Monday, 29 May 2023

Patricia Wants to Cuddle

Finished May 24
Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen

This totally captivating novel is set on one of the San Juan islands in Washington state. A reality television show called The Catch, similar to The Bachelor, is planning to film their penultimate episode on the island. Otter Island is a smaller island, with a mountain at its heart. With a lot of forest, hiking trails, and sheep farmers, we also learn that the island has had some tragedies in the past where people disappeared. The island also has a reputation for being a refuge for lesbians.
The last four women in the running on The Catch are a mixed group: a black human resources professional, a car show model, a Christian influencer, and a fashion vlogger. 
The story moves between these four, the show's producer, Casey, a chat group dedicated to the show and blog posts from the past. The cover gives us a hint to part of the plot that doesn't get brought out into the open until much later in the novel. 
The women's voices show their inner thoughts, and we see how they differ, or not, from their outer personas. As they travel to the island, we get a glimpse into their motivations, what brought them to this point in their lives and what they hope for. We also see how they interact with each other and the man at the center of this season's story, Jeremy, a sleazy tech entrepreneur. 
On the island, we see little of the natives except the woman who owns the B&B where the four women contestants are staying.  
There is a sly humour underlying the whole story, from the reality television premise, to the island and its secrets. 
This was a fast read, that kept me totally engaged with the story. 

Heart of Ice

Finished May 23
Heart of Ice by Alys Clare

This is the ninth book in the series set around Hawkenlye Abbey, but the first one that I've read. An interesting inclusion at the beginning of the novel is a map of Mediterranean trade routes which also includes arrows to the far east along the Silk Road, to to Congo basin, and up the coast to England.
The time is February 1194, and the book begins with people journeying from further away. Along with the people travels a disease and the book details its transmission from person to person. Thus we see the significance of the map right away. From here the story stays in England, and we see how the disease has taken hold of a small number of people near the Abbey, which is known for its healing spring and the nuns and monks who look after the ill that are drawn there. 
Besides those at the abbey itself, we see some of the local people. From the abbess Helewise and the local knight, Sir Josse d'Acquin to the local sheriff, Gervase de Gifford, down to the servant and laboring class, many people have a role to play here.
There is also an interesting element of the paranormal through both a piece of jewelry, and a local woman who has been recognized as having certain skills, many of them associated with healing, and we see her take a journey of learning amongst her people, the ancient Celts, and return to her home with greater knowledge and power, just in time to find her skills useful in the current health crisis.
I really enjoyed this book, both the intellectual investigations of the various characters as they look for the source of the disease to try to mitigate its spread, and the clues they follow regarding the young man killed for a reason they aren't aware of. We see how the story links to larger regional issues, with struggles for leadership in England and France. A very interesting and engrossing read. 

Tuesday, 23 May 2023

No Plan B

Finished May 22
No Plan B by Lee Child and Andrew Child

This is the 27th book in the Jack Reacher series and he still has all the elements that make these books winners. Here, Jack is in a town in Colorado when he witnesses a crime and chases after the man who committed it. He is able to inflict some damage, and get a look at some of what evidence the man took with him, but he ends up getting left behind. 
As he follows the clues that he has, and they lead him to another death, he finds that he might be looking at something much bigger and more evil than he thought. 
His trail leads him to Texas and a private prison there, where a program to rehabilitate prisoners might be covering up something no one suspected. He is accompanied on his journey by a woman who has her own history with some of the people killed near the beginning, and who is intent on finding the truth to avenge them. 
There is also a side story of a teenage boy in foster care in California, who discovers something that sets him on the road to Texas as well, where his path will eventually intersect with Reacher's. 
As expected this is a page turner of a novel, with an intricate and compelling plot that I could barely put down. 
Excellent, as usual. 

Charles Bovary, Country Doctor

Finished May 22
Charles Bovary, Country Doctor: Portrait of a Simple Man by Jean Améry, translated by Adrian Nathan West

This book is a combination of novel and literary criticism, unlike any other book I've read. The book starts in the voice of Charles Bovary after the death of Emma, as he grieves and reflects. In this first section he interacts with other characters like Berthe, Homais and Lheureux, and for some of these he shows both sides of the conversation. He also addresses his late wife, and revisits past conversations. 
In the second section he revisits the past, scenes from the novel, where he relates his inner response to these and we see how it differs from the novel. He shows how Charles is made to be stupid and ridiculous, not a real person. 
The third section switches to essay format and is literary criticism of a sort, but focused on the author and how his experience relates to what he wrote, both in terms of inspiring and in terms of limiting. 
This essay form continues in the fourth section where the author focuses on Flaubert's view of the bourgeois and how that led him to make his characters fit that mold.
The fifth section takes us back to Charles Bovary and how a man of his time and experience would have acted and felt, as opposed to the way he is portrayed in Madame Bovary. 
The last section takes us back to the novelistic format, speaking as Charles as he accuses Flaubert of betraying his reality and as he experiences the loss of his wife, both over time as she pulled away from him and in the end with her final choice. 
This book was ahead of its time in how it looked at a classic novel and responded to it. While written in 1978, it has only recently been translated into English and allows the reader of the classic a new way of looking at Madame Bovary. It definitely addresses some of the issues that I had when I read it, and shows me good arguments for my reactions to the classic. 
A great addition to the field of literature. It also had me with a dictionary by my side to look up some of the less common terminology used. 

Monday, 22 May 2023

Is There a Cow in Moscow?

Finished May 21
Is There a Cow in Moscow? More Beastly Mispronunciations and Sound Advice: Another Opinionated Guide to the Well-Spoken by Charles Harrington Elster

This book is arranged alphabetically, and looks at words both common (a and the) and uncommon (quoin and ukase) as well as many in between. It includes some place names and proper names, such as those of the muses, and talks about changes to usage over time.
The book is written by an American and mainly discusses American pronunciation, occasionally mentioning how British or Canadian differs. Because the book was written more than thirty years ago, more changes to how language is used have occurred and some of his preferred pronunciations are no longer the common form. I also found that sometimes my pronunciation of a word (as a Canadian) differed slightly from his preferred version, even if he hadn't noted a difference for different English speakers. 
It introduced me to some words that I hadn't known before, and made me think harder about how we say things in different circumstances (i.e. noun versus verb) and contexts (i.e. when followed by a word beginning with a consonant or a vowel)
An interesting book to read in short sections or use as a helpful reference when encountering a new word. I enjoyed the historical changes he discussed for some words and also when he talked about word origins. 

Next Time There's a Pandemic

Finished May 18
Next Time There's a Pandemic (CLC Kreisel Lecture Series) by Vivek Shraya

This book is the written portion of the lecture series which was delivered online in March 2021. The series is sponsored by the Canadian Literature Centre based in Edmonton. The lecture series showcases how writers help us understand the textures of life in Canada. Each year, an established author is invited to speak about an issue that is important to them. It could be something close to their heart, something that is key to their experience, something pressing in the current moment, or a combination of these. Traditionally, the lectures are delivered live, at the University of Alberta, and are aired on CBC through the Ideas radio show, as well as being published in book form. The filmed version of this talk can be viewed on the CLC website. This book also includes a follow-up conversation between Shraya and J.R. Carpenter who created the interactive introduction to the lecture. 
This was the first one to be affected by the pandemic and Shraya brings her wide-ranging skills to the work. She is a multimedia artist, a musician, a writer, and a community leader and transgender.
She begins her lecture by talking about the experience that started her thinking about the subject, an interactions with her massage therapist who expressed a very different experience of the pandemic to that point than what she had experienced. She started thinking about what she would perhaps have done differently if she went through the experience again. Here, she organizes her thoughts into five reflections and talks on each one, expanding her inner thoughts and why she thinks these are important. The five reflections are: stay caring; skip the gratitude and say what you feel; nothing is better than something; value artists; and less surveillance, less judgement, more grace. She also includes a list of commitments she came up with in the early days of the pandemic when she considered how we might live differently after the pandemic, and allows space for you to add your own. Also included here is a song she wrote, called Showing Up. 
Each of the reflections will have you taking time to stop and reflect herself, on her words, on what they convey to you, and on your own feelings and thoughts on that aspect. 
I really enjoyed this read and found it reflective of some of my own experiences. Well worth the read. 

What Happened to the Bennetts

Finished May 16
What Happened to the Bennetts by Lisa Scottoline

This novel opens with a family driving home after a successful lacrosse game for the daughter Allison. There is a vehicle following too closely, but when given the opportunity to pass it doesn't until, all of a sudden it does and the men in it have pulled guns on the family and forced them out of the vehicle. Jason, the father, is both shocked and worried for his family, especially when one of them seems to hone in on Allison. When the family dog, Moonie, makes a sudden move, things deteriorate further, and shots are fired. A car approaches from behind and the family is left to pick up the pieces. 
After the police and hospital the family, now home, finds them visited in the wee hours by the FBI. They are told that the carjackers were members of an organized crime group, active in drug trafficking in the region, and that their family is now a target of this group. 
They are given little time to grab possessions and brought to a safe house in Delaware, remote and isolated. They find that the men targeting them have gone further, taking aim at Jason's court reporting service business, as well as his wife Lucinda's photography business. The son, Ethan, is in a bad place too, blaming himself for not holding the dog Moonie more tightly and thus somehow being the cause of all their woes. 
Jason talks with one of the men minding them, Dom, and shares his concerns while mining for data on the case and the likelihood of capture of the men. As he does, he moves from uncertainty, to trust, and back again. When he finds information that doesn't seem to match what the family is being told, he decides that the only one he can truly trust is himself, and he makes a plan to dig deeper into the motivations of everyone involved and get at the real truth behind their situation. 
I enjoyed the character of Jason, an intelligent man, who has used his skills to start his own business, and who is close to his family, involved in his children's lives. I also enjoyed seeing Ethan work through some of his issues and grow during the course of the book. Many of the other characters, from Dom, to Flossie the trucker were well drawn and interesting and brought us into other ways of living, other worlds of experience. 
I read this book quickly, eager to learn what happened and hope that this family would come through this ordeal. A great page-turner.