An Undeniable Spark Between An Unlikely Twosome Creates Serious Heat In The Play, Burn This by Lanford Wilson

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My Review:

In anticipation of the Broadway production of Burn This starring Adam Driver and Keri Russell, I chose to familiarize myself with this emotional story of loss and love, and I am so glad I did!  In the late 1980s, in NYC, a female dancer, Anna, along with her gay roommate, Larry and her rich screenwriter boyfriend, Burton, are together mourning the loss of a friend, Robbie.  The deceased’s brother, Pale, shows up and looks to Anna to learn more about his younger sibling’s recent past, and amidst overwhelming emotions of grief, a physical relationship develops.  Anna ad Pale’s chemistry is undeniable and their relationship grows.  The connection is evident, but timing is not right and she denies them both the opportunity to continue by shutting him out.  To combat the pain of loss, Anna devotes herself to her work as a choreographer, developing a dance that represents this relationship she has turned her back on. 

Thank you to Lanford Wilson, the playwright, for giving Anna’s roommate, Larry, the understanding of the depth of her feelings for Pale…Larry sets them up to be alone in the apartment together without either of them knowing… and it was just what they both needed. I expect this play to be powerful and steamy.  The original cast in 1987 included Joan Allen and John Malkovich, and I think the current cast with Keri Russell and Adam Driver will have equal success.  I cannot wait to see the limited engagement, Broadway production at the Hudson Theatre in May!  

Interview with playwright Lanford Wilson about the writing of the play Burn This.

Goodreads Summary

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About the Playwright:

Lanford Wilson was born in Lebanon, Missouri on April 13, 1937 and died March 24, 2011.  He was an American playwright, considered one of the founders of the Off-Off-Broadway theater movement. He received the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1980, was elected in 2001 to the Theater Hall of Fame, and in 2004 was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
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Sybil’s List of Books Not To Be Missed!

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I love a good booklist to peek my interest and inspire me to read more. Westport, Connecticut resident Sybil Steinberg, contributing editor and former book review section editor for Publishers Weekly puts together a list of her favorites several times a year and recently she presented her July 2017 picks to a standing room only crowd at the Westport Library. I had a chance to catch up with Sybil and ask her a few questions.

To see the interview and her book recommendations click on Booktrib.com.

The Good Widow by Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke

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My Review:

Nothing wrong with a quick departure from reality as you become wholeheartedly absorbed in the suspense of The Good Widow.  Jacks answers her front door to find two police officers telling her the shocking news that her husband is dead.    She knew he was on a business trip in Kansas…or was he?  The plot thickens when they tell her he was in an accident in Maui, Hawaii.  With another woman.  And so it begins…the unravelling of the truth behind their rocky marriage, the mother in law, fertility issues and unmet expectations.  Then there’s a visit from Nick, the fiancé of the woman Jacks’ husband had been traveling with. Nick, equally distraught due to the loss of his wife to be, wants to take a trip to Maui with Jacks to retrace the couple’s steps and learn the truth.  And so they go.  They discover unexpected details about their dead partners’ secret vacation, and as the two grieving travelers spend time together things between them get complicated.   Will they be able to gain closure, forgive their loved one and move on with their lives?  What really happened in Hawaii? Are they truly who they say they are?

Fenton and Steinke do a great job building suspense, with more questions developing as each new detail rises to the surface.  The flawed, yet likable characters kept me engaged and I thought I had it all figured out a few times before I finally saw the light; an enjoyable quick read while basking in the summer sun!

As seen on Goodreads:

Elementary school teacher Jacqueline “Jacks” Morales’s marriage was far from perfect, but even in its ups and downs it was predictable, familiar. Or at least she thought it was…until two police officers showed up at her door with devastating news. Her husband of eight years, the one who should have been on a business trip to Kansas, had suffered a fatal car accident in Hawaii. And he wasn’t alone.

For Jacks, laying her husband to rest was hard. But it was even harder to think that his final moments belonged to another woman—one who had left behind her own grieving and bewildered fiancé. Nick, just as blindsided by the affair, wants answers. So he suggests that he and Jacks search for the truth together, retracing the doomed lovers’ last days in paradise.

Now, following the twisting path of that fateful road, Jacks is learning that nothing is ever as it seems. Not her marriage. Not her husband. And most certainly not his death…

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About the authors:

Liz Fenton and Lisa Steinke have been best friends for 25 years and survived high school and college together. Liz lives in San Diego, CA with her husband and two children. Lisa, a former talk show producer, now lives in Chicago, IL with her husband, daughter and two bonus children.

 

The Lost Letter by Jillian Cantor

Available June 13, 2017

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My review:

Author Jillian Cantor truly knows how to draw a reader in…I could not put down this beautifully written book!  At the end of every chapter my heart was pounding in anticipation.  The Lost Letter is two compelling stories artfully woven together and destined to intertwine at the end.  The first takes place in the late 1930s Austria, and is about the Fabers, a Jewish family.  The father is an engraver and he has a young, non Jewish apprentice, Kristoff, living with them to learn the trade. Kristoff becomes smitten with the older daughter, Elena, a bit of a rebel, who is secretly learning to engrave stamps in the night.  When the war reaches their small town, the Fabers are in danger and Elena along with Kristoff become part of the Austrian resistance, using stamps to communicate right under the noses of the Nazis.  The desperation of making it through this horrible time and the hopefulness of love are palpable as the characters secretly help others escape while biding their time.

In late 1980s Los Angeles, a philatelist (stamp collector) is battling dementia and is living in an Alzheimer’s memory unit.  His daughter, Katie, is going through a divorce, sorting through her dad’s belongings and is getting his stamp collection appraised with the hope of finding a hidden gem.   An unusual stamp is found on an unopened letter which leads her on a quest for answers.  This fascinating journey takes Kate back to the 1930s Austria as she learns about the war, Austrian resistance and her father’s past.

The Lost Letter is historical fiction at its best; dual storylines, wonderful relationships, information about use of the stamp during wartime, paired with incredible storytelling by author Jillian Cantor makes this one of my favorite books of 2017!  Order your copy on AMAZON today!

 

As seen in Goodreads:

A heart-breaking, heart-warming historical novel of love and survival inspired by real resistance workers during World War II Austria, and the mysterious love letter that connects generations of Jewish families. For readers of The Nightingale, Lilac Girls, and Sarah’s Key.

Austria, 1938.
Kristoff is a young apprentice to a master Jewish stamp engraver. When his teacher disappears during Kristallnacht, Kristoff is forced to engrave stamps for the Germans, and simultaneously works alongside Elena, his beloved teacher’s fiery daughter, and with the Austrian resistance to send underground messages and forge papers. As he falls for Elena amidst the brutal chaos of war, Kristoff must find a way to save her, and himself.

Los Angeles, 1989.
Katie Nelson is going through a divorce and while cleaning out her house and life in the aftermath, she comes across the stamp collection of her father, who recently went into a nursing home. When an appraiser, Benjamin, discovers an unusual World War II-era Austrian stamp placed on an old love letter as he goes through her dad’s collection, Katie and Benjamin are sent on a journey together that will uncover a story of passion and tragedy spanning decades and continents, behind the just fallen Berlin Wall.

A beautiful, poignant and devastating novel, The Lost Letter shows the lasting power of love.

Image-1-1.jpgAbout the author:

Jillian Cantor has a BA in English from Penn State University and an MFA from The University of Arizona. She is the author of award-winning novels for teens and adults including the critically acclaimed MARGOT, which was a Library Reads pick for September 2013 and also featured in O the Oprah Magazine, People, Ladies Home Journal, and Time.com. Her most recent book for teens, SEARCHING FOR SKY, (Bloomsbury US & UK, Scholastic book club) was nominated for the 2015 Carnegie Medal in the UK. Jillian’s next historical novel for adults, THE LOST LETTER, will be out 06/13/17 from Riverhead/Penguin. Born and raised in a suburb of Philadelphia, Jillian currently lives in Arizona with her husband and two sons.

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

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As seen in Goodreads:

The #1 New York Times bestseller and modern classic that’s been changing lives for a decade gets a gorgeous revamped cover and special additional content.

You can’t stop the future.
You can’t rewind the past.
The only way to learn the secret . . . is to press play.

Clay Jensen returns home from school to find a strange package with his name on it lying on his porch. Inside he discovers several cassette tapes recorded by Hannah Baker–his classmate and crush–who committed suicide two weeks earlier. Hannah’s voice tells him that there are thirteen reasons why she decided to end her life. Clay is one of them. If he listens, he’ll find out why.

Clay spends the night crisscrossing his town with Hannah as his guide. He becomes a firsthand witness to Hannah’s pain, and as he follows Hannah’s recorded words throughout his town, what he discovers changes his life forever.

My Comments:

The most important message from Thirteen Reasons Why is that how we treat others can effect them in bigger ways than we realize and we should be cognizant of our actions and interactions. At 16 Hannah has committed suicide and has left behind audio cassette tapes for the people who contributed to her unhappiness as one thing lead to another and her depression snowballed. Each person mentioned in the tapes is supposed to listen so they can see how their actions impacted Hannah. Clay listens to the tapes and little by little begins to understand her mindset as different people let her down along the way. The story is a sad one, and each person in her life had an opportunity to “save” her but nobody realized how bad she needed saving until it was too late.

My teenage son read this in a day and suggested I read it. His high school sent an email to all parents bringing to our attention the Netflix series based on the book and warning that the TV version may glamorize suicide and to watch and discuss it with your children.

Bullying, promiscuity, and teenage drama are not new topics but author Jay Asher does a nice job delivering a fast moving, suspenseful novel for adults and teens which sparks important conversation about the serious topics of suicide and depression.

The national phone number and website for help is 1-800 SUICIDE and www.hopeline.com.

 

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Jay Asher was born in Arcadia, California on September 30, 1975. He grew up in a family that encouraged all of his interests, from playing the guitar to his writing. He attended Cuesta College right after graduating from high school. It was here where he wrote his first two children’s books for a class called Children’s Literature Appreciation. At this point in his life, he had decided he wanted to become an elementary school teacher. He then transferred to California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo where he left his senior year in order to pursue his career as a serious writer. Throughout his life he worked in various establishments, including as a salesman in a shoe store and in libraries and bookstores. Many of his work experiences had an impact on some aspect of his writing.

He has published only one book to date, Thirteen Reasons Why, which was published in October 2007. He is currently working on his second Young Adult novel, and has written several picture books and screenplays. Thirteen Reasons Why has won several awards and has received five stars from Teen Book Review. It also has received high reviews from fellow authors such as Ellen Hopkins, Chris Crutcher, and Gordon Kormon.

Breaking and Holding by Judy Fogarty

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When Patricia finds a telltale sign of another woman having been in the bed she shares with her husband Jack, a man more than two decades her senior, she decides to take some time alone and spend the summer on Kiawah Island, South Carolina. Many years prior, Jack rescued Patricia from a lonely childhood and although he provided her opportunity for a life with security he was controlling. As she emotionally struggles to break away, her best friend, Lynn offers advise and support and when Patricia meets a young, handsome tennis player, Terry, a few years younger than her, she is vulnerable. An undeniable attraction is obvious and a beautiful, forbidden romance blooms.

Patricia and Terry share intimate secrets but obstacles arise in their relationship, which has developed into more than just a summer fling. Jack’s business is in trouble and he demands Patricia return home. Terry’s sponsor opportunities as a tennis pro are slim and his only possibility for financial support is Nona, a manipulative, lonely woman who demands he spend time with her and away from distractions.

Past tragedies and missteps lead to secrets and more hurt but these complex characters slowly reveal their truths and mend fences along the way.
The relationships of family and friends, the absence of family and friends, age and stage and love and money and needs and secrets with the backdrop of Kiawah Island and the tennis circuit make Breaking and Holding engaging, thought provoking and a juicy, quick read.

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About the Author as stated in Goodreads:

Judy Fogarty lives, writes, reads, and runs on the historic Isle of Hope in her native Savannah, Georgia. She holds a Master of Music degree in Vocal Performance and Literature from the University of Illinois and has served as marketing director for private golf and tennis communities in the Savannah/Hilton Head area. She is a devoted—even rowdy—tennis fan, as anyone who has had the pleasure—or displeasure—of watching a professional match with her will attest. Breaking and Holding is Judy’s debut novel. She is happily at work on her second, enjoying as always the invaluable support of her husband, Mike, and children, Colin and Sara Jane.

Nonfiction recommendations for you!

It’s the doldrums of winter and you may have a vacation planned or you may be snowed in, but either way, use any extra time to catch up on your reading, expand your knowledge base, understand others’ perspectives and enjoy a little nonfiction. Here are some wonderful books not to be missed.

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Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J. D. Vance
As stated in Goodreads:
From a former Marine and Yale Law School Graduate, a poignant account of growing up in a poor Appalachian town, that offers a broader, probing look at the struggles of America’s white working class. Part memoir, part historical and social analysis, J. D. Vance’s Hillbilly Elegy is a fascinating consideration of class, culture, and the American dream.

 

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When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
As stated in Goodreads:
At the age of thirty-six, on the verge of completing a decade’s worth of training as a neurosurgeon, Paul Kalanithi was diagnosed with stage IV lung cancer. One day he was a doctor making a living treating the dying, and the next he was a patient struggling to live. Just like that, the future he and his wife had imagined evaporated. When Breath Becomes Air, which features a Foreword by Dr. Abraham Verghese and an Epilogue by Kalanithi’s wife, Lucy, chronicles Kalanithi’s transformation from a naïve medical student “possessed,” as he wrote, “by the question of what, given that all organisms die, makes a virtuous and meaningful life” into a young neurosurgeon at Stanford, guiding patients toward a deeper understanding of death and illness, and finally into a patient and a new father to a baby girl, confronting his own mortality.

 

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Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity by Katherine Boo
As stated in Goodreads:
From Pulitzer Prize-winner Katherine Boo, a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the dramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities.

In this brilliantly written, fast-paced book, based on three years of uncompromising reporting, a bewildering age of global change and inequality is made human.

 

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Let There Be Water: Israel’s Solution for a Water-Starved World by Seth Siegel
As stated in Goodreads:
As every day brings urgent reports of growing water shortages around the world, there is no time to lose in the search for solutions.
Beautifully written, Let There Be Water is and inspiring account of the vision and sacrifice by a nation and people that have long made water security a top priority. Despite scant natural water resources, a rapidly growing population and economy, and often hostile neighbors, Israel has consistently jumped ahead of the water innovation-curve to assure a dynamic, vital future for itself. Every town, every country, and every reader can benefit from learning what Israel did to overcome daunting challenges and transform itself from a parched land into a water superpower.

If you want to learn more about how you can help with the water crisis check out Innovation Africa, a worthy organization that is making a difference.

 

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Citizen: An American Lyric by Claudia Rankine
As Stated in Goodreads:
Claudia Rankine’s bold new book recounts mounting racial aggressions in ongoing encounters in twenty-first-century daily life and in the media. Some of these encounters are slights, seeming slips of the tongue, and some are intentional offensives in the classroom, at the supermarket, at home, on the tennis court with Serena Williams and the soccer field with Zinedine Zidane, online, on TV-everywhere, all the time. The accumulative stresses come to bear on a person’s ability to speak, perform, and stay alive. Our addressability is tied to the state of our belonging, Rankine argues, as are our assumptions and expectations of citizenship. In essay, image, and poetry, Citizen is a powerful testament to the individual and collective effects of racism in our contemporary, often named “post-race” society.

Author Sally Hepworth

 

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The Mother’s Promise by Sally Hepworth delves into the lives of a single mother, Alice and her teenage daughter, Zoe. As Alice’s life is threatened with cancer she has to make decisions regarding custody for Zoe. Up until now the two have made a go of it on their own with no friends or family to speak of as a backup so they have to rely on the help of Alice’s oncology nurse, Kate, and her social worker, Sonja.

Each of Sally Hepworth’s characters are rich with humanity, flaws and challenges and I felt hopeful that each of these great women characters would survive their personal struggles. Reading about social anxiety, abuse, rape, alcoholism, Crohn’s Disease, infertility and cancer provided insight on the real challenges each present and I took the emotional journeys with Alice as she loses ground with her health, Zoe as she learns tactics to fight anxiety and comes into her own as a teenager, Kate as she feels alone surrounded by family as she battles infertility and Sonja as she gains courage to stand up to her husband. The story is beautifully woven and I couldn’t put it down as I read through my tears.  The Mother’s Promise is available February 21, 2017.

 

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The Things We Keep is about Anna, a 38 year old woman with early Alzheimer’s disease.  Her family decides it would be best for her to live in an assisted living facility and while there under duress, she befriends the only other younger person in house, Luke.  Eve, the cook at Rosalind House, learns of Anna and Luke’s blossomed relationship but after an accident and the staff choosing to keep the two apart, Eve chooses to risk her employment by allow them to see each other.

This is a heartbreaking story of how people’s lives can be robbed by Alzheimer’s but there is also a hint of hope as we go on the journey of two people developing a wonderful and fulfilling relationship all while their health goes downhill.  Sally Hepworth knows how to make us feel joy, sadness, frustration, empathy and love in this very powerful novel.