07 February 2014

January Book Report

Before much more of February happens, I figured I'd give you a review of what I read in January.  At some point later this month, I'll figure out what books I have to offer from the last few months of reading, so that they can find new homes.  But for right now, you just get to hear about them ...

City of Hope, by Kate Kerrigan.  I am not exactly sure what I think about this.

I won this book in a Goodreads First Read drawing, and the author was kind enough to send this along with the first book, "Ellis Island," which I read a couple of months ago.  

In this book, the heroine of the earlier book, Ellie Hogan, has lived in Ireland for the past ten years with her husband John after leaving her somewhat glamorous life in New York during the 1920s.  She has made a life for herself by having a few busineses of her own going, and is making a nice living.  Even though they are childless (she has suffered several miscarriages), John and Ellie are happy in their life together.

When John dies suddenly of a heart attack, Ellie leaves his graveside service, packs a bag, and heads back to New York.  She tells herself it's for a "holiday," to grieve and pull herself together.

The New York she returns to is in the throes of the Great Depression, and life is very different than when she was there before.  With her money and some desire to help the homeless, she buys a house and invites some of the women and children to live with her.  With her money and business sense, and word of mouth, she eventually ends up with several houses, a shop, and a name for herself.  She creates a Women's Cooperative, where everyone shares the work and the profits.  People come and go, problems arise and are resolved, she gets involved with a couple of men (one a former beau), and for all intents and purposes, is a success.  

She returns to Ireland, where she visits her mother-in-law, trying to convince her to return to New York City with her.  She also straightens out her business affairs, clearly not planning to return.

Of course, there are plenty of other developments, and the book is interesting.  But I have had a hard time deciding what I really think about it.  Ellie is a strong, independent woman, and she does help people.  But she also seems incredibly self-involved to me.  (Keep in mind that I am the Queen of Self-Involvement.)  I'm not sure that I like her that much as a person, though I admire her ability to get things done.  In the end, I think she might be too much like a real person to be appealing to me.

Having said that, I enjoyed reading the book, and seeing what would happen next.  

The Hundred-Foot Journey, by Richard C. Morais.  I really enjoyed this book. Admittedly, I'd not heard of it, until I read an article about books being made into movies this year.  Like most books, I think this will likely not translate as well to film, especially if they want to make it more "relevant" or "modern."  But I'm not here to talk about the movie!

Hassan Haji and his family's story begins in their native India, then moves them to London after a family tragedy.  London is not as kind to them as they would have hoped, and eventually they find themselves in Lumiere, a small village in the French Alps.  They purchase a property across the road from a Michelin three-star restaurant, owned and run by Madame Gertrude Mallory, one of the most well-known and respected chefs in all of France.  Hassan's father decides to open an Indian restaurant, which causes problems between the Haji family and Madame Mallory. She does, however, have an encounter with Hassan in the kitchen, and decides he is one of the rare people who are born chefs, and becomes his mentor. 

Years later, Hassan moves to Paris to further his learning and his career, and over the years, becomes the owner of a very well-respected French restaurant, and an expert French chef. 

That's the basic story, but it is all so much more than that.  Hassan is the narrator, and through his eyes we learn about family, love, food, and what it means to be an outsider.  His life becomes one lesson, one experience, one cultural shift after another, and he turns out having friends that change his life in so many unexpected ways.  Throughout it all, his family, and in particular the memory of his mother, guide his way.

This is a really good book about family, food, culture, and how just one person can make all the difference in someone else's life.  Though it is fiction, it's as engrossing as any memoir.

Also, the author apparently lives in Philadelphia, so that was a fun discovery at the end of the book!

All Mortal Flesh, by Julia Spencer-Fleming.  I haven't read a book in this series for a while, and though I still liked this one, I didn't like it as much as the previous ones.  Unlike most people, my favorite thing isn't for characters who are attracted to one another to get together.  Sometimes it makes perfect sense, and other times, it just seems to dilute the premise.

Anyway, as this installment begins, Rev. Clare Fergusson is finishing up a personal retreat in a cabin in the woods loaned to her by one of her parishoners.  A representative of the bishop comes to find her, to inform her that - due to certain "difficulties" (i.e., her relationship with Russ Van Alstyne, a married man and Chief of Police in their town, Millers Kill) - she is being assigned a deacon to assist her with her church duties.  Clare isn't thrilled about this, but she is also relieved the "punishment" is no more severe.

Upon returning to town, she learns that Russ' wife Linda, who recently kicked him out of the house upon learning of his relationship with Clare, has been found murdered in her kitchen.  As the story progresses, Russ is considered the prime suspect, though he is trying on his own to solve the murder.  Later in the story, some think  Clare is the murderer, to get the wife out of the way.  

Several things lead to identifying other suspects, which makes Russ think that the victim of the murder was not his wife, but someone who resembled her.  He begins trying to track her down.

As with any crime like this one, certain facts, secrets, and disturbing things are learned in the investigation about nearly everyone mentioned.  Friendships become strained, careers are called into question, and gossip rules.  

The ending is not all that satisfying, and the discoveries and events leading up to it were really disturbing to me.  I know there are more books in the series, and I am guessing that Clare and Russ end up together.  I'll likely read at least one more to find out, but I think for me they may become less interesting as a result.

The Diva Takes the Cake, by Krista Davis.  I read this out of order in the series, but it was still enjoyable.  Sophie Winston's sister, Hannah, is getting married again, and Sophie has done all of the planning.  She is not overly fond of Hannah's fiance, Craig, but mainly because she thinks he is dull more than anything else.

The wedding weekend gets off to a bad start when Craig's ex-wife - who Hannah didn't know about - turns up dead in the garden of Sophie's ex-husband's house.  The wedding is on again/off again, and more and more suspicious things happen.  Craig seems like a prime suspect, but then Hannah insists he is innocent, and the wedding happens.  Except another body is discovered at the end of the ceremony.

Again, not amazing literature, but this series has some amusing and appealing characters, and I find it enjoyable when I am in the mood to read but not read something complicated and deep.


Have a good weekend!


Kym said...

Sounds like perfect January reading! :-)

Lorraine said...

Bridget- I like the self involvement remark. That made me laugh out loud.

kathy b said...

The hundred foot journey review intrigues me. Thanks

elns said...

wow you read a lot. I liked your review of City of Hope, because I relate to your feelings. When I can't get behind a main character, it is really hard for me to like a book (This is how I felt about Ida Elizabeth). My husband says, whether you like a character or not isn't what makes a good book. I realize that, maybe a good read for us both? Esp. if we invest that time.

Danette Bartelmay said...

You are on Goodreads? Yippee!
How do I find you there?
We really must be friends there too :)))
I am heading to your Ravlery page now to friend you.

KSD said...

I saw that books-into-movies list, too. I was thinking about "The 100-Foot Journey." And maybe "Labor Day." Working on Nabokov's "Pnin" right now, though.