Sunday 30 October 2016


Finished October 30
Transit by Rachel Cusk

This new novel by Cusk has an unnamed woman as its first person narrator. She is divorced from her husband and has recently sold her home in the countryside and moved to London. She has bought a former council house in a good neighbourhood, but in bad shape and part of the book deals with her issues with her renovations and her downstairs neighbours. The neighbours downstairs are an older couple, one of the last of the council housing recipients on the street.
Their intolerance for everything she does mixed with their inability to recognize their own annoying behaviours and the effects of those behaviours on her or others is an interesting plot line through many chapters.
The narrator has two sons, ages eleven and thirteen, and, now that they are in London, they are close enough to the boys' father to spend some time with him. Despite his role in her life, he is almost not even present in the book, and the boys only marginally, as reported conversations and at the other end of a telephone call.
The narrator is a writer, with additional income from teaching and speaking engagements. She is a woman interested in people, watching them, asking them questions about their lives, their thoughts, their motivations. That doesn't mean that she doesn't share information sometimes as well, but less so than many of the people that she interacts with.
The chapters each are a vignette, an episode of her life in detail. Conversations and actions are shown vividly and in a factual way, but also, somehow, with an underlying awareness. I enjoyed this book thoroughly, taking a chapter at a time and thinking about it before picking up the novel and continuing.

Thursday 27 October 2016

Sit! Stay! Speak!

Finished October 26
Sit! Stay! Speak! by Annie England Noblin

This novel begins with Addie Andrews leaving her Chicago home to come to small town Eunice, Arkansas. She comes ostensibly to deal with the house she inherited from her great aunt Tilda, but she is also leaving a place that reminds her too much of her late fiance.
Addie has given herself a few months to do any repairs that are needed to the house, get rid of any of the contents she no longer wants, and sell the house. On a walk near the river as she takes a break from unpacking, she finds a young dog left for dead. She rushes him to the vet, saving his life, and ends up adopting him.
As she meets her neighbours and makes friends, she begins to find a new life for herself. There are, however, undercurrents of crime and secrets, and she doesn't understand why more people aren't standing up for what's right, and why a man she's met blows hot and cold.
This is a story of new beginnings, of caring about others, and of having the strength to speak up against the wrongs one witnesses.

The Couple Next Door

Finished October 24
The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

This suspense novel is another one with unreliable narrators. As you see the situation from the perspective of various people, you're not sure who's telling the truth. And you're not sure you really like any of them.
Anne and Marco Conti are invited to dinner at their next door neighbours, Graham and Cynthia, for Graham's birthday. Anne had arranged their usual babysitter for their six month old daughter Cora, but when she cancelled at the last minute, Marco convinced her that taking the baby monitor and checking every half hour would be adequate. Except it wasn't. When they finally go home, Anne notices that the front door is ajar, and when she runs upstairs, Cora is gone.
As the couple react, and the police attend the scene, we see the immobilizing panic and shock of Anne, the manic panic and distress of Marco, the calm shock of Anne's mother Alice, and the disapproval of Anne's stepfather Richard. As the police try to make sense of the scene, the few clues left behind, and begin to look into the backgrounds of everyone related to the situation, we see how the situations shifts, and shifts, and shifts again.
This is a story of people creating images of themselves to meet other people's expectations, of hidden truths, and of avoidance. It's about people's insecurities and inability to share their weaknesses or failures with even those closest to them.
A say story with a lot of unhappy, lonely characters.

Wednesday 26 October 2016

A Great Reckoning

Finished October 23
A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny, read by Robert Bathurst

Armand Gamache is back, and this time in a new capacity, as commander of the Sûreté Academy. As he agrees to take on this new role, he knows the challenges that come with the role. After cleaning up major corruption in the Sûreté itself, he is aware that many of the officers joining the organization have been shaped by their experience in the Academy and what he has seen of their attitude and behaviour worries him. He knows he must make major changes at the Academy to change those experiences. He first looks at the faculty and makes changes, removing some professors and adding others. But he sees the bigger picture as well. He looks at the relationship with the local community and the divisions that have been created. He looks at the larger policing community and where the professors he is getting rid of might end up. He looks at the still unresolved corruption suspicions around some of the people at the Academy. And so he makes choices.
He also makes choices in the acceptances of new recruits. He reviews all the applications and accepts some that the previous head had marked as rejected and rejects some that they would have accepted. And again, he thinks carefully and makes some decisions for reasons that others don't see. 
He tries to both make massive change and to tread carefully, and he doesn't always succeed. It is not an easy task. But he has his family, his community of Three Pines, and the support of respected Sûreté officers and leaders. 
When one of his biggest adversaries within the Academy is found dead, obviously murdered, the case is a tricky one, and the investigation must not only be thorough, but be seen to be thorough. Again, he tries to do that right by making sure an outside investigator is part of the team, but that also proves difficult.
An interesting twist is the subplot around a map that was discovered in the wall of the bistro when renovations were made, and which provides its only mysteries. When Gamache tasks some of the Academy students into learning about the map, its origins, and its meaning, he ends up bringing those students into village life in a move that takes us to the heart of Three Pines. 
This book, as with previous in the series, blurs the line between professional and personal, and between facts and feelings. 

The Bitch is Back

Finished October 20
The Bitch is Back: Older, Wiser, and (Getting) Happier edited by Cathi Hanauer

A few years back, I read and thoroughly enjoyed The Bitch in the House, a collection of essays about women and their relationships, also edited by Hanauer. This book continues with more personal essays about life, love, getting along, moving along, leaving, and coming together. Ten of the writers from the previous book wrote again for this one, and their essays were introduced with a short paragraph about where they'd left off then. A further sixteen women shared their lives here. All of the writers let us into their personal space and shared their feelings. Many shared deeply intimate feelings and experiences.
The book is separated into 4 sections: Me, Myself and My Midlife Choices; Sex, Lies, and Happy(ish) Endings; To Hell and To Hold; and Starting Over.
Many of the experiences here spoke to me. Many opened empathetic windows into experiences I haven't had and won't have. The openness of the women, like that of the previous book, made a connection. I am so glad to read that I am not alone in my feelings, my experiences, my frustrations, my comforts.

Wednesday 19 October 2016

An Officer and a Spy

Finished October 19
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

This historical novel follows the Dreyfus affair from the viewpoint of Colonel Georges Picquart. As the affair begins Picquart is a professor at the school training officers and he is brought in unofficially as a watcher at the court. As he reports that the case looks to be failing, the government introduces a secret dossier of documents that "proves the guilt" of Dreyfuss that the defence has no access to. The case is thus decided without fair hearing. Shortly afterward Picquart is put in charge of intelligence. As he follows leads on possible espionage and tries to find a place with his staff, he never really fits in, and begins to mistrust the integrity of some staff members. As he looks deeper and gains access to the secret dossier of the Dreyfuss case, he finds that there has been a grand miscarriage of justice. At first he tries to work within the system, going to his superiors and laying out the evidence, but as it becomes clear that not only isn't this of interest to them, but that they will go to extreme measures to prevent him reopening the case, he finds he must go outside the army to get justice.
This is a tale of an officer, loyal to the army he has made a career in, and a man of integrity. He risks his own career and life, and when the army gets personal in its attack, he gets serious about digging in his heels to take the case to its final result.
The history is widely known, but Harris takes us inside the organization that made it, the army. He takes us inside the experience of a key player in the story, and he has definitely done his research on the facts, using newly available material to bring the story alive for the reader.
A fantastic read, that got me thinking about how little has changed from then to today in terms of government organizations hiding truths and facts for their own ends. In particular, the Snowden case, still unresolved, has elements in common with this.

Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys

Finished October 18
Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys by H.A. Rey

As the cover indicates, this is the first book that Curious George appeared in. It was first published in France in 1939 as Rafi et les 9 Singes, and in England as Raffy and the Nine Monkeys. When the author and his wife fled France in June 1940, they went to New York and there they published the first Curious George book in 1941, followed by the newly titled reprint of this book.
In this book, all the characters are animals, and Cecily the giraffe is lonely as all her friends and family have been taken away to zoos. George, his siblings, and his mother are looking for a new home as the forest they lived in was cut down. As the animals find each other and play together, it is George's mother Madame Pamplemoose who is the adult figure, stopping the monkeys when Cecily is being taken advantage of too much, or when she finds the games too dangerous.
It is definitely a book of its time, and I found many of the monkey games had Cecily as a prop rather than a participant.
The afterword by Louise Borden is interesting as it gives a short biography of Rey and his wife and the books.

Thursday 13 October 2016

The Scoundrel

Finished October 12
The Scoundrel by Lisa Plumley

This light historical romance was an enjoyable read. Set in 1882 in the town of Morrow Creek in Arizona Territory, local blacksmith Daniel McCabe is in no hurry to settle down. He likes flirting with the ladies and the bachelor life. Local schoolteacher Sarah Crabtree is considered the most level-headed of the three Crabtree sisters and she leads an active outdoor life as well as teaching the local children. She and Daniel have been friends since childhood, but she's always harbored secret romantic feelings for him. When Daniel's young nephew Eli arrives on a train from the east to stay with him, he suddenly finds himself unequipped to provide a stable home environment for him and looks for a quick solution. When he proposes a marriage of convenience to Sarah, she can't believe it, and agrees before she considers the ramifications.
As Sarah adjusts her expectations and Daniel adjusts to his new domestic life, lives change, and dreams give way to realities.
Fun characters make this book an easy read.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

Finished October 11
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle

Flavia is back home in England, but things are not the same. When she arrives home, Dogger meets her at the ship, but at home no one is there to welcome her. Her father is sick with pneumonia in hospital. Too sick for visitors she is told although she yearns to see him. Her oldest sister Ophelia is having relationship issues, and her young cousin Undine is an interesting character addition.
Flavia still relies on her bicycle Gladys to get around between home and the village of Bishop Lacey, and on an errand for Cynthia, the vicar's wife, she discovers a dead body in peculiar circumstances. As she is alone and not pressed for time, she takes the time for a careful inspection of the body and its environs, both of which will help her as she works toward the solution to this crime.
Twice Flavia ventures up to London in search of information, and one of her Canadian friends assists her on that end of things, providing some adult guidance and expertise in some areas.
Flavia also makes use of the telephone to gather information using subterfuge to deal with suspected eavesdroppers. Flavia has matured some here. She is less likely to blurt things out, thinks about how others may react to what she says, and generally is more polite in company than she was previously. She is also more independent, perhaps gained confidence from her solo sojourn to Canada in the previous book.
Things are changing in Flavia's life, and as Dogger says early in the book, not necessarily for the better. I look forward to seeing how Flavia deals with the new challenges this book leaves her with.

Tuesday 11 October 2016

Memoirs of a Mongol without a Pony

Finished October 11
Memoirs of a Mongol without a Pony by R. G. Stern

This memoir was dictated to his father by Shane Stern, a man born with Down's Syndrome. Shane tells us his life story from his earliest memories in Florida through moves to Minneapolis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and most recently Tucson. Shane is a happy person, looking for things that interest him, and game for a try at most activities. His mother is an artist, and his father a doctor, and through them he has been exposed to many wonderful opportunities to meet a range of people. But Shane is also a friendly and outgoing person unafraid of strangers, approaching each of them as a potential friend. From a young age, he was interested in sports, spending hours engaged in physical activity such as basketball, swimming, and gymnastics, giving him an interest in others engaged in the same activities. He analyzes activities and figures out for himself the best way to go about doing them for himself, from bowling to sweeping. He is a particular fan of the Temple basketball team, and has a longstanding superfan notoriety with them. He also is non judgemental, expecting people to behave well, and thus often leading them to behaviour well. However, he is capable of mischief, and has a fondness for swearing, along with a good sense of humour.
He makes friends wherever he goes from inner city schools to sports events to art galleries. He looks for the fun in life and therefore usually finds some. I like his attitude.
His life story, thus far, is filled with wonderful friends, a vast array of experiences others would envy, and love and caring from friends and family.

Monday 10 October 2016

A Climate of Fear

Finished October 10
A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds

Commissaire Adamsberg is back, and this time the case reaches into the past and outside France. Another police inspector, Commissaire Bourlin, calls Adamsberg to see if one of his officers, Danglard can have a look at a symbol that was left at the scene of an apparent suicide. There are some things about the scene that don't seem right, and a small symbol drawn at the scene may be a clue to what really happened to Alice Gauthier.
She had a visitor shortly before her death and her insistence on venturing out alone to send a letter may be another clue. Adamsberg is intrigued and agrees that things don't look right. When they identify her visitor and go to see him, things get even more worrisome. Alice and her visitor's mother were both part of a group of French people who went to a remote island in Iceland and underwent some sort of harrowing experience when fog trapped them there for two weeks.
Adamsberg begins investigating this trip and the terrible things that happened there, when another death links the victims to a different group of circumstances, one moored in the revolutionary past. As usual, Adamsberg lets his mind direct his case, following his thoughts and the "itch" that keeps him from settling into the case. But not all his team are with him and as the team diverges, he and Danglard grow apart.
We get to see him interact with the different team members in new ways. Veyrenc, Retancourt, Voisenet, Mordent, Justin, and the others all play important roles as does Adamsberg's neighbour Lucio.
I like Adamsberg's thought processes, how he takes his time and lets his thoughts wander, how he uses quiet to bring ideas out of hiding. He is a complex man, imperfect, yet with excellent instincts. A man who observes carefully, and knows his own weaknesses as well as his strengths.


Finished October 3
Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer

This novel begins just after the death of Bradley Hawthorne, husband of Char and father of Allie. Char gave up a fulfilling career as a journalism professor in Washington, D.C. when she met Bradley, moving to small town Michigan. Allie has been living most of the year with Bradley and Char, with brief visits to her mother Lindy in California. Now Char realizes that she has no legal parental rights with Allie, despite being one of her primary parents. Char has always been careful not to tread into Lindy's role as mother, and she doesn't know what to do to keep Allie living with her.
Allie takes seriously a role she herself stepped into as a tutor to a younger, troubled girl, Morgan. She meets Morgan formally once a week for sessions, but also has taken on the role of big sister to the girl. Morgan's parents are also dealing with some health issues for their younger child, Stevie.
As Char and Allie walk carefully into their new roles with each other, they are waiting for Lindy to make a definitive move. With Morgan's problems escalating, a move by Morgan's parents creates a crisis for Allie and Char, once that will have lasting changes to their lives.
This is a story today's complex families, with step parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, and friends and other family members complicating the family dynamic. When things are going well, everyone gets along, but when things aren't going well, power and feelings take on deciding roles that may not always look out for the best interests of all family members.
This is a story of families in all their complexity, with the mixed up feelings that go along with that. We are all human and some of us become stronger with adversity. Char and Allie are ones that become stronger, but it takes them awhile to figure out their new relationship and realize all they have to lose.

Sunday 2 October 2016

Stripped Bare

Finished September 30
Stripped Bare by Shannon Baker

Kate Fox is immersed in calving season when she answers the phone one evening to a call from a neighbour in distress. The neighbour is her husband's ex-girlfriend and Kate keeps asking questions until she deciphers that a man is dead, and Kate's husband, Ted Conner, is badly injured.  Ted is the sheriff of Grand Country, Nebraska, a job which usually doesn't bring much danger.
Kate is faced with the task of figuring out why Eldon, the owner of the Bar J ranch was shot, how Ted got there so quickly and was also injured, and why Ted is lying about what happened. The case is officially taken on by the sheriff of a neighbouring county, but Kate's niece Carly, who lived with her and Ted, is the granddaughter of Eldon and seems to have gone missing, increasing Kate's urgency to get to the heart of matters.
But as she gradually discovers Ted's secrets, and his betrayal, she also examines her own life and looks to where decisions may take her. When someone endangers Kate, and sends a nasty message at her ranch, she knows she is getting close to the truth.
Kate is an interesting character. A smart woman, with a degree in psychology she's not sure how to use, and a deep love of the land she's grown up in, the Nebraska Sandhills, she is strong and determined. She also has a lot of support with a big family behind her. A middle child of nine, with a quiet, intelligent father, and an artistic observant mother, Kate is no slouch at following the signs once she wakes up to what's at stake.
I can see this book leading to more, and look forward to see more of Kate.

Invisible City

Finished September 29
Invisible City by Julia Dahl, read by Andi Arndt

This novel is the first novel in a series. Here Rebekah Roberts has moved to New York City from Florida to start her career as a journalist after getting her degree. Her perseverance has got her a position as a stringer for the Tribune, covering whatever story she is assigned. But when a story involving the body of a Hasidic woman falls to her, she feels a personal link. Rebekah's mother was Hasidic, from New York City, and rebelled from that life enough to meet Rebekah's father and have her. But she ran back to her Hasidic life when Rebekah was just six months old. Rebekah has always had conflicting feelings about this abandonment. She wants to understand, but she also resents her mother.
When someone that knew her mother offers inside information on the case, Rebekah doesn't stop to think about why she is being offered this information. Her personal feelings cloud her reporter instincts about looking at the motivation and actions of others.
As she follows the information from the scrapyard whether the body of Rivka was found, to the insular Hasidic community in Brooklyn where Rivka lived, to the Coney Island house where Rivka explored her questions about her religion with others, Rebekah learns about the special treatment the community has received from authorities, and the way this insular attitude puts the community itself at risk.
This is a story of Rebekah's personal questions, but also of a community not often visible in the larger world. A very interesting new series.