Monday 25 March 2024

The Damage Done

Finished March 19
The Damage Done by Hilary Davidson

This is the first book in a series featuring travel writer Lily Moore. Lily has returned to New York City from her more recent life in Spain after the police contact her to tell her that her younger sister Claudia has been found dead in her apartment on the anniversary of their mother's suicide. The apartment is actually Lily's and she'd tried living there with Claudia, but couldn't handle her sister's personality on a daily basis. Lily goes to the apartment and notices things that seem strange and out of character for her sister. When she goes to the morgue to identify her sister, things get even stranger, as the body there is someone Lily has never seen before. 
As she tries to find her sister, tracking down who and when anyone last saw or heard from here, she finds the police seem likely to think Claudia may have something to do with this woman's death. Claudia's best friend Jesse has her back, and provides a place for her to stay when she feels unsafe in her old apartment. 
With her ex-fiance, wealthy hotelier Martin trying to come back into her life, Lily finds herself still charmed by him, and yet wary too. There are a few other interesting characters, from Claudia's ex, Tariq, to the strangely friendly new neighbour Sarah, to the two police officers, Renfrew and Bruxton, assigned to the case.
I liked Lily, and enjoyed seeing both her strengths and flaws become apparent over the course of the novel, and found the plot gripping, with a few twists thrown in. 
I'd read the other two in this series a few years ago, so it was interesting to see earlier events in Lily's life, and I would have liked to see more of some characters, like Bruxton and Tariq, in the other books. 

A Meal in Winter

Finished March 18
A Meal in Winter by Hubert Mingarelli, translated by Sam Taylor

I came to this book through a new book subscription service I decided to try out. It's from a shop in Wales called Mr. B's and they have a long form to fill out to get a sense of what books you like, and since I teach Readers' Advisory, I found it really related to the interview aspect that's a part of RA work. So this was the first book I got in the subscription, and I'd never heard of the author before, which was great. I love discovering new authors.
Because this book was somewhat dark in subject, I took my time with it, dipping in now and then over a couple of months to read it. It is beautifully written and translated, and really spoke to me emotionally. There are extremely touching passages, and elements of humour in their thoughts and conversations, and all the time there is the shadow of their task and its outcome hanging over them. 
The story is about three German soldiers in World War II in Poland. The camp that they live it looks for Jews and then the soldiers that are based there shoot them in a formal event every morning. These soldiers absolutely hate having to do this, and so they ask to go wander about the countryside and search for the Jews, a task they would rather do than shoot them. 
When they unexpectedly find a Jewish man, they go through a process where they are torn between their natural bent to let him go, and the expectations of their superiors. They know that if they prove successful in bringing someone in, they will be allowed to go out again and skip the actual execution task. 
As the title indicates, it is winter and very cold and even in the camp food supplies are low, so the men are constantly hungry. When they find an abandoned house and break in, they find a single room with a stove and decide to light it and make a meal with the food they have. 
Another interesting part of this book is that one of them, Emmerlich, is a father who worries about his son. The first time he does so here is when the men have stopped to smoke a cigarette and he worries that his son will start smoking. The worries about his son are ongoing, and the other two men talk him through them, and give their input on the situation. This is one way the author humanizes the men. This discussion also includes a foreshadowing of a future event that provides an eerie echo to what the men are doing now. 
A moving story, beautifully told. 

Saturday 23 March 2024

Hunting Season

Finished March 16
Hunting Season by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli

This novel was one I picked up because I enjoyed the author's Inspector Montalbano mystery series. It is nothing like that series. It is a mystery, but also a farce, with touches of romance, and nods to several of Shakespeare's Italian plays. It also rambles a lot and I found I didn't really care about it enough to try to follow all the plot strings.
There are many interwoven plots for such a short novel, but the central one has a man returning to the town of Vigata under an assumed name after being away for years. He escaped after his father was murdered, and has an agenda that it takes some time to reveal. The local nobility, the marchese, is a womanizer who ignores his daughter while trying to produce an heir, with most of the local inhabitants turning a blind eye. 
Some reviews called this bawdy and humorous, but it felt contrived and hard to follow to me, and I found the female characters to be pawns with no real choices. 
I finished it because I was reading it for one of my reading challenge goals, but wouldn't recommend it. 

Jack in the Green

Finished March 12
Jack in the Green by Diane Capri

This novella continues the series Hunt for Reacher, where FBI agents Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar search for information on Jack Reacher. Having had little luck trying to get information from those close to Reacher, this installment has them connecting with someone who has had a run-in with Reacher during his Army days. Retired colonel Thomas Weston is back at a Florida base for a memorial service, and the FBI agents have been given a directive to ask him some questions, just before other FBI agents arrest him. 
Weston was investigated for being responsible for the killing of his entire family, but the evidence wasn't found to convict him. 
Otto and Gaspar aren't sure if this meeting is a set-up to trap Reacher or not, and they can't figure out why Weston would return to the U.S. at this time. When things go wrong, as is usual in this series, they really go wrong, and we get to see a little of Tampa while they do.
This novel also brings in characters from Capri's other series, including Judge Willa Carson, lawyer Jennifer Lane, and reporter Jessica Kimball. 
I enjoyed the varied pace of this one, and the glimpse of some other interesting characters. 

Friday 22 March 2024

Love, Holly

Finished March 12
Love, Holly by Emily Stone

This book has a cover that makes it look like a light romance, but it is more complex than that. The book begins with Holly and her sister Lily are driving from London to a rental cottage in the country to join their parents for Christmas, with Lily's husband due to come up later. 
When they make an impromptu stop for a coffee for Holly, and a mint tea for Lily, who is in the later stages of pregnancy, Holly has a meet cute with an attractive man and gets his number.
As the two women get back on the road, an accident happens that changes everything. As a result Holly has been estranged from her family for years, and has found a new career as an art teacher, abandoning her own hopes for a career as an artist. As part of her grieving process, Holly has been participating in a program where the participants send letters anonymously at the holidays to someone else, and receive a letter in return from someone. When Emma, the woman whose letter Holly received, gives out some information in her letter that Holly recognizes, she is determined to find her and reconnect her with her estranged family. 
As the story comes full circle and Holly is reunited with the man she met just before the accident, she finds that her friendship with Emma is leading her back to dealing with her own family issues.
This is a story that begins with a tragedy, with other sad events influencing the plot, but that comes down to issues around grief and communication. The story carries you along quickly, and leaves you with a feel-good ending. 

Small Spaces

Finished March 11
Small Spaces by Katherine Arden

I've enjoyed this author's adult novels and thought I would try one of her children's novels. Small Spaces is the first book in a series of novels featuring paranormal elements in our world. The story is centered on 11 year old Ollie, who is still grieving the loss of her mother. She loves books and wandering in the woods near her Vermont home. One day, when she's going to her secret forest reading spot, she finds someone already there, a woman who seems distraught and who is about to throw a book into the river. Ollie grabs the book from her hands and takes off. When she examines the book later, she finds it is a sort of diary told by a woman whose husband made an agreement with "the smiling man" to find his brother again. 
A few days later, when Ollie's class goes on a field trip to a nearby farm, she finds several things unsettling, from the substitute bus driver, to the presence of the woman she'd seen earlier. There are also numerous scarecrows on the farm who give off an eerie vibe to Ollie. 
When their bus back to school breaks down and leaves them on the side of a deserted road near the forest, Ollie and two other students who follow her, try to make their way to safety, using the words that Ollie found in the book about keeping to small spaces, and the guidance that she gets from her mother through a device.
This is a creepy story with suspenseful and tense moments. Ollie is a girl who cares about others, and also one who is able to find calmness in a crisis. I read the book in one sitting, eager to know what happened. 
The pace is fast and the main characters of Ollie, Brian, and Coco have some depth to them. I'm interested in seeing how this series continues. 

Monday 18 March 2024

Her Majesty's Royal Coven

Finished March 8
Her Majesty's Royal Coven by Juno Dawson

This is the first book in a series by the same title, and is set around a group of women that took their adolescent oath to join Her Majesty's Royal Coven (HMRC), a longstanding institution, first started by Queen Elizabeth I, at the same time. All of the girls had some early schooling in the magical arts by Elle's grandmother, Annie, who is an oracle. Since then they have gone their separate ways, but still retain some friendships. 
There was a civil war in recent years that has hit many of them hard, and caused two of them to lose their partners. This is a wound for many that hasn't yet healed. 
Helena, the wealthiest of the girls, is now the High Priestess of the coven. Elle, a healing witch, is living a life as a normal housewife, with her partner unaware of her abilities. Niamh, who has multiple abilities, is working as a country vet, still mourning the loss of her partner. Leonie, the only black one of the group, has started her own more inclusive and intersectional coven called Diaspora in which she welcomes witches from all cultural backgrounds as well as lesbians and transgender witches. 
This book begins with a couple of young people. One of them, Elle's daughter Holly, is showing signs of magical abilities, and Elle asks Niamh for help in introducing the whole idea of witches to her, as well as giving her some training. The other is a young man, Theo, who seems to have extraordinary abilities and caused damage to the school he was attending. Helena has retrieved him and imprisoned him, and he is in great distress. She asks Niamh to come and help, even though Niamh is no longer part of the HMRC.
It is obvious from the beginning that Helena is the most traditional and staid of the group, as well as being the one who likes the power she wields. I enjoyed getting to know the way that this imagined world worked, with witches in general more powerful than warlocks, and them having separate administrative structures while still with the witches as the ultimate decision-makers. 
We also learn the mythology of their creation and the creatures, demons, that they, as representatives of Gaia, are supposed to hold the world against. There are different kinds of witches, with certain attributes and some, with more power, who have combined skills. 
I was quite enjoying this book and seeing how the different women lived, but few of them were complex characters, with none of the younger characters in the book having a real voice, despite their importance to the plot. 
I did get frustrated with some of the characters, and with some of the later plot elements, particularly with the note on which the book ended. I realize that it was likely structured this way to encourage the reader to continue with the following book in the series, but it didn't sit well with me. 

Sunday 17 March 2024


Finished March 8
Homecoming by Kate Morton

This novel starts in the past, on New Year's Day in 1959, and moves back and forth between that 1959  and the near present, late 2018. The 1959 portion takes place in the Adelaide Hills, around a family, the Turners, that lived in a large house that had a sad past, built for a wife that never arrived. The first scene is an interesting one, letting us into the mind of Isabel Turner, a woman who is beginning to question the life she lives. It also ends on an interesting mysterious note with the arrival at the house of a man Isabel hadn't expected. This is followed by tragedy nearly a year later, with a local man, Percy Summers, the one to make the sad discovery on Christmas Eve. 
This present day part of the novel starts in London, but is set mostly in Australia. Jess, a journalist, is off to meet a friend after time spent at her favourite museum, and grabs a cab as rain begins. She receives a call from Australia, where she was born and grown up, telling her of her grandmother's hospitalization after a fall. Jess travels back to Australia, where she finds herself alone in her grandmother's large house, and begins to reflect on memories as well as look for reasons for her grandmother visiting a part of the house that led to her fall. 
One thing she finds is an old book, written by an American journalist, that tells of the tragedy in 1959, with apparent access to personal papers of the Turner family. As Jess begins to realize the connection between this event and her own family, she must also deal with family issues much closer to home, the relationship between herself, her mother, and her grandmother. 
I found this a fascinating read. As is usual for Morton, the characters are complex and feel real. As Jess uncovers her family's history and faces the strange dynamics between the three generations of women, we see the insecurities, fear, and love that underlie all of it. 
A great read. 

Saturday 16 March 2024

Get Back Jack

Finished March 2
Get Back Jack by Diane Capri

This is the second novel in the series Hunt for Reacher, where FBI agents Kim Otto and Carlos Gaspar are on an off-the-books case to discover more about Jack Reacher as part of a supposed background check. Here, there are trying to talk to the surviving members of his core team from his army days. There aren't a lot of them left, and they find that suspicious in and of itself. When they arrive at the office of one of them and find a crime scene being processed, they get worried about the remaining members of the team. 
This book features one of my favourite recurring characters from the Reacher novels, Frances Neagley, a woman that he often relies on for assistance, but who also has her own issues. 
We actually get a deeper glimpse into her life here, and also find that Otto and Gaspar encounter move danger than they expected. When women and children connected to Reacher are kidnapped as leverage against some of the members of Reacher's team, Otto and Gaspar find themselves teaming up with Neagley and learning a little more about Reacher. 
I enjoyed how this book, brought in characters from Child's books, but let us see a different aspect of them. I'm enjoying this series. 


Finished February 27
Hidden by Rebecca Zanetti

This romantic suspense novel is the first book in a series that is centered around a small unorthodox group of government agents. There are two main characters. Pippa is a woman with a past that she fears will one day catch up with her. Malcolm was an undercover cop who is drafted into the small government team early in this novel. When Malcolm moves into the house that shares a yard with Pippa's it doesn't take long for them to notice each other, but they are both wary for their own reasons. 
The team Malcolm is drafted onto is made up of misfits, people who have traumas, and many have interesting quirks. 
Pippa has a job where she can work from home and interacts with others rarely. She has one woman that she meets from time to time and we learn gradually just how they know each other. Just as we learn the life that Pippa has fled, and what she has left behind.
We also learn about Malcolm's past and why he ended up where he is now. 
There are some formulaic elements to this story, and a few things that seem unlikely as plot devices, but the story is a fast-moving one, with elements of violence and sex in small doses. 
I picked up the book to meet a reading challenge, trying out an author that was new to me. 

Friday 15 March 2024

My Life as a Villainess

Finished February 25
My Life as a Villainess by Laura Lippman

This collection of  fifteen personal essays covers many aspects of Lippman's life, from her later in life motherhood to her time as a rookie reporter in Waco, Texas to the wonder of reheating leftovers in a double boiler. 
The book is organized into four sections, each with a few essays, along with an introduction that tells us how she came to write personal essays in the first place. I came to this book having enjoyed her fiction and found myself quickly enjoying her open style when discussing different aspects and events in her life. As she says in the introduction, there are portions of her life not covered here, but what she has included is interesting and relatable. 
Her opening essay is on the mental struggle for women between the body they have and the body society tells them they should have. It's magnificent. 
The essays aren't in chronological order about her life, but are grouped roughly into four sections where they feel that they belong with each other. 
I read this book one essay at a time, taking breaks between them and found them emotionally moving and reminding me of aspects of my own life. 

Wednesday 13 March 2024

March Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

 Sorry to be posting this so late. Things kind of got away from me this month. 

Please use the linky to connect to your reviews for the month.

Sunday 10 March 2024

The Clinic

Finished February 21
The Clinic by Cate Quinn

This suspense thriller mostly takes place at a remote luxury rehab centre on the Oregon coast. Haley, an famous singer, is a patient there and we see her as the novel begins going into an area that she's not supposed to be in.
The novel then jumps to her sister Meg. Meg works at a casino in Las Vegas, where she is part of the investigative team looking for people trying to cheat the system and for other types of crimes. Meg was caught a few years back by some of the bad guys and suffered an injury that she got opioids for and now she is a functioning addict. She's already used other substances to deal with childhood trauma that she hasn't dealt with, and has recurring nightmares that include a man in a fedora and playing cards. 
She'd been close to Haley until Haley left home suddenly, leaving Meg with their mentally unstable mother. 
When Meg gets the news that Haley has died at the rehab centre, and hears rumours of suicide, she is at first very upset, then decides to enter the centre herself as a guest to try to find out what really happened to Haley. She is sure that Haley would never commit suicide. 
There is a second point of view here as well, that of the manager of the rehab centre, Cara, who hasn't been there long. Cara has a background in the hotel industry, where she worked until she got caught up in a scandal. As Cara gradually learns what is going on, partly from the doctor there, Max, and partly from her own investigations, we learn about things from a different angle. 
The other guests at the centre are as famous as Haley was, actors and singers, all there for various addictions. The head of the centre is a man from Switzerland with his own sketchy past, and as the local police also show an interest after the death of Haley, we find some other centre staff may have troublesome connections as well. 
This is a story of both psychological suspense and some physical suspense as well. It has lots of twists and turns and unexpected events that keep you guessing on things right to the end. None of the characters are particularly likeable, even though you might think are. 
The author has her own experiences in rehab, and says that this is her first novel that she's written sober. 

Saturday 9 March 2024

Night Diver

Finished February 20
Night Diver by Elizabeth Lowell

This is a gripping novel about family, trust, and fraud. Kate Donnelly left St. Vincent years ago after the death of her parents when they were doing a dive. She tried to save her father, and her mother's body was never found. Kate hasn't dived since. Now her brother and grandfather, who run the family's dive company Moon Rose, have asked for her help sorting through the finances to try to keep the company from going bankrupt. They current have a dive contract with a British antiquities organization that barely pays the costs. She feels that she must go even though she has little hope that she will be able to make the difference needed. 
She is put in charge of a new arrival to the island, a dive consultant from the funding company who is evaluating the operation to see if it is viable or should be shut down. His name is Holden Cameron and he has both experience diving and an investigative background. 
As the two are forced to spend time together, they find it hard to withstand the physical attraction to each other, but also both have suspicions that something isn't right about the dive that is going on. 
Because of poor funding, Moon Rose has trouble hiring good divers, which isn't helped by the site they are diving at having a reputation for things going wrong. 
This is a story that built slowly into a finale with lots of action. The two main characters are interesting and have backstories that include trauma. They are also smart and once they start putting facts together, they find themselves coming to the same conclusion. 

Anger Bang

Finished February 19
Anger Bang by Avery Flynn

This novel is the first in a romance series and the two main characters, Thea and Kade, had their own baggage that they are bringing to their present situation. Thea was a child actress along with her sister and their mother was a stereotypical Hollywood mom, doing everything she could to keep parts coming. But Thea's heart was never in it and she stepped back when she became a teenager and the parts dried up. She is now a paleontologist and loves her job. Kade's story is unveiled as the book progresses, but he had an unhappy childhood that is still unresolved. 
As the novel opens Thea is getting the final fitting for her bridesmaid dress. Her sister's wedding is a reality show event at a camping resort in Wyoming, with footage revealed to fans daily. Both bride and groom are stars looking for a lift in their careers and have agreed to do this as a career move. They are friends as well. As Thea is standing outside her sister's trailer, she meets Kade, the best man and brother of the groom. Kade looks like a rebel with his tattoos, long hair, and motorcycle, but he has a successful entrepreneurial career that belies his looks. 
When Thea overhears her sister say that she didn't even want Thea at the wedding, but the producers insisted, she is hurt. That evening, at the rehearsal event, Thea propositions Kade in front of everyone, on camera, and is surprised when he agrees. As the two spend time together, both trying to escape the cameras and wedding events, the find themselves confessing secrets and growing closer. 
There is lots going on here, with Thea's issues with both her sister and mom, and an unresolved situation at work that we never see resolved. Kade has issues with both his brother and his estranged mom, not to mention his dad who passed away years ago. With his mom at the wedding, things come to a head for him in a way that isn't entirely predictable.
This book has a lot of humour that really makes the story come alive. Thea is a lovely woman who has let herself be a doormat for far too long, and Kade has pushed people away in his life, focusing on his work. It was a quick enjoyable read.