Sunday 31 December 2023

The Forgotten Bookshop in Paris

Finished December 18
The Forgotten Bookshop in Paris by Daisy Wood

This is a novel about a woman rediscovering herself, a woman making choices about her life that suit herself, and a woman making a connection to her own family history. 
The book has dual timelines, one in the present day as Juliette discovers that her marriage is not a place she wants to be anymore, and one in the past as Jacques watches the German occupation of his city take things from him. 
Jacques isn't an obvious hero. He is bookish and shy, and wary of taking risks. But as the Paris that he loves comes under their control and the people and things he loves get taken away, he finds that he must take some actions, and he chooses to help those that need it, and keep a discreet record of his actions. 
Juliette has let life happen, and when a sudden discovery makes her really look at where she is, she decides to let herself explore the city of Paris, a place she wants to learn more about to connect to the grandmother who lived there. She has a painting of a square in Paris and wants to find it. When she does, she wants to learn more. 
This is a story of taking chances, or making conscious choices that have risks associated, and of listening to one's inner voice. 
I enjoyed both timelines, and seeing the primary character in each grow as their stories unfolded. 

Annie Bot

Finished December 18
Annie Bot by Sierra Greer

This novel totally captivated me. I read it slowly, wanting it to last as long as possible and thinking a lot about Annie. Annie is a robot that her owner bought to meet his personal needs. She comes from a line of AI robots called Stellas, where owners can choose a mode from three main types: Abigail (who cooks and performs housework), a Nanny one to look after children, and a Cuddle Bunny mode to provide sexual and emotional pleasure for the owner. 
Annie is designed to learn from her experiences, and as she tries to learn how to please Doug, she adjusts her libido to his, simulates orgasms in response to his, and tries to meet his needs, she grows more confused. Why? Because Doug is human, and not predictable. When he gets an unexpected visit from an old friend, Roland, Annie meets someone new for the first time, and is exposed to more information, including that she resembles Doug's ex-wife Gwen. Annie is learning for the first time about this woman's existence and she struggles to figure out how she compares to her, causing her some grief from Doug. 
As Annie gains secrets, and tries to figure out not only how to please Doug, but also how the world works, and how she herself works, she is becoming more human, and finds herself experiencing what seem like emotions to herself. 
It is telling to see that Doug has modelled her on a woman he was previously in a serious relationship, yet one he has more control over. Doug can tell her what she's allowed to say about him or their relationship. He can punish her. He can ignore her for days and then just expect to have her play her role again. But because she is autodidactic and learns from her experiences, she grows more confused, and feels hurt, jealous, and even angry. 
Seeing her develop was fascinating. Doug was a man who thinks he knows what he wants, but when he gets it, he still isn't happy. There is gaslighting, manipulation, and a lot of other relationship stuff going on here that made me root for and fear for Annie more and more. I hated him more and more as I got further into the book.
It also made me think about AI a lot and how it works, and where it will appear in our lives. It gave me a lot to think about. 
An amazing read. 

Tuesday 26 December 2023

Look Up High! Things That Fly

Finished December 18
Look Up High! Things That Fly by Victoria Allenby.

Like her past picture books in this series, this simple book is aimed at building vocabulary, enjoying rhyme and rhythm, and encouraging movement. The illustrations are real photographs, like the previous books: Listen Up! Train Song and Shape Up! Construction Trucks.
The cover is padded and the pages are thick to stand up to abuse from young readers, and the print is large and occupies a small amount of each page spread. For each, Allenby emphasizes some words that can start a discussion that will build vocabulary. Here, it is verbs that the various flying items can be described with. Some may be new to a young reader and can be used to get them thinking about the different ways that things can fly. The last page of the reading is a question getting the reader to think about how they would like to fly. 
As usual for these books, there is a short section at the back that gives several ideas for further work based on the book. Here, it also begins discussion of prepositions, one that works well for things that have space between them and the ground. 
This is a great addition to any young child's library. 

Monday 25 December 2023

A Desperate Fortune

Finished December 15
A Desperate Fortune by Susanna Kearsley

This is a novel that I'd been meaning to read for a while since I'd read a later book featuring some of the same characters and really enjoyed it. This is a dual timeline novel, with the outer story in the present day and the inner one in the 1730s, set around the Jacobite community in Europe, exiled from England. 
In the present day IT specialist Sara Thomas is between jobs, when her cousin Jacqui who is a literary agent, approaches her about a freelance job. The job is not in her usual area, but instead involves working to break the code on a diary written by a young woman who was the daughter of a wigmaker in King James the Eighth's household in France. The first few paragraphs of the diary are written in English, but the rest is written in code, and one of Jacqui's authors is interested in using the diary to base his new history book on. 
Sara is on the autism scale, and has been tested as Asperger's, and she doesn't like working on a team, but more independently, which is why she is between jobs. Her affinity with numbers and patterns means that while she hasn't worked to break a code before, it is a natural area for her skillset. Sara will be working in the home of the woman who owns the diary in France, not far from Paris. 
As Sara works to break the code and transcribe the diary, we see adjust to the people in her new environment and make new friends. 
In the second timeline, Mary Dundas is a young woman whose father left her as a child with her French maternal aunt when her mother died. Her diary starts as she is contacted by her older brother to join his household, but she soon finds out that he hasn't told her his real reason for reuniting with her, and she finds a chance encounter with another woman passing through the same household she visits gives her confidence and tools to make the best of her new situation. 
Both woman have facility in more than one language and both face issues outside their comfort zone, and in environments unfamiliar to them. 
I really enjoyed seeing both of them develop. Mary's story is a true coming-of-age tale even though she is in her early twenties, as she has lived in her aunt and uncle's household alongside their children for most of her life. Sara's story also has coming-of-age aspects, even though she is older, as she learns to use the skills her brain has dealt her, find ways to face those times she struggles without being embarrassed, and gains in her confidence on the romantic front. I hope to see more following both these women. 

Death in the Cotswolds

Finished December 8
Death in the Cotswolds by Rebecca Tope

This is part of the mystery series featuring Thea Osborne, although she's not the primary character in this novel. The narrator here is Ariadne, a woman who lives across the road from the home that DI Phil Hollis's aunt Helen lived in. Thea has come to the village of Cold Aston with her boyfriend Phil to go through his aunt's house, which has sat empty for some time, and clear it out. Ariadne has known Phil since she was a child and he was a teenager, and he has been paying her a small amount to do a regular cleaning of the empty house. The house has had the power cut off for some time as well, a decision Phil made after his aunt's death a year ago. 
Ariadne has changed her name from Mary to better suit how she feels about herself, but Phil keeps forgetting and using her childhood name. Back in the day, Ariadne had often babysat for Phil and his wife Caroline when their children were young. His aunt had wanted Ariadne to move in with her, but Ariadne bought the place across the road as a compromise. She lives an independent and unusual life, making her living by knitting, weaving, and spinning and sells her stuff mainly at markets and stalls. As Helen was in her final illness, Ariadne did most of the caregiving and thus a lot of her belongings are still in the house. Somehow she feels reluctant to take them away as they provide a feeling of coziness that feels right to her. 
Ariadne is also part of a local group that practices paganism, and they are planning their activities for the upcoming Samhain celebration. When she comes across a body near the site they are planning to use, everything in her world changes and she doesn't know whether any of the people she's considered friends really are. 
This is a mystery with many discoveries, and many secrets. I really enjoyed seeing it unfold. 

Tuesday 19 December 2023

Fair Warning

Finished December 7
Fair Warning by Michael Connelly

Jack McEvoy is a journalist who now writes for a consumer protection watchdog site called Fair Warning. When a woman that he had a brief liaison with a few months ago is found dead, he comes under suspicion. The police that come to see him are obviously aware of his past work, some of which put the police in a bad light and he finds later visits from them even more concerning. 
He, however, has had his curiosity piqued by what they tell him, and starts his own investigation into her death and others with similar body trauma. 
This is a story that proves dangerous, not only to Jack, but to his fellow reporters at Fair Warning, and to those with connections to the killer. 
One of the really interesting aspects to this novel is the involvement of DNA analysis organizations and the regulation, or lack thereof, around privacy, sharing of data (even when the organizations claim it is stripped of identifying data), and the reselling of such information on the dark web. This story definitely kept me interested. 

Tuesday 12 December 2023


Finished December 2
Maureen by Rachel Joyce

This is the third and last in the series that started with The Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, and continued with The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy. This is the story of Maureen, Harold's wife, and takes place a few years after his story does. Maureen is still struggling with how to deal with her grief and the feelings she has around the loss of her son. Maureen and Harold have made their peace with each other and grown closer, but they are both aware of her struggle. Maureen has heard about the garden that Queenie created and is having trouble understanding it. She's seen pictures, but they haven't helped her understand. Harold and her have discussed her need to see for herself this place that holds a piece of her life, and one night when she can't sleep, she decides to go. 
This is story of her journey, one that is both physical and emotional. It is a shorter book than the others, but goes deep into Maureen's mind, showing us how she thinks, and how she has used her stern facade to protect herself. It also gives us insight into other things that happened along the way in her struggle and how they've brought her to a more isolated life. 
It took me some time to read this novel as I wanted to sit with it at times and reflect on what it was saying and where it was taking me. This is a beautiful book, and a fitting conclusion to this story. 

Sunday 10 December 2023

The Light of Paris

Finished December 2
The Light of Paris by Eleanor Brown

I love Brown's books, and this is no exception. Here Madeleine is a woman who has always felt herself to be a misfit, whether in the private school her parents sent her to or in the social world of her husband's business contacts. What Madeleine loved was art, and although she'd been allowed to do art in school, her work wasn't valued by her parents, and she ended up succumbing to the pressure from her mother to get married. Phillip is a successful businessman who met Madeleine through her father's business and while moving in the world her parents expected, proves to be a very controlling husband. Phillip has an interior designer do their home, not allowing Madeleine to have any input on the minimalist style, nor does he allow her to work, or do her art. The only outlet to pleasure she has is as a volunteer docent at the art gallery, where she leads tours. The book opens on one of these tours, and the comments from the teacher escorting the students Madeleine is guiding around the gallery speak to something in her. She is due to go home to her mother for a week the following day, and while there discovers the diaries of her grandmother Margie, and finds that Margie also had an artistic bent and was denied fulfillment in her passion. The diaries reveal Margie's one experience of true freedom, living in Paris for several months, earning her own living, and as Madeleine reads of Margie's life, she determines what she has to do in her own. 
This is a novel of what happens when family expectations don't lead down the same road as one's own bent, and how hard it is to overcome the path that is set for oneself. Brown makes her scenes vivid here, so that I could experience the situations the characters were in, and found myself urging them to speak up for themselves. It was lovely to see the women bloom when they were in their element. I should note that it wasn't only the women characters who were forced into a life they wouldn't choose by family expectations, as there were men in similar circumstances, although the focus was on the women. 
A great read.

Wednesday 6 December 2023

The Scar

Finished November 27
The Scar by Charlotte Moundlic, illustrated by Olivier Tallec

This emotional picture book is aimed at a specific audience, and one that would be useful in certain circumstances, read to a child by an adult close to them, helping them through a difficult time. The opening words are stark, touching, and give a truth that is also a revelation. They are:
Mom died this morning.
It wasn't really this morning.
Dad said she died during the night,
but I was sleeping during the night.
For me, she died this morning.
Those words, together with the simple yet perfect illustration of a young boy lying on his bed looking up, take us into the feelings of the narrator. 
As he tells us the story of his loss and grief and that of his father as well, we see how he works through it, the emotions that he has been going through and continues to feel. Moundlic's writing brings the scenes to life, like when he describes his crying father "he looked like a washcloth, all crumpled and wet," and he expresses his struggle to understand how to help his father. 
This book had me in tears, but also left me feeling comforted as I relate to his loss. 
A good addition to a public library parenting collection. 

The Armada Boy

Finished November 27
The Armada Boy by Kate Ellis

This novel is the second in the series featuring Devonshire police officer Wesley Peterson. In the small coastal town of Bereton, a group of American veterans has gathered, partly to visit where they were stationed for a while during World War II, just before D-Day, and partly as a memorial to those fellow soldiers who never returned. When one of the men, Norman Openheim is killed in the ruins of an old chantry chapel, the police find themselves both looking at current young criminals as well as delving into the activities that took place 50 years earlier. 
Before Wesley became a police officer he got a degree in archaeology, and it happens one of his friends archaeologist Neil Watson is doing work both in the chapel where the murder took place and in the coastal waters of the village. This work is around a ship and the Spanish men who were on it, as they were wrecked while trying to limp home after the defeat of the Armada. The bodies of the men are buried in the chapel, rather than in the churchyard with the locals. 
As the case moves on, Wesley and his fellow officers uncover information from both the more recent and the more distant historical events. Ties to the present and those connected wtih related local crimes also come to light. 
This read got me interested enough to order more books in the series. 

Two for the Road

Finished November 27
Two for the Road by Roddy Doyle

This short novel is a follow-up to his book Two Pints, which is a conversation between two unnamed men in a pub. The conversations here begin in mid-July 2014 and continue through mid-March 2019. The conversations are short, and touch on current events from politics and social media to life events and music. As in most of Doyle's books, music is a well-loved subject, and here we often see commentary on the deaths of musicians, bands reuniting, and other news from that world. Political topics range from those in Ireland to more international ones, and the events touched on have the men making confidences of things from their own lives that touch on the same subjects, bring on memories both happy and sad, and give us insight into the commonalities that we all share. 
As always, a great and thoughtful read. 

December Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

This is where you add links to the reviews for books you've read in December 2023.
Add a comment as well to let me know how the challenge is going for you.

Tuesday 5 December 2023

A Wish for Winter

Finished November 23
A Wish for Winter by Viola Shipman

Susan Norcross lives in a small Michigan town where she runs a bookstore that was started by her grandparents. Her grandparents still work there, and her parents worked there too, until they died in an accident when she was a teenager. Both Susan's grandmother and mother met their husbands when the men were dressed as Santa, and when Susan was a child, she predicted that a similar meeting would be hers. But now Susan is approaching forty and is still single, and she has almost lost hope for such a happy ending. 
She has a group of good friends, from college roommate Holly, to Noah and Leah, who work at her bookstore Sleigh by the Bay. They have some fun traditions, like a holiday movie marathon, and these friendships are an important part of all their lives. 
One thing that is also a part of Susan's life is running and Holly has talked her into doing Chicago's 10K Santa Run dressed as Mrs. Claus. Susan is approached by a man dressed as Santa, as many of them are, and something made a connection for both of them. Their planned meetup for later didn't happen, and when Holly comes up with a plan to find him, Susan finds herself getting a lot more attention than she expected, or is comfortable with. 
Susan also finds herself dealing with issues from the past that she has never really resolved, and those give the story more depth. 
A very enjoyable read.