Books To Binge Read

When a book is so compelling, I need to finish it – fast – just to find out how all the pieces come together.  I find myself binge reading to the end – most of the time finishing in a day.  Here a few books I couldn’t put down:

The Book of Esse

medium  I did not expect to be captured by Meghan MacLean Weir’s story of the seventeen year old daughter of an on-air evangelical reality show in The Book of Esse, but the story was compelling and I finished it in a sitting.

Esse is pregnant, and her solution to her problem is to marry a handsome, poor, gay star of the baseball team at her high school.  Reluctantly, Roarke accepts the bribe to save his family’s business and get a free ride to Columbia University. Another victim of child abuse,  Liberty Hall, a journalist following the family, has her own skeletons from her past, but she is now helping Esse and possibly ghost-writing her story.   The father of the baby seems a mystery, but it’s easy to figure out it’s someone in Esse’s family, and eventually his identity is revealed.

Weir addresses the obsession with reality television, its effect on the participants as well as the viewers, and raises issue with those “perfect” evangelical role models, while capturing a connection between two self-possessed teenagers.

415mOnyEFsL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_  Give Me Your Hand

Megan Abbot’s new thriller – Give Me Your Hand – involves two brainy women competing for prestigious scientific accolades, with ambition and murder driving the plot.

Kit Owens and Diane Fleming meet as teenagers in Advanced Placement chemistry class. Both are brilliant and become close friends – until Diane shares a lethal secret with Kit which drives them apart.  Years later they meet again as researchers, competing to work for a prestigious scientist in a grant funded study of premenstrual dysphoric disorder.  The men scientists never have a chance as Abbott juggles green-eyed monsters with poisonous cravings.  Alternating between high school days (then) and post-doctoral research days (now), Abbott creates a suspenseful plot with a surprising twist on motivation at the end.

The Perfect Couple

9780316375269_p0_v3_s600x595  In her twenty-first novel set in the summer on Nantucket, Elin Hildebrand once again offers her signature view of love and life on the island, with descriptions of the opulent homes and glimpses into the lives of the wealthy. Of course, Hilderbrand adds romance and lots of fooling around, but for the first time in one of her Nantucket stories she adds a murder.

A wedding on Nantucket in July is the setting, with the maid of honor found dead on the morning of the wedding.  Clever red herrings keep the reader guessing whodunit until the very end.  Another book read in a sitting – just had to find out how the investigation would be resolved, and which couples would survive all the infidelity. A fun “beach” read, set at a New England beach – you can almost smell the salt air.

What I’ve Been Reading Lately

It’s summer year round here, so I’ve given myself permission to have beach reads on my shelf anytime; in fact, it’s been a while since I’ve been immersed in a pithy book or a thought provoking tome up for an award.  The Man Booker Prize longlist  of books will be announced soon – maybe I’ll get some ideas for books to challenge me then,

For now, I’m content with what I’ve been reading in paperback.

Scottish author Beatrice Colin weaves a complicated historical fiction around the construction of the Eiffel Tower. The politics and sheer precision of the engineering dominates the story. But what would Paris be without romance, and Colin obliges with her characters, using the turmoil of their lives to complement the uncertainty of the tower’s completion.

The romance between a Scottish widow, Cait, and the chief engineer under the famous Gustave Eiffel, Émile Nouguier, dominates the backdrop.  Cait is chaperoning two wealthy spoiled Scottish siblings, Alice and Jamie, on their world tour when she meets the handsome Émile, who is reluctantly assigned to mentor Jamie’s notion of becoming an architect. Émile’s jealous, wicked drug-addicted mistress conspires to foil Cait and Émile’s romance as well as ruin the young naive Alice in Cait’s charge.  Some steamy scenes but the relationships are somewhat contrived.  

The book took me longer to finish than I had expected – probably because I kept dwelling on the Parisian scenes and the descriptions of the arrondissements in the nineteenth century. The most compelling are the historical notes around the tower in progress, and the perfection needed to accomplish its completion.

UnknownA Long Way from Home – an Australian historical adventure

Peter Carey (who won the Man Booker Prize twice) writes an Australian saga of a couple who compete in the now defunct Redex Trial, a special rally to test the reliability and performance of the competing cars. The premise had me googling to see if it really existed.  It did.  Carey’s story focuses on Irene Bobs and her neighbor and navigator, Willie Bachhuber. Irene and her husband enter the race to publicize their new car dealership.

“The Redex Trial, a dusty tour of Australia that pits the dominance of Ford over “Australia’s Own Car,” the General Motors Holden: Two hundred lunatics circumnavigating the continent of Australia, more than 10,000 miles over outback roads so rough they might crack your chassis clean in half.”  

It’a  a wild ride as the Australian landscape whizzes by.

Unknown-1The Perfect Couple – murder, mystery and romance in Nantucket

I met an Australian couple recently from Melbourne who are fans of author Elin Hildebrand; they could not stop praising her books.  I’ve read a few of Hildebrand’s Nantucket stories, but had not thought about her in a while.  So I’ve downloaded her latest book – The Perfect Couple, her first murder mystery novel.  Set in Nantucket, of course, the story revolves around a wedding, a dying mother, and a dead maid of honor.  Fun and fast reading.

Unknown-2The Magic Hour – a Kristin Hannah melodrama

A 2007 novel by the author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone focuses on a six year old feral girl suddenly appearing from the surrounding woods of a Washington State town. Prominent child psychiatrist Julia Cates, struggling with her own issues of career confidence, works with her sister, the town’s police chief, to save the girl.  A compelling story with a little romance and, of course, a happy ending.

 

 

 

Perfect Timing for Easter – The Music Shop

When I finished reading Rachel Joyce’s The Music Shop on Good Friday, I wanted to hear Handel’s Messiah.   With the same quirky style as The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce delivers a love story with hidden notes of redemption and a nod to the healing power of music.

Spanning twenty years, the story revolves around Frank, who owns a music shop in England which stocks only vinyl records, and Ilse, a concert violinist who can no longer play.  In his review for The Washington Post, Ron Charles says:

“If you’ve read Joyce’s best-selling debut novel, “The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry,”you already know her irresistible tone. There’s suffering here, too, and a searching journey, but this is a lighter book than “Harold Fry.” It’s a story that captures the sheer, transformative joy of romance — “a ballooning of happiness.” Joyce’s understated humor around these odd folks offers something like the pleasure of A.A. Milne for adults. She has a kind of sweetness that’s never saccharine, a kind of simplicity that’s never simplistic. Yes, the ending is wildly improbable and hilariously predictable, but I wouldn’t change a single note.”

I made notes for listening – click here to see my playlists.

Related Review:  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

 

Penny Vincenzi

British best-selling novelist Penny Vincenzi died recently at 78.  A profilic writer, Vincenzi focused on strong female heroines – a little romance and sex mixed with family secrets and intrigue.  I’ve read a few of her books, but can’t remember the plot of even one; I do remember them being long, with more plot than the usual romantic Chick Lit.

When asked if she aspired to write more “highbrow material,” she said she didn’t:

“I have a strong aversion to people saying the kind of novels I write are escapist.  Books ought to be escapist.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a good old healthy slug of glamour and glitz.”

51fO4NCUIpL._SX328_BO1,204,203,200_Her writing has been compared to Barbara Taylor Bradford and Julian Fellowes, and her bestsellers include The Decision, The Best of Times, Absolute Scandal, and her latest (2017) A Question of Trust.

Maybe I’ll try her again.  Escape is good.

 

Happy Halloween! The Rules of Magic

636425476301544428-Rules-of-Magic      Celebrating the power of witches in Alice Hoffman’s The Rules of Magic seems an appropriate way to celebrate Halloween.  Hoffman reveals the back story of the two witch aunts who raise Sally and Gillian Owens in her novel made into a movie – Practical Magic.  This prequel dates back to the childhood of Frannie and Jet,  played in the movie by a feisty Stockard Channing and an aerie Dianne Wiest.

The premise of the family curse bequeathed from the seventeenth century –  that any man who falls in love with an Owens woman will die – controls the romance in the story, but thankfully Hoffman spins this tale with less horror and more introspection.  History plays a big role with the assassination of John F. Kennedy and the Vietnam War changing the direction for some of the characters.  And, if you were wondering how two maiden aunts could have nieces?  Hoffman writes in a brother for them in the prequel, a handsome wizard who resists going to war.  The children in Practical Magic are his grandchildren.

A fast and entertaining read – try it while you are munching on your Halloween stash.

And, if you’d like to try Aunt Isabelle’s Chocolate Tipsy Cake for breakfast, the recipe is here.

 

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