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Tuesday, December 27, 2022

The Lipstick Bureau by Michelle Gable

The Lipstick Bureau by Michelle Gable
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525811470
Trade paperback, $16.99, 464 pages

I truly enjoy a good historical novel based on real people, and after reading Michelle Gable's last novel, The Bookseller's Secret (which featured a fictionalized Nancy Mitford), I knew I would want to read her new novel, The Lipstick Bureau.

The novel opens in May 1989 as Niki and her daughter Andrea are attending a black tie dinner in Washington DC to honor the "Ladies of the O.S.S.", or as Niki says a "deceptively quaint title, like a neighborhood bridge club."  Andrea knew that her mother worked for the O.S.S., the precursor of today's C.I.A., but she was shocked to learn that her mother was not an interpreter or secretary, but she was an important member of the propaganda team called Morale Ops.

The story turns to 1943, when Niki, who speaks eight languages, manages to get herself assigned to a Morale Ops team in Algiers. A few years earlier, Niki tried unsuccessfully to convince her parents and beloved young brother Pasha to leave Czechoslovakia with her as the Nazis were moving to annex the country. 

Niki's team is soon sent to Rome during the last few years of the war and Niki hopes that she can get assigned closer to her home country where she can find out what has happened to her family. In the meantime, Niki uses her brains and creativity to find ways that Morale Ops can convince German soldiers and citizens that Hitler is losing the war and they should turn against him.

I liked Niki's creativity and her out-of-the-box thinking, even if it skirts military rules. Sometimes her ideas backfire, and when they do, she gets the blame. When her ideas succeed, her partner Will get the credit and promotions that she deserves.

Niki is brilliant, headstrong, and a terrible driver. She encourages a local Italian housewife-turned-prostitute Paloma to help her with some of her plans, and when her sister-in-law Moggy turns up (possibly to spy on Niki for Nicki's husband), Moggy becomes involved in as well.

Niki is based on the real life of Barbara Lauwers, and some of the operations in the story (code names Sauerkraut, Cornflakes, and Monte Rosa) actually happened. Gable brings her characters to vivid life, especially the women, and she gives Niki a great sense of humor. (Niki calls the O.S.S.  "a hodgepodge of army castoffs and every rich family's one stupid son.")

I didn't know much about Rome after the Nazis were driven from there, and found Gable's description of it and the Morale Ops fascinating. If you are a reader of Susan Elia MacNeal's wonderful Maggie Hope WWII series, as I am, The Lipstick Bureau is a must-read.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Michelle Gable's tour.

Tuesday, December 20, 2022

The Most Compelling Books of 2022

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

It’s the time of year for the Most Compelling Books of 2022. These are books that I still think about even months after I finished reading them, books with unforgettable characters and writing that takes my breath away.

Barbara Kingsolver is a writer whose works I never miss, and her new novel, Demon Copperhead is her best one yet. She takes on a classic- Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield- and sets her story about an orphan boy in Appalachia, as she tackles the topics of addiction, poverty, the foster care system, and the beginnings of the opioid crisis. I am not the only reviewer to pick this as the best book of the year. 

I read a great deal of historical fiction, and Adriana Trigiani’s moving epic about the importance of family stories The Good Left Undone, takes the reader from WWII Italy, France, and Scotland as Matelda, the matriarch of the Cabrelli family, shares her mother’s long-lost love story with her children and granddaughter so that it will not be forgotten. Every detail here is perfect. 


Anthony Marra’s Mercury Pictures Presents is also an epic about a young Italian woman who flees WWII to Los Angeles where she ends up working in the motion picture industry. Marra’s characters are so well-drawn they feel real, and his story is engrossing. 

Melissa Fu’s Peach Blossom Spring is set in 1930s China as Japan’s aggression forces Meilin and her young son to flee their home. They become separated from their family and Meilin does anything she has to in order to keep her son safe. When he grows up, he moves to the United States but Meilin stays behind. It’s a powerful story of a mother’s sacrifice for her son.

John Searles’ superb suspense novel, Her Last Affair is set at an abandoned drive-in theater as a blind widow rents out a cabin to a mysterious man, and a married woman reconnects on Facebook with a high school boyfriend. How Sayles cleverly connects these three characters at the end had me gasping. 

Another book that connects its characters in a clever manner is Fiona Mozely’s  brilliant Hot Stew about a group of people who are affected when a developer decides to sell a building in Soho in London to put up luxury condos. The tenants, including two women who run a brothel there, band together to defeat his plan. 

Matt Cain’s charming The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle is the feel-good book of the year. Albert is a lonely postman facing retirement in a small English town. He decides to confide in his coworkers about his life and makes a friend in a young single mom on his route. This beautiful story restores your faith in humanity. 

Jennifer Close’s Marrying the Ketchups is a wonderful story about a family who owns an Irish family restaurant in a Chicago suburb. When the patriarch passes away suddenly, there is a void and a decision about who should run the restaurant- the cousin who has been doing most of the work or the daughter who returns home from New York? I love a good Irish family story and throw in a family business and I’m in. 

Another foodie-novel I liked is Natalie CaƱa’s romance A Proposal They Can’t Refuse about two grandfathers who play matchmaker with their grandchildren- Kamilah, who is trying to save her family’s Puerto Rican restaurant, and Liam, who runs his family’s brewery next door. I love the combination of food, family businesses, and hot romance in this enemies-to-lovers novel. 

I read two nonfiction books that are outstanding. Laura L. Engel’s heartbreaking You’ll Forget This Ever Happened is a memoir about her experience after becoming pregnant in high school in the 1960s. She was sent to a home for unwed mothers where she was forced to give up her baby and it scarred her for life. It’s a searing book. 

Vanity Fair writer Marie Brenner was given unprecedented access as she wrote The Desperate Hours about the beginnings of the COVID pandemic in New York City as seen through the eyes of doctors, nurses, administrators, and patients on the front lines at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. It’s a harrowing story well-told. 

Three books I read in 2022 to look for in 2023- Amy Poeppels’ charming The Sweet Spot, Lauren Willig’s fantastic historical novel, Two Wars And A Wedding
 and Mary Beth Keane’s amazing novel The Half Moon

I wish you all a very happy holiday season.

Sunday, December 18, 2022

A Small Affair by Flora Collins

A Small Affair by Flora Collins
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778386933
Trade paperback, $17,99, 336 pages

As Flora Collins' suspense novel A Small Affair opens, Vera has decided to get back on dating apps now that her work life has calmed down a little. She was in on the ground floor of a successful fashion designer, helping to build it from a small one person operation into a huge success in the New York fashion industry.

Vera's roommate Quinn chooses a great match for her- Tom is ten years older than Vera (37), handsome, a great job in tech, and a father of one child. They meet and hit it off right away, and Vera ends up spending the night.

One year later finds Vera living in her mother's guest bedroom in her hometown in Westchester, with no job after a tragedy that Vera was a part of, but not responsible for. But the tabloids did not see it that way, and Vera has been hounded out of the life she loved and into hiding. And two other people are dead- Tom and his wife.

Vera decides that she wants to learn more about Tom and his wife Odilie, and when Odilie's sister Page contacts Vera, she sees this as her opportunity.

The novel also shifts in time as we meet Odilie ten years ago and see how she and Tom met, through a young woman named Peri. Peri was everything that Odilie wasn't but wanted to be- she was beautiful, bold, unafraid, and she had gumption. Peri brought Odilie into her and Tom's world, a world filled with rich and powerful men. (Rich people- they're not like us.)

Vera and Quinn, along with Quinn's on-again, off-again life partner Sam, decide that if they discover what truly happened to Tom and Odilie, Vera can get her life back, and maybe Vera can get a book out of her story.

A Small Affair lures you into the story, much as Peri lures Odilie into a new life. The characters aren't necessarily likeable- Vera's lack of outward emotion causes people to call her cruel and cold. She is impatient and ambitious, a trait that in women is not considered attractive. Peri is manipulative and rude, and we don't know quite why she has attached herself to Odilie. Many people try to warn Odilie to stay away from Peri.

Social media plays a big part in the story- Vera's job requires her to shares her life on Instagram, she meets Tom on a dating app, and she is hounded on Twitter by people who don't know her. Vera stalks Odilie's Instagram account to get more information on who Odilie was. Being an influencer is a life goal for these people.

The final twist doesn't come until the very end and it's one I didn't see coming. I liked how the author just dropped it there. If you are a fan of Law & Order:SVU and White Lotus, you'll want to put A Small Affair on your reading list.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Fall 2022 Mystery & Thriller Blog Tour.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Friday 5ive- December 16, 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. Can you believe that Christmas is next week? The older I get, the faster time flies.

1) I finished my final virtual bike ride of the year through the Conqueror Challenge app. You set your own goal for this one, and I set a goal of 2700 miles for 2022. It's very satisfying to log my progress and it keeps me on track riding every day on my Peloton bike. I already signed up for my first ride of 2023- 1968 miles on the Appalachian Trail. This one will take awhile.

 2) When I was in high school, I worked at the Fingerlakes Cinema 4 in the Fingerlakes Mall in Auburn NY. One of my many tasks was to make the popcorn, and we used a flavoring salt called Flavacol. I was online somewhere (maybe The Today Show website?) and I saw that Flavacol was listed as a great gift under $25. I immediately ordered one, and then I had to order a popcorn maker to make the popcorn to use the Flavacol. I hope it tastes as good as I remember. 

3) In our continuing quest to eat healthier I made a recipe from Marlene Koch's Eat What You Love- Restaurant Favorites. I made her Burrito Bowl with Cilantro-Lime Fiesta Rice. It was delicious! I used the leftover shredded pork I made in the slow cooker the day before, and we both decided that this recipe was definitely going into the rotation. My husband isn't a cilantro fan, so I left that out, but it was still very tasty. He even brought the leftovers to work for lunch. I have two of Marlene's other books- Eat What You Love Everyday and Eat More of What You Love Every Day- and I use them frequently, but Restaurant Favorites looks like it has more recipes I we would enjoy. I highly recommend. 

4) Like the rest of the world, I watched the Netflix documentary Harry & Meghan. It gave you an eye-opening look at how awful the tabloid culture is in England. The lengths the paparazzi go to get a photo or destroy someone's mental health in the name of greed is disgraceful. I'm not sure why anyone would put themselves through that, and after seeing his mother Diana literally hounded to her death by them, it's no wonder that Harry took his family away from that poisonous atmosphere. 

5) Things are busy at work and Christmas stuff, but I did manage to read my Book of the Month selection, Matthew Quick's novel We Are the Light. It tells the story of the aftermath of a tragedy at a deadly shooting at a movie theater in a small town that left 18 people dead. The narrator Lucas is writing letters to his therapist describing how he is handling the loss of his wife in the shooting by a young man he counseled in school. He sees his wife in the form of an angel who visits him every night, and when a young man puts up his tent in the Lucas' backyard, Lucas decides he must help this young man, and his wife tells Lucas that this young man is the way forward. It can be a tough story to read, with a lot of sadness, but the town wants to come together to heal and how they do that is beautiful. 

Stay safe and healthy everyone and have a very happy holiday season. See you in 2023.

Friday, December 9, 2022

Friday 5ive- Holiday Edition 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) post featuring five things that caught my attention during the week. I was off for a few weeks- Thanksgiving and other things kept me otherwise occupied. This week's post is all about the upcoming Christmas holiday.

1) I was not impressed with the store windows this year, not enough about the holiday, more about the retail. There is one display that outshines all of the professionally done windows and that honor belongs to a parking garage on East 79th Street between 1st and 2nd Ave. Javier Sanchez manages the Continental Towers garage, and every year he decorates the garage with elaborate minature Frosty's Village that bring a smile to my face. While I was there, four other ladies came to the garage to see the display, that's how popular it is.
I love this little town with Prince of Wales Pub

The town has a pizzeria among its eateries

These are full sized
Hanukkah is represented

2)  We made a quick trip around the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree on Wednesday. It's always impressive and beautiful. 

3) The Book Cellar, the used bookshop in the Webster branch of the NYPL where I volunteer, had their annual volunteer appreciation holiday dinner this week. We had many new volunteers who joined us this year, and it was a wonderful evening where everyone got to know each other a little better. I'm so proud of the great group of dedicated people we have who love books and people, and work so hard to make the Book Cellar "the hidden gem" of New York as so many of our customers call it. 
The best book sellers in the business!

4) When we travel I like to pick up an ornament for our Christmas tree, and this year we have two new additions. We visited Edinburgh, Scotland and picked up a Royal Yacht Britannia ornament from the decommissioned royal yacht when we toured it. If you watched season five of The Crown on Netflix, you'll know what I'm talking about.When we visited our younger son in Boston, we toured the JFK Library and I picked one up there as well.

5) I'm sure you're not surprised to know that I have a collection of Christmas books that I decorate my bookshelf with, and this year I added two books- Jasmine Guillory's Royal Holiday and Susan Mallery's new one, Home Sweet Christmas, the second in her series set in the Christmas town of Wishing Tree. I love a good Christmas series, it really puts me in a holiday mood. Do you collect holiday books?

It's getting a little crazy again out there with flu, COVID and RSV. I hope you stay safe and healthy and got vaccinated.

Thursday, December 8, 2022

The Opportunist by Elyse Friedman

The Opportunist by Elyse Friedman
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778386957
Trade paperback, 336 pages, $16.99

In Elyse Friedman's twisty novel, The Opportunist, Alana is a single mom raising her young daughter who has a type of muscular dystrophy. She is estranged from her family- her wealthy industrialist father Ed and brothers Martin and Teddy, who work for the family business. She was very close to her sister Lillian who died years ago.

 She receives a call from her brothers asking her to come home to stop their father's wedding to his 28 year-old nurse Kelly. The brothers are convinced that Kelly is a golddigger who will end up with all their father's billions and they will be cut out. 

Alana could care less about who her father marries, but her brothers offer her a lot of money to help them expose Kelly, and Alana, who works at a domestic violence shelter, could use that money to make her daughter's life easier.

Reluctantly she agrees, and off she goes to the wedding. She meets Kelly and sees that Kelly appears to be very devoted to Ed. An attempt by the brothers to pay off Kelly backfires, and although Alana believes that Kelly loves her father, Alana needs the money for her daughter and continues to help her brothers.

There are so many twists and turns in the plot, and trying to figure out who is playing whom will keep the reader turning the pages. I liked reading about Alana's life with her daughter and the ostentatious displays of the obscenely wealthy family's lifestyle (especially the scenes set on the super yacht) are crazy. It is no wonder that Elyse Friedman is a screenwriter, her novel would make an intriguing movie.

There is a big reveal late in the book that I didn't particularly like, but the final twist did take me by surprise which I do like when reading a psychological suspense novel. Exactly who is the opportunist in this story? If you are a fan of HBO's Succession or books by B.A. Paris or Lisa Unger, Elyse Friedman's The Opportunist is for you. 

Thanks to Harlequin Books fro putting me on their Fall 2022 Mystery & Thriller Blog Tours.

Monday, December 5, 2022

The Sunshine Girls by Molly Fader

The Sunshine Girls by Molly Fader
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781335453488
Trade paperback, 368 pages, $17.99

As Molly Fader's fascinating character study The Sunshine Girls opens, people in Greenboro, Iowa are gathering for the funeral of BettyKay Beecher, a highly respected nurse who gave so much of her time and talents to her small town. 

BettyKay's older daughter Clara has returned home for the funeral. Clara is a successful corporate lawyer in Chicago, where she lives with her wife Vicki. Things are strained back home as Vicki wants to start a family, but Clara is reluctant.

Clara's younger sister Abby is married with two young children. While Clara hasn't been home much,  Abby has spent much of her time with her mother following the death of BettyKay's husband, their father, three years ago. Clara tells Abby that she is leaving directly after the funeral, and Abby is dismayed that Clara is leaving Abby alone to clean out their mother's home.

When a stunning woman saunters into the funeral home, everyone is shocked to see that it its Kitty Deveraux, a famous Hollywood actress, who has walked up and placed a pink button  in the coffin. Why is Kitty Deveraux at their mother's funeral? Does it have anything to do with the memoir their mother wrote about her time as a nurse in Vietnam during the war?

Clara and Abby invite Kitty back to their mother's home and once there, Kitty tells the women that she knew their mother when they were young nursing students and roommates in nursing school in Iowa in the 1960s. Along with Jenny, a brilliant woman and one of the only Black women in their nursing school, they were inseparable.

I truly loved the story of BettyKay, Jenny, and Kitty in nursing school. This unlikely trio of women became lifelong friends, supporting each other through good times and bad. We see how difficult the life of a young nursing student was, and how their strong friendship sustained them.

Through their discussions with Kitty, they discover things about their mother that they never knew, things that Aunt Jenny never told them. Jenny tells them to beware of Kitty and her stories, but Kitty is determined to tell all of the secrets she has kept about her and BettyKay's lives.

Molly Fader has said that her own mother's stories about nursing school in Iowa in the 1960s inspired this wonderfully moving story, and you can feel that love in the book. The characters feel so real, and their friendship is deeply meaningful. It is a love letter to strong women and how they have to overcome the things that happen to them along the way.

I did wish there was more of BettyKay and Jenny's lives in Vietnam, I feel like that could be another equally interesting book. As a fan of the the 1980s-1990s show China Beach, I found myself wanting to know more about that time in their lives. Fans of The Seven Lives of Evelyn Hugo will want to read this one too.

I loved The Sunshine Girls, and I read it in one sitting not wanting the story of these strong women and their deep friendship to end. I give it my highest recommendation.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Fall 2022 Women's Fiction Blog Tour.


Monday, November 21, 2022

Book Are Great Gifts Guide

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

It looks like the holiday shopping season is in full gear already, so it’s time for our annual Books Are Great Gifts Guide. Books make great gifts because they are never the wrong size or color and they’re easy to wrap. And if you’ve been invited to Thanksgiving dinner this year, why not bring a book as a host gift instead of the usual flowers or wine? 

In Nonfiction: For your father-in-law who wakes up to CNBC everyday, When McKinsey Comes to Town by Walt Bogdanich and Michael Forsythe about how the consulting company has become the major player in the world (for good and bad) is a good choice. 

Your uncle the history buff would enjoy Stacy Schiff’s new biography The Revolutionary- Samuel Adams that takes a fresh look at an historical figure. Jon Meacham’s And There Was Light is his latest book about Abraham Lincoln. 

For your aunt the movie buff, give her the Paul Newman memoir The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man. 

The sister who listens to True Crime podcasts will want to read Kathryn Miles’ Trailed about the murder of two female hikers in the Shenandoah National Park, and the journalist who tries to find the killer. 

Sharon Gless’ memoir Apparently There Were Complaints is for someone who read Matthew Perry’s recent memoir Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing. Both share their stories of Hollywood and addiction that almost destroyed them. 


Baseball is over, but if your son can’t wait until pitchers and catchers report in February, give him three-time Major League Baseball Manager of the Year’s Joe Maddon's memoir (written with Tom Verducci) The Book of Joe

Your nephew the musician will appreciate Bono’s memoir Surrender- Forty Songs, One Story. For your best friend who just turned fifty and could use a good laugh, Laurie Notaro’s Excuse Me While I Disappear is just the ticket. 

For the cook on your gift list, it’s that time of year for Ina Garten’s new cookbook, Go-To Dinners filled with recipes she made during pandemic. The baker in the family would appreciate a copy of The King Arthur Baking School, and maybe you’ll get some delicious treats as a thank you. 

In Fiction: Historical Fiction is a perennial favorite and Susan Elia MacNeal’s WWII story Mother Daughter Traitor Spy about a mother and daughter team who spy on the growing Nazi movement in Los Angeles is for fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale. 

Allison Pataki’s The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post fictionalizes the life of a woman of major accomplishments whom most of us don’t know about but should, and your mom would love it. 

For your sister-in-law who enjoys watching all the Hallmark Christmas movies starting the day after Halloween, Susan Mallery’s Home Sweet Christmas takes readers back to the holiday-loving town of Wishing Tree for romance and holiday atmosphere. 

Romance fans have been patiently waiting for Lyssa Kay Adams newest in her Bromance series and it’s holiday-themed- A Very Merry Bromance; your best friend would love it. 

For the Mystery reader, Patricia Crisafulli’s The Secrets of Ohnita Harbor has a librarian sleuth, a missing historical icon from an Italian saint, and a setting that stands in for Oswego- what more could you want? 

Deanna Raybourn’s Killers of a Certain Age has movie written all over it. It’s about four 60-something female assassins who upon retirement find themselves targeted for assassination. It’s fast-paced and clever.

Books are wonderful to put in children’s stockings, and if you have a wee one, Mo Willems’ Pigeon Will Ride The Roller Coaster is a good one. Beginning chapter book readers love Nick Bruel’s funny Bad Kitty series.

The A to Z Mysteries series  by Ron Roy is popular with chapter book readers, and for fans of the popular Netflix series, The School of Good and Evil, the books by Sonan Chainani would make great stocking stuffers.

Rick Riordan’s newest series, The Trials of Apollo is filled with action and mythology.

Graphic novels are still growing in popularity, from Diary of a Wimpy Kid to The Babysitter’s Club to Amulet series among the most popular. 

For the older teens, Marissa Mayer’s Cursed continues her successful books that reimagine fairy tales. Fantasy readers would love Tracey Deonn’s Bloodmarked, a sequel to Legendborn

You can support your local bookstore by purchasing books from them in person, online, or through Bookshop.org, which has raised over $23 million for independent bookstores. If you buy any book of your choosing at my Bookshop page,  (use the search bar to find any book) my 10% commission goes to The Book Cellar, a used bookstore run by volunteers and whose proceeds benefit branch libraries of the New York Public Library. Happy Thanksgiving to all!