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Thursday, June 8, 2023

Summer Reading Picks

Reprinted from auburnpub.com

Memorial Day is past and now Summer Reading Season is upon us. This month’s column is filled with suggestions for books for everyone to read at the beach or on your front porch.

For the person who enjoys a good family story, J. Ryan Stradal’s new novel, Saturday Night at the Lakeside Supper Club tells the story of four generations of women involved with the running of their family supper club in a small town in Minnesota. Some of them take to the family business, others feel confined by it. You’ll feel dropped right into this community. Stradal never misses, his books are must-reads for me. 

Susie Luo’s debut novel, Paper Names tells of the immigrant experience seeking the American dream. Tony leaves his job as an engineer in China to give his family a better life in New York City where he now works as a doorman. The lives of Tony, his young daughter Tammy, and Oliver, a lawyer who lives in the building where Tony works, collide after a violent incident. 

If Historical Fiction is your favorite genre, Luis Alberto Urrea’s Good Night, Irene, a story about women who worked for the Red Cross in Europe during WWII, is inspired by his own’s mother experiences. 

Kristin Harmel’s The Paris Daughter is set in 1939 Paris where a young mother forced to flee the Nazis entrusts her daughter to her best friend. Her return after the war leads to complications.  

Lisa See’s Lady Tan’s Circle of Women is also inspired by a true story, this one about a female physician in 15th century China who undertook medical care for women when no one cared about them. 

Mysteries and thrillers are always great beach reads. William Landay’s All That Is Mine I Carry With Me begins when a mother disappears and her husband, a defense attorney, is suspected but never charged in her disappearance. Her raises their three children alone and when her remains are found 20 years later, their children must decide if is he is guilty or not. 

Dennis Lehane’s new novel Small Mercies is set in Boston during the summer of the busing protests of the 1970s. When a teen girl goes missing the same time that a young Black man is killed in the subway, her tough Irish mother will stop at nothing to find her, including running up against the most dangerous mobsters in town. (This one has raw and offensive language, as well as violence, appropriate for the time and subject.) 

Liv Constantine’s The Senator’s Wife tells the story of a DC power couple. Sloane is a philanthropist married to a Senator, and when complications from her lupus become challenging they hire an assistant. As Sloane’s health deteriorates, she begins suspect her assistant is up to something nefarious. This one has twists galore. 

Romance novels and sunshine go together and this season the queen of summer beach reads Elin Hilderbrand is back with The Five-Star Weekend. This one celebrates friendship as Hollis, a popular food blogger, invites her best friend from each stage of her life to join her on a five-star weekend. It doesn’t go as smoothly as she hoped.

Susan Wigg’s Welcome to Beach Town begins when the town’s elite high school valedictorian, a scholarship student, reveals a town secret during her speech that tears the town apart. When she returns to the town years later, will everyone welcome her back and forget why she left or is she still a pariah? 

For people who prefer Nonfiction, Helen Ellis’ collection of humorous essays, Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge, celebrates life with her loving husband as they navigate the Covid lockdown in New York City. The hilarious essay 'An Email To Our Cat Sitter’ is worth the price of the book alone. Give this one to your favorite couple celebrating an anniversary in June. 

Bethanne Patrick’s memoir Life B- Overcoming Double Depression recounts the book critic’s lifelong struggle to deal with depression. When she hits her fifties, Patrick finally receives a diagnosis and the help she needs to become healthy for herself and her two daughters. 

Summer always brings a big biography, and this year it’s Jonathan Eig’s King-A Life a 688-page comprehensive look at the life of Martin Luther King Jr.  This one has garnered much critical praise. 

I hope there is something here for you to read this summer, email me with your summer picks.

Sunday, June 4, 2023

The Little Italian Hotel by Phaedra Patrick

The Little Italian Hotel by Phaedra Patrick
Published by Park Row Books ISBN 9780778387121
Trade paperback, $18.99, 320 pages

In Phaedra Patrick's newest novel The Little Italian Hotel,  Ginny Splinter spends her days giving advice to callers on her radio talk show in a small town in England. She loves helping people and believes that she can help them solve their life problems. There isn't a problem Ginny can't fix,

Ginny is married to Adrian, who sells high end sports cars at a local dealership. She is about to surprise Adrian with a special anniversary trip to Italy when Adrian tells her that he is moving out, he doesn't know if he wants to be married anymore.

This stuns Ginny, and when she discovers that Adrian has a profile on a dating website, she is even more shocked. How could she, the woman with all the advice for her listeners, have been so clueless as to what was going on her marriage?

When Ginny finds out that the trip is nonrefundable, she invites four listeners from her show to join her in Italy. Instead of a stay for two at a luxury hotel and spa in a small town outside Bologna, Ginny will be joined by four strangers at a little Italian hotel near the luxury hotel. The only catch is that each of these strangers must have their own heartbreak story.

The hotel is run by Nico and his teenager daughter Loretta. Nico's wife left them when he refused to sell the hotel after a deathbed promise to his mother to change nothing in the hotel. The hotel is charming, and  a bit lived in, nothing like the successful luxury hotel up the road run by Nico's best friend.

Edna, an elderly woman who dresses in black, is sharp as a tack. Eric is quiet and gets up early every morning to run in the Italian hillside. He carries a dog collar with him. Rachel is a vivacious young woman whose mother has Alzheimer's.  Curtis spends all his time on his phone and can be a bit rude to everyone.

The group is slow to come together, but once they do, they all become very supportive of each other. We get the backstories of each of them, what their heartache is, and each story is moving as we become emotionally invested in them. The Italian setting is so vivid, if you close your eyes you will see the Italian countryside and smell the delicious fresh foods that Nico prepares for the group.

When Adrian shows up unexpectedly, Ginny is torn. She has to take a good look at her life and decide what she truly needs to be happy. The Little Italian Hotel would be good for a book club discussion, and you could have a great Italian-themed dinner to go with it. 

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

Friday, June 2, 2023

Friday 5ive- June 2, 2023

Welcome to the Friday 5ive, a weekly post featuring five things that caught my attention this week. It's June already, that is simply not possible.

1)  I finally finished a virtual bike challenge ride that I started in September- the Applachian Trail Conqueror Virtual Challenge, which is a 1968 mile journey. Luckily for me, I virtually rode the trail from my Peloton at home because if it was doing this outside on the actual trail, I would have been gone from home a very long time. 

2)  I attended a wonderful event at the Long Island Lit Fest on Wednesday featuring Adriana Trigiani in discussion with Helen Ellis about Adriana's wonderful moving epic family story The Good Left Undone at the Mahasset Cinemas. Adriana and Helen are two of my go-to authors, I always look forward to the publication of their books. The discussion was a lively and often hilarious one, covering a variety of topics including:
  • The first time they met for dinner, which Helen called "one of the greatest nights in NYC" as they drank martinis and ate dinner at an outdoor restaurant or "dinner in the gutter" as Helen joked. (Anyone who has been to NYC will totally understand that.)
  • Adriana's obsession with the Plexiderm commercials
  • When Helen went home to Alabama from college in Colorado, she was wearing Birkenstocks, a flowing prairie skirt, and stick straight hair. Her mother greeted her with "Helen Michelle, we are in the South. We roll our hair and wear lipstick."
  • Adriana's reasons why Italy is "the Florida of the United Kingdom"
  • Who you will ask to do your funeral makeup when the time comes
  • Finding a bird in your house is bad, seeing one looking inside at you from the outside is very bad
  • If Adriana goes before her husband, she has instructed a friend to "go in and get my shoes. The new one will NOT be wearing my shoes. And you know I'll be replaced in three months." Women will swoop in on the widower.
The Good Left Undone was discussed, as was Helen's upcoming book Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge. I read an early copy and it is funny, sweet, and sassy. It's filled with essays about life with Helen and her husband during the pandemic, and the one titled "Email to the Cat Sitter" had me laughing out loud. It's maybe her best book yet, and a perfect anniversary gift for your favorite couple.
Adriana described the evening as "a little bit like back in time and you are in your aunt's kitchen and I'm your aunt." That is such an apt description, it was one of the best bookish evenings I've had in a very long time. Do yourself a favor and read The Good Left Undone (about how families are only as strong as their stories and women are the keepers of those family stories) and Kiss Me in the Coral Lounge. 
Hellen Ellis, me, Adriana Trigiani

3)  I attended the White Mass for healthcare workers and caregivers at St. Patrick's Cathedral this week. It was a lovely mass, and Cardinal Dolan gave a wonderful homily. I looked at the pew across the aisle and noticed that the nameplate honors Mary Higgins Clark, who was a lovely lady and a teriffic mystery writer. She was a big supporter of Catholic causes, including ArchCare, the organization that organized the White Mass.

4)  I went to Boston over the Memorial Day weekend to visit my son and he took me this very cool place for breakfast called Steel & Rye in Milton. As you walk inside, there is bakery case filled with scrumptious baked goods. In the back is the open kitchen, and to the right is a bar that runs nearly the length of the restaurant. They have plenty of seating inside and we ordered our breakfast and took a seat at the outdoor tables, alongside the families and people with their dogs. Once I saw the Cranberry Orange Loaf, I knew I would choose that and it was an excellent choice, although my son's Breakfast Sandwich with egg, bacon, tomato and lettuce looked very tempting. If I lived there, Steel & Rye would be a regular hang out for me. 

5) We watched the last two episodes of Succession this week, and all I can say is wow. The writers, actors, and directors knocked this one out of the park. The funeral episode was so fantastic, with an amazing performance from Kieran Culkin as youngest son Roman, and a eulogy given by Logan's brother (played so well by James Cromwell) that will go down as one of the best monologues ever. I wasn't sure the final episode could top that, but it sure did. The Roy siblings jockeying for the power seat of CEO was something Shakespearean, and that scene just outside of the boardroom was incredibly tense. And the scene in the car at the end, oh that was that crazy. All I can say is well done all, and anyone who thinks they will be in contention for Emmys against Succession, well,  I wish you luck. 

Have a safe, healthy, happy week and use sunscreen. Until next time.

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:

Monday, May 15th@nurse_bookie

Tuesday, May 16th@cmtlovesbooksandwine

Tuesday, May 16th@fashionablyfifty

Wednesday, May 17th@the_unwined

Wednesday, May 17th@nerdy_book_lover_1987

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

Wednesday, May 31stBookchickdi

Thursday, June 1st@kristis_literary_corner

Friday, June 2ndBook Dilettante

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.