Fourth of July Reads

Betty BoopHappy Independence Day!

Got your three day weekend all ready for barbecues, fireworks, and festivities?

I never like to be without a good read for a few hours beside the pool so I thought I’d set you up with some barn-burners for your Fourth of July weekend.

11/22/63, by Stephen King. A little bit science fiction, a little bit history and no one does a rewrite of the Kennedy assassination better than Stephen King.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, by Betty Smith.A classic of American literature, the story of a young girl coming of age in Brooklyn at the turn of the Century, celebrating America as the melting pot of nations, the brass ring for a world of immigrants. Interestingly, A Tree Grows in Brooklyn became very popular during WWII when it was sent to American servicemen overseas in paperback.

Netherland, by Joseph O’Neill. Post 9-11, an immigrant to New York stumbles upon the vibrant New York subculture of cricket, where he revisits his lost childhood and, thanks to a friendship with a charismatic and charming Trinidadian begins to reconnect with his life and his adopted country.

To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee. If it’s not the “Great American Novel,” it’s close. If mockingbird originalyou haven’t read To Kill A Mockingbird, it’s time to read it. If you have read it, it’s always a good time to read it again and remember.

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trial ’72, by Hunter S. Thompson. A classic of political and gonzo journalism. A compilation of the articles Thompson wrote for Rolling Stone while covering the reelection campaign of Richard M. Nixon.

woodford braveWoodford Brave, by Marcia Thornton Jones. This young adult novel focuses on 11-year-old Corey who feels a responsibility to live up to his family’s legacy of “bravery” while his father is off serving in WWII. Woodford Brave is a deeply satisfying novel of summer and friendship, but also explores what it means to be a son, a friend, a neighbor—and truly brave.

The Global War on Morris, by Steve Israel. Israel is a U.S. Congressman and wrote this novel about a lonely slub, a secret government surveillance program, and baseball. Perfect political satire.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Another nominee for the “Great American novel.” A boy, a friend, and a river adventure.

GatsbyThe Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The most “American” of all American novels, The Great Gatsby is a struggle, a revelation, a love affair with all that America wants to be, tells itself it is, with success and failure.

The Martian, by Andy Weir. American ingenuity, plus some international help, saves astronaut stranded on Mars.

Happy Fourth of July and Happy Reading!


Before the Fall by Noah Hawley


Noah Hawley’s bestselling thriller Before the Fall throws just about everything but the kitchen sink at protagonist Scott Burroughs: a plane crash, a dark night stranded in icy Atlantic water, suspicion, gossip, a naked woman, demon rum, economic failure, aquatic sharks and paparazzi, their terra firma equivalent. Hawley, the show-runner for television’s Peabody-award winning Fargo, definitely puts Everyman Burroughs through his paces in Before the Fall, the novel the New York Times calls “one of the year’s best suspense novels, a mesmerizing, surprise-jammed mystery that works purely on its own, character-driven terms.”

The world of Before the Fall has more in common with JFK Jr. and Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy than Detective Molly Solverson. Before the Fall begins with the flight of a small, chartered air plane peopled by a wealthy television news executive, his wife and their two children; a couple friendly with them; two pilots and a flight attendant; and Burroughs, a sort of vagabond artist/painter of disasters, who arrives just in the nick of time to fly with them. Much to his later peril. Within a few pages (so I’m not giving anything away) the plane crashes and the remainder of Before the Fall deals with the aftermath of those who survived and those who are investigating to determine why.

art of swimming

Melchisedec Thevenot 1696


He surfaces, shouting. It is night. The sat water burns his eyes. Heat singes his lungs. There is no moon, just a diffusion of moonlight through the burly fog, wave caps churning midnight blue in front of him. Around him eerie orange flames lick the froth.

The water is on fire, he thinks, kicking away instinctively.

And then, after a moment of sock and disorientation:

The plane has crashed.

It’s a fascinating morality that takes hold of Burroughs and those who surround him: a television talk-show egomaniac, a wealthy art patron, a frustrated FBI agent, an unhappily married relative. The facts often get in the way of the characters’ opinions, all of which frustrate the most sympathetic character in the book, the poor slub from the NTSB who has to wade through all the propaganda and water-logged evidence field to try to find out what, or who, caused this calamity.

[W]hen the phone rang that night in late August, Gus did what he always did. He snapped to attention and put the engineer part of himself to work. But he also took the time to think about the victims — crew members and civilians, and worse: two small children with their whole lives ahead of them — and to reflect on the hardship and loss that would be endured by those they left behind.

First though, came the facts. A private jet — make? model? year built? service history? — had gone missing — departing airport? destination airport? last radio transmission? radar data? weather conditions? Other planes in the area had been contacted — any sightings? — as had other airports — has the flight been diverted or contacted another tower? But no one had seen or heard from the flight since the precise second that ATC at Teterboro lost track of it.

jack_lalanne_logoVia Gus Franklin, and beyond the NTSB examiner, in Before the Fall, Hawley separately reviews the past lives of each of the travelers on the plane, a game of Clue for the reader racing to find out what actually happened, and along the way, tossing fascinating tidbits historical tidbits about Jack Lalane, opinions about the current New York art scene and media, ruminations celebrity, fame, infamy, and booze. When written this way, the ending needs to be worth the race through the prose and I was slightly underwhelmed.

My prediction: your book club is going to want to read Before the Fall. It’s buzzy, quick, interesting even if the “twist” at the end isn’t quite as twisty as you might want.


Scott meets Maggie Bateman at the Farmers’ Market on Martha’s Vineyard. He goes there each weekend to have pastries and buy his vegetables. After that, Scott takes a recreational ocean swim and then cooks his dog some spaghetti and meatballs.

My menu would include some pastry, maybe a large cheese danish I could cut and serve as a dessert.

Farmers’ Market Green Beans

String and snap beans and cover with water to clean. Rinse the water around, then dump it and add more water to cover beans. Bring to a boil. Once boiling, add salt and pepper to taste and about 1.5 tablespoons olive oil. Simmer for one hour. After about an hour, add one-quarter of a large Vidalia onion, chopped, and several baby potatoes and cook until the potatoes are well-done and fall apart.

Spaghetti and Meatballs — I’ll substitute ground turkey

Serve with red wine and good bread.

MUSICbefore the fall

The Ocean, Led Zeppelin

Catch a Wave, The Beach Boys

Einstein on the Beach, The Counting Crows

Blue Ocean Floor, Justin Timberlake

How Deep is the Ocean, Ella Fitzgerald

Ocean, The Cure

The Ocean, U2

Ocean Deep, Cliff Richard

Moonlight Swim, Elvis Presley

Movie Cast: Noah Hawley is the Show Runner for Fargo. My pick is first, a Fargo alternative is second, below.

Scott Burroughs – Aaron Eckhardt/Patrick Wilson

David Bateman – George Clooney/Bob Odenkirk

Maggie Bateman — Margot Robbie/Rachel Keller

Gil Baruch — Russell Crowe/Brad Garrett

Ben Kipling — Seth Rogan/Oliver Platt

Sarah Kipling — Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Alison Tohlman

James Melody — Jon Hamm/Billy Bob Thornton

Emma Lightner — Julianne Hough/Cristin Milioti

Charlie Busch — James Marsden/Colin Hanks

Gus Franklin — Robert Downey, Jr./Ted Danson

Happy Reading!




SweetBitter by Stephanie Danler


Stephanie Danler’s restaurant bildungsroman SweetBitter hit at exactly the right time to garner big buzz (Vogue, Vanity Fair, The Paris Review!) and accolades from the in-the-know literati. SweetBitter, the cautionary tale of a star-struck dreamer who comes to New York City to live her dream by — working as a back server in a fancy restaurant. Yes. Really. Tess, our protagonist, doesn’t want to be an actor or a singer or America’s next top model. She doesn’t really know what she wants to be. Just “SOMETHING” and “IN NEW YORK.” So, she sets out to interview for a busboy position at Famous NY Restaurant in Union Square, the best in the city, and after she’s hired, learns how to flirt with the bad boy, reject the good boy, drink till dawn, do drugs, be a pawn in someone else’s game of chess, get taken advantage of, take advantage of, and brown nose the important guests, among other things.

According to author Gabrielle Hamilton, owner of Prune Restaurant in New York, who reviewed SweetBitter for the New York Times “This is the dead-on collective mind matter of the current youth of our tribe. Restaurant is and always will be a young person’s game, but the busboys these days have more in common with the class they serve than ever before.”


“Picking up,” I said, harder, hands outstretched, ready.

It was all one motion. The roasted half duck had been in the window for going on five minutes while it waited for the risotto, the plate baking. At first, as with all burns, I felt nothing. I reacted in anticipation. When the plate shattered and the duck thudded clumsily on the mats, I cried out, pulling my hand to my chest, caving.

Chef looked at me. He had never really seen me before.

“Are you kidding me?” he asked. Quiet. All the line cooks, butchers, prep guys, pastry girls watched me.

“I burned myself.” I held out my palm, already streaked with red, as proof.

“Are you fucking kidding me?” Louder. A rumbling, then quiet. Even the tickets stopped printing. “Where do you come from? What kind of bullshit TGI Fridays waitresses are they bringing in now? You think that’s a burn? Do you want me to call your mommy?”

“The plates are too hot,” I said. And then I couldn’t take it back.

I stared at his feet, at the mess on the floor. I bent over to pick up the beautifully burnished duck. I thought he might hit me. I flinched, but held it out to him by its leg.

“Are you retarded? Get out of my kitchen. Don’t even think about setting foot in here again. This is a church.” He slammed his hands on the stainless steel in front of him. “A fucking church!”

chefStephanie Danler traverses the seasons of one year in  Tess’s life, just as the kitchen turns to focus on flavors, foods, and menus. I enjoyed SweetBitter’s backstage insight into the kitchen life, the sharing of family meal for staff before the guests arrive, the surreptitious tasting of oysters, truffles, champagne, the late night after work complimentary shift drink for all, the one holiday a year party on New Year’s Day. This was information Anthony Bourdain didn’t reveal in Kitchen Confidential. And Danler has the credentials. I reached out to literary agent Melissa Flashman (a Lexington, KY girl making it good in the Big Apple) of Trident Media, Danler’s agent, who told me Stephanie “worked at Union Square Cafe as well as many other NYT restaurants, bars and a wine shop.”

Danler answered several questions for Vanity Fair, one of which was why use the setting of the very famous Union Square Cafe.

I set it in Union Square not just because that was my first job and my first entryway, but [also because] that restaurant has an ethic and a level of professionalism that is unmatched in New York City. Danny Meyer is a genius and that was his first place.

I could have set it at a more Balthazar-style place, or a more Blue Water Grill–style place, but I wasn’t really looking for that kind of atmosphere. What I found when I went to Union Square Cafe was this group of super-educated, highly creative, ultra-professional servers.

There are places where you clock in, you clock out, and then there are places where you invest emotionally, and I needed a setting where people were investing.

What I didn’t enjoy? Now I know rats are standard residents of every New York City restaurant.

SweetBitter is another in the New York-food genre I’ve been reading lately, perhaps a bit sweetbittercheekier, younger, hipper than The Nest and Modern Lovers, but somewhere on the spectrum. Danler has an MFA from The New School, according to her book jacket, and the prose is clean, tight, clear, well-ordered. Much like a well-run kitchen.

My recommendation: SweetBitter will make a good basis for discussion at your book club. There are men-women issues, generational issues, employer-employee issues, and food. Oh, also, just in passing, did I mention there is wine? Like on every page? Wine, Wine, Wine, Wine, Wine. And the occasional glass of whine.

*Note: I did reach out to Stephanie Danler, hoping for a recipe, a music recommendation, or a private thought. Melissa Flashman sent my email on to her publicist. But seriously, the woman is being interviewed by Vanity Fair, Vogue and Paris Review. Unsurprisingly, she hasn’t responded yet. If she does, I’ll let you know.


I think we might as well go with the one that dropped on the floor. I don’t know if I can roast a duck, but it sounds like it would be fun to try.

Good, Italian bread

Oysters on the half shell

Roasted Duck. Here’s a good looking recipe from, one of my go-to websites for cooking.


Red wine

Agent Flashman followed up with me to suggest that Stephanie would suggest Campari Soda as a read-with. Sounds delicious.


There’s music throughout SweetBitter but not much of it is familiar to me. I do however love the soundtrack from the movie Chef, downloadable at Amazon and iTunes. That’s what I would play.


Tess — Kiernan Shipke (perfect big budget vehicle for her movie coming out)

Jake — Chris Pine

Simone — Keri Russell

Howard — Matthew McConaughey

Will — Skylar Astin

Happy Reading!




Summer Reading List 2016

victorian vacay

No books, but I bet they are out of camera view. These chicks look like readers don’t they?

Hi friends! Are you ready to take that beach trip/plane ride/long drive? I know you want to be ready with a book … or five. It’s about that time of year when I try to provide some reading suggestions for you.

My definition of a great vacation read is a book I can fall into. Sitting at the pool or on the beach, the sun on my toes and wind blowing my hair but in my mind’s eye I’m standing on a London street, or in the kitchen of a New York restaurant. A book I can absorb and be absorbed into for a day or two, lingering my thoughts around its characters for a few hours each night, pondering their actions, motivations, why he or she said that.

by Stephanie Danler fits the bill. This book is all buzzy and for good reason. Ms. Danler writes with authority the tale of Tess’ first year in New York City, finding work in the “best restaurant” in Manhattan, finding love and lust with the hottest guy, doing the worst kinds of things to her body. I fell into the story hungrily, wanting the life, the tastes, the experiences, the knowledge, the flavors, even the bitter, Tess had.

modern loversModern Lovers by Emma Straub. The adults in Modern Lovers used to be cool –  real cool –  rock band cool. But now that they are approaching 50, and their children are dating, or hooking up, or are just hanging out together having sex in public places, the adults find they aren’t quite so cool anymore. Most of all, not in the eyes of their kids. Read my full review here:

These next two books center around a grand old house and the secrets it holds. Both travel between two times period and in each, a modern mystery is resolved by an examination of the past. I was quite absorbed by each.

lake house bookJune The Lake House by Kate Morton. A British estate, a missing child, WWI and a modern detective suspended by the force for caring too much about her work. 

June by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore. An Ohio mansion, a mysterious child, movie stars and a modern photographer in hiding from the world and grieving for her grandmother.

the nestThe Nest by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney. 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.

And I haven’t read these yet, but they are going on my vacation with me:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley. “On a foggy summer night, eleven people–ten privileged, one down-on-his-luck painter–depart Martha’s Vineyard on a private jet headed for New York. Sixteen minutes later, the unthinkable happens: the plane plunges into the ocean. The only survivors are Scott Burroughs–the painter–and a four-year-old boy, who is now the last remaining member of an immensely wealthy and powerful media mogul’s family.” from Amazon

Night Garden by Carrie Mullins. “Alienated from her affluent parents in a small Kentucky college town, Marie is drawn into an exotic, ultimately life-threatening world. The dramatic story unfolds in a sequence of vivid scenes, each of which is its own immediate story, carried by the author’s taut, measured prose. When tragedy strikes her family, Marie runs away and settles in with a wild, entrepreneurial and criminal family in a neighboring county, a world away from her safe and privileged upbringing. She substitutes the Owens family for her own, until their criminal ventures threaten her own life.” From Amazon

Sport of Kings by C.E. Morgan. “Hellsmouth, an indomitable Thoroughbred with the blood of Triple Crown winners in her veins, runs for the glory of the Forge family, one of Kentucky’s oldest and most powerful dynasties. Henry Forge has partnered with his daughter, Henrietta, in an endeavor of raw obsession: to breed the next superhorse, the next Secretariat. But when Allmon Shaughnessy, an ambitious young black man, comes to work on their farm, the violence of the Forges’ history and the exigencies of appetite are brought starkly into view. Entangled in fear, prejudice, and lust, the three tether their personal dreams of glory to the speed and grace of Hellsmouth.” from Amazon

sport of kings            night garden  before the fall

I’d love to hear what you are reading! Sent me a note, a review, a recipe that you’d like to share. And Happy Reading!

vacay read

Modern Lovers, Emma Straub


Emma Straub’s new novel Modern Lovers picks up somewhere in the anthropological vicinity of her last novel, The Vacationers but a vast ocean away. The Vacationers took a New York family with teenagers, frustrated parents and a gay couple to Mallorca to experience a  series of crises. In Modern Lovers, the family – teenagers, frustrated parents, a gay couple — remain at home in Brooklyn to experience their own problems. (See my book club blueprint and review of The Vacationers here:

The adults in Modern Lovers used to be cool –  real cool –  rock band cool. But now that they are approaching 50, and their children are dating, or hooking up, or are just hanging out together having sex in public places, the adults find they aren’t quite so cool anymore. At least not in the eyes of their kids.

for saleElizabeth and Andrew are the married parents of Harry, not the most popular kid in school. These two, plus ultra-fabulous Zoe were in “the band: Kitty’s Mustache” with Lydia — now deceased, a member of the 27-Club, and subject of an upcoming biopic which Elizabeth and Zoe favor and Andrew opposes. Zoe is married to Jane and they have a daughter who IS the coolest girl in school, Ruby. Jane and Zoe own a restaurant called Hyacinth in Brooklyn. Andrew’s a rich kid who doesn’t have anything really useful to do with himself other than hang around a sketchy yoga-ish flop house called EVOLVEment run by a huckster named Dave, and Elizabeth (the real talent behind the band) is a real estate agent.

Modern Lovers is the second book in two months I’ve read about the changes in Brooklyn, and I’m reading another right now. Look for a post next week about SweetBitter by Stephanie Danler. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney explored many of the same family themes in The Nest So maybe there’s something happening in Brooklyn that makes it a microcosm for what modern writers feel the need to share. Or maybe Brooklyn is where the modern writers live.

They were old friends — best friends, really, though Elizabeth might not say that in modern loversfront of Zoe for fear that she would laugh at the phrase for being juvenile. They’d lived together after college way back in the Stone Age in this very same house, sharing the rambling Victorian with Elizabeth’s boyfriend (now husband) and two guys who had lived in their co-op at Oberlin. It was always nice to carry a big bowl of something homemade over to Zoe’s house, because it felt like being back in that potluck-rich, money-poor twilight zone known as one’s twenties. Ditmas Park was a hundred miles from Manhattan (in reality, seven), a tiny little cluster of Victorian houses that could have existed anywhere in the United States, with Prospect Park’s parade grounds to the north and Brooklyn College to the south. Their other friends from school were moving into walk-up apartments in the East Village or into beautiful brownstones in Park Slope, on the other side of the vast green park, but the three of them had fallen in love with the idea of a house house, and so there they were, sandwiched between old Italian ladies and the projects.

It seems as if everything is coming to a head in the lives of Modern Lovers: 50 right here, Ruby and Harry’s high school graduation, Andrew’s midlife crisis, and Zoe and Jane’s marital woe. And just at this moment, a movie producer shows up asking for the rights to their life stories so she can make a film about Lydia, a sort of Janis Joplin-Britney Spears character best known for an uberhit called “Mistress of Myself,” written by Elizabeth. Not only does the producer appear, but she brings an actress who looks so much like Lydia, that Andrew faints.

I quite enjoyed Modern Lovers. Ms. Straub writes cleanly, clearly, and with an almost throw-back narrative style that I appreciate. There are characters of various generations facing familiar scenarios and problems, a discussion of which will be of great interest to a wide variety of book clubs. And the food options — since Jane and Zoe own a restaurant — is wonderful


I would set a table with a white tablecloth and a centerpiece of hyacinths, in honor of Jane and Zoe’s restaurant.

The mentions of food are numerous. Brownies, souffles, croissants, fried chicken, frozen pizza and more are on menus at various times. I would serve one of the summer menus mentioned early on: A salad with watermelon radish and avocado. Fresh pasta with asparagus pesto. Dessert with strawberry and peppercorns.

I’ve never made asparagus pesto, so here’s a recipe from Food&Wine: that looks easy enough

And my favorite chef, Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa, has a delicious dessert recipe for strawberries with pepper:


There’s actually a musical group called The Modern Lovers that featured a couple of guys who went on to the Cars and Talking Heads. Protopunk. Not my bag.

Musician-singer Liz Phair actually went to Oberlin College and is about the age that Lydia would have been. I would play her music.


Zoe – easiest to me. Lisa Bonet, I pictured her all through the reading.

Jane – Kathryn Hahn

Ruby – Amanda Sternberg

Elizabeth – this could be anyone from Tina Fey to Jennifer Aniston. I envisioned Elizabeth Banks.

Andrew – Steve Carrell? Ben Affleck?

Harry – Logan Lerman

Happy Reading!