Monday 22 July 2024

Summer Romance

Finished July 16
Summer Romance by Annabel Monaghan

This romance novel is delightful and heartwarming with touches of humour. The central character is Ali Morris, a woman who is struggling. Two years ago, Ali's mom Nancy died. She'd raised Ali mostly on her own, and after having children and moving back to her home town, Ali had relied on her a lot. One year ago, Ali's husband Pete told her he wanted a divorce and left. Ali has a professional organizing business that she runs part-time wherever she can fit it in, but her own home is a mess. 
Pete and Ali have a civilized separation. He takes their daughters, Iris (5th grade) and Greer (6th grade), for their sports practices and games, and for ice cream after, accompanied by their son, Cliffy (kindergarten). When he calls to say that after a year's separation, it's time to make things final with a divorce, things somehow become a little better for Ali. 
Ali's kids called her mom Fancy, a take-off on her given name, not because she wore designer clothes or had upscale tastes, but because she did things on a whim, things that were easy and fun, a passing fancy. 
Ali's best friend Frannie also lives in town, and runs her parents deli along with her husband Marco. Frannie's parents live in a big house downtown, run an inn that is also downtown, and are very quirky. They dress up in costumes for any reason at all, and are very involved in the community. 
After school lets out the kids are at day camp on weekdays, and Ali starts to work on her to-do list and move on with her life. She takes off her wedding ring, puts on something other than sweatpants, and takes their dog Ferris to the dog park. There, Ferris approaches a man and pees on him, and soon after Ali finds herself flirting with him. The man, Ethan, begins to make regular appearances in her life, and Ali slowly finds that she has a lot to think about. 
As she reevaluates her dying marriage in the course of the divorce, she finds that she's not been holding her husband accountable for a long time, and she has only herself to blame for that. She begins to make small changes in her life, and decides that a summer romance is just the thing, and Ethan is just the right guy. 
I really liked pretty much all the characters in the book, except Pete, and I found the book had a lightness to it despite some very serious plot points. I couldn't put it down, and found myself reading the whole book in one day. An excellent, and satisfying read. 

Sometimes the Wolf

Finished July 16
Sometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite

This dark novel is set in the northwest U.S., and centers around deputy sheriff Bobby Drake. Twelve years previous to the events in the novel, Bobby's father Patrick had been sheriff. Bobby had been away at university. Bobby's mother had been ill, and Patrick had taken to some illegal acts for money. He was caught and convicted, and is now coming out of jail. 
Bobby has agreed, reluctantly, to take his father in for a short time until he gets on his feet. Bobby's wife Sheri is agreeable to it as well. They will give him the room they had prepared for another purpose, which has a single bed in it. 
Bobby has been working with the local wildlife office with a situation involving a local wolf. The wolf has had some interactions with local farmers and has been blamed for some without solid proof, and the wildlife officer Ellie is planning to capture and tag the wolf so that they can track it and be aware of its whereabouts. 
Patrick seems a little wary once out, thinking that other cars are following them, or that people are watching them, and Bobby has put it down as part of the experience of getting out of prison, and not being used to the freedom and open space that now exists for him. 
Bobby also holds a lot of resentment towards his father. He quit university, came home, sold some of the land to save the house, and now lives in that house with his own wife, and works for his father's old deputy, who is now sheriff. 
Soon after his release, men from his past do appear in Patrick's life, and Bobby and Sheri are at risk. The federal agent who has been on Patrick's case from the beginning has also reappeared, and his presence raises other questions. 
This is a dark story, of fathers and sons, of guilt and the weight of it on those close to us, and of revenge. It is a fast-paced story with lots of action and suspense. 

Thursday 18 July 2024

Sorry, Bro

Finished July 13
Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni

In San Francisco, Nareh Bedrossian is focused on her career as a journalist, working six days a week and hoping her boss gives her a chance at a story beyond the human interest stories she's been given up to now. She lives with her mother and grandmother and her Armenian heritage is very much a part of her life, despite her father's efforts to Americanize their family. Her long-term boyfriend Trevor is also a hard worker, and when he springs a proposal on her in a busy bar surrounded by drunken tech sector workers, she is struck dumb. He is off to business meetings overseas for a few weeks, so she has some time to really analyze how she feels and what she should do now.
She tells her mother about her uncertainty, and her mother, finally emerging from the deep grief she has over Nareh's father's death, pushes her into looking for love within her own culture. Explore Armenia, a big cultural event that happens every three years, is beginning, and Nareh's mom has her sign up for numerous events to meet eligible men. Her mom also does research through her many connections and comes up with a list of possibilities for her. 
Nareh does find herself captivated by someone she meets at her very first event, but that person is Erebuni, a woman. Nareh has identified as bisexual for years, but since she's been with Trevor for years, her attraction to Erebuni is unexpected and a little scary. She is scared that her feelings won't be reciprocated, that her family won't accept her relationship, and that she isn't herself ready to be out of the closet. 
All of these things combine to force Nareh into making a choice. 
I found the Armenian aspect of this book to be overwhelming, with many terms not explained. I think it would be helpful if the author had a list of these terms with definitions at the back of the book. Still, her Armenian identity becomes such a big part of her life, personally and professionally, that it just felt somewhat unrealistic. I've read other romance books that exist in cultural groups, and haven't encountered this much culture overkill. 
An okay read, but I had to force my way through parts of it. 

Wednesday 17 July 2024

The Book of Dreams

Finished July 12
The Book of Dreams by Nina George

This novel was a definite page-turner for me. It in hard to pin down exactly what type of novel it is in terms of genre. It definitely has elements of magic realism in it, but also some coming of age elements, a touch of mystery, and romance. It is a novel that had me feeling a lot of different emotions as well. 
The story follows four people and we are allowed into the thoughts of three of them. The book begins with Henri Skinner, a journalist who grew famous as a war reporter and then moved into more biographical work, telling the stories of people from all corners of the world. 
In one particularly dangerous situation in Sudan, he used his body to protect the female photographer who was in the same vehicle as he was. In the aftermath, she took a photo the reverberates over time, and the two came together to create a child, Sam. 
Sam is now almost fourteen, but his mother has discouraged contact with Henri, but Sam invites him to a Father-Son day at his school. Henri is on his way there, when he stops on a bridge to look at the river and witnesses, with three other people, a young girl falling off a boat. Henri jumps in to save her, and brings her to shore, but is then in an accident, and ends up unconscious in the hospital. 
Sam begins to visit him there, hoping he will survive and they will get to know each other. Along with Sam, in visiting Henri is Eddie Tomlin, a former lover of Henri that he has named as the person to determine medical issues if he isn't able to. She is forced to revisit their relationship and the deep love she has for Henri. 
Sam also discovers a twelve-year-old girl, Madelyn Zeidler, a dancer who is a patient in the same neurological care area as Henri, and once he knows how she came to be there, he tries his best to help her find her way back to life. 
Sam is a synesthete, and his abilities allow him to connect to people's emotions and presence in unique ways, making him a considerate and thoughtful observer and participant in people's lives. 
We get to see Eddie's memories of her time with Henri, and we also get to see Henri's memories of his life, from his work, to his childhood traumas, to his longing for a connection with his son. While in a coma, Henri experiences different versions of his life, struggling to choose which one is real, and showing us feelings that he never expressed to those he cared for. 
We also see how Sam is managing his life to make room for his father and Madelyn, and how he feels an outsider in his own family. 
Along the way are doctors and nurses, each with their individual characteristics, round out the story in interesting ways. 
I really loved this book, and I found it released some of the feelings I had been carrying with me recently. 
In the afterward, the author talks about how this book is the third book in her writing that has been shaped by her experiences of death and dying, mourning and surviving. I found this quite interesting. 

Tuesday 16 July 2024

The Paris Lawyer

Finished July 11
The Paris Lawyer by Sylvie Granotier, translated by Anne Trager

This novel revolves around Catherine Monsigny, a young lawyer in Paris. When she was a young child, Catherine was the only witness to her mother's murder, which happened in a park near where they lived in the Creuse, a department in central France. She didn't see what happened but heard it and remembers a few things. The murderer was never caught. 
She and her father moved away, as he found it hard to live in the area without her mother. They have a reasonably good relationship with each other, but aren't close. He has told her little about her mother, despite her questions. 
As the book opens, Catherine is heading to court to defend a man, Cedric Devers, accused of assault and battery. She is also trying to convince her boss, Renaud, to let her take defend a case of murder, allegedly by a woman whose husband has died. The woman Myriam Villetreix, is an immigrant from Gabon, brought to France by a family as a domestic, who escaped and showed up at a Paris refugee center. A farmer, Gaston Villetreix had posted an advertisement looking for a wife, and the two ended up getting married. After six years, he died. Some time after, Gaston's cousins accuse her of murder by poisoning, and she is now in jail awaiting her trial. 
As Catherine works on the murder case, memories of her childhood begin to resurface. She feels that there is something she knows that might solve the case of her mother's death as well. 
She also sees Cedric again, and a casual relationship develops between them. 
This is a very slow-paced mystery novel, with time spent wandering in the countryside, talking to people in the area, and doing research. As Catherine works her way closer to answers and to getting the accused to trust her, she finds herself unnerved by certain events. Only in court is she confident and calm, determined to do her best for her client. 
I found it interesting to see this brusque matter-of-fact character soften a bit as the reader gets to know her. She is ambitious, but also nervous. She wants love, but isn't sure what love really is. It took me a while to get into the story, but I did find it more captivating the further I got into it. 

A Painted Doom

Finished July 11
A Painted Doom by Kate Ellis

I was so enjoying the last Kate Ellis that I read I decided to immediately read the next one in the series. As is usual for this, there is an historical plotline that is gradually revealed through the archeological work that occurs in the novel and through letters or other writings that are given at the beginning of chapters. Here the historical is about the Merrivale family, a well-off family of the late 1400s that had links to the Earls of Devon, and who were loyal supporters of the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses of that time. Recently, a skull was discovered when digging was done in an area of land not built on for some time, where a new town hall is planned for. Neil thinks that they may be excavating the foundations for a manor house of the Merrivale family. 
Meanwhile, in the present, farmer Terry Hoxworthy is preparing an old barn on his land for possible sale. He has roped his teenage son Lewis into helping him, and Lewis makes a discovery in the old barn's loft that comes into play later in the plot. He also sees a large wooden panel with a disturbing scene painted on it that he recoils from. The following day, when the local planning agent comes by, he brings Neil with him to check for any historical significance relating to the old barn. Neil also discovers the panel, which he soon identifies as a 'painted doom', a panel often displayed prominently in churches to depict the horrors that awaited those who weren't destined for heaven. 
Terry also finds something else on the property, a man's body, apparently a victim of murder. As the modern story unfolds, we get stories of the more recent past, the death of a minor celebrity, and, excitingly, a new coroner, a competent and confident young woman, Laura Kruger. We also see a different side of Gerry Heffernan, Wesley's superior, on both personal and professional levels. 
I enjoyed seeing the development of the different repeating characters in the series, and seeing them in lives beyond the professional. 
I liked learning about 'painted dooms' and their history. Bringing in the personal correspondence of the Merrivale family brought aspects of the story a more personal slant, and as always there is a modern day parallel to the story of what happened in the Merrivale family. 
Altogether, a satisfying read.

Saturday 13 July 2024

The Bone Garden

Finished July 8
The Bone Garden by Kate Ellis

This is book five in the Wesley Peterson series. This book is set around an excavation of a Renaissance era garden at an estate called Earlsacre Hall. The property was recently bought by a trust and they are restoring the main building as an arts centre and having the gardens brought back to what they were once. Local archeologists are working first to see what they find, and under a stone plinth that held a sundial they discover a body. While the local pathologist agrees that the body is likely hundreds of years old, it does look like it was a murder victim that was buried alive. When more bodies appear, the work gets delayed a bit, and things look for complicated for the historical situation. 
In the present day, a body is found in a nearby holiday park and the only clue that Wesley and his time can find is a newspaper cutting about the restoration at Earlsacre. Wesley has also had a call from a local lawyer requesting advice on a personal matter that he hasn't disclosed. They agree to meet at a cricket match they are both playing in, but the lawyer disappears and is later found murdered. 
Neil appears here as well, coming in to assist with the archeology work at the site. 
Rachel, another police officer, also takes a role here both professionally and personally as she is part of the murder investigations, and finds a new attractive man that seems to be interested in her. 
I really enjoy this series, seeing how the different central characters react, and how they are changed by the experiences they have. I also like how the police characters lives are rounded out by there personal lives, whether is is Wesley's wife Pam preparing to return to teaching, or Wesley's superior talking about his choir rehearsals. 
The archeological story is also interesting, especially as it might have a personal connection to Wesley's family. The bodies date back to the struggle between the York and Lancaster lines of the royal family, which is a time period I find interesting.