Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Flood Girls

Finished February 24
The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

This novel is one that had me laughing and crying. The setting is Quinn, a small town in Montana, and we see things from the point of view of several characters. Rachel is a young woman who left town years before after a series of notorious behaviour climaxed with one causing her mother to throw her out. She's turned her life around, joined AA and is now in the process of making amends. Coming back to town is part of that transition for her. The recent death of her father Frank, has given her a place to live during this time. Jake is twelve and lives next door to Rachel with his mother and her boyfriend and their baby. Jake is a precocious child, with a passion for fashion, pulpy novels, rosaries, and Madonna. Frank was one of the people he related well to. Rachel's mom, Laverna, is a tough woman who owns one of the two bars in town. She also sponsors a women's baseball team, the notorious Flood Girls. Rachel is compelled to be on the team despite her lack of sports experience.
The book is rich with wonderful characters from Martha Man Hands to the two Mabels (Red and Black) to Buley, who owns the local thrift store.
Quinn is also a mining town, and a group of the regulars at Laverna's bar, the Dirty Shame, is a group of rough and rowdy lesbian miners. They are peripheral to the story, but offer an interesting background to the action.
This is a story of friendship and families, of acceptance and prejudice. A book that shows the wonder and tragedy of life.
I loved it.

Cake or Death

Finished February 23
Cake or Death: The Excruciating Choices of Everyday Life by Heather Mallick

I usually enjoy and agree with Mallick's column's in the Toronto Star, so I picked this book of essays up as a treat. Even though it was published ten years ago, it still relates to the world we live in today. From the sad state of American politics (which has only gotten sadder), to housekeeping as a means to managing depression; from a look at memoir trends to the wonderfulness of hotels, Mallick unveils truths about life even as she has us laughing.
Other topics covered her are: an average day's events; luxury catalogs; men blaming women; Britain's decline; France's elegance; fear and its purposes; people she hates; Doris Lessing; memory; how to ignore the unpleasant; urban versus rural; women's looks; things that don't work out; writer's block; what she hates and loves about America; and yes, a recipe for cake.
I love books of essays and this one did not disappoint.

Gilt Hollow

Finished February 22
Gilt Hollow by Lorie Langdon

This teen novel begins with teenager Ashton Keller being released from juvenile detention. His best friend Willow Lamott had written him every day, but never got a reply. When she finds that he has returned to their small town she is surprised at the anger he seems to hold for her, and alarmed at the events that start to unfold.
Willow has always been sure that Ashton was innocent of the crime he was convicted of, but she seems to stand alone there. She knew he'd withdrawn from their family after the death of her father, but she still feels she knows his character well enough to know what he is capable of. But when some of the nasty incidents happening around town are blamed on him, she feels unsure of how well she really knows him.
Ashton has been ostracized by his own parents and feels alone. But he grows more determined to prove his innocence as someone in town seems equally determined to drive him away.
This is a novel about peer pressure, about unsavory motivations, and about true friendships.

Monday, 20 February 2017

On Turpentine Lane

Finished February 20
On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

This novel is a fun read, a bit madcap, and a bit romantic. Faith Frankel, age thirty-two, has recently left her job in Brooklyn, returning to the suburbs of Boston and taking a job in the fundraising department of her private school alma mater, Everton Country Day; a job that offers less in the way of stress. She likes her job as head of Stewardship and gets along well with her officemate Nick who is in charge of Major Gifts.
As the novel opens, Faith is buying a small house. It's been on the market a while and while it definitely has a few issues, Faith hopes to lowball an offer so that she can afford the mortgage on her own. Faith has a fiance, Stuart, but recently he's remade himself and she isn't sure she likes the new man. Stuart has decided to walk across the country to find himself, but he seems to be taking a lot of selfies with old girlfriends. And he doesn't have a job. Quite a difference from that attentive hard-working man she first met.
On the family front, there are also issues. Faith's father, recently retired from his insurance job, has taken a studio in Boston and her mother seems unconcerned, but is the reason really as innocuous as he says? Faith and her brother Joel, who runs a snowplow business get along well, and team up to find out what her father is up to.
When Faith's dad finds a photo album with disturbing pictures in the attic of Faith's new house, she wonders what the story is behind them. And when she hears rumors about other things that may have happened with the previous owner she grows more concerned. So, when her officemate Nick finds himself in need of a place to crash, she offers up her second bedroom. After all, they get along fairly well, and she'd feel better with someone else in the house.
And then things get more interesting.
A book with a lot going on, and relationships changing, and families supporting each other. A nice uplifting read.

The Roanoke Girls

Finished February 19
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

This novel begins with the death by suicide of Lane's mother. Lane knew her mother Camilla grew up in Kansas in a big house, but she also knows her mother ran away from that life, calling it a nightmare. Lane has never felt close to her mother, nor felt loved. As Lane is still a few weeks away from her 16th birthday, the social worker assigned to her case has looked for relatives and found grandparents who are eager to take her in.
Lane travels to Kansas, to find a house that seems like a mishmash of pieces of architecture tacked together. Her younger cousin, Allegra is waiting on the porch for her. Her grandmother is distant but friendly, and her grandfather is warm and eager for her to feel welcome.
As she adjust to life in rural Kansas, Allegra introduces her to other young people, and Lane begins to feel at home. From the nearby swimming hold, to the town park with a real carousel, Lane finds spots she loves. She gets to know Allegra's boyfriend and finds a local boy that she connects with. Lane also finds herself more curious about the family she finds herself a part of. Why have all the women in the family besides her grandmother and Allegra ran away or died? What was it her mother ran from? There are some feelings she gets that just don't make sense on the surface of things. When she discovers the family secret, she is horrified. She too runs away, as far as she can.
Years later, she gets a phone call from her grandfather. Allegra is missing, can she come home. She has had contact with Allegra over the years, but not a lot as she wants to forget that summer of her life. Yet she feels a responsibility to Allegra, and returns to the Roanoke house.
The police have been following what trails they can, but Lane knows Allegra better than almost anyone, and she knows her secret. Can she find out what really happened to her, and what will she do if her fears are confirmed?
This suspense novel is one of an extremely dysfunctional family, headed by a narcissist. Families have so many secrets, and others only see what they want to sometimes. This is a book that raises difficult subjects, and is disturbing. But it is a book hard to put down, as you begin to care about Lane and what happens to her.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined

Finished February 18
Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

This wonderful young adult novel has a strong young woman, Ingrid at the center. The story is told in alternating "then" and "now" sequences, gradually revealing Ingrid's life up until the wilderness trek she is on in the "now" portion.
Ingrid spent her early years travelling with her mother, Margot-Sophia Lalonde, an accomplished opera singer. They had fun together, visiting museums and parks and enjoying each place while they were there. But then Margot's career came to a sudden end, and the two retreated back to Toronto, to the house that Margot inherited from her parents. Ingrid was enrolled in the local school and she tried to adjust to her new life. Margot struggled with depression. It had tough moments, but did show improvement in at least some areas. It wasn't the colourful, glamorous life they's led before, Ingrid made friends and found her niche.
In the now, Ingrid has been enrolled by her mother in a wilderness camping trip as the price of going to the school of her choice for her final year of high school. Ingrid's choices aren't the ones her mother would make for her, but Ingrid has determination and knows that this is what she wants. But the camping trip is rougher than what Ingrid was led to believe, and her companions on the trek are all working through their own issues. During this three weeks, Ingrid will have to find inner as well as outer strength beyond what she thought she had.
This is a story of families, of how we treat those around us, of depression, and of resilience. It is a story of finding the beautiful that remains even when tragedy strikes. I loved it.

The Burial

Finished February 18
The Burial by Courtney Collins

This historical fiction novel takes place in rural Australia in 1921. Jessie is a woman who has had an eventful life, even though she is still in her twenties, but we come into her story at a major turning point. The narrator is Jessie's baby, a child that is not alive as it narrates the story.
We gradually learn of Jessie's life as the story is told, her own birth, her childhood, the way she left her family and the life she left it for. As her story begins, we know she is desperate, we know she is a horsewoman, skilled in dealing with horses. And we come to understand what has driven her to this night, in the dark and rain, at the side of the river as she digs a hole in the dirt.
As she flees her life up to now, she is followed. First by one man, and then by two, and then by more. The first man she has known recently and he doesn't understand why she has left the way she did, at least not at first. The second man she knew long ago, and thought lost to her. The rest are just men, looking for a dream.
I enjoyed Jessie as a character, but also the way the story unfolded, and the prelude which is echoed in the final pages of the story. I liked the people she met, others who lived in difficult circumstances, some who chose to stay and some who chose to find their own way.
I also found it interesting that it was inspired by a real life woman bushranger, Jessie Hickman.
This is an amazing debut novel, one that stays with you.
For readers who loved The Outlander by Gil Adamson

The Malice of Fortune

Finished February 13
The Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis

This historical novel takes us to Italy in the early sixteenth century, where it enters the intrigue of the papal court of Pope Alexander and the military actions of his son Duke Valentino. The historical events are real and the historical characters here really took the actions that they take here. It is the conversations, inner thoughts, and motivations that Ennis creates to explain them that make this history come to life. The three main historical figures this novel follows are the beautiful Damiata, the mistress of the Pope's younger son Juan, who is murdered one night on his way to see her; Niccolo Machiavelli, a young Florentine secretary serving as emissary from that city to Duke Valentino in negotiations, but with limited powers; and Leonardo da Vinci, inventor of many devices, scientific investigator, and, for a time, a follower of Valentino.
Machiavelli, of course, goes on to write the Prince, largely based on the actions of Valentino as he observed them.
This story is told in three parts, with the first part being Damiata's letters to her young son, which she entrusts to Machiavelli to give to him when he is older and can understand, and which she hopes explains her role in history to her son. The next two parts are by Machiavelli and tell of the events from where Damiata's leave off. The novel is structured as a collection sent to Francesco Guicciardini by Machiavelli as material helpful to his work History of Italy which was begun in 1537.
The author's note at the end tells us what he drew from in research to create this story, and what he added to the documented history of these people and events.
The book is lively and fascinating, with intrigue, murder (sometimes most gruesome), and depth of character. History is come alive here.
Like Machiavelli, we are never quite sure who to trust, but things become clearer as the plot moves forward.

Eight Girls Taking Pictures

Finished February 12
Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto

This novel has eight sections, each telling the story of a fictional woman photographer. Some of their lives are taken from real women photographers, and inspired by their work. Each section has a photo at the beginning, and the photo is part of that woman's story. The photos are real, and all by famous women photographers. While each story is separate, there are links between them. Some women visit the same places as previous women, or are inspired by their work, or meet them, or are linked to them in other ways.
The first woman is American. As the story begins, it is 1917. She married late, to a painter, but the marriage and motherhood didn't bring her the fulfillment she expected. She had studied in Germany, and had her own studio and a name for herself before marriage. We see her looking back to her earlier life, as she faces a crisis in her life that has her questioning her choices.
The second woman is English, one who finagled an apprenticeship with a female society photographer, and learned avidly at every opportunity, before opening her own portrait studio and then moved into advertising work. We see her from a young woman in the early 1900s through the end of the 1930s, much of that in a relationship and then a marriage with a man who is supportive by troubled.
The third woman is an Italian who emigrated to California  in 1913 at the age of seventeen with her family. She lived a very bohemian life, first in California, and then in Mexico, where the rise of communism played a large role in her life. She was beautiful and impetuous, and loved new experiences. Here we see her in 1929 before we learn how she arrived to that life-changing point in her life. She started as a model and actress, and then moved into photography, urban images and then portraits.
The fourth woman is again American, daughter of an avid amateur photographer and wealthy candy manufacturer. She was unconventional and rebellious and raised in an unorthodox manner. Her story starts in 1915 and takes us through WWII. She too starts as a model, before moving into photography, first as an apprentice, and then having her own shows by the mid 1930s, and eventually into being a war photographer.
The fifth woman is a German Jew, and her story begins in 1927. She too has an unconventional upbringing, with a father who offered her the same advantages and opportunities as her brother. As the story begins, she is a window dresser for a large department store, but her innovations don't go over well. With a famous architect father and glass artist mother, she is able to apprentice to a good photographer and then study at the Bauhaus school in Dessau. She has a strong group of female bluestocking friends, mostly other Jewish women with careers. But the war interrupts her studio and advertising work, and takes her to a new life, first in London, and then in South America.
The sixth woman is an American, and her story starts in 1951 in Rome at the age of 29, and takes us into the late 1960s. She begin studying photography at the age of eight, encouraged by her mechanical toy-maker father and costume designer mother to choose a creative discipline.a developed a career taking photography assignments for magazines. Her stop in Rome on return from an assignment is to take stock of her life and decide whether to move in a certain direction. In Rome, she meets a woman who becomes her model and muse, and a friend who encourages her through her next stage of life. We see her domesticity and the creative way she uses her circumstances.
The seventh woman is also American, a woman whose romantic entanglement has led her into a partnership with her lover that isn't entirely satisfying. As she takes photos for a project on women and gender views, with her lover late for a shoot, she has a conversation with her model that has her making new decisions for her life. Her story is in the early 1970s.
The last woman is also American, but a woman who is most comfortable in the small town she grew up in, taking pictures of her children, her life, her surroundings. She asks for help in learning about the old camera her father bought her, and her skills bring her both admiration and notoriety as her career takes off in the late 1980s.
I really enjoyed these women's lives, their interaction with other creative people, and the men (and women) in their lives. It was interesting to see how reactions to some things grew more conservative over time, and other things became commonplace. This is a story of women artists, varied but all passionate and serious about their work.

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Sister of Mine

Finished February 7
Sister of Mine by Sabra Waldfogel, performed by Bahni Turpin

This historical novel begins with a scene when two Union soldiers get separated from their scouting party and notice a Union flag on a well kept plantation. Approaching the house, they find a group of people gathered on the porch. A white woman and several black women and men. They are welcomed, fed, and their wounds are treated.
The story then jumps back twelve years to 1852, when Adelaide Mannheim, daughter of Mordecai Mannheim, a Jewish planter in northern Georgia was given her own maid, a slave named Rachel. The two girls become friends, much to the annoyance of Adelaide's mother, and soon realize that Rachel is also Mordecai's child, which explains Adelaide's mother's feelings toward her. Mordecai is a businessman, trading in many goods besides what he grows on his plantation, and he is pleased when Rachel shows an aptitude for figures as well, quizzing her when she has been tidying his study. Adelaide has secretly taught her to read as well.
When Adelaide gets to be a young lady, her mother insists that she leave school and travel to Savannah, where there is a large Jewish community, to find a suitor. Adelaide quickly meets a young man that she likes, but both her and Rachel discover that they are naive when it comes to relationships. When things go badly, both retire to the plantation, where Rachel learns more, and Adelaide's health suffers. A new opportunity for both leads them to new beginnings, but also more heartache and gradually they form a new different relationship.
This is a story of slavery and the realities of life in the South during the plantation era. While it is fiction, it is based in fact. Many Jews in the south did own slaves, as they adjusted to the society they moved into. As slave-owners, they ran the gamut from kind to cruel.
Many children were born into slavery despite being fathered by the white men who owned their mothers, growing up alongside their half-siblings, but with few of the advantages.
This book has depth for both the plot and the characters, and I found it enlightening.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Tapestry of Fortunes

Finished February 5
Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg

This feel good novel begins as Cecelia Ross, a motivational speaker reflects on the recent loss of her best friend to cancer. It is a reflection that has her looking at her life and realizing that she isn't in a place she wants to be. After Penny's death, Penny's husband moved away from Minneapolis, and when Cece receives a missive from an old boyfriend, she realizes that she is lonely and needs to make a change. She promised Penny that she would volunteer at a local hospice, and along with that new commitment, Cece takes a break from her speaking and writing and puts her home on the market.
Fate directs her to share a house with three other women and these new relationships and the opportunities that come with her new home lead her forward to a life she's missed by always being afraid to take risks.
This is a story of love and the risks one takes when having any kind of relationship, the need to give up some control and see what life brings you. There is romance, and food, and friendship. And there is optimism for the future.

You Can Read

Finished February 4
You Can Read by Helaine Becker, illustrated by Mark Hoffmann

This delightful picture book is perfect for early readers. The pictures are charming and the story is told in a rhyming format. As the book moves through a long list of places you can read (many of which I can attest to) it shows that you can read anywhere you want to once you gained the skill of reading.
Absolutely fun!

The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure

Finished February 4
The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure by Adam Williams

This chunky novel (704 pages) begins in 1899 and takes us through 1902. The setting is China. A small bit of the story is set in Peking (now Beijing), and the rest in a fictional smaller community called Shishan north and east of Peking, along the planned railway route and just beyond where the railway reaches as the book begins.
The foreign community in Shishan is small. There is a Scottish medical missionary, Dr. Edward Airton with his wife Nellie and their two younger children Jenny and George. Their two older children are at boarding school in Scotland. There is an American missionary, Septimus Millward, with his wife Laetitia, and their 8 children, with Hiram as the oldest at fifteen. There are two Italian Catholic nuns, Sister Elena and Sister Caterina, who now work with the Airtons as their priest died recently and has yet to be replaced. They still travel out to surrounding villages where they have converts. There is Englishman Frank Delamere, a representative of a chemical company, and German Hermann Fischer, chief of the railway building project.
Joining them soon after the story begins are Tom Cabot, an assistant to Frank as the business grows; Helen Frances Delamere, Frank's nineteen year old daughter who has recently finished school; and Henry Manners, recently of the British army and now attached to the railway project.
Helen Frances was escorted on the ship over by Tom and the two became close, getting engaged along the way. Tom is a good solid man, but Helen Frances finds herself strangely drawn to the dashing Henry with his adventurous past.
Frank's Chinese associates and Dr. Airton urge him to rein in some of his less gentlemanly behaviour once they find out his daughter is coming. These include excessive drinking and regular trips to the local upscale brothel, the Palace of Heavenly Pleasure, where he has grown attached to a young Chinese prostitute.
Local Chinese officials from the military leader Major Lin to local merchants regularly hold meetings at the Palace as well as participate in extracurricular activities.
As Tom gets to know his market and partners, and Helen Frances tours the area escorted by the handsome Henry, the political tension grows as the Boxers, a recent rebellious group with a tie to martial arts and superstitions, grow in influence.
Of course this story involves the Boxer Rebellion and their wholesale slaughter of foreigners and anyone they deem involved with them, from Christian converts to tradespeople. We see how the various players in the foreign and local communities are affected and the actions they take or are forced to take.
This is a story strong with historical detail, from the operation of steam engines to the political realities to the business of a brothel. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
For those with more conservative tastes, a warning that this book includes graphic sexual scenes and violence.

Wrap-Up for Gentle Spectrums 2016

This is my wrap-up post for Gentle Spectrums 2016 which went from February 1, 2016 to January 31, 2017
Gentle Spectrums 2016
There were two parts to this challenge
I read 7 books in the first part relating to colour.
1. Little Green by Walter Mosley. Finished March 1
2. The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Finished April 2
3. Red Lights by Simenon. Finished April 16
4. Red Stone by Gabriele Goldstone. Finished August 2
5. The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano. Finished September 8
6. Green River Falling by R.J. McMillen. Finished November 8
7. Tolstoy and the Purple Chair by Nina Sankovitch. Finished December 14
I didn't read books in all the categories, but here's what I've got.
Related words:  meowing, purring, tweeting, flying.
Maybe a Fox by Kathi Appelt and Alison McGhee. Finished February 13
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang. Finished March 13
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Finished April 2
Old Wolf by Avi. Finished April 24
Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese. Finished April 26
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley. Finished October 11
Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys by H.A. Rey. Finished October 18

Drink Dirt Eat Stone by Kyle Fleishman. Finished March 6
Chasing Chaos by Jessica Alexander. Finished March 20
Cathedral of the Wild by Boyd Varty. Finished March 28
Satisfying Clicking Sound by Jason Guriel. Finished April 22
Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James. Finished July 3
Joy Comes in the Morning by Jonathan Rosen. Finished July 8
Birthdays, marriage, graduation, retirement, baptism, healing rituals.

Chose the Wrong Guy, Gave Him the Wrong Finger by Beth Harbison. Finished December 14
4.  FOOD
No books read
Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen. Finished April 10
No books read
No books read
The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. Finished December 31
Any connection, even “Winnie-The-Pooh”.  Look up our inventions, like the 911 emergency number.

The Hill by Karen Bass. Finished April 1
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Finished April 24
Famous inanimate pairings:  bowl & spoon, peas in a pod, spark to a flame, moon & stars, black or white, a wink & a smile.

A Pair of Docks by Jennifer Ellis. Finished March 28
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena. Finished October 24

Gentle Spectrums 2017

I am committing to Gentle Spectrums again this year

This challenge runs from February 1, 2017 to January 31, 2018

The challenge has two parts,

A Limitless Hues
This part has the names of colours in book titles or the word colour or terms like iridescent, bright, light, hue, spectrum, rainbow, shade, etc. Terms that might be shades of a color like cherry or canary don't count with the colour itself

B Gentle Subjects
This part has ten subject categories to match to book titles. Some will also allow content matches.

1. History
Historic people, content, places, symbols, and books set in 1967 or earlier.

2. Food
Food and drink, and words typically used to describe them like sweet or sour.

3. Sky
Elements by day or night, astronomy, spiritual terms

4. Canadian
Titles do not need to match this category. Canadian authors and features do. A brief Canadian setting does not count

5. Money, Valuable, Class
Monetary terms, gems, etc.

6. Music
Musical terms. Also books about music or musicians, or by musicians.

7. Is the Third a Charm?
Titles associated with "three". A third volume, or your third book by an author. Include a comment as to whether the author is more appealing or less at this third book.

8. Traditions, Practices, Celebrations

9. All Critters

10. Clothing or Fashion

Knitting Yarns

Finished February 2
Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting edited by Ann Hood

This anthology of essays shows a range of experiences with knitting from twenty-seven different writers including both men and women. Most of them knit, but others just enjoy the finished product or the soothing accompaniment of being near a knitter during the process.
There are also six knitting patterns included in the book, all by Helen Bingham: fingerless mittens, a cabled head wrap, coffee cozies, slipper socks, a dog sweater, and a lacy wrap.
I have only ventured into knitting twice as of yet: once for a scarf that my mother finished for me, and once for a too ambitious sweater that still lies unfinished in a box. I did purchase yarn and a pattern for a scarf a couple years ago, but haven't yet tackled it.
I enjoyed the stories here, partly for the knitting, and partly for the window they opened into these writers' lives.
A fun book.