News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh. Copyright 2013.
From the author of Baker Towers, a book I read a few years ago, comes a collection of short stories, most of which take place in the coal mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, the same location as Baker Towers. In one story, a girl from Bakerton works for a Jewish family in New York before World War II. In another, an English teacher in Bakerton reminisces about one of her students during World War II.
I liked Baker Towers, and I enjoyed these stories. Many of them have some of the same characters including those from Baker Towers. Most are about families dealing with tragedies and/or secrets. For the most part, they are in chronological order from before World War II to the present day. In the last story, Joyce, from Baker Towers, mourns her husband’s passing and reminisces about her life with him and their children. Being a widow, I was touched by this one the most. To learn more about Jennifer Haigh and her books, click here.
My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes by Dawn Lerman. Copyright 2015.
When I heard about this book a couple of months ago on National Public Radio, the title intrigued me. My own dad was fat, but unlike this author’s father, my dad didn’t obsess about dieting but eventually managed to get his weight under control.
Dawn Lerman is a certified nutritionist and contributor to the New York Times Well blog and the founder of Magnificent Mommies, specializing in personal, corporate, and school-based education. Her father was a well-known ad executive responsible for such slogans as “Leggo My Eggo” and “Coke is It.”
In My Fat Dad, she tells the story of how her father’s obesity and obsession with weight loss affected her life. She grew up in a Jewish family who lived in Chicago for about the first eight years of her life before moving to New York in 1972. Because her mother, a so-called aspiring actress, was too lazy to prepare meals, and her father was always on one diet or another, the family rarely ate a home-cooked meal together. At one time, her father lost a lot of weight after attending a Duke University fat camp in Durham, South Carolina, but eventually gained it back. Her mother berated her for this and that and said she was too sensitive when she expressed her feelings. She describes how her grandmother fueled her passion for good food and in later years supported her interest in cooking healthful meals.
Several years after the family moved to New York, Dawn’s younger sister April was cast in a traveling production of Annie and later the movie as well as other shows. Their mother traveled with her and was away from home a great deal during Dawn’s adolescent years. Dawn encouraged her sister to act because of her own inadequacies as a singer or dancer. She talks about how she prepared meals for her father when her mother and sister were away and describes the loneliness she felt when not in school or with friends since her father also traveled a lot as part of his advertising career. She also touches on her coming of age and involvement in New York City’s night club scene as well as her parents’ divorce and feeling stuck in the middle because both her father and mother demanded her loyalty.
In the epilog, she describes her father’s lung cancer diagnosis after she had her first child. She explains how she researched a correlation between food and healing and how her entire family, including her grandmother and uncles, came together to rally successfully for his survival. Twelve years later, the book ends with a phone conversation between Dawn and her father in which he announces he’s starting yet another diet. The book includes recipes for all the food mentioned, and there’s a lot of food here so you don’t want to read this on an empty stomach.
I would like to have learned more. What were Dawn’s college years like? Since her parents were divorced, did she spend her vacations with her mother or father? To order the book from Amazon, click here. You can read an interview of Dawn about the book on the Huffington Post site.
Hotel Vendome by Danielle Steel. Copyright 2011.
The Hotel Vendome is a posh establishment in New York City. The fictional story surrounding it spans over twenty years. When Hugh Martin first bought the place, he was married with a two-year-old daughter, Elouise. When Elouise was four, her mother ran off with a rock star, filed for divorce, and didn’t return until over twenty years later when Elouise was married.
As we read this book, we watch Elouise grow up in the hotel, surrounded by mostly female employees who develop a bond with her but don’t quite take her mother’s place. She spends many happy hours sneaking into the ballroom during weddings and helping the maids. In high school, she takes a serious interest in managing the facility. After graduation, she decides to go to the same school in Switzerland where her father earned his credentials, much to his chagrin, but he gives his blessing.
After she leaves, Hugh, who has sworn never to become seriously involved with women again, develops a relationship with Natalie, a professional decorator he hires to do the hotel’s suites. As they become closer, Hugh hesitates to tell Elouise about Natalie until a year later when she returns home for her internship at the hotel. She is stunned by the news, thinking it would just be her and her father for the rest of their lives. For six months, she’s barely civil to her father and Natalie but comes around just in time for their wedding. Several months later, Natalie is pregnant with triplets, and again, Elouise is in shock but comes around more quickly. Despite other complications, the book has a happy ending.
This book reminds me of how glamorous it would be to live in a place like the Hotel Vendome and not worry about cooking, cleaning, or even making your own bed. Of course it would be too expensive so I wouldn’t pursue this lifestyle. However, for the time it took to read the book, I was transported to a wonderful place where I could relax in a luxurious suite, enjoy a box of decadent hotel chocolates, and order meals from room service. To sign up for a free monthly email newsletter and learn more about Danielle Steel, click here.