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Friday, February 24, 2023

Friday 5ive- February 24, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) post featuring five things that caught my attention. I know that February is the shortest month of the year, but how is it that this is the last Friday in February?

1) I took one entire afternoon to reorganize my extensive book collection. There are three sections to the built-in bookcase my husband had built for me, and it took me over six hours to pull every book out, decide what should stay, what should sent to friends and family, and what will be donated to the Book Cellar, the used bookstore in my local Webster branch of the NYPL where I volunteer. (I have four big bags to bring to work.) I had a cheering section of two who gave me encouragement as the day went on. They also asked for a count, and the final count was 662. The first photo is section one after I pulled out all those books ( I had to stand on a stepstool to get all the books in the photo), the second one the "After" photo. 

The finished product

2) I completed my 2000th class ride on my Peloton this week. Hannah Corbin was the instructor and although I had hoped to get a shout-out from her, I had to settle for getting a Personal Best output, which surprised and made me very happy. I did not realize I was heading for a PR until I was nearly done with the 30 minute ride. I hit my 2000th exercise minute for 2023 today, so maybe I should play 2000 on the daily lottery numbers today.

3) I absolutely loved the February Read With Jenna pick, Jessica George's amazing novel Maame. Jenna hosted a virtual event with Jessica on Tuesday that I was able to join in. Jessica George took many of the scenes directly from the diary she kept at a time in her life when she was caring for her father who had Parkinson's Disease. After hearing that, it made sense to me. Her novel is a coming-of-adult story and her voice is so authentic and jumps right off the page at the reader. The discussion was wonderful, and Jessica is a captivating person. 

Maame tells the story of Maddie, a  25 year-old Ghanian woman living in London, working as an assistant for a difficult boss (who has mental health issues) and caring for her father who has Parkinson's. Her mother spends most of her time running a hostel back in Ghana, left to her by her family. Maddie's older brother James works for an entertainer and is constantly traveling so that gives him an excuse as to why he can't help out more.

Maddie has a lot of family responsibilty on her shoulders, and has little time for a social life. She wants to be like all of her friends, hang out, and find a boyfriend. At work she is often the only Black face, which is exhausting as well.

When her mother returns home, Maddie moves into an apartment with two women she doesn't know. She lands a new job as an assistant at a small publishing company, which excites her as she wants to be a writer. She also begins to date, something in which she lacks experience.

I'm much older than Maddie, but Jessica George has created a character that brought me right back to that time in life when you are searching for yourself. Maddie is beginning to confront her resentment at always being the responsible one in her family, but she feels stuck when a tragedy strikes that completely upends her. 

Jessica George has created an utterly unforgetable character in Maddie, and her voice comes through loud and clear in Maame. I highly recommend Maame, and I'm looking forward to George's next book and the TV series that will be made out of Maame, coming soon from Jenna Bush Hager's new production company.  

4)  I'm watching the first season of Poker Face on Peacock. Natasha Lyonne stars (and executive produces) as Charlie, a woman who is a human lie detector. She can tell whenever anyone is lying and she used that talent to make a lot of money at the poker tables, which ran her afoul of a casino owner. She gives up poker, but ends up waitressing at the casino where she was caught. 

When she witnesses a murder at the casino she ends up on the run, and each week she is in a different town hiding out. Of course, a murder happens in each town and Charlie has to solve to the case. Poker Face is a terrific old-school crime show in the tradition of Columbo and Murder, She Wrote. The opening title sequence is even an homage to Columbo

Natasha Lyonne once again is fabulous (as she was in Russian Doll and Orange Is The New Black) and I love the guest stars in each episode. Chloe Sevigny in Episode 4- Rest in Metal, Judith Light and S. Epatha Merkerson in Episode 5- Time of the Monkey, and Ellen Barkin in Episode 6- Exit Stage Left are the standouts for me. This is one to add to your Must-Watch List. 

5) I read two wonderful nonfiction books this week. Rob Delaney's A Heart That Works is the heartbreaking story of the life and death of his two year-old son Henry. Rob, his two young sons, and  wife (pregnant with Henry) move from the United States to London for Rob's Amazon TV's comedy series Catastrophe. When Henry is one years old, he is diagnosed with a brain tumor. A Heart That Works chronicles their journey through various hospitalizations with all its painful procedures, the stress of dealing with it, trying to have as normal a life for their other two young boys, and Henry's death two years later. Delaney writes with honesty, anger, sadness, love, and yes, even humor, about every parent's fear. He describes Henry with such care that the reader feels how special this little boy was, how he lived  his short life on earth to the fullest. While you may think that this book is too sad to read, it somehow feels more like a tribute to Henry and the resilience of people who have to deal with the unimaginable. Rob Delaney leaves it all on the page. 

Going in a different tonal direction, Helen Ellis's upcoming book (June) of humorous essays, Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge: Intimate Confessions of a Happy Marriage continues her streak of making me laugh so hard my stomach hurts. (American Housewife, Southern Lady Code, and Bring Your Baggage and Don't Pack Light also my stomach hurt.) 

In this book, Ellis shares essays about her happy marriage to her husband Lars, which survived the pandemic, where they binge-watched Dynasty in their "lounge" room painted bright coral. Helen and Lars are now middle-aged, but he still makes her heart "go pitter-patter" when he walks into a room.
Of course when all her middle-aged friends get together, they talk about their husbands and their loud and incessant "snoring, and skin tags and prostates and knees". (A Bear Walks Into...) She shares that her grandparents had separate bedrooms her grandmother's bedside with "a hardback like The Shell Seekers", and a 1970s brass princess phone as heavy as an anvil". Granddaddy's bedroom "smelled like Old Spice, and next to his bed was a pack of cigarettes and a police scanner." 

"An Email to our Cat Sitter" will be recognizable to anyone who has left their beloved, older, persnickety cats with another human who needs to understand all the intricate details of how to feed and care for the delightful beings. It is pages long, much longer than the notes I used to leave for people who babysat my young children.

In Two Days Before My Wedding, Ellis shares everything that went wrong on her wedding day, including that the Greek restaurant where the reception was to be held burned down two before the wedding. She says that weddings are memorable for what went wrong, like while viewing a friend's wedding video where "his stepmother appears without panties as he says "doing the splits standing up" or as my friend in Florida would say, "showing everyone her fine china."

There are countless essays that I highlighted including We Are Not That Couple (who runs marathons or signs up for dance lessons) and "May I Hold Your Grudge For You?" (about how its not appropriate to hold grudges for yourself buy perfectly acceptable to hold them on behalf of friends.)

Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge will make you laugh and remind you of why you still love your spouse. I'm laughing now just remembering all these essays. If you have a June or later anniversary, buy this and share it with your spouse. 

Stay and healthy everyone, until next time.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

It's One of Us by J.T. Ellison

It's One of Us by J.T. Ellison
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778311768
Hardcover, $27.99, 400 pages

I've read two novels recently that had unique premises- the first was Kylie Scott's romance End of Story (my review here) and the second is J.T. Ellison 's twisty suspense novel It's One of Us. 

Interior designer to the wealthy Olivia and her husband Park have been trying for a long time to have a baby. Their IVF treatments have led to pregnancies, but Olivia has miscarried several times. On the day of her most recent miscarriage, the police come to their door saying that Park's DNA has been found on the body of a local woman who was found murdered at the bottom of a lake.

The police tell Park and Olivia that they believe Park is the father of the person who killed the woman. Since she and Park have no children, Olivia believes there has been a mistake. Park then tells Olivia that while in college he donated to a sperm bank, which shocks and upsets Olivia.

Although Park was told his sperm would be only used ten times, there is a Facebook group of 28 young people who have all used an ancestry website to discover that Park is their father. One of these people could be the killer. As the police investigate, a man harasses Olivia at one of her job sites. Will she be the killer's next victim?

There are a lot of secrets being kept from everyone in this twisty story. Olivia is keeping a secret about Park's twin brother from Park. When the police discover that Park's college girlfriend was found dead at the bottom of a lake years ago, the press become relentless, staking out Park and Olivia's home.

A careful reader might be able to guess at the identity of the killer, but there are many red herrings in the novel that take the reader in different directions. The few twists at the end seem to come out of left field, and the final twist I found too unbelievable. 

It's One of Us has a fascinating premise, and people who enjoy shows like Dateline and suspense movies on Lifetime will definitely want to read this one.

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

Friday, February 17, 2023

Friday 5ive- February 17, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly(ish) post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. Since last week I was traveling, this post covers two weeks worth of fun. It's curently 60 degrees in NYC but it will be 28 degrees Saturday morning when I am heading to work. This weather is crazy.

1) My sister-in-law Brigette and I love Ina Garten's cookbooks, and we started a tradition of buying her new cookbook and choosing a three-course meal to cook with each other long distance over Facetime. This year from her Go-To Dinners cookbook we chose French Bistro Salad, Roast Chicken with Spring Vegetables, and Pannetone Bread Pudding for our menu. We began with the bread pudding, toasting the bread in the oven and then letting it sit the refrigerator all afternoon to soak up the custard. 

The toasted pannetone

The French Bistro Salad has sliced radicchio and endive (I subbed Boston lettuce for the endive), roquefort cheese, carmelized walnuts, matchsticked Granny Smith apples and a simple vinaigrette made with champagne vinegar, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper and olive oil. I loved this simple salad and will be making it often. 

The chicken was roasted alongside heirloom baby carrots, yellow onions, Yukon potatoes, and asparagus. Again, it was easy to prepare and so delicious, the best roast chicken I have ever made.

The Pannetone Bread Pudding was the calorie-buster of the meal with lots of eggs and half-and-half, but it was so worth it. I cut the leftovers into squares and froze for future treats. 

Brigette and I spent the prep time catching up and when it came for dinner, we placed our IPad on our dining table and shared our meal with our spouses. We both said we must do this more often. 

Diiner is served!

2)  There is a construction site near us that has been up for a few years now, and the ugly fencing around it has a new covering. A local politician got some money and had a local middle school work on art project. The students created scenes reflecting NYC and those drawings were screened onto fencing covering the site. It makes such a big difference! It used to feel so desolate walking by there and now it is bright and cheery. Great job!

3) Our friends took us to dinner to celebrate my husband's birthday and then to see A Beautiful Noise, the Broadway musical about the life of Neil Diamond. It was fantastic! If you've seen Jersey Boys, the show is in that similar vein. It tells the story of Neil Diamond through his iconic music. There was a lot I didn't know about Neil Diamond, and the performances, especially Mark Jacoby (playing Neil- Now) and Robyn Hurder as Neil's second wife Marcia were wonderful. We were there on a Wednesday night so we saw the alternate, Nick Fradiani, playing Neil-Then, and he was really great. At first I was disappointed that Will Swenson, who plays Neil-Then for seven performances a week wasn't on, but Nick was fabulous. The audience could not hold back, singing along with some songs, and then joining in for the encore of Sweet Caroline. If you like Neil Diamond and/or Broadway, go see this one.

4)  I finished watching all 11 seasons of Frasier on my Echo Show in my kitchen while preparing dinners, and I've moved onto NewsRadio, the 1990's NBC sitcom starring Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Maura Tierney (pre-ER), and the brilliant Phil Hartman on Amazon Prime video. Set in a NYC news radio station, it has me laughing out loud. Phil Hartman's blustery, bloviating newsman Bill McNeil is just perfection as he plays a more self-aware Ted Baxter-like character. The cast is top-notch, even if some of them are now better known for other more outrageous things today (Andy Dick and Joe Rogan), and the death of Phil Hartman after season four was so tragic. 

5)  I read a book I've been looking forward to for a long time now. Ayóbámi Adébáyo’s debut novel, Stay With Me was the most compelling book I read in 2017 and her second novel, A Spell of Good Things is just as powerful. Set in Nigeria, we meet two families, one wealthy and one in poverty, whose worlds collide.

Eniola is a young teen whose family is plunged into poverty when his father is one of 6000 teachers who lost their job. His father comes deeply depressed and he, his mother, and sister are forced into begging family and strangers for money for food, rent, and school tuition.

Wuraola is a doctor from a wealthy family who becomes engaged to longtime family friend. She begins to question her future when her betrothed’s behavior becomes intolerable, knowing that her family will be angry if she calls the wedding off.

Eniola’s involvement with a local group of young men with ties to a powerful politician at first seems to be the answer to his family’s money problems, but soon turns dangerous.

Adébáyo brings the reader directly into this Nigerian setting, with the dichotomy of the poverty of Eniola and the wealth of Wurola’s circle jumping off the page at you. The customs, the food, the education, political, and medical systems provide an eye-opening experience for the reader.

Once again, Adébáyo’s story is heartbreaking and you ache for these characters that you will not soon forget.


Stay safe and healthy, until next time my friends.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

End of Story by Kylie Scott

End of Story by Kylie Scott
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525804793
Trade paperback, $17.99, 320 pages

With so many books out there, it can be difficult to find one with a unique concept. Kylie Scott manages to come up with a fun and new storyline in her romantic novel End of Story.

When Susie inherits her Aunt Susan's Seattle home, she realizes that it needs a lot of work, beginning with repairing some water damage. The contractor who arrives to take a look ends up being Lars, her ex-boyfriend's best friend. Susie and her ex had a bad breakup, and she hasn't seen Lars since then.

Lars is "your basic urban Viking marauder, as his name suggested, with longish blond hair, white skin, blue eyes, short beard, tall and built". He had a succession of girlfriends as Susie recalled; apparently commitment wasn't something Lars and his friends were into.

Digging into the drywall, Lars finds a piece of paper hidden in the wall. He pulls it out only to find that it is a divorce decree dated ten years in the future, and the names on the paper are Lars and Susie. Both Susie and Lars are incensed, each believing the other person placed the paper inside the wall, as what, a joke? And why would either one of them do that?

Susie decides that she needs the work done and Lars is the best contractor for the job. (And he isn't bad to look at.) They put aside the "divorce decree" and begin spending time together. Susie attempts to find out how the paper got there, consulting with a psychic, a tarot card reader, and a forensic document examiner. No one could come up with any answers as to how authentic the decree was, what it means, or how it got there.

Lars and Susie are a reluctant cute couple. Lars has always liked Susie, but he hid it well. I loved that they had a habit of ordering food at a restaurant and switching entrees halfway the meal; it's a sweet touch. But if they get together, will they divorce in ten years?

Susie also has to deal with her brother who insists that he is owed half of the house and wants Susie to sell it. Add in the return of Susie's odious ex, and complications ensue.

The premise of End of Story is intriguing and Kylie Scott keeps the reader invested in Lars and Susie's story, wondering what will happen in ten years. To find out, you'll have to read the book, which I recommend. It's a sweet, fun, sexy read. And if you are a HGTV fan, you'll enjoy the renovation storyline.

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

Friday, February 3, 2023

Friday 5ive- February 3, 2022

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. The cold weather finally hit NYC today, it was bitter outside while running errands.

1) I love getting book mail and today I received my Stories & Suspects Mystery Box from Bantam Publishing. This one has some terrific books, including Parini Shroff's The Bandit Queens, a book everyone has been buzzing about. It's a debut novel about a young woman in India who is falsely rumored to have killed her husband. But soon other women come to her asking for her help and she has a new side hustle.  Liv Constantine's upcoming The Senator's Wife is a suspense novel about a DC philathropist whose employee appears to be plotting to steal her life. Heather Darwent's literary suspense The Things We Do To Our Friends, is another debut set in at a university that looks like it will appeal to Donna Tart's The Secret History fans (like me). You know I like a cozy mystery set in a bookshop, so Ann Claire's Dead and Gondola will be at the top of my TBR list. C.J. Tudor's The Drift about three people fighting to survive in a snowstorm where something deadly is occuring is a timely read for this frigid weekend. I read Lisa Lutz's The Accomplice last year and loved the story of two friends-Owen and Luna- who met in college and became best friends. Owen's college girlfriend dies in an accident casting doubt on him and then 20 years later his wife (and Luna's friend) is murdered. What secrets are Owen and Luna keeping from each other and everyone else? They also included a container of Republic of Tea Earl Greyer blend, which will come in handy over the next few days.

2) Speaking of tea, we visited The Spice & Tea Exchange in St. Armand's Circle in Sarasota and I picked up a new blend- Cranberry Apple Tart. It was delicious and warmed me right up after running errands in 20 degree weather today. 

3) We found a new restaurant called 1592 Wood Fired Kitchen & Cocktails located on Main Street in Sarasota last week. It's got a Mediterranean menu and a really cool looking interior. They hung old doors to separate the bar area high top tables from the dining area and the lighting was visually appealing too. I ordered Zucchini Beignets, friend zucchini in the shape of beignets (donuts found in New Orleans) served over a tzatiki sauce that was very tasty. We will return. 

4) I love a good comedy special and Amazon Prime Video has a new Nate Bargatze special -Hello, World. Nate is a very funny comedian, hailing from Tennessee. I laughed from beginning to end at this one, with jokes about growing up in a conservative Christian family, getting older, and golfing with his wife among his best. He is a clean comic, and if you like Jim Gaffigan, give Nate Bargatze a try.  

5)  I read two good books to start off Black History Month. Sadeqa Johnson's immersive historical novel The House of Eve  is set in 1950's Philadelphia. When 15 year-old Ruby Pearsall falls in love with a Jewish boy whose family owns a local coffee shop, her dreams of being the first person in her family to go to college are in peril. In Washington DC, Eleanor Quarles finds herself far from her small-town Ohio roots when she attends Howard University, where she falls in love and marries William, the son of a well-to-do Black family. They are a loving couple who want to have a baby, only to be disappointed. Ruby and Eleanor both have challenges that keep them from achieving their goals, and Sadeqa Johnson writes characters that are three-dimensional and realistic (I liked that the men in their lives are loving and supportive). You get a true feeling for the hardships that women at that time faced. The ending is particularly pleasing, it made me smile. 

Goldie Taylor's memoir The Love You Save is for fans of Tara Westover's Educated and Sarah M. Broom's The Yellow House. Taylor shares her story of growing up in a tough East St. Louis neighborhood in the 1970's. Her mother leaves a young Goldie at her Aunt Gerald and Uncle Ross' house, where there are several other relatives living at any one time. Goldie's saving grace is her thirst for an education and her talent for speech that earns the attention of a few good teachers who encourage Goldie. The memoir shares the resilency of the human spirit and how it can overcome obstacles. I truly loved this, and my full review can be found here. 

Stay warm and safe until next time.