Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

Before the current political upheaval in our country, the phrase “she persisted” might not have carried much weight. But now it has taken on an iconic meaning, representing the uphill battle women face when advocating for their right to be heard.

Book Buzz: Lilli de Jong

This struggle persists, as does our rebellion.

Lilli de Jong

As I read Janet Benton’s absorbing new novel, Lilli de Jong, I kept thinking that the eponymous Lilli, thrust into a fight for her survival, might have demurred at the idea of being a persister, but indeed her struggles in an unyielding world required every ounce of persistence one could muster.

At a time when having a child out of wedlock branded the mother — and the child — in the most cruel and unforgiving way, Lilli discovers she is pregnant and has nowhere to turn. The father of the child was unaware of the pregnancy before he moved across the state for a better job opportunity. Lilli lost her beloved mother due to an accident, and her father brought shame to the family by taking up with a first cousin afterwards. Because of that, Lilli has lost her job as a teacher. She is frighteningly alone.

Raised in the Society of Friends, more commonly known as Quakers, Lilli is an educated, purposeful young woman, and now is banished from the order.

Unwed pregnant women in those days had few options. Back alley abortions often resulted in the mother’s death. Keeping the baby meant a lifetime of shame for both mother and child. Giving a child up for adoption could be too heart wrenching to consider. Fathers shirked their responsibilities without fear of retribution.

Lilli decides to leave home to have her baby at an institution for unwed mothers and plans to give the baby up. But then, she just can’t.

Set in 1800s Philadelphia, the story is both harrowing and uplifting, because it is about a mother’s unrelenting fight for her child. The fierce bond between mothers and babies, and in particular the mutual nourishment of mothers and their nursing babies, propels the story line.  Lilli’s dogged determination is fueled by the unconditional love and trust of her baby.

I loved the historical background of this story. Having always lived in the Philadelphia region, I enjoyed learning more about this era and recognizing the local landmarks. Though this is a novel, this feels very authentic. In Lilli’s diary form, it reads like a memoir.

Benton has a lovely, engaging writing style and the plot had some unexpected turns. She has given us a glimpse into the past that continues to resonate in the present day. Lilli de Jong is a virtual maternal hug of a novel, that acknowledges the persistence of mothers everywhere.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Lilli de Jong. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

I received a copy of Lilli de Jong from Nan A. Talese/Doubleday for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

 

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Summer and Springsteen

Summer and Springsteen

Like cotton candy and sticky fingers, hot dogs and hamburgers on the grill, and warm nights in the yard catching fireflies, the music of Bruce Springsteen means summer to me.

Summer and Springsteen

Springsteen, just a regular Jersey boy.

When I was in college I had a summer job at the Jersey shore – a rite of passage for many of us who live in the northeast. Shucking clams by day and partying by night, surviving both romantic flings and crushing heartbreaks, I had the time of my life.

I worked in a beach community on a small barrier island a far cry from the glitz of Atlantic City, without a boardwalk or large concert halls. There were few venues for musical entertainment other than smoky motel bars or dilapidated watering holes like The Acme and The Rip Tide that we college kids flocked to night after night. If you wanted to hear live music, you might catch a local act. Or you might get lucky and witness a performance that in time would become legendary.

This is what happened to us.

Bruce Who?

We heard one day that there would be a performer at the improbably named Le Garage, a small warehouse that was usually a venue for teen dances. Some guy named Bruce Springsteen was performing. No one had ever heard of him, but we had nothing else to do that night, so why not.

Summer and Springsteen

From the book “All Things LBI” (Down the Shore Publishing)

At 10:30 that night the place was full. How many it held, I don’t remember, but probably not more than a couple hundred stood perspiring in the heat. The lights were dimmed as we waited for the show to begin. Bruce Springsteen, in all his grungy, unknown glory, his guitar slung across his hips, ambled out on center stage blanketed in a spotlight. He opened with the song was 4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy). That voice, as gritty as the sand between the rocks in Barnegat Light, that song, so Jersey shore soulful, that moment, that would become a memory to cherish. The crowd was spellbound and the ovation that followed was thunderous.

That man would become The Boss.

As of that night I was a fan forevermore, and this song would always evoke a pang about that moment, the salt air, my sunburned shoulders and peasant blouse I wore, how our ears rang as we walked out into the night air talking about the music.

Over the years my devotion to Bruce has never wavered and to my delight, the Boss published his autobiography, Born to Run, which fans and critics alike have enthusiastically endorsed. When a fellow Bruce fan and friend of mine raved about the audiobook version, I made it my next Audible selection.

So here is the thing about autobiographies on audiobooks narrated by their authors: you feel like you are having a private conversation with this person. I loved hearing Springsteen talk about his early years in Freehold, his introduction to the music world, and everything that came after. I loved hearing him talk about meeting Stevie Van Zandt, another Jersey musician trying to make it in a competitive business.

No surprise, Springsteen is a gifted writer, and I was as blown away by his book as I was by seeing him live at that little club so many years ago.

Here is Springsteen just a few years after I first saw him, performing 4th of July, Asbury Park, (Sandy) live. I would see him in concert again and again, but that first time was the best by far.

Enjoy.

And Happy Summer.

Do you use Audible? You can try it out for a month by going to Audible’s free trial site and have access to hundreds of titles.

 

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Book Buzz: Enchanted Islands

The flora and fauna of the island of Galapágos provide the piquant backdrop for Enchanted Islands, a novel that reads so much like a memoir I was sure it had to be true.

Book Buzz: Enchanted Islands

Much to my satisfaction, I found out at the end (spoiler alert) that it was based on a true story of a gutsy woman who led quite a remarkable life.

Enchanted Islands

Women born a century ago were largely expected to live a pre-scripted life: marry, become a homemaker, have children. Frances Frankowksi, born in the late 1880s to Polish Jewish immigrants who settled in Minnesota, forged a different path that would be considered daring even in modern times, let alone the early 1900s.

Frances spent her childhood sharing a small apartment with her parents and siblings. She envied her best friend Rosalie, who seemed to have it all: beauty, an effervescent personality, a richer lifestyle, and parents who approved of education. Frances’ parents insisted she quit school to help pay the family’s expenses.

One day, Frances was shocked to learn about a dark secret in Rosalie’s family, the family she had thought was so perfect. With Rosalie wanting to escape, and Frances willing to accompany her, the two girls decided to run away to the big city of Chicago.

They found jobs to sustain a meager lifestyle. Rid of the strictures that had bound them, they enjoyed the independence and city life, until the time that Frances was shocked to find that Rosalie committed an unforgivable betrayal. Frances fled Chicago, and the girls lost touch for many years.

Rosalie’s life ultimately took an expected turn: she became a housewife and mother. Frances got a job working as a secretary for the Office of Naval Intelligence that she kept for many years. As the country was on the brink of World War II, she was offered an unusual top secret assignment: marry American undercover agent Ainslie Conway and move to the Galapagos Islands to investigate the Germans living there.

Frances, unattached and childless, and bored with the humdrum life she had been living, accepted the assignment. She would marry a man she didn’t know and move with him to the remote Galapágos Islands. She had no idea how unconventional this marriage would turn out to be.

Talk about roughing it! The island was undeveloped and barely habitable. In preparation for living in those conditions, Frances and Ainslie had been trained how to hunt, grow their own vegetables, construct a house, and rely on their wits to overcome enormous challenges. Alone except for several other island residents, life was a very solitary existence. They stayed on the island two years. This is when Frances began writing her memoir, which now I can’t wait to read.

Enchanted Island has several themes: the vagaries of friendship, wartime adventure, marital secrets. Author Allison Amend describes the conditions on the island so vividly you feel like you are there, and I’m not sure how anyone could have toughed it out as they did.

For me, there is always an extra dose of satisfaction when I am reading a novel based on fact. What an interesting story this turned out to be — not at all what I expected.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Enchanted Islands. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Enchanted Islands from Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House, for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Handmaid’s Tale

Book Buzz: the Handmaid's Tale

If you’re like me, you have an ever-expanding list of books TBR (to be read). I do read a lot, but there are many classics heretofore unread, and Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, was one I regrettably had not gotten to.

Book Buzz: the Handmaid's Tale

The buzz is already out about the Hulu version coming out next week, starring Elisabeth Moss in the leading role. The reviews are glowing. Critics are wowed by the script, the performances and the stunning visual effects. I can’t wait to watch, but I really wanted to read the book first.

Only one problem. I’ve got at least half a dozen review books in my queue. Also, it’s a busy time right now, with holidays and birthdays and family obligations. My reading time is limited.

But thanks to Audible, and these lovely April days, my problem was solved. I’ve listened to the audiobook version during my daily walks and I’m all caught up. Narrated by Claire Danes, it is a riveting novel, especially relevant now.

Have you read The Handmaid’s Tale?

It is quite a stunning piece of work, as most readers of Margaret Atwood’s feminist novel will agree.

It is the year 2195. The Handmaid’s Tale recounts “the new normal” in the Republic of Gilead, the totalitarian state that exists in what was formerly the USA. A fundamentalist Christian faction has assumed power and stripped women of their rights. In response to a precipitous drop in birth rates, the new government imprisons women who are determined to still be fertile and forces them to work as handmaids, AKA breeding surrogates. Their freedom and their access to the outside is taken away. Their names are changed; their identities are erased.

Offred, the protagonist, once had a husband, a child, and a normal life. When the drumbeats got louder, she and her family tried to cross the border into safety, but she was captured. She clings to hope that she will be reunited with them someday, but her memories of life “before” are slipping away.

With themes of gender oppression, authoritarian leadership and religious politics, some might draw parallels to our current political reality. Read this excerpt and tell me it isn’t chilling:

“I was asleep before. That’s how we let it happen,” Offred said. “When they blamed terrorists and suspended the Constitution, we didn’t wake up then either. They said it would be temporary. Nothing changes instantaneously. In a gradually heating bathtub, you’d be boiled to death before you knew it.”

Will these themes hit too close for comfort? For me, yes. Part of the shock is learning about Offred’s life before the regime came into power. It was so normal, so mundane, just like our lives. And then it’s not. That’s all I will say about that.

Audible always delivers, and as an added benefit, there are extra goodies in this recording. I enjoyed hearing the exclusive content written by Margaret Atwood at the end because it deepened my understanding of the book. The novel extends beyond the original final line, “Are there any questions?,” by adding the questions and answers that the people at that Symposium, occurring in 2195, might ask.

Do you use Audible? You can try it out for a month by going to Audible’s free trial site and have access to hundreds of titles.

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Book Buzz: The New Old Me

A woman of a certain age myself, I have often wondered, is it possible to start over at a point when you’re looking at the prime of your life through the rearview mirror? As the subtitle of Meredith Maran’s kick-ass and winsome new memoir, The New Old Me, indicates, yes you can.

Book Buzz: The New Old Me

Let’s hear it for feisty 60-somethings who pivot out of their comfort zone and find out there can be sweetness from the lemons life has thrown at you. You’ll pardon the cliches.

The New Old Me

Maran’s life had already gone through several iterations before she hit a road block that seemed insurmountable. Her loving marriage splintered and fell apart.  Her best friend died. And on a practical level, what would be her means of support now that her freelance writing gigs had shriveled into nothing?

Quite a heavy load for anyone, let alone a 60 year-old. But this 60 year-old was a life force to be reckoned with.

She applied for a regular day job as a copywriter in Los Angeles and got it, meaning a move from her memory-filled Oakland home, where she had raised two sons and lived with her now-estranged wife. Now, her roots were being uprooted. She would leave all the familiar behind.

You can imagine the culture shock in La La Land. In her new start-up, a clothing company staffed by stylish and whip-thin 20 and 30 year-olds, she felt like a dinosaur. I am the age of these women’s grandmothers, she observed. One of the shocks was the company’s Workout Wednesdays, the one day of the week when everyone came to work in their Lululemon outfits and had their fat measured in front of their colleagues. For a woman who as a home-based freelancer hadn’t worn a bra or pants without an elastic waistband in forever, this was an adjustment.

Maran is a woman who craves friendship and adventure.  She made connections through networking with acquaintances and began to build back her rolodex of friends who were up for a cup of coffee or a hike in the mountains. Bit by bit, she made a new and wonderful life.

I love this woman. She is lusty, funny, and gutsy. She redefines what it means to be an older woman whose expectations for love, friendship and meaning are not diminished by setbacks. How do we live fully, live deeply, when the ballgame of our life is in the eighth inning? That’s what you will learn from The New Old Me, a home run of a memoir.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The New Old Me. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of The New Old Me from Penguin Random House for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: A Million Ordinary Days

Book Buzz: A Million Ordinary Days

On the very first page of A Million Ordinary Days, Judy Mollen Walters’ latest novel, I realized that the protagonist, Allison Wheeler, has a physical disability.

Here is the sentence:

Allison Wheeler felt the buzz in her foot the moment before her alarm sounded, waking her out of her best dreams ever.

 

Book Buzz: A Million Ordinary Days

A Million Ordinary Days

This is how I knew Allison had Multiple Sclerosis.

I have become acquainted with MS, not because I have it, but because one of my very dearest friends does. My friend Cathy was diagnosed with 30 years ago after an experience with numbness in her foot. She was walking on the sidewalk of New York City and actually stepped out of her shoe without being aware of it.

Allison has the same issue with her foot, along with other symptoms that are on the spectrum of MS. Like Cathy, some days Allison feels ok, and others, it is hard to get out of bed. Some days she feels like her body is betraying her and is frustrated over her inability to control it.

But also like Cathy, Allison is fiercely independent and refuses to let a disability disable her. She has a job she loves, two daughters she cares for, and an unwillingness to surrender to this disease that threatens to take away her quality of life.

In Allison’s familial orbit, there is her ex-husband, who is still involved and supportive, a teenage daughter applying to college, and an older daughter living many miles away. Each family member is concerned about Allison but at the same time wrapped up in his or her own life.

At work, Allison is a passionate social worker helping unwed pregnant teens. She is devoted to her clients, perhaps even more attentive to them than to her own daughters.  As her condition worsens, she struggles to cope with the limitations that are impacting her performance on the job. At first, she is in denial, refusing to acknowledge the progression of her disease. But the setbacks that used to resolve quickly are now lingering, forcing her to deal with her prognosis.

Walters paints a realistic portrait of the impact of having a chronic illness, and the ripples it causes within a family. Her characters are believable, people you swear you have met in real life.

I enjoyed reading A Million Ordinary Days. I liked seeing the evolution of each character and their relationship to one another. I also like the cover image which conveys a subtle melancholy about the content. But this is not a depressing book at all. Rather, it is a story of perseverance and hope.

For anyone with MS or any disability, it will resonate strongly.

 

I received a copy of A Million Ordinary Days for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write. 

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Women’s History Month: The Rules Do Not Apply

Women’s History Month is resonating strongly with me this year. Not since the 60s have women’s collective voices been so clear and purposeful, as evidenced by the Women’s March and beyond. The political climate seems to have opened a channel, empowering women to candidly share their deepest emotions, their challenges, their fears.

Listening to Ariel Levy’s actual voice narrating her new memoir, The Rules Do Not Apply, I felt that this was one of those times when the audiobook surpassed the written version of a woman’s poignant, wrenching story.

Women's History Month: The Rules Do Not Apply

The Rules Do Not Apply

In her brave but vulnerable whiskey-husky voice, Levy opens with this:

“In the last few months, I have lost my son, my spouse, and my house. Every morning I wake up and for a few seconds I’m disoriented, confused as to why I feel grief seeping into my body, and then I remember what has become of my life.”

Suffused with shock and grief, she obsessed over the choices she had made over the course of her life. Before the tragedy, she had always laughed in the face of convention, finding her own interpretations of sexuality, work, love, marriage. Loss had never figured into her life plan. But then, does it ever?

Levy began her career doing scut work at New York Magazine and landed the plum job of staff writer at The New Yorker in 2008. Her beat was often the offbeat: traveling to rural South Africa to track down Caster Semenya, a female Olympic runner whose gender had been under pubic scrutiny; reporting on a gang of lesbian separatists named Lamar Van Dyke. As she wrote in “Thanksgiving in Mongolia,” the New Yorker essay for which she received the 2014 National Magazine Award for Essays and Criticism,

I’ve spent the past twenty years putting myself in foreign surroundings as frequently as possible. There is nothing I love more than traveling to a place where I know nobody, and where everything will be a surprise, and then writing about it. The first time I went to Africa for a story, I was so excited that I barely slept during the entire two-week trip. Everything was new: the taste of springbok meat, the pink haze over Cape Town, the noise and chaos of the corrugated-tin alleyways in Khayelitsha township. I could still feel spikes of adrenaline when I was back at my desk in New York, typing, while my spouse cooked a chicken in the kitchen.

In fact, it was in Mongolia, on a reporting assignment (and the topic of this essay) that Levy lost her baby. A nagging pain in her abdomen became stronger, and then excruciating. Her baby was born in the bathroom of her hotel room and died minutes later.

Later, her doctor told her the miscarriage had been caused by placental abruption, a rare problem that usually arises from high blood pressure or heavy cocaine use. Or because of the pregnant mother’s advanced age. Levy was 38. It could have happened anywhere, her doctor assured her. Traveling was not the factor. Nonetheless, Levy was wracked with guilt.

Her mother came to stay with her for a while. When Levy asked her, what will become of me, her mother answered, you will be fine. Other times she said, you are not alone. During Women’s History Month let us celebrate the voices of women who can share the universal emotions of grief and loss and survival that let others know that we are not alone.

The Rules Do Not Apply is painful, honest, revealing, and intimate. Levy is unforgiving of herself, but you will want to hug the person behind the voice.

See for yourself. Try out Audible with a free month of accessing a vast list of selections.

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible.
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I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

I Paid it Forward With Hamantaschen

I Paid it Forward With HamantaschenAlthough the word hamantaschen comes from two German words, mohn (poppy seed) and taschen (pockets), poppy is just one of the flavorful fillings modern bakers like to use in these delicious Jewish cookies.

This was part of the explanation I prepared as I set out to deliver home baked hamantaschen to mostly non-Jewish members of my suburban community. By the quizzical looks on their faces as I proffered the assortment of pastries, many had no clue what they were, who I was, and why I was standing in front of them with a gift. It wasn’t Christmas, after all.

At the prompting of best-selling cookbook author Marcy Goldman on her Better Baking Facebook page, I decided to share the sweetness of homemade hamantaschen with the helpers in my community, to thank the people who deserve our appreciation and don’t always get it.

Would they be hamataschen-receptive?

As I backed out of the driveway, I suddenly felt a prick of concern. In this age of terrorism, would the giftees view me with suspicion? Even if I appeared to be simply a flustered woman in flour-speckled jeans, you never know these days. Were cookies part of an evil plot, to poison innocent citizens just doing their jobs?

“We bake these on Purim,” I recited out loud in the car, “the Jewish holiday that celebrates Queen Esther’s bravery in saving our people.” I glanced in the rearview mirror, plucked a piece of dough from my hair and practiced a disarming smile.

In return for my gift of sweetness, I would ask them just one question.

The Library

I had butterflies as I began my spiel, but the librarian smiled warmly. She assured me  the cookies would be devoured within the hour.

“Can you tell me about something sweet in your life?” I asked her.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

She thought for a moment. “My dog, Ellington.”

The Veterinarian

“Hamanta … what?” asked one of the assistants. Was I mumbling, or was it the cacophony of barks and meows that interfered? I spelled the word for her and she wrote it down. The other assistant asked what the fillings were. “Triple Chocolate. Poppy. Cherry. Blueberry.” I mentally counted on my fingers.

“Ooh, yum,” she said.

“And the sweetness in your lives?” I asked.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My 14 year-old son,” said one. “My dog, Blue,” said the other.

The Hospital

Back in the car, I drove a mile to the hospital and parked in front of radiology, where I get my annual mammogram.

“Oh no, don’t take my picture,” demurred a nurse, holding her hands up in front of her face. “I didn’t wear makeup today.”

A male nurse peered around the corner and said, “Hey, for cookies you can take my picture.”

“What is one sweet thing in your world?” I asked.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My cats, Fortune and Mason,” he said.

The Police Station

Fourth stop, the township blues.

Amid the hustle and bustle of a hectic weekday afternoon, two police officers readily agreed to be photographed as they held the plate.

“Could you tell me about a sweet …” I began.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“Wait, this is …hamantaschen?!” exclaimed the one on the right as she peeked under the wrapping. “My favorite!”

The Fire Station

The vast garage was filled with shiny fire engines and uniforms hanging neatly on hooks. I called out but no one responded. Around the corner I found a window with an office on the other side. Two firemen were sitting at desks. I didn’t want to startle them, so I rapped softly and held up the goodies so they could see I was not a threat. One of the fire fighters came out to greet me.

“Now, don’t these look good,” he said, accepting the plate from me. “Awfully nice of you. Is this a project or something?”

“It’s just my own way of giving back and saying thank you for what you do,” I answered.

He bowed slightly.

“In return,” I said, “please tell me what is sweet in your life.”

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

He paused, then said, “My job. I was a volunteer for 10 years and I’ve been full-time for five. I’m lucky to have a job I love.”

The Synagogue

I love Purim at my synagogue. Purim is kind of like Halloween, with funny costumes and parades. Both kids and grownups dress up, and this year the Megillah (the reading of the Purim story) was performed with a Motown theme, and it was hilarious. Hebrew prayers were sung to the tune of golden oldies and the rabbi in costume as Stevie Wonder was a sight to see.

This is Jill, our temple administrator who does a million different tasks every day to keep the congregation running. She doesn’t always dress this way, incidentally.

“Jill,” I asked her as I handed her a tray of hamataschen, “what is sweet in your life?”

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

“My son, my new daughter-in-law, and my dog,” she said.

The Congressman

Take a look at this photo. See the guy in the greenish-grayish sweater, center stage?

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

That’s U.S. Senator Bob Casey, whom I had the pleasure of meeting at a fundraiser at the home of good friends. Before I left my house I made two plates of hamantaschen, one for the hosts and the other for the Senator.

“I’d like to give Senator Casey these cookies since it is the Jewish festival of Purim,” I whispered to an aide. “Can you help me?”

I knew what I wanted to say. I would tell him that we celebrate Purim because of the bravery of a beautiful and kind woman, Queen Esther, who in today’s parlance would be known as a nasty woman. Because she persisted by convincing the clueless king of a murderous plot, the Jewish people survived.

“No problem,” she whispered back. “Stand by the door and you can catch him on his way out.”

The event came to a conclusion. The Senator was making his way to the front, shaking hands and letting guests take photos. He detoured into the kitchen. I waited by the front door. People were walking past me as they left. Where was he? I walked into the kitchen. No Senator.

“He snuck out the back door. He had to get to his town meeting,” apologized the aide.

My message of sweetness was tabled.

The Bookstore

I am so happy that an independent book store has opened in my community. Yesterday i attended a book launch for my friend Cathy, whose latest excellent book is “Who Moved My Teeth?” Cathy is smart, funny, and a great friend. She also loves my hamantaschen. It’s kind of an inside joke with us.

Her eyes danced when I handed her the tin.

“They’re for me! she announced to the crowd, squirreling them away in a back room before the party began.

“Cath, what’s something sweet in your life?”

I Paid it Forward in Hamantaschen

“My mom is pretty sweet,” she answered.

I approached the owner of the store, Ellen. “I love your shop and I hope it succeeds,” I told her. “Every community needs a bookstore. I can’t wait to come back.”

I didn’t have to ask my question. For Ellen, the sweetest thing must be books.

I Paid it Forward with Hamantaschen

I love baking hamantaschen for my family. Sharing them with those who deserved sweetness but didn’t expect it was in some ways even better.

Based on my small sampling and admittedly unscientific method, I concluded that random acts of kindness are more meaningful than we might think. Paying it forward really does work, especially when it’s a bit out of your comfort zone. We have the capacity to make a difference, one hamantaschen at a time.

In the end, it’s family, it’s home, it’s relationships that sweeten our lives. That will never change.

It’s not rocket science. It’s hamantaschen.

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Book Buzz: The Dressmaker’s Dowry

Book Buzz: The Dressmaker's Dowry

As a first-time novelist writing historical fiction, I have a newfound appreciation for writers who excel at that genre. It is no mean feat to capture the time period authentically in every way: with dialogue, clothing, scenery, etc. I can tell you that Meredith Jaeger does that quite successfully in The Dressmaker’s Dowry, her debut novel about two women separated by 140 years.

Book Buzz: The Dressmaker's Dowry

The Dressmaker’s Dowry

Set in San Francisco and alternating in time between the present day and in the mid-1800s, The Dressmaker’s Dowry features modern day Sarah, a writer fascinated with an unsolved mystery and Hannelore, an immigrant dressmaker who disappeared from the gritty San Francisco streets.

The setting for Hannelore’s story is rich with sensory detail: the acrid stench in the gutters, the clatter of horse carriages careening down the rutted streets, the foreboding sense of danger around every corner.

Hannelore and her friend Margaret are seamstresses in an exclusive dress shop that services the wealthy matrons of the city. They both have younger siblings whom they struggle to provide for. Their home lives are dark and perilous, and they lean on each other for comfort.

One day a man from a privileged family enters the shop and strikes up a conversation with Hannelore, and her life takes an unexpected turn. But the very next morning Margaret has gone missing, sparking fear and a frenzied search. And later, Hannelore disappears as well.

Sarah’s story takes place in her beautiful Marina apartment overlooking the Golden Gate Bridge. Coming from a modest background and married into a socially prominent San Francisco family, Sara withholds a secret from her past that she feels could destroy her marriage. She is struggling to complete a novel and then discovers a headline from 1876: Missing Dressmakers Believed to Be Murdered. Instantly intrigued, she puts the novel aside and puts on her journalist’s hat, determined to tell the story of these two women from generations ago. She becomes engrossed in the mystery and temporarily puts her insecurities on hold.

In the process of her investigation, she stumbles upon a shocking fact: she and Hannelore may be linked in ways she could have never expected. What is the connection, and will Hannelore’s disappearance ever be solved?

This is a riveting story, full of suspense and drama. As a fan of historical fiction, I love all the research that went into The Dressmaker’s Dowry, especially about the lives of the immigrants who came to San Francisco in search for a better life and endured so much hardship. The photos at the end of the book are a nice touch as well, giving the reader a visual bonus to the satisfying conclusion of the story.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Dressmaker’s Dowry. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be chosen randomly. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Dressmaker’s Dowry from William Morrow for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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See You at the Movies

See You at the Movies

I’ll see you at the movies.

If you’re a film buff of a certain age, you might recognize that quote from the late Roger Ebert, sorely missed, especially this time of year when movie awards season is underway. Ebert and his colleague/antagonist, the late Gene Siskel, hosted a weekly show reviewing the latest releases. I enjoyed watching their interplay, sometimes funny, sometimes heated, always passionate.

I love movies. Fortunately, so does my husband, so this Sunday night we will get comfy in bed with a bowl of popcorn and settle in for an entertaining event.

And the nominations are …

These days, of course, everything is readily available on the internet, but back in the day, I would be poised with my paper and pen when the announcement was made at 8:40 am on Good Morning America, followed by Gene Shalit giving his impressions of the picks. I loved hearing his take on the surprises and the snubs. RIP, Gene.

Why was I in a frenzy to scribble down the selections? Well, I had to call my husband to let him know RIGHT AWAY which movies we absolutely had to see before the awards ceremony. We both like to see all the nominated best picture films so we can be fully invested.

Alas, this year we have not seen every nominated film, one of them being Hidden Figures. I’m sad that we won’t see it before Sunday, but I did the next best thing and listened to the New York Times best-selling book on Audible.

See You at the Movies

Audible is a cinch to use. I have the app on my iPhone and enjoy browsing the titles and downloading audiobooks to listen to in the house, my car, or when I travel.

The award goes to …

Wow. If you haven’t seen the movie, let me fill you in (and I don’t think this will spoil it). Hidden Figures is a true story about female mathematicians at NASA whose calculations helped fuel some of America’s greatest achievements in space.

Mind you, this took place in the 1940s, before information was accessible by googling it. These women, known as “human computers,” used pencils, slide rules, and adding machines to calculate the numbers that would launch rockets and astronauts into space.

Among the group of mathematically gifted women, numbering in the hundreds, were three African-American women whose contributions to the space effort have flown under the radar, so to speak, until now.

During World War II, there was a shortage of qualified talent in the aeronautics industry, then in its infancy. Anyone with the “right stuff” was encouraged to apply for positions in the fast-paced Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia.

Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughan, and Mary Jackson were math teachers in the South’s segregated public schools.They answered the call and found themselves in the fast-paced Langley Memorial Aeronautical Laboratory in Virginia.This was in the industry’s infancy: before John Glenn orbited the earth, before Neil Armstrong walked on the moon.

Unbelievable now, but at that time they were required to be segregated from their white counterparts, and the author delves into the impact of this shameful part of our country’s history. Langley’s all-black West Computing group did have the “right stuff” and their contributions helped America achieve a decisive victory over the Soviet Union in the Cold War.

These women were trail blazers and incredible role models. Listening to the enormous challenges they faced, and the courage and dignity they displayed in dealing with them, makes this book inspirational as well as educational.

Now I am ready, as Siskel and Ebert used to say, to sit back and enjoy the show.

See you at the movies.

Would you like to try Audible? Click here for your 30-day free trial during which you can download any books you like.

 

This is a sponsored conversation written by me on behalf of Audible.
The opinions and text are all mine.

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