Monday, 21 May 2018

A Higher Loyalty

Finished May 21
A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership by James Comey

I wanted to read this book to see what Comey felt behind the role he held, and this book met that expectation. Comey tracks his career journey from its beginnings, and goes into detail on some of the cases or situations that he dealt with. The details increase as we grow closer to the present, specifically regarding the Hillary Clinton email investigation, and Comey's dealings with Trump. Nothing actually surprised me, and I understood Comey's reasons for doing what he did.
Comey knows that nobody is perfect, including himself, and he does talk about a few actions that he is ashamed of, and details the struggles he had to make some decisions, including often asking for input from others or advice from people he trusted.
He outlines his ideas of what a good leader looks like, and what things a leader must keep in mind to remain a good leader. He talks about ethics, and his personal take on that and how it led him to the career he chose. He also talks about his lifelong goal of helping people, of righting wrongs and bringing those who betray others to justice. Through examples, he shows how he tries to give people chances to redeem themselves, to choose a different path, and how some choose it and others don't.
He talks about his wife, and the strong relationship they have, and how they've dealt with the struggles that life has brought them.
I enjoyed the book, and feel I understand the author better as well.

The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium

Finished May 15
The Reverend Guppy's Aquarium: From Joseph P Frisbie to Roy Jacuzzi, How Everyday Items Were Named for Extraordinary People by Philip Dodd

This book was inspired by the curiosity of the author as he tracked down the story of the origin of a wide variety of items to their namesakes. Some of these you may have been aware of, others are less well known. Included here are:
* The frisbee
* The saxophone and other musical instruments
* The jacuzzi
* The biro
* Mesmerism and the guillotine
* The leotard
* Oscars and Tonys
* The dahlia, the freesia, the bougainvillea, the fuchsia, and the magnolia
* The G-spot
* The sandwich
* The Mercedes
* The silhouette
* The foxtrot
* Mavericks
* and, of course, guppys
For some he finds dubious myths about origin, others are well documented. And the reader learns a number of other interesting things along the way.

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Sun Dog

Finished May 13
Sun Dog by Deborah Kerbel, illustrated by Suzanne Del Rizzo

This picture book is about Juno, a young husky who lives with a family near the Arctic Circle. Juno finds the endless days of the summer make it hard to settle down to sleep, and one night, she leaves the house in search of playmates. She finds only that she feels lonely without her boy, and vulnerable to those creatures who look for food during this time. When she returns to her house and finds danger there as well, the big dog that Juno knows exists inside her comes alive as she raises an alarm.
This is a lovely story of the connection between Juno and her boy, but also of the high Arctic days, and the animals who call that part of the world their home.
The illustrator of this book uses polymer clay as one element of the illustrations and I loved the effect. She brings alive Juno's playfulness (I particularly liked the picture with the sock) and the beautiful environment Juno and her boy live in. The flowers look so real, I wanted to smell them!
A great book, especially for youngsters with their own special dog.

Sarah's Key

Finished May 13
Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay

This read was for my upcoming book club meeting. It is a WWII story of a young girl, ten years old, who is awakened early one July morning in 1942 by pounding on her apartment door. She wakes her mother, and tells her. They family isn't that worried as Sarah's father has been sleeping in the cellar after rumours of police seizing men have become widespread. This morning, however the police order Sarah's mother to pack a bag and also tell Sarah they will be taking her. When Sarah enters her bedroom to get clothes, and wake her younger brother, only 4, he refuses to go.
The children had a deep cupboard they often played in and hid from their parents in fun. He goes in there and Sarah locks him in, promising to come back later.
As the police shepherd the two from the building, Sarah's mother screams for her father, and he joins them. They are part of a roundup of Jews in Paris, in which busloads are taken to the Vel' d'Hiv'.
Sixty years later, Julia Jarmond, an American woman reporter, who has lived in Paris for twenty-five years, and married a Parisian, is assigned to do a story on the sixtieth anniversary of this horrible event. Julie hadn't heard of it before, and as she does research, she is horrified.
When she discovers that her husband's family has a connection to the event, she is determined to find out about the family that used to live in the apartment her husband's grandparents lived in.
As we follow Sarah's story in 1942, we also follow Julia's investigation into the past.
This is a novel of a fictional family, set around a true event, and a terribly sad one. This particular raid was enacted by Frenchmen on Nazi orders, men who did not protest acting against their fellow citizens. This is a novel that was written to help enlighten the people of today about their past, and look toward a future of truth and acknowledgement.

The Grave's a Fine and Private Place

Finished May 11
The Grave's a Fine and Private Place by Alan Bradley, read by Jayne Entwhistle

This is the ninth book in the series featuring Flavia de Luce. Flavia, her sisters, and Dogger have left the family home to fill their days, their home being a sad place at present. Her oldest sister is put out by having to delay her marriage, and all three are unhappy at their aunt's insistence that they move to London. Dogger has suggested the village of Volesthorpe as a distraction, and as the book begins they are slowing being rowed on the river. Flavia has one hand over the side, skimming the water, when the hand catches on something. She imagines it to be a fish, but on examination it proves that her hand is caught in the mouth of a young man, a dead young man.
When she draws Dogger's attention to it, they head for shore, bringing the body with them. And Flavia is engaged in another mystery, a distraction indeed. Once on shore, Dogger assigns Ophelia and Daphne a task to keep them looking out at the river, as he and Flavia move the body to a grassy bank. When Dogger goes off in search of the police, Flavia looks for clues, and finds a few, naturally. As the police arrive, along with the vicar, the family retreats to the nearby inn for lunch. There, the two older sisters bolster themselves with a pint of Guinness and Flavia and Dogger make plans to investigate further.
There are other distractions here including a circus with an aggressive woman owner, and a group of rowdies, an inn landlady with a hidden poetry habit, and a famous actress in her golden years. Flavia befriends a young boy who has done some experimenting of his own, and butts heads with the local police officer.
The sisters grow closer here, something that is nice to see. Flavia also begins a much closer relationship with Dogger, who is more forthcoming about his own knowledge and connections. This book moves in a new direction, but an interesting one it is.

Reservoir 13

Finished May 9
Reservoir 13 by Jon McGregor

This book was recommended to me by Ben McNally, and although it wasn't what I expected, I really enjoyed it. The novel takes place in a small town in rural England. One winter, a teenage girl on holiday with her parents goes missing. A search is mounted, but the girl is not found. But activities for the inhabitants of the town go on, more or less as they had done before. As the book follows a variety of people who live there, who arrive their after this event, and who leave for various reasons, we see the life of a town and its people. The small secrets, the kindnesses and resentments, the family dynamics. We see the cycle of nature, year after year, and the events large and small.
I loved how each year was a chapter, and that while some scenes of interaction were included, so were straightforward descriptions of what happened.
One example
The summer had been wet but in September the skies cleared and the mud in the lanes was baked into thick-edged ruts. There were springtails under the beech trees behind the Close, burrowing and feeding on the fragments of fallen leaves, and somewhere deep in the pile a male laid a ring of sperm. A blackbird's nest was blown from the elder tree at the entrance to the Hunter place, the mud mortar crumbled and the grasses scattered as chaff. Tony produced an arrangement of hops for the Harvest Festival display, and it was certainly striking but there were some who felt the pungent smell was out of place in a church. Jones's sister was seen at the post office, buying packaging paper and string, and this was understood as some kind of breakthrough. Irene sometimes told people that Jones's sister had been at her wedding, and had been the very life and soul. Such a shame, what happened, she would say. As though anyone actually knew. On Sunday in the evening Brian and Sally Fletcher at a meal together. Brian grilled lamb chops and boiled potatoes while Sally made a salad. It was a rule they had, to make sure they did this. For most of the week they kept different hours, and communicated through notes on the kitchen table. This suited them both. They had come to marriage late, and were each comfortable in their own company. But they'd decided they should always eat together on a Sunday night. I don't want to go forgetting what you look like, Brian had said. A meal, and a conversation, and then settling down together to watch whatever was on television. It was something about a murder, on the whole. At the allotments Ruth was seen working alone, pulling handfuls of beans down from the overloaded canes. The leaves were covered in blackfly but this late in the season she wasn't concerned. It was food for the ladybirds at least. She was letting the courgettes mature to marrows because even if no one really liked cooking them they did look good in baskets outside the shop. They made people think of harvest festivals, and that made tem come into the shop and spend money. The blackberries were thick on the brambles growing up around the greenhouse, and she thumbed a few into her mouth each time she went past. There had been words with the allotment committee about the brambles. The matter was not yet settled. Her phone beeped, and when she read the text a smile opened on her face that she found herself hiding behind a berry-stained hand. She sat on the bench for a moment, watching the shadows lengthen across the valley and feeling the warmth and thinking carefully about her reply. 
shows both the close observation and the narrative distance that occurs throughout the book. It is as though the narrator observes moments and strings them together in a loose connection by time. My enjoyment with this book grew as it progressed. The missing girl comes up each year as people still think about her and wonder what happened to her. But life here goes on, as it must.

The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr

Finished May 7
The Seven Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard

I loved this story of a young woman forced by circumstances to become more independent and engage with the world on her own terms. As the book opens, Elvira (Ellie) is twenty-seven. Her mother has raised her in a very protective way, allowing her only specific, controlled forays outside the house. As the book begins, Ellie's mother suffers a debilitating stroke, and Ellie calls an ambulance for her. Left alone in the house, Ellie tries to keep to her schedule, but must introduce new activities such as visiting her mother in the hospital.
Without her mother, she finds that she has more time to spare and begins to explore the world more. One of the people that helps her in this is her next-door neighbour Sylvia, a woman with grown children of her own. As Ellie learns new things, and tries new activities, she finds herself better than expected at some things. Perserverence helps her manage goals that she sets for herself, and new friends help her enlarge her life experiences.
It was wonderful to see Ellie grow, despite some setbacks, and gain confidence, even pride in some of the things she did. As she tries to follow the rules that she initially set for herself, she finds examples of these, and exceptions to them, and learns that she must carefully think about things before acting on them.

If You Knew Her

Finished May 5
If You Knew Her by Emily Elgar

This suspense novel follows three characters. The first one we see is Cassie Jensen, as she is out late in the evening on a road near her home. She sees headlights coming towards her, and recognizes them. She tries to move quickly to a wider spot in the road, but can't before the car is upon her. As the book continues, we move into the past with Cassie and see what led to this moment.
The second character we see is Alice, a nurse in a special intensive care unit at a hospital. Alice has been at the hospital a few years, and really enjoys her job. She feels close to those in her care, working to understand them, so she can give them her best. Alice is married, and although she and her husband have tried to have children, they have been disappointed. Alice is trying to come to terms with this and go along with the plan to adopt.
The third character we see is Frank. Frank is one of Alice's patients, and he has been on her ward for a few weeks. Frank is a man who has struggled with addiction, who has let his life pull him down, and who was looking to a difficult future when he suffered a major stroke. The doctor on the ward believes that Frank is in a Permanent Vegatative State, and should soon be moved on to long term care home. Alice disagrees. She thinks she has seen something in Frank's eyes, despite his lack of response to anything. Alice, and the other nurses, talk to Frank as if he is aware, telling him about their world, and sometimes about their secrets.
Frank has also found that he can hear remarkably well, tuning into other conversations that take place on the ward. When Cassie is admitted to the ward, he takes an interest as she is right across from him. As Frank observes who is visiting Cassie and how they behave, Alice is also noticing some things. But, unfortunately, Frank cannot communicate his worries, and Alice is distracted by her own issues.
This is a story of people who aren't what they seem to be on the surface, people who have inner lives with hidden worries, and hidden agendas. A fantastic read.

Don't I Know You?

Finished May 4
Don't I Know You? by Marni Jackson

This novel follows a woman, Rose McEwan from the age of seventeen to middle age. Rose keeps having encounters with famous people. As it begins the encounters seem to fit into her life in a normal way. The first encounter is when Rose takes a summer creative-writing course and John Updike (a young man at the time) is the instructor. A few years later, backpacking around Europe with her boyfriend, she encounters Joni Mitchell when camping in caves near a small Greek town. The encounters are generally pleasant ones, with the celebrities coming across as normal people. As the book moved forward though, the celebrities began to be doing things that you wouldn't expect them to do and meet up with other celebrities that seem unlikely.
As the book got stranger, I began to enjoy it less. Jackson certainly has an imagination, but I found myself unable to suspend disbelief after a certain point. It was also at this point that the plot disappeared for me.

Saturday, 5 May 2018

Before We Were Yours

Finished May 3
Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

This novel is inspired by real events. The general historical story is true, but the characters in this book are not. However what happened to the historical characters here really happened to people and is a part of history that needs to be brought to light.
This novel has two timelines. One begins in 1939 and takes place mostly in Tennessee. It is the story of a poor family, who lived on a riverboat. Rill is the oldest child in the family and the narrator, and as her story begins, her mother Queenie is in labour. The labour is a difficult one, and the midwife says that it is beyond her skills. As Rill convinces her father Briney to take her mother to the hospital, she is left in charge of her younger siblings: Camellia, Fern, Lark, and her toddler brother Gabion. This family is in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the children end up being taken from the boat under false pretences, and brought to an orphanage. Because most of this family is blond, they are more highly prized than some of their fellow victims.
As we see the terrible actions and conditions at the orphanage, and learn of the tactics involved, we understand and Rill, try as hard as she can, will not be able to keep her family together.
The true story of the society woman Georgia Tann, and her children's homes, which was supported by those in power for years, and had assistance from social agencies and lawmakers, is a terrible one. Hundreds of children were taken from their homes, and communities. Some were taken walking to school, some from their homes directly, but all were taken to group homes where they were abused, fed inadequately, and separated from their siblings. Many had loving parents that had no chance to recover their children against the powerful woman who had stolen them.
As Rill tries to fight for her siblings, and another young boy taken at the same time, she learns fear and distrust, and yearns for her river life.
In the present, another young woman, Avery Stafford, a lawyer and daughter of a senator in South Carolina, is home to support her father who is fighting a cancer diagnosis, and accusations of other types. Avery also takes the opportunity to visit her grandmother Judy, who has been placed in a secure care home as dementia gradually takes away her knowledge of the world around her. After a chance encounter with another nursing home resident, Avery begins to dig into both that woman's past and her own grandmother's to find out what connects the two.
This is a story that brings another sad historical experience to light, in a way that lets the reader experience the heartache and loss that these victims dealt with.
Highly recommended.

The Life She Was Given

Finished May 2
The Life She Was Given by Ellen Marie Wiseman

This historical fiction work has two timelines. The earlier one starts in the summer of 1931 at a horse farm in the state New York. Lilly Blackwood is nine years old, and is aching, as she often does, to leave her small attic room for the world beyond. Lilly has lived in this room all her life, being told that it is for her own protection, as others would attack and hurt or kill her if they saw her. She isn't allows to eat with her parents, and must abide by her mother's strict rules.
Her father has broken some of them. He has taught her to read, and he has supplied her with books besides the Bible that her mother has her study daily. Occasionaly he lets Lilly out to the attic room beside her own, to allow her to stretch her legs and walk more. But he has never let her go elsewhere in the house, and she only sees the horses the farm raises through her small barred window.
Her father has also given her a cat, one she has had since she was three. The cat is the only creature who gives her love and who touches her affectionately.
Now, Lilly has noticed a circus in the field beyond the barn, and wonders what lovely things they have. When her mother comes to her room one night after she has gone to bed, and insists that she dress nicely for a private trip to the circus, Lilly can't believe it. Lilly's father is away, but she is told that he is waiting at the circus.
But Lilly's world is about to change drastically, and as she gradually realizes that night, her mother has no intention of bringing her home again.
The second storyline begins in 1956, with a young woman named Julia. Julia Blackwood has left home after her father's death and an argument with her mother, but now finds that her mother has died as well, leaving her to inherit the property. As Julia moves back home, and begins to explore the house she grew up in, looking at rooms she wasn't allowed into, she also finds a lot of questions. What is the strange room in the attic about? Who is the strange girl in the clippings that her father has kept in his office?
As the storylines begin to converge, we discover a tale of terrible cruelty, of abuse and neglect, of secrets and lies. This is a story of terrible betrayal and of abuse in many forms. and of a woman learning to move beyond her past.

Wednesday, 2 May 2018

The Midnight Line

Finished April 30
The Midnight Line by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill

The latest Jack Reacher novel has Reacher travelling on the first bus out, north to Wisconsin. At a rest stop, when Reacher takes a walk, he sees a West Point class ring in a pawn shop window. For reasons he can't entirely explain, he is drawn to track down the person who owned the ring. But not everyone wants to talk, so it often needs some persuasion to find the next link in the chain leading back to her, because the ring is so small, he knows that it is a her.
After a couple of people in the small town the pawn shop is in, the trail leads back to Rapid City, South Dakota, where Reacher finds that he isn't the only one interested in the local link in the chain. There are both local law enforcement, and a private investigator showing interest as well.
As Reacher moves on, to the wild and lonely hills of Wyoming, he finds both unexpected allies, and a much bigger problem than he anticipated.
As always, I enjoy Reacher for both his actions, the lively plot, and his inner thought processes. This is the first book where I've seen him make a serious mistake, and have inner questioning of his actions, and I found that very interesting.
I also like how Child takes on bigger societal issues, and the issues here are real. To me, this book had a similar feel to the twelfth book in the series, Nothing to Lose. As always, there is a woman who figures largely, and this one is a fascinating character. Loved it.

Monday, 30 April 2018

Clara Voyant

Finished April 28
Clara Voyant by Rachelle Delaney

This children's novel features middle school student Clara Costa. Clara is in her first year of middle school, and has just moved from living with her mom and grandmother near High Park, to an apartment with her mom in Kensington Village. Her grandmother, Elaine, has retired to Florida, and Clara misses her a lot. Her grandmother was a no-nonsense woman with lots of rules and strong opinions. Clara's mom, Gaby, had recently finished a college program in herbalism, and got a job managing a herbal remedies shop, that came with an upstairs apartment. Clara isn't sure about the new neighbourhood, and for sure doesn't believe in all the new age stuff her mom is into. She's also not keen on her mom's new friends who hold seances, and specialize in haunted real estate.
But there are some good things too. She has a new best friend named Maeve, so seems to like her mom's ideas, and is supportive of Clara's journalism goals. Clara has garnered a spot on the reporting team of the school paper, although she would definitely like a more challenging assignment than reporting on school clubs. And the guacamole at the restaurant across the street is the best ever.
When Clara gets assigned to write a new horoscope feature though, she isn't happy, nor is she thrilled with the new pen name that goes with it.
But as Clara diligently completes her assignment, she finds that she seems to be getting things right, and when she secretly takes on a investigative story, things get even more interesting.
This is a story about growing up, learning more about oneself, and discovering that change can come to people at any age. A fun read.

Less

Finished April 27
Less by Andrew Sean Greer

I picked up this novel when I saw it had won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction this year. The novel follows Arthur Less, a man who is nearly fifty, and is wanting to avoid going to the wedding of his recent lover. Arthur had had a long term relationship with an older man, Robert Brownburn, that started when he was twenty-one. Brownburn was a famous poet, and he encouraged Arthur to write as well. Arthur has had some success, but nothing like Brownburn.
In the fifteen or so years since his breakup with Brownburn he'd lived alone, having a series of lovers, including a nine-year relationship with Freddy Pelu, the nephew of Carlos Pelu, a man he's always had a sort-of competition with. Arthur doesn't feel up to attending Freddy's wedding, but he knows that if he just doesn't go, there will be much talk.
Noticing an invitation in his email, he suddenly decides that he will accept all the invitations to speak, go to awards ceremonies, teach seminars, and take on overseas assignments that he can, so that he can legitamately say that he is out of the country.
As we follow Arthur from his home in San Francisco, to New York City, Mexico City, Turin, Berlin, Morocco (a legitimate vacation), India, and Japan, we watch him leave his comfort zone, and experience life in ways he hadn't expected he could. We also watch as he begins to realize things about himself.
This a book that has humour, insight, and a great story. Loved it.


Things To Do When It's Raining

Finished April 26
Things To Do When It's Raining by Marissa Stapley

This novel was inspired by the author's grandmother's history. It is a story that draws on some of the elements of her grandmother's life for inspiration, but it is not a story of her grandmother.
There are multiple storylines here. One is the story of Mae Summers, a young woman who has been living in New York City, and has recently discovered that her fiance was not the man he thought she was, and who feels guilt about not picking up on some of the clues to just what was happening. Nearly broke, and with no place to live, she decides to return to Alexandria Bay, the small upstate town she grew up in. Mae was raised by her maternal grandparents, after her parents died when she was a young child. Her grandparents ran an inn there.
Another storyline is that of Gabe Broadbent, also from Alexandria Bay. Gabe was raised by his father after his mother ran off, and his father had issues. Soon after Mae's parents died, her grandparents also took on Gabe's upbringing, although he still had regular contact with his dad.
A rift between Gabe and Mae's family, created by her grandparents' reaction to something has led Gabe to a new life elsewhere. Now that his marriage has ended, he is at loose ends. When he gets a call about his father's precarious health, he realizes that he can do his freelance graphic work anywhere, and he goes back upstate to see what is up with his dad.
Mae's grandparents are also undergoing some changes. A thoughtless slip by her grandmother has led to her grandfather leaving the inn and staying at a nearby motel. But her grandmother is keeping a secret, one that she really should tell, but that she is in denial about, waiting for confirmation on.
As these stories converge, and we see back into Mae's grandparents' story, and the story of both Mae's parents and Gabe's parents, we become more aware of the power of narratives.
The title is based on a list created by Mae's mother when she was a teenager, a list of things for guests of the inn to do when it is raining. The ideas from that are wide-ranging, and show the sense of fun her mother had.
This is a story of families, both blood and otherwise, and about the power of choice.

Sunday, 29 April 2018

McSweeney's 41

Finished April 24
McSweeney's 41 edited by Dave Eggers

The collection of writing here varies widely in nature and setting. Some focus on the characters, such as the first story River Camp, where we have two men, brothers-in-law with very different outlooks on life, who have agreed to take a trip together in the wilderness. Their guide is a real character, and the two men don't exactly get along. The reader sees how they react to a difficult situation, each in their own way.
Another story, American Tall Tale is based on the folk tale of Paul Bunyan, but definitely takes the plot in a direction I hadn't anticipated.
There is also nonfiction included here, such as A Land Rush in Iran, where the author takes a closer look at the changes to one neighbourhood in Tehran over time. Another nonfiction inclusion, What Happens After Sixteen Years in Prison, looks at two sisters convicted for a crime they didn't commit, facing a troubling future when they are finally freed.
Another character-focused story is The Wolf and the Wild, where a man sentenced to community service finds real satisfaction in one of his assignments, but finds that others involved in the project aren't really interested in his ideas.
Stay Where You Are involves a situation with a couple who are traveling and get taken into the forest by a gunman. We see inside their thoughts about the situation and about their crumbling relationship.
Some stories, like Afternoon Street, feel surreal, like we are inside the mind of someone mentally ill or under the influence of something.
The main character in Robot Sex is an advanced robot working an office job and dealing with loneliness.
The book ends with four stories, each by a different Australian Aboriginal author. I think I enjoyed these the most.

Monday, 23 April 2018

You're the Only One I Can Tell

Finished April 17
You're the Only One I Can Tell: Inside the Language of Women's Friendships by Deborah Tannen, read by the author

This book continues to look at communication, as Tannen's previous books have, this time focusing on women's friendships. She looks at all types of friendships, from intimate to casual, similar in age to cross-generational, with other women and with men.
Mostly she focuses on friendships between women, but she also looks at those instances where women identified men as their closest friend and how those relationships were similar or dissimilar to those whose closest friendships were with women.
She looked at one on one friendship but also group friendship, and she looked at the nature of friendship, from those one can truly be oneself with, to those that required playing a certain role. In a few cases, she even looked at culture and how that affects friendships.
She has done a lot of research, but what I always enjoy about her books are the examples, where she actually looks at real life friendships up close.
Some things that I found fascinating was the fears that attach themselves to some friendship situations, that she describes as FOBLO (Fear of Being Left Out) and FOGKO (Fear of Getting Left Out) that can mean that we hide part of ourselves to fit in.
I don't have a lot of close friends, and I have old friends that I'm seldom in touch with, friends who've set limits on what kind of friendship they want from me (scaling back intimacy to the acquaintance level), and friends I can instantly pick up with after a long separation.
Interestingly, I've become both more careful in who I share some personal information with, and more open about some aspects of my life. And Tannen found all of these behaviours in her research. I really enjoyed learning more about the nature of friendship and about using that learning to look at my own relationships.

Friday, 20 April 2018

An Odyssey

Finished April 16
An Odyssey: A Father, A Son, and an Epic by Daniel Mendelsohn

This memoir encompasses a few months in Mendelsohn's life, with forays into his life at earlier times, and reflections on this time later. Shortly before the spring semester when Daniel was going to be teaching an undergraduate seminar on The Odyssey, his father, eighty-one at the time, asked to sit in on the course. Daniel is a writer and a classics scholar. His father, had worked first for Grumman, an aerospace corporation, and then as a computer science professor, but he took pride in the fact that he had studied Latin as a young man.
His father travelled in from his home on Long Island weekly that spring to participate in the course, and shortly after, when Daniel was discussing the experience with one of his mentors, she suggested a cruise that was being offered that summer that traced the route of Odysseus' journey. When Daniel mentioned it to his father, his dad was enthusiastic, and so they went.
This book traces both the disussion of the book in the seminar and the corresponding personal conversations he had with his father, and the time on the cruise that corresponded to that part of the story. It also describes the author's feelings and experience around his father's illness and death soon after this trip.
This is a very personal memoir of a father-son relationship that had its difficulties, but also moments of great intimacy. My reading of the Odyssey occured more than thirty years ago, but this brought my enjoyment of that story back to me.

Saturday, 14 April 2018

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning

Finished April 11
The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson

So, your first question is probably, "what is death cleaning?" Death cleaning is something a person does, often when they are getting on in years, but sometimes at other stages of life. It is going through your possessions to reduce what you have to what you need and use. It is not about minimalism, but about use. And it is about doing this so that when your time comes, and the people you care about are dealing with the loss of you, they don't have to also deal with a mountain of stuff. It is about giving things away to people who need them, about being around to see them enjoy those things. It is about taking a hard look at your stuff and thinking about what you actually need or really enjoy having.
This short book has good advice, lots of humour, and a bit of philosophy. Magnusson is an artist, and as she says, used to having her creations leave her. She talks about her own experiences getting rid of people's possessions after they die, including with her mother and her husband. She acknowledges the difficulties that may arise, and suggests a variety of ways to deal with them.
Magnusson describes herself as somewhere between eighty and a hundred, and she's got experience that we can take advantage of. A practical book by someone who enjoys the experiences of life, rather than the accumulation of possessions.

Wednesday, 11 April 2018

Roughneck

Finished April 8
Roughneck by Jeff Lemire

This graphic novel is set in a small town in northern Ontario. Derek Ouelette was a major league hockey player, of the type commonly described as a goon. He is back in his home town after causing an injury in a move driven by anger in a game. Derek drinks too much, and lives a bit rough, and doesn't have a lot of friends. He still tends to erupt in violence when he gets angry.
But when his younger sister Beth also returns to town, he must change to accommodate her needs. Beth has left an abusive boyfriend, one who is also in the drug trade.
As Beth struggles to get past her addiction and move on to a new life, Derek must also change. We learn about their parents, and the influence that those parents had on them, both good and bad. As they now realize that they don't know much about their mother's family, they are interested in discovering more about her native background, particularly Beth.
This is a story of finding the support and strength to start again, to learn from mistakes and become a better person.
Lemire's books are always drawn with skill, and this is no exception. I loved the illustrations and how they added to the characterization.

Ben and the Scaredy-Dog

Finished April 8
Ben and the Scaredy-Dog by Sarah Ellis, Illustrated by Kim LaFave

This book is part of a series of picture books featuring the young boy Ben. Ben has two older siblings: a sister, Robin; and a brother, Joe. He is at first interested when he sees a new family moving in across the street, especially when he sees a child his own age. But when he sees their dog, he isn't as interested.
That is because Ben is afraid of dogs. He sees their big mouths and their teeth, and doesn't want to be around them. But the new family comes over to visit and brings the dog, Max, and then the new girl, Erv, invites Ben over to play with her Lotsablox.
Ben is worried about this because the dog will likely be loose inside the house, and Robin reassures him, giving him a phrase to say to himself when he feels fearful of the dog and tells him to think positive thoughts, "Big Brave Ben" is the phrase. He finds that the visit isn't as bad as he expects, because Max is afraid of the shiny floors and is sitting on a small rug. But when Erv has to go to another room for a bit, and Ben is alone with the dog, his fear returns, and he does as Robin suggested and thinks positive thoughts. When he things he hears the dog move behind him, he begins to hum. And when the dog comes closer, he finds it is a different experience than the one he feared. And he begins to find that Max isn't that scary after all.
I loved the drawings here. They really made the story come to life. And the story is a nice one, especially if you have a youngster who has some fears of dogs. This book could help.

The Bear and the Nightingale

Finished April 8
The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

This book, the first in a trilogy, is set in northern Russia in the fourteenth century. Pyotr Vladimirovich is the boyar, lord, of the area, and he married a mysterious woman whose mother supposedly showed up in Moscow under strange circumstances, and married Ivan I of Moscow. Her name was Marina Ivanovna, and while she did not have her mother's powers, she was still a woman with a knowledge of magic. Marina and Pyotr have several children, including a girl, Olga, but as the book begins, Marina is pregnant with another girl, a girl who will have certain powers in the old magic, who she names Vasilisa, Vasya for short. Marina died following the birth, and her old nurse Dunya raised her and the other children, Sasha, Kolya, Olga and Alyosha. Dunya know the old tales, and told them often around the kitchen stove in the evenings.
Vasya grew to be a wild child, often with animals or in the nearby forest, gathering herbs. She sees and talks with the local spirits, both those of the house and stables, and those of nature. Vasya also finds that she has learnt the language of some animals, such as the horses. As the children grow, Pyotr decides to make a trip to Moscow, to sell, trade, take gifts to the rules, and find a husband for Olga. He takes along his two oldest sons, Sasha and Kolya.
They see many things and experience some unusual happenings. Sasha discovers a future for himself, and the Grand Prince has Pyotr take a woman for his new wife, along with choosing a husband for Olga. The new wife, Anna Ivanovna wished a different life for herself, and has a strong Christian faith. Shortly after, there is another addition to the household, the new priest, Father Konstantin Nikonovich, a painter of icons. He has been sent by the Metropolitan, the head of the church, and has also dreamed of a different life.
As the village grows more Christianized, the old magic is seen as evil by many, and the spirits grow weaker. And this change also has implications, both for the village and its people, and for Pyotr's family.
A fascinating tale with a fascinating setting. I loved the folktales woven into the story.

The Good Liar

Finished April 7
The Good Liar by Catherine McKenzie

This novel begins with a terrible event that took place in downtown Chicago. One of the main characters in the book, Cecily is going to meet her husband Tom at his work when the building he is working in has an explosion. Cecily comes out of the subway to witness the event. A photographer captures her image, and she ends up becoming the poster child for the horrible event. More than 500 people were killed in the explosion and its aftermath, and more than 2000 injured.
The book then moves to a time approaching a year later. Cecily is on the advisory board of the organization that disperses the money raised for victims of the tragedy. Another member of this board is Franny, a young woman who was adopted as an infant, but discovered her birth mother shortly before the explosion. Her birth mother was a good friend of Cecily, who worked for the same company as Tom.
Another person working in the building was a good friend of Cecily's, who was also the mother of two young girls. Cecily has two teenage children of her own, Cassie and Will, and has remained strong for them. As the anniversary approaches, the man who photographed Cecily, Teo, is now involved in making a documentary around the tragedy, focusing on some of the families, including Cecily's.
Meanwhile, another woman, Kate, is hundreds of miles away in Montreal, working as a nanny and trying to create a new life. Kate has been hiding her connection to the event in Chicago, and is dreading the media coverage of the anniversary.
Both women, Kate and Cecily, have secrets that they fear coming to light, as we gradually learn about them and what they are hiding, we learn that there are others with secrets as well.
This was a book I found hard to put down, and definitely recommended.

Sunday, 8 April 2018

He's Gone

Finished March 30
He's Gone by Deb Caletti

This novel begins with Dani Keller waking up on her houseboat in Seattle one morning to find her husband not there. At first she assumes that he went out for coffee and the paper, but as the day goes on, she begins to worry.
The night before, the couple had been to a work event for her husband's company. As he was one of the co-founders, Ian insisted on her dressing to a certain image he had, and her discomfort with the expectations placed on her and the social situation meant that she overmedicated herself and has hazy memories of the evening, especially towards the end.
As the police become involved, and Ian's daughters from his first marriage start to make accusations, Dani finds herself more and more worried about what happened that evening.
Did Ian come home with her? She thinks so, but can't remember specifics. They've been having some problems lately, and certainly weren't the loving couple people thought they were lately. Ian has been increasingly critical of Dani, and easier to anger, and Dani hasn't been happy.
This is a story that looks hard at a relationship, its origins, its growth, and its issues.

Smashed

Finished March 28
Smashed by Lisa Luedeke

This teen novel follows Katie Martin in her senior year of high school. She's a star on her field hockey team and hoping for a scholarship to be able to attend university. She's also dealing with a recently broken family.
After an argument between her parents, her father drives off, and never returns. Her mom is a nurse in nearby Portland, Maine, and working as many shifts as she can to make ends meet. The novel starts in the summer, and Katie is working as a swim instructor at the nearby lake in the mornings, and at the local ice cream place later in the day. Her best friend Cassie is away in Europe for the summer, and her other friend Matt is also busy working.
When the football star, Alec, from school shows up to work nearby and starts to show an interest in Katie, she isn't sure what to think. He seems a lot nicer than he was in school, and interested in what she has to say, but what is his real motive in doing her favours?
Katie resents that her mother is never home, often staying at her boyfriend's place in town rather than drive home late at night after work. Katie's little brother Will is a good kid, and he and Katie get along well, but her commitments mean that he spends a lot of time at his best friend's place.
In trying to escape her problems, Katie makes a few bad decisions and finds herself owing Alec and bigger favour than she is comfortable with, especially when the costs of that favour start coming due.
When school starts up, Katie throws herself into her practices, working hard to do well enough to get the attention of university coaches. But her struggles continue, as do her bad choices, and this time she may not be able to avoid the costs.
A novel that deals with a lot of teen issues, and a great first novel.

The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls

Finished March 28
The Prisoner of Snowflake Falls by John Lekich

This teen novel begins with 15-year-old Henry Holloway living in a treehouse as he tries to find a way to survive on his own while his Uncle Andy is in jail. Henry's mom wanted him to stay away from the life of crime his uncle led, but when she died and Henry moved into the boarding house his uncle ran, it was a bit more difficult.
He uncle's friends and boarders were also criminals and many of them took Henry under their wing, teaching him the skills they used in their crimes. Henry tried to stay clean, but living on his own has made that difficult.
His uncle believes he is staying with a family, and Henry doesn't want him to worry. Instead Henry enters the houses in the neighbourhood he lives in, taking only what he needs, and often doing some chores for the people that he sees need doing when he is in their houses.
When he is caught inside one of the houses, however, his story is blown, and he is sent before a judge. The Judge looks at the circumstances, and makes a recommendation that Henry go to a small town in northern Vancouver Island where he lives with a family, goes to school, has a job, and is expected to follow a set of rules.
The family is one that presents a few issues, the first being that Henry has to share a room with a precocious toddler Oscar. There is also a girl in the family, Charlotte, who is a bit of a know-it-all who tries to run his life.
He deflects the first overture of friendship that is put to him, but soon finds that may have been a bad move. As Henry gradually finds his place in this community and in the Henderson family home, he meets some interesting characters.
From the wealthy vision-challenged Harry Wingate, who Henry serves as a volunteer reader to, to the dog Popcorn who chases him as he delivers newspapers, there are situations that Henry has to find a way to deal with.
Just as he is comfortable in his new life, some people from his past show up, and things get more difficult again.

A Troublesome Boy

Finished March 28
A Troublesome Boy by Paul Vasey

This book follows the young Teddy Clemson as he is sent to a distant boarding school/reform school after a letter home about him being "troublesome." Teddy's parents have separated and his father isn't present in his life. Instead, his mother's new husband has been making the decisions about Teddy's future and, since he doesn't like Teddy, sending him away suits him well.
Teddy's new school is St. Ignatius Academy for Boys, knows as St. Iggy's. It is in northern Ontario, near the town of Belleview, and is run by Catholic priests and monks. When Teddy gets off the bus in Belleview, he is hungry and first heads to the diner he sees, where he is greeted in a friendly manner by Rita and Freddy. After his mean, he follows their directions to the school.
He is met by Father Stewart, the principal, who goes over a few things before having Brother Wilbur take him up to his dorm room. As the next few days pass, Teddy gets to know who the other teachers at the school are. They include Father Prince, a man who makes the boys nervous; Brother Joe, who sleeps outdoors most of the time and likes nature; and Father Sullivan, who seems to have quite a temper.
Teddy also gets to know the other boys, and becomes friends with another new boy, Tim Cooper, who has spent most of his life in foster care.
One gets the sense right away that this school isn't a happy place to be. When Teddy is shown a "time out room," a room with no lights or windows, a single straight chair and no handle on the inside of the door, he begins to understand the nature of the school. Even the boys who are not Catholic have to attend chapel in the mornings before breakfast, and their is a worse punishment room than the time out rooms, a place referred to as the dungeon.
The callous disrespect for basic human kindness, and the anger, violence, and abuse that many of the teachers perpetuate is one familiar to those of us who've read about residential schools.
The author, Vasey, survived a school similar to this one, and that experience served as an inspiration for this story.

Swimming to Elba

Finished March 27
Swimming to Elba by Silvia Avallone, translated by Antony Shugaar

This novel surprised me by being quite different from what I expected. It centers on Anna and Francesca, two barely teen girls in a poor area of Piombino, Italy, just across from Elba. The girls live on the Via Stalingrad in one of a group of apartment buildings.
The girls are just becoming aware of their sexuality and the power it brings. Anna lives with her mother, Sandra, who works outside the home and is a social activist; her father Alessio, who has lots of charm and is always looking for a way to make a fast buck; and her older brother Mattia, who works at the local ironworks and is a very good looking young man.
Francesca lives with her father Enrico, a man with a strong temper, a limited intellect, and a suspicious nature; and her mother Rosa, a meek woman who puts up with a lot.
Anna and Francesca are the prettiest and most popular girls in their age group, and Anna is often doted on by the older girls interested in her brother. She is aware of Francesca's difficult home life, but doesn't really know how to help.
As we see the girls through one summer and into the next school year, we see how the changes affecting their lives also brings change to their relationship.
Because of the environment and social class, this is different from other books I've read about girls this edge. Life is more difficult, and more uncertain for these girls.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper

Finished March 26
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaera Patrick

This novel begins with Arthur Pepper, a widower in his sixties, finally tackling get rid of his late wife's personal effects a year after her death. As he goes through everything, he comes across a small heart shaped locked box that he doesn't remember having ever seen before. Arthur was a locksmith before he retired, so picking the lock is not a big deal for him. Inside the box he finds an old-fashioned gold bracelet with several charms on it and a heart-shaped clasp. He doesn't remember ever seeing his wife Miriam wearing the bracelet, but wonders at it and the charms. The charms are an elephant with a green gemstone, a tiger, a thimble, a painter's palette, a heart, a flower, and a ring. As he looks more closely at the elephant, wondering what the jewel is, he notices some markings on it. He manages to decipher the markings as a long number, and determines that it seems to be a phone number, one in India.
Acting on the spur of the moment, Arthur decides to call the number, and finds out from a man in India that Miriam lived there as a young woman, and that the elephant is indeed from there, and the gem is a real emerald. As he learns from the man some information about his wife's time in India, he begins to wonder what else he didn't know about his wife, and what significance and origin the other charms on the bracelet have.
As Arthur reaches out from his self-imposed routine, he finds out more about Bernadette, the neighbour who has been dropping off food, and helpful information since his wife's death. As he accepts some help from her, he also meets her son Nathan, and after a rocky start with the young man, finds more in him than he first guessed.
Arthur's daughter Lucy who lives nearby visits him from time to time, but she didn't attend Miriam's funeral, something that he has never understood. As we discover Lucy's reasons behind this event, and we learn more about her struggles, so does Arthur, and he begins a new and deeper relationship with his daughter. His son Dan hasn't been home in years after emigrating to Australia and starting a family there, and Arthur is sad about the lack of a real relationship with him as well.
This book shows that people are often more complex than we realize, and we often don't know as much as we think about even those closest to us. It also shows that loss of a partner doesn't mean that that one can't find new reasons to enjoy life.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Let's Get Lost

Finished March 25
Let's Get Lost by Adi Alsaid

This teen novel starts with a young woman, Leila, stopping at a small garage in Vicksburg to get her car, an old, red Plymouth Acclaim, tuned up before a major road trip. The mechanic is a young man about her own age, in his last year of high school. His name is Hudson. Hudson is a very skilled mechanic, who learned from his own father, and although not that experienced with girls, feels both drawn to Leila, and very comfortable with her. It would seem that she feels the same way, a connection neither can describe very well, but each feels. After the car is ready, the two continue the day together, despite Hudson having a major commitment the following morning.
As the two part, and Leila continues on her trip north to Alaska to see the Northern Lights, Leila takes Hudson's philosophical view to heart, and takes a less than direct route, open to new experiences.
The next person we see her connect with is a young homeless woman named Bree, who she picks up hitchhiking near Kansas City. Bree has a story of loss and rebellion, and is a major risk taker. When their escapades get them in trouble, Leila convinces Bree to reach out to those who care and reconnect. As Bree moves to the next stage of her life, Leila continues her roadtrip.
She almost literally runs into Elliot in Minneapolis, as he struggles with unexpected rejection, and Leila brings him insight into his situation, causing him to take more chances despite the possibilities of failure.
As Leila makes her way through British Columbia, she encounters Sonia, another lost soul, a young woman who's known love and loss, and struggles now with how to move on with respect for everyone she cares about. As their adventures take them back and forth across the border, they encounter some very interesting people, and each finds a way forward.
Leila's arrival at her destination finally brings her own story of loss to the reader. We see her connect with those around her, and know that she has people who care about her, even though she has lost a lot. We see her as she finds both what she was looking for, and less than that, and, returning home, learns that many of her instincts are very good ones indeed.
My niece, who read this after me, loved the book.

The Wolves of Winter

Finished March 23
The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson

This is book is set in the near future, in a world ravaged by war and disease. Lynn, short for Gwendolyn, lives in the woods in the Yukon with her mother, brother, uncle, and the son of her uncle's best friend. She is in her early twenties, and an accomplished outdoorswoman and bow hunter. Her father was a biologist, who had worked in Chicago for the federal government, but left shortly after the wars began. The family moved to Alaska, where her uncle lived, and as the wars grew worse, and then the deadly flu began to spread, they made plans to leave the town of Eagle for the wilderness. Before this could happen, Lynn's father died from the flu. She was sixteen. Her uncle Jeryl convinced her mom, a school librarian, to join him in their trek away from town, and they travelled to the wilderness of the Yukon forests with a few guns and ammunition, some farm animals, some seeds, and other supplies for survival.
They've found a spot near a river, and build a few log homes and a small garden, and have managed to survive with the help of a small garden, and hunting. There is another man, Conrad, who showed up a few years ago, and lives a few miles away, but his behaviour has created animosity, and he is only tolerated as a neighbour.
Shortly after the book begins, Lynn comes across another stranger, a man and a dog, while out hunting, and brings them back to her camp for a meal, and to get news. Jax is both a source of outside news, and a threat to the various members of the camp, and when it turns out that he has secrets that will put them in danger, the mundane, boring life that Lynn has been leading changes drastically.
As Jax and Lynn's group learn more about each other, they find that their lives have been linked before. A great adventure tale.

Shrewed

Finished March 23
Shrewed: A Wry and Closely Observed Look at the Lives of Women and Girls by Elizabeth Renzetti

This collection of sixteen essays covers feminism, advice, and Renzetti's personal experiences. Some of the essay titles are intriguing such as "Tales for Young Witches." Others are instantly relatable, such as "The Voice in Your Head is an Asshole." On the personal side, Renzetti includes a letter to her daughter, a letter to her son, and an essay about her mom, among others. The final essay here is what she would say were she asked to give a commencement address at her school.
There is so much here to love that it is hard to know where to start. Here's a couple of quotes from the essays to give a taste of them.
"Loneliness is a public health crisis."
"At the Museum of American History, the Woolworths lunch counter, site of the Greensboro protest sit-in, stands across the hall from the wagon that delivered the suffragette newspaper The Woman's Daily."
This book made me laugh, it made me sad, and it made me angry. I encourage everyone to read it.

Beyond the Blue Moon

Finished March 20
Beyond the Blue Moon (1 of  3) by Simon R. Green, adapted for Graphic Audio by Timothy Lynch, directed by Terence Aselford

I've never listened to a Graphic Audio before and wasn't sure what to expect, but I really enjoyed it. The acting and the sounds brought the story to life, as if it were a movie. I haven't read this series, and this is the fourth book in the Forest Kingdom Saga, but I found that the characters and settings were described in such a way that I didn't feel that I needed to have read the previous books.
Hawk and Fisher are a team of guards in the kingdom of Haven. They are honest and determined, and have many skills and work well as a team as they know each other so well.
But as we quickly find out, their life in Haven has been a temporary escape from their home in the Forest Kingdom, and when a messenger arrives to tell them of King Harald's death by means unknown, they know they must return and discover who is behind his death. The couple has been hiding behind their identities as Hawk and Fisher, and are reluctant to reveal their true selves, so the messenger agrees to keep their secret as they do the work they have become very good at.
This is a rollicking adventure story, with love, class struggles, rampant crime, and a fair bit of violence, but with Hawk and Fisher on the side of good, it is a very enjoyable read.
I will definitely be interested in more graphic audio books!

Wash On!

Finished March 15
Wash On! by Michèle Marineau, illustrated by Manon Gauthier, translated by Erin Woods

This lovely tale of a young girl who finds the magical power of words while taking a bath, will delight all young readers. Petronilla insists on saying "Wash on," instead of "Wash off," when her mother gives her a bath, and the color of the washcloth transfers to her cheek. As Petronilla continues to insist on washing on, the colors of everything she touches transfer to other objects, and the phenomenon spreads to other people. As the colors transfer, it becomes difficult to distinguish between objects, and things get very messy.
The fun of imagining such a thing happening is enhanced by the illustrations showing color moving to other objects and the confusion it causes.
A fun book.


Tuesday, 20 March 2018

Bat Citizens

Finished March 13
Bat Citizens: Defending the Ninjas of the Night by Rob Laidlaw

This informative book is about a number of young people who have become engaged with bats. Some with saving bat habitats. Some with helping with research into bats, the diseases that affect them, or their behaviour. Some with working to help people understand the important role bats play in the ecosystems they live in, and educating people about the facts and myths about this elusive mammal.
I've always been kind of interested in bats, first encountering them personally as a teenager at a summer cottage. After reading about them in Diane Ackerman's book The Moon by Whale Light, I developed a stronger interest.
This book is a great way for kids to learn more about bats and the different species that exist from miniscule to ones with two metre wingspans. There are lots of pictures, including a poster that comes with the book, and the format has short single page articles on different bats, traits, and the defenders. There are also numerous sidebars of Bat Facts, and Batty Ideas that will appeal to kids. The final pages include a list of ways that the reader can help bats, organizations that help bats, and a glossary of terms that will help with understanding.
This will make a great addition to public and school libraries, and, hopefully, engage more young people in defending bats and their environment.

Winter Street

Finished March 12
Winter Street by Elin Hilderbrand, read by Erin Bennett

This novel begins with Kelley Quinn, owner of the Winter Street Inn in Nantucket walking in on his wife Mitzi kissing Santa Claus. In this case, Santa Claus is the man they've hired for many years to play the role during the inn's Christmas festivities.
The holiday season has already been difficult with Kelley and Mitzi's 19-year-old son Bart with the Marines in the Middle East. It is only a couple of days until Christmas, and no one has heard from Bart in days.
Kelley isn't the only one with issues this Christmas. Two of Kelley's children from his first wife, Margaret, also live at the inn. Ava is a local teacher, and her boyfriend, a cabinetmaker, has gone home to visit his parents in Florida at the last minute. Ava knows his ex-girlfriend is recently divorced, and she doesn't feel secure in their relationship, so doesn't know how to interpret this behaviour. Kevin is a local bartender, with a life that doesn't seem to be going anywhere, and with a secret girlfriend, who springs a very big surprise on him. Kevin's had bad luck with love in the past, and isn't sure he can commit, even though he really cares about Isabelle.
The oldest child, Patrick, has just realized that a big error of judgement on his part is about to catch up with him, and his wife has taken the children to her parents' place rather than deal with what he has done. Patrick has always been the successful, responsible one in the family and this is a big turnabout for him. One he doesn't begin to know how to deal with.
As each of them reaches out to Margaret for reassurance, assistance, or advice, Margaret realizes that her Christmas plans must change as well.
This is the first in a series and introduces a number of interesting characters that will be interesting to follow.

A Crime in the Family

Finished March 6
A Crime in the Family by Sacha Batthyany, translated by Anthea Bell

Even though he was born and grew up in Switzerland, Sacha's parent's, who escaped from Hungary, never really adopted Swiss ways of life, and yearned for their homeland. Once the wall came down and Eastern Europe became more accessible, his parents, although separated, both returned to Hungary. Sacha works as a journalist, and he began to hear a story about his great aunt's actions during the war. It is a story that horrifies, and Sacha finally begins to investigate the story as a tool to discover more about his own history.
When his mother died, he was given all her papers, but he hadn't looked at them until now. Shortly before she died, she had started to write down some of her memories of the war years, and he is drawn to an incident that seems to reappear often. The incident is of an encounter between her father and a local Jewish couple. This leads Sacha to try to find out more about this incident, and what really happened and he looks for people connected to it.
One of the children of the couple is still alive in South America, and he first makes a connection with one of her daughters, and finally with her in person.
The knowledge of this history is one that captivated Sacha for a long time, and led him to many insights. I found his story very interesting both on an historical and a personal level.

Close to Home

Finished March 3
Close to Home by Robert Dugoni, performed by Emily Sutton-Smith

This novel is part of a series featuring Tracy Crosswhite, a Seattle detective. Tracy and the rest of her unit, are called in to investigate a hit and run. There is no real reason to think it is anything but an accident, but the victim, D'Andre Miller is a young black teen, and the SPD is mindful of the political issues surrounding such a death. As the investigation moves on and the vehicle of an off-duty US serviceman is linked to the death, questions that are hard to answer begin to arise. The Navy petty officer, Lazlo Trejo, is keeping secrets, but his silence leads Tracy to start wondering about his actions and what he could be hiding. She is determined to bring him to justice, especially after the case is transferred to the Navy and things start to go wrong. Tracy has her own history with loss, and is determined not to leave the Miller family without closure.
Lt. Leah Battles is the navy lawyer assigned to the case, and she is a determined professional who has fought for her promotions, using her skill to represent each case she is involved in with everything she has. When things start to go wrong, she falls under suspicion, but Tracy begins to wonder if Leah is just a convenient fall guy.
During this time, Tracy's partner has faced a health issue of his own and is frustrated to be sitting on the sidelines, when he is a man of action.
One of the other members of Tracy's unit, Del Castiglione, is grieving the recent death of his niece by drug overdose, and looking for revenge against those who supplied her with the drug. As he and his partner Vic Fazzio continue their investigation into the drug's origin continues, he connects with a new-to-the-area lawyer in the DA's office who has also experienced the tragedy of losing a family member to drugs. Her views on solutions are different than his, and Del begins to move through his grief.
This is the fifth book in the series, but the first one that I've read. I really enjoyed it, and want to know more about thiese characters.

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.