First Impressions by Charlie Lovett

First Impressions by Charlie Lovett First Impressions by Charlie Lovett
Narrator: Jayne Entwistle
Published by Books on Tape on October 16, 2015
Source: Library
Genres: Fiction
Length: 10 hrs 52 mins
Format: Audiobook
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Book lover and Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has recently taken a job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure book: the second edition of Little Book of Allegories by Richard Mansfield. Their queries draw Sophie into a mystery that will cast doubt on the true authorship of Pride and Prejudice—and ultimately threaten Sophie’s life.

In a dual narrative that alternates between Sophie’s quest to uncover the truth—while choosing between two suitors—and a young Jane Austen’s touching friendship with the aging cleric Richard Mansfield, Lovett weaves a romantic, suspenseful, and utterly compelling novel about love in all its forms and the joys of a life lived in books.

I almost quit listening to First Impressions about halfway through, mostly because I had an audiobook waiting in the wings that I was really, really looking forward to, but I stuck it out to the end. I’m not sure if that was a good choice or not. It wasn’t torture, but it wasn’t great either. The story alternates between chapters focusing on Sophie in now and Jane back then, which worked well really, even if from what I understand a lot of the Jane portion was as fictional as the Sophie part. I knew who the bad guy was – from the moment he showed up; I knew that Sophie would find proof that Jane Austen was not a plagiarist; I was sure Sophie would end up with the right guy and that Jane Austen would become a well-known novelist. And guess what- I was right.

What kept me listening was that Sophie, and especially her uncle, love books. The libraries and books shops and the books themselves were marvelous. I enjoyed learning a bit about early book publishing too.

Sophie, though I appreciated her love of books, was not someone I actually liked. She fell for the guy #1 too easily and then fell for, and slept with, guy #2 too easily. Maybe she didn’t fall for guy #2, but she did go on and on about how good-looking he was and how awesome the sex was. I found her annoying. She didn’t have much compunction against stealing or breaking and entering – apparently her love of Austen and her uncle justified most things.

The narrator however, had an adorable voice, just British enough. She made even the corny lines sounds fun and amusing. She made it seem cuter, funner than it was.

If just the fact that it features Jane Austen makes you want to read it, at least wait for the paperback – it comes out at the end of the month.

About Charlie Lovett

Charlie Lovett is a writer, teacher, and playwright whose plays for children have been seen in over 3000 productions worldwide. He served for more than a decade as Writer-in-Residence at Summit School in Winston-Salem, NC.

The Paradise of Devils by Franco Di Mare

The Paradise of Devils by Franco Di Mare The Paradise of Devils by Franco Di Mare
Published by RCS Libri / Rizzoli on April 15, 2014
Source: Open Road Integrated Media
Genres: Fiction
Pages: 376
Format: eBook
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Naples is a city with two sides: the sun-kissed coast and the shadows of the back alleys. It is at once beautiful and full of suffering. It is the paradise of the devils.

This novel by Franco Di Mare is a mournful hymn of love for Naples and the compelling story of its eternal contradictions. A vivid and dreadful portrait of the city, setting the stage for a diverse cast of characters, from Carmine—a man with a double soul, a refined intellectual and a hitman—to the men who take part in a bloody showdown. The reporters, the housewives, the killers are all in some way tainted by the evil that inhabits the most beautiful gulf in the world.

I enjoyed the rather meandering quality of The Paradise of Devils. The story centers around Carmine Cacciapuoti, but skips around in time from his present, to his childhood, to defining moments in his life. Carmine is a lot like Naples itself. He’s a philosophical former scholar, who has become a hit man. His girlfriend Lena, a teacher, thinks he’s a computer salesperson of some type and he is trying to keep the two parts of his life, his home and his job, separate. Of course, you can only keep secrets like that for so long before the whole thing starts to unravel.

The book is translated from Italian and as far as I could tell it was done well enough. There are a couple of odd Americanisms, like Lena wondering if Carmine would say he was working with the Secret Service or FBI – of course not, he’s in Italy; that would be a stupid lie to tell. Carmine is many things, but not stupid. I don’t know why the translator used American institutions instead of just naming the Italian equivalent.

I like how we see the lives of the people who Carmine interacts with. We see Lena and her class of mostly spoiled, unmotivated kids as they explore the catacombs. We meet his boss’s girlfriend, a sexy woman who had big dreams. We meet the man who “trained” Carmine, a psychopath who enjoys the killing. Then there’s the journalist for the local paper, who picks up on the difference in Carmine’s killings and others around the city. I enjoyed seeing their lives all intertwined, to see how one’s decisions affect another.

We tour Naples too, a place I would love to visit one day. We see its beauty, its churches, its beach, the food, the shops. We also see its darker sides, the corruption, the rampant unemployment, the street gangs whose members are little more than children, those who sell “protection” and those who sell drugs.

I found Carmine’s story and the city itself engrossing. With its changes in time period and viewpoint, it’s maybe not the easiest book to follow, but it’s worth it. I was sad to see it end.

About Franco Di Mare

Franco Di Mare (born in Naples in 1955), after many years as a war correspondent for RAI, moved on to hosting TV shows. With Rizzoli he has published Il cecchino e la bambina (2009) and the bestselling Non chiedere perché (Premio Roma 2011, Premio Fregene 2011, second place in the Premio Bancarella).

Review: Sous Chef by Michael Gibney


Sous chef

Title: Sous Chef: 24 Hours on the Line 

Author: Michael Gibney

Published: March 25, 2014 by Ballantine Books

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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The back must slave to feed the belly. . . . In this urgent and unique book, chef Michael Gibney uses twenty-four hours to animate the intricate camaraderie and culinary choreography in an upscale New York restaurant kitchen. Here readers will find all the details, in rapid-fire succession, of what it takes to deliver an exceptional plate of food—the journey to excellence by way of exhaustion.

Told in second-person narrative, Sous Chef is an immersive, adrenaline-fueled run that offers a fly-on-the-wall perspective on the food service industry, allowing readers to briefly inhabit the hidden world behind the kitchen doors, in real time. This exhilarating account provides regular diners and food enthusiasts alike a detailed insider’s perspective, while offering fledgling professional cooks an honest picture of what the future holds, ultimately giving voice to the hard work and dedication around which chefs have built their careers.

In a kitchen where the highest standards are upheld and one misstep can result in disaster, Sous Chef conjures a greater appreciation for the thought, care, and focus that go into creating memorable and delicious fare. With grit, wit, and remarkable prose, Michael Gibney renders a beautiful and raw account of this demanding and sometimes overlooked profession, offering a nuanced perspective on the craft and art of food and service.

I’ve been in the mood for foodie books lately and Sous Chef actually lived up to what I expected from it. It is what it’s billed as, 24 hours in the life of a sous chef. It’s fiction, but Gibney has spent years in restaurants and it is a true picture of the behind the scenes. I learned some of the terms and practices that go with a professional kitchen. Gibney gives a good idea of the types of people cooking draws, of the personalities and egos and how they all come into play. By writing in the second-person, he makes you feel a part of the story, makes it more immediate.

This is not a book that’s big on plot or character development – it’s not supposed to be. If you’re like me and love food network tv, and are fascinated by what goes on in a restaurant that we don’t see, you’ll enjoy this one. It does, however, take away some of the mystery and magic to dining out. But we are reminded, time and again, that it is food services, it’s about serving the best food you can to the customers.

It’s a quick read, too, which make sense, given the limited time frame. I have to admit that I’d like to get to know some of the characters more, but I guess that’s the point, too. They represent the various people working in kitchens in New York, but we’re not allowed into their personal lives, just the part they bring work, and the bar afterward.

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