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

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The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cumming

Moroccan

 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

Turbulence by David Szalay

turbulanceThe description of this book captured my attention.  I quote from Netgalley on the premise of this book Turbulence.

In this wondrous, profoundly moving novel, Szalay’s diverse protagonists circumnavigate the planet in twelve flights, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers or estranged siblings, aging parents, baby grandchildren, or nobody at all. Along the way, they experience the full range of human emotions from loneliness to love and, knowingly or otherwise, change each other in one brief, electrifying interaction after the next.

Maybe I’m thick but I didn’t see the connection with interactions of people on each flight.  Clearly the airlines and flights are the focus and each character is supposed to be touched by a person they meet in flight, or about to take a flight. Each mini story is separated by airport codes.

The first story was fairly easy to connect, as was a pilot hooking up with a journalist.  The stories are very short, not a properly long novel at all which is what I was expecting.  You didn’t have a chance to get to know the characters very well therefore I couldn’t sympathize with them.

When I opened this book on my Kindle the time at the bottom stated one hour and thirty minutes to the end of the book.  Easy to read but I couldn’t engage with any of the characters.  Not enough development.

This is a short review for a short book. Some people found this very engaging; I did not. It was touted as “written with magic and economy” and I can say they got the economy correctly described.

Much thanks to NetGalley for the advance copy of this book.  It was worth a try! Opinions are all mine and I was clearly not compensated for the review.NetGalley

 

White Nights by Ann Cleeves

white nights

White Nights is book two in the Shetland series by Ann Cleeves. I am late getting acquainted with this series; this second book was published in 2010. The good news there is I can jump into the next story without the laboriously long wait for the author to release the latest book. Sometimes it’s nice to discover a series that’s been out a while. White Nights refers to the long period of daylight in the Shetland islands.

Our main detective character Jimmy Perez has a starring role again. Book one left it in the air whether he was staying on the island or returning to his childhood home. I haven’t seen the television series but have seen the comparisons about the books vs TV. Seems, as always, they are different. There are quite a few characters to keep up with in the book but it isn’t confusing, unless you stop reading for a bit and then go try and pick it up again. Having been ill recently, that’s what I did and had to reread the previous two chapters.

The characters are likable but I’d push Perez to be more animated. He does an awful lot of ruminating over what he should have done in regard to Fran, his love interest. As for the investigative role he’s spot on.

The book starts with a person in clown mask, handing out flyers to locals and tourists from a cruise ship.  I don’t like clowns but that didn’t put me off.   then we move to an evening at artist Bella Sinclair’s manse featuring a famous musician (Bella’s nephew) and artist Fran Hunter. They are displaying their work and hoping for sales and recognition.

It’s not a great turnout, being as clown boy sabotaged the evening by handing out flyers stating the show was canceled. Mystery number one there. During the exhibition, an Englishman staring at a portrait suddenly drops to his knees and starts crying. Perez is at the exhibition with Fran, uncomfortably mingling as a guest and not there in his professional capacity as a police officer. Now he feels the need to get the crying man and see if he needs medical attention.

What a drag for Perez, he just wants to enjoy the evening. The Englishman has no identification and claims amnesia. That’s mystery number two. While Perez is checking with other guests to see who he may have arrived with or if anyone knows him, the memory- loss Englishman disappears. Flip another chapter and he’s found hanging, an apparent suicide.

Or is it?!

We have another death then some old bones discovered in a cave near the cliffs (mysteries three and four!) The bodies are certainly piling up in this small island setting. Sometimes the story moved too slowly, my opinion, yet I wasn’t tempted to toss the book aside. It’s the flavor of the setting, a slower lifestyle and thoughtful conversations. There are only seven books in the series so I aim to finish the Shetland series this year. Maybe I will then check out the DVDs.

This book is categorized as a mystery and thriller. More mystery, not so much a thriller.

AjaWhiteNights

Sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday event

BriFri 

The Flight of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey

gemmaThe reviews for this book are all over the place.  Some think it’s a pale, boring retelling of Jane Eyre while other readers loved it.   The comparison isn’t only about Gemma and Jane Eyre, our author was also without a mother at age nine and grew up lonely in Scotland, as Gemma did,  reading Jane Eyre from her own father’s library.  Obviously her experiences were quite different.

The old adage imitation is the sincerest form of flattery holds true for me, at least with this book.  Wuthering Heights is retold in a contemporary setting in Solsbury Hill by Susan Wyler (very popular modernized version with all the heartache you’d expect) and what about Jane Smiley’s A Thousand Acres, a modern version of King Lear?  Anyway, I very much enjoyed this story.   I thought Gemma was an intelligent headstrong girl. Obviously well-educated thanks to her uncle and without formal schooling, she showed remarkable maturity and resilience.

Gemma’s life is filled with tragedy.  We are introduced to Gemma when she is 10 years old, living in her aunt’s home in Scotland.  Although she previously lived in Iceland she was born in Scotland, her mother being Scottish and her father an Icelander.  When she is young her mother dies after falling and hitting her head on a rock.  A few years later her fisherman father drowns.  She is taken in by her Uncle Charles and becomes part of the Hardy household in Scotland. She was only 3 years of age when she moved in with the Hardy family.  Then Uncle Charles died and Gemma’s place in the household changed.  This is the start of the book, how she went from family member to the status of hired help.  She was relegated to the kitchen, removed from the family dinner table, wore old, old clothes and was treated shabbily.

When the chance came to send her away to a school her aunt jumped on it.  For a smart young lady you would think this would be the ideal escape for Gemma but alas, that was jumping from the pan into the fire.  The “working girls” who did not pay tuition were basically slaves.  Cleaning, cooking, gardening and their studies came last.  It was a horrible situation.

It just seemed to be one thing after another for Gemma but she never lost her determination.  Rather than rehash this entire book I’ll say that I enjoyed reading how she overcame many obstacles and fretted for her when something overwhelming cropped up.   Oh, another thing I liked about Gemma was her quest for knowledge and her love of birds.  There was a large book in her beloved uncle’s study called Birds of the World.  She loved looking at the photos and learning where they lived in the world.  Her only friend at school noted this love of birds and gifted Gemma with a book about Scottish birds.  There are references as she points out curlews, lapwings, grebes, blackbird, curlew, jackdaw and puffins when she is working as an au pair and later as a nanny.

There were a couple of things I didn’t like in the book and rather than have spoilers here, I put those thoughts on Goodreads as there is a format for hiding them.

The setting is mostly in Glasgow,  a rural setting of Aberfeldy and the Orkney Islands.  As I note foodie items in most books I read I can say there are many mentions of food here yet it’s not a foodie book by any means.

This is an author I will most certainly seek out, Margot Livesey can paint a vivid picture.

Sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday event.

BriFri

C.B. Strike series vs Books

My husband and I both look forward to the newest books in the Cormoran Strike series so we were delighted to learn a TV series was in the works.  As usual, we had to wait for the library to get the DVDs in since we don’t have an internet feed at home.

Hands down, we enjoyed the books more.  Season 1 in the TV series, The Cuckoo’s Calling, was very good.  It pretty much followed the book and I was happy with the actors portraying Strike and Robin.

strike

Last night we started watching season 2, The Silkworm, and it was rather confusing.  Honestly, I don’t know how anyone who hasn’t read the books could keep up with what was going on in The Silkworm.  The Cuckoo’s Calling had three episodes so perhaps that made a difference.  The next two stories have only 2 episodes.  There is so much information and character development in the books that I don’t think a 2 hour television session could do them justice.

We won’t be watching Career of Evil as that was a large and detailed book, two episodes can’t possibly cover it all without a sense of confusion, in my opinion.

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Recently we finished the book Lethal White which I found to be outstanding.  That was a big fat book.  If that one airs as a separate show we may give it a watch, hoping it’s more than 2 episodes.  So much to cover there.

If anyone else has read the books and watched the series I would be interested to know what you think.

Sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for her British Isles Friday event.

BriFri

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

eleanorI had been meaning to get to this book for months after a recommendation by JoAnne of Lakeside Musing. It was a page turner for me, not a thriller or mystery as I usually read, it’s a portrait of a young woman who had evidently been through something horrific in her past.

She has no social skills or experience with everyday situations such as ordering a pizza or going to a concert.  Little clues about her looks and an unconventional and possibly violent past are hinted at early on. Her facial scars, mentions of looking at magazines in hospital waiting rooms and institutions….what happened to this woman?!

Well, it’s all revealed through bits in pieces and final crashing amount of information that makes you want to grab Eleanor and hug her.  Make her life whole, let her see there is good in the world.

Eleanor goes to work 5 days a week and the routine seems to be enough, until the weekend where she eats frozen pizza and drinks copious amounts of vodka. One day after work she is annoyed that a coworker named Raymond is walking with her.  She doesn’t socialize, she is uncomfortable. They see an older man collapsed in the street and go to assist. Very slowly her life changes from that point onward. This is a lady who never socializes, who lives from office to home to her corner market in London.  Now she is visiting someone, she even goes with Raymond to see his mother.

Everything felt safe, everything felt normal, How different Raymond’s life had been from mine – a proper family, a mother and a father and a sister, nestled among other proper families.”

There was a bit of food mentioned in this one as well as the British soap opera The Archers.

Eating her meal deal while listening to The Archers. (I tried listening to that before and for some reason stopped. I think I needed more background.)

Pesto with pasta, scallops, cod, poached duck egg and hazelnut oil. Bouillabaisse with homemade rouille. Honey glazed poussin with celeriac fondants. Fresh truffles in season, shaved over crepes and buttered linguine. Sourdough toast with Manchego cheese and quince paste.

Mummy old me the way to a man’s heart is a homemade sausage roll.”

Pizza and wine. A woman after my own heart. We love a bottle of Beaujolais and pizza for movie night, In this instance Eleanor wasn’t able to procure her frozen pizza and had one delivered. Something she had never done before.
Cheese and pickle sandwiches, tomato soup in a mug

Raymond pushed open the back door without knocking, shouting hello as he walked into the little kitchen. It smelled deliciously of soup, salty and warm, probably emanating from the large pot on the hob.” The soup was made with pork knuckle and full of fresh vegetables from the garden. There was bread and butter and cheese.

I like this quote:  This is what I felt: the warm weight of his hands on me; the gentleness in his smile; the gentle heat of something opening, the way some flowers spread out in the morning at the sight of the sun. I knew what was happening. It was the unscarred piece of my heart. It was just big enough to let in a bit of affection. 

I’m glad I made time this year for Eleanor Oliphant.  It was a good story.

Linking up with:

Girlxoxo for the December Monthly Motif
Joy for British Isles Friday.
Heather for the December Foodies Read

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