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review 2017-03-04 05:15
Maggie's Kitchen
Maggie's Kitchen - Caroline Beecham

I wasn't sure how to rate this one.  I bought it on a whim, thinking it would be a typical British historical/chick-lit type read; the kind I really enjoy once in awhile when I need a break from my regularly scheduled genres.

 

It's exactly what I expected, except it's written by an Aussie author.  Aussie authors and I tend to have an on-again-off-again kind of relationship and my last fling with The Dressmaker left me, frankly, bitter and jaded.  So I went into this one feeling defensive and ready for confrontation, which might have coloured my perceptions a little.

 

This is a lovely story about a woman who applies to run one of the British Restaurants, created during WWII to offer hot, nutritious, and affordable meals to Londoners struggling under food rationing.  Maggie's struggle to keep her restaurant going in spite of food shortages and diverted allotments runs parallel to her attempts to help a young boy find his father and her very slowly developing relationship with a Polish refugee.

 

The author really brought home a tiny glimpse of what life must have been like living in London during the axis air raids of WWII; she didn't shy away from scenes of Maggie and her neighbours huddled underground during a bombing; the alternate neighbourhoods that sprung up in the Underground stations, or the way homes and business disappeared overnight after a bombing raid.

 

What she didn't get quite right, I don't think, is the gap-tooth style of the narrative overall:  unknown quantities of time pass unexpectedly without acknowledgement and relatively significant events are never fleshed out.  

 

From the beginning the reader is told that one of Maggie's brothers died when they were kids.  A tragedy; hints that Maggie was involved and that her mother abandoned them in large part because of this tragedy...and then nothing.  

 

Janek belongs to some Polish resistance organisation that may or may not be spying, but has the need to hide mysterious shipments of something at Maggie's restaurant without her knowledge.  We never find out if Janek is a bad guy or a good guy, nor whether or not that shipment was ever hidden at the restaurant; the whole thing just gets dismissed near the end with a vague line or two.  As Janek is the romantic interest in the book, a reader can't really be blamed for expecting a bit more information about him and his possible shenanigans.

 

Small things too, like details about the British Restaurant scheme, are never explained.  Does Maggie own the restaurant?  Is she leasing it from the government?  We're told Maggie received grants for renovations and equipment, but then she's put on probation with the possibility of being removed and replaced... so is she an owner or an employee?  Information was spotty and vague and at least some of it was central to the plot's crisis.

 

I don't know if I'm being hypercritical or not, but I can't help but think that even though I enjoyed the story as-is - and I really did - it could have been utterly fabulous with a more insightful editor and some restructuring.  There is a lot here that could have been removed and never missed, and plenty that wasn't here, but very much missed.

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review 2017-03-01 07:27
Wild Strawberries
Wild Strawberries - Angela Thirkell

This was really good!  I'd read High Rising last year and enjoyed it; enough to buy the next couple of books, obviously.  But then they languished on the pile for awhile, because High Rising wasn't that good.

 

But this was great!  If you like family pandemonium (the kind where you sit back and wonder at the chaos as each member lives in their own orbit, occasionally bumping up against each other, while all somehow working as one eccentric unit), a smattering of light romance, a lot of tongue-in-cheek stereotyping and a story line that really meanders and goes nowhere in particular, this is a book worth checking out.

 

It's a historical piece, so there is at least one cringe worthy use of language, but in the context of the time it was written it, it doesn't come across as painful or nasty.

 

Mostly, it's just a wonderfully silly book.  I closed it thinking "that was fun!". 

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review 2017-02-09 02:25
The Persian Pickle Club
The Persian Pickle Club - Sandra Dallas

This was an impulse purchase at one of my local library sales, I think.  It's set in 1930's Kentucky during the dust bowl years and featured friendship and quilts.  How bad could it be?

 

Turns out not bad at all - it was excellent.  AND what they don't tell you on the cover is that there's a mystery to be solved, so of course I loved it even more.

 

Queenie is a young farm wife and part of the quilting circle called the Persian Pickle Club.  Rita is a newcomer to town and the club; a city girl who has just married a hometown boy reluctantly returned to the farm.  Queenie decides to make Rita feel welcome and tries her best to fold Rita into the daily routine of life in a farming community, but Rita doesn't want to be a farmer's wife; she has ambitions of her own to be a journalist and in her pursuit she digs up secrets people would rather remain hidden.

 

The beauty of this book is that it isn't trying to be anything it isn't; it feels like an authentic snapshot of time and place (and warning: it includes some language common to the time that we consider verboten now).  It doesn't make any moral judgements and the plot doesn't adhere to the strict definition of justice.  And that's all I'm saying because anything else would spoil it.  Let's just say I was giddy over the way it surprised me.

 

It's an easy read with potential to be a comfort read as well.  Definitely one of the better impulse buys I've made.

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review 2016-07-27 07:08
Sprig Muslin
Sprig Muslin - Georgette Heyer,Sian Phillips

I'm being kind with 3 stars.

 

I totally get why people love this Heyer book so much; I do.  But I really disliked it.  It's beautifully written and the narrator of this version did a fantastic job (although her Mr. Theele kept making Peter Sellers' Sidney Wang character pop into my head; I couldn't shake the feeling that when she read it she had a rictus-like smile on her face.  But I digress.)

 

So what didn't I like?  Amanda.  Dear God in heaven; at her best-behaved I'd have left her on the side of the road, taken Joseph with me, and buried her in the carriage's dust.  At her worst I wanted to slap her stupid. I very nearly didn't finish the book.

 

I know I was supposed to find her and her antics a hilariously entraining romp, and I have no problem understanding why most people do, but she's just such a spoiled rotten brat and I was stuck listening to her ridiculous tantrums and schemes for 2/3 of the book.

 

Why didn't I just dnf it?  Because everyone I know and trust loved it, and I really liked Lady Hester and Sir Gareth.  I'd have loved this book if it had more of them and less of that little idiot Amanda.

 

But after saying all of that, this is a personal thing; the book is superbly written and flows beautifully.  I hated the predominant character but that's not because she's badly written; likely the opposite.  If you can laugh at the antics of a teenager scheming to get her own way with careless but cheerful disregard for others, I highly recommend you put this Heyer at the top of your list.  If you're disinclined to find charm in spoiled teens, you might want to stick with Heyer's other titles.

 

N.B. - notwithstanding the rictus-smile narration of one of the characters, I'd totally listen to this narrator's work again; she did an excellent job.

 

N.B.B. - OH!  I just realised!  I can use this for summer book bingo for the Planes, Trains or Cars square!!  More than half of this story takes place in carriages.  Woot!

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review 2016-06-06 01:43
Love, Lies and Spies
Love, Lies and Spies - Cindy Anstey

I feel like I'm not going to do this book justice.  It's marketed as a YA, but I'd happily hand this over to a middle school reader who wants to tackle something different.

 

The writing is really, really good, but it's written on a slightly more juvenile level than the YA I normally dip into.  So we have a well plotted story, very solid characters, a well-researched setting and time period, and characters that come to life on the page.  Once I got past the opening scene's silliness, the story moved along for me at a reasonable clip.  But instead of wanting to rate it 4-4.5 stars at the end, I was just left trying not to use the word "cute", and I think that's a reflection of the reading level the book is written in.

 

Overall, I thought it was good, definitely not a waste of time or money, but I'm just *sniffle* a little too old to give it the kudos it deserves.

 

(Summer Book Bingo for either YA or Romance; I haven't decided which yet.)

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