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Friday, February 28, 2020

Friday 5ive- February 28, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. I can't believe we are at the end of February, the second month of the year. Where has the time gone?

1) It was a beautiful, sunny day on Sunday so my husband and I took a walk through Central Park. At the entrance to the park, we saw this man walking his dogs. He must have a very large apartment on Fifth Ave.

2) Lent began this week and this window display at Scully & Scully is all ready for Easter.

3)  Susan Elia MacNeal's newest Maggie Hope mystery published, The King's Justice, and she had a discussion of the book at The Community Bookstore in Park Slope. A friend and I made the trek to Brooklyn to hear all about this terrific novel in the series (my review here). If you like the Maisie Dobbs or Bess Crawford series, or the Netflix series The Crown, this is for you. I love to hear about the research that goes into historical novels.
Me and author Susan Elia MacNeal

4)  My new TV obsession is the comedy Schitt's Creek. Created by Dan Levy, it tells the story of an obscenely wealthy family, the Roses, who lose their fortune. When the government confiscates everything they own, the only thing they have left is a small town called Schitt's Creek. The four Roses- businessman father Johnny (played by Eugene Levy, Dan's dad), former soap opera actress Moira (Catherine O'Hara), and their adult children David (Dan Levy) and daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy)- reluctantly move to the town and take up residence in the local motel. The small town characters are wonderfully cast as well (Chris Elliot is the town mayor) and the writing and performances are brilliant. I remember Eugene Levy and Catherine O'Hara from Canadian sketch comedy show SCTV, and it's great to see them back together. If you aren't watching Schitt's Creek, catch up now on Netflix or Pop TV.
Schitt's Creek

5) I read one book and am in the middle of two others this week. Bruce Daisley's East Sleep Work Repeat - 30 Hacks for Bringing Joy to Your Job has some great tips for both employers and employees on getting more out of your job and being happier and less stressed at work. A full review will follow next week.
East Sleep Work Repeat

I'm in the middle of Saint X, a debut novel by Alexis Schaitkin. It tells the story of a young American college woman who is murdered while on vacation with her family in the Caribbean. Years later her younger sister runs into one of the men accused but not charged with the murder and begins to follow him everyday. It's based on the Natalee Holloway case, and so far (about 1/3 of the way through) it's really very good. I can't wait to get to the end.
Saint X

I also just started Alka Joshi's novel, The Henna Artist. Set in India just after their independence from Great Britain, we learn about Lakshmi, henna artist to many wealthy Indian women. Lakshmi wants to become a matchmaker so she can realize her dream of owning her own home and bringing her parents there to live. It's a very atmospheric book, you feel like you have been dropped into India, with all the sights and sounds. You can almost taste the delicious foods described. My review will publish in the next few weeks.
The Henna Artist

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

The King's Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal

The King's Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal
Published by Bantam 9780399593840
Hardcover, $27, 352 pages

Now that I have binged the entire three seasons of Netflix's The Crown, I couldn't wait to return to the world of WWII in Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope series with her ninth book, The King's Justice.

We last left Maggie on an island in Scotland where she was forced to stay with other British intelligence agents who had been deemed security risks in The Prisoner in the Castle.  (my review here) Now Maggie is back in London, but she is no longer working for British intelligence.

Her job is still dangerous though, as it is 1943 and Maggie is part of a team who dismantles the many unexploded German bombs that lie in wait around London. She is training a young man, a conscientious objector who wants to do his part.

Maggie is dragged back into her past as the man she shot and helped put behind bars, Nicholas Reitter "the Blackout Beast", a wannabe Jack the Ripper, is awaiting sentencing for his crimes. While he is in prison, a copycat killer is on loose.

Reitter, in a Silence of the Lambs scenario, will only talk to Maggie, so she is pressed back into service to help track down the new killer. The scenes between Maggie and Reitter are incredibly tense, something MacNeal excels at as a writer.

MacNeal also does a great deal of research for her Maggie Hope novels, and in this one we learn about the prejudice facing Italian immigrants in Great Britain during WWII. I had no idea that Italian immigrants were rounded up and placed in custody, much like the United States did to Japanese- Americans following Pearl Harbor.

When it becomes apparent that the killer is targeting conscientious objectors, Maggie believes that that the police, including Detective Chief Inspector James Durgin whom Maggie has worked with and cares deeply about, should warn the objectors. Durgin doesn't want to tip off the killer and refuses, which causes Maggie much anguish.

Now that we are back in London after books set in Paris and Scotland, we see the toll that the war is taken on Maggie and her friends. Maggie is drinking way too much, her flatmates Nigel and his wife Charlotte are having marital problems, and her friend Sarah is still struggling after her horrific intelligence mission in Paris.

The King's Justice gives us everything we want in a Maggie Hope novel- a suspenseful mystery to be solved, catching up with Maggie and her friends, and a new look at a piece of WWII history we knew little about. (And as someone who recently visited the Tower of London, I really enjoyed the ravens section, we loved our tour of the Tower.)

 Fans of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series should begin the Maggie Hope series right away while we await the next Maisie book due in 2021.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Friday 5ive- February 21, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. We were in Florida last week with my brother-in-law and his wife, and the weather was perfect- sunny and 77 degrees everyday. (Sorry, my Central NY family and friends....) So this week's Friday 5ive is really from last week.

1) Our friend George knows how much I like to read books, so he found this cute little deck chair  book chair for me. It's perfect to use at the beach! While I sat in my lounge chair, my book got to lounge as well, and my hands didn't cramp up from reading the three books I finished that week. My Kindle fits well too. Everyday someone would stop and ask me where I got it- I found a sticker on the back that read "thinkinggifts.com", so here is the link in case you want one too.

2)  While out boating, we came upon these beautiful sailboats on Sarasota Bay. They looked so lovely, I had to take a photo.

3) Our Sign of the Week is a funny one we saw at the New Pass Grill when we were getting a breakfast egg sandwich.

4)  My brother-in-law brought his new McLaren car down and wherever we went, it got a lot of attention. Heads turned every time we drove by. He made a lot of new friends last week.

5) Beach time means reading time for me and I was able to read three books last week between the beach and the plane trips. Jenny Colgan's books are perfect beach reading, and her The Bookshop on the Shore continues the story from The Bookshop on the Corner. In this one, single mom Lottie moves herself and her young son to Loch Ness from London, where she takes a job as a nanny to a family of three wild children and their checked-out single father. She also works part-time at Nina's book shop van. Colgan's characters are so vivid, you want to be friends with them, and possibly even move to Scotland. I flew through this wonderful, heartwarming book. 
The Bookshop on the Shore

Brenda Janowitz's upcoming novel, The Grace Kelly Dress tells the story of three woman. Rose is a seamstress in Paris in 1958 who must design a wedding dress for a wealthy socialite, based on Princess Grace Kelly's dress. But she is hiding a big secret from the socialite, one that will destroy everything if it gets out. In 1982 Long Island, prim and proper Joan is engaged to the perfect man and can't wait to wear her mother's gorgeous wedding dress, based on Grace Kelly's dress. If only she was as excited to actually get married. In 2008, Joan can't wait for her daughter, tech CEO Rocky, to wear her wedding dress at Rocky's wedding. But Rocky is not a traditional girl and doesn't know how to tell her mother she can't wear that dress. The way Janowitz intersects these three women's lives is interesting, and each woman's story is equally strong, a feat not easily achieved by most authors. My full review will follow soon.
The Grace Kelly Dress

And lastly, I picked up the latest Read With Jenna's book, Abi DarĂ©'s The Girl With the Louding Voice. Jenna Bush Hager never steers me wrong, and this novel about a young Nigerian girl whose dreams of going to school are dashed when her father marries her off to an older man is so moving and profound. You will root for Adunni to overcome all her troubles to achieve her dream. I absolutely loved it and could not put this book down. My full review will follow soon. 
The Girl With the Louding Voice
It's back to reality and 21 degrees in NYC today. Hope you are safe and warm where you are.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

An Evening With Berkley Authors at the Barclay Book Club

The Intercontinental Hotel held its first Barclay Book Club this week, hosting three authors from Berkley Publishing. Deputy Director of Publicity for Penguin Random House Erin Galloway moderated a panel featuring three authors from their Berkley imprint, Chanel Cheeton (Next Year in Havana), Andie J. Christopher (Not the Girl You Marry) and Lyssa Kay Adams (The Bromance Book Club).

After appetizers, a signature cocktail, (a spritz made with sponsor Pomp & Whimsy gin) and a chance to mingle, the crowd got to hear from the authors. Erin began by asking the authors to give their elevator pitch for their books. Lyssa's The Bromance Book Club is about a group of men, including a famous baseball player, who secretly get together to read romance novels to better understand their women.

Andie described Not The Girl You Marry as an updated gender diversity take on How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days, but this time it's the guy trying to lose the girl. Chanel's Next Year in Havana is a multigenerational story about a young Cuban woman who returns to Havana to spread her grandma's ashes, and uncovers family secrets.
Chanel Cleeton, Andi J. Christopher, Lyssa Kay Adams

Lyssa spoke about being married for 20 years and how she wanted to write about what happens after the happily ever after. She said she has gotten much feedback from readers, stating that they feel she has been in their house, and when she shared that her husband still doesn't know where the towels are kept in their home, the audience of mostly women laughed in recognition. She also got laughs when she said that her husband asks her to make sure she tells readers that this book is not biographical.

Andie shared that she has been dating for 20 years, and the many things that have happened to her on dates definitely informed the "stupid stuff" her main character of Jack does. She also wanted to write from her experience as a biracial woman, as her main character of Hannah is.

Chanel said that her answers "won't be as funny or sexy" as the other authors, and that her inspiration came from her grandma's love of Cuba and that she wanted to explore her Cuban/American experience in her story.

We learned that Lyssa listens to Led Zeppelin's Immigration Song twice to get ready to write, but she doesn't know why. Andie has a day job as an attorney, so she walks her dog at 5am, then writes in the morning for 30 minutes before going to work. Chanel never met a spreadsheet she didn't love (she spoke very fondly of spreadsheets more than once).

Erin posed a question she found on Goodreads, asking the authors to describe the perfect kiss in three words. Lyssa chose spontaneous, lingering, and fuzzy (she was talking about her dog there, which elicited chuckles). She also said forearms should be fuzzy (talking about men). Andie's words were confidence, filthy, and feral, which tells me her books might be pretty steamy. Chanel chose spontaneous, passionate, and romantic. Erin piped in that she "has no problem with a waxed physique".

In some of the more interesting comments, Alyssa said that the romance genre is not about creating the perfect man. She likes to explore what the world looks like through the lens of men versus women, using the example of the different experience of men walking alone at night compared to women walking alone at night. That resonated with all of us.

Andie spoke about wanting to write something for herself- a book about two people coming together as equals, and that it was fun to write a woman who says what she thinks. She said that everyone wants love, even if they aren't "soft".

Chanel spoke about the "ton of badass women" in history, including the Cuban women who fought alongside men in the fight for their independence from Spain. She told us that women ran their families, and shared that her aunt embezzled money from her husband's medical practice to help family members who needed it. She wants to "try to shine a light on forgotten women" in her novels.

Erin asked for a final takeaway from the women. Lyssa wants people to know that problems that may seem insurmountable in a relationship are just a bump in the road. She made everyone laugh when she said that you can't be together for 20 years and not hate your partner at some point. Her grandma told her that someday you will sit across from each other at the table and think "Why?", but that you will get over it.

Andie laughed and said that now she wants to "run right out and get married" after hearing that. She hopes that people laugh and cry reading her books, and realize that no matter who you are, you deserve love.

Chanel wants people to feel entertained, and escape from everything going on. The greatest gift she has received is when people tell her that they see their own family story in her pages.

The audience had some interesting questions. One reader asked Chanel how she heard about Reese Witherspoon choosing her book for her Hello Sunshine Book Club, and Chanel teared up recounting being in the car with her husband when she got an email from her editor's assistant with the subject line "!!!!!".

Another woman asked is they could put their characters in another genre, what would it be? Andie laughed and said that Hannah would be great in True Crime, Lyssa thought that Mac could be in a Self-Help book for his poor fashion sense, and Chanel came up with the Thriller genre.

Upcoming books from the authors include a sequel from Lyssa Kay Adams titled Undercover Bromance (March 10), featuring two characters from The Bromance Book Club who help a woman bring down a serial harrasser chef. Andie J. Christopher's Not That Kind of Guy (April 14) shares the story of Jack's sister and an intern who falls in love with her, even though she is not encouraging him. Chanel Cleeton's next book is The Last Train to Key West (June 16), set in 1935 during a hurricane when three women's lives intersect.

I plan on diving into all six of the books mentioned here, and will post full reviews.

Lyssa Kay Adams' website is here.

Andie J. Christopher's website is here.

Chanel Cleeton's website is here.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Two Funny Books About Marriage

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

With Valentine’s Day in the rear view mirror, it’s intriguing that two new releases deal with marriage and divorce in humorous novels- Matthew Norman’s Last Couple Standing and Gigi Levangie’s Been There, Married That. 

Matthew Norman’s previous novels, Domestic Violets and We’re All Damaged deal with men who are having difficult times in work and marriage. In his latest novel, Last Couple Standing, we get both the husband and wife’s stories. 

Mitch and Jessica met at college, and became one of the Core Four- four men and four women who were friends, and then all paired up and married. The group did everything together- got married, had children, lived in the same city. For nearly twenty years they were inseparable.

And then one of the couples got a divorce. It wasn’t a complete surprise, if they were all to be honest, they knew that Terry and Megan loved each other the least. Terry was cheating on his wife, so divorce was inevitable. 

After the first, came the second, which was more shocking because Sarah and Doug seemed the most in love- until Sarah reconnected with an old boyfriend on Instagram, and Doug became involved with his “work wife.”

Four months later, Amber and Alan got divorced after realizing they were never in love. All this shook Jessica and Mitch to the core. They became afraid that they would catch divorce from their friends, and wanted to find a way to avoid that disease.

Since most of the breakups seemed to be related to infidelity, Jessica and Mitch came up with a plan. They would each have sex with someone else, and get it out of their system to save their marriage. They came up with a set of strict rules, so what could possibly go wrong? Well, a lot it seems.

Norman writes characters that are so relatable, you feel like they are people you know. His dialogue seems like he has eavesdropped on people at the table next to him in a restaurant. He had me laughing out loud at some of his lines, and then in the next paragraph you feel sorry for the characters. Last Couple Standing is a cautionary tale for married adults, where you find that the grass isn’t always greener. I recommend it.

Gigi Levangie’s hilarious novel, Been There, Married That begins with Aggie, the wife of Hollywood uber-producer Trevor, at her 48th birthday party. Of course Trevor has gone all-out for the party, with the most expensive champagne at the hottest restaurant in town. He is excited to give Aggie her gift, which he makes a big production out of presenting to her in front of everyone- a Fitbit.  

And so begins their story. Aggie is a Hollywood wife who has written a novel she hopes will be made into a movie. Trevor is a classic Hollywood husband, who one day decides that he is putting his marriage in “turnaround”- which in Hollywood-speak means he wants a divorce.

Aggie is even more shocked than when he gave her the Fitbit. It appears that their assistant, who now wears her hair like Aggie’s and wears the same clothes as Aggie (wait, are those Aggie’s actual clothes?) is now sleeping in Trevor’s bed. But they just cuddle.

Aggie’s lawyer tells her not to move out of the house, so she is given a schedule of when she can use certain rooms in the house. Trevor does not want to bump into her when he is getting his breakfast.

Eventually Trevor gets nastier (if that is even possible). He sues for custody of their tweenage daughter, whom he never spends time with. Aggie gets even when her sister Fin shows up after a stint in prison. 

Fin is "the Solange to Aggie’s Beyonce"; she will not let Trevor get away with mistreating her sister. Trevor needs everything in its place, like the notepads next to the phone, which must be placed at a specific angle. Fin and Aggie move all of his furniture, and every item he owns in the house, two inches. It drove him nuts.

Been There, Married That is a hilarious novel, perfect for fans of any of the Real Housewives TV series (although I am not a fan of those and I enjoyed this book a great deal). Gigi Levangie knows how to write zinging dialogue, and having been previously married to producer Brian Glazer, she knows this Hollywood scene intimately. If you need a good laugh, pick this book up.

Last Couple Standing by Matthew Norman- A-
Published by Ballantine
Hardcover, $27, 288 pages

Been There, Married That by Gigi Levangie- A
Published by St. Martin’s Press
Hardcover, $27.99, 336 pages

Friday, February 7, 2020

Friday 5ive- February 7, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. Monday it was 59 degrees and a great day to run around and do errands, Wednesday it was freezing cold walking to work. I wish the weather would pick a lane and stay there.

1) The Sign of the Week was outside Olive and Bette's women's boutique. They always have an eye-catching sign and this one made me laugh. Cheers!

2) While looking for a pork loin roast for dinner (I went to four grocery stores before I found one at Fleisher's, a butcher shop), I saw two items from the Finger Lakes region at the butcher shop,  Syracuse Salt Co.'s Flake Salt and Red Jacket Applesauce. The applesauce was delicious with the pork roast, and it was nice to have a little taste of back home.

3) I went to see Tina- The Tina Turner Musical, about the life of music legend Tina Turner on Broadway. I've always been a Tina Turner fan, and saw her at Saratoga Performing Arts Center n the 1980's during her Private Dancer tour. Adrienne Warren was mesmerizing as Tina, not an easy task to portray someone so iconic. The show was fantastic, and she had the audience on their feet, singing and dancing at the end to Simply the Best and Proud Mary. If you come to NYC and want to see a show, this is the one. 

4) Last week was the series finale of The Good Place, starring Ted Danson and Kristen Bell. I've followed this show for four years and I will admit to tearing up many times during the last show. It's such a beautifully written piece about humanity, what we owe each other, the value of friendships, and their version of the final Good Place was just perfection. Executive producer Michael Schur, who also worked on The Office and Parks and Recreation, is the next Norman Lear. If you liked his other shows, catch up on The Good Place on Hulu and Netflix, it is worth it. 

5) I read Ann Napoliatano's beautiful novel, Dear Edward, about a 12 year-old boy who is the only survivor of a plane crash that killed 191 people. He goes to live with his aunt and uncle and has to rebuild his life, along with his new friend Shay. It's a haunting, lovely story that intercuts Edward's life after the crash with the what is happening on the flight before it crashes. It is sad, but also an uplifting story about resilience. 

I just started a debut novel by Gretchen Berg, The Operator. Set in 1952 in a small town in Ohio, Vivian is a telephone operator, back in the days when operators had to connect phone calls for people. (There was no direct dialing.) She likes to listen in on conversations and one day she hears a shocking revelation about herself. I'm about a quarter of the way through and it's interesting so far, especially since Vivian's dad is from Syracuse and she and her husband lived in upstate New York where her husband was a prison guard. I hear Auburn makes a cameo appearance. More on this when I finish the book, which publishes in March. 

Stay safe and warm my friends, I know many of you are having some bad weather out there.

Wednesday, February 5, 2020

Catch And Kill by Ronan Farrow

Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
Published by Little, Brown ISBN 9780316486637
Hardcover, $30, 464 pages

With the Harvey Weinstein trial going on in New York City right now, Ronan Farrow's book, Catch and Kill is a timely read.

Farrow was working as an investigative journalist for NBC News after his afternoon MSBNC show was cancelled. In Catch and Kill, he details how he and his NBC News producer Rich McHugh spent months tracking down women who said that they had been sexually assaulted by mega- Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein.

They tracked down women, like actress Rose McGowan, who had written cryptic tweets about being sexually assaulted by a studio head, and got them to tell their stories on tape. Farrow went to Noah Oppenheim, the executive in charge of the Today show, and Oppenheim encouraged him to keep digging.

But soon that stopped. When Weinstein heard what Farrow was doing, he exerted his considerable influence with the top people at NBCUniversal to put a stop to Farrow's investigation. Farrow also discovered that he was being followed by two shady guys hired by Weinstein to see what he was up to.

Farrow and McHugh eventually were told to stop their investigation, even though they had more than enough evidence to bring the women's allegations to air. Oppenheim, who had been supportive of Farrow, told him they didn't have enough evidence, but he was free to take his story to a print publication.

Which is what Farrow did. David Remnick at The New Yorker magazine welcomed Farrow, and he and his team worked with Farrow to vet all of the evidence, and  published a damning piece in the magazine that went on to eventually win Farrow the Pulitzer Prize in journalism.

Farrow also recounts working on stories about Matt Lauer's sexual abuse allegations that got Lauer fired from Today, as well as the publisher of The National Enquirer 's cozy relationship with Donald Trump. The title of the book, Catch and Kill comes from the Enquirer's policy of paying sources for information about Trump's extramarital affairs, then hiding the evidence in a safe, thereby "killing" the story before the 2016 presidential election.

Reading Catch and Kill, you are astonished at how the circle of wealthy, powerful men who commit these heinous acts intersect, and the people (mostly, but not all, men) who rally around them (including supposedly reputable law firms) to protect them. It will anger you, and rightfully so.

And you will feel anguish for the women who suffered greatly, first after bring assaulted by these men, and then being victimized again after coming out in public with their experiences. The #MeToo movement that enveloped the world came about from the far too many brave who women spoke out on social media about their experiences.

Catch and Kill is well-written, and fast-paced, feeling almost like one of your favorite fictional thrillers. Unfortunately, it isn't fiction, but reality. I highly recommend it.

Farrow also has a podcast that delves deeper into his book. You'll find it here.