I devoured a diverse group of books in May! From Julia Child and the royals to some good mysteries and an endearing novel, it was a fine book month.
"Appetite for Life" by Noel Riley Fitch
Noel Riley Fitch's comprehensive biography of Julia Child is not quick reading -- which isn't to say it is not an excellent biography or a well written one. It's all of those things and more, probably the closest to an officially sanctioned biography of Julia, as she permitted her personal and archived papers to be researched as well as connecting Fitch to numerous people with whom Child worked, along with college and youth friends, and family members.
It took a long time to read the over 500 oversized pages in the book, partly because I didn't want to skip any of the material. It's not the first bio of Julia I've read -- I've read several, along with others related to her life and career, such as the letters between Julia and Avis DeVoto. But it was by far the most comprehensive and interesting because of it.
Of particular interest to me (and covered less thoroughly in other works) was Julia's time working for the government in China and India in World War II, where she met Paul Child. The intricacies of her life and relationship with Child are told in great detail here, drawing on his letters to his twin brother, Charlie, chronicling their courtship. The book concludes short of her death, but includes material on all of her many television programs. If you are a Julia fan, I'd recommend this one highly.
"The Man Who Died Twice" by Richard Osman
This is the second in the Thursday Murder Club books and finds our favorite residents of Cooper's Chase, a retirement community in England, on the case of a former MI6 agent who happened at one time to be married to fellow agent/now-retiree, Elizabeth. As Joyce, Ron and Ibrahim join with Elizabeth to track down the murderer of her former husband, they are also trying to find justice for the man who mugged Ibrahim.
That's enough to bring in local detectives Chris and Donna, who, along with the gang and MI6, crack a puzzling case.
As always, the characters in this series are delightful and we can all hope to be as lively and sharp as they are when we find ourselves living in our own version of Cooper's Chase.
(Just for fun, if you have read either of the Thursday Murder Club books, who would you cast in a film adaptation?!)
"The Palace Papers" by Tina Brown
If you've read "The Vanity Fair Diaries" by Tina Brown, you know how delightfully bitchy she can be. This time the target of her sharp observations are the members of The Royal Family. The book more or less begins where her previous biography, "The Diana Chronicles" leaves off. Well, more or less. Because Camilla was a major character in Diana's story -- and she is in this one as well -- the book charts her relationship with Charles and the family, going into more detail on her background and story.
But she's not the only one under the microscope. Prince Andrew and his Jeffrey Epstein escapades get plenty of ink, as do the younger generation of William and Kate and Meghan and Harry. The Queen, too, and the backstairs workings of "The Firm" are also subjects for her pointed observations.
If you enjoy reading about the royals (and I do, and have read plenty about them!) this is one to add into the plus column. Even her barbs are well targeted and wittily flung with the grace and style of a remarkable writer. (And if you don't enjoy reading on the royals, you'll plenty more here you can add to your list of things that bother you!)
"Wilful Behaviour" by Donna Leon
This is the twelfth of the Guido Brunetti mysteries by Donna Leon, all set in Venice. This might be one of my favorites to date. We find a student of Brunetti's wife, Paola, visiting the detective, asking if he knows if it's possible to obtain a posthumus pardon for her dead grandfather, who was convicted in the years following WWII and spent the rest of his life in a mental institution. As Brunetti begins to investigate, he learns that the young woman was brutally murdered in her own apartment.
The murder sets the detective on a quest to find out not only who killed her, but more about her grandfather and his activities during the war. It leads him into the world of stolen art masterpieces, revealing the shady past of those who traded in art during that time.
The plot is clever (as always) and the books are very well written (as always), revealing Brunetti's human approach to his cases. Favorite characters from past novels return, including executive secretary and hacker extraordinaire Signora Electra, his colleague Vianello and his delightful family. Trust me. When you read the descriptions of Paola's cooking, you will immediately decide you must make Italian for dinner that evening!
"The Offing" by Richard Myers
This small gem of a novel is a coming of age story. Set in the post WWII years in Northern England, sixteen-year-old Robert Appleyard, the son of a coal miner, sets off on a journey of discovery before knowing he must return home to work in the mines. His travels -- with only a backpack and sleeping bag -- take him closer to the sea in the north. One evening he encounters a woman living only with her German shepherd dog, named Dulcie.
Dulcie is unlike any woman Robert has met. She is avant garde, intelligent, self-sufficient. She has had a past, counting among her acquaintances Noel Coward and D.H. Lawrence, and she introduces the itinerant worker to their works and the prose and poetry of others as he returns to do work for her. As their friendship evolves, so, too, does Robert's appreciation for the written word, as well as his self-confidence and self-esteem.
It would be unfair to reveal the central element on which the plot spins, one that had changed Dulcie's life in the past and would affect Robert's future. But it is a lovely book with beautiful writing and well worth the time spent reading it.
And, on a different note, thanks for the good wishes on Rick. He's still struggling but hanging in there. I would have given him a "6" on Saturday; today, I'd say a "4" based on the chart above -- he might differ on those! (The good news is that even though he still has a sore throat, he doesn't feel like his tonsils were cut out by an exacto knife anymore, which I view as a big plus.) I'm still negative (also a big plus). On Day 6 he's still testing positive. It's it's taking longer than what we were led to believe a vaccinated/boosted person should be dealing with this. Keep wishing us well!
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