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. 

Tuesday 8 November 2022

Birds on Wishbone Street

Finished October 6
Birds on Wishbone Street by Suzanne Del Rizzo

This picture book is another lovely creation of Suzanne Del Rizzo. Her books are illustrated with her mixed media creations including a lot of polymer clay elements. This 3D effect really makes the pictures special and lively.
Here we have Moe (Maureen) who father immigrated to North America from Ireland. She is friends with many of the more recent immigrants on her street, who have come from a variety of places around the world. The most recent addition is Sami and his family who have come from Syria. Meo delivers a gift to Sami with winter mitts, hot cocoa and a feather. This is especially apt as Sami is a bird lover. He has a treasured pair of binoculars to watch to the birds and his box of treasures contains other bird-related items. When a female cardinal is found downed after a snowstorm, the children work with a local vet to ensure that she doesn't have injuries they can't see, and Moe learns that Sami had pigeons back home and can look after the cardinal until she is well enough to go back to her mate. 
This is a story of friendship, caring, and community told through one experience. A lovely story that will find a treasured place in many homes. 

The Silence of the Library

Finished October 4
The Silence of the Library by Miranda James

This is the fifth book in the "Cat in the Stacks" series featuring retired librarian Charlie Harris. Charlie is a widower and lives with his two adult children, Sean and Laura; a boarder; and his beloved Maine coon cat Diesel in Athena, Mississippi. Diesel goes almost everywhere with Charlie, and most people are familiar with him. Charlie is close friends with the library director and seems to give her advice and help with events as well as volunteer at the service desk on a regular basis. 
They have an upcoming event planned that is focused on classic children's and youth mystery series like Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. One of the series is Veronica Thane and as the book opens they find out that the author is still alive, even though she is over a hundred. She also lives fairly locally, so plans begin to visit her and see if she might be willing to make an appearance at the event. 
Charlie grew up with these books, after being introduced to them by his favourite aunt. 
When word begins to leak out about the author, some of her most ardent fans show up, and when someone associated ends up dead, things start to get worrisome for the library and Charlie. 
This is a cosy series I hadn't come across before, and I found it didn't grab me as much as others. Charlie's role with the library was vague and for a small town, it was surprising how many people seemed to be unfamiliar with library staff and the other main players. 
The plot was interesting in some ways, and I did like how the old series books played a role in figuring out what was going on. 

Animals Move

Finished October 1
Animals Move by Jane Whittingham

This picture book for toddlers introduces new concepts around animals and movement. Inside the front and back covers of the book are pictures of adult and baby animals with the names for both. Within the pages of the book, there are pictures of the baby animals engaged in a variety of movements alongside pictures of children engaged in the same movement. 
The text is simple and easy to understand, and the pictures provide lots to look at. There are a wide variety of animals included here, and a wide variety of kids as well. I loved the inclusion of so many different children, including children we don't often see included.
The details of the animals are easy to look at and explore.
At the end of the book are a series of activities to provide further exploration for the reader. These include taking pictures of the child doing movements inspired by animals and using them to create a book of their own, coming up with tunes and dances for the different movements, charades, creating memory cards, and engaging in different movements during everyday activities.
A fun book that encourages children to get active, use their imaginations, and observe the world around them. 

Life Without Children

Finished September 30
Life Without Children: Short Stories by Roddy Doyle

I always enjoy reading Roddy Doyle and this collection is an intriguing one. This book contains ten short stories, all taking place in Ireland during the pandemic, and all are around relationships.
Box Sets has a couple, Sam and Emer, reacting in their own ways to the pandemic. Sam has lost his job and doesn't muster the energy to look for a new one, instead losing himself in watching season after season of TV series, catching up on many he'd never watched when they came out. Emer is calm but removed. When Sam's frustration reaches a point where he finds himself having angry outbursts, this changes the dynamic and forces change on both of them.
Curfew has issues of health as well as bringing the male character memories of his own father.
Life without Children looks at a couple whose children have left home and how the pandemic changes the family dynamic.
Gone has alternating viewpoints of a couple where the wife has left the home just before the lockdown begins.
Nurse focuses on health and death in the context of a family.
Masks has a man walking through the streets, finding himself frustrated and disgusted by the discarded masks that he see everywhere and taking an unusual and provoking action as a result.
The Charger is told by a man who has come late to the ownership of a cellphone and, in the context of a stressful situation, finds himself focused on finding the phone charger, while he feels alone despite having all four of his daughters living back home during this time. The situation brings back the feelings from his childhood of abandonment.
The Funeral has Bob and Nell as a long-married couple with Bob's reaction to the death of his mother and the circumstances of his position as the responsible son.
Worms has Joe finding himself with earworms linked to specific places or tasks in his life, a quirk that at first he keeps to himself and then when his wife Thelma learns about it and joins in, finds himself reacting emotionally in a negative way until he realizes his underlying feelings towards her.
The last story, Five Lamps, has a man defying the lockdown and driving for hours to the city to look for his estranged son. He walks the streets, returning to his car each night, interacting with the shopkeepers and homeless as he plans on what to say to repair the relationship.
These stories show Doyle's skill with showing the complexities of human relationships, the emotions and resentments, the closeness and the frustration, all set within a very stressful time for everyone. A brilliant collection

Monday 7 November 2022

November Reviews for the 16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

Add your link for reviews to books read in November. 

Here in Ontario, it's been crazy warm the last few days, but those colder days that make us want to cuddle up with a book inside are coming. 

Thursday 3 November 2022

This is the Boat that Ben Built

Finished September 25
This is the Boat that Ben Built by Jen Lynn Bailey, illustrated by Maggie Zeng

I loved the illustrations for this picture book, the colour nuances and the way the drawings suggested more beyond what was drawn. There are so many things to draw the eye and make one wonder. One prominent example is the girl and dog watching Ben throughout the book. They aren't in the boat with him, but seem glad to see what he's doing and at the end join him. 
The subtler ones include the butterfly jar on the boat. Sometimes it has a butterfly, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes the jar isn't even there. 
There are so many things to look for and notice.
The words are also lovely and so well chosen. A cumulative tale like the classic "The House That Jack Built" rhyme, with the building up of additional elements and yet different too as the actions of the elements change at the high point of the story, creating a disturbance through a domino effect. 
The grey-green colours of the scenes in the book, landscape and water, provide a neutral, natural background that is soothing
The book also includes information after the story, here on the river ecosystem and the concept of ecosystems in general. It also gives information on the animals in the story, introducing concepts such predator and omnivore. The reader is also encouraged to think of ways to add to the story through the use of additional animals in the river ecosystem. 
I like how books like this encourage readers to explore the ideas presented more deeply, while still providing entertainment. 
Jen Lynn Bailey's background in and passion for environmental science and education lend itself to excellence in conveying the concepts here.

Tuesday 1 November 2022

The Other's Gold

Finished September 22
The Other's Gold by Elizabeth Ames

This novel follows four young women from their arrival at Quincy-Hawthorne College as freshmen through their late 30s. The girls share a suite in student housing, but come from a variety of backgrounds, although they discover they are all second daughters in their families. The background of the girls is dished out slowly, piece by piece during the events of their freshman year. Lainey, Ji Sun, Margaret, and Alice find themselves a tight group, not often sharing classes, but still studying together and socializing a lot together. They are all attractive young women and draw interest from the young men at the college. We see them develop romantic relationships and find their future careers. Besides the friendships between these four women, there are other friends that each of the women have, some during the college years and some later. 
There are marriages and children, celebrations and losses, times when the link between them grows more tenuous, but never do they completely break each other off. 
These are complex characters, with good and bad qualities, insecurities, and secrets. Some have money, while other live closer to the edge in terms of their financial situation. The lives these women lead sound believable, mundane at times, and with crisis points for each. Lives not so different from our own. 
For me, this was a read that brought reflection and insight. 

Lipstick and Lies

Finished September 21
Lipstick and Lies by Lesley Grant-Adamson

This slowly revealing novel focuses on a murder from decades earlier, in the 1950s. The narrator is Anna, and it was her mother that was murdered back then. As the book opens, the reader learns that there are questions being asked about that long ago murder. Even though someone was convicted of the murder and hanged for it, the questions open up old memories for the few people still around.
There are memories that Anna tells the reader, ones of her and her mother. We also see Anna's present day situation, back in England after working in many places over the years. 
The organization that is asking questions is represented by two characters, one relatively new to the job. For them, this case is one of many, with links to other things that they are working on. The more senior investigator, lawyer Gillian Spry seems almost to be anticipating Anna's questions and movements. 
Anna was a child at the time, and both her and her friend Sandy were questioned about whether they saw anything, but back then it was easy to believe that children wouldn't lie. 
As the reader learns more and more about the people involved with the victim and the convicted killer back then, they have more questions themselves about what happened. 
I found this book interesting, with the narrator talking to the reader at times, sharing memories, raising questions, and revealing things without perhaps meaning to.

A Perfect Escape

Finished September 18
A Perfect Escape by M.L. Jameson

Megan Thomas knew soon after she got married that she'd made a mistake, but it took years for her to figure out how to leave. Megan married a man who seemed to love her, but her really wanted to control her. Now he is planning a political career and she knows that she has to leave as his threats are getting more serious and his violence is escalating. 
She's found another woman in his circle willing to help her, and chosen her time carefully. She knows that she has to leave Chicago as he has too many eyes there. Megan thought about going to the home she grew up in, one she inherited when her grandmother died, but fears it is too obvious, so she runs southeast instead. She rents a house in the off-season on the Carolina coast and begins more long-term plans.
But when the owner of the house shows up unexpectedly, both Megan and him find themselves with feelings that they hadn't planned for.
Smyth Parker has also chosen badly in marriage. He has let the responsibilities he inherited be taken on by others and and let others believe he is someone he is not. He doesn't need more complications in his life, and Megan is definitely a complication. But he can see that she is running from something, and he can't shake the feeling of wanting to protect her. 
As they both gradually open up to each other, they must also deal with their pasts rather than running from them. 
This novel has some different plot lines, and characters that engaged with me. I found myself easily caught up in the story, and hoping for an end that boded a better future. There is lots going on, and it kept me totally engaged.