This Is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism, by Don Lemon (2021)

Nonfiction | Adult

This Is the Fire: What I Say to My Friends About Racism, by Don Lemon (2021)

I think the best explanation I’ve seen of white privilege offers this perspective: “Privilege doesn’t mean you don’t have obstacles to overcome. It means your skin colour isn’t one of them.” With a renewed commitment in the United States, Canada, and other parts of the world to antiracism and creating a more equal and welcoming society, it’s important to reflect on what racism is, and commit to doing what each one of us can to bring an end to inequality. Don Lemon is a CNN anchor, and his fame gives him an opportunity to open a discussion about racism in American society; it’s a message that resonates here in Canada as well. The title is an allusion to James Baldwin’s essay Next Time The Fire; a warning that African-Americans are being pushed to the edge. Lemon echoes Baldwin’s approach in writing the book as a letter to this nephew: “Today I heard a dying man call out for his mama, and I wept for the world that will soon belong to you.” The reference to George Floyd’s death is a sorrowful opening, but Lemon deftly uses it to make the case that each one of us has a role and a responsibility to work for change instead of standing by doing nothing. He draws on his own biography, growing up in the South as the son of a Black lawyer and a Black secretary, discovering his sexual orientation, and falling in love with a white man. But this isn’t a book about Lemon; it’s about racism in America, its origins in slavery, its heroes, victories, and defeats. And most importantly, it’s about how to bring about change, how to end racism starting now. It’s a call to action, and for someone who is white and is committed to thoughtful change, it’s inspiring and motivating. This edition of the audiobook is read by the author; that doesn’t always work, but in this case, Lemon’s skill as a news reader is an advantage, as his natural speaking cadence gives the book the feel of a thoughtful discussion. It’s a short book, about 5 hours in audio, and 200 or so pages in print, but it’s powerful nonetheless. Grand Forks & District Public Library has both e-book and e-audio editions available through the provincial Library 2 Go collection.
More reviews and discussions of this title: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/56795881

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Picnic in the Ruins, by Todd Robert Petersen (2021)

Adult | Adventure

Picnic in the Ruins, by Todd Robert Petersen (2021)

This difficult-to-classify adventure is set in the wild and beautiful parklands and monuments of Utah and Arizona. If you’ve been, you know the stunning landscape of rock forms, washes, flash floods, snakes and scorpions that make it such a beautiful and potentially deadly place to explore. Petersen is a screenwriter and academic living in Utah, and draws on all of that and more to create a strange and fascinating story that is part murder mystery, part Indiana Jones adventure, and part philosophical discussion on the role of parks to protect historical and natural sites from the very people it attracts as visitors. It’s hard to know where to begin. Sophia is a doctoral student on an internship; Paul is a park ranger with an awful lot of weapons (it’s the States; honestly, no one outside of the U.S. can understand this); Byron and Lonnie are a pair of hapless criminal brothers; Dalton is a compassionate sheriff in Utah who understands that crime and criminals ignore state and jurisdictional boundaries. There’s also an amateur archaeologist trying to right years of collecting, and a German doctor who is on a tour of the area and is crushed to learn how the indigenous people live and are treated. He offers a delightful perspective on American values and politics as he pursues his quest through the west. There’s a lot here to digest as the story develops; it does read like movie script (think Brad Pitt, James Gandolfini, and Julia Roberts in The Mexican) – tons of violence, lots of snappy dialogue, some complicated topics to mull over, and maps. Lots of maps. It’s a romp, it’s a scathing criticism of the weakness of the National Park system and of the unnamed-but-clearly-Trump administration; it’s a murder mystery; it’s a wilderness novel. I just loved it. My thanks to the Grand Forks and District Public Library for including this novel in its adult fiction collection (not quite a mystery, I agree!).
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55303672

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The Apocalypse Seven, by Gene Doucette (2021)

Science Fiction | 15-Adult

The Apocalypse Seven, by Gene Doucette (2021)

Harvard freshman Robbie wakes up in his dorm with a killer hangover, still in the clothes he wore to the keg party, and clearly late for class. He soon discovers the electricity is out, his backpack is missing, and there is no one else around. Anywhere. No cars, no people. No one. Until he runs into Carol, a blind student whose service dog is missing, though the streets are filled with wildlife like deer, bunnies, and coyotes. They head out together to try and figure out what the hell happened, and meet up with computer programmer and uber-geek Touré. It takes nearly half the book to finally meet the rest of the Seven – 13-year-old juvenile delinquent Bethany with useful lock-picking skills, archer Win, ex-con turned preacher Pastor Paul, and Cambridge astrophysicist Ananda. All have their own ideas on what happened, and Doucette masterfully creates memorable and sympathetic characters with authentic emotions and motivations. The bulk of the story is on surviving weather, starvation and hungry wolves and wildcats, with the plot taking a big twist around the three-quarter mark toward solving the cause of the apocalypse. I really liked the struggle this group has with cohesion – no one wants to be the leader – and all have something to contribute to the group’s skillset. Setting this in Massachusetts’ Ivy League corridor is brilliant, as there are tunnels linking buildings, some great references to iconic campus locations, and cool findings in display cases. Though, honestly, Mr. Doucette, library resources really could have been more helpful! Along with plenty of humour, drama, and danger, there’s a subtle warning for humanity today, and a reminder that threatening other living species for our own benefit is immoral. This book was thoroughly enjoyable, though the ending fell flat in my view. Most of the characters are young adults, so in addition to appealing to fans of dystopia and apocalyptic fiction, this is a good choice for teens ready to start trying adult fiction. My thanks to John Joseph Adams publisher/Mariner Books for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53716983

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Death in Provence, by Serena Kent (2019)

Mystery | Adult

Death in Provence, by Serena Kent (2019)

I’ve been travelling virtually through books of late and have rekindled my love of mysteries. Covid-19 put the kibosh on our trip to the south of France, so when I spotted this book at our library, I snagged it for a bit of armchair travelling. It’s the first in a series, with number two having been published last spring. The publisher info describes it as a blend of Peter Mayle (of A Year in Provence) and Agatha Christie, and I’d say that’s a pretty good representation. It’s a cosy mystery – Penelope Kite is a British expat who has taken early retirement from her job as an assistant to a forensics expert in the Home Office. She’s newly divorced, having finally had enough of her philandering husband, and, tired of the incessant babysitting demands from her adult stepchildren, decides to buy Le Chant d’Eau (the Song of Water), a dilapidated stone farmhouse in Provence, with plans to renovate it back to its original beauty. But when a body turns up in the swimming pool, and another in a nearby abandoned chapel, Penelope discovers that Provence is as full of secrets and lies as lavender and pastis. Kent – the non de plume of a husband and wife writing duo – has created a delightful and irrepressible character who is determined to make a new life for herself in the French countryside. The mystery is well developed, with plenty of Hitchcockian red herrings and interesting characters whose actions suggest they could be friend or foe…. The setting is, of course, key to the story and to the series’ charms, and there is plenty of rosé, cheese, and pastries to distract the reader, as well as the sleuth! Penelope (Madame Keet to the locals) struggles to break into the local scene, but slowly shows herself to be a determined, reliable, and respectful Anglaise, giving her hope that she will one day be accepted among the locals, though there is much to learn. And a murder to solve, of course! I really enjoyed this one. It’s a complicated mystery with likeable, authentic characters in a fascinating and beautiful setting. I’m looking forward to more from this writing duo. Grand Forks pals will find a copy in the mystery collection at the Grand Forks & District Public Library.
More discussion and reviews of this mystery novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/40535704

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In Search of April Raintree, by Beatrice Mosionier (1983, 2008)

Fiction | Adult

In Search of April Raintree, by Beatrice Mosionier (1983, 2008)

This Canadian classic was on my reading list when I was at UBC taking a children’s literature class, and it remains painfully relevant today. First published nearly 40 years ago, it is the story of two Métis sisters raised in foster homes, one rejecting her indigenous heritage, and the other celebrating it. April is the elder of the two, and was six years old when the Children’s Aid Society came to their Winnipeg home and took her and Cheryl away. They were never returned to their parents. Instead, they stayed in a series of foster homes, occasionally together, until they aged out of care. Based on the author’s own experience, this is a fictional story that rings tragically true. The system sometimes helped and sometimes failed the girls – one worker finally recognizes the lies of a devious foster parent, but the damage to April and Cheryl is done. This is a dark story of alcoholism, pregnancy, racism, and self-hatred. There is also a brutal rape scene. So much tragedy and yet, there still a thread of hope, as the sisters commit to being there for each other, though even that is a struggle as April moves into white society, while Cheryl stays active with the local Indian Friendship Centre. I listened to the audiobook version, narrated perfectly by Michaela Washburn, published as part of a 25th anniversary release of the original 1983 publication. Though fiction, it reads like an autobiography in April’s voice, and it’s simply shameful that nothing has changed in 40 years. In British Columbia, First Nations make up six per cent of the total population, yet in 2021, some 45 per cent of children in foster care are Indigenous. In Manitoba, it’s nearly 90 per cent. We are failing our Indigenous brothers and sisters by pulling them out of their homes instead of supporting the families so they can stay there. Pick up this book today. Raw, authentic, and disturbing, it will have you smiling occasionally and screaming with frustration a lot, but mostly it will tug at your heart, move you to tears, and help you understand just a little bit more. As Canada Day approaches, it’s time for all of us to own the responsibility of making sure we do right, do better, by our Indigenous families. You can find a copy of it in print or in electronic audio format at the Grand Forks & District Public Library.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57143627

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The Summer Seekers, by Sarah Morgan (2021)

Contemporary Fiction | Adult

The Summer Seekers, by Sarah Morgan (2021)

I love road trip novels! Here’s one that puts an unlikely pair in a convertible Ford Mustang on Route 66. What’s not to like, right? Eighty-year-old Kathleen has just had a scare that helped her prioritize her dream of the Mother Road. Up late at night, she hears an intruder in her Cornwall cottage, and wallops him over the head with the cast iron frying pan she’d used for her bacon sandwich supper. The result – daughter Liza doubles down on her demands for the carefree Kathleen to go into a safe retirement home. Instead, Kathleen books flights, a car and hotels, hires 25-year-old Martha as a driver, and the two fly off to Chicago to start the trip. Kathleen quickly realizes Martha truly hates driving, but figures if she is willing to take this job, she must have a good to flee England. And indeed she does. In addition to mourning her grandmother’s recent death, Martha is licking her wounds from a philandering husband – she caught him in flagrante delicto just days after their wedding. While there are important male characters, these three women are at the core of this novel. Each woman’s story contributes to this romance, as Kathleen finally accepts why she has protected her heart for decades, Liza learns to love herself first, and Martha discovers how to love again. So definitely a romance, but also a story of female strength, community, and sharing. Heartwarming and satisfying, though the ending is arguably too neat. Some days, that’s just what you want. Some great description of the road trip, though I think it would have been even better with more detail and interaction with locals. My thanks to HQN (Harlequin) for the digital reading copy provided in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54620162.

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Mayflies, by Andrew O’Hagan (2020, 2021)

Fiction | Adult

Mayflies, by Andrew O'Hagan (2020, 2021)

Do you remember the passion and absolutely exuberance of being with your friends in your teen years? How you felt alive and full of hope? Anything is possible with them by your side. This two-part novel opens in 1986, in a Scottish working-class town, where a group of young men share dreams of a life of music, film, drink, and love as they decide to take a weekend trip to Manchester for the Festival of the Tenth Summer. It’s a celebration of punk rock – The Smiths, The Fall, and more (though Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark makes a hilarious appearance) – a chance to celebrate life and hope and potential as they deal, by not dealing, with the crap at home. At the centre of the group is Tully, about 20 years old, facing a discouraging life of working in a factory. His best mate is Jimmy, whom he calls Noodles after the De Niro character in Once Upon a Time in America). Noodles is determined to get out – he reads voraciously, encouraged by a teacher, and ends up surprising everyone by going to university. There are several others who make the weekend trip – a raging socialist called Limbo, an apprentice postie named Tibbs, and Hogg, a poser in Doc Martens and peroxided hair. They make it to Manchester and raise hell, having the time of their lives, somehow knowing it’s a last blast before adult responsibilities will begin to weigh. O’Hagan then leaps ahead three decades to 2017. Now in their 50s, Jimmy and Tully are still close, and when one of them gets devastating news, he asks the other to do something very difficult. That decision is the central issue for the second part of the book. Spoiler alert, and trigger alert – O’Hagan takes an unflinching look at assisted dying as part of this novel, in a way that quite literally had me in tears. I’m struck by how this theme has emerged a few times in recent novels: The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett and Rules of the Road, specifically. The need to be in control of one’s death, when illness threatens a tortuous departure. I wonder if it’s a literary response to the times we live in – violence, climate change, a frigging pandemic, and more. Sigh. Anyway, back to this novel. There is no romance in death, in any death, and this novel brings that home in a way that knocked me to my core. But it’s also a book about love and a rare, deep, and lasting friendship, the kind that Yeats refers to when he writes “Think where man’s glory most begins and ends, and And say my glory was I had such friends.” O’Hagan opens the book with this quote. First published in Scotland last year, then released this spring in North America, Mayflies won the 2020 Christopher Isherwood Prize. Drawing on his own memories, O’Hagan nails the 1980s with references to pop culture, Thatcherism, and a youthful optimism that rings true. I’ll cheerfully admit most of the punk rock references and the Scottish slang sailed over my head, but I loved the hope for a different future that each young man holds dear. The second half is just as powerful as Jimmy, Tully and their partners seek moments of peace, joy, and appreciation even as the tension builds. I hope I haven’t revealed too much – this is a beautifully written novel of human nature in all its glory and failure. My thanks to McClelland and Stewart for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Grand Forks & District Public Library has just added a copy to its adult fiction collection, too.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54879613

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The Music of Bees, by Eileen Garvin (2021)

Contemporary Fiction | Adult

The Music of Bees, by Eileen Garvin (2021)

Every once in a while, you discover a book that delights you to the core, that connects with your soul in a completely unexpected way. You just want to tell everyone about it! This book is like that for me. It is the story of three very different, very lonely people whose lives intersect, and that connection changes them and their lives. At the centre of the novel is 44-year-old Alice Holtzman, a beekeeper who works at the Hood River county planning office. She once dreamed of being a farmer and a mother, but life has cruelly crushed those dreams. Jake is eighteen years old, with the tallest mohawk haircut in all of Hood River, and a serious case of depression. Poor decisions combined with bad luck have dashed his hopes of a music education, and left him without the use of his legs. In fact, he’s in his wheelchair riding on the roadside when Alice knocks him into the ditch with her truck loaded with bees. Harry is in his early 20s. He’s also lonely, a drifter, a convict who has served his time, and he finds himself in Hood River, staying with his elderly uncle, trying to figure out how to pay back his mum for legal costs. The two young men end up working for Alice, and learn, along with the reader, all about bees and the work of beekeeping. Harry is terrified of the buzzing insects, but has a knack for carpentry and physics, and unexpectedly develops a passion for kiteboarding. Jake discovers he has a special affinity for bees, soon realizing he can “hear” a queen bee as Alice has never been able to, and starts to imagine life might be worth living after all. Alice offers them a small wage and a place to stay, and together they become a kind of oddball family. There’s a pesticide issue, some nastiness at the county planning office, and prejudice on several fronts, but the real story is in learning to look past whatever is on the outside to find the beauty inside. The bees are a metaphor for community – each of us has a role, and no one role is independent of the others, nor more important than any other. Without that acceptance and understanding, the community cannot thrive; conversely, by working together, threats can be overcome. This is one of my favourite books this year – I have been telling everyone about it, and even now I am still thinking about the characters and their worlds. I briefly considered getting a hive for my garden, then came to my proper senses. It’s a debut novel by Garvin, and I am looking forward to anything else she writes. My thanks to Dutton Books for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Grand Forks & District Public Library has a copy in its adult fiction collection, too, but you’ll have to request it!
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/55198935

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A Spy in the Struggle, by Aya de León (2021)

Contemporary Fiction | Adult

A Spy in the Struggle, by Aya de León (2021)

When she loses her job as a new young lawyer by refusing to shred damning evidence, Yolanda Vance finds herself struggling to survive. No law firm will hire her, and she has to give up her sweet New York City apartment and put almost everything into storage. In a lucky break, she gets an offer from the FBI’s legal department. It’s a great opportunity for a young black woman who overcame the challenges of a gypsy-like existence with a single mum by earning top grades and getting a scholarship to an exclusive high school and then a women’s college. Constantly battered by racist and classist schoolmates, then betrayed by her first lover, she learns to trust no one but herself, and vows to focus on her career before anything, or anyone. So a legal career with the FBI looks promising, until she is assigned an undercover role infiltrating RBG. Not Ruth Bader Ginsburg, but Red Black and Green! – a small group of environmentalists and activists fighting a biotech corporation (with ties to the Pentagon) that is ruining the town they call home, just outside of San Francisco, and in the same town where Yolanda went to college. Yolanda attends the meetings, quickly identifying defeatist behaviours that she sees as greater contributors to the poverty and oppression than RandellCorp. But slowly she gets to know the group’s members, and the more she learns about RandellCorp and its tactics, the more she questions her initial assignment. Is the FBI telling her the whole story? Who is lying? Whom can she trust? It’s a story of consciousness-raising, tackling issues of racism in a contemporary setting, but also a mystery as we don’t know what is really going on until the final exciting chapters. There’s a romance as well, with some hot sexy scenes. Some of the slang and cultural references went over my grey head, but I still quite enjoyed this story. The characters are interesting and well developed – Yolanda’s backstory is authentic and really contributes to our understanding of this strong and complicated character. Though I have an aversion for what I call Dean Koontz’ anti-government conspiracy plots, this one plays lightly enough. There are a few good apples in the FBI barrel, lol! My thanks to the Grand Forks & District Public Library for including this title in its adult fiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/54826485-a-spy-in-the-struggle

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The Last Bookshop in London: a Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin (2021)

Historical Fiction | Adult

The Last Bookshop in London: a Novel of World War II, by Madeline Martin (2021)

As we are now into our second year of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s important to find ways to bolster our strength wherever we can. For many of us, books provide solace, comfort, and even joy. This is one of those books. First, it’s a book about books. Grace Bennett (a nod to Pride and Prejudice, I’m sure) and her best friend Viv leave their farm village in northern England for London. It’s August 1939, and there is talk of war with Germany, but when the newly orphaned Grace is kicked out of her family home, she and Viv decide to finally make their long-awaited move to London. They have an offer to stay in a roominghouse run by a friend of Grace’s mother’s, and both hope to land good jobs in Harrod’s Department Store. Viv succeeds, but lacking a reference, Grace is turned down. She gets a temporary position with the cantankerous owner of Primrose Hill Books. She knows nothing about books, really, but she is an excellent salesperson, and soon finds many friends as she attracts new clients. War is declared, and the two young women find themselves making a contribution. But it is war, and the constant threat of death and destruction create stress, and Grace learns to find comfort in the books she works with, and shares her new love of writing with others. I just loved this book. I think partly because the challenge of life in wartime really resonated with me during the pandemic. The yearning for information, even listening to the same info over and over (remember last March?), the hoarding, the sense that danger lurks everywhere, feeling imprisoned, grief at the pointless loss – I drew strength from reading about the courage in the face of fear, and the strength in community. It was a powerful story just when I needed it most, and I loved the book chatter too. So many favourites and so many classics new for me to discover. The setting was letter-perfect – you could smell the smoke and the baking, I swear. Great characters and realistic dialogue add even more authenticity. My thanks to Hanover Square Press for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. Grand Forks & District Public Library has a copy in its adult fiction collection; you’ll also find e-book and e-audio versions available.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53331579

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Lucky, by Marissa Stapley (2021)

Contemporary Fiction | Adult

Lucky, by Marissa Stapley (2021)

What if you held a winning lottery ticket, but cashing in means you’ll go to jail? Luciana “Lucky” Armstrong has grown up learning how to scam, and she’s good at it. Her father taught her well, and in her teens, Lucky fell hard for the son of one of her dad’s co-conspirators. Turns out Cary is like his mum, and no matter how she has tried, Lucky keeps finding herself on the wrong side of the law. But when she finds herself on her own, for the first time in her young life, Lucky is determined to go straight. But she can’t use the degree she legitimately earned – it’s in the name of a fugitive. How does she get herself out of this mess? Who can she trust? And how does she make amends for all the wrongs? It’s going to take more than luck. I really liked this novel – Lucky is a gritty, determined, good-hearted person who is trying hard to do the right thing, but every time she turns around an obstacle gets in her way. I was afraid I’d start to dislike her for being weak, but nope – even when things are going from bad to worse, she managed to earn my admiration and even sympathy. The plot develops through flashbacks, to 1991, when she was born, into the late 1990s, then the 2000s, always return to Lucky’s current state in the mid-2010s. This allows Stapley (author of the captivating Things to Do When It’s Raining) lots of room for introducing characters and plotlines that all come together in the end in a moving and satisfying conclusion. It also offers appeal to older teens, since much of the story centres around Lucky as a young adult. Canadian Stapley set the story throughout the United States, with road trips from New York City and Maine to Las Vegas. It could use a bit more diversity – nearly all the characters are white (Lucky has red hair and distinctive green eyes) or Hispanic. My thanks to Simon and Schuster Canada for this captivating novel, provided digitally through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/57650760

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The List of Things that Will Not Change, by Rebecca Stead (2020)

Fiction | 11-14

The List of Things that Will Not Change, by Rebecca Stead

Thirteen-year-old Beatrice – called Bea – is navigating a lot of change. Her father came out as gay a few years before, leading to her parents’ breakup. That results in his moving out, and Bea struggles with all the changes. Her parents give her a notebook listing things that won’t change – her parents’ love for her, and the fact they remain a family, just in a different way. She keeps adding to the list over time, but the upheaval in her home leaves Bea fearful of what the future will bring. When her feelings result in a spate of angry outbursts, Bea goes to counselling to help her learn to manage her emotions. The book opens when her father announces his wedding to Jesse, and even better, that Jesse has a daughter. Bea has always wanted a sister and is finally getting one! She’s certain they’ll become bestest friends, and prepares eagerly for Sonia’s arrival. At the same time, she’s struggling to deal with classmates’ prejudice when they find out her father is marrying a man. Bea loves her dad and Jesse, and wants to see them happy. She doesn’t understand why anyone would object to another person’s happiness, and is devastated when it turns out her classmates aren’t the only ones who question the marriage. This is a lovely story of acceptance, forgiveness, and family in all its forms. As an adult reading a book for children, I enjoyed the gentle humour, the honest portrayal of emotion from frustration to delight, and growth Bea shows as she learns to rely on things that won’t change no matter what, and to celebrate the wonderful new changes that life brings. Newbery-Award winning Stead has a keen ear for dialogue and touches gently on topics are part of today’s children’s worlds in a way that will resonate when they need to, and seem natural at the same time. My thanks to the Grand Forks & District Public Library for including this title in its children’s fiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this book: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/44900082

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Cold Mourning, by Brenda Chapman (2014)

Mystery | Adult

Cold Mourning, by Brenda Chapman (2014)

If you are looking for a new Canadian mystery series, take a look at this one. I <i>loved</i> it. Kala Stonechild is an indigenous police officer who leaves her job in Northern Ontario to take a position in Ottawa, with a special investigative unit, arriving just days before Christmas. Despite the seasonal cheer, there is little time to think about holidays, as successful businessman Tom Underwood goes missing. Surprisingly, the big boss wants the investigation to start right away, giving it to the special team since Missing Persons is understaffed due to the holidays. Underwood’s body is soon discovered, and the evidence points to murder. When Stonechild starts to investigate, she finds plenty of possible suspects – his wife, his son, his ex-wife, his work colleagues, and more. Her direct boss, Jacques Rouleau, isn’t sure if her investigative skills are a match for this work, but gives her time and space to demonstrate her worth. Stonechild’s investigation moves quickly, with more than half the book spanning just a week or so. Everyone has secrets, and as Stonechild uncovers the lies and betrayals, she tries to piece it all together, but nothing seems to quite fit. Maybe Rouleau’s doubts are well founded. Meanwhile, we learn her decision to move to Ottawa is not about the job at all. A foster child since the age of three, Stonechild has her own secrets and her own reasons for moving to the big city. Chapman is a terrific writer; the dialogue is natural, the tensions are real, and the winter setting develops like another character. It’s letter perfect throughout. As Stonechild is Aboriginal, and her boss is French-Canadian, prejudice is a running thread throughout the novel, making this particularly au courant. Descriptions of sexual assault are also unflinchingly real; this is at times a difficult read as a result, but the story is riveting, and deserving of its 2015 nomination for the Ellis Award. I’ve already started book 2 in the series. Grand Forks & District Public Library has a print copy in its mystery collection, and there’s an audiobook version always available in the BC Libraries 2 Go collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17432176

The Lost and Found Bookshop, by Susan Wiggs (2020)

Fiction | Adult

The Lost and Found Bookshop, by Susan Wiggs (2020)

Natalie Harper lives a safe but, to be honest, rather boring life in California’s wine country. She doesn’t care for her job or her coworkers, but it’s a good paycheque, and that means something to a woman whose mother struggles still to pay the bills in her San Francisco bookstore. Natalie’s boyfriend is equally safe but uninspiring – he’s a good man, but there’s no passion. She’s thinking of breaking it off, when the unthinkable happens and she’s left reeling with loss. She’s inherited the crumbling bookshop, along with the care of her loving grandfather, who is in the early stages of dementia, and keeps hunting for family treasure. When circumstances prevent her from selling the shop and moving Grandy into a home, Natalie impulsively quits her job and moves back to San Francisco. She grew up in the bookshop, and remembers loving the work, just not the financial pressures. She gets to work on her mother’s debt, organizing payment schemes, developing a business plan to improve sales, and hiring a contractor to address the building’s most urgent repairs. He is Peach Gallagher, a fine-looking man with a book-loving daughter, but Natalie stays away from married men, and suppresses her attraction. When the superstar author Trevor Dashwood agrees to give a book reading, it looks like things may turn around for Natalie, in more ways than one. I’ve not read Wiggs before, but she is a skilled writer, dealing with emotionally difficult matters like grief, dementia, and divorce with care and compassion. Her characters could use a bit more complexity – Grandy and Peach are both a little too good to be real! While the bookstore is an important part of the story, I wanted even more. It was lovely to read references to books I know and love, and some I’m intrigued to discover myself. More of that, please. There’s an interesting historical aspect, well handled, and while the romance angle is a bit obvious, it doesn’t overpower the plot. However, I agree with most other readers that the ending felt both forced and much too quick. Too bad, as I was enjoying these characters and the touching story until the last 25 or so pages. My thanks to the Grand Forks & District Public Library for including this title in its adult fiction collection.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/48613318

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Murder in an Irish Bookshop (Irish Village Mysteries, #7), by Carlene O’Connor (2021)

Mystery | Adult

Murder in an Irish Bookshop (Irish Village Mysteries, #7), by Carlene O'Connor (2021)

Irish village police officer Siobhan O’Sullivan is excited that a bookshop is setting up in her little town, but when two people die within hours of its opening, she must determine who is the author of their demise (oh dear, I <i>am</i> sorry!). She’s already pretty busy preparing for her wedding, and training a new garda (the local term for a cop), as well as keeping her big brood of siblings on track. But death takes priority, and Siobhan (pronounced sha-VAHN) must get to work. Who could have wanted both a harmless retired innkeeper and an irritating author dead? I learned after requesting this title that it’s the seventh in a bestselling series. I sense an interesting backstory to her engagement to another garda, and a few other references to past plotlines, but overall this mystery stands on its own. It should appeal to fans of the cosy mystery genre, especially those who like the intricacies of small-town relationships. The setting is completely Irish, making it a delightful bit of armchair travelling. Rather unusually for a cosy mystery, it’s the police doing the work rather a nosy villager. Which is why Siobhan gets the bulk of the author’s attention, to the overall detriment of the story, I’d say. None of the other characters feels particularly well developed; even Siobhan’s story needs further attention. She’s delighted to have a bookshop but doesn’t seem to be a reader, focused more on food than on fiction, even at the book club meeting. The mystery was interesting, and it was not easy to solve as a reader, but the lightness of the story disappointed me. It’s possible the rest of the series is stronger, but I won’t be finding out. My thanks to Kensington Books for the digital reading copy provided in exchange for my honest review.
More discussion and reviews of this novel: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/53930351