Sunday, 10 December 2017

Love and Other Consolation Prizes

Finished December 5
Love and Other Consolation Prizes by Jamie Ford, read by Emily Woo Zeller

This historical novel takes us first to China, and then to Seattle in the early twentieth century. Both these are memories of Ernest Young's decades later, as one of his daughters, a reporter, digs into the past for stories on the upcoming world's fair of 1962. Ernest is living in a small apartment in Chinatown, with his ailing wife Grace living with his journalist daughter. She's been having memory issues, and outbursts, and it has been thought best to leave her there.
Ernest remembers his last moments with his mother and what happened to his baby sister. It was then his journey to the west began. First there was a days long walk with other young Chinese children and youths. Then a voyage by ship. Ernest remembers the other passengers, the spartan quarters and and a few of the men on the ship that they interacted with. He was lucky to survive.
The book then takes us to 1909, when Ernest has been a charitable case by a local female dogooder. When he finds enough courage to challenge her idea of his future, she changes her mind, and uses him as a fund-raising raffle prize. This throws him into a new world, one that is more freeing, but also limited. He is won by the madam of a high-class brothel, to the consternation of his dogooder. Other than the piano player, who lives elsewhere, Ernest is the only male in the house, and becomes an object of affection by the upstairs girls, and a companion to one of the servants near his own age, Fahn. He also connects with the madam's young daughter Maisie, and the three hang out together, explore portions of the town, and on one eventful evening go to the fair.
As Ernest looks back at this time in his life, he recognizes that he loved both girls, for different reasons, and in different ways, but, in the end, could only commit to one.
As the memories continue to come, and Ernest deals with the events of the present, Grace begins to improve and begins to share her own memories. Ernest has been trying to protect her, and the shared history that may not be what she really wants shared, but again, he finds that fate has taken things into her own hands.
This is a fascinating story, based on a newspaper article the author came across of a baby being auctioned off at the fair. Ford looked at other real historical events such as the drive for suffrage and against alcohol and other vices, and used them to tie the story together. I loved it.

The Greatcoat

Finished December 4
The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

This ghost story takes place in a Yorkshire town in 1952. Isabel Carey and her husband Philip have just moved there as Philip, a new doctor has joined the medical practice there. Isabel finds the rooms Philip rented stark and cold, and feels that the landlady, who lives upstairs, is watching her. Looking for extra blankets to help with the cold nights, Isabel discovers an old army greatcoat in an upper cupboard, and puts in on the bed. One night she hears knocking and sees a man's face at the window, which frightens her, but she gradually finds that she gains awareness of the man's identity and begins to discover that she has memories that belong to someone else.
As Isabel begins to interact with the man, Alec, she also becomes aware of who holds his ghost to this world, and why.
This is a story of connection beyond life, of lives unfulfilled, and of the tragedy of war.
Very engaging.

Wednesday, 6 December 2017

Fate of Flames

Finished December 3
The Fate of Flames by Sarah Raughley

This teen novel begins as an attack begins on New York City. The attack is by phantoms, creatures that take on all kinds of ghastly shapes and seem to have unearthly powers. Anywhere people live there is protection usually through some kind of electromagnetic field, and of course New York City is no exception. But there have been cases, where the protection suddenly fails and an attack begins unexpectedly, with many victims. The authorities don't understand why or how this happens. An organization called The Sect trains people to fight against these phantoms, and they have some success, but the real skill in fighting them is by a small group of young females called Effigies. Only four Effigies exist at any one time, and they usually take on their power in their teens and don't often live past their twenties. Maia and her twin sister June were huge fans of the Effigies, but there was a terrible accident and June and Maia's parents died in a fire. Maia now lives with her uncle Nathan, who works for the government in New York City. Maia is holding a secret. Just a day or two earlier, she had awakened in the night to feel a change coming over her. She is the newest Effigy, taking the place of the skilled and strong Natalya, a Russian woman with considerable power. Maia has no idea what to do as the attack begins, but feels that hiding with her classmates is not an option. She should be doing something. As she sees a young girl in peril, she goes to her aid, only to witness the arrival of another strong Effigy, Belle, to fight the phantom nearing them.
Maia realizes she is no match for the foes she is up against, and can't bring herself to tell her uncle that he may lose the one family member that he has left. As Maia is identified by the authorities in her new role, and taken for training, she is also exposed to a mysterious young man named Saul, who seems to be the source of the attacks.
This is the first in a trilogy of books that introduces a new fantastical foe in our world. The strong female characters will appeal to female readers, and there is an element of romance present as well. An interesting premise.

The Scribe of Siena

Finished November 29
The Scribe of Siena by Melodie Winawer

The book centers on neurosurgeon Beatrice Trovato. Beatrice's mother died given birth to her, along with her twin sister. She was raised by her brother Benjamin, who was 17 at the time. He did a fantastic job, and the two remained extremely close. Benjamin was an historian, but also a scientist, and he was researching the Black Death and why it took a greater toll on Siena than any other area in Italy. Beatrice was already planning to take some much needed vacation and visit him in Siena, when he died suddenly. She is determined to continue his research in honour of him. When she gets to Siena, she finds herself finding a place for herself there. When not buried in research, she explores the city and makes friends with a neighbouring family. When she comes across the diary of a painter who lived in the same time period as the outbreak of the Black Death, fresco artist Gabriele Accorsi, she is drawn to his words, and when she finds one of his paintings that contains an image of a woman with her own face, she is struck by the connection. As her immersion in the past becomes stronger, she finds herself suddenly transported to the Siena of 1347, and extremely grateful for the skills in language and history that she learned thanks to Benjamin.
As she makes a place for herself in this foreign world, she continues her brother's research as best she can, meeting some of the players in the books she's been studying. Meeting Gabriele Accorsi himself is almost more than she can believe, and as she finds a real life connection with this strong-willed but gentle man, she also finds that her life and actions are not always within her control.
For those who love time travel and romance, with a touch of intrigue, this book is a winner. Highly recommended for readers who loved The Outlander and Discovery of Witches. I could hardly put it down.
Like Discovery of Witches, the author knows her history and uses real life historical characters and events to bring the story to life.