Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Split Rock (Book Review)

Title: Split Rock
Author: Holly Hodder Eger
Publication: Trade Paperback, Conzett Verlag, 2016
Genre: Fiction
Plot: After inheriting a home in Martha’s Vineyard from a beloved aunt, Annie Tucker brings her three children to the popular summer destination while her husband is traveling for work in Asia. Lonely and grieving for her aunt, Annie becomes dangerously preoccupied with memories of a teenage romance that ended badly. When the former beau appears in person, Annie wonders if she is being given another chance at love and whether she should make different choices this time.

Audience: Fans of women’s fiction, including authors such as Kristin Hannah and Nancy Thayer
Lambert's Cove, Martha's Vineyard
My Impressions: I enjoyed this story of a seemingly perfect summer on Martha’s Vineyard where the protagonist is suspended in time between her happy adolescence and the sometimes tedious responsibilities of parenting. Eger does a great job at depicting the Island she so obviously loves, and throughout the book I longed to be walking (but not swimming!) down the paths she describes. Martha’s Vineyard is the real star of this book, and I am sure I am not the only reader determined to visit after reading this novel.

Annie is an interesting personality, and is surrounded by other characters as vividly drawn. I especially liked Freddy, the friend she and her children make at the beach, although his Yiddish phrases were a bit over the top and his back story was unnecessarily lurid. Annie’s self-absorption was at times annoying and it would be easy to dismiss her as being privileged and spoiled, dismissive of her practically perfect husband, and perplexingly unable to manage three well behaved children whom she appeared to have coped with perfectly well in Maryland (and if she has never yelled at them before this fateful summer, she must be doing something right). However, I forgave her these all too human flaws (plus, a novel needs fodder) because I was so intrigued by her near drowning experience and the way she reacts to it, and the way in which this episode (eventually) helps her became completely honest with herself and confront her past. And, after all, one can enjoy an imperfect heroine in the abstract but once you start to like her, you want her to face facts and move on.  An enjoyable read!
Aunt Faye?
Source: I bought a copy of this book at a party for the author. I thought she said she was inspired by an incident when her youngest child accidentally called the police, while playing with a telephone, so I was expecting to find that incident in the book. Maybe I missed it or perhaps it will appear in the sequel!

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Ave atque vale, Gordon A. Martin, Jr.

As many of you know, I lost my father on November 1, 2016.   Those acquainted with him know he was a very loyal friend, as well as a loving husband and father.   It touched us deeply how many of his friends and ours shared their memories of him over the last two weeks, and although it is a cliche it does alleviate some of the pain.   Thank you for being there for him and for us during this very painful time.

With Dad at Fenway

Here are links to the Globe Notice, to his book, Count Them One by One, and his appearance on GMA.

Gordon, Stephanie, and baby Con
My brother Peter spoke very eloquently at the funeral Mass about Dad:

Remarks: November 5, 2016          St. Lawrence Church

On behalf of my mother and my sisters, I would like to thank all of you for coming today. In particular we'd like to thank all those who came from long distances to support us and show their feelings for my father.

A special thanks also to Fr. Brian, Fr. James and to the parishioners of St. Lawrence. When my parents moved here some years ago from the parish they loved in Newton Centre, they had no idea that they would find such a welcoming community of old and new friends and wonderful priests where they could praise God together. Fr. Brian, Fr. James and Fr. Lukasz all ministered to Dad during his final illness.

Thanks also to old friend Msgr. Helmick, who we are so pleased to have here with us concelebrating today, from St Teresa's parish in West Roxbury where Dad grew up. And Fr. Bill Schmidt - what a great surprise that you were able to come...thank you!

An important part of their experience here is the excellent music, and we would also like to thank our musicians here today, Lois Regestein, Chelsea Basler, Spencer Aston, and our special thanks to Warren Hutchison who couldn’t be here, but helped us so much over the last few days.

Our family is very important to us. We especially thank two of Dad’s first cousins, Ed Hennessy who came from New Jersey and Tommy Martin who came from Georgia to be with us today.
 
You'll notice that my sister, Constance, is standing nearby. Let me explain. If you're a Red Sox fan, you'll understand...this is like when you have Clay Buchholz start an important playoff game. You're hoping for the best, but you don't know what you'll get. During our run through we got a little emotional, so if I falter, we can go to the closer.

It's hard in brief remarks to do justice to a man who touched so many people in so many ways.
Maybe it wasn't a coincidence that compassion and an attention to those in need became core parts of his character. Dad lost his mother when he was only six. His father had personal issues and couldn’t play the role in my father's upbringing I'm sure he would have liked to. Dad saw him only a handful of times after his Mother’s death. Luckily, Dad’s aunt, his mother's sister, Lillian Hennessy, stepped into the breach and raised Dad. She sacrificed to send him to the Roxbury Latin School and gain him every advantage possible, even getting him a junior membership at Longwood in his teenage years, where he began his lifelong love of tennis.

From Aunt Lillian, from his Church, from other influences -- and from somewhere inside himself -- my father developed his zeal for public service and, as I tell my children, making the world a better place for others. In time, he developed a particular passion for racial justice and equality. The first song Dad taught Constance and Clare to sing was “We Shall Overcome.”

Dad's dedication for public service was informed by his steady, devoted faith in the Catholic Church and his fiery belief in the ideals of the Democratic party. My sisters and I grew up hearing about how Catholic social justice icon Dorothy Day had come to Dad's law school apartment for a meeting of the Catholic law students group, the St. Thomas More Society. We also heard about Mother and Dad's interactions with the repeat Democratic nominee for the Presidency, Adlai Stevenson. My sisters and I have heard from friends over the past few days who trace their interest in politics to conversations with Dad.

As many of you know, he met my mother through their shared love of politics. Dad was the president of the Harvard Young Democrats when he and his friends decided Radcliffe should start a chapter. I hope that they were interested in promoting women’s participation in the political process and NOT just looking for dates. Anyway, Dad got the names of three young women who were enthusiastic Democrats, hoping one would take charge. The first girl wasn’t home. The second girl was named Stephanie Lang, one of the very few Catholic girls at Radcliffe. The rest was history. They recently celebrated the 60th anniversary of their first date.

To recognize the essence of Dad's character, you have to look deeper, to more fundamental values. I think the most important of these was his unflinching loyalty. Loyalty to his wife, his children and his friends. My sisters and I never felt anything but total support from Dad. He came every event and performance we were in, long before it was common for fathers to turn up. He even brought Clare to her 6am figure skating practices…and he was NOT an eager early riser.

Dad had a unquestioned belief in our abilities and in our characters and was certain that we could do anything we set out to do. If things ever went badly for us he had no doubt that we would be able to bounce back.

It is a priceless thing to have someone in this world with this unrivaled belief in who you are and what you can do.

Dad was also unfailingly loyal to Roxbury Latin, Harvard and other institutions with which he was affiliated...and of course his beloved Boston professional sports teams, as well as the organizations that help Boston’s most vulnerable residents such as Casa Myrna Vasquez. We all grew up going with my parents to Harvard and BU hockey games, Harvard basketball games, and watching countless Bruins, Red Sox and Celtics games in person and on tv with Dad (and Mother, as long as the game wasn't too close and she didn't have to step out of the room to calm her nerves.)

Dad and Mother passed their love of sport on to us, and you won't find too many families who can rival us for sports passion.

As we looked at pictures over the last few days, there were an astonishing number of photos of Dad and various children and grandchildren with him at Fenway. Whether his grandchildren were in Boston, Rome or even New York (where they are proud Sox fans) they loved talking to Gram and Papa about the latest Sox game.

I think we love sports because at its best, it is about so much more than the wins and losses. And the only thing Dad may have liked more than watching one of his teams play was watching one of us compete. As I always tell my boys, my favorite tennis memory in my long tennis career is without a doubt the 1991 annual doubles tournament Dad and I won at Longwood.

He was committed to friends from every part of his life, many of whom are here today: classmates from Roxbury Latin, Harvard, and NYU. Those he worked with in the Justice Department in DC, the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Boston, law firms including the one he founded with two close friends, friends and colleagues from his 21 years as a Massachusetts Trial Court judge, friends from Longwood, and many more parts of his life. He made an effort to maintain friendship before the Internet and email made it easier to stay in touch. He had a kind word for everyone and brought us up to believe it was important to treat everyone with respect no matter what his or her station in life. And he led by example.

Dad and Mother did a great job raising us (now isn't the place to spill the beans on some of the things that Andrea, the youngest, got away with when our parents had gotten a little fatigued with child-raising). I told Dad in a Father's Day note a few years ago that I would consider myself a great success as a father if I could be even half the father to my children that he had been to me. And I meant it. But I was taken aback when one of my boys saw the card and told me he thought that was a reasonable goal for me!

And Dad has also been a devoted grandfather to his eight grandchildren, wherever they have been. They return not only love, but admiration for him and what he has done. One of them, 11-year-old James, made Dad the centerpiece of a school project on Civil Rights. And some have already read his book about his landmark voting rights case in Mississippi. If Dad had been able to do so, he might have made that a prerequisite for all of you entering the church today.

With the wonderful, important life that Dad lived for 82 years and with all the love and memories we shared with him and Mother, we should focus on gratitude rather than grief. His children, our spouses, and his grandchildren will all strive to further his legacy of love, kindness and social responsibility.

But it is hard to escape the fact that the world will be a poorer place without Dad's encouragement, his kind words and his hugs.

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Mercury (Book Review)

Title: Exposure
Author: Margot Livesey
Publication: Harper Collins, hardcover, 2016
Genre: Fiction
Plot: Donald believes he knows all there is to know about seeing. An optometrist in suburban Boston, he is sure that he and his wife, Viv, who runs the local stables, are both devoted to their two children and to each other. Then Mercury—a gorgeous young thoroughbred with a murky past—arrives at Windy Hill and everything changes.

Mercury’s owner, Hilary, is a newcomer to town who has enrolled her daughter in riding lessons. When she brings Mercury to board at Windy Hill, everyone is struck by his beauty and prowess, particularly Viv. As she rides him, Viv begins to dream of competing again, embracing the ambitions that she had harbored, and relinquished, as a young woman. Her daydreams soon morph into consuming desire, and her infatuation with the thoroughbred escalates to obsession.

Donald may have good vision but he is slow to notice how profoundly Viv has changed and how these changes threaten their quiet, secure world. By the time he does, it is too late to stop the catastrophic collision of Viv’s ambitions and his own myopia (from the publisher).

Purchase Links

Audience: Readers of Anita Shreve, Jodi Picoult, and Rosellen Brown.

My Impressions: I had read and enjoyed two books by Margot Livesey previously and so was eager to read her latest. Although I found the beginning slow, I soon identified with the quiet male protagonist whose grief for his recently deceased father felt very familiar to me as I struggle with the imminent loss of my own dear father. Although Donald is culpable in the disastrous events that affect his family, I was very sympathetic to him and infuriated by his self-centered wife, even though I recognize they were both suffering in different ways. What made the book for me was the way Livesey told the story from the perspective of both characters, first Donald and then Viv, told as flashbacks, as they move inexorably towards doom.

Livesey is a talented writer with a gift for creating memorable characters; here, the characters of Donald, Jack, and Donald’s long lost friend Robert, who appears briefly but significantly. She is Scottish-born, although lives in Cambridge now, and having visited Edinburgh last November, I especially enjoyed the references to Donald’s childhood in Scotland and subsequent trips back (even mentioning Deacon Brodie’s where I ate sticky toffee pudding!).
Menu from Deacon Brodie's

I couldn't decide between ice cream and custard sauce on my sticky toffee pudding so they generously gave me both!

She also memorably sets a scene in the Peacock Room of the Freer Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian. I was unfamiliar with this fascinating art and look forward to seeing it on my next trip to DC.

Having read many horse stories during my formative years (the author mentions Misty of Chincoteague but my favorites were (are) by K.M. Peyton), it was also interesting to see an adult obsessed by a horse.  If you can get past your conviction that you would never jeopardize your happy life so gratuitously, Viv's behavior is somewhat convincing.
Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by TLC Book Tours and the publisher for review purposes. Please visit other stops on the tour by clicking below:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, September 27th: Bibliophiliac
Wednesday, September 28th: The Reading Date
Thursday, September 29th: Real Life Reading
Friday, September 30th: Booksie’s Blog
Monday, October 3rd: Tina Says…
Wednesday, October 5th: Back Porchervations
Thursday, October 6th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, October 10th: I Brought a Book
Tuesday, October 11th: Bibliotica
Wednesday, October 12th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Thursday, October 13th: Art Books Coffee
Monday, October 17th: BookNAround
Monday, October 17th: The Ludic Reader
Tuesday, October 18th: Rebecca Radish
Thursday, October 20th: Sweet Southern Home
Friday, October 21st: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts

There was no sticky toffee pudding in this book but I enjoyed it despite that lack!

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Shuffle, Repeat (Book Review)

Title: Shuffle, Repeat
Author: Jen Klein
Publication: Random House, Hardcover, 2016
Genre: Young Adult
Plot: June is a high school senior in Michigan who prides herself on her pragmatism and can’t wait for her real life to begin after graduation. Her classmate Oliver is an outgoing football player with his own car. When June’s mother decides they are moving to the outskirts of Ann Arbor, she and Oliver’s mother arranges for Oliver to give June a ride to school every morning. Even detached June can’t help noticing Oliver’s good looks and unassuming charm, and the reader is swooning by page 8. However, as June is dating the (boring) Itch and Oliver the inevitable cheerleader, they ignore any frisson of attraction by debating about the meaning of high school and create a carpool playlist by awarding each other points for winning arguments. Slowly but surely, June and Oliver begin to care about earning the good opinion of the other, and their friendship becomes more important than either is willing to admit...

Audience: Fans of YA authors such as Sarah Dessen, Susane Colasanti, and Maureen Johnson.
My Impressions: There is something immediately appealing about this book. I enjoyed June’s snarkiness and her quirky friends, especially her best friend Shawn who is out and accepted by his peers, and understands June as a best friend should. I liked that the friendship between June’s mother and Oliver’s mother has survived despite their different financial and marital status (and in contrast to June’s and Oliver’s friendship which ended when they were in kindergarten). Oliver’s friend Theo is so awful he is amusing in his own right. He is like every teenage boy you want to run a mile from.

The story is told from June’s point of view but she is not a perfect heroine: she is judgmental and does a poor job figuring out where her loyalties should lie. Oliver’s character is what makes the story so charming; in particular, the way he listens to June, hearing what she says and does not say (even when she is so busy assuming he is a dumb jock that she marvels at his vocabulary). An ongoing issue is that he keeps sharing details of a senior prank with her: each time she is critical of his elaborate plans, and he reluctantly comes to appreciate that she is right and ultimately conceives of a plan that is funny but does not cause gratuitous damage or harm.

The book made me laugh but there were some poignant moments as well, particularly regarding June's relationship with her father.
Mistletoe
Question for the Author: I understand that June is initially reluctant to admit she likes Oliver but I didn’t understand why (once she knows he likes her too) she  pretends that tequila and starlight are responsible for her behavior (271-275). Is she unwilling to do a conventional high school romance because of her aversion to high school? Did she think Oliver was on the rebound?
Hydrangeas and lilies
Does she distrust romance in general because of her father’s absence in her life (yet, if so, why did she date Itch – and further, it is recognizing her father’s limitations that seems to set her on the right path at the end)? I just didn’t get the need for the angst at the end.  It seemed manufactured to keep them apart.

Source: I checked out this book from the library, and highly recommend it.

Flower image from https://www.etsy.com/shop/SongsFromTheGarden

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Hidden Figures (Book Review)

Title: Hidden Figures
Author: Margot Lee Shetterly
Publication: William Morrow, hardcover, 2016
Genre: Nonfiction/History/Women’s Studies
Plot: The phenomenal true story of the black female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space. Soon to be a major motion picture starring Taraji P. Henson, Octavia Spencer, Janelle Monae, Kirsten Dunst, and Kevin Costner, opening in January  2017.

Before John Glenn orbited the earth, or Neil Armstrong walked on the moon, a group of dedicated female mathematicians known as “human computers” used pencils, slide rules and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets, and astronauts, into space.

Among these problem-solvers were a group of exceptionally talented African American women, some of the brightest minds of their generation. Originally relegated to teaching math in the South’s segregated public schools, they were called into service during the labor shortages of World War II, when America’s aeronautics industry was in dire need of anyone who had the right stuff. Suddenly, these overlooked math whizzes had a shot at jobs worthy of their skills, and they answered Uncle Sam’s call, moving to Hampton, Virginia and the fascinating, high-energy world of the Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory.

Even as Virginia’s Jim Crow laws required them to be segregated from their white counterparts, the women of Langley’s all-black “West Computing” group helped America achieve one of the things it desired most: a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and complete domination of the heavens.

Starting in World War II and moving through to the Cold War, the Civil Rights Movement and the Space Race, Hidden Figures follows the interwoven accounts of Dorothy Vaughan, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson and Christine Darden, four African American women who participated in some of NASA’s greatest successes. It chronicles their careers over nearly three decades they faced challenges, forged alliances and used their intellect to change their own lives, and their country’s future.

 Purchase Links

Audience: Fans of narrative history, civil rights, inspirational women - but this practically reads like a novel!

About the Author: Margot Lee Shetterly grew up in Hampton, Virginia, where she knew many of the women in Hidden Figures.  She is an Alfred P. Sloan Foundation Fellow and the recipient of a Virginia Foundation for the Humanities grant for her research on women in computing.  She lives in Charlottesville, Virginia.

My Impressions: I didn’t know much about this book before I started reading but was instantly hooked. I liked that author Shetterly became aware about these women and their history during an adult visit to her parents, learning her old Sunday School teacher had a personal story of such magnitude it simply had to be told. The book is thoroughly researched and beautifully written, and contains so many fascinating anecdotes that I kept reading aloud from it to my father, author of his own book about brave African-Americans making a difference (in his case, fighting for the right to vote). One of my favorite facts was that the black women working as computers (the word sounds strange to a modern audience but they were computing) were assigned to a cafeteria table that was labeled “Colored Computers” – the only group of employees with a designated seating area. Petite Miriam Mann kept making the sign disappear, causing her colleagues to fear there would be repercussions, but eventually some anonymous HR staffer gave up replacing the signs. I am sure I will enjoy the movie of this book as well, and it has a great cast.
Source: I received a copy of Hidden Figures from TLC Book Tours and William Morrow Books in return for a candid review. Thank you for the opportunity to read such a fascinating story!  For other stops on the Hidden Figures tour, see below:

September 6th: A Bookish Way of Life
September 7th: Doing Dewey
September 8th: Tina Says…
September 9th: Sapphire Ng
September 12th: Read. Write. Repeat.
September 13th: Kritters Ramblings
September 14th: Back Porchervations
September 15th: A Bookish Affair
September 16th: Reading Reality
September 19th: 100 Pages a Day…Stephanie’s Book Reviews
September 20th: In the Garden of Eva
September 22nd: View from the Birdhouse
September 26th: Man of La Book
September 27th: Gspotsylvania: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Chocolate Thinsies (Recipe)

Chocolate Thinsies were always our 'go to' cookie recipe when I was growing up if we had unexpected afternoon guests and were out of eggs.  They are fairly quick to make, and we were usually well supplied with the other ingredients. Try them warm from the oven with a cold glass of milk!

Ingredients
1 cup less 2 tablespoons flour
2 tablespoons Hershey's cocoa
1/4 teaspoon salt
dash cinnamon
1/4 cup margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 cup milk
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

Directions
Cream shortening and sugar.  Add milk gradually. Mixture will look slightly curdled (this was always my favorite line from the recipe).  Mix dry ingredients together prior to folding them into the shortening mixture.  Stir until well blended.  Add vanilla.

Preheat the oven to 350°.   Spread the mixture about 1/4 to1/8 inch thick onto a greased cookie sheet.  Bake for 10 minutes.   Cut into squares while warm, using a spatula if necessary to remove them from the cookie sheet.

Enjoy!  I don't remember where my mother found this recipe but it used to be taped inside her kitchen cabinet for convenience.   I will add a picture over the weekend.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

The City Baker's Guide to Country Living (Book Review)

Title: The City Baker’s Guide to Country Living
Author: Louise Miller
Publication: Viking, Hardcover, 2016
Genre: Fiction
Plot: When Olivia Rawlings, pastry chef at an exclusive Boston club, accidentally sets the historic building on fire with a flaming dessert, she more or less loses her job. Humiliated, Livvy flees for comfort to her best friend in Vermont and ends up employed at the nearby Sugar Maple Inn. The curmudgeonly owner is on a quest to regain dominance of a local apple pie contest, and Livvy is up for the challenge, even though they don’t always see eye to eye. Despite her flamboyantly dyed hair and distaste for the country, Livvy makes friends quickly, including a quiet farmer, Martin, and his family who may be the first to make her feel she really belongs somewhere. Can she find lasting happiness in rural Vermont?

Audience: Understood Betsy for grown-ups! Guthrie, Vermont also reminded me of Stars Hollow, although I believe that is supposed to be Washington, Connecticut. Readers who enjoy Susan Elizabeth Phillips and Elinor Lipman should appreciate this debut novel as well.

My Impressions: First of all, I loved the descriptions of food, although it is always a mistake to read a book about food when you haven’t had time to go to the grocery store for days - I was almost ready to gnaw on the book. Second, I loved the quirky, minor characters, including Alfred the chef (I enjoyed how at first they shared the kitchen and communicated without meeting; they communicated beautifully when collaborating as well); Dotty, who welcomes Livvy to family gatherings; Tom who delivers milk and devours Livvy’s cooking; and Margaret, whose gruff demeanor hides the hurt caused by an unrelenting Mean Girl. Finally, as a city girl myself I am always fascinated, if disbelieving, of young women who find fulfillment in rural communities. It is possible that Livvy’s transformation happened too quickly – also, in Boston Livvy wasn’t making enough money to pay her rent so how is that she could be solvent as a pastry chef in Vermont? Admittedly, she was living rent free in a cottage on the Inn’s premises.

The obstacles between Livvy and Martin seemed contrived, making the last 30% of the book less interesting and satisfying. Either Martin’s motivation was unconvincing or his character was not very likeable, I couldn’t decide which.  However, his parents were so sweet they compensated for his unreliability.  I was disappointed with Livvy for not valuing her friend Hannah more. Hannah is loyal in a way few friends are when the BFF and the husband don’t get along.
For another take on  Understood Betsy, try the most recent installment of The Mother-Daughter Book Club by Heather Vogel Frederick: Mother-Daughter Book Camp.

Source: I learned about this book when I saw it listed on my library website as an “in demand” new release.  I was convinced when I saw it had been edited by my former colleague, Pam Dorman, and I promptly put it on reserve. Later, I learned that Miller is a local author which made the book even more enjoyable. I am enjoying her Instagram posts as well. Recommended!