The Unlocking Season
By Gail Bowen

Family has always been at the heart of Bowen’s series featuring Joanne Kilbourn (now Kilbourn-Shreve).  Now at the age of 60 Joanne is going back to her adolescence when she and Sally Love were the best of friends.  Sisters and Strangers, a new six-part TV series, is being produced by her good friend Roy Brodnitz who has asked her to work on the script.  It captures the tumultuous time between two men – Joanne’s biological father and the man she called father throughout her youth and the relationships that were made and broken during those years.

Before production even begins, Roy Brodnitz disappears and is later found in a state of severe hysteria and fear.  Nothing prepares Joanne and the production crew for his horrible death and Joanne is determined to find out the circumstances leading up to it.  Supported by family and close friends, Joanne is forced to make some serious decisions about what she should reveal in order to preserve Roy’s legacy.  Which skeletons should remain in the closet?

Joanne gives this book 3 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

The Wrong Hands and Other Stories
By Peter Robinson

There’s no doubt that much has changed during the last nine months and the way we do things, from grocery shopping to visiting the library, can be stressful and not the most enjoyable experience that we’ve been used to having (assuming that one finds grocery shopping an enjoyable experience).  In talking to friends and family, and from reading blogs and forums, I’ve come across many who have experienced a profound restlessness that has interfered with one of their greatest pleasures – that of reading.  They’re ok to read the gas bill or catch the headlines in the newspaper, but when it comes to sitting down to read a “book” – well they just cannot concentrate for more than a few pages at a time.  And I was one of these people, during the first few months of Covid-19.   Not being able to read is akin to not being able to breathe for me.  So I took to reading short stories – and they filled the need as I waited for my long-term concentration to return.  Now I feel like I’ve come out of my cocoon, ready to read almost any book that’s put into my hands.

Robinson’s collection of thirty-one short stories (4 of which are Inspector Banks’ stories) and two novellas (both being Inspector Banks’ stories) might just be the ticket for you if you’re still struggling with problems of concentration.  Here you’ll find psychological suspense, police procedurals, family tension, love (lost and found) and an ongoing examination of human nature.  Robinson’s characters are colorful, fully-fleshed, and bring these well-told stories to life.  There’s something here for every reader and every level of concentration.

Joanne gives this book 4 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Joanne is revisiting one of her favourite holiday reads with a revised review of one of Agatha Christie’s best.

hpcHercule Poirot’s Christmas
By Agatha Christie

Also published as A Holiday for Murder and Murder for Christmas. 

Simeon Lee, a cantankerous old and shrivelled man has sent word to his children scattered hither and yon, that he wants them all home for Christmas at Gorston Hall.  None of them are under any illusion that the reunion is going to be a “let bygones be bygones” gathering or a celebration of “happy families”.  No sooner have they set foot inside the stately home than Lee baits them with his announcement that he has made preparations after Christmas to change his will.   The die is cast and it’s later that evening, Christmas Eve, that Simeon Lee is found murdered in his locked room.

When Colonel Johnson, Chief Constable of Middleshire, is notified of the murder, he’s entertaining his good friend, Hercule Poirot.  Poirot gladly agrees to accompany Johnson to Gorston Hall when Johnson admits that Superintendent Sugden who has answered the first call, though a “good man”, is not “an imaginative chap”.

Upon viewing the crime scene and talking to the household, Poirot decides that the way to the truth is through the victim himself.  He must understand the psychology of Simeon Lee – “the character of the dead man”.

And in saying that, Poirot conducts a detailed and comprehensive psychological examination of Simeon Lee, leading to a solution that is just short of brilliant.

No wonder Agatha Christie is considered the Queen of Crime!

5 Daggers
Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!

Seniors Drop-In Book Club | January Selection

Chop Suey Nation
by Ann Hui

Print | eBook (Hoopla)

The Seniors Book Club meets on the second Wednesday of the month at 2:00 PM via Zoom.

Please register here to discuss Ann Hui’s road-tripping cultural and culinary exploration in Chop Suey Nation.

In 2016, Globe and Mail reporter Ann Hui drove across Canada, from Victoria to Fogo Island, to write about small-town Chinese restaurants and the families who run them. It was only after the story was published that she discovered her own family could have been included—her parents had run their own Chinese restaurant, The Legion Cafe, before she was born. This discovery, and the realization that there was so much of her own history she didn’t yet know, set her on a time-sensitive mission: to understand how, after generations living in a poverty-stricken area of Guangdong, China, her family had somehow wound up in Canada.

Chop Suey Nation: The Legion Cafe and Other Stories from Canada’s Chinese Restaurantsweaves together Hui’s own family history—from her grandfather’s decision to leave behind a wife and newborn son for a new life, to her father’s path from cooking in rural China to running some of the largest “Western” kitchens in Vancouver, to the unravelling of a closely guarded family secret—with the stories of dozens of Chinese restaurant owners from coast to coast. Along her trip, she meets a Chinese-restaurant owner/small-town mayor, the owner of a Chinese restaurant in a Thunder Bay curling rink, and the woman who runs a restaurant alone, 365 days a year, on the very remote Fogo Island. Hui also explores the fascinating history behind “chop suey” cuisine, detailing the invention of classics like “ginger beef” and “Newfoundland chow mein,” and other uniquely Canadian fare like the “Chinese pierogies” of Alberta.

Hui, who grew up in authenticity-obsessed Vancouver, begins her journey with a somewhat disparaging view of small-town “fake Chinese” food. But by the end, she comes to appreciate the essentially Chinese values that drive these restaurants—perseverance, entrepreneurialism and deep love for family. Using her own family’s story as a touchstone, she explores the importance of these restaurants in the country’s history and makes the case for why chop suey cuisine should be recognized as quintessentially Canadian.

Further Reading

Globe & Mail Review

The Tyee Review

Calgary Herald Interview

Forbes Interview

The Adroit Journal Interview

Watch & LISTEN

The Agenda with Steve Paikin | Stirring Up my Chinese Family History

The Next Chapter | Ann Hui on Chop Suey Nation

CBC Radio | 5 Delicious podcasts on food & identity

The Sporkful with Dan Pashman | Your Mom’s Food 

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

The Lonely Hour
By Christopher Fowler

When a baffling set of murders takes place across London, the Peculiar Crimes Unit works the late shift to try and find the culprit.  For the murders take place during the lonely hour – 4 a.m.  Headed up by the always pragmatic John May and the oh-so-eccentric Arthur Bryant, the unit struggles to find the common denominator between the murders in the hopes that they can put a stop to the bloodshed.

The often-times irreverent Bryant is at the top of his game again now that he’s recovered from what was ailing him and quickly recruits his usual odd personages and misfits to help him.  May, on the other hand seems distant and pre-occupied with something other than the case at hand, causing friction between him and Bryant.

Like all of the books in this series, Fowler’s latest is character-driven with setting following a close second.  And oh, what fun these characters are.  In fact, in the Acknowledgements page at the end of this book, Fowler says that this was the most fun he’s had with a Bryant & May novel.  And it shows.  Be prepared to laugh out loud and chuckle under your breath.  Reading this book was an absolute delight from the first page to the very last.

Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!
         Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!

Tuesday Afternoon Drop-In Book Club | January Selection

Mr. Dickens and His Carol
by Samantha Silva

This title is only available in print. Click here to place a hold.

The Tuesday Afternoon Book Club meets on the third Tuesday of the month at 2:00 PM via Zoom.

Register here to drop in and discuss Silva’s creative re-imagining of Dickens’ inspiration for his holiday classic.

Laced with humor, rich historical detail from Charles Dickens’ life, and clever winks to his work, Samantha Silva’s Mr. Dickens and His Carol is an irresistible new take on a cherished classic.

Charles Dickens is not feeling the Christmas spirit. His newest book is an utter flop, the critics have turned against him, relatives near and far hound him for money. While his wife plans a lavish holiday party for their ever-expanding family and circle of friends, Dickens has visions of the poor house. But when his publishers try to blackmail him into writing a Christmas book to save them all from financial ruin, he refuses. And a serious bout of writer’s block sets in.

Frazzled and filled with self-doubt, Dickens seeks solace in his great palace of thinking, the city of London itself. On one of his long night walks, in a once-beloved square, he meets the mysterious Eleanor Lovejoy, who might be just the muse he needs. As Dickens’ deadlines close in, Eleanor propels him on a Scrooge-like journey that tests everything he believes about generosity, friendship, ambition, and love. The story he writes will change Christmas forever.

Further reading

Author website

New York Time Review

Ceasefire Magazine Review

Washington Independent Review of Books

Los Angeles Public Library Interview

Discussion Questions

BBC Culture | How did A Christmas Carol come to be?

Watch & LISTEN

Dialogue on PBS | Samantha Silva on Mr. Dickens and His Carol

Literary Hub Interview

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

The Flood
By Kristina Ohlsson

This is the sixth book in Ohlsson’s series featuring detectives Fredrika Bergman and Alex Recht.  Not having read the previous novels, I knew nothing about the back story of these characters so I was often left wondering what had prompted certain behaviours or actions.  The detectives are faced with a series of very gruesome murders , questioning how someone could devise such horrible ways of killing.  I questioned this, too, but in reference to how Ohlsson came up with the ideas to begin with.  It made me reflect on a conversation I had with Michael Redhill, (writing as Inger Ash Wolfe) author of the Hazel Micallef series, at Starfest one year.  I asked him this very question about where he comes up with such bizarre ways of killing his characters.  He said that the answer is as close as the internet!  

Recht and Bergman eventually realize that there is a common denominator to the murders and that they are looking for a serial killer.  Their investigation is hampered by doubt and sabotage by other members of their division as they scramble to find the next clue that will help them stop the carnage.

The most puzzling thing about this book is its title and its description: The Flood: The water is rising.  And the bodies are too.  There is no flood in the story and water plays no part in it whatsoever.  If the title is a metaphor for something, then I’m baffled as to what it could be.

Joanne gives this book 3 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Obsidian
By Thomas King

Thumps Dreadfulwater is at a cross-roads in his life: he cannot move forward until he reconciles himself with his past.  And this means solving the case known as the Obsidian Murders.  He’s just returned to Chinook from a month in Eureka, CA, where the murders took place, hoping to find the answers to this crime that left ten people, including his partner and her daughter, brutally murdered.  

When he gets home he finds that someone has been leaving reminders of the murders everywhere he frequents, as if taunting him to solve the case.  Has the murderer followed him to Chinook and is his life now in danger?  As Thumps goes over everything he knows and remembers about the case, he realizes that the answers have to be in the past, in fact, right at the very start of the whole case.

Again we are entertained by King’s wit and wordplay, with his quirky and colorful  characters and his subtle commentary on social issues.  You can’t help laughing out  loud as you follow Thumps’ investigation, often hampered by one or more of Chinook’s residents, however good their intentions are at the beginning.  But Thumps perseveres and everyone is better off because he does.

Joanne gives this book 5 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

There’s a Murder Afoot
By Vicki Delany

It’s off to merry old England for Gemma Doyle, co-workers and friends, for a Sherlock Holmes convention.  It gives Gemma a chance to visit with her parents, Anne and Henry, who live in London, as well as to pick up some new stock for the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium.  However, it’s not all tea, scones and Holmes. 

While at the convention, Henry and Gemma encounter Randolph Manning, Anne’s estranged brother and the black sheep of the family.  Thirty years previously he’d disappeared after taking an expensive painting that belonged to his parents.  To say that the meeting was awkward and fraught with tension would be an understatement.  When Henry is later found bending over Randolph’s lifeless body, he is quickly taken into custody.  Gemma is determined to clear her father’s name.

Delany provides us with an interesting plot and enough twists and turns to keep the reader anxious to turn the next page.  Her characters are believable and realistic and the setting is accurately depicted.  I enjoyed the storyline concerning Gemma’s sister, Pippa, and the “hush hush” nature of her job (not unlike Holmes’ brother Mycroft).  A perfect cozy for any kind of day!

Joanne gives this book 4 daggers out of 5!

Joanne’s Mystery Picks

Guilty Not Guilty
By Felix Francis

Felix Francis is the son of the late Dick Francis, author of over 40 best-selling books.  However in the son’s case, the apple has fallen far, far away from the tree.

What begins as a gripping story of murder and estranged families soon becomes tedious and boring as the author pads the story with long descriptions of historical murder cases and assorted trivia, totally irrelevant to the case. 

Bill Russell is a volunteer steward at Warwick Races when he’s informed that his wife has been found murdered in their home.  He’s quickly placed at the top of the suspects list and charged with her murder.  His behavior at this point turns to the melodramatic as he weeps uncontrollably, calling out to his dead wife and berating her for “leaving him” all the while acting more like an adolescent than a middle-aged man.  The police seem ham-fisted in their investigation, ignoring the most basic aspects of collecting evidence.  

It was impossible to suspend disbelief in reading this because it was all just too unbelievable: from the characters, to the way in which the investigation was carried out.  Give it a miss and choose another book to read.  I wish I had!

Joanne gives this book 1 dagger out of 5!
Joanne gives this book 1 dagger out of 5!