Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper

The Other Alcott by Elise Hooper
Published by William Morrow ISBN 9780062645333
Trade Paperback, $15.99, 405 pages

I'm not sure there are many women who don't remember reading Louisa May Alcott's Little Women at some point in their lives. The characters were based in part on Louisa's own family- Meg, Jo, Beth, Amy, and of course Marmee and Father stood in for Anna, Louisa, Lizzie, May and the real-life Marmee and Father.

Elise Hooper's The Other Alcott fictionalizes the story of May Alcott. The book begins with the rave reviews for the recently published Little Women. May drew the illustrations for the book, which received much harsh criticism. May was devastated by this because she wants to become an artist.

Louisa isn't very understanding of May's feelings. She appears to be jealous of May's "lucky", sunny nature, claiming that everything usually always goes May's way; perhaps there is a little schadenfreude going on. May is unhappy that people have the perception that it is luck and not a function of her hard work.

May wants to get out from under Louisa's shadow and study art in nearby Boston. The money that Louisa earns from her writing supports her parents and May, and she is beginning to feel constrained by this obligation.

Louisa takes May to Boston with her, and then to Europe to study. May is thrilled to travel to Europe. While there, she meets many famous female artists, like Jane Gardner and Mary Cassatt, and becomes moderately successful, though it takes her a long time and much study and hard work to get there.

After Louisa returns home to care for their parents, she sends letters to May insisting she come home and take her place while she writes. May is torn between her love and obligation to her family and her desire to be her own person and pursue her own career.

The relationship between Louisa and May is complicated and at the heart of this terrific debut novel, and Hooper writes in her afterward that she embellished the length of the strained relationship for dramatic reasons.

I particularly enjoyed reading about the art scene in Europe in the late 19th century, especially how female artists fought for recognition denied to them as the "weaker sex". May made friends easily, and there are so many interesting characters in her life that are well-drawn here by the author.

People who love Little Women, as well as all the novels about wives of famous men like The Paris Wife, The Aviator's Wife and Loving Frank, will want to read the Other Alcott, as will people who enjoy stories about art and artists. I read it in one day, unwilling to put it down.

Elise Hooper's website is here, where you can read the first chapter of The Other Alcott.

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

Tour Stops

Thursday, September 7th: History From a Woman’s Perspective
Friday, September 8th: Tina Says…
Wednesday, September 13th: Jathan & Heather
Thursday, September 14th: History from a Woman’s Perspective
Monday, September 18th: Lit.Wit.Wine.Dine.
Wednesday, September 20th: Bibliotica
Thursday, September 21st: bookchickdi
Friday, September 22nd: A Bookish Affair
Monday, September 25th: Literary Lindsey
Tuesday, September 26th: BookNAround
Wednesday, September 27th: A Literary Vacation
Wednesday, September 27th: She’s All Booked
Thursday, September 28th: Openly Bookish
Friday, September 29th: Books and Bindings

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Weekend Cooking- My First Trip to Momfuku Noodle Bar

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.

Every year, a group of my friends come to NYC to go to the San Gennaro Festival in Little Italy, where we eat, drink and laugh, all to excess.

This year, two of my friends and I spent an afternoon wandering around, stopping to visit Eataly, ABC Home store, Union Square Greenmarket, and one of us wanted to go to Momofuku Noodle Bar.

So we found ourselves in the East Village and we stopped into Momofuku Noodle Bar, after initially walking right by the restaurant and ending up at Fuku, David Chang's fried chicken sandwich restaurant which is just two doors away.

A gentleman sitting next to us at a U-shaped bar overheard our conversation deciding what to order, and he wholeheartedly recommended the Momofuku Ramen Bowl, so we all tried that and ordered pork buns to go with it.

He was right- the Ramen Bowl was delicious! And while only one of us braved using chopsticks, we all raved about the Ramen Bowl, which included a piece of crispy pork belly, pork shoulder, and a poached egg, along with the noodles and a perfectly seasoned broth.
Momofuku Ramen Bowl

The pork buns were tasty too, with cucumber, scallions and pork in a tangy hoisin sauce that paired so well with the Ramen Bowl we ordered a second helping.
Momofuku Pork Buns

I love Momofuku Milk Bar's famous Compost Cookie, and now that I've been to Momofuku Noodle Bar, I want to try Fuku and their fried chicken sandwich.

Momofuku's website can be found here.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson

The Twelve-Mile Straight by Eleanor Henderson
Published by Ecco ISBN 978-0062422088
Hardcover, $27.99, 520 pages

One of the great joys of reading is discovering an debut author whose work just blows you away. Eleanor Henderson did that to me with her 2011 novel Ten Thousand Saints, set in 1987 New York City and Vermont. It is such an amazing book (made into a movie in 2015), I put it on my Most Compelling Books of 2011 list.

I was thrilled to hear that Henderson would be at the Book Expo this year signing copies of her followup novel, The Twelve-Mile Straight.  I was first in a long line of people, all eager to tell her how much we loved Ten Thousand Saints and how we couldn't wait to read this new one.
Eleanor Henderson at the Book Expo

The setting for The Twelve-Mile Straight is a small town in Depression-era rural Georgia in 1930. Young Elma Jessup gives birth to two babies- one black, one white. Her daughter is the child of the grandson of the wealthy man who owns the farm that her sharecropper father Juke works. Elma and Juke accuse a young black man who works for Juke, Genus Jackson, of raping Elma resulting in Elma's son.

Juke, who made moonshine on the side that he sold to men in the town, convinced others to join him in making Genus pay by lynching him, dragging his body behind a truck and leaving it in the road in town. The death scene is horrific, and we soon learn that there is more to this story.

Elma's mother died when she was a baby, and Elma was raised by Ketty, their black housekeeper. Ketty's daughter Nan grew up with Elma, and they were best friends, even though Elma went to school and Nan worked with Ketty, eventually learning from her how to be a midwife.

As the story unfolds, we find out that there are many secrets in this house, secrets that will affect everyone who lives there for years to come. People are curious about Elma's two babies, and their two different fathers, and Elma eventually meets a doctor, Oliver, who wants to study this unique phenomenon.

Oliver is a terrific character; he suffers from polio and he wants to be a research doctor. He is fascinated and compassionate towards Elma and her babies. There is a couple, Sarah and Jim, who came from up North and work on Juke's land. Why they are there is a mystery, but they provide company for Elma, for which she is grateful. And gentle, quiet Genus is such a sweet young man, his murder is devastating.

There are some powerful scenes in the story, including a baptism for the babies, where several townsfolk turn out believing that at least one of the babies "has the devil in him." Oliver's memory of his time spent on a ship filled with other polio patients because people feared catching polio was heartbreaking.

Henderson creates such a sense of time and place, you can feel the blazing summer sun and see the dust kicking up on the twelve-mile straight road. The reader is transported to this world, one that she conjured from stories her father told of his growing up, one of eight children born to a sharecropper.

Her writing is so precise, it feels like she worked to craft the perfect sentence for each paragraph. I got so lost in The Twelve-Mile Straight that frequently I found myself completely tuning out my surroundings, losing all track of time and place.

But it is the relationship between Elma and Nan that is at the heart of this emotional, moving story. The two women are as close as sisters, but it is the secrets between them that drive the momentum of the book to its shattering conclusion.

I highly recommend The Twelve-Mile Straight, and if you haven't read Ten Thousand Saints, pick that one up too. I'm not the only one who feels this way, The Twelve-Mile Straight has made many Best of Fall lists. 

Eleanor Henderson is a professor at Ithaca College, and her website is here.
My review of Ten Thousand Saints is here.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Boca in Sarasota

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.

As I type this post, we are watching the local Sarasota news station listening for information on Hurricane Irma. We spent a lovely five days last weekend at our vacation home in that area, and at that time it looked like Irma was going to hit the East Coast, but now it appears that our area on the West Coast is going to take the direct hit. I hope that we have not spent our last time there, it is such a beautiful, peaceful place.

We visited a new restaurant in downtown Sarasota with friends, Boca. I loved the interior design of the restaurant, it has a very hip, industrial, yet warm vibe. Each table had a small herb plant in middle of the table; ours was a fragrant basil plant.
The view of the bar from our table above
Basil Plant

The menu was interesting as well. My husband and I chose to share the Zucchini Fries with a Green Goddess Dip. It was served in a cute little paper bag on a wooden platter.
Zucchini Fries

A couple sitting at a table next to us had the Grilled Hangar Steak Platter and Sweet Potato Gnocci that looked so appetizing that we said "We'll have what they're having". The steak platter came with roasted potatoes and vegetables, and my husband enjoyed it.
Grilled Steak Platter

My gnocci was wonderful. It had chunks of butternut squash and sliced mushrooms in a parmesan cream sauce. I would definitely order that again.

We shared a tasty fruit cobbler for dessert that was served in a small skillet, and even between the two of us we couldn't finish it.
Fruit Cobbler in a skillet
Before dinner we visited the new Westin Hotel rooftop bar, which has a gorgeous view of Sarasota Bay. I sure hope everyone makes it through Irma safely and that we get back there soon.

Boca's website is here.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Three Great Titles for the End of Summer

Reprinted from

It’s hard to believe that summer is almost over. If you want to get in some good last minute reading before the leaves begin to change, this month’s Book Report has a few suggestions.

Don Winslow is best known for his crime thrillers, (“Cartel”) set on the West coast. His latest novel, “The Force” is set in New York City, and it is a propulsive, action-packed crime novel that will leave you breathless.

Denny Malone is the leader of the Manhattan North Special Task Force, known as “Da Force”. They are the alpha cops, the ones you see on the news, making big drug, gun and gang busts, putting the bad guys behind bars and making Northern Manhattan safer. “If there was a secret Da Force didn’t know about, it was because it hadn’t been whispered about or even thought about yet.” 

“Da Force” are supposed to be the good guys, but when the temptation of all that drug money and their desire to provide a good lives for their families collide, trouble follows. The novel opens with hero cop Malone behind bars himself in federal lockup with a big decision to make- protect his family or his partners.

The novel then tells how Malone got there, and it whips along at a breakneck pace. Winslow so submerges the reader into the grittier parts of Upper Manhattan, you actually feel like you’re right there along with him. And if you think only the cops are dirty, let’s just say that no one gets out of this unscathed.

Stephen King calls “The Force” “The Godfather, only with cops”, and that may be the best blurb I have ever read. It utterly describes the vibe you get from reading this heart-pounding book. Winslow dedicates this novel to the law enforcement personnel who lost their lives during the time he wrote the book, and names them all- the list is two and half pages and is a sobering beginning to this outstanding book, which I highly recommend.

Author Susan Elia MacNeal’s WWII heroine Maggie Hope returns in her seventh adventure in “The Paris Spy”. Maggie goes undercover working with the Winston Churchill’s Special Operations Executive in Paris during the German occupation. 

Her work is extremely dangerous, and when an agent who has valuable information about the pending Allied invasion is captured, Maggie and two of her colleagues must find that information and get it back to England, all while looking for the traitor in their midst.

Maggie must also deal with competing intelligence agencies who don’t trust each other, and she has a personal mission- find her missing sister, who was liberated from a concentration camp and hasn’t been seen since.

Maggie and her cohorts risk their lives, and there are many tense scenes in this outstanding entry in this historical mystery. At the end of the book, Maggie faces a troubling decision, one that will resonate in the next book, which I can’t wait to read.

MacNeal does impeccable research for her novels, and “The Paris Spy” is no different. She includes an Historical Notes section at the end, which is fascinating to any WWII history buff, and she gives the reader a list of books she consulted, in case you want to continue your own historical reading.

Taylor Jenkins Reid’s “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” may put people in mind of Elizabeth Taylor. Evelyn Hugo was a glamorous movie star during the glory days of Hollywood, beloved by millions and married to seven men. She has been out of the limelight for years, and an interview with her is coveted by many people. 

Only Hugo knows why she chose a relatively unknown reporter to secretly write her biography, each chapter about one of her seven husbands. Throughout the story, we find out that the love of Hugo’s life was not one of her husbands, but a complete surprise, a relationship she kept hidden from the public out of fear.

The characters in this fascinating novel are so well-drawn, particularly Hugo herself. She is a larger-than-life movie star and she jumps off the page as she tells her amazing story. It reminded me of Adriana Trigiani’s “All The Stars In The Heavens”, and if you are a Turner Classics Movie fan, “The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo” is a must-read. It’s a heartbreaker.

The Force” by Don Winslow- A+
Published by WilliamMorrow
Hardcover, $27.99, 482 pages

The Paris Spy” by Susan Elia MacNeal- A+
Published by Bantam
Hardcover, $26, 301 pages

Published by Washington Square Press
Hardcover, $26, 400 pages

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Al Franken- Giant of the Senate by Al Franken

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate by Al Franken
Published by Twelve ISBN 9781455540419
Hardcover, $28, 404 pages

Many people, myself included, were surprised when Al Franken, whom I knew from his long tenure as a writer/performer on Saturday Night Live, won a Senate seat in Minnesota. I have been following his Senate career and find him to be an intelligent, serious person, doing a good job.

Franken recounts his path to the Senate, and his time there thus far, in Al Franken, Giant of the Senate. He brings the reader up to date on his life, starting with his family who moved from New Jersey to Minnesota when Al was just four.

His Dad was a liberal Republican, (which Franken points out no longer exists), his Mom a Democrat. The Franken family were middle-class, at a time when that meant you believed you could do anything you wanted.

Franken went to Harvard, where he met his wife Franni at a freshman dance the first week of school. Franni's family had it harder than Al's family, as her father died when she was a baby, leaving her young mother to raise five children on her own. They all went to college thanks to Social Security, Pell Grants, the GI Bill, and Title I, and Franken wants every family in this country to be able to have the opportunity that his wife's family did to move into the middle class. And that is why he says he is a Democrat.

We learn a little bit about Franken's comedic partnership with Tom Davis, and their tenure on Saturday Night Live, but it is his road to the Senate that is more interesting, if you can believe it.

He was angered when Norm Coleman, who won Paul Wellstone's Senate seat after Wellstone was tragically killed in a plane crash, made a rude statement about Coleman being "a 99 percent improvement over Paul Wellstone."

Wellstone was a beloved, compassionate man who worked his entire career to make things better for his constituents, and Franken respected him greatly. After that statement, Franken decided to run for Senate against Coleman.

We get a fascinating look at what a Senate campaign entails, as well as a look at what Minnesota is like as a state. They have a significant Native American population, they are home to the well-respected Mayo Clinic, and they are skeptical of show business people.

We learn what a 'bean feed' is (think spaghetti dinner or fish fry), and that Franni makes a mean apple pie. Coleman went after Franken's comedy roots, twisting sketches he wrote on SNL to imply that Franken is perverse- he jokes about bestiality for goodness sake!

Franken's 4th grade teacher made a commercial for him that had a big impact, but it was Franni's commerical where she talked about how Al helped her get through a bad period when she had a drinking problem that turned the tide.

The election was so close that there was a recount- that lasted eight months before Franken was able to take his seat. Franken talks frankly about his Senate experiences with Chuck Schumer, Mitch McConnell, Jeff Sessions, and a hilarious chapter on Ted Cruz, whom no one likes.

We get an inside look at how a bill really gets to be a law (it's not as easy as Schoolhouse Rock makes it out to be), Senate hearings on Sonia Sotomayor, and the work to get the Affordable Health Care Act passed.

Franken has kind words for the Clintons, both of whom helped to get him elected in 2008, and while he respects Barack Obama as a great President, he and the DSCC did not help him much at all. He was re-elected in 2014, and speaks with great disappointment and concern that Trump was elected, and what that means for America.

After reading Al Franken, Giant of the Senate, I have even more respect for Franken. He works hard for the people of Minnesota, on issues that effect their everyday lives. He studies and does his homework, and I admit to tearing up as I read his last chapter about attending a high school graduation where a young Muslim woman, who was a Senate page for his office, spoke. He believes in the greatness of the American people, something that we are seeing play out right now in Texas as volunteers flock to help those devastated by Hurricane Harvey.

I give Al Franken, Giant of the Senate my highest recommendation. It gives you hope that there are good people in government on both sides, and hope for our country's future. It's also laugh-out-loud funny at times. (#Franken2020, anyone?).

Saturday, August 26, 2017

Weekend Cooking- Three New Winning Recipes

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.

I haven't been trying a lot of new recipes lately, which is pretty typical for me during the summer. It's too hot to cook, there's just the two of us for dinner, my husband has a lot of work dinners during the week: I've got a lot of excuses.

Recently though, I have tried three new recipes that warrant being added into the dinner rotation. Summer means lots more fresh fruits and vegetables, and I've been trying to incorporate more of that into our dinner routine.

When we had guests for dinner one night, I tried a new recipe- Italian Stuffed Zucchini Boats. It's a little time consuming and labor intensive for a summer dish, but it was worth the effort. You start by splitting zucchini lengthwise, hollowing out the zucchini and saving the scraped out insides.

While baking the zucchini for twenty minutes, you cook the scraped out inside of the zucchini, mixed with ground turkey, chopped mushrooms and onions in a skillet, add marinara sauce and simmer.

After twenty minutes, fill the zucchini boats with the turkey mixture, and bake for twenty more minutes, then top with mozzarella cheese, parmesan cheese and panko bread crumbs and broil for a few minutes more. I found this recipe on Pinterest, from Valerie's Kitchen. 

It was very flavorful, and a great way to get someone to eat more vegetables. The whole crowd loved it, and I have made this several times this season. Pair it with a salad or fruit salad and it's a nice, light dinner.
Italian Stuffed Zucchini Boats from Valerie's Kitchen

I cook a lot of chicken, and this recipe from Jaques Pepin for Quick Roasted Chicken with Mustard and Garlic gave me a reason to visit Fleisher's Craft Butchery (which recently opened near us) to get a spatchcocked chicken, which is a whole chicken with the backbone removed and flattened.

It's a simple recipe, just mixing a few ingredients: garlic, Dijon mustard, tabasco, soy sauce, herbs de provence, and salt and spreading it on the chicken. You sear the chicken in a hot skillet for five minutes per side, then roast for 30 minutes in a 450 degree oven.

This was delicious, and really a simple, easy weeknight dinner, which Food & Wine magazine recommends pairing with mashed potatoes. We'll have this again.
Quick Roasted Chicken from Food & Wine

The last recipe I found while watching the Food Network on a JetBlue flight from Florida. (I always watch Food Network on the plane, never at home. I don't know why.) Trisha Yearwood was making a Skillet Apple Pie with Cinnamon Whipped Cream that I just knew my husband would love.
Skillet Apple Pie from Food Network

This one is a another super simple weeknight recipe. You mix melted butter and brown sugar in a cast iron skillet, top with a packaged pie crust (like Pillsbury), add two cans of apple pie filling and top with another pie crust, and sprinkle with a cinnamon sugar mix. Bake it in the oven, mix some whipping cream with a little sugar and cinnamon to top and you have an easy, tasty end to your meal. (You could also make your own apple pie filling if you have time, instead of using canned filling).

I was happy with all three of these recipes and will be making them again. Have you tried any recipes this summer? Let me know in comments.