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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Lies by T. M. Logan

liesI received a sample of this book Lies by T. M. Logan.  The  very beginning had me hooked.  Joe Lynch is driving with his son Will and the little boy spots his mother’s car, asks if they can surprise her.  Joe follows her into a hotel parking garage, heads upstairs to the lobby, and then sees his wife Melissa talking heatedly with Ben, the husband of her best friend.

Joe doesn’t want their young son to witness any unpleasantness so he heads them back to the car.  He tries to catch Melissa as she drives off but then runs into Ben and gets into an altercation.  Ben is knocked to the parking garage floor and isn’t responsive.

To make matters worse Will has gotten out of the car and sees Ben knocked out on the ground, blood seeping from his ear.  This upset causes an asthma attack and Joe has get his son medicine.  So he leaves Ben, gets the boy help, returns to the garage and Ben is gone.  So is Ben’s car.  When his wife returns home he asks her about meeting Ben but she lies and says she’s been playing tennis.  More conversation between them makes it clear she’s hiding something.

Based on that, and it was edgier than I wrote this out, I requested the book from NetGalley.  The first part of this book was great and highlighted the dangers of social media.  Joe had lost his cell phone in the struggle in the parking garage – suddenly his Facebook page has updates that he isn’t making.  Photos posted from that hotel parking garage clearly showing blood in the background.   People “liking” and commenting on the posts.

They knew where I’d been.  It was like suddenly realizing you lived in a goldfish bowl.  Both updates had been posted this evening.  I had driven out of the Premier Inn around 5:10 p.m. and both Facebook posts had followed inside the next ninety minutes.

Can’t imagine someone hacking my social media account and posting as me.

Towards the middle I felt the plot dragged a bit and wasn’t believable.  We have to suspend disbelief with some story lines but after a while, I just couldn’t do it with this story.  Joe’s reactions to the “implied evidence” his wife was cheating was very unrealistic.  I know my husband wouldn’t be as understanding and rightfully so!

Obviously you have to have a weak character, the fall-guy so to speak, but this just didn’t fly.  Melissa Lynch is a completely unlikable person in the way she is manipulating her husband.  Why didn’t he toss her out?  Should of done so.  Is Ben a dangerous man or another victim?  You will see at the end.  Overall I felt disconnected from the characters and repelled by Joe (even though he is the victim) by his weak behavior.

The ending had a twist I certainly didn’t see coming and I will say well done there.

Would I read more by this author?  Probably so.  I’d try one more book.  It kept my interest until the end with the twists and turns and I wanted to know whodunit.

Linking up with Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday as the author is British and the setting is London and Sunderland.

Much thanks to NetGalley for the digital copy.  I was not compensated for the review, all opinions nice and otherwise are my own.

 

 

Day of the Dead by Nicci French {Book 8, the end of the Frieda Klein series}

dayofdead

I’m certainly a fan of a series. The more books in a series the better in my opinion. Some folks don’t like the feeling of commitment with five or more books, following the same characters on a mystery or whichever genre it may be – I figure I am going to be reading anyway and I like familiar characters, watching them grow as characters and in their personal and professional lives.

So, this is the end of the Frieda Klein series. Eight books total starting with Blue Monday and winding our way through the days of the week. As I’ve mentioned before, I read the Sunday book first so I read many spoilers. Still, I went to the beginning and read through. Sunday was the best book. Thursday was not my favorite and had a seriously slow start.

This last book, Day of the Dead, wrapped up the series and so I will no longer have Frieda, Reuben, Josef, Chloe, Jack and Karlsson in my life. Josef was my favorite of the sub-characters.

Frieda needed to disappear in the previous book and spent most of her time in this last book under the wire. A killer was on the loose and she was the target, a string of violent incidences and a conclusion that I could accept.

There was a character named Lola Hayes who is introduced early in this book. She needs a subject for her criminology classes and plans to explain how psychoanalyst Frieda Klein thinks, planning on interviewing those close to Frieda and working out a profile. By trying to discover more about Frieda she puts herself in danger and is forced, literally, to go on the run with our main character. It’s a cat and mouse game and a bloody one at that.

The beginning was slow for me and I’ll say I wanted a different ending to this eighth book saga. I wasn’t especially disappointed as all things were resolved, I would just like to have seen some characters end up differently. It’s hard to review this without giving out a very important factor that is a huge spoiler.

Lots of food mentioned throughout the book.

Butternut squash soup, burgers and beers, bowls of bean sprouts and Greek salad, a simple salad of tomato and avocado and a bread roll.

Spaghetti and red wine, a Ukrainian lamb dish and a bottle of vodka. A flat white and piece of carrot cake. Chicken sandwiches with lots of mayo and tomatoes.

“Frieda bought a cauliflower, some cheddar cheese, butter, milk and a half-baked baguette. She added a small jar of mustard to the basket, two chocolate bars, apples, a jar of marmalade and oatmeal. Later she cooked a mustardy cauliflower cheese which they ate with hunks of baguette.”

I bought a cauliflower and planned to make that cheese dish but I still haven’t gotten around to it.

 

Goodbye Frieda Klein – it was a good ride.  Lots of mystery and I would certainly watch a television series if one was developed base don her character.

Linking up with:
Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday
Heather for her August Foodie Reads

Wine Reads by Jay McInerney

winereads

A collection of short stories and essays where wine has THE starring role.  We have a combo of fiction, non-fiction and lots of wine and food references throughout.  One of the names/stories that attracted me was Kermit Lynch.  I don’t think we have ever had a wine with Kermit Lynch’s name attached that we didn’t like.  The book  Adventures on the Wine Route was fairly recently acquired so seeing it in this compendium was a bonus.

Remember the movie Sideways?  It’s not an academy award winner but if you’d like to see a movie which revolves around wine, this is one, but I have not read the book.   that book is referenced here as well.  Books like this let me live vicariously with the details about good food and wine.  Fun read.

This author has written other books about wine, one I liked was Bacchus and Me: Adventures in the Wine Cellar.

More about Jay McInerney

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

NetGalley1

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

 

Women of the Dunes by Sarah Maine

womenDunes

Libby Snow is a archaeologist’s assistant and lands the dig of her dreams. She’s always had a pull and desire to see the area in Scotland where her ancestor Ellen McDonald lived, a place called Ullaness near the Scottish seaside. There is myth, legend, murder, and secrecy about the area. Now Libby has a chance to search through the old ruins where her ancestor lived and the ancient monk’s cell where Ulla lived as well.

Ulla was an 8th century Norsewoman who arrived on Scottish shore with her wounded lover Harald. A monk tended to Harald, all the while disapproving of Ulla’s views on spirituality. Quite lively discussions there.  Her grandmother shared stories with Libby about Ellen and her obsession with Ulla & the myth surrounding her life and death.

The bones uncovered at first aren’t as ancient as expected.  They belong to a man from the 1900’s era.  So now we have a possible murder victim which complicates matters.  The police are brought in and the archaeological dig may be in jeopardy.

The main focus of the book is present time with Libby Snow and the Sturrock family, but we do drift into Ellen’s time and see her side of things back in the 1890’s. That’s quite an eye opener and solves a few mysteries for the reader, but alas, not for Libby Snow or the Sturrock family who own the land.  There are sporadic chapters for Ulla’s story and thus, the characters of Ellen, Libby and Ulla intertwine.

Told in dual time lines I found the book to be very engaging. The scenery descriptions are wonderful and make me want to visit Scotland. It’s been on the bucket list for many a year but to bring this beautiful scenery alive with such vivid description – perfect. There is a rustic house, an inheritance, a mystery and a sprinkle of romantic attraction here – what’s not to love.

This put me in mind of Mary Stewart novels and I very much enjoyed the book. I’d like to read more by Sarah Maines.

This was a foodie book for sure. An eclectic team of folks make up a catering business that doesn’t have a main part or focus in the book but the food is mentioned quite a bit.

To name a few: Fish and chips, lots of tea, scones
Quiche, smoked cheeses, smoked fish, jams and fancies, bread, pickles
Brown bread and smoked salmon and Sancerre
Casserole and apple pie, fishcakes & fresh peas

I wanted fish and chips so badly when I read this so, we improvised and used Panko with our fish strips. So. Good. I did have oven roasted potatoes one night but went with my favorite roasted sweet potato another evening.

Many thanks to NetGalley for sending me a copy of this book.  Opinions expressed here are mine, nice and not so nice, and I was not compensated for my review.

Linking up with
Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday
Heather for her August Foodie Reads
Beth Fish’s Weekend Cooking Series
NetGalley

Past Tense by Lee Child

PastTenseI haven’t read all the Jack Reacher books yet but I can say I really enjoyed this one, despite not having read all of them in order. Big developments about Reacher’s past in this one.

It’s a slow simmer throughout the book with Reacher’s visit to Laconia New Hampshire, trying to find his father’s childhood home.  Naturally there are problems.  It’s as if Stan Reacher didn’t exist….at first.  There is a bit of genealogy involved when Reacher checks government offices for census info.  He’s trying to find his deceased  father’s home and I can say, if you are interested in a trail of family history, the census is the place to start.

Life is going along smoothly until he’s awakened at 3:01 a.m. and gets into an altercation.  Hey, it’s to save a lady from a thug so of course someone gets beat up.  He has to get into a few fights.  The first one starts up another spoke of the story about retaliation.  We revisit this a few times.

The other story line is about a young Canadian couple stranded near Laconia after their beat up Honda gave out. Patty Sundstrom and Shorty Fleck are broke.  They have a heavy fat suitcase with some treasure inside which they intend to sell when they reach NYC.  Then the plan is to head to Florida and open a windsurfing combo t-shirt business and live near the beach.

When they see a Motel sign they know they can coast the car in and spend the night, hoping to get a mechanic to look at their car then be on their way. Then the creepiness starts and this nice Canadian couple are in bad situation.  You like this couple so you do care what happens to them.  I really wanted to know what was in that heavy suitcase and it was revealed at the end.  Made me smile.

The separate stories eventually converge and then the fireworks begin. So much action all at once for the last quarter of the book.  I couldn’t put it down by this point.

There were a few loose ends, in my opinion, that I wish had been addressed.  If you haven’t read it then this may not make sense but it’s not a spoiler either. Why did the ornithologist want to speak to Reacher so badly?  What happened to the rough and tumble fruit pickers who wanted to continue a vendetta? The minor character Burke – he clearly had a mysterious past and I think it may have had some bearing on the story.

Much thanks to NetGalley for allowing me access to this book prior to publication.  I really enjoyed it and gobbled it down over a weekend.  I was not compensated for my review and all opinions, positive and negative, are my own.

Sharing with Joy for British isles Friday.