Saturday 30 June 2018


Finished June 29
NemeSIS by Susan Marshall

This YA novel by a Canadian author involves a number of issues that teens face in today's world. The main character, Nadine, is the younger of two sisters, and facing a lot of adjustments in life. She moved to high school over a year ago, but didn't adjust to the new environment as well as she thought she would. She feels out of place and the friends she had in middle school have moved on. Around the same time that move happened, her parents separated. Her dad went to New York, and while it was supposed to be temporary, a year has now passed and he's still there. Nadine was close to her dad, and they spent a lot of time bonding when he took her to her hockey games. Now she's quit hocket because she no longer has a reliable ride, and she's been hiding in the library at lunch time. She's also been avoiding her older and very pretty sister Rachel, as Rachel hasn't taken the changes in their home life well and seems to blame Nadine for every little thing that goes wrong. Her mood is volatile, and the way she treats Nadine is something Nadine is only realizing now as a form of bullying. With their mother working more hours and studying for her real estate exam, the two girls are alone together more now than ever before.
She knows something has to change, but she isn't sure where to start until she notices a AA flyer mentioning the twelve steps, and decides steps are what she needs to set to make the changes in her life. Her first move is approaching another girl she sees in the library at lunch, Anne, and this move towards friendship takes her slowly toward other changes in her life, some more difficult than others.
I liked the way we saw Nadine's thought processes as she found her way towards more self confidence, and problem solved along the way. When she had to deal with bad choices, she realized that they were something she needed to learn from and not hide from. A good choice for teen readers.

Every Note Played

Finished June 28
Every Note Played by Lisa Genova, read by Dennis Boutsikaris and Dogmara Dominczyk

This novel was amazing. Along with her own knowledge of neurological diseases, Lisa Genova has really done a lot of research for this book, and you get a definite sense of the awfulness of this disease, ALS, for both those who suffer from it, and those who care for them.
Here Richard, a reknowned classical pianist, is diagnosed with ALS, and we watch how he deals with this, at first alone, until he needs to acknowledge that he needs help.
Karina is his ex-wife, and the two had a long, but difficult marriage, marred with resentment on both sides, lies, betrayal, and unfulfilled dreams. Each had a hand in the derailment of the other's dreams, and the breakup was not an amicable one.
Their only child, Grace, is away at her first year of college, and is at first unaware of the situation her father is now in.
As we move from Richard's point of view to Karina's, we see how the love of music, of piano, that first brought them together, is still a link between them. We see how each struggles with both resentment and guilt over the missteps of their history together. ALS is a disease both predictable and unpredictable, in that you know where it will end, but not necessarily how it will get there. For Richard it starts with his right arm and hand, but he doesn't know when or what the next loss will be. As the disease progresses, we see how he deals with the new loss, and how Karina comes to terms with her role as caregiver.
Each story that I've read by Genova brings me understanding and empathy for those who suffer from these neurological ailments. ALS is a particularly horrible one, and this book makes that clear.

Men and Dogs

Finished June 24
Men and Dogs by Katie Crouch

This southern fiction book focuses on Hannah Legare, a woman who seemingly screwed up a happy life and career for reasons even she can't define. One issue is that she's never really accepted that her father died when he never returned from a fishing trip when she was a girl. As she returns from San Francisco back to the home of her mother and stepfather in Charleston, she finds herself reaching out to people in her past, revisiting memories, and asking questions that most near her have grown tired of. As we gradually learn about her unresolved grief, and see how it has affected the others in her family, we see the fear of loss and secret guilt has led to relationship issues for more than just Hannah. Her mother is in a loving marriage with a partner who cares deeply for her and her children, and her brother is a successful veterinarian. But her brother hasn't settled down, and has some issues with unresolved events in his past as well.
One gets a sense of the south from the novel and the culture of what is said and what isn't.
This novel has moments of humour, of sadness, and of hope

One Station Away

Finished June 23
One Station Away by Olaf Olafsson

This novel follows neurologist Magnus as he deals with the loss of his lover, the possibilities of an unidentified, seemingly unconscious woman being locked-in, and the resurgance of his mother's classical piano career.
Magnus is a man who really keeps to himself. He doesn't tell the people around him much of his personal life; he doesn't tell his family much about his personal or professional life; and he resents sharing his lover's time with anyone else.
As we gradually learn about his lover, and her reticence as well, we see that like him, she felt deeply, but didn't share a lot.
Magnus distanced himself from his parents years ago, and knows that his father has always been passionate about his mother's piano career, and as her agent has always been her biggest fan. When he finds his father excited at an uplift in her career, he is at first reluctant to believe in it, but finds himself gradually coming around as one of his coworkers, a man knowledgable about this aspect of music, appears to appreciate her work. He hopes that the cycle of rise and fall that has existed for her will be broken. From her, we see little, as she seems a quiet unassuming woman in person, and we don't get a sense of how she feels about everything.
At work, Magnus is interested in the experiences of the patients that he and his team have studied as they research aspects of those patients outwardly unconscious, but having some sense of the world going on around them. He begins to develop a rapport with the most recent patient, but his team begins to feel that he is hiding things from them.
This is a strange book, about a man that ultimately one doesn't quite understand, always, as the title says, one station away.

The Alice Network

Finished June 22
The Alice Network by Kate Quinn

This novel begins in 1947, but has flashbacks to 1915 and the years following that during WWI. 19-year-old Charlie St. Clair is enroute to Switzerland with her mother, to take care of her "problem." But Charlie doesn't view it in the same way as her parents do, and she is more driven to follow the one lead she has to find out what became of her cousin Rose during WWII. As she escapes from her mother's watch and goes to find a woman at a house in London, she is taking a big change. When she meets the woman, Eve Gardiner, and finds her resistant to her pleas, she isn't sure what to do next.
The next morning brings new possibilities, and Eve is more amenable to following Rose's trail in France, and the two set off with Eve's driver and minder, Finn, a young ex-serviceman with his own issues. A name that is Charlie's only clue to Rose's story has brought back a memory of her WWI experience to Eve, one that changed her live irrevokably. Eve was trained in England, and sent to France as a spy, under the network of Lili, aka Alice, as part of a wide network of female spies. She was tasked with working in a restaurant that the German officers frequented, and thus became an excellent source of information, but also was drawn into a relationship that she wanted no part of.
The novel tells Charlie's story and Eve's story in alternating chapters, and we gradually see Charlie grow in confidence, and Eve come out of the self-inflicted seclusion she put herself in.
As the trio follow the trail of the man responsible for so much destruction in 1947, Eve is also led back to her past to deal with her guilt.
The story is inspired by the real WWI female spy network of Louise de Bettignes, and the character Alice is based on Louise. I love how so many historical novels that I've read lately bring to light real women's stories that have never been covered in our history books.

The Vengeance of Mothers

Finished June 21
The Vengeance of Mothers: The Journals of Margaret Kelly and Molly McGill by Jim Fergus, read by Laura Hicks and Erik Steele

This historical novel is based on some real historical people in terms of the native leaders, such as Little Wolf and Crazy Horse. This is the second book in the series that began with One Thousand White Women. The novels are inspired by a request made during peace talks with the Cheyenne, where Little Wolf suggested the government send one thousand white women to be the brides of young Cheyenne warriors, as a way to assimilate. In the Cheyenne culture, children were automatically of the tribe of their mothers, so in their eyes, the children would be white. The request was never acted upon, but Fergus' novels take the idea of that into fruition.
Here, the survivors of an army attack on a Cheyenne village have made the journey to the camp of Crazy Horse, where they are taken in. Around the same time, a group of warriors have ambushed a train to get the horses and ammunition that were being shipped on it. Also on the train was the last batch of women sent under the Brides for Indians program, and the survivors have been brought to the camp as well.
Margaret and Susie Kelly, survivors of the attack on the village are asked to talk to the women from the train and explain the current situation, and the cancellation of the Brides program, and offer them choices. The majority of women from the train volunteered for the program to escape a worse situation and have no wish to return to that situation. As we learn about the women, we learn about their histories, from incarceration, to mental institutions, widowhood to brothels and domestic abuse, the women are all willing to try to assimilate to the native culture.
As in the first novel in the series, the women have been given account ledgers, which a couple of them use as diaries. One of them is Margaret Kelly, who writes for both herself and her twin sister Susie. The other is Molly McGill, one of the women from the train, who worked as a teacher until her recent incarceration.
The journals are brought to the attention of a newspaper editor in the present day, and he sorts them by date, and transcribes them, moving alternately between the two memoirists as they pass through the remaining winter and into the spring of 1876. This is the frame of the story, but the story itself, told as diary entries is full of emotion, detail, and description.
The characters are drawn well, and with respectful acknowledgement of native culture and the unfair treatment by the US government. We really see life in the native encampments and the nature of the battles between the government forces, their allied native partners, and the tribes they warred with.
A wonderful story.

Sunday 17 June 2018

Cowboy Boots for Christmas

Finished June 16
Cowboy Boots for Christmas (Cowboy Not Included) by Carolyn Brown

Sometimes it's nice to just read an escape romance, and this fit the bill. This is the first in a series for the prolific romance author. The cowboy in question is Finn O'Donnell, former military sniper, and new ranch owner in the small town of Burnt Boot, Texas. He has refused a couple of offers recently to return to service, and he thinks the vehicles coming up his drive are a third try. But he is mistaken. as Callie Brewster, the woman who he was partnered with steps out of one of the vehicles. Callie was his spotter, and he hasn't seen her in a couple of years, having lost touch when he left the service.
Callie retuned home following the death of her sister, to care for and adopt her six year old nephew Martin. Recently, Martin witnessed a crime, and until the trial the authorities think he should make himself hard to find.
Finn agrees to take them in, knowing the capabilities of his former partner, but soon the house becomes home to other strays, both animals and people.
A story of compassion, mutual crushes, trust, and community, this is a definite feel-good read.

Confessions of a Funeral Director

Finished June 15
Confessions of a Funeral Director: How the Business of Death Saved My Life by Caleb Wilde

The author of this book started writing a blog about his experience as a sixth generation funeral director, and that led to this book. He is very open about his experiences, including his initial reluctance to join the family business, one that both of his parents grew up in. He discusses his crisis of faith, his ongoing uncertainty about his career, his moments of understanding and enlightenment, his respect for the people whose bodies he looks after, and their loved ones. He talks about his own family and the things he has learned from his father, both his grandfathers, and others. He includes deaths that affected him personally, as well as those for whom he only learned the stories as he carried out his services. Drawing on different experiences that he was part of, he showed how other people, other organizations, and religious bodies showed honour to those that died as well.
He took on graduate work on the subject of death, religion, and culture and thus was closely observing these experiences, thinking hard about them, and trying to learn more, and that all shows here.
One bit of writing that I shared with a friend going through her own loss touched me,
Nevertheless, death asks us to pause. It doesn't tell us what we need to do when we pause (there may be nothing to do at all), but it asks us to be in its presence. To site with it. Listen to it. To lay aside chronos and embrace kairos. [Kairos has to do with the quality of time, not with the passing of time] ... It's not a moment of weakness but of strength, and we need to be reminded to allow for these natural pauses in life. We will find that death sits at the heart of what it means to be human, and we mayjust find ourselves when we practice death Sabbath
I didn't always connect with everything he wrote, as much as did with this, but I always appreciated his thoughts and feelings around these issues.


Finished June 9
Whisper by Lynette Noni

This teen novel is the first in a series. A woman, known as Jane Doe or Subject Six Eight Four, is being held in a secret facility underground. She has been told only that it is a government facility and that she needs to cooperate with the people working with her.
Her day is routine. Her locked cell is bare, she has no footware, and a basic dress to wear. She meets every day with a therapist, a physical trainer, and a doctor who performs tests on her. She says nothing to anyone. She sits silently with the therapist, does everything the personal trainer asks her to do, and endures the painful experiments in silent stoicism. She has been here for two and a half years, and is still not sure of anything except that they want her to speak, something she is determined not to do. Then one day, her routine is interrupted. After all her normal daily activities have ended, she is taken from her cell to an area of the complex she hasn't been before and she meets with the man in charge. He tells her that they are tired of waiting for something they don't believe will ever happen, and she will work with someone new for the next month, and if nothing comes of it, he implies that she will die.
The woman is surprised to find that her new interaction is with a young man close to her own age, a man who treats her kindly, who offers her comforts, who introduces her to other young people. Her silent stoicism is no longer the effective defense it has been.
When an unexpected situation impels her to speak, she finds that this opens new doors, new opportunities for her. But as things continue, she finds that these people know more about her than she has shared, and may not have been telling her the truth.
A great start to a new and interesting series.

Greeks Bearing Gifts

Finished June 5
Greeks Bearing Gifts by Philip Kerr

This is part of the series featuring Bernie Gunther, but the first one that I have read.
This story takes place in 1957, and begins in Munich, where Bernie has taken on a new identity as Christof Ganz, and is working as mortuary attendant in a hospital. When the body of a man killed due to an explosion of a war period bomb needs to be identified by one of the men injured in the same incident, Ganz must show the body to the man and one of the policemen in attendance recognizes him. As he gets drawn into a situation that he knows will create problems for him, he trusts his instincts and goes for help to a man he knows, who also has involvement with the blackmailer.
As a result Ganz gets recommended for a job as an insurance adjustor. His detective skills make the job a good fit for him, and he gets brought in to cover for another colleague in the insurance on a boat that was sunk in Greece.
As he meets with the man at the Athens office of the insurance company, and gets to know him, he also lets his instincts lead him to follow the man claiming the loss. The subsequent death of the man raises other issues, and he ends up working with a Greek police detective to try to find the killer behind this and other deaths.
The case takes him to local lawyers, accused war criminals, museum curators, a beautiful young woman, and an arm of the Israeli state.
This is a complex case, with a reach back into the war years, with Gunther/Ganz wanting to do the right thing to atone for his country's actions in the war, but also save his own skin.
I quite enjoyed it.

Lilac Girls

Finished June 1
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

This book is based on real women in history. It is told around three women, with each of them taking turns in telling her story. One of them is the real-life New York socialite Caroline Ferriday. Caroline had worked as an actress, but by 1939 was acting as a liaison to the French consulate in New York City. Herta Oberheuser was also a real person, a young female German doctor who worked at Ravensbrück concentration camp. The third woman, Kasia Kuzmerick, along with her sister Zusanna, are based on real life women Nina Iwanska and her sister Krystyna, who were both operated on at the camp. The author did a lot of research, looking at letters, diaries, testimonies, and visiting the sites of the story. She includes an author's note that details her work, and where fiction varied from fact.
In the story, Caroline efforts are towards French people in the United States, and orphans homes in France. She tries to locate relatives of people who come into the consulate, and sends clothes, supplies, and money to the orphanages. She has a relationship with a well-known French actor, whose Jewish wife is still back in France, and after the war, when she finds out about a group of Polish women victimized by their Nazi jailors she takes on their case.
Kasia is a teenager in Lublin, Poland. Her older sister Zusanna is trained as a doctor, and their father is head of the postal office. Their mother is of German heritage, but that doesn't matter when Kasia and the other women of the family get caught up in a German sweep of the town and taken to Ravensbrück concentration camp for womn near Furstenberg. A number of the Polish women in her group were subjected to experipents related to sulfa, with doctors injecting their legs with bacteria and foreign agents. The became known as Rabbits, as they often hopped about on their good leg after the operations, and were experimental subjects, like rabbits had often been.
Herta came to Ravensbrück around the same time as the Polish women, and was the only female doctor at the camp. She was put on trial and imprisoned after the war, but was released early and went on to practice medicine afterwards.
As this novel tells the story from these three points of view, we see the motivations, and the blind spots for each of them. I love history and found this a fascinating story of an atrocity of war that I knew little about before.

Monday 11 June 2018

Promise Not to Tell

Finished May 29
Promise Not to Tell by Jayne Ann Krentz, narrated by Susan Bennett

This thriller takes place in and around Seattle, with two main characters who have a shared traumatic past. Virginia Troy was only a young child when she survived a deliberate fire at a rural cult compound. Her mother died in the fire, and Virginia still has nightmares about that night, despite being raised by a loving grandmother. Cabot Sutter was a bit older than Virginia when he survived that fire, and he also lost his mother. His mother's family wanted nothing to do with him, and he was raised along with two other young male survivors by a man who had his own terrors from that night, Anson Salinas, the police detective that saved them. Anson and all three of the young men have now joined together in a detective agency, and they have reason to believe the cult leader Quinton Zane is still alive despite the boat fire that was supposed to have killed him.
Virginia has made a good life running her own art gallery, and recently made contact with a couple of older women who also survived that night. They were friends of her mothers, and one of them found her truth through painting. The pictures she painted of that night are dark and haunting, even disturbing, but also very good. Virginia has taken the paintings, but it is the last painting, sent to her just as the artist died in a very suspicious manner, that has made Virginia seek out Anson and his agency as people who won't dismiss her suspicions that Zane is still alive. She is correct, and as Cabot returned to the office as she was describing the situation, he is the one that works with her on the case. It doesn't hurt that there is a spark between them, and that they both understand the other's PTSD symptoms.
At the same time this is all happening, Xavier, a younger cousin in Cabot's estranged family approaches him out of curiousity and rebellion wanting to know more about this cousin his father and grandfather hated so much. At first Cabot doesn't want to deal with him, but Virginia and Anson convince him to give the young man a chance without blaming him for his family's actions.
The cult element is very interesting, showing the tactics and personal characteristics of a sociopath intent on his own interests. This is the second book in a series, and I haven't read the first, but had no issues with that.

Missing Mike

Finished May 27
Missing Mike by Shari Green

This children's novel centers on one 11-year-old girl, Cara Donovan, as she and her family deal with the threat of encroaching forest fires, evacuation, and worry. The town that Cara's family lives in, Pine Grove, is a fictional place that could, unfortunately stand in for many Canadian town which have been devasted by fire, but for me it brought to mind the terrible scenes from Fort McMurray and the evacuation of that community.
Cara, her older sister, Sloane, and their parents live in a town that is threatened by encroaching fires. They have an emergency kit, and their mother asks them to pack an overnight bag with essentials, just in case. Cara has been planning for a great summer, exploring on the new bike she got just as school let out, an early birthday present. As the book begins, she is out on a trail with her dog Mike. Mike is named after Mike Wazowski, a one-eyed monster from Disney movies. Mike is a dog that Cara chose two years ago, when she convinced her parents she was ready for a dog. Her parents steered her toward the cute puppies at the shelter, but Cara was drawn to Mike, an older dog, who shows the scars of past fights, include a tattered ear and the loss of an eye. And they've been practically inseparable since.
Mike still has nervous moments though, and it is one of these that causes him to disappear just when the Donovans have to evacuate. Cara is despondent, and the trip to the distant town they are evacuated to is a tense time, as the fire stays close for a long while, and others leaving need help along the way.
Cara tries to keep herself busy, spending time with Jewel, the foster daughter of their host family, and volunteering at the evacuation center. She quickly finds out how to fill out a form to let authorities know about her dog, but nothing really distracts her completely from her loss.
The desperation of the situation, while fleeing the fire is expressed well, and Cara's focus on her loved pet Mike is a constant.
The book is written in free verse, which adds an interesting flow to the story. And I loved that Cara was a crossword fanatic, mulling over word definitions and able to consider how a word might mean different things to different people. A big part of Cara's musings throughout the book are around the word "home" and how the word can mean sometime differnt to people given their experiences, personalities, and situations. A book that will get the reader thinking.

Sunday 3 June 2018

It's Always the Husband

Finished May 25
It's Always the Husband by Michele Campbell, read by January LaVoy

This psychological suspense novel follows three college roommates from very different backgrounds. The girls meet at the beginning of their first year at Carlisle College in New Hampshire. Aubrey is a poor girl from Vegas who has made it to college on her marks. She is hoping to make the contacts to lead her to a life beyond the one she experienced up until now. Jenny is a local girl who has always had an eye towards her future, making the right connections, getting good grades, and planning ahead. Kate is the spoiled rich girl, whose daddy is one of the board members at the college and a major donor. Too bad that she no longer has a great relationship with her father.
As the girls go through their first year, they become friends despite their differences, hanging out together often enough that they become known as the Whipple triplets after the dorm that they live in. Aubrey hero worships Kate in a way that Jenny finds disturbing, and that and family issues lead to her grades slipping significantly. Kate becomes the campus party girl, indulging in alcohol, drugs, and sex at the expense of her courses. Jenny is still the go getter, getting a part-time job in the provost's office and finding herself agreeing to something that she should know better than to do, but that she believes will lead to a better future for herself.
As the year goes on and the antics grow wilder, including a ill-fated spring break trip, things culminate in a tense scene at an abandoned railway bridge in the woods, and someone dies. What really happened that night is hushed up and the girls go their separate ways. But twenty years later, Jenny is the town mayor married to a local boy, Aubrey is a new age yoga teacher married to a less than loyal doctor, and Kate is back in town as a result of her husband's father being caught in financial fraud. And this time around the girls aren't so friendly with each other. This is a story more psychological than action-based, and definitely a who-done-it question on a death that occurs in the present world. With lots of twists and turns, and plenty of motives, you won't be sure who to believe.

How to Find Love in a Book Shop

Finished May 25
How to Find Love in a Book Shop by Veronica Henry

This romantic novel has a touch of sadness to it as well. Emilia has returned to the small Cotswold town of Peasebrook that she grew up in as her father Julius is dying. She grew up in an apartment over the bookstore, Nightingale Books that he ran. Emilia must now decide what to do. She always intended to run the bookstore some day, but she'd thought that day was far ahead of her. She knows that a local developer, Ian Mendip has his eye on the property to gain enough parking for the high end condos he is building just behind, but she really wants to keep it open.
The bookstore employees are all eager to put their skills to work to bring new life to the store, her best friend puts her accounting skills to work to sort out the financial confusion that Julius left behind, and a new acquaintance offers valuable assistance in rethinking the interior of the shop to draw in new trade. But Emilia has a big learning curve and Ian Mendip doesn't want to take no for an answer.
I liked the various characters that came into the story, from the cooking teacher and her protege, to the nearby estate owners come garden shop operators, and the small music group. There are lots of subplots, interesting personalities and more than one burgeoning romance. The power of books to connect is shown as well. A feel good read.

Montrose County

Finished May 23
Montrose County by Bill Greenwood

This thriller follows more than one set of characters, and includes a past timeline for one of them. The chapter headings helpfully give place of action and timeline, and the author also uses quick phrases to link events together between characters. The first character we see is a woman, Sabrina Murdoch, waking from a recurring dream she has related to the past. It's just a glimpse, and we move on to another set of charcters, very far away.
These are a pair of Canadian soldiers working as a remote commando force. Mike Buffalo and Brad Hall have worked together before, and are a good team. They are one of several sniper teams tracking Islamic State fighters, and so far the most successful in terms of hits. The drones that work with these units are operated out of Nellis AFB in Nevada, managed by Lt. Col. Tony Benedetto. As they check in after their hit, they are informed that satellite phones, satellite GPS, and drone coverage will not be available for the next day or so due to an expected solar flare. They are also asked to check on the ground result of a hit on a building where some type of meeting seemed to be happening.
The two capable men make their way by maps and orienteering to the specified site, But there they find something bigger and more disturbing than they would ever have guessed, and circumstances mean they have to use all their creativity and skill to convey what they found back to base.
The next group of people we see are some well-meaning American, intent on doing right by those less lucky in their life situation. Unfortunately, they are a bit too trusting, and in this case, people with bad ulterior motives have taken advantage of their kind hearts. Similar situations play out with other components needed for the planned crime.
Back to the first character, Sabrina, who works in the titled Montrose County in Colorado as a deputy. She has worked there for a couple of years. She has the duty of driving a prisoner over the courthouse. On the way over, she encounters a truck slightly damaged by an encounter with wildlife, and is faced with a situation that she finds difficult to deal with. When she makes it to Ouray, she has a moment to chat with a county deputy that she has begun a relationship with, Rick Sanchez.
We gradually learn of Sabrina's interactions with the locals, including an older rancher named Del and his wife. Del understands her and some of her baggage, because he is a Vietnam vet. At one point, we have a flashback to several years earlier to an intense firefight that Sabrina was involved in while in Iraq and we understand the source of her anxiety and dreams.
As we follow the events with Buffalo and Halls and with Murdoch and others in her area, we gradually move closer to the time of the planned crime, and the suspense builds.
I really enjoyed this thriller, and the way the author gradually revealed the characters to us, giving us a real sense of who they were. The use of humour, creativity, and military detail all made this book a page turner for me. Highly recommended.