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. 

The Mountains Wild

Finished April 13
The Mountains Wild by Sarah Stewart Taylor

This is the first book in a mystery series featuring detective Maggie D'arcy who lives in Long Island with her teenage daughter Lilly. Twenty-three years ago, Maggie went to Dublin when her family was told that her cousin Erin was missing. Erin was a complicated person, who had disappeared for days before, but this felt different. Maggie was close to her cousin, though they'd had differences recently, and with her uncle's heart condition, she offered to go over to Ireland to talk to the police on behalf of the family and see what she could find out. 
Maggie is smart and drawn to details, and she soon finds a clue to her cousin's disappearance, but when the case hasn't resulted in anything conclusive after weeks, Maggie returns home to deal with other family issues. 
Now, twenty-three years later, the Dublin police have once again contacted her uncle to say they've found something new connected to the case. Maggie is now a senior police officer with many successful cases behind her, and once again offers to go on behalf of her uncle. She asks her ex-husband Brian to look after Lilly, and returns to the city she grew to love years ago. 
Going back to Dublin not only restarts the case of Erin's disappearance, but also other connections that Maggie made back then, ones to Erin's contacts and to the police involved in the case. 
With her own expertise in police work, Maggie aches to be involved in the case, but the locals don't want to allow that. Instead, she wanders the familiar streets, and retraces her steps from years ago, and contacts the people she met back then. 
There is a lot going on here, with secrets that reach far back into the past. There are also new faces that Maggie gets to know as she tries once again to find the answers to Erin's disappearance. This is a very interesting character that I'd like to see more of, and many interesting connections to other characters that seem long-lasting. The plot is intriguing and has moments of suspense. 

The Lonely Fajita

Finished April 10
The Lonely Fajita by Abigail Mann

This novel came to my attention through one of my students, who included it in a booklist assignment. The plot sounded interesting, and I definitely enjoyed it. 
The main character is Elissa, a woman in her twenties who has an internship at a online dating company that only pays her expenses. She lives with her boyfriend Tom in an apartment shared with two other tenants, one of whom is relatively new and the landlord's daughter, Shamaya. 
Elissa and Tom's relationship has cooled lately and Shamaya is saying the occupancy doesn't allow couples.
When Elissa sees and advertisement for ElderCare Companionship, a program where a young person gets a room in the home of a senior in return for support and companionship, in a bid to cut down on isolation. Elissa applies on a whim, although she is hoping for Tom to move to a new apartment with her. 
When Elissa gets matched with an eighty-three year-old widow named Annie, she has second thoughts, but without many options, she agrees to a meeting to confirm.
And so Elissa moves in with Annie, and things get very interesting. 
Elissa is an interesting character, with less confidence than she should have, and some good friends who want her to reach her potential, Maggie and Suki. I enjoyed seeing her grow during the course of the novel. Maggie is a primary teacher, married with no children. Suki works in the same cooperative technology building as Elissa, and is a big support for work issues, and has an active lesbian love life. 
Annie is a woman who has her own regrets and secrets, and who both learns from Elissa and teaches her things. 
I love these character-driven books with friend relationships between women of different generations and this one was no exception. A great read, with some surprises along the way. 

Monday, 18 April 2022

Leave Me By Dying

Finished April 8
Leave Me By Dying by Rosemary Aubert

This is the fourth book in the series featuring Ellis Portal, a man who was once a revered judge in the Ontario courts, and then became homeless. This book is a jump back in time, told as memories of Ellis as he considers whether to return to being a lawyer. The story here returns Ellis to the 1960s, where he is in law school. This book tells of an event that became a pivotal point in his life. 
One of Ellis' friends, Gleason Adams, is a young man from a wealthy family, and the story begins as he asks Ellis to join him at the morgue for a meeting in the middle of the night. 
Ellis joins him there, and after waiting for a considerable time, the two are admitted to the morgue where they witness the start of an autopsy that is unexpectedly halted. 
But the image of the dead person there stays in Ellis' head and he keeps wanting to know what the story is behind it. He asks questions, writes letters, and does research and keeps digging for answers. Gleason hasn't been showing up for class and seems distracted when Ellis tries to meet with him.
On a couple occasions they go to strange places and have encounters that Ellis doesn't fully understand. 
Meanwhile, at home, Ellis' brother Michele is heavily involved in social change, watching the actions going on in Selma, in the southern United States, and asking for Ellis' help with an indigenous man who is being drafted to fight in Vietnam. 
As Ellis tries to use the draft dodger case to further his legal goals, he is also slowly discovering the truth about Gleason and what he's been up to. 
This book is a revealing look at one of the significant events in Ellis' past that made him who he is now. 

The Doll's Alphabet

Finished April 5
The Doll's Alphabet by Camilla Grudova

This collection of thirteen stories are set in world's where things are somewhat stranger than ours. From women who unstitch themselves, and reveal their true forms to women who transform once they become mothers. There are strange Gothic houses and a world where women work in factories to support the men they live with. The title story is the shortest one in the book.
Stories have inanimate things like machines that have their own purposes and needs, sconces that transform into other things over time, and people who believe canning is the future. 
Strange surreal stories that are told in such a way that you feel you are the one who is different and what you are reading is normal. Some are disturbing and others just odd, but all of them will have you thinking about what they mean.
Unique and strange these stories will keep coming up in your head after reading. 

Sunday, 17 April 2022

Lucy Checks In

Finished April 4
Lucy Checks In by Dee Ernst

This is another winning romance book with a smart woman as the central character. Lucy (Lucia) Giannetti has worked in hotels for years. She knows how they work inside out and has worked at many across North America. But her last job ended in a very surprising way when the hotel owner, who she was also romantically involved with, disappeared with a lot of money, including the employee pension fund. Due to her position, and her relationship, Lucy ended up in a legal fight to defend herself and found herself without a job, back living with her parents. 
Two years later, and finally cleared of all wrongdoing, she knows she can't continue living with her parents, although she's enjoyed spending time with her young nieces, and so when she is offered a job to renovate and manage a hotel in Rennes, France, she jumps at it. 
When she gets there she finds the situation different than what she expected. The house hasn't been used as a hotel in decades, and is sadly rundown. There is no money for workers, so Lucy must take on much of the work herself, from painting rooms to building a website. And not all of the long term residents of the Hotel Paradis are on board. 
As she finds herself working harder than she's ever worked before, she is buoyed by the support of her best friend back home, the changes that she can see in the hotel, and the enthusiasm of the elderly owner. She also finds herself strangely attracted to Bing, the artist and children's book illustrator who lives in the attic. 
This is a story of a woman getting a second chance at her career, calling on all her knowledge and skills to make a go of it, and also finding that maybe she also has a chance at love, if she can trust a man again. 
I loved the character of Lucy, in her late 40s and setting out on an adventure more ambitious than she imagined. She's worried about family back home, about whether she can make the hotel a success, and about recovering her reputation. Many of the other characters at the hotel were equally interesting from the elderly man who loves to garden to the young woman in a marriage that seems rocky. 
I really like these romance books featuring older women, with experience and smarts. 
The setting of Rennes, France is brought to life through the plot, as is the atmosphere of the hotel. 
A great read. 

Book Lovers

Finished April 1
Book Lovers by Emily Henry

How could I resist a book set around books? Of course I couldn't and this romance novel hits all the right notes for me. 
Nora Stephens leads a busy life as a literary agent, seldom taking time off, and determined to do the best for the authors she represents. Since their mother died unexpectedly, Nora has also tried to do her best for her younger sister Libby. Even now that Libby is married and a mother, she is involved in her life, not only spending time with the family, but also doing what she can to make Libby's life easier. So when Libby says she needs to get away, just the two of them, Nora finds that she can't refuse her. Her sister is pregnant and it is August, the slowest time in Nora's business, so she agrees to take the month with Libby. While Nora is expecting some spa-like vacation, Libby has chosen a small town in North Carolina, Sunshine Falls, the setting for one of Libby's favourite romance series, written by an author that Nora represents. 
When, soon after arriving at their destination, Nora spots a man she's worked with, and had a very uncomfortable first meeting with about that same author, she can't believe it. To ensure that he's really that man, Charlie Lastra, hotshot editor, she texts him, and sees him responding. Things only get crazier from there as elements of Libby's plans for their month away keep Nora and Charlie running into each other. 
I loved Nora as a character, intelligent, with a quick response to every comment; a woman driven by love, but also disappointed in love. She has high standards, and doesn't put up with crap. 
Libby wasn't as well developed here, but was still a nice character, obviously caring for her sister, but also determined to make her own choices. Charlie was also an interesting character, and his relationship to his family is what really fills in the missing elements to make him both flawed and interesting. 
A definite feel-good book that made me laugh and kept me turning those pages. 

Sunday, 10 April 2022

Stars in the Junkyard

Finished March 28
Stars in the Junkyard by Sharon Berg

This volume of poetry is one that speaks of many issues that we come across in her lives, from the author's own personal experience of them. It is split into four sections: Drawing Maps, Boundaries, Oracle, and Odyssey. The first poem in the book is the title poem and it links back to an experience in the author's childhood that became charged with meaning as she looks back. Many of the poems in this first section relate to family. Some are older relatives, remembered in different ways. Some are incidents of intimacy, held close in memory, and observed. Others originate in childhood: experiences, wishes, dreams, and thoughts. Near the end, many are dedicated to someone, referencing a relationship of sorts.
The second section with poems now centered in adulthood. Many of these near the beginning of the section are shorter than the ones in the first section. Some tell of moments, incidents, and feelings for people in her life. As we move on, the poems become longer and more centered on feelings and larger experiences. 
In Oracle, the poems are very personal, experiences and feelings, anger and resentment, loss and betrayal. Stories of love, becoming a mother, the maternal experiences that are like no other. Some speak of dreams and connections to others. 
In the last section, many are related to journeys as the heading hints at. These poems often speak of the wider world, of events that made large changes, in the ways that they impact on a variety of people and have influences that go a long ways. 
This is an interesting collection of poetry, where one gets a sense of the life of the author, of the things that matter to her, of choices she made, of events that impacted her life. This book makes the poetry into a type of memoir, touching at different points in the author's life. exposing her in intimate ways.

Kym

Finished March 26
Kym by Joyce Stranger


This memoir is about the first cat Joyce owned as an adult, a Siamese cat named Kym. Joyce lived in England and her family was an active one, and after a bad boarding experience, described here, they took Kym on their travels with them. As a child, Joyce was drawn to Siamese cats and had always wanted one of her own. 
Kym has quite the personality, and engages in many adventures, some of which require veterinary care to recover from. The love the family has for him is shown by their actions and they both admire his intrepid streak, and worry about him getting into something beyond his ability to handle. He particularly took to Joyce, travelling on her shoulder and talking to her often. 
As a cat lover, I loved to see the personality of this cat really come through in the memoir, and could picture his adventures and his tales of them in my head easily. A great book for cat lovers. 

April Reviews for 15th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Post reviews for books that you've read in April here.




Monday, 28 March 2022

For the Wolf

Finished March 22
For the Wolf by Hannah Whitten

This novel is the first in a new series called The Wilderwood. Neverah (Neve) and Redarys (Red) are two sisters, daughter of the Queen of Valleyda. They are fraternal twin sisters, with Neve the older of the two. It's been many years since there has been a Second Daughter in the royal family of their kingdom, and Red has known of her fate as long as she can remember. 
There is some world-building here, but mostly around the one kingdom. There is mention of the other kingdoms and one gets a sense of some elements of how they interact with each other, but nothing deep. I'm curious as to whether the series will bring them in more in future installments. 
Long in the past, the Kingdoms' leaders had asked the Wilderwood to save them from monsters, and in exchange they agreed to give every Second Daughter of the ruling family of Valleyda to the Wolf that guards the wood. So, on their twentieth birthday, these young woman are put through a ceremony dedicating them to the Wolf and then paraded to the edge of the forest at the northern edge of the kingdom and sent in, never to come out. 
Neve and Red are close, and have talked in the past about trying to rebel against this tradition. When they were sixteen they left a celebration and went to the forest to rebellion and something happened. Red was changed by this experience and has been fighting a pull from the trees ever since. She believes that following through with her traditional destiny is the best thing to do, and has stopped fighting to change it. 
Neve doesn't understand why Red has given in, and wants to still fight to keep Red beside her. As Red continues to follow her destiny and enters the forest in her ceremonial clothing, she finds something that she didn't expect, and, as she learns more of the fate of her predecessors, and of the true nature of the Wolf, she finds that her thoughts about the Wilderwood and its nature adjust and become more complex. 
I'm really looking forward to the next book, which there was a taste of at the end of this one. 

The School of Life: An Emotional Education

Finished March 15
The School of Life: An Emotional Education, by The School of Life, introduced by Alain de Botton

This book is a culmination of years of research from The School of Life, which de Botton founded. The aim of the book is "to equip people with the tools to survive and thrive in the modern world." It believes the most important tool is emotional intelligence. 
The book is divided into five sections: Self, Others, Relationships, Work, and Culture. Each one of those sections is also divided.
The introduction was quite interesting, giving some background to the research that went into the book, the patterns of the past and how they became part of the culture of western civilization, and how emotional intelligence can help reset some of those habits to healthier ones. 
For the section on Self, discussions include self-knowledge, awareness of our past and how that influences us, and different therapies that we might experience to become more mentally healthy.
For the section on Others, topics include kindness, charm, and calm. In Relationships, the discussions are getting together, the importance of sex, and dealing with problems.
In Work, which is a shorter section without larger subdivisions, the considerations are: the dangers of the good child, confidence and the inner idiot, imposter syndrome, fame, specialization, artists and supermarket tycoons, consumer society, Maslow's hierarchy, advertising, and artistic sympathy.
Culture looked at romantic versus classical personalities, a very interesting discussion on the concept of value, imperfectionism, the concept of "good enough", and the ideas of gratitude and wisdom.
This is a book that hit home in some ways, that had me skeptical of some ideas, and that made me reflect on larger ideas and concepts. A very interesting read. 

Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index

Finished March 2
Juniper Lemon's Happiness Index by Julie Israel

This teen novel follows title character Juniper during her junior year of high school. A couple of months ago Juniper was in a car accident that also took the life of her older sister Camie. Before Camie died, Juniper was keeping a daily list of things in her life that made her happy, something Camie encouraged her in. Since then, Juniper has adjusted the list for both happy and sad, and numbered them from that day instead of with the date. She keeps them on index cards, and when she is running late one day, she takes the card to school to finish. 
When she gets home the card is missing and this sends her on a hunt for it that takes her to some unusual places and brings her some unexpected companions. 
Juniper's lifelong best friend has been keeping her distance, and Juniper doesn't know how to fix that. She ends up approaching new people and making new friends, but her motives for that don't always come from the right place. 
One unexpected outlet for her ends up being art, and she begins experimenting with her feelings for her sister through this. 
I liked the character of Juniper and felt for her struggling through her grief, as well as with the differing reactions of those around her, from her parents to her friends, teachers, and classmates. 
A good read, that kept me interested throughout. 

Friday, 18 March 2022

My List for Classic Spin #29

This list is due by Sunday March 20th, 2022, when the spin will happen and then the book it lands on has to be read by Sunday, April 30th, 2022. That gives those of us participating six weeks to read the book.


As always, the spin is hosted here

Here is my list of 20 books:

  1. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
  2. The Ides of March by Thornton Wilder
  3. Frankenstein by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
  4. Dracula by Bram Stoker
  5. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
  6. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith
  7. Persuasion by Jane Austen
  8. Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann
  9. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope
  10. Summer Will Show by Sylvia Townsend Warner
  11. The Return of the Soldier by Rebecca West
  12. Roxana by Daniel Defoe
  13. Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
  14. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang van Goethe
  15. Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad
  16. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
  17. The Dead Girls' Class Trip by Anna Seghers
  18. Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor
  19. Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor
  20. Alberta and Jacob by Cora Sandel

 This includes some short ones, some long ones, and some I've struggled with before.

 

Monday, 14 March 2022

I Found You

Finished February 28
I Found You by Lisa Jewell

Single mom Alice Lake hasn't always made the best decisions when it comes to men. Each of her three children has a different father, none of whom are present in their lives. So when she sees a man on the beach in front of her home in the resort town of Ridinghorse Bay, she resists the urge to see what he's doing there, at least at first. But eventually she approaches him and she ends up taking him under her wing when she discovers his situation. 
Her youngest dubs him Frank, and immediately accepts him, while her older two are more wary. Alice herself isn't sure about what she is doing, but it feels like the right thing to do. 
As small things gradually remind Frank of things from his life, she both hopes he will remember more and is scared of what he will remember, as is he/
Near London Lily waits at home for her husband Carl, but he doesn't arrive. She can't understand it. They've only been married a couple of weeks, and he has been hurrying home from work, eager to be with her, bringing her gifts. But the night before he didn't arrive and Lily knows that something is wrong. She knows little about her new husband, and less about where she now is. They met when he was at a conference in her country of Ukraine, and had a whirlwind romance. She's been continuing her studies online and wanting to meet his friends and family, but he wanted to keep her to himself a while longer, or so he said. 
She knows something is wrong when he doesn't answer his phone, and she isn't sure where he might be, but she is determined to find him. When the police get involved, she learns some disturbing things about him and begins to have questions herself, but it doesn't dissuade her from her search for him. 
As a reader, I sensed early on that these two situations were connected, but was very surprised to find out how. 
This is a tale of suspense, a tale of loss and grief, and a tale of hope for the future. I really liked Alice, and was intrigued by Frank. A book I found hard to put down. 

Wednesday, 2 March 2022

The House of Whispers

Finished February 25
The House of Whispers by Laura Purcell

This novel has a touch of gothic and otherworldly. There are two timelines, but we aren't given dates for them. They are forty years apart, and both set at a remote house on the cliffs in Cornwall. 
The later timeline starts the novel, as Esther Stevens, now going by the name of Hester Why sets off on a coach for Cornwall where she has taken a position of nurse for an older woman. We gradually learn what and why she is fleeing, and she has an encounter on her journey that brings attention upon her, which she does not want. 
When she arrives at her destination, she finds the other servants a mix of friendly and taciturn, with one of them seeming a bit odd and unnerving. The woman she is looking after barely speaks, is frail, and seems to be in her own world. There is also a younger woman in the house, who is treated as if she is a child, although she is not one in age. 
Hester is also dealing with her own demons, as we discover quite early. She finds the various members of the household believing in superstitions around fairies, changelings, and God, that she has trouble reconciling with reality.
The earlier timeline takes place as a doctor and her adult daughter arrive at the house where he plans to begin an experimental treatment for consumption. The patients he has to begin this treatment are convicts, all suffering from consumption at a variety of stages. His daughter Louise is his assistant in this experiment, and both are grieving the loss of his wife and other daughters from the disease of consumption. 
Louise worries about her father, grieves the rest of her family, and has resigned herself to dedicating her life to her father's dream at the expense of having a family of her own. The maid that her father has hired is a woman with superstitions and odd behaviours that she isn't entirely comfortable with. 
As we gradually learn the links between these two times at this remote house, we also find ourselves seeing these two women who both care perhaps too much for those they serve and see how they react in their own way to loss. 
This is a book with lots of atmosphere, including the ever present sea and strange music. A very different read.

Tuesday, 1 March 2022

March Reviews for 15th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 This is the place to post your reviews for books read in March 2022.

Make a comment as well on your book or progress. 


Sunday, 27 February 2022

The Turning

Finished February 23
The Turning by Tim Winton

I always find Australian author Tim Winton's books intriguing. This one is a collection of short stories, loosely linked to each other, all pertaining to moments in people's lives where things changed in some way for them. Most of these stories are told in the first person, and the narrators range in age, and sometimes reappear in a later story. 
Some of these characters we see as children, just as they are coming into adolescence and finding their way, having an encounter that makes a difference in their lives. Sometimes they make a decision to leave somewhere or to return somewhere and that too influences their life in a way they hadn't anticipated. 
Some of these turnings are awakenings, others are a return to a past that was never fully dealt with. All of them take place in Western Australia and give a sense of the land there, the ocean and the landscape. They take place in small communities or rural areas. 
Winton takes you inside the characters' heads, seeing what they are thinking and feeling so that you feel what is happening to them, how it affects them. 
These events are sometimes small, sometimes big, sometimes peripheral to the their lives in many ways except for the effect they have. 
A great read. 

Left You Dead

Finished February 22
Left You Dead by Peter James

This is the seventeenth book in the series featuring Roy Grace, a police officer in Lewes, Sussex. Grace gets a case that seems straightforward, but he keeps feeling that something isn't quite right. Niall and Eden Paternoster are returning from a visit to a country house. She likes to look at them, and he feels that this is the life that he will someday be living. Niall is currently unemployed, picking up a few shifts for a friend that has a taxi, usually ones in the middle of the night. Eden has a good job, and it's one that she enjoys. 
Niall wants to get home to watch some live sports on TV, but Eden reminds him that they need cat litter and he keeps forgetting. So they stop at a local grocery, and she gets out to run into the store, and never comes back. 
At first Niall thinks that maybe she got distracted, but when he goes in, he doesn't see her anywhere. When he goes home, she isn't there. He figures that she's gone to a friend's place in an effort to teach him a lesson. So he waits until morning to start making enquiries and comes up empty-handed. 
This is when the police get called in, and they start asking some questions as well. The police suspicions, based on what they see and find, place Niall in the suspect box, and he isn't sure what's going on. 
As the story progresses, we see things from a variety of viewpoints, Niall's, Grace's and others. We get insight into the relationship between the couple and into the dynamics of the police hierarchy as well. There are side stories here as well as the main story of the missing woman, and we learn more about Grace as a person as well. 
I enjoyed this book and will definitely look for others in this series. 

Saturday, 19 February 2022

The Geography of You and Me

Finished on February 16 
The Geography of You and Me by Jennifer E. Smith

This teen novel opens with two teenagers Lucy, fifteen, and Owen, sixteen, stuck in an elevator together as the power goes out. Lucy's family lives on the 24th floor of this New York City building, and Owen's father recently started as the building manager and lives in the basement. Until now they hadn't exchanged any words, although Lucy had noticed him. 
After they are released from the elevator and discover the power outage is widespread, they stay together, going out for supplies and then up to the roof of the building, staring at the dark city and the stars. 
Soon after, Lucy's family moves to Edinburgh, keeping the apartment for occasional use, and Owen and his father start moving west. Even though their communication is sparse, the two can't stop thinking of each other.
This is a story of first love, of long-distance relationships, of family, and of growing up.
I liked both the main characters and most of the secondary characters here, particularly Owen's dad who is dealing with his own losses. A feel-good story.

Friday, 18 February 2022

Those We Left Behind

Finished February 16
Those We Left Behind by Stuart Neville

This is the first in the series featuring DCI Serena Neville of the Belfast police. She is just returning to work after her cancer treatments and struggling with how it has changed her relationship with her husband. Years ago she had a case where two boys, Ciaran and Thomas, were involved in the death of their foster parent, and it still haunts her. One boy confessed, but she had never really believed the confession. Now, he is nineteen and getting out of youth custody. The probation officer assigned to him, Paula Cunningham, comes to Serena for some background on the young man. Paula finds him a little odd, but she knows he isn't stupid. Thomas has been out for a while, and has a job, an apartment and a car, and hasn't shown any issues of problematic behaviour. Ciaran is eager to see his brother, but seems nervous and unsure how to behave on his own. 
The son of the man killed, Daniel, is sure that Thomas was the one who killed his father, and he begins to exhibit unpredictable behaviour when he learns of Ciaran's release. 
When someone ends up dead, and Serena gets the case, both she and Paula think the brothers are connected. Especially when they get threats of their own. But can Serena break through to Ciaran now when she couldn't before, or will these two women find themselves in danger.
After recently reading the second book in this series, I decided that I had to read the first, and while I knew from the second some elements of this one, I still found myself hoping that Serena's intuition would lead her in the right direction. 
I liked Serena as a character and I also liked Paula here. Both are women in careers that put them in contact with dangerous people and they both are used to relying on their guts to warn them of dangers. As they combine what they know to find the answers to both old and new crimes, they also find themselves up against their superiors. 

Sight

Finished February 16
Sight by Adrienne Maria Vrettos

This teen novel is set in a small town in the western United States that is gradually being gentrified. The main character, Dylan is sixteen years old and living with her mom. When Dylad was just five years old, she had an experience when she zoned out and had a vision about one of her schoolmates. It threw her completely, and when she told her mom, her mom took her seriously and had her talk to the police. Her young friend had gone missing and Dylan's vision helped them to find the body of the young boy. She's had similar experiences over the years, each one leading to the discovery of a body. 
Because the authorities took DNA samples from all the men in the area back in the case that began her experiences, and didn't find a match, people started calling him the Drifter, The kids even had a song they sung about it. Dylan doesn't like talking about her experiences and none of her friends know about her ability. Only the local sheriff and deputy and her mom knew for a while. When her dad found out, he took off and she hasn't seen him in a while. 
Now she has a feeling the Drifter is back and moving closer. More people having been moving to the town of Pine Mountain recently and they just voted to change the name to Paradise Mountain. There's a new girl Cate in town too, Dylan's age, and because her dad is building a house near where Dylan lives, they get thrown together. Dylan finds herself confiding things that she never thought she would, and her old friends, Pilar, Thea, and Maybe seem to be pulling away from her. 
As Dylan begins to allow herself to focus on her visions more, trying to identify the male figure she sees, she also finds herself acknowledging the positive aspects of this unusual gift. But it isn't easy for her to make this change.
I liked the character Dylan and her friends. The community has been a close one, with the kids growing up together most of their lives, but now with the changes of gentrification, the community is adjusting slowly. 
Dylan's gift goes beyond just these visions, and she finds herself learning more about herself and her family as she begins to embrace her abilities. 

So Say the Fallen

Finished February 12
So Say the Fallen by Stuart Neville

This is the second book in the series featuring DCI Serena Flanagan of the Belfast police. It is also the first one that I read. Serena is assigned a case that looks fairly straightforward. A man, Henry Garrick, who was in a car accident a few months ago and lost both his legs has been found by his wife dead, with the means to kill himself at hand. 
The widow, Roberta Garrick, first called her priest Peter McKay before he summoned the police. 
Serena has a lot on her mind, with things not going well in her personal life, and having questions about her future. Her superior is planning to resign soon, and doesn't have a lot of patience for Serena's sense that something isn't quite right about this case. 
As Serena digs deeper into the widow's past and the reverend begins to have doubts about his own actions, things slowly move forward and Serena has new questions. 
I like the Serena Flanagan character, how she doesn't doubt her professional intuition even when her personal life is having issues that make her question some of her choices. She is a complex character with nuances that make her interesting. 
The case includes a few people who don't want to see anything but the obvious, and Serena must take risks to follow her suspicions through to the end. 

Sunday, 13 February 2022

Threadbare

Finished February 8
Threadbare by Monica Ferris

This novel is part of the Needlecraft Mystery series. The stories are set around the character Betsy Devonshire and her needlework shop Crewel World on the shores of Lake Minnetonka. 
This novel begins with the discovery of a body in an alley. The body is that of a homeless woman, and although it appears to be one of exposure following unconsciousness, the local police chief thinks that there is something off about it. One of Betsy's customers is related to the woman and is concerned that she is being looked at as a suspect, so she asks Betsy to investigate. When a second homeless woman is found dead, it looks more suspicious, and that woman also has a connection to one of Betsy's customers. 
As Betsy begins to dig into the women's personal lives and pasts, she uncovers some information that may be uncomfortable for her customers. Her investigation also takes her to Fargo, North Dakota, and she stops in at the stitching store Nordic Needle, a real-life store brought into this story briefly. I liked that touch. 
Betsy is a diligent sleuth, trying to follow every loose end. I appreciated seeing the thread of the homeless develop through this story, and the issues that women of low income have when it comes to housing. The characters that were homeless here were treated with respect by the author. 
As always with this series, a pattern is included at the back of the book. In this case, it is a beginner Hardanger pattern. 

Saturday, 12 February 2022

Queen of Dragons

Finished February 4
Queen of Dragons by Shana Abe

This is a later book in a series and I am now going back and reading the earlier ones. Here, a young woman named Maricara from the mountains of Romania is the queen of the drakon community there. But they are being threatened by locals that know of their ability to change into different forms. Maricara was born as a peasant, but she developed her skills early, and was taken from her home at a young age to be wed to the dragon leader. Now that he has passed away, she is the leader, and must worry about this threat to her people. She has become aware of men with skills like herself who have come from elsewhere and been hunted and killed nearby. She determined to go to England, where she knows where they were likely from, a small drakon community who has taken great care until now to hide themselves and their abilities. Her arrival brings both alarm and the consideration of tactics to the small community of Darkfrith. 
The chemistry between Maricara and the leader of the English community, the Earl of Chasen, is undeniable and he feels that he has the right to claim her as his own. But Maricara is a woman who knows what it is like to be claimed and held by another, and she protects her independence as she knows how. 
This is a tale that started before this book, but becomes an urgent fight for survival and the future of their kind here. 
Involving strong feelings, conflicting views on the visiting drakon, and the dangers now coming from outside their community, this is a tale that becomes more of a page-turner the further into the book one reads. 
I liked the independent nature of Maricara and the respect she earns from some of the English drakon. A good story that I want to read more of. 

Behind Every Lie

Finished February 2
Behind Every Lie by Christina McDonald

This is a real page-turner of a novel. It takes place mostly in the Seattle area, with a quick journey to England. Eva Hansen wakes up in the hospital confused and uncertain where she is. She has been struck by lightning and the last thing she remembers is being at a restaurant celebrating her mother's recent award. One of the first things she learns after waking is that her mother Kat is dead, found murdered in her own home, and Eva's car was near her mother's house and she was found in a nearby park.
Eva doesn't believe that she had anything to do with her mother's death, but the police seem to suspect her, and because she can't remember, she doesn't know what happened. 
She decides that she must dig into her and her mother's past to clear her name and find out the truth. This takes her back to London, where she was born, and as she digs deeper, she is unsure who she can trust.
Her brother Andrew seems unsure whether to believe that she is uninvolved, her partner Liam seems to be trying to keep her from talking to the police, and she has doubts about her own behaviour. 
As her memories slowly come back to her and she learns her mother's secrets, she realizes that things are more complex than she realized. 
This book had me gripped to find out what happened next. One secret after another is revealed, slowly as Eva along with the reader learns the truth. Eva is a woman who has been unsure of herself for many reasons, one who hasn't trusted her own instincts until now. 

Monday, 7 February 2022

A Line to Kill

Finished January 28
A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

This is part of a series where a fictionalized version of the author, also named Anthony Horowitz, works with an ex-cop turned private investigator, Daniel Hawthorne. He essentially shadows Hawthorne as he investigates a case and writes it up as a book. Hawthorne is reserved, not talking about himself to Horowitz much, and disdainful of Horowitz's intelligence. 
This is the third book in the series, but the only one I've read. I received it as a gift this past Christmas. 
As the book opens, Anthony is having a meeting with his publisher and they want Daniel to come to the meeting as well. He tells Daniel about it, and he comes and makes a favourable impression. They are told about a new literary festival that they've received an invitation to, and even though the newest book isn't out, so they don't have anything to flog, Daniel seems eager to go, so Anthony agrees. 
The festival takes place on the small island of Alderney, and the group of authors is small. They include a TV chef who has a new book, a children's author, a woman who says she can communicate with the world beyond, a local historian, and a French poet. All but the local historian meet as they wait for the plane to take them to the island. 
Once on the island they meet the organizer of the festival and soon after the sponsor, a wealthy casino owner who is also pushing for a planned power line to cut through the island, a project that has significant local resistance. Anthony also discovers a man that Daniel once arrested also lives on the island, and he begins to wonder if that was why Daniel agreed to come. 
As the festival gets underway, and Anthony and Daniel spend more time together, he learns more about this man and his background. 
When someone is found killed, and the local police aren't immediately available, Daniel gets brought in to look at the case, and Anthony comes along with him.
This series is definitely an interesting idea, and one wonders how much the real author resembles this fictional version. The case has lots of people with opportunity and many with motives, but it is a slower read than many mystery books as the case progresses slowly and the characters are mostly shallowly drawn. A decent read. 

Friday, 4 February 2022

February Reviews for 15th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 My apologies for not getting this up earlier this month.

Link your reviews in the Mr. Linky and add comments below.



Sunday, 30 January 2022

The Family Man

Finished January 26
The Family Man by Elinor Lipman

This novel is centered around Henry Archer, a lawyer recently retired, who reaches our to his ex-wife when he sees that her husband has died. He didn't expect her to latch onto him so avidly, and he didn't expect this to awaken suppressed feelings about losing access to the daughter he adopted when they married. As Henry finds his world changing, he must relinquish some of the control he is used to having, and open his mind to new experiences. 
This feel-good novel takes place in New York City with characters who find themselves in unexpected situations and often without the control they are used to having. Taking chances opens their horizons while also changing their paths in unexpected ways.
I liked Henry, and his new love, and found his stepdaughter Thalia an interesting character. The male characters who interact with Thalia are less defined but have some interesting behaviours as well. I would have liked to meet Celeste, Henry friend who died recently, too. 
You also get a sense of New York City, as in many of Lipman's novels. From the shopping to the club scene, the city comes to life here. 

Wednesday, 26 January 2022

Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch

Finished January 24
Everyone Knows Your Mother Is a Witch: A Novel by Rivka Galchen

This historical novel is based on real people and history. Johannes (Hans) Kepler, the astronomer, had long before left home and started his professional life by the beginning of this story. 
His mother Katharina Kepler is accused by a neighbour of being a witch. At first she thinks she should ignore it, and then she reconsiders as she understands that more people have heard of it, and she determines to speak out on her own behalf. She must have a legal guardian with her because as a woman she can't actually speak for herself. With her two sons, only one of whom is in the same town as her, struggling to make livings, she asks her neighbour, a man around her own age, to be that person. 
I found that relationship interesting as they'd had little to do with each other before then. We see them spending more time together and getting to know each better. 
It is a time of great uncertainty. The plague is still a threat and very soon the Thirty Years' War will begin. Hans makes a living in various ways, supporting his two children from his first marriage, and his second wife Susanna and young daughter Maruschl. Katerina's other son Christoph is a pewtersmith and lives near Katharina with his wife Gertrauta (Gertie) and daughter Agnes. He is worried about the effect her accusation will have on his business and ability to make a living. Her daughter Greta has married later than usual for those times, to a pastor, and soon into Katharina's ordeal they more to another town.
All three of Katharina's surviving children are supportive, and yet they or in Greta's case her husband, are worried about the stigma rubbing off onto them and their families. When she visits, she keeps her head low, and avoids interaction with friends and neighbours. At home, she becomes worried about what stories people are saying about her, and continues over many months to struggle to clear her name. 
Through the course of the book, we also learn about her past, her youth and her marriage, and why she now lives alone. We get a sense of the external world that she deals with, as well as her feelings and motivations. Katharina is a simple woman, who tends her garden, takes good care of her cow, and makes both food and remedies from plants she grows and gathers. She is illiterate, and requires someone, here Simon, to write her words for her. She is older and enjoys spending time with her young grandchildren, telling them stories, and playing with them. 
As this story unfolds, it becomes larger, representing the story of others falsely accused, and women's lower position in many eras. We see how it affects her community and her independence. 
A fascinating tale, well-researched. 

Tuesday, 25 January 2022

The Appeal

Finished January 18
The Appeal by Janice Hallett

This book has an unusual format with the whole story told in emails, documents and chat. Two early career lawyers are asked to look over the gathered conversation from a case to see what conclusions they make about who may be the murderer in the case.
They are given no background information at all, and it seems like the case hasn't come to their attention in any other way, such as through the news, as they appear to have no knowledge of it at all.
The book mostly consists of email between the various players in the small community, people who are linked together through their involvement with a local theatre group and the family that runs it. 
One of the main players is a young nurse, who is a bit of an outsider, tolerated, but not liked, and who comes across as quite needy. The family who runs the theatre group consists of a local couple, their two adult children, the children's spouses, and their very young granddaughter. 
There is also another young couple, both nurses, who have recently come back to England after working for several years in Africa. We don't have access to their emails, but can see some that are sent to them by the others. 
Every so often the two lawyers chat about what they're reading in the case notes, and as the book nears its close, they begin to draw conclusions and make arguments for their reasoning, interacting with the older lawyer who has assigned them this task. 
It is an interesting structure, and an interesting case, and because of the limited glimpse you get into people's lives, you aren't sure how much to trust any of them. 

Sunday, 23 January 2022

Die For You

Finished January 15
Die For You by Lisa Unger

This is a fast-moving suspense novel that I had trouble putting down. 
Isabel has been married to Marcus for a few years, after he showed up at a bookstore where she was doing an author reading. Before that, she'd thought that a deep and lasting relationship like that of her sister's was something that would never be hers.
There have been a couple of blips in their marriage, but things are going well as the novel begins. Marcus leaves for work one morning, prepping for an important meeting, and doesn't come home. The following day, when Isabel goes to his office in search of answers, there is a dramatic raid there and she is left with even more questions.
When the police begin to dig into her husband's past and find that he wasn't who she thought he was, she remains determined to get to the bottom of things, and find the real answers as to why he married her and where he has gone. 
Isabel is a writer of novels herself and her mind works in problem-solving ways on a regular basis as she creates her plots. She is good at piecing together bits and pieces to make a story, and she begins to do that with her husband. She has some bits from her own experiences with him, and more from others who interacted with him, and as she researches she finds more disparate pieces that bring her to follow a faint trail back to his native Czech Republic. 
I loved Isabel as a woman who has been taken advantage of and won't give up in her search for answers. She has been underestimated by more than just her husband, and she faces the unknown with facts. 

Rabbit Ears

Finished January 12
Rabbit Ears: TV Poems edited by Joel Allegretti

This is a book that has been on my shelf for a while, long before I stopped really watching television. But I did watch my share of television previously and recognize the allusions to shows, commercials and other television-related subjects. 
The editor conceived the idea of this anthology after writing a couple of television themed poems himself, and gathered, sifted, and chose the poems included here.
It is organized roughly by subject into "channels" with commercial breaks between them. A fun way to structure the anthology. 
The poems are about TV shows from the Munsters to Dick van Dyke, cartoons to reality television, from Bette Davis to the Mod Squad, Lawrence Welk to the X-Files. There is something here for everyone. 
The styles of poetry vary widely as well, and the tones vary from serious to slyly humorous. 
A fun and unique collection. 

Saturday, 15 January 2022

Cold to the Touch

Finished January 10
Cold to the Touch by Frances Fyfield

Fyfield is one of the queens of the psychological suspense novel and this one is no exception. The central character here is Sarah Fortune , a woman who has made a career out of helping men overcome a variety of issues and build relationships. This is the sixth book in the series featuring Sarah. Here she has a younger friend, Jessica, who she encounters one early morning in London and takes back to her flat. She tries to find out what is going on with Jessica, discovering only that Jessica had gone to the Smithfield meat market in hopes of meeting a man she has strong feelings for and ended up making a fool of herself. Jessica is a very spontaneous, emotional young woman, and when Sarah makes an offhand remark about wanting to leave London for a cottage near the sea, Jessica immediately seizes upon it, and arranges for Sarah to rent a house that Jessica's mother owns in the small village of Pennyvale, where Jessica grew up.
As Sarah enjoys the village, spending time walking through the countryside, watching the people, and the sea, she stays in touch with Jessica, and tries to find out why Jessica feels she can't come home, and also tries to advise Jessica about this mysterious man she can't seem to get over. Sarah hasn't yet engaged directly with Jessica's mother who seems to be a sad figure, unhappy and yet somehow still involved in many of the village goings on. 
When Jessica tells Sarah that she will come visit, and never arrives, Sarah must go back to London, looking for the clues for Jessica's fate, and trying to find her mystery man. 
Sarah is a very interesting character, a woman who is open-minded, intelligent, and kind. She seems to have good relationships with the men she's been involved with previously, and is attractive to men in general. She has good instincts, and pays attention to details. She is a good friend and cares about people. 
And yet she can also be ruthless when needed, and calculating. 
I really enjoyed both the characters here (Andrew the local vicar, and Jeremy the butcher's helper in particular in addition to Sarah) and found the plot quite intriguing. A great read. 

Between a Book and a Hard Place

Finished January 5
Between a Book and a Hard Place by Denise Swanson

This is part of a series of books set in the small town of Shadow Bend, Missouri. The main character, Devereaux (Dev) Sinclair runs the local five-and-dime store, which also has a soda fountain. She moved back to town for family reasons leaving a career in the investment industry. When Dev was sixteen, her father Kern went to jail (for a crime he didn't commit) and her mother Yvette left town, dropping Dev at her paternal grandmother' Birdies house as she left. 
Now Dev's dad works at her store and both of them live with Birdie. Dev has a few close friends: Poppy who runs a local nightclub called Gossip Club, and who is estranged from her own father, the local police chief; Ronni, who owns the local bed and breakfast; and Boone, who is on the town council and hopes to find funding to reopen the local library.
Dev also has a couple of boyfriends, and is struggling to choose between them. One is Noah, a local doctor who was her high school boyfriend, but who dumped her when they both went off to college. The other is Jake, a former US-marshall, who now lives on a neighbouring farm, helping out his aging uncle. 
Now Yvette is back in town with her latest husband Jett, it looks like the local library will be getting funding, and a strange professor claims to see lights from UFOs in the local area. But when Jett turns up dead, Dev must not only protect her family by finding out who the killer was, but also take on other local issues. 
A light read with a lot of side plots that will likely lead to more possibilities for future books in the series.