Monday, September 28, 2015

Poor Julia Conley.  Her previously unknown Aunt Regina has died and left her a house in London.  Why do these things never happen to me?  The book That Summer follows Julia as she heads to London to get the house ready for sale and what happens when she uncovers a mystery at the house.

Julia has lived most of her life in New York City.  Parents are from England, but after the death of her mother when Julia was a child, her surgeon father relocated to NYC.  Julia grew up with only a few vague memories of her mother.  When the story opens, Julia has recently been laid off from her finance job in the city, and despite her best efforts, has been unable to find another position.  The letter from England informing her of her inheritance couldn't have come at a better time.

She packs up and travels over to London to inspect the house.  It's old and has been somewhat neglected.  It also turns out the Great Aunt Regina was something of a hoarder, with boxes of papers and receipts stashed in every room.  Julia soon notices a portrait in the living room of a woman in mid-nineteenth century dress.  The painter turns out to be someone she's never heard of, Gavin Thorne, who was an associate of Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

As Julia begins to attempt to sort through the mess in the house, she's "helped" by her cousin Natasha.  It seems Natasha, daughter of her mother's cousin Caroline, is only too eager to help.  Natasha also brings along her friend Nicholas Dorrington.  Nicholas owns an antiques shop, and Natasha says he'll be able to help identify any valuable items.  As they get to work, Julia soon discovers a painting hidden away in the back of a wardrobe.

The action set in the present day alternates with the story of Imogen Grantham.  Imogen's story takes place mainly in the 1840s.  She was a young, isolated girl living with her widowed father when she met Arthur Grantham.  Arthur seemed dashing a refined, and the young Imogen was thrilled by his proposal.  When her father died, it seemed only natural for her to marry Arthur.  Arthur's first wife had died, leaving him with a young daughter and (unfortunately) a sister-in-law, Jane, who lived in his home.  It soon becomes apparent that Jane doesn't appreciate having a new female in the home.

Arthur is kind to Imogen, but he treats her as one of his possessions -- something to be acquired and showed off in public, but pretty much ignored at home.  Imogen becomes terribly bored.  When Arthur decides to have Imogen's portrait painted, he hires Gavin Thorne, a young up-and-coming artist.  Due to the long process of having a portrait painted, Gavin and Imogen spend a lot of time together.  Before long, events take a predictable turn . . .

The present-day sleuths quickly suspect that the painting found in the wardrobe is by Thorne, but it is one that is unknown in the art world.  Thorne only produced a handful of paintings, and he seemed to disappear, reportedly to Australia, never to be heard from again.  Julia and the attractive Nicholas also become close as they attempt to sort out whether the painting is indeed by Thorne.  But does Nicholas have ulterior motives for wanting to help Julia???

I enjoyed the back-and-forth stories in the book, although I thought the resolution of the historical one was left a little vague.  It seemed somewhat rushed at the end.  But maybe that's just sour grapes coming from someone who's still waiting to inherit a house in central London!

Final Verdict for That Summer:Three Gherkins, for being a two-pronged London mystery

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Great British Baking Show is back!

Armchair bakers, rejoice!  The drama-filled Great British Baking Show returns for its second season on PBS on Sundays beginning September 6.  It will air from 7:00 - 8:00 PM (but check your local listings to verify the broadcast time).  All of the favorites from the first series are back, including Paul Hollywood and Mary Berry (the Doyenne of Baking).  Episode one looks ready to get off to a delicious start, when all of the challenges involve cakes (don't watch on an empty stomach!).

The 13 amateur bakers will be challenged each week in three categories.  The Signature Bake generally requires the contestants to bake a tried and true recipe in a given category.  The Technical Bake gives ingredients, but not much in the way of instructions.  The Showstopper Bake involves creations of jaw-dropping complexity and creativity.  It is no surprise that the winner of last season's show was a carpenter!

The 10 week series will be sure to have plenty of drama, tears and stress as the bakers compete to be crowned Master Baker of the week, as well as to avoid elimination and to move on to the next round. The Great British Bake Off (to use its UK title) has won several awards in its five seasons, and so we can hope that more seasons will be shown here in the US!  

If you miss the Sunday night broadcast, there are numerous ways to catch up!  The episodes will be available for streaming through your local PBS station's website the morning after the original airing, and can also be streamed through Roku, Apple TV, Xbox and apps for iPhone and iPad.  Additionally, for those who are brave enough, you can visit PBS Food to see recipes (in case you're feeling creative), video clips, or just to learn more about the contestants.

I'm really looking forward to another season of this great series!  You wouldn't think there would be that much drama in the kitchen, but it's amazing to see how well the contestants (if not always their creations!) perform under pressure.  

About Me

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I'm a librarian who is interested in all things British. I try to visit London as often as possible, and am always planning my next trip. I lived in Sweden for a few years with my Swedish husband, so the occasional Swedish reference may occur . . .

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The Gherkin Scale

5gherkinsb Brilliant!

4gherkinsb Good, innit?

3gherkinsb Fair to middlin'

2gherkinsb Has some good points

1gherkin Oi! Wot you playin' at?

0gherkins3Don't be givin' me evils!

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