Tag Archives: Island

Book Buzz: Enchanted Islands

The flora and fauna of the island of Galapágos provide the piquant backdrop for Enchanted Islands, a novel that reads so much like a memoir I was sure it had to be true.

Book Buzz: Enchanted Islands

Much to my satisfaction, I found out at the end (spoiler alert) that it was based on a true story of a gutsy woman who led quite a remarkable life.

Enchanted Islands

Women born a century ago were largely expected to live a pre-scripted life: marry, become a homemaker, have children. Frances Frankowksi, born in the late 1880s to Polish Jewish immigrants who settled in Minnesota, forged a different path that would be considered daring even in modern times, let alone the early 1900s.

Frances spent her childhood sharing a small apartment with her parents and siblings. She envied her best friend Rosalie, who seemed to have it all: beauty, an effervescent personality, a richer lifestyle, and parents who approved of education. Frances’ parents insisted she quit school to help pay the family’s expenses.

One day, Frances was shocked to learn about a dark secret in Rosalie’s family, the family she had thought was so perfect. With Rosalie wanting to escape, and Frances willing to accompany her, the two girls decided to run away to the big city of Chicago.

They found jobs to sustain a meager lifestyle. Rid of the strictures that had bound them, they enjoyed the independence and city life, until the time that Frances was shocked to find that Rosalie committed an unforgivable betrayal. Frances fled Chicago, and the girls lost touch for many years.

Rosalie’s life ultimately took an expected turn: she became a housewife and mother. Frances got a job working as a secretary for the Office of Naval Intelligence that she kept for many years. As the country was on the brink of World War II, she was offered an unusual top secret assignment: marry American undercover agent Ainslie Conway and move to the Galapagos Islands to investigate the Germans living there.

Frances, unattached and childless, and bored with the humdrum life she had been living, accepted the assignment. She would marry a man she didn’t know and move with him to the remote Galapágos Islands. She had no idea how unconventional this marriage would turn out to be.

Talk about roughing it! The island was undeveloped and barely habitable. In preparation for living in those conditions, Frances and Ainslie had been trained how to hunt, grow their own vegetables, construct a house, and rely on their wits to overcome enormous challenges. Alone except for several other island residents, life was a very solitary existence. They stayed on the island two years. This is when Frances began writing her memoir, which now I can’t wait to read.

Enchanted Island has several themes: the vagaries of friendship, wartime adventure, marital secrets. Author Allison Amend describes the conditions on the island so vividly you feel like you are there, and I’m not sure how anyone could have toughed it out as they did.

For me, there is always an extra dose of satisfaction when I am reading a novel based on fact. What an interesting story this turned out to be — not at all what I expected.

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

 

I received a copy of Enchanted Islands from Anchor Books, a division of Penguin Random House, for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Enchanted August

Who among us hasn’t felt a desire to get away from it all – the stress of our everyday lives – and escape to a blissful haven, bringing a suitcase but leaving emotional baggage behind?

I know I have experienced a “Calgon, take me away …” moment or two in my life, particularly as a young mother during those vexing times when my children were cranky and we had one too many meltdowns.

And they lost it sometimes, too.

What I would give to just run away and be alone for a while, I would fantasize as I dried tears (mine). No kids, no husband, no responsibilities. Just me. Me time.

And then the fantasy would evaporate.

But more power to the two harried moms from Brooklyn in Brenda Bowen’s Enchanted August who do indeed take that ball and run with it.

Enchanted August

Enchanted August

The story begins when Lottie and Rose come upon this notice on the bulletin board at their kids’ preschool:

Hopewell Cottage
Little Lost Island, Maine.
Old pretty cottage to rent on a small Maine island.
Spring water, blueberries, sea glass.
August.

It is a rainy morning and they have just dropped off their kids. Struggling with both rain gear and discontent, they pause to gaze at the notice in silence, each thinking the same thing. Oh, I couldn’t. Could I? Maybe?

Later that day Rose texts Lottie. “Do you think we could still go?”  Lottie responds, “I think we can.”

Whatever element of guilt they might feel about leaving their families is overshadowed by the enticement of this getaway.  It will be restorative, they reason, and by the end of the month they will feel reinvigorated, in much better condition to resume their real lives. They need two more renters to share the cost of the rental, and luckily they find Caroline and Beverly to sign on.

Four strangers, each leaving unresolved issues behind, set out for an adventure to an unfamiliar but alluring destination.

What I liked best about this book was the gorgeous description of Little Lost Island. Having never been to Maine, I could still feel the sea spray as I sat on the rocks. I smelled the salt air and felt the sun burning my shoulders. I inhaled the scent of the fragrant roses blooming in the garden.

The plot meanders languorously through daily discoveries of local nature and culture. The days are quiet and uneventful, and the biggest decision to be  made is what to have for dinner. Fresh blueberries are picked, lobsters are caught and cooked, salad greens from the garden are tossed. Pleasant enough, but I was about to doze off. I yearned for some action to break through the idyllic spell.

And then, maybe two thirds of the way through, the plot thickens when a philandering husband sets the stage for an embarrassing confrontation, and the back stories of the characters begin to collide with one another.

Based on the book The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim (which was also a movie made in 1935 and again in 1992), Enchanted August is as light and refreshing as a vodka and tonic with a twist. If you are looking for a beach book this summer, this one fits the bill.

Enchanted August

Book groups will be happy to know that Viking is providing this excellent book club kit to facilitate discussions.

I am delighted to be able to give away a copy of each book — Enchanted August and The Enchanted April — to two of my readers. Please leave a comment below and winners will be selected randomly.

I received a copy of Enchanted August and The Enchanted April from Viking for an honest review, which is the only kind of review I write.

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Book Buzz: Murder on the Ile Sordou

Take a secluded island off the coast of Marseille, add in a cast of quirky characters, mix in a gorgeous lush setting and a shocking, unsolved murder, and voilà, you’ve got the ingredients for a tasty mystery.

Such is the whodunit, “Murder on the Ile Sordou,” by M. L. Longworth.

Imagine departing from this port to the island …

And if this looks breathtaking, imagine the stunning landscape and vista of an island just a short boat ride away.

Murder on the Ile Sordou

Gathered at the luxurious and recently renovated hotel on the island of Sordou, a group of vacationers settles in for a week of pampering and solitude. The protagonist, Antoine Verlaque, is a wealthy magistrate from Aix-en-Provence who wants to get away from it all with his paramour, law professor Marine Bonnet. To that end, he keeps his profession a secret from the other guests.

Murder on the Ile Sordou

The cast of characters includes a retired poet/schoolteacher, a middle-aged American tourist couple, a secretive housekeeper, an odd and reclusive former lighthouse watchman and skittish but anxious to please young waitress. Somewhat scandalous is the presence of an aging movie star who comes across as aloof and unpleasant, especially to his wife and her teenage son.

As the guests begin to interact we learn their back stories, and just as the group is beginning to bond there is an incident. A shot rings out and the next morning the body of one of the guests is discovered. Bad news for the guests, and bad news for hoteliers hoteliers Maxime and Cat-Cat Le Bon who have invested their life savings in this hotel.

So you’ve got all the ingredients of a thriller: a murder by an unknown assailant, a storm that picks up and knocks out the electricity, guests who are prohibited from leaving the island. Oh, by the way, there is no cell service on the Ile Sordou.

No spoilers here. You’ll have to read the book to find out what happens next.

What I loved most about this book is the island of Sordou itself. The descriptions of the glorious scenery, the rocky cliffs, the surging tides of the ocean, the view for miles put me in a definite south of France frame of mind. Also, mon dieu, the gourmet meals sounded amazing! Because the island did not rely on imported provisions, the talented chef concocted mouth-watering meals from locally caught fish and island grown fruits and vegetables, described in a way to tantalize any palette.

I wouldn’t call this a sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat kind of novel; the tone is too languid for that. The ending isn’t so much “oh my God!’ as it is “ah, I see.” That said, the loose ends were wrapped up tidily and made for a satisfying conclusion. And I couldn’t have predicted it.

“Murder on the Ile Sordou” is the fourth in the Verlaque and Bonnet Provencal mystery series and now my appetite is whetted.

The author, M.L. Longworth, was recently profiled on NPR’s Crime in the City series (“Mystery Writer Weaves Intricate Puzzles in Sleepy French Town”). This gives a nice introduction to the author, the Verlaque and Bonnet series, and the lovely area of Aix-en-Provence.

I am delighted to offer a copy of Murder on the Ile Sordou to one of my readers. Please leave a comment below. Only U.S. addresses are eligible.

I received a copy of Murder on the Ile Sordou from Penguin for an honest review. No other compensation was received. All opinions are my own.

 

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