Saturday, 24 July 2021

The Poetry of Strangers

Finished July 23
The Poetry of Strangers: What I Learned Traveling America with a Typewriter by Brian Sonia-Wallace

This memoir is composed of several essays on different experiences the author had while interacting with the public in different environments as a public poet. He started his journey in this line in 2012 shortly after returning home to California after studying abroad. He had a borrowed typewriter that wasn't in the greatest shape and he sat outside an event and offered poetry to those waiting in line. He asked them to pay what they thought the poem was worth, and he found many of the people did indeed think that it was worth something. Following that he decided to see if he could make a living doing this work, and he did. He found himself not only doing public sidewalk poetry, but also corporate events, weddings, entertainment venues, and "in residence" appearances. He helped one aspiring immigrant to get his poems published. He interacted with people running for office, recovering from devastating fires, living lives outside the norm as itinerant buskers, craftsmen, seers, and poets. 
He worked writing poetry on Amtrak trains, at the Mall of America, and at the Electric Forest music festival. He taught others, both adults and children. He made friends and made connections, some of them very deep. He looked into himself and found skills he didn't realize that he had.
Through many of his situations, he includes examples of poems that he wrote at those events. For his experience with the immigrant, Jeremias Leonel Estrada, he includes some of Estrada's poems as well. All of these I enjoyed. 
His experiences took him all over the country, and opened his eyes to experiences he might never have come into contact with otherwise. This is a fascinating account of his experiences that enlightens the reader and gives hope. 

Friday, 23 July 2021

The Christmas Boutique

Finished July 20
The Christmas Boutique by Jennifer Chiaverini

I've read other books by this author, but none in this series before, so I found it helpful that there was a little introduction to each of the featured characters that gave me some background, but not so much that a regular reader of the series would find it repetitive. 
The novel moves through several narrators with each in their own well-labeled section and only overlap when it was needed for perspective. For each of these sections, there is background that relates to what is happening in the present, giving us insights into character, circumstances, and motivations. 
The time period covered here is quite short, only a few days, but a lot happens. As the book opens it is a beautiful winter day, but a heavy storm is predicted, so people are either delaying going out to do things until the storm is over and things are cleared up, or they are  trying to get everything they need done as quickly as they can. Elm Creek Quilts is in their slow season and one of the staff has been pulled away by other needs, causing some friction. In the town, things are gearing up for the annual Christmas Boutique, run by one of the local churches and benefiting a local charity. When the storm moves through, it damages the regular venue for this event and Elm Creek is approached as an alternate, giving a lot of preparation to do in a short time frame and we see the role that each of the characters plays. 
I enjoyed this brief taste of life in this small town and a glimpse of the characters, giving me a sense of which ones interest me more and which ones less. I'd say it is a good taster for the series.
For those who quilt, there is a lot of description of various quilting patterns as well. 

The Dress in the Window

Finished July 18
The Dress in the Window by Sofia Grant

The main part of this story takes place in 1948 and 1949. Jeanne Brink is the older of two sisters, and had been the girlfriend of an attractive and well-off medical student before the war. But after Charles was killed, she finds herself moving in with her younger sister Peggy and Peggy's mother-in-law, Thelma. Peggy's husband Thomas was also killed in the war, his body still in Guadalcanal. Peggy was pregnant when he died and moved in with Thelma. Her daughter, Tommie, is a tomboy and mothered by all three of the women. 
Jeanne soon finds herself a job in the steno pool in an office in Philadelphia, across the river, and her salary augments the widow's allowance that Peggy receives. But both girls have dreams beyond their circumstances. Jeanne has been interested in sewing ever since her mother acquired a Featherweight machine and has gradually learned to become a master at the craft. Jeanne has always dreamed of designing her own clothing, and has studied fashion and art drawing and refined her skills to be able to both design from scratch and to take inspiration from the New Look fashion coming out of Europe. They've been trying to do this work on the side, but it hasn't been paying out despite their hard work. 
The girls grew up in better circumstances, with their father owning a textile mill, but his early death followed more recently by their mothers, has left them with nothing. 
As they try to hold on to their dreams, and take any opportunity that might bring them closer to the life they dream of, secrets they've kept from each other, and secrets that have been kept from both of them, threaten to tear the small family they've made apart.
This is a tale of loss and love, of hope and despair, of the beginning of original American fashion for the masses, and of family.
I really enjoyed learning more about fashion and fabric, and I loved the characters here, each having their own dream. 

Monday, 19 July 2021

All The Devils Are Here

Finished July 17
All The Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

The Gamaches are visiting Paris in anticipation of the birth of Annie and Jean Guy's second child. Armand's godfather Stephen Horowitz has also come to the city. As all the adult members of the family get together for a meal at one of their favourite restaurants, Juveniles, Stephen arrives late, which is unusual for him. After an enjoyable meal, as they are going their separate ways, Armand and Reine-Marie witness Stephen being deliberately run down. 
After getting him to the hospital, Armand starts digging into what Stephen has been doing, looking for clues as to why someone targeted him now. Stephen is mostly retired these days, but he has definitely made enemies in the past, so is one of them finally taking drastic action or is this something related to the present? 
We see here into Armand's relationship with his son Daniel, a side of his personal life that we haven't really seen much of before and this is an interesting development. We also see the dynamics between Annie and Daniel and a bit of Daniel's wife. I always enjoy seeing more of this personal side. 
But of course the main story is the one behind the attack on Stephen, and when a visit to his apartment results in the discovery of another body and an obvious search, things get even more serious.
Armand calls on an old friend, high up in the police force in Paris, but after an anomaly or two begins to wonder who he can really trust and how well he knows people, even those of long acquaintance. It was interesting to have Reine-Marie take a role in the investigation as well, using her research skills and library contacts. 
The city of Paris itself plays a role here, with major sites from the Eiffel Tower to the Louvre appearing. It was interesting to see the characters in this new setting. 
Every book in this series brings a fascinating story, with a unique plot and crime and new developments for the main characters. I always enjoy them. 

Wednesday, 14 July 2021

The Last Flight

Finished July 14 
The Last Flight by Julie Clark

Claire Cook, wife of an influential man planning a senatorial run, has been living with domestic abuse for years. She's tried to leave, and failed. She has a plan now to disappear, with the help of an old friend, but when her plans go awry and she finds herself at the airport headed to Puerto Rico, and another woman strikes up a conversation that offers a different opportunity, she finds herself agreeing to switch identities and flights with Eva and takes her flight to Oakland.
Eva James is also running from her life, and she isn't honest with Claire about what she's running from. She isn't proud of what she's done the last few years, but she hasn't seen another option, and now she fears that her time is running out. Getting a fake ID is proving difficult, and so when this opportunity arises to switch with someone, she jumps at it. 
When Claire lands in Oakland, she finds that the flight she was supposed to be on has crashed, with no survivors. She is stunned and she can't reach the friend who has helped her before. She decides to go to Eva's house and take some time to figure out her next move and there she finds some clues to Eva's real life. 
This is a story of domestic abuse, about the difficulty of getting away from such a situation when you lack the power in the relationship, and about other abuses of power and privilege. 
This was a book that grabbed me and kept me reading to see what happened to both women. It is a book about how things are beginning to change, and people are starting to believe those who speak out against those who would manipulate and use them. A book that makes you think about the bigger issues.

The Sentinel

Finished July 11
The Sentinel by Lee Child and Andrew Child

This episode of the Jack Reacher novels takes us briefly to Nashville, and then to a small town a ways north of the city. When Reacher arrives in Nashville, he looks for a few things, including music, and finds himself in a bar with little ambience, but with musicians who sound good to him. Unfortunately, they are just finishing up, and when he leaves he encounters them outside and finds himself in a position to assist them. 
A few days later, he is on the road and gets picked up by someone who needs help finding his way. Reacher decides to go on with him to the destination, and finds himself in this town that has recently been a target of ransomware. The IT manager, Rutherford, has been fired despite him being the one warning his bosses and trying to guard against this situation. The two men meet when Reacher prevents something happening to Rutherford, and they both get arrested. When they join forces to try to figure out why Rutherford is targeted, and start digging deeper, they find themself making a few new aquaintances.
As often happens, there is more than one group of bad guys, and somethings they cross over between groups. 
This is an interesting look a topic that is definitely a current event at publication time and still a topic of much discussion. As always, Reacher is thoughtful, empathetic to those in a bad situation, and aware of the bigger picture. 
A good read.

The Dilemma

Finished July 10
The Dilemma by B.A. Paris

This novel is around a mid-life couple, on the verge of a 40th birthday party for the wife Livia. Livia has been planning this party almost since her wedding day, when her parents not only reneged on their promise to give her a big wedding, but didn't even attend. She and husband Adam have had some rocky times, but have lasted and their marriage is stronger than ever. Adam didn't become a civil engineer as he planned, but he has an career he loves as an accomplished furniture maker. Livia eventually accomplished her career goals too. But their biggest pride is in their two children, Josh, whose existence forced the marriage, and Marnie. 
Marnie is studying in Hong Kong for the year, and her exams are scheduled later than originally thought, so Livia is at first disappointed that Marnie won't be able to attend, but then discovers something about her daughter that makes her less eager to see her back home. She is putting off telling Adam about it as she knows it will devastate him and the two are close. 
Adam has been contacted by Marnie who has arranged a short trip home between exams to attend the party as a surprise for Livia, getting a deal because of the indirect route she is taking. But then he hears terrible news that may affect her trip and is torn between letting Livia enjoy this party she has dreamed of for so long and telling her what he knows.
This is different than her previous books, in that these family secrets aren't the psychological suspense she done before, but more subtle than that.
Added to this is the rift between Livia and her parents that her early marriage started. She has reached out a few times over the years, but has not been able to reconnect with them. 
There are more issues, some that include the children, and some that came and went over the years. An interesting book that raises questions about the secrets we keep to protect others. 
But when there is