Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand

Elin Hilderbrand’s books are the perfect combination of complex drama and noteworthy characters.  Her latest book, Winter in Paradise, is the first book in a planned three-part series.  At the beginning of the novel, we meet Irene Steel on a cold and snowy New Year’s in Iowa City.  Patiently waiting for her husband, Russ, to return from his business trip, she decides to meet a friend for an early dinner.  Irene’s world is turned upside down later that evening when she receives a cryptic phone call telling her that her husband has been killed in the Caribbean island of St. John in a helicopter crash.

Irene is blindsided with the news of her husband’s  unexpected death.  Not only did she think her husband was only a few states away for work, she had no idea why he would be on a small island in the Caribbean.  Irene, along with her two grown sons Baker and Cash, gather from across the country and make their way to the island to make the necessary arrangements.

Upon their arrival, Irene and her sons begin to learn the magnitude of Russ’ deception and delve unwillingly into his secret life.  The pieces of the puzzle all start to come together when the trio befriends various residents of the island and learn more about the husband and father that they thought they knew.  Along with the ripple effect of his death, the three must come to terms with secrets in their past too.  Just when the reader comes to end of the book, another exposed secret throws everything into a state of flux, setting the stage for the next book in the trilogy.  With the cliffhanger at the end of Winter in Paradise, I am anxiously awaiting book two in the series, which will hopefully be released this year!

 

Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind by Rick Steves

I’ll admit that my husband and I have been making fun of Rick Steves for years – in a good way of course. Sorry Rick. That said, we obviously love him as we have been watching his show on PBS pretty religiously for nearly twenty years. We love you Rick Steves! and this book is no let down. What a joyful read with deep insight and critical comparative thinking about countries he has traveled. He compares them to the United States and sheds a light of unbiased realism and intellectualism that can’t be ignored.

In the first chapter of Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind Rick Steves boldly begins “Many of today’s elected leaders have no better connection with real people–especially ones outside their borders–than those “divinely ordained” kings did centuries ago.” Rick Steves recommends traveling on purpose…..to learn and connect with people across our own borders. In his words…”travel broadens our perspectives personally, culturally, and politically”. He delves into Brexit, refugees, Trump, Nativism, Terrorism, and climate change. This is a well-written perspective from a master teacher traveler. I highly recommend Travel as a Political Act: How to Leave Your Baggage Behind to crack open your mind just a little bit more, or to crack open your heart and let some love of your fellow human beings enter. Don’t be afraid to travel or fear the unknown. The world is yours for the taking….be fearless and travel widely.

Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny (audiobook version)

Every year in the late summer or early fall, I anxiously anticipate a new mystery by Louise Penny in her continuing Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series set in Three Pines, a small village in Quebec.  The fourteenth book in the series is Kingdom of the Blind and it is clear that Penny’s writing is as strong as ever.  I usually listen to the audiobook version of Penny’s books.  The narrator is Robert Bathurst, a former character on Downton Abbey (Edith’s suitor Sir Anthony Strallan) and his voice brings the Canadian inspector alive.  If you are new to the Chief Inspector Armand Gamache series, start with Louise Penny’s first book, Still Life.

The book begins with Armand Gamache, the former head of the Surete du Quebec,  who is waiting to hear the verdict concerning his botched drug raid, which was a complete disaster.  As the case hangs over his head, the drugs that eluded his squad begins to snake through the streets of Montreal with deadly precision.  Gamache also learns of the betrayal of one of his “second chance” recruits, who has slipped back into addiction.

While waiting for the internal investigation to end, Gamache, along with friend and Three Pines resident Myrna Landers, have learned that they been named as executors of a woman’s estate whom neither of them know, along with third man who is a stranger to them.   Why would this woman, who referred to herself as “The Baroness” appoint Gamache and Myrna as two executors when she was an outsider to their close-knit group in Three Pines?

After one of her beneficiaries is found dead in The Baroness’ dilapidated former home, Gamache is determined to find out more about the self-proclaimed royal and her family secrets.  The case of the Baroness runs parallels with Gamache’s fate in the drug raid and its consequences.  But, the Baroness is not the only one with secrets.  Gamache has secrets of his own that will be revealed when all the pieces fit neatly into place.

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – February

Hello and Welcome Back Challenge Readers!

A new month means it’s time for a new topic for our Challenge and this month it’s : Food.

(Oh, this could be trouble. I feel like I’m putting on a few pounds just thinking about all the great descriptions of food….)

There is a veritable feast of choices (haha, see what I did there?) with this topic. Let’s get started with some suggestions.

If you’re interested in fiction try Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate where a woman’s emotions are infused into the food she prepares. Chocolat by Joanne Harris brings more magical, this time to the world of sweets. For something as light and sweet as angel food cake (more food jokes!), reach for Jeanne Ray’s Eat Cake, a delightful story about a woman saving the day with her baking. (Fun Fact: Ray is award-winning author Ann Patchet’s mother!) Like graphic novels? They you must read Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley which sets the standard for excellence in graphic novels.

For many years my number one, go-to, loved-by-everyone book recommendation was Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg. It seems like everyone has read it by now but if you haven’t, you’re in for a real treat, by turns (very) funny, heartbreaking and bittersweet, it’s a joyful celebration of community brought together by a diner.

There are lots of food mysteries too including the Tea Shop mysteries by Laura Childs and the Hannah Swenson mysteries by Joanne Fluke.

For non-fiction there’s Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle where she and her family spend a year eating only what they can raise themselves or purchase from neighboring farmers. Julie and Julia by Julie Powell follows Powell as she sets out to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The Gourmet Cookie Book is a unique way to study history – it lists the single best cookie recipe from Gourmet magazine (now defunct) from 1941 to 2009. The recipes reflect things such as food shortages and rationing during World War II and the trend for new and exotic in later years. It’s fascinating!

And it seems like any memoir set in France (A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle) or Italy (Under the Tuscan Sun by Francis Mayes) is going to have large, lovely portions dedicated to the joy of eating.

Finally, the library has a huge selection of cookbooks from exotic coffee-table worthy tomes to practical, simple meal plans. You’ll find a wide range of ethnic and specialty topics, many with gorgeous, mouth-watering photography. (My Mom used to read cookbooks like a novel, reading and relishing each recipe whether she planned to attempt to make it or not.) If anyone should happen to read one of those lovely cookbooks and happen to drop off some homemade cookies or bread or cake to prove that they finished this month’s Challenge, well, that would just be a shame, wouldn’t it?

I’m not the cook that my Mother was (Although I’m quite accomplished at eating! ha) so I’m going to pass on the cookbooks. Instead I’m planning on reading Delicious by Ruth Reichl about a woman who takes over a food magazine just as it collapses. Reichl has written some award-winning memoirs (which would also be great for this month’s Challenge) with gorgeous titles such as Comfort Me with Apples, Garlic and Sapphires, Tender at the Bone and a new one coming out in April, Save Me the Plums. Oh gosh, I’m so hungry now….

What about you? What delicious book do you plan to read in February?

 

 

Online Reading Challenge – January Wrap-Up

Hello Fellow Readers!

How did your reading/listening/movie watching go in January? As I mentioned earlier in the month, I outdid myself and read two medicine-related books! And they were both great!

My Name is Mary Sutter by Robin Oliveira. Opening just as the Civil War begins, this book is about a young midwife who yearns to be a surgeon. However, it is nearly impossible for a woman to be admitted to medical school or even to intern with a doctor and Mary has been turned down repeatedly. However, the outbreak of the war creates possibilities and Mary leaves her comfortable home in Albany and travels to Washington alone in an effort to help the wounded. Women as nurses (let alone doctors) are viewed with suspicion and considered unnecessary since, at this exuberant beginning, everyone believes the war will be over in three months. Mary ends up volunteering at an understaffed, poorly supplied, decaying hospital acting more as a cleaning person than a nurse. Gradually the doctor (there is only one doctor for the dozens of wounded) trusts Mary and allows her to assist him, her training as a midwife making her comfortable with blood and suffering. It is training that she will need when the wounded begin pouring in with horrific injuries, many requiring amputation and many that they are helpless to cure.

The Civil War lasted much longer than three months, of course and the reluctance to accept women as nurses was quickly abandoned. Woefully unprepared for the human cost, doctors and nurses struggle to care for patients under brutal conditions. Mary’s story as she navigates harsh realities is fascinating and her courage and strength are inspiring.

The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason is set during World War I and takes place on the Eastern Front of the war, far removed from the trenches of France but no less horrific. Raised in comfort in opulent Vienna, Lucius has not even completed his medical training when the war breaks out. He volunteers as a surgeon and is sent to a remote outpost in the Carpathian Mountains where a church has been requisitioned as a hospital. Supplies are nearly nonexsistent, the weather is brutal and the only medical personnel is a nurse, some orderlies and Lucius himself who has never actually performed an operation.

Margarete, the nurse, subtly assists Lucius when he must perform amputations almost immediately. Over time they become a team, working to heal their patients and keep them safe. Safe because not only do they have to grapple with injury, disease, shell shock and weather, they must watch out for recruiters who comb the hospitals looking for “deserters” to return to the front. So desperate are they for men, the Army will force anyone back into the war no matter their injury, so long as they can walk.

Relatively safe from the immediate fighting, this changes when the Austrian army suddenly retreats. Caught in the chaos, Lucius and Margarete are separated and lost to each other. Lucius finishes his war in the relative safety of Vienna and then goes in search of Margarete.

I really enjoyed both of these books – they are hard to put down. The wartime action is gripping and both Mary’s and Lucius’ personal stories add another layer – each spends some time at home during their wars and the contrast between battle and home is shocking. The grim realities of war are difficult to read about, but the sad fact is, war has always created many opportunities for the advancement of medicine whether through the discovery of new drugs or new techniques. Reading about some of that and how medical staff coped is fascinating. Both are highly recommended.

Now it’s your turn – what did you read this month?

The Force by Don Winslow

I find most of my reads while I’m looking through journals at work or when patrons suggest authors to me that I should try. Don Winslow came to my attention both ways. One day I saw his newest book in a journal I was flipping through. The next day a patron came to the desk and, through conversation, suggested I should try one of his books. As I’m a believer in coincidence, I knew I needed to give him a try.

Wanting to start with a standalone first to see if I liked him before I dragged myself into yet another series, I decided to start with Winslow’s newest standalone, The Force . This book is a fantastic representation of Winslow’s crime writing abilities. He is a gifted crime writer, proving that he really understands the subject matter that he chooses to write about.

In The Force, readers are brought into the world of Denny Malone and the mean streets of New York. Malone says at the start of this book, ‘Our ends know our beginnings, but the reverse isn’t true’. If you knew how your life, your job, or your relationship was going to end at the beginning, would you change your decisions? What about at the end of your career? If you could go back and change, would you? At the beginning of this novel, Malone finds himself contemplating all the decisions that he has made throughout his life. This book serves as a glimpse into everything that happened in Malone’s life that led him to where he is now.

Denny Malone just wants to be a good cop. When he started work as a police officer, all he wanted to do was make a difference for the public that he served. Now Malone is the king of Manhattan North. Working as a highly decorated NYPD detective sergeant has changed Malone from the straight and narrow cop that he started out to be to his current position as the real leader of what is known as ‘Da Force’. Malone is a cop who knows that there are lines that, once you cross them, can never be uncrossed. Knowing that doesn’t stop him from crossing those lines, a little at first and then bigger and bigger. People in Manhattan North, cops and the public alike, know not to mess with Malone or his team because he isn’t afraid to use his position of power to get what he wants.

While Malone is working to clean up Manhattan North from drugs, guns, and gangs, there is decidedly some shady activity going on behind the scenes. While Malone and his team are credited with the biggest heroin bust in the city’s history, some(okay A LOT) of their actions surrounding said bust were not 100% legal. Since that bust, Malone and his partners have stolen millions of dollars worth of drugs and cash. If word got out of what they had done, they would all be in a great load of trouble.

Malone is going about his daily life surrounded by other corrupt cops, politicians, lawyers, and judges just struggling to provide the best for the public, his family, and himself. Called into a meeting that quickly turns sour, Malone is faced with a choice that, no matter where he turns, will end badly. He finds himself balancing on a thin tightrope being pulled in multiple directions. Malone must choose who to betray: his family, the woman he loves, his partners, the police force, or his brother. Will he end up betraying them all? While Malone finds himself going through this struggle, the city he loves so dearly, New York, is on verge of collapse. A racial confrontation between the police and the public could destroy the city, let alone the nation.

The topics covered in this novel are incredibly relevant to today.  Several of the events discussed within happened in real life. I really enjoyed how Winslow pulled events from today’s headlines and incorporated them into the fictional world that he created for Winslow and his fellow police detectives. Read this book and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

Watching You by Lisa Jewell

I am a huge fan of mystery and psychological thrillers and Watching You by Lisa Jewell is a fabulous addition to the genre.  The twists and turns in this thriller will keep you guessing until literally the last paragraph.  The book begins with a murder in an affluent English town but the reader does not know the who, what, when, where or how.  With an opening such as this, the tension grows and every character’s motivations are suspect until the true killer is revealed.

Newlyweds Joey Mullen and her husband Alfie have just moved to the exclusive neighborhood of Melville Heights in Bristol, England.  Unable to afford rent on their own, they take up residence with Joey’s brother and sister-in-law.  As a newcomer in the neighborhood, Joey befriends Tom Fitzwilliam, the beloved local school headmaster who lives two doors away and her initial friendship turns quickly from infatuation to obsession.  But, unbeknownst to Joey,  someone is watching through their photographic lens.  It is Tom’s teenage son, Freddie, who documents the goings on in Melville Heights and sees the blossoming relationship his dad is starting with Joey.

But Joey isn’t the only person in this neighborhood who is obsessed with Tom Fitzwilliam.  Bess, a young student at the school, is observed slipping in and out of the headmaster’s office by Jenna, another teen in the neighborhood and the speculation grows.  Does Tom have secrets to hide?   To add to the intrigue Jenna’s mother is convinced a group of neighbors, headed by Fitzwilliam, is stalking her.  Young Freddie and Jenna join forces and with their prying eyes discover a decades old suicide which will bring motivations for murder to light.  Everyone has a reason, but who is willing to kill in order to keep a secret and enact revenge?

About half way throughout the book I thought I knew the ending, but I was completely shocked at the culprit and the twisted motivations behind the killing.  I highly recommend Watching You for suspense and thriller fans!

 

 

 

 

 

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White

The three women who wrote this book are all talented writers on their own, so when press started surrounding The Glass Ocean, I knew this novel would be something special. I’m usually pretty skeptical of books with multiple authors, but this book was a perfect blend of all three writers’ specific styles. I’m not sure how they managed this blend, but I couldn’t pick out who wrote what. Perfect.

The Glass Ocean by Beatriz Williams, Lauren Willig, and Karen White crafts a well-written historical mystery with a hint of romance. Three women are linked years apart: two in the past and one in the present. All three are also tied to the RMS Lusitania, a passenger liner doomed from the minute it set off. Heading from the United States to England in April 1915, the RMS Lusitania ferried a large number of people heading to a new life, running away from the old, or heading back home. Whatever their reasons, the RMS Lusitania was seen as the perfect way to get wherever they were going.

April 1915. Caroline is a southern belle with a marriage in crisis. Her husband, Gilbert, used to be attentive, but as of late, something has seemed off. Caroline is hoping that this trip to London will reignite the spark that they are missing. The first-class accommodations afforded to them on the Lusitania will certainly help. What Caroline doesn’t account for is her old friend Robert Langford. He turns up on the ship, throwing all of Caroline’s well-laid plans out the window. Does she want to reconnect with Gilbert or start something new with Robert? Trapped on this ship and feeling restless, Caroline must decide how she wants her life to turn out.

Also on the ship is Tessa Fairweather. Her accommodations are much less lavish than Caroline’s. Having secured second-class lodgings, Tessa is returning home to Devon. Or is she? Tessa has really never left the United States and is traveling under an assumed name. She’s the daughter of a con man and has the ability to forge and steal almost anything. Tessa has been told that after she accomplishes this heist on the Lusitania she can start a whole new life. As Tessa begins scoping out this heist, though, it quickly becomes apparent that her partner is holding something back from her and that this heist is not as straightforward as it seems.

Flash forward to May 2013. Bestselling author Sarah Blake is struggling. Her finances are low, she can’t find an idea for her next book, and her mother has Alzheimer’s. Desperate to find a way to solve her problems, Sarah decides to open the chest her mother made her promise never to open. In said chest, Sarah finds items that belonged to her great-grandfather, who died when the RMS Lusitania was sunk by a German U-Boat in 1915. Searching through his belongings, Sarah discovers something that has the ability to change history forever. Needing to validate her discovery she heads to England to hopefully gain help from newly disgraced Member of Parliament, John Langford. After all, given that his relative, Robert Langford, was on the RMS Lusitania, his family archives might hold the key to Sarah understanding what she found in her chest.

This book was a delightful mix of three different characters whose lives were all drastically affected by the sinking of the RMS Lusitania in 1915. Read this book and let me know what you think!

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

I am a sucker for a good thriller with a mystery twist. I stumbled upon Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman while looking for a new book to listen to over the holidays. The light blue cover with the shock of red instantly made me think of murder. Even though covers sometimes don’t relate to the content of the book (which is a topic for another time), I was ready to give this book a try. Imagine my pleasant surprise when the cover actually related! Win!

Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman is the story of a married couple thrust into a troublesome situation with differing views of how to handle it. Erin and Mark are a lovely couple. Living in England and passionately in love, they live a bit of a charmed life, hardly lacking for anything. Erin works as a documentary filmmaker on the brink of a professional breakthrough. Working her contacts, she is in the midst of filming a documentary following three people in prison. Promising to discuss their arrests, talk to them while they are in prison, and then follow up with all three after they are released, this documentary has the potential to shoot Erin to the top of desired filmmakers when it’s finished. Mark is a investment banker with big plans for their life together who seems to bankroll Erin’s dreams.

While in the midst of wedding planning, Mark is let go from his job. Since Mark brings in the bulk of the money, Erin and Mark are forced to tweak their wedding plans. They decide to honeymoon in Bora Bora, a dream honeymoon in the tropics. Jetting off to Bora Bora, Mark and Erin are ready for two weeks of relaxation in the sun and sand with just each other, exactly what they need after the stress of Mark’s dismissal.

A few years ago, Erin had a bad scuba diving experience. Despite this, she agrees to go scuba diving with Mark, since it is something  he really enjoys doing. While scuba diving after a major storm, they find something in the water. Erin understandably freaks out, leaving Mark to investigate on his own. What he finds isn’t good and leads the two down a dangerous path. Just when they think they have left that event in their past, Mark finds something else connected to what they found in the water. After trying to get their resort involved, Mark and Erin realize that they must decide whether to speak out even more or to keep everything they found a secret. What would you do if you found something that had the power to drastically change your life circumstances? If no one else knew you found something, what would be the harm in keeping it? Whatever they decide will lead them down a life-altering series of events that has the possibility to destroy their comfortable lives forever.

This book is also a Reese Witherspoon Book Club pick from 2018, so you know it’s a good one. Get to reading (or listening) and let me know what you think!


This book is also available in the following formats:

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult

Jodi Picoult is a writer that never fails me. I know when I pick up one of her books, there’s a very good chance I will enjoy it. I recently finished her newest book, A Spark of Light, and found myself hooked from beginning to end. I seldom recommend you read a book over listening to it, but for this book, I recommend doing just that. My reason? This book is told backwards. If you have a somewhat short attention span(like I do), you might miss the verbal announcement of when they go to a different hour.

A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult takes on provocative issues in this book. Picoult shows that each issue presented needs alternate viewpoints in order to see the full truth. Trigger warning: this book deals with topics of abortion, gun violence, racism, and mentions rape and incest. These topics are all timely, presented equally, and are certainly worthy of debate in any society.

Morning begins like any other at the Center. Staff open the women’s reproductive health services clinic to a wide variety of people who need care. Whether you need abortions, birth control, cancer screenings, wellness checks, etc., the Center is there to help. The fact that the Center even exists is controversial, with demonstrators barricading the road and building every day trying to derail, confuse, and degrade the people who need the Center’s help.

Everything comes to a screeching halt when a single protestor makes his way into the Center armed with a gun and takes everyone hostage. Seeing events unfold from the viewpoints of staff, visitors, and patients allows readers to better understand their reasons for behaving the way they do. Unraveling the day backward hour by hour, this novel starts at the tensest moment with Hugh McElroy, a police hostage negotiator, negotiating for the release of all inside the Center. The gunman, negotiator, doctors, nurses, and women who have come to the Center have their lives examined as we start at their lowest point and move back.

Each person with ties to the Center is equally fascinating. A police hostage negotiator is trying to work when his phone vibrates and his heart stops. His teenage daughter and his older sister are trapped in the clinic alongside a pro-life protestor disguised as a patient, a doctor working seemingly in opposition to his faith, a nurse attempting to calm her panic to save a wounded woman, a young woman there to end a pregnancy, an older woman who needs help understanding some devastating news she received, and the armed hostage taker who just wants someone to listen to what he has to say.

Even though this novel is told backward, the story unravels naturally as each characters’ lives are slowly peeled away. Readers are privy to the complexities involved in trying to balance the right to life with the right to choose as the reasonings for each person’s trip to the Center is slowly revealed.


This book is available in the following formats: