Thursday, April 21, 2022

Two Reviews for Two Very Different Novels: One Italian Summer by Rebecca Serle and The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

 I've read two novels back to back that couldn't have been more different in mood, plot, and character. And that's a good thing for me. I can fall into reading the same style books over and over sometimes and it gets pretty comfortable. This was a great way to shake up my reading this month. 

I didn't read Rebecca Serle's first novel, In Five Years, but I know it had huge buzz and I may go back and read it. Author Gabrielle Zevin has a quote on the cover of this novel, and she wrote one of my favorite novels: Elsewhere (if you want an emotional punch to the gut and an ugly cry, read it). So I knew I would enjoy this novel and potentially bawl my eyes out, too. 

I didn't cry (phew!) but it certainly had an interesting concept to explore. Katy Silver's mother Carol has just died of cancer, and Katy is beyond devastated by this loss. Her husband Eric doesn't know how to reach her; her father is in a world of his own grieving. Katy's relationship with her mother was so close Katy relied on her for everything.

Katy and Carol had planned a trip to Italy, to the town of Positano to revisit a magical summer Carol spent there before she married and had Katy. Now Katy decides to go anyway, to grieve her mother and decide if she wants to stay with Eric. When I say Katy was grieving, I can't overstate her grief at losing her mother. 

Katy arrives at Positano, which is stunning and a balm for her soul. While she's there, exploring, holy buckets she comes across a woman named Carol. And yes, it's her mother, thirty years younger, enjoying Positano and vibrantly alive. Of course Carol has no idea Katy is her daughter; she thinks Katy is just another tourist. Together they explore Positano and the surrounding area, talking about life and choices women make. Katy can't figure out how this is possible, but she readily accepts this quirk in the universe and the chance to be with her mother one last time. 

I won't say more, because you just have to read it and take that leap of faith that something like this could happen, and who wouldn't want the chance to spend time with a loved one who is gone? Katy gets to see her mother as she never saw her before; a young woman with her life ahead of her, laughing, drinking, dancing, and making life choices that would, down the road, impact Katy. It also gives Katy a chance to think about her relationship with her mother, and how that lead Katy to where she is now-is she happy with Eric and their life? Could she have done more?

I enjoyed the setting (take me to Positano NOW), the exploration of grief and, of course, the chance to reconnect with someone dearly loved. That little bit of universal magic/cosmic wonder that brought Katy and Carol together in Positano is something you just have to embrace and go with or you'll lost the whole point of the novel. 

Okay-onto The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley. 

I've read The Guest List, and I really liked it. I read it at the beginning of the Pandemic in 2020. I thought I'd devour this in one big gulp. I did not. You may have seen my TikTok review of this, but if not here's my take on The Paris Apartment.

I didn't care for any of the characters, and I think that was the point. I always say sometimes the best reads are where none of the characters are likable. However, I didn't like this nearly as much as I did The Guest List

The plot: Jess calls her brother Ben, who lives in Paris, and says "hey I'm coming to visit". Ben reluctantly agrees, and says he'll be waiting for her in his apartment. Jess arrives late at night, and can't get into the building. It's a ritzy looking place, and clearly money resides there. Not at all a place her brother would normally be, but heck, maybe he got lucky. 

Jess gets in the building, and into his apartment, only to find it empty. No Ben. He won't answer the phone and has left nothing to indicate where he might be. Broke and not speaking French, Jess is at a loss as to what to do. She runs into a few of the other apartment dwellers, and they're all a bit strange, even Ben's friend Nick, who got Ben the apartment. He promises to help Jess find Ben. 

Jess, through the tiniest bits of clues and information, starts to piece together that something isn't quite right in the building. Everyone from the rich woman in the penthouse (Sophie), to the odd duck Mimi, and the really odd duck known as the Concierge know something and Jess is either getting warnings to leave or running into danger in her search for Ben. What started out as "Geez, my brother is rude" unravels into "Something is really, really wrong". Jess isn't a world class detective, and she stumbles around uncovering the trail that leads to Ben's disappearance. 

It's a really weird plot. I was compelled to keep reading, though, because I had no idea where it would lead to; the hook is definitely there. However, uncovering everything just left me with an ick feeling. So read it if you want a quick thriller, but I'm on the fence with this one. 


5/6 for One Italian Summer. Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.

3/6 for The Paris Apartment. Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio. 

Saturday, April 9, 2022

The Shop on Royal Street by Karen White


Karen White is the author of one of my favorite series: The Tradd Street series. I was a bit heartbroken when that series came to a conclusion last November. However, to my absolute delight, Karen White said she had a new series beginning this year, with some of the characters from the Tradd Street series. 

The Shop on Royal Street is the start of that new series, and it features Nola Trenholm, who is the stepdaughter of Melanie and daughter of Jack Trenholm from the first series. Nola was in the first series a lot, and the last few books helped set up this series. My biggest surprise was the time jump: eight years from the end of the Tradd Street series. But it felt seamless, and made perfect sense. Nola is now 26 and has just moved to New Orleans with a new job as a historic preservationist working for a civil engineer business. She's got a Master's degree and has returned to New Orleans to face some issues that happened her first year in college there. I really liked this older, more mature Nola. 

There's also Beau Ryan, the young man we met in the Tradd Street series, who is Nola's biggest annoyance, and the object of her reluctant attraction. Beau and Nola went through some life changing situations in the earlier books, and Nola is resentful that he's saved her life. Beau is a bit mysterious, a few years older than Nola, and New Orleans is his home. His parents disappeared during Hurricane Katrina, a week after his young sister Sunny was kidnapped from their front yard. She's never been found, and neither have his parents. His grandmother runs a high-end antique shop that has some peculiarities that intrigue Nola. The chemistry between Beau and Nola is hot, but it's clear they have many issues to work through (hopefully through many more books in this series!). 

Nola has found a home she wants to purchase and refinish. It's a disaster, and worst of all, it is haunted. So much so that no one wants to work on it, and people avoid it at all costs. Nola isn't afraid, and persists in buying the home. Boy oh boy does that house have a personality, and that's the foundation of this plot. It involves Beau's grandmother, a murder in 1964, and unresolved family issues. 

I so enjoyed this novel, and the introduction of a few other characters--most notably Nola's roommate Jolene-a redheaded whirlwind of Southern femininity. I can't wait to read more and see how relationships evolve over time. 

Set in New Orleans, there's plenty of material on ghosty happenings and historic homes for future stories. Fans of southern settings, family dynamics and romances that take some work will be sure to love this series. Yes, you can start with Nola's story in this new series but I would suggest reading the Tradd Street series first so you get the whole background, and see Beau and Nola when they first meet. 

Rating: 6/6 for a new series that seamlessly moves characters forward from the first series. At the same time it has a fresh new setting, great characters with depth, and an atmosphere that puts you firmly in New Orleans. 

This is available in hardcover, ebook, and audio book. 

Sunday, April 3, 2022

Warming Up Julia Child by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz


Julia Child was the first person besides my Mom that I saw cook food. Of course, it was easier to watch my Mom, standing on a chair in our kitchen and being up close (and if I was lucky, getting to lick the beaters).  Julia Child I first saw on PBS, on a Saturday. I didn't know what to think of this woman who gestured a lot, had an interesting voice, and seemed both incredibly gifted and a bit silly all at once. She made food I'd never heard of, and wasn't sure I'd like, either. My palate was definitely 1970's Midwest child. 

It wasn't until I was much older, and my Mom had passed, that I found out she was not a born cook, and didn't really enjoy cooking much. But with eight children, she learned to cook. Julia, however, inspired me to be interested in cooking in a different way--to enjoy the process, to think about the ingredients, and most importantly, to inhale the results. She also taught me it's okay to fail sometimes, and that sometimes the end results don't look so great, but taste wonderful.

I never thought much about how Julia Child became the star that she was until I read Warming Up Julia Child. While it is true many famous people have that star quality, it's usually with the help of others that their potential develops and shines. That was also true for Julia.

This non-fiction book examines the six people who were part of Julia's life at a crucial time: the beginnings of her work on what would become Mastering the Art of French Cooking.  While I knew this cookbook was years in the making, I had no idea just how many years Julia and her friend Simone Beck worked on it. The back and forth of letters, the visits--it's mind boggling to think they persisted in creating this cookbook. Author Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz brings their relationship to life using actual correspondence and diary entries of the two women, along with Julia's husband Paul. Simone and Paul weren't the only players in Julia's life: Avis DeVoto helped get their cookbook into the hands of Judith Jones and William Koshland at Knopf after Houghton Mifflin turned it down. Judith helped shape the final cookbook with Julia, and William's influence at Knopf proved invaluable. Finally, there was Ruth Lockwood at WGBH in Boston, where Julia became famous with her French Chef cooking show (the one I saw as a kid). The relationships between all the players are fascinating and you really get a good sense of all the work involved over the years in developing and maintaining those relationships through thick and thin. 

Though photos, voluminous correspondence, and diary entries we get a peek inside Julia's mind, Paul's frustrations in a job that made him deeply unhappy, and the ups and downs of friendships. The process of creating a cookbook is beyond difficult, and I am amazed and impressed at Julia and Simone's determination to keep moving forward for ten years. Imagine that: working on a cookbook for ten years. And that cookbook has gone on to sell over 1.5 million copies (as of 2019) and is still in print and considered a classic. 

I enjoyed this behind the scenes look at Julia's friendships and business partnerships with the people who helped her become the beloved chef we came to know. It is especially interesting to get a peek into her marriage to Paul, and just how much he supported her throughout their marriage. They truly were a perfect match. 

If you are a fan of Julia Child, this should be on your TBR list. I think in today's world we often see the finished product and fail to think about the work that was required to bring that product to fruition. Julia was brilliant, and lucky to be surrounded by a group of people who believed in her, believed in her cookbook, and worked hard to see it published. 

A big thank you to Pegasus Books for a chance to read and review this book. Publication date is April 5th (just a few days away!) and the book will be available in hardcover and ebook.