Shrines of Gaity

With high expectations I started reading Kate Atkinson’s new novel. After all, I had enjoyed so many of her books: Life After Life, Transcription, and had others on my to read list. But, Shrines of Gaity was different; I had to restart it twice to get all the characters straight in my head. Yes, it was worth it. Once I became ensconced in the underground world of post Edwardian London, there was no turning back.

Nellie Coker, the inimitable fulcrum of action, is modeled on the 1920s maven Kate Meyrick, a feisty Queen Victoria of the nightclubs with enough adult children to manage her empire of five clubs. But being a romantic, I was drawn to her son, Niven, the smooth handsome gangster and his love interest, Gwendolyn, the librarian and former combat nurse from York who has come to the big city in search of her friend’s two erstwhile teenagers, Freda and Florence, who left home to become famous on the London stage, and have not been heard from since.

Adding to a love triangle is Chief Inspector Frobisher, new to his job and determined to clean up the omnipresent crime and corruption, including the shady policemen on his staff. One, Maddox, has been Nellie Coker’s “protection” for years, and proves his perfidy early in the story. When Atkinson gives him his due, it’s hard not to cheer. Frobisher is attracted to Gwen and hires her as an undercover agent to watch Nellie, while he promises to look for the young girls. Alas, he is married – but not happily, of course. Nellie, knowing all, also hires Gwen to manage one of her clubs.

The complex plot cleverly entwines the disappeared girls, Nellie’s scheming, and Gwen’s adventurous pursuit, with the hedonism and underworld crime of the era. Atkinson neatly ties up all the lives in the end, leaving some dangling for the reader to decide. A fun read – worth trying to keep all the characters straight – maybe read it with a notebook nearby to jot them down.

For more Kate Atkinson: https://thenochargebookbunch.com/2013/05/01/life-after-live-a-novel/

Our Missing Hearts by Celeste Ng

When asked about the meaning of his famous poem The Road Not Taken, Robert Frost claimed readers were making too much of his simple teasing of his friend Edward Thomas over his deciding where to go on their many walks. But readers have disagreed and made Frost’s lines an anthem for the role of choice in life. Poems, after all, are to be interpreted, and that interpretation has a range of possibilities. In Celeste Ng’s “Our Missing Hearts,” Margaret Miu’s poem about a pomegranate becomes the battlecry for a revolution.

An uncomon and reluctant heroine, Margaret becomes a rebel and a catalyst for finding children taken from their parents because of the new law to preserve American Culture and Traditions. How rewarding to find it is librarians who facilitate her underground network.

Ng has a clear message, cleverly incorporating anti- Asian hate crimes as the scapegoat for the future country’s economic and social decline (the Crisis) with incidents that could have been ripped from current headlines. And the recent proclivity for banning books becomes a focal point of Ng’s alert about where it could lead. She is clearly warning; pay attention, or “the dusk will become dark” without anyone noticing.

Ng’s story is also one of grief and nostalgia – for better days, for loved ones gone. My favorite line:

“Who ever thinks, recalling the face of the one they loved who is gone: yes, I looked at you enough, I loved you enough, we had enough time, any of this was enough?”

And a call to action:

“Listen. Somewhere, out there, saying to others at last: Listen, this isn’t right.”

In her Author’s Note Ng notes her inspiration in both books and incidents, historical as well as recent. She ends citing:

“Timothy Snyder’s “ On Tyranny” was a powerful reminder about how quickly authoritarianism can rise (as well as what can be done about it), and Václav Havel’s classic 1978 essay “The Power of the Powerless” changed my thinking about the impact a single individual could have in dismantling a long-established system. I hope he’s right.”

You could read the book two ways, just like a Robert Frost poem. Take it literally as a “dystopian story about a 12 year year boy and his quest to find his mother.” Or consider Stephen King’s review in the New York Times claiming it is a “dystopia uncomfortably close to reality.” Either way, “Our Missing Hearts” has Ng’s riveting storytelling talent, and a tale well told that you will remember.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting

Being a commuter on a local train into the city was not one of the highlights of my career, but after reading Claire Pooley’s Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting, I wonder if I may have missed something as I read my book or just dozed all those years, usually in a cramped seat, if I was lucky enough to get one.

Pooley’s character Iona reminds me of Calvin Trillin’s Tepper, available and willing to listen and offer advice when needed. Tepper was sitting in his car, saving his parking spot as he followed the elusive parking rules of New York City streets; Iona rode the commuter train into London. Tepper was usually reading the newspaper, while Iona judiciously observed her fellow passengers, offering her commentary when needed, or solicited.

While Tepper was relatively bland, Iona’s personality screamed out to be noticed, from her loud voice to her colorful clothing, to her companion dog sitting beside her. A cast of characters revolve around Iona’s commute, and like Lucy in the Peanuts comic strip, Iona figuratively hangs out her shingle to them all, changing their lives, and, at the end, changing her own.

From schoolgirl Martha, who overcomes an unfortunate decision promising to ruin her life, to Piers, the business man who has it all, to Sanjay, the nurse quietly comforting his patients, to Emmie, the naive beauty who seems to have found true love, the cast of characters each has a problem only Iona can solve. Pooley cleverly connects her characters’ lives, and adds a few who have practical skills for life improvement – Jake, the owner of a gym, and David, the lawyer.

Pooley’s witty observances carry the reader through familiar trials, and always finds a happy ending. I need happy endings these days, don’t you?

Related Review: Tepper Isn’t going Outhttps://thenochargebookbunch.com/tag/tepper-isnt-going-out/

Another book by Claire Pooley: The Authenticity Projecthttps://thenochargebookbunch.com/2020/10/03/the-authenticity-project/

Marmalade and a List of Books

Watching the Queen having tea with Paddington inspired me to make some scones. Alan Bennett might have written about the Queen’s proclivity for a good book in “The Uncommon Reader,” but surely she was having tea and scones while reading, or perhaps pulling out her marmalade sandwich. I always wondered what she kept in her purse; the best part of her tête-à-tête. with Paddington was the big reveal of the marmalade sandwich. What a lovely respite from news of war, shootings, and virus the Queen’s Jubilee gave us.

Tea and scones, and a good book – here are recipes for both.

Unremarkable Books I’ve Read Lately To Pass The Time:

  • Rosie Walsh’s The Love of My Life
  • Monica Ali’s Love Marriage
  • Julia Quinn’s The Bridgertons – the whole series

Reading Now – B.F. Shapiro’s Metropolis

Looking Forward To Reading Soon:

  • Ruth Ware’s The It Girl
  • Lisa Jewell’s The Family Remains
  • Tom Perotta’s Tracy Flick Can’t Win
  • Geraldine Brooks’ Horse
  • Kimberly Brock’s The Lost Book of Eleanor Dare
  • Jane Shemitt’s The Patient
  • Julia Glass’s Vigil Harbor
  • Jean Hanff Korlitz’s The Latecomer
  • Christina Soontornvat’s The Last Mapmaker
  • Gabrielle Zevin’s Tomorrow, and Tomorrow, and Tomorrow

And from Ron Charles recommendations in the Washington Post:

  • Xochitl Gonzalez’s Olga Dies Dreaming
  • Michelle Huneven’s Search
  • Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These

As for the scone recipe, I found this easy one in the New York Times:

Ingredients: 2 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1 teaspoon sugar (increase to 1/4 cup if you want a sweet scone), 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, 1 1/4 cups of heavy whipping cream

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and position a rack in the top third of the oven. Thoroughly combine the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center of this mixture, add 1 1/4 cups of cream and stir the dry ingredients into the wet ingredients with a fork. Work quickly, stirring as little as possible, until a soft, shaggy dough forms. Add more cream, a tablespoon at a time, if the dough seems too dry.
  2. Use a large serving spoon or cup measure to drop the batter onto an ungreased baking sheet, allowing at least 2 inches between each scone. Brush the top of each with heavy cream and bake until golden, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool.

And from NPR, a note to be sure to eat your scones properly:

“The grocery store Sainsbury’s showed a photo with a fruit scone smothered in cream and jam. The problem: the photo showed jam on top of the cream. Customers in Cornwall argued the jam must go first…Some Brits take their afternoon tea very seriously. That’s landed the grocery store Sainsbury’s in trouble. They put up a picture with a fruit scone smothered in cream and jam. That is normal. The problem is the photo showed the jam on top of the cream. In the county of Cornwall where the picture went up, customers were outraged. They argued that jam must go first. Sainsbury’s admitted its mistake, saying it has all scone wrong.”

You can eat your marmalade sandwich anyway you like, but for a proper marmalade sandwich:

” It must be made of the best marmalade you can find and fresh-sliced bread. (Paddington likes the chipped Seville orange marmalade, with chunks of pith in, but not everyone does.) Homemade ingredients are best, of course, with plenty of marmalade between two thick slices of bread.”

Recommendations for Independent Bookstore Day

Although it’s been a while since I’ve walked into a bookstore, or any store, I still like to buy my ebooks from independent book stores. And, yes, I still read – not as much as before – but here are a few books I’ve bought and recommend:

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

For supporters of women in math and sciences, the obstacles the main character faces will ring true. Elizabeth Zott, after overcoming her miserable childhood, can’t seem to get a break as she tries to forge a career in chemistry. Sidelined by male colleagues at work and cheated out of a doctorate, she finds love with a rower and fellow scientist, only to lose him before their child is born. Her ongoing frustrations will be familiar to a generation of career women with children, but the character is also funny, ambitious, and determined. As she morphs into a modern day Julia Child, the laughs get better. A fun book with a message – as Elizabeth Egan noted in her review: ” She’s a reminder of how far we’ve come, but also how far we still have to go.”

One Italian Summer by Rebecca Searle

Ah, to be back climbing the steps of Portofino! Searle’s story will transport you to the beautiful Italian town, and you will instantly feel its charm. Having been there (for a cooking class), the descriptions of the food, the sea, the steps, the old women, brought me back and makes me want to go again. Katy Silver takes the trip to Italy she has planned with her mother. Her mother dies but with a heavy touch of suspending belief, you will meet her anyway as Katy discovers not only the beauty of Italy but also the unexpected joy of hanging out with her younger mother.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St. John Mandel

I didn’t become a fan of St. John Mandel until I watched Station Eleven on Netflix. The Sea of Tranquility is another catastrophe story taking the reader through three worlds in three distinct time periods, The novel opens in 1912 when the son of an aristocratic British family is banished to Canada for some rash dinner-table remarks about colonial policy, and then vaults into the 23rd century for ‘the last book tour on Earth,” with an author named Olive Llewellyn, whose home is a colony on the moon, and whose novel about a worldwide pandemic has become a surprise blockbuster, and finally to Gaspery-Jacques Roberts, a loner detective living on the moon in the 25th century in a colony called the Night City. Mandel connects the plots across time to examine what really matters. A good book for fans of science fiction but also If you just need to take yourself out of the present for a while.

French Braid by Anne Tyler

One of my favorite authors, Tyler uses an area I know well as her backdrop – Baltimore. With her quiet style, Tyler slowly weaves a story of family. Jennifer Haigh in her review for the New York Times, notes ““French Braid” is a novel about what is remembered, what we’re left with when all the choices have been made, the children raised, the dreams realized or abandoned. It is a moving meditation on the passage of time.” Read her review for more: https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/20/books/review/french-braid-anne-tyler.html

The Club by Ellery Lloyd

Thrillers are always a great distraction to the world at hand, and if you are a fan of Ruth Ware, you will enjoy Lloyd’s ride. From Publisher’s Weekly: “The Home Group is a glamorous collection of celebrity members’ clubs dotted across the globe, where the rich and famous can party hard and then crash out in its five-star suites, far from the prying eyes of fans and the media. The most spectacular of all is Island Home–a closely-guarded, ultraluxurious resort, just off the English coast–and its three-day launch party is easily the most coveted A-list invite of the decade… as things get more sinister by the hour and the body count piles up, some of Island Home’s members will begin to wish they’d never made the guest list. Because at this club, if your name’s on the list, you’re not getting out.” A page turner.

The Paris Apartment by Lucy Foley

If you know Lucy Foley from “The Guest List,” you will enjoy her latest. Like a game of Clue,  this story keeps readers guessing whodunit until the book’s final pages.

And here are a few books I have preordered and looking forward to:

Book Lovers by Emily Henry

Tomorrow, Tomorrow, and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

The Lioness by Chris Bohjaloan

Love Marriage by Monica Ali