Hello and Goodbye

Hello all. I have enjoyed writing on this blog for years but I am considering, strongly considering, moving to new hosting site. Starting anew elsewhere has been on my mind.

The new editor and format on WordPress drives me crazy. Maybe I’m too thick to negotiate it but it’s just so frustrating. I write here at Novel Meals for fun and because I love doing book reviews and chatting with likeminded folks. When it was no longer fun I had to evaluate if I’d like to continue.

I will be finishing up any obligations I have for NetGalley and other social events. Plus I have a few posts scheduled coming up, things I set up earlier.

Thanks to all the nice people who have made comments and to 412 people who follow me here!

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson

The beginning of this book starts with an excerpt of a poem by Dorothea Mackeller:
I love a Sunburnt Country,  A land of sweeping plains,  Of ragged mountain ranges,  Of droughts and flooding plains.

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Bill Bryson is an entertaining, witty author of nonfiction books.  In my longing for travel I read about other countries.  Armchair traveling.  That works right now.  I have a few of his other books on the to-read shelf.

Stories I liked: There was a landowner, Thomas Austin  who released 24 wild rabbits to hunt. Those rabbits bred, naturally, causing a devastating  effect on the country, eating their way through everything. The history of how two dozen rabbits became 3 million and what carnage they caused was incredible.

Reading about the Aboriginal artwork was interesting to me as well. “Imagine if there were some people in France who could take you to the caves in Lascaux and explain in detail the significance of the paintings.  Why the bison was bolting from the the herd, what the three wavy lines mean – because it was as fresh and sensible to them as if it were done yesterday. Well, Aboriginals can do that.  It is an unparallelled achievement, scarely appreciated.  That is worth a mention here.

I liked reading about the Aboriginal art but was saddened to read about their treatment hundreds of years ago as well as this century.

Creatures! The many toxic poisonous creatures that live in Australia gobsmacked me.  All in one place on earth, how did they develop such dangerous levels of venom?! Also, the saltwater crocodile stories were very interesting.


Stories that could have been cut short:  At the one third mark in this narrative I found his comedic writing amusing but could tell I wasn’t going to get the history lesson I desired. The side stories of his escapades such as running from dogs he never saw and a long winded explanation of how all dogs universally  despise him went on a bit long.

The explanation of cricket was meant to be funny but it wore thin fast.  It would have been interesting to read how they actually played the game.

Overall it was a good book and kept my interest for most of the 305 pages.  I had previously enjoyed his book about England, Notes from a Small Island, tempered with reservations about his behavior there.   

Would I read more by Bryson?  Yes, I have a few books planned for camping trips and will leave them for others at the campground library. 

Top Ten Tuesday – books that should be adapted to Netflix/Movies

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The theme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl is about books you’d like to see adapted to movies or Netflix series.  Join in – it’s fun to see what others are reading and watching.

Individual books I’ve read and would love to see as stand alone movies would include the following……….

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett:

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The narrator and perspective are told from Danny Conway’s point of view over a 50 year period. I was engaged with the dialogue from the beginning. This would need to be more than one movie so you could see character development as they age.

“Do you think it’s possible to ever see the past as it actually was?” I asked my sister Maeve as she stared at the Dutch house. “But we overlay the present onto the past. We look back through the lens of what we know now, so we’re not seeing it as the people we were, we’re seeing as the people we are, and that means the past has been radically altered.”

The Silence by Susan Allott.

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I’d preorder this movie if it was available, it isn’t actually a movie...yet!  The tensions, the realistic dialogue and the characters are very appealing.  There is mystery, crime and it’s happening in Australia with a touch of damp England tossed in.  I look forward to more her books – please write another, Ms. Allott!

The Lost Man by Jane Harper: 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?

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The House we Grew up In by Lisa Jewell

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The house in question here is a lovely place in the Cotswolds, home of the Bird family. Colin and Lorelei Bird have four children. Megan, Bethann, Rory and Rhys. We journey through their lives and the drama unfolds over the years. We meet the children when they are small and by the end of the book they are middle aged.

This book addresses the mental illness of a hoarder and what it does to a family. It was distressing to watch Lorelei at times; I felt such empathy for Megan and Bethann and developed a dislike of Megan’s partner Bill after a bit. Rory was a product of his environment and Rhys….I won’t spoil that part because it’s integral to the way everyone’s lives play out.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

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I could see how a 4 month hostage situation with “kindly” kidnappers could evolve into some unlikely relationships. These people weren’t killers, completely unorganized as well, so as the time stretched on privileges for the hostages were allowed.

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For a series, well I am usually behind in discovering a book series and when I do, it’s likely been broadcast already. I am thinking of Outlander (which I wasn’t crazy about on DVD but loved the books) and DI Vera Stanhope by Anne Cleeves – that one is already on DVD. I have not seen it yet.

The Australian series of books I read, twelve in the entire series, would be epic for a Netflix show. We could watch the characters and families over generations.

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That’s all I have for now. Not ten but seven, unless you coulnt all tweleve of the Australian series.   Looking forward to seeing what other participants’ of TT come up with.  I am always getting new ideas from bookish friends.

One in Three by Tess Stimson

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I am in the minority here about this book.  We start off with a tense scene, two women in a hotel room with a dead man between them.  One woman is injured and covered in blood. Which one killed the man on the floor?

After that I was confused as there were so many characters introduced at once.  I was having trouble keeping them straight such as which one was Andrew’s daughter or who was related to the other characters.

Louise is the ex-wife of Andrew Page and Caz is the current wife.  There are tensions between the two even as they try and play nicely with the relationships. The interviews at the police station reveal more about each woman’s personality and you start to get a picture of their lives and how Andrew played them both.  I developed some empathy for characters I previously disliked as the story continued.

I would try another book by this author but I wasn’t over the moon in love with this one.  Again, I am i the minority after seeing reviews.

Thanks to NetGalley for the complimentary copy of this book.  This book was published by Avon books UK on July 9, 2020.

When We Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal

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When I read this description on the jacket of the book  I was instantly hooked before I started it:

“Her sister has been dead for fifteen years when she sees her on the TV news…
Josie Bianci was killed years ago on a train during a terrorist attack. Gone forever. It’s what her sister, Kit, an ER doctor in Santa Cruz, has always believed. Yet all it takes is a few heart-wrenching seconds to upend Kit’s world. Live coverage of a club fire in Auckland has captured the image of a woman stumbling through the smoke and debris. ”

Our main characters are Kit and Josie Bianci.  Josie supposedly died in a terrorist attack on a train in Europe.  Her younger sister Kit accepted that after much searching. Fifteen  years later Josie’s face is clearly captured by a news crew while covering a club fire in Auckland. She had a distinguishing scar across her forehead from an injury during an  earthquake in San Francisco when she was 15 years old so, it’s definitely her.

Kit’s mother asks her to go to New Zealand and search for Josie. The story goes back and forth between Kit and Josie’s memories of each other, growing up and how awfully negligent their parents were when they were young. Through the back and forth, memories from 1967 and present day 1997, you get an idea of how they were shaped and their devotion to one another. It’s a very detailed book with wonderfully descriptive writing.

As you can guess, without this being a true spoiler, Josie has another life now. You start up with her story in New Zealand and learn about this amazing place called Sapphire House.

The Sapphire House is described in vivid detail. The former home of  movie star Veronica Parker, tragically murdered in her twenties. Veronica’s sister Helen lived in the house after the murder, keeping much of it as if it were a museum with the original furnishings, paintings and books. It wasn’t a dusty old place though, it had been kept immaculately clean.

Journey to the southern hemisphere and immerse yourself in the food, climate and unfolding story of the Bianci siblings. I found myself reading this any chance I had to pick it up.   Laced with betrayal and secrets, I was hooked and would like to find more by this author.

Note:  There were a few things I did not care for and think it could have been just as good a story with the absence of such.  On Goodreads I can employ the Spoiler mode but I haven’t figured out how to do that here so…those observations will be on Goodreads.

If you like seeing food pop into a story this one may be for you. The Bianca parents owned a restaurant so this book is filled with delectable dishes, inspiring me to head to the kitchen and get busy.

Green pepper and onion omelette
Blueberry muffins
feijoas
Swordfish rolls, stuffed artichokes, arancini
Wine, antipasti of mozzarella, curls of salami, a tumble of olives and fresh tomatoes with flatbread. Gnocchi With peas and mushrooms.

Stuffed squid, pasta with bread and herby olive oil.
Roasted Padrón pepper and stuffed olives with bread
Vermicelli alla Siracusana ( eggplant, red peppers, olives, Parmesan with preserved lemon
Cauliflower salad and chocolate cake
Roast chicken with vegetables, carrots studded with feta, tomato salad, rice with lentils

Brik– egg, tuna and preserved lemon with harissa in pastry

I intended to start with the eggplant dish but I didn’t get an eggplant in time.  The gnocchi was defininitly gettibg made as it would be an easy one to take camping in the future, so I gave that a dry run. Oh my.  If you like gnocchi you might want this one. Recipe may be viewed at Babaganosh. Next time I make this I want to add loads more mushrooms and peas.

Much thanks to my friend Stacy who kindly sent me this book. Sharing with Marg at The Intrepid Reader for Weekend Cooking.

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The Silence by Susan Allott

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You will experience the severe stifling heat of Australia and a bit of damp, cloudy England in this novel.

The characters are very real, the dialogue rings true with marital problems, tensions of a horrible job, unrealistic expectations and secrets.  Sounds like a bummer but you will love and hate on the characters and want to know what happened in their lives.

The story shifts from 1967 to 1997, back and forth.  The main narrator is Isla Green.  She is 6 years old in 1967 and loves living in her Australian home.  She adores her father. She thought everyone had a house with a backyard stretching to the ocean. Her parents are Joe and Louisa Green, both English but have moved to Australia to start a new life.  Trouble is,  Louisa doesn’t love it.  She misses England and hates the heat but I suspect her biggest problem is an alcoholic husband.

Next door are Mandy and Steve Mallory.  Isla spends quite a bit of time with Mandy and loves her.  Steve wants Mandy to get pregnant but both parties have different ideas about their future together. Steve has a horrible job as a policeman who removes aboriginal children from their families, placing them at The Home where they will be fostered and eventully learn a trade.

In 1967 women didn’t have joint accounts at the bank and have access to their husband’s  earnings. It was a different world and this makes it harder for Louisa and Mandy to make life altering decisions.

Be prepared to read this one straight through. Would I buy more by this author?  Oh, absolutely.  This is Allott’s first novel and I will preorder her next publication as soon as it’s an option.

The genre is mystery, thriller, suspense and crime drama. Please read the author’s note at the end of the book. She details how the novel came about as well as her educational reading about Britain’s relationship with Australia and the colonial past.

Thinking of Steve Mallory’s police duties I would suggest watching the film Rabbit Proof Fence. It’s worthwhile.  It details a dark time when Aboriginal children were forcibly removed from their families to be trained and educated, placed in horific foster care and made servants.  But in Rabbit Proof Fence two sisters escape.

Food: There wasn’t too much in the way of food mentioned, and I am always mindful of foodie stuff in my reading, but there was a scene where Mandy made a stew for Steve.  She heaped a bowl with some savory stew and Steve told her it was delicious. When she went outsdie to escape for a moment she saw him getting another helping.  So, I made a batch of chicken and dumplings.  So good, hard to not get seconds.  The slow cooker recipe is on Squirrel Head Manor.

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Susan Allott is a British author who lived and worked in Sydney, Australia, in the late nineties. She now lives in London with her children and very Australian husband.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday

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Darkest Night by Jenny O’Brien

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Christine De Bertrand is a divorced  woman and stays in most nights.  She’s a teacher and homebody but on her birthday her friends manage to drag her out for a fun evening of celebration. She has a very uncharacteristic evening of excessive drinking, partying and brings home a stranger for the night.

This is a first for her and when she awakens to the seemingly sleeping body next to her, she flees the bed to get meds for the massive headache and makes coffee. She’s in for a surprise when she returns to the bedroom, hoping to gently roust the dark haired man from her pub night.  There will be at least one homicide in the DC Gabriella Darin series so you can probably guess Christine will be a suspect for murder. Then the other characters are introduced and the pool of suspects gets a little larger.

We are taken to Wales via Jenny O’Brien’s latest book in the Gabriella Darin series.  I am enjoying this series and happy to know there are more books planned.  This is book 2 and we are following DC Gaby Darin in her personal life and career path with a Welsh police agency.

“North Wales was stunning with its stretches of golden beaches, incomparbale lush fields abd hills coated in green.”

A character I am hoping will be developed is Medical Examiner Rusty Mullholland.  She’s gruff and yet appealing.

Foodie stuff:

A full English with toast and marmalade on the side.
Soup and bread
a dinner party with fillet of salmon and homemade Pavlova
Vegetable lasagna and wine
A big bowl of carb filled pasta
Sun dried tomato and basil drenched fettucine

All that pasta had me craving a bowl with sun dried tomatoes and goat cheese.  Pure comfort food. Get the recipe from Food Network HERE.

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Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced complimentary copy. I was not compensated for this review and throughly enjoyed this book. Publication date was July 17, 2020. Genre is fiction, mystery and thriller.

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday

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Top Ten Tuesday – Books with Color in the Titles

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The theme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl is about books with color in the titles.  Join in – it’s fun to see what others are reading.

My introduction to Ann Cleeves was through the Shetland series.  I have yet to complete that one as I have been devouring her Vera series.  Here are two with color in the title.

Black Raven by Ann Cleeves.  Book one in the Shetland series
White Nights by Ann Cleeves. Book two in the Shetland series

Scarlett Feather, Lilac Bus and The Copper Beach by Maeve Binchy.  I have read all of her books and she always delivers a story that transports me to Ireland.  Gentle reading, nothing horrific in her prose.

Next up is a non fiction that I felt was way better than the televison series.   Orange is the New Black by Piper Kerman The book bears little resemblence to the show.  It’s a good nonfiction if you have an interest.

Crimson Snow edited by Marion Edwards is a collection of short stories, all set in winter.
Blue Monday by Nicci French. Book one in the Frieda Klein series. I started with book 6 I think. I really need to pay better attention to which books precede in a series!

That’s all I have this week. It was a hurried sort of gathering but I just can’t seem to resist the Top Ten posts.  Fun stuff to do during what seems like an eternal lockdown.

I have some good books to post about upcoming.  A friend sent me We Believe in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neil and I am just finishing up The Darkest Night by Jenny O’Brien. This is a series new to me aboout Welsh policewoman DC Garbriella Darin. I like it so far.

Also, I did just finish up The Silence by Susan Allott and I can say it’s one of the best books I have read this year.

I hope everyone is well and staying out of trouble!

Wartime with the Cornish Girls By Betty Walker

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The setting is 1941 in London during the Blitz. I was anxious to get to the Cornwall setting but this takes a few chapters. We met three very brave  women who come from different backgrounds.

Violet lives in London and helps at her mother’s shop selling sandwiches and cakes. Her father is dead, her sister was recently killed in an air raid bombing and her brother-in-law is a soldier missing in action. As his mother was German there are insinuations he was a spy.  Cheery stuff here. Violet moves her nieces to Cornwall as it’s safer and goes to work at an air base.

Eva is a showgirl in London. She meets an American airman and there is some romantic interest there, then the club where she is performing is bombed during  a strike. She awakens in the hospital and after recovery she moves to Porthcurno Cornwall to work at an air base using her knowledge of Morse code to help with the war effort. ( there’s a backstory to this development )

Hazel is a local woman who already lives in Cornwall and works at the air base. She is married and her abusive husband is deployed during the war. He gets home on leave occassionally and is most assuredly not a model husband. Not a bad man, just not a good husband.

I thought it was a slow start but found it more enjoyable once the three main characters  met up at work. I liked the friendships formed and the Cornish setting. Normally I like an edgier plot and action but this is a nice “beach read” type of book. If you are looking to escape the horrors of the news right now you may enjoy this book.  Nothing objectionable here.

Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced complimentary copy. I was not compensated for this review and throughly enjoyed this book. Publication by Avon Books UK is February 18, 2021. Genre is historical fiction/womens fiction.

Betty Walker lives in Cornwall and is a prolific writer.

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Hidden Depths and Silent Voices by Ann Cleeves {#3 and #4 in the Vera series}

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I have been hooked on this series since the start.  I did manage to start with the first book in the series this time.  Seems my nontraditional way of moving through a series is starting with book three or so.

What I like about this series is the main character isn’t a polished, slender buxom know-it-all. You know the type, the super hero femme fatale detectives.   No, Vera Stanhope is very bright but also damaged.  Once you get into the books you’ll know her father Hector did a number on her.  Her mother died when Vera was a child and Hector was an awful father figure.  Dragging her off to the wilds for illegal harvesting of rare bird eggs, drinking to excess and leaving her to fend for herself,  putting her down in regard to her looks and clumsiness.  It’s a wonder she shaped up to be a such an outwardly strong character.

Beneath that hard shell she has her unguarded vulnerable emotions. They rarely make an appearance but you’ll glimpse that repressed soft side.  She looks wistfully at families, at a mother pulling her daughter tightly to her in a loving embrace.  And then she shakes it off and has a drink, doesn’t allow herself to wallow in what may have been.  But I didn’t mean to start with a  disection of Vera’s psychological baggage.

Book 3 – Hidden Depths.  Julie Armstrong comes home from a well deserved night out with friends and finds her teen son Luke dead in the bathtub.  He’s been murdered,  placed him in the bath with floral bath oils and delicate flowers. Obviously Vera and her team arrive to investigate.  Then another body is found in the same stylized manner.  A beautiful young teacher is discovered in a rock pool, floating in the water with flowers surrounding her body.  Serial killer or a copy cat killer? Enough twists in this one that I would have bet money on one particlar person as the killer but – I was completely off mark.  That’s fun for me as a reader.

Book 4 – Silent Voices. If you didn’t love Vera’s right hand man Sgt. Joe Ashworth before,  this story will cinch it.   I hope Joe remains in all the upcoming books.  Vera keeps it a secret that she has joined a health club as she doesn’t want to be ribbed at work.  She is a large clumsy woman and after a warning from her doctor about her weight, she takes to swimming.

As she enters the sauna room one morning she sees a woman slumped over.  Jenny Lister, social worker and model citizen, was strangled.  Of course we get another murder case in this book and Vera’s team works feverishly to find the links in the two cases.  We meet some interesting characters in this book and I couldn’t put it down.

Taking a Vera Stanhope break just now as book #5 (The Glass Room) has a wait list at the library.  I won’t be able to finish it before the due date so I will give other patrons their chance.  That will teach me to check out too many at once. Maybe.

I still have a few good books given to me via NetGalley so while I won’t be in lovely Northumbria England, I will be visiting Cornwall and Wales next.  Via books of course 🙂

Sharing with Joy for British Isles Friday

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