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  In return, Rachel “quotes” this sentence fragment of the unpublished book.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.

Linking up with the 2019 Aussie Author Challenge,   Girlxoxo for the Monthly Motif and Heather for April Foodies Read.

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.

 

Aussie-Author-Challenge-2019-Grid NetGalley

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Wunderland by Jennifer Cody Epstein

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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.

NetGalley

See You in the Piazza by Frances Mayes

mayes 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.

Sharing with Heather for her March Foodies Read series.

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.

NetGalley

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.

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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!

Linking up with the 2019 Aussie Author Challenge.

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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.

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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. 🙂

Sharing with:
Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday
Heather for the March Foodie’s Read
Beth Fish Reads for Weekend Cooking

The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cumming

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 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.

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.

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More about the author – Charles Cumming

 

 

Sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday event, Beth Fish Reads and Heather for the March Foodies Read.

BriFri  2019 Foodies Read

The Huntress by Kate Quinn

huntressOnce 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 Jägerin – 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.

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.

For Nina

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Thanks to LibraryThing for the advanced readers copy of this book.
Sharing with Heather for her March Foodie Reads event.

2019 Foodies Read