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Wednesday, May 31, 2023

Long Enough To Love You by Kirsten Pursell

Long Enough To Love You by Kirsten Pursell
Published by Atmosphere Press ISBN 9781639887552
Trade paperback, 352 pages, $16.99

In Kirsten Pursell's novel, Long Enough to Love You, Jenn is a 50-something woman whose children are on their way to adulthood. As Jenn prepares to navigate this new empty nest stage of her life, she takes stock of her own life.

She gave up her career to raise her son and daughter, something she doesn't regret. She put all her energy into being PTA President, and the sports mom who organized fundraising and never missed a game. What is her identity now?

Jenn "feels like a donut: whole on the outside but empty in the middle." She loves her husband, Mark, a lawyer who works long hours. Mark is a reliable, good man, but he isn't there for her emotionally and he doesn't see that she is struggling. 

Should Jenn stay in a safe place in her marriage and life, or should she leave and see what else is out there for her? She hopes that "the grass is greener on the other side or at least a different shade of brown."

When discovers that her parents each had tragic past loves that she knew nothing about, it adds to her confusion. Her mother was a "cold, miserable woman", who was not as loving to Jenn's father as she could have been, and Jenn never understood why he put up with it.

Jenn finds an old diary of hers that recounts a relationship with an old boyfriend and memories and feelings flood back. Should she reach out to him to see if anything is still there?

When Jenn asks Mark to be more communicative to her, he says that her hair looks nice and her new dress looks good. "The hair and dress look good. What about me? I wondered if he got what I was saying, if he understood that the hair and clothes aren't what I wanted him to see. I want him to see me and tell me I look pretty with my hair that way or I look beautiful in that dress."  Readers will relate to their communication issues.

There is much here that may resonate with many women in Jenn's empty nest situation. Long Enough to Love You would make a great book club choice, there is a lot here that would make for a good discussion. Jenn makes some choices that people can agree or disagree with, and I'm still not sure how I feel about the ending. 

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Kirsten Pursell's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Instagram features:

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Tuesday, May 16th@fashionablyfifty

Wednesday, May 17th@the_unwined

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Thursday, May 18th@suzylew_bookreview

Thursday, May 18th@booksloveandunderstanding

Friday, May 19th@biblioreviews 

Saturday, May 20th@pickagoodbook

Sunday, May 21st@jenniaahava

Monday, May 22nd@audreyoaksreadseverything


Monday, May 22nd:  Books, Cooks, Looks

Tuesday, May 23rdHelen’s Book Blog

Wednesday, May 24th@infinite.readlist 

Thursday, May 25th@reading.with.my.goldens

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Thursday, June 1st@kristis_literary_corner

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Friday, June 2ndSubakka.bookstuff and @subakka.bookstuff  

Sunday, June 4thGirl Who Reads

Tuesday, June 6th@mommaleighellensbooknook

Wednesday, June 7th@ifcatscouldread

Thursday, June 8th@books_bulldogs_booze

Friday, June 9th@webreakforbooks

Monday, June 12thSusanLovesBooks

Friday, May 26, 2023

Friday 5ive- May 26, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. I can't believe that it is Memorial Day weekend already, where does the time go?

1) My husband had a conference in Orlando this week and the Spouses Program hosted a trip to the Kennedy Space Center. It was fascinating, we got to see massive rockets, a space shuttle, and the actual Mission Control  Firing Room for the Apollo 8 mission. That was thrilling reliving history.

The actual Mission Control display

2)  I was asked to lead a book discussion for Laura Dave's The Last Thing He Told Me for the Spouses Program. Called Books & Bubbles (cute name!), we had tasty mimosas while we had an insightful discussion of the book and the Apple TV+ miniseries adaptation starring Jennifer Garner. She's very good in the series, I highly recommend the book and the series.

3) I received two lovely gifts this week. The first is a beautiful bookmark created by Donald Simon, a non-speaking artist who has autism. I love the colors, it makes me smile just to look at it. The second is a charming book necklace handcrafted by Peg & Awl, Philadelphia artists. I will be wearing this to a book event next week. 

4) I was able to catch an online presentation of The William Morrow Fall 2023 Fall Fiction Showcase . Eight authors spoke briefly about their novels, and each one was so interesting I added them all to my TBR list. Nina Simons' Mother Daughter Murder Night is about three generations of women who get together to solve a murder for fun, you know like you do with your Grandma and Mom. This one intrigues me a great deal. Sam Rebelein was inspired by Bruce Coville and R.L. Stine as a youngster, and his book Edenville is a "scary fun romp through urban legends" acccording to him. Yomi Adegoke's debut novel The List tackles the MeToo movement, social media, lies, secrets and the internet, as a young woman must comes to terms with the fact that her boyfriend's name is on a list of men accused of bad behavior towards women. Jean Kwok's new novel, The Leftover Woman, is a "love letter to motherhood". When a Chinese woman gives birth and is told her daughter died, she later discovers that her husband sold the baby to a United States couple, and she goes in search of her lost daughter. This one sounds so good! Sandra Newman's Julia is a feminist retelling of the classic George Orwell book 1984 from the perspective of Winston's girlfriend Julia. Tim O'Brien's new book America Fantastica is a road trip novel that goes from August 2019- August 2020 and deals with Covid lockdowns, a presidential election, and the welcoming of Neo Nazis. He says it's not political, it's fun.  Lola Akimade Akerstrom 's Everything Is Not Enough shares the story of three young women navigating "life, love and lust" in Sweden. It deals with the meaning of "forgiveness, grace, and gratitude". Ariel Djanikian's The Prospectors is a historical novel about two sisters who leave California for the Klondike during the Gold Rush. This one is for fans of  Amanda Coplin's The Orchardist (like me.) You can watch the entire presentation here.

5) Along with the rest of the world, I was saddened by the death of Tina Turner. I got to see her on her Private Dancer tour in the 1980's with my best friend Lisa, and it was a my first (un)official date with my now-husband at Saratoga Performing Arts Center. It was an amazing show, and she was such an inspiration to so many artists. She was a true original, there was no one like her. I saw the Broadway show based on her life, which was phenomenal, and if you haven't seen the documentary on her life on HBOMax, do so now. When Mattel created a Tina Turner doll, I got one right away, that's the kind of serious fan I am. Rest in peace Queen.

Have a great Memorial Day holiday, summer is on the way. Until next time.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Friday 5ive- May 19, 2023

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

1) Mother's Day was Sunday, I hope you all had a lovely day. We had dinner at my son and daughter-in-law's, and my charming and talented daughter-in-law made us a delicious dinner that is a family favorite from way back- Mr. Food's Oregano Chicken. I put the recipe in a cookbook that I gave both our sons for Christmas one year and it makes me happy to know that they use it. I hope it makes them smile as much as I did when I wrote it. I also received some beautiful flowers with a very heartfelt card with meaningful sentiments that I will keep forever. All in all, a great way Mother's Day!

2) I am a big Bruce Springsteen fan and a Peloton rider so I was excited to take my favorite instructor Jenn Sherman's Bruce Springsteen series 45 minute ride. The playlist was fantastic- No Surrender, Thunder Road, Tenth Avenue Freezeout and  Hungry Heart were the highlights- and the energy and enthusiasm of the riders and Jenn made this ride a bookmarked one for me. I will be taking this one frequently. 

3) I enjoy listening to the Smartless podcast hosted by Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, and Sean Hayes. The three friends are hilarious and they have interesting guests. This week it was Paul Anka, who happens to be Jason Bateman's father-in-law. Anka was fascinating as he recalled his 60+ year career beginning when he had his first hit song at the age of 15- "Diana". He told stories about his days of hanging the 40 year-old Rat Packers- Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr.- when he just a teenager. Anka also introduced the Beatles to their soon-to-be American managers in the early 1960s after he saw them perform in Europe when he lived in Italy. It was a great discussion and if you want to hear all about the early days of the Vegas mob, find this podcast and downoad it. 

4) I watched the Hulu documentary about Brooke Shields titled Pretty Baby. Brooke Shields has been part of the American consciousness since the 1970s and this documentary was so well done. The title comes from the controversial movie of the same name featuring a 12 year-old Brooke playing a young girl works as a prostitute in 1917 New Orleans. It goes through her entire career- the ups and downs, like her Calvin Klein ad (also controversial), the movies like Endless Love and Blue Lagoon and her TV show Suddenly Susan. Her personal life kept her in the news as well- attending college at Princeton, her relationship with Michael Jackson, her stormy marriage to tennis superstar Andre Agassi- for her entire life. It is her relationship with her single mother Terri that drives her life. Terri was the ultimate stage mother, driving Brooke's career. Terri was also an alcoholic, and Brooke is brutally honest about what that was like. She loved her mother, but they had a complicated relationship. Seeing how people, mostly men, used this woman from a very early age, is something to be reckoned with as a society. It's a thought-provoking and heartbreaking documentary and I found it powerful. 

5) I've been looking forward to reading J. Ryan Stradal's new book, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club and I happily dug in this week. Stradal sets his books (Great Kitchens of the Midwest, The Lager Queen of Minnesota) in Minnesota, and that alone makes his books unique. This begins with Betty dragging her young daughter Florence from one unfortunate living situation to another. When they meet a kind man named Floyd in a coffee shop, he offers them a place to live and a job on the property where he owns a supper club in a small town. Betty takes to the club and Floyd right away. Young Florence befriends Archie, who lives in another small cabin on the property, and spends her evenings playing cards with Floyd and Archie. Floyd marries Betty, and as Florence grows up she works at the supper club and sees her dreams for her life slipping away. I found the concept of the supper clubs so interesting. The supper club is the hub of small towns and Saturday is the night when everyone goes there for dinner. The book spans four generations of women in Betty's family, and what they owe themselves and their family forms the basis for this wonderful book that I tried to savor as long as I could as I didn't want it to end. I highly recommend it. 

Have a  safe, happy week. Until next time.

Friday, May 12, 2023

Friday 5ive- May 12, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. The last few days have felt like summer in NYC with temperatures in the 70s and high 80s today. At least the rain has stopped.

1)  While in Sarasota last weekend we stopped in to see the Corvette Show in St. Armand's Circle. There were Corvettes as far as the eye could see, from some very cool older models from the 1960s through the latest iteration the C8 model. 

2)  The Pulitzer Prizes were awarded this week and I was thrilled to hear that Barbara Kingsolver's novel Demon Copperhead won the Fiction prize, along with Hernan Diaz for his novel Trust. It was the first time that two novels were awarded the Pulitzer in the same year. I declared Demon Copperhead the best novel I read in 2022 back in October. It's a reimagining of Charles Dickens' David Copperfield set in Appalachia at the beginning of the opioid epidemic. I think everyone should read Demon Copperhead, it gives the reader an eye-opening look at poverty, the foster care system, and how we got where we are today. The characters are unforgettable and the writing is superb. Congratulations to Barbara Kingsolver, I have read every one of her books and this one is my favorite.

3)  I saw the powerful Tom Stoppard play Leopoldstadt on Broadway this week. Set in Vienna, it traces the life of a joyous extended Jewish family beginning in 1899 and ending in 1955. The family owns a textile factory, and as the plays opens we see them all celebrating Christmas and Hanukkah, even decorating a tree. The proud head of the family Hermann is played wonderfully by Joshua Malina (The West Wing, Scandal). We see them grow and prosper as the years go by, but we also see the undercurrent of anti-Semitism that grows stronger as we get closer to WWI. Austria fought with Germany in WWI and after they lost the war, economic times became tougher with more restrictions, and Jewish people were easy targets for people's anger. We move forward toward WWII, and the Nazi Party has made inroads into Austria, and we see the family living in poverty and fear of being forced from their home and into concentration camps. Leopoldstadt is an important play, and as the tension grew for the family, you could hear a pin drop in the theater as everyone was holding their breath when the Nazi officials came to the family home. It reminded me of seeing The Normal Heart about the AIDS crisis, the audience is just stunned into silence. The play is nominated for many Tony Awards, including Best Play and Best Featured Actor for Brandon Uranowitz, whose performance in the last scene is astonishing. (Joshua Malina is unfortunately ineligible for Tony consideration as he did not originate the role, but he is worthy of one.) If you are in NYC, go see this brilliant show before it closes in July. 

4) The HBO Max series Succession is wrapping up its last season, and wow, it is going out with a bang. The question of who will run the Wayco company is anyone's guess, with the three Roy siblings, played by Jeremy Strong, Sarah Snook and Kieran Culkin, all jockeying for the role. There was one scene this week that everyone is talking about- daughter Shiv (Sarah Snook) and her estranged husband Tom (portrayed by the fabulous Matthew MacFadyen) having the fight of all fights out on their apartment balcony while inside a pre-election night party is in full swing. That is a masterclass in acting. How will this all end??? I can't wait to see. 

5)  I read a few books this week. Kirsten Pursell's intriguing novel, Long Enough to Love You, is about Jenn, a woman facing an empty nest after her children are away in college and ready to start their lives. She gave up her career to raise them, and now that she is not needed as a sports team mom or PTA President she has to decide whether to stay with her reliable but emotionally unavailable husband or go out on her own. When she finds a diary from her younger days, she contemplates looking for a former love. This one will resonate with some women, and my full review will post on May 31st. 

I also read a book now in paperback- Amanda Eyre Ward's suspense novel The Lifeguards. Set in a wealthy Austin suburb, three teen boys who have been friends since childhood and now lifeguard together come running home after finding the body of a dead young woman. They swear they didn't kill her or even know her but as the book progresses we discover that not everyone is telling the truth, including the moms of the boys. Whitney is the leader of the pack, a wealthy mom of twins, who will do anything to protect her son. Annette is a Mexican woman (also married to a wealthy man) who is happiest working at a local daycare center and is attracted to her coworker. Liza is a single mom living on the economic edge who is hiding secrets about her identity from everyone, including her son whom she fiercely loves. Everyone here has secrets. I'm not sure if it was the right book to read on Mother's Day week, but it did keep me guessing. 

I'm wishing all the Moms out there a very Happy Mother's Day. I hope you get to stay in your pajamas all day and read a good book or two.

Tuesday, May 9, 2023

The Boyfriend Candidate by Ashley Winstead

The Boyfriend Candidate by Ashley Winstead
Published by Gradydon House ISBN 9781525804960
Trade paperback, $18.99, 384 pages

One of the most popular tropes in the Romance book genre is the Fake Dating trope. Ashley Winstead elevates this in her latest novel, The Boyfriend Candidate.

The story opens with middle school librarian Alexis Stone who has just caught her boyfriend cheating on her again and for the last time. He of course blames her and says some cruel things to her that undermine her confidence. On this night Alexis puts on her sexiest dress and heads to a local Austin bar to pick up a guy and have a one night stand, something way outside of her comfort zone.

When she draws the attention of an obnoxious man who won't take no for an answer, a handsome man sitting at the bar scares off the creep, and he and Alexis spend the evening getting to know each other. Alexis makes up a name and backstory (one more interesting than her own life) and she and Logan decide to head to a nearby hotel for a tryst.

As things get hot and heavy, the fire alarm in the hotel goes off and Logan and Alexis flee outside in a state of undress. Alexis turns her ankle and Logan carries her outside, depositing her in an ambulance and fleeing without a goodbye.

While Alexis is hurt and upset, soon photos turn up online of her and Logan- who happens to be running for governor of Texas. In order to avoid a public scandal his campaign can't afford, Logan and his team convince Alexis to pretend to be Logan's girlfriend of six months, just until the campaign is over in two months.

What could go wrong? No one can know of their deception, and soon Alexis and Logan are fighting their feelings for each other. As is typical in these types of stories, you wish the two of them would be honest with themselves and each other, but what would be the fun in that?

There were so many interesting aspects to this story. I liked the setting of Austin, and the political background. Nora, Logan's campaign manager, is a great character, as is Alexis' sister Lee, a Texas state representative. The way that the author worked in the state of education in this country (the lack of funding for schools and lack of respect for teachers) was well done and topical.

Watching Alexis find her voice politically as a teacher and as a woman looking for a relationship worthy of her was empowering. The writing is crisp, and Ashley Winstead works in important topics with a healthy dose of humor along the way. My only criticism is that it was hard to believe that Alexis didn't know who Logan was when she met him, but I am willing to overlook that for the sake of this terrific story.

I adored The Boyfriend Candidate, and now I am looking forward to reading Ashley Winstead's 2022 romance, Fool Me Once. I highly recommend The Boyfriend Candidate.

Thansk to Harlequin for putting me on Ashley Winstead's tour.

Friday, May 5, 2023

Friday 5ive- May 5, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my attention recently.
It's hard to fathom that it's May already, and we've had enough April/May showers to last us for awhile.

1)  On a recent Tuesday while volunteering at the Book Cellar, we were surprised when nearly a dozen distinguished people in suits stopped by. It turns out the former president of the Dominican Republic was in town in his current position as President of United Nations Associations at the United Nations. Leonel Fern├índez was shopping for books to stock the Juan Bosch Library, a huge public library in Santo Domingo. He and his team picked out dozens of books about Hollywood films, current events, politics, and art. It was such a pleasure to speak with him, hear about his library, and share our story about the Book Cellar, a nonprofit bookstore staffed by volunteers who raise needed funds for the branch libraries of the New York Public Library. He was impressed that we have raised over $1 million in 19 years of existence. You never know who you'll meet at the Book Cellar. 

2)  Speaking of the Book Cellar, my fellow volunteers threw me a birthday luncheon recently. My friend and fellow book lover Allison gave me a plant, and I am proud that I have kept it not only alive but thriving thanks to the water globe she put in it.  (I have not always been successful with plants, so this is a big deal.) You fill the globe with water, turn it upside in the soil and it waters itself. I have named the plant Maisie in honor of Maisie Dobbs, the main character in Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs historical mystery series, a series of books Allison and I adore. 

3) There are some authors who I will wait (im)patiently for their next book, and Mary Beth Keane is tops on that list. Her newest book, The Half Moon, published this week and my preorder copy of the book arrived yesterday. I have read all of her novels, from The Walking People to Fever to Ask Again, Yes and now The Half Moon. Her latest tells the story of Malcolm and Jess, a married couple who are struggling with infertility, which has crushed them emotionally and financially. Malcolm has a chance to purchase the Half Moon,  the bar where he has worked for 24 years, but the bar business is difficult and he makes a decision that could lead to the end of his marriage. It's a beautifully rendered novel with gorgeous writing, and Keane creates characters that you root for to make it in this tough world. I give it my highest recoemmendation and a full review will be in my Book Report column on auburnpub.com on Sunday.

4) If you are a Broadway fan, and you Apple TV+, the second season of Schmigadoon should be on your list. This season Josh and Melissa (played to perfection by Keegan-Michael Key and Cecily Strong) ,while looking for Schimadoon, wind up in Schimicago, where the 1970-ish Broadway musicals are a lot darker than they were in the sunny 1950s-1960s of Schimagadoon. Some of Broadway's most talented performers return, like Alan Cumming, Kristin Chenoweth, Aaron Tvevit, Jane Krakowski and Patrick Page. Ariana Debose's knockout performance of Over and Done in the last episode is a stunner, and Titus Burgess as the Narrator is fantastic. The songs are memorable and clever and I can't recommend this highly enough. A standing ovation from me. 

5) Circling back to my birthday gifts, my lovely daughter-in-law Anna not only organized and cooked my birthday luncheon at the Book Cellar, she also got me the best gift- a year's worth of Blind Date With A Book- Banned Book Edition. My first book was April and it is SOLD, a young adult novel by Patirica McCormick. It tells the story of Lakshmi, a 13 year-old girl from an impoverished Nepalese family who ends up working as a sex slave in a brothel. She and her family were led to believe that Lakshmi would be going to work as a maid. The story is told from Lakshmi's point of view in one page diary-like pieces. It's powerful and heartbreaking, it shows the strength of the human spirit, and I can see how it was a National Awards finalist. I can't wait for my May book, Jonathan Evison's Lawn Boy. 

Have a safe and healthy week, until next time.