Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Flush: a mystery

Flush: an environmental mystery / Sky Curtis
Toronto: Inanna, c2017.
260 p.

This is a mystery novel that's light on the mystery even though there is a murder; it's more interested in the way the crime changes the life of garden/lifestyle journalist Robin MacFarland.

After Robin is given the chance to cover a press conference by a hydro-energy company alongside her more hard-hitting colleague, she feels like her career is picking up. Coincidentally she also meets up for coffee with the company spokesperson a day later, after connecting on an online dating site.

Then he turns up dead.

Robin tries to figure out what is going on, hoping to be promoted to the crime desk via this story. She partners up with her best work friend Cindy (the actual crime reported) and gets up to all sorts of stake-out, suspect interrogation, investigative shenanigans. 

She finds that although it doesn't come naturally, she's getting better at it... and her sense of intuition about people's characters & motivation is second to none. She makes some key guesses that end up leading to the solution, and that nearly get her killed. 

It's a unique mystery, ranging all over its Toronto setting and incorporating both the world of journalism and police investigators. Robin is a middle-aged, stolid woman with a drinking problem, looking for love via online dating sites. She has body image issues and a bit of trauma from her married years. Yet she is a loyal friend and a curious person overall.

For me, though, this was a very light novel. I didn't really warm to Robin, partly because of her body issues. Right near the very beginning of the novel she is moaning about how fat and dumpy and ugly and old she is. It's a really over the top, lengthy rant. At the end of this dirge, she states how tall and how heavy she actually is in fact, and surprise, she is exactly the same size as me. So forgive me if I was annoyed with her from the start! Also, I can understand someone's unhappy but she is almost ridiculously fixated on her size and her drinking problem, which she never actually does anything about until the end of the book, when she just up and decides she will reduce her alcohol consumption. Oh if only it were that easy.

There were a few red herrings in the book that went nowhere, and a few revelations that would have helped the reader solve the mystery earlier if they'd been seeded in a bit sooner. So while it's not a perfect book, nor a perfect mystery, it did have some interesting side characters and a very complete Toronto setting. Worth reading for those aspects. 

Wednesday, November 01, 2017

11th Annual CanBook Challenge : November Roundup

1. Click on the icon above

2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)

3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as Melwyk (Anne of Green Gables) 

4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

5. In the comment section below, note whether you've read a book which meets the monthly challenge set via email for participants.

Monday, October 30, 2017

Hoffman's Rules of Magic

The Rules of Magic / Alice Hoffman
New York: Simon & Schuster, c2017. 
367 p.

Just in time for Halloween, I finally weigh in with my first book review of the month, a delightfully witchy book by Alice Hoffman.

The Rules of Magic is a prequel to her 1995 smash hit, Practical Magic (also made into a dreadful movie which I cannot recommend!)

In this prequel, Franny, Bridget (Jet), and Vincent are the three children of Susanna Owens, a woman who has distanced herself from her family and its bloodline of magical women. She’s now living in New York with her psychologist husband. She is trying to keep all her children safe by denying their family heritage, but, of course, as they children grow up, they begin to discover their powers all on their own.

Franny, the eldest, can call birds to her and loves the feeling of flight. Jet, the quiet middle sister, finally admits that she can hear other people’s thoughts. And Vincent, the wild youngest, is oozing with charm, drawing people to him even as he is drawn to the darker side of magic.

When Franny is 17, they are all sent to spend a summer with their Aunt Isabelle Owens, who teaches them to manage their abilities. There is a lot of back story to the Owens family here, and it’s tied to Salem and the original Owens witch, Maria. Getting herself involved with one of the worst witch hunters and puritanical judges of the Salem years, Maria was deserted by him and placed a curse on her family that daring to fall in love would be punished.Her family curse, condemning true love, has affected everyone since.

Hoffman's fixation of romantic love as the point of everything feels a little tired after so many books, even with the lush writing she couches it all in. And once again in this book, she has characters die tragically and gratuitously, to serve the needs of her main characters. This was one of the characteristics of her writing which led me to give her up completely after finishing Story Sisters (the Hoffman book I dislike the very most). This book also feels a bit rushed, so as to get to the point where it connects to Practical Magic.

Spending many pages on their teenage years, the narrative then rapidly covers the adult lives of the siblings in brief, until the sisters finally meet their two tiny grandnieces, who become the main characters of Practical Magic. Don’t be alarmed, however, you absolutely don’t need to have read that first in order to appreciate this book. The lives of the three Owens siblings are complex enough to read on their own.

Having read Practical Magic when it first came out 20 years ago, I must admit my memories of it are faint, but I do recall really loving the book and Hoffman's writing. My fondness for Hoffman has certainly dropped off in the past few years, but I thought I'd try this book for its connections to that earlier read. I was a little confused about the timeline here; they are growing up in the 60s so what year is it when they meet the young girls who are the featured characters in Practical Magic? I'll have to go back to it to figure that out. 

It was, overall, still a solid read even with the flaws. The Owens family is interesting, and the story suits Hoffman's writing style and themes. It was a seasonal read that I did like, though my love for Hoffman isn't where it was 20 years ago! 

Have you read this? Do you love or loathe Alice Hoffman's writing? Are there some of her books you like and others you don't? Enquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, October 01, 2017

11th Annual CanBook Challenge : October Roundup

1. Click on the icon above

2. Add a link to your review. (Please link to your specific review, not an entire webpage.)

3. Add your name and in parentheses the title of the book, such as Melwyk (Anne of Green Gables) 

4. In the comment section below, tell me your grand total so far. (ex. "This brings me up to 1/13")

5. In the comment section below, note whether you've read a book which meets the monthly challenge set via email for participants.

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Suitors

The Suitors / Cécile David-Weill; translated from the French by Linda Coverdale.
New York: Other Press, c2012.
421 p.

This was a book I picked up from my library shelves during August's Women in Translation month reading project. I've just finished it, and have to say that it wasn't my favourite read though there were some highlights to it. 

One of those is definitely this cover. That's what caught my eye originally -- the lovely green (the tone doesn't quite come through onscreen, trust me, it's so Martha Stewart celery colour) and the perfect capture of the sense of the book in the cover image. 

The book is set at L'Agapanthe, a country house owned by a rich French family. And no nouveau riche to be found, this is a family of riches ancien. And they are certainly snobby enough for the reader to believe it! 

Two middle-aged sisters, Laure & Marie, discover that their rich and yet somehow unworldly parents are going to sell L'Agapanthe, the summer home of their youth. They panic, knowing they don't want it sold, but unsure how they will be able to afford this Grand Maison on their own. A family friend comes up with an idea: they should marry rich husbands to cover the upkeep. 

While this is a satiric, ostensibly humorous story of longing and nostalgia and light amusement, it comes to feel more like a long and rather dreary monologue by Laure, a psychologist, as she talks about the "right" way to do things: how to behave at a country house, the kind of guests who know how to manage servants and the gauche guests who misstep, the tawdry Russian oligarch neighbours, the difficulty of finding butlers who know what they're doing, and so on. Each of the "suitors" that the sisters carefully invite to L'Agapanthe each weekend have issues; not rich enough, not suave enough, not at the right social level, etc. It's an insider view of high society of the old style, but this in itself is rather offputting.

It just comes across as a tale of snobby class distinctions drawn by a character who is very un-self-aware despite her frequent mentions about her career as a psychologist. In the end, they don't find appropriate suitors and they don't save L'Agapanthe, leaving the reader to wonder what the point of all this was. No increase in self knowledge is evident, and they seem to just shrug their shoulders and move on. There is a sense of ennui in their life story as told here. Very French, I suppose. Although I do love the word "L'Agapanthe", and the actual house was a lovely element. I just needed less detachment and more emotional connection to it by the sisters to really buy in to this story. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

The Peacock Emporium

The Peacock Emporium / JoJo Moyes 
London: Hodder & Stoughton, c2008.
436 p. 

Sometimes you're just in the mood for a relaxing, light read. I picked up this novel to read in my lunch breaks but it wasn't as light as I'd anticipated -- domestic violence, abandonment, divorce, death, estrangement -- it was all there.

I did finish it, and perhaps reading it bit by bit helped me to do so. I could take a break from the depressive pall the main character Suzanna Peacock cast over everything she did. 

So what's the story? I picked this up because it was ostensibly about Suzanna's Emporium, the curiosity shop she opens to stave off boredom when she and her husband Neil return to her English hometown, having to leave London to economize. Though if her idea of economizing is opening a shop and buying lovely stock that she doesn't really sell much of, sign me up for that budget!

Suzanna is fairly unhappy; she and her husband are distant from one another, she doesn't get along with her family too well (her mother abandoned them when she was an infant; Suzanna was always told her mother had died but....surprise, she didn't!), and she's not very good at shopkeeping, what with being standoffish and private and all. But when she hires local girl Jessie to be her clerk, Jessie's sunny extroverted personality and business acumen make the shop fairly successful. But disaster lurks ahead....

Meanwhile, in another story line, Alejandro, from South America, has come to England to intern as a midwife. He and Suzanna hit it off, rather well. He also has to decide what he wants from his life -- will he change direction, stay in England, or go home? 

Moyes also includes the back stories for Alejandro's family, for Suzanna's parents (all 3), for Jessie, and quite a lot about the other local shopkeepers. It felt at times like a bit too much of a jumble. I didn't feel that the characters rose above middling interest - they were not complex enough. Suzanna was so miserable for so long it was kind of tough to keep reading about her. I was quite honestly much more interested in the early chapter telling the story of her mother, her father, and the young girl who became her stepmother -- I would have liked to read that story instead. 

So while I enjoyed parts of this, and liked the descriptions of all the shops (a favourite fictional subject), I did find it a bit disjointed, and the requisite happy ending was not 100% believable. I've really enjoyed some of JoJo Moyes' books, but this one was just okay. It's not at the level of her more recent novels, though it is still better than others I've read in this genre! 

A middling read all in all. Recommended for fans of Moyes who want to read all her books.

Saturday, September 09, 2017

The Literary Sewing Circle

If you're wondering why it's been kind of quiet over here for the last few weeks it's because I've been busy getting another reading challenge going... this time a readalong & sewalong at my other, sewing, blog. 

If you are a reader who also loves textiles -- sewing, knitting, quilting, embroidering and so forth -- and I know there are a few of you! -- then you are welcome to join in on the Literary Sewing Circle. All the info and the reading schedule can be found in this launch post. 

The most important detail is the title of our first group read!

If you're also reading along for the RIP Challenge, this would be a great book to pick! It is spooky but not terrifying, and has some fantastic imagery to inspire you.

If you want to hear more about this project, I'm also thrilled to be able to tell you that I was a first-time guest on a podcast! The wonderful sewing podcast The Clothes Making Mavens was interested enough to have some bookish sewing chat this week. Check it out if you are into sewing -- it's very sewing oriented although we are talking books. 

Happy Fall and Happy Creating!