Saturday, 25 February 2017

The Flood Girls

Finished February 24
The Flood Girls by Richard Fifield

This novel is one that had me laughing and crying. The setting is Quinn, a small town in Montana, and we see things from the point of view of several characters. Rachel is a young woman who left town years before after a series of notorious behaviour climaxed with one causing her mother to throw her out. She's turned her life around, joined AA and is now in the process of making amends. Coming back to town is part of that transition for her. The recent death of her father Frank, has given her a place to live during this time. Jake is twelve and lives next door to Rachel with his mother and her boyfriend and their baby. Jake is a precocious child, with a passion for fashion, pulpy novels, rosaries, and Madonna. Frank was one of the people he related well to. Rachel's mom, Laverna, is a tough woman who owns one of the two bars in town. She also sponsors a women's baseball team, the notorious Flood Girls. Rachel is compelled to be on the team despite her lack of sports experience.
The book is rich with wonderful characters from Martha Man Hands to the two Mabels (Red and Black) to Buley, who owns the local thrift store.
Quinn is also a mining town, and a group of the regulars at Laverna's bar, the Dirty Shame, is a group of rough and rowdy lesbian miners. They are peripheral to the story, but offer an interesting background to the action.
This is a story of friendship and families, of acceptance and prejudice. A book that shows the wonder and tragedy of life.
I loved it.

Cake or Death

Finished February 23
Cake or Death: The Excruciating Choices of Everyday Life by Heather Mallick

I usually enjoy and agree with Mallick's column's in the Toronto Star, so I picked this book of essays up as a treat. Even though it was published ten years ago, it still relates to the world we live in today. From the sad state of American politics (which has only gotten sadder), to housekeeping as a means to managing depression; from a look at memoir trends to the wonderfulness of hotels, Mallick unveils truths about life even as she has us laughing.
Other topics covered her are: an average day's events; luxury catalogs; men blaming women; Britain's decline; France's elegance; fear and its purposes; people she hates; Doris Lessing; memory; how to ignore the unpleasant; urban versus rural; women's looks; things that don't work out; writer's block; what she hates and loves about America; and yes, a recipe for cake.
I love books of essays and this one did not disappoint.

Gilt Hollow

Finished February 22
Gilt Hollow by Lorie Langdon

This teen novel begins with teenager Ashton Keller being released from juvenile detention. His best friend Willow Lamott had written him every day, but never got a reply. When she finds that he has returned to their small town she is surprised at the anger he seems to hold for her, and alarmed at the events that start to unfold.
Willow has always been sure that Ashton was innocent of the crime he was convicted of, but she seems to stand alone there. She knew he'd withdrawn from their family after the death of her father, but she still feels she knows his character well enough to know what he is capable of. But when some of the nasty incidents happening around town are blamed on him, she feels unsure of how well she really knows him.
Ashton has been ostracized by his own parents and feels alone. But he grows more determined to prove his innocence as someone in town seems equally determined to drive him away.
This is a novel about peer pressure, about unsavory motivations, and about true friendships.

Monday, 20 February 2017

On Turpentine Lane

Finished February 20
On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman

This novel is a fun read, a bit madcap, and a bit romantic. Faith Frankel, age thirty-two, has recently left her job in Brooklyn, returning to the suburbs of Boston and taking a job in the fundraising department of her private school alma mater, Everton Country Day; a job that offers less in the way of stress. She likes her job as head of Stewardship and gets along well with her officemate Nick who is in charge of Major Gifts.
As the novel opens, Faith is buying a small house. It's been on the market a while and while it definitely has a few issues, Faith hopes to lowball an offer so that she can afford the mortgage on her own. Faith has a fiance, Stuart, but recently he's remade himself and she isn't sure she likes the new man. Stuart has decided to walk across the country to find himself, but he seems to be taking a lot of selfies with old girlfriends. And he doesn't have a job. Quite a difference from that attentive hard-working man she first met.
On the family front, there are also issues. Faith's father, recently retired from his insurance job, has taken a studio in Boston and her mother seems unconcerned, but is the reason really as innocuous as he says? Faith and her brother Joel, who runs a snowplow business get along well, and team up to find out what her father is up to.
When Faith's dad finds a photo album with disturbing pictures in the attic of Faith's new house, she wonders what the story is behind them. And when she hears rumors about other things that may have happened with the previous owner she grows more concerned. So, when her officemate Nick finds himself in need of a place to crash, she offers up her second bedroom. After all, they get along fairly well, and she'd feel better with someone else in the house.
And then things get more interesting.
A book with a lot going on, and relationships changing, and families supporting each other. A nice uplifting read.

The Roanoke Girls

Finished February 19
The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel

This novel begins with the death by suicide of Lane's mother. Lane knew her mother Camilla grew up in Kansas in a big house, but she also knows her mother ran away from that life, calling it a nightmare. Lane has never felt close to her mother, nor felt loved. As Lane is still a few weeks away from her 16th birthday, the social worker assigned to her case has looked for relatives and found grandparents who are eager to take her in.
Lane travels to Kansas, to find a house that seems like a mishmash of pieces of architecture tacked together. Her younger cousin, Allegra is waiting on the porch for her. Her grandmother is distant but friendly, and her grandfather is warm and eager for her to feel welcome.
As she adjust to life in rural Kansas, Allegra introduces her to other young people, and Lane begins to feel at home. From the nearby swimming hold, to the town park with a real carousel, Lane finds spots she loves. She gets to know Allegra's boyfriend and finds a local boy that she connects with. Lane also finds herself more curious about the family she finds herself a part of. Why have all the women in the family besides her grandmother and Allegra ran away or died? What was it her mother ran from? There are some feelings she gets that just don't make sense on the surface of things. When she discovers the family secret, she is horrified. She too runs away, as far as she can.
Years later, she gets a phone call from her grandfather. Allegra is missing, can she come home. She has had contact with Allegra over the years, but not a lot as she wants to forget that summer of her life. Yet she feels a responsibility to Allegra, and returns to the Roanoke house.
The police have been following what trails they can, but Lane knows Allegra better than almost anyone, and she knows her secret. Can she find out what really happened to her, and what will she do if her fears are confirmed?
This suspense novel is one of an extremely dysfunctional family, headed by a narcissist. Families have so many secrets, and others only see what they want to sometimes. This is a book that raises difficult subjects, and is disturbing. But it is a book hard to put down, as you begin to care about Lane and what happens to her.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined

Finished February 18
Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman

This wonderful young adult novel has a strong young woman, Ingrid at the center. The story is told in alternating "then" and "now" sequences, gradually revealing Ingrid's life up until the wilderness trek she is on in the "now" portion.
Ingrid spent her early years travelling with her mother, Margot-Sophia Lalonde, an accomplished opera singer. They had fun together, visiting museums and parks and enjoying each place while they were there. But then Margot's career came to a sudden end, and the two retreated back to Toronto, to the house that Margot inherited from her parents. Ingrid was enrolled in the local school and she tried to adjust to her new life. Margot struggled with depression. It had tough moments, but did show improvement in at least some areas. It wasn't the colourful, glamorous life they's led before, Ingrid made friends and found her niche.
In the now, Ingrid has been enrolled by her mother in a wilderness camping trip as the price of going to the school of her choice for her final year of high school. Ingrid's choices aren't the ones her mother would make for her, but Ingrid has determination and knows that this is what she wants. But the camping trip is rougher than what Ingrid was led to believe, and her companions on the trek are all working through their own issues. During this three weeks, Ingrid will have to find inner as well as outer strength beyond what she thought she had.
This is a story of families, of how we treat those around us, of depression, and of resilience. It is a story of finding the beautiful that remains even when tragedy strikes. I loved it.

The Burial

Finished February 18
The Burial by Courtney Collins

This historical fiction novel takes place in rural Australia in 1921. Jessie is a woman who has had an eventful life, even though she is still in her twenties, but we come into her story at a major turning point. The narrator is Jessie's baby, a child that is not alive as it narrates the story.
We gradually learn of Jessie's life as the story is told, her own birth, her childhood, the way she left her family and the life she left it for. As her story begins, we know she is desperate, we know she is a horsewoman, skilled in dealing with horses. And we come to understand what has driven her to this night, in the dark and rain, at the side of the river as she digs a hole in the dirt.
As she flees her life up to now, she is followed. First by one man, and then by two, and then by more. The first man she has known recently and he doesn't understand why she has left the way she did, at least not at first. The second man she knew long ago, and thought lost to her. The rest are just men, looking for a dream.
I enjoyed Jessie as a character, but also the way the story unfolded, and the prelude which is echoed in the final pages of the story. I liked the people she met, others who lived in difficult circumstances, some who chose to stay and some who chose to find their own way.
I also found it interesting that it was inspired by a real life woman bushranger, Jessie Hickman.
This is an amazing debut novel, one that stays with you.
For readers who loved The Outlander by Gil Adamson