I've spent only a few days at work over the last two weeks, something I'll have to do more often. Normally I get to read for only a couple hours each night, after spending the day in meetings and and teaching undergrads how to do database searches. It's been nice to approach a novel from a relaxed frame of mind for a change. Over break, I got to spend time traveling the world, from Australia to England to Thailand to Greece, all from the comfort of my cat hair-covered sofa.
I started out in modern-day Australia and went back to early 20th-century Cornwall while solving the mystery of a young girl's abandonment on the Sydney docks. Kate Morton's The Forgotten Garden is the type of book I prefer above all others: engrossing multi-generational sagas with a strong mystery component, the more complex the better.
Afterward, I took a jaunt to 1920s Paris in the company of Eileen Gray, the Irish decorator whose chic furniture designs took the art world by storm. As the ninety-year-old Eileen opens up about her private life to a modern-day journalist, they establish a tentative rapport, and both find themselves changed by their conversation. Patricia O'Reilly dedicates her slim literary novel to the enigmatic Ms. Gray, "who, I suspect, would not approve."
Then it was back across the Channel to Norfolk, England, in the present day, as world-famous concert pianist Julia Forrester gets drawn out of mourning when a mystery begins unfolding before her eyes. As her grandmother reveals the story behind a long-hidden World War II-era diary, Julia learns about the troubled marriage of Olivia and Harry Crawford, the former owners of the nearby Wharton Park estate. Julia's grandmother Elsie had served as Olivia's lady's maid until her retirement. The action sweeps from the genteel English countryside to the heady, exotic atmosphere of Bangkok before the novel comes full circle.
Like Forgotten Garden, Lucinda Riley's Hothouse Flower is another 600-pager (or close) and I was sorry to see it end. The two are somewhat similar in terms of plot (family secrets from the past get unearthed by later generations) but I found them very different style-wise. While the Morton had me on the edge of my seat, the Riley kept me comfortably settled within it, though I was just as glued to the pages. The latter also has more of a romantic bent, and the mystery isn't as layered, though there were a few surprises I didn't see coming. [Note: The US title is The Orchid House, published in 2012 by Atria.]
Having tackled two chunksters, I thought I'd give this doorstopper a try next. I'd picked up an ARC at a long-ago BookExpo and felt guilty about neglecting it for so long. So off to a magically-tinged pre-Regency England it was.
After seventy pages, though, the story hadn't grabbed me, and my wrists were starting to sag under the weight. This may be one for the Kindle, or to listen to on audio. Oh well. Two out of three ain't bad.
My growing pile of review books was making me feel guilty by this point. I jumped over a century ahead in time to 1920, as a series of brutal murders is stirring up fear amongst the residents of a village along the South coast of England. I'll be posting a review of Charles Todd's A Lonely Death in the near future.
Finally I landed in ancient Greece with Victoria Grossack and Alice Underwood's Children of Tantalus, first book in a trilogy about Niobe, Princess of Lydia. I'm 100pp in, and so far it's a nice, easy-to-read mix of mythology and history. Most of what I know about Niobe comes from a line in Shakespeare's Hamlet, so I'm curious to learn the rest of her tale.
I bought this one on the strength of the author's previous novel, Iokaste (now retitled Jocasta), a prequel/retelling of the Oedipus myth from a female viewpoint. I misplaced my original copy of Iokaste so am glad it's available again. Both are self-published PODs in English, though were picked up by a mainstream publisher in Greek translation.
And there you have it. Where did your vacation reading take you?