Monday, April 17, 2017

All-of-a-Kind Family (book review)

Title: All-of-a-Kind Family
Author: Sydney Taylor
Publication: Dell paperback, originally published in 1951. I was inspired to reread this for the 1951 Club.
Genre: Juvenile fiction, series
Plot: The All-of-a-Kind Family lives on New York’s Lower East Side not long before the outbreak of World War I. Papa is a peddler and Mama manages the home and five daughters as frugally as possible, while promoting their Jewish faith. Ella is the oldest, Henny the boldest, Sarah the thoughtful future writer, and Charlotte and Gertie are the youngest and eat penny candy in bed. The girls share adventures and due to loving parents and a spirit of adventure do not dwell on their poverty or the challenges of living in a crowded tenement. Their enjoyment of activities together and their ability to find fun out of simple tasks such as dusting, shopping, visiting the synagogue on festival days, or even suffering from Scarlet Fever at the same time, is what makes this book and the whole series exceptional, charming, and memorable.

Quiz: Which All-of-a-Kind-Family Sibling are you?

You got: Sarah
There’s no place you’d rather be than the library, except maybe onstage accepting the history prize. Maybe you’ll grow up to write a book about your family history! Sydney Taylor would be proud.

Audience: Children 6-10, as well as fans of historical fiction and series books such as Betsy-Tacy; those interested in Historic Manhattan and/or Jewish family life at the turn of the 20th century. This book has many fans of all ages and religions and was “voted” #55 on Betsy Bird’s top 100 Children’s Novels.

My Impressions: I loved this series growing up and especially identified with Henny, the outspoken daughter who (in a later book) gets into difficulty when she borrows her sister’s best dress without permission. This book begins with Sarah’s lost library book, another memorable incident, because of the girls’ enjoyment of the library and fear that they will lose access because Sarah lent to book to a friend. Miss Allen, the librarian, recognizes that payment for the book would create hardship but also knows the girls’ parents would not accept charity, so she allows Sarah to pay for the book over time. As a child who did not get an allowance, I was fascinated by the girls’ daily penny allowance and the mileage they got out of their pennies – particularly the feast of chocolate babies and broken crackers. Growing up in a Boston neighborhood that was primarily Jewish, I also enjoyed learning about Passover, Purim, and other festivals so meaningful to this family. Taylor makes the point that celebrating the Fourth of July is also important to the All-of-a-Kind family, their parents and friends, and that Papa is friendly with men from other faiths (Italian and Polish peddlers). Taylor also makes it clear that this family is relatively privileged: they have a four room apartment which occupies an entire floor in a two-storied private home.

About 15 or so years ago, the Greater NY Chapter of the Betsy-Tacy Society (which meets regularly), all fans of AoKF, went on a tour of the Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side, which I highly recommend (I was annoyed that the tour guide did not know about these books, and I thought they should have been for sale in the museum shop.   The first book is now available on their website).  A number of my Jewish friends loved these books because there were few books featuring Jewish children; however, I am Catholic and enjoyed them just as much as they did due to Taylor's incredible storytelling.

About the Author: Sydney Taylor based these books on her childhood and the Sarah character on herself. She was a camp counselor in Long Island (where my dear friend Rachel Rose and her sisters were campers) and probably honed the stories there before turning them into books. After her death, her husband established The Sydney Taylor Book Award which is now awarded annually to outstanding books for children and teens that authentically portray the Jewish experience.  
Source: I read the first three books repeatedly growing up. The first two were oversized Follett hardcovers in my grade school library, shabby from the grasp of many hands. The others were in the Newton library, although Ella was not published early enough for many rereads. I own all five now. Much of my knowledge about Judaism came from Sydney Taylor and Gladys Malvern’s Old Testament historical fiction. If you have never read this series, you have a treat in store! Thank you to Lizzie Skurnick for her efforts to keep these books in print and for the quiz above.

• All-of-a-Kind Family (1951), illustrated by Helen John
• More All-Of-A-Kind Family (1954), illustrated by Mary Stevens
• All-of-a-Kind Family Uptown (1958), illustrated by Mary Stevens
• All-of-a-Kind Family Downtown (1972), illustrated by Beth and Joe Krush
• Ella of All-of-a-Kind Family (1978), illustrated by Gail Owens

images above are copyright to the publisher

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Duplicity (Book Review)

Title: Duplicity, a Julia Gooden Mystery
Author: Jane Haseldine
Publication: Kensington, hardcover, April 2017
Genre: Suspense
Plot: In Jane Haseldine’s second book about Julia Gooden, the Detroit newspaper reporter is up against the city’s most devious criminal—and her own painful past.

Julia Gooden knows how to juggle different lives. A successful crime reporter, she covers the grittiest stories in the city while raising her two young boys in the suburbs. But beneath that accomplished façade is another Julia, still consumed by a tragedy that unfolded thirty years ago when her nine-year-old brother disappeared without a trace.

Julia’s marriage, too, is a balancing act, as she tries to rekindle her relationship with her husband, Assistant District Attorney David Tanner, while maintaining professional boundaries. David is about to bring Nick Rossi to trial for crimes that include drug trafficking, illegal gambling, and bribery. But the story becomes much more urgent when a courthouse bomb claims several victims—including the prosecution’s key witness—and leaves David critically injured.

Though Julia is certain that Rossi orchestrated the attack, the case against him is collapsing, and his power and connections run high and wide. With the help of Detective Raymond Navarro of the Detroit PD, she starts following a trail of blackmail, payback, and political ambition, little imagining where it will lead. Julia has risked her career before, but this time innocent lives—including her children’s—hang in the balance, and justice may come too late to save what truly matters…

Purchase Links

Kensington Publishing CorporationAmazon | Barnes & Noble


Praise for Duplicity

“Haseldine (The Last Time She Saw Him, 2016) uses her experience as a crime reporter to bring authenticity to this exciting and gritty tale.”—Kirkus Reviews

Praise for the first Julia Gooden Mystery, The Last Time She Saw Him

“A ferocious thriller….you can bet no one will stop reading.”– Booklist

“Journalist Jane Haseldine’s debut novel rings with authenticity as she, like Julia, is a former crime reporter. This is a harrowing read.”– BookPage

“A sharp, breathless thriller. From the opening scene to the last, The Last Time She Saw Him, kept me flipping the pages. I loved it! Jane Haseldine is one to watch!” —Lisa Jackson, #1 New York Times bestselling author

Audience: fans of writers such as Hank Phillippi Ryan and Allison Brennan

My Impressions: Once I got past the brutal beginning, I enjoyed this fast paced novel about a reporter committed to her job who also loves her sons and is trying to work things out with her estranged husband. An added complication in her life is that Julia is trying to cover a high profile trial her husband is litigating as an Assistant District Attorney. In addition, Julia has never recovered from the kidnapping of her older brother 30 years ago, and this has made her understandably overprotective of her children. Julia is fortunate that she has good friends in the police force who look after her and feed her scoops, as her husband is ambitious and not risking leaks to his wife that would damage his career.  I liked the unusual Detroit setting and the quirky characters.

Although this was book 2 in a series, something I normally avoid (and admonish people regarding!), it was not necessary to have read the first book to enjoy this one.  For the most part, Julia is an appealing character, smart and courageous, although has a habit I find annoying of recklessly putting herself in danger (for example, jogging to a drug lord’s secret home believing a knife in her waist pack will be protection against a bunch of murderers with guns) yet emerging with barely a scratch. For a parent devoted to her children, this was foolish behavior, although I realize it can sometimes advance the plot. However, towards the end I was distracted from Julia’s foolhardiness as the plot got a little crazy and extremely improbable, requiring quite a bit of suspension of disbelief as various twists were revealed.

Source: I was provided a pre-publication copy of this book by the publisher for review purposes. Please visit TLC Book Tour’s Duplicity blog tour:

Tuesday, March 28th: Thoughts On This ‘n That
Thursday, March 30th: Just Commonly
Friday, March 31st: Fictionophile
Monday, April 3rd: Tina Says…
Tuesday, April 4th: Sara the Introvert
Wednesday, April 5th: Booksie’s Blog
Thursday, April 6th: Clues & Reviews
Friday, April 7th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, April 10th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, April 11th: Kritters Ramblings
Wednesday, April 12th: The Cactus Chronicles
Thursday, April 13th: Why Girls Are Weird
Tuesday, April 18th: Girl Who Reads
Friday, April 21st: The Suspense Is Thrilling Me

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Last Chance Matinee (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: The Last Chance Matinee: A Hudson Sisters Novel
Author: Mariah Stewart
Publication: Gallery Books, Trade Paperback, March 2017
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Description: When Hollywood agent Fritz Hudson passes away, he leaves families on each coast who didn’t know of the other’s existence. His first wife was an over the top movie star, now deceased, with whom he had two daughters. Allie Hudson, divorced and having just lost her job, is stressed about finances and sharing custody of her pre-teen daughter in Los Angeles. Her sister, Dee, is a former child star, now living quietly in Montana, with a few close friends, spending most of her time as an animal volunteer. After his first marriage fell apart, Fritz fell in love with a calm and affectionate woman in New Jersey, who gave him one daughter, Cara. Cara runs a new but successful yoga studio, and has just suffered heartbreak when her husband left her for a close friend, not long after her mother’s death.

Fritz’s untimely death brings the sisters together for the first time, and they learn from their father’s close friend and lawyer that his will requires them to join forces to restore an old theater in the small Pennsylvania town he came from or forfeit their large inheritance. His hope is that they will grow to love his childhood home and understand the mystery he left behind and never felt able to tell them.

Audience: Fans of Nora Roberts’ “sisters” series; readers of books by Jill Shalvis, Kristan Higgins, and Susan Mallery.  A reading group guide is included in the back of book material if you'd like to read it with your book group.

My Impression: This was an enjoyable launch of a new series by a New York Times bestselling author, and those who enjoy a quirky, small town setting and fresh starts will like unassuming heroine Cara and her more complicated half-sisters. Required by their father’s will to spend a year in Hidden Falls, PA, they are welcomed by a hitherto unknown aunt and by the community, despite learning secrets about their father and the reason he rarely returned to his home. Each sister begins to come to terms with their father’s secrecy and the adjustment to a new family. The sisters are helped in this effort by the warmth of the community and by an unexpected visit from Allie’s daughter, a bubbly teen who is improbably unspoiled by her LA upbringing. Although Cara is the focus of this book, segments are told from her sisters’ point-of-view, and there are three very different male characters who will provide a second chance at love for Cara and Allie and a first opportunity for Des. Another appealing character is Fritz’s sister, an aunt the sisters did not know existed but become fond of quickly. I also enjoyed the descriptions of renovating the Sugarhouse Theater, which has fallen into disrepair, based on a theater the author knew.

My biggest concern with the book is the back story which requires much suspension of disbelief. I don’t doubt that it is possible in this day and age for a man to have two families at opposite ends of the country and keep them in the dark about each other, but it would have been more plausible if he had not been a celebrated Hollywood agent and I wish the author had created a scenario which was more convincing. How could Cara have never read an article about him, which would certainly have mentioned his other family? Never Google your own father? No one in Devlin’s Light, NJ was ever curious enough about its part time resident to research him? No coverage of her own wedding, which might have revealed her to her West Coast sisters? When she traveled with her father to London, none of his colleagues there ever asked her about his famous wife Honora or his famous daughter Desdemona? She never saw her half sister’s TV show Des Does herself and remarked that the star shared her surname? And, by the way, despite traveling with her former husband, she never knew that New Jersey is one of the few states that bans self serve gas? It is also surprising that Allie, financially down on her luck when the story begins, would not have asked her father to help her get work. I know they weren’t close but surely he wouldn’t have wanted her to lose her home. These issues could have been explained away, perhaps, or Stewart could have set the book back in a pre-Internet era.

There is a hint that Cara’s mother knew all along that her husband was a bigamist, and perhaps she didn’t mind, due to her laid-back personality, but wouldn’t she have been upset for her daughter to learn she’d been the victim of deceit and was illegitimate or is that so passé no one cares anymore?

Recipe: At one point Cara makes her mother's homemade granola, which is a big hit with her new family. Stewart includes the recipe at the end of the book. I don't think that would replace chocolate chip cookies in my house but it fits with the image of Cara's hippie mother.  Stewart includes the recipe in the back of the book.

Giveaway: Thanks to Gallery Books, I have a copy of this book to give away. Please leave a comment by 4/23/17 if you are interested - tell me your favorite book about sisters - and I will pick a name. U.S. only, please!
Monday Matinee Giveaway: Follow XOXOAfterDark on Twitter (@xoxoafterdark) on Mondays in April to see which other blogs are hosting giveaways for The Last Chance Matinee on April 3, 10, 17, and 24! #MondayMatinee

About the Author: Mariah Stewart is an award-winning and bestselling author of numerous novels as well as several novellas and short stories, including the Chesapeake Diaries series, one of which I reviewed previously. She lives with her husband and two dogs amid the rolling hills of Chester County, Pennsylvania, where she savors county life and tends her gardens while she works on her next novel. Visit her at mariahstewart.com and follow her on Facebook.com/AuthorMariahStewart and on Instagram @mariah_stewart_books.

Source: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in return for an honest review. Despite the quibbles above, I enjoyed The Last Chance Matinee and am looking forward to the next two books in the series, focused on Allie and Des. Author photo credit to Nicole Leigh.