From My Carolina Home

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Catching up on Books and Movies with a giveaway

It has been a while since I talked about the books I’m reading and movies to recommend.  For those getting my posts via email, you might not know that I link my Goodreads reviews on the sidebar so you can see my latest reviews.  I like to read a variety of books, lately becoming bored with murder mysteries though, so I am reading more general fiction.  I have a giveaway today too, so here we go!  Affiliate links are provided to all the books, just click on the titles.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – A compelling and thought provoking novel about the horror and heartbreak of living in Nazi occupied France during the second world war. Vianne and her sister Isabelle are forced to make one terrible choice after another, taking grave risks as they try to survive, each in her own way. Isabelle joins the resistance, while Vianne is forced to billet German officers in her home. Hunger, poverty and cruelty become the way of life for four years, as Vianne takes one day at a time while Isabelle risks her life to fight back. I couldn’t help but wonder how I would have reacted in their position. Very well researched and written, difficult to put down, The Nightingale is highly recommended.

February Books and Reading at From My Carolina Home

The Last Camellia by Sarah Jio – Interesting easy read with a mystery involving a rare camellia bush and the untimely death of a lady of the manor. It is told in two time periods, one just after the death, and the other years later when the manor is sold. Both women attempt to find out the truth about the lady’s death and the location of the rare camellia. I have enjoyed other works by this author. Her style is easy to read, yet the story is compelling enough to make you want to read more. However, the mystery is ultimately a bit superficial. Still, it is an enjoyable novel, and nice for times when concentration isn’t required.

The Perfume Collector by Kathleen Tessaro – A totally predictable story, no surprises. The writing is ok, and the book is a nice read, but not a groundbreaker.  There was a mystery of sorts, as the protagonist Grace tried to figure out why a total stranger would leave an inheritance to her, but the plot was thin and easily figured out.  The only enjoyable thing was the information on perfumes, and the making of complex fragrances. When I started this book, I thought about doing a post on perfumes, as I like wearing pretty scents and have different ones for different seasons. But, so many people nowadays cannot stand to be around it, that mostly I use perfume very sparingly, mainly for my own enjoyment and DH’s.

February Books and Reading at From My Carolina Home

The Secret History by Donna Tartt – What would you do if your best friends committed a crime, although maybe unintentionally, then told you about it? Then what if one of them threatened to turn in everyone, including you? That is essentially the premise in the story, and it isn’t as cut and dried as you might think. I am still wrestling with how the story progressed and the choices made by the characters, particularly at the end of the more than 500 page novel. In the author’s fashion, the days go by slowly and in excruciating detail, which will annoy many readers. But I find this kind of character study interesting and engrossing. It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea.

Never Change by Elizabeth Berg – In some ways this was a difficult book to read, dealing with serious issues about dying and loneliness. A home care nurse in her 50s is assigned to care for her high school crush as he deals with the end of his life from a brain tumor. It is disturbing that a nurse would cross the line between personal and professional, but in a way that was the point. Her personal issues cloud her judgement. Her loneliness makes her reach out for personal attachments in inappropriate ways. Also a nurse, I found some of the ethical medical issues in the book unrealistic. I cannot imagine taking one patient to another patient’s home, especially when the second patient is a drug dealer. However, it is a necessary plot point which becomes clear later. Overall, this was a thought provoking novel, with a lesson on reaching out and making connections.

Now that DH is retired and we can see movies more easily, we are going a bit more.  First, run to the theater to see the award winner “The Post” with Meryl Streep and Tom Hanks.   It was nominated for six Golden Globe awards, and 2 Academy Awards, along with 73 other nominations from various film critic organizations.  The story is compelling about the publication of the Pentagon Papers in the 1970s.  Recent widow and new head of the Washington Post must decide whether or not to challenge the government and support the freedom of the press in publishing classified information about the Vietnam war.  It was astonishing how much of this movie rang true to the problems today with government’s assault on the press.  The scenes of the printing of the newspaper with the typesetters alone are worth the price of admission.  It has great writing, superb acting, and fabulous set design.  I’d like to see it again.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri, also a multi-nominated film, is a strange movie that I am not sure I can recommend.  Frances McDormand has a very strong role as a mother of a murdered girl at odds with the local sheriff over the lack of an arrest in the case after months.  The film was made here in western NC in Sylva and Asheville, so of course I want it to be successful.  You may not know that North Carolina has a significant number of movie productions here every year, notably Hunger Games and Dirty Dancing, among others.  But the amount of F-bombs in this movie made it not so appealing, along with the unresolved nature of the storyline and a weird ending.  It is racking up awards for acting and writing, and is reminiscent of Fargo in the darkness of the story, with spots of genuine humor between grief and raw tragedy.  Still, I think I would have rather spent money on something else for the theater and waited for this one on DVD.

Next movies on my to-see soon list are Phantom Thread and Winchester.  Phantom Thread focuses on the fashion industry in London during the 1950s, is nominated for a number of awards and is supposed to have lavish costuming.  It stars Daniel Day Lewis.  Winchester stars Dame Helen Mirren in the role of the heiress to the Winchester Rifle fortune, Sarah Winchester, allegedly haunted by the people killed with those guns.  She builds the Winchester house, the legend saying that she believed that she would live as long as she continued to build on the house.  The Winchester Mystery House is in San Jose, California, and if you are ever in the area, it is a must see attraction, loads of fun whether the legend is true or not.  I saw it many years ago, and the curator organization was in the process of refurnishing many of the rooms on the tour.

I’ve been thinking about trying out Amazon Prime. The Prime Original series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, won two 2018 Golden Globes Awards: Best Comedy Series and Best Television Actress – Comedy, Rachel Brosnahan.  The show is about a woman who had everything and lost it all, then found a talent she didn’t realize she had – doing comedy stand up. Big Little Lies was the another winner of four Golden Globes this year. With a free trial of HBO on Amazon Channels, Prime Members can watch this hit drama, where the apparently perfect lives of three mothers of first graders unravel to the point of murder.  Amazon Prime members can also see other award winning shows like Get Out, and Amazon original movie The Big Sick.  Lots to binge watch with a free trial, plus see more original programming too. Join Amazon Prime – Watch Thousands of Movies & TV Shows Anytime – Start Free Trial Now

For those who have Netflix,  DH and I have been watching episodes of Travelers and Stranger Things, also award winning shows.  Travelers is a sci-fi fantasy, where people from the future inhabit the bodies of people just seconds away from dying and prevent their deaths.  The team is given missions to do, to try to avoid the apocalypse that is their future.  It is a fascinating show, new travelers arrive every week with new missions.  Sometimes, actually saving the future means improvising in the present.  It stars Eric McCormack of Will and Grace fame.  Well written and engrossing, give this one a try if you have Netflix.

Stranger Things stars Wynona Rider, and is about the search for a missing boy, secret experiments, supernatural occurrences, and a very strange little girl in a nod to sci-fi horror movies from the 1980s.  No affiliation, but Netflix also does free 30-day trials.  This is also where you find the series The Crown, about the early years of Elizabeth II, and House of Cards which will make its final season without Kevin Spacey.

And last, but not least, a new collection of five charming short stories about quilters by an author I have recommended in the past, Frances O’Roark Dowell called Margaret Goes Modern.   The stories are engaging and wonderful, and every one of them would have been great developed into full novels.  I devoured this book in just a couple of hours, just couldn’t put it down!
Book Giveaway at From My Carolina Home
Margaret is bored with the traditional quilts in her guild, and when her granddaughter asks for a modern quilt, her world opens up to a brand new inspiration for quilting.  Amanda and Lucy are on the brink of financial ruin, and the solution may be in an unexpected direction, with just a touch of magic in the air.  Lisa is dealing with the death of her best friend, finding an unexpected solace in quilting.  Liz is an imperfect mother with a love of quilting and an irritating, near perfect, somewhat judgemental neighbor who doesn’t quilt.  Melissa believes she has a perfect single life, until it is upended by a 10-year-old charmer, an unexpected man and a quilt that permeates her dreams.  Frances is offering a giveaway on a copy of her short story collection, enter via Rafflecopter using this link –

Rafflecopter Book Giveaway

The giveaway will be open until Friday, and the winner announced Sunday. Please, Frances, keep writing!  With every single story I wanted more!!

What have you read or seen at the movies recently?




Catching up on Book Reviews

In the last two months, I have caught up with several good books from three good authors, and one in the not so much category.  In each case, I picked up new titles, at least new to me, from authors I have enjoyed in the past.  I have already put abbreviated reviews on Goodreads for a few of these, but I’d like to share them with you.

Book Reviews on From My Carolina Home

First, Linda Francis Lee wrote a book I found years ago, and it is one of the funniest books I have ever read.  It is called The Devil in the Junior League.  A woman in the upper crust of Junior League society is abandoned by her husband taking all the money with him.  The only way she can afford a lawyer is to hire the flashy, new money lawyer who moved into her neighborhood with the payment plan of getting his tacky, stiletto wearing, gum chewing, wife into the Junior League.  What follows is a Pygmalion story that is just hilarious. This is truly one of the funniest books I have ever read. It made me laugh out loud on an airplane, and also while I was reading and trying to be quiet in a hospital ICU! Something that can make you laugh when you are worried is a treasure indeed. The story piles more laughs on page after page, as the situation just becomes more convoluted, and thus more comical. It is a light read, a great beach read, or perfect for anytime you want to escape into a Southern farce.

Book Reviews on From My Carolina Home

When I saw the new book by Linda Francis Lee called The Glass Kitchen, I had to grab it up at the library sale.  The book has a delightful premise, where a woman gets visions of foods that lead to information in her life, directions to go, how to find her sister, and more. Moving to New York after a disastrous divorce, she has to relearn how to let the visions in again, and in so doing, find her own way. I enjoyed the book, although I think it bogged down in the middle a bit with the predictable love affair, but managed to save itself in the conclusion. Like the other book by this author, the heroine is pushed around by the men in her life, and eventually comes into her own, finally accepting herself and standing up for what she wants. Another very enjoyable read, with a twist on the usual story.

Book Reviews on From My Carolina Home

Another favorite author, Jeffrey Archer writes wonderful stories set in England.  His novels are about family and political power, legal themes and epic tales.  His series called the Clifton Chronicles is a well paced story in an easy reading style. In the first novel, Only Time Will Tell, Harry Clifton is introduced to the reader and grows up without knowing who he really is. His life in school, and the shaping of his character are explored with a cliffhanger ending that will make you race to get the next in the series. The Sins of the Father continues the story of Harry Clifton, beginning with his mistaken sentence for murder when he takes the identity of a dead shipmate. The tale proceeds in Archer’s trademark easy to read style, and compelling, page-turning storyline. Machinations of lawyers, and the second World War intervene to delay Harry’s progress to his goal of proving he is not the son of a British baron. Emma finds out the secret, and spends over a year trying to track down Harry and right some of the wrongs.

Book Reviews on From My Carolina Home

The third novel in the series is Best Kept Secret.  Harry and Emma’s son Sebastian grows up, and they adopt a sister for him.   Giles, Emma’s brother, gets engaged and his fiancee is not what the family would want. Marrying Virginia anyway, Giles has to deal with the fallout, especially when his mother passes and leaves a new will.  Virginia is not one to go down without a fight, and sets in motion a plan to exact revenge on those who she feels wronged her.  I enjoyed this one on audio, listening in the car on my way to and from work, and while doing errands.  It is much more interesting to do this than to listen to all the noise and commercials on the limited radio stations I can hear in these mountains.  There are three more books in this series, and I’ll get to them soon.

The third author is Erica Bauermeister who wrote The School of Essential Ingredients that I read last year.  An uncommon story, this book is a very interesting character study.  Lillian runs a cooking school on Monday nights, and the book explores the people in the class and how they interact with each other.  The food seems to bring about feelings that in some cases have to be shared.  It doesn’t have an earth-shattering plot, but is the kind of book to be read slowly and savoured. The descriptions of people, places, and particularly the food transport the reader to a magical slowing down of daily life, to live in the moment. The point is to derive pleasure in ordinary tasks, to trust yourself and be happy. This one is a keeper to be read again and again.

Book Reviews on From My Carolina Home

I was happily surprised to find she had written a sequel to the story called The Lost Art of Mixing.  This story is mostly a character study of several ordinary lives with trials and tribulations, ultimately savouring the day to day, the little joys, and small accomplishments that make up most of our lives.  Some of the characters from the first book in the series have created new relationships, and Lillian finds herself in a situation that will require delicate handling and a great deal of thought.  The exploration of each character in their view of the world, shaped by their experiences is a delightful journey.  Sometimes, the least little thing will bring to the surface buried feelings and resentments, but can also bring a resolution to a conflict not acknowledged up to then.

The disappointment was Diane Setterfield. While I enjoyed her Thirteenth Tale immensely, the next novel she published was a meh, not so much.  In The Thirteenth Tale, a reclusive author, Vida Winter, decides to tell her true-life story to an unknown writer after decades of making up stories about herself. She is haunted by a request to ‘tell the truth’, along with some disturbing memories. She tells her story to Margaret Lea who has her own pain connected with a family secret. This secret is similar to the secret Ms. Winter has to reveal and impacts Margaret in a way she doesn’t expect, impacting her decision to do the biography.

Book Reviews on From My Carolina Home

The story unfolds slowly, but builds on itself becoming more complex as it progresses. It completely drew me in as it went forward, making the book harder and harder to put down. The present day is woven into the tale as Margaret tries to verify some of the details, as when she finds the original house where Ms. Winter lived. There are several twists and turns, and you won’t see them coming. I am pretty good at figuring out how plots will progress, but this one surprised me more than once. Just when you think you know, there is something more that changes everything. Books play an important role in this novel, always a delightful discovery. The book is written from the point of view of Margaret, who is the daughter of a rare bookseller. Gardens and architecture provide interesting backdrops for the before and after aspects of the story.

Given the success of that novel, you would think that a book billed as a “perfect ghost story, beautifully and irresistibly written” would be a good one. NOT! I found Bellman & Black to be a disappointing, flat, dull story. Spoiler alert, although you won’t care as you shouldn’t waste your time or money on this book. I see what Setterfield was going for, the arc of a stone thrown at a rook (a black bird) by the young protagonist is a forecast of the story of Bellman’s life as he reaches higher and higher for more wealth and more business, before his decline. As death comes to those around him, he seizes the opportunity to profit from it, yet it still claims him as it does all who live. The story, however, never takes off into the promised intrigue of the cover. Would you call selling mourning clothing as a “deadly, macabre business”? I wouldn’t. I didn’t care about the character, and never felt the story really come together.

Now, I have to decide which book to read next out of the more than 200 on my To Be Read pile.  Here are a few of my choices.

Books TBR 1

Perhaps one from the stack above? See anything you’d like to read with me? How about these?

Books TBR 2

Or this one? See anything you have read and can recommend?  Most of these I got on recommendations from friends, although a few are authors I read again and again.  Actually, a few of these I have already put in the donation pile, as part of the book clean-out that I promised DH.  You know, once you’ve read three or four John Grishams, or Catherine Coulters, or Robert Ludlums, you’ve read them all.  So, cleaning out, I gave those to Books for Good.

Books TBR 4

Decisions, decisions, though, on what’s left!  Anne McCaffrey?  Jennifer Chiaverini? The latest Marie Bostwick? Anita Shreeve or P.D. James?  A new author?

What are you reading?

Rooted In Thyme