Sunday, 5 June 2022

Queerly Beloved

Finished May 16
Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond

This romance novel set in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2013, centers around Amy. Amy's passion is baking, and she has hidden her lesbian identity in order to get a job at the best bakery in town, which is run by a Christian fundamentalist. Amy also has a second job, in the evenings at a gay dive bar, where she can be her real self. Most of Amy's family is also fundamentalist, and her relationships within her family became icy once she came out to them. Her mom, who raised her on her own, is a big support to her, as well as her mom's best friends, a gay couple who are like uncles to her. 
When she is outed at the bakery and then fired from that job, she is understandably upset. Amy has been single for a while and recently met a woman, Charley, who she is drawn to. They have a first date planned for the evening of the day Amy was fired, and she is torn about whether to go. She also has a family wedding around this time, to which she is invited, but placed at a perimeter table. The bride is a cousin that Amy practically grew up with, and the distancing adds to her negative feelings.
When Amy talks with the other guests at her table, she finds potential friends, as well as an odd invitation. She is invited to fill in as a bridesmaid for the couple at her table, who had a last minute situation with one of their bridesmaids unable to attend. 
Amy is a big romantic, a fan of Say Yes to the Dress, and a person who likes to see others happy. She agrees and soon considers taking on "bridesmaid for hire" as a way to earn some extra money. She finds that her skills are a good fit for this: her baking expertise, sewing expertise, and event management skills all prove to be helpful in different situations. But this job provides a new dilemma for Amy as she is still hiding her true self, not out to those who hire her, and sometimes put into very uncomfortable situations. 
This is what I would classify as a Women's Fiction novel, as the major story here is the growth of Amy. She has to struggle through her identify issues, think about what she wants in a life partner, deal with the situation at the time of lesser rights for LGBTQ people, and even about her interactions with family and friends. There is a romance plotline with her and Charley, but that isn't the core focus. We see, through her evening job and some friends, the range of identities and issues in the LGBTQ community and there are multiple views given of these that really help show the frustration that goes along with not having the same rights as cisgender people. 
A book with depth and thought-provoking situations, and an interesting character in Amy. 

Friday, 3 June 2022

The Paris Bookseller

Finished May 14
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

This historical novel based on a real person was engrossing. Sylvia Beach came to Paris in the early 20th century, shortly before World War I began. She had early intentions of becoming a writer, but found that she wasn't able to make the words come. She became involved with the literary community in Paris, authors from many countries, including her own United States, and those that worked with them. She soon fell in love with a Parisien bookseller, Adrienne Monnier, and it wasn't long before the two became a couple. With the acceptance of same-sex relationships in Paris, and the large literary community there, Sylvia felt very much at home. Adrienne encouraged her to start her own bookshop, for English language books, and Sylvia opened it in 1919. Run on a shoestring budget, it soon drew a community of writers including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. Sylvia was passionate about good books, and she included a lending library model as part of her bookstore, offering the privilege for a small annual fee. Thus those who couldn't afford to buy books could still enjoy the numerous English works available. Sylvia made real friends among these writers, and I enjoyed seeing the intimacy of some of these relationships, such as Ezra Pound repairing the secondhand furniture Sylvia used in her shop. 
The book also goes deep into the complex relationship Sylvia had with James Joyce. She loved his books, and when he had difficulty finding a publisher for Ulysses, she offered to publish it. While Joyce had a strong relationship with the mother of his many children, it was also a fraught one. She didn't like the drinking that he indulged in, and he had health issues, and a tendency to live beyond his means. Sylvia was passionate about getting Ulysses to publication, but she found the relationship with Joyce difficult to manage, and sometimes felt used by him. 
Paris and its literary community, both native and ex-pat, comes alive in this novel and you can imagine it as it was, a group of friendly people trying to help each other and find their own successes along the way. 
The novel takes us up to 1936, and includes an Author's note that tells us of Sylvia's life following this. 

Our Animal Hearts

Finished May 12
Our Animal Hearts by Dania Tomlinson

This historical fiction novel is set in British Columbia's Okanagan area before, during, and after World War I. The narrator is Iris Sparks, who is twelve as the book opens. She lives with her parents, a Welsh mother Llewelyna, English father Noah, and younger brother Jacob. Her father travels often as he is still managing his family's coal mines in Britain. Her father's family looks down on her mother and when her paternal grandmother visits, she criticizes their manners and clothes and tries to instill upper class attitudes into them. But Iris is more of a free spirit. She is tutored by an older Indigenous man named Henry, a friend of her mother's who has an extensive library and vast cultural knowledge. Henry teaches her not only Milton and Spinoza, but also how to call animals and find edibles in the woods. He tells her Indigenous legends including one of a lake monster, Naitaka. 
As the book opens, Iris's mother receives a present from her husband of a peacock egg. When it hatches, she names the bird Saint Francis and it becomes a pet, going with her almost everywhere she goes and she spent much of her time in her fenced garden, treating it like a room that she felt at home in, and where others were sometimes permitted access. Shortly after this, Iris witnesses her mother's first seizure, something she is asked to hide from the rest of the family. 
Llewelyna is a woman who believes in the paranormal, fairy tales from her childhood in Wales, and the existence of a monster in the lake nearby. Henry also believes in the ghosts of his ancestors, and talks of them to Iris, so she isn't surprised to start seeing them either.  Iris also makes friends with the daughter of a Japanese man her father hires to manage their orchards, Azami. Azami is also adjusting to her life as an immigrant. While her family has adopted Christianity, she tries to keep some customs from their culture. 
As Iris grows up, Jacob is sent away to boarding school in England, Llewelyna's seizures grow more frequent, and Iris finds herself caught between worlds. Then World War I begins and the men and older boys leave to fight. 
Iris's world offers challenges in understanding, in love, in friendship, and in the things she must do to continue to thrive. This is a story of change, of the issues of otherness, and of what constitutes home. A fascinating read. 

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Find You First

Finished May 6
Find You First by Linwood Barclay

I find Barclay's books real page turners, and read this one very quickly. It is a standalone novel with stories and characters that eventually cross paths.
One of the key characters, Miles Cookson, a self-made millionaire and technology entrepreneur in his forties has just been diagnosed with ALS. He thinks of his limited future, and what plans he must make. He makes plans to get his brother tested for the disease as well, hoping that it missed him. He also realizes that a decision he made around 20 years ago has ramifications now. When he was tight for money in college, he donated sperm for money. He is worried about any children created with his donations. He is determined to ensure that if they exist, they will be able to afford to get the best healthcare they can. But when he approaches the clinic, he is stonewalled and told that they will not release any information to him. 
As he tries to find a way to reach them, as quickly as he can, we start to learn the stories of other key characters. 
One is Chloe Swanson, a young aspiring filmmaker. Chloe, who was raised by a loving single mom, has recently decided to try and find her biological father, and she is documenting the journey by filming it. She has recently found a half-brother and met him, and is eager to find more information. She is an interesting young woman, bright and thoughtful. 
We get glimpses of other lives, a teen girl who has been drawn into the circle of a man very like Jeffrey Epstein. She wants to get out of the situation that she has found herself in, but doesn't know how. There is also a wealthy New York financier who has a big ego and odd tastes, such as craning a classic Winnebago into his home office. There is a young man, recently moved out on his own, who has been making money through somewhat dubious practices. 
The plot moves quickly and yet the characters have depth as well. You see what motivates them, and why they make the choices that they do. There is lots of action and many edge of the seat moments that will keep you wondering what will happen next and who is behind some of those actions. 
I enjoy this author a lot as he comes up with very intriguing plots that often relate to current events, as well as interesting and complex characters, especially in the series novels. He also includes lighthearted moments of humour. A great read.  

June Reviews for the 15th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 I have to apologize for missing the posting for May. Lots happening then and I really lost track of things.

Post any remaining reviews for the year (July 2021-June 2022) here. 



Tuesday, 31 May 2022

A House Among the Trees

Finished May 4 
A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass

This novel reads almost like a memoir, except we have more than one character's point of view. The biggest voice is from Tomasina (Tommy) Daulair, who was the assistant to the children's book author and illustrator Mort Lear. He has recently died and she is surprised to find that he has left her his house and its contents, as well as appointing her his literary executor. As Tommy reflects on her relationship with Mort, we see how they came to meet, and how she eventually became such an important person in his life. We also see how his life became hers in a way that she didn't expect or necessarily want. 
Another voice is that of Nicholas Greene, an Oscan-winning British actor who was recently cast in the role of Mort in a biopic about a portion of his life. Nick is in his thirties and, while he has been an actor for years, only recently came into real fame. We see his background, how he found his career, who he looks to for guidance, and his short, but intense, conversations with Mort prior to his death, resulting in Nick having secrets about Mort that no one else knows. 
The third voice is that of Meredith (Merry) Galarza, a divorced museum curator, who had formed a good relationship with Mort and his art, and was planning a new building featuring his work, along with other children's author/illustrators. She is surprised and disappointed not to be named his literary executor and get possession of his work. She is under pressure from her superiors to regain some ground in this regard, so the plans regarding the new building will be able to go ahead without significant reworking. 
One of Mort's most famous books is Colorquake, a picture book about a young boy, Ivo, who lives in a world without color until he discovers he can draw things that come to life and bring color to his world. He had done other picture books along with a series for teens and many other projects. 
One of the things he has tasked Tommy to do in his will is to create a foundation that will fund a shelter for runaway and homeless boys. This sense of a boy in poverty, feeling alone, is one that runs through the book in more than one way. 
Julia Glass is very good at creating strong, deep characters, ones that you really get to know the inner workings of. You see their insecurities, the personas they present to the larger world, and the way that they relate to a number of people in their lives. 
The novel brings these characters together and ties their stories together in interesting and unexpected ways. 
I really enjoyed this book and all three of these complex characters. 

Thursday, 26 May 2022

I Was Told It Would Get Easier

Finished May 1
I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman


This is a road trip novel, with a mother and daughter travelling in the eastern U.S. on a college tour. Jessica is a single mom, 45, and a partner in her law firm. She has mentored younger women lawyers for years, and is currently mentoring Valentina, who is up for partner. She has had a live-in nanny for her daughter Emily from the beginning, and Anna is more like a member of the family than an employee. 
Jessica is looking forward to the trip to spend time with Emily and get some quality mother-daughter time. But to add to the reasons, one of the lead partners has told her that he doesn't intend to make either of the women who qualify for partner this year a partner, for not very good reasons. Jessica has had enough of this attitude and has issued an ultimatum of quitting if he doesn't, which makes her a little nervous. 
Emily is also looking forward to going away, but not because she particularly wants to spend time with Jessica, or because she wants to explore colleges, but because something has happened at school, something that she has had a role in, and she wants the dust to settle before she returns to school and before her mother finds out. 
Emily isn't sure what she wants to do with her life, but she doesn't feel that college is the right choice for her. She is, however, having trouble convincing Jessica that this is a good move. 
As the two of them visit a number of colleges from Washingon, D.C. to New York City, there are many encounters, between them, the problems they left back in California, and other people on the tour. Some of these encounters are ones that may change their lives. 
I liked that the viewpoint changed between the characters of Emily and Jessica, so you got to see and experience both viewpoints, and see some of the underlying tensions of their relationship, as well as other worries that are in their heads. They are both good people, with strong ethical foundations, and this comes through during the course of the book. They are also very capable people in their own right and their own sphere, and while those spheres are different, they both grow to acknowledge the other's worth beyond their relationship. 
There are many other interesting characters that have small but important roles here, including the other parents and teens on the trip, the young woman who is leading the tour, and people they meet along the way. I really enjoyed this read, and seeing the characters grow.