Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

Dear Fellow Reader,

Have you ever not been able to remember the plot to a book that you know you read? I had read The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield and remembered that I thought the book was excellent. Then I noticed that I had read another book by Diane Setterfield entitled Bellman and Black. I had enjoyed that book also but can’t tell you the plot of that book either. (Really, The Thirteenth Tale is good. You should read that book.)

It has been a long time since there has been a new book by Diane Setterfield. Her new book, Once Upon a River has just come out. I was thrilled to get a chance to read it so that I would write an unbiased review. (Yep, I scored it as an advanced reader copy.)

Let me say that Diane Setterfield is a master at setting a dark scene. Even though I don’t remember her other two books that well, I do think that they were both dark. That feeling that the sun never shines in the English countryside. Once Upon a River starts on a dark, stormy night. People are huddled in the Swan, the town’s pub that is known for storytelling. Joe Bliss, pub owner’s husband is known for his storytelling and others compete to try and emulate him.

Suddenly, the pub door crashes open and a man staggers through the door holding a child although at first, no one was sure that it was a real child. The man collapses. The patrons of the Swan run to get Rita Sunday, the local nurse. While some are fetching Rita, the others suddenly figure out that the stranger has a child in his arms. A beautiful, little girl who almost seems to glow. As they check the child, they decide that she is dead. They are horrified but the stranger isn’t responding so they will have to wait to hear his story. They decide to put the child’s body in the cold storage room.

Rita arrives and checks on the man. She tends to his injuries and they check his pockets to see if they can determine who he is. After Rita is sure she has done what she can for the man, she asks to see the child. She goes into the room with the child and starts checking her. Yes, she agrees with the villagers that the child is dead. Suddenly the child starts breathing. Rita is unsettled by this but carries that child out to the pub. The child is cold, so Rita sits down by the sleeping man with the child in her arms. She spends the night that way so that she can tend to both of her sleeping patients should they wake up.

When the man wakes up, he can identify himself, but he does not know who the child is. He found her and saved her from the river. Three people arrive to claim the child. Whose daughter is she really? Is she the long lost daughter of Anthony and Helena Vaughan? Amelia Vaughan had been kidnapped two years before and there had not been a trace of her. Or was she Lily White’s sister? Or was she the daughter of Robin Armstrong? The little girl never speaks and does not seem to show any knowledge of any of the claimants.

The story has wonderful characters who are well drawn. Where did the little girl come from? The townsfolk have stories to tell as they watch the tale unfold. It was an interesting read that keeps you trying to outguess the next plot twist. I recommend this book.

Thanks for reading!

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The Rain Watcher by Tatiana de Rosnay

Dear Fellow Reader,

In case you ever wondered if I will not warmly embrace a book – especially one that I was asked to review (that means I got it free) – this review will be the proof.

I hate to give reviews that are not positive for three reasons. The first is that the author poured his/her soul into writing a book and I hate to say that the book just didn’t do it for me. The second reason is that you could have a totally different opinion. The last reason is, why would I waste your time reading a book review about a book that I didn’t like? There are so many books that I like and can share with you.

So I have some ambiguous feelings about this book. Let’s get on with the review, huh?

The Rain Watcher takes place in Paris. Not sunny, romantic Paris but a Paris that is flooding. Linden and his family meet in Paris to celebrate his parent’s 40th anniversary and his father’s 70th birthday. Linden grew up in France. He is a famous photographer who now lives in San Francisco with Sacha. Through the story, we find out about his life and losses. Linden has an older sister, Tilia, who is married to an alcoholic art expert. She has a daughter, Mistral, who seems more mature than her mother. (Her daughter is not the art expert’s daughter.)

Linden’s mother is an American. She was traveling in France when she was 19 and met Linden’s father, Paul. She never went home. They fell in love and have been together since the day they met. Paul is a famous “treeman”. He travels the world to save notable trees. Paul’s family has owned Venozan estate for generations which is where Linden grew up until his teens when he moved to Paris to live with his aunt.

During the story, we learn why Linden moved to Paris as a teen, how his photography career started and about his relationships with his parents and his sister. Interspersed there are chapters that (okay, it took me a little while to figure this out) are from Linden’s father. I would say to you that it is a bit hard to follow these parts. You have to put the pieces together that Linden’s sister is older, but that Paul’s sister is younger. I did not see any way to distinguish the Paul sections from the Linden sections, BUT it could be because I was reading an advanced copy. (There were some formatting issues and typos that are probably fixed in the real copy.)

The continual cold, rain, darkness, and Paris flooding serve as characters in the book. They are constant. It makes you want to read the book under a blanket.

So, most of this doesn’t sound unbelievably positive. BUT… I did finish the book. I was occasionally frustrated, but I could keep going. While I wouldn’t put this on the top of my TBR pile, you might find it interesting. Especially if you know Paris and New York neighborhood. Since I don’t, there were parts of the descriptions that left me flat. Also, there are some quotes in French that in my copy were not translated. I assume that the quotes were apropos to the chapter but since I couldn’t read what they said, it was not helpful. This also might be remedied in the published book.

Thank you for reading!

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Lab Rats by Dan Lyons

Dear Fellow Reader,

This week’s book is a bit different from my normal reading.  First of all, it is nonfiction, which while not completely out of my norm is still different.  It is also not biographical or history. The full title is Lab Rats – How Silicon Valley Made Work Miserable for the Rest of Us. 

And to prove that I can remember to tell you (sometimes) I received a copy of this book in exchange for my unbiased review.

lab ratsReady for my unbiased review?  I found this book fascinating!  I really did.  It is written in a style that is easy to understand and it holds your attention. There are citations throughout the book so that, in this world of “fake news”, you can check sources if you wish.

The book is divided into three sections. The first section talks about what is wrong with today’s workplace and why things have gone wrong.  Then the book moves into what the author calls “the four factors of workplace despair”. These two sections paint a bleak picture of how companies are being run today and it provides examples and statistics.  There are descriptions of management theories and how they have destroyed companies and how they are still being used despite that fact.

Being honest here, I have not worked in corporate America for a long time.  I am an entrepreneur. I have worked for myself for about 30 years. I found the information in the first two sections of the book interesting and disheartening.  It did not affect me but would and could affect my children and grandchildren.  (It does make you want to contact Jeff Bezos and ask how much money he really needs…) There are many tales of greed and complete disregard for employees.  Some of these were not a surprise. There have been stories for years about the working conditions at Amazon, Facebook, and many other tech companies.

But then we get to section three of the book where companies that are doing well and are good to their employees are highlighted.  So, just as you were ready to throw in the towel, you learn that there is hope.  That there are good companies/people out there. In this section we find out that “social enterprise” classes are doing well in management schools. This gives rise to hope for the future.

I found the book very interesting. There was a lot of information that was new to me and the author sited sources throughout.  So, if you are looking to read about business, how companies are being run and the changes that can be made to run companies better, this is the book for you.

Thanks for reading!

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The Girl from Berlin: A Novel by Ronald H. Balson

Dear Fellow Reader,

In general, my writing of these reviews is a lot slower than my reading. This makes some sense because I read a lot. And I just got back from vacation which means that I am behind because, well, I read even more when I am on vacation. How much more, you ask? Generally, I read a book a day. Yes, you read that right, a book a day. To be perfectly honest, many of those books are not exactly War and Peace. You may have heard me talk about “popcorn” books before. I sometimes even read books that are “popcorn light”. For example, when I got on the plane, I had not started a book. I find it hard to start a book when on a plane. There are too many distractions. In this situation, I need popcorn light. A book so light that getting into the characters and plot is mindless. Enter Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Brash Blonde. I will not pretend that this is great literature. It was fine for what I wanted. I wanted to read on the plane to make the time go fast. Popcorn light.

BUT, I do read more serious books. And sometimes I find a book that I must sit down and write about immediately because I think you might like it. I finished a book this morning and I think it is worth reading. It is part mystery and part history. And, unbelievably enough, it seems it is part of a series. And this book comes with the disclaimer that I was given this book to read in exchange for my unbiased review.

The Girl from Berlin opens with Catherine and Liam going to meet with their friend, Tony. Tony owns a restaurant in Chicago and needs help. It seems that a corporation is trying to evict Tony’s aunt back in Tuscany from her home. Tony wants Catherine, who is a lawyer, to go to Italy and help prove that his aunt owns the property. He offers to pay all of Catherine and Liam’s expenses to go and check out the situation. While they aren’t sure they can help, they decide to go.

As they are leaving for Italy, a package arrives. It is a manuscript that has been translated from German to English. The manuscript was sent by Tony’s Aunt, Gabriella Vincenzo, so that Catherine and Liam can learn of her history. She can not talk of it – they must read the book.

The manuscript is the story of Ada Baumgarten, who was born in Berlin in 1918. Her father is the first-chair violinist with the Berlin Philharmonic. Born between the wars, Ada’s life is rich with culture and the society of Berlin. But there are clouds brewing. Ada begins violin lessons with her father and is a prodigy. She begins with the Youth Symphony, a year before she should be eligible, because of her talent. While with the Youth Symphony, she meets Kurt, who is also a violinist. They become friends. But then Hitler starts rising to power and the Baumgartens, who are Jewish, become vulnerable. The manuscript goes on to tell what happens to Ada and her family through WWII.

In the book, the reading of the manuscript is interspersed with Catherine and Liam’s efforts to save Gabriella’s property in the current day. As they finish reading the manuscript, they find out who is really behind the effort to seize Gabriella’s property.

I found the story very interesting and absorbing. While I feared for what would happen to Ada, I was carried through the history of the times. I highly recommend this book. The book does seem to be the fifth in a series of Catherine and Liam books. I didn’t know this until I looked up the title on Amazon. You do not need to have read the other books in the series to understand this book. It stands on its own.

Thanks for reading!


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Night of Miracles by Elizabeth Berg

Dear Fellow Reader,

You know how I am supposed to tell you when I get a book given to me to review (as in I didn’t pay for the book or borrow it from the library)? Well, this is one of those books but bigger than that, this is a new Elizabeth Berg book.  In case you missed it in the past, I am a fan.  I like her books and I like her Facebook page.  (You should check it out and then follow it!) I truly think she and I could be friends. (Remember Honey Thacker  in the movie Notting Hill that tells Anna Scott (Julia Robert’s character) that they could be friends?)

I am going to see Ms. Berg in person this week. One of my friends thinks she would like to come just to watch me get kicked out when I tell Ms. Berg that we should be friends.  I am not going to tell her but I do think we would get along.

So, between the freebie thing and my “fangirlness”, you might not think this will be a fair review. Well, you are wrong.  Although I have liked most of Elizabeth Berg’s books there is one that I didn’t like. I’m saying that so you don’t think that I will ALWAYS give her books a good review.

Getting to the new book…

Night of Miracles is the continuation of the story started in The Story of Arthur Truluv.  (my review of that book can be found here – https://cecooney.com/2017/12/06/who-knew-old-man-could-be-a-theme/)  In Night of Miracles, we are re-introduced to Lucille, Maddy, and Nola several years after the conclusion of The Story of Arthur Truluv.  Lucille is still living in the house that had belonged to Arthur Truluv. She is teaching baking classes but she is starting to feel her age. Maddy, who inherited the house from Arthur is away at school with her daughter, Nola. A new family has moved in next door; a young couple with a 10-year-old son.  When an unexpected crisis hits the family, Lucille helps by taking care of their son, Lincoln.  But there are other new characters that enter the world of Mason, Missouri.  Iris moves to Mason to start over and finds a friend in Tiny, the cab driver. When Iris decides she needs a part-time job, she applies to help Lucile with the marketing of her business. In the meantime, Tiny is in love and wants to ask Monica out on a date.  The two of them have problems connecting and it leads to some misunderstandings.

I think my favorite part of reading Elizabeth Berg is that, with her writing, you are quickly drawn into the characters and the story. She can develop characters that you understand and want to know more about. She puts you in the heart of the character and you live there during the story.  It is a wonderful talent and I appreciate her stories for that quality.

If you haven’t read The Story of Arthur Truluv yet, please read it and then you can move on to Night of Miracles.  I think you will enjoy the characters and their story.


Thanks for reading.


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