A Survey of My Quarantine Reads


Image courtesy nature.com

Reams, volumes, encyclopedia — maybe even libraries — will be written about the unique coronavirus, Covid-19, and its impact on the world and our lives in 2020. You will be gratified to know that I will not be among those writing about that subject.

I, dear reader, as always, am writing about books. The virus has given me a surfeit of excess time in which to read. (Remind me that I owe you book club blueprints for each one. ) But since the only book clubs I’m attending these days are via zoom and everyone must supply his/her own food/wine/musical backdrop, I’m just going to give you here a quick review and a thumbs up or down for several of these corona reads.

Oona Out of Order, by Margarita Montimore. Oona

On her 19th birthday, Oona wishes that she didn’t have to decide whether to go to Europe with her best friend or take a year off and travel with her boyfriend’s band. Next thing she knows, she wakes up and she’s 54 on the outside, 19 on the inside, and stupid rich from being able to jump back in time and invest knowing what will happen in the future. I’m a sucker for time travel and this was fun, if confusing. I found myself waking up the night after I read it asking how and why she was trying to destroy a note to an earlier version if she’d already lived that year and what effect it would have if . . . You understand. The cover reminds me of Where’d You Go, Bernadette.

The House at the Edge of Night, by Catherine Banner.

House EdgePublished in 2016, this book came to my notice as a recommendation for those who love the book Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Four generations living on a rocky Mediterranean island between about 1920 to about 1985. The House at the Edge of Night is a rickety dwelling at the center of the island’s town where a doctor marries a school teacher and opens a bar and has children. The bar and family become central to the life of the island and those who dwell there. (Does anyone remember The Edge of Night soap opera??? I think my mom watched it. All I remember is very dramatic organ music!) This was pretty good, but if you haven’t read Beautiful Ruins, read it.

A Witch in Time by Constance Sayers.witch

Another time-travel — are we sensing a theme? In A Witch in Time, Juliet has a doomed affair with a married Parisian painter in Belle-Epoque France. Juliet’s mother, an amateur witch, calls upon a demon to stop the affair. Because Juliet’s mother is rather incompetent, the spell curses Juliet to repeat the same painful affair over the course of multiple lives, watched over by a caretaker demon (different demon, same Juliet) who has fallen in love with Juliet. Kinda silly, kinda fun.

The Secrets We Kept by Lara Prescott Secrets

So I really enjoyed this 1960s, Cold War-era peek into the CIA’s effort to publish Doctor Zhivago and distribute it in the Soviet Union as a means of social upheaval. There’s Washington, D.C. and Russian countryside; there’s betrayal and enduring love; there’s multiple viewpoints and an inside look at Boris Pasternak’s writing process. And fashion. I recommend this.

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell


This buzzy #metoo book contemplates an adult looking back on her years teen-age student seduced by her high school teacher. This novel turns the #metoo experience on its head; victim Vanessa is an apologist for her abuser for years, refusing to admit he has taken advantage of her, insisting the affair she engaged in at the age of 15 was something she wanted, and not his fault. There are frequent references to Nabokov’s Lolita. As frustrated as I got by Vanessa, I have to say it was a really good read. Maybe the upside-down attitude even allowed the author to explore this all-too-familiar subject from a unique perspective.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

TestamentsMargaret Atwood’s answer to the readers who clamored for a sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale for years. Frankly, I wish she hadn’t written it. In and of itself, it’s a good read. The part that bothered me is the effect it has on the original story. Without giving away anything, there are three women and their stories in focus. Aunt Lydia is one of three. My take on the whole Aunt Lydia thing, by the way, is that Aunt Lydia though a presence in The Handmaid’s Tale, has become a cultural force from the televised adaptation of it. Without the series, the focus on Aunt Lydia wouldn’t make sense. Perhaps the best approach is to divorce the two novels and read The Testaments as if there is no Handmaid’s Tale.

Writers & Lovers by Lily KingWriters and Lovers

Casey is a 31-year-old restaurant server who longs to live a creative life as a writer. She embarks on a summer writing program and relationships with two different men while she’s trying to determine in which direction her future path lies. Euphoria by Lily King is one of my top reads of the last ten years; Writers & Lovers has been broadly praised and I enjoyed it. But not as much as Euphoria.


After The RaceFinally, a reminder that my debut novel, After the Race, is available. Here’s what Jacinda Townsend, author of Saint Monkey, said about After the Race. “Readers will fall in love with Alexandra Alt, an Indiana University senior whose mother has instilled in her the values of what she calls First Lady First: Jane Ann Alt, in her bid to make her daughter the next Jacqueline Kennedy, exhorts her to learn how to ride horses, write thank you notes, win votes, and otherwise be the perfect political wife. Against the early eighties backdrop of Ronald Reagan, the AIDS crisis, and a bygone innocence, Alexandra is faced, during an internship in Washington, D.C., with choosing between Jake Banwell, who comes from a troubled, impoverished family in rural Indiana, and Bill Beck, who comes from the perfect political family and aspires to be president.”

Available at rabbithousepress.com, Amazon, Joseph-Beth Booksellers, The Book Corner in Bloomington, Indiana, MacIntosh Books and Paper in Sanibel Island, Florida.

Happy Reading! Stay safe and well.


After the Race, A Menu

readingOur book club of 22 years met last night for the first time on an online forum. Eight women, long-time friends, who had not been out in society for about five weeks. You can imagine the explosion of conversation! The book of the month, Heartburn by Nora Ephron, got some minor attention before we launched into an animated discussion of the virus, our work, our children, what we’ve been watching on television, when this all might end. I tried to lead a rousing chorus of the theme song for The Brady Bunch but was dissuaded.

heartburnWhen our book club meets, we have a custom of planning a menu derived from the book  under discussion. Heartburn would’ve been the perfect book for this as author Ephron filled Heartburn not only with her heartbreak over her marriage falling apart, but the recipes that accompanied those events. Pasta alla cecio, key lime pie, bread pudding, arugula salad, the world’s most perfect vinaigrette. I had the menu planned before I even finished reading the book.

It was not to be. Although I have promised an independent dinner for my friends, during which we can eat the Heartburn menu and talk in person about everything we normally table to discuss the book.

Although it looks like things will remain closed for at least a few more weeks, I promised a menu for After the Race. When you are ready for your book club, and want to provide a menu inspired by the book, you will have this menu (and recipes!) handy. You can also create a playlist of songs featured in After the Race from this post: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2020/02/27/after-the-race-a-playlist/.

If you’d like a Skype or FaceTime visit with the author, I would be thrilled to join your group for a discussion.


Long Island Ice Tea and Patty Melts. Alex and Meg visit Bear’s in Bloomington at the end of the semester and indulge in these two favorites.

Aunt Trudy’s Baked Chicken and Pie. When Banner and Nellie first arrive at Uncle John and Aunt Trudy’s house, this is the dinner Trudy has prepared.

Baked Chicken

  • 1 5- to 6-pound roasting chicken
  • Coarse sea salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large bunch fresh thyme
  • 1 lemon, halved
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 Vidalia onion, thickly sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.

Rinse the chicken inside and out. Remove any excess fat and leftover pinfeathers and pat the outside dry. Place the chicken in a large roasting pan. Liberally salt and pepper the inside of the chicken. Stuff the cavity with the bunch of thyme, both halves of the lemon, and all the garlic. Brush the outside of the chicken with the butter and sprinkle again with salt and pepper. Tie the legs together with kitchen string and tuck the wing tips under the body of the chicken. Scatter the onion slices around the chicken.

Roast the chicken for 1-1/2 hours, or until the juices run clear when you cut between a leg and thigh. Remove to a platter and cover with aluminum foil while you prepare the gravy.

sugar cream pieFor the pie, Indiana is famous for Sugar Cream Pie, also known as Hoosier Pie, the unofficial pie of the state. Here’s a great recipe from Saveur: https://www.saveur.com/sugar-cream-pie-recipe/


Breakfast. Dottie, Alex and Billy have breakfast after Alex and Billy’s first date. Omelettes, fried onions, hash browns, orange juice.

Dottie’s Texas Fried Onions

  • Sweet Onions
  • 1 tbsp Butter per onion
  • 1 tbsp Olive Oil per onion
  • Salt to Taste
  • Pepper to Taste

Cut the onions into strips, uniform in size. Heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Use a larger skillet than you think you need. Once the skillet is hot add the butter and olive oil. Once the butter is sizzling add the onions and stir to combine. Let the onions sit, uninterrupted, for about 5 minutes. Turn down the heat to medium and stir to combine. Repeat stirring then allowing onions to sit for about 20 minutes. If needed, add an additional tablespoon of butter or olive oil. Continue to stir every 5 minutes until you’re left with golden caramelized onions.

Dottie’s Texas Omelette

Make any flavor of omelette you want (consider some jalapeños, black beans, monteray jack cheese) you want then douse it with HOT SAUCE!!

The Celtic Fling hosted by Jake’s fraternity served roasted turkey legs, roasted vegetables, shrimp cocktail, and mead (lemonade mixed with pure grain alcohol).

Gamma Chi Omega Lunch The Gamma Chi house always served a salad bar. The girls heaped the lettuce on their plates, then scattered Lay’s potato chips on top and covered the whole thing with homemade Hidden Valley Ranch dressing.

ThanksgivingThe Alt Family Thanksgiving The Alts have a typical Southern Thanksgiving with Maker’s Mark bourbon, pumpkin pie, roasted turkey, mashed potatoes. Here are a couple of my family’s favorite Thanksgiving recipes culled from the treasure trove of my grandmother’s recipe box.

Cornbread Stuffing

1 Cup turkey broth

4 cups cornbread crumbs

3/4 cup chopped celery

2 tablespoons chopped onion

1 teaspoon salt

Pepper to taste

Mix together, then round into balls about the size of tennis balls. Bake at 350 until browned.

Pumpkin Pie

2 cups pumpkin (from can)

1 cup white sugar

2 eggs

1 cup half & half

1/2 cup milk

1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon allspice

Preheat oven to 450. When it is hot, pour mixed ingredients into pie shell. Bake at 450 for ten minutes then turn the oven down to 350. Bake another 45 minutes or until pie is set.


Lizzie’s Chocolate Chip Cookies

Lizzie makes her famous chocolate chip cookies for the Alt’s at home and sends them to  Alex at college when things get rough. The secret ingredient is substituting bourbon for vanilla extract in the Toll House cookie recipe.

Robert Redfordredford

Served on special occasions at the Gamma Chi house and a favorite of all its residents, the dessert is so called because it’s the next best thing to Robert Redford. Substitute butterscotch pie for the chocolate and you get Paul Newman. It’s SOOOO good.

For Crust

1/2 cup softened butter

1 cup flour

1 cup pecans, chopped

For Cream Cheese Layer

8 ounces cream cheese, softened

1 cup powdered sugar

1 container (10 ounces) of Cool Whip, thawed

Pudding Layer

4 cups of chocolate pudding, prepared

  • Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed cream butter. On low speed gradually add the flour and mix just until blended. Stir in pecans. Press into a 13 by 9 inch pan and bake for 15 minutes. Let cool completely.
  • In a medium mixing bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed beat cream cheese and powdered sugar until smooth. Fold in half of the whipped topping. Spread cream cheese mixture over cooled crust.
  • Spread chocolate pudding over cream cheese mixture. Then spread vanilla pudding over chocolate pudding. Then spread the remaining whipped topping over vanilla pudding. Sprinkle with chopped pecans and grated chocolate. Chill for several hours before serving.


There you go! I hope you are safe and well.

Remember, a signed copy of After the Race is available for order directly from publisher Rabbit House Press,https://www.rabbithousepress.com. You may also order it from Joseph Beth Booksellers, MacIntosh Books and Paper in Sanibel, and Amazon.com.




In Five Years, by Rebecca Serle

2020 calendar

In Five Years has been hyped by multiple on-line sites and news outlets as one of the buzzy books of Spring, 2020. I ordered a copy frombookshop.org (which delivers books AND supports local bookstores at the same time) with a couple of other buzzy books. In Five Years is short, only 251 pages, and breezes right along so I read it first.

Danger: SNARK ahead. This is probably the snarkiest review I’ve ever posted. Generally I don’t post about books I don’t like. But this one is getting so much positive buzz, I can’t in good conscience let another person (of my sensibilities) spend their money on it. It may very well suit you.

I do however recommend you order any number of other delightful books from bookshop.org or your local book dealer who, like Joseph-Beth Lexington https://www.josephbeth.com and MacIntosh Books and Paper Sanibel Island http://www.macintoshbooks.com, is probably shipping or delivering books curb-side. I’ll highlight some favorites at the end of this review.

It’s 2020 and Dannie Kohan is living large as a Manhattan (naturally) lawyer engaged to a great guy . (Of course) Maybe my aggravation is that they are millennials? And eat avocado toast? (Just wondering if life ever happens anywhere else in the world? Only Manhattan and London? Is that just me?)


Anyway, Serle’s novel begins with Dannie’s recitation of numbers.

Twenty-five. That’s the number I count to every morning before I even open my eyes. . . .

Thirty-six. That’s how many minutes it takes me to brush my teeth, shower, and put on face toner, serum, cream, makeup, and a suit for work. If I wash my hair, it’s forty-three.

Eighteen. That’s the walk to work in minutes from our Murray Hill apartment to East Forty-Seventh Street, where the law offices of Sutter, Boys and Barn are located.

Twenty-four. That’s how many months I believe you should be dating someone before you move in with them.

Twenty-eight. The right age to get engaged.

Thirty. The right age to get married.

With all these numbers and the interior book copy proclaiming that Dannie “lives her life by the numbers,” you’d expect Dannie to be a bit more OCD about numbers throughout the rest of the book, wouldn’t you? You would be mistaken. That’s it folks for the numerology. Which is fine — I just don’t understand why the focus on it on the first page when you aren’t going to carry that trait through the novel.

So . . . in Chapter 2, it is 2020. Dannie is twenty-eight. She gets engaged to David, her nice financial planning boyfriend, who chooses the perfect cushion-cut diamond “flanked by two triangular stones in a simple platinum band” (naturally) and presents it to her after a stunningly elaborate and expensive meal at the Rainbow Room, now closed to the


The Rainbow Room

public. But David’s firm has access to reservations (naturally) which the rest of the world can’t get. Bella, Dannie’s beautiful, bounteous, blonde, rich, “zaftig,” Skiksa best friend, (are all gorgeous, blonde, best friends named Bella? Is that just me again?) helped to choose the ring. Dannie says yes. 

Two hours after dinner, Dannie falls asleep on her sofa back at home with David. But when she wakes …

I am in Dumbo; I must be. Did David take me to a hotel? . . .

The apartment isn’t giant, but it gives the illusion of space. Two blue velvet chairs sit necking in front of a glass-and-steel coffee table. An orange dresser perches at the foot of the bed, and colorful Persian rugs make the open space feel cozy, if not a little cluttered. . . .

Where the hell am I?

I hear him before I see him. He calls: “Are you awake?” . . .

The well-dressed stranger comes over to me, and I leap onto the other side of the bed, by the windows.

“Hey,” he says, “are you okay?”

“No!” I say. “No, I’m not.” . . .

And that’s when I catch the TV. It has been on this whole time, the volume low. It’s hanging on the wall opposite the bed and it’s playing the news. On the screen is a small graphic with the date and time: December 15, 2025.

And there you have it. The big hook of the novel. Well, shortly followed by this:

His face hovers close. Here we go, he’s going to kiss me. Am I going to let him? I think about it, about David, and about this Aaron’s muscled arms. But before I can weigh the pros and cons and come to a solid conclusion, his lips are on mine.

. . . Slowly, and then all at once, I forget where I am. All I’m aware of are Aaron’s arms wrapped tightly around me.

The novel progresses (naturally) over the next five years as Dannie gets the job of her childhood dreams at a THE Mergers & Acquisitions LAWFIRM in MANHATTAN, doing deals 80 hours a week for VERY IMPORTANT CLIENTS while having quaint weekend dinners in Greenwich Village bistros with her fiancee and splendiferous weekend brunches with her best friend Bella and late night dinners brought home by her dedicated fiancee. (while wearing great designer clothes.) (and not ever gaining weight.) (due to all that NYC walking, I suppose.)

Here’s my big problem with the novel told in the best way I can figure to spell it out without giving away the entire plot: the promise the author made in the beginning of the novel was not kept. Whatever expectation you may have about how this romantic comedy-in-waiting will resolve is not what happens. Not only that — but the ending explanation of the flash-forward completely subverts the written intention of the initial scene. Frankly, dear reader, it irritated me.

If you’d like some other recommendations for good reads, take a look at the chronicles of daeandwrite@wordpress.com. Some that I haven’t yet reviewed include: Exposure by Helen Dunmore, Writers & Lovers by Lily King, Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson, The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See. And my debut novel, After the Race, is available at all the outlets listed above as well as rabbithousepress.com,


If your book club does choose In Five Years, there is a veritable feast of meals from which to choose, including:

Pasta with pesto made by Aaron on the night of December 15, 2025

Bagels with whitefish (PLEASE KEEP THIS AWAY FROM ME), Dannie’s choice of victory breakfast

The engagement meal from the Rainbow Room: a simple salad, lobster, champagne, chocolate soufflé.


Buvette New York

Brunch with Bella at “Buvette, a tiny French cafe in the West Village we’ve been going to for years” (naturally): eggs and caviar on crispy French bread, avocado toast, a plate of delicate crepes dusted with powdered sugar.https://ilovebuvette.com/#global



If I were planning this book club, I’d serve champagne, scrambled eggs and caviar on toast points, avocado toast, and I’d attempt a chocolate soufflé’.


For such a New York-y book, Sinatra seems a natural. Or Billy Joel. Of course, when David and Dannie dance at the Rainbow Room right before they are engaged, the band is playing “It Had to be You.” (NATURALLY) My favorite version of this song is by Southerner Harry Connick, Jr.


Inevitably, this will be made into a movie.

Dannie          Daisy Ridley

Bella              Dakota Fanning

David            Adam Driver

Aaron            Alex Pettyfer

Happy Reading! Stay safe and distant but social.

P.S. Are you having virtual book clubs? What are you doing? I’d love to hear about it. Drop me a line and let me know.