Brain Storm, by Elaine Viets

brainstorm

Author Elaine Viets loves mysteries. She’s the author of a series of humorous “Dead End” job mysteries, a slew of cozy mysteries, and even some mystery shopper mysteries (I really want to read one of those!). But when it came to her latest novel, Brain Storm, the mystery began not just in her own mind, but in her own head.

And there’s a Kentucky connection! Dr. Jeb Travis Tritt is the doctor who saves Angela’s life. Born in Kentucky and named for his mother’s favorite country singer.

Elaine Viets was kind enough to visit with daeandwrite and share some of her experiences. I think Elaine’s suggestions will make a great blueprint for your book club and Brain Storm an intriguing choice. Lots of great discussion points: what happens when you can’t be you anymore; how does a small community protect its own; who do you rely on when you can’t trust anyone?

Give a read to the q & a below, then go check out Elaine Viets’ Brain Storm:

DaeandWrite:  I understand you have some things in common with your protagonist Angela Richman, the death investigator who suffers a stroke near the beginning of the novel. Tell us about your experience and how it influenced Brain Storm.

Elaine Viets: In April, 2007, I had a series of blinding headaches, which I thought were migraines. After four days, I had trouble talking and doing everyday tasks, such as tying a bow in my robe belt. I couldn’t figure out how to use a fork to scramble a breakfast egg. If you know my cooking skills, this sounds like a fair description, but I seriously could not figure out that fork. I was determined to ignore these symptoms and drive 40 miles to give a speech, but my husband took away my car keys and called my internist, who sent me to the ER at a hospital that billed itself as one of the “fifty best” in the US. The neurologist on call said I was “too young and fit to have a stroke” and sent me home. I was supposed to report that Wednesday for a PET scan, but Wednesday never happened. Instead, I had six strokes, including a hemorrhagic stroke, and brain surgery. I was in a coma for a week and spent more than three months in the hospital. I used a walker for six months and a cane for two years. I’ve made a nearly complete recovery, but that took more than four years.

DaeandWrite: Viets describes Angela Richman’s mirror experience near the beginning of Brain Storm:

Brainstorm jacket“Better,” she said, though another headache was gathering at the edges of her mind, like a storm on the horizon.

“Would you like coffee?” she asked.

“Brought my own,” he said, holding up his thermos. Angela scrambled an egg, then swallowed another Imitrex.

She fought the headache all day as she struggled with her report on Ben Weymuller’s death investigation. Angela turned it in about four o’clock. At four thirty, Rick poked his head in her study door.

“I’m leaving now,” he said. “this is even more screwed up than I thought. It’s gonna take at least a month.”

“I’ll give you the spare key, in case I’m at work tomorrow,” she said. Like everyone in the Forest, she trusted Rick.

Angela could barely see him through the blinding migraine dazzle, as if he were spotlighted on a brightly lit stage. She was determined to push through this. She was too young and fit to have a stroke. The Forest’s top neurologist had said so.

“Are you feeling better?”

“I’m fine,” she said, forcing a smile. “I’ll lie down until it’s time to go out with Katie.”

Angela crawled into bed for a nap that soft spring night, Thursday, March 10. And woke up nineteen days later.

In Brain Storm, Angela confronts a world that’s radically changed. She’s physically infirm, her appearance has been radically transformed from surgery and medication, her job is at risk, and something funky is going on with the doctor that mistakenly released her. Throughout, Angela complains vocally about the hospital food, a complaint I anticipate began with Elaine.

DaeandWrite: I would guess that during your own hospital stay you became more than frustrated by the hospital food?

Elaine Viets: The food was horrible – and so unhealthy. Red meat with gravy, white bread, fried food, no fresh fruits or vegetables. I still shudder at the thought of canned green beans. Don’t hospital dieticians read the nutrition guidelines?

DaeandWrite: Did you have music you listened to during the writing or editing process? Any particular genre or songs? Do you have songs you associate with any particular character?

elaine headshotElaine Viets: Angela Richman, my death investigator, likes to hit the highway in her black Dodge Charger, and play her favorite songs from her teen years in the 1990s – nice and loud. She likes Michael Jackson, Prince, Madonna, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, and Londonbeat’s “I’ve Been Thinking about You.” She’d be mortified if you knew she also listens to Marky Mark’s “Good Vibration.”

I don’t listen to music while I write or edit, but at the end of the day, I like to kick back to classic rock: the Stones, the Doors, Eric Clapton.

DaeandWrite: Angela and her friend Katie have a favorite Mexican restaurant. Is this based on one of your favorite restaurants? Or do you cook yourself?

Elaine Viets: I’m a terrible cook, but I love Mexican food. There are some good ones in Fort Lauderdale, including Casa Frida’s in Fort Lauderdale. If you’re in the area, I recommend it. It’s a cut above the usual taco joints.

DaeandWrite: Brain Storm was released in 2016. What’s next?

Elaine Viets: The second Angela book, Fire and Ashes, which I’m writing now. It will be

published by Thomas and Mercer in August 2017.

DaeandWrite: Any book signings/events coming up?

Elaine Viets: Yes, I’ll be at the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention at the Marriott New Orleans, September 16­18. I have three events at Bcon on Saturday, September 17. From 3:00­3:50 PM, I’m on a panel, “Shake It Off: From Notes and First Draft to Finished Novel.” This is a funny, thought­provoking discussion with mystery writers Harry Hunsicker, LS Hawker, Laura McHugh, Jeffrey Siger and me. Daniel Hale is our moderator. At 4 o’clock, right after the panel, I’ll sign my books, including Brain Storm.

At 2 p.m. that same Saturday, I’ll be signing Blood on the Bayou at Bouchercon. More than 22 writers, from Alison Gaylin to David Morrell, Sheila Connelly to Gary Phillips, have donated stories to this NOLA­themed anthology. New York Times bestseller Heather Graham wrote the introduction. I did a Dead­End Job story. Helen and Margery leave the Coronado for a case in New Orleans in “Good and Dead.” All proceeds from Blood on the Bayou will benefit the New Orleans Public Library. Buy a copy, read your favorite authors, and help the library.

On October 8, I’ll teach a class – “Jump Starting Your Writing” – at Sleuthfest on Saturday, a one­day intensive writing conference sponsored by the Florida Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. This year, SOS is in Venice, Florida. For information, go to https://www.regonline.com/SleuthFest­on­Saturday­2016

On Nov. 12, I’ll be in Vero Beach, Florida, teaching a writing workshop for the Laura (Riding) Jackson Foundation, “Writing Killer Mysteries – The Basics” from 10 AM to 1 PM at the Loft. More information is at

http://www.lauraridingjackson.com/

After the workshop, I’ll sign Brain Storm and my Dead­End Job mysteries at 3 p.m. at the Vero Beach Book Center, 392 21st Street that same day.

(www.verobeachbookcenter.com)

I’m really looking forward to next spring, when I’m the Malice Domestic 29 Guest of Honor from Thursday, April 28 through Sunday, April 30, 2017 at the Hyatt Regency in Bethesda, Maryland. It’s quite a lineup: Marcia Talley is Toastmaster, Charlaine Harris is honored for Lifetime Achievement, the award­winning Martin

Edwards receives the Poirot Award for his contribution to the genre, and Luci Zahray is Fan Guest of Honor. Luci’s no ordinary fan. She’s also the “poison lady” who’s helped writers kill thousands. (www.malicedomestic.org)

DaeandWrite: Where can readers purchase Brain Storm?

Elaine Viets: Brain Storm is a trade paperback, e­book, and audio book. You can buy it here: (amzn.to/2awPsIe). Right now the paperback version is on sale for $9.99. Autographed copies are available at The Mysterious Bookshop, 58 Warren Street, New York City (info@mysteriousbookshop.com) or at Murder on the Beach Bookstore, Delray Beach, Florida, (murdermb@gate.net).

Thanks so much for letting me stop by your blog.

MENU2010_03_roasted_cauliflower-2

So, for this Book Club I’m going to refer to the grilled chicken sandwiches, artichoke salad and chocolate cupcakes Katie brings to Angela in the hospital. But I have to also add:
cauliflower! The original brain food.

My culinary hero Ina Garten has a delicious roasted artichoke salad recipe: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/roasted-artichoke-salad-recipe.html.

For the cauliflower, though I definitely will leave one head whole and sliced, I also love to mash it for low-carb mashed potatoes. Put cauliflower in pot with enough water to cover. Cover the pot and turn the heat to medium. Cook the cauliflower for 12-15 minutes or until very tender. 3. Drain and discard all of the water (the drier the cauliflower is, the better) and add the milk, butter, sour cream, salt and pepper and mash with a masher until it looks like mashed potatoes.

There’s also a complete Mexican menu for dinner in Brain Storm: guacamole with thick chunks of ripe avocado, crunchy tortilla chips and hot salsa. Platters of steak fajitas, chicken burritos, and steaming bowls of black beans and rice.

MUSIC

I like Elaine Viets’ list above. If you want to go a different route, here are ten songs Steve Jobs used to train his brain according to Inc. Magazine: http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/10-songs-steve-jobs-used-to-train-his-brain.html

MOVIE CASTING

Well, this is definitely one of those physically transformative roles that every actress wants to win her Oscar.

Angela Richman:    Anne Hathaway

Katie:                          Kathryn Hahn

Dr. Gravois:              Tony Goldwyn

Dr. Tritt:                    I think he may be a little long in the tooth for the character as written, but I couldn’t help but see Billy Ray Cyrus in the role.

MEDICAL PSA

Let me take a moment and share some information inspired by Brain Storm that might save a life. According to the American Heart Association and the American Stroke Association, these are the ways to recognize stroke:

F.A.S.T. is an easy way to remember the sudden signs of stroke. When you can spot the signs, you’ll know that you need to call 9-1-1 for help right away. F.A.S.T. is:

F Face Drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb? Ask the person to smile. Is the person’s smile uneven?
A Arm Weakness – Is one arm weak or numb? Ask the person to raise both arms. Does one arm drift downward?
S Speech Difficulty – Is speech slurred? Is the person unable to speak or hard to understand? Ask the person to repeat a simple sentence, like “The sky is blue.” Is the sentence repeated correctly?
T Time to call 9-1-1 – If someone shows any of these symptoms, even if the symptoms go away, call 9-1-1 and get the person to the hospital immediately. Check the time so you’ll know when the first symptoms appeared.

Thank you so much to Elaine Viets for sharing with daeandwrite.wordpress.com. If you enjoyed this blog post, please follow daeandwrite and share with your friends.

Happy Reading!

 

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Night Garden, by Carrie Mullins

night garden

Oxycontin, methamphetamine, teen pregnancy, predatory teachers, economic upheaval, poverty. The headlines of tragedy we’ve become far too accustomed to reading. Carrie Mullins tackles them all in her first novel, Night Garden, a literary cry for help for Kentucky’s small towns and their residents being ravaged by drugs.

Marie, Night Garden‘s protagonist, is a high schooler whose brother Shane has been involved with a teacher at the school since he was a sophomore. Shane’s leaving and Marie dreads being at home alone with her middle class parents. The night before Shane’s departure, the two attend a party.

Shane disappeared into the woods up above the fire, left with one of the Owens boys to get high. As soon as he was out of sight, Ms. Anglin put a champ chair beside Marie. She got a beer and some ice out of the cooler then sat down and showed Marie her finger. “So what’s going on with him?” she asked, holding the ice on her finger. “Does he have a girlfriend?”

“I thought you were his girlfriend,” Marie said.

. . .

“I know he’s screwing that Miller girl. Oh God, I love him.” Marie looked down at her hands in her lap, down at the ground, looked at anything except her journalism teacher. “I’m only six years older than him. That’s nothing. In the grand scheme of things, it’s a drip in the bucket.”

You’re a drip, Marie thought.

In Night Garden, ultimately, Marie has had enough and escapes her safe, middle class life to live with Bobo Owens, an exotic, attractive, charmer with a dream of owning his own kayaking business by saving from the proceeds of his family’s meth trafficking and bootlegging. Bobo and Marie set up house and soon, far too soon, Marie finds herself pregnant and Bobo a changed man: paranoid, emaciated, unfaithful, violent, and unsupportive.

According to the cover of Night Garden, author Carrie Mullins grew up and continues to live

Gurney-Norman-Photo-by-Tim-Collins-e1360956757688

Gurney Norman by Tim Collins

in Mt. Vernon, Kentucky. Night Garden is the first novel published by Old Cove Press, a literary publisher based in Lexington, Kentucky, and founded by noted author Gurney Norman and his wife Nyoka Hawkins. http://oldcove.comGurney Norman has been a member of the University of Kentucky Department of English since 1979 and currently serves as the department’s Director of Creative Writing. His first novel Divine Right’s Trip (1971) was published by The Dial Press, Bantam Books, and Pantheon Books of England.

Nyoka was kind enough to help me connect with Carrie for some q&a, food and music talk . . . and of course a recipe or two

Daeandwrite: The food in the Night Garden illustrates the socio-economic divergence between Marie’s family and Bobo’s. Was this a conscious decision?

Carrie: There are definite class and status issues in the book, and food is one way that plays out. The food was also a modern vs. old time divergence that I was thinking about. The food Marie makes for her parents early on – biscuits, sausage, eggs, fruit and coffee – that is kind of old school, and it takes time to make all that, especially the way Marie was making it (biscuits from scratch, she was not even using Bisquick). And then when she takes up with Bobo, it is mostly all convenience food, like we all eat now, pizza and cereal and honeybuns and all that, stuff that is easy to make and easy to eat but not necessarily very good food. With the exceptions of Marie making a cake from a box for Etta’s party, Etta’s actual party where they are working in the kitchen making potato salad and lunch for everyone, and being at Crystal’s house when she makes the casserole, there really isn’t any food that is “made” in their world.

Daeandwrite: Marie bakes a chocolate cake from a mix for Etta’s birthday but yearns for her own grandmother’s version. Do you have a particular memory of a chocolate cake that inspired Marie’s memory? Do you have a recipe you could share?

hershey'sCarrie: My grandma Hattie made the recipe from the side of the Hershey’s Cocoa tin – cake and icing both. She made it in a bundt pan, and she made it for about every get together we had – Memorial Day especially when everyone would come home from Ohio to visit. She made the best chicken and dumplings, fried apple pies, slaw, everything. Even her hamburgers were different and delicious, she sliced up onions and put them right in the hamburger. In fact, all the women in my family, on both sides, were incredible cooks. They’d make a big tableful of food for every get together. I’m like Marie in that I’m pretty nostalgic for all that food and those times together.

Here is the Hershey’s recipe:

 

 

  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1-3/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 1 tablespoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 cup boiling water
  • CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING (recipe follows)

Directions

  • 1. Heat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour two 9-inch round baking pans.
  • 2. Stir together sugar, flour, cocoa, baking powder and salt in large bowl. Add eggs, milk, oil and vanilla; beat on medium speed of electric mixer 2 minutes. Stir in boiling water. Pour batter into prepared pans.
  • 3. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until wooden pick inserted in center comes out almost clean and the top springs back when touched gently. Cool 10 minutes; remove from pans to wire racks. Cool completely. Frost with CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING. Makes 12 servings.
  • CHOCOLATE FUDGE FROSTING
  • 3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) butter or margarine, melted
  • 1 cup HERSHEY’S Cocoa
  • 4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1. Place melted butter in large mixer bowl. Add cocoa, stirring until smooth.
  • 2. Gradually beat in powdered sugar, milk and vanilla, beating until smooth. If necessary add additional milk, 1/2 teaspoon at a time, beating until spreading consistency. About 3 cups frosting.

https://www.hersheys.com/recipes/en_US/recipes/8421/really-chocolate-chocolate-cake.html

And my Aunt Iris Rose made a chocolate cake from the Settlement Cookbook, (1965), here chocolate cakeis that recipe:

Ingredients

2 cups cake flour

2 cups  sugar

1/8 tsp salt

1/2 cup butter

1 1/4 cup water

squares unsweetened chocolate

eggs – well beaten

1 tsp vanilla

2 tsp baking powder

Preheat oven to 325

Grease and flour 2 9 inch cake pans

Sift flour, sugar and salt together

Add butter and mix with fingertips or pastry blender to the consistency of corn meal.

Boil water and chocolate. Cool. Add to butter mixture. Beat very well.

Chill thoroughly.

Add eggs, vanilla and baking powder.

Pour mixture equally into pans and bake for 35-40 minutes, until cake tater or fork comes out clean when inserted in center.

https://cookpad.com/us/recipes/340844-chocolate-cake-from-the-settlement-cookbook-1965

Daeandwrite: Did you have music you listened to during the writing or editing process? Any particular genre or songs? Do you have songs you associate with any particular character?

Carrie: I listened to Gillian Welch quite a bit. She has a song “The Way It Goes,” that has the same sort of atmosphere as the book, I think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiS37_EULj8  And everything by the Drive By Truckers, and Jason Isbell – his album Southeastern especially. The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons and U2 are always on all my playlists. Shelby Lynne and Caroline Herring as well.

Daeandwrite: Why did you feel compelled to put this story on paper? What was it about this particular tale that you wanted to convey?

Carrie: People I cared about in my county, a whole generation it seemed like at one point, were really being devastated by drugs. Starting with oxycodone and then moving on to methamphetamine. I didn’t know how to fix it, but I could write about it. I guess I wanted to make a sort of “record” – fictional but near enough to true, to the time and the people of this time and place and what they were going through.

MENU

For my book club, I would make the breakfast that Marie fixes for her parents in Chapter 3. Homemade biscuits, sausage patties, scrambled eggs. And I would definitely make that Chocolate Cake!

MUSIC

Carrie said she listened to Gillian Welch quite a bit while writing Night Garden. “She has a song “The Way It Goes,” that has the same sort of atmosphere as the book, I think. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AiS37_EULj8.” Carrie also suggested Drive By TruckersJason Isbell. The Dixie Chicks, Steve Earle, Gram Parsons, U2, Shelby Lynne and Caroline Herring.

Carrie Mullins will be at the Kentucky Book Fair in Frankfort on November 5 and the Southern Festival of Books in Nashville in October. Night Garden is available at Morris Book Shop, Wild Fig Books & Coffee, Carmichael’s in Louisville, and Amazon. It can also be ordered directly from Old Cove Press by emailing  books@oldcove.com  or by phone 859-361-0533

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley

plane

Noah Hawley’s bestselling thriller Before the Fall throws just about everything but the kitchen sink at protagonist Scott Burroughs: a plane crash, a dark night stranded in icy Atlantic water, suspicion, gossip, a naked woman, demon rum, economic failure, aquatic sharks and paparazzi, their terra firma equivalent. Hawley, the show-runner for television’s Peabody-award winning Fargo, definitely puts Everyman Burroughs through his paces in Before the Fall, the novel the New York Times calls “one of the year’s best suspense novels, a mesmerizing, surprise-jammed mystery that works purely on its own, character-driven terms.” http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/26/books/review-noah-hawleys-before-the-fall-is-one-of-the-years-best-suspense-novels.html?_r=0

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

art of swimming

Melchisedec Thevenot 1696

 

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

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

And then, after a moment of sock and disorientation:

The plane has crashed.

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

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

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

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

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

MENU

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

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

Farmers’ Market Green Beans

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

Spaghetti and Meatballs — I’ll substitute ground turkey

Serve with red wine and good bread.

MUSICbefore the fall

The Ocean, Led Zeppelin

Catch a Wave, The Beach Boys

Einstein on the Beach, The Counting Crows

Blue Ocean Floor, Justin Timberlake

How Deep is the Ocean, Ella Fitzgerald

Ocean, The Cure

The Ocean, U2

Ocean Deep, Cliff Richard

Moonlight Swim, Elvis Presley

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

Scott Burroughs – Aaron Eckhardt/Patrick Wilson

David Bateman – George Clooney/Bob Odenkirk

Maggie Bateman — Margot Robbie/Rachel Keller

Gil Baruch — Russell Crowe/Brad Garrett

Ben Kipling — Seth Rogan/Oliver Platt

Sarah Kipling — Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Alison Tohlman

James Melody — Jon Hamm/Billy Bob Thornton

Emma Lightner — Julianne Hough/Cristin Milioti

Charlie Busch — James Marsden/Colin Hanks

Gus Franklin — Robert Downey, Jr./Ted Danson

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

Modern Lovers, Emma Straub

MAD-Magazine-Candy-Hearts-2015_54dcddb870cb70.39417896

Emma Straub’s new novel Modern Lovers picks up somewhere in the anthropological vicinity of her last novel, The Vacationers but a vast ocean away. The Vacationers took a New York family with teenagers, frustrated parents and a gay couple to Mallorca to experience a  series of crises. In Modern Lovers, the family – teenagers, frustrated parents, a gay couple — remain at home in Brooklyn to experience their own problems. (See my book club blueprint and review of The Vacationers here: https://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2014/08/29/the-vacationers-by-emma-straub/)

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

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

Modern Lovers is the second book in two months I’ve read about the changes in Brooklyn, and I’m reading another right now. Look for a post next week about SweetBitter by Stephanie Danler. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney explored many of the same family themes in The Nesthttps://daeandwrite.wordpress.com/2016/05/04/the-nest-by-cynthia-daprix-sweeney/. So maybe there’s something happening in Brooklyn that makes it a microcosm for what modern writers feel the need to share. Or maybe Brooklyn is where the modern writers live.

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

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

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

MENU

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

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

I’ve never made asparagus pesto, so here’s a recipe from Food&Wine: that looks easy enough http://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/fresh-asparagus-pesto

And my favorite chef, Ina Garten aka the Barefoot Contessa, has a delicious dessert recipe for strawberries with pepper: http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/ina-garten/strawberries-with-balsamic-vinegar-recipe.html

MUSIC

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

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

MOVIE CASTING

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

Jane – Kathryn Hahn

Ruby – Amanda Sternberg

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

Andrew – Steve Carrell? Ben Affleck?

Harry – Logan Lerman

Happy Reading!

 

 

 

 

Conjuring Casanova, by Melissa Rea

Casanova_The-Ladies-Man_HD_768x432-16x9

Giacomo Casanova, by Anton Raphael Mengs

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

fairy dustHow I Met Melissa

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

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

Sound like your kind of book? Read on.

Q&A With the Author

Melissa

Author Melissa Rea

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

MENU

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

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

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

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

MUSIC

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

The song titles from Conjuring Casanova:

Jaded

Lady Blue

A Little Help from My Friends

Wherever I May Roam

Leaving on a Jet Plane

Stranger in a Strange Land

Sympathy for the Devil

You’ve Got a Friend in Me

Beautiful Loserconjuring

Good Morning Little Schoolgirl

Love the One You’re With

Should I Stay or Should I Go

The Night Chicago Died

The Unforgiven

Homeward Bound

Just the Way You Are

Coming Home

The Letter

Life Is A Highway

Happy Reading!

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The Nest, by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney

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

faberge eggSummary

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

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

New York Times Review

The New York Times review included the following passage:

28BOOKSWEENEY-superJumbo

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

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

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

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

From the Book

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

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

MENU

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

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

In addition, Walker served:

Champagne

Lemonade

Chicken scaloppini

Limoncello for dessert

Coconut cake

MUSIC

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

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

Heartbreaker, Pat Benatar

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, Leo Sayer

Jumpin Jack Flash, The Rolling Stones

I Will Survive, Gloria Gaynor

All By Myself, Eric Carmen

Unchained Melody, The Righteous Brothers

Paperback Writer, The Beatles

MOVIE CASTING

Leo — Ben Affleck

Jack — Robert Downey, Jr.

Bea — Laura Linney

Melody — Laura Dern

Stephanie –Amy Adams

Walter — John C. Reilly

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The Talented Mr. Ripley

The-Talented-Mr-Ripley-Webs

Patricia Highsmith

Patricia Highsmith has been called a master of the psychological thriller. Her character Tom Ripley is as well.

Highsmith was the Edgar-award winning author of Strangers on A Train and The Price of Salt, recently adapted into the film Carol. Tom Ripley, introduced to the world in The Talented Mr. Ripley may have been her greatest invention: a psychopath with self-esteem issues who kills in cold blood, assumes the life of his victim, lives the high life in his victim’s clothes for a while — all the while holding the reader in thrall with some actual empathy for poor Tom’s predicament.

He remembered that right after that, he had stolen a loaf of bread from a delicatessen counter and had taken it home and devoured it, feeling that the world owed a loaf of bread to him, and more.

The Movie

Jude GwynethI had seen the Matt Damon-Gwyneth Paltrow-Jude Law film adaptation of The Talented Mr. Ripley in 1999, and loved it. All those gorgeous retro costumes. Italian scenery. Jude Law in a bathing suit. Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett and Anthony Minghella. It was nominated for five Academy awards and deservedly so. But I had not read Ms. Highsmith’s original work until recently.

The Book

And it is riveting. The Talented Mr. Ripley begins in New York with a decidedly untalented Tom Ripley running a series of minor cons in order to finance his woeful life. He’s out of a job, out of a home, out of friends. Until Herbert Greenleaf appears and begs Tom — as one of his son’s “dearest” friends — to travel to Europe, first class, on Herbert’s dime and convince son Dickie to come back home. It takes Tom all of about two seconds to jump on board and the next thing you know, he’s walking down the beach in fictional Mongibello (rendered on screen as the volcanic island of Ischia) having to introduce himself to an acquaintance who barely remembers him.

Plein-Soleil-Alain-Delon

Alain Delon as Tom Ripley in the 1960 French adaptation, Plein Soleil

But Tom has decided to be the kind of guy who makes good things happen for himself. Whatever the cost.

There’s been a but of hubbub in my noon bookclub at the Carnegie Center Lexington recently about whether a book without a likable protagonist is a likable book. There have been loads of recent bestsellers whose less-than-likeable, ok . . . psychopathic . . . characters made them insatiable reads: Girl on A Train, Gone Girl. In a 2015 article, Sam Jordison of The Guardian takes on the topic by reexamining The Talented Mr. Ripley. When faced with a reader complaining of the lack of books with likable characters, Jordison suggests handing them a copy of the The Talented Mr. Ripley:

It is near impossible, I would say, not to root for Tom Ripley. Not to like him. Not, on some level, to want him to win. Patricia Highsmith does a fine job of ensuring he wheedles his way into our sympathies. It’s a classic story of someone who starts off down on his luck and disregarded, but who, through force of personality, hard work and sheer determination, manages to make something of himself. He’s had a hard upbringing. He lost his parents and was brought up by an aunt who called him a “sissy”. And yet, he came out the other end polite, self-effacing, hard working. He is endearingly shy in company and worried about the impression he makes on others. He is always assessing himself, always trying to improve.  http://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/jun/02/tom-ripley-the-likable-psychopath-patricia-highsmith

And yet … eyeglasses_318-68634

He had appreciated Marc’s possessions, and they were  what had attracted him to the house, but they were not his own, and it had been impossible to make a beginning at acquiring anything of his own on forty dollars a week. It would have taken him the best years of his life, even if he had economised stringently, to buy the things he wanted. Dickie’s money had given him only an added momentum on the road he had been travelling. The money gave him the leisure to see Greece, to collect Etruscan pottery if he wanted (he had recently read an interesting book on that subject by an American living in Rome), to join art societies if he cared to and to donate to their work. It gave him the leisure, for instance, to read his Malraux tonight as late as he pleased, because he did not have to go to a job in the morning. He had just bought a two-volume edition of Malraux’s Psychologic de I’art which he was now reading, with great pleasure, in French with the aid of a dictionary.”

I truly enjoyed the time I spent in Mongibello with Dickie Greenleaf and his friend Marge and meeting their friends — and others. Your book club will enjoy it too. And there’s great Italian food to be culled. And lots and lots of Martinis.

MENU

Fresh greens simply dressed with good olive oil, balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper

Pasta with seafood. I would make linguine with white clam sauce because that’s my favorite. I buy the small cans of clams at the grocery store and use the recipe on the back but add white wine to the saute.

Martinis.stock-illustration-5259788-retro-martini

MUSIC

The setting of The Talented Mr. Ripley is reputed to be in the late 1950s though Highsmith throughout uses a date with the notation “19–,” leaving the question open. I tend to be influenced by the movie’s choice of music and would play:

Chet Baker

Charlie Parker

Miles Davis

Enjoy! Happy Reading!

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