Sunday, 13 April 2014

Hope Deferred

Finished April 13
Hope Deferred: Narratives of Zimbabwean Lives compiled and edited by Peter Orner and Annie Holmes

This collection of narratives includes experiences of a wide variety of people: black and white, male and female, urban and rural, from a variety of economic and educational backgrounds, aged from 14 to 63. What all of them have in common is the destruction of their lives. These are people who lost everything, many of them were tortured, many lost people close to them, and most are still struggling to find their way forward. Some are still in Zimbabwe, some are exiles. They have seen Zimbabwe change from a country with a good economy, a country known as the breadbasket of Africa to a country that imports almost everything its people need, with 90% unemployment and a valueless currency.
But most of them still have hope. Hope that their country can recover, hope that they can return, hope that their families can better their situation, hope for a Zimbabwe they can be proud of.
Many of the experiences recounted here are difficult to read, especially those involving torture, but I am glad that someone took the time to go and find these people and interview them and tell their stories, so that we can all hear them and know that these lives exist alongside our own.

Saturday, 12 April 2014

The Hole in the Middle

Finished April 12
The Hole in the Middle by Kate Hilton

This novel is a story of a woman, Sophie Whelan, in her late thirties with two young children. Her boss is an idiot. Her workload is increasing by the day, her husband seems more interested in his business partner than he is in her, and her children are a handful. So when a man from her past calls her, she can't help but wonder why things didn't work out between them.
Sophie is the head of communications for a children's hospital, and she is faced with many challenges at work. Her assistant does little to assist her, some of her employees need more supervision than someone at their level should need, and her boss dumps other department work on her and sets her near impossible deadlines for projects. Her youngest son has yet another ear infection, her late pickups threaten his spot in the daycare, her older son may not be getting the range of experiences she wants for him, and she worries about the amount of television they boys watch. She usually seems to be the one picking the kids up when they're sick, getting up in the night, and dealing with doctors, because her husband's Jesse has deadlines at work, but she worries about her own work deadlines. She hasn't been to book club in months, she hates the family yoga sessions her mother has talked her into, and she feels she is not there when her best friend Zoe needs her to be.
She's beginning to feel that her life has gotten away from her and in trying to have both a family and a career, she somehow has ended up with a life she no longer enjoys. Is she a bad mother, is she a bad manager, is she not looking after herself as she should? Everything seems to be coming together to make her take a hard look at her life.
Besides the story, there were two things I really liked about this book, and maybe that speaks to my love of tests and analysis. The first is Sophie's numerical way of deciding whether to do something or not which she calls Requirement Of Action Rating (ROAR). Her formula reads DPA + GF + NBLG - AS = ROAR. DPA stands for Desire to Perform Activity. GF stands for Guilt Factor associated with not doing it. NBLG stands for the Need to Behave Like a Grown-up. AS stands for Allowable Selfishness. I thought this was a very interesting way of looking at things, and made a lot of sense. The other bit I really liked was her friend Zoe's theory of romantic archetypes, which I won't go into here, but found really interesting.
I'll definitely be looking for more from Hilton as I really enjoyed her writing. Her prose flowed nicely, the plot was good, and I liked her characters.

The Accident

Finished April 11
The Accident by Chris Pavone, read by Mozhan Marno

This thriller has a couple of the main characters from Pavone's earlier book The Expats, Kate and Hayden is more minor roles in this new novel. Isabel Reed is a New York literary agent, and recently a manuscript was delivered to her office that seems to have potentially huge prospects. The title of the manuscript is The Accident and the author is listed as Anonymous. The story it tells is the unauthorized memoir of Charlie Wolfe, head of an international media organization, and a man who now has his eye on a political career. The book would cause that hope to die, and raise serious questions about Charlie's company. The reader is exposed gradually to the contents of this biography by other people reading the manuscript. Another source of information about its contents is the extraordinary length someone is going to to ensure the book doesn't get published. It is Hayden who takes the lead on that endeavour, first in Europe tailing the supposed author, and then in the United States once the biography reaches Isabel. Hayden is a Berlin CIA operative, but this case is black ops, completely off the books, and we gradually understand why. Hayden will stop at nothing to prevent publication, and that includes murder. As people with possession or knowledge of the manuscript are followed and eliminated the race to see the real story on Wolfe come out grows ever more precarious.
Isabel suspects who the author really is, but the man she is thinking of is dead. Or is he? We also occasionally see the real author and realize his role in the story and his motivations. He has made a lot of plans to get this story out, but will they be enough?
This novel also gives an inside look at the publishing industry with literary agents, editors, publishers, and even a subsidiary rights agent playing roles. The depth of the characters here add real substance to the book, and give us insight into the story as it develops.
A read that is hard to put down.

Friday, 11 April 2014

After I'm Gone

Finished April 9
After I'm Gone by Laura Lippman, performed by Linda Emond

This mystery is set in the Baltimore area. In 2012, Roberto "Sandy" Sanchez, a retired cop now doing consultant work on cold cases, pulls out the case of Julie Saxony. In 1976, Julie was a stripper working in a club owned by Felix Brewer. She was also his mistress. When Felix, facing prison for some of his activities, disappears in 1976, he leaves behind not only Julie, but also his wife Bernadette "Bambi", and his three children, Linda, 17, Rachel, 14, and Michelle, 3. He also transfers the ownership of his cafe to Julie.
As the years go by, Julie has transformed herself into a businesswoman and, by 1986, owns an inn and is on the verge of opening a restaurant. Then, she disappears with no notice. People wonder, did she go to join Felix or did something happen to her? When her decomposed body is found in 2001 in a wooded park near the Brewer house in Baltimore the trail has gone cold, and the case went cold. Hence, Sandy's work now.
As Sandy goes over the evidence, talking to everyone whose name was in the file, and reinterviewing all the players, he awakens old resentments and memories, and possibly more.
We see Bambi, Julie, Linda, Rachel, and Michelle at various points in the intervening years, learning their stories and their experiences that brought them to the present day. This is a complex situation and there are lots of secrets that have been kept for years.
This is a story that reveals things slowly, gradually, and it creeps toward the final story inexorably. A very nice plot.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

Before I Go to Sleep

Finished April 6
Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson

This novel was one I could barely put down. Christine wakes up in the morning to a bedroom she is not familiar with, beside a man she does not recognize, a man with a wedding ring on his finger. When she goes to the bathroom, she finds that she is twenty years older than she expects to be, and the photos taped around her mirror tell her that the man in bed with her is her husband, whose name is Ben.
When she returns to the bedroom and asks questions, she is told there was an accident, when she was twenty-nine and she is now forty-seven. Later that day, a Dr. Nash phones her and says that he has been working with her without Ben's knowledge in hopes of making some progress with her memory. He gives her a blank notebook and encourages her to begin keeping a journal to see if she remembers different things and to see what things might trigger her memory.
As she begins to have different memories, she finds that Ben has been lying to her. But is he lying to make things easier, so he doesn't have to explain things that will upset her over and over again. So that he doesn't have to talk about the things that upset him. Or is there something more sinister to his behaviour?
This book had me, wanting to know what Christine discovered next, what new things she learned about her life. But the twist at the end took my by surprise, and yet seemed inevitable at the same time.
A great psychological thriller with a plot that is original and gripping.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Emotional Vampires at Work

Finished April 5
Emotional Vampires at Work: Dealing with Bosses and Coworkers Who Drain You Dry by Albert J Bernstein

This self-help book takes a look at personalities, behaviours, and culture in the workplace. Rather than look at why people behave the way they do, this book emphasizes how to recognize certain behaviours as potential problems for you at work, and offers ways to deal with these behaviours.
First, the author offers a quiz that helps you to identify your own behavioural tendencies so that you know your weak points and can modify your reaction to others' behaviour to allow for these, or at least think about them before you act. The author encourages slow thinking, rather than the fast thinking that is more reactive in nature. By taking the time to look at a situation, think about who certain actions benefits, why someone is telling you something, and what your options are, you can act smarter and more productively.
He categorizes five types of emotional vampires. These are more extreme than difficult people, often because they have strong personalities that can draw you in. These five types are Antisocials, Histrionics, Narcissists, Obsessive-Compulsives, and Paranoids. He acknowledges that many people may show some aspects of these behaviours, including yourself, but the key is that most of us recognize those behaviours in our selves, and thus have a level of self-awareness that protects us from acting to an extreme. The emotional vampires do not. They have several aspects of one of these types of behaviours, but don't seem themselves in these descriptions, and react badly if you try to show them how they do. For each of these types, the author describes traits, shows how these might manifest themselves in different general senses, and talks about strategies to still have a productive workplace while dealing with these people. He also talks about how an organizational culture can take on these traits if the people at the top are emotional vampires.
All readers will recognize some people they have worked with at some point in their lives, or that they know in their personal lives. They key to dealing with these people is not to take things personally, but think with care about who benefits from their actions, protect yourself, and leave the organization if necessary.
An interesting read.

Thursday, 3 April 2014

The Stowaways

Finished April 3
The Stowaways by Meghan Marentette

This children's novel focuses on a family of long-tailed mice, the Stowaways. Twins Morgan and Rory exemplify the family's history of innovation and adventurousness. Morgan likes gadgets, learning how things work, and making things. Rory hungers for a life beyond their little corner of the river and loves to hear stories of his grandfather's adventures. But Grandpa disappeared when Rory was just a baby, caught in a trap, and Rory and Morgan's dad is sure that he didn't survive. Gran thinks he might still be out there though, and when Great Aunt Hazel turns up alive, she is bent on finding out the truth about Grandpa.
This is a nice little family, with Mama and Papa making daily treks to the nearby farm to cart home objects and tidbits of food, Gran berry picking for the family larder, and little sister Bimble eager to start school next fall.
Rory becomes an assistant in his grandmother's quest to find Grandpa, and Morgan puts his mind to creating a bicycle like he saw in town and learning how to man a boat. Both young mice find success in their endeavors and prove to their father that they are mature enough to assist the family in meaningful ways. This is an interesting tale that will captivate young readers.