I usually take a book with me just about everywhere I go. I can get a few pages in while waiting for My Sweet Babboo to get something from the hardware store, or while waiting for my grocery pickup order to come out. I like to read in the early morning quiet as well, and of course while spending time in waiting rooms for appointments. So, I had a lot of time these past couple of weeks to get in some reading. I did Amazon (affiliate) links for you if you’d like to read the synopsis, or order the books, all are available on Kindle, too. Thank you for using my links when you can as they help pay the costs of writing and publishing this blog. Let’s talk about books today, and here are some reviews of recent reads.
The Lights of Sugarberry Cove by Heather Webber – Warm and uplifting story with a bit of magic from the author of Midnight at the Blackbird Cafe. The story is captivating with southern charm, a bit of cooking, fun characters, and a dysfunctional family finding their way through adversity. As the grown daughters of a detached mother come home to help after the mother’s heart attack, old hurts and misunderstandings come to the surface. But the magic of the lake has a plan. You’ll need a tissue or two near the end, and the final outcome will touch your heart.
The Rumor by Elin Hilderbrand – Rumors can be powerful things, as the residents of Nantucket find out one summer. A kernel of truth spun up with conjecture as to the cause leads to falsehoods circulating, taking a toll on the lives of teens and adults alike. When one of the characters makes several bad decisions, the consequences are significant for his business, his family and his life. The characters are somewhat flat though, and maybe that is part of the plan for the book, but for me it made it into a fluff read (or what some call a beach read), although there was some food for thought in not repeating gossip.
The Songbird Season by Melanie Lageschulte – Fifth in the delightful series of our protagonist Melanie taking on the chores of her farm, delighting in the next season and facing problems with happy endings. This time, the family hardware store is in danger from a 100-year-old mistake in the land surveys. While the town residents organize a cat spay and neuter clinic to address the overpopulation of cats, tempers flare and old friendships are threatened. But, all is saved in the end, and that is the charm of these books. There is a side story with her friends from her previous city, and this was not explored as fully as it could have been. In my opinion, the author should either get into the meat of the problem or leave it out altogether. It seemed like it was just filler, glossed over, then her friends left. I would love to see a bit more depth in the stories, and the books could be a bit longer too, with more complexity to the characters we know in the town. However, the series’ charm makes up for its faults, and I can’t wait to get the next one. I could devour this whole series (currently at 10 books) in a week, but I am ordering one at a time and spacing out the reading to coincide with the season in the book to savor them. Thank you to Nanci C who originally recommended this series to me!
Department of Rare Books and Special Collections by Eva Jurczyk – I was excited to have my library hold come up on this highly anticipated new release, and eagerly dove into reading. It is not easy to find a mystery novel that doesn’t involve murder, and this one was about missing rare and valuable books. But, the book was disappointing and overall meh. The protagonist is a doormat, unable to handle the job she is forced into when her boss has a stroke. She should be actively trying to solve the mystery of missing rare books, but she doesn’t do anything but whine about how the director should let the police solve it. Conversations with co-workers go in circles but don’t get anywhere, the reader is lost for most of the story, and the final answer was one of the first things most anyone else would have done. The last two chapters contain more about books than the rest of the novel, but seem like an afterthought so the writer could get in more of her own research.
The Humans by Matt Haig – Funny and quirky, an alien is sent to earth to exterminate anyone that might know of a mathematical breakthrough made by a professor. Knowledge of this would lead to technological advances that the aliens believe humans are not ready for. Reminiscent of a SyFy series called Resident Alien, it is hilarious fun as our protagonist gets used to human faces, food and social conventions. Fans of Matt Haig, who also wrote The Midnight Library, will enjoy this, as will anyone with a desire for a story that is different from their usual genres.
For a while, I was putting my book reviews into my Sunday Chat posts, but I think they are getting lost there. Plus, we don’t have a chance to talk about books as much, so I am going to repeat a few reviews from previous posts, just so we can have one post to come back to for book recommendations. I find it is easier for me to come back to a single post with all my reviews and your recommendations together. So I am going back to that format on posting reviews. These next reviews are from previous posts last month and the month before on Sunday Chats.
I highly recommend Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult – This pandemic story focuses on one woman’s struggle with her emotions during a time when the whole world shut down. The writing is compelling, keeping the reader interested in seeing what happens next, and what choices Diana will make. A twist in the middle of the book is startling and surprising, and from that point on, the book becomes next to impossible to put down. Highly recommend, five stars!! This book would be fabulous for book clubs, so much to talk about!!
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles – Interesting premise of a Russian Count, convicted of the dubious crime of being an aristocrat at the eve of the communist revolution, he is sentenced to house arrest for life in a hotel where he had been living. Forced to associate with other classes of people in service jobs, he finds himself making friends, finding allies and coming to terms with a new way of life. The book is a bit long, but does have some interesting asides in footnote form of real history taking place at the time. The story begins in 1922 and runs to 1954, through the upheavals of the depression, war and revolutions. I admit I got a bit bored with it for about a 100 pages in the middle of the book, but persevered because I wanted to know the ending. This is a character study not an action novel, with some laugh out loud funny parts, and a lot of philosophy. It isn’t among my choices for best novels, but it wasn’t bad. Three stars.
Citadel by Kate Mosse. The book is a gritty story of courage and heartache mainly set in the years of the second world war in occupied France. The book is difficult in some spots, as the horror of Nazi atrocities are not glossed over. The ending is realistic, with some hope but not really a happy one. As are all the novels by this author I have read, the writing is taut, the suspense builds, and one finds after a bit that the pages just fly by. Engrossing, and recommended in the realistic historical genre.
Piranesi by Susanna Clarke (author of Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell) – Not a book for everyone, this story is very different. The protagonist lives in a world comprised of an immense labyrinth of large vestibules to massive halls kilometers long filled with thousands of Greek style statues. There are three levels of halls with oceans in the lower levels. Their tides blast through the halls periodically and then recede. As Piranesi describes his life, his days and his journals, the reader gets an idea that something else is going on. For example, how does he know what ‘petrol’ is in a world with no cars? It takes the first 100 pages for Piranesi to realize it, but stick with it. Reading this book is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle without knowing what the picture looks like, and the secrets reveal themselves in this way. Don’t read any spoiler reviews, as the enjoyment of this book is in the solving of the puzzle. I get the feeling that there is much more to this story in references to other classic fantasy novels, but I am not well read enough in that genre to catch most of this. Recommend for those willing to stick with it.
Love, Death & Rare Books by Robert Hellenga – I had mixed feelings on this book, heavy on philosophy and unanswered questions. Although the passages on rare books, the trade in them, and the reasons for their value wrapped in history were very interesting, the balance of the book dealt with an excruciatingly slow advancement of the story. The character of Gabe was over developed, with long stream-of-thought passages that only serve to show the reader his confusion. The other characters in the book were all flat, cardboard cutouts only there to ask more questions. Normally I like character study books, but this one bored me so bad that the last 50 pages I just skimmed to get it done. Overall, OK, but not my cup of tea.
An Appetite for Violets by Martine Bailey – An engrossing historical novel set in 1722 that grabs you from the first chapter with a scene right out of a horror film. A man arrives at an abandoned country home in search of his sister only to find the house empty, a moldering and rotten feast still laid on the dining table, blood in the bedroom and a priceless ruby. From there, the novel goes back to fill in the tale, from the point of view of the undercook in the kitchen, Biddy, taken by her mistress on a long trip with secrets and lies as their companions. Plots are underway by the lady’s maid Jesmire, and the butler Mr Pars, with Biddy being the innocent and easily duped pawn in their plans. But things go awry, and Biddy has to take charge before she is blamed for events she didn’t cause, and get away before the truth comes out, as no one will believe her. Difficult to put down, it is an enjoyable read. If you like historical fiction like this and you have Netflix, see The Cook of Castemar also set in the early 1700s. It was quite good, and written from the cook’s point of view as well.
Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci – Being a foodie, this is one of the most delightful memoirs I’ve ever read. Stanley Tucci has acted in some great movies like Julie and Julia, Shall We Dance, Big Night, Devil Wears Prada, Hunger Games and I really enjoyed his CNN documentary Searching For Italy. His ancestors are from Calabria in Italy, and he has a passion for the country and its food. The book is a feast for the mind, with family recipes included, lovely detailed word pictures of the Amalfi coast and the dishes discovered on location during filming shoots. Mouth watering descriptions of wonderful restaurant meals and fabulous places to eat are fun to read. He talks frankly of the difficulty with the lockdown from covid and its effect on the restaurant industry. He discloses in detail the terrifying diagnosis of mouth cancer, and all that implied to a food obsessed man, along with the horrors of treatment, to the gratitude of his cure. Highly recommend!
Milk Street Vegetables is just full of great ideas! You can see all my little yellow sticky notes already stuck to pages with recipes I want to try. It has given me inspiration to buy and cook vegetables that I like but rarely cook, like Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bok choy and artichoke hearts. The great thing about this book is the way it is organized. The chapters are arranged according to the course (salads, soups, sides, etc), but there is also a second index in the front of the book by vegetable, so you can see quickly what you can do with the vegetable you wish to serve. I started with a recipe for charred Brussels sprouts (on page 174), buying some fresh ones. I cut them in half to cook. The recipe says to use a cast iron pan, but since I have a glass top stove, I am afraid of scratching the surface with that kind of pan. So, I put them in a pan to roast in the oven. My Sweet Babboo gave me some Lemon Infused Olive Oil in my Christmas stocking, and that was the perfect oil to use here.
I have three more novels on my table to read, all from my list of ‘Look For’ novels mostly compiled with your recommendations. I particularly like getting recommendations for new releases too. Bear in mind that I have had my fill of murder mysteries, particularly the ‘cozy’ sub-genre as I have literally read over a hundred of them. So that genre is off my radar for the foreseeable future. I enjoy mysteries that have a puzzle to solve, like missing objects or a search for something. These days I am more drawn to the genre of literary fiction, with people dealing with life issues and family problems, along with historical fiction and magical realism. Nothing wrong with a bit of fantasy and sci-fi now and then! See more of my book reviews by clicking on the Books And Reading category on the sidebar, or see my Goodreads profile, also on the sidebar.
What have you read recently that you recommend?