Monday, 25 January 2021

The Push

Finished January 22
The Push by Ashley Audrain

This tense psychological thriller is set mostly around Blythe a young woman, who falls in love, marries, and has children. But it jumps back into the experiences of other women in her family at certain points, and into her own childhood. Besides her own earlier life experiences, we see her mother Cecilia and her grandmother Etta. 
Beginning with Etta, who had a difficult childhood and felt like an outsider, we see a pattern with her daughter Cecilia, who felt unloved, yet tried to connect with her mother, until she couldn't anymore, and tried to find a better life for herself. And Blythe herself tried to connect with her mother, but when she couldn't found a substitute mother figure to connect with.
Blythe isn't sure about her own ability to be a good mother. Her husband Fox reassures her and pushes her on the issue, and she has a baby girl, Violet. But Blythe doesn't feel a connection to her daughter at first, and finds the lack of sleep, the lack of understanding from Fox, and her own daughter's personality all contribute to this. Her second child, Sam, is a completely different story, and she connects with him instantly and continues to as he grows. She worries about the discrepancy between the children, but Violet seems to cherish Sam as well, and she hopes that life will improve for the family. 
One thing I found interesting was the men in this book. They were largely absent emotionally for Blythe and her mother and grandmother. The women in the previous generations had strong personalities and the men seemed to focus on them rather than their daughters. For Blythe it is different. Once Violet is born, she is Fox's focus and Blythe's concerns and feelings are dismissed and ignored. So Blythe has been failed twice by the men in her life. 
Even when things are dark, Blythe doubts herself and tries to make some type of connection to her daughter, but once Sam exists, we can see that her joy is from him. She has a good relationship with her mother-in-law and has confided in her to some extent, but holds back as Blythe expects that if sides have to be chosen, she will not be. 
Things escalate slowly, pull back, and escalate again, with the suspense growing as the plot moves forward. I found the one friend connection that Blythe made interesting and how it still had a shadow that existed even when it stopped being what it was. 
An amazing read!

The Dream Daughter

Finished January 20
The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

This book grabbed me right away with its premise. The book opens in 1965, when Caroline (Carly) Grant is just starting her career as a physical therapist. Her supervisor is debating assigning a new patient with a broken ankle to her, but is concerned about his mental state. Her decision is preempted when the young man, Hunter Poole, sees her across the room and calls out, asking for her to work with him. The two get along well, and share some interests. She's intrigued by his ability to know songs that have just been released. But Carly knows that he and her sister would have more in common.
The story then jumps forward five years. Carly married her childhood sweetheart Joe Sears, and moved with him to North Carolina as he enlisted in the military. But he was recently sent to Vietnam and was killed there. Carly is pregnant, and is getting her baby tested as there seem to be some issues. She is staying with her sister Patti, and her brother-in-law Hunter and their young son. 
When Carly's baby turns out to have a heart defect that will prove fatal after birth, Hunter reveals his secret to her. He has time traveled from the future, and he can send her into the future to get an operation that may save her child's life. Carly doesn't believe him, until he predicts some events that happen. And she remembers other things that have illustrated future knowledge over the years. And she determines to go into that future and try to save her baby's life. 
Carly is a strong woman, one who's taken on a career in her own time, and one who can think on her feet. She will need all of these attributes as she jumps to April 2001 and connects with Hunter's mother to get the help she needs to survive in that time and the paperwork she will need to get her medical assistance. 
As we see Carly face choice after choice, connect to the various people she meets from Hunter and his mother, to the hospital staff, the staff at the residence she stays at, and others, we see her caring nature, as well as her confidence in her own abilities grow. 
There were times that I wanted to put the book down as I was wary of the way the plot was heading, and times when I felt for Carly in her situation. This is a story of hope, of faith, of strength, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Thursday, 21 January 2021

12 Days of Book-Club-Mas

Finished January 17
12 Days of Book-Club-Mas by Once Upon a Book Club

I bought this special edition crate just to see what it was like, and was quite pleased with the experience, although due to all the postal issues in the United States, where it came from, and the volume here in Canada, I didn't get it until well into the New Year. I did limit myself to one story a day, with the associated gift for that story. 
Each story has a prompt in it somewhere, usually but not always near the end, for you to open a marked gift. Four of the gifts were books, which was nice. The other gifts related to the story, but some of the prompts definitely felt a bit awkward and contrived. I get that they had picked the gifts and then got the writers to make it work, and it definitely felt that way. In the monthly kits, the book already exists and gifts are chosen from the storyline that already exists, so no contriving is needed.
Some of the stories flowed nicely and were ones I enjoyed and had characters that I would read more about, others were either not appealing to me in plot or just didn't flow as well. Because this book of stories is used for both an Adult and a YA version of the box, many of the stories were YA oriented. 
Stories here are:
* Finding La Sabranenque by Margie Senechal (Contemporary fiction genre)
* Ways without End by T.M.Sigal (Fantasy genre)
* Somewhere by Selisa Laeza (YA Contemporary fiction genre with Spotify musical links embedded)
* An Adventure through Literature by Lagan Ashley (Fantasy genre)
* Lumi Blanche by Tia Arian (YA Fantasy genre)
* Before It Snows by Jenny L.Smith (YA Contemporary fiction genre)
* Share Your Joy by Abi Steer (Contemporary fiction genre)
* Little Treasures by Juliet Madison (Contemporary fiction genre)
* Memories at Maple Grove Inn by Kristine Eckart (Contemporary fiction genre)
* Love Overdue by Wendy Waltrip (YA Romance genre)
* The Right Path by Krista Holly (Contemporary Romance genre)
* The Promise by Hazel Prior (Contemporary fiction genre)
The final story is my favourite in the book and it was interesting to read these authors, none of whom I'd heard of before. Brief biographies of the authors are included at the end of the book.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Novelist Reading Challenge 2021

I've long been a fan of the Novelist database and was excited when I found out they are having their first reading challenge this year. It's a great way to expose people to the ways they can use the database to find books, and I'm always up for a new challenge.

Novelist Reading Challenge They even make a nice checklist you can download.

If your local library doesn't have Novelist as a resource, check to see if another one that serves you does. Luckily for me, my local library does. 

Book Challenge Beginners  

  • Read an own voices memoir. (Tip: search for AP own voices AND GN autobiographies and memoirs to find titles) 
  • Read a novel with an unreliable narrator.  
  • Read a book described as being gritty, atmospheric, or having a strong sense of place.  
  • Read a historical novel that takes place anytime except during World War II.  
  • Read a romantic comedy by a BIPOC author.  
  • Read a book recommended by a NoveList staff member.  (Tip: Browse through our NoveList Staff Faves Recommended Reads list) 
  • Read a book recommended for fans of a TV show you like.  
  • Read a book that features a global pandemic.  
  • Read a book recommended by someone who works at your local library.  
  •  Read a book described as feel-good, heartwarming, or hopeful.  
  •  Read a graphic novel with minimally colored illustrations.  
  •  Listen to an audiobook featuring multiple narrators.  

Book Challenge Afficionados

  •  Read a locked room mystery.  
  •  Read an epistolary novel.  
  •  Read a short story collection written by a woman.  
  •  Read a speculative novel with the theme “Vengeance is mine.”  
  •  Read a novel by a trans author.  (Tip: Search AG transgender
  •  Read a book with an unconventional or nonlinear storyline.  
  •  Read a book selected as a best of 2020 title by NoveList staff.  
  •  Read a book that is an adaptation, retelling, or spin-off of a classic.  
  •  Read a nonfiction book about antiracism.  
  •  Read a book about celebrating identity. (Tip: Search TH celebrating identity
  •  Read a book starring a main character with a disability.  
  •  Read a book that has been or will be made into a movie.  

I plan to do all 24 of these.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Starvation Lake

Finished January 16
Starvation Lake by Bryan Cruley

This debut novel from a WSJ journalist is engrossing. The main character, Gus Carpenter is also a journalist. He'd been working in Detroit on a story exposing a car manufacturer and hoping to be nominated for a Pulitzer when he got pushed to do something he didn't want to do. He lost his job and retreated to his hometown, where he went to work for the town paper, hired by the same guy he started his career in journalism with. He's now in charge there, but on probation, so he's still careful about the stories he includes. It's a small staff, him and Joanie, another reporter, and a receptionist who puts her hand in when needed. The other reporter is young and ambitious, and Tillie, the receptionist is a former starlet who also returned to her hometown. 
Gus plays hockey with most of the same guys he played with as a kid, and lives in a small apartment above the newspaper offices. Gus's dad died of cancer when he was a kid, and his mom still lives in town and he sees her regularly. She is very active in the community. Shortly after high school, when Gus had left town, his hockey coach, Blackburn disappeared into a nearby lake while snowmobiling with a buddy. His body and machine weren't found, but the lake wasn't dredged at the time, the lake bottom is very soft, and there have long been rumours about tunnels between lakes. 
So when an old snowmobile surfaces in Starvation Lake, questions begin to arise about what happened ten years ago, and Joanie starts digging into the past. But there seem to be quite a few people who don't want the past brought to light, including Gus's own mom, and he begins to reflect on his own memories and what they mean. 
The situation in Detroit is also coming to a head, with potentially bad outcomes for Gus if he doesn't give in to the pressure from his old paper. 
I liked Gus, and Joanie, and felt compassion for some of the other characters, including Gus's old girlfriend who is now on the police force in Starvation Lake. I also liked to various layers of the plot and how they came together in intriguing ways. 
There are a couple of other books in this series that I may have to hunt out.

The Usual Santas

Finished January 16 
The Usual Santas: a Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers foreword by Peter Lovesey

This collection of 18 short stories is arranged into three sections. The foreword by Peter Lovesey talks about the real crime statistics around Christmas and about Soho Press's focus on international crime fiction, and how the combination brought submissions from many authors, resulting in choices which include setting on four continents.
The first section is Joy to the World and includes six stories around the theme of acts of kindness at Christmas. The stories here are by Helene Tursten, Mick Herron, Martin Limón, Timothy Hallinan, Teresa Dovalpage, and Mette Ivie Harrison. 
The second section is Silent Night and its six stories are focused on the darkest of holiday noir. Authors here are Colin Cotterill, Ed Lin, Tod Goldberg, Henry Chang, and James R. Benn.
The third section is I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and includes tales of holiday secrets. Contributions here come from the writing pair Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, Sujata Massey, Gary Corby, Cara Black, Stephanie Barron, and Peter Lovesey.
I like these anthologies as they are a great way to get a taste of authors you haven't tried before. For me, that was the majority of the authors here, and I found a few that definitely intrigued me. 

The Dog Who Saved Me

Finished January 16 
The Dog Who Saved Me by Susan Wilson

The main character here, Cooper Harrison, is a man still caught up in his recent loss and the feelings he has around that. Cooper was an officer in the K-9 unit of the Boston Police and he had a very special relationship with his partner dog Argo. But in an encounter on duty, Argo was killed, and Cooper was left with what he hopes is a temporary hearing impairment. It hit him hard and his marriage didn't survive it either. Cooper has retreated to his hometown, a small town named Harmony Farms near Boston. He has taken a job as an Animal Control Officer there, working in a small office with one other officer. He is staying in a cabin that he is looking after as part of his rental agreement. But coming back to his hometown isn't easy as there are a lot of memories there and not all of them are good ones. Cooper grew up with an alcoholic father, a man damaged by his own experiences, and lost his mother while he was still a child. His older brother Jimmy bullied him, and grew up to be a man often on the wrong side of the law. 
Now, Cooper's father Bull is a recovering alcoholic, working in the local lumberyard and using his bicycle to get around. He's love to renew his relationship with his son, but Cooper isn't looking for that at all. Jimmy is recently out of jail, and temporarily living with Bull in their childhood home, but he isn't necessarily on the straight and narrow. Cooper's cop instincts sense that and he worries about that and about whether Bull is being taken advantage of. 
But what about the dog? Ah, yes, the dog is a dog that's been injured and left in the woods scared and in pain. The dog is wary of humans, not sure whether he can trust people, and also physically impaired through his injury. When Cooper becomes aware of him, he is determined to find the dog, bring him in and help him. This isn't an easy task, and Cooper is bringing his own baggage to this task. Through his work, he's also come into contact with a woman Natalie who has also started a new life. She is running a horse rescue operation after leaving a city life behind, one with its own losses. 
Lots going on in this book, and it took me a while to get into it, but we really see into Cooper and the things that drive him, and the things that have brought him to where he is, many of them from his childhood. And we see how other in the story are also trying to start over, to be better, to move forward with their lives. A good read.