Category Archives: Books

Book Buzz: Bettyville

Can a story about elder care be told with equal parts love, humor and pathos? And can you really go home again?

Yes and yes. Case in point: “Bettyville,” a tender memoir by George Hodgman, about moving back to his hometown of Paris, Missouri to care for his ailing 91 year-old mother.

Bettyville: A Memoir

Hodgman, who worked as an editor at Vanity Fair and several publishing houses, moved back home from Manhattan when his mother’s health had declined to the point of needing full-time assistance. On the waiting list at a local assisted care facility, she was ultimately rejected. Instead of returning to New York, Hodgman moved in and became Betty’s caretaker.

Bettyville

Mother and son found themselves at a crossroads — he lost his job, and she lost her independence– and became room mates, finding that life isn’t always easy for two willful people used to getting their own way.

Hodgman chronicles the joys and stresses of  this new chapter in his life. With affection and respect, he candidly describes Betty’s struggles while championing her resilience: her insistence on writing words down to remember them, of keeping her weekly bridge game and playing piano once a month at church. The mother-son banter provides a context for their complicated relationship of butting heads, percolating with silent resentment, then reconnecting.

With a sharp eye to detail and his self-deprecating wit, Hodgman recounts growing up in a household filled with both love and tacit disapproval, of living with secrets and unexpressed emotions that would haunt him throughout his life, of an adulthood as a work-obsessed editor wrestling with self-doubt and periods of drug addiction, of living in New York City when the AIDS crisis first took hold, of seeing many friends get sick and die.

For Hodgman, who is gay, the geographic transition is exacerbated by the culture shock of moving from New York City to an area without an active gay presence, and moreover, a slice of American pie that no longer exists. To his dismay, the once thriving town of Mom and Pop stores has been a victim of the Walmartization (my word) of America.

However, he appreciates what is still good and nurturing about a community that, though dwindling, still rallies around him and his mother, providing the support and occasional casserole so deeply appreciated.

Honest about his own mixed feelings, Hodgman’s adoration for Betty never wavers. How true this relationship rings to me, the good and bad, the ups and downs, the spectrum of emotions he pinpoints so acutely.

Ultimately, he discovers that patience, love and acceptance are what really matter. And we are a product of our parents, for better or worse. As he says,

 “We have sometimes struggled with words, but I am Betty’s boy. There are so many things I will carry when I leave Bettyville with my old suitcase.”

I think Betty would like that.

 

I am so happy to be able to give a copy of ‘Bettyville” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment and a winner will be chosen randomly. USA addresses only, please.

I received a copy of “Bettyville” from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I do.

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Book Buzz: Small Mercies

I’ve written before about my lifelong love affair with New York City.

New York City, the Big Apple, the city that never fails to delight and entrance  me, is just a train ride away and I visit as often as I can. Which is never often enough.

So what is the next best thing if I need a bite of The Big Apple from afar? I dive into a book that will sweep me into a New York state of mind.

Many writers have captured the essence of New York City in all its iterations. Off the top of my head, I can name Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe, Ragtime by E.L. Doctorow, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith, The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath, and three of my favorites: Call it Sleep by Henry Roth, The Alienist by Caleb Carr and Time and Again by Jack Finney.

Make room for one more.

Small Mercies

The writer’s name is Eddie Joyce, and you may not have heard of him. Yet.

But with Small Mercies, his genius debut novel, I have no doubt that his name will be added to the list of New York writers who, well, get New York.

Small Mercies

It is the story of a working class Italian Irish family, the Amendolas from Staten Island. The fifth and “forgotten borough” of New York.

This “everyfamily” – fierce, flawed, and loving – lost one of their own in the 9/11 attacks. Now, nine years later, they prepare for a family birthday party and over the course of one week we watch them, each one still struggling in the aftermath of that tragedy in a different way.

The nuclear Amendola family consists of Gail, is a retired teacher, Michael, her husband and former firefighter, and two adult sons. There are also in-laws, grandchildren, neighbors, childhood friends, each character orbiting through the spheres of Gail and Michael.

We hurt for this family. Just as the rest of the world felt after 9/11, we who witnessed this tragedy are part of the universal grief.

I found this story to be gripping and real and, most importantly, passes my litmus test for authentic dialogue. You know these people. You have seen them at high school basketball games, at a neighborhood bar downing a few beers, in church, at potlucks.`

Joyce tells it like it was, and a few phrases jumped out at me. For starters, isn’t this one of the best opening lines in a novel ever?

“Gail wakes with a pierced heart, same as every day.”

And I love, love, love this :

“Across the street, one of their new neighbors, Dmitri, runs out from the old Grasso house to his car  … They have two young kids, a boy and a girl, with dirty-blond hair and the pinched faces of the frequently disciplined.”

And this, describing marital sex:

“They’d gone through the bumping frenzy of early love, the safe experimentations of settled monogamy, the clinical coitus of attempted procreation, the semi-abstinence of two pregnancies, the sleep-deprived sparsity of two infancies, the temporary revitalization afforded by procedural infertility.”

Joyce has a flair with language, and the gift of storytelling. Small Mercies will stay with me as a poignant, heart-wrenching story of loss, but also a lesson in how you go on.

Eddie Joyce, I have this to say to you: wow.

I am delighted to give away a free copy of Small Mercies to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be chosen randomly. USA addresses only, please.

I received  a free copy of Small Mercies from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Shadows Over Paradise

When a book draws me in with a compelling plot, well-drawn, believable characters, a page-turning pace AND I learn something new about a time in history, well, for me that’s a definite win-win.

Shadows Over Paradise

Such was the case with “Shadows Over Paradise” by Isabel Wolff, the story of two women with deeply buried secrets who meet unpredictably, and come to discover a common bond.

Shadows Over Paradise

The women couldn’t be more different on the outside, but lurking in their backgrounds are demons that have haunted both of them all their lives.

Jenni, a woman in her 30s, is a ghost writer by trade. Why ghostwriting? She likes being under the radar. As she says, “I’m happy to be … invisible.” At a friend’s wedding she chats with a guest who, fascinated by her livelihood, mentions that his elderly mother, Klara, is looking for someone to help her write her memoir.

Klara lives on a farm in a coastal town called Polwarth in Cornwall, England, a place that Jenni had been on holiday with her family many years earlier but never returned. It was during that holiday that Jenni’s younger brother died in an accident for which she feels responsible.

This guilt has impacted many aspects of her life, including her reluctance to commit to relationships and her refusal to have children of her own because she believes she is incapable of caring for them.

With trepidation, she returns to this seaside town for 10 days to interview Klara and to also take a breather from her boyfriend. Their inability to agree on having children has put a strain on the relationship and they need distance to think about it.

She and Klara find that they work well together, and they like each other. Klara feels that she can open up to Jenni, and Jenni sees similarities in Klara’s life to hers.

Like Jenni, Klara’s childhood was ripped from her after she and her family, originally from Holland, moved to a Dutch colony in Java in the early 1940s for her father’s business. What started out as a lovely life of privilege and comfort turned to horror when the island became occupied by the Japanese during World War II.

Klara, her mother and brother were interred in a Japanese prison camp and endured two years of suffering.  The atrocities and deprivation were similar to what was occurring in concentration camps in Europe.

I’ve read much about the concentration camps in Europe. But I had not been aware of what happened in Java. Wolff brings this to life through the eyes of Klara, recounting her story to Jenni.

Wolff’s meticulous research brings this sad event to life, both before the occupation, during and after. The reader feels the family’s initial dismissal of the impending danger … then the fear as their homes and possessions are seized … and the panic as they become prisoners.

However, “Shadows Over Paradise” is ultimately a story of survival and healing as Jenni and Klara come to terms with the ghosts in their past.

This is a book I will definitely recommend to my friends. I am also able to give one of my lucky readers a copy of “Shadows Over Paradise.” Please leave a comment below and a winner will be selected randomly.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of “Shadows Over Paradise” from Random House for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I do.

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Book Buzz: West of Sunset

When I was in college, my family rented a house at the Jersey shore for the month of July. The house was stocked with the normal guest provisions: beach chairs, towels, suntan lotion. There was also an admirable collection of books lined up on the bookshelves in the living room.

Not your typical beach reads, however; they were mostly classics I hadn’t read, and I dug into them them as eagerly as did my toes in the sand.

I was particularly drawn to the works of F. Scott Fitzgerald, “Tender is the Night” and “The Great Gatsby.” My curiosity was piqued about Fitzgerald’s marriage to the daring, charismatic Zelda. Back home, I went to the library and found this biography that answered my questions about this golden couple and the unraveling of their marriage.

West of Sunset

This all came back to me as I read Stewart O’Nan’s new novel, “West of Sunset,” a fictional account of the final years of Fitzgerald’s life.

west of sunset

At age 37, Fitzgerald’s literary heyday was over. His stories were no loner being accepted at the best magazines. He was plagued by alcoholism. His wife was in a mental institution.

On the brink of personal and professional ruin, he moved to Hollywood and accepted a thankless job as a scriptwriter at MGM. He died at the age of 44.

The stunning heartbreak of F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald came back to me as I read this haunting novel. O’Nan skillfully recreates an era long gone, when celebrities led glamorous lives of parties and affairs, whose often troubled lives were obscured from the adoring public, when smokescreens easily masked harsh realities.

The sensory imagery is so precise in this book. I could hear the tinkle of ice cubes in a glass rimmed with red lipstick, the sultry laughter of a glamor girl on the arm of a handsome man, the splash in the swimming pool, the rings of cigarette smoke lingering in the air.

O’Nan weaves the glitterati into this story — sassy Dorothy Parker; Humphrey Bogart and his wife, Mayo Methot; Robert Benchley – as well as Hollywood columnist Sheilah Graham, with whom Fitzgerald has a torrid affair. The dialogue rings true with all.

Fitzgerald asks Bogie where he should take Sheilah on a date.

“You want to make yourself look good,” Bogie said, “take her to the Clover Club. It’s pricey, but the food’s swell and the band’s smooth …”

“West of Sunset” transported me to 1930s Hollywood as seamlessly as if I were watching an old black and white movie.

The publisher has provided this excellent readers guide which includes an intro, a Q&A with the author, discussion questions, and an interactive map of Fitzgerald’s 1930s Hollywood.

Poignant and tragic, “West of Sunset” has given me a deeper appreciation of this brilliant writer who died not knowing of his legacy as one of the greatest writers of all time.

Now that is sad.

On a happier note, one of my lucky readers will receive a copy of West of Sunset by leaving a comment. USA addresses only, please. A random winner will be selected.

I received a copy of West of Sunset from Viking/Penguin for an honest review. No compensation was received.

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Go Away, I’m Reading

Try to interest me in a New Year’s challenge and I will probably back away slowly.

It’s a Pavlovian response. When I hear New Year’s and challenge in the same phrase, my eyes get glassy, my palms clammy. I might start to itch.

Such is my aversion to New Year’s challenges. To be more specific, the ones that involve losing weight, getting fit, or becoming enlightened.

I admit, in days of yore I signed on for New Year’s challenges with gusto. I can change my life, I exulted (in the privacy of my own home). I can be thinner, trimmer, happier, wiser, a better mother/wife/writer/friend/dog parent. I can do this!

I couldn’t.

Well-intentioned I may have been, but out of touch with reality. My reality. I don’t do challenges well. Suffice it to say that my good intentions evaporated as quickly as January snow on a 40 degree day.

I eventually gave up on challenges. January is just another month. I probably won’t lose weight and since I haven’t gone to the gym in over a year, fitness will not be my friend. And my word for 2015 is blintzes.

So there.

But I happened to notice Popsugar’s 2015 Ultimate Reading Challenge a few days ago and was intrigued. A reading challenge? Hey, I can do that. And when I was satisfied that neither food deprivation nor excessive sweating was involved, I jumped in. That’s the kind of cardio I can do.

A reading challenge? Well, hello.

I have no affiliation with Popsugar, I am not being compensated by Popsugar and, let’s be honest,  Popsugar hasn’t a clue that I exist, which is a long-winded way of saying that I am sharing this strictly for fun with no strings attached.

The premise is that in 2015 you will read 50 books of various types. Books that you may have planned on reading anyway, and others way off your radar.  A book written by an author who has your initials. A book written in the year you were born. A book with a one-word title. And so on.

Here’s the actual checklist if you want to print it or pin it.

Go Away, I'm Reading

Book nerd that I am, I put out a call on Facebook to enlist friends to join me, and now I’m in a small but active group of bookies. We will read books, recommend books, review books and talk about books: the book nerds’ equivalent of a spa retreat.

I began with the first one on the list: a book with over 500 pages. That was easy. I had wanted to read “All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr and it qualified with a page count of 530.

Just let me say … well, I almost can’t. I’m speechless. OMG. What a book. A National Book Award finalist, it is about the lives of a young German soldier and a blind French girl in World War II-ravaged Europe. The writing is exquisite. As Booklist said in its review, “a novel to live in, learn from, and feel bereft over when the last page is turned.”

Yes, that.

Go Away, I'm Readimg

The only consolation is that now I have a new favorite author whose previous novels I have added to my TBR list.

I am seldom without a book in hand (hence the name of my blog) so you might argue that a reading challenge is not much of a challenge. But what I like about this one is reaching out of your comfort zone for a different kind of book. By the end of 2015 I will have read a graphic novel, a novel 100 years old, a trilogy, and so much more that will be new to me.

Incidentally, if this challenge strikes your fancy and you crave an online group as I did, go on over to Goodreads and see what other readers have to say.

I’ll share a secret with you. I started Weight Watchers three weeks ago. And I’m tracking my cardio every day. So I’m not giving up entirely on personal improvement. I’m doing what I have to do.

And saving the rest of the time for reading.

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Book Buzz: The Dress Shop of Dreams

Christmas lights are still twinkling in my neighborhood as I’m sure they are in yours. Today, New Year’s Eve, the merriment of the holiday season is still upon us. And until next Monday when it is back to reality, we can enjoy what is left of this special time of year.

Understandably, the holidays are not merry for everyone. But if the whimsy of sugar plum fairy dust and the ho ho hos of jolly St. Nick can still cast a magical spell on you, I suggest that now is the time pick up a copy of the fanciful new book from Menna van Praag, “The Dress Shop of Dreams.”

The Dress Shop of Dreams

This romantic fairy tale, embellished with sparkly sequins and a ruffle of bewitching fun, whisks us into the lives of characters who are either falling in love, searching for love, or thwarted by it.

The Dress Shop of Dreams

The story takes place in Oxfordshire, England and is about a young woman named Cora Sparks, a serious and emotionless scientist intent on completing the scientific work begun by her parents 20 years earlier. Her parents never got to finish the work themselves; tragically, they died in a mysterious fire in their home from which Cora narrowly escaped. Cora’s grandmother, Etta, has been the parent figure in her life since then.

Etta is the owner of a charming little dress shop on a side street in Cambridge, in which mysteriously wonderful things seems to happen. Filled with colorful fabrics of delicate silks, ornate lace and rich velvets, the store bespeaks enchantment in these racks of dazzlingly beautiful dresses.

When a woman enters the shop and tries on one of these gossamer gowns, she is instantly transformed. She looks in the mirror and as if by magic, the imperfections are gone. She is delighted with her appearance. When Etta unobtrusively sews into the garment a few tiny stitches of her red thread, it is akin to waving a magic wand: the article of clothing will unleash the wearer’s most fervent desire.

This is what Etta intends to do for her beloved granddaughter, Cora.

At the time that Cora’s parents died, Etta had carefully put a spell on her granddaughter to protect her from the crushing sadness of losing them. By doing so, she also hampered the girl’s ability to experience emotions and feel love. Now that enough time has passed, Etta thinks, Cora is ready for romance. And she knows just who Cora’s intended should be: Cora’s childhood friend, Walt, who has been in love with her forever, unbeknownst to her.

When Etta removes the spell, Cora’s emotions are reawakened. At the same time, she experiences a surge of interest in the fire that took her parents’ lives. What was ruled an accident seems more like a murder, and she is determined to find out.

Doggedly pursuing a trail long left cold, Cora searches for answers about her past and ultimately finds what she needs to move on with her life.

Praag, author of The House at the End of Hope Street which I reviewed and enjoyed, pulls the threads of her characters’ lives together in this confection as sweet as a Christmas cookie, with a bit of mystery, a bit of romance and a bit of fun, with a nod to the magic of fashion that women of any age can appreciate.

And to start this New Year right, I am pleased to give one of my lucky readers a copy of “The Dress Shop of Dreams.” Please leave a comment (US addresses only, sorry) and a winner will be randomly selected.

Disclosure: I received a copy of “The Dress Shop of Dreams” from Random House for an honest review. No other compensation was received.

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Book Buzz: Eating Wildly

Nature and nurture intertwine enticingly in Eating Wildly: Foraging for Life, Love and the Perfect Meal, a bittersweet and sensory-rich memoir by urban forager Ava Chin.

Eating Wildly The former “Wild Edibles” columnist in The New York Times, Chin writes tenderly of her search for sustenance as she navigates life’s unpredictable paths.

Throughout much of her life, Chin struggled with feelings of abandonment. Her father, whom she didn’t meet until she was 26 years old, had left when her mother became pregnant with her. And her mother, a former “Miss Chinatown,” was beautiful but remote, focused more on her endless list of suitors than on her attention-starved daughter.

Chin was often lonely and frightened. Had it not been for her doting grandparents, with whom she spent a great deal of time, she may never have found the love and guidance she needed to thrive.

Her grandparents’ home was filled with comfort and good food. She credits her grandfather, a restaurant worker, with developing her palate for unusual and exotic foods. Her grandmother was everything Chin yearned for from her mother: loving, supportive, proud of her.

Nonetheless, Chin had to entertain herself much of the time. She found solace in scuttling about in the dirt outside her mother’s Queens apartment building, digging for treasures in the cracks between the concrete. As an adult, she discovered the pleasure of tromping through uncultivated open areas in New York’s five boroughs, searching for edible plants and weeds.

In this quest, she developed a deep appreciation of the bounty of nature and the beauty in the improbable. Her prose is embellished with reverence for all that grows.

Any book with recipes in it gets brownie points from me, and each chapter in Eating Wildly concludes with a recipe that Chin has created using foraged ingredients such as lambs quarters, mulberries and wild honey. They sound mouthwatering, even her variation on Grass Pie. Chin’s prize winning recipe for Wild Oyster Mushroom, Fig, and Goat Cheese Tart with Caramelized Onions is one that is definitely going to appear on my dinner table soon.

Chin realized through foraging that life’s timetable is not always something we can control. “I’ve learned that nature has a way of revealing things in its own time, providing discoveries along the way – from morel mushrooms bursting through the soil to a swarm of on-the-move bees scouting out a new home,” she writes.

eating wildly She rapturously describes plants that until now were unfamiliar to me. Wood sorrel, for instance. “It has folded, heart-shaped leaves, which flutter open and closed depending on the time of day, rather like slow-moving butterflies … taking a bite was a birth and lemony relief.”

And mulberries: “The ripest berry – a dark one hanging on a short stem that resembled a comma … resembling a cluster of deeply colored prunes, about the size of a cocoon.” Asiatic dayflower: “… with an edible blossom so transient that it could be a Buddhist lesson in impermanence.”

An Associate Professor of Creative Nonfiction and Journalism at City University of New York, Chin’s affinity for nature is perhaps only exceeded by her fluidity with language. Her beautiful words captivated me.

I was curious to see what the plants she referenced looked like, and she has posted lovely photos of them on The Plants (and Mushrooms) of Eating Wildly.

Visit Ava Chin’s website to learn more about her life or to order her book — a perfect gift, by the way. Or go to Amazon.

Eating WildlyI am anticipating the sequel to this memoir. And I am so taken with Chin’s story that I am putting urban foraging (with a guide) on my bucket list.

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Book Buzz: Murder on the Ile Sordou

Take a secluded island off the coast of Marseille, add in a cast of quirky characters, mix in a gorgeous lush setting and a shocking, unsolved murder, and voilà, you’ve got the ingredients for a tasty mystery.

Such is the whodunit, “Murder on the Ile Sordou,” by M. L. Longworth.

Imagine departing from this port to the island …

And if this looks breathtaking, imagine the stunning landscape and vista of an island just a short boat ride away.

Murder on the Ile Sordou

Gathered at the luxurious and recently renovated hotel on the island of Sordou, a group of vacationers settles in for a week of pampering and solitude. The protagonist, Antoine Verlaque, is a wealthy magistrate from Aix-en-Provence who wants to get away from it all with his paramour, law professor Marine Bonnet. To that end, he keeps his profession a secret from the other guests.

Murder on the Ile Sordou

The cast of characters includes a retired poet/schoolteacher, a middle-aged American tourist couple, a secretive housekeeper, an odd and reclusive former lighthouse watchman and skittish but anxious to please young waitress. Somewhat scandalous is the presence of an aging movie star who comes across as aloof and unpleasant, especially to his wife and her teenage son.

As the guests begin to interact we learn their back stories, and just as the group is beginning to bond there is an incident. A shot rings out and the next morning the body of one of the guests is discovered. Bad news for the guests, and bad news for hoteliers hoteliers Maxime and Cat-Cat Le Bon who have invested their life savings in this hotel.

So you’ve got all the ingredients of a thriller: a murder by an unknown assailant, a storm that picks up and knocks out the electricity, guests who are prohibited from leaving the island. Oh, by the way, there is no cell service on the Ile Sordou.

No spoilers here. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next.

What I loved most about this book is the island of Sordou itself. The descriptions of the glorious scenery, the rocky cliffs, the surging tides of the ocean, the view for miles put me in a definite south of France frame of mind. Also, mon dieu, the gourmet meals sounded amazing! Because the island did not rely on imported provisions, the talented chef concocted mouth-watering meals from locally caught fish and island grown fruits and vegetables, described in a way to tantalize any palette.

I wouldn’t call this a sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of novel; the tone is too languid for that. The ending isn’t so much “oh my God!’ as it is “ah, I see.” That said, the loose ends were wrapped up tidily and made for a satisfying conclusion. And I couldn’t have predicted it.

“Murder on the Ile Sordou” is the fourth in the Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal mystery series and now my appetite is whetted.

The author, M.L. Longworth, was recently profiled on NPR’s Crime in the City series (“Mystery Writer Weaves Intricate Puzzles in Sleepy French Town”). This gives a nice introduction to the author, the Verlaque and Bonnet series, and the lovely area of Aix-en-Provence.

I am delighted to offer a copy of Murder on the Ile Sordou to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below. Only U.S. addresses are eligible.

I received a copy of Murder on the Ile Sordou from Penguin for an honest review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

 

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Book Buzz: Humor on a Slice of Wry

You can’t help but smile when you hear the titles of humor writer Stacia Friedman’s books.

Anyone who can come up with “Tender is the Brisket” and “Nothing Toulouse” has already tickled my funny bone, and Friedman goes one step further: she is a gifted storyteller as well.

Who doesn’t want to laugh, especially in these trying days? I laughed out loud reading these books, and I think you will, too.

Tender is the Brisket

Meet the Sheraton family.

Actually, the first time you meet them is at patriarch Sol’s funeral. The surviving Sheratons are Sol’s widow, Dolly, and their three children: Ruth, a TV writer in her 40s, Naomi, a neurotic, slightly zaftig psychologist who writes self-help books (“The Highly Sensitive Person’s Guide to Highly Insensitive People”) and Larry, a cross-dresser.

Just your typical American family, with angst as thick as a bagel with a schmear.

Tender is the BrisketRuth is at a crossroads. Recovering from a disastrous marriage, she yearns to find love but in her quest continues to make bad choices. Plus, she is unemployed, as well as increasingly concerned about her mother’s health.  Dolly is sinking into dementia and requires continuous care. Ruth’s siblings are no help; in fact, they secretly siphon funds from Dolly’s account as they plot to abscond with the inheritance, hanging Ruth out to dry.

Naomi’s husband has moved out of their bedroom and is seen around town with other women. Their adopted daughter, Shoshanna, has dropped out of college and refuses to communicate with them.

Larry’s gender confusion is only part of the issue, as his obsession with money and an inheritance takes over his life.

With a family like this, all you can do is laugh. And you will.

A clever tale of life on New York’s Upper West Side, the book can best be described as both the nickname of one of Ruth’s love interests, Witty (Dewitt Clinton Hogworth), and tender (as in the title) in the way it gently explores parent-child relationships as they evolve over the years.

Nothing Toulouse

Subtitled “A Fedora Wolf Travel Mystery,” the book is (hopefully) the first of many escapades of the adventurous Ms. Wolf, a Philadelphia-based journalist with dreams of traveling the world and writing about it.

With an assignment to travel to the south of France to report on the annual Armagnac Festival, Fedora is excited to get away from troubles on the home front for an adventure in France. And when she meets the sexy French photographer assigned to accompany her on this assignment, things start looking even better.

Nothing ToulouseThings go swimmingly, at first. She explores the charming vineyards, samples the local cuisine and gets to know several of the aristocratic residents of this community. But suddenly, a murder occurs at her hotel, and her ability to nose out a mystery is put to the test.

As she tries to find the murderer while avoiding the gendarmes, the plot thickens and the suspense is heightened, but the humor continues unchecked.

Friedman’s understanding of French culture is as rapier-sharp as her familiarity with Jewish families on the Upper West Side. If there is any justice in the world, these books will become movies and give the rest of the world something to laugh about.

Stacia Friedman is an award-winning freelance journalist, humorist and author. Her essays have appeared in the New York Times, Philadelphia Inquirer and NewsWorks.org.

Humor writer Stacia Friedman

I am delighted to offer an e-reader version of one of the books to a reader. Please leave a comment below and a name will be selected randomly.

 

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Book Buzz: Sister Mother Husband Dog

I see the name Ephron, and poof! I’m happy.

Because I am pretty sure that no matter what it is — a book or play or essay or movie — I am going to be caught up in something humorous, heartfelt and genuine.

If you called me an Ephron groupie, you wouldn’t be far off the mark.

It’s true. I’m a devoted fan of all four talented Ephron sisters (Nora, Delia, Hallie and Amy) whose writing consistently makes me swoon.

Was I predisposed to fall in love with Delia Ephron’s new book of essays, “Sister Mother Husband Dog?” Perhaps.

But love it I did.

Sister Mother Husband Dog

Delia stole my heart years ago when I read her delightful essay in The New York Times magazine, “How to Eat Like a Child” which would later become a book. Every so often I would catch a piece of hers somewhere, like this in the Times last year: A Christmas Manners Quiz, which made me LOL, so I tweeted her to thank her.

Sister Mother Husband Dog

Sister Mother Husband Dog

You will laugh. You will cry. At least, I did.

Delia’s first essay is about the loss of her sister, Nora; the fragility of those last months, the heartbreak of watching a loved one suffer and then slip away, the confusion, the not knowing how to set life back on a normal course.

Nora and Delia were more than sisters; they were collaborators, working together on Sleepless in Seattle and You’ve Got Mail. And a terrific play that ran on Broadway, called Love, Loss and What I Wore, which I saw twice: first with five girlfriends, and then with my mother and two daughters.

The play was funny, warm, poignant.

This is how I would describe the essays in “Sister Mother Husband Dog.”

This is how I imagine Delia to be in real life.

She talks about the collaborations, the upsides and the downs, the adrenaline rush of success as well as the disappointments. She writes honestly about her loving but complex relationship with Nora.

Dogs and bakeries

She is a dog lover and so am I, so her ruminations about life with a dog made me smile. I am in awe of her vast knowledge of pastries present and past in more New York bakeries than you can imagine. She jokes about modern day banking and whether she is Jewish enough and how falling in love with a movie led to her first marriage, which turned out to be a bad idea.

But most eloquent is the essay entitled “Why I Can’t Write About My Mother,” her memory of a brilliant but difficult woman who couldn’t find a way to embrace her daughter, and whose life ended much too soon due to alcoholism, leaving a tragic legacy.

If heartstrings made a sound when they were pulled, mine would have been audible.

Like chatting with your girlfriends.

I love Delia’s writing style. It is much like a typical conversation, in which you start with one thought and happily veer off into something else because there is so much to talk about, but eventually get back on track. Or not.

When I turned the last page, I sat for a moment with the book on my lap, a tear in my eye, a smile on my face.

As it should be.

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I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of “Sister Mother Husband Dog” to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be selected randomly. Only USA addresses are eligible.

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I received a copy of “Sister Mother Husband Dog” from Penguin Random House for an honest review. No other compensation was received.

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