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Friday, January 27, 2023

The Love You Save by Goldie Taylor

The Love You Save by Goldie Taylor
Published by Hanover Square Press ISBN9781335449375
Hardcover, $28.99, 298 pages

Goldie Taylor's coming-of-age compelling memoir The Love You Save shares Goldie's story growing up in a tough East St. Louis neighborhood in the 1970s. After Goldie's father was murdered and her brother beaten and robbed, her grieving mother took Goldie and her two older siblings from their home near family in a mostly Black East St. Louis community to a mostly white St. Ann.

Her mom worked long hours at a hotel, and Goldie and her siblings were left alone for long periods of time. When she was eleven years old, Goldie was raped by a neighborhood boy and found little comfort from her mother.

She was sent to live with her Auntie Gerald and Uncle Ross back in East St. Louis. Gerald and Ross' home was filled with all kinds of relatives, many of them younger. The younger children had to scrounge for space to sleep on the floor and food to eat before it was all gone.

Auntie Gerald was a deeply religious woman who kept a clean household, but she had a temper that she frequently took out on Goldie. Ross was kind to all the children, he gave them the love many of them didn't get from their own parents. They did their best to keep everyone on a good path in trying circumstances.

Goldie's saving grace became the gifted classes she was put into at her middle school. The school was falling apart and at times violent, but a few of her teachers took Goldie under their wing and believed that she had a special talent, especially in the area of speech, for which she won many awards.

While the rest of her life was chaotic and sometimes dangerous, Goldie shined in her classes. She taught herself math from her older sister's books, and her refuge was the many books she borrowed (and appropriated) from the library, Jane Austen a favorite.

Eventually Goldie became entranced by James Baldwin. His writings spoke deeply to her, and she hungered to learn about him and others like Toni Morrison and Martin Luther King Jr. 

Taylor's writing is striking and she pulls the reader in from page one with her vivid portraits of Auntie Gerald and Uncle Ross. She makes the city of East St. Louis come alive on the page, and shares its history of how Blacks moved there from the deep South for work in factories and the white flight that followed that. The scourge of crack cocaine in the 1980s left many families and neighborhoods broken.

 Goldie Taylor shows us the resiliency of the human spirit, and how education can be a lifeline for those who reach for it. Readers of such books as Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House, Jesmyn Ward's Men We Reaped and Tara Westover's Educated should put The Love You Save at the top of the TBR list. I read it in one sitting and found it incredibly moving. It makes a great book for Black History Month.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Goldie Taylor's tour. 

Thursday, January 26, 2023

Friday 5ive- January 26, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caugt my attention this week. It's been 11 months since NYC has seen an accumulation of snow. That sure is different than living in Central New York. 

1)  One of my husband's friends has a huge collection of baseball cards, and he gave my husband a Tim Locastro baseball card this week. Tim is from my hometown of Auburn, NY, (he played on the same high school baseball team with my son) played on the NY Yankees this year, and will be playing for the Mets this year. 

2)  Our quest to eat healthier continues and this week I made Rocco DiSpirito's Chicken Cacciatore from his Now Eat This! Cookbook, featuring 150 recipes under 350 calories each. I've had the cookbook for a long time and just pulled it out and dusted it off this week. Made with boneless thighs , sliced mushrooms, and diced green peppers along with a store bought marinara sauce, it was an easy and tasty dish for just 240 calories per thigh. We'll be having this one again. 

3)  One of my favorite events at the dearly departed Book Expo was always the Editors Buzz Panel, where six editors would each present a book they were excited about. I found so many terrific books there and I loved hearing how passionate they were. The Buzz Panel continues online now and we get to hear the editors speaking with the authors about their books. I really enjoy the format. The book I am most looking forward to reading is Amazing Grace Adams by Fran Littlewood. Grace is a midlife heroine, a warrior who is ready to rip up the social contract. She gets stuck in traffic while on the way to pick up her 16 year-old daughter's birthday cake, and in frustration abandons her car and walks off. It's been compared to Sorrow and Bliss, Where'd You Go Bernadette, and Lessons in Chemistry. Amy Einhorn edited it and Mary Beth Keane blurbed the book and that is all I needed to hear to get me to read it. 

4) We watched The Banshees of Inisherin on HBOMax and it is a fantastic movie. Set in 1923 on a small island off the coast of Ireland, it tells the story of two lifelong best friends,  Padraic (played by Colin Farrell) and Colm (Brendan Gleeson). Colm one day decides that he wants nothing more to do with  Padraic but won't tell him or anyone else why. The situation gets worse and worse as Padraic wants to know what happened. The acting is phenomenal, four of the actors have been nominated for Oscars, as has the movie for Best Picture. It's not for the faint of heart however. 

5) I read two nonfiction books last week. Like the rest of the world, I read Prince Harry's memoir Spare. I found it enlightening and it reinforced what I always thought- he was traumatized at the age of 12 by having to walk behind his mothers casket and greet "mourners", while keeping calm and carrying on. As the mother of two sons nearly their age at the time, I was horrified that the adults around them didn't shield them from that experience. When he married the love of his life Meghan, he became determined to protect her and their children. As for those who are trashing him in the media, I think they are proving his point. 

Amy Bloom's memoir In Love recounts the experience of discovering her 63 year-old husband being diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and his decision to go to Dignitas in Switzerland to end his life with dignity. It's a tough book to read, and Bloom doesn't hold back on how awful it is to see her vibrant husband lose himself. At its heart, it's a love story that ends too soon for them, and Bloom is an amazing writer. 

Stay safe and healthy. Until next time my friends.

Monday, January 23, 2023

Two Powerful Reads to Start 2023

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

Welcome to 2023 and a new year of reading. This month’s Book Report has two books- one fiction, one nonfiction- that, although published in 2022, will start your year off right.

Celeste Ng continues her streak of writing outstanding novels (Everything I Never Told You, Little Fires Everywhere) with her latest and most powerful novel yet, Our Missing Hearts.

Bird is a twelve year-old boy who lives with his father on campus in Cambridge, Massachusetts. His father used to work as a linguist professor, but now he shelves books in the campus library.

Bird’s mother Margaret is a Chinese-American poet, whose most famous poem, “Our Missing Hearts”, unintentionally became a rallying cry for people protesting the US government policy of removing children from families deemed “unpatriotic.”

In order to keep her son safe, Margaret left the family three years ago. Bird’s father disavowed his wife and he has warned Bird to keep his head down, avoid the police and military, and obey all authority. Many people blame the Chinese for the economic downturn that destroyed the global and American economy, and Asians have become targets for hatred and violence.

When Bird receives a letter that consists of only a drawing, he believes it is from his mother and sets out to find her. In his journey he discovers a network of librarians who work underground to try and reunite children taken from their families by the government.

Our Missing Hearts is about a mother’s powerful love for her son, and a cautionary tale about how dangerous mob mentality can be. People quickly become willing to blame anyone who looks different for their own troubles. The books also touches upon the dangers of banning books, and the slippery slope where that can quickly lead.

I give Our Missing Hearts my highest recommendation, it has such relevance for what is happening today. It is insightful and moving.

I hadn’t heard of Jennette McCurdy, but her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died has caused quite a stir, landing at the top of the bestseller list for months. McCurdy starred in the popular TV series “iCarly” as young teen, and her book is just astonishing. 

Her mother Deb wanted Jennette to be an actress, and Jennette wanted nothing more than to please her mother. The only girl (she has three older brothers) in her family, all her mother’s dashed dreams of stardom are poured into Jennette. She is a stage mother run amok.

At the age of six, Deb began taking Jennette on auditions for commercials. She bullied a successful children’s agent into taking Jennette on as a client. Jennette began working fairly steadily, and because Jennette could cry real tears easily, she became the go-to child actress when anyone needed a young child to cry on camera.

Deb’s entire identity was wrapped up in her daughter’s success as an actress. The family had difficult financial times, and soon Jennette became the breadwinner for the entire family. Her earnings kept the creditors at bay. Deb also had health issues, and her battle with cancer left the children, especially Jennette, scarred and scared that her mother could die, which Deb manipulated to her advantage.

Jennette worked her way up, doing small parts on TV shows, like “CSI”, and in low budget feature films. Eventually as a teen she auditioned for and won a co-starring role in “iCarly”, which became a monster hit on the Nickelodeon children’s network. Jennette became a popular teen star.

All this success makes Deb keep a tighter reign on Jennette, but as Jennette grew older, she resented her mother and her mother’s emotional and physical abuse. Jennette wasn’t allowed to date, and she was naive for someone her age. She finally found a taste of freedom when she went to Nashville to record an album and her mother had to stay behind for medical treatments.

Jennette’s life is filled with her mother’s mental illness and possessiveness, and eventually lead Jennette to addiction, bad relationships, and a dangerous eating disorder. Her description of her spiraling downwards into alcoholism is harrowing. 

If you read Matthew Perry’s memoir Friends, Lovers, and the Big Terrible Thing about his drug and alcohol addition, this is your next read. I couldn’t put it down.

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng- A+

Published by Penguin Press

Hardcover, $29, 335 pages

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jennette McCurdy- A+

Published by Simon & Schuster

Hardcover, $27.99, 304 pages

Friday, January 20, 2023

Friday 5ive- January 20, 2023

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

1)  We celebrated our daughter-in-law's birthday with dinner at Boqueria, a fantastic Spanish tapas restaurant in our neighborhood. She is a big reader (like her mother-in-law) and I wanted to do something fun for her birthday. I've seen on social media where people have done a combo Blind Date With a Book/ Book of the Month gift and thought that would be perfect. I chose 12 books for her, wrapped each one in bookish gift wrap, and wrote a short description of each book along with the month she should read each one. It was so much fun choosing the books, and I can't wait to hear her opinions on each book.

2)  Speaking of Spanish and books, someone donated this Spanish-language book-  "Una Visita a la EstaciĆ³n de Bomberos de Sesame Street" (A Visit to Sesame Street Firehouse) to the Book Cellar. When our sons were little boys, they would watch the Sesame Street Goes to the Firehouse video so many times, we wore the VHS tape out. They would watch the video and then don their firefighing gear (red boots, red rain coats, plastic red firefighter helmets), go outside and grab the hose to fight the fire. (Our neighbors got a big kick out that when they would extinguish the imaginary fire on the garage roof.) I had to buy it, it brought back such fond memories.

3)  While running errands, I saw two signs in a window that caught my attention. They were advertising wedding officiant services, and if you wanted to elope, this apparently is the place to go. It got me thinking that I could advertise my Wedding Officiant services, but I'm not sure who could see the sign in my 36th floor apartment window. 

4)  We watched the movie Elvis on HBOMax this week. It was fantastic, and Austin Butler literally channels Elvis from his early days to his sad end. It was hard to believe that you weren't watching the actual Elvis at times. The story is narrated by Colonel Tom Parker, Elvis' manager who, while making Elvis a household name, also manipulated Elvis and his parents. Parker created him and then destroyed him. Tom Hanks plays Parker in a role that most of us are not used to seeing Hanks- as a villain. Baz Luhrman does a masterful job directing this movie that manages to get in almost every iconic Elvis song. Butler has won many awards for his performance, and an Oscar may be headed his way. You don't have to be an Elvis Presley fan to enjoy this fantastic movie, I highly recommend it. (My favorite part was the recreation of Elvis' 1968 comeback special.)

5)  I read a brilliant novel this week- Mesha Maren's Perpetual West. (My full review is here.) It tells the story of a young couple- Alex, a Mexican man who was adopted by West Virginia evangelicals as a young boy, and his wife Elana, whose family took Alex in as a college student. They moved from West Virginia to El Paso on the Mexican border, and they spend a lot of time in Juarez, Mexico. Alex is writing his thesis on lucha libre (Mexican professional wrestling) and he falls in love with Mateo, a wrestler who ends up unwittingly involved with the leader of a drug cartel. Elana returns from a visit back home with her family to find Alex has gone missing. The story follows Alex and Mateo as they are being held by the cartel, and Elana's search for him, hampered by her poor Spanish-speaking skills and her secret battle with anorexia. The characters are so well-drawn here, you empathize with each of them. Another high recommendation from me. 

I hope you are all staying safe and healthy in 2023. Until next time.

Tuesday, January 17, 2023

New in Paperback- Perpetual West by Mesha Maren

Perpetual West by Mesha Maren
Publiblished by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781643753409
Trade paperback, $16.99, 400 pages

With so much happening at the US-Mexico border, Mesha Maren's novel, Perpetual West, brings a fascinating perspective as told through the lens of a young married couple, Alex and Elana, who have moved from West Virginia to El Paso.

Alex was born in Mexico and adopted by a missionary couple from West Virginia. He moved in with Elana and her father and brother, and eventually he married Elana, his best friend. He wanted to go to Mexico to learn more about his heritage, so he and Elana are attending college in El Paso.

They frequently cross the border to Mexico, as Alex wants to study lucha libre, Mexican wrestling, for his thesis. He meets one of the wrestlers, Mateo, and quickly falls in love with him. When Elana goes back to West Virginia to welcome her brother Simon home from drug rehab, Alex and Mateo spend the week together.

Elana doesn't speak Spanish very well, and feels left out when she and Alex go to Juarez. She also has decided to drop out of college and is secretly battling anorexia. Her trip home brings up memories of her mother's death when Elana was just a young child.

When Alex doesn't pick up Elana from the airport, she fears something bad happened to him. The police tell her that Alex probably ran away, and they have so many missing people to look for, he is not a priority.

There is so much in this wonderfully written story. Even though there are many characters in the book, Maren manages to make us care about each of them. Elana, Simon, Mateo, Alex- each one is compassionately portrayed.

Her rendering of the settings- the city of Juarez, the drug cartel head's massive compound, Elana's apartment- are all drawn so you feel like you are right there. You can almost taste the delicious foods from her descriptions as well. 

Maren's comparison of what happened to people who worked in the factories that moved from El Paso to Juarez to the miners of West Virginia- "both placed stretched thin, cadavered for their resources and labor and then abandoned, their people rendered subhuman in the national dialogue"- is eye-opening.

I also found her comparison of the migrants crossing into the United States for better opportunities to the people who moved west in the United States intriguing. One group is looked upon as brave frontiersmen forging a new life by opening up borders, the others are derided as "illegal aliens". 

Perpetual West gives the reader a lot to ponder in this propulsive novel and there is a lot going on- love, art, violence, political issues, trauma, religion- enough to keep the reader engaged and thinking about this book long after it's over. It's easy to see why so many publications chose it as one of the Most-Anticipated Books of 2022. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Mesha Maren's tour.

Friday, January 13, 2023

Friday 5ive- Christmas Catchup 2022

It's been awhile since we've had a Friday 5ive, between being so busy at work and with Christmas preparations. The first Friday 5ive of 2023 contains five things that made me happy during Christmas of 2022. We spent Christmas as a family at our home in Florida so we were all together in a sunny, warm climate.

1)  On our first night, we went to Owen's Fish Camp in Sarasota. They have the best fish dishes in a casual atmosphere. They don't take reservations and it's always busy, so we lucked out only having to wait a few minutes for our delicious dinners. There is a scupture of a man sitting at the entrance holding a beer that looks so life-like it makes many people take a second look to see if it a real person sitting there.

2)  On Christmas Eve, we made a new dessert, a Strawberry Trifle Cake, made with already prepared angel food cake so it was a little lighter in calories. My creative daughter-in-law decorated the top of the cake with strawberries and blueberries to look like a Christmas tree. I found the recipe on Pinterest from Uncommon Designs Online here.

3)  While the guys golfed, my daughter-in-law and I hit up the Barnes & Noble big 50% off hardcover sale the day after Christmas. The B&N we visited was huge, and had the biggest Children's section I have ever seen. It's a gorgeous store and I picked up Christmas cards for next year, three hardcover books, and this cute Season's Readings snow globe. It was a worthwhile visit indeed.
This is just a portion of the B&N children's section

4)  There is a Little Free Library on the main road in our area. My son's dog Otto and I walked there everyday to refresh the books from my own library. After the second time we refilled the library, Otto looked up at me wanting a treat for our good deed. Dogs learn fast! 

5) We stopped to get a drink at the Longboat Key Club and they had a beautiful Christmas tree up in their lobby so we took a photo next to it. The funny thing is, we stopped back in on New Year's Eve and they had the tree taken down like it was never there. They work quickly.

I hope you all had a happy holiday season and I wish you a happy, healthy 2023 to you all.

This post was shared on The Intrpeid Reader's Weekend Cooking post. You can read more food related posts here.

Tuesday, January 10, 2023

Just The Nicest Couple Couple by Mary Kubica

Just the Nicest Couple by Mary Kubica
Published by Park Row ISBN 9780778333111
Hardcover, $28.99, 320 pages

As Mary Kubica's twist domestic suspense novel Just the Nicest Couple opens, a woman is running through the woods as some unkown person is chasing her. Who is she and who is she running from?

Christian, a financial analyst, comes home from work to find his wife Lily exhausted in a chair. Lily is a high school math teacher and she is pregnant, in her first trimester. They are thrilled to be having a baby, but after a few miscarriages, they are also cautious.

Although he is concerned that Lily is more tired than usual, Christian dotes on his wife and offers to bring her dinner in bed so she can rest. Lily seems overly worried that the doors are locked, she thinks she sees something or someone outside their home.

Nina is a teacher at Lily's school and her husband Jake is a reknowned neurosurgeon. Nina and Jake have a fight one morning, and when Jake storms off and doesn't return home from work, Nina thinks he is staying at a hotel to punish her. 

But when Jake's hospital calls to find out why he has missed appointments with patients, Nina goes to the police to report him missing.  Word about Jake gets around, and Lily tells Christian that she saw Jake in the wooded area where she was taking a walk and shares what happened when they spoke.

Christian and Lily decide that no one can know what happened between Lily and Jake that day. And so begins a series of bad decisions they make that could have far reaching repercussions. Nina doesn't think that the police are doing enough to find Jake, so she begins searching for answers herself.

Nina and Jake and Christian and Lily are couple friends- they have been out to dinner together, at each other's homes, at school functions together. But how well do they really know each other?

There are a lot of secrets in Just the Nicest Couple, and just when you think you know what has happened, Mary Kubica throws in some twists that most readers (including myself- one of those twists really comes out of left field) did not see coming.  She expertly builds the tension in some key scenes that are just made for a good TV movie.

If you are fan of twisty suspense novels that keep you turning the pages to see what happens next, Just the Nicest Couple is one not to miss.

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Winter 2023 Mystery/Thriller Blog Tour.

Sunday, January 8, 2023

Token by Beverley Kendall

Token by Beverley Kendall
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525899973 
Trade paperback, $17.99, 368 pages

I truly enjoy a novel that does a deep dive into a person's career and Beverley Kendall's Token does that extremely well.

As the story opens, Kennedy is working a temp job as a receptionist for a fashion company. She is bored just sitting there day after day until the day she is summoned to the boss' office. The head of HR informs her that they have a very important client coming in that day, Sahara, an iconic singer/actress (think Beyonce or Whitney Houston) who is getting into the fashion business, and the company would like Kennedy to be at the meeting.

The reason they want Kennedy at the meeting is to show Sahara that they are a diverse company. (They are not- Kennedy says "the company is about as diverse as the US Olympic equestrian team.") The company is willing to give Kennedy $10,000 today and hire her permanently. She negotiates a big sign-on bonus and a huge raise, enough to pay off her student loans. 

Sahara likes Kennedy immediately, and the company gets Sahara's account. Kennedy's best friend Aurora is thrilled for her, and together they come up with an idea to start their own company named Token, one that provides other companies with programs to address diversity issues. They also help high-profile people clear up any PR messes they find themselves in. 

The company is an immediate success, and Kennedy is thrilled to be working hard at a job she enjoys. When Aurora's brother (and Kennedy's first boyfriend) Nate unexpectantly finds himself in need of Token's services, Kennedy makes a PR blunder that puts her in a difficult position.

Token drew me in from page one. The scenes of Kennedy in the HR director's office where she realizes she has the upper hand start this terrific novel off with a bang. The characters are well-drawn, and I found the setting of the story in a PR firm that deals with diversity unique and timely.  

 While Nate hopes that their pretend romance for the media will stir up old feelings, Kennedy wants their relationship to be all business. Will Nate convince a relationship-wary Kennedy that he is the man for her? You'll have to read for youself- and I recommend you do.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Winter 2023 Rom-Com Blog Tour.