Monday 19 February 2024

Jack and Kill

Finished February 12
Jack and Kill by Diane Capri

This is another short story in the series Hunt for Reacher, and this one immediately follows Jack in a Box. Gaspar has heard of a sighting of Reacher in the tiny town of New Hope, Virginia, and now the two FBI agents, Gaspar and Otto are travelling there to see what they can find.
When they arrive, they find traffic moving slowly due to what appears to be a road accident where one vehicle has rear-ended another, but the local police seem to be expecting agency staff, and they soon see why. 
The two agents are able to access video showing them what happened, and this gives them a real glimpse of their quarry, Reacher, in action. Someone else they have met recently soon arrives on the scene as well, and the two are left with new questions. like why did Reacher return to this town and get involved in this situation. 
A nicely done story that gives us a sense of the difficult case the two agents have. 

Jack in a Box

Finished February 12
Jack in a Box by Diane Capri

This is a short story in the series Hunt for Reacher, where FBI agents Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar are on a case looking for information about Jack Reacher. This story takes place after the first book in the series, Don't Know Jack, and both agents are digging back into physical records, but separately. 
Kim gets a message to go to her father's hometown in Wisconsin to see her grandmother who ill in the hospital there. This gives us a window into her personal life. We see how her father's side of the family, German in heritage, had not taken well to his marriage to his marriage to a Vietnamese woman, and so he's moved to Michigan, where Kim grew up. The family dynamic is interesting, with the family acknowledging her while also keeping their distance. Besides her grandmother, the only person she really interacted with is a cousin, Lothar, who is in the army, and who surprises her near the end of her visit. 
Carlos gets a message that takes him to D.C. from his Miami home, but he is anxious about his own family, with four daughters that keep things hopping and a son on the way. We don't get as much information about the dynamics here as we do with Kim, but the hints keep it interesting. 
As the two approach the place and time they've been led to, they are given a message regarding their case. 
I liked the background this story gave, which enhanced the series for me. 

Thursday 15 February 2024

The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club

Finished February 12
The Hazelbourne Ladies Motorcycle and Flying Club by Helen Simonson

This novel was a delightful read. It takes place in the summer of 1919, and follows several young people who are adjusting to life after the war. Many of the women worked during the war, and have now found themselves without those jobs. Some are trying to survive on the small war widows pensions by augmenting it by other work. They aren't the only ones seemingly locked out of the work they had been doing. Men who were injured also find themselves treated as incapable. 
The central character here is Constance Haverhill. Constance's mother grew up with another woman who married into a titled family, while Constance's mother married a farmer. They continued to call each other best friends, but it seems like Lady Mercer treated her friend as an unpaid worker, often calling on her to help with childcare and other household endeavours. During the war, Constance worked as estate manager for the Mercers, but found herself quickly ousted when the war ended. With her mother dead from the influenza epidemic, she found herself called on to nurse Lady Mercer's mother, Mrs. Fog when she was ill. Her 'reward' is to act as companion to Mrs. Fog while she convalesces at a seaside hotel. 
But it is in this town that both Constance and Mrs. Fog encounter second chances. Constance meets another young woman her age, Poppy Wirrall. Poppy is also the daughter in a titled family, and she spent the war, along with other young women, working as motorcycle messengers. Poppy has started a small company offering motorcycle taxi (using sidecars) and delivery services, with a variety of young women employed part-time doing this work. Some have other jobs or widows pensions that they augment by working for her. 
Poppy's brother was a pilot during the war, and lost part of one leg in action. He is back at home, but depressed by the loss of many men he considered friends, and the inability of others to consider him employable. 
Constance is a calming force to Poppy's impulsiveness and exuberance, and as she begins to take chances, and open herself up to other possibilities in her life, I found myself hoping for a more promising future for her than she expected at the book's beginning. 
I also enjoyed Mrs. Fog, watching her go from recovering invalid to putting her own wishes first, despite the pressure of those she'd given into previously. 
I also found the story of the German waiter Klaus Zeiger touching. He is the quintessential waiter, always observant, mindful of propriety, and empathetic to the needs of those he serves. He is also highly aware of his ethnic baggage and how it has affected his life both during the war and now. I really appreciated that Constance saw him as a person, beyond his role. 
This is a novel of a time of great changes and adjustments and not all of them are fair or pleasant. This novel has moments of outrage, sadness, and joy. Well worth reading. 

Wednesday 14 February 2024

Final Assignment

Finished February 9
Final Assignment by Linwood Barclay

This novella is part of his series set in Promise Falls, New York. It is set as #1.5 in the series, and the main character and narrator is Cal Weaver, a private investigator that readers of the series would be familiar with. Here, he is called to the home of an acquaintance of a friend, the mother of a high school student who has handed in an English assignment that includes an act of violence. The school wants him to get a psychiatric evaluation, but the mother has something else in mind to get her son out of trouble.
After Cal leaves their home, he visits the friend who referred him to them, and find another situation. Their son didn't come home the previous night and isn't answering. 
As Cal follows up on the developing situation, talking to his friend the police chief, as well as other students who knew both boys, he comes up with a surprising conclusion that is more nuanced than one first realizes. 
A great short read that gives a great example of Cal's strengths around observation and quick thinking. 

Tuesday 13 February 2024

The Dragon Head of Hong Kong

Finished February 9
The Dragon Head of Hong Kong by Ian Hamilton

This novella is a prequel to the Ava Lee series and shows us how Ava got started on her atypical forensic accounting career, and how she met Uncle. 
When Ava is asked by her mother to help the son of one of her mother's friends, she is unsure that she will be able to help. She agrees to go to Hong Kong to find the man that her client has been shipping goods to, in the hopes that she will be able to get him to pay all the overdue invoices that have put her client in financial trouble. 
Ava is not expecting the violence that she encounters on her case, but she is prepared to deal with it. Both her forensic accounting skills and her martial arts training are useful on this job. 
I enjoyed seeing her trying to find her way in this culture that she was unfamiliar with, and taking charge with a firm hand, while remaining curious and open to learn. 
An enlightening and entertaining read. 

Don't Know Jack

Finished February 9
Don't Know Jack by Diane Capri

I was interested when I heard about the series Hunt for Reacher, and borrowed this first book from my local library. I read it very quickly, wanting to know how it unfolded. 
The book starts with two FBI agents, Kim Otto, from the Detroit office, and Carlos Gaspar from the Miami office, being woken in the wee hours and sent on a discreet mission, meant to be off the books. They are supposed to find out as much as they can about Jack Reacher, but they are provided with very little. They are told to go to Margrave, Georgia, by a certain time, and for readers of the Jack Reacher novels, like me, this small town will immediately ring some bells. 
In Margrave, they find a female police chief, who seems like she knows more about Jack than she'd saying, but their search is interrupted when the chief is called about a murder, and they accompany her to the scene. They find a long-dead cop, a oddly calm and reticent killer, and a house that looks almost abandoned. 
As they try to pierce together the story, and make a mistake or two of their own, they find themselves under fire, mixing with questionable company, and taking way more flights than Otto is comfortable with. 
I liked both the main characters, and enjoyed seeing how their backstories unfolded, in small pieces. They both have a sense of humour and soon find a rhythm of communication that feels fun, yet not forced. They are both good agents, but their lack of knowledge creates an interesting dynamic where the reader knows more about Jack than they do. 
They're pretty sure he's a bad guy, who's killed many people after leaving the army, and this assumption means that they suspect him every time they find a crime. 
I'm definitely going to be reading more of this series to see where their search leads them, and what they learn along the way.  

The Edge of the Water

Finished February 8
The Edge of the Water by Elizabeth George

This is the second book in a series of teen novels set on Whidbey Island, which is in the state of Washington. This book tells the story from several points of view, but mostly from that of two teenage girls, Jenn and Becca. 
I read the first novel a few years ago, but always meant to follow up. I'm glad I did. Becca was the main character in the first novel, but here we also see a lot of Jenn. 
Jenn is in the same grade as Becca, but she resents Becca for taking Derric's attention, and seems constantly angry at her. Jenn lives with her parents and younger brothers in a shabby house near the water. She is working hard to get herself into a position where she can get a soccer scholarship and escape the life she feels stuck in. 
When a young woman researcher, Annie, comes to live in the previously abandoned trailer nears Jenn's house, Jenn willingly takes on a paid job of guide and cleaner, but worries about it cutting into her training time. 
Becca, meanwhile is having issues with her relationship with Derric as she tries to keep where she is currently living a secret as a means of protecting herself. 
The connecting element between all the characters in this novel is Nera, a black seal that has been coming to the island at the same time of year for many years now. Annie wants to make a career-making discovery, but the islanders fear losing Nera's presence. 
This is a story of growth on the part of both teenagers, as they find there way forward and learn about strengths they hadn't realized they contained. 
I'm definitely going to be looking for the next book in the series soon.

Monday 12 February 2024

Protecting the Heiress

Finished February 6 
Protecting the Heiress by Nana Malone

This novella is billed as the first of a duology, but it is more properly the first half of a novel as it doesn't wrap up either of the main storylines, the mystery or the romance plots. I chose it from free Kobo books to meet a reading challenge. 
It's set in a small fictional European country called the Winston Isles, and follows several characters. The two main characters are Jax and Neela, but it starts with Ariel. Ariel has started her own company after leaving the Royal Guard of . She is putting together a team based on recommendations from friends and former coworkers. The first one she approaches is Jax Reynolds, and she's been following him for a while as he works a case. He's been working in London, but used to be a Royal Guard and would like nothing more than to get back in. He quit for a woman, and when that relationship didn't pan out, he found himself without the job he'd loved. 
Jax's first job is to go undercover as a nanny for a woman who recently took custody of a friend's child. There is some uncertainty whether the friend's death was an accident, and her lawyer doesn't want anything to happen to the child. 
Neela is a cryptanalyst who looks into security issues for companies. She had started the company with her boyfriend, but that relationship has recently ended and he's been not playing very nice about how the company is being split. When she unexpectedly finds herself the guardian of a baby, she finds herself happy to accept the help the lawyer has arranged for her, unaware that she is also gaining protection for her and Mayzie. 
Jax knows better than to act on his attraction for his employer, but the attraction is mutual, and hard to ignore. When Neela gets threatening messages and other dangerous things begin to happen, things get pretty intense in another way.
The cryptology angle of the story is interesting and I liked both the main characters. We see many other side characters, from the King of this small country to Neela's coworkers, but other related series follow them in more depth. 
As I said, this book leaves the reader wanting more. 

The Red Pole of Macau

Finished February 5
The Red Pole of Macau by Ian Hamilton

This is the fourth book in the Ava Lee series. I like this series, but hadn't been keeping up with it after the first few books. Here, Ava has recently met her oldest half-brother, Michael, when he calls on her for assistance. Michael and his business partner Simon run a chain of noodle restaurants and recently made an investment that involved a share of a real estate development where they would locate a shop. But things haven't been moving along at all, and they just want their money back. 
Ava can see the big picture here once she knows more about the situation, and can see how a failure would impact not just Michael and Simon, but also Ava's father and the entire family. 
Macau is somewhere that Ava hasn't visited in years and the changes there are dramatic. When she accompanies Michael and Simon to meet the men behind the project, she finds they are more dangerous adversaries than she imagined, and the whole situation is something beyond what she normally would deal with. Even her partner Uncle has reservations. 
Given the family considerations, Ava feels she must move forward, but this is a foray that requires connections she doesn't have. When a new friend offers to help, Ava finds herself making new connections and relationships as well. 
I liked the strong female characters here, not only Ava, but also May Ling Wong and Michael's girlfriend Amanda Yee. I also liked seeing more into the backgrounds of Uncle's side of the partnership, including the men who work for him, either directly or from time to time. 
The book also details how the old Hong Kong triads were structured and what roles the different members played. This plays into the plot in a big way, and gives a sense how the dismantling of a system like this sometimes results in unexpectedly dangerous men who can't be controlled. 
We also get a better sense of Ava's family dynamics. 
A very enlightening addition to the series on many fronts. 

Friday 9 February 2024

Rules for Second Chances

Finished January 30
Rules for Second Chances by Maggie North

This book is centered on Liz Lewis, who grew up and lives in a small community in the mountains of B.C. where much of the business is around tourism. She is married to Tobin Renner-Lewis, and they both work for a small backcountry tour company. Lately Liz doesn't feel seen, either at home or at work. At work, her suggestions don't seem to be taken seriously by the owners, and she hasn't been promoted, even after her immediate boss left and she'd doing all his work. 
At home, her husband doesn't appear to be able to say no to anyone that asks for help, even when that means her plans are affected. Her parents have a house nearby that is no longer their primary home, and that her older sister and niece live in. She is close to her niece, who is autistic, and spends a lot of time with her. 
Tobin's parents bought the house next to theirs shortly after they married, and his mother demands of lot of him, and hasn't warmed up to Liz at all. As the book opens, his mother has co-opted Liz's birthday party and that is the last straw for her. 
As she takes a break from her marriage, and tries to put together a winning pitch for the company's annual service pitch competition, she gets pushed into attending improv classes.
This is a very interesting twist to the story, as improv becomes a way for Liz to let go of some of her fears, as well as using an improv guide to reconnect with Tobin and change their dynamic. 
I really enjoyed Liz as a character, and could relate to her in many of the feelings and experiences she has. 
I loved the Canadian setting, and found it especially interesting that the author is herself autistic and thus could really describe certain elements of the autistic characters in the book so well. 
This book has real depth to it, and some of the exercises described for Liz and Tobin might be taken and used in readers' own lives. I loved seeing Liz grow and appreciate her own strengths. 

Thursday 8 February 2024

I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home

Finished February 3
I Am Homeless If This Is Not My Home by Lorrie Moore

This is a very unusual book. It is part letters from one sister to another, dating from the years shortly after the U.S. Civil War, and part modern day tale of a Chicago-area teacher struggling with loss. 
The book begins with a undated letter from Elizabeth to her unnamed sister. It tells of everyday events, include the nature that she witnesses, the male lodger in her home that is wooing her, the state of her finances, and visits from the local minister. She also invokes shared memories of earlier points in their lives. From the contents, and the words used, the reader can tell that this is a letter from a past time, and that it is not too long after the end of the Civil War. 
The next section is set in the present, as Finn moves through New York City to visit his older brother Max, who is in a hospice. We see not only what is happening as Finn sees it, but also his thoughts, which range from issues with his landlady and interactions with his Airbnb host to things he is reminded of by the sights and smells of the world around him. 
Once he gets in to his brother's room, the interaction between the brothers is also mingled with Finn's thoughts and observations. 
When Finn is called away by another crisis the book takes a turn for the surreal, and we begin to be unsure what is real and what isn't. We see Finn's personal issues, including the complicated love he has for Lily a woman he lived with for many years. 
Interspersed with Finn's story are the letters, and we eventually see the connections between them and his story. 
This is a novel of loss, of death, of how people deal with losing someone they care about, and about the uncertainty of life itself. 

Friday 2 February 2024

February Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 This is where you link to the reviews of Canadian books you've read in February. Add a comment too!

The Black Witch

Finished January 29
The Black Witch by Laurie Forest

This is the first book in a high fantasy series set in a world similar to our own. The current political situation is only a couple of generations old and unstable. The main character is Elloren Gardner, a 17-year-old who has led a sheltered life. There was a major war going on when she was very young, with her grandmother Clarissa a heroine for the winning side. Gardnerians made a pact with the Elvish people to create a peace, but it came at a cost to many of the other ethnic groups around. Elloren's parents were killed in one of the final battles in the war and she and her brothers Rafe and Trystan were looked after by their uncle Edwin, who brought them up in a remote pastoral part of the country. 
Near the beginning of the story, Elloren is surprised by an announcement from Edwin that she will be joining her brothers at Verpax University, to study to be an apothecary like her mother. Her paternal Aunt Vyvian, at the core of the Gardnerian government is on an unannounced visit and wants to wandfast her to the son of a prominent family.
This is a land of magic, where children are tested for magic at a young age and then classified into ranking based on their magical ability. Many other nations of being have magic as well, magic unique to them. Elloren has been told that she doesn't have magic, but she suspects she might have a different sort of magic. 
As Elloren is immersed into a world of diplomacy, rivalry, and infighting and forced to deal on a daily basis with beings she has had limited to no contact with before, she must navigate this with limited help from others. 
She finds herself living with two others, one a being said to be evil incarnate, of whom no males are allowed to live, and the other a half breed that is outcast by most of her mother's people. She must earn her tuition with labour after refusing to bow to her aunt's will, and work in the kitchens with those who both hate and mistrust her. 
Worst of all, she is the spitting image of her warrior grandmother and people assume she is like her in all other ways as well. 
As Elloren meets individuals of different beings, she finds more in common with them than she does with some of her own people, and she finds herself making choices that will shape her destiny. 
This is a story of a world of prejudice, with a caste system, and betrayal between former allies. It is a world where some are trying to build bridges, while others are planning mass genocide. 
It is also a world of unpredictable magic, of dragons and elves, fae folk and werewolves. A world where maybe anything is possible. 
I found myself totally immersed in this book, and immediately placed a hold at my library for the next in the series. I'm looking forward to seeing what Elloren and her friends get up to next. 

The Downstairs Neighbour

Finished January 25
The Downstairs Neighbour by Helen Cooper

This novel has a mystery that develops soon after the book opens and soon becomes the focus of the main story of the book, taking place in the present. There is another story from 25 years earlier that pops up now and again and it takes some time to see exactly how that story relates to the present day one.
The title is also intriguing, because it is unclear exactly who it pertains to. 
In a house in a London suburb, Paul and Steph live with their teenage daughter Freya on the top two floors. There are a close family, and Freya spends time with both her parents as well as with the family as a whole. Paul is an ex-cop and a data analyst, but he doesn't talk much about his previous career. Steph works in the first class lounge at Heathrow airport, making sure everything there runs smoothly. Freya is a popular and energetic teenager. 
Below them, on the ground floor, Emma lives. Emma owns her own vintage store, where she sells clothing, jewellery and other personal and decorative items. Things haven't been going well lately, and she has closed up shop, and has a deal to sell the shop very soon. She has a hamster named Gilbert, and his nocturnal activity has led her to move his cage to the cupboard underneath the stairs going up to her neighbours. She has discovered that when she is in there she can hear, fairly clearly, conversations going on upstairs. Emma is also waiting to hear from someone, a man named Zeb, that we don't learn much about until later in the story.
Below her, in the basement flat live Chris and his wife Vicky. Chris is a driving instructor, and teaches many of the young people in the area, including Freya. Vicky is a nurse. It seems that they are growing apart lately, although it isn't entirely clear why. 
One evening Emma senses unusual activity and soon hears that Freya hasn't come home from school. No one seems to have heard from her and she isn't answering her mobile. When the police ask Paul and Steph whether either of them have enemies, it seems that maybe they don't know as much about each other as they thought. Emma and Chris get drawn into the investigation too, through contact with Freya and an unknown person who seems to be sending a message to someone in the building. 
In the part of the story twenty-five years earlier, teenage Kate is worried about her mom. It's only been the two of them for a long time, but now her mom has a boyfriend, Nick, and she seems a lot quieter than before. The two of them often stop talking when Kate enters the room. When she sees bruises on her mom she gets scared and isn't sure what to do. So she calls a cousin, who's also a friend, for advice. 
As the two stories slowly unfold, there is a tense feel to both stories as we wonder what will happen, and the secrets that so many people have gradually get revealed. 
This is not a fast-moving story. But it is one that has you turning the pages, wanting to find out more. As we learn more about the different people, they become more and more interesting and imperfect. A fascinating story with long trails to the past.