Friday, January 15, 2021

Friday 5ive- January 15, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that attracted my attention this week.

1) The merry-go-round of "what to make for dinner" is really wearing on me. I just don't feel inspired to try to new recipes, but on Wednesday I decided to make Pioneer Woman's Bruschetta Chicken. Many of Ree Drummond's recipes can be less than healthy, but this one looked relatively healthy and easy to make. You cube three cups of crusty bread, bake it for five minutes. Dice roma tomatoes, garlic, basil chiffonade, add olive oil, salt, pepper, and balsamic glaze or reduction. Fry chicken cutlets, put on a platter. Add bread cubes to tomato mixture, place on top of chicken, drizzle more balsamic on top, add basil leaves to garnish. It was delicious, so fresh tasting. I will make this one again.
The full recipe is here. 
Chicken bruschetta

2)  I started following a new Facebook group, View from my Window, which is just what it says. During the lockdown in March, a woman started a Facebook group where people would submit photos taken from their windows. I saw a story about it on the Today Show, and ordered the book the creator made from submitted photos. I ordered the book on Tuesday and it arrived in NYC from Belgium on Thursday. Isn't that crazy? I sent a book from NYC to my friend in Elmira, NY on December 7th and she received on January 8th. You can see the story on Today with Hoda and Jenna here.

3) hosted a Bookaccino Zoom on Wednesday. Carol Fitzgerald from puts together a monthly presentation on upcoming books that would appeal to book groups and clubs. If you are a reader, this is a great way to find out about new books, and if you join the presentation live, you can enter to win some of the books. A few of the books discussed that I'm interested in are:
The Children's Blizzard by Melanie Benjamin
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
When Harry Met Minnie by Martha Teichner
Eternal by Lisa Scottoline
You can find out more about Bookaccino here.

4)  I'm watching two new sitcoms. NBC's Mr. Mayor with Ted Danson and Holly Hunter, is created by Tina Fey and has that 30 Rock sensibility and humor. I have laughed out loud at some of the one-liners. Ted Danson is perfect as a retired wealthy businessman who becomes mayor of Los Angeles, and it's great to see Holly Hunter (his nemisis whom he makes his deputy mayor) doing comedy. 

In ABC's Call Your Mother Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer) plays a retired Iowa schoolteacher who moves to Los Angeles where her two adult children reside. It's from the creator of The New Adventures of Old Christine, the Julia Louis-Dreyfus sitcom from the mid-2000s. (Scott and I DVR episodes of that from TV Land and watch it very night before bedtime- it is hilarious!) Episode one was good, I like the cast, Kyra and especially Patrick Brammell as the landlord. It shows real promise. 

5)  I finished two books this week- Serena Burdick's historical novel, Find Me in Havana, a mother-daughter fictionalized account of the life of Estelita Rodriguez, a Cuban actress who came to the United States as a teenager, and made films (mostly Westerns) in the 1950s. I had never heard of her before this book, and her story, particularly her return to Cuba during the revolution, was very interesting. (Che Guevara does not come off well here.) The author interviewed Estelita's daughter for this novel, so there is a real ring of authenticity to it. My full review is here.

Katherine Seligman's At The Edge of the Haight is a novel that won the Pen/Bellwether Prize for socially engaged fiction. She tackles the issue of homeless young people living in San Francisco. One young woman finds a young man in the throes of death in the underbrush of the park, and a man standing over his body. The man threatens her, and now she must live with the fear of his finding her, in addition to all of the other daily stresses of life for a person without a home. Seligman pulls the reader into the everyday life of these young people,  finding food, shelter for the night, and even clean clothes. You feel true empathy for these young people, even if you don't always understand them. These characters will stay with me for awhile. My full review publishes on Tuesday. 

Stay safe, healthy, wear a mask and wash your hands,  get a vaccine when it's your turn and we'll get through this together.

Tuesday, January 12, 2021

Find Me in Havana by Serena Burdick

Find Me In Havana by Serena Burdick
Publsihed by Park Row Books ISBN 9780778389361
Trade paperback, $17, 352 pages

I'm a big fan of novels that feature real people, and Serena Burdick's novel Find Me In Havana tells the story of Estelita Rodriguez, a Cuban actress from the 1950s with whom I was unfamiliar.

Young Estelita came to the United States when she was fifteen years old with her mother. She began as a singer, but her mother Maria encouraged her to become an actress, so they moved to Hollywood where Estelita worked primarily in movie Westerns.

Find Me In Havana tells a fictionalized account of Estelita's life in letters between Estelita and her young daughter Nina. While Estelita spends her time working and socializing with John Wayne and Angie Dickinson, Nina spends her time alone with her grandmother or at her Catholic boarding school near her home.

Nina wants her mother's attention, but Estelita's work consumes her.  Nina's father, popular Mexican singer Chu Chu Martinez who hasn't seen Nina in years, shows up at her school and takes Nina to Mexico, telling her that Estelita no longer wants her. Estelita is distraught, and plots a way to rescue her daughter.

The story moves back to Cuba, where Estelita's father has been taken by the revolutionary forces of Fidel Castro. Estelita, Maria, and Nina go to Cuba, where they find Estelita's sisters and their young children living together in the family home. The men who have not been taken by the revolutionaries have fled to Miami, leaving the women alone.

Soldiers have invaded the home, including Che Guevara. With no men to protect them, the women and children are at the mercy of the soldiers. They have been told not to harm Estelita, as she is their ticket to getting the United States on their side.

The section of the book set in Cuba is the most captivating. Nina enjoys spending time with cousins she has never met, and Estelita revels in being back home with her sisters. The soldiers, however, soon become less amenable, and they become hostile and violent to the women.

One of the themes of this novel is that women, particularly of this time, were at the mercy of men. Nina watched as her four-times-married mother "appeased the good men, hoping they'd stay with you; placated the bad ones hoping they wouldn't hurt you." In the end, it didn't serve Estelita.

I found Estelita's story fascinating, and even more so when I realized that the author exclusively interviewed her daughter Nina. It adds such authenticity to this novel. If you enjoy novels based on real people as I do, Find Me In Havana is one to put on your to-be-read list. I will be looking for more information on the life of Estelita Rodriguez.

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Historical Fiction Winter Blog Tour.

Monday, January 11, 2021

Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump

Everywhere You Don't Belong by Gabriel Bump
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 978164370859
Trade paperback, $15.95, 272 pages

Gabriel Bump dedicates his thought-provoking debut novel Everywhere You Don't Belong to his Grandma and young Black men like Tamir Rice, Mike Brown, Travon Martin, among others. 

Set in the South Shore neighborhood of Chicago, teenage Claude lives with Grandma and her friend Paul. Grandma participated in the civil rights movement of the 1960s. Paul is gay and unlucky in love. Grandma gets Claude into a Catholic school on the other side of the tracks, but Claude is bullied at school because he is "bad at sports, no jokes, no rich parents, no excellent homework to steal and copy."

A few months into his tenure at Catholic school, his Grandma and the nuns had a disagreement about sexual abstinence (Grandma is against it), and Claude and Catholic school part ways. Grandma is quite a character, but she loves Claude.

Basketball was everything in Chicago at this time- the Bulls had Michael Jordan, Scottie Pippen, and Dennis Rodman, who were all on team that won multiple championships. Claude wasn't any good at basketball, but his best friend Jonah was a superstar. When Claude was badly beat up by Jonah's rival, Jonah's parents move him away, and Claude is left alone.

The South Side was also home to the Redbelters, who Grandma says thinks they are Black Panthers, but they recruit kids to sell drugs for them. When Claude and his friends are caught in the middle of a deadly riot between cops and the Redbelters, the neighborhood is being torn apart live on the nightly news.

Claude wants to escape and so he goes to college in Missouri to study journalism. His hopes of being his own person is hindered by his fellow students and teachers who once again want to define him by his race. When a young woman from home tracks him down, he has to decide where his future lies.

Everywhere You Don't Belong is a worthy addition to the best coming-of-age novels, from A Tree Grows in Brooklyn to The Catcher in the Rye to more current ones like Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give. Bump creates a character in Claude who comes alive on the page. Good authors put us in the shoes and minds of their characters, and Bump does that with great empathy and a little humor (Grandma and Paul provide that). I highly recommend Everywhere You Don't Belong, and I'm not alone. The New York Times chose it as one of their 100 Notable Books of 2020.

Thansk for Algonquin Books for putting me on Gabriel Bump's tour.

Friday, January 8, 2021

Friday 5ive- January 8, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. I'm not going to include the ugly event at the Capitol this Wednesday, as I think that captured everyone's attention. Let's hope we can turn a page on January 20th.

1)  I get up at 6:30am and head to the laundry room in our apartment building twice a week. I'm usually the only one down there, so it's a good time to do laundry. When I got up this morning, I saw this beautiful sky over the East River, just as the sun was coming up. It was a very vivid sight to start the day.

2)  My friend from back home Barbara called me this week and cryptically asked if I was home. When I said I was, she said that I was going to get a delivery today, a surprise. A few hours later, an Instacart delivery person rang my door with all the ingredients to make Barbara's famous meatballs and sauce- along with Italian bread and salad. What a thoughtful, lovely gift! She sent me directions on how to make it, and it was the best meatballs and sauce I've ever made. We had it for two nights and put the rest in the freezer. Sometimes I just open the freezer to look wistfully at it. I love this idea, I hope it catches on.

3) I received my medal from my latest virtual bike ride. I have been riding the Ring of Kerry in Ireland, a 124.3 mile journey. I love that I get "postcards" along the way, describing interesting sights along the way. Next up, I'm riding St. Francis Way, a journey from Florence to Rome in Italy. 

4)  My husband and I starting watching Homeland on Hulu (originally on Showtime). Damian Lewis plays a Marine who is rescued after being missing and presumed dead for eight years and held prisoner by Al-Queda. His homecoming is difficult for his family, his fellow soldiers, and a CIA operative played by Clare Danes who has questions about what happened to him while in captivity. We're into season two, and the acting by Lewis, Danes and the great Mandy Patinkin, as Clares Danes' boss, is fantastic. 

5) I'm back in the groove with my reading. I read Mary Higgins Clark and Alafair Burke's latest collaboration, Piece of My Heart, while watching a New Year's Day Odd Couple marathon. The fast-paced novel quickly captured my full attention as I was drawn into the story of a young boy missing from a beach. It's one of a series of books about Laurie Moran, a producer of a true crime TV show (like 48 Hours or Dateline), but you don't to have had read any of the other books to understand this one. I couldn't put it down and it kept me guessing right up until the end.

Gabriel Bump's coming of age novel, Everywhere You Don't Belong was on the New York Times list of the Most Notable Books of 2020. He tells the story of Claude, a young Black boy growing up on the South Side of Chicago with his Grandma and her friend Paul. Good books put the reader into the mind and shoes of their character, and Bump does an amazing job at getting us to understand Claude's life. My full review publishes on Monday. Fans of Angie Thomas' The Hate U Give have their next read.

Julia Claiborne Johnson takes us to a 1938 dude ranch in Reno, Nevada where wealthy women stayed for  while they waited out their six week residency requirement to get a divorce in her delightful novel Better Luck Next Time. It's witty and had me laughing out loud more than once. 

Stay safe, socially distant, wash your hands, wear a mask, and get a vaccine when it's your turn and we'll make it through this.

Thursday, January 7, 2021

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington

The Fortunate Ones by Ed Tarkington
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781616206802
Hardcover, $26.95, 308 pages

Ed Tarkington's novel The Fortunate Ones opens with Charlie Boykin fulfilling his duty as a casualty notifications officer at Fort Campbell, on his way to break the news to a family that their son had died in service to his country.

While there, he sees on the family television that popular Southern Republican Senator Arch Creigh had committed suicide. Charlie is stunned by this news, and the story moves to how a young Charlie, son to a single teenage mother living in the working class section of Nashville, ended up best friends with Arch, the golden boy of Nashville.

Young Charlie was routinely beaten up after school, being the smallest of the few white students at his school. His mom managed to get him a scholarship to the elite prep school, where all of the privileged scions are educated. 
Charlie meets Arch Creigh, who takes Charlie under his wing and introduces him to his best friend Jamie Haltom and Jamie's twin sister Vanessa. Charlie is entranced by Vanessa, but she and Arch have a relationship. Charlie becomes involved in the lives of these three, spending all of his free time with them, and leaving his lifelong best friend Terrence behind back home.

 Charlie becomes seduced  and captivated by the lifestyle of his new friends and their parents. Arch's father died when Arch was young, so Jamie's dad became a surrogate father to him, a role he seemed willing to assume in Charlie's life as well. Jamie's mother drinks heavily.

When Charlie's mom is offered a position as Jamie's mother's personal assistant, he and his mom move into a guest house on the Halstom property. Things are going well for Charlie and his mom, they have moved up in the world.

Secrets and lies abound, and the moral of the story is told by Charlie on the day of his fateful interview at his new school-"If not for that day, I would have never have left East Nashville for Belle Meade, nor would I have understood how much the conditions of life in one world depends on the whims of those who live in another."

The Fortunate Ones is called "a Southern Gatsby", and that is an apt comparison. Much like Charlie is entranced by his new life, Ed Tarkington entrances the reader by bringing us into this world of wealth and privilege, filled with interesting and flawed people. I felt like I was dropped in this Nashville scene. Fans who are missing the writing of Pat Conroy have found a worthy successor. I recommend this one.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Ed Tarkington's tour.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

My Year By The Numbers

The year 2020 is one that is destined to be remembered by us all for a long time. We will look back on it as the year we hunkered down in our homes, trying to stay away from the Coronavirus. When my friend Dorothy and I closed and locked the door at the Book Cellar on March 12th, we did not think we would still be closed ten months later, not knowing when we will go back.

It's been ten months of trying to keep busy at our apartment in New York City- trying everyday to decide  what to make for dinner, figuring out how to order groceries on and Instacart for delivery. We rented a summer home in Westchester and got grocery deliveries from Costco and DeCiccos, a beautiful family-owned grocery store.

On this look back at 2020 by the numbers, we received:
14 deliveries from Wegmans
8 deliveries from Costco (New Rochelle)
4 deliveries from DeCiccos (Pelham) 

Thank goodness we had our Peloton bike, it kept me sane and healthy, and a reason to get out of bed every morning to ride. In 2020:
I rode 2627.20 miles
Took 382 cycling classes (Yacht Rock was my favorite!)
101 Strength classes 
My favorite Peloton instructor- Jenn Sherman

I did 6 virtual bike races- (these total miles are included in the above Peloton numbers)
Summer Around the Finger Lakes- 408.2 miles (cycling around the 11 Finger Lakes- my sons joined in)
WNY Rail Trail Foliage Challenge- 269.26 (the distance of the Western Region and Finger Lakes Rail Trails)
Manhattan to Montauk- 180 miles (two friends joined in)
Run for Ruth- 87 miles
Winter Quest- The New York State Snow Belt from Niagara Falls to Albany- 300 miles
Ring of Kerry- ride around the Ring of Kerry in Ireland 124.3 miles 
My WNY Rail Trail medal and jacket

Of course I read- a LOT. My usual goal is to read 100 books, and I usually end up in the 80-85 book range. There were many days during the summer when I could read a book in a single day. This year-
137 books read
47,507 pages read
113 female authors
24 male authors
113 fiction
24 nonfiction
20 historical fiction
9 thriller/mysteries
21 romance
11 series books
3 books by Jenny Colgan
2 books by Chris Bohjalian
20 books that made multiple Best of 2020 lists
My bookshelves
Here is a link to the best ten books I read this year.

Let's hope for a better 2021, in the meantime, stay safe, socially distant, wear a mask and wash your hands until we can beat this virus with the vaccine.

Friday, January 1, 2021

Friday 5ive- Happy New Year

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post about five things that caught my attention during the week. I think we are all happy to say goodbye to 2020 and look forward to a better year in 2021. 

1) While picking up a few stocking stuffers in my neighborhood Anthropologie store, I found this cute display of spatulas dipped in "frosting" and sprinkles hanging over a holiday display table. They always have such creative displays.

2)  I saw Alan Alda on Good Morning America talking about a new podcast on Audible called Soldiers of Science. It describes how some of the best doctors ended up at the National Institutes of Health. During the Vietnam War, graduates of medical school did not enter the draft lottery, but were automatically drafted. The only option to avoid that was to apply to a program at the NIH. The result was that the NIH got some of the best and brightest doctors to work in research, including Dr. Anthony Fauci. It's four-part series and it's fascinating. I listened to it in two sittings. You can get more information here.

3)  We did two more virtual wine tastings, one with Clos du Val winery in Napa with friends, and a large Zoom one with my husband's family with wines from Del Dotto Winery in Napa. They both were so interesting, we learned about the various regions and how having vineyards a few miles apart can make a difference in the taste of the wines. For the family one we each did a charcuterie board to go with the wines. It's a great way to reconnect with family. 

4)  I finally watched season four of The Crown. It was excellent, and I particularly enjoyed Olivia Coleman (Queen Elizabeth) and Gillian Anderson (Margaret Thatcher) in their scenes together. 

I'm still on my quest to watch as many holiday specials/movies as I can, and this week it was The Happiest Season on Hulu. Kristen Stewart (Abby) and Mackenzie Davis (Harper) are a happy couple until Harper brings Abby home to meet her family at Christmas, and she hasn't told her family that she and Abby are more than friends. Harper's father (Victor Garber) is running for mayor of their town, and all three of his daughters (and wife played by Mary Steenburgen) are very high strung, with some hiding secrets from their parents. I enjoyed Daniel Levy as Abby's friend and Aubrey Plaza as a former high school girlfriend of Harper's. It was not exactly a happy-all-the-time-movie, but it does have a satisfying ending.

5)  I was busy with the holiday, so I only read three books over the last two weeks. I read my Book Of The Month November selection, Lori Nelson Spielman's The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, about two cousins who accompany their elderly great-aunt back to Tuscany to reunite her with her long-lost love and break a family curse that says that the second daughters in each family are doomed to remain unmarried. It was nice to visit Tuscany in a book since we couldn't do it in person.

We've been watching the Showtime limited series Your Honor, and Jon Sealy's new novel The Merciful treads similiar territory. A young woman is killed in a hit-and-run while riding her bike at night in her small town in South Carolina, and the man who killed her claims he thought he hit a deer. We get the stories of the prosecutor, defense attorney, the man who killed her and his wife, the dead woman's boyfriend and more, and how one bad decision can change the trajectory of your entire life. My full review publishes next week. 

Ed Tarkington's novel, The Fortunate Ones, is also set in the South, Nashville this time. Charlie Boykin, born to a single teenage mom who lives in the working class part of town in Nashville, gets the chance to attend an elite private school where he becomes friends with golden boy Arch Creigh, and twins Jamie and Vanessa. As Charlie gets pulled into their rarefied circle, he finds that things are different than they appear. It's a terrific story, and Ed Tarkington is well on his way to becoming a great addition to the Southern canon of writers. It's been billed as "the Southern Great Gatsby" and that is an apt comparison. My full review publishes next week.

I hope you all have a safe, happy, healthy New Year. Continue to remain socially distant, wash your hands, wear a mask, and get the vaccine when and if it's appropriate for you.