“Lunch in Paris: A Love Story with Recipes” (2010) by Elizabeth Bard is a combination memoir/cookbook. Bard was working in London when she met Gwendal, a Parisian, and they fell in love. How she also learns to love France, its people, outdoor markets and foods is just a delight. It’s an interesting look at how cultures vary in the simplest ways. And, many of the recipes in this book have become a permanent part of my own culinary repertoire. A romance and food — what more do you need?
“The Haunting of Maddy Clare” (2012) by Simone St. James. Sarah Piper takes a temp job as an assistant to rich ghost hunter Alistair Gellis. He needs her because the ghost of Maddy Clare hates men. Sarah’s afraid, but she’s more afraid of returning to her lonely, wretched London flat. This is a crackling good ghost story/mystery, with unique twists and turns. Alistair and his male assistant, Matthew Ryder, are survivors of World War I and both have emotional baggage. Maddy’s ghost is full of rage, and Sarah will need all her courage to solve the puzzle and prevent Maddy from destroying them all.
“Enemy Women” (2002) by Paulette Jiles is a novel, but one grounded in historic events in Missouri during the Civil War. This debut novel is so beautifully told, but factually presented, with excerpts from letters, diaries, documents and correspondence from the Union and Confederate commands. Missouri was a battlefield all its own, with residents on both sides of the conflict, militias who burned, stole and killed arbitrarily, and both armies tearing it apart. Adair Colley’s family tries to remain neutral, but soon her father is beaten and dragged away, her brother is with the Confederates, and she finds herself separated from her sisters and sent to a St. Louis prison. Many women of the time found themselves imprisoned or killed for aiding and abetting the “enemy,” generally their own sons and husbands.
“The Lantern” (2011) by Deborah Lawrenson takes inspiration from one of my favorite books, “Rebecca” by Daphne DuMaurier. Dom and our heroine (he calls her Eve) meet and begin a whirlwind love affair. Before she knows what’s happened, they are living in an old farm in the French countryside, Les Genévriers. As she begins to realize she knows nothing about Dom’s past, she also starts to sense a presence in the house, see lantern lights in the gardens and smell strong pockets of fragrance. Then, while renovating an old pool, bones are found buried under the concrete floor. The presence alternates with chapters about the family that lived in the house in the early 1900s and had been there since the 1880s. It’s a very satisfying ghost story.
“The Return” (2008) by Victoria Hislop. Like Hislop’s first book, “The Island,” “The Return” toggles back and forth between the present and the past and is about a young woman, Sonia Cameron, who returns to the land of her mother’s birth. But, this one takes place amid the Civil War in Spain and follows the Ramirez family, which is torn apart by the senseless strife. Sonia lives in London and never knew her mother, Mercedes (who became Mary in England) had lived through the war. When Sonia and a friend go to Granada for a vacation and some dancing lessons, she meets Miguel, who owns a local café, and is fascinated by pictures on the walls of a brother and sister, a bullfighter and flamenco dancer. Hislop has a knack for seamlessly mixing two stories together and bringing the past to vibrant life.
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