Washington Black

Washington Black by Esi Edugyan

A remarkable book to savor, about the remarkable journeys made by young Washington, from boyhood on a sugar plantation in Barbados, fleeing by airship and boat to Virginia then following a scientist to the Canadian Arctic. A young slave born in 1830 who doesn’t know his mother’s name, Wash is loaned to his master’s brother Christopher, a scientist building an airship. Pursued by a bounty hunter to the United States, Wash becomes a gifted illustrator and develops a fascination for marine life. Wondering why he was chosen and abandoned propels loyal, curious Wash from the Canadian Artic to Nova Scotia and eventually to London, Amsterdam, and a desert to find his answers. Compelling but not a fast read, character-driven but with a wonderful sense of place, this award-winning novel is one of the most memorable books I’ve read this year.

Brenda

 

That Churchill Woman

That Churchill Woman by Stephanie Barron

Jennie Jerome visits Europe with her mother and sisters in 1873 and catches the attention of Lord Randolph Spencer-Churchill. She will become best known as Winston Churchill’s mother, but this book just covers her childhood and marriage to Randolph. Jennie is vividly shown here as glamorous and scandalous, but also smart, sympathetic, and complex. She can definitely keep a secret, had a fascinating childhood, and is a distant but loving mother. Jennie falls in love with a diplomat, finds that an old friend is not to be trusted, and is surprisingly loyal to Randolph in her own fashion. Colorful and sensational, this biographical novel is sure to please readers interested in the sumptuous Gilded Age.

Brenda

The Gown

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

Residents of postwar London are still dealing with rationing and a slow recovery. Ann Hughes, an embroiderer for designer Norman Hartnell, is thrilled to be chosen to work on Princess Elizabeth’s wedding gown, along with French immigrant Miriam. Decades later in Toronto, Heather seeks to learn more about her grandmother’s past. This is a sure winner with wide appeal, especially for Anglophiles and royal watchers, with appealing characters and a compelling plot. I could not put this book down, and really enjoyed reading about life in 1947 London, and how Miriam and Ann dealt with their challenges.

Brenda

Paris for One

Paris for One & Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

A thoroughly enjoyable collection of eight short stories and a novella, set in England and Paris. All the stories are told by women, while the novella gives two points of view. Nell, who gives talks on risk assessment, splurges on a long weekend in Paris, surprising her boyfriend Pete. When Nell arrives in Paris alone, she would prefer to stay in her hotel room all weekend, except that she’s unexpectedly sharing her room with an American woman, and there’s no room service. With help from a hotel receptionist and handsome waiter Fabien, Nell takes a chance and explores Paris. An employee stays calm during a jewelry store robbery with startling results, another woman finds someone has switched gym bags and left her expensive high heeled shoes behind, and Chrissie finds a kind London cabbie giving her a new perspective on Christmas shopping for her unappreciative family. I really enjoyed the novella and hope that the author turns some of the short stories into novellas or novels. I listened to the audiobook, and enjoyed Fiona Hardingham’s narration of these appealing, humorous, and heartwarming stories.
Brenda

 

Meet Me at the Museum

Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

Tina lives on a farm in East Anglia where she cooks, does bookkeeping, and enjoys her young grandchildren. She writes a letter to the author of a book about  prehistoric Tollund Man. The author has died, but her letter is answered by Anders, a widowed Danish museum curator. Tina had always planned to visit the Tollund Man exhibit with her friend Bella. Life got in the way, and Bella has recently died. The pair continue to exchange letters, then emails, and the reader learns about their lives and recent losses. Bittersweet and utterly charming, I didn’t want this book to end. Readalikes include Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole and Our Souls at Night by Kent Haruf.

Brenda

Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour

Mr. Gandy’s Grand Tour by Alan Titchmarsh

Finally, a feel-good novel perfect for summer reading. Set in England, Paris, Monaco and Italy, it’s also great for armchair travelers. Tim Gandy is feeling overlooked. At 55, he’s facing early retirement and must admit that his marriage to Isobel is rather blah. He’s close to only one of his three children, although Rosie is pregnant, so there’s happily a grandchild in his future. Tim has always dreamed of traveling in Europe, and Rosie encourages him to make his Grand Tour, even without Isobel, who dislikes travel. Despite feeling a bit guilty indulging himself, he’s off to Paris. Sketching at Versailles, he meets Francine, a gallery owner, who fascinates him. In Monaco, he meets Archie, a young yacht salesman, and poses as a consultant in a very funny scene aboard a superyacht. Afterwards, Archie takes him to meet his Aunt Rosamund, an elderly novelist who give Tim some good advice. The author is known in Great Britain for his gardening books and television shows, and does an excellent job with the gorgeous scenery and giving the story a strong sense of place. The characters are appealing, the story is not too predictable, and it’s quite charming. Perfect escapist reading, although it may make you long to escape to the Riviera, Paris, or Italy for a stroll in a garden or to enjoy a fabulous meal.

Brenda

The Woman in the Water

The Woman in the Water by Charles Finch

The latest book featuring Victorian gentleman sleuth Charles Lenox is a prequel, and a good place to start reading this excellent mystery series. Only 23, Charles is out of college and wants to be a detective, but isn’t taken seriously by his friends or Scotland Yard. Charles and his valet Graham keep a file of crime stories they clip from London papers. Reading an announcement bragging about a perfect crime, the pair get to work. A very clever mystery and some fine detecting set up an exciting chase to find a murderer. On the personal front, Charles is hopelessly in love and his father has a health crisis, which somehow doesn’t prevent horseback rides in the country or a quick trip abroad with Charles. Charles, Graham and their London of 1850 are very agreeable company. Recommended for Anglophiles and readers of historical mysteries. A Beautiful Blue Death is the first book in the series.

Brenda