Lucy By The Sea by Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout returns with another Lucy Barton novel. Each one keeps getting better, stronger. In the new novel, LUCY BY THE SEA, we find Lucy being whisked away from her Manhattan apartment to a much safer domain in a small town in Maine right on the coast. Her ex-husband, William, has persuaded her to accompany him. They have an on again/off again relationship that seems to get easier as they become older.

Yes, this is a pandemic novel. It’s the most realistic one I’ve read. It kept my attention all the way through.

The native people in Maine don’t necessarily take to strangers arriving with NY license plates. Especially now that the pandemic has reached out its ugly claws. So Lucy and William have their work cut out to “fit” in. But the two settle in pretty nicely and decide it’s a good fit. They have grown daughters with angst of their own. Toss all this together and you actually probably have a fairly normal situation. And that’s one of the things I love about Strout’s writing. It’s quiet and steadfast. It’s profound and yet realistic. Elizabeth Strout has become one of the most acclaimed writers of our time.

When William reunites with a half sister he’s never met it sure adds another dimension to the story. She came out of nowhere in the last novel, OH WILLIAM. Those of you familiar with Lucy Barton already know how imperfect Lucy’s William is. As a husband he pretty much sucked! He has calmed down and really seems to still love Lucy. And now that they are both single again, the dynamic of their relationship has shifted.

This novel shows the grief, anxiety, loneliness, longing, and loss that the pandemic caused. Everyone has been touched by it, some more deeply than others. Strout has outdone herself by bringing us a heartfelt story that reminds us that we all were in this together. Everyone has a story.

Elizabeth Strout
Elizabeth Strout

Elizabeth Strout is the best selling author of nine award-winning novels. In 2009 Strout won The Pulitzer Prize for OLIVE KITTERIDGE.

I read my review copy of LUCY BY THE SEA digitally through NetGalley and Random House Publishers in exchange for an honest review. As you can certainly tell, I loved it!

Mercy Street by Jennifer Haigh

Mercy Street

I read this novel in January. It was a digital review copy from NetGalley. I love Jennifer Haigh’s writing. I’ve read every single one of her many books. The last few novels have dealt with social issues. Several years ago with her novel, FAITH, she tackled the very delicate subject of the Catholic Church and the terrible debacle with the priests. She set it in Boston. It was a firestorm. I loved it! Now, with MERCY STREET Haigh is tackling another hot-button topic: abortion. Timely and quite disturbing. Why have I not reviewed it? Good question. Unfortunately the abortion issue has become very political. So there is that. I just missed the moment.

When MERCY STREET showed up on Elaine Newton’s Critic’s Choice list for lecture this coming season, I smiled. Our Elaine does like to shift readers from their comfort zones. No matter what side of this issue you might be on, I can assure you this novel will move you.

MERCY STREET is set in Boston, a city Haigh knows only too well. She lives in New England. Claudia Birch is a counsellor at a women’s clinic named Mercy Street. She’s worked there for years. she is consumed with her work. Her patients are all in crisis. They often feel this is their second chance.

There are those who would say Mercy Street is no more than an abortion clinic. Always hovering just outside the doors to the clinic are a small group of protestors who sometimes shout and jeer as the patients enter. And when these protests accelerate, Claudia’s anxiety levels raise to the point that the only relief she finds is a visit to Timmy the pot dealer. Boy does she meet some real characters there.

Brilliantly written with heart and soul MERCY STREET will be a novel you will remember. This is a new era we are learning to maneuver through. I think of all the young women who never lived through the old days before abortion was legal. It’s hard to believe this is happening.

author
Jennifer Haigh

What did I think of MERCY STREET? Haigh is a gifted author. This is an important book. I look forward to her next!

East Of Troost by Ellen Barker

I had to keep pinching myself while reading this novel. I kept thinking it was a memoir. It reads like one. And, in fact, a lot of the content is taken directly from the author’s life. We never know the protagonist’s name. But it is a novel.

The main character has had more than her share of tragedies. And then she decided to leave her old life in sunny California behind and return to the town she grew up in: Kansas City, Missouri.

Troost is a real street. East of it is where you can buy a house if you’re Black. It’s also where out middle-aged white narrator grew up— and where she has just returned to reboot her life. How will she fare in this vastly changed world? This fictional story, punctuated by factual memoir, is by turns soul-searching, entertaining, and heartbreaking.

The above paragraph introduced the book in the paperwork sent from the publisher.

What has happened to make her choose to go home again? She has lost her husband, tragically, and her house has burnt down. Boom! She traveled with only a few things and basically a carpet bag with a minimal amount of clothing. Less is more has become her attitude.

Barker attends to details thoroughly. From the moment her protagonist arrives at her childhood home we get a running commentary of everything in her sight. She’s a very strong woman. She begins to make lists of things she will need and it’s not short. She realizes she has no food and immediately peruses the neighborhood looking for supplies. She needs a hardware store. On and on. She meets people who help her find a handyman. Determined to do this right, she is off to a good start.

I haven’t mentioned Boris yet He’s the large dog she brought with her. He’s a super addition to this novel. What a great thing to have when moving to a new place where you know not one soul. A dog is a magnet.

I will try to sum up this story. White middle-aged woman moves into mostly Black and run down neighborhood, alone. She spends a lot of time fixing this place up. She remembers growing up here in the sixties, the rioting, the crime. She remembers the history and the segregation. The author hopes with this novel to show how important home ownership is to all people. She wants people to know what it’s really like to live in a community such as this.

So what do I think of the book? I was definitely engrossed in the novel. Loved the tenacity and humanity the main character exhibits. Made me wonder if I could have done as she did: return to my hometown.

My review copy was provided by She Writes Press and Spark Point Studio in exchange for an honest review. Well-written and enlightening.

Lessons by Ian McEwan

Lessons

Bright and colorful, this cover sports a young man playing the piano. And that’s how Ian McEwan begins his new novel. Roland is not only playing a piano, he’s not alone here. He is eleven. His piano teacher is in her early twenties. She’s acting very suggestively. He’s attending boarding school in England. His parents are 2,000 miles away in North Africa.

Four years later when Roland is fourteen this same teacher beckons him to her home. With his heart pounding, he arrives on her doorstep. How can he not? He is absolutely entranced with this beautiful teacher, Miriam. She’s definitely obsessed with him. And their sexual blizzard begins. And on it goes for years. McEwan likes nothing more than to make us feel uncomfortable. He does just that.

Rolands adult life is very unsettled due to the rigorous nature of his affair with this much older woman, an adult. No one nowadays could get away with actions like this. Even then this was considered child abuse and it was not legal. But no one knew…..We do know that Roland might have gone on to become a very successful concert pianist if not for “the piano teacher.”

The relationship ends badly. Roland goes on to marry a half German woman and have a son. His wife suddenly disappears when their son is only seven months old. She’s left a note. Basically she is off to find herself. She’s really off to write the great novel.

During the course of the novel McEwan manages to take us through the fall of the Berlin Wall, Chernobyl, the Cuban missile crisis, various political figures, and right up to and including COVID-19. He gives us great insight as to how historical events can shape our future, mold us into the people we will become.

Ian McEwan

McEwan addresses so many issues. Aging parents, dying parents, the loss of siblings, a cardiac scare, and misbehaving knees. So many of us can relate to these things. So much of LESSONS is considered to be semi-autobiographical, anti-memoir. Many of the things that happened to Roland were shaped by actual events in McEwan’s own life. He plundered his own life…

Ian McEwan has written eighteen novels. He’s won countless awards including The Booker. He is the master of using shock value. Rape, incest, child abuse, murder. Almost nothing is safe. My favorite of his novels is THE CHILDREN ACT from 2014. It is nothing short of a masterpiece. Now, this one, LESSONS, is another favorite.

Did you know that Queen Elizabeth 11 appointed McEwan Commander of the British Empire? I just had to mention this with Her Magistry’s recent passing.

McEwan says writing this novel was one of the most pleasant experiences of his life. That speaks volumes for me.

I read a digital review copy of LESSONS through Netgalley and the publisher, Knopf in exchange for an honest review.This is literary fiction at its best. This is the perfect book for book clubs and great for discussion!

Murder On The Vine by Camilla Trinchieri

Here we have it, MURDER ON THE VINE is Camilla Trinchieri’s third in the wonderful Tuscan Mystery series. The first two books in the series: MURDER IN CHIANTI and THE BITTER TASTE OF MURDER are top notch. They’re both filled with everything I look for in a mystery set in Italy. You can practically taste the Italian food, smell the earthy countryside, and you can feel the tension mount as the murders are discovered and then finally solved. I am so happy to announce that this third novel is the BEST yet!

I was promptly dropped into the small towns of Greve, Panzano, and Gravigna ( pronounced Graveena ). I settled in quickly with my old friends, Nico Doyle, the retired NYPD detective who moved to Gravigna to be closer to his wife’s family after she passed away, Maresciallo Salvatore Perillo and his side-kick, Brigadiere Daniele Donato. It’s not long before they are summoned to find a lost person. Laura Benati who manages Hotel Bella Vista shows up at the carabineri station begging for help. Her eighty-year- old bartender, Cesare Rinaldi has been missing for three days and she is beside herself with worry. A missing persons report is filed and the men are up and running.

When a dead body shows up in the trunk of Jimmy Lando’s beat up old car Jimmy, of course, becomes the strongest suspect. And we find out the body belongs to the missing man, Cesare Rinaldi. And who is Jimmy? He and his husband, Sandro Ventini are co-owners of Bar All’Angolo , the breakfast spot where Nico enjoys his morning cornetti’s ( Italian croissants ) and Cafe Americano.

Cornetti

A lot of finger-pointing goes on as more and more pieces of this puzzle unravel. Who did it? Was it Cesare’s brother? Laura? Jimmy? Along the way we are given shreds of the past and the how and why so many people could have been guilty.

When I say Trinchieri has nailed these small villages and towns in Tuscany, it is an understatement. As many of you who read my blog often know, I have traveled to this delightful and magical region of Tuscany. It is depicted beautifully in this book. The towns are characters, themselves. The people pop off the pages and make you feel as if you truly know them. And you will know them once you have a couple books in this series under your reading belts.

One Wag is the dog Nico found in the first of the series. He has become a huge part of the stories. Named One Wag because he wags his tail once. He is a show-stealer and I can’t possibly imagine the series without him.

I love Bar All’Angelo. I was sitting here this morning thinking how much I would love to be there enjoying my cornetti and coffee. Hanging out, visiting with friends and perhaps reading the La Nazione, the local Florentine daily newspaper the cafe provides.

Camilla Trinchieri

Trinchierri ads a note in the beginning of this book. She has added a list of characters in the back of the book. I admit to using it often. There are a lot of characters. Each character brings so much to the table.

The kindness of the Tuscan people, the exquisite writing of Camilla Trinchierri, the profound sense of place, and even the art and streets of Florence, all work together to make this novel delicious and delightful. Honestly, I can hardly wait for the next in the series and I hope to reread this one again soon.

My beautiful finished hardcover of MURDER ON THE VINE was provided by the generous publishing people at Soho Crime in exchange for an honest review. If I could give it ten stars I would. It’s absolutely luscious.

Walking Him Home by Joanne Tubbs Kelly

I accepted this nonfiction book about dying with dignity because I believe we all deserve to avoid a long, lingering death from an awful untreatable disease. The author is a very, very good writer. But I put off picking the book up for obvious reasons. I knew it would be terribly sad and difficult.

When Joanne Kelly’s husband, Alan, overcome by a rare, fatal neurodegenerative illness decides he has endured all the suffering he can handle and wants to end his life using Medical Aid in Dying, Joanne is torn between not wanting him to suffer and not wanting him to die. Can she help him achieve the tender death he envisions? And should she?

Joanne’s writing is so welcoming and down to earth. At times it’s witty and even fun. It was a lot easier to get into than I had imagined. She dives right into their story by beginning with Alan’s endgame. Then works her way back to the beginning of their life together. Alan and Joanne married in midlife. Each had been married twice before. These two knew what they wanted in a life partner from the get go. They were a perfect fit.

Joanne and Alan lived in Colorado where MAID ( Medical Aid In Dying) is legal. I wish it was legal everywhere. With many baby boomers approaching late middle age, I believe there will be even more interest in this process. We all are going to know someone who is dealing with a debilitating illness. A family member might suddenly be diagnosed. A friend. This book really opened my eyes.

This story will help walk you through the process of dealing with an untreatable disease. You will find many people with stories like Alan and Joanne’s. And might discover help in unexpected venues.

Life is a huge mystery. But it’s death that is the biggest mystery of all. Alan and Joanne approached Alan’s demise with total dignity and amazing eye- opening insight.

I received my copy for review from She Writes Press and Spark Point Studio in exchange for an honest review. It’s humbling and important. A wonderful memoir written with wit and compassion. A triumph.

The Marriage Portrait by Maggie O’Farrell

I was so excited to discover that Maggie O’Farrell was coming out with a new novel this year. It’s always reason for celebration. I fell head over heels for HAMNET a couple years ago. And now she brings into the world another historical novel from the 1500’s. She writes this era brilliantly.

I love novels written about actual people. People who we might not know of. And THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT certainly fits this description. Who was Lucrezia de’ Medici ? She was the teenage bride of the Duke of Ferrara in the mid-16th century. And why would we care to know more about her? She died mysteriously one year into her marriage. History thinks her husband either killed her or had her killed. And why would he do that? He wanted desperately to have an heir and a year into their marriage no pregnancy had occurred. I had to wonder whose fault it could be.

This wonderful novel begins when the duchess realizes her husband wants to kill her. O’Farrell draws the reader into the story completely with this knowledge. I could not help but wonder where it came from. And then we begin to slowly figure it out. Through chapters going back and forth during the year they are married, we get to know Lucrezia well. She adores painting. And she’s very good at it. She loves animals. And she’s not suited for this relationship and marriage. The Duke is quite a bit older. And she is a mere child.

This novel reads like a symphony. It’s lyrical and even magical. The time period is drawn to perfection. Each sentence is perfect. I found myself deeply entranced in the tragic life of Lucrezia. Her gorgeous almost floor length fiery hair. Her kindness and naivety drew me to her like a moth to a flame.

O’Farrell takes the reader on a wild ride. I don’t want to spoil any part of this amazing novel so I am being cautious where I go with this. But I will say that this story is not cut and dried. Do not be so sure you know where this is going. Ha!

Maggie O’Farrell

Maggie O’Farrell has written more than a dozen books. Her memoir,” I Am, I Am, I Am”, is about 17 brushes with death. The editor in chief of Knopf says Maggie is on intimate terms with mortal terror.

I have come to terms with the fact that if O’Farrell wrote a grocery list I would have to read it. She is undoubtedly one of the most brilliant writers of our time.

I read my copy of THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT digitally. It was provided through Netgalley and Knopf. All in exchange for an honest review. This novel is absolutely outstanding. Every bookclub will be reading it. O’Farrell has hit it right out of the book park! Literary fiction at its finest.

The Displacements by Bruce Holsinger

If you look closely you can make out the aqua pool on the cover of this new novel. You can also see the threatening dark sky in the background. But for the life of you I would bet you could not imagine how unsettling this new thriller is. I read Ron Charles’s review of THE DISPLACEMENTS in the Washington Post. I immediately went online to the local library and put it on hold. I just finished it yesterday. What a wild ride!

This is not a dystopian novel. But it is set in the very near future. It’s actually pretty disturbing to think how close it could be. Florida is in the news. Not in a good way. You see, the first Cat 6 hurricane has been twirling around in the Atlantic and now has stopped and decided to focus on Miami and barrel forth, straight ahead. What to do if this is your home?

Daphne and Brantley seem to have it all: the Miami mansion, he’s a prominent surgeon, smart kids. They’ve just moved to the Sunshine State and are still settling in. Now along comes Luna and blows it all away.

Here we are smack- dab in the middle of the hurricane season, just going into the two months when we know storms are most likely to plow across the Atlantic and ram into the state of Florida. And what am I reading? A wild and crazy novel about the worst storm in the history of storms. Oh boy.

I know some of you will look away. Just can’t imagine reading this book especially right now. I get it. But it was like driving by a wreck and not being able to take my eyes off it. All the things that went wrong as this family evacuated their home. I kept wondering how they could survive. It’s definitely a story of survival. And the very frightening part is how very close to something like this our world actually is.

We meet a woman who works with FEMA and is in control of running a tent city with ten thousand evacuees. A mammoth job. We also meet an insurance man. We learn about how this type of disaster is going to affect the insurance industry. And the drug scene. Ugh. Many states are involved in the fallout of this super storm.

Immigration issues are dealt with. Grief and racism. Holsinger tackles many moral and social dilemmas. I was held captive for more than half of this novel. The writing is super. The characters are deep. But I have to give it four stars out of five because I got bogged down at the refugee camp. The end was a surprise. A good twist.

We have had a quiet storm season so far. But we are beginning to see action brewing in the Caribbean and swirling off the coast of Africa. Hurricanes don’t follow the same patterns they did in years past. But since we live in a vulnerable area very near the coast in SW Florida, we watch the weather very closely. From now through mid November we will be all ears and eyes on the tropics. We pray we are spared. We stock up on good books to read and bottled water. and wine. We check the generator to make sure she is ready to go if needed. And prayers are said each and every day and night.

I borrowed my copy of THE DISPLACEMENTS from our local library. So what did I really think of this book? I would give it 4 out of 5 stars.

Simmering In September!

It seems like just yesterday I was writing my August post. I knew August would fly by. Now it’s gone. Bye, bye summer. However, really, this is SW Florida where it’s almost eternally summer. We have had the hottest and most humid August I can recall. So many scorching days with heat index above or hovering around 100. Ouch! Just the other afternoon I told my husband I have become like a hot house English rose with white skin that might wither if subjected to the brutal sun of this summer.

I will say our roses love the heat and the rain. Yes, we are finally getting rain almost daily. And, oddly enough, it comes mostly in the evening or during the night. Yesterday morning we woke to a gentle rain. This is a good thing.

I received a review copy of a book that comes out in December. THE LIGHT PIRATE by Lily Brooks-Dalton will be published by Grand Central. There is a blurb on the front of my copy by Colson Whitehead. That speaks volumes. When I saw that the story takes place in Florida I was very intrigued. It’s about climate change. And it takes place on the east coast of Florida near the Florida Keys. Honestly, I absolutely loved the book. The writing reminds me of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING by Delia Owens. The book is powerful, the characters unforgettable, and the story scared the bejesus out of me. Review will air closer to pub date. My readers who I will be visiting in November will get an advance treat as I present this book as one of my favorites.

The Light Pirate

I met a dear friend from Naples here on the Cape at Cafe You, one of my favorite restaurants for lunch the other day. It was her first visit and she loved it, of course. The lattes were the best you will find anywhere in SW Florida. We could not resist one of the specials from Chef Sam: flatbread. Add a cup of potato/leek soup; put a fork in it and we’re done.

Mushroom and fennel Flatbread

I’ve been reading a lot of books. And there are a slew of good ones coming out soon. I’ve just started THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT by Maggie O’Farrell, and I can tell right from the get-go that it’s going to be very important. After all, a couple years ago we all fell in love with her HAMNET. LESSONS by Ian McEwan is coming in a couple weeks. He is a very powerful author and this will be my next read.

The Deluge

THE DELUGE is a novel of climate change that comes out in January. I received a physical review copy and decided to actually read it on my Kindle because, get a load of this, it’s 880 pages long. Yes. That’s a lot of pages. Stephen Markley wrote his first novel a couple years ago: OHIO. It was received with much acclaim. I am excited to read this new one. But the length……

There are a lot of books out now or coming soon dealing with climate change. It’s on everyone’s minds. And rightly so. Writers are also coming out with books with the pandemic as a theme. Now that we are a bit out from it they are easier to read.

The kitties are all doing fine. They nap a bit more than usual in the heat. Great Aunt Tiny (GAT) is seen here begging for petting. She’s our oldest Siamese cat and her real name is Siena. We call her Tiny because she has a very small head.

GAT (Siena)

I wish you all a bundle of good books to read. Happy end of summer!

The Last Dress From Paris by Jade Beer

The Last Dress From Paris

I’m still basking in the glow of this marvelous new novel that takes place mostly in Paris. It has a lot to offer. First, there is Paris. That’s huge in and of itself. Beer does an amazing job of bringing The City of Light vividly to life. It’s a heartbreaking love story. It’s about complicated relationships between mothers and daughters. And it’s about couture, namely Dior. It’s also filled with mystery.

We’re tossed back and forth in time from the 1950’s to present day. London and Paris, but mostly Paris. In 2017 in London Lucille’s grandmother, Sylvie, sends her to Paris on a fashion hunt. She’s been thinking she wants to see a dress she once owned, one last time. Lucille accepts the challenge having no idea her life is about to change forever.

We are in 1952 where we meet Alice Ainsley. She’s the young wife of Albert, the British ambassador to France. They’ve been married only a year and yet Alice is feeling neglected and unloved. Something is just not right.

Sophisticated prose and engaging and endearing characters. A magical sense of place with gorgeous gowns filled with mystery and longing.

I borrowed my copy of THE LAST DRESS FROM PARIS by Jade Beer from the local library. All opinions are my own. I was so pleasantly surprised to be almost instantly drawn into this very unique world Beer has conjured. I think you will be too.!