Sunday, March 22, 2020

"Together at the Table" by Hillary Manton Lodge

I got this from the library not knowing that it was book three in a trilogy.  Oooooooops.  In my defense, the library barcodes and such had totally covered up all but the numeral 3 on the back cover, and that's the only place the cover mentioned it was part of a series, so I thought it was a stand-alone like Jane of Austin

But it was totally okay -- I figured out what was going on with no trouble at all.  Lodge is too good a writer to let new readers who stumble into the series midway be confused. 

And y'all... she is a very good writer indeed.  Within a few pages, I wanted to be friends with restaurateur Juliette D'Alisa, hang out at the Two Blue Doors restaurant she runs with her brother, go on genealogy-tracing adventures with her to Chicago and Europe. 

Juliette goes through a lot of relationship upheaval in this book.  Proposals.  Breakups.  Make-ups.  But none of it was... overwrought.  Or rushed.  Or sappy.  It all unfolded in a way that felt very believable to me.  The central romance was refreshingly realistic.  And there's a wedding in the middle of the book, not at the end, which was awesome!  Also, Juliette has two men in her life in a romantic sense, and neither of them is a jerk.  Or a creep.  Or a "bad boy."  They're both nice guys.  I can't remember the last time I ran into that.  Even in Jane Austen one guy ends up being secretly skanky or an opportunistic fortune hunter or whatever.  Lodge sidesteps all the love-triangle tropes so beautifully, and I applaud her.

All during her relationship changes, Juliette is also dealing with a lot of changes at the restaurant, plus she's trying to solve a mystery about her grandmother's experiences during World War II in France.  You know I also love things that involve WWII, so I really enjoyed that aspect of the story.  It's the one part where I really felt like having read the first two books would have been nice, but not to the point where I wanted to put this down and go find the earlier books and read those before finishing this one. 

Eventually, Juliette's grandmother's own words, via letter, fill in a lot of gaps and answer a lot of questions.  We learn her own story of love lost and love found.  Her story doesn't mirror Juliette's too neatly, and yet they are both stories of "lost love and second helpings" as the title puts it.

Also, Juliette's family is awesome.  She and her sisters are my people.  Their conversations are so much like things my brother and I say, dropping stuff like the Kobayashi Maru in very naturally, and just... can I please hang out with them?

I'm going to have to read the first two books now.  Our library is offering curb-side pick-up for materials to minimize contact, and I think the kids and I are going to have to try that this week.  If I end up loving those two as much as I loved this one, I'll have no choice but to buy the whole set so I can have it on my shelf and hug them as much as I want.  And reread them.

(Mine from my Instagram)

Particularly Good Bits:

I didn't answer.  I couldn't.  There were only questions in my head where answers used to be (p. 58).

Was that what it meant to be a grownup?  To finally realize that your parents weren't invincible, but that they had challenges and struggles of their own? (p. 80).

So often I feel worry is a heavy, wet, wool blanket we wear about our shoulders (p. 255).

If This was a Movie, I Would Rate It: PG-13 for some discussions of sexual matters in dialog, some frank and some veiled, all tasteful and the sorts of things adult sisters would really say to each other, or wives to their husbands.  There are no descriptive sex scenes, and I would consider this a clean book, but some might not.  There is no cussing or scenes of violence, though the WWII parts involve some dangerous situations.


  1. This sounds like a good story.

    Love triangles drive me up the wall for a LOT of reasons, one of them being that (as you say) one of the guys is almost always an obvious "bad choice" ... I don't know if I'd enjoy this book, but I'm glad to hear she avoided that trope!

    1. Katie, it is.

      Love triangles don't tend to bother me, maybe because I myself have had times when I was interested in more than one guy, so I don't see them as super weird? (I mean, when I was first interested in Cowboy, I also had my eye on this very sweet baseball player. Who, it turned out, had a girlfriend. So, you know, that was kind of a triangle too, me liking him and him liking someone else.)

      This felt less like an actual triangle than like "Girl is with guy one. Girl breaks up with guy one. Girl gets back together with guy two, whom she previously dated." Like, it's a sequence, not a triangle? I think?

    2. I've never experienced a love triangle, and I've never known any of my friends to experience one, so I guess that's one reason why they do seem weird to me. I've never been seriously interested in more than one guy at once. Heck, I've only ever been seriously interested a grand total of two guys. :-P Period.

      So there's a lot of stuff about relationships in fiction where I go "wow, okay, that sounds fake"--but that doesn't mean it's never happened to ANYBODY--even though it certainly hasn't happened to me. ;-)

      Ah, I gotcha. Yeah, that makes sense.

    3. Katie, I kind of have several times, tbh. Right when Cowboy and I were first dating, I was tutoring this other college student, and he was throwing off a lot of signals about liking me, but... I was already dating Cowboy. So yeah, to me it's like, this happens.

      There's a great quotation from Cary Grant about movies that applies also to book romance, I think. It's something along the lines of, "Any love scene will look overdone and phony to anyone who's never been in love, and understated and lackluster to anyone who has." So... I get you there.


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