Monday, December 26, 2016

Skating Shoes by Noel Streatfeild (Book Review)

Title: Skating Shoes (UK title: White Boots)
Author: Noel Streatfeild
IllustratorRichard Floethe
Publication: Random House, Hardcover, 1951 (currently available in pb)
Genre: Juvenile fiction Setting: London
Description: Harriet Johnson has been ill and her doctor is concerned about her slow recovery so recommends ice skating. The Johnson family is delightful but impoverished: father George makes an inadequate living running a London shop in which he sells random produce etc. sent up from the country by his brother, mother Olivia manages meals for six out of the merchandise no one will purchase, and Harriet’s brothers immediately come up with a plan to subsidize her skating.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White (Book Review)

Title: Some Writer! The Story of E. B. White
Author: Melissa Sweet with Afterword by Martha White
Publication: 2016, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover
Genre: Juvenile Nonfiction
Description: This is an illustrated biography of the beloved author of Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and The Trumpet of the Swan, created by a gifted artist of mixed media. It starts with his childhood and provides a vivid depiction of young Elwyn’s, later called Andy, childhood in NYC and first exposure to Maine. His love of country life in Maine gave him deep pleasure and enabled him to craft stories about anthropomorphic characters that have entertained generations of children.

Audience: The book is written with simplicity that makes it suitable for middle schoolers researching an author but with enough dimension to appeal to adults interested in E. B. White.

My Impressions: I don’t recall what review inspired me to put this book on reserve at the library but when I picked it up and saw it was a juvenile biography, I almost didn’t bother to read it. That would have been a big mistake, as it was one of the most charming books I have read in some time. I was not previously familiar with Melissa Sweet who is a well known picture book illustrator and Caldecott honoree, but I was entranced by her multimedia approach – taking actual memorabilia from E. B.’s life and creating replicas of other pivotal moments in his life, while using quotes from E.B’s own writing throughout. It clearly made White’s surviving family members happy to have a biographer who loves Maine and nature as much as E.B. himself.
This is a gem of a book which reveals E. B.’s humor and modesty, love of his family (the letter he wrote when he learned his wife was pregnant is especially poignant), and the development of his career. Established as a writer for adults, E. B. wrote an essay on children’s books that caught the eye of Dr. Seuss himself, resulting in the encouragement E. B. needed to begin work on Charlotte’s Web, which became his first bestseller (and my favorite). Sweet includes a picture of a manual typewriter and information for young readers who only know computers, understanding that most people interested in an author want to envision him or her in the process of writing. I especially enjoyed learning about the early days of the New Yorker, which would not have interested me as a child, and Ursula Nordstrom’s inspired choice of Garth Williams to illustrate Charlotte’s Web as his first children’s book (coincidentally, a biography of Williams also was published in 2016).

After I finished this review, I found an interview with Sweet on NPR's All Things Considered.

Source: I got this book from the Boston Public Library. Highly recommended. Some book!

Images copyright to HMH, 2016

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Home Dec In-a-Sec...Not

About 18 months ago, I suddenly realized my dining room did not have curtains, only tired shades the previous owners had left behind.  I shopped for some time but it was impossible to find anything that seemed right.  Although I had not done much sewing recently, I found a pattern for valences that seemed simple and estimated two hours.   I chose the style in the bottom left:
The pattern was much more complicated than I expected.   I brought it with me to two of my favorite fabric stores for help figuring out how much fabric I needed and even these experts were perplexed!  I also emailed McCall's customer service for assistance and they explained which instructions to use (they also said the two hours applied to sewing time, not cutting, layout, or agonizing over the instructions).  As my brother would say, "Learning a lot about McCall's..."
I am sure I had spent at least 10 hours reading the pattern before I even found blue paisley I liked.  I bought the entire length of fabric because I knew that matching the paisley would be difficult (and it was).  Every time I was developing momentum, someone would come to visit and I would remove everything from the dining room table - the only surface big enough for all the fabric!   And then there was the day I reached page 8 and read:

Using a hack saw, cut metal bar to Width Between Brackets measurements minus 1"

Don't you think it's just a little passive aggressive to lure me into a deux heures pattern and just assume I own a hacksaw?   For the record, I do not, and I think there should have been a hacksaw warning on the package.   Reading that instruction still makes me laugh.  It took several months to find a plausible metal bar and to get someone to cut it, then to choose new curtain rods (when the first set were not sturdy enough) which the same guy mounted for me.  Try explaining to men in a hardware store what a valence is and why you need a specially cut metal bar!  And by now we are up to dozens of hours.  The windows are slightly different sizes which added to the complexity and the feeling I was doing everything twice and not making progress. But that scallopy look was tricky...
Still, all's well that ends well!  I added the last blue ties tonight and both valences were done, about a year after I bought the pattern!
What do you think?  


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.

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 to 1/8 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 later.

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!

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

First Star I See Tonight (Book Review)

Title: First Star I See Tonight
Author: Susan Elizabeth Phillips
Publication: William Morrow, Hardcover, August 2016
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Plot: A star quarterback and a feisty detective play for keeps in this sporty, sassy novel—a long-awaited new entry in the beloved, award-winning, New York Times bestselling author’s fan-favorite Chicago Stars football series.

Piper Dove is a woman with a dream—to become the best detective in the city of Chicago. First job? Trail former Chicago Stars quarterback, Cooper Graham. Problem? Graham’s spotted her, and he’s not happy.  Which is why a good detective needs to think on her feet. “The fact is . . . I’m your stalker. Not full-out barmy. Just . . . mildly unhinged.”

Piper soon finds herself working for Graham himself, although not as the bodyguard he refuses to admit he so desperately needs. Instead, he’s hired her to keep an eye on the employees at his exclusive new nightclub. But Coop’s life might be in danger, and Piper’s determined to protect him, whether he wants it or not. (Hint: Not!) If only she weren’t also dealing with a bevy of Middle Eastern princesses, a Pakistani servant girl yearning for freedom, a teenager who just wants of fit in, and an elderly neighbor demanding Piper find her very dead husband.

And then there’s Cooper Graham himself, a legendary sports hero who always gets what he wants—even if what he wants is a feisty detective hell bent on proving she’s as tough as he is.

From the bustling streets of Chicago to a windswept lighthouse on Lake Superior to the glistening waters of Biscayne Bay, two people who can’t stand to lose will test themselves and each other to discover what matters most.

Purchase Links

Audience: Fans of Kristin Hannah, Rachel Gibson, and Jennifer Crusie

What I liked: I have been a big fan of SEP since an editorial meeting at Penguin around 1993 when talented editor Jennifer Enderlin handed me a manuscript and asked me to come meet the author and her agent the next day.  I loved that book, which launched her Chicago Stars series and introduced one of her most memorable couples. Another gifted editor, Carrie Feron at Avon, outbid stingy (among other things) Elaine Koster to secure the book, and eventually SEP became a New York Times bestseller for Avon/Morrow. I enjoyed working on her books when I was at Avon, selling them to Barnes & Noble and (now sadly defunct) Waldenbooks. Several times when Book Expo was in Chicago, the sales department enjoyed lovely dinners with SEP and her husband.

Although I no longer work in publishing, I never miss one of her books.  This book is a winner, with a very appealing hero who is a retired quarterback with a sense of humor, and will be enjoyed by existing and new fans.

Additionally:  This book was simply a fun read.  I have not enjoyed the Wynette, Texas series as much as the Chicago Stars series. Moreover, the last two books I read (Heroes are My Weakness, The Great Escape) featured the kind of hero who is a jerk to the heroine the whole book, and you are supposed to understand and forgive him once you know why (with Theo, I guessed why but still disliked him although enjoyed the homage that book paid to the gothic genre). Unless the author is SEP, my life is too short for such heroes and, really, I would prefer she avoid angry tattooed lead characters in the future. Hence, my enjoyment of First Star I See Tonight where the abusive males are not the hero.
Source: I received this book from TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.
Please join Susan Elizabeth Phillips, author of the Chicago Stars series, on other tour stops:

Wednesday, August 24th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, August 25th: Into the Hall of Books
Friday, August 26th: Booksellers Without Borders
Monday, August 29th: From the TBR Pile
Thursday, September 1st: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Thursday, September 1st: A Soccer Mom’s Book Blog
Tuesday, September 6th: As I turn the pages
Wednesday, September 7th: Leigh Kramer
Thursday, September 8th: Queen of All She Reads
Friday, September 9th: Seaside Book Nook

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Whiskey Sea (Book Review and Giveaway)

Title: The Whiskey Sea
Author: Ann Howard Creel
Publication: Lake Union Publishing, trade paperback, 2016
Genre: Historical Fiction, 1920s New Jersey
Giveaway: Thanks to the author and publisher, I have a copy of this book to give away to a US or Canadian reader! If you are a fan of historical fiction, please leave a comment telling me your favorite setting or time frame and I will pick a winner at or around the end of August.
Plot: Homeless when their mother (the town whore) dies, Frieda and her sister Bea are adopted by a kindly fisherman Silver. Frieda loves the sea and Silver’s way of life while the more delicate Bea excels in school. But Silver doesn’t approve of Frieda’s desire to join him deep sea fishing when she leaves school, so he sells his boat to a quiet young man named Sam Hicks who admires Frieda.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Another Brooklyn (Book Review)

Title: Another Brooklyn
Author: Jacqueline Woodson
Publication: Amistad, hardcover, August 2016
Genre: Fiction
About the Book: "The acclaimed New York Times bestselling and National Book Award–winning author of Brown Girl Dreaming delivers her first adult novel in twenty years. Running into a long-ago friend sets memory from the 1970s in motion for August, transporting her to a time and a place where friendship was everything—until it wasn't. For August and her friends, sharing confidences as they ambled through neighborhood streets, Brooklyn was a place where they believed that they were beautiful, talented, brilliant—a part of a future that belonged to them. But beneath the hopeful veneer, there was another Brooklyn, a dangerous place where grown men reached for innocent girls in dark hallways, where ghosts haunted the night, where mothers disappeared. A world where madness was just a sunset away and fathers found hope in religion."

Audience: I was reminded of another coming of age story, Black Ice by Lorene Cary, which my book group read many years ago. Cary wrote about being one of the first African-American women to attend St. Paul’s School in New Hampshire and the lasting image of that book is her loneliness. In a way, Cary’s book is the missing section of Another Brooklyn as it is made clear that August improbably attends Brown University but the part of her story where she excels academically in order to reach the Ivy League is reduced to an offhand mention of APs and PSAT review.

Another coming of age book I thought of was Charms for the Easy Life by Kaye Gibbons about a Southern family in which the heroine’s mother is also the victim of mental illness and, if I recall correctly, appears and disappears mysteriously when she is receiving psychiatric treatment. August yearns for her mother and refuses to accept that her mother is dead and not returning.

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Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

What I liked: I chose this book because I had heard a lot about Jacqueline Woodson but never had an opportunity to read any of her books, and I thought this would be outside my comfort zone. Her writing is beautiful despite the background of violence that is commonplace for the heroine and her friends. The descriptions of Brooklyn are incredibly vivid and make the reader feel she is there with August, although, truthfully, I did not like this Brooklyn, full of sexual predators and drug users, and did not want to visit.

The most interesting relationship is between August, her father, and her brother. Her father is lonely and brings women home to the couch in the family living room which serves as his bedroom. He is not comfortable in traditional churches, believing they are for whites only, and is recruited by the Nation of Islam, where he becomes a fervent supporter (but doesn’t stop bringing women home – ah, hypocrisy, thy name is religion). The father provides for his children as best he can and while they run wild and are dressed shabbily, he is caring enough to take the day off when August’s friend Angela’s mother disappears and to find August an educated woman from the Nation of Islam to talk to when she is a depressed teen.

August’s nameless brother follows his father’s religion and maintains it as an adult, but August, compliant on the surface, dislikes the new lifestyle and diet the family follows, and yearns for bacon. I was worried that when August made friends and started hanging with them every day that her brother would wind up in trouble but perhaps his love of math kept him as safe. Eventually, August becomes an anthropologist (having honed her powers of observation) and does not appear to have much time for religion but she and her brother have a good relationship as adults and it is clear the bond of their neglected childhood still unites them. The book begins when they are burying their father.

What I disliked: The book moves from present to past to not so distant past, and one reviewer compares it to a “fever dream” which is very apt. Reading books that consist of streams of consciousness is not really my thing. The book was extremely readable but very sad, and I was distressed by all the different threats August and her friends faced in their neighborhood. As August points out, she and her brother were lucky their father cared about them and did his best to give them a home where they were never hungry. However, they were neglected and in danger. On the other hand, August’s friend Sylvia was from an affluent home and provided with most advantages, and that did not prevent her from misadventure. I had a hard time keeping August’s friends straight until the end, although they were very different.
Source: Thank you to Amistad/HarperCollins and TLC Book Tours for giving me this book in return for an honest review. You can visit other stops on the tour by clicking here.

Monday, August 8, 2016

The Hating Game (Book Review)

Title: The Hating Game
Author: Sally Thorne
Publication: William Morrow, trade paperback, 2016
Genre: Fiction
Plot: When two publishing companies merge, the co-CEOs manage to hide their hostility and disdain for each other but their executive assistants do not. Wildly competitive and sniping at each other all day, Lucy Hutton is emotional and passionate about the industry while her counterpart Josh Templeton is a disciplined numbers guy. Once a coveted new management position is created and both decide to apply their “hating game” becomes even more intense. But after Lucy and Josh get to know each other outside the office, she wonders if she really hates him - and vice versa . . .

Audience: This is chick lit with dimension and reminded me of books by Kathleen Gilles Seidel and Susan Elizabeth Phillips.

What I liked: I loved The Hating Game from the first page. Hasn’t everyone had a rival at work who, accurately or not, you suspected of watching and sabotaging your every move? Lucy is warm and funny, obsessive about documenting each offense made by Josh, with whom she shares an office (and somehow notices the shade of every shirt he wears as well). She gives him a hard time and he promptly responds to every snide comment; their banter is pretty entertaining. Josh appears to be a genuine villain until, following a corporate game of paintball (ugh, I had to do laser tag once and that was bad enough), Lucy gets sick and he refuses to abandon to her to her misery. Although the reader certainly wants them to get together, I liked that there were genuine obstacles, including not just their work rivalry but complicated family situations to deal with. Both Lucy and Josh are appealing characters (I liked him before Lucy admitted she did) and author Thorne provides some good supporting characters to distract from the fact that the outcome is never in doubt.
ate her either. Or maybe this is just another game.
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Purchase Links

HarperCollins | Amazon | Barnes & Noble

 What I disliked: A small quibble but Bexley & Gamin is not a very convincing publishing company, and Lucy and Josh seem overqualified to be executive assistants, yet not sufficiently experienced to become Chief Operating Officer.
Source: I received a copy of this charming debut novel from TLC Book Tours in return for an honest review. I really enjoyed The Hating Game and can’t wait to see what this talented Australian author writes next.  Follow her on Twitter for news.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Traitor's Story (Book Review)

Title: The Traitor’s Story
Author: Kevin Wignall
Publication: Thomas & Mercer, trade paperback, 2016
Genre: Suspense
Plot: Six years ago, Finn Harrington, a British espionage agent, was about to retire but agreed to take on one last assignment on his way out – it went disastrously bad and he retired to Switzerland. When 15-year-old Hailey Portman disappears, her parents, who live in Finn’s building and heard rumors about his past from an indiscreet girlfriend, ask him to help when the police seem indifferent. Finn has guarded his emotions closely in recent years and is reluctant to get involved but finds himself investigating Hailey’s disappearance. Once he digs into Hailey’s background, he finds chilling evidence of a connection between Hailey and the disastrous events that ended his first career.

Audience: Fans of thrillers. I read a lot of suspense but not that much espionage and am glad I made an effort to get this one.

What I liked: This is a fast paced and enjoyable story; perfect for summer reading and carries the reader along with sufficient speed to overlook a few holes in the plot. The story is set up in alternating chapters between the puzzling present and the darkness of the past, leading dramatically to what really happened on that final weekend in Kaliningrad. Finn is an interesting character: at first extremely cold and not very likeable. He has reinvented himself as a bestselling historian who gets recognized in airports by fans (not sure this really happens to anyone but David McCullough or Ken Burns, but it’s a nice touch) and his insight to Hailey’s disappearance is intriguing. He is at his best when interacting with her quirky classmate Jonas but otherwise has no friends and has alienated his live-in girlfriend without even noticing. He evolves during the book but it seems clear that he could not move on emotionally from the events of six years earlier until all the remaining questions are resolved (except one that the author shares with the reader at the very end).

What I disliked: Although this is a well thought out novel, the motivation of several characters was perplexing and Finn’s patriotism or lack thereof is never fully explained.  Also, if his enemies hold a grudge, why not just kill him?  On another issue, it was very surprising that several characters say, “Me and X” – I hate grammatical errors and was amazed a British writer would get this wrong. Thomas & Mercer is an Amazon imprint but I thought there were actual editors so these errors should have been corrected in manuscript.

Other reading: If you want to read some classic spy novels, try this list (got to love the comparison of The Riddle of the Sand to Swallows & Amazons).  In addition, Wignall has written several other books that look appealing, such as A Death in Sweden.

Source: I got The Traitor’s Story from the Norwood, MA library after reading a glowing review in Publishers Weekly, and recommend it.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

10 Books for the Hamilton-Obsessed

It’s the Ten Duel Book Commandments - what to read if you’re obsessed with Hamilton!
Believe me, I understand your fixation. You love Hamilton whether you’ve actually seen it or just listened repeatedly to the cast recording. You’ve never been to NYC but you’ve seen every Ham4Ham on YouTube. You follow Lin-Manuel on Twitter and practically watched him cut his hair. I was very lucky that my younger sister bought tickets and took most of the family to see Hamilton in November 2015, and that we have had each other to share our Lin obsession in the months since – quoting and capping our favorite lines, listening to the music in the house or in the car, speculating on what we would say to him or how we can get our copy of the book signed (I carried it to NYC on my last trip, planning to go hang out at the stage door, but my sister informed me knowledgeably that Lin’s wrist was hurt). We all clearly need something new to read, to distract us from the fact that Lin, Leslie and Philippa have left the cast. . .