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Friday, February 18, 2022

Friday 5ive- February 18, 2022

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

1)  Last week was Valentine's Day and Today With Hoda & Jenna had a segment on Valentine's Day Romantic Reads. My favorite author Adriana Trigiani gave two recommendations, one of which is my all-time favorite romantic read- Time After Time by Lisa Grunwald. It's a time travel story set in Grand Central Station that's so beautifully written that every time I'm in Grand Central, I look for the main characters, Nora and Joe, there. My review of the magnificent book is here. You can watch the Hoda & Jenna segment here.  

2)  While flying home from Florida, the woman in front of my seat put on this headband right after takeoff. Although we flew out of Sarasota, I'm guessing she visited DisneyWorld. Shout-out to Maleficent.

3)  We did a Zoom wine-tasting with the Reagan Library and Caymus Vineyards. The Reagan Library is hosting three vineyards, one each month, and since Caymus Cabernet is one of our favorite wines, we were excited to hear their story. Charlie and Jenny Wagner, whose family has owned Caymus for generations, spoke about the origins of their family vineyard. Like many older California vineyards, they started out as orchards growing fruit and pivoting to wine making in the 1970's when California wines really came into their own. We tasted their The Walking Fool red blend, which features their great-grandfather on the label. 

4)  One of my goals is to watch the movies nominated for Academy Awards. I watched Denzel Washington's stunning Best Actor nominated performance in The Tragedy of MacBeth on Apple TV+. It's an amazing film, shot in black and white, with great cinematography and directing in Joel Coen's adaptation of the Shakespeare tragedy. Frances McDormand is fantastic as Lady MacBeth. Watch this one with the closed-captioning to get the most of out this Best Picture nominated movie. 

Also on Apple TV+ is CODA (Children of Deaf Adults), which may be my favorite movie in a long time. Emilia Jones plays Ruby, the only hearing person in her family. Troy Kotsur plays her father, and he is the first male actor who is deaf to be nominated for an Academy Award. (Marlee Matlin plays her mother.) Ruby's family depends on her to communicate with everyone around them, and when Ruby's talent for singing means she may be able to attend a music school away from her family, she has to make a decision. It's a humorous, heartwarming family story with great music. 

5)  I got a lot of reading in lately. I was on a TV memoir binge, having read three of them in the past few weeks. Directed By James Burrows is the story of the legendary TV director James Burrows, who takes us through his stellar career as the premiere director of TV pilots. We get backstage stories of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, The Bob Newheart Show, Taxi, Cheers, Frasier, Friends, and Will & Grace. If you are a fan of television sitcoms of the past forty years, this is a great read. It publishes in June. 

We go from TV sitcoms to TV dramas. Sharon Gless's memoir Apparently There Were Complaints shares her story from her days as one of the last contract players at Universal Studios to her days as a TV superstar on Cagney & Lacey, through her alcoholism and tumultous marriage to Cagney executive director Barney Rosenzweig. It's a honest portrayal of a fascinating person. 

Most people recognize Molly Shannon from her years on Saturday Night Live during the Will Ferrell days. Her memoir Hello, Molly! begins with the traumatic experience at age four of losing her mother, younger sister, and cousin in a car accident caused by father who had been drinking heavily at a family party. Molly and her six year-old sister had to deal with the tragedy growing up without a mother, and with their father's wild mood swings. The story of her and her friend sneaking on a plane as children (back when you could do that) in Ohio and spending the day in New York City with no money in the 1970's alone is worth the price of the book. The grit and determination she showed as she made her dream of performing come true is inspiring, and she has some great SNL stories. 

And finally I read a fabulous novel- Allison Pataki's The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post. Most of us know the name Post from our favorite breakfast cereals, but I did not know anything about this fascinating woman. Pataki fictionalizes the life of Marjorie Post who, as brilliant as she was in business (she brought frozen foods to our tables through her strategic purchase of Birds' Eye foods) was not as successful in her personal life, marrying and divorcing four men. You'll read this one saying "She knew who?", "She did that?" and "How did I not know of this woman?" 

Stay safe and warm in this crazy weather, until next time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2022

The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird

The Night She Went Missing by Kristen Bird
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778332101
Trade paperback, $16.99, 352 pages

In the prologue to Kristen Bird's intense suspense novel The Night She Went Missing, Emily is found face up in the water of the harbor. Who is she and how did she get there?

Emily is the teenage daughter of Carter and Catherine, who recently moved from their home in Oregon to Carter's hometown, the island of Galveston, Texas. The family moved because Catherine did something scandalous and it was thought best to make a fresh start.

Carter's imperious mother Rosalyn is the grand dame of Galveston. She pretty much owns the island, no one, not even the sheriff, does anything without her permission. Rosalyn is thrilled to have her son back home, and she attempts to bring Catherine into Galveston society whether she wants it or not.

Emily is angry she had to leave all her friends and school behind because of her mother. Many of the students at her new school resent her, including Anna, the reigning Queen Bee at school. Anna's former boyfriend Alex, the star athlete, is attracted to Emily and they become friends. 

Alex was accused a few years ago of sexually assaulting a female student, something he vehemently denied, and while he was cleared of the charges, there is still a cloud of suspicion surrounding him. When Emily disappears after a gathering where Alex was with her, once again people believe he was involved- even his mother Morgan has her doubts about him.

Much of the book takes place during the ten weeks that Emily was missing. Carter and Catherine are beside themselves, Emily's twin little sisters are distraught, and Rosalyn is determined to turn over every stone to find her granddaughter.

Emily's car was found by the gulf, with her keys and cell phone inside, but no sign of her. After an exhaustive search, the pervailing belief was that Emily drowned, but Catherine will not give up hope that Emily is alive.

We meet the people of this insular community- Anna's mother Leslie, who is Rosalyn's right-hand woman, always there to organize school functions and push her daughter to be number one. Alex's mother Morgan is divorced and her doubts about her son eat away at her. Robert Steele is the handsome, hardworking doctor who supports his widowed sister-in-law Leslie after his brother died, and he dates Morgan.

After Emily is found, the next step is to discover where she was all this time. Anyone who is a careful reader of suspense novels will probably be able to guess who is responsible for Emily's disappearance even though the author throws in some red herrings, but you may have to suspend disbelief for some of the other plot revelations. 

 I found Catherine's scandal back home an interesting twist, it's unusual to have such a big character flaw in a protagonist. Emily's ability to hold her faith as well as her belief in science shows a mature intellectual capability which is refreshing. The island community of Gavelston was also a unique setting, I can't remember reading a novel set there. Fans of J.T. Ellison will enjoy this one.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Kristen Bird's tour.

Friday, February 4, 2022

Friday 5ive- February 4, 2022

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

1)  I finally had an opportunity to visit the new Trader Joe's in my neighborhood. I read that the best time to go there was Wednesday morning, so off I went. It is a beautiful store, and so spacious. The other Trader's Joes in NYC have very crowded aisles, it's hard to shop. It was easy to move around and shop, and there was literally no line at the cash registers. Luke, the cashier, praised my choice of Sour Cream Donuts and after tasting one, I have to agree with him. I also enjoy their greeting card section- only 99 cents each and the cards are so pretty.
Photo from patch.com

2)  I walked by this window on my way home from running errands, and I was happy to see that the Book of the Month person was back. I haven't seen the display in the apartment window in awhile, so I am glad that the fellow reader is back. You are not alone my friend.

3) The snowstorm that hit NYC last Saturday meant that the public library was closed, and so was the Book Cellar where I volunteer. I was able to hop on a Virtual Book Club for Reese's Book Club with Alka Joshi (The Henna Artist, The Secret Keeper of Jaipur) in discussion with Thrity Umrigar about her novel Honor. I read Honor recently and it is such a stunning, moving book about Smita, an Indian journalist who leaves her home in the US to return to India and cover the story of Meena, a young Hindu woman who married a Muslim man. Meena's brothers murdered her husband and severely burned and disfugured Meena in what they called an "honor killing". The discussion was one of the most fascinating ones I have listened to, I learned so much about life in India from these two brilliant writers. I highly recommend reading Honor, it is a difficult subject but a very important one. 

4) We watched the movie House of Gucci this week. Lady Gaga does an amazing job portraying Patrizia, an Italian working class woman who falls in love with wealthy Maurizio Gucci, played by Adam Driver. Patrizia pushes Maurizio to become more involved in his family business, and she shows a real aptitude for the fashion industry. She loves the good life, and her husband, but when he wants a divorce, Patrizia spirals downward and hires hit men to kill him. The movie is a bit of a slow start, but once it picked up the pace and they became involved in the family business it gets more interesting. Word is that Lady Gaga and an unrecognizable Jared Leto may be up for Oscars for their performance. The movie is available for purchase On Demand through your cable system or Apple TV, Google Play, or Amazon Prime Video. 

5) I read two terrific books this week. The first is Will Leitch's mystery How Lucky. Daniel is a 26 year-old man who has SMA (Spinal Muscular Atrophy), a debilitating disease that leaves him unable to speak or move (other than his left hand) and using a wheelchair. He works monitoring a Twitter account for customer service for a small regional airline, and lives on his own in the college town of Athens, Georgia. His childhood best friend Travis and an immigrant home health aide Marjani help care for him. One day Daniel witnesses a young Chinese student get into a man's car and she disappears. Daniel has to figure out how to get help for the young woman. This book has it all- great characters, a fast-paced story, an interesting setting, a mystery to be solved, and How Lucky is nominated for an Edgar Award for Best Novel. I highly recommend it. 

The second book is also a mystery- Katherine Faulkner's debut novel Greenwich Park. Helen is pregnant and meets Rachel, an intense young woman, in her childbirthing class. Rachel keeps turning up wherever Helen is, insinuating herself in Helen's life. We're left to wonder what Rachel is up to when she moves into Helen's home, and things go missing, like Helen's husband's laptop. There are a lot of characters to keep track of in this gripping story- Helen and her husband, Helen's brother Rory and pregnant sister-in-law Selena, her brother Charlie and Helen's best friend Katie, but Faulkner weaves it all together in an expert manner that will keep the reader guessing just what Rachel's secret is. It has a definite Girl on the Train vibe, and I recommend it. 

Stay safe and warm everyone.

This post was shared with The Adventures of an Intrepid Reader's Weekend Cooking blog posts.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Penis Politics by Karen Hinton

Penis Politics by Karen Hinton
Published bysartoris Literary Group ISBN 9781736211694
Hardcover, $29.95, 252 pages

Karen Hinton's career in politics began in her small Mississippi town of Soso (population 408) as she recounts in her memoir Penis Politics. She grew up a child of the 70s, with a core group of three best girlfriends (called The Coterie).

 When she was 14 years old, her father, a successful commercial contractor with a 8th grade education died, and that devastated her. When she was 16, one of her best friends was raped by their basketball coach, and swore her friends to secrecy. Those two events shaped her life.

One thing I find interesting is how Title IX, the federal law that banned sex discrimination in sports for schools who received federal funding, was a game-changer for so many young women. If schools offered sports for boys teams, there had to be an equal number of sports teams for girls. Many women who went on to do great things did so because they had sports in their lives, Karen included.

Karen went on to college at Ole Miss, which at that time was filled with mostly rich white kids. Karen came from a small, poor community and had a tough time fitting in. The movie All The President's Men inspired her to join the student newspaper where her tenacity and willingness to question authority led her to a bright future.

At the University of Mississippi, Karen met many literary luminaries. Willie Morris was a professor she bcame close to, and he brought in visiting writers like Winston Groom (Forrest Gump), George Plimpton, and William Styron to speak with students. Hinton has a particularly interesting interaction with a very drunk William Styron.

Following college, Hinton got a job at the Jackson Daily News where she climbed the ladder, looking for any interesting story she could sink her teeth into. I found this section of the book the most fascinating. Hinton's doggedness and search for justice intrigued me. It did not, however, intrigue her editors, one of whom killed an important story about the police chief who shot a Black man in the back at a campus protest years earlier. 

Whenever anyone used the word "can't" with Karen- "you can't write that story, you can't run and gun in the game", it only reinforced her determination to prove them wrong.

Hinton became involved in politics as Press Secretary to Mike Espy, the first Black man since Reconstruction to get elected to Congress from Mississippi. From there, she made connections and got to know people like Ron Brown and Mike McCurry. Eventually she ended up as Press Secretary to Andrew Cuomo when he was Secretary of HUD in the Clinton administration.

Her description of Cuomo's demeanor and actions do not differ much from what we have recently learned about him. He fits her definition of "penis politics"- "a man in a position of authority using gender to control and dominate".  

Hinton goes on to work (briefly) as Press Secretary for New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, who frequently sparred with then Governor Andrew Cuomo. Hinton was caught in the middle, and often blamed by De Blasio for his own missteps. 

"In politics there's a toxic brew of ego, entitlement, power, testosterone and a "bro culture" that is especially difficult for women to navigate", according to Hinton. Her timely book about her experiences in that arena shines a light on that pervasive culture.

My only real criticism is that I felt she spent too much time in the book on her youth and high school life, and she uses explicit sexual graphic language that some may find offensive. I would recommend the book for anyone who likes a memoir about a woman who defied expectations in a tough business. Her story will inspire other young women.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Karen Hinton's tour.