Sunday, 10 December 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Finished December 5
Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford, read by Emily Woo Zeller

This historical novel takes us first to China, and then to Seattle in the early twentieth century. Both these are memories of Ernest Young's decades later, as one of his daughters, a reporter, digs into the past for stories on the upcoming world's fair of 1962. Ernest is living in a small apartment in Chinatown, with his ailing wife Grace living with his journalist daughter. She's been having memory issues, and outbursts, and it has been thought best to leave her there.
Ernest remembers his last moments with his mother and what happened to his baby sister. It was then his journey to the west began. First there was a days long walk with other young Chinese children and youths. Then a voyage by ship. Ernest remembers the other passengers, the spartan quarters and and a few of the men on the ship that they interacted with. He was lucky to survive.
The book then takes us to 1909, when Ernest has been a charitable case by a local female dogooder. When he finds enough courage to challenge her idea of his future, she changes her mind, and uses him as a fund-raising raffle prize. This throws him into a new world, one that is more freeing, but also limited. He is won by the madam of a high-class brothel, to the consternation of his dogooder. Other than the piano player, who lives elsewhere, Ernest is the only male in the house, and becomes an object of affection by the upstairs girls, and a companion to one of the servants near his own age, Fahn. He also connects with the madam's young daughter Maisie, and the three hang out together, explore portions of the town, and on one eventful evening go to the fair.
As Ernest looks back at this time in his life, he recognizes that he loved both girls, for different reasons, and in different ways, but, in the end, could only commit to one.
As the memories continue to come, and Ernest deals with the events of the present, Grace begins to improve and begins to share her own memories. Ernest has been trying to protect her, and the shared history that may not be what she really wants shared, but again, he finds that fate has taken things into her own hands.
This is a fascinating story, based on a newspaper article the author came across of a baby being auctioned off at the fair. Ford looked at other real historical events such as the drive for suffrage and against alcohol and other vices, and used them to tie the story together. I loved it.

The Greatcoat

Finished December 4
The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

This ghost story takes place in a Yorkshire town in 1952. Isabel Carey and her husband Philip have just moved there as Philip, a new doctor has joined the medical practice there. Isabel finds the rooms Philip rented stark and cold, and feels that the landlady, who lives upstairs, is watching her. Looking for extra blankets to help with the cold nights, Isabel discovers an old army greatcoat in an upper cupboard, and puts in on the bed. One night she hears knocking and sees a man's face at the window, which frightens her, but she gradually finds that she gains awareness of the man's identity and begins to discover that she has memories that belong to someone else.
As Isabel begins to interact with the man, Alec, she also becomes aware of who holds his ghost to this world, and why.
This is a story of connection beyond life, of lives unfulfilled, and of the tragedy of war.
Very engaging.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fate of Flames

Finished December 3
The Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley

This teen novel begins as an attack begins on New York City. The attack is by phantoms, creatures that take on all kinds of ghastly shapes and seem to have unearthly powers. Anywhere people live there is protection usually through some kind of electromagnetic field, and of course New York City is no exception. But there have been cases, where the protection suddenly fails and an attack begins unexpectedly, with many victims. The authorities don't understand why or how this happens. An organization called The Sect trains people to fight against these phantoms, and they have some success, but the real skill in fighting them is by a small group of young females called Effigies. Only four Effigies exist at any one time, and they usually take on their power in their teens and don't often live past their twenties. Maia and her twin sister June were huge fans of the Effigies, but there was a terrible accident and June and Maia's parents died in a fire. Maia now lives with her uncle Nathan, who works for the government in New York City. Maia is holding a secret. Just a day or two earlier, she had awakened in the night to feel a change coming over her. She is the newest Effigy, taking the place of the skilled and strong Natalya, a Russian woman with considerable power. Maia has no idea what to do as the attack begins, but feels that hiding with her classmates is not an option. She should be doing something. As she sees a young girl in peril, she goes to her aid, only to witness the arrival of another strong Effigy, Belle, to fight the phantom nearing them.
Maia realizes she is no match for the foes she is up against, and can't bring herself to tell her uncle that he may lose the one family member that he has left. As Maia is identified by the authorities in her new role, and taken for training, she is also exposed to a mysterious young man named Saul, who seems to be the source of the attacks.
This is the first in a trilogy of books that introduces a new fantastical foe in our world. The strong female characters will appeal to female readers, and there is an element of romance present as well. An interesting premise.

The Scribe of Siena

Finished November 29
The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

The book centers on neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato. Beatrice's mother died given birth to her, along with her twin sister. She was raised by her brother Benjamin, who was 17 at the time. He did a fantastic job, and the two remained extremely close. Benjamin was an historian, but also a scientist, and he was researching the Black Death and why it took a greater toll on Siena than any other area in Italy. Beatrice was already planning to take some much needed vacation and visit him in Siena, when he died suddenly. She is determined to continue his research in honour of him. When she gets to Siena, she finds herself finding a place for herself there. When not buried in research, she explores the city and makes friends with a neighbouring family. When she comes across the diary of a painter who lived in the same time period as the outbreak of the Black Death, fresco artist Gabriele Accorsi, she is drawn to his words, and when she finds one of his paintings that contains an image of a woman with her own face, she is struck by the connection. As her immersion in the past becomes stronger, she finds herself suddenly transported to the Siena of 1347, and extremely grateful for the skills in language and history that she learned thanks to Benjamin.
As she makes a place for herself in this foreign world, she continues her brother's research as best she can, meeting some of the players in the books she's been studying. Meeting Gabriele Accorsi himself is almost more than she can believe, and as she finds a real life connection with this strong-willed but gentle man, she also finds that her life and actions are not always within her control.
For those who love time travel and romance, with a touch of intrigue, this book is a winner. Highly recommended for readers who loved The Outlander and Discovery of Witches. I could hardly put it down.
Like Discovery of Witches, the author knows her history and uses real life historical characters and events to bring the story to life.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

My Husband's Wife

Finished November 20
My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry

This suspense novel begins just after the honeymoon of Lily and Ed. The marriage offers Lily the chance to make a fresh start, but the honeymoon hasn't gone all that well, and the presence of Ed's ex-girlfriend in his life doesn't help. Lily is given the chance of a murder appeal case at her law firm, and she makes a connection with the defendant Joe despite herself. As the case eats up more and more of her time, the stress on her marriage increases.
Meanwhile, the neighbour across the hall begins to call on Lily and Ed for help in looking after her young daughter Carla. Carla is a smart girl, but English is not her first language, and she is a misfit at school. Her desires for things that her mother cannot afford don't help, and she is often an impediment when her mother's boyfriend Larry comes to call.
Ed is an aspiring artist, unfulfilled by his design job at work. He finds Carla a willing model and begins to sketch her whenever she comes over.
The conclusion of the legal case leads to a lot of emotion and changes in the lives of all the characters. Carla is uprooted yet again, and Lily's marriage undergoes more pressure.
The book then jumps more than a decade into the future, when Carla comes back into Lily and Ed's lives, and brings all the issues from the past up again. Ed is delighted and thinking that Carla's presence will bring a needed uplift to his artistic career, while Lily is wary,
This book has many secrets, revealed at various points in the novel, each having an effect on the characters. A book of surprises, yet not as compelling as others I've read.
I always find that in books where I can't connect to the characters, I don't enjoy the story as much, and that was the case here as well. Each character had a flaw of some sort that pushed me away.

Wednesday, 29 November 2017

You Should Have Left

Finished November 15
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin

I picked up this short novel, intrigued by the title, but it turned out to be quite a surprise. The narrator of the story is a writer, struggling with a new play. He is beginning a vacation in the mountains with his wife Susanna, an actress, and their four-year-old daughter Esther. While away, he is also supposed to be working on his new play, and his agent Schmidt calls periodically to check in.
The characters in his new play and scenes that he is writing are here in the book too, and sometimes these characters seem to get placed into the settings that he finds himself in.
As the book progresses, the unnamed narrator seems to sense that the house they are renting has oddities to it, and as a reader, you aren't sure what is happening, whether the odd things that begin to become more and more prevalent are real, are imagined, a manifestation of a mental illness or some sort of psychological horror.
At one point, he begins to hear a voice telling him that he should have left this place, hence the book's title. A very captivating and unsettling read.

The Glass Universe

Finished November 13
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel, read by Cassandra Campbell

This fascinating look at the history of astronomy takes us from the late nineteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century. It is centered around the Harvard University and the women who worked and volunteered there, but also around the men who hired, worked with, promoted, supported, and cared about these women.
The first women at the observatory were family members of the male astronomers, many of whom took on volunteer roles as computers, interpreting the observations of the male astronomers. As photography advanced to allow the capture of the night skies, the role of women included observation of these photographs. The library of glass photography plates is the origin for the title of this book. Anna Palmer Draper, widow of one of the earliest photographers of the stars wanted to continue his life's work, and she donated money to the observatory to continue this work.
One of the earliest female employees was Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman who had worked as a maid in the home of the director of the observatory, and who took on the role of curator of the glass plates of photographs of the stars. Fleming also observed these photographs and identified over three hundred variable stars (stars whose intensity changes in regular or irregular cycles) and ten novae. She was followed by women who were some of the first graduates of colleges such as Smith and Vassar and, later, by post-graduate students, research fellows, working astronomers, and professors.
Annie Jump Cannon, a college graduate, looked at the previous work and designed a classification system for the stars that is still used today. She and others made important breakthroughs in learning about the chemical make-up of stars and used features of starlight to measure distances in space.
Dr. Cecelia Helena Payne became the first female professor of astronomy at Harvard, and the first female department chair at the university.
Two directors, Edward Pickering who was director from 1877 to 1919, and Howard Shapley, director from 1922 to 1951 were key to valuing the work of these women, promoting them, supporting their work, and giving them credit for their achievements.
I learned so much about astronomy that I didn't know, thanks to Sobel's wonderful explanations of the various key discoveries. I also found the women very interesting. The book is about astronomy and the work these people did, the discoveries they made, and the contributions of their work worldwide. It is not about the personal lives of the various players, other than mentioning facts of children, spouses, and living arrangements. But for me, that was fine. Each of these women would merit a biography of their own as separate books. The reading of the book by Campbell was captivating, and I found even the appendices of the timeline, short biographies, and glossary worth listening to.
This was a story that needed to be told, and Sobel did a fantastic job.

Sunday, 26 November 2017

A Clubbable Woman

Finished November 10
A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill

The book is the first one in the mystery series I've read a few of, and quite enjoyed. Set in the sixties, and first published in 1970, this one shows the gradually developing relationship between ex-rugby player, rough around the edges Dalziel and university-educated, perceptive Pascoe. As the book opens a rugby match is going on and one of the players Connon has been dealt a head injury. He steps out of the game and, after changing, goes to the clubhouse, where the other players catch him up after the game. His head injury continues to act up and trouble him throughout the book, in a classic example of what we now recognize as concussion. When Connon goes home, a neighbour sees him opening the gates, and stops to talk to him, and Connon finds his wife has eaten without him, and, feeling sick he goes up to lie down. When he comes down again he finds his wife dead.
As we get to know the other rugby players, their wives, and children, as well as Connon's neighbours, we find lots of secrets, resentments, and suspicions. Connon's wife is gradually revealed as a woman not beloved by many.
The interactions, socially and privately, are definitely of their time, but there are some good strong female characters here as well. It gave me insight into the series that I didn't have before.

Shallow End

Finished November 8
Shallow End by Brenda Chapman

This is a mystery novel, part of a series featuring Stonechild and Rouleau, but the first I've read. Taking place in Kingston, Ontario, the book starts as a woman is getting released from prison. She's spent four years in jail after being convicted as a child predator. Jane Thompson had been a teacher, and was accused by one of her students, one that she'd been spending extra time helping. Throughout the trial, she insisted on her innocence, but more recently she made an admittance of guilt. Her husband, Adam, divorced her while she was in jail, and has been keeping their children, Ben and Olivia, away from her, despite her being approved for visits with them. She's got a small apartment and a part-time job, but seems to be living in a kind of limbo. A month after she has got out, the student who accused her, Devon Eton, is found dead on a beach. He's been murdered, and Jane immediately becomes a suspect.
Jane's ex-husband has a new woman living with him, a student teacher that he'd been having an affair with before Jane went to jail. Naomi is young, jealous of Jane, and insecure enough to snoop on Adam when he isn't with her.
We also see into the lives of the police investigating the case. Rouleau is in charge of major crimes, and still mourning the death of his wife. He assigns Kala Stonechild, a female native officer with a history of drug abuse, and Paul Gundersund, who's been separated from his wife for a while and is now considering a divorce. Kala has made a new start, although her past has meant that the niece she was caring for was taken from her and placed in foster care, something she is fighting to change. Paul's wife Fiona, is a local coroner, and is fighting to keep her marriage from ending. Other police officers include Woodhouse, an older male officer who resents Kala and who is often abusive to those he works with. Bennett is a younger officer, recently recovered from a gunshot wound, and eager to get back to work. Another character with a meaningful role here is local reporter Marci Stokes, who tried to make it in a bigger city, but is now back and working to regain her reputation for good reporting. As she tries to approach various players in this story, she also finds herself trying to do the right thing, especially for those who are vulnerable.
A great read.

Embroider Your Life

Finished November 6
Embroider Your Life: Techniques + Motifs + Inspiration by Nathalie Mornu

This lovely book was one I borrowed first from my library, and then went out and bought my own copy. It is laid out beautifully, and begins with a section showing a graphic look at materials, tools, and techniques. It covers floss and thread, hoops, fabric, and other tools such as needles, scissors, markers, and stabilizers. Then it gives a great guide to getting started, including putting the fabric in a hoop, basting, and transferring motifs.It describes how to work with floss, and starting, carrying, and ending threads.It gives graphic step-by-step instructions on basic stitches: running stitch, back stitch, split stitch, chain stitch, stem stitch, whipped back stitch, couching, satin stitch, seed stitch, french knots, herringbone stitch, fly stitch, and lazy daisy. Each is shown with multiple thread types. When it discusses the use of patches, it also covers blanket stitch. It has a section on various ways to display finished pieces.
The next four sections include ideas for embroidering that bring it into everyday life in a refreshing way. Each section is themed.
The first is Communications, and includes numbers, words, symbols, monograms, and holiday motifs. It also includes a section on stitching on paper.
The second is the Natural World and includes aquatic life, woodland creatures, insects, feathers, plants, leaves, cactus, flowers, seed heads, weather, the night sky, and people. It also includes a section on shadow work (like stitching all around a motif).
The third section is Designed World, and includes keys, retro motifs, visual aids (lenses of all types), sewing, gems, architecture, and maps. It includes a section on stitching a house motif.
The last section is Patterns and includes radials, deco, geometric, line art, simple and complex borders, arrows, frames and wreaths, and folkloric motifs. It has a section on Sashiko.
With the heavily illustrated ideas and instructions, this book is indeed an inspiration to both experienced stitchers and beginners. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

All Is Not Forgotten

Finished November 5
All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker, read by Dylan Baker

This suspense novel takes place in a small affluent town in Connecticut. Jenny Kramer has finally been asked to house party by a boy from school, and she is excited, but when she gets there, he is with another girl. As Jenny drinks too much to drown her feelings, she also makes herself vulnerable, and the resulting assault on her changes many lives.
When Jenny is found and taken to the hospital, her parents agree to a controversial drug that will erase her memories of this night. But while her mind may have forgotten, her body has not, and the outcome is Jenny struggling to find a home for the feelings she has. Jenny's mother has an outwardly perfect life, but is an illusion and as she struggles to hold on to it, to think that everything is back to normal, she finds that it isn't, and she can't deny her past or her true imperfect self any longer. Jenny's dad becomes focused on finding the person who assaulted her daughter, and he spends every minute he can at it, instead of spending time with the family he cares so much about.
The narrator that is telling the story is an unknown at first, and as we come to know who he is, and come to know his connection to the case, professionally and personally, what we know changes, and the story changes.
An interesting novel, but perhaps because of the narrator role, not one I felt as connected to as some other recent suspense reads.

Wednesday, 1 November 2017

Hinterland

Finished October 31
Hinterland by Caroline Brothers

As the book opens, Aryan, his little brother Kabir, and a number of other refugees are crossing a river from Turkey to Greece in the middle of the night. Aryan and Kabir are from Afghanistan, fleeing to Iran with their mother when one of their older brothers and their father are killed. Now the two boys are on their own, with a plan to get to London, where they believe people are good and human rights are strong, and they will be able to go to school and have a future. Their mantra as they travel is the recitation of capital cities on their route: Kabul-Tehran-Istanbul-Athens-Rome-Paris-London.
Aryan is protective of Kabir, and has befriended another Afghan refugee Hamid, who seems more knowledgeable. But circumstances soon separate the brothers from Hamid, and they are on their own again.
As they move along their route, sometimes stalling for long periods of time and other times moving quickly, the boys meet people who are helpful and people who take advantage of them. They undergo many difficult situations, but never lose sight of their goal.
The author worked as a journalist and saw many of the places the boys cross through herself, talking to refugees, and those trying to help them, and learning of their stories. Many of those stories inform this book, and the truth of those experiences bring this book to life. You can imagine these boys being real, as so many children are undergoing similar experiences.
The book includes an interview with the author and information for further reading on this subject.
A very captivating and worthwhile read.

Heart of the Matter

Finished October 24
Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

This novel centers on Tessa Russo and Valerie Anderson. Tessa quit her tenure-track position to stay home and have children. She and Nick now have Ruby, four, and Frank, two. When Tessa made her decision, her mother decreed it was a mistake, that it would create a chasm between her a Nick, opening an opportunity for him to stray for a more interesting woman. Tessa held her tongue from reminding her mother that her parent's divorce came after her mother started back to work. Tessa and Nick have a very close relationship and his job as a plastic surgeon is a demanding one. Her being home provides stability. As the book begins, the couple are out for dinner on their anniversary when Nick gets paged. He is needed at the hospital, and their evening together ends.
Valerie is a single mom to a six-year-old boy, Charlie. At the urging of her brother, Valerie reluctantly agrees that Charlie can go to a sleepover birthday party at the house of a classmate. Her evening of relaxation is abruptly interrupted when Charlie falls into a fire while roasting marshmallows, and is rushed to the hospital.
Nick is the doctor assigned to Charlie's case, and he takes a personal interest in the young boy.
The viewpoint switches back and forth between Tessa and Valerie as their worlds come together and their each deal with something they never imagined for themselves.
The two female characters here are deeply drawn and we see their inner thoughts and struggles to make decisions as the plot unfolds. I enjoyed the read.

Follow Me Down

Finished October 22
Follow Me Down by Julie Hearn

This novel has been sitting on my shelves for a while and it came to the top of a pile when I was doing some reorganizing. The story takes place in East London, where twelve-year-old Tom and his mother have come to visit his grandmother. Tom's been here once before, nearly ten years ago, but he has some memories from that time. One of the things that he remembers is the dark basement and a crack across it, a crack that widens and that allows him to jump it to another time. He remembers a fairy girl named Astra. And now she is calling to him again.
This time when Tom reenters that world, he is nearly a teenager, and mature for his age. He recognizes that Astra is in danger and tries to think of a way to save her. There is a lot going on that Tom doesn't understand, but what he does understand makes him fearful for Astra and his other new friends.
Back in his own time, Tom observes the discomfort between his mother and grandmother. His mother has recently survived a bout with breast cancer and his grandmother seems to be of the school where such things are not discussed. Tom cares deeply for his mother, and knows her regimen and diet, and tries to do what he can to support her. He doesn't want to be here in London and he thinks his mother is facing a losing battle in trying to connect more deeply with his grandmother, but as Tom becomes more involved in Astra's situation, he finds himself needing to stay to see his plan through.
A tale of history and magic, of greed and exploitation, of people just trying to survive despite physical handicaps they have no control over. A fascinating read.

Purple Palette for Murder

Finished October 21
Purple Palette for Murder by R.J. Harlick

This novel is part of a series featuring Meg Harris, a woman dealing with her own significant issues as she also finds herself being drawn into troubling situations. This is the eighth book in the series, but the first that I've read. The books often take place in the further reaches of our country from Baffin Island to Haida Gwaii. This one takes place mostly in and around Yellowknife.
Meg's stepdaughter Teht'aa has recently got a job with the CBC in Yellowknife, which is also near the reserve that she grew up on as a Dene. Her father wasn't aware of her until fairly recently and has been enjoying the experience of having a daughter. Meg's husband Eric is and was recently elected Grand Chief of the Grand Council of First Nations. One of the reasons he is in Yellowknife was to meet with northern leaders. The other is to console his daughter after a recent romantic breakup.
As the book opens, Meg receives a call letting her know that Eric has been charged with murder, with the victim being Teht'aa's ex-boyfriend. The other bad news is that Teht'aa is in the hospital badly hurt after being beaten and left for dead.
As Meg puts aside her own issues and goes to Yellowknife to fight for her husband and stepdaughter, she finds assistance, both emotional and other from Teht'aa's great-uncle Joe. She can't understand why Eric seems not to want to fight harder for himself, as she knows that he would never do what he is accused of. As Meg pieces together the stories of various people who may be involved, she finds a piece of historic embroidery that may be the key to the truth.
I really enjoyed this book, and not just because of the embroidery! The characters are interesting and complex, and the way the indigenous characters are handled here felt good. I liked the immersion in the setting, and the stories around Meg. A very enjoyable read.

Monday, 23 October 2017

They Found Him Dead

Finished October 20
They Found Him Dead by Georgette Heyer

This mystery novel takes place in the late 1930s at Cliff House, a country house owned by Silas Kane, located on the coast near the town of Portlaw. As the book begins, there is a dinner at the house for Silas' 60th birthday. His business partner Joe Mansell is there along with his wife, his son Paul, his daughter Betty and her husband Clive. Also attending are other Kane relatives: Emily, Silas' mother, who lives at Cliff House, Emily's great-nephew Clement and his wife Rosemary, and Jim, the son of Silas' nephew James who was killed in the Great War. Jim has also brought along his younger stepbrother Timothy Harte, nearly fifteen, to stay for a while. Also attending is Emily's secretary, Miss Patricia Allison. Clement is also a partner in the firm of Kane and Mansell. Young Jim went to Cambridge where he got his Blue for Rugger, and now works at the Treasury. He also continues to play rugger on Saturdays, something the two older Kanes don't really understand. Jim is also in love with Miss Allison and has proposed marriage to her.
When Silas takes his normal evening walk after dinner, it is late, and no one misses him until the next morning. A search discovers his body at the bottom of the cliff, and it is supposed that he has fallen, perhaps due to a heart issue. That is, supposed by all except young Timothy who is sure it is murder. Timothy has a love of drama, American gangsters, and other lurid adventures.
Clement is Silas' heir and since he has familiarity with the company, quickly moves into consideration of a deal with an Australian firm that the Mansell's were in favour of, but that Silas was not. Clement is inclined not to be either, but resolves to take due consideration.
Another player here is Oscar Roberts, a representative for the Australian firm. He is eager to get the deal finalized, but understands that those making the decision must look at all the information.. Particularly as it is the Kanes who will be putting up the money for the deal, and thus taking the biggest risk.
The romance between Patricia and Jim is one of compliments and blushes and proceeds apace. Timothy follows all the action with gusto, coming up with all sorts of scenarios and motives.

Glass Houses

Finished October 17
Glass Houses by Louise Penny, read by Robert Bathurst

Gamache is now the chief superintendent of the Surete and has been for about a year. The action begins with him in court in the witness box as a witness for the prosecution in a murder trial. As the book begins, you don't know who has been murdered or who is on trial for the murder.
As the book jumps back to a time several months earlier when a strangely robed figure appeared on the green in Three Pines, and works it way forward, you begin to discover the many stories that led to the scene in the courtroom.
This is a story about friendship, about addiction, about corruption, and about organized crime. It shows the importance of planning and of patience. It shows the dangers in taking things, and people, as they appear. This is a complex read, with a lot going on, and the reader sees the beginning and the end.

Friday, 13 October 2017

A Tale of Two Kitties

Finished October 12
A Tale of Two Kitties by Sofie Kelly

This cozy mystery is part of the Magical Cats Mystery series, but the first one I've read in the series. Kathleen is the head librarian in the small town of Mayville Heights, Minnesota. She's a smart women, with good instincts who has solved several mysteries with the help of her two cats Owen and Hercules. Kathleen knows that her cats are special, and understand her when she talks. She also knows they each have their own special qualities. Owen has the ability to become invisible when he wants, and Hercules can walk through closed doors.
The other employees at the library are all interesting characters as well, from Mary with her interesting past, and extensive knowledge of the town and its people to young Mia, with her thirst for knowledge. Kathleen is in a relationship with Marcus a local police detective, and she has a suspicion that his young cat Micah has similar qualities to Owen.
When Mia's grandfather Leo comes to town to visit her and her father Simon, it brings up past memories among the town's older inhabitants. They remember when Leo's wife Meredith left him for his brother Victor, and then died in a car accident, reportedly on her way back to Leo. Victor is in town as well, ill and hoping for a reconciliation with his brother.
Recent renovations to the local post office uncovered a cache of photographs and undelivered mail. The mail was sent on its way, more than twenty years after they were sent, and the photographs, of a range of time periods were given to the library. Library staff are going through them, identifying the people portrayed and finding owners for them among those people. They need more help though and Kathleen welcomes ideas about how to publicize the collection to help the process.
When Leo is found murdered, it is Kathleen who finds him. With her closeness to Mia and her innate curiosity, she and her cats do the research on the people who knew Leo to try to find motive and opportunity.
I enjoyed the various characters in this story, and the personalities of the cats on the case. There is lots going on, but good research leads the librarian and her pets to the discovery of quite a few secrets.

Island of a Thousand Mirrors

Finished October 11
Island of a Thousand Mirrors by Nayomi Munaweera

This mesmerizing novel tells the story of Yasodhara Rajasinghe, a Sinhalese woman from Colombo, from the birth of her parents Nishan and Visaka to her own adulthood. It also tells the story of Saraswathi, a Tamil girl of northern Sri Lanka. Saraswathi is the eldest girl of the family, with three older brothers as well as her younger sister.
Yasodhara grows up with her sister Lanka and their upstairs neighbour, a Tamil boy named Shiva. The three are inseparable, spending all their free time playing together. But their peace is broken when civil war erupts and Shiva's family is forced to flee. Tragedy engulfs Yasodhara's family at this time, and her parents and Lanka and her emigrate to the United States. Lanka is the rebel, while Yasodhara does what is expected of her until her world begins to fall apart and she rejoins her sister in their home country.
Saraswathi's world falls apart much earlier. Her dreams of becoming a teacher fall to ruins as she gets caught up in the war, with events and the reactions of her family and neighbours leading her to a new life as a revolutionary.
This is a story of Sri Lanka, of its people and their struggle for a dream. It is a story of people caught up in this struggle despite themselves, and about the violence that will change their lives forever.
The lush country comes alive through the author's descriptions, and we get a real sense of the beauty of this country. The characters at the heart of this novel are one's you care about. A wonderful read.

Wild One

Finished October 7
Wild One by Jane Whittingham, illustrated by Noel Tuazon

This fun picture book shows a young girl going through her day energetically, and compares her escapades with the actions of various animals, from bats to eels. She is happy, enjoying the way her body can move. Whether alone, with friends, or with her parents, she is a creature of nature. The illustrations show her pleasure in what she is doing, as she goes through her day.
This is a good book for bedtime as well, as it ends with the girl tucked up in bed, ready for sleep. I also liked that the animals that she is compared to aren't always what I would have guessed they would be, but they still fit perfectly with her movements. A short, fun read that will likely become a favourite for little ones.

Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Rusty Puppy

Finished October 5
Rusty Puppy by Joe R. Lansdale

This is the first book I've read in the series set in Texas featuring Hap and Leonard, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Hap is a middle-aged man in a serious relationship with Brett, who also owns the detective agency where he and Leonard work. Hap is also the father of a young woman Chance, a fact he has only recently discovered. He is pleased with this discovery and has made her a part of his life. Hap describes himself as a white trash rebel. Leonard is a gay, black, Republican, Vietnam vet. Leonard is not long out of a serious relationship. The two men have been friends a long, long time, and that shows in their banter. They are both wise asses, and sometimes don't know when to shut their mouths. They are also both good guys with good instincts, and that shows too.
As the book begins, Brett and Chance are both sick with the flu, and Hap and their dog Buffy are hanging at the office. When a woman who lives across the street from the office comes in wanting to hire them, Hap listens to her story. Even though she hasn't got much money, Hap takes on the case to find out what really happened to her son, who was murdered. She's told him of one witness who says that the cops are the ones that committed the crime, and Hap sets out to find the guy.
The case takes Hap and Leonard into the projects, where they find people who may have seen things, young men protecting their territory, and a girl with an attitude. Leonard dubs her the four hundred year old vampire dwarf, in a way that lets you know he is both irritated by her and awed by her.
The case also takes them into the territory of a police force that has an reputation for not just turning the other way, but being heavily involved in local crime. One local place, an abandoned mill, now is used for more nefarious purposes, such as getting rid of dogs and other unwanted beings in the toxic pond created from sawdust and mill runoff.
I liked the duo and their inner goodness. I also liked the rollicking nature of the book.

The Dark and Other Love Stories

Finished October 1
The Dark and Other Love Stories by Deborah Willis

This collection of short stories varies widely, with many characters unhappy with their current circumstances. They are about relationships, the messiness of them, the need to compromise. They are about love, but not easy love. Love in real life with all its complications, all the temptations to wander away to other things.
It took me a couple of stories in before I fell for this book. Some stories held me more than others, but they all had me wanting more about the characters. What happened after the story? I want to know. A great collection.

Monday, 9 October 2017

Into the Water

Finished September 29
Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, read by Laura Aikman, Sophie Aldred, Rachel Bavidge, Imogen Church, and Daniel Weyman

This suspense novel begins with a death. Nel, single mother of a teenage daughter, Lena, has been found dead in the river in a small English town. Nel and her younger sister Jules had grown up there, living in the Old Mill House, the same house that Nel and Lena live in now. Nel always overshadowed her sister, more outgoing and prettier than her. When Jules was only thirteen something came between the sisters, causing Jules to draw away from Nel. Now Jules must return to deal with her sister's death and take charge of Lena.
The death seems like a suicide, taking place in a spot known locally as the drowning pool, where women going back centuries have taken their own lives. Nel was obsessed with the river and the women, and was planning to write a book about it. One of the stories that the reader becomes aware of is the deliberate drowning of a seventeenth-century girl who was suspected of being a witch. Another is a woman who drowned herself shortly after the first World War, after killing her husband who had returned from the war a changed and difficult man. More recently the local policeman's mother had supposedly drowned herself after a love affair gone wrong when he was only a boy, and Lena's best friend Katie had drowned herself for no explicable reason just a few months ago, filling her pockets with stones.
The police brass are eager to close the case quickly, but there's a new policewoman in town and as she begins talking with the locals and getting a feel for the various players, more inconsistencies come to light. Lena and Jules have both noticed the absence of Nel's bracelet, a bracelet that belonged to her mother and that she wore constantly. Katie's mother is still looking for answers, and for someone to blame. As both Jules and the policewoman make headway, the question arises of whether the drowning pool has drawn women who see no other choice or men who see a way to get rid of troublesome women.
I liked this novel better than her first, and found the tie to historical cases interesting. Things are always what they seem and this town has more than its share of secrets.

What's In a Name Wrap-Up Post

This is always a fun challenge to do, and I'm pleased that I completed it so early.


Here are the basics.

The challenge runs from January to December 2017.
You need to read books in the following categories, and the host gives examples for each category at the host page.  Here is my sign-up page.

1. A number in numbers (examples: 84 Charing Cross Road; 12 Years a Slave; 31 Dream Street)
Boy, 9, Missing by Nic Joseph. Finished September 22

2. A building (examples: The Old Curiosity Shop; I Capture the Castle; House of Shadows; The Invisible Library; Jamaica Inn)
The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure by Adam Williams. Finished February 4.

3. A title which has an X somewhere in it (examples: The Girl Next Door; The Running Vixen)
Exit, Pursued by a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Finished March 29

4. A compass direction (examples: North and South; Guardians of the West; The Shadow in the North; NW)
 * Road Signs That Say West by Sylvia Gunnery. Finished August 1

5. An item/items of cutlery (examples: The Subtle Knife; Our Spoons Came from Woolworths)
Knife Edge by Malorie Blackman. Finished June 8

6. A title in which at least two words share the same first letter -- alliteration! (examples: The Great Gatsby; The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite; Gone Girl; The Cuckoo's Calling)
    Eel River Rising by Laura Reasoner Jones. Finished January 14



Baby Cakes

Finished September 24
Baby Cakes by Theo Heras, illustrations by Renne Benoit

This picture book shows a young child and the family cat helping mom make cupcakes. They gather ingredients, measure, mix, spill a little, fill the pans, and wait for the cakes to back. The illustrations are cute and everyone looks like they are having fun. It's a nice idea for kids who like to help in the kitchen. Included in the end papers, are a recipe for chocolate cupcakes in the front, and vanilla frosting in the back. This is where a few minor inconsistencies came up. The characters in the book make vanilla cupcakes, but the recipe is for chocolate cupcakes with a vanilla option noted. The recipe is in a different order than the story. In the story, they mix the dry ingredients first, but in the recipe they cream the butter first. The characters in the book seem to be eating baby cakes with frosting at the end, but there is no activity of them putting frosting on the cakes. I know these are minor inconsistencies, and don't have an effect on the fun of the book, but they just jumped out at me.
One very positive note: I know there has been much discussion of late of more children's books where the children can see themselves in the books they read, requiring more diverse characters in kids' books, especially where the characters are just themselves without commentary on race or ethnicity and I was pleased to see this book as a great example of filling that need.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Slug Days

Finished September 23
Slug Days by Sara Leach, illustrations by Rebecca Bender

This chapter book features Lauren. Lauren has Autism Spectrum Disorder, and she has several tools at her disposal both at home and at school to help her when she begins to feel frustrated or panicky. Those days when things don't go well Lauren refers to as slug days.
As the book begins, Lauren's day starts off badly when her usual seat on the bus is taken by another child. The bus driver is a substitute driver, and so when Lauren's initial solution doesn't work, she must find a new seat, and find a way to control her bad feelings.
As we see Lauren encounter different situations in her life, in the classroom, at home, and elsewhere, we learn the different types of challenges that she must deal with.
This book works well to explain some of the typical challenges for children on the spectrum, and shows some of the different techniques that can help. Good days for Lauren are referred to as butterfly days by her, and we see her enjoying these as well.
Having a new baby sister is one change to her routine that she has found challenging, but we see her find a way to make that connection for herself. We also see her finding a friend at school. We see the reality of teachers and other adults not noticing behaviours and Lauren needing to find her own solutions.
The illustrations are charming simple black and white drawing, but give a sense of the situations Lauren finds herself in.
A great choice.

Boy, 9, Missing

Finished September 22
Boy, 9, Missing by Nic Joseph

This novel has flashbacks to an event that happened when Francis was thirteen. His parents had another couple and their young son, Sam, over for dinner. Sam was 10, and Francis' younger brother Lucas was 9. After dinner, Sam did a special presentation for the adults, and when he went back upstairs he quickly returned, speechless and upset. Lucas is found unconscious in the bathtub. Despite Francis' parents efforts, Sam never spoke of what he witnessed that day.
Francis' parents divorced, and he moved on, changing his last name. But when he returns to his hometown of Lansing, Illinois to take on a job at the local paper, the past comes back to haunt him. Sam's own young son, Matthew, only 9 years old, has been kidnapped. Francis' father is one of the key suspects. Francis begins the search for his father, which also leads him to the truth about that evening so many years ago, and what really happened to his younger brother.
Francis is separated from his wife and his teenage daughter Amy is coming to live with him for a year while his wife takes on a European assignment. Francis is eager to ensure his daughter is made welcome, but he has never told her of his own past. The day she is due to arrive is the day that the news about Matthew's kidnapping breaks, and Francis finds himself first threatened, then offering his assistance in the case.
This is a sad story about justice delayed, about a child caught up in an incident not of his making, about how love can lead us astray, and about how secrets can change lives.

Friday, 29 September 2017

It Happens in the Hamptons

Finished September 20
It Happens in the Hamptons by Holly Peterson

This novel includes romance, mystery, and new beginnings.
Katie Doyle was in a bad place emotionally when her mother died. A man she had an affair with at a work conference, George Porter, helped her with some of the things that needed to be dealt with, and suggested that she spend the summer at a cottage in the Hamptons owned by his family. Moving from Oregon to New York was a big step for Katie, but she felt her and her young son Huck need a new start. She's done some pre-work, applying for a job in a local school, and registering with a tutoring agency. She also doesn't feel comfortable living in the cottage without paying rent, so George's mother has agreed to accept $500 a month for the rent.
Arriving in her new home, Katie and Huck explore the area, wander through local shops, check out the beach, and get themselves bicycles to get around. Katie finds that George's mother, Poppy is one of the long-time summer people here, with a staid club and lots of good works on her agenda. Katie is corralled into being on a committee associated with one of them.
Katie also attracts the attention of a local man, Luke, who runs a surf school during the summer and teaches during the rest of the year. She enrolls Huck in the surf school to get him more comfortable in the water, and Julia, the mom of another student, befriends her. She starts to settle into her new life.
George doesn't seem to be around much, which surprises Katie, but also frees her to find her own way of doing things.
There are three groups here. One is the old cadre of summer people, who support the library and other local endeavors, but also tend to treat some of the public areas as their own, and come across to me as a bit paternalistic. There is a division here between the locals, such as Luke's group that run the surf school, and the club people who want the beach pretty to look at all the time. This group is led by Bucky and the Seabrook Club.
The locals include the shop owners, the business people such as Luke and his partners Kona and Kenny, and many of the employed staff at people's houses and clubs. They are aware of their reliance on the summer people, but don't like getting treated as objects or impediments.
The third group is the newer summer people, many of them self-made. One example here is the couple Julia and Jake Chase. They have a lot of money and have built fancy homes, but they are just looking to enjoy life and have fun. Jake tries to befriend Luke and the guys, but you can see he tries too hard to impress. Julia is a bit better at this, and successfully befriends Katie.
But this story has a more serious side too, and that involves all three groups. It was interesting the way this unfolded.
An enjoyable read.

Sunday, 24 September 2017

Dodge City

Finished September 21
Dodge City: Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, and the Wickedest Town in the American West by Tom Clavin, read by John Bedford Lloyd

This history looks at more than just Dodge City, Kansas. It looks at the general wild west, including Kansas, Arizona, Texas, and Colorado, among others. It mostly covers the period following the U.S. Civil War through the 1890s, but occasionally takes us further back or forward in time.
It tells us of Wyatt Earp, but also of all his brothers and their lives, and similarly with Bat Masterson, telling us of his brothers escapades as well. We see many other figures of the west including Doc Holliday and his on again, off again woman Big Nose Kate. We see Buffalo Bill, the McLaury brothers, the Clanton Brothers, Mysterious Dave, Belle Starr, Billy the Kid, and many more.
I didn't realize the way many of these people moved back and forth from one side of the law to the other, some breaking the law openly even while enforcing it.
Many of the men who spent time as lawmen also operated brothels, married prostitutes, and ignored the law when it was inconvenient to them. Some spent time for minor crimes, and got no jail time for bigger actions.
Sometimes, killing a man in self defense got them in trouble and other times it got them accolades. This was a time when things were wild indeed, where the men who didn't fit in found a way to live without boundaries. Men would shoot guns off just for fun, and as "western civilization" expanded to the west, wildlife grew scarcer and the relationship with the natives grew worse.
I learned a lot I didn't know.

To The Back of Beyond

Finished September 18
To the Back of Beyond by Peter Stamm, translated by Michael Hofmann

This short novel takes place in Switzerland. Thomas and Astrid have just returned from a vacation in Spain. Their two young children have been put to bed and they are enjoying a glass of wine out in their garden that evening. When one of the children demands attention it is Astrid who goes in to deal with it, and she goes on to finish the unpacking, and exhausted heads to bed.
Thomas sits for a while, watching the lights in the house change as Astrid moves through her routine. Then, instead of finishing his wine, gathering the glasses and going inside, he quietly opens the gate to the yard, and begins to walk. There is no premeditation to this action, no planning, just the impulse that pushes him forward.
The next morning, Astrid puzzles over his absence, at first thinking that he might have gone to work early. But when she finds that isn't the case, she covers for him, telling his work he is ill.  As Thomas walks on, and Astrid struggles to figure out where he is and what he is doing, the viewpoint alternates between the two characters, and the reader grows less sure of what is real and what isn't.
Astrid seems like a woman who has moved from a life of purpose to one where things happen to her. Thomas's doubt about his life and its purpose reflects a common feeling that most of us have had at one point or another.
This is a novel that invites reflection.

Death Comes to Pemberley

Finished September 17
Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James

This historical novel commences a few years after the events in Pride and Prejudice. Elizabeth and Darcy have a couple of young sons, Jane and Bingley live nearby and have also started a family. The Darcy's traditionally hold a ball every year, called Lady Anne's ball after Darcy's mother who started the tradition. The ball is only a couple of days away, and Jane and Bingley have already come to stay, as has their regular houseguest a young lawyer, and landowner who seems to have eyes for Georgiana, Darcy's younger sister. Darcy's cousin, Colonel Fitzwilliam, who was co-guardian of Georgiana with Darcy before she came of age, is also interested in the young woman.
Late in the evening, after some of the party has already retired, the commotion of a carriage nearly out of control approaching the house attracts the attention of everyone still up. When it is discovered that the carriage contains Elizabeth and Jane's younger sister Lydia, and Lydia's husband Wickham and his friend, an officer with the military, left the carriage in the woods, after which gunshots were heard, things get more animated. Most of the gentlemen go back to the woods with the carriage and its reluctant driver to look for the missing men, only to discover the body of one of them. The victim has massive head trauma, and everyone returns to the Darcy's home.
Even though he is a local magistrate, Darcy recognizes that he cannot have charge of this case and he goes to rouse one of his peers for the job.
As the investigation continues, we see into the legal world of the time, as well as the social world. The duties of the ladies to provide comfort, tidiness, and write the necessary letters, while the gentlemen do the work of guarding and finding legal representation.
We see Elizabeth and Darcy as a team, with genuine affection and respect for each other. They have grown from their previous iterations.
An entertaining read.

Tuesday, 5 September 2017

Campbell's Kingdom

Finished September 3
Campbell's Kingdom by Hammond Innes

This is another novel I picked up used. It was written in 1952 and set roughly at the time.
Bruce Wetheral is working for an insurance company in England following WWII. He has just received some unsettling news about his health that has him questioning his future, when he gets a visit from his lawyer explaining that he is the heir to his grandfather, who passed away a few months earlier. Bruce only met his grandfather once, when he accompanied his mother as his grandfather was released from jail and took him to a ship bound for Canada. His childhood was one of deprivation, and when his mother passed away while he was still at school, he had no thought of other family.
Bruce doesn't have a lot of money or a lot of time, and he knows that his grandfather was written off as a dreamer when it came to discovering oil in the Rocky Mountains, but when he thinks on it, he decides he wants to see this land he now owns for himself, before he sells it to the eager buyer.
The easiest, fastest, and cheapest way to get where he wants to go is to emigrate to Canada, and so that is what Bruce does, committing himself fully to his new venture.
Once in Calgary, he again meets with a lawyer, but when aware of a ride towards his destination he snaps it up, and sets out. The logistics of getting to the small town of Come Lucky up in the Rockies is a complex one, and the locals aren't entirely friendly. They blame his grandfather's enthusiasm for oil for their own lost investments. Now, with a dam project offering jobs, they don't take kindly to his refusal to sell the land that will be flooded when the dam gets operating.
Bruce is determined to drill up there in his land, and when he finds questionable conduct among those set to thwart him, his determination grows.
Bruce is an interesting character, seemingly out of his element, but we are constantly reminded of his "war record". He is not the only one with war experience, but the personal experience of being found guilty of something draws him to his grandfather, and moves him to try to fulfill his grandfather's dream.
I enjoyed this book for the interesting plot, the suspense, and the character of Bruce.

Monday, 4 September 2017

The Breakdown

Finished September 1
The Breakdown by B.A.Paris

I'd read her first book Behind Closed Doors, and found it a real page-turner, so I was interested to read this one. It was just as good. Great psychological thriller, with a fascinating plot. I guessed at some things, but not at all at others.
Cass is a school teacher, married nearly a year, and starting to think about children with her husband Matthew. Cass's dad died relatively young in an accident, and her mother died just a couple years ago from early onset Alzheimer's. Cass had left her teaching job to look after her for the last couple years of her life. Imagine Cass's surprise to find out that her parents, despite living a penny pinching life, had actually had quite a large nest egg. Cass is a nice woman who likes to give people thoughtful gifts, and now she can do things like that. She is excited to think about her best friend Rachel's upcoming 40th birthday this fall and the look on her face when she finds that Cass has bought her the French cottage that she fell in love with. No one knows about that surprise, not even Matthew, but that's partly because he doesn't seem to really like Rachel all that much.
Cass has made friends at the school she now teaches at and is at the leaving party to celebrate the end of the school year as the novel begins. It's a stormy night and she decides to not go on to the after party at her friend's house, but to go home instead. When she phones her husband to let him know, he tells her that he's got a migraine and is going to sleep in the spare room, but to be careful on the way home, and he emphasizes that she shouldn't take the short cut through the woods, in case of downed branches or other issues. Cass intends to follow his advice, but the traffic on the motorway is so bad that she makes a sudden decision to take the shortcut after all. The road is clear, but she is nervous, and she is surprised to see a car stopped in a layby. She only gets a glance of the woman driver through the rain and car windows, but she stops ahead of it to see if the woman needs help. Nothing happens, so she continues intending to call the police about the woman when she gets home, but a text from Rachel distracts her, and she forgets.
When the woman in the car is found murdered the next morning, Cass is freaked out. She doesn't want to admit she took that road after all, and she didn't see anything anyway, but she's still scared because of how close to home it happened. When she begins forgetting things, small things, but also important things, she gets scared that she's getting the same disease as her mother.
As we follow Cass's descent into fear and uncertainty, we see the people around her that don't know the whole story not understand her issues. She moves into a world of oblivion to get away from her fears, but in a way that is worse for her.
This is a story of manipulation, of unreliable characters, and of betrayal. A fantastic read.
And an extra element is an interview with the author at the end of the last disc.

On the Beach

Finished August 29
On the Beach by Nevil Shute

I picked this up in the general store waiting for the ferry to Thetis Island and found it a fascinating read. First published in 1957, the novel is set in 1963, a year after the end of a short but terrible war. Over the first few pages, the reader learns of the extent of the war. It would appear that the war started with Albania, turned into an Israeli-Arab war, then a Russo-NATO war, then a Russo-Chinese war, and involved many nuclear weapons including cobalt bombs. Most of the northern hemisphere seems to be affected as no one responds to contacts the surviving American ships try to make. The ships' most senior officer gave the order to sail into Australian waters and place themselves under Australian command.
The main characters are mostly Australian, beginning with Peter Holmes, a Lieutenant Commander with the Royal Australian Navy and his wife of two years Mary. They have an infant daughter, Jennifer.
An American atomic-powered submarine, the U.S.S. Scorpion, survived the war and is now in Melbourne harbour, and in early 1963 Peter is asked to join it as a liaison officer. The captain of the Scorpion is Commander Dwight Towers, also a fairly young man, with a wife and two children back home in the US.
The reader gradually learns of the situation, the fuel shortage, the radioactive dust moving in the atmosphere, the expectations for the future. We see into the lives of Peter and his family, Dwight, and the young Australian woman Moira Davidson that the Holmes invite to help entertain the American when he visits the family on shore leave. We also see the young scientist John Osborne, a radiation specialist assigned to the submarine, and learn of his dreams.
Everyone had a life they were in the middle of living and we see how they adjusted to their new reality, how they changed as time went on, and the truth began to sink in.
In this time of war rhetoric and unstable leaders, it didn't seem like that outlandish a plot.

Second Life

Finished August 24
Second Life by S.J. Watson

This novel is one of psychological suspense. I loved his first novel Before I Go to Sleep, but this one didn't grab me in the same way.
Julia Plummer, that central character here, and the narrator, is a photographer. She had a difficult childhood, with her mother dying young, and her father an alcoholic, making her the chief caretaker of her younger sister. She struggled with addiction, and then left home for love of a boyfriend, but ended up back home in England again, rebuilding her life.
An exhibit including one of her photographs has just gone up, and as she warily goes to see it, she is taken back mentally to the life she was living when she took it. It is a photo of the young man she was in love with at the time, near the end of their relationship.
She returns home from the gallery to hear news that her younger sister Kate, who has been living in Paris, and supposedly putting her own life back together, is a murder victim. Many things are going on inside Julia with this news: guilt at not being there for her sister when she was needed; relief at not having to fight her sister to keep custody of her sister's son Connor, now 14, whom Julia and her husband have raised; anger and sorrow at the loss of her sister; and a deep sense of vengeance to find out who is behind her sister's death.
As Julia reaches out to her sister's roommate Anna for more information, she also tries to keep what she is doing from her husband Hugh who is trying to shelter her. Their relationship is a complicated one, and only gets more so. Julia follows her sister into the online world of cyberdating, and finds herself caught up in the new persona she has taken on.
This is a tale of escape, of the past coming back to haunt us, and of secrets kept.

Like Family

Finished August 20
Like Family by Paolo Giordano, translated by Anne Milano Appel

This short novel is told by a young married father and centers around a woman who first came into his life when his wife had a difficult pregnancy. Mrs. A is recommended as a housekeeper, and she quickly grows close to Nora, the narrator's wife who is home on bedrest. When the baby is born, Mrs. A. naturally takes on the role of nanny to young Emanuele, even though she has no prior experience with that type of job, not even having had children of her own.
The narrator is a research scientist, who is not entirely happy at his current job. He had won a spot at a university in Zurich, but circumstances made it difficult for him to accept, and he is now almost resigned to the stagnant status of his career.
When Mrs. A. suddenly quits, each family member takes it differently. Nora is begging to get her to come back, and Emanuele is confused about the sudden loss of a woman who was a second mother to him.
While the narrator tells the story looking back at events that have already happened, we only gradually understand the true nature of the Mrs. A's motivation, and the complicated relationship that she has with the family.
A very thoughtful book.

Wednesday, 30 August 2017

More Than a Lover

Finished August 18
More Than a Lover by Ann Lethbridge

This Edwardian romance has young Caroline Falkner managing a home for reformed prostitutes. The home is owned by her friend and patron Merry Tonbridge and her husband Charles. Caroline has portrayed herself as the widow of a soldier, but the truth is more embarrassing. She was wooed by a young officer just as she was coming to be a marriageable age, and then left pregnant when he went to war never to return. Both his parents and hers turned their backs on her and she moved forward as best she could to make a life for her and her child Tommy.
Tommy is around five and adventurous and confident, but Caroline guards the truth about his father closely, and is worried that his father's parents would try to take him from her. When the Tonbridges hire Bladen Read, illegitimate son of an earl and a man recently discharged from the army to protect Caroline on her journey from London back to the home, and then to provide protection at the home against those who would like it to fail, she is uncertain. She doesn't want to be reminded of Tommy's father, but she is drawn to this man, who has lost his arm in the country's service.
Read is also torn. He thought Caroline beautiful when he saw her being courted years before and still admires her. But he has always felt the status of his birth to be a mark against himself, and has a reputation as a ladies man.
The drama between the two main characters is well set, and we are introduced to the society of the times, including the ways of the upper class. A love story between two passionate people each with something that makes them wary.

Matchup

Finished August 18
Matchup edited by Lee Child, read by Laura Benanti, Dennis Boursikaris, Gerard Doyle, Linda Emond, January LaVoy, Robert Petkoff, Jay O. Sanders, CJ Wilson, and Karen Ziemba

This collection of thrillers pairs male and female authors and also their characters. I found it great fun to see how they brought the characters together for the stories, and thoroughly enjoyed the plots the authors came up with. Here are the author pairs included:
* Sandra Brown and C.J. Box
* Val McDermid and Peter James
* Kathy Reichs and Lee Child
* Diana Gabaldon and Steve Berry
* Gayle Lynds and David Morrell
* Karin Slaughter and Michael Koryta
* Charlaine Harris and Andrew Gross
* Lisa Jackson and John Sandford
* Lara Adrian and Christopher Rice
* Lisa Scottoline and Nelson DeMille
* J.A. Jance and Eric Van Lustbader
Lee Child introduces the collection as well as each story, giving information on each author and how the pair came up with the plot and an overview of the writing process. There were definitely interesting matchups and a wide variety of situations. Some authors I hadn't read before, and others I was very familiar with.
A great collection of characters and plots.

All That Man Is

Finished August 17
All That Man Is by David Szalay

This collection of stories looks at the lives of a number of men ranging from late teens to old age. These are men struggling with their lives in some way, unsure of what they want, some struggling to make relationships work or to disentangle themselves from relationships that no longer satisfy them. Most are not portrayed in a flattering light.
The stories take place in a variety of European cities, and we see inside the men's heads as they act, knowing their thoughts, their concerns, and their uncertainties. We see them as the vulnerable people they are. Some value their pride and won't admit to others the real worries and situations that they are dealing with. Others struggle with love and how to convey that feeling to those that they care about. We see their loneliness, and their disappointments.
I found I had to take breaks as the men's lives are sad and dark. The stories are very well written and feel like real experiences.

Thursday, 17 August 2017

Waking Gods

Finished August 13
Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

This is the second book in the series that started with Sleeping Gods. The novel opens with the appearance of a second giant robot, this one appearing out of thin air in the middle of a park in London, England. There is debate about how to handle it while the powers that control the first robot, dubbed Themis, work to transport it to England.
The powers that want to approach the robot with a show of force win out, and things do not go well. The robot has powers to shield itself from harm and the resulting reciprocative attack by the robot is a deadly one. By the time Themis gets there, they know what they are up against, but aren't sure at first what to do. An idea by the pilots works, and things calm down.
Back at the base, when Themis suddenly disappears with Vincent inside, no one is sure what to think. When more robots begin to appear at cities around the world, things begin to look very dark for humankind, and a new weapon is brought to bear by one of the robots, resulting in more questions.
This book takes us further into the ideas debated in the first novel, with the mysterious consultant appearing to give encouragement to the Earth Defense Corps leaders.
But the ending, now that will have you on the edge of your chair, and eager for the next book.

The Stockholm Octavo

Finished August 12
The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

This historical novel is set in the 1790s in Stockholm, Sweden. The narrator is Emil Larsson, a young man, who has worked hard to raise himself to the level of a secretaire in the government. His position is in the Customs and Excise office, and he has a sideline in reselling confiscated goods. He has come to his position through hard work, and hard play, teaching himself to be a skilled card player, and betting wisely, gaining the money to buy his position.
Now his Superior has decided that all the secretaires should be married, and Emil is one of the few who has no wife or fiance. Emil's favourite place to go to play cards is the house of Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, an older widow, who both runs a gaming parlour, and is a fortune-teller. She doesn't always use cards in her prognostications, but fairly often. When Emil is next at her house playing cards, she approaches him, and says she's had a vision for him concerning love and connection. She would like to lay an octavo for him, but first she must explain the rules around it. The cards serve as a guide to realizing the vision. Eight nights in a row she will lay cards until a card makes itself known as one of the Octavo. Laying the cards helps to identify who the people are in each role, and can then make it possible to manipulate them so the vision goes in the direction the seeker wishes. The seeker, in this case Emil, must swear an oath to complete the laying. Then he must work to identify who the people are in each role. The roles are: The Companion; The Prisoner; The Teacher; The Courier; The Trickster; The Magpie; The Prize; and The Key.
Along with this plot line, there is also one of royal intrigue. The King, Gustav has recently changed the law to give commoners rights and privileges previously reserved for the nobility. This has caused some of the nobility to rebel by refusing to sign the law, and be imprisoned for that rebellion. The group refers to themselves as the Patriots. Once released, they take their rebellion less openly, and choose the king's younger brother, Duke Karl as their leader. Duke Karl is a weak man, easily influenced by the flattering idea of becoming king. One woman in particular, the widow of one of the rebels, is determined to see the plot through. Her name is the Uzanne, and she has power beyond most women.
Another big theme to this novel is the use of the folding fan. A recent addition to the town's merchants is a skilled fanmaker, Christian Norden. He studied fanmaking in France and married a French woman, but with the growing unrest in France, they came to Christian's home country to make a new start. The Uzanne is a big collector of fans and uses them to get what she wants, whether it be a man or something else. She has some lovely and special fans in her collection and one of them plays a large role in this novel.
There is a lot going on here, and as Emil gradually identifies the people who have roles in his Octavo, we also see the plots developing. Some things, I could guess at ahead of time, but others took me by surprise. A very different and interesting novel.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead

Finished August 11
The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories by Chanelle Benz

The stories in this collection are from the past and the present, from America and Europe, from male and female narrators. The range of Benz is quite wide and she displays it well here.
West of the Known is a story of the Wild West, of an outlaw brother come to free his young sister from a difficult life, but things don't always turn out how the characters expect, and this one has some interesting twists and turns.
Adela is a story within a story. It is written as an anonymous tale from the early 1800s, with plenty of footnotes to explain the story's origins. A tale of a woman whose settled life is unsettled by two young boys, eager for an adventure and romance. This is a story that raises questions. Why did she tell them her secrets? one wonders. A story filled with regrets.
Accidental is a story set in the modern day, a tale of a woman whose lives a difficult life. Her parents split up young and she lived mostly with her mother. Now, her mother is dying and she's trying to fulfil one of her last wishes. Her trip takes her back to the past in other ways, uniting her with not only her father, but other men from her past as well.
The Diplomat's Daughter is a tale of a woman who grew up as the daughter of an American diplomat, but who found herself living a different life after a military attack on a refugee camp she was volunteering at.
The Peculiar Narrative of the Remarkable Particulars in the Life of Orrinda Thomas is another story within a story. Presented as a memoir published in London in 1840 by an American slave woman, it tells the tale of a woman rescued from slavery to become a literary star and poet in her own right, who finds that her life is not what she thought.
James III has a twelve-year-old boy finding life difficult with his mother, step-father, and half-brother. As we meet him, he is on the run, beaten, bleeding and shoeless, when befriended by a young black man at the train platform. Overwhelmed by his situation, the boy looks to extended family and his new acquaintance to move forward with his life.
Snake Doctors is a story of a man who learns of his grandfather's death, not realizing that he'd been still alive. A letter of confession his grandfather left leaves more questions than it answers, sending him on a search for the truth.
The Mourners is another story more historical. As the story begins, a man is dying, and his wife is tending to him, trying to do the best she can by him. She is not the woman his family would have picked for him, and the marriage has brought children, but also had children taken from it. Some months after his death, the woman's father asks for her to come to him urgently, and she finds that her father is once again trying to use her to his own ends. A story with a surprising ending.
Recognition bring a young man historian to an archeological site of the end of a failed community. He has written much theory about this community, and now finds himself asked to comment on the findings there. But a woman who may or may not be someone he knows has her own agenda.
That We May Be All One Sheepefolde is a story from the sixteenth century narrated by a young monk, taken into the order as an orphan and finding a home there. As Henry VIII dismantles the monasteries and takes their lands and possessions for himself, the narrator finds his life uprooted and his loyalties torn.
These are all stories with interesting plots and characters, ones that surprise but also feel like one should have known they were coming. Very good writing.