I have come to terms with the fact that I probably won't reach my book goal (or page goal) this year. While some months have been filled with books, September and October were marginal at best and November doesn't look much more promising. But most of what I read was very enjoyable.
Chocolat by Joanne Harris
I loved the film based on this book and sometimes that can be a problem. But the book is so exquisitely written, with such beautiful mastery of language, that memories of Juliette Binoche's luminous performance as Vivienne only enhanced the almost poetic text.
For those who don't know the plot, a woman and her daughter move into a small French town shortly before Easter and open a chocolate shop. Vivienne knows what people want, what they need -- both in chocolate and in life. Is it her honed instincts (or is it witchcraft?). At first the townspeople are skeptical but she slowly wins their friendship and trust. But can she survive the efforts of the town priest who finds her presence offensive, against God and perhaps evil?
If you love a beautifully written book, this is for you.
Malice in Miniature and Victim at Victoria Station by Jeanne Dams
These two novels are fourth and fifth in Jeanne Dams series about Dorothy Martin, a sixty-something widow who has moved to a small cathedral town in England after the death of her husband. A lover of hats and a nose for mystery finds her in a number of precarious situations.
These are definitely cozy and definitely light. And sometimes, that's just what you need. In "Malice in Miniature," Dorothy, newly remarried, is home alone while her new husband is at a conference. When her gardener is arrested for the theft of a miniature tea set that belonged to Marie Antoinette, she is convinced of and determined to prove his innocence. She enters the world of Victorian dolls houses in search of the murderer. (This one I liked very much.)
"Victim at Victoria Station" was so implausible that I almost didn't finish it. While on the train to visit friends, Dorothy meets a man coming to visit the London offices of his computer software company. But he never arrives at the office. Dorothy is convinced he was murdered and "goes undercover" as an office worker to find the murderer. Really? That could happen to a normal sixty year old American living in Britain over a couple of days? I expected more of Jeanne Dams.
Eight Perfect Murders by Peter Swanson
Erika introduced me to this one and it is a goodie! The narrator owns a bookstore and had long before written a blog post about eight perfect murders in several classic mysteries, including Agatha Christie's "ABC Murders," Patricia Highsmith's "Strangers on a Train," and six others. When the FBI begins investigating a series of murders that seem connected to the plots in the book, he is sought out to assist in the investigation. But the murders keep happening and soon cold cases are opened. This one kept me to the very end.
Not in a Tuscan Villa -- John and Nancy Petralia
Many books about Americans moving to Italy (or France, for that matter) find the ex-pats buying a villa or wonderful country home that may or may not require huge amounts of renovation as they meet their country neighbors and learn to be part of their new community.
This is not that book. John and Nancy Petralia, lovers of all things Italian, decide to move for a year. But rather than being in a country villa, they choose to live in the city as they explore their new country. The first town doesn't suit them and they move again, finding a spot in _____ that they adore. As they continue their real-life education abroad, the book, written in chapters by each of them, discusses such things as art, wine, dining, the art of being a waiter (a three-year training program is required!), the differences n the health system, history, the best ways to see new places and so much more.
They are excellent guides and I learned tons of fun things about Italy while also having great food for though to stretch my thinking, should I ever be so lucky as to try out a new country myself.
The Riviera Set -- Mary S. Lovell
Have you ever heard of Maxine Elliott? I hadn't before reading Mary S. Lovell's fascinating book, "The Riviera Set." A wonderful biographer, Lovell tells not only of Elliott, an American actress in the 1920s who toured England and became an ex-officio member of the hard-to-crack British aristocracy, entertaining politicians, actors and royalty. When Elliott buys a villa on the Riviera, it becomes a home away from home for Winston Churchill, The Duke and Duchess of Windsor, Edward VII, and many others who were critical players in British government and the social scene.
The second half of the book is almost a biography of another luminary, Aly Khan, who purchased the villa after Elliott's death. Khan's marriage to Rita Hayworth and his lengthy list of other ladies in his life are covered along with the parties and people who took the Riviera set into the 1950s.
Well researched, intriguing and yes, even a little dishy, this book was a delight.
A Single Thread -- Tracy Chevalier
I really wanted to love this book. I enjoy Tracy Chevalier's work so much and this one, about a young woman who becomes involved with a circle of women who embroider the kneelers and cushions for Winchester Cathedral was a plot that intrigued me.
The trouble for me was that I wanted to know more about the embroidery, the work, the cathedral than the characters, although the main character, Violet, represented a significant portion of the post WWI female population in Britain, known as "The Surplus Women." (Virginia Nicholson's fabulous book of that title is a non-fiction book well worth a read if you are interested in how women evolved in the wake of the WWI tragedy.)
Rather than stay home and care for her annoying and overbearing widowed mother (aren't they all, in novels?) Violet choses to take an office job in Winchester where she becomes involved with the "brorderers" and their exquisite work. She also becomes intrigued by a local married bell-ringer in the cathedral.
I guess I found the plot overly predictable with more emphasis on the fictional story than that of the real work of the brorderers. If you enjoy historical novels, it is a well written book. It just left me wanting more "real" and less "drama."
I would suggest you check out Ricki Jill's comprehensive review of "A Single Thread on her blog. She goes into more detail on the embroidery and the images she includes in her post are beautiful. I think I may have learned more about it through RJ's post than through the book.
Stuart Little -- E.B. White
I first read "Stuart Little" when I was in second or third grade and I adored it then. I still do. E.B. White's classic about the Little Family (who have two children, one of whom happens to be a mouse) is enchanting and I fell in love all over again with Stuart's standoff with the cat, Snowball, enchanted by his tiny wardrobe and his way of getting around the house, his little bed (a cigarette box with clothespin bed posts) and his journey to find the family bird, Marigold, reminded me of the delight of discovery and the magic of considering a mouse who wore a little suit and could paddle a tiny canoe.
I can't wait till our little guys are old enough for this one!
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