Monday 29 January 2024

If We Had Known

Finished January 22
If We Had Known by Elise Juska

This novel is set around a shooting in a small college town in Maine. The shooting occurs in a mall and the shooter is a recent graduate of the college. Maggie Daley recognizes the name of the shooter, Nathan Dugan, as a former student. She teaches English composition a required course that many of her fellow teachers resented because of the challenge of teaching students who didn't want to take English. But Maggie is an enthusiastic teacher who loved the challenge. The students wrote papers, shared them in class, and talked about them with each other. In many cases the topics were deeply personal and the experience was a meaningful one in their lives. Maggie loves her job and really enjoys getting the students enthused about writing about something important to them. After Maggie's marriage ended she begin seeing Richard, another teacher at the college, but he still lives with his wife even though he says their marriage is over. Because he is worried about his wife's mental health, he and Maggie have kept their relationship secret. 
While Maggie is at the center of the story, she is not the only voice here. Another is the voice of her daughter Anna, who is just about to leave for college herself. Maggie and her husband Tom divorced and Anna hasn't been taking it well. Anna has a history of anxiety issues that began a few years ago and that this event is somewhat triggering for. As Anna leaves home, and adjusts to college life, she finds a good friend in her roommate, but soon is triggered in another way by someone new in her life and finds herself struggling again.
A third voice in the story is Suzanne, Richard's wife, who can see that Richard is pulling away from her and suspects that he is having an affair. She had a brief contact with one of the shooting victims and finds herself reacting to the news with a lot of emotion. We see as she discovers who Richard is seeing and takes some action against Maggie. 
Another voice in this book is Luke Finch, who was in Maggie's class at the same time as Nathan. For some reason he doesn't fully understand himself, Luke posts on Facebook about his memories of Nathan and then is taken aback when the post goes viral. People start responding to it from all over, and Luke has a variety of reactions to it. Luke is living at home, working in a donut shop and dreaming of a different life. His sudden fame has him reacting, but not always in a way that is helpful for him.
As these four people try to move on with their lives, but find themselves connected in a variety of ways, we see how this terrible event has changed their circumstance so their lives won't be the same. 
Maggie struggles to figure out whether she should have or could have noticed that this young man would do something so awful and tried to help him. She isn't sure of her ability to connect with the students anymore and we see her become more and more isolated. With Anna at college, she is alone, and she cuts off most of the world. 
This is a book that looks at our connectedness to others and what our responsibility to each other is in a larger way. These four people react in different ways, some of them harmful to others, some harmful to themselves, as they try to figure out how to move forward from in their own lives. 
A gripping story. 

Thursday 25 January 2024

The Trouble with You

Finished January 19
The Trouble with You by Ellen Feldman

This novel is set in a time period that I haven't seen covered as often in novels, but that was very interesting in a lot of ways. The novel begins on Christmas day in 1947 as Fanny, her husband Max, and their young daughter Chloe head off to a wedding, coming home in the beginnings of a huge snowstorm. It than jumps back to 1941, when Max is leaving for Europe. He is a doctor, and we are told a little of their pasts. Fanny went to Barnard, something she has her Aunt Rose to thank for. 
Aunt Rose is also an important character in this novel. She is a woman who went to work directly from school, earning the money to put both her brothers through college, and eventually starting her own business as a dressmaker and seamstress, specializing in recreating designer dresses for those who can't quite afford the real thing. Rose's story will come to be important in Fanny's life in other ways as well. We see how, with Max off in Europe during the war years, life went on for Fanny. Chloe grew, some of Fanny's married friends found jobs that men had done before the war, and Rose was nearby and very involved in Fanny and Chloe's life, babysitting so Fanny could spend time with friends and taking Fanny to plays and on other cultural outings. Since Fanny's mother died when Fanny was young, Rose was almost a mother to her in many ways. We see how her cousin Mimi, also with a husband off to the war, goes on a different path, moving home to her parents for this time. 
Then, after the war, we watch as Max returns, they move out of the city to a house and we read our way back to 1947. Home after the wedding, the day will end in tragedy for Fanny, and she will have to find a way to move on. 
Moving from the house she and Max lived in in New Jersey, she takes a small apartment not far from Rose's in New York City. We follow her as she adjusts to her new life, providing for herself and Chloe, and we also sometimes see things through Chloe's eyes.
One element of the book that I enjoyed learning more about was that of McCarthyism. Fanny works in a field where people get blacklisted for the most minor of things: donating to a cause, a past association, an opinion stated. This is interesting, particularly in relation to the world today, where people use socialist as an accusation. I found the parallels worth thinking about. 
I also enjoyed seeing Fanny bloom as she earns a living, starts doing something she really enjoys doing for herself, and takes a chance on love again. 

Tuesday 23 January 2024

It Happened One Christmas

Finished January 16
It Happened One Christmas by Chantel Guertin

This novel is a Christmas romance, set in a small Canadian town in Quebec. Zoey Andrews is a woman who loves Christmas even though she doesn't get to celebrate a typical Christmas herself. Zoey works for Epic Productions, one of the biggest producers of romance movies, especially holiday romance movies. She's been working her way up in the company and is all set to direct and produce her own movie, one that is inspired by a cherished childhood memory of a Christmas spent in a small Quebec town. 
When the production assistant in charge of getting location permits confuses her choice of Chelsea, Quebec with Chelsea, New York, Zoey is determined to do whatever it takes to get the permits herself. She is scared that if she lets this chance slip through her fingers, she won't get another one. She's also recently dumped by her boyfriend and her Christmas vacation plans have fallen through, so she has the time available. So, of course, she jumps on a plane to Ottawa, and heads out to the town of Chelsea.
Unfortunately, the weather isn't on her side, with a big storm predicted to hit the area in the next few days, 
The town is as good as her memories of it, so when she finds the perfect Christmas tree farm for part of her story, she isn't about to let the grumpy owner of the farm, who is as annoying as he is sexy get in her way. 
I could barely put this book down, as it grabbed me right from the beginning with Zoey's earnest drive to get what she wanted combined with the nostalgia that inspired it. The book gradually reveals the main characters' stories, and the town is charming. 
The weather was believable, the storm, the conditions, and the determination of people to find a way to their goals. 
P.S. there's also an adorable dog. 

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Three Holidays and a Wedding

Finished January 15
Three Holidays and a Wedding by Uzma Jalaluddin and Marisa Stapley

This holiday novel begins in Denver as, nearing the end of December, people are travelling for the holidays. The year is 2000 and Hanukkah, Christmas, and Ramadan are all happening near the same time. This means more people are travelling, and travelling by air in the winter in North America is always taking the chance that weather will cause delays. 
Maryam Aziz is herding herding her parents and grandfather, and a vast amount of carry-on luggage toward their gate. Her younger sister, a doctor working with Doctors without Borders, has chosen this time to get married, and the group is travelling to Toronto for the wedding. Her sister Saima has just flown in, and is meeting them at the gate. Maryam is the one who is always tasked with organizing things, and, in this case, she has worked with Saima's future in-laws to organize the entire wedding, and the travel plans for her closest family members. She is tired and a little bit annoyed at feeling taken for granted.
Anna Gibson has been dating Nick, a wealthy man she met at a fundraiser for a few months, after bonding over their roots in Toronto. She is travelling to spend the Christmas with his family, but sometimes feels that he doesn't really listen to her or want to hear her thoughts and dreams.
It is the weather that foils all their plans, and they find themselves landing at a small airport outside of Ottawa instead of at their destination. It is near the town of Snow Falls, a very Christmassy, yet surprisingly diverse small town, where they find themselves welcomed. 
As they work to figure out a way to get to their planned destination, they also find things to do, a time outside of their normal busy lives to ponder what they really want, and insight into the shared traditions across all three religions. 
This is a feel-good novel of hope, friendship, and romance. It has second chances for some, a fresh start for others, and newly formed bonds made stronger through shared experiences. 
A great and uplifting read by two skilled Canadian writers.

Tuesday 16 January 2024

Mrs. Nash's Ashes

Finished January 11
Mrs. Nash's Ashes by Sarah Adler

This is a road trip novel, and a romance novel, with a fair bit of personal growth for both main characters. Millie Watts-Cohen is headed from her home in Washington, D.C. to Key West, Florida on a mission. She carries with her a small container of ashes set on bringing them to a specific person. But this mission is also one that is driven by several things: her friendship with Mrs. Nash across generations; Mrs. Nash's own story of loss and regret; and Millie's past relationships. One of Millie's barriers to love is her childhood acting career, which has brought her lasting fame, and a driving need to control her online presence. 
After meeting a man, Hollis, at the airport after an unpleasant interaction with a "fan," and recognizing him as someone she's met before, a technology glitch causes flights to be cancelled and a race among passengers to other forms of transportation. 
Millie ends up travelling with Hollis, on a journey fraught with setbacks. They disagree about many aspects of the journey, but also find themselves confiding some of their closest secrets with each other. 
With the interesting historical component of Mrs. Nash's story, this novel looks at issues of acceptance and identity across the generations.
Both characters have trauma around previous relationships that has led to trust issues, and this is a key element of their story. 
I had trouble putting this novel down, and ending up reading way past my usual time into the wee hours to see how it developed. Thoroughly engaging. 

Sunday 14 January 2024

The Swallowed Man

Finished January 10
The Swallowed Man by Edward Carey

Inspired by Pinocchio, this short novel is narrated by Geppetto, through entries in a journal he keeps after being swallowed by a whale. He talks about his life, from his childhood where he never lived up to his father's expectations, to his life as a modest carpenter and woodcarver, through his creation of the marionette that came to life, and to his search for the creature he thought of as a son after Pinocchio ran away. 
He also talks about his life inside this large creature, from the shipwreck swallowed whole that he finds a home in, to the new creations he makes while in there, and the things he observes around him (having found several crates of candles on board the ship). 
The book is illustrated with Geppetto's drawings and images of his creations, many of which were created by the author and photographed for the book. 
A fantastical work of a life tinged with regret. 

Saturday 13 January 2024

In Desolate Heaven

Finished January 9
In Desolate Heaven by Robert Edric

This is a book where much of what is going on is under the surface. It's a book that is hard to describe. The time is the fall of 1919. Elizabeth Mortlake has come to this Swiss spa town as a companion to her sister-in-law Mary, who is heavily grieving the loss of her pilot husband in the war. Elizabeth is also grieving him, as she was very close to her brother, and she holds some memories of him very closely. 
She soon notices a group of obviously injured soldiers that come on a bus into town to walk the waterfront of the lake. The men are accompanied by a group of nuns from a nearby convent that assist them. Many are blind, while others have injuries that affect their mobility. People in town, including visitors like Elizabeth, generally watch them respectfully, but don't interact with them. 
She also takes note of a man, Jameson, who comes to the hotel she is staying in often, and seems to have an antagonistic relationship with many of the senior staff, such as the manager, front clerk, and maitre'd. The reasons for this aren't obvious, but she gradually grows to understand as she spends time with him and observes his activities. Jameson takes an active interest in many of the men at the soldiers' hospital, having served with some of them. He also has a friendly relationship with some of the nuns, and provides books to one nun and an officer. Jameson is a book dealer, and he also has a close friendship with Emil, a photographer whose studio he has a room over. Elizabeth gradually becomes familiar with both these groups of people as well and visits both institutions. 
As Mary's health deteriorates, Elizabeth finds herself concerned, but also wanting to have someone else take on the responsibility for the more serious issues Mary is having, and Jameson is very helpful in finding the right people and place. 
I found the undercurrents of this book interesting, the jealousy of some, the sexuality tensions underlying some of the interactions, and the ways that the medical establishment of the time didn't know how to deal with the inner turmoil many of the men had. 
A book that was exceptionally well-written and that will stay with me. 

Friday 12 January 2024

All Her Little Secrets

Finished January 8
All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris

This thriller moves back and forth between the childhood of the main character, corporate lawyer Ellice Littlejohn, with occasional viewpoints of other people like her younger brother Sam. Ellice escaped her small town, and the life of poverty she lived there through scholarships. She now has an Ivy League degree, and a secret relationship with her married white superior Michael, the EVP and general counsel for Houghton Transportation in Atlanta. That's just one of her secrets. She also keeps secret her origins, passing herself off as an orphan with no family. The woman that saved her, helping protect her from that early life is now in the later stages of dementia and Ellice pays for her stay at a high-scale living facility. But she knows Vera would rather be back on her farm. 
Ellice also hides her younger brother Sam, who's had some legal issues and doesn't seem to be able to keep away from the temptations of that life. She and Sam are close, and she loves him, but she also feels guilty for leaving him behind when she escaped. 
After an episode from the early part of her life, the present-day part of the novel begins with Ellice finding her boss shot in the head when she goes to meet him for an early pre-work assignation. So she hides the fact that she found him too, and goes to her own desk and tries to get on with things. But, soon she finds that with the gossip, the police, and the sudden interest in her from the executive suite, that all those secrets are pretty hard to hide.
Ellice is also one of the very few black employees in the building. Outside of the security staff, and other low-paid workers, she is it. There have been protests outside the corporate building about the lack of racial presence and a threat of a class action suit. This is another thing looming on the horizon. 
As Ellice starts trying to figure out what happened to Michael to save her from the threats now coming at her, she finds even more secrets to deal with. 
The plot is a good one, and I found the main character interesting. The author is also a corporate attorney, so she brings in realistic elements from that life. A good read. 

Tuesday 9 January 2024

The Merchant's House

Finished January 5
The Merchant's House by Kate Ellis

I enjoyed The Armada Boy so much (a book I picked up in a charity shop) that I have got most of the rest of the series, and started with this one, which is the first in the series. The Armada Boy was the second in the series, so I'm mostly doing it in order. 
Here, DS Wesley Peterson has just transferred into the local force from London. As he walks to work the first morning, he sees his friend archeologist Neil Watson engaged in a dig at an old structure. They talk briefly and Wesley correctly identifies the structure as a merchant's house from the 17th century. Recently, Neil's team had discovered a child's skeleton that was confirmed to be from the same time.
As Wesley arrives at work, so does a new case, that of a body found by a woman walking her dog. Wesley is pulled into it and gets to know his superior officer Gerry Heffernan, and his fellow officers, including DC Rachel Tracey, who I liked from the book I already read. 
On the homefront, Wesley and his wife Pam are consulting with a fertility clinic as they try to have a child, and Pam is a bit emotional and sensitive about it. 
I liked how the archeology/historical part of the novel echoed what was happening in the present, showing that some issues and behaviours are universal. I also found it interesting to see the chapters starting with a historical diary entry as a bit of foreshadowing what was to be revealed. 
Once again, the various characters are interesting and I can see how the series as a whole will fill them out with added depth. The plotlines here were also intriguing and I enjoyed pondering the ethical dilemmas they revealed. 

Monday 8 January 2024

You, Again

Finished January 2
You, Again by Kate Goldbeck

This book had a promising premise with the main characters meeting multiple times before starting to spend time together and then finding sparks. 
Ari moved to New York City to become a comedian. Not an easy task, and she works a lot of other jobs even as she makes some headway in her dream career. She also gains friends along the way like Gabe, a fellow comedian, and Rachel, a roommate who works as a chef. Ari comes from a working class background and is a free spirit in many ways. She doesn't accumulate a lot of possessions, and is pretty easygoing about personal space. She is also very open sexually, up for almost anything with almost anyone, and this was a bit outside my comfort zone. She didn't seem to have emotional connections to her sex partners, and didn't seem to consider that they might have feeling for her. 
Josh is a chef, but he's skipped a few steps in experience due to his wealthy family background. That makes him a little arrogant, even as he's very capable and innovative in his profession. 
When they meet again years later, they are both in very bad places in their lives, and they find that shared experience a way to connect that they don't have with other people at the time. They can express very negative feelings about their situation and feel that they aren't alone. 
Because I didn't really connect with the characters and found some lifestyle choices off-putting, it took me a while to make it through the book. I was rooting for them in the end, but this wasn't one of my favourite reads. 

Recap of 2023 Reading Year

 I'm a little late on putting this together. I met my overall reading goals for the year, but only completed one of the challenges I engaged with, the 16th Canadian Reading Challenge. For my challenge activity see my 2023 Reading Challenge page. 

Of the books I read, 158 were for adult readers, 8 for teen readers, and 9 for children.
My reading had a flow to it, with an upsurge at the end of my teaching term, and another in late summer / early August as I was first away from work, and then reading as an escape. 

I read much less nonfiction than most years.

My Genre reading was what I expected, with my two most read genres being mystery and romance

Books in Translation

For translated works, I read 9 this year, 3 from German, 3 from French, 2 from Italian, and 1 from Swedish. 


85 of the books were ones I owned, with 63 of them leaving to go to other readers. 87 were borrowed from my local public libraries (I use 2 regularly), 4 were borrowed from friends or family, and 9 were e-galleys that I had temporary access to. 


Of the setting of the books, one was set in a fantasy world, 20 in Canada, 80 in the United States, 1 in Africa, 3 in Asia, 2 in Latin America, and 66 in Europe. Some, of course, weren't the kind of book that had a setting. 

Publication Date

These ranged from 1929 through 2024, with a few in the 1960s, and most in the last 10 years. 


28 of the authors identified as male, and 141 as female, with 2 books with multiple authors that included both. 


Most of my reads were physical books, with 28 ebooks, and 7 of those from Netgalley. 


71 of the books were part of a series


This is an interesting statistic that Storygraph provided. 

as is this one, 


The Sun Is Also a Star

Finished December 31
The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

This teen novel has the main part of the novel take place over the course of a single day, with a followup chapter and an epilogue that happens years later. 
Natasha's family reformed in the U.S. when she was eight. Her father had gone a couple of years earlier, trying to break into the acting scene in New York, but her mother didn't want to wait anymore.Natasha's younger brother was born in the U.S. 
Daniel's parents emigrated from Korea to the U.S., and were helped by relatives who had gone before them, and by the larger Korean immigrant community. The own a small business.
Natasha and her parents are undocumented, and due to an incident with her father, they are being deported that evening. Natasha is desperate to stay. She is in her final year of high school, has a group of friends she is close to, and has been planning her future life. This will upend it all. 
On this day, she goes to downtown to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) building for an appointment with someone she hopes can help her. As she walks around New York City listening to music on her headphones, she is noticed by Daniel and when circumstances bring them to talk to each other, they find themselves spending the day together. 
They eat, and talk music, and talk about their families, until the day brings them back to Natasha's home. 
This is a tale of friendship and young love, and the struggles of life in the modern world. It is a tale of dreams and expectations, of family and independence, and of sharing cultures.
I could hardly put it down, and I loved the format, with short chapters, differing viewpoints, including of voices that aren't human, and of the wonderful characters that Yoon brings to life. 

Friday 5 January 2024

The Women with Silver Wings

Finished December 27
The Women with Silver Wings: The Inspiring True Story of the Women Airforce Service Pilots of World War II by Katherine Sharp Landdeck

This book drew my interest after reading about these women in both history books and fiction. (For fiction, The All Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion by Fannie Flagg, for nonfiction Our Mothers' War by Emily Yellin.)
There were many women looking to do their part during the war, and pilots were a small but vocal group. This book outlines how two women pilots led the charge, but didn't always agree about how to go about it, or about what the end result should be. Those two women were Nancy Love and Jacqueline Cochran, and at first they led to different endeavours for the female pilots. Nancy Love started with a handful of women who served as ferry pilots, moving planes around the country as needed, to free up male pilots for frontline work. Her pilots had significant experience and were based with Air Transport Command in Wilmington, Delaware. 
Jacqueline Cochran was already flying in a similar capacity in Britain, leading a group of American women pilots flying for the ATA there. (A great fiction book about the female Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA) pilots is The Beauty Chorus by Kate Lord Brown). When she heard about the women led by Nancy Love, she returned to the U.S. as fast as she could and argued that she was promised a lead role in women pilots flying for the war effort. She was then put in charge of recruiting other women pilots with less experience and getting them trained. She started on this immediately, and started at a Houston, Texas base, later moving to Sweetwater, Texas. 
This book looks at a number of women that were pilots, as well as the two leaders, and we see their different stories, and follow them through training and some of their more memorable flights. 
We also see the decades long fight for them to get the same recognition and status as the men that did the same jobs. 
A well-researched book that highlights a notable group of women pioneers in their field. 

Thursday 4 January 2024

What You Wish For

Finished December 27
What You Wish For by Katherine Center

This novel is about second chances, finding joy in something every day, and giving yourself time to play. Samantha Casey is the librarian at a private school in Galveston, Texas. She has become close with the couple that founded the school, Max and Babette, and lives in the coach house on their property. It was Max that taught her to look for joy. Sam has changed from a woman who was smart but shy into one who delights in colour, who truly engages with the kids in her school because she pays attention to them, and yet also one who has still not allowed herself to dream all those dreams she has. 
When tragedy strikes, Duncan Carpenter is hired to be the new school principal, and Sam can't believe it. Duncan Carpenter is a man from her past, one that provided inspiration for who she is today, but the man who shows up is utterly changed from the one she knew. 
Duncan, and the man who hired him, seem focused on one thing and one thing only, and that focus threatens the heart of this very creative school. Sam, and the rest of the school community must rally together, despite their grief, and work to change Duncan back into the man she had a crush on years ago.
I really related to this second chance love story, and the two main characters. Samantha is a woman after my own heart, one who delights in being creative and fun, and listening to those she cares about to meet their needs in the best way she can. Duncan is a man who has endured a very traumatic event, and who is searching for a way forward, but not always making the best choices. One gets glimpses of his heart early on, but it takes a long time for his story to be revealed.
I also really loved this school, and the other teachers that are part of the story, from math nerd to phys ed teacher. If this school, or ones like it exist, the kids that go there are really lucky. 
A great read, one of my favourites of the year. 

Tuesday 2 January 2024

January Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 This is where you use the linky to connect to the reviews for the books you finished in January 2024 for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge. Add a comment too!

Thanks for being part of this challenge and promoting all the wonderful Canadian writers that we have.

Monday 1 January 2024

Snowstorms & Sleigh Bells

Finished December 22
Snowstorms & Sleigh Bells by Kelley Armstrong

This novella is part of the A Stitch in Time series where characters have access to a place where they time travel. Here, Rosalind Courtenay, her husband August, and their five-year-old son Edmund, have come to visit friends at Christmas. At their friends' home, Thorne Manor, there is a room where there is a spot where the house's family time travels often. The wife is from the present day, and the husband from Victorian Scotland, and they have lives in both time periods. Rosalind has recently returned to Victorian times after finding herself stuck in the future for a reasonably long time. So she is wary of that room, and of getting stuck away from her family again. 
When her young son goes into the future alone, she and her husband follow, and have an adventure of their own that brings them closer to each other, and initiates curiosity about their cultural past as well as about the technology of the future. 
This story also brings in a paranormal aspect as Edmund has the ability to see ghosts, and more than one appears in this story.
I haven't read any of this series, but this definitely has me interested reading more.

His Christmas Wish

Finished December 22
His Christmas Wish by Melissa McClone

This short romance novel is set in the mountain town of Hood Hamlet near Mount Hood in Oregon. Carly Bishop has come home for the first time in six years. Six years ago, she was about to get married, when her fiance and her brother were found dead in a climbing accident. Both were very experienced climbers, and no one is sure what went wrong up there. 
Christmas was Carly's favourite holiday, and that had led her to plan a Christmas wedding. Now, she lives on the other side of the country and avoids Christmas as much as she can. This year though, her brother's widow, who has remarried, has asked for her help during the season as she is pregnant with the baby due soon, and she would like Carly's help at that time with Nick's children.
Jake Porter, whose family runs a brewpub in town, was Nick's best friend, and has done everything he can to help Nick's widow, including being very involved with the kids. Jake even introduced her to her new husband. 
Both Carly and Jake had feelings for each other, but the age difference when they were young kept them from moving forward with acting on their feelings. 
As they are increasingly thrown together, and then choose to spend time together, they find they have much in common and also that the feelings are still there. 
This is a seasonal tale of second chances, grief recovery, and family. A comforting read. 
His Christmas Wish is also the first novel in a series set around the Mountain Rescue team that Jake is a part of.