Thursday, 21 May 2020

The Tender Bar

Finished May 15
The Tender Bar: a Memoir by J.R. Moehringer

This is a captivating book of a boy turning into a man. JR spent most of his growing up years in Manhasset, New York on Long Island. His mother moved back into his grandparents' home when he was very young escaping domestic abuse. She struggled to move out, and finally followed a sister out to Arizona and made a life for herself and JR there. She sent him back to New York every summer though.
His mother's brother, his Uncle Charlie worked in a nearby bar, and took JR under his wing, taking him on outings to the beach, to baseball games, and other excursions along with Charlie's friends, many of whom also worked in the bar. JR grew up listening to these men's stories and watching them and trying to be someone they liked.
Once he got to be drinking age, he had his first drink in the bar, and it became even more central in his life.
I loved the characters here, the various idiosyncrasies that each one has and how JR makes them come alive. Colt, with his voice like Yogi Bear's. Joey D, large, manic, and his way of talking into his breast pocket. Bobo, a handsome blond with a lovable black mutt of a dog. Their boss, Steve, who owned the bar and gave everyone nicknames that stuck whether they liked them or not. Fuckembabe, the porter, whose speech was almost unintelligible except for that one line. Bob the Cop with his seriousness.
We see JR grow up, go to university, fall in love, try various jobs before falling into the journalism career he loves, and come to terms with the issues in his life, from his phantom of a father, to his class awareness, to the role alcohol played in his life.
A fantastic read.

Sorrow Road

Finished May 15
Sorrow Road by Julia Keller

This is the second book I've read in this series set in the mountains of West Virginia featuring prosecuting attorney Belfa Elkins. There are several stories going on here, one reaching far into the past.
In the 1930s, three boys took a ride in car that ended in tragedy. The incident was covered up, but never forgotten by them.
In the present day, a young woman visits her father in a memory care home, trying to get him to take responsibility for the pain and suffering he inflicted on her and her brother when they were young, becoming frustrated at his lack of reaction, but never giving up. Another woman, a childhood classmate of Belfa, has been visiting her father in the same home, and growing more concerned with his agitation. When he dies, she asks for Bell's help in looking into his death.
Bell's daughter Carla has been living with roommates in the city, but calls her and tells her she is coming home, the next day. Bell knows that somethings up, but she treads carefully in questioning her about it, and Carla already has a job interview lined up.
Bell is also considering her boyfriend and where she wants the relationship to go.
With so much going on, and winter storms creating dangerous roads, this book grabbed me and didn't let go.

Wednesday, 20 May 2020

A Long Way Back

Finished May 6
A Long Way Back by J. Everett Prewitt

This Vietnam War novel takes a bit of a different look at things. A young married black man, Anthony Edwards, a reporter for the Washington Post, is sent to Vietnam during the war for a short period to get a few stories. Just after Anthony arrives, he sees something that grabs his attention: a small group of black soldiers, coming in from the field on a helicopter. One is badly injured and the rest look like they've been through hell. He wants to know their story, but finds himself stymied at every turn. He was lucky enough to have the foresight to take a photo of them, and this helps him work towards the story. While he is in Vietnam, he gets permission to be embedded with a group of soldiers on a mission, something recommended to him by another, more seasoned, reporter. This experience is a harrowing one, and something that changes him forever.
His wife can tell from his letters that something has changed for him, and when he returns home, he finds himself behaving in ways that he isn't comfortable with, nor is his wife. As he reaches out for help to old friends who've also been overseas, he also finds himself drawn back to the story of the black soldiers that he saw and finds renewed enthusiasm for following up the leads that he has, especially as someone is sending him more clues for this secretive story.
This is a novel of war, of the effects on me, of the way that those in power can take retribution on those without power, and on race. As we get to know the various black soldiers that make up this hidden story, we find men who come from a variety of backgrounds, and who have a variety of ways of dealing with what they encounter. This is a disturbing story, but also one of men working towards a common goal, both in the war, and on home ground.


Finished April 20
Machiavelli: The Art of Teaching People What to Fear by Patrick Boucheron, translated by Willard Wood

This is a close look at Machiavelli's life and writings. It's split into six sections covering different periods of his life, with each section having five chapters.
The introduction starts with a quote from Trump, one that could have been written by Machiavelli. It was a statement made in March 2016 "Real power is -- I don't even want to use the word -- fear." It definitely relates to both men. It speaks to the fact that we really don't know how to feel and think about Machiavelli. This book stays in that uncomfortable zone of thought. It is a deep analysis of the man and his writing, some drawn from a series of talks on French public radio about using Machiavelli to sharpen our understanding of our own times. It shows how people can be so worried about a pending threat that they don't realize that it has already happened.
Youth - this section begins by setting the context for Machiavelli's life, a time period of great upheaval. Those times we are drawn to reading him are also times like these, which should alert us to that in our time. It also talks about how his name became associated with the practice of violence and tyranny, one that he didn't actually profess, but that his worst opponents assigned to him. One of the works he drew on here was a diary kept by Machiavelli's father, showing that the house owned thirty books (an extravagance at that time) and valued education. One of the books was Lucretius, and Machiavelli read it and transcribed it, a very humanist book
A Time for Action - This section talks about the influence of Savonarola's rise and fall, Machiavelli's first government role, first secretary to the second chancery. He created a team of young men that would stay with him for nearly fifteen years. It also marked the beginning of his travels away from Florence to observe what happened elsewhere, and allow him to compare. It also had him writing: dispatches, reports, and diplomatic letters, forming a base for his later work. It is said that this time and place in history invented diplomacy, so it was a valuable experience. It also brings us to the beginning of his exile when the Medicis were reinstalled as rulers and he was implicated in a conspiracy.
After Disaster - His first writings from exile are covered here, where he spent time conversing with the men of his community and his evenings reading. The Prince is looked at, with his intentions to "write something useful for discerning minds," and his determination to look at the truth of the way government worked. He wasn't describing good government, but more the government that he had observed and these are principalities, not republics, an important distinction. He talks here about self-preservation, what a ruler needs to know how to do to stay in control. He ends this famous work by calling on patriotism to deliver Italy from barbarians, the French, but also this is a cry to be noticed, to be brought out of exile.
Politics of Writing - The Prince gained some attention, but the Pope warned the Medicis against him, so he turned to theatre successfully. In the plays, he used the same themes as his previous work, but added humour and variability to them. This section also talks more about his personal life, his marriage and family and draws from personal letters written to his wife and his friends. His work also ventured beyond the diplomatic language of the time to include idiom and street language.
Republic of Disagreements - This section ventures into his orations, beginning with those on the Roman republic. They can be seen as a counterbalance to the Prince in that he acknowledges the role of the voice of the people. He notes that although the general populace is ignorant, it is capable of truth, and they don't want to be dominated. One of the points he makes is that which damages the public spirit "to make a law and not observe it, particularly when it is not observed by the person who devised it." This section also looks at his work Art of War, and the role of military force and his arguments against the dependence on mercenaries. It also reveals his idea of peace as violence in abeyance, useful for its vagueness of threat. Here, this book also tackles the common line "the end justifies the means" as being associated with Machiavelli. He never wrote such a line, and it doesn't fit with his philosophy. For him "The end will always occur too late to justify the means of an action. To govern is to act blindly within the indeterminacy of the times."
Never Too Late - The final section of the book begins with the death of Lorenzo de' Medici at the age of twenty-seven, and the ascendency of his cousin Giulio, who provided more opportunity for Machiavelli, beginning with  a commission to write a history of Florence. When Giulio became Pope Clement VII, Machiavelli had more opportunities, including diplomatic missions and travel. This takes us to the capture of Rome in May 1527 and the topple of the Medici reign, but now that the republic was restored, Machiavelli's services were not wanted, and he died soon after. But the body of work he created survived and was interpreted in various ways by various parties. Boucheron points out the Machiavelli often comes up when a storm is threatening. His quarrel "is rekindled every time a Caesar subjects Europe anew to servitude and war." We may not have reached that point, but the truth of Machiavelli's words are worth considering.

Sunday, 17 May 2020


Finished May 3
Unwanted by Kristina Ohlsson, translated by Sarah Death

This is the first book in a series featuring civilian investigative analyst Fredrika Bergman and police inspector Alex Recht. Fredrika is a recent addition to the force and because she approaches cases in a different way, and because she is a woman, she recognizes that her opinions are not always valued and respected, but during this case, you see that change.
Alex has a reputation for solving cases, but he's been lucky too, and this case has its failures, which he must recognize and figure out how to learn from.
As the book opens, a young girl travelling with her mother on a train is kidnapped. The mother is distracted, and the opportunity is there for the girl to be taken when a number of things happen. The team works hard to follow the few leads they have, sometimes on their own, but very soon after the child is found in the north part of the country dead, and the word "unwanted" is written on her forehead. The mother clearly wanted the child, so what is the significance of this word. And is there any significance to the placement of the child.
When there are other deaths, the police realize that they may have been focusing on the wrong things and a wider look at the case is taken.
I liked the various police characters and their development over the course of the book (well, there was one guy I didn't like much as he seemed very self-centered) and I liked the way the case was described.

A Dance Like Flame

Finished April 28
A Dance Like Flame by Tammy Blackwell

This steampunk romance is set in an undefined time that seems to be Victorian and is the first in the Of Magic & Machines series. The central character, Lady Elizabeth Warner (Bits to her friends and family) is being sent off to Scotland to an arranged marriage. Unmarried at 26, she feels that she is a burden to her family. When the train she is on is delayed, and then attacked, she helps to defend another woman, and ends up in the city of Corrigan, a faerie city walled off from the rest of Britain. There she finds herself under the care of Ezra Nash, a man skilled with both traditional and magical healing. She also finds herself companion to his younger sister who has been confined to a wheelchair.
Bits is a woman that doesn't conform to the standards of her society. She is not dainty, blonde, or simpering. She is large, red-haired, buxom, and more interested in metalwork than dancing. She brings her own secrets to the story, defying the norms of the roles society has defined.
This book has quite a few interesting characters on both the good and bad sides. Besides human and fey there are also other creatures, such as dragons.
Lots going on, and I liked how the characters pushed back against what was expected of them in so many ways. 

Saturday, 16 May 2020

The Stranger in the Woods

Finished April 26
The Stranger in the Woods: The Extraordinary Story of the Last True Hermit by Michael Finkel

I liked this book a lot more than I thought I would. I read it for a book club for work that never ended up happening, but am glad I did.
In 1986, twenty-year-old Christopher Knight drove his truck deep into the woods of rural Maine, got out of it and started walking. He hadn't quit his job installing security systems. He hadn't said anything to his family, or worried about the fact that one of his brothers had co-signed for his truck not that long ago. He still can't explain what exactly was going through his mind. Twenty-seven years later, perseverance by a local police officer working to solve a long series of break-ins and minor thefts in the area, caught him red-handed stealing from a camp.
As the story broke, across the country journalist Michael Finkel became very interested in the story, wrote Knight while he was in jail, and then flew out and had multiple meetings with him, trying to uncover his story and make some effort at understanding this unusual man.
Finkel is a good writer, and has done a lot of research into hermits, and into this particular one. He visited the site of Knight's camp in the woods several times, and talked to many of the people in the area, both those that were victims of his thefts and those that were not.
Finkel's effort to get into Knight's head and truly understand why he went into the woods and stayed there, how he managed to survive even through extreme cold, and his effect on the community that he lived near is insightful and fascinating.
Highly recommend.


Finished April 25
Afterlife by Julia Alvarez

This novel follows Antonia Vega, a retired college professor as she still mourns the loss of her husband Sam a year after his death, and is drawn into the immigration issues and love life of the illegal Mexican farmhand working for her neighbour. Antonia is still feeling at loose ends without her husband, and although her three sisters, Mona, Izzy, and Tilly, contact her regularly, and she values their close relationship, she doesn't feel like getting involved in new things. Antonia and her sisters immigrated to the United States with their parents when they were young children, and because she speaks Spanish she gets drawn into the issues next door.
She has volunteered with the immigrant community in the past, but has really pulled into a more solitary existence since the death of her husband, and is only gradually drawn out as the situation lands on her doorstep of the young farmhand's pregnant girlfriend.
To add to the upheaval in her life, Izzy, her oldest sister, always a bit flighty, has seemed to become more impulsive lately and goes missing enroute to a sisterly meetup. As the sisters try to track her down, and deal with what they might find at the end of their search, Antonia finds that there are still things in life that need her attention despite her grief.

Soul of the Desert

Finished April 21
Soul of the Desert by Maria Schneider

This book is set in the 1970s and 80s, with Rand, a young Harlem hoodlum trying to protect his little brother Bo from the life he is caught up in. When chance throws Christina, an ambitious young Latino woman and her coworker into his clutches, he negotiates a way out for Bo.
Christina takes Bo back to New Mexico where she grew up, and places him on the ranch with her parents as his caregivers.
Bo hopes that Rand will eventually be able to join him there, as Rand and Christina work out a clandestine way to keep in touch while trying to minimize the possibility that Bo will be found by the rival gangs back East.
But the drug trade reaches everywhere and it soon shows up in the school that Bo now goes to, and during his high school years he becomes involved in a way he never would have anticipated, and that his new family has reservations about.
This is a tale of a young boy trying for a fresh start, but having to overcome culture shock, prejudice, and a completely new enviroment.
It grew on me as I got further into it.

Nothing Left to Mend

Finished April 16
Nothing Left to Mend by Matt R. Weaver

This rural noir novel features Glenn Dempster, the new police chief of a mill town, Verton, Pennsylvania. The union has been locked out of the mill for months, with increasing violence between the substitute workers and the desperate union men. Glenn is respected by him men, but not liked, and he only just barely won the vote against one of his own men for chief, but taking on the corruption of the previous chief as an issue. His marriage is in difficulty, and as the book opens, he is living in a small apartment in an extremely ill-kept building. His wife is using their young daughter, Heather as a pawn between them and Heather is just trying to keep her head down, both at home, and at school where she stands alone, with her father hated by both union blue collar and the white collar workers. Glenn's wife's father is the mayor and he has no love for Glenn, with his actions causing many of the issues in Glenn's marriage.
There is a lot of small town stuff going on here, with everyone putting their nose in everyone else's business and one café a no-man's ground for workers to eat and meet.
As the factory owners finally allow the union back to work, an explosion in the blast furnace reignites the issues between the sides, and has Glenn's team trying to find out what lies behind some of the actions.
Glenn is a loner, a local boy that just wants to do right and earn a living. He's smart but not always lucky, and he begins to wonder if he really has a future in this town.
I quite enjoyed this book and liked how the characters evolved over the course of the book, including young Heather.

Navigate Your Stars

Finished April 9
Navigate Your Stars by Jesmyn Ward, illustrated by Gina Triplett

This speech was given by author Jesmyn Ward and the Tulane University 2018 commencement, and speaks to the rewards of hard work and perseverance, and the value of respect. She describes her own challenges and those of her family, and was an inspiration to those that attended.
It has now been released as a short book and illustrated beautifully by Triplett to make this book a great keepsake for any graduate.

The Walnut Tree

Finished April 6
The Walnut Tree by Charles Todd

This short novel is set during World War One, when a titled young woman eludes her uncle and guardian's oversight to become a nurse and serve near the front. She is inspired by her experience returning to England after being stranded in Paris at the start of the war and making her own way to the coast and a ship home. Seeing the action fighting, the injured, and the men involved makes her reluctant to just sit at home.
Elspeth is a smart and resourceful young woman, and has the support of her male cousins, which helps her cause. She is torn between feelings for her best friend's brother, a young French man now involved in the fighting, and an old friend from Scotland that she meets once again during her initial escape home.
With suspense, drama, and romance, this novel has a lot going for it. This is part of the Bess Crawford series, but Bess plays only a minor role in the story as a fellow nurse and housemate to Elspeth.

Dangerous Waters

Finished April 3
Dangerous Waters by Anne Allen

Jeanne Le Page has returned to Guernsey after more than a decade away. She left shortly after her parents were killed and she was injured when she was twelve. Her memories of that night haven't returned, but the sight of the port from the ferry makes her nauseous. She lived with her aunt in England and went to university there and has been working as a freelance journalist since then. But a few months ago her grandmother passed away, and Jeanne must deal with the estate, including her grandmother's house.
She is met by her parents' good friends and stays with them for a couple of days until she feels that she can stay in the house while she goes through the contents, and decides what needs to be done in terms of repairs. She connects with old schoolfriends and other young people her age, and begins to consider staying in Guernsey for good. There is a young man very interested in starting a relationship with her, but she isn't sure, and since she is coming off a recent breakup, she is taking it slowly.
As her memory starts to return and she talks to the police who still have an open investigation on the deaths of her parents, and the attack on her, she starts be in danger again.
I liked Jeanne and I liked the descriptions of Guernsey and the house that she inherited. The plot was interesting too, with a few twists and turns.
A good read.

Saturday, 25 April 2020

A Finer End

Finished March 31
A Finer End by Deborah Crombie

I like this series and have been reading it all out of order. This is the seventh in the series. Here, Gemma has taken a new position due to a promotion that she went after. This has created some friction in the relationship between her and Duncan with them no longer working together, and they are both missing each other, but unsure of the way forward.
Duncan gets called by his cousin Jack to come to see him in Glastonbury where Jack is involved in a situation and his lover, Winnie has been hurt. As the case has entanglements back into the distant past of the town, it also has a number of side stories among the main characters.  Winnie's brother Andrew seems put out by her new relationship with Jack. Jack is having episodes that give insight into the town's past. A young girl, pregnant, has been taken in by a local potter, and is working in a cafe, but seems very protective of her secrets. Local artist Fiona has been having recurring visions that are disrupting her usual painting and creating some issues between her and her gallery owning husband. Nick Carlisle came to town a while ago after his graduation from university, running from the oversight of his mother and his own secrets. He has stayed, but not thrived here, working in a new age bookstore and living in a ramshackle caravan.
There is an element of the paranormal here, with old gods and messages from the past. Duncan and Gemma with him, come in late in the story, but have large roles to play in figuring out all the threads in this complex situation.
Very good.

Vintage 1954

Finished March 20
Vintage 1954 by Antoine Laurain, translated by Jane Aitken and Emily Boyce

This light novel has an interesting premise, time travel from wine made from grapes affected by an alien spacecraft. It's way better than that sounds.
Back in 1954, Pierre Chauveau saw a UFO. It appeared suddenly above his vineyard, stayed for a while, then suddenly disappeared. He was not the only one to report a sighting that year. No explanation for the phenomenon was ever discovered. In 1978, he opened a bottle of wine that he had laid down from that vintage, and shared a little (as he always did) with his German shepherd. The next morning, the two of them set off for work at the winery, but never arrived.
The main story begins in 2017, where a group of people get together for an impromptu celebration at an apartment building. They are all living there, some temporarily like Bob Brown, an American staying in an Airbnb on a long-planned trip to Paris, missing his wife Goldie who is in a coma in hospital back home in Milwaukee, and who was supposed to be with him. Others had recently moved into the building, like Magalie Lecoeur, a restoration specialist who took over a former carpet shop on the ground floor and used the former sixth floor storeroom as her apartment. Julien Chauveau, great-grandson of Pierre, also recently moved in to a small apartment in the building. Julien is a barman at the famous Harry's Bar, and has always been fascinated by his ancestor's story. Hubert Larnaudie, on the other hand, has lived in the building his whole life. It was his family who originally built it in 1868, and gradually sold off bits as they needed the funds. He retains a lot of pride in the building and its fixtures and accoutrements, and has recently raised the issue of the security of the cellars, many of whose shutters are broken leading to some recent burglaries. When he goes down to the cellars to check on them, he is drawn back into memories as he finds the myriad of items his family has stored over the years. One of them is a bottle of 1954 wine. When he gets locked in the cellars, he cries out for help, and it is Bob, arriving at the apartment, who hears his call for help. As he sends Bob to Magalie for assistance, Julien is also there, and after releasing Hubert and securing the cellars temporarily, Hubert invites them up to his apartment to share the bottle of wine.
When they awake and venture out the next morning, they find themselves in a bright sunny Paris, and each only gradually realizes that it is 1954. And then the adventures begin as they find each other and try to figure out how to get back to their own time.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Tuesday, 21 April 2020

13th Canadian Reading Challenge April and May Roundup

Please post your remaining reviews for April and reviews for May here.

Leave a comment if you like
We're almost at the end of the year, and what an end it is turning out to be. Stay safe.

Monday, 6 April 2020

The Me I Used to Be

Finished March 14
The Me I Used to Be by Jennifer Ryan

This romantic suspense book brings the reader in to the middle of a situation. As the book opens, Evangeline is heading to a parole hearing, hoping she'll be able to get out. She's had a tough time in jail, including getting physically attacked by another inmate. She is surprised to see the cop, Chris Chambers, who arrested her walk into the room, and even more so as he asks for her immediate release.
Evangeline is not prepared for the world that awaits her now. Her father has died, her mother openly resents her, and her brothers seem to be annoyed at her existence. She just wants to move on with her life, with the skills she took the time to learn while in jail.
But Chambers has something else he wants from her, cooperation in finding who was really behind the crime she went to jail for. But she has a secret she's held to herself this entire time, and she won't give it up easily.
This book has a lot going on. Evangeline was a woman who was ready to move on from a wild youth when she got caught up in a situation and went to jail. She's had time to think about her life, and about what got her where she is now, and she wants a life where she can hold her head up. Chris seems to be on her side, wanting to see her succeed, but is he really?
And will her family ever be willing to take her back into their lives in a meaningful way? Only her best friend Jill, now married and a mother, welcomes her back.
I liked Evangeline and how she was the smart one in the family, level-headed even in tough situations. A good read.

Written in the Stars

Finished March 12
Written in the Stars by Alexandria Bellefleur

This romance novel takes place in Seattle and is a delightful rom-com of a read. Darcy Lowell is an entrepreneur and astrologist on the verge of a big business deal, with her and her business partner Margot signing a deal with a popular matchmaking firm. The principal at the matchmaking firm that they've been working with on the deal has set Darcy up with his sister Elle, who's recently come out of a painful break-up and moved to Seattle only after that.
But things don't go well on that first date, which is per usual lately for Darcy. Darcy is feeling down, not just because of her non-existent love life, but also because her family doesn't see her unconventional career choice as a serious venture, despite her success.
Elle is also not feeling great about her life. She's tired of her brother trying to set her up, and doesn't have the energy to keep going on bad dates. When she tells a lie about the date to buy some time from her brother, she ends up making a deal with Darcy that might help them both. If it doesn't hurt them.
Both women have been burnt in relationships and are a bit wary of getting hurt again. Both have families that have some issues.
There's some intriguing things happening her, and I had trouble putting this book down. A fun and engrossing read.

Sunday, 29 March 2020

Parting Shot

Finished March 11
Parting Shot by Linwood Barclay, narrated by Jim Meskimen and James Babson

This is another tale set in Promise Falls, a year after the horrible incident. The story follows a couple of plot lines. Cal Weave, private investigator, is called in to protect a young man, JeremyPilford, who has been convicted of killing a girl while drunk. Jeremy has been given probation, but part of his defence was that he was mollycoddled as a child and thus a nickname for him has emerged, Big Baby. Cal isn't sure at first about accepting the case, and after an incident when he was followed, he has decided to take the Jeremy away and not tell others where they are. He starts getting to know Jeremy and asking him about the accident, and suspicions arise in him about the truth of Jeremy's guilt.
Meanwhile, Detective Barry Duckworth has been given an odd case. A young man, Brian Gaffney, left a bar one night, and woke up in the bar parking lot a couple of days later, not remembering anything about what has happened to him. He does however, have a large tattoo on his back. As Barry follows up Brian's actions before his memory loss, he finds that his own son may be a witness to what happened to Brian. But his son is already feeling low after having to move back home after losing his job, and their relationship is a bit tenuous. When the case is escalated, first through a missing person, and then through a murder, Barry is sure there is more going on that it first seems. He is reminded of a past case of revenge against someone that was a vigilante act.
Great plot and characters, as usual for Barclay.

The Rumor

Finished March 10
The Rumor by Lesley Kara

This suspense novel follows Joanna, a single mom and real estate agent, in a seaside American town. Joanna is in a relationship with her son's father, a journalist, although he lives in the city near her. Her son is a little more susceptible to teasing as he is mixed race. Joanna moved to this town to be close to her mother, who helps out with child care. She is still in the early stages of finding friends, but is part of a book club, and sometimes talks to the other mothers at school pickup. As the book begins, she overhears a rumor that a woman may be living in their community, a woman who served time for killing a small child when she was only a child herself. Joanna mentions the rumor at book club, and it seems to take off. Meanwhile, her boyfriend Michael is working on the story, and proposes coming to live with her and their son for a while as he tracks the story.
This book shows how a rumor can spread, creating suspicion and distrust and actions that people may regret later. Joanna is a woman fairly new to town, wanting to fit in and using whatever comes to mind to make connections. She is well meaning, but doesn't always think through her actions. Michael is a little more fact-oriented here and acts as a mediating voice. This was an interesting and unsettling story.

Saturday, 28 March 2020

The Lost Husband

Finished March 7
The Lost Husband by Katherine Center

This heartwarming book follows Libby Moran as she starts a new life. Two years ago, Libby lost her husband Danny in an accident. The accident also injured her daughter Abby, who now walks with a slight limp. Shortly after that Libby moved in with her mom, with the two kids, Abby and Tank sleeping in the guest room, and Abby on the couch. Her mother bristles with resentment and makes Libby feel even worse than she does already. So when a letter comes from her mother's sister, Libby's Aunt Jean, offering a place to live on her farm in exchange for the farm work that Jean is no longer physically able to do, Libby jumps at it.
Her mother immediately tries to dissuade her, which doesn't make sense to Libby as she knows her mother doesn't want them in her apartment. Libby moves quickly, and finds her aunt Jean different than she expected, and the farm something she can get used to.
As Libby drives with the kids into town, she nearly runs down a woman at an intersection, and the woman offers to help Libby find her lost husband, hence the title of the book. As Libby grows to know more about her and her situation, she makes a friend as well.
This is a book about loss, but also hope. The chance to make a fresh start, as Libby does on her aunt's goat farm, and to learn more about her past as well.

A Princess of Roumania

Finished March 2
A Princess of Roumania by Paul Park

This fantasy story has elements of magic realism in it. Miranda Popescu was adopted from an orphanage in Bucharest by an American couple, and grew up in Massachusetts. Now a teenager, she has only a couple of close friends, Peter and Andromeda.
What Miranda doesn't know is that she is actually an important player in a struggle for power that exists between the old dynasty that led the country of Roumania, the Baroness Nicola Ceausescu who has had power and struggles to keep it now that her husband has died, and the German man of power who hold Miranda's mother in a remote tower.
As Miranda's aunt Aegypta looks to contact her through dreams and visions, Miranda is set upon by Ceausescu's men who try to capture her and take her to the woman they are loyal to.
As Peter and Andromeda try to protect Miranda, they also become involved, and it seems that at least one of them has inherited this role of protector through lineage and loyalty to Miranda's family.
This is a story of dreams, visions, magic, strange events, time travel, and change.
Miranda is a girl who doesn't really understand what she is meant to do, and as she struggles to find her way, she makes mistakes that put her and those she cares about in peril.
She journeys far and into strange places, and meets strange people.
This is the first book in a series.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Spinster Kang

Finished February 29
Spinster Kang by Zöe Roy

Kang is a Chinese immigrant woman living in Toronto. She works at Tim Horton's while she waits for her classes to start. Kang came to Canada for a new start. When she was much younger, back in China, her older sister was raped, and Kang has found herself unable to trust men. She has resigned herself to not having a relationship, but the stigma of such a thing in China is big, and reflects on her family as well.
Kang is planning to be a teacher. She finds a place to live as a housekeeper for an older woman Tania, and begins to make friends. As she adjusts to a new culture, learns about the people that she gets closer to, and about her own family's past.
This is a novel of personal discovery, of growth and of hope.
I liked Kang and how she found a way even when barriers appeared in her life. I also liked how her story and Tania's story intersected in interesting ways.
Written by a Chinese immigrant to Canada, this book reads realistically and the plot pulls you along.
I enjoyed it.

Saturday, 7 March 2020

The Prince and the Pilgrim

Finished February 25
The Prince and the Pilgrim by Mary Stewart

This book is set mostly in medieval England in the time of King Arthur.
Alice is a young woman whose mother died when she was born and whose father has made repeated pilgrimages to the Holy Land and to a shrine in Tours. While in Tours the two find themselves involved in a coup and they help someone make their way out to safety.
Alexander is a young man whose mother escaped with him from a threat from a family member. As he grew to be a man, it wasn't until an unexpected meeting with someone from that past that his mother apprised him of his parentage and the revenge she expected him to some day enact. But he felt an urge to make a move more immediately and sets out on a quest. The quest leads him to a court where he finds himself drawn to a powerful woman, but still trying to return to his quest.
At one point, the paths of Alice and Alexander cross, and both of the lives improve.
I enjoyed this story, but didn't find the depth of many of her other books that I've read. I did like the strength and intelligence of Alice and how she held her own, even in a the time she lived in.

You Do You

Finished February 22
You Do You: How to Be Who You Are and Use What You've Got to Get What You Want by Sarah Knight

This is Knight's third book about taking control of you own life. I've read her first book, The Life-Changing Magic of Not Giving a F*ck. This book starts with an orientation exercise.
The first main section of the books talks about the Dos and Don'ts that society puts forward and Knight goes through them and shows how they aren't necessarily true. Covered here are "Don't Be Selfish", "Do Your Best", "Don't Be Difficult", "Do Be a Team Player", and "Don't Quit Your Day Job". The next section does the same with Wills and Won'ts: "You Will Change Your Mind", "You Won't Get Anywhere with that Attitude", "You Will Regret That", "You Won't Get a Good Job if You Don't Go to College", and "You Will Never Live That Down".
The third section deals with Shoulds and Shouldn'ts: "You Should Always Put Family First", "You Shouldn't Act So Crazy", "You Should Smile More", "You Shouldn't Eat That", and "You Should Check Your Ego at the Door."
Throughout the book, Knight talks about how to interact with those that declaim these statements to you in expectation that you will conform. She talks about how to look inward and check your own motivations and plans and make decisions that make sense for you. Some of them may fit into others' expectations, but they may not. Either is okay. The main thing is that you should think about how your decisions affect others, and that you should do what's right for you as long as you aren't causing harm to others. You will be judged by others, and perhaps even by yourselves, but that is not harm.
Her advice is good. Look at things realistically, but not with society as the judge. If someone is telling you that some decision is wrong for you, think about what led you to that decision and about how no one knows what is right for you better than you do.
This is a book to read slowly and refer back to when you need to.

13th Canadian Reading Challenge March Roundup

Sorry this is late going up.
Post your reviews for March here

Monday, 17 February 2020


Finished February 17
March by Geraldine Brooks

I've had this one on my shelf for a while, and finally got to it. This book was inspired by Little Women and imagines the story of their father, Mr. March. As the book begins, March is embedded with Union troops as a chaplain, involved in a battle that isn't going well. Following the battle, as he makes his way to a plantation house taken over by troops, he realizes that he has been there before as a young man, when he worked as a peddler. It was here that he first came face to face with the realities of slavery.
The story mostly stays in the time of the Civil War, but it also wanders back to his days as a peddler, his first meeting with Marmee, and the early days of their marriage, outlining how he gradually became the man he is now, and how he came to be where he is.
I found it interesting to see both him and Marmee as more complex characters than they appear in the stories of their daughters.
Brooks based March partly on Louisa May Alcott's father Bronson, but also on other historical figures and using other historical information, particularly around the Civil War, which Bronson did not serve in.
My copy also has an interview with Brooks, and a reading guide for the book.

Lake Season

Finished February 15
Lake Season by Denise Hunter

This novel is the first book in a series at Bluebell Inn, in the town of Bluebell, North Carolina. Molly, Levi, and Grace Bennett are stunned whenever their parents are killed in a car accident. Their parents had been in the midst of plans to renovate their family home back to its early use as an inn. Grace was in her junior year in high school. Levi worked as a project manager for a construction company in San Francisco, and Molly was going into her final year of a hospitality degree, looking forward to a placement in Italy, something she'd worked hard towards, even learning Italian.
But Grace is determined to stay in Bluebell to finish high school, and so the siblings agree to take on their parents' project, finish the renovations of the inn over the winter to be ready to open for the season, and build the inn over a couple of years to make it a more appealing property for buyers.
The book then jumps ahead to near their opening time, with a young man, Adam Bradford showing up hoping for a room on the Memorial Day weekend, just in time to help Molly with the translation of some furniture kit instructions.
Adam is a writer, successful but not confident. He has chosen to write under a pseudonym to both protect his privacy and to create a safe space for his image of himself. He has chosen Bluebell as a spot for his new novel, on the advice of his mother, but is having an episode of writer's block, something he's never had until now. He only identifies himself as a researcher to Molly and her family.
At one time, the inn was used as a post office, and Molly discovers an unsent letter within the wall by the old mail slot. This sets her on a hunt for the sender and recipient, and she involves Adam as a research guide.
This had an interesting plot and I liked the characters of all three Bennett family members, and of Adam. There is a small town intimacy here, as well as a strong closeness between the siblings despite their differences.

Sunday, 16 February 2020

The Elephant

Finished February 15
The Elephant by Peter Carnavas

This lovely little book is a great addition to any library with a children's section. It tells the story of a young girl, Olive, who lives with her dad and her granddad. Her mom died when she was very young, and she really only knows her through pictures. Olive can see that her dad isn't happy. He has a routine when he gets home, but he's really just going through the motions. When Olive looks at him, she sees a large grey elephant beside him, one whose shadow darkens everything around it. She knows that until the elephant goes away, he won't get better.
Olive's been thinking about this for a while, and she finally shares it with her friend Arthur who reads a lot and who knows how to listen. Arthur offers her some good advice, and begins his own reading about elephants to see if he can learn things to help her.
At school they are celebrating the school's 100th anniversary at the end of term, and all the children are asked to bring something old to show the others and share the story of. Olive wants to bring her bicycle, but her father has taken it to mend and still hasn't fixed it. Her granddad offers some options to her: a typewriter, and a record player, but while Olive enjoys them, they don't hold the same meaning for her.
Olive loves getting met after school by granddad, especially on the days he is wearing his purple backpack. On those days, she knows they will have some sort of adventure. But there are times when her granddad is sad too, and has his own grey creature by his side.
As Olive and Arthur work together to find a way to make the elephant go away, Olive also wants to help her granddad and thank him for providing the colour in her own life.
This is a great book to help kids understand when someone in their lives is struggling with depression. The use of the various animals brings the idea of depression to life in a physical way, and the way people work together to make things better for everyone shows that there is often a way forward past the depression.
The illustrations for this book are simple, yet show so much. From the jacaranda tree that Olive loves to sit in to think, to Olive, Arthur, her teacher, her dad, and her granddad, to the grey animals (especially the elephant with its tiny black top hat) and the various objects that play a role, the line drawings bring the story to life for young readers.
I loved it.

Secrets at Cedar Cabin

Finished February 14
Secrets at Cedar Cabin by Colleen Coble, read by Devon O'Day

This is the third book in a series, but the first that I've read. Bailey Fleming is working as a geriatric nurse in a seniors home in Michigan. She is still reeling from discovering her husband was already married, and then she gets the news that her mother has been murdered.
Bailey is mourning the sudden death of her mother, trying to figure out who would have killed her, and processing the aftermath of her fake marriage when she discovers that her mother had a big secret, and that someone is now after her with murder intended as well.
Bailey runs with only the bare minimum: the secret stash her mother left her, her handbag, and her cat. She is smart enough to hide her trail, and she runs to the cabin that her duplicitous husband gave her as a settlement to try to get her to keep her mouth shut about their relationship. It is several states away, in Washington, and when she gets there, the place has had the utilities shut off and is a mess.
She also discovers that she has an unexpected connection to the town of Lavender Tides, and as she begins to research her past, she also finds that the FBI are looking at her and her property as well.
This is a book with lots of secrets that need to be uncovered, with women being trafficked to high bidding renters and buyers, and with people who have faith that things will work out.
With a fast-moving plot, and interesting characters, I enjoyed the book, especially Bailey's cat Sheba, who is attached strongly to her.

Saturday, 15 February 2020

My Heart Fills With Happiness

Finished February 13
My Heart Fills with Happiness / sâkaskinêw nitêh miymêyihtamowin ohci by Monique Gray Smith, illustrations by Julie Flett, translation into Plains Cree by Mary Cardinal Collins.

This small picture book was the TD Grade One Book Giveaway for 2019. It is told in both English and Plains Cree, with both languages together on the page. The story depicts a young girl and boy as they tell of the many things that fill each of their hearts with happiness, from people to activities to food and comfort. The illustrations bring these things to life, showing job and contentment in the children, their family members,
I loved the use of colour and the depiction of the indigenous people in a positive way that allows children to see themselves in a story. A fantastic choice.

Something To Remember You By

Finished February 12
Something to Remember You By: A Perilous Romance by Gene Wilder

This novella begins with a young American army medic experiencing the frontlines during the Siege of Bastogne in late 1944. Back in London, after recovering from his injuries, he is drafted into the intelligence service due to his quick thinking and his facility with languages.
While awaiting training and deployment, he meets a young woman, a Danish refugee, who is also working for the war effort. Their feelings for each other are strong despite their limited knowledge of each other. When she inexplicably disappears, he is relentless in his search to find out what happened to her, a search that coincides with his new deployment.
This story tells of an intense romance during wartime, and the risks and plots that the two engage in as they go undercover in German-occupied France.
I found it engaging and with nice touches of humour.

The Coldwater Warm Hearts Club

Finished February 10
The Coldwater Warm Hearts Club by Lexi Eddings

Lacy Evans has returned to her home town from the big city with her life feeling broken. She made some bad judgements there, and she lost her business and her fiance. She also still has a huge debt hanging over her due to the betrayal of the man she thought she could trust.
She can't handle living with her parents, so she takes an apartment that comes with a resident cat, one that doesn't seem to like her much at first. But she finds old friends, and a job that she can enjoy, and begins to settle in. Coffee shop owner Jacob Tyler seems different from the charming but flirtatious boy she knew, maybe partly due to his military experiences. Her ex-boyfriend Daniel Scott seems friendly, but what is going on with his marriage?
Lacy begins to get to know these people from her childhood as an adult, and finds more beneath the surface than she thought. When one of the locals noticed a need and responded to it with an offer of assistance, a group was formed, the Warm Hearts Club. The members identify needs and work together to meet those needs, whether it is for the basics of life, a little respite for a tiring caregiver, or a new way forward for someone who's been stuck in a rut for far too long. Lacy joins this community and finds herself considering a future in town, but her past has a way of coming back after her, and she might be in more trouble than she realizes.
I liked how every chapter had a quote at the beginning from one of the characters in the book. It gave me more insight into some of the more minor characters in a charming way.
A nice read.

Friday, 14 February 2020

Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss

Finished February 8
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev Balasubramanyam

Chandra is a professor of Economics at Cambridge University. He is a very driven man, focused tightly on his job and his research. His wife divorced him a few years ago and remarried an American psychologist and lives in Boulder, Colorado. His son Sunny has succeeded in business in his own way, but not to Chandra's expectations. Sunny lives in Hong Kong. His daughter Radha has been estranged from Chandra for years, and he doesn't know what she's doing or where she is. He's put some pressure on his ex-wife and son to divulge information about her, which they haven't given in to. His youngest daughter Jasmine is a senior in high school and lives with her mother.
As the book opens, Chandra is up for a Nobel Prize, and is considered a favourite. But he doesn't get it. Shortly after, he is hit by a bicyclist in an accident and suffers a minor heart attack. His doctor advises him to take some time off, something Chandra gives into reluctantly, and he finds himself in California.
Through the book we gradually see how Chandra got to where he is now, and how his relationships with these people have developed. He is put into a situation where he admits some of these truths to those around him, and to himself.
My book club read this, and related to some of the family dynamics and ambitions shown here. We generally agreed that Chandra has a long ways to go in terms of mending relationships with his family, and with recognizing his own role in these relationships.

Sunday, 9 February 2020

The Great Halifax Explosion

Finished February 6
The Great Halifax Explosion: A World War I Story of Treachery, Tragedy, and Extraordinary Heroism by John U. Bacon, read by Johnny Heller

This narrative of the Halifax Explosion of 1917 is new one on this tragedy. I've read a few, both fiction and nonfiction, and find it endlessly fascinating to find out the stories of the individual people affected by this terrible event. This particular books has one focus on the relationship between Canada and the United States, giving some historical background, showing how Boston in particular came to the aid of Halifax, and how the cooperation between the countries changed the way they related to each other.
Bacon also chose to look at the experiences of one soldier, from nearby Wolfsville, John Ernest Barss, who worked in Montreal before the war, enlisted as a matter of character, was passionate about the need to fight for several months until he became disillusioned and then injured, and returned home shortly before the explosion. He responded as a medical helper, and this experience caused him to become a doctor. His story brings the actual war experience into the story, as well as giving some family history that relates to the theme of the relationship between Canada and the U.S.
Like the other books I've read on this, it covers the actions of the two ships involved up until their collision, and looks at the effect on a number of individuals in the city, on the surrounding area, and at the longer outcomes, such as the court cases involving the owners of the two ships.
The other books I've read didn't really look at the chemistry of the explosion itself, with the enormous power involved and the heat generated.
As I'm planning to visit Halifax for the first time later this year, I was glad to be reminded of this terrible event in the town's history and it's ongoing effects.

The Blue Demon

Finished February 3
The Blue Demon by David Hewson

This is the eighth book in the Nic Costa series, and I've enjoyed all the ones I've read. Set in Rome, Nic is called in as part of a team to deal with the a murder and threats related to a G8 meeting held in the heart of the city. The team is called in by the president, exercising a right he has seldom used in defiance of the prime minister, who planned the high level meeting of leaders.
As the book begins, an Italian politician has been kidnapped and his driver murdered. The clues in the case lead back to a dissident terrorist group that was active decades earlier, but could that really be the case. As the intrigue builds, and the various police and security groups push for their own forces to take control, more and more is revealed. There is lots of conspiracy here, and greed, and arrogance. And Nic finds that he learns more about his own father and the role he played in politics when Nic was young.
As usual in Hewson's books, there is a lot going on, in politics, in art and archaeology, and in the struggle for power. The Blue Demon of the title is an ancient being from an earlier time's legends, but one very real to one man who believes he has a mission to fulfill.

Finding Lucy

Finished February 2
Finding Lucy by Eugenie Fernandes

This picture book follows a young girl as she first paints for herself and the joy of it, then tries to please various others that view her work with critical eyes and try to have her paint to their preferences. She finds that no matter how hard she tries, they aren't satisfied and she become more and more unhappy.
It is interesting to see how they tell her that what they see is less than what the painting is to her, and how she begins to work their ideas into her work, trying to be polite in her interactions with them, even when they aren't polite to her.
I liked the twists and turns as others came and went and the surprise when she kissed the frog. Lucy encouraged others even when they weren't happy with her work.
It is her cat, whose has been with her from the beginning, that finally reminds her of how she began painting and why she did it.
This book is full of colour and movement and there are so many small things to see when you look at it, just like a good painting.
This book is a reminder to readers that we are all individual and should express ourselves in the way that feels right to us, no matter what others say.

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Gentle Spectrums 2019 wrap-up post

Gentle Spectrums 2019
Ran Feb 1, 2019 to Jan. 31, 2020
I completed all but one category.

Hosted here, this challenge has several categories to read books in. They are: 
1. Limitless Palette - Colours
The Red Daughter by John Burnham Schwartz. Finished May 7
The Woman in the White Kimono by Ana Johns. Finished June 8
Golden Age by Jane Smiley. Finished November 5
2. Canadian
21 Things You May Not Know about The Indian Act by Bob Joseph. Finished April 3
Prairie People by Robert Collins. Finished October 26
3. Continents
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin. Finished January 26
4. Fashion and Decor
The Gown by Jennifer Robson. Finished August 24
5. Educational
Farsighted by Steven Johnson. Finished March 1
The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King. Finished September 10
6. Hope and Triumph
Before You Were Born by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo. Finished April 30
Waiting for Tom Hanks by Kerry Winfrey. Finished June 15
7. Animals
Queenie Quail Can't Keep Up by Jane Whittingham, illustrated by Emma Pedersen. Finished February 9
A Catalog of Birds by Laura Harrington. Finished April 7
Land Mammals and Sea Creatures by Jen Neale. Finished May 24
The Wolf Wants In by Laura McHugh. Finished June 27
What Cats Think by Mies van Hout and John Spray. Finished January 12
8. Natural Environment
9. The Arts
The Music Shop by Rachel Joyce. Finished December 14
10. Toys and Hobbies
Craftfulness by Rosemary Davidson and Arzu Tahsin. Finished July 4
11. Healthfulness.
Breathe In, Cash Out by Madeleine Henry. Finished June 2

The Silent Assassin

Finished February 1
The Silent Assassin by Lori Andrews

This thriller features a female doctor, Alexandra Blake,  who specializes in communicable disease research and works for the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP). Her father died in Vietnam when she was a young child, and she had an unconventional childhood. She is involved with a musician, but the two haven't really defined their relationship beyond the present. As the book opens, he is leaving for a European tour, and she is called in to attend an autopsy on a man found in a dumpster, with some conflicting clues about his status and death. She is also involved in a project to repatriate some skulls of Vietnamese people that were brought back to the United States as war trophies by soldiers. Although confiscated as soon as they arrived in the U.S., the skull have been in storage, untouched, for years. Back in the war, they were painted and used in disrespectful ways. Alex is asked what she can do to remove the evidence of this, and is ordered to participate in the repatriation ceremony. She is also told to identify at least one of the Vietnamese victims.
As she works on these projects, she is drawn back into her own personal history and the loss of her father.
This novel is part of a series, but I haven't yet read others. I enjoyed the character and the story. The action moves quickly, and there is lots of suspense and drama, and several more people die before the final act. The personalities of the characters play a role, and it was a page-turning read.

Saturday, 1 February 2020


Finished January 31
Asleep by Banana Yoshimoto, translated by Michael Emmerich

This small book contains three novellas: Night and Night's Travelers; Love Songs; and Asleep.
All are told from the point of view of single women, relatively young,
Night and Night's Travelers is a story told by the sister of a man who has died quite young. She is the younger sister, and she remembers his influence on her, his relationship with a visiting American girl, and his relationship with another girl she is close to. As she reflects on the brother she has lost, she also looks at his influence on these other women, and the secrets she has about him.
Love Songs is told from the viewpoint of a young woman who is temporarily out of work, and finds herself thinking about a past relationship and the woman she competed with for the love and attention of a man that wasn't worth it in the long run. She finds herself wondering about what has happened to this woman, and also spending too much of her time drinking alcohol. As she reconnects with this figure from her past, she also is able to close a chapter of her life.
Asleep is told by another young woman out of work. She has a lover who is a married man, one with a senior position at the offices she worked at briefly. It is not a typical affair, but it is one that she thinks about. She spends a lot of her time sleeping, more and more as the days pass, but she also thinks about a woman she was close friends with, who has now passed away, and it is this friend's influence that enables her to deal with her situation before she loses herself completely.
All three stories have a woman who focuses on a person who has died, which is interesting. All of them seem to have something to learn from this past relationship that helps them to deal with their lives in the present.

13th Canadian Book Challenge February Roundup

Add you reviews for February here

Remember to link to the review for the book, not just your site or page or profile.

And be sure to check out the list of what everyone's read in the banner at the top of the page.

Monday, 27 January 2020

The Songlines

Finished January 26
The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, illustrations by Simon Pemberton

I've had this one on my shelf for a while, but Australia being in the news lately made my pick it up. It was a relatively easy read, with most of the book being a fictionalized version of the author's short time in the Australian outback among aboriginal people and those working with them. In particular it features a man whose parents emigrated from Russia, and who is working with aboriginal people to identify sacred places so the railway they are building can avoid causing more damage than it naturally will just by existing.
The idea of songlines as a birthright and a responsibility is made very clear, and I liked the way that the people were shown to be intelligent and with real character, not stereotypes. There was recognition of the struggles they are facing, and the harms done to them.
As the book progresses, when Bruce spends some time alone in a small outback town, stranded by the rain, he delves into his journals and notebooks and pulls out a bunch of quotes, anecdotes, and other passages that look at man's relationship to the world, to animals, to nature, to the idea of moving around as a way of life. This was also interesting, but these sections took more time to separate ideas and make connections.
My edition also had a very useful introduction by Nicholas Shakespeare that gave me background and context for the book, that made my reading more meaningful.

Sky Girls

Finished January 21
Sky Girls: The True Story of the First Women's Cross-Country Air Race by Gene Nora Jessen

This was a fascinating read, and my book club enjoyed it as well. The race this book tells the story of took place in 1929, and the female pilots did the solo race from Clover Field in Santa Monica, California to Cleveland, the site of the Cleveland Air Races. The race was the Women's Air Derby, the first of its kind, although similar races already existed for male pilots. Male Derbys from both the east and the west were also happening at the same time. Once at Cleveland, several of the women pilots would also engage in other races and competitions.
The race had many legs, and the women were timed for each leg, getting a cumulative total that was their race time. There were prizes for each leg, as well as overall prizes. The race follows one woman, Louise Thaden, a little more closely than the others. She was a saleswoman for Travel Air Manufacturing Company, and would be flying one of their fairly new planes.
This book touches on each woman's experiences during the race, their difficulties, and their interactions with others. It was interesting to see the lack of safety considerations, the lack of security for the planes at most of the stops, and the ways in which ordinary people offered assistance when it was needed.
The woman were mostly experienced pilots, and all fairly young. The oldest was born in 1896 and the youngest in 1910. They were mostly American, although one was German and one Australian. One pilot died during the race, likely due to poor airplane design causing carbon monoxide poisoning. Crowds interfered with runway safety, causing the crash of at least one pilot and her subsequent withdrawal from the race. I enjoyed learning about the women themselves, although my book club members all agreed we would have liked to learn more about all of them.
The personalities were wide-ranging from the rebellious, go-my-own-way Pancho Barnes, to the petite, budding actress Blanche Noyes and the boyish Bobbi Trout. All of the women had some mechanical know-how, necessary for pilots of that time.
The stops along the way were well-attended, but not well-managed, and the women found the socializing stressful when they were already tired from their race. But they were mostly gracious, even in the face of those that wanted women to "stay in their place". The support of Will Rogers and Wiley Post were appreciated by the pilots.
I liked the maps that were included, and the epilogue that summarized the pilots' lives after the race. Also of great interest was the Afterword that included a lot of the more general history of women and aviation.
Enlightening overall.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

What's In a Name Challenge 2020 Sign-up Page

I've skipped this one the last couple years, but I've always liked it so decided to add it again.

It's hosted here.
This year the six things to have in a book title are:
* an ampersand
* an antonym
* 4 letters or less
* a given name
* reference to children
* one of the four natural elements

2020 Book Bingo Challenge Sign-Up

I can seldom resist a good Book Bingo, so I'm committing to do this one.

This challenge is hosted here.
There are different levels of commitment, so of course I'm going for a Full House.

Here's the Bingo Card:

Tuesday, 21 January 2020

Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriquez

Finished January 17
Bon Voyage, Mister Rodriguez by Christiane Duchesne and François Thisdale

This charming picture book shows the children of the village watching an older man as he faithfully takes a walk every day. They become more fascinated when his actions on his daily walk suddenly become varied. He floats above the ground, flys a dove on a string, balances a fishbowl on his head, ties wings to a cat, and other intriguing things. The children are fascinated and amused, and this shows in the illustrations. I liked the innovative activity, the mystery of his actions, and the diversity of the children pictured here. I really loved the illustrations, with the mix of realism and fantasy and the detail of the different scenes.
This is a book that explores the imagination and leaves a lot for the reader to decide on their own. A beautiful book.

The Last Train to London

Finished January 15
The Last Train to London by Meg Waite Clayton

This novel is set mostly in the Netherlands and Austria. In the Netherlands, the main character is Truus (Geertruida) Wijsmuller-Meijer, a woman who smuggled children out of Nazi Germany, and then out of other countries controlled by the Nazis, prior to and during the Second World War. She told the children that she was saving to call her Tante Truus, and although she longed for children of her own, she and her husband Joop never were blessed with them. Truus was a real life woman who did this work, and although she was taken prisoner a couple of times by the Nazis, she lived through the war and was held in high esteem and with great affection by the children she saved. While most of Truus' story is based in fact, some small liberties were taken for the purpose of the novel.
In Austria, we follow young Stephan Neuman, born into a wealthy Jewish family who made chocolates, as he turns sixteen, seventeen, and nears eighteen as his world falls apart when the Nazis take over Austria, his parents' business, and his home in Vienna. Here we also see his little brother Walter, who has a much-loved Peter Rabbit doll he takes almost everywhere with him. Stephen wants to be a writer, specifically a playwright, and his model is Austrian writer Stefan Zweig. One of Stephen's classmates is Zofie-Helene Perger, who is a mathematical prodigy and the daughter of journalists. Her father died mysteriously on a trip to Germany before the story begins, and her mother has continued the newspaper they owned even as her own life and liberty become threatened by the Nazis.
As we see Truus' mission to save children become more difficult and dangerous, we also see her determination and the special relationship she and her husband had that made her work possible. In Austria, we see how Stephen's world collapsed so quickly from one of privilege and opportunity to one where he had to struggle just to stay alive. We see his mother's determination to save her children, despite her own illness, and the trust of young Walter that things would be better. For Zofie, we see her determination to stay true to her friendship with Stephen even when their differences in religion divided them under the Nazi regime, and how she defied her grandfather, who was trying to protect her, in helping Stephen in the ways that she could.
Clayton brings these times to life, with all the emotion that the characters felt. A great read.