The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton {Aussie Book Challenge}

morton
In this epic book by Australian author Kate Morton we are transported back and forth from present day (2011) to WW II London as two stories merge. Laurel Nicholson is a very successful English actress and she is our main narrator.

We open with Laurel in the year 1961. She is a teenager, daydreaming about escaping her life in the English countryside. She sits in a tree house thinking about her boyfriend while the festivities for a birthday party are starting to get underway. Laurel is the oldest with three younger sisters and one little brother, Gerry. Their mother Dorothy is a wonderful woman., a loving mother and creative storyteller. It’s Gerry’s second birthday party and the family tradition is to cut the cake with a very special knife, red ribbon attached.

From her tree house perch Laurel sees her mother walk toward the house, little Gerry balanced on her hip, as she retrieves the special birthday cake knife. She also notices a man walking up to their rural home, an unusual thing as they don’t get many visitors. As he approaches Dorothy she witnesses her mother look fearful, place the baby behind her in the gravel path, as the man greets her by name. “Hello Dorothy….” Her mother then lifts the knife and plunges it into the man’s chest without any hesitation.

Gerry remains on the ground wailing. Laurel is naturally shocked. No one else sees what happened. The police are called and it’s determined the man was a tramp who had been bothering picnickers recently, clearly a dangerous fellow. But Laurel knows there is more to it as the man addressed her mother by name.

2011: All the siblings, now grown and middle aged plus, gather at their childhood home for their mother’s 90th birthday. It will clearly be the last one as Dorothy is dying. Laurel knows this will be the only opportunity to discover what happened with her mother and the man she killed so many years ago. Dorothy had asked for an old book to be retrieved so she could look at it and within is an old photograph tucked away. The photo depicts two beautiful young women with the inscription Dorothy and Vivian, something that clearly agitates elderly Dorothy. No one has ever heard her speak of a woman named Vivian so there is another mystery. As she gets her mother talking Laurel is given bits of information to research and discover who her mother was and what her life was like before. She’s in for a surprise.

Dorothy’s story is told from multiple perspectives during the WW II era in London. We are introduced to Jimmy Metcalfe and Vivian Jenkins, key characters in this vividly painted story.

The last 20 or so pages bring all the mysteries into play and it’s a very cool ending ( In my opinion). I love Kate Morton books and have read The House at Riverton, The Lake House and The Forgotten Garden. All wonderful stories with mystery throughout and a twisty endings. I love being transported to other countries as it’s armchair traveling for me at this time.

Linking up with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday series as this book was partially set in England.  Also, this is the last book for my Aussie Reader’s Challenge and I hope to join in again next year and discover more Australian authors. I completed the Wallaby level.

For the challenge I have read:

The Dry by Jane Harper
The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles
The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton

BriFri     aussieauthor

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The Boy at the Keyhole by Stephen Giles

keyhole

This is a physiological drama told from the point of view of a nine-year old boy. It’s a unique perspective to see young Samuel Clay’s view of his world, one where his mother Margot has been away for more than 100 days.

He receives no phone calls, no telegrams or packages. The only thing he waits for are the few postcards his mother sends from her travels across the United States and of course, his hope of her return. Samuel lives alone in a large estate in Surrey England with only the housekeeper, Ruth, to attend to his needs.

Samuel tracks his mother’s travels using an atlas and pins when he receives a postcard. Being a person who loves maps, it’s particularly enjoyable to read about the atlas and Samuel putting colored pins in Boston, San Francisco, London, Bath and Penzance.

Samuel’s father died a few years ago and the dire financial state of affairs prompted Margot Clay to go “fund raising” across the country and the USA to raise money. She left in the middle of the night without saying goodbye to her son. Ruth takes care of Samuel by cooking and cleaning. You suspect Ruth in the beginning of withholding information from the boy.

As you read the story from a nine-year old’s point of view, the adult reader can see and understand some of the reality of the situation. An example of that is when Samuel sneaks into his mother’s room and steals letters his mother had written to her husband.

You get the idea that Margo Clay had been in an institution or some home. Samuel remembered that from a remark by his father about Margot being away in bath where there would be peace and quiet. She evidently wasn’t suited to domestic life. In a letter from Margot to Samuel’s father she implores him not to bring he boy next time he visits as his arms around her make her feel as if she is sinking in the water. Not everyone is suited to be parent. When Ruth catches the boy in his mother’s room she berates him and tells him he should be ashamed snooping around.

Ruth didn’t understand that he was only trying to be near his mother, she was a creature in orbit and the one way he could feel close to her was to linger in the traces she left behind.

Ruth is really a piece of work – alternately making his favorite meals, asking about homework then berating him and being mentally abusive. The ending wasn’t what I thought might happen, quite a surprise actually. Can’t say I didn’t have questions about that and since they will be spoilers, I won’t talk about it here.  Goodreads has a spoiler feature so I will add my thoughts about that there.

I always notice the foodie parts in a book. Here are the offerings:

Shortbread, cake, freshly baked bread, roast beef and potatoes with peas, mince pie, eggs and sausages, roasted chicken and potatoes, roasted lamb, roast rabbit and chestnut stuffing, tea cakes and lemon tarts.

As I love making bread, the baguettes seemed a good option.

bread

Baguettes

1 cup water
2 1/2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons bread machine yeast
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon water

Directions

brush over tops of loaves.

Bake for 20 to 25 minutes in the preheaPlace 1 cup water, bread flour, sugar, salt and yeast into bread machine pan in the order recommended by manufacturer. Select Dough cycle, and press Start.

When the cycle has completed, place dough in a greased bowl, turning to coat all sides. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes, or until doubled in bulk. Dough is ready if indentation remains when touched.

Punch down dough. On a lightly floured surface, roll into a 16×12 inch rectangle. Cut dough in half, creating two 8×12 inch rectangles. Roll up each half of dough tightly, beginning at 12 inch side, pounding out any air bubbles as you go. Roll gently back and forth to taper end. Place 3 inches apart on a greased cookie sheet. Make deep diagonal slashes across loaves every 2 inches, or make one lengthwise slash on each loaf. Cover, and let rise in a warm place for 30 to 40 minutes, or until doubled in bulk.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). Mix egg yolk with 1 tablespoon water; Brush the dough, bake 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Much Thanks to Netgalley for this book.  All opinions are my own and I was not compensated for the review.

Sharing with:

Joy for British Isles Friday as the setting is England.
Heather at Based on a True Story for August Foodies Read
Booklover’s Aussie Author Challenge

 

Force of Nature by Jane Harper

force“When five colleagues are forced to go on a corporate retreat in the wilderness, they reluctantly pick up their backpacks and start walking down the muddy path.
But one of the women doesn’t come out of the woods. And each of her companions tells a slightly different story about what happened.”(From the book jacket)
The men and women are separated and they are meant to come of the wilderness at the same meet up point. This is supposed to be a team-building event with the Bailey’s company and I can say for sure, I’m certainly glad I have never been forced to participate in such an exercise. The women are so very different from one another, some with secrets and some vying for the alpha role once they are lost.

Later, the four remaining women could fully agree on only two things. One: No one saw the bushland swallow up Alice Russell. And two: Alice had a mean streak so sharp it could cut you.”

Alice was a real can of worms. I did not have this figured out early at all so this was quite a good read for me.  On their own in the bushland it’s easy to panic. “It’s the panic that gets you. Makes it hard to trust what you’re seeing.

The weather plays a big part in this story. It’s freezing cold, it rains, it makes it miserable for search parties looking for Alice. The isolation the women feel is clearly conveyed as you read about their part of the story.

Jill sometimes thought that in another time and place, she and Alice might have been friends. At other times, she thought not. Being around Alice was like owning an aggressive breed of dog. Loyal when it suited, but you had to stay on your toes.”

Food and wine weren’t mentioned much but there was this:
Beef stew made by the campfire. “A kookaburra perched nearby, watching Beth with her black eyes. Beth picked up a strip of beef from one of the abandoned packets and tossed it toward the bird, who scooped it up with the tip of her beak.”
I didn’t know they ate meat!

Aaron made dinner for Carmen. Spaghetti Bolognese and red wine. Sauce was from scratch too. So I had thought of making the spaghetti dish but we had Linguine Pompeii so, that’s the representative dish.

pom3

This is the second book in the series starring Federal Agent Aaron Falk and I sincerely hope there will be many more stories to follow. He’s a law enforcement with the specialty in financial crimes.

He used to be SWAT, a bad ass cop who busted in and arrested the bad guys. One time his team went in and a malnourished old man was sitting in a tattered chair. There was graffiti on his walls, there was a drug kitchen set up and thugs living in his home. The man thought one of the criminals was his grandson. Dementia was setting in and these guys took full advantage of it.  Aaron realized later all this could have been caught with a look at his financial records, bank statements and charges.

It goes way beyond that too – follow the money trail and you find more than small drug operations. Prostitution, pornography, large scale drug operations. Follow the money. Falk was following up on contracts Alice was meant to get from the company.

I liked The Dry better than this one but I will happily read another starring Federal Agent Falk.

Linking with Heather at Spirit Blog for the July Foodie Reads

The Dry by Jane Harper

harper

The Dry.  It starts with a funeral and a mystery of how Aaron Falk is connected to the deceased.  Three coffins are displayed in the front of the church.  Lying dead is Aaron’s friend Luke along with Luke’s wife and young son, Karen and Billy.   Luke and his family were murdered and it looks like it was murder-suicide.  Luke was found with half his head blown off, his shotgun next to him in his truck.  His wife and son were also shot but the baby, Charlotte, was left untouched. Is this situation what it appears or is there another explanation and motive?

As Aaron Falk stands against the wall in the church, some of the close knit community give him hard looks and I’m immediately hooked to know the backstory. Aaron is now a federal police officer, one who investigates financial crimes.  Aaron and his father were basically run out of the community almost 20 years ago as it was suspected one (or both) had something to do with a young woman’s death.

Aaron didn’t come back just to pay respects to his friend but because Luke’s father summoned him with a message. “Luke lied. You lied.” This is in reference to their alibi the day Ellie Deacon was found dead.

So you see, there are two stories intertwined in this mystery.  Luke and his family and young Ellie Deacon.  Aaron Falk was meant to stay only 24 hours, enough time to see his friend buried and head back to Melbourne but Luke’s father implores him to look into his son’s suicide and murder. Even though 20 years have passed since Ellie was found dead it seems as if it happened only a week ago, as far as some townspeople are concerned.  These mysteries dovetail into a satisfying end, in my opinion.  I’m a big fan of series so I will add this to the series I plan to immerse myself into this coming year.

The writing was very detailed, I could immerse myself into the story and see what was being described.  The author painted a picture of the harsh environment and climate, the relationships both warm and those tense.  So many passages I liked in this book.

“City people wanted to move to the country but weren’t prepared to look out and not see another soul between them and the horizon.”

“He could understand them seeking out the idyllic country life style; a lot of people did.  The idea had an enticing wholesome glow when it was considered from the back of a traffic jam or while crowed into a gardenless apartment.  They all had the same visions of breathing fresh., clean air and knowing their neighbors. The kids would eat homegrown veggies and learn the value of an honest day’s work.

But on arrival, as the empty moving truck disappears, they gazed around and were always taken aback by the crushing vastness of the open land.  The space was the thing that hit them first, there was so much of it.”

Very little food offerings but it wasn’t that sort of book.  I did note sparkling wine and a lamb casserole.  Rita, the policeman’s wife, prepared a feast for Aaron Falk and her husband.  “A rich concoction of tomatoes and eggplant and spicy sausage washed down with a decent Shiraz.”
PastaEggplant1

Eggplant and Penne

Ingredients
4 1/2 cups cubed peeled eggplant
1/2 pound bulk pork breakfast sausage OR TVP ( Textured Vegetable Protein, like mince)
4 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, undrained
6 cups hot cooked penne (about 10 ounces uncooked tube-shaped pasta)
1/2 cup (2 ounces) crumbled feta cheese
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preparation

Cook eggplant, sausage, and garlic in a large skillet over medium-high heat 5 minutes or until sausage is browned and eggplant is tender. Add tomato paste and the next 3 ingredients (through tomatoes); cook over medium heat 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Place pasta in a large bowl.   Add tomato mixture, cheese, and parsley; toss well.

This is my first book completed for the Aussie Author Challenge. It satisfies the category of both female author and new author, but I have plans for another new author very soon.

Also linking up with Girlxoxo for the Monthly Motif Travel the World and Heather for the March Foodies Read 2018.

Aussie Author Challenge 2018

Years back I was on a kick reading just about anything I could about Australia.  I read travel guides, novels set in Australia, non fiction from Aussie authors….I couldn’t get enough. This was before the internet made it’s way in our home so it was all a personal agenda, no challenges to sign up for.

Jo at Booklover Book Reviews is hosting a book challenge which is right up my alley. I will start slowly and sign up for the Wallaby level.

WALLABY
Read and review 3 titles written by Australian authors, of which at least 1 of those authors are female, at least 1 of those authors are male, and at least 1 of those authors are new to you; Fiction or non-fiction, any genre.

My planned books are The Dry by Jane Harper, The Secret Keeper by Kate Morton and The Daughters of Mars by Thomas Keneally.

 

As it often is with well laid plans, this list could change or I may read more books than intended. I still plan to read an occasional book from my BBC Culture Books Project (see tab at the top) but that will be an ongoing project, something I will work on here and there.

If the Aussie Author Challenge is something you think you would enjoy it’s certainly not too late to sign up.  Check out the signup HERE.

AussieAuthor