Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Binge reading   Leave a comment

I finally did it: binged on three* Louise Penny novels back to back. There’s still another to read, but since it isn’t on my nightstand (per my New Year’s Books Resolution), it has to wait.

Most readers I know are fans of the Inspector Armand Gamache series. To those few who admit to me they aren’t, we can still be friends; although, I am disappointed.

Nonetheless, I’ll focus on All the Devils are Here, which allows me to also highlight what I enjoy so much about Penny’s work: the relatable characters, the descriptions (and significance) of settings, and, of course, the mystery to be solved. Unlike most of the previous novels, this one is set in Paris, with brief references to Three Pines, the small, tight-knit community in rural Quebec.  I was initially disappointed the usual cast of characters (residents of Three Pines) was relegated to barely-existent roles. Yet, Paris is, after all, a magical place, which comes to life through the author’s vivid imagery of people, sites and food – lots of food.

In addition to the mystery at hand, are several back stories: Armand’s relationship with his estranged son Daniel; the imminent birth of his granddaughter; and his memories of visiting the City of Lights.

Suspicions abound as Gamache works to discover who tried to kill his godfather. The inspector encounters corporate espionage, corrupt police and rumors involving the French Resistance. It’s an intriguing combination. This and the benevolent qualities of her main character are what Penny does best.

All the Devils are Here

Four Bookmarks

Minotaur Books, 2020

439 pages

*Kingdom of the Blind

A Better Man

All the Devils are Here

Food Joys   Leave a comment

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I’ve seen a lot of Stanley Tucci’s movies; of his many screen appearances, my two favorites are Big Night and the television series Searching for Italy. His memoir, Taste: My Life Through Food, reflects both.

Beginning with his childhood and Italian family background, he recalls school lunches, weeknight dinners and holiday get-togethers with equal enthusiasm and vivid descriptions. He also includes occasional recipes.

Tucci moves through the different phases of his life: his early acting days augmented by waiting tables, his relationship and love for his late wife, his success as an actor, remarrying, movie sets and how food is such an integral part of it all.

Humor, mixed with heartfelt emotion, a little snobbery and his enjoyment of a good stiff drink fill the pages. His writing voice is distinct. Its cadence evokes memories of the TV series wherein he visits different parts of Italy identifying the unique foods of each region.

The memoir is not without plenty of name dropping, something Tucci acknowledges. Yes, he’s acted with numerous well-known celebrities, but it’s the many shared meals themselves that breed envy – even if all of the food isn’t delicious … although most of it is.

Tucci isn’t just a dining connoisseur; he recounts his enjoyment of cooking, which includes planning, shopping, preparing and serving. Whether describing the catering on movie sets or meals with his children, parents and wife (or fellow actors and friends), Tucci clearly acknowledges an appreciation not only for good food, but the community it creates.

Taste: My Life Through Food

Four Bookmarks

Gallery Books, 2021

291 Pages

My 2022 New Year’s Books Resolution!   Leave a comment

The stacks of books on my nightstand continue to expand without ever reducing in size. I have only myself to blame. After I read reviews or get suggestions I go to the library or borrow from friends. Since those are on loan, usually for a limited time, they get priority. It’s only honorable. Meanwhile, I ignore the languishing towers of titles. Some have been (embarrassingly) around for years.

I resolve to not only dust off these books that lay in wait, but I will read them! (Although, not necessarily in the order they’re stacked.) After which, I’ll finally, and, truthfully thank those who’ve given them to me or appreciate those I purchased for myself – a rare occurrence. My acquaintances at my library will have to wait for my return.

However, there will be exceptions. I may not have the particular ones my book group is slated to read, so I’ll have to move those to the top of the list. This will likely disrupt the resolved intent. It will be temporary, though. Really!

I also feel I should honor the library holds I have. Right now there are three and I’m number 247 for one of them. Though, if someone happens to loan me The Lincoln Highway, I will be compelled to read it immediately – and will remove my name from the library list.

As for reviews that capture my attention, I’ll simply keep a running list. After clearing my nightstand, I’ll happily reinstate my role as an appreciative, loyal public library patron!

A Celebration and Lament   Leave a comment

Punctuation in Elizabeth’s Strout’s new novel, Oh William!, is important to note. There’s no comma after Oh and the exclamation mark is, indeed, a point of emphasis. Those who’ve read Strout’s previous works will be familiar with William’s ex-wife, Lucy Barton. If introduced here to Lucy for the first time, there’s enough about her past and how it factors into her relationship with William.

To say they’re cordial to one another is an understatement; though long divorced, they are friends, even confidantes, but certainly not lovers. They have two grown daughters, share holidays and are, simply, part of each other’s lives.

Each remarried years ago, although Lucy’s second husband is deceased and William’s third wife has recently left him.

Strout’s writing is terse, efficient and occasionally melancholy. Told from Lucy’s perspective, the narrative focuses on William and, significantly, his late mother. When William discovers a family secret he’s compelled to learn more. A road trip ensues and he asks Lucy to join him. She agrees.

Lucy notes early in the novel that William has always exuded confidence something that manifested itself in his position as a scientist and NYU professor. As a writer, Lucy is observant, attune to those around her.  Through her eyes, the reader witnesses William’s certainty begin to diminish, while her own grows stronger.

The title can be read as both a lament (even sans comma) and celebration; both are fitting. Oh William! is a testament to the power of friendship, especially as one ages. Hurray Lucy!

Oh William!

Four Bookmarks

Random House, 2021

241 pages

Ageless Friendship   Leave a comment

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot: A Novel: Cronin, Marianne:  9780063017504: Amazon.com: Books

The 100 Years of Lenni and Margot by Marianne Cronin is about the sustaining and enduring power of friendship. Lenni is the 17-year-old narrator hospitalized with “life-limiting” cancer –  usually referred to as terminal. She meets 83-year-old Margot and an immediate bond is formed. Between them is a 100-year-old life.

Lenni’s acerbic, insightful humor is beyond her age. This isn’t a criticism; it makes sense given her situation. She’s a no-nonsense teen who doesn’t get to live the life of a healthy teenager. She still manages to sling attitude, though. Yet, she makes the most of her situation: she’s curious, so she meets with the hospital chaplain; she creative, so she has the idea to collaborate with Margot to share their life stories through art. Each painting is associated with a particular and significant situation, which they reveal to each other. The result, besides bringing them closer, is a compelling narrative rich with life’s joys and sorrows.

Lenni’s parents never visit, which is eventually explained. Whether intentional or not, Lenni creates her own family within the hospital. Father Arthur, New Nurse , Paul the Porter, the Temp and Pippa the art teacher are those with whom she has meaningful relationships.

Cronin’s characters are vividly portrayed. The novel is both heartwarming and heart wrenching. After all, the word terminal is stated on page one. The friendship with Margot transcends age. Although Lenni will never have Margot’s experiences, she’s able to appreciate what life does offer, and everyone is enriched by knowing Lenni.

The One Hundred Years of Lenni and Margot                                                                                Four+ Bookmarks                                                          HarperCollins, 2021                                                                            326 pages, plus Reading Group Guide and Author Interview                                                                         

A Life in the Kitchen   Leave a comment

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I enjoy reading books about chefs probably because I like food. I’ve never been to Eric Ripert’s Le Bernadin, a three star Michelin rated New York City restaurant, but I have heard of him.

His memoir, 32 Yolks, recounts his childhood in southern France, his first encounters with fine dining and his journey to becoming a renowned chef. Unfortunately, the account lacks personality. It’s bland, More flavoring is needed in the form of humor and descriptions of food lack vibrancy.

As a child, and later young adult, Ripert was happiest when cooking was part of the scene, whether it was in his mother’s, grandmothers’ or a friend’s kitchen. His parents divorced when he was six and his father died soon afterward. In an effort to alleviate her son’s sadness, Ripert’s mother took him to a dinner at an exclusive restaurant. This led to a long-standing friendship with the chef/owner.

Ripert attended culinary school, which he explained, didn’t fully prepare him for what actually takes place in a restaurant kitchen. He had to learn that the hard way.

The title comes from one of his first kitchen duties: to break 32 eggs for a hollandaise sauce. An undertone of self-deprecation comes through in Ripert’s first professional kitchen experiences, yet it rings false. Hard knocks are a way of life, but his memories of working on the line are soft.

Still, learning about how people get to where they are today is of interest.

32 Yolks: From My Mother’s Table to Working the Line

Three Bookmarks

Random House, 2016

247 pages

Libraries and Adventures   Leave a comment

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Cloud Cuckoo Land may be the looniest book title I’ve heard of. Nonetheless, it’s Anthony Doerr’s most recent, aptly-named novel. This epic work traverses centuries and locales; it’s about five children, books and the importance of libraries in their lives and throughout time.

Anna is an orphan in Constantinople; Omeir is a village boy in the same era. Zeno and Seymour are from Idaho living in the 2000s; and Konstance lives on an interstellar ship. Some them converge, and they’re not the ones readers might expect.

Libraries could, collectively, be a sixth character. They serve as gathering places for four of the five to learn about their individual worlds. A Greek book ties everything together. It’s the namesake of this narrative and a story within the main story.

Each section expands on the ancient tale of Cloud Cuckoo Land wherein a man is turned into an ass. His efforts to regain his human self result in a far-fetched adventure with a potent moral.

At 600+pages, some might consider this to be a daunting undertaking. Yet, it’s worth reading every word. The characters age and not all for the better; the paths they pursue, often driven by information gleaned from their respective library visits or exposure to the Greek story, are ones easily imaginable despite the different settings.

Doerr has crafted a rich and vivid narrative through empathy, tension and curiosity. It’s a given the different eras and places will make sense. How it occurs is captivating.

Cloud Cuckoo Land

Five Bookmarks

Scribner, 2021

626 pages

Dying for an Invitation   Leave a comment

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Lucy Foley’s The Guest List is an easy-to-read mystery without having to worry about anything lurking behind closed doors. There’s plenty of tension but the short chapters and the focus on a handful of characters are balanced with the eery remote Irish island locale; all contribute to creating the scene for not only a whodunit, but to whom?

Mostly, the plot moves back forth between the day before and day of Jules and Will’s wedding;  at times it is more specific:  the morning of,  the night of, now  and the next day. The narrative is told from several perspectives: Jules; the bridesmaid; the best man; a plus one; and the wedding planner.

The first chapter, not ascribed to any particular character, sets the scene of a large, posh wedding reception with a powerful storm raging outside multiple tents. When the lights go out no one is overly concerned, but what evokes chills is a terrifying scream.

Foley doesn’t return to the source of the scream until more than 50 pages later. In the interim, the main characters are introduced – broadly at first before they become more real making it possible to develop attitudes and feelings toward each one.  What surfaces in the character developments are jealousies, insecurities and, not surprisingly, several motives for murder.

Interspersed among the characters’ back stories are descriptions of the wedding, the island and storm, and, most significantly, what interrupted the festivities.  This is perhaps the least engrossing element. Foley provides plenty of whys, which leaves the question of who‘s the victim since there so many possibilities.

The Guest List

Four Bookmarks

HarperCollins, 2020

313 Pages

Posted November 10, 2021 by bluepagespecial in Books, Reviews

Tagged with , , , , ,

A Different Perspective   Leave a comment

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Nella Rogers is proud of herself for getting her foot in the door of a New York City publishing company. She assumes her presence alone should cause people to think about race. Yet, in the two years since her hiring, she’s made little effort in changing the office culture. She is the only woman of color until Hazel arrives; suddenly Hazel is seen and heard where Nella never was before.

Zakiya Dalila Harris’s The Other Black Girl addresses several topics and formats in one swift effort. First is the issue of race, but it is from the Black perspective. What initially appears to be a narrative about the lives of two Black women with different life experiences evolves into espionage; it becomes a mystery of sorts.

Nella grew up in a suburb among few Blacks; Hazel’s background is much different: she grew up in Harlem.  Hazel immediately ingratiates herself among the office staff, including Nella’s boss. A book under consideration for publication is troublesome to Nella because she views it as racist, but is reluctant to say so. When Hazel encourages her to speak up, things begin to change, but not as expected.

The novel includes two time periods: 1983 and 2018. The connection between the two isn’t fully addressed until the end. This, along with several threatening notes left at Nella’s desk, creates tension and intrigue. Inconsistencies in some of Hazel’s story cause Nella to suspect her colleague and make the reader wonder which one is the other black girl?

The Other Black Girl

Four Bookmarks

Atria Books, 2021

357 pages

Unraveling a Swedish Mystery   Leave a comment

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I’m not only a fan of Swedish mysteries, I also have affinity for the Scandinavian country thanks to hosting an exchange student years ago. While that relationship remains strong, it has no connection to the often dark tales involving murder and deceit.

Knock Knock by Anders Roslund reintroduces readers to criminal detective Ewert Grens. Seventeen years earlier Grens found a five-year-old girl as the lone survivor of a mass shooting in the family home that included her parents and two siblings.

Now, nearing retirement age, Grens discovers someone has broken into the same house. He’s convinced someone is looking for the girl, long ago given a new name as part of witness protection, and fears her life may be in danger.

A parallel narrative involves Piet Hoffman, a former police informer, whose life and family are threatened. Eventually the two plotlines intersect as several execution-type murders take place, similar to the one Grens investigated all those years ago.

Grens is an ill-tempered loner and long-time widower. That he has a soft side, albeit one rarely seen, is no surprise. By contrast, Hoffman is a devoted family man despite his past. The two are intelligent and complement one another. Their association goes back years to Hoffman’s informant days, but suggesting Grens is pleased to reconnect is far from the truth.

Knock Knock is just the kind of Swedish mystery that hooks me: vivid descriptions of Sweden, in this case Stockholm, a fast-paced narrative and interesting characters with often-imperfect moral codes.

Knock Knock

Four-and-a-half Bookmarks

G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 2021

438 pages