Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Looking for a good summer read?

Summer is when I want to find "gentle reads" that keep my interest without being too heavy. The first two on this list I have read, the rest I can't wait to get to!

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarity

From USA Today: "The Chaperone is a captivating novel about the woman who chaperoned an irreverent Louise Brooks to New York City in 1922 and the summer that would change them both.

Only a few years before becoming a famous silent-film star and an icon of her generation, a fifteen-year-old Louise Brooks leaves Wichita, Kansas, to study with the prestigious Denishawn School of Dancing in New York. Much to her annoyance, she is accompanied by a thirty-six-year-old chaperone, who is neither mother nor friend. Cora Carlisle, a complicated but traditional woman with her own reasons for making the trip, has no idea what she’s in for. Young Louise, already stunningly beautiful and sporting her famous black bob with blunt bangs, is known for her arrogance and her lack of respect for convention. Ultimately, the five weeks they spend together will transform their lives forever."

I would call this book a "gentle read" with enough surprises (the orphan train, how homosexuality was dealt with in the 1920's) to keep it very compelling.

The Unfinished Work of Elizabeth D. by Nichole Bernier

From Amazon: "Summer vacation on Great Rock Island was supposed to be a restorative time for Kate, who’d lost her close friend Elizabeth in a sudden accident. But when she inherits a trunk of Elizabeth's journals, they reveal a woman far different than the cheerful wife and mother Kate thought she knew. 

   The complicated portrait of Elizabeth—her troubled upbringing, and her route to marriage and motherhood—makes Kate question not just their friendship, but her own deepest beliefs about loyalty and honesty at a period of uncertainty in her own marriage. 

   Set in the anxious summer after the September 11th attacks, this story of two women—their friendship, their marriages, private ambitions and fears—considers the aspects of ourselves we show and those we conceal, and the repercussions of our choices."

The Beginner's Goodbye by Anne Tyler

From Amazon: "Anne Tyler gives us a wise, haunting, and deeply moving new novel in which she explores how a middle-aged man, ripped apart by the death of his wife, is gradually restored by her frequent appearances—in their house, on the roadway, in the market.

Crippled in his right arm and leg, Aaron spent his childhood fending off a sister who wants to manage him. So when he meets Dorothy, a plain, outspoken, self-dependent young woman, she is like a breath of fresh air. Unhesitatingly he marries her, and they have a relatively happy, unremarkable marriage. But when a tree crashes into their house and Dorothy is killed, Aaron feels as though he has been erased forever. Only Dorothy’s unexpected appearances from the dead help him to live in the moment and to find some peace." 

What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarity

From Amazon: "Alice Love is twenty-nine, crazy about her husband, and pregnant with her first child. 

So imagine Alice’s surprise when she comes to on the floor of a gym (a gym! She HATES the gym) and is whisked off to the hospital where she discovers the honeymoon is truly over — she’s getting divorced, , she has three kids, and she’s actually 39 years old. Alice must reconstruct the events of a lost decade, and find out whether it’s possible to reconstruct her life at the same time. She has to figure out why her sister hardly talks to her, and how is it that she’s become one of those super skinny moms with really expensive clothes. Ultimately, Alice must discover whether forgetting is a blessing or a curse, and whether it’s possible to start over…"

The Receptionist: An Education at The New Yorker by Janet Groth

From Amazon: "Thanks to a successful interview with a painfully shy E. B. White, a beautiful nineteen-year-old hazel-eyed Midwesterner landed a job as receptionist at The New Yorker. There she stayed for two decades, becoming the general office factotum—watching and registering the comings and goings, marriages and divorces, scandalous affairs, failures, triumphs, and tragedies of the eccentric inhabitants of the eighteenth floor. In addition to taking their messages, Groth watered their plants, walked their dogs, boarded their cats, and sat their children (and houses) when they traveled. And although she dreamed of becoming a writer herself, she never advanced at the magazine.

This memoir of a particular time and place is as much about why that was so as it is about Groth’s fascinating relationships with poet John Berryman (who proposed marriage), essayist Joseph Mitchell (who took her to lunch every Friday), and playwright Muriel Spark (who invited her to Christmas dinner in Tuscany), as well as E. J. Kahn, Calvin Trillin, Renata Adler, Peter Devries, Charles Addams, and many other New Yorker contributors and bohemian denizens of Greenwich Village in its heyday."

The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarity

From Amazon: "Ellen O’Farrell is an expert when it comes to human frailties. She’s a hypnotherapist who helps her clients deal with everything from addictions to life-long phobias. So when she falls in love with a man who is being stalked by his ex-girlfriend she’s more intrigued than frightened. What makes a supposedly smart, professional woman behave this way? She’d love to meet her! What she doesn’t know is that she already has. Saskia has been masquerading as a client, and their lives are set to collide in ways Ellen could never have predicted. This wonderfully perceptive new novel from Liane Moriarty is about the lines we’ll cross for love. It’s about the murky areas between right and wrong, and the complexities of modern relationships. As Ellen is about to discover, we’re all a little crazy – even her."

Enjoy your summer, and let me know what you have found to get you through these hot summer days.


Sunday, January 29, 2012

Hello booklovers!

I was astounded to see that it was last August since I had posted anything. Wow. Life, you know? Well, I have three books I've read recently that I'm excited to tell you about, so let's get right to it.

The Scrapbook of Frankie Pratt: A Novel in Pictures by Caroline Preston

This book is a gem, and you will want to read it slowly because it is over all too quickly. It's the story of Frankie Pratt, who graduates from high school in 1920, and receives a scrapbook and her father's old Corona typewriter. She has dreams of being a writer, and wins a scholarship to Vassar, but LIFE has other plans and she ends up in Paris (where she has a brief working relationship with James Joyce) before she finds her way back home.

Here's the unique thing about this book: the story is told entirely in scrapbook form, with vintage postcards, mementos from her adventures, and cut out pictures from 1920's catalogs. It becomes a treasure trove of images that I found more fun to read than a graphic novel. This book is pure pleasure.

The Language of Flowers by Laura Diffenbach

If you loved "White Oleander," you will love this book. Eighteen year-old Victoria Jones has just aged out of the foster care system and is sleeping in a park in San Francisco. She trusts no one and is fiercely independent. Having been blessed with an innate ability to grow flowers and design arrangements, she gets noticed by a local florist who gives her a job. But when a flower vendor at the local flower market recognizes her from his childhood, she is forced to confront some painful secrets about her past. This book is mesmerizing and very hard to put down.

I'm Down by Mishna Wolff (CD)

First of all, my heartfelt thanks to Stacey Spencer, who was so passionate about this book that she wagged her finger in my face and insisted I find it, and that it had to be listened to, and not read. I recognize this kind of passion, so I took her advice, and this audiobook rocked my world.

This is the true story, narrated by the author, of a young girl who grows up in a poor area of Seattle. She and her sister live mainly with her father and see her mother on weekends. As she states in the first paragraph, "My parents, both white. My sister had the same mother and father as me - all of us completely white."

She feels it necessary to make this statement up front because then she goes on to explain that her father (white) beloved to his core that he was a black man. He talked like a black man. He walked like a black man. He dressed like a black man.  All his friends were black, and he raised that author and her sister in a poor black neighborhood. When she is sent to a summer program and later to school, she has to figure out how to fit in as the only white kid. (How she does this is hilarious.) And then later when she is moved to a gifted program at a different school, she has to figure out how to fit in with all these rich white kids.

The author's ability to capture the voice and reasoning of a 3rd grader and put it into words is only one of the things that makes this book priceless.  She has huge challenges to face, not the least of which are that her narcissistic father rarely works, money is tight and food sometimes scarce, and at one point an evil stepmother comes into her life. But she is incredibly resilient, and athletically gifted, and if there isn't a sequel to this book I will GO CRAZY. It ends when she is about fourteen, and I SO wanted to know what happened next (did she get into college?) that I went to the publisher's website to see if there was word of a sequel. Have you ever liked a book so much that you went on the Internet to find out all you can about an author? I was bereft when the story ended.

And Stacey was right: you have to listen to it.

p.s. The photo of her on the cover is photo-shopped.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Hello booklovers!

Here are three books that recently kept me up at night:

Innocent Spouse by Carol Ross Joynt
The true story of a successful Washington woman who worked for CNN and was married to a charismatic owner of one of the most popular bar/restaurants in the D.C. area. When he dies suddenly she is informed that she is on the hook for the three million dollars he owes the IRS, the result of shady business dealings she knew nothing about. The story of the legal, business (she had no desire to run a restaurant but had no choice), and personal (did I mention that she has a five year old?) challenges she went through makes for fascinating reading. The title comes from a legal defense that her lawyers will use to try to help her.
The Borrower by Rebecca Makkai
This novel is about a 26 yr old children's librarian who is very concerned for the welfare of a 10 yr old patron, an extremely bright boy who comes to the library every day. When she suspects he may be emotionally abused by his parents (they think he is gay and are sending him to "classes" to straighten him out), and then she finds him hiding in a closet at the library after running away from home, her efforts to return him to his parents turn into a road trip that looks a lot like kidnapping. This book is VERY funny, and at times serious, and you will love the main character.
The Year We Left Home by Jean Thompson
This book is a wonderful and epic family saga made all the more interesting because it covers a time period that most of us can remember well. I really liked the alternating stories, by chapter, of the different characters. 
The following is from the book jacket:
"It begins in 1973 when the Erickson family of Grenada, Iowa, gathers for the wedding of their eldest daughter, Anita. Even as they celebrate, the fault lines in the family emerge. The bride wants nothing more than to raise a family in her hometown, while her brother Ryan watches restlessly from the sidelines, planning his escape. He is joined by their cousin Chip, an unpredictable, war-damaged loner who will show Ryan both the appeal and the perils of freedom. Torrie, the Ericksons’ youngest daughter, is another rebel intent on escape, but the choices she makes will bring about a tragedy that leaves the entire family changed forever.
Stretching from the early 1970s in the Iowa farmlands to suburban Chicago to the coast of contemporary Italy—and moving through the Vietnam War’s aftermath, the farm crisis, the numerous economic booms and busts—The Year We Left Home follows the Erickson siblings as they confront prosperity and heartbreak, setbacks and triumphs, and seek their place in a country whose only constant seems to be breathtaking change. Ambitious, richly told, and fiercely American, this is a vivid and moving meditation on our continual pursuit of happiness and an incisive exploration of the national character."

Happy reading!

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Drowning in Books: Part Three

Minding Ben by Victoria Brown

I managed to find the time to read this. Highly recommended.

From Amazon: "At sixteen, Grace Caton boards her first airplane, leaving behind her small village in Trinidad for another island, this one with tall buildings, graceful parks, and all the books she can read. At least that's what Grace imagines. But from the moment she touches down, nothing goes as planned. The aunt who had promised to watch over her disappears, and Grace finds herself on her own.

Grace stumbles into the colorful world of Crown Heights, Brooklyn, having been taken in hand, sort of, by a fellow islander, Sylvia. Here, she's surrounded by other immigrants also finding their way in America. From her Orthodox Jewish landlord, Jacob, to her wannabe Jamaican friend, Kathy, who feels that every outfit can be improved with a Bedazzler and a low-cut top, there's much to learn about her new city.

Most challenging of all is figuring out her new employers, the Bruckners, an upper-middle-class Jewish family in Manhattan. The job is strange...But Grace loves four-year-old Ben, and she's intrigued by the alternately friendly and scheming nannies who spend their days in Union Square Park.

As the seasons change, Grace discovers that the Bruckners have surprising secrets of their own, and her life in New York becomes increasingly complicated and confusing."

No Biking in the House by Melissa Fay Greene

From Publishers Weekly: "With four children of their own, Atlanta journalist Greene (There Is No Me Without You) and her husband, a criminal defense attorney, gradually adopted five more—one from Bulgaria and four from Ethiopia—to create a roiling, largehearted family unit. In her whimsical, hilarious account, she pokes fun at her own initial cluelessness regarding the adoption process...The family often felt like a "group home," as Greene depicts engagingly, yet despite periods of tension and strife, such as the discovery of living parents and sibling rivalry, Greene captures the family's triumphant shared delight in one another's differences."

Through No Fault of My Own: A Girl's Diary of Life on Summit Avenue in the Jazz Age by Coco Irvine

Coco Irvine was just turning 13 in December 1926 when she received a diary as a Christmas gift. For the next year she recorded her social life, her family life, and her rather daring and precocious behavior in these pages. Irvine was the daughter of a lumber baron, and their 20-room mansion on Summit Avenue would eventually be donated by Coco and her sister to the State of Minnesota and turned into the Governor's Mansion. This diary was found as Peg Meier, former Star Tribune journalist, was looking through the Minnesota Historical Society archives. Meier says in the introduction: "I remember sitting in the somber library, trying not to guffaw as I read about Coco's exploits."

This is a very quick read and I absolutely loved it.

The Imposter's Daughter by Laurie Sandell

I haven't read comic books since Archie, Betty, and Veronica. But with the graphic novel showing up on the adult fiction and nonfiction bookshelves, I have rediscovered how enjoyable it is to read panel by full-color panel instead of page by page.

Sandell has written a very brave account of her relationship with her father, a man who claimed he was many things (a Green Beret, a lawyer, fluent in many languages) but in the end he was a fraud, though the story is much more complicated than that. Sandell talks about tracking down her father's stories, setting her boundaries, going for years without speaking to him, and trying to figure out how much her mother knows. She also is very frank about how her relationship with her father affected any relationship she tried to have with a man. I was taken by surprise that this is what graphic nonficton can be, and I look forward to reading more in this genre.


Friday, April 29, 2011

Books I'm Excited About

Here are some books I'm excited to dive into. The descriptions are from Amazon.

The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

After the unexpected death of her parents, painfully shy and sheltered 26-year-old Ginny Selvaggio seeks comfort in cooking from family recipes. But the rich, peppery scent of her Nonna’s soup draws an unexpected visitor into the kitchen: the ghost of Nonna herself, dead for twenty years, who appears with a cryptic warning (“do no let her…”) before vanishing like steam from a cooling dish.

A haunted kitchen isn’t Ginny’s only challenge. Her domineering sister, Amanda, (aka “Demanda”) insists on selling their parents’ house, the only home Ginny has ever known. As she packs up her parents’ belongings, Ginny finds evidence of family secrets she isn’t sure how to unravel. She knows how to turn milk into cheese and cream into butter, but she doesn’t know why her mother hid a letter in the bedroom chimney, or the identity of the woman in her father’s photographs. The more she learns, the more she realizes the keys to these riddles lie with the dead, and there’s only one way to get answers: cook from dead people’s recipes, raise their ghosts, and ask them.

Black Mamba Boy by Nadifa Mohamed

Yemen, 1935. Jama is a “market boy,” a half-feral child scavenging with his friends in the dusty streets of a great seaport. For Jama, life is a thrilling carnival, at least when he can fill his belly. When his mother—alternately raging and loving—dies young, she leaves him only an amulet stuffed with one hundred rupees. Jama decides to spend her life’s meager savings on a search for his never-seen father; the rumors that travel along clan lines report that he is a driver for the British somewhere in the north. So begins Jama’s extraordinary journey of more than a thousand miles north all the way to Egypt, by camel, by truck, by train, but mostly on foot. He slings himself from one perilous city to another, fiercely enjoying life on the road and relying on his vast clan network to shelter him and point the way to his father, who always seems just a day or two out of reach.

The Marriage Artist by Andrew Winer

When the wife of renowned art critic Daniel Lichtmann plunges to her death, she is not alone. Lying next to her is her suspected lover, Benjamin Wind, the very artist Daniel most championed. Tormented by questions about the circumstances of their deaths, Daniel dedicates himself to uncovering the secrets of their relationship and the inspiration behind Wind's dazzling final exhibition.

What Daniel discovers is a web of mysteries leading back to pre-World War II Vienna and the magnificent life of Josef Pick, a forgotten artist who may have been the twentieth century's greatest painter of love. But the most astonishing discoveryis what connects these two artists acrosshalf a century: a remarkable woman whose response to the tragedy of her generation offers Daniel answers to the questions he never knew to ask.

Life is Funny by E. R. Frank

"'He's got poetry,' I go, all choky. 'He's got mad poetry.'" With these words from China about her crush Eric, debut author E.R. Frank proves her fresh knowledge of millennial teenspeak. In Life Is Funny, there is no dated slang, only the ripe hip-hop dialogue heard on subway cars and street corners. Frank's ear is perfect as she details the lives and loves of 11 Brooklyn teens on the cusp of adulthood. Though the stories are gritty, for every slam there is a triumph. Tough-talking Monique, who is pregnant by her abusive ex-boyfriend, finds real peace with Hector, a dreamy-eyed nurse at the prenatal clinic who knows that love is the only medicine that will cure her terminal anger. Rich-boy Drew rejects all the material possessions that his father can buy him when he finally makes the 911 call that saves his mother from another beating at his father's hands. There's also Grace, whose movie-star looks can't save her from her alcoholic mom's rages, and Eric, who has lost the ability to love anyone or anything except his little brother Mickey. Sonia feels the friction of being a good Muslim girl in an intolerant public school, and Ebony cuts herself to forget how much she misses having a father in her life.

Frank has penned a high-intensity, multicultural, multidimensional teen reading experience that will challenge and change those who open it. These are real teens in real time. Be prepared for them to rock your world.

Tiny Sunbirds Far Away by Christie Watson

I devoured this book in two or three nights. Here is Amazon's description:

When their mother catches their father with another woman, twelve year-old Blessing and her fourteen-year-old brother, Ezikiel, are forced to leave their comfortable home in Lagos for a village in the Niger Delta, to live with their mother’s family. Without running water or electricity, Warri is at first a nightmare for Blessing. Her mother is gone all day and works suspiciously late into the night to pay the children’s school fees. Her brother, once a promising student, seems to be falling increasingly under the influence of the local group of violent teenage boys calling themselves Freedom Fighters. Her grandfather, a kind if misguided man, is trying on Islam as his new religion of choice, and is even considering the possibility of bringing in a second wife.

But Blessing’s grandmother, wise and practical, soon becomes a beloved mentor, teaching Blessing the ways of the midwife in rural Nigeria. Blessing is exposed to the horrors of genital mutilation and the devastation wrought on the environment by British and American oil companies. As Warri comes to feel like home, Blessing becomes increasingly aware of the threats to its safety, both from its unshakable but dangerous traditions and the relentless carelessness of the modern world. Tiny Sunbirds, Far Away is the witty and beautifully written story of one family’s attempt to survive a new life they could never have imagined, struggling to find a deeper sense of identity along the way.

The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon

The life Kamila Sidiqi had known changed overnight when the Taliban seized control of the city of Kabul. After receiving a teaching degree during the civil war—a rare achievement for any Afghan woman—Kamila was subsequently banned from school and confined to her home. When her father and brother were forced to flee the city, Kamila became the sole breadwinner for her five siblings. Armed only with grit and determination, she picked up a needle and thread and created a thriving business of her own. This is an amazing true story.

The Reading Promise: My Father and the Books We Shared by Alice Ozma

When Alice Ozma was in 4th grade, she and her father decided to see if he could read aloud to her for 100 consecutive nights. On the hundreth night, they shared pancakes to celebrate, but it soon became evident that neither wanted to let go of their storytelling ritual. So they decided to continue what they called "The Streak." Alice's father read aloud to her every night without fail until the day she left for college.

Alice approaches her book as a series of vignettes about her relationship with her father and the life lessons learned from the books he read to her.


I Am in Love

I am in love. Obsessed even. With a woman. And no one is more surprised than me.

Her name is Ree Drummond, and she is the author of "The Pioneer Woman" blog ( And the cookbook "The Pioneer Woman Cooks: Reflections of an Accidental Country Girl." And her new memoir (though her story is far from over), "Black Heels to Tractor Wheels." She has a gazillion loyal and crazed followers and this fall will host a cooking show on the Food Network from her ranch. (This is hard for me to imagine, considering that her driveway alone is five miles long. Can you imagine getting all that equipment out there?)

I first heard about Pioneer Woman while reading a blog by another brilliant and talented writer/photographer/mother Tracy Morrison., the author of Sellabit Mum ( She called Pioneer Woman her idol and wrote about what it was like to meet her when she came through town on a book tour for her cookbook. How she agonized over what to wear, what to say, etc.. I briefly looked into who this Pioneer Woman was on the internet and thought, nah, not for me, country stuff, another cookbook, and besides, I would never go that gaga over someone.

Then Ree Drummond wrote the whole story about how she met her husband (famously known only as Marlboro Man) on a stopover trip to her Oklahoma hometown, in between leaving L.A. and moving to Chicago. I knew I wanted to read "Black Heels to Tractor Wheels" because I had read bits and pieces of her story on her blog and it sounded really intriguing.

I swallowed this book in one gulp. I may still have pieces of it stuck in my throat. And I will say, with only a tad of embarrassment, that this is the most wonderfully romantic story I have ever read. It is also funny. Because Ree Drummond is a great writer, and she is genuine, and she is delightfully human. Ok, so maybe she mentions his starched shirts one too many times. She can be forgiven because each chapter leaves you with a cliffhanger and you just have to keep turning the page. And though thankfully it has a happy ending, their story is not without its challenges.

When I finished this book I had to know MORE. I wanted to see pictures of her kids, her ranch, Marlboro Man, her. I spent a lot of time reading her blog, which goes back to 2006 and showcases her stunning photography.  I wanted to know about every corner of her life and I wanted her to be my girlfriend. I requested her cookbook, and though it contains a lot of meat-and-potatoes recipes (she cooks for cowboys, after all), it is the cookbook that shows us more about her life on the ranch. Did I mention that it is an absolutely beautifully designed book? I plan to savor it and go through it one page at a time.

So now you know about my new love. I'll be busy for awhile. Stalking. A redhead in Oklahoma.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Four Movies: Two to Applaud, Two Just for Laughs

I recently saw "Win, Win" with Paul Giamatti (Sideways, Cinderella Man, American Splendor)and Amy Ryan (Gone Baby Gone, The Office, The Wire), and I want to give it a huge thumbs up. This is a hugely likeable movie with hugely likeable co-stars. Giamatti plays a down-on-his-luck lawyer who spies an opportunity when a client of his needs a guardian. He also coaches the high school wrestling team, which hasn't won in a very long time. He coaches the team with the man (Jeffrey Tambor) who shares his small law office. When the troubled grandson of his client runs away from home and shows up on his doorstep, complications ensue. Though it doesn't hurt that this kid is a star wrestler.

Can I just say that I love Giamatti and Ryan? Paul Giamatti never will be the typical Hollywood leading man, and yet in just about everything he does he infuses the role with so much humanity that he nails it every time. In this role he is lovable schlub who loves his wife and kids and makes a very bad decision. And we know that it could be any one of us coming to the precipice of that decision.

And Ryan, adopting a hint of the Boston accent she used in "Gone Baby Gone," is like your neighbor next door. I know exactly where she shops and how much she has to spend just from looking at her wardrobe. I have to admit I already admired Amy Ryan when I saw her go from her devastating character in "Gone Baby Gone" to her humorous turn on "The Office." But now I love her. Could she please be my girlfriend?

I almost forgot to mention that Bobby Cannavale (do you remember Will's policeman boyfriend on "Will and Grace?") does a hysterical and touching turn as a high school friend of both Giamatti and Tambor. They were all on the wrestling team together back in the day, and Cannavale desperately wants to recapture what might have been.

Here is the trailer:

This next movie is one I mentioned when I blogged about Emma Stone in "Easy A." I said that she was going to play the starring role in the film version of "The Help," the incredibly popular novel by Kathryn Stockett about race relations in 1960's Mississippi. The film comes out in August, and seeing the trailer all I can say is "I can't wait I can't wait I can't wait."

The next two movies I want to see purely for the belly laughs.

Hangover: Part II (Opens May 26)

The Bridesmaids, with Kristin Wiig (opens May 13)