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Friday, July 28, 2023

Friday 5ive- Napa Valley Visit

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. There was no post last week because I was in Napa Valley for our biennial trip to wine country. We always have a great time there, with excellent food and wine. It was very hot there (like everywhere else in the country), so we spent a lot of time poolside.

1) The scenery in Napa is just beautiful, filled with mountains and vineyards and gorgeous flowers. 

Outside Clos du Val Winery

The pagoda at Chateau Montelena

The view of Opus One Winery's vineyards

2)  We had some amazing meals in Napa, including the pizza at Ciccio, which was a big hit with everyone. We always put that restaurant on our list when we are in Napa. 

At Stag's Leap Wine Cellars we partook in their Summer 2023 Cellarius Kitchen Experience, where Executive Chef Travis Westrope created a four course luncheon for us. I liked the West Coast Corn Dog, which was filled with shredded tiger prawn with a delicious plum sauce on top, and served with a plum and cucumber sunomono (a Japanese salad) on the side. 

3) The highlight of our trip is always the Del Dotto Barrels and Beasts Dinner. Their winery is so incredible, and this year we were once again able to go into their caves and taste wines directly from the barrel. The dinner was so elegant, with passed hors d'oerves (caviar on top of an everything seasoned sable with smoked sturgeon mousse, pork belly spiedinis, and lamb chops), hamachi tartare with fresh diced peaches and marcona almonds and the highlight of the meal, a Cape Cod Bay Scallop on top of the tastiest corn pudding. They had entertainment from three members of the San Francisco Opera and a DJ wrapped up the evening with a $20 song- "Sweet Caroline". It's always unforgettable (unless you drank too much of the wine-LOL).

4) On our last evening in Napa we visited Mustard's Grill, recommended to us by more than one person. Perusing the most extensive wine list we've ever seen at a restaurant, we found a Pinot Noir from a winery named LaRue. Of course we had to try it and it was wonderful. We even brought the empty bottle home.

5) When we returned home, we took a helicopter ride back to NYC from JFK airport from Blade. It was pretty cool, flying over the Statue of Liberty and it only took 10 minutes to get back to the city (when it would usually take nearly an hour in traffic). I wish they landed on the East side because it took me almost an hour to get from the West side to the East side in an Uber. But it was still pretty cool.

I hope you can stay cool in this heat. Until next time.

Sunday, July 16, 2023

Women of the Post by Joshunda Sanders

Women of the Post by Joshunda Saunders
Published by Park Row ISBN 9780778334071
Trade paperback, $18.99, 368 pages

Historical fiction enlightens readers by expanding our knowledge of times and events through the lens of fictional characters (who are often based on real people.) Joshunda Sanders novel, Women of the Post, takes readers back to WWII and shares the stories of the Six Triple Eight Battalion.

The Six Triple Eight Battalion was an all-Black unit of women Army Corps recruits who were assigned to sort through the over one million pieces of mail that was backlogged. Their assignment took them to England where they were to catalog and get mail to and from the armed services members fighting in the war. It was felt that getting mail to these men and their families would boost morale at a critical time in the war.

Judy Washington is a newlywed whose husband is fighting overseas. At first she received regular letters from him, but that soon stopped, along with the small amount of money he was able to send home.

 Whereas white women could find factory jobs while the men were fighting overseas, Judy and her mother could only find work at what was commonly called the Bronx Slave Market.  Judy and her mother would go to the Bronx and wait for wealthy white women from the suburbs to drive up and offer a paltry amount of pay for a day's work cleaning their homes. When one woman stole money from Judy's own wallet to pay her, that is when Judy had had enough.

 Judy saw an opportunity to join the Six Triple Eight Battalion as not only a chance to make a decent wage, but also to be closer to finding out what has happened to her husband. We follow Judy through basic training in Kansas, where she makes friends with three other women, and we meet Second Officer Charity Adams, who will lead the battalion overseas. (Charity Adams was a real person, the highest ranking Black female officer in WWII.)

Each of the characters is interesting and has her own reasons for being there. Charity is hiding a relationship with a fellow female officer, and Mary Alyce discovers a secret that her family kept from her for years that changes her life forever.

I learned so much from Women of the Post. I had heard of the Six Triple Eight before, but reading of their accomplishment and how they managed to not only complete the task of getting the mail but create a cataloging system for doing so was so interesting. Joshunda Sanders takes us right into their day-to-day life in basic training, and what it was like to be an almost forgotten part of the military. I was intrigued by her characters and bond of friendship they formed.

I had never heard of the Bronx Slave Market, and I wish more people knew about this part of New York City history. It was shocking to me and yet not so unbelievable that it would exist. I'd like to read more about it. I will also be looking for more information on Charity Adams.

If you are a historical fiction fan, Women of the Post is a book to put on your list. Fans of Lauren Willig's Band of Sisters and Margot Lee Shetterly's nonfiction Hidden Figures will enjoy it, and I give it 5 stars.

Thanks to Harlequin for putting me on their Summer 2023 Blog Tours.

Friday, July 14, 2023

Friday 5ive- July 14, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly-ish post featuring five things that caught my eye this week. We took a week off to go to Florida, I hope you didn't miss me.

1)  We were excited to see two projects completed at our home in Florida. New bookshelves were put in, along with a desk in the office, so you know I enjoyed organizing the books. The only thing that would have been better is if my my two favorite book organizers Anna and Allison were there to help. We also had a new bar area put in the kitchen, and both projects turned out so wonderful.

2)  Our JetBlue plane from JFK to Florida was called Bear Force One, with the Boston Bruins logo and colors. I'm not a hockey fan, but I know a few Bruins fans so I sent them a  photo.

3) I was on my own for dinner a couple nights this week and when I was debating what to have, an article from CNN popped on my phone about "Girl Dinner". Apparently when women are having dinner on their own at home, pulling out fruit, cheese and crackers for dinner is the latest fad. So I picked up burrata, some grapes and pineapple and added some crackers and proscuitto from my neighborhood Italian grocery store and had a lovely little dinner. Girl Dinner will on my regular rotation- no cooking is involved and in this heat that is a good thing. 

4) I ended up spending an extra two days on Florida due to flight cancellations so I made the best of it by catching up on the last season of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel on Amazon Prime. All I can say is Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino know how to wrap up a show. They gave us a glimpse into the future for all the characters and Alex Borstein (Susie) and Rachel Brosnahan (Midge) put on a tour-de-force of acting in the last few episodes that stunned me. If they don't get all the awards, there is no justice. If you've never watched this series, do yourself a favor and watch it now. I loved Midge's Joan Rivers-like NYC massive apartment, a nice tip of the hat to Joan.

5) I read some terrific books lately. Kelly Rimmer's WWII novel, The Paris Agent, tells the story of ordinary British people who became spies to save the world from the Nazis. It is intense and so gripping. My five-star review can be found here

Speaking of spies, Beatriz Williams' novel, The Beach at Summerly, also has at its core a spy story,but this one is set in the Cold War and with Russians. Emelia's parents have been caretakers for a wealthy New England's summer family home on Winthrop Island on the Long Island Sound. She and her siblings grew up with the sons of the family, and Emilia had a crush on one of the boys. After WWII, the boys' widowed Aunt Olive comes to stay with her young children, and Emilia ends up taking care of the children and growing close to Olive. Her relationship with Olive brings her to the attention of FBI agent Sumner Fox who is looking for someone who is passing along information to the Russians. This one is for fans of the late, great TV show The Americans. I love how Williams' ties this book into her previous terrific novel, Our Woman in Moscow. 

I also read Isabel Allende's debut novel, The House of the Spirits. This one was my July Blind Date With a Book -Banned Book Club edition gifted to me by my wonderful daughter-in-law Anna. I can't believe I never read this book before! It's an epic family story, set in an unnamed South American country. Esteban Trueba works hard to build a life of wealth and privilege for his family. He is tough, and sometime violent. Esteban loves his ethereal wife Clara, who is able to connect to the spirits of those who have passed on. Their daughter Blanca falls in love with a man her father forbids her to see, a man whose politics are the complete opposite of Esteban's. As Esteban's political power grows, Blanca grows further apart from her father. Blanca's daughter Alba is the light of Esteban's eye, but as she grows up, she sees the world in a different light than her grandfather and wants to change things in her increasingly volatile country. Written in 1985, ostensibly about Chile, this book resonates with much that is happening right now in the United States. This book is one of the best I have ever read, it has earned a permanent place on my Staff Recommends shelf at the Book Cellar. 

Have a safe, healthy week- stay cool.

Friday, July 7, 2023

The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer

The Paris Agent by Kelly Rimmer
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525826689
Trade paperback, $18.99, 352 pages

As Kelly Rimmer's fascinating novel The Paris Agent opens, four women who are British spies in 1944 were captured by Nazi forces and are now on a train being transferred somewhere unknown.

Flash forward to 1970 Britain where Charlotte and her father Noah are grieving the death of Charlotte's mother, Noah's wife. Charlotte believes that her father was a plane mechanic during WWII, and she is stunned to discover that Noah was actually a top secret SOE spy operative in France during the war.

Noah has been disconsolate lately; he wants to track down the man Remy who helped him when he suffered a serious head injury during the war. He has memory loss from that time and he believes that Remy can help fill in the gaps. 

Charlotte finds a professor who is working on a history of the SOE operatives. Perhaps he can find Remy for them, but Noah seems reluctant, even more so when it appears that there was a double agent working for the Nazis who endangered the lives of SOE operatives.

As the story moves back to 1944, we meet two female spies- Chloe and Fleur- as they narrate their stories of how they came to be spies for the British government and the dangerous missions they undertook. Rimmer writes an incredibly tense scene as Chloe and Noah's mission to destroy a Nazi weapons factory is detailed. It's a real nail-biter.

These brave heroes put their lives on the line for the safety of others back home, knowing they could be captured or killed. Those who came home often wanted to put that part of their behind them or were forever haunted by it. Noah was able to put it behind him until he could no longer do so.

I was pulled deep into this story, and although at first it is difficult to keep the characters straight because they use their spy names and real names interchangeably (a chart in the beginning of the book would have been helpful), I could not put this book down.

The characters are so well drawn, we feel deeply for them when they face unspeakable danger and as we draw closer to discovering their fates, I found my heart racing. If you are a fan of WWII novels, like Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale, you'll want to read The Paris Agent.

Thanks to TLC Tour for putting me on Kelly Rimmer's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

TLC review tour schedule:

Monday, June 26th@poisedpen 

Tuesday, June 27th@nobookmark_noproblem

Wednesday, June 28th@marensreads 

Thursday, June 29th@andrea.c.lowry.reads 

Thursday, June 29th@readthisandsteep and Read This and Steep

Friday, June 30th@mrs._lauras_lit 

Monday, July 3rd@wendysbookclub

Wednesday, July 5th@megsbookclub

Thursday, July 6th@laurasnextchapter 

Friday, July 7thBookchickdi

Saturday, July 8th@addictedtobooks86

Monday, July 10th@page_appropriate 

Tuesday, July 11thHelen’s Book Blog

Wednesday, July 12th@bigskybooks

Friday,  July 14th@diveintoagoodbook

Monday, July 17th@charliegirl.loves2read

Wednesday, July 19th@finding_joyathome

Friday, July 21stGirl Who Reads

Friday, July 21stBooks Cooks Looks

Monday, July 24th@nurse_bookie

Wednesday, July 26th@subakka.bookstuff and Subakka.bookstuff

Friday, July 28thEliot’s Eats

Thursday, July 6, 2023

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay

The Housekeepers by Alex Hay
Published by Graydon House ISBN 9781525805004
Hardcover, $30, 368 pages

Alex Hay's intriguing historical mystery novel The Housekeepers has a lot of balls in the air. Set in the early 20th century, it begins with Mrs. King, who runs a grand Mayfair home, being dismissed from her prestigious position for the crime of being seen going into one of the male worker's rooms.

Mrs. King does not intend to take this firing lightly and plots her revenge against the unpleasant young woman who has inherited the stately manor from her recently deceased father. She will rob the home of all of its possessions on the night of a grand ball, held to impress a wealthy suitor for the new mistress of the mansion.

Mrs. King rounds up a posse of women who each have something they want- the queen of the black market with connections to the everyone in the criminal underground, a young seamstress who becomes the confidant of the mistress and whose loyalty becomes confused, and a fading actress looking to create the performance of a lifetime.

Each of these women has a reason for participating, and as their secret connections are revealed one by one, the reader is surprised and taken aback (in a good way). As Mrs. King learns more about nefarious events that took place in the home, she becomes even more determined to get justice.

The story can be a bit outrageous- Mrs. King and her cohorts plan to strip the manor of its entire contents, furniture and all, while the home is filled with revelers- but it is interesting reading how it is done. Think Downton Abbey meets Ocean's Eleven and add in the #MeToo movement, and you've got The Housekeepers, a caper story with serious undertones. It would make a fantastic movie, and if you liked Deanna Raybourn's recent novel, Killer of a Certain Age, The Houskeepers is your next good read. 

Thanks to Harlequin Books for putting me on their Summer 2023 Blog Tours.