Thursday 15 August 2019

A Single Thread

Finished August 11
A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

This historical novel is set between the wars, in the early 1930s. Violet Speedwell is in her late thirties, working as a typist for an insurance company. She's recently moved out of her mother's house in Southampton to Winchester, where she rents a room in a boarding-house. After her father's death, she found it increasingly difficult to deal with her mother. Violet's older brother George was killed in the Great War, soon followed by her fiance Laurence. Her younger brother Tom did his stint in the war, but came back changed and is now married with a couple of children. Violet has been feeling more and more like her life has no meaning.
She relishes her independence, but finds it hard to live on her meagre salary. She shares the office with two younger women who chat and giggle about the young men they are seeing, and treat her with a pitying respect. Violet is drawn to the cathedral, which is much more magnificent inside than it is out, and tries to stop in regularly.
As the book begins, she's stepped out of work on an errand and finds a service about to begin. She forces her way into the seated group of women, and finds that they are embroiderers who have created the first of many planned batches of kneelers for the cathedral and the service is to accept this offering of work. Violet doesn't have fond memories of her own failed tries at embroidery under her mother's tutelage, but one of the women reaches out to her in a friendly way, and soon Violet finds herself a part of the group, learning how to do the expected stitching and finding a community for herself. This is a story of a woman who, after a period of suspension of her life, finds a new way forward, confident in what she has to offer and brave enough to take what she wants when the opportunity arises.
I liked Violet and her courage to find a new life for herself, and I loved the embroidery theme of the novel, based on real people and a real embroidery project. The characters were interesting and I liked the way the story unfolded.


Finished August 8
Mrs. by Caitlin Macy

This was a very interesting read, told from a number of viewpoints. The character at the center of the novel is Philippa Lye a woman married to a man who owns a small family investment bank, one of the last of its kind in New York City. She hasn't joined the usual group of gossipy mothers when she drops her children off at the private school, seemingly oblivious to the expectations of her set. She does her own thing, seems a bit distracted, but nice.
Gwen Hogan knew Philippa back when they were children, and knows some of her past. Gwen had her own career as a chemical engineer, but now is a stay-at-home mom, with a husband who works as a prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney's Office. They married relatively young, just out of college. She recognizes Philippa at the school, and is friendly, but she is also a bit of an outsider, with less money than most of the other parents, and a scholarship daughter who is smarter than most children her age.
When a new child begins attending mid-year, they all take note, as this is highly unusual. The mother, Minnie Curtis, is unusual too, wealthy but very open about her humble background. She, too, seems oblivious of the rules, and tries to hard to connect with the others,
As we see the dynamics between the women and their husbands, picking and dropping up kids, attending school events and children's parties, we begin to see the issues that are coming.
Gwen's husband Dan is investigating Minnie's husband, which may lead to others, and Gwen sees Philippa's distractedness as a vulnerability that Philippa herself seems unaware of.
This is a slow read, character-driven, with some very interesting situations.

Wednesday 14 August 2019

Beautiful Bad

Finished August 5
Beautiful Bad by Annie Ward

This psychological suspense novel has three timelines. One takes place on an evening when an emergency call is received at a suburb in Kansas starting with the call. One begins decades before when Maddie worked overseas teaching and writing and first met her now-husband Ian. The other is recent events taking place in Maddie's life, particularly her time with a therapist, leading up to the call she makes.
Maddie always wanted to escape her boring life growing up in small town Kansas. She studied languages, and began working at various jobs overseas. She met her best friend Jo at school where the two connected instantly. Jo became an aid worker, and as their story develops from a time where Jo was working in Macedonia and Maddie in nearby Bulgaria, we see how their estrangement began. It was there they met a number of young men in the British military, one of whom Ian developed a relationship with both women, eventually marrying Maddie as we know from the more recent timeline.
This is another story with unreliable narrators, where we aren't sure who to trust. Why is Jo angry with Maddie, and what happened between them to create the later rift. Do Ian's military and para-military experiences lead him to have violent tendencies? How does his PTSD affect him? What is Maddie's life like with her husband and young son? What happened the night they were camping?
There's a lot going on here, and a lot of uncertainty. All you really know is that something bad has happened, and it isn't over yet.

The Bookish Life of Nina Hill

Finished August 3
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman

This novel has several storylines surrounding the title character. Nina is in her late twenties, living in a small apartment in the Larchmont area of Los Angeles. She works at a bookstore in the neighbourhood, running a number of programs there including storytimes and a girls' book club. She is a collector of trivial facts and belongs to a competitive trivia team. She has a small circle of close friends, uses her organizer with dedication, and has conversations with her Phil, her cat. Nina suffers from anxiety sometimes and she is about to have a lot of new experiences.
Nina's mother is an journalist who travels widely internationally. Nina has been told that her mother wasn't sure who her father was, and so has never known anything about that side of her family. Once she got to be too big to be carried around on her travels by her mother, she was settled in Los Angeles with a nanny, who she thinks of as a second mother.
As the book opens Nina is approached by a man who says that he is a lawyer for her late father. Her father kept his promise to her mother never to approach her, but she is mentioned in his will, and she has several siblings, nieces and nephews, and other family. This is a shock to Nina, and a bit overwhelming as she gradually meets the various family members. Some of them she quite likes, and others she isn't so sure about.
Nina also sees a man on a trivia team her team matches wits with that intrigues her. Her fellow team members notice and encourage her to make a move. Again, she's not sure.
The bookstore that Nina works in is struggling financially, but her boss and co-worker Liz seems to be handling it, except for the landlord interactions.
As Nina's life absorbs this new information and she considers making changes to her life, she begins to consider her own behaviours and thinks about why she is the way she is.
I really liked this book, especially because I can relate to Nina on several levels. It was a fun read.

Tuesday 6 August 2019

Beyond Fate

Finished August 1
Beyond Fate: 2002 Massey Lectures by Margaret Visser

I thoroughly enjoyed this series of five lectures, which explored not only the idea of fate, but went far beyond that, touching on many other ideas including honour and goodness, guilt and shame, revenge and payment, forgiveness and trust. She uses examples from daily life and from history, and shows how the idea of fate has developed and changed over time. This is a series that really made me think about a lot of things including cultural differences.
I liked that each lecture fit my commute almost perfectly allowing me the time to think about the ideas presented before moving on to the next lecture.
There is insight and humour here and a lot of stuff to think about.

My Puppy Patch

Finished July 29
My Puppy Patch by Theo Heras, illustrated by Alice Carter

This fun picture book as she takes her puppy for her first outing.
The story shows her checking Patch's responses to her commands, things she's already taken time to train her to respond to. The two explore the world outside their yard, and they meet one of the girl's friends, Benny who is also walking his dog, a much larger puppy named Smallfry.
They talk about ways they've looked after their dog, like giving them their shots, and the dogs greet each other and romp around.
When the girl and Patch get home, she cleans her and gives her water and makes sure she has what she needs.
I liked that the story showed good ways to look after a pet, and the bond that develops between the child and the dog.
I loved how the endpapers show the two along with the girl's drawings and lists pertaining to Patch.

From 1 to 10

Finished July 27
From 1 to 10 by Mies Van Hout, translation rights arranged by elami agency

This picture book is a great first book for learning numbers. Each number has a double page with the number written largely, and a word below and the illustration showing the word. The words used here are not the usual ones you see, but they are relatable and fun, starting with 1 belly, with a picture of a large blue bear with an oversized red belly.
With its bright colours and simple yet fun and easily identifiable images, this will appeal to a variety of youngsters. (Can you guess the cover picture is 2 ears?). All of the animals depicted in the drawing are happy and smiling, especially the one with 9 teeth! I'm sure my friend at work who does Baby storytimes will love this one.
At the end of the counting is a short section for parents, emphasizing the importance of learning to count, and giving tips on various methods to introduce counting into the child's everyday life.

The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley

Finished July 25
The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti, narrated by Elizabeth Wiley

This novel moves back and forth between the lives of Samuel and his daughter Loo, as they settle in the small town of Olympus, Massachusetts years after the death of Samuel's wife Lily, and Samuel's past.
Samuel has a shrine to Lily in their washroom. Everything she left behind from grooming products and cosmetics to slips of paper she wrote lists on is there. Loo is used to it. The shrine has gone with them as they travelled around the country, always moving suddenly, and taking little with them. One thing that has gone with them is Samuel's collection of guns, from his father's rifle to a variety of handguns and long guns. He looks after them, and Loo knows how to use them as well.
Their lives in Olympus are quiet, except for occasional conflicts with locals. Loo doesn't really fit in, and doesn't really want to. Samuel makes a quiet living fishing and gathering shellfish at low tide. As we see Loo grow from a tween to a life after high school, we see their relationship change as Loo tries to have her own secrets and gradually learns those of her father.
Loo's grandmother lives in Olympus, her mother's mother, and this relationship develops very slowly as well.
The twelve lives of the title are represented by the bullet wounds in Samuel's body, and we gradually learn through his history where and how he came by each one, learning also what his life has been, and how he came to meet Lily, and what happened to her.
This is a story of families, of the difficulty of escaping one's past, and of the constant hope for a better future. A very interesting read.

Thursday 1 August 2019

13th Canadian Book Challenge: August Round-up

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.