Friday 28 June 2024

Looking for a Sign

Finished June 25
Looking for a Sign by Susie Dumond

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

Wednesday 26 June 2024

The Iron Flower

Finished June 22
The Iron Flower by Laurie Forest

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

The Kind Worth Killing

Finished June 20
The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

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

Monday 24 June 2024

My European Family

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

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

Wednesday 19 June 2024

Blood Sisters

Finished June 18
Blood Sisters by Vanessa Lillie

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

Tuesday 18 June 2024


Finished June 14
Happy by Mies van Hout

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


Finished June 14
Snatched by Karin Slaughter

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

Prime Time Romance

Finished June 13
Prime Time Romance by Kate Robb

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

Tuesday 11 June 2024

The Fire Court

Finished June 10
The Fire Court by Andrew Taylor

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

Monday 10 June 2024

The Husbands

Finished June 6
The Husbands by Holly Gramazio

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

A Strange and Sublime Address

Finished June 4
A Strange and Sublime Address by Amit Chaudhuri

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

Saturday 8 June 2024

Land of Love and Drowning

Finished June 4
Land of Love and Drowning by Tiphanie Yanique

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

Wednesday 5 June 2024

A Friend in the Dark

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

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

June Reviews for the 17th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

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