Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

5 quarters

 Beyond the main street of Les Laveuses runs the Loire, smooth and brown as a sunning snake – but hiding a deadly undertow beneath its moving surface. This is where Framboise, a secretive widow named after a raspberry liqueur, plies her culinary trade at the creperie – and lets memory play strange games. Into this world comes the threat of revelation as Framboise’s nephew – a profiteering Parisian – attempts to exploit the growing success of the country recipes she has inherited from her mother, a woman remembered with contempt by the villagers of Les Laveuses. As the spilt blood of a tragic wartime childhood flows again, exposure beckons for Framboise, the widow with an invented past. Joanne Harris has looked behind the drawn shutters of occupied France to illuminate the pain, delight and loss of a life changed for ever by the uncertainties and betrayals of war.

My Review

I have read several books by Joanne Harris but somehow I missed Five Quarters of the Orange. Set in wartime France and in the 1990s in the small village of Les Laveuses it tells the story of Framboise Dartigen who has returned to her childhood home, unrecognised, as a 65-year-old widow with a new name. In the first person, Framboise describes the farm as it was when she lived there with widowed mother, Mirabelle, and her elder brother and sister, Cassis and Reine-Claude. Young ‘Boise was not a likeable child. There was animosity between her and her mother because they were too alike but Framboise yearned to return and take up the role of excellent cook using her mother’s album of recipes and farm husbandry.

As the book begins to reveal a horrifying wartime event involving the family, we read extracts from the album where among the recipes Mirabelle has written personal journal comments.  This hard woman gave little affectionate to her children but provided them with delicious meals which are described in sumptuous detail. Only the smell of oranges is an anathema to Mirabelle since it is a sign of approaching migraines.

Avoiding their mother, the children live wild in the countryside, striking up a friendship with German soldier, Thomas Leibniz.  Framboise, the youngest, is the most cunning but she is also an innocent.  The children’s amoral actions lead them into a dangerous situation and Mirabelle is too involved in her own misery and bitterness to notice until it is too late.

In the 1990s Framboise seems in control of her life, running a very successful creperie with a regular clientele, but the past threatens her contentment and only old friend Paul can help her.

Joanne Harris writes rich, succulent prose, littered with food similes and names you can taste, which accentuate the contrast between the delights of life and the horrors which wartime brought to the French countryside.

Five Quarters of the Orange on Amazon UK

Jigsaw Pieces by Carol Hedges #TuesdayBookBlog #YA

Jigsaw

‘He had been part of my everyday life. I hadn’t liked him much, nobody had liked him much, but he’d been there. Now, I’d never see him again.’

This week I chose a book which many people have read several years ago.  I am an ardent fan of the Victorian detective stories of Carol Hedges, but Jigsaw Pieces is a Young Adult novel set in the early 21st century.  The heroine, Annie Skjaerstad, has a prickly, independent personality.  The thick skin she adopts to protect herself make her unappealing to her peers, but she speaks to readers in the first person, putting us firmly on her side.

Separated from her father and the country she loves, you would expect Annie to go off the rails, but although she has been bullied or ignored by her classmates, she copes with everyday life and exam pressure phlegmatically. Only in English lessons do her spirits rise. Her teacher appreciates her talent and nurtures her interest in poetry written during the First World War.

Suddenly the whole class are shocked when one of the boys commits suicide.  Grant had been unkind to her, but Annie cannot believe he would have made this decision.  Looking forward to a week’s work experience with the police force she is bitterly disappointed when she is sent to a care home instead.  Working through the week of domestic drudgery she meets someone whose early life sparks her interest. In the meantime, she tries to investigate Grant’s suicide.

This easy to read book confronts the challenges which young people are facing at this moment and I read avidly as Annie became endangered by her brave investigation.  Not just for young adults. This is a story for us all.

You can find Jigsaw Pieces on Amazon UK

If you are interested in the Young Adult books by Carol Hedges you might also enjoy The Final Virus

Big Sky (Jackson Brodie #5) by Kate Atkinson #TuesdayBookBlog

The Unicorn in the Room

Big Sky

Chaos and coincidence; this is the essence of “Big Sky” in which my favourite detective, Jackson Brodie, returns.  Now living in a quiet coastal area in Yorkshire, his working life is mainly following errant husbands while he intermittently takes care of the teenage son he shares with Julia.  This would be a difficult book to read if you are not already a follower of the Case Studies series even though Kate Atkinson fills in the back stories of several familiar characters, but for an aficionado, it is a delight.

The plot switches from one new context to another; two Polish girls eager to travel to London, Jackson, his son and his dog watching the re-enactment of the Battle of the River Plate on a boating pond, a group of unattractive men on the golf course and seedy, old entertainers backstage at a summer seaside show. It is difficult for the reader to keep all the threads in mind or to guess the connections.  But for me the best qualities of this book are brilliant characterisation and Atkinson’s witty, dry humour.  My favourite characters are Crystal, sparkling wife of the unpleasant Tommy Holroyd, and her thoughtful stepson, Harry.  Crystal has hidden depths and her courage in escaping from an horrific early life is impressive.  Now bringing up Candace in sugar and spice, she is determined to save her daughter from the abuse she suffered.  Her intellectual stepson, Harry, respects Crystal for her kindness and they are mutually protective.

Most of these strands relate to a re-investigation of an old case about child abuse, but contemporary events prove even more harrowing.  After the first few chapters the novel becomes a thrilling tale in Kate’s expressive, thought-provoking prose.  There are quotes from popular music interspersed among Jackson’s thoughts, observations about family relationships and essential comments hidden in parentheses. And the chapter headings are priceless!

This is not the best Jackson Brodie book, as at times it seems to wallow and the structure seems to lose its way towards the end but I still thoroughly enjoyed spending time with Jackson, his friends and his enemies and really hope that he will be back again soon.

 

Tasteful (A Kate Redman Mystery Novella) by Celina Grace #NewRelease #BookReview

Tasteful

Two ramblers make a grim discovery in their walk along the Cotsworld Way, just outside the market town of Abbeyford: a severed human foot by the side of the path. Detective Inspector Kate Redman takes on the case, which turns even more bizarre when a second human foot is found a few days later. Is it just a gory prank or does it tie in with the mysterious disappearance of a local girl?

There is a rather gory beginning to this intriguing novella about Detective Inspector Kate Redman’s latest case. Now happily established in a relationship with her former boss Anderton, she is able to concentrate her mind on this strange case as she helps Martin, a new Detective Constable, to become a successful member of her team. Kate’s skill with people enables her to gain evidence from an unstable burglar who has made an horrific discovery, but will the police solve the mystery of the severed human feet? This is a spine-chilling case which encourages me to seek out the next full-length mystery, where more may well be revealed.

Tasteful can be purchased from Amazon UK

Meet Celina Grace and read about another Kate Redman Mystery

Celina Grace

Love, Loss, and Moving On by Lorie Kleiner Eckert #TuesdayBookBlog #RBRT

Love loss

Where to begin?  This book was a total surprise- part memoir, part fantasy and one way of dealing with loss, guilt and loneliness.  And any book which gives a detailed description of the life and films of actor, Bill Nighy can’t be bad.  Lorie Kleiner Eckert relates events during 2015, two years after the death of her long-term partner, Big Irv, via her diary entries, some of her “Slice of Life” newspaper columns and fan letters to Bill Nighy. She is witty and informative. Supported by good friends, Lorie shares regular visits to movies, prepares weekly dinners for her children and grandchildren and runs a craft day each Monday for her youngest grandchildren.  Being of a similar age, I admire her energy tremendously, but she was aware that she had not come to terms with Irv’s death from cancer or her guilt at turning him out of her house.  An amazingly creative lady she had previously produced stunning quilts with simple, important messages spelt out in the designs but now she felt unable to return to her craft.  Then she responded to the suggestion of writing The Book of Irv with sections on Good Stuff, Bad Stuff and Ugly Stuff.  Working through these topics she tells us about their relationship and how despite their love for each other he made life impossible by trying to keep her family away.  Interspersed with the fan letters she sent to Bill and those she wrote but did not send, Lorie works out what she wants from the future but she also helped me, the reader, to see echoes in my own life when I had to deal with the death of my mother.  The best thing about reading “Love, Loss, and Moving On” is that I have found a person to follow, whose blogs and motivational articles speak personally to me.

Lorie

Lorie Kleiner Eckert

Lorie has a degree in Elementary Education. She has 3 children and 9 grandchildren.  She has returned to quilting and now sells some of her creations on Etsy

She has published 4 books and writes 2 regular blogs. Love, Loss, and Moving on can be purchased at Amazon UK

Lorie regularly posts motivational messages on social media and she blogs on Worthy.com and LorieKleinerEckert.com.

She is a Queen of social media. You can find Lorie’s pictures on Pinterest or Instagram

And she is also on Twitter  and Facebook

A Daughter’s Promise #NewRelease by Ann Bennett #TuesdayBookBlog

Daughter'sPromise

A daughter’s promise to her dying father, uncovers wartime secrets that cast dark shadows over three generations of one family.

In 2015, 90-year old Grace Summers receives some old sketches – the work of her deceased husband, Jack. One sketch is of a beautiful Indian woman in a street in Kuala Lumpur. This brings back bitter-sweet memories of the 1940s, when Grace met and married Jack, whose world had been torn apart by his time as a prisoner of war in Burma.

In 1988, Grace’s daughter, Louise, embarks on a journey to Burma to fulfil a promise she made to Jack on his death-bed. She meets a young Burmese man, Zeya, an activist, and gets caught up in pro-democracy demonstrations, with tragic consequences.

In 2015, Louise and her daughter Eve, retrace Louise’s steps to Myanmar, to research Jack’s wartime experiences and to search for the girl in his sketch. But they are unprepared for the long-buried secrets their journey will unearth…

Once again, Ann Bennett has written a moving story set in the East, where past history resonates through a family.  In her competent hands, an accurate description of the turbulent history of Burma plays out in a tale of sadness and secrets.

In A Daughter’s Promise three women’s lives have been affected by the tragic life of Jack Summers who was imprisoned by the Japanese army and made to work on the notorious Burma railway during the second world war.  Grace looks back to the days when she nursed Jack on his return to England and found herself falling in love with him.  Their daughter, Louise recollects her terrifying visit to Burma during pro-democracy demonstrations in 1988 and the secrets she has kept ever since, while grand-daughter Eve, finding herself at a crisis in her life, is determined to make her own journey to present day Myanmar in order to discover what happened to her grandfather.

The relationships between the generations are sensitively explored and we share their investigation into the mystery of the beautiful Indian woman whom Jack had painted.  At first the reader might find Jack irresponsible but as the contents of his wartime diary are revealed, the true horror of his experiences and his selfless actions to help others, engage our sympathy.  And from this tragic background comes the germ of happiness for Eve and Louise.  A captivating story of 20th century love and suffering, which is well worth reading.

A Daughter’s Promise is available this week on Amazon UK

My Review of The Foundling’s Daughter by Ann Bennett

Passionate Travellers by Trish Nicholson #TuesdayBookBlog #BookReview

Passionate

Accompanying these 21 passionate travellers on their personal quests, we discover what drove them, and share their incredible journeys through deserts, mountains, jungles and seas to every continent, spanning 2,000 years of history from 480 BCE to the 1930s. These are true stories of daring adventure, courage, cunning, even murder and, above everything, sheer determination against all odds.

Most of these eight women and thirteen men were ordinary people transformed by their journeys. They travelled from Africa, China, Persia, Russia, and the Mediterranean as well as from Europe and America. Their backgrounds were diverse, including: poet, artist, invalid, slave, pilgrim, doctor, missionary, scholar, diplomat, dilettante, storyteller, and anarchistic opera singer.

Not all survived. Many have been forgotten. Who now knows that Octavie Coudreau, stranded in a canoe on the Amazon in 1899 with her dead husband, continued to chart the river? That Thomas Stevens was the first person to cycle around the world on a penny-farthing? And why was an English parlour maid abandoned on the Trans-Siberian railway and arrested by Stalin’s secret police?

With painstaking research and powerful storytelling, the author, herself a world-traveller, has created an intimate experience of each traveller’s journey and recaptured a vanished world. A compelling travel read and a treat for history lovers.

My Review

Recounting the story of 21 epic journeys, made by a panoply of individuals through known time, is quite a challenge.  How should they be sorted?  Do they share a common purpose?  Can we learn from their experiences?  Trish Nicholson had chosen to group the journeys according to the geographical region they visited, with each section introduced by a Perspective giving the reader a picture of the area’s context within society at the time of the travellers described. Each person had different reasons to set out; curiosity, greed, a mission, a need for challenge, but all were surprised. The sketch maps of each journey are a great asset, however knowledgeable (or not) you may be of the 21st century world.

This is a book of choices. Do you seek out the names which are familiar, such as Herodotus, Mungo Park or Robert Louis Stevenson, do you choose to follow the brave journeys of the women who endured discomfort to find new experiences or do you read from the beginning to the end?  All approaches are rewarding, but I admit to skipping first to some of my favourites such as Gladys Aylward, whom I’ve admired since childhood, and Marianne North, whose accurate, beautiful drawings of plants are on show at Kew gardens.  Then I discovered amazing journeys made by strangers to me. Ida Pfeiffer’s suffering in order to see most of Iceland, Stevenson’s fascinating tour of the islands of the Pacific Ocean and the anarchic Alexandra David-Neel’s determination to enter the forbidden city of Lhasa, all filled me with awe and admiration, even though many of these people would not be easy companions.

I shall be buying Passionate Travellers as a present for friends who love journeys or who find people intriguing. Its fluent prose and detailed account of the world of the past are irresistible.

Passionate Travellers can be found on Amazon UK

My Review of A Biography of Story, a Brief History of Humanity by Trish Nicholson