Book – My Brilliant Friend is a complicated, but insightful coming of age story of two girls that are best friends. Elena narrates the story which begins in the 1950’s in a working class neighborhood in Naples. Being somewhat shy and timid Elena is fascinated by her classmate Lila who is very clever and daring. They have dreams of writing a book together some day and both compete at excelling in school. Their friendship is put to the test when they get to the step of continuing on to middle school. One of the girl’s family lets her continue while the other is held back to help in the family business. However, living in a small village their paths still cross and they still rival each other in popularity, good looks, boyfriends, achievements, etc. The girls, now becoming young women also learn some surprising revelations about one another.
This is the first book of the Neopolitan series and it is beautifully translated from its original in Italian. I am excited to read the other three books that follow, since the first one ended when Elena and Lila are just sixteen. I had the pleasure of listening to this from a Hoopla download. All the Italian pronunciations by the reader enforced the novel’s strong sense of place. I highly recommend this especially if you enjoy leisurely paced, lyrical, and character driven novels. The next book in the series is The Story of a New Name.
Book – The Wit and Wisdom of Downton Abbey is perfect as a small gift or stocking stuffer. Known for beautiful costumes and settings, great characters, stories, and excellent writing – Jessica Fellowes has compiled some of her favorite quotes from the show. The book is beautifully illustrated with color stills from the series. Paging through it the reader will be reminded of some of the most memorable scenes and the personalities of the characters. It’s also interesting to experience all the social changes that happened over the six seasons.
Some of the best quotes are from Violet played splendidly by Maggie Smith. “Have we all stepped through the looking glass?”, “Poor souls. It’s bad enough parenting a child when you like each other.” Speaking to her grown son Robert: “When you talk like that I’m tempted to ring for Nanny and have you put to bed with no supper.” And loving words between one of my favorite couples: Mrs. Hughes: “You can always hold my hand if you need to feel steady.” Carson: “I don’t know how, but you manage to make that sound a little risqué.” This is just a small example of many, many more. A fun little book that is truly witty and wise.
You may also like Behind the Scenes of Downton Abbey, The Chronicles of Downton Abbey, Downton Abbey: A Celebration, and The World of Downton Abbey.
Book – The Signature of All Things is an epic saga of the Whittaker family that takes place in the late 18th and early 19th century, the Age of Enlightenment and the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. This work of fiction is a new venture for non-fiction author Elizabeth Gilbert author of Eat, Pray, Love and will delight readers.
Henry is a wealthy American import tycoon whose ambition left behind his life of humbleness and poverty in England. His daughter, Alma is bestowed with all the benefits of money; a good education and fine material possessions. Though she is scholarly and has a passion for learning about the natural world, especially botany, she is rather plain in her looks and socially awkward. Having lived a sheltered life, she is thrilled when almost middle-aged, she meets Ambrose Pike an artist, spiritualist, and dreamer who shares her love of flowers and plants that he expresses in his artwork. They soon get married and Ambrose whisks Alma, who has never been out of Philadelphia, on a ship to exotic Tahiti. Though the story reveals insight into the couple’s relationship, it mainly focuses on Alma’s love and impact on science and emerging theories on evolution. Well researched, this is a fascinating story, not to be missed about a woman who was well ahead of her time.
When asked about the title, in an interview the author explained, “The Signature of All Things is the title of a 16th century botanical/divine theory posited by a German shoemaker-turned-mystic named Jacob Boehm, who believed that God so loved the world that He had hidden in the design of each plant on earth some clue for humans as to that plant’s usefulness. (For instance: Walnuts are good for headaches, and are also—helpfully—shaped like brains).”
TV Series – If you haven’t watched The West Wing yet – WHY NOT? This is easily one of the highest rated shows in TV history. If you haven’t watched it in years, then it is time to re-watch it. Once again it is very timely with the upcoming election and I bet that you will be wishing that a person like Jed Bartlet would be running for President. If you aren’t familiar with the show, it gives you a sneak peek into the everyday workings of the staff of the West Wing of the White House. Unlike some other political series, the main characters are realistic with human shortcomings and watchers can’t help but sympathize and root for them and get an insight into their personal lives and their devotion to public service. It’s fun to compare this drama which originally aired in 1999 and aired for 7 seasons to current series such as House of Cards, Madam Secretary, Scandal, and Veep.
And here’s another bonus – Joshua Malina, who was on the show as Will Bailey for 4 seasons now has a podcast called “The West Wing Weekly” that he co-hosts with Hrishikesh Hirway. Every week, the Podcast features one episode of the show airing chronologically starting with the “Pilot” which aired on March 23rd. So you can binge watch and catch up or watch an episode and then listen to the corresponding podcast episode.
Each podcast features recaps of the episode, commentary from the hosts, and special guests including former West Wing cast members, writers, and directors.
Book – Nina Borg has a kind heart and is passionate about her work as a Red Cross nurse and social worker that tries to assist refugees. She lives in Copenhagen with her husband and two children. One day Nina receives a call from her friend Karin begging her for a favor. At first Nina is reluctant, but the friend sounds desperate. So Nina goes to the train station and retrieves a suitcase from a locker. What she finds inside is a naked 3 year old boy who has been drugged. As she decides to tell the police, she notices a man kicking the empty locker in rage glaring directly at her, so fearing for her own and the boy’s safety she panics and runs. Nina tries to get a hold of Karin for an explanation, but discovers that she has been murdered.
Nina is a likable character, but her need to help others surpasses her family and personal obligations. But you have to admire her protectiveness of the boy, because soon it is apparent that there are three parties seeking the child – the mother, the kidnappers, and the man who paid for the boy to be abducted. The boy can reveal very little, because of his age and he only speaks Lithuanian. This fast paced thriller gradually reveals the motivation behind the abduction and it’s probably not what you think.
This is the first book in the “Nina Borg Mystery” series, followed by Invisible Murder, Death of a Nightingale, and The Considerate Killer.
Book – What could possibly go wrong at a bachelor party held at a respectable middle-aged investment banker’s house in the suburbs of New York? So thought Kristin, even knowing that some naughty entertainment was scheduled. She gave her husband, Richard, her blessing to host the event for his younger brother and went off to Manhattan with their 9 year old daughter. But something happens that Richard never fathomed and his life becomes a total nightmare. The two beautiful strippers providing the entertainment stab and murder their bodyguards, take their hard earned cash, and flee the scene of the crime.
Bohjalian does an excellent job telling of how Richard and Kristin’s life and marriage start unraveling as a consequence of that night. Richard admits that he had gone into the guest room with one of the girls, but swears that nothing happened, though Kristin has her doubts. Richard is also suspended from his job, is hounded by the press, and threatened with blackmail. Meanwhile we learn of the plight of the two fugitives. Alexandra and Sonja are not really women, but girls from Armenia and not only are they on the run from the police, but the Russian mob, as well. The girls were kidnapped as adolescents and turned into sex slaves in Russia and then brought to the United States. We find out about their sad and desperate circumstances. And now with no identification, credit cards, or knowledge of any different type of life are they really free? This story of suspense and desperation will keep the pages turning.
Bohjalian wrote this book to bring awareness that human trafficking and slavery is very prevalent and profitable to the exploiters. To learn more, please visit The Coalition to Abolish Slavery & Trafficking.
Book – The Light in the Ruins is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and a murder mystery. The story starts during World War II at the Rosati Villa in Monte Volta, Italy. The Nazis have a keen interest in an Etruscan tomb on the property and coerce the family into helping them seize Italian works of art. Unfortunately, this cooperation and the fondness between Christina Rosati and one of the German officers is seen as betrayal to some of the locals. What they did not realize is that the Rosatis also secretly sheltered partisans on their estate.
Years later in Florence in 1955, Francesca Rosati is found murdered with her heart cut out and displayed. It is up to Serafina, a young detective to solve the crime. Things are further complicated when the matriarch of the family, Beatrice is murdered in the same fashion. The detective determines that this is a vendetta against the Rosatis and wonders if the family’s activities during the war had somehow triggered these killings. It also appears that Serafina, who is severely scarred by burns received during the war, may also have had some sort of connection to the Rosati’s.
Heartbreak abounds during the war and as a result of the homicides for the remaining family. The Villa is no longer grand but falling into ruin, since the Rosatis cannot afford its upkeep. The suspense builds as Serafina races to catch a murderer, before another Rosati is killed.
I think this book would appeal to fans of Kristin Hannah’s Nightingale and Chris Bohjalian’s other works such as Sandcastle Girls.
Book – This sweeping saga explores family dynamics, loyalty, love, and loss. It is the story of two brothers growing up in India. Totally inseparable, yet very different. With only 15 months between them, the older one Subhash is serious, reserved, and reliable, while Udayan is impulsive, a risk taker, and rebellious. In college both excel academically. Subhash studies chemistry, Udayan physics. It is the late 1960’s and India is experiencing political turbulence. Subhash decides to go to America for his PhD, while Udayan stays and becomes increasingly involved with radical militant groups. He even defies his family by foregoing tradition and marrying, Gauri, chosen for love. The brothers lose touch leading their separate lives. Due to unforeseen circumstances, Gauri and Subhash form their own unique relationship, so that he can make sense of Udayan’s actions and because his parents shunned Guari as their daughter-in-law. Subhash acts with integrity and tries to do the right thing, but will he be a victim of his own goodness? This sweeping saga spans four decades and explores family dynamics, loyalty, love, and loss.
I highly recommend this wonderful book along with Jhumpa Lahiri’s other works – Interpreter of Maladies, In Other Words, The Namesake, and Unaccustomed Earth.
TV Series – Family, friends, and servants assumed that Captain Ross Poldark did not survive fighting in the American Revolutionary War, but after a 3 year absence he returns to Cornwall and instead of a hero’s welcome he is faced with heartbreak and ruin. His father has died, his beloved is engaged to his cousin, and his family estate is in severe neglect, the house squatted in by “faithful” servants.
The division and tension of the classes is even more apparent after the war. Ross has to make a living and needs means to restore the family estate, so he decides to open his father’s old copper mine. He is no longer interested in his role as a gentleman and works side by side with the workers he employs. This surprisingly creates much resentment from his peers who would relish in his failure. Poldark maintains his integrity and he is fiercely loyal to those devoted to him.
This superb historical drama could well fill the void for Downton Abbey fans. It gives a strong sense of time and place – the beauty of Cornwall – and is rich in character development. Aidan Turner is wonderfully cast as Poldark and is complete eye candy too!
Book – Top Chef meets Pirates of the Caribbean. Cinnamon and Gunpowder is a fun adventurous seafaring tale that mainly takes place on a pirate ship called the Flying Rose in 1819. Owen Wedgwood is the renowned personal chef to Lord Ramsey, the wealthy owner of the Pendleton Trading Company. The ruthless pirate is Captain Mad Hannah Mabbot, who murders Owen’s employer and has her right hand man Mr. Apples kidnap the chef. Though the ship has a cook, Hannah feels that she deserves a gourmet meal once a week and tells Owen that she will spare him his life as long as he obliges her. Though his culinary skills are extensive, even Owen is challenged to create edible fare with the limited supplies on board, such as gruel, rat meat, and moldy potatoes. Though a prisoner, Owen dines with Hannah weekly and learns that her mercenary pursuit of another rogue pirate, the Brass Fox, might be for noble reasons. As time goes on his cooking skills evolve with the help of provisions picked up along the journey and the reader’s mouth will water with the delicacies he creates. This swashbuckling read is a pure delight!