Blog Book Marks


Memorial Day weekend signals the beginning of summer, or as my mother used to say, “Now you can officially wear white.”  And while fashion rules have changed, one thing hasn’t.  This is a day to honor all those who have served their country since our nation was founded.

While the focus of this holiday is largely on the fallen, I’d like to suggest that we take a moment in between the BBQs, the pool parties and the family gatherings to think about those who have served and returned, many of whom bear the visible and invisible wounds of war.

My friend Maria Shriver asked if would contribute an essay about our veterans to her Sunday Paper and my first piece (view here) appeared yesterday.  Be sure to subscribe to her weekly missives if you don’t already.  Her words and wisdom are a great way to start the week.

And finally— May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I applaud the fact that we live in a time when people can have healthy conversations about treating mental illness as a disease.  I wrote about gratitude after my own struggles with “complicated grief” and “ambiguous loss” in the June issue of “O” magazine. (view here)

Here’s to each of us struggling with life’s curve balls.  You are not alone.


Independent Bookstore Pick: 

May is also college graduation month.  Cue the mortar boards tossed in the air!  That’s why this month’s featured bookstore is the Colgate University Bookstore in downtown Hamilton, NY.  My alma mater knows how to set up a cozy shop, with employee recommendations as well as featured books by graduates and professors.  The next time you are swinging through Central New York State, add picturesque Hamilton to your list of stops and grab a good read and stroll the town.



Historical Fiction: 

City of Flickering Light by Juliette Fay

Since the 1920’s and the dawn of the fledgling movie industry, the Hollywood lights have lured hopeful starlets West.  The first moving pictures were called “the flickers,” and they gave birth to the Hollywood star system.  But like many big dreams, this nostalgia is an illusion. Desperate to escape life in a travelling burlesque show, Irene Van Beck jumps off a moving train with two friends, determined to make her way in the silent film industry.  But success doesn’t come easily in Hollywood.  Poverty, prejudice and heartbreak lurk behind every corner, but it’s the friendships that will sustain these characters as they search for love and fame through the male-dominated world that can make or break the dreamers.


Non-Fiction Memoir:

From Scratch by Tembi Locke

Tembi, an art history major and aspiring actress, is on an Italian semester abroad when she meets Saro, a handsome olive-skinned chef.  The spark ignites and the relationship gets serious, but Saro’s traditional Sicilian family disapproves of him marrying a black American woman.  The couple rejects his parent’s decision and they build a life together in Los Angeles as Tembi’s acting career begins to take off in film and TV.  Adopting a daughter, the couple settles in to a family life full of love, food and hearth.  And then the unthinkable happens. What comes next, and how Tembi must navigate life as a widow, brings a surprising upside that reminds us we were built to survive even the greatest heartbreaks.

Writing with a poignancy that aches with loss, each chapter is laced with recipes, ingredients and culinary adventure.  When Tembi brings her husband’s ashes home, the smells, sights and textures of Sicily form the backbone of her resilience as she breaks bread at her mother in law’s table.  This book is your daily reminder to cherish what you have… even on the so-so days.


Non-Fiction Memoir:

Life After Suicide, Finding Courage, Comfort & Community After Unthinkable Loss by Jennifer Ashton, M.D.

I’ve long admired Dr. Ashton’s smart and informative medical segments on Good Morning America, but it was with shock and sorrow that I learned of the death of her husband by suicide.  Her story, written as part memoir, part comforting self-help, is also a survival guide for anyone who has been affected by suicide and loss.  Ashton illuminates the stories of others, writing with searing prose about the most painful thing she has ever experienced.  She and her husband had amicably agreed to end their marriage and life seemed to be headed in the right direction. Their family was navigating the future and their two children seemed to be handling it well. But mental illness is not rational.  Like so many who ask “why?” in the wake of suicide, Ashton tortured herself by constantly rewinding the film loop in her head.  What could she have done differently?  How had she not noticed? Mental illness is a disease, just like cancer or kidney disease and we must begin to remove the stigma, provide support, information and comfort to those attempting to make sense of this senseless loss.  This book is a wonderful place to start.



The Orchid Sister by Anne D. LeClaire

What happens when you take a creepy spa that has figured out how to reverse aging and combine it with a missing sister, a Mexican witch and a handsome pilot?  The relationship between two sisters forms the backbone of this debut novel that weaves between character and place but never lets up on the pedal with its twists and turns.  Escape into this fun fiction and enjoy suspense, romance, intrigue and a host of other surprises.



Not Bad People by Brandy Scott

Set in an Australian suburb, three friends celebrate the new year by lighting sky lanterns with their resolutions and wishes.  A few minutes later there is a small plane crash and two victims, one a small boy, are pulled from the wreckage.  Is there a connection between the women and the crash?  What secrets, guilt, buried resentments and moral consequences will result from the aftermath?  None of them are bad people.  But sometimes, desperate times call for desperate measures.  This first novel is worth the read.  Think Liane Moriarty’s tangle of girlfriends and their secrets.



The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames

This engrossing story is rooted in the author’s own immigrant family lore as she searches for truths embedded in her childhood stories.  Opening on the eve of WW1 in a small Italian village, a young woman, Stella, marries a man she barely knows and so begins a family that will stretch across decades and ultimately take them to America.  But Stella proves to be a tough but unlucky matriarch who continually suffers near death experiences which are the throughline of the story.  She and her slower, plainer sister Tina are close, until something happens that makes Stella stop speaking to her.  Some of the most striking moments in the book are between Stella and her father, Antonio, a cruel man who returns scarred from war, demanding subservience and harboring a dark secret.  This book was a delightful read from the first page.


Historical Fiction:

Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini

There’s been a spate of WW11 novels viewed from many vantage points and perspectives, and some of them rise above the herd with a solid tangle of story.  This is one if those books.  The story is based on real-life American-born Mildred Fish Harnack, a woman little known in her native country, but lauded in Germany as a face of the Nazi resistance.  She is the only American woman whose execution was personally ordered by Hitler.  The other characters in the book are based on real-life female resisters, including Martha Dodd, daughter of the U.S. Ambassador, and other German friends.  The book details the story of ordinary people going about their lives as a dark, malevolent political power begins to rise.  This historical saga recreates the love, danger, romance and sacrifice of this era and illuminates a courageous American and the brave circle of women who waged a clandestine battle against the ultimate evil.



The Rationing by Charles Wheelan

Part present-day political satire, part Robin Cook thriller and part pure entertainment, Wheelan has more crafty characters and plot twists in this book than the NIH has scientists.  The story is set in the near future and America’s obsession with anti-bacterial soap has allowed super viruses to thrive.  When a puzzling pathogen begins to creep into the population, an awful revelation comes to light. The government’s supply of Dormigen, the silver bullet of drugs that can fight off attacks, is in low supply.  So begins the sometimes scary, other times laughable story of what happens in the three short weeks required to stop a massive global outbreak.  From the speaker of the house to Chinese negotiations, back-stabbing, deception, a White House struggling to control the crisis and pharmaceutical executives scrambling to cover their butts, this entertaining satire will temporarily take your mind off our own global problems.



It’s Hot in the Hamptons by Holly Peterson

The Hamptons have long been the irresistible setting for excess, fun, sun and celebrity.  But Peterson takes excess and debauchery to a new level with her latest novel.  When Caroline, a local East Hampton girl, marries into New York City wealth, she joins the competitive, climber summer circles in the Hamptons.  Her friend Annabelle has a racy proposal that they both get even with their husbands by having an affair and its then that the hot gets hotter.  Forced to confront the man her husband has become, and to determine just how far she will go for revenge, Caroline’s summer is about to get—you guessed it—even hotter.  Tuck this baby in your beach bag and make sure you’ve got a fan.

  1. Josephine Howe

    May 27, 2019 at 11:57 am

    I am familiar with three iterations of the Colgate Bookstore having gone to high school in Hamilton and having worked at Colgate for five summers, 2 in the math building and three in the admin bldg in the Registrars Office. Those were the days in which it was an all male college and the grades were kept in huge books in manuscript form. The first bookstore of which I am familiar was in the basement of one of the buildings, The ice cream cones were magnificent and every afternoon my boss, a math professor and I would walk there and buy a hug cone. Such a treat. Also the classics were 75 cents and I spent part of my salary on them. In those days there was a book that told you all the books one should have read in order to get into college and before going there. The second store was in a brand new building and had lots more space and was still on campus. The one downtown is one I visit when I return and I appreciate how quaint and really somewhat unchanging the town is. I look forward to your posts and was excited to learn that you were a Colgate grad. A more beautiful campus cannot be found and the walks on the willow path were for me—many.

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