Conjuring Casanova, by Melissa Rea

Casanova_The-Ladies-Man_HD_768x432-16x9

Giacomo Casanova, by Anton Raphael Mengs

Casanova, the ultimate ladies’ man; the legendary lover; author; lawyer; convict (forgery, witchcraft, unlawful gambling). The dreamboat-come-true of Melissa Rea’s feminist heroine-about-town in Conjuring Casanova. In my humble opinion, you’d never know why from the portrait above but Dr. Elizabeth Hillman, 21st Century Chicago Emergency Room doctor, has a thing for Casanova and without even trying, poof, there he is.

fairy dustHow I Met Melissa

A couple of years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Melissa Rea at a writing conference.
She told our small group of her Casanova idea, and ultimately, Melissa met an agent, the agent met a publisher and VOILA! the project we talked of came to life. Much like Casanova himself does in Conjuring Casanova. Melissa invited me outside and threw a handful of sparkly glitter in the air, telling me it was fairy dust for good luck. Elizabeth Hillman’s version of fairy dust brought her dreamboat to life. But both Elizabeth and her creator make me believe in magic!

Melissa Rea was kind enough to sit down with daeandwrite to answer a few questions that will make your enjoyment of Conjuring Casanova greater and add some depth for your book club’s discussion. Before I get to those, however, let me advise: this novel is hot like Casanova and not for any shrinking violets or nervous readers. There’s sex in it and by that I mean, graphic descriptions. How could it be anything less when the world’s most legendary lover is involved?

Sound like your kind of book? Read on.

Q&A With the Author

Melissa

Author Melissa Rea

Q: So how did you come up with the idea for Conjuring Casanova? What is Giacomo to Melissa?

A: I was writing a saucy little three book series, which may never be read by anyone, but it takes place in the 18th century. As saucy stories go, I needed to know something about women’s underwear in the time. Like all lazy researchers I Googled, “Women’s underwear in the 18th century”  The answer was, “nowhere are the details of everyday life in the eighteenth century better detailed than in the memoir of Giacomo Casanova.” I ordered the first of 12 volumes and was hooked. It was so outrageously unapologetically honest. He detailed all his success and his hideous failures with equal zest. He blamed no one for his bad luck and always took complete responsibility for his actions. The thing that made me smile was the loving delicacy with which he described his lady loves. He truly believed women worthy of his life’s pursuit and believed himself in love with nearly every one. In this misogynistic age, that was a wonder to this jaded modern gal.

Histoire de Ma Vie is 3700 pages and it took me several times to completely understand the translation of 18th century French written by an Italian. As I re-read, I began to feel like I was sharing the adventures of an old friend, albeit a rather naughty one. Through his writing I  learned about the French lottery, Baroque music, the king of Poland, Italian poetry, Voltaire, Canon Law, the King of France, European geography, 18th century medicine and a wealth of other subjects. How could you not love a man that called women’s body parts, beauties and charms?
I sat one day visiting with my friend through his words and the idea struck me, “What would Casanova think of modern women? More importantly, what would they think of Venice’s most famous libertine? Et voila, Conjuring Casanova was born.

 

Q: Did you have a playlist that you listened to while writing? For a book club, what listening selections would you suggest? (Barry White?)

A: When I write I can’t listen to anything with words. I sort of enjoyed listening to music of Casanova’s time as I conjured him. I love Vivaldi and Telemann. If you notice, all the chapter titles are pop songs from many genres of music. Each song was one I thought of as I wrote the chapters. (daeandwrite note: see below)

Q: FOOD! Let’s talk food. The food in Conjuring Casanova made me hungry every other page. Was food a big part of Casanova’s memoirs? Did you take any of the food from his memoirs specifically? Have you visited Venice? What food/menu/recipes can you share?

A: Casanova said in his memoir, that he was both an epicure and a glutton and often detailed his meals. The thing I found most surprising was the Italian Ices served for dessert, without benefit of refrigeration. He rarely cooked but was very capable especially when it furthered a seduction. I am a breakfast fan and his eggs cooked in butter with ham, is one of my favorites. The restaurants described in Conjuring Casanova were ones I visited when in Venice doing research. They had both been in operation in some form, according to the waiter, for at least 400 years so Casanova could have eaten there. The spider crab salad Lizzy ate cost 40 Euros but well worth it. My very favorite recipe in the world is Julia Childs Boeuf Bourguignon. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zA2ys8C-lNk . This how Casanova leaned to cook it in the book. I have rarely been able to pull it off, but of course, his was perfect.

MENU

I like Melissa’s idea of Julia Child’s beef bourguignon. But, my menu is the one straight from Conjuring Casanova that I haven’t been able to stop thinking of since I read it: crab-stuffed filet mignon, baked potato and creamed asparagus. The novel notes the filet is covered in a delicious sauce, I would use a béarnaise.

Crab Stuffing: Saute one small celery, two green onions in olive oil for one minute then add two crushed garlic cloves, cooking carefully so that the garlic doesn’t brown or burn until the onions are soft. Add 1 cup crabmeat, two tablespoons parsley and 1/2 teaspoon lemon pepper.

Butterfly your filets and add the stuffing, tying the filets closed with kitchen twine. Cook steaks in a hot pan 2 minutes each side to brown, Place steaks in oven proof dish and cook in a pre-heated oven of 180 degrees Celsius for 15-20 minutes depending on how thick they are for a nice pink centre.

Bearnaise sauce: don’t tell anyone, but I use the mix.

MUSIC

I like Melissa’s music suggestions and I would play some Vivaldi, but I would also download Giuseppe Verdi’s I Due Foscari, an opera set in Venice.

The song titles from Conjuring Casanova:

Jaded

Lady Blue

A Little Help from My Friends

Wherever I May Roam

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Stranger in a Strange Land

Sympathy for the Devil

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Beautiful Loserconjuring

Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

Love the One You’re With

Should I Stay or Should I Go

The Night Chicago Died

The Unforgiven

Homeward Bound

Just the Way You Are

Coming Home

The Letter

Life Is A Highway

Happy Reading!

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Bernadette Peters Hates Me, by Keith Stewart

FB Cover Bernadette Peters Hates Me (2)

Anybody can be funny once, right? Tell a joke at just the right time, hit a line with perfect comic timing, unintentionally craft the perfect sentence. Well, Keith Stewart is not just anybody.

How I Met Keith

I had the pleasure of meeting Keith at the Appalachian Writers Conference last summer and he is the kind of guy who just immediately makes you smile. I knew no one; Keith immediately introduced me to a few people and checked in on me a couple more times to make sure I was doing well. So when I found out his book, Bernadette Peters Hates Me, True Tales of a Delusional Man, was set for a book-signing and release party at the Morris Book Shop, I put the date down in red on my calendar and I’m so glad I did.

Bernadette Peters Hates Me is a book of short, comic essays that frankly, has just about the best cover art I’ve ever seen (Dwayne Booth) and causes me to laugh out loud every time I pick it up, no matter how many times I’ve read the essay. I’m in the midst of some gritty work for my everyday job as of this minute, so Keith’s book is providing me some essential medicine.

Hot Yoga

During the signing of Bernadette Peters Hates Me, Keith read from an essay called Hot Yoga or How to Self Administer Your Own Stroke. Little did the poor man know I would nearly fall out of my chair laughing in recognition, having been subjected to the same two-week torture by my best friend as a birthday present.

Once there [at the Bikram yoga studio], though, what I discovered was far from a glorified new way to lose weight. What I discovered was the Devil himself has decided to tap into the multi-million dollar fitness industry with his own special workout.. . .After changing, I confidently opened the door to the studio. What hit me next was a wall of heat that can only be explained by preheating your oven to five hundred degrees and sticking your head inside it. . . . I tried to keep up with the different stances and not be self-conscious of how I looked doing them. This became much easier to do as the 105-degree heat and the bright, fluorescent lights and the annoying teacher’s voice all kept smashing into me. My last conscious sight was  (my friend) Jeff on his back with his leg in a position that looked like he had been mangled in a car wreck of a skiing accident. He mouthed to me, “I’m sorry. We shouldn’t have come.”

hot yogaThen, what I call Bikram Tourette’s Syndrome took over my body. I think it was my body’s only way of getting through this trauma. I started occasionally yelling out random curse words as I tried to twist and contort my body in ways just not possible.

I’m laughing too much to type the rest. Bernadette Peters Hates Me spares no one, least of all the author, in its quest for a great chuckle. Just what I needed today!

Return to Sender

I particularly enjoyed the essay titled, Return to Sender – The Letter File. Here, Keith shares with us a smattering of the letters he wished he’d sent: offering his services to Rutgers University’s graduation; to the gentleman sitting in front of Keith at a Judds Concert; to the winner of the “Worst Blind Date Ever” award. And Talk Derby to Me is irresistible on this Preakness Saturday.

09-23-10-bizarro

Bizarro

Lasix is a common drug used in the racing industry. It prevents a horse’s lungs from hemorrhaging blood due to the stress of exercise. . . . [I]t is marked in the racing program with a (L) beside the horse’s name for full disclosure.

I had no knowledge of any of this. The only Lasik I had heard of was the out-patient surgery that miraculously corrected one’s vision.

I started noticing almost every horse in the race had an (L) beside its name. “Wow,” all these horses have had Lasik? I had no idea horses were that near-sighted,” I announced to my friends. Everyone stared at me. Not noticing, I started wondering out loud, “Has anyone seen a near-sighted horse who was not lucky enough to have the Lasik procedure? Has anyone seen a horse with horse-sized sports goggles strapped on so it could see? Do they manufacture horse contact lenses, and how in the world would you put them in the horse’s eyes?”

MENU

Keith Stewart provided his suggestions for a book club menu, and a recipe!

Some favorite food for book club that would go with the book: a combo of classy and redneck, just like me! Perhaps thinly sliced pickled bologna served on saltines, along with sausage stuffed mushrooms. The mushrooms are really simple, but delish:

Ingredients: 35 large fresh mushrooms 1/2 pound bulk pork sausage 1/2 – 1 cup shredded part-skim mozzarella cheese 1/4 cup seasoned bread crumbs

Directions: 1. Remove stems from mushrooms and finely chop; set caps aside. 2. In a large skillet, cook sausage and mushrooms over medium heat until meat is no longer pink; drain. Remove from the heat. 3. Stir in cheese and bread crumbs. 4. Fill each mushroom cap with about 1 tablespoon of filling. 5. Place on foil-lined baking sheets. Bake at 400° for 16-20 minutes or until mushrooms are tender. Yield: 35 appetizers.

Sounds great to me.

MUSIC

So this will be a huge shock: Bernadette Peters! Keith Stewart was kind enough to offer his favorite Bernadette song list:

Rose’s Turn, Everything’s Coming Up Roses, Tell Me On a Sunday, Unexpected Song, and

Bernadette

Bernadette Peters in Annie Get Your Gun by Al Hirschfeld

Children Will Listen. My favorite song that I thought Bernadette sang, but it was Madeline Khan instead: I’m Tired, from Blazing Saddles.

But I offer a few more. Many of Keith’s essays allude to songs.

Luck Be A Lady Tonight, Frank Sinatra

Great Balls of Fire, Jerry Lee Lewis

Return to Sender, Elvis Presley

The Future’s So Bright, Timbuk3

Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I’m Yours, Stevie Wonder

Seasons in the Sun, Terry Jacks

Born to be Blue, The Judds

Happy Reading! (Now, back to my work . . .thank you Keith for the giggle break!)

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Mother’s Day Books

mothers dayHappy Mother’s Day! It’s a bit late, but you’ve been out with your mom or your children all day anyway, right? But if you’re still feeling the glow of a wonderful day, and want to extend it by reading a novel or two about mothers, I’ve got your list.

Room by Emma Donoghue. 2015 Oscar winning mother. An intimate, thrilling, painfully true book about the bond between a mother and child. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2013/05/10/room-reality-v-fiction/

Consequences by Penelope Lively. Booker Prize-winning novelist Lively gives the reader a historical tour de force of mothers and daughters and the consequences of their relationships. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/05/09/mothers-and-daughters-three-generations-of-consequences/

funny_retro_mothers_day_card_postcard-p239122295226815681z8iat_400-1.jpg

 

 

 

The Lake House by Kate Morton. What happens to a mother and a marriage when a child goes missing? A wonderful, atmospheric, historical novel. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/01/17/family-secrets-the-lake-house-by-kate-morton/

Reunion by Hannah Pittard. Family fallout after the death of their father. Kentucky author Hannah Pittard’s widely-acclaimed novel. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/we-are-family-reunion-by-hannah-pittard/

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng. Complex, interesting characters, an intricate plot told in reverse, a racially mixed marriage. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/10/17/we-are-family-reunion-by-hannah-pittard/

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Stunning, futuristic (I hope), misanthropic, and heart-breaking. Read it just the same.

Books sort of about mothers/more about family: retro_mothers_day_greeting_card-rdfc07e9db80c422098a3b6b38c07e695_xvuat_8byvr_324

Pride & Prejudice by Jane Austen. What would P&P be without Mrs. Bennett? https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/11/23/thankful-for-pride-prejudice-by-jane-austen/

The Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. Another mother-of-the year candidate who inspires her children to untold heights of sibling rivalry. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/the-nest-by-cynthia-daprix-sweeney/

Fates & Furies by Lauren Groff. The seldom-seen hand of the mother who rocks the hip, swinging, NYC apartment from seclusion in Florida. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/01/07/fates-furies-by-lauren-groff-2/

Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi. Mirror Mirror on the Wall. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/03/31/mirror-mirror-boy-snow-bird-by-helen-oyeyemi/

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. A Kennedyesque family with a secret, or two. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2015/08/10/kennedyesque-we-were-liars-by-e-lockhart/

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. A truly unique mothering experience. https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/10/03/monkeying-around-we-are-all-completely-beside-ourselves-by-karen-joy-fowler/ 

Happy Mother’s Day & Happy Reading!

 

 

The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

the nestThe Nest has buzz. An excellent review by the New York Times. A huge advance payment to a first-time author from a publisher. It does not, however, have any characters I liked or could root for in his/her quest to attain a share of The Nest (egg).

faberge eggSummary

The Plumb siblings, (Leo, Jack, Bea and Melody) have been waiting. Waiting for years.
Counting their egg well before it hatched on Melody’s fortieth
birthday. Ignoring the concerns, counseling, and skepticism of friends, family, and lovers in a mutual, bull-headed reliance on the largesse that is to come. Frankly, none of them deserve their father’s well-planned beneficence.

It’s Leo, the eldest, who puts the nest into jeopardy with his incredibly selfish and stupid drug-addled behavior. The Plumb matriarch (widowed, remarried and the apparent source of her children’s disagreeable personalities) uses the nest rather than her own funds to solve Leo’s problems. Leo promises Jack (selfish, narcissistic, insecure), Bea (bland, depressed, colorless), and Melody (overbearing, self-pitying, stalker) he will repay the money. And ignoring all family and non-family history of big brother’s behavior, the siblings believe him.

New York Times Review

The New York Times review included the following passage:

28BOOKSWEENEY-superJumbo

Photo of the author by Lisa Whitman for the New York Times

Ms. Sweeney takes her story to Grand Central Terminal, and to the sequence she has said gave her the idea for “The Nest” in the first place. What if a group of siblings were forced to meet for lunch at the Oyster Bar, but each one of them required a fortifying belt at another place before the actual family meeting? It could tell readers a lot about the family in general and the characters as individuals, too.

It’s a handy trick, just right for the Nancy Meyers movie that “The Nest” could easily become. Ecco reportedly paid a disproportionately big advance for this book. But consider what Ms. Meyers or a similar director could do with four adorably mixed-up siblings and their romantic woes, crazy run-ins and rich-person problems. So what if the book isn’t very funny? Neither are those movies, and that hasn’t stopped them.  http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/28/books/review-in-the-nest-a-family-pot-to-split-sets-sibling-relations-to-a-slow-boil.html?_r=0

I couldn’t disagree more. Nancy Meyers wouldn’t touch this with a ten-foot pole. There’s not much humor, no one to like or root for, and frankly, The Nest isn’t funny. At all. I’m not sure it it’s even supposed to be. To me, it read like a strident warning — not just about the family dynamics of inheritance but of the people we can become in our attempts to control others.

From the Book

He was tired of gossip. God, was he tired of gossip. By the time he sold it, SpeakEasyMedia had fully morphed into the very thing Leo most loathed. It had become a pathetic parody of itself, not any more admirable or honest or transparent than the many publications and people they ruthlessly ridiculed—twenty-two to thirty-four times a day to be exact, that was the number the accountants had come up with, how many daily posts they needed on each of their fourteen sites to generate enough clickthroughs to keep the advertisers happy. An absurd amount, a number that meant they had to give prominence to the mundane, shine a spotlight of mockery on the unlucky and often undeserving—publishing stories that were immediately forgotten except by the poor sods who’d been fed to the ever-hungry machine that was SpeakEasyMedia. “The cockroaches of the Internet,” one national magazine had dubbed them, illustrating the article with a cartoon drawing of Leo as King Roach. He was tired of being King Roach. The numbers the larger media company dangled seemed huge to Leo who was also, at that particular moment, besotted with his new publicist, Victoria Gross, who had come from money and was accustomed to money and looked around the room of Leo’s tiny apartment the first time she visited as if she’d just stepped into a homeless shelter.

My book club really liked the book. And I have to say I did take a lot from reading it. It was well-written, quick-witted, and I certainly learned a few lessons from it. Who not to be.

MENU

There’s an Italian, spring-themed dinner planned that is the denouement:

“Walker had lined the table with platters of bread and cheese, tiny ceramic bowls of olives. He’d scattered lemons and twigs of rosemary down the center.”

In addition, Walker served:

Champagne

Lemonade

Chicken scaloppini

Limoncello for dessert

Coconut cake

MUSIC

This is a stream-of-consciousness list inspired by my reading – some are mentioned in the text.

Just the Way You Look Tonight, Harry Connick, Jr.

Heartbreaker, Pat Benatar

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, Leo Sayer

Jumpin Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones

I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor

All By Myself, Eric Carmen

Unchained Melody, The Righteous Brothers

Paperback Writer, The Beatles

MOVIE CASTING

Leo — Ben Affleck

Jack — Robert Downey, Jr.

Bea — Laura Linney

Melody — Laura Dern

Stephanie –Amy Adams

Walter — John C. Reilly

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