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Book Review

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Sarah Beth Durst’s over two dozen books include writings for children, teenagers, and adults, many in the fantasy genre. Among the prolific author’s works are The Bone Maker, The Deepest Blue, The Stone Girl’s Story, and Even and Odd (all reviewed in this paper). With The Lake House (HarperTeen), Durst has crafted a first-rate young adult thriller.

Author Sarah Beth Durst

The novel follows three teenagers sent to an “enrichment retreat” in Maine, a place to “learn new skills, have new experiences, make new friends.” Claire Dreyer is the center: “Claire excelled at three things: ballet, homework, and identifying all the ways there were to die in any given situation.” Claire’s self-awareness is both insightful and crippling. “[She] thought longingly of her bedroom with all her books and a door that closed everyone out.” Ultimately, she hopes the opportunity to be “a new Claire here, a never-before-seen version of herself who made friends easily and didn’t freak out about every little thing.”

Two contemporaries join Claire. The pessimistic Reyva Chaudhari doesn’t “do performative emotions.” But, after some prodding, she discloses her passion: Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) fighting—an endeavor that turns out to be of great value. Reyva’s wry humor and tendency to find amusement in the darker possibilities contrasts with Claire’s need for constant order. Mariana Ortiz-Rodriguez, a Californian transplant, is the perkiest of the three. Fascinated by cars and engines, her skills become vital in the climax. 

All three share complex backgrounds with various parental pressures and complicated home lives. Their parents make choices they perceive as good for their offspring but often fail consideration of their children’s emotional needs. As they venture forward, the girls reveal secrets, voicing fears they have never previously shared. Their vulnerability strengthens their bond, allowing for a genuine evolution of well-placed trust. 

Insightfully—and with no malice—Mariana evaluates Reyva: “My guess: your parents have opinions on what you’re allowed to feel, as well as what you do, and so you respond by controlling what you show the world. Do you want us to think nothing phases you? Fact is, you care a lot, and you’re terrified that someone will realize it and use it against you. Like, you know, I’m doing right now.”

The girls arrive at the end of June, planning to remain through the end of August. A young man, Jack, takes them to the island on his boat, leaving them on the shore. They hike the short distance up a trail to discover the Lake House burned, with the charred remains still smoking. With no cell service or communication with the outside world, the trio contemplates their short- and long-term fates. They discover a dead body in the surrounding woods: a woman dead from a gunshot from an unknown assailant. 

Secluded in a national forest, miles from civilization, they face natural trials: dehydration, starvation, insects, and weather. Additionally, they must accept that they are not alone and are targets of one or even two dangerous island inhabitants. 

Eventually, Durst introduces a fascinating supernatural element. The malevolence merges a camp ghost legend and the concept of “the sins of the father.” Their struggle combines “the strain of the lack of food, and the constant supply of fear.” 

Durst quickly ratchets up the tension, plunging into a face-paced narrative fraught with challenges and revelations. Fortunately, she writes about people, not tropes. As in all her work, the characters have dimension and texture—recognizable but individual. 

While The Lake House is a thriller, it portrays perseverance and rising to extraordinary circumstances. The story lives not in the isolation of Gary Paulsen’s Hatchet or the savagery of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies. It avoids the world of Mean Girls and Robinson Crusoe. Instead, the book celebrates the ability to thrive on mutual reliance. The mantra is “stick together, and we’ll survive,” and Claire, Reyva, and Mariana grow because they see themselves through the eyes of others—companions who value their potential.

The Lake House offers three strong young women facing a range of demons, both personal and real, in a location that is both doom and destiny. Finally, they learn, “I am enough exactly as I am.” Durst, a gifted storyteller, neatly balances thrills and introspection in this entertaining and engaging story.

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Sarah Beth Durst is the award-winning author of over twenty books for kids, teens, and adults. She lives in Stony Brook with her husband, her children, and her ill-mannered cat. Pick up a copy of The Lake House online at www.amazon.com or www.barnesandnoble.com. For more information, visit www.sarahbethdurst.com.

'Shadows We Carry'

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Meryl Ain’s debut novel, The Takeaway Men (2020), focused on immigrants Aron and Edyta (Judy) Lubinksi and their twin daughters, Bronka and Johanna. Refugees from Hitler’s Europe, the family settles with Aron’s cousins in Bellerose, Queens. 

Author Meryl Ain

The absorbing story traced their struggles with adjusting to the new world and the burdens and guilt related to survival. Dealing with both the aftermath of the Nazi genocide and the rising Red Scare during the Cold War, The Takeaway Men offered a vivid portrait of a family in transition and ends in 1962.

Ain’s sequel, Shadows We Carry (SparkPress) picks up a year later for a brief prologue on the day of President Kennedy’s assignation. As the teenage Bronka states: “This is the end of the world … Nothing will ever be the same again.” 

In Shadows We Carry, Ain focuses on Bronka, the more serious of the twins. The narrative follows the young woman’s journey from the late 1960s to the early 1980s. Ain once again displays her deft gift for presenting the intersection of historical events and cultural awareness. 

The sisters are a portrait in contrast. Bronka studies history and political science, aspiring to a career in journalism. Johanna (called “JoJo”) studies music education but has no desire to teach. However, her musical theatre dreams are derailed by a pregnancy, leading to an alternately fulfilling and frustrating married life.

Bronka’s odyssey takes her through a range of personal and professional obstacles. A well-drawn character, complicated yet likable, she is a good but flawed individual, often getting in her own way—a case of wrong for the right reasons. Even with her strong Jewish identity, she tends to seek romance with unavailable men. The first is Ned, the Queen’s College newspaper editor-in-chief and a graduating senior. Later, she falls for a priest, the charismatic Father Stan. Even more importantly, Bronka represents the pull between career and homemaking: her passion for making a life in the news world versus her desire for a traditional family constantly battles. 

Shadows We Carry also emphasizes the age of rebellion, reflecting an era of burgeoning self-discovery. Bronka’s neighbor and lifelong friend, Mindy, a middle-class version of anti-establishment, confronts Bronka with a hard truth: “Look, my mother and Tina Rosen and her sisters will all end up in boxes. It’s up to you whether you do or not. I think both of you could go either way. But I sure as hell will not. I’m going to find a different path. But first, I have to find out who I really am.”

In search of self, Bronka is unsure of her niche. Too intellectually curious to accept a narrow conservative marriage, she is conversely uncomfortable with the free-love, drug-taking hippie element. She constantly faces less than thinly veiled chauvinism and misogyny. 

Ain’s gift is the ability to veer from domestic drama to social and political issues. Whether addressing the mother’s Catholic heritage but embracement of Judaism (or the priest’s mirrored journey), she delves into the psychological turmoil of her characters. 

Mother Judy clings to an outdated vision of what women can be, subsuming her dreams to the needs of her often taciturn and haunted husband, Aron. Residuals of the Communist Witch Hunt and the search for Nazi War criminals play out against the age of the Viet Nam War. 

Canvassing for Eugene McCarthy, along with the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy, are affecting milestones. The beginning of the AIDS crisis is touched upon in a subtle but powerful stroke.

An interesting event occurs in 1973 when Bronka covers the renaming of the Nazi streets in Yaphank’s Fatherland Gardens. She is accompanied by a photographer unaware of his father’s direct connection to Auschwitz. 

If The Takeaway Men focuses on the immigrant experience in the post-1945 world, then Shadows We Carry highlights the assimilating America of the 1960s and early 1970s. Its quick, taut chapters reflect the peripatetic and energetic pacing of the latter part of the 20th century. A book of identity, it asks the twin questions “Can you ever escape history?” and “Can you ever escape your history?” 

A smart and welcome coming-of-age novel, Shadows We Carry is available on Amazon.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Honor the past. Embrace the present. Look to the future.

Beverly C. Tyler is the author of multiple works focusing on local history. These include Founders Day, Down the Ways—The Wooden Ship Era, and Setauket and Brookhaven History (all reviewed in this paper). Tyler now turns his eye to a detailed history of Setauket’s Caroline Episcopal Church, which is celebrating its 300th anniversary this year.

Front cover of book

The book is an excellent blend of the historical and the personal. In one- and two-page sections, Tyler covers everything from the church’s construction to its pastoral care ministry. Sunday school, past and present, and the church’s choir are presented. Tyler traverses the many milestones centered around religious, societal life: baptisms, confirmations, marriages, and funerals. The many facets of the church—Bible study, eucharist, caregiver and grief support groups—are all mentioned. Caroline Church is a rich resource for those connected to the church and may also serve as a model for those looking to preserve a civic organization. Detailed lists and a plethora of dates are neatly organized throughout the entire volume. 

The book shares letters from clergy alongside personal reflections. In his message, Reverend Canon Richard Visconti expresses his gratitude for his connection to Caroline Church: “Your faithfulness in worship, your extension of Christ’s healing touch to a broken world within the community, year after, is a testimony to the goodness and blessing of God … May Caroline Church continue to grow in its mission to help all live transformed lives for Christ.” The Rev. Nickolas Clay Griffith suggests to have “one foot planted in the Anglican tradition and the other foot working to … reach for the opportunities where we can be people of Christ in the world today.”  

Parishioners tell of what drew them to the church (or, in some cases, back to it). The theme of family is often celebrated. Given two full pages is “Caroline During COVID.” This chronicle shows how the church adapted and persevered in a challenging and difficult time where streaming and social distancing became the necessary norm. 

Back cover of book

Rev. Sharon Sheridan Hausman strikes a gardening metaphor in her piece, referencing growth in “vines,” “seeds,” and “root.” Colleen Cash-Madeira opens with the Swedish saying, “Even the devil gets religion in old age.” The twenty-nine-year-old then discusses church attendance as “exposure to a set of tools: faith, hope, compassion, community.” 

Tyler gives an in-depth but concise history of the inception of Caroline Church. In “How It All Began,” he starts at the end of the seventeenth century and continues through 1730.

Cleverly, the author has inserted a timeline ribbon across the top of each page. He begins on April 14, 1655, with the English settlement of the town of Setauket. The entries culminate in 2021, with the installation of Rev. Griffith; Camp DeWolfe’s celebration of its seventy-fifth anniversary (2022); and the church’s marking of its third century (2023).

And like with all of Tyler’s previous works, the book is replete with hundreds of photos as well as historical paintings and sketches. The images alone carry much of the church’s story. The last page is particularly fascinating: a re-imagined eighteenth-century prayer service, shown in six photos, including video projections.

Perhaps the best summation is in Henry Hull’s final couplets of An Ode to Caroline Church:

So here’s to the Clergy and Vestries, too

They have led all the flocks of communicants who

Have passed through the portal of dear Caroline

And have lived, loved and learned in a way most divine.

Copies of the book are available for sale at the Caroline Episcopal Church office, 1 Dyke Road, Setauket. For more information, please call 631-941-4245. 

Beef with a copy of Charles Armstrong's book

By Melissa Arnold

Author Charles Armstrong

A few years ago, Smithtown resident Charles Armstrong was looking forward to a long, lazy summer break from high school. Then, everything changed when doctors found a tumor in his brain. He was only 15 years old.

Throughout the course of his intense treatment regimen, Armstrong was comforted and entertained by his family’s sweet new dog, Beef. In fact, Beef had such a special personality that someone suggested he write a book about her.

And that’s exactly what he did. Now 18 and thankfully cancer-free, Armstrong decided to share his story to help other kids with cancer feel a little less alone. His debut book, The Dog Named Beef and Her Superpower, focuses on Beef’s relationship with Charlie as she works to help him feel better. It’s light and approachable for young kids, and includes a note from Armstrong in the back that goes into more detail for older readers. The book has cute illustrations throughout and some real pictures of Beef and her family at the end. Kids stuck in bed will enjoy the activity pages that were wisely included as well.

Did you ever consider writing a book prior to your illness?

I wasn’t much of a creative kid. In fact, I had to take extended English classes because I struggled with it. I always told my parents I hated reading. But then in my junior and senior year of high school, I had a few teachers tell me that they really liked my writing. After my treatment, I realized I actually liked to read and started writing things on my own.

Charles Armstrong and Beef

Did you have any warning signs that something was wrong prior to your diagnosis?

I was out riding my bike with some friends right after school got out for the summer in 2020. It was a hot day, and my head really started to hurt. I had lots of pressure in my head, along with black spots in my vision and nausea. I came home and told my parents, and they figured it was heat exhaustion, but decided to be on the safe side and take me to the doctor. Not long after that, results of the scans came back to show a ping pong ball sized tumor in the center of my brain. It flipped our whole world upside down.

It was a type of tumor called a pineoblastoma. The tumor was causing spinal fluid to build up and I developed hydrocephalus, so I had surgery to address that, and then the biopsy confirmed it was cancer. During a second surgery, they were able to remove 99 percent of the tumor. After that, I had six weeks of radiation and six months of chemo infusions at Stony Brook.

It’s hard for anyone to face cancer, but it’s even rarer for young people to be in that position. Were you lonely?

It was tough because the COVID pandemic was also going on at the time, so there were a lot of restrictions on hospital visitors. But the staff did whatever they could to keep me connected to people while I was in the hospital. I would stay there for four or five days every month as part of my treatment routine. But my mom was able to take time off of work to stay with me, and I was able to use my phone to text with friends.

Did you have pets growing up?

Yes! We had both a cat and a dog when I was younger. My brother has a ferret, and we also have a bird. 

Whose idea was it to get a dog?

It was a family decision. After our first dog passed away, we took some time to grieve and after a while we decided to go to an adoption event at Last Chance Animal Rescue in June of 2020. That’s where we met Beef. My brother and I volunteered there when we were younger.

What drew you to Beef?

She was so timid and hiding in the back of the area, but when we approached her she got so excited and licked our faces. We all fell in love with her right away. Other people were looking at her, but we said, “No way, this is our dog now!” As it happens, she had been up for adoption for several months before we met her. I guess she was waiting for us.

Many animals are known to be very caring, especially when a family member is sick. Did Beef treat you differently?

We hadn’t had her for that long when I got sick, but she could tell that something was wrong in the house. She knew we were distraught, and at night she would always snuggle with me.

How did she help you? Did she affect your family too?

She just always knew what to do to lift me up, whether it was putting her head on my shoulder or chasing her tail to snap me out of a rut. On days when I was feeling okay we would play together. She makes all of us laugh. There’s a scene in the book where she does a handstand, and something very similar to that actually happened. She’s so emotionally intelligent and funny.

Why did you decide to write a book about your experience?

Going through all of the treatment associated with cancer, I had support from so many different directions. I wanted to find a way to provide that support in some way to other kids My cousin’s girlfriend joked that I should write about Beef, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized it could help other kids that were going through an illness. Beef is a funny dog, and the story could help them feel some of the love she showed me in that time.

Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

I self-published through Amazon KDP. They made it very simple. It’s a lot of work, but the process was pretty streamlined and it was a great experience overall.

Who is the illustrator?

The illustrator is Inga Buccella. My mom found Inga on Etsy, and she was so enthusiastic about being a part of the book when I told her my story.

What was it like for you when the book arrived?

It felt so surreal to hold it in my hands. It still doesn’t feel real to think of myself as a published author, but it’s great.

How are you doing now? What are you up to?

I had my most recent scans a few months ago, and they showed that I am still cancer free. I work a couple different jobs and am interested in getting into marketing. I’ve been working out a lot and just did my first Spartan race! I also got a chance to be a part of a short student film in New York City.

What is the target age for the book? 

I wanted it to be accessible to as many kids as possible. I think it would be right up the alley of kids between the ages of 3 and 7, though other age groups might find it relatable, too.

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The Dog Named Beef and Her Superpower is available now at Amazon.com. Keep up with Charles on Instagram @charlesparmstrong, and follow Beef’s antics on TikTok @the_dog_named_beef.

By Stephanie Giunta

Author Claire N. Rubman, PhD

March is designated as National Reading Month, in honor of Dr. Seuss’s birthday. It’s a month where Americans of all ages are encouraged to read every day and recognize the enjoyment and fun derived from one of life’s greatest pastimes. Most importantly, it’s a great time to reinforce the beauty and adventure associated with reading to young children. And that’s exactly what Claire N. Rubman is conveying to parents in her new book, This May Be Difficult to Read: But You Really Should (For Your Child’s Sake). 

Rubman, a cognitive developmental psychologist, teacher, and Three Village resident for 30+ years, has seen the first-hand struggle of chronic reading problems that impact children and can follow into young adulthood. Credentials aside, as a mother of three children, she truly believes that the key to eliciting meaning behind reading and creating a comprehensive relationship with text can be achieved by taking a rather simplistic approach: make reading fun — for both parents and children.

In the hustle and bustle of everyday life, especially in the post-pandemic world that we live in, reading has become less of a priority. Most families live in dual-income homes, race the clock to complete work, start the nighttime routine, and relax. But Rubman notes that reading should be integrated into the daily structure of the home, so that it is as relaxed as a dinner table conversation.

When reading is so closely-intertwined into everyday life and isn’t viewed as a structured event, the mysteries and adventures through print and text become constant fixtures in the family setting, promoting stimulation and critical thinking in children’s minds. Rubman suggests replacing decoding with imagination; letting children explore pictures and words, bringing character development to life. And you, as the parent, are there to cheer them on through the process — regardless of their literary independence.

To create the need to read, we need to better understand how children process information. “Children are not little adults.  They process information much differently than we do. They are taught how to spell, what words are, but not to put the entire process together,” says Rubman. This level of research is what prompted the creation of her book — to demystify the differences between reading and reading comprehension in young children.  Children need the proper background information and context to truly understand what they are reading. They have phenomenal memories and rote repetition can yield positive levels of reading comprehension, but to Rubman’s point, that doesn’t mean they understand or appreciate the context. 

So, this is where parents have to step in.

Reading is the linchpin of all future learning, and though it is taught in the classroom, it needs to be celebrated within the home. Dedicating 1:1 interaction with children from a young age can show how beautiful reading is: a much more stimulating activity than passively watching TV as a family. To do this, we need to engage in a ‘reading renaissance’ and move our relationship with it into the 21st century. 

Moreover, Rubman notes that we need to slow down and enjoy the journey as parents, which ties directly into a healthy relationship with reading. Parents must focus on the big picture — the adventure and enjoyment associated with reading — as opposed to the narrow, nitty gritty of cognitive development. All children learn at different paces and will achieve educational milestones at different times. That being said, parents need to take a breath and appreciate parent/child bonding for what it is, and how reading can further enhance that bond. 

This May Be Difficult to Read is aimed to be a hopeful catalyst for parents to make positive changes at home; to meet their children at their level and learn how reading can be made enjoyable again; to create a child-centered family, embrace mistakes and celebrate differences in trajectory. Parents should learn to think as their children think, and process as they process. They should let their children lead, and learn to follow them throughout every step on their journey. 

The greatest drop in reading has occurred in the last 50 years, and Rubman is trying to turn it around by reinstating emotional value as a key ingredient in the educational recipe; by rewarding the effort and not the outcome; by helping parents help themselves; by making a trip to the library just as fun and important as going to get ice cream or a new toy. 

In our interview, Rubman left me with an insightful nugget: “Play soccer because it’s fun to play soccer — not to get on the travel team, not for college.” Parents need to set the bar to make reading into the recreational activity that it is — not a chore or step towards a greater goal. It’s an adventure, an escape from reality … a chance to learn something new … because childhood hobbies typically turn into adulthood passions; and the love of reading is a true, generational gift that we need to keep giving.

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This May Be Difficult to Read: But You Really Should (For Your Child’s Sake) is the recipient of a Kirkus star, a 2023 National Parenting Product Award, Mom’s Choice Gold Award, earned “Recommended” status from U.S. Review of Books, and a received a 2023 Independent Press Award as “Distinguished Favorite” in Education. The book is available at Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Scottish actor Alan Cumming launched to prominence with the 1998 Broadway revival of Cabaret. Having first played the role at London’s Donmar Warehouse, the Sam Mendes-directed production shifted Cumming from working actor to star. He returned to his award-winning role in the 2014 revival. In the course of a three-decade career, he has amassed a huge list of acting credits: onstage (everything from Noel Coward’s Design for Living to a one-person MacBeth), screen (Titus, GoldenEye, Spy Kids), and television (The Good Wife). 

In addition, Cumming is a director, an LGBTQ+ activist, and a gifted writer. Unlike many celebrities who have found their way onto the printed page via “as told to” or ghosted autobiographies, Cumming’s first work was the novel Tommy’s Tale (2002). The book was a darkly comic and highly revealing roman a clef. He followed this with a fascinating and complicated look at his relationship with his abusive father, Not My Father’s Son (2014), directly resulting from his appearance on the genealogy show Who Do You Think You Are? 

His next work, You Gotta Get Bigger Dreams: My Life in Story and Pictures (2016), presented a mediation on his life through his personal cache of photos. The book served as almost a sketch for his powerful memoir Baggage: Tales from a Fully Packed Life (2021). 

In all his works, he is forthcoming about his struggles, triumphs, doubts, and desires. Baggage is a clear-eyed, sometimes outrageous but always honest account of a career with many highs but also an equal number of challenges. He is forthcoming about his substance use, his relationships, and his struggles. 

Unflinching accounts of partying are juxtaposed with revelations about his family and those closest to him. Whenever possible, he praises his artistic collaborators. He reserves overwhelming gratitude for friends who have stood by him in dark times. He shares his joy and appreciation for meeting his husband, Grant Shaffer. (Cumming discusses the difficulties of his first marriage to actor Hilary Lyon, with whom he planned on having children.) 

Throughout the book, his wit shines through, often in gallows humor when describing particularly difficult outings (such as his work as Nightcrawler in X2). The details in his stage and screen work beautifully portray a performer’s life, recounting and dissecting everything from  auditions to closings. He offers insight into film shoots, red carpets, and press junkets. 

Cumming balances self-deprecation with a sense of accomplishment. He reveals a strong survival streak in a man who has grappled with and overcome his demons. Even his meditation and views on the term “making love” are revelatory. “The more my life has changed, the closer I have come to a place of authenticity. Although I began this book by refuting the notion of having triumphed, I do see great victory in becoming yourself.”

Cumming will appear at the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington on Feb. 24, at 7:30 p.m. The sold-out event will include a screen of the documentary My Old School. 

A scene from ‘My Old School’

The 2022 documentary deals with the Brandon Lee scandal. In 1995, authorities discovered the supposedly seventeen year-old Bearsden Academy student, Brandon Lee, was actually a thirty-year-old former student, Brian MacKinnon. The film explores the bizarre story with a combination of present-day interviews with MacKinnon’s fellow students and teachers, animated recreations, and archival footage. While MacKinnon agreed to be interviewed, he declined to appear. Instead, Alan Cumming stands in for him, lip syncing the audio of the interviews. The film premiered virtually at the 2022 Sundance Festival. 

Following the film and a discussion, Cumming will sign copies of his book, Baggage, at a reception that includes a live jazz performance by guitarist Mike Soloway and drummer Mike Leuci.

For more information, call 631-423-7610.

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

I love you, come for dinner! Isn’t that invitation we all want to hear? It promises an evening of good food, warm conversations, and the chance to share our lives with family and close friends.” The wonderful Ina Garten, best known as The Barefoot Contessa, opens her excellent new cookbook, Go-To Dinners (Penguin Random House/Clarkson Potter), with this call to celebration. Leading with community, she addresses the power of connection that meals bring. 

Garten’s most accessible work to date, the book offers seventy-eight detailed and plainly articulated recipes: “Make ahead, freeze ahead, prep ahead, easy, assembled.”

Go-To Dinners is just that. As with Modern Comfort Food, Garten acknowledges the desire for ease in challenging times. Specifically, she embraces the need for the occasional modest approach. “When I planned a party before the pandemic, it was always a multicourse extravaganza. But then the pandemic happened and everything seemed like so much work. I started making simple dinners for [my husband] Jeffrey and me. I often made a lighter, easier, all-in-one dinner.” 

In addition, the experiences of the last two years changed her point of view on leftovers — something she had previously disliked — repurposing one dinner into the next. “… I tried to think of new ways to be creative with what I had on hand. It became like a game to see how many different meals I could get out of the dinners I was cooking!” Throughout, she even suggests various “two-fers” (such as putting the leftover Mussels with Saffron Cream into the One-Pot Oven Risotto). 

English Cream Scones

She smartly breaks the book into six sections: drinks and apps; breakfast for dinner; light dinners (the largest chapter); family dinners; vegetables and sides; and desserts. Nothing seems overly complicated, and the directions, as always, are clear. “And just because a recipe is easy to make, it shouldn’t skimp on flavor or style.” 

There are one-pot meals (as mentioned above) and others that take fewer than a quarter of an hour to cook. Some are supplemented with store-bought items, such as a pie crust that works better for a particular recipe. In addition, she has suggestions for boards made of purchased food (shown in inviting arrangements).

Garten proposes clever insights. The trick to pulling off cocktails is to prepare them ahead of time in a large pitcher; this provides more time with guests. Often, she updates classics (as with Creamy Hummus and Easy Oysters Rockefeller). Breakfast for dinner is the perfect answer to the love for breakfast food but acknowledging that mornings present time constraints. From the relatively simple Overnight Irish Oatmeal to the more demanding English Cream Scones, there is something for every level of cook. 

Eggs in Purgatory

Garten writes with ease and frankness. She is self-revelatory that she did not grow up loving family meals, which were grim, anxious affairs. Her passion for parties and dinners came later. Now, dinnertime marks the welcome end of the day, a time to relax and engage, an opportunity to be home. She draws on a skiing metaphor, encouraging risk-taking. “… avoiding failure means we miss out on the thrill of accomplishing something new”— whether on the slopes or in the kitchen. She also is not lacking in a sense of humor: witness the aptly named Eggs in Purgatory, with the eggs floating in a red sauce. 

Of course, the proof is in the eating. My good friend, Doug, kindly made the Lemon Linguine with Zucchini and Basil, a highly recommended dish. He reported that the dish came together easily. His plans include tackling the Oven-Roasted Southern Shrimp Boil; the Summer Skillet with Clams, Sausage, and Corn;  and the Creamy Chicken Thighs with Lemon and Thyme. He also has his eye on Slow-Roasted Tomatoes with Fennel, Parmesan Polenta; and Panettone Bread Pudding.

Enhancing Go-To Dinners are dozens of vivid and elegant photos from the sure and artistic eye of Quentin Bacon (who also provided the visuals for Modern Comfort Food). 

“Restaurant food is wonderful but there is something soul-satisfying about making and eating a real home-cooked dinner right at your own kitchen table.” Ultimately, Ina Garten’s Go-To Dinners is an exploration of stress-free cooking with dozens of creative, tasty options to be easily prepared, shared, and enjoyed.

Go-To Dinners is available at www.penguinrandomhouse.com, www.amazon.com and www.barnesand noble.com.

Paul Newman
Based on interviews and oral histories conducted by Stewart Stern; Compiled and edited by David Rosenthal

Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

“I’ve always had a sense of being an observer of my own life.”  — Paul Newman

Paul Newman starred in over seventy films, including Cat on a Hit Tin Roof, Cool Hand Luke, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, The Verdict, The Sting, The Hustler, Absence of Malice, and many more. From 1986 to 1991, the iconic Newman sat down with writer Stewart Stern (best known for the screenplay of Rebel Without a Cause) for a series of intense interviews. In addition, Stern spoke with friends, relatives, and colleagues for their perspectives. Newman’s driving force in the project was public revelation: “I want to leave some kind of record that sets things straight, pokes holes in the mythology that’s sprung up around me, destroys some of the legends, and keeps the piranhas off.”

For whatever reason, the book was left unfinished. Newman passed away in 2008, and Stern in 2015. They left behind an archive of fourteen thousand pages. 

David Rosenthal has compiled and edited the chronicle into The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man (Knopf Doubleday). Presented as Newman’s memoir, Rosenthal intersperses Newman’s very personal perspective with the additional interviews. The intense, riveting work reflects a man of fascinating contradictions whose legacy lives on in cinematic history and far-reaching philanthropy. Newman’s daughter, Melissa, describes the book as “… a sort of self-dissection, a picking a part of feelings, motives, and motivations, augmented by a Greek chorus of other voices and opinions, relatives, navy buddies, and fellow artists. One overriding theme is the chronic insecurity which will be familiar to so many artists. Objectivity is fickle.”

The book is predominantly chronological, beginning with his difficult childhood. “My brother [Arthur] chose to remember the good things from our childhood, while I best recall the failures and the things that didn’t go right.” Newman grew up in Shaker Heights, Ohio, in an almost pathologically dysfunctional middle-class family, with an alcoholic father and a narcissistic mother. (Later in life, he cut ties with the destructive matriarch.) 

Insecurities, including a sense of intellectual inferiority, plagued him from a young age. “I wasn’t naturally anything. I wasn’t a lover. I wasn’t an athlete. I wasn’t a student. I wasn’t a leader. I measured things by what I wasn’t, not by anything I was. I felt that there was something lacking in me that I couldn’t bridge, didn’t know much about and couldn’t fathom.”

The book follows Newman in college years before and after World War II. There are tales of his early years onstage, a great deal of drinking (including being thrown off the football squad because of a town brawl), and more than fleeting references to his personal life. Of the theatre work, “I never enjoyed the acting, never enjoyed going out there and doing it. I enjoyed all the preliminary work — the detail, the observation, putting things together.”

He met his first wife, Jackie Witte, in a Wisconsin summer stock, and they married in 1949. (Witte speaks frankly but without rancor about her marriage to Newman.) He admits they were relatively clueless: “We were two very young people trying to act grown-up.” They had three children: Scott, Susan, and Stephanie, before divorcing in 1958. Newman highlights his struggle in coming to terms with what it meant to be a father, particularly to Scott, who would die at age twenty-eight from complications due to drug and alcohol use.

After a short and unfulfilling stint at Yale Drama School, and with very few credits, he landed a small role and understudy job in the Broadway production of William Inge’s Picnic (1953-54). Eventually, Newman stepped into the main supporting role. During the run, he met Joanne Woodward. When Newman asked director Josh Logan if he could move into the lead, Logan responded, “I’d like to, kid, but you don’t have any sex threat.” However, this would change over the next several years. “Joanne gave birth to a sexual creature. She taught him, she encouraged him, she delighted in the experimental. I was in pursuit of lust. I’m simply a creature of her invention.”

The volatile, off-again, on-again affair with Woodward eventually dissolved his marriage. Newman and Woodward married in 1958, a union that lasted the rest of his life. The book covers the highs and lows of the famous couple, giving a less hagiographic view of the relationship that endured many personal and professional highs and lows. They would have three children: Elinor, Melissa, and Claire.

Newman details his film career, beginning with The Silver Chalice, and carrying on through some of the most famous movies in motion picture history, working with some of the highest-profile directors, actors (including his good friend Robert Redford), writers, and producers. He generously praises his many collaborators and often denigrates his own talents. Luminaries such as John Huston and George Roy Hill have nothing but admiration for his talent and professionalism.

Throughout, he touches on his politics (including work with the Civil Rights movement), his passion for auto racing (which began with the 1969 film Winning), and his many charitable endeavors. An entire chapter addresses his drinking, which he confesses could be heavy and destructive. In time, he gave up hard liquor, but there is a sense of inconclusiveness in his alcohol-related revelations. 

Over the years, Newman became less responsive to the outside world, reducing his communication to the fewest words possible. However, he is forthcoming about his frustrations with the press and fans and his reluctance to sign autographs and pose for pictures.

The final chapter is both revelatory and ambivalent, reflecting a complicated man struggling to find a center. “But I am convinced that this is only a dress rehearsal.” Newman continued to evolve and grow over the remaining years of his life, finding joy in work and family. This book — “part confessional, part self-analysis” — gives an incredible glimpse into the mind and heart of an enigmatic and fascinating individual. Pick up a copy at your favorite bookstore, amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com.

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As a tribute to Paul Newman, the Cinema Arts Centre, 423 Park Ave., Huntington will host a special event celebrating the publication of The Extraordinary Life of an Ordinary Man on Monday, Nov. 28 at 7 p.m. The evening will feature a screening of Newman’s most enduring film, the 1961 sports drama The Hustler followed by a discussion with Paul Newman’s daughter, Melissa Newman. Tickets are $43 for film and discussion; $25 for the film only. To order, visit www.cinemaartscentre.org.

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Reviewed by Jeffrey Sanzel

Waxing On, subtitled The Karate Kid and Me (Dutton Books), is a smartly written memoir of the career-making role that raised Ralph Macchio from up-and-coming actor to teen icon. He shares his professional arc in the tightly written chronicle, emphasizing the Karate Kid trilogy and the current Cobra Kai. And while he accepts that Daniel LaRusso may have pigeon-holed him in the industry, he consistently expresses appreciation for the opportunity and the people he met along the way.

Ralph Macchio with a copy of his new book@RALPH_MACCHIO (INSTAGRAM)

Before The Karate Kid (1984), Macchio appeared in a handful of films, most notably Francis Ford Coppola’s The Outsiders, as well as a recurring role on television’s Eight Is Enough (1980-81). He was living on his native Long Island when he landed the audition for The-Karate-Kid. Dubious, given the cartoonish title, he flew back to Los Angeles. He then began the round of auditions, callbacks, and martial arts training before being officially cast in the role (originally surnamed Webber but changed to suit Macchio’s “East Coast” quality). 

Eventually, after reading with possible co-stars, producer Jerry Weintraub contracted Macchio for the original film and potentially two sequels. (Among noteworthy Daniel contenders were Charlie Sheen, Robert Downey Jr., C. Thomas Howell, and Kyle Eastwood.)

The Karate Kid’s screenplay took its inspiration from a newspaper article about a picked-on boy and how martial arts helped him deal with his bullies. The script relied on the twin themes of bullying and mentorship. The universality spoke to a large swathe of the potential audience and helped maintain its unflagging popularity for nearly forty years.

Macchio is a straightforward, entertaining storyteller, open and direct. Whether discussing the casting process that was months in limbo or the hours of physical training, his descriptions are vivid and personal, presented with warmth and gratitude.

He devotes three chapters to each of his co-stars: Noriyuki “Pat” Morita, who played Mr. Miyagi; Elizabeth Shue, his love interest, Ali Mills; and William Zabka, Daniel’s nemesis, Johnny Lawrence. He makes clear his love and admiration for the three individuals as actors, collaborators, and people.

Morita, in particular, is singled out for his contribution. At the time, the actor was best known as a stand-up comedian and for his stint as Arnold on Happy Days. During his audition, Morita introduced the famous hachimaki (headscarf), explaining its significance. Along with the crane, the cloth became one of the film’s most memorable images. Eventually, Morita won the role of the Okinawan sensei, garnering an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor.

Macchio attributes much of the film’s success to Oscar-winning director John G. Alvidsen (Rocky, Save the Tiger, Lean on Me) and writer Robert Mark Kamen (Taps, Gladiator). He generously praises both men’s patience and support of the young actor, often recrafting the role around Macchio’s persona. “As an actor you often want to ‘disappear’ into a role. You feel you can demonstrate your range by losing yourself in the character. In this circumstance, ‘disappearing’ meant not being able to discern where Ralph ended and LaRusso began.”

He acknowledges The Karate Kid as a movie of its time, referencing John Hughes as well as Back to the Future. “There was an innocence, an adolescent openness and vulnerability, that we don’t often see as much in films today. Perhaps it was a simpler time. Perhaps it was a superficial representation, but it certainly had its place.” 

Macchio reflects on the 1984 release at the height of blockbusters. The Karate Kid shared the same summer with Ghostbusters and Gremlins, just on the heels of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. 

The Karate Kid was a “small” movie in comparison. And yet, it landed big due to the approachability of the Daniel LaRusso character. “For whatever reason, I felt far more like a local hero and much less like a movie star. I was treated like the guy who won the high school football game on Friday night. The kid who lived next-door. Not a celebrity you would see on the red carpet or in magazines.” 

For years, Macchio resisted a return to the franchise even though many ideas (some downright bizarre) were proffered. “Without actual material to judge, I wasn’t willing to take a next step and get involved, officially, on any project connected to The Karate Kid. It was always easier (and safer) to say, ‘No, thank you.’” He feared that anything that “missed the mark” would tarnish the legacy. 

He writes candidly about the 2010 remake, the How I Met Your Mother appearances, and the YouTube The Karate Kid: Daniel is the REAL Bully. He acknowledges these and other cultural moments kept the characters alive. 

Writer/creators Josh Heald, Jon Hurwitz, and Hayden Schlossberg changed his mind with the proposal of Cobra Kai. The team’s respect for the source and welcoming involvement of Macchio’s and Zabka’s insights and expertise helped the project progress. In 2018, the excellent series debuted on YouTube Red before finding a home on Netflix, with the fifth season released this past September. 

Much of the latter part of Waxing On focuses on the new incarnation. The experience has been a joyful one: “I can’t express how much fun it is to play the yesterday in the today of these characters.” 

Throughout the memoir, Macchio meditates on a range of topics, including the cavalier dismissal of Shue’s character between the first and second films, his scandal-free life, the impact of the crane kick, career dry spells, and even the filming of the famous fly catching bit. 

As Macchio stated in a recent panel discussion: “When you make a movie that twenty or thirty years later people still obsess and debate about, therefore continuing to keep it relevant and important … it’s awesome!” In Waxing On, Ralph Macchio offers a welcome, often funny, and always engaging glimpse into the world of one of the most enduring family films.

Waxing On: The Karate Kid and Me is available at your local Barnes & Noble or online at www.barnesandnoble.com or www.amazon.com.

Author Sarah S. Anker at Cedar Beach in Mount Sinai with a copy of her first children's book. Photo by Michael Toscanini

By Melissa Arnold 

Sarah S. Anker was born on a Navy base and lived all over the country before her family finally settled down in central Florida. She loved living amongst the orange groves, woodlands and even the swamps. But with time, the area began to change, giving way to urban development and the sprawling complex of Walt Disney World. Some of the ponds and lakes have evaporated. 

“You have to be careful with nature, because once you lose it, it’s really hard to get back,” said Anker. “And we’re seeing so much of that loss all over the world, not only in woodland but in wildlife.”

Anker raised three children in Suffolk County, which she’s called home for 35 years, and quickly became aware of issues impacting the environment here as well. 

Among them are the gyres — large systems of circulating ocean currents — that have become clogged with plastic waste, slowing the oceans’ circulation and speeding up climate change.

In addition to her ongoing career in the Suffolk County Legislature, Anker’s concern for the environment inspired her to write Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe. Through the perspective of a young seal named Sophia who becomes entangled in undersea garbage, kids will learn about threats facing ocean life and what they can do to make a difference. Vibrant and expressive illustrations will make this book captivating for children of all ages. 

How did you get interested in writing? 

My mother was a writer of short stories and poetry, and she always dreamed of getting published. I was a news reporter, photographer and graphic designer for a long time before I began my political career. So the desire to write was always with me.

Why did you decide to write a book for children?

I have children myself, and before that I loved reading lots of books to the children at the preschool where my mother worked while I was growing up. It’s important to influence children in a positive way and give them a greater understanding of how to take care of their world. Our future generation needs to understand how important our environment is, and their role in protecting it. We all need to do more.

What is this book about?

Below the Ocean tells the story of Sophia the seal as she learns about the ocean, how it affects people and sea life, and what she can do to help stop ocean pollution. 

When did you first get involved with environmental protection efforts?

I’ve been doing environmental work as far back as high school, helping out with beach cleanups and other activities like the Future Farmers of America. When I moved to Long Island, I joined the Sierra Club and other civic organizations looking to address pollution in the area, and around 20 years ago I founded a not-for-profit organization called the Community Health and Environment Coalition (CHEC) to address the issue of cancer and how it relates to the environment.

Why are these issues so important to you?

My grandmother passed away from breast cancer when I was pregnant with my daughter Rachel. The New York State Department of Health’s cancer map has shown increased rates of cancer in our area, and I have always believed that the environment directly impacts our health. We not only need to clean up the damage that’s been done in the past, but preserve our environment for future generations as well. 

What do you hope kids will learn from reading this book?

Each individual person, adults and children, has a part that they can play in helping the environment. We can all recycle. We can all help to clean up garbage that we see. We can all go to public meetings to contribute our ideas and find out what needs to be done to address problems. There is a lot of work to do, but all of us can do something.

What was the publication process like? Did you self-publish or use a traditional publisher?

With my background, I decided to create my own publishing company called Anker Books. I wanted to be able to work on the project at my own pace and have more freedom over what the final book would be like. There was a lot of research involved in learning how to self-publish, and I ultimately went through Kindle Direct Publishing for part of that process. They weren’t able to publish a large size, so I also published through another company called IngramSpark. 

Who is the illustrator for this book? 

The illustrator, Lily Liu, is a Chinese woman who lives in France. I found her on the website Upwork, and was amazed by her incredible talent and how rich her illustrations were — the vivid colors and emotion she was able to capture on the characters’ faces. I gave her creative freedom and she has been amazing to work with.

Is there an age recommendation for this book?

Not specifically, but I’d say that kids from ages 2 to about 10 would find something to enjoy about it. It’s a picture book with expressive animals and there’s a storyline to it, but there’s also scientific information and an educational component that older children can benefit from as well. 

What are some things we can all do to take care of the natural world?

Help clean up pollution you see around you. Go to local meetings and advocate for policies that protect our environment. Write to your elected officials about the issues that are meaningful to you. Try to focus on how you can reuse materials instead of always buying new.

Do you plan to write more books in the future?

This will be one of many books for children I hope to publish. I also hope to use Anker Books to support other authors as well. 

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Below the Ocean: Keeping Our Sea Friends Safe is available online at popular retailers including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Join Sarah Anker for Children’s Storytime at Barnes and Noble at the Smith Haven Mall in Lake Grove on Saturday, Nov. 12 at 11 a.m. followed by a Q&A session and book signing. 

Learn more about the author’s writing and how you can help the environment at www.ankerbooks.com.