Saturday, August 31, 2019

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer


Into_Thin_Air


From the start of this book journalist/mountain climber Jon Krakauer had my undivided attention. My husband and I recently watched Everest again and this inspired us to read the book, Into Thin Air.

Excellent writing, you feel like you are reading a novel about a first hand account of the hellish push to climb a mountain.

Having zero knowledge about mountain climbing, the tools of the trade or the almost maniacal desire to reach a summit I was was fascinated.

The conditions deteriorate so rapidly that you'd best be ready to admit defeat and return to home base.... or chance losing your life to power through conditions a human body was never meant to endure. There is speculation that so many seasoned climbers may not have died if it weren't for Krakauer's presence.  The guides Rob Hall and Scott Fischer were in competition so Krakauer's article for Outside magazine  would boost their business.

  Anatoli Boukreev, a professional climber and member and guide of Scott Fischer's group, Mountain Madness, was painted in a rather harsh light.  I would like to read Boukreev's book as well as I'm sure there are differences in the account of the 1996 Mt. Everest's disaster. Boukreev went back out into the blizzard conditions to search for his teammates.  Krakauer made it into his tent and was physically unable to help with any search efforts.  Absolutely no judgement here but there are many who feel Krakauer didn't do enough. Who knows. It's amazing enough anyone survived that ill fated expedition.

Again, fantastic writing and I would recommend this book wholeheartedly.   It's on my agenda to read Into the Wild by Krakauer before the year is out.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor


beyond


The book description appealed me with elements of time travel, a war setting and being compared to Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, lovers of Kate Morton and Ken Follett.  It’s not the blockbuster book I thought it may be in comparison with the aforementioned illustrious authors.
That being said, I didn’t put it down and I did enjoy the story line.  We have Louisa Casson in the year 2017, grieving the loss of her grandmother, basically her only family.  She falls near a cliff in South Downs and is immediately suspected of suicidal tendencies.
Louisa is “voluntarily” committed to Coldbrook Hall, a mental institution where conditions are beyond horrific.  Some of the descriptions put me in mind of the book Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly where mental health facilities are a focus.  The appalling treatment of patients who genuinely suffer from a mental health issue was sad to read.  Long story short on Louisa – she wanders about into an old section of the “hospital” that is set for demolition and meets a soldier from WW I.
Enter 1st Lieutenant Robert Lovett who is recovering in the same hospital, except it’s 1916 and Coldbrook Hall is a military hospital. I suppose this is where the Outlander comparison comes from. The descriptions of battlefields and the lack of cleanliness and knowledge about germs from WW I was very well written.  No sugar coating on those chapters.  Well done there.
I’m a sucker for time travel books so if that’s not your thing, you may not like this book.  It’s an interesting mixture of historical fiction, mystery, romance.  I’m not much of romance reader but I certainly don’t mind the romantic interest to arise.  I just don’t want it to be the main focus.


Wednesday, August 28, 2019

The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cumming


Moroccan  
The Moroccan Girl was my introduction to the work of Charles Cumming. This book is a page turner and I am delighted to have discovered this author. Definitely adding him to my favorite authors list and plan to acquire more of his work.

The main character is Christopher “Kit” Carradine. He’s a novelist writing about spies and espionage. One day he is approached on a London street by a man named Robert Mantis; he’s posing as a fan of Kit’s books. As Kit writes about the spy world in such detail, evidently convincingly, Mantis makes overtures to recruit Kit into the British Service.

It’s a thrilling prospect for Kit to get out of the day-to-day writing routine and do something exciting. He’s meant to hook up with a British Service contact when he’s in Morocco at a writers event. If he can also locate Lara Bartok and pass off a package, all the better. Lara is a young woman who may be on the run from her own government or she may be a terrorist. Lara was the girlfriend of Ivan Simokov, leader of the group Resurrection. This group seemed to start off with an ideal of exposing bad people, folks in positions of power who abused their positions at the expense of us regular citizens.  Eventfully Resurrection turned very violent.  Is Lara Bartok on the run because she was involved with Resurrection or is she fleeing Ivan and the people she once worked with? She is a very interesting character.

There are scenes in London but most of the flavors are in the Morocco. Casablanca, Tangiers and Marrakesh come to life in this book. You are immersed in the setting, the heat, sweat, suspicion, the colorful setting and the foods. As Kit makes his way through Morocco he is caught up with British, Russian and American agents but it’s hard to tell which side they are on. What’s the endgame?

 Another interesting thing are the references to authors who were tapped by the British service to spy or act as a support agents. Frederick Forsyth and Somerset Maugham in particular were mentioned and now I want to know more about them so my reading list has grown thanks to this narrative. Hoping to read more about Kit Carradine in the future if he becomes a regular character in a series. In the meantime I will be tracking on Mr. Cumming’s other espionage novels.

  Lots of food referenced but of course it’s not a foodie book. I always note the dishes or drinks when I read as I’m always up for recreating a dish that appeals. In this case I wanted to make Lamb Tagine but in the interest of getting my post done here, let’s have Lamb Kebabs.


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 Here's a sampling of the meals and drinks I noted: Lamb Tagine, Chicken Dhansak,  Tarka Daal, Chablis and fish cakes, spaghetti Bolognese, fried fish and Merguez sandwiches, chicken couscous, cheese and pasta salad, baklava. Black coffee, margaritas, gin and tonic, pints of ale, vodka martini, mint tea.

 I’d like to thank NetGalley for an advance copy of this book. I was slow getting to it a “reading group” was supposed to get together for this one. Wish I had just started it earlier because I would be reading another of Cumming's books now. If you like espionage and mystery then I highly recommend this book. Well done, Mr. Cumming.


cumming   

Tuesday, August 27, 2019

The Night Olivia Fell by Christine McDonald


olivia


This is a book that had been on list for quite a while so I was excited when the library received my copy. Once I started I was hoping it would be more engaging. Alas, I mentally heard that fizzle sound of deflation as I read - this wasn't a great book for me.

To start, it's every parent's nightmare to get that call, your child has been in an accident and there's nothing to be done to save them.  This isn't a spoiler, it's in the description of the book - teenager Olivia is brain dead but pregnant so they keep her alive until her baby can safely be delivered.

 Abi Knight, Olivia's mother, is frantically trying to get the police involved as she knows it wasn't an accident.  There are bruises on Olivia's wrist to indicate she may have been attacked.  Abi goes through Olivia's phone and social media accounts trying to piece together what may have happened to her daughter.

Personally, I thought this read like a young adult novel.  It was slow paced for me and I found myself skimming.  I was invested enough to see the outcome so I finished it but, I won't be looking for this author anytime soon.

It's billed as mystery and heart wrenching.  Now I will say the ending is a gut twister but as for the mystery part....nah.  It drags.  There are ample reviews which disagree with my take on this book so I'm in the minority.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Cape Cod by Chip Cheek


Cape May Beach in New Jersey


This book could also be titled How to Destroy your Relationship in Two Weeks.  But that's just my opinion.

The time period is the 1950’s and setting is off-season Cape May, New Jersey.  Some of the appeal was the cover,  the time period and subject of relationships.

It’s the tale of virginal newlyweds Henry and Effie slowly and shyly getting to know one another. Seemingly good people at heart, they cautiously learn about each other’s bodies and love. They talk about their future, having children, settling down in their small Georgia town.   A few days into the honeymoon Effie wants to go home because Cape May during off-season isn’t as fun as remembered it. When she visited as a young girl it was the summer high season. So much was going on then. If only they had left when Effie first suggested it.  But then we wouldn't have a story as it all revolves around the two week honeymoon.   The holiday homes are empty and most stores are closed.  One afternoon they notice cars at one home down the block.  As they stop by to say hello,  Effie is surprised to see a woman from her childhood.  Clara was  much older and used to tease Effie when she was a young girl, embarrassing her.  Clara, who has the moral code of a cat in heat, is partying with her friends Max and Alma. Against Effie’s better judgement they are cajoled into staying longer and have dinner and drinks with Clara, Max and Alma.

Things start spiraling out of control soon afterwards. Gin and tonics are consumed by the bucketful. Eventually they break into the other homes, vacant holiday homes that won’t be visited until the following May. They walk through the houses on the block and look at the possessions as if they are in a museum. They try on clothes and play with homeowner's belongings. Creepy isn’t it?


Here come some spoilers

Henry is a complete piece of crap. While he cheats on his wife he also wonders how she could have gone off on a boat outing without him. He wouldn’t have gone anywhere without her, he muses.

Seriously, one of the worst examples of a husband Ever. Not that any of the other characters are sterling examples of virtue. None of them.

The last 15% of the book seems to be written by someone else. Almost the entire book focuses on the two week honeymoon period and the interactions with Clara and her group. Honestly, the best way I can categorize it is under the genre pornography. There are graphic sex scenes, very detailed, throughout the book. It was expected there would be passages about love and sex as the book is advertised as a plot of “marriage, love and sexuality and the lifelong repercussions a group of debauched cosmopolitans may have.” That’s an understatement.

Another unbelievable part is when Effie wonders if she is pregnant.  OK, so.....she was a virgin and it's only been two weeks at the most and she thinks she's pregnant.  I can suspend disbelief for many scenarios but this didn't qualify.  Never mind the other "relationships" that formed, also unlikely but hey....maybe I'm naive.

The last bit of the story wraps up with the final 50 years of Henry and Effie’s respective lives. Bam, bam, bam you are given the life story in a fast forward mode.

If graphic sex scenes offend then skip this book. If you would like a snapshot of 1950’s depravity and a dose of double standards from our Henry, by all means pick this one up.

Netgalley kindly gave me a complimentary copy prior to it's publication on April 30, 2019.  Opinions are mine and I was not compensated for my honest review.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Blue Monday by Nicci French

BlueMonday

Blue Monday by Nicci French Publisher: Penguin Group

 As I mentioned before, I started with book 7 – yeah, brilliant. But I was so taken with the story and characters that I decided I would grab book 1 and read the beginning, even if I do have a few spoilers along the way.

This book is the start of the Frieda Klein series and it begins in 1987.

 It takes a while to get started, it moves rather slowly at first while you get to know the characters but, in my opinion, the character development is worth it. Frieda is a psychotherapist. She isn’t a warm character but I like her. She’s complex, cool and competent. Intelligent and a problem solver. Her mind never seems to shut down and so she walks the streets of London at night until she is weary. I like her rituals such as laying the fire in the morning so she can start a fire each evening when she returns home. I like her organizational method to approaching….anything.

This book introduces us to Frieda’s latest client, a troubled man named Alan Dekker.

The short gist of it is he is an emotional mess. He is on the verge of a breakdown and anxious all the time about so many things in his life. To add to it, he and his wife Carrie are having trouble conceiving a child. He wants a child of his own rather than adopting and gives Frieda great detailed descriptions of his fantasy child, down to the hair color and build. He explains all this during his therapy sessions, a place where he should be safe and know his feelings won’t be shared. Unfortunately a little red-haired boy named Matthew Faraday has been abducted and he fits the description of the fantasy child to the letter. Big red flag here! Did Dekker abduct Matthew?

Now comes the ethical dilemma for Frieda about whether she needs to go to the police. Detective Chief Inspector Karlsson is assigned the missing child case and this is where he crosses paths with Frieda Klein. It’s explosive in so many ways. This sets up the premise that Frieda may be working, albeit hesitantly, with the police now and again.
The end wraps up fairly nicely yet leaves you curious about a few possible loose ends.

So. Now that I have read both the last book and then this book  I can say that I will read the series  - but I liked the characters in Sunday Silence better than this one. Clear as mud right? Knowing how some of these folks turn out and clearly the writing was crisper in book 7, that’s what interests me. Blue Monday needed to have the character development and the explanations about their lives but it wasn’t a I’m-in-love-with-this-series instantly had I started with this book. Please don’t let me turn you off to the Frieda Klein series, I honestly do think it’s good.

Food mentioned here and there…… Curried cauliflower and chick pea salad Marmalade Bakewell tart Holubsti (pickled fish) Kutya (wheat, honey, poppyseed and nuts) Recipe for chickpea salad may be found HERE



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Saturday, August 24, 2019

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton


forgotten Garden 
This book has more than one story line, there are multiple narratives and I hung on to each and every one. Of the Kate Morton books I have read so far, this is by far the very best one. It’s not predictable and the armchair traveling in this took me to Cornwall and London England, Sydney Australia and New York City. Traveling and mystery - what more could I ask for?!

The story lines all come together in spite of many characters living and dying in different time periods. There is a mystery about one of our main characters named Nell. The book starts in 1913 with Nell as a 4 year old, hiding out aboard ship destined for Australia. A lady she refers to as The Authoress tells her to hide and wait for her. But the lady never returns and young Nell is left alone with her suitcase at a port in Australia. A port master can’t leave a small child alone so he takes her home for the evening. No one reports her missing, no one comes to claim Nell so eventually the port master and his wife keep her. No formal adoption, they just move away and start fresh.  Years later the Port Master and wife have four daughters and Nell thinks they are all her natural family.

 On Nell’s 21st birthday her father (the port master) tells her about how they found her. It’s devastating to lose one’s identity just like that. In a snap Nell feels she doesn’t belong and tries to find out where she does belong.  The story skips back and forth in time so you know what happens with Nell until her death late in life. This introduces us to another major character – her granddaughter Cassandra.

 Cassandra is close to her grandmother Nell and after her death she inherits everything. But there is one property she is surprised to find out about. The deed to a house called Cliff Cottage in Cornwall England.

 Cassandra’s story starts in 1975 but we jump to 2005 and things get mysterious. She is the one who will search the clues left about Nell’s true identity. I like her character very much and enjoyed her chapters.

 The Authoress is revealed as Eliza Makepeace (what a cool name!) and she is an adventurous character. She is also the writer of fairy tales. Her back story is fascinating and weaves into Nell’s story eventually. There are quite a few other characters that play crucial parts but rather than get into it all – please read this one if you are a Kate Morton fan. Twists I didn’t see coming and a good conclusion with mysteries solved.

  Some food mentions here but it’s not a foodie book. Bowls of beef and rosemary stew Pasta with pine nuts and Gorgonzola cheese Morgy Broth Sandwiches (and tea of course) Roasted chicken and smoked Gouda pressed sandwich.  There's a bit of leftover spinach in there too.  A simple side salad with grape tomatoes, feta and balsamic vinegar dressing. Oh. Yeah.  This was a treat Cassandra may enjoy at the hotel in Cornwall.

  katemortonsand

 Are you fans of Kate Morton's novels?  If so, which are your favorites?  I have read this one as well as The House at Riverton and The Lake House.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Blood, Bones and Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton


Hamilton, Gabrielle, Blood Bones and Butter 3 
 Radishes with butter and sea salt, grilled lamb sausages, smoky eggplant and flatbread. Some of those delectable images are a far cry from what my own childhood dinner table offered.

  WARNING: Some Spoilers :-)

Reading this memoir by Gabrielle Hamilton, a fellow Pennsylvanian, was a treat. The first few chapters, where she talks about crossing the state lines between Jersey and PA could have been written by one of my childhood pals. For me, growing up in the tri-state area running between Pennsylvania, Delaware and Jersey (not to mention how close Maryland was for us) this portion of the memoir spoke to me…….so much, that I Googled an image of Gabrielle to be sure I didn’t grow up with her.

There are just so many chapters in this book that I enjoyed that it’s hard to tack one down as a favorite. Her unconventional upbringing by a French ex-ballet dancer mother and good ol’ Pennsylvanian craftsman were a treat to read. I will admit to wanting to know more about her brothers whom she did not write about very much. Except Todd…and even then, she didn’t share much. Her sister played a bigger role in Gabrielle’s life and evidently still does.

When her parents started the road toward divorce and mom moved out – young teenager Gabrielle and her brother Simon were abandoned at the family home/farm. Dad disappeared, wallowing in grief over his broken marriage. Simon also disappeared and Gabrielle made do …living on the canned goods and eggs and anything she found at her home to survive. Lying about her age to get a job at a restaurant (been there, done that) she had her first taste of the food industry.

 

Moving way on in the book, when she was in college working on her Masters degree, she landed back into the catering business to supplement her income while finishing her coursework. That is when she met Misty and realizing way later on ..... Misty was her mentor. Unbeknownst to both of them….but nonetheless true. They worked together in the catering kitchen preparing cold smoked chicken with apricot glaze and sirloin tips in molasses black-pepper sauce ….quietly moving through the prep, cooking, set ups in comfortable silences many times. But getting to know Misty in her natural environment awakened something in Gabrielle.

 

 “My resolve to start a new kitchen-free life was further weakening in the direct warmth of Misty’s home style of cooking, her bumpy misshapen tomatoes ripening on her back steps, her cabbages shredded and broken down with salt and vinegar, her hunks of pork swimming in smoky, deep, earthy juices. Unwittingly, she was un-tethering me from my ten-pound knife kit, propane torches and ring molds and showing me that what I had been doing these past twenty years – and what I had come to think of as cooking – was just the impressive fourteen-ring string of a twelve-year old exhaling her first lungfuls of a Marlboro.


 "Nothing more than tricks of the trade. She was waking me, in her nearly monosyllabic way, out of a dark and decades-long amnesia.” When Gabrielle walked through the wreckage of what would become her restaurant, Prune, she had images of her childhood and hoped to share some of the important ones with future patrons. “I might serve walnuts from the Perigord and a small perfect tangerine so that the restaurant patrons could also sit at their table after the meal and squeeze the citrus peel into the candle flame to make fragrant blue and yellow sparks as I had done on my mother’s lap as a child.”

So by dusk that evening, she decided to have a second look around the property.





 She gets energized just thinking about cooking in her restaurant:

"Every time I step in front of those burners, in that egregiously tight space, less than 12 inches between the wall I am backed up against and the burning stove top in front of me, I feel like we are two boxers—me and the heat—meeting in the center of the ring to tap gloves."

Then there's the story line involving her dating life with an Italian doctor, Dr. Michele Fuortes, a teacher and researcher at Weill Cornell Medical College. Fuortes was wooing the 35 year old chef-owner of Prune hoping to persuade her to marry him for US citizenship. As this courtship heats up, Gabrielle is still living with her girlfriend and still working her ass off at Prune. They had an unconventional courtship and marriage.

Some of my favorite chapters were her interactions with her mother-in-law Alda. It was clear Alda was beloved by her Italian family and Gabrielle fell in love with her too. Even without the fluency in Italian she could see, by actions, how the people coming to see Alda held her in great esteem with respect and kindness. As she studied her mother-in-law, and cooked beside her (cooking being a common language of its own) Gabrielle knew she needed to teach her young sons, Marco and Leone, about their Italian side. About kindness and respect.

Somehow, July with Alda and the Fuortes family has become the most important and anticipated month of my year.




 I was between a few meals which I was inspired to prepare after reading this book. But ultimately it came down to the love and shared experiences between Gabrielle and Alda. – a rich meaty eggplant dish with the appropriate accompaniments

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If you enjoyed Kitchen Confidential by Anthony Bourdain, I think you’ll devour this book. It was hard to put down.

Wednesday, August 21, 2019

Tuscan Secret by Angela Petch


tuscansecret


Anna is a young English woman who takes a trip to Italy to research her mother's past.  Ines Santini, Anna's Italian mother, didn't talk about her time during the war.  Ines married a British soldier when the war ended and they moved to England.

When Ines died she left her diaries to her daughter Anna.  There was a large family estate left to the older brother Harry and jewelry left to her sister Jane.  Mom knew Anna would appreciate the diaries.  When you get midway through you'll understand the importance of the diaries and secrets they hold.

The old diary entries and time in present day Italy was interesting. The parts about Ines after she moved to England was sad but set the plot for important revelations.

Once Anna arrives  in Italy you can see what is going happen by chapter four when Anna is annoyed by the good looking Francesco who becomes a guide.  Anyone?  Hands raised that we go from annoyance to an attraction she wants to deny to full blown love.

I love the cover, such a beautiful setting.  Also the Italian dialogue throughout was a great authentic touch.

This book seemed familiar yet I know I couldn't have read it. It won't be published until June 26, 2019. As I read more and enjoyed the descriptive passages about the food and setting in Perugia Italy,  it clicked why this was so familiar.  The premise is so very similar to The Tuscan Child by Rhys Bowen which I read in February of 2018.

In fairness The Tuscan Child plot involved only one adult daughter and it was the deceased father who left an inheritance of old love letters from Italy.  Also during WW II and also involving an old house.  This is indeed a different story just very similar.  If you are a fan of books set in Italy and the split time line spilling the secrets of the past, you will enjoy this book.

Foodie items include fresh chicken and polenta, Cibatta, black olives, pecorino cheese, ravili with chicken beast, lemon zest and nutmeg, aubergines, wine - lots of wine.  The English foods include Toad in the hole, battered sausages, Yorkshire pudding, Victoria sponge cake, apple pie, fruitcake.


Tuesday, August 20, 2019

To the Lions by Holly Watt


lions 

To The Lions. The premise of this story grabbed my attention but once I started reading it I found myself distracted.   Casey Benedict is a reporter.  She overhears a conversation in a London nightclub that leads her to the story of a lifetime.

 In the beginning setup we meet  Casey's boss and man oh man, he drops the F bomb more times than I could count.  A few times gives you the flavor of the man and his personality but after a while, what a turn off. As the big story unfolds I found it very disturbing.  I don't want to give spoilers but let me say, if you are bothered by what's happening to immigrants in the USA, this plot won't be appealing. At all.

 This book is under the mystery and thriller category, my favorite genre however this is too disturbing for me with our current political situation.  I don't bring politics into my blog and what happens in the book is NOT a scenario that is happening here but.....I didn't like this at all. Holly Watt is an author and journalist.  I will say a talented writer as she had me emotions stirred, this book just wasn't for me.

 Publication date is September 3, 2019.  Much thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book.  I was not compensated for a review, opinions are mine.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

The Clockmaker's Daughter by Kate Morton


clock


"My real name, no one remembers. The truth about that summer, no one else knows." -  from our narrator.

This book spans over 150 years, each time period, as it switches back and forth, are pieces of  a puzzle. Present day: We start with Elodie Winslow, a young woman with an old soul.  She's a London archivist, engaged to be married to someone who doesn't truly suit her.

 Looking through an old satchel she discovers a sketchbook which belonged to artist Edward Radcliffe as well as a framed photograph of a striking young woman.  Edward's story is on the book jacket.  He buys the impressive Birchwood Manor and invites a group of friends, fellow artists and their models, to spend a month of creativity and enjoyment.

 "But by the time their stay is over, one woman has been shot dead while another has disappeared; a priceless heirloom is missing; and Edward Radcliffe’s life is in ruins."

 That was 150 years ago.  We switch to Edward's time period and learn some of what went on, fractured relationships, love and mystery.  Now and then the narrator has her chapters, explaining what she thinks, what she observes.  She is the clockmaker's daughter.

 A quote I liked:

 “Human beings are curators. Each polishes his or her own favored memories, arranging them in order to create a narrative that pleases. Some events are repaired and polished for display; others are deemed unworthy and cast aside, shelved below ground in the overflowing storeroom of the mind. There, with any luck, they are promptly forgotten. The process is not dishonest: it is the only way that people can live with themselves and the weight of their experiences.” 

Besides present day and Edward's time period, we have characters from the 1940's right after the war.  They all play an intricate part in the story and how it all weaves together in the end.  One character is in this time frame is a little boy named Tip.  His part here and in the present day are linked as he is Elodie's great uncle. He has a small part but it's important.

 It's eluded that the narrator isn't named, that we never know her name as early on her father refers to her as Birdie. He says she was named for her grandfather. Well, I won't tell you here even though it doesn't raise a spoiler, but it's something revealed on pages 460 - 462 so you won't want to miss it.  By then you are almost finished and I will say, what a story - historically rich with the lines of all eras woven together in a satisfying ending.

Kate Morton never disappoints me.  Great story as always.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

The Distant Hours by Kate Morton


Hours2

 Kate Morton is one of my favorites. She writes big fat books with well developed characters.  The setting is usually in Australia, England or both.  She deftly weaves a story leaving you satisfied with ending.  Well....most of the time.  She wraps up the mysteries so you have definite conclusions.  Perhaps you don't like how some characters end up but nothing is ever left hanging.

In 1992, letters written in 1941 were found stowed away in an attic.  The post man placed the bag of letters and bills in his home and they weren't discovered until his death in 1992.   Imagine a letter delivered 50 years later, the recipient having no ability to respond, lives possibly changed because those communications were adrift.  Meredith Burchill is one of the recipients of a letter written 50 years prior by glamorous Juniper Blythe.  Merdith's daughter Edie watches her mother open the letter then break into tears, obviously distraught.

Edie Burchill, a character whom I  instantly liked.  This is yet another book where one of our characters is a book editor ( an aspiration I had when I was in my teens). Edie ends up moving back home when her lease is up in her Notting Hill flat.

  distanteditor

Edie's mother Meredith is a fussy old thing but she has a very interesting back story. She was an evacuee from London during the war, living in Mildhurst Castle far in the north of England, with the Blythe sisters, three elegant and classy ladies.   The three sisters were very different from another. Persephone and Seraphina are twins but they didn’t have the same passions or goals.  The head of the household is Raymond Blythe.  He is a famous author of The Secrets of the Mudman.  When you find the evil inspiration for his story....well, I found it disturbing. Juniper Blythe is the golden haired youngest who picks Meredith as "her evacuee" during the war.  They become friends during the billeting, this changing the lives of both.

I made this sound boring but it's hard to include all the relationship quirks and why they are important.  The seduction of this novel, for me, is the old castle and mystery of the origins of the Mudman story. The setting in northern England in WW II, the food mentions are scant but there is of course tea, rock cakes and roasted meat dinners. This was the only one of Morton's books I hadn't read so now.....waiting for a few years for her next tome.

This wasn't my favorite, I loved The Forgotten Garden and The Secret Keeper the most of the six books published. Overall a good story with a few surprises at the end.

Friday, August 16, 2019

The Family Upstairs by Lisa Jewell


the-family-upstairs-9781501190100_lg

First off - why have I not been reading Lisa Jewell's novels before this?!  I couldn't put this book down.

Libby Jones knows she was adopted and also knows there was some controversy about her past and her birth parents. At the age of 25 she knows all will be revealed as she receives she long awaited letter and "inheritance."  Here is a blurb from the book description so you have the setup: Twenty-five years ago, police were called to 16 Cheyne Walk with reports of a baby crying. When they arrived, they found a healthy ten-month-old happily cooing in her crib in the bedroom. Downstairs in the kitchen lay three dead bodies, all dressed in black, next to a hastily scrawled note. And the four other children reported to live at Cheyne Walk were gone.

 What a setup.  I was intrigued from the beginning and found myself surprised by revelations in the book. The main setting is London but you have scenes in France as well. The story is told from different perspectives.  Libby's brother Henry narrates the past story line and we get an inside view of the crazy scenarios in his childhood home.  In the Libby chapters you'll read about her search for the older siblings, Henry and Lucy, as well as researching information on her socialite mother and well-to-do father, Martina and Henry Lamb.  At the end of each chapter I would want to continue with Libby's search, yet when young Henry narrated I didn't want that to end.

This book is categorized under adult fiction, mystery and thrillers. A+

 Lisa Jewell is a British author of popular fiction. Her books include Ralph's Party, Thirtynothing, After The Party, a sequel to Ralph's Party, and most recently The House We Grew Up In, The Girls in the Garden, and Then She Was Gone.

 Publication date is November 5, 2019.  Much thanks to Netgalley for an advanced copy of this book.  I was not compensated for a review, opinions are mine.

Thursday, August 15, 2019

The Au Pair by Emma Rous


au 
There were so many things I liked about this book.  We have an old English country estate called Summerbourne, a seemingly neurotic young woman named Seraphine Mayes who is obsessed with finding out about her early life, a mystery about Ruth (Seraphine and her twin brother Danny’s mother), Ruth’s suicide and an ending that will blow you away. The Au Pair is Laura Silverira, hired to take care of young Edwin Mayes. The other players are Edwin’s parents, Ruth and Dominic Mayes, their friend Alex and Ruth’s mother Vera. In Laura’s chapters we see the interactions between these people. Ruth appears to vacillate between depression and paranoia 80% of the time. Her mother Vera is domineering and controlling, but perhaps she is trying to take care of Ruth. The time period is 1992, the year Seraphine and Danny were born.

 Seraphine’s chapters are in present day. Her father Dominic recently died in an accident. As Seraphine goes through her father’s belongings she finds a photo of her parents and Edwin, her mother holding a newborn. Her mother is smiling yet hours later she throws herself off a cliff. Why is there only one baby in the photo when Ruth had twins and – which baby is it? Is it Seraphine or Danny? This is the catalyst setting Seraphine off in search of the au pair Laura, hoping to find out what happened all those years ago.

 Her brothers urge her to leave it alone and of course she doesn’t. The consequences of her secret investigation into their past will have devastating consequences. As you get to know the characters you’ll wonder if Seraphine isn’t a fragile sort of person, perhaps suffering from mild depression or anxiety. Are some of her assumptions and theories valid or is she over the edge? This is all revealed as you read on and to mention some outcomes would certainly spoil your reading experience.

This story is like a fireworks display. It starts as a slow simmer, builds up steam and then blows up around the 85% mark with dynamic revelations. I am awaiting this author’s next book and hope it’s as engaging and mysterious as this book.

Food makes an appearance here and there:Edwin and I unpack the grocery bags together on Saturday morning. As ever, the effect the fresh ingredients have on him is powerful: he smiles as he rubs his thumbs over the onions, flexes the celery, sniffs at the Parmesan and inspects the prawns. He’s in his element, relaxed and happy.

  Chocolate tiffin, cinnamon pastries, slices of carrot cake with thick lemon frosting, an apple plum crumble, pots of homemade applesauce, flapjacks, chocolate sponge cake, speared pineapple and chunks of cheese. “Dominic was pressing sprigs of rosemary into a joint of lamb, a mound of unwashed potatoes sat by the sink.” Roasted turkey and potatoes and chipolatas. I didn't have the chipolatas but I do have turkey and roasted potatoes :-) turkey Much thanks to NetGalley for this advanced copy. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated for the review. Publication date is January 8, 2019.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

The Flight Attendant by Chris Bohjalian


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 I have been a fan of this author for quite a while. While this ended up being a pretty good book, I will say, in my opinion, it wasn’t my favorite of his books.

 The flight attendant in question, Cassandra Bowden, just wasn’t a very likable person. I understand about addiction and it shapes the way a person behaves, but you really couldn’t have very much sympathy for this woman.

 Cassie Bowden wakes up in a Dubai hotel room next to a dead man.  He's the man she met on the flight, a passenger whom she flirted with, had dinner and sex and too much to drink. What is your first instinct here?  Mine would be to call the police but Cassie decides to flee the hotel room, after wiping the room of her fingerprints.  Did she kill him?  She doesn't know.

 It kept my interest yet seemed to drag a bit.  I was hoping it would pick up and refrain from the detail about how Cassie liked to drink and have sex with strangers and her blackouts and self-loathing.    Around the 50% mark it really started picking up so I was invested by then. Russian operatives, secrets, police investigations and more lying.

 I thought the end wrapped it up but not as strongly, or believably as I had hoped.  Would I read more by Bohjalian?  Absolutely.  This just wasn't my favorite book by the author.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey


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The reviews for this book are all over the place.  Some think it’s a pale, boring retelling of Jane Eyre while other readers loved it.   The comparison isn’t only about Gemma and Jane Eyre, our author was also without a mother at age nine and grew up lonely in Scotland, as Gemma did,  reading Jane Eyre from her own father’s library.  Obviously her experiences were quite different.

 The old adage imitation is the sincerest form of flattery holds true for me, at least with this book.  Wuthering Heights is retold in a contemporary setting in Solsbury Hill by Susan Wyler (very popular modernized version with all the heartache you’d expect) and what about Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, a modern version of King Lear?  Anyway, I very much enjoyed this story.   I thought Gemma was an intelligent headstrong girl. Obviously well-educated thanks to her uncle and without formal schooling, she showed remarkable maturity and resilience.

 Gemma’s life is filled with tragedy.  We are introduced to Gemma when she is 10 years old, living in her aunt’s home in Scotland.  Although she previously lived in Iceland she was born in Scotland, her mother being Scottish and her father an Icelander.  When she is young her mother dies after falling and hitting her head on a rock.  A few years later her fisherman father drowns.  She is taken in by her Uncle Charles and becomes part of the Hardy household in Scotland. She was only 3 years of age when she moved in with the Hardy family.  Then Uncle Charles died and Gemma’s place in the household changed.  This is the start of the book, how she went from family member to the status of hired help.  She was relegated to the kitchen, removed from the family dinner table, wore old, old clothes and was treated shabbily.

 When the chance came to send her away to a school her aunt jumped on it.  For a smart young lady you would think this would be the ideal escape for Gemma but alas, that was jumping from the pan into the fire.  The “working girls” who did not pay tuition were basically slaves.  Cleaning, cooking, gardening and their studies came last.  It was a horrible situation.

 It just seemed to be one thing after another for Gemma but she never lost her determination.  Rather than rehash this entire book I’ll say that I enjoyed reading how she overcame many obstacles and fretted for her when something overwhelming cropped up.   Oh, another thing I liked about Gemma was her quest for knowledge and her love of birds.  There was a large book in her beloved uncle’s study called Birds of the World.  She loved looking at the photos and learning where they lived in the world.  Her only friend at school noted this love of birds and gifted Gemma with a book about Scottish birds.  There are references as she points out curlews, lapwings, grebes, blackbird, curlew, jackdaw and puffins when she is working as an au pair and later as a nanny.

 There were a couple of things I didn't like in the book and rather than have spoilers here, I put those thoughts on Goodreads as there is a format for hiding them.

 The setting is mostly in Glasgow,  a rural setting of Aberfeldy and the Orkney Islands.  As I note foodie items in most books I read I can say there are many mentions of food here yet it’s not a foodie book by any means. This is an author I will most certainly seek out, Margot Livesey can paint a vivid picture.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Wunderland


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The time period for most of this book is WW II, the viewpoint and setting is Germany. Usually I gravitate toward England and occasionally France for novels set in the WW II era. This was, at times, difficult to read.

The first chapter starts in 1989, the setting New York. Ava Fischer sits on her bed crying after learning about her mother's death and past life. Ava had banished her mother, Ilse von Fischer, from her life ten years prior. You'll learn why as you read on.  She receives a box from Ilse's attorney with her mother's ashes and a cache of letters addressed to Renate Bauer.  Bauer isn't a name Ava has ever heard and doesn't know who the woman.  Why would her mother be writing to Bauer?

Ava discovers unsettling things about her mother's involvement with the Ilse BDM (Bund Deutscher madel) in Nazi Germany.  The chapters go back and forth mainly between Ilse and Renate in the early 1930's. Ava's chapters are interspersed.

Ilse and Renate were very good friends. They shared secrets, books, loved one another without question. There was one scene where they defied the German soldiers and went into a Jewish bakery together. The boycott of Jewish businesses didn't bother these two young ladies as they strode past the soldiers in search of sweets. Such boycotts were ridiculous for these headstrong teenagers.

But as you read on there is a sadness that such a wonderful friendship could be severely strained and eventually fractured over one being Jewish. Perhaps it’s the political climate in America today but this book had my mind drifting to the hate crimes and gang mentality I currently see in the news. While it was well written it was at times hard to read.

Reading how Ilse and Renate's friendship was tested because Renate was Jewish was uncomfortable. Reading how relationships could change in a snap because of one's heritage was sad.

Foodie book - no way. There were delectable bakery items and a traditional German meal mentioned.
Buttery poppyseed cakes, stolen, fruit pies, apple cakes, doughnuts, Schweinebraten in a crackling glaze of paprika, mustard and caraway seeds.

Publication date for this historical fiction novel is April 23, 2019. Check it out at your local bookstore or online book store.

Thank you very much  Netgalley for this digital copy of the book. I received this complimentary copy and was not compensated for my opinion/review.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

See You in the Piazza by Frances Mayes


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If you are an armchair traveler as I am and you love reading about Italy, get this book immediately! I certainly loved Under the Tuscan Sun as well as Mayes' next book Bella Tuscany. This one won't disappoint if you are fans of Frances Mayes and like a foodie/cultural narrative.

  See You in the Piazza isn't a novel. I'd describe it as a cross between a memoir and a travel guide, yet it isn't specifically either one. It's the sort of Ex-Pat lit that I can sink my teeth into, traveling vicariously through descriptive writing.

 Our author has traveled extensively throughout Italy enjoying the foods, culture and atmosphere, eventually purchasing a second home in Tuscany.  Yet Ms. Mayes says she feels the same excitement as she did her first few years of living in Italy. "To know Italy would take ten lifetimes."

 It's a foodie book for sure - Olive trees, Negroni, homemade pasta, seafood, fresh fruits and vegetables, recipes and more.  The book is set up geographically from north to south.  It doesn't have to be read cover to cover, rather you may choose the county of interest.  This will stay on my Kindle as a reference guide in case I'm ever able to visit Italy.

 Read this and you will want to pack up and move, enjoy a different culture and pace.  This book was published March 12, 2019 so hustle to your favorite bookstore or online retailer and immerse yourself with Frances Mayes' Italian travels.

Thank you very much  Netgalley for this digital copy of the book. It's one I will refer to often, especially if I am fortunate enough to travel to Italy. I received this complimentary copy and am not compensated for my opinion/review.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

We Must be Brave by Frances Liardet


Brave I kept hearing about this book on Goodreads so I put in my request at the library.  The majority of the book is set in the WW II era, one of my preferred  time periods, and it's set in and around Upton England .

We start with a busload of people evacuating Southhampton, heading to the rural town of Upton during WW II.  Ellen Parr notices a small girl sleeping on the bus after everyone departs.  Whose child is this?  Where is her mother? Ellen gathers the little girl in her arms and makes inquiries of the women but no one claims her.  The girl, Pamela, was separated from her mother during an air raid.


. upton

 There are some scenes that are so heartbreaking that it put me in mind of The Light Between the Oceans.  I could actually quote the beginning of that book's review for this one and it would be appropriate. " This book is filled with sadness and loss. There are happy moments but even those are shadowed by secrets and wrong doing..."

 This novel spans decades but the majority focuses on the early 1940's time period.  Ellen and her husband Selwyn take in the evacuees, some children stay longer than the adults.  When no one claims Pamela it's Ellen's hope that she and Selwyn may keep her.  The circumstances are well explained in this book but I wouldn't want to reveal spoilers.

 Ellen's back story is revealed after a hundred pages and believe me, you may want the tissues handy.  Actually, you just feel so bad for Ellen yet admire her inner strength. This is a fat book of 450 or so pages and I read it in 3 days time. The characters are well developed, you'd feel as if you known them. The deprivation is keenly described.

 Three quarters into the book it slows down a bit but I was never tempted to abandon this story.  I would read more by this author. There are references to food but not often.  Lots of tea, bread, Rock Cakes, a meat pie, baked onions, potato pie, rissoles and a treacle tart. One the dessert side of things I decided to make a peach cobbler. After so much deprivation I wanted excess.  We even had Blanton's bourbon with it.  Now that's decadent. :-)

Friday, August 9, 2019

The Huntress by Kate Quinn


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Once again, Kate Quinn has written a story with compelling characters.  Quinn’s previous novel, The Alice Network, was hard to put down and she’s done it again with The Huntress.  We have several unique points of view telling their stories about WW II.

Ian Graham was a war correspondent but he’s burnt out after witnessing so much horror.  Currently Ian and his partner Tony are Nazi hunters.  The big score would be the elusive Die J├Ągerin – a female killer (the Huntress) who mercilessly killed anyone in her path, including women and children. Ian Graham has a personal interest in her as she is evidently responsible for his young soldier brother’s death.

Nina is a Russian aviator with quite an interesting back story. She is a Siberian “night witch” who flies with her all female comrades in WW II.  I really felt for Nina, all she endured, yet she’s the toughest of the bunch. Dangerous, skillful, sexy and extremely driven.  Our author did her homework about the Russian female aviators.  There really was a “night witch” group who served their country.

Last and certainly not least is Jordan McBride.  She's a young woman living with her widowed father in Boston.  She has a passion for photography, her dream job would be a photographic journalist, traveling the world.   In the 1950's a career is not encouraged, as much as sh'd love to attend college her father doesn't approve.  When dad meets a young German widow his life changes, as does Jordan's life.  Her story dovetails with the other three mentioned above.does Jordan’s life. 

I enjoyed every story line, every perspective and can recommend this to anyone who enjoyed The Alice Network.  Once again Kate Quinn hits it out of the park.

Foodie references weren’t abundant but Nina could tuck into a hamburger with such gusto that Ian enjoyed watching her enthusiasm. She had a style of putting jam in tea (I’m not trying that) and there were mentions of borscht, a Thanksgiving dinner and 1950/60’s comfort food from the McBride’s kitchen.

Thanks to LibraryThing for the advanced readers copy of this book.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

The Alice Network by Kate Quinn


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I couldn't put this down.  If I wasn't making time to read it at home, the book made it's way into my purse in case I could read at work during breaks and lunch.

 The story goes back and forth between 1947 and 1915 with Evelyn Gardiner heavily featured in both time lines. Eve  Gardiner, Charlotte "Charlie" St. Clair and Finn Kilgore are well written, complex characters.

  The Alice Network was real.  This story incorporates the heroic character of Louise de Bettignies aka "Alice BuBois" and Lili,  into a fascinating character - a spy for the English military.  She was dubbed Queen of Spies and in real life, saved hundreds, maybe thousands of lives, passing on pertinent intel.

 She had a network of females working with her, all joined in resisting the Germans and spying for the Allies.  There were parts of this story dealing with espionage and trauma that were such page turners.  I sat up late a few times to read and it blows me away that these women endured so much.

 Early in the story, as you are getting to know Eve (a drunken bitter woman.....at first) you also meet Finn Kilgore.  This quiet Scotsman is Eve's driver and master of what he calls the one-pan breakfast.  There wasn't a lot of food mentioned but this breakfast comes up a few times.

  fryup1

The main characters change, they have transformations as they start working together and it's wonderful to be along for the ride.

I have to say, this goes on list as one of the best books I have read this year.  There are scenes in London but most are in France.  Eve's London home figures prominently in the beginning and later in the book too.

Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Eleanor Oliphant is completely fine by Gail Honeyman


eleanor

 I had been meaning to get to this book for months after a recommendation by JoAnne of Lakeside Musing. It was a page turner for me, not a thriller or mystery as I usually read, it's a portrait of a young woman who had evidently been through something horrific in her past.


 She has no social skills or experience with everyday situations such as ordering a pizza or going to a concert.  Little clues about her looks and an unconventional and possibly violent past are hinted at early on. Her facial scars, mentions of looking at magazines in hospital waiting rooms and institutions….what happened to this woman?!

Well, it’s all revealed through bits in pieces and final crashing amount of information that makes you want to grab Eleanor and hug her.  Make her life whole, let her see there is good in the world.
 Eleanor goes to work 5 days a week and the routine seems to be enough, until the weekend where she eats frozen pizza and drinks copious amounts of vodka. One day after work she is annoyed that a coworker named Raymond is walking with her.  She doesn't socialize, she is uncomfortable. They see an older man collapsed in the street and go to assist. Very slowly her life changes from that point onward. This is a lady who never socializes, who lives from office to home to her corner market in London.  Now she is visiting someone, she even goes with Raymond to see his mother.

 “Everything felt safe, everything felt normal, How different Raymond’s life had been from mine – a proper family, a mother and a father and a sister, nestled among other proper families.”

  There was a bit of food mentioned in this one as well as the British soap opera The Archers. Eating her meal deal while listening to The Archers. (I tried listening to that before and for some reason stopped. I think I needed more background.)

 Pesto with pasta, scallops, cod, poached duck egg and hazelnut oil. Bouillabaisse with homemade rouille. Honey glazed poussin with celeriac fondants. Fresh truffles in season, shaved over crepes and buttered linguine. Sourdough toast with Manchego cheese and quince paste.

 “Mummy old me the way to a man’s heart is a homemade sausage roll.

" Pizza and wine. A woman after my own heart. We love a bottle of Beaujolais and pizza for movie night, In this instance Eleanor wasn’t able to procure her frozen pizza and had one delivered. Something she had never done before. Cheese and pickle sandwiches, tomato soup in a mug.

  “Raymond pushed open the back door without knocking, shouting hello as he walked into the little kitchen. It smelled deliciously of soup, salty and warm, probably emanating from the large pot on the hob.” The soup was made with pork knuckle and full of fresh vegetables from the garden. There was bread and butter and cheese.

 I like this quote:  This is what I felt: the warm weight of his hands on me; the gentleness in his smile; the gentle heat of something opening, the way some flowers spread out in the morning at the sight of the sun. I knew what was happening. It was the unscarred piece of my heart. It was just big enough to let in a bit of affection. 

 I'm glad I made time this year for Eleanor Oliphant.  It was a good story.

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

The Lost Man by Jane Harper

They are at the Stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects… (From Goodreads)

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Right away Jane Harper’s descriptive prose grabs your attention. You are plunged into the hot desolate landscape and have a clear image of the unforgiving Australian desert. We begin with one brother standing guard near his older brother's dead body.  Bub had to spend the night to keep dingos from Cameron's body.  In the morning Nathan Bright, the eldest in the family, arrives and asks Bub what he knows.  What would bring Cameron Bright to the isolated area near the Stockman's grave?

When Cameron didn't turn up at Lehmann's Hill to meet Bub an alert went out on the radio.  Anyone living in that desolate part of Queensland would be on the lookout for Cameron or his truck. Dehydration can kill you quickly, as could an accident where you'd not be discovered in time.  Cameron was well organized and knew the dangers and how to be prepared with a truck full of supplies.  Yet here he was, near the Stockman's Grave without water, shade or vehicle.

 As you get to know the characters you realize how the three brothers were shaped, or should I say scarred, by their father Carl Bright. The revelations keep coming and you can sympathize with every single person in that family.  Nathan is the main voice in this book but you do get other's perspectives. A few characters are not likable or I should say, it's hard to warm up to them. Yet learning their backstories made me sympathetic to them.  The outback desert can be bleak place to raise a family.

 In the beginning I thought it was a slow start yet I was interested and kept reading.  Getting less than halfway through I couldn't put it down.  The end of just about every chapter left you wanting more. One of those books where you say, Ok after this chapter I’m going to go to bed, or do some work, or put the book aside. Nope, you just have to read one more chapter!

  There’s a map – I love maps and since the places are referenced right from the beginning I was able to refer to the map and see the distances. This is important to the story to see how far it is from the Bright Homestead to the Stockman's Grave and then to Nathan Bright's ranch. map.jpg

  The Stockman's grave is mentioned throughout and with it come various stories about who he was and how he came to be buried in the middle of the desert.  Near the end Nathan tells his nieces the true story which he read at a national Library in Brisbane. I liked the story even if it was sad.

The heat - One curious thing was the mention of the heat in December, 45 degrees. I’m guessing the temperature is Celsius which means it’s 113 F. More appropriate for the hot December summer. Perhaps that wasn’t converted for the publications in the U.S. School of Air – these days the school work and teaching is handled by video and internet, teachers able to schedule video chats. Before those amenities the School of Air was handled via radio.

Children in the Outback didn’t have a convention school setting. It was up to the parents to supervise the lessons that were delivered by radio.

 If you enjoyed Harper's first book, The Dry, then I think you will like this one.  I'll read every book she writes.  When I heard The Lost Man was coming out I was initially disappointed that Aaron Falk wasn't the star character.  This is a stand alone from the first two books but I liked it very much.  Maybe this one will be made into a movie too.  Looking forward to The Dry coming out in theaters.

Well done again, Jane Harper!

Monday, August 5, 2019

The Fragments by Toni Jordan


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This is a literary mystery set primarily in Brisbane Australia.  The genre and locale hooked me right away so I promptly requested a copy from NetGalley.

Imagine a famous author who publishes a ground breaking literary masterpiece, one people talk about and analyze over the years.  The author has another book about to published, people eagerly awaiting the story, when a horrific tragedy strikes. The author dies in a warehouse fire, the flames destroying all copies of the latest book.  Only fragments are recovered and her mourning fans and scholars are left with scraps of sentences, forever wondering about this lost masterpiece.   That is the story of Inga Karlson, the author who became a legend. The fragments of her manuscript along with photos of Inga and her personal belongings are exhibited around the world for decades.  Loyal fans and scholars line up to view this exhibit, some of the devotees young enough to be Inga's grandchildren.  She is epic.

Cadence "Caddie" Walker's obsession with Inga Karlson's lost manuscript has her standing in line in the blazing Brisbane heat, awaiting the opening of the exhibition so she may view this collection.  In line near Caddie is an old woman named Rachel Lehrer.  She speaks with Caddie, asking what her favorite lines were from the scraps left of the book.  In return, Rachel "quotes" this sentence fragment of the unpublished book. And in the end, all we have are the hours and the days, the minutes and the way we bear them, the seconds spent on this earth and the number of them that truly mattered. But that last part wasn't written anywhere.  Is it the imaginary conjuring of an old woman?

The book is divided in three parts.  I thought the first part had a few slow spots, certainly not enough for me to abandon the book.   I was very intrigued with the perspective back in the 1930's about Rachel Lehrer and her family.  When the story took that reminiscing turn to the past I was completely engaged.  It hops with a fluid transition from 1986 and Caddie Walker's obsession to the 1930's story line.  You don't see what one has to do with another until part two of the book. Then the puzzle connects.

 Nearing the end of part two I was on the fence regarding my feelings for Caddie.  She was about to take up with someone I know isn't a good person; someone who will use her up. I'm torn with the entwining stories of Rachel and Inga in the past and the Caddie/Jamie/Philip mess in the 1980's.  Caddie needs to be shaken by the shoulders as I, the reader, clearly knows what needs to be done here!

There is mystery, love, a snapshot of domestic violence in the 1930 era and a satisfying conclusion to the story.  Also, a surprise about several characters in part three of the book.  I would like to know what became of  a few supporting characters but there certainly was a clear resolution.  I would read more by this author. Adventurous setting for me, Kookaburra and Queensland and Brisbane......I am armchair traveling again.

Food stuff:  Chili Lentil Soup, pizzas of Margherita and vegetarian varieties, sundaes, cakes, chicken a la King.

Sunday, August 4, 2019

A Lily in the Light by Kristin Fields

I was unsure about requesting this book, the plot sounded like it may be depressing or just too sad. I’m very happy I read it and will most certainly look for more by this talented author. The characters were well developed, conveying the emotional strain of dealing with one another after 4 year old Lily disappears.
.lily 
The main characters are Andre and Cerise and their four children. Nick is the oldest and the only son, then Madeline, 11 year old Esme and 4 year old Lily. We start with Esme finishing her ballet class, her mother and Lily waiting to pick her up. Esme obviously has a good relationship with her little sister, playing with her and making up stories to amuse her.

Once they arrive home Esme starts studying in her bedroom shared with Madeline. Lily is begging for a story and Madeline yells at her and orders her out of the room. There is crying, there is Andre fussing about the crying and Nick yelling for quiet. As they sit down to dinner they call out for Lily to get to table. She’s gone. Just disappeared. There is more detail in book that plops you flat into the middle of a heart pounding search and the fear that grips you over possible scenarios.

The guilt each member of the family feels is evident as they ponder the before….before Lily was missing. Esme unfairly blaming herself because she didn’t take time to tell Lily that story. Madeline remembering the last words she shouted at her little sister, “it was better without you” and Cerise wishing she had been home instead of church.

The book is told through Esme’s point of view, starting when she was 11 years old and then jumps 8 years ahead with Esme living elsewhere. A scene in the present accurately describes how Lily’s disappearance damaged the entire family irrevocably. The part about the special cake plate speaks volumes about how life changed for all of them. Esme’s mother brings out that special plate and Esme “would always wish her mother hadn’t packed it away after Lily but had kept making frosted cakes on that plate for her or Nick or Madeline, because they’d always been in reach. They’d been colored invisible instead. The left behind.

 The way relationships developed, and in some cases stalled, were well written. For Esme, her ballet teacher saved her from a half-life at home by recognizing the potential in her young student.  I don’t want to reveal too much as it may ruin the way you are drawn into the story and the progression of their lives.

The food was as different as the two lifestyles. At home Esme would eat the rotating menu of spaghetti, tacos, lentil soup, minestrone, turkey meatballs and hamburgers. Living with Amelia they had salads, roasted chicken, vegetables, omelets, spicy Chai tea. There was also orange madeleines, macaronis, warm chocolate, baking bread from the Paris portion of the book.

Well written, Kristin Fields. I will certainly be looking for more of your work.


  pasta

Thank you very much  Netgalley for this digital copy of the book. I received this complimentary copy and was not compensated for my opinion/review .


  NetGalley  

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Stone Mothers by Erin Kelly


stone1

What a story!  It's mostly told from Marianne's point of view but you have a fascinating, and horrifying, backdrop from the "evil" Helen Greenlaw.

The book starts in 2018 with our introduction to Marianne and her husband Sam.  They are in their late 40's and have been quite successful in their careers and finances.  Marianne didn't always have a charmed life, coming from the poor town of Nusstead, living hand to mouth. Marianne's mother still lives in Nusstead and is declining rapidly.  She makes the trip from London to see her Mum and daughter Honor as often as she can.  Devoted husband Sam has a surprise in store for his wife, but unbeknownst to him it won't be a welcome one.  This is where you get the backstory and the secrets.

We flash to 1988 when Marianne was young teen and meets Jesse Brame at school. Without getting into to much detail lets just say they were young, in love and poor as dirt.  The mental asylum Nazareth closed and put most of the village out of work, including Marianne's mum, Jesse's father and brother.  Government official Helen Greenlaw was the one responsible for the closure and the hatred of this rich unsympathetic women was legend in Nusstead.

 Marianne is intelligent, Jesse is devoted (more so than Marianne), and between them they devise a plan they think is foolproof.  Unfortunately it will change and ruin the lives of four people. Then it gets worse....if you can imagine.

Before we write Helen Greenlaw off as a cold government official who never knew strife, we get a picture of her life back in 1958 when  a young lady had zero rights.  Her story and that of the East Anglia Lunatic Asylum will run your blood cold.  Toss these main characters together in an unimaginable scenario and you have a disastrous event they must keep secret forever.

It’s Marianne who worries her present and past life will intersect and cause all the carefully guarded secrets from her youth to explode, shattering her world.  Helen Greenlaw also had a lot to lose but no one ever knew her backstory. I do believe Marianne would have been sympathetic to Helen’s plight.

The ending chapters give up quite a bit of information and all the pieces fit together nicely. It’s not necessarily a happy ending for all parties but it’s conclusive. I'm going to write more on Goodreads where I can hide the spoilers.

I saw the phrase “going round the bend” referred to as going crazy, or how the drive ways/entrances curve to mental asylums.  Apparently it was to screen the potential inmates from view and keep them from seeing the hospital straight on. I didn’t know that but have certainly used the phrase over the years.

Not a foodie book but I did note the meals and drinks as I read.  Dressed crab, beetroot and feta salad, large glasses of Cabernet Sauvignon, seared salmon and zucchini, grilled streak, avocado smash on sourdough bread, fish pie, a casserole with chicken and olives, gin and tonics with Bombay Sapphire.

Much thanks to Netgalley for the complimentary copy of this book.  I read this and immediately planned to get more work by Erin Kelly.  In my opinion this book would be great for a book club discussion.  This book was published April 23, 2019 - go get a copy!

Friday, August 2, 2019

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary


flat 

After reading a few books with serious tones/subjects I wanted a lighter and brighter book. I very much enjoyed those previous books but I was ready for a chick-lit kinda thing to break it up.

The Flatshare is Beth O’Leary’s first novel. I knew the term flat share meant to have a roommate, sharing an apartment – each with their own bedroom. But in this novel they share a bed, not at the same time. One works nights and the other days. The deal is that for a mere $350 a month she will have the flat from 6pm - 8am Monday through Friday and on weekends. The remaining times belong to Leon, who could use the extra cash that this arrangement will bring and never the two shall meet.

 I’ve never heard of sleeping in the same bed as your room-mate and I can say it would never have been something I would have done. They speak to each other via notes and letters left tacked to the fridge or on a table. When one is out at work and the other person at home, they find a note. And usually food! Sometimes they forget they haven’t had conversation in person. They are getting to know one another slowly as pen-pals who live together, but have not met. Weird and quirky.

 The beginning was a bit confusing for me as Leon pondered about Kay and Ritchie, people who were not introduced to the story. Who are these people, I wondered. It all fell together shortly and I knew the character’s places.

Tiffy’s job is assistant editor at a DIY publishing house. She sums it up: “I love working here. This is the only possible explanation for the fact that I have been assistant editor for three and a half years, earning below the London living wage, and have made no attempt to rectify the situation…….” As for the supporting characters a good deal of the book focuses on Tiffy’s favorite author, Katherin, who writes about knitting and crocheting. Also a treacherous coworker named Martin which you will just slightly loathe in the beginning and yes, this will deepen as you get to know him more.

Leon is such a good person. He’s a night nurse at a hospice, taking tender care of a little girl named Holly who has leukemia and senior patients who need constant care. Can’t be easy being a nurse. His supporting character is his brother Richie who resides in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. All the characters’ stories merge and overlap at different parts of the book.

I was looking for something light with a bit of humor and I found it in this book. What I wasn’t expecting was subject of emotional abuse and how well this author handled it. It wasn’t a constant but when it needed to be addressed in the story it was deftly woven in. Overall a funny, romantic lighthearted book but it certainly did touch on serious subjects at times.  Happy endings for most :-)

There was a bit of food in this novel! Tiffy is a baker and Leon likes to cook so we had a variety of tempting treats. Homemade oat bars, mushroom stroganoff, risotto, Victoria Sandwich with Homemade jam, carob date brownies, banana bread, ales and cocktails.

 Much thanks to Netgalley for the complimentary copy of this book.  Publication date is May 28, 2019.  I will look for more by this author.  All opinions are mine and I was not compensated for this review.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Spies of Shilling Lane by Jennifer Ryan


spies 

I did not like the overbearing Mrs. Braithwaite so it was difficult for me to get immersed in the story line. A woman who puts status, accomplishments and one’s station-in-life above all else, she’s hard to warm up to. She eventually examines what makes a successful life and considers status verses a loving family and well….just being a good and kind person. I plowed ahead hoping it would interest me more.

She left her village to search for her daughter Betty in London.  The setting is London during WW II.  The descriptive writing placed me in London and I could imagine the scenes.

Unfortunately our main character put me off so much that I had to make myself read more. Eventually I skimmed as I no longer cared what happened to Mrs. Braithwaite or the meek landlord Mr. Norris.

 I very much enjoyed The Chilbury ladies Choir but this one didn’t grab me. If you check my link you'll see I couldn't put Ryan's first book down.  This had the opposite effect on me.  Obviously from the reviews I am in the minority.

  

Normal People by Sally Rooney

  The beginning of the story unfolds in Carricklea, Sligo in western Ireland. Our main characters are Connell and Marianne and they are you...