Thursday, 18 September 2014

The Rat and The Slug

Finished September 17
The Rat by Elise Gravel
The Slug by Elise Gravel
 

These two books are both from the series Disgusting Critters. They are picture books for kids teaching them some facts about these creatures in a fun way. Since many kids like things that are sometimes disgusting, this series is a good idea to convey factual information. The facts contained in each book are varied and general in nature.
In The Rat we are told about the two most common rats, brown and black, including the Latin name of the black rat. We are given some information on size, at least in relation to a mouse, and one page is dedicated to the tail and how it is used. For the tail, the book shows and talks about the rat picking its nose with it, obviously humour to adults, but perhaps confusing to the child reader. We learn about the athletic abilities of the rat, and about its teeth, including how the teeth stay sharp.We are told that they eat most things and can transmit diseases, but are very smart, are sometimes used in labs, and some people have them as pets.There is also one deliberate misspelling of a word for no obvious reasons, not necessarily a great idea for young learners.
In The Slug, we are told about 3 different types of slugs and then focused on land slugs. We learn they are mollusks, but don't have shells. We learn about their two sets of tentacles and what the tentacles are used for. We find out how they breathe, and how they move, and what other parts of their body are called that may be surprising. We find out about mucus and how the snail uses the mucus to move and to protect itself. It also talks about how it procreates and abouts its dual gender nature, but perhaps a little too generally to be helpful. We find out what they eat, and their important role in the environment. It might have been fun to also include information on the varied sizes and colours for interest (or maybe I just find giant slugs fascinating in a way others don't)
All in all, these books are a fun way to have kids learn about creatures they may not be all that familiar with. It's cool that these are by a Canadian author/illustrator and that they were originally written in French.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Petrified

Finished September 13
Petrified by Barbara Nadel

This is the 6th book in the series featuring Inspector Çetin Ỉkmen of Istanbul, but the first I've read. Ỉkmen is in his mid-fifties and his mother, an Albanian, was known as the witch of Uskudar. Ỉkmen is said to have inherited her abilities. Here, Ỉkmen is investigating what appears to be a kidnapping. The two young children of controversial artist Melih Akdeniz have gone missing. The artist creates works on controversial themes, like a series of carpets woven with human hair and depicting sexual organs. He has spurned most other artists in the area as uninspired and lacking talent and thus has made himself many professional enemies.Ỉkmen feels something is not right about Akdeniz and his wife's story despite their obvious love for their children.  Ỉkmen's deputy, Ayşe Farsakoğlu, has been in her position only six months, but had worked as a uniformed officer on some of his cases before that. She is a single woman in her early thirties with a modern outlook, and is a good foil for Ỉkmen.
One of Ỉkmen's fellow Inspector's sergeants, Ỉsak Çöktin, is investigating another case. An elderly woman, Rosita Keyder, has been found dead in her home, seemingly of natural causes. However, another body is found in the home as well, a young man dressed in clothes from Argentina, and it soon becomes apparent that he has died some time previously and his body has been preserved. But who is her, why is he there, and when did he die.
Çöktin works for Inspector Mehmet Suleyman, who is busy trying to find information on Rostov, a Russian gangster who seems to be growing his territory and influence in the city. Suleyman has been approached by a prostitute, Masha, who seems eager to provide information, and to know Suleyman's weaknesses.
The three cases come together in interesting ways and I enjoyed the inventiveness of the plotline. I also found the home lives of the various characters interesting and enjoyed the way that each had its own effect on the plot
This novel's also brings in the complexities of religion. Rosita Keyder is Catholic. The pathologist Arto Sarkissian is Orthodox Christian. Çöktin is Yezidi, the native Kurdish religion. Ỉkmen's daughter Hulya , a Muslim is in love with a young Jewish man, Berekiah Cohen, son of a former colleague of Ỉkmen. As the novel is set post 9/11 but before the Iraq war on Saddam Hussein has begun, this aspect of religious war also comes into the plot.
All-in-all a very enjoyable mystery, and a series I'd like to read more of.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Little Bastards in Springtime

Finished September 9
Little Bastards in Springtime by Katja Rudolph

This novel takes us from 1992 through 1998 in the world of Jevrem Andric. In the spring of 1992, Jevrem is eleven years old and living in Sarajevo with his parents, older brother Dusan, and younger twin sisters Aisha and Berina. His father is a journalist and his mother is a concert pianist. His father is Serbian and his mother is Croatian. His maternal grandmother, Baka, loves to tell him stories of her life as a partisan fighter in World War II and her subsequent years rebuilding the country. His maternal uncle, Ujak Luka, is a fun-loving man that leaves Sarajevo for North America soon after the book's beginning.
As the tensions between ethnicities and religions heat up and fighting begins, Jevrem and his siblings are confined to the apartment building they live in more and more. Dusan is frustrated and wants to be involved in what is going on, and his age, sixteen, means that he has more freedom than Jevrem or the girls, who are only six. Jevrem overhears the adult conversations around him, and worries about what is happening.
Then things get worse. Sarajevo is cut off, Jevrem's father and brother join the fighting, and food becomes scarce. Bombs hit nearby and people Jevrem knows are hurt or even killed. As he struggles to make sense of things and support his family as best he can, Jevrem is changed in ways he isn't even aware of.
The book then moves to 1997 in Toronot, where the remaining members of Jevrem's family have settled. Jevrem's mother has stopped playing the piano, sunk into depression. Jevrem struggles in school, playing truant or absent mentally from his classes despite his intellect. His Baka is lost in her past more and more. Jevrem falls into a gang of other Jugoslavian refugees around his age, breaking the law even as his Baka urges him to do something good. And then something else changes for him and he decides to start doing good. It is only as he descends further into sadness and uncertainty that he finds a way to remember what he has been through and begin to heal.
This is an amazing book, and Jevrem's struggles were very real to me as a reader. I highly recommend it.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

The Paper Moon

Finished September 6
The Paper Moon by Andrea Camilleri

This is another in the series featuring Inspector Salvatore Montalbano. Here Montalbano has a woman worried about her brother come to the office looking for help. He agrees to go to her brother's home to see if her can find anything to indicate what may have happened. When he encounters the body of the brother, Montalbano finds the sister emotional and eager to accuse the brother's lover. Elena, the lover, is a woman sure of herself and quick of intellect and she is always one step ahead of Montalbano as he works through the clues to what has been happening.
Meanwhile the office has been pressured to find the drug dealer responsible for providing some high profile people with poisoned drugs, and Montalbano offers Mimi Augello some thoughtful advice on how to deal with such a sensitive case.
As usual, the personalities of the both the various police and of the characters involved in the situation are interesting and have depth. The two women in the murder case are particularly well drawn.
There is the usual good food mentioned in detail as Montalbano eats at home and at restaurants.
Enjoyable and with a good plot.

The Childhood of Jesus

Finished September 5
The Childhood of Jesus by J.M. Coetzee

This novel is set in an unnamed land at an unknown time. After a voyage across an ocean, Simon and David arrive in a new land where Spanish is the language used. As part of the decision to travel to a new land and start a new life, all arrivals are given new names, and their memories of the past are erased. The two have come together on the ship when 5-year-old David loses the papers giving the identity of his mother. Simon has taken on the role of guardian to the boy and, yet is determined to find the mother of the child, despite his lack of knowledge about her.
As the two find a home and Simon finds work in this new land, both have difficulty adjusting. Simon finds everyone too amenable, and yet unhelpful in answering the questions he has. He struggles with the lack of drama in his new life, and the expectations of acceptance that are laid before him.
David continually asks why everything is, why things happen, why he must do what he is told.
When Simon identified a woman, Ynes, he feels to be David's mother and she agrees to take on this role, he struggles to find a new role in David's life, where he can still have some influence on the boy. As David's rebellious nature leads to difficulties when he begins school, and the authorities wish to remove him to a boarding school for difficult children, Ynes is determined that this not happen and want to flee with the boy to another new life. Simon finds himself drawn into this plan.
This is another novel where my lack of feeling for the characters made it hard for me to like the book. I found the ending abrupt and unsatisfying. However the novel raises many philosophical questions about society and how we behave towards each other and those that are different, as well as the difficulties faced by immigrants to a new land. So a book that has intellectual weight and challenges, but did not reach my emotions or heart.

Sisterland

Finished September 5
Sisterland by Curtis Sittenfeld

This novel takes place in St. Louis, Missouri and the plot varies between a narrative by Kate in the near present and her life growing up. Kate is a twin, and she and her sister were very close when they were young. Kate's real given name is Daisy and her twin is Violet. They always had a difficult relationship with their mother Rita, but things became more so when they were eleven and came home one day to find her locked in the bedroom. The two girls began to cover for her, but their home life created more isolation from other children. Both girls also had some psychic ability, and Kate tried at one point to use this to further her social life, an experience that backfired badly.
In the present, Kate is married with two young children, Rosie and Owen, and Violet is leaning towards a homosexual identity, and makes her living from her psychic abilities. When Violet predicts an earthquake for the near future, both women's lives are focused around the prediction and its implications for them and those they care for. Kate has always felt herself to be the responsible one, but as we see her story unfold, it would seem that this isn't necessarily so. Kate has buried her psychic abilities to a large extent, but they exist despite this.
As we see the sometimes difficult relationship between the two sisters, their interactions with others from their present and their past, we learn that things are not always as we perceive them, and that sometimes circumstances force one to face up to the reality of our behaviour.

Jeeves and the Wedding Bells

Finished August 29
Jeeves and the Wedding Bells by Sebastian Faulks

This book states on its cover that it a homage to P.G. Wodehouse, and Faulks includes a Foreword with more details on how and why he came to write this book, stating that it is a tribute for all the pleasure he's given. In my opinion, Faulks did a fantastic job of this novel, continuing the story of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves to a lovely conclusion.
As the story opens Bertie and Jeeves are vacationing on the Cote d'Azur, when Bertie literally runs into the young woman Georgiana Meadowes, who is on a sort of working vacation. Georgiana works as an editor for a London publisher and has taken this time away from the office to continue her work and think about her future. Her uncle, Sir Henry Hackwood, of Melbury Hall, Kingston St.-Giles, Dorsetshire, is financially stressed and hoping for a good (read financially successful) marriage for either his own daughter Amelia or Georgiana. Georgiana is engaged to a suitable young man, but doesn't have the appropriate feelings for him that would make her happy. As Bertie subsequently discovers once he returns home, Amelia is engaged to his good friend Woody Beeching, who, unfortunately, is not possessed of a fortune. Amelia has realized Georgiana's situation and feels compelled to reject Woody despite her feelings in an act of support for Georgiana. Woody has come to Bertie and Jeeves for advice and assistance.
Once the two men settle themselves at Seaview Cottage in Dorsetshire, things become more complicated as Bertie's plans go awry, and Jeeves is forced to impersonate an aristocrat. As Bertie is also forced to take on a role unlike his own, they become involved with the visitors to Melbury Hall. These include the author Venables, Georgiana's fiance, and his parents, among others. Sir Henry asks Woody to do what he can to make up a decent cricket team for a match with the village team that Sir Henry has a great deal riding on, and things become more amusing.  As preparations are made for the upcoming summer fete, Bertie is again put upon to play a role, that causes things to move forward in an interesting direction.
There is much expected humour, done nicely to a Wodehouse style, and a plethora of interesting and eccentric characters. A homage indeed, and a worthy one.