50 in 2013: Books Six and Seven

The Last Camellia: A NovelThe Last Camellia: A Novel by Sarah Jio

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Fiona, desperate to help her struggling parents, agrees to be a part of an international ring of flower thieves. She has been booked to nanny for a family living in an old English estate housing one of the last remaining camellias known as the Middlebury Pink. Her mission: gain their trust and locate the Middlebury Pink. Once there, she learns the family’s story is rife with sorrow and sadness. The lady of the house was tragically found dead in her beloved garden. Her death a mystery.

More than a half century later…

Haunted by a tragic decision she made as a teenager, Addison has lived most of her adult life trying to lock those memories away. Shedding her birth name, Amanda, her past resurfaces when she hears her named called by a hauntingly familiar voice. A voice she could never forget.

With her past disturbingly close, Addison chooses to flee to her husband’s English countryside manor. While there, she discovers the house itself hides tragic secrets of its own. The lady of the house was found dead in the garden and the family nanny disappeared. As Addison makes herself comfortable in the manor, she discovers locked doors, secret corridors, and uncovers family secrets that were never meant to be revealed. As she solves the mystery of Lady Anna she finds horrific clues that detail events beyond comprehension, she also finds the strength to finally deal with her own secrets.

Suspense, an exotic, rare camellia, a ring of flower thieves, lies, secret codes, betrayal…this book has it all. AMAZING.

My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) My Berlin Kitchen: A Love Story (with Recipes) by Luisa Weiss

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A tale of following your heart, even when it means deserting love. Sometimes one’s passion can impede his or her growth in a relationship if the passion is not shared. The author’s courage to follow her heart and accept her need to be “home” is inspiring and ultimately leads her to find true happiness in spite of immediate sorrow. Fun read with some delicious looking recipes. Author currently blogs at Wednesday Kitchen.

50 in 2013: Book Five

The Lost Art of MixingThe Lost Art of Mixing by Erica Bauermeister

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In this book, we are reintroduced to characters from Bauermeister’s earlier novel, The School of Essential Ingredients. However, the magic of Lillian’s cooking, the ability of her recipes to transcend paper and leave traces of her magic within each recipient was lost in this story.

Less about cooking and more about individual stories of routine and rituals, The Lost Art of Mixing examines the ways in which routine and ritual can define one’s life. The routine rituals of a disgruntled housewife: the ways in which she loses a little bit of herself over the years as she transforms to meet the needs of her husband or her house. The routine rituals of an out of touch husband: the ways in which he stays at work an hour longer to avoid the inevitable onslaught of rising anger from his wife. The routine of a daughter forced to grow up far too fast in order to help her aging mother and attempt to get her siblings to see the reality of their family’s situation. The routine rituals of a young man desperately searching for a place to call his own, a place to truly fit in, a place to stop hiding and discover himself.

Routines and rituals that bring strangers to Lillian’s kitchen for a cooking class where they end up learning about much more than cooking.

I particularly loved the following quote: “the way things could become so permeated with memories that story was more important than function.” Many of the characters struggle with moving forward, pinned down by their past. As Abby searches for answers regarding the next step with her mother, she is forced to confront her mother’s connection to things. Things that seem mundane to Abby, yet the stories within each item mean the world to Isabelle. This pulled theĀ heartstringsĀ for me as a mother, a daughter, a sister…at what point does the item connected to the story come to solely represent the story? Does the story remain within the item or one’s heart?

I missed Bauermeister’s culinary prose. She is incredibly lyrical and moving as she mixes recipes with personal stories. “By the time Lillian had turned twelve years old, cooking had become her family. It had taught her lessons usually imparted by parents- economy from a limp head of celery left too long in the hydrator, perseverance from the whipping of heavy cream, the power of memories from oregano, whose flavor only grew stronger as it dried.” Magic. Overall, a good read but not nearly as poignant as the first…

50 in 2013: Book Four

The Paradise Guest HouseThe Paradise Guest House by Ellen Sussman

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Always in search of something more exciting and thrilling, Jamie has found her life’s niche in adventure tourism. On assignment in Bali, tragedy strikes. Caught in the center of the infamous Bali nightclub bombings, Jamie’s adventurous, breezy life is forever altered. Sleep only brings back vivid images of the night she lost the freedom of dreaming. Now, quiet moments and stillness brings back the smell, the images, the screams…

A letter finds its way to her mailbox beckoning her to return. Uncertain but in desperate need of closure, she boards the plane. Pain and loss have enveloped the island, many of its inhabitants have lost a loved one or friend, their carefree community ripped apart. Jamie has thrived off challenge and conquered many difficult climbs and hikes. Yet, this tragedy has forced to deal with matters of the heart, a challenge that brings her to her knees. What follows is a journey of rebuilding, second chances, and love. Beautiful, moving, quick read.

50 in 2013: Book Three

The Care and Handling of Roses with ThornsThe Care and Handling of Roses with Thorns by Margaret Dilloway

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A literary and metaphoric exploration of roses. Outwardly delicate, the intricate petals of a rose vary by breed, genetics, and their ability to adapt to various climates. One must first brave a rose’s thorny armor in order to truly see its overall beauty. The same could be said about Galilee Garner.

Having suffered from medical challenges her entire life, and having spent the last eight years undergoing dialysis treatments every other day, Gal no longer has time or energy in her life to mince words. She has fought her entire life, survived torturous medical procedures, surely her students can step up and survive her science exams.

Her sister, on the other hand, was born healthy. Gal was often jealous of her sister’s normalcy. When her sister leaves for a long-term job overseas, Gal finds herself watching after her niece. A shock to her very regimented, quiet existence. Her life revolving around her teaching, her dialysis, and her roses.

Priding herself on her ability to breed roses versus merely raising roses others have perfected, Gal spends much of her life caring for her seedlings and very little time nurturing relationships with others. It isn’t until others start to de-thorn her callous exterior that she begins to truly bloom and see that there is life outside her greenhouse walls. Her niece, Riley, a burden at first, and a true obstinate teenager slowly lets down her own guard to see that her Aunt is more than harsh words and roses. Together, this unlikely pair make discoveries that ultimately change both their lives.

50 in 2013: Book Two

Please Look After MomPlease Look After Mom by Kyung-Sook Shin

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

While a great deal of poetic language is lost in translation and there is difficulty adjusting to a storyline written in second person, there is something tragically stunning about this novel.

Somewhere amongst the crowded, bustling chaos that is the Seoul subway, sixty-nine year old So-Nyo is separated from her husband. He boards the train assuming she is behind him. She is not. Before he can board another train and return to the station, she vanishes.

The family immediately begins a search. As the children search, they unveil hidden truths, secrets, and dreams sheltered by a woman they barely know. How well do children really know their parents?

The depths to which So-Nyo sacrifices and loses herself for her children is startling and difficult to read. Even more so when coupled with the admissions of her children and husband, none of whom realize her presence in their lives until she is missing. She devoted her whole being, her entire life to looking after everyone. In the end, who was looking out for her?

A true testament to the intricate woven tapestries that make up our family’s story and a reminder to cherish the hands that sacrificed something to place each stitch and write each story.

50 in 2013: Book One

A Land More Kind Than HomeA Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The tale of two brothers, Jess and Christopher “Stump” Hall, and the various repercussions that come with seeing things that are meant to be seen. Curiosity can lead to answers and adventure, but also danger. Some questions aren’t meant to be answered, especially by the naive investigation of children. One stolen peek into a window changes the paths of the Hall boys’ lives forever…

The eccentric and slightly mysterious Carson Chambliss immediately takes over the church in the small town of Asheville following the prior pastor’s death. He takes down signs, covers the windows with newspaper, and pens a simple verse in black paint on a small sign outside. Those drawn in, stay. Those who question or remain skeptical, stay far away.

Ben and Julie Hall’s marriage changed the day Stump was born. He never cried. He was quiet. Too quiet. Time would soon reveal he was mute. Ben understood Stump’s quiet ways, often relating, while Julie believed she could bring the words out of him. She also believed in Pastor Chambliss.

Adelaide Lyle had called Asheville home long enough to know all there was to know about the small town’s inhabitants. She knew Ben Hall as a child. She knew the church before it was overhauled by Carson Chambliss. She helped bring Stump Hall into this world. And she knew her town well enough to know when trouble was in the air.

On a hot September night, the life stories of Jess, Stump, Pastor Chambliss, Ben, Julie, and Adelaide all intersect with an ending that ultimately teaches two of the small town’s residents that “it’s a good thing to see that people can heal after they’ve been broken, that they can change and become something different from what they were before.”

Slow moving in parts, I found many of the story lines to be incredibly poignant: the repercussions of a child’s curiosity and how it can change his life in unforeseen ways, the resonating effect of a parent’s decision, the power of restoration, and the gripping control of revenge. The first book this year to keep and hold my attention the whole way through.

50 in 2012: Book Forty Three

Blackberry WinterBlackberry Winter by Sarah Jio

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Romance, mystery, murder, scandal…this book had it all.

Seattle 1933: a hardworking, single mother is forced to kiss her son goodnight, secure him inside their humble apartment, and leave for work. Daniel, three years old, is the light of Vera Ray’s life and it breaks her heart to leave him behind. Alone. But she has no choice. Enter a fluke mid-May snow storm and Vera’s life is forever changed as she returns home to find Daniel gone.

Modern day Seattle: Claire Aldridge finds herself stumbling through life in a grief driven fog. A car accident changed her life in unimaginably tragic ways. She feels lost and struggles to find the motivation needed to repair her marriage that teeters on the verge of disrepair. Until a fluke mid-May snowstorm inspires a new’s article that will help her find answers and clarity she didn’t know she needed.

Two strangers, two mothers, two lives forever altered by tragic loss. Ultimately, the power of love, on various levels, proves to be the catalyst for forgiveness, strength, and the courage to move on.

Amazing read. LOVED.