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La Rue: Two late summer reads to take you away

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As we head into the dog days of summer (how can it be August already?), this month’s Book Report has two books that will each take the reader away to someplace new.

Beck Dorey-Stein’s first book, “From the Corner of the Oval,” is a memoir of her days in the Obama White House as a stenographer. We walked in her shoes as she recounted her hectic days taking down every word spoken and her excitement of “being in the room where it happened”.

Her latest book, “Rock the Boat,” is a delightful novel set in the oceanside tourist town of Sea Point, New Jersey. Kate Campbell is living the good life in Manhattan, in the fancy family apartment of her wealthy boyfriend, and working at his family’s public relations firm.

When that life collapses around her, she is forced to head back to her parents’ home in Sea Point to try to rebuild her life. She gets two jobs — by day she works at the town library, and by night she tends bar at the local hangout.

Her neighbor and childhood pal Ziggy is trying to get over the sudden death of his father and business partner in their family plumbing company. His best friend Miles is also returning home, hoping to prove to his mother that he is the logical choice for CEO of the family resort business. Each character has to face the difference between what they thought their future would be and what it actually may turn out to be.

Diane La Rue

Diane La Rue

You truly feel like you are taking a vacation at the Jersey Shore reading “Rock the Boat." You’ll want to grab a drink at the Jetty bar, visit the library, dress up for a fancy dinner at the wharf, and hang out at the beach with Kate, Ziggy and Miles. I loved the characters and the setting, and you’ll be humming the 1970s song "Rock the Boat" as you read and wait to see if Kate’s plan to get her Manhattan life back works or if she moves forward to create a new dream.

Jamie Brenner’s “Blush” also starts out in Manhattan, on the Upper East Side, where the successful fancy cheese shop Leah has owned for years is about to lose its lease.

Leah returns to her parents’ wine estate in North Fork, Long Island, where her father tells her that they must sell the winery that they built 40 years ago due to financial reasons. Leah always wanted to be a part of the winery business, but her father chose her brother Asher as his heir apparent to learn the business, which hurt Leah.

Vivian, Leah’s mother, is devastated to learn that they will not only lose the winery, but also the beautiful home that she designed on the property. Vivian has always been the face of the winery, the impeccably dressed hostess for weddings and tastings, but she always wanted to have more of a say in how the business was run.

When Leah’s daughter Sadie shows up hoping to work on her thesis, she discovers a cache of notebooks that her grandmother had hidden recounting the book club meetings that she held years ago.

The books discussed were novels popular in the 1980s: Judith Krantz’s “Scruples,” Jackie Collins’ “Chances” and Shirley Cochran’s “Lace” among them. (Many of us will recognize those titles immediately from our own reading history.)

The three women, along with Asher’s much younger girlfriend, Bridget, form their own book club to read these books and take inspiration from the characters in the story. The women in these books took it upon themselves to go after what they wanted in business and their personal lives. Can these women do the same and save the winery from disaster?

If you are someone who enjoys wine, as I do, you’ll will get a higher level of satisfaction from this book as you learn all about the process of growing grapes for wine, all the way through the winemaking process. I found it utterly fascinating.

Brenner excels in showing us the three stages of loving relationships: Vivian and her husband of 40 years and the lifelong partnership they have, Leah and her husband’s middle-aged marriage issues, and Sadie finding love in the throes of youthful attraction.

I liked how the title of the book, “Blush,” echoes the one-word titles of the 1980s novels. “Blush” is a wonderful female-centered story that updates the sentiments of those earlier novels for today’s woman.

Diane La Rue is a member of the National Book Critics Circle and blogs about books at You can follow her on Twitter @bookchickdi, and she can be emailed at


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