We Met in December By Rosie Curtis

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Christmas and London are a match made in heaven. There’s a man on the street corner selling hot chestnuts by the bag, filling the air with the smell of cinnamon and vanilla. The ornate wooden windows of Liberty are glittering with lights and decorations. I stop to look at a huge tree swathed in ribbons and hung with a million dancing fairy lights and – “Watch out!

Jess is new to London and absolutely thrilled to be living there temporarily. Everything is a wonder to her from the sights, the culture, the lovely people and her home in Nottinghill.

Alex and Jess are roommates. They like each other, they develop a secret crush on one another, then the predictable coupling happens.   Alex helps Jess find her way around London, showing her the sights and taking us along for the walk.

This is a lighthearted, Hallmarkesque kinda book. I wanted to be immersed in Nottinghill, read about snow and London culture in a passive easy read. This is an easy read you can finish up in a day or two.

Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book. Publication date is November 5, 2019. If you enjoy a light romantic chick lit kinda book, you will like this story.

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Dear Stephanie, Dear Paul

paul I learned about this book from the blog Georgia Girl with an English Heart.  Kay, the writer of this blog married her pen friend from England.  Kay is an Anglophile  and had been writing to an English fellow for nine years before they married.  The book Dear Stephanie, Dear Paul: A transatlantic love story told through correspondence was recommended to Kay as it’s a similar story.

The time period is late 1940’s.  You can get a historical snapshot of the latest music, books, fashion and culture from both writers, American teenager Paul and English teenager Stephanie .

The rationing situation in England was interesting to read about as well as the economy.  Paul’s salary was a good fortune compared to English salaries fro the same job.  Paul saved and saved until he could eventually meet Stephanie and get a tour of England. After hundreds of letters where friendship blossomed into love, they married and lived in Ohio.  They were married 58 years and had three children.

If you’d like to read about that time period from the points of view of Paul and Stephanie you would love this book.

More info:

Stephanie Duke’s obituary
Paul Duke’s obituary

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The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer

Tourist Milo Weaver is the star of the book. He was an operative for the CIA, a “tourist” who is now retired. His life settled down and he’s married, living a fairly conventional life.

He’s been called upon to do one last job and this takes us into the seedy life of hired killers and political intrigue. It’s interesting enough to keep me reading and look forward to the next book in the trilogy.  These books have been compared to the works of John LeCarre and Graham Greene but Steinhauer was more enjoyable for me to read.  If you enjoy thrillers and espionage yu’ll like this book.

I recency read the director of the Borne Identity is collaborating to make a move based on Milo Weaver and Olen Steinhauer’s books.  That’s a movie I will definitely want to see.

Much thanks to Netgalley. This book was published in March  2009 but I am just discovering it through NetGalley.   Opinions are mine and I was not compensated.   More about Olen Steinhauer HERE

 

Eric Clapton: the autobiography

clap This is a book I bought for my birthday and am just now getting around to reading it. I am enjoying it very much.  We like listening to music in the evenings and frequently the Clapton CDs are among our favorites.  His blues albums are among our favorites.

When I went to pick the book up from a local second hand store it wasn’t the copy they had before and I was slightly disappointed.  Turned out to be a winning situation as the other book was a Clapton biography and this is an autobiography, his own thoughts on events.

The book starts with Clapton’s recollection of his early childhood and discovering his position in the family.  At age seven he  discovered his mum and dad, Jack and Rose, were in fact his grandparents.  The way his birth mother treated him was appalling to me and the maternal side of me wanted to hug this confused and rejected child.

As we get into the musical introduction  of the book I found I couldn’t put it down. He discusses the first guitar he owned, school and the introduction into playing for the public. Those chapters cover the Yardbirds, John Mayall, Cream, Blind Faith and Derek and the Dominos.  You also read first hand accounts of his friendships and musical collaborations with the Beatles, Jimi Hendrix and his friendship with George Harrison, Ginger Baker, Steve Winwood among others.

I knew the song Layla was written to woo George Harrison’s wife Patti as he was completely besotted with her but I did not know the inspiration for the song name. Layla and Majnun is  narrative poem composed by Persian poet Niẓāmi Ganjavi.  Layla is the equivalent of Juliet, forbidden love. Huh.

I’m about to finish the part where he talks about the substance abuse and his son Conor.  That’s a heart breaker.  The parts where Clapton talks about his love for George Harrison’s wife Patti was a turn off.  He describes his behavior, and other musicians in that era, as having loose morals and that was accepted. Drug addiction, deaths, strong musical ethics, recovery and family.

As it turns out he was extremely unsure of himself and music was an outlet.  The rejection of his mother affected him forever and while it seems a rock icon such as Clapton thrived on attention, it was just the opposite.  Note the cover of the album below.  He refused to look up and read the comic Beano while the photos were being taken. (this was discussed in the book).  Also, with Derek and the Dominos no one knew that Derek was actually Clapton.  He wanted to play anonymously  and reveled in the fact that the band played for small groups of 50 or in festivals and no one knew it was Clapton guitar. Until that news leaked out so……they broke up.

bluesbreakers_john_mayall_with_eric_clapton

My favorite parts are reading about the fabulous musical talents of that era and how they collaborated.  If you are a Clapton fan you may like this book.  He makes no apologies for his behavior, he reminisces abut the good, the bad and inspirations. Overall I like this book.

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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.

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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.

The Nanny by Gilly MacMillan

nan Gilly MacMillan has earned a place on my must read list. After the last few lackluster mysteries it was a pleasure to tuck into a book that I couldn’t put down. I like a book with lots of twists and revelations.

The story takes place in an old English estate.  Seven year old Jocelyn Holt was a little girl when her beloved nanny Hannah Burgess up and disappeared.  The little girl was devastated as she seemed to love her more than her own mother, Lady Virginia Holt.

What happened to Hannah Burgess?

Thirty years pass and Jocelyn, now called Jo,  returns to the Holt estate due to financial difficulties after her husband dies.  She brings her young daughter Ruby along and while she struggled with a relationship with her estranged mother, she has no choice but to live there. She can’t understand the warm connection Ruby has to her mother Virginia.

One day Ruby and Jo take a kayak out on Lake Hall and drift toward an island.  Ruby discovers a skull near the shoreline and we are on our way to an interesting mystery.  Could it be Jo’s nanny Hannah who disappeared in the late 198o’s?  It all wraps up nicely but you’ll be in for quite a few surprises.  You will simultaneously dislike and feel very sorry for Virginia Holt as her character develops.

This is a dysfunctional family but it’s due to outside influences, in my opinion. Great read, lots of intrigue and I will certainly be looking for more of MacMillan’s novels.

Much thanks to LibraryThing for this advanced copy of the book.  Grab a copy when it comes out September 10, 2019.

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The Night Olivia Fell by Christina 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.

Beyond the Moon by Catherine Taylor

beyond The book description appealed to 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.

Most of the setting is in England but there are chapters in France as well.

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 and romance.  I’m not much of romance reader but I certainly don’t mind the romantic interest to arise in the story line.  I just don’t want it to be the main focus.

Much thanks to Netgalley. This book was published June 25, 2019. Opinions are mine and I was not compensated.   More about Catherine Taylor HERE.

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The Family Upstairs & To the Lions

I was a little behind in my reading last month but I am getting back on track with two selections I received from NetGalley.

the-family-upstairs-9781501190100_lgFirst 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.

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.

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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.

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

Links for more on Gabrielle Hamilton:
Prune
Ode To Joy: A Trip to Alda’s Kitchen
Star Chef’s Article

Linking up with Cook the Books hosted by Simona Beth Fish Reads Weekend Cooking series and Heather for July Foodie Reads. 

cookthebooks    2019 Foodies Read