Saturday, 11 August 2018

A Start in Life

Finished August 8
A Start in Life by Anita Brookner

This short novel looks at the early life of lonely academic Ruth Weiss. As the book begin, she is forty, looking back on her life to that point. Her major research has been on the women in Balzac's novels, and her immersion in the world of literature is her life now.
She looks back on her life, with her parents, Helen, a high-spirited and successful stage actress mother, and George, a quiet father who had inherited a stock of rare books from his own father, running a small shop of them. For the early part of her childhood, she had primarily been looked after by her paternal grandmother, a woman with a sad European past, who had brought from Europe a selection of large dark wood furniture, classic china and silver, highly pressed table linen, and a deep sense of order.
To the child it seemed as if all dining rooms must be dark, as if sodden with a miasma of gravy and tears. She imagined, across the unknown land, silent grandmothers, purple flock wallpaper, thunderous seascapes, heavy meats eaten at speed. Velvet curtains, the damask cloth laid over only half the table, the intricate siege architecture of the chair legs and cross bars.
As Ruth, named for her grandmother, kept to herself, escaping within the world of literature, she was also aware that although she loved her parents, they would be no support for her, for they were unable to even look after themselves properly. Following her grandmother's death, they hired a live-in woman to do the housekeeping and meals, Mrs. Cutler. George lost interest in the store and began to look for a buyer. Helen began to go straight to bed upon arriving home, supplied their with drinks and a light meal. The two slipped easily into an intimacy with Mrs. Cutler that prevented them from ensuring that she carried out her work, and the house fell into slovenliness, with poor meals.
Ruth concentrated on her studies, mastering French and venturing into the discovery of French authors, including Balzac. She went to college and planned to study abroad in France, where she would be able to do more research on her subject of choice.
But it is her parents, and their worries and lack of independence that would draw her back from her life of independence.
A look at a woman who life has for the most part, passed by.

A Good Day for Ducks

Finished August 1
A Good Day for Ducks by Jane Whittingham, illustrated by Noel Tuazon
This picture book has a young girl and her little brother venturing out on a rainy day. We see them looking out the window at the rain, then getting all their gear on to go outside. The happy illustrations show them enjoying everything a rainy day has to offer, puddles, mud, ducks, and worms. They are both fully engaged in the world around them.
When the lightning and thunder start, mom takes them home, pulling off their wet clothes and changing them into something cozy. She makes them cocoa, and gets them settled at the table with paper and paints to draw pictures about the fun they've had.
This is a book in celebration of a rainy day, of siblings, and of the fun of experience. Like Jane's previous book Wild One, this is a book about children enjoying nature.

The Tinsmith

Finished July 30
The Tinsmith by Tim Bowling

This novel begins in the US Civil War, around the Battle of Antietam. Anson Baird is a doctor working for the Union Army. With a seemingly endless supply of injured man, Anson moved from one operation to the next, amputating, digging out bullets and stitching closed wounds. He has little time for sleep, and next to no assistance. So when he first notices a tall man in a torn uniform helping bring injured men to the medical area, he does so only to notice that he keeps bringing men in, unlike most who disappear quickly. When the man proves even more helpful by serving as a surgical assistant, he is very thankful.
When a civilian is killed in a shocking manner, and the body goes missing soon after, he doesn't connect it with the man until later when men come searching for the body. Once he's made the connection, he works to protect the man and give him a new identity. The man, previously John, now taking the identity of a soldier named William Dare.
We see backwards into John's life as a house slave, looked after by a slave family, and caught as a pawn between a violent and vindictive overseer and the culture he was born into. The story moves back and forth between first the war and John's past, and then many years later, the Fraser river in B.S. and John's past, as William Dare tries to save his fledgling salmon business by asking for Baird's help once again.
This is a story of race, of culture, of reputation, and men whose greed is larger than their morals.
I enjoyed the character of John/William Dare, a man who doesn't really fit in wherever he goes, and of Anson, a man who wants to do the right and moral thing.

My Father, Maker of the Trees

Finished July 27
My Father, Maker of the Trees: How I Survived the Rwandan Genocide by Eric Irivuzumugabe with Tracey D. Lawrence, read by Dion Graham

This memoir is that of Eric Irivuzumugabe, who was sixteen at the time of the genocide. It tells of his life from just before the genocide to a decade later. It is the portion telling of his experience during the days of the genocide, along with the experiences of several other family members that was the most terrifying and poignant. People didn't know which way to go to be safe, and many thought that the violent men chasing them would be after the men and the older boys, so they left the small children with the women, not realizing the extent the violence would reach. Some were hid by brave neighbours, but the practice of violence to those that did hide people was enough to deter many from this action.
Of Eric's immediate family, only himself and two younger brothers survived. In his extended family, some uncles, an aunt and some cousins survived. His grandfather, a man who had survived two previous genocides, did not.
In the shock following these days, looking for answers, Eric was drawn to Christianity and the church and much of the remaining book is about his conversion, the people in the church, both local and foreign that he grew to trust, and his career within the church subsequently.

Tuesday, 7 August 2018

Something in the Water

Finished July 23
Something in the Water by Catherine Steadman

This suspense novel really took me by surprise a couple of times, despite the unusual beginning.
The book opens with Erin, a documentary filmmaker and newlywed, in the woods near a country inn that she and her fiance had vacationed in just a few weeks before their wedding. What is she doing there? Digging a hole, a grave to be exact, to bury her husband in.
Most of the rest of the book is a flashback to the weeks leading up to this moment. They include her big documentary project, one in which she follows three people from phone interviews, to meetings while they are still in jail, to meetings either at time of release, or soon after, with a bit of followup. One of the women is from poverty, and has made some poor choices, ending with setting a bus on fire, which has led her to prison. The other woman she follows is a bit older, a successful lawyer, who assisted her mother to kill herself as she was dying a painful death. She is calm and sympathetic, and has her life planned out following her release. The third is a man who has long been rumoured to be a high stakes player in a criminal organization, a man who knows his stuff, but was caught a few years ago for money laundering. Getting him to interview is a coup, and Erin knows it. She doesn't really know why everyone agreed to cooperate with her, and she pulled in a lot of favours to make this work. A lot of her work is done in the weeks and days leading up to her wedding date in the fall, but the releases of all three are scheduled for after she returns from her honeymoon. So between the wedding plans and her work, a lot is happening.
As the wedding gets closer though, there are also new issues arising with her fiance. First he seems distracted, and then worried about finances, and she tries to put aside her worries as she calms him, and accepts some of the changes that he suggests. Things move along, but when the two of them discover something in the water near their honeymoon resort, things really start going south.
This is a story with lots of twists and turns, and surprises. Erin is an interesting character, strong and determined in some ways, and vulnerable in others. It is interesting to see her develop here.

Charged

Finished July 20
Charged by Jay Crownover

This is the second book in the Saints of Denver series, but the only one I've read. It focuses on a young woman, Avett Walker, who has made a series of bad choices in her life, seeming to fall a bit lower each time. She has reached a point where she is in jail, charged as an accessory in an armed robbery. And the victims were people she had been friends with, and who were close to her family. She feels too disgusted with herself to ask for help, or to call her father, who has always been there for her no matter what she has done. She is ashamed and scared.
Enter hot-shot criminal lawyer Quaid Jackson, ex-military and with a big reputation. He says that he is her lawyer, and she is to do what he says, but she has no way to pay him. When she finds out who called him on her behalf, she is even more determined to find a way to pay him herself.
Quaid has taken the job without knowing anything about her, but he soon finds out that she's cute and feisty, and up for almost anything. He also finds himself digging deeper to discover what has taken her down the road that she's gone down, and intervening with her family to help her find a new start to her life.
This is a novel of two very determined people, each with their own issues, who begin to change each other's lives significantly. With lots of hot scenes, and some tense situations, this book is a quick read.

The New Moon's Arms

Finished July 18
The New Moon's Arms by Nalo Hopkinson

This novel was one I picked because of a challenge over at Following the Thread. The story follows a woman, Calamity, as she undergoes some major changes in her life. Her name as a girl was Chastity, but she changed it to Calamity as it felt more fitting to her. Her family was poor, and when her mother disappeared when she was still a young girl, there were all kinds of rumours that put her on the outside at school. Soon after that, a major storm caused destruction to the island where she'd lived until then, Blessée, and when they evacuated that island, her father was offered a house on Dolorosse. When Calamity was sixteen, she got pregnant, and her father kicked her out. She survived, and made a life for herself and her daughter Ife, and eventually when her father became terminally ill with lung cancer, she returned to look after him. As the book opens, she is at his funeral,
When she was young, Calamity was a finder, who seemed to have the skill to locate things that people had lost, but that disappeared around the time her mother did. Lately though, something like it seems to have returned. Calamity feels warm, and her hands go tingly, and something shows up unexpectedly. Her doctor says it is just menopause, but she thinks it is more than that.
At the funeral, it is her pin, that her mother gave her, that she has been missing since childhood. That appearance is followed by others, some former possessions, some larger than herself, and one hurt little boy on the beach near her home.
As new people come into Calamity's life, from old friends, to new men, she finds herself needing to adjust her attitude, and not every interaction goes well. She hasn't talked to Ife's father in years, but finds herself reaching out to him again, and dealing with Ife's choices for her own life. She fights against the term grandma, but loves her young grandson Stanley.
She believes in things that can't be explained, from her finding ability, to the personality of her car Victoria, to the strange physical attributes of the young boy she has found. She calls him Agway, from a noise he makes often, and finds herself wanting to both protect him, and care for him. He reminds her of a child she met a couple of times when she herself was just a child, and we see these memories. There are also a few times where an employee of the local Zooquarium notices things that are odd about the endangered monk seals, and these are interspersed at key moments in the story.
From the salt factories, to the cashew groves, the monk seals to the pressure of hotel chains and resorts, we see how the island and its inhabitants are under pressure to change.
I've all kinds of ideas percolating in my brain about how to take instances and themes from this book and create something, and will post it when it comes to fruition.