Tuesday 31 December 2019

The Last Lie

Finished December 23
The Last Lie by Alex Lake

This suspense novel revolves around a marriage. Claire Daniels lost her mother when she was young, and has chosen a different field than her father to focus her energies on. She wants to create her own family and believes that her husband Alfie shares her dreams. But Alfie has used his relationship with Claire for his own purposes, and has very different dreams for the future. Dreams that don't include her. Alfie is a very unlikeable character, and Claire is more naive in her personal life than she should be. Both of them have images of what their spouse is that don't align with reality.
As Alfie puts his plan in place, sudden events cause him to rethink and open everyone up to reacting to events as they happen, and plans must be adjusted.
There are so many lies in this book that the reader must sift through, looking for what is real. A quick read.

What She Saw

Finished December 21
What She Saw by Gerard Stembridge

This psychological thriller has you unsure of who or what to believe. Lana Gibson is an American who lives in Dublin due to her husband's job. She has traveled on a whim to Paris to see an Edward Hopper exhibit. But she may have underlying motives that become clear more gradually.
She stays at an upscale hotel, The Hotel Chevalier on the Right Bank, and is intrigued by a suite with its own private elevator. When her curiosity gets the better of her, and she gains access to the suite, she sees something that she shouldn't have and the story really gets going.
Lana has a previous history in Paris that she is both drawn to and regrets. She is also an unreliable narrator as she is bipolar and doesn't always take her medicines when she should. As the events resulting from her curiosity overtake her, she must make choices based on the moment.
Lana is a smart woman, but she doesn't always pay enough attention to what's happening when she focuses too much on something, and that gets her into real trouble. This was a fast-moving novel that kept me on my toes right to the end.
I liked the plot lines involving politics, and how they reflect some real life trends.

Saturday 28 December 2019

The Misunderstanding

Finished December 19
The Misunderstanding by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith

This short novel was the first one Nemirovsky published and to me it felt very much of its time. I didn't like any of the characters.
This is a story of a romance between a young man, hero of the First World War, whose family fortunes disappeared after the war, forcing him to work in an office, and a young woman, married to a successful entrepreneur, who was a friend of the other young man in the war, now with a young daughter. The young family meets the man at a holiday seaside resort. The married young man stays only a brief time before going off on business, but the other young man has saved his whole year to savour this one reminiscent experience of his life before the war.
He begins to spend time with the woman and her daughter, gradually seducing her as he does so.
Back in Paris, in everyday life, he is not as free with his time, and the relationship is altered, with neither party satisfied with the result.
There were several things that bothered me about the characters and circumstances, and all I think related to the book being of its time. One was the young man's self-centeredness. He didn't like having to work, didn't like the fact that he had less money than his lover, didn't like being reminded of that fact by her taste and preferences, and was just generally unhappy with his lot in life and taking it out on her. She was too selfless in her passion for him, and inconsiderate of the faithful and successful man she had married, and of her child. Even when she takes advice from his mother, it is about pretending not to care as much and letting him dictate the ways of the relationship. Definitely not my favourite book by this author.
It is however an interesting character study, and that made it worth the read. 

The Music Shop

Finished December 14
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce

I've had this on my shelf for far too long, but it came up as my book club book this month, so it finally got read. The story is set in London, starting in 1988. Frank owns a small music shop selling only vinyl. CDs are starting to be very popular, but he's convinced that vinyl is best.
Frank had an odd upbringing, raised by a single parent who treated him less like a child than a roommate. His mother knew a lot about music though, and was passionate about it, and made him listen to music often, telling him about the musicians who created it, the style, the history and everything else she knew about it. He listens with a very focused and educated ear. Frank also has a very empathetic manner, able to choose the right piece of music for people at certain times in their lives. He has two listening booths he built in his shop and they are often the place that his clients first listen to the songs he picks for them.
Frank is also tied to the small community of shop-owners and residents on his cul-de-sac. There is a tattoo artist, a baker, a funeral parlor, and a pub, among others.
As the book begins, a developer is trying to convince the various property owners to sellup, but Frank is one of the ones that holds firm to his property.
Frank also employs a young man Kit as a general assistant. Kit is like an eager puppy, cheerful and exuberant, but also very clumsy. Into this environment one day comes a young German woman Ilse, and she finds her own place in the story, one that is pivotal, yet also not fully realized.
The passages about music in this book make me want to find the music mentioned and listen to it. Even those pieces that I was already familiar with became new to me as I learned more about them.
Highly recommended (and my book club liked it too)

Liz and Nellie

Finished December 13
Liz and Nellie by Shonna Slayton

This book was one I sought out last year to fit a challenge (to read a book by an author with the same first or last name). I didn't get it read last year, but did this year, and enjoyed it.
The story follows two real women, Nellie Bly and Elizabeth Bisland who each set off to beat the time for global circumnavigation set in Jules Verne's fictional Around the World in Eighty Days. They left in November 1889, and returned in early 1890.
It was Nellie's idea to do this. She was a young newspaper reporter looking for an edge, a story, and a way to get more interesting assignments. For Elizabeth, it was her boss's  idea that she also try to set a record, and compete against Nellie. Elizabeth was also a New York journalist, but this wasn't a journey she really wanted to do.
Nellie traveled east and Elizabeth traveled west, both leaving from New York City.
The author based her story of real historical documents including the women's own writings. She's filled out the missing information based on history, while making the writing more modern in style.
Both women were independently minded, adventurous and smart. They were curious about the places they visited, and about the people they met. I hadn't heard of Bisland before reading this, but actually found myself liking her the better of the two.
A very entertaining and enlightening read.

Murder List

Finished December 11
Murder List by Julie Garwood

This romantic suspense novel is part of a series, but I haven't read the others. The main character, Regan Hamilton Madison is the only daughter in a hotel-owning family. Her father died when she was young, and her mother was preoccupied, so she was mostly raised by her three older brothers, Aidan, Spencer, and Walker, who tend to be over-protective, although encouraging. She's smart and beautiful but hasn't had a lot of boyfriends, with the latest one dumped after revealing himself as after her money.
Her job in the family business has to do with the foundation, finding worthy causes to fund with the money earned by the hotels. Her two best friends date back to her kindergarten days, and one, Sophie, is a newspaper reporter with a loving, albeit criminal-minded father, and the other, Cordelia, a science teacher. Sophie is onto a potentially big story, looking into a pop psychologist who charms older women out of their money, and possibly more. Sophie suspects him of murder.
We also see the story unfold from the viewpoint of a killer, an unnamed man with a wife, Nina, in a wheelchair due to an accident. He is obsessed with Regan and determined to both kill her and somehow protect her as she aligns with his wife in his mind.
As the book begins, Regan and Cordelia agree to help Sophie look into the psychologist by attending one of his seminars. One of the activities during the seminar is to create a list of people in your life who'd be better off dead and then ritualistically burn it. Due to circumstances, Regan misses the burning portion of the exercise, and then is involved in a scary situation.
When people on her list start turning up dead, and someone threatens her more directly, she involves the police. But will they and her security team be able to stop someone as determined as the stalker behind the killings?
There is lots of suspense here, and some definite attraction between Regan and the police officer assigned to be her minder. A light, but engaging read.

Bad Ideas

Finished December 9
Bad Ideas by Missy Marston

This novel is in the 1970s in Preston Mills, a small factory town in eastern Ontario. Trudy is a young woman who grew up in the town she lives in. She works in the local factory and lives with her mother Claire and her four-year-old niece Mercy. Claire had fallen in love with Darren, a young man working on the St. Lawrence Seaway project nearby, and both Trudy and her sister Tammy were children of that relationship. But soon after Tammy was born, he was gone, back to his life and wife elsewhere. Claire never had another relationship, sure that someday Darren would return to her. Tammy, like her mother got pregnant as a teenager, and soon after Mercy was a toddler, she left for a different life somewhere else. So Claire and Trudy raised Mercy, and loved her. But it left Trudy with a certainty that men couldn't be trusted, one she held true to until one day a very different young man entered town.
Jules Tremblay, an aspiring daredevil, plans to build a ramp and fly over the Seaway in his car. We see his story as he looks for promotional sponsors, funding, and waits for the ramp to be built. Trudy finds herself fascinated by him, drawn to him despite her reservations.
Meanwhile Tammy is drawn back to the idea of life with her young child. In a new relationship, she finds herself thinking about returning to Mercy, and making a new beginning.
As we hear from the different characters: Trudy, Claire, Darren, Jules, Tammy, and Mercy, through the first half of the book, we see what drives them, what goes on inside their heads. In the second half of the book the organization is by theme and we again see from multiple points of view, but here more closely aligned with each other, sometimes of the same events. This section is split into So Long at the Fair, The Circus, and The Stunt.
I loved the characters here, from Trudy with her determination and hope for a better life, to Claire's unending belief in Darren, to Mercy's pragmatism, and Jules' dreams of fame.
The plot unfolded beautifully too, and seeing the story from different viewpoints really brought it together. A great read.

Hid From Our Eyes

Finished December 6
Hid From Our Eyes by Julia Spencer-Fleming

This book was a long time coming as the author took a hiatus from writing due to several things happening in her personal life, including the illness and loss of her husband. My advance copy came with a letter explaining the reasons behind the hiatus, some of which I already knew as I follow her online. The new book is well worth waiting for however, and I had to remind myself to savour it rather than devour it.
There are several themes present here that provided a lot of plot opportunities: a transgender character, the struggle against addiction, the corruptive nature of power, taxes versus services, and the oft-thwarted path of youthful love.
Clare and Russ are dealing with the way their lives have changed with a baby, young Ethan. Clare wants to avoid institutional daycare, but that makes new parenting more complicated. She also has guilt over whether Ethan has long term effects from her struggles with addiction before she realized she was pregnant. A possible placement with her church may offer some respite for her.
But this novel doesn't just deal with events of the present day. It takes us back to two previous time periods through the occurrences of similar strange murders in each. The first is in August 1952, where a young woman dressed in a party dress is found dead in the middle of a lonely road with no apparent signs of trauma to explain her death and no personal effects to identify her. That August, young Harry McNeil is with the State Police and shares information with the chief of the Millers Kill police force.
In August 1972, Harry is chief of the Millers Kill police when a similar crime presents itself. A young woman in a party dress, dead on the same stretch of road. She is found by a young man on his motorcycle, a young man recently home from Vietnam and dealing with PTSD. A young man Harry knows, Russ Van Alstyne.
It is August in the present day, and a woman comes across another crime scene. This one is the same. A young woman in a party dress, on the same stretch of road, and Russ, now chief of police himself, recognizes it immediately, but waits for the rest of his team to look at all the evidence before sharing the previous cases. Neither of the two earlier cases was resolved, although the woman from 1972 was identified. But the coroner of the present day is determined to figure out the hard-to-determine cause of death and uses every means he can to do so. And forensics has come a long ways over the years. Russ hasn't shared this part of his past with Clare and so she begins to dig as well, looking for explanations.
Russ is also dealing with upcoming votes on whether to close the local police force down and use the State Police instead. Having to campaign and deal with the politics of this and the worry over the future of his staff occupy a large part of his time as well.
The crimes were very interesting, and the situations in Russ and Clare's lives even more so. We also saw more of the young female police officer Hadley, and of the former Millers Kill, now state police officer Kevin Flynn, which provided another couple of interesting plot lines.
This book has a lot going on, and a lot to think about. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday 9 December 2019

Redemption Road

Finished December 5
Redemption Road by John Hart, Read by Scott Shepherd

This is a haunting book, one with a lot of characters struggling to survive against long odds. The woman at the center of the story is Liz Black, a police officer who has just come through a terrifying ordeal. She was the first officer on the scene of a teenager who was being held in an abandoned building, tortured, and raped. The men holding the teen were shot multiple times and Liz is up on charges for excessive use of force, and suspended during the investigation. She's started smoking again, and isn't eating or sleeping properly. She won't talk to anyone about it, and you understand that she and the teen girl are hiding what really happened at the scene. Liz also carries baggage from her youth, when she was raped by a young man she'd considered to be a friend up until then and then felt that her parents didn't properly support her following the rape. She blames her father, a preacher, more than her mother, but that incident has shaped her life in many ways you only gradually begin to understand. One of those ways is a strong feeling of trust in a police officer, Adrian Wall. Adrian was found guilty of killing a woman, a woman that Liz found dead on the altar of her father's church. She tried to look at other scenarios for the crime, but her superior officers shut her down and blocked her efforts. She took the young child of the woman who died, Gideon, under her wing, and was there for him when his father repeatedly wasn't.
Gideon feels that he has to do something to revenge his mother's death, and it is his actions that lead to his being injured and nearly dying.
Adrian is being released from prison, but his time that has changed him in many ways. The extent of what happened to him in prison is only revealed gradually, but you know that he was ill-treated by some of the guards from near the beginning of this novel. Adrian struggles with the loss of his life before prison, of the loss of people that he loved, of the land that had been in his family for generations, and of the way almost everyone he knew turned their backs on him, when he wasn't guilty.
Channing Shore, the teen who Liz found in the derelict house is also haunted by what happened there, and what led to it. Liz is the only person she can talk to, and the only one who makes her feel that she can find a future. As we gradually learn the truth about what happened, we understand her struggle and as we watch her deal with even more, we fight for her to survive.
We see the actions of the serial killer, the man whose serious crimes began with the ritualized murder of the woman that Adrian was convicted of killing, and who is choosing his most recent victim as the book opens. The terror of his victims is palpable and his actions have meaning that the reader doesn't understand until much later.
There are other interesting characters in the book as well: the retired Southern lawyer known as Crybaby Jones, the rough cop who gives Liz a chance with information the brass don't want to give her. There are those who are evil, who don't care about anybody, who don't seem human. Liz's empathy stands out even more juxtaposed against them.
A winner

See What Flowers

Finished November 19
See What Flowers by Shannon Mullen

This novel is told in four parts. It begins with a couple, Emma in Toronto, Adam in Vancouver, dealing with the aftermath of something they don't understand. They live together in Toronto, but Adam disappeared suddenly ten days ago and Emma hasn't been able to figure out why or where he is. Adam finds himself in jail in Vancouver, unable to remember how he got there. He is a mess, and feels ashamed and confused. As the two reconnect and try to make sense of what has happened, they react in different ways. Emma is a doctor working in emergency care, and Adam is part owner of a gym that is doing well. But he can't seem to move forward, and Emma finds it difficult to deal with this new version of the man she loves.
Part two moves back to before the incident that changed everything, and looks at their lives, their successes, and their happiness. We see how much they care about each other, but also the insecurity that couple often have about their relationship.
Part three deals with Adam's actions that led him to where he ended up as the book began, and we gradually understand that this is a more complex issue, and one that isn't easy for anyone involved.
Part four takes us a few months forward as each of them, in a new environment looks for a way to a future they can manage.
This is a fascinating first novel by a very promising writer. She deals with the realities of mental illness and its effects on both the person living with the illness and the people close to them. The story is told in vignettes with headers of the speaker, the date, and the time. She uses fonts to indicate what people are saying and what they are thinking. She uses pop culture references to bring a sense of normalcy to situations. I really like her style and how she her writing really made the characters real and relatable.
This is a book I'd recommend to anyone interested in people and what makes them tick.