Tuesday 30 May 2023

The Whole Night Through

Finished May 25
The Whole Night Through by Christiane Frenette, translated by Sheila Fischman

This novel is set over one long night in a woman's life, but as she looks back on her adult years, we see how she came to this point and get to know the people in her life. Jeanne is the woman at the center of the story. 
As the book opens a moose emerges from the forest near Jeanne's home, and collapses onto the ground. The moose has been shot, and is dying. Jeanne cannot do anything to help, but she sits on her porch, keeping vigil over the moose through the night. Jeanne guesses that it is a stray bullet that has come to the moose, and over the course of the night, she goes over the events, the stray bullets, in her own life that have shaped it. 
When Jeanne was in college she had a close friend, Marianne, that she developed a crush on, but the intense friendship was short-lived. Following that, she tried to make a career in translation, but was struggling. When a chance meeting reintroduces another college friend, Gabrielle back into her life, she develops a deeper friendship with Gabrielle, Gabrielle's brother Paul, and Victor, the baker in their small village. 
This friendship has altered Jeanne's life in a large way, but she still feels alone much of the time.
This is a moving novel of a woman's life as she reflects on these things that influenced her choices in life. 
Over the course of the night, we see each event in Jeanne's life that she identifies as a stray bullet, something that found her unexpectedly, but had a big impact. 

Monday 29 May 2023

Patricia Wants to Cuddle

Finished May 24
Patricia Wants to Cuddle by Samantha Allen

This totally captivating novel is set on one of the San Juan islands in Washington state. A reality television show called The Catch, similar to The Bachelor, is planning to film their penultimate episode on the island. Otter Island is a smaller island, with a mountain at its heart. With a lot of forest, hiking trails, and sheep farmers, we also learn that the island has had some tragedies in the past where people disappeared. The island also has a reputation for being a refuge for lesbians.
The last four women in the running on The Catch are a mixed group: a black human resources professional, a car show model, a Christian influencer, and a fashion vlogger. 
The story moves between these four, the show's producer, Casey, a chat group dedicated to the show and blog posts from the past. The cover gives us a hint to part of the plot that doesn't get brought out into the open until much later in the novel. 
The women's voices show their inner thoughts, and we see how they differ, or not, from their outer personas. As they travel to the island, we get a glimpse into their motivations, what brought them to this point in their lives and what they hope for. We also see how they interact with each other and the man at the center of this season's story, Jeremy, a sleazy tech entrepreneur. 
On the island, we see little of the natives except the woman who owns the B&B where the four women contestants are staying.  
There is a sly humour underlying the whole story, from the reality television premise, to the island and its secrets. 
This was a fast read, that kept me totally engaged with the story. 

Heart of Ice

Finished May 23
Heart of Ice by Alys Clare

This is the ninth book in the series set around Hawkenlye Abbey, but the first one that I've read. An interesting inclusion at the beginning of the novel is a map of Mediterranean trade routes which also includes arrows to the far east along the Silk Road, to to Congo basin, and up the coast to England.
The time is February 1194, and the book begins with people journeying from further away. Along with the people travels a disease and the book details its transmission from person to person. Thus we see the significance of the map right away. From here the story stays in England, and we see how the disease has taken hold of a small number of people near the Abbey, which is known for its healing spring and the nuns and monks who look after the ill that are drawn there. 
Besides those at the abbey itself, we see some of the local people. From the abbess Helewise and the local knight, Sir Josse d'Acquin to the local sheriff, Gervase de Gifford, down to the servant and laboring class, many people have a role to play here.
There is also an interesting element of the paranormal through both a piece of jewelry, and a local woman who has been recognized as having certain skills, many of them associated with healing, and we see her take a journey of learning amongst her people, the ancient Celts, and return to her home with greater knowledge and power, just in time to find her skills useful in the current health crisis.
I really enjoyed this book, both the intellectual investigations of the various characters as they look for the source of the disease to try to mitigate its spread, and the clues they follow regarding the young man killed for a reason they aren't aware of. We see how the story links to larger regional issues, with struggles for leadership in England and France. A very interesting and engrossing read. 

Tuesday 23 May 2023

No Plan B

Finished May 22
No Plan B by Lee Child and Andrew Child

This is the 27th book in the Jack Reacher series and he still has all the elements that make these books winners. Here, Jack is in a town in Colorado when he witnesses a crime and chases after the man who committed it. He is able to inflict some damage, and get a look at some of what evidence the man took with him, but he ends up getting left behind. 
As he follows the clues that he has, and they lead him to another death, he finds that he might be looking at something much bigger and more evil than he thought. 
His trail leads him to Texas and a private prison there, where a program to rehabilitate prisoners might be covering up something no one suspected. He is accompanied on his journey by a woman who has her own history with some of the people killed near the beginning, and who is intent on finding the truth to avenge them. 
There is also a side story of a teenage boy in foster care in California, who discovers something that sets him on the road to Texas as well, where his path will eventually intersect with Reacher's. 
As expected this is a page turner of a novel, with an intricate and compelling plot that I could barely put down. 
Excellent, as usual. 

Charles Bovary, Country Doctor

Finished May 22
Charles Bovary, Country Doctor: Portrait of a Simple Man by Jean Améry, translated by Adrian Nathan West

This book is a combination of novel and literary criticism, unlike any other book I've read. The book starts in the voice of Charles Bovary after the death of Emma, as he grieves and reflects. In this first section he interacts with other characters like Berthe, Homais and Lheureux, and for some of these he shows both sides of the conversation. He also addresses his late wife, and revisits past conversations. 
In the second section he revisits the past, scenes from the novel, where he relates his inner response to these and we see how it differs from the novel. He shows how Charles is made to be stupid and ridiculous, not a real person. 
The third section switches to essay format and is literary criticism of a sort, but focused on the author and how his experience relates to what he wrote, both in terms of inspiring and in terms of limiting. 
This essay form continues in the fourth section where the author focuses on Flaubert's view of the bourgeois and how that led him to make his characters fit that mold.
The fifth section takes us back to Charles Bovary and how a man of his time and experience would have acted and felt, as opposed to the way he is portrayed in Madame Bovary. 
The last section takes us back to the novelistic format, speaking as Charles as he accuses Flaubert of betraying his reality and as he experiences the loss of his wife, both over time as she pulled away from him and in the end with her final choice. 
This book was ahead of its time in how it looked at a classic novel and responded to it. While written in 1978, it has only recently been translated into English and allows the reader of the classic a new way of looking at Madame Bovary. It definitely addresses some of the issues that I had when I read it, and shows me good arguments for my reactions to the classic. 
A great addition to the field of literature. It also had me with a dictionary by my side to look up some of the less common terminology used. 

Monday 22 May 2023

Is There a Cow in Moscow?

Finished May 21
Is There a Cow in Moscow? More Beastly Mispronunciations and Sound Advice: Another Opinionated Guide to the Well-Spoken by Charles Harrington Elster

This book is arranged alphabetically, and looks at words both common (a and the) and uncommon (quoin and ukase) as well as many in between. It includes some place names and proper names, such as those of the muses, and talks about changes to usage over time.
The book is written by an American and mainly discusses American pronunciation, occasionally mentioning how British or Canadian differs. Because the book was written more than thirty years ago, more changes to how language is used have occurred and some of his preferred pronunciations are no longer the common form. I also found that sometimes my pronunciation of a word (as a Canadian) differed slightly from his preferred version, even if he hadn't noted a difference for different English speakers. 
It introduced me to some words that I hadn't known before, and made me think harder about how we say things in different circumstances (i.e. noun versus verb) and contexts (i.e. when followed by a word beginning with a consonant or a vowel)
An interesting book to read in short sections or use as a helpful reference when encountering a new word. I enjoyed the historical changes he discussed for some words and also when he talked about word origins. 

Next Time There's a Pandemic

Finished May 18
Next Time There's a Pandemic (CLC Kreisel Lecture Series) by Vivek Shraya

This book is the written portion of the lecture series which was delivered online in March 2021. The series is sponsored by the Canadian Literature Centre based in Edmonton. The lecture series showcases how writers help us understand the textures of life in Canada. Each year, an established author is invited to speak about an issue that is important to them. It could be something close to their heart, something that is key to their experience, something pressing in the current moment, or a combination of these. Traditionally, the lectures are delivered live, at the University of Alberta, and are aired on CBC through the Ideas radio show, as well as being published in book form. The filmed version of this talk can be viewed on the CLC website. This book also includes a follow-up conversation between Shraya and J.R. Carpenter who created the interactive introduction to the lecture. 
This was the first one to be affected by the pandemic and Shraya brings her wide-ranging skills to the work. She is a multimedia artist, a musician, a writer, and a community leader and transgender.
She begins her lecture by talking about the experience that started her thinking about the subject, an interactions with her massage therapist who expressed a very different experience of the pandemic to that point than what she had experienced. She started thinking about what she would perhaps have done differently if she went through the experience again. Here, she organizes her thoughts into five reflections and talks on each one, expanding her inner thoughts and why she thinks these are important. The five reflections are: stay caring; skip the gratitude and say what you feel; nothing is better than something; value artists; and less surveillance, less judgement, more grace. She also includes a list of commitments she came up with in the early days of the pandemic when she considered how we might live differently after the pandemic, and allows space for you to add your own. Also included here is a song she wrote, called Showing Up. 
Each of the reflections will have you taking time to stop and reflect herself, on her words, on what they convey to you, and on your own feelings and thoughts on that aspect. 
I really enjoyed this read and found it reflective of some of my own experiences. Well worth the read. 

What Happened to the Bennetts

Finished May 16
What Happened to the Bennetts by Lisa Scottoline

This novel opens with a family driving home after a successful lacrosse game for the daughter Allison. There is a vehicle following too closely, but when given the opportunity to pass it doesn't until, all of a sudden it does and the men in it have pulled guns on the family and forced them out of the vehicle. Jason, the father, is both shocked and worried for his family, especially when one of them seems to hone in on Allison. When the family dog, Moonie, makes a sudden move, things deteriorate further, and shots are fired. A car approaches from behind and the family is left to pick up the pieces. 
After the police and hospital the family, now home, finds them visited in the wee hours by the FBI. They are told that the carjackers were members of an organized crime group, active in drug trafficking in the region, and that their family is now a target of this group. 
They are given little time to grab possessions and brought to a safe house in Delaware, remote and isolated. They find that the men targeting them have gone further, taking aim at Jason's court reporting service business, as well as his wife Lucinda's photography business. The son, Ethan, is in a bad place too, blaming himself for not holding the dog Moonie more tightly and thus somehow being the cause of all their woes. 
Jason talks with one of the men minding them, Dom, and shares his concerns while mining for data on the case and the likelihood of capture of the men. As he does, he moves from uncertainty, to trust, and back again. When he finds information that doesn't seem to match what the family is being told, he decides that the only one he can truly trust is himself, and he makes a plan to dig deeper into the motivations of everyone involved and get at the real truth behind their situation. 
I enjoyed the character of Jason, an intelligent man, who has used his skills to start his own business, and who is close to his family, involved in his children's lives. I also enjoyed seeing Ethan work through some of his issues and grow during the course of the book. Many of the other characters, from Dom, to Flossie the trucker were well drawn and interesting and brought us into other ways of living, other worlds of experience. 
I read this book quickly, eager to learn what happened and hope that this family would come through this ordeal. A great page-turner. 

Thursday 18 May 2023


Finished May 14
Harmless by James Grainger

This novel was deeply unsettling. Set on a remote farm in Ontario, a group of old friends have gathered together with their families for a long weekend. The oldest children, Franny and Rebecca, are in their teens, good friends themselves, but in a state of rebellion with their parents. The hosts for the weekend are Jane and Alex, with their kids Rebecca and Liam. Joseph has travelled up by train from the city with his daughter Franny (he's divorced from her mother Martha), Liz and Mike live in the nearby town, but are staying overnight with their kids to avoid driving after drinking, and Julian, who they haven't seen for years is coming with his younger lover, Amber. 
As the adults let themselves sink into the long weekend, eating, drinking, and indulging in some weed, most of them wander, at sunset, out further into the property, exploring the field and the nearby forest. When they return to the house, they discover the two girls aren't there, and they don't know where they are. As the initial search of the house and area proves unsuccessful, they split up, each relegated to following up a different potential path for the girls. 
When Joseph offers to search the woods, Alex says they he will go with him, and grabs his rifle. The two used to be close, but haven't been since Joseph's divorce. As the two fathers go off into the forest, the story follows them, as they encounter wildlife, old signs of previous habitation, and disturbing signs of how the world seems to be moving forward. It is their actions here that are at the heart of the novel, taking the reader to places that seem both unimaginable and yet only too possible. The men's reactions to what they encounter as they act to protect their families is disturbing and sad. This is a book that will stay with me for a while. 

Wednesday 17 May 2023

Percy's Perfect Friend

Finished May 12
Percy's Perfect Friend by Lana Button, illustrations by Peggy Collins

This picture book shows children interacting in a community space. Percy is shy and new to the group. He spots a stuffed cat, and begins to interact with it. He introduces himself to her and gives her a name, Miss Petticomb. Then they agree to play together. They play for a while, but when Percy takes his attention away briefly, he finds her gone. He searches the room and finds her at a tea party, but when he attempts to take her back, he must interact with other children who are now playing with her. As they each lay their claims to Miss Petticomb, they reveal information about how she is special to each of them in that moment. When Percy decides that he has lost his friend to these other children, he begins to walk away and be alone again, but when he looks back at her he finds the courage to offer something new that will join him to this group. 
This is a lovely story of shyness and how it can be hard to make new friends. 
The pictures work really well to bring the words to life, and engage the young reader with the story. The author, who is an early childhood educator has added a note at the end of the book explaining the nature of play and how it can help develop social skills in children, even when it begins with a stuffed animal friend. 
A great addition to any library. 


Finished May 12
Happy by Mies van Hout

This delightful picture book is simple and captivating. With vibrant colours, the images stand out from their dark background, and the accompanying one word text with each picture, on the opposite page reflects the colours from the image. The word is written to convey the emotion that it states and that the image portrays.
The images look like messy sketches done quickly with pastels, showing movement and skill. All the images are ones of fish, and the fish are in different sizes, with different details, but have the same basic elements of body, fins, and tail. The colours used for each fish also speak to the emotion portrayed, and as a whole, the image, colours, and details, particularly mouth and eyes, really illustrate the emotion well.
This is a great book to use to talk to kids about emotions, and could just be read as is, but is better taken slowly, looking at the details and discussing how they reflect the emotion in different ways. 
I just love this author/artist and this book is another fantastic example of her work.

Monday 15 May 2023

The Three Lives of Alix St. Pierre

Finished May 10
The Three Lives of Alix St. Pierre by Natasha Lester

This novel follows more than one timeline and moves between them. The author has done a lot of research for this book and there are notes at the end that tell us what she took from real people and events and what she created. The character at the centre of the novel is a creation, but she is placed around real events and real people as her story unfolds. 
The book opens with Alix graduating from private boarding school in Switzerland and moving on with her plan to create an independent life for herself. Alix was orphaned while still a child and taken in by a wealthy Hollywood family that her parents, costumers, had worked for. We see her going to Paris and charming her way into a job in the fashion industry. 
The book then jumps ahead nearly ten years and Alix is once again arriving in Paris for a job in the fashion industry, only this time she's been invited, and the job is heading PR for Maison Christian Dior just before the launch of his first collection in 1947. Alix has been working in New York City, and has bad memories of Europe due to her time spent there during the war. Unfortunately, it seems like she isn't able to leave those memories behind as a voice from her past seems determined to affect her present. 
The book then jumps back to 1942, where Alix worked in Bern, Switzerland as an OSS agent, where she deals with a unsupportive superior, and yet still manages to make significant impacts in Italy through her contacts there. 
The book moves back and forth between Paris (and later New York) in 1947 and Alix's time in Europe during the war, and we see how the events from the past are still affecting her emotionally and with real threats to the life she wants to live. 
This is a book that sometimes had me on the edge of my seat, waiting to see what happened next, and sometimes brought emotions as I learned of what Alix did and lived through. This illuminated a part of World War II that was less familiar to me, and the author's note really helped to clarify that. 
Definitely worth the read. 

Talk Bookish to Me

Finished May 10
Talk Bookish to Me by Kate Bromley

This novel is set around romance novelist Kara Sullivan. Kara has always loved romance novels, and now has a few of her own. She has a looming deadline for her next one, but is having trouble getting in the groove. She's also very busy helping with the wedding of her best friend Cristina, which is just over a week away. The book opens with Kara arriving at a pre-wedding party. Cristina is there, but her fiance Jason is late, waiting for a couple of groomsmen who are arriving from out of town. When they arrive, Kara is stunned to find that her college boyfriend Ryan is the best man. 
Ryan graduated first and moved away, but the long distance now present in their relationship and family pressures on both sides created a situation ripe for miscommunication, and the relationship ended badly and abruptly. 
The two have a lot to catch up on, and yet, so many underlying feelings that it is hard to communicate well, just like ten years ago. When Kara gets back home that evening, she finds herself inspired and her writing pours out of her. With financial pressure to get the book in, since Kara has prepaid for a six month trip to Italy, she decides to take advantage of the muse that Ryan seems to be for her, and spend significant time before the wedding in his company. The presences of his adorable bulldog Duke only adds to the fun. 
The first part of the story moved quickly, taking place in that week before the wedding, with lots of activity, meals, outings, and encounters. The book then switches to a more leisurely pace as Kara relaxes in Italy, mulling her life and enjoying the company of a lovely man. 
I liked Kara and Ryan, and could connect with their occasional emotional outbursts when faced with situations they don't like. I liked how Duke was portrayed, and the little idiosyncrasies that the author gave him. The plot has a few surprises as well. 
An enjoyable read.

Wednesday 10 May 2023

Sea Prayer

Finished May 8
Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini, illustrated by Dan Williams

This short book shows a father reassuring his son Marwan as they wait for a boat to take them to what they hope is a better life. It has memories of the past, of better times in their homeland, and of hope for the future.
It also shows a father speaking words of comfort to his son that he isn't entirely sure of himself. 
The memories of a times in nature, watching trees and animals and listening to everyday sounds, and of Homs, a bustling city with its mosque and souk and people going about their day. 
All of that is in the past, changed through the bombs that fell and forced them to flee.
The illustrations work so well here. They have a watercolour feel to them, with light colours of blues, greens, yellows, and reds in nature, and the more muted yet still colourful city scenes. When the book reaches the point where things change, with protests, sieges, bombs, and worse, the colours disappear. The pictures are shades of grey, with only occasional hints of colour, and as the scenes show people leaving for other places they shift to sepia. The sea at the end is a dark sea, greens and blues, and the people still without colour. 
This book was inspired by the death of young Alan Kurdi, and so many other refugees that died trying to reach safety. The author's proceeds of the book go to the UN Refugee Agency and the Khaled Hosseini Foundation, with goes to refugee relief efforts.
This is a moving book, best read slowly, taking in the words and pictures and sitting with them. 

Tuesday 9 May 2023

Death at La Fenice

Finished May 4
Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon

This is the first book in the Commissario Guido Brunetti mysteries set in Venice. I've read a few of them, but not in the series order and decided to go back and start at the beginning. 
This book opens as the intermission at an opera is ending and the conductor Helmut Wallauer doesn't appear. He is found in his dressing room, apparently dead by poison. 
The police are called and Brunetti ends up on the case, looking for motive and opportunity. Of course, there is a lot of bustle behind the scenes at the theater and lots of opportunities for people to have approached Wellauer. As he talks with a variety of people, he finds that while the man was revered as a great conductor, he wasn't a nice man at all. 
There is some questions about whether he colluded with the Nazis during the war, or just entertained them, and he has had an impact on many careers by putting his influence against someone. 
As with the later novels in the series that I read, Venice is brought to life here as Brunetti walks its streets, travels its canals and ventures beyond the inner city to other neighbourhoods and even beyond in one instance. We also see him as his interacts with his superior and other police officers and we see his home life, not just with his wife Paola and his children, who are teenagers here, but also with his in-laws. 
The plot was interesting and this was definitely one that kept me reading to find out what was behind the crime. 

To Marry and To Meddle

Finished May 3
To Marry and To Meddle by Martha Waters

I enjoyed the fourth book in this series, To Swoon and To Spar, and decided to go back and read some of the earlier ones. This is the third in the series. 
Lady Emily Turner has had six seasons as a debutante. She's very pretty and would be expected to have married by now, but her father has had a quiet word with any man that showed interest and thereafter he has not come by again. She has been regularly escorted to functions by Mr. Cartham, the American owner of the gambling houses her father has been in debt to, and has managed through her cautious behaviour and good manners to have a pristine reputation despite that. 
As the story opens she has been able to escape her mother's oversight and gone to a country house with her married friends under the chaperonage of Lady Willingham. Lord Julian Belfry, second son of a marquess has gone his own way for years, and owns a theatre with a questionable reputation. It is the type of theatre that is quite popular, but not one that gentlemen take their wives to. Julian has set his sights on making his theatre more reputable and has come up with the idea of marrying Emily to use her society connections to attract better clientele. This plan will benefit Emily from removing her from her parents' control, allowing her more freedom and let her no longer have to associate with the questionable Mr. Cartham. Unlike Emily's previous potential suitors, Julian has his own contacts in that world and enough wealth to deal with Lord Turner's debts. He has the even better idea to use his contacts to get a special license and thus marry Emily during the stay at the country house, thus presenting her parents with a fait accompli. 
Emily is totally on board with this and the marriage takes place early in the book. The plot then follows how they deal with their families, society as a whole, and Julian's theatre plans. Besides the characters from the previous books in the series, and some of the ones from book four, we also see some of the theatre characters, including actresses, playwrights, and the French theatre manager and his family. 
I enjoyed this one just as much as the fourth book, and loved Emily and her female friends who encourage her in many ways. 
A great read.   

Dead as a Door Knocker

Finished May 2
Dead as a Door Knocker by Diane Kelly

This is the first book in a cosy mystery series, A House-Flipper Mystery, set in Nashville with the main character Whitney Whitaker. Whitney is a young woman who works in property management and is working towards getting her real estate license. Because this is a part-time job, she also works as a carpenter for her uncle's company, Whitaker Woodworking. A couple of her cousins also work for her uncle, including Buck, who has a larger role to play in this book. 
Whitney lives in what used to be a pool house in her parents' backyard with her cat Sawdust. 
As the story opens she is evicting a trio of young men from a rental house that the small company, Home & Hearth Realty, she works for manages. They've left the house in poor shape, with lots of garbage, as well as damage to walls and floors. One of the young men, Jackson becomes threatening during the eviction, but the other boys calm him down. 
Once they're gone, Whitney begins dealing with the mess, gathering up the garbage, and figuring out what work needs to be done. When the owner of the house Rick Dunaway stops by, he is dismayed by the damage and asks if Whitney would be interested in buying the house as an investment and taking it off her hands. 
So Whitney, along with her cousin Buck buy the small home and begin fixing it up. However, when things begin going wrong, from a suspicious fire to a dead body in the flower bed, Whitney finds herself dealing with the police. Detective Collin Flynn is brand new to the job and intent on proving himself, but he seems open to Whitney's ideas of who might be behind the actions directed against her. 
Whitney is impulsive and often goes headlong into situations, such as accusing those she suspects by confronting them, and this never seems to go well for her. This was the one part of the story that didn't feel right to me, given the proliferation of guns and related violence in the U.S..
Whitney has a chef friend Collette who we see a lot of in this book as well. 
Interspersed with the story are several short sections written from Sawdust's point of view, At first these were just cute, but gradually they showed their relevance to the overall plot. 
A good start to the series, with several characters I'd expect to see more of as the series progresses. 

Monday 8 May 2023

Cocoa Magic

Finished April 30
Cocoa Magic by Sandra Bradley, illustrated by Gabrielle Grimard

This lovely picture book tells a story set in historical Charlottetown. The main character, Daniel is eight years old and one of the highlights of his day is going, before school in the morning, to help his Uncle Lewis at his chocolate shop. He's been doing this for years, and is involved in all aspects of making the chocolates that the shop sells, from mixing and tempering, to pouring and molding. 
When Daniel sees a new girl at school who looks lonely he decides to start leaving chocolates in her desk to surprise her. When that works even better than he expected, he starts noticing other children that need cheering up and begins leaving treats for them as well, until there comes a day when he leaves treats for everyone, with the help of his uncle. 
Shortly after, he finds himself the one feeling sad and without chocolates to console him, and he makes a new discovery. 
The author is also a clinical social worker and here she illustrates the importance of empathy in our lives and the connections that we have to others. 
I loved the pictures here as well, including the ones of individual chocolates in the endpapers. The children show as detailed individuals and one gets a sense of the period from the details in the pictures.
A great book for any season. 

Ragged Lake

Finished April 30
Ragged Lake by Ron Corbett

Taking place in a fiction place up in the Territories in northern Canada, this book is the first in a series featuring detective Frank Yakabuski. Frank is from the north, but went away for a while and spent some time doing undercover work related to motorcycle gangs in Montreal. He's been back in the north a few years and is considered a seasoned officer. 
Ragged Lake is very remote, with no roads in or out and only a weekly train service, mostly for supplies to a fishing and hunting camp located there. It was once a more bustling place, with a paper plants and a variety of other small businesses that supported the people that worked there. 
When a young tree-marker working in the area checks out a cabin built from scraps, he finds murder victims and immediately heads to the resort to report it using their phone. 
Frank is sent out with a couple of guys to assist with the investigation. It is winter and with the train not scheduled for a few days, he and his officers travel via the rail line by snowmobile, a trip that takes more than one day. 
They find that the report is accurate and that they have a crime on their hands, but there are more questions that come to Frank. Why are these people in the cabin there? Why have the chosen this place to build a home in? Who can he trust? are some of them. 
As we, alongside Frank and in a narrative that is separate and told partly through a written record, discover the connection of these people to this place and its history, the story of the indigenous people who have lived in the area, 
We get a sense of Frank and his character and his past in this introduction to the series. We also get a strong sense of one of the victims here, a young indigenous woman who has had bad luck again and again despite her own strength. 
This made me want to read more of this series. 

Girls Who Travel

Finished April 30
Girls Who Travel by Nicole Trilivas

This novel took me back to a time in my life when I did a long few months of travelling. The main characters, Kika Shores, is in her early twenties and returned home to New York a few months back from a yearlong backpacking tour where she travelled to many countries. She also began a romance with an Irish man, Lochlon, while she travelled and has kept in touch with him, hoping to reconnect. She doesn't consider him her boyfriend exactly, but she hasn't engaged in any other relationships since returning home. She found an office job courtesy of connections through her mother, a yoga teacher, but she hasn't put her heart into it, and it shows. When a mistake on her part ends up with the loss of that position, she is at first depressed, not knowing how she'll even be able to earn money to resume travelling. 
With very good timing, the connection who got her that job, and who now lives in London, asks if she would take on the job of nanny to their two young daughters, something that Kika had done before she travelled. Kika has fond feelings for the girls, Gwen and Mina, and with the hefy salary being offered, she jumps at the chance to take on the position.
As she finds her way back into the girls' lives, and thinks harder about what she really wants out of life, she also has the opportunity to reconnect with Lochlon, something that she finds herself having mixed feelings about. 
Watching Kika be so passionate about what she loves, and try to plan a future that includes more travel was something that awoke strong feelings in me around my past travelling. Seeing her look at making a real plan for her life was lovely. I really liked her relationship with the two girls, and see how she made friends among a variety of people in her new environment was inspiring. 
A lovely, uplifting read. 

Wednesday 3 May 2023

And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer

Finished April 29
And Every Morning the Way Home Gets Longer and Longer: a Novella by Fredrik Backman, translated by Alice Menzies

This short novel tells the story of a close relationship between a grandfather and his grandson Noah as the older man begins to lose his memory. The two have common interests including mathematics, fishing, and visits in an old beached boat the grandfather used an an office. One of the things they do is go on trips. Noah would close his eyes and Grandpa would take him somewhere, sometimes on foot, sometimes by bus, sometimes out in the boat. Noah then takes a map and a compass and works out how to get home. 
As the book begins Noah is waking up, sitting on a bench in a square with the sun rising. This time there aren't coordinates and Noah doesn't know where they are, but he doesn't want to admit it. When he hears his grandfather say 'the square got smaller overnight again,' he first looks at his grandpa questioningly and the does what he's been trained to do and takes in his surroundings carefully. 
The two have a lot of special memories and little jokes between them, and eventually we see other people, a young girl who ages into a woman; and Ted, a man with a beard who is the father of Noah.
As the conversations come and go, we begin to sense where they are, and this is confirmed through their words. We also see the larger picture of where the grandfather is, and what is happening.
This is a story that touches the reader and is very relatable. 
I wanted to share this book with someone special in my own life, and maybe I will. 

The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder

Finished April 28
The Color of Bee Larkham's Murder by Sarah J. Harris

This novel is told from the point of view of thirteen-year-old Jasper Wishart, a young man who lives in a world of his own. Jasper is autistic and has both synaesthesia and face blindness. For Jasper, sounds are colours, and he recognizes people by the colours their voice makes and by memorizing their clothing. The latter method, of course, doesn't always work. Neither does the former when something is off about their voice, as in a sore throat causing raspiness, or if they speak in a whisper. 
The book moves back and forth in time from the present when Jasper is upset about his neighbour, Bee Larkham. Bee is relatively new to him as she only came back to deal with the house after her mother died. She is a musician and plays music at high volume, both her own and the recorded music she enjoys. Jasper is immediately taken by this, although many of the neighbours are not. Bee also wears colourful clothing and is naturally dramatic in her actions. 
After observing parakeets in her garden, Bee has set up feeders to attract them, and this is something else that appeals to Jasper, although again, not to all the neighbours. 
Jasper's mother died a few years ago, and his father left the armed forces and took a job in IT, so that he would be able to support Jasper daily rather than being away for long periods of time. Jasper misses him mom as she also had synaesthesia and helped him understand it.
One of Jasper's pleasures and coping mechanisms is to make sense of his world by painting it. and while his pictures look abstract to others, they represent the sounds and images that he saw at that moment in time. 
As Jasper struggles to understand what happened with Bee, he reviews his paintings from that time, but also recreates them from his memories, trying to get them right and capture the colours accurately to better understand them himself. 
Jasper is an outsider, not having any real friends at school and not connecting closely with his father. He describes his world as he experiences it and reacts strongly to perceived threats to things that he cares about. 
See this all from Jasper's point of view, as a child who struggles to be understood and to make sense of the world is key to this story. Jasper goes back to his first meeting with Bee to try to resurrect his memories and capture them as accurately as he can in new versions of his paintings. As we understand along with him, we see Bee's actions both as he does and as an average adult would, and we gradually learn of all the interactions between Bee and the others in the neighbourhood from the older men who live nearby, to the teenagers taking music lessons from her. These things make more sense to us than they do to Jasper at times, and we gradually see how he has misinterpreted their relationship and her intentions. 
I have always been interested in synaesthesia and how it is experienced, and that is what attracted me to this book in the first place, but it offers so much more. It reminds me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon in being a coming of age story of a young man who experiences the world differently from most of us, and that occurs around a serious incident where he is an important witness. 
An excellent read. 

May Reviews for the 16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Here is where you link the reviews for the books you finished in May.

Unexpectedly Milo

Finished April 26
Unexpectedly Milo by Matthew Dicks

Milo is an engaging character. As the book opens he is living in an apartment, having separated from his wife Christine. Milo is a nurse. He worked in a care home for quite a while, but he now works in home health care, which means that his day is less structured. He has a number of regular clients that he sees, and he does a variety of tasks for them, some medical in nature, but also some more housekeeping, like raking a shag rug for one of his clients. 
Since he was a child Milo has had urges that come to him, things he needs to do or hear or feel. After giving in to the first time this urge struck him as a child in front of another child and having that go badly, he has hidden these urges from others. He has found a way of coping. Some of these urges have come and gone, other are more longstanding and pop up on a regular basis. He is aware that stress makes them worse, especially when more than one of them come up at a time. 
Because no one else knows about these urges, not his parents or his wife, or any of his D and D friends, he doesn't feel seen, and is a lonely man. 
Near the beginning of the book Milo comes across a bag containing a video camera and several tapes sitting beside a park bench. He sits there with it for a time, but no one returns, so he takes that bag and after finding no clue to the owner in the bag decides to watch the tapes in the hope that he will find out something from them that will let him return these things to the owner. 
This is how the mystery portion of the book begins. He finds the tapes are numbered and contain a video diary by a woman close to him in age. As she begins to reveal her secrets, Milo empathizes with her, and feels protective towards her. He feels bad watching them himself and is determined to stop when he finds enough information to locate her. He certainly doesn't want to share them with anyone else. One of the secrets he learns on the tape leads him in a new direction, trying to find a way to take away the guilt from the woman's past act of protecting a friend. 
Alongside the mystery, we have Milo's interactions with his clients and see their quirks. We also see his relationship with his wife, through their therapy sessions and encounters beyond that. 
Milo is asking questions about his life, his future relationships, while still hiding his OCD from everyone. 
This is a story of a man who cares deeply and feels extraordinarily lonely in his life. As a reader I cared about him and also found it fascinating how he finds ways to cope with these urges of his and how he characterizes them, ascribing them to a inner voice with its own identity. 
I really enjoyed this book and was hoping for the character to find a true connection with someone and some happiness in his own life. 

Tuesday 2 May 2023

As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning

Finished April 23
As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning by Laurie Lee

This memoir covers from the summer of 1934 to late 1936. 19-year-old Laurie has never left the area of England he grew up in before this time, but he sets off on foot from his home in the Cotswolds heading for London. He has never seen the sea and so decides to go via Southampton, adding about 100 miles to his journey. As he walks he either eats what he has brought with him, what he finds on the land, or what he is given by those he passes by or stays with. He is not the only one on the road, and he at one point he travels with a long-term wanderer named Alf. I have to say that this reminded me of a homeless man I was once acquainted with, also named Alf, and made a connection to this fleeting glimpse of a person. Laurie finds a room in London and a job working construction and trying out various entertainments in the city. After nearly a year, when the building project he is one comes to an end, he realizes that he is free to go anywhere and he buys a one way ticket on a ship to Viga, Spain.
In Spain, he resumes his walking, stopping and playing his fiddle in the streets for what money people are willing to give. He has rudimentary Spanish, and lots of curiosity and he meets a wide variety of people from other travellers to locals from all walks of life. The heat he encounters is one thing he is unprepared for, and he finds himself suffering badly at times. 
We follow him as he goes to Valladolid, on to Madrid, and then to Toledo, stopping for varying lengths of time depending on how people react to his music and where he can afford to stay. He continues south, crossing the mountains into Andalusia stopping in Seville and then going down to the coast. After a brief visit to Gibraltar, he goes on along the coast, ending up in the town of Castillo. He had planned to go further, but at this point the Spanish Civil War breaks out in the area, and he finds himself going to ground there with the townspeople. Soon after, a British warship stops and offers a way out for him and the British writer who has been living there.
There is an epilogue that comes six months later when he finds himself once again at the Spanish border, looking to help those he grew to care about in his journey.
This is a very personal story, that gives a real sense of the world of the time, and the places and people that he met along the way. He wrote it more than three decades after the events contained in the book, with an eye to the bigger picture he didn't see at the time, so one gets a sense of the looming unrest, but it doesn't overtake his personal story. 
An enlightening read with a real sense of place and time. The language is beautifully descriptive.