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?)

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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

rainbow

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,

MENU

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+STOREFRONT

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’.

MUSIC

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.

MOVIE

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.

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, by Kim Michele Richardson

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In 1935, the federal Works Progress Administration established a library outreach
project in the Appalachian mountain region to get more books into the hands of the people. Until 1943, librarians on horses traveled the mountains to take and retrieve books to patrons living in the remote areas not serviced by a library. Kentucky was home to one of the earliest pack horse library programs with the first established in 1934 in Leslie County and others coming shortly thereafter in Harlan, Clay, Whitley, Jackson, Owsley and Lee counties. Over the course of eight years, the Pack Horse Librarians project reached 1.5 million Kentuckians and enabled nearly 1,000 women to support themselves and their families in 48 Kentucky counties.

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Book Woman delivering to Appalachian children, courtesy Kentucky Department of Libraries

Cussy Mary Carter is “the” book woman of the title in native Kentuckian Kim Michele Richardson’s novel, The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek. The year is 1936, and Cussy Mary’s widowed father hopes it’s “the year his only daughter, nineteen-year-old Cussy Mary Carter, would get herself hitched and quit her job with the Pack Horse Library Project.” Cussy has other ideas.

“Pa, I have me a good job making us twenty-eight dollars a month delivering books to folks who’s needing the book learning in these hills. . . . It’s decent money — ”

“Where’s your decency? Some of the womenfolk are complaining you’re carrying dirty books up them rocks.”

“Weren’t true. It’s called literature and it’s proper enough.” I tried to explain like so many times before. “Robinson Crusoe, and Dickens, and the likes, and lots of Popular Mechanics and Women’s Home Companion even. Pamphlets with tips on fixing things busted. Patterns for sewing. Cooking and cleaning. Making a dollar stretch. Important things, Pa. Respectable — ”

Airish. It ain’t respectable for a female to be riding these rough hills, behaving like a man,” he said, a harshness rumbling his voice.

“It helps educate folks and their young’uns.”

According to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, Cussy Mary made her own booklets for distribution by combining pages from newspapers and worn magazines. Joan Vannorsdale’s article, “The Pack Horse Librarians of Eastern Kentucky,” published in Blue Ridge Country adds historical perspective to the fictional account by Kim Michele Richardson. “The scrapbooks were compiled by pack horse librarians during weekly report gatherings at county library headquarters, and included many contributions from library patrons along their routes. In 1940, Vance writes, 2,653 scrapbooks were circulated among Pack Horse Library patrons. ‘They became important cultural artifacts that offer a window into the lives and interests of readers in the Depression-era Appalachian region of eastern Kentucky,’ Vance asserts.” https://blueridgecountry.com/newsstand/magazine/pack-horse-librarians-eastern-kentucky/

But Richardson’s book woman has more than her share of trouble. Her mother has died, her father’s sick from working in the coal mines, she rides the roughest roads in the state on a recalcitrant mule facing harassment and sexual assault in the process. Not only that, Cussy Mary is one of Kentucky’s famous “blue people.”

I could barely meet someone’s eyes for fear my color would betray my sensibilities. A mere blush, a burst of joy or anger, or sudden startle, would crawl across my skin, deepening, changing my softer appearance to a ripened blueberry hue, sending the other person scurrying. . . . A girl who could turn as blue as the familiar bluet damselfly skimming Kentucky creek bed, the old mountain doctor had once puzzled and then promptly nicknamed me Bluet.

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The Blue People of Troublesome Creek, painting by Walt Spitzmiller

“A rare but very noticeable condition of abnormal hemoglobin affects the “blue people of Troublesome Creek”. Seven generations ago, in 1820, a French orphan named Martin Fugate who settled in this area of Kentucky brought in an autosomal recessive gene that causes methemoglobinemia. Martin’s mutation was in the CYP5R3 gene, which encodes an enzyme (cytochrome b5 methemoglobin reductase) that normally catalyzes a reaction that converts a type of hemoglobin with poor oxygen affinity, methemoglobin, back into normal hemoglobin by adding an electron. Martin was a heterozygote but still slightly bluish. His wife, Elizabeth Smith, was also a carrier for this very rare disease, and four of their seven children were blue. After extensive inbreeding in the isolated community—their son married his aunt, for example—a large pedigree of “blue people” of both sexes arose. https://blogs.plos.org/dnascience/2016/09/22/finding-the-famous-painting-of-the-blue-people-of-kentucky/

So Cussy Mary is also blue. Alas, poor girl. She draws the attention, naturally, of the local doctor who wants to take her to Lexington to study and she agrees based on his promise of food. The doctor believes he has discovered the problem as well as the solution to the color and Cussy Mary sees hope for herself at last. She envisions a life where she can be accepted, maybe even married. With her newly-pale skin, Cussy Mary decides to attend the community’s Independence Day celebrations but finds that her father’s prediction is true: “Those that can’t see past a folk’s skin color have a hard difference in them. There’s a fire in that difference. And when they see you, they’ll still see a Blue.”

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is an outstanding work of historical fiction rooted in the reality of living in the hollers of Appalachia during the deepest days of the Depression. It’s also a meditation on the discrimination that unfortunately runs as rampant in our time as it did in the 1930s: discrimination on the basis of skin color and social class, lack of educational resources, and the scarcity of wholesome food.

Book-Woman-Troublesome-Creek-Kim-Michele-Richardson

Kim Michele Richardson’s website has it’s own “scrapbook” which includes a reading group guide, recipes from the novel, recipes from actual book women, and household tips. One of the recipes is for the Scripture Cake that Cussy Mary takes to the Fourth of July celebration.

There’s also a book trailer and interview with Ms. Richardson.

https://www.kimmichelerichardson.com/the-book-woman-of-troublesome-creek

MUSIC

From some research, I’ve learned that “old-time music,” is the term for the Appalachian music of the 1920s and 1930s. It’s primarily the type of music performed by a string band and is Scotch-Irish influenced. Here’s a couple of videos of some performances: https://youtu.be/cVMi3MH0uRU, https://youtu.be/STzoTmbemvA.

MOVIE

I follow Ms. Richardson on twitter and noticed that she reported a conversation with a “big producer” in Hollywood. She told him she had to have Kaitlyn Dever for Cussy Mary. I don’t know whether the rights have been sold or not. I can see Kaitlyn Dever, but I can also see Julia Garner from Ozark. For fun, I’m going to populate this with only Kentucky-born actors.

Pa                             Michael Shannon

Jackson Lovett       Josh Hutcherson

Mr. Frazier             Johnny Depp — he’d have fun with this role

So enjoy reading The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek either with your book club or on your own!

After The RaceAnd don’t forget that my debut novel, After the Race, is available now! You can order from rabbithousepress.com or Amazon, or buy it from Joseph-Beth booksellers. If your local book store doesn’t have it in stock, ask them to carry After the Race!

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

Olive, Again by Elizabeth Strout

Olive Kitteridge, Elizabeth Strout’s first book of thirteen interconnected short stories revolving around the crusty resident of Crosby, Maine, was such a barn-burner it’s no Olive branch illustration vintage clip art isolate on white backwonder Ms. Strout has returned to Olive and Crosby in Olive, Again. Ten years ago, Strout won a Pulitzer for Olive Kitteridge and that book was turned into a mini-series starring Frances McDermond which is definitely worth the watch.

In Olive, Again, Strout uses the same format, thirteen interconnected short stories, that bring the fruition of several characters in previous books. Olive’s, Jack’s, the Brothers Burgess (from The Burgess Boys), Isabelle Daignault (Amy and Isabelle). It’s nice to revisit these characters even if my recollection needed refreshing.

Olive, Again picks up shortly after Olive Kitteridge ended with a chapter about Jack Kennison, the retired Harvard professor a recently-widowed Olive met at the end of the first book.

Now Jack allowed his mind to go to Olive Kitteridge. Tall, big: God, she was a strange woman. He had liked her quite a bit, she had an honesty — was it an honesty? — she had something about her. A widow, she had — it felt to him — practically saved his life. They’d gone to dinner a few times, a concert; he had kissed her on the mouth. He could laugh out loud to think about this now. Her mouth. Olive Kitteridge. Like kissing a barnacle-covered whale. She had a grandson born a couple of years ago, Jack hadn’t especially cared, but she had cared because the kid was called Henry after his grandfather, Olive’s dead husband. Jack had suggested she go see the little fellow Henry in New York City and she had said, Well, she didn’t think so. Who knows why? Things were not good with her son, he knew that much. But things weren’t good with his daughter either. They had that in common. He remembered how Olive had told him right away that her father had killed himself when she was thirty. Shot himself in his kitchen. Maybe this had something to do with how she was; it must have. And then she had come over one morning and unexpectedly lain down next to him on the bed in the guest room. Boy, had he been relieved. Relief had just flowed through him when she’d put her head on his chest. “Stay,” he said finally, but she rose and said she had to get home. “I’d like it if you stayed,” he said, but she did not. And she never returned. When he tried calling her, she did not answer the telephone.

Olive, we know from this passage in the first chapter, has retained her inimitable “Oliveness.” As prone to selfish, hard-headed, amusing behavior as ever. She is also something of a guardian angel for her fellow residents of Crosby, Maine. She attends a “stupid” baby shower, “she could not believe what a stupid baby shower that had been,” but while there delivers a baby in the back seat of her own car because the ambulance couldn’t make it there in time. It is this event that prompts Olive to reconnect with Jack. She wants to tell someone about it so she calls him.

Maine-Map-ItineraryOver the course of the book, Olive’s somewhat-estranged son Christoper visits; she sympathetically watches over a friend in a nursing home; Olive and Jack marry. Olive’s trademark exclamations — “Oh Godfrey,” “phooey to you,” “she’s gone all dopey-dope,” — as well as her defensiveness and vulnerability remain intact.

In one particularly poignant chapter, Jack and Olive drive to a nearby town for dinner at a new restaurant. As they are enjoying their meal, a woman and her date walk in and Jack becomes uncomfortable and Olive’s no-holds-barred frankness is on full display.

“She’s that woman who got you fired from Harvard.”

“I didn’t get fired,” Jack said; this made him really angry.

“She was the reason.” Olive said this, still quietly.  And then, turning her face toward him, she said, and it seemed her voice almost trembled, “I have to tell you, Jack. The only thing that upsets me about her is your taste in women, I think she is a dreadful, dreadful woman.” . . . “that snot-wot is a creep. That dreadful woman you bedded down all those years.”

In reviewing Olive, Again for the Washington Post, Joan Frank says, “Without room for the swaths of material I long to quote, I can only cite the marrow of “Olive’s” glory: wave upon wave of unflinching insight, delivered in language so clean it shines. Sentences flow in simplest words and clearest order — yet line after line hammers home some of the most complex human rawness you’ll ever read.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/entertainment/books/the-cranky-bossy-sad-brave-beloved-olive-kitteridge-is-back-in-olive-again–and-better-than-ever/2019/10/03/ba1df290-e47f-11e9-a331-2df12d56a80b_story.html

Olive, Again is a wonderful book, full of character, humor, pathos, loss, joy, and sadness, as all truly great literature is. I highly recommend Olive, Again for your book club.

ElizabethStrout-OliveAgain-hpMENU

Olive’s favorite delicacy appears to be a lobster roll, which from what I (a Kentuckian) can tell is lobster mixed with mayonnaise on a hot dog bun. Since I don’t like mayonnaise and lobster is not nearly as plentiful in Kentucky as in Maine, I’m not going to try to provide a recipe.

At the “stupid” baby shower, the menu included “little sandwiches, deviled eggs, tiny pieces of chocolate cake.” Here I can help.

You’d probably want to provide one sandwich with an olive theme. Olive nut maybe?

Kentucky caterer Jennie Carter Benedict created a famous tea sandwich in her catering days that is still a must-serve for spring and Derby in Kentucky. Benedictine can be used as a vegetable dip but for Olive, Again, I’d use is as a sandwich filling. My favorite benedictine sandwiches use one tiny slice of bread (cut in circles), topped by the spread and on top of that a very thin slice of cucumber.

JENNIE BENEDICT’S FAMOUS BENEDICTINE SPREAD2387498-cucumber-tea-sandwiches

INGREDIENTS
1 cucumber
1 onion
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
1 teaspoon salt
A few grains of cayenne pepper
2 drops green food coloring (optional, but a local favorite)
Directions
Peel and grate the cucumber, then wrap it in a clean dish towel and squeeze the juice into a dish. Discard the pulp. Peel and grate the onion, then wrap it in a clean dish towel and squeeze the juice into a dish. Discard the pulp. (Use a juicer if you prefer)

Combine three tablespoons of the cucumber juice, one tablespoon of the onion juice, cream cheese, salt, pepper and food coloring in a bowl. Mix with a fork until well blended. Serve as a dip or as a sandwich filling.

PLAYLIST

I don’t recall music playing much of a role in Olive, Again. But it does seem to be underscored by quirky, somber-then-snappy melodies. There are a couple of pieces from the miniseries on amazon to purchase. But I feel like George Winston’s albums Autumn and Forest would be just the ticket.

ATR COVER*** My novel, After the Race, is now available! Alexandra was raised to be the next Jackie Kennedy. Just as her mother intended, Alexandra’s summer internship on Capitol Hill results in the perfect fiancé, a future job, and D.C. political savvy. But when Alex returns to college for her final year and falls in love with a handsome, blue-jeaned bike champion, she must choose between the two men and the lives they represent, and decide whether she can defy her mother’s designs to fulfill her own dreams. Ultimately, Alexandra must find within herself the power to confront the one unplanned event that could derail everything.

Order from rabbithousepress.com, amazon.com, or buy at Joseph-Beth booksellers or your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, ask them to order!

 

Happy Reading!

 

After the Race, A Playlist

ATR COVER

I promised I’d post a playlist for those of you reading After the Race (or about to read it!).

Music is an integral part of writing for me. In fact, the weekend I finished writing the first draft of After the Race, I checked into the hotel section of the Indiana University student union building, found a 1980s station on Pandora, and let it play the entire time I was there. There are many times when a song encompasses all of the elements I want to convey in the scene.

 

In Chapter One, Alexandra and her friend Meg are preparing for the Little 500 race and John Cougar Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane plays. (Still one of my favorite videos: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h04CH9YZcpI)

         Three years from that date and 500 miles away from her mother, Alexandra stared into the lighted mirror considering Jane Ann’s educational objectives. Other than mascara, I don’t think I’ll need any of the First Lady training today. I’m about as far away from the White House as possible. The opening bars of Jack & Diane boomed from a radio down the hall, “Two American kids growing up in the heartland.” With that, all thoughts of her mother slid right out of Alex’s head.

      220px-John_cougar-jack_diane_s      Slathering her upturned nose with zinc oxide, Meg Swenson turned from her own makeup mirror. “Don’t forget sunscreen,” Meg said. She pulled a blue and white Gamma Chi Omega sorority visor over her short, dark hair to screen her fair skin.

            “Meg, I am not going to the social event of the year with a white nose. I tan anyway, I don’t burn. It’s you Yankee girls that have to worry.”

            “Jane Ann isn’t opposed to tanning for First Ladies to-be?”

            “Men love seeing a healthy glow on a girl.” Alex imitated her mother’s sugary, Southern voice. “It makes them feel virile and virile means nuptial.”

        “I really think your mother could rival Phil Donahue with her own daytime talk show. Sort of a Southern etiquette-dating-fashion expert and Dear Abby all in one.”

          “She would adore that. You should offer to be her producer.”

      “I’m so sure.” Meg laughed.  “What team are you for today?”

      “Celts, I guess. You?”

     Meg nodded agreement. “The party will be definitely be more fun if the men of Chi Lambda Tau win.”

       Alex checked her teeth in the mirror then turned to approve the rear view of her new Girbaud jeans with the white tab on the fly, a GCO t-shirt and Reeboks. Good. She stuffed her college ID, the Little 500 ticket, and a five-dollar bill in her pocket. From outside Becky Boone’s room, they heard John Cougar ending the song and Alex joined in the refrain, “Oh yeah, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone.”

        “I never get that line,” Meg said.

      “Maybe Cougar himself’ll be at the race and you can ask him to explain it. Becks!”

      Becky emerged splashed with a cloud of Jean Nate, her hair falling in luxurious blonde Farrah Fawcett wings and curls. “Ready!” Becky’s voice rose an octave on the last word and the three left in a fit of giggles, hair spray, and perfume.

John Cougar Mellencamp’s music was ubiquitous on the campus of Indiana University in the mid-eighties and sightings of the singer happened frequently. In the book, the girls call him “Cougar,” because in the early part of his career, he performed under that name. He switched to John Cougar Mellencamp in 1983.

In one of the early interactions with her Washington, D.C. roommate, Alex overhears Dottie singing in the shower. I wanted Dottie’s penchant for malaprop singing to show her character’s personality.

A night of thundering rain dissipated the cloying humidity seeping up from the District’s marshy foundation. Alex woke to the rush of pink-blossomed morning air and car exhaust fumes and Dottie’s shower warbling what sounded like “every snake you shake.”

“Dottie, are you almost done?” Alex pressed the bathroom door open a crack and heard Dottie sing, “I’ll be washing you.”  She slammed the open window, girls with short hair had no concept of frizz.

“Hurry up.” Alex chose a rose-colored silk dress and black patent sling-back pumps. She lay back on the bed, the cooled air and Dottie’s singing washing over her enjoying the thought that another day in the nation’s Capital was about to begin.

After five more minutes of waiting, she returned to the bathroom door. “I need to get in the shower. Now!”

“OK, OK! I am out… NOW!” Dottie emerged naked, a viridian green towel turbaned around her spiky hair. “Whatcha got going that you’re in such a hurry?”

“Ugh.  This bathroom is disgusting. Could you at least rinse the sink out after you brush your teeth?”

album_everybreathyoutake_thesingles  “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” She sang, “Every fart you fake… “

“Poor Sting. If he only knew what you’ve done to his beautiful lyrics.”

“Don’t tell me those aren’t the right words?” Wide-eyed innocence.

The scene takes place in 1984, Every Breath You Take was released in 1983. https://youtu.be/OMOGaugKpzs. A year isn’t quite long enough for Dottie to learn the words.

When Alex and Billy go on their first official date to a piano bar in Georgetown, they unexpectedly bump into what will become “their song.”

So Bill led her toward a brick building with a narrow M Street doorway that led to a piano bar overlooking C&O Canal. Within minutes, they each held a frigid fishbowl of beer and were sitting in front of a pianist silking jazz from the keyboard. The golden, buttery perfume of steamed clams suffused the air. Bill slipped a dollar bill in the performer’s tip jar, then rested his arm on the back of Alex’s chair.

“Do you want to hear anything special?” The musician ran his fingers up the scale waiting for a response.

“Play ‘Misty’ for me,” she said, playacting a sultry voice.

“I love that movie.” Bill squeezed her shoulder as the first three notes rang down the keys.

“I’ve never actually seen it. But I do like the song.”

Couples wandered hand in hand down the towpath outside their window, pollen spun gold by the setting sun settling into their hair. Bill, his skin tan and smile warm, drew Alex closer and she relaxed against him, swaying slightly to the music. The burble of conversation from other tables grew louder.

Although Johnny Mathis’ Misty was released in 1959, Alex and Billy would’ve been familiar with it. https://youtu.be/DkC9bCuahC8

Here’s the rest of my list, though there may be song references I’ve omitted. I hope you’ll enjoy reading After the Race even more with its own soundtrack. And if your book club chooses After the Race, you will be able to surprise them with all the music for the night.

After the Race is available from rabbithousepress.com, Amazon (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0578618346/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_4ZewEbCWT807Q),

In Lexington, Kentucky at

Mulberry & Lime, https://www.facebook.com/MulberryandLime/, and

Black Swan Books, https://www.facebook.com/Black-Swan-Books-174020642630246/.

In Bloomington, Indiana, at The Book Corner: https://www.facebook.com/btownbookcorner/

On Sanibel, Island, at MacIntosh Books & Paper: https://www.facebook.com/MacIntoshBooks1/

If you don’t find After the Race in your local bookstore, please ask them to order it.

PLAYLIST

Always on My Mind, Willy Nelson

Stardust, Hoagy Carmichael

Here I Am, Air Supply

Jack & Diane, John Cougar Mellencamp

American Pie, Don McLean

Waiting for a Girl Like You, Foreigner

It’s Getting Better All The Time, The Beatles

Bad Boys, Wham

Little Red Corvette, Prince

Every Breath You Take, The Police

Misty, Johnny Mathis

Wonderful Tonight, Eric Clapton

Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to be Cowboys, Waylon & Willie

Lucky Star, Madonna

Electric Slide, Marcia Griffiths

What a Feeling, Irene Cara

Dixieland Delight, Alabama

She Works Hard for the Money, Donna Summer

Beat It, Michael Jackson

Hurt So Good, John Cougar Mellencamp

Double Trouble, George Jones & Johnny Paycheck

Happy Reading! And Singing along!

 

 

 

The Girl He Used to Know, by Tracey Garvis Graves

chess

TORRENT Jose Mongrell (1870 1937) Musketeers Playing Chess.

Annika Rose is a girl with the face of Caroline Bissett Kennedy and a brain that can devour the best chess players. She is, however, unusual. She doesn’t have the instinctive social skills that she sees others around her exercising. She’s just not sure what to say, how to dress, how to interact. So she does what she’s comfortable with: takes care of wounded animals and loses herself in books.

At the instigation of her understanding college roommate, Janice, Annika goes to a meeting of the chess club and there meets Jonathan Hoffman, who becomes her friend, then lover, and finally, the man whose heart she breaks.

When The Girl He Used to Know opens, Annika and Jonathan are bumping into one another for the first time in ten years in the frozen foods section of a grocery store.

[T]hough I often struggle to recognize people out of context, there’s no need for me to question whether or not it’s him. I know it’s him. My body vibrates like the low rumble of a faraway train and I’m grateful for the freezer’s cold air as my core temperature shoots up. I want to bolt, to forget about the strawberries and find the nearest exit. But Tina’s words echo in my head, and I repeat them like a mantra: Don’t run, take responsibility, be yourself.

If the set-up sounds familiar, it’s because it’s inspired by Dan Fogelberg’s song Same Old dfLang Syne according to Ms. Graves. (Here’s the song: https://youtu.be/kmZ2VHSkVYY ) I’m a big fan of that song, so the book and it’s premise of a “second-chance love story” appealed to me. I picked up the paperback during a Target run without knowing anything more about it, though it’s been well-reviewed.

The Girl He Used to Know time-travels between Annika and Jonathan’s undergrad years at the University of Illinois and their second chance time when Jonathan has returned to Chicago from his job on Wall Street. Annika too has her dream job, working as a librarian at the Harold Washington Library. Though initially reluctant to have his heart mangled a second time, Jonathan finds he still cares a great deal about Annika. Annika has worked hard to understand both herself and the reactions other people have toward her, and she wants to please Jonathan with these changes.

hwlc-about

Harold Washington Library, Chicago

“All I wanted was to show you that I’ve changed. That I’m not the same person I was in college.” She sounds defeated.

“Well, guess what? You haven’t changed all that much. You’re still the same girl I fell in love with at twenty-two. And here’s a newsflash: I like that girl and always have, and I never once said I wanted her to change.”

. . . “I try so hard to fit in. I spend hours studying appropriate behaviors.” She makes little air quotes around the last two words. “I will never get it right! Do you know what that’s like? It’s the most frustrating thing in the world.”

Falling in love, second chance love, challenging love. The Girl He Used to Know guides the reader on these challenging journeys. The last fifty pages of the novel take a turn I completely did not anticipate, though there were hints. During these pages, Annika must undertake a journey to prove to herself how she’s changed and to prove to Jonathan that she is willing to fight for their love.

It’s a great choice for a Valentine read.

the-girl-he-used-to-know_0

MENU

Stuffed Shells, Cheesecake and Italian Cherry Soda – Annika’s favorite dinner at Trattoria #10 — a real place at 10 N. Dearborn in Chicago. http://www.trattoriaten.com/about

Pizza & Beer, being parts of this novel occur in college, the beer and pizza are unavoidable. Jonathan takes Annika on a picnic with sandwiches and chips and lemonade. There’s a Christmas dinner with baked chicken and Annika’s brother enjoys eating Christmas cookies with a beer.

Stuffed Shells. This is one of my favorite dishes from my mother (Irish-American with not an Italian gene in sight, but it’s very good!)

Boil 4-6 quarts of water. When boiling add a teaspoon of salt and then one box of pasta shells. Boil in water for 9-10 minutes.

Drain 1/13 cups ricotta cheese in a strainer for a few minutes. After it’s drained, add it to a bowl with 1 eg, 1 cup grated Parmesan cheese, 1 cup cooked fresh spinach (squeezed dry and chopped), 1 teaspoon of minced garlic. Mix well. Add salt and pepper to taste.

When shells are al dente, strain and rinse with cold water.

Prepare a baking pan or two by putting tomato sauce in the bottom of the pan to cover.

Then take a spoon and stuff each shell with the ricotta mixture, please in a baking pan (stuffed side up), until pan is full. Cover in tomato sauce — we do this in drizzle pattern,  not a drowning. Sprinkle with grated mozzarella cheese. Bake at 350 for 40-45 minutes, until bubbly. YUM.

PLAYLIST.

I thought I’d put together a playlist of second chance at love songs. There’s some golden oldies here!

Same Old Lang Syne, Dan Fogelberg

Working My Way Back to You Girl, The Spinners

If You Leave Me Now, Chicago

Against All Odds, Phil Collins

Reunited, Peaches & Herb

I want You Back, Jackson 5

Baby Come Back, Player

Back in My Arms Again, The Supremes

MOVIE CAST

Annika       Margot Robbie/Cara Delavigne

Jonathan    Liam Hemsworth

ATR COVER*** My novel, After the Race, is now available! Alexandra was raised to be the next Jackie Kennedy. Just as her mother intended, Alexandra’s summer internship on Capitol Hill results in the perfect fiancé, a future job, and D.C. political savvy. But when Alex returns to college for her final year and falls in love with a handsome, blue-jeaned bike champion, she must choose between the two men and the lives they represent, and decide whether she can defy her mother’s designs to fulfill her own dreams. Ultimately, Alexandra must find within herself the power to confront the one unplanned event that could derail everything.

Order from rabbithousepress.com, amazon.com, or buy at Joseph-Beth booksellers or your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, ask them to order!

 

Happy reading!!

 

 

 

Circe, by Madeline Miller

circe brewing

Circe by John William Waterhouse

In the sixth grade, my beloved teacher Joan Davis assigned us our first research paper, long before the days of Google, the Internet, or Amazon.com. We ventured forth carrying index cards, different colors of ink, and stacks of books (well, three or four), from which to glean knowledge to distill in the prescribed format. I chose Greek Mythology and after quickly falling in rapture with the tales, created the I.II.III. a.b.c. etc outline and thereafter the research paper required. The paper was completed but my fascination for the subject is not.

Madeline Miller, author of the Orange Prize-winning novel The Song of Achilles and more recently Circe, developed a fascination around the same time in her life by visiting the

madeline-miller

Madeline Miller

Metropolitan Museum of Arts’ Ancient Greek Exhibit. “This absolutely helped to further my love of the ancient world, particularly its mythology. I used to love looking at the statues and trying to guess who they were. However, I think I would need to cite as a personal inspiration Vergil’s Aeneid. Homer’s work influenced me also, but there is something about Vergil—his care with language and imagery, his beautiful characterizations, and his passionate pleas for mercy and forgiveness.” https://www.booktopia.com.au/blog/2011/07/20/madeline-miller-author-of-the-song-of-achilles-answers-ten-terrifying-questions/”””

Likely against all practical advice, young Madeline went to Brown University and studied  Classics and Theatre. Despite that, she has become a teacher and wildly successful novelist.

Circe binds a spell woven of the well-known mythology and the unknown character of a woman. Circe has come through time as a witch, transformer of men into pigs, aunt of Medea, entwiner of Odysseus. Miller transforms the mythology by giving us the history of the little girl, most reviled daughter of Helios, the sun god, and his wife Perse; ignored by her parents and mocked by her siblings.

“The two of them were very clever and quickly saw how things stood. They loved to sneer at me behind their ermine paws. Her eyes are yellow as piss. Her voice is screechy as an owl. She is called Hawk, but she should be called Goat for her ugliness.”

In Miller’s novel, Circe’s life changes when her uncle Prometheus (he who gave fire to man) is brought to Helios’ hall for punishment. Alone of the witnesses, Circe feels compassion toward Prometheus and offers him a cup of nectar. After he drinks, Circe questions him as to why he would go to such effort for humans and then freely confess to Zeus what he had done. Prometheus answers: “Not every god need be the same.” In this, Circe finds her life’s ambition.

Many of the reviews of Circe dwell on Miller’s feminist re-characterizing of the Greek witch. Others have spent a great deal of time commenting on that aspect, so I will not, other than to say I read Circe as a female author’s take on a female character.

circe cup

Circe Offering the Cup to Odysses, J.W. Waterhouse

The central event of the novel is Odysseus’ year-long visit to Aiaia, the island to which Circe was banished for using witchcraft to turn a mortal into a god. She has been alone for centuries, defending herself against hostile men by turning them into pigs, when Odysseus and his crew land and seek shelter. After Circe almost automatically turns the crew into a herd of swine, Odysseus arrives.

“‘I think you are Odysseus,” I said. “Born from that same Trickster’s blood.’

“He did not start at the uncanny knowledge. He was a man used to gods. ‘And you are the goddess Circe, daughter of the sun.’

“My name in his mouth. It sparked a feeling in me, sharp and eager. He was like ocean tides indeed, I thought. You could look up, and the shore would be gone.”

What follows are encounters with gods, Hermes and Helios, goddesses, Athena, and monsters; travels to the underworld and the depths of earth; and the birth of Circe and Odysseus’ son, Telegonus.

Topics for book club discussion are rich. The nature of divinity, the Fates, choice, marriage, war. Circe may be nominally about a goddess, but we mortals will certainly enjoy reading and discussing her life.

FOOD

Well . . . Circe gives Prometheus nectar but I have no idea what kind or how to generate that. My menu will focus instead on more mundane dishes, and definitely no pork!

Red wine

Cheeses and berries (pomegranate if in season)

At one point, Circe makes a favorite dish of fish stuffed with herbs and cheese. Try this recipe:

6 (6 ounce) salmon fillets, skinless

1 lemon

5  ounces spreadable cheese with garlic and herbs

sea salt

1 cup soft breadcrumbs

1/3 cup parmesan cheese, freshly shredded

1/2  cup butter, melted

2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted

Preheat oven to 425.

Finely shred enough peel from lemon to make 2 teaspoons; cut lemon in wedges and set aside. In small bowl combine semisoft cheese and lemon peel. In top of each fillet, from about 1/2 inch from one end, cut a pocket, taking care not to cut all the way through the fish. (If the fish is thin, cut into the fish at an angle). Spoon cheese mixture into pockets. Season fish with salt Place in baking pan and set aside.

In small bowl combine bread crumbs, parmesan cheese, butter and pine nuts; sprinkle over fillets, pressing lightly.

Bake, uncovered, about 14 minutes or until salmon flakes when tested with a fork. Serve with lemon wedges.

PLAYLIST

Monteverdi’s Opera The Return of Ulysses 

Josef Mysliveček’s opera La Circe

If you’re in the mood for something more modern, The Decemberists’ Hazards of Love sounds divine to me.

CASTING

According to Madeline Miller’s website, HBO is adapting Circe for a televised experience. I would anticipate a miniseries rather than a movie; there’s just too much here for a two hour event.circe book

Sean Bean (aka Ned Stark) played Odysseus in the film Troy. Joseph Mawle (aka Benjen Stark) played Odysseus in the 2018 miniseries Troy: Fall of a City. Let’s stick with Game of Thrones and give my favorite non-Stark the role. Arguably, you could easily cast the whole thing with GOT alums. Lena Headey as Circe, Gwendoline Christie as Athena, Aiden Gillen as Hermes? For fun, I’ll get out of the GOT box after casting Jamie.

Odysseus            Nicolaj Coster-Waldau

Circe                   Margot Robbie

Athena                Charlize Theron

Penelope            Rosamund Pike

ATR COVER*** My novel, After the Race, is now available! Alexandra was raised to be the next Jackie Kennedy. Just as her mother intended, Alexandra’s summer internship on Capitol Hill results in the perfect fiancé, a future job, and D.C. political savvy. But when Alex returns to college for her final year and falls in love with a handsome, blue-jeaned bike champion, she must choose between the two men and the lives they represent, and decide whether she can defy her mother’s designs to fulfill her own dreams. Ultimately, Alexandra must find within herself the power to confront the one unplanned event that could derail everything.

Order from rabbithousepress.com, amazon.com, or buy at Joseph-Beth booksellers or your local bookstore. If they don’t have it, ask them to order!

Happy reading!

 

 

 

 

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!