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.

The Gown

Finished August 24
The Gown by Jennifer Robson

I'd bought this a while back and been meaning to read it for ages. I took it on my vacation as I knew I would likely pass it on to one of my stitching friends I was going to be spending time with. It was even better than I hoped.
The main characters in the novel are two young women working at the Norman Hartwell workshop. Ann Hughes answered an advertisement in 1939 when she was fourteen and had no stitching experience at all. In fact, that was one of the reasons that she was hired, as she had no bad habits to unlearn. Now, in her twenties, she is one of the senior embroiderers. During her employment, her parents have passed away, and her brother was killed in the war. As the book opens, she is living with her brother's widow in the council house she grew up in. Money is tight and she is faced with new challenges as her sister-in-law considers joining her brothers who have emigrated to Canada.
Miriam Dessin is a young French woman who has lost her family in the war, and is now looking for a fresh start in another country. She had worked at the Christian Dior workshop in Paris, and is highly skilled, but it is only as she takes a huge risk that she is able to find a job using her skills in England.
Shortly after Miriam starts as the workshop, Hartwell is vying for the job of creating the wedding dress for Princess Elizabeth. This event will be an uplifting one for the nation after the privations and losses of the recent war, and they want it to be a huge success. Ann, with the assistance of Miriam are given the job of making Hartwell's designs come to life. They are under immense pressure, not only for the work itself, but for secrecy about the design.
The stories of these skilled young women was wonderful, and the author credits an encounter with the journalist Heather Mackenzie, who connected her with one of the real-life embroiderers of the wedding gown, Betty Foster, for being able to supply the details that made the story what it is.
This is a fantastic read, for the history, but also for anyone who does handwork.

The Islanders

Finished August 23
The Islanders by Meg Mitchell Moore

This story takes place on Block Island, off the coast of Rhode Island, and follows several characters, each dealing with their own challenges. Anthony Puckett is a writer whose first novel made huge sales and won critical acclaim. His next novel put him under pressure, and when working one particular section he used something written by a long-dead author, always intending to go back and replace it with something he'd written, but he was outed by one of the advance readers, and this caused huge fallout including his wife kicking him out. He's taken refuge in a small cottage on the island owned by the elderly uncle of a friend. He's desperately missing his young son Max, and feeling shut out by his famous author father Leonard. He's using a fake last name to keep his privacy.
Joy Sousa is a single mom of a young teen girl, Maggie. Her husband left when Maggie was very young, and she's made a life for herself running a shop on the island that sells Whoopie Pies. But now, her landlord is upping the rent, her daughter is less sharing than she used to be, and her ex-husband has reentered Maggie's life. She's definitely feeling the stress.
Lu Trusdale was a successful lawyer until she resigned after having her second child. She's been a stay-at-home mom for a few years, with the family running a tight budget as her husband gets his medical practice started, and he works long hours. Lu wasn't finding fulfillment without some form of outside work, and she's secretly been writing a food blog. Now it is starting to be successful, her husband is pressuring her for a third child, and she must finally step out of the shadows and reveal what she wants to those close to her.
There is lots going on here, and with a small community there is interaction between all these characters. I really enjoyed the various storylines, and liked how they came together.

Saturday 7 September 2019

You, Me and The Sea

Finished August 22
You, Me and the Sea by Meg Donohue

Merrow Shawe has had an unusual life, Now, she's about to marry the man she loves and things should be feeling good, so why is she suddenly feeling haunted by the past she's left behind. This novel starts with the present, and then takes us back into Merrow's childhood, where she grows up without answers around her mother's death, neglected by her father, and abused by her older brother, Bear. Merrow's parents met in the 1960s when her father Jacob came west to find his future. Her mother, Marigold, was living in a commune called the Freedom Collective near San Francisco, and Jacob joined it too. After a few years, Jacob had saved enough money from his other work off commune to buy a property called Horseshoe Cliff near Osha, a small hippie town. They grew much of their own food, and made a life together. But Marigold died when Merrow was just a baby, and her father doesn't talk about her. A neighbor named Rei, an older Japanese woman, helps out with taking their produce and handcrafted creations to sell in the city. She brings food and provides advice. When Merrow is five, her father gives her a dog that she grows very close to, and when she is nine, he leaves one day, and comes back with Amir, a young boy from India, the adopted son of her mother's best friend who has recently died. Amir and Merrow grow very close, but Bear's abuse grows stronger and now includes Amir as well.
As Merrow and Amir struggle with an increasingly difficult home life, a way out presents itself, and Merrow finds herself considering it.
As we gradually learn what has brought Merrow to the point in her life that was introduced at the beginning, we also find her internal struggles for those she loves.
A great read.

Death in Provence

Finished August 17
Death in Provence by Serena Kent

This mystery features the divorced Penelope Kite, a British woman who took early retirement from her job in forensics at the Home Office. Since her retirement, her stepchildren have been relying heavily on her as an unpaid babysitter for her grandchildren and showing little appreciation for her time. She wants to take time for her own interests, for the life she wants to live. Part of that is a life in the French countryside, and she's found the perfect fixer-upper.
Unfortunately, on her first morning at her new home, she finds a man face down in her sadly neglected swimming pool.  Was he the same man who accused her of living on his property the evening before? He seems to be, but her knowledge of forensics makes her question this. As she meets the others in her village and spends a lot of time with her real estate agent as she deals with issues arising from the crime on her property, she also begins to consider what she will do with her time in her new home.
This was an enjoyable read. I liked Penelope and how she is learning to find a place for herself in her new environment. She's finally coming into her own life. The mystery of the dead man, and subsequent worrying events are intriguing and stretch into the village's past.

Monday 2 September 2019

The Maker

Finished August 16
The Maker: Crafting a Unique Space by Tamara Maynes with Tracy Lines, photography by Eve Wilson

This inspiring book looks at a variety of creative pursuits
The book has a handmade feel, with a thick board cover and rounded corners.
The first section talks about a wide variety of creative pursuits readers may want to explore and gives short descriptions of each. These are; applique, basketry, ceramics, chair caning, embroidery, fabric dying and printing, felting, glass blowing, knitting, leaded glasswork, leatherwork, macrame, metalwork, papercraft, quilting and patchwork, rug hooking, sculpture, shade making, tapestry weaving, upholstery, willow bending, wirework, and woodwork.
This is followed by more in-depth chapters on a number of these. Each chapter includes quotes from people doing this type of work, examples of a variety of work in this area, a short interview with a maker, and complete instructions for a project.
Wall Art includes a project for a metal wall hanging. Objects includes a project for a wire sculpture. Textiles includes a project for a woven table runner. Ceramics includes a project for a no fire clay vessel. Lighting includes a project for a woodworked light box, and Furniture includes a project for a marquetry table top.
These chapters are followed by a discussion on craftsmanship, sustainable making, raw materials for making, space for making, design, and reworking.
The book ends with a list of various tools, with images and some ideas of makers to follow.
I loved the layout, and found that it make trying out some of these creative pursuits very approachable. The projects chosen don't require a lot of financial outlay or specialized tools, and are good starting points for a beginner.

13th Canadian Book Challenge September Roundup

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