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Thursday, August 25, 2022

Scandalized by Ivy Owens

Scandalized by Ivy Owens
Published by Pocket Books ISBN 9781982199852
Mass market paperback, $9.99, 320 pages

If the hot summer days haven't got you steamed up enough, Ivy Owens debut romance Scandalized will.

Gigi is an investigative journalist with the foreign desk for the Los Angeles Times. She's about to break a big story about powerful and wealthy men who are using a London nightclub to sexually abuse women.

When her flight back to LA gets cancelled, she runs into the brother of her childhood friend at the airport, someone she hasn't seen in fourteen years. Alec offers for her to stay in his hotel suite and promises to be a perfect gentleman.

Gigi is reluctant at first, but the thought of spending the night on the airport floor holds no appeal. Gigi and Alec talk over old times and they find themselves undeniably physically attracted to each other. What's a hot one-night stand between old friends?

The one night stand turns into more when they return to Los Angeles. Gigi figures out that Alec is famous which complicates and adds a thrill to their burgeoning relationship. As Gigi's big story is about to go live, Alex tells her that he has information that will break her story wide open. 

This is where things get complicated.  Gigi's integrity will be challenged if it comes to light that she is sleeping with a source (as it should be). Her dream of being a serious journalist doing the big stories will be gone, yet she finds herself falling in love with Alec.

Gigi's decision has consequences for not only her, but also for Alec and her own newspaper. Does she make the right decision? 

That storyline doesn't really come into play until the last third of the book. The first two thirds of the story is all about Gigi and Alec's relationship, and the many sex scenes are explicit. If that is not something you enjoy, you may not want to read this one. However, if you enjoy reading that, you will be pleased (and hot and bothered!). 

One thing that rang true for me was the scene at the airport when the flight was delayed. As someone who travels frequently, I related to this:
"Near the gate, the flight attendants have carefully avoided stepping behind the podium. If they so much as hover nearby, an irritated line forms."

I can't tell you how many times I have seen that happen.  

Thanks to Gallery Books for putting me on Ivy Owens' tour.

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Would You Rather by Allison Ashley

Would You Rather by Allison Ashley
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778366490
Trade paperback, $15.99, 320 pages

Mia and Noah have been best friends since childhood in Allison Ashley's friends-to-lovers romance Would You Rather. Noah is an architect at the firm founded by his now-retired father and Mia is his administrative assistant. They spend the day playing pranks on each other (Mia taped a banana under Noah's desk that smelled after a few days, Noah signed Mia up to receive by email a daily fun animal fact) and playing the game "Would you rather?" (Would you rather be a pirate or a ninja? Would you rather be able to read minds or fly?)

They both have issues to deal with. Noah's older brother died a few years previous in a car accident. Mia has a chronic kidney illness that requires her get weekly infusions at a hospital while she waits for a kidney transplant that may or may not come. She is also estranged from her parents. Both of them feel guilt for reasons that aren't necessarily their fault.

Mia's dream is to become a pediatric nutritionist, but she needs the health insurance from her job to pay for her medical bills. When Noah comes up with a plan to marry Mia so she can keep her insurance while going back to school, Mia is dead set against it. She doesn't want to burden Noah with that, she thinks it is unfair to him, but Noah talks her into it. They are best friends after all.

They have to convince everyone at work, their friends, and Noah's family that this marriage is real in order for their plan to work. Mia sleeps in Noah's guest room, while they both pine away for each other with just a hallway between them.

When one of Noah's coworkers overhears their plan, he uses that information to his advantage. After all, insurance fraud is illegal. 

Would You Rather is a sweet slow-burn love story (if you liked season two of Bridgerton as much as I did, you'll enjoy this book) with the requisite misunderstandings and miscommunications. The storyline dealing with chronic illness and the health insurance problems in this country add an interesting element. Noah's devotion to Mia is so touching, and I found the way the characters dealt (or didn't deal) with their feelings and emotions realistic. I recommend Would You Rather.

Thanks to Harlequin for me on their Summer 2022 Rom-Coms Blog Tour.

Saturday, August 13, 2022

Friday 5ive- August 12th, 2022

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

1)  Living in New York City, you can pretty much find anything in your neighborhood. The one thing we bemoan is that it's hard to find soft serve ice cream in our neighborhood. For more than ten years we have been complaining about this, and then I found a Ralph's Famous Italian Ices & Ice Cream tucked into a small space on 1st Ave. and 82nd street, a mere eleven blocks away. I ordered a Peanut Butter Crunch Sundae and it hit the spot on a scorching hot day. I'm going to try the Pistachio next time, that intrigues me. (I still miss Tom Thumb's Mexican Sundae from back home.)

2)  Speaking of cold treats, on my way from work on Tuesday,  I saw this street vendor park his helado cart in front of the driveway to our apartment building. He sold a few icy treats, and then continued his walk up the bus lane on York Avenue, traffic be damned. I wonder if he had Bette Midler's favorite flavor- pineapple? (Your Seinfeld reference for the week.)

3)  I caught the end of Janice Huff, our distinguished local WNBC meteorologist, on the news who was talking about the Strugeon Supermoon we would see on Friday night. Normally we don't get to see much of the exciting celestial events here in NYC, but I looked out our window and saw a huge moon hung over the East River. 

4)  My friend Trish recommended a new series on Apple TV+ called Loot. The brilliant Maya Rudolph stars as Molly Wells, the recently divorced wife of a tech multibillionaire who now finds herself without a husband but with $87 billion. She discovers that she owns a foundation and decides to step up and do good work there. Hijinks ensue as she comes to annoy and befriend the people who work for her foundation including Sofia, the serious minded CEO (MJ Rodriguez),  Arthur the accountant (played sweetly by Nat Faxon),  and her cousin Howard (Ron Gunches). Add in Molly's sycophantic assistant (Joel Kim Booster) and this show reminds me of Park & Recreation in the best way possible. It's funny and sweet, and I want a candy room like Maya has. I can't wait for season two.

5) I read three books this week, all romances and all for reviews to post in the coming weeks. 
Allison Ashley's Would You Rather is a terrific friends-to-lovers tale. Mia works as an administrative assistant to her best friend Noah, an architect at his father's firm. Mia's dream is to go back to school to become a pediatric nutritionist but she needs the health insurance from her job because she has a chronic illness that will require a kidney transplant soon. Noah doesn't want Mia to give up her dream and offers to marry her so she can keep her insurance as his wife. Noah loves Mia and Mia loves Noah, but they won't admit it to each other. It's a sweet slow-burn love story for people who loved the second season of Bridgerton (like me!). My full review posts August 23rd. 

Ivy Owens' Scandalized is a steamy hot romance that begins when Gigi, an L.A. Times journalist who is about to break a big scandalous story about wealthy men doing bad things to women in a London nightclub, runs into Alec, the brother of her childhood friend, in Seattle. Their flight to LA gets cancelled,  and Alec offers Gigi to stay in his hotel suite with him. While he promises to be a gentleman, their attraction to each other is too much to ignore and they have a hot one-night stand that turns into a longer adventure when they get to LA. How Alec plays into the story she is chasing comes to light, and could affect Gigi's big story. (This one has lots of explicit sexual content so if that isn't your thing, steer clear. If it is your thing, you'll enjoy.) My full review publishes August 25th.

The third book, Jennifer Snow's A Lot Like Forever, is the third installment of her Blue Moon Bay series. Set in the small California coastal tourist town of Blue Moon Bay, Whitney is the workaholic head of tourism marketing for the town. She's been dating Trent, who owns two popular bars in Blue Moon Bay, for seven years and they are engaged to be married. Whitney's mom has Alzheimer's and lives in an nearby adult facility. Whitney has a lot on her plate, and she is keeping something big from Trent and her best friends, something that can change their lives forever. I really liked the small town setting, and Whitney's dealing with her mom's Alzheimer's rings true for so many people in her shoes. This romance is more on the sweet side of the spectrum, but there is a little spice to it to keep readers happy. It made me want to read the first two books in the series- A Lot Like Love and A Lot Like Christmas to get the backgrounds on some of  the other characters. My full review publishes September 1st.

This post was shared with The Intrepid Reader's Weekend Cooking posts. You can read more posts featuring food here.

Have a safe, healthy, fun week.

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer

Mr. Perfect on Paper by Jean Meltzer
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778386162
Trade paperback, $16.99, 416 pages

Last year I read a cute holiday romance, The Matzah Ball, by Jean Meltzer. It was a nice changeup from all the usual Christmas-themed books that pop up around the holidays, and I learned a lot about Hanukkah celebrations.

Jean Meltzer's new novel, Mr. Perfect on Papertells the story of thirty-something Dana Rabinowitz, a matchmaker. She is a third-generation matchmaker, following in her beloved 90 year old bubbe (grandmother) Miriam and her deceased mother's footsteps. Dara took matchmaking into the 21st century creating an app called J-Mate, specifically for Jewish people looking for a marriage mate who shares their values. 

Dara has General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), something that many people battle silently. One of the only things that calms her is listening to a police and fire scanner app, which you might think would create more anxiety, but it has a soothing effect on Dara.

 Dara and Miriam are invited to appear on Good News, a national afternoon show with a low ratings. At first reluctant to do the show, Dara agrees because it will help her company launch a new feature on their app, because Miriam is so excited to do it, and the fact that Dara has a major crush on the handsome anchorman Chris Steadfast doesn't hurt. 

Things are going well until Miriam embarasses Dara by sharing a list Dara made years ago called Mr. Perfect on Paper.  The list is an extremely detailed description of the perfect man for Dara. Dara is mortified even more so when the segment goes viral.
Chris decides that the only way to keep his show from being cancelled is to set Dara up on dates to find Mr. Perfect and have the show follow the dates live. Dara reluctantly agrees, knowing the publicity will help her company and she'll get to spend time with Chris.

Since the Jewish holidays are approaching, the dates all revolve about each holiday. Each date is more disasterous (literally) than the previous one, providing for good television but embarassing Dara further. When she meets a man who is Mr. Perfect on Paper, Chris finds that his feelings for Dara are more than professional. But he is not Jewish, and that is a deal breaker for Dara- or is it?

Dara dealing with her GAD elevates this romantic novel, and as someone who isn't very familiar with Judaism, I appreciated learning about the history and culture. Being Jewish is more than a religion to her, it is her identity. If you're looking for a romance that will enlighten as well as entertain you, look no further than Mr. Perfect on Paper. 

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer 2022 Rom-Com Blog Tour.

Sunday, August 7, 2022

The Desperate Hours by Marie Brenner

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

The Dog Days of Summer are upon us and if you are looking for something a little under-the-radar to read, here is one that is destined to be on my Most Compelling Books of 2022.

Marie Brenner is an award-winning writer for Vanity Fair magazine, and she tackles the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic in her brilliant book, The Desperate Hours- One Hospital’s Fight To Save A City On The Pandemic’s Front Lines. 

Brenner received unprecedented access to doctors, nurses, researchers, administrators, and even some patients at the New York-Presbyterian hospital system in New York City as they are faced with the worse pandemic to hit this country in one hundred years.

New York City was the epicenter of the beginning of the pandemic in the United States in early 2020. Elmhurst Hospital in Queens was the hardest hit in early 2020, seeing hundreds of people come through their ER with COVID-19.

No one knew exactly how to treat COVID-19, what treatments would work, and people were dying all around them. As the pandemic spread to the other hospitals in New York, including New York-Presbyterian on the Upper East Side, doctors, nurses, and administrators worked together to completely revamp their hospital practically overnight.

The logistics of converting operating rooms (that were now going unused) into ICU rooms were daunting. There weren’t enough ventilators for the patients who needed them, and the ones supplied by the federal and state governments were missing crucial parts or arrived by the truckload completely broken in pieces.

The limited supply of ventilators brought in questions of medical ethics. Who makes the decision as to who gets the ventilators, what is the criteria? Brenner takes us right into those difficult discussions.

Hospitals were only dealing with COVID patients, one doctor brought up the fact that they hadn’t seen a cardiac patient in weeks. Where did all those people go? There was no testing for the longest time, so they didn’t know for sure who had COVID, and the vaccine was many months away.

So many people stepped up in this crisis- nurses who didn’t know if they could bring this deadly disease home to their young children, doctors who sent their families away to safety while they worked insane hours. Staff accountants were called upon to transport patients. Maintenance staff had to clean the rooms of COVID patients, exposing themselves to the deadly virus multiple times a day.

Surgical residents came up the idea of a surgical SWAT team who “loaded with backpacks of equipment, (they) would roam through the pop-up ICUs and rooms.” The SWAT team ended up doing bedside procedures for four hundred patients in one month.

One thing that struck me about this gripping book is how many smart and capable people work in the medical field. New York City attracts so many brilliant people from all over the world, and they are dedicated to their profession.

Brenner seamless weaves the individual stories of these brave and resourceful people into a cohesive true tale. The nurse who was one of the first medical staff to get COVID and her friends who valiantly worked to keep her alive, the woman who became the first asymptomatic COVID-positive mom in labor, the anesthesiologist whose encyclopedic knowledge and collection of antique ventilators was invaluable, all of their stories are unforgettable.

Finding needed supplies was a big problem, especially the KN95 masks, gloves, and surgical gowns needed to protect nurses and doctors. There were plenty of people ready and willing to steal and scam hospitals and nursing homes with promises of phantom supplies that never showed up.

The topic of inequities in the healthcare system is also addressed. Elmhurst Hospital in Queens was overrun with COVID patients, and yet they did not have the same resources as the better-funded Manhattan hospitals like New York-Presbyterian. Millionaires did not sit on their board of directors. Going forward, this is a national problem that must be tackled.

The Desperate Hours is a riveting story, so incredibly well told. It reminds me of Sheri Fink’s award-winning book, Five Days At Memorial the true story of a hospital in New Orleans ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and cut off from the outside world. Marie Brenner has written a book that will define this pandemic time. I give it my highest recommendation.

Desperate Hours by Marie Brenner- A+

Published by Flatiron Books

Hardcover, $29.99, 482 pages

Friday, August 5, 2022

Friday 5ive- August 5, 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. It really is the Dog Days of Summer, this heat is crazy, even for August.

1) The Beach Club Book Club had our annual meeting at the beach club of one of our members. We read Adriana Trigiani's epic family novel, The Good Left Undone, and had a lovely luncheon. Our discussion of the book led us to talk about our own families, and the things we don't know about them but would like to.  Matelda, the protagonist of the novel, would have been pleased with us as one of the best quotes from the book is "Families are only as strong as their stories".  
Our host Kerry and her sister Kathy shared that their grandmother worked in vaudeville. She showed us photos and letters, and they even have a poster featuring their grandmother hanging on their wall. It was fascinating. We talked about the things our families have handed down, and many of those are family recipes, which we share in books, on printed tea towels, and wall hangings. Our desserts kept with the theme, with Italian cookies, cannolis and sfoglia (a nod to the Italian characters) and Scottish shortbread (in honor of Matelda's father, Scottish seaman John Lawrie McVicars).
Mary Beth printed two quotes from the book to inspire us, and she brought prosecco to toast to Matelda before we adjourned. Kerry even gave us each a lovely pin with our initials on it to commemorate Matelda's family business,  designing and creating jewelry. It was the perfect ending to another delightful Beach Club Book Club meeting.
Toasting to Matelda and Adriana Trigiani
Two of our favorite quotes from the book

Italian and Scottish-themed desserts

A jeweled initial pin was gifted to remember our discussion 

2)  As I was doing my laundry at 6:30am, it occured to me how much we depend on our phones for everything. The laundry room in our building now has an app (Hercules Mobile) that allows you to pay for your laundry without having to use a laundry card. You can start the washer and dryer with the app, refill the app with your credit card (and not have to worry if I have $20 in cash to refill the card), and the app will notify your phone when your laundry is done. It is also supposed to give a room status update so you can know if there any machines available for use, but this has not been working as of late. 
And speaking of a card I no longer need, you can use your phone to pay for subway rides. Every subway station now has Omni pay, so you can open your Apple wallet or credit card and tap and pay for your rides. This is all very convenient, as I hate digging around for cards in my wallet. However if I lose my phone, well I guess I won't be able to do laundry or go anywhere. 
When the app works, this is a great feature

3) I saw on our local news this morning that certain branches of the New York Public Library will be having a Dance Party on Saturday, August 6th. The Webster branch where the bookstore I volunteer is located is not on this list, however we at the Book Cellar will be having an all-day Dance Party while we sell books. Shall it be Disco, 70s, or 80s music tomorrow?

4)  I binge watched all eight episodes of the wonderful Uncoupled  on Netflix this week. Neil Patrick Harris is amazing as an almost-50 year old gay man who, on the night he throws a huge surprise 50th birthday party for his boyfriend of 17 years, discovers his boyfriend has moved out of their apartment. He is completely shell-shocked and turns to his friends (the fantastic Brooks Ashmanskas as an artgallery owner, Marcia Gay Harden as an Upper East Side divorcee, and Tisha Campell as his partner at a real estate firm) for help. Now that he is back in the dating scene, he finds it's a different story now that he is not in his twenties. If you liked Sex and the City, you'll love this. (It's created by Darren Star who did SATC.) It's poignant and funny and the New York setting is breathtaking. 

5) It was another busy week, but I managed to I read two books. Katie Gutierrez's novel, More Than You'll Ever Know, is one that true crime fans will want to read. Cassie writes about true crime for a website, something that she wishes paid better. When she comes across a newspaper story about a woman who was married to two men at the same time- one in Laredo, Texas, one in Mexico City- and one of the husbands killed the other one nearly thirty years ago, she wants to find out more. Lore was married to Fabian and they have twin sons. Lore has a good job at a bank, and she travels to Mexico for work frequently. Fabian's decorative ironwork business runs into problems as a recession decimates his business. He moves from Laredo to Austin to try and save the business while Lore remains home with their teenage sons. When she meets Andres in Mexico City, she is entranced by him and falls in love. How she ends up married to two men at the same time intrigues Cassie who manages to get Lore to agree to tell her story so Cassie can write a book about her. Gutierrez writes a compelling story, and she puts the reader inside the heads of these two intriguing women. It's a fascinating character study as well as a mystery, and the truth of what exactly happened the night of the murder consumes Cassie, as well as the reader. See if you can guess the ending. (Bonus- you'll be able to practice your high school Spanish.)

Jean Meltzer's new novel, Mr. Perfect on Paper, tells the story of Dana Rabinowitz, a third generation matchmaker. She updates her family's business when she creates the succcessful J-Mate, an app for Jewish people looking for a marriage mate. Dara has General Anxiety Disorder (GAD), and one of the only things that calms her is listening to a police and fire scanner app. When Dara and her bubbe (grandmother), 90 year-old Miriam, appear on Good News, a national afternoon show with a small audience, Miriam embarasses Dara by sharing a list Dara made called Mr. Perfect on Paper.  The list is an extremely detailed description of the perfect man for Dara. Their segment goes viral much to Dara's dismay. The host of Good News, handsome single dad Chris Steadfast, decides that the only way to keep his show from being cancelled is to set Dara up on dates to find Mr. Perfect. Dara reluctantly agrees, knowing the publicity will help her company. Dara dealing with her GAD elevates this romantic novel, and as someone who isn't very familiar with Judiasm, I appreciated learning about the history and culture. (I also liked Meltzer's first novel, The Matzah Ball.) My full review posts on Tuesday.

Have a safe, healthy, cool week. Don't forget, you can support independent bookstores (including the Book Cellar) by buying books on Bookshop.org.

You can find this post and other food-related posts on Weekend Cooking at The Adventures of An Intrepid Reader.