Feeds:
Posts
Comments

After slacking off a bit with my non-fiction reading earlier in the year, May saw me stepping up my game (also receiving a number of much-anticipated library holds – truly the deciding factor when it comes to what I read) with seven non-fiction titles.  But it was still balanced by many, many rom-coms.  

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary (2022) – Three women are stood up by Joseph Carter on Valentine’s Day: Siobhan, who enjoys their hotel hook-ups when she’s visiting from Dublin; Jane, who Jospeh had promised to partner as a fake date for an event she dreaded; and Miranda, his girlfriend.  None gets a straight answer as to why she was stood up and so their doubts begin to grow.

O’Leary treads a line here between slick and smart and I’m still not entirely sure which I think she pulls off but it’s fundamentally a fun book, even if Joseph remains a (necessarily) distant figure throughout and therefore not an ideal romantic hero.

Free by Lea Ypi (2021) – a wonderful memoir about growing up in Albania in the dying years of communism and in the desperate 1990s.  Ypi provides an interesting glimpse into a country I know little about and her memories of helped me understand all the modern stereotypes I’ve absorbed – of gangsters trafficking people across the Adriatic and illegal workers in Italy – and how they came to be.  A good country to leave, sadly.

The Authority Gap by Mary Ann Sieghart (2021) – the subtitle for Sieghart’s entertaining and enraging book is “Why Women Are Still Taken Less Serious Than Men, and What We Can Do About It”, but it’s hard to get excited about the (very practical) actions she outlines when you realise just how many of them there are.  I suspect there won’t be many surprises here for most women, especially those in the corporate world, but it’s helpful to have the facts.  A book you’ll want to make every man in your office read (but will they take it seriously?).

One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake (2019) – Reread.  A joyous foodie memoir about Cloake’s bicycle journey through France to explore regional specialties.

Goblin Hill by Essie Summers (1977) – After Faith’s parents die, she discovers she was adopted with only just enough time to reconnect with her dying birth mother.  Now knowing the identify of her birth father, she looks for a job near his New Zealand farm until she can work up the courage to present herself.  She starts work as a family historian only to discover that the women who have hired her are her great-aunts.  Soon she is caught up in the family (especially with Gareth Morgan, her stepbrother) while waiting for her father to return from his travels.  There are many silly secrets and the overall effect is classic Summers but far from her best.

The Wedding Crasher by Abigail Mann (2022) – an enjoyably slow-moving romcom about a woman who finds herself swept up into the wedding chaos of her university housemate years after last seeing him.  It’s a bizarrely complicated set up but Mann makes it work with fundamentally relatable characters.  This is her third novel and I’ve enjoyed all of them.

Twelve Days in May by Niamh Hargan (2022) – jumping from one novel about two university friends contemplating what-might-have-been, I fell straight into another.  I guess we know what people were musing about during Covid lockdowns.

Twelve years after meeting in Bordeaux, Lizzy and Ciaran reconnect at the Cannes film festival where his film is debuting and she is working for the Scottish Film Board.  With allegations of plagiarism against Ciaran, his PR team pulls her in to the media whirlwind to attest to the originality of the film, based on their Erasmus experience.  But the film – and being together – brings back memories of their intense friendship all those years before and its abrupt ending.  Soon Lizzy is wondering how well she really remembers what happened and if there is a chance to start again.  Thoroughly enjoyable.

Under One Roof by Ali Hazelwood (2022) – Hazelwood has a trio of linked novellas that have come out before her second novel is released in August.  They’ve been released first as audiobooks and I did listen to the other two but this was the only one I read.  About three friends in STEM fields, I honestly found all the characters very annoying and the romances frustrating, though this one – about two unwilling housemates who eventually fall in love – was…the least frustrating?  Faint praise, indeed.

The Temporary European by Cameron Hewitt (2022) – For North American travellers, Rick Steves is a dependable and practical travel guru, inspiring others with his passion for European travel.  Cameron Hewitt is his right-hand man and equally excited about sharing his love of Europe.  I’ve loved reading his blog posts over the years, especially since his main area of focus is Central and Eastern Europe, so it’s no surprise I loved this collection of travel essays.  Like Rick, Cameron is funny, generally optimistic, and candid about his likes and dislikes.

Book Lovers by Emily Henry (2022) – when literary agent Nora’s sister insists they take a holiday together to a small town in North Carolina, Nora can’t refuse.  Ever since their single-parent mother died twelve years before (and even before that), Nora has felt responsible for Libby’s happiness.  Seeing how harried Libby is now – pregnant and with two young daughters already – Nora goes along with the plan.  She’s less willing to go along with Libby’s romance-novel-esque list of things to do while there (ride a horse, go skinny dipping, date a local).  But when Nora finds a familiar face in the small town – Charlie, an editor she’s crossed paths with in New York – things begin to look up.

Henry is very, very, very good at romcoms and this may be her best so far.  Nora is the anti-Hallmark heroine.  She feels cast as the evil urban ice queen, whose boyfriends go on business trips to quirky small towns and find love with peppy girls trying to save their family companies.  When she finds herself in a small town…that does not change.  And I loved that.  Nora gets to be who she is throughout – a successful, competent, in-control woman.  And she gets a successful, competent, in-control love interest who doesn’t need to challenge or change her, just be there for her to rely on and let her feel comfortable enough to relax a little.  Truly, the dream.

We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole (2022) – a superb blend of history and memoir in which journalist O’Toole looks at the changes in modern Ireland over the course of his life, from his birth in 1958 to the present day.  Reviewed here.

Borders by Thomas King (2021) – a graphic novel adaptation of an old short story by King about a boy and his mother trying to cross the Canada-US border.  When his mother is unwilling to identify her nationality as anything other than Blackfoot (whose lands straddle the border), the boy and his mother find themselves stuck in a no man’s land at the border crossing.

The Meet Cute Method by Portia MacIntosh (2022) – Still enjoying my discovery of MacIntosh’s romcoms.

Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler (2016) – Reread of Tyler’s retelling of The Taming of the Shrew.

After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport (2022) – another fascinating history from the always reliable Rappaport about the Russians who found their way to Paris both during the early years of the 20th Century and after the revolution.  Reviewed here.

A White Bird Flying by Bess Streeter Aldrich (1931) – excellent sequel to A Lantern in Her Hand from the perspective of Abby Deal’s granddaughter Laura.  Laura is determined to fulfil the gentile aspirations her grandmother never achieved but, ultimately, like Abby she finds herself tempted by love and the promise of friendship and a family.  Aldrich poignantly tracks the decline of the first generation of pioneers and reflects on how quickly the country has changed, that the grandchildren of those early settlers now take going to college for granted and have the whole world at their feet.

New Zealand Inheritance by Essie Summers (1957) – this was Summers’ first book and she certainly began as she meant to go on.  Roberta returns to her grandfather’s Otago farm in her mid-twenties, after travelling the world with her artistic parents and nursing them through their final years.  Now she is looking for roots and feels drawn back to Heatherleigh, where she spent one idyllic summer as a child.  When she arrives, it seems as though her grandfather’s one-time shepherd and now neighbour, Muir Buchanan, is paying her attentions with an eye to her inheritance.  Roberta, fighting her attraction, decides to lead him on a merry dance.

Roberta is the worst kind of heroine: a sensible person doing absolutely bonkers things to serve the plot.  And Muir is uselessly uncommunicative and struggling a bit with the chip on his shoulder.  Backed up by some absurdly melodramatic stories for secondary characters, it’s all a bit much.

How We Met by Huma Qureshi (2021) – a short, gentle memoir about Qureshi’s experiences growing up in a family and culture that shaped her approach to finding a romantic partner – and how she eventually chose a different path and a very different sort of husband.

Holding Her Breath by Eimear Ryan (2022) – I loved the writing in this story of a young woman starting a new life at university in Dublin, growing away from the swimming that defined her teen years and delving into her family’s past and the suicide of her famous poet grandfather. But…there are too many buts to count.  The plot and characterization are bog standard and I’m sure I’ll forget everything within a month or two.

See You Yesterday by Rachel Lynn Solomon (2022) – Extremely good YA novel about two university freshmen who find themselves stuck – à la Groundhog Day – reliving the same day over and over.  When they realise it’s happening to them both, they band together and start trying to break out of the loop and move forward with their lives.  As days turn to weeks, they have time to get to know one another, go a little loopy, work through some issues, and, very sweetly, fall in love.  It’s all delightful, funny, and poignant, and the characters, both dealing with baggage they don’t particularly want to confront, are highly relatable (if a little too emotionally evolved for eighteen year olds).

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Nothing particularly bookish to report this week because, finally, inevitably, I have Covid.  After two years of heroic efforts, I have finally been brought low by my plague-ridden parents.  They are both now recovered and bouncing around in the world while I’m at home with a chest cough, fever, and several more days of isolation.  It’s not fun but neither is it awful, though I can only imagine how painful more severe strains would be or the experience of an unvaccinated and unboosted person.

Unable to leave the house, I’ve been postponing library holds and focusing on my own books with their comforting familiarity.  By this weekend I know I’ll be eager to get my hands on a fresh supply when I’m released back into the world but for now it’s nice to limit myself to only what is close at hand.

What did you pick up this week?

We are almost half-way through the year and while there are already a number of books in the running for my end-of-year list of favourites, there is only one that is currently in the race for the number one spot: We Don’t Know Ourselves by Fintan O’Toole.  A blend of history and memoir, journalist O’Toole looks at the changes in modern Ireland over the course of his life, from his birth in 1958 to the present day (this was published in 2021), an extraordinary period of social and economic upheaval.

I was born in the mid-eighties so my first impressions of Ireland were shaped in the 1990s, when the economy was booming and the country was being shaken by revelations about the Catholic church’s involvement in decades of child abuse and the incarceration of girls and women in the Magdalene Laundries.  While we learned a fair amount in school about Ireland in the 19th Century, given how significantly it impacted Canada – around a million Irish people immigrated here during and after the famine, explaining why every farm town where my father’s family is from in Southwestern Ontario is named after an Irish village – our only 20th century content was a quick overview of the War of Independence and the Civil War to give us context for the Troubles and the ongoing peace talks that were always in the news.

What I didn’t learn in school or through the news, I supplemented with Maeve Binchy books, which it turns out were excellent social histories to cover the changing attitudes of a country that changed incredibly quickly.  As O’Toole says early in his book, “the transformation of Ireland over the last sixty years has sometimes felt as if a new world had landed from outer space on top of an old one.”  Fiction has done a good job of capturing that, but not as good as memoir.

The Ireland O’Toole was born into was a land of emigrants.  The birth rate was low because a generation of child-bearing adults had disappeared, looking for jobs and a future in England or America:

In 1841 the population of what became the twenty-six county Irish state was 6.5 million.  In 1961, it would hit its lowest ever total of 2.8 million.  By that year, a scarcely imaginable 45 per cent of all those born in Ireland between 1931 and 1936 and 40 per cent of those born between 1936 and 1941 had left.

Yet from such hopeless beginnings, O’Toole has seen Ireland ascend (and fall and ascend and fall and ascend – it’s been a turbulent few decades) to become, unbelievably, a country that draws immigrants.  Economically, this is primarily due to huge investment from America (the numbers are staggering – “by 2017, US direct investment stock in Ireland totalled $457 billion, a greater investment stake than in Germany, France, Italy, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Sweden combined”), which is slightly worrying as a model for a stable economic future but I digress.  That’s a topic for another book.  Economic growth and stability always drive social change and the liberalising of the country has been, if anything, even more extreme.

Seeing the church through O’Toole eyes is fascinating.  Ireland has modernized so fast that, from the outside, it is easy to forget what a stranglehold the church had on all aspects of society.  They taught your children (and beat them, and molested them), they decided what could be printed or shown on film or TV, and they insisted that women and children who transgressed should be shut up in terrifying institutions.  And in their stranglehold, they allowed corruption to flourish, answerable to no one – an inspiration, surely, for the politicians to come.

Reading Maeve Binchy, not generally an author given to shocking her readers, I was always shocked by the corruption of some of the characters and the casual acceptance of it by others.  What to me seemed so over-the-top and unbelievable now, with all these real-life examples laid before me, seems like harsh social realism.  Still bizarre though, wound up in a society trained for generations by the church to pretend that they don’t see what is happening in front of them and to believe they have no power to change it.

That infantilizing of a nation was, O’Toole asserts, the Catholic church’s greatest achievement.  For years, people had had no way of even finding the words to talk about what had happened to them.  When they tried, when families spoke to the church about what had happened to their children, it was with shame and embarrassment rather than outrage:

It had so successfully disabled a society’s capacity to think for itself about right and wrong that it was the parents of an abused child, not the bishop who enabled that abuse, who were ‘quite apologetic’.  It had managed to create a flock who, in the face of an outrageous violation of trust, would be concerned as much about the abuser as about those he had abused and might abuse in the future.  It had inserted its system of control and power so deeply into the minds of the faithful that they could scarcely even feel angry about the perpetration of disgusting crimes on their own children.

The most heartbreaking thing is how widely known the abuses were and how a country chose to live silently with the shame for so long.  Catholicism and Ireland were inexorably entwined.  Everyone knew who the dodgy brothers were at the school, or that when girls disappeared for a few days to England that it was for an abortion that could never be spoken about.  What was then surprising is how quickly the nation embraced changed, how it longed for future generations to have more freedom than theirs had had.  The Irish are great ones for referendums and passed both the 2015 one in favour of same-sex marriage and the 2018 one to legalize abortion with majorities of greater than 60 per cent.  In both cases, O’Toole reports his generation reacting with some surprise to their parents’ votes in favour.  When the abortion ban was repealed, O’Toole was drinking with a politician friend who was happy but conflicted, having not spoken to his elderly, very devout parents who lived on their rural farm, feeling uneasy since he had publicly voiced his support for the repeal.  Their drink was interrupted by a call from his sister, ringing to share her happiness with the result:

Then he asked her how their father and mother were taking it all.  Delighted, she said – sure both of the parents had voted for repeal.  ‘Daddy said he couldn’t bear thinking of all those women coming back from England and not being able to tell anyone what they were going through.’  There had been, all along in the old man’s mind, another history, a history of migrants and absentees, of secrets and silences.  He was, it seemed, glad to let it out at last.

The one thing I’d (naively) not expected to have been so dominant were the Troubles.  I’d always thought of them as specific to Northern Ireland but O’Toole’s memory of his father coming home one day in the early 1970s and saying that it looked like he and his sons would soon be forced to go up north, certain they were on the brink of a war where Irishmen on both sides of the border would be fighting, impressed on me what that level of unrest felt like contained on a small island.  The family had another tense evening in 1972 waiting for O’Toole’s father, a bus conductor, to come home after an IRA bomb exploded near the company canteen and it wasn’t clear who had been killed.  His father was safe but two colleagues died.

It’s moments like that – the family conversations, the memories of certain television programs or exchanges at school – that make this such a vivid and impactful book.  O’Toole does a wonderful job of presenting his country’s history but an even better job of expressing what it was like to live through.

I went into After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport, an accessible history of the Russians who found their way to Paris both during the early years of the 20th Century and after the revolution, feeling well primed.  Far too many viewings of Anastasia as a child (I really, really loved Ingrid Bergman) had long-ago established Paris in my mind as the home of exiled Russians living a surreal mix of poverty and fantasy, dispossessed of their country and heritage but clinging to it nonetheless in a world where White Russian generals now ran nightclubs and, perhaps, a lost princess lived on the streets.  Rappaport reintroduced me to that world – for it did exist – but also to the glittering era that came before and the harsher realities that followed, not quite suitable for 1950s celluloid.

Rappaport begins during the Belle Epoque, when France was already drawing Russians westward.  It drew some who were not welcome in the Tsar’s Russia but Rappaport focuses predominantly in those early years on the grand dukes and counts, the princesses and even the Dowager Empress who flocked to the city of light to enjoy its many pleasures.  They lived happily and lavishly, using their great wealth to acquire mansions, art, automobiles, and – for many Grand Dukes – charming feminine company.  Naturally, Russian artists followed the money, with Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes taking the city by storm and Stravinsky shocking it with The Rite of Spring.  It was a glittering era funded by unimaginable wealth, allowing the privileged to bounced between the Riviera and Paris.  But Paris was a city of pleasure and escape rather than home and with the start of the First World War the bulk of the Russian community returned to their palaces and estates in the east.  Some of them would never make it out again.

Those who survived the revolution and escaped to France returned in very different circumstances.  They used what skills they had to survive: rich young men who once owned fleets of cars now drove others about.  Aristocratic women who counted needlework as one of their few accomplishments found use for it in the fashion capital of the world.  And children who had had the best music tutors in the country grew up to be adults who made music not for pleasure at private gatherings but for money as entertainers.  This included Count Mikhail Tolstoy, the son of the author, who formed a Russian folk music trio with a general’s wife and a prince.  He explained:

My situation, like that of my two friends, is a mystery to nobody.  I have been ruined since 1919, when I left Russia.  I have seven children in school in France.  I love music, so why shouldn’t I attempt to live by it?  The memory of my father forbids me writing so I’m going to sing and play the piano.

Fascinatingly, Rappaport not only reports on these odd new occupations but contextualizes them for us.  The deadening suburban factory jobs – poorly paid and offering little hope of advancement – offer a way to put food on the table but not much else.  Fashion work is clearly more prestigious but precarious, particularly for those who attempted to set up their own fashion houses.  The pinnacle of achievement seems to have been the taxi driver.  With enough money to purchase a car and complete the licensing requirements, taxi drivers were usually already better off than the majority of emigrants and the independence of their profession gave them better control over their earnings.  It wasn’t a foolproof path to a bright future but it was better than what most of the Russian community was facing.

Despite Russia’s pre-existing ties to France, it was not a story of successful emigration.  People eked out an existence, with generally menial, poorly-paid work, that left them exhausted and hopeless.  Leading writers lost both the world they wrote about and the audience they wrote for, now too poor to buy novels and poetry.  Paris was not the land of opportunity and soon energetic refugees began looking across the Atlantic for (another) fresh start.

But those without such dynamism stayed, plodding on, until some realised they could take no more and chose either to return to Russia or end it all.  There is a particularly poignant story of a count who could not go on.  Formerly a diplomat, fluent in six languages, he found himself adrift in Paris.  His one attachment was to his old French governess, who he visited devotedly, but with her death that one last reason to survive disappeared.  He killed himself in a city park.

And then there were the dreamers and schemers, the fantasists who sought to correct the past by presenting fake Anastasias or attempting to establish a new Romanov Tsar to continue the glorious traditions.  But there would be no continuing.

I am a detail-oriented person so I adore the specificity of Rappaport’s books.  She clearly has expert knowledge – and superb research skills – of several eras and focuses intensely on periods or details which other historians might simply address in a single chapter.  Her earlier books about the Romanovs focus on the short lives of the princesses (Four Sisters), the family’s last days (Ekaterinburg), and the failure of royal cousins and foreign governments to rescue them from their tragic fate (The Race to Save the Romanovs) and each one is absolutely fascinating.  Her account of Queen Victoria’s cult of mourning after Prince Albert’s death (A Magnificent Obsession) concentrates on a defining but brief period of a long life and is superb.  And she does the same thing here, choosing to focus on a very specific refugee population and their experiences, creating a deep sense of place and, by contrasting the pre- and post-revolution experiences, an immense sense of what was lost.

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Sharlene has the Mr Linky this week.

Flowers in the Rain by Rosamunde Pilcher – I mentioned in my April reading round-up my great discovery: while I hate pretty much every novel I’ve tried by Pilcher, I can tolerate and even enjoy her short stories.  I confirmed my earlier findings by reading this quickly and with pleasure over the weekend.

Sea of Tranquility by Emily St John Mandel – The publisher modestly describes this as “a novel of art, time, love, and plague that takes the reader from Vancouver Island in 1912 to a dark colony on the moon five hundred years later, unfurling a story of humanity across centuries and space.”  I thoroughly enjoy Mandel’s writing and am always delighted by the glimpses she includes of British Columbia, so am looking forward to this.

Remains to be Seen by Elizabeth Cadell – despite having gone on a Cadell binge a few years ago, there are still some titles I’ve never read, including this later novel.  It promises archaeology, a dash of mystery, and, of course, romance.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

I had a weekend adventure only other library-lovers may be able to appreciate.  For the first time, I am using InterLINK, which allows patrons from linked public libraries to a) visit other library systems and use their usual card to borrow items and b) return the items to their home library.  The inter-library loans remain incredibly slow (1-3 months right now) so I can bypass that waiting period by hoping on the bus for – in this case – an hour, enjoying a wander through a new neighbourhood and lovely library, and getting what I want.  Even better, while ILLs are restricted to older items (nothing published this year or last) and books only, InterLINK allows you to borrow anything.  A few of my items below were picked up this way, along with lots of obscure foreign language DVDs.

I am doubtlessly going to go mad with this new power.

Memory Speaks by Julie Sedivy – Sedivy, a language scientist, explores the connections between language and memory from both a scientific and personal perspective.  Sedivy left Czechoslovakia and came to Canada as a small child, gradually losing most of her mother tongue but then reconnected with it as an adult.  I’m reading this right now and finding it so fascinating.

Overdue by Amanda Oliver – Based on Oliver’s experiences as a librarian in Washington, DC, this promises to “highlight the national problems that have existed in libraries since they were founded: racism, segregation, and class inequalities. These age-old problems have evolved into police violence, the opioid epidemic, rampant houselessness, and lack of mental health care nationwide—all of which come to a head in public library spaces.”

The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard – I am working my way backwards through Hazzard.  Having started with The Great Fire (2003), I moved on to The Transit of Venus (1980), and now I’m back to 1970 with this novel about a young Englishwoman in Naples.

The Radical Potter by Tristram Hunt – Practically everything I know about Josiah Wedgwood has come at me sideways through books about Charles Darwin, his grandson.  Everything I’ve read about the man and his achievements has impressed me and I’m looking forward to learning more.  This was well-reviewed in the Guardian.

The Frequency of Us by Keith Stuart – In Second World War Bath, young, naïve wireless engineer Will meets Austrian refugee Elsa Klein: she is sophisticated, witty and worldly, and at last his life seems to make sense . . . until, soon after, the newly married couple’s home is bombed, and Will awakes from the wreckage to find himself alone.

No one has heard of Elsa Klein. They say he was never married.

Seventy years later, social worker Laura is battling her way out of depression and off medication. Her new case is a strange, isolated old man whose house hasn’t changed since the war. A man who insists his wife vanished many, many years before. Everyone thinks he’s suffering dementia. But Laura begins to suspect otherwise

Stepping Up by Sarah Turner – an utterly familiar plot – an irresponsible woman finds herself as guardian to her niece and nephew after a family tragedy – that is supposed to be well-done.

The Gran Tour by Ben Aitken – When Ben Aitken learnt that his gran had enjoyed a four-night holiday including four three-course dinners, four cooked breakfasts, four games of bingo, a pair of excursions, sixteen pints of lager and luxury return coach travel, all for a hundred pounds, he thought, that’s the life, and signed himself up. Six times over.

Windswept by Annabel Abbs – This was what prompted me to test the InterLINK system as my pleas for my library to buy its own copy have gone unheeded.  I am SO excited to start reading this memoir/group biography.

How We Met by Huma Qureshi – a short, gentle memoir about Qureshi’s experiences growing up in a family and culture that shaped her approach to finding a romantic partner – and how she eventually chose a different path and a very different sort of husband.

What did you pick up this week?

Balcombe Street home – Inigo Estate Agency (via rightmove.co.uk)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

New Zealand Inheritance by Essie Summers – my encounters with Summers have bounced around through her five decade career but I’ve finally got my hands on this, her very first novel from 1957.

Mr Finchley Discovers His England by Victor Canning – the 1934 bestseller about a middle-aged clerk trying to take his first holiday.  Barb reviewed this a few years ago and it’s been at the back of my mind since.

Borders by Thomas King, illustrated by Natasha Donovan – a graphic-novel adaptation of an old short story by King, about a boy and his mother who get caught in limbo at a quiet border crossing between Canada and the US when they assert their identity as Blackfoot instead.

Daughter of the Moon Goddess by Sue Lynn Tan – Sharlene’s library was WAY faster to add this to their collection – she reviewed it back in March but I’ve only just got my hands on it.

After the Romanovs by Helen Rappaport – a new release from Rappaport is always something to be excited about and this look at Russian exiles in Paris is no exception.

The Meet Cute Method by Portia MacIntosh – I thoroughly enjoyed my first encounter with MacIntosh (Will They, Won’t They) and look forward to reading more of her romantic comedies.

What did you pick up this week?

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Sharlene has the Mr Linky this week.

What did you pick up this week?

On the basis that done is better than perfect, I thought I’d share some short thoughts on books I read last month.

2022 has been an exhausting year so far, particularly with the war in Ukraine stirring up lots of difficult emotions among Czech family and friends who remembered what it was like when their country was invaded by Russians (with far less deadly results but two further decades of repression).  Between that and the usual work chaos and the first significant easing here of Covid restrictions and ongoing health tests to rule out scary things (result: scary things have been ruled out), it’s all been a bit much and I’ve found myself reaching for lighter and lighter comfort reads.  Thank goodness for books.

Donut Fall in Love by Jackie Lau (2021) – I kicked April off by finishing this cute Asian rom-com set in Toronto about an actor (Ryan – the default name for handsome Canadian actors as the characters joke) who, preparing to compete on a celebrity baking show, solicits local baker Lindsay into giving him some lessons.  Both have lost parents – Ryan very recently – and I loved how much their relationships with their families were part of the story.

Iona Iverson’s Rules for Commuting by Clare Pooley (2022 – alternate title The People on Platform Five) – this was an ARC from NetGalley and kept me happily occupied during my flight from Vancouver to Palm Springs at the start of the month (my first plane ride in more than two years!).  I love Pooley’s debut novel, The Authenticity Project, and have read it multiple times since Covid hit so was delighted to find this to be another wonderfully warm story about community and connection.

Here she looks at what happens a group of commuters, startled after an incident on their train one morning, dare to actually speak to one another (Londoners, are you cringing at the thought?).  At the heart of the group is stylish, flamboyant, and unapologetic Iona, who soon sets the example that draws sweet Emmie, helpful Sanjay, bullied Martha, and burnt-out Piers together.  Following them as they help one another and end up changing their own lives over the course of several months made me long for the end of work-from-home and the chance of making lucky, life-changing connections of my own over the morning commute.

This is being released at the end of this month in the UK and early June in North America.

Girl, Unframed by Deb Caletti (2020) – Caletti was recommended in Nancy Pearl’s Book Crush (focused on children’s and YA books) and I’m still making up my mind about her.  This thriller-like novel follows sixteen-year-old Sydney as she leaves her Pacific Northwest boarding school to spend the summer with her actress mother in San Francisco in a mansion by China Beach.  The house is shared with her mother’s new boyfriend, Jake, who, like all men, is suddenly paying Sydney far too much attention that she doesn’t know how to respond to.  There is a body at the end (hence me calling this a thriller) but the focus is on Sydney trying to make sense of how her now adult body is perceived and how she feels about that.  The emotions and confusion ring true but it all feels a bit after-school-special-like.

52 Ways to Walk by Annabel Streets (2022) – such a fun book to dip in and out of!  Streets proposes 52 different inspirations for walkers – one to try each week.  Whether that is walking backwards, at altitude, in the dark, in the rain, while singing, or while staying silent, Streets is full of interesting ideas and, more importantly, all the reasons why its beneficial to give each option a try.  I loved this and am certain other walkers would be equally fascinated.  Annabel Streets also publishes as Annabel Abbs and her recent memoir/group biography Windswept: Walking the Paths of Trailblazing Women is high on my wishlist.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus (2022) – an amusing, sweet novel set in the 1960s about a female chemist turned unconventional television cooking show host and unlikely empowerment icon.

French Braid by Anne Tyler (2022) – I always forget how much I like Anne Tyler until I read one of her books again.  This wonderful short novel follows the members of the Garrett family from the 1950s – when April, Lily, and David are children on a family vacation – until the summer of 2020 when they are grandparents dealing with Covid lockdowns.  Tyler pops us in and out of the lives of them, their parents (Robin and Mercy), and their own children.  The result is a novel that feels composed of wonderfully rich short stories, full of incredibly relatable family dynamics and miscommunications.

I especially loved this passage:

What nobody understood about David, with the possible exception of [his wife] Greta, was that he had suffered a very serious loss in his life.  Two losses, in fact.  Two very dear children: Emily and Nicholas.  It was true that these days there happened to be two very dear grown-ups who were also named Emily and Nicholas, but they weren’t the same people.  It was just as if those children had died.  He’d been in mourning ever since.

Again, Rachel by Marian Keyes (2022) – Rachel Walsh is back!  (As are all the other Walshes, which made me remember how much I dislike most of them.)  Rachel’s Holiday is Keyes’ most iconic book and we meet up with Rachel twenty plus years after.  She is now a counsellor at the same addition clinic where she was treated, having moved home to Ireland from New York after splitting from her husband, Luke.  But Luke’s mother has just died and he is home, bringing up questions of why their marriage fell apart and forcing Rachel to face up to what happened.  The genius of Rachel’s Holiday was the revelation of Rachel as an unreliable narrator so to find her unreliable again is not entirely a shock.  Keyes handles it cannily but the overall impact was good, not great.

A Song for Summer by Eva Ibbotson (1997) – I am alarmed to realise that this is the Ibbotson novel I have reread the most over the last few years, though I consider it the weakest of her adult books (see earlier review).  But like all of her books it is such satisfying escapism and there is something about the setting – an eccentric boarding school in a pink schloss on the sunny shore of a Carinthian lake, surrounded by fragrant flowers and staffed by an earnest but largely incompetent group of dreamers – that I find irresistible.  Our Czech hero Marek remains absurd – handsome and good at everything – but I don’t care.  It’s still a delight.

Which Way is Home? by Maria Kiely (2020) – speaking of Czechs (and when am I not, really?), I was terribly intrigued when Constance mentioned this children’s novel in her March reading round up as it follows a family fleeing Czechoslovakia in 1948 (inspired by the author’s mother’s experiences).  My mother left in 1968 but several family members were part of the exodus in 1948 so I was interested to see how Kiely handled it.  The result was disappointing and showed no storytelling skill at all – we hear exactly what Anna, our young heroine, feels without ever seeing her feel it.  It’s the cardinal sin: too much telling and no showing.  The use of punctuation is also confusing inconsistent.  Czech words are used with proper accents but names are presented without the needed accents – very annoying.

Wild Child by Patrick Barkham (2020) – an interesting and deeply personal look at how children relate to and need nature in their lives, blending research with observations of Barkham’s own three children and his experiences volunteering at a local forest school.

Madame de Pompadour by Nancy Mitford (1954) – something I actually managed to review!

Bachelors Galore by Essie Summer (1958) – those who caught this in my “Library Loot” post were deeply entertained by the title – and who wouldn’t be?  Our heroine Marty is emigrating from England to New Zealand when she clashes with Philip Griffiths, who misunderstood a joke he overheard her making and is convinced she is coming out to find one of the fabled rich bachelor farmers the papers are full of.  As per usual with Summers, there’s needless misdirection and silliness but also an enterprising, hardworking heroine and a happy ending.  I especially loved the section where a number of the characters go on holiday to the Marlborough Sounds as this area is on high on my to-visit list when I eventually make it to New Zealand and Summers is so good at beautiful descriptions of the country.

Dedicated by Pete Davis (2021) – a soundly supported plea for people to commit themselves – to people, places and causes – rather than indulge in endless browsing, both to better their own lives and society as a whole.  Definitely a case of preaching to the choir but it’s stayed in my mind as I’ve been reading and watching programs since and thinking about the years people have dedicated to pursuing things they are passionate about (especially true watching the documentary “Navalny” recently on CNN).

Will They, Won’t They? by Portia MacIntosh (2021) – two rom-coms in one month featuring famous actors!  In this case, our heroine is an actress returning home to Yorkshire after her character is killed off on a Game of Thrones-esque show.  She’s soon drawn into family and community life and finds herself headlining the local Christmas panto.  This was on Jo Walton’s March reading list and just as fun as she promised.

To Bring You Joy by Essie Summers (1985) – Monique is gifted a significant amount of money by a dear aunt with the only condition being that Monique use it in a way that will “bring you joy”.  Rather than set out on world travels, she leaves Christchurch for the Banks Peninsula (also high on my to-see list!) to help two old ladies turn their home into a museum of the peninsula’s early French settlers.  After working in antiques for almost a decade, Monique is knowledgeable – and driven by the private knowledge that her dear grandfather was the beloved younger brother of these ladies who ran away after a fight with their father and eventually started a new life in Australia.

There is – of course – a love interest (Eduoard – because everyone in this book has French heritage and if you have French heritage you MUST have a French name.  No exceptions allowed) and too many silly secrets.  The silliness rating was higher than usual here, making it one of my less successful encounters with Summers.

The Blue Bedroom and Other Stories by Rosamunde Pilcher (1985) – I’ve had only unsuccessful experiences with Pilcher’s novels (I consistently want to throw them against walls.  Or perhaps out to sea) but recently picked up A Place Like Home, a collection of her short stories, and was surprised how much I enjoyed them.  That encouraged me to track down this earlier collection, which, ultimately, felt frothier and less memorable but still pleasant.