Sunday, 11 April 2021

Everything at Last

Finished April 7
Everything at Last by Kimberly Lang

This book is part of a series set in the small coastal town of Magnolia Beach, Alabama. Molly Richards has lived in Magnolia Beach for a couple of years now, and runs a coffee shop called Latte Dah. She rents the guesthouse belonging to an older woman, Mrs. Kennedy, and here Mrs. Kennedy has to go out of town just before the annual fair and she leaves Molly in charge of the Children's Fair portion, something Mrs. Kennedy has run for years. Molly hasn't even been to the Children's Fair and she calls on her best friend Helena for moral support and advice. The fair raises money for local charities, including animal rescue and Tate Harris, local veterinarian and friend of Helena has been a little involved in the past.
As Tate helps her sort out the massive amount of paperwork Molly's been left, they also get to know each better, finding themselves drawn to each other. Molly's not been involved with anyone since she's arrived in town, and she has a past that left her in limbo. When her newfound attention with the fair brings that past to light, things get a bit dramatic. 
I liked the small town atmosphere, where everyone knows everyone's business, but has each other's back against outsiders. And I liked Molly's cat Nigel, who has quite a personality (no, there's no talking cat though). 
This is a nice romance, with a bit of drama, and women who find their own way through their difficulties in life for the most part. 

Murder As a Fine Art

Finished April 6 
Murder As a Fine Art by David Morrell

This historical fiction novel focuses on a real historical figure and his writings, as well as a real crime that he wrote about. These are Thomas De Quincey and the Ratcliffe Highway murders. But it expands from there to center the story around a fictional copycat crime of the Ratcliffe Highway one, with the killer drawing De Quincey down to London from his home in Edinburgh for purposes that only gradually become clear. 
It is 1854 and detectives are a relatively recent addition to the police. Ryan is one of them, and is called to the scene of the murder. He is in plainclothes and wears a hat to conceal his red hair as Irishmen are often a target when things get tense. The constable who was doing his rounds and came upon the scene, Becker, is eager to become a detective and his diligence has Ryan including him in the investigation. 
Thomas De Quincey really did write about the Ratcliffe Highway murders, describing them with such detail that they seemed like he'd seen the events himself. Morrell has used this story as a jumping off point, using De Quincey and his daughter Emily as characters in the story. I particularly liked Emily.
At the back of the book, the author supplies an explanation of how he came to write the book and the research that he did, which including immersing himself in the world of 1854 for two years as he gathered information on what life was like during that time, down to the food, the clothes, and the streets themselves. 
This book is a literary mystery, a historical what-if, and an excellent read. I also noted that it is the first book in a series around Thomas De Quincey as a character, which means we should see more of Emily and perhaps the two policemen too.

Block 46

Finished April 4 
Block 46 by Johana Gustawsson, translated from the French by Maxim Jakubowski

This is the first book I've read by this author. It is also the first book in a series featuring profiler Emily Roy and true crime writer Alexis Castells. Emily Roy is an interesting character. She was trained at Quantico and worked for the RCMP, but now works for Scotland Yard. She has a past that is hinted at here, but offers a lot for further exploration in later books. She can be brusque and even harsh, but she knows how to use diplomacy and charm in certain situations. 
Alexis Castells, a French woman now living in England, whose own partner was killed by a serial killer, is friends with Linnea, a Swedish jewelry artist now living in England, who is found murdered near the beginning of this book. She has encountered Emily before when she was researching one of her books, and due to these two links, she gets drawn further into this case than is normal for someone outside of the police or supporting organizations.
The story moves back and forth between London and the west coast of Sweden, but the majority of the action is in Sweden. As the story begins, Linnea is supposed to be having her debut as the new jewelry artist for a major jeweller, but she does not show up. A couple of times a year, Linnea went on her own back to Sweden, spending time by herself and seeing friends there. That is where she has been, and was supposed to be flying in from. Shortly after being reported missing in England, her body is found in Sweden, strangely mutilated and in an outdoor hidden area near her home there.
The mutilation links her death to the bodies of two boys that have been recently found in England, buried in a public park. That is how Scotland Yard and Emily get brought into the case. Alexis accompanies Linnea's relatively new husband and her new boss to Sweden, and because she is a capable woman, takes on the task of inventorying Linnea's house there while they go back to England. Spending time with Emily, she soon gets seconded as another set of eyes and mind to Emily's research on the case. 
There is a second storyline here as well, one from World War II. A German medical student, is interned in Buchenwald where he is first working as a laborer and then gets seconded to a medical experimentation unit. We see him during this time and into his life after the war, when he moves to the coast of Sweden near where Linnea's body was found. We know there is a link, but we only gradually learn what that link is, and why Linnea was killed. 
I liked both Emily and Alexis and the way they interacted with each other. I liked the Canadian link here through Emily as well. There are also a lot of interesting secondary characters: Linnea's childhood friend who lives nearby her home in Sweden and some of the Swedish police. 

Monday, 5 April 2021

The Weight of Silence

Finished April 2
The Weight of Silence by Heather Gudenkauf

As intimated by the title, silence plays a multifaceted role in this novel. Seven-year-old Calli Clark hasn't spoken in three years, since her mother Antonia fell down the stairs resulted in the stillborn birth of a daughter. But, while in kindergarten, she gained a friend Petra Gregory. The two young girls seem to know what each other is thinking and work as a team together. Calli has also used some sign language that she uses when necessary. 
As the book opens, early one morning Calli awakens with the need to go pee. She can hear her father downstairs and knows that he is due to go fishing with a friend, leaving very early. She waits, holding herself and trying to distract herself until he is gone. When it is quiet, she sneaks downstairs,but at the door to the bathroom, her father calls her from outside, so she goes. 
Their relationship is complicated. Calli loves her father Griff, but she also fears him. He is a large man, burly and gruff, and works away from home, up in Alaska, coming home in between shifts. Calli's older brother Ben, who is twelve has similar feelings about their father. 
When she goes outside, Griff both insults her and reaches for her, and tells his friend, Roger, when he arrives that he will come later, but he wants to spend time with his daughter now. After Roger leaves, Griff pulls Calli toward the woods, on a mission to respond to a rumour that he's heard from his friends. 
Around the same time, Petra, who often doesn't sleep well, looks out her window and sees two figures, one of them an adult, in the woods. She decides to join them, reasoning that since one is an adult her parents won't mind. Petra's father Martin is a university professor, popular with his students, and welcoming to those lonely while away from home. Her mother Fielda is much younger, a local girl whose mother runs a cafe that they met at. They both dote on the young, precocious girl and love her dearly. Martin wakes early and when he finds Petra missing, he wakes his wife and they do a further search and then call the police. 
Immediately they think of Calli, and the police check her house finding her missing as well. Both girls are in their pajamas and Calli hasn't taken any shoes. Reinforcements are called for and the media is alerted. 
To add to the plot, Antonia grew up best friends with Louis who is now Deputy Sheriff. They care deeply for each other, and planned to marry one day until a falling out in their senior year of high school. Louis went off to university and found Toni married to Griff when he returned. They've tried to stay friends since, but Griff is a jealous man, and Louis' wife resents his friendship, so they are cordial but distant. 
Besides the silence of Calli, there is another. Toni has no real friends, because she can't expose the reality of her life with Griff to anyone. 
As the families of the missing girls and the wider community widen their search, more and more of the truth comes to light. 
This story was captivating and I loved the personalities of the young girls and how they worked as a team. I also felt for Toni's isolation, created by her circumstances and her choices, and how close her relationship to her children is as opposed to those with anyone else. 

Friday, 2 April 2021

Proof I Was Here

Finished April 2
Proof I Was Here by Becky Blake

I love finding another great Canadian author and this book is a great read. The main character Niki has moved to Barcelona to join her fiance. He is working here and she arranged the packing up of all their stuff in Toronto and followed him. Their wedding is set for a few weeks after she arrives. But days after she arrives, he calls off the wedding, and says that he no longer wants to marry her. 
Niki grew up poor and she was flattered by her fiance's attention, but now she is left reeling. She leaves their apartment in a panic to get away and takes nothing with her, no wallet or keys or anything of real value. She finds herself living among the homeless, among pickpockets and buskers, squatters and graffiti artists. 
To add to the situation, just before leaving Toronto, she gave in to a strange impulse and tried to shoplift a scarf, and she got caught, She has a summons to appear in court shortly after her wedding date, but has no intention of going. Still, there is a worry in the back of her mind about what that will mean.
Now, on the streets she is stealing again, learning how to pick a mark, how to distract attention. She is also learning to see those people she really didn't notice before and the things that people throw away that are still of value. 
Her life has changed dramatically and she has to determine how she will live. 
I liked seeing how Niki adjusted to her situation, connecting to others, and discovering a side to Barcelona that she wouldn't have seen if this hadn't happened. 
Niki isn't a bad person, but she's made some bad choices, and had some bad things happen in her life, both recently and long ago. I liked seeing how she discovered herself in new ways. This book really grew on me the further I got into it.

Finbar's Hotel

Finished March 31
Finbar's Hotel devised and edited by Dermot Bolger, written by Roddy Doyle, Anne Enright, Hugo Hamilton, Jennifer Johnston, Joseph O'Connor, and Colm Toibin

This linked set of stories are all occurring on the last Thursday the Dublin hotel will be open. The building is a rebuild of one that burnt down thirty years ago, and except for the longlasting carpet, it hasn't aged well. A Dutch firm has recently purchased it and will be razing it to build a new hotel.
Each story here is centered around one room on the first floor of the hotel, with the occupant(s) and their  actions making that story. Two of the hotel staff, the manager and the night porter have somewhat larger roles in the stories, reappearing in more than one. Both of these men have been at the hotel for years, long before the fire that destroyed the earlier building. One, Simon the night porter, because he has worked here for that long, and the other, Johnny Farrell the manager, because his father became a part-owner in the hotel years before and he played here as a child. 
Interestingly, the writers here have chosen not to identify which of them wrote which portions of the book. 
One room has a man who is staying in a hotel room for the first time in his life. He can't identify the reasons that led him to this night, and he feels awkward at times, but determined to see the experience through.
Another room has two sisters who haven't seen each other in years. One left Ireland decades earlier when she was just seventeen and now her sister wants to meet to talk about her mother and dig into her reasons for leaving, but will she finally tell the truth?
In a third room, a young man has smuggled in a cat, but his purpose for doing that is unclear, and the outcome up in the air until the end of his tale. 
Another room is taken by a man the night manager is sure he recognizes although the name on the register is not one he knows. Will he confront the lodger to verify his identification and check the motives behind the stay?
A woman in one room is staying there as part of a series of hotel room visits across the country, all related to a medical diagnosis she's been given and a betrayal she finds hard to face. 
Another woman is staying at the hotel based on a memory of an early boyfriend and how they happened upon that long ago fire. She is thinking of both the discovery of her father as one of the firefighters on scene and the men that have passed through her life.
The last person to have their story here is a criminal engaged in a crime out of his comfort zone and determining his next steps. 
I enjoyed seeing how these characters lives bumped up against each other, usually very briefly, and how this night meant something different to each one, but was important to them in some way. 

April Reviews for the 14th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 This is where you add your reviews for books read in April



Thursday, 1 April 2021

Dear Haiti, Love Alaine

Finished March 30
Dear Haiti, Love Alaine by Maika Moulite and Maritza Moulite

This teen novel written by two sisters is told by Alaine Beauparlant, a senior in high school, whose parents were both born in Haiti. Her father is a psychiatrist and her mother is a television journalist. They've recently separated and Alaine lives in Miami with her dad while her mom works in Washington doing political news. When her mom has an on air meltdown, Alaine must struggle to understand and deal with the reactions from her fellow students at her private school. 
Alaine is also working on a history project for school and she tries to take her project in a different direction than expected and get back at some of the kids teasing her. It backfires and Alaine is exiled to Haiti to stay with her aunt, the Minister of Tourism there, and her mom who has gone to ground while she determines her next steps. 
As Alaine discovers what is behind her mother's actions, and learns more about the country of her parents, she also learns about the family curse that her mother has never shared with her. Alaine's aunt is also involved with a children's charity and Alaine interns there as part of her remote schoolwork. She also gets to know her mother better, as she comes to term with her mother's medical diagnosis.
There is a lot of Haitian history and culture here, and of course food. 
The book is made up of school reports, texts, emails, articles, transcripts, letters, diaries, and other written material that come together to give a bigger picture of Alaine and her world.
I enjoyed learning more about Haiti, and liked the sassy character of Alaine. This book has a little of everything: romance, drama, mysticism, and humour. 

Just Their Luck

Finished March 29
Just Their Luck by L.A. Donohoe
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This romantic novel with a twist of drama has a good plotline, and the author shows definite promise. I found some of the dialogue stilted though, and there were parts where things didn't flow smoothly. I believe this is a self-published imprint, so it could be that an editor would have helped. It is also a first novel, so a good effort there.
Sarah, the main character, is a woman in her twenties who has just left her longtime boyfriend due to his cheating. She's made a dramatic exit, and left some damage behind, making her ex, Travis, somewhat vindictive. Sarah has chosen to move to the small town where her sister Terri lives with her husband A.J., and she's bought a house there. I was never clear on what Sarah did for a living though.
Arriving in town, she has a literal run-in with a local man, Sam, and they both leave the scene quite angry. It takes time and the intervention of A.J. to get them talking to each other.
As Sarah makes her house feel like home, she gets to know others in town, has an old friend and her parents come to visit, and becomes closer to Sam.
With romance, drama, and humour, this young woman moves into a new phase of her life.