Tuesday, September 28, 2010

La Cucina: A Novel of Rapture by Lily Prior

  • Paperback: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial (September 18, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060953691
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060953690

Since childhood, Rosa Fiore - daughter of a sultry Sicilian matriarch and her hapless husband - found solace in her family’s kitchen. La Cucina—the heart of the family’s lush estate--was a place where generations of Fiore women prepared wonderful meals, and where family life was played out around the age-old table. 

When Rosa was a teenager, her own cooking became the stuff of legend in her small community. Rosa’s infatuation with culinary arts could only rival her passion for a young man, Bartollomeo, who, unfortunately, belonged to someone else. After their love affair ends in tragedy, Rosa retreats first into her kitchen, and then into solitude, as a librarian in Palermo. There she stays for decades, growing fleshy on her succulent dishes, resigned to a loveless life.

Then, one day, she meets the mysterious chef, known only as I’Inglese, whose research on the heritage of Sicilian cuisine leads him to Rosa’s library and into her heart. They share one summer of love, during which l’Inglese awakens Rosa’s sexuality, and together they reach new heights of passion. When l’Inglese suddenly vanishes, Rosa returns home to the farm to grieve for her lost love. 

In the comfort of her family home, amongst her growing family, she discovers the truth about her loved ones and finds her life transformed once more by her beloved Cucina.

Prior unites the textures, tastes and smells of food and sex to create a wonderfully sexy story.  It celebrates family, food, passion, and romance.  Her descriptions of Rosa's culinary creations almost made you to believe you could smell and taste them.  Her characters were endearingly eccentric and real.  Be prepared to read some funny and erotic passages.  The combination of food and sex is a delightful pairing.

Monday, September 27, 2010

The Mermaid Chair by Sue Monk Kidd

  • Paperback: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin; 1st PAPERBACK edition (March 7, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0143036696
  • ISBN-13: 978-0143036692

Sue Monk Kidd writes of the abbey of a Benedictine monastery on Egret Island, just off the coast of South Carolina, which houses a beautiful and mysterious chair ornately carved with mermaids and dedicated to a saint, who, legend claims, was a mermaid before her conversion.

When Jessie Sullivan is summoned home to the island to cope with her eccentric mother’s unexplained act of violence, she is living a conventional life with her husband, Hugh, a life “molded to the smallest space possible.” Jessie loves Hugh, but once on the island, she finds herself drawn to Brother Thomas, a monk who is soon to take his final vows.

Amid a community of unforgettable island women and the exotic beauty of marshlands, tidal creeks and egrets, Jessie struggles with a freedom that feels overwhelmingly right and her responsibility to her home and marriage.  What transpires will reveal her mother’s tormented past, but most of all, allow Jessie to come to terms with her past.

I think any woman who has been married for a long time and feels as if she is defined only as someone's wife and mother can relate to Jessie's struggle.  A woman often gets lost in her life, ceasing to be anyone other than the person who exists to do for others.  Unfortunately Jessie's way of dealing with her feelings is to commit adultery.  But more than being about adultery, this book explores how family secrets create fear and guilt and can alter a person's life and and the lives of those close to them.

Kidd's characters were well-developed and interesting, but the most descriptive passages were about Egret Island itself.  It made me wish the island was real and that I could go there.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Scarpetta Factor by Patricia Cornwell

Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley; Reprint edition (August 31, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0425236285
  • ISBN-13: 978-0425236284

Cornwell's Dr. Kay Scarpetta is probably my favorite fictional character.  She is brilliant, attractive, successful and an awesome cook.  But even with her many achievements, she has had her setbacks.

In the 17th novel of the Scarpetta series, Kay is living in Boston,and volunteering her time to the New York City Medical Examiner's office and is the senior forensic analyst for CNN.  She is currently investigating the murder of a Central Park jogger as well as looking into the disappearance of Hannah Starr, a wealthy financial planner.  Kay's niece, computer genius Lucy Farinelli, is also probing the disappearance of Hannah for reasons of her own. Along for the ride are Assistant District Attorney Jaime Berger, Lucy's girlfriend, and NYPD Detective Pete Marino.  But it's Benton Wesley, Kay's psychologist husband, whose past comes back to haunt the couple and ties these two crimes together.  Specifically, Benton's presumed death in Point of Origin and shocking reappearance five years later in Blow Fly, and the former FBI agent who planned his presumed death.  

But while I liked this book, I don't think it lived up to previous Scarpetta novels.  In the previous couple of books I noticed a change in the story lines and the characters.  Lucy has changed from a precocious smart kid to a bratty, moody and dangerous woman.  She has become very wealthy and it seems with every dollar earned she gets becomes a little more unhinged.  She needs to be toned down a little.  

Marino's meltdown in Book of the Dead and his transformation into a biker-like thug was just wrong.  Now he is still working with Kay and it's just weird.  I liked him better when he was a grumpy overweight cop in a rumpled suit.  He was gruff yet lovable and the relationship with Kay was always interesting. 

Kay's personality has become watered down, resulting in a woman who is just not as interesting as in earlier books.  Her beautiful house, her gardens, her tomatoes and her marvelous cooking are all missing now.  Her relationships were more interesting and had more substance.  I wish she would move back to Richmond and take over the Medical Examiner's office again.  Leave Boston and New York behind and become the fascinating woman she used to be.

And then there's Benton...originally he was a brilliant FBI profiler and the relationship between him and Kay had sexual tension and excitement.  Now he seems to be a has-been and only a shell of his former self.  They never should have married...it took the interest out the relationship.

I know it seems I had a lot of criticisms in this review, but I still will read any Scarpetta book that comes out.  I am just hoping for a return to better times.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Deep Blue Sea for Beginners by Luanne Rice

 Paperback: 400 pages

This book tells the story of two sisters who have been separated from their mother for ten years due to a disturbing secret.  Lyra Nicholson is an heiress living on the island of Capri.  She moved there after leaving her family behind in America; a husband and two daughters, Pell and Lucy.  Pell and Lucy have been living with their grandmother, Lyra's mother, in Newport, RI since the death of their father.  At 16, Pell travels to the beautiful isle of Capri to reunite with her mother and find out why she left.  The story that unfolds is rife with emotion, love and tears as Pell, and later Lucy, confront Lyra, and with support from Lyra's neighbor Max, learn the real reason Lyra abandoned her family.  Pell is also aided by her boyfriend who travels to Capri to be with her, just as Pell is becoming attracted to Max's grandson Rafe.  

Rice has written Pell as a young girl, wise beyond her years, with a maturity and stability that seems to be lacking in her mother.  She is determined that her mother take responsibility for her actions and along the way, a relationship is born.

This is a sequel to Geometry of Sisters which I have not read.  However, I don't feel I missed or misunderstood anything as a result.  There was sufficient background regarding the family to lead the reader in the right direction.  Although not a piece of outstanding literature, the book was enjoyable with likable characters and a stunning setting.  It would be a good book for young adults to read as well as adults.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

A Review: The Seasons of Grace by Beverly Lewis

I've never been one to read Christian novels, not because I'm not a Christian, but because my tastes run more to mystery and thriller genres.  But a few months ago someone loaned me a book titled The Secret by Beverly Lewis.  This is a story set in Lancaster County PA, a story about an Amish family.  Ms. Lewis grew up in Amish country and her extensive knowledge of the Amish people and their beliefs is reflected in her stories.  I was immediately hooked.  I just had to read the entire series.

  • Paperback: 364 pages
  • Publisher: Bethany House Publishers; 1st edition (March 31, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0764205714
  • ASIN: B002T45000

The Secret is the first of three in the Seasons of Grace series. Grace Byler is the daughter of Lettie and Judah Byler.  Grace often wonders if her mother's secretive ways and late night walks are the result of her husband's uncommunicative nature.  When Lettie suddenly leaves the family early one morning, the family is left questioning all they have been taught about family.

Paperback: 332 pages
  • Publisher: Bethany House; 1st edition (September 8, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0764205722
  • ASIN: B00394DGG4

In The Missing, the second book, Grace longs to find out where her mother is and why she left.  After ending her engagement to a young man who is as uncommunicative as her father, Grace has come to the realization that the young Amish men in her community probably will not see her as a marriage prospect because of her mother.  She resigns herself to remaining single and taking her mother's place in caring for her family.  To complicate her life further, a young man who was courting her best friend begins to show an interest in her.  Grace befriends an "Englisher", Heather Nelson who comes to Lancaster County because of her own mother.  Together, using the only clue they have, they decide to travel to Ohio to search for Lettie and bring her home.

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Bethany House (April 6, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0764205730
  • ISBN-13: 978-0764205736

In The Telling Grace and Heather travel to Ohio while Lettie continues her search for the missing piece of her life.  Judah continues his own soul searching, trying to determine the  reason his wife left, vowing to do better if she returns.  Lewis does a great job tying all the pieces of this story together to a satisfactory conclusion.

You can't help but love Lewis' characters and admire them for their faith and love of family.  Lewis actually lived with the Old Order Amish on two occasions,  doing research on The Heritage of Lancaster County trilogy.  Her connection to the Plain people comes from her mother's Old Order Mennonite heritage.  Her books have been well received by the Plain community, with many asking that she portray their communities in future stories.

I think one of the most important things I experienced from reading this series is that the realization that Plain families experience, despite their simple life style, many of the same family and community issues as our modern communities.  They love their families, their children don't always act as their parents want them to and they react to very human experiences in very human ways.  What they seem to be best at is forgiveness; in fact, they excel at it.
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