The French Girl by Lexie Elliott

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“We all have our secrets…

They were six university students from Oxford–friends and sometimes more than friends–spending an idyllic week together in a French farmhouse. It was supposed to be the perfect summer getaway…until they met Severine, the girl next door. “

I thought this was a good mystery – lots of people to suspect of killing 19 year old Severine. From the blurb above you’d think the story line was in present day France. Not so.

Ten years after the college get-together Severine’s body has been found in the bottom of a well. The last people to see the young woman alive are the six vacationing friends so they are once again drawn into the investigation. Everyone’s lives have changed so much in 10 years. Some relationships have fractured while others have deepened into a loyal friendship. There are some flashbacks but it’s basically lots of talking, remembering and suspicion about which one of the six killed Severine.

Tom, Seb, and Theo are good friends. It’s Theo’s father’s French country home where they gather and meet the mademoiselle next door. Kate was in a relationship with Seb, Lara is Kate’s best friend and Caro (Caroline) is friends with Theo, Tom and Seb. So, which of the six killed the French girl? Much is revealed about the characters and their relationships, fights, and basically lots of motive to go around.

I stare at Tom as Lara reseats herself and chatters on. He glances at me, but there’s nothing to read in his face. It was so smoothly done; I would never have guessed he was capable of such casual duplicity – once again he is the other Tom, but not Tom. I wonder, is anyone not who I thought? Maybe nobody ever really knows anyone.

Not too much food mentioned in this book:

Tom cooks “the world’s largest Spanish omelet”.

The conversation warms and expands again, slowly regaining volume after a moment of solemnity. More wine is called for and I eat chocolate profiteroles that I don’t really like because by now I’m drunk and will eat practically anything.

Girl’s night of ordering curry, drinking wine and watching a romcom.
Tom orders Kate vodka tonics on several occasions.

I’m all in for the vodka tonic and could do with a curry meal too but I plan to make that later this weekend.

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I’m sharing with Joy’s Book Blog for British Isles Friday as this is is a Scottish author and the setting is London. Also with Heather at Spirit Blog for the June Foodies Read.

More about the author: Lexie Elliott

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Atonement by Ian McEwan

atonementThis book gets many 5 star  ratings and I certainly see why with the complexity and detail of the writing.  There is so much internal dialogue, some a stream of consciousness as we see the perspective from different points of view. It took concentration to read this novel and after a while, it wasn’t pleasure reading.  Yet, that being said, I was never tempted to bail on this book as the writing is lyrical and the perspectives interesting.

The descriptions were great enough that it could be 5 large wordy paragraphs to capture a few moments, this paired with what the character was thinking.

An example – Thirteen year old Briony Tallis considers herself a playwright and penned The Trials of Arabella with her playing the lead character.  As her cousins will be visiting for an extended stay (due to unfortunate family circumstances) Briony intends to cast her cousins in supporting roles.  Lola, the older cousin, asks to play the plum role of Arabella.  Briony graciously acquiesces as she feels sorry for Lola, but it doesn’t make her happy.  Additionally, the younger boy cousins state that playwriting is just showing off and they didn’t want to participate but, as visitors they will.  Arrogant Briony is upset by these turn of events as it ruined her play and plans.

She goes to a meadow and viciously hacks down the nettles, pretending they are people she is upset with, starting with Lola.  She then “kills” the male cousins and others she’s unhappy with, the moments captured in 4 very long paragraphs as her thought process, documented while she beheads nettles. The massacre allows her rage to dissipate as she considers a change of career from playwright to newspaper reporter.  She has a high opinion of herself, by the way.

One of the hinges of the plot is Briony observing her sister Cecilia and the lower class friend Robbie Turner. There is a scene at the fountain where a vase is broken.  I read the scene and the verbal exchange between Cecelia and Robbie.  Cecelia strips to her underwear and wades into the fountain to get the broken vase pieces.  It’s a scene full of both anger and sexual tension.  Now, Briony obviously sees things with the only reference and experience a 13-year old mind can articulate.  Her confusion with flirtation and sexual encounters, real or imagined, were complex.  She observes silently from a window inside the house.  She can’t hear what was said, nor can she understand the attraction between the two adults.

When a rape occurs later in the first part of the book, unjust accusations lead to devastating consequences.  If you’ve read this you know what happens and if you haven’t, I’ll not add spoilers if you are taking this journey.

The end surprised me. If this were a true story I would feel very sad for so many lives shattered.

So, that’s number #15 on the BBC Culture Books Project.

Linking up with:
Joy’s British Isles Friday
Tanyaxoxo 2018 Monthly Motif

 

 

Seven Days of Us: a true family drama

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Seven Days of Us by Francesca Hornak has been on my list for a quite a while.  I am all over the chart with a review for this one so I guess I’ll activate stream-of-consciousness and type away.

The Birch family will spend Christmas holidays and new year together as they are under a quarantine.  It will be the first time in years all four will be together for an extended period of time and they don’t always get along well. The eldest daughter, Olivia,  is a doctor and she has been treating the Haag Virus in Liberia.  She is the reason for the quarantine as she and other aide workers have been voluntarily treating an epidemic.  Now she has returned to England and promised to spend the holidays at home during her quarantine.  Initially Olivia is the only likable character (for me).

Our starring characters are Emma and Andrew Birch (the parents) and the two daughters Phoebe and Olivia.  The supporting cast members are Phoebe’s fiancee George, Jesse Robinson who is Andrew’s son from a relationship he had in Lebanon when he was a war reporter (and also a complete Surprise! as Andrew didn’t know he fathered a child) and Sean Coughlin, an Irish doctor who hooked up with Olivia in Liberia.

Emma: Early on, so no spoiler here, Emma is diagnosed with cancer. Does she confide this to her husband or daughters?  Nope, only her best friend knows.  This is because Emma doesn’t want to ruin Christmas.  She is fussy to the extreme over everything being perfect.  While I understand the maternal overdrive when it comes to your kids, she’s way over the top. (I ended up liking her quite a bit and had empathy)

Andrew is….forgive my truthful language….a complete prick and a toff. He’s disconnected with his eldest daughter Olivia and clearly favors Phoebe.  I think he’s jealous that he gave up his war correspondent life, an exciting career and meaningful reporting to be at home.  Olivia meanwhile spends her time in third world countries administering to those less fortunate in the way of healthcare….and I think Andrew wishes he had his bohemian lifestyle back watching Olivia from the sidelines.  His current job penning restaurant reviews is clearly unfulfilling.  He always has to make the column tongue-in-cheek at the expense of the chef. He is also hiding a secret, just as his wife is doing.  But it’s not cancer.

Phoebe: Shallow and self centered.  She pouts because her fiancée got her the wrong earrings for Christmas. She wanted hoops and received pearls. She snaps at Olivia for looking at her iPad (as Olivia needs to know about Sean) “You never get it, do you?” Phoebe snaps.

I don’t?  I’m not the one crying because I got some ridiculously expensive earrings, when millions of children are malnourished,” said Olivia.

“Oh my god, do you always have to bring it back to Africa?”

Olivia: She is committed to helping those less fortunate, putting her life at risk to give medical aid.  She avoids being home during holidays and this time, I am sure she regrets giving in to spend time with them.  Even though I think she’d like to connect with her father she doesn’t respect him.

From her point of view:

Andrew repeatedly told, or started to tell, a story about lighting a fire in the desert with a magnifying glass during the Soviet Afghan war.  “You know, this reminds me….” He never talked about the Afghan people, or the politics at the time – just his own Boy Scouts memories. But it was that way at home, everyone sticking to a script, wheeling out the same exhausted anecdotes.

Olivia and Sean started a relationship while they were in Liberia even though it was expressly against rules due to the possible spread of a dangerous epidemic.  She wants to be with him after the quarantine is over and a tragedy strikes.

In the beginning I was thinking these were the biggest lot of self-indulgent people I’d read about and wouldn’t care to be friends or acquaintances with Andrew or Phoebe, probably not the rest of them either now that I think of it.  Three quarters through the book I changed my mind about some of the characters.  Secrets were revealed and the characters let their guard down, shared genuine feelings and emotions and thus, connected with one another in an honest way. Andrew was, in fact, not the prick I thought he was….not deep down.  His moments with Olivia in his den were honest and I wish he had opened up much earlier.

A fun dysfunctional family drama for the holidays!

Whenever books or music are mentioned I check into the titles. One book called Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe was referred to a favorite of Emma and Phoebe’s, I think because it was set in 1980’s Camden where they lived.  As Olivia says, “They kept pointing out it was 1980’s Camden as if this were a mark in its favor.  Why would she want to revisit her own blinkered childhood?  Olivia liked books she could escape into, fantasies and thrillers.”  Also mentioned was the series the Archers.  Emma was listening to the broadcast over the radio.

Photo Credit

There was quite a bit of food mentioned in the book, as you may imagine with Andrew being a food critic, but most were in reference to the family meals rather than his weekly column.  Here are a few below:

  • Turkey curry, richly peaty smoked salmon, mincemeat creme brulee, lemon sole.
  • Olivia’s homecoming was planned and prepared by Emma – a top roast, garlicky green beans, Yorkshire puddings and roast potatoes (Delia Smith’s recipe). Champagne and Bordeaux.
  • Fuchsia borscht marbled with sour cream and studded with porcini.
  • Vol-au-vents : Buttery, garlicky mushrooms in puff pastry 🙂
  • A pan of eggs, tomatoes, mushrooms and bacon.
  • Vegan aubergine curry.
  • Claudia Roden is mentioned for her Chicken and Saffron Rice with Raisins and Almonds.

Mushroom Vol-au-Vents

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Here’s the low down on this elegant sounding creation. Surprisingly easy, very tasty.

Ingredients

1 sheet of frozen puff pastry, thawed but very cold (or use shells)

1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter
8 ounces wild mixed mushrooms, chopped to a rubble
1 whole, smashed garlic clove
2 stems fresh thyme
1 tablespoon dry white wine
2 tablespoons crème fraîche

Procedures

Preheat the oven to 400°F.

Lightly flour a cutting board, and place the pastry on it. Cut out 9 circles from the pastry using a 2.5-inch biscuit cutter. Use a 1.5-inch biscuit cutter to make an indent (not all the way through) in the center of each pastry circle. (OR use the pastry shell version)

Bake the puff pastry for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the mushroom filling mixture. Melt the butter in a wide sauté pan. Add the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme. Sauté the mixture over medium heat for about 4 minutes, until the mushrooms have greatly shrunk in size and the pan has dried out. Season with salt and pepper, and add the wine. Allow to reduce. Remove the garlic and thyme stems from the pan, and take the pan off the heat. Stir in the crème fraîche.

Use a paring knife to gently remove the center disc from each puff pastry shell. Reserve. Fill the cavity with the mushroom mixture, and replace the pastry disc.

Linking up with:
Joy’s British Isles Friday

Beth Fish Reads for her Weekend Cooking Series.

Heather’s March edition of Foodie Reads

BriFri-logo    2018FoodieRead

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier

rebeccaRebecca. This is a classic I had been meaning to read for years.  I started it a few years back (it’s been on my Kindle that long) but was distracted by something else I “needed” to read.

We never learn the first name of our narrator.  She is described as young woman without worldly experience.  You know straight away she is impressionable, a bit naive but kind-hearted.  She is often referred to as the new or second  Mrs. de Winter.  Personally I think she was named after her father.  I thought that after this exchange with Maxim de Winter over dinner.

“You have a very lovely and unusual name,” said Mr. de Winter.”  “My father was a lovely and unusual person,” our narrator replies.

Our young lady is swept off her feet by the worldly and kind Maxim de Winter, eager to take her role as wife and lady at Manderley.  She daydreams about her new home, how they will have children and what a wonderful life they will have.  Gothic themes, love, jealousy and murder abound in this story.

When the second Mrs. de Winter meets Mrs. Danvers she hopes the two can become friends, have a friendly face to assist in her new role. The arctic  personality of Danvers was evident from the start – no friendly face or help with that one.

There were never any complaints when Mrs. De Winter was alive”, said Mrs. Danvers.    She is comparing me to Rebecca and sharp as a sword the shadow came between us……..”

Frankly, I would have been very nervous around Mrs. Danvers.  I didn’t grow up in a high society or upper class setting and I can imagine poor little new Mrs. de Winter is intimidated.  In over her head, absolutely.  It’s only later that you realize what an unhealthy, obsessive one-sided relationship Danvers had with her employer.

**Spoilers**

Since the beginning of the book is actually a description of the end of their lives at Manderley, I had to go back and read the first chapter again.  It all dovetails into a complete story.

Their lives are nothing like they hoped, they are merely existing.  Now I see Maxim had a genuine desire to experience a loving marriage with his young bride.  While she thought she was being compared to Rebecca and found wanting, it was actually the opposite.  Max was delighted with her open genuine spirit and her love.

Remember, I did state Spoilers and they will continue…..

We discover Rebecca didn’t drown but was murdered, her body placed in a boat and submerged. Are we then surprised that Maxim did it? That the second Mrs. de Winter stays with him and is actually happy he truly loves her rather than appalled over the murder?  Once Manderley burns they live a faded existence, avoiding talk of their past,  staying in hotels but living frugally.  It’s a sad story but oh so well written.

Menus
Curried prawns, roast veal, asparagus, cold chocolate mousse
Ice cold consume, fillets of sole and hot shoulder of lamb
Those dripping crumpets, tiny crisp wedges of toast, piping hot floury scones, gingerbread and Angel cake….and so much more.

I wanted to prepare the sole and asparagus but, as luck would have it, a friend caught 20 Mangrove Snappers and gave us some fillets.  What a gift!  It’s a wonderfully solid fish that grills exceptionally well.  We did manage the asparagus though. And  a Martini.

Linking up with:

February’s Monthly Motif at Girlxoxo

Foodie Reads at Based on a True Story

British Isles Friday at Joy’s Book Blog

2018FoodieRead BriFri 2018-Monthly-Motif

Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French (with chicken & avocado tapas)

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Tuesday’s Gone by Nicci French:   This second book in the Frieda Klein series was better than Blue Monday (#1) in my opinion.  More character development and the mystery was more intriguing to me. The London based psychotherapist, Frieda Klein, reminds me loosely of the Jessica Fletcher character from TV series Murder, She Wrote.  Loosely, as I said, because when our main character is involved, a murder is going to take center stage.

I like Frieda even though she isn’t what one would describe as a warm personality.  Perhaps you have to be completely in control and compartmentalize your life if your profession is psychotherapist. Yet there are qualities about her personality that I admire.

We have a rousing start with unbalanced woman named Michelle serving tea and buns to a decaying corpse she has propped up on her sofa.  The police, specifically Inspector Mal Karlsson,  involve Frieda as the woman in question may be a murderer or know something about the murder of the man in her home as she dragged him home from an alleyway.  There isn’t any identification to be found but, in a series of improbable events, Frieda Klein is set on the path to discovering his identity.  Early on in the story we learn the man’s name is Robert Poole.  More mystery about that later but to mention it would reveal a spoiler so, enough said on that now.  “Robert” is indeed a fascinating character.

Robert Poole made people “feel attended to” which is something most of us want.  We like when someone listens to us, seems to care about what we are saying, our concerns and our interests.

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Characters from the previous book show up and as I mentioned, more character development in this book.  I have now read 3 of the 8 books in the series and look forward to the final installment when it’s published.  I think that’s called Day of the Dead.

Food is mentioned here and there.

Two whiskies and two packets of crisps.  He took a seat at the table and opened both packages. “I got salt and vinegar and cheese and onion.  I didn’t know which you liked.”
“Neither, really,” said Frieda.
“You probably don’t like pubs either,” said Karlsson.
“It’s better than the police station.”

  • Frieda and Reuben talking over the phone.  She asks him to put potatoes in the oven for baking so they can have those for dinner.  But he hadn’t put potatoes in the oven, he’d made a greasy, rich lasagna, garlic bread and a green salad.

Frieda on a date with Harry at a Pop-up restaurant:

“I am Inga,” said the woman, “And I am from Denmark. My husband Paul is from Morocco.  We cook together.  I will bring you wine and food and there is no choice. No allergies, no fads?”

They were served a plate of pickled fish with sour cream, smoked meats, yogurts, savory pastries and wine.

Evidently a pop-up restaurant serves a handful of people and they pop up in various locations, serve dinners and one day they relocate.

  • Josef bakes a honey cake with cinnamon and ginger.
  • A dinner party at Oliva’s place – Salmon fillets cooked in pastry, meringues for dessert, lots of wine.
  • Yvette hands out packets of sandwiches, ‘Cheese and celery for you, tuna and cucumber for you and chicken for me.”
  • Frieda and Chloe eat at a Tapas restaurant – They ordered squid, roasted bell peppers, a Spanish omelet and a plate of spring greens.

I had quite a bit of choice for my food inspiration and almost made lasagna, because it sounded so good. But I went with Tapas.

Chicken and Guacamole Tostadas for Tapas

Ingredients
1 ripe peeled avocado
1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons finely chopped tomato
3 tablespoons minced fresh onion
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon salt
1 clove of garlic minced
1 tablespoon chopped cilantro
2 cups shredded skinless rotisserie chicken
¼ cups smoked paprika
8 (6 inch) tostada shells

Place avocado in small bowl; mash with a fork. Stir in 2 TB tomato, 1 TB onion, 1 TB juice, ¼ teaspoon salt and garlic.

Combine remaining 1 cup tomato, 2 TB onion, 1 TB lime juice, ¼ teaspoon salt and cilantro. Toss well.

Combine chicken, remaining TB juice and paprika; toss well to combine. Spread about 1 TB guacamole over each tostada shell. Top with chicken mixture and about 2 TB salsa.

Linking up with Joy’s British Isles Friday Heather’s February Foodie Reads and Beth Fish’s Weekend Cooking Series.

   BriFri-logo   2018FoodieRead

White Teeth by Zadie Smith

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Description:   White Teeth is the story of two North London families—one headed by Archie, the other by Archie’s best friend, a Muslim Bengali named Samad Iqbal. Pals since they served together in World War II, Archie and Samad are a decidedly unlikely pair. Plodding Archie is typical in every way until he marries Clara, a beautiful, toothless Jamaican woman half his age, and the couple have a daughter named Irie (the Jamaican word for “no problem”). Samad —devoutly Muslim, hopelessly “foreign”— weds the feisty and always suspicious Alsana in a prearranged union. They have twin sons named Millat and Magid, one a pot-smoking punk-cum-militant Muslim and the other an insufferable science nerd. The riotous and tortured histories of the Joneses and the Iqbals are fundamentally intertwined, capturing an empire’s worth of cultural identity, history, and hope.

Why I selected this book: Last week I found a list of the Best BBC books from a poll outside the U.K. and decided to make it my challenge for the next few years. Additionally,  Girlxoxo’s Monthly Motif theme this month is diversity.  So I decided to read a selection from my BBC List that would fit the theme as I wanted to participate with Tanya and Kim.   I was torn between this one and Monica Ali’s Brick Lane.

The book addresses racial issues that seem to create a divide between the English-born residents and immigrants from the Caribbean and India.

These days, it feels to me like you make a devil’s pact when you walk into this country. You hand over your passport at the check-in, you get stamped, you want to make a little money, get yourself started… but you mean to go back! Who would want to stay? Cold, wet, miserable; terrible food, dreadful newspapers – who would want to stay? In a place where you are never welcomed, only tolerated. Just tolerated. Like you are an animal finally house-trained.

The narratives between characters tends to ramble here and there and with that, I would start drifting.  Lots of good passages and quotes from this book though:

You are never stronger…than when you land on the other side of despair.”

It’s a multicultural community examining who is a true English person, how the immigrants fit in, the many different holidays and religious celebrations which do not overlap cultures and how the children of the immigrants identify with their lives.  Kids usually adapt.

Greeting cards routinely tell us everybody deserves love. No. Everybody deserves clean water. Not everybody deserves love all the time.”

This is #25 on the list HERE.

Linking up with:
Joy’s British Isles Friday
Tanyaxoxo 2018 Monthly Motif

 

Crimson Snow and Sunday Silence for #BriFri

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Christmas and murder mysteries, they go hand-in-hand, right? Crimson Snow is the selected book for the Kindle English Mystery Club. This volume of short stories is perfect for the mystery lover during a hectic holiday season. You can read a story quickly. This is part of the British Library Crime Classics, the short story collection. There were authors I am not familiar with and I enjoyed most of the stories but none were brilliant. You can see the surprise ending fairly well. The Christmas ghost story was great.

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Sunday Silence by Nicci French was excellent.  I think I made a mistake reading this one first.  Most likely I read spoilers relating to previous books in this series. Once I started this book I realized I liked the style and the plot so I’m planning on reading the other books such as Blue Monday and Tuesday’s Gone. Certainly I will give those a go in 2018 and read more by this husband and wife team of authors.
From the first page you jump right into the story, no lagging around hoping it gets interesting. The police are called to Frieda’s house as a body has been discovered under her floorboards. It’s someone Frieda knows.

It won’t be the first murder in this book, we have abductions thrown in there too. The writing style captured my attention, grabbed me from the beginning. Obviously there was prior character and relationship development in the earlier books but that didn’t leave me bewildered at all. As the police investigate and Frieda comes up with her own theories tensions build between them.

I notice the food references in books, even if they aren’t foodie books, so here are a few:

“He returned to the kitchen, which was full of steam, the smell of potato cakes, barley broth and spicy lamb stew.”

“He started working on an artisanal cheese stall on the South Bank and became something of a cheese zealot, offering soft wedges wrapped in waxed paper as gifts wherever he went”

“Jack had cooked spaghetti. Do you want some? He asked hopefully, I made enough for an army. “I’d love some, said Frieda, not because she was hungry but to see the look of pleasure on his face.”

Jack planned a risotto and had all the ingredients in his backpack; red onions, dried mushrooms, Parmesan and even a small jar of truffle sauce that someone had given him at the market in return for a circle of soft cheese.”

Josef ordered the full English breakfast: fried eggs, two rashers of streaky bacon, a large pink sausage, fried bread, fried tomatoes and mushrooms.

The Risotto was calling me but I went for comfort food – Spaghetti Bolognese.  Can’t go wrong, you won’t go hungry.

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Linking to:

The Kindle English Mystery Book Club

December Foodies Read

 Joy’s British Isles Friday

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