Book Review: The Italian Party by Christina Lynch

The Italian Party
Christina Lynch
St. Martin’s Press, March 2018
ISBN 978-1-250-14783-7
Hardcover

From the publisher—

Newly married, Scottie and Michael are seduced by Tuscany’s famous beauty. But the secrets they are keeping from each other force them beneath the splendid surface to a more complex view of ltaly, America and each other.

When Scottie’s Italian teacher―a teenager with secrets of his own―disappears, her search for him leads her to discover other, darker truths about herself, her husband and her country. Michael’s dedication to saving the world from communism crumbles as he begins to see that he is a pawn in a much different game. Driven apart by lies, Michael and Scottie must find their way through a maze of history, memory, hate and love to a new kind of complicated truth.

Scottie and Michael are children of their times, as they say, and those of us who remember the 1950’s will certainly recognize them. They scream “American” with their enormous, flashy Ford Fairlane, their marriage is something of a convenience and they barely know each other, and they’re much, much wealthier than the Italians they want to live among. Michael is undoubtedly the head of the household and Scottie is the demure wife who follows her husband’s lead; in fact, Michael appreciates that she knows how to be a good, supportive wife. After all, her education at Vassar led to her Mrs. degree and she upholds it beautifully.

Unlike the “Leave It to Beaver” scenario, these two are not exactly the salt of the earth but, perhaps more importantly, neither one has a clue who the other one is and major secrets begin to come out as soon as they get to their destination, Siena. On top of everything in their personal lives, Communism is nipping at their heels.

All of that sounds kind of dismal, doesn’t it? Yes, that’s true to an extent but the joy in this novel comes from watching this young couple come to terms with themselves and each other while they’re in the midst of a most unlikely spy story of their own and there are a lot of laughs to be had, the kind that make you think “caper” and “adventure”. All in all, this was totally fun and I highly recommend it to anyone who likes spies, international intrigue, comedy, romance, adventure, history, Italian food…you get the idea 😉

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, April 2018.

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About the Author

Photo credit Stacy Brand

Christina Lynch’s picaresque journey includes chapters in Chicago and at Harvard, where she was an editor on the Harvard Lampoon. She was the Milan correspondent for W magazine and Women’s Wear Daily, and disappeared for four years in Tuscany. In L.A. she was on the writing staff of Unhappily Ever After; Encore, Encore; The Dead Zone and Wildfire. She now lives in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada. She is the co-author of two novels under the pen name Magnus Flyte. She teaches at College of the Sequoias. The Italian Party is her debut novel under her own name.

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Book Reviews: Love and Death in Burgundy by Susan C. Shea and Another Man’s Treasure by S.W. Hubbard

Love & Death in Burgundy
The French Village Mysteries #1

Susan C. Shea
Minotaur Books, May 2017
ISBN 978-1-250-11300-9
Hardcover

From the publisher—

After three years of living in the small town of Reigny-sur-Canne, all Katherine Goff really wants is to be accepted by her neighbors into their little community. But as an American expat living in the proud region of Burgundy, that’s no easy task.

When the elderly Frenchman who lives in the village chateau is found dead at the bottom of a staircase, the town is turned into a hot bed of gossip and suspicion, and Katherine suddenly finds herself drawn deeper and deeper into the small town’s secrets. A motherless teenager, a malicious French widow, a brash music producer, and a would-be Agatha Christie are among those caught up in a storm that threatens to turn Katherine’s quiet life upside down. As more and more of the villagers’ secrets are brought to light, Katherine must try to figure out who, if anyone, in the town she can trust, and which one of her neighbors just might be a killer.

I almost didn’t get past the first couple of chapters in this book because, not only was the lunch party a disaster for poor Katherine, it was a disaster for me. Rarely have I encountered a group of characters that completely turned me off so early in a story. Many Americans think the French are rude and unfriendly; I’ve never been there so I don’t really know. My experience in another country (Greece) is that those who live in the countryside are much friendlier than the city folk but that surely wasn’t the case in this small French village. To be fair, though, much of the rudeness and unpleasant attitude came from expats, American and British with a German (naturalized French) thrown in for good measure. No matter what country these people at the lunch represented, at least half of them were so disagreeable that I wondered why I would want to continue in their company.

But…I pushed on and, wonder of wonders, I began to like some of these people. The main character, Katherine, annoyed me a bit with her need to be accepted into the community and I wanted to tell her to ease up, that having lived there for three years is a pretty good sign that, well, it is what it is. Still, I understood her sort of oozing into doing her own investigating when the almost universally disliked Albert Bellegarde is found dead, perhaps murdered, and I enjoyed the way her snooping led to a better look at the villagers and the expats.

On an interesting sidenote, the feelings some had against Albert, especially his German background which they couldn’t help tying to the Nazis, rightfully or not, reminded me of the emotions that run high in some parts of the Southern US regarding the Confederate legacy.  I live here in the South and, quite honestly, understand some of the emotional attachment to the past from a historical standpoint even while I deplore the hatefulness. Ms. Shea has shown, in an unobtrusive way, that grudges and hatred can live a very long time no matter who or where.

The mystery here is actually pretty lightweight but Love & Death in Burgundy is, at its heart, a warm, welcoming visit in a charming village. Reigny sounds like a delightful place and the food had me salivating. I’d love to visit the French countryside someday to see for myself what the people and the scenery are like, not to mention gorge myself on some wonderful food. In the meantime, I’ll be waiting to see what Katherine and her neighbors will get up to in Dressed for Death in Burgundy next May.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.

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Another Man’s Treasure
Palmyrton Estate Sale Mystery Series Book 1
S.W. Hubbard
Read by Janelle Tedesco
S.W. Hubbard, September 2016
Downloaded Unabridged Audio Book

From the author—

On a snowy Christmas Eve, a beautiful young mother goes out to buy a few last minute gifts and never returns….

….thirty years later, her daughter picks up her trail.

As the owner of an estate sale business, Audrey Nealon knows a lot about art, antiques, and the unlikely places old people hide their treasures. But the shabby home of an elderly widow holds alarming surprises: street drugs in the silverware drawer, a trunkful of jewels in the attic, and the distinctive ring Audrey’s mother was wearing the night she disappeared. Believing the truth will bring her peace, Audrey relentlessly pursues clues to her family’s troubled history. But each fact Audrey uncovers drags her further away from the love she craves, and puts her on a collision course with people more determined, more ambitious, and more dangerous than she can fathom. As the twist ending reveals, some truths are too awful to bear, and too terrible to share.

The print edition of this book was reviewed here in May 2013; Carol said pretty much everything I was thinking about the story itself so I’ll focus on the audiobook aspects this time.

Janelle Tedesco is a new narrator to me and, in that situation, I always tend to be a little picky, looking for things I don’t like as well as those I do. Ms. Tedesco checked off all my hot buttons, I’m happy to say.

Clarity of voice—Ms. Tedesco has a very clear voice, easy to understand, no mumbling, no breathy sounds.

Accents—Audrey and some of the other characters don’t have the New Jersey accent that’s so familiar to the rest of us but some others have hints of a stronger Northern inflection. In addition, there are distinguishable intonations for races, a variety of backgrounds and the impressions of life in general.

Pacing—This is excellent, maintaining an even speed that’s a perfect, pleasant tempo with urgency where it belongs.

Variety of character interpretations—It’s very hard for a voiceover actor to handle a mix of gender and ages but Ms. Tedesco manages it seemingly with no trouble. Each character is recognizable, particularly Audrey’s assistants, Jill and Tyshaun, who are vastly different from each other. There are a fair number of people in this story so the contrasts are all that more important.

All in all, I was quite impressed with the narration of this book and will be happy to listen to the next Estate Sale Mystery, Treasure of Darkness.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, June 2017.