05 January 2016

Between the Pages

Constance Bennett in Lady With a Past (1932)

A new year, a new slew of books to review. I read quite a few books last year but not nearly as many as I would have wanted. These are some of the titles I finished in 2015. And as a new year brings fresh starts, Bookshelf will be called Between the Pages going forward. Now, please, read on.

My Life in France—Julia Child and Alex Prud’homme
Paul and Julia Child moved to France in 1948 for Paul to start his job with the US Information Service. En route to Paris, they stopped for lunch at a restaurant in Rouen. Julia would later refer to it as “the most exciting meal of my life.” Thus began her life-long love affair with la belle France. In Paris, Julia began exploring all aspects of French cuisine, taking classes at the Cordon Bleu and ultimately writing her classic cookbook, Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book is filled with charming anecdotes of her time in France from merchants she befriended to her experiments in the kitchen to the great love affair with her husband. Be warned: reading this will make you want to buy a ticket for France.

In 1930s Paris a blind girl named Marie-Laure learns the layout of her neighbourhood via a hand-carved miniature version lovingly created by her locksmith father while in Germany a young orphaned boy, Werner, discovers he has a gift for fixing radios. As the Germans descend on Paris, the Seas of Flame—a cursed diamond from the Museum of Natural History—is secreted out of the city to the seaside town of St. Malo where Marie-Laure and Werner’s paths will ultimately cross. I wasn’t expecting to like this novel as much as I did but the non-linear narration made for compelling storytelling and some of Marie-Laure’s scenes were particularly moving.

Mrs. Roosevelt’s Confidante—Susan Elia Macneal
Maggie Hope is back, this time travelling with Churchill to America to visit Roosevelt to discuss the country’s entry in the war. The mysterious death of one of Mrs. Roosevelt’s secretaries threatens to falsely expose the first lady to a scandal of epic proportion, and it’s up to Maggie find the killer and protect the nation. I’ve enjoyed all of the Maggie Hope books and this one in particular. I especially liked the behind-the-scenes look at the Roosevelts in the White House (FDR whipping up cocktails and lots of appearances by Fala) and the descriptions of Washington during wartime.

The Other Typist—Suzanne Rindell
Rose Baker is a police typist in 1920s New York, spending her days typing up confessions and her nights alone in her rented room in Brooklyn. Her world is changed with the hiring of a new typist, Odalie Lazare, whose fashionable appearance and carefree attitude fascinate Rose. Before long she is drawn into Odalie’s life, sharing her flat and frequenting speakeasies. But there’s something sinister bubbling under the surface that’s destined to result in murder. Reminiscent of a Patricia Highsmith story, Rindell does a good job at building the tension in the story and leaving the reader guessing at the ending.

Girl Waits with Gun—Amy Stewart
In 1914, the three Kopp sisters were driving in their horse and buggy in Patterson, New Jersey when a man hit them with his motorcar. The sisters tried to invoice for the damages but Harry Kaufman, the silk factory owner who had been behind the wheel, retaliated with threatening letters and rocks thrown through the sisters’ windows. The local sheriff did what he thought best—gave the sisters rifles for protection. This is the basis for Stewart’s novel, which revolves around the oldest sister, six-foot tall Constance, who uses her height to intimidate Kaufman and indeed waits with gun. This was a favourite read of mine last year. Stewart does a great job at fleshing out the portraits of the Kopp sisters and demonstrates how one can tell a fictional account of a real event well.

The Goldfinch—Donna Tartt
Thirteen-year old The Decker and his mother are viewing an exhibit at the Met when a bomb goes off, killing her and leaving Theo unharmed with a dead man’s ring and Carel Fabritius’ “Goldfinch” in his possession. Finding temporary shelter at the Upper East Side home of a classmate, he’s soon whisked away by his father to Las Vegas where Theo embarks down a drug-laden road with his only friend, a Ukrainian boy named Boris. When Theo returns to New York, he becomes an apprentice to an antiques dealer who lost his partner in the blast, the same deceased man whose niece Theo loves. It took me a while to get around to reading this book, and I’m so glad I did. Despite its heft, I found myself finishing it in a few days, drawn to the story of Theo and the fate of that glorious bird.

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