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.