As a reader, I’ve always loved libraries. I remember when the library opened in my small town. I was eight and the teacher took us there on a class trip and I thought it was the most wonderful place. We didn’t have a lot of books at home, just the usual Dick and Jane and Golden Book series, and here was a whole building full of books you could take home for several weeks. I read my way through the children’s side and had graduated to the adult section by age eleven. My mother would take us to the library every Saturday to stock up, and I read my way through many a long hot summer. I still remember the familiar smell of books and the waft of cool air that hit you walking through the door, as the library was one of the few places in town with air conditioning. Of course living in the country, we needed a ride there, so imagine the convenience of having a free little library in your own neighbourhood.
Free little libraries are small neighbourhood boxes where you can borrow, take, donate or share a book…..all kinds of books. They have been popping up all over lately, just like the spring flowers, but as they are a year round venture, they must be weatherproof and snow proof. There are at least 30 registered locations in my county alone – one of the most utilized ones is near a local campsite.
I’ve been thinking about having a little library since the beginning of the pandemic, which the libraries were all closed and I found myself lending out books to neighbours I met while walking, who complained about having nothing to read, and is there anything worse for a reader.
It’s a nice way to share your love of reading, expand book access, and meet and get to know your neighbours. Last year the local Literary organization was so stockpiled with donated books that they offered temporary pop-up libraries at parks and beaches when the weather was nice, using plastic recycling blue boxes.
The Free Little Library organization (take a book, share a book) has a website, (see link) where you can officially register as a book steward (with a plaque number) if you wish, but I think I would prefer to just put one up and see how it goes. My neighbourhood is an old established one, with a mixture of retired folks and young families, but it’s a cul-de-sac, and I don’t want too much of a commitment until I see how much it will be used.
Their website says they have over 100,000 registered stewards in over 100 countries around the globe. They also have a page where they sell pre-made libraries and kits – see link – averaging around $350 plus another $175 for the spike and post. I like this blue one made out of composite so it doesn’t need painting, but it’s sold out.
These are their revenue generators, but a bit pricey, but they also have a page with a list of ideas for making your own, (see link – little libraries on a shoestring budget) such as this one here, which appears to be a storage cupboard propped up on a stool.
The local literacy organization was partnering with volunteers and high school shop classes to make some of these book sharing boxes. They were sponsoring a contest, which I didn’t win, but garage sale season is coming up, so I’ll keep my eyes open for something suitable….and books of course. They can hold up to 40 books, so I have some book shopping to do.
Thrift stores are good sources for books, plus I went to the big Rotary Book sale last month, for the $10 stuff a bag day and stocked up. I bought mostly books that I have read and enjoyed, although the children’s selection was picked over by then.
Warm weather will be here soon, and I’m looking forward to reading outside again on the deck.
One hundred years later, Agatha Christie remains the most famous of mystery writers, with a prolific output of 66 detective novels, 14 short story collections, six fiction novels under a pseudonym and the theater’s longest running play, The Mousetrap. One of the highest selling authors of all time (2 billion copies) her books are still in print and movie versions abound even today. I recently saw Crooked House on Netflix (mixed opinion on that one) and Death on the Nile is on my to-see list.
As I’ve only read a couple of her books, Murder on the Orient Express, and And Then There Were None, I can’t say that I’m a big fan. The flaw I find in her writing is the sheer number of characters in some of them, it’s hard to keep them all straight, especially when she gives such a small amount of description and background about them. In my opinion, we never really get to know the people in her books, except perhaps for the recurring ones, like Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot and I’ve always disliked that ridiculous mustache.
The same with the movie adaptations, on both Crooked House and the 2017 version of The Orient Express, there were so many actors with similar appearance – the same tall dark looks (the men) and thin with bobbed hair (the women) that it was hard to keep them all straight. In Crooked House, the filming was so dark and the camera so distant that we seldom got enough of a close-up of a face to be able to distinguish between them. This is perhaps a problem with casting and scripts however, not the books.
I know only the barest outline of her life – her first marriage to a husband who left her for another woman, and who, it was reputed, never bothered to read any of her books after the first, (good riddance to him), her second marriage to a younger archaeologist, her stints as an apothecary’s assistant during both world wars, which resulted in her extensive knowledge of poisons. (I can’t say I share that expertise despite my forty years experience, but medication was mainly compounded from scratch back in the day.) But one thing has always puzzled people – her disappearance for eleven days in 1926. While all of England searched for her, she was holed up in a hotel, registered under the name of her husband’s mistress. Her mother had died earlier in the year and rumors abounded that her husband had asked for a divorce. Had she suffered a nervous breakdown, or perhaps intended to embarrass him? There was even speculation it might have been a publicity stunt. Once found, they got back together again, but she eventually left him and he married his mistress.
So it was with interest that I read the new release, The Christie Affair, by Nina de Gramont – a fictionalized account of her mysterious disappearance. The reviews were great, and it did not disappoint. I would consider this one of the best books I’ve read this year, deserving of being a Reese Book Club selection, which is not always the case.
The writing was excellent and suspenseful, and I am in awe of how the author spun the various stories together, with a very satisfactory ending, and of course there was a crime to solve, although it wasn’t the main focus. I can’t say too much because of spoilers, but I do wonder how they got this book past the Christie estate because of that one pivotal detail. It’s all pure fiction of course, but masterfully done. In short, it’s difficult to summarize this book, it’s historical fiction, it’s a suspense novel, but it’s mainly it’s just a very good story.
I’m not familiar with the author, but she has five other books I will check into. This book has also inspired me to read more about Agatha Christie’s life. She never discussed the disappearance the rest of her life, only mentioning it briefly in her autobiography as “So, after illness, came sorrow, despair and heartbreak. There is no need to dwell on it.”
Contrast this to my experience a week later reading Lucy Foley’s latest – The Paris Apartment – a modern day locked room mystery.
Goodreads Publisher’s Blurb: Jess needs a fresh start. She’s broke and alone, and she’s just left her job under less than ideal circumstances. Her half-brother Ben didn’t sound thrilled when she asked if she could crash with him for a bit, but he didn’t say no, and surely everything will look better from Paris. Only when she shows up – to find a very nice apartment, could Ben really have afforded this? – he’s not there. The longer Ben stays missing, the more Jess starts to dig into her brother’s situation, and the more questions she has. Ben’s neighbors are an eclectic bunch, and not particularly friendly. Jess may have come to Paris to escape her past, but it’s starting to look like it’s Ben’s future that’s in question. The socialite – The nice guy – The alcoholic – The girl on the verge – The concierge. Everyone’s a neighbor. Everyone’s a suspect. And everyone knows something they’re not telling.
Reading this book a week after The Christie Affair, I couldn’t help but compare the two. Lucy Foley also wrote the previous locked room mysteries, The Guest List (destination wedding on an island off the coast of Ireland) and The Hunting Lodge (a Scottish lodge during a snow storm). Now I have to admit I’m not the demographic the author is writing for (young, lots of beverage imbibing and bad language, some of it in French) but in my opinion any book which starts with an offensive opening sentence has nowhere to go but more of the same. Where were the editors? Is there anything wrong with a simple “Ben, answer your phone – I’m freezing out here.” No, but in a modern day mystery, it seems we must use explicit adjectives, and maybe that is the way young people talk, but I almost closed the book after the first page. I was discussing this with the librarian when I returned it, and she argued that the author was trying to establish that the protagonist was from a disadvantaged background. I suppose there’s that….but she’s also unlikable. It seems to be the fashion now to have an unlikable protagonist, but really, none of the characters were likable. Which made me think – do I really want to spend 300 pages with these people? Still, I persisted….because I know Lucy Foley can spin a good tale.
It’s not a bad book, suspenseful, more character development than what Agatha Christie was prone too, but that is to be expected today. We must have multiple motives, and in order to have motives you must reveal something about your characters, disagreeable or not. I’m a sucker for any book with Paris in the title, but it’s like the author threw everything stereo-typically French – thin chic women afraid to eat, lots of wine, extramarital affairs and a rather sleazy descent into the seedier side of Moulin Rouge – into a pot and this is the plot she came up with. There isn’t really even that much about Paris in it, it could be an apartment building anywhere, as that is where the majority of the story is set, although I think she ate a croissant, despite her dwindling cash reserves? I can see it being a Hollywood movie – lots of passion and sizzle, a rather thin plot, but a suspenseful ending. It was somewhat better the last hundred pages, and was certainly a fast paced read for a book where nothing much happens, but will it stand the test of time? That remains to be seen.
Both were good books, in their own way, but my preference was for The Christie Affair – tell me an interesting story along with my dose of suspense.
Which begs the question, does every mystery author eventually succumb to being dated? Have you read any good mysteries lately?
There are many reports on the health benefits of the Mediterranean Diet. It’s one of the most recommended diets for its ability to reduce the risk of heart disease, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, certain types of cancer, as well as to help prevent cognitive decline and dementia especially vascular dementia. See link from Harvard Health newsletter, A Practical Guide to the Mediterranean Diet.
With it’s emphasize on plant foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, and legumes which are minimally processed, seasonally fresh and locally grown, olive oil as the principal source of fat, fish and poultry instead of red meat, cheese, yogurt and wine in low to moderate amounts, and fresh fruit for dessert, with limited sweets, it sounds like a healthy way to eat.
And then there’s the whole Mediterranean thing…because of course the traditional Mediterranean diet is based on foods available in countries that border the Mediterranean Sea.…where the sun shines and life is la dolce vita. (less stress, less inflammation) But I live in Canada, where it’s cold half the year and hearty meals abound. Things like chili and chicken pot pie have been staples on my diet this winter but does my latest favorite dish, chicken and mushroom crepes, count as the French Rivera is on the Mediterranean?
Still the Mediterranean diet is something I aspire to, if only in the frozen food aisle.
So it was some anticipation that I read Debbie Travis’s latest book Joy – Life Lessons from a Tuscan Villa. (You knew there was going to be a book in here somewhere.)
I was only vaguely aware of Debbie Travis (a decorating guru and pioneer of painting techniques) and I don’t usually read lifestyle books, (she’s written eleven), but it had a pretty cover and gorgeous pictures of the 13th century villa she restored over five years and now rents out for relaxing retreats.
Here’s a link to the Villa Reniella, should you have some extra cash to spare. It was hard to figure out the pricing, as while googling I saw various listings in different currencies, but they were all expensive.
There was a time in my life when the idea of a week at such a place would have seemed wonderfully idyllic. Now I’d probably be bored. My retirement life is already pretty low stress. Yoga looking out over a row of Cypress trees is still yoga and I hate yoga.
And I have no desire to stay in a room which was previously a pigsty – wouldn’t it still reek of pigs? According to the book, the family stays in the original three story villa, but there are 12 individual well-appointed Porcilaia suites for rent, plus a renovated horse barn.
Only a rich celebrity would buy a run-down villa with livestock living on the ground floor and no running water – the village turned it off 30 times before they dug a well. The original building was surrounded by pigsties that were transformed into suites, each with its own private entrance and garden. Not to mention the 1200 olive trees which needed pruning and harvesting, an old non-productive vineyard and nightly battles with a herd of wild boor. She only mentions these in passing, and also introduces us to the previous owner (an elderly Tuscan man who surely must be laughing all the way to the bank), but I would have been more interested in reading about her experiences renovating the place than perusing a bunch of stylized photos of food I’m probably never going to make nor have any desire to eat. I don’t even like the taste of olive oil. (Edited to add – apparently there is a six episode series on youtube – La Dolce Debbie – for those who would prefer a documentary about the renovations. I have not watched it yet but here’s the link.) (April 21 – edited to add – I watched it and found it very enjoyable but it must have cost them a fortune – I highly recommend it if you’d prefer a visual tour!)
There’s a section on the villa’s extensive kitchen garden, which produces a multitude of herbs and vegetables with accompanying recipes. Kale, artichokes, beets, (no), leeks, peas, asparagus, mushrooms, tomatoes, radicchio (yes), zucchini (boring), fava beans, eggplant, celeriac (never tried them).
I found the book entertaining but also very light and fluffy – it’s certainly no Under the Tuscan Sun. I wonder though if the health benefits of the Mediterranean diet can be partially attributed to a different lifestyle, and the book does give us a peek into the Tuscan way of life with their emphasize on family and socializing, their coffee culture, aperitivos (pre-dinner drinks and nibbles) and the Passeggiata – a long promenade before dinner. Yes, I could see myself strolling around the village square with a glass of Prosecco in hand…a good way to get those steps in, if you don’t drink too much and stumble over the cobblestones. Plus, any country whose shuttered shops and businesses allow you to take a long afternoon nap has my vote. Perhaps they are just healthier because they get more sleep?
There were lots of recipes and pretty pictures of food, most of which I would probably not make because I’m not big on quinoa, chickpeas or legumes for my protein. The Limoncella recipe sounded interesting, as I always wanted to have a lemon tree, although not necessarily a whole grove. I like pasta and tomatoes occasionally, but she assures us the pasta (with fibre-rich grains, obesity is rare) and tomatoes taste different there, and their bruschetta is made with their own sun-ripened tomatoes. If anyone wants to lend me five thousand pounds, so I could find out, I believe this may require more research…..maybe in June during the Classic Car Rally? Now driving a vintage car around the scenic hills of Tuscany sounds like my kind of retreat.
PS. In the meantime Stanley Tucci’s – Season Two of Searching for Italy starts Sunday May 1 on CNN. I believe he is eating his way through Venice and Umbria.
One of the pleasures of staying in a hotel room is someone else cleans up, but do we ever really think about that person? We may see them moving their trolleys up and down the hallway, and hopefully we leave them a tip, but it’s a job a lot of people take for granted. It’s hard work, plus, you’d have to like cleaning.
Thankfully, Molly, the protagonist in the new bestseller, The Maid, loves her job and takes great pride and enjoyment in returning the rooms at the Regency Hotel to “a state of perfection” as their training program emphasizes. When she happens to clean away some murder evidence which along with her unusual behavior makes her a prime suspect, that provides an interesting premise for a murder mystery.
Here’s the Publisher’s Blurb:
Molly Gray is not like everyone else. She struggles with social skills and misreads the intentions of others. Her gran used to interpret the world for her, codifying it into simple rules that Molly could live by.
Since Gran died a few months ago, twenty-five-year-old Molly has been navigating life’s complexities all by herself. No matter—she throws herself with gusto into her work as a hotel maid. Her unique character, along with her obsessive love of cleaning and proper etiquette, make her an ideal fit for the job. She delights in donning her crisp uniform each morning, stocking her cart with miniature soaps and bottles, and returning guest rooms at the Regency Grand Hotel to a state of perfection.
But Molly’s orderly life is upended the day she enters the suite of the infamous and wealthy Charles Black, only to find it in a state of disarray and Mr. Black himself dead in his bed. Before she knows what’s happening, Molly’s unusual demeanor has the police targeting her as their lead suspect. She quickly finds herself caught in a web of deception, one she has no idea how to untangle. Fortunately for Molly, friends she never knew she had unite with her in a search for clues to what really happened to Mr. Black—but will they be able to find the real killer before it’s too late?
A Clue-like, locked-room mystery and a heartwarming journey of the spirit, The Maid explores what it means to be the same as everyone else and yet entirely different—and reveals that all mysteries can be solved through connection to the human heart.
About the Author:
Nita Prose is a longtime editor, serving many bestselling authors and their books. She lives in Toronto, Canada, in a house that is only moderately clean.
As an longtime editor, Nita Prose obviously had publishing connections, but this book is so good and so unique I’m sure it would have been found a home anyway. I suspect the hotel in the book is based on The Royal York in Toronto, where I have stayed on occasion when work was footing the bill, (it’s handy to Union train station, but when I have to pay, I stay at the pleasant but cheaper Marriott) or it could be any one of those grand old dames with an impressive lobby which pride themselves on style and service.
Discussion: I loved everything about this book – the protagonist, the plot-line, the descriptions, the dialogue – it’s just a charming story. I was already casting it in my head, when I read on Amazon that it is in development as a major motion picture produced by and starring Florence Pugh. I don’t know enough about this English actress to say whether she would suit the role or not, but it’s the kind of quirky movie the British do best. Hollywood would probably Hollywoodize it, with sexy uniforms and lots of bed-hopping.
One thing to note, this murder mystery has nothing to do with the Netflix series of the same name, which is a totally different story. I haven’t watched it, but believe it deals with the struggles of a single mother working a minimum wage job. I don’t know what the pay is for hotel maids but personal maid services here charge $35/hr with $25 going to the maid, and even home care agencies charge $25 for light housekeeping, but the bigger hotel chains may be closer to minimum wage $15 as they are often staffed by people whose English is a second language. This is addressed in the book, as one of the employees does not have the proper immigration papers and Molly herself has difficulty making her big city rent. (These rates may even have gone up given the low unemployment rate and difficulty in attracting employees.)
Molly is such a memorable character that you can’t help but root for her. Alone in the world after her grandmother’s death, she is unable to understand or read social cues, and takes everything at face value. The book is written in first person, which I often find annoying, but which works here as we are seeing the world from the point of view of someone whose thinking and behavior would be considered outside of normal. Although the author is very careful not to label her, she is probably somewhere on the spectrum, possibly Asperger’s Syndrome with a good dose of OCD thrown in. She seems literally clueless when it comes to interpreting other people’s words and actions which leads her into trouble. (I wonder if people who fall prey to obvious financial scams might be struggling with the same perceptive difficulties.)
The dialogue is clever, (hence the movie), and the descriptions creative – her nest egg which was stolen is her “Faberge”, her restaurant date was “the Tour of Italy”( which made me want to eat at an Olive Garden, if only we had one here).
The plot was fast-paced, although but I had a small problem with the ending, but understand why it had to happen that way. Overall, the book was a brilliant debut and also a gentle reminder that there are many “invisible” people in society, whose perceptions of the world may be somewhat different than our own.
PS. I use a maid service for my mother’s house, and also occasionally for myself for bigger jobs like windows, as I simply don’t have the energy to keep up two houses. What I like about them is they send two, occasionally three, people so they are in and out in a couple of hours, so you’re not in their way all afternoon. They do an excellent job, but cleaning houses all day is hard work, so many of them don’t last long, although the head cleaner is always the same. She told me she loves to clean, as did the Molly Maid franchise owner I used before. I’m grateful that some people do…now if I could only find someone who loves ironing. Vacuuming is my second hated task, but give me something to organize and I’m happy. While I used to enjoy the feeling of satisfaction after cleaning my house from top to bottom, now that I’m older I prefer that someone else return my house to “a state of perfection.” If only it would stay that way.
PS. Cleanliness in a hospital is a priority, so I would like to add a note of thanks to the hospital cleaners who have to deal with the COVID-units. I remember the floors in my rural hospital being so clean and shiny you could eat off them.
Do you enjoy cleaning? Any hated household tasks?
A photo recap of March.
A selection of my mother’s paintings of Ireland.
Let your photo(s) tell your story.
Imagine being stuck inside, in a small space, for two years, where going out meant risking your life. No, it’s not the pandemic – it’s WW2, and the people in hiding are Jewish.
Like many teenage girls of my generation, I read The Diary of Anne Frank, written by a fifteen-year-old Jewish girl in Amsterdam, when I was in grade school. So when I saw The Betrayal of Anne Frank – a Cold Case Investigation by Rosemary Sullivan – on the new releases list, I knew I had to read it, and having read it, I knew I needed to blog about it. The book is a captivating read, and a cautionary one. It’s a timely topic, as with so much political turmoil in the world today, and so much divisiveness and hatred, it seems like history is repeating itself.
Goodreads Publishers Blurb:
Using new technology, recently discovered documents and sophisticated investigative techniques, an international team—led by an obsessed former FBI agent—has finally solved the mystery that has haunted generations since World War II: Who betrayed Anne Frank and her family? And why?
Over thirty million people have read The Diary of a Young Girl, the journal teen-aged Anne Frank kept while living in an attic with her family in Amsterdam during World War II, until the Nazis arrested them and sent Anne to her death in a concentration camp. But despite the many works—journalism, books, plays and novels—devoted to Anne’s story, none has ever conclusively explained how the Franks and four other people managed to live in hiding undetected for over two years—and who or what finally brought the Nazis to their door.
With painstaking care, former FBI agent Vincent Pankoke and a team of indefatigable investigators pored over tens of thousands of pages of documents—some never-before-seen—and interviewed scores of descendants of people involved, both Nazi sympathizers and resisters, familiar with the Franks. Utilizing methods developed by the FBI, the Cold Case Team painstakingly pieced together the months leading to the Franks’ arrest—and came to a shocking conclusion.
The Betrayal of Anne Frank is their riveting story. Rosemary Sullivan introduces us to the investigators, explains the behavior of both the captives and their captors and profiles a group of suspects. All the while, she vividly brings to life wartime Amsterdam: a place where no matter how wealthy, educated, or careful you were, you never knew whom you could trust.
The Author: Rosemary Sullivan is the author of fifteen books, many of which are biographies, and the recipient of many international awards. She is a professor emeritus at the University of Toronto and has lectured worldwide.
I found this book to be a fascinating but disturbing read. Cold cases are always interesting, but a famous cold case which is part of history, even more so, and trying to solve one seventy-five years later when all of the suspects are dead, almost impossible.
Part One, the first hundred or so pages, deals with the background story. For those unfamiliar, Anne Frank and her parents and older sister, along with another Jewish couple and their teenage son, and a local dentist – eight people in total – were hidden for two years in the upper annex of her father’s spice business, with the assistance of four of Otto Frank’s employees who brought them food and supplies. The annex was at the back of the building facing a courtyard with a tree, Anne’s only glimpse of the outdoors for two years. Based on an anonymous tip, the address was raided a few weeks before the liberation of Amsterdam, by a German Gestapo agent and three Dutch policemen. They were all sent to concentration camps, and only her father Otto Frank survived, and later went on to publish Anne’s diary.
Part one introduces us to Anne’s world, and the complex politics of Amsterdam at the time, including the collaborators and the resistance movement. It’s a fascinating look at just how quickly a normal life can deteriorate into one of treachery and survival. It describes the political environment and the raid in detail, and the background and history of the people involved, including the policemen.
Part Two deals with the investigation of who had betrayed them. The investigative team of thirty people, led by the retired FBI detective, narrowed thirty possibilities down to twelve scenarios, and then a further four, until they reached their final theory, based on a random note found in the archives, (no spoilers here) and note it is a theory, as there is no absolute proof which they made clear.
Like any cold case, they looked at three factors – Knowledge, Motive and Opportunity. Knowledge could come from rumors, observations, or resistance people being tortured. Motive could have been for money (there was a bounty of $7.50 guilders or $47 US for each Jew turned in), hatred or self-preservation, trying to stay on the good side of evil. (Which begs the ethical question, could you turn someone else in to save yourself or your own family?) Opportunity was having knowledge and access to the Germans or SD police.
Some suspects could be eliminated as they weren’t in the area at the time. The team systemically went over lists of known collaborators and addresses from extensive war archives, reconstructing a detailed map of the area. They also designed a computer program to handle the masses of data. There was so many archives to wade through that solving the case took several years.
Vince Pankoke, the lead detective said “there was no aha moment to end the investigation – the emergence of the betrayer was a slow coming together of evidence and motive, a jigsaw piece that suddenly undeniably fit. He remarked that there was a weight of great sadness after the case was solved which has stayed with him since.”
Additional Points of Interest:
Originally born in Germany, Otto Frank had served in WW1 but had fled Germany in 1933 and set up a business in Amsterdam, a city known for its tolerance. Yet the Netherlands transported more Jews to their deaths in concentration camps than any other country in Western Europe. Of the 140,000 Jews living there, 107,00 were deported and only 5500 returned. There were an estimated 25,000 in hiding, one third of whom would eventually be betrayed.
We have the greed of the Gestapo agent to thank for the survival of Anne’s diary. During the raid, Anne picked up her father’s briefcase which contained the diary to take with them. The German police officer threw her diary with it’s checkered cover on the floor and filled the briefcase with the valuables and money that Otto and the others had managed to hold onto. Had she taken it with her to the camp, it would have been destroyed. After the raid, the two female employees rescued it and tucked it away for Anne’s return.
It was interesting to note how some of the interviewee’s memories (and their descendants), changed over the years. Sometimes how people remembered things, did not jive with the documented reality, particularly after Anne’s fame grew.
In a particularly poignant section, Otto Frank describes Anne drinking in the natural world that had been denied her for so long, on the last train to Auschwitz. It was summertime and she reveled in the fresh air and sunshine.
In one of the last pages of her diary, Anne writes, “It’s a wonder I haven’t abandoned all my ideals, they seem so absurd and impossible. Yet I keep clinging to them, because I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are truly good at heart.”
It’s something to remember, that feeling of hope, especially at a time when the world seems to be tilting towards intolerance, that things can always be made right again.
One final thought, you don’t have to like someone to help them. My grandmother grew up in a southern rural area of Holland, and I remember her saying that her family had helped refugees during WW1. (The Netherlands remained neutral during WW1 and attracted a flood of refugees.) They were from Turkey, and I also remember her saying that they were not nice people, but they helped them anyway. My grandmother would have been 16 and it is debatable what would constitute not being nice at that age – being made to give up her bed, possibly being leered at, or the fact that they were gypsies, I believe was the word used. Her parents were gone by WW2, although she had many brothers and sisters back home, but I never asked her, to my great regret, for any stories of those years.
PS. You can visit the Anne Frank House and Museum in Amsterdam, (see online website for a one hour history and virtual tour of the annex) but anyone I know who has gone there has not been able to see it because of the long lineups. The Annex was accessed via a secret bookcase, (link to a 2 minute tour) and was fairly small to have housed eight people. Here’s a youtube link to the only known video of Anne Frank on a balcony watching a wedding party.
PS. One of my readers has mentioned that there has since been dissension about the research and conclusion of the book, to the extent that the Dutch and German publishers have suspended publication until they do a further review. Considering their end theory was a shocking revelation, and that Otto Frank (and his secretary) knew who had betrayed them for years and kept silent, and that the Switzerland foundation he set up in her name refused to cooperate in the research, it is not entirely unexpected for the book to be controversial. Readers wishing further information may google for more details.
Last July I did a review of the most memorable books I had read over the previous year – see A Reading Sabbatical. I intended to do a quarterly review going forward, but other blog topics beckoned. Since we’ve nothing much to do this time of year when we’re shut by the weather, here’s a summary of the (mostly) wonderful books I’ve read since. Hopefully there will be something to tempt you to escape to another world for awhile….
Golden Girl – Elin Hilderbrand. The protagonist, author of 13 beach novels and mother of three almost grown children is killed in a hit and run car accident while jogging near her home on Nantucket. She ascends to the afterlife where she meets her guardian angel who allows her to watch what happens for one last summer. She is granted three nudges to change the outcomes of events on earth but with her kids lives full of turmoil must decide when to use them.
I can’t recall any other book where the protagonist was killed in the first chapter, so this was a unique twist on her usual drama-filled beach read. This was intended to the author’s last novel, and seems somewhat semi-autobiographical, considering her bout with breast cancer five years ago. For a swan song, it was a surprisingly good read, although being Elin Hilderbrand not without its annoying immature characters. I wonder what she’ll do next?
Hostage – Clare MacIntosh – You can save hundreds of lives – or the one that matters most. A claustrophobic thriller set on a twenty hour plane flight from London to Australia. The protagonist, a flight attendant with a five-year old daughter and a fracturing marriage back home, is handed a note by a hijacker, who knows exactly how to make her comply. The anonymous skyjacker is part of a radical climate change group, and there is more than one of them seated among the passengers.
If you can get past the premise that post 911, any flight attendant would ever allow anyone into the pilot’s cabin, then this was a very suspenseful read, and well done. Clare MacIntosh at her best. It seems like all my favorite suspense writers had excellent books out last year. Perhaps one blessing of the pandemic was more time to write.
The Rose Code – Kate Quinn A tale about the intertwined lives of three women codebreakers during WW2 and what destroyed their friendship.
I honestly don’t remember much about this book, other than it was a good read. There seem to be so many of these historical fiction books about WW2 lately that it’s hard to keep them all straight.
The Maidens – Alex Michaelides A therapist becomes fixated on The Maidens, a secret society of female students at Cambridge associated with a handsome and charismatic professor of Greek Tragedy, after one of the members, a friend of her niece, is found murdered.
The author’s first psychological thriller, The Silent Patient, was so successful (number one on the 2019 Goodreads mystery and thriller list), that it would be a hard act to follow, which he acknowledges in the notes. This one also involves a therapist, and the author himself went to Cambridge, so perhaps he was writing about what he knows, but while I found it suspenseful, I didn’t find it nearly as good. The whole idea of a secret sorority with slavish devotion to a professor seems like a throwback to the fifties, but then I’ve never been to Cambridge.
A Slow Fire Burning – Paula Hawkins. Psychological thriller about a young man found murdered on a London houseboat, and the three women who knew and resented him. Laura, the troubled one-night stand last seen on his boat, Carla his grief-stricken aunt, already mourning the death of another family member, and Miriam the nosy eccentric neighbour who lives on an adjacent houseboat.
Paula Hawkins wrote The Girl on the Train, and seems to specialize in damaged characters or misfits, but the character of Laura was so well done, you found yourself cheering for her. It was interesting to read the point of view of someone normally shunned by society. An excellent read with a satisfying ending, this was rated number one in the Goodreads Mystery category for 2021.
L.M. Montgomery – The Gift of Wings – Mary Henley Rubio The definite biography of L.M. Montgomery, by the esteemed author who edited her five published journals and had extensive access to papers and interviews never published before, including with LM Montgomery’s son.
I blogged about the life of L.M. Montgomery back in May (see link), and having read several biographies over the years thought I knew a lot about her, but I found this book absolutely fascinating, especially from a psychological point of view, as Maud was a very complex woman. The depth of research in it was amazing, but then she knew her subject well from decades of study. It’s a 2008 publication, so I had to order it from the library, but it was one of the best non-fiction books I’ve read this year.
The Other Passenger – Louise Candlish Jaime, an older well-off male protagonist meets a group of fellow (“river rats”) passengers during his daily commute on a Thames riverboat in downtown London, including Kit a young hip debt-ridden twenty something, and they go for Christmas drinks. The next time he takes the ferry the police meet him when he disembarks – Kit has been reported missing by his wife Melia and he was the last person to be seen with him…arguing.
Wow, this certainly had a lot of twists and turns. So well done, which just goes to show you can tell a riveting story about the most dislikeable and unrelatable of characters. The dedication at the front of the book said “For all those who think they want more” or words to that effect. This was my first read with this award-winning British mystery author, and I was impressed.
The Four Winds – Kristen Hannah Historical fiction novel set in the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, with a strong female protagonist who after being abandoned by her husband, goes west with her children in search of a better life.
This was interesting read, but although it’s been compared to The Grapes of Wrath, it’s not Steinbeck. Kristen Hannah wrote The Nightingale (2000), a novel about fleeing Paris during WW2, but I didn’t find this one quite as good, although she is excellent at describing the plight of refugees, and it is a forgotten historical period, one I knew little about. I absolutely hated the ending, although I concede it was probably necessary.
The Comfort Book – Matt Haig A slim collection of one-per-page notes, quotes and observations that serve as gentle reminders that life is not all gloom and doom.
I sometimes enjoy a Philosophy-Lite book, and while I liked his novel, The Midnight Library, I was never able to get into any of his other non-fiction essay type books, most of which deal with depression. Some of the quotes were memorable, and I thought I might write them down, but now I’ve forgotten them.
Not a Happy Family – Shari Lapena When a wealthy couple is murdered the day after a contentious Easter dinner with their three estranged children, they stand to inherit the family fortune, unless one of them is responsible for the murder.
Well, the title says it all. Shari Lapena is one of my favorite murder mystery writers, and I look forward to her annual offering. This was good and certainly well done, but we’ve become so accustomed to unexpected twists at the end, that when there isn’t one, it’s feels somewhat disappointing.
The Night She Disappeared – Lisa Jewell A teenage mother leaves her baby with her mother while she goes out for the evening with friends, and never returns. She was last seen going to a party at a mansion in the woods. A cold case, an abandoned mansion and the kind of dysfunctional family Lisa Jewell does so well.
Lisa Jewell is another of my favorite mystery authors and she’s really outdone herself in this latest one.
World War C – Sanjay Gupta Lessons from the COVID Pandemic.
I debated not reading this, as aren’t we all sick of hearing about the pandemic, but it was quite interesting, but then I like a good science book. His style is immensely readable, and I picked up some facts about the coronavirus I was unaware of. 25% of all mammals in the world are bats, and they tend to have immunity to coronaviruses. Since the book went to press in the summer, it’s already out of date, but still a worthwhile read.
The First Survivors of Alzheimer’s – edited by Dale E. Bredesen MD Seven patients talk about how they recovered life and hope in their own words.
I saw this on the shelf at the library and was curious, especially since I had read Sanjay Gupta’s book about building a better brain and the preventative changes we can make in middle age. It’s edited by a physician who has developed a certain treatment regimen. The patients were in the self-reported early stages of mild cognitive decline. While the patient’s stories were interesting, they never really explained what the regimen involved. I guess you have to buy his first two books for that. After I got to patient seven who was gulping down 40 pills a day, I lost interest. Not recommended at all.
Taste – My Life Through Food – Stanley Tucci Food memoir by the actor Stanley Tucci.
I loved this book and blogged about it in November. (see link) This was my favorite non-fiction read of the year, and you feel like you’ve found a new friend when you’re done.
The Bookseller’s Secret – Michelle Gable – A Novel of WW2 and the Mitford sisters
I’m a sucker for any title with a bookstore in it. Another historical WW2 novel involving a modern-day journalist and a forgotten manuscript but as I don’t care about the Mitford sisters I never got past the first few pages.
Wintering – Katherine May – a book of personnel essays about wintering the difficult periods of our lives.
Blogged about it – (see link) – loved it – such wonderful writing. Hope we hear more from this British author.
The Last Painting of Sara De Vos – Dominic Smith A novel about art and forgery, spanning three continents and three time periods. A rare landscape by a female Dutch painter of the golden age, is on a collision course between the inheritor of the work in 1950’s Manhattan and the celebrated art historian in Sydney who painted a forgery of it in her youth.
I would like to know more about the art world and thought this was a good premise for a novel. A good read, nice writing. A prize-winning author, but it’s the first book of his I’ve read.
The Last Thing He Told Me – Laura Dave Wife is handed a note – Protect Her. Mystery about a man living a lie and his new wife and 16-year-old daughter who band together to discover what happened after he suddenly disappears.
This was a selection of my book club and a Reese Witherspoon pick as well. Very well done for one of those how well do you really know your spouse genre mysteries. A satisfying ending.
Wish You Were Here – Jodi Picoult Thirty something art specialist who has her life all mapped out, travels to the Galapagos Islands alone when her surgical resident boyfriend must stay behind in New York to deal with the early days of the COVID crisis (2020), and then starts to re-evaluate her life, job and relationships.
She’s one of my favorite authors, but I’ve barely recovered from her previous disaster The Book of Two Ways – that 400-page tome about death doulas/Egyptian mythology/archeology digs/AI/old boyfriends/parallel universe with the totally ambiguous ending.
First of all, I hate a dumb protagonist. If an island is closed and they tell you to go home, don’t act like a rich entitled tourist and stay and then gripe about it. I was so irritated by the main character and the whole premise that I was going to abandon it, because of course she meets someone on the island, and there are some truly laughable love scenes……but then……around page 190…..it all changes. What a brilliant piece of trickery! So, my advice would be to stick it out, although after the “sudden revelation,” I did guess the ending. I wouldn’t go so far as to say she’s gotten her groove back, but it’s close. I just hope she doesn’t start writing romance novels because love scenes are not her forte.
One word of caution though – do not, repeat, do not read this in the ER dept as I did, (for a non-COVID issue), and also if you have lost someone to COVID or are paranoid of catching it then best to skip it altogether. Her boyfriend’s texts/emails contain way too much ICU detail, and aren’t we all sick of the pandemic anyway – do we really want to read about it, even in a novel?
So curl up with a cat and a cup of tea, and a good book! I hope this wasn’t too long, but for book lovers can there ever be too many books to check out?