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.

Friday 1 January 2021

January Reviews for the 14th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Post the reviews for the books you read in January here.

Add a comment after posting if you like.

Colour Coded Reading Challenge 2021

 I've done colour themed reading challenges hosted by other sites before and wanted one this year.

The challenge is hosted here:

You have to read nine books in the following categories
* A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue in the title or on the cover
* A book with "Red" or any shade of Red in the title or on the cover
* A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow in the title or on the cover
* A book with "Green" or any shade of Green in the title or on the cover
* A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown in the title or on the cover
* A book with "Black" or any shade of Black in the title or on the cover
* A book with "White" or any shade of white in the title or on the cover
* A book with any other colour in the title or on the cover (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, etc.)
* A book with a word or image that implies colour in the title or on the cover (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Shadow, Paint, Ink, etc.)

The 2021 Book Bingo Reading Challenge

 I did this one last year and liked it.

Hosted here:
Bingo card:

A to Z Reading Challenge 2021

 I liked the mini challenges associated with this one.

It is hosted:

The challenge is to read a book starting with each letter of the alphabet.

Here are the mini-challenges: 

JANUARY – A book you purchased in 2020 but didn’t read
FEBRUARY – A book with non-romantic love (siblings, parent-child, friendships)
MARCH – A book written by a person of a different race than you
APRIL – A book with an Autistic main character (April is Autism Awareness)
MAY – A book about a nurse (Nat. Nurses Week 2021 is May 6-12)
JUNE – A co-written book (2 authors)
JULY – A Christmas book (Christmas in July!)
AUGUST – A book by an 
Indie author (self-published or independent)
SEPTEMBER – A memoir/biography
OCTOBER – A book written by a new-to-you author
NOVEMBER – A book outside your normal genre
DECEMBER – A backlist title (published BEFORE Jan 1, 2021)

What's In a Name Reading Challenge 2021

 I always enjoy this challenge

It is hosted:

Choose 6 books that have titles that contain a:

* One / 1
* Doubled word 
* Reference to outer space
* Possessive noun
* Botanical word
* Article of clothing

Pick Your Poison Reading Challenge 2021

 This is a new one to me for this year.

It is hosted at:

There are a variety of levels. I'm going to aim for Fortnightly level

Looking forward to it.

Aussie Authors Reading Challenge 2021

 I'm going to tackle this challenge again for 2021

This challenge is hosted at:

I'm going for the Wallaroo level again this year. 

Read and review 6 books written by Australian authors, of which at least 2 of those authors are female, at least 2 of those authors are male, and at least 2 of those authors are new to you; Fiction or non-fiction, at least 2 different genre.

52 Books in 52 Weeks Reading Challenge 2021

 This will be my second year trying this challenge

The challenge has different parts you can participate with. I'm going to do the Bingo

The Nobel Prize Winners: 
Baby Steps:  2 Books
Toddler:  4 books
Adolescent:  6 Books
Teenager:  8 or more Books

I'm going for Baby Steps on this part.

The Well Educated Mind portion will help me tackle some of those classic titles on my shelves. The goal is to read 3 books in one of the categories

Alphabet Soup

Since I'm planning a different challenge related to the alphabet for book titles, I'm going to do the location version of this challenge. 

Dusty and Chunky
I'm going to skip the not buying books as I participate in some book subscriptions, but I will do the Dusty and the Chunky portions. Here are the levels: 
Dusty Books
Safe in the Harbor - 2 Books
Sail on Sweet Sister - 4 Books
Life in the Dark Water  - 6 Books
Beyond the Sea  - 8 Books
The Voyage  - 10 Books or more

Chunky Books - Come Sail Away 

The Tide is High  - 2 books
Down to the Water Line  - 4 books
Big Boat  - 6 books
 Big Ship Sailing  - 8 books
Mother Ocean  - 10 books or more

I'm going to go for The Voyage level for the Dusty portion, and the Down to the Water Line level for the Chunky portion. Chunky here consists of at least 500 pages. 

European Reading Challenge 2021

I've done this challenge for several years and always enjoy it.

This challenge is hosted at

I always go for the 5 Star (Deluxe Entourage) level for this challenge and enjoy seeing what different countries I can find books for. 

Books in Translation Reading Challenge 2021


Hosted here:

I like to read books in translation to further my knowledge and open myself up to different experiences. This year, for the first time, I'm formalizing it by joining this challenge.
There are different levels

Beginner: Read 1-3 books in translation
Conversationalist: 4-6 books
Bilingual: 7-9 books
Linguist: 10+ books

I'm going to aim for Linguist as I read 18 translated books in 2020.

Nerd Reading Challenge 2021

This is a new challenge for me, but it sounds like fun.

Hosted here, this challenge has 52 items to match with books you read.

I'm plotting out my reads this year, to maximize my completed challenges.

Reading for 2020 - Statistics and Thoughts

So I had aimed for 200 books for the year, but only got to 176, but that is still better than my numbers for the last few years, and given what this past year brought us, I will be happy with that. My audiobooks were down big time, with the loss of commuting time starting in March, followed by my job loss in June. I think I will have to start listening to books while I do needlework to tackle some of those audiobooks on my shelves. 
I did better with translations this year and had more diversity as well.
As usual, more of my reads were for adults, although I did significant numbers for kids.
I did more ebooks this year, some from authors and publishers, some from the library. As someone who doesn't really like to read in that format, that was significant.
I also started talking about books in video format, which was nerve-wracking at first, but something I've grown more comfortable with and will continue in the new year. I also formalized my brand, and started a company around Canadian Bookworm.


Adult:     140
Teen:     `8
Kids:    28

Graphica: 2
Audiobook: 4
Ebook: 16  of which 4 were Netgalley ones
ARCs: 39


Fiction: 138
Short Stories: 4
Mystery: 38
Historical Fiction: 23
Fantasy: 18
Science Fiction: 1
Romance: 32
Horror: 1
NOTE: Some books fell into more than one category
42 of these were part of a series

Nonfiction: 38
Poetry: 1
Essays: 2
History: 6
Science and Social Science: 6
Craft: 4
Self-Help: 3
Library profession: 4
Biography/Memoir: 12

Author Identity
Female: 107
Male: 49
Both: 13

Library:  26
Owned:  140, of which 106 were passed on to other readers.
Borrowed or Limited access: 10

Canada: 35
United States: 65
Europe: 54
Asia: 6
Oceania: 7
Africa: 3
Central and South America: 4

Translations: 18
French: 4
German: 3
Spanish: 3
Italian: 2
Japanese: 2
Cree: 1
Danish: 1
Norwegian: 1
Swedish: 1

Reading Challenges

I had mixed success on my reading challenges this year, and thinking about it, I realized that I often don't include books as I am waiting for a more perfect book for a particular challenge. I have determined to let that idea go this year, and count them for every challenge I can. Hopefully that will improve my rate of success.

I did the Savvy Reader Book Pledge this year again and read 176 books and got 16 badges. 

Badges Earned

I completed the What's In a Name Challenge successfully, getting all six categories. Here is my wrap-up post for that. I'm planning to do this one again.

I completed the European Reading Challenge successfully, and here is my wrap-up post for that. This is one I do every year, and I will definitely be continuing it.

The 20 in 20 Reading Challenge didn't go as well, and I fell short of that challenge. Here is the wrap-up post. This was my first time for this one, and I don't think I'll tackle it this year.

The 52 Books in 52 Weeks was a more complex challenge, with many ways to tackle it and many challenges within it. I had mixed results, successful in some, and not so much in others. Here is my wrap-up post. I will tackle this one again.

The Aussie Author Challenge was also a near miss. I was one male author short on this one. I do tend to lean toward female authors, so will definitely seek out some more of both again this coming year. Aussie friends, please make suggestions. Here is my wrap-up post.

The Backlist Reading Challenge didn't have a specific goal, and I probably could have included more books here, but I didn't do too badly. Here is my wrap-up post.

The Book Bingo Reading Challenge wasn't a complete success as I was aiming for a Full House, but I did get a Bingo. Here's my wrap-up post. I will be doing this one again.

I'm also doing pretty good on my Canadian Reading Challenge, which continues until the end of June. My goal was 30 books and I'm already at 28, so I might just up that goal to 50 now.