Book Talk Friday: Fire In The Stars

Where I talk about books I’ve read and enjoyed. Especially if they’re written by a Canadian and set in Canada. This week I’m talking about Fire in the Stars: An Amanda Doucette Mystery by Barbara Fradkin.

Fire in the Stars: An Amanda Doucette Mystery by Barbara Fradkin

Published: Dundurn Press, 2016

Length: 328 pages

Categories: Mystery / Amateur Sleuths / Canadian Detectives / Canadian Setting

The Blurb:

After surviving a horrific trauma in Nigeria, international aid worker Amanda Doucette returns to Canada to rebuild her life and her shaken ideals. There, the once-passionate, adventurous woman needs all her strength and ingenuity when a friend and fellow survivor goes missing along with his son.

A trained first-aid and crisis responder, Doucette — always accompanied by her beloved dog Kaylee — joins forces with RCMP officer Chris Tymko to discover the truth about the disappearance. Their search leads them to the Great Northern Peninsula, a rugged landscape of Viking history, icebergs, whales, and fierce ocean storms. Elsewhere, a body gets hauled up in a fisherman’s net, and evidence is mounting of an unsettling connection with Amanda’s search for her friend. Fradkin writes evocatively of the beautiful, often hostile, Newfoundland landscape where Amanda soon finds herself fighting for her very survival.

My Thoughts:

Fire in the Stars is the first book in Fradkin’s Amanda Doucette mystery series. Amanda, an international aid worker, has returned to Canada to recover from the trauma she experienced during her time in Nigeria. She plans a camping holiday in Newfoundland with her friend and former co-worker. When she shows up, she finds he’s gone missing along with his young son. What follows is a search through parts of Newfoundland’s more remote areas with the help of RCMP officer, Chris Tymko.

There are plenty of twists and turns in this book and we get a real sense of the rugged and beautiful province of Newfoundland. Amanda is on a mission to find and help her friend, Phil, before the worst happens. This places her in several precarious situations as she’s always ready to wade into trouble. Almost too ready, as she took more and more chances. Some to the point of folly and against sound advice. The author makes it clear that Amanda was in the habit of making crucial decisions with few resources in her former job. Still…it became a bit frustrating.

There is a lot happening in this book. We are learning who Amanda is, what drives her and the lengths she’s willing to go to protect the people she cares about. Dog lovers will enjoy the antics of Kaylee, Amanda’s faithful canine companion. Amanda and Tim grow close as they search for their friend. And plenty of other secondary and minor characters show up. It’s a complicated plot. Bodies start to turn up and the situation continues to escalate. All the different things at play make for a confusing read at times.

Overall, I think it’s an interesting start to a series that will take Amanda across Canada, which is an intriguing concept. If you’re looking for an interesting Canadian setting, a daring amateur sleuth, and a mystery that isn’t the least bit cozy, I recommend giving the Amanda Doucette series a try.

Here is a map of Newfoundland and Labrador. Fire in the Stars takes place mainly on the Great Northern Peninsula of Newfoundland.

Other books set in Newfoundland.

Until next time…

Have you been to Newfoundland and Labrador? If you have, what is your favourite part of the province? It’s the only Canadian province I haven’t visited but I plan to some day!

Book Talk Sunday: Ayesha At Last

Sundays seem like a good time to talk about the books I’ve read! I don’t give ratings, or stars, or gold crowns. Just offering a few of my thoughts. This week I’m talking about Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin.

Ayesha At Last by Uzma Jalaluddin

Published: Harper Collins Canada, June 2018

Length: 352 pages

Categories: Fiction / Romance / Humour / Contemporary / RomCom / Canadian Setting

Blurb:

Pride and Prejudice with a modern twist

AYESHA SHAMSI has a lot going on. Her dreams of being a poet have been set aside for a teaching job so she can pay off her debts to her wealthy uncle. She lives with her boisterous Muslim family and is always being reminded that her flighty younger cousin, Hafsa, is close to rejecting her one hundredth marriage proposal. Though Ayesha is lonely, she doesn’t want an arranged marriage. Then she meets Khalid who is just as smart and handsome as he is conservative and judgmental. She is irritatingly attracted to someone who looks down on her choices and dresses like he belongs in the seventh century.

When a surprise engagement between Khalid and Hafsa is announced, Ayesha is torn between how she feels about the straightforward Khalid and his family; and the truth she realizes about herself. But Khalid is also wrestling with what he believes and what he wants. And he just can’t get this beautiful, outspoken woman out of his mind.

My Thoughts:

Ayesha Shamsi has no time for a relationship, and even less interest in an arranged marriage. She’s busy adulting, putting aside her passion, and accepting a job that will allow her to repay her uncle and aunt for the financial and emotional support her family received since immigrating to Canada. Her younger cousin is on a different path. One slightly more self-absorbed and flightier. Ayesha is enlisted to encourage Hafsa to make a success of her latest career adventure. Hafsa is busy collecting marriage proposals. Enter ultra conservative Khalid, who becomes engaged to Hafsa, sort of…

I loved everything about this modern Pride and Prejudice retelling set in a Muslim community in Toronto. It’s full of interesting and complex characters who bring the setting to life. The main characters, Ayesha and Khalid have very differing views on arranged marriages and I wondered how the author would bring these two together. I knew very little of how arranged marriages look in contemporary times. But the book is full of relationships, both past and present, that give insight into all the different ways people find each other.

I felt an immediate connection to Ayesha, much like I did with Elizabeth Bennett. And Khalid was a challenge at the beginning, much like Mr. Darcy. So, it shouldn’t be surprising to say Khalid turned out to be one of my favourite romance heroes. But before that happened, I had to work through some perceived misconceptions of how I thought arranged marriages work and what the power dynamic looks like within an arranged marriage.

This book is full of humour and witty, charming dialogue. The plot is perfect. The writing is rich and generous and the author managed to make me laugh while also tugging on my heartstrings. Highly recommend!

I can’t wait to read Uzma Jalaluddin’s new book, Hana Khan Carries On available now.

Until next time…

What’s everyone else reading? Anyone have another Pride and Prejudice retelling recommendation?

A Summer Tea Party

Doing summer during a pandemic takes some creative ingenuity. But trust my daughter to come up with a fun activity. A tea party, which proved to be an excellent stay-at-home activity.

Everyone should have tea parties. They are a blast. Hats, ties, special treats, china cups and laughter. That’s a win in a time of anxious uncertainty.

And what a way to engage the imagination. We got very adventurous and made pavlova nests we filled with a lemon curd. I would definitely make these delightful little nests again using the right type of piping bag and decorating tip. Kudos to my sister for doing an amazing job despite the improvised tools. Also, I baked them a smidge too long and they weren’t a nice crisp white. But they tasted delicious. And practice makes better!

Menu decided, we dressed up, donned hats and ties, and sipped from china cups my mom donated for the occasion. We gave ourselves fancy names and thought of as many British words as we could manage.

Until next time…

Who else has had to think outside the box for activities this summer?

Photo of the Week: Summertime

I took a beginners photography class this spring – part in person and part online – because of the Covid. I love taking pictures. I can’t wait to get out there with a camera and take more pictures as I’ve got a black and white project in mind for a very blank wall that needs some creative touches. Also, photography is one of the ways I recharge my creative batteries. And in these uncertain times, that is a must.

This photo won’t be used in any art project, but it is a glimpse of our new backyard patio area where we love spending time. This space used to be a no-man land’s of wasted side/front yard that never saw any use. We’ve reclaimed it as part of our backyard and we couldn’t be happier with the results. And, again, in this new normal we’re adjusting to, this space has seen a lot of use because we simply aren’t out and about as much.

What I’m reading: Child of Mine by Jana Richards

Favourite Podcast of the Moment: Fated Mates: A Romance Novel Podcast with Sarah MacLean and Jen Prokop

Until next time…

Have you created any new spaces for yourself? Or found any safe, new spots to spend time in this summe?

Fictional Small Towns

I grew up in a small town. Or, to be exact, on a farm outside a small town. And I’m talking small. Not city small. But with a population that numbered in the hundreds. Like under five hundred, if you counted dogs and cats. And I couldn’t wait to leave. I’m a city girl at heart. It’s where I feel the most comfortable and relaxed. But that doesn’t mean I don’t love small towns or appreciate the people who live in them. Because, I do! 

As a writer, I think the fascinating thing about small towns is the sense they are small and big at the same time. Small because they take up less geographical space and have far fewer inhabitants than their urban counterparts. Big because that small space hosts people with the same big hopes and dreams as city dwellers. And they go about creating opportunity without the resources a more urban centre provides.

Creating a fictional town gave me the opportunity to explore the romantic notion of small towns with their famous unlocked door policy and their famed resilience. In my fictional town of Aspen Lake, everyone is looking to make a fair living wage, to fit in, and to protect those they love. A rural setting is also an opportunity to delve into the less than ideal aspects of living in a fishbowl. Because no place is exempt from struggle. There is no prefect paradise. No one’s life is devoid of conflict. 

I hope in Aspen Lake you’ll find both the ideal and the unsavoury. Big city violence invades the quiet steadfastness of Aspen Lake in Backlash. Exposed has more of a snake in the garden vibe. And Gone is all about secrets.

Until next time…

What are some of your favourite fictional small town settings?