Saturday, March 26, 2016

THE HOUSE WE GREW UP IN by Lisa Jewell (A Review plus Wine&Dessert Pairing)


By Lisa Jewell

Published in the US by Atria Books on August 12th, 2014
Hardcover, 400 pages
Women’s Fiction, Family Drama

My Review

Tragedies can break a family apart, but they can also bring that family back together—after all, “we are pebbles of the same beach.”

The Birds used to be a tight-knit bunch, one of those paper-chain families all fun and charming quirkiness: hippie and vibrant Lorelei, her sweet and gangly husband Colin, and their four children. They lived in the Cotswolds, one of the prettiest areas in southern England, in a chocolate-box cottage. Picture perfect—on the surface. Lorelei’s childlike cheerfulness imbued the very walls of their house:

...she is really quite magical, you know—and when she looks at the world she sees it in a very special way, like it’s a party bag, or a toy shop, and she likes to keep bits of it.

She’s the kind of woman who never throws away anything colorful, eye-catching, or shiny. Her home is not dirty, just cluttered on a grand scale. She likes to keep ‘souvenirs’ of moments from her family life, things she can look at and remember something that would be forgotten to her otherwise. You would say she is ‘obsessively nostalgic’, ‘overly sentimental’ , or at least this is the lie her weak husband and her accepting kids keep telling themselves for years on end.

Then, on an Easter weekend in 1986, tragedy rattles the Birds’ tightly connected little world—a disturbing twist in the predictable sequence of  their sheltered lives made of garden picnics, bedtime hot cocoas, and rainbows. Under the weight of unspeakable secrets and a misplaced sense of guilt, Lorelei’s family, once inextricably connected, disintegrates. And what is worse, Lorelei’s compulsive tendency to collect things reaches a whole new horrifying level:

...piles of loose, unfettered paperwork, piles of paperbacks, old coats, bin bags full of clothes, random collections of stuffed animals, snow globes, mugs, paperweights and for some unknown reason a pile of deflated pink balloons still tied with curled nylon ribbons.

Hoarding  manifests in  a wide spectrum of obsessive behaviors, from shopping addiction, to pet hoarding and unsanitary inability of getting rid of trash, but at its core there is the same compulsion—a coping mechanism, if you will,  to control one’s existence and emotions. For Lorelei, her belongings carry an innate energy, the shadow of a memory, and “memory is such a cruel thing, it discards things without asking permission.” Everything she owns is part of the context: throwing her stuff away is like throwing away something that happened.

The Birds' beautiful honey-colored cottage full of childhood memories becomes the work of Lorelei's disordered mind and the physical manifestation of buried issues and emotional unrest affecting every family member. Apart from the past, nothing can hold Lorelei’s family together. Years later, tragedy upon tragedy, that very house where their world was turned upside down seemingly beyond repair becomes a place of healing, forgiveness, and emotional connection.

The House We Grew Up In is a brilliant family drama and an insightful take on the complexities and repercussions of a mental disorder. The author’s choice of themes (mental illness, loneliness, grief, depression, sibling relationships) and structure (dual timeline and multiple points of view) shows emotional intelligence and stylistic finesse: through a variety of perspectives (including an exchange of emails between Lorelei and her virtual friend Jim), the storyline jumps back and forth between 1986 and 2011, adding dynamism and dimensions to the underlying reasons of a sadly  common behavioral disorder.

My rating
5 out of 5 stars

***An e-copy of the book was graciously provided by the Publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased and honest review.
Praises for The House We Grew Up In

“Clever, intelligent, and believable on a subject few of us really understand. Lorrie is one of the most vivid—and complex—characters I've read in years. Wonderful.” (Jojo Moyes, author of Me Before You)

“You'll be desperate to find out what messed this family up so badly.” (Sophie Kinsella, author of Shopaholic to the Stars)

“A dramatic look at siblings, parents, and hoarding.” (Redbook)

“...prose so beautiful that it glitters on the page. Lisa Jewell lays down piece after piece of mosaic, revealing the heart of the Bird family, filled in equal measure with love and loss. Unforgettable.” (Jo-Ann Mapson, author of Solomon’s Oak, Finding Casey, and Owen’s Daughter)
About the author

Lisa Jewell (born 19th July 1968, Middlesex, London) is a popular British author of chick lit fiction. Her books include Ralph's Party, Before I Met You and, most recently, The Girls. She lives in Swiss Cottage, London, with her husband and two daughters. Visit Lisa’s website to learn more about her and her books.

Wine & Dessert Pairing

Easter and Spring season in the Cotswolds are recurrent themes in Lisa Jewell’s novel The House We Grew Up In. For this reason, today’s dessert pick is a traditional British Easter recipe: Raspberry and Chocolate Meringue Melt. It’s a luscious dessert, perfect for this season: you can prepare it with just a touch of chocolate flavor or sandwiched with gooey layers of brownies. A heavenly match for a Demi-Sec Champagne or any semi-sweet sparkling wine.






Friday, March 4, 2016

DEATH DESCENDS ON SATURN VILLA by M.R.C. Kasasian (Book Spotlight & Wine/Dessert Pairing)

Armchair sleuths, unite! Today it's all about ‪‎mystery fiction, wine, and dessert here on Mina’s Bookshelf.
By M.R.C. Kasasian
Published in the US by Pegasus Books on March 7th, 2016
Hardcover, 400 pages
Thriller, Historical, Murder, Crime Fiction
Book 3 in The Gower Street Detective series is about to be released in the US. Sidney Grice, Londons most famous personal detective, and his goddaughter and ward, March Middleton, are back in M.R.C. Kasasian's 1880s England mystery novel Death Descends On Saturn Villa. Out on March 7th (Pegasus Books).

Gower Street, London: 1883.

March Middleton is the niece of London's greatest (and most curmudgeonly) private detective, Sidney Grice. March has just discovered a wealthy long-lost relative she never knew she had. When this newest family member meets with a horrible death, March is in the frame for murder—and only Sidney Grice can prove her innocence.
Grice agrees to investigate (for his usual fee) but warns that he is not entirely convinced of her innocence. If he were in her position, he might have been tempted. But the more he uncovers, the more all the clues point to Grice himself . . .
Praises for Death Descends On Saturn Villa
“Delightful and original.” ― Daily Mail
“The story rushes along at a ripping rate, embellished by Grice's wonderfully fierce wit and moments that make us wonder how it was all done. The novel itself may be a fast, easy read but the solution to the crime is complex and not as obvious as a couple of the twists.” ― Bookbag
“This is one of those books where you will make sure you are not disrupted while reading ... Let's see where Martin Kasasian takes his story next!” ― Bookplank
“A fascinating roller coaster unrolls from the peculiar to the surreal and then the merely macabre then soaring back to surreal and bloody ... bizarre and frightening.” ― Mystery People
" unflinching look at the darker side of Victorian London and a portrait of a heroine strong enough to stand up to a thoroughly disagreeable detective. Clever plotting, morbid humor, and colorful characters are a great treat.” ― (Kirkus Reviews about The Mangle Street Murders)
About the Author

Martin Kasasian was raised in Lancashire. He has had careers as varied as factory hand, wine waiter, veterinary assistant, fairground worker and dentist. He lives with his wife in Suffolk in the summer and in a village in Malta in the winter. He is the author of The Mangle Street Murders, The Curse Of The House Of Foskett, Death Descends On Saturn Villa, and the upcoming The Secrets Of Gaslight Lane. Connect with him on Twitter.


Wine pairing
For today’s book and wine pairing, I picked a simple and elegant dessert: Red Wine Poached Pears and Mascarpone. The recipe I prefer is the lightly spiced version offered by the Food Network, drizzled with a juice made of red wine (cabernet or merlot), sugar, orange zest, cloves, and cinnamon ― all served with a dollop of mascarpone cheese. An Italian merlot Castello Banfi “Mandrielle” 2004 to match and a crime novel that will keep even the most voracious mystery readers pinned to their chairs.



Tuesday, February 9, 2016

THE HOLE IN THE MIDDLE by Kate Hilton (Book Spotlight & Wine/Dessert Pairing)

My Valentine's Day book recommendation...enjoy!

by Kate Hilton
Published in the US by NAL, February 5th 2016
Paperback, 304 pages
Chick Lit, Women's Fiction

The heartfelt and hilarious, international bestselling debut about having it all without losing your mind.

Sophie Whelan is the kind of woman who prides herself on doing it all. In a single day, she can host a vegan-friendly and lactose-free dinner for ten, thwart a PTA president intent on forcing her to volunteer, and outwit her hostile ‘assistant’ in order to get her work done on time.

With her fortieth birthday looming, and her carefully coordinated existence beginning to come apart at the seams, Sophie begins feeling like she needs more from her life—and especially from her husband, Jesse.

The last thing Sophie needs is a new complication in her life. But when an opportunity from her past suddenly reappears, Sophie is forced to confront the choices she’s made and decide if her chaotic life is really a dream come true—or the biggest mistake she’s ever made…

Favorite quote
“I believe in marriage. I believe that two good people can be happy together for a lifetime. It’s the only thing even close to a religion that I have, and I cling to it with almost messianic zeal. But it is a belief system that makes unreasonable demands on its adherents, all of us sacrificing to the bone for a reward that may or may not come at the end of our days; and all of us steadfastly refusing to see the mounting evidence that long-term happy marriages, if they exist at all, are pretty hard to come by. We all want to think that miracles are possible. Otherwise, marriage is just a lot of hard work.”

Praise for The Hole In The Middle
"Honest, deeply moving - and really, really funny."   Jennifer Robson, author of Somewhere In France

"Hilton captures and distils the slight but constant ripping at the seams that can happen in a marriage when there is simply no time to nurture it."  Marissa Stapley, bestelling author of Mating For Life

"Hilton's novel beautifuly captures the daily grind and obstacles women face in a story that continually entertains...Accurate, humorous, and gentle." — Leah Eichler, columnist for the Globe & Mail

"Clever and compelling...with equal measures of hilarity and heartbreak." — Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List


About the Author
The Hole in the Middle is Kate’s first book. It was originally self-published in April 2013, but received such an enthusiastic response from readers that it was re-published by HarperCollins Canada in November 2013. It was published in the United States by NAL Penguin Random House in January 2016.

Before turning to fiction, Kate worked in law, higher education, public relations and major gift fundraising. She has an English degree from McGill University and a Law degree from the University of Toronto. She is a working mother, a community volunteer, a voracious reader and a pretty decent cook. On good days, she thinks she might have it all. On bad days, she wants a nap. Kate lives with her family in Toronto.

Kate is represented by Beverley Slopen of the Beverley Slopen Literary Agency. To learn more about Kate, please visit her website.

Wine Pairing

A delightful way to enjoy a good book is to combine our reading hours with a palate pleaser. My wine recommendation for The Hole In The Middle is a glass of Banfi Rosa Regale ('Brachetto'), an off-dry (slightly sweet and low in alcohol) sparkling wine from Italy's Piedmont region.  It's a festive wine, cranberry in color and with a fresh raspberry taste - a great aperitif wine that pairs well with chocolate and a variety of desserts. Try it with any berry dessert, from a raspberry tart to a blackberry crumble to a handful of freshly picked wild strawberries.

Friday, January 1, 2016

2016 Reading Resolutions

In one of his many banters, Mark Twain claimed that New Year's Day is the accepted time to make our regular annual resolutions, and that after the first week we can begin "paving hell with them as usual". I may agree with his sarcastic remark when it comes to my fleeting commitment to diet and fitness regimen (no time and, frankly, no desire whatsoever to subject myself to the boredom of a workout routine), but my resolve to devote part of my days —  nights, mostly — to the art of reading, despite the challenges of part-time jobs and full-time motherhood, remains unwavering.

"I am determined to be cheerful and [read] in whatever situation I may find myself", to use the words of a former First Lady: these recent and upcoming releases piqued my interest and 2016 won't be over until I have them neatly stacked on my 'read&reviewed' shelf.

ONLY LOVE CAN BREAK YOUR HEART by Ed Tarkington (Algonquin Books, January 5th 2016, 320 pages), a fine debut novel in the Southern Gothic genre. Part coming-of-age, part mystery, this plot-driven, beautifully written story “manages an expert narrative feat--it is somehow both ruminative and remarkably suspenseful. A novel of family and love and class, of beautiful youth and terrible consequences. And of heartbreak, of course, as the title makes plain and life makes inescapable. Readers will be born along on the strength and clarity of Tarkington’s prose, the twists and pivots of his plot. Only Love Can Break the Heart is a truly auspicious debut.” —Michael Knight, author of The Typist

"Welcome to Spencerville, Virginia, 1977. Eight-year-old Rocky worships his older brother, Paul. Sixteen and full of rebel cool, Paul spends his days cruising in his Chevy Nova blasting Neil Young, cigarette dangling from his lips, arm slung around his beautiful, troubled girlfriend. Paul is happy to have his younger brother as his sidekick. Then one day, in an act of vengeance against their father, Paul picks up Rocky from school and nearly abandons him in the woods. Afterward, Paul disappears.

Seven years later, Rocky is a teenager himself. He hasn’t forgotten being abandoned by his boyhood hero, but he’s getting over it, with the help of the wealthy neighbors’ daughter, ten years his senior, who has taken him as her lover. Unbeknownst to both of them, their affair will set in motion a course of events that rains catastrophe on both their families. After a mysterious double murder brings terror and suspicion to their small town, Rocky and his family must reckon with the past and find out how much forgiveness their hearts can hold
." (Goodreads) 

IN ANOTHER LIFE by Julie Christine Johnson (Sourcebooks Landmark, February 2nd 2016, 368 pages) is a story of love that conquers time.  Steeped in the rich history and romantic landscape of rural France, In Another Life is "a novel with an extraordinary sense of place. Fans swept away by Diana Gabaldon's 18th-century Scotland will want to explore Julie Christine Johnson's 13-century Languedoc." — Greer Macallister, author of The Magician Lie

"Historian Lia Carrer has finally returned to southern France, determined to rebuild her life after the death of her husband. But instead of finding solace in the region's quiet hills and medieval ruins, she falls in love with Raoul, a man whose very existence challenges everything she knows about life--and about her husband's death. As Raoul reveals the story of his past to Lia, she becomes entangled in the echoes of an ancient murder, resulting in a haunting and suspenseful journey that reminds Lia that the dead may not be as far from us as we think. " (Goodreads)

A TASTE FOR NIGHTSHADE: A NOVEL by Martine Bailey (Thomas Dunne Books, January 12th 2016, 464 pages), the author of An Appetite For Violets. A thrilling historical novel that combines recipes, mystery and a dark struggle between two desperate women, sure to appeal to fans of Sarah Waters and Carolly Erickson. "There is much to admire in this sprawling tale of lies, secrets and puddings. Bailey's prose sparkles...delicious."  The Times (UK)

"Manchester 1787. When budding young criminal Mary Jebb swindles Michael Croxon's brother with a blank pound note, he chases her into the night and sets in motion a train of sinister events. Condemned to seven years of transportation to Australia, Mary sends him a 'Penny Heart'-a token of her vow of revenge.
Two years later, Michael marries naïve young Grace Moore. Although initially overjoyed at the union, Grace quickly realizes that her husband is more interested in her fortune than her company. Lonely and desperate for companionship, she turns to her new cook to help mend her ailing marriage. But Mary Jebb, shipwrecked, maltreated, and recently hired, has different plans for the unsuspecting owners of Delafosse Hall
." (Goodreads)

BE FRANK WITH ME by Julia Claiborne Johnson (William Morrow, February 2nd 2016, 304 pages), a sparkling talent at her fiction debut. This infectious novel combines the charming pluck of Eloise, the poignant psychological quirks of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, and the page-turning spirit of Where’d You Go, Bernadette. “Witty dialogue, irresistible characters, and a touch of mystery make this sweet debut about a quirky Hollywood family an enjoyable page-turner.” — Booklist

"Reclusive literary legend M. M. “Mimi” Banning has been holed up in her Bel Air mansion for years. But after falling prey to a Bernie Madoff–style Ponzi scheme, she’s flat broke. Now Mimi must write a new book for the first time in decades, and to ensure the timely delivery of her manuscript, her New York publisher sends an assistant to monitor her progress. The prickly Mimi reluctantly complies—with a few stipulations: No Ivy Leaguers or English majors. Must drive, cook, tidy. Computer whiz. Good with kids. Quiet, discreet, sane. When Alice Whitley arrives at the Banning mansion, she’s put to work right away—as a full-time companion to Frank, the writer’s eccentric nine-year-old, a boy with the wit of Noël Coward, the wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and very little in common with his fellow fourth graders. As she gets to know Frank, Alice becomes consumed with finding out who his father is, how his gorgeous “piano teacher and itinerant male role model” Xander fits into the Banning family equation—and whether Mimi will ever finish that book.

Full of heart and countless only-in-Hollywood moments, Be Frank With Me is a captivating and heartwarming story of an unusual mother and son, and the intrepid young woman who finds herself irresistibly pulled into their unforgettable world
." (Goodreads)

ELIGIBLE: A MODER RETELLING OF PRIDE AND PREJUDICE by Curtis Sittenfeld (Random House, April 19th 2016, 512 pages), New York Times bestselling author of Prep and American Wife. Equal parts homage to Jane Austen and bold literary experiment, Eligible is a brilliant, playful, and delicious saga for the twenty-first century, wonderfully tender and hilariously funny. Tackling gender, class, courtship, and family, Sittenfeld reaffirms herself as one of the most dazzling authors writing today.  

"This version of the Bennet family—and Mr. Darcy—is one that you have and haven’t met before: Liz is a magazine writer in her late thirties who, like her yoga instructor older sister, Jane, lives in New York City. When their father has a health scare, they return to their childhood home in Cincinnati to help—and discover that the sprawling Tudor they grew up in is crumbling and the family is in disarray. Youngest sisters Kitty and Lydia are too busy with their CrossFit workouts and Paleo diets to get jobs. Mary, the middle sister, is earning her third online master’s degree and barely leaves her room, except for those mysterious Tuesday-night outings she won’t discuss. And Mrs. Bennet has one thing on her mind: how to marry off her daughters, especially as Jane’s fortieth birthday fast approaches.

Enter Chip Bingley, a handsome new-in-town doctor who recently appeared on the juggernaut reality TV dating show Eligible. At a Fourth of July barbecue, Chip takes an immediate interest in Jane, but Chip’s friend neurosurgeon Fitzwilliam Darcy reveals himself to Liz to be much less charming. . . . And yet, first impressions can be deceiving
." (Goodreads)

How about you? Did you make any (bookish) resolution for the new year?

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Happy 2016!

My wishes for a happy, healthy, and prosperous 2016 in the words of a wizard storyteller:
"May your coming year be filled with magic and dreams and good madness. I hope you read some fine books and kiss someone who thinks you're wonderful, and don't forget to make some art -- write or draw or build or sing or live as only you can. And I hope, somewhere in the next year, you surprise yourself." -- Neil Gaiman

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Happy Birthday, Jane Austen!

Happy birthday to the queen of romantic fiction, Jane Austen (December 16, 1775 - July 18, 1817).

The English novelist was born 240 years ago and is still today a subject of great fascination among readers and critics. Due to “the small world and small concerns of her characters”,  “good quiet aunt Jane” was hardly considered an innovative author by her contemporaries, but more than a few influential voices among scholars and fellow writers have argued that her work features a strong pioneering quality in the way of experimental narrative techniques (third-person narration and free indirect speech) and themes that challenged the Romantic and Victorian expectations.

In occasion of her 240th birth anniversary, I would like to share an interesting fact about her most popular novel of manners.

The title of Austen's Pride and Prejudice (1813) may have been inspired by a passage at the end of "Cecilia: Memoires Of An Heiress" by Frances Burney (1782) :

“Yet this, however, remember: if to pride and prejudice you owe your miseries, so wonderfully is good and evil balanced, that to pride and prejudice you will also owe their termination.”

Austen is known to have admired Frances Burney (literary references to Burney’s  popular novel, Cecilia, can be found also in Austen’s Emma, Northanger Abbey, and Persuasion) and this two novelists of manners have frequently been compared to each other for their satirical bent, but what sets them apart is the fact that Austen’s work does not contain any of Burney’s dark tones and picaresque elements. Jane Austen remains the master of love, match-making, and ‘happily ever after’.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

THE GIFT OF FAILURE by Jessica Lahey (A Review)




“Today’s overprotective, failure-avoidant parenting style has undermined the competence, independence, and academic potential of an entire generation. [...] we have taught our kids to fear failure, and in doing so, we have blocked the surest and clearest path to their success. That’s certainly not what we meant to do, and we did it for all the best and well-intentioned reasons, but it’s what we have wrought nevertheless.”

We don’t want our children to hurt, but every time we shelter them and save them from a challenge, we implicitly tell them that we believe they are incapable and unworthy of trust. Our mission as parents should be to support our kids’ autonomy:  our constant ‘hovering’, although motivated by love and desire to protect them from possible harm, teaches them to be dependent from us. Research has shown that children whose parents don’t allow them to fail  are less motivated, less engaged in their education, and ultimately less successful. It may sound inconceivable, and yet decades of studies and scientific evidence  prove that when parents back off the pressure over grades and achievements, and allow their kids to deal with and even fail intellectual and physical challenges, self-esteem and academic performance will improve significantly.  The middle school years appear to be particularly challenging as some major physical, emotional, and intellectual transitions happen during that phase of their growth.

With an eminently competent and compassionate voice, Jessica Lahey offers her guiding hand through the milestones and hurdles parents and educators are confronted with in their lifework of raising and educating capable and motivated children and adolescents: the power of intrinsic motivation; the connection between praise and self esteem; adolescent social angst; the role of friendship and sport in the formation of kids’ identity; the lessons that children (and parents) can learn from failing in school.

As a mother of two, age 6 and 11, I highly recommend The Gift Of Failure: perfect read for parents, caregivers, and teachers of pre-teen/middle grade kids. My rating: 5 stars
***The opinions and views expressed in this review are my own and no compensation or incentive whatsoever was offered by the author or the publisher.
“How The Best parents Learn To Let Go So That Their Children Can Succeed”
Jessica Lahey
Published by HarperCollins; August 11, 2015
Hardback, 243 pages
Parenting, Psychology, Self-help, Guide, Non-fiction
In the tradition of Paul Tough’s How Children Succeed and Wendy Mogel’s The Blessing of a Skinned Knee, this groundbreaking manifesto focuses on the critical school years when parents must learn to allow their children to experience the disappointment and frustration that occur from life’s inevitable problems so that they can grow up to be successful, resilient, and self-reliant adults.

Modern parenting is defined by an unprecedented level of overprotectiveness: parents who rush to school at the whim of a phone call to deliver forgotten assignments, who challenge teachers on report card disappointments, mastermind children’s friendships and interfere on the playing field. As teacher and writer Jessica Lahey explains, even though these parents see themselves as being highly responsive to their children’s well-being, they aren’t giving them the chance to experience failure—or the opportunity to learn to solve their own problems.

Overparenting has the potential to ruin a child’s confidence and undermine their education, Lahey reminds us. Teachers don’t just teach reading, writing, and arithmetic. They teach responsibility, organization, manners, restraint, and foresight—important life skills children carry with them long after they leave the classroom.

Providing a path toward solutions, Lahey lays out a blueprint with targeted advice for handling homework, report cards, social dynamics, and sports. Most importantly, she sets forth a plan to help parents learn to step back and embrace their children’s failures. Hard-hitting yet warm and wise, The Gift of Failure is essential reading for parents, educators, and psychologists nationwide who want to help their children succeed.

Jessica Lahey is a writer, teacher, and speaker. Her column, "The Parent-Teacher Conference, is published bi-weekly at the New York Times Motherlode blog, and examines the intersection of education and parenting. She is a contributing writer at the Atlantic, and while her usual beat is education, she also writes about health and politics, sometimes with her co-author and husband, Tim Lahey. You can also find her commentaries at Vermont Public Radio. Jessica lives in New Hampshire. To learn more about Jessica, visit her website