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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. 

Friday, August 21, 2020

Friday 5ive - August 21, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. It was a lovely week, weather-wise, with temperatures perfect for sitting outside and reading.

1) We found a new tasty cheese to add to our charcuterie platter- Yancey's Fancy Steakhouse Onion Aged Cheddar Cheese. Every person who tried it immediately asked me what flavor it was. If you like French Onion Dip and cheese, this is your new snack.

2) I watched a delightful Facebook Live with Adriana Trigiani interviewing two authors whose books I enjoy- J. Courtney Sullivan and Eloisa James. J. Courtney Sullivan's new novel, Friends and Strangers, captures the story of a young mother who befriends the college student she hires as her nanny. She is so good at getting you to empathize with her characters. I met Eloisa James at a book launch party for Beatriz Williams a few years ago and she was so lovely. Her historical romance novels are very steamy, with touches of unexpected humor. Both conversations were lively and interesting. You can watch it here.

3) The Democratic National Convention was held virtually this week and there were some terrific moments. For the roll call of states, we took a tour of the United States as people from each state were videoed from their home state to share their delegate vote. The Chicks performance of the National Anthem on Thursday was thrilling, with their harmonies blending so beautifully. But the moment that touched everyone was a 13 year old boy from New Hampshire, Brayden Harrington, who met Joe Biden on the campaign trail. Brayden has a stutter, and Biden took him aside and gave  him some advice that helped Biden overcome his own childhood stuttering problem. You could almost feel everyone cheering on Brayden through their TV screens as he told his story. What a brave young man! 

4) If you are looking for a good belly laugh, download the Quibi app and watch Mapleworth Murders. It's a takeoff on Murder, She Wrote, starring the hilarious Paula Pell in the Angela Lansbury role. Each episode is 10 minutes long, and they release three episodes every Monday. Fans of 30 Rock and Saturday Night Live will love it.

5) I read five books this week. Jacqueline Woodson's Red At The Bone is a slim novel that tells the entire story of three generations in a black family. It is a stunner.
R. Eric Thomas ' Here For It is a funny and touching memoir about growing up black, gay and Christian.
Sue Monk Kidd's The Book of Longings is a historical fiction about the wife of Jesus. It is a brilliant piece of work, and fans of The Red Tent will love it.
Foodie and romance fans should pick up Yaffa S. Santos' A Taste of Sage, which has lots of recipes inside for Dominican dishes. It's the tale of a female Dominican chef who loses her NYC restaurant and has to go to work for an arrogant chef.
Byron Lane's novel, A Star Is Bored, is a fictional account of a Hollywood star's assistant that was based in part on his real life role as Carrie Fisher's assistant. 

Stay safe, socially distant and well.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

When I Was You by Amber Garza

When I Was You by Amber Garza
Published by MIRA Books ISBN 9780778361046
Trade paperback, $17.99, 368 pages

If you like reading psychological thrillers that leave you breadcrumbs along the way to try and figure out what is going on, Amber Garza's new novel, When I Was You, is your next good read.

Kelly Medina is a empty nester, with her son Aaron off to college ten long hours away. Her husband Rafael is a professor at a college two hours away, and he lives there during the week, returning home on weekends.

Things don't seem good between Kelly and Rafael, Kelly talks about how he was very hard on Aaron growing up, and not always kind to his wife either. Kelly is lonely, has no job, and only a few friends with whom she goes to yoga class and lunch.

She gets a call one day from Aaron's pediatrician reminding her of a well baby appointment the next day. Knowing it can't be for her, she tells the receptionist who discovers there is another Kelly Medina in town, and apologizes for the mixup.

Curious, the next day Kelly drives to the doctor's office and waits in the parking lot. She sees a young woman struggling to get her baby out of the car, and when the baby loses a sock, Kelly jumps in to the rescue. She introduces herself, and the younger Kelly is surprised to find out they have the same name.

Older Kelly befriends the younger Kelly. She is drawn to baby Sullivan, and wants to help the new mom out. She is shocked at the home they are renting; it is in dirty disarray and there is no crib, high chair or furniture. Kelly goes on a major shopping spree for the new mom and baby boy. The young mom is grateful, but wary of this insistent older woman.

We're given clues that something happened to Kelly, and it involved a child not her own. Her friend Christine is very concerned about her well-being, and becomes worried when Kelly tells her that she has befriended the new mom. Rafael is concerned as well, on the rare occasions he talks to his wife. We know that Kelly sees a therapist, but we don't know why.

Along with the aforementioned breadcrumbs along the way, there is a big twist at the end that I didn't see coming, and it is a shocker. (Although there seems to be one plot point I couldn't quite wrap my head around.)  If you are a fan of the Lifetime movies, When I Was You would make a perfect addition to their collection. 

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer Mystery & Thrillers Tour. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Here To Stay by Adriana Herrera

Here To Stay by Adriana Herrera
Published by Carina Press ISBN 9780369700926
Ebook, $3.99 

If you think that a romance novel whose main characters are a social worker and financial analyst/consultant sounds a little on the tame side, Adriana Herrera's Here To Stay is here to prove you wrong.

Julia left her Dominican mother and grandmother, Puerto Rican father, and her younger sister to move from New York City to Dallas to follow her boyfriend to his new job. After a few weeks, he left her for another woman, and she was stuck with a two year lease on an apartment.

She found a job working for a foundation, funded by Dallas' most prominent luxury clothing store. She works with immigrants and their children, helping them stay in school and adjust to their new life. 

Julia loves her job, which could be in jeopardy.  A member of the family who owns the store wants to take the company public, and has hired a consulting firm to analyze and make recommendations, which he hopes means getting rid of the foundation to increase stock prices and executive salaries.

Rocco is the head of the consulting firm, the one who will make the recommendation. He is also from New York and Julia is attracted to him, but after her last romantic fiasco, she is skittish. Rocco is attracted to Julia and would like to get to know her better, even though that will make both of their jobs more difficult.

When Julia forms a Gotham Exiles Club, made up of young people from New York, Rocco ends up with an invitation and sparks fly between the two of them. How long will it be before they give into temptation? (The answer is not long.)

There is so much to enjoy about this book. I loved getting to know Julia's family when they come to surprise her at Thanksgiving. Reading about the delicious-sounding Dominican dishes that are served had me searching recipe boards to try them out, and the sprinkling of Spanish words and phrases gave me the opportunity to recall my high school Spanish.

The Gotham Exiles Club members are interesting, and their text chain is humorous. The twin sisters whose family owns the store, fifty-somethings Muffy and Mitzy, are delightful. Maybe we will see a sequel (or prequel) with these interesting characters in the future?

This is not your grandmother's romance novel; the sex scenes are graphic and the language is as well. If that is not your thing, this book is not for you. But if you like a novel that gets you gets you hot and bothered, with characters you care about, you should put Here To Stay on your To-Be-Read list. 

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Adriana Herrera's tour. 

Sunday, August 16, 2020

The Dazzling Truth by Helen Cullen

The Dazzling Truth by Helen Cullen
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525815829
Trade paperback, $17.99, 336 pages

The reality of how one family member's crippling depression and anxiety affects an entire family is at the heart of Helen Cullen's emotionally powerful novel, The Dazzling Truth

Murtagh is dazzled by Maeve the moment he sees her at Trinity College in Dublin. Maeve is from Queens, New York, studying acting in Dublin. Murtagh creates ceramic pottery. They fall in love and marry, Maeve leaving her home in America to stay in Ireland.

When Murtagh gets the opportunity to apprentice with a talented potter on a rather isolated island near Galway, they pack up and move away from Dublin. Maeve gives up her dreams of acting to allow Murtagh to achieve his.

They have four children in succession- daughter Nollaig, twin boys Mossy and Dillon, and the youngest girl Sive. Maeve wants to be a good wife and mother, but her lifelong battle with depression and anxiety becomes worse with each year. Giving up the thing that brought her joy and meaning, acting, makes matters worse.

Murtagh tries to help his wife, but as the children grow up, it is difficult for them to understand why their mother is different. She can't be counted on to attend school functions, and she spends days, sometimes weeks, locked up in her dark room and wandering the countryside at night.

On Christmas Eve in 2005, when the family should be celebrating Nollaig's birthday, a tragedy shatters the family forever. The novel travels back and forth in time, and we see how Maeve's crippling battle with depression affects all of them. It is never discussed openly, and not facing it has long lasting repercussions.

Nollaig gives up her plans to become a midwife to stay home, Sive leaves home to becomes an artist. Dillon travels in his work as a musical talent booker, and can't seem to have a meaningful relationship with women. Mossy seems to be the only one who is truly happy. He loves his work as a librarian, marries Kalindi, a lovely, kind woman who has her own career, and they have two young children.

It all comes to a head on Nollaig's 30th birthday, when she begs her entire family to please come home for her big party. 

The Dazzling Truth is a beautiful, moving story about a family living with a secret no one wants to name out loud. Each character comes to vivid life, especially Maeve. We see her struggle with not only her illness, but the regret of not following her dream. She loves her husband and her children, and wants to be a better wife and mother. This book touched me deeply, and if you don't have tears in your eyes at the end of the book, I'm not sure you have a heart. I give The Dazzling Truth my highest recommendation.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Helen Cullen's tour. 

Friday, August 14, 2020

Friday 5ive- August 14, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. After a week with power for so many people in the tristate area, most have power back on, but it should not take that long to do it.

1) We made a trip to the new Wegmans in Harrison, NY to restock the refrigerator in Westchester. It’s a huge store and we were happy to enjoy an All-American Sub for dinner. Of course we bought a Wegmans chocolate cake for dessert for dinner the next night. You can’t beat Wegmans for customer service. They had lots of staff on hand to help customers. 

2)  I love this sign I saw on my walk. Every time I see one in someone's yard, it renews my faith in humanity.

3) I'm enjoying the Artist Series rides on Peloton. I've done Dolly Parton, Whitney Houston, Cher, and this week the newest one was Prince. They played all of the classic Prince hits and it was a blast riding to all my favorite songs. 

4)  My sister recommended that we watch the documentary Lenox Hill on Netflix, and we are hooked. The hospital is a few blocks from us, and we are so impressed with the doctors highlighted on this engrossing series. Two of the doctors are expecting babies and I am amazed at how they do their very intense jobs while pregnant.

5) I read three books this week. First up is The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim about a young  woman who finds her mother dead on her living room floor and discovers secrets about her mother's past that affect her. It's beautifully written, and if you liked Jean Kwok's Searching For Sylvie Lee, this one is for you. My full review posts next week.
Erica Katz's The Boys Club is like Erin Duffy's Bond Girl (one of my favorites) but set in the world of Big Law instead of high finance. It's fast paced, and you cringe as you watch the protagonist make bad decisions as she tries to survive in the high stakes world of mergers and acquisitions.
Last up is R. Eric Thomas' hilarious Here For It, a series of essays about growing up black, gay and Christian in Baltimore. He writes a column for ELLE magazine, and the way he looks at the world is laugh out loud funny.

I hope you stay safe and healthy and socially distant. Wash your hands and wear a mask.

Friday, August 7, 2020

The Friday 5ive- August 7, 2020

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. While it seems like we are caught in an endless time loop (like the Hulu movie, Palm Springs, I wrote about last week), this week had a new twist- a tropical storm that led to a week-long power outage!

1) On Tuesday, tropical storm Isaias hit New York. I spent most of the afternoon trying to keep the chairs on our balcony from flying away, and I was successful, although a little bit soggy. I did see a small table whip by our balcony from one of neighbors' balconies. I hope no one was injured when it landed. We are renting a house in Westchester on the weekends, and they got hit pretty badly. Trees down all over the place, and the power will be out probably until Monday. At least we have another place to stay, so many people there, on Long Island, and in New Jersey and Connecticut will be suffering for almost a week.

2) While running errands here in the city, I saw a lovely exterior display on a new day spa, Upkeep. It's nice to see something so pretty on a city side street. I wish them the best of luck. 

3) I also saw this popup Liitle Free Library on the sidewalk. I guess someone wanted to share their books and thought this was the best way. It does appear that some of the books were claimed. There's some good ones left- Ragtime, The Color of Water, The Things They Carried.

4) The New York Public Library hosted a discussion of Fiona Davis' new historical mystery novel, The Lions of Fifth Avenuewith Zibby Owens of the podcast Moms Don't Have Time To Read Books. I read Davis' book and really enjoyed it. Part of it is set in 1913, where the superintendent of the main branch of the NYPL and his family live in an apartment inside the library. When rare books go missing, who is the main suspect? I have taken the guided tour of the library a few times, and got so much more out of the book because I did that. It was interesting listening to Davis talk about her research for the book. It was chosen as Good Morning America's August Book Club read. Click here to watch the discussion.

5) Buckle up, because I read five books last week. In addition to The Lions of Fifth Avenue, I read Allison Winn Scotch's novel, Cleo McDougal Regrets Nothing, about a congresswoman who is planning a run for President when her best friend from high school pens an op-ed piece about why she is a horrible person. If you have Amazon Prime, it is a free read on Kindle, and well worth it. It has a lot to say about women's roles today. 

 For a different kind of political novel, The Day That Lincoln Lost by Charles Rosenberg is an alternate history political thriller about the election of 1860, and the trial of a female abolitionist whose lawyer is none other than Republican nominee for president, Abraham Lincoln. History and politcial junkies will enjoy it. My full review is here. 

Fans of Christina Baker Kline's The Orphan Train and Lisa Wingate's Before We Were Yours will want to read Ellen Marie Wiseman's The Orphan Collector. Set in Philadelphia during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, it's the story of a 12 year-old girl who loses her mother to the pandemic and then must find out what happened to her twin baby brothers. It's a riveting story, and I read it in one day. I couldn't put it down. 

Lastly, Helen Cullen's novel, The Dazzling Truth is about a family living on an island near Galway off the Irish coast. The mother has crippling depression and anxiety, and her illness impacts the entire family. It's beautifully written, and your heart will break for all of them, but especially Maeve, the mother. I highly recommend it, and my full review will publish on Tuesday.

Stay safe,socially distant, wash your hands and wear a mask everyone, I hope we don't have to dodge swarms of locusts next week.

The Day Lincoln Lost by Charles Rosenberg

The Day Lincoln Lost by Charles Rosenberg
Published by Hanover Square Press ISBN 978-1335145222
Hardcover, $27.99, 432 pages
If you are someone who thinks that this time in our political history is unprecedented, Charles Rosenberg's alternate history political thriller, The Day Lincoln Lost, may disabuse you of that notion.

Abraham Lincoln is laying low, waiting out his time as the Republican nominee for President in 1860 at his home in Springfield. Abby Kelley Foster, a famous abolitionist speaker, was asked to give a talk at a local church about the need to end slavery now. She was not a fan of Lincoln's gradual approach to end slavery, and let everyone know that, even in his hometown of Springfield.

Lucy, a twelve year-old girl who had escaped slavery, was captured and jailed in Springfield, awaiting her return to Goshorn, the man who "owned" her. Foster encouraged the crowd to "do something about this", and the crowd surrounded the carriage she was being taken away in. Lucy and Goshorn disappeared into the night.

Foster was arrested for inciting the riot and placed in the Springfield jail. Abraham Lincoln and his law partner Billy Herndon reluctantly agree to represent Foster at her trial, after much discussion about how this will politically affect Lincoln's run for president.

They strategize that the best outcome would be to find Lucy and Goshorn, so they turn to the Pinkerton Detective Agency. Pinkerton puts one of his best agents on the job- a woman by the name of Annabelle, who just so happens to have grown up on a plantation neighboring the missing slave owner.

I liked that the novel had two women who were in roles not usually occupied by females- lecture speakers and detective. The inclusion of actual people in the story, both famous- Lincoln, Allan Pinkerton, and Frederick Douglass- and less well known made for a more interesting story.

President James Buchanan, widely considered one of our worst presidents, is seen here as someone who cares little of the serious problems facing his country, and more concerned with the machinations to  defeat Lincoln. That section may have some resonance for readers today. 

One paragraph that particularly struck me is this: 
"There is such bitterness in our politics now that people want to avoid arguments with their neighbors, their families, and the people they work with. Or, if they are merchants, with the people they sell goods to."
I guess the rancor we see today didn't start with Twitter; it has been with us a long time.

In this novel, the election of 1860 was not decided immediately by popular vote. No candidate received enough electoral votes to claim victory, which sends the vote to the House of Representatives. (Political junkies will truly enjoy this section of the novel.) I only hope our upcoming election is easier.

The Day Lincoln Lost will appeal to people who like historical fiction as well as political thrillers. The writing is crisp and the characters well drawn. And it reminds us that this union has survived difficult times in the past, and will do so in the future.

Thanks to Harlequin/Hanover Square Press for putting me on Charles Rosenberg's tour.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

With or Without You by Caroline Leavitt

With Or Without You by Caroline Leavitt
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616207793
Hardcover, $26.95, 288 pages

Author Caroline Leavitt's novels share stories of people facing some kind of crisis, often ones not of their design. In Pictures of You, a car crash causes the death of a woman that upends the life of the other driver. In Cruel Beautiful World, Charlotte's life is thrown into turmoil when her younger 16 year-old sister runs away with her teacher. She creates characters that you empathize with, and feel deeply about.

Leavitt's latest novel, With or Without You, begins with Stella and Simon, who have been together for twenty years, having a recurring argument. Stella, a nurse, wants to settle down, buy their New York City apartment, and have a child. Simon, a rock musician, does not.

Simon is preparing to go Los Angeles with his bandmates to open for a younger, popular rocker. He sees this as an opportunity for the band to break out and gain the attention they have been seeking for the last twenty years. Times have been tough for them, and this may be their last best chance.

Stella is suffering from a terrible cold, and instead of going to Los Angeles with Simon as planned, she says that she will stay in New York. At first upset, Simon tries to talk her into coming, even though maybe deep down, he thinks it would be better for her not to go. 

During the argument, they are drinking wine, and Simon gives Stella a pill to take to feel better. The next morning, Simon has to rush the unconscious Stella to the hospital where she works, after she has fallen into a coma.

Libby is an attending doctor and one of Stella's best friends. She is on Stella's case, and not a fan of Simon, whom she thinks is selfish. But Simon stays by Stella's side the entire time, giving up his trip to Los Angeles and dreams of stardom.

Stella's mom Bette flies in from Spain, and she and Simon form their own new family as they wait by Stella's bedside for her to wake up. The relationship between Simon and Bette is touching, and we see a side to Bette that Stella doesn't know. Libby comes to see another side of Simon as well.

When Stella eventually wakes up, she is a different person. She begins drawing circles on paper, over and over. She goes to the park and feels compelled to sketch people. Her drawings are so intense, and she becomes a popular attraction. People begin to pay her for her drawings, and soon she gets commissions for her sketches and draws the attention of the media.

Simon doesn't know what to make of this. All his life he has been an artist, and wanted attention for his work, and now Stella is the one whom the world notices. 

No one writes characters as well as Leavitt, and here we see how the circumstances of Stella's coma have changed the lives of not only Simon and Stella, but Libby's as well. People are forced to look at the life they had wanted but must deal with the life they now find themselves facing. 

 I liked how Leavitt looks at memories that we have of our childhood, and assumptions we make about those we love that turn out to be different from we had always believed. The characters in With Or Without You go through such emotional and physical upheavals, and the reader is right along with them for all the heartache. I read With Or Without You in one sitting, my heart breaking the entire time. I highly recommend it, and Caroline Leavitt gets better with every novel.

 Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Caroline Leavitt's tour.

Monday, August 3, 2020

Two Terrific Novels Featuring Fascinating Women

Reprinted from auburnpub.com: 

Many of the main characters in novels tend to be young females (age 30 and under), and since I am a little bit older than that, I enjoy finding novels that feature main characters closer to my age. I like being able to relate to their stage of life. 

This month’s Book Report has two novels who have main characters who have lived a little, have more experiences in their lives to draw upon.

Jane L. Rosen’s novel, Eliza Starts A Rumor is set in a beautiful bucolic town in the Hudson Valley, a bedroom community a few hours from New York City. Eliza is awaiting a visit home from her twins, a son and daughter, who are in their first semester at college.

What her children and husband don’t know is that Eliza is suffering from agoraphobia. The thought of leaving the house to go anywhere, even to the grocery store, sends her into a severe panic. 

This happened once before, when Eliza was in high school. For a number of months she refused to get out of bed, something that puzzled her mother and her best friend Amanda. This time around, she has a relapse after her children’s high school graduation.

Eliza has run the Hudson Valley Ladies’ Bulletin Board for fifteen years on social media. Mothers use it as a resource to discuss issues, like where are the best story times for children, and laundry tips. 

A new mother’s group has popped up, one where women graphically discuss their sex lives and their husbands’ shortcomings. When Eliza finds out that this group has more followers than her group, she decides to fight fire with fire.

She notices that a man is always stopping by her neighbor’s house during his morning run, and she makes up a story about two people who are having an affair. Her post gets a lot of attention and more followers, but it also causes big problems.

When Olivia, a young mom, reads this, she thinks it is her husband who is having an affair. She meets Allison, a lawyer who is a single mom to her child. Allison starts a friendship with a woman on the social media board who is not what she seems, and she meets a single dad of a tweenage girl, whom she begins to date.

Allison offers to help Olivia find out if it is her husband who is the cheater, and they end up beginning a friendship with Eliza and her childhood friend Amanda, whose Hollywood producer husband is caught up in the #MeToo movement.

The four women join together to help Olivia discover the truth. The story of their unlikely friendship drives this lovely story, and I related to Eliza having to deal with empty nest syndrome with her children away at school. I highly recommend Eliza Starts A Rumor for anyone who enjoys a story about women of every age coming into their own.

Amy Poeppel’s new novel, Musical Chairs also deals with a mom who has adult twins. Bridget is excited to be spending her summer at her rather rundown vacation home in Connecticut with her boyfriend. 

When he breaks up with her in an email after his ex-wife tells him he should, Bridget’s daughter quits her finance job in Hong Kong, and her newly married son shows up without his husband, her summer plans have drastically changed, and her house fills up.

Bridget’s best friend and musical partner Will will be spending the summer as well, as they must rehearse with the new member of their classical musical trio, hoping to revive their career. 

Oh and Bridget’s elderly father Edward, a highly respected composer, has announced that he will be marrying his deceased wife’s friend, which throws everyone into a frenzy.

Musical Chairs is a hilarious, sweet story filled with characters that you will want to hang out with. Reading this delightful novel makes you feel like you are a part of the story, as each of the characters is so interesting, especially Edward’s young assistant Jackie, a young city woman who is perplexed by these rich people. The scene where she gets drunk at Bridget’s house is howlingly funny. I adored everything about this book, and if you are looking for something light, an escape from the reality of our lives today, Musical Chairs is the cure.

Eliza Starts A Rumor by Jane L. Rosen- A

Published by Berkley

Hardcover, $26.99, 308 pages

Musical Chairs by Amy Poeppel- A+

Published by Atria/Emily Bestler Books

Hardcover, $27, 416 pages