Sunday 30 June 2019

How Little Bessie Kept the Wolf From the Door

Finished June 29
How Little Bessie Kept the Wolf From the Door by Eliza Coates

I came across this Religious Tract Society publication when going through my mother-in-law's discards. It has an inscription from December 1891, so was published sometime before then.
It is a pretty sad story of a hard-working man, who copied text for a living, his seamstress wife, and their two young daughters.
They live in a large house that has been converted into flats, in a single room, with the girls sleeping in a closet. They barely make enough to get by, and when the man falls ill, they have no money for a doctor or for better, nutritious meals.
Through the girls going to Sunday school and learning the bible, Pilgrim's Progress, and hymns that they sing to comfort themselves, and the interest of another clerk at the man's office, they get others interested enough in their situation to give some support.
In the end, they do okay, but not without many trials and tribulations. I'm not sure that this is the type of book we'd be giving to children today.

A Synopsis of Woman Suffrage in Canada

Finished June 29
A Synopsis of Woman Suffrage in Canada by Hilda Ridley

Going through some belongings of my mother-in-law as we clear out most of her library as she moves, I came across this pamphlet and found it intriguing to read. The focus is on Ontario, where the movement began, but it gives a good overview of the changes to women's franchise across the country.

Love Letters to Baruch: A True Canadian Love Story

Finished June 29
Love Letters to Baruch: A True Canadian Love Story by Margaret Lawrence Greene

This collection of letters includes one letter from 1936, then a series of letters beginning June 16, 1942 and going to January 21, 1943. The first letter was sent during a time the author was close to a man she cared for deeply, and this time was followed by a period of separation beginning in 1937 and ending in May 1942. As the two resume a relationship, Margaret lays bare her feelings regarding the separation and how this time led to her about to go into holy orders as a nun, and her feelings about Baruch (Benedict) who she married towards the end of the letter writing period.
This is a story of a woman, successful in her career as a journalist, and dedicated to furthering the rights of women, laying bare her feelings. She considers the religious differences, the way society would consider their relationship, and the effect on her own career and future. Her belief that women were never truly fulfilled without binding themselves to someone or something created a backlash from the feminist majority when this book was released and when her 1929 book The School of Femininity was rereleased in 1972.
This is a strong and personal correspondence that was released after the author's death with the permission of the letters' recipient.

The Wolf Wants In

Finished June 27
The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh

This suspense novel is set in rural Kansas, in and around a town called Blackwater. The main character here is Sadie Keller, the youngest of three children. Sadie's life didn't turned out as she imagined. She got married young and moved back to the area she grew up in when she got pregnant wanting her family near her for support. The marriage didn't last and Sadie now lives alone, with her daughter Lily spending the weekdays with her ex-husband Greg for school.
Her sister Becca and her mom live close by as did her brother Shane before he died recently. Shane's death was unexpected, and unexplained, and Shane's wife Crystle doesn't seem as upset by it as Sadie and her sister would expect, and isn't sharing information with them.
When Shane died, Becca and Lily had to go in and find the family things that they wanted as Crystle was selling or burning everything.
Sadie knew the car that Shane restored was deeded to her mother and she arranged for towing of it, and she took the pie safe that was their grandmother's. The two women also took a bunch of boxes of papers that were out near the bonfire that was going. Sadie is trying to get access to Shane's medical records, but she needs Crystle's permission and that doesn't seem likely.
As the story begins, Becca lets Sadie know that she heard on the news that human remains were found in the woods near them, and there is speculation that they belong to the a young girl who went missing a while back. The girl, Macey, was friends with Lily at one point, as Sadie was friends with her mother Hannah. Sadie hasn't been in touch with Hannah in a while, but this makes her reach out to her.
Another voice in the story is Henley, a young women who recently finished school and is saving to move away and start her life anew. Henley lives with her mom, Missy, a recovering drug addict, youngest in a large family that generally lives on the wrong side of the law. One of Henley's cousins is Crystle and Henley may know something about what happened to Shane. Missy worked as a housekeeper for the wealthy local business owner, and she has been getting Henley to help her lately. When Missy disappears, Henley keeps up with the housekeeping, but also gets on the radar of the houseowner Earl and his delinquent son Jason. She is debating whether she should leave sooner despite not having all her plans in place, but her waiting may put her in harm's way.
This is a story of families, of the scourge of drug addiction in America, and of the value of community. I liked it.

Friday 28 June 2019

The Girls of August

Finished June 24
The Girls of August by Anne River Siddons, read by Kate Reading

This is a story of friendship. Maddy, Rachel, Barbara, and Melinda used to get together every summer for a week at the ocean. The first year, Melinda wasn't part of the group as Teddy's first wife, a wealthy socialite hosted the party. Now they haven't met for three years, ever since Melinda was killed in a car accident, when Teddy was driving. The others haven't completely forgiven Teddy. When the women first met, their husband's were interns, on their way to beginning their own medical practices. Maddy was a schoolteacher, volunteering at the hospital to get out of the house.
Now, twenty-odd years into their friendship, Teddy has remarried, and convinces the women to let his new wife host the get-together at her family home on an island off the South Carolina coast. There are a couple of catches. One is that Teddy's new wife Baby is younger, much younger, only twenty-two herself. The other is that logistics mean that this year the get-together will be for two weeks, not one.
Maddy is intrigued by the island. She knows that Dan's family had a home on the island before she met him, one that was lost in a hurricane and never replaced. Dan doesn't talk about the island much. The women have had different life experiences, despite their friendship. Maddy quit teaching a few years back after she and Dan weren't able to have children. She couldn't face seeing other people's every day. She became a sought-after caterer, and grew close to her niece, now readying for college in the fall. Melinda and Teddy didn't have children either, but both Barbara and Rachel did.
As the vacation begins, Maddy tries to run interference between her friends and Baby, as their resentment of the younger woman grows. There is a fair chunk of bad behaviour going on here, with the older woman treating Baby like an empty-headed arm-candy trophy-wife, married for her sex appeal. Baby holds onto politeness for a lot longer than I think I would, but sulks and loses her temper a few times too.
It was interesting to watch as the women deal with their issues, learn more about each other, and about Baby's relationship with the island's locals, and deal with the unfortunate events that the time on the island bring them.
This is a novel of getting past first impressions and pre-conceived notions. A novel of friendship and love.

My Husband's Sweethearts

Finished June 20
My Husband's Sweethearts by Bridget Asher

Six months ago, Lucy discovered her husband Artie was cheating on her. When she confronted him about it, he confessed to other infidelities, one's she hadn't known about. Lucy left, throwing herself into her work as an auditor. Lucy's mom thinks that she's made a mistake, and she's been trying to get Lucy to come home. The latest news is that Artie is very ill, and dying. Lucy doesn't really believe this is true, after all Artie is older than her, but not that old, only in his fifties, and he's been sending her love notes and flowers no matter where she travels. But she decides to go home and see.
And she finds that it is true. Artie is dying. And she isn't sure what to do. Artie throws a challenge to her, one she thinks he doesn't believe she'll take on, but she does. She starts to call up the women he's been involved with, both before her and during their marriage, and invites them to visit.
But Artie has been keeping other secrets. They've always kept their money separate, and so Lucy is even more taken aback to find that Artie has been sending money to a woman for decades, to pay for a son that he supposedly fathered.
As Lucy connects with the people who've been in Artie's life, she finds a surprising mix of people, and some of them she connects with in interesting ways. A core group develops that includes two women that Artie has been involved with, along with Lucy's mom, and they work toward bringing Artie to an understanding of the effect that he's had on the lives of others.
This is a story of betrayal, of love, of the connections that people have. It is a story of loss, and of new beginnings. I enjoyed it.

Waiting for Tom Hanks

Finished June 16
Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey

This is a novel romcom. The main character Annie Cassidy has dreams of being her generation's Nora Ephron. She is working on a screenplay, and doing freelance writing to make a living. Annie's dad died when she was just a baby, and her mother was a big rom-com fan, telling wonderful stories of Annie's dad and their special romance. Annie's mom died while she was in high school, and she responded by throwing herself in schoolwork and extra-curricular activities, becoming valedictorian and then graduating college summa cum laude in film studies. When her mom died, her uncle Don moved into the house, to provide stability, companionship, and a parental figure. Her uncle Don is a bit of a nerd with a social life mostly consisting of a Dungeons and Dragons group and the occasional comic-con outing.
Annie believes that someday her personal rom-com will happen with a Tom Hanks-like figure, some initial confusion and a great love. So she's been waiting for that to happen. Her best friend Chloe works in the coffee shop that Annie does a lot of her writing in, an independent shop owned by a young man, Nick Velez. Chloe is taking some business school courses, gradually earning a degree, but also paying for her dad's memory-care facility. The two women spend a lot of time together. Chloe is constantly trying to get Annie to go on dates, occasionally setting her up, to no success. As the book begins, the two hear about the upcoming filming of a rom-com in their very own neighbourhood.
Through a series of connections, Annie manages to get a job on set, and meet some people in the industry she longs to be part of. As she begins her employment with a meet-cute with the film's male star, spilling coffee on him, she is off to a good start, but keeps getting in her own way.
This is a fun, light read, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Lots of humour and interesting characters.

Wednesday 26 June 2019

Cocoa Beach

Finished June 13
Cocoa Beach by Beatriz Williams, read by Eva Kaminsky and Alex Wyndham

This story moves back and forth in time between events during and just after World War I in France and England, and three years later in Florida.
Virginia Fortescue has left her father and sister in New York City to volunteer in France during the War. She has a few reasons for leaving, although she does worry about her younger sister. She has used the mechanical skills her father ensured that she had to become an ambulance driver and mechanic. During her duties, she meets an English doctor, Simon Fitzwilliam, a few years older than her, and is drawn to him. He is in a complicated personal situation, but works to gain her love and trust. Virginia hasn't told him all her secrets, but she does feel safe with him.
Three years later Virginia has come to Florida with her young daughter following notification from Simon's brother that Simon has died in a house fire. Virginia left Simon shortly after their marriage, under circumstances we gradually learn, and has never let him know about their daughter. His voice is given in letters that he writes to her. Again, Virginia has a secret no one knows. She has a letter from him dated after his reported death, and so believes that he is still alive. She searches for an answer to her questions about Simon and his motivations, relying on his siblings for information. But is she trusting the wrong people?
This is a story of secrets, of worry and of trust. In a time of Prohibition, Simon has become involved in illegal alcohol provision, much like the smuggling of his Cornish ancestors. Has this activity become his downfall?
There are several interesting characters here, from Simon and Virginia to the black woman who manages the estate and citrus orchards that Simon inherited. Simon's brother is a bit of an enigma. We know he resents Simon and has all his life, but does that mean that he would actually do Simon harm. The cliffhanger ending leads me to expect another book with some of the same characters.

Unto Us a Son Is Given

Finished June 10
Unto Us a Son Is Given by Donna Leon

I always enjoy the books featuring Venetian Commissario Guido Brunetti, and this one is more personal than some others. Leon always includes some of Brunetti's personal life in her stories, with his wife Paola and his two children, Chiara and Raffi. In this one, his father-in-law Count Orazio Falier plays a larger role, and the life of Paola's godfather, a Spanish-born artist Gonzalo Rodriquez de Tejada, is at the center of the story. Orazio approaches Brunetti about a concern he has regarding an action of Gonzalo's. Gonzalo is enamoured of a younger man, and wants to adopt him so that he will inherit. Orazio is concerned that Gonzalo is being manipulated, and that, unlike a marriage or other partnership, this action can't be undone, and regrets may follow. He asks the department secretary Elletra Zorzi, a woman of many skills in information gathering to follow a couple of paths for more information on the young man in question, and talks to both his wife and one of his officers Griffoni, who let him see the situation from different vantage points. But when Gonzalo suddenly drops dead, and a close friend comes from England for a memorial service and is killed, he must look at things more closely.
There is also an interesting side story related to the personal life of Brunetti's superior, the Vice-Questore Patta. This story gives an added dimension to that character that we haven't seen before, and is an interesting situation to consider.
As usual, this book gives a sense of the ambience of Venice, and has lots of lovely food and drink to make your mouth water. I enjoyed it.

Sunday 23 June 2019

Who Is Vera Kelly?

Finished June 9
Who Is Very Kelly? by Rosalie Knecht

This historical novel follows a young woman through a difficult few years in her late teens, and in her early twenties as a CIA spy in Argentina as it builds to a revolution. The young Vera is in high school in 1957 in Chevy Chase Maryland struggling with her feelings and an incident when she'd taken medication from her mother's bathroom and ended up in the hospital. Things deteriorate after that between her and her mother and culminate with an argument that causes her to run away to a more sympathetic relative, but her mother calls the police saying she stole the car. Vera is relegated to a young offenders facility and finishes her high school years there with no further contact from her mother. After her release, she begins to build a life for herself in New York City, gaining skills and finding her way.
In the other timeline, Vera is in Argentina in 1966, posing as a Canadian student at the university there, and listening to the conversations captured by various bugs that she and others have planted in both government buildings and private residences. As she follows the instructions from her handler, she eventually finds herself in the middle of a revolution where she is in danger and must use whatever resources she can muster to find her way out and stay safe.
At the heart of both these situations is Vera's sexuality as a lesbian woman. She had a crush on a friend in high school, and her sexuality is part of the issue with her relationship with her mother. In her current situation, her sexuality is both a potential danger and a potential to get closer to a target. In both timelines, it is mostly hidden from those around her.
I liked Vera's resiliency and resourcefulness. She thinks ahead, and takes opportunities as they arise. I'd like to learn what her life was like after this book. She's a very interesting character.

The Woman in the White Kimono

Finished June 8
The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns

This novel follows two timelines, both with the central character of a woman. One takes place in the late 1950s in Japan. The young woman, Naoko Nakamura, is a schoolgirl from a good family who has secretly begun a relationship with a young American navy sailor. The two truly care about each other, but Naoko is being pressured by her father and older brother to marry a man who is the son of a business associate of her father's, partly as a means of helping the family trading business' future. She has been hesitant to let them know of the identity of her suitor, and they only realize when he comes to the house for a pre-arranged courtship meeting. What Naoko hasn't told even the sailor is that she is pregnant with his child. She doesn't want him to think that she is trying to trap him into marriage. But the consequences of her situation are beyond what she imagined, and she must rely on her wits and resilience to find a way forward.
In the present day, Tori Kovač is an investigative journalist and only child. She has a close relationship with her father James, but as he nears the end of his life, and tries to share with her a secret that he's kept for decades, she doesn't understand until it is too late. Then she begins a journey to find the truth about his past for herself.
This is a story of love that crossed boundaries that were huge at the time, and how two teenagers tried to surmount them. It is a story of cultural differences, and societal expectations, and a modern day view of the situation.
An engaging story with some interesting historical information too.

Sunday 9 June 2019

Tiny Little Thing

Finished June 6
Tiny Little Thing by Beatriz Williams, read by Kathleen McInerney

This book is one I grabbed to listen to because I so enjoyed the author's Along the Infinite Sea. This book actually occurs in time just before that one, and features Tiny, the sister of Pepper, the main character of the other book. Pepper has a large role in this one too, displaying all the moxie she showed in the companion novel.
Tiny is less fearless than Pepper, and her life has been spent pleasing others, doing what's expected of her, even when she doesn't actually want to. Tiny cares about what people think of her, and she wants to be the daughter her mother has wanted her and raised her to be.
The novel moves back and forth between the summer of 1966 and two years earlier, when Tiny was reconsidering her choices. Which brings us to the other main character of this book, Captain Caspian Harrison, a career soldier, and a cousin to the man that Tiny is about to marry in 1964. Because of the two timelines, we know that Tiny did indeed marry Frank, but we don't know what happened between her and Caspian back in 1964, and we do know that Tiny is once again unhappy with her situation and considering her choices.
I was appalled at the actions of some of the characters, and feared for Tiny at one point. I enjoyed meeting Tiny's unconventional mother, and the character of Caspian. I liked seeing Tiny develop into a more independent woman, and take her life into her own hands.
This is a novel of secrets, of ambition, and of love.
Now I'm hoping to read more about this interesting Schuyler family.

Paris at the End of the World

Finished June 4
Paris at the End of the World: The City of Light During the Great War, 1914-1918 by John Baxter

This book has a split focus. Part of it is following the experiences of John's grandfather as he left his family in Australia and signed up to be a soldier in Europe. The other is the one in the title, Paris herself during this historic time. The book moves back and forth between these two things.
On the personal side, John was looking to both discover what his grandfather's motives and experiences were, and find out where he was during his time in Europe.
On the bigger picture side, John used a variety of historical items and situations to bring this time in Paris to life. He looks at a variety of historical figures including Jean Cocteau, Misia Sert, Douglas Haig, Rupert Brooke, and Joseph-Simon Gallieni. He uses contemporaneous news and entertainment magazines, postcards, ephemera, and other resources to bring the city of Paris and its people to life.
There are lots of little tidbits of information the author shows here that humanizes the people he writes about and makes the book very interesting.

Breathe In, Cash Out

Finished June 2
Breathe In, Cash Out by Madeleine Henry

The main character in this book is Allegra Cobb, a young woman driven to succeed. Her mother died when she was young, and her father is her biggest cheerleader, pushing her to be the best at whatever she does. She graduated from Princeton University, going right into an analyst job at Anderson Shaw. During her college years, she had a point where she lost her way a bit and found yoga. With her father's support, she applied for the American Yoga National Competition and won. This didn't change her goal to get a job at Anderson Shaw, but it did change her long-term outlook. Allegra is nearing the end of her second year as an analyst, a point where people normally make a move in some direction. She's been living as leanly as possible, saving as much as possible so she can move into a career as a yoga instructor, something she's pretty sure no one else in her firm is considering.
As the book begins, she is in a yoga class, and another member of the class propositions her. Out of character, Allegra gives in, and the next morning discovers that the man is her new boss.
This puts her in a vulnerable position and she is open to an overture from another young woman who's made a name for herself in the yoga world, and who has reached out to Allegra.
Thus begins a time in which Allegra's life takes a turn for the chaotic. Surviving on a minimum of sleep, working on intense projects, and lacking the focus she should be giving her current project, Allegra makes a few bad calls, and then has to determine how to move forward.
I liked Allegra and her cube mates. and there is lots of good humorous moments here. It has romance, interesting information about both the investment banking world and the yoga world, and a fun plot. I really enjoyed it.
I also found it interesting that the author's life has some of the same elements. Madeleine Henry is a Yale graduate who worked for Goldman Sachs and in investment banking in New York City, and yoga plays a big role in her life.