"A Rather Remarkable Homecoming"

A Rather Remarkable Homecoming by C.A. Belmond

Ok, I've been enjoying the ride but I've had enough. I found this one boring and full of way-too-convenient co-incidences. The dialogue written for the "I" of the story (the narrator, Penny) is cheesy and unbelievable. The whole thing was a bit over the top.

There's a scene where a man has been kidnapped and a ransom is being delivered in exchange for his release, but it's very hard to take a crime scene seriously when the criminals are referred to as "hooligans" - and not by an older person who may have lived when that term was actually used.

In another scene a drug deal is going down and two of the bad guys are said to have "popped" out of a truck. I almost expected them to hug and exchange cell phone numbers.

And, when the victim of the kidnapping was released no one even bothered to ask him if he's alright. Was he hurt, did he suffer? Not important, apparently, when the main characters want to move on and follow another clue.

I enjoy a certain amount of light reading. It's exactly what I need at times. As Anna Quindlan says; "reading has as many functions as the human body, and ...not all of them are cerebral. One is mere entertainment, the pleasurable whiling away of time". The first three in this series were simply the pleasurable whiling away of time, but this fourth one had me rolling my eyes too many times and I just wanted it over.

If you're in the market for some light reading, this series might be just what you're looking for. The fourth book is set up to lead into another, and I just read that there will indeed be a fifth one out sometime this year. As for me, it's time to wade into "Crime and Punishment". I've been putting it off, but I'm ready. It should more than satisfy my current need for something with a little more substance, and will probably send me running eagerly back to the lighter end of my bookshelf when I'm done.

"A Rather Charming Invitation"

A Rather Charming Invitation by C.A. Belmond

In this, the third book of four, Penny and Jeremy are engaged and planning their wedding. Sort of. Penny is procrastinating, putting off choosing invitations, ordering flowers and planning the reception, and is aided in her stalling by a number of family disasters.

When a young female cousin she's never met, and who is currently being arrested, calls her for help, it drags her into the personal lives of a whole new-to-her section of family in France. The family invites them to dinner and offers to loan Penny and Jeremy a priceless family heirloom for their wedding, and of course things go downhill from there.

In the ensuing chaos they rush madly around Europe - this time England, France, Monte Carlo and Switzerland - following leads and getting themselves into some pretty hair-raising situations from which they only narrowly escape.

This book has some interesting history, great locations, and gives the reader a glimpse inside the perfume-making business. There are some memorable characters, like two formidable women, a French aunt and an English grandmother, both of whom are accustomed to having things their way, but who also, even with their quirks and foibles, do have redeeming qualities.

As in the first two books I found the dialogue a bit weak in places but it doesn't matter at this point. The books are fun. I'm having a very nice, very cheap, European vacation brought to me by C.A. Belmond.

"A Rather Curious Engagement"

A Rather Curious Engagement by C.A. Belmond

In this second book in the series, Penny and Jeremy buy a yacht at an auction in France, and begin to attract some unwanted attention. Their plan is to spend the summer cruising the Mediterranean and thinking about their future now that they don't technically have to work for a living. They're considering pooling his experience as a lawyer and hers as a historical researcher to start a business together, helping people find lost artifacts and other treasures. Buying the yacht throws them into their first case, ready or not.

They become acquainted with the aging Count from whom they bought the boat and who is now claiming that a priceless artifact was stolen from him the last time he sailed it. Searching the artifact's history leads them to another family who claims the very same artifact was, in fact, stolen from them. Frustration builds when Jeremy's clingy ex-wife shows up and Penny's less-than-trustworthy cousin, Rollo, gets involved in the investigation. Their search takes them around the Mediterranean from  Nice to Lake Como and Corsica, then to London and back to France. 

I will confess that the immersion in European culture is what I enjoy most about these books. Well, that and the heiress lifestyle with which I would love to become acquainted but, alas, never shall. The travel, the quaint old villages, the scenery, the expensive hotels and restaurants, the art, the clothes and jewelry - these things are catnip to me in books. After reading one of this series I feel like I've had a vacation on the Riviera. Not a bad feeling at all. 

This series would be considered light reading but the story and the writing are strong enough to keep me reading. There were a couple of weak spots where the dialogue was a cheesy, but as long as you aren't expecting literature it's a fun way to pass a bit of time.

Next: #3 A Rather Charming Invitation   


"A Rather Lovely Inheritance"

A Rather Lovely Inheritance by C.A. Belmond

Penny Nichols is an American historical researcher with relatives in England. She is working in France on a movie when her mother calls to tell her that great-aunt Penelope has died and there is to be a reading of the will that she would like Penny to attend as her parent's representative. When Penny gets to London she is reacquainted with her cousin Jeremy who is the lawyer taking care of the family’s business matters.

 It wouldn't be an estate settlement if someone didn't want more than they were entitled to and sure enough, there’s a cousin who wants (and indeed needs) what somebody else is getting and has no qualms about doing whatever it takes to get it. Adding to the drama is the sudden and surprising discovery that not everyone who thinks they are family members actually are and the whole situation  is even more complicated because there are two wills, one in England and one in France. What will Penny inherit? Will it put her in danger? Is there anyone at all she can trust?

This is the first of a four book series. This one turned out to be a mystery so I’m figuring the other three will probably be too. I don’t usually choose mysteries but the titles appealed to me and the reviews I read sounded like they would be just my thing. They aren’t exactly what I expected but the characters are likable and the story had some of the elements I love: villas in France and Italy, expensive things and men with British accents. I know, I know, it's a book and you can't hear them, but in my head those men sound lovely. 

There is a little more swearing than I thought was necessary. Actually this story could have been told nicely, and I think better, without any swearing at all because it didn't suit the characters or the setting and felt quite out of place. I did like the book though and I bought all four together so I’m moving on to the second one now. I think it’ll be fun to read the whole series together. They aren't great literature, but they are - or at least this one is - nice light reading. We’ll see what the others bring. 

"The Bookman's Tale"

The Bookman's Tale by Charlie Lovett

Here is a tale for booklovers - not just avid readers, but lovers of the actual physical books, the pages. the ink, the covers, and the bindings. It was a delicious read. I loved it.

The story alternates between three time periods: the 1800s, the 1980s, and the 1990s. In 1983 Peter Byerly is a college student and an intern in the university library's Special Collections department where he is learning to catalogue and restore rare books, and where there is a girl he would love to approach if only he had the nerve.

The 1990s timeline is the current one, in which Peter is coping with the death of his beloved wife and in which documents are uncovered that could provide proof of Shakspeare of Stratford being indeed the true author of the plays bearing the name of William Shakespeare. They are documents revealing long held secrets and truths that some people will not want published. To what lengths might they go to prevent them from becoming known?

The 1800s timeline gives the background to the current story. As Peter tries to unravel the mysteries of the documents he's found, this timeline tells us what actually happened between the now long-dead writers and book sellers and, what they did with the manuscripts.

Besides offering an interesting story this book shows the reader something of the often clandestine and occasionally dangerous rare book business. Rumours and secrets are everywhere but when someone has the documents to prove or disprove those rumours, then things get interesting. The book also offers well written characters, believable and likable with their honest mix of flaws and virtues. In fact, the entire book is well written. It's wonderful when a story is so well told that you actually forget you're reading and instead feel like you're living the adventure. I'm sure book lovers everywhere would love this one.                                                                                            

"The List of My Desires"

The List of My Desires by Gregoire Delacourt

Jocelyne is a middle aged woman operating a dressmaker's shop in a small town in France. She is married, has 2 grown children, writes a blog about knitting and is, in her own opinion, ordinary. An ordinary woman living an ordinary life - until something extraordinary happens: she wins the lottery. Realizing that eighteen million euros will surely change everything about her life, she finds herself afraid to cash the cheque and instead folds it up and hides it in a shoe in her closet.

One day she looks for it and it's not there. Her husband is away on a business trip. He'd been extra attentive lately and she'd been enjoying their new closeness and thinking how life was good just as it was. They didn't need the money and all the changes it could bring. When she tries to contact him at his hotel, they have no record of him being there. Without being told, she knows exactly what has happened.

I loved almost everything about this book, especially the fact that so much of it happens in Jocelyne's head. It's not a mystery or a thriller and there's not a lot of action. It's a philosophical look at money and marriage and what happens when the two collide. The spare writing style, the restraint with which the characters are written, and the way the author makes the reader feel what Jocelyne feels all add up to an excellent story. If I had any complaint it would be that it's too short. It didn't take long to read and I wanted more. I wanted to know what happened later, after the last chapter, so for me, the ending was rather unsatisfactory. It wasn't a badly written ending, it just came too soon.

The beautiful writing has been compared to that of "The Elegance of the Hedgehog" and I did find the spare style similar, but "Hedgehog" is one of my all time favourite books and, although I liked this one a lot, I don't think it quite comes up to that standard.

 

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