Sunday, 4 March 2018

Where's Bunny?

Finished February 28
Where's Bunny by Theo Heras, illustrations by Renné Benoit

This picture book is a bedtime book for the very young. The baby pictured on the cover with help from his big sister goes through the steps in a bedtime ritual. They begin with cleaning up their toys, then have a bath, dry off, and brush their teeth. This is followed by putting on cozy pajamas, a storytime, and a goodnight kiss and hug.
At various points in the book, the question "Where's bunny?" is asked, and each time this is asked, there is an opportunity to look for the bunny in the drawing on that page. Most children have a stuffy of some kind that is a favourite bedtime pal, and this let's that be part of the ritual as well.
There is a bedtime checklist in the front of the book that reinforces the routine the children go through in the book, and a teeth cleaning checklist in the back of the book.
Bedtime books are a great way to introduce routine to children, and make getting ready for bed a pleasant time. The drawings here show happy and content children at each point in the routine to help with this message. I really think the drawings are so cute. I also liked that the book showed diversity without being about diversity.
This book is a great choice for little ones.

Don't Tempt Me

Finished February 25
Don't Tempt Me by Lori Foster

This romance also has a little bit of mystery and a bit of danger to add to the interest.
Honor Brown has recently bought her first house and the book begins with her and her best friend Lexie moving her stuff into the house. As they arrive, they draw the attention of the next-door neighbours, who Honor hadn't seen when she'd bought the house, or did the clean-up and minor repairs prior to moving in. They consist of Jason Guthrie, a wood craftsman, his older divorced brother Hogan and Hogan's teenage son Colt. Hogan and Colt are living with Jason while Hogan finds a job and gets back on his feet.
Honor has family, but isn't close to any of them except her grandfather, who raised her. She is a very private person and doesn't like to share her problems with people. She just works hard and gets on with things. Lexie has been friends with her since they were kids, and knows her situation and her bent towards not sharing information.
Jason is drawn to Honor, but wonders at her odd hours away from the house, and her resistance to any help others might offer.
To add to the mix are a couple of other young single male neighbours, one directly across from Honor who runs a martial arts studio, and the other the local sheriff, only a year into his first term. The neighbourhood is one that is only beginning to recover from it's crime-ridden past, and all the men worry about a young woman living alone there. The house that Honor lives in sat empty for years before she purchased it.
With the reader only learning about Honor's life gradually, and with not only Honor's romance with Jason, but also Lexie's love life, there is lots going on here. The messages are positive, about good neighbours making a community, and how accepting help sometimes is the best way forward. 

A Vicarage in the Blitz

Finished February 22
A Vicarage in the Blitz: The Wartime Letters of Molly Rich 1940-1944 will illustrations by Anthea Craigmyle

This collection of letters was written to Otto a refugee from Austria, who came to live at the vicarage in Chiswick with Molly and her family in early 1939. A little more than a year after arriving, Otto, like many young men from Germany and Austria was interned as an enemy alien. At first Otto was interned in England, but then in Australia, and finally back in England again. Eventually, he was released an joined first the Pioneer Corps, and then the Army and fought in the war.
To Molly, he was like another son, and she corresponded with him in that manner. She tried to keep him focused on the future in a positive way, and used what means she could to find out where he was and advocate for him.
Otto saved the letters and it was only in 1974, after Molly's death that he mentioned them to Anthea, Molly's youngest child. The letters numbered over 600, most of them typed. Only some of them are included in this book. Molly was aware of the censorship of letters during the war and tried to avoid including anything that might cause an issue in that regard, telling Otto of goings on in the household, with friends and neighbours, and general news. As a vicar's wife, Molly was very involved in her community, and housed a number of other war refugees, both domestic and foreign, during the war. She worked for a variety of charitable causes, kept a victory garden, did fire-watching, and worried about her children who were either away at boarding school, or evacuated to the country where Molly's mother lived.
The letters are chatty, with lots of everyday information, war worries, and concern for Otto's wellbeing.
The book includes photographs, a map of Chiswick, and a list of the various people mentioned in the letters, with a little about them, along with wonderful drawings by Anthea related to the letters' content. At the back of the book are two appendices, the first listing incidents in Chiswick caused by enemy actions. The second is a timeline of the war, with events that affected Molly and her family.
Anthea enlisted a friend with editing experience to go through the letters and help decide what to include in this book. Other than correcting spelling, the letters are unaltered.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

The Marriage Pact

Finished February 19
The Marriage Pact by Michelle Richmond

This novel takes a look at a young couple from the man's point of view. Jake and Alice have been a couple for a while but only recently married. Jake is a therapist who really cares about his clients, doing lots of research into the issues that he sees them up against. After returning from his honeymoon, he finds that his partners have decided that he should start offering marital counselling, and he begins looking at marriage in detail.
Alice is a lawyer, but her first career was as a musician, and that is still a big part of her life. When she recently played a big role in a major case, the client, Finnegan, wanted to personal thank the people who worked on the case, and on the spur of the moment, almost as a joke, Alice invited him to their upcoming wedding. The gift that Finnegan and his wife gave was a membership to a group that helped couples stay married. Optimistically, Jake and Alice accept the gift, but soon find that the Pact is much more than they expected it to be. And not necessarily in a good way.
At first things look okay, but then there is a punishment meted out, and Jake begins to be wary. But leaving the Pact isn't apparently an option, so Alice and Jake have to look at things more seriously. Can their marriage survive this? Can they?
A story with surprises, lots of scary moments, and main characters that definitely develop as the book progresses. A good read.

Things We Lost in the Fire

Finished February 18
Things We Lost in the Fire: stories by Mariana Enriquez, translated by Megan McDowell

This collection of short stories is well varied and often surprising. Set in Argentina for the most part, these stories include many situations. The first is told by a woman living in a nice house in a bad part of town. She's used to the neighborhood and knows what to do to stay safe, but an encounter with a young homeless boy affects her in ways she didn't expect. Another is a strange unsettling experience of a teenage girl in an old inn. A third tells of a series of experiences over several years when a young woman tries to escape her life with substance abuse. A fourth tells of a brother and sister who befriend a young girl only to be drawn into an eerie experience with a boarded up house in the neighborhood. The next is the story of a tour guide who gets obsessed with a long-dead criminal featured on his tour. The next is one that I know I've read before, perhaps in a magazine or anthology. It features a young woman in an unhappy marriage who goes with her husband to visit her family in a town near the border to Brazil. The next is told by a young girl who finds herself drawn to a schoolmate who seems to be having troubles. This is follows by a story of a young woman's obsession with a human skull she's found. The next is a young couple who move into a house they got surprisingly cheap, but the woman finds herself scared of things she can't explain. The next story has a female lawyer finalizing her evidence for a court case against police who seem to be killing vulnerable young men by throwing them in the polluted river. The next story is told by a young woman about her ex-boyfriend who seems to be retreating from life. The last, and title story, is of a group of women who burn themselves to draw attention to the issue of domestic abuse.
I found myself haunted by these stories, wanting to know more, and yet also, not wanting to know.

Small Things

Finished February 16
Small Things by Mel Tregonning, with consultation by Shaun Tan, and an afterword by Barbara Coloroso

This graphic picture book just blew me away. Done in shades of sepia, this book uses a comic format, but has no words. It follows a child through his days at school and at home as he deals with feeling alone, anxious, and sad.
The child tries, but as attempts to fit in or meet expectations fall short, they grow angry, have trouble sleeping, distance themself from others, and loses their sense of themselves. But the book also shows ways of dealing with these feelings, of realizing that they aren't the only one who feels this way, and finding ways to connect with others.
The drawings are amazing, showing the child's emotions clearly. The way the drawings show the loss of self are brilliant and relatable.
I absolutely loved this book and will be recommending it. The publisher information indicates a targeted age range of 8-12, but it can definitely be for adults as well.
The Australian author died before the publication of the book, so sadly we won't see more of her wonderful work.


Finished February 14
Hawksmoor by Peter Ackroyd, performed by Derek Jacobl

The novel moves back and forth between the early 1700s, where Nicholas Dyer, assistant to Sir Christopher Wren is tasked with building six churches in London, many of the rebuilt following the Great Fire, and the 1980s, where the London detective Nicholas Hawksmoor is investigating a series of uncanny murders on the premises of old churches. Hawksmoor struggles to make sense of the murders, and of the lack of any clues as to the identity of the perpetrator.
He finds himself drawn back in history and in the idea of religion in his search for motive. This is a story of character and of atmosphere. We learn a lot about Dyer, about his childhood, the loss of his family, and of his struggle to survive following that. We learn of his lifelong feeling of being apart, a man who builds churches, but doesn't have faith, or at least not for what one would expect. His nature is mephitic and his churches all have a dark secret at their center.
As the book moves back and forth, I often found myself unsure which time period I was in at any given time, and this is part of the book's nature. As Hawksmoor delves into the murders, he finds the world around him less distinct, and only the elements that don't belong to his time seem real, the tramps, the urchin children playing in the streets, and the historic buildings.
I felt the historic time strongly, with more of my senses, as Ackroyd used the details of history to bring this time to life. Dyer's words are of his time, and yet they flowed for me, seeming a bit formal but not unnatural. His wording sometimes took me a moment to understand the meaning as the words were less familiar, or used in ways different than today.
I read this book to follow the David Bowie book club promoted through his son, and this was the quickest copy I could get hold of. I have now bought a physical book version, which I will read to savour the story and words, to stop and think about what is going on, and to appreciate good writing.