The Gifted School, by Bruce Holsinger

ladybird

An image from ‘Going to School’ (Ladybird books series 563) by M E Gagg; illustrated by Harry Wingfield; First Published 1959

Bruce Holsinger’s The Gifted School reads like a how to book on bad parenting. Four women bond in mommy-and-me swimming lessons with infants, growing in friendship as their children age. But when this set of kids hits fifth grade, a new public school is announced. A public school only for the especially gifted and talented. With that, the BFFs (who celebrate each anniversary by gifting coffee mugs with friendship quotations on each other) are off and spinning to help their kids achieve recognition as the gifted and talented special kids the moms know they must be.

Rose Holland-Quinn is a pediatric neurologist married to a failing author she loathes. Samantha Zeller, formerly a personal trainer, married rich and politically influential Kevin and now lives atop the social ladder. Rose and Samantha each have a daughter named Emma. Annoyingly, one is referred to as Emma Z. and one is referred to as Emma Q.

Lauren, a widow, has what she considers the world’s brightest fifth grader, the creepy Xander, and Tessa, a 17-year-old daughter who is just out of rehab and who loves to vlog her life. Finally, the saintly Azra, mother of twins Charlie and Aiden, is divorced from their defiantly unsaintly father, Beck who is remarried to teutonic stoic Sonya.

In addition to these four families, there is the family of Samantha and Rose’s housekeeper (names I’m not even going to attempt to spell). This family, — a mother, grandmother and son the same age as “the Emmas,” Xander, and Charlie and Aiden, who is also applying to the gifted school, — is really the only other likable group.

The narration switches between about six characters.

Incidentally, if I’m misspelling names, I apologize, I listened to this book on audible.

There were phrases that clung to my ears like the shriek of a heavy metal guitar as I listened to this book: Emma Z., Emma Q., “the Emmas (truly, revoltingly privileged),” the CogPro, the Emerald Mall. Like those repetitive phrases, the irritating traits of the characters emerge repeatedly, and to such a deleterious level that it’s hard to envision this could actually happen. But perhaps that’s Mr. Holsinger’s point with The Gifted School.

The word gifted slashed like a guillotine through other topics. Around the table the talk ceased.

“It’s called Crystal Academy, Dad,” Samantha said into the silence.

“A private?” Azra asked, apparently as clueless as Rose.

“No actually.” Lauren leaned in, turtling out her short neck. “It’s a public magnet school for the profoundly gifted.”

“They’re hailing it as the Stuyvesant of the Rockies,” said Kev grandly.

“A high school?” Rose’s question.

“Grades six through eight in the lower school, and the upper school is nine through twelve.”

“Oh,” said Rose. Profoundly gifted. Words to make the bones sing. This must be the mysterious “other option” Samantha had been hedging about at RockSalt last week. “What, a city school, just for Crystal kids?”

“Oh no,” said Kev. “It’s a joint venture between the City of Crystal and the Four Counties.”

“All five school districts?” Gareth asked. “But that’s a huge pool of eligible students.”

“No kidding,” said Samantha. “Over a hundred thousand kids for just a thousand spots.”

“The one percent,” Blakey observed snidely. Everyone laughed but she was right: one in a hundred. Kev’s acerbic sister was enjoying the conversation, Rose could tell, watching the reactions among her sister-in-law’s friends as they took in the news about the school.

“How does admissions work?” Azra asked.

“They’re doing it as a test-in.” Lauren, happily in the know. “A first round of CogPROs in the districts starting in March, then more individualized assessments in a second round.”

“CogPROs?” someone asked.

“Cognitive Proficiency Test,” said Lauren. “It’s a standard IQ battery.”

Over her wine glass Rose looked a question at Gareth and he shrugged it right back. Neither of them had heard a word about this school.

“Where are they building it?” Gareth asked.

“The upper school will be out in Kendall County,” Kev answered. “But the lower school is going in the old Maple Hill site.”

“Six or seven blocks from here.” Samantha nodded vaguely west, in the direction of her back deck.

“It’s a done deal,” said Kev. “The contractor’s an old buddy of mine and they finalized the building permits last week. The refurbish kicks off in January. They’ll be up and running by July, hiring staff this spring for a fall opening. These guys are moving fast.”

How do you know all this?The question never reached Rose’s lips, because the Zellars always knew, and besides, Kev had been on City Council the last three years. Any big building project in town, let alone one as visible as a new magnet school, would already be on his radar.

pikes peak

“So, Rose, will you apply for Emma Q?” said Edgar, still pressing for an answer.

“Who knows.” Rose was already seeing years of small classes, innovative pedagogy, Barnard admissions staff cooing in approval. “We might check it out.”

I should add as a disclaimer that as an aunt of four, I have never been intimately involved in the competitive nature of g.p.a.s, SATs, ACTs, magnet schools, and/or whatever the local name for the “cog/pro” is. Thank Goodness.

On a national level, though, it’s no secret that celebrity parents have recently been stung in similar FBI investigations. What a serendipitous time for The Gifted School to be published. As NPR put it: “The impulse behind the transgressions, though, is the same. Holsinger’s characters are privilege-hoarders, wedded to the conviction that their children deserve to go to the “gifted school” not by virtue of intelligence or achievements, but by virtue of being their children.” https://www.npr.org/2019/07/02/737125569/in-the-gifted-school-ripped-from-the-headlines-parental-scheming

The New Yorker said: “Holsinger captures the language of anxious parenting: the neuro-jargon, the tone of chirpy terror…There are moments of white-liberal affectation so sublime that they waft off the page like laughing gas…And yet the oblivious parents are more than fodder for hate-reading. Holsinger renders his helicopter moms and soccer dads so precisely that one understands their motivations, even feels their longing and pride…helps us to inhabit the élites themselves, not in order to vindicate them but so that we can know, viscerally, how they tick and what logic governs their actions.”

As the novel advances, the tension of what will these people do next to give their childrengifted an advantage, devolves into: ok, which ones get into the gifted school. And, for me: is anyone ever going to address the fact that Xander (and his sister Tessa to a lesser degree) is a total sociopath?

It’s a novel rife with fodder for a great book club discussion and it’s a quick read. Yes, there are annoying elements, and other than housekeeper and her family and the saintly Azra who is unfortunately not as present on the page as one would like her to be, there are no sympathetic characters. “Hate-reading,” is accurately funny.

I bet you can’t wait to read it to see if you recognize anyone from the halls of your children’s own magnet school.

MENU

During the Crystal Academy Open House, a buffet was set out for all attendees that included fun little tidbits like “grilled tofu” on a grill that proclaimed “NO MEAT ON THIS GRILL” and gluten-free and peanut-free options.

In addition, there were grilled hamburgers, grilled vegetables, and hot dogs. Lemonade. And an ice cream sundae bar, complete with chocolate sprinkles.

That’s what I’d serve.

MUSIC

My playlist would include:

Rocky Mountain High, John Denver

Be True to Your School, Beach Boys

Beauty School Dropout, Frankie Avalon

Smells Like Teen Spirit, Nirvana

Smokin’ in the Boys Room, Motley Crue

MOVIE CASTING for The Gifted School

First, I would be shocked if this hasn’t already sold for production.

Second, I stalked Bruce Holsinger’s Facebook page (we have one mutual friend in common) and he had a photo of Zach Gallifinakis up with the caption “dream casting for Beck.” It made me laugh out loud. YEP.

Rose                            Laura Linney

Samantha                  Sarah Jessica Parker

Lauren                       Amy Poehler

Azra                            Indira Varma

Beck                            Zach Gallifinakis

Kev                             Paul Sparks

Gareth                       Luke Wilson

Betsy Layton              Maya Rudolph

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Daisy Jones & The Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid

daisy

With the first spoken words of the author’s note in the audible version of Daisy Jones and The Six, I wondered if I’d somehow never heard of this quintessential California band of the 1970s. But then Daisy herself began speaking, I recognized the actual voice of Jennifer Beals, and I congratulated the author on a job well-done. Apparently, I’m not the only one who has been fooled into thinking it might have been the real thing.

There are times when I love listening to a book and times when I loathe it: this was one of the times I loved it. Jennifer Beals, Pablo Schreiber, Ari Fliakos, Benjamin Bratt, Judy Greer. It’s a great cast and they do a wonderful job infusing the multiple point of view story with emotion, personality and pathos.

The book begins as a portrait of Daisy Jones, someone the reader is presumed to know.

You’ve got a rich white girl, growing up in L.A. She’s gorgeous—­even as a child. She has these stunning big blue eyes—­dark, cobalt blue. One of my favorite anecdotes about her is that in the eighties a colored-­contact company actually created a shade called Daisy Blue. She’s got copper-­red hair that is thick and wavy and . . . takes up so much space. And then her cheekbones almost seem swollen, that’s how defined they are. And she’s got an incredible voice that she doesn’t cultivate, never takes a lesson. She’s born with all the money in the world, access to whatever she wants—­artists, drugs, clubs—­anything and everything at her disposal.

But she has no one. No siblings, no extended family in Los Angeles. Two parents who are so into their own world that they are all but indifferent to her existence. Although, they never shy away from making her pose for their artist friends. That’s why there are so many paintings and photos of Daisy as a child—­the artists that came into that home saw Daisy Jones, saw how gorgeous she was, and wanted to capture her. It’s telling that there is no Frank Jones piece of Daisy. Her father is too busy with his male nudes to pay much attention to his daughter. And in general, Daisy spends her childhood rather alone. . . .

Whiskey A Go GO

We love broken, beautiful people. And it doesn’t get much more obviously broken and more classically beautiful than Daisy Jones.

 

So it makes sense that Daisy starts to find herself on the Sunset Strip. This glamorous, seedy place.

Then we meet a band called The Six: brothers Billy and Graham Dunne, brothers Pete and Eddie Loving, Karen Karen the keyboardist, and drummer Warren Rhodes. Billy Dunne has found his love of a lifetime, Camilla, and spends most of his days trying to make up for his alcoholic past by writing her love songs. Graham spends most of his time trying to convince Karen to live with him happily ever after. Pete has a long-distance girlfriend, Eddie hates Billy, and Warren just wants to meet chicks. I am a huge fan of Ari Fliakos and he reads Warren to hilarious perfection here.

After lots of backstory about poor little rich girl Daisy, and her drug-infused life at the Chateau Marmont; about Billy’s descent into and out of drugs, alcohol and women following his wife’s pronouncement that she’s pregnant; after Eddie throws a fit a day over Billy’s control of the band — the band and Daisy come together, as these things happen.

Billy and Daisy don’t like each other much. She’s wasting her talent; he’s limiting his to love songs for his wife. But Daisy is invited to open on tour for The Six. When circumstances offer Billy and Daisy an opening to sing together, the dynamic explodes. They are suddenly the most popular band in the world: top of the charts, sold out concerts, groupies, roadies, Rolling Stone covers, cocaine, bennies, champagne, girls-girls-girls.

Daisy-Jones-1-e1555085250551At the urging of no less than Rolling Stones’ cover, Daisy joins The Six as an official member of the band. And as writing partner of Billy Dunne.

Daisy Jones and The Six paints a livid scene of the music industry in the 1970s. As I listened, I felt this must have been based on someone — Linda Ronstadt and the Eagles maybe? — but in retrospect, I think it’s more likely based on everyone who ever had talent and tried to take it further. About every woman who ever faced the fact that “men often think they deserve a sticker for treating women like people.”

Reid says she was inspired to write the book by songwriting teams.

First, I was really taken with how often in culture there are these men and women who write incredible songs together, but also have somewhat complicated personal relationships. The most obvious example is Stevie Nicks and Lindsey Buckingham in Fleetwood Mac, but there’s a lot of them—The Civil Wars, who broke up in 2014, and other group bands who have had difficulty in their relationships and broke up very abruptly. Take Beyoncé and Jay-Z for example (even though it’s hip-hop and not rock), who have this incredible relationship. They take their personal life and make art from it. I’m fascinated by it, so I wanted to create a band to explore that further.

There are moments particularly striking in light of the Bradley Cooper-Lady GaGa are they-aren’t they discussions as well.

Reese Witherspoon liked the book enough to choose it for her book club and optioned the TV rights before publication, and Amazon has ordered a 13-episode run of the adaptation of the book, with writers Scott Neustadter and Michael H. Weber (500 Days of Summer, The Fault In Our Stars) penning the scripts. Plus, there’s a team crafting the original music for the show.

In the end, Daisy tells her own story, unvarnished and without remorse. Is it a cautionary tale? Is it a love story? Or is it all about the music? You decide. I think there’s lots and lots of fodder for your next book club discussion. And if you want to read what Rolling Stone itself has to say about Daisy Jones and The Six: https://www.rollingstone.com/culture/culture-features/daisy-jones-the-six-book-taylor-jenkins-reid-women-music-803045/

music“It is what I have always loved about music. Not the sounds of the crowds or the good times as much as the words – the emotions, and the stories, the truth- that you can let flow right out of your mouth. Music can dig, you know? It can take a shovel to your chest and just start digging until it hits something.”

MENU

As you might imagine, there was not a lot of food being consumed in this book. But Daisy did specifically request a hamburger for her one meal a day and there were copious amounts of champagne.

My menu would be California-inspired.

Guacamole with chips

California burgers: hamburgers wrapped in Bibb lettuce leaves instead of buns (no carbs!)

Sweet potato fries

Champagne

MUSIC

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours

The Eagles’ Hotel California

America

CASTING

Sounds like Amazon is already working on this but just in case they need some help.

Daisy —  Emma Stone certainly fits the bill.

Billy — I can’t see anybody but a young Johnny Depp

Camilla — Selena Gomez (give Camilla some songs)

Graham — James Marsden

Karen Karen — Miley Cyrus

Eddie Loving — Ben Foster

Pete Loving — Jon Foster

Warren — I really want John Krasinski to play this part. He would be hilarious.

Happy Reading!

 

 

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine, by Gail Honeyman

TescoFriday night is Eleanor Oliphant’s favorite night of the week. She  takes the bus home from her low-paying office job in a Glasgow ad agency, buys a Tesco pizza and two bottles of Vodka and then settles in at her apartment for a long weekend of public television, nature documentaries, and mental fuzziness.

And Eleanor is fine with that. Really fine. Really, she is.

“Some people, weak people, fear solitude. What they fail to understand is that there’s something very liberating about it; once you realize that you don’t need anyone, you can take care of yourself. That’s the thing: it’s best just to take care of yourself.”

Since she moved into her solo apartment nearly a decade ago, Eleanor has had few guests. A total of two in fact. The meter reader and a social worker who checks on her about once a month. That is fine with Eleanor as well . . . until the night she encounters rock star-wannabe Johnnie Lomond who immediately impresses her as the type of man her mother would find acceptable because he buttons the lower button of his vest while performing in a local music venue.2016-05-24-1464091272-8813709-bookbinderrockstar

I have always taken great pride in managing my life alone. I’m a sole survivor – I’m Eleanor Oliphant. I don’t need anyone else – there’s no big hole in my life, no missing part of my own particular puzzle. I am a self-contained entity. That’s what l’ve always told myself, at any rate. But last night I’d found the love of my life. When I saw him walk on stage, I just knew…here, at long last, was a man who could be described with some degree of certainty as “husband material”.

I listened to the audible.com version of this book and enjoyed it immensely. Cathleen McCarron’s narration spooned the words and voice of author Gail Honeyman’s character. Hearing Honeyman’s words in McCarron’s voice I felt I knew Eleanor, even as she said once again exactly what she thought, leaving her colleagues speechless or collapsing in laughter,

Once Eleanor spies Johnnie Lomond she embarks on a no-holds barred makeover attempt. New haircut, new wardrobe, adding some make-up, and making a new friend: Raymond, from the ad company’s IT department. She found — to her surprise — these small changes reaped some rewards that she actually enjoyed.

“It turned out that if you saw the same person with some degree of regularity, then the conversation was immediately pleasant and comfortable—you could pick up where you left off, as it were, rather than having to start afresh each time. . . . Was this how it worked, then, successful social integration? Was it really that simple? Wear some lipstick, go to the hairdressers and alternate the clothes you wear?”

When Raymond and Eleanor encounter an older gentlemen in medical distress after one of their lunches, Raymond begins introducing Eleanor to lunches outside the office. Parties. Tea with his own mother. The internet becomes Eleanor’s tool to spy on Johnnie Lomond, read his tweets (hilariously narcissistic), see his Instagram posts all while plotting the first meeting that will lead inevitably to the couple’s long-term wedded bliss. It doesn’t, of course, work out that way which leads to Eleanor’s finding out she’s in fact not fine, not fine at all. Which is exactly when things become really interesting.

Gail HoneymanEleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine is a debut novel by a post-40 year old author. Gail Honeyman worked in the British Civil Service and as a university administrator writing her debut novel during lunch and after work. She entered Eleanor in a fiction competition, didn’t win, but an agent signed her and the novel became the subject of a bidding war,  was named 2017 Book of the Year at the British Book Awards, and the film rights have been optioned by Reese Witherspoon.  Talk about a Cinderella story.Oliphant

 

So deserving.

Your book club will adore it.

MENU

Eleanor’s preferred weekend meals are Tesco frozen pizzas and vodka. She prepares pesto pasta for dinner each night because it tastes good, it’s easy and it fulfills her nutritional requirements. At the pub she frequents with Raymond she becomes enamored of frothy coffee and cheese scones. She orders “Magner’s” frequently when she becomes more a part of social events, at the suggestion of a bartender. I’d never heard of Magner’s but it is an Irish hard cider. It looks to be available in the US so I would serve Magner’s with cheese scones.

Here’s a recipe for classic British cheese scones: https://www.thespruceeats.com/easy-classic-british-cheese-scone-recipe-434867

I would also serve pizza. One of my favorite things to do with pizza is to buy pre-made pizza crusts, then place an array of toppings out for people to make their own favorite. Pepperoni, turkey pepperoni, mozzarella, fresh basil, shrimp, parmesan, artichokes, spinach, baked chicken, a jar of roasted red peppers. Your guests get to have exactly what they like and have fun making them together.

MUSIC

Definitely some Scottish bands. The Proclaimers, Simple Minds, Big Country.

The standard which our Johnnie Lomond will never meet. Alas.

MOVIE CASTING

Dear Reese: I really hope you don’t transfer this story to Rupert Grintthe U.S. The Glaswegian character of the novel should be preserved.

That being said, please cast British actors! My suggestions:

Eleanor: Sophie McShera, a Scottish

Sophie_McShera_May_2014_(cropped)actress, and fan favorite Daisy from Downton Abbey

Raymond: Rupert Grint, our man Ron Weasley of Harry Potter fame

Happy Reading!

 

 

Tangerine, by Christine Mangan

Tangier Matisse

View of the Bay of Tangier 1912, Henri Matisse

“You cry when you arrive, and you cry when you leave.” It’s an adage shared with Lucy Mason, one of two, alternating female narrators of Tangerine, Christine Mangan’s debut novel, as she departs the spellbinding Moroccan city of Tangier by boat. Lucy feels she has become like a “tangerine,” the term for natives.

Lucy spent every dime she had for passage to Tangier, compelled to re-establish contact with her Bennington College roommate, Alice Shipley. It’s been a year since the two separated, two years since Alice began dating a college boy, interrupting the “cloud of domestic bliss” between Alice and Lucy. Despite Alice’s move from Vermont to Morocco, Lucy finds her and appears unannounced, uninvited, and perhaps unwanted, on Alice’s doorstep.

Matisse door

The Kasbah Door by Henri Matisse

“We stood together n the front hall, and I remembered, in the space of our silence, the last words I had spoken to her that night. I had told her . . . no, I had shouted — the first time I could ever remember raising my voice to her — something awful, something wretched, something about wishing she would disappear, wishing I would never see her again. And then I remembered what had happened afterward, what I had thought, what I had said — though not to her, not to Lucy, who had disappeared long before I regained consciousness.

“I felt my cheeks go warm, felt her eyes watching me — certain in that moment, that she knew precisely what I was thinking about.”

 

Yet, the two seem to have much in common: orphaned at young ages, feeling an outsider (Lucy due to her scholarship-needed background, Alice who suffered when her parents died — “beyond normal grieving” — so that her guardian considered institutionalization). When Lucy entices Alice on an overnight trip away from her husband John McAllister, it seems Alice may agree to run away with Lucy.

She had convinced me I must leave Tangier, that we must leave Tangier. In secret, under cover of night, because she also knew about the money, about the allowanced passed from Maude to me and on to John, knew about what he would really lose with my absence, and I did not question how, knowing only that she must, in that way that she always knew everything. It had all made a perfect sort of sense, and so I nodded and agreed. Tangier was not mine, I had never laid claim to it, not it to me.

An exotic locale, a one-sided relationship, classmates at Bennington College. If this is sounding to you like The Talented Mr. Ripley (a classic! https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/04/28/the-talented-mr-ripley/) meets The Secret History, you are not alone. Joyce Carol Oates offered this publicity quote for the novel’s dustcover: “As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated on a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock.” Jennifer Reese, reviewing for the New York Times, adds: “It’s as if Mangan couldn’t decide whether to write a homage to Donna Tartt’s “The Secret History” or a sun-drenched novel of dissolute Westerners abroad in the tradition of Patricia Highsmith and Paul Bowles, so she tried to do both. She mostly succeeds.” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/03/27/books/review/tangerine-christine-mangan.html

tangerineThis novel is quick. Tense. Exhilarating. You find yourself guessing and second-guessing, wanting to shout advice like I always do in those teenage-slasher movies. “Don’t GO IN THERE!”

George Clooney optioned the novel to film, and word is that Scarlett Johansson has been signed to star. What I am not sure of is which role. Lucyis described as dark-haired and beautiful, Alice blond and British-patrician. I’m guessing Lucy.

It’s a hot choice for your bookclub’s summer read.

MENUtangerine fruit

Hot mint tea is mentioned multiple times and according to Epicurious.com, you can hardly walk in the casbah without tripping over mint tea offerings. There’s mention of  some gin drink and also some creation of Alice’s own involving grenadine.

I would definitely serve a tagine — and it’s always fun to have an excuse to buy a new piece of kitchen equipment. Here’s a link with a variety of recipes: https://www.yummly.com/recipes/moroccan-beef-tagine

Hummus and pita chips, fresh sliced cucumber and tomatoes.

For dessert, a tangerine cake. https://www.allrecipes.com/recipe/17667/tangerine-orange-cake/

MUSIC

Jazz clubs serve as backdrop for a couple of key scenes. I would find some great 1950s jazz station and let it roll all night.

HAPPY READING!

 

 

Carter & Lovecraft, by Jonathan L. Howard

books sign

Science fiction does not generally find its way onto my reading list. But Carter & Lovecraft, described as the start of Jonathan L. Howard’s thrilling supernatural series that brings the myths of H.P. Lovecraft into the 21st Century, somehow found its way onto my audible list. I’m actually not even sure I remember downloading it, but there it was, below Casino Islandhttps://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2017/09/25/camino-island-by-john-grisham/, and above The Jane Austen Project. I pressed play and found myself first at a strange murder scene in NYC, then much more happily, at a bookstore in Providence, Rhode Island.

 

H._P._Lovecraft,_June_1934I’m pretty happy with any novel that includes a whip-smart librarian with a shotgun whoruns a bookstore. Emily Lovecraft is a descendant of sci-fi horror fiction author H.P. Lovecraft: a real guy — I wasn’t sure as I read Carter & Lovecraft if H.P. Lovecraft was a clever variation of an author’s name that sounded vaguely familiar or a real guy. It’s the latter.

I also really enjoyed Dan Carter’s take on nearly everything. He’s smart, pragmatic, funny, and prepared — for almost anything. “In his experience, motives were simple. There was greed, there was jealousy, he’d seen plenty of revenge played out in gang-related crimes, there was even sadism, and sometimes there was flat-out stupidity, which was a pretty powerful motivator in itself.”

A bit of background: H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937 without achieving any financial success during his lifetime. By his own account, his themes were complex and spooky:

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form—and the local human passions and conditions and standards—are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities. These must be handled with unsparing realism, (not catch-penny romanticism) but when we cross the line to the boundless and hideous unknown—the shadow-haunted Outside—we must remember to leave our humanity and terrestrialism at the threshold.

— H. P. Lovecraft, in note to the editor of Weird Tales, on resubmission of “The Call of Cthulhu

On to Carter & Lovecraft. Dan Carter is a NYC detective who is in on a catch that goes incredibly wrong when his partner dies at the scene. Soon after, Carter retires from the force and hangs his shingle as a P.I. Life is pretty dull until Carter is informed by a stranger-than-normal attorney that he has inherited property in Providence, Rhode Island from a person he doesn’t know. Intrepid Carter seeks out the property and discovers it’s a book store staffed by the beautiful Emily Lovecraft, she of the high cheekbones and shotgun. “Lovecraft angled her head back until she was looking at Harrelson down her nose. ‘I trained as a librarian, and I run a bookstore. Fucking right I can use a gun.'”

Before you can say Cthulhu Mythos, a professor has drowned in a dry car, an Atlantic City pit boss has literally exploded after eating a plate of ribs, and Dan Carter keeps finding himself on an eerie and inhospitable spit of land called Waits Bill where the women are much more than women and the men are even stranger.

monsters

Having no foundation in Lovecraft, I was a bit at a loss at times, but the plot — or enjoyment — of a ripping good read in Carter & Lovecraft is not dependent on that knowledge.

Should your book club read it? Truthfully, you know your book buddies better than I do. Were I to bring Carter & Lovecraft to my own home club, I think my friends would turn on me faster than a Wait woman turns on a strange man. But just in case you do, I’ve got a few food and music suggestions:

MENU

BBQ Ribs. Truly, this is your only choice. And some bourbon. Recipes below.

In Atlantic City, Bernie Hayesman looked at the plate of ribs, and he was not happy. He had asked for an omelet, a simple omelet to be sent up to his office, and they had sent ribs. He couldn’t understand it. He’d spoken to the chef personally. They’d discussed eggs, if briefly. There was no earthly way “omelet” could have been misconstrued as “ribs”. He looked at the plate of ribs, and the ribs looked back. Neither he nor they were overjoyed at the situation.

Rhode Island Clam Dip

  • 2 slices bacon, chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped sweet onion
  • 1 package Gravy Mix
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 1 cup shredded white Cheddar cheese, divided
  • 1 (6.5 ounce) can chopped clams, drained
  • 2 teaspoons  Parsley Flakes
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Cook bacon in large skillet on medium-high heat until crisp. Remove bacon, reserving drippings in pan. Add onion; cook and stir 2 to 3 minutes or until translucent. Stir in Gravy Mix, milk and 1/2 cup of the shredded cheese. Bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 2 minutes or until gravy starts to thicken. Remove from heat. Stir in clams.
  2. Pour into 9-inch glass pie plate. Sprinkle with remaining 1/2 cup cheese.
  3. Bake 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Sprinkle with bacon and parsley. Serve with toasted baguette slices or crackers.

New Jersey’s Award-Winning Rib recipe from Big Joe’s Cookbook can be found here: http://nj1015.com/big-joes-award-winning-ribs-recipe/

Larcery Bourbon has an impressive selection of bourbon recipes on its website, but the Pressing Charges looks like a great combination for a rib dinner:

PRESSING CHARGES Pressing-Charges
  • 2 oz. Larceny Bourbon
  • 2 oz. Ginger Ale
  • 2 oz. Soda Water
  • 2 Dashes Peychaud’s Bitters

In an Old Fashioned glass, combine Larceny, ginger ale and soda water. Float bitters on top.

MUSIC

My playlist would include:

Evil Woman, ELO

Dark Lady, Cher

Witchy Woman, The Eagles

Monster, Lady Gaga

Sweet Rhode Island Red, Ike & Tina Turner

Rhode Island is Famous for You, Michael Feinstein

The Last Resort, The Eagles

MOVIE CASTING

According to Kirkus Reviews, the book has been optioned by Warner Bros. and is headed to tv land. Here are my casting suggestions:

Dan Carter                     Aaron Eckhart

Emily Lovecraft            Gabrielle Union

William Colt                  Thomas Decker

carter &So . . . there you go. If you dare.

Happy Reading!

 

Camino Island, by John Grisham

GatsbyMS One of the greatest literary treasures in the United States, F.Scott Fitzgerald’s hand-written manuscripts are stolen from the Firestone Library on Princeton University’s campus by a gang of five: Denny, a former Army ranger kicked out of the military; Mark, a professional thief with a history of “smash-and-grab” jobs involving art and artifacts ransomed back to the original owners; Jerry and Trey, petty thieves who met in prison; and Ahmed, a computer hacker.

The heist happens quickly in John Grisham’s latest novel, Camino Island, and serves as a backdrop for the real intrigue: where have the manuscripts gone after some of the thieves are caught; and how can Princeton get them back.

Enter Elaine Shelby, an insurance investigator. Mercer Mann, young, broke, aspiring writer with a past that includes time in Camino Island, Florida. Bruce Cable, owner of Bay Books, acquirer of valuable books, Southern dandy, and book (and author) lover. In his own mind he is “a well-read playboy” and an ambitious businessman.

seersucker“He owned a dozen different seersucker suits, each with a different shader color, and he wore one every day, along with a starched white shirt with a spread collar, and a loud bow tie, usually either red or yellow. His ensemble was completed with a pair of dirty buckskins, no socks. He never wore socks, not even in January when the temperatures dipped into the forties. His hair was thick and wavy, and he wore it long, almost to his shoulders. He shaved once a week on Sunday morning. By the time he was thirty, some gray was working itself into the picture, a few whiskers and a few strands of the long hair, and it was quite becoming.”

Elaine, the insurance investigator, believes Bruce Cable has the manuscripts. She wants Mercer to return to Camino Island, the home of Mercer’s grandmother, and infiltrate the community’s cabal of eccentric authors as a means of getting close to Cable, who has quite the reputation for his way with the lady authors.

The New York Times said Camino Island reads like it was written while John Grisham took a vacation from writing John Grisham novels. Grisham has a lot of fun with books, authors, and characterizations. The romance writer who “you won’t believe has ever had sex with anybody,” the literary writer who pens “really impenetrable stuff the stores can’t give away,” the alcoholic novelist whose been in and out of rehab so often everyone’s lost count, the “vampire girl” young adult novelist, the poet “snob,” etc.

Camino IslandMy favorite depiction is that of Bay Books, Cable’s island store.

. . . the smells of new books, and coffee, and, from somewhere, the hint of pipe smoke. She adored the saggy shelves, the piles of books on the floors, the ancient rugs, the racks of paperbacks, the colorful section for bestsellers at 25 percent off! From across the store she took in the First Editions Room, a handsome paneled area with open windows and hundreds of the more expensive books.

Camino Island is a fun place to visit and talk about books. Learn a little, live a little. Pass it on.

MENU

Food from the book

Shrimp Risotto with bread and wine

This recipe from epicurious.com for Shrimp Risotto looks good: https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/shrimp-risotto-4970

Champagne and pizza

Margaritas with grouper tacos

I would serve the Margaritas and grouper tacos. Yum.

© Sarah Elliott for Jenni KayneFrom http://ripandtan.jennikayne.com/cocktail-of-the-day-the-hemingway-margarita/

By Greg Murnion
Servings:1
Units:
US Imperial
Metric
Ingredients
Instructions
  1. Combined all and enjoy!

 

MUSIC

Of course, you could go all Jimmy Buffett. Or add a little variety with some of these:

Sitting on the Dock of the Bay, Otis Redding

Island Girl, Elton John

The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald, Gordon Lightfoot

Don’t Bring Me Down (Bruce!), ELO

Sharp Dressed Man, ZZ Top

The Spy Who Loved Me, Carly Simon

Undercover Lover, .38 Special

MOVIE CASTING  simon baker

This is a fun one to think about casting, especially Bruce Cable. But the troupe of writers would be a great casting assignment too.

Elaine Shelby — Cate Blanchett is the obvious choice but Elizabeth Banks would be fun for this part

Mercer Mann — Emma Roberts

Noel — Margot Robbie

Bruce Cable — Simon Baker

Happy Reading!

 

 

News of the World, Paulette Jiles

old news

At age 70, Capt. Jefferson Kyle Kidd has endured wars, a wife, the loss of her, two daughters, and has traveled the roads and byways of his native South. In Paulette Jiles’ 2016 National Book Award-nominated News of the World, this gentleman is now roaming Texas reading periodicals and papers to audiences so starved for news of the outside world they will pay a nickel a piece to hear it proclaimed.

Capt. Kidd seems content to  live life this way while waiting for his daughters to move back home to Texas. Jiles’ paints her gentleman newsreader as remote from the world of his audiences, saddened by the passage of time, impatient with the impatience of intolerance.

Captain Kidd laid out the Boston Morning Journal on the lectern and began to read from the article on the Fifteenth Amendment. He had been born in 1798 and the third war of his lifetime had ended five years ago and he hoped never to see another but now the news of the world aged him more than time itself. Still he stayed his rounds, even during the cold spring rains. He had been at one time a printer but the war had taken his press and everything else, the economy of the Confederacy had fallen apart even before the surrender and so he now made his living in this drifting from one town to another in North Texas with his newspapers and journals in a waterproof portfolio and his coat collar turned up against the weather. He rode a very good horse and was concerned that someone might try to take the horse from him but so far so good. So he had arrived in Wichita Falls on February 26th and tacked up his posters and put on his reading clothes in the stable. There was a hard rain outside and it was noisy but he had a good strong voice.

He shook out the Journal’s pages.

The Fifteenth Amendment, he read, which has just been signed between the several states February 3rd, 1870, allows the vote to all men qualified to vote without regard to race or color or previous condition of servitude. He looked up from the text. His reading glasses caught the light. He bent slightly forward over the lectern. That means colored gentlemen, he said. Let us have no vaporings or girlish shrieks. He turned his head to search the crowd of faces turned up to him. I can hear you muttering, he said. Stop it. I hate muttering.

He glared at them and then said, Next. The Captain shook out another newspaper. The latest from the New York Herald Tribune states that the polar exploration ship Hansa is reported by a whaler as being crushed in sunk in the pack ice in its attempt to reach the North Pole; sunk at seventy degrees north latitude off Greenland. There is nothing in this article about survivors. He flipped the page impatiently.

This moment presents Capt. Kidd with what is perhaps his life’s last great challenge. A ten-year-old girl has been “rescued” from her Kiowa captors. Kidd is charged with returning Johanna to her closest relatives, across Texas, fighting brigands, harsh countryside, and the girl’s own hysteria at being ripped from the only family she knew.

news of the worldBritt said, The Kiowa don’t want her. They finally woke up to the fact that having a white captive gets you run down by the cav. The Agent said to bring all the captives in or he was cutting off their rations and sending the 12th and the 9th out after them. They brought her in and sold her for fifteen Hudson’s Bay four-stripe blankets and a set of silver dinnerware. German coin silver. They’ll beat it up into bracelets. It was Aperian Crow’s band brought her in. Her mother cut her arms to pieces and you could hear her crying for a mile.

Her Indian mother.

Yes, said Britt.

Were you there?

Britt nodded.

I wonder if she remembers anything. From when she was six.

No, said Britt. Nothing.

The girl still did not move. It takes a lot of strength to sit that still for that long. She sat upright on the bale of Army shirts which were wrapped in burlap, marked in stencil for Fork Belknap. Around her were wooden boxes of enamel wash basins and nails and smoked deer tongues packed in fat, a sewing machine in a crate, fifty-pound sacks of sugar. Her round face was flat in the light of the lamp and without shadows, or softness. She seemed carved.

“[It] is a narrow but exquisite book about the joys of freedom (experienced even by a raging river threatening to overrun its banks); the discovery of unexpected, proprietary love between two people who have never experienced anything like it; pure adventure in the wilds of an untamed Texas; and the reconciling of vastly different cultures (as when Kidd has to explain to Johanna, who is all set to collect a white man’s scalp, that this “is considered very impolite” and simply isn’t done). That’s a lot to pack into a short (213 pages), vigorous volume, but Ms. Jiles is capable of saying a lot in few words.” https://www.nytimes.com/2016/10/13/books/news-of-the-world-paulette-jiles.html 

paulette_jiles-400Obviously Jiles is a writer of immense and immediate talent. She places each word, showing as well as proclaiming herself a poet, novelist and memoirist. Her website, http://paulettejiles.com , contains numerous blog posts enlivening the writer’s work with insights into her life and thoughts and writing processes. I learned that she is, like me, an alto who enjoys singing the low line but occasionally resents the showier sopranos.

I truly enjoyed this book, found it haunting and beautiful and lyrical. Capt. Kidd and Johanna’s growing relationship, their fierce-now-lost world, are with me, thought it’s been several weeks since I’ve read the Jiles’ novel. It is now out in paperback and I heartily endorse the choice for your book club.

MENU

From the novel: Brisket barbecue, divinity candy, taffy, Alsatian noodles with lamb and cream.

I have never tried a beef brisket but I love eating it. I think this novel may inspire me to try. My good friend Monica — a book club member — does her briskets in a “Big Green Egg” but since I don’t have one of those, I will try this Southern Living endorsed, Texas brisket recipe on a grill: http://www.myrecipes.com/recipe/fiesta-brisket . My mouth is already watering.

When I was a child, one of my favorite parts of Christmas was the tray of homemade candies my grandmother would bring out on Christmas Eve. And my favorite part of that tray was the divinity candy. Here’s her recipe:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup white corn syrup
  • 3/4 cup cold water
  • 3 egg whites
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla
  • 2 cups chopped pecans

Beat egg whites until stiff peaks form.

In a heavy saucepan over medium heat, stir together the sugar, corn syrup, and water until sugar dissolves. Without stirring further, cook until mixture reaches hard ball stage.

Use a slow pour to stream syrup into egg whites beating constantly at high speed. Add  vanilla and continue to beat until mixture holds its shape, approximately 5 minutes. Stir in pecans.

Using 2 spoons, drop the divinity onto waxed paper, using 1 spoon to push the candy off the other. If the candy becomes too stiff, add a few drops of hot water.  Cool on racks.

MUSIC

Jiles’ website says she is a choir member and the music sprinkled throughout News of the World reflects a deep knowledge of a Southern hymnal and folk music.

It is Well With My Soul

Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross

Come to the Power

Black is the Color

Yellow Rose of Texas

MOVIE CASTING

redford

Apparently Fox 2000 bought the movie rights to star Tom Hanks as Capt. Kidd. Which to me is a durn shame.

 

Robert Redford is the perfect Capt. Kidd.

Happy Reading!