Monday, February 19, 2024

February Read: The Kamogawa Food Detectives by Hisashi Kashiwai


This was a delightful, cozy read and I'm happy to say the first in a series that was first published in Japan. The English version is translated by Jesse Kirkwood. 

Retired detective Nagare Kamogawa and his daughter Koishi run a distinctly different restaurant/detective agency. Tucked away on a small street in Kyoto sits a restaurant without a sign to indicate what it is. People find their way there when they see a one sentence advertisement in a magazine. The guests who arrive come for help that only Nagare and Koishi can give them. 

 Nagare and Koishi aren't your regular, run of the mill detectives. Their specialty is finding that one dish that each guest desperately needs to eat once again. Guests arrive, have a specially prepared meal by Nagare, and once finished, discuss their food mystery with Koishi, who gets as much information as possible from their guest. Two weeks later, the guest comes back to the restaurant, to experience that magical dish one more time, thanks to Nagare and his special talents at cooking and detecting. 

Guests have a variety of reasons for their journey; mostly memories of childhood, mourning what was lost when a loved one died. Bringing back happy memories that only a special dish can do--a slice of the past to help them move forward. 

I'll say I'm not much of a fish person, but wow the food descriptions made me want to try everything. It's a great introduction to Japanese food and will get your curiosity stirred up to expand your knowledge of Japanese cuisine. 

Each chapter is another guest to the restaurant who needs help. This is an easy read that you can read in a night or two. I thoroughly enjoyed it!

Rating: 5/6 for an unassuming little novel about memories, love, food, and comfort. 

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

Monday, February 5, 2024

The Women by Kristin Hannah


I finally cracked and read a Kristin Hannah novel. Thanks to St. Martin's Press for an advanced copy; otherwise I probably would not have read it, for a couple of reasons: I wouldn't have gotten around to it, and I tend to avoid novels about the Vietnam War. 

I didn't lose any family in the Vietnam War, and I don't really remember much of it at all--I was a small child, born just as it was ramping up. By the time it ended, I was about 6-7 years old. I only remember Walter Cronkite on the evening news, seeing some of the footage in color on my parent's console TV. I don't recall my parents ever talking about it, either. That little I do remember is still pretty sharp in my memory. 

This novel, is, you guessed it, about the women who served in Vietnam: the nurses, mostly. Those fierce women who saw some of the most grisly and devastating parts of the war, who toiled through unimaginable scenarios to save men's lives and get them home. 

Francis "Frankie" McGrath lives on Coronado Island, California. Her parents are wealthy, and her brother Finley has just signed up to go to Vietnam. In 1966 no one knew the horrors of the Vietnam War just yet, and it was considered honorable and expected of men to join the armed services and go over and end the hostilities quickly. At a party, Frankie meet Rye, one of her brother's good friends, who tells Frankie "women can be heroes, too." That one phrase changes Frankie's life. 

Frankie, fresh out of nursing school, decides she wants to follow Finley to Vietnam as a nurse. At twenty, she's sheltered and not happy with the limited choices she has, and the expectations of her parents to get married and raise a family. 

Once Frankie steps off the plane in Vietnam, her world is completely shaken. From her first days in camp and meeting her friends Ethel and Barb, to meeting Jamie, a surgeon who is clearly interested in Frankie, she's thrown into a world where there's no time to be afraid. Frankie's experiences in Vietnam shape her into a veteran who cannot shake her experience once she comes home.

The novel is split into two parts: Vietnam, and the return home. It spans 1966-1982, and follows the heartbreak, heartache, and struggles Frankie endures once she returns home and discovers Vietnam Vets are not being welcomed home. Will Frankie overcome her demons? 

This was one heck of a read. I started it this past week and power read over the weekend to finish it. I was afraid if I stopped I wouldn't pick it back up; only because some of it is tough to read. Frankie's PTSD, nightmares, and drug and alcohol use are harsh and your heart breaks for her struggles in a world where even the vets don't believe women served in Vietnam. As Frankie tells them, they would only have seen her if they were gravely wounded. 

Loved it--I'm glad it wasn't just about Frankie's experience in Vietnam, but also the aftermath at home, and the years it took to overcome the results of her experience. 

This novel is released in the U.S. on February 6th in hardcover, ebook, and audiobook. I know it is going to be immensely popular and bring new fans to Kristin Hannah. 

Rating: 6/6 for an absorbing, heartbreaking, tough look at the Vietnam War from a nurse's experience on the ground in the harshest conditions. It also examines the aftermath of the war and the mental toll it takes on veterans and how the system failed so many when they needed help and compassion the most. Powerful stuff. 

Sunday, February 4, 2024

Grimoire Girl by Hilarie Burton Morgan


I read Hilarie Burton Morgan's The Rural Diaries when it first was published and absolutely loved her memoir about meeting her husband, finding their home in rural New York State, and raising a family together. 

Now she's returned with another kind-of memoir about the magic of every day life and how we can recognize it in all the infinite ways it weaves through our lives. 

This is in parts a how-to with gentle guidance on cultivating  friendships, building memories, and discovering the simple ways we can bring the magic of nature and synchronicity into our lives. It can be as simple as burning a specific colored candle, or recognizing the language of flowers and being intentional in how we cook with love and purpose for those we care about. 

Most of all, it is about seeing how everyone creates their own grimoire--or magic spell book. It can be a physical book you put together yourself, full of memories, notes, incantations, recipes, photographs. It can, in one instance, be an estate with acres of gardens with a hidden message that speaks of a lifetime of grief and love. It's paying attention to the people and places that come into your life at certain moments--it's all the magic of the universe, and it's there for you if you just start paying attention. 

I enjoyed this book and it inspired me to start paying attention to what's going on around me--what patterns are there that I'm just not seeing, because I'm too busy? 

I guess I've already started my own grimoire with the books I keep at home; the books that make my home my special place and tell the story of my life. It's in the things I keep at home that remind me of my loved ones who are gone, and special places I've been. Instead of looking at these items as things I have to dust, I have a new appreciation of them.

So burn the candles, set up your mini altar at home. Play with the cards, write in that journal. Gather things that have meaning to you, and open your eyes. The world is a magical place, and we need to bring that positive energy back into being. 

Rating: 5/6 for an interesting book about myth, magic, creating a home, and taking care of your well-being. A call to remind ourselves we are magic. 

Available in hardcover, ebook and audio. 

Friday, February 2, 2024

The Curse of Penryth Hall by Jess Armstrong


I started this in December over Christmas weekend and finished it on January first. Love the cover--it grabbed me right away. I'm all about small English villages, murder, and a possible curse. Sign me up!

This mystery takes place in 1922, after the Great War (World War One in the U.S.). American heiress Ruby Vaughn lives in Exeter, England  with Mr. Owens, an elderly man who runs a rare bookstore. Ruby takes care of delivering the books to clients around England, and after her rather shaky past, it's a place for her to take some time to get a grip on her life and figure things out. 

Mr. Owens gives Ruby a delivery task that brings her directly back to her past in the small village of Lothlel Green, located in the Cornish countryside. There resides her best friend Tamsyn, who is married to Sir Edward Chenowyth and resides at Penryth Hall. It's a good excuse to visit her friend, who had sent Ruby a letter a year previously, stating she had made a terrible mistake and would Ruby please come. Ruby chose not to go, for various reasons you'll find out. Ruby arrives and meets the intriguing Ruan Kivell, the person who is expecting the delivery of books from Mr. Owens. He's something else, is Ruan. He's the local Pellar, which the locals hold in high esteem. He appears to have a bit of magic around him. And strangely seems to be able to hear everything Ruby is thinking in her head. 

Ruby is at Penryth Hall for only one evening when the next morning Sir Edward is found murdered in the orchard. Murdered in a most horrible way--and thus begins the mystery that Ruby and Ruan race to solve, before there are more victims of the curse that claimed Sir Edward. 

But is it a curse, a local legend; or a murder plain and simple? Lots of reasons to see Sir Edward dead--he was an unpleasant man. Did Tamsyn do it? One of the locals? Did Ruby do it and not remember? 

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery. I loved the setting, especially the Cornish countryside and the post World War One climate. Ruby is an intriguing character who has a lot of problems and baggage. Ruan--ooh, he's a handsome devil. The two together are dynamite. 

This mystery had a lot of layers to get through, so you never really know who did it until close to the end. I most certainly hope there are more mysteries involving Ruby, Ruan, and Mr. Owens. I would gobble them up. 

Rating: 4/6 for an intriguing mystery with an unforgettable setting, characters that have excellent chemistry, and the possibilities of more collaboration in future novels. 

Available in hardcover, ebook, and audio.