Tuesday, 26 September 2023

Love at 350°

Finished September 21 
Love at 350° by Lisa Peers

This lesbian romance revolves around a competitive baking television show. The two central characters are one of the competitors and a judge on the show. The food definitely takes prominence here, with the romance always on the edge. 
Tori Moore is a high school chemistry teacher who has, along with another teacher at her school, taught a class combining chemistry and baking that considers the scientific aspects of baking while teaching the kids kitchen skills too. It actually sounds like a pretty cool course and reminds me of the recent novel Lessons in Chemistry. She is fairly recently divorced from her wife, after he wife left her to "pursue her dreams." She has twins who are in the senior year of high school and who worry about her being on her own after they leave for college. They have entered her in the competition to be on the reality television show Bake-O-Rama without her knowledge. When she finds that she's made it to the level of being asked to tryout for the show, she doesn't hesitate long. 
Kendra Campbell is one of the two hosts on the show, and definitely the more critical one, with her ruthless critiques driving some previous contestants to tears. She owns a chain of upscale cookie outlets, and a high-end restaurant. Her agent (who is also her brother) has encouraged her to soften her approach as a way to make the show's producers more likely to keep her on as a judge. 
When Tori makes it to the final selection of contestants who will appear on the upcoming season's shows, she is both excited and nervous. Her friends and children all are encouraging and supportive. 
Both women notice a spark between them, but their contracts stipulate no fraternization for a year after the show airs, which means that they can't act on those nascent feelings without jeopardize Tori's spot in the competition, or Kendra's job. They do manage to find some ways to let each other know there is interest and hope for a future. While this limited the romantic aspect of the book, I found it realistic. The women are mature, and able to consider the pros and cons of reacting to their feelings on a more immediate basis. 
I learned a lot about different kinds of baking, and there is a recipe included at the end of the book. 
The characters are appealing and vulnerable and I really was captured by the book. Some of the other contestants in the contest were interesting as well and had a little depth that grew through the plot. 
A definite winner. 

Monday, 25 September 2023

Dissipatio H.G.

Finished September 21
Dissipatio H.G.: the Vanishing by Guido Morselli, translated by Frederika Randall

This novel takes us into the mind of the narrator, who appears to be the last man on earth. He is an unhappy man, and had decided to end his life by dropping into an abyss within a cave near his mountain home. But somehow his thoughts took him elsewhere and he, instead returned home. But he soon finds that the world is not as he left it. All humans have disappeared, along with whatever they were wearing at the time. Cars have crashed or sit idling, homes are empty except for any pets or farm animals, 
We watch him explore this world from looking into his neighbours homes, to venturing to the nearby city of Chrysioilis (a city reminiscent of Zurich), to train stations, airports, and hotels, looking for humanity. He wonders whether he was spared by his location, deep within the earth, and venture to a nearby mining site. He listens for radio reports, makes phone calls to distant locations, but never finds another human. 
This is a story of both wonder and sadness, of questions unanswered, and hopes unfulfilled. 
The author was ahead of his time in the themes he wrote around, and after many rejections by publishers, he committed suicide in 1973. A good friend was instrumental in getting nine of his books published after his death, including this one, and they were generally very well received. 
I found the initial passages much more readable than the more philosophical and intellectual questioning that happens towards the end of the book, but the book is an interesting exercise in possibilities. 

The Stranger Inside

Finished August 21
The Stranger Inside by Lisa Unger

This mystery suspense novel takes place around an unnamed American city. There are two main characters that we see the story from: Rain Winter, an woman who worked as a national news reporter, but has taken some time off since the birth of her daughter; and Hank, a childhood friend who is now a child psychologist. There is also another voice that is anonymous at first, a person that we get to know gradually. 
As the story opens, a man who was acquitted on a technicality of his wife's murder has been found dead in his home under unusual circumstances. A prologue has set the scene for this. 
Rain's journalism instincts, along with her own past, are alerted by this and she decides to follow the story. She talks about returning to work in some way, perhaps as a freelance reporter. As she follows up on this, she also gets drawn back into her own past, and we learn of a significant childhood trauma, one that ended a close friendship between three young children and left those who remained alive severely traumatized. 
This is a novel that reveals things slowly in bits and pieces, adding to the mystery and the suspense. 
I liked the character of Rain, her sense of independence, and her drive. Her husband Greg is more of a secondary figure, as is her journalism partner Gillian. 
Hank is a complex character from the beginning, obviously still haunted by his past experiences. 
A fascinating and surprising read. 

Saturday, 23 September 2023

Before the Murders

Finished September 18
Before the Murders by Patricia McLinn

This is a novella that takes place before the first book in the Caught Dead in Wyoming series that I recently read, Spin Off. The novella takes place in London and includes the main character from the Caught Dead in Wyoming series, E.L (Elizabeth). Danniher, and the main characters in the Secret Sleuth series, Sheila Mackey and her great aunt Kit. 
Elizabeth has come to London a few days before a journalism assignment for some relaxation and spots Sheila in the hotel bar. Kit and Sheila are in town doing some research for a future book. When a young woman approaches them looking for help locating a family heirloom, they find themselves intrigued and agree to help locate a secret tunnel where the item was supposedly stashed. Kit also has an ulterior motive that has to do with her own past, and with ensuring that Sheila's secret isn't revealed in the wrong way. 
This was a fun read and I liked the plot. The three main characters were all appealing, although Sheila wasn't as fully drawn here as the others. 

The Transatlantic Book Club

Finished September 19
The Transatlantic Book Club by Felicity Hayes-McCoy

This novel is part of a series set in a small Irish town, but the only one in the series that I've read. The central characters here are Cassie Fitzgerald, a Toronto-born young woman who makes a living as a hairdresser, and has worked mostly on cruise ships so far in her career; and her Irish grandmother Pat Fitz. Before the book begins, Pat has lost her husband Ger to cancer. Cassie is on hand because she had accompanied her grandparents back to Ireland after they'd come to Canada to visit their two sons who had emigrated there. Also, before this book happens, Cassie and Pat had gone to Resolve, a town in the United States, where many people from their area of Ireland had emigrated, and where Pat had spent a summer years before, just before she got married.
Cassie is young and impulsive, but also kind and full of energy. She has arranged a part-time job as a hairstylist at a local spa/hotel, as well as one driving the library bus two days a week to villages in the area. This way, she explores the area a bit and gets to know some of the local people and begins friendships. She worries about her grandmother and how she will be on her own. 
Pat still lives above the butcher shop that her husband ran, although his holdings include the farm where they raised the meat, and other properties. She is also still close to her childhood friend Mary, whose husband Tom died a few years before. Only one of Pat's sons still lives in Ireland, Frankie, and she isn't close to him, and that relationship is explored some here. 
Mary's daughter Hanna runs the local library in Lissbeg, and it is through working at the library that Cassie gets the idea to set up a book club between Lissbeg and Resolve, connecting the people in the communities in new ways. She also has an interest in a young man in Resolve that she met while visiting with Pat, and is curious as to whether this is worth exploring. 
This book is slow-moving, and the various plots developed through the slow realization of the main characters around feelings and realizations. 

Thursday, 21 September 2023

Illumination Night

Finished September 16
Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman 

This story of a few people living in a small community over a few years is one of relationships, secrets, and growth. Set on Martha's Vineyard, the story starts with a young couple and their child. Before they moved here five years ago, Andre sold the motorcycle design company he created and now makes some money restoring old motorcycles that he then sells to collectors. Vonny is a potter and sells mostly to local stores, where she has made a name for herself. Their son Simon will be four in a few months and is inquisitive and friendly. 
Their nearest neighbour, Elizabeth Renny, is nearly seventy-four and, as the story opens, takes a bad fall. Her daughter, who is having marital issues, decides to send her sixteen-year-old daughter Jody to stay with Elizabeth for the summer. That visit becomes more permanent, something both Jody and Elizabeth are happy about. 
The novel's title takes its name from a tradition on the vineyard that has been taking place for more than a hundred and fifty years. It happens in August and involves music, food, and the lighting of paper lanterns. 
When the event takes place early in the book, it marks a point in the book where things change for many of the characters. 
We see Elizabeth age, Jody grow up and figure out a future for herself, Vonny come to terms with her own parents in interesting ways, and Andre make both bad and good choices. Simon too, grows up, although not always at the pace his parents hope for, sometimes too slowly and sometimes having to face tragedy too early. 
This is a story that really captivated me, making it hard to put down. I cared about the characters and wanted the book to continue so I could see what happened in these people's lives. 

Just Neighbors

Finished September 12
Just Neighbors by Charity Ferrell

This is the fourth book in a series set in the town of Blue Beech, in the United States, but the first that I've read. Here, Chloe is one of the main characters. She's a woman in early adulthood, who still lives in the town she grew up in. She has, however moved from the "bad neighbourhood" of trailer park to a decent house in a decent neighbourhood, and works at the local paper. Part of the reason Chloe still lives here is that so do her older sister and the sister's two children, who Chloe looks after on a regular basis. Her nephew is in high school and her niece is preschool. 
Fairly recently, a man who changed her high school years for the worse, Kyle Lane, moved in next door. Kyle works as a policeman, but his father is the mayor, and Kyle isn't on particularly good terms with him. Kyle is close to his mother and younger siblings. 
The two neighbours have an interaction every morning from their front porches, where he says good morning and she swears at him. There's a reason for this. Back in high school he put her in a bad situation and instead of protecting her and defending her, he made it worse by starting rumours. He has never apologized for this, or done anything to show remorse. Those rumours have never really gone away, and Chloe has very good reason to hate him. 
This makes it difficult to see how she so easily begins a relationship with him, and while it may start due to chemistry between them, for me that wasn't enough to make it a solid base for an ongoing relationship. I really didn't like him, and while I liked aspects of her, in the end she was a disappointment due to her reaction to him.
The dialogue lacks depth and there are gaps in the background that aren't explained or aren't explained well. And the ending felt very contrived to me, and unnecessarily brutal. There was also more swearing than I felt was needed. 
It was a quick read, that I picked up to meet a reading challenge, but I don't think I'll be returning to the series.

Tuesday, 19 September 2023

The Doctor of Thessaly

Finished September 10
The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi

This book is the third in 'A Seven Deadly Sins Mystery' series. It begins with a woman grieving what should have been her wedding day. The groom did not show up. It soon appears that there is a reason for that, when he is discovered injured in nearby ruins. But he refuses to see his bride.
A stranger from Athens soon appears in the town, Hermes Diaktoros. He says that he is an investigator, but not with the police, and he never reveals exactly who he works for. 
Hermes is a man who observes and listens and he soon discovers what the people think about the doctor, a man who came from France to fill the need. The old doctor is aging and had taken a step back from things. 
Hermes also learns what people think about Chrissa the woman who was to marry the doctor, and the woman's sister Noula. Hermes listens and watches and puts things together and amasses information he gleans from the people he talks to and the conversations that he overhears. 
He manages to subvert some plans, deal with larger criminal issues, and help the townspeople affected find a new way forward. 
This is a slow moving story, with some interesting plot points around the politics of small town life and reaction to change. 
I quite enjoyed it. 

Monday, 18 September 2023

Sign Off

Finished September 7
Sign Off by Patricia McLinn

This is the first book in a series set in Wyoming around a television journalist. E.M  (Elizabeth) Danniher is newly divorced from a powerful network executive. She also has a contract with said network, and so has found herself redeployed from her role as anchor on the east coast to the "Helping Out" consumer advocacy segment on a small station in Wyoming. 
She's naturally a little angry at the situation, but still striving to do the best job she can. She's recently been able to get a local viewer a refund on a defective toaster. When a school class visits the station, she has a young girl come up to her and insist that she help her with her problem, just as the segment says. But her problem is that her father has been accused of murder and let go due to lack of evidence. Her mother is trying to use that to deny visitation by the father. 
The young girl, Tamantha Burrell knows what she wants and has ordered Elizabeth to do it. Despite herself, Elizabeth's journalistic instincts kick in. When she realizes that the encounter was seen by the sports reporter for the station, ex-football player Mike Paycik, and that he wants to work with her on this story, she finds herself initially reluctant to accept his help. But she gradually realizes that, as a local, he has the contacts that she needs to do a thorough job of this. 
As she and Mike and a very competent female camara person follow the clues in the case, it grows more complex, with old rivals of the accused, wives and girlfriends of the victim, and ramps up with the discovery of the body of the victim after several months of him being missing. 
This book got me very intrigued in the community and in the main character of Danniher. I liked her style and attitude, and her competence. I'm looking forward to more in the series, Caught Dead in Wyoming. 

Saturday, 9 September 2023


Finished September 4
Bittersweet by Susan Wittig Albert

This novel is part of the series featuring herbalist China Bayles. Here, the story is set in a more remote part of Texas, in the small community where China's mother Leatha and stepfather Sam live, in the week around the Thanksgiving holiday. China and her family are planning to go to Leatha and Sam's for the holiday, but Sam is now in the hospital with heart issues. Sam is insisting the plans continue, so they do.
Besides China's family, Leatha has also invited China's friend Mack Chambers, a game warden in the area, newly transferred there after a recent divorce. Mack loves her job, and her previous husband had issues with her long and sometimes erratic hours, and with her less feminine interests. Mack lives alone with her dog and horse, but wouldn't say no to a relationship. She's recently started dating a divorced man who recently moved to the area, but isn't feeling the passion she's had before. 
Leatha and Sam have been converting the ranch that has been in his family for generations into a birding destination, redoing the lodge onsite, and building a viewing tower and other amenities. China worries about whether they can handle the operations with Sam's medical situation and their age. 
A more common use of cattle ranchers locally are canned hunting camps, with the owners importing a variety of animals, some for their value as trophies, and having hunters pay big bucks to shoot them onsite. The regulations around this activity are still in development, but for a lot of ranchers, this offers them a way to hang onto their land. 
There is also a new technology coming into play: drones as surveillance and investigative tools.
All of these elements come into play in the plot here. 
I found the first scene made me uncomfortable, but as the plot begins to move back and forth between China and Mack for most of the stories, I soon found myself captivated. 
There is also a lot of information at the beginning of chapters on plants from herbs to bushes, and invasive species versus local ones. At the end of the book are a few recipes from scenes in the story, a nice and useful addition. 

Summer with a Star

Finished September 1
Summer with a Star by Merry Farmer

This is a feel good summer read. Elementary school teacher Tasha Pike spent many summers in the seaside town of Summerbury, Maine. One year, she and her best friend Jenny took shelter from a sudden rainstorm in the grand Victorian home called Sand Dollar Point. She's always dreamed of staying a whole summer in that house and she's saved for years to make the dream come true. 
Granted, she thought she'd be doing it with her fiance and childhood friend, but after recently catching him cheating and dumping him, she's relishing the time to get her head together and think about her future. 
Tasha is an excellent teacher, as we see her relating to children in the book, and she really enjoys her work.
When she arrives at Sand Dollar Point, she finds someone else already staying there, a famous actor, and soon learns that his agent paid a lot to steal the booking out from under her. 
Spencer Ellis is a Hollywood superstar, having appeared in many action adventure films, but he's reevaluating his image, looking for a different type of role, and thinking about his future. He asked his agent to find a quiet location for him to read over scripts and determine his forward path. 
When he discovers that his agent has stolen his summer spot from someone else, he offers to share the place with her for the summer. The house is large and they both intend to be pretty solitary over these months, so it shouldn't be an issue.
As they get to know each other, he discovers Tasha's history and she finds out the annoyances that come with being a star. They also discover commonalities and a definite attraction to each other. 
From time on the beach, exploring nearby nature sites, and reading, the summer passes quickly, but will the two characters see each other beyond this summer idyll.
A fun, fast read, that left me with a pleasant feeling. 
There was also a teaser for the second book in the series, which has me intrigued. 

Friday, 8 September 2023

The Chase

Finished August 31
The Chase by DiAnn Mills

This FBI thriller has two main characters.
Kariss Walker is a former television journalist turned novelist. She's written several successful women's fiction novels, but dreams of writing about her true passion, finding justice for those unable to do so themselves. She is haunted by an experience in her past where she was unable to protect someone vulnerable. One case she covered as a journalist was of a young girl, whose body was found, malnourished near an apartment complex. The girl's identity was never determined. This is the case that she plans to base her novel on.
Kariss has gained access to follow an FBI agent to get background information on the world she plans to write about. The agent is Tigo Harris. He has many years of experience, including undercover work, and is currently involved in a case involving gangs smuggling drugs and guns. 
When Kariss is able to get the case reopened, she and the FBI find new evidence that points to the child's identity, and perhaps to new crimes. 
Tigo is very close to his mother, who is dying from a cancer, and this element impacts how he lives his life and sets his priorities. 
Kariss makes a lot of questionable decisions putting her own safety into jeopardy. 
Both characters have families who are strong church goers, but both have distanced themselves from religion. The Christian element in this book is subtle until the end, when it suddenly becomes more evident. 

Nurse's Date with a Billionaire

Finished August 31
Nurse's Date with a Billionaire by Amelia Addler

This is the first book in the Billionaire Date series, a romance series with no sex, a subgenre known as 'clean romance'.This story is set mostly in Madison, Wisconsin. Kali is a nurse who has just transferred to the ICU. Her first patient in a nonresponsive man found on the street with no ID. As the book begins, he has woken up and tried to walk away, and she catches him out of his room. Once he is evaluated and moved to a regular ward, he tells the doctors he remembers who he is and gets told he will be released, but leaves before being officially released. 
He still hasn't recovered his memory however and finds himself on the streets of town looking for food and shelter. He finds a soup kitchen, and coincidentally Kali is delivering leftover food from the hospital to it when she sees him and stops to say hi. She ends up taking him back to her place as she has a separate small apartment space in her basement she hasn't yet rented out. 
As he gradually begins to remember his life, with Kali's help, he returns to his life in England, where his family is extremely wealthy and owns a hotel chain. He is also engaged to a wealthy young woman there. 
There is some drama around Kali's work, with a supervisor who is a bully, and some odd rules around fraternization with patients. We also see both characters' strong family connections and how their past has impacted their lives. 
I read this to meet a reading challenge as a quick read, and found it a light and quick read in a genre I am not that familiar with. 

The Best Man

Finished August 30
The Best Man by Kristan Higgins 

This is the first book in a series set in the Finger Lakes region of New York. Set in a small town focused on the many local wineries and the lakes themselves, Faith Holland grew up in a family that ran Blue Heron Winery. She's the youngest of four kids, and her mother died in a car accident when she was still quite young. Faith has epilepsy, and was in the car accident as well, and has always felt guilt for distracting her mother just before the accident. 
Faith had a long relationship with Jeremy Lyons from high school when he and his family moved to town from California, but it ended on the day they were to be married. She left and found herself a new life elsewhere, as a landscape architect, returning home only on occasion. 
Now she's back for a longer period, working on a personal project on the family property, and picking up some other local jobs as well. She's made peace with Jeremy but still has issues with some of other people from her youth, and she finds herself forced into dealing with her past in a number of different ways. 
Levi Cooper is the local police chief, and Jeremy's best friend since high school. Despite being well respected in the community, he still has issues from his social status growing up, and feeling accepted in the community socially. He also has mixed feelings regarding Faith.
As the two are thrown together, they find themselves open to dealing with the past and moving forward. 

Friday, 1 September 2023

September Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

This is where you post links to REVIEWS of books fitting this challenge that you've read in September. I see a lot of reviews over the summer and look forward to see what the fall brings in. 

This year's theme is really hitting home this summer. I have family that was under evacuation, although luckily no one I'm close to lost their home. So many others have lost homes, businesses, and even lives. I'm thinking of all of them at this time. 

Wednesday, 30 August 2023

Evil in Emerald

Finished August 28
Evil in Emerald by A.M. Stuart

This is the third book in an historical mystery series and is set in Singapore in 1910. Harriet Gordon is a widow living with her brother, a minister and headmaster of a boy's school, and their ward Will, a schoolboy. She helps with the paperwork at the school, and brings in extra income by typing up reports and other documents for the local police. 
Her tennis partner has convinced her to join the Singapore Amateur Dramatic and Music Society (SADAMS) for their upcoming production The Pirates of Penzance. Also in SADAMS are a journalist, Griff Maddocks; a friend and doctor's wife, Louise Mackenzie; a local police constable, Ernest Greaves ; a woman who is rumoured to have been on stage in London, Alicia Sewell; and an insurance broker, Tony Dowling. The director of the society is Charles Lovett, a lawyer, whose wife Elspeth organizes most of the supporting functions, such as costumes, and whose daughter Eunice, helps out wherever needed.
When a body is found badly burned in a fire on SADAM's premises, Harriet becomes involved as both an assistant to the police, and as someone with knowledge of the victim. Her boss, Inspector Robert Curran is in charge of the case, and has made some enemies of some of the colonial planters, one of whom has a definite grudge against him. As Curran investigates, the case takes him to other cast members of SADAMS, as well as to a local planter and another businessman. 
But Curran is also finding that his personal life has him distracted. His long-time partner Li An, a woman from a powerful Kuala Lumpur family is being drawn back into that family; and someone who brings news of his own family in need of assistance appears on his doorstep. 
This is a novel with a lot going on with both Harriet and Curran, and I found myself not wanting to put the book down until I finished it. 
Definitely a series with promise! 

Out of the Dust

Finished August 26
Out of the Dust by Karen Hesse

This teen novel, a winner of the Newberry Award, is set in Oklahoma over the course of two years, 1934 and 1935. It is a story told in poetry, free verse, and grouped by season. Each poem in the seasonal sections also has a month noted to set it in time. 
Billie Jo Kelby lives with her parents on a farm outside of their small Oklahoma town, not far from the Texas border. Amarillo is only fifty miles south of them. Billie Jo has music in common with her mother. Her father's wedding gift to her mother was a piano, and although Billie Jo plays more modern music than her mother, she is a natural, often asked to perform in public. Another young musician that Bobbie Jo considers a rival is Mad Dog Craddock. He's been called by that name long enough that she doesn't even know what his real name is. 
As the book opens, Bobbie Jo has recently learned that her mother is pregnant and she hopes this baby will come for her parents, unlike many earlier ones. 
The drought has caused many to leave for the west, including her best friend Livie. They endure weeks without rain, and dust storms that can be fatal to those caught out in them. 
Luckily, Bobbie Jo's family has a good well, and her mother has grown apple trees that she takes great pride in. 
The poems that make up this book and tell the story of her life over the course of these two years, range in topic from the weather, to neighbours, to loss, to news events (like the Dionne quintuplets) to community events. But above all, they give us Bobbie Jo's inner life, her feelings about what is happening in her life, her struggles and her joys. 
A fantastic read. 

Monday, 28 August 2023

The Forgotten Home Child

Finished August 25
The Forgotten Home Child by Genevieve Graham

This novel is structured as the story of a woman in her nineties, telling her story to her granddaughter and great grandson. The grandmother Winny was a British home child, brought to Canada through Barnardos. As the book opens she has just moved in with her granddaughter Chrissie and her great-grandson Jamie from a seniors home. Prior to that she had lived for years with her daughter Susan who died. One of the things that Winny brought with her was the small wooden trunk she brought with her from England, and that started the conversation that she gradually has with her family. 
Winny's family came to London from Ireland when she was young, and consisted of her, four younger brothers, and her parents. When her father died in an accident, her mother struggled, and Winny found herself unable to stay with the family when her mother took on another man. 
Struggling on the streets of London, she was befriended by Mary another girl her age and became part of a small group of children who resorted to theft to feed themselves. When the children are caught, Winny and Mary eventually find themselves in Barkingside Girls' Village, a Barnardo facility where the girls are taught useful skills so they can find gainful employment. While there, Winny befriended another young girl, Charlotte who had been left there by her mother until she could get her feet on the ground. The boys, Jack (Mary's brother), and brothers Edward and Colin were taken elsewhere and we discover what happened to them as the novel unfolds. 
Like many children in England at that time, they became one of the many sent overseas to Canada. Some children were welcomed into homes, but many were indentured servants and many of those led hard lives under sometimes abusive masters. 
Winny was made to feel ashamed of her origins as a home child, and thus never revealed this part of her past to her family until now. 
Graham has done a lot of research for this novel, and all of the experiences the children in her book have are real experiences that home children had. By personifying this experience, Graham brings history to life for her readers. 
I was totally caught up in the story, needing to know what happened to each of the children, and understand the repercussions of their experiences. 
An enlightening and entertaining read. 

The Mountains Sing

Finished August 24
The Mountains Sing by Nguyen Phan Que Mai

Covering nearly a century, this is a tale of one family, the Tran family, through multiple generations in Vietnam. Told by grandmother Dieu Lan who was born in 1920, and her granddaughter Huong, born in 1960, this story is also a history of Vietnam during the 20th century. Dieu Lan was a farmer, a teacher,  and finally a trader, the last a profession frowned upon by the government, but one that was more lucrative than her former teaching job. 
We see Dieu Lan's story as she relates it to Huong after they've survived the Vietnam War and Huong is struggling to understand her family as they all deal with the traumas they've undergone. 
The first is the time of Great Hunger, when the Tran's and their neighbours are dying due to lack of food. Two neighbours emerge from this time as close supporters from then on, Mrs. Tu, who takes on a role as a sort of honorary grandmother and housekeeper for the family; and Mr. Hai, who helps them find a source of food. Dieu Lan's father treated her as an equal to his song Cong and both her and Cong make good marriages. When she, Cong, and their father were taking a load of potatoes to market, they find themselves attacked by Japanese soldiers who have moved into their area, and her father is killed. 
Cong and Dieu Lan escape, but the event is a blow to the family, and soon after that the Vietnam forces that liberate them from the Japanese occupation engage in an act of Land Reform, and disgruntled peasants turn on all landowners, even those who treated their workers well, and landowners were driven from their homes and land, and, in many cases killed. Dieu Lan loses more family members during this time. 
Dieu Lan must find a way forward with her remaining family members. She had six children: Minh, born in 1938, who may have escaped with his life, but she loses contact with; Ngoc, born in 1940, and became a doctor, who goes on to marry Hoang and is the mother of Huong who also tells a large portion of the story of this book; Dat, born in 1941 and left his girlfriend Nhung to go to war against the Americans; Thuan, born in 1947, who also went to war; Hanh, born in 1948, who found a life in Saigon; and Sang, born in 1954 and who was still an infant as the family fled.
During the war, Huong was with her grandmother in Ha Noi, but they often fled to the nearby mountains during bombing attacks, sometimes for long periods. When they returned to the city, they had to rebuild and hope that the other family members who had left to either fight in the war or support those who were fighting will return home. Some do, but all suffer from trauma of different types. 
The author is a well-regarded poet and the writing here shows her skill with language and storytelling. 
I was totally captured by the story and the family members' stories, wanting to know how each one dealt with their issues and found a way forward. 
A book that was both enlightening and captivating. 

Before and Again

Finished August 21
Before and Again by Barbara Delinsky

This novel begins with a scene in the past that is life-changing. Taking her eyes from the road briefly to check her GPS as she drives her daughter to a playdate, Mackenzie Cooper misses a sign and ends up in a tragic car accident. 
The main storyline is nearly five years later, when Cooper, now living as Maggie Reid, is divorced and living in a resort town in Vermont. In her previous life, she was a successful sculptor. Now she is a makeup artist, working at a luxury spa. She has created a life where only a couple of people know about her past. She has a small rural home, and pets that she loves. We gradually see over the course of the book how she has created a new life for herself here, and has friends that truly support her as she does them. 
But things are suddenly getting shaken up, and Maggie must make choices. First her friend Grace's son Chris is arrested for hacking computers, and one of the victims is turning it into a media circus. Her friend Grace has reasons to be scared that go beyond her son's alleged crime.
Then she finds someone from her own past is involved in the new ownership of the spa, and her secrets may be in danger of being revealed. 
As we gradually get to see the people from her past and how they've struggled as well, this story becomes richer and more nuanced. 
This is a story of a woman struggling with grief and guilt, and trying to figure out how to move forward with her life, which she can't fully do without dealing with the past.
As usual with Delinsky, this novel explores relationships both with others and with oneself. 

Monday, 21 August 2023

For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy on My Little Pain

Finished August 18
For Thy Great Pain Have Mercy on My Little Pain by Victoria MacKenzie

This short novel is about two real women, Julian of Norwich and Margery Kempe. Both women were from well-to-do families in England and stories of and by them have survived beyond their lives, which ended in the 1400s. 
Julian was a name that was taken on by her once she became an anchoress, a woman who was sealed into a small room against one wall of a church. Her room had a window into the church, a window into a small room used by her maid who brought her food and other things she required, and took away waste products, and a high window to the outdoors. She lived in a time of hardship and disease and lived through more than one outbreak of plague. The first took all of her family except her and her mother and unmoored both of them for a while. She was able to get permission to learn how to read and write and eventually married and had a child. Sadly, the second plague took both her husband and child, and she moved back into her mother's home. During an illness of her own, she had what she called 'shewings,' where Jesus appeared to her and told her things and brought her comfort. This reinforced her natural interest in religion and led her to her choice to become an anchoress after her mother's death.  She had considered becoming a pilgrim or hermit, but was dissuaded by others due to her gender. As far as we know she never told anyone of the visions she'd had, but she did write of them and her papers were found years later.
Margery was married to a man she didn't love and had many children, but also great trouble during childbirth. During an illness after her first child was born, she had visions of Jesus and continued having similar visions during her life. She tried to communicate what she learned of these publicly by telling of her visions and weeping about what she had learned, but was criticized by many for this and was asked many questions by religious men trying to convict her of being a heretic. She sought counsel many places, including from Julian of Norwich, and travelled to Jerusalem later in her life. She couldn't read or write, but had a scribe write her story. 
This book is in three parts. The first is the longest and alternates the women's stories using their own voices as they tell us of their experiences and their search for meaning. The second part tells of their meeting, which they did on two subsequent days. The last part is the shortest and tells of Margery's careful keeping of Julian's story and how she planned to write her own.
There is also an epilogue that explains the facts about the women, how Margery's story came to be written down, and was the autobiography written in English; how both women's stories came to light, and the importance of these in terms of medieval literature. 
It is interesting how Mackenzie has combined these two lives, showing their differences and parallels and giving their voices life. 

The Dangerous Hour

Finished August 17
The Dangerous Hour by Marcia Muller

This is part of the Sharon McCone series, fairly far along, and she is celebrating a planned expansion for her agency when things start going bad. One of her agents in training is accused of stealing a client's credit card and purchasing items online with it. The client also files a complaint against the agency, meaning that Sharon's license could be in jeopardy. As she complies with investigators, she also researches old cases to see who might have a grudge against her and be capable of this kind of planned attack. 
Sharon is also mulling over a question her longtime partner Hy has posed to her.
This book has a fast-moving plot, with lots going on in terms of clues that Sharon and her investigators follow up on, both near and far. 
I also liked the storylines around helping people improve their circumstances through training and other social resources. 

Sunday, 20 August 2023

A Death at Seascape House

Finished August 13
A Death at Seascape House (Jemima Jago Mystery, #1) by Emma Jameson

This is an intriguing mystery set in the Isles of Scilly off the Cornish coast in southwest England. It is part of a series featuring special collections librarian Jemima Jago. As the book opens, Jemima (Jem) has returned to the Isles to do a special project regarding a private collection of books on the island. Jem hasn't been to the Isles since she left after her grandmother's death when she was a teenager. That loss occurred shortly after another tragedy that we gradually learn about through the course of the novel. 
Jem is waiting to meet a friend at a pub, but her friend Pauley is late, and she subsequently engages in a new friendship with the bartender Micki. 
Pauley is also the owner of the large collection that Jem will be cataloguing, and has recently told Jem that one of the unique books in the collection has gone missing. When she finds out that the main suspect is Edith a woman who she hated back when she was a kid, she decides to go to Edith's house to try to recover the book. Instead she finds a crime scene, with Edith dead and the place ransacked. With the chief of police prejudiced against her, Jem must try to find the true culprit of the crime to clear her own name. 
As she encounters the locals, she must also deal with her own past there, and the tragedy that she was blamed for back then. 
I enjoyed the main character, as well as many of the supporting ones, from Micki and Pauley, to Jem's old boyfriend Rhys, and the new sergeant heading the local police force. 
This looks like it will be an interesting series. 

How to Hang a Witch

Finished August 9
How to Hang a Witch by Adriana Mather

This is a great teen novel. The author is a descendent of Cotton Mather, on of the players in the Salem witch trials and uses that historical event to bring a current issue to a new level.
Samantha Mather has just moved to Salem with her stepmother Vivian, following her father's illness and hospitalization. Her father had always refused to return to this town, and Samantha doesn't remember her grandmother, whose house she is now living in, at all. 
While she is welcomed by her nearest neighbour Mrs. Meriwether and her son, Jaxon, she is still unhappy about being so far from her dad, who will be transferred from the hospital in New York City to a nearby city soon. 
The following day, at her new high school, is even more difficult as she is made to feel very unwelcome by a group of teenagers who are direct descendents of the women who were burned as witches in the 1600s. Samantha herself is a direct descendent of Cotton Mather, who played a large role in the historical event. 
As Samantha finds odd things happening around her and to people in town, she learns that her grandmother Charlotte had been studying similar happenings around descendents of the various players in the witch trials before her own death. 
Assisted by a resident ghost in her home, Samantha digs deeper into research, using her grandmother's notes and trying to reach out to the girls who have made her feel unwelcome. 
The parallels between to the past and the present highlight similarities that related to modern day bullying and scapegoating and show that we haven't come as far as we think in society. 
Samantha's efforts show ways to deal with real life issues even though she exists in a world where magic, superstition, and ghosts are a reality. 
This was a really interesting read, and is the first in a series of books. 

If You Ask Me

Finished August 7
If You Ask Me by Libby Hubscher

Violet Covington is the writer of an advice column, Dear Sweetie in her local North Carolina newspaper. As the book opens, she is told that her column is up for syndication and she is a bit excited about this opportunity. She is good friends with her boss Kyra, whom she originally met at college, as well as her coworkers, Ashleigh and Tyler. She decides to go home early to prepare a celebratory dinner for her and her lawyer husband Sam, but gets an unpleasant surprise that rocks her sense of self and her plans, her husband in bed with another woman. 
After kicking him out, Violet goes through the normal stages of grief around such an experience and both does and says some things that she regrets later. Giving advice that is more open than anything she's written to date means that she gets a more prominent profile, especially after her real name is revealed and she must consider how to deal with both new opportunities and deal with blowback. 
Her more personal actions lead her to new relationships, including a professional encounter with a local firefighter, Dez, that turns personal. 
This is a story of a relationship that had issues long before the abrupt end, and how we don't always know what kinds of personal issues people are hiding from the world. 
I liked the inclusion of the letters and Dear Sweetie's replies that appeared here, showing some new ways of thinking about interpersonal relationships that I found hit the mark for me. 
I was rooting for Violet as she grew as a person here, and found this book hard to put down. 

Pride and Protest

Finished August 7
Pride and Protest by Nikki Payne

This is a modern day retelling of Pride and Prejudice with a few changes to certain elements of the plot and characters. A great read that is well written with lots of humour and a serious undertone.
The issue at the center of the story here is affordable housing.
Liza Bennett recently moved back in with her mother, grandmother and siblings after a rent increase made her own apartment unaffordable. Along with her mom are her older sister Jayne, who has her own very interesting past and a strength that comes from dealing with adversity; her brother Maurice who is passionate about both black rights and poverty issues; and her teenage sister LeDeya who is very into fashion and does her own Tiktok videos giving fashion and beauty advice; and Granny who loves to garden and gives practical advice.
Granny is the Mr. Bennett of this story and Maurice is the Mary, both adapted and yet recognizably not only the same characterization, but a deeper one as well. 
Darcy here is a guy named Dorsey. He is the middle child in his family, but recently lost his older brother and his parents in a car accident, so now only has a younger sister, Gigi. Dorsey and his siblings were all adopted from different cultures. Dorsey is from the Philippines, and into his native culture, but also has been thrust unexpectedly into a leadership role in the company his parents ran, with his heart more interesting in his mother's philanthropic foundation. 
Liza is a strong, smart woman with a degree who works as a DJ at a Washington, D.C. radio station and has been fighting against developers gentrifying her neighbourhood and driving out the lower income people who live there now. Netherfield is a new development project there and Dorsey's company is behind it. They have done some community events to present a friendlier aspect to themselves, but it is mostly lip service and Liza is all too ready to call them on it. 
As Liza and her family get to know Dorsey, his organization, and his friends, we see a greater depth to this adaptation than even was in the original story. The characters have more complexity and the backstories are bigger. 
This also has so many things I like about modern relationship fiction, including dealing with serious real-life issues, great banter, and strong sibling relationships. 
This is a fantastic read.

Together We Will Go

Finished August 6
Together We Will Go by J. Michael Straczynski

This is a road trip novel with a twist. Mark Antonelli is a man who has tried to make a living as a writer and has been unable to do so. After the last rejection, he decides to use his savings to buy a used tour bus and do a road trip from his home in Florida across the United States, picking up passengers as he goes along, and ending up in San Francisco where they will find a cliff at sunset and drive over. He place an ad online for a short period and gets numerous responses and then removes the ad in case someone tries to trace it. 
He hires a driver, Dylan, who is ex-military, and while he is aware of the plan, does not want to die himself, and won't be taking the final drive. Mark has set up a system on board the bus that people can log into and tell their stories. There is a cloud backup. This is part of the plan, The participants will sign a form giving the rights to their stories, and after the end of the trip the texts will be automatically put on to the public for greater understanding of how people struggle with different issues.
The story is told through these diary-like entries that people make, including some that are voice-to-text, and through emails and texts exchanged between the participants and with a few people not part of this trip. This means that we see both interactions between the characters as well as their pasts that led them to this choice, and their thoughts that they record. 
The characters that join the bus make their choice for a wide variety of reasons, from chronic pain, medical issues that they haven't been able to afford to resolve (because this is the U.S. where healthcare isn't a given), addictions, mental health issues, social issues like being ostracized and bullied, and guilt over past actions. All of the characters feel their issues are significant enough that they don't want to go on, they don't want to continue the struggle, and being aware of their thought processes is quite eye-opening. 
As they go along, they interact with the outside world, and sometimes that has consequences that they haven't prepared themselves for. 
This is a moving story with an unexpected ending. And yes, that cat on the cover does have a meaning.

A Sea of Troubles

Finished August 4
A Sea of Troubles by Donna Leon

This story takes place mostly in Pellestrina, with a helpful map at the front of the book giving the reader who is less familiar with Venice a sense of where it is in relation to the rest of the city. The community here is a close-knit one of clam fisherman, most of them having lived there for generations and when a boat explodes and two bodies are found on board, the police find it hard to learn anything about the men and the situation, beyond what they can see themselves. Inspector Brunetti is on the case and he, as he often does, asks the department secretary Signorina Elettra, what she can find out. 
She ends up going beyond her usual computer research and calling contacts and goes out to Pellestrina to visit a cousin, something she has done before, but this time putting herself in potential danger should anyone there connect her to the investigation. 
Brunetti finds himself worried about her in a more personal way than he is comfortable with and Paola, his wife, notice that as well. 
The bodies in the boat Squallus are a father and son, Guilio and Marco Bottin, Marco, and while Guilio seems to have an history of violence and disagreements, Marco is well liked. 
Because of the need to travel a distance by boat to the community, we see more of a boat pilot for the police, Montisi, and he plays an important role. Vianello is the detective assisting Brunetti and we also see him more fully in this story. 
This is a case that reaches into the past, but also is about families and small communities. 
Another important aspect of the story is the sea itself and how weather can change how it behaves so quickly and change outcomes. 
And, as always in Leon's books, there is food, both good and no so good. 
A great addition to the series. 
map provided

Friday, 4 August 2023

A Flower is a Friend

Finished August 2
A Flower is a Friend by Frieda Wishinsky, illustrated by Karen Patkau

This picture book is both delightful and educational. Full page pictures of flowers also include creatures that have a relationship with that particular plant, whether it be pollinating, feeding, sheltering, or protecting it from other creatures who harm it. 
There is a simple story that goes along with text opposite each picture, telling the reader what flowers do, and then there is section of information about the creatures that interact with each flower explaining the role they play, and at the very back is a list of the flowers depicted, with their page number. 
This book can be used differently with different ages of children as they first enjoy the simple story and pictures and then move on to learning about nature and how flora and fauna interact with each other. 
The illustrations are very realistic and the reader can spend time looking at the details in each image. At the end of the main story is a double page spread that encourages the reader to spend time looking for the variety of creatures in the more panoramic image of a flower garden. 

A Very Merry Bromance

Finished August 3
A Very Merry Bromance by Lyssa Kay Adams

I really enjoy this series of couples romance novels. This fifth novel in the series picks up from an encounter at the wedding of the couple in book two. Country music star Colton Wheeler had instant chemistry with immigration lawyer Gretchen Winthrop, but she ghosted him after that. They've both been avoiding each other until Gretchen gets approached by her family to ask Wheeler to be their brand ambassador. Gretchen grew up very wealthy, in the family of a company that has made whiskey going back several generations. But it wasn't a happy upbringing and she is really only close to one member of the family, her Uncle Jack, who doesn't have any kids of his own. 
Gretchen has also been applying for a seat on the board of the charitable foundation that the family runs, and they are now offering that role to her. She has put most of the money she had accessible to her into her legal clinic, where she handles immigration cases. She is very busy and many of her clients don't have much financial resources to pay her, so she does a lot of pro bono work. 
Colton has never gotten over Gretchen and he takes the opportunity of her coming to him to negotiate for a few dates with her while he considers the offer. 
Watching the two spending time together doing seasonal activities is fun, and had me thinking about my own Christmas traditions. There are several references to Dickens' A Christmas Carol in the book that connect some of the themes of need and happiness, a nice touch.
There is also a lot of information on the music business and how it functions that was really interesting to learn. Some I was aware of, but there were complexities beyond what I had known.
This novel, as with many of the others in the series, has the main characters dealing with a past that they've managed to ignore for a long time, but that needs to be faced for them to fully move on with their lives. 
I could hardly put it down. 

Tuesday, 1 August 2023

August Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Here is where you post links to the REVIEWS of the books you finished in August.

It's always nice to see a comment too!

Monday, 31 July 2023


Finished July 30
Bookworm by Robin Yeatman

I picked up this book at my local library based on the title and the fact that it is this year's book choice for Markham Reads. Because I hadn't read anything about the book before starting it, I found myself getting drawn into the story of a submissive wife, who has an inner life that is very unexpected. Victoria is a massage therapist who works at a local spa in Montreal and spends most of her free time reading. She doesn't socialize much, just with one friend from high school, Holly. Victoria also likes watching people. She believes that she can "read" them as well, sensing information about their lives that is surprisingly detailed. 
As the book begins, Victoria is seated at her local cafe, reading, when she notices an attractive man reading the same book. She is immediately captivated by him, but he doesn't seem to notice her and leaves soon after. Victoria is unfamiliar with the feelings that he aroused in her and is a bit unsettled, finding her thoughts wandering to him despite what else she does. 
We soon find that Victoria is married to Eric, a lawyer hoping to be offered a partnership. She is Eric's second wife, his first having left him for someone else of a lower class, and we see that he is a controlling figure. Their condo is decorated to his tastes, the food she makes is for his limited palate, and the clothes she wears are mostly his choices. 
As we learn the background of how they came to be married, despite the lack of real interest in each other, we also see how Victoria's inner life is her escape. She often gets ideas from the books she reads, and she often fantasizes about her husband's death. 
She also commonly experiences an out-of-body sensation at night just before she sleeps, where she looks down on herself and her bedroom from above. But this experience soon grows to allow her to float beyond her home and observe others that she senses strongly, in particular the man from the cafe. 
Victoria's thoughts are hers alone, not shared with her ambitious lawyer parents, her critical mother-in-law, or her friend Holly. And they are often dark and plotting. 
But when those thoughts begin to have real shape in her daily world, she finds she might actually get what she wants. 
This book is disturbing and my opinion of Victoria changed radically as the book unfolded. This is a unique and startling tale of desire. 

Sunday, 30 July 2023

Dexter's Final Cut

Dexter's Final Cut by Jeff Lindsay

This is the seventh book in the Dexter series, but the first that I've read. I haven't watched the television series inspired by the series either. So, that being said, I quickly became aware that Dexter Morgan is a very odd character. He describes himself as a monster pretending to be human, and considers his wife and three children (two of them stepchildren) to be helpful cover for him. He refers to himself as having a Passenger, a dark force that is capable of extreme violence and behaviour outside of societal conventions. Dexter also has a dark secret. He has made a habit of finding evil people and secretly, slowly, killing them, and ensuring that the bodies won't be found. He also works for the police department in forensics, specializing in blood spatter. 
Here, he is assigned a very different task, to have an actor shadow him as he works. The actor will be playing a forensic specialist in a television movie. His sister, Deborah, is a police officer and she is also assigned an actor, a woman who will be playing a police officer. 
When a body is found all four of them end up at the scene, and Dexter is able to make some astute observations as a result of the body and it's condition. As he gets drawn into the case, he and Deborah make connections to the female actor and Dexter finds himself losing his focus on his dark side, getting drawn in to the perks of high living that he is exposed to. 
When more bodies appear, the Morgans attempt to move forward with the case, but it is assigned to a different officer, one known for his ineptitude. And so they start a parallel investigation.
As Dexter's family gets drawn into the story, from his children to his wife, Dexter finds that his life begins to unravel, and his secrets may not be able to be secret anymore.
The character of Dexter is a very unusual one. He thinks himself superior to most other people, and incapable of emotions. But in his experience here, he finds himself being led by feelings that he hasn't had before and betraying those he is closest to. 
A very unusual read. 


Finished July 27
Poison by Kathryn Harrison

This historical novel of the late 1600s follows two women, born on the same day, one a real figure and one not. Francesca de Luarca is the daughter of a Spanish silk grower. Her father's family has been in the business for years, and owns their own fields. Her grandfather held to tradition and what has worked in the past, but her father Felix has other ideas. He has heard about new mulberry trees that offer better yields, and wants to try them, but is thwarted by Francesca's grandfather. After the grandfather's death, Felix makes the changes he has dreamed of, but the results are not as he hoped. And so Francesca's mother, Conception takes on work as a wet nurse, eventually in the king's household.
Maria Luisa, first wife of King Carlos (Charles II) was born a French princess, niece to the Sun King, Marie Louise D'Orleans. She married the King on the way to the capital, shortly after crossing into Spain, in Quintanapalla. It is here that the two women first cross paths, as Francesca is in the crowd of people observing the couple as they emerge from the church. 
This is also the time of the Inquisition where there is much suspicion arising from any unusual events or behaviour outside of the norm. So when Francesca becomes involved with a priest, and is eventually discovered, she finds herself marked as a witch. 
Marie Louise's inability to conceive also arouses suspicion and when she is discovered in deception, things deteriorate for her as well. 
This is a story of women and their strong ties to their mothers, how love and fate determine their lives, and how society's reaction to their actions bring about their downfall. 
The stories of the two women only touch slightly, but Francesca's story winds around that of the Queen, and the narrative moves fluidly between them and across their lives to show the commonalities. 

Saturday, 29 July 2023

The Steep and Thorny Way

Finished July 20
The Steep and Thorny Way by Cat Winters

Set in small town Oregon in the summer of 1923, this teen novel follows biracial Hanalee Denney as she tries to make sense of the stories she hears about her father's death over a year earlier. 
Hanalee's parents met by chance in Portland, and went to Washington state to get married as Oregon did not allow a black man and a white woman to marry. They returned to the small town her mother, Greta was from, and farmed there. 
Now the young man, Joe Adder, who was convicted of killing her father Hank, but hitting him with his car is out of jail. Joe is back in town, but not accepted back into his father's house, and is sheltering in sheds and abandoned buildings. He's back to talk to her, because he promised her father he would keep an eye on her. 
Since her father's death, Greta has married long-time family friend Clyde Koning, a local doctor, and he now lives in Greta's family's home. When Joe insists that he didn't kill her father, and there was someone else who saw him alone before he died, Hanalee starts asking questions. 
When a local girl insists that she's seen Hank's ghost and that he is trying to talk to Hanalee, Hanalee has to decide whether to accept help to try to see this ghost herself and find out what her father so desperately has to say. 
This novel taught me a lot about this time period in Oregon. The Ku Klux Klan was very active in the state, and was particularly trying to gain influence over the younger generation. This was also a time of bootlegging, with it being Prohibition, and many local men ran stills and hired others to deliver their products. It was also a time of other prejudices besides racial ones, and that is part of this story as well. 
There is a lot going on, but Hanalee must face up to what is happening in her town, and how it affects her and those she cares about personally. This is a coming of age story in a difficult time under difficult circumstances, and the characters feel very real. I also found it interesting that portions of the plot were inspired by Hamlet.
A great read. 

Friday, 21 July 2023

Homeroom Diaries

Finished July 18
Homeroom Diaries by James Patterson and Lisa Papademetriou

This graphic novel follows high school student Margaret "Cuckoo" Clarke over the course of a few months. Cuckoo's mom has disappeared for a few days from time to time, but recently she's been gone for much longer, and Cuckoo now lives as a foster child with her neighbour Mrs. Morris. She's also spent a short period of time in a mental institution being observed after having some strong feelings around her mother's unexplained disappearance.
Her group of friends at school are all outsiders of some type, not fitting into one of the more defined groups such as: jocks, nerds, barbies, goths, haters, or zomboids. They refer to themselves as the Freakshow, and created nicknames for themselves that are worse that whatever the bullies come up with. Thus she is Cuckoo; her international baccalaureate best friend is Brainzilla; Asian friend Hanna is Eggy, short for Eggroll; Paul with acne issues is Zitsy; religious and sporty Paul is Tebow; and weightroom user overweight Beverly is Flatso. 
The group decides to work on a Happiness Project to bring nicer vibes to the school, but run into barriers along the way. 
They also have to deal with an out-of-touch principal; a underage genius teacher; a nosy school psychologist, and attitudes from their fellow students.
As the school year progresses, they undergo more challenges, from online bullying to personal loss, and work together to support each other. They also find support in unexpected places.
The drawing really bring this story to life, giving more insight into the characters. I really liked the narrator and her way of looking at things and being honest about her feelings. I also liked how the friend group really cared about each other. 
I really enjoyed this read.