Saturday 31 December 2022

You All Grow Up and Leave Me

Finished December 31
You All Grow Up and Leave Me: A Memoir of Teenage Obsession by Piper Weiss

This memoir is about Piper's relationship with a tennis coach, Gary Wilensky, who, when she was fourteen, attacked a former student and then later killed himself. As Piper works through her emotions around the man she liked and trusted, she looks at him as well. 
Piper was a private school student, a girl shorter than her peers, who found tennis an activity she could be special in. Gary was a sought after instructor, with a personality that was engaging. He made his teen students feel special, taking them to dinner and buying them presents. He treated them as peers. 
When one of his students felt that something was off and told her mother, she stopped taking lessons from him, and that triggered something in him. He had a plan, but he was also panicking in the moment of action, and that led to mistakes that led to him aborting his plan and finding himself with no way out. 
This is a sad story, a story of questions that don't all have answers. The author also has issues and wonders why this is a story that she still cares about years later. As a journalist, she's done her research, interviewed who she could, and been open about her own story, leaving me sad for her as well. 
The title comes from a conversation she had near the end of her time with Gary when he said this and she promised that she wouldn't, that she'd be there for him, and perhaps this is her way of keeping that promise. 

X + Y

Finished December 31
X + Y: A Mathematician's Manifesto for Rethinking Gender by Eugenia Cheng

I was looking for a book to help meet a reading challenge and came across this book which got me thinking about many things in different ways. The author is a mathematician and an artist. She teaches mathematics at the School of the Art Institute in Chicago. In her career, and in other aspects of her life, she has encountered sexism and racism. She has thought a lot about this and how often gender issues are substituted for behaviour issues. She outlines how our society favours more aggressive, competitive, individualistic behaviour, and about how that behaviour has come to be seen as masculine. 
She has come up with new descriptors for this issue around behaviour that take the gender out of the discussion, eliminating one red herring to change. She describes two behaviour types as ingressive and congressive, where ingressive is the current valued type of behaviour that values competition, winners, contests, and individual success. The other type of behaviour, congressive, values understanding, sharing, working together, collaboration, and societal success. She makes a great argument for this new set of descriptors and how using them and thinking of them more in the behavioural sense and not tying them to gender norms can overcome not only gender bias, but also other biases in our society that favour the status quo. 
I found myself easily understanding her descriptions of category theory mathematics (I was a math major in my first year of university) and seeing how it applies to this idea of behavioural categories. She advocates gradual change, using congressive approaches and responses to replace ingressive or passive ones, and finding a way forward that will benefit not only society as a whole, but individuals more broadly as well. 
This is a fascinating book that needs to be read by more people and have them seriously consider her suggestions. 

Cosy Nook Book Box December

 I received this book a few weeks ago, but forgot to post about it then. This book box subscription includes a book, some snacks and other fun items.

Upon opening the box, I first saw the card for the Give a Book campaign, and a fun reindeer sticker.

Opening the paper gave me a first glimpse of some of the items from socks to edibles. 

Here are the edibles: 

They include a Tim Hortons tea bag (peppermint flavour), some Cadbury mini eggs (something I'd never eaten before), a small Toblerone bar, and an instant cappuccino. 

I next looked at the wearable items:

Here are those fun watermelon inspired socks I saw when I first opened the paper, and a toque that coordinates with the winter clothing items from the November box. I found the toque VERY stretchy, so it would fit any size head. 

There are a couple of cosmetic items:

These are a face mask and a lip mask. Hydrating IS important!

There was a small craft to make a simple Christmas ornament:

And some other nice items: 

The reindeer stick I saw at first was joined by a couple of other cute stickers, a coaster with a holiday theme, and a glass mug perfect for those hot mulled beverages. 

The book was also Christmas themed. 

King of the North Wind

Finished December 28
King of the North Wind: The Life of Henry II in Five Acts by Claudia Gold

This biography shows in-depth research and flows well. It is set out chronologically, and as the subtitle indicates in five sections: The Bargain, Triumph, Pariah, Rebellion, and Nemesis. The book starts with a number of maps: one of the crusader states circa 1150, Britain and Ireland circa 1150, France circa 1150, Henry II's empire circa 1170, and a map showing the Great Revolt of 1173-74. This is followed by family trees: the English succession; the issue of Henry II, the Capetian family; the relationship between Louis VII and Eleanor of Aquitaine, and the relationship between Henry II and Eleanor of Aquitaine. These last two are important because of Eleanor's marriages to the two kings and the reason of consanguinity that was used for the annulment of her marriage to Louis. 
This is follows by a list of the people who appear in the biography, which can be helpful as there are rather a lot of them. There are two sections of plates in the book and a timeline at the end of the narrative. There is also an extensive bibliography. 
In the early years, Henry vied against his uncle Stephen for the throne, and was supported heavily by his mother Matilda. Henry was educated for kingship and power, but he had to fight for it. He started great reforms in England that continued after his death as set the rule of law that exists today. He was a patron of the arts and encouraged cultural achievements. But there were dark sides to his reign such as the murder of Thomas Becket, a deed that took Henry a decade and much diplomacy to recover from. He also failed to educate his sons in the same way that he himself had been educated and thus they were ill-prepared for ruling. His mistrust of their skill also influenced this and led to a series of rebellions from his own children, many supported by his rival in France. His reign ended with his worst and saddest years, when he lost the support of all his legitimate sons, and found himself kneeling to the king of France as overlord for some of his lands. 
As the book states, this is a tragic life, but one full of ups and downs. A life of a man who was intelligent, educated, and savvy, but perhaps too confident in the end. A fascinating read.

Thursday 29 December 2022


Finished December 23
Whiteout by Dhonielle Clayton, Tiffany D. Jackson, Nic Stone, Angie Thomas, Ashley Woodfolk, and Nicola Yoon. 

This teen novel is set within a short time frame, less than half a day on a winter day in Atlanta. Each character is written by a different author, and we get backstory through the plot. The two characters at the center of the plot are Stevie and Sola, two teens in a romance that has hit a rough spot. Sola had a plan to reveal their relationship to her family at a special dinner. They had been best friends for a while, and then something more, but Sola hadn't revealed her romantic relationship to her traditional family. While Stevie defies a punishment to step outside her comfort zone and make a grand gesture to try to win Sola's forgiveness and mend their relationship, the weather is not cooperating. 
Atlanta is being hit by a wicked snowstorm, causing traffic chaos, delays for those travelling, and logistical problems. But Stevie has a team of friends ready to step in and help, and those other voices have their stories as well. 
There are many romances here, both straight and gay, and love is the overarching theme of the story. Friendship love, family love, and romantic love all show up. 
Other characters voiced here include Kaz, a young immigrant from Somalia with feelings for his best friend Porsha; Evan-Rose coming home from boarding school with her girlfriend Savanna and encountering a friend in a surprising meet-up; Jordyn driving home from college and giving a ride to fellow student Omari; Jimi, who is hoping for a big break in her musical career and runs into a guy from the past; and Ava and Mason, two volunteers at the aquarium who also have a rift in their relationship. Their voices are interspersed with chat exchanges and news bulletins, and I got schooled in some conversational style that was new to me. 
Besides the voiced characters we see many others from family members to friends, and see a curiously reappearing driver that may bring a little magic of his own. 
A feel-good story.

Dusk in the Frog Pond

Finished December 20
Dusk in the Frog Pond and Other Stories by Rummana Chowdhury

I won this book from 49th shelf and have taken my time savouring the stories contained in it. It's a nice slim book, perfect for my purse, and thus a good book to be able to pull out and read in short bursts when I'm waiting for something. The stories are set in Bangladesh, the United States, and Canada, following the lives of various women as they encounter upsets, small and large, in their daily lives. These women are wives and mothers and they face difficulties ranging from adjusting to a new culture or a new home, dealing with husbands whose work takes them away from home, having children or not, or facing infidelity and loss.
These stories have kindness and love, violence and grief, and in all of them women make choices, choices that change their lives, that disrupt and heal. I really enjoyed them and reread several to savour the writing. 

Tuesday 20 December 2022

Things We Do in the Dark

Finished December 18
Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier

This novel has a touch of suspense and a lot of delving into the past. In Seattle, Paris Peralta comes home early from a yoga conference. Paris has been married only a few years to the much older Jimmy Peralta, a comedian and actor. Their unlikely relationship is based on real liking for each other and respect. So when she comes in to find him dead in the bathtub, she is shocked, dismayed, and in disbelief. As she tries to save him, even though she knows he is beyond saving, she knocks herself out and thus finds herself waking to screams, police, and an accusation of murder.
In Toronto, Drew Malcolm is upset to learn that convicted murderer Ruby Reyes is being released on parole. It isn't the murder that bothers him as much as the way she is being depicted as a MeToo victim when he knows better. Years before, he was fascinated by the story and it is part of what led him to a career in journalism. He knows does a podcast on criminal cases. He also got to know Ruby's daughter Joelle, and was her roommate for a while, and knows that Ruby was also convicted of child abuse in her treatment of Joelle. That is something that he can't forgive her for and thus why he has a personal stake in the case. When Joelle died in a house fire shortly after Drew confronted her about her life choices, it created both a feeling of guilt in him and one of unresolved issues between them that can never to dealt with. He resolves to make it his mission to paint a picture of Ruby for the public that shows her true colours. 
As these two stories gradually come together, we get a clearer picture of Paris, of Ruby and her daughter Joelle, and of the way that the press influences news stories. We also see more deeply into the foster care system, into the lives of those struggling to afford a place to live and a better future, and into those who can't let go of past relationships. 
A fascinating read with characters that truly come alive to the reader. 
We gradually learn that Paris has a hidden past, one that she definitely doesn't want to come out. The novel jumps back in time to one years before. 

Serena Singh Flips the Script

Finished December 16
Serena Singh Flips the Script by Sonya Lalli

This novel is a romance, but it also touches on other life issues that give the novel real depth. As the novel opens, Serena is about to start a new job, as creative director for a woman-led advertising agency. She is also immersed in her role as emcee for her younger sister Natasha's wedding. 
Natasha is marrying a white man, who comes from a wealthy family, and the couple will be living in the Washington home of her in-laws. Since the in-laws often travel, and the house is large, they aren't anticipating any issues with sharing the home. 
When Serena first moved into the city from the suburbs she grew up in, she had to save up for a long time to get the rent money and she had to be firm about her decision to defy the cultural norms of living at home until marriage. Serena has no plans to ever marry or to have children. She loves her career and although she's had serious relationships, only one ever threatened to get serious enough to involve marriage, and that one is far in the past. 
When Natasha pushes her towards the attractive photographer doing the wedding photos, Serena is open to dating, but they are both busy and see each other only a couple of times a week. 
Serena is dealing with a new challenging job, a team of staff that report to her, not all of whom are enthusiastic about her hire, and the loss of her best friend, Natasha as she is now busy in her marriage. As Serena explores options for finding friends, from social media apps to clubs and activities, she also finds herself opening herself to the possibility of finding a friend in her daily life. 
It is only gradually that we see what has led to Serena making herself into an independent woman who doesn't need a husband or family, and that we realize that she still has unresolved issues around this area of her life.
I really liked her as a character, and how she is both a successful woman in her career and an empathetic one who cares about her family, friends, and coworkers. She has dealt with men taking credit for her work and has found ways to get past that and shine in her own right. 
Because the setting is in D.C., it was only partway through the book that I realized that the author is Canadian, an added bonus. 
A quick and enjoyable read. 

Thursday 15 December 2022

Pitch Dark

Finished December 14
Pitch Dark by Renata Adler

This novel was originally published in 1983 and has a very different style. It's almost stream of consciousness, but disconnected and it jumps around between different times. The narrator Kate Ellis is a journalist who has been in a long term relationship with a married man, one that she knows will never be more than that. She thinks of leaving him, but she doesn't seem to have the motivation to want more for herself. 
One central story here is when she goes to Ireland for some time alone, staying in a house that an ambassador that she met owns and has offered for her use. This seems an odd story, where she has a minor accident while driving to the house, and has a sense that she is being set up by the victim and the police, but can't put her finger on what's happening. She also seems a bit cowed by the staff at the house she is staying at, and her reaction to it all is extreme. 
The afterword to the novel was written back in 1983 as well, by Muriel Spark, an author I always enjoy, and it was also an odd read. It is hesitant and not that enthusiastic about the novel and mentions how it fails in some regards as to what the author likely intended, but she does say that she found the episodes in Kate's life fascinating. One thing she noted that I did as well, was the narrator choosing to use a false name at one point and in going over her options related them to Renata's name rather than the character's name, raising the question of whether this was deliberate and whether the novel is really a memoir of a sort. A very different read. 

Wednesday 14 December 2022

If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It

Finished December 12
If You Can Dream It, You Can Do It: How 25 Inspiring Individuals Found Their Dream Jobs by Colleen Nelson and Kathie MacIsaac, with illustrations by Scot Ritchie

This book about careers for kids is one that will truly inspire. I liked the range of jobs shown here from barber to veterinarian, including some less mainstream jobs like an NHL scout and a cake designer. I liked the inclusion of so many Canadian people in the examples here, and I loved the diversity. 
Each example is a two-page spread with the person and job highlighted, including a photo of the person. There are also several boxes with other information. One is Living the Dream, another example of someone in a related profession, usually one that started in their youth. There is a box called Other Work with other types of jobs in the same field, and another box called Spin-Off Jobs with jobs that are in a related field to the example. There is a box of Pro-Tips that give ideas on how the reader can explore this field beginning right away. The last box is Why Not Try, which gives an action the reader can take. These range from looking someone up online to starting a club at school. 
After the job profiles the book includes a list of Future Dream Jobs, one that don't exist now but likely will soon or that are less defined due to how recently they've appeared, with some short discussion of the premise for inclusion. This is followed by a discussion of skill sets, differentiating between technical skills and soft skills. A glossary is also included.
This book would be an excellent addition to any school or public library.

In a Holidaze

Finished December 10
In a Holidaze by Christina Lauren

This Christmas romance novel has Maelynn (Mae) Jones reliving her Christmas vacation over and over as things go wrong. Every year her family gets together with 3 others at a cottage to celebrate Christmas. The families are the college friends of her parents and this tradition is so important to everyone that her family continues it even after her parents got divorced a few years ago. 
Mae has long had a crush on the oldest son in one of the other families, Andrew, but has never said anything to anyone about it. As the book opens early on the morning of December 26th, Mae realizes that she drank too much eggnog the previous evening and had a make-out session with the younger brother of her crush, one that she has long been friends with, but never felt any sexual interest in. She doesn't know how to fix this and when it appears that others know, and that more things are going wrong, she feels even worse. 
As her family drives back to the city to catch their flight home, she makes a plea to God to show her what makes her happy. Next thing she knows a vehicle is coming at theirs, and she blacks out. When she awakens, she is on a plane and it is December 20th. And she is reliving the past few days. 
As she makes different choices, the same outcome ensues, with her back on the plane heading for Christmas vacation.
This repetition has her looking at her life with more clarity, evaluating her options and choices and taking a chance on being her real self instead of the people pleaser that she has long been. 
This is a refreshing and uplifting read (in the opinion of another people pleaser) and one that is definitely a great fit for the season. I enjoyed Mae and seeing her develop into the woman that she is. 

Tuesday 13 December 2022

Chaotic Good

Finished December 8
Chaotic Good by Whitney Gardner

This teen novel is told by teen Cameron. She has a twin brother Cooper and their family has just moved from Portland, Oregon to Eugene, Oregon. It is the beginning of summer before their senior year of high school. Cameron loves to sew and create new fashion items, and she's also into costuming for cosplay. She is applying for Fashion Design school and has a portfolio that she needs to get ready for her application. 
When she ventures into the local comic store for inspiration, the clerk treats her in a very condescending way, because of her gender and she feels very uncomfortable. After some thought and discussion, she decides to take advantage of her gender neutral name and dress as a boy the next time she shops there. This decision ends up leading to a summer of deceit, new friends, and an introduction to the world of Dungeons and Dragons (D and D). It also means that her new relationships are built on pretty shaky ground and at some point she's going to need to be truthful about her gender. 
Another aspect of the IRL part of this story is her online life. She has a blog where she talks about her fashion creations, including her cosplay creations, and this draws attention from the internet trolls. As she finds herself assaulted by this foul-mouthed mob, threatened and verbally assaulted, she finds her boy persona a way to escape that reality for a while. 
I liked Cameron as a character, and liked that D and D also gave her another connection to her father. This was an interesting story looking at some real world issues around gender and online harassment.

Saturday 10 December 2022

Pianos and Flowers

Finished December 6
Pianos and Flowers: Brief Encounters of the Romantic Kind by Alexander McCall Smith

This collection of stories is inspired by old photographs the author selected from the archives of The Sunday Times, as part of a writing project for them. He used those images to create narratives set in the early twentieth century, with no other information about the photos. 
Using tiny clues from the images he imagines the people, the backstory, and the context for the images, making them come to life. 
The stories include lively characters, and interesting lives and were very engaging. Ranging from siblings to friends to lovers, most of their relationships developed over time, and are complex for short stories.

Friday 9 December 2022

A Merry Little Meet Cute

Finished December 5
A Merry Little Meet Cute by Julie Murphy and Sierra Simone

This holiday romance has a few interesting twists to it. They all made it more interesting. 
Teddy Fletcher is the producer of an upcoming movie, Duke the Halls, who discovers in the opening pages that many of his crew as well as his leading lady have been injured in a freak accident. He must come up with replacements for the crew as well as the star on a very, very tight timeline. 
This is Teddy's first movie for Hopeflix, a well-known producer of holiday romance movies. Teddy has a deep background in producing, but not one Hopeflix is aware of, because it is in the adult movie industry. Teddy is trying to cross into mainstream movies and this can't go wrong for him. 
He's not the only one depending on this movie. The male star is Nolan Shaw, former member of the boy bank INK. He has his own past to overcome. The turning moment for him was being photographed carrying an unconscious Olympic skater out of her hotel room, with two naked speedskaters in the background. It ended both his and her careers. He's been working in local theatre recently, but needs more money to support his mom and younger sister. 
When Teddy grabs his files to meet with his director Gretchen Young to look over possibilities for replacements for the female lead, he grabs a file from his adult movie business by mistake, and when Gretchen sees the picture of Bianca von Honey (the adult industry stage name of Bee Hobbes), she picks her. 
Bee had always wanted to be an actress, but her plus size body wasn't accepted as star material during her school years, and a personal crisis had her revealing parts of her body to the public at a young age, leading her to her current career. She started with an account on Closed Doors, a subscriber only site for many adult stars, and then segued that success into a movie career in the adult industry. She only works for Teddy, as his reputation is good for treating stars and crew with respect. 
This chance to be in a mainstream film is both scary and enticing, but she will have to keep her adult star persona hidden to make it through. 
Unfortunately, when the two leads meet up, Nolan quickly realizes that Bee is the woman that he has ardently watched as a subscriber, and things start to heat up very quickly. 
I liked the humour that pervaded this novel, as well as the depth of many of the issues the book brought up. Things like body image, slut shaming, the nastiness of social media, the financial realities of the US healthcare system, and tabloid-style journalism to name a few.
I'd read Julie Murphy before and liked her style and this new team-up with Sierra Simone is a definite winner and kept surprising me as it flowed along. 

The End of October

Finished December 2
The End of October by Lawrence Wright

I started reading this novel in March 2020, but it felt too close to what was happening in the world at that time, so I put it down and moved on to another book. I decided to tackle it again, and it still felt eerily real to me, with so many aspects of the pandemic within its pages relatable to the real-life pandemic. But this time I kept reading, because I truly wanted to know what would happen to Dr. Henry Parsons, his wife Jill and their children Helen and Teddy. 
Henry is a microbiologist working at the CDC and for the WHO. When an outbreak occurs in Indonesia, he travels there on behalf of WHO to investigate. 
The book takes us through scary moments, when Henry first realizes the virulence of the outbreak and then when he realizes that he has lost the moment to contain it. Henry is a dedicated scientist, using his skills to help figure out what he can. Like our pandemic, things are constantly happening that change the situation, and adjustments are constantly being made. 
Also, like our pandemic, authorities don't always give all the information they have, and aren't always clear to the public of the risks and the real numbers affected. 
The side of the book with Henry's family personalizes it more. Jill is a school teacher, worried about her kids in the classroom, but also about her kids at home. With limited access to be able to communicate with Henry, she is forced to make decisions with limited information. She second guesses herself. 
I found the character of Helen the most interesting as she developed. She is in her teens, and is forced to deal with very adult situations. She is scared and very brave. I really liked her.
There are many loose ends here, as there are in real life. We don't know what happens to the Saudi prince that Henry worked so closely with, and the end of the book doesn't tie everything up. But this feels real, and so many of the issues that arise are real: foreign diplomacy, threats of war, suspicion that the virus is manmade, climate change, countries taking advantage of weaknesses to attack other countries, and interruptions to communications and trade. This was still a difficult read, as so many of the issues are real for us now, but it is one that will keep you gripped to the book.  

Thursday 8 December 2022

Raven Reads Fall 2022 Box

 I've been subscribing to this book package for a while, but not posted about it before. This is a Canadian-based subscription, and comes out quarterly. With each package you get a book by an indigenous author, and other items from indigenous businesses. 

This is a great way to enhance your reading and find new and unique items that are made with care and dedication. 

I love the pattern on the boxes

Inside each box, there is a short newsletter about the contents of the box and a thank you card. The filler has a woodsy smell to it. 

This month's contents included a bag

as well as the book and other items. 

This quarter's book choice was one that was already on my radar as one to read, The Theory of Crows by David A Robertson. I like Robertson as an author and am looking forward to this one a lot. 
Also included are two soap bars, one a facial bar and one for the body. Both smell fantastic. The last item is a smudge spray, an interesting alternative for those situations where burning smudge may not be an option. 

December Reviews for the 16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Here is where you add links to your reviews for books you've read in December. Add comments as well to tell us about where you are in the challenge or about the books. 

Thursday 1 December 2022

The Twilight Wife

Finished November 29
The Twilight Wife by A.J. Banner

This novel starts with marine biologist Kyra Winthrop walking the beach on Mystic Island, set in the San Juan islands of Puget Sound. Kyra had a diving accident a few months ago and, as a result, has no memory of the last four years of her life. Jacob, her husband has told her that she taught at Seattle University and that they've been married for three years. She goes through picture albums, both of the earlier years that she remembers and of the years she has forgotten. When she tries to force the memories, she gets headaches, so she slows down, but it bothers her a lot that she has this gap in her life. Jacob says that they recently moved to the house that he grew up in, on this remote island to allow her a quieter environment to recover. He's also told her that they spent time here on the island last summer, staying in a local bed and breakfast, before the accident.
Kyra is beginning to have spurts of memories come through. She remembers another man, Aiden and knows that she had feelings for him, and intimacy. When an older local man, Doug, seems to recognize her she wants to find out who she reminds him of. 
One of their neighbours is Nancy and her husband Van. Nancy grew up with Jacob and seems to have confused feelings about him. Nancy has befriended Kyra and yet seems to also resent her in some ways. 
As Kyra begins to remember things and learn things from the few others on the island, she also finds that Jacob has kept some information from her. Is it to protect her as he claims, or are there secrets he doesn't want her to know? 
This is a tale of narcissism, control, and manipulation, along with Kyra's struggle to find the truth about herself and the people in her life. A book that is hard to put down. 

Let's Add Up!

Finished November 27
Let's Add Up! by Victoria Allenby, illustrated by Maggie Zeng

I always like finding good number books for children, so this is a winner. A careful look at the cover gives a clue to the theme of the book, the number 10. The book goes over various combinations of numbers that add up to 10, and also uses the same combination to introduce the idea of sorting. For example the first combination of 5 drums and 5 tambourines equals 10, but it also shows the concept of these two different things also being sorted as musical instruments, and then follows that with the introduction of them being put to use, resulting in a band. The pictures bring even more depth to this, with each drum being different from the others and each tambourine unlike the others. 
The book gives so much to explore with this in terms of sorting and adding that it can support a lot of discussion. 
I also really like the diversity of the children depicted here, showing different races and abilities among them. The drawings have movement and interest, and looking closely offer more things to talk about. At the end of the book, suggestions are given for more activities that involve classification, adding, observing, counting, and being creative. A great choice for any young reader.

The Witch of Babylon

Finished November 26
The Witch of Babylon by D.J. McIntosh

This novel, the first in a trilogy, reaches back to ancient Babylonia and Assyria in the events that influence the plot. The main character, John Madison, is a Turkish-American art dealer, who was found and raised by his older half-brother Samuel after his parents' deaths. 
The two are close in many ways, but not in all. Samuel was also involved in the art world, specializing in ancient artifacts from the Middle East. As the book begins, John is going home from the hospital, where he has been recovering from a car accident, one in which he was driving the car, and that resulted in Samuel's death. Samuel had just returned from Iraq, where he had been trying to save museum pieces from looters following the Iraq War. There is one particular relic that Samuel had been focused on, one that hadn't yet gained the attention of the art and archeological world. 
John finds that he must follow in Samuel's footsteps and stay one step ahead of the others trying to find the artifact in order to find out what Samuel cared this much about, and to resolve his own personal issues. It may also be the only way to save his own life. 
John's old friend and client Hal has inserted himself into the situation and left John a puzzle to solve to be able to move forward in the search. Also involved is an archeologist named Tomas Zakar and his brother Ari, an Iraqi photojournalist. 
Among the people trying to find the artifact by any means necessary is an attractive young woman named Eris and a mysterious group of masked people who have an interest in alchemy. John doesn't know who to trust and makes many missteps in his searching. From New York to Iraq, this novel takes John on a journey into the past, both ancient and his own. 

Bear Has a Belly

Finished November 23
Bear Has a Belly by Jane Whittingham

This delightful photography picture book introduces body parts to young children, having them look at animals' bodies and compare them to their own bodies. They can see how the parts can be the same and yet different. The first example has a rabbit with long, floppy ears and the child can see that they have ears as well, but theirs are not long or floppy. This book would be a good one to read interactively, touching and pointing to body parts and noticing differences. Kids can come up with other descriptions for body parts for different types of bodies and explore the world around them by noticing these things. 
The animal photos are appealing and illustrate the noted body part well, and the pictures of the children show diversity. 
The book also includes suggestions to augment the reading experience, including making it interactive, finding ways to integrate movement, and to encourage observation and learning beyond the reading experience. 
A great choice for young readers. 

Deck the Halls

Finished November 21
Deck the Halls by Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark

This mystery is set around a popular New York City based mystery writer and her family. Nora Reilly had planned to spend the holiday season with her husband Luke and daughter Regan in Hawaii. Unfortunately she tripped on a rug and broke her leg and now the family is spending Christmas in New York. Regan has flown in from her home in Los Angeles. Luke has a few plans, from putting in an appearance at a funeral taking place at the funeral home he runs with a partner to a dentist appointment before returning to the hospital later that day and then going out for a bit with Regan.
When calls go her dad go unanswered, and he doesn't show at the dentist, Regan knows something is wrong. At the dentist she runs into amateur detective Alvirah Meehan whose husband had an emergency dental visit just before Luke's scheduled appointment. Alvirah gives Regan a ride back to her parents' house and is there when a call comes in demanding a ransom be paid for Luke's release.
When Luke exited the hospital earlier, he and his driver were surprised by a former contractor with a gun. The contractor has teamed up with a disgruntled relative of a recently deceased business acquaintance of Luke's and the two have multiple grievances against both Luke and his young single mother driver Rosita Gonzalez. 
Gonzalez is worried about the inexperienced babysitter she had left her two young boys with and Luke is thinking of ways to provide information to his daughter that may help her find him.
Regan works as a private detective back in L.A. and with Alvirah's help and contacts quickly gets high-level support from the police. 
The ineptitude of the kidnappers provides both comic relief and tenseness as they seem to be ill-prepared for any changes to their plans. 
This is a light seasonal mystery book that provided me with a quick and enjoyable escape read. There is even a touch of romance. 

Dinos Driving

Finished November 20
Dinos Driving by Lynn Leitch, illustrations by Scot Ritchie

Dinosaurs are a common interest of children and this book provides information on different types of dinosaurs in a humorous and interesting way. Readers are asked to imagine what kind of cars different dinosaurs might drive based on their known attributes. From physical characteristics to diet to behaviours, these attributes are used as reasoning for the choices here. 
The illustrations bring both the dinosaurs and the attributes to life, showing an adult velociraptor driving their family around in their Mini, a group of motorcycle riding Triceratops, and a bus driver Diplodocus among others. The book pairs up the dinosaurs with vehicles in the main narrative, with information given about the dinosaurs at the end.
As usual with this publisher, at the end of the book additional activities are suggested. These include having a conversation with the child about the pairings and why they might be matched the way they are, coming up with matches for other dinosaurs or other animals, doing their own illustrations based on those ideas, and coming up with poses or actions to match with the different dinosaurs that can then be acted out. 
A fun and silly book that definitely has child appeal. 

Wednesday 23 November 2022

A Sky-Blue Bench

Finished November 15
A Sky-Blue Bench by Bahram Rahman, illustrated by Peggy Collins

This story of a young girl, Aria, doesn't give the background of her injury, although it is at the center of the plot. Aria has a "helper leg" after an accident. She is just now returning to school and finds it difficult to sit on the ground for class. 
After consideration of her options, she decides to build a bench for herself for class. The story shows the gathering of materials, the request for advice from someone with the necessary skills, and the construction of the bench including painting it a sky-blue colour with the gift of paint given to Aria. This blue is a colour of courage, peace, and wisdom according to her donor. 
Aria's project inspires the girls in her class to dream of more projects, from more benches to bookcases. 
This story is based on real children in Afghanistan, where wooden furniture was often used by refugees to burn to keep warm, resulting in a lack of furniture following their stay in facilities like schools.
The pictures really enliven the story, with the characters' emotions coming out through their facial expressions. A lovely read about a subject not often covered. 

Tuesday 22 November 2022

Dance of the Bones

Finished November 13
Dance of the Bones by J.A. Jance

This novel brings together J.P. Beaumont and Brandon Walker for a situation in Arizona. Lani Pardee is planning on going on an overnight retreat in the mountains with her 13-year-old godson Gabe. He has been a souce of worry recently for his parents who worry that he is taking a path that won't bring him anywhere good. The night doesn't go as planned, and they end up in the middle of a crime that has been decades coming. 
More than forty years earlier, Amos Warren had mentored young John Lassiter, and the two had a partnership finding and selling historical artifacts. Amos was killed and his body wasn't found for years. When it was, Lassiter was convicted of his murder and is still in jail for it. But a group working to clear his name has begun to dig into the case and the real murderer is looking to cover any remaining tracks and leave the area for good. 
This book ties in a native legend to the story, adding bits of that legend to the beginning of each chapter as it relates to the action in the plot. I really enjoyed this aspect of the book and the Walker family tree that was also included at the beginning, showing how various characters connected to each other. 
This was an interesting mystery with additional depth from the indigenous content. A good read. 
My copy also had a short story featuring J.P. Beaumont along with his wife Mel.

Friday 18 November 2022

The Night Country

Finished November 11
The Night Country by Melissa Albert

This is the second book in the Hazel Wood series, and continues the story of Alice Prosperpine as she navigates her life in the human world, yet finds herself getting drawn back into the world of the Hinterland creatures who have, like her, escaped their stories. It also continues the story of Ellery Finch, the human boy, now man, who noticed Alice and helped her in her escape from her fairy tale. Elsa, Alice's mother also appears more prominently here and we get a better sense of her as a person. She was the one who took Alice from Hinterland to begin with and set the path to giving Alice a life that she chooses rather than just plays a part in. In Hinterland, Alice was Alice Three Times and we see glimpses of her story again here. 
The Hinterland has been in the process of dying due to the actions of Alice, Elsa, and Ellery, and the Spinner of stories there has some understandable resentment against them. Alice's fellow creatures have more prominence here as well, and we get to know some them like Sophia Snow more closely. 
As Ellery journey's through other worlds with a strange companion, he also yearns for Alice, finding a unique way to stay connected to her in the meantime. 
I enjoyed this sequel and how it continued the development of the two main characters. I also like the fantasy elements that Melissa Albert brings in, both the expected and the unexpected. 
This is supposed to complete the series, but I can't help but be interested in where Ellery and Alice will go next. 

The Cat, the Lady, and the Liar

Finished October 25
The Cat, the Lady and the Liar by Leann Sweeney

This is a book in the Cats in Trouble mystery series. Jillian Hart is a quilter who specializes in quilts for or featuring cats. She is also involved in a local cat rescue in her town of Mercy, South Carolina. She has been asked by the rescue director to discreetly look into the owner of a cat recently found near a highway. The owner is a wealthy woman in the neighbouring town of Woodcrest, Ritaestelle Longworth. When Jillian goes to Ritaestelle's house and talks to her assistant, she finds that things are not right, and when Ritaestelle shows up a Jillian's house later that same day looking for help, Jillian is only too happy to assist. 
Both women are old school polite, following established social protocols for behaviour and expectations. They are also both good hostesses and good women at heart and want to do what's right by the people around them. Jillian is a relatively recent widow, who is in the early stages of a new relationship with a man who is also a security specialist. Ritaestelle lives with two cousins, her sister-in-law, and her nephew and has a multitude of ties to her community. With rumours circulating about her mental state, and possible shoplifting and minor theft charges placed against her, Ritaestelle is looking to clear her name, and find out who might be setting her up and why. Taking refuge at Jillian's house for a time, along with her cat Isis, she cooperates fully with Jillian to figure it out. 
A cosy mystery with lots of cats present and showing their unique personalities. 

Boots Under Her Bed

Finished October 20
Boots Under Her Bed by Jodi Thomas, Jo Goodman, Kaki Warner, and Alison Kent

This book includes four novellas published here for the first time. They are all historical romances set in the western U.S. with a cowboy as a romantic character.
The first story, Crazy Callie, has a young woman desperate for a husband to escape the control of her greedy stepfather, who wants to take the land she inherited as her own. Callie has a plan that she enacts with the help of a couple of friends. She scours the streets of town in the wee hours looking for a man drunk enough to be talked into marriage as a transaction, and she finds Luke Morgan, a man also desperate for a future. He surprises her by his reaction to her proposition and as the relationship between them grows more trusting, he surprises himself as well.
Nat Church and the Runaway Bride has Nat arriving at a jailhouse to bail out Felicity Ravenwood, who has been arrested with a group of Temperance women. The sheriff is only too happy to see her go, and Nat takes her to the private railcar Felicity's father owns to continue his task regarding her. Felicity has left a man at the altar and gone on the run and her father, a railway magnate has asked a favour of Nate to find her, and find a mutually agreeable way forward for her. Felicity has had many men interested in marrying her, but more for the money that comes with her than for her own personhood. She sent her father a letter saying this and espousing a desire to live by her own wits. Her father has cut her off and sent Nat to supervise the situation. As they get to know one another, a respectful but close relationship develops.
In The Scent of Roses, Rachel James and Richard Whitmeyer meet on a train. At first, each chooses silence rather than conversation, for their own reasons. Eventually they use a game of cards to find out more about each other, with each guardedly answering questions posed by the other. The city they left has recently had a bank robbery, with share certificates and gems stolen from a deposit box. Both are interested in this, but haven't shared that information with each other. The story has a different and interesting role for a woman.
The last story, The Hired Gun's Heiress, Maeve Daugherty has found herself a job in a brothel, but not the obvious job. She does the books. Having left her home back in New York, along with her uncle, Maeve found herself in financial straits and found a job matching her skills. Zebulon Crow provides security for her father, both in business and in his private life, and now that he has found her, he insists on taking her back to New York. But others are looking for Maeve too for different reasons, and they may interfere in Zeb's plans. 
These were enjoyable reads, and I liked the independent spirit of the female characters. 

Tuesday 15 November 2022

Act of God

Finished October 15
Act of God by Jill Ciment

I always enjoy Jill Ciment books. This one is a little quirky. Two sisters, Edith and Kat live in a rent-controlled apartment in New York City. Edith is a recently retired legal librarian. Kate, her identical twin is more eccentric and romantic. The year is 2015, and it is a sweltering summer in the city. They've recently had a new landlady, Vera Cebu, a Shakespearian actress who has lately become more famous for her TV commercials than her stage roles. 
Edith has been complaining about a musty smell to Vera for some time, but not getting a response. So when Kat discovers a phosphorescent mushroom sprouting from the wall in their hall closet, she gets angry.
Meanwhile Vera finds a Russian girl, who has run away from an au pair position, secretly living in her guest room, and calls the police to remove the intruder. In the course of the arrest, the police find a second mushroom in the guest room closet and they involve the authorities. 
All four women are forced by the authorities to evacuate their contaminated building with only the clothes they are wearing. The infestation spreads along the street and others get evacuated as well. From the building caretaker to the older couple with their much-loved cats, the people affected significantly by the outbreak come to life and find themselves making changes to their lives beyond what they'd ever imagined. 
An engrossing tale of opportunity, resilience, and community. I loved it. 

Friday 11 November 2022

The Second Chance Inn

Finished October 9
The Second Chance Inn by Susan Hatler

This is the first book of a series set in Blue Moon Bay, a seaside community in northern California. Wendy grew up in this town alongside her brother Brian, both of them raised by their grandmother. Their parents traveled a lot and made the decision when the children were young to give them the stability of growing up in one place. Wendy has never really gotten over feeling abandoned by them due to this, and the bits that the reader sees of the couple here don't work against that. They seem close to each other, but not overly interested in either of their children. 
The grandmother that raised them also ran the inn of the title, and Brian has remained there and was a part of the operation. In her will, she stipulated that Wendy had to return to the inn and run it with Brian for a set period of time, before selling it. One doesn't get a real sense of how Brian feels about all of this, and I would have liked to have more depth to his character. 
The inn needs some work, and Brian and Wendy work to do repairs and refurbishments to get the inn in good condition for a sale. One of the guests at the hotel decides to extend his stay, and begins to pitch in on some of the work. He shows interest in Wendy, but she blows hot and cold, having been burnt by relationships in the past. 
There is also a legend associated with the inn that comes into the plot. 
This is a light romance, with a touch of suspense around what will happen to the inn and thus affect the future of the siblings. An easy read. 

Wednesday 9 November 2022

Cosy Nook

 I am admittedly a fan of books. I like being surprised by a book, and I love receiving them as gifts. I've tried a few book subscriptions in the past few years, and I've liked most of them, but found that often the postage costs can be a deterrent, especially for subscriptions coming from outside of Canada.

I heard about a book box subscription that ships from Canada and decided to try them out. My timing was good and I received my first box yesterday. 

The name of the subscription is Cosy Nook Book Box, and I was pleased with the variety of items that came along with it. 

The box was delivered by courier and was well packed.

Opening the box, I could see that it was nicely presented as well. 

Even the way it was packed was appealing.

What book box would be complete without a bookmark. This one is cute and coordinates with the small label on the tissue paper. 
I can immediately see an eye mask, some cosy-looking items and an intriguing bubble-wrapped item.

There were several edibles, including a couple of maple cookies, a tea bag, and a packet for an instant cappuccino. I liked that they included both tea and coffee, although I am a tea drinker myself.

Other nibbles included some jelly beans and a package of Mike and Ike's (a candy that I've heard of but never tried). 

The next product I noticed was a "clarifying mask". Glam Up is a K-Beauty company, and they make twelve different masks. The one included here is good for dry skin and is supposed to provide deep moisturizing. 

Now, on to those cosy items I saw. They are all in coordinating tones of peach. The first is a headband with a twist, great for protecting one's ears in the cold while not creating hat head. The second is a soft pom-pom on a key chain, a unique and fun attachment for a key chain. The last item is an circular scarf/cowl that can be worn a variety of ways. 

And of course, the last item I unwrapped was the one in bubby wrap, which proved to be a candle with a pleasant and mild scent. It's not a brand I've bought before so it should be interesting to try.

Now of course, I'm not forgetting the main purpose of this box, the book! This month the book is Things We Do in the Dark by Jennifer Hillier. Jennifer is Filipino-Canadian and this book is a mystery thriller set in the Seattle area. I like that it is a Canadian author.  

I was pleased overall with the items in the box and will be interested to see how much Canadian content there is going forward. Watch for the book review later this year.