Saturday, January 13, 2018

Weekend Cooking- A Visit to Downton Abbey- The Exhibition

This post is part of Beth Fish Reads' Weekend Cooking.  If you have anything related to food, cookbook reviews, novel or non-fiction book reviews, recipes, movie reviews, etc., head over to Beth Fish Reads and add your post. Or, if you want to read food related posts, head over to read what some interesting people have to say about food.

This past week I visited Dowton Abbey- The Exhibition on East 57th Street in New York City. It is a must-see for fans of the iconic BBC/PBS show. In addition to costumes and sets, there are historical references to events that give context to the time period of the show (post-WWI England).

There was a lot of food-related items in the exhibit. Like Upstairs/Downstairs, Downton Abbey showed the life of the wealthy landowning Crawley family as well as the lives lived by the downstairs servants. 

You can't miss the sign on the building on East 57th Street.

This panoramic photo of the staff greets the visitors to the exhibit, much they would greet visitors to Downton Abbey.

Everyone who watched the show recognizes these stairs that many a servant climbed to get to the dining room.

Thomas' formal footman uniform

Anna's formal dress uniform

The kitchen is the first room you see in the exhibit- the costumes are Mrs. Pattmore's and Daisy's.

I think I liked the bells the best; I could almost hear them ringing!

This is the servants' dining room

Carson's pantry was very interesting. You didn't really get a great view on the show because it was so dark on the show. The costumes belong to Mr. Carson's and Mrs. Hughes.

This is Mr. Carson's desk.

The visitors spent a lot of time in the family dining room.

A closeup of the table setting

Each character had their own display, including Mrs. Pattmore, the cook.
They had examples of cookbooks that Mrs. Pattmore would have used.

The exhibit closes with this, my favorite Violet saying.

Friday, January 12, 2018

The English Wife by Lauren Willig

The English Wife by Lauren Willig
Published by St. Martin's Press ISBN 9781250056276
Hardcover, $26.99, 376 pages

It is most fitting that much of the action of Lauren Willig's new novel, The English Wife, takes place on a cold, snowy winter evening in February 1899 at a home along the Hudson River. It's been so cold here in the Northeast, this just fits right in.

There are two settings for this crackling good mystery- 1895 England and 1899 Cold Springs, New York. The book opens at the Twelfth Night Ball that American heir Bay Van Duyvil and his English wife Annabelle are hosting at their new home on the Hudson River, a replica of her English home.

Amid gossip that Annabelle was having an affair with the architect of the home, Bay is found stabbed and Annabelle is missing. Bay's sister Janie swears she saw Annabelle's body floating in the Hudson River, but no body is ever found.

The action moves back to 1895 England, where Bay meets and falls in love with Georgie, a dance hall performer. They marry and Georgie assumes the name of her cousin Annabelle, a wealthy heiress herself who is nowhere to be found.

Bay's sister Janie teams up with Burke, a reporter from a New York paper, to discover what happened to her brother and sister-in-law. Janie feels she owes it to Bay and Annabelle's toddler twins, now orphaned.

Janie's mother Alva was not thrilled with Bay's choice of wife, and she is the very epitome of an overbearing mother-in-law. Alva rules her household with an iron fist, and believes it her duty to keep the name Van Duyvil untarnished.

Anne is Janie and Bay's cousin, they all grew up together, but Bay and Anne were especially close, even after Anne stole Janie's fiance and married him herself. Anne's marriage has collapsed, much to the disgust of Aunt Alva.

The scenes between Alva and Anne, and then Alva, Anne and Janie crackled with tension and fantastic passive/aggressive dialogue. If Andy Cohen were around in 1895, he would have signed these ladies up as the original Housewives of New York.

The timelines of 1895 and 1899 eventually dovetail, and we find out more information about Georgie, and her cousin Annabelle (does she even exist?), what is really going on in Bay and Annabelle's marriage, and what happened the night of the Twelfth Ball.

The characters are fascinating, especially Georgie, and I liked watching Janie blossom from a mousy young lady into a force to be reckoned with. Burke the reporter was an intriguing character with his own secrets as well.

There are a lot of secrets in The English Wife, some you can guess and others that took me completely by surprise, which I love in a good story.  I also enjoyed the attention to period detail, it is clear that Willig did a great deal of research to get everything just right.

I highly recommend The English Wife, for anyone who loves a good historical mystery, mixed with a little romance. (And the book cover is just stunning!)

Lauren Willig spoke about The English Wife at the Corner Bookstore in NYC, my post about that is here.

Lauren Willig's website is here.

Lauren Willig at the Corner Bookstore

The English Wife

I made my first trip to the lovely Corner Bookstore on Madison and 93rd Street in New York City for a book launch for Lauren Willig, author of The English Wife. The Corner Bookstore holds a special place in Willig's heart as it was her neighborhood bookstore growing up (her parents still live nearby), and she has been launching her books (starting with The Pink Carnation, thirteen years ago) there since she began writing.

Willig was set to write a book set in WWII Paris, and she had been in the middle of her research when she had a vision of a woman with a Gibson girl hairdo and 1890's clothing falling from a parapet into the Hudson River. This vision led her to drop the Paris book and write The English Wife. (Her agent suggested a saga set in Palm Beach, which the enthusiastic crowd groaned at.)

The English Wife is about an wealthy American man, Bay, who marries Annabelle, an English woman "with a dodgy past". He builds his wife a replica of her English home on the Hudson River, and amid rumors of an affair between Annabelle and the architect, on the night of a grand Twelfth Night Ball, Bay is stabbed and Annabelle goes missing.

The action in the book takes place in 1895, with Bay in England, and 1899, with Bay's sister Janie investigating the events of the evening. Eventually both timelines merge until we get to the the denouement of the mystery.

Willig then read a few a passages, and took questions from the very engaged audience. When asked if she knew the ending of the novel before she wrote it, Willig stated that she never knows how her books will end; she goes on a journey with her characters and she figures it out when they do. She stated that she "feels like I stumble on my characters in a bar and they follow me home", which the audience laughed at.

When asked about writer's block, Willig said that she finds two forms of it- the first is "I don't wanna write", and that the cure is just to sit there and pound away at the keyboard. The other happens when she tries to force her characters do something they wouldn't do. When that happens, her sister calls it  "going into the barn", which refers to a time when Willig was writing a scene set during the Dublin uprising and she had to get characters into a barn for a scene. She spent a month trying to figure a way to get them into the barn when her sister finally said "just don't go into the barn.'

Willig is a charming, delightful speaker. She is very at ease in front of an audience (and not all authors are), and there was a lot of great conversation between Willig and her audience. It was really one of the most enjoyable author events I have had the pleasure of attending. (I can't believe I didn't take a photo that night.)

The English Wife is now on sale, and I just finished it and it was a crackling good story. My review is here.

Lauren Willig's website is here.
The Corner Bookstore website is here.

Friday, January 5, 2018

The Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak

The Seven Days of Us By Francesca Hornak
Published by Berkley ISBN 9780451488756
Hardcover, $26, 368 pages

Many of us spent the holidays surrounded by family. It's enjoyable to spend times with loved ones, but what if you were quarantined with them for seven days? That is the premise of British writer Francesca Hornak's novel The Seven Days of Us.

Emma is delighted that her eldest daughter Olivia will be returning home for the first Christmas in a long time. Olivia has been volunteering as a doctor in Liberia, working to help people dying of Haag, a disease similar to Ebola. Olivia is the reason the family must be quarantined at Emma's ancestral family home.

Emma wants everything to be perfect for Christmas. From the food to the decorations to the gifts, she has attended to every small detail.

Her husband Andrew used to be a war correspondent but he left that for a safer, more boring job as a restaurant critic. Younger daughter Phoebe is engaged to George, who comes from a respectable family.

And everyone has a secret. Olivia has been hiding her relationship with a fellow doctor from everyone. Waiting out seven days to make sure neither of them has Haag is stressing her out. Emma is hiding her own health crisis from everyone, not wanting to ruin Christmas. Andrew received a mysterious letter from a young man that he hides from everyone.

Phoebe is obsessed with having the perfect wedding, and Olivia finds her obsession shallow. (I admit to finding Phoebe a bit of a selfish brat.) Olivia obsessively refreshes the news on her IPAd browser, looking for information on the Haag crisis. She has trouble readjusting to life at home.

Andrew appears to hate any kind of conflict, and for someone who used to be a war correspondent, he seems kind of useless. He has a special relationship with Phoebe, taking her along on his restaurant trips, but he should have more in common with Olivia.

 Along with secrets, there are coincidental meetings that come back into play later in the story creating complications.

The Seven Days of Us would be a wonderful Christmas movie, there is so much here for everyone who has a family to enjoy. I most identified with Emma, naturally, and there are even some terrific passages for the foodie fan (Emma is a wonderful cook and at one time considered opening up a catering business).

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Woman In the Window by A.J. Finn

The Woman in the Window by A.J. Finn
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062678416
Hardcover, $26.99, 448 pages

In A.J. Finn's spine-tingling debut psychological thriller The Women in The Window, Anna Fox sits in the window of her Harlem townhouse watching her neighbors. We learn that she is an agoraphobic and hasn't left her home in ten months. Her husband Ed and eight-year-old daughter Olivia no longer live with her after an incident that has been hinted at, but Anna remains in contact with them.

She rents out the basement of her home to David, a young man who helps around the house in exchange for reduced rent, and Anna gets her groceries delivered by Fresh Direct, and her many medications delivered by the pharmacy. As long as they keep bringing her meds and cases of Merlot, Anna can make it through the day (usually drunk).

She plays chess online (and usually wins) and dispenses advice on an agoraphobic message board. For entertainment, Anna watches old black and white movies, heavy on the Hitchcock thrillers. 

Anna has little physical contact with the outside world until the day a new family moves into the neighborhood- a husband, wife and teenage son. Anna can see inside their home and becomes fascinated by them, even more so when the son and mother stop by separately to see her.

Like Jimmy Stewart in Hitchcock's "Rear Window", Anna witnesses something amiss at the new neighbors and is drawn into a situation she is unequipped to handle.

The Woman in the Window is a pulse-pounding, heart-stopper of a book. Like blockbusters Gone Girl and The Girl on the Train, our protagonist is unreliable. Anna is drunk much of the time, and so what she tells the reader cannot be trusted. The addition of her agoraphobia heightens the tension of the story, and Finn does such a great job making the reader feel the anxiety of her illness.

Finn also unspools important information about Anna a little bit at a time, so that reading The Woman in the Window is like putting together pieces of a puzzle. We learn how Anna got to be where she is, and although the reader may guess a few of the mysteries, the last few chapters of this fast-paced story surprised me, and at one point I actually gasped aloud.

The Woman in the Window is sure to be a bestseller, and fans of both Alfred Hitchcock movies and Agatha Christie novels will be love it.  I liked it better than Gone Girl and The Girl On The Train. I heard all about this book last spring at the Book Expo, and you'll be hearing a lot about it in 2018. It definitely lives up to the hype, and I read it in one sitting, unwilling to put it down.

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

New In Paperback- The Women in the Castle by Jessica Shattuck

The Women In The Castle by Jessica Shattuck
Published by William Morrow Paperbacks ISBN 9780062563675
Trade paperback, 400 pages, $16.99

Two of the biggest publishing sensations of the past few years are Kristin Hannah's The Nightingale and the Pulitzer Prize-winning All The Light You Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Both dealt with people trapped by the horrors of WWII in France and Germany.

Jessica Shattuck's new novel, The Women In The Castle, tackles that same era and will definitely appeal to readers who were so moved by those two books.

The story opens in November of 1938 at Burg Lingenfels, a castle in Bavaria, where the Countess' annual harvest party is about to begin. We meet Marianne von Lingelfels, the Countess' niece-in-law, who will act as hostess to the party. She is married to Albrecht von Lingelfels who fears that the Nazi regime and Adolf Hitler have become too powerful.

Albrecht is disgusted by the actions of Hitler, and actively participates in the resistance movement along with others, including Connie Fledermann, a man who is always the charming life-of-the-party and Marianne's dear friend. Connie is married to the beautiful, young Benita, and if Marianne admits it, she is a little jealous.

The action moves back and forth in time, and a few years later we find Marianne and her young children living in the castle, a shadow of its former grand self. Marianne has promised Connie that she take care of Benita and their young son, and along the way also picks up Ania, a refugee with her three children.

The three women and their children band together to survive the horrors and deprevations of war. We learn where Benita and Ania were before they came to Burg Lingenfels, and what they had to do to survive.

We see the horrors of war through their eyes, and some of the scenes are so jarring, such as the one of Ania and her friend seeing what they believe to be sacks of food piled high on open air wagons. As it gets closer they realize that the sacks are actually people. There are more than a few heartbreaking scenes in this searing novel.

The story moves along, following the war's end and what happens to those who survive. Some do their best to move on, forget the past, while others are haunted too much. Marianne does her best to live up to her high principles, even if that hurts those she loves, while others do whatever it takes to survive. Which way is right? That is the big question to be answered.

The women face many moral dilemmas, and the reader is left to wonder what she may have done in their situations. Shattuck does an admirable job of putting the reader in their shoes, making us identify with these women, creating empathy.

The Women In The Castle is a haunting story, one that you cannot rush through, but must read and contemplate. These characters' stories will stay with you for a very long time. Fans of Chris Bohjalian's The Sandcastle Girls and David Gillam's City of Women should put this one on your TBR list as well.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Girl in Times Square by Paullina Simons

The Girl in Times Square by Paullina Simons
Published by William Morrow Paperback ISBN 9780062444356
Trade paperback, $16.99, 600 pages

Since this past week the eyes of the world were on Times Square for the New Year's Eve ball drop, it's a perfect time to read Paullina Simon's novel The Girl in Times Square. It's quite a large book at almost 600 pages, and since the arctic air is keeping people inside, it's a good read for those snuggling up inside.

The book starts with Lily's boyfriend Josh moving out of their apartment and taking all of his stuff with him, including their bed. Since he pays one-third of the rent and Lily's economic situation was precarious before this, this is a devastating blow to her.

She relies on her parents sending her money to pay her share of the rent as her waitressing job at Noho Star doesn't cover much of her expenses while she finishes up her sixth year of college.

When Lily goes to Hawaii to visit her parents at her brother's request, she finds her mother extremely troubled and turning to alcohol, and her father doesn't know how to handle the situation. Lily soon gets a call from the NYPD that her roommate Amy is missing and returns home to find out what happened to Amy.

Spencer O'Malley is the detective assigned to Amy's case, and he takes a special interest in Lily. When Lily faces a health crisis, it is Spencer, not her siblings or self-involved parents, who helps her through it. Her brother Andrew is a Congressman, her sister Anne a financial journalist, and sister Amanda is a mother of four young children, and they don't have the time for Lily.

The Girl in Times Square is 600 pages long, and there is a lot going on in this book. Lily's mom Allison is very depressed about aging and their relocation to Hawaii. She appears to have been a challenging mother, more interested in herself than her children.

The mystery of what happened to Amy didn't hold my interest as much as the burgeoning relationship between Lily and Detective O'Malley. Lily's health crisis is a large part of the book, and really captured my emotions. Spencer's care of and for her was very moving.

Lily's money woes are resolved in a surprising manner that changes her relationship with her siblings but not with Spencer.

Lily's mom states the theme of the novel- "Don't you know you carry whatever's inside you wherever you go?" That applies to so many people in the story.

The resolution to the mystery of what happened to Amy was a bit out of left field for me, so I would recommend The Girl In Times Square more to people looking for a good love story than someone who wants to read a mystery. I found Lily and Spencer's relationship and Lily's crisis a much more satisfying story.

Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Paullina Simons' tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Tour Stops

Tuesday, December 19th: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, December 21st: Into the Hall of Books
Friday, December 22nd: A Chick Who Reads
Wednesday, December 27th: Books and Bindings
Thursday, December 28th: The Desert Bibliophile
Friday, December 29th: 5 Minutes For Books
Tuesday, January 2nd: bookchickdi
Thursday, January 4th: BookExpression

Monday, January 1, 2018

The Most Compelling Books of 2017

Reprinted from the Citizen: 
It’s time to reflect on the books I read this past year that stayed with me the most, a list I call the Most Compelling Books of 2017.
Delia Ephron’s Siracusa takes readers to the island off the coast of Italy, where two families are vacationing. Both couples have troubled marriages, and a frightening incident unravels them all.  Ephron gives you a real sense of place here.
Caroline Angell’s debut novel, All The Time In The World, tells the story of a nanny who becomes entangled in a tragedy of the family she works for. The main character is so relatable, and I felt such a kinship with her, this book broke my heart. 
All the Time In The World
Another debut novel that caught my attention is Julie Buntin’s Marlena, a coming-of-age story about the friendship between two teenage girls. Cat moves with her recently divorced mom and brother to rural Michigan and meets Marlena, a troubled teen dealing with a mom who left her with a drug dealing father and a young brother to care for. Buntin nails that time of life for young women, and her characters are unforgettable. 
Angie Thomas’ debut The Hate U Give has been on the YA best-seller list from day one and it deserves to be. Teenage Starr sees her friend killed by a policeman and it changes her whole life. Each character here is so well drawn, this is a book everyone should read. 
The Hate U Give
Taylor Jenkins Reid’s The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is for fans of Turner Classic Movies. When a famous reclusive former movie star (think Marilyn Monroe or Elizabeth Taylor) plucks an unknown magazine writer to write her biography, it makes for a captivating, and surprisingly deep, tale. 
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo
There are two books here with Irish protagonists. J. Courtney Sullivan’s Saints For All Occasions tells the story of two sisters who emigrate from Ireland to the United States; one marries and raises a family, the other becomes a nun, and a secret they share comes to light years later. 
Saints for All Occasions
Alice McDermott has written many novels on the Irish-American experience, and her The Ninth Hour focuses on an order of nuns who care for the people in their Brooklyn neighborhood in the early 20th century. They take in a young widow with a baby, and their compassion and dedication to caring for the sick and poor is life-affirming. 
The Ninth Hour
Another life-affirming novel is Elizabeth Berg’s The Story of Arthur Truluv about an elderly widower, his widow neighbor and the teenage girl they befriend. It’s a lovely story about the connections we make. And in today's world when we hear of men behaving badly, Arthur is one of the good guys.
The Story of Arthur Truluv
On the nonfiction side, “The Daily Show” host Trevor Noah’s memoir Born A Crime relates his upbringing as a half-South African, half-white boy in post-aparteid South Africa. It’s funny and touching, and it gives the reader a peek into a world we know little about. I've also heard that the audiobook is fantastic.
Born A Crime
Alyssa Mastromonaco’s Who Thought This Was A Good Idea? is about her life working in the Obama White House as a deputy chief of staff. It immerses you in the breakneck pace of life at the White House and about what it takes to do a job like this and what you give up to do it. 
Who Thought This Was A Good Idea?

Jessica Bruder is a journalist who turned a magazine article into a book called Nomadland — Surviving America in the 21st Century. She traveled the country with transient older Americans who have lost their jobs and homes (many during the recession of 2008). They live in campers, RVs, vans and even cars and travel to work at campgrounds, beet fields, spring training baseball stadiums and carnivals to make ends meet.
The most fascinating chapter focuses on their work at an Amazon warehouse and you’ll never order from Amazon again without thinking about these workers. Nomadland is the best nonfiction book of the year, on a topic that is current, and it’s one that I’ll be talking about for a long time.
The best book I read this year is Stay With Me a debut novel by Nigerian author Ayobami Adebayo. It tells the story of a young married couple in Nigeria who are having trouble conceiving a baby. When the husband’s family insists on bringing in a second wife, it begins a downward spiral. I cried throughout this stunning novel, and when someone asks me what to read, Stay With Me is it. 
Stay With Me
I hope you had a year filled with great reading, and I’d love to hear what you thought was the best book of the year.
Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed at