Sunday, 21 February 2021

The Deadly Hours

Finished February 21
The Deadly Hours: An Anthology by Susanna Kearsley, C.S. Harris, Anna Lee Huber, and Christine Trent

This linked set of novellas has in common a pocket watch, one cursed from its origin in gold stolen from a church in Cartagena.
We first encounter the watch in 1733 along the Spanish coast when a fierce storm forces several ships to take shelter in a small coastal town. At the local inn, there are several players in international affairs. One has been sent to kill someone and others are on a mission to protect the same man. This first tale is by Susanna Kearsley and features her character Mary MacPherson along with her Jacobite husband Hugh. The watch is owned by Valcour, a pirate who took part in the acts in Cartagena. 
The second tale is set in the 1830s in Edinburgh and is told by Anna Lee Huber. It features her character Lady Darby and the watch seems to be linked with a number of deaths in the city, and is brought to Lady Darby's attention by a man who reappears several times in her life, the criminal leader Bonnie Brock Kincaid. She and her husband Gage track the rumours about the watch to try to save the city from the threat.
The third tale is set in London in the 1870s and is told by Christine Trent. This tale features her character the Victorian undertaker Violet Harper and her American photographer husband Samuel. Violet has been hired by a recently distinguished peer to gather his deceased relatives from wherever they are currently interred and bring them together in a new tomb. In one of the graves she opens, she finds a curious object, and it seems to bring trouble to the rich neighbourhood of her client.
The fourth and last tale is told by C.S. Harris and takes place in 1944 in a small town near Dover. The local leader of the Home Guard, and watch collector is found dead under suspicious circumstances and only one item seems to be missing from his home. When more victims are found, suspicion ranges to several foreigners living locally. The main characters here are a female historian and an MI5 agent.
I enjoyed the strong female characters in this book, and it was my first introduction to the characters in the stories. I also liked how the authors worked together to link the story of the watch over time. 

Midnight Cab

Finished February 18
Midnight Cab by James W. Nichol

This gripping mystery suspense novel has at its center a young man looking for his roots. Walker Devereux was found when he was three years old. He was holding on to a wire fence at the side of a country road in French River. His mother had told me to wait there for her, but she never returned.
Walker was adopted into a welcoming family and grew up loved. He's not looking for a new family, but he does wonder about his past. Now, in 1995, he is nineteen and he figures he can begin to look into any clues he has. At the agency who handled his adoption, he is given a photograph and a letter that were found in his pocket back then. They provide a couple of clues and he decided to go to Toronto to track them down.
In Toronto, he finds a small apartment to rent, and a job driving a taxi. He also finds himself attracted to the night dispatcher at the taxi company, Krista Papadopoulos, a woman a few years older than him, who uses either crutches or a wheelchair to get around. She begins to help him with his research.
Interspersed with Walker's story are short sections about a boy named Bobby. Bobby is bad news. He isn't right in the head, and he uses violence when his words fail him. He also has some kind of sexual issue that is never really clear, but that becomes part of a pattern for him. 
We know that Bobby's story will link up in some way with Walker's, but we don't know how. As the two plotlines slowly come together, the plot takes us from Toronto to Fort Erie, to French River, and to Jamaica. Walker is a smart guy and he trusts his instinct, but sometimes it gets him into trouble. There is menace here, following him and showing itself through acts of violence and destruction. 
I found the story gripping, wanting to know what Walker wanted to know, and wanting Bobby to get caught and stopped. 

Saturday, 20 February 2021

Tell Me Everything

Finished February 17 
Tell Me Everything by Cambria Brockman

This novel has three timelines. One of them is the narrator, Malin's freshman year at college. Another is her senior year at college. The third one is several years earlier, when she's a child at home in Texas with her family. 
Malin is going to college far from home, at Hawthorne College in small town Maine. She's requested a single room, and she doesn't have a friend network back home. In a way, she is looking to remake herself. On her first day, at an orientation session, she is befriended by an English girl Gemma, a theatre major, and brought into a group of friends that includes Gemma's roommate, Ruby, an art history major and soccer player. Gemma is extremely outgoing, but needing a lot of validation. Ruby also seems to have something in her past that she's hiding. 
The group also includes three guys: John, the son of an investment banker, but estranged from his father, who seems calculating and manipulative; Max, John's cousin, a pre-med student, close to his family and a guy who is watchful and caring; and Khalid, a prince from Abu Dhabi who is a bit of a playboy, but friendly and approachable. 
In freshman year, they're all finding their feet, tentatively choosing friends and setting themselves up for the next few years at college. By senior year, the six are living in a house owned by Khalid's family, and although they are all in different disciplines (Malin is in pre-law), they are also getting ready for life beyond college. Malin is also a watchful person, and she has concerns about both Gemma and John, and knows things about other people that they either don't realize that she knows, or that they've told her in confidence. 
Back in the earliest timeline in Texas, we see how Malin's parents are concerned about her older brother Levi, who seems to be exhibiting some dangerous behaviours. This timeline only emerges occasionally, and often with jumps of years, so we only see a few specific, yet important moments. 
It is only toward the end of the book that we see the full extent of Malin's story and what brought her to leave Texas and look for a fresh start. 
This is a book that has disturbing moments, and others that are quite prosaic as the plot slowly gets revealed. You know some crisis is coming, but it approaches very slowly. 

Friday, 19 February 2021

Rules for Visiting

Finished February 16 
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Francis Kane

This novel intrigued me from the descriptions and I borrowed it from my local library. The narrator of the story is May Attaway, a forty-something landscaper who lives with her father in the house she grew up in and works as a university gardener at the local university there in Anneville, PA. Some time ago, she ordered a cutting from the Fortingall Yew, a famous tree in Scotland that is believed to be at least three thousand years old. The UK Forestry Commission had announced the plan to offer cuttings, and she jumped at it. More recently someone has written a poem about the yew that grew from the cutting she took, and the poem won an award. The university has decided to give her some extra time off in honour of this and she has decided to use some of that time to visit friends. Two of the friends she decides to visit are from high school and two are from college.
The first friend lives in Connecticut and she flies to see her. Lindy is married and has three daughters, and May spends a few days with her and her family. The second friend is Vanessa, who is also married with one child. Vanessa has been married only a couple of years, but has two young stepsons. 
The third friend is Neera who lives in New York City and and has one child. May discovers when she gets there that Neera is in the early stages of ending her marriage. The situation is more awkward because May introduced her to her husband Adam.
The last friend is Rose, and Rose is also a landscape architect. May had not entered this program directly from college, so she is a few years older than Rose. Rose lives in London England and has a job creating attractive vegetable gardens for her clients. Personally, I found this visit the most interesting, and the friendship the most sharing, perhaps because Rose isn't married either.
From each visit, May takes something from her friends' homes, that represents something for her. I found this intriguing. Also, for the last three years, her father, who is in his eighties, has been leaving her copies of information on trees, for consideration as a memorial after he has died. The ones that he leaves for her during the novel's timeline are included her at the beginning of chapters, along with her thoughts on each.
We also gradually see how May's life has got to where it is. We find out what happened to her mother, and see her relationship with her father in its complexity. May's journeys also bring her out of her routine, and get her trying different things. She engages more with her neighbours and coworkers, takes the first step towards a possible romantic relationship, and more fully engages in life. 
One of the things May travels with is an older edition of Emily Post, and she tries to follow the Rules for Visiting enclosed therein. These rules are included near the end of the novel. 
I really enjoyed this book, for its thoughts on friendship, for its quirkiness and for its character May.


Finished February 14 
Breathless: An American Girl in Paris by Nancy K. Miller

This memoir is by a professor of women's studies looking back on her early adult years as she tried to follow a dream inspired by movies set in Paris. For her, this time was a time of experimentation, of rebellion against her parents' expectations, and a time of trying to figure her life out.
She began relationships with men, sometimes inappropriate ones. She taught and went to school, she wrote and read, she listened to music and learned about food. She explored her sexuality and tried to figure out what she wanted in a partner.
Not all her choices were good ones, but she threw herself into these things she tried, and made an attempt to look at them objectively. 
The time is the late 60s and early 70s, and she was not alone in her explorations. She met, became friends with, and had relationships with other expat Americans, some of whom she kept in touch with for years. She lived in a variety of housing situations, and visited other European places on occasion.
She is half a generation older than me, and some things she did I can't relate to at all, especially as we have quite different backgrounds. 
She grew up in a secular Jewish family who had a reputation to uphold, and friends in Paris. This gave her access to the life of real Parisians, but she also spent a lot of time with other students her own age, both Jewish and otherwise. 
It was an interesting read.

Thursday, 18 February 2021

The Lost Love Song

Finished February 13
The Lost Love Song by Minnie Darke

This book has a lot going on, with a couple of main characters, and several minor characters that move the plot along. Most of the book takes place in Australia, but there are important elements in England, Canada, and the United States. The book opens in Melbourne with the beginning of a relationship. Diana, a young but already famous concert pianist initiates a relationship with a tech nerd Arie. The plot quickly jumps ahead several years, where these two have a spark that has lasted and they've bought a home together and Arie has a successful web design company with his best friend Richard. Diana is about to leave on another worldwide tour, and Aria tries to pin Diana down on setting a date to marry. They've been engaged for years, but something always seems to keep them from making that final commitment. Diana expresses herself through music and she starts a new song to try to find her own answer to this question. After a performance in Singapore, she sits down in her hotel and continues her exploration. The next morning she gets on a flight to France, one that never arrives.
Arie is heartbroken, as is Diana's mother. And so many other people that lose someone in this tragedy. But someone else in the hotel heard that song Diana was working on, and the song has its own storyline now, moving around the world from one musician to another. It brings other relationships to new levels, and is a positive influence everywhere it spreads. 
Meanwhile in England, Australian Evie is on a multiyear trip away, trying different things, exploring different places, and mostly working to pay for rent and food. She also writes poems, but has never tried to publish them until she is inspired by a contest. She takes her poetry notebooks along with her, and they are beginning to be a major part of her luggage. When she finally makes the decision to return home to Australia, she makes her first task to reclaim her car, stuffed with all her worldly possessions and reevaluate what is important among them before choosing her next adventure. She's tired of the life she's been living overseas and longs for a more meaningful life with someone by her side that truly cares for her. 
This is a romance, but it is also a bigger novel than that. It is definitely a feel good book despite its early tragedy. I was easily caught up in the characters' lives, caring about what happened to each of them. 

Sunday, 14 February 2021

The Secret Life of Violet Grant

Finished February 12
The Secret Life of Violet Grant by Beatriz Williams

This is part of a trilogy with each book focusing on a different sister in the Schuyler family. I've read them in reverse order, but that didn't really pose an issue. 
This book is about Vivian Schuyler, a young woman newly graduated from college (Bryn Mawr) and with a job as a fact checker at a New York magazine called The Metropolitan. The year is 1964, and as the book opens Vivian has a notice of a parcel to pickup, and only a few minutes before the post office closes for the weekend. At the post office she meets a young surgical intern, who not only helps her maneuver the bureaucracy, but also helps her by carrying the large parcel to her apartment. 
The parcel has been forwarded and was originally addressed to a Violet Schuyler at her parents' address. It contains a large locked suitcase belonging to said Violet. Vivian has never heard of a Violet in her family and begins digging into the past. The contents of the suitcase provide some interesting clues, and one of her aunts proves to be helpful, as does an older cousin.
She soon finds that Violet was her father's sister, a bit of a rebel, who went off to London to work as a scientist in 1911. She apparently married the professor in charge of the lab that she worked for, and followed him to a new position in Berlin. At the beginning of the First World War, her husband was found murdered, and she had disappeared, presumably the perpetrator. 
As Vivian uses all her wiles and contacts to find out more about her aunt, she also must deal with an increasingly complex romantic entanglement with the young doctor.
Vivian is quite the character, an intelligent and beautiful young woman with a charming manner that she knows how to use to her best advantage. 
We also see Violet's story, a young intelligent beautiful woman as well, but unaware of her charms, and quite naive. She is easily taken advantage of by her supervising professor, and drawn into a marriage that it a sham of convenience for her husband and of limited advantage to her. She concentrates on her science, and is brought into the world of other prominent European scientists, Max Planck, Albert Einstein, and Lise Meitner. With this group, she finds support and intellectual stimulation as well as a social circle that she feels comfortable in. 
I found both storylines quite interesting, and Vivian quite a charismatic and entertaining character. She is a dogged researcher, following every clue she has. I could hardly put the book down, it captured me so completely.


Finished February 10
Uncharted: A Couple's Epic Empty-Nest Adventure Sailing From One Life to Another by Kim Brown Seely

This memoir is told by a woman in her forties. In 2009, her husband convinced her that they should buy a sailboat that had been repossessed by a bank and was therefore a pretty good deal. They's talked about buying a sailboat, but this 54 foot Moody needed work and was in Rhode Island while they lived in Seattle, and thus would need to be moved across the country. They bought it and her husband Jeff, who had some sailing experience in his youth worked to get Kim and their two tween and teen sons competent sailors. While this book is about one specific sailing trip they took when their youngest left for college, it is also about the experience of having one's children move into adulthood by leaving, and about the way the relationship between a couple changes over time.
Partway through this particular trip, the couple's sons join them for a week, flying in to meet them by float plane. The whole family then docks the boat, locks it up and goes back home, with their older son heading back to his internship in San Francisco, and the couple flying east with their youngest to take him to college in northern New York State. 
There were definitely things that were foreign to me, besides sailing. I can't imagine my parents escorting me to university, or there being so much crying about me setting off on my own adult adventure, but maybe mine hid it well. I found the sailing well described, so that even a complete novice like me could understand, but not full of technical stuff that would bore the reader. 
It was the trip that fascinated me, leaving Seattle, and soon sailing into Canada, along the edge of Vancouver Island and the mainland, and up the Inside Passage to the Great Bear Rainforest. 
There are four pages of maps in the front of the book that show their journey, and they are better marked than other such books that I've read in terms of naming waterways and islands, but there were still a few that were named in the text, but not indicated on the maps. This is a pet peeve of mine. 
The journey was full of wonder at the nature and people that they encountered, and Seely really gave a sense of the feeling and ambience of the days. 
Also fun was that there was a lot of references to music, as they used an iPod for background, company, and mood. 
Seely is an award-winning journalist and the quality of the writing here shows that. I really enjoyed this book, and its setting was of great interest to me. 

Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Twenty-One Wishes

Finished February 9 
Twenty-One Wishes by Debbie Macomber

This volume is actually two books, the novel Twenty Wishes, and the novella The Twenty-First Wish. At the center of Twenty Wishes is Anne-Marie Roche, the owner of Blossom Street Books, in Seattle. Twenty Wishes is the fifth book in the series set on Blossom Street. The Twenty-First Wish is number 5.5 in the series but I found that the actions here came after those of the sixth book, Summer on Blossom Street, which I read a while ago. 
Anne-Marie is still recovering from the loss of her husband a year earlier. They had been estranged due to Anne-Marie's desire to have a child, something she'd agreed not to have when they married, but then had a change of mind about. They were starting to reconcile when her husband died suddenly. She has formed a small group with three other women who are widows. Elise has recently reconnected with her husband Maverick, only for him to be diagnosed with cancer. Lillie and Barbie are a mother and daughter who both lost their husbands when their plane went down on a business trip. Barbie was very close to her husband, and she and their college-age twin sons are finally beginning to move forward. Lillie didn't have a great marriage, but she pretended not to be aware of her husband's infidelity. On their Valentines Day get-together, the women decide to make lists of twenty wishes that they have for themselves, not necessarily with a definite plan, but as a way to move forward. 
We see them slowly develop these wishes, and each move forward in different ways. The story concentrates most on Anne-Marie, with Lillie and Barbie also having a fair bit of plot line. Elise is a more minor character here. 
The Twenty-First Wish is a development based on some of Anne-Marie's results to her wishes, and is definitely her story. 
I always enjoy the light romance, with some life decisions happening in Macomber's novels. And there is knitting involved again as a part of the plot, but no knitting patterns are included here. 

Sunday, 7 February 2021

Improper Cross-Stitch

Finished February 6 
Improper Cross-Stitch: 35+ Properly Naughty Patterns by Haley Pierson-Cox

This fun cross-stitch design book is one I had meant to look at for some time. I had at one time had temporary access to an ebook, but it was just a sample and so I put it aside until I could get hold of the actual book. All the projects in here are small ones, and most could be done in a weekend.
The introduction gives some insight into the reason for the book and how it came to be that I found interesting. Then, the first two sections are preparation for beginners. One describes the tools used in doing crossstitch and the other gives the basics of the craft. Less useful to me as I've been doing it for quite a while, but both very well done with good pictures.
The designs are categorized into three sections: Hipster Snark; Ironically Domestic; and Talk Nerdy to Me. As you can tell from these topics, there's a lot of fun going on here. Hipster Snark includes ten patterns, with my favourite one being "Sweet Campfire Dreams", although I really liked the negative text "Nope" too. Ironically Domestic includes twelve patterns, and here my favourites are "I'll Cut You" and "Armed and Creative". Talk Nerdy to Me has ten patterns, and I really liked the "Princess Not in Need of Rescue" and "Grammar Police".
Because these patterns have a text element to them, the book also includes three complete alphabets for you to customize and even create your own designs. They are a sans-serif alphabet, a script alphabet, and a line alphabet. 
There is a section on finishing and framing that gives tips for those who want to do this final part themselves. And of course, along with that idea of DIY, there is a section on designing your own custom patterns with some good advice for creating your own simple designs.
This book is actually a lot better than I thought it might be, with only a few having profanity, and a lot of sly humour. The designs are fun and with the additional advising chapters, easy to customize for your own preferences. 

Once Upon a River

Finished February 5
Once Upon a River by Diane Setterfield

This is a lovely story with some elements of fantasy. It takes place along a river that is both the Thames River in England and not. There are several characters and several storylines that come together.
As the story begins it is Midwinter and in the village of Radcot was an inn called The Swan. Every inn has its specialty and this one was known for its storytelling. The landlady of the inn was Margot Ockwell and the inn had been run by the women of her family for generations. Her married name was Margot Bliss, but the inn always used the old name to keep the tradition. Margot was married to a man who was a storyteller, and who had come to the inn one night from further up the river. His name was Joe. They had numerous daughters, all married and left home and a son Jonathan, who was still not grown and would always live at the inn, being a bit slow and delicate.
On this midwinter night, a figure with a monstrous looking face stumbled in carrying what appeared to be a large doll. They came around him as he dropped and realized that his face was injured and they sent someone for Rita Sunday, the midwife and healer that lived nearby. It was only after some time that they realized the thing they thought was a doll was a young girl, and that she seemed to be dead. 
They laid her carefully in the other room and Rita arrived and did her work on the man, checking him for other injuries and mending him as best she could. There were certain signs on his body that she announced indicated that he was a photographer. A card in his pocket confirmed this. Rita then went to look at the child and while she agreed that the child was dead, something kept her by her side, and then suddenly, the child was no longer dead. At this seeming miracle, she took the child in to the main room of the inn to warm. Shortly thereafter the inn closed for the night and Rita stayed to look after the two patients. 
As word spread of this event through those that had been there, Rita continued to puzzle over the situation, something she would do for many months going forward. 
There were two families that heard of the child that had been found. The Vaughans, who lived in a nearby manor house and were wealthy had their two year old daughter kidnapped two years before, and she would now be about the same age as this child. Mrs. Vaughan has been heartbroken, aching for her child and not engaging with anyone as she had before. As soon as she hears, she rushes to the inn and claims the child upon sight. 
The Armstrongs are a large farming family with an interesting history. Mr Armstrong is a black man who was supported in starting his life as an adult by his own white father. Mrs. Armstrong is a woman with a unique talent for seeing people as they truly are. Their oldest son has been a trial and they recently learned that he was a father and it would seem that this child could be his daughter. 
Another woman Lily also swears that she knows the child, as her younger sister Anne. But the woman has issues and doesn't seem to understand the impossibility of her claim, and she appears to have no desire to take the child herself. 
As the recovered photographer, Henry Daunt, and Rita join forces to look into the matter further and the story continues with interesting sidenotes over the next several months.
As this story developed, and we could see into the feelings of many of the characters, I began to care about their individual lives and stories, wanting things to work out for each one. It was all related to the storytelling in some ways too, as this story is itself. It felt like the kind of tale you'd hear around the fire in past days.
I liked the way that things converged and appreciated the epilogue that took us into the future a ways to see what happened in the near term to the various people. 
A great read.


Finished February 4
Snow by John Banville

This is the first book in a series, that is also related to another series by the author that he published under the pseudonym Benjamin Black. Here, the main character is a detective inspector with the Garda, the Irish police, and the time is late in 1957. The book begins just a few days before Christmas.
At the manor house Ballyglass, near the village of , in the county of Wexford, a priest is murdered one night. His is discovered by the woman of the house who often wanders in the night, and with the local officer under the weather, DI John Strafford is called in. Like the house owners, Strafford is Protestant, but the priest is Catholic as are most of the people who live in the area. 
The woman of the house, the second wife of the owner, Mr. Osborne is unreliable and often medicated. Osborne and his two teenage children all claim to be sound sleepers who heard nothing. The staff in the house live out, and there seems to be no forced entry. As Strafford delves in the lives of these people, and into the past of the priest, he must also look at his own life and his lack of direction, as well as deal with the power of the church, which is strong in this country. The church, it's history of coverups and abuse have a major role in this story, as they do in reality in many stories. 
The weather plays a role in the book as well, as one can guess from the title. Strafford is woefully unprepared, having only shoes and a thin coat, and he is often borrowing pieces of clothing, offered or not to venture out into the snowy landscape. The weather also affects the actions of others, from the priest staying over at the Osborne's due to the weather, to the delay in assistance arriving.
There are interesting elements of sexuality that also come up several times in the book. 
As always Banville's writing is wonderful, and this story develops slowly, with a few red herrings thrown in for the reader to consider, and a few clues that seem to lie dormant before being followed.
Strafford is an interesting character, who seems to have trouble focusing, and doesn't seem to take notes during his interviews and so loses track of what he knows. It will be interesting to see how he develops in future books.

Nowhere Is a Place

Finished February 2 
Nowhere Is a Place by Bernice L. McFadden

This is a book about a journey. There is a journey in a physical sense as the two main characters, Sherry and her mother Dumpling drive from her mother's home to a family reunion several states away. There is a journey into the past as Dumpling tells the story of their family and Sherry enlarges on that story, bringing it to life with new details and depth. And there is a journey of the relationship between these two women, who hadn't been close in a long time, perhaps not since Sherry was a young child, and how the story of the past laid bare the incident that came between them and gave new closeness to them, even more than Dumpling has with her other children.
This story goes back into the 19th century, with Dumpling's great grandmother, a young indigenous girl abducted from her home, separated from her siblings, and sold into slavery. We see how she gradually came to terms with her new reality, and started a family, with many losses along the way. And we follow one of her daughter's who becomes Dumpling's grandmother and starts again after the Civil War, and how her family also has loss and trouble. And then we see how Dumpling also has had to deal with issues outside of her control. And Sherry is the one bringing all these stories to life, as she also drives her mother across the country and along the way visits with a variety of people from her own past, people that helped make her the woman she is today. 
This is a book about telling our stories, even the difficult ones. And how doing that allows us to move forward into happiness and a more hopeful future. 

The Other Me

Finished January 31
The Other Me by Saskia Sarginson

This book has three timelines in it. One follows two German brothers as Nazi power is on the rise and they get enveloped into the German army, one more enthusiastically than the other.
Another timeline follows Klaudia in the mid-1980s as she struggles to keep her home and school life separate. Her father is strict and very religious and doesn't say much about his German background. Her parents met in Wales when her dad was a POW there and her mom a teenager. There is no contact with her mother's side of the family. Klaudia and her mother are close and her mother encourages her to practice her passion, dancing, even though they can't afford lessons and her father would never permit it anyway. Her father has had various low level jobs and currently works as a custodian at her school, something that would impact how Klaudia was treated by other students if it became common knowledge. 
The third timeline is the mid 1990s. Klaudia has gone away to university and reinvented herself. She has dropped out of the university her parents think she is still going to, uses a different name, Eliza, with everyone she knows and is taking dance lessons. She has even gained a boyfriend. But when a family emergency brings her home again, she doesn't know if she can tell her friends the truth, and when she learns more about her parents' past, it seems there are more secrets for her to keep. 
This was an interesting story, driven by the author's own recent revelations about her past, making her wonder "what if". I liked Klaudia/Eliza and her mother and the one brother of the two German men. But the other one inspired more complex emotions in me. I both didn't like him, and sympathized with him. 

Tuesday, 2 February 2021

February Reviews for the 14th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Use the link below to add reviews that you read during February 2021 for the 14th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge. 

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Madame Bovary

Finished January 28
Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, translated by Mildred Marmur, foreword by Mary McCarthy

I read this as the choice for the Classic Spin #25 that was due to be completed on January 30th. The back cover of my copy describes it as "possibly the most beautifully written book ever composed...a book that invites superlatives...the most important novel of the century." I cannot agree. It was not an easy read, and I found that none of the characters were ones that I could like. I think there are other novels of the 19th century that I enjoyed more than this one. Any Jane Austen would be preferable to me.
I did enjoy Mary McCarthy's foreword, and it gave me some useful context for the read.
It was an interesting study though. Emma Bovary is definitely a narcissist. She really has no empathy for anyone else, not even her child, and doesn't care what the effects of her behaviour on others are. She wants what she wants and she feels she deserves it. 
Charles is weak in character and not very bright. His mother is aware of his failings and tries to organize his life as best she can, but once his first wife dies, and he has already met Emma, he is beyond that control. He falls for Emma and never questions her fidelity, even when everyone around them knows of her affairs. He trusts her with his money and never questions her on her purchases. He moves house and practice for her so she has a better atmosphere to live in, a new start, after she becomes depressed with her lot in life after an invitation where she experiences a livelier social life and more luxurious surroundings. He gives in to the pressure of her and the pharmacist Homais who want to be associated with a successful experimental surgery, never considering the patient's real wishes, or his own abilities. 
Emma falls easily for the flattery of her lovers, particularly her first one, who is experiences at this sort of thing. And she falls for the promises of the moneylenders, who know what they are doing, and try to hide their connection to the public result, but delight in their profits. She digs herself deeper again and again, and sinks to considering criminal acts to cover for herself. 
Even after Charles finds proof of her disloyalty and must deal with the financial implications, his feelings for her do not change, and their child suffers the most. 
I'm glad I've read it, but for me it is not a book I will reread.

Monday, 25 January 2021

The Push

Finished January 22
The Push by Ashley Audrain

This tense psychological thriller is set mostly around Blythe a young woman, who falls in love, marries, and has children. But it jumps back into the experiences of other women in her family at certain points, and into her own childhood. Besides her own earlier life experiences, we see her mother Cecilia and her grandmother Etta. 
Beginning with Etta, who had a difficult childhood and felt like an outsider, we see a pattern with her daughter Cecilia, who felt unloved, yet tried to connect with her mother, until she couldn't anymore, and tried to find a better life for herself. And Blythe herself tried to connect with her mother, but when she couldn't found a substitute mother figure to connect with.
Blythe isn't sure about her own ability to be a good mother. Her husband Fox reassures her and pushes her on the issue, and she has a baby girl, Violet. But Blythe doesn't feel a connection to her daughter at first, and finds the lack of sleep, the lack of understanding from Fox, and her own daughter's personality all contribute to this. Her second child, Sam, is a completely different story, and she connects with him instantly and continues to as he grows. She worries about the discrepancy between the children, but Violet seems to cherish Sam as well, and she hopes that life will improve for the family. 
One thing I found interesting was the men in this book. They were largely absent emotionally for Blythe and her mother and grandmother. The women in the previous generations had strong personalities and the men seemed to focus on them rather than their daughters. For Blythe it is different. Once Violet is born, she is Fox's focus and Blythe's concerns and feelings are dismissed and ignored. So Blythe has been failed twice by the men in her life. 
Even when things are dark, Blythe doubts herself and tries to make some type of connection to her daughter, but once Sam exists, we can see that her joy is from him. She has a good relationship with her mother-in-law and has confided in her to some extent, but holds back as Blythe expects that if sides have to be chosen, she will not be. 
Things escalate slowly, pull back, and escalate again, with the suspense growing as the plot moves forward. I found the one friend connection that Blythe made interesting and how it still had a shadow that existed even when it stopped being what it was. 
An amazing read!

The Dream Daughter

Finished January 20
The Dream Daughter by Diane Chamberlain

This book grabbed me right away with its premise. The book opens in 1965, when Caroline (Carly) Grant is just starting her career as a physical therapist. Her supervisor is debating assigning a new patient with a broken ankle to her, but is concerned about his mental state. Her decision is preempted when the young man, Hunter Poole, sees her across the room and calls out, asking for her to work with him. The two get along well, and share some interests. She's intrigued by his ability to know songs that have just been released. But Carly knows that he and her sister would have more in common.
The story then jumps forward five years. Carly married her childhood sweetheart Joe Sears, and moved with him to North Carolina as he enlisted in the military. But he was recently sent to Vietnam and was killed there. Carly is pregnant, and is getting her baby tested as there seem to be some issues. She is staying with her sister Patti, and her brother-in-law Hunter and their young son. 
When Carly's baby turns out to have a heart defect that will prove fatal after birth, Hunter reveals his secret to her. He has time traveled from the future, and he can send her into the future to get an operation that may save her child's life. Carly doesn't believe him, until he predicts some events that happen. And she remembers other things that have illustrated future knowledge over the years. And she determines to go into that future and try to save her baby's life. 
Carly is a strong woman, one who's taken on a career in her own time, and one who can think on her feet. She will need all of these attributes as she jumps to April 2001 and connects with Hunter's mother to get the help she needs to survive in that time and the paperwork she will need to get her medical assistance. 
As we see Carly face choice after choice, connect to the various people she meets from Hunter and his mother, to the hospital staff, the staff at the residence she stays at, and others, we see her caring nature, as well as her confidence in her own abilities grow. 
There were times that I wanted to put the book down as I was wary of the way the plot was heading, and times when I felt for Carly in her situation. This is a story of hope, of faith, of strength, and one that I thoroughly enjoyed. 

Thursday, 21 January 2021

12 Days of Book-Club-Mas

Finished January 17
12 Days of Book-Club-Mas by Once Upon a Book Club

I bought this special edition crate just to see what it was like, and was quite pleased with the experience, although due to all the postal issues in the United States, where it came from, and the volume here in Canada, I didn't get it until well into the New Year. I did limit myself to one story a day, with the associated gift for that story. 
Each story has a prompt in it somewhere, usually but not always near the end, for you to open a marked gift. Four of the gifts were books, which was nice. The other gifts related to the story, but some of the prompts definitely felt a bit awkward and contrived. I get that they had picked the gifts and then got the writers to make it work, and it definitely felt that way. In the monthly kits, the book already exists and gifts are chosen from the storyline that already exists, so no contriving is needed.
Some of the stories flowed nicely and were ones I enjoyed and had characters that I would read more about, others were either not appealing to me in plot or just didn't flow as well. Because this book of stories is used for both an Adult and a YA version of the box, many of the stories were YA oriented. 
Stories here are:
* Finding La Sabranenque by Margie Senechal (Contemporary fiction genre)
* Ways without End by T.M.Sigal (Fantasy genre)
* Somewhere by Selisa Laeza (YA Contemporary fiction genre with Spotify musical links embedded)
* An Adventure through Literature by Lagan Ashley (Fantasy genre)
* Lumi Blanche by Tia Arian (YA Fantasy genre)
* Before It Snows by Jenny L.Smith (YA Contemporary fiction genre)
* Share Your Joy by Abi Steer (Contemporary fiction genre)
* Little Treasures by Juliet Madison (Contemporary fiction genre)
* Memories at Maple Grove Inn by Kristine Eckart (Contemporary fiction genre)
* Love Overdue by Wendy Waltrip (YA Romance genre)
* The Right Path by Krista Holly (Contemporary Romance genre)
* The Promise by Hazel Prior (Contemporary fiction genre)
The final story is my favourite in the book and it was interesting to read these authors, none of whom I'd heard of before. Brief biographies of the authors are included at the end of the book.

Wednesday, 20 January 2021

Novelist Reading Challenge 2021

I've long been a fan of the Novelist database and was excited when I found out they are having their first reading challenge this year. It's a great way to expose people to the ways they can use the database to find books, and I'm always up for a new challenge.

Novelist Reading Challenge They even make a nice checklist you can download.

If your local library doesn't have Novelist as a resource, check to see if another one that serves you does. Luckily for me, my local library does. 

Book Challenge Beginners  

  • Read an own voices memoir. (Tip: search for AP own voices AND GN autobiographies and memoirs to find titles) 
  • Read a novel with an unreliable narrator.  
  • Read a book described as being gritty, atmospheric, or having a strong sense of place.  
  • Read a historical novel that takes place anytime except during World War II.  
  • Read a romantic comedy by a BIPOC author.  
  • Read a book recommended by a NoveList staff member.  (Tip: Browse through our NoveList Staff Faves Recommended Reads list) 
  • Read a book recommended for fans of a TV show you like.  
  • Read a book that features a global pandemic.  
  • Read a book recommended by someone who works at your local library.  
  •  Read a book described as feel-good, heartwarming, or hopeful.  
  •  Read a graphic novel with minimally colored illustrations.  
  •  Listen to an audiobook featuring multiple narrators.  

Book Challenge Afficionados

  •  Read a locked room mystery.  
  •  Read an epistolary novel.  
  •  Read a short story collection written by a woman.  
  •  Read a speculative novel with the theme “Vengeance is mine.”  
  •  Read a novel by a trans author.  (Tip: Search AG transgender
  •  Read a book with an unconventional or nonlinear storyline.  
  •  Read a book selected as a best of 2020 title by NoveList staff.  
  •  Read a book that is an adaptation, retelling, or spin-off of a classic.  
  •  Read a nonfiction book about antiracism.  
  •  Read a book about celebrating identity. (Tip: Search TH celebrating identity
  •  Read a book starring a main character with a disability.  
  •  Read a book that has been or will be made into a movie.  

I plan to do all 24 of these.

Monday, 18 January 2021

Starvation Lake

Finished January 16
Starvation Lake by Bryan Cruley

This debut novel from a WSJ journalist is engrossing. The main character, Gus Carpenter is also a journalist. He'd been working in Detroit on a story exposing a car manufacturer and hoping to be nominated for a Pulitzer when he got pushed to do something he didn't want to do. He lost his job and retreated to his hometown, where he went to work for the town paper, hired by the same guy he started his career in journalism with. He's now in charge there, but on probation, so he's still careful about the stories he includes. It's a small staff, him and Joanie, another reporter, and a receptionist who puts her hand in when needed. The other reporter is young and ambitious, and Tillie, the receptionist is a former starlet who also returned to her hometown. 
Gus plays hockey with most of the same guys he played with as a kid, and lives in a small apartment above the newspaper offices. Gus's dad died of cancer when he was a kid, and his mom still lives in town and he sees her regularly. She is very active in the community. Shortly after high school, when Gus had left town, his hockey coach, Blackburn disappeared into a nearby lake while snowmobiling with a buddy. His body and machine weren't found, but the lake wasn't dredged at the time, the lake bottom is very soft, and there have long been rumours about tunnels between lakes. 
So when an old snowmobile surfaces in Starvation Lake, questions begin to arise about what happened ten years ago, and Joanie starts digging into the past. But there seem to be quite a few people who don't want the past brought to light, including Gus's own mom, and he begins to reflect on his own memories and what they mean. 
The situation in Detroit is also coming to a head, with potentially bad outcomes for Gus if he doesn't give in to the pressure from his old paper. 
I liked Gus, and Joanie, and felt compassion for some of the other characters, including Gus's old girlfriend who is now on the police force in Starvation Lake. I also liked to various layers of the plot and how they came together in intriguing ways. 
There are a couple of other books in this series that I may have to hunt out.

The Usual Santas

Finished January 16 
The Usual Santas: a Collection of Soho Crime Christmas Capers foreword by Peter Lovesey

This collection of 18 short stories is arranged into three sections. The foreword by Peter Lovesey talks about the real crime statistics around Christmas and about Soho Press's focus on international crime fiction, and how the combination brought submissions from many authors, resulting in choices which include setting on four continents.
The first section is Joy to the World and includes six stories around the theme of acts of kindness at Christmas. The stories here are by Helene Tursten, Mick Herron, Martin Limón, Timothy Hallinan, Teresa Dovalpage, and Mette Ivie Harrison. 
The second section is Silent Night and its six stories are focused on the darkest of holiday noir. Authors here are Colin Cotterill, Ed Lin, Tod Goldberg, Henry Chang, and James R. Benn.
The third section is I Saw Mommy Kissing Santa Claus, and includes tales of holiday secrets. Contributions here come from the writing pair Lene Kaaberbøl and Agnete Friis, Sujata Massey, Gary Corby, Cara Black, Stephanie Barron, and Peter Lovesey.
I like these anthologies as they are a great way to get a taste of authors you haven't tried before. For me, that was the majority of the authors here, and I found a few that definitely intrigued me. 

The Dog Who Saved Me

Finished January 16 
The Dog Who Saved Me by Susan Wilson

The main character here, Cooper Harrison, is a man still caught up in his recent loss and the feelings he has around that. Cooper was an officer in the K-9 unit of the Boston Police and he had a very special relationship with his partner dog Argo. But in an encounter on duty, Argo was killed, and Cooper was left with what he hopes is a temporary hearing impairment. It hit him hard and his marriage didn't survive it either. Cooper has retreated to his hometown, a small town named Harmony Farms near Boston. He has taken a job as an Animal Control Officer there, working in a small office with one other officer. He is staying in a cabin that he is looking after as part of his rental agreement. But coming back to his hometown isn't easy as there are a lot of memories there and not all of them are good ones. Cooper grew up with an alcoholic father, a man damaged by his own experiences, and lost his mother while he was still a child. His older brother Jimmy bullied him, and grew up to be a man often on the wrong side of the law. 
Now, Cooper's father Bull is a recovering alcoholic, working in the local lumberyard and using his bicycle to get around. He's love to renew his relationship with his son, but Cooper isn't looking for that at all. Jimmy is recently out of jail, and temporarily living with Bull in their childhood home, but he isn't necessarily on the straight and narrow. Cooper's cop instincts sense that and he worries about that and about whether Bull is being taken advantage of. 
But what about the dog? Ah, yes, the dog is a dog that's been injured and left in the woods scared and in pain. The dog is wary of humans, not sure whether he can trust people, and also physically impaired through his injury. When Cooper becomes aware of him, he is determined to find the dog, bring him in and help him. This isn't an easy task, and Cooper is bringing his own baggage to this task. Through his work, he's also come into contact with a woman Natalie who has also started a new life. She is running a horse rescue operation after leaving a city life behind, one with its own losses. 
Lots going on in this book, and it took me a while to get into it, but we really see into Cooper and the things that drive him, and the things that have brought him to where he is, many of them from his childhood. And we see how other in the story are also trying to start over, to be better, to move forward with their lives. A good read.

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Her Aussie Holiday

Finished January 13
Her Aussie Holiday by Stefanie London

This light romance hit the spot this week for me.  The author is originally from Australia, but now lives here in Canada. 
Cora Cabot was only too happy to offer her New York City apartment as a trade when her friend Liv from small town Australia contacted her for advice on finding a place for a month while she did an intern. Cora has been working on a novel, but recently her literary agent father's feedback set her back a bit. She wants to concentrate on writing, enjoy the balmy weather and the nearby beaches, and not have to think about her work. She works as an office manager at her father's agency, doing a variety of administrative tasks, but not really enjoying her work. Now that her narcissistic and media hungry mother and her high profile father are having a very public divorce, and coming off a recent relationship of her own, she relishes some time to distance herself from her real life. 
Liv's house is one that she bought cheaply because of the work that it needed. She has started on the upgrades, with the help of her family, including her two brothers that work in the construction field, but things are still a little rough in spots. 
When Cora, bleary from her long travel to get there, decides to wash off the grime of travel, she doesn't look around to see that some work is in progress. 
Liv's brother Trent is a man who works hard and doesn't always pay attention to everything his family is chatting about, and he considers Liv's absence an opportune time to get some work done on her place, and escape his place, which has suddenly made him even more conscious of his singlehood with his roommate's girlfriend moved in and the walls thinner than he'd like. He is the one that started work in the bathroom, but took a few shortcuts in his prep, such as not shutting off the main. 
The result is a very wet Cora, wet carpets in nearby rooms, and a complete loss of the keepsake scrapbook that Liv has spent a ton of time on in anticipation of their parent's upcoming anniversary. Neither Trent nor Cora is crafty, but they gamely tackle the project, and Trent calls in additional help to deal with the plumbing issues. 
As Trent includes Cora in his social life and family get-togethers, she finds friends and a family dynamic very unlike what she's used to. 
I liked seeing Cora blossom in this new environment, allowed to be herself in ways she hadn't been up to now, and start to trust her own instincts about her life and skills. I also loved the seaside Aussie setting, wishing I could escape there as well. 

Friday, 15 January 2021

The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp

Finished January 11 
The Fabled Stables: Willa the Wisp by Jonathan Auxier, illustrated by Olga Demidova

This is the first book is a series for children in early elementary school. It is set on an imaginary island at the top of the world. Here, there is a magical stable housing rare and mysterious creatures. Auggie is the boy in charge of the stables, and he looks after the animals there. Often, when he arrives in the morning the stables are rearranged and there is a new stall and a new animal. He is never sure what he will arrive to. This time, there is something happening during the day, and Auggie must venture into another world to see what creature needs his assistance and shelter. 
Auggie has an assistant, Fen, who is a stick-in-the-mud, and who does some of the dirtier work involved with the stable. There are other people on the island, Miss Bundt, who lives and works in the Plotting Shed and makes things for Professor Cake who runs the island. On this day, she is busy making an extremely long ladder. Auggie would like someone to play with, but otherwise he likes his life there. 
Auggie notices the sign over the new stall says WISP, and he wonders what type of creature it is for. He is sure that he must venture into the world beyond the stall, but he must make plans to be able to find his way back and let others know where he is going in case he gets into a difficult situation.
This looks like it will be an interesting series for imaginative kids, with magic, and wordplay, and all kinds of fun.  

Miss Benson's Beetle

Finished January 10
Miss Benson's Beetle by Rachel Joyce

I've loved all Rachel Joyce's books that I've read, and this is no exception. The story is set in 1950, with two main characters. The titular Miss Benson, Margery, is in her late 40s, single, and teaching domestic science at a girl's school. This is not how she envisioned her life. She hasn't been happy for years, and for her the last straw happens when she finds her students passing around a caricature of her and laughing. She breaks, first leaving the classroom and then taking random items as she leaves the school, never to return. As she thinks back on her life, she reflects on a book her father showed her when she was a child with a picture of a rumoured beetle in a far away land. That picture led to a lifelong fascination with beetles, and she is now drawn back to that moment of captivation and happiness and decides to go look for that beetle. 
There is much preparation to be done before going on such an expedition, and Miss Benson orders supplies, sells some of her belongings and advertises for a paid assistant. The first applicant she interviews is a war vet who had been a Japanese POW. He is twitchy and a mansplaining type, and Miss Benson knows that he is not what she wants. One woman looks promising, but her rigid organization gets her ferreting out Miss Benson's secret and bailing out with little time to substitute, so she ends up reaching out to her final applicant, Enid Pretty. Enid is a force to be reckoned with, able to make almost any situation turn in her favour, and yet completely unsuitable for what Miss Benson was looking for. 
Given their times, the journey to their destination, the northern reaches of New Caledonia, is long and sometimes with delays. As they travel by ship, flying boat, motor vehicle, and their own feet, they get to know one another extremely well, and gradually open up to each other about their pasts and what led them to their present. 
Miss Benson is a lonely woman, with an unhappy childhood, a disappointing coming-of -age experience, and a a lost dream. She is a rule follower, a person who does what is expected of her, until she realizes that she must stand up for herself and her dreams.
Enid Pretty is a charmer, a woman who has compromised for a comfortable life, and who has seen that fall apart. She, too, has a dream that she hasn't been able to bring to fruition, although she has faced most obstacles with a determination that overcomes them. 
I liked seeing this friendship develop and each woman come into her own and the encouragement and support they had for each other. I read this book quickly, almost unable to put it down as I needed to know what happened to theses two extraordinary women. 
The book ends with an interesting interview, an explanation of the inspiration for the book, and some discussion questions. Great choice for a book club.

Sunday, 10 January 2021


Finished January 7
Armadillo by William Boyd

This novel is set around a young man, Lorimer Black, who works as an insurance adjustor. As the novel opens, he goes to a business appointment and discovers a hanged man, the man he was supposed to meet with. He calls the police and waits for their arrival and then returns to his office to report on the development. 
He has an interesting relationship with his boss Hogg, who seems to like him and appreciate his skills, but then inexplicably starts treating him more distantly and with less respect. As Black tries to figure this out, he also deals with a couple of other cases for work. One is an complex where a fire destroyed a significant portion of the building, and one is a famous musician who cancelled a tour. There is also a new guy at work that latches on to him and seems eager to be his friend, but is he just using him?
He also has issues on the home front. His father has been ill for some years, in a state of nonresponsiveness, yet awake and able to get around to an extent. Lorimer is the only one not living with or near his parents, and he goes on a regular basis to visit, supply funds to those who need them, and hang out. His older brother Slobodan runs a delivery business and lives in a small house nearby, alone since his marriage ended. We find out here that Lorimer Black is not the name he started life with and over the course of the book, we see what led to him changing his name from Milomre Blocj. I found this aspect of the book quite interesting and the secrets he keeps from his family.
Lorimer also has a longstanding sleep issue, and has been going regularly to a sleep clinic as they try to help him find a solution to this problem. His relationship with the doctor in charge is also an interesting one, going beyond the bounds of a patient/doctor relationship. 
Lorimer also has a few interesting interests. He has a passion for ancient armor, helmets in particular, and musical tastes that are not mainstream.
There is a plot of sorts here, but this book is also a lot about Lorimer Black as a character, learning about him, about what makes him tick, and that part really hooked me. I would like to see what happened to him after the events here. 

What She Knew

Finished January 5
What She Knew by Gilly MacMillan

This suspense novel is a parent's nightmare. Rachel Jenner is walking with her son Ben and his puppy on the wood trails near their home, when he asks if he can run ahead to the playground area. It's not far, and she's been trying to support the 8-year-old in different ways after the breakdown of her marriage, so she agrees. But when she gets to the playground, neither he nor the dog are there. She calls and backtracks and panics and finds help in the parking lot with another parent she knows and people immediately start a search as she contacts the police and then her ex-husband. But Ben isn't found. 
The book is told from three perspectives. One is Rachel's, one if the policeman put in charge of the case, and one is from a psychologist working with the young policeman on his issues following the case. 
Rachel is supported by her older sister, who drops everything to come help, and by a friend who works in journalism (although not news-focused). She also comes together in a new way with her ex-husband, a pediatric surgeon, and his new wife. As she goes over her steps on that day and in the last few months, following her divorce, she also must deal with the guilt of being the one that let him stretch his wings when this terrible thing happened. 
There are also outside judgements that influence the situation. A blog insinuating Rachel's guilt and more starts up, and every aspect of her life and behaviour is questioned, even some that she wasn't aware of before. This situations makes her question who she can trust.
For Jim, the police officer, a year after the case, he is a good cop with a lot of issues. He feels guilt for not resolving the case quickly and positively, for missing subtle clues he feels he should have caught, for following leads that turned out to be dead ends, for the actions of other police he trusted. Jim has insomnia and it and the feelings he has are affecting his work, to the extent that he is compelled to see the psychologist and talk about what is going on with him, something he is resistant to do. 
The psychologist's notes from their meetings with Jim are the third point of view. They contain not only the transcript of the meetings, but also observations on Jim's attitude and nonverbal behaviours. 
This book is a tense read, as we bounce back and forth between Jim's story, his issues a year later, and Rachel's anguish as she waits for word about her son, desperately trying to help in whatever way she can.
We see how our lives can distract us from the current moment, how easy it is for people to judge those they don't know, how trust can be broken so easily and gained with much difficulty. how our views of those around us don't always show us the whole picture. An engrossing read. 

Wednesday, 6 January 2021

The Blondes

Finished January 4
The Blondes by Emily Schultz

This book is part science fiction, part satire, and part social commentary. Hazel Hayes is a Ph.D. student studying the aesthetics of fashion and what our idea of beauty is. She applied for a grant to study in the U.S. and is in New York City. But, as the book opens, she verifies her suspicion that she is pregnant. The father is her Ph.D. supervisor back in Toronto, a married professor several years her senior. As Hazel decides to return to Canada, she witnesses an attack at a subway station that is deeply disturbing, and reinforces her decision to return home. But things aren't that easy.
As the world becomes away of these attacks, like the one Hazel saw, it becomes clear there is a new and unknown disease running rampant in the world, and it seems to be chiefly affecting blonde women. This includes not only natural blondes, but also dyed blondes, and there is a run on hair dye and head shaving becomes a thing. As we see Hazel struggle to get back to Canada, running into barriers related to the pandemic, we see the societal reaction as the attraction to blonde becomes a fear as well, both types of power. Hazel is a natural redhead, putting her in the uncertain category by the powers that be. As she encounters more outbreaks of the disease, personal losses, and limits to her freedom, I couldn't help but think of our current situation. 
I also found the gender aspect interesting. This pandemic does not seem to affect men, except as victims of the women's attacks, and there are many scenes of the male as enforcer, rulemaker, etc. that also reflect some of the societal realities that we see in our world.
Crossing the border and the outcome of that for her was tense, and I felt the disorganization that is now showing signs in some of the government actions around our pandemic. 
I really enjoyed this read, as it both brushed against our current situation, but was also vastly different. A good read for these times, and I think it would be a great book club choice. Lots to discuss.

Monday, 4 January 2021

Hearts of Stone

Finished January 3
Hearts of Stone by Simon Scarrow

This novel jumps between two time periods, late 2013 and World War II. In the more modern time period, Anna is a high school history teacher in London and it's nearing Christmas break when she gets an email from a man, Dietrich Muller, in Germany asking if she is Anna, and if her grandmother was Eleni. At first, Anna is wary, but after doing some research, she listens to his story. 
It goes back to 1938 in Greece, on the island of Lefkas, where Eleni is from. Dietrich's grandfather Peter, and great-grandfather Karl were on the island doing an archeological dig led by Karl. Eleni's father was the police inspector in the main town there and thus they met, and the teenagers, Peter, Eleni, and her friend Andreas, spent a lot of time together and became friends. 
Karl was called back to Germany as things got more tense, and Andreas joined the navy shortly after. We then follow Andreas and Eleni on their journeys during the war, as Anna talks to her grandmother and finally gets her to open up about that time in her past. Dietrich's knows Peter's story from the diaries he left behind, and they share how those stories diverge and intersect.
The island of Lefkas is the setting for most of the historical part of the story, and I got a good sense of both the land and the people who lived there. This was a horrific time for them as they were occupied first by the Italians and then by the Germans, both of whom took much of the food there for themselves. The islanders natural resistance to this made reprisals common, and this created a cycle of tragedy and loss. The author also ties in more ancient history to the story through archeology and the long history of the Greek people. 
I really enjoyed this book and even though it is a long book, I read it fairly quickly. 

Sunday, 3 January 2021

Victory Colony, 1950

Finished January 3
Victory Colony, 1950 by Bhaswati Ghosh

This historical novel is set in Calcutta, India shortly after Partition. It follows two young people whose lives interact. One of them is Amala, who arrived in the city with her younger brother Kartik as a refugee from East Bengal. They have few possessions and no money, and when Amala looks for food on their arrival, Kartik goes missing. Faced with the threat of police, Amala agrees to join a group of refugees being taken to the Gariahata Refugee Relief Centre. The group of young men that volunteers at the Centre and helps organize the supplies needed includes the second main character, Manas Dutta. Manas is from a good family and near the end of his studies. His father raised him to be considerate of others and encouraged his participation in the larger world. Although his father has passed away, his influence is still strongly felt by Manas. 
Manas lives with his mother and his grandfather in a large, stately home, with a small number of servants who come in for their daily work. But it is a far cry from the situation at the refugee centre, where the housing is temporary, food supplies are limited, as are other amenities. 
As we see Amala grow in confidence, moving through her grief to help others around her, organizing the women in ways to make themselves not only useful but to find ways to bring in some much-needed money, we see her inner strength and goodness. She is a smart woman, who learns quickly and wants to help those around her get ahead as well.
Manas too grows here from a schoolboy doing good deeds, to a man who becomes self-sufficient and starts his life independent of his elders. He is smart as well, and a good organizer and planner, who thinks of trying to make life better for everyone in his world.
I enjoyed see both of these characters grow, both in themselves and in their regard for each other and those that shared their world. I enjoyed Manas' grandfather as well as he came out of his shell of privilege and took the time to learn more about his grandson's friends.
I also learned a lot of Indian phrases and terminology that were conveyed seamlessly here, without the need for a glossary. The author reaches back into her own heritage to create a world I would be interested in following further. A very enjoyable read.