Thursday, 23 March 2023

Red, White & Royal Blue

Finished March 21
Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

This romance is focused on two young men, and is told from the point of view of one of them. Alex Claremont-Diaz is the son of the US president, Ellen Claremont, a woman who was married to Alex's dad (he's also a politician) and is a Democrat. Ellen is coming up on the end of her first term and will be running for reelection. This is one line of the plot. Alex has an older sister June who also lives at the White House and is trying to get into journalism, with her background becoming a barrier for her. Another young woman who is close to the two siblings is Nora. Nora is the granddaughter of the vice-president and a statistics whiz. 
The family attends the wedding of the eldest grandson of the British Queen (here the Queen is named Mary and has a daughter Catherine, who is the mother of the prince getting married, Philip, as well as two other children, Beatrice, and Henry). Here, an interaction between Alex and Henry causes a small disaster, and plans are put in place by both sides to do PR management to make things better. This involves getting Alex and Henry to spend time together showing that they are good friends. 
As the two young men get to know each other, they discover that they are both intelligent young men who want to make a difference in the world, and their positions lead them to some specific ways of doing that. 
They also find that they are drawn to each other in ways beyond friendship. Given that it is an election year, and their positions mean that any relationship will have international repercussions, there are many difficulties, decisions about what secrets to keep and from who, and things that most people in relationships don't have to consider.
This was a very enjoyable read. I liked all the young people at the centre of the story, including the ones we see a bit less of than the three Americans and the prince, such as Beatrice and Henry's best friend Pez. The older generation is less well-developed here, but seem like they have some depth to them as well. I liked the positivity of the larger story as well as the more personal ones, and the way that the intelligence of the characters comes out through both banter and the plot lines. 

Tuesday, 21 March 2023

A Silent Death

Finished March 20
A Silent Death by Peter May

This standalone thriller is set around a Scottish police officer, John Mackenzie. Mackenzie has always wanted to be a police officer because his father was one. Not that he really knew his father, who died when he was a child. Mackenzie is a man who is highly intelligent, always curious, and is unflinchingly direct. It is this last characteristic that has caused him the most trouble. It has caused him to be separated from his wife, with her having custody of their two young children, and has caused him to leave his job at the Met. 
As the book opens, he is just starting a new job at the National Crime Agency and is given the task of going to Spain to pick up a prisoner, Jack Cleland. Cleland has been a wanted man for some time, intelligent and wealthy before venturing into the world of international drug crime. His arrest in Spain was a bit of a fluke and opens the book. Cleland has declared vengeance against Christina Sanchez, one of the police officers who arrested him, and is a very dangerous man.
Christina has been fighting her superiors for some time, trying to get the respect and cases that her skills and abilities would normally get her, if she wasn't a woman. She took the assignment that netted Cleland as a favour to a fellow officer, and she soon finds that it was one of the biggest mistakes of her life.
Christina has a beloved aunt, Ana, that she and her sister visit regularly. Ana is deaf and blind, both disabilities affecting her as a young woman. Technology has opened her world to some extent, but she is still often trapped by her limited senses. 
As Cleland escapes custody and looks for ways to exact his revenge on Christina, her family, including Ana, come into his plan. Mackenzie's skills make him a good investigator to assist in the hunt for Cleland, but his personality also means that his choices don't always lead him to make good decisions. 
The setting is a big part of the story, The town of Marvina, on the Costa del Sol, is a small enough place to navigate, with lots to interest tourists. As Mackenzie walks through the town and drives to locations in the nearby hills, we get a real sense of the landscape and the economic reality of the people who live there. 
A fascinating read, with an interesting and complex character at the centre of action. There is lots going on here and the story held my interest until the end. 

Measuring the World

Finished March 20
Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann, translated by Carol Brown Janeway

This novel focuses on real historical figures from the late eighteenth /early nineteenth centuries, naturalist Alexander von Humboldt, and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss. Humboldt collaborated with another scientist, Bonpland, and spent more than five years in Central and South America, gathering plant samples, examining the fauna, following rivers to find where they met, and climbing mountains including several volcanoes. Humboldt's interest in science expanded to include meteorology, magnetism, ocean currents and astronomy. 
Gauss was a mathematician and physicist, a child prodigy who preferred a quiet life delving deeper into the science that he loved, was deeply affected by the loss of his first wife. His discoveries formed the basis for the work of other scientists as well. 
The two men, Humboldt and Gauss, did meet, but this book is a fictionalized account of both their lives, their interactions and correspondence and their scientific interests and achievements. 
Kehlmann brings the men to life, with complex personalities, individual quirks, and sometimes strange behaviour. This book has touches of humour, fantasy, and emotion. Enlightening and revealing. 

A Trace of Death

Finished March 18
A Trace of Death by Blake Pierce

This is the first novel in a series featuring Los Angeles police officer Keri Locke. Her backstory is an interesting one. She was a criminology professor when her 9-year-old daughter Evie was kidnapped in a violent daylight abduction in a park. This eventually resulted in the breakup of her marriage and the loss of her job due to self-destructive behaviour. 
The abduction was five years ago, but Keri still hopes to find her daughter. She now works in the Missing Persons unit as a detective and as the book opens, a teenage girl, Ashley, is abducted while walking home from school. Keri takes the call and goes to meet the mother even though her partner Ray thinks it might just be a case of a runaway. 
Keri's story is interspersed with Ashley's viewpoint from the situation she is in, so the reader knows some information beyond the investigators.
Keri's background story means that she is both dedicated to her work, as it is so closely related to her personal issues, but it also means that she has trouble separating her story from her cases. This means that she becomes emotionally entangled with the people she encounters, ignores orders from superior officers, and is often unprofessional in her handling of suspects and witnesses. 
I felt for Keri, but also found her behaviour to be a big red flag in terms of her job and responsibilities. 
This is a fast-moving novel with new information being introduced throughout. 

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Do You Take This Man

Finished March 14
Do You Take This Man by Denise Williams

This romance starts off with one of the main characters literally running into the other one. RJ is a divorce attorney with a sideline officiating weddings. She got into the wedding thing after going viral doing an impromptu ceremony, and kind of enjoys it. Her mentor wants her to give it up and she has agreed to see through the summer bookings that are already made and then stop. 
Lear has recently moved back to Asheville after a bad breakup and a job loss. He was an event planner for a football team in California and has now taken on the role of assistant to his cousin Penny at her wedding planner business. 
He was just standing outside a venue waiting for a client when RJ runs into him. They both take offense to the other's attitude and when they find they must work together on some weddings, things get a bit hostile. Besides that feeling though, another one pops up between them and that is definite attraction. RJ is a straightforward woman and it's been a while since she's had a boyfriend so it doesn't take her long to suggest an 'enemies with benefits' arrangement.
That's when things get a bit crazy. As things get hot between them, and yes, the sex is graphically written here, they both have to fight the urge for more. 
This is a case of two strong characters, each with their past hurt affecting their expectations for relationships, afraid to be too honest with each other. But honesty is the only way forward.
I liked both characters, although I leaned towards Lear a tad as I like a truly nice guy. Williams has them both grow here, with a little help from those close to them. 
It's not a criticism, but one thing that I found interesting that although he's white and she's black, there was no real discussion of race in the novel, either as as aspect to their relationship, or in the social world they moved in. 

Tuesday, 14 March 2023


Finished March 13
Adam by Jennifer Ashley

This novella is the first in a series set around a small Texas community and a family who trains horses and does stunt riding. Adam left town a few years ago to work in Hollywood, but he's recently had a bad accident and has come back home to recuperate and recover. 
He is surprised to find that his high school girlfriend Bailey is also back in town and working at his family's ranch. She trains horses and is starting to do stunts herself. Adam is conflicted about the situation. He still has feelings for Bailey, but his recent accident has left him wary of the possibilities of harm that come with the job. 
As the two get reacquainted and Adam catches up on what Bailey has been doing these past few years, they grow closer and Adam finds that he might once again need her help to move forward, whether with her or not. He also has the time to get to know his brothers as adults.
This is a light and easy romance with problems resolved easier than one might expect in real life. 

Six Weeks with You

Finished March 11
Six Weeks with You by Janet Koops

This novella is the first in a series called Lost and Found Family, set in Montreal. Vicki Meyers has recently moved to Montreal from Ottawa. She's ready for a fresh start, leaving behind an emotionally abusive boyfriend and a life that didn't fit her. 
She's got a small studio apartment in an old house, a part-time job waitressing, and is just starting to volunteer at the local animals shelter. And she's finding her way back to herself, partly through her art. She's always had a skill for drawing and she spends a lot of time using her art to let her feelings out.
At the shelter, she finds herself tasked with spending time with Gunner, a dog who's been there a while, trying to socialize him to make him more adoptable, and she finds herself connecting with him. She also gets taken under the wing of an older volunteer and invited out. 
Unexpectedly finding herself interested in a young man, Vicki decides to let herself try new things, and gives Daniel a chance even though she knows it won't be long-term.
An interesting book, with a character looking for a fresh start on her life, hopeful and upbeat. 

The Swift and the Harrier

Finished March 10
The Swift and the Harrier by Minette Walters

I've always enjoyed Walters psychological thrillers, and I'm glad to say I enjoy her historical fiction as well. This novel is set in the 1640s in Dorsetshire and covers the period of 1642-1649 from just before the English Civil War until the beheading of King Charles I. 
The main character is the Jayne Swift, the daughter of a upper class titled family who has taken the unusual choice of training privately as a physician. While Jayne's father Sir Henry Swift is a Royalist, she has taken a neutral position where she is against the war in general and offers her services to whomever needs them. 
As the book begins, Jayne is making her way to the home of her cousin Ruth Morecott in Dorchester on a day where there is a public hanging of two Catholic priests who didn't leave England before the edict requiring them to. Buffeted by the crowds, Jayne is taken in by an older widow, Lady Alice Stickland and then escorted by Lady Alice's footman, William Harrier, to Ruth's home where she has been called to minister to the toddler son of Ruth. 
Jayne is a taller than average woman in her late twenties who has not yet married, and who is forthright in her aim to provide care to all who need it, regardless of their ability to pay her. She is particularly protective of women and children, and she is soon called on to do that in her visit to Ruth.
Walters really sets the scenes here, including two maps near the front of the book that help to visualize the setting. The scenes of the homes, the streets, and the hanging are all brought to life by the detail that Walters is so good at. 
As Jayne moves from Dorchester to her family's home at Swyre, back to Dorchester, and later on to Lyme Regis, we get a sense of the landscape both geographically and politically. She gets caught up in the war through her treatment of those injured on both sides, and finds herself having to be cautious about her own movements in order to stay safe. Through her services, she witnesses the fighting firsthand and is both horrified by the violence, and inspired by the dedication of those involved in the fighting, particularly the citizens of Lyme Regis, and the servant class who have little say in the decisions that so profoundly affect them.
When she encounters William again in the guise of a soldier, she finds that he is not all that he seems and has his own burdens that he is contending with as he fights to restore his family honour and the country that he loves. 
This is a war tale and a love story, a character novel of two very unusual people, and a snapshot of history at a particular time and place. 
At the beginning of the novel Walter defines the surnames of the title characters, as the two birds they are named for: the swift, a fast medium sized bird that can outdistance most winged predators; and the harrier, a large keen-eyed hawk which hunts by gliding low and silently over open ground. These definitions lend themselves to their namesakes well.
I really enjoyed learning more of this time period, a bit of English history less well-known to me, and seeing the characters develop over these years through their experiences. Secondary characters such as Jayne's family and the doctor who trained her are also brought to life, and we get a good picture of life for these people. 
Very enjoyable read. 

Monday, 13 March 2023

The Winter Garden

Finished March 1
The Winter Garden by Nicola Cornick

This novel has an element of the paranormal and a lot of historical content. Lucy Brown is a violinist who has suddenly reached a point where she can't play. A virus has left her with long-term muscle issues that have taken away her livelihood and her joy. After treatments, she has retreated to her aunt's property in Oxfordshire. Her aunt is away on business, but Lucy's sister Cleo, who lives nearby has made the arrangements for Lucy to stay indefinitely. 
Lucy is lost, grieving for her career and the joy it brought her, but also looking ahead to figure out how she will support herself going forward. She's put her whole life into her music and doesn't know what her skills might transfer to. 
When she arrives at Gunpowder Cottage, she is tired after a long journey and looking forward to an early night, so finding someone else at the cottage is a surprise. Finn MacIntyre is a landscape gardener and archivist and has been hired by Lucy's Verity to restore the garden to its origins, some of which might reach back to the 1600s. He is living in the cottage with his dog Geoffrey, for reasons that come to light the following day. Meanwhile Lucy moves into the newly renovated barn, where Finn was supposed to staying. 
Lucy soon finds herself having visions and sensations like she is transported to a different time and seeing the property through someone else's eyes. She even has an identity for that person. As she tries to make sense of this and think about why this is happening to her, she also begins to learn more about the property's history, specifically its connection to Robert Catesby, one of the leaders of the Gunpowder Plot. 
Finn is also going through a bad time with the recent loss of his brother Charlie, a historian who was also working on the property, and he has been immersing himself in his work both as a way to honour his brother and lose himself in the work itself. 
As the two cross paths more often and begin to discover things that enlighten the work Finn is doing, they also find answers to their own troubles. 
This is a story that draws on real history, while also creating a great contemporary plot. The interspersing of diary entries from an early time bring the elements together in an interesting way. I had a hard time putting this one down. 

Sunday, 12 March 2023

Ties That Tether

Finished February 25
Ties that Tether by Jane Igharo

Azere Izoduwa is a creative director at an advertising agency in Toronto. She, her mother, and her younger sister Efe immigrated to Canada from Nigeria when she was twelve, after her father's death. They were sponsored by her father's brother, a widower with a son slightly older than her, Jacob. Before her father died, he insisted that she promise him that she would marry a man from the same tribe, Ebo, to stay true to her culture. Azere's mother keeps setting her up with eligible Ebo men, but nothing has clicked for Azere. As the book starts, she has been on yet another dinner date, and this one has definitely not gone well. When she walks out of the restaurant, a high end on in a luxury hotel, she decides that she could use a drink, and she stops at the bar. She starts a conversation with a man there, and finds herself drawn to him in a very strong way. 
Rafael Castellano is a Toronto native who has been living in New York City and is back in town for an interview. When he sees Azere and begins to talk to her, he too finds himself inexplicably drawn to her. In the heated moment, they both give in to their impulses and the two end up in Rafael's hotel room. 
A month later Azere finds herself meeting her one-night stand again, only this time as her co-worker. As the two maneuver this unexpected situation, Azere finds herself pulled between her promise to her father and her strong feelings for this man. 
I liked the way the book moved back and forth between the two main characters in voice. We could see the secrets that each was keeping from each other, secrets that drew them together, and secrets that pushed them apart. They both come from cultures that I am not that familiar with. Azere is very active in the Nigerian Canadian community, and her culture is a strong part of her identity. She eats Nigerian food, watches Nigerian movies, and listens to Nigerian music. She has been a compliant daughter, and still performs regular tasks for her mother, like mowing the lawn. 
Rafael spent his childhood summers with his grandmother in Spain, and his family still spends regular time there. As the story begins, the rest of the family is in Spain for an extended holiday. 
As the two spend time together both at work and in their personal lives, they both must make difficult decisions, and deal with a situation that brings them even closer. 
This was a different romance for me, with the additional of the cultural elements and the larger than life character of Azere's mother playing a big part in the story. Enlightening and entertaining. 

Saturday, 4 March 2023

Love Lettering

Finished February 23
Love Lettering by Kate Clayborn

This novel is an unusual romance. The main character Meg Mackworth has built a career doing hand-lettering. She's gained a following designing custom journals for her clients. She is associated with a small independent stationery shop in Brooklyn, near where she shares an apartment with an old high school friend. Before she did planners, Meg did a lot of work around weddings and other events. 
But things are changing. Meg's roommate Sibby is planning to move out, but in truth Sibby has been pulling away from her for quite a while and Meg hasn't asked why. Meg has been invited to apply to a major stationery company to have a line of her own, but she finds herself blocked creatively. And now, as the book opens a former client has reappeared in her life to ask her a very difficult question about a very unprofessional piece of work she did more than a year before. 
Meg is embarrassed to be caught out, and yet this man Reid Sutherland is a compelling figure. He is buttoned down and formal, and yet something about him interests Meg. After he admits he hates New York City and he's a numbers guy, she gives in to an impulse and invites him to be part of a plan she has, an idea to move herself forward on the project for the opportunity that has been presented to her. 
As they spend time together, the two try to understand each other, letters and numbers, with patterns a common element. Meg tries to use the city itself to show him that New York has much to offer, not just the signs she looks for. And he tries to understand and see things through her eyes. 
This is a story that builds slowly over time and has surprises for both Meg and Reid. Meg must redefine herself and think about what she really wants to do. Reid has his own secrets, and things he is dealing with, and they have an unexpected impact on Meg's life. 
I really enjoyed this book. I've always found calligraphy interesting and enjoyed the art of lettering, so having that a focus for this book, seeing it included in the story in interesting visual ways was fun and brought another element to this book about a developing relationship. 

Such a Quiet Place

Finished February 21
Such a Quiet Place by Megan Miranda

This suspense novel takes place in Hollow's Edge, a college town somewhere in the northeastern United States. Harper Nash has lived in the community for several years, first with her fiance Aidan, and then after he left her, with a younger woman, Ruby Fletcher. Ruby's dad had retired and moved away and she needed a place to stay. A year and a half before this story starts, Harper's next door neighbours, Brandon and Fiona Truett were found dead in their home, victims of carbon monoxide poisoning. Since their detector was missing, foul play was suspected, and things got very tense. After a short trial, Ruby was found guilty of their murder. But her conviction has now been overturned and Ruby is back. Back in the neighbourhood and back in Harper's house. Harper isn't sure why, it isn't like her job is still there, and Harper disposed of most of her stuff after the conviction, but she isn't the type of woman to ask Ruby to leave, and so she does nothing about it.
As Ruby makes herself at home, talking to people, borrowing Harper's clothes and car, and beginning to ask questions. Questions about what other people were doing that night. When it becomes clear that others have secrets that they aren't telling about that time, things get very tense. Harper is in the middle of things and she too begins asking question. Questions about what people saw, about who they told, about what security cameras picked up and didn't pick up. And then she starts getting threatening notes, and she realizes that she must step outside her comfort zone and face the issues that underlie the tension.
This is a story of a community where everyone seems to know everyone, but they don't know anything beyond the surface. A story where Harper has already faced betrayal and lost friends. Harper is a woman who tries to not make waves, who avoids conflict, and she must act in ways she isn't entirely comfortable with to find the truth. A very interesting story of community and secrets. 

Friday, 3 March 2023

To Swoon and to Spar

Finished February 20
To Swoon and to Spar by Martha Waters

This historical romance novel is the fourth in the Regency Vows series, set around the same group of young aristocrats and upper class people living in the early 19th century. This book is the first that I've read in the series, and I was struck by the witty tone of the novel. It had me smiling often, and occasionally laughing aloud. 
The book opens with a tense scene with the two main characters looking for the source of a suspiciously ghost-like series of noises and then jumps back to a few months earlier. 
This book's male lead is Penvale, a viscount who has dreamed of regaining his family's ancestral home in Cornwall, Trethwick Abbey, ever since it was sold at his father's death. Penvale's paternal uncle bought it at the time, but the brothers were estranged and Penvale and his younger sister Diana were farmed out to family on their mother's side until they came of age. 
Penvale became a viscount as a child at the age of ten, and had grown up at Trethwick Abbey, and thus the dream of regaining the home had become a driving force for him. Since he'd moved to London to take his seat as a Lord after finishing at Oxford, Penvale has been investing the money he has won at the gaming table to rebuild his finances, hoping to convince his uncle to sell Trethwick Abbey back to him. As we discover, his uncle has approached him unexpectedly to sell the home to him, on one condition. That condition is that he marry his uncle's ward, Jane Spencer, a refined but untitled young woman of twenty-one. Penvale insists on meeting her first to ascertain that she isn't being coerced into this arrangement, but as we see from the prologue, wastes no time in going through with the marriage. 
Part of this story is told from Jane's point of view as we see how she has had a hand in bringing the opening circumstances about. Jane is not interested in a husband, but she loves the home, and enjoys the extensive library there. She sets in motion a plan to drive Penvale away through various happenings that indicate the house is haunted. But Penvale isn't that easy to scare away, and he instead tries to determine the cause of these odd events. 
As the two main characters spend time together at Trethwick Abbey as newlyweds, they begin to get to know each other slowly. Penvale spends a great deal of time getting to know the details of the estate, its finances, and his tenants and servants. Jane gradually ventures beyond the grounds of the Abbey and gets to know the wider community. I enjoyed watching them getting to know each other's secrets and quirks, and find themselves increasingly drawn to each other's company. I also appreciated Jane's enjoyment and curiosity when it came to reading. 
This is not your typical Regency romance, and I liked seeing how they defied the stereotypes and revealed some surprising pastimes. The writing is unexpected yet somehow perfect. The romance has underlying sexual tension and several surprising moments. If you like historical romance with believable characters and a bit of spice this series is for you. 

March Reviews for the 16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 I can't believe it is March already! This weekend is supposed to be a snowy one where I am. A good time to snuggle up with a good book. Post your links to reviews read this month below.

Wednesday, 1 March 2023

A World of Curiosities

Finished February 14
A World of Curiosities by Louise Penny

I read this just after her previous one, and while good it wasn't as good in my view. This book is more violent and more personal in a different sense. It opens with a graduation, one that is a happy occasion for most, but also has elements of past violence. The graduation is at the cole Polytechnic in Montreal, at which there is a tribute to the women killed in 1989. One of the students graduating did not actually attend the school, but took the courses from her prison cell. Her story takes readers back to the first meeting between Gamache and Jean-Guy Bouvier, a meeting that took place during a murder investigation in a small northern Quebec town. Another student receiving special honours has a connection with Three Pines, as she is Myrna's niece. 
It also takes Gamache back into another criminal connection from his past, a serial killer that he encountered with a remarkable ability to get into people's heads and manipulate them. 
In Three Pines, there are also changes. After many years without a leader for their small church they have one, one who came to religion later in life after a Wall Street career, and who seems to know loss. Myrna is thinking of moving, needing a home with more space to accommodate her niece. So when the rumour of a secret room in Myrna's loft begins, it seems like it may offer an answer.
Instead, the room offers more questions. Questions about what is hidden there and about who hid it and why. These questions also reach back into the past and into Quebec's early history, but also into the art world and a painting known as The Paston Treasure, a painting that was done by an unknown painter, seemingly to show off a collection of odd items connected in the family's travels. 
As always, Penny draws on real stories and adds in her own fictional elements to create a story that captures the imagination. She encompasses bigger issues such as the damage done to child victims of crimes, and how people react when faced with their biggest fears. 
The stakes are high in this tale, and so is the tension, and we see more of what have been minor characters until now, like Billy Williams, as well as a reappearance by Amelia Choquet. 

Monday, 20 February 2023

After the Night

Finished February 12
After the Night by Sandra Marie (Romance for All Seasons, #1)

This lighthearted romance takes place around the staff of a small medical clinic. The female main character, Cassidy Joanes, is a billing clerk for the clinic, one of three. The male main character, Jon Bateman, is an obstetrician/gynecologist and a recent new arrival at the clinic. They've encountered each other in the office and Jon even noted her desk decorations and called her "Marvel Girl." There is an office party involving costumes, and Cassidy decides to go as Buttercup from The Princess Bride. Jon was planning a quiet night at home, but he is encouraged to get out and make friends, so he heads out to the party dressed a Dread Pirate Roberts, also from The Princess Bride. 
Naturally the two meet, and when they discover how much geekiness they have in common, and they find themselves drawn to each other, they spend some intimate time together. 
Unfortunately for Cassidy, she was wearing an old pair of contacts to get into character and they were removed early in the evening after irritating her eyes, so she didn't see the real man under the mask and has little to go on in terms of identification.
As she tries to figure out who the mystery man is, Jon is unsure of his status with her. He is a coworker at the clinic, but also a boss of a sort being one of the doctors. He also finds that she treats him in a friendly way, but not as a romantic interest, which confuses him. 
With all this going on, sending the two of them off as part of a group of staff to a medical conference means that they get more time together, but will it be enough to reignite the connection between them.
Underlying all this is another issue, a mystery relating to the finances of the clinic, which Cassidy is trying to figure out. 
Lots going on, but a note of lightheartedness throughout.

The Madness of Crowds

Finished February 11
The Madness of Crowds by Louise Penny

I always enjoy Penny's books, but this one I could hardly put down. It is the 17th book in the series featuring Armand Gamache. There was so much going on, and she brought in so many issues and bits of history. The novel takes place in the spring of 2022, but was written before then, so it has vaccines working better than they actually did and life more or less returned to normal. That doesn't mean that the pandemic didn't have lasting effects though, and Penny has brought in several issues related to it, including the stress on the healthcare system and the situations that occurred at so many retirement and nursing homes. I think these made it a more emotional read for me as they are still unresolved issues.
She also dug into some historical events around health and government oversight that are particularly troubling, and made them key to the story. This element also brought Reine-Marie in to the story in an active way, helping to uncover some of the historical records from this time. This connected with both characters in the present day, and the question of ethics that runs through the book. 
A lot of the action of the novel takes place in Three Pines, although not all of it. and this means that we see a lot of the residents of the village and learn how they coped with this difficult time. 
Gamache has the responsibility for security for a last minute speaker at a small university. The speaker has controversial ideas and some of the previous speaking arrangements have gone viral, and the event is more chaotic than expected, even with Gamache's preparation. As he digs deeper into the events and the people involved, he finds many people with reasons to react violently. The issues that arise here have a very personal link to Gamache and his family, which reverberate throughout the book. I think this is the book in the series that has both captured me the most thoroughly and haunted me afterward the most. 


Finished November 30
The Rewind by Allison Winn Scotch

I somehow missed reviewing this book back when I read it last year, however I thoroughly enjoyed the read. This is a story that slips through time. The two main characters, Frankie and Ezra were college sweethearts, but had a bad breakup at the end of their years at college. Ten years later, they've agreed to join their old friends back at campus for a reunion and New Year's Eve bash to celebrate the new millennium. Frankie is a manager for musicians, including some of the hottest bands and lives a busy, active life constantly on the go. Ezra went on to law school after graduation but has taken his life in a different direction and is on the verge of proposing to his girlfriend Mimi.
As the book opens, they wake up together in a dorm bed wearing wedding rings and have no memory of how they got there. We know something happened back in 1989 to cause a sudden breakup, and we know that something happened the night before this uncomfortable awakening. As the couple tries to remember what happened, and retraces their steps from the night before, we also get to see into the past and into the secrets they've kept from each other from the beginning.
This is a story of two people who were crazy in love at a time in their life where they didn't know where they wanted to be. There were secrets that created a communication issue between them. There were assumptions made without talking things out. There were lots of emotions. 
This is a story with nuance and humour. One that is hopeful and where the characters come alive as their stories get revealed. A great read.

Friday, 17 February 2023

Read Better Challenge 2023

 I just became aware of the Read Better Challenge from Harper Collins Canada and decided to add it to my reading challenges for the year. It's set up like a table with 16 prompts for reading.

The prompts encourage diverse reading and I look forward to this challenge.

Monday, 13 February 2023

For the Throne

Finished February 10
For the Throne by Hannah Whitten

This is the second book in the Wilderwood series that started with For the Wolf. This book focuses mostly on the older sister Neve (short for Neverah), but we do see what's happening with other significant characters as well, like Redarys (Red), her sister whose voice was the main one in the first book, and Raffe, the young man left behind in her kingdom as she gets taken into the Shadowlands. 
The Shadowlands are a greytone world, that is located under the world the characters live in. It is a world without colour, where the roots from trees above are the trees, and many things from buildings to hills and mountains are made from bones of creatures small and large. The Shadowlands are a part of this world that some of the Old Gods still exist in, they are in fact what it is made of. But there are newer Gods here too, and they want a way back into the world above. Neve holds the promise of a door to that world.
The man that has brought Neve to the Shadowlands was also a god, and a king. His name is Solmir, and he is both a vessel for magic and a man who has rejected the dream of the gods. 
The two, Neve and Solmir must go on a journey in this part of the world, a journey that takes them to some very scary situations, and they must meet gods, in many forms. And Neve must decide whether she will choose to be the Shadow Queen. 
Red and Raffe find that a visitor to their land knows some of their secrets, and she Okada Kayu has secrets of her own. She will lead Red, and Raffe and others on a journey too. As Red tries to save her sister, she finds that there may be higher stakes involved, and she must risk her own life to meet them. 
This is a story that is fast-paced and moves easily between speakers, giving us a window into what is happening in both places. The descriptions of the Shadowlands in particular are striking and bring it to life for the reader, a land bleak and colourless, yet also made up of many parts. 
I love the courageous women in this series, how they face their fears, and their truths. This is a series that will stay with me for a while. 

Sunday, 12 February 2023

A Villa in Sicily: Figs and a Cadaver

Finished February 8
A Villa in Sicily: Figs and a Cadaver by Fiona Grace

This is the second book in a mystery series set in Sicily, (A Cats and Dogs Cosy Mystery series). The main character, Audrey Smart, is an American expat, a young woman who is a veterinarian. The village has been losing population and started a program whereby people can buy a house for the ridiculously low amount of €1 if they move there. Audrey has done this, and has now received approval to start a veterinary practice along with becoming a shelter for the strays in town. 
I haven't read any other books in the series, but found this one enjoyable on its own. It's a light mystery, and the food descriptions are an added plus.
Audrey is an intelligent young woman and used the help her dad with home projects, so she has some skills that will help her in bringing her house back to life. These skills also come into play here, as the shopfront the council has found for her to use is pretty basic and she needs to make it both inviting and functional. Audrey has made some friends here, both locals and other expats, and she calls on them to help. Audrey also has only rudimentary Italian and thus language issues are a reality. 
There is no other veterinarian in the town she lives and works in, so that's a plus for her. 
Here, she discovers that not all of council is on board with the shelter plan, and that some don't like the recent influx of foreigners and are definitely working against her. 
When Audrey is called out regarding a loose dog to a lake area nearby, she finds the large dog easily, but also a dead body. Because of the recent activity regarding Audrey's business, she is a suspect as well, as is determined to follow any leads she finds as a way to clear her name and protect her business. 
Audrey has a confidant back home, her older sister who is married with children, and who is both a cheerleader for Audrey and a force encouraging her to restart her love life with one of the attractive men she has met. 
This mystery isn't deep, but it is fun and has some light humour, with possibilities for future romance. A nice escape read.

Wednesday, 8 February 2023

Cosy Nook Box for January 2023

 The January box arrived near the end of the month and I've finally got around to getting all the pictures done.

Here's the box and the first look at opening. As you can see the theme for this month was "Be Kind"


Pulling back the tissue paper, I got my first peek at the contents. It looks intriguing.

Organized by general category, here's what in it, starting with a note, a notebook, and a bookmark 

Here are the edibles. The tea variety is new to me and looks interesting. 

These are the personal items in the box. There is a pair of gray trouser socks, a satiny champagne coloured scrunchie, some bubble bath, some toner, and a charm 

And last,but not least the book itself, a mug with the month's theme and a wristband key ring.

The book featured this month is suspense novel from 2021.

February Reviews for the 16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Here is where you can add your reviews for books finished in February for this challenge.

Add a comment after adding the link to your review.

The Sleeping Car Porter

Finished January 31
The Sleeping Car Porter by Suzette Mayr

This book has been getting a lot of buzz, even more so after winning the Giller Prize last year. I got a copy for Christmas and as it fit a January reading challenge, I decided to fit it in before the end of the month. 
The narrator, Baxter, is a sleeping car porter for a Canadian railway. He started the work as a summer job, but soon decided to stay until he could afford to go to school to become a dentist, a dream he has had ever since finding a dentistry textbook. He is always noticing people's mouths and diagnosing dental issues that he longs to fix. Baxter is black, like the rest of the sleeping car porters that he works with, and he is also gay, something he is careful to keep to himself. Here it is the summer of 1929 and he gets a shift as a last minute cancellation on a train going from Montreal to Vancouver. He has to memorize his passenger list, with their names and seats on the train, and where they will board and alight. When the train gets stuck for a long time in the mountains due to a mudslide, the routine is lost, and Baxter struggles to stay awake and keep his secrets to himself.
There are many situations that Baxter struggles with. One of them is his relationships with the other porters, from Templeton the head porter to Eugene the union agitator. Eugene also is related to a man that is never far from Baxter's thoughts, Edwin Drew, the Porter Instructor who trained him in his job, and who also touched his life in a more personal way. 
Another is the ghost that Baxter sees around the train, crouched in the linen closet, in the corridor, and the other ghosts he sees in passing, in trees and in the cold that emanates from some parts of the train. 
Sleep deprivation is a big issue for all the porters, but Baxter has more issues than usual on this cross-country journey, partly due to the ghosts, but also due to a child who attaches herself to him and will hardly leave his side. 
We see the working conditions of these men, who are on duty 24/7, responding to any call from the passengers. From glasses of water, trips to the bathroom, and shoes left for shining in the night to cleaning berths, compartments, and washrooms at every opportunity, these men not only have to be quick to respond, but cheerful as well. They have to be careful in their interactions with passengers, never arguing or insolent, even if they don't get called by the name on their nametag. They have to ignore deliberate insults and be respectful to everyone, never batting an eye at even the oddest requests. They have to pretend not to notice the passenger's secrets, and hope that all of these things that they do will result in tips and in no complaints. Complaints bring demerit points and there is a limit to how many a porter can get before his job is taken away.
Baxter is a man with ambitions, a man who longs for a real relationship with someone who cares about him but is also passionate, and above all a man who is good and kind.
This story draws attention to historic social issues, some of which are still in play today. It shows the common humanity of people, and how being in close quarters for a lengthy time can stress relationships. 
This is an amazing read, that had me reflecting on many things. 

Friday, 27 January 2023

The Bookshop of Secrets

Finished January 22
The Bookshop of Secrets by Mollie Rushmeyer

This novel is set in present day but is influenced by events of the past. Hope Sparrow arrives in the small town of Wanishin Falls, Minnesota looking to collect the books her mother left her when she died. They were held by a friend of her mother's for safekeeping, but Hope has discovered the friend passed away and thus followed the trail to the friend's hometown. The books are part of what Hope has come in search of, but she also remembers childhood stories of treasure and wonders what truth there is to them. 
When she arrives at the bookshop, Dusty Jackets, she finds the owners Ulysses and Margaret Barrick unable to locate her books quickly, partly due to the onset of dementia in one of them, and she agrees to stay and help for a place to stay and some payment while they search. With a timeline of two months set, Hope finds herself getting to know the people of the town, and exploring not only her own past, but also her future. Her dreams of owning a combination food and book truck are shared and begin to become real, but she has to decide whether her life will keep her running as she has or whether she can deal with her past and build a future that includes others. 
There are other young people here also stuck in their own ways, with expectations and baggage from others defining their present. From the bookshop owners' grandson Ronan to cafe manager Kat, to troubled teenager Tate Morgan, they are all finding their place in the world and looking for community. There is an underlying Christian theme to book that doesn't overpower the plot but plays a role in guiding it. 
I enjoyed the story, the book elements and the message of forgiveness and optimism that it held. 

Monday, 23 January 2023

We Came Here to Shine

Finished January 21
We Came Here to Shine by Susie Orman Schnall

This novel takes place in the summer of 1939 during the World's Fair and follows two young women. Vivi is an actress who is signed on contract to WorldWide Films, a Hollywood studio. She is supposed to be starting her first starring role when she is told that instead she will be on loan to the producers of the Aquacade, a swimming entertainment show happening at the World's Fair in New York. She will be replacing their lead female who was recently injured. Vivi is originally from New York, but left after a rift with her family. She is disappointed, and even more surprised when she finds how little time she has to learn her routine. Dealing with a mixture of reactions from the rest of the cast, she tries her best to find her feet while also finding that the past will come back in a big way. 
Maxine (Max) Roth is a journalism student at NYU who has high hopes for her summer placement at the end of her junior year. She's received high marks on all her articles and hopes that she will get the position at the New York Times. Instead she gets a spot at Today at the Fair, a daily newspaper that is run from and covers the World's Fair. Not only that, but her classmate Charlie, also at Today at the Fair, will be the one writing all the articles as the man in charge doesn't believe women belong in journalism. Max will be writing the event list for each day instead. Max hopes to win a contest over the summer, but she needs an article to enter it. 
As Max fights for her right to write, and Vivi throws herself into practice, they've each been keeping their head down, focusing on their work. On an evening when both take a break to experience the fair, they run into each other and find themselves becoming fast friends despite their differences. 
There is a lot of research that went into this story to give a sense of the Fair and its going ons, and the author used a lot of this historical information to make the story come alive. The two young women are both ambitious in their own way, and both learn what truly drives them during this time. The author brings in issues of patriarchy, harassment, and social mores as well. 
An enjoyable read that also enlightened me about a historical event I knew little about. 

The Suite Spot

Finished January 14
The Suite Spot by Trish Doller

I enjoyed her novel Float Plan, so when I saw there was a companion novel featuring the sister of the main character from Float Plan, I knew I wanted to read it. Rachel is very different from her sister Anna. She is kind of in a rut. She has a young child, and while she isn't exactly in a relationship with the father of her daughter Maisie anymore, she also feels like she won't ever find someone that she really cares about. She has a degree in hospitality and works as a night reception manager at a luxury Miami Beach hotel, hoping to move to a day job when her daughter starts school. But when a guest becomes aggressive and Rachel doesn't succumb, she finds herself looking for a new position. 
Getting a lead on a position at a new hotel in Ohio is a lucky break, and she finds its location surprisingly attractive. The hotel isn't open yet though, although the brewery is starting to create beers. Rachel finds the owner, Mason, nice but sometimes distracted, and when she learns of his loss, she feels for him. 
As Rachel begins to find her feet in her new role, and learn about her new community, she also has issues arising from back in Florida. 
There is lots to like here, from body positive messages, to book clubs, to the fun of hotel design, I liked not only the two main characters, but many of the secondary characters as well. Definitely another good read from this author. 

Wednesday, 18 January 2023

Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Finished January 13
Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

This debut novel reaches back into the past and focuses on a real historical figure, Charles Dickens. Silva fictionalizes him, changing aspects of his family and timing of his works, but sticks to the larger facts of his life. Following the less popular publishing of Martin Chuzzlewit, Dickens must fulfill a publishing bargain and create a work to be released for Christmas. Dickens is financially stretched, and with his wife planning a large Christmas celebration including generous gifts, his family members repeatedly asking for loans that are never repaid, and his usual charitable giving, he finds himself with a writer's block as well. 
Dickens finds himself reaching back into his own past, haunting old homes and streets, and looking for a muse. When he finds one, he goes through periods of doubt and indecision as he tries to meet the looming deadline. 
I liked how Dickens was brought to life here. He is a person with flaws like we all are, a man who thrives on compliments of his work, who feels that he has been taken for granted by some, and who must reach deep into himself to find the story that will become one of his most popular books and a seasonal classic. 
We also see, through his wanderings the London of his day, the streets and buildings, the people that populate the streets and that dine in the restaurants, how weather affects the behaviour and mood of the city's inhabitants, and still we get a sense of his comfort with the city and his knowledge of all its areas. 
A very enjoyable read. 

Thursday, 12 January 2023

Sari Not Sari

Finished January 12
Sari Not Sari by Sonya Singh

This romance novel is set around entrepreneur Manny Dogra. Manny started her own company after college, building on a skill she realized she had in communication. Her company is called Breakup, and it provides services around ending relationships in a way that makes it easier for both parties to move on. Her team writes emails and letters for the person that hires them, but goes beyond that in helping manage the transition for them as well. 
Manny has recently been named one of California's Top Forty Under Forty CEOs, and is on a professional role. But her personal life isn't going as well. She is engaged to Adam, an architect who is very busy in his work life as well, and they haven't seen much of each other lately. Dates for their wedding have been booked and cancelled repeatedly as work conflicts arose. Adam is the first man that Manny dated after the sudden death of her parents three years ago as a result of a car accident. Manny is an only child, as were both her parents, and they raised her to go after what she wanted and to be an American by assimilating. This means that Manny hasn't had exposure to Indian culture, and as a result of some events in her life, she has begun to realize that she is missing this part of herself and this connection to her parents. 
As she agrees to help a client with a relationship situation, she negotiates an introduction to Indian culture for herself by going to an Indian wedding as his guest. The wedding is a typical Indian wedding, with many days of celebration, and a lot of family participation. As a reader, I learned a lot of terminology and culture along with the character. But I was surprised at how little Manny was supposed to know about Indian traditions prior to this. I'm not Indian and I was aware of many of the things that she was clueless about. Many of the secondary characters lacked depth and were stereotypical examples. There was also no discussion of which part of Indian culture Manny and her host Sammy Patel came from. From looking at other reviews, I see that Patel is a common Gujarati name, so it seems that this is the subgroup depicted here, but the references to Bollywood culture as a monolithic one were misleading. 
The overall message seemed to be that we need to understand where we've come from to really know who we are, and that has some truth to it. There were a few instances in the book where there were examples of exclusion, despite the inclusionary words that the characters professed, and those jarred a bit from the story.
I enjoy learning about other cultures, while being cautious about respecting boundaries, and this book touched on that. There are a lot of emotional scenes here, and the plot moved very quickly, taking place within just a few days, and I was surprised at how quickly the characters changed allegiances, even if those feelings around their previous situations had been percolating for a while.
This is a debut novel from a promising new Canadian voice. I look forward to seeing more from her. 

Monday, 9 January 2023

A Rip Through Time

Finished January 8
A Rip Through Time by Kelley Armstrong

This book is the first in a series and one that definitely has me wanting more. 
Mallory Atkinson is a Vancouver homicide detective. As the story begins, she is in Edinburgh at the bedside of her dying grandmother. She takes breaks from time to time to vent her grief through distraction and activity. She goes for coffee or for a run. 
One evening, on a run, she hears a noise that might be someone in distress, and finds herself fighting off an unknown assailant in an alley in Old Town. She loses consciousness and awakens in a bed in a townhouse in New Town. She soon discovers that she is now in the year 1869 and seems to be in the body of a housemaid, Catriona Mitchell. She has no idea how this happened or how to return to her own time. 
As she learns her surroundings, she discovers that she has been lucky in the household that she has ended up in. The master of the house, Duncan Gray, is a trained doctor with a strong interest in forensics and a business as an undertaker. He is also a man of colour, and thus faces discrimination and barriers. The mistress of the household, Isla Ballantyne, his sister is a forthright intelligent woman with a scientific bent of her own. As she finds out more about the real Catriona, she is less impressed. The girl seems to have a criminal mind and bad judgment. 
Mallory, in Catriona's body, soon finds herself drawn into the cases that Duncan, with the help of his friend police detective McCreadie. Not only may she be able to help, it may relate to her own story and time. 
I really enjoyed getting to know Mallory and Isla. The male characters of Duncan and McCreadie are starting to be developed more towards the end of the book, and I look forward to seeing more of them. Mallory is an interesting character, intelligent and curious. She longs to return to her own time, and worries about whether Catriona is in her body, and if so, what havoc she is creating. She can't help but be interested in what is happening where she is though, and trying to learn more and help without creating ripples that may cause things to change in time. 
Definitely a page turner.

Sunday, 8 January 2023


Finished January 8
Snitch by Alison van Diepen

This teen novel is set in Brooklyn, New York and the main character is Julia, a high school student who has managed to avoid recruitment into a gang up until the novel begins. Julia is a good student, writes poetry, and values the independence her father allows her. She is of mixed Italian and Puerto Rican background.
Julia's mother died several years earlier, and her father has a good job with the city. He often spends time with his girlfriend and trusts Julia to look after herself, but he still is interested in her life and obviously cares about her. Julia has a group of girlfriends from school that she spends time with, particularly a girl nicknamed Q, as well as a male friend, Black Chuck, that she has a platonic relationship with. 
When a new boy, Eric, shows up at school, Julia shows interest and is surprised that he also seems interested in her. But she finds that he doesn't always tell her the truth despite the way he claims to feel about her. Her own feelings lead her to make choices that lead her in a different direction that she really wants for herself. As she adjusts to her new reality and gets into difficult situations, I could see how this time was forcing her to face up to some adult decisions that may have long-lasting effects. 
An interesting look into a different culture, with new language and situations that are foreign to me. 


Finished January 7
Zolitude by Paige Cooper

This collection of stories is wide-ranging, with some flowing along and other disjointed and hard to follow. There is a touch of the strange to all of them, whether of setting, action, or character. The women in these stories are often caught in circumstances that they don't like, whether it is waiting for someone who will never arrive, being the recipient of a dangerous package, or trying to get answers in a foreign country. These are women who have been treated badly, by their family, by their colleagues, by the people that they have encountered through their work. 
I can't say that I enjoyed these stories, but they did sometimes make me think. When this collection came out in 2018 it was one of the nominees for the Giller Prize, and drew a variety of stellar reviews. One description was offbeat and that is definitely fitting. Throughout, you can sense the author's command of story and of language. 
A unique and interesting colleciton.