Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Memoir of the Sunday Brunch (Julia Pandl)

Disclaimer: When I picked this book to review from the catalog, I thought I was getting one of my favorite types of books...recipes with background vignettes.  However, be warned that there are no recipes in Julia Pandl's Memoir of the Sunday Brunch, which definitely would have added something to Pandl's heartwarming stories.

From a ripe young age, Julia was put to work in her father's restaurant.  George Pandl was a taskmaster, running his restaurant with ultra precision and requiring the same dedication from his children.  While most women went out to eat on Mothers' Day, George's wife Terry knew that he and the kids would be working the busiest brunch of the year.  She took pleasure in knowing that her day would be spent in peace and quiet.  Pandl takes us through her life when child labor laws were less-than-stringent to the days when she took care of her ill parents.  She knew that she and her siblings, while having unique childhoods in the restaurant business, were always loved.

As I stated, interspersed recipes would have added depth to this memoir.  Most of us have recipes that have been passed down from generation to generation, and throwing in, for example, George Pandl's whitefish recipe would have added an extra layer to Julia's remembrances.  However, she certainly has a wonderful story to tell in its own right...sometimes sad, often hilarious, but always one of love.


Monday, October 15, 2012

The Secret Keeper (Kate Morton)

I wholeheartedly and without reservation recommend Kate Morton’s The Secret Keeper as the best book of 2012 (so far).  Not many people I know are familiar with the Australian’s work, and I wouldn’t have been either if I had not gone looking for similar books to Diane Setterfeld’s The Thirteenth TaleThe Distant Hours, The Forgotten Garden, and The House at Riverton all received a well-deserved 5 from me for their unbelievable depth and layering.  Even though The Secret Keeper is not Morton’s usual “Gothic English mystery” genre, it’s still historical fiction and absolutely jam packed with breathtaking suspense.

Weaving effortlessly and seamlessly between present day and World War II England, The Secret Keeper is the story of secrets, betrayals, and utter heartbreak.  It begins in the early 1960s with teenage Laurel lazing the day away in a treehouse.  While the rest of her family is a little ways away having a birthday party, Laurel sees Dorothy, her mother, who is carrying Laurel’s baby brother, stab and kill a strange man.  Due to Laurel's lies, the matter is swept under the rug with no repercussions for Dorothy.  Fast forward to present day, Laurel and her siblings are called back to their hometown to be at their dying mother's bedside.  However, Laurel desperately wants to solve the mystery of the man's murder before Dorothy passes away. 

The Secret Keeper, as are all of Morton’s books, is one giant puzzle.  Morton plays tricks on the brain, and if you don’t pay attention to each and every detail, she will get you!  There were so many little nuances and questions throughout this novel that I kept thinking to myself there was no way Morton would answer them all.  But she never, ever leaves a stone unturned.  By the time you finish, you are left with a story that completely makes sense and has you asking yourself why you didn’t see it coming all along.


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

The Island (Elin Hilderbrand)

As I’m gradually making my way through Elin Hilderbrand’s books, one thing is for certain.  Because her novels are set on Nantucket, her current home, the beautiful setting is almost always as integral a part of her books as the main characters are.  The Island is set on nearby Tuckernuck, the ultra-exclusive, privately owned island with no shops or restaurants to speak of.  In fact, the characters summering there need to give a grocery list to their caretaker, who goes back and forth from Nantucket.  While I probably will never see Tuckernuck’s light of day, Nantucket is definitely on my must-do list.

The Island revolves around four women, each harboring secrets and/or pain.  Chess has just cancelled her wedding to a guy deemed perfect because she’s in love with his brother.  That “perfect guy” is soon found dead, but what are the circumstances surrounding it?  Tate, Chess’s sister, is trying to find a life outside of work.  Birdie, their mother, is trying to pick up the pieces of her life after her divorce, while her sister, India, is still coming to terms with her artist husband’s suicide.  The four converge on Tuckernuck for a month’s respite, with only themselves and their caretaker, Barrett, for company.  The ins and outs of their day, filled with drama after drama (no surprise), then ensue.

The Island is the perfect summer read, as there’s really not much substance to it.  As opposed to Hilderbrand’s later novels, Summerland and Silver Girl, I wasn’t that enthralled with any of the characters.  In fact, some attempts at garnering sympathy went out the window because the characters just weren’t that likeable.  However, Hilderbrand has a huge fan base for a reason.  Even her breeziest of books are still fun and great to take on vacation.