The Witch Elm by Tana French

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This is the second time I picked up Witcn Elm as I didn’t get very far into the story the first go round. Admittedly it was my frame of mind as I had been hoping Tana would continue with the Dublin Murder Squad. With my husband and I staying in so much these days we decided to have our own book club.  We ordered a few books from Thift Books and set to reading The Witch Elm together.  It was enjoyable keeping the same pace and discussing the plot.

As with any Tana French mystery the writing was excellent. I do wish the book description hadn’t given away so much of the story ahead of time.
It was already established one of our main characters, Toby Hennessey, was a successful handsome man who came from a good family and always seemed to be….lucky.  That is how he is described.

One evening he is awakened during a home invasion and is viciously assaulted, leaving him with devasting injuries.  He decides to spend time at Ivy House with his uncle Hugo as he recovers and also to help his uncle.  Hugo has his own medical issues so its an ideal situation for both parties. At some point during  a family visit a human skull is discovered in the 200 year old Witch elm in the garden.

All of the above is known from the book jacket.

Incidentally, Ivy House is the ancesteral home of Toby’s grandparents and now Hugo, a gathering place for all family members to visit and have Sunday lunch. A place Toby and his cousins Leon and Susanna spent summers growing up and having parties.
As always Tana French’s writing style has you fully involved.  I felt like I was in the shadows witnessing these conversations between the cousins Toby, Susanna and Leon and those with Hugo.

The small trivial parts of a conversation such as Susanna ragging on Leon for picking through a bowl of nuts. “Stop picking  through, other people like cashews too, and besides it’s disgusting. ” That sort of natural banter that makes the scene so real.

Was I surprised by the ending? Yes.  There was an incident with a detective and Toby near the end that didn’t ring true with me.

Tana French is an excellent author and I will preorder any book she’s about to have published.  I can’t say that about any other writers with the exception of Jane Harper and Robert Galbraith.

Now for a bit of fun!  The character desciptions were detailed enough that we had our own mental images and tried to imagine a cast to play them if this were a movie.  Below see the decsription of Toby – thick straight blonde hair, very blue eyes and an open boyish face.

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I’m picturing Emily Blunt as Susanna, Charlie Hunnam as Toby and Tom Hiddleston as Leon.

Anthony Hopkins as Hugo Hennessey, Saoirse Ronan as Melissa and David Tennant as Detective Rafferty.

Did you read the book? If so did you like it or wish Tana would go back to writing Dublin Murder Squad?

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Mr. Nobody by Catherine Steadman

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Dr. Emma Lewis is a 30 year old neuropsychiatrist living in London. She is offered the case of a lifetime, one which could make her career.  A well respected doctor in her field offers her the case of Mr. Nobody.  The man was found on a beach, drenched to the skin and having no apparent memory of who he is or where he is from. Could this be an actual rare case of fugue?

If you recall, back in 2005 there was a similar real case called The Piano Man, the circumstances of his case very similar and probably (in my opinion) gave our author the inspiration for this story. True story you may read about by clicking the hyperlink above.

By page 76 the plot dances around the fact of an incident with Emma and her family, so bad her family needed to be relocated and given new identities. As a reader I think it would have been better to reveal what her horrific experience was much earlier in the book. You learn why at page 200+

Anyway, she decides, against her brother`s advice, to return to Norfolk as it is a  career changing case. Also weird was a government agency did an intense background check on her, knows her identity and why she left Norfolk 14 years ago.  Lots of mystery about the government agency and what happened to Emma and her family. She was required to sign a confidentiality contract before proceeding. Hmmm…..they must know or suspect something about this Mr. Nobody.

I ask, if they wanted HER in particular why not relocate the man with fugue to a London hospital where Emma Lewis is working and reduce risk of her former identity revealed near her childhood home? Logical question.

The psychological mystery does wrap up with a few twists that were nicely incorporated.  The mystery man knows so much about Emma already although they’d never met.You have to suspend disbelief on some scenes, I wont give spoilers, but it is a decent enough mystery to make me look for her other publication.  This one is her second book.

Catherine Steadman is an actress based in North London, UK, and the author of Something in the Water. She has appeared in leading roles on British television as well as on stage in the West End. In 2016, she was nominated for a Laurence Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Supporting Role for her performance in Oppenheimer. She is best known in the United States for her role as Mabel Lane Fox in Downton Abbey.

I was given a complimentary copy of this book from Random House and LibraryThing. I was not compensated and opinions are all mine.

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The Girls in the Garden by Lisa Jewell & Woodstock: 50 Years of Peace & Music

2E92B626-28D9-439E-906B-E5DEFD24A9B1 I have become a big fan of Lisa Jewell’s mysteries but this one was just meh…ok for me. There is a lush garden in the middle of a housing complex, setting is the middle of London.

A woman moves in with her two daughters, Grace and Pip, and has a bit of adjustment to the communal lifestyle of the garden. Children freely wander around, into each other’s homes. There’s an Earth Mother sort who home schools and feeds everyone natural healthy fare, her very handsome charming husband Leo and a few dysfunctional characters.

During a birthday party that runs late in the evening, children are still up running around mind you, 13 year old Grace is found in the bushes, bloodied and in a coma.  The resulting investigation reveals some interesting facts about both the adults and children. I’ll say I very much enjoyed Jewell’s other mysteries more but this wasn’t a DNF.

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Woodstock: 50 years of Peace and Music.
I had expected this was a CD from the library but it was a book.  I brought it home anyway. It’s an Interesting compendium of stories about the bands, events, peaceful interactions and basically an overall historical account of one of the most famous concerts. For the most part the concert goers were nice young people, helping push police cars out of the mud, a phone operator stating everyone she spokes with said thank you and many other stories attesting to a civil and peaceful event.

bands I would have loved to see such as Santana, Credence, The Who & Joe Cocker. I have seen Crosby, Stills & Nash as well as Johnny Winter, just not at Woodstock. 🙂

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Woodstock is my second  book for the nonfiction challenge hosted by ShelleyRae at Book’d Out
Category is History.

NonFiction

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Sliding Doors by Peter Howitt

4D1DC633-AD62-4BC4-9DD4-183DE41205E3 The premise of this book intrigued me with the “what if” scenarios.    One little thing can change the path and outcome of your day….. maybe your life as well.

Helen is a PR executive living and working in London. On her way home from work she is rushing for the subway when a child steps in her path, causing her to slow down enough where she misses the train. The sliding door closes before she can board. 

She hails a taxi and eventually makes it home much later. It should be noted Helen has left work early.  This is important. Unbeknownst to Helen, her boyfriend has a woman in their apartment while she is working and so, by delaying her arrival she doesn’t catch Gerry and Lydia together.

Now, same scenario with Helen rushing for the train but she makes it and gets on board. A handsome man named James, who works at her building and spoke to her earlier, sits by Helen and engages her in conversation. 

As she made it on the train she does arrive at home early and catches Gerry with his girlfriend in their bedroom. This sets Helen on a different path as she leaves Gerry and goes to stay with her/friend Anna.

What I didn’t know when I purchased this book was the format.  It’s written as a play with the set and locale information so you may  visualize the scenes as they unfold.  When the two stories of Helen change it`s noted by the author using a different and bolder font for one story line. It sounds confusing but once I started reading it I could keep track.

This was made into a movie and stars Gwyneth Paltrow and John Hannah.  Having read the book I’m glad I did not watch the movie first as I wouldn’t have read the book.  I will also state that the end of one of Helen’s  stories had me about to toss the book across the room. 

I think about things like this on the way to work.  If you decide to take a later flight or a different way to work the outcomes may be identical ……but those different variables may place you in an accident or late or who knows what.  

The scenes were vividly described and you get a little tour of London while reading. Evidently the movie has you fully immersed in the London scenery.  But I doubt I’d watch it now.

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I Found You by Lisa Jewell

foundThe setting is Ridinghouse Bay in northern England. We have multiple story lines overlapping which eventually merge. One story is about Alice Lake, single mother of three.

By her own admittance she isn’t a good mother. She sees a man sitting in the rain staring out to sea near her home and eventually walks up to him, gives him an old coat, a cup of hot tea and checks on him. The man is in a fugue state and can’t remember anything about his life, not his name or where he’s from. From other reviews I see some people didn’t like Alice and I can see some of their point of view. She’s a kind person and a loving person but she’s a bit too bohemian for motherhood. Giving this stranger a place to sleep in her guest “shed” is kindly yet you wonder is she putting her children at risk? Who is this guy? The loving exchanges with her children, feeding a troupe of her teenage son’s friends and taking in stray dogs….and people…..she is basically a very good person.

The second story line is set in 1993, over twenty years prior to the Alice Lake and the memory-lapse-guy story. The Ross family stays at Rabbit Cottage every year, located on Ridinghouse Bay. The two teenagers, Gray and Kristy, aren’t as enthused about going now that they are older. Typical teens, right? Enter a mysterious handsome 19 year-old who takes a rather creepy interest in 15 year-old Kristy. The parents don’t notice it but older brother Gray certainly does and feels very protective. This story ramps up quickly.

Last but not least we have a Ukraine bride named Lily, living in London with her English husband Carl Montose. They’ve only been married a few weeks and suddenly he is missing.  He flat out disappears and Lily discovers she knew nothing about his life. The police get involved as it’s a missing persons case and some startling facts are revealed about Carl Montose.  Could he be the memory impaired fellow staying in Alice’s shed? For what it’s worth, I did not care for Lily.  Too brusque.

What I especially liked were the mini cliffhangers. The end of the chapters had you wanting more but as you turn the page, you move on to one of the other stories. This is the third book I have read by Lisa Jewell and have become a fan. Of the three novels this was my least favorite but I did like it.   On hold at the library is Jewell’s book The House We Grew Up In and I am looking forward to that one.

There is a bit of food mentioned yet it’s not a foodie book by any means.  Cream teas, cucumber sandwiches, beet and horseradish tea sandwiches, roasted beef with root vegetables, sausages and mash, pizza, steak, bagels and peanut butter and cake.

Alice fed the throng of teen boys sausages and mash.  While that was tempting I went with a roasted chicken meal.  Alice roasted beef and root vegetables and I opted for poultry. Lovely meal to share over a glass of wine and lots of chatter.

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Original recipe post may be found HERE at Squirrel Head Manor.

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My Yorkshire Great and Small by Peter Wright

We begin with an introduction to the Yorkshire Show in Harrogate, a  big agricultural event that’s been ongoing for over 150 years. Mr. Wright mentioned Amanda Owen, The Yorkshire Shepherdess, who attended and was a guest speaker. I’m a fan of her books as well.

What attracted me to the book was the setting and author being a veterinarian in the Dales. Peter Wright was a Vet trainee with Alf Wight and Donald Sinclair (James Herriot and Siegfried Farnon) something I didn’t know until I started reading this book. He also has a television show! The Yorkshire Vet is a program I was unaware of until I read this book and yes, it seems I am living under a rock some days when I discover an old show.

The observations and comparisons to present day and what life was like decades ago was also very interesting to me. Fishing is a pastime our author and his brother enjoyed very much.  The observation that many of the today’s youth don’t have that opportunity as they are living in cities and are so used to iPhone, Xboxes and that electronic distractions.

I found the story about finding centuries old coins fascinating.  A pair of brothers were digging up a piece of their farmland, leveling it off when they discovered a broken ceramic jug and coins.  It’s a great story and fabulous discovery.  After these old treasures were dug up  they ended up in a museum.  This is after a court decision.  If I am ever visiting near York’s Castle Museum I will certainly want to view the display of coins and old papers.

Much thanks to Netgalley for the advanced copy of this book. Publication date is January 17, 2020. If you enjoy reading about veterinarians, Yorkshire or loved the James Herriot stories you will like this book.

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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.

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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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Lost and Found: a quirky Irish movie

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Lost and Found is a quirky collection of seven interconnecting stories, most taking place at the train station.  It’s described as:

Seven strangers with very different stories have one thing in common: they are all searching for something. Their seven lives unexpectedly intertwine at a small lost and found office in an Irish train station.

I was hoping for some Irish scenic shots but you don’t get much more than the train station and a pub.  It’s a cute movie running an hour and half, described as a comedy drama.  I don’t remember any harsh language so it’s family friendly.

The first story called “Ticket to Somewhere” was touching.  An elderly man named Eddie wanders about the train station trying to find his ticket, asking strangers for money for a ticket and forgetting where he is.  He tells people he needs to get to Dublin to see his wife and daughter.  This story dovetails with the next and so on.

You have the impression it’s a small enough town that you’d know everyone.  Like Waking Ned Devine, although I thought Ned Devine was funnier.

Here is a trailer.

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The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary

flatAfter reading a few books with serious tones/subjects I wanted a lighter and brighter book. I very much enjoyed those previous books but I was ready for a chick-lit kinda thing to break it up.

The Flatshare is Beth O’Leary’s first novel. I knew the term flat share meant to have a roommate, sharing an apartment – each with their own bedroom. But in this novel they share a bed, not at the same time. One works nights and the other days.
The deal is that for a mere $350 a month she will have the flat from 6pm – 8am Monday through Friday and on weekends. The remaining times belong to Leon, who could use the extra cash that this arrangement will bring and never the two shall meet.

I’ve never heard of sleeping in the same bed as your room-mate and I can say it would never have been something I would have done.
They speak to each other via notes and letters left tacked to the fridge or on a table. When one is out at work and the other person at home, they find a note. And usually food! Sometimes they forget they haven’t had conversation in person. They are getting to know one another slowly as pen-pals who live together, but have not met. Weird and quirky.

The beginning was a bit confusing for me as Leon pondered about Kay and Ritchie, people who were not introduced to the story. Who are these people, I wondered. It all fell together shortly and I knew the character’s places.

Tiffy’s job is assistant editor at a DIY publishing house. She sums it up: “I love working here. This is the only possible explanation for the fact that I have been assistant editor for three and a half years, earning below the London living wage, and have made no attempt to rectify the situation…….”
As for the supporting characters a good deal of the book focuses on Tiffy’s favorite author, Katherin, who writes about knitting and crocheting. Also a treacherous coworker named Martin which you will just slightly loathe in the beginning and yes, this will deepen as you get to know him more.

Leon is such a good person. He’s a night nurse at a hospice, taking tender care of a little girl named Holly who has leukemia and senior patients who need constant care. Can’t be easy being a nurse. His supporting character is his brother Richie who resides in prison for a crime he says he didn’t commit. All the characters’ stories merge and overlap at different parts of the book.

I was looking for something light with a bit of humor and I found it in this book. What I wasn’t expecting was subject of emotional abuse and how well this author handled it. It wasn’t a constant but when it needed to be addressed in the story it was deftly woven in. Overall a funny, romantic lighthearted book but it certainly did touch on serious subjects at times.  Happy endings for most 🙂

There was a bit of food in this novel! Tiffy is a baker and Leon likes to cook so we had a variety of tempting treats. Homemade oat bars, mushroom stroganoff, risotto, Victoria Sandwich with Homemade jam, carob date brownies, banana bread, ales and cocktails.

Much thanks to Netgalley for the complimentary copy of this book.  Publication date is May 28, 2019.  I will look for more by this author.  All opinions are mine and I was not compensated for this review.

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The Moroccan Girl by Charles Cumming

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 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

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