Saturday, 29 April 2017

Among the Ruins

Finished April 29
Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan

This is the third book in the series featuring Esa Khattuk and Rachel Getty, of Canada's Community Policing department, based in Toronto. This one is a departure in terms of setting however, as it begins with the murder of an Iranian-Canadian international activist in Iran.
Khattuk is on leave, taking a personal trip to Iran, following the action in book two, recovering from the situation he found himself in at the end of that case. Getty is a bit at loose ends, wrapping up paperwork and worrying about him. When a woman approaches Khattuk to let him know of the murder, he is shocked and dismayed, but unsure of what he can do to assist the situation. As she convinces him to take action, and he becomes involved with a local group of young people advocating for change, he also finds that he must involve Rachel, asking her to talk to people back in Toronto that may know what the activist was doing and why she returned to Iran despite the obvious dangers.
Rachel becomes closer to Nate as she relies on his assistance during Khattuk's absence, and she is still working to reestablish her relationship with her brother Zack.
This book involves both old and new characters, and a situation that is out of their official jurisdiction. However, with human rights being very much a part of their casework, it speaks to both officers and makes them take risks they wouldn't have thought they'd do. It also works to bring Khattuk back to his old self.
I loved the descriptions of Iran, from architecture, to food, to art, to culture that this book digs deep into. This is an interesting direction for the series, as well.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Finished April 25
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

This US Civil War novel begins with one wedding, quickly followed by another. Agnes, the daughter of Carthene, Placidia's father's second wife is being married, and Placidia, only sixteen was not part of the wedding party. Placidia, called Dia by her family is a girl of spunk, with a talent for horses. Energized by riding a horse deemed unrideable by others, she comes upon her father and a Confederate army officer who is purchasing a mule from him. A connection is made, and by the end of the weekend, Placidia is travelling with Major Gryffth Hockaday back to his farm. His first wife died in childbirth while he was away at war, and Placidia looks forward to taking on responsibility for the infant Charlie and the farm duties.
With their honeymoon cut short by war demands, the couple have only two days together before he returns to the fight, and they are separated until after the end of the war. Placidia misses him dreadfully, and fights off conmen, raiders, and other dangers alone with the servants on the farm. Despite her isolation, rumors that she was pregnant and killed her baby are circulating and come to the major's ears as her returns. Charged with a crime, Placidia tells what she feels she can in letters to her cousin, a young war widow with a daughter. Adding to the tale are court documents, and a few letters from Gryffth to Placidia during the war.
The second part of the book is told again in letters to the now grown man Charles from his brother, as they learn about the story of Gryffth and Placidia, and piece together the missing information to complete the story.
This is a sad book, of love, mistrust, and honor. A book of secrets and of promises. A tale of betrayal and of justice.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Fates and Furies

Finished April 23
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, read by Will Damron and Julia Whelan

This novel tells the story of a couple, Lotto and Mathilde, first in Lotto's voice and then in Mathilde's. Lotto is short for Lancelot, and he comes from Florida, where his father died young and his mother now holds the purse strings of a water bottling empire. He has a younger sister, Rachel, and a paternal aunt, Sally. After his father's death, he ran wild with a group of local kids a bit older than him, and when things came to a head, got shipped off to boarding school, in exile. He was an outsider at first, until he found a way to be popular, and his anger sadness is one he fights his entire life. He loves attention, adulation, and admiration. When his first choice of career doesn't take him where he dreams, he chances upon another that does. As he keeps looking for more, he finds himself also more lonely.
Mathilde is also exiled at a very young age, sent to an uncle that provides shelter, a basic education, and food, but no more. Mathilde grows up feeling that she doesn't deserve love or happiness, that at the core of her is a dark place. When her uncle won't fund her college, she finds a way to do it without him, but it only confirms her feelings about herself.
When the two meet, they find something in each other that fills a hole in them. And for a long while they feed off each other, but this dependency is both good and bad, and, in the end, unsustainable. Neither one gives all of themselves, Lotto not seeing what Mathilde is really worth, and Mathilde not seeing her own value.
This is a sad book, with characters who never get enough, who hold a grudge long past normal, and some who see the real goodness in people beyond what they themselves believe.

The Clay Girl

Finished April 22
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker

I loved this book. I've been reading it very slowly, so as to savor it.
The main character here is Hariet (Ari) Appleton, and this book takes her from the age of eight through sixteen from 1961 on. Ari's family has issues, big issues. Her father is an abuser, and a charmer, and when she is eight and the authorities become aware of the abuse, rather than face up to it, he traumatizes his daughters further by killing himself in front of them. The kids are all farmed out to various relations, with Ari being shipped out to Cape Breton to stay with her Aunt Mary and Mary's partner Nia. They give her the home and love that she has never had from her own parents. Ari also has an imaginary friend that she talks with, and who never deserts her, Jasper, a seahorse.
Unfortunately, Ari is returned to her mother in Toronto, she reunites with her sisters, all of whom have been touched by their past. She also finds her mother with a new man, Len. A good man. Even as Ari's mother sinks back into a life of addiction and men, Len is constant and his family becomes a refuge for Ari, just as the family she left in Nova Scotia was. Her sisters have different reactions to their abuse, some needing to go through worse times before finding their feet. One leaves, one finds religion of a sort, and the others make their way through various dark experiences to happiness. Ari, as the youngest can't escape so easily, as even as she plans her way out, she finds new obstacles set before her, new losses to endure. But she also finds new allies, new friends, and new family, even where she least expects it.
Ari's voice is unique, and she emerges as an artist and storyteller through her life experiences. As she is told by her aunt, she is not dirt as some described her but clay, malleable into a wondrous being. I fell in love with her, and ached with her during the bad times. She is empathetic, observant, and smart. I want to see more of her story.

A Place Called Sorry

Finished April 19
A Place Called Sorry by Donna Milner

This novel takes place in the interior of B.C. in a small town called Sorry, with the majority of the story taking place in the 1930s. The story of the town's name is an interesting one, and speaks to the nature of the community.
Adeline (Addie) Beale lives with her parents and her grandfather Chauncey on a large ranch outside of town. Addie loves the ranch and pretty much lives outside, to the dismay of her mother, a woman who grew up in Vancouver and was educated as a nurse, but met Addie's father when he was getting his law degree, and married him. She misses the city, but she knows her husband's life is entwined with the ranch. When tragedy strikes the family, things change drastically.
Addie spends a lot of time with her grandfather, and he shares with her diaries that he kept as a teenager when he first arrived in B.C. with his father. As Addie gradually learns of her grandfather's past and its tragedies, she also finds a new friend in another outsider in their small town. Alan Baptiste is the son of Rose, the wife of the store owner in town Dirk VanderMeer. Alan's mother brought him with her when she married Dirk, afraid that if she left him on the reserve, he would end up in residential school. The two get along well, have similar interests, and both are picked on by the schoolteacher Mrs. Parsons, Alan for his race and Addie for her unconventionality.
When Alan's family also faces tragedy, he comes to work at the ranch and the two grow closer. But the town isn't done with them yet, and as the war begins, more challenges come into their lives.
This is a story of prejudice, of finding your own way in life, and of facing your past, even the parts you regret. It is also a story of our country's history, one that still affects us today.
Milner's writing, as always, brings it to life, making me care about these people and their lives.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Cast of Vultures

Finished April 18
A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders

I thoroughly enjoyed the first in this series featuring book editor Samantha Clair, A Murder of Magpies, so was eager to read this one. There is a lot going on in this book, which always makes for a page-turner. Sam is involved in her neighbourhood, and has become a go-between between two gardening friends, Mr. Rudiger and Viv. Mr. Rudiger is her upstairs neighbour, living on the top floor of her house, and Viv is an older woman who lives closer to the farmer's market Sam visits every Saturday. When she stops by Viv's as normal to deliver some cuttings, Viv unexpectedly invites her in and involves her in a little B & E as a worried neighbour of a missing man. Soon after, a house in the neighbourhood burns down, and the circumstances lead to an investigation.
Meanwhile, the publishing firm Sam works at has called in management consultants to make some changes, and her able assistant Miranda has concerns about a memoir she is editing.
Sam attends meetings, both work and community, gathering information, calls on her well-connected mother Helena for assistance, as well as a young techie, and her boyfriend, a CID investigator.
When she finds herself targeted by unknown men, she can't help but start making connections.
I love Samantha's intelligence and wit, and the writing is wonderful.
One of my favourite scenes is this one:
Christ, I was naked. I'd been too startled, first, and then too scared, to notice, but here I was, standing with an adolescent boy in a light well at two in the morning, with only a phone to cover myself with. And phone coverage, as we all know, is never very reliable.
which gives an example of her humour. I also like that she knows her skill set and her values, but also acknowledges her failings and her insecurities. She is a woman who stands up for herself and her friends, but isn't afraid to admit her mistakes. A very relatable character.

One Tiny Lie

Finished April 16
One Tiny Lie by K.A. Tucker

This is the third book in a series, and the only one I've read so far. Livie is just starting college, at Princeton, the school that her father wanted her and her sister to attend, just like he had. When she was eleven, her parents died in a car crash, one that badly injured her older sister Kacey. Kacey has struggled to recover, and even though Livie seems to be doing well, getting great marks and doing everything according to a long-set-out plan, Kacey is worried about her. So Livie agreed earlier in the summer to talk to someone and she's been shaking her life up a bit.
Now, as Kacey sees her off to school, she finds herself talked into an off campus party, where she lets loose a lot more than she ever has, beginning with Jello shots. The next morning she finds herself with a new nickname, an incomplete memory of the previous evening, and a sore back. As she gradually remembers the events of the evening over the school term, she settles into a pattern of partying, studying, and questioning her own feelings, and finds herself drawn to a young man that she knows is trouble.
This is a story of coming of age, but also one of coming to terms with the past, not only for Livie, but for other characters as well. Her relationship with her sister is a strong one, but this is the first time she's really been making decisions that are hers alone.
Despite the American setting, the author is Canadian. This series will definitely appear to the adult reader ready to move on from teen fiction.

Monday, 10 April 2017

An Intimate Wilderness

Finished April 8
An Intimate Wilderness: Arctic Voices in a Land of Vast Horizons by Norman Hallendy

To understand the value of this book, you have to know the author's background. Hallendy has spent over fifty years building relationships with the Inuit, from translators to elders, to the elders' families. He was given the name Apirsuqti, which means "the inquisitive one." He is the world's leading authority on inuksuit. He has received recognition for his work from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He is an ethnographer of international renown.
This book contains observations, descriptions of experiences, conversations, storytelling, Inuit history and legend, intricacies of the language and the importance of naming, and as with many things, the parts add up to so much more together than they do singly.
His work has allowed him to immerse himself in their culture, learning the words for places, experiences, symbols, people, nature, and ideas. He knows when to listen and when to ask questions. He respects the culture and you can tell he really wants to understand and know what he is asking about. He cares about the people he meets.
While this book tells of places, events, and ceremonies long kept to themselves, his telling of them is not a betrayal, but becomes a trusted, well-researched archive. Due to the influence of white colonizers on this culture, a disconnect has been introduced between the older people who still remember either for themselves or from their parents and grandparents the way things were done, the way lives were lived before and the younger generation who live in towns and lead a more modern way of life. As he says "There came a time when the elders no longer handed down tales, songs, customs, and mysteries. Instead, catechism and schooling were the shape the Inuit child's knowledge and future." This book is a bridge between those two world, to ensure the stories and traditional way of life are not forgotten.
There are so many beautiful and important things in this book and I am so glad they have been gathered up before they were lost to history. As one interaction goes "...when I asked him about myth and reality he explained to me that there are things said to have happened that may or may not have happened. It doesn't matter, as long as they are believed. The expression he used was sulinngikkaluaqtut ukpirijaujut, the reality of myth."
The book includes photos, drawings, maps, art, and other visual aids to understanding, some specifically made for the book.

Sunday, 9 April 2017

Monthly Mix-Up Mania 2015-2017 Completed

So, I completed the Monthly Mix-Up Mania, but not quite to the standard I set myself.
I had intended to read the books in letter order, but didn't stay on top of it, and ran out of time, with 3 letters to go. So I went back over the time period and found 3 books that met the requirements and used the for the B, E, and R of December.
It was a fun challenge, but sometimes limiting.
The home page for the challenge is here.

Official Start date: April 1, 2015. 
End date: March 31, 2017, yes, two years, because well, we have other challenges to do ;)

My books
J - A Jury of Her Peers by Elaine Showalter. Finished April 13, 2015
A - The Afterlife of Stars by Joseph Kertes. Finished April 18, 2015
N - Neverhome by Laird Hunt. Finished April 26, 2015
U - Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo. Finished May 4, 2015
A  - All Saints by K.D. Miller. Finished May 20, 2015
R  - The Road Taken by Michael Buerk. Finished May 30, 2015
Y - The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol. Finished June 26, 2015

F - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Finished July 15, 2015
E - Expect More by R. David Lankes. Finished July 18, 2015
B - Burned Alive by Souad. Finished July 18, 2015
R - The Road is How by Trevor Herriot. Finished August 6, 2015
U - Uncertain Soldier by Karen Bass. Finished August 8, 2015
A - The Arsonist by Sue Miller. Finished August 9, 2015
R - The Robber of Memories by Michael Jacobs. Finished September 2, 2015
Y - Yankee in Atlanta by Jocelyn Green. Finished September 4, 2015

M - A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders. Finished September 6, 2015
A - Astray by Emma Donoghue. Finished September 17, 2015
R - The Ragtime Fool by Larry Karp. Finished October 5, 2015
C - Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Finished October 11, 2015
H - Happy City by Charles Montgomery. Finished November 1, 2015

A - Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash. Finished December 21, 2015
P - Pack Up the Moon by Rachael Herron. Finished December 27, 2015
R - Rosemary Cottage by Colleen Coble. Finished January 14, 2016
I - The In-Between Hour by Barbara Claypole White. Finished January 19, 2016
L - The Longest Afternoon by Brendan Simms. Finished February 20, 2016

M - The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell. Finished March 12, 2016
A - Anomaly by Krista McGee. Finished March 12, 2016
Y - The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Finished April 2, 2016

J - The January Dancer by Michael Flynn. Finished April 6, 2016
U - The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Finished April 24, 2016
N - The "Natural Inferiority of Women, compiled by Tama Starr. Finished May 23, 2016
E - The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton. Finished July 1, 2016

J - Joy Comes in the Morning by Jonathan Rosen. Finished July 8, 2016
U - Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters. Finished July 17, 2016
L - Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D.R. MacDonald. Finished August 22, 2016
Y - You're Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck by Bill Heavey. Finished August 26, 2016

A - The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. Finished September 15, 2016
U - Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer. Finished October 3, 2016
G - Green River Falling by R.J. McMillen. Finished November 8, 2016
U - The Undertaker's Wife by Dee Oliver. Finished November 17, 2016
S - Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm. Finished December 1, 2016
T - Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. Finished December 3, 2016

S - The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. Finished December 31, 2016
E - Eel River Rising by Laura Reasoner Jones. Finished January 14, 2017
P - The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure by Adam Williams. Finished February 4, 2017
T - Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg. Finished February 5, 2017
E - Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto. Finished February 12, 2017
M - Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis. Finished February 13, 2017
B - The Burial by Courtney Collins. Finished February 18, 2017
E - Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman. Finished February 18, 2017
R - The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel. Finished February 19, 2017

O - On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman. Finished February 20, 2017
C - Cake or Death by Heather Mallick. Finished February 23, 2017
T - There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron. Finished February 27, 2017
O - One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn. Finished February 28, 2017
B - Boar Island by Nevada Barr. Finished March 1, 2017
E - Educating Alice by Alice Steinbach. Finished March 5, 2017
R - Racing the Sun by Karina Halle. Finished March 6, 2017

N - Noughts & Crosses by Marjorie Blackman. Finished March 9, 2017
O - Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra. Finished March 11, 2017
V - Vigilante by Kady Cross. Finished March 12, 2017
E - The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Finished March 15, 2017
M - The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. Finished March 18, 2017
B - Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Finished March 18, 2017
E - The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys. Finished March 19, 2017
R - The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies. Finished March 19, 2017

D - Displacement by Lucy Knisley. Finished March 20, 2017
E - Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs. Finished March 21, 2017
C - Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans. Finished March 28, 2017
E - Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Finished March 29, 2017
M - A Murder for Max by John Lawrence Reynolds. Finished March 30, 2017
B - Baghdad without a Map by Tony Horwitz. Finished June 6, 2016
E - Expect More by R. David Lankes. Finished July 18, 2015
R - The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill. Finished January 16, 2016

Friday, 7 April 2017

Three Jack Reacher Novellas

Finished April 4
Three Jack Reacher Novellas: Deep Down, Second Son, High Heat, and Jack Reacher's Rules by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill

This collection of three short novels and a collection of Jack Reacher trivia and anecdotes was enlightening. I've read quite a few of the books in this series, and these ones were a jump back to the past.
Deep Down goes back to Jack's Army days, when he is called in to go undercover to discover which of four high-ranking women at the Pentagon is leaking information. The situation is a difficult one, complicated by another sad occurrence.  This is classic Jack Reacher, working on his own and using unconventional methods to get the job done.
Second Son goes back a lot further, to when Jack is thirteen and his father takes a new posting at Okinawa. There is a side story here of Jack's grandfather in Paris who is ailing and who his mother must travel to see once she gets word. Jack, his brother Joe, and their father are left in their new home to manage alone. There is an issue with other Marine kids already living there who want to show their authority to the new kids. There is also worry over a new evaluation test the school authorities want the two boys to take to decide on what grade they'll be placed in. This causes Joe angst as he is a worrier. And lastly, there is an issue with their father's responsibilities that causes him to worry. An interesting look at a younger version of Reacher.
High Heat is also a look at a younger Reacher. Here he is sixteen, on summer vacation on his own, just arrived in New York City, and planning to see the sights and then go visit Joe, who is at West Point, north of the city. It is a day of extreme heat, and Reacher, finding that the Yankees are not playing in town, looks to find some music, and hopefully some pretty girls. A chance encounter on the street gets him involved in something much more dangerous, and things are starting to get very interesting when a power outage changes the game again. Lots of interesting insights again, and a great plot.
The Rules are short excerpts from the series, along with information on the military, weapons, and the beliefs that are behind the person Reacher is. It begins with the classic "hope for the best, plan for the worst".

A Murder for Max

Finished March 30
A Murder for Max by John Lawrence Reynolds

This mystery is part of a series of books for ESL adult learners. Orca, among other publishers, realized that as many people learned English as adults, they didn't want to read children's books. The Rapid Reads series is appealing to adult readers, and yet uses vocabulary aimed at ESL learners. I love that this series and others are now available to the public, filling a gap that was ignored before.
Here the action takes place in the small town of Port Ainslie, Ontario. The police chief, Maxine Benson, used to work for the Toronto police, but the end of her marriage and a craving for a more relaxed lifestyle led her to this small community. She has one officer, and an imposing dispatcher working for her. When a murder occurs, and there is no shortage of suspects, everyone expects her to call in the provincial police, but she figures that she can solve the case herself, and prove herself to the locals that don't really think a female police chief is capable of serious casework.

Thursday, 6 April 2017

Exit, Pursued By a Bear

Finished March 29
Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston

This teen novel is set around a cheerleader, Hermione Winters. Hermione lives with her parents in the town of Palermo in southern Ontario. She is the co-leader of her school's cheerleading squad, along with her best friend Polly. Every year, at the end of summer, cheerleading teams from around the province converge at Camp Manitouwabing, near Parry Sound, for training. This year, Hermione and Polly are seniors, so this is their last year at camp, and they mean to make it special. Hermione has a relatively new boyfriend Leo, who is also a part of their cheerleading squad, and who seems to be expecting more from these two weeks than Hermione is willing to give. Her focus is on the training. She means to take full advantage of the time at camp.
Half of the female members of the squad are booked to share a cabin with girls from St. Ignatius, a Mississauga school, Hermione among them. Polly and the rest of the girls share a cabin with girls from another school. Hermione really respects their coach Caledon, a hard-working single mother who has brought her ten-year-old daughter Florry along. Hermione and the other girls find that the St. Ignatius girls, led by Amy, are friendly and respectful, and the two groups settle into a routine quickly. The camp experience goes well, and Hermione is feeling good about the future, but on their last night at camp, at the closing party, someone spikes her drink, and things change completely.
Hermione has a new label that she doesn't want: the raped girl. And she must work her way through the ramifications of what happened to her, with her friend Polly beside her, and the support of her parents. As she faces down those who would label her and moves forward with her life, her support system of friends, family, and professionals, help her face her attack, her gradually recovering memories of that night, and move forward with strength.
I've read a few books about teen rape situations, and this is definitely the most positive one of them. The support system here is what really makes a difference, helping Hermione through the difficult times and being there as she makes decisions about her future. I also learned a lot about the sport of cheerleading.

Crooked Heart

Finished March 28
Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans

Set just before and during World War II, this novel follows two characters, both misfits. Noel is a schoolboy who lives in London with his godmother Mattie. Mattie is quite well off, but also older than Noel's parents were, and she is beginning to suffer from dementia. Noel works hard to assist her in hiding this from her nephew and his wife, who come to visit once a week. But as she gets worse, he begins to worry about her. When other children are evacuated to the countryside, Mattie and Noel hold firm and he stays with her in London, but when something happens to Mattie, Noel is forced to go into evacuation. He is sent to St. Albans, where he is taken in as an evacuee by Vera (Vee) Sedge, a middle-aged woman who lives with her mother and her son Donald. Vee's mother is mute and writes a lot of letters, to friends, family, and public personages, including the prime minister. Donald is a bit lazy, but he also has a bad heart, something that excused him from the draft, but also tires him easily.
Vee works hard, but finds it difficult to keep up with the needs of the household, even with Donald working too. So, taking in Noel is looked at as a way to get a bit of extra cash. Noel, despite what she thought, is a very intelligent boy, having had an unusual education under the tutelage of Mattie. He reads voraciously, and is very observant of the world around him. He knows that he doesn't fit in with his peers, and when he figures out what Vee is up to to get some extra cash, he is quite open to assisting. Vee is surprised at the growing closeness between herself and Noel, accustomed to being taken for granted by her mother and Donald, and not considered as a person unto herself. As the two spend time together, through difficult circumstances, they find a way to move on together despite the difficulties the war brings to them.
An intriguing story of two likeable characters, I really wanted to know what happened to them as the story unfolded.

The White Princess

Finished March 27
The White Princess by Philippa Gregory, ready by Bianca Amato

This fictionalized history tells the story of Elizabeth of York, queen to Henry Tudor, Henry VII. As the book begins, the battle at Bosworth has just ended, with Richard III being killed in battle. The pretender, Henry Tudor is declared as the new king, and Elizabeth, long promised in marriage to him by a wily mother who looks to keep her children as close to the throne as she can. But Elizabeth does not come joyfully, as she had been at the court of Richard III, and a favorite of his. Elizabeth is the oldest of a large family, and when her father, Edward IV died, and her uncle Richard III became Lord Protector, her brothers Edward and Richard were imprisoned in the tower and later presumed killed. Her mother, her and the rest of the family were in sanctuary at Westminster Abbey.
Here, neither Elizabeth nor Henry seems happy at their marriage, which was made for political reasons. However, Elizabeth was raised a princess and always understood her role as a tool for political alliances.
The rule of Henry VII is a rocky one here, with him never gaining the love of the people as previous kings had. Elizabeth does give him advice, but his mother Margaret played a powerful role as advisor, and he usually listened to her despite the results. Henry is always looking over his shoulder, and Elizabeth is always looking backwards at the life she has lost, the happy times with her father as king, and the time spent at Richard's court. This book offers a version of her personal life not always supported by history, but it gives great detail and takes us from the time of Bosworth to the late 1490s.
One major part of the story is the recurring rumors that her brother Richard somehow survived the Tower, and has been in exile planning to regain the throne. Here there are more than one boy or young man claiming to be this brother, and Elizabeth, although unsure of the truth, must abide by Henry's will that she not recognize any such claim.
Gregory really makes history come alive here, with us getting inside Elizabeth's head for her reactions to all the events of her life, from sadness to joy.

Friday, 31 March 2017

Egg Drop Dead

Finished March 21
Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs

This light mystery takes place in the small town of Kindred in the Midwest. Suzanne, Petra, and Toni own the cafe that they've named the Cackleberry Club. Offshoot niches in the cafe also include a yarn store and a book store. Petra does the majority of the cooking, but all the ladies chip in. Suzanne is making a trip to a local dairy farmer for a wheel of his tasty cheese, but when she gets to the farm, he doesn't come out to meet her like he normally does and she gets a feeling that things aren't right. Sure enough, she finds him dead.
Suzanne has found herself in situations before where she has worked to assist the police to get to the bottom of a crime, but she isn't encouraged to do so here. Her knowledge of the crime scene and her observations of what she saw afterwards make her determined to find out who killed Mike Mullen.
There is also increasing development in the area, where farmlands are sold for development. Is this a factor in this murder? Suzanne finds other shady characters that she considers the motives of, even while hosting a visit from a mobile yarn retailer, and a outdoor party.
The book includes a number of recipes from the various scenes in the cafe,


Finished March 20
Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley

This graphic memoir was recommended by one of my coworkers, and I quite enjoyed it. The narrator, Lucy, tells of a trip she took as escort and caregiver for her grandparents on a Caribbean cruise. Her grandparents, in their 90s and living in a senior-living complex has signed up for the tour, causing some frantic discussion among family members. Her grandmother was exhibiting signs of dementia and her grandfather has some mobility issues and incontinence issues. Lucy, age 27, volunteers to go with her grandparents if her father and his siblings pay for her way.
She sets out the story day by day, telling of her thoughts and worries each day, as well as the activities they all go through and the things she has to manage for her grandparents. There are good things that happen, and bad things that happen. She has to manage their medications, their laundry, and anticipate their needs.
Her grandfather's eyesight means that he, a previously voracious reader, has stopped reading, and her grandmother can't concentrate to read, so she is kept busy trying to find things to do together. Her grandmother gets restless quickly, but her grandfather can't walk very fast due to asthma, so it is a challenge.
Interspersed with this travel story are excerpts from a memoir her grandfather wrote about his time in World War II. She tries to connect with them around memories of earlier times, but even her grandfather's memories aren't great, and this makes it harder.
The drawings are great, and the story an interesting one about families, aging, and patience.

Sunday, 19 March 2017

The Redemption of Galen Pike

Finished March 19
The Redemption of Galen Pike: Short Stories by Carys Davies

This new short story collection by British writer Carys Davies is a gem. A short book containing seventeen diverse stories, some of them merely a page long, surprises with insight and wit. The stories range in setting from rural Australia to Siberia to small-town Colorado to northern England. The time of the action changes from historical to modern.
Davies won the 2015 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, and it is easy to see why. Her writing is highly skilled, emotive, and insightful using no more words than needed to tell us the story. The stories are short but complex. The tales are ones that moved me. I never knew what the story would bring me, but I was always satisfied by the thought-provoking tale it told.
Highly recommended.

The Evening Chorus

Finished March 19
The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys

This novel has two different sections, each set ten years apart, in 1940 and 1950. Within each section are narratives by a number of people, each telling of their experience, thoughts, and feelings.
The first narrative is by James Hunter, a RAF officer whose plane was shot down, and who was captured by the Germans. He tells of his life in the POW camp, the other men that he interacts with, and the bird-watching that begins to distract him from his situation. The second narrative is by his young wife Rose, back in England. She lives alone in the cottage they bought on the edge of Ashdown Forest, with a dog she bought for company and protection. She fills her days by looking after her Victory garden and her chickens and her evening round as a warden looking for blackout infringements. The two haven't been married long and don't know each other well, and Rose is lonely. She lives near her parents, but doesn't like her mother, a very bossy woman.
The third narrative is by Rose again, but with the introduction of Enid, James' sister, who worked in London until her lodgings were bombed, and who comes to stay with Rose. The woman get along better than either had thought they would, with Enid finding Rose a comfort as she gets over her losses.
The fourth narrative is Enid, as she reflects on the relationship with Rose, and Rose as she looks at the situation as it develops, creating a rift between them.
The fifth is Rose again as she readjusts to her solitary life, and by Toby another RAF officer, who tells of his last flight.
We then move to the second part of the novel, ten years later. The first narrative is Enid visiting James at his remote bird observation station on the coast. She is worried about him, and finds the house he lives in spartan. The two are close, and she manages to get him to talk about the issues he struggles with. We then move to Enid back in London where she works as a paste-up artist for a magazine. She works hard and enjoys the challenges of the job. We also learn of her personal life, a life she has not shared with her brother.
We then move back to Rose, in her unhappy circumstances. She lives a life dictated by others, a life she hates but sees no escape from. She often wonders what her life would be like if different things had happened, if she had made different choices.
The last narrative is one of a German officer who has received a package and message from James. The letter from James causes the officer to look back at the war years and his experiences and feelings. He makes a commitment based on this letter and wishes things could be changed.
The last narrative is from James, as he watches the birds that have become so much more than a distraction for him.
I liked how each narrative had the title for a bird, insect, or animal that has a role in the action in that section. This connection to nature is important, and part of the overall story. I always enjoy reading Humphrey's books and learning new things as well as reading beautiful writing.

Born a Crime

Finished March 18
Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

This memoir by the host of The Daily Show looks at his childhood in South Africa, from his birth, through his early adult years. It is well known that his mother was black South African and his father was a white Swiss man, working in South Africa. It becomes clear that his mother was a very independent woman, one who knew that she wanted more than what her place in society should have brought her. She worked hard, and got herself skills beyond most women of her background, and found a way to have a child on her terms.
Trevor was a child that didn't fit into any of society's categories in his country of birth. He watched, and listened, and learned, and he found a way to fit himself in to each situation he encountered. His life wasn't easy, and he didn't always make good choices, but he looks to his mother for instilling in him values, a work ethic, and an outlook on life that made him go out and find a life for himself. This is a book that opens us to a world most of us aren't familiar with, and that isn't shy about some of the more difficult things that Noah dealt with.

The Madwoman Upstairs

Finished March 18
The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell

This novel imagines a young woman, Samantha Whipple, as the last remaining descendant of the Bronte family (from a sibling of the writers' father). Her father died tragically in a fire when she was only fifteen. She is now twenty and studying English Literature at Old College at Oxford University. She is surprised on being shown her lodgings, located in a room up five flights of stairs, at the top of a tower. She has to go all the way down to a washroom, and the room is dank, windowless, and with no source of heat. It had originally (in 1361) been used to quarantine victims of the plague.
Samantha is assigned a young, brilliant professor for her tutorials, Dr. James Timothy Orville III. Their first meeting doesn't go well, and Samantha is unexpectedly upset. She has always received high praise for her work, but Orville doesn't seem to think much of her writing skills.
She is also under pressure to meet a London lawyer about her father's estate, and while she delays that meeting as long as she can, she finds that she must find out what her father left her. When she does so, she finds herself reminded of a long ago gift from her dad, that sent her on a literary scavenger hunt following clues to the true present. Is this what she must do now? And if so, who is to be her guide? And what did her father mean when he told her years ago that she would inherit the Warnings of Experience?
As Samantha meets various other players, from Hans, a Swedish student who seems awfully interested in her; to John Booker, a Bronte scholar who believes her father was in possession of many valuable artifacts of the family, she tries to figure out who she can trust with the many questions she has.
Samantha is still hoping for a connection to her dead father, and trying to forge some sort of relationship with her mother, who left when she was young. She is suspicious of ulterior motives with those that offer friendship due to her family name. She is in a new environment, and feeling very much alone. As she gradually learns more about her father, and about herself, she must also find a way to move forward with her life for herself.
I found the connection to the Brontes interesting, and the way their novels and lives became part of the plot intriguing.

Thursday, 16 March 2017

The Elegance of the Hedgehog

Finished March 15
The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated from the French by Alison Anderson

This novel blew me away. I loved it and could barely put it down. Philosophical, funny, poignant, intelligent, and insightful all fit to describe it.
There are two people telling the story here. Paloma is a twelve-year-old girl, observant and smart. She doesn't really like her parents or older sister, feeling them to be superficial and not as smart as they think they are. She feels that life is absurd and doesn't want to go through her life dealing with that, so she plans to kill herself on her thirteenth birthday. As she looks toward this she decides to keep a journal where she records profound thoughts in the form of a Japanese poem, trying to have as many as possible. Why Japanese? Well, she admires Japanese culture and has chosen Japanese as her second language at school. As time passes, she also decides to keep a second journal looking for the beauty in things or people.
The second speaker is Renée Michel. Madame Michel is the concierge of the apartment building that Paloma and her family live in. There are eight apartments on six floors. Four floors have only one apartment on the whole floor, about 4000 square feet, and the other two floors have two each. Madame Michel has a taste for culture in books, films, thoughts, and food. But she knows the image that people commonly have of what a concierge is, and she tries to make her public persona fit this image. She has one friend, Manuela Lopes, who works as a cleaner for several of the apartment owners, an honest worker with a skill for pastry making among other things.
During the twenty-seven years that Madame Michel has worked there, the only changes to the ownership have been when one generation of a family passes the apartment down to the next. So, when one of the apartments is sold to someone new, this is a major event, for everyone.
The new owner is also smart and discerning and the dynamics of the major players change as they begin to see each other as they really are, and make connections.
This story is a wonderful one, yet hard to describe adequately. I loved it.


Finished March 12
Vigilante by Kady Cross

This teen novel deals with several difficult and related issues. The novel starts several months after a sex crime is committed at a party and a few months after the victim commits suicide. Hadley and her best friend Magda, juniors in high school, go to a party at the house of a classmate. Magda is interested in a popular boy that Hadley doesn't think that much of, but she humors her. The two girls go their own way at the party and Magda is drugged and raped by four of the boys, and pictures and video of the interaction are shared on social media. Magda and Hadley are both upset, and Magda is a much quieter girl following this horrible event. The boys don't get the punishment that they deserve and instead Magda is belittled, shamed, and harassed. When Magda kills herself, Hadley first is devastated, but then anger begins to grow, and an urge for revenge.
When an expected opportunity arises to embarrass one of the perpetrators, Hadley does it without really thinking. But then she begins to plan, and she soon finds that her urge to take revenge against the boys may be leading her in a direction she isn't entirely comfortable with.
Hadley has always been interested in martial arts, taking classes for years. When a local police officer asks for her help in running classes for teen girls to teach them how to protect themselves, Hadley is pleased. This is a way to ensure that other girls don't have to go through what Magda went through. But she finds that the classes offer her a way to help her to move on by letting her make new friends as well.
This story deals with a lot of very current issues related to teenagers and women today. It looks at the issue of justice, of power, and of the dangers of some actions. It also doesn't categorize all men as bad. There are several men in the novel that respect women in a way that the perpetrators of this crime do not. An interesting read.

Only Daughter

Finished March 11
Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra

This suspense novel is set mostly in Canberra, Australia. A young woman is caught shoplifting and doesn't want to return home to face what she is running from. Instead, she remembers a news story that she saw a few years ago, and claims to be a different missing girl.
The story alternates between her life as she tries to fit into this family impersonating their daughter who has been missing for ten years, and the real girl ten years earlier as she reacts to weird things happening in her house.
Bec, in the past, feels like she is being watched, even in her own bedroom at night. She is scared of something in the garage, but she can't name it. She is a young teen with a crush on one of her coworkers, who can't wait to finish school and leave. She, too, shoplifts, but with a purpose that doesn't immediately become clear. She tries to confide in her best friend, but feels that she sounds like she is going mad.
The imposter, now pretending to be Bec, also feels wary. She is watching her step, trying to read cues from others to not give herself away. But she keeps getting the feeling that she is being watched, being followed. She tries to learn more about the missing Bec, but finds it difficult. And by digging deeper, she may be putting herself in danger, just like Bec.
This book is eerie and the truth of the story as we learn it is even freakier. A real edge of the seat read.

Noughts & Crosses

Finished March 9
Noughts & Crosses by Marjorie Blackman

This is the first book in a series for teens. The book is a story of our world, but shifted. Here it is blacks who dominate society (Crosses) and whites who were slaves only a couple of generations ago (Noughts), and are still the underprivileged class.
The novel opens with a rift between a privileged black woman, Jasmine, and her white housekeeper, Meggie. It then quickly moves a few years forward to a time when school desegregation is just beginning. Callum, the younger son of Meggie is one of the teens chosen to integrate into the high school. Sophy, younger daughter of Jasmine, also goes to the high school, and has maintained a surreptitious friendship with Callum over the years. Callum is a couple of years older than Sophy, but both lack awareness of the limitations of their social interaction.
While there is some movement on both sides to treat the whites more equitably, there is a large group of resistance at the power level, which includes Sophy's dad, who is a politician running to be the next prime minister. And the slow speed of change has some in the white community ready to take their actions from peaceful protest and change through policy to a more violent movement. Among these are Callum's father and older brother.
As the two young people try to stay friends and maintain their positive outlook, they find that society forces them into actions they hadn't contemplated, and drives them further from each other.
This is an interesting way to open discussions on social issues and race relations, and I look forward to seeing how the series develops.

Racing the Sun

Finished March 6
Racing the Sun by Karina Halle

This romance novel has Amber MacLean on what she fears is the last leg of her backpacking trip. She's coming into Positano along the Amalfi coast in Italy and not only has little money left, she has dipped into the funds that were to purchase her ticket home. She really doesn't want to go home, as she still feels she hasn't figured out what direction she wants to go in for her future. Her father is pressuring her to return home and get a job rather than looking for her passion.
She decides she is going to have to find a job, even if it is just to get enough money to get back home, and answers an ad she spots in a cafe. The job is to teach English to two Italian children, and she figures that with her English degree, it is something she can manage. When the interview takes her to the nearby island of Capri, she is enchanted by the beauty of the island.
The interview is odd, but goes well, and she settles in to her job, finding ways to gain the attention of the children and find a friend she can connect to. The children's older brother and guardian is a distraction though, and she finds that the rumors she hears about the family don't fit what she sees living with them.
This is a story of a young woman searching for a life that makes a difference. And of a man recovering from a tragedy while dealing with responsibility he wasn't ready for. It is a story of connections and of growing up. And one of love.

Saturday, 11 March 2017

Educating Alice

Finished March 5
Educating Alice: Adventures of a Curious Woman by Alice Steinbach

This memoir follows the earlier book by Steinbach Without Reservations. Here she sets out to learn new things in different settings. By now she has quit her job at the Baltimore Sun, and is writing as a freelance journalist. She looks for things she wants to learn, and finds courses that fit her timeframe and needs. She includes her letters to her friend Naohiro that she met in her previous book and isn't shy about including her mistakes. She writes with the skill of a prize-winning journalist and observes the world around her with the eye of one too.
The book starts with her taking a cooking class at the Ritz Escoffier Cooking School in Paris. She has joined the class in Week Four, so has to quickly catch up her basic skills to those already schooled in them. Alice is a woman whose curiosity makes her open to meeting interesting people and having interesting conversations, and she finds herself befriending other students, the reception clerk at her hotel, and others.
The second educational experience is learning about traditional Japanese practices from dancing to origami to the geisha experience to woodblock printing. This is arranged through the Women's Association of Kyoto, and she is personally accompanied on each segment by one of their representatives, usually Michi Ogawa, a woman who had spent some time living in North America. Again, her curiosity balances with the politeness required in a different culture. Here though she faces the additional hurdle of not being able to read the signage as she moves around the city, which limits her solitary explorations. She enjoys some of the segments more than others, but learns something valuable from each one.
Her next experience is in Florence where she enrols in a class entitled Art in Florence at the British Institute there. The class involves many field trips to view the art around the city, and she also explores on her own, becoming fascinated with one street, and then one old church in particular. As she works on researching the history of a particular time in history, she also meets interesting people from a priest to a waitress. Her class is small, just herself and one other student, a Canadian woman, so the small group becomes friendly quickly and the two women explore outside of class as well.
The fourth experience has her exploring the world and writings of Jane Austen in Winchester, Hampshire, Dorset, Somerset, and Devon. Some of the exploring is on her own or arranged by contacts she has made, and others are through a class she takes at Exeter University. She enjoys the people she meets from the curator of Jane's house to the other students in her class. She enjoys watching the interactions between her fellow students, and is intrigued by the interest and passion in many for a woman writer long dead.
The next trip is a charter tour of Cuba organized for Vassar graduates. While not a Vassar alumni, Alice manages to get included in the tour and while she joins the tour for most days, she does her own thing some of the time, making friends with one of the other travelers and getting to know a few local Cubans in Havana. From food to music, dancing to social divisions, Alice learns about Cuban society and how the people deal with the economic hardships from being limited in their endeavors.
She next returns to France to tour a number of gardens in the Saint-Remy and Luberon areas. She originally planned to do this as part of a group tour, but when the tour was cancelled, she contacted the guide, and asked if she was available to do parts of the tour on a private basis. From meeting a woman on the train to Avignon, to connecting with her guide over their common interest in gardens, Alice finds friendly companions along the way. Getting access to private gardens that would otherwise be closed to public access, Alice thoroughly enjoys the variety and innovation in the gardens, and the hospitality of the many owners.
Her seventh excursion is to Prague where she attends a summer seminar on Czech literature and culture at Charles University. She gets there a little early for the course and finds a bookstore where the owner responds to her overture by recommending a book by a local author that she ends up loving. One of the courses she has signed up for is a creative writing workshop where the students critique each other's work. She participates, but finds that the format is not a comfortable one for her. She also finds herself creating a story around a few serendipitous experiences in the city.
Her last experience here is at a working sheep farm in Scotland, also a bed and breakfast, where she learns how to work with a herding dog and attends the annual dog trials event in Luss. She explores the local area on foot, and finds herself gradually making a connection with the dog as her host patiently takes her through the skills and challenges of herding sheep with a dog.
This book also includes a reader's guide which has some questions for discussion, and the last one asks what you would choose if making a list of subjects and locations for a similar learning experience. This has set me to thinking hard about this, and setting some loose plans for the future myself.

Boar Island

Finished March 1
Boar Island by Nevada Barr, read by Barbara Rosenblat

This is the latest in the Anna Pigeon mystery series, and is set in and around Acadia National Park in Maine. As the book begins, Anna's goddaughter Elizabeth, adopted daughter of her friend Heath Jarrod, is having a crisis. She is being attacked both directly and indirectly through social media, emails, and texts, in a very disturbing way.
As Elizabeth begins to disclose what has been happening in her life, Heath and Anna try to find out who is behind the attacks, but their efforts don't go far, and the local police don't seem to treat it as seriously as they think it warrants.
Anna has just been asked to take over the chief ranger role at Acadia on a temporary basis, and the women decide that Heath, Elizabeth, and Heath's aunt Gwen will also go to Maine, and stay with a friend of Heath's aunt who has a home in a partially restored lighthouse on an island.
Unfortunately, they discover fairly quickly that Elizabeth's stalker knows where they are and may have followed them to Maine.
This novel also has another story embedded in it, one of a ranger who feels wronged and resentful of the difficulties life has brought her and looks to not only find a new, better future, but also wants to take revenge on others as she moves on. Anna gets in the middle of this action without even realizing it, and finds herself in a very dangerous situation.
This is a story of families, of those who choose to direct the lives of others by taking matters into their own hands, and of those hiding from reality.

One for Sorrow

Finished February 28
One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn

This children's novel is set in an unnamed American city, and starts in the fall of 1918. Annie Browne is a beloved only child, and her parents have recently moved to the community. As she begins school in September, another girl in her class immediately claims her as a friend. Unfortunately Elsie Schneider is a girl with low self-esteem, high jealousy, and little in the way of social skills. Annie is a friendly child and doesn't want to seem unthankful for the offer of friendship, but when Elsie insists on coming home with her, and makes threats towards here, Annie is horrified and frightened. She manages to find enough strength to approach the other girls in her glass on a day when Elsie is not there, and thus manages to find a group of girls that she finds more amenable, but the threat of Elsie never really goes away.
When the deadly Spanish influenza comes to town and school is closed, Annie and her group of friends enter into activities that they know their parents wouldn't approve of. When the disease begins to count some of their classmates as victims, things begin to go sadly wrong.
Annie finds herself haunted by the specter of a girl she knows she wasn't kind to, and finds that she can't control her own behaviour.
This is a ghost story that reeks of sadness and resentment. The ghost here is a girl who hasn't had an easy life, and didn't have the skills to overcome her situation. As the ghost takes out her fury on her victims, I feared for the future of poor Annie.