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


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.  

Saturday 25 May 2024

The Invisible Library

Finished May 21
The Invisible Library by Genevieve Cogman

This book starts a series, and is a fantasy book with an interesting, for me at least, focus. The library of the title is a place that exists between worlds, as a kind of gateway. It takes up a lot of space, and has multiple rooms, all filled with shelves of books, with nooks where computers exist, for looking things up, writing reports, communicating with others, etc. That's pretty interesting as a construct for me. The idea of nearly endless books is fascinating. The library collects books from different worlds to strengthen the connection with those worlds. The senior librarians determine what books to collect and send junior librarians, like the central character here, Irene, out to get them. 
The worlds are different versions of our world. Sometimes only slightly different, sometimes vastly different. The library tries to keep things in balance. Too much technology can result in a tightly ordered world with no creativity. Too much magic can result in a world of chaos. The world that Irene and the trainee that is assigned to her, a man named Kai, is leaning towards chaos. 
We get a sense of what can happen as Irene finished up a case as the book opens, using her skills and her knowledge of the special Library language to control things. This glimpse is intriguing. 
They arrive in an alternate London through a gate inside an office in the British Library. The book they are seeking is rare and, when they arrive, has already been stolen by someone. The person, a vampire in this case, that bought it recently was killed. They soon discover that they are not the only ones seeking the book, a book of tales by Grimm, and that one of those is a fae. 
The mix of magic and reality is done well, and some of the elements of attack are unexpected, consisting of creatures that we normally don't think of as in the context they appear in, or that fit the context by attack in unexpected ways. 
There is also the idea of dragons as creatures on the side of good. The dragons are on the side of order not magic, and have their own abilities in doing this. There is also an element of peer rivalry between Irene and another librarian, which influences the plotline. 
A book that had me engrossed and amused at the same time. I liked the touches of humour that existed within the book, and the underlying tensions between some characters that were attracted to each other. All together a fun read. 

Thursday 23 May 2024

The Stand-In

Finished May 19
The Stand-In by Lily Chu

This delightful novel has a lot going on, and I stayed up too late a few nights because I had trouble putting it down. The central character, Gracie Reed, is an only child struggling to pay for her mother's nursing home. She knows her mother's progression into dementia means that she will need more care and a better atmosphere, but she can't afford the home she is waitlisted on. 
Aside from that, she is also dealing with a toxic work atmosphere, where her pleasant and agreeable manner have her fending off increasingly forward advances from her boss Todd. It has got to the point where she has called in sick to work to meet with a lawyer about it. After the meeting with the lawyer, she stopped at one of her favourite coffee shops for a pick-me-up before heading home. At the coffee shop, she is photographed by an aggressive man who the store manager kicked out afterwards. 
She finds that her picture has been put online as that of Wei Fangli, a Chinese movie star. When Fangli approaches her with an interesting proposition, she is taken aback. Fangli wants her to be seen as Fangli for the next couple of months, while Fangli and her co-star Sam Yao star in a live theatre production in the city. Gracie would do all the non-theatre events and outings to let Fangli focus only on her work. She asks for some time to think about it, but the money is tempting. 
The next day she finds her mind is made up for her as Todd has seen the photograph and accuses her of calling in sick fraudulently and fires her. Gracie's best friend Anjali is upset that Gracie hadn't told her how bad Todd was, and understands that she needs a job, but thinks the deal with Fangli is a bad one. 
As Gracie begins her role as Fangli, she must deal with learning details about the star and her work, practicing mimicking the way she moves, and coming up with responses to expected media questions. On the plus side, she now has access to an incredible wardrobe, high-end cosmetics and skin-care, and is staying in a really nice hotel suite. She also deals with Fangli's assistant Mei, who does most of the training required.
Dealing with Sam Yao, who will be accompanying her on almost all her outings is more complex. They get off to a bad start, but gradually work out some ground rules that determine how they can get along. 
I liked the Toronto setting, with some of the details of the city coming into the story. I also really liked Gracie and could relate to her personality and her people-pleasing nature. It was also really fun to see the clothes and other luxurious things that entered her life from her viewpoint of awe and pleasure. I also liked the serious side of dealing with dementia. 
The other plotline was Gracie's love for list making, especially to-do lists. She has tried a few apps, and paper tools, but hasn't had any that really clicked for her. She decides to take the time she has to work on designing her own app, and some of the hints along the way looked really interesting. I also like lists, and haven't found an app that clicked, so enjoyed seeing this plot develop. 
The romance was nicely done, with a touch of enemies to friends to lovers, and a slow burn. A very enjoyable read. 

Tuesday 21 May 2024

By the Book

Finished May 16
By the Book by Jasmine Guillory

This is the second book in the Meant to Be series, but the first I've read. The main character here is Isabelle (Izzy to her friends) and she has been working for a big publisher as an editorial assistant for a couple of years. The job is hard work and her boss Marta doesn't give a lot of feedback. Isabelle has made friends with Priya, another editorial assistant at the same publishing firm. As the book opens, they are both looking forward to an upcoming conference in California, even though they know they'll be spending most of their time working. One of the writers that Marta signed a book deal with is Beau Towers, a former child star and the son of two celebrities that has been known as a bit of a bad boy. Every couple of weeks Isabelle sends him an email asking if he needs any assistance and just generally checking in with him. Marta hasn't received anything from him, and it has been months. Isabelle has started having a little fun with the emails, talking about trivial things, other books, and trying to be friendly, but she's never had a response. When Isabelle overhears Marta complaining about Beau's lack of writing to another editor at the conference she impulsively offers to go to Beau's home and try to get some answers. 
Beau's home is in Santa Fe, only a few hours from where the conference is, and so Izzy drives there and things begin to get very interesting. As she and Beau get to know each other, and she helps him get started on the book, more personal notes begin to appear in their conversations. 
I liked the immersion into the publishing and writing side of things, seeing how Izzy uses what she's learned to give Beau prompts and keep him moving forward. I also enjoyed seeing her blossom in her confidence, and be willing to try new things herself. 
A fun and very engaging read about two characters that definitely grew on me. 

Perfectly Undone

Finished May 15
Perfectly Undone by Jamie Raintree

Set in Portland, Oregon, this is a story of self-awareness and dealing with trauma from the past. The main character, Dylan Michels has worked hard to get where she is, a ob/gyn doctor at the Women's Clinic. She has a deep desire to do research in the area of early detection of pregnancy issues, like ectopic pregnancies. Her older sister Abby died from an undiagnosed ectopic pregnancy when she was a teen, and this is a big part of what drives her. 
Dylan lives with her partner Cooper, a pediatrician, and they had long planned to marry. As the book opens, Cooper is proposing, but Dylan finds herself unable to commit. As the two go through weeks of bad communication, it becomes clear that there is a secret about Dylan and her sister that lie at the heart of Dylan's inability to choose happiness. 
I found Dylan interesting. In the scenes in the clinic and hospital, it is clear that she is respected by her fellow doctors and the other staff. She is a good doctor, focused on her patients and their concerns. Her buried trauma around her sister has led her to where she is, but also left her unable to move on. 
None of the other characters here have the depth of Dylan. Whether it is Cooper, the nurse Enrique, Dylan's boss Vanessa, patients like Erika, or her friend Megan, we don't see enough of them to get a real sense of them as people. 
There is an interesting plotline of the landscaping that Cooper has given Dylan as a gift. As the landscape architect Reese creates the garden from Dylan's short burst of input, we see how it relates to Dylan as well. 

Saturday 18 May 2024

Now You See Us

Finished May 14
Now You See Us by Balli Kaur Jaswal

This novel offered a glimpse into another place and life experience for me. It is set in Singapore, around three Filipino women of different ages who work as domestic workers. Corazon had worked in Singapore for years, and returned to the Philippines to raise her nephew Raymond. Now she is back in Singapore, and harboring a secret about what happened back home. We know that something happened to Raymond, but the whole story is only gradually revealed over the course of the novel. Her new employer is a widowed woman who has never had domestic help before. Her husband's death and other circumstances have led to her withdrawing from her friends and social experiences in general. One of her two daughters is getting married and she is being drawn into the planning of this, but she is dealing with loneliness that causes her to treat Corazon as a friend and that creates some issues for both of them. 
Donita is in her early twenties and this is her first job in Singapore. Her employer is a very demanding woman who tries to limit Dorita's freedom, and creates a difficult living situation for Dorita that gets worse over time. 
Angel is employed as a caregiver for an older man who has been debilitated by a stroke. She truly cares for his wellbeing and tries to help him recover physically as well as responding to his expressions in how much she asks him to do. On the personal side, she is also grieving the loss of a romantic relationship with another woman. When her employer's daughter hires a nurse to work with the older man, Angel worries about her job, but she also feels that her employer's son is trying to take adventage of her. 
Add to this mix a sensational murder, where a Filipino worker, Floradeliza, is accused of the crime. Donita knows the woman and is sure she is innocent, but doesn't understand the lack of power she and her fellow workers hold. 
This novel gave real insight into the logistics of working as a domestic worker, mostly in Singapore, but also in other places. There are lots of details about papers, medical requirements, and working conditions that really show how these people live under the threat of expulsion at the whim of their employers. 
The story is told in alternating points of view between the women, along with group chats online between them. There are also chats between the employers of such workers, and chats that other workers have during this time. 
The author made each of the main characters come to life for me, I could empathize with their situation and the circumstances they were trying to make the best of, while still trying to have some personal life for themselves. A real eye-opening read. 

Tuesday 14 May 2024

Boat Girl

Finished May 8
Boat Girl by Melanie Neale

This memoir grew on me as I got further into it. Melanie's story goes from her beginning to age 32, sometimes jumping a few years in the later sections. Her parents bought a new sailboat shortly before she was born, and she spent her youth growing up on the boat, travelling from her parent's home port in Virginia to Florida and from there to the Bahamas, usually on the smaller islands that make up the Exumas. Her father had worked as a lawyer prior to this, and used the money he earned there to buy the boat and fund the first few years of sailing. He began writing about their experiences and about sailing in more general ways and wrote both books and articles and continued to fund their life from these endeavours. 
I found her life interesting, from her parents' insistence on proper schooling using correspondence material from accredited schools, to encouraging her to learn practical skills that went along with owning a large sailboat and living on it. She dealt with some common teen issues such as finding friends and body image, and with her father's expectations around her relationships. 
I liked that she thought about what she really enjoyed doing and changed her major in college early to concentrate on that passion. 
Both informative and personally open, this memoir gives a realistic view of this way of life.  

Monday 13 May 2024

Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting

Finished May 7
Iona Iverson's Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley

This gem of a novel follows a group of people who commute by train into London with Hampton Court being the other end of the line. They interact with each other as each faces work and life issues and get help in figuring out next steps. We see their stories from each person's viewpoint, and I really enjoyed how we noticed different things from seeing them from different eyes. This also lets us see the personal thoughts, concerns, and dilemmas they face. Each chapter tells you who the narrator is, the time, and the train location. 
The title character Iona is in her late fifties, flamboyant, opinionated, and proudly lesbian. She works as an advice columnist for a women's magazine, but is facing agism issues at her work, and dealing with a life challenge that is revealed later in the story. She has given nicknames to other commuters that she sees regularly and we find out their stories as they begin to interact with her. She also goes almost everywhere with her French bulldog Lulu. She also carries a bag that seems to contain just what is needed for any occasion. In the mornings it is a flask of tea, a cup and saucer, mail, and her iPad. In the evenings it is a glass and a flask of premixed gin and tonic, along with lemon slices
Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader is an investment banker who dresses in bespoke suits ands has an arrogant attitude, but when he (Piers) almost dies in front of her on the train, a friendship gradually begins. Up until now, he has thought of Iona as Crazy Dog Lady. He is a man who is having a life crisis but still loves playing with numbers. 
Sitting next to Piers during the near-death incident is Impossibly-Pretty-Bookworm, a woman in her twenties who dresses well but not conservatively and is always reading a book. She is Emmie and works for an advertising agency. She also lives with a man Toby, that we see only briefly. She also begins getting occasional anonymous hateful messages that target her confidence. 
Coming to the rescue of Piers is Mr.-Too-Good-to-Be-True, otherwise known as Sanjay, a nurse. Sanjay has thought fondly of Iona as Rainbow Lady. Sanjay thinks of Emmie as Girl-on-the-Train and is working up to approaching her to ask her out. Sanjay suffers from anxiety, but tries to hide it from others. One of his ways to distract himself from an episode of anxiety is to recite the periodic table in order. 
Also coming into the story is Martha, a teenager struggling with fitting in and discovering her own identity. Her arrival is also a scene stealer as she vomits on Piers' computer. She has done something that creates a personal issue for her and needs help figuring a way to change her image. She also needs help in math. She thinks of Iona as Magic-Handbag-Lady. 
David enters the picture when his wife leaves a note in his lunch that has him wondering how to fix the situation. Iona, naturally offers assistance, helping him to plan an approach to this challenge in his life. 
I loved how Pooley brings the characters to life through their stories, and I found myself liking all of them as I knew them better. 
A fantastic read. 

Thursday 9 May 2024


Finished May 2
Weyward by Emilia Hart

This book has three timelines. One is in 2019 when Kate flees her controlling boyfriend in London for a neglected cottage she inherited from her great aunt. One is in 1942, when her great-aunt Violet is placed into a difficult position by her family. And one is in 1619 when teenage Altha is put on trial for witchcraft. 
Altha was taught herbal medicine and healing by her mother, who has recently passed away. Other healers have warned them about the growing accusations of witchcraft and Altha's mother has taken care to hide some of the activities that would endanger them. Altha continues to heal those who come to her, and act as a midwife, but it is the request of an old friend that puts her into the situation that she has found herself in. 
Violet's mother died when she was a toddler, and she has only vague memories of her. Her father is strict and has her educated privately, but she longs for the boarding school education her younger brother receives and often borrows his textbooks. Violet is particularly drawn to nature and spends as much time outdoors as she can, although her father frowns on her behaviour. She is warned to be on her best behaviour when a previously unknown cousin comes to visit on a leave from the war. He seems nice and she agrees to spend time with him, but her innocence puts her into a dangerous situation. She must draw on her connection to nature and on hidden information from her mother to find a way forward. 
Kate has been with her boyfriend for a few years, and has gradually lost other connections in her life due to his controlling behaviour. Now he wants her to conform in another way, and she can see that her last chance to escape may be at hand. She takes that chance, running to the neglected cottage, and building a new life there, but she is always under the threat that he might find her again. 
These women's stories are of the way patriarchal society controls women by various means, and of these particular women who find a way to escape that control, even when it means losing something. I really enjoyed all three different stories and how each of them found an inner strength to use the skills they had to make their own way in life. All of them also had someone else in their life, either family or community that helped them in some way. 
A compelling read. 

Wednesday 8 May 2024

Meet Me at the Museum

Finished April 30
Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson

This delightful novel is told entirely through letters between two people. In East Anglia in England, Tina Hopgood is the wife of a farmer, who she married decades ago when she got pregnant. Both parents thought it was for the best. Tina had had other plans, but she agreed. She and her husband have three grown children, all of them also working at the farm, which has many side projects, like renting out hay bales and having vacation cottages. After her childhood friend Bella has died, she is remembering her youth and an interaction with a professor from Denmark about the Tollund Man. She writes a letter to him at the Silkeborg Museum where she talks about the interaction, her thoughts about the Tollund Man who she intended to visit years ago but didn't, and about her thoughts around aging.
The professor she writes to is long dead, but a curator at the Museum, Anders Larsen writes back, trying to answer questions that he thinks are implied in her letter. And so the conversation begins. 
The letters cover around a year and a half in time, but cover so much more as the two share their histories, their thoughts on life, ask advice over issues that have presented themselves, and become a friendship. 
Both have suffered loss, and are faced with changes through the lives of their children. Their conversation also leads them to examine their own lives and decide whether they want to change things for themselves as well. 
This is a lovely novel, with beautiful writing, and many emotional moments. It is a novel that talks about life, love, selflessness, and so much more. Definitely one of my favourite books of the year. 

May Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

It's great to see the range of books that people are reading. 

This is where you post the links to reviews of books that you've read in May. 

Please add a comment about how the reading is going for you or what you thought about the book you included. 

Tuesday 7 May 2024

Cold Comfort

Finished April 30
Cold Comfort by Charles Todd

This short story is a prequel to the Inspector Rutledge series and takes place during World War I in France in 1915. I've had this as an ebook for a while and finally got around to reading it. 
The story is centered around some Welsh soldiers that worked to dig under the enemy's lines, plant explosives and then set them off, sending the enemy into disarray so your side could attack more easily. This type of work was done by both sides during the war, and many methods were used to dig quietly and to detect the digging done by the other side. 
One of Rutledge's men is a slate miner, and most of the other Welshmen were coal miners, and there are some accusations around both the work being done here and things that happened back home at the slate miner. Rutledge relies on knowledge gained from Hamish, who we know of from the series, and his own instincts to try to prevent things escalating. 
An interesting story, but with little real connection to the series that takes place after the war, other than Rutledge himself. Hamish plays a very small role here. 

Thursday 2 May 2024

With My Little Eye

Finished April 30
With My Little Eye by Joshilyn Jackson

This suspenseful thriller is centered around actor Meribel Mills, a woman who started off as Didi a side character in a sitcom in the '90s that she's still known for. She done a lot of work since then, but nothing big. So she finds it surprising that she's suddenly being stalked. After finding evidence that he'd been in her home in L.A., she needs to go somewhere else. She accepts a role in a film shooting near Atlanta, Georgia, and rents a condo there for her and her daughter Honor. Honor is adopted and on the autism spectrum. So she worries about the change this means for her and how she will adjust. 
She also worries about being back in Georgia, her home state. She'd grown up here, and got married here, and had a devastating event that led to the end of her marriage. She'd never had full closure on that and so she finds that being near her ex has made her start following his wife on Instagram as she posts a lot of lifestyle and personal stuff there. 
The stalked sends notes written in a smelly marker, and Honor has dubbed him Marker Man for this. He has also sometimes sent 'gifts' that are unsettling. His notes convey that he has an image of her that is an object to be possessed, and he makes some violent statements.
So when Meribel, having coffee with one of her new neighbours, Cooper, in the shop below the condos feels eyes on her, she immediately thinks of her stalker, and starts looking around. 
There are some other things going on as well. Meribel had started a relationship with a man back in L.A. who works in security and she ended it when she moved, but still has the feelings for him. Cooper's ex Addie also lives in the building and has a daughter Sheila and little older than Honor. Honor befriended stray cats back in L.A. and took care of them. She's found a stray of sorts here and has befriended them and is trying to take care of them in ways that she can. 
I loved Honor and her thoughts and how she made decisions and plans. 
There are some twists and turns and lots of suspenseful moments and a very dramatic ending that feels satisfying. 

Wednesday 1 May 2024

Women Talking

Finished April 30
Women Talking by Miriam Toews

This book was inspired by a real life event that occured at a Mennonite colony in Bolivia named the Manitoba Colony. While eight men were convicted and jailed there, the assaults continued. Toews wrote this book as a reaction to those events. 
The book begins after the discovery that some men in this fictional Mennonite colony of Molotschna were using veterinary anaesthetic on women and girls in the the night and sexually assaulting them. Some of them are now pregnant. 
Most of the men in the community have gone to the city to try to bail out the men accused of the crimes. While they are gone, eight of the women and girls have decided to meet to talk about what they should do. August, a man who has returned to the community as an adult after his parents were ejected from the community when he was a child, has been asked to take minutes of the meeting. This is something that is gradually explained during the novel. 
The book is told through those minutes and through other observations by August that he has noted. 
The novel is slow-paced, almost all of it taking place in the loft of the barn where the women are meeting. The time period is only a couple of days and there is sometimes circular discussion, occasional moments of humour, and disagreements that make the time seem to stretch longer. The character with the most depth is August himself because he is the narrator. We see his sadness, his sense of loss, and his feelings of not belonging anywhere. The personalities of the various women and girls also comes out through their talk and small actions. 
This is a moving novel that gives the reader a lot to think about. It has since also been adapted into a film.