Monday, 23 January 2023

We Came Here to Shine

Finished January 21
We Came Here to Shine by Susie Orman Schnall

This novel takes place in the summer of 1939 during the World's Fair and follows two young women. Vivi is an actress who is signed on contract to WorldWide Films, a Hollywood studio. She is supposed to be starting her first starring role when she is told that instead she will be on loan to the producers of the Aquacade, a swimming entertainment show happening at the World's Fair in New York. She will be replacing their lead female who was recently injured. Vivi is originally from New York, but left after a rift with her family. She is disappointed, and even more surprised when she finds how little time she has to learn her routine. Dealing with a mixture of reactions from the rest of the cast, she tries her best to find her feet while also finding that the past will come back in a big way. 
Maxine (Max) Roth is a journalism student at NYU who has high hopes for her summer placement at the end of her junior year. She's received high marks on all her articles and hopes that she will get the position at the New York Times. Instead she gets a spot at Today at the Fair, a daily newspaper that is run from and covers the World's Fair. Not only that, but her classmate Charlie, also at Today at the Fair, will be the one writing all the articles as the man in charge doesn't believe women belong in journalism. Max will be writing the event list for each day instead. Max hopes to win a contest over the summer, but she needs an article to enter it. 
As Max fights for her right to write, and Vivi throws herself into practice, they've each been keeping their head down, focusing on their work. On an evening when both take a break to experience the fair, they run into each other and find themselves becoming fast friends despite their differences. 
There is a lot of research that went into this story to give a sense of the Fair and its going ons, and the author used a lot of this historical information to make the story come alive. The two young women are both ambitious in their own way, and both learn what truly drives them during this time. The author brings in issues of patriarchy, harassment, and social mores as well. 
An enjoyable read that also enlightened me about a historical event I knew little about. 

The Suite Spot

Finished January 14
The Suite Spot by Trish Doller

I enjoyed her novel Float Plan, so when I saw there was a companion novel featuring the sister of the main character from Float Plan, I knew I wanted to read it. Rachel is very different from her sister Anna. She is kind of in a rut. She has a young child, and while she isn't exactly in a relationship with the father of her daughter Maisie anymore, she also feels like she won't ever find someone that she really cares about. She has a degree in hospitality and works as a night reception manager at a luxury Miami Beach hotel, hoping to move to a day job when her daughter starts school. But when a guest becomes aggressive and Rachel doesn't succumb, she finds herself looking for a new position. 
Getting a lead on a position at a new hotel in Ohio is a lucky break, and she finds its location surprisingly attractive. The hotel isn't open yet though, although the brewery is starting to create beers. Rachel finds the owner, Mason, nice but sometimes distracted, and when she learns of his loss, she feels for him. 
As Rachel begins to find her feet in her new role, and learn about her new community, she also has issues arising from back in Florida. 
There is lots to like here, from body positive messages, to book clubs, to the fun of hotel design, I liked not only the two main characters, but many of the secondary characters as well. Definitely another good read from this author. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Finished January 13
Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

This debut novel reaches back into the past and focuses on a real historical figure, Charles Dickens. Silva fictionalizes him, changing aspects of his family and timing of his works, but sticks to the larger facts of his life. Following the less popular publishing of Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens must fulfill a publishing bargain and create a work to be released for Christmas. Dickens is financially stretched, and with his wife planning a large Christmas celebration including generous gifts, his family members repeatedly asking for loans that are never repaid, and his usual charitable giving, he finds himself with a writer's block as well. 
Dickens finds himself reaching back into his own past, haunting old homes and streets, and looking for a muse. When he finds one, he goes through periods of doubt and indecision as he tries to meet the looming deadline. 
I liked how Dickens was brought to life here. He is a person with flaws like we all are, a man who thrives on compliments of his work, who feels that he has been taken for granted by some, and who must reach deep into himself to find the story that will become one of his most popular books and a seasonal classic. 
We also see, through his wanderings the London of his day, the streets and buildings, the people that populate the streets and that dine in the restaurants, how weather affects the behaviour and mood of the city's inhabitants, and still we get a sense of his comfort with the city and his knowledge of all its areas. 
A very enjoyable read. 

Thursday, 12 January 2023

Sari Not Sari

Finished January 12
Sari Not Sari by Sonya Singh

This romance novel is set around entrepreneur Manny Dogra. Manny started her own company after college, building on a skill she realized she had in communication. Her company is called Breakup, and it provides services around ending relationships in a way that makes it easier for both parties to move on. Her team writes emails and letters for the person that hires them, but goes beyond that in helping manage the transition for them as well. 
Manny has recently been named one of California's Top Forty Under Forty CEOs, and is on a professional role. But her personal life isn't going as well. She is engaged to Adam, an architect who is very busy in his work life as well, and they haven't seen much of each other lately. Dates for their wedding have been booked and cancelled repeatedly as work conflicts arose. Adam is the first man that Manny dated after the sudden death of her parents three years ago as a result of a car accident. Manny is an only child, as were both her parents, and they raised her to go after what she wanted and to be an American by assimilating. This means that Manny hasn't had exposure to Indian culture, and as a result of some events in her life, she has begun to realize that she is missing this part of herself and this connection to her parents. 
As she agrees to help a client with a relationship situation, she negotiates an introduction to Indian culture for herself by going to an Indian wedding as his guest. The wedding is a typical Indian wedding, with many days of celebration, and a lot of family participation. As a reader, I learned a lot of terminology and culture along with the character. But I was surprised at how little Manny was supposed to know about Indian traditions prior to this. I'm not Indian and I was aware of many of the things that she was clueless about. Many of the secondary characters lacked depth and were stereotypical examples. There was also no discussion of which part of Indian culture Manny and her host Sammy Patel came from. From looking at other reviews, I see that Patel is a common Gujarati name, so it seems that this is the subgroup depicted here, but the references to Bollywood culture as a monolithic one were misleading. 
The overall message seemed to be that we need to understand where we've come from to really know who we are, and that has some truth to it. There were a few instances in the book where there were examples of exclusion, despite the inclusionary words that the characters professed, and those jarred a bit from the story.
I enjoy learning about other cultures, while being cautious about respecting boundaries, and this book touched on that. There are a lot of emotional scenes here, and the plot moved very quickly, taking place within just a few days, and I was surprised at how quickly the characters changed allegiances, even if those feelings around their previous situations had been percolating for a while.
This is a debut novel from a promising new Canadian voice. I look forward to seeing more from her. 

Monday, 9 January 2023

A Rip Through Time

Finished January 8
A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong

This book is the first in a series and one that definitely has me wanting more. 
Mallory Atkinson is a Vancouver homicide detective. As the story begins, she is in Edinburgh at the bedside of her dying grandmother. She takes breaks from time to time to vent her grief through distraction and activity. She goes for coffee or for a run. 
One evening, on a run, she hears a noise that might be someone in distress, and finds herself fighting off an unknown assailant in an alley in Old Town. She loses consciousness and awakens in a bed in a townhouse in New Town. She soon discovers that she is now in the year 1869 and seems to be in the body of a housemaid, Catriona Mitchell. She has no idea how this happened or how to return to her own time. 
As she learns her surroundings, she discovers that she has been lucky in the household that she has ended up in. The master of the house, Duncan Gray, is a trained doctor with a strong interest in forensics and a business as an undertaker. He is also a man of colour, and thus faces discrimination and barriers. The mistress of the household, Isla Ballantyne, his sister is a forthright intelligent woman with a scientific bent of her own. As she finds out more about the real Catriona, she is less impressed. The girl seems to have a criminal mind and bad judgment. 
Mallory, in Catriona's body, soon finds herself drawn into the cases that Duncan, with the help of his friend police detective McCreadie. Not only may she be able to help, it may relate to her own story and time. 
I really enjoyed getting to know Mallory and Isla. The male characters of Duncan and McCreadie are starting to be developed more towards the end of the book, and I look forward to seeing more of them. Mallory is an interesting character, intelligent and curious. She longs to return to her own time, and worries about whether Catriona is in her body, and if so, what havoc she is creating. She can't help but be interested in what is happening where she is though, and trying to learn more and help without creating ripples that may cause things to change in time. 
Definitely a page turner.

Sunday, 8 January 2023


Finished January 8
Snitch by Alison van Diepen

This teen novel is set in Brooklyn, New York and the main character is Julia, a high school student who has managed to avoid recruitment into a gang up until the novel begins. Julia is a good student, writes poetry, and values the independence her father allows her. She is of mixed Italian and Puerto Rican background.
Julia's mother died several years earlier, and her father has a good job with the city. He often spends time with his girlfriend and trusts Julia to look after herself, but he still is interested in her life and obviously cares about her. Julia has a group of girlfriends from school that she spends time with, particularly a girl nicknamed Q, as well as a male friend, Black Chuck, that she has a platonic relationship with. 
When a new boy, Eric, shows up at school, Julia shows interest and is surprised that he also seems interested in her. But she finds that he doesn't always tell her the truth despite the way he claims to feel about her. Her own feelings lead her to make choices that lead her in a different direction that she really wants for herself. As she adjusts to her new reality and gets into difficult situations, I could see how this time was forcing her to face up to some adult decisions that may have long-lasting effects. 
An interesting look into a different culture, with new language and situations that are foreign to me. 


Finished January 7
Zolitude by Paige Cooper

This collection of stories is wide-ranging, with some flowing along and other disjointed and hard to follow. There is a touch of the strange to all of them, whether of setting, action, or character. The women in these stories are often caught in circumstances that they don't like, whether it is waiting for someone who will never arrive, being the recipient of a dangerous package, or trying to get answers in a foreign country. These are women who have been treated badly, by their family, by their colleagues, by the people that they have encountered through their work. 
I can't say that I enjoyed these stories, but they did sometimes make me think. When this collection came out in 2018 it was one of the nominees for the Giller Prize, and drew a variety of stellar reviews. One description was offbeat and that is definitely fitting. Throughout, you can sense the author's command of story and of language. 
A unique and interesting colleciton.