I love, love, love French private detective, Aimée Leduc! This series is like sitting down to a cup of espresso and a slice of tarte tatin, I have to pace myself. When it comes to Parisian ambiance, Cara Black does not disappoint.
Aimée is juggling her young daughter, an on-site computer security job, a possible blackmail, the return of her baby’s father and a host of other nuisances in the broiling August heat on the back of her unreliable pink Vespa. She doesn’t really have time to take on another investigation but her old friend Suzanne Lesage, is haunted by events she experienced during her stint in Serbia as part of an elite counter-terrorism team. Suzanne swears that the vicious war criminal Mirko Vladi is back from dead. When other members of the French team start dying, Aimée must contend with the consequences of a possible conspiracy and the safety of her child.
This is the 17th book in the series. You don’t have to read the series in order but, if you haven’t read these books yet, it’s easy to get hooked. The author is a master at running different plot lines at one time and her reoccurring characters and their backstories are fascinating.
Based on the author’s mother’s experiences during the war, yet a novel. Czech Lena Kulkova, her lover Otto and a small band of their fellow socialists manage to escape Paris and get to England ahead of the Nazis. They land in a small English village under the patronage of a like-minded noblewoman. They’ve all left family behind and as the war goes on, Lena begins to hear terrible rumors about the fate of her Jewish family.
There is a lot happening in this book. Maybe too much. However, Lena, does stay absolutely true to her socialist leanings. We get a glimpse, as the war begins to wind down, of the origins behind the rise of the Labour Party and the rise of the welfare state in Great Britain.
The last chapter brings us into the future, Lena’s adult daughter is visiting her elderly daughter. In her mother’s final days she discovers photographs of her mother’s family that perished in the camps. This revelation, while poignant, was a bit out of place. We don’t really learn why Lena never shared this with her daughter, which leaves us wondering about what else she left out.
Despite the disappointing ending, the author has written a compelling refugee story.
Pub Date 26 Sep 2017
Vivian Miller works long hours but, thank heavens, for her reliable work-at-home husband. He has dinner ready when she gets home, takes the kids to school and has always supported her advancement as a CIA analyst. Vivian’s current project, pluming the murky depths of Russian sleeper agents, has become an obsession. Her success at identifying these illusive cells could result in a desperately needed promotion.
Vivian is getting close. As she delves into a suspected Russian spy’s computer files, she comes across a folder with five photographs of ordinary looking Americans who fit the perfect profile for embedded plants. She flips through the pictures until she lands on one that freezes her in her tracks. In that moment, her job, country, her family and all that matters to her becomes precarious.
I stayed up late reading this one. Not only does it make you wonder about the strangers you pass on the street, it makes you question the people you know. High stakes suspense right up to the end!
Pub Date 23 Jan 2018
Stockholm, 1935. Former boxer Harry Kvist is released from prison with the intent to go home to his dog and get his life in order. This time it isn’t just for himself but for the life he wants with his young cell mate, who will be released in a week. But, going home means returning to the old neighborhood.
If it is all possible, the neighborhood has gone downhill during Harry’s incarceration. One of his neighbors has been murdered, her disabled son has been arrested for the crime, and Nazi sympathizers are out on the streets. Something is definitely wrong and Harry owes it to Bede Johansson to find her killer.
This book, which has been translated from Swedish, is dark. So dark that in my mind’s eye the scenes were in 1930’s film noir black and white. That being said, Harry has the very best of intentions and you find yourself speeding through the chapters to see what happens at the end of the longest week of his life. The author has a talent for describing the stark underbelly of 1930’s Stockholm (and who knew there was one?).
Oh, my. I really don’t want to write a negative book review. Ms. Brunstein is, according to a quick internet search, a talented chef and caterer. Indeed her recipes and photographs all seem to be in order. They are not particularly imaginative but that’s fine since they are presented as traditional Southern European dishes. It’s the rest of the book that I have a problem with.
The author begins the book by getting on a train in West Chester, NY on her way to visit her granddaughter in Buffalo. She introduces herself to her seatmate and, deciding that the poor fellow is a “captive audience,” proceeds to tell him a bizarre dreamlike story about a Christmas fund-raising dinner that she attended with her ex-husband. It isn’t exactly clear where this fundraiser is being held, it could be a private home, restaurant or hotel. What is clear is that it is in a second floor ballroom and that someone has gone to great lengths to make arrangements for canine guests. Quite extravagant ones too for there are grooming stations, beds, sitters, and doggie dishes scattered about. For some inexplicable reason, the author decides to shock her philandering spouse by leaving the party to run out and buy the supplies needed to color her hair. She sneaks back into the party venue to dye her hair (apparently, unnoticed) in the kitchen.
I suppose her intent was to embarrass her husband, since she was dripping with hair dye as she left the kitchen to return to their table. On the way past the dog food dishes a glob of dye slides off her head into a bowl of chow. She scoops up the goop and deposits it into a nearby water drain, whereby the drain becomes blocked and sewer water spews about the party. Okay, stop right there. Why is there a water drain in a ballroom?
At this point, I am thinking that this poor woman must have suffered a complete break-down and the travelogue will continue with her leaving her cheating husband to find solace in the sunny climes of Southern Europe. Along the way we will hear charming little stories about how she finds peace cooking simple peasant meals. But, there doesn’t seem to be any purpose to her travel vignettes. It is just a vehicle to share recipes from different regions.
The last chapter features Greece. I don’t have a clue why she went, who she went with, or what she did while she was there. There are some nice recipes and a few photos, including a picture of the author outside a hotel in Crete. Then, just as suddenly as the book began, it ends in back in the train car with this unfortunate guy who has presumably sat through a recital of Mediterranean dishes.
In the beginning, when I first saw this book going off the rails, I hoped it could be resuscitated with good old fashioned editing. But, that isn’t enough. The difficult bit is getting around the premise. It simply isn’t a travelogue. There just isn’t a story to tell, or if there is, I couldn’t find it. Surely, the recipes and the culinary photographs would have been enough. Oh, and I did like the book jacket.
This tasty book brings cookie making into the 21st century with Espresso Thins, Apple Cider Caramels and Saffron Pistachio Biscotti. It also raises the bar on many traditional cookie classics, like shortbread and madeleines. How does Fruitcake Shortbread and Eggnog Madeleines sound?
Swedish born Elisabet der Nederlanden, begins with her ten rules of success for cookies. Rules that, to the annual ritual of holiday baking might sound intuitive, are anything but. This book has beautiful photographs, luscious recipes, and even directions on how to build a gingerbread house. There are also handy tips on storing packaging cookies and “adding flair” to your cookies – including a decorating technique called flooding. This may well be your go-to book for all-things cookie for seasons to come!
Now, for those of you who know me and know that cooking isn't my favorite pastime, there are two things I do enjoy. I love reading cookbooks (especially, if they have photographs) and once a year, around December, I like making cookies. Well, mostly I read recipes and then I try and find something that might be a little different and not too time-consuming. With this book, I think the holidays might start earlier, like say July 4th!
Pub Date 05 Sep 2017
Maggie Hope, a former secretary for Winston Churchill, is sent to wartime Paris to discover the disappearance two women. Erica, a spy who has vital information for the upcoming Allied landings and the Maggie’s half-sister, Elsie. Under the personae of an Irish woman shopping for her trousseau, Maggie is ensconced at the Ritz, where she meets legionary fashion designer Coco Chanel. Chanel, who lives at the Ritz, introduces her to the Nazi elite, who have taken over half the hotel.
The offensive excesses of the Ritz are in strong contrast to the fear that gripes France and Maggie’s fellow agents, who face danger from the Gestapo and a British double agent. This is not a breezy mystery, it is an absorbing thriller that takes readers to sad and terrifying ends. What Maggie lacks in cunning spy craft she makes up for in spunk, as evidenced by the climactic ending.
This is the seventh book in the series and, as with the others, the author has taken great care to replicate the wartime atmosphere with historical accuracy and detail. I especially appreciate the bibliography at the end of the book.
Pub Date 08 Aug 2017
Bruno Courrèges, the chef of police in the French village of St. Denis, is the perfect mystery to follow my review of BEGINNING FRENCH. Not only does it take place in the same region of France, the author describes in delicious detail the meals whipped up by the epicurean policeman.
An unidentified women’s body found at the bottom of a cliff below the ruins of Château de Commarque in the Dordogne. Attracting historians and tourists fascinated by the site’s pre-historic caves, medieval battlements and possible Templar connections, the scene of the murder is a puzzle.
With the help of some unlikely assistants, including local archaeologists and a visiting representative from the Ministry of Justice, Bruno discovers a complicated plot with historic connections to the Templars and the modern-day Middle East. Well-paced with a strong sense of place. The author deftly introduces contemporary evils into this serene French valley.
THE TEMPLARS’ LAST SECRET is the tenth book in the Bruno, Chef of Police series. Bruno is an ex-solider without the militaristic disposition. Not only does he cook, he rides, teaches sports to schoolchildren, organizes parades and village festivals and he doesn’t carry a gun – unless he has to. Oh, yes, and he keeps falling for strong independent women with the hopes of one day become a father. Who wouldn’t fall in love with a man like that? And, who wouldn’t fall for the Dordogne region? I’ve been there and it is one of my favorite parts of France. Walnut liqueur, crumbling pigeonniers, Richard the Lionhearted, cassoulet, and Josephine Baker. Martin Walker’s evocative Bruno mysteries are as rich as the foie gras of the Perigord.
Images from our visit...