The Nominees on the Page

the oscarsTomorrow is Oscar night and so many of this year’s nominees owe their origins to some brilliant novelists. Here’s a look at the novels I’ve reviewed that will be center stage on the red carpet. Each review includes a book club novel-inspired menu, playlist of songs and sometimes my own movie cast.

David Ebershoff’s gorgeous love story, The Danish Girl, is nominated for:danish girl book

actor in a leading role, Eddie Redmayne

best actress in a supporting role, Alicia Vikander

costume design, Paco Delgado

production design, Eve Stewart

Here’s a link to my review:

the martian book

The Martian, originally self-published by Andy Weir chapter by chapter on his blog, is nominated for:

best picture

actor in a leading role, Matt Damon

production design, Arthur Max

sound editing

sound mixing

visual effects

best adapted screenplay, Drew Goddard

My review:

A charming little book by Jonas Johansson called The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out a 100 year old man bookWindow and Disappeared is a Forrest Gump-like view of the 20th Century. I’d love to see the movie but it hasn’t made it to either Netflix or my city yet. Nominated for:

makeup and hairstyling

My review:

roomRoom by Emma Donoghue is nominated for:

best picture

actress in a leading role, Brie Larson

directing, Lenny Abrahamson

writing, adapted screenplay, Emma Donoghue

My review:

I haven’t read Brooklyn by Colm Tobin but I’d love to; the movie was beautiful.

Any predictions for winners? Oscar-statue



At the Movies

movieWatching the Golden Globes on Sunday night, I realized just how many current and recent movies began with books. This post highlights some of my reviews — I didn’t do too well with the movie casting!

danish girl bookThe Danish Girl by David Ebershoff. Still one of my favorite books of 2015, although I didn’t think the movie lived up to the potential of the book. It was beautifully shot, well-acted but somehow some of the feeling leaked away. I didn’t make any guesses in the casting department because the movie was already cast. So let’s call it 0-0 for now.

kiterunnerThe Kite Runner by Khalid Hosseini. A book I found too painful to even consider watching the movie. I did see a nice theatrical production at Actors Theatre of Louisville. No Casting here either so still 0-0.

The Martian by Andy Weir. Loved the book. Loved the movie. Did not cast. 0-0.

Room 2Room by Emma Donoghue. The book was fascinating but I think I appreciated the movie even more thanks to Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay and Joan Allen (who should be nominated for Best Supporting Actress).

JamieIn the best television category, Outlander by Diana Gabaldon. I’m a long-time fan. Love the series. LOVE Jamie Fraser.  Can you blame me?



There are some coming out this year that I will feature in another blog post. Till then, happy reading!

My 2015 Favorite Reads


The year has been memorable for many things: personal, professional and global. A few of those things have been great reads.

euphoriaEuphoria, by Lily King. One of my first reads of the year and still one of the best. Here’s my earlier post:


The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. Page-turning, mind-51oYEfb+0WL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_twisting, fun.


danish girl book

The Danish Girl, by David Ebershoff. I can’t remember ever reading such a compelling book at the exact moment in time the subject of the book was such a global phenomenon. I can’t wait to see the movie.

Saint Monkey cover

Saint Monkey, by Jacinda Townsend. A perfect mix of jazz, Southern history and coming of age.


Patron Saint Cover 65

The Patron Saint of Ugly, by Marie Manilla. A beautiful, magical journey to the home of a reluctant saint in an Italian village in West Virginia.


the rocks

The Rocks, by Peter Nichols. Actual Italian location, family problems, romance and history.

I can’t wait to dig into next year’s reading pile: The Secret Chord, A Little Life, White Teeth, My Brilliant Friend, Mosquitoland, Bringing up the Bodies and Flight Behavior are all waiting.

I hope your 2015 included at least a few great reads too! Happy Reading!



The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff

VF Kaitlyn        Lili_Elbe_1926

What a time to read The Danish Girl. a novel about the first transsexual operations!  What good fortune for the producers of The Danish Girl movie starring last year’s Academy Award-winning actor! What a cosmic shift in the zeitgeist!

Published in 2000, The Danish Girl by David Ebershoff fictionalizes the real life story of Einar Wegener, a Danish man who is believed to be one of the first recipients of gender reassignment surgery in the 1930s. The movie, starring Eddie Redmayne, will be released November 27, 2015, only a few short months after Bruce Jenner’s own well-publicized transition into Caitlyn.


Einar Wegener, pre-operations

Einar Wegener, a landscape painter living in Copenhagen in the 1920s is known for his small, dark landscapes of the rural Jutland bogs. Somewhat to his surprise, he finds himself mwegenerarried to Greta, a vivid American artist who wears the orange oil of her native California as a perfume. They live together cozily in the top floor apartment of the Widow House adjacent to the Baltic Sea. Einar is content painting “the small rectangles lit by June’s angled light, or dimmed by the dull January sun” but not the incandescent person he becomes through the course of the novel.

Einar Wegener’s transformation begins so naively; Einar’s wife Greta has a portrait to finish but her subject, an opera diva at the Royal Danish Opera, hasn’t sufficient time to pose. Greta needs her husband’ help.

“It’s just that Anna has canceled again. So would you mind trying on her stockings?” Greta asked. “And her shoes?”

The April sun was behind Greta, filtering through the silk hanging limply in her hand. Through the window, Einar could see the tower of the Rundetarn, like an enormous brick chimney, and above it the Deutsche Aero-Lloyd puttering out on its daily return to Berlin.

“Greta?” Einar said. “What do you mean?” An oily bead of paint dropped from his brush to his book. Edvard IV began to bark, his white head turning from Einar to Greta and back.

“Anna’s canceled again,” Greta said. “She has an extra rehearsal of Carmen. I need a pair of legs to finish her portrait, or I’ll never get it done. And then I thought to myself, yours might do.”

Portrait of Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Portrait of Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Ebershoff’s novel captures the extraordinary story of Einar’s transformation into Lili Elbe, beginning with Einar’s secret glee serving as a model for his wife’s painting, to his adoption of his wife’s clothes outside her presence, to falling in love with a man and ultimately living as a woman with a longing to be one.  Einar’s story is not the only fascinating one here; Greta herself undergoes an equally compelling metamorphosis in the novel, transforming her rather pedestrian art into joyous explosions of color.  In real life, Gerda Wegener became a painter of beautiful, but fairly graphic, sexualized paintings.

In The Danish Girl though, it is Lili’s journey that consumes us. Seeking medical opinion after opinion, Greta and Lili are despairing and Lili nearly suicidal when they find a doctor willing to help. He offers to complete a series of devastatingly painful gender reassignment surgery.

Lili Elbe by Gerda Wegener

Now, in the middle of the night, Lili didn’t want to disturb Carlisle’s sleep, but she could barely remain silent. The pain was returning, and she was gripping the sash of the blanket, shredding it in fear.  She concentrated on the bulb in the ceiling, biting her lip, but soon the pain had spread through her body, and she was screaming, begging for a morphia injection. She cried for ether. She whimpered for her pills laced with cocaine.

With an echo of the sentiment, Caitlyn Jenner confessed to Vanity Fair that “Pain is kind of, for me, part of the pain for being me.”

eddieThe Danish Girl is fascinating, thoroughly enjoyable and the perfect book for your book club to read now, before Eddie Redmayne’s version hits theaters.

UPDATE: The trailer for the movie has just been released and it looks like a true and beautiful version of the novel.  Here’s the trailer link:


There are lots of mentions of oranges, pickled fish. Einar (Lili) and Greta go to the South of France as well as Copenhagen, offering lots of options. My menu would be a “humorous” take on male/female foods, though, I think.

Sweet Cucumber & Peppers

7 cups sliced cucumber – don’t peel  just score with a fork and slice

1 cup green pepper sliced       cut slices in half again

1 cup sweet onion sliced      cut in half again

1 tablespoon celery seed

Vinegar Mixture

 2 cups white sugar

1 cup apple cider vinegar

1 tablespoon salt

 Stir well and bring this mixture to boil on stove.   When it comes to rolling boil,  take off burner and let cool,  then put in fridge and let get cold before you pour it over vegetables.   When cold, pour over vegetables and stir well and keep covered in frige.  Can eat right away  but better after couple of hours.     

Raw Oysters

Carrots with Hummus

Peach pie

Gingerbread men and women


I asked writer David Ebershoff what music he would recommend pairing with The Danish Girl for a book club night and he said he listened to Strauss’ Four Last Songs quite a bit while writing the novel. He also suggested Mozart’s “trouser” roles, those operas in which women sing the male character’s roles.  Le Nozze di Figaro, La Clemencia de Tito to name two.  See more information here:


No need to cast this one.

The Danish Girl opens in limited theatrical release on November 27, 2015 and opens nationwide this week. It has already been nominated for, and won, a number of prestigious awards, including: Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globe nominates for Alicia Vikander, best supporting actress, Eddie Redmayne, Best Actor.

Happy Reading, Eating & Movie-Watching!


Summer Reads 2015

dog_driving_carHeaded Out for A Little Fun in the Sun?  Want to take the perfect book(s) with you?

I thought I might be able to help.  All of these are in paperback, because I find it much more difficult to haul 5-8 hardbound books.  Any of the below books would be divine at the beach or the pool, on the campground or in the air.  I often try to match my reading to my destination, hoping to add a little insider info to my trip.  Just a tip.

Happy Vacating!

In Euphoria, Lily King’s intoxicating trek into the exotic locale of Papua, New Guinea, three anthropologists (Australian, euphoriaAmerican and British) find themselves far from home.  King’s anthropologists are simulacrums of Margaret Mead, her husband Reo Fortune and her future husband, Gregory Bateson.

Originally reviewed:

f_doerr_allthelight_fAnthony Doerr’s gorgeous novel won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize.  All The Light We Cannot See encompasses WW2 within an examination of the lives and worlds of two teenagers:  Marie-Laure LeBlanc, a blind French girl, and Werner Pfenning, a German whiz-kid desperate to live the coal mine fate of his home town of Essen.   Written mostly in the present tense, with recurring flashbacks throughout both children’s lives, All The Light progresses inevitably to their meeting during the siege of St.-Malo, France, in August of 1944.

Originally reviewed:

the secret place

Tana French has become one of my obsessions.  She publishes a new book, I must have it in hard back and begin reading immediately.  In the Woods, her first novel, remains my favorite of her five books; however, all are excellent.  Her most recent, The Secret Place, is my second favorite.  These are page-turning, mystery novels set in Ireland with a cast of realistic, driven and haunted characters.


Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter.  On the rugged, Mediterranean coast of Italy, a land of five towns clings stunningly to the edge of the cliffs;  accessible only by boat, offering fresh seafood pulled daily from the Ligurian sea by men whose families have done the same for centuries and a hiding place from the modern world, the Cinque Terre seems just the place for Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor to have sought refuge during the filming of Cleopatra in Rome.  In Jess Walter’s sumptuous novel Beautiful Ruins, they do just this.  And the tale of the IT couple’s visit to Porto Vergogna, a lonely innkeeper, a starlet, star-crossed lovers, a wannabe screenwriter (whose big concept is “Donner!,” a movie about the Donner party,) a nauseating Hollywood producer and fifty years of frustrated confusion make the novel one of my top five reads.

Originally reviewed:

VacationersA New York family brings a large set of first world problems to Mallorca, where even more challenges await:  a Spanish tutor both mom and daughter have the hots for, a retired Spanish tennis stud and lots of gorgeous food and descriptions and you have The Vacationers by Emma Straub.

Other books that would make great traveling companions:  The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff (Utah); Boy, Snow, Bird (Maine); Where’d You Go Bernadette, by Maria Semple (Seattle); The Rosie Project, by Graeme Simsion; The Perfume Collector, by Kathleen Tessaro (Paris), Dominance, by Will Lavender.

I’d love to hear what you’re reading!

Seaside Resort in the South of France 1927 by Paul Klee 1879-1940

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff


Just how many wives does one guy need?  When it came to Brigham Young, one of the “founding fathers” of the Mormon youngchurch, the answer was never very clear, at least according to David Ebershoff’s novel, The 19th Wife.  Perhaps, more accurately, Brigham Young was clear on the number of wives he had, but no one else was because the number changed so frequently depending on how many were active wives.  As one of the characters in the novel notes, it is likely he had 52-55, but “removed from the total tally were the wives who had died, who were barren, or whom Brigham no longer had sexual relations with.”  (Photo of Brigham Young, courtesy of PBS)

In Ebershoff’s 2008 novel, the title The 19th Wife refers to Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham’s wives and a staunch opponent of polygamy, and to BeckyLyn Scott, the 19th wife of a modern polygamist from a fundamentalist sect of “First Saints” who live in Mesadale, Utah.  Mr. Scott turned up shot to death after leaving a note indicting BeckyLyn on a chatroom:

Manofthehouse2004:  hang on

DesertMissy:  phone?

Manofthehouse2004:  no my wife

DesertMissy:  which one?

Manofthehouse2004:  #19

Enter Jordan, BeckyLyn’s gay son, who was forcibly removed from Mesadale by the Prophet’s guard at the age of 14 and told to make his own way in the world.  Over the course of the novel, Jordan teams up with another homeless Mesadale teen, meets a great guy, tries to clear his mother’s name and learns more about his father than he ever wanted to know.

Ebershoff takes reams of historical information about the real Brigham and Ann Eliza Young and meshes these into a head-spinning variety of fictional accounts:  private journals, published books, correspondence, research papers, deposition testimony, newspaper articles. Without ever actually interweaving the narratives, the two segments of the book complement and comment upon one another.  The New York Times’s review of the book said, “In a less talented writer’s hands, The 19th Wife could have turned into a Rube Goldberg contraption. But in the end the multiplicity of perspectives serves to broaden Ebershoff’s depiction not only of polygamy, but also of the people whose lives it informs. And this gives his novel a rare sense of moral urgency.”  Frankly, as I read the book myself, I was astounded at the different voices Ebershoff created and his ability to fictionalize so many different aspects of history and combine them with a significant and compelling modern story.


One of Ebershoff’s resources was Ann Eliza’s own book, Wife Number 19.

Jordan’s quest to clear his mother’s name of course returns him to his Mesadale roots, where he must confront the demons of his past.  It’s a great story.  But my favorite part of the novel, I believe, other than Jordan’s dog Elektra who is one hoot after another, is Jordan’s romance with Tom.  Jordan, understandably, is a hard case.  After what he expects to be a one-night stand with Tom, Tom wakes him to attend church with him on Sunday morning.  They drive for two hours to a church in Las Vegas which welcomed everyone:  “the blind dyke; the six-foot-four inch tranny; the hairy bear ravaged by HIV; this kid, Lawrence.”  And after a sermon in which the pastor simply read children’s definitions of love — they give you the last bite of their eye cream and you give them yours, when my doggy licks my face even though I’ve left her outside all day long — Jordan finds his feelings growing, almost against his will.

I don’t know about you, but I hate the phrase nicest guy in the world.  As in, I just met the nicest guy in the world.  As if.  But now it seemed to true.

It’s a stark contrast between Jordan and Tom’s sweet love story and the snakes’ nest of relationships that grew out of both the 19th century and 21st century polygamy as depicted in The 19th Wife.   

This is a dense, long, historically fascinating novel.  Should your book club choose to read it, make sure that you do so with plenty of time devoted to the reading and the discussing.  And enjoy!


The Church of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) does not allow alcohol, tea, coffee (or piercings or immodest dress) — all of which pretty much would put my book club at a loss for everything.  The novel is a little spare on food details, but there is a mention of donuts at the Las Vegas church service, and a fairly icky turkey buffet served by the pound.  But the LDS did bring bees and honey west with them when they came to Utah and Ann Eliza Young’s former home was called the Beehive House.  So honey would be a good addition.  I also found a website that lists Utah’s favorite foods,, chief among them apparently is green jello.  Why?  I have no idea.  But my grandmother has a wonderful green jello recipe.


Green Jello Salad

1 large carton Cool Whip

1 small carton small curd cottage cheese

1 small can crushed pineapple, drained

1 large package green jello, dry.  Do not add water.

Beat all ingredients except Cool Whip.  Fold in Cool Whip.  Coconut and nuts can be added if desired.  Pour into large flat dish and refrigerate.

Pastrami Burgers (see article above)

French fries with fry sauce

Fry Sauce is the state condiment of Utah, I take it.  Here’s a recipe from

  • 1 cup mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup ketchup (roughly a 2 to 1 ratio)
  • 1/2 tsp onion powder
  • 3 to 4 teaspoons pickle juice (add one teaspoon at a time & check for taste)
  • Mix all ingredients together in a bowl and serve with fries.

Vanilla Ice Cream with Honey


This may be the easiest music suggestion ever.  The Mormon Tabernacle Choir has a website that has a 24/7 live streaming service.


David Ebershoff’s novel The 19th Wife has already been adapted to film by the Lifetime Movie Network.  It will be shown next on April 26, 2015, at 6 a.m.  Set your DVRs!


Happy Reading!

The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell


    Time magazine named David Mitchell, author of six novels including Cloud Atlas, Ghostwritten, Number 9 Dream and The Bone Clocks, one of the 100 most influential people in the world in 2007.  The Bone Clocks is the first I’ve read, though I did see the movie adaptation of Cloud Atlas.  I’m not sure what Time magazine’s criteria for influence was, but Mitchell certainly writes persuasively about the irreversible ecological damage we are doing to Planet Earth and seems to have built himself a neat, but rather strange, philosophy connecting Buddhism, Atheism and Oligarchy.

   I have a one-degree relationship with David Mitchell and because of that and the inclusion of The Bone Clocks on nearly every end-of-year best of list, I wanted to read the novel before 2015 dawned.  I finished it yesterday, just making the deadline.  But I became aware of The Bone Clocks in October, during the Salt Cay Writers Retreat.  My small group leader there, David Ebershoff, himself a novelist, teacher and an editor at Random House, mentioned Mitchell’s book as having taken him by storm over one weekend.  As I recall, David said he began reading it on a plane to California and by the time he arrived, he was racing to connect with his boss on the telephone so that Random House could acquire the book.  From a person of David’s talent and experience, that’s pretty durn high praise.


     Mitchell’s unique storytelling method compelled me through the six hundred plus page novel.  It is a chronological narrative, in the first person, but the person is not always the same and the chronology fractures and bounces, moving from 1984 to 2043, sometimes day by day and sometimes decade by decade.  Holly Sykes, the rebellious teen whose voice begins the book, is with us nearly all the way, disappearing and reappearing when we need her to establish a touchstone among the various factions.  The plot revolves around a war between two sets of immortals:  one reincarnated “naturally,” and the others who have to work for it.  Unfortunately, Holly gets caught up not only in the immortal war, but also in the invasion of Iraq, a literary battle and ultimately, a war between the haves and the have-nots in a post-apocalyptic world.

    The Bone Clocks breaks all the rules of genre that new authors hear spouted by those in the know at literary conferences.  It is a dystopian, futuristic, fantasy, coming of age, realistic, theological novel.  In other words, un-categorizable.  And yet, incredibly successful.

    NPR calls it “one of the most entertaining and thrilling novels I’ve read in a long time.”  The following link contains a review as well as an author interview.  The Bone Clocks was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize and it was on the end of year best lists of Time, Entertainment Weekly, NPR, and others.

    But the New Yorker, in an exploration of what is the modern novel/is the novel still relevant/why novels, is less than 77.David Mitchell-The Bone Clocks jacketenthusiastic, calling the work “entertaining . . . but not humanly significant.”

    Fascinating, to me, is Mitchell’s reliance on the reader to fill in huge gaps in the narrative.  For long passages at a time, there is simply dialogue between two characters who know what they are talking about, but which remains a mystery to the reader.  And despite the mystery, the reader continues until sometime, often much, later, the subject matter is explained.

    The writing itself varies from cheeky humor to bleakly preachy:

It’s grief for the regions we deadlined, the ice caps we melted, the Gulf Stream we redirected, the rivers we drained, the coasts we flooded, the lakes we choked with crap, the seas we killed, the species we drove to extinction, the pollinators we wiped out, the oil we squandered, the drugs we rendered impotent, the comforting liars we voted into office — all so we didn’t have to change our cozy lifestyles.  People talk about the Endarkenment like our ancestors talked about the Black Death, as if it’s an act of God.  But we summoned it, with every tank of oil we burned our way through.  My generation were diners stuffing ourselves senseless at the Restaurant of the Earth’s Riches knowing — while denying — that we’d be doing a runner and leaving our grandchildren a table that can never be paid.

    I do recommend it for a book club that doesn’t mind reading a longish book.  There is a lot of meat to discuss, both in terms of the superficial plot and in terms of questions that I don’t feel Mitchell ever really answers.  Marius for example.  And Jacko.  To say more, would be unfair.


     There is lots of food mentioned in The Bone Clocks but only two items really stood out to me.  One being a vegetarian moussaka, which I have absolutely zero experience with.  But near mid-book, cafe owner Nestor practically divulges his secret recipe:  “marinate the eggplant in red wine.  Simmer the lentils, slow.  Mushrooms cooked in soy sauce . . . butter in white sauce, cornflour, dash of cream.  Heavy on the paprika.”

    The other:  apples.

   And Holly’s family owns a tavern in Gravesend, England, so I’d make sure to have several pints of ale on hand.


     Holly’s 15 year old self is quite the music fan and makes various references to her favorites in Section One of the book.  Among them:

Talking Heads’ Fear of Music

The Who’s Quadrophenia

The Ramones

Led Zeppelin’s Stairway to Heaven


     I can’t even begin to conceive of how someone would make this into a movie much less cast it.  The shifting natures/genders of several main characters and the enormous span of time involved would seriously challenge even the best director.

Holly Sykes — Emma Watson

Ed Brubeck — Eddy Redmayne

Crispin Hershey — Michael Sheen

Hugo Lamb — Tom Felton (Draco Malfoy)

Imaculee Constantin — Nicole Kidman