Wednesday 26 April 2023

Egg Shooters

Finished April 20
Egg Shooters by Laura Childs (A Cackleberry Club Mystery, #9)

This cosy mystery is set in the small town of Kindred in the Midwest. Suzanne Dietz is the co-owner of the Cackleberry Club a diner specializing in breakfast, lunch, and tea. They also put on a variety of special events, many related to fundraising for different organizations in town. The cafe also has two small nooks, one is the Book Nook and it sells books and magazines. The other is the Knitting Nest and it sells a variety of yarn and supplies and has classes.
As this book begins, Suzanne is on her way to the hospital to delivery a hot meal of chili and cornbread to her fiance, Dr. Sam Hazelet who is on shift there. On her way, she is passed by an ambulance. Once she gets there and goes in to the small ER, she and the intake nurse Ginny are surprised by a man dressed in black rushing to them from inside the hospital. He is carrying a black duffle bag and a gun, and they are in no doubt he will use the gun if they challenge him. When he shoots at the chasing security guard and then at Ginny, Suzanne finds anger builds in her so that she comes out swing her thermos at him, and chili explodes everywhere. When she follow him out to the parking lot though, he has disappeared. 
Back at the cafe the following day, Suzanne and her co-owners discuss the crime and the truck heists that have been happening near them as they try to make sense of them. The gunman at the hospital had robbed the pharmacy there and when Suzanne hears about the two first-time drug offenders the local pastor is working with, her suspicions rise. Every little lead that arises, from a compound of ex-military men to a new warehouse rental in town gets Suzanne's attention. 
In between her sleuthing, she helps prepare food for the cafe, catering orders, a fundraisers for the local library, and a specially themed dinner event. 
There is lots going on here, with many red herrings, and some clues that not everyone will pick up on. Suzanne gets herself into some tricky situations with her sleuthing, and makes some bad guesses in terms of suspects. 
The novel includes several recipes at the back. 
I picked up this novel to meet a reading challenge and finished it in just a few hours, so it is a quick read. 

Haven

Finished April 18
Haven by Emma Donoghue

This is a story set long ago, around the year 600 AD. It takes place on the coast of Ireland, on a very small island. This was a time when monks were setting small settlements in remote places and this story is one of such a settlement. The story begins at the monastery of Cluain Mhic Nois (now known as Clonmacnoise) near the Riven Shannon in central Ireland. It is spring, just after Easter, and there are a number of visitors to the monastery, among them Artt, a scholar, priest, and hermit.Artt is very much an ascetic, extending the rules of fasting beyond what is the norm for his times and pushing himself away from any indulgence. He believes monks should spend their time fasting, praying, and working, and be celibate. 
A young monk Trian, still a teenager was the one to ferry him over from across the river and receive him by washing his feet. Trian is musical, handy on a pipe. Trian is also one quick to notice need and rush to meet it. He came to the monastery at the age of thirteen, given up by his family who had trouble supporting all in their family. 
Cormac is an man who came late to monkhood, after surviving a plague that killed his wife and children and then later a dispute with another clan. He was injured a brought to the monks for healing. He was a farmer, and builder, and is handy with a lyre, often called to entertain when that is needed. 
Late in the night after the feast Artt wakes the Abbot to tell him his dream, that he has been called to lead a small group (just himself and two other monks, one young and one old) to a small island to found a monastic retreat. The monks he saw in his dream are Cormac and Trian, and they both agree to go with him. 
They take little with them, keeping their boat as light as possible, the minimum of food and tools. They take a holy chest with the necessities for mass and for copying holy texts. Artt has culled the rest of their supplies, leaving behind the spare sail, whetstones, scrapers, and most of the iron tools, fishing spear, axe, most extra clothing, blankets, musical instruments, and many of the nicer bits of food like honey. 
The small group travel downriver and to the ocean and end up on a small island now known as Skellig Michael. The island is mostly rock, with many nests of puffins, auks, and other seabirds. As they settle in and find ways to gather the necessities, such as water and start a garden, they find much to challenge them. 
This is a book that looks at the hardship these men agree to for their faith, sees where they waver, and where decisions are made that will have impact later. This is a book that moves slowly, yet irrevocably forward. We share the monks' hope and despair, and find more than we imagined we would. 
Beautifully written, with scenes that will haunt you later. An excellent read. 

Friday 21 April 2023

The War Librarian

Finished April 17
The War Librarian by Addison Armstrong

This historical fiction novel has two timelines. One is in France towards the end of World War I in the fall of 1918, and the other is in the United States in 1976.
In 1918, Emmaline Balakin was working at the Dead Letter Office in Washington, D.C. and came across a letter that was from someone she used to know. The letter had been sent back unopened by its addressee and Emmaline had opened it to determine who it should be returned to. She ended up doing the unthinkable and answering the letter, but it also inspired her to enter the field of war librarianship, and she ended up being sent to France to look after one of the small embedded libraries at a war hospital. 
In 1976 Kathleen Carre has been accepted as one of the first women to enter the United States Naval Academy. She has dreamed of this and trained physically for it. Kathleen was brought up by her grandmother, who served as a driver in World War I, and who has cautioned her about how the military may not meet all her expectations.
As we follow both women, we see how the reality of their situations is different from what they expected. Emmaline discovers the horrors of war, as the hospital she is at specializes in facial damage and gas victims. She also discovers the realities of racism as she sees the black soldiers treated differently than the white ones, with less access to amenities and less care for their health issues. When she finds that the War Department and the ALA who have co-sponsored the libraries have also censored some materials, she is determined to speak up about the wrongs she sees.
Kathleen finds that there are some men in her class, as well as men higher up in the hierarchy who aren't happy about women being at the academy and take every chance to make their lives miserable. She also discovers that the black members of her class, whether male or female, are also prejudiced against. Without her closest confidante, her grandmother, she must try to determine who she can trust, and who she can't as she realizes that she can't face up to the challenges by herself. 
As we gradually learn of the threads connecting these two women, it was interesting to see how the same issues came up in both time periods, as they still do today. 
I read this book quickly, not wanting to put it down, and I needed to see what happened to the women involved in this story, as well as the men who touched their lives. It was both inspiring and depressing as I saw how little progress has been made on relevant issues over the years. 

Wednesday 19 April 2023

Ms. Demeanor

Finished April 14
Ms. Demeanor by Elinor Lipman

This fun novel is set in New York City. Jane Morgan is a lawyer with a large firm. One day she meets an intern from her firm at the market and the two go back to her place. They hang out on the roof and get a bit frisky. Unfortunately for Jane, a woman at a neighbouring building calls the police to complain, and they end up being charged with public nudity. In court, the man is given a small fine, and Jane is given a fine, six months home confinement and has her license suspended. She is angry, embarrassed, and devastated. even more so when no one at her firm contacts her to offer support. 
Her support comes from her twin sister Jackleen, a dermatologist. She gives Jane money for groceries and encourages her to make cooking videos, trying to tie in to health for her own practice. Jane had often doon meals when they were growing up and enjoys experimenting, especially when the annotated cookbook of an deceased relative makes its way into her hands. She finds herself investigating other old cookbooks, and focusing on both comfort food and odd, yet simple dishes from the past. 
When one of the doormen in her building lets her know there is someone else on home confinement in the building who orders in all his meals, she decides to reach out by hand delivering a meal to his apartment. 
Perry Salisbury worked as an art handler for a prestigious auction house when he made an impulsive and stupid decision that resulted in his current circumstance. He isn't hurting for money, and ends up making a contract with Jane to deliver a few meals each week to his place. As their business relationship develops into a friendship, Perry makes a wild suggestion of his own, and Jane finds herself agreeing. 
This is a fun and lighthearted read about two people who made impulsive decisions that resulted in big setbacks in each of their lives, and they now have to find a way to evaluate how they move forward. Jane has to apply to get her license reinstated and find a new position if she wants to continue as a lawyer. Perry has to restart his career in the art world with a big stigma if he wants to do what he is both good at and enjoys. I liked both characters, particularly Jane's sense of humour. A fun read. 

Hook, Line, and Sinker

Finis.hed April 14
Hook, Line, and Sinker by Tessa Bailey

This is the second in a series about two sisters. This features the younger sister Hannah. Hannah works as a production assistant in the movie industry. The sisters discovered fairly recently that their father had left them a bar in Westport, Washington, the small fishing town that he and their mother were from, and Piper, the older sister now lives there. Hannah spent a lot of time there helping Piper restore the bar, and making friends in the small community. 
When Sergei, the writer/director that she works for deems LA the wrong backdrop for his upcoming movie project, Hannah suggests Westport. Hannah planned to stay with Piper, but Piper's boyfriend's parents will be visiting, so she ends up staying in Fox Thornton's spare room. Fox and Hannah had spent some time together a few months back as friends, and had continued to text each other since then, joking, sharing challenges and successes, and music. Music is at the center of Hannah's life. She has always gravitated towards music to accompany her life, and has a music degree. She dreams of being a music coordinator for films someday. One of her habits is coming up with songs to fit every moment, and she has a vast repertoire of songs to pick from, including her own large vinyl collection.
Fox works as a deep sea fisherman, with a schedule of several days at sea, followed by a few days on land. His boss is looking to have him take over as captain on one of the boats he owns, but Fox is resistant. Since his early teens he has had a well-deserved reputation as a fun and promiscuous guy, seeing women without being in a relationship and living a life without responsibilities. His own father was that kind of man and everyone seemed to expect Fox to follow in his footsteps. 
Since he met Hannah, and kept contact with her, some of his thinking has changed, and he finds spending time in close proximity to her where they both face their fears and dreams means that he has to be truthful about what he really wants and how his reputation has hindered that dream. 
This is an engaging romance novel that digs deep into the inner lives of both characters, looking at what drives them, what barriers they've created to protect themselves, and how they can encourage each other to take risks to move forward with their lives. 
Some of the story is told through the texts exchanged between Hannah and Fox, particularly in the early part of the book, and this helps to develop the characters for the reader. 
I've read other Tessa Bailey novels and enjoy her writing. 

Tuesday 18 April 2023

Ribbons of Scarlet

Finished April 14
Ribbons of Scarlet: A Novel of the French Revolution's Women by Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray, Laura Kamoie, Sophie Perinot, Heather Webb, and E. Knight, with a foreword by Allison Pataki

This historical fiction novel is written in first person around several real women who had public roles in the French Revolution. In the afterword, the authors talk about where they took liberties with the facts to either make the plot work better, minimize the number of character the reader was introduced to, or to link certain characters together. 
Most books about the French Revolution cover the time period with a focus on the males who were at the center of the action, and seldom touch on the women who were actively involved. The idea of focusing on the women was intriguing to me. 
The book is written chronologically from the spring of 1786 to the spring of 1794. There is also an epilogue that is set ten years later. Each section focuses on one or two women, from the Princess Elizabeth, sister to King Louis XVI, to Louise Audu, a vegetable seller known as Queen of the Market Women, to Manon Roland, who wrote her husband's speeches. The women are from many walks of life, and encompass many experiences of the war from its beginning philosophy through its riots and executions to its unsatisfactory end. The choice of women is good, giving us a variety of points of view and showing us firsthand different aspects of the war. 
One issue that I had with the book was that although each section focused on one or two women, because it was chronologically we didn't get the full story of that character in their section, so there were times I felt left hanging while we switched to a different voice. I'm not sure how this could have been avoided though given the structure. 
I learned more about this period in history, and about these women and some of the men they interacted with. Definitely an enlightening read. 

Late Checkout

Finished April 11
Late Checkout by Carol J. Perry

This mystery is the ninth in a series is set in Salem, Massachusetts, and this particular book is set in late October, early November. The main character, Lee Barrett, is a field reporter for the local television station, WICH-TV, but she's been downgraded to part-time temporarily while the station owner's nephew works at the station as a first step in his TV news career. 
Lee lives in an upstairs apartment in the home of her aunt Ibby, the director of the local library. She was widowed a few years ago after her NASCAR racing husband died. She is now going out with a local police detective, Pete Mondello. She and her aunt share their home with a very special cat O'Ryan who possesses some clairvoyant abilities. Lee herself also has some psychic abilities and sometimes has visions, usually ones that appear to her in a reflective surface such as a mirror. 
The station is celebrating its seventieth birthday soon, and Lee is put on the job of research for the event, and research is something she loves, and often gets her aunt involved in too. Since Lee has some time on her hands, she also decides to volunteer at the library, but on her first shift she finds a dead body and gets involved in a case that may threaten her personally. 
The scene of death is reminiscent of the death scene of one of the station's old sports announcers, and also is similar to a recent break-in at someone's home. As Lee tries to figure out if the death's are linked and whether the different figures are related to other people at the station now or in the past, she finds herself with research that overlaps the work she is doing for the station's event, as well as introducing her to the world of sports collectibles.
We get to meet many of the station's other personalities, from the receptionist to the camera crew, as well as past personalities. Lee's visions are interesting because she doesn't know whether they are of the past or the future until she can figure them out. I would definitely read more of this series. 

First Blood

Finished April 8
First Blood by Claire Rayner


This is the first in a series set and written in the early 1990s featuring pathologist George Barnabas. Barnabas is American, from Buffalo, but has worked in the UK for several years as this book begins. She has just taken a position in East London, as the chief (and only) pathologist at the Royal Eastern Hospital. 
George has also recently ended a relationship when she discovered that the man she thought she loved wasn't supportive of her career. She finds the oddity of her gender brings both positive and negative attention. 
As she finds her way into the culture of the hospital she makes some friends, encounters some misogyny, and tries hard to prove herself. When called to her first scene, it is unclear whether there is actually a crime, but the attitude of some of the men present causes her to get her back up and insist on doing a full investigation, with a range of tests. She also takes her own scene of crime Polaroid pictures based on a colleague's discovered usefulness of such a practice. 
George is lonely, both for friends and for a man in her life, and she does find some friends during the course of this book. In terms of male company, there are a couple of men who engage with her, and there is banter, but it definitely reflects the time the book was written and set in.
George is an interesting character, she has a strong sense of her professional abilities and knows what she is doing, but she is less confident in her personal life. She's made a mistake in her choice of partner before and this is part of her reaction to the potential men in her life now, but there is more than that. At times I liked her a lot and at others I felt frustrated by her actions. 
The mystery part was intriguing and I enjoyed how it came together. 

Friday 14 April 2023

The Cats Came Back

Finished April 4
The Cats Came Back by Sofie Kelly

This is the tenth book in the series. I read the ninth book A Tale of Two Kitties a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The books are set in the small town of Maryville Heights, Minnesota. The town is gearing up for a summer music festival and Kathleen, the local librarian, is looking forward to it. Her cats, Owen and Hercules, are having pictures taken at various locations around town for a fund-raising calendar.
One of the singers in town for the festival, Emme Finlay, a cabaret singer, once sang in a stage musical with Kathleen's mother, and Kathleen is pleased to meet her. Along with Emme are her friend and assistant Miranda Moore and her older sister Nora who also is involved with her career. Emme is thinking about going back to school to gain some skills she wants to further her career, such as learning French, and has had a recent boyfriend with a bit of a rough background. A picture of the two of them drunk in a bar has recently gone viral, causing issues for Emme. So when a body wearing Emme's clothes turns up, there are a lot of questions to ask and not a lot of answers.
There is a side story around an upcoming marriage of one of Kathleen's friends. Both the bride and groom were married previously and have children from those marriages. Their ceremony is planned for their home, which is part of the property where Kathleen's cats, previously feral, are from, and there is still a large cat colony there. 
I liked the music aspect of this mystery, and the scenes around both Kathleen's cats and the feral cat colony. This is a small community with a lot of people who care about each other, and the music community is similar in both people supporting each other and the many connections. 
I enjoyed learning more about Kathleen and her family here as well.
Great read. 

Twelve Angry Librarians

Finished April 2
Twelve Angry Librarians by Miranda James

This is the eighth book in the A Cat in the Stacks series which features librarian Charlie Harris and his Maine coon cat Diesel. I've previously read the fourth book in the series Out of Circulation and the fifth book, The Silence of the Library. 
The books are set in the small town of Athens, Mississippi, and here Charlie has been working as the interim director of the Athena College library. Normally he works in archives and rare books, and he had a career in the public library in Houston. Charlie returned to Athens after the death of his wife, and both of his children live and work nearby. 
As the book opens, it is a few days before the Southern Academic Libraries Association conference which the college is hosting, and Charlie is learning that he will have to make a short speech at the opening ceremony. He is dismayed to find out that the keynote speaker, Gavin Fong, is a man he can't stand, a man he went to library school with, and had a run-in with back then. He is even more dismayed to find out Gavin has applied for the library director position. 
As Charlie looks up what Gavin has been up to since they last me, he finds a pattern of short-term positions. When he sees that a couple of papers cited have other library school friends as co-authors, he decides to contact them to see if they are coming to the conference and if they have any more information on Gavin. 
At the conference Charlie finds out there are a lot of people who don't like Gavin, so when Gavin dies suddenly many people come under scrutiny, including Charlie. 
Diesel shows up often in the story, as Charlie takes him most of the places he goes, including to work, and out in public Diesel is usually on a leash. Diesel serves as a sounding board for Charlie when he thinks out loud, and sometimes inspires a useful idea.
This is an enjoyable series and I like the library content that is included. Gavin makes for an easy character to dislike, and the investigation is one that leads in interesting directions. 

Thursday 13 April 2023

The Sea Gate

Finished March 31
The Sea Gate by Jane Johnson


This novel has two timelines. 
First we see the contemporary timeline, where Rebecca has just lost her mother to cancer. Her mother kept her health condition from Rebecca to protect her, but Rebecca has recently gone through her own health crisis and is now dealing with a personal crisis that only feels more immediate with the loss of her mother. As Rebecca and her brother clear out their mom's home, she finds letters from an older cousin of her mom's who she vaguely remembers. Olivia lives in Cornwall and has asked Rebecca's mother to come and assist her.
The earlier timeline is during World War II when Olivia is nearly fifteen. Her father has gone off to war, her mother to do war work in London, and she is left in Cornwall in the family home with two London evacuees, a woman and child, and two Land Girls who work on the nearby farm. Also on the farm are some POW workers. 
Rebecca makes a sudden decision to go to Cornwall herself, and she finds the situation much more complex than expected. Olivia still lives in the family home, but she's suffered health setbacks and the authorities are insisting that she be forced into a care home unless changes are made to the house. These include putting in a proper bathroom with accessibility in mind, creating a bedroom for Olivia on the main floor, and a few other changes for safety. The house hasn't been maintained well as Rebecca soon discovers and Olivia has financial issues as well as secrets. The house has secrets of its own, and as Rebecca finds some of them are determined to reveal themselves.
Rebecca's own common law relationship is a very dysfunctional one, and as she finds the time distanced from that situation, she also is able to see her life more clearly. 
Olivia is a strong character and the common thread between these two times, and we see her story link them together in interesting and unexpected ways. 
This book was disturbing at times with scenes of abuse and violence, both domestic and situational, but the characters of Rebecca and Olivia were a strong focus. 

Snowed In for Christmas

Finished March 27
Snowed In for Christmas by Sarah Morgan

This romance starts off in London, but most of the action takes place in small town Scotland. Lucy Clarke works for a small advertising firm in London. The staff are close and feel like family to each other. They recently lost two of their biggest accounts, one company was downsizing, and the other cutting costs. As the book opens, it is two weeks until Christmas, and the staff are putting together a campaign for a new product, a campaign with a winter theme, but they are also worried about the future. Unless they can get some  new big accounts, layoffs are likely. They've heard that a UK-based athletic apparel company is looking for a new add company and Lucy knows that, as a smaller firm, they will need to be proactive to get the chance to bid. She is a rising star in her industry and that also gives her a potential edge, as does the skills that got her that reputation.
As the holiday approaches, Lucy decides to double up. Going to Scotland for the shots for the winter campaign for one account and hand delivering the plan for the athletic company at the owner's Scottish family home to make an impression.
The Miller family has a long history with their family-based shortbread company, but all three children in the younger generation have careers in other directions. Ross, the eldest has started his own company, that previously mentioned athletic apparel firm, Alice is a busy London-based doctor, and Clemmie is currently working as a nanny, but has a plan for her future that she's kept to herself until now. As all three plan to return home to Scotland for Christmas, they meet up to get their stories in order and know what they should reveal to their parents about their siblings. Their parents, Glenda and Douglas are keen to have them settle into long-term relationships and provide grandchildren. So is their grandmother Jean. 
Of course, a storm is approaching just in time for the big holiday, and they are all three working to get in ahead of it. Lucy is also planning to drop off the carefully crafted campaign plan and get on the train back to the city.
All of the young people have secrets. Most of these are made clear fairly early in the novel, and there is also some fun factors of coincidence that come into the plot to add humour and quirkiness. 
Pretty much all the characters are pleasant people, nice and well-meaning. Some have insecurities and some have experienced loss, but all are well-meaning and care about those close to them, family and friends. As they are thrown together in this small town, they must work through their issues, have their secrets revealed and dealt with, and come to terms with past issues. 
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read, with a feel-good core. 

Friday 7 April 2023

Nurse!

Finished March 27
Nurse! A Memoir by Francene Cosman

This memoir covers the years from 1959 through 1962 during Francene's years at nursing school in Saint John, New Brunswick. She was among the last group of women who did their nursing education affiliated with the Saint John General Hospital. Francene McCarthy, as she was at that time, gives a detailed and lively account of her years becoming a nurse, focusing on the experiences related to her education and living in the attached student nurse dormitory. I found it an enlightening and fascinating read. 
The details are so interesting, from the clothing requirements to the duties they worked their way through as they gained experience in their chosen profession. We get real insight into the infrastructure of the hospital of the time, the social nuances, and the hospital hierarchy. 
She tells a great story and the scenes really came to life for me, whether they were student hijinks or serious situations in the operating room. 
Francene went on to get further education in nursing and worked as a nurse before becoming a mother, and later a politician. Her epilogue give information on her later life, but also the fate of the hospital, dormitory and other related topics. 
Whether you are a New Brunswick native, a nurse, or just someone interested in the lives of others, this book will have something for you. 

Monday 3 April 2023

April Reviews for the 16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Here is where you add links to the reviews of books you've read in April for the Canadian Reading Challenge. 



Saturday 1 April 2023

While You Sleep

Finished March 25
While You Sleep by Jennifer Maruno, illustrated by Miki Sato

This picture book is a great one for bedtime. I particularly love the multimedia images by Sato. They are made from layers of textures made of paper, cloth, and stitches in a collage that really adds to the beauty of the book.
The story is of a girl going to bed, while a team of rabbits work to tidy up the world and put everything in its place while she sleeps. 
The bunnies are nice and fuzzy and can be seen waiting while she ends her day. She even has a stuffed bunny she hugs. She also has a grey and white cat that stays near her, observing everything.
The bunnies go to work once she is in bed, polishing the sun, combing the grass, dusting the butterflies, clouds mended, flowers painted, rainbows charged, the Milky Way embroidered, and the stars swept into their places. 
This is a book that flows as each step of the bedtime routine aligns with the tidying of the world and sky. It lends itself to being read slowly, looking at the detail of the illustrations, and softly as the reader and child wind down their day along with the child in the story.
An absolutely lovely book, with beautiful language and images that echo those words.