Friday 31 December 2021

Letters Across the Sea

Finished December 24 
Letters Across the Sea by Genevieve Graham

This historical fiction novel takes place from the early 1930s until after World War II and revolves around two characters. Molly Ryan is the daughter of a police officer in Toronto, and her best friend is a Jewish girl the same age, Hannah Dreyfus. Both have older brothers who play league baseball. As the 1930s brought increasing prejudice against Jews, Molly is dismayed to see this appear in her own neighbourhood and among people she knows. 
Molly has been working in a local grocery store to help her family, but as the Depression worsens, she loses that job, and struggles to find another. She also grows more determined to follow her heart by taking journalism classes with the aim of becoming a reporter someday. 
Hannah is involved with a young man, and as the racial prejudice grows the girls drift apart. Her brother Max also has a goal, to become a doctor. Quotas for Jews in the program mean that he doesn't get into the University of Toronto, but he does get into a medical school and, just as he is finishing the war starts, and he enlists as a medic. 
At first, he is stationed in North America, but as things escalate in Europe and the British want a presence in Hong Kong, some Canadian soldiers are sent there. They have little combat training and don't know the small group of islands well, and are sitting ducks when the Japanese attack with more force than predicted shortly after Pearl Harbor. 
As Max tries to protect his fellow soldiers, and struggles to survive himself, Molly tries to follow what is happening in the Far East, and bring attention to it in her role as a reporter. 
This is a story that highlights a lesser known part of WWII, and the Canadians that served there. It also brings to light the racial prejudice of the time, and how media influences what people think.
A very interesting read. 

Saturday 25 December 2021

In Another Light

Finished December 22
In Another Light by A.J. Banner

This novel was one that turned out to be a real page turner for me. I read it in less than 2 days, and was totally caught up in the plot and the main character. Phoebe Glassman works as a mortuary cosmetologist in the funeral home that her husband used to co-own. Her husband Logan died in an accident and Phoebe has shut out most of the world since then. One of her newer coworkers, Mike Rivera, a former paramedic, warns her to avoid a body coming in later that day, but that only intrigues her. When she views the body, she is taken aback to find a woman who looks like a younger version of herself. Who is she, where did she come from, and why is she dead? are all questions Phoebe begins asking.
As she travels down that path and learns more about the woman, Pauline Steele, she also learns things she didn't know about her husband and other family members. Not sure whether she can trust her friends, or even herself, Phoebe finds herself in the grip of an absurd hope and making dangerous connections. 
Phoebe is an interesting character, smart and creative. She got sidetracked into her current job when she met her husband, from her former career as a sculptor, and she still secretly does some sculpting in her home studio. She hasn't changed anything in the house since her husband's death. Her father also died around the same time, and her mother is in the early stages of dementia, and living in a retirement home. 
Her new coworker Mike is also interesting, a man with a varied past, and who seems to be drawn to Phoebe. This is a story that gradually reveals the truth, and each revelation brings more questions. 

Dark Lies the Island

Finished December 19
Dark Lies the Island by Kevin Barry

This collection of short stories by the Irish writer Kevin Barry are all set in that country with the exception of the last one, Berlin Arkonaplatz. They are stories of everyday life, relationships, groups of friends, trials of fathering a teen daughter, new starts in life gone wrong, two ladies with ill intentions, a doctor past his prime, men in trouble with the law, mental health, and more.
They are stories where the characters are at the center, where the dialogue is key and real, and where the people are at moments in their life where things change for them, for good or for bad. 
These are stories of people who don't fit in, who don't feel comfortable in their own lives, who are looking for something else, something different. 
This is a book hard to put down and very worth the read. I liked them all for different reasons, and it is hard to choose a favourite, but it would likely be Fjord of Killary, for the descriptiveness of the scenes.


Finished December 17
Kapo by Aleksandar Tišma, translated by Richard Williams, Afterword by David Rieff

This novel has a central character who is hiding his past. Lamian was born to Jewish parents, but baptised in an attempt to avoid prejudicial treatment. He went away from his small town to university in the city, and was drafted into the Yugoslav army. That was followed by his taking on another identity as he tried to return home, but he was captured by the Germans and sent to Auschwitz, where he survived by catering to the officers and becoming a kapo. He is haunted by a woman that he took advantage of, one of many that he provided with food and other "gifts" for sexual favours. It was only after his encounter with her that he realized that she was a Jew like him, but one labeled with the yellow star. Because he had assumed another identity, he was a secret Jew.
After the war, he came back to Yugoslavia, resumed his old name, and hid his WWII actions, becoming a government administrator. He now lives in the Bosnian town of Banja Luka, and lives a respectable quiet life. When he sees a name in the paper, one of the woman who he knew from the camp, he is haunted by the possibility of discovery. This is the story of how he reacted, how he got to where he is now, and his feelings around it all.
He has guilt, fear, and a desire to be both seen for himself, and to bury his own past. This is a very intense, brooding book, and is the third book in what is known as his Novi Sad trilogy. It is the saddest of the three, a tale of a man who is both a victim and a terrorizer. 
Despite its sad nature, it drew me in, wanting to see what happened to this man who was so conflicted and who had lived his life alone, damaged by his past.

Sunday 19 December 2021

December Reviews for 15th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

 Sorry this is posted so late. I don't know how I missed doing it!

Dirty Work

Finished December 16
Dirty Work: My Gruelling, Glorious, Life-Changing Summer in the Wilderness by Anna Maxymiw

This memoir of a summer spent as a worker at a remote fishing resort in Northern Ontario is an reflective and open piece on a time that changed the author's perspective on herself and on how she moved forward. Anna grew up in the city, unlike most of the other members on the crew at the fishing lodge and she was working on her Master of Arts, while most of them were engaged in studies to do with the environment or tourism. She had come to the resort the year before as a guest with her family and really enjoyed her time there, so she had some idea of the environment she was entering into and the nature of the work. 
It was however a move outside her comfort zone, pushing her into the company of a group of other young people, none of whom she knew, in close quarters for several weeks. There is no place for privacy, no access to the internet, and little down time. If she wasn't working, she was resting from the very physical work she was doing, too tired to do much. She found herself forming the first real female friendships she had, and engaging with young men in ways she wasn't used to. 
She gained a nickname she didn't love, a realization that she was stronger than she had thought, and a better sense of who she was as a person. 
There were good times and bad ones, and things were tense at times, but her memoir makes it clear that this was an experience she was glad she'd undertaken. 

The Awakening

Finished December 12
The Awakening by Kate Chopin

This is a very languid read, and very much about the central character and her reactions to her situation. Edna Pontellier is a young woman, married to a Louisiana businessman somewhat older than them. They have two young sons, and have a domestic who looks after them. 
Edna is not a natural mother, and while she spends time with her children, she doesn't dote on them or worry over them. 
This is their first summer that she has spent on Grand Isle, a resort community not far from New Orleans. Her husband joins her on weekends as do most of the other husbands, and she spends the week with the other wives, her children, and one of the sons of the resort owner who is of a similar age to her. His name is Robert Lebrun, and Mr. Pontellier is aware of the attentions paid by him to his wife, but does not worry over it. Robert does this with a young woman every summer, and it is generally attention with mild flirting.
But this attention awakens something in Edna, and she reacts in an unexpected way. She grew up in Mississippi and Kentucky on her father's plantation and led a sheltered existence. This new experience has left her unsettled, longing for something else in her life, and dissatisfied with her luxurious lifestyle. As she ventures away from expected behaviours, her husband makes moves to save face, and reaches out to her, but she seems to not realize her situation.
This is a sad novel, one where I wished I could change the course of what I could see developing. 

Friday 17 December 2021

The Night She Disappeared

Finished December 9
The Night She Disappeared by Lisa Jewell

This story takes place in an English suburb. On a summer night over a year before the main story, a teenage couple Tallulah and Zach head out to a local pub for dinner. This is the first time the pair has been out since the birth of their baby Noah several months before. Tallulah lives with her mom and younger brother and attends a local college. Zach is working and saving money for their own home and a few months earlier, after a break in their relationship, moved in with Tallulah. Tallulah's mom, Kim is close to her daughter and hopes for a better relationship for her than the one she had with her children's father, who moved back with his own mother shortly after their son Ryan is born. 
But Tallulah and Zach don't return home. Zach's parents don't seem concerned, and seem to think the two felt parenthood too much and took off together. Kim knows Tallulah wouldn't abandon Noah, and tries to track their movements the night before, finding that they'd gone to the house of another young woman, Scarlett Jacques. 
Scarlett says they left when Tallulah felt ill, but no taxi firm has any record of a trip and there seems to be no trace of the two, even when police get involved. 
Fourteen months later, Sophie Beck moves into the headmaster's cottage at a local school, Maypole House, with her boyfriend Shaun, the new headmaster. Sophie writes cozy mysteries. At the back of the garden, she finds a sign on the fence saying Dig Here, and when she does, she finds something that leads her to Kim. Sophie wonders who has left the sign and whether it is targeted specifically for her, because of her novels. 
As we follow the timelines of Sophie and Kim in the now, and trace the events in Tallulah and Zach's lives leading up to that night they disappeared, we find things are not always as they seem, and that relationships are more complex than anyone close to the couple knew. 
Kim lives in both fear and hope, and Sophie finds that mysteries made real may change her life as well. 
A fascinating tale of love, control, and the things people are willing to do for both. 

Keep Saying Their Names

Finished December 8
Keep Saying Their Names by Simon Stranger, translated by Matt Bagguley

This Norwegian novel was a winner of the Norwegian Booksellers' Prize in 2018 and has a unique structure. It is set in 3 storylines, one modern day, one starting pre-World War II and following a character through his youth into adulthood and his actions during the war, and one starting a few years after the war around a family of Jewish Norwegians. It is structured alphabetically, with each chapter starting with a letter of the alphabet and having statements and discussion around words starting with that letter. I can't imagine how difficult this was to do in translation. This is the first book by this author to be translated into English.
The modern day part of the story features a writer unnamed, who is researching the Jewish family that they married into and what happened to them during the war, occasionally reaching back further, and reaching out to people they were connected with. In particular they are focused on the father of the Komissar family, who was killed in custody during the war. 
The one character, Henry Oliver Rinnan, gets followed from a difficult childhood in poverty, getting bullied and building a desire to be successful and show off that success to those who previously bullied them. This man has that drive to be lauded and to please those in authority, to be a leader, as his driving force. He has no ethics, no sincere feelings for others, even his wife and children, just that need. When the Germans invade in WWII, it is them he tries to please and thus he takes advantage of and betrays so many of his countrymen and women by becoming a double agent for the Nazis.
After the war, when Komissar's son Gerson and his wife move into the house used by Rinnan as a jail and torture chamber for resisters, the history of the house affects their marriage.
This is a story both intimate and national, going deep into people's lives, but also reflecting the history of the country. 

Monday 6 December 2021

Northanger Abbey

Finished December 6 
Northanger Abbey by Val McDermid

This book is part of a series of novels that are retellings of Jane Austen books known as The Austen Project. Here we have 17-year-old Catherine (Cat) Morland of the Piddle Valley in Dorset, accompanying neighbours Mr. and Mrs. Allen to Edinburgh for the Festival. She is excited to visit the city and take part in the various cultural events. Mr. Allen is an investor in cultural projects in London and evaluating the productions for potential. Mrs. Allen is both accompanying her husband, and shopping, and Cat is the recipient of some shopping largesse. 
They get invited to the Edinburgh Ball, and Cat is able to get a spot in a one-day session learning the various country dances. She is paired with local Henry Tilney, and finds herself falling for him. They also run into one of Mrs. Allen's old school friends, and her three daughters, one of whom, Bella, claims Cat for a friend. They also apparently know Cat's older brother James, as he went to school with their brother John. When the two young men also arrive, Cat finds herself torn between accompanying them and Bella on outings, and spending time with Henry and his sister Ellie. 
When General Tilney, Henry and Ellie's father invites her to their home at remote Northanger Abbey, Cat finds herself both excited and falling prey to her overactive imagination.
A fan of paranormal fantasy, and introduced to a Scottish writer of a series new to her, she finds herself imagining vampires, prisoners in old towers, and other such fantasies. 
This was an interesting modern-day take on the plot of Austen's novel, and a fun read. Including social media, texting, and modern cultural figures added another element to the plot. 
I'd read Sense and Sensibility by Joanna Trollope, another in the series and enjoyed it, and have enjoyed Val McDermid's novels as well, so was interested to see what she'd make of this challenge. 

Friday 3 December 2021

The Blackhouse

Finished December 1
The Black House by Peter May

As always with May, I found so much more in this book than just the mystery. The main character here is Edinburgh detective Fin Macleod. Fin was born and grew up on the Isle of Lewis, one of the northernmost and remote parts of Scotland. Fin has been on leave for the past month after the death of his child Robbie. He is called in to be assigned a case, one that the computer system HOLMES has suggested him for. Earlier in the year, he had a case in Edinburgh that wasn't solved. Now a similar crime scene has turned up on Lewis, near where he grew up. 
The case takes Fin back to the island that he hasn't been to in years, since his maternal aunt died. It also takes him back to the people he knew then, the friends, the enemies, the people he loved and the people he hated. And it brings him back to the events that happened shortly before he left the island for university, ones that he still doesn't fully understand. 
Besides the very interesting character of Fin, this book acquainted me with the Isle of Lewis. The details of the landscape are drawn well by May, and provide a real sense of the island, as well as the lives lived there. There is also an event that happens annual that is specific to one village on the island and a small uninhabited island to the north. May relocates it slightly, but the event really happens and has its roots in antiquity. From at least the Iron Age, men from this village have been going each year to the small island and killing birds for food. They go for a couple of weeks, during nesting season and take birds of a specific age. The prepare the birds, plucking, burning off the pin feathers, and preserving them before bringing them home. The island is small and rocky, with precarious cliffs and only one landing spot for boats. There is an unmanned lighthouse with a small helipad, that is maintained a couple of times a year, and the island is otherwise protected by law. 
I found this particularly interesting, and after reading the passages in the book about this event, I found a video showing some of the real men who do this. It is fascinating. 
This book is dark and has much sadness in it, but it is also a book that brings people to the truth, and shows a community in all its complexity. A great read. This is the first book in a trilogy set around Lewis, and I look forward to reading the others.

Thursday 2 December 2021


Finished November 30
Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

I bought this book more than a year ago and have been slowly reading it for the past couple of weeks. It is a book that looks at the origins of the American caste system, and how it relates to two other caste systems, the centuries-old caste system of India, and the one that arose under the Nazis. I was aware that Nazi's had studied how America treated its non-white citizens, particularly those who descended from earlier slaves, but this book made the connections more clear about how they tried to implement some of the same concepts and how the American situation went beyond in what it dared to define for castes and for how it had evolved to be ingrained in the American culture.
In India, the lowest caste is that of the Dalit, often called Untouchables. Wilkerson, on her first visit to India and meeting Dalits was introduced as one of America's Untouchables, and after the initial surprise, she had to see the similarities. 
She often gives examples of her own and others experiences to illustrate the various norms in America that arose from the caste system there, and how it is still having its effect, despite the laws and regulations that purport to eliminate it. 
Released in the last year of Trump's presidency, it is a book that is very pertinent to what the country is going through now, a test of its democracy, an awakening of those in the lower castes to the inbededness of the beliefs that have tried to keep them in their place, below the dominant caste of white European-origin males, and how the actions we are seeing today are part of a struggle to keep the system from changing. . 
This book should be required reading in every American history and culture course, as it looks at the history of the culture in a way that has seldom been explained in such straightforward terms. Wilkerson gives homage to those researchers who came before her in this area, and talks about their work and how she discovered it and built upon it. 
There is so much I could say about this eye-opening book, but the best is for you to read it yourself.

Wednesday 1 December 2021

Between, Georgia

Finished November 22
Between, Georgia by Joshilyn Jackson

I've enjoyed other books by this author for their strong female characters, and this is another good one. The main character here, Nonny Flett, comes into the story literally at the beginning when she is born. Her birth mother is a young teenage who doesn't want the baby and is afraid of her own mother's wrath. She has run to a nearby woman who was a former nurse, Bernese Flett.
Bernese's two sisters, Stacia and Genny, lived next door. Genny was a nervous woman, given to compulsive behaviours. Stacia was a skilled ceramacist, who was born deaf and was losing her eyesight. When they heard the ruckus next door, they came running. Stacia assisted Bernese and claimed the child as her own. Bernese made sure the paperwork was done with a local lawyer, and Nonny grew up with Stacia as her mother. 
When, after a few years, her birth grandmother, Ona Crabtree discovered that she was born a Crabtree, a war of sorts started between the families. Nonny did some visits with Ona, but was raised by Stacia, and learned sign language, later making it her career. 
After Nonny's birth, the book jumps to her adult years as she is coming up to a court date for her divorce. She had loved her irresponsible, musician husband Jonno, but something had drawn apart that love, if not the physical attraction, and she is convinced that she will go through with the divorce.
But when a emergency happens back in her hometown of Between, she must rush to the side of those who need her, find her own truth, and choose her own path forward.
Nonny is an interesting woman, with attributes from both her birth family and her adopted one, and she has an inner strength when it comes to the people she truly cares for: her mother, her aunt, and her young cousin. This is a turning point in her life, when she must make her own choices and not have others make it for her. 
A very enjoyable read.

Tuesday 30 November 2021

The Basel Killings

Finished November 20 
The Basel Killings by Hansjörg Schneider

This is the fifth book in the series featuring Inspector Hunkeler, and the first to be translated into English. I think it is also the first series I've read that is set in Switzerland. Hunkeler is a divorced father, with his daughter grown up. He has a girlfriend who is a kindergarten teacher, and she is on a three month sabbatical, spending it in Paris. He misses her, and often spends his evening in a bar not far from his apartment. Besides his apartment in Basel, Hunkeler also has a farm in Alsace, across the nearby border in France. He spends a fair bit of time there, and has an arrangement with a nearby farmer and his wife who look after his place, including the chickens, when he isn't around. 
He's had a case of a murdered prostitute for a while and while he keeps going over the case files, he just can't seem to find a solution to it. 
As the story begins, he leaves the bar one evening to go home, but finds the sudden cold air outside triggers his need to pee, and rather than return to the bar, or go to the nearby billiards hall, where he also spends time, he elects to pee on the potted tree in the nearby courtyard of a bank. The courtyard also holds a bench and he notices an acquaintance sitting there, apparently asleep. He sits near him and begins a conversation, but when there is no reply, he looks closer and finds that the man is dead, murdered in fact, and after being ill from the shock, he calls the police.
Because he is acquainted with the dead man, he is not assigned the case, and in fact seems to be on the outs with the man assigned to it. 
Hunkeler is an interesting character, one who is well educated, intelligent, and knowledgeable, but also comfortable with less refined company, such as those in the bar he frequents. He knows some of the local immigrant community, and doesn't judge himself superior to them. 
He knows the rural police near Basel, as well as those in Alsace where he also lives. He walks a lot, thinking and observing as he does. He is a man who can make connections, who listens to people from all walks of life and accords what they tell him a measure of respect. It is all of this that makes him a good policeman. 
As he digs into the lives of both the prostitute and the man on the bench, he looks for connections, and trusts his instincts. I also learned some history that I hadn't been aware of before. The deliberate and planned work of the Swiss against the Romany through an organization called Kinder der Landstrasse (Children of the Road). It is very similar in nature to the actions here in Canada around residential schools, but goes even further, permanently separating children from their parents.
We don't see much of his girlfriend here, only glimpses, but we see into Hunkeler's personal life in other ways, and he is a very intriguing character.

Wednesday 17 November 2021

Talking To Girls About Duran Duran

Finished November 17
Talking To Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield

I was driving the other day, listening to the CBC, where on Q they were interviewing Nick Rhodes, due to the new Duran Duran album being released. I enjoyed the interview, and remembered a book that had been on my shelf  for far too long, this one. I went home and hunted it out and began to read it. 
The book is a memoir, mostly of Rob's life in the 1980s, told around music, which always played a big role in his life, even before it became linked to his career. 
The introduction explains the books title, and the last chapter is the last song by the group in the '80s, "All She Wants Is", but in between are many other songs by many other groups and individual singers, and many of them are ones I also know, from my own youth. 
I read this book by first watching the music video of each song and then reading the chapter, which was definitely a fun way to do it. Some of the songs are discussed in terms of how they came into or influenced the author's life, others are only mentioned in passing, with the chapter discussing the format, genre, or something else related to the song. But they were all interesting, and I really enjoyed both the music and the memoir.
A few of the later songs weren't familiar to me, and don't call to me now, but it was interesting to see how they played a role in the author's life. 
It made me think of the songs I loved growing up, which ones I made mix tapes of, played repeatedly, or bought. A fun look back to the '80s. 

The Siege Winter

Finished November 15
The Siege Winter by Ariana Franklin and Samantha Norman

Ariana Franklin was the pen name of Diana Norman who died before finishing this book. Samantha Norman is her daughter who completed the manuscript. 
This novel takes place in 12th-century England, when the Empress Matilda and King Stephen were battling for control of England. There are several groups of characters whose lives intersect at Kenniford Castle where Maud, who inherited the castle, as well as several other estates, is trying to save the estate and its people. 
As the novel opens she is forced by King Stephen to take an oath to him, and to marry John of Tewing, an odious man who has brought his mistress with him.
In the nearby fenlands, a group of mercenaries who have been joined by a sociopathic monk, come across a small red-headed girl named Em, abuse her and leave her for dead. Em survives and is nursed to health by another mercenary, Gwyl, an archer from Breton. Gwyl has been horrified by the acts of the mercenaries he previously travelled with, and agrees to take Em under his wing, disguise her as a boy named Penda, and train her in archery. Em has no memory of who she is and what happened to her, but Gwyl is afraid for her if her memory returns. 
The monk has unfinished business with both Gwyl and Em, and won't hesitate to come for them if her finds out where they are. 
The Empress Matilda is on the run from King Stephen and travelling through the winter storms with only two men looking for a place she can wait in safety while a more permanent refuge is prepared for her. 
I really enjoyed the depth of the characters here. Maud is an independently-minded woman, raised to be so by her father and his men, and she plots how she can regain her sovereignty over her holdings and her self. She is supported by several other women, relatives and servants, who are loyal to her, as well as her men. Em/Penda is a resilient and skilled girl, who thrives under Gwyl's tutelage and protection. I found myself rooting for both these female characters as they battled evil men and found support and respect from other men who were more honourable. 

Tuesday 16 November 2021

Easy Crafts for the Insane

Finished November 12
Easy Crafts for the Insane: A Mostly Funny Memoir of Mental Illness and Making Things by Kelly Williams Brown

This memoir covers a few difficult years in the author's life. During this time she underwent several losses (divorce, breakup of relationship, loss of friendships, death of pets) and physical pain (breaking both arms and an ankle), not to mention mental illness. 
Kelly had been diagnosed and treated for depression at a very young age, and continued to battle this into her adult years, but during this time period, her treatments changed, and she had more severe and new mental challenges. 
All her life, one of her comforts has been crafting and throughout this book she includes several simple crafts for the reader, giving step by step instructions and, in some cases, direction to more information available online. 
She is very open about all her experiences during this time, both how she made bad decisions, and didn't always consider how her actions would affect those around her, not recognizing the pain she caused them at the time, and how they affected her in ways they didn't understand at the time either. 
Luckily, she was able to afford and get the help she needed, a privilege that she recognizes that not everyone going through similar challenges will have and she makes arguments for improving the access to mental health care.
This memoir definitely has elements of humour and the author is more than willing to laugh at herself and her experiences while still acknowledging the serious nature of what she went through.
Eye-opening and very engaging. 

Sunday 14 November 2021

The Saddest Words

Finished November 9
The Saddest Words: William Faulkner's Civil War by Michael Gorra

I first read Faulkner in my university American Literature class, and have several of his novels on my shelves. This book looks at his books treatment of the civil war and its aftermath, and of his own personal statements on the same. Beyond that it looks deeply at the social history of the American South, and how the civil war is reflected in that history. 
It looks closely at several characters in his novels, and at how he portrays black characters, quite differently from other southern white authors, and we see how his books differed from the customary attitude about black people in the south. Some of these things in his novels were observations that he wasn't as comfortable saying publicly outside of fiction, and he still struggles with some of the prejudices of his peers. 
There is in-depth analysis of his writings, social commentary, historical comparisons between his fiction and the real events, and literary criticism. The book includes a chronology of his life, a list of his major works, and a brief history of his fictional Yoknapatawpha County. 
The title refers to references from the book, referring to the words "was" and "again", both references in this way by the author. 
I found this a fascinating insight into his books, and his environment. It seems especially apt during the social changes that we are going through now.

Tuesday 9 November 2021

Autumn Brides

Finished November 4
Autumn Brides: A Year of Weddings Novella Collection by Kathryn Springer, Katie Ganshert, and Beth Vogt

This is a collection of three novellas, all Christian romance stories taking place in the fall. The novellas here are "A September Bride" by Kathryn Springer, "An October Bride" by Katie Ganshert, and "A November Bride" by Beth Vogt.
The first story features Annie Price, new manager of a bookstore in the small town of Red Leaf. Jesse Kent is a police officer in town and pulls her over for a couple of vehicle issues. He's recently been away and wasn't aware that his mother Lorna had hired someone to run the bookstore she owns. In that short time, Annie has made friends, joined a church and several community groups and started to find a home where she feels welcomed. This is something she's never had in her life before. But Jesse is suspicious by nature and wants to ensure that his mother hasn't acted rashly. As he and Annie get to know each other, things develop quickly.
The second story has Emma Tate, who has recently called off her engagement to Chase when her dad was diagnosed with cancer. The story opens with her parents taking a vacation and her looking after their cat Oscar. On her dad's desk, she disturbs his journal and something falls to floor, a bucket list. On it are several things, some crossed off, but one that isn't is walking her down the aisle. She is hit by a lot of feelings and when she gets back to her own house, she finds old friend Jake there. Jake's dad owns the local hardware store in their town, Mayfair, Wisconsin, and has come by to fix an issue with her plumbing. When she confesses what she's seen to him, he offers to be her groom in a staged wedding that her father will be there for. As the wedding plans and preparation continue and the two go on dates, Emma finds herself thinking of Jake in terms beyond a friend. Could this turn into a real romance for them?
The third story has Sadie McAllister in Colorado, who runs a business as a personal chef, making a week's worth of meals for her clients in their own homes and leaving them set for the following week. She loves her job and dreams of her own television show. As the story opens, she gets dumped by text by her boyfriend. Old friend Erik Davis is also an entrepreneur and he's just landed a big project. He calls Sadie to ask her to make a meal to celebrate with him, and during the meal, reminds her that they dated briefly in high school, and even kissed. Sadie puts him off when he suggests dating again, saying she doesn't want to ruin their friendship, but her best friend makes her change her mind and Erik's friend, a local pastor, has a conversation with him that gets him thinking about his relationship history and what he really wants. 
All three of these stories have interesting scenarios, but all three seemed rushed near the end, as if they were shortened to fit this collection. Things go from chaste dating to marriage very quickly, and feel like some of the plot is missing after the long buildup. 
All three stories include discussion questions.

Monday 8 November 2021

The Last Days of New Paris

Finished November 2
The Last Days of New Paris by China Miéville

This alternative history novel starts in 1950 in a Paris that doesn't resemble the one that really existed then, and then jumps back to earlier times to track how that Paris was created.
The premise here is that the energy created by the art and ideas of a group of surrealist artists was captured, and then misused as a bomb (the S-blast) in Paris creating destruction, but also giving life to creatures and animate forms originating in surrealist art. 
The creatures are taken from visual art and literature, and range from relatively benign to terrifying. These creatures were mainly acting against the German forces, and the Germans tried to create in a similar way, but also called on darker forces from below. 
The main character is a young man whose parents were killed in the first actions after the blast and who seems to be able to engage positively with some creatures, and follow clues to gain new weapons and use what now exists to continue the fight. But Paris has been sealed off from the world beyond, and he longs to leave to see a world more normal. As he tries to find a way out, he meets someone who seems to have come in, and who is trying to document Paris as it is now as a way of those not able to witness it for themselves to see it before the city is destroyed for good. 
There is a lot here about surrealism and the artists known for their work in this genre, and the notes at the end of the book help readers to understand some of the references in the text. There is also an afterword written by the author of how he came to write the book, which is also an interesting extension of the the alternative history. 
A book like no other I've ever read. 

Thursday 4 November 2021

November Reviews for 15th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Here is where you post links to the reviews for books you've read in November. Add a comment after adding your link if you like.

Friday 29 October 2021

Parallel Lines

Finished October 29
Parallel Lines by Steven Savile

This suspense novel has a unique plot. Adam Shaw is dying of ALS, and his is worried about what will happen to his eleven-year-old son Jake when he can no longer care for him. Jake has Down's syndrome and Adam's wife Lily has predeceased him. Adam works for an insurance company and calculates numbers for a living, and he has determined that he needs 2.5 million dollars to ensure Jake is cared for. Adam can see no way of getting this outside of a unique way of robbing a bank, and so armed with a gun for show, he puts his plan in motion. 
The branch of the bank he chooses is a small one, and he's visited a couple of times before to get the lay of the land, but now that he has put his plan in motion, the other people in the bank and those connected to them also play a role and he can't predict their actions. There are two customers in the bank, a man and a woman, one of whom tries to interfere with his plans. The bank manager has issues and worries that go beyond the current situation. Of the four tellers, one is a widow with a secret friend and a regret, one is just out of a relationship and wonders about her future, one has a strong moral center, and one has a past that makes her a threat. The loan officer has recently had a series of losses in her life and during the robbery has a revelation that is unexpectedly hopeful. The security guard has a past as well, one that feeds directly into the current situation. 
Adam's own body is also unreliable, even with his medications, and he must rely on these strangers in ways he never expected. 
I read this book in one sitting, needing to know what happened to each character


Finished October 28
Crow by Amy Spurway

This novel is one that drew me in and had me caring about the various characters. Set in Cape Breton, Stacey (Crow) Fortune has returned home from Toronto to die. She's had a touch time lately, with her engagement broken off and then being diagnosed with inoperable brain tumours. She's starting to have trouble with her vision and has episodes of being very ill. 
She is hopeful to see her two best friends, but is aware that they've had a falling out and Allie no longer speaks to Char. Allie has recently had a loss of her own and is at a loose end, not handling it well. Char has recently returned home after a long absence, and is also having issues.
Crow has known all her life that her father was Alec Spenser, the only son of a wealthy family. Alec disappeared before she was born, presumed drowned in a boating accident. His family wants nothing to do with her, but Crow's mother Effie Fortune made a point of taking her to the family home at one point and makes no secret of her parentage. Crow had a bit of a wild time in her teens, having multiple short romances, and always returning to a secret lover, Willy, who was also a bit of an outcast. 
Besides her mother, she has numerous family members in the area, including her aunt Peggy and her uncle Mossy. 
As Crow finds purpose beyond her own impending demise, she becomes closer to the community she fled after high school, finding new friendships, and new connections with her family. She learns more about where she comes from, and the legacies that come to various family members. She reconnects with old friends and finds new depths to those friendships. 
This is a novel of coming home, of the importance of community, compassion, and connection, and of the nature of love. 
A fantastic read. 

It's Getting Scot in Here

Finished October 26
It's Getting Scot in Here by Suzanne Enoch

I chose this book to meet a reading challenge, where I needed a kilt on the cover of the novel. This light historical romance has a lot of humour in it. It's not quite a send-up of historical romance novels, but it comes close. Set in 1816, the novel follows two main characters. Amelia-Rose Baxter is a smart young woman, the only child of her parents. Her mother has always aspired to a title and has already refused several offers of marriage for Amelia-Rose that are from nice but title-less men. Amelia-Rose feels that too often she has to pretend to be what she is not, a flirtatious simpleton who is agreeable and willing to submit to whatever a man says with no opinion of her own. She's tried, but she keeps reaching a point where she can't keep her mouth shut and so she is now getting a reputation for being mouthy and unfeminine. 
Niall MacTaggert is the youngest of three sons of Angus MacTaggert, a titled Scottish laird and his English wife Francesca Oswell. Francesca was the only child of a viscount, so that title has also come down to her eldest son. For eighteen years, Francesca has lived at her family home in London with her daughter Eloise, and the boys have lived in Scotland with their father. Francesca has control of the money she inherited, which Angus needs for his estate, and the two reached an agreement that she would contribute the necessary monies on condition that all three boys marry English girls, one of her own choosing, before their daughter wed. 
Now Angus has just received word from Francesca that Eloise is engaged and he doesn't hesitate to let his sons know of this agreement and send them down to London. The eldest Coll has drawn the short stick on taking his mother's choice of bride, but is highly resentful of that and not at all willing to submit. The middle son Aden is ambivalent, and Niall is the peacemaker in the family. Their father has told them that English girls are pliable and will submit to whatever form of marriage they propose, including one that leaves the woman in London, visited only for the purpose of creating an heir.
Francesca has been apprised of her sons trip and has already signed a contract for Coll and Amelia-Rose to marry, but she is definitely not the pliable English girl he expects, and his first meeting with her goes very badly indeed. The plot continues with Niall trying to keep Amelia-Rose interested in Coll, and trying to bring Coll to reason, but he finds himself falling for this smart woman himself. 
This has lots of fun around stereotypes, both English and Scottish, and lots of scenes where one is wondering what next, but Francesca is a smart English woman herself and, as she gets to know her sons better, and lets them know the full story of her relationship with their father, she also finds that she gets new ideas of how to make things work in almost everyone's favour. 
A fun read.

Monday 25 October 2021

The Night Gate

Finished October 24
The Night Gate by Peter May

This novel is part of the Enzo Files series and Enzo Macleod is now retired from his job in the  French police as a forensics expert. He has been asked by colleagues to take a look at the site of recently discovered body, buried years ago in a small cemetery. The body came to light when a tree was uprooted during a storm, and was found tangled among its roots. The skull shows that the man had been shot through the head. It would appear that the body has been there for decades, dating back to World War II. 
As Enzo inspects the site, he notices police activity at a house nearby and a police officer, recognizing him, approaches and asks for his opinion on the murder that occured in that house. 
Set in the fall of 2020, this is the first novel that I've read that is set during the pandemic, and I found it interesting how that figured into the action of the novel. 
As Enzo looks at both the historical murder and the contemporary one, he finds an unexpected link between the two, France's most famous painting, the Mona Lisa. With the assistance of some family members, he travels to Paris and to Germany in search of the story behind these deaths.
We also see into Enzo's personal life, his wife, his children from previous wives and relationships, and his interactions with them. 
With some of the action focused on the characters from the war, we see a young Frenchwoman, tasked with keeping the painting safe during the occupation, and two men determined to get ahold of it for their own purposes. 
This is the second book I've read in the series, and I found it quite interesting. 

Tokyo Ueno Station

Finished October 23
Tokyo Ueno Station by Yu Miri, translated by Morgan Giles

This book tells the story of Kazu, a man who wanders the world he lived in before he died, not understanding why he hasn't moved on. No one sees him or reacts to him, but he reflects on his life, working long hours on jobs away from his home, not seeing his children grow up, or spending very much time with his wife. 
He also describes the circumstances that led to his last few years living as a homeless man in the Ueno Station Park in Tokyo, and his interactions with some of the other inhabitants of the park. 
The moments of reflection on the past are interspersed with his observations on the present, seeing how life goes on, and witnessing the passing of others he knew.
This is a very interesting novel, with intimate details of Kazu's life told in such a way that removes the emotion from the experiences. He seems removed from his life, not just by death, but in remembering key moments of his life as well. 
His life also has ties to that of the royal family in a limited way. He is the same age as the Crown Prince, and his son was born the same day as the prince's son. His life in the park is also changed by visits from the royal family. 

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Song of a Captive Bird

Finished October 19
Song of a Captive Bird by Jasmin Darznik

This novel is a fictionalized biography of Iranian poet Forugh Farrokhzad. The author had seen a poetry book of her mother's as a child and later became fascinated by not only the poetry of Forugh, but of the woman herself and her very unconventional life.
Forugh was born in Tehran, the third of seven children, and the daughter of a military officer. She pushed the boundaries on behaviour, trying to engage in the same activities as her brothers. She began writing poetry at a young age, partly to capture the attention and approval of her traditional father, poetry being a revered art in Iran. But as she grew into womanhood and her life became more circumscribed, she found a way out by marrying at the age of 16 to a cousin. But her urge to write continued and it led her to another life. 
Darznik explores this life, both the poet's inner life and drive to write poetry that broke the norms of her era and gender, and the outer life, as a divorcee, a woman who lived independently, and the mistress of a well-known film producer. 
Forugh comes to life here, with her passion and impetuousness, and her daring to follow her dreams. I enjoyed learning more about this poet and her legacy. 

Monday 18 October 2021

What Strange Paradise

Finished October 18 
What Strange Paradise by Omar El Akkad

This book grabbed me and didn't let go. It's a short novel and a real page-turner. It starts with a scene on a beach on a Greek island, where bodies of refugees have washed ashore. Among them is a young boy, Amir, but he isn't dead, and when he rises, and sees people coming for him, he runs.
Following that scene, the story alternates with what led the boy to this place and what happens after he runs. In the before sequences, we see him and his family fleeing their home country of Syria and coming to Egypt, hoping to be accepted by a western country, and we see how he comes to be on a boat crossing the Mediterranean Sea and what happens on that boat. In the after sequences, we see him being found by a teenaged girl, and assisted. Vänna has a difficult home life and something about the boy and his vulnerability puts her in protective mode. As the two try to elude the soldiers looking for the boy, they make their way across the island, hoping for a way out. 
The characters of Amir and Vänna are well drawn, and you see their thoughts and their struggles, from Amir's uncertainty about his family's future and his confusion on the ship to Vänna's dissatisfaction with her life and her worry about Amir. The book is fast-moving and intense with some twists and surprises along the way. Highly recommended.

The Book Collectors

Finished October 16
The Book Collectors: A Band of Syrian Rebels and the Stories That Carried Them Through a War by Delphine Minoui, translated by Lara Vergnaud

The author, Delphine Minoui, is a journalist who has covered the Middle East, and lives in Istanbul. She also directed a documentary on the same subject as this book. During her work, she heard about a group who had created a library from books they found in the rubble of their town, Daraya. Daraya is a town outside of Damascus which fell under a siege in 2012 and became cut off from the outside world for four years. 
The young men who found the first batch of books and began actively collecting them in one place, where they built shelving and provided studying, reading, and meeting space, had a collection of fifteen thousand books within a month of their start. The collection had range, from poetry to plays, history to science. 
First Minoui tracked down one of the library's founders, Ahmad Muaddamani, twenty-three, who was studying civil engineering before the war. He told her the story of the library, but also the story of this small community, its history of discourse and democracy, the effects of the siege, and the others who supported and used the library. Residents from children through seniors visited and borrowed material, and they even arranged Skype lectures from a variety of speakers. Other men that she spoke to were Omar Abu Anas, a soldier in the Free Syrian Army, who kept a small collection of books protected by sandbags at the front lines; Shadi Matar, who joined the media center of the town and documented the war through photographs; Hussam Ayash, who launched a small local magazine during the siege; Abu Malek Al-Shami, who painted graffiti and murals on the ruins to keep spirits up; Abu el-Ezz, another co-founder of the library; and Ustez, a slightly older man who served as a mentor for the others.
As Monoui tracks the ongoing siege, she also documents the types of attacks they endured, including barrel bombs, sarin gas, and napalm. 
With limited access to internet, most of the communication was through media such as Whats App, with reliance on short messages, and video. 
A book that brings this group of men to life and highlights the situation that they lived in during this difficult time. She also includes a list of the most popular books in the collection and ones mentioned in her conversations with the men. 

Saturday 16 October 2021

A Mapmaker's Dream

Finished October 15
A Mapmaker's Dream: The Meditations of Fra Mauro, Cartographer to the Court of Venice: a novel by James Cowan

This book is a fictionalized tale of a real man. Fra Mauro was a monk at San Michele di Murano who lived in the first half of the 15th century and created the most detailed and accurate map of the world for his time. 
The Fra Mauro of this book lives in the sixteenth century and so is familiar with some of the men who sailed widely and discovered new lands and routes of the time. This book is written as a collection of meditations of that man, talking about the men who've visited him and the types of information that they've shared. Some of them have shared geographic information, but others share philosophical and spiritual experiences, causing him to also have deeper thoughts on these subjects. So this is also a novel of self-reflection. The introduction says that the author came across these writings when doing research on someone else, and was first distracted and then enraptured by these and translated them into English. But as you may note from the cover this is a novel, so there is uncertainty about what is real and what isn't, besides the change of when the narrator lived. 

Classic Spin #28: My Books

I'm participating in the Classic Spin again. 

It's site is here

I have to choose 20 classic books that I want to read and on October 17th, a number between 1 and 20 will be picked and that is the book that I will have to read by December 12th of this year.
Edited on October 18th to say that the spin was for #12, so I will be reading The Awakening by Kate Chopin.

Here are my books:

1. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Wolff
2. The Sound and the Fury by William Faulkner
3. Dracula by Bram Stoker
4. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
5. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
6. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
7. Kim by Rudyard Kipling
8. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
9. A Farewell to Arms by Ernest Hemingway
10. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
11. The Swiss Family Robinson by Johann David Wyss
12. The Awakening by Kate Chopin
13. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
14. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
15. Persuasion by Jane Austen
16. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang van Goethe
17. Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner
18. Roxana by Daniel Defoe
19. Howards End by E.M Forster
20. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West

Paris Echo

Finished October 14
Paris Echo by Sebastian Faulks

This novel is haunted by the past but set in present-day Paris. Hannah is an American graduate student, in Paris to do research on women living in occupied Paris for a paper she is writing. She is haunted by the memories of her earlier time in Paris when she fell in love and then had the relationship end. She is also haunted by the stories of the women whose stories she finds. Listening to the recorded voices of the women, collected by a small archive in the city, she finds some hopeful, some sad, and some full of anger. Early in her stay, she finds a young woman on the street, cold and tired. She takes her in, letting her stay in the small second bedroom in her rented apartment. The next day, she finds a young man Tariq has also arrived in her flat, a friend of the woman, and she soon agrees to let him stay there.
Tariq is nineteen and from Morocco. He has come to Paris partly to escape his life there, and partly to see the city that his mother, long dead, was from, and maybe learn about her. Tariq is an open young man, who quickly finds a job, and begins exploring the city. He takes on some of the stories that Hannah is researching and connects them to people he sees in the streets. He also learns more about French history and the people of this country, from many angles. 
Hannah has also reconnected with a professor from her earlier time, an Englishman named Julian and finds herself confiding in him and bouncing ideas off of him. He too finds himself drawn into her research, looking up information on that time in history, and making connections for her. 
As the characters grow closer to each other and learn more about the city, its past, and themselves, they also find new paths forward for themselves.
I really enjoy Faulks writing and this book is one I highly recommend.

The View from Penthouse B

Finished October 12
The View from Penthouse B by Elinor Lipman

This is an author I always enjoy reading. Here we have two sisters, Margot and Gwen-Laura, who have agreed to live together in the penthouse apartment that Margot owns. Margot, the oldest sister, is recovering from a very public end to her marriage, with her husband, a fertility doctor in jail for fraud after inseminating some of his clients with his own sperm, in some cases directly. She bought the apartment with some of the money from her divorce and invested the rest. Unfortunately, she invested it with Bernie Madoff, and now has little funds to get by on. Gwen-Laura, the middle sister, is still grieving the sudden loss of her husband, a public school music teacher. It's been almost two years, but she can't seem to move on. Their younger sister, Betsy, has suggested they join forces by living together. So far it is going well. 
When Margot encounters a younger man, also affected by the collapse of the market and invites him to move in, things get interesting. Anthony is handsome, interesting, and a baker of cupcakes and begins encouraging the two sisters in different ways. When Margot's paroled ex-husband moves into a smaller apartment in the same building, the situation grows more complex. 
The story is mostly told by Gwen-Laura, and the reader can see her beginning to take small steps forward as she reengages with life. From dating apps to new work ventures, the sisters and Anthony give each other encouragement and support. 
Lighthearted with touches of humour, this is a feel-good read.

Monday 11 October 2021

The Raven Tower

Finished October 10
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

This book is mostly narrated by a god, a god who embodies a large rock, and whose real name is not told to the reader until well into the story. It is a name that has been lost during the present time of the novel, and in fact the existence of the god itself is not well known at this point. Most of the narrative is directed towards a man that the god does not name either until well into the book, the man Eolo. Eolo is the right hand man of Mowat, another young man whose father has been the Lease of the Raven. The Lease lives in the Raven Tower in the Fortress in the town of Vastai, in the land of the Iraden. The Lease is committed to sacrifice his life to the Raven at the time it is necessary. When the old Raven dies, and an egg is chosen to hatch into the new Raven from the ones who live there, the Lease must also die and his Heir must become the new Lease. Until the Raven can speak again, tokens are used to communicate his words to the Lease and the other members of the Committee of Directions and the Mother of the Silent. The Mother of the Silent is the priest of the forest god, an ally of the Raven and one that protects the Iraden from external threats and internal sicknesses. 
Mowat has long known that he is the Heir of the Lease and understands the responsibilities that go with it. But he is also a leader of men and has been stationed far from home with the soldiers that protect the land. It is only as he has heard of his father's disappearance that he has rushed home, with Eolo by his side. 
Eolo is a farmer's son, but also a man of logic and reason, one who thinks about things and makes connections between actions. He sees the threats to the land of Iraden, and the people who live there. He sees the men who come from other lands, they say to make agreements and trade, but perhaps for reasons beneath the surface as well. Some of them have brought their own gods, some have brought resentments that are longstanding. Eolo must provide wise counsel, but he must also be listened to, and he must protect his own secrets. 
This is a fascinating read, with the tales of gods trying to protect those people who honour them, fighting amongst themselves, betraying each other, and lying silent for years until they can wield power again. 

Cat Nap

Finished October 9
Cat Nap by Claire Donally

This cozy mystery is set in the small Maine town of Kittery Harbor and its near neighbour and larger town Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Sunny Coolidge was a journalist in New York City when she returned to her hometown to help after her father suffered a serious health incident. Unable to get a job in her field, she is working for a local travel company, helping tourists book tours and stays in the area. She has recently adopted a cat, Shadow, who has had a life that hasn't been easy, with numerous homes that have led to a lack of trust in humans. Sunny and Shadow have been making headway with their relationship and have had the help of Jane Rigsdale, a local veterinarian who also grew up in Kittery Harbor, left and returned. 
The two are friends, but also rivals for the interest of local police officer Will Price. When Sunny and her father see Jane have a public altercation with a man, and later find out that it was Jane's ex-husband Martin, they don't realize that things will soon escalate. Martin has been asking Jane for money, and he soon approaches Sunny as well, so when Jane asks her to go with her as moral support when meeting Martin, Sunny agrees. But the two stumble into a crime scene, and Jane soon becomes the prime suspect. Sunny must do her own digging to find evidence to show that there are other people who might have more motive in the murder of Martin.
There are a few chapters that give the story from Shadow's viewpoint as he tries to overcome his trust issues to be closer to Sunny, but occasionally finds himself on the outs, literally, in the cold Maine winter. These sections felt very believable in terms of motivation and actions. 
As the possible perpetrator list grows, Sunny and Jane find themselves facing jealous women, upset pet owners, and even criminals. 
This is my first foray into this series, and I liked it.