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Sunday, October 24, 2021

The Agitators by Dorothy Wickenden

Reprinted from the Citizen:

As someone who lived in Auburn most of my life, I was aware of how historic the city is but author Dorothy Wickenden brings the Civil War years in Auburn front and center in her new book, The Agitators that I learned so much more.

“The Agitators- Three Friends Who Fought For Abolition and Women’s Rights” highlights the lives of Frances Seward, Harriet Tubman, and Martha Wright, and how they often defied society’s conventions about women to work for the causes they believed in.

Frances Seward, wife to William Henry Seward, a United States Senator, New York State Governor, and Secretary of State under Abraham Lincoln, wanted to become more involved in the cause of abolition of slavery.

Seward’s home was a stop on the Underground Railroad, hiding slaves who had escaped from their bondage in the southern states. She also helped found schools for Black children, and sold land to free Blacks.

Martha Wright and Frances became friends because their husbands were both lawyers, and the wives were both considered “outliers”. They grew up as Quakers, had young children, “a passion for reading and an antipathy to pretentiousness, and a burgeoning interest in social reform”.

They met Harriet Tubman after she escaped from slavery and was taking other people on their way to freedom in Canada. Harriet had little money, and Frances sold her land at a reduced cost to build a house, where Harriet eventually brought her parents to live, a place that is now a National Park Historical site on South Street. 

Martha helped organize the first women’s rights meeting in 1848 in Seneca Falls. Wright became active in the suffragette movement along with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. “She rarely encountered an institution she didn’t question, and although convention dictated most of the circumstances of her life, she liked breaking rules.”

While Frances had a fairly large household staff, Martha, mother to six children, did not. Martha did the housework, cooked meals, cared for the children, sewed their clothes, made soap, and canned fruit.

Because Frances’ husband was a prominent political figure, she couldn’t break as many rules as Martha could. Frances felt very strongly that slavery should be abolished everywhere and quickly, but her husband had to be more politic. If he wanted to make changes, he had to compromise. It put a great strain on the marriage.

Frances and Martha each had sons who fought on the front lines of the Civil War. While they were proud of their sons for fighting the evil of slavery, as mothers they worried about their safety and health as many people who died during the war perished due to illnesses like tuberculosis and dysentery.

For Civil War buffs, there is plenty to keep their interest as battles and strategies are related in riveting detail. Wickenden studied under prominent Abraham Lincoln biographer David Herbert Donald, and readers interested in the 16th President will find much to satisfy them here.

Many of us know Harriet Tubman served as spy and nurse for the Union Army, and Wickenden shines a new, more detailed light on her service here. It is shameful that Harriet Tubman, who served her country so bravely, had to fight so hard to get the pay that was due to her.

We learn about the struggles within the Women’s Right movement. During the Civil War, many of the suffragettes turned their attentions to the abolition of slavery, while some of the women felt that if they stopped fighting for women’s suffrage, the movement would lose valuable momentum. It caused a rift between the two closely aligned causes, as they had to decide if they could fight for the right to vote for women and Black men at the same time, or if preference should be given to suffrage for Black men first.

The Agitators is a must-read book for people who enjoy learning about Civil War-era history, the history of the women’s movement, and especially the history of the city of Auburn through these three remarkable women. A tour of the Seward House, Harriet Tubman’s home, Fort Hill Cemetery, the National Women’s Hall of Fame in Seneca Falls, and other local historic sites will be on your list of things to do. Dorothy Wickenden brings our small historic city to vivid life here in her fascinating book.

The Agitators by Dorothy Wickenden- A+

Published by Scribner

Hardcover, $30, 384 pages

New in paperback- At The Edge of the Haight by Katherine Seligman

At The Edge of the Haight by Katherine Seligman
Published by Algonquin ISBN 9781643752082
Trade paperback, $16.95, 320 pages

One of the many consequences of this pandemic is that is has brought to the forefront hidden problems like hunger and homelessness. People who were living on the edge found themselves for the first time visiting food pantries to feed their families, and turning to charitable agencies to help them pay rent.

Katherine Seligman's novel, At the Edge of the Haight, shines a light on the problem of homeless young people in San Francisco. As we meet Mad, she is chasing her dog Root who has run off into the underbrush of the park where she and her friends spend most of their day. 

Root and Mad stumble upon a young man in the throes of death, and a man standing over him who threatens Mad. Mad runs, fearful for her life.  Mad's father left her when she was just a child, and her mother suffered a psychotic break a few years later. She went to live with relatives in a foster care situation, and left as soon as she could.

She ran to San Francisco and found other young people like her- running away from bad situations at home, many who aged out the foster care system with no support or place to go. Mad and her friends sometimes spend the nights in shelter, where they have to be in by 8pm and out by 8am. She goes to the public library, or hangs out in the park during the day.

In addition to the everyday stresses of homelessness- where to get food and money, clean clothes, avoiding the police- Mad now has to avoid the man who killed the young man. The young man's father, Dave, comes around looking for answers to what happened to his son. Dave and his wife want to help Mad out, but they make Mad uncomfortable.

We learn so much about life on the streets in this powerful novel. The scene where Mad and her friend Ash get soaked waiting out a rainstorm in a doorway overnight rather than spend the night in a dangerous shelter is so vivid you can feel the shivering rain on your own skin as you read it.

There are people who are kind to these kids- a librarian who gives Mad paper, envelopes and stamps to write letters, store keepers who let them hang out, people who work in the shelters who try to help them get assistance. There are also people who are not kind, like the gang of thugs who regularly take Mad and her friends' food and money as a toll payment. The people (some with their young children) who want to take photos with the "hippies" made me cringe, as if these young people are tourist attractions.

One thing that caught my attention was something that Mad's mother said- "You can't judge people because you just never know why they do what they do." That line resonated for me.

At the Edge of the Haight won the 2019 Pen/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, a prize initiated by author Barbara Kingsolver, one of my favorite authors. Good fiction makes people more empathetic, and At the Edge of the Haight made me look at homeless people in a more compassionate light. We can all use a little more compassion these days. I highly recommend At the Edge of the Haight, it's remarkable and enlightening.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Katherine Seligman's book tour.

Friday, October 22, 2021

Friday 5ive- October 22, 2021

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

1) The new Target store had a soft opening this week for their new store on 86th Street. It's in the space formerly occupied by my beloved Barnes & Noble store, where I spent many an evening listening to fascinating authors talking about books, and heard Broadway performers sing songs from their shows.
The store is much bigger than the Target on 3rd Ave., and they have a much better selection of some things, like groceries, which takes up most of the lower level. I overheard someone saying the layout is odd, and I have to agree with that. The floors haven't been finished, and the Up escalator wasn't working, so they still have some work to do. 

2) You don't see too many Halloween decorations on the Upper East Side, but I did see this display set up tucked in between two buildings. 

3) They say you can find anything in New York City, and while walking to Target, I saw this COVID-19 Testing van set up on 3rd Ave. Get your groceries at Target, get your COVID test on your way home.

4) We started watching Dopesick on Hulu. Based on the book by Beth Macy, it tells the story of the opioid crisis from the perspective of a DEA agent, two DOJ lawyers, the Sackler family who own Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin, a pharmaceutical rep from Purdue, and a doctor and his patients in coal country. Michael Keaton is astonishing as the doctor who cares for his patients, and Kaitlyn Dever is just as powerful as a miner who gets addicted after a back injury. If you want to know how we got to where we are today, this is must-see TV. It's heartbreaking, and I'm definitely going to read the book now. 

5) I read two book this week, both of them big ones. 1000 Perfect Weekends from National Geographic has 720 pages of suggestions to spend a weekend across the globe. There's history, beautiful photos, and fun Top Ten Lists. It would make a great gift for the travelers on your holiday gift list. (The Finger Lakes region gets a two page spread!) My full review is here

The second book is Amor Towles' new novel, The Lincoln Highway. Set in 1954, 18 year-old Emmett Watson returns home from a juvenile detention center to his eight year-old brother Billy after their father passes away. The bank is foreclosing on their farm, and Emmett plans to take Billy and go west to start over. He runs into trouble in the forms of Dutchess and Wooly, two other young men from the detention center who ran away. The four set off on an unplanned road trip to New York City, where they meet with various adventures and people, good and bad. The writing is exquisite, Towles builds this incredible world around these four boys and the reader truly cares about these characters. I loved this book, even more than his A Gentleman in Moscow, which I adored. This will be one of my Top Ten books this year, and it's this month's Read With Jenna pick. 

Stay safe, continue to wash your hands, wear a mask indoors in public, stay socially distant, and please get the vaccine if you haven't yet to protect others. 

Tuesday, October 19, 2021

1000 Perfect Weekends from National Geographic

1000 Perfect Weekends from National Geographic
Published by Hachette ISBN 9781426221453
Hardcover, $40, 703 pages

The good thing about National Geographic's 1000 Perfect Weekends- Great Getaways Around the Globe is that you don't have to be a world traveler to enjoy this gem of a book.

It would take 19 years of weekends to visit every place highlighted in the book, an eye-opening fun fact. The book has nineteen chapters, dividing up the weekends for people who enjoy different types of mini-vacations. 

There are the old standards- Beach Escapes, Mountain Retreats and National Parks among them- as well as unique ideas, like Small-Town Charmers, Enabled Adventures, and Pet-Friendly Vacations for those who like to include Fido in the family fun.

Each chapter has a Top Ten List, and  there are many surprises there. Who would expect to find a beach in Oregon (Cannon Beach) as one of only two United States beaches on the list?  The United States is well represented in Top Ten Golf Courses, but would anyone have thought to find that a course in Idaho (Coeur D'Alene Resort) would be there?

Some other interesting Top Ten Lists are the Best Flea Markets and Must-Stop Antiquing Spots for the shoppers, and Movie Locations and TV Locations for screen fans. (You can visit The Shining Hotel.) History buffs will enjoy the Battlefields, Religious Pilgrimages, and Historical Monuments Lists. It's fun to review the lists and say, "What about this?". (I did think there were a few too many New York City spots on the lists; they must have a good marketing department.)

You could make an itinerary that consists solely of UNESCO sites, like Valparaiso in Chile, Chan Chan in Peru, the Tomb of Kings in Cyprus, and Banff National Park in Canada. And who knew that Norway has an abundance of world-class chefs, or that there is a huge ex-pat enclave of US World War II veterans in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico?

It's enjoyable to peruse the book and find all the places you have been, or make a list of where you want to go when travel picks up again. I did get a thrill seeing my hometown area of the Finger Lakes region in New York State get an entire full-page write-up, as well as the Sarasota, Florida area where I spend a lot of time.

You will find hours of enjoyment in 1000 Perfect Weekends, looking at the beautiful photos and reading all about the amazing places on this planet. It would also make a wonderful holiday gift for the travelers (armchair travelers included) on your list. Just remember to order early this year.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on this tour. 

Friday, October 15, 2021

Friday 5ive- October 15, 2021

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

1)  We went to Florida for the weekend with two other couples. While the guys golfed, the gals walked to the beach. We came upon this set up on the beach, not sure what kind of celebration it was- a birthday or engagement maybe? It certainly was lovely, and not something I have seen before on the that beach.

2)  After an early dinner one evening, we came home, sat around the fire pit, put on the local oldies (sorry Jim) radio station and had a sing-along. One of the gentlemen gave me a run for my money, knowing the words to just as many (maybe more?) songs as I did. I hope the neighbors weren't too upset as it went on until nearly 11pm.

3)  This week I watched a Zoom with Hillary Clinton and author Louise Penny as they spoke about their collaboration on a novel titled State of Terror. The thriller is about a Secretary of State and her closest friend and advisor who team up to discover who is behind a series of terrorist attacks. Listening to the two friends talk about their writing process (Clinton writes in longhand, scans pages, and sends to Penny who is not used to working like that), how they became friends because of Clinton's childhood friend who befriended Penny, and writing a book for the first time with someone during a pandemic. It was a fascinating discussion led by author Will Schwalbe, and the fact that the main characters in this  thriller are "women of a certain age" definitely appealed to me.

4) With everyone watching streaming services, one of the best things I have seen in a long time is on broadcast TV. The new version of The Wonder Years on Wednesdays on ABC is such a fantastic show. Like the original, it's the story of a 12 year-old boy (Dean) and his family in 1968. Don Cheadle narrates the story as the adult Dean, and he is perfect for this. Elisha "EJ" Williams is amazing as Dean, and Dulé Hill as his dad and Saycon Sengbloh as his mom are wonderful. The older brother is serving in Vietnam, the older sister is dating, and I like that we see how the family deals with the things every family faces as well as with issues facing the Black community at that time. Watch this one, it's heartwarming. 

5) I read three books this week. Christine Pride and Jo Piazza teamed up for We Are Not Like Them, a novel about two lifelong friends- one a young Black TV news reporter, the other a white woman married to a Philadelphia policeman. We see how the aftermath of a police shooting threatens to upend their friendship as the story is told from both women's perspectives. Pride is Black, and Piazza is white and that adds an extra layer of authenticity to this thought-provoking and timely story. It's about friendship, race, and what justice looks like. I find myself still thinking about it a week after I finished it. It was a Good Morning America Book Club pick.

Jennifer Haigh is one of my all-time favorite authors, so I was excited to hear that she has a book publishing in February of next year, and I read an early egalley. Mercy Street is about Claudia who works at a women's health clinic in Boston. Claudia is a social worker who counsels women who find themselves pregnant. The clinic has to deal with protesters outside their clinic on a daily basis, some of whom are becoming increasingly emboldened. To deal with the stress, Claudia buys pot from Timmy, a popular dealer whose other client has a connection to Claudia (unbeknownst to her). Haigh's writing is superb, the way she crafts sentences and her descriptions of her characters just stun me. It's a timely book, like We Are Not Like Them. 

Jane Ward's The Aftermath deals with the fallout of the suicide of David, who owns a bakery with his wife Jules. David is heavily overleveraged financially, which Jules does not know. When he can't see a way out, he drowns himself. The book moves forward two years to deal with how the aftermath affects several people- Jules and her 14 year-old daughter Rennie, David's best friend Charlie, Denise, the cop who investigated David's death, and Daniel, the young banker who called in David's loans. They feel guilt, anger, sadness, and grief and struggle to move forward. It's a real heartbreaker. 

Stay safe everyone, continue to wash your hands, stay socially distant, wear a mask in public, and get a vaccine if you can. We're so close to beating this, we can do it if we work together.

Tuesday, October 12, 2021

The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski

The Mother Next Door by Tara Laskowski
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525804700
Trade paperback, $16.99, 352 pages

Over the last decade or so, Halloween has become a holiday to rival Christmas. Tara Laskowski uses an elaborate neighborhood Halloween celebration as the centerpiece of her twisty novel The Mother Next Door

When Theresa's husband Adam gets a great job as the new principal of a well-respected suburban high school, she does her best to fit in with the moms in Ivy Woods, her new neighborhood and the best cul-de-sac in town. Kendra is the Queen Bee of what is known as the "Ivy Five", and Theresa's new neighbor.

Kendra rules over all the other moms, and when she takes Theresa under her wing, the other Ivy Five (Alice, Bettina and divorced mom Pia) somewhat reluctantly follow along. But where is the fifth mom of the Ivy Five?

That is a question that Theresa wants an answer to, but information is not ready forthcoming from the other moms. They make snide comments about the missing mom, about her looks, her artistic talent, and the reason she left town.

As the Ivy Five plan their Halloween Spectacular, in which the entire town comes to Ivy Woods to participate, Theresa joins in and is pulled in further into the Five's orbit. She and her high school freshman daughter Lily go all out decorating their yard as a graveyard.

Theresa is not fond of Lily's new friend Ellen, who seems obsessed with a local legend of a young woman who jumped off a bridge to her death years ago on Halloween. 

There are secrets abound, including a big one that Theresa is hiding from her husband, and when it appears that someone is stalking the Ivy Five on Facebook and then in person, it looks like things may come to a head at this year's Halloween Spectacular.

The Mother Next Door is the kind of book you stay up late to finish (I was up way past my bedtime reading this one). Laskowski invests you in her characters, and her propulsive story, when you can finally let out the breath you have been holding as you find out exactly what is going on here. It's a terrific Halloween read, and fans of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies will enjoy.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Tara Laskowski's tour. 

Friday, October 8, 2021

Friday 5ive- October 8, 2021

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

1) On Saturday and Sunday there was a loud band playing on the roof of Sotheby's Art Auction House, which is one block down the street from us. The band played both days from 11am-5pm with very few breaks. I don't mind music, but this was so loud, and there is a hospital and a nursing home directly across the street from Sotheby's. I don't know what was going on, but there was a statue of a horse outside the entrance and a person in some sort of costume to match. 

2) Speaking of art, at the Book Cellar, the used bookstore where I volunteer, one of our customers created an art piece that she put up on Instagram. We all loved it, and the artist florabai, gave us a print to put up in the store. We were all very touched by her tribute to our little shop. (You can see more of her art if you click on her name above.)

3) If you are a True Crime podcast fan, give a listen to Finding Lauren, about the disappearance in 2011 of Indiana University student Lauren Spierer.  Lauren disappeared after a night out drinking with friends, and there is still no answer to what happened to her. Host and producer Kyra Breslin was a student at IU in 2012, and as a former student she shares a unique perspective that elevates this podcast. She puts you right on the campus where Lauren was last seen. 

4) Speaking of true crime podcasts, I'm enjoying the Hulu series, Only Murders in the Building, about three people who live in a fancy New York City apartment building near Central Park who are addicted to true crime podcasts. When a tenant in the building is foudn dead, they create their own true crime podcast to discover who murdered the young man. Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez play the trio, and it's a fantastic combination of humor and whodunit. It's fun to spot Broadway vets like Nathan Lane, Jayne Houdyshell and Jackie Hoffman, in the cast as well. 

5) I read two books this week. Billie Jean King's autobiography (written with Johnette Howard and Maryanne Vollners), All In, tells the story of her life, starting with her love of tennis as a child, through her rising up the tennis ranks to become the number one player in the world, through her longtime marriage to her husband and business partner, to her coming out as a lesbian when she is 51. All the tennis highlights are here- her Wimbeldon wins, the Battle of the Sexes match against Bobby Riggs- as well as her decades long fight for equality for women's tennis. She's accomplished so much in her life, and she doesn't shy away from her faults on and off the tennis court. This one is a must-read. 

Tara Laskowski's The Mother Next Door is a timely October read. Set around a Halloween celebration in a suburban cul-du-sac where a group of moms called The Ivy Five, led by their Queen Bee Kendra, as they welcome a new mom to their select team- the new high school principal's wife Theresa. Someone is stalking the Ivy Five moms, and Theresa is hiding her connection to the town and a secret from her husband. It's a real page-turner, and I stayed up late finishing this one to see how it would end. Fans of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies will like this one. My full review publishes here on Tuesday. 

Stay safe and healthy everyone, until next time.

Friday, October 1, 2021

Friday 5ive- October 1, 2021

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly blog post featuring five things that caught my attention this week.
We're now into fall, and the weather here in NYC has turned cool this week. 

1)  We went to a wedding in the Hamptons on Saturday, and it was lovely. The reception was outside the Roundtree in Amagansett under a huge tent, which was appreciated. The passed hors d'ouerves were delicious- lobster avocado tostadas, beef sliders, and lamb meatballs were my favorites. The wedding band was terrific, they had all ages of guests up and dancing, and the floral centerpieces were so beautiful. It was a wonderful celebration.

2) We stayed overnight at the Topping Rose House, a renovated 19th century home that is billed as "the only full-service luxury hotel in the Hamptons." It was pretty fancy, and the highlight for me was a library on the second floor, filled with books on all the shelves. There was even a book on the nightstand in our room, something you know I loved.

A book on the nightstand greeted me!

3)  The Topping Rose House has a Jean Georges restaurant, and breakfast was included with our room so we enjoyed Eggs Benedict and the best chocolate croissant I've ever had outside on their beautiful porch.

4) If you have any hockey fans in your group, check out Untold: Crimes and Penalties on Netflix. The documentary tells the story of the Danbury Trashers, a Conneticut minor league hockey team bought by a man with mob ties. Jimmy Gallante buys the team for his 17 year-old son to run. They became known for their overt violence, and their rabid fans. It's truly a crazy story, and if you remember the 1977 Paul Newman movie, Slapshot, you'll want to watch this one. 

5) I've read four books in the past two weeks, two memoirs, a psychological suspense story, and a family story. Eleanor Henderson is a novelist I really like, so I was interested in her memoir, Everything I Have Is Yours- A Marriage. Henderson is a professor at Ithaca College, married to a man who has a chronic illness that may have a psychological basis. Her husband has rashes all lover his body that turn into painful lesions. Multiple doctors are unable to come to a satisfactory diagnosis or cure, and his suffering leads to severe depression. Henderson has to hold down a full-time job, care for her two young sons, and deal with her husband's illnesses. She's an amazing writer who illuminates what it means to love someone so deeply.  
Qian Julie Wang's memoir, Beautiful Country, tells her story as a seven-year-old girl who leaves her home in China to move to Queens with her parents. As undocumented immigrants, Qian and her family have to be careful to stay under the radar, and avoid any situations that may draw attention to themselves. Her parents were professors in China, in New York they scrape by working in sweatshops (where a young Qian works with her mother after school) and in other low-paying jobs. Qian's savior becomes the library, where she teaches herself English. The book covers her life up to age twelve, when she earns admittance to a prestigious school filled with mostly white, wealthy students. It's a brilliant memoir, and it was the Read With Jenna September pick. Everyone should read this book to understand the perseverance of the human spirit. 

María Amparo Escandón's novel L.A. Weather shares the story of a Mexican-American family living in Los Angeles. Oscar, the father, has been keeping a secret from his family that will affect them all. He spends his days obsessed with the Weather Channel, and his wife, an artist, is fed up with his behavior and withdrawal. Their three adult daughters are all having marital crises that come to a head during this time. The characters are fascinating, and the family dynamic is enlightening. 

The last book I read is an egalley of a psychological suspense novel that publishes in March. John Searles' Her Last Affair intrigued me because of its setting in an abandoned drive-in theater. (My hometown still has a drive-in theater.) Skyla is a blind widow who is looking for a tenant for the cottage on her property. When Teddy comes looking for a place to stay, Skyla happily rents him the cottage and they begin to spend time together. Teddy reconnects online with an old girlfriend who is bored with her life and makes plans to visit him. Jeremy is a failed writer about to be evicted from his New York apartment when he takes a low-paying job reviewing a restaurant in Providence, where he used to live. While he's there, he plans to look up a woman he had a crush on. How these lives collide will keep you guessing up to the end, and Searles throws in a few twists that had me gasping. The abandoned drive-in setting is perfect for the creepy atmosphere, and I loved how Searles tied in the old movies with each chapter. Her Last Affair has such a cinematic feel to it, it would make an great film. Be sure to read this one when it publishes on March 1, 2022. 

Stay safe and healthy everyone, be sure to wear a mask in public, wash your hands frequently, and please get a vaccine if you have not yet done so. Do it for those who can't yet get one.