Tuesday, 27 September 2022

A Family For Christmas

Finished September 2
A Family for Christmas by Helen Scott Taylor

This novella follows a young engineer, Eve Scott, as she travels through the snowy British countryside to get to a job interview. The weather is intense, making driving difficult, and when a lamb appears on the road in front of her and she brakes, she ends up in the ditch. Luckily, sheep farmer Tom Millington is out looking for the lamb, his daughter's pet, and offers her a ride to his farm where she can wait for assistance. When Eve encounters young Polly she is charmed by the child and the child develops a quick attachment for her, wanting her to stay. Eve realizes that Polly's mother is no longer in the picture, and while she is attracted to Tom, she has a career she has worked hard to establish and wants to go further in. 
Eve rearranges her interview once she realizes that her car won't be pulled out in time, and ends up going back for Christmas as she has no other plans. 
An instant attraction, a rescue in a remote and dangerous circumstance, and a child's belief in miracles make this a cozy romance for the holiday season. 

Mary Coin

Finished August 31
Mary Coin by Marisa Silver

This novel was inspired by the cover picture. Taken by Dorothea Lange, and called Migrant Mother, the photograph of Florence Owens Thompson became famous and opened many doors for Lange. The author creates a fictional woman, Mary Coin, as the subject of this photo and the novel follows Mary from her childhood through her marriage, her travels in search of employment, up until the moment of the photograph. It also follows the photographer, here named Vera Dare Everett, as she too marries, has children, and tries to create her own career through her art. 
Staying relatively closely to the real facts of the women's lives, Silver brings them to life by letting us see inside their thoughts, their motivations, and their drive to live as they want, as they must. She tells the larger story of the Depression in America and the desperate search for jobs to feed oneself and one's family, from a uniquely female viewpoint.
Tying it all together is a man in the current day, an anthropology professor named Walker Dodge. Walker's specialty is the study of common people and their lives. He looks at diaries, official records, ephemera, and relics of their lives as he pieces together how they lived. Walker loses his father near the beginning of the book, and as he cleans out the house, he finds boxes of papers in the basement and begins to treat the situation as a case study from his own work perspective. His research leads him to these women, and that key connection point with its resulting fame.
She also looks at the aftermath, Vera's fame and further career, what happened to Mary and her children, and how that small connection became an important moment in both their lives. 
An amazing story of two women forging their lives during a difficult time, told with realism and compassion, and the serendipity of life and the chance meetings that change lives.  

The Vet's Daughter

Finished August 28
The Vet's Daughter by Barbara Comyns, introduction by Kathryn Davis

This novel first came out in 1959, although Comyns started writing it in 1947. The title character, named Alice, is a teen as the story begins. As indicated, her father is a veterinarian, one who treats animals like objects and has no feelings for them. Her mother is unwell, and both of them live in fear of him. Alice tries to spare her mother so she can rest, and the two have quiet talks about her mother's childhood when alone in the evening. 
After the death of her mother, things become more difficult for Alice. A friendly and kindly housekeeper and a young veterinarian help mitigate her circumstances, but the woman that her father takes up with is a force against her. 
Alice retreats often to a world of fantasy, pulling on bits of her mother's memories of childhood in Scotland, and fairy tales helped along by an uncanny ability she discovers in herself. 
Alice finds her thoughts can take her away from her circumstances, but she is aware that others find it unnerving. 
This is an odd book, with a strange premise, but one that nevertheless had me enthralled from the beginning. Alice is a character that I empathized with and hoped would find a better situation than the one she is born into.

Monday, 5 September 2022

September Reviews for the 16th Annual Canadian Book Challenge

 Here is where you post links to the books that you finished in September this year. 

Add a comment either on the book, or on how the challenge is going for you. 

Tuesday, 23 August 2022

An Unkindness of Magicians

Finished August 15
An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard

I really enjoyed Kat Howard's Roses and Rot, and was eager to read this one. The opening scene of a magician performing an impressive bit of magic sets the scene and we gradually learn of the circumstances of this performance and the magician community that lives and operates in New York City. They call it the Unseen World and try to be as invisible as possible to the regular citizens of the city. 
The magician at the beginning is a woman named Sydney, and she has great powers, has come from a dark part of their world, and has strong feelings about the system that put her in the life she has lived until now. 
Sydney's story is gradually revealed, as are the stories of other magicians that she comes into contact with. For a few decades a system has been in place of pooling magic, but it has required sacrifices from all of the families part of the Unseen World and the dark nature of this has influenced many of them. Each House has its family, and the House itself has a consciousness and a power. Every once in a while there is a Turning where a House has made a challenge to take the place at the head of the community. One has been announced, and Sydney has answered an ad to be a champion for one of the Houses. In her case it is a new House, from a magician who has come from outside the Unseen World, but has been around for a few years. As the challenges escalate from proofs of magical ability to fights to the death, Sydney puts in place her own secret plan, one that will change the Unseen World completely. 
Sydney is a very interesting character, as is Laurent, the magician she becomes contracted to. The other champions have secrets, as do many of the heads of the Houses. Some of these are more evil than others, but all have consequences. 
I like the world that Howard has created here, and the depth of many of the key characters, which are complex and interesting. I'd love to see more of this world, but also of any others that she creates. 

Summer at Little Lava

Finished August 10
Summer at Little Lava: A Season at the Edge of the World by Charles Fergus

This memoir is of a summer spent in a remote, off-the-grid house on a farm on the west coast of Iceland. The author is still reeling from the sudden and violent death of his mother and hopes that this time will help the healing. No roads lead to the house, and to get to it you must cross a wetland that is flooded twice a day by the tide. It is surrounded by lava fields and has views of mountains, volcanoes, and the rugged coastline. 
Fergus goes in late May and, working with an Icelandic friend does repairs to the abandoned house, making it weatherproof and fitting it with the basics. He and the friend had gone in December to do a reconnaissance and see what would be needed. There is no heat other than the fires that they make, no electricity, and no running water. They use one of the cold pools in a cleft in the lava field as a fridge, and get some supplies locally from neighbours. 
Once his wife and son join him and they buy a used car, they spend the summer exploring the country nearby, including on a collapsible kayak that he brings to have time in the nearby ocean, are visited by relatives undergoing their own healing journey, and enjoy watching the animals and birds and noting the local plants and geology. 
The author's wife Nancy had done graduate work on the Icelandic sagas, they had visited the country a few times together and Nancy had gone again to study the language. It was she who had discovered this farm and they had already planned the visit before the loss of the author's mother. Nancy has also found references to the farm dating back to 1354 and there are the remains of other structures on the property. 
This is a personal memoir of his own emotional journey, but also beautiful descriptions of the land and its occupants. This is a book to savour. 

Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret

Finished August 4
Granma Nineteen and the Soviet's Secret by Ondjaki, translated by Stephen Henighan

This historical fiction book is told from the point of view of a boy who lives in a village, Bishop's Beach, near Luanda, the capital of Angola. He lives with his cousins and grandmother and their maid Magdalena. Angola was once a Portuguese colony and now the Soviets are running the country and, their soldiers in the village are building a large Mausoleum for a former Angolan president. There are some houses, a bakery, a garbage dump, a gas station that doesn't actually sell gas, with a lovely beach that fisherman use as a base for their work.
Granma Agnette is the one that tells the children what to do, that protects them in thunderstorms, and that tucks them in at night. Granma Catarina, Agnette's sister, dresses in mourning, stays on the edge of things and provides comfort and support. 
The gas station, located in the middle of a traffic circle, is manned by Comrade Gas Jockey who sleeps most of the time. One of the neighbours who everyone calls Sea Foam, acts and talks in crazy ways, dressing oddly, keeping an animal rumoured to be an alligator in a shed in his yard, is regarded with an edge of fear and a fair bit of awe. The narrator's best friend is Pinduca, who goes by Pi, and due to Sea Foam, is nicknamed 3.14. They also sometimes hang out with a bookish girl the same age, Charlita. Charlita's father Senor Tuarles often threatens to have his wife bring his gun when things get tense, but never uses it.
One of the security soldiers at the construction site, known as blue ants in the village for their uniforms, is enamored of Granma Agnette and visits often. He often talks about his homeland and how cold it is there and asks Agnette to go back there with him. He greets every one with Gudafter-noon, no matter the time of day and thus they have nicknamed him Soviet Comrade Gudafterov Lately there are rumours that someone has heard him utter the word dynamite in his own language and that there are plans to explode the neighbourhood. He has mentioned that they will relocating everyone to nice new houses.
The kids decide that they must prevent this from happening and come up with a plan. Meanwhile Granma Agnette has been getting pain in her leg, and after a visit from one of her daughters, who works at the hospital and a specialist called Dr. Rafael KnockKnock (because he likes to say knock knock and rap on doors before he enters) decide that she must have a toe removed. After this, she is known as Granma Nineteen. 
The narrator travels to the hospital with her, and sees where she is going, and comes home to inform everyone else. They stop at the cemetery on the way to visit Granpa Mbinha's grave. 
This is a story of the wonders of childhood, the silliness and grand schemes. This is a story of families, of their closeness and support. And it is a story of community that even some outsiders recognize and respect. 
A great read. 

Tomb Song

Finished July 29
Tomb Song by Julián Herbert, translated by Christina MacSweeney

This novel, a debut novel from this Mexican author, is a tale told in first person by a narrator by the same first name as the author. It moves back and forth in time, between the present, the narrator's childhood and other earlier times in his life. 
Julián's mother Guadalupe, was a prostitute, although she tried to shield her children from much exposure to this life. To escape debt, they moved often, and each of the four children has a different father. In the present Guadalupe is in hospital, near death, and he finds himself resurrecting memories from his past, grappling with his own identity, and dealing with anxieties around being a writer. 
This is a book about the margins of Mexican society, along with the darker issues of sex, drugs, violence, and poverty. Julián is also about to be a father himself, and this adds to his feelings. He talks not only of his life, but also of strange dreams that he has had. 
This is not an easy read, or a happy one, but it is one that is well written and has the feel of experience in his in the author's knowledge of his subject matter. A very original work. 

Sunday, 21 August 2022

The Lost and Found Bookshop

Finished July 22
The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs

This novel has both mystery and romance, plus a little history. Natalie Harper grew up with her mother and grandfather in an apartment above a bookshop in San Francisco. She didn't have a lot of contact with her father, but didn't feel that she really missed anything. 
Now she has a career in a California winery and a handsome boyfriend. As the book opens Natalie is made aware of her coworkers true feelings regarding her despite her excellent work, and finds herself disappointed that her mother hasn't come to celebrate her recent work success. 
But as she soon discovers, her mother intended to be there, and in one tragic incident, she has lost both her mother and her boyfriend. Additionally, Natalie now has the responsibility of the bookstore on her shoulders, and she finds her grandfather's memory issues more advanced than she imagined. 
Natalie throws herself into the bookstore, analyzing the debt her mother had incurred, the state of the historic building that houses both the bookstore and her childhood home, and the challenges of promotion and marketing books when people have migrated to more online purchasing. 
As she travels down this road of discovery and hopes for a miracle, she finds the contractor, Peach Gallagher, her mother arranged to meet more helpful and skilled than she could hope.Peach's young daughter Dorothy is also a big fan of both the store and Natalie's grandfather. 
It is Dorothy who is able to bring about a miracle of connecting Natalie with Trevor Dashwood, one of the hottest new children's authors who proves himself very supportive of both the shop and Natalie.
I really enjoyed seeing Natalie's character grow as she dealt with all these issues and learned the value that her skills are in this circumstance. Natalie also finds herself less isolated in the city, with connections and real friendship building her personal life into one more satisfying as well. Other key characters, like Peach, Dorothy, and her grandfather also go through changes during this time. This is a novel that has some tense moments, but ultimately brings a feeling of comfort. A novel with a lot going on, but one that never has you losing the main thread. 
Great read. 

Where Have You Been Bobby Marr?

Finished July 15
Where Have You Been Bobby Marr? Friend, Felon, Hero by Morris Dalla Costa

This biography is of a man who underwent many challenge, mental and physical trauma, PTSD, bad choices, incarceration, and personal loss. Bobby Marr was born in 1948 in London, Ontario, the second child of his parents. His father was a veteran of World War II, and a hard worker, trying a variety of types of work in an effort to support his family. His search for work soon took the family to Texas and the children grew up there. Bobby was good with his hands, liked cars, and was a confident young man. When the Vietnam War began, he thought about his options, leaning towards heading to Canada. But his father, having served his own country during war, pressued Bobby to do his. 
Bobby trained as a medic, and lasted longer than many of his fellow soldiers in Vietnam, but was eventually wounded badly enough to be sent home. It was then that his life began to really go in a bad direction. The support for returning veterans from Vietnam wasn't there as it had been in other wars. Media had brought pictures of some of the atrocities done there to those at home and that turned many against the veterans. The war was an unpopular one to begin with, and that didn't help. The government support was also lacking, both in financial support being given in a timely way and in the lack of mental health support that was badly needed. As Bobby made choices on his gut and feelings, these choices weren't always in his best interests. 
Bobby is a man that cares about his fellow man, particularly those less well off. His time as a medic showed his caring impulse, as did his actions while incarcerated as he tried to help not only himself, but others caught in a system that was not set up to rehabilitate the inmates, but to wear them down. 
This book starts with some of the bigger events in his life and then moves back to his roots, telling of his family situation and his childhood, and continuing from there. His life story is well told, with compassion and real interest, and while for me it was a slow start, once I got further in, it really gripped me. 
Bobby's story is one of many of men of his generation, and serves as enlightening about the mistakes society has made in the past. 

Saturday, 20 August 2022

Death on a Winter Stroll

Finished July 6
Death on a Winter Stroll by Francine Mathews

This mystery novel is part of the series featuring Nantucket police chief Merry Folger. Winter Stroll is a tradition on Nantucket and this is the first time it is happening since the pandemic began. Merry knows that the island depends on tourism economically and desperately needs that for the small businesses to survive, but she also wants to keep the community safe amid all the activity.
There is a production team on the island filming a television series at the less populated end of the island, as well as lots of tourist and former residents back for the winter event. Among the former residents is the family of the current Secretary of State, including her stepson Ansel. The famous actor starring in the TV series has brought his young adult daughter Winter along, and a chance meeting between the two has them joining forces when disturbing events cause upheaval in both their worlds. 
Ansel has a secondary purpose on the island that no one else in the family knows, reuniting with his estranged mother, Blythe Fitzpatrick. He wasn't told the truth about her absence in his life and is learning about her and trying to build a relationship. 
As Merry tries to manage the crimes that impact both the production and the government official, she uses her lifelong knowledge of the island and its residents to make connections. 
I liked many of the characters, including both the series characters such as Merry, and the ones appearing first in this novel, such as Ansel, Winter, and Blythe. They are well drawn and have depth. 
I definitely plan to look for more in the series. 

Cat in the Dark

Finished July 2
Cat in the Dark by Shirley Rousseau Murphy

This is a small town mystery book, part of the Joe Grey series. Joe Grey is one of the main cat characters, with the other being Dulcie. They are not ordinary cats, but have higher intelligence and can talk with humans. Only their owners know this about them, and they take care to hide it when others are around. This is the fourth book in the series, and they've already solved a couple of mysteries in town, leaving anonymous messages for the local sheriff. 
As this book opens, in the course of night prowling they come across a cat they haven't seen before and observe him letting someone into a closed business. They also discover this strange cat is named Azrael and has the same ability that they have. They don't want to draw attention to this feature, so think hard about how to stop the crimes without revealing that some cats exist that have extra abilities.
Joe Grey lives with Clyde Damon, a man who loves restoring old cars and has recently bought a small apartment building that he is renovating. Clyde has hired his girlfriend Charlie Getz to do some of the work on the building, as she is very handy, running her own cleaning and repair business. Charlie employs Mavity Flowers to do some of the cleaning work. 
Dulcie lives with librarian Wilma Getz, Charlie's aunt, and spends a lot of time at the library, although the current director of the library, Freda, doesn't like it. 
There are a number of other residents of the town involved in the story as well as visiting family of Mavity. Her brother Greeley and his daughter Dora along with Dora's husband Ralph have come to visit as the do once a year or so. 
There are several storylines in this small town novel, and one can see opportunities for more books. Joe Grey and Dulcie are interesting characters with characteristics of both people and cats. This is the first book I've read of this series and it was an interesting read.  

Monday, 15 August 2022

Sea Wife

Finished June 28
Sea Wife by Amity Gaige

This fascinating novel reads like a memoir. The narrator is mostly Juliet Partlow, but sometimes her husband Michael through the pages of the ship's log he kept. The couple have a marriage that has become shaky. Michael doesn't enjoy his job anymore and finds himself dreaming about the years he spent on a sailboat with his father, who has since passed away. 
As the book starts Juliet is in a bad mental state, spending most of her time when the children aren't home sitting in her husband's closet. You know that something has happened, but not what exactly. 
As the story reaches back a few months to Michael talking Juliet into taking a leave from work, buying a sailboat, and sailing as a family, you see into his mind, and how he was unhappy with his life, but very much in love with his wife and afraid for his marriage. Their children are young, Sybil is seven and George is under three. Michael thinks Juliet is depressed and that the adventure would be good for her. Juliet is worried about failing in yet another area of life. But she finally agrees. 
As the voyage goes, we see Juliet gain confidence and the two grow closer. The kids are also confident and daring and learning so much. This is a story of hope, of renewal, and of rebuilding a relationship. Until the unthinkable happens. It tests Juliet in ways she doesn't think she's ready for, and now in the aftermath she finds herself depending on someone else again, in this case her mother. 
This is a book where I grew to love the characters, this family that was willing to try something that seemed crazy to others. Their personalities are shown through their behaviour as well as the adults thoughts. I had a hard time putting this one down. It was so good. 

Another Thing to Fall

Finished June 23
Another Thing to Fall by Laura Lippman

This is the tenth book in the series featuring Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan. I've read one of the earlier books in the series as well. 
Here Tess unknowingly rows into the set of a television pilot being filmed in the city, and finds herself being asked to do security for the production company, specifically for the female lead Selene Waites. Recently a local man was found dead in his home surrounded by photos of the actor. She is reluctant, but agrees if they also find a position for Tess' boyfriend Crow's ward Lloyd Jupiter. Crow has been trying to get Lloyd to find a job, but he hasn't lasted at anything and he is better occupied than not. 
Tess finds that Selene isn't as ditzy as she makes herself out to be, and when she is outfoxed by the actor, she brings in her best friend Whitney so that they can cover her for all hours. 
During this time however, someone has been found murdered at the production company offices, and Tess finds her interest sparked. As she begins to dig into the background of the people in the company, she finds a lot more than meets the eye. 
This introduced me to some industry lingo and processes I didn't know and has an interesting plotline. 
Tess is a character I like, as is Whitney. A fast and engrossing read. 

The American Roommate Experiment

Finished June 15
The American Roommate Experiment by Elena Armas

This novel is the second in the Spanish Love Deception series, but the first that I've read. I like that we got pieces from both viewpoints here, and the reader can see how the characters begin to converge emotionally. 
Rosie Graham has just quit her job to tackle writing full-time. She has saved some money and figures she has enough for a year or so to focus on her writing. She has a published novel that was well received. She hasn't told many people about this risky move yet, just her best friend Lina and her ex-boss Aaron. But writer's block has hit her hard, and she has barely written a thing. Then there is a issue at her apartment and she has to vacate while things get fixed. She has keys to Lina's place and figures she won't mind as she is out of the country for a while on a trip. 
When she arrives at Lina's she is soon unnerved by someone else entering the apartment and discovers that Lina has already let her cousin Lucas take her place for a while. Rosie has been secretly checking Lucas out on his Instagram account and learning about him. So meeting him in person is a pleasant shock, but one that leaves her unbalanced. 
Lucas is going through some personal issues that take a while to be revealed. He is a competitive surfer who has traveled the world and now is taking a break to figure out his future. He is surprised by Rosie's presence, but welcomes her and they soon work out a way to share the place for the short while that Rosie needs to stay. 
There are lots of little side stories that come up, such as issues with Rosie's father and brother, the issues with Rosie's place and the contractor who is responsible for the repairs, among others.
Lucas spends his days doing touristy things, while Rosie tries to write, and then usually makes a first-class dinner for them. So a man who's sexy, Spanish, and a good cook is a big draw. 
When he discovers Rosie's writer's block, he comes up with a plan to get those juices flowing again.
I liked Rosie's quiet independence, and how the situation of being dependent on someone else causes her to be off balance. Her relationships with her father and brother are close, but we don't see any depth of character for them here. 
We get glimpses of Lucas' family too, an outspoken cousin, his grandmother who he is very close to, and his lovable dog who he misses. So we see his personal side in a good light. 
The book moves quickly, and the tension is there right from the beginning, giving the reader a good idea of which way things are going. 
A fun read. 

Every Summer After

Finished June 8
Every Summer After by Carley Fortune

Set mostly in Barry's Bay, Ontario, this novel is centered around Percy (Persephone) Fraser. After having some social issues at school, Percy's parents bought a cottage in Barry's Bay, thinking it would do her good to have her away from the city for the summer and many weekends. 
They spent six years going there, and from the start Percy was befriended by the two boys who lived next door, Sam and Charlie Florek. Sam is Percy's age, a quiet, smart, and observant boy. Charlie is a couple years older, always with a group of friends and also popular with the girls, much more social than his brother. They live with their mom, who runs a local popular restaurant. 
Something happened at the end of that six years to the growing relationship between Sam and Percy, and because it was also the year that Percy's parents sold the cottage, she has never been back, and the rift has never been resolved. 
The story begins ten years after that, when Charlie lets Percy know that their mother has died and invites her to the funeral service. Percy must take her guilt and her fear and face Sam again. But what will she say? And will words make a difference? 
While the story starts in the present, it quickly moves back to the beginning of Percy's time at Barry's Bay, and of the beginning of her relationship with the Florek brothers. We see them grow up, with all the teenage angst, the stilted communication when it comes to feelings, and the friendships that grew along with them. 
Fortune brings these characters to life, and you can sense their insecurities and their fears as they take on adulthood. The reunion years later has lots of loaded emotions and years that neither of them shares with each other that they must catch up on. A book full of feeling. 

Animal Person

Finished June 6
Animal Person: Stories by Alexander MacLeod

This collection of stories focus on the behaviours that people exhibit when put into positions that are dark, startling, or threatening. The link back to our basic animal instincts is made real in these eight stories. 
Lagomorph goes deep into a person's connection to the family pet rabbit Gunther, going back to how he was acquired up to the circumstances of one particular day.
The Dead Want is the story of an untimely death of a young woman and the cousin that she was close to, from his point of view. As the family gets the news and must travel to the place where she is, we see how he goes over memories of their relationship, and then deals with the situation as a young adult, caught between family and other ties.
What Exactly Do You Think You're Looking At? is the story of a man who tries to create a connection by borrowing other people's luggage, looking through the contents and making up stories about the person it belongs to and the things he finds. Until the day that something doesn't go the way he expects it to.
Everything Underneath tells the story of a boy and his sister, close in age. They are snorkeling for the first time, and moving away from shore, together, yet apart. He is reminded of another incident recently where the two of them did something together that ended with an injury, and suddenly the link between the two events becomes clear and urgent. 
The Entertainer is a story that caught me immediately. It is told from several points of view. One of them is a young piano teacher, seeing her best student freeze during a performance, another is the student themselves, caught between conflicting parental pride in their accomplishments and a feeling of disconnectedness with the music and their hands. The third is a man in the audience, there with his wife, who is also struggling with a form of disconnectedness. As they come together, something happens that is beautiful. 
The Ninth Concession has a boy looking back on an incident with him and a friend that changed their relationship, that was as he thinks, the beginning of the end. He thinks about the differences between himself and his friend, the financial differences, the social differences, the experiential differences, and a difference that he hadn't been aware of until it became real.
Once Removed is a story about a young couple who have a planned visit to a great-aunt of his who lives in the same city. With the day's heat and humidity, she, Amy, suddenly feels no longer up to the long bus rides to get their with their small child, but he insists, as they'd promised to come and he knew his relative would have prepared. On the trip over, she reflects on how she felt, and why. The visit includes the elements that she expected, the meal and conversation, and photo, but also an unexpected element, a task for the aunt's friend. This opens Amy's eyes to new thoughts about the aunt and a connection that she hadn't expected. 
The Closing Date is about a connection between a family and a man at a motel. The family is waiting for the closing date on their new home, and for the moving truck with their possessions to arrive. The man has a plumbing van. The child's friendliness, and a need for professional help complete the connection. It isn't until late that they discover the unsettling truth.
McLeod is an excellent writer that makes his characters and situations real as if they were happening to people you know. A great collection.

Friday, 5 August 2022

Underwater to Get Out of the Rain

Finished June 3
Underwater to Get Out of The Rain: A Love Affair with the Sea by Trevor Norton

This memoir covers Norton's life as a marine biologist, particularly his site research, as well as the history of marine biology as a whole as he looks back at his predecessors and talks about the young researchers he has worked with. Norton was born in the U.K. and did most of his work while affiliated with universities there. His work studying ocean life necessitated travelling to many places around the world and diving into the water to explore and observe. He obviously loves his job, in particular the variety of creatures he has seen and their behaviour. 
I loved learning about this part of science, and finding out about so many creatures that I wasn't familiar with. He made no secret of the some the dangers inherent in diving, including ones in specific locales. He talks about the health of the ecosystems, how politics and economics have their effect, and about local feelings about research, tourism, and other ocean related activities. 
Norton's writing flows and this book was an entertaining read, with humour in spots. 
There are also small drawing scattered throughout the book, which add to the context of the writing, and they are done by the author's wife, Win Norton.

Rules of the Game

Finished May 29 
Rules of the Game by Lori Wilde

This book is the second book in a series of novels set in Stardust, Texas. Jodi Carlyle was jilted at the altar a year ago. She's been making progress in therapy, and with her sister's wedding just a few weeks away, she knows she must get her anxiety regarding weddings under control. Her assignment is to attend a wedding. 
But of course Jodi decides to go all out, and makes plans to crash one of the swankiest wedding in nearby Dallas. She is nearly caught, but Jake Coronnado, the new hitter for the Dallas Gunslinger's baseball team rescues her from a tricky situation. She gives Jake a false name and doesn't pretend that their wild night is anything but a fling. What she doesn't know is that Jake has stepped in as best man at her sister's wedding and they are going to be spending a lot of time together.
A case of strong attraction, both characters getting over events in their past, and small town connections, this romance has lots of plot as well. Jodi runs a popular BandB with each room a different railroad car, and I found that interesting too. The Carlyle family is close, and the existence of a special object with deeper meaning and perhaps even a tendency to foretell the future brings an added element to the story that is carried through the series. 
A fun and light read, with many interesting characters. 

Friday, 22 July 2022

The Book of Cold Cases

Finished May 22
The Book of Cold Cases by Simone St. James

This book is centered on a young woman who was a victim of a crime in her childhood, and who now writes a true crime blog in her spare time. Shea Collins works as a receptionist in a medical office and has a trust issue due to her past experience. It is 2017, and Shea has lately been interested in a cold case from forty years ago. She lives and works near the area of the crimes, and finds herself visiting places connected with the case. 
The 1977 crime consisted of two killings of men. Both were shot at close range with the same gun. A wealthy young woman, Beth Greer, was seen leaving one of the crime scenes and was tried for the murders, but acquitted. When Shea runs into Beth by chance, she impulsively asks her for an interview and to her surprise, Beth agrees. 
This connection opens other doors and leads Shea to new sources of information on the crime. She learns a lot about Beth's family and her reclusive life, and she finds herself noticing things  at the mansion that Beth lives in that have no rational explanation, and make her very uneasy. 
One of Shea's fans is a local private investigator and ex-cop, Michael De Vos, and she has often bounced ideas off of him. She's never met him, but she has a connection with him, and this case strengthens that connection. 
She also has her married sister Esther, who lives nearby, and who worries about her. And there is the unexpected appearance of a stray cat, who Shea more or less adopts and who helps her make a breakthrough in some of the issues she has from her own experiences.
I found Shea a very interesting character, a woman who wants to overcome her issues, but doesn't really know how to. She's so used to putting up barriers in her life, that she finds it difficult to remove them. The cold case, and the mysterious Beth bring a level of the paranormal to the book, that makes it creepy in moments that leave you holding your breath. 
A great read. 

Wednesday, 6 July 2022

The Heart of the Deal

Finished May 18
The Heart of the Deal by Lindsay MacMillan

This isn't a romance novel, although it does have romance. It is a novel of adult life. A story of a woman, Rae, working in a job that she's good at, but doesn't love. She's also looking for love, someone to connect with in a deeper way. The book covers five years of Rae's life from 25 to 30, and we see her grow, learn, and make difficult choices. 
She's old school and doesn't have a lot of faith in online dating apps, but her friends convince her to give it a go for a while, and help her write a profile. Her roommate Ellen found her boyfriend this way and believes that she can too. 
Rae is a data analyst in an investment firm, and her work is good as she truly understands the numbers she works with, but this isn't what she thought her life would be. She wants to be a poet, but doesn't know how to do that and still make a living. She also wants to start a family by her early thirties, but the lack of a man in her life doesn't make that look likely soon. 
So, as she tries dating with some of the men she meets online, she eventually meets Dustin, a man in the same industry who also has a poetical interest in life and who she can really talk to. It becomes clear early in their relationship that Dustin has struggles with depression, and this aspect to the novel takes it to another level. As Rae navigates her inner feelings and dreams and tries to make them real, she also sees Dustin as he really is, a flawed human being like herself, with his own issues. 
This book had a depth that I really appreciated and that made it impossible not to care about these characters. 
A great read. 

July Reviews for the 16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 This is the place to link the reviews for books you've read in July 2022 that meet the requirements of the Canadian Reading Challenge. 

Have fun, read new authors and revisit ones you love. 

Sunday, 5 June 2022

Queerly Beloved

Finished May 16
Queerly Beloved by Susie Dumond

This romance novel set in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 2013, centers around Amy. Amy's passion is baking, and she has hidden her lesbian identity in order to get a job at the best bakery in town, which is run by a Christian fundamentalist. Amy also has a second job, in the evenings at a gay dive bar, where she can be her real self. Most of Amy's family is also fundamentalist, and her relationships within her family became icy once she came out to them. Her mom, who raised her on her own, is a big support to her, as well as her mom's best friends, a gay couple who are like uncles to her. 
When she is outed at the bakery and then fired from that job, she is understandably upset. Amy has been single for a while and recently met a woman, Charley, who she is drawn to. They have a first date planned for the evening of the day Amy was fired, and she is torn about whether to go. She also has a family wedding around this time, to which she is invited, but placed at a perimeter table. The bride is a cousin that Amy practically grew up with, and the distancing adds to her negative feelings.
When Amy talks with the other guests at her table, she finds potential friends, as well as an odd invitation. She is invited to fill in as a bridesmaid for the couple at her table, who had a last minute situation with one of their bridesmaids unable to attend. 
Amy is a big romantic, a fan of Say Yes to the Dress, and a person who likes to see others happy. She agrees and soon considers taking on "bridesmaid for hire" as a way to earn some extra money. She finds that her skills are a good fit for this: her baking expertise, sewing expertise, and event management skills all prove to be helpful in different situations. But this job provides a new dilemma for Amy as she is still hiding her true self, not out to those who hire her, and sometimes put into very uncomfortable situations. 
This is what I would classify as a Women's Fiction novel, as the major story here is the growth of Amy. She has to struggle through her identify issues, think about what she wants in a life partner, deal with the situation at the time of lesser rights for LGBTQ people, and even about her interactions with family and friends. There is a romance plotline with her and Charley, but that isn't the core focus. We see, through her evening job and some friends, the range of identities and issues in the LGBTQ community and there are multiple views given of these that really help show the frustration that goes along with not having the same rights as cisgender people. 
A book with depth and thought-provoking situations, and an interesting character in Amy. 

Friday, 3 June 2022

The Paris Bookseller

Finished May 14
The Paris Bookseller by Kerri Maher

This historical novel based on a real person was engrossing. Sylvia Beach came to Paris in the early 20th century, shortly before World War I began. She had early intentions of becoming a writer, but found that she wasn't able to make the words come. She became involved with the literary community in Paris, authors from many countries, including her own United States, and those that worked with them. She soon fell in love with a Parisien bookseller, Adrienne Monnier, and it wasn't long before the two became a couple. With the acceptance of same-sex relationships in Paris, and the large literary community there, Sylvia felt very much at home. Adrienne encouraged her to start her own bookshop, for English language books, and Sylvia opened it in 1919. Run on a shoestring budget, it soon drew a community of writers including Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, James Joyce, and Ernest Hemingway. Sylvia was passionate about good books, and she included a lending library model as part of her bookstore, offering the privilege for a small annual fee. Thus those who couldn't afford to buy books could still enjoy the numerous English works available. Sylvia made real friends among these writers, and I enjoyed seeing the intimacy of some of these relationships, such as Ezra Pound repairing the secondhand furniture Sylvia used in her shop. 
The book also goes deep into the complex relationship Sylvia had with James Joyce. She loved his books, and when he had difficulty finding a publisher for Ulysses, she offered to publish it. While Joyce had a strong relationship with the mother of his many children, it was also a fraught one. She didn't like the drinking that he indulged in, and he had health issues, and a tendency to live beyond his means. Sylvia was passionate about getting Ulysses to publication, but she found the relationship with Joyce difficult to manage, and sometimes felt used by him. 
Paris and its literary community, both native and ex-pat, comes alive in this novel and you can imagine it as it was, a group of friendly people trying to help each other and find their own successes along the way. 
The novel takes us up to 1936, and includes an Author's note that tells us of Sylvia's life following this. 

Our Animal Hearts

Finished May 12
Our Animal Hearts by Dania Tomlinson

This historical fiction novel is set in British Columbia's Okanagan area before, during, and after World War I. The narrator is Iris Sparks, who is twelve as the book opens. She lives with her parents, a Welsh mother Llewelyna, English father Noah, and younger brother Jacob. Her father travels often as he is still managing his family's coal mines in Britain. Her father's family looks down on her mother and when her paternal grandmother visits, she criticizes their manners and clothes and tries to instill upper class attitudes into them. But Iris is more of a free spirit. She is tutored by an older Indigenous man named Henry, a friend of her mother's who has an extensive library and vast cultural knowledge. Henry teaches her not only Milton and Spinoza, but also how to call animals and find edibles in the woods. He tells her Indigenous legends including one of a lake monster, Naitaka. 
As the book opens, Iris's mother receives a present from her husband of a peacock egg. When it hatches, she names the bird Saint Francis and it becomes a pet, going with her almost everywhere she goes and she spent much of her time in her fenced garden, treating it like a room that she felt at home in, and where others were sometimes permitted access. Shortly after this, Iris witnesses her mother's first seizure, something she is asked to hide from the rest of the family. 
Llewelyna is a woman who believes in the paranormal, fairy tales from her childhood in Wales, and the existence of a monster in the lake nearby. Henry also believes in the ghosts of his ancestors, and talks of them to Iris, so she isn't surprised to start seeing them either.  Iris also makes friends with the daughter of a Japanese man her father hires to manage their orchards, Azami. Azami is also adjusting to her life as an immigrant. While her family has adopted Christianity, she tries to keep some customs from their culture. 
As Iris grows up, Jacob is sent away to boarding school in England, Llewelyna's seizures grow more frequent, and Iris finds herself caught between worlds. Then World War I begins and the men and older boys leave to fight. 
Iris's world offers challenges in understanding, in love, in friendship, and in the things she must do to continue to thrive. This is a story of change, of the issues of otherness, and of what constitutes home. A fascinating read. 

Thursday, 2 June 2022

Find You First

Finished May 6
Find You First by Linwood Barclay

I find Barclay's books real page turners, and read this one very quickly. It is a standalone novel with stories and characters that eventually cross paths.
One of the key characters, Miles Cookson, a self-made millionaire and technology entrepreneur in his forties has just been diagnosed with ALS. He thinks of his limited future, and what plans he must make. He makes plans to get his brother tested for the disease as well, hoping that it missed him. He also realizes that a decision he made around 20 years ago has ramifications now. When he was tight for money in college, he donated sperm for money. He is worried about any children created with his donations. He is determined to ensure that if they exist, they will be able to afford to get the best healthcare they can. But when he approaches the clinic, he is stonewalled and told that they will not release any information to him. 
As he tries to find a way to reach them, as quickly as he can, we start to learn the stories of other key characters. 
One is Chloe Swanson, a young aspiring filmmaker. Chloe, who was raised by a loving single mom, has recently decided to try and find her biological father, and she is documenting the journey by filming it. She has recently found a half-brother and met him, and is eager to find more information. She is an interesting young woman, bright and thoughtful. 
We get glimpses of other lives, a teen girl who has been drawn into the circle of a man very like Jeffrey Epstein. She wants to get out of the situation that she has found herself in, but doesn't know how. There is also a wealthy New York financier who has a big ego and odd tastes, such as craning a classic Winnebago into his home office. There is a young man, recently moved out on his own, who has been making money through somewhat dubious practices. 
The plot moves quickly and yet the characters have depth as well. You see what motivates them, and why they make the choices that they do. There is lots of action and many edge of the seat moments that will keep you wondering what will happen next and who is behind some of those actions. 
I enjoy this author a lot as he comes up with very intriguing plots that often relate to current events, as well as interesting and complex characters, especially in the series novels. He also includes lighthearted moments of humour. A great read.  

June Reviews for the 15th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 I have to apologize for missing the posting for May. Lots happening then and I really lost track of things.

Post any remaining reviews for the year (July 2021-June 2022) here. 

Tuesday, 31 May 2022

A House Among the Trees

Finished May 4 
A House Among the Trees by Julia Glass

This novel reads almost like a memoir, except we have more than one character's point of view. The biggest voice is from Tomasina (Tommy) Daulair, who was the assistant to the children's book author and illustrator Mort Lear. He has recently died and she is surprised to find that he has left her his house and its contents, as well as appointing her his literary executor. As Tommy reflects on her relationship with Mort, we see how they came to meet, and how she eventually became such an important person in his life. We also see how his life became hers in a way that she didn't expect or necessarily want. 
Another voice is that of Nicholas Greene, an Oscan-winning British actor who was recently cast in the role of Mort in a biopic about a portion of his life. Nick is in his thirties and, while he has been an actor for years, only recently came into real fame. We see his background, how he found his career, who he looks to for guidance, and his short, but intense, conversations with Mort prior to his death, resulting in Nick having secrets about Mort that no one else knows. 
The third voice is that of Meredith (Merry) Galarza, a divorced museum curator, who had formed a good relationship with Mort and his art, and was planning a new building featuring his work, along with other children's author/illustrators. She is surprised and disappointed not to be named his literary executor and get possession of his work. She is under pressure from her superiors to regain some ground in this regard, so the plans regarding the new building will be able to go ahead without significant reworking. 
One of Mort's most famous books is Colorquake, a picture book about a young boy, Ivo, who lives in a world without color until he discovers he can draw things that come to life and bring color to his world. He had done other picture books along with a series for teens and many other projects. 
One of the things he has tasked Tommy to do in his will is to create a foundation that will fund a shelter for runaway and homeless boys. This sense of a boy in poverty, feeling alone, is one that runs through the book in more than one way. 
Julia Glass is very good at creating strong, deep characters, ones that you really get to know the inner workings of. You see their insecurities, the personas they present to the larger world, and the way that they relate to a number of people in their lives. 
The novel brings these characters together and ties their stories together in interesting and unexpected ways. 
I really enjoyed this book and all three of these complex characters. 

Thursday, 26 May 2022

I Was Told It Would Get Easier

Finished May 1
I Was Told It Would Get Easier by Abbi Waxman

This is a road trip novel, with a mother and daughter travelling in the eastern U.S. on a college tour. Jessica is a single mom, 45, and a partner in her law firm. She has mentored younger women lawyers for years, and is currently mentoring Valentina, who is up for partner. She has had a live-in nanny for her daughter Emily from the beginning, and Anna is more like a member of the family than an employee. 
Jessica is looking forward to the trip to spend time with Emily and get some quality mother-daughter time. But to add to the reasons, one of the lead partners has told her that he doesn't intend to make either of the women who qualify for partner this year a partner, for not very good reasons. Jessica has had enough of this attitude and has issued an ultimatum of quitting if he doesn't, which makes her a little nervous. 
Emily is also looking forward to going away, but not because she particularly wants to spend time with Jessica, or because she wants to explore colleges, but because something has happened at school, something that she has had a role in, and she wants the dust to settle before she returns to school and before her mother finds out. 
Emily isn't sure what she wants to do with her life, but she doesn't feel that college is the right choice for her. She is, however, having trouble convincing Jessica that this is a good move. 
As the two of them visit a number of colleges from Washingon, D.C. to New York City, there are many encounters, between them, the problems they left back in California, and other people on the tour. Some of these encounters are ones that may change their lives. 
I liked that the viewpoint changed between the characters of Emily and Jessica, so you got to see and experience both viewpoints, and see some of the underlying tensions of their relationship, as well as other worries that are in their heads. They are both good people, with strong ethical foundations, and this comes through during the course of the book. They are also very capable people in their own right and their own sphere, and while those spheres are different, they both grow to acknowledge the other's worth beyond their relationship. 
There are many other interesting characters that have small but important roles here, including the other parents and teens on the trip, the young woman who is leading the tour, and people they meet along the way. I really enjoyed this read, and seeing the characters grow. 

The Needle

Finished April 29
The Needle by Francis King

This is a short novel about the relationship between two siblings. Lorna, the eldest is a doctor, with the practice located on the lower level of her home. Her partner, Matty, is also a friend, and up until the return of Lorna's brother Bob from Kuala Lumpur three years earlier, had been a frequent visitor upstairs. Bob and Matty don't seem to like each other much, but they aren't overt about it. Lorna, a widow, also has a grown daughter, Edie who visits from time to time. 
Lorna and Bob grew up with a stepfather who entered the picture shortly after Bob was born. Lorna fondly remembers their father, who died of a sudden illness before Bob was born. Bob was a weak boy, fond of telling fanciful stories, until he was sent to boarding school. He returned more silent and shuttered. 
While he lives with Lorna, and supposedly makes a little money from short-lived acting roles, he doesn't share with her. She has no real idea what he does with his time, who his friends are, or much really about his life. He is in many ways as dependent on her as he was when they were young, but much more secretive about her life. 
As elements of his life begin to intrude on Lorna's life, she begins asking questions and learning more about him, learning about things that aren't that comfortable to know. As she learns of his actions, her reaction is also a surprise. 
An interesting, yet unsettling read. 

Wednesday, 27 April 2022

The Girl in the Woods

Finished April 25
The Girl in the Woods by Gregg Olsen

This thriller is the first book in a series that features native American pathologist Dr. Birdy Waterman and Sheriff's detective Kendall Stark, who have been working as a cross departmental team very successfully in Washington state.
The novel opens with a prologue where a young woman, Molly O'Rourke, a nurse's aid, taking her dog out early in the morning before work. As she waits, she thinks about one of her neighbours, Ted Roberts and how he had encouraged her as well as how ill he looked the last time she saw him.
As this novel proper begins, Birdy is surprised to find her teenage nephew, Elan on her front steps, soaking wet and looking to stay with her for a while. She's on her way out because a school trip results in the find of a human foot, and the two women have been called to attend the crime scene. As Birdy examines the foot and the two work to identify the victim, Birdy ends up getting closer to this case than she usually does with the family members of the people she examines. She gets drawn into a variety of possibilities for the perpetrator and motives and finds herself taking on aspects of the case that would normally fall to police. 
Kendall does a lot of research around the case as well, looking into the victim, family members and who might have a grudge against any of them. 
When another suspicious death happens in the community, the two are also involved in that, and soon begin to wonder whether the cases are connected. 
There are lots of interesting themes here, with larger story possibilities arising around the main characters and their personal lives. Birdy's nephew Elan has issues he struggles to deal with, and one of the other characters is a hoarder, with all the mental health issues that brings. 
There is also a prison in the community and both staff and inmates have appearances here too. I enjoyed the two lead characters, and many of the plotlines, but for me the ending seemed to have too much going on, and things happened very quickly with little of the even pace of the rest of the novel. Hopefully this will resolve as the series continues. 

Sunday, 24 April 2022

The Beacon

Finished April 24
The Beacon by Susan Hill

Hill's novels are very atmospheric and this one, set around a family in a small North Country town in England gives us a sense of isolation and loneliness. The Prime family has farmed here for years, John Jr. taking over from John, and living in the attic with his wife Bertha until the farm is his. John and Bertha raised four children: Colin, May, Frank, and Berenice. May always stood a bit apart from her siblings as she was academically minded and got a place at university. 
But her year in London wasn't what she thought it would be and she returned home to the farm, which was called The Beacon. Colin married young and worked in farming. Berenice married a man who was quiet and supportive, and Frank left. May stayed, gradually taking on more and more of the duties around the farm until both of her parents died. 
May visited Colin and Berenice and they were as close as could be expected. They didn't think of Frank often, until he wrote a memoir. That became a turning point that changed their lives and the relationships they had with the community. 
As we see them take in this information, make decisions in the wake of it, and get on with their lives as best they can, we also see the underlying emotions.
This short novel is one that will stay with you as you think about how actions influence so much beyond the ones who initiated them. 

The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted

Finished April 21
The Bookshop of the Broken Hearted by Robert Hillman

This novel was one I chose by title alone and it was definitely a surprise. Set in Australia, inland and within a day's drive from Melbourne, most of the story takes place in the late 1960s, either on a small farm, or in the town nearby. There are also occasional flashbacks to one character's experiences during World War II and its aftermath. The main character here, Tom Hope, wakes up to a note from his wife Trudy letting him know that she's left him. This is devastating to him, as he loved her, but looking back he can see that there were signs that she wasn't happy. As she returns and leaves again, the experience leaves him with a child that he finds himself loving fiercely and forming a strong bond with. 
When he loses the child, he is once more devastated, losing himself in the routine of farmwork. Tom has sheep, and fruit trees, and makes enough to get by. 
When he hears of a bookshop opening in town, he is surprised and curious. When he meets the woman who is going to run the store, he finds himself drawn to her. She is Hannah Babel, a Hungarian Jewish woman who survived Auschwitz, but lost her own family. She has done a variety of things since then, but the bookshop is close to her heart. Although older than Tom, she finds herself drawn to him as well, and both of them dare to believe that they have found love. 
As they face emotional and financial barriers, their relationship is stressed and in jeopardy unless they can find a way forward despite their past pain. 
The characters are unique and have their own quirks and outlooks. Tom is a very giving man, one who cares about people and takes disappointment to heart. Hannah has suffered much loss in her life, and is afraid of more. These are characters with histories that are painful, and as they learn to understand each other and trust each other, there is hope that they can find a future together. 
The setting comes alive here, and one can picture the farm and the hills and river. There are many interesting characters besides the two central ones, and I would be interested in learning more about many of them. As the plot brings Tom and Hannah together and threatens to rend them apart again, there are bits of larger stories that influence theirs and add depth. 
A very interesting read.