Monday, 30 November 2020

Never Tell

Finished November 18
Never Tell by Lisa Gardner

This is a police mystery that has additional elements. It is part of the Detective D.D. Warren series, but we also have the presence of FBI investigators and a former victim who now acts as a confidential informant and seems to be doing unpaid undercover work. 
The novel starts with a crime with a man, Conrad, shot in his home office and his pregnant wife, Evelyn, with the gun in her hand. But she says she shot the computer, not him. And there is an eight minute gap between the first shots reported and the most recent ones. But she has a history. Back when she was a teenager she confessed to accidently shooting her father in the kitchen of their home when he was teaching her about the gun. And that case was one of D.D. Warren's as well. 
Flora, who was a victim years ago of a man who kidnapped her and held her as a prisoner for more than a year, has seen the story of the crime on the news, and she recognizes the victim from her time with her captor. What does that mean, and is she ready to dig deeper into those horrific experiences from her past. It is her that brings Kimberly Quincy, the FBI agent who rescued her into the case, and surprisingly another civilian, one who has extensive knowledge of his own. 
Evelyn has a difficult relationship with her mother Joyce, who idolized her father. Since his death, the two have grown further apart, with Joyce trying to bring her closer through the purchase of material things and Evie determined to build her own life. 
There is a lot going on here, with ties far into the past for both Evie and Conrad, and with Flora opening up those past traumas of her own as well. 
Many people have secrets, and those secrets often lead to more anguish and sorrow. Good intentions, but not always good outcomes. As the truths begin to emerge, this case takes on a different tone, and has more interesting dynamics.

Monday, 23 November 2020

The London Restoration

Finished November 17
The London Restoration by Rachel McMillan

This novel takes place in the fall of 1945, with some flashbacks to earlier times during World War II. The two central characters are a married couple who must find their way emotionally to each other. They got married during the war and have only had a few visits since then, and have never lived together. Diana Somerville (nee Foyle) is a student of architecture, church architecture in particular. She loves the churches of Christopher Wren, but is interested in all churches. She is therefore a fount of information on the churches. Brent Somerville, her husband is a professor of theology at King's College in London. His specialty is the gospels by the apostles. The two met in a churchyard, where he was eating lunch and sketching his surrounding and she was admiring the architecture and made the first move in their relationship by approaching him. 
During the war, knowing that she would be bored by many of the tasks available to young women, one of Diana's professors recommended her for secret work at Bletchley Park. They preferred single women, so even though she recently married Brent, she signed up under her maiden name. There she worked on breaking codes, using her knowledge of German and other skills from her education. Brent knew that she worked for the Foreign Office, but wasn't aware of her secret work. He worked as a medic and orderly, transporting wounded, and near the end of the war was wounded himself. He still has trauma related to his experiences and hasn't shared the extent of his PTSD with Diana. 
At the end of the war, Diana's superior Simon asked her to do some work for him relating to a new challenge that he sees for the country, the threat of communism and Russian tactics. She has gone to Austria on this mission for two weeks, missing Brent's homecoming. 
With Brent not aware of what she has been doing, nor of what she was away in Austria for, there is a barrier that has been raised between them. With Brent not sharing his own war experiences, there is also a barrier from his end. The young couple are very much in love, and very smart people, but they must feel their way into this new phase of their relationship. 
When you add that Diana's recent actions may put them in danger, this novel offers a lot of suspense. I hadn't read this Canadian author prior to this and enjoyed the book.

The Weekend

Finished November 15
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

This Australian novel is set around a Christmas season weekend, with three long-time friends in their seventies. It's been a year since they lost the fourth member of their group, Sylvie, and Sylvie's partner is planning to sell her house in a seaside town. The three women will clean out the house, taking anything they want to keep.
It's a good plan, but the women are all dealing with personal issues of their own. 
Jude has worked in restaurants all her life and never married, but she's had a decades long relationship with a married man, Daniel, with him supplying the apartment she lives in. They meet on a regular basis and she's sure his wife must be aware of her existence, but no contact with her has ever occurred. One of the meetings is due to happen at Sylvie's house after the clean-out. They've met there at that time of year regularly. 
Wendy, an internationally respected academic, lost her husband several years back and fell into a depression, one that her dog helped her to climb out of. Her dog is now old and failing, but she can't bring herself to let it die. She has difficult relationships with both her children, feeling more distanced from them that she would like.
Adele is an aging actress, one who hasn't been working for sometime. She has fallen into poverty and her most recent relationship has just ended, leaving her without a place to return home to after this weekend. She is in good shape physically and looks after herself, but is clinging to her identity as an actress and not able to find a way to move forward. 
As the three women learn how to navigate their relationship with each other without their fourth member, they also must figure out the next step in their individual lives.
I really enjoyed this book, with its strong characters and nuanced relationships.

Wednesday, 18 November 2020

My Books for Classic Spin #25

 I was successful in knocking off a classic that had been on my shelf for years when I did the last Classic Spin, so I'm definitely up for another one. 

Here's the challenge host post for Classics Club Spin 25

Here is my list of books.
1. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
3. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
4. The Water Babies by Charles Kingsley
5. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
6. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
7. Roxana by Daniel Defoe
8. Remembrance of Things Past 1 by Marcel Proust
9. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
11. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
12. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
13. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
14. Madame Bovary by Gustav Flaubert
15. Dracula by Bram Stoker
16. Persuasion by Jane Austen
17. The Cretan Runner by George Psychoundakis
18. The Deptford Trilogy by Robertson Davies
19. Seven Gothic Tales by Isak Dinesen
20. Fire from Heaven by Mary Renault

Some are definitely more of a challenge than others!

Saturday, 14 November 2020

The Grass Is Singing

Finished November 13 
The Grass Is Singing by Doris Lessing

This novel was one I was due to read with my book club this year, but plans changed. I decided to read it anyway since I had it on my shelves. 
To me this reads as a tragedy. The main character here Mary, grew up in South Africa and Rhodesia, moving around to different stations with her parents. Theirs was not a happy marriage, and Mary escaped to the city young, and became an office worker. Her emotional growth was a bit stunted, never leaving the phase of innocent teenage flirting. She was good at her job, and it was only when she overheard gossip about herself that she became dissatisfied with her life and began to look to marriage as a solution. 
Her impetuous marriage to a veldt farmer in Rhodesia was not the solution she needed, but it is where she found herself. 
We know from the beginning of the book her end, there on the farm, through an act of violence. The book takes us through how she got to that place, the various people that had a role in that life, from her husband Dick to their closest neighbour and the black workers that were on the farm.
This is an immensely sad book, and one mourns the forces that took these characters on this journey. Mental health is definitely one of them as we see the deterioration in both Mary and Dick through their time together. 
So well written, but so so sad.
Language warning: First published in 1950, this book uses racial terms that are not acceptable now.

District and Circle

Finished November 12 
District and Circle by Seamus Heaney

I was feeling in the mood for some poetry lately, so pulled this one that has been on my shelf for some time. 
The subjects of the poems here vary widely. The title poem refers to the London Underground, with others looking at common objects, memories returned of childhood friends, food, an ancient bogman, wildlife, or the feel of a place visited. 
His writing requires concentration for me to focus on the words, consider meaning and allusion and connect the poems to my own life and experiences. 
Poetry is a great way to slow down and thus good for the times we are in. I think I shall pull more poetry off my shelves soon.
My copy of this was used, and I enjoyed the copious notes made by what appears to be a student analyzing the poems. This added to my experience in an interesting way.

A Royal Affair

Finished November 11 
A Royal Affair by Allison Montclair

This is the second book in a mystery series, but I have not yet the first one. The two characters at the centre of the book are Iris Sparks and Gwendolyn Bainbridge. The two women work together to own and run The Right Sort of Marriage Bureau. Iris Sparks worked in an unidentified, but hush-hush manner in the war, and has a bit of a disreputable reputation in some of the "right circles" for some of her improper romantic experiences. She is also a Cambridge graduate. She is currently in the initial stages of a relationship with a mobster. Gwen Bainbridge is a war widow with a young son, Ronnie. She had a breakdown following the loss of her husband, which necessitated a stay in an institution. She is living with her in-laws and struggling for custody of her son. Gwen is of the upper class, came out, and has all the right connections, but her breakdown has made her former acquaintances slightly wary of her. 
The story is set in 1946.One of Gwen's cousin's, Lady Patience Matheson works for the Queen and has come to them on a delicate matter. A threatening letter was sent to Princess Elizabeth regarding one of her suitors, Prince Philip. Matheson asks Gwen and Iris to look into it and see if they can clear things up. With a case of attempted blackmail, at least one dead body, and a few Greeks involved, the two women look into the situation, but find that it is much more dangerous than it seemed at first.
The office of The Right Sort of Marriage Bureau is quite small and they are hoping to expand to the empty office next door, which comes with some lovely desks, but need more funds to make it work. This could be the opportunity they need, if all goes well. As they handle this unusual request, they also continue to match couples for the agency, and encounter some interesting personal situations. 
I like both the characters, women working in a world that didn't see a lot of independent women, and smart ones at that. There is some very good humour, and some suspenseful scenes. A great read.