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Under the Italian Sun–looking for family
Under the Italian Sun
by Sue Moorcroft
Zia is a young English woman in search of a family after her grandparents pass away and she finds herself without a job. She knows her father, who is not listed on her birth certificate, was from Italy. She does some sleuthing and decides to go to Italy to hopefully discover some family ties and perhaps persuade her father to legally acknowledge her, thus easing the pathway to Italian citizenship.
Along her journey, Zia uncovers long buried secrets, meets some family, and falls in love. The road to happiness even under the Italian sun and overlooking a vineyard and winery is not an easy one. Not everyone is welcoming in Montelibertá, and Zia’s ex-boyfriend morphs from an insulting cheater into a vengeful stalker.
Sue Moorcroft’s Under the Italian Sun is an interesting romance with a great setting. Zia’s past is dismal as she gradually loses those close to her, but she is an intelligent young woman, a good friend, and full of hope. She falls quickly and hard for her handsome Italian neighbor. Can they really settle for a summer fling knowing Zia can not legally stay in the country indefinitely?
I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Romance, Women’s Fiction
Notes: Rather disappointing for me, this really nice story has an “open door” bedroom scene and a lot of expletives.
Publication: May 13, 2021—Harper Collins (Avon Books)
The oven timer continued to ping in counterpoint to the gull’s plaintive calls but Zia heard the shush-shush of her heartbeat louder than both. As spooked as a child at a horror film, she had to force her breathing to be even.
Church steeples poked up between terracotta-tiled roofs, buildings were painted cream, ochre or apricot, the major structures gracing the town centre while houses huddled on the slopes like children hatching mischief.
At some point this afternoon she’d made the decision never to identify herself to Gerardo. It had come from an instinct to protect herself from disappointment rather than from structured reasoning but the decision was a relief. Couldn’t trust him. Could do without him.
The Enchanted April–looking for happiness
The Enchanted April
by Elizabeth Von Arnim
In an exceptionally rainy and dreary March in England, four strangers decide to get away by sharing the rent on a medieval castle in sunny Italy for the month of April. Lotty Wilkins, who can “see” or visualize people at their best and happiest initiates the effort, recruiting Rose Arbuthnot. Both in their early thirties, they do not have happy marriages. Lady Caroline is a little younger and extremely attractive, but is tired of the superficial cloying of people bewitched by her good looks. The very authoritative Mrs. Fisher in her sixties is still wearing mourning blacks years after her husband’s death and focuses her thoughts and conversations on childhood memories of encounters with famous people, particularly authors. This fictional account relies strongly on character development as these ladies’ situations are examined and they react to each other and to their temporary environment for the month. As I reread the many lines I had highlighted, I found that the writing is indeed exquisite.
The Enchanted April is the kind of book that holds beauty and introspection and gently insists that readers immerse themselves in the deliciousness of a sunny month of flowering plants and enticing foods. There are humorous situations thrown in as Lotty and Rose speak no Italian and the other two ladies don’t want to undertake the bother of dealing with the servants or managing the finances. There are also some surprising plot twists at the end of the tale. If you join the ladies in their Italian castle, your only regret will be saying “Arrivederci” at the end of the stay.
Notes: Originally published in 1922.
Publication: July 19, 2005—Project Gutenberg
She wanted to be alone, but not lonely. That was very different; that was something that ached and hurt dreadfully right inside one. It was what one dreaded most…Was it possible that loneliness had nothing to do with circumstances, but only with the way one met them?
“Oh, but in a bitter wind to have nothing on and know there never will be anything on and you going to get colder and colder till at last you die of it—that’s what it was like, living with somebody who didn’t love one.”
In heaven nobody minded any of those done-with things, one didn’t even trouble to forgive and forget, one was much too happy.
Code Girls–The Untold Story of the American Women Code Breakers Who Helped Win World War II
by Liza Mundy
Nonfiction has the potential to be deadly boring or magnificently interesting. Liza Mundy’s Code Girls without a doubt falls into the latter category. It is not an easy read, but it is fascinating. Code Girls tells the tale of the essential role the code breakers, who were mostly women, played in the eventual Allied defeat of the Axis nations in World War II. If you are envisaging a handful of young women holed up in a room in D.C., think again. The Army’s code breakers numbered 10,500 with 70% of them women and most working out of the Arlington Hall campus in Virginia. The Navy’s group numbered 10,000 with half of those stationed in D.C. of which 80% were female. Both groups rose to those numbers from a mere 200 code breakers each in a short amount of time. These women came from all walks of life and backgrounds. Among the first recruited were college educated, low paid, school teachers at a time when a low priority was placed on education for women. Many of these women had a background in math and science, and all had a good memory. They were analytical and could approach problems in novel ways.
The code breakers’ stories went untold for most, if not all, of their lives because they were sworn to secrecy. They considered the work they did a duty of honor to their country and to the men in their lives. They understood that their work could literally save lives, perhaps even of their own loved ones, by intercepting and decoding enemy messages. It is a testament to their trustworthiness that Germany and Japan never knew that their transmissions had been intercepted. Even roommates and spouses could not speak of their work outside of their assigned workplace.
The author, Liza Mundy, had two hurdles to jump, both of which she accomplished with finesse. The first was her thorough research which is documented through 39 pages of notes and bibliography. Then she wove the hard facts into a narrative with a very personal touch derived from many interviews. She doesn’t just write that Washington, D.C. was inundated with uninitiated girls pouring in from all over the country needing housing, food, transportation, and training. She presents the scenario through the eyes and voices of the “girls” who lived it. Not everyone, of course, had the same experiences, and those experiences varied according to many factors including whether they were working for the Army or the Navy. They arrived with no assignments, just the promise that they would be helping their country.
The war period (1939-1945) was a time of great social upheaval. For most people, a woman’s place was in the home. Suddenly men were going overseas and their jobs needed to be filled along with positions created by the manufacturing needs of the war machine. There were many stereotypes that were broken down, and others that were not put to rest so willingly or easily.
Code Girls is masterfully written and a wonderful tribute to those women whose secrets can now be told. It should be “required reading” for all Americans who don’t want history to repeat itself, for readers who want to understand what previous generations endured to stand against tyranny, and for men and women interested in the societal changes that occurred as a result of World War II.
Category: History, Nonfiction
Notes: The author sets the stage for the reader through her own notes as to how the book was written, information on the initial recruitment of women, and an introduction that discusses society in the U.S. at that tine and the military’s “bold” decision to recruit women. My copy of the book has an “Afterword for the Paperback Edition” in which the author shares the overwhelming response her book received from the code breakers and their families. The book also includes photographs of some of the women interviewed and more generic photographs of the code breakers at work. There is also a “Glossary of Code-Breaking Terms,” a very valuable “World War II Timeline,” and a “Reading Group Guide” of discussion questions.
Publication: October 20, 2017—Hachette Books
Successful code breaking often comes down to diagnostics—the ability to see the whole rather than just the parts, to discern the underlying system the enemy has devised to disguise its communications. The Japanese, Agnes diagnosed, were encoding their messages and then using something called columnar transposition, which involves writing the code groups out horizontally but transmitting them vertically, aided by a grid with certain spaces blacked out, whose design changed often.
It was the first time many of the women had spent time in a bona fide workplace—apart from a classroom—and they discovered what workplaces are and have been since the dawn of time: places where one is annoyed and thwarted and underpaid and interrupted and underappreciated.
She and the other women knew that ship sinkings were the logical and desired consequence of their concerted efforts. They did not feel remorse. America was at war with Japan; Japan had started the war; the lives of American men were at stake, not to mention America itself. It really was that simple.
A Portrait of Emily Price–forgiveness
A Portrait of Emily Price
by Katherine Reay
There is depth to Katherine Reay’s A Portrait of Emily Price. A story of painful pasts, the approaching death of a patriarch, and the love of family, it is a novel that draws the reader in with characters who seem straight forward at first, but are actually struggling to find their ways through life. It is the tale of people who, like all of us, have events in their pasts that affect their relationships and their futures.
Emily Price is a restorer and an artist. She has a talent for fixing thing. Ben is a handsome Italian chef who comes to Atlanta to reconnect with his brother Joseph after 18 years of separation, but quickly falls in love with Emily. In Italy she finds herself in a situation where she is unwanted; no matter what she does, she ruffles feathers.
Ben’s family has experienced great trauma, but no one is willing to bring the source out in the open so the distance between Joseph and his mother grows and their hearts harden. The author only gradually reveals the core of the difficulties as Emily confronts them. The tale is spun organically at just the right speed. We learn about Emily’s family’s troubles and Ben’s family’s problems as part of the pair’s character development and in such a way that, like Emily, we want to be able to fix them.
Life is not always easy and hurts do not always go away quickly. Giving and accepting forgiveness can be difficult. In the process of negotiating problems and overcoming pain, we learn more about ourselves and others. We grow through those trials. This book records a portion of the journey Emily experiences as she becomes part of a noisy, messy, Italian family.
I would like to extend my thanks to Edelweiss and to HarperCollins Christian Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: Ends with questions for discussion or thought.
Publication: November 1, 2016—HarperCollins Christian Publishers
It almost made me wonder if I’d gotten it all wrong. Perhaps fixing things wasn’t about the end product—it was, oftentimes, about the process.
Home. That word again. In my life, it had always been transient, replaceable with each stepfather or with Mom’s next job. But there was nothing transient about this place. Lucio had said eight generations. This was the dream—stones warmed from above and roots that gripped deep below.
…while I might not know much about his family, I understood pressure, fear, the need to fix things, and the black hole that opened within you when you realized nothing could fix all that was broken.
Love Your Life–another fun Kinsella main character
Love Your Life
by Sophie Kinsella
Ava is the latest in the line of Sophie Kinsella’s over the top lovable main characters. She rescues almost everything—from her mischievous beagle Harold to books no one else would want to buy. She is passionate about her ever-changing interests but never seems to achieve any of her goals. Her conversations with herself and others can best be described as stream of consciousness. The word “tidy” is not in her vocabulary.
Ava’s support group from university choir days is a cadre of unlike souls who nevertheless get along fabulously. Ava goes to Italy at their urging for a writer’s retreat where she meets Matt whose family business is all consuming. He has a sterile apartment, weird taste in art, and two odd roommates. Their dynamic is amusing in a male supportive kind of way.
The rules at the writer’s retreat keep everyone anonymous and focused on their writing—in theory. Ava and Matt quickly focus on each other and reveal their identities to continue their relationship when they return home. Watching Ava and Matt interact is like watching the proverbial train wreck. You know disaster will happen, yet you can’t look away. Although much of the book is pleasantly predictable, there are some stunning surprises along the way. Love Your Life is a fun foray into chick lit: twenty-first century romance featuring online dating and What’s App and wacky but lovable characters. It is a humorous look at the glue that hold friendships together and the ties that bind hearts in love.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Random House (Dial Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction
Notes: Some foul language
Publication: October 27, 2020—Random House (Dial)
Maud’s basic conundrum in life is that she has three children but only two hands.
Nell doesn’t normally do hope. Not since she got ill. She describes her life philosophy as “managed pessimism.”
For a few minutes we’re both silent as rain starts to thunder down on the car roof. Hurt is crackling around the car like a lightning storm.
Educated–painful, but powerful memoir
by Tara Westover
Very few books leave me speechless, but Tara Westover’s memoir Educated is one of them. Well written, this is the author’s very personal story of growing up in a dysfunctional family with abuse of various types from several family members and later betrayal by others. Tara lived a secluded and physically difficult life with a large family dominated by an authoritative father with mental issues. He was an extremist Mormon with an antigovernment, end times, survivalist fixation.
Tara was supposedly homeschooled, but her education was basically nonexistent. She and several of her brothers in turn realized their only escape was through education. Self-taught, Tara scored high enough on her ACT test to qualify for admission to Brigham Young University as she turned 17. She was unprepared mentally and socially for a college experience. She did not even have basic hygiene skills.
Over the course of her academic education, she was confronted with multiple instances where the foundations of her beliefs from childhood were shattered by learning the true version of events. She was lied to, put in danger, and manipulated time after time. Tara’s journey to mental health and a new normalcy happened slowly and only after many confrontations with her family. Eventually she was forced by them to choose with whom her loyalties would lie and the direction of her life as an adult.
Educated is a powerful memoir and emotionally very difficult to read. Its focus on education, relationships, and faith results in a painful tale as Tara journeys from Idaho to Cambridge with forays to New England, Paris, Italy, and the Middle East—all places she could not even dream of because she previously knew nothing about them. This is a story that needed to be told, and one I am glad the author shared.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Random House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Notes: links provided by Random House
LISTEN to Tara’s NPR Fresh Air interview: https://www.npr.org/2018/02/20/587244230/memoirist-retraces-her-journey-from-survivalist-childhood-to-cambridge-ph-d
WATCH Tara’s CBS This Morning segment: https://www.cbsnews.com/video/tara-westovers-journey-from-off-the-grid-childhood-to-cambridge/
DISCUSS the book with your book club: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/550168/educated-by-tara-westover/9780399590504/readers-guide/
Publication: February 20, 2018—Random House
I’d never learned how to talk to people who weren’t like us—people who went to school and visited the doctor. Who weren’t preparing, every day, for the End of the World.
“There’s a world out there, Tara,” he said. “And it will look a lot different once Dad is no longer whispering his view of it in your ear.”
It’s strange how you give the people you love so much power over you, I had written in my journal. But Shawn had more power over me than I could possibly have imagined. He had defined me to myself, and there’s no greater power than that.
In that moment part of me believed, as I had always believed, that it would be me who broke the spell, who caused it to break. When the stillness shattered and his fury rushed at me, I would know that something I had done was the catalyst, the cause. There is hope in such a superstition, there is the illusion of control.
Fatal Facade–What does it take to be famous?
by Wendy Tyson
Fatal Facade is the fourth book in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series by Wendy Tyson. It is the first book I have read in this series, but I am already a fan of this author’s Greenhouse Mystery Series. Tyson displays her versatility as I found this book to be very different from her Greenhouse Mysteries in characters, setting, and plot development.
Although the solution to the mystery was unexpected for me, I enjoyed the journey to that point. The way the clues were revealed reminded me of action on a stage where the spotlight hits one character briefly and then moves to a different part of the stage focusing a larger circle on another character. As the spotlight pings around the plot, different characters are revealed.
Tyson uses her law and psychology background to good advantage to flesh out her amateur detective, Allison, who professionally creates images and brands for her clients. Allison’s fiancé is a lawyer and their personal relationship plays a role in the story, but Allison’s original goal is to rebrand a rock singer’s daughter who is famous for…being famous, a concept familiar to the current generation, but previously unheard of.
I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Henery Press for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Mystery, General Fiction (Adult)
Notes: #4 in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series, but I read it as a stand alone without problems
Publication: June 13, 2017—Henery Press
The Dolomite Mountains were stunning, but at night their splendor was matched only by the depth of their darkness. Night so complete it felt like a tomb, silence so pervasive you could hear the blood pulsating in your carotid.
Wildflowers in a rainbow of colors waved their stalky necks in the breeze. Tiny pastel butterflies buzzed from flower to flower. And past the pasture, the Dolomite Mountains stood tall and imposing, their granite-colored caps jagged reminders of nature’s awesome brutality.
“…we all think it’s great to be rich and famous. It’s not. It just distorts your sense of what’s important.”