Jay Fitger is in a terrible place. In his mid-50s, he cannot escape his tenured position at a so-so college in the Midwest. He has grown tired of teaching creative writing and English to the latest crop of blood-crazed, vampire- and zombie-loving undergraduates, his own writing career is best described as in a slump, his love life is worse, and the new Engli_h (according to the sign) department chair is a flippin’ sociologist, for gawd’s sake. The Economics faculty are getting shiny new digs, but the English faculty, what few remain, are dealing with windows that won’t shut, toilets that smell, constant cuts in funding, and a knuckle-dragging troglodyte called “Tech Help”. Jay finds pleasure in exactly one part of his job – writing vicious letters of reference. This is an epistolary novel – told entirely through letters that are that are truly brilliant – biting, occasionally vitriolic, painfully honest, underhanded, but always laugh-out-loud hilarious. OMG.
You know how every journey starts with a single step? Every skilled wild mushroomer started out a scared beginner, I’m sure! I don’t know what it is about these gifts of nature that entices us into wanting to pick and eat them. As a hiker, I see lots of fungi on my travels, and secretly wonder each time if I could cook it. So when I saw this title on our library’s newsletter of new nonfiction books, I put in the request right away. First published in 2006 in Britain, this 2007 edition is now in its 13th printing. Clearly, a pretty reliable title and a good selection for the library, as it focuses on common edible mushrooms in the Pacific Northwest, as well as California and Eastern North America.
You know how great books are often an inspiration for a great movie? This seems to be the reverse – the Australian author is apparently a beloved YouTube vlogger on this topic, and in fact, uses the same title – “Primitive Technology.” Let me first cheerfully admit I’ve never watched the show and I’m not particularly inspired to do so. But I like to learn how to make useful things, so I was intrigued when I spotted this title in our library’s newsletter on new nonfiction books. It’s less of a how-to and more of a companion book to the YouTube channel; in fact, in the introduction Plant notes, “This book is a collecting of projects featured on my YouTube channel,” and how he came up with both the idea and the execution, being careful to limit the tools and raw materials to items one might find in the Australian wilderness, and in compliance with laws on animal products.
Keep the tissue box handy for this one! Wowza. Terry lives a good if not exceptional life in Ireland with her husband Brendan, raising two daughters who are now grown-up though they still need their mum. She bakes, she washes, she cleans – boy, she cleans. She is also about to look after her father, who has dementia, for a week, while the nursing home deals with vermin. (We never find out precisely what vermin.) On the day she picks up her dad, Terry discovers her best friend Iris, who lives with multiple sclerosis, has decided she’s had enough of the disease’s steady progress, and has made plans for an assisted suicide in Switzerland. Terry is determined to get Iris to change her mind, and with dad in tow, rashly jumps on the ferry with Iris, headed to London as the first stop on a funny, sad, and touching road trip with three characters you’ll be cheering all the way. Think Thelma & Louise, with Alan Arkin in the back seat.
When four friends and their families gather to spend a week at a French villa, the planned holiday turns into a stressful nightmare of secrets and lies, when Kate discovers a text on her husband’s phone. Not only is she shocked to realize he’s having an affair, it seems it’s with one of her three best friends. Who is it? And why won’t he admit the truth? As Kate tries to figure out who it is, she discovers all of her friends have secrets, and nobody’s marriage is very solid. The children are no prizes either. And before the week is out, someone is dead. A beach read, for sure, but I must admit this U.S. release of a U.K. hit (it was first published in 2019 as The Holiday) leaves me feeling a bit sad and melancholy. Logan is mining unhappiness and dissatisfaction to create a story of anger, revenge, spitefulness and petty behaviour.
Mystery/Horror (but more spooky than horror) | Adult
What a delightfully creepy book! I seem to be reading a lot of ghost stories of late, and this one is almost as good as The Ghost in the House, reviewed a couple of weeks ago. Maggie Holt was five years old when her parents bought Baneberry Hall, despite its tragic history. Within a month of moving in, the family fled in the night, and dad Ewan Holt wrote House of Horrors: A True Story telling the terrifying tale of the supernatural haunting that drove them out. It’s now 25 years later, and Maggie returns to the Vermont house after her father’s death. With no memories of that brief stay in the house, she’s never believed the book her father wrote, though its impact on her can’t be overstated. Now a home designer and renovator, Maggie intends to spruce up the place for a quick sale. Instead, she finds herself confronting the same frightening noises and visions her father described, and her memories are starting to return.
When author Elizabeth Fairchild escapes from a vicious kidnapper, she takes flight to Alaska, to the tiny town of Benedict. She’s desperate to stay hidden from the man who said “you’re mine”, and reverts to her birth name Beth Rivers, using cash, burner phones and a new email address, and taking a room in a kind of halfway house/jail. Despite her efforts, the townspeople are curious about the young woman with the brain surgery scar and white hair, but it’s Alaska. Everyone has a story, and most of them are not shared. With help from a local deputy and her landlady, she learns about the weather, the wildlife, and the people. She even gets a volunteer role as the newspaper editor, since the old one passed away 18 months ago. It’s a good cover for her writing, she reasons, but it’s also a chance to stay involved in the investigation of a death that happened just before she arrived.
I’ll just open by saying this is the best book I’ve read this year. I absolutely loved it! Fay wakes up one day to find someone else living in her house – a strange woman, and a girl she thinks may be a ghost. Then she realizes her husband is living there still, apparently with a new family. Slowly she comes to the understanding that the girl is real, and it is she, Fay, who is the ghost. As she ponders how this happened, and what she is doing in the house, she watches with a wistful heart as life continues without her. She also comes to realize how happy she was, or perhaps how happy she should have been, living in the house of her dreams, with a man she loves and who loves her, trying to launch her career as an artist, whatever that looked like at the time. This is O’Leary’s first adult novel (she is internationally well regarded as an author of picture books), and she has created an unforgettable character in Fay.
Iris Wang is in her final year of high school in New Jersey when everything goes wrong – she holds a party while her folks are way, discovers her boyfriend is getting it on with her best friend, accidentally drives the family Mercedes into the garage door, gets into NONE of her colleges and in fact, fails several courses. Oh, and she maxes out the credit card her dad gave her to apply to the colleges who don’t want her. Not surprisingly, mum and dad go ballistic, and ship her to Beijing to stay with an uncle she didn’t know anything about. She even has a cousin! Iris has never given much thought to her Chinese ancestry – she doesn’t speak the language, knows nothing of her family beyond mum and dad, and certainly nothing about China. Arriving in Beijing, she is bewildered by everything and everyone, and finds herself struggling to figure out who she is in this unfamiliar place loaded with history and expectations.
Part of every vacation involves stargazing for me. If I’m camping near home, the sky is likely even darker than my backyard, and as I’m usually near a lake, the reflections can be spectacular. If I’m in another country, well for sure I’m going to see what the night sky offers in a different location on the planet. Seems I’m not alone, and Lonely Planet has just issued a beautifully packaged hardcover book to inspire those who make stargazing a key aspect of their travel plans. Packed with images, the book will appeal to younger readers too as it offers a great introduction to stargazing. The introductory section explains everything from what you might see in the night sky, the importance of letting your eyes adjust, helpful equipment, photographing the night sky, and even the option of contributing to the body of knowledge through citizen science.
It’s summer bounty season, so the idea of using canned goods is a bit jarring, isn’t it? But fear not, this is a cookbook that you can use all year, AND it will help you find an option for dealing with all that leek you planted in April! Seriously though, this seemed initially a bit odd. The author has collected several recipes organized by nine types of tinned goods – green lentils, tomatoes, coconut milk, anchovies, butter beans (aka lima beans), sweetcorn (which I think is whole corn kernels), chickpeas, canned cherries, and condensed milk. If you are looking for dessert, you may find a recipe under chickpeas (the juice makes a mean meringue!) or condensed milk (caramel), and there’s no entry for dessert in the otherwise good index, though there is one for breads.
I’ve always enjoyed medical thrillers, devouring Robin Cook’s Coma in my mid-teens; annoying my surgeon who discovered a Michael Palmer novel on my bed during recovery; and now, Daniel Kalla, who first wowed me with Pandemic (yup!) some 15 years ago. His work is imbued with realism and authenticity as he works as an ER doctor in downtown Vancouver’s St Paul’s Hospital, and that comes through in spades in this new book drawn from the real-life opioid crisis that plagues our nation’s streets, still killing more people than the current Covid-19 pandemic. Dr. Julie Rees is a Vancouver ER doctor who also works for the Poison Control Centre. Both roles come into play as she first deals with a group of five teens from the same party who are rushed into emergency from drug overdoses, only two of them still alive.
Marcia Muller and Bill Pronzini have been staples of my murder mystery reading list for most of my adult life, some 30+ years now. Along with their own strong backlist of private eye novels (featuring Sharon McCone by Muller, and the Nameless Detective by Pronzini), they have written stand-alones and collaborated on several anthologies like this one. Oh, and they are married too. Honestly, I would cheerfully read their shopping list! So kudos to the Mystery Writers of America for choosing this highly respected pair to edit a collection of 19 new short stories in honor of the association’s 75th anniversary in 2020, featuring some the best of the genre’s writers – Max Allan Collins, Laurie R. King, Peter Robinson, Laura Lippman, Peter Lovesey, among others, and of course delicious contributions by both editors. This is a great way to enjoy favourite writers and discover some new ones. Each of the stories centres around an anniversary of some kind – and nearly all of them resulting in a death, often a murder. There are many delights to be found here, but among my favourites is Carolyn Hart’s “Case Open,” a gathering of those who were present at a party a year prior when the host fell, jumped, or was pushed off a cliff into the sea. Hubris rears its proud head here, and the ending was such a surprise! And that’s just one of the many stories gathered here into a deliciously deadly bunch. A great way to mark the anniversary of an organization whose motto is Crime Doesn’t Pay – Enough. My thanks to Harlequin’s Hanover Square Press for the digital reading copy provided through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. More discussion and reviews of this anthology at https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/45731463.
I do have a fondness for Scandinavian fiction! This is the first in a Danish police procedural series, recently released in English. When a young woman named Julie Stender is found murdered in her apartment, detectives Anette Werner and Jeppe Korner are called in to investigate. It doesn’t take long for them to focus on her landlady, Esther de Laurenti, a retired professor who is writing a murder mystery. Especially when Esther reveals the crime is a recreation of the fictional murder. While multiple perspectives are used to develop the storyline, it’s mostly Korner’s story, and he is an interesting and intriguing character.
I began reading this book in the early weeks of the lockdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, in March 2020. I had to put it aside. Our travel plans for the year have been shelved, and now it’s June, and it’s quite clear I won’t be visiting the United States at all this year. Maybe not next year either. I’ve toured up and down this coast, and I love it all. The stormy seashore, the kitschy shops, the delicious food, the sound of shore birds, the salty air, cool Portland and rather snooty San Francisco – all of it. And I miss it, and travel. So it’s with a bit of melancholy that I’m reviewing this book today.