The Kitchen Front by Jennifer Ryan


Description

From the bestselling author of The Chilbury Ladies’ Choir comes an unforgettable novel of a BBC-sponsored wartime cooking competition and the four women who enter for a chance to better their lives.

Two years into World War II, Britain is feeling her losses: The Nazis have won battles, the Blitz has destroyed cities, and U-boats have cut off the supply of food. In an effort to help housewives with food rationing, a BBC radio program called The Kitchen Front is holding a cooking contest—and the grand prize is a job as the program’s first-ever female co-host. For four very different women, winning the competition would present a crucial chance to change their lives.

For a young widow, it’s a chance to pay off her husband’s debts and keep a roof over her children’s heads. For a kitchen maid, it’s a chance to leave servitude and find freedom. For a lady of the manor, it’s a chance to escape her wealthy husband’s increasingly hostile behavior. And for a trained chef, it’s a chance to challenge the men at the top of her profession.

These four women are giving the competition their all—even if that sometimes means bending the rules. But with so much at stake, will the contest that aims to bring the community together only serve to break it apart?

Any book about cooking is one I’m probably going to pick up and in The Kitchen Front I found a delightful examination of the relationships of 4 women in a small English village during World War II. There are the usual colorful village characters but it’s the four women – sisters Audrey & Gwendoline, Nell, and Zelda – who are the beating heart of this story.

Ryan does an exceptional job of untangling and renewing the relationships between the women but also of dissecting the patriarchal culture of mid-century Britain where an accomplished female chef is given no respect, an ambitious woman is cast as a bitch because she has a logical mind, a woman who chose a chaotic family life is looked at with derision, and a woman having a child out of wedlock worries her entire life is ruined. Ryan explores the fear and frustration each woman experiences, but also dips into the joy and sisterhood they find through the Kitchen Front contest.

Fans of Ryan’s earlier work and of Tracy Chevalier and Mary Ann Shaffer will enjoy this.

Off the Wild Coast of Brittany by Juliet Blackwell


Description

An unforgettable story of resilience and resistance set during WWII and present-day France on a secluded island off the coast of Brittany

Natalie Morgen made a name for herself with a memoir about overcoming her harsh childhood after finding a new life in Paris. After falling in love with a classically trained chef, they moved together to his ancestral home, a tiny fishing village off the coast of Brittany.

But then Francois-Xavier breaks things off with her without warning, leaving her flat broke and in the middle of renovating the guesthouse they planned to open for business. Natalie’s already struggling when her sister, Alex, shows up unannounced. The sisters form an unlikely partnership to save the guesthouse, reluctantly admitting their secrets to each other as they begin to heal the scars of their shared past.

But the property harbors hidden stories of its own. During World War II, every man of fighting age on the island fled to England to join the Free French forces. The women and children were left on their own…until three hundred German troops took up residence, living side-by-side with the French women on the tiny island for the next several years.

When Natalie and Alex unearth an old cookbook in a hidden cupboard, they find handwritten recipes that reveal old secrets. With the help of locals, the Morgen sisters begin to unravel the relationship between Violette, a young islander whose family ran the guesthouse during WWII, and Rainier, a German military customs official with a devastating secret of his own.

This gentle exploration of the relationships between sisters and friends provided a lovely interlude on a gray, rainy Sunday for this reader. I’ve long been a fan of Blackwell’s Lily Ivory series which is hip and witchy, but have come to appreciate her novels set in France for their relatable characters and clever plots.

Here the story flips between the present day and World War II. Each era features a female protagonist who struggles with love, ambition, and curiosity about life outside the small worlds in which they grew up. Our present day heroine, Nat, is an influencer who has made a career out of traveling the world and asking “Porquois Pas?” However, she finds that the lifestyle that landed her on a remote island off the coast of France is no longer fulfilling. Having her sister show up unannounced leads her down a different path, one that ends in truth for both of them.

The World War II era story features a previous tenant of the guest house Nat runs in the present time. Violette longs for something more than the primitive and remote island life, but the influx of German soldiers flips her reality upside down. The story of how these island women channeled the magic of earlier inhabitants and used their own imaginations and determination to trick the Nazis is one of the most enjoyable tales I’ve read in a long time.

Blackwell does a nice job of knitting the past and present together, leaving me feeling sad the story ended. Fans of Blackwell’s previous work will not be disappointed; fans of Jenny Colgan will also find this an enjoyable read.

The Scorpion’s Tail by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child


Description

Following the acclaimed debut of Old Bones, this second “happily anticipated” new thriller in Preston & Child’s series features Nora Kelly, archaeologist at the Santa Fe Archeological Institute, and rookie FBI Agent Corrie Swanson, as they team up to solve a mystery that quickly escalates into nightmare (Booklist).

A mummified corpse, over half a century old, is found in the cellar of an abandoned building in a remote New Mexico ghost town. Corrie is assigned what seems to her a throwaway case: to ID the body and determine cause of death. She brings archaeologist Nora Kelly to excavate the body and lend her expertise to the investigation, and together they uncover something unexpected and shocking: the deceased apparently died in agony, in a fetal position, skin coming off in sheets, with a rictus of horror frozen on his face.

Hidden on the corpse lies a 16th century Spanish gold cross of immense value. When they at last identify the body — and the bizarre cause of death — Corrie and Nora open a door into a terrifying, secret world of ancient treasure and modern obsession: a world centered on arguably the most defining, frightening, and transformative moment in American history.

Preston and Child have done it again. Here’s another tautly plotted, adventuresome tale featuring super-cool characters, fascinating archaeological work, and the gorgeous scenery of the American Southwest. I really enjoy the friendship the authors are building between the archaeologist and the FBI agent. Two strong women surviving in fields dominated by men and successfully solving the crimes!

I really, really, really hope the next book finds Nora having left her post and taken a whole bunch of donors with her!

Marion Lane & the Midnight Murder by T.A. Willberg


Description

“This is the most fun I’ve had with a book this year. Every page is a delight and the mystery got its hooks into me from the first chapter.” – Stuart Turton, bestselling author of The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder plunges readers into the heart of London, to the secret tunnels that exist far beneath the city streets. There, a mysterious group of detectives recruited for Miss Brickett’s Investigations & Inquiries use their cunning and gadgets to solve crimes that have stumped Scotland Yard.

Late one night in April 1958, a filing assistant at Miss Brickett’s receives a letter of warning, detailing a name, a time, and a place. She goes to investigate but finds the room empty. At the stroke of midnight, she is murdered by a killer she can’t see—her death the only sign she wasn’t alone. It becomes chillingly clear that the person responsible must also work for Miss Brickett’s, making everyone a suspect.

Marion Lane, a first-year Inquirer-in-training, finds herself drawn ever deeper into the investigation. When her friend and colleague is framed for the crime, to clear his name she must sort through the hidden alliances at Miss Brickett’s and secrets dating back to WWII. Masterful, clever and deliciously suspenseful, Marion Lane and the Midnight Murder is a fresh take on the Agatha Christie-style locked-room murder mystery, with an exciting new heroine detective.

What a treat! This first in what I hope will be a series of books about apprentice Inquirer Marion Lane is pure fun and packed with gadgetry, espionage, camaraderie, and just great storytelling. With nods to multiple genre types across formats, Willberg crafts a story that engages the reader from the first few pages and keeps you enthralled to the very last page. At the heart of this is one of the most interesting and admirable female protagonists I’ve come across in a long time. Marion Lane is a character for the ages and one who I hope is destined for many more adventures.

I’ll be recommending this one…a lot!

The Lost Apothecary by Sarah Penner


A forgotten history. A secret network of women. A legacy of poison and revenge.

Hidden in the depths of eighteenth-century London, a secret apothecary shop caters to an unusual kind of clientele. Women across the city whisper of a mysterious figure named Nella who sells well-disguised poisons to use against the oppressive men in their lives. But the apothecary’s fate is jeopardized when her newest patron, a precocious twelve-year-old, makes a fatal mistake, sparking a string of consequences that echo through the centuries.

Meanwhile in present-day London, aspiring historian Caroline Parcewell spends her tenth wedding anniversary alone, running from her own demons. When she stumbles upon a clue to the unsolved apothecary murders that haunted London two hundred years ago, her life collides with the apothecary’s in a stunning twist of fate—and not everyone will survive.

With crackling suspense, unforgettable characters and searing insight, The Lost Apothecary is a subversive and intoxicating debut novel of secrets, vengeance and the remarkable ways women can save each other despite the barrier of time. -From the Publisher

It’s been awhile since a story intrigued me like this one. The juxtaposed stories of the apothecary in the 17th century and the woman in the 21st century blend really nicely, although I will confess I was more interested in the apothecary’s story and the action taking place there.

The 21st century characters are definitely of the time – a little whiny, self-absorbed, and feeling unfulfilled – while the 17th century characters seem to pop. I definitely got the feeling the author enjoyed writing the apothecary’s story more! Nella and Eliza, and even the Lady Clarence, blaze off the page, while I was left with little sympathy for our modern day characters.

Overall, though, this is a captivating and fast-paced story that will appeal to fans of historical fiction.

Publication Date: March 2, 2021
Published By: Park Row
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab


A Life No One Will Remember. A Story You Will Never Forget.

France, 1714: in a moment of desperation, a young woman makes a Faustian bargain to live forever—and is cursed to be forgotten by everyone she meets.

Thus begins the extraordinary life of Addie LaRue, and a dazzling adventure that will play out across centuries and continents, across history and art, as a young woman learns how far she will go to leave her mark on the world. But everything changes when, after nearly 300 years, Addie stumbles across a young man in a hidden bookstore and he remembers her name.From the Publisher

So many people have recommended V.E. Schwab to me over the years, but this is the first of her work that I’ve read. Why did I wait so long to read her work???

Put simply, The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue is one of the most unusual and enchanting books I’ve read in a very long time. Bookshelves overflow with tales of the old gods and retellings of familiar stories, but very few take those old allegorical tales and turn them into something new and fresh like Schwab has done here.

There is so much to unpack in this story – what it means to live and die, what people must do to survive, what it means to be remembered (“It is a lonely thing, to be forgotten.“), what it takes to resist temptation – but at the same time, there is the telling of a captivating story that keeps you turning the pages just to see what happens to Addie, Henry, and the green-eyed man.

I completely understand why Schwab’s work has been so highly recommended to me. Reading this story is making me seek out her earlier work, and I could see this sweeping through book clubs this fall. Highly recommended.

Publication Date: October 6, 2020
Published By: Tor Books
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Daughters of Foxcote Manor by Eve Chase


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From Netgalley & the Publisher:

An isolated forest estate.
A family with a terrible secret.
The discovery that changes everything.

England, 1970. On the one-year anniversary of the Harrington family’s darkest night, their beautiful London home goes up in flames. Mrs. Harrington, the two children, and live-in nanny Rita relocate to Foxcote Manor, ostensibly to recuperate. But the creeping forest, where lost things have a way of coming back, is not as restful as it seems. When thirteen-year-old Hera discovers a baby girl abandoned just beyond their garden gate, this tiniest, most wondrous of secrets brings a much-needed sunlit peace, until a visitor detonates the family’s tenuous happiness. All too soon a body lies dead in the woods.

Forty years later, London-based Sylvie is an expert at looking the other way. It’s how she stayed married to her unfaithful husband for more than twenty years. But she’s turned over a new leaf, having left him for a fresh start. She buried her own origin story decades ago, never imagining her teenage daughter would have a shocking reason to dig the past up–and to ask Sylvie to finally face the secrets that lead her back to Foxcote Manor.

Readers of Lisa Jewell and Simone St. James will delight in this haunting, touching story of mothers, daughters, and belonging–and the devastating lies families tell themselves in order to survive.

Eve Chase has given us this summer’s Family Upstairs with this twisted, tangled tale of love, loss, infidelity, betrayal, and the power of family.

The story moves between present time and a fateful summer of 1971. At the center of the story is Big Rita – nanny to a troubled family in 1971 and mother to the present-day protagonist. Rita’s story is unfolded gradually – the heartbreak and horror of that 1971 summer juxtaposed against the family disruption in in the present-day and Rita’s own health.

The full complexity of the connection is not revealed until later chapters, and Chase does a remarkable job of weaving in little hints of what’s to come here and there throughout the narrative. She strings you along so that you simply can’t put this book down. Several chapters end with a mini-cliffhanger, and I found myself skipping ahead to find out what happened, then going back and reading through.

As she did in Black Rabbit Hall, Chase has constructed a complex story that is rife with unbridled emotion held in check until it isn’t. She writes relationships with a deft hand and develops her characters in ways that evoke a visceral response. Recommended.

Publication Date: July 21, 2020
Published By: Penguin Group Putnam
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel byRuth Hogan


cover180892-mediumFrom the wildly popular bestselling author of The Keeper of Lost Things comes a surprising and uplifting story about the complicated relationships between mothers and daughters, and the magic of chosen family.

Tilly was a bright, outgoing little girl who loved fizzy drinks, naughty words, and liked playing with ghosts and matches. When her beloved father suddenly disappeared, she and her fragile, difficult mother moved into Queenie Malone’s magnificent Paradise Hotel in Brighton, with its endearing and loving family of misfits—including the exuberant and compassionate Queenie herself. But then Tilly was dealt another shattering blow when her mother sent her off to boarding school with little explanation and no warning, and she lost her beloved chosen family.

Now an adult, Tilda has grown into an independent woman still damaged by her mother’s unaccountable cruelty. Wary of people, her only true friend is her dog, Eli. When her estranged mother dies, Tilda returns to Brighton and the home she loved best. With the help of the still-dazzling Queenie, she sets about unraveling the mystery of her exile from The Paradise Hotel, only to discover that her mother was not the woman she thought she knew at all…and that it’s never too late to write your own happy ending.

With Ruth Hogan’s trademark quirky, clever, and life-affirming characters, Queenie Malone’s Paradise Hotel will dazzle readers and mesmerize them until they reach the surprising twist at the end.

I adored Ruth Hogan’s Keeper of Lost Things so was excited to crack open this new story. The description promised colorful, unconventional characters and plenty of past heartbreak and adult angst. I was not disappointed.

Hogan does a masterful job of communicating how differently people perceive the same actions and situations. The different memories of the past experienced by Tilly and her mother paint a picture of two people so far apart in how they perceive things that they essentially ruin each others lives. The reconciliation that Tilly experiences through her mother’s diaries after her death is heartbreaking, real, and ultimately beautiful.

Tilly’s relationships with the real and the unreal can be confusing at times, but ultimately come together to form a unique and special narrative.

And there has never been a better ending sentence. Read this book.

Publication Date: April 14, 2020
Published By: William Morrow
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

The Guinevere Deception by Kiersten White


B538682A-3D64-4E2C-9058-8E587CE17E39A new fantasy series set in the world of Camelot that bestselling author Christina Lauren calls “brilliant,” reimagining the Arthurian legend . . . where nothing is as magical and terrifying as a girl.

Princess Guinevere has come to Camelot to wed a stranger: the charismatic King Arthur. With magic clawing at the kingdom’s borders, the great wizard Merlin conjured a solution–send in Guinevere to be Arthur’s wife . . . and his protector from those who want to see the young king’s idyllic city fail. The catch? Guinevere’s real name–and her true identity–is a secret. She is a changeling, a girl who has given up everything to protect Camelot.

To keep Arthur safe, Guinevere must navigate a court in which the old–including Arthur’s own family–demand things continue as they have been, and the new–those drawn by the dream of Camelot–fight for a better way to live. And always, in the green hearts of forests and the black depths of lakes, magic lies in wait to reclaim the land.

Deadly jousts, duplicitous knights, and forbidden romances are nothing compared to the greatest threat of all: the girl with the long black hair, riding on horseback through the dark woods toward Arthur. Because when your whole existence is a lie, how can you trust even yourself?

*THE FIRST BOOK IN THE CAMELOT RISING TRILOGY*

Retelling or re-interpreting beloved stories has been a trend in publishing, and the glorious stories of King Arthur and Camelot have long been fodder for this kind of storytelling. One part of this trend that I have enjoyed is the re-telling of stories through the female characters, and here Kiersten White has produced a remarkable tale of Camelot featuring a new and powerful Guinevere.

White writes of a Camelot carved from a mountain, bereft of magic, but enjoying the peace and prosperity of Arthur’s reign. Into that bucolic kingdom comes Queen Guinevere, but not the Queen they all expected. This Guinevere is a changeling, a child of Merlin substituted for a dead princess from the south, sent to Camelot to protect Arthur from unknown dark magic.

White takes the old Arthurian tales of Thomas Mallory and T.H. White and blends them with other old English folklore – sentient trees, a “dark queen,” and the Green Knight – while adding some welcome and decidedly 21st century feminism to the mix. Guinevere is written as a character who has been used by men (primarily Merlin) for the benefit of men (Arthur) who tempers the traditional with her own magic, even as she learns the extent of her power.

There are plenty of unanswered questions here, such as who is Guinevere, really, why does she have so few memories of her past life, and why does she fear water? This is the first book in a planned trilogy and I look forward to the next two. Joining recent Arthurian retellings such as Cursed, The Guinevere Deception will appeal to fantasy fans and will quickly earn space on many bookshelves.

Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Published By: Random House
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier


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1932. After the Great War took both her beloved brother and her fiancé, Violet Speedwell has become a “surplus woman,” one of a generation doomed to a life of spinsterhood after the war killed so many young men. Yet Violet cannot reconcile herself to a life spent caring for her grieving, embittered mother. After countless meals of boiled eggs and dry toast, she saves enough to move out of her mother’s place and into the town of Winchester, home to one of England’s grandest cathedrals. There, Violet is drawn into a society of broderers–women who embroider kneelers for the Cathedral, carrying on a centuries-long tradition of bringing comfort to worshippers.

Violet finds support and community in the group, fulfillment in the work they create, and even a growing friendship with the vivacious Gilda. But when forces threaten her new independence and another war appears on the horizon, Violet must fight to put down roots in a place where women aren’t expected to grow. Told in Chevalier’s glorious prose, A Single Thread is a timeless story of friendship, love, and a woman crafting her own life.

Tracy Chevalier is known for her insightful and sensitive portrayals of strong women, and she carries that through in A Single Thread. Violet Speedwell wears her “surplus” designation like a scarlet letter turned into a fashionable brooch. She misses sex with her fiancé who died in the war, so she takes herself off to hotel bars to pick up “sherry men.” She’s sick of her bitchy mother, so she takes a job in another town and changes her whole life. All this during a time when women were either married, about to be married, looking to get married, or were spinsters. Violet refuses to accept that her life is any less important than the married women around her as we watch her live her life on her own terms and help others to do the same.

Chevalier is excellent at relationships, and she creates a fascinating web of those here, with Violet at the center. “Women’s work” often involves needlework, and Chevalier opens up a fascinating piece of history revolving around the broderers – women who embroidered the cushions for cathedrals and churches. Chevalier drops Violet smack in the middle of a group of women who have all experienced loss and disappointment, but have learned to hide it very well. Violet changes that and draws the women out, while at the same time finding a new path for herself.

This will be popular with book clubs, and I predict a few embroidery groups to form around it as well. Recommended.

Publication Date: September 17, 2019
Published By: Penguin Group Viking
Thanks to Netgalley for the review copy