{Review} The Royal Secret by Lucinda Riley

the royal secret book cover photo of a crown with bokeh lights in the foreground I love a good romantic chick lit. They’re fun and light, if not a bit predictable. In between the “heavier” stuff I read, it’s good to get lost in some fantasy world. I was pretty sure The Royal Secret would be a book like that, and it is, but with a little twist.

Joanna Haslam, our strong female lead, is a striving journalist waiting for her big break. When she’s sent to cover the funeral of Sir James Harrison, a venerated actor (I kept thinking of Charlton Heston, for some reason…), she comes to the aid of an elderly woman in attendance.  This act of kindness turns out to be fateful as Joanna is plunged headlong into a royal mystery featuring a dizzying array of characters, all with their own stories to reveal. The ending is anything but predictable, and Lucinda Riley keeps us guessing until the very end.

The origins of the book itself even has some intrigue. Originally scheduled to be published back in the early aughts, the Royal family put the kibosh on the book, causing the author to lose her contract with the publisher. I guess enough time has passed at this point that the earlier censorship is now reversed and the book is back with a new title.

Buy It At IndieBound

Buy it on Amazon

Photo of Author Lucinda Riley wearing a rust-orange sundress, standing on a walkway in lush green scenery. The author is leaning on the railing with arms crossed.
Credit: Boris Breuer


Website: http://www.lucindariley.com

Twitter: @lucindariley

Facebook: @Lucindarileyauthor

Lucinda Riley is the New York Times bestselling author of The Orchid House, The Girl on the Cliff, The Lavender Garden, The Midnight Rose, and the Seven Sisters seriesHer books have sold more than fifteen million copies in thirty-five languages globally. She was born in Ireland and divides her time between England and West Cork with her husband and four children.




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{Review} Motherland by Elissa Altman

It’s really only a coincidence that I’m writing and publishing this review on Mother’s Day weekend.  But here we are, being apropos!

In Motherland, Elissa Altman displays her talent for imbuing the mundane with powerful meaning. The closet the contains a tiny, red plaid umbrella, an old mink coat, a child’s grade school notebooks, baby teeth, a wedding gown, is not just clutter but objects that serve as a balm to a highly anxious, traumatized woman who needs constant reassurance that her life has been a life well-lived, even when she feels strongly it’s been otherwise. Objects that are tangible evidence of her love for her daughter, that she was a good mother even when she wasn’t.

What kind of mother can you be when you’ve never felt enough your entire life, when you carry the weight of intergenerational trauma?  Elissa Altman works to understand this woman who raised her, who made it clear that she could’ve been so much more if she hadn’t been stuck in this motherhood role.  It’s easy to be angry at Rita–how dare she be resentful of motherhood. But I’m inspired by Elissa’s empathy for her mother, her willingness to understand why her mother is the way she is, and it’s impossible to be angry. Frustrated, definitely. Angry, no. Deeply sympathetic for Elissa’s dilemma–to preserve her own sanity by putting distance between herself and her mother, or to take the fifth commandment to heart. The dilemma is made all the more vexing because Elissa’s late father had implored her to remember to honor thy mother and father, always.

Elissa Altman’s vivid storytelling, and uncanny ability to evoke a time, a place, a feeling with mere words make this a book that needs to be on your Must Read list. Motherland is out from Ballantine in August 2019, and available for preorder on Amazon.



More from NetGalley:

How can a mother and daughter who love (but don’t always like) each other coexist without driving each other crazy? It’s the universal question that has defined mothers and daughters from Demeter and Persephone to Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.

“Wise, evocative, and rich in insight, this compassionate and beautiful memoir is ultimately an act of love.”—Claire Messud, author of The Burning Girl

After surviving a traumatic childhood in nineteen-seventies New York and young adulthood living in the shadow of her flamboyant mother, Rita, a makeup-addicted former television singer, Elissa Altman has managed to build a very different life, settling in Connecticut with her wife of nearly twenty years. After much time, therapy, and wine, Elissa is at last in a healthy place, still orbiting around her mother but keeping far enough away to preserve the stable, independent world she has built as a writer and editor. Then Elissa is confronted with the unthinkable: Rita, whose days are spent as a flâneur, traversing Manhattan from the Clinique counters at Bergdorf to Bloomingdale’s and back again, suffers an incapacitating fall, leaving her completely dependent upon her daughter.

Now Elissa is forced to finally confront their profound differences, Rita’s yearning for beauty and glamour, her view of the world through her days in the spotlight, and the money that has mysteriously disappeared in the name of preserving youth. To sustain their fragile mother-daughter bond, Elissa must navigate the turbulent waters of their shared lives, the practical challenges of caregiving for someone who refuses to accept it, the tentacles of narcissism, and the mutual, frenetic obsession that has defined their relationship.

Motherland is a story that touches every home and every life, mapping the ferocity of maternal love, moral obligation, the choices women make about motherhood, and the possibility of healing. Filled with tenderness, wry irreverence, and unforgettable characters, it is an exploration of what it means to escape from the shackles of the past only to have to face them all over again.

Advance praise for Motherland

“Rarely has a mother-daughter relationship been excavated with such honesty. Elissa Altman is a beautiful, big-hearted writer who mines her most central subject: her gorgeous, tempestuous, difficult mother, and the terrain of their shared life. The result is a testament to the power of love and family.”—Dani Shapiro, author of Inheritance

I am a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for me to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.

{Review}: Mamaleh Knows Best by Marjorie Ingalls

Quick Review: a funny book on jewish parenting that encapsulates the values of jewish culture for anyone.

I’ll admit, I mostly wanted to read this book because I’m a Sassy fangirl and Marjorie Ingalls was a Sassy writer.  Jane Pratt was ‘aight but Marjorie was my girl. Then, she grew up and I grew up and I started seeing her name in Tablet, an online Jewish magazine. And I was like, oh my girl is in the TRIBE. Cool.

I read that Tiger mom book, and I read ABOUT that French parenting book but neither resonated with me. I barely read parenting books anyway, and I’m not interested in anything that tells me I’m doing it wrong and I could be doing it better. Nobody has time for that. Mamaleh Knows Best: What Jewish Mothers Do to Raise Successful, Creative, Empathetic, Independent Children seemed more my speed than those other books, and I was curious whether it would jibe with my own upper middle class, conservative Jewish upbringing.

Let’s just get one thing out of the way first: Ingall’s insistence on the phrase “us Jews,” “we Jews,” “Jews are this,” and her willingness to confirm some stereotypes about Jews made me squirm. I guess she is using it as shorthand for Jewish culture and values, but that’s sloppy and dangerous, especially in this age of heightened anti-semitism. A “positive” stereotype is still a stereotype.

I’m  here to tell you that not all Jews are rich, educated, nerdy, nebbishy, neurotic or whatever else you think Jews are. 

Okay, let’s move on.

jewish parenting I will say this: Jewish culture does place a high premium on education, on lovingkindness, on philanthropy,  on humor and on getting up and over on adversity. How can we not? Through history, Jews as a group have been persecuted, exiled, killed en masse and scapegoated. How else would Jews and Jewish culture have survived?

These defining characteristics of our culture form the basis for Jewish parenting, and Ingalls proposes that this style of parenting works well for everyone.  My father is fond of saying that our job is to raise not children, but future adults. Yes, we want our children to grow up to be productive, happy, functional members of society. That starts with instilling a sense  of independence and responsibility from a young age, treating children with respect and assuming their intelligence.

True to type, Ingalls coaches us on Jewish parenting in a tone full of humor and self-deprecation, with stories about her own children that will have readers alternately chuckling and groaning.  And if you were raised Jewish, you might nod your head in recognition and agreement.   Ingalls’ parenting advice is supported by words of wisdom from the Torah and the oral history of the Jews.

All in all, this was a parenting book that made sense to me, and I would recommend it to anyone trying to figure out how to raise kids to be adults they can be proud of.

{I received a copy of this book for review purposes from Blogging for Books. This post contains affiliate links.}

Where I’ve Been

Oh, heyyyyyy. Long time, no see. (Stop me if you’ve heard that before!)

But I have a good excuse. I’ve been working! Way back in the fall, when there was still light to be had and leaves on the trees, I started working as a VA for my friend NJ, who kept referring me to other clients, and before I knew it, I had a full-fledged BUSINESS going. Funny how that happens.

Just popping in here to say that I have some book reviews in the works, and I have a guest post up on NJ’s blog, about celebrating both Chanukah and Christmas. Check it out here: http://www.acookiebeforedinner.com/2016/12/christmas-light-menorah-interfaith/

I’ll see you back here soon-ish with some book reviews. In the meantime, wishing you and yours a very merry holiday!

{Review}: Home Cooked by Anya Fernald

Quick Review: A thoughtful, approachable, visually appealing cookbook that makes even The Most exotic recipe seem  within reach.

(This post contains affiliate links. That means when you click on a link, I get a small commission.)

Isn’t this book pretty? I’m definitely guilty of judging a book by it’s cover. The photographs and layout inside Home Cooked by Anya Fernald are gorgeous, too. A cookbook is more than just  recipes– good ones also tell a story (unless it’s the Joy of Cooking or How To Make Everything, my favorite go-to for regular old recipes).

Anya Fernald is the founder of Belcampo Meat Co., founded in 2011 with the mission of creating sustainable pathways to meat processing through its slaughterhouse, farm and restaurants. In writing this cookbook, Fernald showcases the simplest of ingredients and elevates home cooking without putting it out of reach for the everyday home cook.

I admit, though, not every recipe in this book is for me. There are a fair amount of recipes that involve ingredients that have never found their way into my kitchen, like pig feet (for trotter broth) or chicken hearts (to be sautéed in brown butter), but to Fernald’s credit, she makes even offal seem appealing. (Still not going to be made in my kitchen, though.)

There are plenty more recipes that I do plan to make!  So far, I’ve been able to try two of the recipes. One was the farinata, a chickpea flour pancake, which proved to be an excellent vehicle for almost anything. With only five ingredients, plus one optional ingredient (mortadella!), and a fast cooking time (ten minutes), it’s a simple, affordable, highly adaptable addition to my repertoire of dinner accompaniments.

The other recipe was for pickled beets, but instead of beets, I pickled beautiful radishes from my weekly produce box.

A quick flip through the book reveals that nearly all the recipes consistent of ten ingredients or less, which makes even the most intimidating-sounding recipe feel do-able. No fancy, hard-to-find ingredients (offal notwithstanding…) or specialty cooking tools needed here!

More about Home Cooked by Anya Fernald, from Penguin Random House:

A recipe collection and how-to guide for preparing base ingredients that can be used to make simple, weeknight meals, while also teaching skills like building and cooking over a fire, and preserving meat and produce, written by a sustainable food expert and founder of Belcampo Meat Co.


{I received a review copy of this book from Blogging for Books for review purposes. All opinions are my own.}

Homecoming, Soon.

I feel like this coming week and last week are harder than the six months behind us. Henry’s homecoming is so close and yet, so far! 

I kind of feel like I should have some profound things to say about being on my own for six months with three kids but I got nothing. 
These six months have  affirmed for me that self-care is important, that mommy martyrdom is for the birds. I have zero patience for whining, for tantrums, for little kids who seem hell-bent on making my life more difficult. I also don’t have much patience with myself, and while I’m good at getting alone time or adult time, I’m not good at developing and keeping healthy habits. It’s the first thing to go when things are chaotic and there are demands on my time and attention. 
Things I’m terrible at:
1. Going to bed not late
2. Reading books instead of being online 
3. Housekeeping
4. Discipline
5. Self-control 
Things I’m good at:
1. Thinking instead of doing
2. Not giving a damn when the kids complain about dinner
3. Book piles
4. Making popcorn 
5. Procrastinating 
I added those two lists because I couldn’t think of anything to write. How do people write so damn much? My train of thought peters out after a paragraph. Now I know how my intervention kids feel. I saw this funny thing on Facebook that went something like this: 
Develops plot in shower.
Creates character as she gets dressed.
Writes whole story in her head at breakfast. 
Gets in front of computer and is all ” wut r werds?” 
That is me right there. *sigh*

2015 Word of the Year

Though I didn’t blog much about it, I found it really helpful to have a word of the year. Last year, the word was focus.  Even though I was not always successful, I did frequently call on the word during moments when I felt overwhelmed by all that I was trying to do. I made one big change that helped me in my attempt to unitask. I stopped bringing my devices into the bedroom at bedtime. I left them in another room, so as to avoid getting sucked down the rabbit hole of Facebook and Instagram. Instead, I read books and enjoyed more sleep. And because the world didn’t end when I started ignoring my phone/ipad/computer an entire 6 hours, it became easier to be less tied to my devices during the day too which meant that more laundry was done, more dishes were done, more time was enjoyed with the kids, more projects got done. Lovely side effect, I think. (Another side effect is that it has taken me all week to write this blog post! When I finally have time to sit and open my computer, I find myself going to bed with a book instead.)

I’ve also spent some time this year coming face to face with some personal demons that have kept me company for years. It’s time to set those demons free. It started with a book my sister sent me: Taking the Leap, by Pema Chodron.  In this book, I recognized so many of the attributes of human nature that are described and became totally engrossed in the idea that a little mindfulness would go a long way. Pema talks about the concept of shenpa, which is the thing or behavior you are attached to or hooked on to. It is almost like addiction. It can be anything–money, drugs, food, alcohol, anything you have a hard time letting go of because you believe it will relieve an urge or a feeling of uneasiness. You can read more about it here: http://www.lionsroar.com/how-we-get-hooked-shenpa-and-how-we-get-unhooked/

On the other side, you have shenluk, which is turning shenpa upside down, or renouncing attachment.  Pema says you can’t ever not have shenpa but you can decide to face your shenpa head-on and just deal with it, recognize it for what it is and move on. She says to sit with it, which I’ve adopted as a kind of mantra– sit with it, sit with it, allow yourself to pause so that the urge will pass. And that is my theme for this year, shenluk. To take shenpa and turn it on its head. To stare it down and become stronger than it.

Writing Down The Bones

This is an exercise I used to do with my students, to get the writing motor going. I took the name of it from an excellent book of the same name by Natalie Goldberg.

Here’s how the exercise works. Come up with three words or phrases, related to the same theme. Since identity and environment was a big theme of the 9th grade, I often used “My City,” “My Neighborhood,” and “My Block.” Having nothing in front of you except your writing utensil and a piece of paper (or your computer), write non-stop on the first phrase for 2 minutes. When time is up, write non-stop on the next phrase for 3 minutes. Follow that with writing for 5 minutes non-stop on the final phrase. If you get stuck, just write the same word over and over again until you get unstuck, or until time is up for that round, whichever comes first.

For awhile now, I have been trying to work out an essay on motherhood, in relation to my deafness. So, for this exercise, I am going to focus on the theme of “Motherhood,” using the phrases “Identity,” “Experience,” and “Value.”

Identity (2 minutes)
I am not afraid to say “I am a mother.” But I am afraid to think that will be my primary identity for the rest of my life. Of course, I will be a mother for the rest of my life but motherhood is a role. I am not so sure it can be an identity. Maybe I have no clue what it means to have an identity or how to define it, either in general or for myself. What else am I? I am a wife. That’s a role, too. I am a reader. I am a writer. I am a caucasion, Jewish woman raised in a middle-class family in the suburbs. That is where my identity find its source. Or does it? 

Experience (3 minutes)
Motherhood is an experience. Experience. Experience. Experience. Experience. Experience. I can only relate to the experience in terms of how it makes me feel at any given moment. I feel frustrated a lot of the time. I feel tremendous affection. A lot of love. Some sadness. It’s a little bittersweet. Sometimes, I feel amazed and awed. Sometimes, I look at my children and think about how surreal it is that these little people were once inside of me. That I nursed them with nutrition from my own body, then I set them free to become their own people. This is probably the oddest experience of motherhood. It’s surreal to think about how primal it is, even as we consider ourselves an advanced civilization. 

Value (5 minutes)
What is the value of what I do? What is it that I do anyway? I keep two small beings alive. I nourish them, heart and soul and body. I love them. I guide them. I teach them. I let them go. I bring them back to me. I scold. I admonish. I yell. I discipline. I shape. I mold. And I don’t do this alone, of course. I have a partner but for most of the day, they are mine. Some try to relate the value of motherhood to the value of gainful employment. Yes, I gave up my full-time job with excellent benefits but I did so willingly. I can’t even use the phrase “gave up.” “Gave up” implies sacrifice. It was no real sacrifice at the time. It was a luxury afforded to me by a generous partner. But maybe now, I realize that it was a little bit of a sacrifice. What did I sacrifice? I sacrificed my value as a worker. As a teacher, I had value in society. As a mother, I don’t have the same value. Never mind that because of my motherwork, my children will be productive members of society.  Never mind that. No one sees it that way. I think most people think raising your own children is a selfish endeavor. And maybe it is. But selfish is not always bad. Sometimes, selfish serves a purpose. 

I used to tell my students, “Don’t pay attention to spelling or grammar. Don’t try to be perfect. Just write.” But I have to admit, it’s hard not to correct myself and I did so here, most of the time. Though I see that I left my  misspelling of “caucasian” as is.

The next step in this exercise is to choose one of these passages and expand it into a larger piece. I’m not sure which passage I’ll choose as none of them are speaking to me right now.  Writing is pretty easy, but writing authentically is hard.  A writer has to overcome self-consciousness and find the strength to be real in her writing, to put down words that are meaningful and not just fluff or filler. It has to be raw and can’t skirt around the edges. There is no power in that. But that kind of power is a little scary. So, I must summon up the courage. Maybe tomorrow.

A Writer

For someone who claims to be a writer, and even purports to coach others in writing, I don’t write a whole lot, neither in frequency nor in volume. Seems kind of silly, doesn’t it?

Can I say “I am a writer” because that is closest thing to a marketable skill I possess? For a long time, I said “I am a teacher” but that seems false now, even though I tutor. “Teacher” implies a career based on shaping impressionable minds and hopefully bringing out the best in one’s charges. If the definition hinges on “career,” that is no longer part of my “I am.” I can say that I am a sewist or a crafter but it doesn’t ring as true as “writer.” And so, I better start acting like one.

 I just finished reading Mile Markers, by Kristin Armstrong. Kristin Armstrong is a mother, a writer and a runner. I am one of those things and aspire to the other two. The book is made up of short bursts of inspirational missives in which Armstrong weaves together the common threads that course through running and life. Metaphors abound. In fact, the author refers to herself as “metaphor girl.” She does have quite a talent for it. One of the metaphors that resonated deeply was the section on resistance. In this section, Armstrong recounts a yoga session in which the instructor says that the inability to flow through to a difficult pose comes from an internal resistance based on fear or insecurity. Armstrong connects this idea to being afraid to push herself harder in other aspects of her life, like running or writing.

I have this internal resistance. It rears its ugly head everyday. I am running in place, trying to summon up courage to make the next move. I’ve been running in place so long, I’ve worn a divot into the floor beneath my feet. Part of my resistance comes from insecurity, and part of it is because I think I don’t know what I want. I am pretty sure I know what I want but it’s buried so deep that I can’t dig it out. I have a mental block that is preventing me from articulating my desire. I thought it was apathy but now I believe it is just resistance and I need to find the security to push through, to flow to the next, difficult pose.