Tuesday 23 July 2019

The Stranger Inside

Finished July 21
The Stranger Inside by Laura Benedict

This suspense novel takes place in Missouri. Kimber Hannon works in the sales department for a St. Louis radio station. When she comes home after spending a weekend out of town, she finds that her key doesn't work in her front door, nor does it work in her back door. There's a strange bicycle sitting beside hers, and on it one of her towels dirty with sweat and grease. And there's someone inside. So she calls the police.
While she's waiting her neighbour, a friendly and inquisitive woman who notices most of what's happening in the neighbourhood seems surprised to see her, and tells her that she's met the man inside, a man who says he's leased the house for six months. The police show her the lease document, which seems to have her signature. Kimber can't figure out what is happening. She doesn't recognize the man, and she is panicky not to be able to access her home or her belongings.
As this story unfolds, the suspense builds and ebbs. We see Kimber's dark side, the things that she's done in the past that she'd rather people not know about, the untimely death of her sister, the disappearance of her father for years, and many more unhappy situations.
Kimber is a bit broken, and she's been pretending for years. I read this book in one day, but set it down several times when it got to an uncomfortable scene. A definite page-turner.

Salt Lane

Finished July 20
Salt Lane by William Shaw

This mystery features Detective Sergeant Alex Cupidi, a middle-aged woman with a teenage daughter, who recently moved from London to the nearby fens. She's has a younger woman for her partner, and the first case they come across is that of a body of a woman found naked in a drain. A drain is a drainage ditch in the fenland, and there are a lot of those around, many connected with each other. They don't know if the woman died near where she was found or not. They aren't even sure how she died, but they know she was dead before she went in the water. It doesn't take too long to identify her, but when they contact her next of kin, a son, they find that he was visited the night before by a woman claiming to be his mother. Since his aunt and uncle had taken him in as a child, and he was told by them his mother had died, he is at a complete loss, and isn't sure which woman may really be his mother, if either. And his wife isn't too happy about his interest in the woman who visited them.
When another body appears, this time of a seemingly foreign migrant, Cupidi and her partner aren't sure if the two deaths are connected or not, but they are determined to dig to find out.
Cupidi is also worried about her daughter, Zoe, who doesn't seem to have any friends. Zoe spends most of her time wandering the countryside, watching birds and walking. She doesn't usually take her phone, and Cupidi isn't sure how to help her.
With Cupidi's past coming into the story, with her mom, and former lover, things get more complex, but this is a story of connections, of families, of belonging. I was fascinated.

Sunday 21 July 2019

Girl of the Southern Sea

Finished July 18
Girl of the Southern Sea by Michelle Kadarusman

This story is about Nia, a girl who lives in the slums of Jakarta, but hopes for a brighter future. Nia's mother died a few years ago, and her father has been drinking the money away since then, leaving Nia unable to afford to go on to high school as she can't afford the fees. Her mother died giving birth to her younger brother Rudi, and Nia has cared for him since then. Her father makes a living by selling banana fritters from a cart at the train station, but the situation now, with him drinking too much, and owing money to the local alcohol supplier can't continue. Nia is determined to find a way forward that will allow her to do as her teachers and principal urge her to and go to high school so she can become a writer.
Since she was small, Nia has been fascinated by the legend of Dewi Kadita, a Javanese princess who was cursed by her stepmother in jealousy, and found a new home as the Princess of the Southern Sea, Queen of the Southern Ocean. Nia makes up her own stories about Dewi Kadita, giving her a pet monkey and adding more adventures to her life. She tells the stories to Rudi and other local children, and writes them down.
Nia has a good friend her own age, and is friendly with many other locals, including the lady who runs the fruit cart next to her father's at the station. When Nia survives a terrible bus crash, she comes to the attention of others, not all of whom have her best interests at heart, and when she finds that her father has promised her in marriage without even consulting her, she takes things into her own hands.
I liked her strong character, and her unwavering ambition.
This book opens children's eyes to another culture, the more difficult choices and situations faced by children in other countries, and an interesting legend.

P is for Pterodactyl

Finished July 15
P Is for Pterodactyl: The Worst Alphabet Book Ever by Raj Haldar and Chris Carpenter, pictures by Maria Tina Beddia

I heard about this book just before Christmas, but couldn't find a copy then. I recently saw it in a bookstore and couldn't resist. The authors had fund collecting a wide variety of words with silent letters or letters that use different sounds than one expects.
The drawings make it even more fun! See the psychic pterodactyl on the cover? That's just one example of the fun inside. Each letter has a little scene, with a phrase telling a story. And there is often more to discover within that scene.
They include a list at the end of the book that gives pronunciation and definitions for the words used here.

Stitches in Time

Finished July 14
Stitches in Time: The Art and History of Embroidery by Hilda Kassell

This book is one I came across in my mother-in-law's collection that she didn't want anymore. It is a short book split into three sections. The author includes some black and white photographs scattered throughout of various embroidery pieces.
The first part is called History Through the Needle's Eye, and covers some history of embroidery in the United States. She begins with samplers stitched by children, mostly by girls, the earliest documented of which is by Loara Standish, likely a few years before her 1650 death. The one boy she mentions working on a sampler was Lemuel Vose in 1737, and it was left unfinished. Besides describing a number of samplers, and giving some information on the stitchers, she also discusses some other works. Some are pictures of homes and communities. Some included some painting on the work as well, particularly in backgrounds. Some works were patriotic, particularly around the time of the American Revolution.
Also included are some examples of clothing and accessories, such as wallets, suspenders, and vests for men; domestic items such as chair seats (by Martha Washington no less!) and table tops; and textual items such as family records, family trees, and maps.
Into the 1800s there are pictures of ships, rural scenes, and a variety of folk art pictures.
Part Two is Twentieth-Century Embroidery, and the author has included works commemorating soldiers from World War One, Lindbergh's flight across the Atlantic, and World War Two patriotism. One in this section that definitely spoke as being from a different time is Mrs. Teddy Roosevelt, Jr's picture depicting the large animals her husband trophy-hunted.
I found some of the more modern works, but immigrants following the Second World War interesting, particularly those by Reet Pukk and Margaret Haas.There are many examples of patriotic pictures and those inspired by historical events. There is also a picture showing the actress Mary Martin embroidering, which she apparently did in her dressing room often. Again, there are some domestic items such as rugs and chair-seats.
She has a number of religious examples as well, many from kneelers, but also from communion rails cushions, altar frontals, and wall hangings.
There are also a couple of examples of vests made by women for their husbands depicting items from their careers.
Part Three is Instructions and here Kassell gives some instructions of making designs, transferring them to the stitching material, the use of working frames and other preparatory helps. She talks about the different kinds of threads available, and the best uses for each one. There are good descriptions with drawings of a variety of stitches including blanket and buttonhole stitch, back stitch, chain stitch, Cretan stitch, cross stitch, feather stitch, fishbone stitch, Florentine stitch, French knot, hemstitch, herringbone stitch, needlepoint stitch, outline stitch, and satin stitch. There is also a section on applique embroidery.
The book finishes with a short bibliography, including books as well as booklets and leaflets.
It was a very interesting read.

Monday 15 July 2019

Death and Other Happy Endings

Finished July 12
Death and Other Happy Endings by Melanie Cantor

Set in London, this book opens with Jennifer Cole in her doctor's office getting her results from her recent blood tests, as she hopes for help finding a cause for her low energy. She is completely unprepared for the result that she has a rare and incurable blood disorder and has only a few short months to live. Jennifer is in her early forties, divorced after her husband cheated on her when she was in depression after her third miscarriage. She lives alone and isn't currently in a relationship. After commiserating with her best friend, Jennifer is talked into writing letters to the people she has been hurt by, getting out those feelings that she's always hidden behind her niceness.
One letter is to her ex-husband and his wife (the woman that he cheated on her with). Another is to a more recent boyfriend, who also cheated on her. The third is to her older sister, a woman who she has grown increasingly distant from but used to idolize.
Jennifer decreases her hours at work, wanting the distraction that work brings, but not able to keep working full-time, and takes time to reflect on her life. She finds herself reconnecting with people, doing things that are more spontaneous, and being more open to new experiences.
The book has humour, interesting situations, and a few surprises.
An enjoyable read.

Peace River Country

Finished July 7
Peace River Country by Ralph Allen

I picked this up thinking it was about the northwest part of Alberta that my parents grew up in, but the title of the book is more about a goal for the characters. Most of the story takes place in southern Saskatchewan.
As the novel opens, Bea Sondern and her two children Harold and Kathleen are on a train, about to live the town of Dobie. Harold knows they are running away, but the younger Kathleen seems more nonchalant, ready for the next stage of their lives. They talk about what they'll do for a living when they get to their destination, the Peace River Country, and what kind of place it is. Their destination is one that sounds wonderful to people dealing with the drought of the prairies. They talk about the wonderful names of the towns in the Peace River Country, and of the weather. They left Regina in 1933 for Dobie, and now four years later their next stop is Elevator, another small Saskatchewan town. Each town is a step closer to their dream destination.
As the conductor comes to take their tickets, they recognize the long-serving CPR man Chatsworth. He knows their situation and tries to be helpful without looking like he is offering charity. As they reach Elevator, where Chatsworth lives, he offers a room in his own home to them, without first consulting his wife and daughter.
Bea is a hard worker and is quick to find something that she can do to earn a living, whether it is taking in laundry, or cleaning, or doing piecework. Even when sometimes it was clear that she wasn't very good at these things, she still persisted in trying her best.
So what are they running from. They are running from Chris Sondern, Bea's husband and Harold and Kathleen's father. Chris is a good man, well-meaning and intelligent, but he has a weakness for drink, and his alcoholism is an illness that won't let him go. Bea tried to stay, until she couldn't. Now, when, for whatever reason, Chris follows them, even though he knows himself that he shouldn't, they must move on.
We see inside Bea, her love for her husband that still lives, her love for her children, and for the children she didn't have, but wanted. We see her hope for a better future. We see her plans and her preparations.
We see inside Chris, see his knowledge that he isn't good for his family in the state he is in, though he longs for them. We see how he met Bea back in the twenties when he was newly promoted to second teller and she was a waitress in a diner. We see how they married even though he earned less than the minimum amount the bank set for its employees to marry and so he lost his job, and we see how his fall began.
We see inside Harold, his worry and fear of being hopeful. How he longs to be accepted, but doesn't really believe that he will be. How he feels himself an outsider.
This isn't a happy book, but it is an interesting one, a story of its time, of how choices can lead in directions that are unexpected. The story is told subtly, with hints and thoughts and feelings.

Sunday 7 July 2019

As Long as We Both Shall Live

Finished July 7
As Long as We Both Shall Live by Joann Chaney

In this novel we see inside the mind of various characters. The female protagonist Janice, the other female protagonist Marie, the male protagonist Matt, the female detective Spengler, and the male detective Loren.
Janice knows her husband has been cheating on her, and she decides to get proof, but then what should she do. Marie also knows her husband has been cheating on her, and now the girls have left home, they are increasingly distant from each other. Is the planned outing to the mountains a way forward, a way to reconnect?
Matt keeps a lot of secrets, but he isn't that good at it. Many times, keeping silent is the best way for him to react when he feels cornered. But not always.
Loren has his own past that he has run from, and never talked about again. But now it seems to be coming back to him again. He knows he didn't have a lot of choices back then, but did he make the right one.
Spengler is the new officer in Homicide, and she's getting her fair share of jokes, innuendos, and other crap from her fellow officers. But she has a good home life, and that keeps her going When she's paired up with Loren on this case, she has a few things that she'll learn.
This is a case with more than one unreliable narrator, and a few twists and turns. Some I saw coming, others I didn't. I really enjoyed the read.

Saturday 6 July 2019

Fix Her Up

Finished July 5
Fix Her Up by Tessa Bailey

This spicy romance novel is the small town of Port Jefferson, Long Island, New York. Travis Ford is a local boy who became a baseball superstar, playing in the majors. He also got a reputation as a ladies man, never staying with one woman for long enough to have a relationship. But after an injury, his skills weren't what they were, and he was traded around a bit before ending up without a contract. So now he's back home, and feeling sorry for himself. Enter Georgette (Georgie) Castle, the little sister of Travis' best friend Stephen.
Georgie has been in love with Travis for years, but never expressed her feelings. Her family knows, but no one has told Travis. Georgie has been working as a clown, making a living doing parties and other events. Now she's looking to step it up and hire some performers and become a larger entertainment company. Only problem is that no one seems to take her seriously, always treating her like a kid. And she's tired of that.
She's easygoing though, and has enough personality to take on Travis. She challenges his attitude, getting him out of his apartment and among the living again, and then she challenges him again, and just keeps on doing that.
And Travis finds himself seeing her in a different light, and feeling guilty for being so attracted to her. But also feeling like he's not felt about a woman before.
And so the story goes.
There is humour, graphic sex, and a decent plot. A fun, summer read.

Thursday 4 July 2019


Finished July 4
Craftfulness: Mend Yourself by Making Things by Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin, read by Joan Walkter

This short book looks at the mental health aspect of simple craft activities. It talks about how doing crafts is becoming more popular as more people realize we all have creativity within us. We need to be open to new experiences, to learning new skills, and failing at first as we do so.
They cite their own experiences, the experiences of friends, and various research that has been done to show how engaging in a creative pursuit helps us be happier and more engaged with the world around us.
Doing crafts has been shown to help with PTSD, depression, anxiety, and other mental health challenges, and they give some instances of this research and some programs that use crafting to formally address these issues.
They also go through a number of simple crafts: knitting a scarf, creating a pinch pot, making a booklet, drawing, writing, and weaving, to start the reader off. They emphasize the idea of flow, of finding something that really engages you, of being open to trying a few different activities to see what clicks with you, and being aware of the time it takes to gain the basic skills for the that particular craft.
Personally, I engage in a few crafts, and I've been aware for some time of how they help me deal with stress and other issues in my life, but it was interesting to hear about this more broadly.

August Heat

Finished July 3
August Heat by Andrea Camilleri

I'm gradually working my way through this series featuring Sicilian policeman Inspector Salvo Montalbano. Here, Montalbano has had to cancel his planned vacation when one of his officers has a family issue that takes him away. Montalbano's girlfriend Livia isn't as upset as he expected her to be, but asks him to find a house near the beach for rent for friends of hers, so she can spend time with them while he is working and comes to stay.
He finds a house in a great location and things are looking well, until a few days in, things start to go wrong at the house. As each thing happens, the friends grow more upset, until the finding of a body is the last straw. Livia is livid as well, and leaves with her friends, and the dynamic between Salvo and Livia isn't good.
With the case going back six years, Montalbano and his officers dig into the past, and find many things less than appealing.
Like the previous books, there is always some lovely descriptions of food that arise, both from Montalbano's housekeeper, and from his favourite restaurant, Enzo's. This book has Montalbano doing a few unsavoury things as his feelings get in the way of his good sense. As always, I enjoy the other police characters as well.

Wednesday 3 July 2019

Fed Up

Finished July 3
Fed Up: Emotional Labor, Women, and the Way Forward by Gemma Hartley

This is a book that will speak to many, if not all, women. In most cultures, it is the woman who does the emotional labour in a relationship, who keeps things up, who organizes things, who makes sure that things get done. It is the mental load of this tasks, noticing what needs doing, what connects to what (if your son has soccer tomorrow, you need to ensure his uniform is clean and ready, dinner is organized to be quick to be done before game time, and any transportation is planned). It isn't just about putting things on the calendar. It's about seeing the connections between things, between people, between tasks, and noting the minutiae in the big picture.
This can be draining, even more than the physical tasks that accompany it are. Gemma looked at this in her own life, and in the lives of many others, doing a lot of research as she wrote this book. Her husband Rob was a man who wanted to do better, but didn't understand emotional labour, and didn't know how to engage more. (Notice that I didn't say "how to help"). They eventually worked out how to share emotional labour more in their relationship, not only because it improved life for both of them, but also to avoid having this dynamic pass on to the next generation.
When Gemma realized that she had to change her own approach and attitude big time, it was an aha moment. They had to figure it out together. If she really wanted this change, and she did, they had to work it out as a team, not as a leader and a helper. She notes that keeping things in balance is an ongoing challenge, but that they both look forward to figuring it out together.
This was an eye-opening and inspiring look at the issue of emotional labour, and offers real solutions to recognizing the value of this work and finding more fulfillment. Highly recommended.

12 Annual Canadian Reading Challenge Wrap-Up

12th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge. This challenge ran from July 1, 2018 to June 30, 2019
Hosted by Melwyk here
The challenge was to read 13 books, but since I almost made it to 50 in 2017-2018, I'm set that for a goal. I made it to 19.

1. The Tinsmith by Tim Bowling. Finished July 30 (British Columbia)
2. A World of Kindness by the Editors and Illustrators of Pajama Press. Finished August 19
3. Clean Sweep by Michael J. Clark. Finished August 22 (Manitoba)
4. Too Young to Escape by Van Ho and Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch. Finished October 19
5. Giraffe and Bird Together Again by Rebecca Bender. Finished October 26
6. Our New Kittens by Theo Heras, illustrated by Alice Carter. Finished October 27
7. His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay. Finished November 18
8. Sapphire the Great and the Meaning of Life by Beverley Brenna. Finished November 29
9. Half Spent Was the Night by Ami McKay. Finished January 2
10. Kingdom of the Blind by Louise Penny. Finished January 15 (Quebec)
11. Come from Away by Genevieve Graham. Finished January 21 (Nova Scotia)
12. Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up by Jane Whittingham, illustrated by Emma Pedersen. Finished February 9
13. Hum If You Don't Know the Words by Bianca Marais. Finished March 16
14. 21 Things You May Not Know about The Indian Act by Bob Joseph. Finished April 3
15. Before You Were Born by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzio. Finished April 30
16. Washing Off the Raccoon Eyes by Margo LaPierre. Finished May 16
17. Land Mammals and Sea Creatures by Jen Neale. Finished May 24
18. Love Letters to Baruch by Margaret Lawrence Greene. Finished June 29
19. A Synopsis of Woman Suffrage in Canada by Hilda Ridley. Finished June 29

Ten Miles Past Normal

Finished July 2
Ten Miles Past Normal by Frances O'Roark Dowell, narrated by Jessica Almasy

This teen novel has 14-year-old Janie Gorman in her first year of high school, and finding that her life on a farm has drawn attention in ways that aren't great, like the goat poo stuck to the bottom of her shoe creating an odor investigation on the bus to school. Up to now, the decision made by her family, at her suggestion, back when she was nine, to move to a farm and raise goats has been a good one. But now, she has a different lunch hour from her group of middle school friends, and has resorted to scarfing down her lunch at her locker and spending the rest of the time in the library.
Of course the fact that her mom writes a blog about their life on the farm doesn't help, either. As Janie chooses a subject for a school project in the one class she does share with her best friend Sarah, and develops a new friendship with another girl hanging in the library, she also finds herself learning new skills, like playing bass guitar, and quilting, and exploring her artistic side in new ways.
This is a novel of growth, of early romance, of families, and of history.
I liked the book a lot and think Janie is a very cool girl.

Monday 1 July 2019

What Happens Next

Finished July 1
What Happens Next written by Susan Hughes, illustrated by Carey Sookocheff

This children's picture book takes on the subject of bullying. The unnamed narrator doesn't want to go to school because there is a girl there who says mean things and laughs at them. Other people laugh too. No one speaks up against the bully. The narrator doesn't tell their mom about the bully when she asks at first, and instead takes comfort in the love of their dog Sparky. Sparky is always happy to see them, and shows it.
The book talks about how the narrator feels about the bully's actions, and about how this feeling carries over into bad dreams sometimes, and makes them want to do mean things too. Here, the mom notices that something is wrong and spends time with the child, having fun, and eventually the child confides in her about the bully. Mom is really helpful, and coaches the child about how bullying is often a result of fear and wanting to control something. Mom says that she can go to the principal, but first asks the child if they are willing to try something themselves first to see if it might help.
This has the child learn some problem solving skills, and communication skills and gain some confidence as well.
The drawings are simple, but evocative, and you can see the feelings present in the different situations. A good book to bring up the subject of bullying for kids. I also like that the narrator wasn't identified as either a girl or a boy so that the story is more identifiable for all kids.

13th Annual Canadian Book Challenge: July Roundup

Post the reviews for the books you read this month here.
I'll be doing a draw for a prize pack of Canadian books.
Each book read gets you an entry for the prize pack.