Sunday, 31 January 2016

Prisoner of Warren

Finished January 31
Prisoner of Warren by Andreas Oertel

This children's novel is set in the summer of 1944 in rural New Brunswick. Thirteen-year-old Warren Webb is upset that his parents have decided to take on a German prisoner of war (POW) as a worker on their farm. He and his best friend Tom and determined that they must defend themselves from this threat and kill him before he kills them.
But then Warren meets Martin, the young man who speaks good English, works hard, and takes the time to explain things to Warren. With Martin sleeping in the same room as Warren, and the two tasked with all the work needed to bring indoor plumbing to the Webb home, they learn a lot about each other. When Warren finds that Martin, like himself, is a sprinter, the connection becomes stronger.
Three older boys, known for their bullying behaviour make Warren and Martin targets after they come to the assistance of two local girls. The ensuing conflict will have Warren drawing on skills within himself that he never realized he had.
Warren also misses his older brother Pete, who died from polio, and talks to him whenever he wants advice. This provides a sounding board and source of humour for Warren at times of indecision.
This is a book that deals with the issues of war, the propaganda that is built around it, bullying, and friendship.

For another book written for youth on POWs in Canada, see Uncertain Soldier by Karen Bass.

Hungry for Math

Finished January 31
Hungry for Math: Poems to Munch On by Kari-Lynn Winters + Lori Sherritt-Fleming + Peggy Collins

This collection of poetry for children is a great way to start them on the road to numerical/financial literacy. The poems here cover lots of areas of math: shapes, counting, measuring, and estimating  in lots of fun ways like finding things in the pictures, looking at shapes hidden in other shapes, counting coins, and logic. Of course, as the title says, there is lots of eating going on here too.
A nice list of some math terms is included at the back to help readers learn terms that may be new to them. As a lover of both math and poetry, I loved this fun book.

Front Runner

Finished January 31
Front Runner by Felix Francis

Our hero for this novel is Jeff Hinkley is a senior investigator for the British Horseracing Authority, the BHA. He has done a fair bit of undercover work, but one of his recent cases has him more in the limelight that he likes. Derrick Smith nearly had one of his horses stolen, an act thwarted by Jeff's work, and now he can't stop singing Jeff's praises. One of the leading jockeys, a man he has become friends with, has called him to talk face-to-face. The conversation is difficult as the jockey wants help, but doesn't necessarily want to admit what he is being blackmailed for. When he calls to continue the conversation the next day, indicating he has additional information, Jeff is put into a position that narrowly misses being fatal. The jockey turns up dead shortly thereafter, an apparent suicide. When this is followed a couple of days later by another attempt on Jeff's life, he begins to dig deeper into the people he has met and the things he has seen, looking for those things that don't look quite right.
Jeff is close to his older sister Faye, who is undergoing cancer treatment and while he doesn't always get on with her husband Quentin, he does respect him and he legal knowledge. Jeff is also still recovering by being dumped by his fiance. When he meets Henrietta Shawcross at a function Derrick invites him to, he can't believe that she would be interested in him. As he begins this new relationship, he also finds himself caught between his investigative instincts and his feelings.
Another great thriller built around the world of horse-racing. Francis never disappoints.

Saturday, 30 January 2016

13 rue Therese

Finished January 30
13 rue Therese by Elena Mauli Shapiro

This very unusual novel was inspired by a box of mementos the author had possession of. She built this story around them. The back cover describes the book as a puzzle-novel.
In the novel, a young American scholar in nineteenth century French literature is taking a position at a Paris university. His name is Trevor Stratton. The secretary at the university, Josianne, has a ritual of giving a box of artifacts indirectly to a visiting foreign professor and seeing what happens. The box chooses to return to her following each episode. She does not do this every year, only when something draws her to a certain one. The contents of the box have been known to induce fevers, including with Josianne herself when she first came upon it.
We see the reaction of Trevor through letters he writes to someone, whom he addresses only as "sir". Sometimes there are rambling. Sometimes he describes what he finds, providing images and translations. Sometimes he appears to know things that are impossible for him to know, as if he had actually been present at moments in the past.
The author provide a list of the mementos with QR codes beside each one. These links take you to enhanced versions of the images, and are also available through the website
This is a passionate book, full of emotion. I loved the uncertainty, the way I had to work things out. A book like no other I've read.

The Thundermaker

Finished January 30
The Thundermaker written and illustrated by Alan Syliboy

This picture book draws on the indigenous Mi'kmaw petroglyph tradition. It tells the story of Little Thunder as he grows up with his mother Giju and his father Big Thunder, learning the traditions of his people, their relationship to animals, plants, and the larger world. Little Thunder gradually learns his craft from Big Thunder until he is ready to go to the sacred mountain and become the Thundermaker. There, he must complete a task that is important to his people, create Kluskap, the teacher, from a mound of clay by throwing thunderbolts in a very specific way.
This is a story drawing from legend and culture, but written for young children. It is a good addition to our country's works.

The Garden of Letters

Finished January 26
The Garden of Letters by Alyson Richman

This novel is set in Italy during World War II. As the book begins in October 1943, a young woman steps off a boat in Portofino, scared and still in shock from her recent experiences. A local doctor greets her and takes her home to stay at his house. When she asks why he picked her to save, he replies that he chooses the person who looks most afraid.
We then see her life over the last few months as the war in Italy grew more intense, she volunteered for the resistance, and experienced losses of friends and family. We also see the doctor's story, how he had a great love, was involved in a war himself, and experienced great loss. As the two gradually get to know each other, and learn more about each other, they find comfort.
The woman, Elodie, is a promising young cellist in Verona, encouraged by her musician father and her Venetian mother. She gets drawn into resistance work through a good friend, and personal experiences. The title comes from letters the doctor wrote years before, that have their own strong presence here.
A story of love, loss, and the power of words and music.

Monday, 25 January 2016

The Wolf in Winter

Finished January 25
The Wolf in Winter by John Connolly, read by Jeff Harding

This is the 12th book in the series featuring private investigator Charlie Parker, but the first one I've read. Charlie lives in Maine, and his work sometimes takes him away from there, but this book is focused on that state. Charlie learns that a homeless man was looking to hire him to look into the disappearance of his daughter. As he begins to trace the girl and her father's search for her, he finds himself led to the small town of Prosperous. Prosperous takes pride in its history, tracing its founding families back to England. Those founders brought their church with them, yet the town strictly limits access to this church and its grounds. The selectmen of the town consider their role as protectors of the town, but what they get in return is more nebulous.
This is a story of dark forces, people that believe in the end justifying the means, and closely guarded secrets. Charlie is no stranger to any of this and he does his research and chooses his moves carefully, but perhaps not always carefully enough. Two of the men that work closely with him, Angel and Louis, also have roles to play, as does a man Charlie has been hunting. This is a book with both a strong detective mystery plot, and a horror plot entwined together. It also has many interesting characters, touches of humour, and has interested me in reading more in this series.