families do.

I highly recommend When Life Gives You Pears. Jeannie Gaffigan is a terrific writer; her organizational skills, her humor, and her humanity shine through the pages. Most of us will go through some kind of medical episode either ourselves or with someone we love, and we'll be able to relate to Jeannie's journey. I put this one on my annual list of the Most Compelling Books I Read in 2019 (and I read nearly 100), and you should read it in 2020.

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Most Compelling Books of 2019

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

The end of the year means a time of reflection, and for me that means reviewing all of the books that I read and compiling my list of the Most Compelling Books I Read in 2019. They are books that made me think of them long after I finished them, books that affected me deeply. (Click on the title under the book cover for more information.)

I’m not usually drawn to books with a time travel feature, but Lisa Grunwald’s Time After Time utterly captivated me. Set in 1937, a young woman named Nora returns every year on the same day to the place where she was killed in a train accident at Grand Central Station in 1925. When she meets Joe, a railman, they fall in love, but the fact that she disappears complicates things. It is a love letter to Grand Central Station, and a love story for the ages. It asks the question, what would you sacrifice for love? 
Time After Time

Cara Wall's debut novel, The Dearly Beloved tells the story of two young couples. Both husbands are ministers, and share a pastoral appointment to a Greenwich Village church in New York City in the 1960s. One man feels his calling is to support social justice and he is married to a traditional pastor’s wife, while the other man prefers to tend to his own flock, and is married to a woman who has little use for religion. It’s a deeply moving portrait of faith, friendship and marriage. 
The Dearly Beloved

Mary Beth Keane’s third novel, Ask Again, Yes  also tells the story of two intertwined families. Two Irish NYPD officers move their families to a small town in upstate New York. The son of one and the daughter of the other grow close until a tragedy tears the families apart. It follows the families through the years, and it talks of family, love and forgiveness, and the writing is gorgeous. 
Ask Again, Yes

In another story about family and forgiveness, Ann Patchett’s The Dutch House brilliantly tells the story of a brother and sister who lose their mother when she deserts the family, and when their father dies, their stepmother banishes them from the only home they have known. The sibling relationship is moving. 
The Dutch House

Another family drama is J. Ryan Stradal’s The Lager Queen of Minnesota, about two sisters, one of whom inherits their’s father’s land and becomes a hugely successful beer maker, while the other struggles financially. The granddaughter of the less successful sister discovers a talent as a craft beer maker, can it bring the sisters together?
The Lager Queen of Minnesota

Laura Lippman takes us back to 1960s Baltimore in her mystery, Lady in the Lake about a housewife who leaves her family and becomes a reporter for a newspaper. She wants to find out the truth about why a young black woman was murdered and no one seems to care. It’s Lippman’s best book yet. 
Lady in the Lake

Lisa See takes us to world many are unfamiliar with in The Island of Sea Women. On the island of Jeju in South Korea, the women are the breadwinners, diving for fish to sell. Two young girls become friends and See tells their story over the span of their lives. It begins during the Japanese occupation of Korea, through the Korean War, up til 2008. It is harrowing and heartbreaking. 
The Island of Sea Women

Amor Towles’ A Gentleman in Moscow was published in 2016, but I read it this year. In this masterpiece of writing, Towles creates a character of a man under house arrest at a luxury hotel in Moscow for a transgression against the state. He lives his entire existence within the walls of this hotel, and although it should feel small, it feels so big.
A Gentleman in Moscow

A lighter book is Linda Holmes’ Evvie Drake Starts Over about a young widow in small town Maine who takes in a boarder- a major league baseball player who has lost his mojo. It’s a sweet, tender story, and watching their relationship grow is so lovely. 
Evvie Drake Starts Over

I have two nonfiction titles on my list. The first is actress Kate Mulgrew’s How to Forget about the life story of her parents- how they met, fell in love, raised a family and eventually became ill. Her mother suffered from Alzheimer’s and her father had cancer. It’s a realistic look at family, beautiful written. 
How to Forget

Jeannie Gaffigan, mother of five young children married to comedian Jim Gaffigan, finds that she has a brain tumor in When Life Gives You Pears. Her story is scary, and yet she manages to find the humor in her situation. 
When Life Gives You Pears

I hope you read some great books in 2019 and will read many more in 2020.