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.


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.