It had been several weeks since I’d been able to get my hands on any books that held my interest long enough to get past a couple of dozen pages. Then, finally, two I downloaded from the library turned out to be worth the wait.
Still Life Takes Us on a Decades-Long Trip to Florence, Italy
Still Life by Sarah Winman ticked all my boxes—historical fiction, love stories, exotic setting (Florence, Italy), and culture. Still Life is the story of a young British soldier who was part of the Allied Forces liberating Italy at the end of World War II. Ulysses Temper is a sensitive art-lover who is assigned to drive an army captain who is also a fellow art appreciator and an aging female art historian through the ruins of Italy’s cities and towns. Their mission is to try and recover priceless paintings and sculptures that were stolen by the invading Nazis, as depicted in the movie The Monuments Men, but with a woman on board.
His relationship with his traveling companions deepens to a strong friendship based on their shared interest in art. In the course of his duties, Temper comes upon an Italian man standing on the edge of a building in Florence ready to commit suicide in full view of his neighbours. Temper manages to scale the building and talk the man down.
After the war, Temper returns to East London to resume civilian work in a pub. One day he receives notice that the man he saved from committing suicide in Italy has died and bequeathed him his estate. Temper was easy to track down because of his unusual name. By now, he has divorced his wartime bride, so he packs his bags, and he and a friend move to Italy to investigate his inheritance and perhaps use the opportunity to settle there.
For a variety of complicated reasons, he takes along his ex-wife’s six-year-old daughter who was not fathered by Temper, in hopes of providing her with a life better than one of growing up over a pub. While his friends come and go over the next forty years, the reader is treated to colourful and descriptive saga of life in Florence with a colourful, close-knit group of friends and a rather precocious parrot. There are wonderful street by street descriptions of their adventures.
The characters in Still Life are skillfully drawn and the book is a delightful page-turner. I gobbled it up not only for the characters but for the descriptions of the food, language, weather, art, landscape, and history. There was plenty of plot intrigue and subplots. Totally my cup of tea, or should I say, glass of wine?
Fast-Moving Murders and Faster-Moving Bad Guys
Digging into a great book by a Canadian author is always particularly satisfying. Find You First by Linwood Barclay is just one of many well-written mysteries by this best-selling author and I couldn’t put it down. Although the story is fictional, you will recognize similarities to some real-life bad guys.
Miles Cookson is a forty-something software multi-millionaire who has had his share of fun over the years but he was not always rich. He has just received some bad news from his doctor that he has incurable Huntington’s Disease. Cookson is unmarried with no children so he is faced with a number of dilemmas regarding his legacy.
When he was in his early twenties and broke, he sold his sperm to a fertility clinic. Now that he is facing inevitable death, he realizes he must make amends, plan for succession of his business and settle his affairs. This brings up the memory of the children who might have been conceived with his sperm who now live with a fifty percent chance of carrying the deadly Huntington’s gene. They need to be warned and provided for.
Cookson sets out on a mission to find these children who are now around twenty years old with a view to bequeathing them a large sum of his estate as compensation. Problems arise when he discovers that someone is one step ahead of him and his offspring are being killed off before he can make contact. Who is killing them and why?
The story is set mainly in New York with excursions to other parts of the United States and even Paris. Finding and forewarning Cookson’s offspring must be done quickly as his time is limited. When he discovers someone has beat him to their location, a complicated web of intrigue, deception, DNA research, and newfound relationships develops. Just when the reader thinks he or she has it figured out, Barclay throws us off the scent and we’re drawn into even more bizzare plotlines.
The Last Word
Still Life by Sarah Winman was so satisfying to read. The author paints beautiful scenes with her descriptions of Florence and you feel like you are right there with the characters. I thoroughly enjoyed this book.
Find You First by Linwood Barclay is more plot-driven and a really fun page-turner. I devoured it in a few days and look forward to reading more books by Linwood Barclay. He really knows how to manipulate the reader’s mind.
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