Monday, 28 September 2020

Led Astray

Finished September 24
Led Astray: The Best of Kelley Armstrong by Kelley Armstrong

This collection of stories covers a lot of the worlds that Armstrong has created in her novels, with characters of a wide variety of paranormal types.
Stories include those set around Cainsville, Darkest Powers, Age of Legends, and Otherworld. Two of the stories are original to this collection, but others have appeared in a variety of other collections, and that information is given near the beginning of the book.
Some stories have a touch of humour to them, which I enjoyed as well. Others were very dark, almost horror.
Kelley Armstrong is an author I've been meaning to read for quite a while, so it was nice to start with a collection like this to give me a taste of her writing that is wider that one novel and one world. I can certainly see why she is so popular.
Another thing I like about her writing are the strong female characters. They aren't adjuncts to men, but lead characters who often set the direction for the story themselves.

Sunday, 27 September 2020

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There

Finished September 23
The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M. Valente

This is the second book in this children's fantasy series, and I meant to read it after reading the first years ago, but only just got around to it. The first book was The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, and I can't believe it has been eight years since I read it!
The girl in question is September, and she lives her usual life in Nebraska on a farm with her parents. It is World War II, and September's father is away in Europe fighting, her mom works in a factory where they make airplanes, and September doesn't really fit in at school. To be honest, ever since she returned home from her first adventure in Fairyland, she's longed to return, to see her friends Ell and Saturday, and talk again with the Green Wind. It's been nearly a year now, and she is turning thirteen. She's had a lovely birthday and is outside in the fields near her home, looking over the books her father has sent her, when it happens again. A rowboat flies through the air near her, and she chases after it, right back into Fairyland. But this time, things don't feel right.
She's landed in a strange forest, where everything is made of glass, and one of the first things that she notices is that there are no shadows. Now, September knows that last time she had to leave an important part of herself behind, her shadow, but why does nothing have shadows here? What has gone wrong? Is it because of her shadow? She longs to find answers and to set things right again, but as she soon discovers, the problem originates beneath Fairyland, and she must visit the Sibyl to gain access to this world, where things are very different than they are above ground.
As September takes on the problem and realizes the full extent of the trouble, she also makes new friends, but she isn't sure whether she can trust everyone she meets.
Also following the boat into Fairyland are two crows, siblings who find much of interest in this world, and we see snippets of their adventures as well.
I thoroughly enjoyed this sequel and I understand there are now five books in this series along with a couple of smaller stories that fit into this magic world. Great fun!

Cathedrals of Flesh

Finished September 22
Cathedrals of Flesh: My Search for the Perfect Bath by Alexia Brue

This memoir covers a few weeks in the author's life when she had an idea with Marina, a friend of hers to start a business in New York City operating a traditional-style Turkish bath. The idea began in Paris where the two visited several baths in this style. They loved the atmosphere, the process that was followed on a visit to the bath, and the interaction between the bathers. She then decided to go to Turkey to check out the baths there, and found it was a declining industry for the most part. Marina joined her for a few days here to explore alongside her, She did learn and few things, but found that the baths weren't as well-kept as she'd expected, and decided to take her research to a few other countries that had a public bath culture. Following this she got the opportunity to join an archeological dig in Corinth that included a public bath. She did find some things of interest here, but didn't like the dig leader's manner and it didn't live up to her image of what it would be.
Her next country was Russia, first in St. Petersburg, and then Moscow. Marina joined her for a day in St. Petersburg and then for the Moscow portion of the visit. Here she was first introduced to the idea of hitting oneself, or a fellow bather, with birch twigs as an added element of the bathing experience. The baths here were much hotter, and also not always that well-kept.
From Russia, she went to Finland, where he boyfriend joined her for part of the time. Here she entered the world of wood-fired saunas and found the baths well-run and very health oriented. Here they also used a branch of birch as an added stimulus. Along with her boyfriend, she took an excursion with a local family into the countryside to experience a lakeside sauna. Her final bathing experience was in Japan, and she was enchanted by the experience here. Some of the baths are fed by hot springs, with the sulfur smell I remember from my childhood hot springs experiences here in Canada. Besides Tokyo, she also visited Kyoto and a bath that was more of a spa experience with multiple offerings.
There is a list of baths in various counties at the back of the book, but of course since the book came out in 2003, it would be only a starting point for anyone interested. I was surprised at the many Canadian locations that were not included here, so I don't think it was a necessarily well-researched list to begin with, but more of ones that she'd heard of in her travels.
As I said, I grew up going to many hot springs in Alberta and B.C., all based on natural hot springs. Banff is likely the most well-known of these. I also like a good bathing experience of any type and have found memories of my multi-stage bathing experience at Baden-Baden in Germany, which sounds similar to her Paris experiences.
As of the book's publication, and what I've been able to see online, I don't think she ever opened a bath business, and now is probably a bad time for these sorts of businesses. Hopefully, we will get a vaccine that works well and be able to enjoy these lovely experiences again in the future.

Fall of Poppies

Finished September 20
Fall of Poppies: Stories of Love and the Great War

This is an anthology, with stories from a number of female historical fiction writers. All of the stories have some element of love in them, and are set either during WWI or after, but looking back to it in some way. A few of my favourite writers are included, which drew me to the book.
The Daughter of Belgium, by Marci Jefferson is set in Belgium during the final days of the war. Amelie is a young Belgian woman whose home, shop and family had been attacked during the first year of the war, and her parents died shortly after. She was taken in by Edith Cavell and worked in the clinic helping out wherever needed and learning nursing skills. Now Cavell is dead and Amelie’s fear is growing for her future as the clinic is evacuated. She is staying to try to protect the property, along with her young daughter, Hope. There is also one patient unable to be moved, that she is tending to.
The Record Set Right, by Lauren Willig, is set more than sixty years after the war, when Camilla (Millie), a woman who married and emigrated with her husband to Kenya and built a life there, returns to England at the request of her brother-in-law. They are the last two of their generation and there is history between them that needs to be dealt with.
All For the Love of You by Jennifer Robson is set in Paris in 1925, where Daisy finds out at her father’s death that he lied to someone about her back in 1918, that has changed her life. Daisy is an American woman, in Paris with her physician father, who had worked as a secretary, handholder, and artist at a charitable organization that created masks for men who faces were damaged by the war to provide them a way to move about in their lives with less attention.
After You’ve Gone by Evangeline Holland is set in Paris in the last days of the war.  A Scottish black woman entertainer, must now find a way to move on with her life after the loss of her American husband Charles in the war, leaving her in poverty and without hope. As she walks to the station, she meets a group of Americans and becomes a tour guide for the city where she has so many memories.
Something Worth Landing For by Jessica Brockmole takes place in Remorantin, France, in the last days of the war, when a young American pilot encounters a young French woman in a hospital and offers to be her husband to protect her honour. She writes him letters as he goes off on what will be his last mission, and he has wire interchanges with his mother and thoughts of the young woman he is now tied to.
Hour of the Bells by Heather Webb takes place in a couple of small towns on either side of the French German border, in the last days of the war. A German woman, who married a French man and moved to his home is now mourning the loss of both him and their only son, and worries about her status without her family. She hates Germany for taking her men from her and devises a plan for revenge.
An American Airman in Paris by Beatriz Williams in set in Paris in the spring of 1920 where a young man, a pilot during the war, taking refuge finally in the arms of a woman suffering her own losses, is faced with a past he has tried to forget, and offered a way forward.
The Photograph by Kate Kerrigan, takes place in Ireland in 2016, where Bridie, the granddaughter of a member of the 1916 Uprising, in preparation for a commemorative ceremony learns something about her great-aunt Eileen that influences her attitude in the present
Lastly, Hush by Hazel Gaynor, set in November 1918, where Annie, a midwife, works to help a premature baby thrive after his birth, while worrying about her only surviving son Will, somewhere in France, and Will encounters his last battlefield engagement. 

Tuesday, 22 September 2020


Finished September 13
Glaxo by Hernán Ronsino, translated by Samuel Rutter

Ronsino is said to be one of the best modern writers in Argentina. Here, Glaxo is the name of the small town where the actions of this short novel take place. There are four parts, each told from a different point of view and at a different time, but all related to the same events and how they affected people's lives. 
The first part is told by Vardemann in October 1973. Vardemann has home from prison, and is working in his father's barbershop. He knows that he wasn't guilty of the crime he went to jail for, but he doesn't know what really happened. He sees his childhood friend Miguelito, ill and with little hope of recovery, and he watches as workers come and remove the train tracks that served the town. 
The next part is told by Bicho Souza in December 1984. As a young man, Bicho was a friend of Vardemann along with a couple of other guys that all hung out together. The showing of an old movie from that time has brought back memories for him, when Vardemann used to pretend to be Kirk Douglas and Miguelito pretended to be John Wayne and they would have a shoot-out in the street after the movie was over. Another friend that he meets for lunch has recently seen a woman from their past, the wife of an older man, but whom they all lusted after. She talked to him and told him her reasons for leaving town so many years ago. 
The third part is told by Miguelito Barrios in July 1966, when he sees Vardemann return from prison. He thinks back a few years to when he often rode horses with an older man, Folcada. Miguelito's father was a horseman and he was killed accidentally when breaking a horse. Miguelito worked for the railway, unloading the cargo and delivering the parcels that came off the train. He thinks of his interactions with Folcada and how first Folcada's wife and then himself left and never came back. 
The fourth part is told by Folcado in December 1959, about his relationship with his wife, his suspicions, and the actions that he took based on them. 
As we see the stories all come together at the end, we see what a fantastic writer Ronsino is. A brilliant novel.

Monday, 14 September 2020

The Drowning Spool

Finished September 10
The Drowning Spool by Monica Ferris

This is the seventeenth book in the Needlecraft Mystery series. I've read a few of the others, but haven't stuck to the order. Here, Betsy Devonshire, owner of the needlework shop Crewel World, near Minneapolis, has to find a new water aerobics class location while her usual pool undergoes repairs. One of her fellow classmates tells her about one at the right time at a local seniors complex, Watered Silk. Watered Silk is in an old silk factory building, and while a tad more expensive than she would like, Betsy signs up.
On her first day, the program coordinator approaches her as she is leaving to run a class for some of the crafty ladies and she agrees to do a series of classes in punch needle. I found this interesting as I recently did my first punch needle project. It seems that Betsy's is a little different than the one I did and more interesting. There is a template for a pattern for this craft at the back of the book, with basic instructions.
The water aerobics instructor, arriving one morning early, finds a body in the pool. The security guard on that night is the son of a friend of Betsy's and asks her to look into it as he seems to be under suspicion. The interaction with the friend was the one part of the book that made me uncomfortable, as their is race involved and I didn't always like Betsy's tone on this.
Once the body is identified, Betsy looks at the three men involved in the victim's life, her roommates, and also continues to try to figure out how the body got into the secured area. Not everything works out well here, but Betsy is often in the right place at the right time, sometimes through her planning, but sometimes luck.
Betsy's personal relationship is a part of this book as well, with her live-in boyfriend Connor pressing her for a more permanent commitment, and has him working in her shop a few times.
Betsy is diligent and persistent and has a local police contact that comes in handy from time to time.

The Sari Shop

Finished September 9
The Sari Shop by Rupa Bajwa

Reading this book came about because of a reading challenge that I am participating in that had a requirement to read a book that had won the Sahitya Akademi Award for English, an Indian book award. I looked through the list and chose this one, which was the winner for 2006.
I really enjoyed the story, but I was challenged by some of the terms I wasn't familiar with.
The main character is Ramchand, a young man working as a clerk in a sari shop, the Sevak Sari House, in Amritsar. We gradually learn of his past, growing up as an only child of parents who had their own small shop and lived in a room behind it. His father had ambitions for him, intending to send him to an "English medium" school so he could become more than a shop owner. Sadly, tragedy struck his family, and thus Ramchand did not attend the school his father hoped for, and is now a clerk rather than a shop owner. There are five other clerks in the store, and Ramchand is the second from the bottom in terms of hierarchy.
When one of Amritsar's elite plans her wedding, Ramchand is tasked with taking saris and other garments to her home for consideration. This experience opens him up to new ideas and new possibilities. While he has occasionally spent money on books, he now makes considered purchases, and begins to study English with dedication. He also starts thinking about things beyond his day-to-day existence. But an experience with a co-worker's family brings him back to the cold hard reality of the world he lives in and the place he is expected to take within it.
I was hopeful for his future as he started to study and open his mind to new ideas, but discouraged by how easily he lost hope.
This book definitely showed me a world that I wasn't familiar with and expanded my knowledge of India.