Tuesday 31 December 2019

The Last Lie

Finished December 23
The Last Lie by Alex Lake

This suspense novel revolves around a marriage. Claire Daniels lost her mother when she was young, and has chosen a different field than her father to focus her energies on. She wants to create her own family and believes that her husband Alfie shares her dreams. But Alfie has used his relationship with Claire for his own purposes, and has very different dreams for the future. Dreams that don't include her. Alfie is a very unlikeable character, and Claire is more naive in her personal life than she should be. Both of them have images of what their spouse is that don't align with reality.
As Alfie puts his plan in place, sudden events cause him to rethink and open everyone up to reacting to events as they happen, and plans must be adjusted.
There are so many lies in this book that the reader must sift through, looking for what is real. A quick read.

What She Saw

Finished December 21
What She Saw by Gerard Stembridge

This psychological thriller has you unsure of who or what to believe. Lana Gibson is an American who lives in Dublin due to her husband's job. She has traveled on a whim to Paris to see an Edward Hopper exhibit. But she may have underlying motives that become clear more gradually.
She stays at an upscale hotel, The Hotel Chevalier on the Right Bank, and is intrigued by a suite with its own private elevator. When her curiosity gets the better of her, and she gains access to the suite, she sees something that she shouldn't have and the story really gets going.
Lana has a previous history in Paris that she is both drawn to and regrets. She is also an unreliable narrator as she is bipolar and doesn't always take her medicines when she should. As the events resulting from her curiosity overtake her, she must make choices based on the moment.
Lana is a smart woman, but she doesn't always pay enough attention to what's happening when she focuses too much on something, and that gets her into real trouble. This was a fast-moving novel that kept me on my toes right to the end.
I liked the plot lines involving politics, and how they reflect some real life trends.

Saturday 28 December 2019

The Misunderstanding

Finished December 19
The Misunderstanding by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith

This short novel was the first one Nemirovsky published and to me it felt very much of its time. I didn't like any of the characters.
This is a story of a romance between a young man, hero of the First World War, whose family fortunes disappeared after the war, forcing him to work in an office, and a young woman, married to a successful entrepreneur, who was a friend of the other young man in the war, now with a young daughter. The young family meets the man at a holiday seaside resort. The married young man stays only a brief time before going off on business, but the other young man has saved his whole year to savour this one reminiscent experience of his life before the war.
He begins to spend time with the woman and her daughter, gradually seducing her as he does so.
Back in Paris, in everyday life, he is not as free with his time, and the relationship is altered, with neither party satisfied with the result.
There were several things that bothered me about the characters and circumstances, and all I think related to the book being of its time. One was the young man's self-centeredness. He didn't like having to work, didn't like the fact that he had less money than his lover, didn't like being reminded of that fact by her taste and preferences, and was just generally unhappy with his lot in life and taking it out on her. She was too selfless in her passion for him, and inconsiderate of the faithful and successful man she had married, and of her child. Even when she takes advice from his mother, it is about pretending not to care as much and letting him dictate the ways of the relationship. Definitely not my favourite book by this author.
It is however an interesting character study, and that made it worth the read. 

The Music Shop

Finished December 14
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

I've had this on my shelf for far too long, but it came up as my book club book this month, so it finally got read. The story is set in London, starting in 1988. Frank owns a small music shop selling only vinyl. CDs are starting to be very popular, but he's convinced that vinyl is best.
Frank had an odd upbringing, raised by a single parent who treated him less like a child than a roommate. His mother knew a lot about music though, and was passionate about it, and made him listen to music often, telling him about the musicians who created it, the style, the history and everything else she knew about it. He listens with a very focused and educated ear. Frank also has a very empathetic manner, able to choose the right piece of music for people at certain times in their lives. He has two listening booths he built in his shop and they are often the place that his clients first listen to the songs he picks for them.
Frank is also tied to the small community of shop-owners and residents on his cul-de-sac. There is a tattoo artist, a baker, a funeral parlor, and a pub, among others.
As the book begins, a developer is trying to convince the various property owners to sellup, but Frank is one of the ones that holds firm to his property.
Frank also employs a young man Kit as a general assistant. Kit is like an eager puppy, cheerful and exuberant, but also very clumsy. Into this environment one day comes a young German woman Ilse, and she finds her own place in the story, one that is pivotal, yet also not fully realized.
The passages about music in this book make me want to find the music mentioned and listen to it. Even those pieces that I was already familiar with became new to me as I learned more about them.
Highly recommended (and my book club liked it too)

Liz and Nellie

Finished December 13
Liz and Nellie by Shonna Slayton

This book was one I sought out last year to fit a challenge (to read a book by an author with the same first or last name). I didn't get it read last year, but did this year, and enjoyed it.
The story follows two real women, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland who each set off to beat the time for global circumnavigation set in Jules Verne's fictional Around the World in Eighty Days. They left in November 1889, and returned in early 1890.
It was Nellie's idea to do this. She was a young newspaper reporter looking for an edge, a story, and a way to get more interesting assignments. For Elizabeth, it was her boss's  idea that she also try to set a record, and compete against Nellie. Elizabeth was also a New York journalist, but this wasn't a journey she really wanted to do.
Nellie traveled east and Elizabeth traveled west, both leaving from New York City.
The author based her story of real historical documents including the women's own writings. She's filled out the missing information based on history, while making the writing more modern in style.
Both women were independently minded, adventurous and smart. They were curious about the places they visited, and about the people they met. I hadn't heard of Bisland before reading this, but actually found myself liking her the better of the two.
A very entertaining and enlightening read.

Murder List

Finished December 11
Murder List by Julie Garwood

This romantic suspense novel is part of a series, but I haven't read the others. The main character, Regan Hamilton Madison is the only daughter in a hotel-owning family. Her father died when she was young, and her mother was preoccupied, so she was mostly raised by her three older brothers, Aidan, Spencer, and Walker, who tend to be over-protective, although encouraging. She's smart and beautiful but hasn't had a lot of boyfriends, with the latest one dumped after revealing himself as after her money.
Her job in the family business has to do with the foundation, finding worthy causes to fund with the money earned by the hotels. Her two best friends date back to her kindergarten days, and one, Sophie, is a newspaper reporter with a loving, albeit criminal-minded father, and the other, Cordelia, a science teacher. Sophie is onto a potentially big story, looking into a pop psychologist who charms older women out of their money, and possibly more. Sophie suspects him of murder.
We also see the story unfold from the viewpoint of a killer, an unnamed man with a wife, Nina, in a wheelchair due to an accident. He is obsessed with Regan and determined to both kill her and somehow protect her as she aligns with his wife in his mind.
As the book begins, Regan and Cordelia agree to help Sophie look into the psychologist by attending one of his seminars. One of the activities during the seminar is to create a list of people in your life who'd be better off dead and then ritualistically burn it. Due to circumstances, Regan misses the burning portion of the exercise, and then is involved in a scary situation.
When people on her list start turning up dead, and someone threatens her more directly, she involves the police. But will they and her security team be able to stop someone as determined as the stalker behind the killings?
There is lots of suspense here, and some definite attraction between Regan and the police officer assigned to be her minder. A light, but engaging read.

Bad Ideas

Finished December 9
Bad Ideas by Missy Marston

This novel is in the 1970s in Preston Mills, a small factory town in eastern Ontario. Trudy is a young woman who grew up in the town she lives in. She works in the local factory and lives with her mother Claire and her four-year-old niece Mercy. Claire had fallen in love with Darren, a young man working on the St. Lawrence Seaway project nearby, and both Trudy and her sister Tammy were children of that relationship. But soon after Tammy was born, he was gone, back to his life and wife elsewhere. Claire never had another relationship, sure that someday Darren would return to her. Tammy, like her mother got pregnant as a teenager, and soon after Mercy was a toddler, she left for a different life somewhere else. So Claire and Trudy raised Mercy, and loved her. But it left Trudy with a certainty that men couldn't be trusted, one she held true to until one day a very different young man entered town.
Jules Tremblay, an aspiring daredevil, plans to build a ramp and fly over the Seaway in his car. We see his story as he looks for promotional sponsors, funding, and waits for the ramp to be built. Trudy finds herself fascinated by him, drawn to him despite her reservations.
Meanwhile Tammy is drawn back to the idea of life with her young child. In a new relationship, she finds herself thinking about returning to Mercy, and making a new beginning.
As we hear from the different characters: Trudy, Claire, Darren, Jules, Tammy, and Mercy, through the first half of the book, we see what drives them, what goes on inside their heads. In the second half of the book the organization is by theme and we again see from multiple points of view, but here more closely aligned with each other, sometimes of the same events. This section is split into So Long at the Fair, The Circus, and The Stunt.
I loved the characters here, from Trudy with her determination and hope for a better life, to Claire's unending belief in Darren, to Mercy's pragmatism, and Jules' dreams of fame.
The plot unfolded beautifully too, and seeing the story from different viewpoints really brought it together. A great read.

Hid From Our Eyes

Finished December 6
Hid From Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming

This book was a long time coming as the author took a hiatus from writing due to several things happening in her personal life, including the illness and loss of her husband. My advance copy came with a letter explaining the reasons behind the hiatus, some of which I already knew as I follow her online. The new book is well worth waiting for however, and I had to remind myself to savour it rather than devour it.
There are several themes present here that provided a lot of plot opportunities: a transgender character, the struggle against addiction, the corruptive nature of power, taxes versus services, and the oft-thwarted path of youthful love.
Clare and Russ are dealing with the way their lives have changed with a baby, young Ethan. Clare wants to avoid institutional daycare, but that makes new parenting more complicated. She also has guilt over whether Ethan has long term effects from her struggles with addiction before she realized she was pregnant. A possible placement with her church may offer some respite for her.
But this novel doesn't just deal with events of the present day. It takes us back to two previous time periods through the occurrences of similar strange murders in each. The first is in August 1952, where a young woman dressed in a party dress is found dead in the middle of a lonely road with no apparent signs of trauma to explain her death and no personal effects to identify her. That August, young Harry McNeil is with the State Police and shares information with the chief of the Millers Kill police force.
In August 1972, Harry is chief of the Millers Kill police when a similar crime presents itself. A young woman in a party dress, dead on the same stretch of road. She is found by a young man on his motorcycle, a young man recently home from Vietnam and dealing with PTSD. A young man Harry knows, Russ Van Alstyne.
It is August in the present day, and a woman comes across another crime scene. This one is the same. A young woman in a party dress, on the same stretch of road, and Russ, now chief of police himself, recognizes it immediately, but waits for the rest of his team to look at all the evidence before sharing the previous cases. Neither of the two earlier cases was resolved, although the woman from 1972 was identified. But the coroner of the present day is determined to figure out the hard-to-determine cause of death and uses every means he can to do so. And forensics has come a long ways over the years. Russ hasn't shared this part of his past with Clare and so she begins to dig as well, looking for explanations.
Russ is also dealing with upcoming votes on whether to close the local police force down and use the State Police instead. Having to campaign and deal with the politics of this and the worry over the future of his staff occupy a large part of his time as well.
The crimes were very interesting, and the situations in Russ and Clare's lives even more so. We also saw more of the young female police officer Hadley, and of the former Millers Kill, now state police officer Kevin Flynn, which provided another couple of interesting plot lines.
This book has a lot going on, and a lot to think about. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday 9 December 2019

Redemption Road

Finished December 5
Redemption Road by John Hart, Read by Scott Shepherd

This is a haunting book, one with a lot of characters struggling to survive against long odds. The woman at the center of the story is Liz Black, a police officer who has just come through a terrifying ordeal. She was the first officer on the scene of a teenager who was being held in an abandoned building, tortured, and raped. The men holding the teen were shot multiple times and Liz is up on charges for excessive use of force, and suspended during the investigation. She's started smoking again, and isn't eating or sleeping properly. She won't talk to anyone about it, and you understand that she and the teen girl are hiding what really happened at the scene. Liz also carries baggage from her youth, when she was raped by a young man she'd considered to be a friend up until then and then felt that her parents didn't properly support her following the rape. She blames her father, a preacher, more than her mother, but that incident has shaped her life in many ways you only gradually begin to understand. One of those ways is a strong feeling of trust in a police officer, Adrian Wall. Adrian was found guilty of killing a woman, a woman that Liz found dead on the altar of her father's church. She tried to look at other scenarios for the crime, but her superior officers shut her down and blocked her efforts. She took the young child of the woman who died, Gideon, under her wing, and was there for him when his father repeatedly wasn't.
Gideon feels that he has to do something to revenge his mother's death, and it is his actions that lead to his being injured and nearly dying.
Adrian is being released from prison, but his time that has changed him in many ways. The extent of what happened to him in prison is only revealed gradually, but you know that he was ill-treated by some of the guards from near the beginning of this novel. Adrian struggles with the loss of his life before prison, of the loss of people that he loved, of the land that had been in his family for generations, and of the way almost everyone he knew turned their backs on him, when he wasn't guilty.
Channing Shore, the teen who Liz found in the derelict house is also haunted by what happened there, and what led to it. Liz is the only person she can talk to, and the only one who makes her feel that she can find a future. As we gradually learn the truth about what happened, we understand her struggle and as we watch her deal with even more, we fight for her to survive.
We see the actions of the serial killer, the man whose serious crimes began with the ritualized murder of the woman that Adrian was convicted of killing, and who is choosing his most recent victim as the book opens. The terror of his victims is palpable and his actions have meaning that the reader doesn't understand until much later.
There are other interesting characters in the book as well: the retired Southern lawyer known as Crybaby Jones, the rough cop who gives Liz a chance with information the brass don't want to give her. There are those who are evil, who don't care about anybody, who don't seem human. Liz's empathy stands out even more juxtaposed against them.
A winner

See What Flowers

Finished November 19
See What Flowers by Shannon Mullen

This novel is told in four parts. It begins with a couple, Emma in Toronto, Adam in Vancouver, dealing with the aftermath of something they don't understand. They live together in Toronto, but Adam disappeared suddenly ten days ago and Emma hasn't been able to figure out why or where he is. Adam finds himself in jail in Vancouver, unable to remember how he got there. He is a mess, and feels ashamed and confused. As the two reconnect and try to make sense of what has happened, they react in different ways. Emma is a doctor working in emergency care, and Adam is part owner of a gym that is doing well. But he can't seem to move forward, and Emma finds it difficult to deal with this new version of the man she loves.
Part two moves back to before the incident that changed everything, and looks at their lives, their successes, and their happiness. We see how much they care about each other, but also the insecurity that couple often have about their relationship.
Part three deals with Adam's actions that led him to where he ended up as the book began, and we gradually understand that this is a more complex issue, and one that isn't easy for anyone involved.
Part four takes us a few months forward as each of them, in a new environment looks for a way to a future they can manage.
This is a fascinating first novel by a very promising writer. She deals with the realities of mental illness and its effects on both the person living with the illness and the people close to them. The story is told in vignettes with headers of the speaker, the date, and the time. She uses fonts to indicate what people are saying and what they are thinking. She uses pop culture references to bring a sense of normalcy to situations. I really like her style and how she her writing really made the characters real and relatable.
This is a book I'd recommend to anyone interested in people and what makes them tick.

Saturday 23 November 2019

Dark at the Crossing

Finished November 20 
Dark at the Crossing by Elliot Ackerman, read by Vikas Adam

This story takes place over a short time period.
A young man, Haris Abadi, an Iraqi-American has come to Turkey to cross into Syria to help the rebels. Haris has a lot of baggage from his previous experience working as a translator for American troops in Iraq. His close relationship with one soldier in particular is one that he keeps coming back to in his head. As a translator, he didn't always agree with the methods used by the Americans, and sometimes felt he didn't belong anywhere. He already had his American citizenship before working as a translator and was trying to make a better life for his sister. Once he felt that she had moved on, he was at loose ends, and felt drawn back to this area of the world.
When he is robbed when trusting someone to help him across the border, he is taken in by another young man Amir, a Syrian working as a researcher. Amir is married to Daphne and came to Turkey when Daphne was badly hurt in an explosion in their home. Their marriage is troubled, and Daphne longs to return to look for what she has lost.
As the plans evolve to have Haris accompany Daphne into Syria, he begins to look harder at his own motives and what he wants to accomplish.
This is a difficult book, one where things aren't black and white. But it is thought-provoking.

Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Golden Samovar

Finished November 16
Miss Blaine's Prefect and the Golden Samovar by Olga Wojtas

I have to say that this book was a disappointing read. It was chosen for a book club kit on a whim as the main character's name was similar to mine and she was a librarian. Blurbs compared it to the works of Jasper Fforde, which I've enjoyed.
My book club read it, and we were universally disappointed. The main character, Shona was not likeable, and her backstory was missing. So we didn't understand how she came to time travel, nor why, nor what her role back in modern-day Scotland was. There was a lot of reference to the book The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie as a book that was anathema to Shona and Miss Blaine, but no real details of why.
Shona is on a mission in 19th-century Russia, but she doesn't know the details of the mission, nor does she know exactly what year it is. She may have been able to learn by listening more closely to the people she meets, but instead tries to use clues from various practices and inventions to narrow down the time period. There is a note at the end that says there are clues in the book that one can follow to find out the year, but frankly none of us in my book club could be bothered.
We didn't find the purported humour that was supposed to be present in the book either. Most of us were annoyed by the superior attitude that Shona showed, particularly as she didn't measure up in her actions. She seemed rather full of herself.
The book seems to indicate that it is the first of a series, but I'm not interested in reading more in this line.
On the positive side, it was a quick and easy read and we all finished the whole book. One of our members commented on the translation issues that Shona had when speaking Russian and using various phrases that didn't translate to mean what she wanted, and felt this was an insight into the nature of language and idioms.

The Dandelion Years

Finished November 11
The Dandelion Years by Erica James

Saskia has grown up in a house with three men: her father and her two grandfathers. When she was very young, her mother and grandmothers were killed in a car accident, and one of her grandfathers proposed this as a way of living. It has worked well. One of her grandfathers has taken on the cooking, one does the shopping and gardening. Her father manages the used bookstore in town. But now Saskia is an adult, beginning her own career as a book restorer and there is change on the horizon.
Her father reconnects with a woman he dated secretly a few years ago and her grandfathers are aging. Saskia discovers a book hidden inside another book when inventorying an estate collection, a diary dating from the Second World War by someone who worked at Bletchley Park. It intrigues her and she reads it avidly, alerting the young man who inherited the collection, who also becomes intrigued by the life history of the man who acted as a father to him.
A story of romance, loss, and connections.

Golden Age

Finished November 5
Golden Age by Jane Smiley, read by Lorelei King

This is the third book in a trilogy. I read the second one Early Warning a while back. This novel opens in 1987 and takes us up to the present.
The books follow the Langdon family. Here we see twin brothers Michael and Richie, who take very different paths in their lives, separate and come back together, and separate again. Their relationship is very complicated. Their lives involve politics and high finance, fraud and betrayal. Their sister Janet is distant, dealing with her own baggage and finds solace in horses and solitude.
The youngest generation from the family line still on the Iowa farm chooses different paths away. Two of them go into the military, serving in Iraq, and dealing with the effects of that experience. The daughter, Felicity, focuses on the environment and worries about health and sustainability.
I was completely drawn into the character's lives, reacting strongly to the betrayals suffered and the pain felt. This, along with the earlier books, is a story of America over generations, one that is as complex as the lives of the characters. We see their world evolve and priorities change, and we see how they react and how they connect.
A wonderful read.

Thursday 21 November 2019

Great Granny Webster

Finished November 4
Great Granny Webster by Caroline Blackwood

This short novel was shortlisted for the Booker, losing out the Paul Scott's Staying On. Philip Larkin cast the deciding vote, calling the book too autobiographical. The author herself remarked years later that it was "probably too true".
The narrator of the story is a girl and then a young woman, who was sent to stay with her great grandmother for the healthfulness of sea air as she recovered from an operation and the diagnosis of anaemia. Great Granny Webster is a severe woman, who sat in a hard chair most of the day doing nothing. There were car drives along the seafront with the window slightly opened, and occasional ventures to the library for the purpose of getting the girl books, but otherwise they never left the house. She was a well-trained girl, who tried to get along, and so she did what was expected of her: sat quietly, ate what she was served, read while sitting with her older relative, and hoped that this period of her life would soon be over.
She goes on to talk a bit about the experience with her father's sister Lavinia, a woman who lived for her own enjoyment, but enjoyed the support of many who knew her. A woman who was deeply lonely. And she learned more about her grandmother, a woman who lived in her own world, and has been put into a mental institution years before. The narrator's father died in the war, and she remembers only a bit about him. She talks to one of his best friends of his impressions of her family, and begins to learn a bit more about them.
This is an intensely felt novel, a novel of family and class, and how there is often a difference between how we see ourselves and how we are seen by others.
Blackwood was from an aristocratic family and was married to the poet Robert Lowell, for who she was often a muse.

Easy to Follow Guide to Needle Felting

Finished October 28
Easy to Follow Guide to Needle Felting: A Quick Starter Guide from Corina's Curious Creations by Corina Hogan

This very short guide has lots of images to help you follow the information. It explains the various tools, the raw material, the accessory material that can be used as a structural base for this type of craft, decorative elements you may want to use, and techniques.
It also has tips for different situations and a few images of finished work the author has created.

Going After Cacciato

Finished October 27
Going After Cacciato by Tim O'Brien

This is a classic Vietnam war novel, winning the National Book Award for Fiction in 1979. I've had it on my shelf for quite a while and finally determined to read it this year. I'm not usually a big fan of magic realism, but this book really made it work for me.
The narrator here is Paul Berlin, a young man in good physical condition and with little life experience, like many of the young men that fought in this war. Cacciato always seemed a little removed from the others, almost a kid, but placid, not a whiner. As the book begins, he has walked away from his unit heading west, saying that he'd had enough of the war and he was walking to Paris. The idea is outlandish, and yet somehow appealing. It is eight thousand and six hundred miles. The guy in charge, Lieutenant Corson determines that a group of men closest to Cacciato will follow and bring him back, including the Lieutenant himself. But he's not really the leader here.
The personalities of the men come alive: Doc Peret, the medic for the unit and the leader for much of time; Stink Harris, the giggler who goes off with all guns blazing; Eddie Lazzutti, an indistinct figure; Oscar Johnson the black man who claims to be from Detroit, but seems like he is from Maine; the Lieutenant, who often seems lose, unsure, and unwell; and Harold Murphy, the voice of reason.
We also see the men that have already either died or been injured and sent back either home or to mend for a while. Guys like Billy Boy Watkins who died of fright his first day in battle, Frenchie Tucker who was shot; Bernie Lynn and Lieutenant Sidney Martin who died in tunnels; all of which we are told on the first page, although we learn more of their stories as the book unfolds. And others whose stories get told later: Ready Mix, Rudy Chassler, Pederson, Vaught, Ben Nystrom, and Buff.
There is also a young Vietnamese girl Sarkin Aung Wan, who was traveling away from Saigon with her elderly aunts, hoping to escape the war. She has knowledge and skills that help them, and she too wants to go to Paris, but not for Cacciato, for herself. She wants to make a new home.
Interspersed with the tale of the chase are Paul's reminiscences of his early days in the war, of the men who are no longer with them, of his vigil overnight in a watchtower near the ocean.
What is real and what isn't? Where are these men? What do they see? What is their purpose?
An utterly fascinating tale.

Tuesday 5 November 2019

Prairie People

Finished October 26
Prairie People: A Celebration of My Homeland by Robert Collins

This is a collection of observations, conversations, research, and interviews with Canadians either from, or living in the three prairie provinces.
I came across this book clearing out the books from my in-laws house, and grabbed it to read, since I am, after all, from the prairies myself.
It was an interesting collection of people's outlooks, feelings, memories, and more. Collins has grouped them topically to make this collection.
There are tales about the prairie and its effect on those who live there, good memories and bad, lots of variety of farming stories, stories of towns and cities, food and religion, oil and politics, loneliness and community. 
There is the outlook of those who came from the prairies but no longer live there, and there is a look to the future.
This book was more than a decade old when I came across it, but much is still relevant and all of it interesting.

Friday 1 November 2019

13th Canadian Book Challenge November Roundup

Post the reviews from the books that you read this month here. I'm away for a few days, so the reading stats in the sidebar won't be updated until next week.

Have fun as always.

Thursday 31 October 2019

Nutcracker Night

Finished October 20
Nutcracker Night by Mireille Messier and Gabrielle Grimard

This delightful picture book would make a lovely December gift for a young child. It is a story centered around a young girl as she attends a performance of The Nutcracker at New York City's David H. Koch Theater with her father. This is a story full of sounds, sights, and new experiences.
The girl's tale begins on the way to the theatre, where she observes the traffic and its noises, the noise of the world around her and even of her own clothing.
Then they are at the theatre and the join the crowd, showing their tickets, listening to the orchestra tune up, and await the beginning of the performance.
There are many wonderful sounds and sights during the performance, from both the stage and the audience. The intermission arrives and with it sounds of refreshment and excitement, with the young audience members geared up for the rest of the show. And then the final half of the show, with more wonder and interesting sounds. The story ends with a kiss on the cheek of the father as she thanks him for the evening out.
The pictures here are charming, bringing the characters, audience members, musicians, and dancers to life. We see the rosy cheeks, the children awed by the night and the ones eager for more. There are many children, as would be expected for this ballet, and lots of ages of adults. Fathers and mothers, diversity of people, and a range of festive attire. Outside the snow is falling, and inside the magic makes everything else disappear. Beautifully done. 

Monday 28 October 2019

Tears of Salt

Finished October 19
Tears of Salt: A Doctor's Story of the Refugee Crisis by Pietro Bartolo and Lidia Tilotta, translated by Chenxin Jiang

This is the memoir of Pietro Bartolo, a man who grew up on the Italian island of Lampedusa, and returned there as a doctor. His career there has been marked by the enormous flood of refugees arriving from Africa, many in dire physical condition.
The story jumps around from his personal life, growing up, going to school on the mainland, working as a doctor, stories of meeting his wife who is also a doctor, dealing with the huge numbers of refugees arriving on the island, struggling for support for the work he does, working in his field of obstetrics as well as whatever is needed by the local people and refugees, acting as a coroner and doing autopsies on the refugees who don't survive their flight to freedom and a better life.
I learned many things about the situation there, adding to the knowledge I had from news stories.
The book does not move in a linear fashion, but moves around in time back and forth. Bartolo is obviously hugely affected by the stories he witnesses, but also aware that he is only there for a brief moment in these people's lives, and he doesn't know much of their stories before or after their passage through his island.

The Recipe Box

Finished October 13
The Recipe Box by Viola Shipman, read by Susan Bennett

The story begins with Alice Mullins making an apple crisp in the 1930s at the orchard farm her and her husband own in Wisconsin, but quickly jumps to the present day, with her great granddaughter Samantha working as a pastry chef in New York City. Sam doesn't like or respect the man she works for, a phony who goes by the name Chef Dimples and never actually cooks himself, and who treats his staff badly.
Samantha is making a pie for Chef Dimples appearance on Good Morning America, when he behaves horribly and disrespectfully towards her, and she ends up quitting. She decides to take a break and go home to Wisconsin for a while to regroup and lick her wounds. She's enjoyed her time in New York City, attending cooking school, making friends with other women her age both as classmates, roommates, and coworkers. She's kept herself busy and made no time for relationships despite the attentions of a young New Jersey produce delivery driver.
Back home in Wisconsin, she doesn't at first admit to her family that she's left her job, and she hears more family stories, spends time in the orchard and the kitchen of the family-run bakery business and thinks about her future.
Each section of the book has a recipe, all of them sounding absolutely delicious. I'm definitely going to try some out. I liked the continuity of the family and learning the story of each generation, their struggles, and their successes.
This was a fun read, centered around families and food, with the Mullins slogan of "Pie equals Love" coming through loud and clear.

Saturday 19 October 2019

Triceratops Stomp

Finished October 12
Triceratop Stomp by Karen Patkau

This picture book will be great for all the dinosaur enthusiasts. In addition to the triceratops of the title, there are other dinosaurs pictured in the book and there is a key at the back explaining the different types and giving basic information on them. The back cover endpapers also show the sizes of the various dinosaurs compared to each other and to humans.
The story follows a new generation of triceratops from their hatching through a few early adventures. There is lots of word repetition, onomatopoeia, alliteration and fun sounds to keep a youngster interested in what's happening. The drawings are simple, but have lots of movement and interest. I loved the proliferation of different greens here. A fun read.

The Castle in the Sea

Finished October 9
The Castle in the Sea by Mardi McConnochie

This is the second book in the series that began with The Flooded Earth. The boat the children are on has hit a storm as the book begins, and the sea is very rough. Annalie is safety conscious and makes everyone put on their life vest, and they struggle to put the sails down, but the mast is damaged before they complete it and two people have gone overboard. Annalie is torn over what to do, but sticks with the boat. After the seas calm she goes searching, and we see the story from both her and her brother Will's point of view. With pirates in the waters, the Admiralty still searching hard for them, and their options limited, the four struggle on, still searching for Annalie and Will's father Spinner.
This is a story of resilience and determination as the four children use the resources and skills they have as they deal with new and often frightening situations. The terrible strength of water arises more than once here, and they learn to look for solutions that are not always the obvious ones. I enjoyed seeing the characters develop further. Pod comes out of his shell and Essie shows new determination. Annalie surprises the others with the things she is able to stay calm in the face of. Looking forward to the third book.

The Corner That Held Them

Finished October 6
The Corner that Held Them by Sylvia Townsend Warner

This fascinating book tells of the couple Brian and Alianor de Retteville and their unhappy relationship, and of the resulting founding, in the later part of the twelfth century, of a priory of the Benedictine order at one of their manors, Oby. Oby had been part of Alianor's dowry and was near an area of marsh and woodland. The book then jumps ahead and tells of the events at the priory from 1349 to 1382.
The story about Oby is a story of people living together in a close community, with all the personality clashes, small rivalries, petty annoyances, strategic alliances, and other such human foibles. We see the personalities of the various nuns and how the priory functions under different prioresses. Outside events having an impact during this time include the Black Death and the Peasant's Revolt. Many of the nuns have an influence due to their relations outside the priory, such as one with a Bishop cousin,
There are stories that are never tidied up, of people that had contact with the priory, items stolen from it, or even a nun gone astray. There are stories that stand out, for instance of the assigned auditor of the priory discovering polyphonic music on a trip to try to recover overdue rents.
There is no main character, and no plot to speak of, and no real end to the book, rather just an end to the writing of it. I enjoyed this book a lot and found the lives it told quite interesting.

Saturday 12 October 2019

No Way Home

Finished October 4
No Way Home by Peter Spiegelman

This is the second book in the series featuring private investigator John March and has been on my reading list for a very long time. It took me a while to track down a copy, and then a couple of years to bring it to the top of my reading pile. But it was definitely worth the wait.
John March used to be a cop in upstate New York until one of his investigations resulted in the death of his much-loved wife. After a period of depression and darkness, he reinvented himself as a private investigator. But he is still very much alone. He lives in a loft owned by his sister, and has become involved with a woman, but is wary of commitment. His family owns a small investment firm and he has always resisted being part of it. He has agreed to help with the interviews the company is doing for a Head of Security though, and is on good terms with one of his brothers as well as his sister. His new case is one referred to him by a friend who runs a security company and used to be in the FBI. The case is that of a missing person, a man who was a well-known and controversial stock market analyst, who has disappeared after a very public argument with someone at his firm. His ex-wife knows he wouldn't not show up for his time with his son without calling. She was still relying on his support payments for her lifestyle. It is she who hires John to find her ex-husband.
As John delves into his life, he discovers the man had many secrets, and few friends. He also draws attention to himself and begins to receive threats against some who are close to him. He can't handle another case that spills into his personal life, and he is both driven to find an answer and to protect those he cares about from the threats he's received.
John is a complex character, with a fair bit of baggage, but he also has a stronger group of supporters than he realizes and I really enjoyed getting to know him here.

My Drowning

Finished October 4
My Drowning by Jim Grimsley

This reminiscent novel has a woman looking back on her memories growing up in extreme poverty.  The woman's name is Ellen Tote, and throughout she describes the dreams she's had of her past, and her memories as they are triggered by different elements, from geographical to physical to more ethereal. Ellen had an older sister and three older brothers, one of whom was disabled. She also had younger siblings and we see how she reacted to their arrival as she remembers various events from her earlier life.
Ellen's father was lazy and a drinker. He was also the main one who took in a brother who'd been disabled during an accident. Her mother wasn't a proud housewife, letting the house fall into bad repair and Ellen's older sister doing most of the cooking.
Occasionally Ellen was able to get away: helping her paternal aunt look after her grandmother in the last months of her life, having a friend whose father owned land. She became exposed to things beyond those at home: from house-proud women to church to pretty things one took care of.
This novel is sad, yet because we know that Ellen did better in her life, also hopeful.
The title comes from a recurring dream that Ellen has of her mother slowly drowning. She returns to the old places they lived in as she looks for answers to the meaning of these dreams.

A Better Man

Finished October 1
A Better Man by Louise Penny,

As the book begins, Armand Gamache is back in the role of Head of Homicide, but he overlaps for a couple of weeks with Jean-Guy Beauvoir, and that is just one of the adjustments that must be made. The relatively recently-added homicide agent, Lysette Cloutier brings the squad's attention to a missing person, and Armand agrees to investigate the case with her. The missing woman Vivienne Godin, has been a victim of domestic abuse by her husband in the past, but charges were never laid, and the two were still living together when she went missing. Her father says that she called him, saying that she was leaving, but not wanting his presence. As Armand digs deeper into the case, more information and characters come along, including an ex-CFL player turned police officer.
Back home in Three Pines, Clara is going through a bad time. Her latest series of work, a collection of miniatures has been panned, with the result that her entire career's work is called into question. Her friends try to offer support, but not always with the results they expect.
In the larger world, Quebec is facing severe flooding, and decisions must be made on how to deal with the rising water, the threat of rivers overflowing their banks, and the aging dams upriver. Armand is brought into the consultation, but politics play a role in whether he will be listened to or not. There is also a larger reputation issue going on for him online, with rumours and misinformation being widely shared and emotions becoming heated.
All the usual characters are back: Ruth, Myrna, Billy Williams, and Annie among them. There are also new characters from the ex-CFL player to a New York art critic than bring new storylines with them. As enjoyable as ever.

Murder in Passy

Finished September 29
Murder in Passy by Cara Black

This book is part of a series featuring private investigator Aimee Leduc. Here, her godfather, Paris police Commissaire Morbier, asks her to talk to his fiancee as he feels there is something going on, and he isn't sure whether it is another man or something else. The woman, Xavierre d'Eslay, lives in Passy, and is preparing for the marriage of her daughter. Aimee manages to crash the rehearsal dinner, but it seems like something else has happened before she arrives as the guests have mostly gone already, and d'Eslay is nervous and distracted. When she is murdered that same evening, Aimee finds evidence linking her godfather to the scene, even though she knows that he is elsewhere working on a police corruption investigation.
She is sure that he is being framed for the murder, but she isn't sure who is really behind it. Does it have anything to do with the Basque independence seekers that Xavierre associated with in her younger days? Is that young police detective showing an interest in Aimee involved in any way? Why aren't the police interested in following other leads on the case? What is Xavierre's daughter hiding? Is the kidnapping of a Spanish princess related? Aimee has many questions, but few answers. Her investigation leaders her into the past, into the twisted loyalties of police corruption, and into danger. Gripping.

Slow Train to Switzerland

Finished September 28
Slow Train to Switzerland: One Tour, Two Trips, 150 Years -- and a World of Change Apart by Diccon Bewes

I liked the premise of this book, following in the footsteps of an earlier journey. Diccon Bewes is a British travel writer who lives in Switzerland, and during research he came across a diary from a young Englishwoman, Jemima Morrell, who, as part of a group who called themselves the Junior United Alpine Club, travelled on the very first Thomas Cook tour to Switzerland in 1863. The group consisted of four young women and three young men, and included Jemima's brother William, who paid for both of them.
Bewes determined to follow as much as possible in her footsteps, following the route she took, staying in the same places and visiting the same sights as much as possible. Near the beginning of the book is a map of the Cook tour from 1863 which took place from June 26th to July 15th, and included travel by rail, diligence, foot, mule, and steamship. With Thomas Cook the company that launched modern mass tourism, and by the time I finished the book going into bankruptcy, this book looks at travel from an interesting vantage point. Bewes took the trip with his mother, going back to certain points at a later date on his own.
Appendices include: a brief description of the world in 1863, and a timeline of that year showing some important events that occured; a summary, including data points of Switzerland in the 1860s with information on language spoken, size of towns, birth and death rates, wages and prices, and occupations; and descriptions and explanations on money of the time, both English and Swiss their modern equivalencies.
As he followed Jemima's journey, he and his mother read sections from the diary at each point in their journey, and while many of the lodgings that she stayed in no longer existed, a few did. Some sections of the journey are now done by train, where there weren't trains back then, and Jemima's journey definitely involved longer and more difficult travel times. Some of her days were exceedingly long, and many of the places she stayed didn't offer the modern conveniences now available.
Dewes shows the differences between the two experiences plainly, from the modes of travel, to the the time travelling took, to the things one was able to see at each point in the journey. He shows the huge changes that have taken place in the tourism industry in Switzerland, and talks about the drivers of those changes. He discusses changes to the physical environment, from the buildings and food on offer to the shrinking of the snow caps and glaciers. He follows up at the end with a look at what became of Jemima after this journey and the discovery of a personal connection to her family.
This was a fascinating and educational read, and hugely entertaining.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Body Bereft

Finished September 19
Body Bereft by Antjie Krog

Antjie Krog is an award-winning South African poet and this collection is focused on menopause. She examines moods, body changes, relationship changes and more here. She explores anger, emotional intensity, conflict, and the search for understanding. She discusses hot flushes, hormones, and depression. The poems are intense and personal and so, so spot on.
The last section of the book is focused on Table Mountain, a major geographical element of South Africa, making it into a presence and examining it in all four seasons.
Antjie Krog has been her own translator here, and the two language editions were published simultaneously.

Mrs. Saint and the Defectives

Finished September 16
Mrs. Saint and the Defectives by Julie Lawson Timmer, performed by Elizabeth Wiley

A novel of a new start. Markie is starting her life over, after divorcing her husband following a very public outing of his infidelity. She'd worked at the private school her teenage son Jesse attended, and the infidelity had involved one of her co-workers as well as some of the other mothers. His deception has also involved emptying their bank accounts with little to show for it. Her parents had been somewhat supportive, but also extremely judgemental, and she couldn't stomach staying with them any longer than she had to, nor subjecting Jesse to their odd parenting style.
So, Markie found a job reviewing insurance claims that she could do from home, allowing her to avoid being around other people as much as possible, and found a smaller house that she could afford on her new smaller income. Jesse has to start a new school, and not a private one this time.
As she moved into her new home, she is unexpectedly approached by a neighbour, Mrs. Saint, who has a couple of men move the majority of Markie's belongings into the house, allowing her to move in quickly and return the rented truck on time. Markie is thankful, but also a bit taken aback by how much the woman seems to be commandeering things.
As Markie settles in, allowing her guilt over not noticing her husband's betrayal sooner to give Jesse rather more leeway than is wise, she continues to try to keep her meddlesome neighbour at bay, with limited success.
Markie is going through a difficult time, and she is struggling with all her relationships: family, work, and now neighbours. It takes time for her to find her footing, and determine what she needs to do to move forward. As she gets to know Mrs. Saint and the variety of people who seems to be recipients of Mrs. Saint's helpfulness, she learns that judging on appearances can be a mistake.
I really enjoyed this book.

13th Canadian Book Challenge October Roundup

Post the reviews from the books you read this month here.

Monday 30 September 2019

The King's General

Finished September 13
The King's General by Daphne du Maurier

I picked this up as I like Daphne du Maurier's books and hadn't heard of this one. It is set in Cornwall, during the first half of the seventeenth century. Honor Harris is the younger sister of a few older brothers, and she first meets one of the Grenville family when her brother marries one of the women, Gartred. Gartred is haughty and manipulative and Honor sees past her charm to these aspects of her personality, something not many do. A few years later, on her eighteenth birthday, when the family is visiting Devon, she meets the men of the family, including Richard, the man who will be a big part of her life.
Honor's tale is told in retrospect, as she lives in a small house, lent to her and one of her brothers by a local landowner and friend. It is 1653, and Oliver Cromwell is now in charge in England, and Richard Grenville is in exile in France, with the King. He is a man who knows his own mind and doesn't suffer fools, and there is something in Honor's spirit that attracted him from the first he met her. Although they never married, there is a strong bond between them, and for many years, she was the woman he turned to for comfort and who watched his back.
This is a story of a love that could have been, a military leader ahead of his time, and a people who tried to keep their independence against a punishing conqueror. I found it a very enlightening read, especially as it is based on real historical events and people.

The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am

Finished September 11
The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am by Kjersti A. Skomsvold, translated by Kerri A. Pierce

This short novel is told from the point of view of an elderly woman, Mathea Martinsen. Mathea has never really had friends and finds it very difficult to deal with other people. She never really talks to anyone except her husband Epsilon. She shops at the quietest time of the day, and when she goes out she waits until the neighbour across the hall has gone out first. She is torn between wanting to have made a difference in the world and not wanting to draw attention to herself.
One day, walking back from the shops, a man standing by the path asks the time, and she is startled and says what she thinks it is. Then she starts wearing her late husband's watch, but the man, even though he is often in the same spot, doesn't ask again. She decides to make a time capsule that will contain information about her life, but she has difficulty deciding what to put into it.
Before he died, she wanted her husband to retire, but he needed time away from her, and she was aware of it. She doesn't have filters really, and says what she feels more than is comfortable for those around her. This is an interesting view of life through the eyes of someone with a very different feeling towards life.

Thursday 19 September 2019

The Good Neighbor

Finished September 10
The Good Neighbor: the Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King, read by Levar Burton

This biographical work covers the whole of Fred Rogers' life, from childhood through his death from cancer. It moves chronological through his life for the most part, occasionally following themes through his work.
He grew up a bit lonely and had health issues as a child. His parents were very wealthy, and his father was head of a family industrial business. His mother was heavily involved in community projects, and that example played a large role in his life.
His love of music and passion for early childhood education led him to the career that made him famous. I found it interesting to see how he developed his career in television, including a stint with the CBC that originated many elements of his Mr. Rogers television role. He brought a huge part of himself to that role, and worked closely with education researchers on every element of his long-running program. In some ways, his family's wealth allowed him to stick to his principles, such as his adamant refusal to allow advertising to children on his shows. He demanded a lot from those he worked with, but also gave a lot himself. Even on his vacations, he would write music and scripts for the show.
I learned a lot about his background and motivations.

Friday 13 September 2019

Lili Macaroni

Finished September 9
Lili Macaroni by Nicole Testa, illustrated by Annie Boulanger

This picture brings to life the issues surrounding bullying.
Lili grows up feeling loved. She can see bits of herself in other members of her family and make the emotional connection to that person as well. She draws and tells stories and feels good about who she is. She especially likes to draw butterflies with polka dots.
When she starts school, things change. Some kids make fun of her name, some insult her hair, her eyes, her freckles and her laugh. She doesn't feel good about herself anymore. She feels like these things about her are bad things.
We see how she tries to draw a different self on paper, but realizes that it erases those things about herself that she likes in other members of her family, and she can put herself in their shoes, thinking about how they would feel is she shared with them that she didn't like that part of her that they shared.
When she considers how to feel better, her father encourages her to draw her favourite kind of butterfly, She takes her butterfly to school and tells her class why she has it, and why she felt bad before she made it. This is good, showing people how sharing feelings can make others aware of a problem they may not have noticed.
Her teacher handles it well, and things get better at school. Lili now has learned one way to cope with her feelings.
The book includes some activities inspired by this story at the back, a great idea for kids struggling with negativity.

Not to Disturb

Finished September 8
Not to Disturb by Muriel Spark

This inventive black comedy takes place in a country house on a rainy night. While there are some brief interactions with the upper class owners and outsiders, the majority of the action takes place on the other side of the baize doors among the servants of the household.
The staff appears prescient of the events about to take place that evening, with some minor adjustments to be made as additional information is obtained. They calmly go about their business as a violent off-screen action takes place between the Baron, Baroness, and their secretary. The butler and housekeeper are the ones that give direction, as is expected, with major roles also taken by the chef and the pregnant maid.
This is a farce, but also a social statement. This is humour, but it is on the dark side of life. A very interesting read.

Murder in Pigalle

Finished September 7
Murder in Pigalle by Cara Black

This is part of a mystery series featuring Parisian private investigator Aimee Leduc. Aimee runs her own agency with one full time partner and a hacker on call. Aimee's father was a Paris police officer who died in a bomb blast a few years ago. Her American mother ran away when she was only a child. As the book opens Aimee is well along in an unplanned pregnancy, but has not yet told the man who is the father. Her business partner cares for her, and has been solicitous of her condition. Zazie, the teenage daughter of the cafe owners across the street from her office is waiting for her as she arrives in the office after lunch, asking for her assistance in a case where young teens are being sexually assaulted in their own homes. Zazie has been doing her own sleuthing, based in part of her idolization of Aimee and in part from the female resistance activist that she researched for a school project. Shortly after asking for Aimee's help, Zazie disappears.
Aimee is worried that Zazie's investigation may have caught the attention of the rapist, and she desperately follows the clues she has and tries to get the police to recognize the pattern that Zazie identified and look for Zazie as a potential witness.
Aimee is an interesting character, impulsive, loyal, and determined. She also has issues to do with her parents, and with becoming a mother herself, not to mention relationship challenges. I really enjoyed this novel, the first I've read in the series.


Finished August 31
Cygnet by Season Butler

Kid, a seventeen-year-old girl has come to a remote island off the New Hampshire coast to live with her grandmother. Kid has led a peripatetic life, as her parents wandered from city to city, in search of a life. Her mother was a scavenger, who taught Kid to find food where she could and to cook. She also taught her how to avoid the worst of her father's mood swings. But as her parents gradually succumbed to drugs, Kid became more alone, and it was only when social services removed her from her parents that she was taken in by her grandmother Lolly.
The island, Swan Island, is home to a community of retired people, many with a hippie vibe, some of whom resent the intrusion of Kid, especially as her stay lengthens beyond that originally proposed by Lolly. As the book opens, Kid is living alone in Lolly's house, after Lolly's sudden death, hoping for her parents' return, desperately watching as the sea reclaims the land the house is on.
She manages to make her living working for one of the wealthier retirees who wants to remake her past. As Kid rewrites diaries and letters, doctors photographs, and makes other changes to reflect the woman's imagined perfect past, she also begins a relationship with a young man who visits his own grandmother. The young man, Jason, also supplies the island with a variety of legal and illegal pharmaceuticals, and acts as the middleman for their own modest pot-growing business. 
Kid has also grown close to another retiree, who is sinking fast, first through dementia and then through physical setbacks.
There are other nearby islands, one the former home of a beloved poet, another the site of a marine research team from the nearby university, a third a popular camping destination. These islands play a role in Kid's future as well.
As Kid comes to her eighteenth birthday, she must make choices about her life, and find a way to move on without the help of others.

Thursday 12 September 2019

Murder on Bamboo Lane

Finished August 31
Murder on Bamboo Lane by Naomi Hirahara

This book is part of a series featuring police officer Ellie Rush. Ellie's mother is Japanese American and her family was interned during World War II. Ellie's father is white, and her paternal grandmother taught Spanish for years. So Ellie majored in Spanish in college at Pan Pacific West College, and then decided to join the police, following in the footsteps of her mother's sister, Cheryl Toma, who is now one of the senior offices in the LAPD. Ellie is a bicycle officer. A lot of her friends are still in college, including her ex-boyfriend Benjamin Choi, who is Korean American. Ellie's best friend Nay is Cambodian. One of Ellie's jobs is working as a community liaison, and one of her contacts complains about a missing person flyer that has been littering the neighbourhood. Ellie recognizes the missing girl as some she shared a class with at university, and become curious.
When the girl's body is discovered soon after, Ellie becomes involved in the case, and her aunt seems to be encouraging her to stay involved. As Ellie tries to juggle her work, with the relationships there that she is trying to develop to further her career, and her personal life, with some interesting family dynamics and an ex-boyfriend she still cares for, along with an interest in another police officer, she finds herself unsure of which steps are the right ones for her to move forward on.
Ellie mostly bicycles or uses transit, but she does have a car she inherited from her grandfather, a 1969 Buick Skylark that is long past its prime, and which has been dubbed the Green Mile. She lives alone with her dog Shippo in a small apartment in Highland Park. Ellie's younger brother Noah is close to her, but has his own issues.  There is a lot going on here, and I liked the depth of the character development for Ellie. I also liked the variety of ethnicities in the characters.

Evvie Drake Starts Again

Finished August 29
Evvie Drake Starts Again by Linda Holmes

The book begins with a flashback. Evvie is sitting in her car, preparing to leave her husband. This is something she's been thinking about doing for a while. She's packed a couple of things into the car when her phone rights. It's the hospital her husband works at. She thinks it is him, but it is instead someone calling to tell her to come to the hospital as he is badly hurt. She goes.
The book then jumps forward more than a year to Evvie still dealing with a lot of conflicting feelings about her situation. She's played the grieving widow that everyone else, including her best friend, Andy, thinks that she is. But in her own head, she thinks of herself as a monster, while also thinking about how no one ever knew how her husband treated her. They all think he was wonderful. She's living a lie, and doesn't know how to move forward.
Enter Dean Tenney, Andy's high school friend, who played professional baseball until a few months back when suddenly he couldn't anymore. He's spent the last few months getting professional help, trying to figure out why he couldn't do it anymore, but now he needs to leave that world and figure out what to do next. Andy figured that since Evvie's house had a basement apartment, and she would respect Dean's privacy, it was a good solution.
Evvie had been with her husband since she was sixteen, and planned to leave him on the day she'd been with him exactly half her life. Andy is divorced with two young girls, now five and seven, who Evvie is very close with. Evvie helped Andy a lot after his divorce, but she's never shared her own marital woes. Her husband Tim tolerated the friendship as long as she didn't share anything about their relationship, so she complied. Now, she hasn't been able to break down that barrier.
There's a lot of small town life here, both good and bad, a little romance, a little humour. I liked the attention to detail too.
At one point Evvie describes the nearby LL Bean store as being "full of men who want to find themselves but will settle for getting poison ivy on their balls instead." Evvie is a person who wants to help others, but doesn't know how to help herself. I liked to see how she changed over the course of the novel.

Sunday 8 September 2019

The Migration

Finished August 28
The Migration by Helen Marshall

This novel really captured me. Set in the near future, the world is in trouble. Seas are rising, and communication is becoming worse across longer distances. Then a disease starts to take hold, affecting children and teenagers.
The main character here is Sophie Perella, who lives in Toronto with her parents and younger sister Kira. When Kira is diagnosed with this mysterious illness, Sophie's mother tries various treatments, and finally the two girls and their mother move to Oxford, England, where Sophie's Aunt Irene lives. Irene is involved in research relating to the illness, but also reaching back historically, looking at the Black Death and how it manifested itself.
Sophie becomes involved assisting in her aunt's research, but she also watches stories in the news about the progression of the illness, and tries to protect her sister. The characters also must deal with storms and rising waters as their environment grows more unstable.
Sophie is befriended by a young man whose mother works as a nurse in the local hospital and as the two share their discoveries, a new theory begins to form. Sophie is forced to deal with difficult decisions that affect not only herself, but those she loves, and as she does, she learns that the past may hold clues to the future.
A wonderfully inventive plot, with interesting characters.