Cooking for Picasso: A Review


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The latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway novel this pedometer geek read was Camille Aubray’s Cooking for Picasso. This is Aubray’s debut novel although according to her bio, she has writing credentials for various television shows like “One Life to Live” and “Capitol” as well as writing and producing for ABC news, PBS, and A&E. She has also taught writing at New York University. This is the extended review.

Cooking for Picasso

by Camille Aubray

Published by Ballantine Books,

an imprint of Random House,

a division of Penguin Random House, LLC, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-399-17765-1

Cooking for Picasso is a novel that is inspired by a little-known interval in the artist’s life. As the copyright page indicates, it is a work of historical fiction, using well-known historical and public figures. All incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are entirely fictional and aren’t intended to change the fictional nature of the story. Despite the fictional nature of the story, it is a story that seems all too plausible and as such, it was a delight to read.

This pedometer geek reader is not a gourmet cook, unfortunately, because this review just calls for all kinds of adjectives that refers to cooking; however, having said that, this is a story of cooking, art, and love told through the past as well as the present. Divided into the past and present, the narrative follows three generations of women who are connected to the artist Picasso.

1936–In a small village in southern France, a seventeen-year-old girl is recruited by her parents to cook and then deliver lunch daily to a new patron, a mysterious man by the name of Ruiz. Bicycling up one of the steep hills of Juan-les-Pins, Ondine finally meets the man, Picasso, who is hiding out from everyone. Over time, she meets Matisse and Cocteau, but through her daily association with Picasso, she ends up modeling (and a bit more) for him.

2014–Celine, Ondine’s granddaughter, has heard stories from her mother Julie about her grandmother all her life. When Celine turns thirty, her mother tells her about the relationship between Ondine, Picasso, and a mysterious painting. With her mother in a nursing home following a stroke, Celine travels to France in her mother’s place with her aunt for a cooking class, and to search for this painting, that is, if it really exists.

This is just a well-constructed story that brings three generations of women together in a story that is connected to an enigmatic artist and his art. Added to that, there are French cuisine references throughout (just reading the story, I think a few pounds were added to this reader’s waistline), and lovely impressionistic pictures of southern France were painted. The suspense builds throughout as to the veracity of a narrator who may or may not be reliable as regards to this painting.

Overall, the novel is recommended for anyone who has interest in gourmet cooking, art, and love, for ultimately it is a love story written in a historical context of the missing years of Picasso. Could it be that a chance encounter with a young woman was enough to spark a new period for this artist? This novel answers this question, and a bit more.

Quotes to remember/consider:

“Yes, we cook and eat things that were once alive–be they vegetables or animals–in order to stoke the fire of life in us; but in return, we must keep our end of the bargain, which is to handle them humanely with great respect; and when it’s our turn to die, we should do so gracefully and willingly, so that we, too, feed the fiery furnace of the earth’s future plants and creatures.” (p. 267)


Leaving Lucy Pear: A Review


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The latest Advanced Reader Copy (actually an uncorrected proof obtained through a First Reads Goodreads giveaway, but I digress), this pedometer geek reader read was Anna Solomon’s Leaving Lucy Pear. This is her second novel; her debut novel is The Little Bride. This is the extended review.

Leaving Lucy Pear

by Anna Solomon

Published by Viking Books, 2016

a division of Penguin Random House

ISBN: 978-1-594-63265-5

As the novel opens, a wealthy young woman, destined to go to Radcliffe as a gifted pianist, finds herself pregnant out of wedlock in 1917. Leaving the newborn underneath one of her uncle’s pear trees the night the “pear-stealers” usually appear, Beatrice (Bea) Haven hopes one of the families will claim the child as their own. She waits and watches as Emma Murphy finds the baby and rescues her, making her part of her own family.

Ten years later, the two women meet and are brought together once again through a series of coincidences. Each of the women has personal secrets to protect, but the biggest one is when Emma realizes that this woman, Bea (now) Cohn, is Lucy Pear’s biological mother. Does Beatrice know about her, and if she does, what will happen?

Set in Massachusetts during the time of Prohibition, women’s suffrage, and post-World War I, this is a novel of families and unfulfilled dreams. This is also a time of rampant xenophobia, worker’s struggles, and class distinctions (reminding this reader of what is going on even today).

The novel is literary in nature; it is a bit slow to start, and keeping track of all the characters and their relationships is, at times, difficult. After what was a story that was revealed slowly, the ending almost seemed rushed, and it took this reader a few re-reads of the last several chapters to understand all the little nuances of the story.

The title character, Lucy Pear, is a ten-year-old cross-dressing girl, who is bright and bold, doing whatever jobs she can to escape a father who is cruel. Finally, discovering her birth mother has a heart-wrenching effect upon Lucy and the whole Murphy clan, and once again, the title comes into play.

Overall, this is a story of motherhood and the sacrifices that women make for love. The author looks at fundamental relationships, that is between mothers, children, and lovers, and how they all intertwine in subtle ways.




The Santangelos: A Review


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The latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway book this pedometer geek read was the last novel Jackie Collins wrote before her death in 2015. The Santangelos finishes up the Lucky Santangelo series, which began with Chances, written in 1981. This is the extended review.

The Santangelos

by Jackie Collins

Published by St. Martin’s Press, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-250-04824-0


This reader has read a few of Jackie Collins’ novels over the years so was not surprised as to what to expect. For those who haven’t read any of her novels, the following two quotes just about sum up her writing. Quoting from Sally Richardson, president and publisher, St. Martin’s Press, “She was an innovator whose creativity, fearlessness and wicked sense of humor entertained millions of readers around the globe. She took great pride in writing ‘kickass heroines’ who took readers on a wild ride. We were thrilled and honored to go on that journey with Jackie. I speak for myself and everyone at St. Martins’ Press when I say we will miss her beyond measure.”

From fellow writer, Barbara Taylor Bradford: “Jackie to me was the best writer of those risque, amusing, fun novels–full of Hollywood characters and lots of sex.” (both quotes from the inside cover pages)

The tenth book in the Lucky Santangelo series finds Lucky primarily dealing with the unexpected death of her father, Gino, while trying to orchestrate all the other people in her life. To be honest, this reader has not read any of the others in the series; thus it could have been difficult to understand all the dynamics between various family members and friends. Yet there are enough back story references to catch up even this novice to Lucky’s and her extended family’s previous exploits. In other words, this can be read without having read the previous nine although it is probably an advantage to having read the rest as many of the events and relationships were hinted at, rather than totally revealed.

Having read other of this author’s novels, this reader knew that it would be spicy with lots of racy, raunchy moments between characters. Moreover, there would be some unseemly characters playing fast and loose with the law (and each other). In other words, the tale is full of sex, drugs, and Hollywood. Collins writes what she knows, and she understands pop culture.

This one has a huge cast of characters with lots of interactions between the main players. There is vengeance planned; revenge sought; as well as back-stabbing and betrayal. At the heart of it all is one woman, Lucky, trying to keep her family safe and together despite children living far beyond Las Vegas and Malibu. While Lucky is the mover and shaker of this story, there are other side stories that are just as compelling, just as gripping, just as spicy.

No, the story is not a classic, nor will it ever be, but it is just perfect for a great gossipy beach read.

This reader will be checking out the earlier books in the series just to catch up with every little juicy detail missed by only having read the last one. Or as OK! Magazine said, “An epic family saga filled with love, lust, murder, and revenge…deliciously true to form.”

Quote to remember (especially in these uncertain times):

“Violent death never gives you a warning, it simply takes you–just like that.” (page 170)

Be Frank with Me: A Review


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This pedometer geek reader just finished reading another novel received through a First Reads Goodreads giveaway. This Advanced Reader Copy was Be Frank with Me, the debut novel of Julia Claiborne Johnson. This is the extended review.

Be Frank With Me

by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Published by William Morrow,

an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-241372-7

As a reader, it is always a bit exciting as well as somewhat scary reading a debut novel. Will it be good or not? Will this be the beginning of a long association of reading this author’s works, or will it be the only one ever read? Having said that, this is part of the ‘does art imitate life?’ reading of Julia Claiborne Johnson’s novel. The story revolves around an author with a debut novel, who never writes another thing. This reader hopes that this is not true for the self-proclaimed “late bloomer” Johnson, who wrote this novel in her fifties despite a career writing for Mademoiselle and Glamour magazines. This was prior to her deciding to write a novel. This reader loved this story and is now looking forward to reading more by her. (This reader also reads the extras in the back so that is how I discovered all this, but I digress.)

As the story begins, it is revealed that a reclusive writer, M.M. Banning (Mimi), has penned one stellar, prize-winning classic novel named Pitched  at age nineteen before hiding herself away from fanatic fans, ironically, in a glass mansion in Bel Air. (Think: Harper Lee, perhaps…or at least, that was this reader’s first thought). Now, years later, after being swindled out of her money in a Ponzi scheme, she must write another novel for money. Any novel will do; she just needs to write one.

Enter Alice Whitley, a young editorial assistant. Sent by Mimi’s personal editor, Mr. Vargas, ostensibly to help Mimi with the novel, Alice really becomes a companion to Mimi’s formerly unknown nine-year-old son, Frank.

Frank is an atypical lad…a devotee of films, a snappy dresser with a wardrobe of a 1930s movie star, and an intellectual giant (Think: Sheldon Cooper of’ The Big Bang Theory). He does not, though, have an easy time of being a fourth grader. As Alice learns when she first meets Mimi and Frank, there are two rules to understanding Frank. Rule One: No touching Frank’s things. Rule Two: No touching Frank.

Thus begins the education and relationship between Frank and Alice. When the rules are followed, things flow relatively well; when they don’t, mayhem often ensues. Dealing with Mimi and the skittish handyman Xander all add to the depth of the story.

This is a charming debut novel about a unique child and his companion Alice, all told through her perspective, often as communication with Mr. Vargas. There are laugh out loud moments; there are poignant silences; there are double entendre moments (including what this reader thought of the title). And lots of jokes that fall flat (knock, knock), and dialog that doesn’t. Frank is adorable and lovable, and the story is a joy to read.  Like Frank’s clothing, there are lots of classic movie references, too. Definitely, this story is not a cliche; it is refreshing, and this reader not only loved Frank, but the story itself. So much so, that it will be suggested as a read for my library book group for 2018.

Quotes to remember:

“Nothing,” he said. “Nada. Bupkis. Diddly. Zip. Zero. Zilch—”

“There are a lot of words for nothingness,” Frank said. “Love means nothing.”

“That’s not true.”

“Yes it is. In tennis.” (page 83)





Family Tree: A Review


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The latest Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) this pedometer geek reader completed was Susan Wiggs’ Family Tree. This is not the first of her novels this reader has read. From some of her historical novels (At the King’s Command, The Horsemaster’s Daughter) to some of her contemporary novels (Summer at Willow Lake, Lakeside Cottage), this reader has enjoyed reading this author’s works (about ten in all so far and a few sitting on my shelves still to be read, but I digress). Because of this, this reader was excited and pleased to find out that a copy of  Family Tree through the Goodreads First Reads giveaway program was coming. This is the extended review.

Family Tree

by Susan Wiggs

Published by William Morrow

an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-242543-0

Having indicated that this reader enjoys the novels of Wiggs, it should come as no surprise that this one was thoroughly enjoyed. Among the novels of hers already read, this may be the favorite of all of them.

The key ingredient to this novel is Wiggs’ fresh characters (read: not cookie cutter). Added to this are family, friends, love, and new beginnings. It’s a thoroughly engaging, contemporary novel that starts from the moment that Annie realizes she is pregnant until the end. It’s an emotional read of love, lost and found, of dreams, lost and found, and families, lost and found, and of relationships, loved, lost, and rediscovered.

Annie Rush Harlow has it all: a handsome husband, a successful career she loves, a beautiful home in Los Angeles, and a baby on the way, that is, until it all comes crashing down in a moment. An accident brings her back to the family fold in Switchback, Vermont, and she will have to battle back with everything she has to put her life back together.

The tale, told in a Now/Then format, can be heart-wrenching as the reader roots for Annie Rush Harlow and Fletcher Wyndham, the seemingly star-crossed lovers. Timing is everything, and they just don’t seem to have it. Life’s events, both big and small, consistently get in the way.

As the title suggests, family is key. Annie’s relationship with her Gran; Annie’s relationship with her parents; Fletcher’s relationship with his father, are but a few of the more powerful relationships that drive the action.

Wiggs infuses humor into the story, too. One particular line that demonstrates it is as follows:

“Squeeze that cheesecloth like it’s your ex-husband’s. . . wallet.” (said to a group of divorced women, p. 332).

She also points out, through Annie, poor grammar on the part of another character, Melissa. The passage is as follows:

“What if the team was you and I?”

“Me,” said Annie automatically.


“You and me, not you and I. It’s an indirect object.” She realized Melissa was not getting it. (p. 340)

As a grammar geek, this particular passage just struck me as absolutely perfect.
As far as this reader is concerned, Annie’s and Fletcher’s story is one of this author’s best contemporary novels. There are enough twists and turns to make it interesting, and there are few, if any, What-the-tuck trends seen. The tale is both heartbreaking and heartwarming as Annie struggles to make peace with her past and take control of her future. Having read quite a few of her other novels in the past, this reader can definitely make this claim. On the other hand, there are quite a few of hers this reader still plans on reading.

For those who like women’s fiction or for those who have never experienced Susan Wiggs’ writing, consider starting with this one.



Beyond the Rising Tide: Review


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A copy of Beyond the Rising Tide by Sarah Beard was the latest First Reads Goodreads giveaway novel this pedometer geek read. It is one of two novels written by Beard; the other is Porcelain Keys, and both are considered Young Adult (YA) novels. This reader was privileged to receive an autographed copy, but that in no way affected this extended review.

Beyond the Rising Tide

by Sarah Beard

Published by Sweetwater Books, 2016

an imprint of Cedar Fort, Inc,

ISBN: 978-1-4621-1784-8

This the first of Beard’s novels this pedometer geek read, and it is classified as a YA romance. For this reader, what’s not to like? It is a story of young love and the recklessness of youth.

Actually, this YA romance is not a typical run-of-the-mill romance because the romance is one that is full of angst as well as spirituality. Told from the alternative perspectives of the two main characters, Avery Ambrose and Kai Turner, the story tells of their first meeting when Kai saves Avery from drowning with his death as a result.

Now, Kai has the role of a healer in Demoror, one of three realms in the afterlife. Through this role, he observes Avery’s continuing difficulty with his death six months earlier, and how it has changed her. He only wants to help her to rediscover her sense of self and have her return to her formerly vivacious life. Even in life, Kai was always a rebellious soul, pushing the boundaries, and it is no different now. He breaks the rules of his position, thus finding a way to have a body for a short period of time. Time enough to meet Avery for real and form a deep relationship with her.

Avery, for her part, has become depressed over the loss of the boy who saved her life. She dwells on it, looking for any clue as to who he was, and thus barely functioning in her daily life. Once a daredevil, now she avoids all the things she once enjoyed, particularly surfing. She avoids going into the water altogether, and in so doing, has had her boyfriend Tyler dump her.

It is only after Kai “meets” Avery (again) for the first time that Avery begins to change, to accept, to love again. Unfortunately, Avery and Kai have only a few days together as he has been caught breaking the rules by his mentor, Charles. In those few days Kai must help Avery to heal, to become whole again, but will that be enough time? Can Kai save Avery without losing her forever? Will they ever be together again? Is it possible to be dangerously happy (to understand this the book must be read)? Moreover, how can the pair have a happily ever after?


Overall, this story is a refreshingly clean teenage romance (no graphic language or sex) with deeper issues at its core. The author doesn’t shy away from talking about depression, loss, death, or other spiritual matters. Not only that, but this reader was surprised by the ending.

Yes, there were a few What-the-Tuck trends seen throughout the novel…some hair tucking, green eyes (okay blue-green eyes), but nothing totally outrageous. The book was well edited, too, with few typos…one exception, which this reader actually found funny, was the use of repel for the word rappel (as in the character rappelling down the cliff face).  One of the more interesting facets (to me, at least) was that each of the two characters had unique identifiers, which followed the ocean wave theme, at the beginning of each chapter to identify from which perspective the story was being told.

This reader hopes to read the author’s other work, Porcelain Keys. Moreover, it is hoped that there will be other stories by Beard in the future.

Wrath of Magic: A Review


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As one of Simone Pond’s Elite Readers, this pedometer geek reader had the opportunity to read Wrath of Magic, the last novel in the Mysterium Chronicles trilogy, before it was published. Like the previous two,  Exodus of Magic and River of Magic, this reader received an e-book of the novel, thanks to the author. This is the extended review.

Wrath of Magic

by Simone Pond

Published by Ktown Waters Publishing, 2017

ASIN: B072589MP7

From the back cover blurb:

Will Jordan complete the final task and be able to join her people?

In the third (and final) novel of the Mysterium Chronicles trilogy, Jordan Temple, AKA the Chosen One, is feeling bereft, unaccomplished, and despondent, as the novel opens. Beginning at the point where the previous novel, River of Magic, ended, she has fulfilled the prophecy of returning the Ancients to their homeland of Shtein’esrei, but she is now separated from them, and the portal at the Rankin Gate is closed. Moreover, she is nearly certain that a few of her closest friends and compatriots, the ones who fought so bravely beside her, have perished in the attempt. What next for her? Can she find a way in?

Not all is lost, however, as she discovers that several of her members are still alive and on this side of the homeland, and further discovers that she has more to do to complete the prophecy. She and the few remaining ragtag members are tasked with going to the six cities of the Confederated Six to offer the citizens there a choice: life or death, the Ancient One or Ashtar. Once completed, they are to return to the Madlands for the Final Battle against those who choose evil particularly Magnus.

In each of the cities, she and her growing army of converts battle various creatures from vampires to shifters and more. Some will be converted, and some won’t, but every city provides a unique opportunity for action and adventure for Jordan and her crew.

New characters are introduced, but many characters from the other two books make an reappearance as well in this urban fantasy novel of twists and turns, paranormal creatures and magic, and a clear distinction between good and evil leading to either redemption or death.

There are a few minor typos, but none are so egregious as to spoil the pleasure of reading this compelling, spiritual story. There are plenty of surprises along the way to keep the reader guessing. While the novel could be read as a standalone, this reader doesn’t suggest it. Too much insight and understanding might be lost so read the complete trilogy as the author has the stories wrap around in emotion-filled ways.

Each of the books can be purchased separately, but there is also the option to buy the set as a three-book e-book bundle through Amazon Kindle for the low price of $ 2.97 as this reader discovered upon research. As of now, unlike the other two in the series, it is only available as an e-book, but this reader suspects that a physical book will be available soon.






Last First Kiss: A Review


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The latest giveaway book this pedometer geek read was Last First Kiss, a contemporary romance novel. It was received directly from the author, Lia Riley, as a consolation prize for another giveaway, but then while cleaning out computer files, this reader accidentally deleted it, and thus purchased another copy to be able to read it, but I digress. This is the extended review.

Last First Kiss

by Lia Riley

Published by Avon Impulse, 2015

ISBN: 9780062503773

As the back cover blurb of  Last First Kiss states: A kiss is only the beginning…

This sweet and sassy contemporary romance finds Annie Carson, a mommy blogger, sugarcoating her reality of life as a single mother to four-year-old Atticus. Writing blogs complete with photos show her life with Atticus to be picture perfect, but the reality is anything but. Returning home to Brightwater, California to prepare her family’s rundown property for sale isn’t what she had in mind for her life. Her idea is to fix it up, sell it, and move to San Francisco, and create that perfect life that includes living near her sister. Frankly, she never wanted to return to Brightwater since her heart was once broken by her next door neighbor, Sawyer Kane.

Yet in a backwater town, it is hard to avoid Sawyer, and the sparks between them are reignited. He has never forgotten her and still regrets letting his first love slip away. Longstanding feuds, particularly with his formidable, feisty grandmother (think Hatfield and McCoy or Capulet and Montague), get in the way even as he is patiently trying to get her to stay permanently. He wants that first kiss to be the last first kiss.

Still, there are old hurts to overcome, which may destroy new happiness. Ultimately, will Annie stay or will she and her son move? Is there a chance for happily ever after for Sawyer and Annie (and her son)?

It is a modern day tale of Romeo and Juliet without the tragedy of death. This romance is relatively free of graphic language and contains relatively tame sexual content. The romance purposely has slow romantic buildup between the pair, which adds to the enjoyment of the story.  Secondary characters like the coffee shop owner, Annie’s sister,  Sawyer’s brothers, and Sawyer’s grandmother are just another reason to check out the story.

This is the first of Riley’s novels that this pedometer geek has read, but it probably won’t be the last. Last First Kiss is the first in a series of romances all set in the town of Brightwater and each has a title that seems incongruous in nature.

River of Magic: A Review


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This pedometer geek reader followed up Simone Pond’s Exodus of Magic with the second book in the Mysterium Chronicles, River of Magic. Again, because of being selected as one of her Elite readers, Simone gifted me an e-book (mobi) file of her newest novel, and this is the extended review of it.

River of Magic

by Simone Pond

Published by Ktown Waters Publishing, 2017

ISBN: 978-1544682501

As the back cover blurb says:

An unfinished prophecy. A diabolical witch. Another high-octane adventure.

Jordan Temple, formerly known as Jordan Bachar, has just escaped from Magnus and his operatives as Exodus of Magic ends. The second book in the Mysterium Chronicles finds the heroine becoming more comfortable in the role as the Chosen One and begins basically where the first one left off.

Trying to escape from the clutches of Magnus and his operatives, basically the Jade operatives of which she was once a valued member, she guides the flotilla of Ancients, the magic-wielding people of the left bank, down the River Elin towards the Ancients’ homeland of Shtein’esrei and freedom.

But it won’t be smooth sailing as she battles her way toward the Rankin Gate, the gateway that must be opened to allow them to pass into their homeland. The catch: only one person, Isabella the enchantress, has the power to open the gate. Getting to her and convincing her to help is a tall task.

Paranormal creatures from the various cities and lands of the Confederated Six keep interfering with her progress and plans, wreaking havoc upon her and the ships. This is especially true in the city of Endor, with Glendora, the High Witch of Endor, holding Isabella captive. With her posse of Benjamin, Chloe, Matthias, and CeeCee at her side, she may just find the resources…or not.

Magic, enchantresses, evil witches, shifters, and more make for an exciting, heart-racing read leaving readers enthralled and on the edge. Will Jordan complete her quest, or won’t she? Will the Ancients find their mythical city again, or will the gate be forever closed to them?

While the story is complete as is, the ending is still a cliffhanger, setting up the reader to eagerly await the next book, Wrath of Magic. Simone Pond, this reader is on tenterhooks! As will all who read the series, but this reader says, “Just do it.” Highly recommended, it’s a fun urban fantasy read with excellent baddies (to quote a dear friend, Denise LC). Counselor Magnus is evil, but Glendora, who is the predominant evil character in this story, may be worse. Still, Magnus is not yet finished with Jordan.

Despite the paranormal creatures and the urban fantasy story, this reader suspects that there is a spiritual component to the stories. It’s not overt, but many of the characters have Biblical names (Matthias, Levi, and Jordan, to name a few), and even the River Elin, which plays such a central role in the story, can be transposed to the River Nile. Is it intentional? Or just a lucky coincidence? Obviously, this reader thinks it is, but decide for yourself…read them both in anticipation of the third story. Either way, it is a rollicking good read from an up-and-coming independent author. Knowing quite a few of them, I have a soft spot for indie authors, but I digress.

This reader has been fortunate to have read most of  Simone Pond’s novels. For those who enjoy reading YA dystopian novels, check out The New Agenda series and her Voices of the Apocalypse short stories that stand alongside of it.


The Women in the Castle: A Review


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One of the last novels this pedometer geek read was an Advanced Reader’s Edition of Jessica Shuttuck’s The Women in the Castle. It was received from the publisher through a Bookperks giveaway, and the book was just released on the 28th of March. This is the extended review.

The Women in the Castle

by Jessica Shattuck

Published by William Morrow, 2017

an imprint of HarperCollins Publisher

ISBN: 978-0-06-256366-8

Set before, during, and after World War II, this is a sweeping historical novel of (primarily) three women who lived through the atrocities of Hitler and the war in Germany. Set in a crumbling Bavarian castle that once played host to German high society, it is a story that sheds a different light on the war.

Marianne von Lingenfels, Benita Flederman, and Ania Grarbarek are three very different women, and each has a unique story to tell, lies to conceal, and families to rear in difficult times. The three come together, all living in a cold, drafty castle in Germany as their lives, as they knew it, are forever changed in the aftermath of the devastating events of the war.

Resistor and newly widowed Marianne feels it is her duty to protect and save those who have become displaced by the Nazis and the war itself.

Benita is the wife of Marianne’s childhood friend, Constantine (known as Connie), and is the first of the women that Marianne knows she must save. Like her own husband Albrecht, Connie was hanged in a failed plot to assassinate Hitler. On the night of the last harvest party at the castle, Connie asked her to protect the women and children, particularly to watch out for Benita and his son Martin if anything should happen to him. In a sense, that mandate to uphold the promise she made to her husband’s conspirators: to find and protect their wives, her fellow resistance widows, sets the story in motion.

Ania is a woman who is escaping the Russian soldiers marching east even as the German soldiers are marching west. Caught between opposing forces, she and her children find protection under Marianne’s roof. Of the three she struck this reader as the most resilient of them all.

The trio of women and their children form a kind of family, yet it’s often an uneasy alliance because each of the women hides secrets from the others. Bonds are formed; lives become intertwined and are transformed in the story that spans nearly sixty years. Redemptive and poignant, painful and hopeful, this historical novel shows another side to the war and how much it impacted the lives of ordinary and not-so-ordinary citizens living during a tumultuous time.

Overall, this novel reminded this reader of Tatiana de Rosnay’s Sarah’s Key, a story that still remains firmly in my memory, and one that I continue to recommend. The same is true about Shattuck’s novel; it is a highly recommended read. Since finishing this novel, I read that the author’s grandmother and mother had similar experiences in the war, which explains the why the novel feels so real, so personal. As it says in the acknowledgments, she listened to the stories of her grandmother and aunt. To me, it also explains the dedication, which is in memory of her mother and grandmother.

There are several quotes from the prologue that could be interpreted as being ripped out of today’s headlines, which this reader found chilling. Here are a few of them:

“I urge you to beware of our leadership’s aggression  versus If we are not vigilant, our leader’s aggressive intentions will only be the beginning…” (page 3)

“…was being run by a loudmouthed rabble-rouser, bent on baiting other nations to war and making life miserable for countless innocent citizens.” (page 10)

“This man–the zealot who calls himself our leader–will ruin everything we have achieved as a united nation.” (page 12)

One small nitpicky thing: On the next-to-last-page (354),  “The original cross Franz Muller carved into the trunk has grown out of sight, and there is a new one, a stripe he gouged into the bark maybe fifteen years ago, which itself has moved up.” While this reader understands that it was a plot device to underscore the significance of this tree, the reality is that a tree grows up and outward, but the trunk stays in the same position and that includes any carvings. It may have been corrected in the final edition, but this reader suspects otherwise.

On the other hand, this reader will be looking to read other books by this author. Jessica Shattuck has a few other titles.