Category Archives: Books

Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

It took no time to be swept up in the magic in The Luster of Lost Things, Sophie Chen Keller’s new novel set in a tiny bakery in New York City. Tantalized by Keller’s mouthwatering descriptions of flaky croissants fresh from the oven, sweet vanilla wafers with sea-salted caramel filling, and double butterscotch pops, I was practically swooning with desire for one of the sugary concoctions created by Lucy at her bakery,The Lavenders.

Book Buzz: The Luster of Lost Things

Lucy, a talented pastry chef, pours her energies into running The Lavenders while faced with the sadness of being a single mom. Her pilot husband disappeared when his plane crashed in the ocean while she is pregnant with their only child. Now she is devoted to making a life for herself and her son.

One cold wintry night, she invites a homeless woman into the warmth and comfort of her bakery, and in return the woman gives her a book of drawings that Lucy displays in the shop. This book, known as the Book, becomes pivotal to the story.

Twelve year-old Walter Lavender Jr. might remind you of the boy in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime. He is bright and good-hearted with a communications disorder that renders his speech difficult. Taunted in the school yard, his refuge is the bakery where he pitches in before and after school, and every day places a lighted candle in the shop’s window, hoping it will bring his father home.

Plaintively, he wonders,

“Couldn’t Walter Lavender Sr. try a little bit harder to come back or send a sign? I am the one doing all the looking even though he is the one who is supposed to be here, to teach me the things I do not know.”

Walter Jr. has a super power of sorts: he can help people find lost things. He finds a missing cockatiel, a bassoon, and even a lost dog that ends up becoming his own, Milton.

But when the beloved Book goes missing and business in the bakery flounders, he sets out to find it and realign the stars. This takes him on an astounding search through New York City, in the dingy tunnels of the subway system, in Chinatown, across Central Park and so many other landmarks. In his quest, he learns about what it means to lose and find something precious, and also what it means to be him.

Oh, does Sophie Chen Keller have a way with words. Describing the end of a school day, she writes,

“… when the afternoon bell rings, the cherry red doors fling open and the kids pour out like spilled birdseed.”

Walter Jr. says,

“… I step behind the counter and search for the squeaking mice, nudging away a ring of passion fruit marshmallows engaged in a sumo match. I wait, looking into the display case as a jelly frog studded with chopped dates and hazelnuts hops across the second level.”

And when Lucy and Walter Jr. bake together:

“I tilt my bowl over the mixer and we alternate adding our wet and dry ingredients so the bubbles of air in the batter don’t pop and the cake emerges tender and fluffy from the oven. Lucy pours out the batter and it cascades across the first baking pan in a butter-silk curtain.

‘Masterful,’ she pronounces.”

 

Yes, it is.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Luster of Lost Things. Please leave a comment below, and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Luster of Lost Things from Putnam for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Address

Book Buzz: The Address

I had to hide from my family for a little while.

But now that I’ve finished reading The Address I can finally resume my regularly scheduled life. Thank you, family, for indulging me and leaving me alone with this wondrous new novel written by Fiona Davis.


Book Buzz: The Address

Take a captivating morsel of New York City history, stir in the epic splendor of the famed Manhattan residence the Dakota, add a heaping teaspoon of intrigue, top it off with a juicy murder mystery and you’ve got the most satisfying literary meal: The Address.

The Address

The name Dakota may be familiar to you. Not only is it famous for its contribution as one of New York’s most interesting architectural designs and esteemed landmarks, it has also been home to celebrities, artists and the glitterati of Manhattan society. It was home to Lauren Bacall, Leonard Bernstein, Gilda Radner, Roberta Flack and so many other familiar names from the entertainment industry, including John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Sadly, it was in front of the Dakota that Lennon was murdered in 1980.

Years ago I read a fascinating book by Stephen Birmingham, Life at the Dakota: New York’s Most Unusual Address, which apparently was also an inspiration to author Davis in creating her novel. Weaving in familiar names, dates and events from the past, she presents two storylines; one taking place in 1985 and the other in 1885.

Alternating mostly by chapter, The Address connects a scandalous event from the past to the descendants of one of the (fictional) architects of the Dakota in the present.

Because I adore historical fiction, especially of this time period, I was intrigued with the description of New York City at the time the Dakota was built, how the Upper West Side where the Dakota is located was pretty much a wasteland, and the first tenants were pioneers of sorts, taking a chance on living in this urban frontier.

In the 1800s segment of The Address, Sara Smyth, a competent young hotel employee from England, is hired as the first manageress of the Dakota and arrives to find utter chaos as the building is still under construction. She organizes a large staff and generally becomes responsible for a successful opening. Under her watchful eye, the operation runs smoothly and she is highly respected.

But her own life begins to unravel when she gets swept up in a romance that never should have happened. She is ultimately sent away and incarcerated for a manufactured reason. When she is released and attempts to return to the life she knew, things are not the same.

Meanwhile, fast forward to 1985 when designer Bailey Camden is hired by her cousin Melinda, heir to the Dakota fortune, to help with renovations to the building. While searching in the basement of the Dakota, Bailey unearths several fascinating artifacts connected to the scandal of 100 years ago and initiates some detective work on her own.

And that’s all I will tell you because I won’t reveal spoilers. Suffice it to say I was engrossed in this novel from the get go and the last 50 pages kept me glued to my reading perch.

My family will attest to that.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Address. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Address from Dutton for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Book Buzz: What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food That Tells Their Stories

Hot Stuffed Eggs with Tomato Sauce
Mashed Potatoes
Whole Wheat Bread and Butter
Prune Pudding
Coffee

–Lunch at the White House

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

If you’re a foodie, you’re probably gagging by now. Not the most appetizing menu, is it?

But before you start tweeting about this disgusting sounding menu, I will tell you that it is not from the current administration.

This meal actually was served on March 21, 1933. Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, and his wife, Eleanor Roosevelt, oversaw the catering operation.

Eleanor Roosevelt was open about her lack of interest in food. She declared that she really didn’t care what she ate. Consequently, the Roosevelt administration was not exactly known for its gourmet meals. That only deteriorated when Eleanor discovered her husband’s infidelity and retaliated by hiring the next head chef, who came to be known as the worst cook in White House history.

Eleanor Roosevelt is one of the women profiled in What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories. Author Laura Shapiro, herself a foodie and culinary historian, reveals the lives of women through the food that they ate, or didn’t.

How did these women view food, and how did their attitudes impact those around them?

˜˜˜˜˜˜˜˜

Dorothy Wordsworth was her brother’s companion, nurse, cook and caretaker. For a time she found fulfillment in making whatever William fancied, and taking pleasure from his enjoyment of her cooking. However, when he fell in love and got married, she fell into a deep depression, ate herself into oblivion, and wallowed in dementia for the rest of her life.

Rosa Lewis was a famous caterer in London who rose from obscurity as a scullery maid to become the most famous cook in England, the favored chef of the king. However, her queasy-sounding quail pies and other way-too-rich recipes lost favor after World War I and, refusing to change her style, she lost her clientele.

Eva Braun, Adolf Hitler’s mistress, was the charming hostess who wanted to make sure everyone was having a good time. Fussing over the procurement and preparation of the finest food and beverages for company, she was solicitous of every guest at the dinner table. She took no interest in the political dealings of her lover or anyone who visited. Instead, she made sure that everyone was well fed and having a good time.

I confess that this profile did not sit well with me and I wish it had been omitted, although Shapiro did acknowledge the moral distance between Braun and the rest of these women.

Author Barbara Pym was determined to make the best of the post-World War II deprivations in London by writing about food in delectable detail. Barely acknowledging there was a war, Pym writes lavishly about food in all her novels. She enjoyed sitting quietly in restaurants and observing the gustatory behavior of diners around her.

And finally, Helen Gurley Brown, who turned the old, boring Cosmopolitan into a racy, sexy best-selling magazine, also helped usher in the feminist era. At the same time, she doted on her husband’s every need and want, and spent an inordinate amount of time trying to please him … in every way. Her appreciation of food was only for how it could make him happy. Most likely an anorexic, she was reed thin all of her life and famously deprived herself of nourishment.

What She Ate is a terrific concept for a history lesson, and a fascinating peek into the personal lives of women in different eras. A tasty and entertaining amuse-bouche.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of What She Ate: Six Remarkable Women and the Food that Tells Their Stories from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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Book Buzz: Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving

Book Buzz: Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving

For the last five months, I pretty much put my life on hold because, well, life happened.

Suddenly, my world revolved around caregiving.

With three members of my family  (including the dog) undergoing operations that involved a lengthy recovery, my daily routine changed dramatically as I became the caregiver. As such, I was nurse, physical therapist, medicine dispenser, pulse taker, meal preparer and deliverer, bandage changer, appointment driver, and most of all, resident worrier.

I am happy to say, however, that all three patients have recovered, and our lives have resumed their normal ebb and flow.

I learned an important lesson during this time, though. Caregiving can be a full-time occupation without a training manual. It is alternately terrifying and lonely.

Caregiving is not a once and done deal. Most of us will be caregivers several times in our lifetimes. For some, it will be many times over.

Like my friend Cathy Sikorski, a funny, sharp and compassionate woman who has been a caregiver for seven different family members and friends over the last 25 years. Cathy’s first book, Showering With Nana: Confessions of a Serial Caregiver, is a memoir that is both touching and hilarious about the time she cared for her 92 year-old grandmother with a 2 year-old daughter toddling around the house. Cathy has the writing chops to bring you to laughter and tears simultaneously. I loved Showering with Nana and reviewed it here.

Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving

Cathy is also an attorney who has focused her practice on elder care, so she understands caregiving from both a personal and a legal standpoint. Her latest book, Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving, provides practical information about caregiving for others as well as what you need to know about your own care — and your legal rights — as you age.

Book Buzz: Who Moved My Teeth? Preparing for Self, Loved Ones & Caregiving

No matter what age you are now, are you prepared for what lies ahead for both you and your loved ones? Do you have a Power of Attorney and a Living Will? Do you understand Social Security? Do you know the difference between Medicare, Medicaid and Medigap?

I am at the stage of my life where I need to know about these things, and figuring it all out can be nightmarish. Navigating the healthcare system is akin to being lost in a cornfield maze. I am an educated woman, but reading about this stuff makes my eyes glaze over in acronym misery. Cathy makes it more palatable with her plain speak tinged with humor style of writing.

Because she has gone through the hassles of making endless phone calls and getting nowhere, of filing claims that end up lost, of filling out pages of paperwork and dealing with incompetent administrators, she saves us a good chunk of the frustration by giving us a roadmap with clear directions.

Was this helpful? You bet. Caregiving is less onerous when you’re aware of the systems in place that can help during a difficult time, since the last thing you want to do is deal with it then.

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Book Buzz: Hum if You Don’t Know the Words

Book Buzz: Hum if You Don't Know the Words

Like other bookworms, I fall in love over and over again, and happily so.

What does it take for a book to capture my heart? It begins with the mechanics. Figuratively speaking, a book has to be firing on all cylinders to get my heart pumping. Eloquent writing, an emotionally riveting plot and complex, memorable characters, are essential for starters. A dash of humor helps, too.

If a book should achieve the above, but go even higher by leaving me with a deeper understanding of human nature, plus have me yearning for more, I am over the moon.

I was in a state of reading euphoria with Hum If You Don’t Know the Words, an exceptional coming of age story and debut novel from Bianca Marais.

Book Buzz: Hum if You Don't Know the Words

Hum if You Don’t Know the Words

Set in apartheid South Africa in 1976, the year of the Soweto Uprising, the story is narrated by two very different South Africans: a white child suddenly orphaned and a black woman desperate to find her missing daughter.

Robin is a plucky nine year-old white girl raised in privilege with all the comforts therein. Her parents employ Mabel, a black housekeeper to do the cleaning, cooking and caregiving. Robin loves Mabel but sees her as a servant, not an equal, because this is what she has been taught.

I cringed at the dismissive way Mabel was spoken to and treated by her employers, but this was the norm at the time. In pre-apartheid society all black people, even those who lived with you, were second class.

SPOILER ALERT …

Robin’s life changes dramatically when her parents are brutally murdered. She and Mabel are taken to the police station. After being detained for a short while, Mabel is released and flees, without a backward glance. Robin is rescued by her aunt, and life as she knew it has been erased.

Her aunt Edith never wanted children, and is an unwilling guardian. Self-involved and irresponsible, she can not manage to give Robin the stability a child deserves.

At the same time, Beauty, a black schoolteacher, has been notified that her anti-apartheid activist daughter is in danger. Leaving the rest of the family behind in their rural village, Beauty travels to Johannesburg to search for her beloved Nomsa. She needs to find employment in order to have the required credentials to stay there. When she learns that Edith needs a nanny, she applies for the position.

That is how two very different lives are connected by tragedy.

Through Beauty, Robin’s universe is expanded. She learns about systemic racism and starts to question the values she had been taught. As she develops relationships with other “forbidden” segments of society — the Jewish family in their apartment building, Edith’s gay friends, black neighbors — she sees that people are people, and our commonalities are greater than our differences, and the definition of family can expand beyond mother and father.

As Beauty continues to look for her daughter, she learns about her capacity for patience, bravery, and mothering.

Obliterating racism starts with us.

When Robin is asked by a black child why whites hate blacks, she responds:

“Maybe it’s just that everyone needs someone to hate, and it’s easier to treat people terribly if you tell yourself they’re nothing like you.”

Finding our similarities while accepting our differences.

That doesn’t sound insurmountable, does it?

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Hum If You Don’t Know the Words from Putnam for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

 

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Book Buzz: All We Shall Know

Book Buzz: All We Shall Know

Book Buzz: All We Shall Know

Every writer knows that creating a powerhouse opening paragraph is key to engaging the reader so that he or she will be eager to see what comes next. In Donal Ryan’s gritty, brooding All We Shall Know, the first two sentences sealed the deal for me:

Martin Toppy is the son of a famous Traveller and the father of my unborn child. He is seventeen, I’m thirty-three.

All We Shall Know

The story is narrated by schoolteacher Melody Shee, a flawed yet sympathetic character whose marriage has been marred by abuse and deceit. While tutoring the vulnerable and illiterate young Martin Toppy, she seduces him. She confesses to her husband Pat that she met someone on the Internet and is pregnant, causing him to storm out amid a torrent of verbal abuse.

Melody yearns for Martin and secretly spies on his home, but shortly after their encounter he and his family leave abruptly for an unnamed destination. Scorned by Pat’s family and the townspeople who are disgusted by her infidelity, Melody is alone until she meets Martin’s cousin, 20 year-old Mary Crothery, an outcast like her. Melody is entranced by this waiflike child woman, and an unlikely friendship develops.

Each chapter in All We Shall Know is numbered by the week of Melody’s pregnancy. Unable to carry a pregnancy to term before, she is awed by the life growing inside her but haunted by transgressions in her past.  She is consumed with guilt about her best friend from high school, a girl she loved but ultimately betrayed in a horrifying way.

Incidentally, I had never heard the term “Traveller” and wondered what it was in Irish culture. In an interview, Ryan explained what a Traveller is:

Q. The father of Melody’s unborn child is Martin Toppy, a Traveller boy. For those who may be unfamiliar, can you describe Traveller culture and explain why you chose to write about this particular marginalized group?

Ryan: Irish Travellers number around 30,000 in this country, but they have a substantial diaspora. They’re a nomadic people with a distinct language, Shelta, an English-based derivative dialect of which is still in use called Cant. Up until recently, official Ireland has pursued a policy of integration: it was commonly believed that Travellers were ‘set on the road’ during the Great Famine, having been cast from their smallholdings and labourers’ cottages. Recent research shows their origins are pre-Celtic, that they may be ‘the original Irish’ and that they travelled the roads long long before the famine. Unfortunately, we’ve always been afflicted with strict stratification of ‘classes’ in Ireland—we hadn’t the wit or the vision or the strength or the will as a young nation to stamp on the idea, to break the hegemony of so-called ‘middle-class respectability’ propagated and perpetuated by the clergy and ‘the professions’. Travellers came to be seen as a type of underclass, a problem to be solved. Fortunately they’ve very recently been recognised officially as an ethnic minority. Travellers tend to marry young, to have large families, and to be deeply spiritual. Traveller society is riven with strife: their life expectancy is far blow the national median, their suicide rate is terrifyingly high, and their relationship with the settled community is often fractious. I based the character of Martin Toppy on a Traveller I worked with in a factory over twenty years ago and the character of Mary Crothery on a Traveller girl I once kind of knew, who told me she’d been cast out from her family: she still lived in their compound in a local halting site, but, she said, “there’s none of them talking to me.”

As Melody navigates pregnancy, abandonment and regret, she ultimately finds resolution and makes choices that surprised me at the end.

Ryan, an award winning author and nominee for a Man Booker Prize, has a mesmerizing, lyrical writing style, evoking so much emotion through his spare but lovely prose. A testament to Ryan’s talent is his ability to authentically capture Melody’s internal monologue even though he is obviously not a woman. Although not well known (yet) in the USA, Ryan is recognized abroad as a gifted new voice in fiction.

This is a slim volume, less than 200 pages, one that could be completed in one sitting. I willingly let myself be transported into Ryan’s world, and did exactly that.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of All We Shall Know. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of All We Shall Know from Penguin for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Confusion of Languages

Book Buzz: The Confusion of Languages

Oh my. This book.

Book Buzz: The Confusion of Languages

The Confusion of Languages, a novel written by the talented Siobhan Fallon, is so worthy of a book group discussion that I wish I could find one right this minute to talk about it.

The Confusion of Languages

The story is about two military families stationed in Amman, Jordan at a time of tenuous calm, during the rise of the Arab Spring. When Crick Brickshaw, his wife Margaret and their infant son arrive, the expat community is happy to welcome some new faces. Dan Hugo and his wife Cassie have been stationed in Amman for two years. They volunteer to take the Brickshaws under their wing to ease them into Jordanian society.

Cassie and Margaret become fast friends even though they are very different. Cassie is a by-the-rules kind of girl, while Margaret is a free spirit. Cassie warns Margaret that many things we take for granted in America are strictly forbidden in a Middle Eastern country. Covering up when she goes out in public, not interacting with other men, not going out on her own without at least telling someone — these are all imperatives.

For foreigners, life in Amman is unpredictable and as the political unrest grows potentially life threatening. The families are notified by the Embassy when there are protests in the streets, are steered away from hot spots, and sometimes told to stay home with the curtains drawn.

Margaret blithely ignores the admonitions and is determined to do her own thing. She is awed by the beauty and history of the country and wants to experience it first-hand, happily befriending every Jordanian she meets. Cassie is aghast at Margaret’s disregard of the rules, and this strains their friendship.

The men find out they are about to be deployed to Italy and Crick, aware of his wife’s vulnerability, asks Cassie to watch over Margaret.

The story takes place on just one day, when Margaret is involved in a fender bender and leaves the baby in Cassie’s care while she goes to the police station to pay the fine. As the hours tick by and Cassie is unable to reach her friend, she is fearful that something bad has happened. Walking around the apartment, she finds Margaret’s journal and reads the entries, shocked to learn of a side of her friend she never knew.

The confusion of languages means many things in this novel. The disconnect between cultures, between friends, between married couples. How should women behave in a foreign country? As guests in another country, are we obliged to follow the rules, or try to bend them?

Wow. I loved The Confusion of Languages. A page turner with an intense, nail biting plot, it also is nuanced and complex with its underlying themes. Further, it is a fascinating look into the world of military life and the stresses these families face.

 

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Confusion of Languages. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Confusion of Languages from G.P. Putnam’s Sons for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Child

Book Buzz: The Child

Imagine this scene in modern-day working-class London. An old apartment building is being dismantled to make way for new construction in a gentrified area. The demolition crew is hacking away at the debris, when suddenly, amidst the dust and rubble, a shocking discovery is made: the skeletal remains of a newborn baby, apparently buried years ago.

Thus begins The Child, Fiona Barton’s suspenseful psychodrama, whose protagonist is a woman in mid-life, a dogged investigative journalist who frets that her traditional reporting skills are becoming passé in the sensationalist world of new media.

The Child

The community is stunned and the case quickly becomes front page news. Dubbed the “Building Site Baby,” the infant’s identity becomes an obsession. What lead to the child’s demise? Why would an infant be buried underneath all the rubble, and whose child was it?

Whodunit, and whydunit?

Four women’s differing perspectives tell the story of The Child. At first we don’t see the connection, but as the plot unfolds,  we learn that each one holds a key to solving the mystery.

Book Buzz: The Child

Kate is the persistent but empathetic newspaper reporter used to getting her hands dirty in pursuit of the truth. She comes from the old school of journalism, and is dismayed to see layoffs of the old guard at her newspaper in favor of inexperienced young writers whose specialty is click bait-y headlines. The pressure of 24/7 online news goes against her grain and she stubbornly resists. At the same time, she worries that journalists of her ilk are disappearing like dinosaurs and she may be the next one to be let go.

Intrigued by the mystery of the Building Site Baby and begs her editor for the plum assignment. With support of the police detectives, she pursues the identity of residents of the building from years ago who might be able to help.

Then, there is Emma, a young married woman who works from home as an editor. She suffers from depression and anxiety, haunted by secrets of her childhood under the care of her single mom, Jude.

Narcissistic Jude raised Emma in an environment of instability and fear. When Emma turned 16, Jude abruptly threw her out of the house. Now that Emma is an adult, Jude would like to have a better relationship with her, but there is little trust, and their periodic interactions never go very well.

Finally, Angela, the wife and mother of two grown children whose infant daughter Alice was abducted decades ago from the hospital the day she was born. Her child was never found. Could this dead infant be her daughter? She prays that this is the case and she will finally have closure.

The short chapters keep the action going at a rapid pace, and gradually we come to see exactly how these women are connected and find out the identity of the Building Site Baby.

A lively, page-turning whodunit, The Child satisfied me as a good beach book and I particularly related to the personage of Kate, whose angst about competing with the younger generation in the workplace rang very true.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Child. Please leave a comment and a winner will be randomly selected. US addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Child from Berkley for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: The Lost Letter

Book Buzz: The Lost Letter

Every artifact has a story behind it, be it a stone jug from the Prehistoric Age or the mummified remains as the last vestiges of the lost city of Pompeii. The study of antiquities can be left to archeologists, but curiosity can inspire all of us to muse about the lives that were touched by the relic that has survived.

In Jillian Cantor’s achingly beautiful new novel The Lost Letter, it is a unique engraved stamp from World War II Austria that prompts a quest for answers.

Book Buzz: The Lost LetterThe Lost Letter

The action shifts from the late 1980s in Los Angeles to the late 1930s in Austria.

Katie is a freelance writer whose life has come undone. Her father is suffering from dementia and has moved into a nursing home. His care has required her full-time attention, and in the midst of this crisis her husband decides to leave her. She puts her emotions on hold while she devotes herself to her father’s care as he drifts in and out of senility.

Katie attempts to simplify his life by sorting through his belongings. An avid philatelist (stamp collector) his entire life, her father has left his cherished collection to her but she has no interest in keeping it. She locates a local stamp appraiser and makes an appointment to see him. Could there be something of value there? Or is the collection simply another thing for her to dispose of?

The appraiser contacts her in a few days. He has found an unusual stamp, one he has never seen before, on an unopened letter in the collection. Who was the recipient, and why was the letter never delivered? He wants to research this further and has Katie’s consent.

However, in a lucid moment, Katie’s father is apoplectic when she tells him she has given the collection away, but he can’t verbalize exactly why.

The story shifts to the earlier time, just as World War II is spreading across Europe. Austria has just been occupied by Germany, and the plight of Jewish families becomes extremely grim. Frederick Faber is a renowned stamp engraver with a family and a beautiful home, but as the Nazis move closer to his town destroying everything in its path, the family prepares to flee. Faber’s apprentice Kristoff, an artist struggling to learn the fine craft of stamp engraving, is not Jewish and therefore not in imminent danger. Deeply devoted to the family, he promises Faber to take care of the home and business.

Before he flees, Faber is instrumental in forging the resistance to the Nazis through his craft and responsible for evacuating many Jews to safety.

As the tension grows, the intertwining of both stories culminates in a stunning conclusion.

The Lost Letter is a story of resilience,  love, and triumph. Cantor is a historical fiction writer extraordinaire, her characters seem real and relatable, and the dual timeline works seamlessly as the two threads ultimately converge. The intertwining of both stories connects a time of persecution to a future in which survivors have prevailed.

The Lost Letter is receiving critical praise, including being named as Amazon’s Best Book of the Month.  It would go on my Best of the Year as well.

And now I am off to look through my husband’s stamp collection.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of The Lost Letter. Please leave a comment below and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of The Lost Letter from Riverhead Books for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Siracusa

Book Buzz: Siracusa

 

Book Buzz: Siracusa When People Magazine, Amazon and Publisher’s Weekly all named Delia Ephron’s Siracusa one of their top books of the year, that was enough to intrigue me about this novel, although I didn’t really need prompting to read the latest from an author whose work I always enjoy.

Two years ago I recommended Ephron’s Sister Mother Husband Dog . This time, Ephron switches gears and takes us to the town of Siracusa, located on the sun-drenched coast of Sicily. Vacationing together there are two married couples whose complicated relationships are as twisted and treacherous as the rocky paths on the island.

Siracusa

Meet New Yorkers Michael, a well-known writer, and his wife Lizzie, a freelance journalist. Lizzie had a long-ago affair with Finn, a restauranteur, whose control freak wife Taylor and strange 10 year-old daughter Snow (suffering from “extreme shyness syndrome”) accompany him. Although Finn and his family live in Portland, Maine, he and Lizzie have kept in touch platonically over the years. Why not travel to Siracusa, Lizzie suggests, as an homage to her deceased father who had spoken glowingly of the crumbling charm of the ancient town.

Note: vacationing with an ex-lover and your current spouse is probably never a good idea.

At the beginning, all seems benign enough. Four sophisticated, cultured Americans and one child are on vacation together. The plot is as languid as the Ionian Sea on a quiet morning. Everyone is guardedly happy to be on vacation together. The first stop is Rome for a few days. Tempers are under control until they arrive at Siracusa and Taylor is appalled at the primitive accommodations. That seems to be the point at which dark clouds begin to amass. Seemingly innocent flirtations become something more sinister … jealousy and betrayal lead to emotional warfare … infatuations and danger take the plot in a different direction.

Told in retrospect in alternating voices of the four adults, the narrations reveal earlier missteps of each character, and their desire to make sense out of lives that haven’t gone quite the way they expected. Lizzie, Michael, Taylor and Finn reveal hidden secrets and resentments by recounting the same incidents but with completely different interpretations. Gradually, we come to learn that things are not as they seem. Their secrets and lies bubble to the surface and position them for emotional upheaval.

Aha, you will think as the clues start to accumulate and the plot thickens. Maybe you will figure out the delicously macabre ending, but I was certainly surprised.

Ephron is a master storyteller. Her skewering take on marriage and mores, with a healthy dose of black humor thrown in to sweeten the pot, makes Siracusa a book you will not be able to put down. Now out in paperback, Siracusa is just the right blend of psychological thriller and expose of human nature that makes it a hugely satisfying read. No wonder it has found its way onto so many Top Book of the Year sites.

One of my lucky readers will receive a copy of Siracusa. Please leave a comment below, and a winner will be randomly selected. USA addresses only, please.

 

I received a copy of Siracusa from Blue Rider Press for an honest review,
which is the only kind of review I write.

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