Saturday 30 September 2023

The Imaginary Alphabet

Finished September 23
The Imaginary Alphabet by Sylvie Daigneault

This picture book is an absolute delight. It is an alphabet book, an image finding book, a humorous book, and just a delight to read. You can spend hours over it as you search the details and enjoy every aspect of it, or just read it through. Each alphabet letter has an image with an alliterative description that mentions some of the images starting with that letter. For example, the cover image is for F and says "Fancy Ferrets Feeling Famous and Fabulous." There are several unmentioned images in each picture that begin with that letter as well (one example here is frogs) and at the back of the book there are lists of images for each letter. I did, however, find one that wasn't listed and there may be more that I didn't notice (mine was at the letter K). 
This is a book that will delight readers of all ages, provide a fun way to learn, and enlarge your vocabulary. Daigneault has an introduction where she talks about the inspiration and vision for the book, along with how she came to create it. It shows the passion that she has for her work. 

Wednesday 27 September 2023

The Unicorn

Finished September 23
The Unicorn by Iris Murdoch

This strange and eerie novel is set in a remote part of a country that may be Ireland, although it isn't clearly stated. Marion Taylor has answered an advertisement for a governess following an amicable but painful breakup. She is nearing 30 and unsure of whether her future holds a marriage or not. Part of why she found the advertisement appealing is the name of the home she is going to: Gaze Castle. But as the book opens, she finds that it is quite far from the nearest railway station and remote even from neighbours. She has uneasy feelings almost right away, fighting the urge to flee as she is driven to the home. 
The home is a rather ordinary, yet large house, not a castle, and she also soon finds that she hasn't been engaged to teach children, but rather to teach and be a companion for a woman similar in age to herself. There are other mysterious elements to the place, and she finds the roles of many of the other people there unclear. The woman she will work for is Hannah Crean-Smith, a woman who seems delicate in health, and never leaves the premises. The man who collected her, Gerald Scottow seems to be in charge, and may even be under orders to limit the activities and visitors to Mrs. Crean-Smith. 
She also finds that the husband of her employer is alive, but was injured badly in an incident that seems unclear on the cliffs near the house. One possibility is that his wife may have tried to kill him after being found in an act of infidelity. The chauffeur is Jamesie Evercreech, but he is also some sort of distant relative of Hannah's as is his sister Violet. Violet Evercreech seems to act as a housekeeper, with numerous "black maids with casts in their eyes and incomprehensible accents" that she seems to direct. There is also Denis Nolan, a man who seems to deal with animals as well as other unexpected tasks. 
The nearest neighbour is a recluse, an older man named Max Lejour and in the summer his daughter Alice and son Pip come to visit, as does a family friend Effingham Cooper. 
As Marion becomes more and more confused and unsettled by the atmosphere of the place, she thinks that she must make some sort of plan to free Hannah from this imprisonment. 
This is a story that relies on the geography and remoteness of the location, the odd characters, and the sense of foreboding that comes on Marion after encounters with certain people or elements. 
A book that draws you in, so that you need to know how things unfold. Murdoch is a master storyteller. 

Tuesday 26 September 2023

Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility

Finished September 22
Clear Skies, No Wind, 100% Visibility by Theodora Armstrong

This collection of stories, some novella length, are all set in British Columbia, and landscape is definitely important to the stories. Characters have surprising depth for the story lengths. The stories are also quite varied in circumstance. 
Rabbit has a girl quietly observing her own troubled family dynamics along with the kidnapping of an older girl on their street where no one responded to her calls for help. 
Fishtail has a father taking his teen daughters away for a weekend where he investigates a possible real estate acquisition
Whale Stories has a boy adjusting to a new house with his mom and younger sister, out of which his mom runs a bed and breakfast for tourists.
In The Art of Eating, a middle-aged restaurant chef, about to become a father for the first time, feels unprepared for this life changing event, even as he struggles with disappointment in his career. 
Thanks to Carin explores the relationship between two sisters who've made different life choices as one makes an impulsive visit to the other.
In The Spider in the Jar, two young brothers with an imbalanced relationship explore the nature surrounding them while one tries to be accepted by the other.
The title story has a novice air traffic controller face an accident and its aftermath.
And in Mosquito Creek, two teen girls test their friendship against the background of first relationships and risky behaviour. 
Interesting and surprising. 

Love at 350°

Finished September 21 
Love at 350° by Lisa Peers

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

Monday 25 September 2023

Dissipatio H.G.

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

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

The Stranger Inside

Finished August 21
The Stranger Inside by Lisa Unger

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

Saturday 23 September 2023

Before the Murders

Finished September 18
Before the Murders by Patricia McLinn

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

The Transatlantic Book Club

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

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

Thursday 21 September 2023

Illumination Night

Finished September 16
Illumination Night by Alice Hoffman 

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

Just Neighbors

Finished September 12
Just Neighbors by Charity Ferrell

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

Tuesday 19 September 2023

The Doctor of Thessaly

Finished September 10
The Doctor of Thessaly by Anne Zouroudi

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

Monday 18 September 2023

Sign Off

Finished September 7
Sign Off by Patricia McLinn

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

Saturday 9 September 2023


Finished September 4
Bittersweet by Susan Wittig Albert

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

Summer with a Star

Finished September 1
Summer with a Star by Merry Farmer

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

Friday 8 September 2023

The Chase

Finished August 31
The Chase by DiAnn Mills

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

Nurse's Date with a Billionaire

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

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

The Best Man

Finished August 30
The Best Man by Kristan Higgins 

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

Friday 1 September 2023

September Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

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

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