Tuesday, 5 November 2019

Prairie People

Finished October 26
Prairie People: A Celebration of My Homeland by Robert Collins

This is a collection of observations, conversations, research, and interviews with Canadians either from, or living in the three prairie provinces.
I came across this book clearing out the books from my in-laws house, and grabbed it to read, since I am, after all, from the prairies myself.
It was an interesting collection of people's outlooks, feelings, memories, and more. Collins has grouped them topically to make this collection.
There are tales about the prairie and its effect on those who live there, good memories and bad, lots of variety of farming stories, stories of towns and cities, food and religion, oil and politics, loneliness and community. 
There is the outlook of those who came from the prairies but no longer live there, and there is a look to the future.
This book was more than a decade old when I came across it, but much is still relevant and all of it interesting.

Friday, 1 November 2019

13th Canadian Book Challenge November Roundup

Post the reviews from the books that you read this month here. I'm away for a few days, so the reading stats in the sidebar won't be updated until next week.

Have fun as always.

Thursday, 31 October 2019

Nutcracker Night

Finished October 20
Nutcracker Night by Mireille Messier and Gabrielle Grimard

This delightful picture book would make a lovely December gift for a young child. It is a story centered around a young girl as she attends a performance of The Nutcracker at New York City's David H. Koch Theater with her father. This is a story full of sounds, sights, and new experiences.
The girl's tale begins on the way to the theatre, where she observes the traffic and its noises, the noise of the world around her and even of her own clothing.
Then they are at the theatre and the join the crowd, showing their tickets, listening to the orchestra tune up, and await the beginning of the performance.
There are many wonderful sounds and sights during the performance, from both the stage and the audience. The intermission arrives and with it sounds of refreshment and excitement, with the young audience members geared up for the rest of the show. And then the final half of the show, with more wonder and interesting sounds. The story ends with a kiss on the cheek of the father as she thanks him for the evening out.
The pictures here are charming, bringing the characters, audience members, musicians, and dancers to life. We see the rosy cheeks, the children awed by the night and the ones eager for more. There are many children, as would be expected for this ballet, and lots of ages of adults. Fathers and mothers, diversity of people, and a range of festive attire. Outside the snow is falling, and inside the magic makes everything else disappear. Beautifully done. 

Monday, 28 October 2019

Tears of Salt

Finished October 19
Tears of Salt: A Doctor's Story of the Refugee Crisis by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta, translated by Chenxin Jiang

This is the memoir of Pietro Bartolo, a man who grew up on the Italian island of Lampedusa, and returned there as a doctor. His career there has been marked by the enormous flood of refugees arriving from Africa, many in dire physical condition.
The story jumps around from his personal life, growing up, going to school on the mainland, working as a doctor, stories of meeting his wife who is also a doctor, dealing with the huge numbers of refugees arriving on the island, struggling for support for the work he does, working in his field of obstetrics as well as whatever is needed by the local people and refugees, acting as a coroner and doing autopsies on the refugees who don't survive their flight to freedom and a better life.
I learned many things about the situation there, adding to the knowledge I had from news stories.
The book does not move in a linear fashion, but moves around in time back and forth. Bartolo is obviously hugely affected by the stories he witnesses, but also aware that he is only there for a brief moment in these people's lives, and he doesn't know much of their stories before or after their passage through his island.

The Recipe Box

Finished October 13
The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman, read by Susan Bennett

The story begins with Alice Mullins making an apple crisp in the 1930s at the orchard farm her and her husband own in Wisconsin, but quickly jumps to the present day, with her great granddaughter Samantha working as a pastry chef in New York City. Sam doesn't like or respect the man she works for, a phony who goes by the name Chef Dimples and never actually cooks himself, and who treats his staff badly.
Samantha is making a pie for Chef Dimples appearance on Good Morning America, when he behaves horribly and disrespectfully towards her, and she ends up quitting. She decides to take a break and go home to Wisconsin for a while to regroup and lick her wounds. She's enjoyed her time in New York City, attending cooking school, making friends with other women her age both as classmates, roommates, and coworkers. She's kept herself busy and made no time for relationships despite the attentions of a young New Jersey produce delivery driver.
Back home in Wisconsin, she doesn't at first admit to her family that she's left her job, and she hears more family stories, spends time in the orchard and the kitchen of the family-run bakery business and thinks about her future.
Each section of the book has a recipe, all of them sounding absolutely delicious. I'm definitely going to try some out. I liked the continuity of the family and learning the story of each generation, their struggles, and their successes.
This was a fun read, centered around families and food, with the Mullins slogan of "Pie equals Love" coming through loud and clear.

Saturday, 19 October 2019

Triceratops Stomp

Finished October 12
Triceratop Stomp by Karen Patkau

This picture book will be great for all the dinosaur enthusiasts. In addition to the triceratops of the title, there are other dinosaurs pictured in the book and there is a key at the back explaining the different types and giving basic information on them. The back cover endpapers also show the sizes of the various dinosaurs compared to each other and to humans.
The story follows a new generation of triceratops from their hatching through a few early adventures. There is lots of word repetition, onomatopoeia, alliteration and fun sounds to keep a youngster interested in what's happening. The drawings are simple, but have lots of movement and interest. I loved the proliferation of different greens here. A fun read.

The Castle in the Sea

Finished October 9
The Castle in the Sea by Mardi McConnochie

This is the second book in the series that began with The Flooded Earth. The boat the children are on has hit a storm as the book begins, and the sea is very rough. Annalie is safety conscious and makes everyone put on their life vest, and they struggle to put the sails down, but the mast is damaged before they complete it and two people have gone overboard. Annalie is torn over what to do, but sticks with the boat. After the seas calm she goes searching, and we see the story from both her and her brother Will's point of view. With pirates in the waters, the Admiralty still searching hard for them, and their options limited, the four struggle on, still searching for Annalie and Will's father Spinner.
This is a story of resilience and determination as the four children use the resources and skills they have as they deal with new and often frightening situations. The terrible strength of water arises more than once here, and they learn to look for solutions that are not always the obvious ones. I enjoyed seeing the characters develop further. Pod comes out of his shell and Essie shows new determination. Annalie surprises the others with the things she is able to stay calm in the face of. Looking forward to the third book.

The Corner That Held Them

Finished October 6
The Corner that Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner

This fascinating book tells of the couple Brian and Alianor de Retteville and their unhappy relationship, and of the resulting founding, in the later part of the twelfth century, of a priory of the Benedictine order at one of their manors, Oby. Oby had been part of Alianor's dowry and was near an area of marsh and woodland. The book then jumps ahead and tells of the events at the priory from 1349 to 1382.
The story about Oby is a story of people living together in a close community, with all the personality clashes, small rivalries, petty annoyances, strategic alliances, and other such human foibles. We see the personalities of the various nuns and how the priory functions under different prioresses. Outside events having an impact during this time include the Black Death and the Peasant's Revolt. Many of the nuns have an influence due to their relations outside the priory, such as one with a Bishop cousin,
There are stories that are never tidied up, of people that had contact with the priory, items stolen from it, or even a nun gone astray. There are stories that stand out, for instance of the assigned auditor of the priory discovering polyphonic music on a trip to try to recover overdue rents.
There is no main character, and no plot to speak of, and no real end to the book, rather just an end to the writing of it. I enjoyed this book a lot and found the lives it told quite interesting.

Saturday, 12 October 2019

No Way Home

Finished October 4
No Way Home by Peter Spiegelman

This is the second book in the series featuring private investigator John March and has been on my reading list for a very long time. It took me a while to track down a copy, and then a couple of years to bring it to the top of my reading pile. But it was definitely worth the wait.
John March used to be a cop in upstate New York until one of his investigations resulted in the death of his much-loved wife. After a period of depression and darkness, he reinvented himself as a private investigator. But he is still very much alone. He lives in a loft owned by his sister, and has become involved with a woman, but is wary of commitment. His family owns a small investment firm and he has always resisted being part of it. He has agreed to help with the interviews the company is doing for a Head of Security though, and is on good terms with one of his brothers as well as his sister. His new case is one referred to him by a friend who runs a security company and used to be in the FBI. The case is that of a missing person, a man who was a well-known and controversial stock market analyst, who has disappeared after a very public argument with someone at his firm. His ex-wife knows he wouldn't not show up for his time with his son without calling. She was still relying on his support payments for her lifestyle. It is she who hires John to find her ex-husband.
As John delves into his life, he discovers the man had many secrets, and few friends. He also draws attention to himself and begins to receive threats against some who are close to him. He can't handle another case that spills into his personal life, and he is both driven to find an answer and to protect those he cares about from the threats he's received.
John is a complex character, with a fair bit of baggage, but he also has a stronger group of supporters than he realizes and I really enjoyed getting to know him here.

My Drowning

Finished October 4
My Drowning by Jim Grimsley

This reminiscent novel has a woman looking back on her memories growing up in extreme poverty.  The woman's name is Ellen Tote, and throughout she describes the dreams she's had of her past, and her memories as they are triggered by different elements, from geographical to physical to more ethereal. Ellen had an older sister and three older brothers, one of whom was disabled. She also had younger siblings and we see how she reacted to their arrival as she remembers various events from her earlier life.
Ellen's father was lazy and a drinker. He was also the main one who took in a brother who'd been disabled during an accident. Her mother wasn't a proud housewife, letting the house fall into bad repair and Ellen's older sister doing most of the cooking.
Occasionally Ellen was able to get away: helping her paternal aunt look after her grandmother in the last months of her life, having a friend whose father owned land. She became exposed to things beyond those at home: from house-proud women to church to pretty things one took care of.
This novel is sad, yet because we know that Ellen did better in her life, also hopeful.
The title comes from a recurring dream that Ellen has of her mother slowly drowning. She returns to the old places they lived in as she looks for answers to the meaning of these dreams.

A Better Man

Finished October 1
A Better Man by Louise Penny,

As the book begins, Armand Gamache is back in the role of Head of Homicide, but he overlaps for a couple of weeks with Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and that is just one of the adjustments that must be made. The relatively recently-added homicide agent, Lysette Cloutier brings the squad's attention to a missing person, and Armand agrees to investigate the case with her. The missing woman Vivienne Godin, has been a victim of domestic abuse by her husband in the past, but charges were never laid, and the two were still living together when she went missing. Her father says that she called him, saying that she was leaving, but not wanting his presence. As Armand digs deeper into the case, more information and characters come along, including an ex-CFL player turned police officer.
Back home in Three Pines, Clara is going through a bad time. Her latest series of work, a collection of miniatures has been panned, with the result that her entire career's work is called into question. Her friends try to offer support, but not always with the results they expect.
In the larger world, Quebec is facing severe flooding, and decisions must be made on how to deal with the rising water, the threat of rivers overflowing their banks, and the aging dams upriver. Armand is brought into the consultation, but politics play a role in whether he will be listened to or not. There is also a larger reputation issue going on for him online, with rumours and misinformation being widely shared and emotions becoming heated.
All the usual characters are back: Ruth, Myrna, Billy Williams, and Annie among them. There are also new characters from the ex-CFL player to a New York art critic than bring new storylines with them. As enjoyable as ever.

Murder in Passy

Finished September 29
Murder in Passy by Cara Black

This book is part of a series featuring private investigator Aimee Leduc. Here, her godfather, Paris police Commissaire Morbier, asks her to talk to his fiancee as he feels there is something going on, and he isn't sure whether it is another man or something else. The woman, Xavierre d'Eslay, lives in Passy, and is preparing for the marriage of her daughter. Aimee manages to crash the rehearsal dinner, but it seems like something else has happened before she arrives as the guests have mostly gone already, and d'Eslay is nervous and distracted. When she is murdered that same evening, Aimee finds evidence linking her godfather to the scene, even though she knows that he is elsewhere working on a police corruption investigation.
She is sure that he is being framed for the murder, but she isn't sure who is really behind it. Does it have anything to do with the Basque independence seekers that Xavierre associated with in her younger days? Is that young police detective showing an interest in Aimee involved in any way? Why aren't the police interested in following other leads on the case? What is Xavierre's daughter hiding? Is the kidnapping of a Spanish princess related? Aimee has many questions, but few answers. Her investigation leaders her into the past, into the twisted loyalties of police corruption, and into danger. Gripping.

Slow Train to Switzerland

Finished September 28
Slow Train to Switzerland: One Tour, Two Trips, 150 Years -- and a World of Change Apart by Diccon Bewes

I liked the premise of this book, following in the footsteps of an earlier journey. Diccon Bewes is a British travel writer who lives in Switzerland, and during research he came across a diary from a young Englishwoman, Jemima Morrell, who, as part of a group who called themselves the Junior United Alpine Club, travelled on the very first Thomas Cook tour to Switzerland in 1863. The group consisted of four young women and three young men, and included Jemima's brother William, who paid for both of them.
Bewes determined to follow as much as possible in her footsteps, following the route she took, staying in the same places and visiting the same sights as much as possible. Near the beginning of the book is a map of the Cook tour from 1863 which took place from June 26th to July 15th, and included travel by rail, diligence, foot, mule, and steamship. With Thomas Cook the company that launched modern mass tourism, and by the time I finished the book going into bankruptcy, this book looks at travel from an interesting vantage point. Bewes took the trip with his mother, going back to certain points at a later date on his own.
Appendices include: a brief description of the world in 1863, and a timeline of that year showing some important events that occured; a summary, including data points of Switzerland in the 1860s with information on language spoken, size of towns, birth and death rates, wages and prices, and occupations; and descriptions and explanations on money of the time, both English and Swiss their modern equivalencies.
As he followed Jemima's journey, he and his mother read sections from the diary at each point in their journey, and while many of the lodgings that she stayed in no longer existed, a few did. Some sections of the journey are now done by train, where there weren't trains back then, and Jemima's journey definitely involved longer and more difficult travel times. Some of her days were exceedingly long, and many of the places she stayed didn't offer the modern conveniences now available.
Dewes shows the differences between the two experiences plainly, from the modes of travel, to the the time travelling took, to the things one was able to see at each point in the journey. He shows the huge changes that have taken place in the tourism industry in Switzerland, and talks about the drivers of those changes. He discusses changes to the physical environment, from the buildings and food on offer to the shrinking of the snow caps and glaciers. He follows up at the end with a look at what became of Jemima after this journey and the discovery of a personal connection to her family.
This was a fascinating and educational read, and hugely entertaining.

Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Body Bereft

Finished September 19
Body Bereft by Antjie Krog

Antjie Krog is an award-winning South African poet and this collection is focused on menopause. She examines moods, body changes, relationship changes and more here. She explores anger, emotional intensity, conflict, and the search for understanding. She discusses hot flushes, hormones, and depression. The poems are intense and personal and so, so spot on.
The last section of the book is focused on Table Mountain, a major geographical element of South Africa, making it into a presence and examining it in all four seasons.
Antjie Krog has been her own translator here, and the two language editions were published simultaneously.

Mrs. Saint and the Defectives

Finished September 16
Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer, performed by Elizabeth Wiley

A novel of a new start. Markie is starting her life over, after divorcing her husband following a very public outing of his infidelity. She'd worked at the private school her teenage son Jesse attended, and the infidelity had involved one of her co-workers as well as some of the other mothers. His deception has also involved emptying their bank accounts with little to show for it. Her parents had been somewhat supportive, but also extremely judgemental, and she couldn't stomach staying with them any longer than she had to, nor subjecting Jesse to their odd parenting style.
So, Markie found a job reviewing insurance claims that she could do from home, allowing her to avoid being around other people as much as possible, and found a smaller house that she could afford on her new smaller income. Jesse has to start a new school, and not a private one this time.
As she moved into her new home, she is unexpectedly approached by a neighbour, Mrs. Saint, who has a couple of men move the majority of Markie's belongings into the house, allowing her to move in quickly and return the rented truck on time. Markie is thankful, but also a bit taken aback by how much the woman seems to be commandeering things.
As Markie settles in, allowing her guilt over not noticing her husband's betrayal sooner to give Jesse rather more leeway than is wise, she continues to try to keep her meddlesome neighbour at bay, with limited success.
Markie is going through a difficult time, and she is struggling with all her relationships: family, work, and now neighbours. It takes time for her to find her footing, and determine what she needs to do to move forward. As she gets to know Mrs. Saint and the variety of people who seems to be recipients of Mrs. Saint's helpfulness, she learns that judging on appearances can be a mistake.
I really enjoyed this book.

13th Canadian Book Challenge October Roundup

Post the reviews from the books you read this month here.

Monday, 30 September 2019

The King's General

Finished September 13
The King's General by Daphne du Maurier

I picked this up as I like Daphne du Maurier's books and hadn't heard of this one. It is set in Cornwall, during the first half of the seventeenth century. Honor Harris is the younger sister of a few older brothers, and she first meets one of the Grenville family when her brother marries one of the women, Gartred. Gartred is haughty and manipulative and Honor sees past her charm to these aspects of her personality, something not many do. A few years later, on her eighteenth birthday, when the family is visiting Devon, she meets the men of the family, including Richard, the man who will be a big part of her life.
Honor's tale is told in retrospect, as she lives in a small house, lent to her and one of her brothers by a local landowner and friend. It is 1653, and Oliver Cromwell is now in charge in England, and Richard Grenville is in exile in France, with the King. He is a man who knows his own mind and doesn't suffer fools, and there is something in Honor's spirit that attracted him from the first he met her. Although they never married, there is a strong bond between them, and for many years, she was the woman he turned to for comfort and who watched his back.
This is a story of a love that could have been, a military leader ahead of his time, and a people who tried to keep their independence against a punishing conqueror. I found it a very enlightening read, especially as it is based on real historical events and people.

The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am

Finished September 11
The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti A. Skomsvold, translated by Kerri A. Pierce

This short novel is told from the point of view of an elderly woman, Mathea Martinsen. Mathea has never really had friends and finds it very difficult to deal with other people. She never really talks to anyone except her husband Epsilon. She shops at the quietest time of the day, and when she goes out she waits until the neighbour across the hall has gone out first. She is torn between wanting to have made a difference in the world and not wanting to draw attention to herself.
One day, walking back from the shops, a man standing by the path asks the time, and she is startled and says what she thinks it is. Then she starts wearing her late husband's watch, but the man, even though he is often in the same spot, doesn't ask again. She decides to make a time capsule that will contain information about her life, but she has difficulty deciding what to put into it.
Before he died, she wanted her husband to retire, but he needed time away from her, and she was aware of it. She doesn't have filters really, and says what she feels more than is comfortable for those around her. This is an interesting view of life through the eyes of someone with a very different feeling towards life.

Thursday, 19 September 2019

The Good Neighbor

Finished September 10
The Good Neighbor: the Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, read by Levar Burton

This biographical work covers the whole of Fred Rogers' life, from childhood through his death from cancer. It moves chronological through his life for the most part, occasionally following themes through his work.
He grew up a bit lonely and had health issues as a child. His parents were very wealthy, and his father was head of a family industrial business. His mother was heavily involved in community projects, and that example played a large role in his life.
His love of music and passion for early childhood education led him to the career that made him famous. I found it interesting to see how he developed his career in television, including a stint with the CBC that originated many elements of his Mr. Rogers television role. He brought a huge part of himself to that role, and worked closely with education researchers on every element of his long-running program. In some ways, his family's wealth allowed him to stick to his principles, such as his adamant refusal to allow advertising to children on his shows. He demanded a lot from those he worked with, but also gave a lot himself. Even on his vacations, he would write music and scripts for the show.
I learned a lot about his background and motivations.

Friday, 13 September 2019

Lili Macaroni

Finished September 9
Lili Macaroni by Nicole Testa, illustrated by Annie Boulanger

This picture brings to life the issues surrounding bullying.
Lili grows up feeling loved. She can see bits of herself in other members of her family and make the emotional connection to that person as well. She draws and tells stories and feels good about who she is. She especially likes to draw butterflies with polka dots.
When she starts school, things change. Some kids make fun of her name, some insult her hair, her eyes, her freckles and her laugh. She doesn't feel good about herself anymore. She feels like these things about her are bad things.
We see how she tries to draw a different self on paper, but realizes that it erases those things about herself that she likes in other members of her family, and she can put herself in their shoes, thinking about how they would feel is she shared with them that she didn't like that part of her that they shared.
When she considers how to feel better, her father encourages her to draw her favourite kind of butterfly, She takes her butterfly to school and tells her class why she has it, and why she felt bad before she made it. This is good, showing people how sharing feelings can make others aware of a problem they may not have noticed.
Her teacher handles it well, and things get better at school. Lili now has learned one way to cope with her feelings.
The book includes some activities inspired by this story at the back, a great idea for kids struggling with negativity.

Not to Disturb

Finished September 8
Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark

This inventive black comedy takes place in a country house on a rainy night. While there are some brief interactions with the upper class owners and outsiders, the majority of the action takes place on the other side of the baize doors among the servants of the household.
The staff appears prescient of the events about to take place that evening, with some minor adjustments to be made as additional information is obtained. They calmly go about their business as a violent off-screen action takes place between the Baron, Baroness, and their secretary. The butler and housekeeper are the ones that give direction, as is expected, with major roles also taken by the chef and the pregnant maid.
This is a farce, but also a social statement. This is humour, but it is on the dark side of life. A very interesting read.

Murder in Pigalle

Finished September 7
Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

This is part of a mystery series featuring Parisian private investigator Aimee Leduc. Aimee runs her own agency with one full time partner and a hacker on call. Aimee's father was a Paris police officer who died in a bomb blast a few years ago. Her American mother ran away when she was only a child. As the book opens Aimee is well along in an unplanned pregnancy, but has not yet told the man who is the father. Her business partner cares for her, and has been solicitous of her condition. Zazie, the teenage daughter of the cafe owners across the street from her office is waiting for her as she arrives in the office after lunch, asking for her assistance in a case where young teens are being sexually assaulted in their own homes. Zazie has been doing her own sleuthing, based in part of her idolization of Aimee and in part from the female resistance activist that she researched for a school project. Shortly after asking for Aimee's help, Zazie disappears.
Aimee is worried that Zazie's investigation may have caught the attention of the rapist, and she desperately follows the clues she has and tries to get the police to recognize the pattern that Zazie identified and look for Zazie as a potential witness.
Aimee is an interesting character, impulsive, loyal, and determined. She also has issues to do with her parents, and with becoming a mother herself, not to mention relationship challenges. I really enjoyed this novel, the first I've read in the series.


Finished August 31
Cygnet by Season Butler

Kid, a seventeen-year-old girl has come to a remote island off the New Hampshire coast to live with her grandmother. Kid has led a peripatetic life, as her parents wandered from city to city, in search of a life. Her mother was a scavenger, who taught Kid to find food where she could and to cook. She also taught her how to avoid the worst of her father's mood swings. But as her parents gradually succumbed to drugs, Kid became more alone, and it was only when social services removed her from her parents that she was taken in by her grandmother Lolly.
The island, Swan Island, is home to a community of retired people, many with a hippie vibe, some of whom resent the intrusion of Kid, especially as her stay lengthens beyond that originally proposed by Lolly. As the book opens, Kid is living alone in Lolly's house, after Lolly's sudden death, hoping for her parents' return, desperately watching as the sea reclaims the land the house is on.
She manages to make her living working for one of the wealthier retirees who wants to remake her past. As Kid rewrites diaries and letters, doctors photographs, and makes other changes to reflect the woman's imagined perfect past, she also begins a relationship with a young man who visits his own grandmother. The young man, Jason, also supplies the island with a variety of legal and illegal pharmaceuticals, and acts as the middleman for their own modest pot-growing business. 
Kid has also grown close to another retiree, who is sinking fast, first through dementia and then through physical setbacks.
There are other nearby islands, one the former home of a beloved poet, another the site of a marine research team from the nearby university, a third a popular camping destination. These islands play a role in Kid's future as well.
As Kid comes to her eighteenth birthday, she must make choices about her life, and find a way to move on without the help of others.

Thursday, 12 September 2019

Murder on Bamboo Lane

Finished August 31
Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara

This book is part of a series featuring police officer Ellie Rush. Ellie's mother is Japanese American and her family was interned during World War II. Ellie's father is white, and her paternal grandmother taught Spanish for years. So Ellie majored in Spanish in college at Pan Pacific West College, and then decided to join the police, following in the footsteps of her mother's sister, Cheryl Toma, who is now one of the senior offices in the LAPD. Ellie is a bicycle officer. A lot of her friends are still in college, including her ex-boyfriend Benjamin Choi, who is Korean American. Ellie's best friend Nay is Cambodian. One of Ellie's jobs is working as a community liaison, and one of her contacts complains about a missing person flyer that has been littering the neighbourhood. Ellie recognizes the missing girl as some she shared a class with at university, and become curious.
When the girl's body is discovered soon after, Ellie becomes involved in the case, and her aunt seems to be encouraging her to stay involved. As Ellie tries to juggle her work, with the relationships there that she is trying to develop to further her career, and her personal life, with some interesting family dynamics and an ex-boyfriend she still cares for, along with an interest in another police officer, she finds herself unsure of which steps are the right ones for her to move forward on.
Ellie mostly bicycles or uses transit, but she does have a car she inherited from her grandfather, a 1969 Buick Skylark that is long past its prime, and which has been dubbed the Green Mile. She lives alone with her dog Shippo in a small apartment in Highland Park. Ellie's younger brother Noah is close to her, but has his own issues.  There is a lot going on here, and I liked the depth of the character development for Ellie. I also liked the variety of ethnicities in the characters.

Evvie Drake Starts Again

Finished August 29
Evvie Drake Starts Again by Linda Holmes

The book begins with a flashback. Evvie is sitting in her car, preparing to leave her husband. This is something she's been thinking about doing for a while. She's packed a couple of things into the car when her phone rights. It's the hospital her husband works at. She thinks it is him, but it is instead someone calling to tell her to come to the hospital as he is badly hurt. She goes.
The book then jumps forward more than a year to Evvie still dealing with a lot of conflicting feelings about her situation. She's played the grieving widow that everyone else, including her best friend, Andy, thinks that she is. But in her own head, she thinks of herself as a monster, while also thinking about how no one ever knew how her husband treated her. They all think he was wonderful. She's living a lie, and doesn't know how to move forward.
Enter Dean Tenney, Andy's high school friend, who played professional baseball until a few months back when suddenly he couldn't anymore. He's spent the last few months getting professional help, trying to figure out why he couldn't do it anymore, but now he needs to leave that world and figure out what to do next. Andy figured that since Evvie's house had a basement apartment, and she would respect Dean's privacy, it was a good solution.
Evvie had been with her husband since she was sixteen, and planned to leave him on the day she'd been with him exactly half her life. Andy is divorced with two young girls, now five and seven, who Evvie is very close with. Evvie helped Andy a lot after his divorce, but she's never shared her own marital woes. Her husband Tim tolerated the friendship as long as she didn't share anything about their relationship, so she complied. Now, she hasn't been able to break down that barrier.
There's a lot of small town life here, both good and bad, a little romance, a little humour. I liked the attention to detail too.
At one point Evvie describes the nearby LL Bean store as being "full of men who want to find themselves but will settle for getting poison ivy on their balls instead." Evvie is a person who wants to help others, but doesn't know how to help herself. I liked to see how she changed over the course of the novel.

Sunday, 8 September 2019

The Migration

Finished August 28
The Migration by Helen Marshall

This novel really captured me. Set in the near future, the world is in trouble. Seas are rising, and communication is becoming worse across longer distances. Then a disease starts to take hold, affecting children and teenagers.
The main character here is Sophie Perella, who lives in Toronto with her parents and younger sister Kira. When Kira is diagnosed with this mysterious illness, Sophie's mother tries various treatments, and finally the two girls and their mother move to Oxford, England, where Sophie's Aunt Irene lives. Irene is involved in research relating to the illness, but also reaching back historically, looking at the Black Death and how it manifested itself.
Sophie becomes involved assisting in her aunt's research, but she also watches stories in the news about the progression of the illness, and tries to protect her sister. The characters also must deal with storms and rising waters as their environment grows more unstable.
Sophie is befriended by a young man whose mother works as a nurse in the local hospital and as the two share their discoveries, a new theory begins to form. Sophie is forced to deal with difficult decisions that affect not only herself, but those she loves, and as she does, she learns that the past may hold clues to the future.
A wonderfully inventive plot, with interesting characters.

The Gown

Finished August 24
The Gown by Jennifer Robson

I'd bought this a while back and been meaning to read it for ages. I took it on my vacation as I knew I would likely pass it on to one of my stitching friends I was going to be spending time with. It was even better than I hoped.
The main characters in the novel are two young women working at the Norman Hartwell workshop. Ann Hughes answered an advertisement in 1939 when she was fourteen and had no stitching experience at all. In fact, that was one of the reasons that she was hired, as she had no bad habits to unlearn. Now, in her twenties, she is one of the senior embroiderers. During her employment, her parents have passed away, and her brother was killed in the war. As the book opens, she is living with her brother's widow in the council house she grew up in. Money is tight and she is faced with new challenges as her sister-in-law considers joining her brothers who have emigrated to Canada.
Miriam Dessin is a young French woman who has lost her family in the war, and is now looking for a fresh start in another country. She had worked at the Christian Dior workshop in Paris, and is highly skilled, but it is only as she takes a huge risk that she is able to find a job using her skills in England.
Shortly after Miriam starts as the workshop, Hartwell is vying for the job of creating the wedding dress for Princess Elizabeth. This event will be an uplifting one for the nation after the privations and losses of the recent war, and they want it to be a huge success. Ann, with the assistance of Miriam are given the job of making Hartwell's designs come to life. They are under immense pressure, not only for the work itself, but for secrecy about the design.
The stories of these skilled young women was wonderful, and the author credits an encounter with the journalist Heather Mackenzie, who connected her with one of the real-life embroiderers of the wedding gown, Betty Foster, for being able to supply the details that made the story what it is.
This is a fantastic read, for the history, but also for anyone who does handwork.

The Islanders

Finished August 23
The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore

This story takes place on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, and follows several characters, each dealing with their own challenges. Anthony Puckett is a writer whose first novel made huge sales and won critical acclaim. His next novel put him under pressure, and when working one particular section he used something written by a long-dead author, always intending to go back and replace it with something he'd written, but he was outed by one of the advance readers, and this caused huge fallout including his wife kicking him out. He's taken refuge in a small cottage on the island owned by the elderly uncle of a friend. He's desperately missing his young son Max, and feeling shut out by his famous author father Leonard. He's using a fake last name to keep his privacy.
Joy Sousa is a single mom of a young teen girl, Maggie. Her husband left when Maggie was very young, and she's made a life for herself running a shop on the island that sells Whoopie Pies. But now, her landlord is upping the rent, her daughter is less sharing than she used to be, and her ex-husband has reentered Maggie's life. She's definitely feeling the stress.
Lu Trusdale was a successful lawyer until she resigned after having her second child. She's been a stay-at-home mom for a few years, with the family running a tight budget as her husband gets his medical practice started, and he works long hours. Lu wasn't finding fulfillment without some form of outside work, and she's secretly been writing a food blog. Now it is starting to be successful, her husband is pressuring her for a third child, and she must finally step out of the shadows and reveal what she wants to those close to her.
There is lots going on here, and with a small community there is interaction between all these characters. I really enjoyed the various storylines, and liked how they came together.

Saturday, 7 September 2019

You, Me and The Sea

Finished August 22
You, Me and the Sea by Meg Donohue

Merrow Shawe has had an unusual life, Now, she's about to marry the man she loves and things should be feeling good, so why is she suddenly feeling haunted by the past she's left behind. This novel starts with the present, and then takes us back into Merrow's childhood, where she grows up without answers around her mother's death, neglected by her father, and abused by her older brother, Bear. Merrow's parents met in the 1960s when her father Jacob came west to find his future. Her mother, Marigold, was living in a commune called the Freedom Collective near San Francisco, and Jacob joined it too. After a few years, Jacob had saved enough money from his other work off commune to buy a property called Horseshoe Cliff near Osha, a small hippie town. They grew much of their own food, and made a life together. But Marigold died when Merrow was just a baby, and her father doesn't talk about her. A neighbor named Rei, an older Japanese woman, helps out with taking their produce and handcrafted creations to sell in the city. She brings food and provides advice. When Merrow is five, her father gives her a dog that she grows very close to, and when she is nine, he leaves one day, and comes back with Amir, a young boy from India, the adopted son of her mother's best friend who has recently died. Amir and Merrow grow very close, but Bear's abuse grows stronger and now includes Amir as well.
As Merrow and Amir struggle with an increasingly difficult home life, a way out presents itself, and Merrow finds herself considering it.
As we gradually learn what has brought Merrow to the point in her life that was introduced at the beginning, we also find her internal struggles for those she loves.
A great read.

Death in Provence

Finished August 17
Death in Provence by Serena Kent

This mystery features the divorced Penelope Kite, a British woman who took early retirement from her job in forensics at the Home Office. Since her retirement, her stepchildren have been relying heavily on her as an unpaid babysitter for her grandchildren and showing little appreciation for her time. She wants to take time for her own interests, for the life she wants to live. Part of that is a life in the French countryside, and she's found the perfect fixer-upper.
Unfortunately, on her first morning at her new home, she finds a man face down in her sadly neglected swimming pool.  Was he the same man who accused her of living on his property the evening before? He seems to be, but her knowledge of forensics makes her question this. As she meets the others in her village and spends a lot of time with her real estate agent as she deals with issues arising from the crime on her property, she also begins to consider what she will do with her time in her new home.
This was an enjoyable read. I liked Penelope and how she is learning to find a place for herself in her new environment. She's finally coming into her own life. The mystery of the dead man, and subsequent worrying events are intriguing and stretch into the village's past.

Monday, 2 September 2019

The Maker

Finished August 16
The Maker: Crafting a Unique Space by Tamara Maynes with Tracy Lines, photography by Eve Wilson

This inspiring book looks at a variety of creative pursuits
The book has a handmade feel, with a thick board cover and rounded corners.
The first section talks about a wide variety of creative pursuits readers may want to explore and gives short descriptions of each. These are; applique, basketry, ceramics, chair caning, embroidery, fabric dying and printing, felting, glass blowing, knitting, leaded glasswork, leatherwork, macrame, metalwork, papercraft, quilting and patchwork, rug hooking, sculpture, shade making, tapestry weaving, upholstery, willow bending, wirework, and woodwork.
This is followed by more in-depth chapters on a number of these. Each chapter includes quotes from people doing this type of work, examples of a variety of work in this area, a short interview with a maker, and complete instructions for a project.
Wall Art includes a project for a metal wall hanging. Objects includes a project for a wire sculpture. Textiles includes a project for a woven table runner. Ceramics includes a project for a no fire clay vessel. Lighting includes a project for a woodworked light box, and Furniture includes a project for a marquetry table top.
These chapters are followed by a discussion on craftsmanship, sustainable making, raw materials for making, space for making, design, and reworking.
The book ends with a list of various tools, with images and some ideas of makers to follow.
I loved the layout, and found that it make trying out some of these creative pursuits very approachable. The projects chosen don't require a lot of financial outlay or specialized tools, and are good starting points for a beginner.

13th Canadian Book Challenge September Roundup

Post the reviews for the books you read this month here.

Thursday, 15 August 2019

A Single Thread

Finished August 11
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

This historical novel is set between the wars, in the early 1930s. Violet Speedwell is in her late thirties, working as a typist for an insurance company. She's recently moved out of her mother's house in Southampton to Winchester, where she rents a room in a boarding-house. After her father's death, she found it increasingly difficult to deal with her mother. Violet's older brother George was killed in the Great War, soon followed by her fiance Laurence. Her younger brother Tom did his stint in the war, but came back changed and is now married with a couple of children. Violet has been feeling more and more like her life has no meaning.
She relishes her independence, but finds it hard to live on her meagre salary. She shares the office with two younger women who chat and giggle about the young men they are seeing, and treat her with a pitying respect. Violet is drawn to the cathedral, which is much more magnificent inside than it is out, and tries to stop in regularly.
As the book begins, she's stepped out of work on an errand and finds a service about to begin. She forces her way into the seated group of women, and finds that they are embroiderers who have created the first of many planned batches of kneelers for the cathedral and the service is to accept this offering of work. Violet doesn't have fond memories of her own failed tries at embroidery under her mother's tutelage, but one of the women reaches out to her in a friendly way, and soon Violet finds herself a part of the group, learning how to do the expected stitching and finding a community for herself. This is a story of a woman who, after a period of suspension of her life, finds a new way forward, confident in what she has to offer and brave enough to take what she wants when the opportunity arises.
I liked Violet and her courage to find a new life for herself, and I loved the embroidery theme of the novel, based on real people and a real embroidery project. The characters were interesting and I liked the way the story unfolded.


Finished August 8
Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

This was a very interesting read, told from a number of viewpoints. The character at the center of the novel is Philippa Lye a woman married to a man who owns a small family investment bank, one of the last of its kind in New York City. She hasn't joined the usual group of gossipy mothers when she drops her children off at the private school, seemingly oblivious to the expectations of her set. She does her own thing, seems a bit distracted, but nice.
Gwen Hogan knew Philippa back when they were children, and knows some of her past. Gwen had her own career as a chemical engineer, but now is a stay-at-home mom, with a husband who works as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office. They married relatively young, just out of college. She recognizes Philippa at the school, and is friendly, but she is also a bit of an outsider, with less money than most of the other parents, and a scholarship daughter who is smarter than most children her age.
When a new child begins attending mid-year, they all take note, as this is highly unusual. The mother, Minnie Curtis, is unusual too, wealthy but very open about her humble background. She, too, seems oblivious of the rules, and tries to hard to connect with the others,
As we see the dynamics between the women and their husbands, picking and dropping up kids, attending school events and children's parties, we begin to see the issues that are coming.
Gwen's husband Dan is investigating Minnie's husband, which may lead to others, and Gwen sees Philippa's distractedness as a vulnerability that Philippa herself seems unaware of.
This is a slow read, character-driven, with some very interesting situations.

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

Beautiful Bad

Finished August 5
Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

This psychological suspense novel has three timelines. One takes place on an evening when an emergency call is received at a suburb in Kansas starting with the call. One begins decades before when Maddie worked overseas teaching and writing and first met her now-husband Ian. The other is recent events taking place in Maddie's life, particularly her time with a therapist, leading up to the call she makes.
Maddie always wanted to escape her boring life growing up in small town Kansas. She studied languages, and began working at various jobs overseas. She met her best friend Jo at school where the two connected instantly. Jo became an aid worker, and as their story develops from a time where Jo was working in Macedonia and Maddie in nearby Bulgaria, we see how their estrangement began. It was there they met a number of young men in the British military, one of whom Ian developed a relationship with both women, eventually marrying Maddie as we know from the more recent timeline.
This is another story with unreliable narrators, where we aren't sure who to trust. Why is Jo angry with Maddie, and what happened between them to create the later rift. Do Ian's military and para-military experiences lead him to have violent tendencies? How does his PTSD affect him? What is Maddie's life like with her husband and young son? What happened the night they were camping?
There's a lot going on here, and a lot of uncertainty. All you really know is that something bad has happened, and it isn't over yet.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

Finished August 3
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

This novel has several storylines surrounding the title character. Nina is in her late twenties, living in a small apartment in the Larchmont area of Los Angeles. She works at a bookstore in the neighbourhood, running a number of programs there including storytimes and a girls' book club. She is a collector of trivial facts and belongs to a competitive trivia team. She has a small circle of close friends, uses her organizer with dedication, and has conversations with her Phil, her cat. Nina suffers from anxiety sometimes and she is about to have a lot of new experiences.
Nina's mother is an journalist who travels widely internationally. Nina has been told that her mother wasn't sure who her father was, and so has never known anything about that side of her family. Once she got to be too big to be carried around on her travels by her mother, she was settled in Los Angeles with a nanny, who she thinks of as a second mother.
As the book opens Nina is approached by a man who says that he is a lawyer for her late father. Her father kept his promise to her mother never to approach her, but she is mentioned in his will, and she has several siblings, nieces and nephews, and other family. This is a shock to Nina, and a bit overwhelming as she gradually meets the various family members. Some of them she quite likes, and others she isn't so sure about.
Nina also sees a man on a trivia team her team matches wits with that intrigues her. Her fellow team members notice and encourage her to make a move. Again, she's not sure.
The bookstore that Nina works in is struggling financially, but her boss and co-worker Liz seems to be handling it, except for the landlord interactions.
As Nina's life absorbs this new information and she considers making changes to her life, she begins to consider her own behaviours and thinks about why she is the way she is.
I really liked this book, especially because I can relate to Nina on several levels. It was a fun read.

Tuesday, 6 August 2019

Beyond Fate

Finished August 1
Beyond Fate: 2002 Massey Lectures by Margaret Visser

I thoroughly enjoyed this series of five lectures, which explored not only the idea of fate, but went far beyond that, touching on many other ideas including honour and goodness, guilt and shame, revenge and payment, forgiveness and trust. She uses examples from daily life and from history, and shows how the idea of fate has developed and changed over time. This is a series that really made me think about a lot of things including cultural differences.
I liked that each lecture fit my commute almost perfectly allowing me the time to think about the ideas presented before moving on to the next lecture.
There is insight and humour here and a lot of stuff to think about.

My Puppy Patch

Finished July 29
My Puppy Patch by Theo Heras, illustrated by Alice Carter

This fun picture book as she takes her puppy for her first outing.
The story shows her checking Patch's responses to her commands, things she's already taken time to train her to respond to. The two explore the world outside their yard, and they meet one of the girl's friends, Benny who is also walking his dog, a much larger puppy named Smallfry.
They talk about ways they've looked after their dog, like giving them their shots, and the dogs greet each other and romp around.
When the girl and Patch get home, she cleans her and gives her water and makes sure she has what she needs.
I liked that the story showed good ways to look after a pet, and the bond that develops between the child and the dog.
I loved how the endpapers show the two along with the girl's drawings and lists pertaining to Patch.

From 1 to 10

Finished July 27
From 1 to 10 by Mies Van Hout, translation rights arranged by elami agency

This picture book is a great first book for learning numbers. Each number has a double page with the number written largely, and a word below and the illustration showing the word. The words used here are not the usual ones you see, but they are relatable and fun, starting with 1 belly, with a picture of a large blue bear with an oversized red belly.
With its bright colours and simple yet fun and easily identifiable images, this will appeal to a variety of youngsters. (Can you guess the cover picture is 2 ears?). All of the animals depicted in the drawing are happy and smiling, especially the one with 9 teeth! I'm sure my friend at work who does Baby storytimes will love this one.
At the end of the counting is a short section for parents, emphasizing the importance of learning to count, and giving tips on various methods to introduce counting into the child's everyday life.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

Finished July 25
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, narrated by Elizabeth Wiley

This novel moves back and forth between the lives of Samuel and his daughter Loo, as they settle in the small town of Olympus, Massachusetts years after the death of Samuel's wife Lily, and Samuel's past.
Samuel has a shrine to Lily in their washroom. Everything she left behind from grooming products and cosmetics to slips of paper she wrote lists on is there. Loo is used to it. The shrine has gone with them as they travelled around the country, always moving suddenly, and taking little with them. One thing that has gone with them is Samuel's collection of guns, from his father's rifle to a variety of handguns and long guns. He looks after them, and Loo knows how to use them as well.
Their lives in Olympus are quiet, except for occasional conflicts with locals. Loo doesn't really fit in, and doesn't really want to. Samuel makes a quiet living fishing and gathering shellfish at low tide. As we see Loo grow from a tween to a life after high school, we see their relationship change as Loo tries to have her own secrets and gradually learns those of her father.
Loo's grandmother lives in Olympus, her mother's mother, and this relationship develops very slowly as well.
The twelve lives of the title are represented by the bullet wounds in Samuel's body, and we gradually learn through his history where and how he came by each one, learning also what his life has been, and how he came to meet Lily, and what happened to her.
This is a story of families, of the difficulty of escaping one's past, and of the constant hope for a better future. A very interesting read.

Thursday, 1 August 2019

13th Canadian Book Challenge: August Round-up

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.

Tuesday, 23 July 2019

The Stranger Inside

Finished July 21
The Stranger Inside by Laura Benedict

This suspense novel takes place in Missouri. Kimber Hannon works in the sales department for a St. Louis radio station. When she comes home after spending a weekend out of town, she finds that her key doesn't work in her front door, nor does it work in her back door. There's a strange bicycle sitting beside hers, and on it one of her towels dirty with sweat and grease. And there's someone inside. So she calls the police.
While she's waiting her neighbour, a friendly and inquisitive woman who notices most of what's happening in the neighbourhood seems surprised to see her, and tells her that she's met the man inside, a man who says he's leased the house for six months. The police show her the lease document, which seems to have her signature. Kimber can't figure out what is happening. She doesn't recognize the man, and she is panicky not to be able to access her home or her belongings.
As this story unfolds, the suspense builds and ebbs. We see Kimber's dark side, the things that she's done in the past that she'd rather people not know about, the untimely death of her sister, the disappearance of her father for years, and many more unhappy situations.
Kimber is a bit broken, and she's been pretending for years. I read this book in one day, but set it down several times when it got to an uncomfortable scene. A definite page-turner.

Salt Lane

Finished July 20
Salt Lane by William Shaw

This mystery features Detective Sergeant Alex Cupidi, a middle-aged woman with a teenage daughter, who recently moved from London to the nearby fens. She's has a younger woman for her partner, and the first case they come across is that of a body of a woman found naked in a drain. A drain is a drainage ditch in the fenland, and there are a lot of those around, many connected with each other. They don't know if the woman died near where she was found or not. They aren't even sure how she died, but they know she was dead before she went in the water. It doesn't take too long to identify her, but when they contact her next of kin, a son, they find that he was visited the night before by a woman claiming to be his mother. Since his aunt and uncle had taken him in as a child, and he was told by them his mother had died, he is at a complete loss, and isn't sure which woman may really be his mother, if either. And his wife isn't too happy about his interest in the woman who visited them.
When another body appears, this time of a seemingly foreign migrant, Cupidi and her partner aren't sure if the two deaths are connected or not, but they are determined to dig to find out.
Cupidi is also worried about her daughter, Zoe, who doesn't seem to have any friends. Zoe spends most of her time wandering the countryside, watching birds and walking. She doesn't usually take her phone, and Cupidi isn't sure how to help her.
With Cupidi's past coming into the story, with her mom, and former lover, things get more complex, but this is a story of connections, of families, of belonging. I was fascinated.

Sunday, 21 July 2019

Girl of the Southern Sea

Finished July 18
Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman

This story is about Nia, a girl who lives in the slums of Jakarta, but hopes for a brighter future. Nia's mother died a few years ago, and her father has been drinking the money away since then, leaving Nia unable to afford to go on to high school as she can't afford the fees. Her mother died giving birth to her younger brother Rudi, and Nia has cared for him since then. Her father makes a living by selling banana fritters from a cart at the train station, but the situation now, with him drinking too much, and owing money to the local alcohol supplier can't continue. Nia is determined to find a way forward that will allow her to do as her teachers and principal urge her to and go to high school so she can become a writer.
Since she was small, Nia has been fascinated by the legend of Dewi Kadita, a Javanese princess who was cursed by her stepmother in jealousy, and found a new home as the Princess of the Southern Sea, Queen of the Southern Ocean. Nia makes up her own stories about Dewi Kadita, giving her a pet monkey and adding more adventures to her life. She tells the stories to Rudi and other local children, and writes them down.
Nia has a good friend her own age, and is friendly with many other locals, including the lady who runs the fruit cart next to her father's at the station. When Nia survives a terrible bus crash, she comes to the attention of others, not all of whom have her best interests at heart, and when she finds that her father has promised her in marriage without even consulting her, she takes things into her own hands.
I liked her strong character, and her unwavering ambition.
This book opens children's eyes to another culture, the more difficult choices and situations faced by children in other countries, and an interesting legend.

P is for Pterodactyl

Finished July 15
P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, pictures by Maria Tina Beddia

I heard about this book just before Christmas, but couldn't find a copy then. I recently saw it in a bookstore and couldn't resist. The authors had fund collecting a wide variety of words with silent letters or letters that use different sounds than one expects.
The drawings make it even more fun! See the psychic pterodactyl on the cover? That's just one example of the fun inside. Each letter has a little scene, with a phrase telling a story. And there is often more to discover within that scene.
They include a list at the end of the book that gives pronunciation and definitions for the words used here.

Stitches in Time

Finished July 14
Stitches in Time: The Art and History of Embroidery by Hilda Kassell

This book is one I came across in my mother-in-law's collection that she didn't want anymore. It is a short book split into three sections. The author includes some black and white photographs scattered throughout of various embroidery pieces.
The first part is called History Through the Needle's Eye, and covers some history of embroidery in the United States. She begins with samplers stitched by children, mostly by girls, the earliest documented of which is by Loara Standish, likely a few years before her 1650 death. The one boy she mentions working on a sampler was Lemuel Vose in 1737, and it was left unfinished. Besides describing a number of samplers, and giving some information on the stitchers, she also discusses some other works. Some are pictures of homes and communities. Some included some painting on the work as well, particularly in backgrounds. Some works were patriotic, particularly around the time of the American Revolution.
Also included are some examples of clothing and accessories, such as wallets, suspenders, and vests for men; domestic items such as chair seats (by Martha Washington no less!) and table tops; and textual items such as family records, family trees, and maps.
Into the 1800s there are pictures of ships, rural scenes, and a variety of folk art pictures.
Part Two is Twentieth-Century Embroidery, and the author has included works commemorating soldiers from World War One, Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic, and World War Two patriotism. One in this section that definitely spoke as being from a different time is Mrs. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr's picture depicting the large animals her husband trophy-hunted.
I found some of the more modern works, but immigrants following the Second World War interesting, particularly those by Reet Pukk and Margaret Haas.There are many examples of patriotic pictures and those inspired by historical events. There is also a picture showing the actress Mary Martin embroidering, which she apparently did in her dressing room often. Again, there are some domestic items such as rugs and chair-seats.
She has a number of religious examples as well, many from kneelers, but also from communion rails cushions, altar frontals, and wall hangings.
There are also a couple of examples of vests made by women for their husbands depicting items from their careers.
Part Three is Instructions and here Kassell gives some instructions of making designs, transferring them to the stitching material, the use of working frames and other preparatory helps. She talks about the different kinds of threads available, and the best uses for each one. There are good descriptions with drawings of a variety of stitches including blanket and buttonhole stitch, back stitch, chain stitch, Cretan stitch, cross stitch, feather stitch, fishbone stitch, Florentine stitch, French knot, hemstitch, herringbone stitch, needlepoint stitch, outline stitch, and satin stitch. There is also a section on applique embroidery.
The book finishes with a short bibliography, including books as well as booklets and leaflets.
It was a very interesting read.

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.