Pitch-Perfect Wry Charm: All Together Now by Gill Hornby

cover imageSome novels put the quirky charm front and center and try to win the reader over too quickly, but Gill Hornby’s All Together Now plays it cool in that stiff-upper-lip, British, deadpan way. The author wins over the jaded reader with irony, wit, humor, and a bit of pathos before getting the feel-good vibes really going.

The suburban, commuter village of Bridgeford is losing its small-town charm and identity to chains, superstores, and outside developers. At the same time, the members of this novel’s ensemble cast find themselves individually in flux – whether by their children growing into independent adults; their unhappy spouses asking for divorces; or their employers making them redundant. As a reader, I rooted for caustic Tracey, steady Lewis, do-gooder Annie, and bemused Bennett, while also seeing their annoying sides and sometimes wanting to shake them – because that’s what you do when you fall in love with a story and its characters!

The title comes from the Bridgeford community choral group that Lewis and Annie are in, which needs an influx of new voices and enthusiastic support to keep it from dying the death from attrition that seems imminent. Enthusiasm is in extremely short supply, but most of the characters are overflowing with guilt and self-reproach, so that works almost as well to keep them coming to rehearsals.

The author (wife of novelist Robert Harris and sister of novelist Nick Hornby) focuses on the personalities and drama within the community chorus/choir, much as she did with a group of school mothers in her first novel, The Hive. The St. Ambrose School and a couple of characters from The Hive make cameo appearances here, but this isn’t a sequel or even really a companion novel.

If you like novels by Anne Tyler, Ann Leary, Rachel Joyce, JoJo Moyes, and other wry observers of human nature you will enjoy spending time with the good (and not-so-good) people of Bridgeford.

All Together Now
Hornby, Gill
Little, Brown
July 21, 2015
9780316234740
336 pp.
$26.00 US/$29.00 CAN

Disclosure: I received a free advance reader’s copy for review from Library Journal, where I also gave it a rave review.

Other opinions:
Tales from the Reading Room

3 Mini New England Mystery Reviews: The Big Dig, Rogue Island, & Steamed

Three of the many older mysteries that I read this year for book clubs and for a genre study. These are all set in New England.

The Big Dig by Linda Barnescover image (Macmillan, 2002)
Carlotta Carlyle used to be police and is now a private investigator. A tall redhead, she has to disguise her striking looks to go undercover, as she does here, when she’s hired by another former cop, Eddie, to investigate possible criminal activity such as fraud, theft, or graft, on one of the many Big Dig construction sites in Boston in the year 2000. Posing as a new secretary and nosing around, she soon notices signs of a much more serious crime, especially after the dead body of a complaining construction worker is found on the site. The Boston setting, the gritty violence discussed matter-of-factly, and the first-person narration make this a good readalike for anyone who likes the Spenser novels by Robert B. Parker. (Like Spenser, Carlotta can be something of a smartass and follows her own rules.) The Big Dig is 9th in the series, but can be read on its own.

coverRogue Island by Bruce DeSilva (Forge, 2010)
With a blurb from Dennis Lehane and its Providence, Rhode Island setting, this hard-boiled, noir-ish mystery has a headstart on being popular in the Boston area. Judging from the check-outs in our library system, this series featuring an old-fashioned, investigative journalist, Liam Mulligan, seems to be taking off.
Throughout a frigid New England winter, buildings in the neighborhood Mulligan grew up in are being burned down and the politically appointed arson squad doesn’t seem to be doing much to find out who’s doing it. This story of politicians and crooks (often one and the same, according to Mulligan) is populated with colorful characters and told in Mulligan’s voice. I enjoyed the audiobook edition, narrated by Jeff Woodman, and the book was popular with our library mystery book club.
First in Mulligan series that’s now up to three, Rogue Island won the 2011 Edgar Award for Best First Novel.

cover image

Steamed by Jessica Conant-Park & Susan Conant (Berkley, 2006)
Discovering a murder victim on a first date can be very upsetting. Chloe Carter, a 20-something foodie living in Brighton, finds this out as she tries to make her cheating ex jealous with a guy she found on an online dating site who turns out to be a jerk. All isn’t lost as the chef at the restaurant is extremely hot. However, he also happens to be the prime suspect.
Steamed is half chick lit, half culinary cozy. Humor and recipes –along with a murder – make it a cozy, but the first-person voice, a sprinkling of spicy language, and the romantic comedy will appeal to chick lit readers. (First in Gourmet Girl series)

Weekend Cooking — Frontera: Margaritas, Guacamoles and Snacks #weekendcooking

book cover imageI have a feeling I know the name Rick Bayless from other Mexican food cookbooks, but what attracted me to take Frontera out from the library was the cover photo with the icy cocktail shaker, the summery cocktails, and the dish of guacamole. Looking good!

My husband already makes a perfectly wonderful guacamole (lots of cilantro) and margarita (not frozen, please, and lots of salt on the rim) without needing a recipe for either, but I might convince him to try one of the guacamole variations in this cookbook, such as Guacamole with Strawberries and Habanero or Guacamole with Bacon, Grilled Ramps (or Green Onions) and Roasted Tomatillos.

In the meantime, I’ll focus on the cocktail recipes. The author goes into detail on the making of the perfect margarita, and I definitely agree with him on the salt question (Should it even be a question?):

“Personally, for most margaritas, I don’t consider the salted glass rim an indulgence, a gilding of the lily. I consider salt as important in most margarita making as in good salsa making or good grilling. Without salt, you can produce a tasty creation…but not a drop-dead delicious one. More than any other distilled spirit, tequila has a flavor that pops when you add a little salt. Plus the combination of lime and salt seasons half of what folks eat in Mexico. So salted-rim margaritas make sense from both a flavor and a cultural perspective.”

There’s a chapter on agua frescas that gives recipes for each day of the week, and recipes for seasonal variations on the margarita — to make individual drinks and pitchers for parties. I definitely want to try the summer Peach (or Mango)-Basil Margarita using fresh basil from our garden. (The bartender’s notes for this recipe say that instead of basil, you should use the Mexican herb hoja santa, if you can find it in your area.) Find the Peach (or Mango)-Basil Margarita recipe here.

I also want to try the Black Currant-Rhubarb Margarita this summer, which calls for creme de cassis (black currant liqueur). We have rhubarb from the garden to use up!

pina coladas with chips, guacamole, and salsa
Pina coladas instead of margaritas here, but next time, margaritas a la Rick Bayless!

The recipes in Frontera seem a little time-consuming and fussy, but that’s partly because of all the detailed notes, I think. This cookbook is great for someone concerned with making these drinks and snacks in the best, most authentic way, but I think you could substitute here and there and be a little slap-dash about your preparation and still come out with some great margaritas, guacamoles, and snacks using this book!

Happy Weekend Cooking!

Weekend Cooking buttonThis post is part of Weekend Cooking, a weekly feature on Beth Fish Reads. Click on the image for more Weekend Cooking posts.

Suggestions from a Massachusetts Librarian

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