Book review: ‘In The Bag’ by Kate Klise

Armchair travelers rejoice! Kate Klise has penned a funny, light and speedy read transporting readers through Madrid and Paris with two love stories entertaining enough for me to devour the whole thing on a three-hour train ride. And I have no regrets.

“A successful chef and single mother, Daisy Sprinkle is on vacation with her teenage daughter, Coco, who picks up the wrong duffle bag at the airport. That situation is not improved by the note Daisy finds tucked into her carry-on, apparently from the man in 13-C. Daisy is in no mood for secret admirer notes or dinner dates. Or even men, for that matter.

“Andrew doesn’t know what possessed him to do something like that. Hitting on strange women on airplanes is definitely not his typical style. But there was something about the woman in 6-B that could not be ignored. Of course, now he has no time to think about her, since his son Webb seems to have made off with a budding fashionista’s luggage.

“Determined to make the best of a bad situation, Daisy cooks up a plan to calm her daughter’s panic over the lost bag with a week of fabulous food, shopping, and museum hopping. Andrew is busy working on his latest project and hoping Webb finds enough to entertain himself. Little do they know the teens are making their own plan. . . one that will ultimately reunite Ms. 6-B and Mr. 13-C.” (Goodreads)

If In The Bag sounds like a kooky novel relying on uncanny coincidences to further the plot, you’re right — and I liked it. Though far from unpredictable, it’s easy to see how fate plays a role in joining together four people; the whole novel has a sort of “Sleepless In Seattle” feel to it. You know what I mean? Like everything is destined to work out, but only the audience can see it. And we’re along for the ride.

Good thing I love “Sleepless In Seattle.”

Though Coco’s typical-teenage-character whining (“Mooooom! You’re ruining my life!“) nonsense took a while to stomach, I eventually took a shine to her. Both Coco and Daisy are struggling to sort out their roles in the mother-daughter dynamic, especially as Coco gets older and prepares for college. Their trip to Paris is supposed to be a chance to reconnect and recharge their batteries, especially for Daisy, but nothing seems to be going their way.

After a luggage mix-up, they’re linked to Andrew and Webb, a handsome father-son pair, and it’s not complicated to see that Teen Girl A will feel a spark with Teen Boy B. Communicating exclusively through email, In The Bag focuses often on the role of digital courtship versus the more traditional ways of getting to know someone (like, you know, in person). Daisy is wary of technology while Andrew embraces it; Coco and Webb are, of course, glued to whatever Internet cafe they can find abroad. I liked the explorations of “modern” courtship — they made sense, and Klise wasn’t heavy-handed about it. The whole “OMG people don’t really talk anymore” overtures popping up in contemporary fiction are getting stale.

Those who love a side of scenery, French food and wicked descriptions of Europe with their love stories will definitely find plenty to enjoy in In The Bag. Flipping between sunny Madrid and romantic Paris, it’s the sort of novel that will have you wanting to pack a bag immediately. (Just hope it doesn’t get lost.) Though I got more of a sense of France than Spain, that’s probably because Webb spent his time in Madrid talking to Coco in Paris — so we see less of the city through his eyes. Still, the travel aspects were fun, and I enjoyed the “Americans abroad” perspective.

In The Bag definitely has crossover appeal. Adult readers and chick lit lovers will relate to the harried-parents-doing-the-best-they-can relationship between Andrew and Daisy; teens have plenty to get their blood pumpin’ regarding the sweet but flirtatious evolution of Webb and Coco’s emails. By the time the pair meet face-to-face, I was grinning — I mean, who wouldn’t root for those crazy kids? And when things don’t go exactly as planned, I could sympathize. For as much as I had to suspend disbelief at points, Coco and Webb’s meeting was painfully realistic.

Though I sometimes get twitchy about labeling something a “summer read” (it can just seem dismissive), that’s exactly how I would describe In The Bag: light-hearted fiction that can be easily consumed while working on a tan. It doesn’t demand too much of you. It can be read in chunks and set aside for days or gobbled up all at once; either way, it doesn’t lose its charm. It’s fun and frothy. And that cover is too cute.

3.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0062108050 ♥ GoodreadsLibraryThingAmazonAuthor Website
Review copy provided by publisher in exchange for my honest review

Book review: ‘The Return’ by Victoria Hislop

the_returnWhen Sonia, a middle-aged British woman struggling to find space within her own marriage, travels to Spain for her friend’s birthday, stories of Granada’s vivid past are awakened — and her innate love of dancing is encouraged and ignited.

When Sonia meets elderly Miguel, the owner of a local cafe, she takes an immediate interest in the dynamic photos hanging on the walls of his shop — and those of the young woman in many of them. Over time, Miguel shares with her the heartbreaking stories of the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), focusing particularly on the Ramirez family — the original owners of the cafe he took over many decades earlier. Concha and Pablo ran their shop in relative security with their four children: Antonio, the kind eldest son; Ignacio, the tempestuous bull fighter; Emilio, the gentle guitarist; and Mercedes, their fiery young flamenco dancer and only daughter. As the war rages on and politics begin to consume the Ramirez family, and all of Spain, the fates of each are decided.

Victoria Hislop’s The Return is an engrossing work of historical fiction that drops you immediately onto the cobbled streets of Spain, slipping you seamlessly into the bullfighting ring with Ignacio or in a dank space with Mercedes, pounding out a rhythm with Javier, her love — and famed guitar player. As conditions worsen, troops move into town and the peaceful life they knew evaporates, the story focuses on elements of survival — and how each must come to terms with where the future will take them.

Hislop’s descriptions are so vivid and piercing, much of the language stopped me dead in my tracks. Though much of the imagery was, unfortunately, harrowing, I can’t say I expected anything different in a novel about war. One of my favorite descriptions:

Eventually, terrified of what was happening above them but fearful of remaining for too long below, people would come up into the light, emerging into a street where buildings had been dissected like cakes with a carving knife.

I wouldn’t have paired cake with war, but hey — it works. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg with Hislop’s colorful, moving prose! Her descriptions of Mercedes’ passion for Javier definitely pulled at my heart, and I breathed shallowly through each of their love-tense scenes. As battles continue and the war takes them farther from one another, I hoped right along with our young dancer that they would find each other again.

Going into The Return, my knowledge of the Spanish Civil War was confined to the fact that I knew there had been one; I couldn’t have told you anything at all about it. After finishing the novel, I definitely have a sense of the horrors of what happened there . . . particularly in regard to Guernica, something I once studied but had forgotten. Hislop does a masterful job of weaving the war’s events into the backdrop of our Ramirez clan, always keeping it in context to what they were going through. In this way, it never felt dull or pedantic; because I was waiting to see what would befall Mercedes, for example, I made my way quickly through the historical scenes to glean as much as I could about what would probably happen to her.

It’s interesting that Hislop chose to tell the story from a modern perspective — and, in particular, through Miguel’s recollections. As the Ramirez stories flowed, I was glad there was minimal interruption or “switching” from the past to the present, where Miguel and Sonia were spending the day in Granada as he told her the tales. If there had been more back-and-forth, it would have felt jarring; as it stands, I loved it. And plenty of unexpected twists in the story kept me reading quickly.

A fantastic, sweeping story that will draw you into a much different time and place. I was completely captivated and, though I tend to shy away from stories of war, adored spending so much time in Spain. Lovers of historical fiction will delight in the incredibly detailed descriptions, and readers will absorb this story of family, politics, faith, passion and, ultimately, redemption.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0061715417 ♥ Purchase from AmazonAuthor Website

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Review copy provided by TLC Book Tours