Armchair BEA Giveaway Day! James Madison By Lynne Cheney


Armchair BEA

Armchair BEA is for those people who cannot attend Book Expo America in NYC.  It’s a way for them to stay connected and join in. Today is day 4: giveaway day! We’re all giving away great books. After you enter my giveaway, then go have a look at the rest.

I have one finished hard copy of JAMES MADISON by Lynne Cheney for giveaway! How cool is this! The wonderful people at Penguin Publishing are furnishing this amazing biography just in time for Father’s Day giving.  What a great gift.

Lynne Cheney

James Madison

Lynne Cheney, wife of former Vice President Dick Cheney, is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. She is the author or co-author of twelve books, including six bestsellers about American history for children and their families.  She holds a Ph.D from University of Wisconsin, and  has been studying Madison since 1987.  She is no slouch, as you can see.


Lynne Cheney

In order to be in the running to win this amazing history book, please leave a comment below. And, as usual. no P.O. boxes, please, and only residents of U.S.

This giveaway will end Friday, May 30. I am extending it so that the bloggers at BEA will have a chance for this great giveaway.

Good luck to everyone!

A Conversation With Stuart Rojstaczer

Stuart Rojstaczer

The Mathematician’s Shiva

Look who’s stopping by to discuss his new novel, THE MATHEMATICIAN’S SHIVA?   Stuart Rojstaczer tells us about himself and his writing. 



Q: Is this your first novel? Could you talk about what inspired you to write this book?


Actually, this is my third novel.  I wrote my first when I was 20.  It was a comic picaresque a la Thomas Pynchon and it was so terrible that I knew I had to get out of the novel writing business and get a PhD. in science.  Then in my forties I wrote novel number two at the behest of my daughter, a comedy about a university led by a lunatic president.  It too was terrible, so terrible that I felt very happy that I’d gone into science all those years ago.  I tried again in my fifties.  I remembered an incident from when my daughter was three.  A well-known Eastern European émigré mathematician was at our house.  All dinner long he kept staring at my daughter.  Then after dinner, he berated me for not teaching my three-year-old algebra because he was convinced, somehow, that she was a math genius.  I thought about that incident many years later.  “What would it be like to be an Eastern European math genius?”  I asked myself.  The result was The Mathematician’s Shiva.  It’s leaps and bounds better than my first two novels.  The third time was the charm.


Q: You’re a PhD geophysicist, and Alexander “Sasha” Karnokovitch, the narrator of your novel, is an atmospheric scientist. How did you come to fiction writing from a background in hard science?


I’ve always been a careful and serious reader of fiction, mostly Eastern European fiction and American fiction with strong European influences.  Off and on, I’ve written fiction for decades.  I wasn’t a talented writer, though.  Then in my fifties, I somehow developed what I thought was a unique voice.  I can’t explain how that happened.  It just did.


Q: Your novel is about academics and academic life, subjects that are very popular in contemporary fiction. Why do you think that these stories are so appealing, and why did you choose to write about academics yourself?


Academia is a closed setting, a small well-defined community.  In writing a novel, you need to focus on a group of people and the unit of an academic department or discipline is to my mind an ideal natural way to provide that focus.  I spent fifteen years as a professor.  I understand the academic mindset well.  Write about what you know, they say.


Q: How much did you draw from your own experiences in writing this novel?


The novel has some autobiographical elements, certainly.  The opening is highly autobiographical, for example.  There is a scene where Rachela and her family go to a Russian cultural event and she tries, despite the inevitable tumult that will ensue, to get the Russian performers to defect.  This is something my mother did at least once a year.  But overall about eighty percent of the novel and the characters created come wholly from my imagination.


Q: Though the novel revolves around the death of Rachela Karnokovitch—the narrator’s mother—and describes the difficulties of life in Eastern Europe under Stalinism, it’s also very funny. How do you balance comedy and tragedy in your writing, and why do you feel that that’s important?


I think this approach to writing and life—dealing with tragedy through farce and acidic humor—is embedded in Eastern European culture and is especially embedded in Eastern European Jewish culture.  It was part of my day-to-day growing up.  My parents lived through so much horror in their early years that it would have been impossible and intolerable for them to confront it head on.  Comedy is how my family deals with tragedy almost always.  It softens the blow.  It’s usually an acceptable way to state displeasure and heartbreak over oppression.  I think this approach is probably fairly common with cultures that have been subject to cruelty and worse for centuries.



Q: Rachela was a brilliant mathematician working in a difficult, male-dominated field. Was her character inspired by anyone in your own life or from history?


I’ve had academic female friends who have told me in painful detail of their difficulties with male colleagues and male leadership in academia.  The playing field is not close to being level.  Sexual harassment is common.  Most feel that they cannot complain because it will be detrimental to their professional standing and note that those who do complain are vilified.  Then there is the problem that their work is slighted simply because they are female.  Those stories influenced my writing, certainly.  There was also the example of my mother, who in her later years ran construction crews and built a subdivision from scratch.  She, too, was in a male dominated field (even more so than my female academic colleagues), but she had the advantage of having a huge personality and she had lived through WWII.  Nothing could intimidate her.  She could scare people, male and female, with her intensity.  I thought about what it would take to succeed in mathematics in the 1950s as a woman.  That person would have to be even more intimidating than my mother could be in the face of adversity and would have to be leagues smarter than any male in her field.  She’d have to be tall and disarmingly good-looking.  That’s how Rachela Karnokovitch was born.


Q: History and memory play very important roles in your novel. How did these forces affect you as you wrote the book?


I come from a family that had to flee their home because of war.  They didn’t come to America because they wanted to be here.  They came because they had no home left.  When your life and past are torn from you like that—when you don’t have even photographs to remind you of a life you view with fondness—you cherish your memories and live them again through narrative.  That’s what my father did, certainly.  He would tell stories about Europe and the war at our dining room table in broken English.  People would come to our house and listen.  My mother would serve cake and tea.  That would be something fairly typical for an evening’s entertainment in my home.  I can talk about great writers who have influenced me, but those stories of the past that my father used to tell Americans in our home—which were a mix of the real and completely fabricated—are the most significant influence on my writing.


Q: What writers do you admire, and why? How have they influenced your own writing?


Chekhov is at the top of the list because he had far more understanding about the intricacies of the human mind, heart and soul than anyone I’ve read and he could be articulate and plain spoken at the same time.  That’s what I aim for.  Then there is the mordantly comical approach of Gogol.  Recently I reread him after a forty-year hiatus and I was amazed by how close my writing was to his.  I cannot write without using comic elements.  Dickens always kept the plot front and center and wasn’t afraid to use emotions to drive a story; sometimes I need to be reminded of that to keep my own work from being too cold and erudite.  Mendele and Malamud looked at traditional Jewish life with both tenderness and acidic humor and both are never far from my mind when I write.


Q: What do you love most about this book, and what do you hope that your readers will love about it?


It’s a book about how people can, through passion, hard work, and talent, overcome obstacles and still be aware of the irony that luck—both bad and good—plays a central role in their lives.  I hope readers will laugh out loud, cry now and then, and fall in love with the central characters, who are full of vitality and still maintain a positive, if somewhat gimlet-eyed, outlook despite the many tragedies they have endured.


Q: What are you working on now?

A novel about a community of Holocaust survivors in the 1960s and 1970s, which has to deal with the American equivalent of a pogrom: a planned freeway that will tear their neighbourhood apart.  Right now, like The Mathematician’s Shiva, it’s a comedy.



GiveAway: The Mathematician’s Shiva By Stuart Rojstaczer

Stuart Rojstaczer

The Mathematician’s Shiva

I have one copy of, THE MATHEMATICIAN’S SHIVA, by Stuart Rojstaczer, for giveaway. Please leave a comment below to enter my contest. I can only send to U.S. addresses, and no P.O. boxes, please. Good luck! Oh, and you have until midnight on Sunday, September 7th.

I will be posting a conversation with Stuart Rojstaczer tomorrow. Be sure not to miss it. This author is witty and smart. A great book to add to your must-read pile!

A great big thank you goes out to the generous publishing people at Penguin?Random House!

An Italian Wife By Ann Hood

Ann Hood

An Italian Wife

I get excited when I know a new novel by Ann Hood is approaching publication.  I have been thinking about AN ITALIAN WIFE by Ann Hood since I finished it three days ago. I am still digesting the content. Figuring out the story. Asking myself if I loved it.

The story of Josephine Rimaldi begins in 1889. She’s fifteen years-old and about to be married to a man 11 years her senior. A man she’s never set eyes on, someone her parents have chosen for her. Josephine’s family were simple folk living high in the mountains of Italy.  And her family married her off to Vincenzo so she would have a better life.  The so-called better life did not begin for five years, the amount of time it took Vincenzo to send for her to join him in America.

Ann Hood has an uncanny ability to show you the soul of the characters she inhabits.  Josephine Rimaldi ended up in Rhode Island in a loveless marriage with only the church for comfort. And some comfort that is.  Edgy, and at times downright odd, the relationship Josephine has with Father Leone is bothersome and  uncomfortable. And the children keep coming. One after the other, after the other. Seven all told, but the last child is a surprise in more ways than one.

Josephine’s family is filled with rife. Carmine, her son, returned from WW11 shell-shocked and not quite right.  Francie, her granddaughter, was widowed at a young age and never fit back into the suburbs where she lives. Then there is Aida, Josephine’s greatgranddaughter, who runs away from  home taking a bus across the country to end up in the  Haight- Ashbury of San Francisco.

Hood wrote this novel of connected stories over a time frame of fifteen years.  She has pulled from her memory of her own Italian-American family. Most of her oldest relatives never learned to speak or write English. And there were plenty of them. She is from a huge family.


Ann Hood

I love a multigenerational novel.  And I love Italy. I also love reading about immigrant experiences.  And who better than Ann Hood to bring us this evocative  story of love, complacency, the sexual revolution,  and a secret kept for almost a hundred years!

I keep thinking about Valentina, the last daughter, who got away. And I have to wonder how  many other babies have been so lost.

This novel will definitely make you think. I think of all the women and girls who lived through sexual revolutions.  How a young woman deals with her sexual feelings can and usually does shape her life, for better or worse. I watched over a period of a hundred years how women and sex changed: their feelings, their awakenings to it, and, finally, their freedom to enjoy it.

AN ITALIAN WIFE is a quick ,enlightening novel. You will want to share it  and talk about it. Go ahead, you’ll be glad you did.

I borrowed my copy from work, a wonderful lending perk for booksellers of BN.

Announcing The Winner Of A Pinch Of Ooh La La by Renee Swindle!


Pinch of Ooh La La

What a great looking cover! I had so many entries. Makes it even more exciting to announce my winner. And the winner is… Erin! I will send you an email this morning.  You can send me your mailing address. The publisher will send your book out from their offices. Congratulations!

I want to thank all my entrants. If not for you guys, there would not be these great giveaways. More to come, soon:)

And, Erin, you will have 48 hours to respond. Thanks so much.

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good by Kathleen Flinn

Kathleen Flinn

Burnt Toast Makes You Sing Good

BURNT TOAST MAKES YOU SING GOOD, by Kathleen Flinn, is her third book. I absolutely loved her first two. In fact, I have been braising the heck out of chicken, pork, and beef for a couple years now since I read ,THE SHARPER YOUR KNIFE, THE LESS YOU CRY.

I  love reading about food. I love cookbooks. I also love reading about how families bond over food and cooking. Kathleen Flinn has it all.

Flinn manages to entertain as she is teaching.  Her writing style is right up my alley. And she writes for all ages. My daughter loves her. Has her copy of THE SHARPER YOUR KNIFE, THE LESS YOU CRY, all flagged and creased from use, as is mine.

What makes this memoir different from the former books is that it is not in Paris, or in a cooking school. Flinn is bringing you her family from their roots. They move around this country. They’re in the middle of the country. Then take off for San Francisco. And on to  Northern Florida. I kid you not when I say they move around. This is happening before Kathleen has her aha moment and flies off to Paris to cooking school.

There are some mouth-watering recipes in this book. I have permission to add one in my review. So here goes:

Apple Crisp

Apple Crisp




















My finished copy of BURNT TOAST MAKES YOU SING GOOD by Kathleen Flinn, came from the generous people at Viking Publishing in exchange for an honest review on my blog.  Thanks again for another amazing book!



































After reading BURNT TOAST MAKES YOU SING GOOD, by Kathleen Flinn, you’ll want to read about her exploits in Paris while attending La Cordon Blue, the famous cooking school. Plus, after she wrote that one, she came up with my favorite: THE SHARPER YOUR KNIFE, THE LESS YOU CRY! You are in for many treats here, any way you look at it, or anyway you read the books.

My finished  hardcopy came from my friends at Viking Publishing. I can’t thank them enough!





We Are Not Ourselves By Matthew Thomas

Matthew Thomas

We Are Not Ourselves

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES, by Matthew Thomas, is not a book that I would normally have picked up. But there was something about this book that called out to me….

This is a big book in more ways than one. It’s a tome of a novel;  over 600 pages. I read that it is one of the Big books for fall. That means they have high expectations for it. And so they should. And so do I!

I’ve never read a more in-depth and realistic picture of the American middle class;  it pretty much covers the twentieth century. To say this is a dynamic  novel of the American dream is an understatement.

This is a character- driven novel, sweeping in  scope.  Thomas is the king of detail. He leaves no stone unturned.  I was so compelled to keep reading this amazing novel  because I felt like I knew these people. I  kept willing  them all to persevere.

WE ARE NOT OURSELVES, starts out in 1951, in Queens, New York.  Eileen Tumulty is in grade school. Yet,  it is she who takes care of her Irish working-class, alcoholic parents.  And she begins to aspire to something much  higher  even at this young age.

The story begins with Eileen being led by the hand to the bar where her father spends most evenings after picking her up from school. At Doherty’s Bar, Eileen’s father was larger than life; his body filled the doorway  and his presence hushed the occupants. Eileen always ran ahead to make sure her dad’s bar stool was unoccupied and ready for him. Once her father was settled in, Eileen sat herself down at one of the creaky tables up front. There she sat, doing her homework in her pleated skirt with her collared blouse, listening in to hear the conversations.

Just try to imagine a parent taking a child into a bar nowadays. Good lord. But I know people who were subjected to this very thing, time after tim as youngsters.

Eileen adds the Leary to her name when she marries Ed, the love of her life. The man who is going to help her rise above all that came before.  But even though Ed  has opportunities that reach far above the stars, he chooses to teach instead of work in the field that would make him a very rich man, and, ultimately, make her a rich woman. So we begin to see a dousing of the fire that burns in Eileen’s eyes.

We watch the lives of Eileen and Ed, and then their son Connell, slowly unravel. We wonder what is happening even as we can not help but know deep in our hearts.

I have to say that this is an epic story of love and devotion as much as a detailed account of striving for the American Dream.  It also brings Eileen Leary into the realm of one of the strongest women in contemporary fiction, today.  We live with Eileen for six decades, and we come to know and care about her, intimately.

This is an important novel. But it’s not for the faint of heart. And as much as I did not want to read the horrors of this story, I could not put it down. I know people who are dealing with this horror even as I type this review. My hat goes off to them all.


Matthew Thomas

The writing is absolutely brilliant. It is impossible to believe this book is a debut. I am looking forward to reading an interview with Matthew Thomas, or hearing one. I’ll be thinking about this amazing new novel for a long, long, time.   I just know that this is a stunning major new talent that I will be keeping my eye on for a long time.

It speaks volumes when the publisher says  that WE ARE NOT OURSELVES, by Matthew Thomas, is,” quite simply and without hyperbole, the best novel Simon and Schuster will publish this year.”

I am so lucky to have received a finished hardcover of WE ARE NOT OURSELVES, by Matthew Thomas.  I will be bringing it along on my lectures this year, and proudly so! Thanks Simon & Schuster!

GiveAway! A Pinch Of OOh La La by Renee Swindle


Pinch of Ooh La La

This cover looks good enough to eat. Literally! A PINCH OF OOH LA LA by Renee Swindle, is fun, lively, and full of quirky characters who will have you in stitches.

The story is set in California. Abbey Ross owns her own bakery and is known around town for her “visually stunning wedding cakes.” But her personal ife has taken a dive. She just isn’t making good choices in relationships. But her friends are all there to help her out.

I have one copy of A PINCH OF OOH LA LA, by Renee Swindle, for giveaway. Just leave a nice comment below. No P.O. addresses, please. And only U.S. addresses. I will choose my winner on Friday.

I have New American Library to thank for the giveaway. As always, I send them a big thanks!

The Visitors by Sally Beauman


The Visitors

THE VISITORS, by Sally Beauman, is a historical novel based on one of the most exciting events in Egypt:  Combing The Valley of the  Kings and unearthing the tomb of the boy king, Tutankhamun.

The story of Howard Carter’s quest for King Tut’s tomb is not news. However, Sally Beauman manages to tell the tale using real and fictitious  people making it fresh. The voices of the two young girls are just delightful.

Our story begins in January of 1922. Eleven-year-old Lucy has arrived in Cairo to visit the pyramids with her guardian. Recovering from a deadly bout with typhoid fever, which has claimed the life of her mother, Lucy finds herself in the company of a group of scientists, their wives, lovers, and a whole host of snoops. Her academic father has decided to hide himself away in his writing, and has stayed behind in England. Add a high-profile disappearance, and you even have  a mystery.

What an exciting time to be in the Valley of the Kings.  Howard Carter had been digging for years so sure he was just on the verge of unearthing the biggest find of all: King Tutankhamun’s final resting place.

Linny's pic

Sphinx’s Paw ( photo by Lin Assink )

Among the pyramids of Giza, and enjoying luncheon at the paw of the Sphinx, Lucy finds herself enmeshed in more than a little history-making. But she’s caught up in the midst of a bunch of stuffy adults… Until Frances comes along to keep her company. Frances is the daughter of a wealthy American archeologist.  Their friendship is instant and forever.

A lot of time is taken to set this novel up. Once I was in Luxor and in the vicinity of the tombs THE VISITOR became a  page-turner. And by then, I wanted to soak up all the history. Beauman has truly done her research. She must have spent oodles of time and had a ball.  She has certainly presented the tale in a rich and entertaining way.

Going back and forth in time, most of the story takes place in the twenties and during the childhood of Lucy and Frances, however, the story does move to England in the present day as we find Lucy in old age and being prodded for information about the historic events concerning the finding of Tut’s tomb. The prodder is a young man who is making a documentary film about the find. He realizes there is more than meets the eye and is intent on finding the whole story. So it’s Lucy thinking back and remembering…

A lot is known about the discovery Carter made. But there is plenty of mystery still shrouding this dig.  And that is what makes this story so compelling. I loved this part of the novel. I pictured the gold and the artifacts as they were first set eyes on within the tomb.  And the tomb is actually much smaller than you would think. How do I know this? My friend Lin visited the tomb and the Valley of the Kings years ago. She took the picture of the Sphinx’s Paw above. In the novel Lucy and Frances and their group luncheon in the area by the paws. Amazing!!!

It is known that thousands of artifacts were in the tomb. And there were several rooms. It is all fascinating. Especially so, since we know most of this is true.  I asked Lin about the heat.  Yes, it’s as stifling as you can imagine. Almost unbearable, I would think.  These tombs have been here for three thousand years, and many of them have painting and writing that is still intact. The Sphinx itself appears to be in bad shape, but they have worked to support it.


Sphinx ( Lin Assink )

Lucy has to return to her home in England, eventually. She is schooled by a young woman who ends up being a very important person in her life.

And then she returns to Luxor to visit Howard Carter at the dig site. Yes, he’s still there after years. He’s been mentored by Lord Carnarvon, his financier and resident of Highclere Castle of Downton Abbey fame. Finally, news of an impending “important” find in the Valley is whispered in the media. And now the excitement has built to a clamorous height.  This is what we’ve been waiting for.

This tome of a book about a tomb is ambitious in both scope and story. It works. Give it time, though. I think you’ll be glad you did.


Sally Beauman

My gorgeous review copy is now dogeared and beaten up. I thank Harper Collins for sending. Thanks so much!

The Winner Of Dear Daughter By Elizabeth Little Is Announced!

Elizabeth Little

Dear Daughter

I have my winner! The winner of DEAR DAUGHTER by Elizabeth Little is… Mary Teela. Congratulations Mary! You’ll receive an email from me shortly asking for your mailing address.  Your fabulous book will arrive straight from Viking Penguin, the publisher. Thanks go out to Viking for providing this book for my giveaway.

I have to thank each of you for entering. My giveaways have been very well attended this summer. Especially this one. It’s important. It’s what keeps the books coming. Thanks so much!

Stay tuned as more giveaways are coming my way …………soon!

Extra Virgin by Gabriele Corcos and Debi Mazar


Extra Virgin

I requested this amazing cookbook for review. I choose cookbooks very carefully. Since we’ve visited Tuscany and enjoyed the food immensely, I figured this book would be a good fit for me. I sure was right!

Gabriel Corcos and Debi Mazar are a married couple with two daughters living in  NYC and the hills of Fiesole  just above Florence, Italy. Gabriele  grew up in Italy. Debi in America. Their story is romantic and fun to read about. But, it’s really all about the food. EXTRA VIRGIN is a compilation of authentic Tuscan recipes that are both easy and doable to make. The gorgeous photos leap and hop off the pages and propel you to the nearest market. 

Written with keen insight, EXTRA VIRGIN will transport you to another country, another world, where you can experience the beauty and flavors of Tuscany from the comfort of your own home.

From sumptuous appetizers like Heirloom Tomato And Burrata Caprese to rustic  pastas and sauces made from scratch like Lasagna Bolognese. And I can’t forget to mention the aromatic but simple soups and the fresh savory salads topped with their own simply made dressings. And, of course, the drinks and desserts!There truly is something for everyone.

Extra Virgin

Debi & Gabriele

The blurbs on the inside of this wonderful book are glowing. From Madonna to Anthony Bourdain, and Bobby Flay to Cat Cora. The spirit of Tuscany comes vividly to life with each page. Speaking of pages, the photography in this cookbook is second to none. I love pictures in cookbooks. But it’s the actual recipes that win the cooks over.

Under The Tuscan Gun is a blog written by Gabriele. 

My favorite recipe is for the Heirloom Tomato And Burrata Caprese.  This is the photo on the cover. It’s what makes most people pick this book up. Since I am a huge fan of a really good mozzarella and tomato salad, this appealed to me. I needed to know what the white substance in the center of the salad actually was. At first glance, I thought it might be a poached egg. But, alas, it is the mozzarella combined with cream that is called burrata. It is creamy and perfect for me. In fact, this salad is a complete meal when a hunk of rustic Italian bread is provided!

I also love the grilled peaches. Right now, here in Florida, we have peaches in season. They are ripe, juicy, and luscious.  Grill them up with a little olive oil drizzled over them, and add some sea salt and ricotta cheese. Oh my!

Then there’s the fried artichokes. Which brings to mind my trip to Tuscany, again.  I loved seeing artichokes growing wild in the fields surrounding one of the great hill towns: San Gimignano.  We visited in May a few years ago and stumbled upon them growing wild.


Tuscan Artichokes

This fabulous cookbook is already getting dog-eared and flagged to death. So many recipes I want to make. My husband is also into cooking, and he’s quite excited about this one.

At this very moment, Gabriele and Debi are having a blast in Fiesole, filming the fifth season of their wildly popular cooking show, “EXTRA VIRGIN.”

I could go on and on. But, do yourself a favor: buy this cookbook for your collection. I guarantee you that you will want to keep EXTRA VIRGIN on your countertop to use on a daily basis.

I received this book from BLOGGING FOR BOOKS in exchange for an honest review. I send out a big thanks to Clarkson Potter, the publisher, as well! Thanks so much.