Thursday 18 July 2024

Sorry, Bro

Finished July 13
Sorry, Bro by Taleen Voskuni

In San Francisco, Nareh Bedrossian is focused on her career as a journalist, working six days a week and hoping her boss gives her a chance at a story beyond the human interest stories she's been given up to now. She lives with her mother and grandmother and her Armenian heritage is very much a part of her life, despite her father's efforts to Americanize their family. Her long-term boyfriend Trevor is also a hard worker, and when he springs a proposal on her in a busy bar surrounded by drunken tech sector workers, she is struck dumb. He is off to business meetings overseas for a few weeks, so she has some time to really analyze how she feels and what she should do now.
She tells her mother about her uncertainty, and her mother, finally emerging from the deep grief she has over Nareh's father's death, pushes her into looking for love within her own culture. Explore Armenia, a big cultural event that happens every three years, is beginning, and Nareh's mom has her sign up for numerous events to meet eligible men. Her mom also does research through her many connections and comes up with a list of possibilities for her. 
Nareh does find herself captivated by someone she meets at her very first event, but that person is Erebuni, a woman. Nareh has identified as bisexual for years, but since she's been with Trevor for years, her attraction to Erebuni is unexpected and a little scary. She is scared that her feelings won't be reciprocated, that her family won't accept her relationship, and that she isn't herself ready to be out of the closet. 
All of these things combine to force Nareh into making a choice. 
I found the Armenian aspect of this book to be overwhelming, with many terms not explained. I think it would be helpful if the author had a list of these terms with definitions at the back of the book. Still, her Armenian identity becomes such a big part of her life, personally and professionally, that it just felt somewhat unrealistic. I've read other romance books that exist in cultural groups, and haven't encountered this much culture overkill. 
An okay read, but I had to force my way through parts of it. 

Wednesday 17 July 2024

The Book of Dreams

Finished July 12
The Book of Dreams by Nina George

This novel was a definite page-turner for me. It in hard to pin down exactly what type of novel it is in terms of genre. It definitely has elements of magic realism in it, but also some coming of age elements, a touch of mystery, and romance. It is a novel that had me feeling a lot of different emotions as well. 
The story follows four people and we are allowed into the thoughts of three of them. The book begins with Henri Skinner, a journalist who grew famous as a war reporter and then moved into more biographical work, telling the stories of people from all corners of the world. 
In one particularly dangerous situation in Sudan, he used his body to protect the female photographer who was in the same vehicle as he was. In the aftermath, she took a photo the reverberates over time, and the two came together to create a child, Sam. 
Sam is now almost fourteen, but his mother has discouraged contact with Henri, but Sam invites him to a Father-Son day at his school. Henri is on his way there, when he stops on a bridge to look at the river and witnesses, with three other people, a young girl falling off a boat. Henri jumps in to save her, and brings her to shore, but is then in an accident, and ends up unconscious in the hospital. 
Sam begins to visit him there, hoping he will survive and they will get to know each other. Along with Sam, in visiting Henri is Eddie Tomlin, a former lover of Henri that he has named as the person to determine medical issues if he isn't able to. She is forced to revisit their relationship and the deep love she has for Henri. 
Sam also discovers a twelve-year-old girl, Madelyn Zeidler, a dancer who is a patient in the same neurological care area as Henri, and once he knows how she came to be there, he tries his best to help her find her way back to life. 
Sam is a synesthete, and his abilities allow him to connect to people's emotions and presence in unique ways, making him a considerate and thoughtful observer and participant in people's lives. 
We get to see Eddie's memories of her time with Henri, and we also get to see Henri's memories of his life, from his work, to his childhood traumas, to his longing for a connection with his son. While in a coma, Henri experiences different versions of his life, struggling to choose which one is real, and showing us feelings that he never expressed to those he cared for. 
We also see how Sam is managing his life to make room for his father and Madelyn, and how he feels an outsider in his own family. 
Along the way are doctors and nurses, each with their individual characteristics, round out the story in interesting ways. 
I really loved this book, and I found it released some of the feelings I had been carrying with me recently. 
In the afterward, the author talks about how this book is the third book in her writing that has been shaped by her experiences of death and dying, mourning and surviving. I found this quite interesting. 

Tuesday 16 July 2024

The Paris Lawyer

Finished July 11
The Paris Lawyer by Sylvie Granotier, translated by Anne Trager

This novel revolves around Catherine Monsigny, a young lawyer in Paris. When she was a young child, Catherine was the only witness to her mother's murder, which happened in a park near where they lived in the Creuse, a department in central France. She didn't see what happened but heard it and remembers a few things. The murderer was never caught. 
She and her father moved away, as he found it hard to live in the area without her mother. They have a reasonably good relationship with each other, but aren't close. He has told her little about her mother, despite her questions. 
As the book opens, Catherine is heading to court to defend a man, Cedric Devers, accused of assault and battery. She is also trying to convince her boss, Renaud, to let her take defend a case of murder, allegedly by a woman whose husband has died. The woman Myriam Villetreix, is an immigrant from Gabon, brought to France by a family as a domestic, who escaped and showed up at a Paris refugee center. A farmer, Gaston Villetreix had posted an advertisement looking for a wife, and the two ended up getting married. After six years, he died. Some time after, Gaston's cousins accuse her of murder by poisoning, and she is now in jail awaiting her trial. 
As Catherine works on the murder case, memories of her childhood begin to resurface. She feels that there is something she knows that might solve the case of her mother's death as well. 
She also sees Cedric again, and a casual relationship develops between them. 
This is a very slow-paced mystery novel, with time spent wandering in the countryside, talking to people in the area, and doing research. As Catherine works her way closer to answers and to getting the accused to trust her, she finds herself unnerved by certain events. Only in court is she confident and calm, determined to do her best for her client. 
I found it interesting to see this brusque matter-of-fact character soften a bit as the reader gets to know her. She is ambitious, but also nervous. She wants love, but isn't sure what love really is. It took me a while to get into the story, but I did find it more captivating the further I got into it. 

A Painted Doom

Finished July 11
A Painted Doom by Kate Ellis

I was so enjoying the last Kate Ellis that I read I decided to immediately read the next one in the series. As is usual for this, there is an historical plotline that is gradually revealed through the archeological work that occurs in the novel and through letters or other writings that are given at the beginning of chapters. Here the historical is about the Merrivale family, a well-off family of the late 1400s that had links to the Earls of Devon, and who were loyal supporters of the House of Lancaster in the Wars of the Roses of that time. Recently, a skull was discovered when digging was done in an area of land not built on for some time, where a new town hall is planned for. Neil thinks that they may be excavating the foundations for a manor house of the Merrivale family. 
Meanwhile, in the present, farmer Terry Hoxworthy is preparing an old barn on his land for possible sale. He has roped his teenage son Lewis into helping him, and Lewis makes a discovery in the old barn's loft that comes into play later in the plot. He also sees a large wooden panel with a disturbing scene painted on it that he recoils from. The following day, when the local planning agent comes by, he brings Neil with him to check for any historical significance relating to the old barn. Neil also discovers the panel, which he soon identifies as a 'painted doom', a panel often displayed prominently in churches to depict the horrors that awaited those who weren't destined for heaven. 
Terry also finds something else on the property, a man's body, apparently a victim of murder. As the modern story unfolds, we get stories of the more recent past, the death of a minor celebrity, and, excitingly, a new coroner, a competent and confident young woman, Laura Kruger. We also see a different side of Gerry Heffernan, Wesley's superior, on both personal and professional levels. 
I enjoyed seeing the development of the different repeating characters in the series, and seeing them in lives beyond the professional. 
I liked learning about 'painted dooms' and their history. Bringing in the personal correspondence of the Merrivale family brought aspects of the story a more personal slant, and as always there is a modern day parallel to the story of what happened in the Merrivale family. 
Altogether, a satisfying read.

Saturday 13 July 2024

The Bone Garden

Finished July 8
The Bone Garden by Kate Ellis

This is book five in the Wesley Peterson series. This book is set around an excavation of a Renaissance era garden at an estate called Earlsacre Hall. The property was recently bought by a trust and they are restoring the main building as an arts centre and having the gardens brought back to what they were once. Local archeologists are working first to see what they find, and under a stone plinth that held a sundial they discover a body. While the local pathologist agrees that the body is likely hundreds of years old, it does look like it was a murder victim that was buried alive. When more bodies appear, the work gets delayed a bit, and things look for complicated for the historical situation. 
In the present day, a body is found in a nearby holiday park and the only clue that Wesley and his time can find is a newspaper cutting about the restoration at Earlsacre. Wesley has also had a call from a local lawyer requesting advice on a personal matter that he hasn't disclosed. They agree to meet at a cricket match they are both playing in, but the lawyer disappears and is later found murdered. 
Neil appears here as well, coming in to assist with the archeology work at the site. 
Rachel, another police officer, also takes a role here both professionally and personally as she is part of the murder investigations, and finds a new attractive man that seems to be interested in her. 
I really enjoy this series, seeing how the different central characters react, and how they are changed by the experiences they have. I also like how the police characters lives are rounded out by there personal lives, whether is is Wesley's wife Pam preparing to return to teaching, or Wesley's superior talking about his choir rehearsals. 
The archeological story is also interesting, especially as it might have a personal connection to Wesley's family. The bodies date back to the struggle between the York and Lancaster lines of the royal family, which is a time period I find interesting. 

Wednesday 10 July 2024

Scandalized

Finished July 7
Scandalized by Ivy Owens

This romance novel was a page-turner. The main character Georgia (Gigi) Ross, an investigative journalist for the L.A. Times, has been travelling for hours after working on a big story in London. Her last flight, from Seattle to Los Angeles is cancelled, and there is a big line of people waiting for a hotel room. While waiting at the airport, she sees a man that she is sure she knows from somewhere, and it finally comes to her when she is in line for a room at the hotel. He is Alec Kim, the older brother of her best friend from early childhood to grade eight, when the friend's family moved away. When he recognizes her after she introduces herself, and offers to help, she finds herself fighting her fears to accept. 
Her fears are partially due to the story she's been working on, a private nightclub in London, where it appears that people have been taken advantage of in some pretty awful ways. She's worked hard on investigating the story, but it has also meant that she's seen some pretty dark stuff, especially to women at the hands of men. But Alec seems to be a nice guy, and she had a crush on him back in the day, so she accepts his offer. 
When it appears that the attraction is still there for her and the feelings seem to be reciprocated, she finds herself having a night to remember with him. It is only the following day that she realizes that there was another reason that he looked familiar to her. 
As the connection continues, she finds that there is a tie-in to the story that she's working on, but Gigi has to be careful of journalistic ethics around this important story, and what it might mean to involve him, even if he agrees. 
I liked the chemistry that came across between Gigi and Alec, and the connection from the past that made everything both deeper, and uncertain. Uncertain because she isn't aware of his life since then, even though his life has been one that the public has scrutinized in detail. I also liked the friendship Gigi has with her roommate Eden, which showed another element of her life. 
A great read. 

Tuesday 9 July 2024

The Paradise Problem

Finished July 5
The Paradise Problem by Christina Lauren

This romance novel is a lot of fun to read, as one would expect from this author duo. Anna Green married Liam "West" Weston so that both of them could access subsidized family housing at UCLA. Both had needed an affordable place to live to finish their degrees, and Anna's friend Jake had suggested his brother as a solution. Anna had started in pre-med, but ended up in fine arts, and Liam was working on his graduate degree in economics. Anna signed some papers when they moved out and went on with her life, working low level jobs and painting as much as she can. She has a manager for her art, but hasn't hit it big. Liam is now a professor at Stanford, specializing in corporate culture. He is also one of the four children of the CEO of Weston Foods, one of the country's biggest grocery chains. His father has always expected Liam to take the reins as the next CEO, but Liam wants none of it. Both of his brothers, Alex and Jake, as well as his little sister Charlie work there in executive positions, but Liam has managed to make his own way after his father cut him off when he was in university. 
Now Charlie is getting married, and Liam is expected to make his appearance at the destination wedding at a resort in Indonesia. He is also expected to bring his wife. 
Anna hadn't realized that they were still married, and she also had no idea that Jake and Liam were part of this wealthy family. When Liam shows up on her doorstep to ask her to play at being in a committed marriage with him, she has to admit his timing is good. She's been trying to pay all her dad's hospital bills, but has recently lost one of her jobs, and is taking a day to distract herself. With Liam's offer to give her money in exchange for her appearance, she knows it will help her situation immensely.
Liam's lies to his family also included Anna being in med school as he didn't realize she'd changed her career track, so there is another lie that she has to play along with. 
The setting is beautiful, a luxury private resort, with ocean cabins, exquisite food, and lots of fun activities. The family not so much. The tension between Liam and his father is huge, and hanging over Liam is a clause from his grandfather's will that means Liam won't get his inheritance until he's been married five years, which is coming up in a few months. Liam's mother, Janet is passive aggressive. His older brother Alex is just plain aggressive, and Alex's wife Blaire seems to drink an awful lot. Jake is, of course, the only one that knows the real story of their marriage, but he's only too happy to assist. I really enjoyed the parts that included Alex and Blaire's children, particularly their oldest, Reagan. She's at the age that things get hard, puberty, and Anna is only too happy to give some life advice and support. 
There are a lot of things going on under the surface here, but Anna and Liam find themselves getting along in ways that they hadn't expected, not to mention feeling some chemistry between them. There is fun banter, real attraction, and some great romance going on. I didn't put it down until I finished it. A definite winner. 

The Funeral Boat

Finished July 4
The Funeral Boat by Kate Ellis. 

This is the fourth book in this series, set in Devon, and featuring police officer Wesley Peterson. 
A smallholding farmer finds a skeleton when he does some digging for a project, and some of the items around the remains indicate it might be a Viking burial. Neil Watson is called in for a closer look, and begins to do some research at a local museum as part of that. 
Meanwhile, a Danish woman visiting the area disappears, with her car left empty and unlocked on a quieter road in the country. While the police are looking into her disappearance, they are also dealing with a series of confrontational farm robberies happening in the area. When the Danish tourist's brother arrives to help, things seem to be escalating. 
Again, I like how old papers help connect the theme between the past and the present, in a number of ways. I also likes seeing Wesley's wife Pam in a new light as she uses her knowledge of Old English to translate the papers they find, and bring the old story to life. 
The way the story unfolds brings in the real life of the people involved. From the medieval fair that Pam participates in as a volunteer, to the connections between local farmers, we see how people are connected beyond their jobs. 

Monday 8 July 2024

Expiration Dates

Finished July 1
Expiration Dates by Rebecca Serle

This is a romance book with a few twists. The central character is Daphne Bell, the assistant to a well-known producer, who lives in L.A. not far from where she grew up. 
Daphne has long believed in a higher power that guided her life. All her life, from elementary school to the present, she has known how long each romantic relationship she experiences will be. Either just before, or soon after meeting someone, she finds a slip of paper that gives the first name of the man, and a time period. Sometimes it is only a few days, sometimes weeks, sometimes months. This makes her feel in control in a way. She can enter the relationship knowing when it will end. She has only disclosed this information to one person, and that was by accident. His name is Hugh, and while he once appeared on one of those slips of paper, now he is one of her best friends. She regularly goes to the market with him, meets him for meals, and talks about the latest man in her life. 
As the book opens, she is about to go on a blind date that another friend has set her up on, and this time the paper only has his name. What does that mean? She is shaken by this. Will Jake be her life partner, the one she stays with forever? 
As her relationship with Jake advances, we are taken back through the other men she's spent time with, and we see how she met each one, and how the relationships developed and ended. We also learn that she has another secret, one that may devastate Jake, and she has to decide whether and how to convey this information. 
I really enjoyed the segments that took us back in Daphne's life, showing us her at different stages in life and how she acted in different relationships. This book explores how we act and react in our relationships, and how true to ourselves we are, as well as how we are changed by each experience. Like another book I read recently, The Husbands,  the magic realism aspect of this novel gives it more depth and raises interesting questions to reflect on. 

Two Cures for Love

Finished June 30
Two Cures for Love: Selected Poems 1979-2006 by Wendy Cope

This collection includes poems from three previous collections as well as poems not published before. She is best known for the humour that resides in many of her poems, and the range of humour is wide, from limerick to subtle innuendo. But her poems also display other emotions from sadness and anger to happiness and love. Her poems often have a touch of the unexpected and are approachable to the average reader. They also often touch on the experiences of women. The seventy poems in this collection show her range and include many reader favourites, such as The Orange.
I enjoyed reading these over the course of a couple of weeks, taking a few at a time and considering them. 

Sunday 7 July 2024

The Whalebone Theatre

Finished June 30
The Whalebone Theatre by Joanna Quinn

This story start in World War I and continues past World War II. The central character is Cristabel Seagrave, a child as the book begins. Cristabel's mother died giving birth to her, and her father pushed her away in his grief. He is now remarried and hoping his new young wife can give him the son and heir he wants. Cristabel is a child that is curious and imaginative. She exists on the edges of her world, a daughter of the Chilcombe estate, but one often ignored. She is befriended by one of the younger members of staff, Maudie, who answers her questions if she can. She also waits eagerly for the letters from her uncle who is an officer in the army and tells tales of faraway places and interesting events. 
She eventually does get the long-awaited brother, Digby, after first a sister Flossie, and longs for the formal education that Digby gets, as opposed to the French governess that she and Flossie are educated by. In 1928, before Digby gets sent away to school, a whale washes up on the beach bordering the estate. Cristabel is one of the first on the scene and she claims the beast for the family. Around the same time, an interesting group of artistic people are visiting the area, and Cristabel manages, through her unorthodox manner to befriend the artist at the center of the group, and convince him to help her stage a play. This event leads to regular events and new connections, and gradually the three children grow up. 
As World War II begins, Digby is determined to sign-up, but not as an officer as his father wishes, and he sneaks away to enlist. Cristabel is also keen to help the war effort in some way and ventures off to London to offer her services. Flossie stays at the estate, but soon finds herself contributing in her own way. As the three begin their adult lives, the point of view takes turns between them, giving us insight into each experience. 
The main actions of the book take place in 1928 and during World War II, but pre-1928 also gives us a lot of background to the characters and the situation of Cristabel. 
I enjoyed the personalities of these three characters, and how each had their own strengths that carried them through the troubles they encountered. The story took a while to grab me, but once it did I was hooked. This book has mystery, romance, and suspense, and the Chilcombe estate is brought to life through the descriptions and events around it. 

Thursday 4 July 2024

July Reviews for the 18th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Starting off a new challenge for reading Canadian books and authors, here is the place to post the links to your book reviews. Add a comment too!


Here's the linky to add your review



Thanks for reading with me!

Tuesday 2 July 2024

The Summer without Men

Finished June 28
The Summer without Men by Siri Hustvedt.

This short novel is very engaging. Mia Fredrickson, the narrator and central character, had a breakdown after her husband of thirty years left her for another woman, a French woman that Mia refers to as 'The Pause'. She was hospitalized for a short time, diagnosed with a Brief Psychotic Disorder, and once she was well, decided to return for a few months to the small Minnesota town of her childhood. She rents a small house near the senior complex where her mother lives in a small apartment. She also gets a job teaching a group of teen girls poetry. 
Her mother has a group of friends that spend a lot of time together, and Mia thinks of them as the Five Swans. She regards them as women who "shared a mental toughness and autonomy that gave them a veneer of enviable freedom". We get to know these women. George is one hundred and two and has a great sense of humour. Regina is eighty-eight had married a diplomat and lived in several countries and had several relationships after her husband's death. Peg, at eighty-four spent her life in a smaller town nearby, and has six children and numerous grandchildren that she keeps detailed track of. Abigail, at ninety-four has osteoporosis and hearing issues, worked as a teacher, but is a textile artist with hidden depths that she gradually reveals to Mia. 
We also get to know the teenagers. Mia has taught graduate students for years, but she adjusts quickly to this younger group of students. Peyton, thin and tall, is still getting used to her longer limbs. Jessica is small but has a woman's body, and talks in a babyish voice. Ashley is self conscious, but confident of her developing body. Emma is shy. Nikki and Joan function in tandem and giggle a lot. Alice has moved recently from Chicago, and is interested in books and art. Mia teaches them three times a week for six weeks, giving them interesting exercises and prompts for their writing. 
Mia also starts getting anonymous emails that are nasty and critical. When she begins to engage with this unknown person, the conversation becomes very interesting. 
She also has emails with her husband Boris and her daughter Daisy. During the summer both Daisy and Mia's sister Bea visit her. 
She also engages with the family living next door to her house, Lola and Pete, and their children Flora, and Simon. Flora makes quite an impression with her stuffed animal menagerie and her Harpo wig. Lola makes and sells jewelry and is a calm and capable mother. Pete travels a lot for work and Mia seldom interacts with him. She hears the arguments between the couple and helps sometimes with the children when Lola gets overwhelmed. She describes Flora so well, I can see her in my head. 
Scattered throughout the novel are poems, some by other poets, some by the teen characters, but many of Mia's own, and this is part of the skill with language that Hustvedt has. She also has insights that touched me. One example is this:
Sitting across from her in the small apartment, I had the thought that my mother was a place for me as well as a person. ...But it was my mother herself whom I had come home to.
Her other insights about her mother were also interesting to reflect on. Mia cooks for her mother and visits, listening to her talk about earlier times in her life, and walks back to her rented house reflecting on her own life. She has weekly telephone sessions with her psychiatrist Dr. S. and spends time writing poetry. 
This is a novel that drew me in, that made me read slowly with attention, and that made me care about the characters. A gem. 

Monday 1 July 2024

The Guest

Finished June 27
The Guest by B.A. Paris

A twisty mysterious suspenseful tale of the type I've come to expect from B.A. Paris. The couple at the center of this novel, Iris and Gabriel have been married a long time. Their daughter Beth is taking a gap year volunteering in Turkey for an organization that works with abandoned and abused dogs. 
Recently Gabriel was the first one on the scene when a teenager, Charlie died after going over the edge of a nearby quarry. Charlie was still alive and said some things to Gabriel before he died. Gabriel had coached Charlie a few years back, and was deeply affected by this tragic experience. He is now on leave from his medical practice for an indeterminate time. Iris has a home-based business where she works with homeowners to decorate and furnish their spaces. The experience that Gabriel had has made for a distance in their marriage. 
As the novel begins, they arrive home a day early from their holidays and find an old friend Laure in their home. Laure is distraught, and says that Pierre, her husband has told her he had a child with someone and has just discovered her. He hasn't told Laure who the woman is, but Laure has suspicions. Iris had long wanted children, but Pierre did not, so she feels very betrayed at this point and is trying to figure out what she wants to do. As Iris tries to escape Laure's presence, she finds new friends in the village, a couple near her age that recently moved into a large property that had been abandoned for years. Hugh and Esme are in a second marriage for both of them, with Hugh widowed with a grown child and Esme divorced. Esme is now pregnant and eager to make new friends as well as bring the old house back to life. Along with them is Joseph a gardener that Esme's parents knew, who has recently lost his job. Joseph is helping with the grounds of the house. 
As the friendship begins, the presence of both Laure and Joseph bring tension to the atmosphere. Most of the characters have secrets that they haven't shared that will soon come to be uncovered, unless circumstances allow them to stay secret. 
There is lots of suspense here, with tension between many of the characters, and the ending is unexpected and unnerving. A real page-turner. 

Inland

Finished June 26
Inland by Téa Obreht

This historical novel follows two characters in the late 19th century in the United States. Lurie has some memories of when he and his father were on a ship, running from something in his father's past. He knows from things his father said, that he was from Turkey, but he doesn't know what drove him to leave. He knows his father's name was Hadziosman Djuriƈ, although the landlady in the house they lived in made it Hodge Lurie when the hearse took him away. Lurie lived with her a while, doing chores, until she hit harder times and sold him to the Coachman, the man who collected the dead. Later, he was sent west with other boys, and worked for a man that ran a mercantile. As Lurie's life unfolds, one thing becomes clear: he can hear the dead that aren't at rest. From men he helped the Coachman collect, to a friend that dies from illness, he begins to understand what he is hearing. In the Midwest, where he now lives, he hears many voices, of the indigenous people, settlers good and bad, and many others. He becomes a man who makes his way by chance and wit, and spends a long time with a camel section of a military group. 
The other main character is Nora Lark, a wife and mother who lives with her family on a small plot in the Arizona Territory. 1893 is a drought year that followed other drought years, and Nora's husband Emmett left to go for water days ago. Her two older sons, Rob and Dolan, have now gone out after him, leaving Nora with her elderly mother-in-law who doesn't speak and has limited mobility, her youngest son Toby, who was injured in the eye, and a serving girl Josie. Josie, like Lurie, senses connections to the dead, and Nora finds this both fascinating and annoying and doesn't know whether to believe her or not. Of late, Josie and Toby have been claiming they see a monster near the property. 
As we gradually see the two stories connecting, we see the reality of life for people at the time, struggling to survive amid threats both human and nature. Emmett Lark owns a printing press and ran a local newspaper in town, but he hasn't been that willing to go against the political force that is in the process of both making their town less prosperous and denying a recent widow her property. Nora is a fighter that is impulsive and this has made her more willing to fight, and less able to see the consequences until they are upon her. 
The writing is beautiful and often speaks to larger truths. At one point Lurie says to a companion "The longer I live, Burke, the more I have come to understand that extraordinary people are eroded by their worries while the useless are carried ever forward by their delusions." There is a haunting quality to the novel, and I often had trouble putting it down. 
A definite literary gem. 


Friday 28 June 2024

Looking for a Sign

Finished June 25
Looking for a Sign by Susie Dumond

Gray, the main character has recently moved to New Orleans after a break-up from her long-term girlfriend. She has moved in with her best friend Cherry, Cherry's husband Robbie, and their toddler son River. She helps out with River, and takes time to get herself familiar with the city before finding a place of her own. 
Cherry convinces her to go to an astrologer, Madame Nouvelle Lune, to get her palm read. Following this visit, the two decide that since Gray, at nearly twenty-nine is reaching a turning point in her life astrologically, she should date people from every sign to determine which she was most compatible with. A deadline of her upcoming birthday in six weeks is agreed upon. 
Gray's new job is doing PR and marketing for a local private school system. She ends up late for an first meeting with one of the school system's new principals, Victoria. But she begs for a second chance and works hard to put together a number of ideas to help the principal in her drive to make the school more diverse and bring new material to their curriculum. 
The two meet outside of work when they go to the same park, Gray with River, and Victoria with her son, and this begins a new friendship for her. 
As Gray works her way, in order, through the star signs, starting with her own sign Aries, she makes other friends, and has a few sexual experiences. 
The idea of the storyline is interesting, but Gray felt a little naive for her age on the personal level, unlike her professional persona. I also felt a lack of depth in the characters, and some generalizations and depictions that made me a little uncomfortable, particularly in terms of sexual identity. I feel like the book could have used some sensitivity readers to address this. 
The novel had some great passages, but overall it failed to really grab me. The ending saved it a bit, and the extra material was novel and interesting. 

Wednesday 26 June 2024

The Iron Flower

Finished June 22
The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

This is the second book in The Black Witch Chronicles series. Elloren Gardner has come a long way in the short time she's been at the University in Verpacia. As the granddaughter and lookalike of one of her country, Gardenia's, heroines, she has a lot of preconceived ideas about her to overcome, from both friends and enemies. 
After having many of her own prejudices changed, she has found herself working with her new friends to right wrongs as she encounters them. However, now that her country has shown itself to be the current aggressor in their world, she finds herself part of a much larger struggle. As Gardneria and its leaders force other races into slavery, submission, or death, she fights against her use as a pawn in the battle. 
In this second book, she travels to some neighbouring realms, and finds herself tied to one man while trying to suppress her feelings for another. She also fights against the family legacy, and finds her siblings fighting along with her. I found this novel full of action and emotion, as Elloren realizes what is at stake, and grieves those she has known and cared for as she finds herself aligned with new powers. 
A satisfying read. 

The Kind Worth Killing

Finished June 20
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

This suspenseful novel had me caught up in the story, about a seemingly random encounter that has far-reaching consequences. The jacket says it is a modern reimagining of Patricia Highsmith's classic Strangers on a Train, a book that I haven't read. 
It begins at Heathrow, where Ted Severson, a wealthy businessman, is waiting in a bar for his plane to leave. Arriving to sit next to him is Lily Kintner, a woman travelling back to her home in the U.S. after visiting her elderly father. They begin talking, and continue the conversation on the plane, the sort of conversation one occasionally has with someone that you don't expect to meet again. The two only know each other's first name, but they share things that they haven't shared with other people. 
Ted talks about the recent discovery that his wife was cheating on him. and how he isn't sure what to do next, joking that he feels the urge to kill her for her betrayal. When Lily offers to help, the conversation takes a previous turn. 
Back home in the Boston area, the two meet again, and talk about possibilities. Ted is intrigued by Lily, and her beauty and intelligence, quite different from that of his wife. Ted's wife Miranda has been the primary contact for a new house they are building on the coast, in a spot they discovered on a romantic holiday. She's been staying in a hotel near the building site, and has been very involved in the building process, and with their general contractor. Ted, as he considers the possibilities in his future, is having thoughts about other, more traditional, responses to his marital issues. 
Lily, however, has a darker past than first seen, and as we gradually learn her story, we see a pattern of behaviour that is disturbing. 
There were many surprises along the way in this novel, and my sympathies changed a few times over the course of the book. 

Monday 24 June 2024

My European Family

Finished June 19
My European Family: The First 54,000 Years by Karen Bojs, translated by Fiona Graham


This is a fascinating look at the origins of Europeans, made more approachable by the focus on the author's own family. She looks at where and how the first humans came to Europe, how they migrated across the continent in different waves, from different areas, and how they intermingled. 
The book's introduction talks about the author's mother's funeral and how she spoke there about the earlier parts of her mother's life to round out for her grandchildren the person that they knew in her later years. She talks also about what drew her to wonder about her family origins, and how her work as a science journalist led her to looks at scientific discoveries and techniques to learn more. 
The book is organized into three main sections: The Hunters, The Farmers, and The Indo-Europeans. 
The Hunters covers the history from the first interbreeding between Neanderthals and modern humans, which happened about 54,000 years ago in the area of Galilee, where contemporaneous remains from both groups have been found to the arrival of farming about 10,000 years ago. This includes aspects of civilization such as music, the domestication of dogs, and the creation of pottery. It covers the Cro-Magnon discoveries, the disappearance of a land area now known as Doggerland, and the end of the Ice Age. 
The Farmers covers the farmers westward migration from Syria, including discoveries on Cyprus, Germany, and Scandinavia. It includes discussion of changes in diet, including the first known beer. I learned about what scientists have discovered from buried graves, the iceman found in the Alps, and clashes between groups. 
The Indo-European includes discussions around the domestication of horses, the creation of battleaxes, and the use of iron. It looks at religious and scientific activities of humans, including the WWII beliefs around Aryans. We see the effect of plagues, the introduction of written records, and changes in burial inclusions. 
Throughout, she takes us through what has been learned from DNA, discussing mitochondrial DNA which is passed down from mothers to children; nuclear DNA which gives much more information on physical attributes; Y chromosomes, a part of nuclear DNA passed by men to their sons; X chromosomes, a part of nuclear DNA which both men and women inherit from their mothers, and women also inherit from their fathers; and autosomal DNA, which is DNA from the cell nucleus that we all inherit from both parents, which is randomly mixed each generation, and which can provide information about familial relationships up to seven degrees of kinship. All of this information and more is thoroughly explained in a Q and A section after the main text. 
The author also includes a bibliography for each chapter, giving the reader citations for additional reading on that chapter's information. 
This was a fascinating read that made me understand the nature of DNA inheritance more thoroughly, and made me curious about my own origins, which are also European. 

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Blood Sisters

Finished June 18
Blood Sisters by Vanessa Lillie

This novel follows archeologist Syd Walker, who works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs in Rhode Island. Syd, though white presenting, is of Cherokee heritage and was born and raised in Oklahoma, where her parents and sister still live. As the book opens, it is 2008 and Syd has just uncovered the remains of a young woman when doing a resource survey for new cables being run through the area. She has a representative from the local tribal office, who she's worked with before, and a coroner's representative attending. 
The real story of this novel though is back in Oklahoma, where a skull has been found with a link to Syd. Syd's boss flies her out to Oklahoma, where Syd is forced to face the demons of her past. When she was a teen, she and her sister Emma Lou were visiting a friend Luna, when two masked men barge in, separate them, make threats. Syd and Emma Lou survived, but Syd was able to shoot one of the men before their escape, which was followed by an explosion and a fire that destroyed the home. Syd has been haunted by the ghost of Luna, who has guided her and warned her of danger. 
Back in Oklahoma, Syd finds that Emma Lou has also disappeared, and the police seem reluctant to follow up on the disappearance. Syd goes in hot, following her instincts about old rivalries and motives to find her sister, but she finds so much more than she expected.
Lillie uses real history here, from the Trail of Tears, to the forced takeovers of Pawnee land, and the poisons resulting from mining in the area of Miami and Picher. She knows the area and the issues, since she is also Cherokee from Oklahoma. This book takes us into the lives of the people in Oklahoma, showing the reality of treaty breaking and loss of culture. It also contains elements of hope, of setting things right, and of renewing cultural traditions and language knowledge. 
This is an emotional and moving story of teenagers that went through trauma in different ways, and found ways to move forward with their lives, never forgetting their past. 

Tuesday 18 June 2024

Happy

Finished June 14
Happy by Mies van Hout


This is the shorter, board book version of the picture book by the same name. Like the longer version, the pictures are vibrant and eye-catching and the colours for each fish and corresponding emotion relate to that emotion nicely. With the simple, single word text on each set of pages, this book will appeal to both children and those using the book to engage with those children. 
Recommended for ages 1-3, this book is a welcome addition to introduce children to the concept of emotions at a young age. 

Snatched

Finished June 14
Snatched by Karin Slaughter

This novella is part of the Will Trent series and begins with Will assigned one of those routine jobs that no one wants to do. He is assigned to the men's washroom at the Atlanta airport looking for those using the washroom as a sexual rendezvous location. He is about to call it a day when a man and a child enter the stall next to his, and the girl complains that she just wants to go home. 
He is waiting by the sinks when they exit, but he has no concrete reason to detain them, so decides to follow them. He is particularly struck by the anguished, yet hopeful look the young girl gives him. 
The story has elements of fast-paced action as he follows them, and slower sections as the legal sections have you in suspense. It has points of hope and points where you feel Will's second guessing of his instincts. 
A short, yet satisfying story in this series that I read in one sitting. 

Prime Time Romance

Finished June 13
Prime Time Romance by Kate Robb

The second novel from this author is just as engrossing as her first. Brynn is finally getting over the sudden end of her marriage, one she didn't see coming. She is managing the mortgage on her Toronto condo by getting a roommate. Josh works as a bartender at a popular bar and is dealing with his own grief at his failure to keep his dad's bar going after his death a few years ago. With their different work schedules, Josh and Brynn don't actually see each other that often. Brynn's been bingeing on her favourite television series from her teenager years, Carson's Cove, which centered on a group of teenagers on a small New England island town of the same name. One theme of the show was the love of two of the teens, who never expressed their feelings for each other, although several seasons ended in cliffhanger moments. When the series was suddenly cancelled after one of these scenes as Spencer goes off to college and Sloan travels to Paris, fans were left hanging. Brynn just wants a happy ending, for the characters as well as herself. 
The book opens as Brynn is out with some friends, more acquaintances really, she uses her familiarity with the bar Josh works at to get the group in, but soon finds herself wishing she was back home in front of the television. When Josh sees her in need of a way home, he ends his shift early and accompanies her home and watches a couple episodes of the show with her. Just as they are both about to call it a day, a delivery person arrives with a birthday cake, which they both have a piece of. 
When they awake, they find themselves in the fictional Carson's Cove, with Brynn living as an older Sloan, back in town for a while. Josh finds himself cast as Fletcher, a guy who lives above his aunt's bar, and has a reputation for unreliability and a bad boy. 
With Spencer back in town as well, things seem to be set up for the happy ending Brynn has been dreaming of, but is that really the best outcome for the characters. 
I liked how Robb teased a bit with the predictable happy ending, but gave the characters more depth, and introduced a new viewpoint into the nature the main as well as the secondary characters, both friends and rivals. 
This had me thinking about the new takes on some shows and movies from the past that reveal some problematic situations and personalities as we look back on them from our, hopefully, more enlightened present. 
I also liked the inclusion of real Canadian places, like Orillia into the plotline. 
Definitely a page turner for me. 

Tuesday 11 June 2024

The Fire Court

Finished June 10
The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor

This is the second book in the series that started with The Ashes of London, which I read nearly eight years ago. At the center of the book are two characters from the earlier book. One of them is James Marwood, clerk for Mr. Williamson, the Under-Secretary of State to Lord Arlington. He is also clerk to the Board of Red Cloth, which is attached to the Groom of the Stool's department, run by Mr. Chiffinch. This serving of two masters sometimes puts him in a difficult situation. He is also worried about his father, who well healthy in body is falling into dementia, and James has hired Margaret and her brother Sam as servants to assist in managing his father as well as his new house in Infirmary Close in Savoy. 
The other character that is key here and played a role in the previous book is Catherine (Cat) Lovett, now going by the name of Jane Hakesby, and acting as both servant to and cousin of Simon Hakesby, an architect and draughtsman. Hakesby also employs a draughtsman, Brennan, who has come to him only recently. Jane feels wary of him, and feels him watching her, but can't pin down why she feels uneasy. Hakesby has health issues that sometimes make him weak.
The third character that we see closely is Lady Jemima Limbury, wife of Sir Philip Limbury and daughter of Sir George Syre. She also sometimes has health issues and also seems worried about what her husband has been up to and what debts he has accrued. She knows that her family money is one of the reasons that he married her, but she also longs for his love, and to bear the grandson her father so desperately wants. 
At the center of the story is a piece of land that was destroyed in the Great Fire of London, and which will soon be coming up as a case in The Fire Court. This court has been set up by the king to be as impartial as possible, judging each case on its own merits, with none of the decisions subject to become precedents in future cases. The court is working to decide cases quickly, trying to be as fair as possible to both the owners of the properties as well as leaseholders. The overall aim is to rebuild The City as quickly as possible.
In his position, Mr. Hakesby often comes before the court, or sits in on decisions that affect clients of his. Jane often takes notes, using shorthand, as well as working as a draughtsman for him. 
When Marwood's father gets out of the house on his own one day and tells a confusing story of his adventures, Marwood at first dismisses it as a delusion of dementia, but when his father dies in an accident the next day, he begins his own investigations, going on clues from his father's ramblings. 
This will draw all the players' stories together in an interesting, often suspenseful series of encounters. 
I like both Marwood and Lovett/Hakesby. Both are passionate, curious, and sometimes impulsive in their actions, but they also want to serve justice and be fair to others no matter their rank. 
I really enjoyed this followup to the first book, and look forward to seeing further tales of the central characters in the following books in the Marwood and Lovett series. 

Monday 10 June 2024

The Husbands

Finished June 6
The Husbands by Holly Gramazio

This book completely captivated me. 
Lauren returns to her flat one evening, after a hen's night for her best friend's upcoming wedding, and finds a strange man in her home. She lives alone, and doesn't have a boyfriend. The man claims to be her husband Michael, and when she looks more closely, she finds changes to he home: different paint on some walls, some different pictures, new furniture and other changes. When she looks at her phone, she finds him in her address book, and sees pictures showing that they've been together for years. She tries to figure out what has happened that she doesn't remember any of this, and when Michael goes to the attic to change a light bulb, a different man emerges, with her flat changed again in a different way. She soon finds that a trip to the attic brings a different man and as she examines her feelings and relationships, she gradually makes the connection with these changes as trying to find someone or something better instead of just living the life she has. 
It's a really interesting idea, and I liked where she went with it. Sometimes her job changed as well, and that created interesting situations. 
The husbands are a real mix, but she gradually realizes that they are all possible matches for her, each showing some aspect that she likes in a partner. It also illuminated how a woman can be drawn into a relationship for one of those aspects and find that another aspect makes the match unacceptable. A couple of the men that appear as husbands are downright scary in their own way, which makes this even more believable. 
I couldn't put this book down, reading it in a single day. Such a good, interesting, and thought-provoking novel. 

A Strange and Sublime Address

Finished June 4
A Strange and Sublime Address by Amit Chaudhuri

This novel is narrated by ten-year-old Sandeep, an only child who lives in Bombay (Mumbai) in an apartment with his parents. They go on regular visits to extended family in Calcutta. The novel covers two visits, one in summer and one in winter. His family usually stays in the house of a family on his mother's side, where he has two cousins of a similar age Abhi and Babla. 
Sandeep is a child who observes closely what is happening and his view is an innocent one that lets us see what is actually happening. He observes his cousins, his aunt and uncles, the servants, and even the neighbours closely, catching small actions and looks. The language here is full of description and evokes a sense of happiness and comfort, surrounded by those he loves. It also uses the natural terms used by a real family, with endearments and nicknames, and words that evoke the place and time of the setting. 
This was the author's first novel, originally published in 1991, and, in the foreword, is compared to other novels narrated by youthful observant characters.
I loved immersing myself in this world, of food, comfort, and family, feeling life slow down and appreciated in the small things that happen, from bathing to eating to resting. The excursions, both to other family members and for just a thing to do on a weekend afternoon are also slow and relaxing. This novel depicts those small moments in life that we often don't take the time to appreciate. 
Definitely one of my favourites of this year's reading. A lovely novel. 

Saturday 8 June 2024

Land of Love and Drowning

Finished June 4
Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

This novel, set in the Virgin Islands, is one of loss, wonder, relationships, and magic. It takes place from 1916 to the early 1970s, and has a slow pace with lush language and a strong sense of place. As the novel begins, the United States is finalizing the purchase of what is now the U.S. Virgin Islands (previously the Danish Virgin Islands) from Denmark. This sense of being American is taken seriously by the generation born around that time, including two sisters, Eeona and Anette Bradshaw, daughters of sea captain Owen Arthur Bradshaw and his wife Antoinette who is from Anegada, a smaller, less populated island. It is a feeling shared by Bradshaw's illegitimate son, Jacob Esau, by Rebekah McKenzie, a woman whose husband disappeared some time back. Rebekah reads fortunes and is widely regarded as a witch in the community. Jacob is seen and raised as a McKenzie. 
After their father's shipwreck and their mother's death, Eeona takes Anette under her care and the two are forced to move what little they now have into a poor part of town. This book follows their lives into adulthood and lives influenced by where they have come from, and the destiny predicted regarding them. Eeona is a beautiful girl who becomes a beautiful woman, and this beauty is something that she uses as needed to help her advance in life. Eeona is also scarred by her relationship with her father and her unique physical attributes. 
It is interesting to see how the island men begin to understand the racial prejudice of their new parent country when they serve in World War II, and how that same prejudice seeps into the island life, culminating in the protests and the Virgin Islands Open Shorelines Act in the early 1970s. I like learning new facts about places through fiction. 
I also liked the magic realism element here around beauty, foretelling, and the power of words. There was a natural flow to how this was revealed in the book. 
This is a novel that will stay with me for a while. 

Wednesday 5 June 2024

A Friend in the Dark

Finished May 31
A Friend in the Dark by Samantha M. Bailey


The main character, Eden Miller, has had a lot happening in her life lately.  Her only child Ava is just starting college at the nearby University of Michigan. Her husband has been pulling back from her for a while, ever since his father, a big presence in their lives died. In the parking lot of the university after they'd moved all Ava's stuff into her room and said goodbye, her husband Dave tells her he wants a divorce. 
Eden thought they'd always had a great relationship, and is frustrated that Dave won't tell her why he wants to end their marriage. He keeps telling her that she's done nothing and that she's perfect, but she feels like failure. 
After the prologue teaser, the book begins with Eden, alone in her home on her birthday. Her friends sent her over some wine, but she didn't feel like being with other people, so she's alone drinking, and she makes an impulse decision to friend her college crush, Justin Ward, on Facebook. She is very surprised when he responds and seems to be interested in her, giving her compliments and saying that he thinks of her as "the one that got away."
She tutored him at university, and kissed him at a party at his fraternity house, but she doesn't remember much about that evening, other than running for a toilet, throwing up a lot, and being taken home to her shared apartment by her now-husband Dave. But something else happened that night. Eden's co-worker, Tyler, who also lived in the frat house, and was a friend to her and Dave, disappeared that night and no one has ever solved that disappearance. Tyler was a nice guy, and got along with most people. 
As Eden becomes more involved with Justin online, she finds herself doing things out of character, and taking crazy risks. But things aren't always what they seem, and Eden finds that her family has been put into danger through this online relationship. 
I liked the teaser at the beginning that lets you know that things get very bad. I also appreciated seeing how Eden's low self esteem made her a target, and I could see the gradual hold this online relationship began to have on her. An engrossing and fast read. 

June Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Here is where you post links to the reviews for the books you finished in June. 


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Wednesday 29 May 2024

Night Watch

Finished May 28
Night Watch by Jayne Anne Phillips

This historical fiction novel jumps around in time a little during the late 1800s. The book has five parts, with the first and third parts taking place in 1874 and the second and fourth parts taking place in 1864. There is also an epilogue that is set in 1883. 
The point of view changes between a few of the characters but is always clearly stated at the beginning of a chapter. The chapter sometimes has a month and year to set it more specifically within the time of that part of the book. The chapter headings are descriptive, telling us of events that take place, or people that are introduced within that chapter. I liked that the chapters were relatively short, and moved you through the book in a natural flow. 
The main character in the book is ConaLee, a thirteen-year-old girl as the book opens in 1874. She is travelling from her home in the high West Virginia mountain area with her mother to an asylum, taken there by the man that has been in their life for the last few years, one who insists that they call him Papa. ConaLee knows that the relationship between her mother and this man is one of control and abuse, but she doesn't understand the hold that he has on her. ConaLee has watched her mother go from an active loving woman who taught her to read and showed her the stars in the sky to one who lies in bed and doesn't speak. ConaLee's mother has had other children from Papa, all without names. The toddler, who ConaLee calls Little Chap has been taken under her own wing and mothered by her. She reads him stories, cuddles him, feeds him, and acts like a mother would. Her mother has recently given birth to twins, a girl and a boy, that ConaLee served as midwife to.  
In a cabin higher on the mountain, above the one that ConaLee and her mother share is one lived in by Dearbhla an older woman that trades in salves and tonics that she makes from the wild plants near her. Dearbhla was midwife to Little Chap, but has been banned from their home for many months now. ConaLee has met her secretly from time to time, to get advice and medicine, but Dearbhla has the vision to know what has been happening with this small family. 
We learn that ConaLee's father, her mother's husband left to fight for the Union in the Civil War, but never returned, and stopped writing home ten years earlier. He has an occasional voice in the earlier time setting, as The Sharpshooter. 
Dearbhla also has a voice in the book, as does a young boy who lives and works at the asylum, known as Weed. We also learn from the 1864 time what ConaLee's mother Eliza went through and why Papa has the control he has. We hear from Dr. Story, the man in charge of the asylum, and from the mysterious O'Shea, the Night Watch of the title, who is calm and watchful man. 
I really enjoyed seeing the story gradually unfold, understanding what connections were between characters, and seeing explanations for events uncovered later in the story. This is a book about love, risk, and the illusion of control. A fascinating read that was hard to put down. One gets a sense of the landscape of the places, both constant and those travelled through. 

Tuesday 28 May 2024

The Iron Knight

Finished May 28
The Iron Knight by Julie Kagawa

I started this series years ago, but got sidetracked at some point. This is the last full novel in the series, with another book that I haven't yet read that has three short novellas that are between the four main books in the series. Here Ash, the Winter Knight has renounced his claim to the Winter throne, leaving his mother Mab, and going in search of how to become human so that he can join Meghan, the Iron Queen as her supporter and protector, as well as lover. He starts off with his rival and friend Robin Goodfellow, also known as Puck, a faerie from the Summer kingdom. Along the way the gather other companions and guides including Grimalkin, the cat. 
He must journey along the River of Dreams to the End of the World, and there he must go through the Testing Grounds to gain his soul and become human. Along the way, there are many trials, that he and his companions must endure. 
This is the story of a quest for something that brings unexpected knowledge and challenges. Ash learns that along with gaining a soul as a human, he must also learn weakness of the flesh, conscience, and mortality. Being human is not what he thought is would be, and he must face the question of whether this is really what he wants. 
I liked Ash, and found the companions interesting and surprising in their own ways. This is a series that is well thought out and feels satisfying. 

Goodnight Stranger

Finished May 26
Goodnight Stranger by Miciah Bay Gault

This tale is set mostly on Wolf Island, a fictional island near Martha's Vineyard. The main character Lydia Moore is 29 and feeling like she is stuck, unable to have a fulfilling life. She went to college for almost one term, but returned home due to her mother's illness. She has stayed in the family home, with her twin brother Lucas, who has extreme anxiety. She works seasonally in the information booth near the ferry dock. She likes to look at those exiting the ferry and classify them as tourist, visitor, or resident. One day she notices someone who doesn't fit, and makes eye contact with him. She feels compelled to meet him and soon he has found his way into her life.
Lucas is sure this man, Cole Anthony, is the reincarnation of their dead sibling, Baby B (real name Colin), who died when they were infants. If he hadn't, they would be triplets. Lydia isn't convinced despite things that he does or knows about them. She is determined to find his real identity to save herself from what she feels is a man taking over her life. 
Along the way, she finds help from an unlikely new friend, and perhaps a way to break out of the rut her life was in before. She also gets to know some of her fellow islanders and things about the island that are new to her. 
This is a story with a dark tone, as Lydia feels menaced by this man she has met. Sometimes it feels like things are eerie and haunting, and sometimes just uneasy. I liked how Lydia was able to find strength within herself to continue her search for the truth. 
A story that is hard to put down.  

Monday 27 May 2024

Executor

Finished May 24
Executor by Louise Carson

This novel is a mystery novel with a literary and social justice slant. Peter Forrest, a York University professor and poet, finds that one of his mentors, the poet Eleanor Brandon, has died, and named him her literary executor. Peter and Eleanor had a personal relationship at one point, after his failed first marriage, but it didn't last, and Peter is now happily married and plans to travel to China in the coming days to finalize the adoption of their third child from that country. 
Eleanor's death, despite her illness, was not a natural one, and there is some question about whether it is suicide or murder, and Peter is on the suspect list. 
As Peter goes through her papers, he finds that many of her more recent poems reflect her social activism on behalf of Chinese dissidents. On his trip to China to pick up young Annie, he finds several things suspicious. First, young Annie doesn't look like the photo they received of her. Then, he finds his visit to her orphanage raising questions about the staff there. On an outing with her, he is approached by a Chinese man who passes him some information. 
As he maneuvers the security of both Chinese and Canadian government workers, he keeps his eyes and ears open for more things that seem suspicious. 
Despite Peter's intention to stick to only the literary side of Eleanor's legacy, he finds it entangled with her social activism and impossible to separate from it. 
Now, his worry is who might be behind her death and whether he and his family are in danger. 
This was a book that drew in aspects of international diplomacy and several issues that have been raised around China with a more personal story. 
A quick and interesting read. 

The Winter Station

Finished January 23
The Winter Station by Jody Shields

This historical novel is set in 1910 in the city of Kharbin. Kharbin was a major railway outpost in northern China that was under Russian-rule at the time. The main character in this novel is Baron von Budberg, a man who grew up in St. Petersburg and was educated as a doctor. He traveled to Manchuria in 1904 to serve as a medic in the imperial army, and then found himself in the new city of Kharbin. Kharbin was established in Manchuria in 1898 by order of the Russian czar. The Baron was appointed medical commissioner for the city by the general in charge, General Khorvat. 
As the book opens, the Baron is investigating a report of bodies discovered outside the train station. The man saw the bodies taken away in a cart, but the bodies weren't taken to the nearby hospital, nor reported to him by the men who took them. This begins the story of a plague coming to the city that winter. The Baron learns that the bodies were of Chinese men, which raises other questions, like whether the Chinese authorities had ordered the removal of the bodies and what rank the men were. 
The man who informed the Baron of the incident is Andreev, a man known as a government informer, who also traded on the black market. 
The Baron is also a man who exists between the two worlds of Russian and Chinese people. He is married to a much younger Chinese woman, Li Ju, who had been a servant before they formed a relationship. He has made the effort to learn Chinese, and can understand enough to translate. He is also taking calligraphy classes from a master in the art. 
As the existence of a transmissible disease that is almost always fatal become more and more evident, the community, and the Baron himself, find themselves torn between sides in many arenas. There is traditional Chinese medicine versus Western medical science, distrust between the two communities, and the widespread hiding of bodies to avoid being ostracized which hinders the ability to fully understand the spread. The Baron sometimes finds himself at odds with others in his profession, in particular a newly arrived Western-educated Dr. Wu Lien-teh, who is put in charge by the Chinese, but who speaks neither Mandarin nor Russian, and who conducts the hospital meetings in English, the language that he speaks and that most of the other doctors understand. 
He finds one ally among his peers, a French doctor names Messonier, with whom he has a regular meeting centered around a shared love and interest in tea. 
We see the doctors arguing about the disease, what it is, and how to treat and protect others from it. The Baron is an advocate for masks and disinfectant, practices which after some discussion get adopted. 
The Baron has great depth of character here, we see his compassion, and his observation skills. We also see how his ties to the community from different contacts, from Andreev, to a Chinese dwarf, give him additional information on the situation. We also see how the competitive nature of some doctors keep them from working well as a whole. 
This novel is a slow-moving one, similar to the two Chinese practices that the Baron has taken on, calligraphy, and tea. As we see both his work life and his personal life, we get drawn into the story ourselves.