Tuesday, 30 June 2020

Without a Guide

Finished June 29
Without a Guide: Contemporary Women's Travel Adventures edited by Katherine Govier

This collection of experiences by women writers, many of them Canadian, ranges widely and shows interesting, not always pleasant experiences by women traveling in the recent decades. Despite the title, there are sometimes guides and sometimes the women are part of a group. But the experiences show the way that the women came to travel in these instances, their decisions and how it affected the experiences that they had.
There are seventeen essays here.
* Hanan al-Shaykh in Cairo with a documentary-making friend
* Margaret Atwood in the Galapagos Islands with her husband, parents, and child as part of a group
* Clare Boylan in London with her mother
* Wendy Law-Yone using marriage to escape Burma and taking her brother with her
* Ann Beattie tagging along with Japanese tourists in San Francisco along with a photographer friend
* Ysenda Maxtone Graham on a misguided trek into the Grand Canyon with a friend
* Katherine Govier in Morocco with her husband
* Bapsi Sidhwa in the remote Black Mountains of Pakistan with her husband and a military guide
* Susan Musgrave in Panama and Colombia with an ex-con drug smuggler
* Robin Davidson across the Outback in Australia with her dog and four camels
* Irene Guilford in the Czech Republic retracing the steps of her Lithuanian refugee mother when she escaped Russian forces following the Second World War
* Michelene Adams revisiting the Jamaica of her birth and finding what she'd thought she'd lost
* Kirsti Simonsuuri visiting northern Finland in the height of winter
* Janice Kulyk Keefer describing her robbery and its aftermath in Spain
* Alice Walker in China with a group of other writers
* E. Annie Proulx on a nightmare train trip from Montreal to Chicago and back
* Carol Shields on a singular encounter on her last day in Japan
As you can see, some wonderful writers here and a wide range of experiences. Well worth the read.

Divide Me by Zero

Finished June 29
Divide Me by Zero by Lara Vapnyar

An interesting novel. The narrator and main character, Katya Geller grew up in Russia and emigrated to the United States as a young adult with her mother and new husband. Katya's father was in the Russian navy and was killed at sea when she was very young. Her mother was very affected by this loss, and only gradually came back to herself and Katya mentally. Her mother was a mathematician and a mathematics teacher, and she wrote quite a few textbooks on the subject in Russia.
As the book opens, Katya is in the middle of a divorce, and has just realized that her mother is dying. Over the course of the book, we discover how she came to this place in her life.
When she was a schoolgirl, she fell in love with one of her friend's teachers, referred to throughout as B. He had a special relationship with her and yet emigrated to the United States with his wife and child. Katya eventually moved on and fell in love with a young man, Len. Len is a computer scientist, and although had not planned to leave Russia before marrying Katya, is easily convinced when she and her mother get accepted to immigrate.
Katya finds life in the States different than she expected, and struggles to find a job and a way forward. She and Len have two children, and her mother lives with them as well.
The chapters of the novel are interspersed with mathematical phrases and statements written by Katya's mother as part of a new textbook she is working on. Katya is both narrator and a writer herself, seemingly of the novel we are reading. Katya has strong emotions and often acts before thinking, especially in her personal life.
This is a very different novel, with elements of Russian novelistic style as well as the elements of math that repeatedly appear throughout.

The Deepest Night

Finished June 27
The Deepest Night by Shana Abe

This is the second book in the series that started with The Sweetest Dark. It is 1915 and Lora Jones is a scholarship student at Iverson, a prestigious boarding school for upper class young ladies housed in an old castle on England's southern coast. Lora grew up in an orphanage, and spent some time in a mental institution as well due to the music that she hears due to her special abilities. In the first book in the series, Lora discovered that she wasn't an ordinary human girl, but one that could change into a dragon. Here, she is recovering from injuries she received then, and has a new mission, to rescue Aubrey the eldest son of her benefactor, who is in a POW prison in Austria.
To help her, she has only the younger son of her benefactor, Armand, a young man who has fallen in love with her although her love is elsewhere. Armand does what he can to protect Lora, whether at the school, or outside of it. Even sometimes from his own father. And Lora does what she can to protect Armand, even as he begins to go through the changes that will bring him into his own dragon transformation.
I enjoyed the first book and always meant to follow up on the series, and am glad that I did. A lot of the plot here has to do with social classes, but there is also World War One which figures strongly in the book. Lora has her baggage from the past, and she has challenges in the present with not only the mission that the stars have for her now, but also with some of the girls that she goes to school with and with the social situation that she finds herself in. I really liked her as a character, and how she developed over the course of the book.
Looking forward to reading the third one

Free Day

Finished June 23
Free Day by Inès Cagnati, translated by Liesl Schillinger

This is a heartbreaking story. The narrator Galla is a fourteen-year-old schoolgirl who has been able to attend high school in a nearby town due to a scholarship her teacher put her down for. Her father does not support this endeavour, but her mother does to an extent. She misses Galla's help with the other children. She boards at school and returns home to visit on a regular basis. The visit on this day though is an unplanned one, and it doesn't go well.
Galla's family is poor, making a subsistence living. Her family is not accepted welcomingly in the community, and it's hard to tell whether her father's attitude is due to this or the community's behaviour is a result of his attitude. Galla is the oldest of many children, and she has often been left to look after them by her parents. Her father is prone to rages which affect everyone from his family to community members.
On this trip Galla is hoping to surprise her mother, and her story is told through memories that arise as she travels the twenty miles by bicycle to her family home in the marshes. She also talks to herself about what she sees now, about her feelings about things from her family to her situation at school where she can't even afford to purchase appropriate supplies. She deeply cares for her mother and her siblings, particularly her sisters, and this becomes clear by her actions and the memories she brings forward.
Galla's father is not welcoming to her and she is unable to see other family members on her visit, and it only becomes clear what is happening towards the end of the book.
One leaves this book with a desperate hope that Galla will be able to escape this life for a better future and bring her siblings along with her.


Fever Dream

Finished June 21
Fever Dream by Samantha Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell

This short novel is very creepy. A woman, Amanda, and her preschool daughter Nina have rented a house in the countryside for a vacation. Her husband will be joining them in a few days. She has a ritual that is constantly in her head regarding her daughter that she calls the rescue distance. Her own mother used the same phrase. It is how far away her daughter can be from her for her to feel safe. Part of the calculation that goes into this is her surroundings, and so one of the things she does at the vacation house shortly after arriving and settling her daughter in bed is walk around the perimeter of the house and its property to get a sense of the space.
At some point early in her vacation she meets a woman, Carla, that she becomes friendly with, and as the book begins, the woman is at her house, sitting out by the pool, and Amanda is a bit uneasy. Carla tells her about her own child, David, and some of the information she shares about David is unnerving.
Much of the story is told in retrospect, as Amanda is lying in a bed with someone at her side who is urging her to tell the events of the past few days. There seems to be some urgency in this retelling, but the reader is unsure why, and what is going on. We soon learn the identity of the person sitting with Amanda, but this doesn't help us understand.
There is a menace hanging over things and although we already know things aren't going to go well for this woman, we want her to escape the fate that seems to be in store for her and Nina.
A very uncomfortable read.

Friday, 26 June 2020

14th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

Welcome to the challenge for the year starting July 1, 2020 and going until June 30, 2021.
This should be an interesting year, and please share in the comments how you think this will affect your reading.
Are you having difficulty accessing books due to library service limitations and suspensions?
Have you been trying online formats of reading due to not being able to access physical books?
What types of books have been grabbing your attention? Dystopian? Escape through Romance or Thriller? Nonfiction? Books with more diverse viewpoints?
I'm also interested to see if participants in the challenge are interested in engaging in any discussion. If I chose a different Canadian book every month for discussion, would that be of interest? I would be changing up genre, choosing some fiction and some nonfiction, some new and some that were published many years ago.
Please leave your thoughts on this in the comments.

To sign up for the challenge for 2020-2021 which begins July 1, 2020 and runs to June 30, 2021, please fill in the Mr. Linky below.
Remember that you can find out more on the FAQ page for this challenge.

Wednesday, 17 June 2020

Harvey Comes Home

Finished June 17
Harvey Comes Home by Colleen Nelson, illustrated by Tara Anderson

This middle grade book about the delightful West Highland Terrier Harvey and his adventures is set in Winnipeg. When Maggie and her family go off on vacation, a dog sitter is engaged, but it doesn't take long for Harvey to follow his nose out of the yard to adventures.
Once Harvey has followed those interesting smells for long enough, he no longer smells his way home, and he must scavenge for food and shelter until a boy finally spots him outside a seniors home. Austin has been going to the seniors home daily, as a punishment. At the home, he helps his grandfather with cleaning and light maintenance work, and begins to interact with the residents. One of them asks for his help with crossword puzzles, and another supplies him with delicious baked goods. There is one resident, the oldest one at 96 who keeps to himself, until the arrival of Harvey.
Harvey provides a bridge for Austin to connect to Mr. Pickering, as the older man begins to share the stories of his childhood, Bertie, the girl who was his best friend, and his farm dog General.
Austin is reluctant to let Harvey go, and doesn't do what he should in finding Harvey's owner.
Meanwhile Maggie is kept in the dark about Harvey going missing until after they return from vacation, and then she is distraught. She makes up posters and begins posting them all over town, as she is desperate for his return.
The eventual reconnection as Harvey reunites with Maggie is poignant as Austin feels his loss and Maggie sees the connection that Harvey has made with Austin.
I really enjoyed this book.

The Dog Patrol

Finished June 16
The Dog Patrol: Our Canine Companions and the Kids Who Protect Them by Rob Laidlaw

This lovely book celebrates dogs and kids from around the world who work on their behalf. The author is an animal activist and biologist who has several dog companions of his own. I really liked the term companion rather than pet for these domesticated animals.
The book starts with a history of dogs and their relationship to humans, and goes on to give information on the amazing things about dogs from their sense of smell and how it is used to help us, to what dogs need from nutrition to socialization. There is also a large section for those who want to get a dog, guiding them to reputable sources and showing what to look for when choosing a source for your companion animal. Here it talks about breeders, shelters, and puppy mills, as well as rescue organizations. Information is also given on some of the physical issues that dogs may have, whether purebreds or not.
Another section shows how to act with your own and others dogs to make it easier for them and a better experience for everyone.
The book gives a Dog Lover's Pledge that has readers commit to forming a good relationship with the dogs they may encounter through their lives.
Throughout the book, various kids are profiled, each of them working in some way to better the conditions that dogs live in. These may involve specific types of dogs, such as sled dogs or senior dogs, may focus on specific actions such as finding forever homes or fighting for foster funding, or may just fight for dog welfare in more general ways. The kids are from all over, and of various ages, giving readers the ability to see how they too can make a difference.
The book ends with a glossary of terms, and gives a list of more resources readers may want to check out.
This is a great book for dog lovers of all ages!

The Egyptian Mirror

Finished June 15
The Egyptian Mirror by Michael Bedard

This spooky story for 9-12 year-olds takes place in Caledon. Simon and his family have recently moved back into the house his mother grew up in, after the death of his grandfather. Simon is the new kid, and smaller than most of the other boys in his neighbourhood. Watching them play baseball, he sees a ball break the window of an elderly neighbour across the street. When he later sees the neighbour fall while attempting a repair, he lets his mom know. The neighbour, Mr. Hawkins was a good friend of Simon's grandfather.
Once Mr. Hawkins is home from the hospital, Simon begins delivering dinners to him, and discovers from a photograph that Mr. Hawkins shares with him that he looks just like his grandfather who was such a good friend of Mr. Hawkins. The two start their own friendship, talking while Mr. Hawkins eats his dinner. Simon retrieves things from the second floor rooms for the older man, and learns about his career in archaeology and his large collection of mirrors, displayed throughout the house.
Simon finds himself particularly drawn to one small mirror, an Egyptian one that Mr. Hawkins believes is a well-done replica. Simon sees things in the mirror and learns that Eleanor, Mr. Hawkins wife, used to see things as well. He learns the story of how the mirror was acquired and the odd circumstances surrounding it.
Simon also begins to get ill, losing energy and feeling dizzy, and the doctors have a hard time diagnosing what is wrong with him.
Simon has been helping at home with his younger toddler sister Babs whenever he can. He reads to her, spends time taking her on outings and just playing with her. On one of their outings, he meets another new kid in the neighbourhood that he recognizes from school, Abbey. She is with her younger brother Max, and the four children start spending some time together. Abbey and Simon begin a friendship and Simon begins sharing some of his feelings and observations with her, including those around the mirror.
There is a strong feeling of danger and darkness present in this story, and the children must reach out to another archaeologist for assistance in resolving the threats on Simon and others.
An interesting, magical tale for young readers of fantasy and history.

Tickled Pink

Finished June 14
Tickled Pink: How Friendship Washes the World with Color by Andrée Poulin, illustrated by Lucille Danis Drouot

This picture book is a good introduction to issues around race and prejudice for young children. Filippo the young flamingo is looking for someone to play with when he sees Zac the zebra and Poncho the panda playing and asks to join them. They refuse and one of them uses Filippo's color as a reason for the refusal. Running home Filippo gets reassurance from his parents, and then his grandmother, an artist who mixes colors together.
This gives Filippo the idea to paint spots of black and white on himself to see if that makes the other animals accept him. But they still exhibit color prejudice.
All along his adventure, a small black and white Lemur, Ludo, has been watching and finally works up the courage to comfort Filippo and say he likes his pink color, one of some of his favourite things like salmon and peonies. The two of them grab some pink paint and start to add pink to the world, including Filippo's tormenters. They also find many other animals of different colors who are more accepting of differences and open to new experiences.
I really liked the illustrations and how the use of the black and white with the bright pink was used.

The Snakes

Finished June 13
The Snakes by Sadie Jones


I started this some time ago, and just picked it up again. Bea, the main character here is a psychologist, and the only daughter of a wealthy ruthless billionaire. She has mostly cut herself off from the family, not taking their money or spending much time with them. She's also recently married a man she met at an art show. Dan is an artist and mixed-race, from a working class background. The couple have taken some time away from their lives in London, and gone on an extended travelling vacation. As they are driving through France, they decide to stop and visit Bea's brother Alex at the hotel that he runs in Burgundy. The hotel is not what they expected. It is in a bad state of disrepair and Alex seems to be using a variety of substances to self-medicate. He is also dealing with a nest of snakes in the attic, setting out traps to catch them.
While they are visiting Alex, Bea's parents, Liv and Griff make a surprise visit. It is tense and Dan is meeting them for the first time. There are a lot of underlying issues here involving class and race that really play a large role in the plot.
When a tragedy strikes close to home, and the police are involved things get more intense and more muddled. The family has a hard time getting information from the police and all of them feel like suspects. This is a chilling tale about power and arrogance and the vulnerability that we all have.

Monday, 15 June 2020

Problems with People

Finished June 12
Problems with People: Stories by David Guterson

This collection of stories has a range of voices from young to old, female and male. The stories take place in the United States, South Africa, and Nepal among others. It is the characters and what they are going through and noticing that make these stories special. Many have some sort of loss at the center, personal or cultural. All of them show connections and relationships between people. The emotions of the characters are explored, and shown in the way they interact with each other.
Guterson is a wonderful writer and this collection shows his range.
I think my favourite was the final story, Hush, which shows the developing relationship between an ill and aging man and the young woman he hires to walk his dog.

The Skeleton Coast

Finished June 12
The Skeleton Coast by Mardi McConnochie

This is the third book in the series that started with The Flooded Earth. Set in a future time where the earth's waters have risen and humanity has grown more divided, Annalie and her brother Will have set sail to try to find their father Spinner, and are running from the Admiralty, a ruling group that controls much of their world. Along with them are Annalie's best friend Essie, and Pod, a homeless young boy that they found abandoned in the sea in the first book in the series. Also along is Graham, their father's intelligent and often very helpful parrot.
There are many adventures along their voyage from pirates to dog packs, and they must use all their skills and ingenuity to stay together and on their father's trail.
I liked the way that each child brought something to the quest, and that without all of them, they wouldn't be successful. None of them are perfect, but they recognize that and accept it.
This is a story that shows all the children having unique and necessary attributes and I liked that gender wasn't an issue. Bravery is shown by all at different times, as is weakness.
I liked some of the larger issues around fairness and diversity as well.

The Whitsun Daughters

Finished June 10
The Whitsun Daughters by Carrie Mesrobian

This novel tells the story of three girls, two sisters and a cousin, who grew up together in an old house with their mothers, Carna and Violet. It also tells the story of another young woman who lived in the same area many years in the past. In the present, Poppy, the cousin and oldest girl, golden-haired and confident, has come home from university for the summer. She had been close to Hugh Isherwood, the young man who lives nearby, and whose father owns the house the girls live in, but suddenly broke it off, claiming that he'd sent her an inappropriate picture. Lilah, the next oldest, pale with almost white hair, has been having issues over the last year, and getting a reputation that doesn't do her any good. Daisy, the youngest and darkest in colouring, is quiet and sensitive, a girl who notices. She is fifteen. As the book opens, Hugh's mother, Evie has died in a car accident and the girls have gone to the funeral and are now on their way to the Isherwood house. When Daisy goes off on her own, she encounters Hugh and the two of them begin an interesting interaction.
Lilah is having a crisis, and it is dealing with this that the book focuses on in the present, as the girls try to keep their mothers out of it.
The young woman from the past, Jane Murphy, has travelled to America from Ireland, losing her older sister along the way. She is met by an employee of the wealthy farmer who will be her husband, and taken in hand soon after by her husband's sister. Jane is shy and uncertain, and struggles to do what is expected of her, but gradually finds a connection in the household. We see her life unfolding through the book, interspersed with the present-day plot.
What we also see is that Jane is still there are the farm, in spirit. She doesn't go far, but is waiting for something that we don't understand. She watches the girls closely and connects with Daisy in an unexpected way.
I liked the elusiveness of things here, how information was revealed gradually, and how unexpected some plot points were, although they felt inevitable in retrospect. A very interesting book, with very interesting characters.

Friday, 12 June 2020

Harvey Holds His Own

Finished June 11
Harvey Holds His Own by Colleen Nelson, illustrations by Tara Anderson

This book continues Harvey's adventures from the previous Harvey Comes Home. Maggie is entering high school at St. Ambrose's Academy, a private school for girls in Winnipeg. Two of her friends are also going to the school which provides some continuity.
One of the requirements at school is to do volunteer hours, and after looking at the list of approved places, Maggie chooses Brayside Retirement Villa, a place she and Harvey are already familiar with. She is a bit nervous, but the staff and residents at the villa are welcoming and some even recognize her from her earlier visit. She is also allowed to bring Harvey with her when she volunteers. Austin, also volunteering at the Villa, is happy to see Harvey again, and a friendship develops between the two young people.
Maggie sorts the books in the library, which are in a disorganized state, and helps a new resident, Josephine Fradette, unpack. She begins to develop a friendship with Josephine as she learns her story.
I really enjoyed this book, as we see Maggie grow and venture into new experiences. She shows good character, and we learn a little about Winnipeg history as well.
Harvey also develops. We see West Highland Terrier nature in his doggedness and his hunting. When he senses an intruder in his territory, he hunts it down to ensure it doesn't return. He also shows an empathetic side towards Maggie, sensitive to her emotions, and a caring side when he interacts with the various seniors at the villa.
The drawings bring Harvey to life, and I liked how the drawing at the start of each chapter gave a hint to the story to come.
There are lots of interesting characters here, and I look forward to more books about Harvey and the people he loves.

Cat Alphabet

Finished June 10
Cat Alphabet by The Metropolitan Museum of Art

This fun book highlights cats in art using the alphabet as a structure. The cover shows the 'C' entry that they title Copy Cats. It is an image from a Peruvian tunic from the 15th-16th century. I love the depiction of the teeth!
Each letter highlights a piece of art featuring a cat as the subject, and many types, styles, and eras of art are included here.
In time, they range from ancient to present. In format we have lithographs, textiles, paintings in different mediums, statues, drawings, mezzotints, and engravings.
A fun little collection

Cleaning the Gold

Finished June 9
Cleaning the Gold: A Jack Reacher and Will Trent Short Story by Karin Slaughter and Lee Child

This short story print version also included the first chapters from Lee Child's Jack Reacher book Blue Moon and Karin Slaughter's Will Trent novel The Last Widow
The story is told alternately from Jack Reacher's and Will Trent's viewpoints. Each has been selected for going to Fort Knox and getting hired on a crew moving gold between vaults. Reacher is himself, and Will is undercover as an ex-Army man down on his luck. They've each been told different things, but together discover that there is bigger issue at stake, and teaming up is the way to tackle it.
I like both these series and enjoyed seeing the two men work together here.

The Haircut

Finished June 9
The Haircut by Theo Heras, illustrated by Renné Benoit

This picture book for ages one to three prepares a child for their first visit to a hairdresser or barber. It seemed so apt to read this now just as this service is reopening in many areas after a long closure. The little boy in the story goes with his dad to get his haircut, experiencing the fun and trepidation of a first experience. The dad is great at preparing him for it, and being there for him during it. This can often be a bit scary for young children, and this book is a great way to prepare them in advance for the experience.
I loved the illustrations by Benoit as well. The boy is so cute and his expressions are so relatable.
A great book for any library or home collection

Deadly Anniversaries

Finished June 5
Deadly Anniversaries presented by Mystery Writers of America, edited by Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini

This collection celebrates 75 years of Mystery Writers of America. The authors who have written stories for this volume are Grand Masters, Edgar winner, or have served as MWA president. All of the stories have an anniversary of some sort as part of the plot.
This is a great collection of writers and stories, many of which I know and love, but some that I had never read before. I always like reading someone new to me.
There are historical and contemporary settings, most but not all in the United States. The authors are: Doug Allyn, Lee Child, Max Allan Collins, Jeffrey Deaver, Alison Gaylin, Meg Gardiner, Sue Grafton, Carolyn Hart, Naomi Hirahara, Wendy Hornsby, Laurie R. King, William Kent Krueger, Laura Lippman, Peter Lovesey, Margaret Maron, Marcia Muller, Bill Pronzini, Peter Robinson, S.J. Rozan, and Julie Smith.
I think the story by Naomi Hirahara is my favourite here.

Saturday, 6 June 2020

The Printed Letter Bookshop

Finished June 3
The Printed Letter Bookshop by Katherine Reay

This gem of a book has been sitting for a bit waiting for a read, and I really enjoyed it. Madeline Cullen is a young lawyer in a high-powered Chicago practice, and gunning for a partnership position. As the book opens she is attending her aunt's funeral. Her aunt, Maddie, was someone she was close to when she was young, until a rift opened between her aunt and her father, and she was forced to choose sides. After the hedge fund crash, she dealt with attitude from kids at school due to her father's role as a fund manager and she chose to go to school in Chicago to escape that and find her own life. This brought her near her aunt again, yet she seldom visited, still reluctant to break with her father's side. This means that she now regrets not talking the time to get to know her aunt better while it was still possible.
When, a couple of days after the funeral, her aunt's lawyer informs her that she is the heir, she struggles with what to do, and how to balance what is happening in her own life. As she takes the time to get to know the store and the two employees Janet and Claire, she learns about her aunt through them, and discovers new friends in the process. She also learns other things about herself as well.
This book follows Madeline, Claire, and Janet through their own voices in the same situations and we see how each woman regards the same events.
It is a sort of coming-of-age book for Madeline, but Claire and Janet also learn important things about themselves that moves each of them forward to a better future.
There is also a booklist that has a place in the story, and I always like a good booklist.
I really enjoyed this read.

CeeGee's Gift

Finished June 2
CeeGee's Gift by Joy H. Selak

Celia Gene (CeeGee) Williamson is twelve years old and a bit of a loner. She lives in the Magdalena islands on the coast of Texas, in a small close-knit community. She's been suppressing a part of herself for years, believing it to be the cause of discord within her family and not helpful to the people it relates.
CeeGee calls it a Knowing, where she knows something that will happen to someone before it actually happens. Up to this point, it has been harm and death that she has foreseen, but now the sensation has come despite her best efforts, and it may be a good thing.
CeeGee confides in a neighbour, Mr. Tindale, a widower that is near the end of his own life. And Mr. Tindale helps her understand that everyone has a gift of some type, and this is hers and he helps her see how even those past ones that she feels bad about weren't all bad.
As she learns more about her gift and how to communicate the knowledge she gains to those she gains it about in a sensitive way, she also grows as a person, and finds friendship and reconnects more meaningfully with her family.

Thursday, 4 June 2020

Fat City

Finished June 1
Fat City by Leonard Gardner

The introduction to my edition of the book is by Denis Johnson and he talks of his discovery of and obsession with this book when he was young.
The writing here is exquisite and the story sad and haunting.
There are two main characters here, both boxers in Stockton, California in the 1950s. As the book opens, they meet for the first time at the YMCA. Billy Tully is an ex-boxer, whose wife left him after his boxing career didn't go well. He is thinking about getting back into shape, and winning her back, a pipe dream as he heard from her brother that she's remarried. At the YMCA he sees a young man, Ernie Munger, hitting a bag. They spar for a bit, and Billy directs Ernie to his old gym, the Lido Gym, and his manager Ruben Luna.
Ernie does go to the Lido and work with Ruben, and start boxing. As he grows from a young man living at home, into being married and supporting his wife, he goes pro for some money.
Both men are poor, and Billy drinks too much. Billy gets by getting up before dawn and going out on one of the trucks with other men like him to pick produce. He lives in a room in a walk-up motel and changes hotels often.
The fieldwork is hard work, and pays very little, but enough for a room, a meal and some alcohol. There are many men like Billy in Stockton, and in the bars and hotels in the area. Ernie has more of a chance at a future, but he still struggles to get by.
Their stories are told simply, but well, and you get a real sense of the their lives and the hopelessness they try to escape through dreams of a better life and through other distractions.

The Hunting Party

Finished May 31
The Hunting Party by Lucy Foley

This book is set just before an after New Year's at a remote, luxury estate in Scotland. The estate is part of a large property an hour's drive from town, but with its own railway station, apparently negotiated by the former laird in exchange for letting the railway line pass through the property. The current owner of the estate only rents out the property a few times a year, keeping it as a private residence the rest of the time. He lives in London and has a small staff that manages the property. They are a bit of an odd mix.
Doug has a past that he is still dealing with. He served in Afghanistan and was the only one of his team that survived an ambush. His story is gradually revealed as the plot unfolds. He takes the guests on deer stalking expeditions and does other odd jobs around the place. Heather, the manager of the property is also a woman running from something and you only gradually learn her story as well. The other full time employee is a local man, Ian, who lives in town most of the time.
The guests are a group of thirty-somethings, most of them long-time friends from college. Emma, the most recent addition to the group, has arranged the annual trip they get together on. She is eager to be accepted, particularly by the most beautiful of the women, Miranda, and hopes this trip will do it. Miranda is a woman who knows the power of her beauty and likes to have friends who she can take on as projects. She is married to Julien, an investment banker, a handsome man who seems to be growing more distant from her, and there have been difficulties in their relationship lately. Mark is Julien's friend and Emma's boyfriend. He has had a crush on Miranda for years, and Emma knows it. Katie is Miranda's oldest friend, a woman with a working class background that Miranda befriended when they were schoolgirls. She is a lawyer, single and harbouring some kind of secret.
Samira was one of Miranda's roommates in college and she and her husband Giles have their infant baby Priya with them. The baby has lessened the contact they've had with Miranda and Julien lately and Miranda misses their closeness. Nick was closer to Katie in college and he's brought his partner, an American man named Bo. Nick isn't a huge fan of Miranda, for reasons that go back a fair ways.
As the group settles into the cabins near the main lodge, they find out there are others staying at the estate, an Icelandic couple staying at a bunkhouse near the far end of the loch.
There are various interactions, celebratory and not, and an underlying tension that most of them sense. When someone goes missing, and is found dead, after a massive snowfall, Heather and Doug must try to find them while waiting for the weather to clear so the police can get there.
The book opens with the discovery of the body, but it takes some time before the reader finds out who the body is. This book has lots of suspense and tension, and many stories that only get revealed gradually. A page-turner of a read.

The Dead of Winter

Finished May 27
The Dead of Winter by Rennie Airth

This book is part of a series featuring retired London policeman John Madden. Here, it is World War II, and a young Polish refugee, working as a land girl goes up to London to visit her aunt. But she is murdered before she can get there, and in a very quick and professional manner. Nothing seems to have been stolen from her, and she hasn't been violated, so what is behind it?
The farm that she worked on was owned by John Madden and his wife Helen, and so he gets drawn into the story. Rosa was a quiet girl who played the piano beautifully and the Maddens had been trying to draw her out about her past, hoping to ease her sadness. But they really know very little about her other than that she escaped first to France before coming to England.
As they follow the trail and look for more clues, more people die, and they realize that Rosa was killed for what happened sometime in the past.
This is a story of greed, of a cold-blooded killer, and of extreme danger, all occurring in the height of a London winter, just a Christmas is approaching.
I love this series, and really liked the way the plot unfolded here.

The Dream Stitcher

Finished May 26
The Dream Stitcher by Deborah Gaal

This book moves back and forth between World War II in Poland and the present day. A young Jewish teenager shows an aptitude for needlework that is uncanny, as she is inhabited by an old soul. She is taken on as an apprentice by a Polish fabric store owner and tailor, and she begins to make a name for herself as well as providing for her family. But when the war comes, the tailor talks to her parents and insists she live in his house and call him uncle and us a name that will not seem Jewish. She reluctantly agrees and yet works with the resistance in an interesting and unique way.
When the local German commander takes an interest in her work, things get more dangerous, and she also must be careful about the man she works for and cares about like her own family.
There is an interesting tie in to the Bayeux Tapestry that occurs in both timelines.
In the modern day, a woman who has recently lost her husband is in dire financial straits and must take in her older ailing mother and her single pregnant daughter and get a job. Her mother inexplicably comes from the nursing home with a huge tapestry that she is told her mother has made over the past few year, although she's never seen her mother sew, and was discouraged from doing so herself. She tries to get her mother to give her information about her past, and about her father, but it is only through another source that she finds the answers she is looking for, and they are a big surprise.
I really liked the embroidery shown here, and the role it played in the story. There is a touch of magic realism as well that was unexpected.
A very different book.

13th Canadian Reading Challenge June Roundup

Wow! Can you believe we're already nearing the end of this year's challenge. How close are you to meeting the goals that you've set for yourself?
Have the recent events given you more time to read, or have they made it harder for you to immerse yourself in a book? We're all responding to this in our own ways.
I hope you find books a help and a solace during this time.
So here's the place for you to add your books for June. I'll be putting up the opening page for signing up for the 14th Annual Canadian Book Challenge soon, and I hope to see you back for another year.

Take care, Shonna