Tuesday, 11 December 2018

White Rabbit

Finished December 3
White Rabbit by Kate Phillips

This is a story of Ruth, a woman in her old age. She has been married to her second husband for many years, but still looks back with longing at her first marriage. She was widowed young, and subsequently fell in love with a man who didn't live up to her ideals, and thus came to marry her current husband.
We are placed in Ruth's life over a day, and see all her regular habits from her sleeping arrangements, to her determinedly planned outings, to her predetermined meals. We see her relationship with her granddaughter Karen, her husband Henry, her cleaner Luzma and her young son Luis, neighbours, acquaintances, and random strangers she meets.
The book often ventures into the past, looking at Ruth's younger life, her mother Elizabeth, her first husband Hale, and her early friendships.
This is a book of relationships, of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and about growing old. A very interesting read.
The white rabbit of the title is a family game Ruth plays, with everyone she knows trying to say the phrase before Ruth does. It also comes up again in other ways as the book progresses.

Like Death

Finished December 1
Like Death by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Richard Howard

This book takes us to Paris in the late 1800s. Olivier Bertin is a well-known, and well-liked painter, a man in middle age, never married. Years ago, at a party he saw a young woman of society, the Countess de Guilleroy, Anne, and expressed an interest in painting her. He was already well-known for his portraits, and, hearing of his interest, she approached him.
The two became lovers, a secret known only to them. Olivier constantly wishes that they were able to marry. They have been in a relationship for years, and Olivier often attends gatherings at the Countess' home. When they first met, the Countess had a young daughter, Annette, and for recentl years Annette has been in the country at her grandmother's, spending time with the ailing woman. Now she is ready to debut in society, and returns to Paris, and Olivier is struck by how much she looks like her mother. Her parents have already planned a match for her, and she proves herself to be quite charming in her society appearances.
But Olivier can't take his eyes off her, finding his love for her mother renewed by her youthful beauty, and Anne begins to realize that he is falling in love with her daughter, despite his love for her.
This is a story of love, of the world of salons, opera, and public walks through the parks. It is a story told with an understanding of the innermost feelings of the characters.
Maupassant is, as always, a master.

Friday, 7 December 2018

The Confidant

Finished November 30
The Confidant by Hélène Grémillon, translated by Alison Anderson
This novel takes place in France in 1975. Camille is a middle-aged French woman, working in publishing, who has recently lost her mother in an accident. As she goes through the condolence letters, she finds a long letter from someone who hasn't signed their name. The letter seems to be telling a story, and Camille works her way through various thoughts surrounding the letter, and the ones that follow, continuing the story.
At first, she thinks it must be a mistake. Then she thinks that the letters are by one of her authors, trying a new way to get her attention. Then she begins to both hope and fear that the letters are about her own story, one she never knew.
The stories appear to be by a man called Louis, who was a teenager when the war began, and he was separated from a girl from his village that he'd fallen in love with. The young girl, Annie, was an amateur artist, and when a young couple moves into the grand estate near the village, she is drawn into a friendship with the woman, and gradually into a plot to assist them in having a child. As Annie is separated from her friends and family, the impressionable young girl dreams of freedom, of escaping her situation, and of a life beyond her current state.
When Annie and Louis are reunited again in 1942, Annie confides in him, and looks for assistance but the story is one with many tragedies, and as Camille sorts her way through the story to find the truth, she discovers how these events are reflected in her own life.
This is a story of longing, of loss, of revenge, and of a past that returns.

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

Finished November 29
Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna, illustrated by Tara Anderson

This children's novel is told from two points of view. One is that of nine-year-old Jeannie. Jeannie's dad has recently moved out as her parents separated, and Jeannie has a lot of emotions around this: frustration, anger, guilt, sadness. She has wanted a hamster for quite a while and her parents finally agreed to let her get one. She's saved money for it, and for the supplies she'll need for keeping a hamster and looking after one.
The other point of view is that of Sapphire, the hamster that Jeannie gets. Sapphire isn't the name that Jeannie originally picks for it, but one that it is more thoughtful later decision. We see Sapphire's experience in the pet store before she gets chosen, as well as on the trip home, at Jeannie's place, and on various adventures. Sapphire is a bit of a philosopher, and has a goal of freedom, but gradually changes what she defines that as.
We watch how Jeannie struggles with her own feelings, sometimes erupting in frustration, anger, or sadness. And we watch how spending time with Sapphire calms her, and others in her household.
The idea of freedom extends beyond Sapphire into others in the story, who are struggling with the freedom to be who they really are, despite how others may react to them. It's about being able to have that freedom to be comfortable in your own skin, to be happy with your life, and to see that life in a positive way. This extends not only to Jeannie's parents, but also to her neighbour, and gradually friend Anna Conda. Jeannie accepts Anna for who she is, and defends her as well, looking for ways to help others find acceptance too.
This book exposes children to a variety of family types, and opens the door to discussion in a positive way of these differences.
A great addition to any library.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

Finished November 28
If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating by Alan Alda, read by the author

This book was eye-opening. Working with the public, and being a manager, communication is something I'm very interested in, so learning how to be better at it was a big draw for me. I also loved both of Alda's previous books that I've read, so was glad to find this one enjoyable as well.
I learned a lot about communication, and about the author.
For instance, I didn't know about the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science before.
Alda takes us through his own journey in learning about communication, and about things he learned while working with science professionals in improving the communication skills of scientists. He gives his take on direct experiences of personal interactions, of workshops with adults and children, and of research that he's either been involved in, or that he's learned about and talked to the researchers about.
One key takeaway was the benefit of teaching improv in terms of improving communication. This isn't about comedy, but about paying attention to the person in front of you, to their facial expression, to their body language, to their gaze, and learning how to respond to those things in ways that improve not only your own communication, but also that of the person you're interacting with. It makes so much sense, but I'd never connected it before. He speaks about a variety of improv games that were used in communication workshops with people of all ages, and the effects that these had on the people involved.
He touches on the power of storytelling, the barriers of jargon, the role of empathy, and ways to get "in sync" with another person.
He also talks about his own personal experiments in changing his behaviour to see what would happen, and how he learned more about himself, as well as generating ideas for further research in this field. He includes his own mistakes and missteps, and what he learned from them.
This is an amazing read, and I highly recommend it to everyone. After all, we all communicate.

Let's Take the Long Way Home

Finished November 25
Let's Take the Long Way Home: a Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell

This memoir is about the friendship between Gail and fellow writer Caroline Knapp. The two women shared many things: a love of writing and books, struggles with alcohol, difficult relationships with men, and the love they had for their dogs.
They bonded quickly, and Carolyn taught Gail how to row in exchange for swimming lessons. In this way, they shared sports as well. They took long walks with their dogs, talking about many things, they encouraged each other professionally. They sometimes took vacations together, and were completely comfortable in each other's presence. They found a friendship that was close and special. And then Carolyn was diagnosed with cancer, And their relationship only grew deeper.
As Gail struggled with the decline of her friend, the loss, and the life beyond, she grew as a person and found a way forward.
This is a story of friendship, intimacy, and growth, that is inspiring.

Wednesday, 5 December 2018

His Whole Life

Finished November 18
His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay

I read this for my book club, and enjoyed it more than most of the club members. It was a bit of a slower read than others of her books that I've enjoyed.
The book centers around a boy, Jim over a period of several years. It begins when he is ten years old. Jim's mother Nan is Canadian, and takes him to Canada for part of every summer to the house on a lake where his uncle and aunt and their dog Duke live. Jim asks a question on this trip, "What's the worst thing you've ever done?" and that question comes up several times throughout the book, as does the idea of forgiveness.
Jim's father George is a man given to resentment. He doesn't seem to enjoy being at the lake, which is something that feels good to Nan and Jim. By the following spring, even Jim can see that his parent's marriage is in trouble, and he and his mother spend extended time at the lake, and his mother is reunited with her childhood best friend Lulu. Lulu has her own issues, with family and with alcohol, and yet she and Jim grow to be friends as well. As we follow Jim over the next few years, we see more closely the relationship between his parents, between his mother and Lulu, and between his older half-brother Blake, from his mother's first marriage and the rest of his family.
Jim, as effectively an only child, despite having older half-siblings on both sides, lives in the adult world more than most kids, and we eventually find out the action that led to that question in the car trip at the beginning of the book. He has become a boy with few friends, a boy who is comfortable in surroundings that his classmates are not. He lives a bit apart from others.
There are lots of themes here: motherhood, forgiveness, our relationship to nature, and I found myself stopping more often to think about what I was reading.

Stitches to Savor

Finished November 16
Stitches to Savor: a Celebration of Designs by Sue Spargo

This book is a delight of ideas, featuring Spargo's folk art quilts, full of colour, embellishments, textures, and fun details.
There are not a lot of words here, as the pictures speak for themselves, The book includes twelve quilts, with multiple pictures for each, including close-ups of different areas of the quilt and one of each quilt in its entirety. The quilts included here are as follows.
* African Days: a house surrounded by animals, plants, and proverbes
* Imperial Blooms: three rows of three flowers, all different and colourful
* Circle Play 2: a creamy textured background with ten rows of seven circles, all different
* Magnolia: a house, surrounded by birds and flowers
* Travel Journal: A tree on a circle, surrounded by a ring of living creatures and country names
* Coffee Cups: a multi-textured background with four rows of three cups, some with saucers.
* Flower Pot: a vase with many different flowers and greenery surrounded by a border of coloured rectangles
* Bird Dance: six rows of five birds, all different, on subtly different squares, bordered by a vine with round fruits
* Earth 'n Twig: a stylized tree with six blooming branches, ringed by a flowering vine, birds, and rabbits
* Silk Road: A colourful flower with four flowering shoots, bordered by a green flowering vine
* Leaf Play: seven rows of eight teardrop-shaped leaves, each different, all on a nubby background
* My Tree of Life: a multi-branched tree, covered with leaves, berries, and birds, with dogs below, a stream with fish below that, all bordered by brown, then an outer border of green with a flowering vine with butterflies.
The quilts are sewn by a variety of stitchers, credited at the back of the book, some of which have patterns available for them.
A perfect book for curling up with a cup of tea.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Every Last Secret

Finished November 12
Every Last Secret by Linda Rodriquez

This is the first book in the series featuring Skeet Bannion, a divorced woman who quit the Kansas City police force to take a job as the head of the campus police at nearby Chouteau University in the small town of Brewster. A few things led her to this change in life. One of them was accusations of unprofessional behaviour against her father, a career cop, and her father's sudden retirement. Another is the end of her marriage to another cop on the city force, and wanting to start anew.
She moved to Brewster with her collie, Lady, and her cat Wilma Mankiller, and settled into a job that turns out to be more dangerous than she imagined.
As the book opens, she is awakened one night by one of her officers, who has found the campus newspaper editor dead in his office, obviously murdered. There'd been some issues around the editor, and Skeet had asked officers to pay special attention to the office as they did their rounds, but she hadn't expected this. To complicate matters, the editor had recently married Skeet's neighbour, a woman who had divorced her husband for infidelity. The ex-husband was a dean on campus and had been looking to reconcile with his wife. Skeet had grown close to her and her teenage son Brian, since she moved to town.
As more people connected to the editor die, Skeet is eager to keep people safe, and get to the bottom of the case. She is assisted by the town sheriff to a certain extent, as well as by her former partner in the city.
This is a story that goes beyond the case into the families of the people involved, including Skeet. We see her deal with her father and with her young neighbour, Brian.
I really enjoyed this book, and would like to read more in this series.

Dying to Read

Finished November 7
Dying to Read by Lorena McCourtney

This book is part of a series featuring Cate Kincaid, a young woman who has had bad luck with jobs, and has recently joined her uncle in his small private investigation business in Eugene, Oregon.
As the book opens, Cate's uncle has had a small health setback and is in the hospital. He's left her a task to track down a young woman for an elderly relative, and she's got an address to look for her at.
As she arrives at the house, she finds a number of women at the door of the house, all of whom were expecting to have lunch with the homeowner, who isn't answering the door.
Cate takes charge, opens the door with the key one of the women has, and enters the house followed by the women. As they search the house, they find the table laid, the food prepared and no sign of anybody. It looks like the housekeeper, the woman that Cate is looking for, has left in a hurry. And then Cate and one of the women find the homeowner, dead at the bottom of a set of outside steps.
As Cate continues to track down the woman, finds that the person searching for her hasn't been honest about the reasons he is looking for her, and tries to figure out what really happened to the dead woman, since the police seem quick to write it off as an accident, she also finds herself in some tricky situations, and meets a man who seems a little too eager to protect her. She also tries to keep some of the information from her uncle as he recovers, and finds herself the unexpected owner of a cat that seems to be sending her occasional messages.
A fun read.

The Dinner List

Finished November 5
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle, read by the author

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, one we've all heard versions of: which five people, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with? The person who created the list in this case, is a young woman in publishing, Sabrina Nielsen. The book starts as she walks into the restaurant. Her college roommate had her write the list years ago, but she's made a couple of adjustments over time.
At the table are Audrey Hepburn; Sabrina's philosophy professor from her college days, Conrad; her estranged, now dead, father Robert; her best friend and college roommate Jessica; and her ex-boyfriend Tobias, the man she thought was the love of her life.
As the dinner conversation turns from light to more serious, Sabrina is made to face how her parent's breakup, and the loss of her father from her life affected her, and what beliefs she had around that. She is also forced to look hard at her two closest relationships, that of her best friend Jessica, and of her long-time boyfriend Tobias.
There are things we learn along with her during this evening, and the presence of her former professor and of the dead famous actress bring insight to her, helping her ask the important questions that will help her move on with her life in a more productive way.
She knows that she won't get a second chance to be with some of these people and ask the questions that she needs to, and yet part of her doesn't really want to deal with her own actions around these relationships.
A fascinating way to have a character grow.

Being Lara

Finished November 3
Being Lara by Lola Jaye

I picked up this novel because my sister's name is Lara, and I was intrigued by the character being a black girl adopted by white parents, which is also my sister's situation. But the rest of the book and the character differed widely from my personal experiences.
Lara's mother grew up in a council house in Britain, the youngest in the family, and a shy girl who loved to sing. She met a man who encouraged her singing, and who thought the world of her. She had a short but successful career, and, was involved in a charity for African orphans. It is on a visit to the orphanage in Africa that she first sees the young child Omolara, and is smitten by her.
We also see the situation of Omolara's birth mother and why she chooses to give her up. All this is background. As the book opens, Lara is turning 30, and her birth mother has appeared unexpectedly. She isn't sure how to react, and this book follows through her reactions, those of her friends and boyfriend, and of her adoptive parents.
There is uncertainty, curiosity, anger, resentment, and other emotions that show up in the various characters, and it is by working her way through these that the adult Lara figures out who she is. A coming of age story, with a bit of a twist.




Monday, 19 November 2018

The Christmas Cowboy Hero

Finished November 2
The Christmas Cowboy Hero by Donna Grant

This light romance is part of the Heart of Texas series. Ex-Navy SEAL Clayton East has avoided going home since he retired from the military, but a family crisis drives him home to the small town of Clearview and the family ranch. The ranch's accountant has disappeared, along with most of the money, and so has a hundred head of cattle and a prize bull. He finds his father recovering from a health crisis, and his mother needing help to deal with it all.
Meanwhile Abby Harper is a young woman in town struggling to raise her two younger brothers after her mother took off on them. She is dependable and loving, but hasn't had the time to find her own future after being derailed from her studies. She is working at a local accounting firm, and studying for her certification through distance learning. As the book opens, she finds herself called out to the local jail to deal with one of her brothers who has been caught stealing cattle from the local East Ranch. Her brother is mum on who else was with him, and she despairs of his future, until Clayton decides to give him a break by working off the loss as a ranch hand after school.
And so the two protagonists are brought together.
There are strong families on both sides, regrets about past actions, fear for the future, and a strong work ethic, along with the mutual attraction.
A pleasant read.

The Hazel Wood

Finished November 1
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, read by Rebecca Soler

This book is rooted in fairy tales, but not the ones that end happily ever after. Alice Prosperpine and her mother Ella have spent most of Alice's life wandering the country, never staying anywhere for very long. Bad luck seems to follow them, and when they get a sense, an intimation, or outright proof that it has neared, they move on. Alice's reclusive grandmother Althea wrote a book of fairy tales called Tales from the Hinterland years ago, that has a small but determined fan base. Alice herself has only seen the book once, and her mother removed it from her hands before she could do more than see the table of contents, and turn to the story containing her own name "Alice Three Times".
Recently, her mother received a message that her grandmother had died, and seemed to believe that the bad luck would stop. Ella married a wealthy man and they now live with him and his daughter in a luxury condo in New York City. Alice and her stepsister go to a high class private school, but Alice never feels that she fits in.
She's had issues all her life with sudden rages, and Ella has worked with her to control these using calming breathing and mindfulness techniques, but she still doesn't have it under control all the time. When another student at her school, Ellery Finch, turns out to be a mega-fan of Althea's, Alice rebuffs him, yet he remains friendly towards her. Alice has a part-time job in a local diner, and is unnerved by a strange experience that she has there one day. When her stepsister is missing from afternoon classes the following day, and the town car that regularly picks them up doesn't appear, Alice finds her own way home, despite a man from her past that appears to be trying to abduct her. But Alice arrives home to an even more disturbing scene: the condo smells horrible, like rotting things, and no one is there. She finds a note that indicates that Ella has been taken by someone from the Hinterland, which both scares and confuses her. She no longer is sure what is real and what isn't. The only person she can think of to go to is Ellery, because he knows the stories and might be able to help her.
As she and Ellery search for her mother, and make their way closer to her grandmother's estate in upstate New York, things get weirder and weirder. From Ellery, Alice learns some of the tales from the book, and encounters characters that seem to be from those tales.
I liked the main characters of Ellery and Alice, and how they developed as the story progressed. Alice's story is one she did not expect, and does not want to believe, and yet she must face it to be able to have a chance at a future she determines herself.
I loved the fairy tale elements here, dark and creepy, and yet fantastical too. There is so much going on, that I wanted to know more about. I loved it.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

A Gate at the Stairs

Finished October 30
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

This novel follows Tassie Keltjin, daughter of a Wisconsin farmer, who is living in a small university town as a student. Tassie is the older of two siblings, with her younger brother Robert still in high school.
The book starts shortly before Christmas as Tassie looks for a job that would begin when she returned to school in January. She ends up getting hired by a high-end restaurant owner Sarah Brink, who has an adoption planned for early in the new year. It turns out that Sarah knows Tassie's father slightly, a farmer who specializes in organic produce for restaurants, a business he started with potatoes.
We are taken through the next few months in Tassie's life. She goes with Sarah and her husband Edward for the adoption, and continues her studies at college. She meets a boy that she gets very involved with, we see her looking at her life from both within it, and from outside.
The next few months bring with them love, heartache, grief, and growth. The stories that Tassie is a part of are distant from the small town farm life she grew up in, and yet not.
I read this book slowly, thinking over the story as it developed, and was moved. A great read.

Saturday, 3 November 2018

Summer on Blossom Street

Finished October 29
Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

This novel is part of the series that takes place around the shops on Blossom Street in Seattle. Lydia Goetz, co-owner of the knitting store A Good Yarn has just decided to start a new class called Knit to Quit, to help people who are trying to quit a bad habit or anything like that.
The first person to join is Phoebe Rylander. Phoebe has recently called off her engagement to a local lawyer after discovering he's in the habit of cruising for prostitutes. He's a charming man, and his social status is a draw for Phoebe's mother, but she knows he isn't a good man to have in her life. She needs to distract herself with an activity, and get away from her apartment as he is still trying desperately to change her mind.
Alix Turner, a friend of Lydia's who works at the cafe across the street as a baker, is thinking of starting a family with her new husband, but she hasn't exactly had good models for parenthood herself, and she started smoking again around the stress of the wedding, and knows she has to quit before having a baby.
Local businessman Bryan Hutchinson took on the family chocolate business after his father's unexpected death. He's had a steep learning curve, works far too many hours, doesn't always eat as healthy as he should and is even more keyed up than he has been because of a woman suing the company. He also has a thumb injury that hasn't been healing as well as he hoped. His doctor has now told him to go to a knitting class to help with both the thumb and with stress.
Lydia also has stuff going on in her personal life. She and her husband Brad have recently been approved as foster parents, part of their plan to adopt an infant. But when they are asked to take on an older child, due to an urgent need, want to help but are not sure how this will impact their son Cody. Her sister Margaret is dubious as well.
Lydia's friend Anne Marie is also doing some thinking. She recently finalized the adoption on her daughter and they've just returned from a trip to Paris. Now back to running her bookstore, Anne Marie is looking for a larger home for them, and is confronted by a situation that she isn't sure how she feels about.
Lots going on here, with lots of interesting plot lines. The book also includes the pattern the knitting class is working on, a cable sampler scarf.

Good Dog. Stay

Finished October 28
Good Dog. Stay by Anna Quindlen

This short book is an homage to her family's beloved black dog Beau, but also celebrates loved dogs. She includes examples from his puppyhood, his adult life, and the declining senses of his old age. She talks about the lessons he taught her and her family along the way, right until the end. It is illustrated with a range of black and white photos of loved dogs, including Beau and his pal Bea.
While I don't have dogs myself, I have friends and family members who do, and I know the relationship with a dog is a special thing. This book has humour, insight, and love. Lots of love.

A Passion for Needlework: Factoria VII

Finished October 28
A Passion for Needlework: Factoria VII by Inspirations

This lovely new book has twelve beautiful projects, from a variety of designers using a variety of techniques. A stitch glossary is included along with brief biographies of the contributors. Each project gives an introduction to the subject depicted in the gallery section of the book, along with separate detailed instructions. There is also a pocket in the back of the book with liftout sheets to transfer designs to fabrics.
Flower Pots is designed by Ana Mallah, an Australian designer. It uses a variety of needlework techniques, including stumpwork in beautiful pastels. and instructions include the design for two flower pots, one of hydrangeas and one of roses. Absolutely beautiful, as well as being useful.
Jacobean Hunt is designed by Phillipa Turnbull, a British designer. This is a reinterpretation of a 17th century design, done in crewel embroidery, with rich wool threads.
Red Currants is designed by Julie Kniedl, an Australian designer. This creation is a three-dimensional stem using wood, wire, and wool.
Le Magnolia is designed by Catherine Laurnçon, a French designer. This threadpainting project uses vibrant cotton threads on a white linen background.
Versailles Chatelaine is designed by Susan O'Connor, an Australian designer. This chatelaine project includes a pinwheel, scissors sheath, fob, and needlebook using silk threads on ivory silk, creating bullion rose bouquets on a trellis in pastel shades.
Reticella Sampler is designed by Christine P. Bishop, an Australian designer. The technique of reticella is worked as a line sampler, creating a lacy effect where each line builds on the one above.
Winter Sunset is designed by Hazel Blomkamp, a South African designer. This is another Jacobean piece in softer colours using composite stitching, weaving, and threadpainting. Ghiordes knots add tufts in a three dimensional effect.
Leaping Hare is designed by Barbara Kershaw, a Canadian designer, This project uses casalguidi in a monochromatic palette to create an elegant linen sachet with a decorative edge and twisted cords.
Edinburgh Etui is designed by Betsy Morgan, an American designer. This etui project takes Mary, Queen of Scots as its inspiration, including England's rose, Scotland's thistle, and Ireland's shamrock in its pattern of stitched and surface embroidery. The project creates the etui, a thimble case, a needlebook, scissor fob, and pincushion.
The Linnet is designed by Nicola Jarvis, a British designer. This project uses metal and silk threads, sequins, and beads to depict a graceful bird in a gilded cage.
Blackwell Roundel is designed by Jenny Adin Christie, a British designer. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts style prevalent at Blackwell, this project uses surface embroidery and goldwork to depict a floral design.
Bee-eaters is designed by Renette Kumm, a South African designer. This project uses colourful silk threads in a threadpainting technique to depict a pair of birds on a branch.
Beautiful projects with excellent instructions.

Our New Kittens

Finished October 27
Our New Kittens by Theo Heras, illustrated by Alice Carter

This was an apt choice as we adopted two cats yesterday, although not kittens. Here, two young brothers have been waiting for a while to adopt two kittens. The kittens had to be big enough first. They bring them home in a cat carrier, and as they begin to interact with kittens, the big brother educates his sibling on how kittens behave, what behaviour scares them, and how to treat them properly. We see the brothers playing with the kittens, cuddling them, feeding them, and introducing them to their litter box.
This is a fun read for kits interested in getting a pet, preparing them for the joy and responsibility of having an animal in the home.
The drawings are lovely, I loved the flyaway curls of the younger brother, and his mismatched socks.

Giraffe and Bird Together Again

Finished October 26
Giraffe and Bird Together Again by Rebecca Bender

This delightful picture book is part of a series featuring Giraffe and Bird as companions in various escapades and situations. Bird lives for adventure, flitting off to see different things. Giraffe is a creature happiest in his home environment. When Bird fails to return from an adventure, Giraffe gets worried, and decides to follow the trail of feathers to find his friend.
The hunt for Bird leads Giraffe first to a dark forest, then up a mountain, across a dusty plain, and then into a dangerous spot.
The remains of the vines from the forest on Giraffe give Bird an idea that helps to get them both home again.
Each new place pictures an animal from that environment interacting with Giraffe in some way, giving ideas for discussion when reading. The map at the front of the book names these animals for the reader, and shows the distance that Giraffe had to follow to find Bird.
The illustrations are great, and I loved how Giraffe and Bird supported each other.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Too Young to Escape

Finished October 19
Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with Her Family by Van Ho and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

This children's book tells the story of Van Ho, beginning in May 1981. Van woke up at her usual time of 5:00 a.m. one morning, noticing that most of her family wasn't there. Her mother and older sisters often rose early to get a start on their work, but her older brother Tuan wasn't there either. Only herself and her grandmother Bà Ngoại were there. She closed her eyes again as her grandmother rose, and got up when she left their sleeping quarters. Van had some breathing issues, and took a bitter medicine in the mornings to clear her lungs and help with her breathing. After washing, she went down to the level where her aunt and uncle, owners of the house they lived in, slept and quietly took their slippers in, placing them by the bed, for them when they awoke. Then she continued down to the main floor, where she began her task of spinning fiber for rice bags. She continued as her grandmother returned from the market and began cooking breakfast. As it grew light and she heard the movement of her aunt and uncle in the room above her, she stopped and made a trip to the outhouse, coming in to wash her hands and eat her breakfast. She wrapped the remainder of her portion in a ragged dishtowel and put it in her backpack for school. Then she went back down and dusted the main room, then left for school. Van was 4 years old.
As she soon discovered, her mother and siblings had left in the night, heading by boat for Canada, where Van's father and oldest sister had already found haven as refugees.
Van lived in Ho Chi Minh City for another nearly four years as she waited for her family to send for her. She adjusted, made a friend, and enjoyed the packages that came from Canada for the household. She missed her family, but was young enough, she found them harder to remember as the months went by. When she finally was sent for, she and her grandmother had the proper documents and were able to fly to Toronto to meet up with the rest of the family. But even that was quite an adventure.
This story brings to life the situations and circumstances that the Vietnam refugees fled, and creates some understanding for young readers of the difficulties faced by them.
The day to day reality of life in Vietnam for Van and her grandmother are shown in detail, and the photos included here allow the reader to connect with the young girl.
I remember welcoming Vietnamese refugees in my community years before this time, and still have a small gift that one young girl gave to me as I helped her adjust to her new life, so this story really hit home for me.

Cat Flap

Finished October 18
Cat Flap by Alan S. Cowell

I picked up this book at the library, as I was intrigued by the premise. Dolores Tremayne, a successful IT business executive is the breadwinner in her family. She travels a lot for work, and her husband Gerald is a writer that has one published book. He is supposed to be working on a sequel, the second in a planned trilogy, but he hasn't been feeling motivated, and has slipped back into some of his habits from before he met Dolores, when she was a university student. They have two young daughters, in grade school and a housecat named X.
Dolores has just left for a multi-destination business trip, with the first stop in Germany. Just before she left, X jumped into her arms and the two stared at each other, and somehow, a piece of Dolores' consciousness has been left in the cat. That is not to say that Dolores has much influence in what the cat does, but she does witness what the cat witnesses, and that includes many of the things that Gerald does, unbeknownst to Dolores before now.
As the days go by, Dolores tries to influence the cat's actions to both find out more, and to get Dolores to return home sooner than planned. Dolores, meanwhile, has a couple of weird experiences where thoughts and connections come into her head seemingly from nowhere.
The book culminates in a scene bringing most of the characters together in a in a dramatic climax.
It was a fun book, with elements of suspense and humour.

The Unquiet Dead (Reread)

Finished October 15
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

I read this first back in 2016, but it was the choice for my book club this month, so I reread it, and thoroughly enjoyed it the second time, seeing additional themes around mothers, female sexuality, and friendship. I've since read two following books in the series and am pleased that they still deal with complex issues, and that the characters continue to develop.

Ivanhoe

Finished October 7
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

This novel has a number of conflicts in it, taking place in England during the time that Richard I, the Lionhearted was returning from the Crusades. His brother Prince John has been ruling in his absence, and has a plot to continue to rule. Ivanhoe was one of the knights travelling with Richard, and distinguished himself while away.
As the novel begins, a Saxon lord, Cedric, and his ward Rowena are visiting by a Norman lord who lives nearby. The Norman lord is Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a member of the Knights Templar. Cedric knows he must play host, but does not enjoy this task of hosting Normans, hoping for a future Saxon king by wedding Rowena to another strong Saxon lord Athelstane. Cedric has banished his son Wilfred for wanting to marry Rowena himself. Wilfred had been given the manor of Ivanhoe by Richard I, but while both were away at the crusades, John gave it to Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, another Norman.
There is much wearing of disguises in the book as people pretend to be other than who they are. There is also intrigue as the Normans ambush and capture Cedris, Rowena, Isaac the Jew, his daughter Rebecca, and others in order to further their own ambitions.
We also have the hero Locksley, also known as Robin Hood, with his men, who are called upon to help rescue the captured.
There is jousting, hand combat, Jews, Christian monks, and many others who take roles in the many divides in the book.
I appreciated the character list at the beginning, which also told you the disguises the characters took, so you had a better sense of what was happening.

Sunday, 21 October 2018

The Middleman

Finished October 5
The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer

This thriller revolves around a man, Martin Bishop, who wants to create peaceful change. His hope for change is common to many of us today, who see big corporations wielding too much power, and see the wealth gap growing. Bishop's followers are mostly young people, stuck in dead-end jobs and seeing no promising future.
The book opens with one of them, Kevin Moore, ex-military, living in San Francisco. One day he receives a cryptic message that he has been waiting for. He dumps his wallet and phone, and walks away from life, waiting at a pre-arranged spot to be picked up. He is one of hundreds of people going through similar actions that day and on the coming few days.
Bishop's movement is called the Massive Brigade, and while some think of them as peaceful as Martin makes them out to be, using the threat of violence to make change, rather than violence itself. But others think of them as terrorists, and, when the group takes responsibility for a series of violent acts, acts that Kevin is made part of, it seems that the question has been answered.
Rachel Proulx of the FBI has been following Martin for years, and believes she understands him to a large extent, and these actions surprise her. Another FBI agent, is assigned to her group, and seems to not always be doing what Rachel expects him to do. When she finds him responsible for an event she did not condone, she starts to ask questions.
But Rachel is sidelined and attacked, and it will be many months before she and others start to ask questions again. This time, will anybody listen to them?

Hell's Princess

Finished October 2
Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter

This biography looks at a woman serial killer who operated in small town Indiana in the early twentieth century. Born in 1859 a small town near Trondheim, Norway, she was known in her early life as Brynhild Paulsdatter Størset. She followed her older sister Nellie to Chicago around 1880, soon adopted a new American name, Bella Peterson. Bella took a job as a laundress and sewer, and began looking for a husband. From the beginning she was more interested in material goods than companionship. Her first husband, whom she married in 1884, was Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson, a night watchman for one of the large department stores. She seemed to have a maternal instinct, taking an interest in children who were orphaned or otherwise underprivileged. After trying, unsuccessfully, to take custody of one of her sister's children, she adopted an infant in 1891. It is unclear whether the children that followed this one were her own or also adopted.
They managed to invest and make enough to move out to a middle class suburb, but it was an investment in the Yukon Mining & Trading Company, a scam, that caused them to lose much of their hope for the future. Soon after this a fire in their home resulted in another loss, although this time the loss was insured. Mads was a member of an association that provided him with a life insurance policy, and on the day that a new policy took effect (a single day of overlap) Mads died from an apparent illness at home.
After receiving the insurance money, Bella moved to La Porte, Indiana and bought a house and attached farmland. It was this property that Bella used to attract her victims. First among them was a former boarder, Peter Gunness, whom she married in early 1902.
In December of that year, Peter died from a head wound, seemingly from an object falling from a shelf, but some neighbours were suspicious. Soon after Bella began advertising in the Norwegian newspapers read by many immigrants from that country in the U.S. She had correspondences with several men, that indicated partnership and/or matrimony. and many men came to visit, disappearing with no one seeing them leave. Bella's oldest daughter also was said to have left suddenly, to go to a college in California, but none of her friends heard from her.
It was only with the suspicions of two brothers who tracked their third, missing brother's trail, that Bella came to be looked at. Right around then, a terrible fire took her home in the middle of the night, and it was some time before the authorities were able to find the remains of all who had been in the house. As they also began to dig up suspicious looking areas around the property, they found the remains of many bodies, and her notoriety began to form.
A fascinating and scary tale of one woman's greed and daring that took many lives.

Monday, 15 October 2018

News of Our Loved Ones

Finished October 1
News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt

This novel looks at one French family and how key moments changed the stories that they would live. The family lives in Normandy, in a village that was occupied by the Nazis in World War II. Some of them will stay in the village, some will go to Paris, and some even further away.
The story moves around in time, moving backwards and forwards and focusing on different people as they meet significant moments in their lives.
From a young girl's crush on a boy she sees from her window, to a doctor's visit, to a hobby of painting, to a walk along a Paris street, each character has moment where their story turned and became a different story.
This is a story of family, of the stories that make a shared history, of how a small moment can affect a life. I really enjoyed it.

Where the Wild Cherries Grow

Finished September 29
Where the Wild Cherries Grow by Laura Madeleine

This light novel takes place in two time periods, 1919 and 1969.
In 1919, Emeline Vane, a young woman, is still grieving the loss of all but her youngest brother, Timothy, in the war, and the deaths of her parents. Her father had left the house that they lived in on the coast of England, but no money. Her uncle has agreed to pay for the schooling of her young brother, but is insisting that the house be sold. Emeline is in a state of grief in which she is barely surviving. She is not eating, and for her the house represents the last bit of their family life.
When her uncle arranges for her to be sent away to a rest home in Switzerland, she seizes a moment in the train station in Paris and runs away.
She has no money, and no destination. She only knows that she doesn't want to be shut away for her own good.
In the later time period, Timothy's daughter is seizing a time when her father is very ill in hospital to seek to declare her long missing aunt dead, so that she can sell the estate to a developer. Because of the rush she is in, she goes to the lawyers who have been looking after the estate for all these years, a small firm, where a new lawyer, Bill Perch, is given the task as his first case. Bill goes to the house and finds information there that shows Emeline's state of mind, but there is something about her and the situation that makes him want to do the job right and try to find her if she is still alive.
As Bill follows in Emeline's path, we see him grow into a determined young man, as we see Emeline find a new future for herself that is not so very far from where she left.
A story around grief, love, and faith that hooked me and kept me reading.

La Femme De Gilles

Finished September 28
La Femme De Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, introduction by Elisa Albert, translated and with an afterword by Faith Evans

This short novel by a young Belgian writer, was first published in France in 1937, and with World War II soon upon the country, her work became largely overlooked. The story is set in a rural area of Belgium, and follows Elisa, a young mother, as she finds that her husband is having an affair.
Her reaction is the story.
Elisa lives near her family, and visits them often, but doesn't have a confiding relationship with them, and shares her pain with no one. She observes her husband and his distracted nature and watches him. She even follows him on one occasion when he leaves the house in the evening, Elisa has two young children and is pregnant with her third. In her time and place, leaving her marriage is not really an option that she considers. Instead, she tries to either redirect her husband's attentions, or wait out this betrayal. She hides her pain, and amazingly even offers comfort to her husband.
This is a story of obsession, of a woman burying her feelings as she tries to hang onto her world.
A poignant story.

Thursday, 27 September 2018

Report from the Interior

Finished September 18
Report from the Interior by Paul Auster, read by the author

This memoir takes us from Paul's childhood through to his college days. The beginning was the most interesting to me, the random memories that he still had of those early days of moments caught in time. Memories of school, of friendships, of a love of baseball, realizing how his Jewish ancestry set him apart and his choice to embrace that.
The middle part covered two movies that made a big impression on him: The Incredible Shrinking Man and I Was a Prisoner on a Chain Gang. He describes these movies in detail, speaking of his reactions to them as they unfolded. They were very thorough and you could see the passion he had for these films, but less interesting to me as a reader.
The last part covers his college days and is taken from recently discovered letters he wrote to his first wife, Lydia Davis, which she shared with him. He has none of her letters, having not kept them, so it is very one-sided, and focused more on himself than on anything else. I found it a bit too self-centered to hold my interest.
Definitely not as good as his Winter Journal.

Orhan's Inheritance

Finished September 16
Orhan's Inheritance by Aline Ohanesian

This novel is set in 1990, where Orhan is a young man working in his grandfather's rug business in Turkey. Orhan's grandfather Kemal took on the business after his war service in the fight against Russia in the early twentieth century. As the book begins, Kemal has died, with his body found sitting in a vat of dye. Orhan knows that by tradition, his father would inherit, but the will his grandfather wrote left the business to him, and the house to a woman that Orhan has never heard of, Seda Melkonian.
Orhan's grandfather and father have never got along well, and his father has had little to nothing to do with the business. It is Orhan and his Auntie Fatma who deal with the business.
It is a notebook of drawing, one of many his grandfather had, that the lawyer gives Orhan, that has the address of Seda. She is in a nursing home in California.
Orhan is determined to go there and meet her, not only to convince her to sell the house back to them, but also to find out why his grandfather left it to her.
The letter from Orhan preceding his arrival is a reminder of the past for Seda, a past she long ago put behind her. And as she meets with Orhan, the story takes us back to 1915, the year in which Turkey began the deportation and genocide of its Armenian citizens. As we learn Seda's story, we also learn of her connection to Kemal, and to the rug business that he ran. We also learn a lot about this part of history, a difficult and sad history.
Orhan had his own time of exile, when, as a budding young photographer, he was imprisoned for the subjects of his photographs, and eventually freed on condition of exile. Thus he lived in Germany for a few years before returning home and joining the family business. He hasn't picked up a camera in years. As he leaves to go to California, Auntie Fatma gives him his old camera and an album of his photographs, and, during his trip he finds himself slipping back into the old ways of looking again.
This is a tale of discovery, of history resurfacing, and of hope.
The author is herself of Armenian heritage and part of her impetus for writing the story was for her own children to know their history.

Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress

Finished September 14
Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie, translated by Ina Rilke

This short novel is told from the viewpoint of a young man who is one of a pair of young men who are sent to the mountains to be reeducated during China's Cultural Revolution. The narrator and his friend Luo are the only two sent to their remote village, and both are the sons of doctors. Another young man in a nearby village sometimes visits with them, and the two boys discover that he has a hidden suitcase of foreign novels.
There is a tailor in the region that travels from village to village making and mending clothes, who has a daughter that he mostly leaves at home. This young seamstress is friendly to the boys, and Luo begins to court her by reciting stories that he knows. Their village headman also enjoys their stories, and allows them to take time off work to go visit a larger town nearby where they could visit a cinema and return to recite the story of the film to the rest of the villagers. Luo has an extraordinary gift for storytelling, but at the times where illness strikes him, the narrator can also do a fairly good job. The narrator was also lucky enough to bring his violin, and he often played music, to distract them from their life as it was in the mountains.
When the boys are able to borrow one of the books from the boy in the next village, they read the book by Balzac often enough to memorize it, and the young seamstress is particularly enamored of this story.
We see the difficult work the boys must perform, the lonely life in the small mountain village, the release that they long for, and the ways they manipulate those around them to make their lives easier. It is a story of endurance, of hope, and of the power of story.
The author himself spent more than three years undergoing reeducation, and ten years after his release, emigrated to France.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis

Finished September 13
Becoming Mrs. Lewis by Patti Callahan

This novel is based on the real life of Joy Davidman and her relationship with C.S. Lewis. Joy was an American woman, a writer and a poet, when she began writing letters to C.S. Lewis.
In 1946, Joy's husband Bill called her late one night as he was going through a mental struggle. She tried to talk reasonably to him, but this time he hung up on her. Their home was in a far-flung suburb in the Hudson Valley, a distance from town. She had two young children. As she struggled against the panic she felt, she found herself on her knees, in tears, praying, even though she was an affirmed atheist. She had an experience that she found hard to describe, but said that she felt loved and known, and at peace. Thus began her journey towards enlightenment. Shortly thereafter, she came across an article about C.S. Lewis. She had already read a couple of his books, but found his history of moving from atheism to a search for enlightenment similar to her own, and thus decided to write a letter from both herself and her husband about their struggle, their questions, and doubts.
Joy was a passionate and insightful woman, who questioned many things, was well educated, and who had her own health issues. As Lewis answered her letters, and the two began a conversation, she was treated by him as a person worthy of consideration, respect, and worth engaging in vigorous debate.
When the struggles of her marriage and her health brought her to the point where her physician recommended that she leave her circumstances for a time, it became possible for her to go to England, get more affordable healthcare, take time to write, and meet Lewis in person. She spent only a small fraction of her time there with him, living in London for the majority of her visit, and staying with friends, acquaintances, and people they referred her to. With the support she gained, she found herself able to return home and begin the dissolution of her marriage. This was not easy at that time, and her marriage being a Catholic one added to the difficulty.
This story is told from her viewpoint, with excerpts from real letters, her poetry, and other historical documents. But much of the story is an imagined one, even though Callahan makes it feel very true. Joy's devotion to her sons, her struggles with faith, and her feelings for Lewis are clear, and this isn't a fairy tale romance.
Joy struggled, as many women still do, between her sense of what was expected of her, and what she felt to be right. She make mistakes, she admitted to faults, but she kept trying to be the woman she felt herself to be, and to claim the life she felt she had earned.
A very interesting story.

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

South and West

Finished September 11
South and West: From a Notebook by Joan Didion, read by Kimberly Farr, with a foreword written and read by Nathaniel Rich

This is a never-before-released glimpse into Joan Didion's famous notebooks. The sections on the South are from June 1970 when she and her husband, John Gregory Dunne, took a road trip through Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The include detailed looks at the people she saw around here, the conversations or fragments of conversation that she overheard, the images of small towns and cities that she passed through. She also had a few interviews with people from the south, prominent locally. The topics of race, class, tradition, and history seem to show how little has changed in the nearly fifty years since this trip was made.
She noticed the Confederate flags on everything from towels to clothing, the race divide that did not differentiate between wealth and poverty, and the class divide that did. She noticed how people talked of the past as something they had to hang on to, how people expected their lives to go on unchanged, despite larger change in the world. It was an incredibly engaging piece of writing.
The section on the West is much shorter and deals only with California. It dates from 1976, and the notes were taken for a piece she was to write for Rolling Stone magazine, a piece that was never written. Topics here included Patty Hearst (her trial was on at the time), images of San Francisco, and a visit to Sacramento that brought her back to her own younger days in that city when she was growing up.
Both show her focus, her powers of observation and memory, and her ability to internally stand back and observe even while being involved physically. These are a seldom seen door into the behind-the-scenes life of a writer. In this case, a writer of great skill.

Monday, 17 September 2018

The Lonely Witness

Finished September 8
The Lonely Witness by William Boyle

This novel has an interesting protagonist. Amy Falconetti grew up in a New York City borough, but her mother died when she was young and her father had already walked out, so she was raised by her grandparents. She had an interest in observing people, and she saw the next door neighbour kill someone, and did nothing about it. That incident was a defining memory for her.
After her grandparents died, she moved around and developed a unique style. She drank too much, and partied a lot, and when she finally moved to the area she now lives in, it was to be with a girlfriend whose family was from there, and who came back to help her dad.
But her girlfriend left her, and moved out to L.A., and somehow Amy stayed on, but changed. She started dressing more soberly, and going to church regularly, and became a volunteer who delivered communion to parishioners who were unable to come to church. She got a basement apartment at a good rate, and picked up odd jobs for the little cash she needed to get by.
But one day, everything changes. When she is giving communion to an elderly parishioner, Mrs. Epifanio, the woman expresses concern about another woman who usually comes and sits with her in the afternoon for a bit, but whose son has suddenly come instead, and whose behavior makes her uncomfortable. Amy offers to come the next time Mrs. Epifanio's visitor normally comes, and she meets the young man, who indeed behaves in a very suspicious way. Amy decides to follow him, and does so repeatedly, but is horrified when she sees the young man murdered by someone he knows.
Amy involves herself in the situation, but in very unusual ways, giving her access to more information about the young man and his life. As the murder reminds her of the incident she observed years ago, Amy finds herself questioning her own behaviour, her life, and her future.
When her father suddenly reappears in her life, she finds herself overwhelmed and isn't sure what to do. This is a book about a woman faced with an unusual situation that may be a terrible mistake or an opportunity to start fresh. I liked Amy, and was pleased with her starting to take her life back into her own hands.

Oh My Stars

Finished September 5
Oh My Stars by Sally Kilpatrick

This feel good novel is set in small town Tennessee. Ivy Long lives in Ellery with her mother and younger sister, a place she moved back to after the death of her husband from cancer a few years ago. Her mom helped get her a job at the Dollar General, and she's been mostly keeping her head down and trying not to think about the book her contract says she must submit by the end of the year, after many extensions. Her first book was very popular, but she can't seem to focus on the humour and romance that the next book in the series requires. It's an unhappy coincidence that her series was titled the Merry Widows shortly before she became a widow herself.
This year, her mom signed her up for a week posing as Mary in the drive-thru nativity scene just outside the store she works at. But then she meets the man posing as Joseph, Gabriel Ledbetter, a man who lived most of his life in the city, returned to help out his dad at the farm, and to wait out a malpractice case he is fighting. As a pediatrician, he is a bit out of his element on the farm, but finds some compensations in the people around him, and gradually getting to know his dad better, as well as his own history.
The title of the book comes from a phrase often voiced by Ivy's mom, when she is surprised, and Ivy and her sister Holly have a bet on about who can make their mom say it.
When a real live baby is laying in the manger one evening when Ivy reports for her nativity shift, Gabe is enlisted to check her health before the authorities become involved, and Ivy soon finds herself involved in a situation that takes her out of her resigned state of apathy and into a future she never dreamed of.
With characters that have interesting backstories, and a unique setting, this book brought both tears and a smile to my face as I read.

Thursday, 6 September 2018

Every Last One

Finished September 2
Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

This novel begins with a typical day in Mary Beth Latham's world. She wakes up before anyone else, has a coffee and some time alone before waking her three children and seeing them and her husband off, then going off to her own landscaping business. Her daughter Ruby is in her junior year of high school, and has a unique sense of style and great self-confidence. She loves to write, and is booked into a summer writing class at a college. Her two sons, fraternal twins, Alex and Max are in their last year of middle school. Alex is a star athlete with decent grades and a small group of friends. Max is a loner, with an interest in music and comics. Both boys are booked into summer camps suited to their interest. Mary Beth's husband Glen is an opthamologist with a quiet manner and a strong sense of order. Their marriage has gotten to a comfortable familiar stage where they each do their own thing, and follow a routine.
Ruby is getting ready for prom, and plans to do it in her own way. But she is also looking at changes in her life and one of them is moving on without her current boyfriend. Kiernan lived next door for a few years when the kids were small, then moved away. When his family moved back to town, they lived on a different street, but Kiernan seemed to latch onto their family, and spent a lot of time at their house. He gradually became Ruby's boyfriend, but he seems to be rubbing her the wrong way lately, and a split-up is due soon.
Ruby had an eating disorder a couple of years ago, and Mary Beth still worries about her a bit, but her main worry now is her son Max, who seems to be too much alone, and not very happy. When Max's stay at camp is cut short, she worries more, and does what she can to help.
But when violence and tragedy come into Mary Beth's life, it is from a direction she wasn't looking, and she must find a way to move forward, rebuilding her life.
This is a book of how someone recovers from an unthinkable event, and we see how various characters struggle with their own role, however small, in what happened. As always, I love how Quindlen puts a story together, and I read this in one sitting.

The Glass Lake

Finished August 30
The Glass Lake by Maeve Binchy

This novel follows a mother and daughter over several years. As the book begins, Kit McMahon is twelve years old, and lives with her dad, Martin, a pharmacist; her mom, Helen; and her younger brother Emmet. They live above the pharmacy in the small town of Lough Glass. Helen is not happy, and Kit is aware of that in a sense. She knows her parents having their own bedrooms is not the norm among her schoolmates, but isn't sure what it means. Rita is their live-in maid, who also does most of the cooking.
Kit's best friend is Clio Kelly, whose father is the local doctor. Clio and Kit have spats every so often that split them up for a while, but they always eventually make up. Kit gets along well with Emmet, as he is an easygoing boy. He has a stutter, that makes him less inclined to speak up in public. Clio has a younger sister, Anna, who always wants to join her and Kit, but Clio never wants to include her, and the two sisters don't get on well.
Helen married Martin in a resigned sort of way. He knew that she'd been in love with someone else, but that that man had left her. His love was strong enough that he thought it would work out. Helen is a city girl, and doesn't fit in in their small town, and she hasn't really made an effort. She likes to take solitary walks by the lake.
The small Irish town is typical of many like it. The girls go to a school run by nuns, headed by Mother Bernard, and the boys go to one headed by Brother Healy. A few years back, a solitary nun appeared in town and moved into an empty cottage near the lake. Sister Madeleine lives simply, with the townspeople bringing her what she needs to survive. She listens to their stories, and gives advice when she can. Recently, she began having Emmet visit her to read poetry aloud, which is helping with his stutter.
Also in town is a pub, a dilapidated hotel called the Central Hotel, owned by the O'Briens, the usual assortment of shops, and an auto repair shop. The auto shop is owned by Billy Williams, but he has fallen badly into alcoholism, and and is soon shipped off to a home, while his two sons, Stevie and Michael return to the town, and Stevie begins to run the business.
One evening Helen doesn't return from her walk by the lake, a boat is found overturned and floating free, and winds were high. While the general assumption is that something unexpected happened, Kit worries that her mother's sadness may have led her to do something unthinkable, and she burns the letter left behind.
Meanwhile Helen has been reunited with her first love, and gone to London, and waits for word from Martin that will never come. In her new life, she finds that she has been assumed dead, and she must move on with the life she has chosen.
As we follow her, and Kit through the next few years, we see how their actions lead to challenges for both of them. An interesting story, with some very strong and capable female characters.

Monday, 3 September 2018

Clean Sweep

Finished August 22
Clean Sweep by Michael J. Clark

This mystery novel is set in Winnipeg, around Guiding Light Mission, a mission run by a former convict. Pastor Tommy Bosco found his calling in prison after losing his only son in a drive-by shooting. While everyone knows that Tommy runs the mission, very few know that he also runs a way out of town for those sought after by local criminals syndicates. As the book opens, Paul Noonan is looking for a way out, and Tommy offers it to him. Soon after, a well-known prostitute, Claire Hebert, known as Claire Bear, kills Stephanos, the head of a local syndicate in self defense, and things really go crazy in town. As Claire runs for her life, she draws in friends and acquaintances, including her ex, Tommy. The syndicate has a hit out on her, and several local men are looking for her, from Tommy's dad, Ernie Friday, to The Two Pauls, a couple of men named Paul, each crazy in their own special way, who team up to do jobs.
A local reporter, David Worshuk, of the Winnipeg Sentinel, is also on the trail. And of course the cops are looking for Stephanos killer too. One of the local cops, Miles Sawatski, has been getting payoffs for tips from an unknown source, but he's starting to feel a little weird about that.
This story has elements that reach a long way into the past, and that have a more sinister quality than your usual crimes.
The characters are interesting and complex, from Jasmine Starr, former prostitute now running a sex shop called The Other Woman, to a librarian with a sideline in fake IDs. I enjoyed this story and will be interested in more from this author.

Bring Me Back

Finished August 22
Bring Me Back by B.A. Paris, read by Cathleen McCarron and Kevin Hely

This novel is the third by Paris, and I admit that I didn't like it as much as the first two. It begins with a police statement from Finn, a statement that he admits isn't entirely true. Most of the book takes place 12 years later, but the impact of the disappearance of Finn's girlfriend, the reason for the statement, is huge.
Finn had met Layla by chance and taken her in for a few nights as she was unfamiliar with London, having come from the Scottish island of Lewis, where she had lived with her sister and father after the death of her mother a few years earlier. Layla is only 18 and finds it hard to find a job. Finn is possessive and jealous, and has a violent temper. Layla and Finn had gone skiing in France, and were driving home when they stopped at a rest stop. Finn left the car to go to the washroom, and when he returned, Layla was gone. We don't know how much of Finn's statement is true, and how much isn't, so we aren't really sure what happened between the two of them there.
12 years later, Finn has moved away from the cottage he shared with Layla, although he hasn't sold it, merely left it as it was, before the vacation. Finn is now living with Layla's sister Ellen, whom he met a couple of years ago when they had a memorial service for Layla. He and Ellen have recently got engaged, and now suddenly, it seems like Layla is reappearing in his life. It begins with the appearance of small Russian dolls, the innermost of a series of nesting dolls, which Layla carried with her. But it isn't just one doll, and when emails begin as well, Finn doesn't know what to think. He still has feelings for Layla, but he also loves Ellen, and he is torn.
Finn's longtime friend Harry, and the owner of the local pub, Ruby, also have roles to play here. But nothing is really clear until near the end.

Dreaming the Bull

Finished August 20
Dreaming the Bull by Manda Scott

This is the second book in a series, but I haven't read the others. It is a story around the Boudica, a woman warrior who led a long war against the Romans who were settling in Britain. She is the Bringer of Victory and her role is now taken by Breaca, a woman of strong resolve. The Boudica is part of the tribe of Eceni, and this book begins in A.D. 47. The main Roman character is a decurion, an officer in the auxiliary cavalry, named Julius Valerius. He was born an Eceni, but an incident in his youth has hardened his heart against his own people. The Romans are trying to disarm their enemy as a measure of defence, and this means destroying weapons that have been handed down through generations. As the man in charge of this action, Julius is hated by the Eceni. The Governor of Britannia is Scapula, and he is also hated by the tribes.
As the book begins, Julius meets the Roman Longinus Sdapeze, and grows close to him.
The Eceni are based on the holy island of Mona. One of the leading warriors is Caradoc, lover of Breaca, and father to the young boy Cunomar, son of Breaca. Caradoc is also the father of Cygfa, a young woman who is taking her first battle as a warrior. Her mother is Cwmfen, another strong female warrior. Breaca is heavily pregnant as the battle begins, and so is unable to join in. She sends her son Cunomar under the protection of Dubornos and her beloved hound Hail.
The Emperor Claudius is nearing the end of his reign, and is highly superstitious. When the battle goes wrong, and some of the leading warriors become prisoners of Rome, it is this superstitious nature, and the intercession of the royal physician Xenophon, that help to keep them alive.
I enjoyed this tale, and am now interested in reading other books in the series.

A World of Kindness

Finished August 19
A World of Kindness from the Editors and Illustrators of Pajama Press

This book raises funds for Think Kindness and illustrates what kindness looks like. Nine illustrators works are included here, some from other books put out by Pajama Press, and some original to this work. The actions shown here include waiting one's turn, helping others, being gentle, being polite, apologizing, sharing, and comforting.
The pictures are well chosen to convey the actions, and show diversity. A great addition to any collection.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Bullyville

Finished August 17
Bullyville by Francine Prose

This novel follows Bart Rangely's year of eighth grade. Bart lived with his parents in the commuter town of Hillbrook, New Jersey, and he'd started grade eight more or less normally. But a few months before, Bart's dad had moved out to live with his girlfriend, and Bart and his mom were trying to go on as normally as possible. That means that his mom hadn't told anyone that his dad had left, just saying he was really busy. And so Bart never told anyone either. It was just easier. But then Bart stayed home from school with the flu, and his mom stayed home to look after him, and it was September 11, 2001. And Bart's dad died.
Bart and his mom got a lot of news coverage, and got treated as a feel good story, but Bart doesn't feel good. He's lost his dad, now for good, and that makes him feel awful. And his friends don't seem to know how to talk to him anymore. So when an offer gets made from the local boys prep school, his mom thinks it is a great opportunity. As much as he fights it, telling her all the rumours about the school, how instead of being called Baileyville, locals call it Bullyville, and how it is supposed to be a horrible place, he agrees to go.
And it is even worse than he expected. He is paired with a Big Brother, a junior named Tyro. At orientation, Tyro seems cold and disinterested, but after Bart starts, he turns into a bully, and he has a team of boys assisting him in treating Bart to a series of torments. Bart knows he isn't the only one being bullied, but he still doesn't seem able to make friends. So he tries to suck it up and pretend for his mother's sake, until finally he can't anymore.
This is a sad story, of how one family can use privilege and weath to itake away consequences of their actions. It is a story of empathy, and the lack of it, and how everything doesn't always work out, and people don't always show their good sides in the end. An interesting story. 

Along the Infinite Sea

Finished August 14
Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams, tread by Kathleen McInerney

This engrossing novel follows two timelines. The first we see is in 1966, when Pepper Schuyler has just sold a car that she found in her sister's barn, and fixed back to new with the help of a friend. She has been looking for a way to ensure that she and her unborn child have enough to survive on without the help of the child's father, and now she feels she has succeeded. Except that the father still wants something from her, and all she wants is for him to stay out of her life forever. She can't believe how naive she was, falling for the moves of a well-known, and married, politician. Only one of her sister's knows her circumstances, and Pepper is too embarrassed to tell the rest of the family. But she does know that she wants this child.
But the new owner of the car, Annabelle Dommerich, has taken an interest in her, and wants to help, even though she doesn't even know her. Annabelle has her own secrets, and it is those that the other storyline reveals. That storyline begins in 1936, when Annabelle is 19, and living with her father in Paris and on the Riviera. Her father's wild life isn't hers, and she mostly keeps to herself, playing her cello, and enjoying her surroundings. She has spent the years since her mother's death in boarding school, learning from nuns, a much different life than the one she is now exposed to. She knows some of what broke up her parent's marriage, her father's philandering, and has no interest in participating in his parties now.
When her brother calls on her to use the nursing skills she learned in school on an injured friend, she finds herself in close quarters with an attractive young German Jewish man, who she finds herself developing feelings for despite herself. As Annabelle finds herself protected, both from reality, and from information that she should have been told, she finds herself making choices for her future that she may regret. From her marriage to a man who loves her well, but whom she doesn't have passion for, to the recurring appearance of the young man she fell for, she tries to find her way to a happy ending.
As we see Annabelle's and Pepper's stories converge, we see how these very different women have their inner strength in common. I really felt swept away by this novel.