Monday, 15 July 2019

Death and Other Happy Endings

Finished July 12
Death and Other Happy Endings by Melanie Cantor

Set in London, this book opens with Jennifer Cole in her doctor's office getting her results from her recent blood tests, as she hopes for help finding a cause for her low energy. She is completely unprepared for the result that she has a rare and incurable blood disorder and has only a few short months to live. Jennifer is in her early forties, divorced after her husband cheated on her when she was in depression after her third miscarriage. She lives alone and isn't currently in a relationship. After commiserating with her best friend, Jennifer is talked into writing letters to the people she has been hurt by, getting out those feelings that she's always hidden behind her niceness.
One letter is to her ex-husband and his wife (the woman that he cheated on her with). Another is to a more recent boyfriend, who also cheated on her. The third is to her older sister, a woman who she has grown increasingly distant from but used to idolize.
Jennifer decreases her hours at work, wanting the distraction that work brings, but not able to keep working full-time, and takes time to reflect on her life. She finds herself reconnecting with people, doing things that are more spontaneous, and being more open to new experiences.
The book has humour, interesting situations, and a few surprises.
An enjoyable read.

Peace River Country

Finished July 7
Peace River Country by Ralph Allen

I picked this up thinking it was about the northwest part of Alberta that my parents grew up in, but the title of the book is more about a goal for the characters. Most of the story takes place in southern Saskatchewan.
As the novel opens, Bea Sondern and her two children Harold and Kathleen are on a train, about to live the town of Dobie. Harold knows they are running away, but the younger Kathleen seems more nonchalant, ready for the next stage of their lives. They talk about what they'll do for a living when they get to their destination, the Peace River Country, and what kind of place it is. Their destination is one that sounds wonderful to people dealing with the drought of the prairies. They talk about the wonderful names of the towns in the Peace River Country, and of the weather. They left Regina in 1933 for Dobie, and now four years later their next stop is Elevator, another small Saskatchewan town. Each town is a step closer to their dream destination.
As the conductor comes to take their tickets, they recognize the long-serving CPR man Chatsworth. He knows their situation and tries to be helpful without looking like he is offering charity. As they reach Elevator, where Chatsworth lives, he offers a room in his own home to them, without first consulting his wife and daughter.
Bea is a hard worker and is quick to find something that she can do to earn a living, whether it is taking in laundry, or cleaning, or doing piecework. Even when sometimes it was clear that she wasn't very good at these things, she still persisted in trying her best.
So what are they running from. They are running from Chris Sondern, Bea's husband and Harold and Kathleen's father. Chris is a good man, well-meaning and intelligent, but he has a weakness for drink, and his alcoholism is an illness that won't let him go. Bea tried to stay, until she couldn't. Now, when, for whatever reason, Chris follows them, even though he knows himself that he shouldn't, they must move on.
We see inside Bea, her love for her husband that still lives, her love for her children, and for the children she didn't have, but wanted. We see her hope for a better future. We see her plans and her preparations.
We see inside Chris, see his knowledge that he isn't good for his family in the state he is in, though he longs for them. We see how he met Bea back in the twenties when he was newly promoted to second teller and she was a waitress in a diner. We see how they married even though he earned less than the minimum amount the bank set for its employees to marry and so he lost his job, and we see how his fall began.
We see inside Harold, his worry and fear of being hopeful. How he longs to be accepted, but doesn't really believe that he will be. How he feels himself an outsider.
This isn't a happy book, but it is an interesting one, a story of its time, of how choices can lead in directions that are unexpected. The story is told subtly, with hints and thoughts and feelings.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

As Long as We Both Shall Live

Finished July 7
As Long as We Both Shall Live by Joann Chaney

In this novel we see inside the mind of various characters. The female protagonist Janice, the other female protagonist Marie, the male protagonist Matt, the female detective Spengler, and the male detective Loren.
Janice knows her husband has been cheating on her, and she decides to get proof, but then what should she do. Marie also knows her husband has been cheating on her, and now the girls have left home, they are increasingly distant from each other. Is the planned outing to the mountains a way forward, a way to reconnect?
Matt keeps a lot of secrets, but he isn't that good at it. Many times, keeping silent is the best way for him to react when he feels cornered. But not always.
Loren has his own past that he has run from, and never talked about again. But now it seems to be coming back to him again. He knows he didn't have a lot of choices back then, but did he make the right one.
Spengler is the new officer in Homicide, and she's getting her fair share of jokes, innuendos, and other crap from her fellow officers. But she has a good home life, and that keeps her going When she's paired up with Loren on this case, she has a few things that she'll learn.
This is a case with more than one unreliable narrator, and a few twists and turns. Some I saw coming, others I didn't. I really enjoyed the read.

Saturday, 6 July 2019

Fix Her Up

Finished July 5
Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

This spicy romance novel is the small town of Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York. Travis Ford is a local boy who became a baseball superstar, playing in the majors. He also got a reputation as a ladies man, never staying with one woman for long enough to have a relationship. But after an injury, his skills weren't what they were, and he was traded around a bit before ending up without a contract. So now he's back home, and feeling sorry for himself. Enter Georgette (Georgie) Castle, the little sister of Travis' best friend Stephen.
Georgie has been in love with Travis for years, but never expressed her feelings. Her family knows, but no one has told Travis. Georgie has been working as a clown, making a living doing parties and other events. Now she's looking to step it up and hire some performers and become a larger entertainment company. Only problem is that no one seems to take her seriously, always treating her like a kid. And she's tired of that.
She's easygoing though, and has enough personality to take on Travis. She challenges his attitude, getting him out of his apartment and among the living again, and then she challenges him again, and just keeps on doing that.
And Travis finds himself seeing her in a different light, and feeling guilty for being so attracted to her. But also feeling like he's not felt about a woman before.
And so the story goes.
There is humour, graphic sex, and a decent plot. A fun, summer read.

Thursday, 4 July 2019

Craftfulness

Finished July 4
Craftfulness: Mend Yourself by Making Things by Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin, read by Joan Walkter

This short book looks at the mental health aspect of simple craft activities. It talks about how doing crafts is becoming more popular as more people realize we all have creativity within us. We need to be open to new experiences, to learning new skills, and failing at first as we do so.
They cite their own experiences, the experiences of friends, and various research that has been done to show how engaging in a creative pursuit helps us be happier and more engaged with the world around us.
Doing crafts has been shown to help with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges, and they give some instances of this research and some programs that use crafting to formally address these issues.
They also go through a number of simple crafts: knitting a scarf, creating a pinch pot, making a booklet, drawing, writing, and weaving, to start the reader off. They emphasize the idea of flow, of finding something that really engages you, of being open to trying a few different activities to see what clicks with you, and being aware of the time it takes to gain the basic skills for the that particular craft.
Personally, I engage in a few crafts, and I've been aware for some time of how they help me deal with stress and other issues in my life, but it was interesting to hear about this more broadly.

August Heat

Finished July 3
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri

I'm gradually working my way through this series featuring Sicilian policeman Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Here, Montalbano has had to cancel his planned vacation when one of his officers has a family issue that takes him away. Montalbano's girlfriend Livia isn't as upset as he expected her to be, but asks him to find a house near the beach for rent for friends of hers, so she can spend time with them while he is working and comes to stay.
He finds a house in a great location and things are looking well, until a few days in, things start to go wrong at the house. As each thing happens, the friends grow more upset, until the finding of a body is the last straw. Livia is livid as well, and leaves with her friends, and the dynamic between Salvo and Livia isn't good.
With the case going back six years, Montalbano and his officers dig into the past, and find many things less than appealing.
Like the previous books, there is always some lovely descriptions of food that arise, both from Montalbano's housekeeper, and from his favourite restaurant, Enzo's. This book has Montalbano doing a few unsavoury things as his feelings get in the way of his good sense. As always, I enjoy the other police characters as well.

Wednesday, 3 July 2019

Fed Up

Finished July 3
Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

This is a book that will speak to many, if not all, women. In most cultures, it is the woman who does the emotional labour in a relationship, who keeps things up, who organizes things, who makes sure that things get done. It is the mental load of this tasks, noticing what needs doing, what connects to what (if your son has soccer tomorrow, you need to ensure his uniform is clean and ready, dinner is organized to be quick to be done before game time, and any transportation is planned). It isn't just about putting things on the calendar. It's about seeing the connections between things, between people, between tasks, and noting the minutiae in the big picture.
This can be draining, even more than the physical tasks that accompany it are. Gemma looked at this in her own life, and in the lives of many others, doing a lot of research as she wrote this book. Her husband Rob was a man who wanted to do better, but didn't understand emotional labour, and didn't know how to engage more. (Notice that I didn't say "how to help"). They eventually worked out how to share emotional labour more in their relationship, not only because it improved life for both of them, but also to avoid having this dynamic pass on to the next generation.
When Gemma realized that she had to change her own approach and attitude big time, it was an aha moment. They had to figure it out together. If she really wanted this change, and she did, they had to work it out as a team, not as a leader and a helper. She notes that keeping things in balance is an ongoing challenge, but that they both look forward to figuring it out together.
This was an eye-opening and inspiring look at the issue of emotional labour, and offers real solutions to recognizing the value of this work and finding more fulfillment. Highly recommended.

12 Annual Canadian Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

12th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge. This challenge ran from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019
Hosted by Melwyk here
The challenge was to read 13 books, but since I almost made it to 50 in 2017-2018, I'm set that for a goal. I made it to 19.

1. The Tinsmith by Tim Bowling. Finished July 30 (British Columbia)
2. A World of Kindness by the Editors and Illustrators of Pajama Press. Finished August 19
3. Clean Sweep by Michael J. Clark. Finished August 22 (Manitoba)
4. Too Young to Escape by Van Ho and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. Finished October 19
5. Giraffe and Bird Together Again by Rebecca Bender. Finished October 26
6. Our New Kittens by Theo Heras, illustrated by Alice Carter. Finished October 27
7. His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay. Finished November 18
8. Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna. Finished November 29
9. Half Spent Was the Night by Ami McKay. Finished January 2
10. Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. Finished January 15 (Quebec)
11. Come from Away by Genevieve Graham. Finished January 21 (Nova Scotia)
12. Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up by Jane Whittingham, illustrated by Emma Pedersen. Finished February 9
13. Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais. Finished March 16
14. 21 Things You May Not Know about The Indian Act by Bob Joseph. Finished April 3
15. Before You Were Born by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzio. Finished April 30
16. Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes by Margo LaPierre. Finished May 16
17. Land Mammals and Sea Creatures by Jen Neale. Finished May 24
18. Love Letters to Baruch by Margaret Lawrence Greene. Finished June 29
19. A Synopsis of Woman Suffrage in Canada by Hilda Ridley. Finished June 29

Ten Miles Past Normal

Finished July 2
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell, narrated by Jessica Almasy

This teen novel has 14-year-old Janie Gorman in her first year of high school, and finding that her life on a farm has drawn attention in ways that aren't great, like the goat poo stuck to the bottom of her shoe creating an odor investigation on the bus to school. Up to now, the decision made by her family, at her suggestion, back when she was nine, to move to a farm and raise goats has been a good one. But now, she has a different lunch hour from her group of middle school friends, and has resorted to scarfing down her lunch at her locker and spending the rest of the time in the library.
Of course the fact that her mom writes a blog about their life on the farm doesn't help, either. As Janie chooses a subject for a school project in the one class she does share with her best friend Sarah, and develops a new friendship with another girl hanging in the library, she also finds herself learning new skills, like playing bass guitar, and quilting, and exploring her artistic side in new ways.
This is a novel of growth, of early romance, of families, and of history.
I liked the book a lot and think Janie is a very cool girl.

Monday, 1 July 2019

What Happens Next

Finished July 1
What Happens Next written by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff

This children's picture book takes on the subject of bullying. The unnamed narrator doesn't want to go to school because there is a girl there who says mean things and laughs at them. Other people laugh too. No one speaks up against the bully. The narrator doesn't tell their mom about the bully when she asks at first, and instead takes comfort in the love of their dog Sparky. Sparky is always happy to see them, and shows it.
The book talks about how the narrator feels about the bully's actions, and about how this feeling carries over into bad dreams sometimes, and makes them want to do mean things too. Here, the mom notices that something is wrong and spends time with the child, having fun, and eventually the child confides in her about the bully. Mom is really helpful, and coaches the child about how bullying is often a result of fear and wanting to control something. Mom says that she can go to the principal, but first asks the child if they are willing to try something themselves first to see if it might help.
This has the child learn some problem solving skills, and communication skills and gain some confidence as well.
The drawings are simple, but evocative, and you can see the feelings present in the different situations. A good book to bring up the subject of bullying for kids. I also like that the narrator wasn't identified as either a girl or a boy so that the story is more identifiable for all kids.

13th Annual Canadian Book Challenge: July Roundup

Post the reviews for the books you read this month here.
I'll be doing a draw for a prize pack of Canadian books.
Each book read gets you an entry for the prize pack.

Sunday, 30 June 2019

How Little Bessie Kept the Wolf From the Door

Finished June 29
How Little Bessie Kept the Wolf From the Door by Eliza Coates

I came across this Religious Tract Society publication when going through my mother-in-law's discards. It has an inscription from December 1891, so was published sometime before then.
It is a pretty sad story of a hard-working man, who copied text for a living, his seamstress wife, and their two young daughters.
They live in a large house that has been converted into flats, in a single room, with the girls sleeping in a closet. They barely make enough to get by, and when the man falls ill, they have no money for a doctor or for better, nutritious meals.
Through the girls going to Sunday school and learning the bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and hymns that they sing to comfort themselves, and the interest of another clerk at the man's office, they get others interested enough in their situation to give some support.
In the end, they do okay, but not without many trials and tribulations. I'm not sure that this is the type of book we'd be giving to children today.

A Synopsis of Woman Suffrage in Canada

Finished June 29
A Synopsis of Woman Suffrage in Canada by Hilda Ridley

Going through some belongings of my mother-in-law as we clear out most of her library as she moves, I came across this pamphlet and found it intriguing to read. The focus is on Ontario, where the movement began, but it gives a good overview of the changes to women's franchise across the country.

Love Letters to Baruch: A True Canadian Love Story

Finished June 29
Love Letters to Baruch: A True Canadian Love Story by Margaret Lawrence Greene

This collection of letters includes one letter from 1936, then a series of letters beginning June 16, 1942 and going to January 21, 1943. The first letter was sent during a time the author was close to a man she cared for deeply, and this time was followed by a period of separation beginning in 1937 and ending in May 1942. As the two resume a relationship, Margaret lays bare her feelings regarding the separation and how this time led to her about to go into holy orders as a nun, and her feelings about Baruch (Benedict) who she married towards the end of the letter writing period.
This is a story of a woman, successful in her career as a journalist, and dedicated to furthering the rights of women, laying bare her feelings. She considers the religious differences, the way society would consider their relationship, and the effect on her own career and future. Her belief that women were never truly fulfilled without binding themselves to someone or something created a backlash from the feminist majority when this book was released and when her 1929 book The School of Femininity was rereleased in 1972.
This is a strong and personal correspondence that was released after the author's death with the permission of the letters' recipient.

The Wolf Wants In

Finished June 27
The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

This suspense novel is set in rural Kansas, in and around a town called Blackwater. The main character here is Sadie Keller, the youngest of three children. Sadie's life didn't turned out as she imagined. She got married young and moved back to the area she grew up in when she got pregnant wanting her family near her for support. The marriage didn't last and Sadie now lives alone, with her daughter Lily spending the weekdays with her ex-husband Greg for school.
Her sister Becca and her mom live close by as did her brother Shane before he died recently. Shane's death was unexpected, and unexplained, and Shane's wife Crystle doesn't seem as upset by it as Sadie and her sister would expect, and isn't sharing information with them.
When Shane died, Becca and Lily had to go in and find the family things that they wanted as Crystle was selling or burning everything.
Sadie knew the car that Shane restored was deeded to her mother and she arranged for towing of it, and she took the pie safe that was their grandmother's. The two women also took a bunch of boxes of papers that were out near the bonfire that was going. Sadie is trying to get access to Shane's medical records, but she needs Crystle's permission and that doesn't seem likely.
As the story begins, Becca lets Sadie know that she heard on the news that human remains were found in the woods near them, and there is speculation that they belong to the a young girl who went missing a while back. The girl, Macey, was friends with Lily at one point, as Sadie was friends with her mother Hannah. Sadie hasn't been in touch with Hannah in a while, but this makes her reach out to her.
Another voice in the story is Henley, a young women who recently finished school and is saving to move away and start her life anew. Henley lives with her mom, Missy, a recovering drug addict, youngest in a large family that generally lives on the wrong side of the law. One of Henley's cousins is Crystle and Henley may know something about what happened to Shane. Missy worked as a housekeeper for the wealthy local business owner, and she has been getting Henley to help her lately. When Missy disappears, Henley keeps up with the housekeeping, but also gets on the radar of the houseowner Earl and his delinquent son Jason. She is debating whether she should leave sooner despite not having all her plans in place, but her waiting may put her in harm's way.
This is a story of families, of the scourge of drug addiction in America, and of the value of community. I liked it.

Friday, 28 June 2019

The Girls of August

Finished June 24
The Girls of August by Anne River Siddons, read by Kate Reading

This is a story of friendship. Maddy, Rachel, Barbara, and Melinda used to get together every summer for a week at the ocean. The first year, Melinda wasn't part of the group as Teddy's first wife, a wealthy socialite hosted the party. Now they haven't met for three years, ever since Melinda was killed in a car accident, when Teddy was driving. The others haven't completely forgiven Teddy. When the women first met, their husband's were interns, on their way to beginning their own medical practices. Maddy was a schoolteacher, volunteering at the hospital to get out of the house.
Now, twenty-odd years into their friendship, Teddy has remarried, and convinces the women to let his new wife host the get-together at her family home on an island off the South Carolina coast. There are a couple of catches. One is that Teddy's new wife Baby is younger, much younger, only twenty-two herself. The other is that logistics mean that this year the get-together will be for two weeks, not one.
Maddy is intrigued by the island. She knows that Dan's family had a home on the island before she met him, one that was lost in a hurricane and never replaced. Dan doesn't talk about the island much. The women have had different life experiences, despite their friendship. Maddy quit teaching a few years back after she and Dan weren't able to have children. She couldn't face seeing other people's every day. She became a sought-after caterer, and grew close to her niece, now readying for college in the fall. Melinda and Teddy didn't have children either, but both Barbara and Rachel did.
As the vacation begins, Maddy tries to run interference between her friends and Baby, as their resentment of the younger woman grows. There is a fair chunk of bad behaviour going on here, with the older woman treating Baby like an empty-headed arm-candy trophy-wife, married for her sex appeal. Baby holds onto politeness for a lot longer than I think I would, but sulks and loses her temper a few times too.
It was interesting to watch as the women deal with their issues, learn more about each other, and about Baby's relationship with the island's locals, and deal with the unfortunate events that the time on the island bring them.
This is a novel of getting past first impressions and pre-conceived notions. A novel of friendship and love.

My Husband's Sweethearts

Finished June 20
My Husband's Sweethearts by Bridget Asher

Six months ago, Lucy discovered her husband Artie was cheating on her. When she confronted him about it, he confessed to other infidelities, one's she hadn't known about. Lucy left, throwing herself into her work as an auditor. Lucy's mom thinks that she's made a mistake, and she's been trying to get Lucy to come home. The latest news is that Artie is very ill, and dying. Lucy doesn't really believe this is true, after all Artie is older than her, but not that old, only in his fifties, and he's been sending her love notes and flowers no matter where she travels. But she decides to go home and see.
And she finds that it is true. Artie is dying. And she isn't sure what to do. Artie throws a challenge to her, one she thinks he doesn't believe she'll take on, but she does. She starts to call up the women he's been involved with, both before her and during their marriage, and invites them to visit.
But Artie has been keeping other secrets. They've always kept their money separate, and so Lucy is even more taken aback to find that Artie has been sending money to a woman for decades, to pay for a son that he supposedly fathered.
As Lucy connects with the people who've been in Artie's life, she finds a surprising mix of people, and some of them she connects with in interesting ways. A core group develops that includes two women that Artie has been involved with, along with Lucy's mom, and they work toward bringing Artie to an understanding of the effect that he's had on the lives of others.
This is a story of betrayal, of love, of the connections that people have. It is a story of loss, and of new beginnings. I enjoyed it.

Waiting for Tom Hanks

Finished June 16
Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey

This is a novel romcom. The main character Annie Cassidy has dreams of being her generation's Nora Ephron. She is working on a screenplay, and doing freelance writing to make a living. Annie's dad died when she was just a baby, and her mother was a big rom-com fan, telling wonderful stories of Annie's dad and their special romance. Annie's mom died while she was in high school, and she responded by throwing herself in schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, becoming valedictorian and then graduating college summa cum laude in film studies. When her mom died, her uncle Don moved into the house, to provide stability, companionship, and a parental figure. Her uncle Don is a bit of a nerd with a social life mostly consisting of a Dungeons and Dragons group and the occasional comic-con outing.
Annie believes that someday her personal rom-com will happen with a Tom Hanks-like figure, some initial confusion and a great love. So she's been waiting for that to happen. Her best friend Chloe works in the coffee shop that Annie does a lot of her writing in, an independent shop owned by a young man, Nick Velez. Chloe is taking some business school courses, gradually earning a degree, but also paying for her dad's memory-care facility. The two women spend a lot of time together. Chloe is constantly trying to get Annie to go on dates, occasionally setting her up, to no success. As the book begins, the two hear about the upcoming filming of a rom-com in their very own neighbourhood.
Through a series of connections, Annie manages to get a job on set, and meet some people in the industry she longs to be part of. As she begins her employment with a meet-cute with the film's male star, spilling coffee on him, she is off to a good start, but keeps getting in her own way.
This is a fun, light read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lots of humour and interesting characters.

Wednesday, 26 June 2019

Cocoa Beach

Finished June 13
Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams, read by Eva Kaminsky and Alex Wyndham

This story moves back and forth in time between events during and just after World War I in France and England, and three years later in Florida.
Virginia Fortescue has left her father and sister in New York City to volunteer in France during the War. She has a few reasons for leaving, although she does worry about her younger sister. She has used the mechanical skills her father ensured that she had to become an ambulance driver and mechanic. During her duties, she meets an English doctor, Simon Fitzwilliam, a few years older than her, and is drawn to him. He is in a complicated personal situation, but works to gain her love and trust. Virginia hasn't told him all her secrets, but she does feel safe with him.
Three years later Virginia has come to Florida with her young daughter following notification from Simon's brother that Simon has died in a house fire. Virginia left Simon shortly after their marriage, under circumstances we gradually learn, and has never let him know about their daughter. His voice is given in letters that he writes to her. Again, Virginia has a secret no one knows. She has a letter from him dated after his reported death, and so believes that he is still alive. She searches for an answer to her questions about Simon and his motivations, relying on his siblings for information. But is she trusting the wrong people?
This is a story of secrets, of worry and of trust. In a time of Prohibition, Simon has become involved in illegal alcohol provision, much like the smuggling of his Cornish ancestors. Has this activity become his downfall?
There are several interesting characters here, from Simon and Virginia to the black woman who manages the estate and citrus orchards that Simon inherited. Simon's brother is a bit of an enigma. We know he resents Simon and has all his life, but does that mean that he would actually do Simon harm. The cliffhanger ending leads me to expect another book with some of the same characters.

Unto Us a Son Is Given

Finished June 10
Unto Us a Son Is Given by Donna Leon

I always enjoy the books featuring Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti, and this one is more personal than some others. Leon always includes some of Brunetti's personal life in her stories, with his wife Paola and his two children, Chiara and Raffi. In this one, his father-in-law Count Orazio Falier plays a larger role, and the life of Paola's godfather, a Spanish-born artist Gonzalo Rodriquez de Tejada, is at the center of the story. Orazio approaches Brunetti about a concern he has regarding an action of Gonzalo's. Gonzalo is enamoured of a younger man, and wants to adopt him so that he will inherit. Orazio is concerned that Gonzalo is being manipulated, and that, unlike a marriage or other partnership, this action can't be undone, and regrets may follow. He asks the department secretary Elletra Zorzi, a woman of many skills in information gathering to follow a couple of paths for more information on the young man in question, and talks to both his wife and one of his officers Griffoni, who let him see the situation from different vantage points. But when Gonzalo suddenly drops dead, and a close friend comes from England for a memorial service and is killed, he must look at things more closely.
There is also an interesting side story related to the personal life of Brunetti's superior, the Vice-Questore Patta. This story gives an added dimension to that character that we haven't seen before, and is an interesting situation to consider.
As usual, this book gives a sense of the ambience of Venice, and has lots of lovely food and drink to make your mouth water. I enjoyed it.

Sunday, 23 June 2019

Who Is Vera Kelly?

Finished June 9
Who Is Very Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht

This historical novel follows a young woman through a difficult few years in her late teens, and in her early twenties as a CIA spy in Argentina as it builds to a revolution. The young Vera is in high school in 1957 in Chevy Chase Maryland struggling with her feelings and an incident when she'd taken medication from her mother's bathroom and ended up in the hospital. Things deteriorate after that between her and her mother and culminate with an argument that causes her to run away to a more sympathetic relative, but her mother calls the police saying she stole the car. Vera is relegated to a young offenders facility and finishes her high school years there with no further contact from her mother. After her release, she begins to build a life for herself in New York City, gaining skills and finding her way.
In the other timeline, Vera is in Argentina in 1966, posing as a Canadian student at the university there, and listening to the conversations captured by various bugs that she and others have planted in both government buildings and private residences. As she follows the instructions from her handler, she eventually finds herself in the middle of a revolution where she is in danger and must use whatever resources she can muster to find her way out and stay safe.
At the heart of both these situations is Vera's sexuality as a lesbian woman. She had a crush on a friend in high school, and her sexuality is part of the issue with her relationship with her mother. In her current situation, her sexuality is both a potential danger and a potential to get closer to a target. In both timelines, it is mostly hidden from those around her.
I liked Vera's resiliency and resourcefulness. She thinks ahead, and takes opportunities as they arise. I'd like to learn what her life was like after this book. She's a very interesting character.

The Woman in the White Kimono

Finished June 8
The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

This novel follows two timelines, both with the central character of a woman. One takes place in the late 1950s in Japan. The young woman, Naoko Nakamura, is a schoolgirl from a good family who has secretly begun a relationship with a young American navy sailor. The two truly care about each other, but Naoko is being pressured by her father and older brother to marry a man who is the son of a business associate of her father's, partly as a means of helping the family trading business' future. She has been hesitant to let them know of the identity of her suitor, and they only realize when he comes to the house for a pre-arranged courtship meeting. What Naoko hasn't told even the sailor is that she is pregnant with his child. She doesn't want him to think that she is trying to trap him into marriage. But the consequences of her situation are beyond what she imagined, and she must rely on her wits and resilience to find a way forward.
In the present day, Tori Kovač is an investigative journalist and only child. She has a close relationship with her father James, but as he nears the end of his life, and tries to share with her a secret that he's kept for decades, she doesn't understand until it is too late. Then she begins a journey to find the truth about his past for herself.
This is a story of love that crossed boundaries that were huge at the time, and how two teenagers tried to surmount them. It is a story of cultural differences, and societal expectations, and a modern day view of the situation.
An engaging story with some interesting historical information too.

Sunday, 9 June 2019

Tiny Little Thing

Finished June 6
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams, read by Kathleen McInerney

This book is one I grabbed to listen to because I so enjoyed the author's Along the Infinite Sea. This book actually occurs in time just before that one, and features Tiny, the sister of Pepper, the main character of the other book. Pepper has a large role in this one too, displaying all the moxie she showed in the companion novel.
Tiny is less fearless than Pepper, and her life has been spent pleasing others, doing what's expected of her, even when she doesn't actually want to. Tiny cares about what people think of her, and she wants to be the daughter her mother has wanted her and raised her to be.
The novel moves back and forth between the summer of 1966 and two years earlier, when Tiny was reconsidering her choices. Which brings us to the other main character of this book, Captain Caspian Harrison, a career soldier, and a cousin to the man that Tiny is about to marry in 1964. Because of the two timelines, we know that Tiny did indeed marry Frank, but we don't know what happened between her and Caspian back in 1964, and we do know that Tiny is once again unhappy with her situation and considering her choices.
I was appalled at the actions of some of the characters, and feared for Tiny at one point. I enjoyed meeting Tiny's unconventional mother, and the character of Caspian. I liked seeing Tiny develop into a more independent woman, and take her life into her own hands.
This is a novel of secrets, of ambition, and of love.
Now I'm hoping to read more about this interesting Schuyler family.

Paris at the End of the World

Finished June 4
Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918 by John Baxter

This book has a split focus. Part of it is following the experiences of John's grandfather as he left his family in Australia and signed up to be a soldier in Europe. The other is the one in the title, Paris herself during this historic time. The book moves back and forth between these two things.
On the personal side, John was looking to both discover what his grandfather's motives and experiences were, and find out where he was during his time in Europe.
On the bigger picture side, John used a variety of historical items and situations to bring this time in Paris to life. He looks at a variety of historical figures including Jean Cocteau, Misia Sert, Douglas Haig, Rupert Brooke, and Joseph-Simon Gallieni. He uses contemporaneous news and entertainment magazines, postcards, ephemera, and other resources to bring the city of Paris and its people to life.
There are lots of little tidbits of information the author shows here that humanizes the people he writes about and makes the book very interesting.

Breathe In, Cash Out

Finished June 2
Breathe In, Cash Out by Madeleine Henry

The main character in this book is Allegra Cobb, a young woman driven to succeed. Her mother died when she was young, and her father is her biggest cheerleader, pushing her to be the best at whatever she does. She graduated from Princeton University, going right into an analyst job at Anderson Shaw. During her college years, she had a point where she lost her way a bit and found yoga. With her father's support, she applied for the American Yoga National Competition and won. This didn't change her goal to get a job at Anderson Shaw, but it did change her long-term outlook. Allegra is nearing the end of her second year as an analyst, a point where people normally make a move in some direction. She's been living as leanly as possible, saving as much as possible so she can move into a career as a yoga instructor, something she's pretty sure no one else in her firm is considering.
As the book begins, she is in a yoga class, and another member of the class propositions her. Out of character, Allegra gives in, and the next morning discovers that the man is her new boss.
This puts her in a vulnerable position and she is open to an overture from another young woman who's made a name for herself in the yoga world, and who has reached out to Allegra.
Thus begins a time in which Allegra's life takes a turn for the chaotic. Surviving on a minimum of sleep, working on intense projects, and lacking the focus she should be giving her current project, Allegra makes a few bad calls, and then has to determine how to move forward.
I liked Allegra and her cube mates. and there is lots of good humorous moments here. It has romance, interesting information about both the investment banking world and the yoga world, and a fun plot. I really enjoyed it.
I also found it interesting that the author's life has some of the same elements. Madeleine Henry is a Yale graduate who worked for Goldman Sachs and in investment banking in New York City, and yoga plays a big role in her life.

Friday, 31 May 2019

The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter

Finished May 29
The Lighthouse Keeper's Daughter by Hazel Gaynor

This historical fiction novel follows two women one hundred years apart. In 1838, in Northumberland along the coast of England, Grace Darling lives with her parents and younger brother in a lighthouse. Her father is a lighthouse keeper, and her brother will take on the role after him. Meanwhile Grace does a lot of the work of the lighthouse to assist. When a bad storm hits while her brother is on the mainland, and Grace spots a wreck on a nearby island, she and her father row out to save any survivors. One of the survivors is Sarah Dawson, who was on the ship headed to visit her brother George Emmerson, an artist. Grace has met George briefly, but felt a connection with him that surprised her.
Grace's role in the rescue brings her attention and notoriety, none of which she wants. She is compelled into answering letters, sitting for portraits and other unwanted tasks, until a local lord and his wife take her under their wing and protect her from some of the less savoury attentions.
In 1938, Matilda Emmerson is sent from England to Rhode Island to stay with a distant family member she's never heard of before, Harriet Flaherty, a lighthouse keeper. Matilda has become pregnant and her parents are trying to hide this from the society they move in.
Gradually Matilda and Harriet grow close and Harriet shares with her some of the family history, including that of the locket that Matilda wears around her neck, and the book of instructions on keeping a lighthouse.
I liked the parallels of the two women's stories, and the connections made over the years.

Thursday, 30 May 2019

Comics for a Strange World

Finished May 25
Comics for a Strange World: a book of poorly drawn lines by Reza Farazmand

This collection of comics draws on the events of our strange world and makes them even more absurd. He takes a look at the world around him, and pulls out the funny, from technology to human relations. From interactions with animals to ennui.
I found myself laughing often at these. He truly has a gift for showing our world in all its craziness. From someone complimenting the grim reaper on his sense of style to a queen who talks to her candelabra, to ghosts actions and reactions, he finds the absurd and draws it.

Land Mammals and Sea Creatures

Finished May 24
Land Mammals and Sea Creatures by Jen Neale

This odd novel is set in a small community on the west coast of Canada. Julie Bird has returned to the town she grew up in to find everything slightly askew. Her father Marty, a war vet with a prosthesis and PTSD, seems more depressed and bent on self-destruction. A young woman making a living as a Jerry Lee Lewis impersonator seems to have a hold on him that Julie doesn't understand. When she begins to figure out who this woman is, and her relationship to Marty's past, she feels anger, but also fear for her dad.
When the three go for a boat trip, it culminates in the beaching and death of a blue whale, an event that casts a miasma, both real and nebulous over the town. More odd animals deaths continue to occur, some seem like suicide, and the relationship to animals here has many layers.
This is a story of a past that has a strong influence on the present, of the relationship between humans and their environment, and about a young woman coming to terms with the reality of death.

The Map That Leads to You

Finished May 22
The Map That Leads to You by J.P. Monninger

This romance novel follows three young women, newly graduated from college, as they embark on a summer trip through Europe. Heather is the main character here, and she travels with Amy, a rebellious, devil-may-care woman; and Constance, a serious-minded woman who is aiming to see as many saint-themed sites as she can.
As the book begins, they are on a train to Amsterdam, travelling overnight. A young man, Jack, asks Heather to hold his backpack for a moment as he makes himself a bed in the luggage rack, and the two begin a flirtation. Amy, meanwhile has hooked up with another guy who invites them to a party in Amsterdam the evening they arrive, and although Heather invites Jack, she's not really sure whether he'll arrive. Heather feels a connection to him that she hasn't felt with anyone before, and believes that he feels it as well.
This is a story of a young woman's first series love affair, one that goes beyond the physical, that challenges her in ways that are sometimes uncomfortable, and that scares her a little with how it makes her feel, and how it questions her future intentions. Around her, are the adventures of travel, the friendships, and the escapades and relationships of her two friends.

Wednesday, 29 May 2019

Lost Roses

Finished May 20
Lost Roses by Martha Hall Kelly, read by Kathleen Gati, Tavia Gilbert, Karissa Vacker, and Catherine Taber

This novel is related to the author's earlier Lilac Girls, but happens in the generation earlier, around the first World War. One of the central characters here, Eliza Ferriday, is the mother of one of the main characters in Lilac Girls, Caroline Ferriday.  The story begins in 1914, with Eliza hosting a close friend that she met years before in Paris, Sofya Streshnavya. Sofya is a cousin of the Romanovs, and is married to an army officer. Her father is attached to the Treasury department of the government. Sofya's mother died a few years ago, and her father remarried, to a woman very conscious of status, class, behaviour, and material wealth. Sofya's younger sister Luba has an innovative and scientific mind and is enormously interested in astronomy. As the story begins, Sofya's baby, Max, arrives early, and in good health. Eliza is already a mother to Caroline, and while she loves her husband and daughter, she also loves to travel, and it has been arranged that she will travel back to Russia with Sofya and her family.
The story then jumps to Russia, with Eliza visiting St. Petersburg and visiting the many sites with her friend. The unrest has already begun though, and an incident during an evening to a gala at the Tsar's palace shows that clearly. Eliza makes it home safely, and Sofya's family soon after decides to go to their nearby country estate. There are already some signs of change there as well, and while the family settles in, there are incidents that arise to show what is happening in the world around them.
There is a woman living near the village by the estate that was once a member of court, but married a local man, since died, and now tells fortunes. She has a teenage daughter Varinka, whom she has taught as well as she can, including French and English, and the family hires Varinka as a nanny for young Max when their foreign nanny leaves.
The story really develops from here, showing the terrible extent of the revolution with some rebels bent on destruction and filled with hate for the upper class, while others recognize the individuals that also did good for the people whose lives intersected with theirs. Sofya's family undergoes many terrible things and she must draw on her underlying strength, and the love of her son, as well as her hope for help from her friend Eliza to survive. Varinka is already in a bad place, with the loss of her father placing her and her mother under the control of her father's former apprentice, and subject to his moods and angry actions. She is young and impressionable and doesn't always follow the guidance of her mother.
Eliza, back in the United States, is filled with worry about her friend, which she begins to put toward assisting other Russian refugees, particularly women and children. But she has issues in her personal life as well, with the health of her husband, the growing rift between her and her daughter, and the expectations of the society world she lives in.
This book has sadness and loss, but also hope. Some of my own family fled the area south of St. Petersburg following the Russian Revolution, so it was interesting to see this view of the times.
While drawing from real people and real events, the author clearly discusses in an afterword the sources for the characters that she has built here, showing the detailed research she has put toward this book.
I look forward to her next one, which goes back farther in the same family, centering on the U.S. Civil War.

Thursday, 23 May 2019

Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes

Finished May 16
Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes by Margo LaPierre

This collection of poetry is divided into three parts. The title poem is the last in the book and looks at how we deal with failure and find a way to move on. The poems here are thought-provoking, drawing on the impulse to believe and disbelieve, to search for a solid base in our lives.
Many are inward looking, trying to figure out what one is feeling, how one reacts to the world, and how we define ourselves as much by that world as we do by the innermost part of ourselves.
I really enjoyed the poems here, finding myself reading one and then sitting back to think on it, sometimes lingering or rereading a certain section, and thinking about how I related to similar situations in my own life. Very good.

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets

Finished May 15
The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets by Molly Fader

This story of two sisters begins with their mother Meredith. Meredith is supposed to be taking a nap, but she eludes the woman looking after her and is found walking down towards the spit with a flare gun. The police chief Garrett Singh is the one that finds her, confused and not entirely sure of her purpose. He asks if he should call her daughter, and she agrees, but he was referring to her younger daughter Delia, who lives in town with her husband Dan and two daughter, and she has him call her older daughter Lindy, who hasn't lived in town for nearly seventeen years.
Lindy is having a bit of a crisis in her life, losing her job, her boyfriend, and her place to live all in one blow, since one man is common to all. She's made a name for herself as a bartender and it won't be hard for her to get a new job, but she is suddenly finding her life less fulfilling. When she gets the call from Garrett and discovers that her mother had a stroke a little while ago, she immediately starts on her way.
Lindy didn't want to leave town all those years ago, but she felt she had no choice. Up until that point, Delia and Lindy had been very close, but something happened that drove them apart and made Lindy leave.
The book gradually reveals the story behind the sisters' estrangement, and what has happened in both their lives since then. Meredith plays a large role in the story, as does Delia's oldest daughter Brin, now a teenager. Brin's curiosity about the rift, about the secrets her parents and aunt have, and about her aunt in general all drive the story forward.
This is a story of secrets, not all of which are revealed to all the characters, and about family and small town life. There is lots going on her, from health to prejudice, from class divisions to fear of losing something precious. Small town life along the shores of lake Erie isn't necessarily simple.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Under the Cold Bright Lights

Finished May 12
Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher

This Australian mystery features the Melbourne detective Alan Auhl. Alan had retired from the police, but recently rejoined to work cold cases. Alan also has an unusual living arrangement. He lives in the large old house that he inherited from his parents. He rents out rooms to university students, and his university attending daughter also lives there. His ex-wife has a room in the house that she sometimes uses and the two get on well. There is a small suite at the back of the house that has been used from time to time by people who need time to get themselves together, and is currently being used by a young mother and daughter fleeing from a domestic abuse situation with a powerful man.
As the book begins, a body is found in a former agricultural area hidden under a concrete pad. Alan and his team are assigned the case, looking to find both the identity of the man and who might have killed him. Another case that Alan brings to the job himself, is one that he worked on before he retired. The two daughters of a murder victim call him every year to see if anything has turned up. He decides to look into the case again and see what he can find. Alan is also brought into another case from his past when a man that Alan had investigated for murder when both of his first two young wives died under suspicious circumstances. Alan could never prove it, but he believed the man was guilty. Now, though the man is accusing his third wife of trying to kill him, a twist that Alan doesn't believe for a minute.
On the home front, Alan is finding himself drawn into the situation with his vulnerable tenant as well. As Alan starts to make more of a productive relationship with one of his new colleagues, he also gets drawn into her personal life. There is lots going on here, and Alan is a very interesting man, who strongly believes in justice, even if it isn't always formal.

The Red Daughter

Finished May 7
The Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz

This is a fictionalized biography of Svetlana Alliluyeva, the only daughter of Joseph Stalin. A lot of the story is real, but the main relationship between Svetlana and her American lawyer is not, and the lawyer here is heavily fictionalized. The author has access to a lot of documents and people that were unique as his father was the real lawyer that worked for Svetlana during much of her time in the United States.
Here, the lawyer, Peter Horvath, is made literary editor for Svetlana after her death, and as he puts together the various papers, he also takes his mind back to the past and their complicated relationship. Brought in by the CIA to travel with Svetlana from Switzerland to the U.S., Peter and her share a unique experience. As he tries to make her transition more comfortable, he brings her into his personal life by inviting her to his summer home near the ocean. And thus begins a lifelong antipathy by his wife for this woman she deems a rival.
As Svetlana makes connections, she also gets drawn into a controlling relationship by Frank Lloyd Wright's widow and the lawyer was the one asked to give her away when she married Wright's widowed son-in-law. The marriage doesn't last, but it does produce a son.
This insight into the life of an extremely troubled woman, manipulated by many in her life, was a fantastic read. I learned about the real story with empathy.

Home Safe

Finished May 3
Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg, read by the author

Helen Ames, an accomplished writer, has had writer's block since her husband died nearly a year ago, but she hasn't been able to tell anyone. She lives in the Chicago suburbs, and her daughter Tessa lives closer to the center of the city. Tessa is also a writer, currently working for a magazine. Helen's husband Dan died very suddenly, and Helen is still coming to terms with it. She has been depending on Tessa a lot for things Dan used to do, and letting other things slide. When her accountant gives her a wake-up call on her finances, she is hit by the fact that she didn't know as much as she thought about her husband. And she needs to get her mojo back regarding her writing.
Helen accepts a grant-funded position to run a writing workshop at the public library, something she's not sure she's comfortable doing. But as the librarian indicates, this is not your usual writing workshop, and Helen finds the diverse group of people attending interesting. She experiments and goes with what seems to work, and her students respond enthusiastically.
As Helen learns to do things for herself more, she also learns to let Tessa go and to move on with her own life.
This is a story of love and loss, and finding hope. A comforting read.

The Paris Diversion

Finished May 2
The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone

This book continues the story begun with The Expats. Now living in Paris, intelligence agent Kate is running her own team, but is increasingly feeling that she isn't measuring up. And her husband Dexter is acting like he has secrets again, which didn't pan out well for them last time.
Kate is trying to fit in more with the expat community here, but she's way overdue to host, and so tonight she is having a bunch of people over for dinner. After dropping the kids at school, she goes to the market and gets the ingredients for the meal, but that is when things start to go wrong.
First she hears about a bomb scare at Gare de Lyon, and then there is the suicide bomber at the Louvre. What is happening and why didn't she hear any noises about it beforehand?
Dexter has risked a bigger chunk of their money than he usually does on one deal. But this time it is personal, and he's sure he's done his homework. But as things progress he begins to wonder and worry. And when Kate finds out even part of what he's done, she worries too, and starts to put the pieces together. He's right, it is personal. Very personal.
I love Kate just as much as I did in The Expats, and was rooting for her throughout. There's a lot going on here, and you can see her professional know-how come to the fore. I loved the scene where she played the knight in shining armor rescuing the damsel, nabbing Dexter and taking off with him. I loved the whole story around the Lego. And I loved her human worry and caring.
I also loved the smaller stories. The irony of the sniper's story really got me. The greed of the plotters angered me. Unputdownable.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Before You Were Born

Finished April 30
Before You Were Born by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo

This lovely book is a perfect gift for a new mother or father, and a perfect bedtime read for a little one, sending them to sleep with lovely images and the comfort of knowing how much they are loved. It tells through rhyming phrases of the parents' love for their child even before he or she arrived.
I loved this author/illustrator combination in a previous book Sun Dog, and this book was even better. The lyricism of Kerbel's words is beautiful, each phrase of anticipation leading you on to the next page. It just flows and the words are full of love. I loved the phrase "a mountain of promise, a valley of calm".
Del Rizzo's 3D illustrations using polymer clay bring everything to life, from the animals are birds, to the trees, flowers and other plants. And the details were just right: the lanterns hanging in the trees, the expressions of the faces of all the creatures, the feathers and fur and rubbery-looking noses, the surface of the moon, the bear's tongue, the raindrops on leaves,
One of my favourite is the scene of the birch forest, with a woman leaning on a tree, enjoying the world around her, with birds in the trees above, deer and foxes, and the water beyond. I wanted to step into it.
An absolutely beautiful picture book

Saturday, 11 May 2019

Paula Knows What to Do

Finished April 28
Paula Knows What to Do by Sanne Dufft

This lovely picture book uses two styles of drawing, one to tell the story, and one to show the drawings that Paula makes, bringing them together in wonderful ways.
Paula is a young girl who is very resourceful. When she awakens one morning and her father isn't up to greet her and she's waited a while, she gets up and begins drawing pictures for him. But he still doesn't get up. When she goes to check on him, he tells her he is sad, and agrees when she asks if it is because her mother is gone. But Paula takes charge, getting out paints and paper and drawing an adventure that draws on one of her mother's favourite activities, sailing. As the adventure progresses, she gets her father involved, and when her story is over, some of his sadness has lifted.
I loved how the drawings tied into the bed covering, and how the sense of adventure that Paula instigated brought energy into the story. A great book to use to begin discussions of loss and grief.

Craving

Finished April 25
Craving by Helen Hardt

This is the first book in the series Steel Brothers. There are two points of view that the reader sees here. One of them is Jade Roberts, a young woman recently jilted at the altar by her long term boyfriend, now staying with her best friend Marj while she waits for her bar exam results so that she can look for a job as a lawyer. Marj lives with her brothers on a large Colorado ranch. Two of the brothers live in separate houses, but Talon still lives in the main house with Marj.
Talon Steel is the second point of view here. He is a troubled young man, with a secret in his past that feeds both anger and shame. He is attracted to Jade, as she is to him, but isn't really ready for a relationship in his current state.
Jade is drawn to Talon, and recognizes that he has some kind of past wound, but doesn't want to alert her friend to her feelings. This leads to lots of push and pull between the couple.
This book doesn't resolve the relationship, but it does move it forward, and the reader is aware of at least part of the issue that Talon is dealing with, but I'm not sure that all the information has come to the surface yet.
This is a romance with explicit sex scenes and lots of drama.

Ruin Falls

Finished April 23
Ruin Falls by Jenny Milchman, read by Cassandra Campbell

This thriller follows Liz Daniels, a woman who is setting off on a family vacation as the book begins. She, her husband Paul, and their two children, Reid (8) and Ally (6) are heading to the western part of New York State to visit Paul's parents. She's never visited them before, although she's met them a couple of times. Paul doesn't have a close relationship with them. Paul is a professor at the agricultural college that he graduated from and Liz works with a friend to supply local restaurants with organic and specialized produce and make products with the crops they raise.
But as the drive west progresses and a couple of incidents make Liz nervous, when Paul suggests they stop at a hotel, so they can be fresh to arrive at his parents, Liz agrees. When she wakes up in the morning though, the children are missing. Liz is beside herself and Paul helpful, yet distracted.
As things grow more and more confusing, Liz learns that she didn't know her husband as well as she thought, and that she needs to grow more independent.
There are side stories about a young woman with a six-year old son and a controlling husband, and young pregnant woman with a controlling mother whose stories eventually converge with Liz's.
This is a story of relationships with dominant people, of how much we really know about those we think we are close to, about idealism and the dangers of the internet. A book that kept me engaged right to the end.

Last Things

Finished April 20
Last Things: a graphic memoir of loss and love by Marissa Moss

This heart-wrenching memoir tracks Marissa's family life from shortly before her husband was diagnosed with ALS to the time after his death. Marissa and her husband Harvey are on a sabbatical year in Rome when his symptoms begin. Harvey was a medieval art historian, a curator at the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, and a full-time university professor in California. He was working on a long term book project about Louis IX's personal prayer book. The couple celebrated their Jewish heritage and once they return home are immersed in planning for their oldest son's bar mitzvah. The day after the event, Harvey collapses and is rushed to the hospital. They stabilize him and determine that it is some sort of neurological problem. The following month his diagnosis arrives. It's another month before their first visit to the ALS clinic in San Francisco, near their home. Harvey has a particular type of ALS called Bulbar ALS that starts with the tongue and throat muscles. Breathing often weakens before the arms and legs, which explains Harvey's symptoms in the summer. It also advances more quickly than other forms of the disease.
As Marissa is open about the reactions of various family members from anger to distancing to denial, she shows the devastating effects the situation has on her entire family. One of Harvey's legacies to his children is his book, and Marissa works with the assistance of other scholars and finished the book four years after his death. She deals with each of their sons individual reaction to the loss, and on her own life as one of the still living.
The diagnosis and quick pace of Harvey's decline didn't allow for the time she would have wished for to come to terms with it. All they did at the time was react. Writing the memoir helped her to sort it out for herself so she understood it better, deal with her guilt at not doing better in the moment.
In the preface, Marissa is clear about her reasons for writing this book. She shares her story to show that what seems at times impossible pain can be lived through and make you stronger. She wants readers to feel her family's pain, bear witness to it, and gain some of that strength for themselves.
The drawings are simple, but evocative, expressing the emotions of the situations. A moving read.

Saturday, 4 May 2019

Star-Crossed

Finished April 19
Star-Crossed by Minnie Darke

This Australian novel was a delightful read. Justine Carmichael has been working as a copy-runner at the Alexandria Park Star, doing whatever is asked of her while she waits for a reporting position to open up. The Star has developed over the last thirty years from a street rag to a glossy current affairs magazine. Justine runs errands, gets coffee, delivers messages and generally does whatever needs to be done. Justine has an incredible memory, a love of literature, and a penchant for correct grammar. She carries a sharpie in her purse and corrects signs, menus, and other sources of grammar and spelling mistakes that she encounters in her day. Nick Jordan is an actor, so far not very successful. His latest gig has him wearing a fish costume at the local market, which is where Justine and him meet, or rather meet again after several years of not seeing each other. Their mothers had been best friends, until his family moved across the country. Justine has never really forgot Nick and the one evening they spent together at the young age their were then.
Catching up on each other's lives, Justine discovers that Nick is a big believer in horoscopes, particularly the ones that run in the magazine she works for. When an unexpected opening at work brings the transcription of the horoscopes under Justine's purview, she can't resist tweaking them to encourage Nick to think of her romantically. But of course, Nick is not the only Aquarius reading those horoscopes, and there are other people who make life choices based on what Justine has done.
I really enjoyed this read, liking Justine, and Nick and several of the other characters that come along. There is a good deal of humour, a general light-hearted flavour to the book, and of course some romance. Definitely recommended.

The Library of Lost and Found

Finished April 17
The Library of Lost and Found by Phaedra Patrick

The main character here is Martha Storm, a library volunteer, single woman in her early 50s living in a small English seaside town. Martha was a bit of a rebellious child, not always giving in to her father's domineering ways, as her mother too often did. She felt that her father loved her younger sister Lilian better, Martha looked after her parents until they passed on, and has been a helpful person in her community most of her life. She volunteers to do things for a wide variety of people from the local schoolteacher, to business owners to her own sister, but never feels fulfilled by her own life. Several times she has applied for a job at the library she volunteers at, but even though the library manager Clive has her planning events, doing tours, ordering material, and manning the service desk, he always seems to have an excuse not to actually hire her. Martha gets on well with the staff at the library, particularly the newest library assistant Suki. Her sister Lilian has two children, and she is often called upon to mind them when Lilian has plans. One person that Martha still grieves for is her grandmother who died suddenly when she was just a child. Martha hadn't even been allowed to go to the funeral.
When she finds a book left at the library door for her, Martha is confused. The book is not new, but damaged, but it is dedicated to her and seems to be written by her grandmother, but the publication date is after her grandmother's death. As Martha takes the first steps toward her own independence and makes decisions in her life, she finds that there are things about her own past she didn't know, and things about her future she must make choices about.
An interesting read.

If Cats Disappeared from the World

Finished April 15
If Cats Disappeared from the World by Genki Kawamura, translated by Eric Selland, read by Brian Nishii

I was drawn to read this book by the title. The narrator of this tale is a postman, living alone with the cat, Lettuce, that used to be his mother's before she passed away. Before Lettuce, his mother had a cat named Cabbage, and both cats were a big part of her life.
The young male narrator wakes up one morning with a headache, and after struggling for several days without relief, he goes to his doctor. When he does, he finds that his diagnosis gives him only a short time left to live. As he tries to decide what to do with that time, he is approached by a Faust inspired devil character, who gives him an extra day on earth for each item that he agrees to let disappear from the world. The young man isn't sure what to do. He is estranged from his father, single after the end of a long romantic relationship, and lives a very private life. As he is forced to choose whether his life means more than something chosen by the devil, he must also look at his own past and deal with some things he never properly resolved.
I found the idea interesting, but didn't really connect with the character. He talked about connecting his decisions to their effect on larger society, but I really didn't see that play out in the choices he made. Some of the things he agreed to let go from the world were important to other people he knew, and thus not what I would expect. Of course, I believe that the whole situation was something his brain created as a result of his illness, and thus only a reflection of this thoughts, and where they led him as he looked back on his life with regret.
A very different voice.