Thursday, February 15, 2018

Best Friends Forever by Margot Hunt

Best Friends Forever by Margot Hunt
Published by Mira ISBN 9780778331131
Hardcover, $26.99, 384 pages

Sometimes you pair the perfect book with the perfect place to read that book. Last month I was lucky enough to have a few hours to sit on a warm Florida beach and soak up the sun, so I brought along a new book to read- Margot Hunt's Best Friends Forever. Three hours later, I finally looked up and took a breath, having finished the book. (Thank goodness I used plenty of sunscreen.)

Alice Campbell is making breakfast, getting her son and daughter ready for school, when two policemen ring her doorbell. They have questions for Alice about the death of her friend Kat's husband, Howard.

Howard had fallen to his death from the balcony of his and Kat's mansion. Everyone assumed it was a drunken accident, until the police came knocking. They asked Alice to come down to the station to talk about Kat and Howard.

Kat came from a wealthy family, and owned an art gallery on Worth Avenue, a fancy shopping district in West Palm Beach, Florida. Alice met Kat at JFK airport where she was waiting out a delayed flight to their new home in Jupiter. Kat bought Alice a martini and they bonded.

They became fast friends, even though their economic circumstances weren't exactly compatible. Alice and her husband Todd disliked Howard upon first meeting him. He was obnoxious, and  condescending and rude to his wife in front them. 

The story jumps back and forth in time, from the present, with Kat refusing to answer any of Alice's texts or phone calls, to three years before when the ladies meet and begin spending all their free time together, even taking girls' weekend vacations together on Kat's dime.

Todd and Alice run into financial troubles and Kat helps them out. Then Kat confides in Alice that Howard is physically abusive to her, in addition to the emotional abuse that Alice has witnessed.

As the police investigation proceeds, it is clear that Alice doesn't know everything about her best friend Kat. The suspense builds quickly as the police decide that Alice knows more than she has told them, and she has to use her wits to figure what happened before it's too late for her.

Best Friends Forever is a terrific suspense novel, one that fans of Liane Moriarty's Big Little Lies will really enjoy. Like Moriarty, Hunt punctuates the day-to-day domestic life with a puzzle of a mystery to be solved. Also like Moriarty, Hunt sprinkles in a few clues that clever readers may be able to pick up on that help solve the mystery, and even though I thought I knew where it was going, the ending still caused me to gasp out loud. Suspense lovers should put Best Friends Forever on their TBR list, maybe for a long airplane trip. It will make the time fly by. (Just be careful who you talk to at the airport.)


Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Margot Hunt's tour. The rest of her stops are here:

Review Tour for BEST FRIENDS FOREVER:

Monday, January 22nd: Girls in Books blog and Instagram
Monday, January 22nd: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, January 23rd: The Literary Llama on Instagram
Wednesday, January 24th: Katy’s Library blog and Instagram
Thursday, January 25th: Clues and Reviews
Friday, January 26th: From the TBR Pile
Monday, January 29th: The Book Diva’s Reads
Tuesday, January 30th: LiteraryJo Reviews blog and Instagram
Wednesday, January 31st: Bibliotica
Thursday, February 1st: Books and Bindings
Friday, February 2nd: Chick Lit Central
Monday, February 5th: Caryn, The Book Whisperer
Tuesday, February 6th: Palmer’s Page Turners
Wednesday, February 7th: Girl Who Reads
Thursday, February 8th: A Holland Reads
Monday, February 12th: Novel Gossip blog and Instagram
Monday, February 12th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Wednesday, February 14th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, February 15th: Bookchickdi
Friday, February 16th: Thoughts on This ‘n That



Tuesday, February 6, 2018

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones
Published by Algonquin ISBN 9781616201340
Hardcover, $26.95, 320 pages

Five years ago, I went to my local Barnes & Noble to hear Judy Blume interview a young author, Tayari Jones, who spoke about her book Silver Sparrow.  Her novel, about a man who married two women and had a daughter by each, was so brilliant and moving, I was mesmerized by it.

Last June, I was thrilled to meet Ms. Jones again, at the Book Expo in NYC, and to get a copy of her upcoming book An American Marriage, which publishes Februrary 6th. Once again, Tayari Jones has written a stunning novel, and it has already garnered so much worthy praise, including being Oprah's Book Club's latest pick. (Hooray!)

Roy is a black man who grew up in a small Louisiana town called Eloe.  His mother worked at a meat-and-three restaurant, his daddy worked at a sporting goods store. They weren't poor, but "there was nothing extra."

Roy made it to Morehouse College on a scholarship for first generation college students. While there, he met and fell in love with Celestial, a young woman who grew up in Atlanta, the daughter of a well-to-do family.

Celestial and Roy were happy together- Roy had a good job as a salesman for a textbook company, Celestial was an artist, making cloth dolls and hoping one day to hit it big selling them. They were married for just over a year, when it happened.

While visiting Roy's parents, they stayed at a hotel. The visit with Roy's parents didn't go well (his mother wants grandbabies, Celestial wants to wait), and Roy and Celestial have a big fight.

When a woman is attacked that night at the hotel, she tells the police it was Roy who did it. In a moment, his entire life is turned upside down. He is charged, tried and convicted and goes to prison.

Not only is Roy's life upended, so is Celestial's. The story is told from three points of view- Roy, Celestial and her childhood friend Andre's.

We see how the bonds of Roy and Celestial's marriage are tested throughout their separation. Roy states "I believed that our marriage was a fine-spun tapestry, fragile but fixable. We tore it often and mended it again, always with a silken thread, lovely but sure to give way again."

An American Marriage is a heartbreaking novel that deals with the big themes of the difficulties and joys of marriage, race, class, loyalty, and the price of mass incarceration (both to the individual and society as a whole), through the prism of Roy and Celestial's marriage.
Tayari Jones at the Book Expo

I didn't want An American Marriage to end. It is a book to savor, and I was sad when I finished it. You feel so deeply for these characters, caught up in a situation not of their making. Tayari Jones is an amazing storyteller, and she weaves her way into your heart and soul with her words.

I give An American Marriage my highest recommendation- you must read this book!

Tayari Jones' website is here.
My review of Silver Sparrow is here.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs

Family Tree by Susan Wiggs
Published by William Morrow ISBN  9780062425454
Trade paperback, $15.99, 356 pages

Pair a terrific family story with food, and you can bet it's a book I will be reading. Susan Wiggs' Family Tree tells the tale of Annie Rush, who grew up on a family-owned maple farm in Vermont, and dreams of moving away to pursue a life making documentaries about food.

Annie becomes a big success when she makes a documentary about Martin, a handsome man who owns a food truck in New York City. Her documentary becomes a viral sensation, and Annie ends up producing a hugely popular food show with Martin as the star.

They have a busy, happy life in Los Angeles until a tragedy hits, and Annie ends up back in Switchback, Vermont having to start all over again. The story moves back and forth in time, as we see Annie as a teenage girl, working long hours during maple syrup season, cooking with her beloved Gran, and falling in love with a transfer student.

Wiggs writes such intriguing, real characters, I felt like I knew them as friends. Annie's high school love, Fletcher, is such a great guy. He lives with his single dad, and more often than not is the adult in that family, even more so when his dad faces a traumatic event.

We learn so much in this book too. Wiggs shows the reader how a maple farm works, and how whiskey is distilled (through Annie's friend's family business). I found that endlessly fascinating.

The scenes set in the hospital and rehabilitation center were so well done, as we see how the daily challenges of relearning everything we take for granted can be so stressful.

 I love descriptions of food, and there are plenty in here to savor. Annie's rustic cheddar, apple and beer soup that she made in a high school competition had me salivating. Gran's Cabot grated cheese sandwich with spring onions, radishes and mayo on thick bread would be perfect with that.

 The description of the Thanksgiving feast that Annie brought to Fletcher and his dad had my stomach grumbling- "free range, organic chicken roasted in sage butter, homemade sweet potato hush puppies with sriracha ketchup, dressing with wild mushrooms and walnuts, garlic mashed potatoes and gravy, brandied cranberry compote and pumpkin pie in a maple pecan shell." Oh my goodness.

(There are two recipes from the book on Susan Wiggs website here.)

Annie's story touched my heart. She is an ambitious, determined, smart woman who loves her family, and when she needed them most, they were there for her. I didn't want to put Family Tree down, and I stayed up way too late last night finishing it. I didn't want it to end, and hope that Susan Wiggs brings us more of Annie's story. If you like the television show This Is Us, then put Family Tree on your TBR list.



Thanks to TLC Tours for putting me on Susan Wigg's tour. The rest of her tour stops are here:

Tour Stops

Wednesday, January 10th: Tina Says…
Thursday, January 11th: Literary Quicksand
Friday, January 12th: Based on a True Story
Monday, January 15th: The Sketchy Reader
Monday, January 15th: A Chick Who Reads
Thursday, January 18th: Novel Gossip
Tuesday, January 23rd: As I turn the pages
Thursday, January 25th: Time 2 Read
Monday, January 29th: bookchickdi
Tuesday, February 13th: Rockin’ and Reviewing
Monday, February 19th: Run Wright
Tuesday, February 20th: I Wish I Lived in a Library
Monday, February 26th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Thursday, March 8th: Kritters Ramblings



Saturday, January 27, 2018

Weekend Cooking- Healthier Recipes from Marlene Koch

One of goals for 2018 is to eat healthier, so with that in mind, I pulled out my Marlene Koch books, Eat What You Love and Eat More of What You Love to look for some new recipes.

It's been colder, so I turned to the soup section. One for Chicken Pot Pie Soup caught my eye. I'm trying to get more vegetables in our diet, and soup is a good way to do (hide) that.

I made a big pot of soup and although I made the soup more for my husband, I absolutely loved it! I ate it for dinner one night, had leftovers for lunch the next day, and then dinner again. We had a side salad (with Koch's Green Goddess salad dressing) and I had a banana that was getting soft so I made a banana bread to go with dinner too.

It was so creamy and flavorful, you would never guess that it was low fat. The recipe for Chicken Pot Pie Soup is on Marlene Koch's website here.

print recipe
Green Goddess Dressing
Marlene Koch's Green Goddess Dressing from her Eat More of What You Love cookbook.
Ingredients
  • 1/4 cup Light mayonnaise
  • 1/4 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1/3 cup 1% milk
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried tarragon
  • 1 tablespoon white wine or cider vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon anchovy paste (optional)
Instructions
Combine all the ingredients in blender and blend briefly just until smooth.
Details
Prep time: Cook time: Total time: Yield: 1 cup


 I'll keep you posted on our journey to eat healthier and my quest to find more lowfat soup recipes. Let me know in comments if you have any great recipes.


Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Winter Thrillers

Reprinted from the Citizen:

Now that winter has finally shown itself, it’s a great time to hunker down and read a good book. Here are three mystery/thrillers that will have your heart pounding, your pulse racing and your mind working overtime to figure out what happened.

A.J. Finn’s debut novel, “The Woman in the Window” hit the bestseller list on the first week, which is quite an accomplishment. This book has had a lot of buzz since last spring, and it lives up to the hype.
The Woman in the Window


Anna Fox sits in the window of her Harlem brownstone, watching the neighbors go about their daily business. She hasn’t left her apartment in ten months, and her husband and eight-year-old daughter no longer live with her.

She spends her days playing online chess, dispensing advice on agoraphobia message boards and watching old black and white movies, like Alfred Hitchcock’s classics. Anna is also drunk most of the day and night, and takes numerous prescription pills.

We slowly get that something traumatic happened to Anna ten months ago, but exactly what is unknown to the reader. She is quite frankly a mess.

One day Anna sees new neighbors moving in- a mom, dad and teenage boy. The son comes to visit, and then later his mom stops by and she and Anna spend an enjoyable, drunken afternoon together.

Then Anna sees something disturbing happen at the new neighbors. She reports this to the police, but no evidence is found and Anna is not believed because she is such a mess. Anna is not even quite sure if she saw what she believes she saw.

Slowly, Finn reveals to the reader what happened ten months ago to Anna, and what happened to the neighbors. The last third of this crackerjack of a book will keep you up at night to finish. You will gasp in astonishment as events unfold. This book will be a blockbuster in 2018.

Lisa Scottoline’s thriller “One Perfect Lie” begins with Chris Brennan applying for a job as a high school teacher and assistant baseball coach in a small Pennsylvania town. But Brennan is also up to something more nefarious. 
One Perfect Lie

He needs to recruit a young male student for something bad, something that will happen on the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. He insinuates himself in the lives of three of his students- one a boy whose father died last year, one who never knew his father, and one a rich, spoiled young man.

Everyone loves Coach Brennan, and he works hard to quickly gain the trust of the people in this small community. 

Just when you think you know where this story is going, Scottoline turns everything upside down halfway through the story. It is a brilliant turn of events, and one I did not see coming. It turned what was a pretty good story into a crazy great story.

Other than a scene at the end of the book that was really over-the-top, “One Perfect Lie” is a fantastic ride of a book, and I tip my hat to the author, she really fooled me.

If you like your mysteries set in days of yore, Lauren Willig’s “The English Wife” is set in Cold Springs, NY in 1899. Bay Van Duyvil, a wealthy American heir, had a replica built of his English wife Annabelle’s family home on the banks of the Hudson River. 
The English Wife

On the day of their big Twelfth Night Ball to show their new home to the elite, Bay is stabbed and Annabelle is missing. Did she run away with the architect of the house, with whom she was rumored to be having an affair? And how to explain that Bay’s sister Janie saw Annabelle’s body floating in the Hudson?

Janie teams up with a newspaper reporter to find out what happened to Bay and Annabelle. The story shifts back and forth in time, from 1895 London where Bay and Annabelle met to 1899 Cold Springs. 

There are so many great characters here-  Janie, London dance hall performer Georgie, Bay’s nasty mother Alva, and Bay and Janie’s cousin Anne who stole Janie’s fiancee and was a bit too close to Bay.


There are also lots of secrets and secret alliances in “The English Wife” that keep the reader on her toes. The attention to period detail is also so well done here, you’ll feel like you are in 1899 as your read this terrific novel. 


Monday, January 22, 2018

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin
Published by Putnam ISBN 9780735213180
Hardcover, $26, 352 pages


At last year's Book Expo Editors' Book Buzz, six books were presented as books to look forward to in 2017/2018. Ayobami Adabeyo's Stay With Me was one presented and it was the most compelling book I read in 2017. (The complete list is here.)

 A.J. Finn's The Woman in the Window was also on that list and it shot to the top of the bestseller list when it published last week. (My review is here.)

A third book at that presentation was Chloe Benjamin's novel The Immortalists. It asks the question "if you knew the exact date of your death, how would you live your life?" Four young siblings find out that a psychic lives near them, and for a price she will tell you the date of your death.

The year is 1969, and the country is in turmoil as Varya, Daniel, Klara and Simon pay her a visit and one by one learn of their fateful date. The three oldest share their dates with each other, but the youngest, Simon, keeps his information to himself.

Years later Daniel is at college studying to be a doctor, and Varya is also away at school with dreams of a medical career when a family tragedy brings them home. Klara has always been the flighty one, and Simon has been the dependable one, the one who is being groomed to take over the family tailoring business.

Each sibling gets to narrate their own story. Simon chafes at his destiny of being trapped in the family business. When Klara decides to go west to San Francisco to become a magician, she convinces Simon to come with her, and that is where his story begins.

Simon finds his true self among the San Francisco scene and it was his story that moved me the most. His search for his authentic identity and for love is so emotional, it draws the reader in.

Klara's dreams take longer to come true. She works dead-end jobs while she perfects her magician craft. Her story and Simon's intersect for many years, until Klara's struggle to make it as a magician and her own love life take her on the road.

Klara's story has a bit of a mystical touch to it, and I found the denouement of her story the most troubling.

Daniel gets to be a doctor. He works for the government as an army doctor, certifying young men as healthy for military duty. Could his career choice be a result of the psychic's words, an attempt to influence someone's else's fate?

Varya stayed at home to care for their mother, giving up her dreams of being a doctor. She is resentful that Simon escaped while she carried the burden for all of her siblings.

She eventually ends up working in medical research, working with research animals to discover why some people live longer than others.

All of the Gold children's lives as adults seemed to be influenced by what the psychic told them. Their mother said something that is prescient of the future:
"Nobody picks their life, I sure didn't." Gertie laughs, a scrape. "Here's what happens: you make choices and then they make choices. Your choices make choices."
The Gold children made choices, some based on their experience with the psychic. Did her predictions make choices for them?

After reading the engrossing, brilliant The Immortalists, you can't help but ask the question of yourself- if you knew the date you were going to die, how would you live your life? You'll be pondering that long after the book ends, and isn't that the sign of the good book- one that makes you think?

So far, the Editors' Book Buzz has been three for three; can they extend the streak? My post about the Book Expo Editors' Book Buzz can be found here.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

You Don't Look Adopted by Anne Heffron

You Don't Look Adopted by Anne Heffron
Published by Anne Heffron ISBN 9780692755648
Trade paperback, $9.99 ($3 on Kindle), 163 pages

One of the most important things that reading can do is to put the reader into the shoes of another person. For the writer, it can be a cathartic experience, especially when she writes about her own life.

Screenwriter Anne Heffron was adopted at ten weeks of age and writes about how that has colored her entire life in You Don't Look Adopted.  She begins her memoir by stating that for most of her life she has felt "both real and not real" because an infant is born "with a sense of self not separate from the mother", and she believes that her "brain took a nosedive in the gap between mothers".

We have always been told that adopted children should feel special because they were chosen by their family. But Heffron states that while that is true, in order to be chosen, you must first be unchosen. Heffron felt that no matter what reason her birth mother gave her up, she still chose to let her go. This thought caused Heffron to believe that there was something seriously wrong with her for her own mother to give her up.

She also wondered what happened to her and her mother in the ten weeks between her birth and her family adopting her. All her life she felt that something was wrong with her, and as a teen she sought out therapists and doctors to help battle with her "depression, eating disorders and inability to stick with jobs, schools and people."

Heffron was adopted by a couple who also adopted two boys. Her mother wanted to prove that she could have it all- take care of her family, run a household, and have a fabulous career. She was a writer, but her dream of writing a great book became the reality of being a stringer for a small town newspaper. Her mother was not a happy woman, and she took some of that unhappiness out on Anne.

Anne did eventually find her birth mother, but she did not want anything to do with Anne, and asked her not to contact her anymore. This led to even more difficulties for Anne.

Relationships were difficult for her. She was married multiple times, and when times were tough, she walked away or pushed others away. Her daughter going away to college completely unmoored her.

Teaching writing in a girls' juvenile hall was an eye-opening experience for Anne, and she told the girls there some of her life story. From that experience, and that of talking to others who were adopted and finding that many of them had similar feelings and experiences as she did, Anne found that "it's the stories we don't tell that keep us in various states of paralysis."

Anne Heffron lets the reader see inside her heart, soul and mind in this heartbreaking and honest memoir. It feels like we are reading her journal, similar to stream-of-consciousness, so it has a bit of an unpolished feel to it.  Her story brings attention to a subject I didn't know much about and I'm glad I read it.

Anne Heffron's website is here.

Thanks to TLC for putting me on Anne Heffron's tour. The rest of her tour stops are here:

Anne Heffron’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Monday, January 8th: The Sketchy Reader
Wednesday, January 10th: I Brought a Book
Thursday, January 11th: Patricia’s Wisdom
Friday, January 12th: Stranded in Chaos
Tuesday, January 16th: Run Wright
Wednesday, January 17th: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom
Thursday, January 18th: Bookchickdi
Monday, January 22nd: Book Mama Blog
Wednesday, January 24th: Readaholic Zone

Friday, January 26th: Bloggin’ ‘Bout Books