Sunday Reading and Book Reviews

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?

25 thoughts on “Sunday Reading and Book Reviews

  1. Rheanna

    There are few things worse than getting your hands on a book you have been anticipating and having it fall flat. I am excited to add The Humans to my to read list.

    Ones that I have read recently is Me Before You by Jo Jo Moyes. It is an older book but I hadn’t picked it up yet and I found it to be a quick read as I got involved with the characters immediately.
    I also read the nonfiction book The Betrayal of Anne Frank. I have to say it was a good read. The author kept the chapters relatively short and didn’t bore you with mundane details. Essentially, a team of researchers came together to discover who gave up the Frank’s hiding place, which led to the family being sent to the concentration camps. By treating it as a “Cold Case” they were able to tease out information form historical records and some personal accounts. Very interesting conclusion and it gave some family history that I was not familiar with.

    Last one is Code Name Helene. It is historical fiction based on a true story of an Australian native who works for the British in France during WWII. The book alternates between her work with the French Resistance during the war and how she meets and falls in love with her husband. I really enjoyed the book and didn’t mind the 2 story lines as they were both interesting.

  2. Julie

    I was excited to see a mystery novel without murder & sorry to hear you didn’t find it very good. I get tired of all the gruesome stories in print & film (tv). That said, I do enjoy the Inspector Ganesh novels, maybe it’s the setting Canada. I’ve been revisiting ‘A Crack in the Edge of the World’ by Simon Winchester about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, but it’s really about so much more than that one event. We’re coming up to another anniversary of the quake so it’s timely for me.

  3. Shari

    Thanks for your recommendations. I love to know what people are reading. My recommendations for you are West with Giraffes and The Reading List.

  4. Donna

    Thanks for the great book recommendations. If you like historical fiction, I recommend, The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline. A good memoir that my book group enjoyed was, Dancing in the Mosque: An Afghan Mother’s Letter to Her Son by Homeira Qaderi. Happy reading!

  5. karenfae

    I loved Wish You Were Here – I haven’t read any of the others that you mention or if I did they were unmemorable which some books can be!

  6. Joan Sheppard

    Always love your list! Jodi Picoult is also at the top of my favs. This pandemic touched all of us in so many ways…so this book is at the top of the list. Thanks again for sharing this.

  7. You’ve got a great variety of interesting books listed here, Carole! You know I loved Wish You Were Here, and I also read the Midnight Library and loved it. So I just put The Humans on my hold list at the library. I don’t know if I’ve mentioned West with Giraffes Toyota before, but noticed that someone else brought it up in a comment. I LOVED that book – highly recommend!

  8. KJ

    I am reading the Melanie Lageschulte series because of your recommendation. I am not a huge fan of series because, if I like a book, I do not like to wait up to 2 years for the next in the series. This one is complete at 10 and all 10 are available, and I am all in. I am on book 7 with 8,9,and 10 due to arrive tomorrow. I think the friends from the city storylines are diminishing to show how Melinda’s past is being left in the past as each season passes. I am really enjoying this series and thank you for your recommendation.

  9. Have you read the WW2 trilogy by Kate Quinn? It’s all about a variety of women’s lives during the war. The first in the series The Alice Network, is about the recruitment of a young woman by the SOE as a courier between the English Secret Service and French underground agents. The 2nd book is about a mole in Bletchley Park, and the women working as code breakers, it is called the Rose Code and jumps between the war and the period just after the war. The third in the series is about an escaped Nazi female agent and is set in the USA.it is called the Huntress. All well rounded characters and a good plot.

    The other book I read that I really recommend is one about a little known battalions of Russian women pilots who flew in night raids on the German invaders. They were called The Night Witches…while the book is fiction, it is based on true heroic behavior of these little know Pilots, the Russian 588th Squadron of Night Bombers.

  10. Sarah

    I just finished LincolnHighway by Amor Towles. I suspect (hope) this is a prequel to another book. It is set in 1954 over a period of 10 days and told through perspectives of different characters. It had some really funny moments. There are various characters introduced that I hope to learn more about in another book

  11. Love checking out all your recommendations! I hop around between action adventure/cop detective/murder mysteries to romance. I have been on a David Baldacci kick the last 2 weeks. I use audio books from the library on the LIBBY app and wear wireless bluetooth headphones while I sew. The last 4 in fact were David’s books, but prior to that was one called Hello Summer by Mary Kay Andrews and Someone to Cherish by Mary Balogh. A wall banger was The Selection by Kiera Cass. Even as an audiobook it wasn’t worth MY time. 🙂

  12. I look forward to your book reviews!

    I just finished Neighbors by Danielle Steele about how a recluse opens her home to her neighbors in a devastating earthquake. Heartwarming albeit a bit predictable.

    I have Taste and Milk Street Vegetables on hold at the library. They both sound like wonderful books!

  13. My husband is on his second attempt on reading A Gentleman In Moscow. I know I would enjoy the Stanley Tucci book. Thanks for all of the reviews. I just finished The Magnificent Lives of Marjorie Post by Allison Pataki. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

    1. Cathie J

      Oh, I must try reading this book. Here on Long Island many places are named after the Post family. I grew up going to Marjorie Post Park. There is even a university that used to be called CW Post college, but has since been renamed.

  14. what a wonderful collection of books. I must read the Picoult and Tucci. Pity about rare books and special collections being disappointing — it sounds like it had promise. I read Love, Death and Rare books and liked it enough — but you’re right; there are times it was overly long and he was really so in love with his lead character we knew way too much more about him than we needed to. I liked Moscow very much and look forward to Branagh’s film. But the first 30 pages are tough.For whatever reason, I can never get into Erin Hildebrand. I’ve tried — I keep thinking I’d like it, then meh. Books. So many. So little time!

  15. Joy

    I love the “Season” books, have read them all. I’d recommend the Bellingwood series by Dianne Greenwood Muir. They are probably the only books that I read twice through – as soon as I finish one, I re-read it immediately. They are among my all-time favorites.

  16. Mary

    I really enjoyed The Gentleman in Moscow. At the moment I’m reading in order the Detective books by Louise Penny. Her Detective is Armand de Gamache and they are set in Quebec. Don’t know if you have come across him. I like detective novels because they solve the mystery and you don’t get the actual murders.
    Have also been enjoying books by Fredrik Bachman of A Man Called Ove. His other books are good while being a little different.
    I also enjoy reading your followers comments and pick up some new book titles from there.
    Thanks Carole for more reading clues. :))

  17. Sue Hoover

    I recently finished All the Light We Cannot See. It was wonderful although the back-and-forth between characters and time were a little confusing at times.

  18. Thank you for sharing your book reviews and lists. Even with fitting in little ten minute reads it is amazing that you are able to read so much. I have two books on my shelf, ready to give to a friend in Sweden (but then trips have been cancelled)… I can’t remember the details of them now, but enjoyed them very much.

    Loving Frank by Nancy Horan – my friend and I visited some Frank Lloyd Wright houses – and this book discusses his life in novel format. “…published in 2007. It tells the story of Mamah Borthwick and her illicit love affair with Frank Lloyd Wright amidst the public shame they experienced in early twentieth century America.”

    behind the scenes at the museum by Kate Atkinson. This one goes thru six generations in a family – Episodes are funny and tragic. Lots of breathtaking and interesting details.

    I asked my online quilt friends for suggestions for Audible books to listen to while driving with my DH across country and they recommended:
    Series by: Terry Pratchett, John McPhee, David Rosenfelt, Andrea Camilleri, Alan Bradley, J.K. Rowling (Harry Potter)
    Books: A Gentleman in Moscow, 9th St Woman

    I also asked them for suggestions for art or quilt places to stop at but only got Shelburne Museum VT, International Quilt Museum (Lincoln NE), de Young Museum (San Francisco CA). Off Topic as not a book – but would appreciate more suggestions!

    Thank you for all your inspiration!

  19. Cathie J

    I always enjoy your book reviews. I always read through them and add a few to my list to be read. That list is getting long as I am not as avid a reader when I am working. I read about one book every two weeks. Currently I am only e-books through my library so I often can’t find the books that you recommend, but someday I will start going in person again. I am currently reading True Believer by Nicolas Sparks as my mother has almost all of his books in hardcover and I have never read them.

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