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Friday, March 25, 2022

Friday 5ive- March 25, 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish blog post about five things that caught my attention this week. You know it's spring when the weather whipsaws from 72 one day to 42 the next.

1) I attended my first in-person book event since February of 2020 at the book launch for John Searles' fantastic novel, Her Last Affair. (My review is here.) Held at Symphony Space in NYC, the evening began with actress Amy Ryan reading from the first chapter of the book. Can I just say that I would like to request that Amy Ryan read to me every night before I go to sleep? She and John then had a fantastic discussion that included stories about the summer he traveled with his Dad (who was a cross-country trucker), the year he and his husband lived out of hotel rooms and in friends' guest bedrooms after their apartment was destroyed in a fire caused by the couple next door who constantly fought, and the importance of making sure your Skype app is turned off before your book club starts talking about the author after the session ends, among other topics. Oh yeah, and the book was discussed too, which I highly recommend. It's the story of three people who try to connect with old loves, secrets, and how Searles connects these three people is a twist that left me gasping. The setting is an abandoned drive-in movie theater which adds to the creepiness factor. We even got popcorn to take home!
John Searles and Amy Ryan

2) I finally finished my virtual Route 66 ride through Conqueror Virtual Challenge. It took me 244 days to  ride the 2280.3 miles. This one was my longest journey yet and it felt great to complete it. Doing these virtual challenges keeps me on track on my Peloton rides. My next ride is a short 500 miles along the North Coast of Scotland.

3) We had a birthday party at the Book Cellar, the used book store located in the Webster branch of the New York Public Library where I volunteer, this week. We had a lovely luncheon, with flowers, balloons and a birthday cake made by one of the volunteers. It was a delicious vanilla cake made with mandarin oranges. The festive sprinkles on top actually matched the cake plates. It feels good to celebrate birthdays once again as a group.  Here is a classic recipe for the cake.

4) I've been watching a lot of old sitcoms as you know, and I just stumbled upon one I haven't ever seen before- Reba, starring country superstar Reba McEntire. She stars in this 2001-2007 sitcom where she plays a divorced mom who lives with her three children. Her oldest daughter (played by Joanna Garcia Swisher) is 17 and finds herself pregnant by her high school boyfriend (played by Steve Howey from Shameless). They marry, have the baby, and live with Reba and her 13 year-old daughter and 8 year-old son. Reba's ex-husband (Christopher Rich) married his ditzy dental assistant (Melissa Peterman) and they all try to live and let live. Reba McEntire is a fantastic comedic actress, I had no idea! I'm really enjoying watching the early morning reruns of the show on the Hallmark Channel. 

5) I read three books, including Susan Mallery's The Summer Getaway (my full review here) about a forty-ish divorced mom who leaves her Florida home, her ex-husband, ex-boyfriend, adult children and all their issues behind to help her great-aunt in California. She meets a handsome ex-Marine and begins a hot affair only to have her entire family bring their problems to her in California. 

Annie Ward's The Lying Club (my review is here) is for fans of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies. The book begins with a dead body lying on a high school gym floor, and a woman who blacked out and can't remember what happened. Throw in a wealthy community with a mom who will stop at nothing to make sure her lacrosse star daughter gets into a good college, teens running amok, a high school coach who wields too much power in the community, and you've got a suspenseful story.

I also read an amazing novel by Melissa Fu titled Peach Blossom Spring. The story begins in 1938 China, with Meilin and her young son Renshu on the run from Japanese bombers who are destroying their town. Meilin and Renshu do what they can to survive, and finally settle in Taiwan as refugees. (Reading this resonates so much with what is happening in the Ukraine now.)  As Renshu grows up, he is an excellent student and gets the opportunity to study in America. Here his life diverges from his mother's and we see the difficult life of an immigrant in the United States contrasted with Meilin's life working as a maid and seamstress in Taiwan. It's a heartrending story about mothers and sons, written with such empathy for the characters.  Peach Blossom Spring will be one of my top books of the year.  

Have a safe week everyone.

Thursday, March 24, 2022

Two fantastic suspense novels

Reprinted from the Citizen:

What makes a good suspense novel? First you need well-drawn characters that the reader cares about. Put those characters in a situation that has a sense of foreboding and danger, and the reader will be drawn into the story. Two recent novels that fit that bill are the subject of this month’s Book Report.

The setting for John Searles’ novel, Her Last Affair is one that will feel familiar to many people in the Auburn area. The story takes place at a drive-in theater (the Finger Lakes Drive-In is one of the few remaining drive-ins left in New York). 

Skyla is a widow who lost her sight shortly after she lost her husband of nearly fifty years in a freak accident. She is looking for a tenant to rent the cottage on her property, right next her own identical cottage on the grounds of the abandoned drive-in theater her husband’s family ran for years.

Brit Teddy Cornwell shows up to rent the cottage, and he and Skyla hit it off immediately. Teddy loves this “brilliant stitch of Americana” and laughs at the only question Skyla asks him - “Have you ever been in love?” She asks nothing about his references or financial situation, just a question about love.

Teddy shares the story of his first love, Linelle, how he loved her more than anyone in his life, even more than his ex-wife. Skyla encourages Teddy to look her up, which he does, tracking Linelle down on Facebook. Linelle is receptive to meeting up with Teddy after all these years since her marriage is unhappy and her life seems to be falling apart.

Jeremy is an unsuccessful writer in New York City, about to be evicted from his apartment when he gets an assignment to write a restaurant review in his hometown of Providence. He returns home and recalls the woman he fell in love with year ago, the woman who broke his heart. Maybe he should look her up.

No one in Her Last Affair is exactly who they seem. Why did Skyla lose her job as a nurse years ago? Why is Teddy hiding out in a cottage on an abandoned drive-in? How Searles weaves the stories of these fascinating, lovelorn characters together is nothing short of brilliant, and I loved his use of movie quotes to open each chapter with insight into what is coming next.

Her Last Affair is a book that builds the suspense with each turn of the page. The twist that Searles throws in will have you gasping as I did. The drive-in setting is perfect, as this is a book that screams to be turned into a movie.

Lisa Lutz’s The Accomplice also has characters you find fascinating within a suspense story that draws the reader in. Owen is a student from a wealthy family when he meets Luna at college. Luna is quiet, keeps mostly to herself, and has a secret in her past that she desperately wants to keep hidden. 

Owen and Luna become best friends, practically inseparable. When Owen dates a woman from  college and breaks up with her, she ends up dead and suspicion falls on Owen. Luna’s past comes into focus as well when the young woman is found dead. They both become outcasts on campus.

Years later, Owen is married to someone else, as is Luna. They live in the same town and are still best friends. When Owen’s wife is found dead, Luna is the one who finds her dead body as she was supposed to go running with her.

The police discover that Owen was having an affair with one of his students, and suspicion once again falls on Owen. Luna’s past also rears its head as well. Did either or both have anything to do with the women’s deaths or is it just a bad coincidence?

Owen and Luna’s relationship is a unique one. They know each other better than they know anyone else- or do they? Are either one of them capable of murder?

Her Last Affair and The Accomplice are both terrific suspense novels that make the reader think. Although these books are both fiction, I think fans of true crime podcasts and television shows like “Dateline” would find these interesting. I highly recommend them both, John Searles and Lisa Lutz are at the top of their game here.

Her Last Affair by John Searles- A

Published by Mariner Books

Hardcover, $27.99, 336 pages

The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz- A

Published by Ballantine Books

Hardcover, $28, 368 pages

Sunday, March 20, 2022

The Lying Club by Annie Ward

The Lying Club by Annie Ward
Published by Park Row Books ISBN 9780778389408
Trade paperback, $16.99, 432 pages

Annie Ward's new novel The Lying Club opens with Natalie waking up from a blacked-out state clutching a man's necktie and seeing a dead body lying in a puddle of blood on the school gym floor. What did she do now? What did she do now- how can you resist reading on to find out? (And what did she do before?)

Natalie is a young woman working as an adminstrative assistant at a tony private school in Colorado. She helps to care for her brother who is recovering from an injury, and spends her free time selling her art on Etsy and showing up at open houses for homes she can't afford to check out the expensive art in them.

Asha is the realtor at the open houses, and her teenage daughter Mia and younger son Oliver attend the private school where Natalie works. Mia is a talented lacrosse player, and is often pitted against Sloane, another excellent lacrosse player. Sloane's mother Brooke is one of those moms who believes her daughter is headed to a Division 1 lacrosse scholarship and will make sure nothing or no one gets in the way of that.

Popular and charismatic lacrosse coach Nick McIntyre has connections with college coaches and he believes he can help both girls get into the best schools, but that will require dedication and hours of private coaching that cost lots of money. Brooke is totally onboard, Asha wants that if Mia truly wants it. Mia's father does not believe Mia wants to do it.

The book moves back and forth between a police interrogation and the events leading up to the dead body on the gym floor. The reader will recognize the character types in this propulsive story- the young woman who wants what she sees the wealthy women have, the moms with too much free time on their hands, too much money and are too invested in their children's identities as a reflection of themselves, the coach who lords his power over a community who value sports too highly.

Parents of teenagers will cringe at some of the dangerous things these teenagers do, unable to realize the consequences of their actions. The rivalry between parents is also something many people may recognize, perhaps unfortunately in themselves. 

 Reading The Lying Club will appeal to people who enjoy putting together the pieces of a puzzle. Annie Ward turns up the tension with each turn of the page until the explosive conclusion. Fans of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies have found themselves a new author.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Winter Reads 2022 Blog Tours.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery

The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery
Published by Harlequin ISBN 978133547990
Hardcover, $27.99, 416 pages

I enjoy getting lost in a good story, and Susan Mallery's books never steer me wrong. (I always look forward to a new addition to her Happily, Inc. series.) Her latest novel is a terrific stand-alone, The Summer Getaway.

Robyn is a forty-something woman, divorced from her husband and mother to daughter Harlow, who is engaged and in full-on wedding planning. Harlow works for her dad in his charter boat service as a captain and has designs on getting her dad to buy a kayak rental business for her to run.

Son Austin is out of high school and working for his dad too. Robyn would prefer Austin went to college first before settling on working for his father, but Austin chose not to do that. Harlow has her heart set on getting married at the house she grew up in, where Robyn lives now. But in her divorce agreement, Robyn has to either sell her house and split the proceeds with her ex, or buy him out. She only has a part-time job, so buying him out is not feasible.

Harlow is furious with her mother for ruining her wedding plans, and Robyn's ex's choice of current girlfriend is too much for Robyn to deal with. When Robyn's current boyfriend says something disrepectful to her, she travels to Santa Barbara to visit with her great-aunt Lillian, who at the age of 94 is preparing for the future.

Lillian asks Robyn to come and catalogue all of her massive home's furnishings and art works for donation to museums and for sale. She will leave the entire contents of the house to Robyn when she passes away. The actual house will go to her husband's distant cousin, Mason, who has been invited to come and live with Lillian.

Mason never knew his cousin Leo and is surprised to find out he will inherit this oceanside mansion. He is a twenty-year veteran of the army and a military historian, and immediately he is attracted to Robyn. The attraction is mutual and Robyn surprises herself with her actions.

Austin decides to travel to Santa Barbara to visit his mom, and Harlow tags along, now angry at her father. Robyn's friend shows up having blown up her own marriage, and then Robyn's ex-husband show up. Pretty soon an entire clown car of people (including her ex-boyfriend) have made the trip from Florida to Santa Barbara seeking Robyn's guidance, and her summer getaway has gone off the rails.

It seems that every character is at a crossroads in his or her own life, and expect Robyn to help them fix it. Robyn is like so many women who are always there to take care of family and friends. I bet some women will be able to relate. (Although most of us won't inherit the contents of our great-aunt's mansion.)

It's refreshing to see a mature couple like Mason and Robyn have a hot physical relationship, instead of the usual 20 or 30-something characters in novels. Can they overcome all the obstacles thrown in their way by Robyn's family and friends?

The Summer Getaway has something for everyone, and the characters and some of the issues they face are relatable (we are all concerned about our children, no matter how old they are). I loved the beautiful setting of an oceanside mansion that I could see in my mind's eye (and want to visit.) Escape your life for a few hours with Susan Mallery's delightful The Summer Getway. 

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

Monday, March 14, 2022

New in Paperback- Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge

Libertie by Kaitlyn Greenidge
Published by Algonquin ISBN 9781643752587
Trade paperback, $16.95, 352 pages

March is Women's History Month, and there are many wonderful historical novels now out in paperback that make great reads honoring this month. Lauren Willig's fantastic Band of Sisters (my review here) fictionalizes the true story of a group of Smith College alumni who traveled to France during WWI to aid villagers displaced by war.  Another terrific one is Kaitlyn Greenidge's Libertie, which takes us to the Civil War, and tells the story of a Black female physician in New York, and her daughter Libertie. Both are excellent reads.

As the novel opens, Libertie is a dark-skinned Black 11 year-old daughter of Cathy, a light-skinned Black female physician living in Brooklyn during the Civil War. Libertie's father is dead, and in addition to caring for the people of her community, Cathy also aids people on the Underground Railroad.

Madame Elizabeth, whose husband is an undertaker, brings Cathy an escaped slave hiding in a coffin. Cathy resusitates the man, Ben, and then Ben is sent to live in town with other escaped men. Libertie is drawn to Ben, and he has a strong effect on her.

In one striking passage in 1863, during what became known as the New York Draft Riots, mobs of Irish people burned down a Black children's orphange to protest being drafted to fight in the Civil War, and the children that could be saved were rowed across the river to Brooklyn where Cathy and Elizabeth and others rushed to help the refugees. I don't recall learning about this horrifying event in history class.

Cathy and other Black women formed the Ladies' Intelligence Society, and they planned to build a hospital to treat Black people, with a focus on women's health issues. Soon, she began to treat white women who turned to Cathy with reproductive issues they couldn't get help with in their own communities. They allowed Cathy, with her light skin, to treat them, but many wouldn't allow the dark-skinned Libertie to touch them.

Cathy arranged for Libertie to attend a Black college in Ohio to train to become a doctor like herself. While at school, Libertie does not get the grades necessary to continue, and she is afraid to tell her mother when she returns home. 

Libertie meets the doctor who is now assisting her mother, and she agrees to marry him and move to Haiti, where his father and sister have fled the scourge of slavery in the United States. Cathy is furious that the dreams she had for her daughter are gone, that Libertie has chosen to be a wife and mother as her life's ambition.

Adjusting to life in Haiti is difficult for Libertie, her father-in-law and sister-in-law do not treat her kindly, and her husband appears too busy to notice. She becomes attached to TiMe, the family servant, and discovers a troubling situation, one she will not ignore.

Libertie tells her own story here, and people who love Toni Morrison's novels will find themselves drawn to Kaitlyn Greenidge's lyrical style of writing, with an element of magic involved. Libertie has a strong mother-daughter story at its core, and I for one would love to read Cathy's own story told by her as well.

We read to put ourselves in the shoes of others, and read historical fiction to feel how people lived in other times other than ours, and Libertie accomplishes both of those brilliantly. I can see why so many publications called it one of the best books of 2021. Libertie the book and Libertie the person are unforgettable.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Kaitlyn Greenidge's book tour.

Algonquin has many wonderful excellent books for Women's History Month, including Thrity Umrigar's Honor, and Elena Medel's The Wonders. 

Friday, March 11, 2022

Friday 5ive- March 11, 2022

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

1) I have been waiting patiently to see The Music Man on Broadway and my turn came this week. I'm a big Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster fan, and it was such a treat to see them in this delightful show. The dancing, the singing, the costumes- it all was wonderful. Broadway vet Jayne Houdyshell was also a joy playing the comical mayor's wife, she elevates every show she is in. There was one cute thing that happened in the show- Hugh and Sutton had a scene together and there was a mistake in the scene and they could not stop giggling. They broke up and it took them a long time to pull it together, which got the audience screaming with laughter. It was good to laugh that hard with a large group of people. I will say that I got a real Dick Van Dyke vibe from Hugh in this role- the way he moved dancing, his smile, it all reminded me of Van Dyke, who also played the iconic role of Professor Harold Hill. And Sutton Foster has always reminded me of Mary Tyler Moore, so these two together was so sweet. Go see it if you come to NYC.

2) I made a new recipe for a friend's birthday lunch. Giada's Chicken Orzo Frittata was a big hit at the luncheon, all the ladies loved it. It was easy to make and it makes a great lunch or light dinner paired with a green salad. Another friend brought a delicious Tiramisu Cake from Stew Leonard's grocery store and it was a tasty lunch indeed. 
From from Food Network

3) I started a new podcast this week on the recommendation of one of our customers at the Book Cellar. Turner Classic Movies has a ten part podcast called The Plot Thickens, and season three of the podcast is about the life of Lucille Ball. The first episode is set in her hometown of Jamestown, New York, and you get to hear parts of old recorded interviews with Lucille Ball, her brother Fred, and her mother Dede  among others. It's fascinating and if you like Luciile Ball, definitely give it a listen. 

4) It was an all-Lucy week last week as I watched the fantastic new documentary on Amazon Prime Video,  Lucy & Desi, directed by Amy Poehler. Their daughter, Lucy Arnaz Luckinbill, participated in the documentary, and there are is a lot of great old video of Lucy and Desi over the years, including video of a very pregnant Lucy from the 1950s. This is a must-watch for Lucy fans. 

5) I read one really terrific book this week, perfect for Women's History Month. Kate Quinn's upcoming historical novel, The Diamond Eye, is a fictionalized account of the most successful Russian sniper in World War II- a woman named Ludmila Pavlichenko. Mila was known as Lady Death, and she had over 300 known kills as a most dangerous sniper. She was a librarian who carried her dissertation in her knapsack so she could work on it during her down times. The book tells the story of her dangerous missions, in which she suffered many injuries, as well as her trip to visit the United States, where she became friends with First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt. Like Quinn's other recent novels, The Alice Network, The Huntress, and The Rose Code, The Diamond Eye shows us the role that brave women all over the world played during the world wars. It's a hefty book, but once you get into it, you'll speed through it as you are amazed by Mila's bravery and skill. I love all of Quinn's books, she brings these brave women to vivid life.

Have a safe, healthy week all.

Shared with Marg at the Intrepid Reader for Weekend Cooking.

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

New in Paperback- Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig

Band of Sisters by Lauren Willig
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062986160
Trade paperbacks, $16.99, 544 pages

I enjoy historical fiction most when the story is one that I am unfamiliar with, and it is based on real people. In this vein, author Lauren Willig introduces the reader to The Smith College Relief Unit, a group of women from the Smith College in the United States who volunteered to go into the Somme in France during WWI, working to help French viilagers displaced during the war in her novel "Band of Sisters". 

These young women, who didn't even have the right to vote yet, got on a ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean to go to a war zone, to help people they didn't know. Willig discovered this in a memoir titled "Ladies of Grecourt" by Ruth Gaines, a member of the unit. Then she found a cache of letters and journals written by the young women of the unit. Many of the stories in those letters ended up fictionalized in this fascinating novel that I could not put down.

I got so caught up in the individual stories of these interesting young woman, like Kate, the Irish young woman, a school teacher who was recruited by Emmie, her former roommate at Smith. Julia, Emmie's cousin, is a doctor with a serious demeanor. Mrs. Rutherford is the formidiable woman who was the driving force behind this enterprise. 

Mrs. Rutherford told the ladies that they will be planting food, helping to build new shelters and schools, whatever was needed. The women drove huge trucks, learned how to give first aid, procured supplies by any means they could, and figured out how to get it to the people who needed it. They did all that and more in a time before Excel spreadsheets and Google docs, and did it in extremely uncomfortable clothing.

Willig drops the reader right into the war zone along with these brave, enterprising women. We see them at the best, working together to help people who were much worse off than they were led to believe, and at their worst, as close quarters during a crisis can cause some people's behavior to deteriorate. 

When the war comes to their doorstep, the tension rachets up as the women work to save as many villagers as they can. I bit my nails to the quick as I was reading this section. 

I also enjoyed the callback to the most recent novel by Lauren Willig, Beatriz Williams and Karen White, All The Ways We Said Goodbye, with a character and setting from that collaboration making an appearance here.

Readers of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs series should definitely put Band of Sisters on their TBR list and buy it now. I know so many women who would love this book. This is Lauren Willig's best book yet, I can't wait to see what research she stumbles upon for her next book.

My review of All The Ways We Said Goodbye is here.

Sunday, March 6, 2022

An excerpt from Susan Mallery's upcoming novel The Summer Getaway

Nothing says spring like a good book from perennial favorite Susan Mallery. (Her Happily, Inc. series is one of my must-reads.) Her upcoming novel, The Summer Getaway, takes us on a trip to Santa Barbara, California, as Robyn Caldwell seeks an escape from her family who are driving her crazy with all their issues. What Robyn finds is that no matter how far you travel, your family is always with you.

Enjoy this excerpt from The Summer Getaway. My full review will publish on March 16th.


“I’m going to sleep with Dimitri.”

Robyn Caldwell picked up her glass of white wine and briefly thought about swallowing the entire contents in one gulp. Mindy’s statement was certainly gulp-worthy. But she knew pacing herself through lunch was the responsible thing to do. A lesson her friend had yet to learn.

“You are not,” Robyn murmured, because shrieking wasn’t attractive. Especially at “the club,” where their friends and frenemies were also enjoying Thursday’s lobster salad. The dining room was filled with forty or so women, all dressed in Florida chic—diamonds sparkling, gold or platinum charm bracelets clinking, necklaces resting on tanned and toned skin.

“I might,” Mindy Krause said, picking up her champagne. “He’s gorgeous.”

“Of course. He’s a thirty-year-old tennis pro. What else would he be?”

Mindy, a petite brunette who was six months from turning forty, sighed. “I need a Dimitri in my life.”

“You have a great husband. Payne loves you and the kids, and never has eyes for another woman. Why would you screw that up?”

“Payne would never know.”

“There aren’t any secrets in this town. Not in our social circle.”

Something Robyn had learned the hard way herself. She’d been blissfully unaware of her ex-husband’s affairs until a “friend” had oh-so-sweetly informed her.

“Maybe just some kissing,” Mindy mused. “I want a little Dimitri action. The fantasies make me happy, so imagine what the real thing would do.”

“The fantasies are safe. The real thing could destroy everything you have. Knowing you’ve cheated would devastate Payne.”

Mindy’s mouth formed a pout. “I never see him anymore. All he does is work.”

Robyn stared at her friend-slash-boss. “You two talked about how that promotion would be more work for him but that it would be worth it. You wanted this for him.”

“I didn’t know how much he’d be gone.”

The unreasonable statement grated nearly as much as Mindy’s whine. “This isn’t a good look for you,” Robyn murmured. “You’re changing the rules without telling your husband. That never ends well.”

Mindy dismissed the warning with a quick shake of her head. “I’m not worried. Besides, if he does find out, I can just move in with you.” She laughed. “You’ll soon have that big house all to yourself.”

“You have four kids,” Robyn pointed out. “If things go south in your marriage, I’d rather have Payne move in.”

“Well, that would get people talking.” Mindy held up her empty glass to the server. “More, please.”

The server obliged.

Mindy took another sip. “My sister called, swears she found a Thomas Pister chest in a tiny shop in Wales. It’s dirt cheap, so I’m afraid it’s a fake. She’s looking for someone to prove authenticity. Wouldn’t that be a find?”

“It would. I’d love to see it.”

Thomas Pister had built beautiful chests and cabinets in the late 1600s and early 1700s. His intricate designs with stunning inlays sold quickly and for huge amounts. Depending on the condition and the materials, a good-sized chest of drawers could go for sixty or eighty thousand dollars.

Excerpted from The Summer Getaway by Susan Mallery, Copyright © 2022 by Susan Mallery, Inc.. Published by HQN Books. 

Friday, March 4, 2022

Friday 5ive- March 4, 2022

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

1)  After a two year hiatus, I made my way back to Broadway. I went to see Moulin Rouge, which won the Tony Award last year for Best Musical. I loved the movie it was based on, and the show followed the movie pretty faithfully. Aaron Tveit, in his Tony winning performance, is wonderful as Christian, the penniless songwriter in love with Satine, the star of the Moulin Rouge. The songs (all pop songs) and choreography of the show is fantastic, with lots of energy, and it was a great way to come back to Broadway.

2)  I made a delicious new recipe- Skillet Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pie from Food & Wine. I am not the biggest pot pie fan, mostly because I don't like the thick crust, and this recipe calls for no crust. You put the filling of chicken (I used shredded rotisserie chicken) and vegetables with the sauce you make in a skillet, and top it with thick slices of buttered white bread. My husband and I really enjoyed this dish, and the recipe will in our dinner rotation.  
Photo from Food & Wine- Stephanie Foley

3) The Today Show 's Jenna Bush Hager celebrated three years of her Read With Jenna book club on Read Across America Day on March 2nd on the Plaza. Twelve authors came to the show and and all 37 books that Jenna has chosen as her monthly reads were lined up on tables. Jenna mentioned that it looked like a Scholastic Book Fair and that is exactly the vibe I felt! I only wish we could have shopped for the books with money that our parents gave us. (The 2000 books were donated to the community of Newburgh, NY). I got to talk to a few of the authors, and tell them how much I loved their books (J. Courtney Sullivan, whose Saints For All Occasions is frequently found on my Staff Recommends cart at the Book Cellar, and Matteo Askaripour, whose Black Buck is a stunning debut novel).
The authors!

Matteo Askaripour

4)  I was glad to see The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is back on Amazon Prime for its fourth season. There is something comforting about traveling back to 1960's New York City to catch up with Miriam, who at the end of last season lost her chance to go on a world tour with singer Shy Baldwin after she made a joke that hit too close to home for him. Miriam and Susie have to pick up the pieces and regroup. The Wonder Wheel scene in episode one is brilliantly directed and edited, and I can't wait to see more of Miriam's gorgeous dresses and hats.  It's a fantastic ensemble of actors, led by Rachel Brosnahan and Alex Borstein as Miriam and Susie. 

5)  I read a lot of books since my last post. Elena Medel, a Spanish poet, wrrte her debut novel,The Wonders, about two working class women in Madrid and how difficult life choices are for women especially when money is scarce. It's a fantastic book, a great read for Women's History Month, and my full review is here.

Another fabulous book is Olga Dies Dreaming by Xochitl Gonzalez, a novel about Olga, a successful wedding planner of Puerto Rican descent in Brooklyn, her brother Prieto, a popular Congressman, and how they deal with their revolutionary mother who left them as children, gentrification in their neighborhood, a secret Prieto is hiding, and the impending doom of Hurricane Maria on Puerto Rico. The writing is amazing, and you learn so much about the history of Puerto Rico. This will be one of my favorite books this year. 

Two of the books I read deal with unique protagonists. In Nita Prose's The Maid, Molly is a maid at a fancy hotel in London. She loves her job and is very good at it, but her people skills are lacking. When she discovers the dead body of a guest, Molly finds herself a suspect because she befriended the young wife of the dead man. Molly is an unforgettable character, and the story combines a puzzzling mystery with a charming cast of characters. It is a Good Morning America book club pick and destined to be a movie starring Florence Pugh. 

Weike Wang's novel  Joan is Okay also features a character who loves her job and lacks social skills. Joan is a doctor in a busy New York City hospital. She is dedicated to her work, rarely taking a day off, and when her father dies, she goes to China for the funeral returning in a two days. Her dedication earns her a promotion at work, much to the dismay of her coworkers and her brother and mother who think she needs to find a husband and start a family. The book takes place just before the pandemic hits in New York, and I liked the look at a doctor's world in busy New York City. It's a more interior book than The Maid, really getting into the mind and life of Joan. 

The last book I read is Jacqueline Winspear's latest Maisie Dobbs mystery, A Sunlit Weapon. Private investigator Maisie Dobbs is tasked with investigating the death of a female aviatrix, who, while delivering a fighter plane in England during WWII, is shot down. In the same area, a Black American GI is found tied up in a barn, his white friend missing, presumed dead. Maisie must discover why someone shot down the airplane and what happened to the missing GI. This is a classic Maisie Dobbs mystery, where we get fascinating tidbits of history (American GIs providing physical labor for British farmers, women aviatrix flying planes to the men at the front, racism in the American ranks) combined with Maisie's team (investigator Billy, Maisie's American husband Mark, her young adopted daughter among others). I am concerned with a bit of foreshadowing information thrown in that may portend something not good in the future for Maisie, and I would have loved to have read more about the women pilots. Fans of Maisie Dobbs will be pleased. 

Have a safe week everyone.

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Guncle & How Lucky

Reprinted from the Citizen:

February is the month we celebrate Valentine’s Day and love. This month’s Book Report features a few books I loved, but not necessarily books about romantic love.

Steven Rowley’s fantastic novel The Guncle is about Patrick, an actor who made his fame and fortune on a television sitcom a few years back. When the sitcom ended, Patrick left Los Angeles behind and moved to the solitude of Palm Springs away from everyone. 

Patrick’s best friend Sara married his brother Greg, and they had two children, Maisie and Grant. When Sara dies, and Greg has to deal with some troubling issues of his own, Greg asks Patrick to take in Maisie, age 9, and Grant, age 6, for the summer. 

Patrick agrees, and the children go to live with the man they call GUP (Gay Uncle Patrick). He doesn’t know much about caring for children, but he does know about dealing with grief after losing his boyfriend in a car accident a few years ago.

They fall into a routine, riding bikes in the morning, swimming in the pool, having dance parties, going out to eat. Things seem to be going as well as they can until Patrick’s sister Clara comes to town and wants to take the children back to their home in Connecticut. She believes she is better suited to care for the children until their father can come home.

The Guncle is a lovely, heartfelt story with characters you’ll fall in love with. Patrick grows to deeply love the children, and he gives them the sense of security and understanding they need. They in turn open Patrick’s heart up after it was broken in grief. 

Although the story is tinged with sadness, there is humor in it as well. Patrick sprinkles in his ‘Guncle Rules’, like this one: “Guncle Rule number eight: Make the Yuletide gay”, something they did when they put up their Christmas tree in the summer to celebrate the holiday early and left it up all summer.

Patrick also has wise words born of experience. “Grief orbits the heart. Some days the circle is greater. Those are the good days. You have room to move and dance and breathe. Some days the circle is tighter. Those are the hard ones.”

The Guncle is a story about a family lifting each other up and loving each other. You will smile throughout, and tear up at times. The dialogue is wonderful, and I think it would make a terrific movie. 

Will Leitch’s terrific novel How Lucky has a unique protagonist.  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 customer service Twitter account 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. Everyday Daniel sees a young woman walking down his street on her way to class. One day he sees a car stop and she gets in.

The young woman ends up missing. She is a Chinese student who, like Daniel, has trouble communicating as she doesn’t speak much English. Daniel and Travis contact the police about what Daniel saw, but when a young policeman stops by Daniel’s house, the communication problems cause the policeman not to take Daniel seriously.

Daniel turns to the internet site Reddit to alert a group of students searching for the missing woman. The man in the car sees the Reddit post and responds to Daniel. Daniel keeps in contact with the man, hoping to find out what happened to the missing woman, but it also may be placing himself in danger.

How Lucky is a real page-turner, and some people have compared the premise to the famous  Jimmy Stewart movie Rear Window, which is an apt comparison. The reader also learns what it’s like to live completely dependent on others for day-to-day living.

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. Like The Guncle, Travis, Daniel and Marjani become a family who care for each other.

The Guncle by Steven Rowley- A+

Published by G.P. Putnam & Sons

Hardcover, $27, 336 pages

How Lucky by Will Leitch- A+

Published by Harper

Hardcover, $25.99, 304 pages