Thursday 29 October 2020

Death by Pumpkin Spice

Finished October 24 
Death by Pumpkin Spice by Alex Erickson

This is part of a series featuring bookstore/café owner Krissy Hancock in the fictional town of Pine Hills. This is the third book in the series, but the first I've read, so some of Krissy's backstory comes out here. She has moved relatively recently to this town, coming from California, and opened a combination bookstore and café with her best friend Vicki Patterson. One of the things that she left behind in California was an ex-fiancé named Robert, who pops up in this book, having tracked her down and wanting a second chance. But Krissy isn't interested and as the book opens she gets invited to a fancy costume Hallowe'en party at a house that seems almost purpose-built for such festivities. The young doctor who invited her seems to be a potential new relationship and Krissy is very attracted to him. But she's also attracted to a young local police officer, Paul Dalton, who also is attending the party. Krissy seems to have a bad lack of self-confidence around her body and looks and that was one aspect of the book that I didn't like. Everyone around her kept reassuring her that she looked good, but she just kept putting herself down. However that doesn't stop here from getting involved when a dead body is found in the house, the body of a woman dressed as Marilyn Monroe. 
Many questions arise from this discovery and as Krissy tries to help with the investigation, she puts herself in danger as well as exposing other activities that people haven't been upfront about. 
The house and the recently deceased owner seem surreal. Could anyone actually live year round in such a house? I think it would drive one crazy. Lots of interesting characters with potentially interesting stories crop up, and I can see potential for more stories for this series. 
A light seasonal mystery.

Monday 26 October 2020


Finished October 23
Harriet by Elizabeth Jenkins

This dark novel is an older one I found on my shelves. It is set in the late 1870s in England. The title character, Harriet Woodhouse is a woman in her thirties, but who mentally is younger. The exact nature of her developmental delay is not clear, and she is described here as a natural. She seems to show in a lack of understanding of more complex ideas and a lack of social skills, although she is outgoing and can be exuberant about some things. She has been trained to look after herself and her clothes and always presents herself well. However, she is a woman who is sometimes not easy to be around, and so her mother regularly boards her with other distant relatives who host her for the money her mother pays. It is at this point that the story begins. 
Mr. Ogilvy, Harriet's mother has remarried to a quiet man, a Unitarian minister who does care for both his wife and Harriet, but likes a quiet life. Since Harriet was left an income by her late father, she can afford to buy clothes that present her to her best advantage. 
Harriet spends the next month at a cousin of Mrs. Ogilvy's, Mrs. Hoppner. Mrs. Hoppner has two adult daughters, one, Elizabeth, married to an artist, Patrick who barely provides a living for her and their two children, and the other, Alice, single and still living at home. The money from Harriet's visit will partially go towards a new dress for Alice, something she looks forward to intensely. Of late, Alice has been seeing Patrick's brother Lewis who works as a clerk for an auctioneer. The brothers have a very close relationship, in some ways more close than a marital one. All the young people on the Hoppner side of the family are quite self-centered, focused on themselves and their own needs above all else. Elizabeth and Patrick have a young woman, Clara staying with them to help with the children and other household tasks, but although they agreed to give her some money when they can afford it, they never do in those few times of being flush. Clara is also a distant relation whose parents were glad of the opportunity to get rid of another mouth to feed. 
When Lewis meets Harriet and learns of her independent income, he focuses his sights on her. The time that Harriet spends at Mrs. Hoppner's allows him to get her confidence and thus when she returns home engaged, her mother is hard put to dissuade her or find another means of preventing the marriage from taking place. 
This book is a dark one, that show society's failure to protect the weakest amongst us. As we watch Harriet fall into the clutches of this family and get taken advantage of, we despair for her and her future. This is a very disturbing story, but very well told.

Ever After

Finished October 21
Ever After by Olivia Vieweg, translated by the author

This teen graphic novel takes place in a dystopian future. Vivi and Eva are the two main characters here, both teens. They start out their story separately in the German town of Weimar. Vivi has been in an institution, but we are unclear on its nature. There seem to be both physical and mental aspects to the treatments given there, and it seems like Vivi has been a pet of the head of the institution. Vivi is struggling with her emotions after the death of her younger sister, which she feels guilt over. Eva has been a leader of a group tasked with guarding the city's perimeter, but she is also struggling with her feelings, and now is trying to fight against a transformation that she is afraid of. 
When Vivi escapes from her institution and is hiding from people looking for her, she boards a supply train to another city, but the doors suddenly close, trapping her on the unmanned train. She finds Eva, whom she'd had a brief encounter with earlier, also on the train. 
When the train breaks down between the cities, the girls have to deal with the decision of whether to wait for help or strike out on their own through unknown and potentially dangerous territory. There are many things that will challenge them, from high heat levels to groups of wandering zombies, as well as their own feelings as they continue their struggle into the future. 

Saturday 24 October 2020

The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman

Finished October 20
The Altogether Unexpected Disappearance of Atticus Craftsman by Mamen Sánchez, translated by Lucy Greaves

This light book has some mystery, some romance, and a lot of fun. Atticus Craftsman is the younger son of a British publisher. He is a bit of a playboy, but hasn't travelled much after his jaunts as a youth, and never goes anywhere without a good supply of Earl Grey tea. His father's company has set up small magazines in a number of countries to promote their books and the literary scene in general. They are all making money expect for the one in Spain, and so the senior Craftsman, Marlow, has decided it is time to shut it down. He is sending Atticus to do the job. 
The head of the Spanish office, former librarian Berta Quiñones, has been given a heads up about what is coming, and calls her staff in on a Sunday to discuss strategy. She has worked hard to keep costs low and doesn't understand why their publication is failing from the corporate view. 
The staff consists of Soleá, a young Andulasian woman with a journalism degree and literary aspirations, Maria a worried married woman with childcare issues, Asunción, a divorced mother who loves food and books, and Gaby a young bride eager to start a family. will
When the five women confer, they agree that Soleá will use a ruse about her family secret to get him away to Granada to distract him from his task until Berta can come up with a better plan. 
The book starts six months after this has happened and Marlow has become concerned after not hearting from Atticus for six months. He has traveled to Spain to talk to Berta and the police to try to track him down. Berta denies all knowledge of Atticus' whereabouts, and Inspector Manchego, the policeman in charge of the case is a man who doesn't speak English well, and who doesn't have a lot of experience. He is a real character, but a good man at heart. Manchego uses some unusual methods to do his investigation, and mostly they don't work very well, but end up getting him in trouble. 
As he meets with Berta and continues his work, things become more interesting. We see what Atticus has been up to, and what happened to him when he first arrived in Spain. 
There are several romances and assignations here and some surprising revelations. I quite enjoyed this unusual book. 

Blue Sky Kingdom

Finished October 16
Blue Sky Kingdom: An Epic Family Journey to the Heart of the Himalaya by Bruce Kirkby

This memoir tells of a family journey that was partially documented in film. Bruce, his wife Christine, and their sons Bodi, seven years old, and Taj, three years old, left their home in Kimberly, British Columbia and traveled for several months, fulfilling a dream to take their children and experience a time of reflection and cultural learning. For the trip to their destination in remote India, they were accompanied by a documentary film crew who documented their experiences in a film called Big Crazy Family Adventure
They traveled in adventurous ways, driving to the Columbia River, and then going down the river via a canoe-based catamaran, reaching the town of Golden after five days. From there they took a train to Vancouver, and a taxi to the wharf where the container ship Hanjin Ottawa awaited them. 
They'd had to do some research to find a boat that would take kids as young as theirs as passengers. It is during this section that the author discusses his older son and the journey that his family went through to discover that he is on the autism spectrum. This explained some issues that had arisen with his interactions and reactions to some situations, and made them able to plan and prepare for situations with Bodi in a way that would be less stressful for everyone. It was toward the end of this journey that they discussed this with Bodi himself as they knew it would come out when he viewed the documentary and they wanted to do it in a way that he wouldn't feel judged. 
From South Korea, they took a ferry to China, spending a few days in Beijing before travelling by train the Lhasa. After visiting their first monastery on the trip, they travelled by road on to Nepal. They spent a few days in Kathmandu and then moved on to India, entering near Lumbini, and traveling by car to Prayagraj where they boarded a riverboat and went down the Ganges toward Varanasi. It was here that they began to encounter some of the hottest weather they would experience, making it difficult to sleep and quick to get angry at circumstances. But they overcame that stress, continuing their journey by train, stopping briefly at Agra to see the Taj Mahal, and then enjoying a week in more luxurious rooms in Delhi, while they waited for filming permits to come through. Then more trains and a long bus ride brought them to Manali. At this point only a small film crew stayed with them for their overland trek to Zanskar. They began this trek at the village of Keylong, traveling by foot, and horse (for Boti for part of the trip). 
This is where the major part of the memoir takes place, at the monastery Karsha  Gompa. The family stays there for three months, living in the home of one of the former head lamas. They get christened with new local names and learn new cultural habits. They participate in the rituals and activities of the monastery and teach English and math to the young boys who live there. At this point it is sad to see that these monasteries are no longer the places where young boys can be educated and prepared for a variety of opportunities as the schooling is lacking in resources and good teachers. Bruce and Christine work hard at it, but they aren't trained for this and they often feel inadequate to the need that exists. When they leave, it is with heavy hearts for these young boys who they've grown close to. I enjoyed seeing the experiences here, how they integrated into the life of the nearby villages, helping their lama's family with harvest and learning about the culture that they can see modernizing even in the short time they stay there. More and more, the young people are leaving, and the technology that arrives brings change to the villages by introducing class division between those who can afford these things and those who cannot. 
When they left to return home, their trip took them the other way out of the valley, on another overland walking and horseback trek, this time without a film crew, ending up in Leh, and then flying on to Delhi. There, they hoped to travel home with the lama that hosted them, giving him a taste of Canada. 
Included in the book are photographs as well as drawing that Bodi did of various scenes and objects. 
Throughout the book, Kirkby gives lots of information on the places they visit, history and geography, culture and religion. I liked the way he integrated this information in natural ways into the journey and experiences, adding to the story in a very meaningful way. Bodi, in particular, took naturally to things like meditation and came out of his shell more in many of this culturally different environments, gaining confidence that would show when they returned home as well. 
I really enjoyed this memoir and the ways the family took to heart their experiences throughout their journey.

Ambulance No. 10

Finished October 14
Ambulance No. 10: Personal Letters from the Front by Leslie Buswell

This collection of letters from the young Buswell seems to date from 1914, although no year is indicated on the letters themselves or referred to specifically in the preface or introduction, and encompass a few months. There is no indication of the recipient of the letters, although it would seem that it was a close friend back in the United States. Buswell served as an ambulance driver, part of a group of Americans who served in this way before the United States joined the war. The letters were originally compiled and published for private distribution in September 1915 before coming out in this book in August 1916. The book's preface and introduction were from the original privately distributed version, but there includes an editor's note about the book's publication, and both a facsimile and the text of a document from the French government giving permission for publication in America. Likely, this was given to encourage the U.S. to join the war. There is also a picture of Leslie Buswell in his ambulance uniform. A footnote to the preface indicates that Buswell himself also gave permission for their publication.
The letters begin on June 17th, when Buswell arrived at his ambulance station for the first time. He was stationed at Pont-à-Mousson, near Nancy. Near him are a railway line, and three rivers, the Marne, the Meuse, and the Moselle. The book includes simple drawings that appeared in the original letters as well as photographs taken by the writer of the area, activities, and people. 
Even when he is describing quite horrific situations or experiences, he maintains a calm writing style, and sometimes shows a bit of humour. 
Some of the experiences are quite amazing, such as how they could see the German line most of the time, and often were visible to the Germans while undertaking their duties or travelling around, yet were often not fired on despite this observation. Buswell describes the house he shared with another driver, the schedule they were put on, where they had a rotation that include overnight shifts, and on call shifts, and how they had to maintain their own vehicles. 
When taking injured soldiers to medical stations, there were competing priorities of getting there as quickly as possible and not making their injuries worse by travelling quickly over rough roads. Sometimes the urgent cases were dead by the time he got them to their destination and other times they still had a chance of survival with surgery. 
He makes occasional forays to the front lines, but recognizes the danger he is putting himself in by doing this unnecessarily and stops after a while. He describes the respect that the American ambulance drivers were given from the soldiers as well as any civilians still in the area. Any socialization that he did was mostly with the other drivers or the soldiers stationed nearby. 
He walks through trees and across meadows and picks flowers and notes the wildlife, from birds to animals. He sees the damage to the buildings and talks about the men he interacted with that were killed in the fighting or bombing. 
This is a very interesting book, showing the real experiences of this time 
The last entry is dated October 13th and he describes his experience of a near miss from a bomb, the following bombardment near them, the meal and music he enjoyed, a visit to abandoned trenches, and the discovery of two wooden crosses, one French, one German, indicating graves side by side in the woods. He listens to the owl hooting near by, the clock, the garden he has discovered that he goes to for solace and nourishment, reflecting on the appreciation he has for the friend he is writing to working to raise funds and awareness for this endeavor.

A Small Hotel

Finished October 13
A Small Hotel by Robert Olen Butler

Most of this book is set in New Orleans, around a couple's relationship. Michael and Kelly Hays have decided to divorce after twenty years of marriage. The main action takes place on the day that Kelly is supposed to go to court to sign the final divorce papers. But she doesn't go. Instead, she goes to the hotel in New Orleans where she and Michael began their relationship and where they have often visited since, always using the same room. But this time she is alone, and not in a good frame of mind. In her suitcase are alcohol and medication and it would seem that she has the intention of ending her marriage in a different way. 
Michael meanwhile is at a former plantation, now hotel, attending a formal event with a new woman. When he discovers that Kelly hasn't shown up in court, he is distracted.
Character is everything here, as we see how Michael's background, in particular his father's idea of masculinity, has shaped him as the reticent and stoic man that he now is. Kelly is naturally more demonstrative, but has also changed to accommodate Michael's demeanor in many ways. 
There are flashbacks to their life, beginning with their first encounter when Michael saved Kelly from a bad encounter on the street during Mardi Gras. We see how their relationship developed over the years, and how they married and made a life and a family together. We also see how the expectations that each of them have of relationships has shaped theirs, and created some underlying issues that have never been resolved. 
This book is one that made me ache for the characters, for the love that they were losing, despite the feelings on both sides. It is a story of failure to communicate, of words withheld, of feelings unexpressed. It is a story of people's insecurities about themselves and about the people they care about. Butler is an amazing writer and this book shows his skill.

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Les Parisiennes

Finished October 11
Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died under Nazi Occupation by Anne Sebba.

This is a fascinating look at history with a female focus. The book is set up chronologically, with each year getting a chapter up until 1944, which gets two chapters. 1947 to 1949 is one chapter. There were overviews on what was happening generally and then a focus on particular women that we see in more than one time period.
These individual women are mostly from higher social classes as more is known about them and thus available to researchers. They include women active in the Resistance, women resisting in less formal ways, women who collaborated at various levels and with various degrees of success, Jewish women targeted for their heritage, Jewish women who managed to fly under the radar of the authorities, and women who just tried to live their lives however they could manage.
Some women were driven by personal circumstances, some by love for a man, some by love for a cause, some really didn't seem to really understand the reality of their situation, even after the war was over.
I learned a lot about these women, and about the lack of support and recognition that they received. Whether it was the Red Cross refusing to approach the Germans about Ravensbruck because it wasn't a POW camp (even though many of the women held there had been sent into action by Allied forces), or the lack of recognition of the role women played by political leaders and historians until more recently, this is a story too of suppression of women's voices and accomplishments.
It is also a story of Paris, showing its role in history before this time and since, its role as a fashion capital of the world, and the ingenuity of many of its citizens.
Very readable and well-researched, an excellent addition to the history book collection for any library, academic or public.

Monday 12 October 2020

The Bromance Book Club

Finished October 10
The Bromance Book Club by Lyssa Kay Adams

This romance novel has a lot of humour and some pretty graphic scenes. It is the first in a series (as I'm writing this there are four books) that deal with romance and relationships in Nashville. It's different because there is a strong focus on the men's side of things in these relationships.
In this first book in the series professional baseball player Gavin Scott is having a crisis. He fell in love and married quickly when his girlfriend Thea became pregnant, just before he hit the majors. Now it is five years later, and his wife and him have been growing further apart for a variety of reasons. When an intimate encounter enlightens him to the fact that Thea has been faking orgasms for years, he can't deal with it, and reacts badly. Thea is now asking for a divorce and he is panicking. Enter the men's book club (it only gains the name on the cover towards the end of the novel). Some of his team members are in the book club, but so are other professional sports players and men with other high-level profiles in town. They are set on helping him save his marriage, and assign him a Regency romance book as homework. It takes him a while to understand that they are serious and to take the assignment seriously, but he begins to understand that his problems aren't really about the sex, but go much deeper. As he learns to communicate better with his wife and show his caring in ways that she can see, things improve.
The other men aren't shown in depth here, but future novels in the series focus on different men, so each gets his focused look. We also see some parts of the story from Thea's viewpoint and see how her background shaped her and the beliefs she has about relationships.
The intimacy not only of the relationship between these two characters, but of their family life as well brings depth to their story. I could already see one future romance on the horizon for the series too.
A fun read, with a different angle and more depth than at first glance. Looking forward to the next one, and have already put it on hold at my local library.

The Wars

Finished October 8
The Wars by Timothy Findley

I picket this up when I saw that it was on the list of books that had been banned in Canada in the past and I realized that I owned it. It was a fantastic read, as are all of the books I've read by Findley.
The main character here is Robert Ross, a young man from a privileged background that enlists impulsively following the accidental death of his sister Rowena. He holds guilt for not being with her to ensure her safety and Rowena's death sends his mother deeper into alcoholism.
Robert is shipped out west for training almost immediately, and while at Lethbridge looks for someone he can, finding it in an older officer, Eugene Taffler. It is also at Lethbridge that he begins spending significant time with horses as they capture wild horses to use in the war. His journey back east prompts introspection and it is only when onboard the ship to England that he gets close to another officer, in his case this is Harris, from Nova Scotia, a young man on his own, who soon gets ill. Robert takes over Harris's duties dealing with the horses on board the ship, and has a difficult experience when one of the horses is injured during rough seas. When they dock, both he and Harris are able to watch the offloading of the horses, as they swim ashore.
The prologue of this book shows a moment later in the war when Ross is again involved with horses and it is only near the end that one learns the context of this scene.
Robert has a strong moral and ethical center and it is this that causes his experiences in the war to affect him significantly. His wealth and upbringing have sheltered him, and caring for his disabled sister has given him a lot of empathy for those more disadvantaged than himself.
We watch the various events leading to his mental breakdown with sorrow as we know that his pain is real.
The scenes at the front were vivid and detailed and one got a real sense of the horrific situations these young men faced. Other traumas, from assaults on Ross himself to injuries from those he cared about were brought to life in a similarly vivid way.
This story is told by a person decades later, who is doing research on Robert Ross and what really happened to him and what led to the incident that ended the war for him. Their interviews with the nurse that looked after him and with the woman who was a young girl in the private hospital he spent time in more than once really exposed the personality of this young man. The scenes of his parents back in Canada were also meaningful in how they showed his background.
A great read.

Wednesday 7 October 2020


Finished October 6
Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell
This book imagines the life of William Shakespeare's family in a new way, focusing on his wife and children. The book jumps from 1596 when Hamnet died at the age of eleven back to 1580 with William's first meeting with his wife Agnes (her real name in history is sometimes Agnes and sometimes Anne), their courtship, marriage, and growing family.
In real history the cause of Hamnet's death isn't specified, but the plague was an active disease in this time, with the theatres that Shakespeare's plays among others played in closing for a few months in "plague season" throughout the country.
When William first met Agnes, he was tutoring Latin and still living with his father, John, a glover. Here, we see their courtship, not necessarily approved of by either family, but occurring in places where they wouldn't draw a lot of attention.
Agnes is a very interesting character, a woman whose mother died when she and her brother were both young, who spent a lot of time outdoors, who gained a knowledge of the use of herbs and plants from her mother and what her mother left behind, who had a kestrel and had bees. She is a strong personality and more than an equal to her husband. She also has a sixth sense. She knows the future in many cases, just through touching someone and once married starts running a natural healing business from her home. She senses her husband's challenges, particularly with his domineering and sometimes violent father, and works to push him to what she can sense his future will be, even if it causes issues within their relationship.
The young Hamnet is an exuberant boy, but very close to his twin sister Judith, and as Judith gets sick near the beginning of the book, he worries and tries to find help for her, a situation that is very traumatic for him. As I read, knowing that Hamnet would not survive this illness, I felt for Agnes and William and watched how they dealt with this loss.
This book won the Women's Prize for Fiction award earlier this year, a well-deserved honour.

Tuesday 6 October 2020


Finished October 1
Starlight by Richard Wagamese

This novel was left unfinished when Wagamese died in 2017. Starlight is the last name of one of the main characters in the book, Frank Starlight. The book opens with him as a young man at the funeral of the man who raised him. He intends to leave the remote farm and explore the world, but as he gets to the main road, he stops and considers and turns around for home.
The book then jumps ahead a few years. Frank has found a passion in photography, growing close to the wild animals that share his area of the world and finding a way to share intense moments of their being through his photography. He lives a bachelor life on the farm, with his hired man Eugene Roth. They both work hard, keeping the farm and woodlot in good form and raising cattle.
Emmy Strong has had a tough life and her choices haven't always been good ones. Lately she's been living with Jeff Cadotte, a man who treats her as a possession he can do with as he will. As her part of the book begins, he and one of his friends Anderson are sleeping off a drunken night gambling. She aims to take some money from him, his truck and leave to escape what she fears will by the end of her. She also fears for her daughter Winnie, now nine, as she sees how Cadotte is starting to look at her. Her departure doesn't go well, and she is now on the run, and Cadotte is a man who believes strong in revenge and retribution, not recognizing it is his actions that have led to hers.
When Emmy's journey leads her to the town near Frank's farm, and she takes one chance too many, they enter each other's lives in an interesting way, Frank remembering the man that took him in when he didn't know how to live his life.
This is a story about how important our connection to nature is, how we can use nature to connect to our truest selves and find our way in life. It is also a love story on many levels. Frank is a very peaceful man, a man who knows his world, but is still uncomfortable with the fame his photographs have brought him. This is definitely a book that offers comfort, and the editors have offered some insight into the ending that Wagamese intended for this story.

Monday 5 October 2020

Last Night

Finished September 30
Last Night by Karen Ellis

This novel could be a teen crossover as the major characters in the book are both in their senior year in high school in New York City. Titus "Crisp" Crespo is a high achiever, and has been held to a high standard by the mother and grandparents that raised him. He is set to be valedictorian of his class in a public school, but the day before he is stopped by a cop and he talks back, and that lands him in jail. He isn't released in time for his graduation. After his release, with his judgement still impaired, an argument with his mother causes him to take off, and he decides to go visit Glynnie, a girl he knows only a little. He'd spotted her on the roof of her building when he was on the rooftop basketball court in jail and decides that he wants to let her know why he was there, that he isn't a bad guy. And thus events are set in motion that will have long-lasting consequences for both of them.
Glynnie is from a well-off family, but she likes to push things, and now isn't the time that she feels like stopping with that attitude. Not with her mother planning to send her to Outward Bound for the summer. Crisp is a good kid, but he also doesn't want to let Glynnie go off on her own into a potentially dangerous situation.
This plot has a lot going on, with gangs, drugs, and even guns. With the two teens in over their heads, they struggle to get out of a very bad situation.
I liked the plot and could see how something like this could unfold, one bad decision after another. One young character pulled at my heartstrings, and I liked the way that things started to turn around for him, a kid in a bad situation through no fault of his own, and with no one really caring that he fell between the cracks.
Although this is a second book in the series featuring police detective Lex Cole, it felt to me that the police were more minor characters here. They did have important roles and you did see some of their personal lives, but they weren't at the heart of things.
A good, fast-moving read that will keep you glued to your seat.

Shape Up, Construction Trucks

Finished September 30
Shape Up, Construction Trucks! by Victoria Allenby

This fun picture books uses the interest that many children have in construction equipment to teach them about shapes. Recommended for kids aged two to five, this book will definitely appeal to that age. The featured shape for that vehicle is show in a brightly coloured outline, as on the book cover, and the shape is also shown on its own. A simple repetitive rhyme is used on each page, so kids will be able to predict what is coming. This rhyme invites the child to look for other shapes on the page, spending time looking at each vehicle. Each two-page spread looks at one vehicle and one shape, but parents could definitely expand that as each vehicle features many shapes. The last two pages show and name all the shapes covered in the book, as well as five additional activities adults can do with the child to augment this learning, with some added tips.
I always love picture books that combine fun and learning and this is a good example. The pictures show the vehicles in work situations, although only one is actually moving in its scene. Kids can imagine who would be working in them.

Thursday 1 October 2020

Once Removed

Finished September 29
Once Removed by Andrew Unger

Timothy Heppner, the narrator of this novel is a writer. Mostly he's a ghostwriter for the older people in his small town in southern Manitoba. He also works for the town in the Parks and Recreation department mostly doing labouring jobs.
His wife, Katie is just finishing up her master's thesis. She is from the nearby town of Altfeld, which is preserving their heritage and even has an archives.
The town they live in, Edenfeld, was established in 1876 by Mennonite immigrants, but the current mayor has been whittling away at the town's heritage for years, to the point where very little remains of the original buildings, such as housebarns. Katie and Timothy are both members of the Preservation Society, a small group of citizens trying to stop the loss of heritage. The mayor, BLT Wiens is a fan of progression, which to him means erasing the town's past by renaming streets with names taken from Southern California, tearing down buildings to make way for desired big box stores, and discouraging the use of the Mennonite language, Plautdietsch.
The town is pretty insular, with one women as a prime example. Known as City Sheila, she moved to Edenfeld two decades ago, but is still referred to in that way. Timothy's best friend Randall also grew up here in Edenfeld, and his parents still live in the last remaining housebarn in town, with a patterned floor hidden under the kitchen linoleum, similar to the one depicted on the book cover. Randall also ghostwrites, but has a few of his own books published as well, something Timothy aspires for. They both revere Elsie Dyck, a former resident, whom legend says was driven out of town by the mayor for her writings that celebrate the town's heritage and culture.
The book's events take place over the course of a year, with the book divided into four sections by season, each headed with the season in Plautdietsch. As the book opens, Timothy is meeting with one of his ghostwriting clients, an older man working on his third book, and Timothy has done a lot of research to prepare for this meeting. So he is shocked when he is told that the man has decided to stop their relationship, with no explanation. As Timothy and Katie depend on the extra income he earns through his ghostwriting work, he worries about this. He also worries about any of the activities he does for the Preservation Society attracting unwanted attention from the mayor as he is concerned that could affect his employment with the town. As the group fights for the town's heritage, Timothy is assigned to write a book to tell the town's story. At first he worries about putting his own name on it, but over the course of collecting the historical material and writing it, he begins to take ownership.
My mother's side of the family is Mennonite, although non-practicing, and I could connect to this book immediately through some of these references. From the Great Oak of Chortitza, the town in Ukraine where my grandfather was born, to the Harder genealogy book, I knew the common heritage. But even if you don't, this book's central theme around the loss of our heritage is one all readers can relate to. Using humour to best effect, Unger shows how our heritage is of more value than often considered and something we should celebrate and learn about. His characters have depth and complexity and make you want to know more about them.
I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and encourage you to check out this debut novel for yourself.
The author, Andrew Unger, writers a satirical Mennonite news site from the heart of Manitoba's Mennonite country, Steinbach. The site is The Daily Bonnet, and well worth a look.

October Reviews for 14th Annual Book Challenge

Another month gone, and we are a quarter of the way through this challenge.
Post here the books you've read for the challenge in October.