Quick Lit

Romance, murder, mystery, history…all happy endings – books fun and fast to read or listen to, but I will soon forget them – unless I write them down.   So here they are:

TheSummerWives   Summer Wives

Beatriz Williams’ Summer Wives has all these ingredients as she follows a wealthy family with influence on Long Island.  I found myself rereading the first few chapters to identify the characters as they aged – the story jumps a few decades back and forth, and the ending had me do a double take, but it is a happy one, despite all the waves crashing and beautiful people with issues.

The characters and setting reminded me of Julia Roberts’ early film, “Mystic Pizza” – the island has the wealthy 1 percent summer crowd, but the hard working year-round residents, mostly Portuguese Americans, catch the lobsters, work in the country club,  and keep the lighthouse glowing.  The summer of 1951 ends in death and the conviction of the island hottie, lobsterman Joseph Vargas.  When Miranda returns home after 18 years away, with Joseph escaped from prison, the plot reveals a motive for his confession, with twists and turns keeping you guessing until the end.

All We Ever Wanted

Emily Griffin’s All We Ever Wanted has the lies and scandal of a Lianne Moriarty novel (as in Big Little Lies).  The picture of a teenage girl’s backside gone viral is the catalyst for opposing reactions from families and community.  The ending here is also a little hard to believe – but it is happy.  Need to know more?  click here  

41pYhoGoKDL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Goodbye, Paris

This light romance has a “Room With A View” vibe, with young British Grace meeting her lover, David, for weekend trysts in Paris, but Anstey Harris’ Goodbye, Paris  has more about music and betrayal than Paris.  An immediate crisis is created when David rescues a pregnant woman who has fallen onto the subway train tracks; he suddenly becomes a reluctant hero.  Pictures of him and Grace immediately go viral, but, oh dear, Grace is not his wife.

Although Grace was a promising cellist, her confrontation with her slimy professor left her broken, so now she makes and repairs string instruments – violins, cellos – and sells them in her little music shop, waiting for her married lover to leave his wife and children.  David is clearly a smooth talker who will never leave his wife, and, at times, I wanted to smack Grace out of her dazed stupor, but, as I listened on Audible, I hoped for the catharsis that eventually happens.  Grace finally finds the courage to resist David’s charms and play her cello again.  Lots of romance with a plot worthy of A.J. Fikry.

51vkzW8KqZL._AC_US218_The Home for Unwanted Girls

Joanna Goodman’s story reminded me of Lisa Wingate’s  “Before We Were Yours,” but this time the historical note addresses the Duplessis Orphan Scandal in Canada, with over 20,000 orphans who were falsely labeled as mentally ill when their orphanages were turned into psychiatric hospitals by  the Canadian government in the 1950s.  Most of these children – who were not mentally ill – were left in the care of the nuns  by unwed mothers. The Catholic Church profited by the increase in government subsidies with the order for their “change of vocation” from orphanages into insane asylums – the government paid only $0.75/day for orphans, but $2.35/day for those who were mentally ill.

Goodman creates a fictional story about a fifteen year old girl forced to give up her newborn daughter by her parents.  By the time Elodie is five years old, the orphanage has changed to an insane asylum and she is forced into menial labor and caretaker duties for the older insane patients. Challenges to the nuns’ iron-fisted discipline result in horrible torture, isolation, lobotomies – reflecting the reality of those institutions.  Life is hell for these children.

The story has the mother Maggie searching for her daughter, and includes romance and intrigue to counter the misery of the historical context.  It still always amazes me how this happened not so long ago.

See the Movie, Then Reread the Book – The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

8110V2WqqLL   After finishing reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society years ago, I remember thinking how sad the author had died and I would never read another of her stories.  The book stands as one of my all time favorites, and I eagerly anticipated the film version with three actresses from Downton Abbey in the cast – Lily James and Penelope Wilton, and Jessica Brown Findlay — perhaps better known as Downton Abbey’s dearly departed Lady Sybill.

Of course, I remember the feeling of the book but, as usual, I’ve forgotten all the details.  It was a pleasure to read it again after almost ten years.  If you haven’t seen the movie yet, see it first – then reread the book.  Both are enjoyable and a comfort.

The movie and the book are the same, but different.  Of course, the book has all of the author’s quirky notes and asides required to be missing in a condensed film version, but the movie has lush images of the scenic English countryside to compensate, and it does select the most important moments to keep.  Although the book introduces the characters through letters, fewer appear in the movie and the letter-writing is replaced by getting Juliet to the island faster.  In the movie the description of Guernsey under occupation has less importance than the mystery of the missing Elizabeth – the fearless founder of the book club.

The characters retain their core values and tone but not always in the same form.  Handsome boyfriend Mark is an American publisher trying to woo Juliet away in the book; in the movie he is an American intelligence officer, still trying to get her to marry him, but a key role in finding Elizabeth is invented for him.   Romance gets more time in the movie, making the handsome staunch Dawsey more appealing for the happily ever after ending.

I missed the funny episode with Oscar Wilde’s letters to Granny Phhen and a few of the colorful characters who were eliminated,  but I’m not sure how the short movie could have accommodated them without a sequel. I liked the movie (how could I not) and appreciated its faithfulness to the story.

Rereading the book was a pleasure, and I found a few phrases I had forgotten  – some made me laugh:

  • I thought of my friends who own independent book stores with:   “Noone in their right mind would take up clerking in a bookstore for the salary, and noone in their right mind would want to own one…so it has to be a love of readers and reading that makes them do it.”
  • I thought of myself with:  ” so far my only thought is that reading keeps you from going gaga. You can see I need help.”
  • I thought of book clubs with: “We took turns speaking about the books we’d read. At the start, we tried to be calm and objective, but that soon fell away…”

and my favorite:  “I deny everything.”

Related Posts:

New Books I Am Looking Forward to Reading

Books I anticipate reading…

FC9781250295187The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle    (publication date – August 28, 2018)

If you could invite any five people—dead or alive—to dinner, who would you choose?

Preview:

“We’ve been waiting for an hour.” That’s what Audrey says. She states it with a little bit of an edge, her words just bordering on cursive. That’s the thing I think first. Not Audrey Hepburn is at my birthday dinnerbut Audrey Hepburn is annoyed.”

 

41pYhoGoKDL._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Goodbye, Paris by Anstey Harris  (just published)

Preview:

“We were staying at David’s apartment in Paris the night the woman fell onto the Metro tracks.”

 

shopping-1Transcription by Kate Atkinson  (publication date – September 8, 2018)

Preview:

‘Miss Armstrong?  Miss Armstrong, can you hear me?’

She could although she didn’t seem able to respond.  She was badly damaged.  Broken.  She had been hit by a car.   It might have been her own fault, she had been distracted – she had lived for so long abroad that she had probably looked the wrong way when she was crossing Wigmore Street in the midsummer twilight.  Between the darkness and the daylight.

 

shopping-2  The Mermaid and Mrs. Hancock by Imogen Gower  (publication in USA – September 11, 2018)

One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.

Preview:

for in this world there is no achieving anything all alone. Cast in thy lot and share the purse. And this is why a prudent man does no business with drunks, with rakes, with gamblers, with thieves, or anybody with whom God might have cause to deal severely. You cast in your lot and you share his sin. And it is so easy for a little craft to be dashed against the rocks. So easy for cargo to settle five fathoms deep in the dark. Sailors’ lungs may brine and their fingers may pickle; all that protects them is God’s cupped hand.

What does God say to Mr Hancock? Where is the Calliope, whose captain has sent no word in eighteen months? The summer trails away. Every day the mercury drops. If she does not return soon she will not return, and the blame may well lie with him. What has he done, that might demand such punishment? Who will throw in their lot with his if they suspect him ill-favoured?

Somewhere a tide is turning. In that place where no land can be seen, where horizon to horizon is spanned by shifting twinkling faithless water, a wave humps its back and turns over with a sigh, and sends its salted whispering to Mr Hancock’s ear.

This voyage is special, the whisper says, a strange fluttering in his heart.

 

 

Kitchens of the Great Midwest

shopping    Reading J. Ryan Stradal’s Kitchens of the Great Midwest had the same unexpected effect as Robin Sloan’s novel Sourdough – both inspired me to get into the kitchen to make something from scratch.  This slim paperback has been sitting on my shelf waiting to be read for a few years, but its surprising mix of melancholy, humor, and satire surrounding the life of a food prodigy is still fresh.

Eva Thorvald grew hot peppers in her closet as a child, and grew up to be a world famous chef.  Her journey was not easy, first abandoned by her mother when she was only a few months old, followed by the sudden death of her father, a chef who started his cooking journey making Scandinavian lutefish.  She’s raised by her aunt and uncle as their own child in a poor but loving home.

The first chapters chronicle Eva’s life from toddler to pre-teen to young adult, as she matures into an independent and creative person who seems focused on a life with food.   Her hot pepper revenge on middle school bullies is fun to watch and her reinvention of the caesar salad will make your mouth water.  She has a knack for combining an amazing taste for  the unusual with expert marketing skills, quietly learning from the best chefs as she grows into her own style.

Although she is the heroine of the story, Eva disappears in the second half of the book, as stories of those who know her and know of her take over the narrative.  The names are not always familiar and it takes attention to realize how their lives are connected to Eva. When she resurfaces in short appearances, the story is better for it, and when, finally, in the last chapter Stradal forces an unexpected reunion with Eva’s mother, the outcome is not as expected but realistic, and still satisfying in its possibilities.

Throughout the book, Stradel inserts a satiric note on foodies with their idiosyncracies and gullible palates. Stradel makes the point of how paying more for labels does not necessarily result in better taste, but freshness always counts.  Eva outmatches a fellow chef by driving to the fields to pick the kernels off the stalks the morning of the dinner for her own version of a succotash dish.  Later in the book, she grows her own.

With Eva’s career culminating in serving five thousand dollar a plate dinners to eager patrons who have patiently survived an incredibly long waiting list for years, Stradel takes a poke at elite restaurants with exorbitant prices.  Not surprisingly, the last dinner served in the book has all the flavors of home cooking, but masked with descriptions warranting the high price.  The dessert includes a simple five ingredient bar – here’s the recipe – you might have made a version yourself.

Strudel’s story reminded me of those first amazing bites of an old world recipe from my grandmother when I was a girl as well as the seven course meal from an award winning chef at a restaurant with a long waiting list – both were worthy of respect and both captured the essence of what food is supposed to be.  But Eva’s coming of age and her fabulous cooking also inspired me to try something old with a new twist – maybe some chocolate grated into mac and cheese?

The Banker’s Wife

51RKYsNg1yL._AC_US218_.jpgIt’s not often you can read a thriller with almost more dead bodies than pages, and still have a happy ending, but Cristina Alger’s The Banker’s Wife delivers with a fast-paced mystery thriller loaded with international espionage and financial deceit.

The obscenely wealthy hiding money in Swiss bank accounts seems trite, but this premise expands to politicians and shady Ponzi schemes in Alger’s story.  The chapters alternate between two women, Annabel who is the banker’s wife, and Martina, the dedicated journalist about to give up her investigative career to marry the son of a Presidential hopeful.  Although unknown to each other, both are highly reliable narrators (this is not a “Girl” book), and the two women are on track to disclose the same off-shore banking crime: ““A world of dirty money, hidden away in shadow accounts, and it belongs to some very powerful and dangerous people…”

Annabel’s husband Matthew, who works for the Swiss bank which handles lucrative but illegal funds, suddenly dies in a plane crash.  Martina’s mentor, Duncan, who has been working with an inside whistleblower, suddenly dies in his house.  Both women are literally left holding the bag, or in this case, the computers and USB’s containing the incriminating information.  Both are dodging bullets, literally and figuratively, as they try to find trustworthy men (there are not many in this story) who will get the information out via the international news corps, and stop the masterminds controlling the action from escaping justice.

Cited as a “financial thriller,” The Banker’s Wife has the timeliness of political and banking deceit in the news that has become all too familiar.  The story is a page-turner with new developments around the bend of every cliff-hanging narrow road in the Swiss countryside, and the ending takes a satisfying turn. What a great movie this would make.