Monday, 15 July 2019

Death and Other Happy Endings

Finished July 12
Death and Other Happy Endings by Melanie Cantor

Set in London, this book opens with Jennifer Cole in her doctor's office getting her results from her recent blood tests, as she hopes for help finding a cause for her low energy. She is completely unprepared for the result that she has a rare and incurable blood disorder and has only a few short months to live. Jennifer is in her early forties, divorced after her husband cheated on her when she was in depression after her third miscarriage. She lives alone and isn't currently in a relationship. After commiserating with her best friend, Jennifer is talked into writing letters to the people she has been hurt by, getting out those feelings that she's always hidden behind her niceness.
One letter is to her ex-husband and his wife (the woman that he cheated on her with). Another is to a more recent boyfriend, who also cheated on her. The third is to her older sister, a woman who she has grown increasingly distant from but used to idolize.
Jennifer decreases her hours at work, wanting the distraction that work brings, but not able to keep working full-time, and takes time to reflect on her life. She finds herself reconnecting with people, doing things that are more spontaneous, and being more open to new experiences.
The book has humour, interesting situations, and a few surprises.
An enjoyable read.

Peace River Country

Finished July 7
Peace River Country by Ralph Allen

I picked this up thinking it was about the northwest part of Alberta that my parents grew up in, but the title of the book is more about a goal for the characters. Most of the story takes place in southern Saskatchewan.
As the novel opens, Bea Sondern and her two children Harold and Kathleen are on a train, about to live the town of Dobie. Harold knows they are running away, but the younger Kathleen seems more nonchalant, ready for the next stage of their lives. They talk about what they'll do for a living when they get to their destination, the Peace River Country, and what kind of place it is. Their destination is one that sounds wonderful to people dealing with the drought of the prairies. They talk about the wonderful names of the towns in the Peace River Country, and of the weather. They left Regina in 1933 for Dobie, and now four years later their next stop is Elevator, another small Saskatchewan town. Each town is a step closer to their dream destination.
As the conductor comes to take their tickets, they recognize the long-serving CPR man Chatsworth. He knows their situation and tries to be helpful without looking like he is offering charity. As they reach Elevator, where Chatsworth lives, he offers a room in his own home to them, without first consulting his wife and daughter.
Bea is a hard worker and is quick to find something that she can do to earn a living, whether it is taking in laundry, or cleaning, or doing piecework. Even when sometimes it was clear that she wasn't very good at these things, she still persisted in trying her best.
So what are they running from. They are running from Chris Sondern, Bea's husband and Harold and Kathleen's father. Chris is a good man, well-meaning and intelligent, but he has a weakness for drink, and his alcoholism is an illness that won't let him go. Bea tried to stay, until she couldn't. Now, when, for whatever reason, Chris follows them, even though he knows himself that he shouldn't, they must move on.
We see inside Bea, her love for her husband that still lives, her love for her children, and for the children she didn't have, but wanted. We see her hope for a better future. We see her plans and her preparations.
We see inside Chris, see his knowledge that he isn't good for his family in the state he is in, though he longs for them. We see how he met Bea back in the twenties when he was newly promoted to second teller and she was a waitress in a diner. We see how they married even though he earned less than the minimum amount the bank set for its employees to marry and so he lost his job, and we see how his fall began.
We see inside Harold, his worry and fear of being hopeful. How he longs to be accepted, but doesn't really believe that he will be. How he feels himself an outsider.
This isn't a happy book, but it is an interesting one, a story of its time, of how choices can lead in directions that are unexpected. The story is told subtly, with hints and thoughts and feelings.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

As Long as We Both Shall Live

Finished July 7
As Long as We Both Shall Live by Joann Chaney

In this novel we see inside the mind of various characters. The female protagonist Janice, the other female protagonist Marie, the male protagonist Matt, the female detective Spengler, and the male detective Loren.
Janice knows her husband has been cheating on her, and she decides to get proof, but then what should she do. Marie also knows her husband has been cheating on her, and now the girls have left home, they are increasingly distant from each other. Is the planned outing to the mountains a way forward, a way to reconnect?
Matt keeps a lot of secrets, but he isn't that good at it. Many times, keeping silent is the best way for him to react when he feels cornered. But not always.
Loren has his own past that he has run from, and never talked about again. But now it seems to be coming back to him again. He knows he didn't have a lot of choices back then, but did he make the right one.
Spengler is the new officer in Homicide, and she's getting her fair share of jokes, innuendos, and other crap from her fellow officers. But she has a good home life, and that keeps her going When she's paired up with Loren on this case, she has a few things that she'll learn.
This is a case with more than one unreliable narrator, and a few twists and turns. Some I saw coming, others I didn't. I really enjoyed the read.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Fix Her Up

Finished July 5
Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

This spicy romance novel is the small town of Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York. Travis Ford is a local boy who became a baseball superstar, playing in the majors. He also got a reputation as a ladies man, never staying with one woman for long enough to have a relationship. But after an injury, his skills weren't what they were, and he was traded around a bit before ending up without a contract. So now he's back home, and feeling sorry for himself. Enter Georgette (Georgie) Castle, the little sister of Travis' best friend Stephen.
Georgie has been in love with Travis for years, but never expressed her feelings. Her family knows, but no one has told Travis. Georgie has been working as a clown, making a living doing parties and other events. Now she's looking to step it up and hire some performers and become a larger entertainment company. Only problem is that no one seems to take her seriously, always treating her like a kid. And she's tired of that.
She's easygoing though, and has enough personality to take on Travis. She challenges his attitude, getting him out of his apartment and among the living again, and then she challenges him again, and just keeps on doing that.
And Travis finds himself seeing her in a different light, and feeling guilty for being so attracted to her. But also feeling like he's not felt about a woman before.
And so the story goes.
There is humour, graphic sex, and a decent plot. A fun, summer read.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Craftfulness

Finished July 4
Craftfulness: Mend Yourself by Making Things by Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin, read by Joan Walkter

This short book looks at the mental health aspect of simple craft activities. It talks about how doing crafts is becoming more popular as more people realize we all have creativity within us. We need to be open to new experiences, to learning new skills, and failing at first as we do so.
They cite their own experiences, the experiences of friends, and various research that has been done to show how engaging in a creative pursuit helps us be happier and more engaged with the world around us.
Doing crafts has been shown to help with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges, and they give some instances of this research and some programs that use crafting to formally address these issues.
They also go through a number of simple crafts: knitting a scarf, creating a pinch pot, making a booklet, drawing, writing, and weaving, to start the reader off. They emphasize the idea of flow, of finding something that really engages you, of being open to trying a few different activities to see what clicks with you, and being aware of the time it takes to gain the basic skills for the that particular craft.
Personally, I engage in a few crafts, and I've been aware for some time of how they help me deal with stress and other issues in my life, but it was interesting to hear about this more broadly.

August Heat

Finished July 3
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri

I'm gradually working my way through this series featuring Sicilian policeman Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Here, Montalbano has had to cancel his planned vacation when one of his officers has a family issue that takes him away. Montalbano's girlfriend Livia isn't as upset as he expected her to be, but asks him to find a house near the beach for rent for friends of hers, so she can spend time with them while he is working and comes to stay.
He finds a house in a great location and things are looking well, until a few days in, things start to go wrong at the house. As each thing happens, the friends grow more upset, until the finding of a body is the last straw. Livia is livid as well, and leaves with her friends, and the dynamic between Salvo and Livia isn't good.
With the case going back six years, Montalbano and his officers dig into the past, and find many things less than appealing.
Like the previous books, there is always some lovely descriptions of food that arise, both from Montalbano's housekeeper, and from his favourite restaurant, Enzo's. This book has Montalbano doing a few unsavoury things as his feelings get in the way of his good sense. As always, I enjoy the other police characters as well.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Fed Up

Finished July 3
Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

This is a book that will speak to many, if not all, women. In most cultures, it is the woman who does the emotional labour in a relationship, who keeps things up, who organizes things, who makes sure that things get done. It is the mental load of this tasks, noticing what needs doing, what connects to what (if your son has soccer tomorrow, you need to ensure his uniform is clean and ready, dinner is organized to be quick to be done before game time, and any transportation is planned). It isn't just about putting things on the calendar. It's about seeing the connections between things, between people, between tasks, and noting the minutiae in the big picture.
This can be draining, even more than the physical tasks that accompany it are. Gemma looked at this in her own life, and in the lives of many others, doing a lot of research as she wrote this book. Her husband Rob was a man who wanted to do better, but didn't understand emotional labour, and didn't know how to engage more. (Notice that I didn't say "how to help"). They eventually worked out how to share emotional labour more in their relationship, not only because it improved life for both of them, but also to avoid having this dynamic pass on to the next generation.
When Gemma realized that she had to change her own approach and attitude big time, it was an aha moment. They had to figure it out together. If she really wanted this change, and she did, they had to work it out as a team, not as a leader and a helper. She notes that keeping things in balance is an ongoing challenge, but that they both look forward to figuring it out together.
This was an eye-opening and inspiring look at the issue of emotional labour, and offers real solutions to recognizing the value of this work and finding more fulfillment. Highly recommended.