Category Archives: Books

For the Love of Basketball

Basketball is on my mind this week, due to a confluence of three things:

  • March Madness starts tomorrow and my house is abuzz. We are a basketball-crazy family and we can’t wait for the first tipoff. Note to self: fill out the bracket today.

love of basketball dunk shot

  • My daughter was home for a visit and took advantage of the above-freezing weather to shoot some hoops. I watched her, overcome with nostalgia for the days when I cheered her on from the bleachers. I still miss those days.

A Story of Courage

Enacted in 1972, Title IX is the federal law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in schools that receive federal funding — including in their athletics programs. By the time this law became mandated, Pat had endured years of frustration and isolation as a girl who just wanted to compete on the same level as boys, and was told she couldn’t.

But with the passage of Title IX, Pat was the first female to be awarded an athletic scholarship in Illinois, and went on to become the  first female player to score 1,000 points at Illinois State University. She is one of the first Women’s Professional Basketball League draftees and female inductees in the Hall of Fame at Illinois State.

Although Pat and I have not yet met face-to-face, I have come to know her well through her blog and the blogging group we both belong to. The story of her career has captivated me from the very start, but I have also admired Pat for her character, her devotion to family and friends, and her kindness.

As the granddaughter of Eureka College’s legendary Coach Mac, Ralph McKinzie, Pat grew up with basketball in her DNA. But it was through sheer will and advances in women’s rights that her dreams of competing were realized.

Her success on the collegiate level led to a spot in the fledgling Professional Women’s Basketball League where her desire to play was thwarted by both injury and injustice.

After a car accident ended her playing career in Europe at the age of 25, Pat turned to coaching and teaching and has inspired countless young women and men to never give up pursuing their dreams.

Pat’s story is one of persistence and courage, a story that transcends athletics and can be applied to any life challenge. Who should read this book? To quote her, “Anyone coaching an athlete. Anyone playing ball. Anyone loving a game. Anyone raising a daughter. Anyone chasing a dream.”

My daughter likes to to shoot hoops now and then. But had she aspired to more,  and had she possessed the talent, gender inequity in the sport would not have held her back.

love of basketball

Thank you, Pat, and your trailblazing team mates, for helping to set the course for generations of female athletes.

shoot a basket

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Book Buzz: Lydia’s Party and The Office of Mercy

I don’t love airplane travel — who does, anymore? — but I do enjoy having forced downtime that allows me to read for hours uninterrupted. Last week I had two absorbing books with me, “Lydia’s Party” and “The Office of Mercy,” that made the time go by very fast. Before I knew it, I turned the last page and was at my destination.

Lydia’s Party Lydia's Party

As a woman in midlife, I’m still learning, still growing, and making new friends, especially through social media. I have gotten to know people who share my interests and add a new dimension to my life.

At the same time, I cherish the friendships that began at a much earlier time in my life and remain strong. When we moved to our community many years go, I met other women who were navigating marriage and motherhood like I was. Our children are now grown, but our friendship remains.

And even further back on the timeline are my high school friends, with whom I get together a few times a year, despite the miles that separate us. It doesn’t seem to matter how much time has elapsed. We just continue from where we left off the last time.

Being with friends who knew you back in the day is just plain fabulous. And often therapeutic.

I think that is why the bittersweet “Lydia’s Room,” a story of friends in midlife who reunite every year, resonated with me so strongly. Lydia invites six longtime friends to her home for an annual dinner party. Purposely scheduled for the dead of winter when, goodness knows, we all need to come out of hibernation, this dinner is a much anticipated binge of eating, drinking, laughing and reminiscing.

Author Margaret Hawkins gives us a glimpse into the lives of each of the women as they get ready for the dinner. We learn about their marriages and relationships, job successes and failures, doubts and dreams. These are women whose trajectories may have changed, their ambitions sidelined or altered, and their transition to middle age fraught with a few bumps and bruises. Like my circle of friends, they talk about aging, regrouping, celebrating the happy times, acknowledging regret, and trying to maintain a sense of humor about it all.

This particular evening takes place in a snowstorm, which adds to the intimacy and sets the stage for a startling confession from Lydia. Beautifully and touchingly written, this is a book that all women of any age can relate to. If at all possible, read it when the snow is falling and the logs are crackling in the fireplace.

The Office of Mercythe office of mercy

I rarely read science fiction, but the industry buzz about “The Office of Mercy” was so enticing that I decided to take a chance on this book. And I’m glad I did.

Author Ariel Djankian paints a Utopian society known as America-Five in which citizens live forever, never experience pain or suffering, and are programmed to not feel empathy. This futuristic society came about suddenly after a global catastrophe that wiped out nearly every human on the planet.

But not quite everyone.

The America-Five citizens live and work in a high-tech universe called the Dome that is protected from the Outside. The protagonist, Natasha Wiley, works in the Office of Mercy, a government unit responsible for routine annihilation of the survivors, or Tribes, on the Outside. Taught to believe that murder is an act of compassion, Natasha nonetheless feels a twinge of discomfort that grows into fervent rebellion when she ventures Outside and comes to learn about the history of the Tribes.

This is a graphic and sometimes brutal thriller about what might happen when world over-population, food and water shortages and economic collapse spawn an apocalypse. It is a fast-paced page turner with some dramatic twists and turns that I did not expect. If you liked “The Hunger Games,” this book is for you. Like “The Hunger Games” and Orwell’s “1984,” this book portrays a chilling vision of the future that seems simultaneously remote but not far-fetched.

I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of each book to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and two recipients will be chosen at random.

Viking/Penguin provided me with a copy of each of these books for review. I was not compensated. These opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: The Longest Date

I’ve discovered my new best friend.

Not that she is aware of my affection. But I’ll state it right here and now: Cindy Chupack, I want to be your BFF.

It took just a few pages into her new book,  “The Longest Date: Life as a Wife,” to become enchanted with this immensely likeable woman and her story. Totally absorbed by the time I finished the Introduction, I settled in for what would be an afternoon of reading pleasure.

I didn’t get up until I finished reading it.

The Longest Date

In this memoir of her midlife dating escapades and two marriages, Cindy (since we’re on a first name basis, or so I’d like to think) opens the door to her world with a virtual hug and a cup of coffee.

I was immediately drawn to her because of her humor and warmth. Let me tell you, Cindy is funny. Not just funny ha ha, but funny clever and funny self-deprecating. Funny in a natural, unforced kind of way. Like she’s not trying to convince you. It’s just the way she is.

She writes conversationally about her first marriage that ended when her husband announced he was gay, her romance with and marriage to bad boy Ian, about gaining and losing weight and their St. Bernard dog and cooking four-ingredient meals and going to extremes to make a housekeeper happy.

I giggled reading the chapters “The First No No Noel” (about Jewish people celebrating Christmas) and “I Find My Husband Rappelling” (Ian’s adventure with a garden hose) and “Eggspecting” which you’re just going to have to read to learn more.

But it was her emotional recounting of their quest for parenthood that was spiked with such frankness and pain that I was moved to tears.

So who is Cindy Chupak and where has she been all my life? Turns out she won three Golden Globes and an Emmy for her work as a writer/executive producer on HBO’s Sex and the City. AND she has written for Modern Family, Everybody Loves Raymond AND she has had her own column in “O” Magazine.

I loved this book (can you tell?).  And so did 20th Century Fox TV, which has already signed on to create a comedy based on “The Longest Date,” with Cindy writing and executive producing along with executive producer and director Jake Kasdan.

I think you will love this book, too. I am delighted to give away a free copy to one of you. Leave a comment and I will make a random selection.

But forget about being BFFs with Cindy. She’s already taken.


Disclosure: I received a free copy of The Longest Date for review from Viking,  plus a book for one of my readers. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

When it comes to aging gracefully, the French have it all figured out.

I marvel at the way their innate sense of style carries them through the decades, the way they can throw together a pair of boots, a silk scarf and oversize sunglasses at any age, and voilà, they’re perfect.

I love their joie de vivre, the way they seem to seize all that life has to offer. I picture them running to the  Métro, meeting up with friends for a glass of wine, shopping with aplomb on les boulevards, rushing home with a baguette stuffed in their oversize bag.

The best? Their attitude toward aging.

A woman of a certain age is like a fine wine, becoming more delicious as the years go by. By midlife, French women get it. They are satisfied with who they are, comfortable in their own skin. The end.


That was always my impression.

Then I read “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles.”

And that myth was busted tout de suite. So with a soupçon of Schadenfreude, I am happy to report, having read this novel, that midlife angst is as alive and well in France as it is here.

Mon Dieu, midlife crisis is only the beginning. Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

There’s also infidelity. Adult sibling rivalry. Teens with raging hormones. Best-selling author Katherine Pancol introduces us to a lively cast of characters in a delightful romp through family dysfunction à la français.

And Pancol does not spare the men. They are muddling their way through legal entanglements, failed business ventures, first-time fatherhood at age 60, and unrequited love.

Set in Paris and its suburbs, as well as Kenya, the story revolves around middle-aged Joséphine Cortès, a 12th century scholar, whose life is crumbling due to a series of misfortunes. Her husband, Antoine, runs off with his mistress, financial problems mount, and her bitter mothers stops talking to her … and that’s just for starters.

Poor Joséphine is not your typical French woman. She is a bit frumpy, insecure, overwhelmed at times. In other words, totally believable.

As her anxiety about her dwindling finances grows, a solution presents itself through her wealthy socialite sister, Iris, who convinces Joséphine to write a novel using her expertise in 12th century history. With Iris’ connections in the publishing industry, she is certain she can get the book into the right hands. The proceeds will go to Joséphine and the credit to Iris. Reluctantly, Joséphine agrees.

Pancol’s sense of fun and affection for her characters leads us through the ups and downs of a family struggling to find its way. The book’s themes of love and loss, reinvention and redemption are universal.

A mega-best seller in France and around the world, “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” has been translated into English for the first time and is available now. The book was a fun read with such finely drawn characters that I kept thinking of them afterwards. I was happy to learn that this book is the first part of a trilogy and I look forward to finding out what happens next with this family.

I am delighted to be able to give a free copy of this book to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and I will make a random selection.

Happy New Year! Bonne année!

Disclosure: I was given a complimentary copy of “The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles” from Penguin Books for review as well as a copy for one of my readers. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: Imagining Helen Keller in Love


My empathy for the physically impaired has grown by leaps and bounds, no pun intended, due to a fractured bone in my foot that has put me on the DL for six weeks.

Just one unfortunate misstep was the cause of this tsuris. One small step for me, one giant leap for six weeks in a boot. As such, I am getting a sense of what it is like to live with restrictions. With dependence.

In this (luckily) temporary state of immobility, the timing was perfect to read “Helen in Love,” by Rosie Sultan, a book of historical fiction based on the true occurrence of a love affair Helen Keller had when she was a young woman.

Helen Keller in love

Helen Keller’s Remarkable Life

Now, of course Helen was not hampered physically. But because she was blind and deaf, she lived with a disability that cruelly shuttered her world for the first few years of her life, until Annie Sullivan entered the scene and brought light into Helen’s darkened world.

Helen, as you most likely know, not only learned to read and write, but excelled in her studies and graduated from Radcliffe College. Later, she wrote her autobiography and became one of the most admired women in the world and a symbol of hope for the disabled.

Helen did not let her disabilities get in the way of leading a full and rich life. She traveled widely, met heads of state, and became an outspoken social crusader.

Her personal life, however, was little known.

Did she ever fall in love? If so, she never wrote about it.

In fact, for a short time there was a man in her life. His name was Peter Fagan, and he was an unsuccessful newspaper reporter who was hired to be Helen’s secretary during a time when Annie Sullivan was ill with what was thought to be tuberculosis.

Helen Keller

Helen Keller (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Author Sultan is able to build a credible story of Helen’s sexual awakening based on this factual event.

A troubled love story.

Despite her family’s disapproval, Helen lets herself fall completely in love, blissfully in the throes of love and passion but racked with guilt about being deceitful. The story is told in the first person, and Sultan skillfully portrays Helen’s strong personality through her interactions with others. Sultan helped me imagine what it was liked being trapped in Helen’s closed world, feeling her joy, her disappointment, her frustrations. Being physically dependent on others.

It is a poignant story that presents a very human and vulnerable side of a remarkable woman.

I am delighted to be able to give a copy of “Helen in Love” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and I will select the winner randomly.

Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy of “Helen in Love” for review by Penguin Books. I was not compensated for the review. All opinions are my own.

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Book Buzz: Rediscovering Jack Kerouac

This is a sponsored post written by me. I was given this book by the Penguin Group for review.

In my formative years I spent a lot of time daydreaming when I should have been paying attention.

This exasperated more than one teacher. I just couldn’t focus when the material was boring. Perhaps I had ADD before it was invented. Whatever it was, at the first mention of a quadrilateral I became as obtuse as the angle chalked on the blackboard. It was as if my mental machinery ground to a sudden halt, everything shut down and the voice in my head boomed, “Quittin’ time!”

Sometimes I tried to sneak a peak at the book I was hiding on my lap. Or I would doodle intently while pretending to listen. Or I would gaze out the window, finding the cloud formations or rustling leaves so much more appealing.

School was boring and a waste of time, I thought as I inspected my split ends. What if …. what if … I decided to ditch this place and, just like my damaged hair ends, split?  I fantasized that I would just walk out of class,  jump in my car and zoom down the highway, destined for the open road. I would drive across the country and meet cool people and write about it. Just like Jack Kerouac did.

Jack Kerouac, as you probably know, was a novelist and poet and author, whose “On the Road” is arguably his best known work, his recounting of life spent on the road across America.  The brooding, restless romantic in me was enamored of this cross-country adventure.

But my knowledge of Kerouac himself began and ended with “On the Road.” Until now.

The Penguin Group provided me with a complimentary copy of “The Voice is All: The Lonely Victory of Jack Kerouac.” Written by Joyce Johnson, this is a detail-rich and absorbing examination of Kerouac’s life from early childhood to just before he began to write “On the Road.”  Johnson knows of what she speaks. Not only did she do her research; she had a two-year affair with Kerouac and remained Kerouac book coverfriends throughout the rest of his life.

What made this man a legend? Also, what made this boy a man? Johnson traces his trajectory from a difficult childhood in Lowell, Massachusetts to an abbreviated stay at Columbia where he met Allen Ginsberg and others who became the core of the Beat Generation to his stint in the Merchant Marines that led to his travels that became the essence of “On the Road.”

Because I am always intrigued about how writers find their voice, I was hugely interested to learn about Kerouac’s voracious reading as a child, his dogged devotion to process and craft, the writers who influenced him, his struggles with self-doubt and the many rejections that predated “On the Road.”

This book was just released in paperback and I am pleased to offer a copy to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and I will randomly choose a winner next week.

I confess that I did not abandon high school for an alternative lifestyle. Somehow I gutted it through Geometry and not once ever since have needed a quadrilateral.

One more thing. Kerouac failed Chemistry at Columbia. He thought it was boring.

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I am My Father’s Daughter

My dad’s high school English teacher wrote the following on his yearbook cover:

To Irv,

 You have a future in journalism!

Miss Ludwig

Miss Ludwig was an excellent judge of talent but her prediction proved to be wrong, for my dad set his sights elsewhere. Fresh out of college and recently married, he had all the markings of an entrepreneur: ambition, drive, passion and an intuitive business sense. Maybe a touch of chutzpah as well. He borrowed a few thousand dollars to launch a manufacturing company that would be the first of many successful ventures over a long career.

As his business grew, he experienced both the rewards and challenges of being a sole proprietor. Clearly there were times of stress and disappointment as well as intense satisfaction. There were demands made on him, contracts to settle, conflicts to deal with.

All I knew, as his daughter, was that my daddy was the funniest and kindest man in the world, and when he came home in time for dinner every night he was all about us, his family. I don’t remember him ever working in the evenings or on weekends.

He was a doting, affectionate, hands-on dad, always.

Dad liked to get in my playpem with me.

Dad and I in my playpen

 But back to journalism.

 So he didn’t become a professional journalist. His oeuvre is pretty much limited to the occasional letter he sent me at summer camp or a funny poem for one of my children. I have kept every one of them.

 Like any gifted writer, my dad is a voracious reader, and we share an affinity for the well-crafted story. As I grew older, he introduced me to the works of John Updike and John O’Hara, two terrific authors who hailed from our little corner of Pennsylvania, and a third John, John Irving, whose writing and character development we found remarkable.

My dad enjoys sharing articles that he knows I will like. Recently he cut a story out of The Wall Street Journal about a girl who loved horses (I always have). If there is a thought-provoking article in this week’s The New Yorker we will discuss it. An opinion piece by one his favorite columnists in The New York Times can inspire a conversation.

My dad and I appreciate the beauty in many forms of art, and literature is one we almost always agree about. We can marvel over a cleverly strung phrase with as much gusto as we admire a painter’s canvas or a sculptor’s carving.

 If I am my father’s daughter, it is because we can lose ourselves, and find ourselves, in great literature.

I love you, Dad. Happy Father’s Day.

Dad holding me on his lap and reading

We have always shared a love of reading.


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Without Borders

This was a tough week. I unhappily bid farewell to a friend who was always entertaining, full of light and had an uncanny knack of drawing me in. Naively, perhaps, I thought our relationship would last forever. So I am in denial that things are over.

RIP, Borders.

My sadness is tinged with a bit of indignation. What does this say about our culture that a well-respected, successful, forward-thinking corporation that sells BOOKS has sputtered out of steam? Was this a long time coming, or did I ignore the signs of malaise? Was the writing on the wall, as it were, when mom and pop bookshops collapsed one by one like stricken toy soldiers?  We mourned the end of that era but understood the economics. Rising coats, competition, we got it.

But not big, strong, iconic Borders??

With the announcement of the closure came a collective moan could be heard across the land. Well, in my office, anyway. Author Jennifer Weiner tweeted, “Very first reading for my very first book was at Borders on Walnut Street in Philadelphia. Sad to see them go.”

Does Borders’ demise sound the death knell for the few bookstores that remain? For the record, let me disclose that yes, I do order books online. Amazon is easy and efficient, and the free shipping is enticing. But it is simply not the same experience.

Will the next generation of readers, the multi-tasking, attention-challenged, sensation-hungry demographic that it is, ever while away a couple of hours on a Saturday afternoon at the neighborhood bookstore? Will our grandchildren yawn when we describe the art of browsing bookshelves with heads tilted 45 degrees, contentedly shuffling sideways as we perused new titles and old favorites? Will they roll their eyes when we wax rhapsodic about the joy of selecting a book and rifling through its pages?

You can’t take your kids to Amazon and let them roam free in the children’s section while you nose around the cookbook stacks and your husband gets absorbed listening to tracks of new releases in the music section. Same goes for story hour, author appearances and girl scouts cookie sales by the front door.

Borders was my go to store more than any other. I caught up friends over a cup of coffee. As an alumni admissions interviewer for my alma mater, I sat with prospective students in the comfy armchairs. If I needed to buy gifts, Borders afforded one stop shopping, with free gift wrap, no less. Best of all, though, was the idle time spent looking and savoring, and often discovering literary gems just by happenstance.

I can accept that popular reading devices, like the Kindle, are rapidly usurping the hard copy book. I can acknowledge that newspapers and magazines are shrinking, if not disappearing, and books are being eschewed as pre-millennial. Even our libraries are reducing their inventory in favor of the electronic variety. But not having Borders … well, that borders on crazy.

And  now let me get back to my book.

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