Homecoming by Kate Morton


I discovered Kate Morton many years ago when I read THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN. I immediately knew Morton was an amazing author. THE FORGOTTEN GARDEN is set in Australia as is Morton’s newest novel, HOMECOMING. I do love reading books set in the Land Down Under. Always have.

The above video sets up this superb tale perfectly.

This amazing novel begins in 1959, Christmas Eve, in the Adelaide Hills of Australia. Percy Summers is the deliveryman who discovers a scene so outrageous we can hardly believe it’s real. A crime scene complete with the dead bodies of a young woman and three of her four children. They actually appear to just be sleeping. The baby is missing. And thus begins one of the most shocking mystery tales I’ve read in years.

It’s so uncanny that my youngest son and his wife just returned from a two week visit to this very part of Australia. My interest was even more piqued.

I had to think about the difference in the seasons while reading the beginning. Christmas Eve, a scorching hot day. Oh, right, they are opposite us. And then I settled into this vast story, this wild tale that I could not put down.

I’ve read a lot of books about family secrets. A lot of them. They always seem to attract me. I truly believe most of us have more than one secret in our family. But this family takes the cake. No one is who they appear to be. I love it. I spent most of the book paying attention and trying to figure it out. Just when I thought I had, nope.

The house itself is a big character in this novel. Morton has nailed the scenery in this part of the world. She’s brought it all vividly to life. I imagined myself in the gardens and watching the birds and reading the journals that helped solve the puzzle of this family.

I am still thinking about these characters and this novel. This is a real keeper. I loved it. My digital review copy was made available through NetGalley and Harper Collins publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Mastering The Art of French Murder by Colleen Cambridge

I’m always excited about a new book set in Paris. MASTERING THE ART OF FRENCH MURDER is the first of a brand new “An American in Paris” historical mystery series that introduces Tabitha Knight and her best friend, Julia Child. Need I say more?

I found myself almost licking my chops just at the thought of the food that this book surely would spotlight. I was not disappointed. Food, intrigue, darling pets, edgy characters and murder. Oo la la.

Who is Tabitha Knight? Tabitha is an expat from the United States. During the war she was kept busy doing Rosie the Riveter work in Detroit. When the war wound down the men came home and she was basically out of a job. With opportunity knocking she decided to visit her grandfather in Paris. He has a cast of characters in his household that will have you grinning from ear to ear. Tabitha ,who can’t boil water, is determined to learn how to cook. In comes Julia Child.

Julia Child moved to Paris with her husband Paul. Paul was kept busy in his job at the embassy but Julia needed something big to fill her days. Hence, Paul gave her a cookbook written in French. And so off she went to attend classes at Le Cordon Blue cooking school.

Julia meets ex-pat Tabitha. She, her grandpere and a so-called uncle live across the street. How lucky for Tabitha because she needs all the help she can get. She really wants to impress her grandfather.

I could not imagine feeling more at home in Paris. The descriptions of the apartments, the shopping, the weather, the French food. What a pleasure.

Everything is going along famously until a dead body is found in the cellar of Julia’s building. Wait for it: along with a knife from Julia’s kitchen…. The plot thickens.

I think you’ll be as enchanted as I am with this delightful and very entertaining who-done-it set in one of my favorite cities on earth: The City of Light, Paris.

My physical review copy was provided by Kensington Publishers in exchange for an honest review. I loved it! Can’t wait for the second installment.

Shadows We Carry by Meryl Ain

SHADOWS WE CARRY is a sequel to an earlier novel called THE TAKEAWAY MEN. I have not read the first book. I didn’t feel like I missed a thing. However, having said that, you might want to go back and read THE TAKEAWAY MEN when you are finished with this new novel.

SHADOWS WE CARRY takes place mostly in the late 1960’s with a prologue that gives you a good idea how the twins felt on the death of JF Kennedy. That fateful day I remember well.

SHADOWS WE CARRY takes place after WW11. Twins, Jojo and Bronka, arrive in Queens, New York, to live with relatives after the war. Their family has survived unspeakable atrocities during the Holocaust and they are beginning anew.

Jojo and Bronka could not be any different. Jojo discovered a love of acting and she was good at it. But her parents said she needed to stay in college and get that teaching certificate, then she could pursue acting if she was still interested. Bronka is a veracious readers and is studying to become a journalist. But when Jojo discovers she’s pregnant right at the beginning of this story, we see where she is NOT going.

I remember vividly where I was the day JFK was shot to death in Dallas. I was in school and everyone was in critical shock. This is one of the first atrocities of the sixties. Plenty more down the road.

The last sixties were a time of political turmoil and unrest. Riots in the streets of major cities. The Vietnam War was so unpopular that protesters were on the streets of every large city. As we were dealing with this we were also discovering that Nazi’s were actually living on our soil, some living right among us in plain sight. Then the federal government began tracking those Nazi’s down. OMG!

This novel tackles many issues. Among the most important are how women’s rights were pretty much nonexistent. For instance, in the late sixties, Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism had a quota of a mere 20% acceptance for women. Shocking. Shameful.

We find the characters in this novel dealing with guilt, Judaism, sexuality, politics and family secrets. One character, a Catholic priest, is harboring deep, dark secrets that are just begging to come to the surface. He’s one of my favorite characters.

Don’t miss the author’s note at the back of this book. It was such a shock to discover that on Long Island, there really was a Nazi community solely for those of pure Aryan extraction. The main street was named Adolf Hitler Strasse. I shiver at this news.

The writing is some of the best I’ve read recently. The story is a total page-turner. My physical review copy came from Spark Press, a Book Sparks imprint, in exchange for an honest review. SHADOWS WE CARRY is a serious contender for best Holocaust novel of this year.

Only The Beautiful by Susan Meissner

One of my favorite authors brings us a historical novel of great importance. Here, Meissner brings vividly to life the story of a young woman plagued with a strange and then not understood disease that we now call synesthesia.

In 1938 in Sonoma County, California, a sixteen-year-old girl becomes the ward of a couple who own a vineyard. The vineyard is where Roseanne was born and has lived with her parents her entire life. Celine and Truman Calvert own the vineyard. The vineyard came to them through Celine’s family and so Truman is tagging along. Rosie’s father was the vineyards vinedresser. Both parents were killed in a tragic auto accident. The state approached Celine and Truman to take the girl in because she was unable to live on her own. With some grumbling, they arranged for Rosie to move into the big house and stay in a small maid’s quarters off the kitchen which was really just a small room. In exchange for this, she worked as a maid and provided kitchen help. This all worked until a huge mistake was made one evening. Then Rosie was cast out of the kingdom.

Rosie’s mother had warned her repeatedly NEVER to tell anyone that she saw colors when she heard words. Everyone would think she was crazy. But she had told someone and now it’s about to come home to roost.

Celine had the state case worker involved when she discovered that Rosie was pregnant. This young woman should never have been taken to a state institution. You would think possibly a house for unwed mothers….. As the car Rosie was riding in approached the entrance to the hospital, she took note: under the sign saying Sonoma State Home For The Infirm were the smaller words: Caring for the mentally encumbered, the epileptic, the physically disabled and psychopathic delinquent. She was beside herself as she was taken into the home and straight to the office of Dr. Townsend. Surely he would help her. She was none of those things on the sign. But, Dr, Townsend knew about Rosie’s ability to see colors and so that was a deal breaker. Before she knew it she was given a sedative and taken to her room.

Unspeakable things were happening under the roof of the state home. Back in those days women had no rights once they were institutionalized. And the code of conduct was to sterilize women with issues. Rosie realized this was happening all around her. Hideous. Unthinkable. In all honesty, Meissner has done stellar research and we now know that more than 20,000 women were sterilized in California alone between 1909 and 1964. Shocking. So this is hanging over Rosie’s head as she nears the birth of her child.

There are two main characters in ONLY THE BEAUTIFUL. Rosie is the first. Helen Calvert who is Truman’s sister is the second. Helen never cottoned to Truman’s wife Celine. Helen left Sonoma behind to become a nanny during WW11 in Austria. She worked for a lovely family in Austria. Loved her job and the children. One of the children, a young girl named Brigitta was born with a deformity. Helen bonded with this beautiful child and the family was so grateful. But Hitler was in Austria. And he began seeking out people and children who were disabled. Some of them just simply disappeared without anyone knowing what happened. But Helen found out that some were actually being put to death. And when she discovered they were coming after Brigitta Maier, the reality set in. This is when this part of the story heats way up and becomes too hot to handle.

The term eugenics was first heard of in conjunction with Hitler and the Nazis. A way to purify the world and only the beautiful would be sparred. Just get rid of everyone else. Helen becomes involved in a wave to aid helpless children who needed to escape. An amazing journey.

Eugenics was happening in Europe and we knew this. But for it to be happening here in the United States is beyond horrific. And it went on far too long. Meissner’s research is amazing.

I don’t want to give anymore of the story away. You need to read it yourself. But it’s an amazing novel filled with characters you will root for.

My digital review copy was provided by Berkley a division of Penguin Random House publishing through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This is a superb novel that should be on everyone’s TBR list. I loved it!

Susan Meissner is the award winning author of many novels. Among many are my favorites: THE NATURE OF FRAGILE THINGS and AS BRIGHT AS HEAVEN.

Life and Other Love Songs by Anissa Gray

I’ve long been fascinated by stories of people walking away from their lives. People do think about it, but who actually does this? A thirty-seven year old husband and father does just this in this new novel by Anissa Gray. I was immediately all-in.

So, who is Daniel Orzo Jr, nicknamed Oz? He’s the guy who disappeared after lunch from his work in Detroit, leaving his family and friends completely in the dark. Why would he do this? And who is he really?

Gray takes us back in time as we find out how Oz and Deborah met. Oz had been living in Alabama when his family suddenly moved north to Detroit…This was back in the time of the riots and we get a sense something pretty ominous happened in the South. But we don’t find out until much farther down the road.

Oz and Deborah have one child, a daughter named Trinity who has to live with being the sole black student in her upscale school. How this disappearance of her father affects her going forward is a big part of this novel.

I lived through this period in history and enjoyed hearing about the Motown music I grew up with. It also brought memories of very tense times with riots and politics and uncertain times.

To say much more would be to tell too much. It’s beautifully written and brings back memories of a troubled time in history, in politics, and with racial tension.

My digital review copy was provided by NetGalley and Penguin Random House in exchange for an honest review. It’s real keeper. Great writing and good pacing, plus engaging characters.

City Of Dreams by Don Winslow

Here it is! The second in a trilogy that will set your mind on fire. Last spring we were rewarded with the first in the trilogy with CITY ON FIRE. To read my review of the first book just click on the title. I so loved the first book that when a digital copy of this second book in the series became available, I downloaded and read straight through. OMG! You will not miss a beat transitioning from the first to the second book. But, do read CITY ON FIRE first. You simply can not miss it.

We’re quickly swept into the new life that now belongs to Danny Ryan. He’s pissed everyone off. The Mafia, the cops, and the FBI all want him dead. So he flees the scene of the crimes, Rhode Island, and crosses the country headed for Hollywood. with his three year old son and his elderly father in tow.

The time period is 1988. Danny becomes involved with the movie studios in Hollywood when he discovers a movie is being made about his life. And he does something really stupid when he falls for a famous actress. Lots of drama here, folks.

From the shore of Rhode Island and through the deserts of California where it’s easy to make dead bodies disappear, Winslow will keep you on the edge of your seat as you try to imagine how all this stuff is going to come together. And there is yet another book to come to end the series next year.

This epic crime series explodes as it arrives in Vegas and Danny hooks up with his mother. Boy is she a piece of work. A great character.

That’s it. I can’t tell you anything else or it will spoil the ride for you.

I read my review copy digitally through NetGalley and William Morrow in exchange for an honest review. I can’t get enough of Winslow’s writing. The very generous people at William Morrow/Harper Collins are sending me a finished copy to show off on the blog. Thanks guys.

Don Winslow

Twelve Hours In Manhattan by Maan Gabriel

I don’t read many romantic comedies, currently know as rom-coms. But I was pulled into this one because I felt ready to step a bit out of my comfort zone. What I do know is that these books have become extremely popular over the past couple years, partly because the writing has gotten so much better and the stories themselves are of current interest.

I thought I might just read a chapter to get the flavor of the writing and the story. Once I got through the first few pages, well, the main character, Bianca, started to grow on me.

Bianca is Filipino-American and has lived in America most of her life. She’s just experienced a very horrid day. She needs to make some big changes, and quickly, But, first, a stop at a popular bar near Times Square to drown her sorrows. And this is where she meets Eric who is really the famous Korean drama star, Park Hyun Min. He’s only in town for the day and is trying to stay incognito. The chemistry between the two is undeniable and they spend the evening and most of the night together sharing intimate details about their personal lives. Yes, they hit it off.

Like Cinderella, Bianca must go back to her oh-so-complicated “real” life. And then the shit hits the fan when she quickly faces a tragedy that unearths her personal life, and all bets are off.

This rom-com is superbly written. Twists and turns abound to keep you guessing. I quickly became immersed in this story of second chances and love concurs all.

Maan Gabriel

Maan Gabriel is a mom, wife, dreamer, writer, and advocate for women’s stories in literature. She earned her BA in communications from St. Scholastica’s College in Manilla and MPS in public relations and corporate communications from Georgetown University. She has lived in Manila, Brussels, Dakar, and Mexico City. She currently lives with her husband and son in suburban Washington D.C..

My physical review copy was provided by the publisher, She Writes Press which is a part of Spark Point Studio. They sent in exchange of an honest review. Honestly, it’s super. I recommend you add it to your summer reading list!

If We’re Being Honest by Cat Shook

Just when I thought I’d heard almost every kind of opening sentence to a novel, along comes debut novelist, Cat Shook, with a shocking and hilarious first sentence to beat all firsts.

The Williams family has gathered together in their small hometown of Eulalia, Georgia. What a scorcher of a summer. They’re drawn together from all over the country to honor the patriarch in their family, Gerry Williams. His wife Ellen of more than sixty years, his middle-aged children and their adult children. They’re all there. Even before Gerry’s lifelong best friend and business partner, Fred Clark, opens his mouth to give the eulogy, we can plainly see something is seriously WRONG. This man who the family has loved and known forever is obviously drunk and totally disheveled. With white hair sticking up and out all over his head like a toddler suddenly woken from a nap, then he begins saying the words that change the lives of every single person they know. And you could not hear a pin drop. Mouths hung open.

The first sentence of the first chapter is: Gerry William’s funeral was a shit show. Now, I don’t know about you but I just sat still a minute to take it in. Then I forged ahead determined to find out what the heck was going on.

I love the shock value of a good line. I wish more authors would do this. It drew me in. It made me think. And it opened up a can of worms of possibilities that just frothed and brewed in my mind. I read this novel months ago and I am still thinking about it and the cast of characters.

So, after the funeral, we begin to delve into the lives of each of the family members. Everyone is involved in some sort of crisis. Big and important stuff that is life-changing. Shook has done a bang-up job making each character three dimensional. Your interest will be kept as you make your way through the lives of these bruised souls.

I asked myself upon closing the last page of this novel: Is anyone who they appear to be?

Cat Shook. (what a great name)

Catherine Shook graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016 with degrees in Creative Writing and Mass Media Arts. Born and raised in Georgia, she now lives in Manhattan. IF WE’RE BEING HONEST is her debut novel. The brilliant publishing people at Celadon Books oh-so-smartly chose to publish IF WE’RE BEING HONEST as one of only 20- 25 books they publish each year. I know that when a book is offered from Celadon, for review, I will love it. Honestly, this is one of my all-time favorite books. Thanks for sending. I loved it!

The Lost Wife by Susanna Moore

When Sarah Brinton leaves her abusive husband and her young daughter, she is desperate. She feels her life is in immediate danger. She flees to the Minnesota territories in hopes of meeting up with her childhood friend, Mattie. Her journey from Rhode Island is torturous. By wagon train and ferry, wallowing in filth and plagued by rats and swarms of mosquitoes, she travels for weeks in search of safety. But what she finds when she finally lands in Minnesota is that her friend died some time ago of cholera. What to do now?

Sarah is resourceful and determined. She finds work and meets Dr. John Brinton and they quickly marry and raise two children. He has no idea of her secret. She feels he has his own demons yet she does not dare to ask. Dr, Brinton accepts a position as the town doctor when they move to Yellow Medicine Reservation where Native Americans live with federal administrators and White settlers. Sarah befriends some of the tribal women and settles in.

Sarah’s discomfort becomes palpable as she witnesses the escalation of upcoming revolt. The Indians are not being compensated for millions of acres of their land as they were promised they would be. Their people are starving and sick without these funds. And then the inevitable occurs. The Sioux uprising of 1862 begins. Scenes of abject horror appear on page after page as this war becomes a travesty. Hard to read. Hard to imagine. The worst part is that we know this uprising did indeed happen. One of the worst parts of our history. And where is Sarah and her children in the midst of this awfulness?

Sarah is determined to survive and keep her children safe against all odds. It’s a case of survival.

Susanna Moore

I have read a couple novels over the years about white women who have been taken by Native Americans and have settled in with them. It’s always intriguing. This time it’s based on a real woman in history named Sarah F. Wakefield who has written an autobiographical account of her six weeks in captivity. It’s called SIX WEEKS IN THE SIOUX TEPPES. You may wish to check it out.

A quick read but a powerful one. I read my review copy through NetGalley and Knopf publishers in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, add it to your TBR pile right now. It’s so good!

Advancing Into April

My gorgeous porch orchid is opening up beautifully. Such a joy to watch it reach for glory. Spring is here. Well, it’s spring in SW Florida. I can’t recall it ever being this hot this early. We have enjoyed a few cool mornings and I am grateful for them. But we know the heat is coming and it’s moving in quickly this year.

I visited my last book club of this season on Monday. I was at Wildcat Run doing lunch and learn with the great readers in that community. It was a very successful event. These past three months have certainly flown by. I’ve met so many readers this year. It’s been the best year for me. And next season is already booking. All good.

On the home-front, we finally had our hurricane proof sliding patio door installed, as well as a smaller one in the master bath. Just waiting for the permitting people to give the nod, then we can remove the stickers and get back to living our life.

Here on the Cape our burrowing owls are coming out of their nests. They’ve been in their nests with their young ones through the winter. We are especially grateful so many have survived the storm and can not wait to see the silly looking owlets and watch their shenanigans. Makes taking a walk a totally fun experience.

I’m reading like crazy, as usual. Working on putting together a summer reading list for the blog. I want a nice mix. I’ve been reading some cozy mysteries, some romantic comedies, and some of my favorite popular fiction novels. I will be posting more often now that I will not be doing so much traveling.

My husband and I took our granddaughter Alana to her baseball game last week. What fun we had. Her little brother, Lucas, who is seven, was so well behaved and loved watching her get on base and run the course. Her team won its first game of the season and so it was especially important. Her grandmother, Mina, was with us and she loves baseball. A really good night. Alana is the only girl on her team. She will soon be ten.

Next month my husband and I are going to Miami to attend an event with Books and Books and Abraham Verghese. I haven’t seen Abraham in fourteen years. I can’t wait. I hope to get some pictures for the blog.

I hope you’ll visit my new page on the blog. It’s a recap of this years events complete with photos.

My daughter is in Boston with my grandson Liam. They’re touring colleges. Yesterday was MIT and Boston College. Today is Harvard. Last week Liam visited UNC at Chapel Hill. He is a math freak and is checking out the math programs. Very exciting.

Our twin grand daughters turned nineteen yesterday. We had a delightful time with them last night as they shared their accomplishments and future college endeavors. Their parents are in Australia for two weeks and so we can’t wait to hear all about that trip.

Easter is this Sunday. Somehow it’s crept up on me. I worked with a woman named Sue at the BN in Naples, years ago. She used to walk around singing Here Comes Peter Cottontail for weeks as the season ended.

I’m so happy to have been able to see and speak to so many of you these past few months. I can’t wait to do it all over again next year!