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.