Monday 31 December 2018

Four Fields

Finished December 31
Four Fields by Tim Dee

This book has the author look at four vastly different fields, noting their features, the creatures that inhabit them, and their history.
The first field, and one he returns to in different seasons later in the book is his home field, the fens near Cambridge. Dee lives very close, and often ventures into the fields, birdwatching, walking or bicycling, and noting the changes that have taken place since his last visit.
His second field is a field in Zambia, near the country his wife comes from, and where he went with a local man to follow honeyguides to wild bees.
His third field is one in Montana, where George Custer lost his life, a field rich in history, and in life. The last field is the Exclusion Zone around Chernobyl where he goes with researchers who annually take samples of local wildlife for testing. His job is to collect grasshoppers at each stop. This means that he pays attention to the noise of the life around him, to the activity on the ground, to the birds overhead.
This is a book of nature, of birds, of life going on, and life dying, and of history and the changes wrought over time, by both nature and man. A fascinating read.

Sunday 30 December 2018

The Fire Next Time

Finished December 27
The Fire Next Time by James Baldwin

This short book was originally published in 1963, and yet so little has changed. The book contains two pieces. The first My Dungeon Shook is a letter to his teenage nephew on the one hundredth anniversary of the emancipation. It talks about the state of racial equality, and how little has improved in that one hundred years. It is a combination of history, social culture, and advice.
The second piece Down at the Cross is a "letter from a region in my mind" as the subtitle says. It includes his own experiences of prejudice, of the rise of black Islam, of the hypocrisy of many white Christians, It has so many sentences that resonate today.
It is this individual uncertainty on the part of white American men and women, this inability to renew themselves at the fountain of their own lives, that makes the discussion, let alone elucidation, of any conundrum - that is, any reality - so supremely difficult
From my own point of view, the fact of the Third Reich alone makes obsolete for ever any question of Christian superiority, except in technological terms.
We human beings now have the power to exterminate ourselves; this seems to be the entire sum of our achievement
It is sad that more than fifty years after this was written we still see these as relevant in our world. Very little real progress has been made for blacks in America.
As he says,
America, of all the Western nations, has been best placed to prove the uselessness and the obsolescence of the concept of colour. But it has not dared to accept this opportunity, or even to conceive of it as an opportunity. White Americans have thought of it as their shame, and have envied the more civilized and elegant European nations that were untroubled by the presence of black men on their shores. This is because white Americans have supposed 'Europe' and 'civilization' to be synonyms - which they are not - and have been distrustful of other standards and other sources of vitality, especially those produced in America itself, and have attempted to behave in all matters as though what was east for Europe was also East for them. What it comes to is that if we, who can scarcely be considered a white nation, persist in thinking of ourselves as one, we condemn ourselves, with the truly white nations, to sterility and decay, whereas if we could accept ourselves as we are, we might bring new life to the Western achievements, and transform them.
Essential reading.

I Know My Name

Finished December 26
I Know My Name by C.J. Cooke

I borrowed this book from my mom, who had borrowed it from a friend. A twist on your typical thriller. Set mostly in London, this book starts with Lochlan Shelley being called from his wife's cellphone by a neighbour. His wife appears to be missing, with only their four-year-old son Max, and twelve-week old daughter Cressida alone in the house. The neighbour, Mrs. Shahjalal, had come over after accepting a delivery for the house by a man who said no one answered. She'd seen Max at the window and wondered whether there was something wrong. Lochlan works for a corporate finance company, and spends part of every week in Edinburgh, where he was when called.
His company is not one for being understanding of their staff's personal lives, but he knows that his family must come first. He doesn't see his wife Eloise as one for taking off like this. While they had got more distant with each other lately due to his heavy workload, she was close to her children, and still breast-feeding their baby.
El had an unusual childhood, taken to England by her irresponsible mother Jude when she was only four, and being raised after the age of twelve and her mother's death in Switzerland by her grandparents, Gerda and Magnus Bachmann. The Bachmann's now live in England, and arrive shortly after Lochlan contacts them. He's already contacted the police, and there are a few paths of investigation being followed, one involving the four nanny cams the Shelley's installed in the house after Max was born.
Before having children, El ran a charity for refugee children, but she stepped down as leader to spend more time with the children.
There is a separate storyline of El's viewpoint, as she finds herself washed up with a boat on a remote Greek island. There are four people on the island, having a writers' retreat. Two women, Hazel and Sariah, and two men, George and Joe. Joe knows enough first aid to patch her up, and George is a take charge kind of guy, but not always in a good way.
I found myself fascinated as the two storylines progressed, worrying about El, and concerned for Lochlan's actions. A fascinating read.

The Perfect Summer

Finished December 20
The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicolson

This book looks at one summer, often dubbed in retrospect The Perfect Summer, but actually far from perfect, with German aggression towards France, labour unrest in Britain, a wicked heatwave doing damage to crops, and other issues.
The book covers the months from May to September, following a number of people's experiences through the use of news, letters, and diaries. We see the end of the year-long official mourning of the death of King Edward VII, and the coronation of King George and Queen Mary, a very different set of royals with different social lives and expectations. We see the social life of the upper class, such as Mrs. Hwfa Williams, wife of the manager of Sandown racecourse; Ladu Ripon, who introduced Russian ballet dancers such as Nijinsky, and the producer Diaghilev, to England; Lady Cunard being caught in flagrante with a man other than her husband; and Lady Diana Manners, making her debut at Court. winning prize money at costume balls that she put towards books.
We see the fight for women's rights by those such as Mrs. Pankhurst.
Home Secretary, the young Winston Churchill found himself busy with labour issues and Irish moves toward independence, but still able to launch a unique social club with his friend F.E. Smith, as he awaited the birth of his second child.
We see young people such as Edith Sitwell wanting a life different from that of their parents.
Current fashion such as the French sheer evening gowns, and the introduction of the brassiere also played their part. Weekends in the country, where it was common to ring a bell before the usual hour of rising so everyone could return to their own rooms.
Books such as Zuleika Dobson introduced a new idea of romance. Leonard Woolf met Virginia Stephen in the literary circles including Rupert Brooke, Vanessa Bell, and Byron. Vita Sackville-West drove her elegant car at speed down the high street. Rolls-Royce launched their new hood mascot, The Spirit of Ecstasy. Cornflakes and teabags were available to make breakfasts more streamlined. The post office offered special headphones that provided live audio from many West End theatres. T.W. Burgess was successful in his sixteenth attempt to swim the English Channel, this time naked but for his hat and motor googles. Roger Fry mounted an exhibition that included Paul Gaugin, Paul Cezanne, and Vincent van Gogh that had old ladies fainting in shock.
I enjoyed the details here, looking into the lives of a variety of characters, from a variety of walks of life.

Past Tense

Finished December 17
Past Tense by Lee Child, Read by Scott Brick

I always enjoy the Jack Reacher novels. This one has Reacher deciding to go diagonally from Maine, to San Diego. His first ride takes back roads to make better time, but runs into an issue back home, and he leaves Reacher to find another ride. Reacher walks for a ways, until he comes to a crossroads that has two sign posts. One of them triggers a memory, a town that his father said he was from, and that Reacher and his brother always said they'd go see one day. A town in New Hampshire called Laconia. He decides to go there and see if the house his dad grew up in was still there. Another ride comes along in a bit and he gets dropped off in town. He does his usual scouting of the town to make note of potential places to eat, and other places he needs to go, such as the town office. He finds a place to stay, and makes a simple plan.
Reacher gets help at the town office from a woman in the records department and then from the town attorney, a census buff. He also gets some help from the local police, in particular a woman who was an MP before she became a police officer. But, due to a noise he hears in the night, he also becomes involves in a more dangerous situation. A situation that also echoes the past.
His longer than expected search for the family home also brings him into an unexpected danger, one where he encounters someone who is a real challenge to him.
This novel also has a parallel storyline, one of two young Canadians, Patty and Shorty, who are planning to go to New York City to sell something that will give them a new start. Patty works in a sawmill, and Shorty works as a potato farmer, and they are both yearning for the beaches of Florida. But the old Honda that they are driving has a mind of its own and begins to overheat on a backroad. They find themselves able to make it into a motel set back a ways from the road, a motel that has twelve rooms, and no other occupants at present. There are four young men who own the place, and they seem hospitable and helpful, but Patty and Shorty each have reservations about them at different times. As their situation gradually grows more untenable and the anxiety over their future increases, the presence of Reacher nearby becomes a tease. But Patty and Shorty are more resourceful than they seem to the motel owners (go Canada!) and I was impressed by their own handling of their desperate situation.
There is a lot going on here, from entitled males to entitled wealth that is definitely of our time. I like the echoes of different stories here, and the ties to the current world.


Finished December 16
Beartown by Frederik Backman, translated by Neil Smith

I read this for my December bookclub meeting. I really enjoyed it, but it took me a while to get into it. I like hockey and live in a country where it is very popular, but it was the characters and the relationship dynamics that really made this book for me.
The story takes place in a small remote town in Sweden, Beartown. The town has been gradually declining, with businesses closing and people moving away. One hope for revitalization is to be the location for a new hockey school being built. The decision on where to build it will take place soon.
The town is split geographically by class and wealth. The richest people live in the Heights, a part of town uphill from the center. The poorest live in the Hollow, downhill from the center.
Peter Andersson is a hometown boy made good. He had a short NHL career and then came back to be the hockey club general manager in town. His wife Kira, is a successful lawyer, and works in another town nearby. They have two kids, Maya who is fifteen, plays guitar, and Leo, twelve. Maya's best friend Ana often stays at their house as well.
Sune is the coach for the A-team, and the one who convinced Peter to return to town. David is coach of the junior team and has a very different style from Sune. The two have grown apart, partly due to pressure from the club board and from David to move the star player from the junior team, Kevin Erdahl, up to the A team. Sune doesn't think he has the maturity.
Fatima is the cleaner at the club, a single mother, whose son Amat has been allowed to practice on the ice early in the morning in exchange for helping the caretaker. He is a good and fast player, although not that big, and currently plays on the team below the juniors, as he is only fifteen. Amat's best friends are Lifa and Zacharias, boys who, like Amat weren't like everyone else. Lars is the coach of the boys' team that Amat plays on.
Other players on the junior team are also important to the plot. One is Benji, Kevin's best friend, a good player himself, more mature than normal for his age. He grounds Kevin to a certain extent, but he also has his own secrets. Another is Bobo, a bully who throws his weight around, but also has a moral centre. William Lyt lives next door to Kevin and wants to be his best friend, but stands no chance with Benji around.
Other people in town that play important roles are Robbie Holts, a middle aged man who was once a hockey star, but wasn't mature enough to take the bad times with the good in stride, and is now down on his luck. Ramona owns the local pub, the Bearskin, just like her mother and her grandfather. She went to every game until her partner Holger died eleven years ago. Now she never leaves the pub. Her "boys" bring her what she needs.
As the author says, "hockey tells stories" and it definitely does here.
As the team works up for their big game, and then for the game after that, we see the various characters interact, make good choices and bad choices, and see lives get changed.
This is a book about hockey, about small towns, about families and friendships. about sexism and class. It is a microcosm of life.

Saturday 22 December 2018

The House at the End of Hope Street

Finished December 12
The House at the End of Hope Street by Menna Van Praag

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Alba Ashby has found herself in the situation where she has lost her advisor for her postgraduate degree and has been made to feel a fool. The reader doesn't actually know what has happened to her until much later in the book, but we definitely know that she feels lost and uncertain of her future. As she runs from her life, she finds herself at the door of a house that she has never noticed before. It is a large and unusual looking house on a quiet street. She is welcomed into the house by an older woman named Peggy, and to stay, with certain conditions: she can stay no more than ninety-nine nights, and she must follow advice to turn her life around.
Alma is a young woman, the youngest PhD candidate at the university. Her father left home when she was quite young, and her mother has had mental health issues. She doesn't really get along with her other three siblings, particularly the two eldest, and she has no real friends.
As Alma learns the secrets of the house, and determines her direction for the future, she learns several things about her family, herself, and others. She learns about past residents of the house, whose portraits are hanging there, and she is able to converse with them. She learns about the current residents of the house, Greer and Carmen, and what their stories are. And we also follow Greer and Carmen and Peggy herself as we see how they come to terms with their pasts that led them here, and move forward in new directions.
As one guesses from the title, this is a book of hope, of humour and friendship. It is a feel-good read that will have you smiling. I loved the premise and the stories of the various women.

Pieces of My Mind

Finished December 9
Pieces of My Mind: Essays and Criticism 1958-2002 by Frank Kermode

This collection of essays and criticism turned out to be a lot more academic than I expected, causing me to keep a dictionary nearby to look up various words, and to read it slowly over many months.
Included here are a number of essays, most around books, authors, and artists. Some of them are from presentations given at conferences and other academic events.
There are nineteen long essays on subjects such as Diaghilev; Time and Eternity; Solitary Confinement; The English Novel; Hawthorne; Wuthering Heights; The Man in the Macintosh; Wallace Stevens; Secrets and Narrative Sequence; Botticelli; Cornelius and Voltemand; The Plain Sense of Things; Mixed Feelings; Eros; Memory; Forgetting; Cambridge; Literary Criticism; and Shakespeare and Boito.
There is a section of shorter essays about various people: Raymond Carver; James Lees-Milne; Auden on Shakespeare; Don DeLillo; Martin Amis; Ian McEwan; and Tom Paulin.
All in all it was a very interesting read, but definitely a stretch for me.

So You Created a Wormhole

Finished December 7
So You Created a Wormhole: The Time Traveler's Guide to Time Travel by Phil Hornshaw & Nick Hurwitch

This guide is for a situation that doesn't actually exist, but is supposed to occur in the near future. The possibility of time travel has come true, and many people are doing it for many reasons. This guide offers some advice for those who plan to engage in this activity.
The book begins with warnings against reading the book. The authors purport to be representatives of the Qualified Users and Negotiators of Time Travel Universal Ministry (QUAN+UM). They discourage the increase in the number of people engaged in time travel, especially by those unprepared, and they are worried about ill-prepared time travellers making serious mistakes that will affect the present and future, not to mention the past.
Once they've assumed that you are reading it anyway, it continues with a welcome and introduction to the details of time travel. They go on to show that the ideas that you may have about time travel may not be realistic.
The third chapter is on time machines, how to build them and destroy them. The fourth chapter talks about potential paradoxes and what they could mean for you. The fifth chapter deals with the complexities of existing in different times, engaging with other time travellers, or even yourself.
They go on to discuss the necessity of fixing a timeline if you have screwed it up, something that is expected to be done. Included here is a timeline of time travel events.
The next section of the book deals with survival in different times. It begins with an overall introduction and then is split into sections of time: Prehistory; Dawn of Man; Empires; Middle Ages; Industry; Computers; Robots; Space Travel; and the End of Time.
Each of this has sections that help you identify the time from your surroundings, things to bring, things that happen during this time; creatures and people you might encounter and how to best deal with them, how to repair your time machine should that be necessary, and how to blend in.
The book ends with some information about the Ministry.
I found it an amusing read, with references to various books, movies, and TV shows that have had elements of time travel in them.

The Five People You Meet in Heaven

Finished December 5
The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom

This has been sitting on my bedroom bookshelf for a while, and I finally pulled it off, and quite enjoyed it. The central character, Eddie, works as the lead mechanic at a coastal theme park. He's had a long life, and on his 83rd birthday we see him go about his day as normal, getting ready for work, making the rounds at the park checking on everything, and interacting with his co-workers and the public. Then, an unfortunate accident causes Eddie to react in a selfless way, and he is killed.
From here on the book takes Eddie through meetings with five people that influenced his life in some way. Some of them he recognizes right away, but others have to explain themselves.
As he hears the stories of these five people, he learns of their influence on his life, and his influence on their lives.
This is a story of a man looking back on his life with mixed feelings, regret, fond remembrance, guilt, and love. It is of a man who hopes that he has done well, but is afraid that he is not.
The view of his afterlife is a unique one, and one that brings comfort.

Tuesday 11 December 2018

White Rabbit

Finished December 3
White Rabbit by Kate Phillips

This is a story of Ruth, a woman in her old age. She has been married to her second husband for many years, but still looks back with longing at her first marriage. She was widowed young, and subsequently fell in love with a man who didn't live up to her ideals, and thus came to marry her current husband.
We are placed in Ruth's life over a day, and see all her regular habits from her sleeping arrangements, to her determinedly planned outings, to her predetermined meals. We see her relationship with her granddaughter Karen, her husband Henry, her cleaner Luzma and her young son Luis, neighbours, acquaintances, and random strangers she meets.
The book often ventures into the past, looking at Ruth's younger life, her mother Elizabeth, her first husband Hale, and her early friendships.
This is a book of relationships, of the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, and about growing old. A very interesting read.
The white rabbit of the title is a family game Ruth plays, with everyone she knows trying to say the phrase before Ruth does. It also comes up again in other ways as the book progresses.

Like Death

Finished December 1
Like Death by Guy de Maupassant, translated by Richard Howard

This book takes us to Paris in the late 1800s. Olivier Bertin is a well-known, and well-liked painter, a man in middle age, never married. Years ago, at a party he saw a young woman of society, the Countess de Guilleroy, Anne, and expressed an interest in painting her. He was already well-known for his portraits, and, hearing of his interest, she approached him.
The two became lovers, a secret known only to them. Olivier constantly wishes that they were able to marry. They have been in a relationship for years, and Olivier often attends gatherings at the Countess' home. When they first met, the Countess had a young daughter, Annette, and for recentl years Annette has been in the country at her grandmother's, spending time with the ailing woman. Now she is ready to debut in society, and returns to Paris, and Olivier is struck by how much she looks like her mother. Her parents have already planned a match for her, and she proves herself to be quite charming in her society appearances.
But Olivier can't take his eyes off her, finding his love for her mother renewed by her youthful beauty, and Anne begins to realize that he is falling in love with her daughter, despite his love for her.
This is a story of love, of the world of salons, opera, and public walks through the parks. It is a story told with an understanding of the innermost feelings of the characters.
Maupassant is, as always, a master.

Friday 7 December 2018

The Confidant

Finished November 30
The Confidant by Hélène Grémillon, translated by Alison Anderson
This novel takes place in France in 1975. Camille is a middle-aged French woman, working in publishing, who has recently lost her mother in an accident. As she goes through the condolence letters, she finds a long letter from someone who hasn't signed their name. The letter seems to be telling a story, and Camille works her way through various thoughts surrounding the letter, and the ones that follow, continuing the story.
At first, she thinks it must be a mistake. Then she thinks that the letters are by one of her authors, trying a new way to get her attention. Then she begins to both hope and fear that the letters are about her own story, one she never knew.
The stories appear to be by a man called Louis, who was a teenager when the war began, and he was separated from a girl from his village that he'd fallen in love with. The young girl, Annie, was an amateur artist, and when a young couple moves into the grand estate near the village, she is drawn into a friendship with the woman, and gradually into a plot to assist them in having a child. As Annie is separated from her friends and family, the impressionable young girl dreams of freedom, of escaping her situation, and of a life beyond her current state.
When Annie and Louis are reunited again in 1942, Annie confides in him, and looks for assistance but the story is one with many tragedies, and as Camille sorts her way through the story to find the truth, she discovers how these events are reflected in her own life.
This is a story of longing, of loss, of revenge, and of a past that returns.

Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life

Finished November 29
Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna, illustrated by Tara Anderson

This children's novel is told from two points of view. One is that of nine-year-old Jeannie. Jeannie's dad has recently moved out as her parents separated, and Jeannie has a lot of emotions around this: frustration, anger, guilt, sadness. She has wanted a hamster for quite a while and her parents finally agreed to let her get one. She's saved money for it, and for the supplies she'll need for keeping a hamster and looking after one.
The other point of view is that of Sapphire, the hamster that Jeannie gets. Sapphire isn't the name that Jeannie originally picks for it, but one that it is more thoughtful later decision. We see Sapphire's experience in the pet store before she gets chosen, as well as on the trip home, at Jeannie's place, and on various adventures. Sapphire is a bit of a philosopher, and has a goal of freedom, but gradually changes what she defines that as.
We watch how Jeannie struggles with her own feelings, sometimes erupting in frustration, anger, or sadness. And we watch how spending time with Sapphire calms her, and others in her household.
The idea of freedom extends beyond Sapphire into others in the story, who are struggling with the freedom to be who they really are, despite how others may react to them. It's about being able to have that freedom to be comfortable in your own skin, to be happy with your life, and to see that life in a positive way. This extends not only to Jeannie's parents, but also to her neighbour, and gradually friend Anna Conda. Jeannie accepts Anna for who she is, and defends her as well, looking for ways to help others find acceptance too.
This book exposes children to a variety of family types, and opens the door to discussion in a positive way of these differences.
A great addition to any library.

If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face?

Finished November 28
If I Understood You, Would I Have This Look on My Face? My Adventures in the Art and Science of Relating and Communicating by Alan Alda, read by the author

This book was eye-opening. Working with the public, and being a manager, communication is something I'm very interested in, so learning how to be better at it was a big draw for me. I also loved both of Alda's previous books that I've read, so was glad to find this one enjoyable as well.
I learned a lot about communication, and about the author.
For instance, I didn't know about the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science before.
Alda takes us through his own journey in learning about communication, and about things he learned while working with science professionals in improving the communication skills of scientists. He gives his take on direct experiences of personal interactions, of workshops with adults and children, and of research that he's either been involved in, or that he's learned about and talked to the researchers about.
One key takeaway was the benefit of teaching improv in terms of improving communication. This isn't about comedy, but about paying attention to the person in front of you, to their facial expression, to their body language, to their gaze, and learning how to respond to those things in ways that improve not only your own communication, but also that of the person you're interacting with. It makes so much sense, but I'd never connected it before. He speaks about a variety of improv games that were used in communication workshops with people of all ages, and the effects that these had on the people involved.
He touches on the power of storytelling, the barriers of jargon, the role of empathy, and ways to get "in sync" with another person.
He also talks about his own personal experiments in changing his behaviour to see what would happen, and how he learned more about himself, as well as generating ideas for further research in this field. He includes his own mistakes and missteps, and what he learned from them.
This is an amazing read, and I highly recommend it to everyone. After all, we all communicate.

Let's Take the Long Way Home

Finished November 25
Let's Take the Long Way Home: a Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell

This memoir is about the friendship between Gail and fellow writer Caroline Knapp. The two women shared many things: a love of writing and books, struggles with alcohol, difficult relationships with men, and the love they had for their dogs.
They bonded quickly, and Carolyn taught Gail how to row in exchange for swimming lessons. In this way, they shared sports as well. They took long walks with their dogs, talking about many things, they encouraged each other professionally. They sometimes took vacations together, and were completely comfortable in each other's presence. They found a friendship that was close and special. And then Carolyn was diagnosed with cancer, And their relationship only grew deeper.
As Gail struggled with the decline of her friend, the loss, and the life beyond, she grew as a person and found a way forward.
This is a story of friendship, intimacy, and growth, that is inspiring.

Wednesday 5 December 2018

His Whole Life

Finished November 18
His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay

I read this for my book club, and enjoyed it more than most of the club members. It was a bit of a slower read than others of her books that I've enjoyed.
The book centers around a boy, Jim over a period of several years. It begins when he is ten years old. Jim's mother Nan is Canadian, and takes him to Canada for part of every summer to the house on a lake where his uncle and aunt and their dog Duke live. Jim asks a question on this trip, "What's the worst thing you've ever done?" and that question comes up several times throughout the book, as does the idea of forgiveness.
Jim's father George is a man given to resentment. He doesn't seem to enjoy being at the lake, which is something that feels good to Nan and Jim. By the following spring, even Jim can see that his parent's marriage is in trouble, and he and his mother spend extended time at the lake, and his mother is reunited with her childhood best friend Lulu. Lulu has her own issues, with family and with alcohol, and yet she and Jim grow to be friends as well. As we follow Jim over the next few years, we see more closely the relationship between his parents, between his mother and Lulu, and between his older half-brother Blake, from his mother's first marriage and the rest of his family.
Jim, as effectively an only child, despite having older half-siblings on both sides, lives in the adult world more than most kids, and we eventually find out the action that led to that question in the car trip at the beginning of the book. He has become a boy with few friends, a boy who is comfortable in surroundings that his classmates are not. He lives a bit apart from others.
There are lots of themes here: motherhood, forgiveness, our relationship to nature, and I found myself stopping more often to think about what I was reading.

Stitches to Savor

Finished November 16
Stitches to Savor: a Celebration of Designs by Sue Spargo

This book is a delight of ideas, featuring Spargo's folk art quilts, full of colour, embellishments, textures, and fun details.
There are not a lot of words here, as the pictures speak for themselves, The book includes twelve quilts, with multiple pictures for each, including close-ups of different areas of the quilt and one of each quilt in its entirety. The quilts included here are as follows.
* African Days: a house surrounded by animals, plants, and proverbes
* Imperial Blooms: three rows of three flowers, all different and colourful
* Circle Play 2: a creamy textured background with ten rows of seven circles, all different
* Magnolia: a house, surrounded by birds and flowers
* Travel Journal: A tree on a circle, surrounded by a ring of living creatures and country names
* Coffee Cups: a multi-textured background with four rows of three cups, some with saucers.
* Flower Pot: a vase with many different flowers and greenery surrounded by a border of coloured rectangles
* Bird Dance: six rows of five birds, all different, on subtly different squares, bordered by a vine with round fruits
* Earth 'n Twig: a stylized tree with six blooming branches, ringed by a flowering vine, birds, and rabbits
* Silk Road: A colourful flower with four flowering shoots, bordered by a green flowering vine
* Leaf Play: seven rows of eight teardrop-shaped leaves, each different, all on a nubby background
* My Tree of Life: a multi-branched tree, covered with leaves, berries, and birds, with dogs below, a stream with fish below that, all bordered by brown, then an outer border of green with a flowering vine with butterflies.
The quilts are sewn by a variety of stitchers, credited at the back of the book, some of which have patterns available for them.
A perfect book for curling up with a cup of tea.

Sunday 25 November 2018

Every Last Secret

Finished November 12
Every Last Secret by Linda Rodriquez

This is the first book in the series featuring Skeet Bannion, a divorced woman who quit the Kansas City police force to take a job as the head of the campus police at nearby Chouteau University in the small town of Brewster. A few things led her to this change in life. One of them was accusations of unprofessional behaviour against her father, a career cop, and her father's sudden retirement. Another is the end of her marriage to another cop on the city force, and wanting to start anew.
She moved to Brewster with her collie, Lady, and her cat Wilma Mankiller, and settled into a job that turns out to be more dangerous than she imagined.
As the book opens, she is awakened one night by one of her officers, who has found the campus newspaper editor dead in his office, obviously murdered. There'd been some issues around the editor, and Skeet had asked officers to pay special attention to the office as they did their rounds, but she hadn't expected this. To complicate matters, the editor had recently married Skeet's neighbour, a woman who had divorced her husband for infidelity. The ex-husband was a dean on campus and had been looking to reconcile with his wife. Skeet had grown close to her and her teenage son Brian, since she moved to town.
As more people connected to the editor die, Skeet is eager to keep people safe, and get to the bottom of the case. She is assisted by the town sheriff to a certain extent, as well as by her former partner in the city.
This is a story that goes beyond the case into the families of the people involved, including Skeet. We see her deal with her father and with her young neighbour, Brian.
I really enjoyed this book, and would like to read more in this series.

Dying to Read

Finished November 7
Dying to Read by Lorena McCourtney

This book is part of a series featuring Cate Kincaid, a young woman who has had bad luck with jobs, and has recently joined her uncle in his small private investigation business in Eugene, Oregon.
As the book opens, Cate's uncle has had a small health setback and is in the hospital. He's left her a task to track down a young woman for an elderly relative, and she's got an address to look for her at.
As she arrives at the house, she finds a number of women at the door of the house, all of whom were expecting to have lunch with the homeowner, who isn't answering the door.
Cate takes charge, opens the door with the key one of the women has, and enters the house followed by the women. As they search the house, they find the table laid, the food prepared and no sign of anybody. It looks like the housekeeper, the woman that Cate is looking for, has left in a hurry. And then Cate and one of the women find the homeowner, dead at the bottom of a set of outside steps.
As Cate continues to track down the woman, finds that the person searching for her hasn't been honest about the reasons he is looking for her, and tries to figure out what really happened to the dead woman, since the police seem quick to write it off as an accident, she also finds herself in some tricky situations, and meets a man who seems a little too eager to protect her. She also tries to keep some of the information from her uncle as he recovers, and finds herself the unexpected owner of a cat that seems to be sending her occasional messages.
A fun read.

The Dinner List

Finished November 5
The Dinner List by Rebecca Serle, read by the author

I was intrigued by the premise of this book, one we've all heard versions of: which five people, living or dead, would you like to have dinner with? The person who created the list in this case, is a young woman in publishing, Sabrina Nielsen. The book starts as she walks into the restaurant. Her college roommate had her write the list years ago, but she's made a couple of adjustments over time.
At the table are Audrey Hepburn; Sabrina's philosophy professor from her college days, Conrad; her estranged, now dead, father Robert; her best friend and college roommate Jessica; and her ex-boyfriend Tobias, the man she thought was the love of her life.
As the dinner conversation turns from light to more serious, Sabrina is made to face how her parent's breakup, and the loss of her father from her life affected her, and what beliefs she had around that. She is also forced to look hard at her two closest relationships, that of her best friend Jessica, and of her long-time boyfriend Tobias.
There are things we learn along with her during this evening, and the presence of her former professor and of the dead famous actress bring insight to her, helping her ask the important questions that will help her move on with her life in a more productive way.
She knows that she won't get a second chance to be with some of these people and ask the questions that she needs to, and yet part of her doesn't really want to deal with her own actions around these relationships.
A fascinating way to have a character grow.

Being Lara

Finished November 3
Being Lara by Lola Jaye

I picked up this novel because my sister's name is Lara, and I was intrigued by the character being a black girl adopted by white parents, which is also my sister's situation. But the rest of the book and the character differed widely from my personal experiences.
Lara's mother grew up in a council house in Britain, the youngest in the family, and a shy girl who loved to sing. She met a man who encouraged her singing, and who thought the world of her. She had a short but successful career, and, was involved in a charity for African orphans. It is on a visit to the orphanage in Africa that she first sees the young child Omolara, and is smitten by her.
We also see the situation of Omolara's birth mother and why she chooses to give her up. All this is background. As the book opens, Lara is turning 30, and her birth mother has appeared unexpectedly. She isn't sure how to react, and this book follows through her reactions, those of her friends and boyfriend, and of her adoptive parents.
There is uncertainty, curiosity, anger, resentment, and other emotions that show up in the various characters, and it is by working her way through these that the adult Lara figures out who she is. A coming of age story, with a bit of a twist.

Monday 19 November 2018

The Christmas Cowboy Hero

Finished November 2
The Christmas Cowboy Hero by Donna Grant

This light romance is part of the Heart of Texas series. Ex-Navy SEAL Clayton East has avoided going home since he retired from the military, but a family crisis drives him home to the small town of Clearview and the family ranch. The ranch's accountant has disappeared, along with most of the money, and so has a hundred head of cattle and a prize bull. He finds his father recovering from a health crisis, and his mother needing help to deal with it all.
Meanwhile Abby Harper is a young woman in town struggling to raise her two younger brothers after her mother took off on them. She is dependable and loving, but hasn't had the time to find her own future after being derailed from her studies. She is working at a local accounting firm, and studying for her certification through distance learning. As the book opens, she finds herself called out to the local jail to deal with one of her brothers who has been caught stealing cattle from the local East Ranch. Her brother is mum on who else was with him, and she despairs of his future, until Clayton decides to give him a break by working off the loss as a ranch hand after school.
And so the two protagonists are brought together.
There are strong families on both sides, regrets about past actions, fear for the future, and a strong work ethic, along with the mutual attraction.
A pleasant read.

The Hazel Wood

Finished November 1
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert, read by Rebecca Soler

This book is rooted in fairy tales, but not the ones that end happily ever after. Alice Prosperpine and her mother Ella have spent most of Alice's life wandering the country, never staying anywhere for very long. Bad luck seems to follow them, and when they get a sense, an intimation, or outright proof that it has neared, they move on. Alice's reclusive grandmother Althea wrote a book of fairy tales called Tales from the Hinterland years ago, that has a small but determined fan base. Alice herself has only seen the book once, and her mother removed it from her hands before she could do more than see the table of contents, and turn to the story containing her own name "Alice Three Times".
Recently, her mother received a message that her grandmother had died, and seemed to believe that the bad luck would stop. Ella married a wealthy man and they now live with him and his daughter in a luxury condo in New York City. Alice and her stepsister go to a high class private school, but Alice never feels that she fits in.
She's had issues all her life with sudden rages, and Ella has worked with her to control these using calming breathing and mindfulness techniques, but she still doesn't have it under control all the time. When another student at her school, Ellery Finch, turns out to be a mega-fan of Althea's, Alice rebuffs him, yet he remains friendly towards her. Alice has a part-time job in a local diner, and is unnerved by a strange experience that she has there one day. When her stepsister is missing from afternoon classes the following day, and the town car that regularly picks them up doesn't appear, Alice finds her own way home, despite a man from her past that appears to be trying to abduct her. But Alice arrives home to an even more disturbing scene: the condo smells horrible, like rotting things, and no one is there. She finds a note that indicates that Ella has been taken by someone from the Hinterland, which both scares and confuses her. She no longer is sure what is real and what isn't. The only person she can think of to go to is Ellery, because he knows the stories and might be able to help her.
As she and Ellery search for her mother, and make their way closer to her grandmother's estate in upstate New York, things get weirder and weirder. From Ellery, Alice learns some of the tales from the book, and encounters characters that seem to be from those tales.
I liked the main characters of Ellery and Alice, and how they developed as the story progressed. Alice's story is one she did not expect, and does not want to believe, and yet she must face it to be able to have a chance at a future she determines herself.
I loved the fairy tale elements here, dark and creepy, and yet fantastical too. There is so much going on, that I wanted to know more about. I loved it.

Sunday 11 November 2018

A Gate at the Stairs

Finished October 30
A Gate at the Stairs by Lorrie Moore

This novel follows Tassie Keltjin, daughter of a Wisconsin farmer, who is living in a small university town as a student. Tassie is the older of two siblings, with her younger brother Robert still in high school.
The book starts shortly before Christmas as Tassie looks for a job that would begin when she returned to school in January. She ends up getting hired by a high-end restaurant owner Sarah Brink, who has an adoption planned for early in the new year. It turns out that Sarah knows Tassie's father slightly, a farmer who specializes in organic produce for restaurants, a business he started with potatoes.
We are taken through the next few months in Tassie's life. She goes with Sarah and her husband Edward for the adoption, and continues her studies at college. She meets a boy that she gets very involved with, we see her looking at her life from both within it, and from outside.
The next few months bring with them love, heartache, grief, and growth. The stories that Tassie is a part of are distant from the small town farm life she grew up in, and yet not.
I read this book slowly, thinking over the story as it developed, and was moved. A great read.

Saturday 3 November 2018

Summer on Blossom Street

Finished October 29
Summer on Blossom Street by Debbie Macomber

This novel is part of the series that takes place around the shops on Blossom Street in Seattle. Lydia Goetz, co-owner of the knitting store A Good Yarn has just decided to start a new class called Knit to Quit, to help people who are trying to quit a bad habit or anything like that.
The first person to join is Phoebe Rylander. Phoebe has recently called off her engagement to a local lawyer after discovering he's in the habit of cruising for prostitutes. He's a charming man, and his social status is a draw for Phoebe's mother, but she knows he isn't a good man to have in her life. She needs to distract herself with an activity, and get away from her apartment as he is still trying desperately to change her mind.
Alix Turner, a friend of Lydia's who works at the cafe across the street as a baker, is thinking of starting a family with her new husband, but she hasn't exactly had good models for parenthood herself, and she started smoking again around the stress of the wedding, and knows she has to quit before having a baby.
Local businessman Bryan Hutchinson took on the family chocolate business after his father's unexpected death. He's had a steep learning curve, works far too many hours, doesn't always eat as healthy as he should and is even more keyed up than he has been because of a woman suing the company. He also has a thumb injury that hasn't been healing as well as he hoped. His doctor has now told him to go to a knitting class to help with both the thumb and with stress.
Lydia also has stuff going on in her personal life. She and her husband Brad have recently been approved as foster parents, part of their plan to adopt an infant. But when they are asked to take on an older child, due to an urgent need, want to help but are not sure how this will impact their son Cody. Her sister Margaret is dubious as well.
Lydia's friend Anne Marie is also doing some thinking. She recently finalized the adoption on her daughter and they've just returned from a trip to Paris. Now back to running her bookstore, Anne Marie is looking for a larger home for them, and is confronted by a situation that she isn't sure how she feels about.
Lots going on here, with lots of interesting plot lines. The book also includes the pattern the knitting class is working on, a cable sampler scarf.

Good Dog. Stay

Finished October 28
Good Dog. Stay by Anna Quindlen

This short book is an homage to her family's beloved black dog Beau, but also celebrates loved dogs. She includes examples from his puppyhood, his adult life, and the declining senses of his old age. She talks about the lessons he taught her and her family along the way, right until the end. It is illustrated with a range of black and white photos of loved dogs, including Beau and his pal Bea.
While I don't have dogs myself, I have friends and family members who do, and I know the relationship with a dog is a special thing. This book has humour, insight, and love. Lots of love.

A Passion for Needlework: Factoria VII

Finished October 28
A Passion for Needlework: Factoria VII by Inspirations

This lovely new book has twelve beautiful projects, from a variety of designers using a variety of techniques. A stitch glossary is included along with brief biographies of the contributors. Each project gives an introduction to the subject depicted in the gallery section of the book, along with separate detailed instructions. There is also a pocket in the back of the book with liftout sheets to transfer designs to fabrics.
Flower Pots is designed by Ana Mallah, an Australian designer. It uses a variety of needlework techniques, including stumpwork in beautiful pastels. and instructions include the design for two flower pots, one of hydrangeas and one of roses. Absolutely beautiful, as well as being useful.
Jacobean Hunt is designed by Phillipa Turnbull, a British designer. This is a reinterpretation of a 17th century design, done in crewel embroidery, with rich wool threads.
Red Currants is designed by Julie Kniedl, an Australian designer. This creation is a three-dimensional stem using wood, wire, and wool.
Le Magnolia is designed by Catherine Laurnçon, a French designer. This threadpainting project uses vibrant cotton threads on a white linen background.
Versailles Chatelaine is designed by Susan O'Connor, an Australian designer. This chatelaine project includes a pinwheel, scissors sheath, fob, and needlebook using silk threads on ivory silk, creating bullion rose bouquets on a trellis in pastel shades.
Reticella Sampler is designed by Christine P. Bishop, an Australian designer. The technique of reticella is worked as a line sampler, creating a lacy effect where each line builds on the one above.
Winter Sunset is designed by Hazel Blomkamp, a South African designer. This is another Jacobean piece in softer colours using composite stitching, weaving, and threadpainting. Ghiordes knots add tufts in a three dimensional effect.
Leaping Hare is designed by Barbara Kershaw, a Canadian designer, This project uses casalguidi in a monochromatic palette to create an elegant linen sachet with a decorative edge and twisted cords.
Edinburgh Etui is designed by Betsy Morgan, an American designer. This etui project takes Mary, Queen of Scots as its inspiration, including England's rose, Scotland's thistle, and Ireland's shamrock in its pattern of stitched and surface embroidery. The project creates the etui, a thimble case, a needlebook, scissor fob, and pincushion.
The Linnet is designed by Nicola Jarvis, a British designer. This project uses metal and silk threads, sequins, and beads to depict a graceful bird in a gilded cage.
Blackwell Roundel is designed by Jenny Adin Christie, a British designer. Inspired by the Arts and Crafts style prevalent at Blackwell, this project uses surface embroidery and goldwork to depict a floral design.
Bee-eaters is designed by Renette Kumm, a South African designer. This project uses colourful silk threads in a threadpainting technique to depict a pair of birds on a branch.
Beautiful projects with excellent instructions.

Our New Kittens

Finished October 27
Our New Kittens by Theo Heras, illustrated by Alice Carter

This was an apt choice as we adopted two cats yesterday, although not kittens. Here, two young brothers have been waiting for a while to adopt two kittens. The kittens had to be big enough first. They bring them home in a cat carrier, and as they begin to interact with kittens, the big brother educates his sibling on how kittens behave, what behaviour scares them, and how to treat them properly. We see the brothers playing with the kittens, cuddling them, feeding them, and introducing them to their litter box.
This is a fun read for kits interested in getting a pet, preparing them for the joy and responsibility of having an animal in the home.
The drawings are lovely, I loved the flyaway curls of the younger brother, and his mismatched socks.

Giraffe and Bird Together Again

Finished October 26
Giraffe and Bird Together Again by Rebecca Bender

This delightful picture book is part of a series featuring Giraffe and Bird as companions in various escapades and situations. Bird lives for adventure, flitting off to see different things. Giraffe is a creature happiest in his home environment. When Bird fails to return from an adventure, Giraffe gets worried, and decides to follow the trail of feathers to find his friend.
The hunt for Bird leads Giraffe first to a dark forest, then up a mountain, across a dusty plain, and then into a dangerous spot.
The remains of the vines from the forest on Giraffe give Bird an idea that helps to get them both home again.
Each new place pictures an animal from that environment interacting with Giraffe in some way, giving ideas for discussion when reading. The map at the front of the book names these animals for the reader, and shows the distance that Giraffe had to follow to find Bird.
The illustrations are great, and I loved how Giraffe and Bird supported each other.

Thursday 25 October 2018

Too Young to Escape

Finished October 19
Too Young to Escape: A Vietnamese Girl Waits to be Reunited with Her Family by Van Ho and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch

This children's book tells the story of Van Ho, beginning in May 1981. Van woke up at her usual time of 5:00 a.m. one morning, noticing that most of her family wasn't there. Her mother and older sisters often rose early to get a start on their work, but her older brother Tuan wasn't there either. Only herself and her grandmother Bà Ngoại were there. She closed her eyes again as her grandmother rose, and got up when she left their sleeping quarters. Van had some breathing issues, and took a bitter medicine in the mornings to clear her lungs and help with her breathing. After washing, she went down to the level where her aunt and uncle, owners of the house they lived in, slept and quietly took their slippers in, placing them by the bed, for them when they awoke. Then she continued down to the main floor, where she began her task of spinning fiber for rice bags. She continued as her grandmother returned from the market and began cooking breakfast. As it grew light and she heard the movement of her aunt and uncle in the room above her, she stopped and made a trip to the outhouse, coming in to wash her hands and eat her breakfast. She wrapped the remainder of her portion in a ragged dishtowel and put it in her backpack for school. Then she went back down and dusted the main room, then left for school. Van was 4 years old.
As she soon discovered, her mother and siblings had left in the night, heading by boat for Canada, where Van's father and oldest sister had already found haven as refugees.
Van lived in Ho Chi Minh City for another nearly four years as she waited for her family to send for her. She adjusted, made a friend, and enjoyed the packages that came from Canada for the household. She missed her family, but was young enough, she found them harder to remember as the months went by. When she finally was sent for, she and her grandmother had the proper documents and were able to fly to Toronto to meet up with the rest of the family. But even that was quite an adventure.
This story brings to life the situations and circumstances that the Vietnam refugees fled, and creates some understanding for young readers of the difficulties faced by them.
The day to day reality of life in Vietnam for Van and her grandmother are shown in detail, and the photos included here allow the reader to connect with the young girl.
I remember welcoming Vietnamese refugees in my community years before this time, and still have a small gift that one young girl gave to me as I helped her adjust to her new life, so this story really hit home for me.

Cat Flap

Finished October 18
Cat Flap by Alan S. Cowell

I picked up this book at the library, as I was intrigued by the premise. Dolores Tremayne, a successful IT business executive is the breadwinner in her family. She travels a lot for work, and her husband Gerald is a writer that has one published book. He is supposed to be working on a sequel, the second in a planned trilogy, but he hasn't been feeling motivated, and has slipped back into some of his habits from before he met Dolores, when she was a university student. They have two young daughters, in grade school and a housecat named X.
Dolores has just left for a multi-destination business trip, with the first stop in Germany. Just before she left, X jumped into her arms and the two stared at each other, and somehow, a piece of Dolores' consciousness has been left in the cat. That is not to say that Dolores has much influence in what the cat does, but she does witness what the cat witnesses, and that includes many of the things that Gerald does, unbeknownst to Dolores before now.
As the days go by, Dolores tries to influence the cat's actions to both find out more, and to get Dolores to return home sooner than planned. Dolores, meanwhile, has a couple of weird experiences where thoughts and connections come into her head seemingly from nowhere.
The book culminates in a scene bringing most of the characters together in a in a dramatic climax.
It was a fun book, with elements of suspense and humour.

The Unquiet Dead (Reread)

Finished October 15
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

I read this first back in 2016, but it was the choice for my book club this month, so I reread it, and thoroughly enjoyed it the second time, seeing additional themes around mothers, female sexuality, and friendship. I've since read two following books in the series and am pleased that they still deal with complex issues, and that the characters continue to develop.


Finished October 7
Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott

This novel has a number of conflicts in it, taking place in England during the time that Richard I, the Lionhearted was returning from the Crusades. His brother Prince John has been ruling in his absence, and has a plot to continue to rule. Ivanhoe was one of the knights travelling with Richard, and distinguished himself while away.
As the novel begins, a Saxon lord, Cedric, and his ward Rowena are visiting by a Norman lord who lives nearby. The Norman lord is Brian de Bois-Guilbert, a member of the Knights Templar. Cedric knows he must play host, but does not enjoy this task of hosting Normans, hoping for a future Saxon king by wedding Rowena to another strong Saxon lord Athelstane. Cedric has banished his son Wilfred for wanting to marry Rowena himself. Wilfred had been given the manor of Ivanhoe by Richard I, but while both were away at the crusades, John gave it to Reginald Front-de-Boeuf, another Norman.
There is much wearing of disguises in the book as people pretend to be other than who they are. There is also intrigue as the Normans ambush and capture Cedris, Rowena, Isaac the Jew, his daughter Rebecca, and others in order to further their own ambitions.
We also have the hero Locksley, also known as Robin Hood, with his men, who are called upon to help rescue the captured.
There is jousting, hand combat, Jews, Christian monks, and many others who take roles in the many divides in the book.
I appreciated the character list at the beginning, which also told you the disguises the characters took, so you had a better sense of what was happening.

Sunday 21 October 2018

The Middleman

Finished October 5
The Middleman by Olen Steinhauer

This thriller revolves around a man, Martin Bishop, who wants to create peaceful change. His hope for change is common to many of us today, who see big corporations wielding too much power, and see the wealth gap growing. Bishop's followers are mostly young people, stuck in dead-end jobs and seeing no promising future.
The book opens with one of them, Kevin Moore, ex-military, living in San Francisco. One day he receives a cryptic message that he has been waiting for. He dumps his wallet and phone, and walks away from life, waiting at a pre-arranged spot to be picked up. He is one of hundreds of people going through similar actions that day and on the coming few days.
Bishop's movement is called the Massive Brigade, and while some think of them as peaceful as Martin makes them out to be, using the threat of violence to make change, rather than violence itself. But others think of them as terrorists, and, when the group takes responsibility for a series of violent acts, acts that Kevin is made part of, it seems that the question has been answered.
Rachel Proulx of the FBI has been following Martin for years, and believes she understands him to a large extent, and these actions surprise her. Another FBI agent, is assigned to her group, and seems to not always be doing what Rachel expects him to do. When she finds him responsible for an event she did not condone, she starts to ask questions.
But Rachel is sidelined and attacked, and it will be many months before she and others start to ask questions again. This time, will anybody listen to them?

Hell's Princess

Finished October 2
Hell's Princess: The Mystery of Belle Gunness, Butcher of Men by Harold Schechter

This biography looks at a woman serial killer who operated in small town Indiana in the early twentieth century. Born in 1859 a small town near Trondheim, Norway, she was known in her early life as Brynhild Paulsdatter Størset. She followed her older sister Nellie to Chicago around 1880, soon adopted a new American name, Bella Peterson. Bella took a job as a laundress and sewer, and began looking for a husband. From the beginning she was more interested in material goods than companionship. Her first husband, whom she married in 1884, was Mads Ditlev Anton Sorenson, a night watchman for one of the large department stores. She seemed to have a maternal instinct, taking an interest in children who were orphaned or otherwise underprivileged. After trying, unsuccessfully, to take custody of one of her sister's children, she adopted an infant in 1891. It is unclear whether the children that followed this one were her own or also adopted.
They managed to invest and make enough to move out to a middle class suburb, but it was an investment in the Yukon Mining & Trading Company, a scam, that caused them to lose much of their hope for the future. Soon after this a fire in their home resulted in another loss, although this time the loss was insured. Mads was a member of an association that provided him with a life insurance policy, and on the day that a new policy took effect (a single day of overlap) Mads died from an apparent illness at home.
After receiving the insurance money, Bella moved to La Porte, Indiana and bought a house and attached farmland. It was this property that Bella used to attract her victims. First among them was a former boarder, Peter Gunness, whom she married in early 1902.
In December of that year, Peter died from a head wound, seemingly from an object falling from a shelf, but some neighbours were suspicious. Soon after Bella began advertising in the Norwegian newspapers read by many immigrants from that country in the U.S. She had correspondences with several men, that indicated partnership and/or matrimony. and many men came to visit, disappearing with no one seeing them leave. Bella's oldest daughter also was said to have left suddenly, to go to a college in California, but none of her friends heard from her.
It was only with the suspicions of two brothers who tracked their third, missing brother's trail, that Bella came to be looked at. Right around then, a terrible fire took her home in the middle of the night, and it was some time before the authorities were able to find the remains of all who had been in the house. As they also began to dig up suspicious looking areas around the property, they found the remains of many bodies, and her notoriety began to form.
A fascinating and scary tale of one woman's greed and daring that took many lives.

Monday 15 October 2018

News of Our Loved Ones

Finished October 1
News of Our Loved Ones by Abigail DeWitt

This novel looks at one French family and how key moments changed the stories that they would live. The family lives in Normandy, in a village that was occupied by the Nazis in World War II. Some of them will stay in the village, some will go to Paris, and some even further away.
The story moves around in time, moving backwards and forwards and focusing on different people as they meet significant moments in their lives.
From a young girl's crush on a boy she sees from her window, to a doctor's visit, to a hobby of painting, to a walk along a Paris street, each character has moment where their story turned and became a different story.
This is a story of family, of the stories that make a shared history, of how a small moment can affect a life. I really enjoyed it.

Where the Wild Cherries Grow

Finished September 29
Where the Wild Cherries Grow by Laura Madeleine

This light novel takes place in two time periods, 1919 and 1969.
In 1919, Emeline Vane, a young woman, is still grieving the loss of all but her youngest brother, Timothy, in the war, and the deaths of her parents. Her father had left the house that they lived in on the coast of England, but no money. Her uncle has agreed to pay for the schooling of her young brother, but is insisting that the house be sold. Emeline is in a state of grief in which she is barely surviving. She is not eating, and for her the house represents the last bit of their family life.
When her uncle arranges for her to be sent away to a rest home in Switzerland, she seizes a moment in the train station in Paris and runs away.
She has no money, and no destination. She only knows that she doesn't want to be shut away for her own good.
In the later time period, Timothy's daughter is seizing a time when her father is very ill in hospital to seek to declare her long missing aunt dead, so that she can sell the estate to a developer. Because of the rush she is in, she goes to the lawyers who have been looking after the estate for all these years, a small firm, where a new lawyer, Bill Perch, is given the task as his first case. Bill goes to the house and finds information there that shows Emeline's state of mind, but there is something about her and the situation that makes him want to do the job right and try to find her if she is still alive.
As Bill follows in Emeline's path, we see him grow into a determined young man, as we see Emeline find a new future for herself that is not so very far from where she left.
A story around grief, love, and faith that hooked me and kept me reading.

La Femme De Gilles

Finished September 28
La Femme De Gilles by Madeleine Bourdouxhe, introduction by Elisa Albert, translated and with an afterword by Faith Evans

This short novel by a young Belgian writer, was first published in France in 1937, and with World War II soon upon the country, her work became largely overlooked. The story is set in a rural area of Belgium, and follows Elisa, a young mother, as she finds that her husband is having an affair.
Her reaction is the story.
Elisa lives near her family, and visits them often, but doesn't have a confiding relationship with them, and shares her pain with no one. She observes her husband and his distracted nature and watches him. She even follows him on one occasion when he leaves the house in the evening, Elisa has two young children and is pregnant with her third. In her time and place, leaving her marriage is not really an option that she considers. Instead, she tries to either redirect her husband's attentions, or wait out this betrayal. She hides her pain, and amazingly even offers comfort to her husband.
This is a story of obsession, of a woman burying her feelings as she tries to hang onto her world.
A poignant story.

Thursday 27 September 2018

Report from the Interior

Finished September 18
Report from the Interior by Paul Auster, read by the author

This memoir takes us from Paul's childhood through to his college days. The beginning was the most interesting to me, the random memories that he still had of those early days of moments caught in time. Memories of school, of friendships, of a love of baseball, realizing how his Jewish ancestry set him apart and his choice to embrace that.
The middle part covered two movies that made a big impression on him: The Incredible Shrinking Man and I Was a Prisoner on a Chain Gang. He describes these movies in detail, speaking of his reactions to them as they unfolded. They were very thorough and you could see the passion he had for these films, but less interesting to me as a reader.
The last part covers his college days and is taken from recently discovered letters he wrote to his first wife, Lydia Davis, which she shared with him. He has none of her letters, having not kept them, so it is very one-sided, and focused more on himself than on anything else. I found it a bit too self-centered to hold my interest.
Definitely not as good as his Winter Journal.