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Friday, February 26, 2021

Friday 5ive- February 26, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. I can't believe it's the last Friday in February, time is flying by.

1)  After watching the first two episodes of Stanley Tucci -Searching for Italy on CNN, it made us long for our trips to Italy and all the fabulous food we had there. While placing an order from Vincent's Meat Market in the Bronx this week, I saw that they had Guanciale, a cured meat product (like pancetta) made from pork cheek and jowls. As that was a featured ingredient in one of the fantastic looking dishes on this week's episode, I ordered some. Now I just need to find that recipe....

2)  Today is National Take A Walk Day, highlighting the health advantages of walking outside. Al Roker from the Today Show walked from his home near Central Park to the Today Show studio on Fifth Ave. and 49th Street, a pretty decent walk, at least a few miles. I did my walk a few days earlier on Tuesday, walking 6 miles from our apartment on on the Upper East Side to run errands (post office, dry cleaner, drug store, grocery store) to the Barnes & Noble store on Fifth Ave. and 46th Street (very near the Today Show studio) and back home. On Sunday, we had six people from our family on their Peloton bikes doing Jenn Sherman's live 80's ride, which was a lot of fun. Exercise is a good antidote to being cooped up inside all day. The Today Show has a 31-day walking plan that looks great.

3)  This week was filled with online book discussions . The Peloton Moms Book Club hosted a Facebook Live with author Jane L. Rosen, discussing her wonderful novel, Eliza Starts A Rumor, about four women who live in a bucolic Hudson Valley town and form a bond over a rumor gone wild. It's about social media, marriage, friendship, and reaching out to others. I loved the book, my review is here. Thanks to Jennifer for hosting the discussion.

Next up was a large (250+) Zoom gathering with author Sarah MacLean in discussion with Lauren Willig about Lauren's first novel in her Pink Carnation spy series, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. Published in 2003, the book is set in 1803 as British spies are embedded in Paris to try and foil Napoleon's plans to invade England. I so enjoyed the discussion, and look forward to joining in for the next 11 books in the series. Each month for a year we will read the next book in the series and discuss. You can watch it here. Join in the fun!

The last one was Adriana Trigiani's Facebook Live talk with Matthew McConaughey about his critically acclaimed memoir Greenlights. It was such an entertaining and fascinating discussion! Adriana asked great questions and Matthew was a wonderful guest, regaling us all with stories from his childhood and acting career. I must read this one. 

4) We binge-watched all seven episodes of The Queen's Gambit on Netflix this week. Lots of my friends have recommended it, including my son, and once we started it, we were hooked. It tells the story of Beth Harmon, a young girl orphaned when her mother commits suicide. Beth is sent to live at a girls' school where the school janitor teaches her to play chess and discovers she is a prodigy. Set in the 1950s-1960s, we see how Beth becomes a world-class chess champion, fighting sexism and her own demons. I never thought anyone could make watching chess interesting, but they sure do here. This is must-see TV, and Anya Taylor-Joy is a phenomenal as Beth. She may win a Golden Globe this weekend for her performance. The music is great too.

5) In preparation for the Zoom this week, I read Lauren Willig's The Secret History of the Pink Carnation. What a fun read it was! It's got history, romance (a few steamy sexy scenes), spies, action, strong women, humor and more all rolled up into a rollocking good read. In the present day, graduate student Eloise Kelly sets out to discover who the mysterious Pink Carnation spy was during the time Napoleon was about to invade England. She is led to letters written by a young Amy Balcourt, which make up the bulk of the story. Amy, her cousin Jane, and chaperone the tough and prim Miss Gwen travel to Paris to stay with Amy's brother, and they get caught up in intrigue with the Purple Gentian, a masked man who is a thorn in the side of Napoleon's Chief of Police. If you smugly assume (as I did) that you guessed who the Pink Carnation was (wasn't it obvious?), you will enjoy the denouement of this delightful story. I loved the characters (especially Miss Gwen) and there are so many great scenes here that scream out for a Netflix series. If you liked Bridgerton, The Secret History of the Pink Carnation is your next read.

Stay safe, socially distant, wear a mask, wash your hands, and get the vaccine when it's your turn. Yay for those of you who have already gotten yours!

Friday, February 19, 2021

Friday 5ive- February 19, 2021

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

1)  Sunday was Valentine's Day, and I saw on CBS Sunday Morning that Martha Stewart had a delicious brunch recipe for Grand Marnier French Toast. It was too late to make it for brunch on Valentine's Day, but I made it the next morning and it was so tasty. Adding milk to the eggs, and using a good brioche bread made the difference. This recipe will be in regular rotation. The video is here if you want to make it.

2)  I received my medal for my 7th virtual bike ride since this summer. I rode the 312.4 mile St. Francis Way from Florence to Rome in Italy. I finished it in 23 days, and I enjoyed getting my "postcards" along the way. You can join virtual walks/rides across the world through The Conqueror Challenge here.

3)  Zibby Owens' essay anthology collection, Moms Don't Have Time To- A Quarantine Anthology published this week and she hosted a Zoom with the 50 authors who each wrote a short essay for the book. It was a fun Zoom, with Zibby asking each author a question that related to their section. The authors of READ shared book recommendations that got them through the pandemic, and there were so many great books there. (My To-Be-Read pile expanded exponentionally.) The authors from EXERCISE shared their pandemic exercise routine, EAT section writers spoke of the food they couldn't live without during pandemic, SEX section writers answered the question "When do you find time for sex?" (mornings were popular), and BREATHE authors shared how they catch their breath during pandemic (everything from yoga to looking into a baby granddaughter's eyes to painting family members' portraits). It was one of the best Zooms I have had the pleasure of joining, and Zibby had it so well organized, it was over in an hour. The proceeds from the book go to COVID research, and the book is great for those of us who have shortened attention spans now.

4)  While looking for a documentary to watch on Netflix, we found Tricky Dick & the Man in Black, about the time when President Nixon asked Johnny Cash to play at the White House. In 1970, Nixon was trying to solidify his Southern base, which up to that point were usually reliably Democrats. Many Southerners were turned off by the protests against the Vietnam War, they saw the protesters as unpatriotic. Nixon's advisers thought that bringing popular country performer Johnny Cash would appeal to the South. Cash was opposed to the war, but he did not want to turn down the President. The archival footage of the White House performance is terrific, and the song choice is pure Johnny Cash. I recommend it for Johnny Cash fans. 

5) I spent a lot of time working on our taxes this week, so I only read 1 1/3 books. I started and finished Mateo Askaripour's hilarious and deep debut novel, Black Buck. Darren lives with his mother and when he is not working as a shift supervisor at Starbucks, he is spending time with his girlfriend. Darren was valedictorian of his competitive high school in New York City, but didn't go to college. His mother wants him to find his niche, and when a start-up CEO offers Darren a position as a salesman at his company, Darren reluctantly accepts. As the only Black man at the startup, Darren has to live with the constant microaggressions (a running gag is everyone at the company telling him he looks like every Black man from Morgan Freeman to Barack Obama) and outright hostile racism. This book is phenomenal, I literally could not put it down, I can see why Jenna Bush Hager chose it as her January book club pick for the Today Show.  I love a book when I don't where it's going, and it suprises me. I give it my highest recommendation. 

I'm one-third through my Book Of the Month Club pick, Kristin Hannah's The Four Winds. Set in 1934 during the Dust Bowl, Elsa and her family live on her husband's family's farm in Texas and things are going well until a severe several year drought and the Great Depression forces them to make a decision- stay in an untenable situation or head to California where so many families are moving hoping for a new start. The characters are relatable, and Hannah brings them and their desperate situation to life. She has a real knack for putting the reader in her characters' shoes, and this book has garnered much praise already.

Stay safe and socially distant, wear a mask, wash your hands, and get the vaccine when it's your turn. And to those of you have already done that, yay for you!

Thursday, February 18, 2021

New in Paperback- All The Ways We Said Goodbye by Team W

All The Ways We Said Goodbye by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig and Karen White
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062931102
Trade paperback, $16.99, 464 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 pu

Tuesday, February 16, 2021

The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery

The Vineyard at Painted Moon by Susan Mallery
Published by Harlequin ISBN 9781488077760
Hardcover, $27.99, 400 pages

I have been interested in wineries and vineyards since a trip we made a trip to Napa Valley a few years ago, so I was intrigued by Susan Mallery's newest novel, The Vineyard at Painted Moon

Mackenzie is a well-respected winemaker at her husband Rhys Barcella's family vineyard, Bel Apres Winery, in Walla Walla, Washington. She met his sister Stephanie at college, and they have been best friends ever since. All four of the Barcella adult children live on the grounds of the winery, under the careful and critical eye of their mother Barbara.

Barbara freely shares her harsh opinions of her children with them- Rhys, Stephanie (divorced with two teens), Lori (who just wants her mother's respect), and Elizabeth (whom she calls Four). Elizabeth is an artist, a free spirit with a happy marriage and wonderful young children, which makes her mother crazy. Barbara adores Mackenzie and respects her work ethic and talent, and feels like Mackenzie is family.

Rhys and Mackenzie seem to be just going through the motions of a marriage. They love each other, but there is no passion there. When Rhys asks for a divorce, Mackenzie decides it's time to strike out on her own. 

This decision enrages Barbara, who sees this as a betrayal. Her family took Mackenzie in and gave her a career. Mackenzie might be willing to stay if she could own a piece of the winery, as all of Barbara's children do. She has worked hard to earn that, but Barbara refuses.

I very much enjoyed learning all about the winery business from the perspective of the vineyard owner, I haven't read many novels with that setting. The family dynamic is fascinating, combining the normal familial relationships with the business relationships. 

There were some wonderful touches- flying the "cookie flag" outside the house when someone has made fresh cookies, inviting other family members to bring their takeout containers, the personal chef who makes dinner every night for the family members and leaves lunch for the next day (I want that service), and the fact that tea towels became such a big seller in the cafe with the tourists.

Mackenzie has to face big changes and decide what she really wants out of life. Is owning a piece of a vineyard worth losing the only family she has? 

At the end of the book, Susan Mallery includes helpful information about wine pairings- what type of wine to drink with any dish, as well as a few quinoa salad recipes.

We've been doing wine-tasting Zooms, and I think that The Vineyard at Painted Moon would be a great way to combine Book Club with Wine Tasting Zooms.  If you enjoy wine and interesting family stories as I do, put The Vineyard at Painted Moon on your to-be-read list.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Susan Mallery's tour.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Friday 5ive- February 12, 2021

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

1) Sunday was Super Bowl Sunday, and while I am not a football fan, I do like watching the commercials and the halftime show. The Toyota commercial with the paralympic swimmer was moving, and the Will Ferrell General Motors commercial was pretty funny. Although I only know a few the Weeknd songs, I thought he did an amazing job with his spectacular halftime show. He used the fact that there weren't a lot of fans there to create a fantastic set design. 
Of course, it's all about the snacks for us. Even though we were only two, I made Ina Garten's Warm Spinach and Artichoke Dip recipe from her new Modern Comfort Food cookbook, and Clean Food Crush 's Irish Nachos,  made with sliced potatoes rather than tortilla chips, a recipe that my sister found online. Both were delicious and we didn't need any dinner after that.
Irish Nachos

2)  I was walking by the local YMCA and saw this Kiddie Cart outside their preschool. Whomever has to push the car with six children in it must be very strong.

3)  Under the heading "when it rains, it's pours", on Wednesday there were two online upcoming book presentations. From 1-3 pm, the terrific trio of Virginia, Chris, and Lainey from Library Love Fest marketing team presented the upcoming summer books from HarperCollins imprints. We had a three-page printout of all the great upcoming books. My highlighter almost went dry as I busily noted all the many books I can't wait to read- Jennifer Chiaverini's historical fiction The Women's March, Barbara Chase-Riboud's The Great Mrs. Elias, and Jessica Anya Blau's Mary Jane among them. You can find the presentation on their YouTube channel here.
At 2pm, Carol Fitzgerald from the Book Reporter website presented Bookaccino Live, featuring her February reading suggestions. Again, my highlighter worked overtime with her suggestions of wonderful books such as Lauren Willig's brilliant novel Band of Sisters and Julia Cooke's nonfiction Come Fly the World: The Jet-Age Story of The Women of Pan Am. Book Reporter has lots of great author interviews on their YouTube channel here.
From 2-3pm, I listened to both presentations, one on my computer, one on my Ipad. Thank goodness I had the printouts so I could go back and forth and listen to the books I most wanted to hear about.

4)  On our last Zoom wine tasting, our guide Seri recommended we watch the 2008 movie Bottle Shock, about the small family California winery that won the Judgment of Paris competition in 1976. Chris Pine, Bill Pullman, and the always fabulous Alan Richman star in this delightful movie that will appeal to anyone who enjoys wine. Englishman Steven Spurrier travels to Napa Valley to find American wines that can compete against French wines in this new blind tasting competition in Paris. It's a real underdog story based on a true event. We ver much enjoyed the movie, and were surprised to find a bottle of wine from Chateau Montelena (the winning winery) in our wine cooler that we drank during the movie.

5)  I read one book and am in the middle of a second. Melanie Benjamin's historical novel, The Children's Blizzard  is based on a true story that occurred in 1888 in Nebraska. A dangerous blizzard rapidly comes out of nowhere just as students are about to be released from school. Many students, as well as other people, died during the horrific storm, some just steps from their own homes. Benjamin tells her story through two young sisters, both teachers. One sister sends the children home just as the storm begins, and the other keeps the children in school, even though if they run out of fuel to keep warm, they will surely die. It's such an evocative book, you feel like you are right in the middle of this storm and this story, and you feel for these young adult women who have to make a terrible decision. I highly recommend it. 

I'm in the middle of Susan Mallery's novel, The Vineyard at Painted Moon. Mackenzie is a celebrated winemaker at her husband's family's vineyard in Walla Walla, Washington. The family took her in when her grandfather, her only relative, died when she was in college. When Mackenzie and her husband come to the sad conclusion that their marriage is over, Mackenzie decides it's time to move on to a new job. The head of her husband's vineyard, his mother, is enraged over losing her winemaker, and is determined to make Mackenzie pay. Mallery writes family, friendship, and love stories so well, and of course I really enjoy the winery setting. (I think we have established that I like wine.) My full review will publish on Tuesday.

Stay safe, socially distant, wash your hands, wear a mask (or two), and get a vaccine when it's your turn. Many of my friends and family have already received one or both doses of the vaccine and are feeling great- yay for them!

Friday, February 5, 2021

Friday 5ive- February 5, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. New York City got hit with the massive snowstorm that blanketed much of the Northeast, and we got 15 inches of snow. The city shut down for two days, but then it was right back to normal.

1)  Walking around the neighborhood, I saw this sign in front of a liquor store. It's spot-on.

2) We found a new appetizer, made right here in New York City and available for purchase online. Pizza Cupcakes are mini bread bowls filled with mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce. There are two flavors- Margherita and Pepperoni, and they are quite tasty. We found them just in time for Super Bowl Sunday, and if you like Pizza Bagel Bites, this is your next new snack. You can order them here.

3)  One of the best books I have read in a long time is Nancy Johnson's novel, The Kindest Lie, (my review here), and I listened to her in conversation with Zibby Owens on her podcast, Moms Don't Have Time to Read. It was a fascinating conversation, and since Nancy was a TV news reporter for over a decade, she is a great communicator. If you take my recommendation and read The Kindest Lie, follow it up with this podcast episode to get a deeper dive into the book. 

4)  I watched the Netflix movie, Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, the film version of the brilliant August Wilson play of the same name. Viola Davis shows why she is one of the best actors of her generation as she ferociously tears into the role of real life 1920s blues singer Ma Rainey. Chadwick Boseman gives the best performance of his short life as a trumpet player yearning to become a star in his own right. The film is set in Chicago at a recording studio, and was deservedly nominated this week for both multiple Golden Globe and Screen Actors' Guild awards. 

5) It's been a week for nonfiction. Buffalo native Laura Pedersen (whose book Buffalo Gal about growing up in Buffalo in the 1970s made me laugh so hard) has a book of essays out.  A Theory of Everything Else is both hilarious (with more funny stories about growing up in Buffalo) and philosophical as she tackles the subjects of the importance of art, women in history, religion and more. It made me laugh and think. My full review will follow next week. 

I also started a collection of essays, Moms Don't Have Time To- A Quarantine Anthology, edited by Zibby Owens (see #3 above).  Owens collected original essays from 60 authors who appeared on her podcast Moms Don't Have Time to Read, about things that have helped and hindered people during quarantine. The sections are READ, WORK OUT, EAT, HAVE SEX and BREATHE. The essays are short, something you can dip in and out of, from authors like Chris Bohjalian, Gretchen Rubin, Wendy Walker and more, and are relatable to what we have all been going through. Proceeds of the book go to the Susan Felice Owens Program for COVID-19 Vaccine Research at Mount Sinai Health System. Susan was Zibby's mother-in-law who died from COVID-19 a month after caring for her own mother who passed away from the disease. The book launch is scheduled for February 16th, with 50 authors in attendance on Zoom. More information on that is here

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

Thursday, February 4, 2021

New in Paperback- The King's Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal

The King's Justice by Susan Elia MacNeal
Published by Bantam ISBN 9781984819598
Trade paperback, $16.99, 348 pages

Now that I have binged the entire four 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. The new Maggie Hope mystery, The Hollywood Spy, set in 1943 Los Angeles, publishes this summer, and once again the cover is gorgeous. I can't wait!

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Hadley & Grace by Suzanne Redfearn

Hadley & Grace by Suzanne Redfearn
Published by Lake Union Publishing ISBN 9781542014380
Trade paperback, $14.95, 347 pages (Free on Kindle Unlimited)

Author Suzanne Redfearn combined two things she loves- the movie Thelma & Louise and a biography called Have a Home Run Day!  (about Skipper Carrillo, whose spirit and love of baseball inspired her fictional character of 8 year-old Skipper) in her new novel, Hadley & Grace.

Grace is a young mom to a baby whose husband Jimmy is away in the military. She is upset to discover that Jimmy's gambling problem has returned, and he cleared out their small bank account. The one thing that may save her is that she closed a big deal for her boss, Frank, who owns parking garages and lots. 

Frank promised her a big bonus if she could close the deal, but when she does, he refuses to pay her what she is owed. He knows that Grace has had a hard upbringing and has done time in jail, so he takes advantage of her situation.

Frank's wife Hadley has been hiding the abuse she has been taking from Frank from her 14 year-old daughter Mattie, and eight year-old nephew Skipper, until the day Frank loses his temper in front of the children. Hadley decides that she must leave Frank, but she must be secretive about it.

Hadley and Grace each end up at Frank's office one night, both intending to steal cash that Frank has hidden in his safe. Grace only wants what she is owed, but when they discover both each other and the huge amount of cash Frank has in his safe, the situation changes.

Hadley badly sprains her ankle, and Grace ends up driving her back to her hotel. The women now realize that Frank must be into something seriously illegal to have that much cash on hand and he will want it back. 

When Grace takes Hadley to the hospital to take care of her foot, they find FBI agents are looking for them. Reluctantly they team up with three children on the run from both Frank and the FBI agents.

Hadley & Grace is a story of the friendship that develops between two very different women who grow to depend on each other. Being on the run adds a thrilling, tense dimension to the plot, which is very cinematic and I could see as a Lifetime movie. If you are a fan of the NBC series, Good Girls, you'll enjoy this book, where as Hadley says, "one decision leads to the next and then the next, a continual stumbling forward over each past mistake until you find yourself someplace entirely different from where you started or from where you intended to go."

I liked the character development, and the character of Skipper, the young boy who is on the spectrum, is my favorite. He relates everything to baseball, and his beloved Los Angeles Dodgers. Even Frank has one redeeming quality- he is kind to Skipper.

There were a few things I found a little farfetched- the relationship that develops between the FBI agent and Hadley, and when the group goes to a crowded country western restaurant while on the run from the FBI. That was an odd choice, although now that we have all been cooped up almost a year during this pandemic we may be able to better understand that decision.

Overall, Hadley & Grace is a good novel to wile away an afternoon, with interesting characters put into a dangerous situation. There is a shock towards the end, and the epilogue is terrific, a satisfying ending to their story.

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

Suzanne Redfearn’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, February 1st: @suzysbookshelf

Monday, February 1st: Book Reviews and More by Kathy – excerpt

Tuesday, February 2nd: @savbeebooks

Wednesday, February 3rd: @somekindofalibrary

Wednesday, February 3rd: Bookchickdi

Thursday, February 4th: @readswithrosie

Thursday, February 4th: The OC Book Girl and @theocbookgirl

Thursday, February 4th: @the_boozy_baking_bibliophile

Friday, February 5th: Well Read Traveler and @wellreadtraveler

Monday, February 8th: Not in Jersey and @notinjersey

Tuesday, February 9th: She Just Loves Books and @shejustlovesbooks

Wednesday, February 10th: @sarahandherbookshelves

Wednesday, February 10th: @stacy40pages

Thursday, February 11th: Books Cooks Looks – excerpt

Friday, February 12th: @lyon.brit.andthebookshelf

Saturday, February 13th: @bookapotamus

Monday, February 15th: @one.chapteratatime

Monday, February 15th: Blunt Scissors Book Reviews and @bluntscissorsbookreviews

Tuesday, February 16th: Books & Bindings

Tuesday, February 16th: @lovelyplacebooks

Wednesday, February 17th: @girlsinbooks

Friday, February 19th: Girl Who Reads

Monday, February 22nd: Nurse Bookie – excerpt

Monday, February 22nd: @nurse_bookie

Tuesday, February 23rd: @welovebigbooksandwecannotlie

Wednesday, February 24th: @thebookclubmom

Thursday, February 25th: What is That Book About

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson

The Kindest Lie by Nancy Johnson
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780063057272
Hardcover, $27.99, 322 pages

Sometimes you read a book, and you know its going to be one that you will tell everyone about it, until they ask you to please stop. Nancy Johnson's debut novel, The Kindest Lie, is one of those. 

Ruth Tuttle is a Yale-educated Black engineer at a consumer packaged goods company. She's married to Xavier, a high-level executive at PespiCo. They live in Chicago, and are celebrating the election of Barack Obama with their friends.  

Life is good, and when Xavier talks of now starting a family with Ruth, she balks. Ruth never told her husband that when she was seventeen, she gave birth to a baby. Her grandmother and older brother Eli took the baby and gave him up for adoption. Ruth left for Yale and it was never spoken of again.

Ruth returns home to Indiana, to her hometown of Ganton, whose "very soil was a trapdoor, a gateway to nothingness that few people climbed out of." The author paints a vivid picture of Ganton in that one sentence. The town relied on one big industry, a car manufacturing plant, and when that plant closed, the entire town was decimated.

When Ruth stops into a local small store owned by her grandmother's best friend Lena, a white woman, she meets Midnight, Lena's eleven year-old grandson. Midnight's arm was disfigured, and he "stood on the outside of things, bitter, chafed by the unfairness of life". His mother died giving birth to his sister, who also died. His father lost his job at the plant, and spent his time drinking, so Midnight lived mostly with his grandmother.

Ruth feels a kinship with Midnight. She and her brother were raised by her grandparents, her mother had a drug problem and left, she never knew her father. Ruth's grandparents sacrificed much to send Ruth to Yale, knowing that she could be successful if she left Ganton.

Confronting her grandmother and brother about what happened to her baby does not go well for Ruth. They insist that they did what was best for all involved, and tell her to leave it alone, but she is determined to find her son.

The story is told from the viewpoints of Ruth and Midnight. The author succeeds in putting the reader in their shoes, these two characters who have lived such different lives, yet share so much. You feel deeply for everyone, that they are doing the best they can. It is a gift that Nancy Johnson can allow the reader to see each character's side of the story. 

The Kindest Lie is a heartbreaking, beautifully written novel that tackles secrets, race, class and gives us insight into what happens when a small town's industry disappears, the myriad of ways it destroys people. It is a richly developed story, with so much humanity contained within its pages. I think everyone can relate to something in this book. When I can't stop thinking about these characters, I know that I have read something profound that touched me deeply. I give The Kindest Lie my highest recommendation, and encourage everyone to read this book. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Odd Woman Out by Melanie Chartoff

Odd Woman Out by Melanie Chartoff
Published by Books Fluent ISBN 9781735268941
Trade paperback, $14.99, 269 pages

I first remember seeing Melanie Chartoff as a beautiful and very funny cast member on ABC's 1980's late night answer to Saturday Night Live called Fridays. She had such a distinctive voice, she made an impression on me.

Her memoir Odd Woman Out: Exposures in Essays and Stories starts off with Indecent Sexposure, a story about her visit to her gynecologist, who writes her a prescription for a "personal messager" (as they call it in the Sharper Image catalogue), and the address of the new Hustler store on Sunset Strip in Los Angeles.

Melanie puts on big sunglasses and a trench coat, and tries to be as discreet as possible. It just so happens that Entertainment Tonight is there doing a story on Larry Flynt at the grand opening. She manages to avoid being on television, but she is captured in a photo that ends up in Star magazine on the Worst Dressed page, in her trench coat and sunglasses, identified at the grand opening of the Hustler store. What made it worse is that several people mailed her the clipping, along with congratulations, sort of like @-ing someone on Twitter.

From there, Melanie shares her career ups and downs, love affairs, and anecdotes about Ed Asner (oh, Mr. Grant), Julie Newmar (oh, Catwoman!), being hired at age 14 by Phil Spector after he saw her and her friend go-go dancing at a Bar Mitzvah, interviewing Ben Kingsley while he was on Broadway in A Midnight Summer's Dream and she was an arts critic at her college newpaper, answering fan mail for Richard Hatch when they were both on the soap opera All My Children (he was the hot young star, she had a small recurring role).

Her stage experiences are interesting, particularly her Broadway debut in a very experimental show that ended in a disaster that precursed Spiderman's problematic Broadway run. Melanie took the craft of acting seriously, and you get a real sense of the dedication and heartbreak that it takes to have a life in the arts.

She shares her difficult family life, with a father who was a bully to her, her younger sister and mother. Her mother's story is sad, and it colored her complicated relationship with Melanie. Melanie leaving home and creating a successful life away from her family caused a friction that never melted.

The last few essays share Melanie's delight at finding love and marrying for the first time in her 60s, when she had given up on perhaps ever doing that. She thought she was destined to be the odd woman out in social situations. Her decriptions of the physical limitations of aging with her husband will bring a nod of recognition to middle-aged people everywhere.

Odd Woman Out is not just another celebrity memoir, Melanie Chartoff brings the reader into her head and heart and she shares her life with wit and honesty. She is a wonderful writer, it's clear she spent as much time honing her literary craft as she did making us laugh. I recommend it.

Thanks to Books Forward for providing a copy for a honest review.