Tangerine by Christine Mangan

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Tangerine by Christine Mangan

Tangerine
By Christine Mangan
Published by Ecco

I found this book pretty enjoyable, even if I didn’t like any of the characters – not one.  It was just twisty enough that I had to keep reading to find out what happened in the past, as told from two different points of view, and what was about to happen.  It was like one of those really annoying MTV reality TV shows that you just can’t stop watching even though you really dislike all of the people involved.

We start with a dead body, that at first seems pretty obscure, but later makes sense.  Like everything else in the book, this lays the foundation of piecing together all of the clues sprinkled throughout. But, I have to admit, those clues are pretty obvious.  Nothing really surprised me, and in fact, it was annoying to see that it was so obvious in places.

So, after the opening, where are we?

Set in Tangier in 1956, we meet Alice Shipley – a British citizen, married, and unhappily living in a foreign land because of her husband John’s “secret” job.  She’s not exactly sure what her husband does but he may be working for the “government” – I don’t think she’s even sure which government.  It is during this time that Tangier is gaining its independence from France, and the book hints that this could be part of John’s secret job – although John is an American.  But then again, Tangier has always been known as the spy capital of the world, so maybe John is there for some other nefarious deed.

As far as Alice is concerned, however, the city is oppressive in both climate and culture. She’s regretting her marriage to John, and particularly his insistence that she accompany him to this part of the world, so far from her home and where she feels comfortable.  But as miserably as she feels at the beginning of the book – things are about to get worse.

One day, out of the blue, Alice’s roommate from college shows up.  Alice doesn’t seem particularly happy to see Lucy standing in her doorway, but whether out of manners or a feeling of obligation or guilt, Alice invites Lucy in.

At first it seems that Lucy wants to make amends for something that happened to cause the rift between them – again only hinted at, with the clues slowly building throughout the book. And if Alice is slightly wary, well then John is downright suspicious.  It’s obvious from the moment that Lucy and John meet that they are not going to be friends – the animosity and petty jealousy between them is putting Alice in a pretty bad spot, and she begins to fall apart emotionally as things escalate.

As their past unfolds, Alice and Lucy tell their versions in alternating chapters and we begin to see how Alice – the rich, orphaned girl, and Lucy – the poor girl from the wrong side of the tracks, became so close that it’s difficult to see where one begins and the other ends – but maybe that’s exactly how Lucy wants it.  Her manipulation of a feckless Alice is disturbing and sinister.

Now because this is a mystery, I won’t go into much more detail, but I will say that throughout I just wanted to slap some sense into Alice. I thought John was a complete ass; and by the end of the book I despised Lucy so much that if she had been a real person standing in front of me – I would have hurled the book right at her.

See, just like I said at the beginning – I did not like one character in this book!

One last thought – I was intrigued by the Tangier setting, and I really wished that the author had done a better job of bringing the city itself into the story.  There were glimpses of Tangier, but I think with a city so rich in history and beauty I would have enjoyed feeling a little more immersed.  Maybe we’ll get to see more of that in the movie version, because apparently George Clooney intends to bring this book to the big screen.  Not sure I’d watch for the story, but I would watch for the setting.

If you are interested in learning more about Tangier – take a look at the wiki page:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tangier

What are your thoughts?  Have you read Tangerine?  Please feel free to comment below.
 

The Balcony by Jane Delury

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The Balcony by Jane Delury

The Balcony
by Jane Delury
Published by Little, Brown and Company

When I browse through the book store and I pick up a book that I had never heard of, it’s always a leap of faith whether or not it’s the book for me.  The only thing that I have to go by is the blurb on the cover.  This one was a bit deceiving. These were loosely related stories – many of which had nothing to do with “The Balcony”. Some of the stories were OK, but pretty dull for the most part. All in all, a disappointment.

From the Goodreads description:

A century-spanning portrait of the inhabitants of a French village, revealing the deception, despair, love, and longing beneath the calm surface of ordinary lives.

What if our homes could tell the stories of others who lived there before us? Set in a small village near Paris, The Balcony follows the inhabitants of a single estate-including a manor and a servants’ cottage-over the course of several generations, from the Belle Époque to the present day, introducing us to a fascinating cast of characters. A young American au pair develops a crush on her brilliant employer. An ex-courtesan shocks the servants, a Jewish couple in hiding from the Gestapo attract the curiosity of the neighbors, and a housewife begins an affair while renovating her downstairs. Rich and poor, young and old, powerful and persecuted, all of these people are seeking something: meaning, love, a new beginning, or merely survival.

Doesn’t that description sound intriguing?

This book is set up with the first story focused on the “balcony”, however it really doesn’t factor into any of the other stories.  Kind of strange since the title is “The Balcony”.  I kept waiting for the title character – le balcon – to show up.  Instead, the book revolves around characters that are sad, flawed and even pretty distasteful.The stories take us through time, but not in a linear manner, which was fine. I didn’t find it hard to follow as some other reviewers did, but the way it was arranged and the way some of the stories started it was not always clear where we were in the story, or how they were related – if at all.

I didn’t really love this book, but I think that was because I expected it to be an ongoing story of characters that lived in the manor.  However, the stories are well written, and there were some that I wished had gone on a little longer. What I didn’t like was how depressing and hopeless some of the stories seemed.  But I admit, that’s a personal preference. I have a pretty busy life, and work a full-time job, so when I read it’s to entertain and uplift me – I tend to stay away from books that are tear-jerkers. Not that this book could be described as a tear-jerker, it just was a bit of a downer.  And the last chapter/story – left me so muddled that I’m still unsure of what in the world was going on.

All in all, it was a 50/50 for me.  There was never any time during my reading that I felt immersed in any of the stories, which is why I tend to stay away from short story collections.  I wish this one had made it clear from the start that this was basically a short story collection. If it had, I would have passed on “The Balcony”.

I’m very curious to hear if anyone else has read this book, or plans to. Please leave you comments below.

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

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Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions (An Auntie Poldi Adventure – Book 1)
By Mario Giordano
Translator: John Brownjohn
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

I’m always so reluctant to post an unfavorable review, and to date I don’t think that I’ve had to.  This one may be my first.

There were a few things that I liked when I was deciding whether or not to buy it. First,  it was compared to “Auntie Mame”, but as a zany mystery. Second, it takes place in picturesque Italy.

However, there were some things that I just couldn’t get my head around. One of which was how this zaftig, 60-year-old woman, who sweat profusely under her wig was able to convince her family, and a police officer, to bend to her every whim. I just didn’t buy it, and frankly, Auntie Poldi just wasn’t an interesting character.

However, with all of that said, I wanted to finish the book – which I did in one sitting (it’s a pretty quick read), but then found myself a little let down by the ending. Needless to say, I don’t think I’m going to continue with the series.

But to be fair, the premise sounded promising to me and others may find it interesting, so I’ll do a quick synopsis of the plot.

Sixty-year-old Isolde “Poldi” Oberreiter, is the daughter of a Munich police detective, (but I’m not sure if we know that right away). She’s a widow who doesn’t think she has much to live for, so she retires to a Sicilian village in Italy, where she believes that she’ll live out her days away from her family, slowly drinking herself to death.

When she finds the body of her young handyman on the beach, she decides that maybe there is some life in her left, and resolves to find the murderer. She bases this idea on the fact that since her father was a detective she must surely have the skills to solve this crime. Of course, she goes bumbling along, dragging her family into her zany plan – which are all too happy to become accomplices because she no longer thinks about her death.

We also learn that Poldi has a weakness for good-looking policemen, and likes to go around town taking snapshots of them as they go about their daily routine. When she gets romantically involved with one, he is also pulled along into her wacky scheme. To his credit, he doesn’t cave in to her every whim, and gives her a hard time when she has the audacity to take over his investigation. It’s no surprise that like all amateur sleuths Auntie Poldi solves the crime, and makes the police look like dolts.

So, why am I being so hard on this book when I usually do like a cozy mystery with an amateur sleuth. It has to be Auntie Poldi herself. I found her to be so overbearing and unlikeable; and the way she is described in the book as overweight, unable to climb steps without wheezing, and the sweat that seems to accumulate under her wig that needs continuous adjusting; well let’s just say that I really didn’t want to visualize that in my head.

All in all I’m glad that I finished it. There were some fun characters, but not enough to bring me back for the second book in the series.

I’d like to hear from anyone that has read this book or series so far. There seems to be some fairly good praise for it – I guess it just wasn’t for me.

 

Doc by Mary Doria Russell

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Doc by Mary Doria Russell

Doc
by Mary Doria Russell
Published by Random House

There are a few people who follow this blog that are family members, friends and co-workers; and there is something that they probably have learned about me over the years – I just LOVE a western! Whether in books, TV or movies, there is nothing like a really well done western – and before I forget – if you haven’t seen “Godless” on Netflix, stop what you are doing right now and go watch that show! By far one of the best westerns that I have seen in a very long time. OK, back to Doc.

You don’t have to be someone who loves western history and lore to have heard about the gunfight at the O.K. Corral, or the larger than life heroes (or villains depending on whose side you’re on) that participated on that fateful day. So, I’m sure that if someone mentions the name Doc Holliday you’d have some idea in your mind of who he was. If not, or if you want another side of the Doc Holliday story, this book is for you.

Mary Doria Russell puts together fact and fiction to weave a story about a smart and very witty, but very sickly, man who becomes larger than life in legend. Her research takes us into the life of John Henry Holliday as a child, and how he went from a well-educated and cultured upbringing to gambling, drinking and living with a prostitute. She also tells how Holliday becomes acquainted with the Earps, and although there is mention of the famous gunfight, this book really revolves around the fascinating life of a man more famously known as Doc.

To make the story even more interesting, and to give some insight into the character of Holliday, Russell creates a murder mystery using Doc as the amateur sleuth out to solve the mystery and bring the killer to justice. Now, don’t start thinking that this turns the book into a cozy mystery the likes of Murder She Wrote, or any other mystery with an amateur sleuth. Not this book – it has grit and shows how hard life was in the wild frontier town of Dodge City, Kansas in 1878.

I just loved this book, and it was no surprise to learn that Doc was the American Library Association’s Top Pick in Historical Fiction. The writing is gorgeous and descriptive, with the voice of Doc Holliday coming through so strong that I swear I could hear his Georgia drawl as I was reading.

Next up – “Epitaph”, where Mary Doria Russell picks up where Doc left off, as Holliday and the Earps move to Tombstone, Arizona, and the infamous Gunfight at the O.K. Corral.

For more information on Doc Holliday visit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doc_Holliday

For more information on Mary Doria Russell visit: http://marydoriarussell.net/

As always, I welcome your comments below.

Giveaway!

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Found myself with an extra copy of The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin, so I’m having a giveaway. Any follower of this blog is automatically entered to win. I’ll choose one person at random on Saturday, Sept 8th.

ABOUT THE IMMORTALISTS

INSTANT NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER

“A captivating family saga.”—The New York Times Book Review

“You won’t be able to put it down.”—The Skimm (Skimm Reads Pick)

“This literary family saga is perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Donna Tartt.”—People Magazine (Book of the Week)

“A sprawling, enchanting family saga.”—Entertainment Weekly (The Must List)

A dazzling family love story reminiscent of Everything I Never Told You from a novelist heralded by Lorrie Moore as a “great new talent.”

If you knew the date of your death, how would you live your life?

It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

A sweeping novel of remarkable ambition and depth, The Immortalists probes the line between destiny and choice, reality and illusion, this world and the next. It is a deeply moving testament to the power of story, the nature of belief, and the unrelenting pull of familial bonds.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

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Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine
by Gail Honeyman
Published by: Pamela Dorman Books

Eleanor Oliphant is a bit of an odd duck – to say the least!

Eleanor Oliphant struggles with what most people would think of as typical social skills, and has no problem saying exactly what she thinks. Ouch!

She has little to no interactions with other people, and as far as Eleanor is concerned – that’s just fine.  In fact, she believes most people to be dullards, and I believe that if Eleanor could go about her entire day without speaking to anyone, she would.  Her coworkers talk about her behind her back, and sometimes not so subtly right in front of her, but Eleanor can give as well as she gets and she does it with such an extensive vocabulary that most people can’t quite figure her out – almost to her delight.

Her life is carefully planned from day to day knowing exactly what she will wear and what she will eat without variation, until the weekend, when she splurges on frozen pizza and vodka.  Also part of her weekly routine are the very awkward phone calls with “Mummy”.

But one day Eleanor’s world gets turned upside down when she witnesses an elderly gentleman take a tumble on the sidewalk.  Almost against her better judgment, Eleanor is recruited by a co-worker to help the poor man.  Raymond is one of the few people from her office that she interacts with.  He’s an IT guy, and anyone who has ever worked in an office knows – you need to interact with the IT guy!

Raymond is not someone that Eleanor could ever envision herself being friends with – he’s a bit of a slob; but he convinces her to go to the hospital to check on Sammy, the gentleman that fell on the sidewalk.  And before she knows it, Eleanor has friends.

What happens next is what makes this book so heartwarming. Eleanor starts to realize that she is leading a lonely life, and starts to make plans and changes to meet the man that she has fallen in love with – and it’s not Raymond.

In the meantime, Raymond begins to suspect that there is more to Eleanor than meets the eye.  Why does she act the way that she does, why does she say things that most people wouldn’t, and why does she begin to fall apart when she finally finds companionship?  What happened in her past that she pushed down so far – but now is threatening to bubble up to the surface?  Whatever it is, the kind hearted Raymond is there to help her.

This book is so beautifully written, and hits all of the emotions – there is such sadness in Eleanor, and yet so much hope in Raymond that you can’t help but fall in love with both of these characters.  But don’t let that fool you into thinking that this is only a sad book – Gail Honeyman does a fantastic job of portraying these characters and their emotions with a quirky wit that will make you smile at Eleanor’s awkwardness and Raymond’s kindness.

There are books that you read and really like, and then there are books like this one – that you know will stay with you for a very long time, and make its way to your all-time favorites list.

But don’t just take it from me. This book has also caught the eye of Reese Witherspoon, who has optioned the book for a movie.

Here is an excerpt from BookBub (and the link if you want to read more)

Reese Witherspoon’s media company Hello Sunshine has consistently provided readers with wonderful book recommendations. So who better to produce a film based on one of these books? With film production, book reviews, and activism under its belt, Hello Sunshine is more than qualified to move Gail Honeyman’s debut novel, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine from the page to the big screen.
 https://www.bookbub.com/blog/2018/07/30/eleanor-oliphant-is-completely-fine-movie

Have you read this book? What did you think? Or, do you think you might give it a try?

I’d love to hear from you, so leave your comments below.

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

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The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir by Jennifer Ryan

The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir
by Jennifer Ryan
Published by Crown Publishing Group

I love when a book of fiction takes something from fact and teaches me something that I didn’t know. Of course, throughout history people have kept journals and correspondence – that’s how we know of things that happened in our past, without the benefit of TV and social media. What I didn’t know was that the British government encouraged those at home to keep journals of their experiences during the war. Again, just another way for the stalwart British to “keep calm and carry on”, but more importantly we are left with the diaries and journals of everyday lives on the home-front.*

This book is told in the epistolary style, through the journals and letters written by the women of Chilbury, and although it is fiction, it doesn’t feel like fiction. You’re peeking into the personal lives of ordinary women that went through this in reality; an amalgamation of the wives, sweethearts, daughters and sisters as they wait at home. Their hopes and dreams, and how they cope with the trepidation of losing a loved one; and the ever growing fear of Nazi invasion.

“Just because the men have gone to war, why do we have to close the choir? And precisely when we need it most!”

It’s the summer of 1940; England is sending its men off to war, leaving the women to keep the home fires burning – and taking on roles typically held by men. And that includes the village choir!

Being told that the choir is being disbanded for lack of men doesn’t sit well with Prim – the high energy, no nonsense, music teacher. Not to be deterred, she convinces the women of Chilbury that they can create their own choir. Some were skeptical, but with the usual aplomb displayed by the British during the worst of times, they pulled together with the knowledge that this one small thing could help keep the worries of the war at bay – even for just a little while. And so, the Chilbury Ladies’ Choir is born.

But this book is more than just a story about a choir, although it’s a central theme. What really pulls these ladies together is the common ground of village life, and how they cope with air raids, food rationing, and of course a little romance and scandal.

The choir is made up of more women than we actually get to hear from, but the letters and journals that we do get to peek at follow an interesting group of women.

Kitty – although still a teenager, she’s an aspiring singer, and under the tutelage of Prim gains her voice and her confidence. She’s got a childhood crush on someone from the village, and it leads her to do something spiteful and mean.

Mrs. Tilling – a lonely widow, now having to cope with the fear of losing her son as he goes off to join the war. She’s the caring nurse that people rely on, and who has guessed an incredible secret.

Miss Paltry – a devious mid-wife, who hatches a plan out of greed, the money that she seeks a disturbing form of redemption for something in her past.

Venetia – the beauty that all the young men want but, of course, she only has eyes for the one that doesn’t give her the time of day. Has she fallen for the wrong guy, and can she face the consequences of her actions?

Sylvie – the youngest, and still a child, is a Jewish refugee that has seen far more than someone should for her age. Will she ever find out what happened to her family, and can she trust someone with her secret?

There are a host of other characters as well, and even though we never get to read their own journals or letters, they are just as important as their lives intertwine with those telling us the story.

From charming and funny, to heartbreaking and hopeful, this book has all the right ingredients to make it a favorite of mine, and one that I would highly recommend.

Another book that it’s very similar to this one, and another that I loved and would recommend, is “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society” by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer. Also written in the epistolary style, this book chronicles the fictional lives of women on Guernsey during the German occupation.

*Known as Mass-Observation, its goal was to record observations of everyday life in Britain, by using untrained volunteer observers. It was criticized as an invasion of privacy, because the observers were not only reporting on their own lives, but on the lives of friends and neighbors as well.  For more information, visit the Wiki page:  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mass-Observation

As always, comments are welcome