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Friday, April 28, 2023

Friday 5ive- April 28, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. It's been more than a few weeks since my last Friday 5ive post, it's been a busy time for me between work and a week off to Florida.

1) Speaking of Florida, we had dear friends visit us and we made our first trip to the Ringling Museum in Sarasota. It was incredible! The highlight of the museum is a huge building where they have recreated a miniature circus setting from days gone by. Starting with the circus trains pulling into a train station, and through the set ups of dozens of tents, hundreds of animals, and thousands of miniature people, you walk around and see the amazing village the circus creates when it pulled into town. Whatever they need- from multiple barber shops, blacksmiths, carpenter shops, makeup and costume shops, performers' tents- they bring from town to town. It's truly a remarkable sight to see, I can't imagine how many hours went into creating this. We will be going back when we can spend more time there. 
The animals

Backstage- you can see the women's costumes on the left

Under the big top!
You can visit Ca'dZan, John & Mable Ringling's former mansion

2)  Spring is busting out all over the Upper East Side this week. It's so delightful to see all these bright flowers blooming. 

3) A few weeks back I saw Sweeney Todd on Broadway. Josh Groban plays wonderfully against his sunny personality as the demon barber of Fleet Street in this production, and Annaleigh Ashford gives her best performance on the stage yet as Mrs. Lovett, the owner of the meat pie establishment who loves Sweeney Todd and becomes the beneficiary of Sweeney Todd's revenge scheme. The show is a dark one in tone (obviously), and I had forgotten how many great songs came from this Stephen Sondheim creation- 'Johanna' (my favorite), 'Pretty Women' and 'Not While I'm Around' among them. Ruthie Anne Miles is brilliant as the Beggar Woman and Gaten Matarazzo as Tobias are also standouts in this great cast. I would bet on Ashford to win another Tony for her performance, one that the late great Angela Lansbury won a Tony for her iconic performance and later recreated in the movie. This one rates a must-see. 

4) We watched the new Netflix series The Diplomat in two sittings. If The West Wing and The Americans had a baby, it would be The Diplomat. Keri Russell (Felicity, The Americans) plays Katherine Wyler, a diplomat who is packing to return to the American embassy in Kabul to try and get Afghanistanis who helped the Americans get out safely. She is suddenly summoned to become the new American ambassador to the United Kingdom, a post that she is unprepared to take. She is having marital difficulties with her husband Hal, a man involved in government politics who likes to stir up trouble, including for his wife. When a British warship is hit in the Gulf and 41 sailors are killed, the Prime Minister wants to militarily retaliate against the Russians who evidence suggest is behind it. Katherine and the Foreign Minister of the UK team up to try and find out who was behind the bombing, and Katherine discovers the real reason she has been chosen for her new posting. The acting is fantastic, especially Russell and Rufus Sewell as Hal, and the storyline is timely and propulsive.  (I also like that Keri Russell looks like a woman in her forties, not a plastic faced doll.) I am proud that I was able to guess what was going to happen in the last ten minutes of the season finale and can't wait for season 2. Another highly recommended from us. 

5) I ended up reading three books with similiar themes- Dennis Lehane's Small Mercies and Don Winslow's City on Fire and the sequel City of Dreams. Dennis Lehane's novel is set in 1974 Boston at the beginning of the busing protests. Mary Pat Fennessy has lived in the Southie projects her whole life. Her first husband died, her second husband left her, her Vietnam vet son came back from war addicted to drugs and died of an overdose and now it's just her and her teenage daughter Jules. When Jules fails to come home one night, Mary Pat discovers that her daughter is involved with the gangsters from the Irish mob who run Southie. On the same night Jules disappears, a young Black man was killed by subway train, the son of a woman who works with Mary Pat at a nursing home. Mary Pat is fierce and determined to find out what happened to her daughter and if she has to break heads and cross the leader of the Irish mob (think Whitey Bulger) to do so, she will. Lehane drops the reader into 1974 Boston and the language and violence is authentic and disturbingly realistic. I remember seeing the busing story on the news every night as a teen and it comes off the page vividly in Small Mercies. I highly recommend it. 

Don Winslow's City on Fire tells the story of the Irish and Italian mobs in Providence, Rhode Island in the 1980s. They co-exist somewhat peacefully until a woman comes between two hotheaded men on either side. Danny Ryan is the protagonist, a midlevel man in the Irish mob who, although he does his best to avert a war that he knows one side will lose badly, ends up smack in the middle, with the FBI on their tail as well. Once again, the language and violence is constant and disturbing, but authentic. I couldn't read this book fast enough, it reminded me of Mario Puzo's The Godfather, and Winslow's analogies to Greek mythology begin each chapter. This series has streaming miniseries written all over it. This is another recommend from me. 

The second book in the series City of Dreams finds Danny and his crew on the run where they land in Hollywood. Danny finds himself a job as a consultant on a movie about the Providence mob wars and he becomes involved with the lead actress. The action is once again propulsive as Danny and his crew try to avoid the Italian mob coming for them. I liked the first half of the novel novel better than the second half, I wasn't totally on board with the choices Danny made. 

Have a safe, healthy week, until next time.

Sunday, April 23, 2023

Zora Books Her Own Happily Ever After by Taj McCoy

Zora Books Her Own Happily Ever After by Taj McCoy
Published by MIRA ISBN 9780778333524
Trade paperback, $18.99, 320 pages

Set a novel in a bookstore and give me interesting characters to root for, and good writing and I am all in. Taj McCoy's Zora Books Her Own Happily Ever After has that and so much more.

Zora bought a local bookstore in her Washington DC neighborhood with money left to her by her father. She lives with her sassy Granny Marion and her best friend Emma, who both work at Zora's bookstore called Opus Northeast. 

Zora works hard to make Opus Northeast a true community gathering place, hosting events for adults and children. She loves her bookstore but it takes up most of her time, ordering books, working with publishers, waiting on customers, keeping up with the ever-demanding social media platforms, and it leaves little time for an active social life.

When a bestselling local author whom Zora has a crush on agrees to an event at her store, Zora is ecstatic. Lawrence Michaels writes a series of popular mystery thriller series and Zora knows he will be a hit. Emma and Granny Marion encourage Zora to go for it with Lawrence, but Zora thinks he is out of her league, and she is too busy anyway.

Lawrence's event at Opus is a hit, drawing a big crowd, including Lawrence's best friend from college and social media director Reid. Reid doesn't make a great first impression on Zora, he seems like he has a chip on his shoulder.

Much to Granny Marion and Emma's delight, Lawrence asks Zora to his apartment for dinner, and she accepts. The evening goes well, and there seems to be good chemistry between Zora and Lawrence.

Reid is a high school English teacher and he invites Zora to speak to his class about a city-wide writing contest that Zora is sponsoring at her store. Zora and Reid begin spending time together, and Zora discovers that she has feelings for Reid. When it rains, it pours, and Zora doesn't want to hurt either man. What to do? 

There was so much I liked about this book. Zora is a confident Black woman, a hardworking business owner, and she cares about her community. She's also a proud bibliophile, a foodie, and she cares about other people's feelings. The little touches that reveal character, like Zora saying grace before every meal, elevate this terrific novel.

As somone with a bookstore connection, I enjoyed reading all about Zora's experiences as a bookstore owner. You get a true feeling for what that involves on a day-to-day basis. 

There is an interesting twist about Lawrence and Reid's relationship that impacts Zora, one that a careful reader may be able to guess. 

Zora Books Her Own Happily Ever After is a delightful romance about a realistic woman who finds herself with a choice to make. Does she make the right one? I think so, and I hope we get to read more about Zora and her family and friends in subsequent books.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on Taj McCoy's tour.

Tuesday, April 18, 2023

Silver Alert by Lee Smith

Silver Alert by Lee Smith
Published by Algonquin Books ISBN 9781643752419
Hardcover, $27, 224 pages

When I began reading Lee Smith's Silver Alert, I thought it would be a little bit sunnier and lighter (judging from the cover art) than it ended up being.

Herb is 86 and his health is beginning to fail. He cares for his beloved younger third wife Susan, who is suffering from dementia, in their beautiful Key West home with the help of a rotating group of caregivers. Susan is slipping away, and it breaks Herb's heart to see it.

One day, a young woman named Renee comes in to give Susan a manicure and pedicure, and Susan seems to respond to Renee. Renee gets Susan to sing, and brings in an easel and art supplies for Susan. Susan owned an art gallery, and this is seems to reawaken some light in her.

Herb is thrilled with Renee's progress with Susan, but when he tries to give Renee a ride home, Renee demurs saying that the bus is fine. Renee lives with her friend in a rundown trailer in a not-so-nice part of town- and her name isn't Renee, it's Dee Dee.

We slowly get Dee Dee's backstory, which isn't pretty. As a child she is surrounded by a mom who used drugs and lived with a succession of men who victimize and traumatize a young Dee Dee, even through her young adulthood.

Herb's family- including his children, stepchildren, an ex-wife and Susan's children- have decided that it is time for Susan to be in a nursing home and for Herb to sell the house and move into an assisted living facility right near Susan. And they don't trust Renee.

Wanting nothing to do with that, Herb decides to take his Porsche out for a final spin, and when Renee shows up at the house after being ditched by a man she thought she had a future with, he invites her to join him on a tour of Florida. 

This is where the road trip portion of the story comes into play, towards the last section of the book. As Herb and Renee travel the state, they get to know each other better. Eventually they discover a Silver Alert has been put out for them by Herb's family, hence the title of the book.

I found Renee and Herb's stories interesting, although I would have liked to know more about Herb and Susan's story. There are some really triggering aspects to Renee's story, something that may take readers by surprise if they expect this to be more of a lighthearted road trip story between two people of different generations.

Renee is a resilient young woman, and with Herb's encouragement, she makes good decisions that will lead her on a path that would make him proud.

Thanks to Algonquin Books for putting me on Lee Smith's tour. 

Saturday, April 1, 2023

Friday 5ive- April 1, 2023

April Fools! Event though it's Saturday, welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my eye this week.

1)  I went to see MJ: The Musical on Broadway this week. Myles Frost, who plays Michael Jackson, won the Tony last year for his portrayal, and this is his last week in the show so I wanted to him. The show revolves around Michael Jackson rehearsing for his Dangerous tour, and we see him and the dancers and singers working to make the show perfect. Frost is magnetic in the role, you literally can't take your eyes off him when he is on stage. He sounds and moves just like Jackson and it appeared that audience members felt like they were seeing the actual Michael Jackson on stage. There were flashbacks to seminal moments in Jackson's career, from his beginnings with the Jackson 5 to his Thriller days, and all of the Michael Jackson hits are here. If you like jukebox musicals like Jersey Boys and A Beauiful Noise: The Neil Diamond Musical, you'll like this one too.

2)  I visited the Museum of Broadway in Times Square this week before MJ, and it is so wonderfully done. They start with the beginnings of Broadway through each era of shows and iconic shows like Hair, A Chorus Line, Wicked have displays with costumes, sets and cast photos. At the end they have a huge section dedicated to the behind-the-scenes jobs- set designers, stage managers, public relations and marketing people. My only criticism is that the font for the captions on the photos is so small you have to be right on top of the photos to even read them. I will be returning when I can spend more time there, it is a must-see for every Broadway fan.
Original Ziegfeld Follies costumes found in a trunk
Doc's Drug Store from West Side Story

Costumes from Hair

Auburnian Thommie Walsh from A Chorus Line

Broadway Cares AIDS Quilt

The set from The Producers

3) While doing a little spring cleaning I found a box with cards from my sons, and this one from my older son JD made me laugh because it is ironic, because we have found out there is something scarier. It's from well before 2016 (maybe 2012 or so?).

Not so funny now, is it?

4)  Ted Lasso is back for its third and supposedly final season on Apple TV+. The first three episodes are available and they haven't lost a step. I laughed so hard in episode three when Ted is trying to slide out from behind Richmond's newest player international star Zava during their locker room pep talk (Jason Sudekis is a comedic genius). The lines come fast and furious, you really have to pay attention. On a serious note, Ted is dealing with his worsening panic attacks, and I like how the show has brought attention to that. This is appointment television on Fridays. 

5)  I read a memoir and an upcoming novel from one of my go-to authors this week. Alisha Fernandez Miranda's memoir My What If Year shares her experiences going from CEO of a consulting company to interning in three different jobs in one year. Alisha is the daughters of immigrants, the kind of driven, hardworking woman who graduated from Harvard University and the London School of Economics and always followed the rules to succeed. When she found herself yearning for something more, she decided to try her hand at learning three different careers that always interested her. She left her husband and two young daughters in London and headed to New York City to intern for two different Broadway productions- Flying Over Sunset and a revival of Assassins- in the early months of 2020. Just as things were proceeding in rehearsals and production and Alisha was enjoying her internship, COVID hit and Broadway shut down. She headed back home to London and moved onto her next internship with an art dealer, where she was offered a permanent position. She finished her What If Year at a resort in Scotland near her home. This one proved to be the most arduous one yet; working as a waitress was physically exhausting for the 40 year-old. I enjoyed that section the most.  The premise was so interesting, although her timing of doing all this during COVID was unfortunate. She does acknowledge how lucky she was to have great connections that allowed her the opportunities that most don't have. I found my copy in the gift shop at the Museum of Broadway, the last signed copy they had. If you like memoirs (and Broadway!), this is a must-read. 

One of my all-time favorite authors, Alice McDermott, has a new novel publishing in November titled Absolution. This one has a different setting than most of her New York based books. The setting is Saigon in the early 1960s. Tricia is a young newlywed whose husband is a naval engineer stationed in Vietnam. When she meets Charlene, another American wife, she finds herself drawn into Charlene's charitable plans to help the Vietnamese people, going against her husband's wishes. McDermott brings us into a time and place we don't know much about as seen through these women's eyes, and her writing is exquisite. It reminded me of Barbara Kingsolver's The Poisonwood Bible , a book that resides on my Favorites Shelf. I already preordered a physical copy for November, I'm going to make an early call that it will be one of my best reads of 2023. 

I think spring is here (right?) Stay safe and healthy all.