Monday 27 November 2023

Secretly Yours

Finished November 17
Secretly Yours by Tessa Bailey

This is the first of a series of romance books set in the Napa Valley. Here, Hallie Welch runs her own garden company: designing, planting, and looking after gardens for her clients. She has a real eye for it, and she is following in her grandmother's footsteps in this endeavour. She is still mourning her grandmother, and the stability that her grandmother brought to her life. Related to this, she's recently been extremely angry at a new wine store that has opened in town, called Uncorked. It is located right across from her grandmother's friend's store, Corked, and has had a major impact on business there. Corked hasn't kept up with the times and looks a little shabby, which hasn't helped. 
When Hallie hears that her schoolgirl crush, Julian Vos, the son of local vintners, has come back to town, she gets a little excited and curious. With memories of the one kiss she had with him, she can't help but wonder if she's still attracted to him. 
Julian has returned to town on a sabbatical from his university teaching job to write a novel. He's made the move after a colleague's health crisis, and he finds that his mother, who runs the vineyard now, has secrets and issues of her own. 
Both Julian and Hallie feel an attraction, despite their different lifestyles and personalities, and it was interesting to see their relationship develop. The secret letter plot wasn't as central as I'd expected and didn't always ring true for me. 
The side stories only added to the interest, and I could see who would be a likely candidate for the second novel, since Hallie's bestie is already married. I'd also like to see more around the wine store rivalry and where that goes. 
Overall as good as what I'd expect from Tessa Bailey. A very entertaining read. 

Bay Street

Finished November 15
Bay Street by Philip Slayton

The action in this novel takes place around a Bay Street law firm. Piper Fantouche is a junior partner in the law firm, but feels like she's not able to get enough billable hours to advance herself there. one of the senior partners asks her to join a team that is handling a takeover bid in the financial services industry, but he may have ulterior motives. Other women in the firm or previously in the firm have been the subject of his attention in the past. 
There are issues of competition within the law firm, issues with the takeover bid itself and the bank initiating it, and issues around women in the book. 
The narration shows us the thoughts and viewpoints of a number of characters throughout the course of the novel, but it still feels oddly formal, and I always felt like I was watching things from a distance rather than getting pulled into the book. 
The plot is interesting in some ways, especially since I once worked in downtown Toronto in the financial industry, but it wasn't compelling. 

Wednesday 22 November 2023

The Hidden Beach

Finished November 14
The Hidden Beach by Karen Swan

This novel has a lot going on. The main character, Bell Everhurst has been working as a nanny for three years for a professional couple in Stockholm. Bell is in her mid-twenties and, while English, had a Swedish grandmother and so speaks Swedish as well. The backstory for her presence in Stockholm comes out over the course of the book. 
The family she works for has a 9 year old son Linus, and twin girls, Elise and Tilde, who are four. Hanna is a physician and on the day the book begins, has had an emergency with a patient. When Bell takes a call from a clinic with an odd message, things as she know them, begin to unravel. 
With Linus's father emerging from a coma, things are now uncertain. He has significant influence, and Bell gradually senses that Hanna has less control of the situation than she would like. 
When summer arrives and the family goes off to their summer home, on a small island, things seem more normal, and Bell holds the fort there, entertaining and minding the kids during the day, with Hanna taking over after dark, and Max coming for the weekends. 
We also see Hanna's friends: her roommate Kris, a chef, and his doctor boyfriend Marc, and Tove, a server in the bar downstairs from their apartment. They also have a small cottage on the island archipelago, and often come down at weekends. 
When Midsommar arrives, Bell is given extra time off, and preps the friends place for their arrival, meeting a quiet man as she gathers supplies. While their first meeting doesn't go that well, there is a connection of sorts, and she sees him later during the festivities and still later, when taking a moment to herself. This night will set the scene for later developments, as Linus's father steps into the story in a bigger way. 
The story has an element of mystery, romance and lightheartedness, as well as a more serious plot underneath. Very enjoyable read. 

Tuesday 21 November 2023

New Beginnings at Rose Cottage

Finished November 10
New Beginnings at Rose Cottage by Erin Green

This novel has three women, from three different generations, who book into a shared vacation cottage on the coast of Devon. They all have something they are escaping or looking for. The advertisement for the cottage had promised friendships and home comforts, and although the women are wary at first at the possibility of making friends with women of a different age group, they find themselves growing close in surprising ways. 
Emma has recently lost her job after the restaurant she worked at for years closed and the building sold to a new restaurant owner. She has decided to use her redundancy funds to start her own food business. She isn't sure what that will look like yet, so she is taking the time to weigh her options as well as think about her personal life. When an unexpected opportunity arises, she finds herself moving faster than planned, and faster than her new friends think she should. 
Ruth is taking a much needed break from her life. She had dreams when she was young of a creative life, but an unplanned pregnancy and subsequent single motherhood made her rely on her mother, and thus abide by her mother's decisions around her life, and has had a long career as a bank clerk. More recently, she's also been the caregiver for her mother as the older woman has begun a cognitive decline. When she is drawn to a local art shop and begins painting, she finds herself experiencing new feelings. 
Benni works through a temp agency, and tries to maintain a positive attitude despite the addictive behaviour of her mother and brother, whom she lives with. As she learns to listen to her body rather be shamed by it, she tries new activities and begins to gain confidence in areas that she never believed she would. She also learns something unexpected about her own family.
All of these women have interesting stories, and the vacation doesn't provide instant solutions, but it does open their eyes to different opportunities and create new contacts that also open doors they hadn't known about. 
An enjoyable read. 

Monday 13 November 2023

Blood on a Saint

Finished November 5
Blood on a Saint by Anne Emery

This is the seventh book in the Collins-Burke series, featuring Halifax lawyer Monty Collins and local Catholic priest Brennan Burke. Here, a young woman, who was recently let go from her administrative position at the church is claiming that she sees the Virgin Mary about the statue of St. Bernadette in front of the church named for the saint. This claim draws believers, salesmen of artifacts, media attention, and some who would take advantage of those who come to the site. 
Father Brennan Burke is sure that the young woman, Befanee Tate, is making the story up, but he has to abide by the church line on the subject, which is to investigate. 
Monty represents the local church in many legal matters and the young woman has recently filed a case for damages regarding her dismissal by the church. 
One of the people who arrives in town after the sighting is television debate host Pike Podgis. Podgis is a man whose show looks for the sensational and insults the guests, making humour at their expense. He is hosting a local debate on religion and the bishop has instructed Burke to represent the church for this, while a local university professor represents science. Those who know the series, are aware that Burke is a colourful Irishman, who is well-educated, can't stand fools, and likes a drink on a regular basis. This makes his appearance on the show one that gives the host a surprise he doesn't expect. 
When later that same night a body is found at the foot of the statue, and Monty is hired to represent the accused, things get more interesting. 
Monty and Burke are good friends, who socialize regularly. Burke has played a large role in getting Monty and his wife on the road to reconciliation, and Burke also is a regular attendee of Monty's band's pub appearances. Both of these have a role here. Burke is a fan of a variety of music and this also shows up in the plot. 
I found this quite an interesting case, and I had read one other in this series and enjoyed it as well, so enjoyed seeing more of these characters. A good read. 

The Bookshop Murder

Finished November 3
The Bookshop Murder by Merryn Allingham

This is the first book in a series of historical mysteries and is set in the mid-1950s. Flora Steele owns a bookshop in the village of Abbeymead in Sussex. She inherited it from her aunt, who raised her after the death of her parents when she was young. Flora had plans for her first few months after getting her library degree, but her aunt's illness and death meant that she is now tied to the store and her life there. When a customer discovers a body in her store, she finds that gossip and rumour are hitting her financial, with a decrease in sales and traffic. With the police not interested in tracking down the reasons this stranger broke into her store, she decides to take matters into her own hands, with the assistance of the crime-writing customer who discovered the body. 
I got a real sense of village life here, and how people were reacting to events of the time, like the end of rationing, and the turnover of traditional manor properties. Flora is a determined young woman, and is unhappy about not being taken seriously. She is full of ideas, but also open to critiques of those ideas with solid facts. One gets a very concrete examples of how women's views and concerns were not treated with the same respect as men's. I definitely got a sense of how the series might continue and how some plotlines might develop further in future books. An enjoyable read. 

Monday 6 November 2023

Better Off Dead

Finished November 2
Better Off Dead by Lee Child and Andrew Child

The book opens with a man that seems to be Reacher waiting for a rendezvous near the Mexican border. When the car that approaches him has more people than he expects, and he finds himself up against four men, some of them with weapons, we know that things might go badly. As this prelude ends, the man is in a morgue and we are left hanging.
We go back to two days earlier, where Reacher is approaching a town near the Texas border when he comes across a Jeep that appears to have been in an accident. When he approaches the vehicle, he is surprised to have a weapon aimed at him. As he backs off when they hear another vehicle approach, and witnesses a deadly encounter, he finds himself wondering just what is going on. 
He finds himself drawn into a woman's search for her missing twin brother, both of them military veterans. She gets him up to speed quickly on the situation, but she might not be telling him everything, and he keeps pushing as things move along to ensure he's not missing anything important. 
He comes up with a plan to get the man behind it all, but unexpected people, events, and devices come along to alter what Reacher has to deal with.
As always, a fast-moving plot, with lots of action, suspense and interesting characters. 

Saturday 4 November 2023

A Grave Disturbance

Finished October 31
A Grave Disturbance by D.M. Greenwood

This is the 8th book in the series featuring Theodora Braithwaite, an Anglican deacon. A school friend, Susan Tye, who is the wife of the Provost of Giltchrist Cathedral, calls her for assistance. Susan has noticed her husband behaving suspiciously and want Theodora's assistance in the issue. The same day that she is due to arrive, a workman on the roof of the cathedral falls to his death. 
Lionel Comfret, the Assistant (Lay) Diocesan Secretary, who works for the Archbishop, is thinking about his upcoming retirement. He quite looks forward to it. He has been with the church for ten years, and had been both a soldier and a teacher before this position. Early in the book there is a meeting that includes Lionel, Archdeacon Marcus More, Provost Reggie Tye, and Canon Kate Wale and this gives a good sense of the abilities and limitations of these senior clergy who figure in the plot. We also see the secretary for the senior clergy Mrs. Lure and see her lack of effort in her job. Overall, these early scenes give us a very good idea of why Lionel is looking forward to his retirement. It is during the meeting that the accident occurs, and Lionel is a witness to it, as he watches from the window. 
On the drive back with Theodora, Lionel talks about the accident and about the town, which has three distinct areas. Cray Martyr is the poorer part of town, the part where the victim came from. The parish priest there, Tobias Angel is a strong advocate for his parishioners and a personality in his own right, as we see later. Giltchrist is where the cathedral close is, and between them is Gainshurst a more posh part of town, where both the Archdeacon and the Canon live. 
Kate Wale is married to a developer, Leslie Wale, who has done very well for himself and both of them left behind their Cray Martyr childhoods. The were both acquainted with the Lee family, of whom Mick Lee, the victim, was the middle child. As we discover, there is history between the families, but also a history of distrust between the family and the church to some extent. 
We soon hear about the reason for Susan's request for Theodora's visit and Susan's plans for her during that time. 
I enjoyed the depth of the characters here, especially Lionel, but also Kate to an extent. We see how Lionel finds a possible new future role in an environment that he has more respect for the leadership in, and we see how he spends his leisure time. Theodora is somewhat frustrated by Susan's demands, but falls in to assist Lionel in finding answers. 
A very interesting read, which I got caught up in quite quickly. 

Friday 3 November 2023

Two previous series reads that somehow got missed: Blue Moon by Lee Child and The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

While following up on some of the series I read, I noticed gaps for two them where I seemed to have missed a book. I've taken them out of the library, but as soon as I started reading them I remembered them. I've searched all my notes and don't seem to have written reviews, which is very odd for me. They both date from the same time period, published in late 2019 read either in late 2019 or early 2020 and I guess that I missed them in the busyness of other things at the time. So here they are, now.

Blue Moon by Lee Child, read by Scott Brick

This is the 24th book in the series and once it again it begins with Reacher on a Greyhound bus in the middle of America. He assists an older man after the man is attacked in the street after exiting the bus, and one thing leads to another as he first helps him to the place where the payment the older man needs to do is to take place, and later to his home. The man and his wife are worried about their daughter whose story unfolds for him. He soon finds himself impersonating the old man, and getting between the Ukrainian and Albanian gangs who run the town and are vying for expansion under the new police commissioner in the small city. 
As each gang makes moves and Reacher makes some to protect himself and the older couple, there is luck that happens, as they say, once in a blue moon. Reacher's investigations lead him into the world of paid healthcare in the U.S., IT startups successes and failures, money trails and extortion rings. 
This is classic Jack Reacher, satisfying for the little guy, with the bad guys in deep trouble. 

The Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley

This is the 10th book in the Flavia de Luce series. Her oldest sister Ophelia is getting married as the book opens, but there's a shocking item in the wedding cake when she slices it. Flavia is quick on her feet and manages to take the item while the focus is on Ophelia's hysterics. 
Flavia has also teamed up with her father's valet, Dogger, as a private investigation firm. The wedding discovery turns out to be the start of their first case, leading them to a special railway for the dead, a visit from missionaries, and a client who dies before the case is resolved. 
Dogger serves as a guide for Flavia's enthusiasm, putting her on the right track, and encouraging her good ideas. To their clients and the police they present a team that can put things together faster than the officials can. 
This isn't my favourite of the series, but it does offer some interesting scenes, and cousin Undine plays a larger role than in earlier books. 

The Nodding Canaries

Finished October 28
The Nodding Canaries by Gladys Mitchell

This book is part of a long series that I've not read before. The Nodding Canaries is the 34th book in the series, but it seems like you don't need to read them in order to enjoy them. This book was originally published in 1961, shortly after it was allowed that female teachers could be married. The banter and slang used is dated, and in one or two cases offensive as current terminology. The sleuth here is Dame Beatrice Lestrange Bradley, who is a psychiatrist who works for the Home Office in England. 
Here she is called to Nodding by Alice Boorman, a schoolteacher that is a longtime friend. Laura Gavin, Bradley's secretary, is a childhood friend of Alice's. Alice has recently applied to run for Organizer of the area, a much-sought after position by teachers. She has been shortlisted along with two other teachers, and she offered to host them around the interview time as they lived further away, one from Devonshire, and one from Scotland. 
Before the late afternoon interviews, the women toured the town, seeing the cathedral, the market, and some historical sites. One suggested the historical site of Pigmy's Ladder, a prehistoric flint mine. Alice did not accompany the other women into the mine as she had already been and felt claustrophobic, but when they didn't reemerge at the appointed time the site manager called for help and the women were found and taken to the hospital for their condition. Alice feels that a past past-time of hers makes her a possible suspect to them and has asked Dame Bradley to find out the truth behind the incident. 
This incident leads to a missing male teacher, his questionable past, historical artifacts, and the local archaeological society. 
This is a mystery with much twists and turns. Dame Bradley is a force to be reckoned with, and the men here defer to her with little hesitation. The mystery itself is complex and dates back some time, with a variety of suspects and motives to keep the reader guessing. 

November Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 This is where you link the reviews for Canadian books that you've read in November. The books to fit this challenge should be either written by a Canadian author or have a Canadian setting. If there is some other reason that they fit the challenge, note it in the comments. Thanks, and enjoy your reading. 


Finished October 28
Soulless by Gail Carriger, illustrated by Jensine Eckwall

This lighthearted crime novel takes place in the early part of the Victorian era, in an alternate paranormal version of our world. It is the first in a series. England has recognized that vampires, ghosts, and werewolves exist, and thus they no longer have to hide anymore. Most of these paranormal beings live in hives (vampires) or dens (werewolves), but the occasional loner lives as a rove. There is a government organization, the Bureau of Unnatural Registry (BUR) that keeps watch on them and ensures that they abide by the laws and that they have registered with the government. In this world, these beings owe their supernatural abilities to an abundance of soul., an excess that refused to die. 
The main character of this series, Miss Alexia Tarabotti, is otherwise gifted. She has no soul at all, thus the title of this first book. When she comes into contact with a person with supernatural abilities, those abilities disappear, and the are entirely normal human beings. Some feel threatened by creatures such as her, some enjoy the occasional touch. Persons without a soul, called preternatural, are rare, and females even more so. 
Alexia is a member of the upper classes, and lives with her mother, her stepfather, and two stepsisters. Alexia's father was Italian, which is not that welcomed in society, and neither are the olive skin and dark hair she also inherited from him. Her family and most of society are not aware of her soullessness, but those with supernatural abilities are. So when, at a party at someone's home, Alexia is alone and is attacked by a vampire, she is surprised, but so is he. This is definitely not acceptable behaviour, as any such interaction must be consensual by law. He doesn't know what to make of her, when his supernatural features disappear when they come into contact. In the course of the struggle, Alexia inadvertently kills him, and finds herself under scrutiny by the head of BUR, Lord Conall Maccon, previously of Scotland, and a werewolf. 
As BUR begins to investigate the sudden appearance of new vampires and werewolves, and the sudden disappearance of roving ones, Alexia finds a suitor from America who shows some interest in her and is delighted with her intelligence and ability to speak comfortably on scientific topics. He has come to speak at a new scientific institute which has gone up in the heart of London. 
Alexia also finds herself in an uncertain courting dance with Lord Maccon, which is confusing to both of them. She confides in both her closest female friend, Miss Ivy Hisselpenny, and her closest male friend, the flamboyant rove vampire, Lord Akeldama. Both of them are helpful in their own ways. 
The drawings interspersed throughout the book are delightful and detailed. The story has humour, a deeper layer of social commentary, as well as good characters and dialogue. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.