Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Good Neighbor

Finished September 10
The Good Neighbor: the Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, read by Levar Burton

This biographical work covers the whole of Fred Rogers' life, from childhood through his death from cancer. It moves chronological through his life for the most part, occasionally following themes through his work.
He grew up a bit lonely and had health issues as a child. His parents were very wealthy, and his father was head of a family industrial business. His mother was heavily involved in community projects, and that example played a large role in his life.
His love of music and passion for early childhood education led him to the career that made him famous. I found it interesting to see how he developed his career in television, including a stint with the CBC that originated many elements of his Mr. Rogers television role. He brought a huge part of himself to that role, and worked closely with education researchers on every element of his long-running program. In some ways, his family's wealth allowed him to stick to his principles, such as his adamant refusal to allow advertising to children on his shows. He demanded a lot from those he worked with, but also gave a lot himself. Even on his vacations, he would write music and scripts for the show.
I learned a lot about his background and motivations.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Lili Macaroni

Finished September 9
Lili Macaroni by Nicole Testa, illustrated by Annie Boulanger

This picture brings to life the issues surrounding bullying.
Lili grows up feeling loved. She can see bits of herself in other members of her family and make the emotional connection to that person as well. She draws and tells stories and feels good about who she is. She especially likes to draw butterflies with polka dots.
When she starts school, things change. Some kids make fun of her name, some insult her hair, her eyes, her freckles and her laugh. She doesn't feel good about herself anymore. She feels like these things about her are bad things.
We see how she tries to draw a different self on paper, but realizes that it erases those things about herself that she likes in other members of her family, and she can put herself in their shoes, thinking about how they would feel is she shared with them that she didn't like that part of her that they shared.
When she considers how to feel better, her father encourages her to draw her favourite kind of butterfly, She takes her butterfly to school and tells her class why she has it, and why she felt bad before she made it. This is good, showing people how sharing feelings can make others aware of a problem they may not have noticed.
Her teacher handles it well, and things get better at school. Lili now has learned one way to cope with her feelings.
The book includes some activities inspired by this story at the back, a great idea for kids struggling with negativity.


Not to Disturb

Finished September 8
Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark

This inventive black comedy takes place in a country house on a rainy night. While there are some brief interactions with the upper class owners and outsiders, the majority of the action takes place on the other side of the baize doors among the servants of the household.
The staff appears prescient of the events about to take place that evening, with some minor adjustments to be made as additional information is obtained. They calmly go about their business as a violent off-screen action takes place between the Baron, Baroness, and their secretary. The butler and housekeeper are the ones that give direction, as is expected, with major roles also taken by the chef and the pregnant maid.
This is a farce, but also a social statement. This is humour, but it is on the dark side of life. A very interesting read.

Murder in Pigalle

Finished September 7
Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

This is part of a mystery series featuring Parisian private investigator Aimee Leduc. Aimee runs her own agency with one full time partner and a hacker on call. Aimee's father was a Paris police officer who died in a bomb blast a few years ago. Her American mother ran away when she was only a child. As the book opens Aimee is well along in an unplanned pregnancy, but has not yet told the man who is the father. Her business partner cares for her, and has been solicitous of her condition. Zazie, the teenage daughter of the cafe owners across the street from her office is waiting for her as she arrives in the office after lunch, asking for her assistance in a case where young teens are being sexually assaulted in their own homes. Zazie has been doing her own sleuthing, based in part of her idolization of Aimee and in part from the female resistance activist that she researched for a school project. Shortly after asking for Aimee's help, Zazie disappears.
Aimee is worried that Zazie's investigation may have caught the attention of the rapist, and she desperately follows the clues she has and tries to get the police to recognize the pattern that Zazie identified and look for Zazie as a potential witness.
Aimee is an interesting character, impulsive, loyal, and determined. She also has issues to do with her parents, and with becoming a mother herself, not to mention relationship challenges. I really enjoyed this novel, the first I've read in the series.

Cygnet

Finished August 31
Cygnet by Season Butler

Kid, a seventeen-year-old girl has come to a remote island off the New Hampshire coast to live with her grandmother. Kid has led a peripatetic life, as her parents wandered from city to city, in search of a life. Her mother was a scavenger, who taught Kid to find food where she could and to cook. She also taught her how to avoid the worst of her father's mood swings. But as her parents gradually succumbed to drugs, Kid became more alone, and it was only when social services removed her from her parents that she was taken in by her grandmother Lolly.
The island, Swan Island, is home to a community of retired people, many with a hippie vibe, some of whom resent the intrusion of Kid, especially as her stay lengthens beyond that originally proposed by Lolly. As the book opens, Kid is living alone in Lolly's house, after Lolly's sudden death, hoping for her parents' return, desperately watching as the sea reclaims the land the house is on.
She manages to make her living working for one of the wealthier retirees who wants to remake her past. As Kid rewrites diaries and letters, doctors photographs, and makes other changes to reflect the woman's imagined perfect past, she also begins a relationship with a young man who visits his own grandmother. The young man, Jason, also supplies the island with a variety of legal and illegal pharmaceuticals, and acts as the middleman for their own modest pot-growing business. 
Kid has also grown close to another retiree, who is sinking fast, first through dementia and then through physical setbacks.
There are other nearby islands, one the former home of a beloved poet, another the site of a marine research team from the nearby university, a third a popular camping destination. These islands play a role in Kid's future as well.
As Kid comes to her eighteenth birthday, she must make choices about her life, and find a way to move on without the help of others.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Murder on Bamboo Lane

Finished August 31
Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara

This book is part of a series featuring police officer Ellie Rush. Ellie's mother is Japanese American and her family was interned during World War II. Ellie's father is white, and her paternal grandmother taught Spanish for years. So Ellie majored in Spanish in college at Pan Pacific West College, and then decided to join the police, following in the footsteps of her mother's sister, Cheryl Toma, who is now one of the senior offices in the LAPD. Ellie is a bicycle officer. A lot of her friends are still in college, including her ex-boyfriend Benjamin Choi, who is Korean American. Ellie's best friend Nay is Cambodian. One of Ellie's jobs is working as a community liaison, and one of her contacts complains about a missing person flyer that has been littering the neighbourhood. Ellie recognizes the missing girl as some she shared a class with at university, and become curious.
When the girl's body is discovered soon after, Ellie becomes involved in the case, and her aunt seems to be encouraging her to stay involved. As Ellie tries to juggle her work, with the relationships there that she is trying to develop to further her career, and her personal life, with some interesting family dynamics and an ex-boyfriend she still cares for, along with an interest in another police officer, she finds herself unsure of which steps are the right ones for her to move forward on.
Ellie mostly bicycles or uses transit, but she does have a car she inherited from her grandfather, a 1969 Buick Skylark that is long past its prime, and which has been dubbed the Green Mile. She lives alone with her dog Shippo in a small apartment in Highland Park. Ellie's younger brother Noah is close to her, but has his own issues.  There is a lot going on here, and I liked the depth of the character development for Ellie. I also liked the variety of ethnicities in the characters.

Evvie Drake Starts Again

Finished August 29
Evvie Drake Starts Again by Linda Holmes

The book begins with a flashback. Evvie is sitting in her car, preparing to leave her husband. This is something she's been thinking about doing for a while. She's packed a couple of things into the car when her phone rights. It's the hospital her husband works at. She thinks it is him, but it is instead someone calling to tell her to come to the hospital as he is badly hurt. She goes.
The book then jumps forward more than a year to Evvie still dealing with a lot of conflicting feelings about her situation. She's played the grieving widow that everyone else, including her best friend, Andy, thinks that she is. But in her own head, she thinks of herself as a monster, while also thinking about how no one ever knew how her husband treated her. They all think he was wonderful. She's living a lie, and doesn't know how to move forward.
Enter Dean Tenney, Andy's high school friend, who played professional baseball until a few months back when suddenly he couldn't anymore. He's spent the last few months getting professional help, trying to figure out why he couldn't do it anymore, but now he needs to leave that world and figure out what to do next. Andy figured that since Evvie's house had a basement apartment, and she would respect Dean's privacy, it was a good solution.
Evvie had been with her husband since she was sixteen, and planned to leave him on the day she'd been with him exactly half her life. Andy is divorced with two young girls, now five and seven, who Evvie is very close with. Evvie helped Andy a lot after his divorce, but she's never shared her own marital woes. Her husband Tim tolerated the friendship as long as she didn't share anything about their relationship, so she complied. Now, she hasn't been able to break down that barrier.
There's a lot of small town life here, both good and bad, a little romance, a little humour. I liked the attention to detail too.
At one point Evvie describes the nearby LL Bean store as being "full of men who want to find themselves but will settle for getting poison ivy on their balls instead." Evvie is a person who wants to help others, but doesn't know how to help herself. I liked to see how she changed over the course of the novel.