Thursday 30 November 2017

My Husband's Wife

Finished November 20
My Husband's Wife by Jane Corry

This suspense novel begins just after the honeymoon of Lily and Ed. The marriage offers Lily the chance to make a fresh start, but the honeymoon hasn't gone all that well, and the presence of Ed's ex-girlfriend in his life doesn't help. Lily is given the chance of a murder appeal case at her law firm, and she makes a connection with the defendant Joe despite herself. As the case eats up more and more of her time, the stress on her marriage increases.
Meanwhile, the neighbour across the hall begins to call on Lily and Ed for help in looking after her young daughter Carla. Carla is a smart girl, but English is not her first language, and she is a misfit at school. Her desires for things that her mother cannot afford don't help, and she is often an impediment when her mother's boyfriend Larry comes to call.
Ed is an aspiring artist, unfulfilled by his design job at work. He finds Carla a willing model and begins to sketch her whenever she comes over.
The conclusion of the legal case leads to a lot of emotion and changes in the lives of all the characters. Carla is uprooted yet again, and Lily's marriage undergoes more pressure.
The book then jumps more than a decade into the future, when Carla comes back into Lily and Ed's lives, and brings all the issues from the past up again. Ed is delighted and thinking that Carla's presence will bring a needed uplift to his artistic career, while Lily is wary,
This book has many secrets, revealed at various points in the novel, each having an effect on the characters. A book of surprises, yet not as compelling as others I've read.
I always find that in books where I can't connect to the characters, I don't enjoy the story as much, and that was the case here as well. Each character had a flaw of some sort that pushed me away.

Wednesday 29 November 2017

You Should Have Left

Finished November 15
You Should Have Left by Daniel Kehlmann, translated from the German by Ross Benjamin

I picked up this short novel, intrigued by the title, but it turned out to be quite a surprise. The narrator of the story is a writer, struggling with a new play. He is beginning a vacation in the mountains with his wife Susanna, an actress, and their four-year-old daughter Esther. While away, he is also supposed to be working on his new play, and his agent Schmidt calls periodically to check in.
The characters in his new play and scenes that he is writing are here in the book too, and sometimes these characters seem to get placed into the settings that he finds himself in.
As the book progresses, the unnamed narrator seems to sense that the house they are renting has oddities to it, and as a reader, you aren't sure what is happening, whether the odd things that begin to become more and more prevalent are real, are imagined, a manifestation of a mental illness or some sort of psychological horror.
At one point, he begins to hear a voice telling him that he should have left this place, hence the book's title. A very captivating and unsettling read.

The Glass Universe

Finished November 13
The Glass Universe: How the Ladies of the Harvard Observatory Took the Measure of the Stars by Dava Sobel, read by Cassandra Campbell

This fascinating look at the history of astronomy takes us from the late nineteenth century through to the mid-twentieth century. It is centered around the Harvard University and the women who worked and volunteered there, but also around the men who hired, worked with, promoted, supported, and cared about these women.
The first women at the observatory were family members of the male astronomers, many of whom took on volunteer roles as computers, interpreting the observations of the male astronomers. As photography advanced to allow the capture of the night skies, the role of women included observation of these photographs. The library of glass photography plates is the origin for the title of this book. Anna Palmer Draper, widow of one of the earliest photographers of the stars wanted to continue his life's work, and she donated money to the observatory to continue this work.
One of the earliest female employees was Williamina Fleming, a Scottish woman who had worked as a maid in the home of the director of the observatory, and who took on the role of curator of the glass plates of photographs of the stars. Fleming also observed these photographs and identified over three hundred variable stars (stars whose intensity changes in regular or irregular cycles) and ten novae. She was followed by women who were some of the first graduates of colleges such as Smith and Vassar and, later, by post-graduate students, research fellows, working astronomers, and professors.
Annie Jump Cannon, a college graduate, looked at the previous work and designed a classification system for the stars that is still used today. She and others made important breakthroughs in learning about the chemical make-up of stars and used features of starlight to measure distances in space.
Dr. Cecelia Helena Payne became the first female professor of astronomy at Harvard, and the first female department chair at the university.
Two directors, Edward Pickering who was director from 1877 to 1919, and Howard Shapley, director from 1922 to 1951 were key to valuing the work of these women, promoting them, supporting their work, and giving them credit for their achievements.
I learned so much about astronomy that I didn't know, thanks to Sobel's wonderful explanations of the various key discoveries. I also found the women very interesting. The book is about astronomy and the work these people did, the discoveries they made, and the contributions of their work worldwide. It is not about the personal lives of the various players, other than mentioning facts of children, spouses, and living arrangements. But for me, that was fine. Each of these women would merit a biography of their own as separate books. The reading of the book by Campbell was captivating, and I found even the appendices of the timeline, short biographies, and glossary worth listening to.
This was a story that needed to be told, and Sobel did a fantastic job.

Sunday 26 November 2017

A Clubbable Woman

Finished November 10
A Clubbable Woman by Reginald Hill

The book is the first one in the mystery series I've read a few of, and quite enjoyed. Set in the sixties, and first published in 1970, this one shows the gradually developing relationship between ex-rugby player, rough around the edges Dalziel and university-educated, perceptive Pascoe. As the book opens a rugby match is going on and one of the players Connon has been dealt a head injury. He steps out of the game and, after changing, goes to the clubhouse, where the other players catch him up after the game. His head injury continues to act up and trouble him throughout the book, in a classic example of what we now recognize as concussion. When Connon goes home, a neighbour sees him opening the gates, and stops to talk to him, and Connon finds his wife has eaten without him, and, feeling sick he goes up to lie down. When he comes down again he finds his wife dead.
As we get to know the other rugby players, their wives, and children, as well as Connon's neighbours, we find lots of secrets, resentments, and suspicions. Connon's wife is gradually revealed as a woman not beloved by many.
The interactions, socially and privately, are definitely of their time, but there are some good strong female characters here as well. It gave me insight into the series that I didn't have before.

Shallow End

Finished November 8
Shallow End by Brenda Chapman

This is a mystery novel, part of a series featuring Stonechild and Rouleau, but the first I've read. Taking place in Kingston, Ontario, the book starts as a woman is getting released from prison. She's spent four years in jail after being convicted as a child predator. Jane Thompson had been a teacher, and was accused by one of her students, one that she'd been spending extra time helping. Throughout the trial, she insisted on her innocence, but more recently she made an admittance of guilt. Her husband, Adam, divorced her while she was in jail, and has been keeping their children, Ben and Olivia, away from her, despite her being approved for visits with them. She's got a small apartment and a part-time job, but seems to be living in a kind of limbo. A month after she has got out, the student who accused her, Devon Eton, is found dead on a beach. He's been murdered, and Jane immediately becomes a suspect.
Jane's ex-husband has a new woman living with him, a student teacher that he'd been having an affair with before Jane went to jail. Naomi is young, jealous of Jane, and insecure enough to snoop on Adam when he isn't with her.
We also see into the lives of the police investigating the case. Rouleau is in charge of major crimes, and still mourning the death of his wife. He assigns Kala Stonechild, a female native officer with a history of drug abuse, and Paul Gundersund, who's been separated from his wife for a while and is now considering a divorce. Kala has made a new start, although her past has meant that the niece she was caring for was taken from her and placed in foster care, something she is fighting to change. Paul's wife Fiona, is a local coroner, and is fighting to keep her marriage from ending. Other police officers include Woodhouse, an older male officer who resents Kala and who is often abusive to those he works with. Bennett is a younger officer, recently recovered from a gunshot wound, and eager to get back to work. Another character with a meaningful role here is local reporter Marci Stokes, who tried to make it in a bigger city, but is now back and working to regain her reputation for good reporting. As she tries to approach various players in this story, she also finds herself trying to do the right thing, especially for those who are vulnerable.
A great read.

Embroider Your Life

Finished November 6
Embroider Your Life: Techniques + Motifs + Inspiration by Nathalie Mornu

This lovely book was one I borrowed first from my library, and then went out and bought my own copy. It is laid out beautifully, and begins with a section showing a graphic look at materials, tools, and techniques. It covers floss and thread, hoops, fabric, and other tools such as needles, scissors, markers, and stabilizers. Then it gives a great guide to getting started, including putting the fabric in a hoop, basting, and transferring motifs.It describes how to work with floss, and starting, carrying, and ending threads.It gives graphic step-by-step instructions on basic stitches: running stitch, back stitch, split stitch, chain stitch, stem stitch, whipped back stitch, couching, satin stitch, seed stitch, french knots, herringbone stitch, fly stitch, and lazy daisy. Each is shown with multiple thread types. When it discusses the use of patches, it also covers blanket stitch. It has a section on various ways to display finished pieces.
The next four sections include ideas for embroidering that bring it into everyday life in a refreshing way. Each section is themed.
The first is Communications, and includes numbers, words, symbols, monograms, and holiday motifs. It also includes a section on stitching on paper.
The second is the Natural World and includes aquatic life, woodland creatures, insects, feathers, plants, leaves, cactus, flowers, seed heads, weather, the night sky, and people. It also includes a section on shadow work (like stitching all around a motif).
The third section is Designed World, and includes keys, retro motifs, visual aids (lenses of all types), sewing, gems, architecture, and maps. It includes a section on stitching a house motif.
The last section is Patterns and includes radials, deco, geometric, line art, simple and complex borders, arrows, frames and wreaths, and folkloric motifs. It has a section on Sashiko.
With the heavily illustrated ideas and instructions, this book is indeed an inspiration to both experienced stitchers and beginners. Highly recommended.

Wednesday 22 November 2017

All Is Not Forgotten

Finished November 5
All Is Not Forgotten by Wendy Walker, read by Dylan Baker

This suspense novel takes place in a small affluent town in Connecticut. Jenny Kramer has finally been asked to house party by a boy from school, and she is excited, but when she gets there, he is with another girl. As Jenny drinks too much to drown her feelings, she also makes herself vulnerable, and the resulting assault on her changes many lives.
When Jenny is found and taken to the hospital, her parents agree to a controversial drug that will erase her memories of this night. But while her mind may have forgotten, her body has not, and the outcome is Jenny struggling to find a home for the feelings she has. Jenny's mother has an outwardly perfect life, but is an illusion and as she struggles to hold on to it, to think that everything is back to normal, she finds that it isn't, and she can't deny her past or her true imperfect self any longer. Jenny's dad becomes focused on finding the person who assaulted her daughter, and he spends every minute he can at it, instead of spending time with the family he cares so much about.
The narrator that is telling the story is an unknown at first, and as we come to know who he is, and come to know his connection to the case, professionally and personally, what we know changes, and the story changes.
An interesting novel, but perhaps because of the narrator role, not one I felt as connected to as some other recent suspense reads.

Wednesday 1 November 2017


Finished October 31
Hinterland by Caroline Brothers

As the book opens, Aryan, his little brother Kabir, and a number of other refugees are crossing a river from Turkey to Greece in the middle of the night. Aryan and Kabir are from Afghanistan, fleeing to Iran with their mother when one of their older brothers and their father are killed. Now the two boys are on their own, with a plan to get to London, where they believe people are good and human rights are strong, and they will be able to go to school and have a future. Their mantra as they travel is the recitation of capital cities on their route: Kabul-Tehran-Istanbul-Athens-Rome-Paris-London.
Aryan is protective of Kabir, and has befriended another Afghan refugee Hamid, who seems more knowledgeable. But circumstances soon separate the brothers from Hamid, and they are on their own again.
As they move along their route, sometimes stalling for long periods of time and other times moving quickly, the boys meet people who are helpful and people who take advantage of them. They undergo many difficult situations, but never lose sight of their goal.
The author worked as a journalist and saw many of the places the boys cross through herself, talking to refugees, and those trying to help them, and learning of their stories. Many of those stories inform this book, and the truth of those experiences bring this book to life. You can imagine these boys being real, as so many children are undergoing similar experiences.
The book includes an interview with the author and information for further reading on this subject.
A very captivating and worthwhile read.

Heart of the Matter

Finished October 24
Heart of the Matter by Emily Giffin

This novel centers on Tessa Russo and Valerie Anderson. Tessa quit her tenure-track position to stay home and have children. She and Nick now have Ruby, four, and Frank, two. When Tessa made her decision, her mother decreed it was a mistake, that it would create a chasm between her a Nick, opening an opportunity for him to stray for a more interesting woman. Tessa held her tongue from reminding her mother that her parent's divorce came after her mother started back to work. Tessa and Nick have a very close relationship and his job as a plastic surgeon is a demanding one. Her being home provides stability. As the book begins, the couple are out for dinner on their anniversary when Nick gets paged. He is needed at the hospital, and their evening together ends.
Valerie is a single mom to a six-year-old boy, Charlie. At the urging of her brother, Valerie reluctantly agrees that Charlie can go to a sleepover birthday party at the house of a classmate. Her evening of relaxation is abruptly interrupted when Charlie falls into a fire while roasting marshmallows, and is rushed to the hospital.
Nick is the doctor assigned to Charlie's case, and he takes a personal interest in the young boy.
The viewpoint switches back and forth between Tessa and Valerie as their worlds come together and their each deal with something they never imagined for themselves.
The two female characters here are deeply drawn and we see their inner thoughts and struggles to make decisions as the plot unfolds. I enjoyed the read.

Follow Me Down

Finished October 22
Follow Me Down by Julie Hearn

This novel has been sitting on my shelves for a while and it came to the top of a pile when I was doing some reorganizing. The story takes place in East London, where twelve-year-old Tom and his mother have come to visit his grandmother. Tom's been here once before, nearly ten years ago, but he has some memories from that time. One of the things that he remembers is the dark basement and a crack across it, a crack that widens and that allows him to jump it to another time. He remembers a fairy girl named Astra. And now she is calling to him again.
This time when Tom reenters that world, he is nearly a teenager, and mature for his age. He recognizes that Astra is in danger and tries to think of a way to save her. There is a lot going on that Tom doesn't understand, but what he does understand makes him fearful for Astra and his other new friends.
Back in his own time, Tom observes the discomfort between his mother and grandmother. His mother has recently survived a bout with breast cancer and his grandmother seems to be of the school where such things are not discussed. Tom cares deeply for his mother, and knows her regimen and diet, and tries to do what he can to support her. He doesn't want to be here in London and he thinks his mother is facing a losing battle in trying to connect more deeply with his grandmother, but as Tom becomes more involved in Astra's situation, he finds himself needing to stay to see his plan through.
A tale of history and magic, of greed and exploitation, of people just trying to survive despite physical handicaps they have no control over. A fascinating read.

Purple Palette for Murder

Finished October 21
Purple Palette for Murder by R.J. Harlick

This novel is part of a series featuring Meg Harris, a woman dealing with her own significant issues as she also finds herself being drawn into troubling situations. This is the eighth book in the series, but the first that I've read. The books often take place in the further reaches of our country from Baffin Island to Haida Gwaii. This one takes place mostly in and around Yellowknife.
Meg's stepdaughter Teht'aa has recently got a job with the CBC in Yellowknife, which is also near the reserve that she grew up on as a Dene. Her father wasn't aware of her until fairly recently and has been enjoying the experience of having a daughter. Meg's husband Eric is and was recently elected Grand Chief of the Grand Council of First Nations. One of the reasons he is in Yellowknife was to meet with northern leaders. The other is to console his daughter after a recent romantic breakup.
As the book opens, Meg receives a call letting her know that Eric has been charged with murder, with the victim being Teht'aa's ex-boyfriend. The other bad news is that Teht'aa is in the hospital badly hurt after being beaten and left for dead.
As Meg puts aside her own issues and goes to Yellowknife to fight for her husband and stepdaughter, she finds assistance, both emotional and other from Teht'aa's great-uncle Joe. She can't understand why Eric seems not to want to fight harder for himself, as she knows that he would never do what he is accused of. As Meg pieces together the stories of various people who may be involved, she finds a piece of historic embroidery that may be the key to the truth.
I really enjoyed this book, and not just because of the embroidery! The characters are interesting and complex, and the way the indigenous characters are handled here felt good. I liked the immersion in the setting, and the stories around Meg. A very enjoyable read.