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.