19 November 2018

Stacked-Up Book Thoughts: 5 Books, 2 Settings

Book reviews from Beth Fish ReadsIt's is soooo weird but many of the books I read in late October and early November had connections to the Caribbean and involve people who are not exactly who they appear to be on the surface.

The crossovers have been totally coincidental--I had no idea of the setting of some of them before I started reading--and this has led to some confusing moments. As in, "Wait! What island am I on? What year?"

For example, Trinity (which I reviewed earlier this month), has a section that takes place at Oppenheimer's Virgin Island home, and Winter in Paradise has a scene in which the characters are in a boat and motor on by Oppenheimer's beach.

The unnamed young wife in The Winters grew up in the Caymans, is comfortable on boats, and is an orphan; one of the main characters in Winter in Paradise is around the same age, is also an orphan, and is also comfortable on boats, though she lives in St. John. A novel I edited in October takes place in Nassau in the past, and the last audiobook I reviewed for Audio File magazine takes place in Nassau in the present.

You would think that after those books I'd race for new and different settings, wouldn't you? Well, yes I did, but the next two books I read both took place in Paris! I think I've broken the cycle though because the book I'm currently listening to is a collection of science fiction short stories: very few real-life settings here. Phew!

Review of The Winters by Lisa GabrieleThe Winters by Lisa Gabriele (Viking, October 16): I was pleasantly surprised by how much I liked this retelling of Daphne du Maurier's Rebecca. I loved the reimagining of the characters and situation in a modern setting and thought it was clever to change Dani from creepy maid to bratty, unstable teenager. The isolated estate, called Asherley, is located on an a small island off the Hamptons, and instead of a forbidden boathouse, we have a forbidden greenhouse. The dead Rebecca is, of course, perfect and beautiful and loved by everyone. Max is a New York state senator, so his duties often call him away from home, leaving his young (unnamed) fiancee alone. The soon to be second Mrs. Winters was raised in the Caymens and is now orphaned, so she has no one to turn to when she begins to feel uncomfortable--and the tension and sense of foreboding are definitely there. Even though I pretty much knew where the story was going (because this is, after all, a retelling of the classic), there were still some surprises, and I was completely engrossed, especially at the end, wanting to know how the new twists were going to play out. I think you can safely read and enjoy Gabriele's contemporary story, even if you haven't read the classic, but being familiar with the original will add depth. (review copy provided by the publisher)

Review of Winter in Paradise by Elin HilderbrandWinter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand (Little, Brown, October 9): In a departure from Hilderbrand's normal books, there is only one brief passing mention of her beloved Nantucket. The book starts in the Midwest but takes place mostly in St. John, where a mother and her two grown sons reunite just after the new year. Each of them is in the middle of a personal crisis, but before they can talk about their own problems, they're hit hard by a devastating family tragedy: Irene's husband and the boys' father died in a helicopter accident over the ocean. That would be horrible all in and of itself, but Russell hadn't told his family that he was going to be in the Caribbean; he was supposed to be on a boring business trip. Thus the family trip to the island is not for pleasure, and as they piece together the puzzles and surprises Russell left behind, the family discovers they didn't know him at all. Meanwhile, the brothers meet a beautiful young woman (a rivalry ensues), and Irene meets a a man who offers her kindness and understanding. I can always count on Hiderbrand to give me great characters, a tight plot, and a good mystery. This is the start of new series, and I really like the characters and St. John setting. I think I kind of know where the story is going, so the ending, which sets up the next installment, was not altogether unexpected. I wasn't a fan of the abrupt ending, but I'm looking forward to the second book. I listened to the unabridged audiobook edition of Winter in Paradise (Hachette Audio; 10 hr, 11 min), read by Erin Bennett, who has narrated almost all of Hilderbrand books. Bennett is always a pleasure to listen to, and I enjoy her characterizations and the way she captures the essence of Hilderbrand's writing. (audiobook review copy provided by the publisher)

Review of Learning to Breathe by Janice Lynn MatherLearning to Breathe by Janice Lynn Mather (Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, June 2018): The only thing I knew about this debut novel before I started it was that it had won a number of awards and dealt with real-life issues. Sixteen-year-old Indira was raised by her loving, but strict grandmother in the Bahamas. She has spent most of her life trying to prove that she is nothing like her mother, who is known for her drug addition and loose reputation. Granny believes in Indy and wants to give her a better life and chance to climb out of poverty, so she sends her to live with her son's family in Nassau and attend a private high school. What Indy finds in the city is an aunt who thinks she's poor trash, an older male cousin who disrespects her and abuses her, and a distant uncle. She is teased at school, and her same-age female cousin runs hot and cold. This is an all-too-real and heartbreaking story of a young girl who tries her best to be good but who is thwarted and divested of power at every turn. After a chance meeting of the owners of a yoga retreat, Indy slowly learns to trust but finds it hard to overcome her self-shame until she realizes only she can save herself and others from the fate of her mother. My heart went out to Indy, and I loved her voice. Mather presents Indy's situation with honesty and respect, and I'm pretty sure this book will have a place on my top-ten of the year list. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Dreamscape Media, 9 hr, 18 min), read by Chrystal Bethell. This is my first time with Bethell, but I'm looking forward to more of her work. Her sensitive narration captured Indy's pain, and her accents were believable, while avoiding stereotypes. Indy's internal dialogue sometimes verges on free verse, which Bethell delivered with aplomb. Read or listen, but don't miss this book. (review copy for a freelance assignment)

Review of Love a la Mode by Stephanie Kate StrohmLove a la Mode by Stephanie Kate Strohm (Disney-Hyperion; November 27): After so many heavy books, I needed a palate cleanser, which I found in this delightful novel, perfect for food lovers. The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Henry Yi and Rosie Radeke, both of whom were accepted into a young chef's academy in Paris. Henry grew up in the kitchen of his father's Chicago restaurant, whereas Rosie is a home baker from Ohio. Their backgrounds, talents, and ethnicities are very different, but they share the dream of becoming professionals in the culinary world. This contemporary young adult rom-com is so much fun. We meet the other (diverse) teen students and the demanding chef teacher. We enter the kitchens and feel for the teens' struggle to perfect their cooking and baking techniques while also meeting their academic requirements. There is romance drama, mean girl drama, and kitchen drama. Love a la Mode was the perfect escape novel for me, combining humor, a love story, cooking, and Paris in one package. There's nothing high-brow here, but I enjoyed meeting Rosie, Henry, and their friends. I listened to the unabridged audiobook (Listening Library; 9 hr, 35 min) read by the author. You know how I usually feel about author-read audiobooks, but Strohm was great. Her French pronunciations seemed fine to me, and she (as one would hope) captured the personalities of her characters beautifully. This audiobook would be the perfect accompaniment to your holiday cooking. Too much fun to miss. (audiobook review copy provided by the publisher)

Review of The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de RosnayThe Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay (St. Martin's Press; October 30): I had high hopes for de Rosnay's latest novel, which promised a dysfunctional family and a Paris setting. The novel does indeed provide both and was particularly interesting in light of last winter's flooding of the city. Most of the book is told from the viewpoint of Linden Malegarde, a world-famous photographer who returns to his native France to attend his father's 70th birthday celebration. His mother, American by birth, decided to hold the gathering in Paris with just the original family; no in-laws or grandchildren are invited. Paul, the patriarch, is a renown arborist, who seems to like his trees better than people, but his wife hopes the gathering will be a success. The party weekend coincides with the worst flooding of the Seine in a century, and the events that follow (including family illnesses) are complicated by the rising water. While I enjoy de Rosnay's writing style, I didn't think this was her strongest novel. The flow of Linden's story is interrupted by sections from Paul's diary, in which he describes a traumatic event of his own childhood. That story is, indeed, disturbing, but it's never really tied into the main narrative, and I ended up wondering why it was included in the novel. I also found the number of big things this family faced to be slightly over the top: one or more of them were dealing with LGBTQ issues, alcoholism, bad marriage, affairs, suicide, unrequited love, distant parents, self-doubt, PTSD, bullying, rape, and medical problems. While I know that many of us are juggling several significant simultaneous problems, it seemed unbelievable in The Rain Watcher. I think de Rosnay had several good ideas here, including thoughts on the changing environment, but she didn't quite pull them off in the novel. I am, however, looking forward to her next book. (review copy provided by the publisher)


Sarah (Sarah's Book Shelves) 11/19/18, 7:37 AM  

Aaah! I haven't read Rebecca, but it's on my list and it's really one of the only classics I'm interested in reading at this point. And, I keep hearing mixed things about whether to read The Winters first...I've heard def read Rebecca first, I've read read Winters before Rebecca, and I've heard it doesn't matter!

What to do...

JoAnn 11/19/18, 8:15 AM  

The Winters sounds like fun... and I'll pick up the Hilderbrand novel around the holidays just to escape for a few hours!

bermudaonion 11/19/18, 8:29 AM  

Isn't it funny how books connect that way? Learning to Breathe and The Winters both sound like books I'd like.

Deb Nance at Readerbuzz 11/19/18, 8:34 AM  

I must bookmark Love a la Mode for next year's Paris in July. Thanks for sharing it.

Susie | Novel Visits 11/19/18, 8:55 AM  

I've been wondering about The Winters, too. I also haven't read Rebecca, but would like to. Maybe I'll read the Winters first to get me in the mood for a classic (which I tend to avoid). Have a lovely Thanksgiving!

Daryl 11/19/18, 9:23 AM  

i loved Rebecca ... i am going to add The Winters to my TBR

Amanda 11/19/18, 10:06 AM  

Several of these sound very promising! I particularly like the idea of a Rebecca retelling.

Laurel-Rain Snow 11/19/18, 10:13 AM  

I loved Winter in Paradise, and now I'm curious about The Winters. I love how your various books seemed to connect.

Enjoy your week, and thanks for sharing...and thanks for visiting my blog.

Emma at Words And Peace / France Book Tours 11/19/18, 10:17 AM  

I loved so much Rebecca that I'm not sure I want to read a retelling. If you have not read it yet, I highly recommend De Rosnay's biography of Du Maurier, yes the author of your last book here. I really enjoyed it a lot. I made a video on it:
My Monday post is here:

Yvonne 11/19/18, 11:18 AM  

I have The Winters on my wishlist. It looks good. I, also, want to read the Hilerbrand book. Enjoy your reading and have a great week!

Vicki 11/19/18, 11:46 AM  

Winter In Paradise sounds like a book I would really enjoy, and I like that if I do decide to read it, it's the first in the series. Learning to Breathe sounds really good too.

Kathy Martin 11/19/18, 12:06 PM  

Love a la Mode does sound good. I like it when there are unexpected connections in the books I read. Come see my week here. Happy reading!

rhapsodyinbooks 11/19/18, 12:18 PM  

I think it's weird too when there's some kind of trend in the book universe that seems totally unintentional.

Sue Jackson 11/19/18, 7:14 PM  

ha ha - that is crazy about so many similar settings and cross-over plotlines! I think I might have gotten confused.

The modern retelling of Rebecca sounds really good - I just listened to the original 2 summers ago.

Enjoy your books this week - and have a nice holiday!


Book By Book

Greg 11/20/18, 2:05 AM  

That's funny about all the Caribbean connections. And with the cold weather here I'm tempted to go find something set in the Caribbean myself! At least I can READ about someplace warm haha.

The Winters sounds quite good!

And I love that cover for The Rain Watcher. Love a la Mode looks cute as well.

(Diane) bookchickdi 11/20/18, 9:49 PM  

The Winters and Winter in Paradise have just been added to my TBR list.

Susan Schleicher 11/21/18, 9:45 AM  

I find that happening to me quite a bit too. I'll find myself reading several books in a row with the same location or maybe similar topics. Weird how that happens, huh? Enjoy your books and happy reading.

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