Thursday, 23 May 2019

Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes

Finished May 16
Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes by Margo LaPierre

This collection of poetry is divided into three parts. The title poem is the last in the book and looks at how we deal with failure and find a way to move on. The poems here are thought-provoking, drawing on the impulse to believe and disbelieve, to search for a solid base in our lives.
Many are inward looking, trying to figure out what one is feeling, how one reacts to the world, and how we define ourselves as much by that world as we do by the innermost part of ourselves.
I really enjoyed the poems here, finding myself reading one and then sitting back to think on it, sometimes lingering or rereading a certain section, and thinking about how I related to similar situations in my own life. Very good.

The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets

Finished May 15
The McAvoy Sisters Book of Secrets by Molly Fader

This story of two sisters begins with their mother Meredith. Meredith is supposed to be taking a nap, but she eludes the woman looking after her and is found walking down towards the spit with a flare gun. The police chief Garrett Singh is the one that finds her, confused and not entirely sure of her purpose. He asks if he should call her daughter, and she agrees, but he was referring to her younger daughter Delia, who lives in town with her husband Dan and two daughter, and she has him call her older daughter Lindy, who hasn't lived in town for nearly seventeen years.
Lindy is having a bit of a crisis in her life, losing her job, her boyfriend, and her place to live all in one blow, since one man is common to all. She's made a name for herself as a bartender and it won't be hard for her to get a new job, but she is suddenly finding her life less fulfilling. When she gets the call from Garrett and discovers that her mother had a stroke a little while ago, she immediately starts on her way.
Lindy didn't want to leave town all those years ago, but she felt she had no choice. Up until that point, Delia and Lindy had been very close, but something happened that drove them apart and made Lindy leave.
The book gradually reveals the story behind the sisters' estrangement, and what has happened in both their lives since then. Meredith plays a large role in the story, as does Delia's oldest daughter Brin, now a teenager. Brin's curiosity about the rift, about the secrets her parents and aunt have, and about her aunt in general all drive the story forward.
This is a story of secrets, not all of which are revealed to all the characters, and about family and small town life. There is lots going on her, from health to prejudice, from class divisions to fear of losing something precious. Small town life along the shores of lake Erie isn't necessarily simple.

Sunday, 19 May 2019

Under the Cold Bright Lights

Finished May 12
Under the Cold Bright Lights by Garry Disher

This Australian mystery features the Melbourne detective Alan Auhl. Alan had retired from the police, but recently rejoined to work cold cases. Alan also has an unusual living arrangement. He lives in the large old house that he inherited from his parents. He rents out rooms to university students, and his university attending daughter also lives there. His ex-wife has a room in the house that she sometimes uses and the two get on well. There is a small suite at the back of the house that has been used from time to time by people who need time to get themselves together, and is currently being used by a young mother and daughter fleeing from a domestic abuse situation with a powerful man.
As the book begins, a body is found in a former agricultural area hidden under a concrete pad. Alan and his team are assigned the case, looking to find both the identity of the man and who might have killed him. Another case that Alan brings to the job himself, is one that he worked on before he retired. The two daughters of a murder victim call him every year to see if anything has turned up. He decides to look into the case again and see what he can find. Alan is also brought into another case from his past when a man that Alan had investigated for murder when both of his first two young wives died under suspicious circumstances. Alan could never prove it, but he believed the man was guilty. Now, though the man is accusing his third wife of trying to kill him, a twist that Alan doesn't believe for a minute.
On the home front, Alan is finding himself drawn into the situation with his vulnerable tenant as well. As Alan starts to make more of a productive relationship with one of his new colleagues, he also gets drawn into her personal life. There is lots going on here, and Alan is a very interesting man, who strongly believes in justice, even if it isn't always formal.

The Red Daughter

Finished May 7
The Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz

This is a fictionalized biography of Svetlana Alliluyeva, the only daughter of Joseph Stalin. A lot of the story is real, but the main relationship between Svetlana and her American lawyer is not, and the lawyer here is heavily fictionalized. The author has access to a lot of documents and people that were unique as his father was the real lawyer that worked for Svetlana during much of her time in the United States.
Here, the lawyer, Peter Horvath, is made literary editor for Svetlana after her death, and as he puts together the various papers, he also takes his mind back to the past and their complicated relationship. Brought in by the CIA to travel with Svetlana from Switzerland to the U.S., Peter and her share a unique experience. As he tries to make her transition more comfortable, he brings her into his personal life by inviting her to his summer home near the ocean. And thus begins a lifelong antipathy by his wife for this woman she deems a rival.
As Svetlana makes connections, she also gets drawn into a controlling relationship by Frank Lloyd Wright's widow and the lawyer was the one asked to give her away when she married Wright's widowed son-in-law. The marriage doesn't last, but it does produce a son.
This insight into the life of an extremely troubled woman, manipulated by many in her life, was a fantastic read. I learned about the real story with empathy.

Home Safe

Finished May 3
Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg, read by the author

Helen Ames, an accomplished writer, has had writer's block since her husband died nearly a year ago, but she hasn't been able to tell anyone. She lives in the Chicago suburbs, and her daughter Tessa lives closer to the center of the city. Tessa is also a writer, currently working for a magazine. Helen's husband Dan died very suddenly, and Helen is still coming to terms with it. She has been depending on Tessa a lot for things Dan used to do, and letting other things slide. When her accountant gives her a wake-up call on her finances, she is hit by the fact that she didn't know as much as she thought about her husband. And she needs to get her mojo back regarding her writing.
Helen accepts a grant-funded position to run a writing workshop at the public library, something she's not sure she's comfortable doing. But as the librarian indicates, this is not your usual writing workshop, and Helen finds the diverse group of people attending interesting. She experiments and goes with what seems to work, and her students respond enthusiastically.
As Helen learns to do things for herself more, she also learns to let Tessa go and to move on with her own life.
This is a story of love and loss, and finding hope. A comforting read.

The Paris Diversion

Finished May 2
The Paris Diversion by Chris Pavone

This book continues the story begun with The Expats. Now living in Paris, intelligence agent Kate is running her own team, but is increasingly feeling that she isn't measuring up. And her husband Dexter is acting like he has secrets again, which didn't pan out well for them last time.
Kate is trying to fit in more with the expat community here, but she's way overdue to host, and so tonight she is having a bunch of people over for dinner. After dropping the kids at school, she goes to the market and gets the ingredients for the meal, but that is when things start to go wrong.
First she hears about a bomb scare at Gare de Lyon, and then there is the suicide bomber at the Louvre. What is happening and why didn't she hear any noises about it beforehand?
Dexter has risked a bigger chunk of their money than he usually does on one deal. But this time it is personal, and he's sure he's done his homework. But as things progress he begins to wonder and worry. And when Kate finds out even part of what he's done, she worries too, and starts to put the pieces together. He's right, it is personal. Very personal.
I love Kate just as much as I did in The Expats, and was rooting for her throughout. There's a lot going on here, and you can see her professional know-how come to the fore. I loved the scene where she played the knight in shining armor rescuing the damsel, nabbing Dexter and taking off with him. I loved the whole story around the Lego. And I loved her human worry and caring.
I also loved the smaller stories. The irony of the sniper's story really got me. The greed of the plotters angered me. Unputdownable.

Saturday, 18 May 2019

Before You Were Born

Finished April 30
Before You Were Born by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo

This lovely book is a perfect gift for a new mother or father, and a perfect bedtime read for a little one, sending them to sleep with lovely images and the comfort of knowing how much they are loved. It tells through rhyming phrases of the parents' love for their child even before he or she arrived.
I loved this author/illustrator combination in a previous book Sun Dog, and this book was even better. The lyricism of Kerbel's words is beautiful, each phrase of anticipation leading you on to the next page. It just flows and the words are full of love. I loved the phrase "a mountain of promise, a valley of calm".
Del Rizzo's 3D illustrations using polymer clay bring everything to life, from the animals are birds, to the trees, flowers and other plants. And the details were just right: the lanterns hanging in the trees, the expressions of the faces of all the creatures, the feathers and fur and rubbery-looking noses, the surface of the moon, the bear's tongue, the raindrops on leaves,
One of my favourite is the scene of the birch forest, with a woman leaning on a tree, enjoying the world around her, with birds in the trees above, deer and foxes, and the water beyond. I wanted to step into it.
An absolutely beautiful picture book