Sunday 24 February 2019

Other Worlds

Finished February 16
Other Worlds by Barbara Michaels

I usually like Barbara Michaels fiction as they have a touch of both mystery and paranormal. This one is a little different. The setup is a fire-side meeting between a number of famous men: Harry Houdini, Arthur Conan Doyle, the psychoanalyst Nandor Fodor, and others. Most of those attending have met similarly before and shared stories of unusual and mysterious situations, then give their own ideas on the truth behind them. This particular meeting has two stories.
One happened in small town Tennessee, where a family is first threatened by noises, which grow to more physical manifestations, threats of death, and a reappearance decades later.
The other is in small town Connecticut, where a recently remarried woman finds that her new husband's interest in the paranormal seems to threaten her children, and bring her unpleasant notoriety.
Each of the men has their own take on the situations, with some agreement but it is a woman author who tells the last story and whose intellect is a match for the mens'.

A Chill in the Air

Finished February 12
A Chill in the Air: An Italian War Diary, 1939-1940 by Iris Origo

This diary was a fascinating look into the experience of being in a country at a very uncertain time. Iris Origo was the daughter of a British mother and an American father. Her father died when she was a young child, and left instructions that she not be raised in either of her parent's home countries, but somewhere else, where she could be free of nationalistic feeling. He suggested Italy, His widow, Iris's mother Sybil followed his advice. She rented, then bought a villa in the hills above Florence and raised Iris there. Iris was a debutante three times, in Florence, London, and New York, but she fell in love with an Italian, Antonio Origo. Together, they defied both their families' plans for them and bought an estate in southern Tuscany that was in very bad shape. The estate included twenty-five farms. The young couple were determined to return the land to fertility and its inhabitants to prosperity. Following the death of her young son Gianni in 1933, she spent some time away, mostly in England, but was back home at the estate by the time that war rumours were beginning.
Iris's godfather was William Phillips, the American Ambassador in Rome, and she had a multitude of other highly placed connections, both socially and politically. She had befriended Virginia Wolff during her time in London, and both she and Antonio were well-liked among the local people.
This diary is about her feelings and reactions to what is going on politically and was meant for her eyes alone, as she sorted through what was happening around her. It doesn't include her private life at all. She kept another diary later in the war covering the years 1943-1944 and it was published in 1947, showing the actions of many of the Italian people during this time, and doing much good for the country's reputation following the war.
I was fascinated by this book, and really got a sense of what was happening, from the feelings of the people for Mussolini, the propaganda that was distributed, and the uncertainty for the future.

Tuesday 19 February 2019

Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up

Finished February 9
Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up by Jane Whittingham, illustrated by Emma Pedersen

This engaging picture book uses word repetition, alliteration, imagery, and onomatopoeia to bring the story of this young bird and her family to life. As Queenie's parents and siblings rush around around, she keeps getting distracted by the interesting things around her, noticing other creatures, plants, and other bits of the world around her. It is only when her wider outlook on the world enables her to sense danger before the rest of her brood that they begin to value her unique way of being.
I liked the simple drawings which showed movement and a softness of detail. I especially liked the fat bumblebees. I also liked how the use of sizing, colour, and placement in the words of the story made the noises of the birds come to life, and drew the reader the emphasize the actions and urgings.
This is a delightful story of stopping to take delight in the world around us, and valuing the contributions that we may not always recognize as being helpful.

The Light Over London

Finished Feb 5
The Light Over London by Julia Kelly

This novel has two timelines. As the book begins, Cara Hargraves meets her boss Jock at the house one of Jock's clients wants them to go through the contents of. This is a relatively new job for Cara, as she makes a new start on her life following her divorce. She's moved to the small town her grandmother lives in, and taken a job with an antique dealer. She's studying most evenings to learn about antiques and isn't really interested in a relationship yet. When she finds an old diary from World War II in a tin in the house, and the owner isn't interested, she asks to keep it to track down the story behind it and perhaps the family of the diary writer, and gets permission.
The second storyline follows the writer of the diary, Louise, a young woman from the country, aching to move away from the life her mother has planned for her. She has a dream of going far away and of studying math at university, but her family situation didn't allow her to go beyond high school. As the diary begins she meets a man at a dance and begins a relationship. This small step of independence gets her brave enough to make another move and enlist as a female volunteer in the ATS. After training she gets assigned to a position with the anti-aircraft guns.
Cara knows only the initials of the diary writer, and has a picture of her in uniform, recognizing it as the same uniform her grandmother wore in the war. This makes her curious about her grandmother's past as well, something her grandmother has always been reticent about. Cara finds that her new neighbour, a history professor, is helpful in her search, and she begins to come out of her post-divorce depression.
As we see both of the women take steps in their new lives, and find their way forward, with the help of friends, we also see Cara unravel a bit of her own past.
I enjoyed this book

The Kitchen Daughter

Finished February 2
The Kitchen Daughter by Jael McHenry

This novel follows Ginny Selvaggio, a young woman who had been sheltered from the difficulties of life by her parents, as she adjust following their sudden deaths. Ginny has Asperger's syndrome, and has spent a lot of time cooking, learning about food, and following food blogs. When she feels uncertain, making food, or thinking about making food, is her comfort.
Ginny's sister Amanda seems to think that she will now make the decisions about what is best for Ginny, without even asking her, but Ginny doesn't necessarily want these things.
As Ginny goes through old recipes looking for comfort she finds that cooking her grandmother's recipe also brings the ghost of Grandmother, with a cryptic message. Ginny is startled and unsure of what to make of this. She wants to decipher the message and she wonders whether cooking other recipes will also bring the ghosts of those people. And she begins to try things.
Along the way, taking comfort from the long-time family house cleaner, Ginny also begins to venture out, to make friends, and to explore the home she lives in more thoroughly, finding family secrets along the way.
This is a coming of age story, a story of loss, of love, and of food.
The author is a food blogger herself, and with food at the core of Ginny's life, this book evokes the tastes and smells of the recipes that Ginny makes.
I read this book quickly, enjoying it thoroughly, even the parts that made me cry.