December 23, 2012

Shrimp and Sausage Gumbo with Cornbread Topping

Want a quick one-dish meal? If you like gumbo you need to make this. It's easy and delicious- a little spicy (make it to your taste), very flavorful,  with a nice balancing cornbread topping.
All you need to complete the meal is a glass of pinot noir. Or a full-bodied beer.

Makes 6 servings

1 cup chopped onion
1 cup chopped celery
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 bay leaves
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
Salt, pepper and garlic powder to taste
1 cup chicken or fish stock
1 (14 1/2-ounce) can diced tomatoes
8 oz. spicy chicken cilantro sausage, precooked (or use the sausage of your choice)
2 cups shrimp, cleaned, peeled, and deveined

1 egg, beaten
1/3 cup milk
12-ounce package corn muffin mix

In an iron skillet, saute onion and celery in oil. Add bay leaves, thyme, seasonings. Pour in stock and add tomatoes and sausage. 
Cover pot and gently simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and stir in shrimp.

To prepare the topping, preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Mix together egg and milk, add to muffin mix, and combine until just well-blended. Drop by tablespoonfuls on top of hot shrimp mixture, leaving the center uncovered. Bake 15 to 20 minutes.

December 17, 2012

Book Review: The Art of Fielding

Sometimes a book comes along that catches the attention of every reading human being in the entire world. It gets rave reviews and all the book clubs read it and it lingers on the best seller lists forever...I'd like my book to be one of those. 
I'm always curious about those books (remember Fifty Shades of Grey?) and feel the need to read them to see what all the fuss is about.
The Art of Fielding is one of them. It's everywhere. 
Well, I tried, really I did. Mostly because it came highly recommended by a cousin whose opinion I value. We have very different taste but this sounded like one we'd agree on.
Wrong. He loved it. I can't imagine why. 
I liked the beginning - enjoyed getting to know Henry, watching this unlikely kid turn into the baseball phenom at his school. I love rooting for the underdog. But that (shockingly) turns out to be the smallest part of the story. Henry starts to (SPOILER ALERT!) slump. And not just a teeny slump but an industrial-strength slump which unfortunately didn't seem believable to me and frustrated me so much that I didn't want to read more about it.
And at the heart of this book is a really icky relationship (ANOTHER SPOILER) between the college president and a male student. Not icky because it's a homosexual relationship, but icky, icky, icky because he's the DAMN COLLEGE PRESIDENT. Wow, am I the only one who finds this offensive?
It could work (but doesn't) if there was anything vulnerable about either character that gives you any understanding about how they could let that happen. They're not even likable, making the relationship even more sleazy and repulsive. Sorry, I just don't want to read about that.
I read 54% of The Art of Fielding (according to my Kindle) and I just don't care what happens to any of these characters.
I'm truly puzzled what people see in this book. Especially my cousin who's a sweet, kind of conservative guy who likes romantic comedies. This does not compute. 
Sorry, Harv.

December 12, 2012

Enter to Win a Copy of My Book

There's a giveaway on Goodreads to win a copy of my book. Just CLICK HERE. Ends on December 17th.

December 10, 2012

The Next Big Thing

What's the next big thing? A new iPhone that starts your car and automatically calls your mom on her birthday? A chocolate mousse cupcake that speeds up your metabolism so you drop a pound every time you eat one?
Okay, no...none of the above.
The next big thing is humbly called The Next Big Thing Blog and I've been invited by author friend Randy Richardson to participate in this game of literary tag. Cute idea, right? And we all know that I'm a publicity whore so I'm jumping right on this bandwagon.
The idea is to answer ten questions and then tag other authors to do the same, and so on and so on. A chain letter, right? But all for a good cause: getting out the word about our books.
So, here goes. And be sure to scroll all the way down to meet my five author friends.
Oh, and be sure to read Randy Richardson's book Cheeseland, a heart-warming coming-of-age story about a road trip to (where else?) Wisconsin.

1. What is your working title of your book?
What More Could You Wish For 
2. Where did the idea come from for the book?
Life! See number 9 below.
3. What genre does your book fall under?
Contemporary fiction, women's fiction, Chick-lit, fantasy, science fiction...okay, I'm getting carried away, but the first three are accurate. Put my book in whichever category you like - just read it.
4. Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?
Diane Lane for Libby, Ed Harris for Michael and George Clooney for Patrick. I never really pictured Clooney as I was writing - I saw someone more like a younger version of Kris Kristofferson - but when they make the movie...well, it's Clooney who I want to thank me for giving him the role of a lifetime. I'll accept his thanks graciously.
5. What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?
Fifty-year-old Libby Carson reconnects online with her high school sweetheart on the same day her significant-other proposes.
6. Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
My book was published by St. Martin's Press in August of 2012.
7. How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?
It took about a year to write the first draft but then it took seven more years to make it (nearly) perfect.
8. What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?
I don't compare my writing to Elizabeth Berg's or Anna Quindlen or Jonathan Tropper but if you like their books I believe you will like mine.
9. Who or what inspired you to write this book?
The journey to publishing my first novel What More Could You Wish For was a long one. It began in 2002, at the end of a failed marriage that should never have happened. It followed the death of my father in January 2000 and within the year I had sold my house, got married, quit my job, moved...I was the poster child for what not to do when you're grieving.
When the marriage failed (within the year) I began writing about it. And the thing about fiction is you can make things turn out the way you wish they had.
While the story is inspired by events in my life, it is not an autobiography. When I started writing it Libby and I were very similar but as I went through the revising process Libby became her own person. The similarities: we both live in the Chicago area, we're both runners, we both have sisters. The differences are vast. Libby's much younger, she has better hair, she's luckier in love.
10. What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The story takes place in Chicago so there are scenes in many familiar sights; Macy's State Street and Garrett's Popcorn, among others. And with so many people connecting with former flames via social networking, the story is a familiar one to lots of folks, and relatable.

So now, allow me to introduce you to some of my favorite author friends who have terrific books that you need to read:

I'm so happy to be able to call Susan Breen a friend. I read her book The Fiction Class some years ago and just loved it. And now, as a published author, I've had the opportunity to connect with other authors through any number of networking ways and (lucky me!) Susan is one of them. What a treat!
If you're a writer you must read her book because you'll really relate to it, and if you're not, read it anyway because it's delightful and you'll relate to the wonderful characters.
When Susan's not writing she's teaching writing for Gotham in New York. If I lived there I would definitely be in her class.

Michael Burke is a new author friend. He's a friend of Randy Richardson's and in fact I just met Michael via email about fifteen seconds ago. It's not been easy to find people who have the time to keep this Next Big Thing Blog going so I'm happy to have found him, and any friend of Randy's is a friend of mine.
Michael has a book titled What You Don't Know About Men which I haven't read (since I just met him) but I love the title. (I'm going to resist making cracks about how short this book must be.)

Shelle Sumners is my sister. My publishing sister, that is. She and I share a publisher, St. Martin's Press, and an editor, Brenda Copeland.
I first met Shelle when we were asked to do a Twitter chat together, courtesy of It was frenetic! There were three authors and people throwing questions at us. Just try keeping up with that. But it was great fun. And what I learned about Shelle is that she's very quick, very clever and very funny.
Knowing that, you'll want to read her book, Grace Grows, which is not only an engaging read but it also comes with a soundtrack, written and performed by Shelle's husband. A family affair.
It's been a joy getting to know Shelle.

Amy Nathan is another sister (what a great, new family I've formed!). She and I also share St. Martin's and Brenda Copeland.
Amy is a wonderful writer but she's also the queen of promotion and networking, and not just for herself - she's the most generous friend and promoter of other people's work.
Amy has not only written a wonderful debut novel called The Glass Wives (pub date: May 2013) but she's got a terrific blog, Women's Fiction Writers, (where she so graciously interviewed me) and writes for numerous other publications including The Huffington Post. 
Whew! It wears me out just thinking about all that Amy does.

Then there's my friend Patricia Ann McNair who wrote the amazing book The Temple of Air. I'm in awe of Patty's talent. Her writing is so skilled, so gorgeous. The Temple of Air is a collection of connected short stories. If you're looking to read something light and breezy this isn't the book, but if you're looking to read something powerful, gritty, honest, and beautifully written, don't miss it.  

Last but not least is Bree Housely whom I recently met when we were part of Local Authors Night at one of my favorite bookstores: The Book Cellar in Lincoln Square.
You wouldn't think someone as young as Bree would have much to write about in a memoir but you'd be wrong. Her book We Hope You Like This Song  is a poignant, honest and witty memoir about her best friend who died at age 25.
Bree, who likes to say she was not named after a French cheese, is a charming new author whom I'm sure we'll hear more from.

November 30, 2012

Kick-ass Programming

Have you tried to call an airline in recent times regarding something other than reservations? Well, good luck getting anyone other than R2D2. If you call American Airlines you go through, oh, maybe 92 prompts. First they say, "If you want reservations press 1, if you want blah blah blah press 2, and so on. And since it's an oddball question it's not until the 92nd option when it says, "If it's something else press 3027960." So you press 3027960 and then it gives you 60 more options and then you press 45985 and it gives you 85 more options.
You get the idea. Do I have to spell F-R-U-S-T-R-A-T-I-N-G?
Seven hours and twenty minutes later I finally get to a message that tells me I have to go to the website and send a friggin' email.
After I swept up the shards of glass that scattered when I threw the phone through the window I went to the website and found a place where I could ask a question of  "Alex" in real time. Cool! There's Alex on the right. Isn't she pretty? Doesn't she look like she's dying to help me?
So I typed in my question and imagine my surprise when Alex actually speaks to me (she also types in case you turn off her annoying voice). But (I'm so shocked) her answer has nothing to do with my question. Somehow the only thing recognizable to Alex (and her programmer) was "first class" so Alex tells me to click here for first class amenities. Like I don't know all those amenities I never get when I fly with the unwashed masses.
So I type: "This answer doesn't answer my question, ALEX!" and she says: "I'm sorry that I'm having trouble answering your question."
Stupid bitch.
And I type: "You are useless."
And Alex says, "I"m sorry you feel that way..." which just cracked me up and I have to say I have a grudging respect for the programmer who created her responses. I never did get my answer but I laughed for a long while at that one. I wonder what she would have said if I'd typed  "fuck you" which is what I really wanted to do.

November 25, 2012

The Best Part Of Thanksgiving

Okay, it's not the BEST part - the very best part is being with friends and family, but that's a given. So aside from that here's the best part of Thanksgiving:A BIG OL' POT OF TURKEY SOUP.
The first time I made it was after I prepared my debut holiday dinner for my parents and my (first) husband's family. I was 24 or 25. I wanted it to be amazing. I took special care with that turkey, stuffing it the night before, putting it in the oven on a low heat at 4:00 in the morning. Low and slow is good, right?
Yeah, unless you cook the piss out of it.
How many hours did that bird cook? I don't know...10-12? Can you say styrofoam turkey? Can you say botulism from that stuffing? It's a wonder all those people survived.
But that's how you learn (if you're not in prison for involuntary manslaughter).
I also had the obligatory candied yam dish (canned) with brown sugar and marshmallows, that green bean casserole with the cream of mushroom soup (ugh) and canned French fried onions (do you still make that?), canned creamed corn, mashed potatoes (from the box), gravy (from a package), Brussels sprouts with raisins and bacon (the only 'gourmet' touch), cranberry sauce (the jellied kind in the can), Pillsbury crescent rolls. Well, it was the 70s. We weren't into organic or health back then.
So the turkey was a little dry...we had plenty of food and my husband thought I was Betty Crocker (young love).
I don't know how I got the idea to make turkey soup from the carcass but I threw those bones into a pot with some veggies (low and slow worked that time), then strained it, then added new veggies and noodles (now called pasta) and voila! a delicious meal.
I've never used a recipe and it changes every year (no matter where I am I always score the carcass) but it's always hearty and delicious and makes the house smell like heaven.
This year for the first time I used a slow cooker. Here's what I did: I cut up the carcass and put it in the slow cooker with some carrots and celery, water to cover and a little salt (right). And then I cooked it on low for about 10 hours.
 Next day I strained the broth, took the meat off the bones and put it back in the pot with the broth and some new cut up carrots, celery, mushrooms, salt, parsley, and cooked it on high for about 3 hours. Then I added about four handfuls of spinach and maybe 8 oz. of egg noodles and cooked it for another hour (left).
Here are my secret ingredients: red pepper flakes and cinnamon. Just guess on the proportions - that's what I do and it's always amazing.
AND...if that's not enough I made cornbread. With bacon. In a castiron skillet. And drizzled it with honey.
Oh. My. God.
Add a glass of wine and you're all set.
If you want the cornbread recipe just send me an email:

November 11, 2012

Theatre Review: The Opponent *****

The Red Orchid Theatre is an intimate 80-seat theater and when you walk in to see The Opponent most of the space is taken up by a boxing ring. Imagine the concentration it must take to act with the audience only a few feet away, sometimes only inches as the actors move around the space.
Guy Van Swearingen plays the trainer and Kamal Angelo Bolden is the boxer getting ready for the most important fight of his career. The first act is right before the fight, the second act is five years later.
It's a story of connection and alienation, ambition, fear, pride and failure. It's a heart-wrenching story and these guys are so good you begin to think you're in the gym with them. Great choreography.
The Opponent is here until December 2nd.
Go see it.

November 6, 2012

Calling All Book Clubs!

Do you belong to a book club? Do you like author chats? Do you drink wine?
Then we're a match made in heaven!

Author chats are a great way to add another dimension to your meeting and I'd love to be part of your program.
Are you in the Chicagoland area? Great! We'll do it in person. Are you in Wyoming? Boca Raton? Santa Fe? Toledo? No problem...there's always Skype or phone chat or email.
And don't worry, I know that some book clubs are purely social and don't do much of a discussion, and that's cool too - we'll just chat, hang out and drink girlfriends!
Contact me and I'll be happy to send you a complimentary copy of What More Could You Wish For.

November 4, 2012

Movie Review: The Sessions ****1/2

How hard must it be to act an entire movie on your back, moving only your head? John Hawkes does just that in the role of a polio victim who hires a sex surrogate and loses his virginity at 38. It's tough enough getting laid if you're ambulatory...imagine if you live most of your life in an iron lung.
Read the rest of the review

November 1, 2012

A New View Of Chicago

You will see Chicago is a new light when you watch this stunning timelapse cinematography from Eric Hines.   Some people are so creative.

October 29, 2012

Internet Dating For The AARP Generation

Once you have an AARP card, your dating options are limited. How do you find suitable prospects when you no longer have a homeroom to go to or a local bar where you can hobnob with your peers and throw back shots and shoot darts, and you’ve already exhausted your friends’ (meager) supply of single men who walk upright and don’t drool?
 Where do you turn? Why, the Internet, of course. And what a vast network that is. There are a trillion dating sites to choose from and there’s someone for everyone there, but it will take all your resources to cull the wheat from the chaff – and there’s a lot of chaff. And the older you get the more chaff there is. Sorry, but it’s a fact of life.
If you’re venturing into the world of online dating and you’re over fifty, gird your loins (you’re the only people who will understand that reference) and follow my tips:
First, be sure to pay attention to the photos on the profiles you’re perusing. They will give you big clues about the person’s personality.
For example (IF I had a profile on an online dating site):
Take note of what I’m wearing; it’s important to note that I am not wearing sweatpants, tanktop, bikini or prom dress. I have no tattoos, I am not packing heat, carrying binoculars or climbing equipment, I’m not surfing or riding a motorcycle.
Look at the surroundings in the photo; you will not see any tents, double-wide trailers, deserts, white water or wildlife. I have all my teeth and that is a feature I prize.
When You Should Move to the Next Profile: 
• If you have to go to the library to use a computer
• If you ride a Harley (helmets mess up my hair)
• If you have a picture of you with your daughter in her wedding gown where you’re smoking a cigarette and she’s wearing a strapless gown to show off the gigantic tattoo of Jesus on her chest
• If you write things like, “You are aging like that proverbial bottle of fine wine. I’d like the honor of uncorking your bottle, pouring out a generous draught of your vintage, and then savoring it.”
• If you state in your profile that you’re a disabled ironworker living on social security.
• If your profile says god sent me to you
• If you use smiley faces in your messages
• If you’re wearing a dago-T in your profile picture, or worse, if you’re shirtless (especially egregious if you’re over sixty)
• If the only picture you have is one where you’re taking it of yourself in the mirror with your iPhone
• If you don’t have a profile picture
• If your profile name is lovingyouismygoal
• If you have a beard that can be braided
All kidding aside (I’m not kidding), here’s my number one tip for internet dating, whether you’re 20 or 70: Be more open than I am. You might have to sift through a lot of gravel but you never know when that gem will turn up.

October 19, 2012

Chicago International Film Festival

Every year I vow to read the Chicago International Film Festival magazine early, make my picks and see a shitload more films than I normally do, like at least 10 or 20 of them, and every year I only see one or two or three or four and I'm so disappointed I didn't see more. So I vow to do it right next year. I just made that vow again. The season's not quite over and I could conceivably see a more before it ends on Tuesday. But sadly, I won't have time.
Here's what I've seen so far:

Kern  ** From Austria
A strange documentary about Peter Kern, a morbidly obese (and that doesn't come close to describing the massiveness of him) Austrian actor and filmmaker. Two people set out to create a portrait of his life but at the end of the film you don't know what he's made up and what is true. He's not someone I wanted to know, especially after seeing him naked, which had no purpose, in my opinion, but succeeded in grossing out the entire audience.

Kuma ***** From Austria
Wow. Powerful film with some unexpected twists, about a man who brings a young Turkish woman into his home, ostensibly as a wife for his handsome son, but really as a second wife for himself. Strange? Yes. His wife is dying from cancer and this young woman takes care of her (and him) and their children, and grows to love the family. The two women form an unlikely but close bond but twists of fate change everything for everyone. See it if you can. It's playing again on October 20 and 21.

Any Day Now ***** From U.S. 
DON'T MISS THIS FILM! It'll be in distribution in December. Low-budget, beautifully done film set in 1979 about a drag queen who takes in a Downs Syndrome boy who's been abandoned by his mother. He and his closeted partner end up fighting the legal system to keep the boy. It's a gripping story about love and what makes a family. Stunning performances by Alan Cumming, Garret Dillahunt, and Issac Layva as the young boy.

A Secret World **** from  Mexico
Gorgeously photographed film about a young girl who feels like an outcast, and her journey to find her place in the world. This is a very quiet film, and slow-moving, but it all works. The actor who plays Maria is wonderful. It feels like you are watching her actual life, not a film. Beautifully done.

Numbered ***** From Israel
An emotional documentary that details the lives and memories of some of the survivors of Auschwitz, the only place where they tattooed numbers on the prisoners. For some the numbers are a medal, for others it is shame. For the audience it is unspeakable and humbling.
There was a woman whose father had the numbers and after she sat shiva she them tattooed on her ankle. There was a grandson who had his (still living) grandfather's numbers tattooed on his arm. Very moving.
I don't know how you'd be able to watch this and not want to curl up and sob.

October 11, 2012

Comfort Food For Dessert

I'm a sucker for comfort food of any kind: appetizer, main course, dessert - I love it all. I don't remember where I got this recipe but it's the perfect storm of banana, peanut butter and chocolate all mixed up in a moist, yummy bread. What could be better than that?

Peanut Butter Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips

3/4 cup unbleached flour
1/2 cup whole wheat pastry flour
6 tablespoons white sugar
6 tablespoons brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 medium very ripe bananas, mashed or whizzed in food-processor
1/3 cup crunchy peanut butter
2 tablespoons plain fat-free yogurt
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 tablespoons canola oil
3/4 cup mini semi-sweet chocolate chips tossed in 1 tablespoon flour

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat 9X5 inch loaf pan with cooking spray; add a strip of parchment paper to bottom of pan for easy removal.

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in bowl. In another bowl or bowl of mixer, mix bananas, peanut butter, yogurt, egg, vanilla, and oil. Fold in flour mixture until no streaks of flour remain, then gently fold in chocolate chips. Scrape batter into loaf pan. Bake 40-50 minutes, or until toothpick comes out with few moist crumbs. Cool in pan on wire rack 15 minutes; carefully remove from pan and allow to cool completely on wire rack before slicing.

October 5, 2012

Wendi Aarons - The Funniest Mom Blogger Alive

If you've never read Wendi Aarons (her humble self pictured below), brace yourself.

Dear Mr. Thatcher,
I have been a loyal user of your Always maxi pads for over 20 years,
and I appreciate many of their features. Why, without the LeakGuard Core™ or Dri-Weave™ absorbency, I’d probably never go horseback riding or salsa dancing, and I’d certainly steer clear of running up and down the beach in tight, white shorts. But my favorite feature has to be your revolutionary Flexi-Wings. Kudos on being the only company smart enough to realize how crucial it is
that maxi pads be aerodynamic. I can’t tell you how safe and secure I feel each month knowing there’s a little F-16 in my pants.
Have you ever had a menstrual period, Mr. Thatcher? Ever suffered from “the curse”? I’m guessing you haven’t. Well, my “time of the month” is starting right now. As I type, I can already feel hormonal forces violently surging through my body. Just a few minutes from now, my body will adjust and I’ll be transformed into what my husband likes to call “an inbred hillbilly with knife skills.” Isn’t the human body amazing?
As brand manager in the feminine-hygiene division, you’ve no doubt seen quite a bit of research on what exactly happens during your customers’ monthly visits from Aunt Flo. Therefore, you must know 
about the bloating, puffiness, and cramping we endure, and about our intense mood swings, crying jags, and out-of-control behavior. You surely realize it’s a tough time for most women. In fact, only last week, 
my friend Jennifer fought the violent urge to shove her boyfriend’s testicles  into a George Foreman Grill just because he told her he thought Grey’s Anatomy was written by drunken chimps. Crazy! The point is, sir, you of all people must realize that America is just crawling with homicidal maniacs in capri pants. Which brings me to the reason for my letter.

September 28, 2012

Great Review for What More Could You Wish For

I can't even describe the feeling of reading this wonderful review - my heart is swelling with gratitude and delight.Thanks so much to Cindy Roesel, and ChickLitCentral

By Cindy Roesel
Put a big fat chocolate cupcake lit up with candles on the cover of Samantha Hoffman’s first novel, WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR, and you know you’ve captured my attention. Now let’s read what’s between these pages, shall we.
Libby Carson has a wonderful life. She has a lovely family, great friends, her seamstress business is doing well, a guy who is kind and reliable and blah, blah, blah. She’s days away from turning fifty and surprise (!!!), her boyfriend proposes. For any other girl that might be a good thing, but Libby has been down that aisle twice before and it isn’t in her plans to say “I do” to any dude again. Suddenly steady guy turns into pushy guy just as she reconnects with another guy from way back in high-school. In fact, long lost guy just happens to be her old long lost flame. This raises Miss Libby Carson’s mid-life crisis to defcon five. She thought everything was neat and tidy in her nice little world. Guess not and now she has a few things to think about.

September 26, 2012

My Book at O'Hare!

Is there anything more fun than seeing your book in a bookstore? Well, I suppose seeing them flying off the shelves would top that, but meanwhile, here's a photo that my friend Dennis West sent me. It's from Barbara's Bookstore at O'Hare, Terminal 3.
I'm in illustrious company here: John Irving below, Alice Hoffman to my left, Loving Frank and The Kite Runner  to my right.
Next time you're in a bookstore look for my book, send me a picture and I'll send you a signed copy!

September 16, 2012

What's Porn and What's Not?

What do you think of this picture? Sweet shot of a dad and his daughter, or sexual predator/victim?
I hope right now you're thinking, "What the hell are you talking about? Sexual predator?" because if you're not...what's wrong with you? 
Serge Bielanko (in the photo) wrote an article about men's fashions on and accompanied it with this image. And then he got a boatload of hate mail. Now, if we're going to critique his fashion sense I'm all over that with negative reviews but that wasn't it. People wrote about how he has his arm around a nearly naked little girl (his daughter). 2,326 comments on the post the first day. Not all of it negative, but way more than you can imagine.
The question is, is bad publicity better than no publicity at all? After all, look at all the attention he got for his writing. Good or bad?
A friend of mine recently got a negative review of her book in USA Today. Actually it wasn't just negative, it was rude and insulting. That hurts, I know. But it's in USA Today. Is that the silver lining?

September 11, 2012

Book Review: Split Estate by Charlotte Bacon

I'm in awe of Charlotte Bacon's talent; the beautiful way she uses words, the way she brings her characters to life. This is writing at it's best. Split Estate is the story of a family in the aftermath of a suicide; how they deal with it (or don't), how they learn to live with it, the choices they make. There are four main characters and I was engaged with, and rooting for, each of them. They're not perfect people, they're real and human.
I was sad when this book ended. I was as enthralled with Bacon's writing, her amazing turn of phrase, as I was with her story.
My only problem with this book was the ending. I'm not a happily-ever-after person, I don't need a book wrapped up in a tidy bow, but this feels unfinished. I wanted just a little bit more.
Still, that's not a deal-breaker, it's an amazingly beautiful book, but that's the only reason I didn't give it five stars.
I can't wait to read more of Charlotte Bacon's work.

August 28, 2012

Abusive Relationships the Rage in Fiction?

Author Laurie Frankel poses an interesting question:  Why the nationwide summer taste for abusive relationships?
Fifty Shades of Grey and its sequels have been the hot best-sellers all summer and you have to wonder at  people's penchant to read about the kind of relationships portrayed in these books. It's not the eroticism Laurie or I have a problem with (which I didn't find erotic - I can't speak for Laurie), it's the theme of a powerful, abusive man vs. a weak, submissive woman. Jeez, how can that be entertaining?
What the heck makes things like this catch on? Is it a commentary on public taste or contemporary morals?
Holy shit (to quote the heroin in Fifty Shades of Grey - only one example of the splendid dialogue), I hope not! I hope it's just simple boredom and a jump-on-the-bandwagon craze that will pass. Although it doesn't look anyone's capping that well any time soon since the Grey  novels are into their twenty-something week on the NY Times best seller list. NY TIMES, for pete's sake! WTF?

Fifty Shades of Gone Girl
by Laurie Frankel
As you know (where you = a person on earth), the two big books of the summer are actually four: the three Fifty Shades of Gray books and Gillian Flynn's Gone Girl. Having just finished the latter, what I'm wondering is this: 
Why the nationwide summer taste for abusive relationships? Not abusive relationships in a Lifetime movie kind of way. Much stranger than that. Consensual abusive relationships. Fantastical abusive relationships. Wildly complicated and begged for abusive relationships. Love so hopelessly confused as abuse, violent abuse, possibly murderous abuse, that you can't tell the difference.
Read the rest of Laurie's post.

August 20, 2012

How To Change The Video Image Created By Constant Contact

There's a nifty feature in Constant Contact (an email marketing program) where you can embed a YouTube video in your email blast and Constant Contact will create an image for you. So I was creating a blast for my friend and client, Mikki Williams, and look at the image that was created for me (right).
Not such a nifty feature when the image looks like that.

(Sorry, Mikki. But there's a payoff for you - I'm linking to info about Speakers School with Mikki Williams, CSP.)
Which, by the way folks, if you have any interest in becoming a professional speaker, you MUST attend!

Anyway, here's the dilemma - how do I wipe that unattractive grimace off of Mikki's face? I'm loath to send out an email blast to thousands of people with that image (the fact that I just put it out into the cyber-universe notwithstanding). I tried restarting the video and stopping at a different point and then copying the link to see if it would create a different image but there was no change.
So here's what I did: I took a screen shot of the YouTube video where Mikki has a nice smile on her face and I opened it in Photoshop (any other photo-editing program will work just as well - Gimp, for one, and that one's free). Then I found an image of a 'play' button and I opened that in Photoshop too. Then I cloned the play button onto the good-Mikki screen shot and saved the whole thing as a JPEG file. So now it looks like this:
Much better, right?
Next I imported the new image into the Constact Contact email I was creating, and I linked it to the original YouTube video.
Voila! Good-Mikki works the same way as grimacing-Mikki, only cuter! And isn't that what it's all about?

August 16, 2012

What More Could You Wish For review

A beautifully written story, WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR will capture the interest of readers from the first page to the last. Libby is an excellent character who is trying to figure out where her life is going. She has a close relationship with her family and good friends, but she is not so sure that marriage is in the cards for her. If only Michael wouldn't add to her confusion by surprising her with rings and other things! She is surprised to have two men vying for her attention. 
Written in first person, WHAT MORE COULD YOU WISH FOR is a book you won't want to put down. It is heart-felt, funny, sad and poignant—a delightful tale. Highly recommended. 
Marilyn Heyman

Read the entire review from Romance Reviews Today.

August 14, 2012

Life In The Retirement Community

No, I didn't write this - I don't live in a retirement community. At least not yet, although we all know I more than meet the minimum age requirement. My best friend Judi Tepe does, and she writes a slice of life column for the Sun Day. I just cracked up at this article she wrote recently - although it garnered her a bunch of hate mail from some of the single women in the community.
It's great when you look at the world through laugh-colored eyes but when you don't...well, I guess you send hate mail to those who do.

When a single man comes to town…
By Judi Tepe 

I can say without reservation that one of the most exciting events in any over-55 community occurs when a single man moves in. The men on the block look at this happening as just another guy to borrow a ladder from, but the women view this as a challenge, and a major one at that.
It begins when the moving truck pulls up in front of the recently-sold house. Suddenly we women have gardening to do, windows needing to be washed, or are awaiting some important mail that requires at least several trips to the mailbox in one afternoon. The types of furniture unloaded and taken into the house is the first and usually major indicator of marital status. Experience has taught us that leather sofas and chairs, especially those in solid black or gray, almost certainly spell single male, commonly referred to as The SM. The lack of candy dishes, flower arrangements, chintz throw pillows, ANY pillows, side tables, boxes labeled “holiday decorations,” or a Kitchen Aide stand mixer, well, we women already know what our mission is going to be.After a reasonable amount of time has passed and our new neighbor has set up his garage and had the cable guy out, we begin to seriously assess the situation. This particular assessment is done on a scale from 1-5. I’ll explain.

August 12, 2012

If You Missed My Interview...

If you missed my interview with Bill Moller on WGN Radio yesterday you can listen here

What fun! Bill is the perfect host - made me feel as if we were chatting in my living room (except for all the equipment and the headphones and the WGN logos everywhere.)

Bill's family was in the studio with us - from here they were leaving for vacation to Door County. Sorry for the blurred picture, Bill. It would have been a keeper if it was in focus. Obviously I'm a better writer than photographer. 
By the way, Bill's wife's name is Elizabeth, the same name as the main character in What More Could You Wish For. Coincidence or karma?

August 9, 2012

Listen to me on WGN Radio on Saturday!

I made my famous oatmeal chocolate chunk cookies for Bill Moller, who's interviewing me on WGN Radio about my book and my publishing process. Should be fun! (The cookies are how I bribed him to get the interview. Don't tell anyone, but he's a sucker for cookies.)
Be sure to tune in on Saturday, August 11th at 12:30 p.m. - 720 on your AM radio dial in Chicago or listen online - just CLICK HERE.  

Chocolate Chunk Oatmeal Cookies 
3 dozen cookies

• 2 cups all-purpose flour
• 1 cup rolled oats
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
• 1 cup brown sugar
• 1/2 cup granulated sugar
• 2 sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
• 2 eggs
 • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
• 12 ounces block dark chocolate, coarsely chopped
• 1 cup walnuts, chopped
• Large flake sea salt, for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
In a small mixing bowl, combine the flour, oats, baking powder, cinnamon and kosher salt.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine brown sugar, granulated sugar and butter. Using the paddle attachment beat together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and beat them into the butter/sugar mixture. Add vanilla.
With a rubber spatula or with the stand mixer on low, gradually add the flour mixture into the butter/sugar mixture. Mix until just combined. Fold in the chocolate chunks and walnuts.
Spoon the cookie dough by an ice cream scoop into balls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Place 2 inches apart. Bake for 14 to 15 minutes.
When the cookies come out of the oven IMMEDIATELY sprinkle each cookie with a few grains of sea salt. This is really important to do while the cookies are hot.
Let the cookies cool for 2 to 3 minutes and then transfer them to a cooling rack.

August 7, 2012

4 Stars for What More Could You Wish For

by Samantha Hoffman
RT Rating
Hoffman’s first novel about falling in and out of love in midlife is an easy read. It’s also a must-read for strongminded women who want to follow their hearts. The story shows us that times of grief awaken a place within one’s self for repairing broken heartstrings and making new beginnings.
Libby Carson has achieved her dream job, with plenty of devoted clients. Her history with men is not something she is proud of, but it makes her strive to fill her life with other interests and activities. She’s happy with accepting and entertaining friends. But what is Libby really looking for in a relationship with the opposite sex? When she receives not one but two marriage proposals, she must finally decide what she wants. During her morning runs through the woods, she tries to find clarity of heart. (ST. MARTIN’S GRIFFIN, Aug., 256 pp., $14.99)
Reviewed By: Lindy J. Swanson
Published: August 2012

My Book is Born!

Today's the day. It's finally here - the publication day for What More Could You Wish For by Samantha Hoffman. Hahahahahahahahahahahahaha! (That's me, laughing hysterically at this most amazing event.)
I'm told that this day can be anti-climactic and maybe that's true but I won't know, really, until the day actually begins. Right now it's 3:09 a.m. and I have no hope of sleeping. I have butterflies in my stomach and a headache which I think is because my brain can't  process the enormity of what's happening for me today -  that the last decade that I've spent with this book has come to this one day when I'll be able to walk into a bookstore and see it sitting on a shelf, with my name on the cover and the St. Martin's Press's logo.
I bet I don't have to tell you how thrilling this is.
I'm thinking at some point fireworks will explode in the sky and bells will ring and trumpets will blow. Isn't that how it works? Or that the phone will ring and it will be President Obama or George Clooney congratulating me. Or the paparazzi will be waiting when I leave the building tomorrow.
Alright, clearly I'm hallucinating. I need to go back to bed and try to get some sleep now - I have a big day ahead of me.
And RCN's coming for the third time to try to get my wi-fi connection working.
Oh, and I have a dentist appointment. That wasn't very good planning, was it?

August 2, 2012

What More Could You Wish For Than Being Interviewed by Amy Nathan

Well, you've seen the outtakes, now here's the real thing. Thanks, Amy!

July 30, 2012

Join Me for a Live Twitter Book Chat!

Come join me and authors Shelle Sumners and Nora Zelevansky for a live Twitter chat for Self Magazine this Thursday, August 2nd at 2:00 Central time.
Don't have a Twitter account? Well, GET ONE!
Should be fun!

July 26, 2012

Anyone Can Write A Novel!

Funny video for anyone who wants to write a novel.

July 20, 2012

Two Authors Thinking They're Filmmakers

Amy Nathan, author of the fabulous blog Women's Fiction Writers, and I attempted to make a vlog - video blog - about the upcoming publication of my book. Like Amy says, "A vlog is serious business, folks. No, really. Serious business that required dinner and two glasses of wine at its completion."
Okay...we're writers, not filmmakers, just remember that. Amy will post the completed video soon but meanwhile we thought you'd enjoy some outtakes.

July 14, 2012

Movie Review: Magic Mike *

Magic Mike should make some magic and disappear. What a stupid movie. I always forget how much I dislike Matthew McConaughey until I'm watching him. He's the same in every movie and sometimes that works better than others, depending on the movie (mostly it doesn't work at all for me), but you can almost hear the director as you're watching him in Magic Mike: "No...sleazier!" "Okay, reeeeaaaally swivel your hips now." "Okay, now lick your lips in a lewd and lascivious way." You're always conscience that he's acting (or trying to) and he seems to be thinking, aren't I good?
In a
Should I have expected a storyline? Probably not. But I did, and whatever's there is extremely thin, nearly invisible to the naked eye. There's the new-kid-on-the-stripping-block who magically becomes the club favorite, even though he's never done this before and doesn't even dance. Yeah, that's believable. Then there's the disgusted sister who has no use at all for Mike and his "career" until suddenly she's laughing uproariously at his jokes (which aren't funny) and you can practically see the lightbulb going off over her head. You know this device: boy meets girl, girl hates boy, girl discovers she loves boy. It makes for a good story if it's done right. In this movie it's not. Again, you can hear the director: "Okay, you're starting to find him attractive." She giggles at nothing. Director: "Okay, now it's dawning on you that you're liking this guy." She laughs raucously at nothing.
I finally had enough and left, so I have no idea how this movie ends. But I can guess. And even if I'm wrong...who cares?
BTW, I almost always agree with Michael Phillips of the Chicago Tribune but shockingly he gave Magic Mike 3-1/2 stars. Michael, Michael, Michael...
From me? one star for Magic Mike.

July 12, 2012

Advance Reviews for What More Could You Wish For

“Everything old is new again – especially in matters of the heart. Samantha Hoffman vividly renders a tale of angst, terror and triumph inherent in the process of finding true love, no matter the age. Hoffman reminds us all that it’s as hard to let go of love as it is to put down this rich gem of a modern-day Cinderella tale.” Cathie Beck, author of Cheap Cabernet"What More Could You Wish For is a book you won’t want to put down. It is heart-felt, funny, sad and poignant – a delightful tale. Highly recommended.” –Marilyn Heyman, Romance Reviews Today

July 6, 2012

Love Letter to Lookingglass...

Dear Lookingglass Theatre,
I love you. I'm sorry that our relationship is so one-sided - you give me so much and I give so little in return - just a few dollars which seems so inadequate.
I've been a subscriber for a few years now and can't remember any production I wasn't enthralled with. Oh, I'm sure there must be something - you're not perfect after allbut I'm wracking my brain and nothing comes to mind.
There's no permanent stage here so it's a new experience every time I step into your theater, and you never cease to dazzle me with your creativity. The current production of Eastland  has a very minimalist set but as the play unfolds you see so much more than what's in front of you. That's genius. That's innovation and inspiration.
The acting in Eastland  (and all your productions) is stellar, the singing beautiful, the direction perfect, the story haunting. I loved the music, altho there were two places that were very reminiscent (unintentionally, I'm sure, but striking, to me) of songs from West Side Story. Be that as it may, I am moved to look for the CD.
It's hardly fair to single out any one person - the entire cast is superb - but I have to say that Claire Wellin as Bobbie has a clear and lovely voice that thrilled me. I didn't want her to stop singing.
Eastland  is the unimaginable, but true, tragedy of a boat that tipped over onto its side in the Chicago River in 1915, killing 844 people. Not the typical stuff of musicals but it's beautifully done. The final act brought tears to my eyes for its poignancy.
Anyway, Lookingglass Theatre, Eastland is just one in a long line of amazing plays you've given to me. You continue to give and give and give and ask so little in return. I will try to manage my guilt.
I can't wait to see what's coming.

July 5, 2012

Countdown to Publication!

I'm counting the days before my book What More Could You Wish For is published by the venerable St. Martin's Press. I couldn't wish for more than that!
There's so much going on:
1. SAVE THE DATE: On August 2nd I'll be on a Twitter chat with two other authors with Self Magazine. They'll be giving away a package of our three books - great beach reads. Tune in here.
2. SAVE THE DATE: On August 11th at 12:30p CST I'll be on WGN Radio with Bill Moller talking about my book and how I got published. So cool. 720am on your radio dial if you live in Chicago, listen live online here if you don't.
3. AND...the publication date is August 7th! That's when you'll be able to find my book in bookstores (yay!). But you can pre-order now on these sites: your favorite independent bookseller, B&N, or Amazon.
4. Read this great review from Amy Sue Nathan, my St. Martin's sister.

Wait, there's more! REGISTER here TO WIN A SIGNED ADVANCED READING COPY of What More Could You Wish For. The names of the first fifty people to send an email  will go into a hat for a drawing on July 20th and the winner will receive what's sure to be a collector's item. Or at least a good doorstop. (An ARC is what's known as a bound galley and isn't quite finished - there are still has some typos and the cover does n't have my photo (oh no!). But it does call my book a "charming debut.")

July 3, 2012

Cirque du Soliel - Dralion

I'm wild for Cirque du Soliel. Well, almost always. Last year I saw OVO and it was the first time I left feeling disappointed. So I was a little worried about this year's performance, not that it stopped me from going. So glad I did - it was fantastic. Not quite as remarkable as Allegria (but maybe that's because that was one of the first I ever saw), or O which I saw in Las Vegas and was crazy-good. But Dralion is definitely up there. So beautiful and magical and creative. My favorite parts were the trampoline people who bounced off  the walls. I've seen that before (one of the good parts of OVO) but it's still enthralling. The other was the jump rope segment. You have to see it to understand how jumping rope can take on a new dimension. Watch the video below for a sample and then get over to the United Center to see Dralion.

July 1, 2012

Movie Review: To Rome With Love **1/2

I like about half of Woody Allen's films (but see them all) and To Rome With Love is going to have to go in the half I'm not crazy about. It's an odd story, which can work, but this is all over the place with different story lines and no acknowledgement of time, so we're not quite sure what's happening when. Some things seem to be taking place in one day but as we move from story to story there are things that couldn't happen in a year much less a day. It's all very confusing. And some very goofy story lines, like the opera singer who can only sing in the shower so Woody Allen's character produces operas where he appears on stage in a shower stall and all the action happens around him. The audience laughed at this but I just rolled my eyes and looked at my watch. Too silly for me.
And then there's the guy, a simple businessman, who is suddenly and inexplicably famous with paparazzi following him everywhere, asking what he eats for breakfast and if he wears boxers or briefs. And then suddenly his fame disappears and he doesn't know how to live without it. This must be a metaphor for Woody Allen's life, altho I don't see how.
The film has its good parts; one being Alec Baldwin as a famous architect who runs into Jesse Eisenberg's character and then becomes his alter-ego giving him relationship advice. He has some of the funniest lines and for all his craziness Alec Baldwin is one of my favorite actors.
Another good thing is the photography - how can you lose when shooting in one of the most beautiful cities in the world?
I always love Woody Allen's ensemble casts and his whiny Jewish humor, even if it's a little redundant by now. And it's all here, just not quite the way I want it to be.
But maybe next year's film will be more to my liking.
P.S. I love that all these years, for every single film, he has used the same font and style for the credits; always white type on a black background. Simple. I'm not sure why I like that so much but I do.

June 30, 2012

What Not To Wear by Peggy Browning

What Not To Wear…Fashion after 50 
by Peggy Browning

I am the first to admit that I have a problem with fashion. I’ve never been a fashion maven, but ever since I turned 50, I just really don’t care about what I wear. Fashion after 50 is not a big priority for me.
Comfort after 50 is my main priority.
Recently, however, my daughter called me and told me to turn on What Not To Wear, the fashion show that hijacks unsuspecting, poorly dressed women and forces them to confront their un-fashionableness.
She told me I was on the show that day.
Of course, I really wasn’t on the show. I would have remembered that.
Instead there was a woman just like me; a woman who thought she was dressed up when she wore a pair of shorts with a non-elastic waistband. When she really wanted to show off, she added a pair of pearl earrings and pearl necklace to her  Polo shirt and shorts. I can identify.
The show’s hosts, Stacy London and Clinton Kelly, worked her over and made her presentable. She looked great when they finished. She professed to feeling attractive and professional.
My daughter suggested I should apply to be a guest on What Not To Wear and get a makeover.
I declined.

June 25, 2012

Creamy Chicken Enchiladas   
Makes 4 large enchiladas 

    2 cups shredded rotisserie chicken
    1/2 Tbsp canola oil
    1/2 cup chopped yellow or white onion (about 1 medium)
    1 large garlic clove, minced
    1 (4 oz) can chopped green chiles
    1/2 cup salsa verde (tomatillo salsa, or other salsa of your choice), plus additional for serving
    1 tsp ground cumin
    1 tsp chipotle chile powder
    1/4 tsp cayenne
    Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
    2 oz (4 Tbsp) 1/3-less-fat neufchatel cream cheese, divided
    3/4 cup enchilada sauce, homemade or store-bought
    3 large (burrito-sized) or 4 medium flour tortillas
    canola oil cooking spray
    1/2 – 3/4 cup freshly grated 50% reduced-fat cheese, such as monterey jack, cheddar, or pepperjack
    2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro, for serving
    2% plain Greek yogurt, for serving 
    Preheat oven to 350°F. Heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium heat. Add onions and cook, stirring frequently, until soft, 3-5 minutes. Add in the garlic and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add the shredded chicken, chopped chiles, salsa and spices. Stir and season to taste with salt and pepper. Reduce heat to low and stir in 1 oz (2 Tbsp) of the Neufchatel, reserving the other 1 oz. Set aside. Pour the enchilada sauce into a small saucepan over low heat. When the sauce reaches a simmer, turn the heat off and whisk in the remaining 1 oz Neufchatel until completely melted. Heat the tortillas in the microwave for 30 seconds, or until soft and pliable. Lay the tortillas out on a clean work surface. Divide the chicken mixture into 4 equal portions. Spoon each portion onto the lower third of a tortilla. Roll each filled tortilla, burrito-style, tucking in the ends as you go. Lightly coat a baking dish with canola oil cooking spray. Spoon a few tablespoons of the creamy enchilada sauce over the bottom of the dish; spread evenly. Place all of the filled tortillas into the prepared dish. Cover with the remaining creamy enchilada sauce; top with cheese. Bake, uncovered, until enchiladas are hot and cheese is bubbling, about 20 minutes. Serve topped with any enchilada sauce remaining in the dish, extra salsa, cilantro, and Greek yogurt.