Monday, June 16, 2014

Review: The Glass Kitchen by Linda Francis Lee

Title:  The Glass Kitchen
Author: Linda Francis Lee
Publisher:  Published June 17 2014 by St. Martin's Press
ASIN: 9780312382278
Pages: 384 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: women's fiction, magical realism
Find it at Goodreads

With The Glass Kitchen, Linda Francis Lee has served up a novel that is about the courage it takes to follow your heart and be yourself. A true recipe for life.

Portia Cuthcart never intended to leave Texas. Her dream was to run the Glass Kitchen restaurant her grandmother built decades ago. But after a string of betrayals and the loss of her legacy, Portia is determined to start a new life with her sisters in Manhattan . . . and never cook again. But when she moves into a dilapidated brownstone on the Upper West Side, she meets twelve-year-old Ariel and her widowed father Gabriel, a man with his hands full trying to raise two daughters on his own. Soon, a promise made to her sisters forces Portia back into a world of magical food and swirling emotions, where she must confront everything she has been running from. What seems so simple on the surface is anything but when long-held secrets are revealed, rivalries exposed, and the promise of new love stirs to life like chocolate mixing with cream.

The Glass Kitchen is a delicious novel, a tempestuous story of a woman washed up on the shores of Manhattan who discovers that a kitchen—like an island—can be a refuge, if only she has the courage to give in to the pull of love, the power of forgiveness, and accept the complications of what it means to be family.

Our Thoughts:

Looking for a great summer beach read? Or perhaps a winter couch read for our Southern Hemisphere friends? Well then, have we got the book for you!

First off, just look at that book cover. Isn’t it gorgeous and inviting? Of course we know the old adage, but honestly, who could resist that beautiful image? Not us, obviously! Having never read a book by this author, we were thrilled when the book itself turned out to be every bit as lovely as the cover. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

The Glass Kitchen is a delectable morsel of a book about food, family, and second chances, with plenty of humor and a pinch of magic, all incorporated in the most delightful way. While seemingly a ‘light and fluffy’ chick lit type of read, this tale also subtly explores more substantial themes, such as family dynamics (siblings as well as fathers and mothers), loss of a parent, starting over, and learning to believe in and trust yourself and those you love.

“Some things are true whether you believe them or not.”

We were charmed by both Portia and Ariel, whose points of view alternate throughout the novel, as each endeavors to regain her footing following traumatic life events. Feisty Texas native Portia tries to deny her true self to please her husband, but after that fails miserably, she ends up divorced and flees to New York to start over. There, with the support of her sisters, she faces her fears, rediscovers herself, and begins a new life.

“Portia had loved New York when she was younger, but in a way that was so different from what she felt for Texas, with its giant blue sky and easygoing charm, like sweet tea over ice on a hot day. In New York, nothing was easy; everything was dense, nothing fluffy about it, like bagels slathered with thick cream cheese.”

As she works to re-establish her own life, Portia also befriends and helps young Ariel, who is struggling to cope with the loss of her mother and the changes to her family as a result of that loss. Ariel is smart and precocious, but ‘almost entirely certain she [is] disappearing’. She completely won our hearts with her spunky-yet-vulnerable demeanor. The author does a wonderful job of capturing this preteen girl’s ‘voice’ as well as illustrating the way children sometimes feel it their responsibility to shoulder much more than they should.

The remaining characters, while not fleshed out quite as fully as these two leads, are still engaging and individual, and provide a strong and varied supporting cast. The romance is tastefully done and kept us turning the pages, rooting for Portia and Gabriel to find their happily ever after, as they dealt with ups and downs and secrets revealed.

“Sometimes we have to be brave in order to dig deep and find answers. Even if we’re not sure we’re going to like the answers.”

Throughout the book, food takes center stage, not only with mouth-watering descriptions, but also demonstrations of the power of food to comfort, convey emotion, evoke memories, bring us together, heal our ills and soothe our souls. Consider yourself warned, if you aren’t hungry when you start reading this book, you will be before it’s over! As an added bonus, there are recipes for a few of the featured menu items included in the back of the book…Nice!

The Glass Kitchen was known to heal people with its slow-cooked meals and layered confections, and it healed Portia, too. Gradually, like sugar brought to a slow boil, Portia began to ease out of a brittle state and find a place for herself ....

This book is not a literary masterpiece that will change the world, but it might just change your attitude as it brightens your day, puts a smile on your face and warms your heart; and that, in our opinion, is a worthy achievement in its own right. Perfect for anyone who loves food, a bit of magic, and the power of family, be it the one you are born with or the 'big, messy mix' you create for yourself; pull up a table at The Glass Kitchen the next time you're craving a lighthearted yet rewarding read. We think you'll be glad you did.

Our Rating:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Review: The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

Title:  The Bookman's Tale: a novel of obsession

Author: Charlie Lovett 
Publisher:  May 27th 2014 by Penguin Books
ISBN: 9780143125389
Pages:  368 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: historical fiction, romance, mystery

A mysterious portrait ignites an antiquarian bookseller’s search through time and the works of Shakespeare for his lost love

Guaranteed to capture the hearts of everyone who truly loves books, The Bookman’s Tale is a former bookseller’s sparkling novel and a delightful exploration of one of literature’s most tantalizing mysteries with echoes of Shadow of the Wind and A.S. Byatt's Possession.

Hay-on-Wye, 1995. Peter Byerly isn’t sure what drew him into this particular bookshop. Nine months earlier, the death of his beloved wife, Amanda, had left him shattered. The young antiquarian bookseller relocated from North Carolina to the English countryside, hoping to rediscover the joy he once took in collecting and restoring rare books. But upon opening an eighteenth-century study of Shakespeare forgeries, Peter is shocked when a portrait of Amanda tumbles out of its pages. Of course, it isn’t really her. The watercolor is clearly Victorian. Yet the resemblance is uncanny, and Peter becomes obsessed with learning the picture’s origins.

As he follows the trail back first to the Victorian era and then to Shakespeare’s time, Peter communes with Amanda’s spirit, learns the truth about his own past, and discovers a book that might definitively prove Shakespeare was, indeed, the author of all his plays.

Our thoughts:

“Peter took a breath, then the plunge.
“What about the most valuable relic in the history of English literature—would that be worth killing for?”
“How valuable?”
“And where is this relic?” said Liz.
“In the backseat of your car,” said Peter.”

The Bookman’s Tale is a story that is very well put together. It covers art and literary history, with a sad romantic tale and a twist of mystery. Alternating between Shakespeare’s time, the Victorian Era, and the modern day, the author relates the heartwarming tale of a widower’s return to the world of the living and the magical power of books.

“He knew this book. If not an old friend, it was certainly an acquaintance, and the prospect of spending a few minutes between its covers calmed his nerves .... He was calm now—all sense of dread and panic banished by the simple act of losing himself in an old book.”

If you enjoy mysteries, old books…restored books…forged books, the historical controversy about the accuracy of Shakespeare's authorship and a love story, you should find Lovett’s tale an engaging one that will keep you turning pages, eager to see how it all unfolds. We loved how the story took place in different time periods and found it surprisingly easy to follow. The story was well researched and full of the most interesting historical detail. So grab a cup of tea and lose yourself in the story that is “The Bookman’s Tale”:

“And he had an intense vision of a crackling fire in the grate, a cup of tea in his hand, and Amanda reading a good book on a damp winter day. It was as seductive as anything he had ever imagined.”

Our Rating:

Friday, June 6, 2014

Review: The Moon Sisters by Therese Walsh

Title:  The Moon Sisters
Author: Therese Walsh
Publisher:  Published March 4 2014 by Crown Publishing
ASIN: 9780307461605
Pages:   336 pages
How I Read It: eARC
Genre: fiction, coming of age
Find it at Goodreads

This mesmerizing coming-of-age novel, with its sheen of near-magical realism, is a moving tale of family and the power of stories.

After their mother's probable suicide, sisters Olivia and Jazz take steps to move on with their lives. Jazz, logical and forward-thinking, decides to get a new job, but spirited, strong-willed Olivia—who can see sounds, taste words, and smell sights—is determined to travel to the remote setting of their mother's unfinished novel to lay her spirit properly to rest.

Already resentful of Olivia’s foolish quest and her family’s insistence upon her involvement, Jazz is further aggravated when they run into trouble along the way and Olivia latches to a worldly train-hopper who warns he shouldn’t be trusted. As they near their destination, the tension builds between the two sisters, each hiding something from the other, until they are finally forced to face everything between them and decide what is really important.

Our thoughts:

The Moon Sisters is a novel perhaps best suited to someone else. It obviously appeals to many given the reviews, as it explores lost dreams and grief, and the journey of two sisters struggling to come to terms with both the death of their mother and their relationship with each other. There are many themes in the voices of both Jazz and Olivia (alternating chapter narratives) but we didn’t really connect to either sister or their environment, which most likely explains our lack of enthusiasm. We also did not find the mother, who ‘speaks’ through letters interspersed throughout story, to be a particularly sympathetic character, so the grief over her loss didn’t resonate with us quite as much as it could have.

“My family deserves better than this damaged-pocket woman I sometimes am, even if I don’t know what more I can do to fix her.”

We did enjoy Hobbs and the depth of his character, but overall, almost everyone in this story seemed so lost and unable to find their way that it gave a rather bleak tone to much of the novel. The tale moved too slowly for our liking, and we got a bit lost in the actual journey. We were much more interested in the sisters rediscovering what each means to the other and beginning to heal. Their personal growth and self-discovery could have been higher on the narrative order, in our opinion.

Based on the ‘blurb’ description, we were also expecting more magical realism in this book, which really isn’t present other than a few premonitory dreams. This is more a misconception on our part rather than an actual shortcoming of the book itself, but we do think it affected our enjoyment somewhat.

Despite all this, the writing is really quite good. The descriptions of Olivia's synesthesia are beautifully done,  and there are some wonderful quotes about life, grief, and dreams:

“It’s not simple and it’s not a set truth. It’s a choice. A crossroads. And a different choice could change everything if you let it.”

“Goodbye wasn’t as simple as packing up clothes and furniture and deciding in your head that that’s the way it was going to be. Goodbye wasn’t a thinking thing; it was a feeling thing. Goodbye was hard. Goodbye took time.”

“Funny how we don’t let ourselves take hold of the things we rightfully should, sometimes, and how we hang on to other things long after it’s time to let them go.”

“Maybe there was no such thing as sure in this life. Maybe there was only doing the best we could, hoping that whatever choices we made would land us on the right road in the grand scheme of things .… Life is what you made of it. Perception is everything.”

Even though this wasn't the best book for us, we feel that readers who relate more strongly to the themes included here will hopefully find this to be a worthwhile and more engaging read than we did.

Our Rating