Monday, 29 December 2008
American Widow by Alissa Torres, art by Sungyoon Choi
This book is about Alissa's experience around 9/11 and the time that followed. Her husband was killed that day, his second day on the job at Cantor Fitzgerald. Alissa was seven months pregnant at the time. This book is very personal, telling us of Alissa's feelings, even when they aren't ones normally revealed publicly. It tells of Alissa and Luis and how they met and how Luis came to the United States. It tells of Alissa's issues with bureaucracy following the disaster and how she dealt with things as they blocked her way forward. It also tells about the human side of things, showing how some resented the help offered to victims like Alissa and others purported to offer help, but weren't forthcoming with the kind of help actually needed. Hopefully this is something that we can learn from.
Choi brings the words alive with her drawings and puts faces to the people Alissa writes of. I liked the inclusion of a few photos as well and found that they added to the story.
This is a story of tragedy and fortitude and a very human one.
One Hundred and Forty-five Stories in a Small Box (consisting of Hard to Admit and Harder to Escape by Sarah Manguso, How the Water Feels to the Fishes by Dave Eggers and Minor Robberies by Deb Olin Unferth)
This collection of three small hardcover books in a box is a nice little set of stories. I particularly enjoyed those of Manguso, all of which were a page or less. I liked Eggers stories as well, but found many of Olin Unferth's too dark for my tastes. Short stories are a nice thing to read when you are busy doing this and that around the house as I was, and these are a nice collection, personal and with a sense of humour.
Saturday, 27 December 2008
The series consists of a number of books. The publisher asked authors to choose a favourite myth and retell it. A while back I read Margaret Atwood's Penelopiad, her take on the Odyssey, written from Penelope's point of view. I should say that I actually listened to the audiobook and thoroughly enjoyed it, especially the chorus bits.
This week I've read two more, and my parents gave me one for Christmas (and they didn't even know I'd been reading the series!)
Finished December 25
Weight by Jeanette Winterson
Winterson takes two myths here, those of Atlas and Heracles, and we see the story from both points of view. Atlas has been punished by the gods and forced to carry the world on his back. Heracles has been forced to work for another and made to perform difficult labours. Mixed into the story are man's exploration of space, Winterson's own baggage, and above all the story of choices. What do we really want and why? How do we figure it out? Winterson weaves it all together seamlessly and lets us see it anew. This is a wonderful retelling and I found myself going back and rereading bits of it based on later chapters. I especially liked the dog.
Finished December 26
The Fire Gospel by Michel Faber
This story relates to the myth of Prometheus and the gift of fire. It is less a retelling and more a story with a similar theme. Theo Griepenkerl is an academic visiting Iraq on behalf of a Canadian museum to offer money for rebuilding in exchange for loans of works of art and antiquity. When a bomb goes off in the museum he is visiting and the curator is killed, he finds scrolls that had lain hidden in a piece of art for two thousands years. Theo is able to translate them from the Aramaic and finds them to be another Gospel, written by an eye-witness to the last days of Jesus Christ. The publication of the translated work acts like the gift of fire in igniting mankind with many different emotions. I found this work less interesting and Theo a rather bemused naive man out of touch with reality until forced to confront it.
Monday, 22 December 2008
Why We Read What We Read: a delightfully opinionated journey through contemporary bestsellers by Lisa Adams and John Heath
This is an interesting read about reading. The authors looked at a number of bestseller lists for a ten year period and then looked at books by category and/or genre to see what it told them.
Some groupings were interesting such as good and evil in political nonfiction and adventure novels; and diet wealth and inspiration. The looked at commonalities between the popular books, trends, and what it said about American society.
The last chapter: Deciphering Da Code looked at the phenomenally popular Da Vinci Code and what it had that fed that popularity. It talked about the fallout from the novel and the other books that it spawned. Their interpretation of the meaning of this and what it says about the society we live in was fascinating and thought-provoking.
As a librarian I am interested in what makes different books popular and their analysis is food for thought in that area. After all, knowledge is power, right!
Wednesday, 17 December 2008
Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing
This is a fascinating book on Lessing's parents, Alfred Taylor and Emily McVeagh. The first part of the book is a fictional life of the two, where Lessing gives them different happier, yet not perfect lives. This is followed by an explanation where she explains what influenced her choices for the fictional lives. The last part consists of a number of chapters discussing Alfred and Emily's real lives and Doris' experience of them.
Alfred had wanted to be a farmer, but lost a leg in the first World War and had various ailments, including post-traumatic stress disorder (untreated as it often was then) that came out of his wartime experiences. Emily was a nurse at the Royal Free Hospital and became a matron at an unusually young age. The two met when Emily nursed Alfred following his injuries in the war. After the war the couple went to Persia for a few years and then took a farm in Southern Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. Lessing's issues with her mother have appeared in many of her other works, but she discusses them here as a generational issue, arguing in favor of women working. Lessing is open about her family, recognizing her own issues in the relationships, but also compassionate in reflecting upon her parents and the lives they ended up with. As she says in her forward, she hopes they would approve the lives she has given them.
Tuesday, 16 December 2008
The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff, performed by Nicole Roberts
This is a book that is hard to categorize. The main part of the story is contemporary, with Willie Upton returning to her hometown of Templeton after a disastrous relationship experience. On the same day she arrives home, the dead body of a lake monster surfaces on the lake the town is settled around. Her mother also surprises her with the news that her father is a local Templeton man who is not aware of his role in her creation.
Templeton is modelled on the town of Cooperstown, New York, and has much in common with that real-life place. One of Upton's ancestors, Jacob Temple, appears to be modelled on the writer James Fenimore Cooper, at least in regards to his writings.
As Willie researches her lineage, following the one clue her mother has provided her in terms of her father, voices arise in interspersed chapters, telling their stories. Some stories are told as voices from the past, some from letters, some from journal entries. All bring Willie new knowledge of her forebears and their secrets as well as solving town mysteries.
This is an amazing story, touching and emotional, but full of humour and intelligence as well. A great read.
Monday, 15 December 2008
Our Lady of Pain by Elena Forbes
This is the second book in the series featuring Mark Tartaglia. Tartaglia is a detective inspector on a murder investigation team in London. This story begins with the discovery of a naked, frozen body in Holland Park. The body is arranged and the clothing is nowhere to be found. Tartaglia and his partner Sam Donovan are on the case and find it hard to get to know the victim, Rachel Tenison. Rachel seems to have been a very secretive person, and even her best friend doesn't know everything she was involved in. When a journalist makes links between this case and an unsolved one from a year earlier, the loose ends grow.
The case here revolves around personalities and relationships and, while there are moments of action, the greater part of the plot is of the people involved.
I like the inclusion of the personal lives of some of the police involved. It gives the book a good feel for me to see the whole personality, rather than just the workplace persona.
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Holding My Breath by Sidura Ludwig
This book takes place in Winnipeg after World War II, and the characters are part of the Jewish community in the city. The narrator is Beth Levy, an only child. She grows up in a household where they are often other family members living, including her grandmother and aunts.
Beth's mother has aspirations to own a particular home and take a leading role in the Jewish community. Her aunt Carrie shares story of Beth's uncle Phil, who died in the war. Carrie alters clothes for women in the community, working out of the back room at Beth's father's pharmacy.
Beth's younger aunt, Sarah, is a rebel and a beauty. She doesn't follow what is expected of her and has dreams beyond their community. Beth is drawn to all of them for different reasons as she tries to find her own place, struggling against pressure to conform, but afraid to rebel too much. Beth is a clear voice here and the reader can see how she is influenced by the women around her.
Monday, 8 December 2008
What They Wanted by Donna Morrissey
This is a follow-up book to her earlier Sylvanus Now. This book concentrates on Sylvanus' children, Sylvie and Chris. Sylvie has been working out in boomtown Grande Prairie, Alberta following her university degree. She has come home to be with her family when Sylvanus has a heart attack, and old family tensions arise again, particularly between Sylvie and her mother.
When Sylvie returns to Alberta, Chris insists on coming along and finds a job on an oil rig. Both children feel the responsibility of helping their parents, younger brother Kyle, and their grandmother financially. Sylvie joins Chris at the rig as a cook's helper and the two find their way in the small community with its own tensions. Added to the mix are old family friend Ben, who Sylvie has always had feelings for, and his friend Trapp.
Morrissey really gets into the characters lives. We already knew that her knowledge of Newfoundland life was intimate, but she also shows the same intimate knowledge of life in the boomtown of Alberta and on the rigs. She also really gets inside Sylvie's head emotionally, and I felt Sylvie's emotions intensely throughout the book.
Morrissey just keeps getting better, and this book is a winner.
Saturday, 6 December 2008
Dewey: the Small-Town Library Cat Who Touched the World by Vicki Myron with Bret Witter
This book follows the life of Dewey, a cat who was found in the library bookdrop in Spencer, Iowa one cold winter morning. He ended up living in the library and becoming beloved by not only the library staff and local community, but also by many from further afield.
Besides the story of Dewey Readmore Books, this story is also about the town of Spencer and its history and people. Spencer has survived difficult times in the past, including having a great part of its downtown burned down during the Depression. But the core of the community has stuck with it and created a vibrant tight-knit community.
The book is also about Vicki Myron and her family, their health issues, relationship issues and lives. Vicki had an intimate relationship with Dewey as the director of the library, one of the two people who found him, and the one who took him home over holiday periods.
The affection for Dewey comes through as does a sense of the kind of cat he was. Better pictures would have added to the book.
Friday, 5 December 2008
The Overlook by Michael Connelly, read by Len Cariou, original music by Frank Morgan
This mystery features LAPD homicide detective Harry Bosch in a situation that also brings in the FBI. When a body is found on the overlook near Mulholland Drive in Hollywood Bosch is called in to take the case. The victim, Dr Stanley Kent, is a medical physicist and his access to radioactive materials is what brings the FBI into the case.
There is some territorial struggle between the two law enforcements agencies, and Bosch's one-time lover Rachel Walling is one of the FBI agents assigned to the case. Guarding what little information he has that is exclusive, Bosch keeps his foot in with the feds.
The inclusion of wonderful jazz music is a nice touch and done at appropriate interludes. The mystery is a clever one and Bosch is an interestly complex character.
Tuesday, 2 December 2008
Testimony by Anita Shreve, performed by a full cast
This is one of Shreve's best and the performance did justice to it. The novel is centered around a private school in Vermont that has both boarding students and day students. The headmaster is given a videotape that shows sexual acts performed at the school by students. The girl involved in the acts is only fourteen. As the events unfold, they bring shame, retribution, punishment and loss to those involved.
The story is told by many characters talking about the event in the past, some as much as two years later. We see the aftermath first, and the actions that led to what happened later. How one moment can affect the futures of so many and forever transform their lives is something that comes through clearly by the end.
The voices ring true, perhaps because of the cast giving individual nuances to the characters. I wept with the characters, and found myself truly involved in the story.
Being by Kevin Brooks
This is a very odd novel. The main character is Robert Smith, a 16-year-old boy who has lived in foster homes all his life. He goes to the hospital for an endoscopy for a suspected stomach ulcer, but the doctors see something that doesn't make any sense. Robert hears the conversation of the doctors from his anesthetized state and struggles to react.
Once he escapes the hospital, Robert is not sure where to go. He tries to make sense of what the doctors saw, even doing investigations himself, but doesn't understand what he finds. As he runs from those who are now pursuing him, he ends up with Eddi, a beautiful criminal that he isn't sure he can trust.
Robert is a lost soul, unsure of his past or his future. He doesn't know where to go for help or who to trust. This book offers a look at self-discovery with a twist.
Monday, 1 December 2008
The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie, art by Ellen Forney
This novel is told by Arnold, aka Junior, a freshman at the Spokane Indian reservation. Arnold loses his temper when he finds his mother's name inside his textbook. It makes him angry that they are still using the same textbook that was used when his mother went to school there. This feeling and the encouragement of one of his teachers lead him to enrol in the town school, where the white kids go. Many on the reserve treat this as a betrayal and make it clear that his behaviour is unacceptable to them.
Arnold perseveres through the feeling of being a fish out of water in the new school, and begins to discover his strengths. As he moves back and forth between the white world and the Indian one, he feels torn. Arnold expresses himself through cartoons about his life and the book is peppered with these.
Over the course of the school year, he must deal with triumph and loss and discover what is truly important to him.
Arnold is a complex character, who grows over the course of the novel and the pull between the two worlds rings true.
Lost Girls by George D Shuman
This is the third book in the series featuring Sherry Moore. Sherry Moore is blind and has a special skill. When she holds the hand of a dead body, she can see what was going through their mind just before they died.
Here, she is asked to hold the hand of a dead man who died while coming down from Mount Denali during a storm. The hope is that what she sees will lead them to the other members of his party. She does see information that helps the searchers, but she also sees something that she can't just forget: a castle where women are sexually abused.
Sherry's friend Brigham gives in to her request and helps her make contact with those who might help her find information to make sense of what she has seen. The plot leads Sherry to Haiti and a large-scale criminal organization.
The theme of human trafficking is a gripping one, and Shuman has based the information in the book on the reality of this terrible phenomenon. The story is well-told and the victims are given a voice that rings true.
Saturday, 29 November 2008
A Good War by Patrick Bishop
This is a first novel and very well done. The main character is a Polish fighter pilot, Adam Tomaszewski, flying with the RAF during the Second World War. At various times in the war he encounters an Irish soldier Gerry Cunningham. The story of the pilots is interesting as is the later section on fighting behind the lines in France. Adam's character is well-developed and we see him in various stages throughout the war, as he responds to situations in wartime, including those involving love.
While this involves various events of the war, it really hinges on Adam (or Tommy as some call him) and his reactions to the different situations, and the way those reactions affect his life.
I really liked him, and found myself trusting his judgment of those around him, which definitely had an effect on my take on the story.
Tuesday, 25 November 2008
Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese
I absolutely loved this book. Wagamese really got inside the head of his main characters and made me feel like I was there too.
Four of the main characters are homeless people, living in a large city: Amelia One Sky (also known as One for the Dead), Timber, Double Dick, and Digger. They have gradually found each other and now move through the major part of their day as a group. As the book begins, they decide to take refuge from the cold by going to a movie. They encounter the fifth main character, Granite, at the movie theatre, and continue to run into him as they keep going to movies.
When Digger finds a cigarette package that still contains some cigarettes as well as money and a lottery ticket, their lives begin to change. The lottery ticket turns out to be a big winner, $13.5 million, but they can't claim the money as none of the four have identification. They bring Granite in to assist them.
As their lives transform, we see how they adjust to their new situation. We also see how they got to be where they now are and how they deal with their pasts now.
Working in a profession where I encounter homeless people on a daily basis, I found this book very moving. How one sees the world is a big part of the plot.
Monday, 24 November 2008
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Miranda is sixteen and living on the outskirts of a small town in Pennsylvania. There is interest in an impending event, an asteroid about to hit the moon. Most of her teachers assign papers around the subject and Miranda, younger brother Jonny and her mother plan to watch the event. They've called her older brother Matt at Cornell and got his permission to use his telescope. Miranda's father and her stepmother Lisa live in Springfield, Massachusetts and have just announced that they will be having a baby.
When the astral body collision takes place, the moon is knocked out of its orbit and closer to the earth. This causes all kinds of issues on the earth, beginning with tidal waves.
Miranda's mother makes frantic preparations, stockpiling supplies and preparing for the worst, which puts their family in a better position than many.
As more events affect them, the family struggles to survive, stay safe and hope for a better future.
The story is very believable and the family interactions read true to me. Miranda is your average sixteen year old at the beginning, interesting in boys and school. As she develops due to the circumstances, her priorities change and her character emerges. The story is told in Miranda's diary and gives a bit of distance to the more horrific of the events. I found the story engrossing and close enough to possible to be very scary.
The Murder Stone by Louise Penny
Inspector Gamache is back, as good as ever. Here, he and his wife are vacationing at the Manoir Bellechasse, one of the best auberges in Quebec. They are there to celebrate their wedding anniversary, a tradition they have held for several years.
The other guests at the Manoir are a family, getting together to honour their dead father. There are lots of rivalries and grievances within the family and the tension is very high.
There is a heat wave and when it breaks, a dead body is found. Gamache finds himself with almost everyone at the auberge a suspect, from the family to the staff. As his team digs deeper to find the truth, the murderer is trapped there and may be getting desperate.
Gamache has great insight and his team works well together. The setting in Quebec is lovely and the other characters are interesting if not always likeable.
A good story with a great finale.
Friday, 21 November 2008
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt, read by David Slavin
This was an abridged version, which I don't normally go for as I always wonder what I missed, but the librarian I carpool with and I wanted to listen to this together (and hey as she admitted, she bought this for our collection!) so we did.
We found it very interesting and learned a lot that surprised us about traffic and had some of our suspicions verified (yes women ARE safer drivers). As the author says, traffic isn't just about driving and cars, it is about human nature. There are physical and technical aspects to traffic, but also a lot of psychological ones. I found it interesting enough that I shall try to find time to read the book, and get the stuff I missed.
Tuesday, 18 November 2008
All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson
I can't believe it, but each book is better than the one before.
Here, a group of schoolboys discover a body hanging in the woods, and Detective Inspector Annie Cabot gets the case. The body is identified as Mark Hardcastle, set and costume designer for the local Eastvale Theatre. The situation points to suicide, but other information makes Annie wonder. When a link to higher society is found, Banks is called back from his weekend off to take on the case.
When Annie and Banks keep working on the case after being told it is cut and dried, strange things begin to happen. Someone seems to want the investigation shut down and is willing to play dirty.
The ties to the play Othello that the Eastvale Theatre was presenting are an interesting twist. The plot is gripping and you feel the frustration that Annie and Banks come up against.
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
Ted and his older sister Kat live with their parents in London. Their dad is a demolition expert. Their aunt Gloria, sister to their mother, is stopping off in London with her son Salim, as they move from England to New York City.
Salim wants to ride the London Eye while in town, and while the kids are waiting in line they get offered a free single ticket. Salim takes it and gets on the ride, but when it comes back down he is not there. After the initial panic, the police are called in and try to figure out what happened.
Ted and Kat work together to try to solve the puzzle as well, and Ted's special way of thinking gives them insight into the mystery.
This is a great story, with an interesting puzzle to solve that also highlights autism. The family relationships are well written and Ted's personality really comes through.
Finished November 16
Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
This is the first in a series of books centred around a group of vampires. As the young vampires go through puberty they transform from humans into their true selves. The novel centres around a group of students at Duchesne School in New York City, a private school with a student body consisting of a large number of "blue bloods" as the vampires define themselves. The main character is Schuyler Van Alen, who is being raised by her maternal grandmother. Schuyler's mother is in a coma and Schuyler visits her at the hospital regularly. As Schuyler copes with the discovery of her true vampire nature and deals with the usual teenage social issues at school, she must also figure out who is murdering young Blue Bloods. Schuyler works with her friend Oliver against the denial of the leaders of the clan over the threat to their future.
Schuyler comes across as a relatively normal teen dealing with an abnormal situation. The explanations for historic events and cultural trends are interesting, and the plot keeps things moving. Teens with an interest in the vampire genre will find another interesting author to read.
Saturday, 15 November 2008
How Fiction Works by James Wood
This is a nice not-too-long book about the elements of fiction. Wood covers narrative, detail, character, language, dialogue, realism and style. The information is split into short, very readable sections, and the footnotes are kept to a minimum. Wood includes a bibliography of the fiction he references, and the works about fiction that he refers to.
Wood deals not only with the elements that make up fiction, but also talks about the development of fiction over time. Some techniques are not used anymore, while others remain viable in modern fiction.
This book is very readable and offers insights to both fiction readers and fiction writers on the nature and history of this wonderful material.
Thursday, 13 November 2008
Hit and Run by Lawrence Block
An interesting main character, a likeable hit man who collects stamps. Keller is a hit man who intends to quit after this last job. He's saved enough money to live comfortably and looks forward to retirement.
In Des Moines, waiting for the go ahead for his last job, somewhere else in the city the governor of Ohio is gunned down. Back at his motel, Keller watches the story on television and finds that the killer's face is very familiar. When he calls his associate Dot, who sets up his jobs, there is no answer. He's stranded, his picture is everywhere, his ID and credit cards are no good to him, and he just spent most of his cash on stamps.
As we watch Keller, a surprisingly moral man, make his way back to his home in New York, and find more interesting goings-on there, we sympathize with him. When he continues his wanderings to New Orleans, we find him getting into even more interesting situations.
There is lots going on here, but the character of Keller is the really interesting thing in this novel.
I enjoyed it, and found it hard to put down.
Wednesday, 12 November 2008
Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay
Just as entertaining as I expected, this fast-paced mystery kept me reading.
Set in a small town in upstate New York, this mystery begins with a family, the Langleys, shot to death in their own home. Nearby neighbors Jim and Ellen Cutter and their son Derek become more involved in the crime than they expected at first. Derek was friends with Adam Langley and it turns out he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Past indiscretions are dredged up in the search for the truth about the murders, and Jim isn't sure who he should trust.
From the corrupt mayor to the conniving college president, there are plenty of interesting characters.
Tuesday, 11 November 2008
The Footstop Café by Paulette Crosse
This is a quirky novel set around a dysfunctional family who lives near Lynn Canyon in the suburbs of Vancouver. Morris is a podiatrist with a foot fetish. His wife Karen runs the Footstop Café out of their home, with a multitude of foot-related items for sale. Their sixteen-year-old daughter Candice thinks she's a lesbian, but is afraid to come out of the closet. Their young son Andy has recently changed schools after setting off a home-built bomb in his previous school. Andy wears thick glasses and is prone to being picked on.
Entering their lives come Moey, a kick-boxing instructor with a dream of being a belly-dancer; Egret, a Olympic diving hopeful with a thing for Candice; and Karen's parents, an Anglican minister and his Tibetan wife.
As the family is forced to confront the reality of their lives, the absurd comes to the fore and the story gets very strange.
The author publishes fantasy fiction under her real name, Janine Cross.
Monday, 10 November 2008
The Private Patient by P.D. James
This is a very slow-moving book and at times I wished things would just move along a bit faster. It is however, a well-written book, and that makes it good.
The characters are what makes the book, from the investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn, a woman who books surgery to get a scar removed, to the staff at the private hospital where she gets the work done. You know from the start that Rhoda will die, but not the circumstances of the death. The buildup to the murder is extensive and we get to know the various staff at Cheverall Manor, from the cook and his wife to the doctor himself.
As the characters make themselves known you begin to see the underlying resentments and motivations, but until the murder is done, you don't get to see it all. I do wish the book had moved a bit more quickly, but I enjoyed the story despite that.
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
This is a book that is disturbing. The main character is a 9-year-old boy, Bruno, whose father is a commandant in the German army during World War II. Bruno and his family move from Berlin to a house out in the country. The only things around it are woods and a fenced-in area that Bruno can see from his room. Bruno is lonely and misses his friends from Berlin. His sister, Gretel, is a few years older and not a willing playmate for him. He decides to go adventuring, as he plans to be an explorer when he grows up, and during his first adventure finds a new friend.
As the book follows Bruno's life, we also see the situation and the people around him from his point of view. At the age of nine, and naive, he doesn't truly understand the nature of his father's job, or what is going on in the world. This makes his viewpoint interesting and I think is what really grabs you about the book. As the reader, we understand more than Bruno and yet can see how he would interpret things as he does.
This book is aimed at teens, and older children will be okay with it, particularly if they are engaged in discussion about the book.
The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz, read by Kirsten Kairos
This is a strange thriller, involving not only some very scary bad guys and good people in danger, but also supernatural phenomena.
Golden retrievers play a central role here, particularly Nickie, a dog rescued by Amy as part of her golden rescue organization. Nickie is special, and not only Amy realizes this.
Amy and Brian McCarthy, a young architect, are beginning a relationship, but this experience brings them together in a way neither had envisioned.
There is lots going on, and we see things from many points of view: Amy's, Brian's, and multiple guys on the bad side of things.
An interesting story of hope against all odds, and secrets revealed.
Wednesday, 5 November 2008
500 Handmade Books: inspiring interpretations of a timeless form
This collection of photos of handmade books is absolute pleasure to look through, although I found that I had to do it in small doses otherwise my senses would be overloaded.
The creativity and innovation on display here is amazing. I found myself wanting to actually see the books in real life so that I could examine them more closely.
Some of the books were traditional in form, but intricate or innovative in materials used. Others pushed those norms and were books that didn't seem to be books without a closer look.
This is a book to savour in small bites. I may just have to get my own copy, rather than look through the library copy.
Tuesday, 4 November 2008
Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
This is MacKinnon's first novel and it is a winner. The setting is unique, a small town funeral home. Clara Marsh is an undertaker without a religion. She has had a difficult past that she keeps to herself. When she comes across a young girl, Trecie, playing in the funeral home, she finds herself concerned despite herself. A local police officer, Mike Sullivan, approaches her about a body of a young girl that she prepared for burial three years earlier. The girl was found murdered in a nearby strip of woods and never identified. As Clara begins to think the two girls are linked, she must emerge from her lonely life and take the chance of connecting with others in the community.
Mike has his own issues, the biggest of which is the death three years earlier of his pregnant wife. He is also caught up in his own world of lonesomeness.
As Clara becomes more involved in the case involving abuse against young girls, she must also face her own past and how she dealt with the challenges in her life and the choices she made.
This author shows a lot of promise and will be one to watch.
The Film Club: a true story of a father and son by David Gilmour
This is a very different memoir a few years with a father and his young adult son. Gilmour's son Jesse is having a lot of trouble in school and David has been trying to work with him to get his marks up. Finally he agrees to let Jesse quit school as long the two of them watch three movies a week together, movies that David picks.
This book takes us through the next few months as the two of them watch and discuss movies, and Jesse grows into an adult. David talks about the films, and the experiences that Jesse shares with him. These include Jesse's love life (or at least a portion thereof), his friends, and his creativity. David also includes information about what was going in his own life, with his career worries, his discussions with Jesse's mother (his exwife) and his current wife.
This book is an engrossing look into the relationship between a father and a son, and examines the issue of trust within that relationship. It is exciting to see the growth in Jesse and to see how the relationship changes over time.
Saturday, 1 November 2008
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
This is a book I've been meaning to read for a while as it came highly recommended. I'm glad I finally made time for it, as it was wonderful.
The story takes place on a remote island in the Solomon Islands. The story is told from the point of view of a young girl in the community, Matilda. Her father has gone to work overseas, in Australia, and her mother is gripped by religion. The mines on the island have been closed due to insurgency and there is fighting between local rebels and soldiers. All the whites have left except one man, Mr. Watts.
Mr. Watts takes over the school to keep the children occupied and he reads Charles Dickens' Great Expectations to the children, explaining as he goes. In addition to the reading, various members of the community visit the school to impart their knowledge about everything from fishing to knowledge of colour. As the village comes under attack by the players in the conflict, the community finds that imagination can be dangerous as well as freeing.
Matilda is an intelligent girl, who remains shaped by this period in her life. Her observations of the members of her community and the knowledge she gains from this experience are insightful and illustrative.
Rules of Deception by Christopher Reich, read by Paul Michael
This thriller, set in Switzerland, brings in some interesting themes. We have a main character Jonathan Ransom, who is a doctor working with Doctors without Borders. As he climbs in the Alps with his wife, who also works for the organization, she is hurt and later found dead in a crevasse.
The following day, Ransom receives an envelope addressed to his wife with baggage claim tickets inside. When he goes to claim the bags to satisfy his curiosity, he becomes intimately involved in a high-stakes intrigue involving murder.
As he struggles to keep a step ahead of the police who are now looking for him, he follows the clues in his wife's possessions to try to find out just what his wife was involved in, and to clear himself of any crimes.
We have involvement not only from the Swiss police, but also from U.S. intelligence agents, including conspiracies against conspiracies. The outcome of the events could mean a new large-scale war.
The action is fast, and Jonathan is a sympathetic character. This book will keep you engaged and wanting to find where the action is taking you.
Thursday, 30 October 2008
Crown Shyness by Curtis Gillespie
A unique take on the politics of Canada in novel form, the book takes a political magazine journalist as its central character. Paul Munk is liberal-minded and socially conscious. He is writing an article for the magazine he works for on a man trying for leadership of a right-leaning party. Daniel Code is a former pastor and an advocate of the religious right, with views that Paul finds himself constantly surprised by.
Paul's older brother, Rick, has just got out of jail after serving a second time. While in jail, Rick was corresponding with Tammy over a long period of time and the two plan to live together now that he is out.
Paul wants to be there for Rick should he need any help, but Rick doesn't always want the help Paul tries to offer. As the two brothers adjust to each other and the rest of their family, we see rifts in both the family and the wider political community.
This is an interesting tale with a lot of angles to it, taking us from Calgary to the backwoods of Montana.
I also found some of the Calgary scenes interesting on the personal level, as Paul's family lives in the northwest of the city in the area of Nose Hill Park, an area that I lived in as a child.
Tuesday, 28 October 2008
The Long Walk Home by Liane Fulder
This book is the story of Paul Franklin, a Canadian soldier injured in Afghanistan who lost both his legs. The story covers Paul's time in Afghanistan just before the incident that injured him and the experiences of Paul, his wife Audra, and their son Simon following Paul's injuries.
Paul and his family made themselves very accessible to the media throughout and continue to be open about their experiences. Fulder has brought the story together here, to see how one soldier and his family were affected by the war.
The story definitely has interested, but I felt that the author moved around in time too much and that made the story lose its flow and therefore its intensity. There were also errors with dating at least one of the photos included and I felt that a significant error to the reader.
Monday, 27 October 2008
Silks by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
As expected this book was a great read. The main character, Geoffrey Mason is a barrister who rides as an amateur jockey on his own horse, a jumper. Due to his occupation, some acquaintances call him Perry. He has recently served as the defendant's lawyer over a case where the man was accused of beating up a man who complained about his behaviour. The man was found guilty, and Mason thinks he probably was, but the man isn't happy and threatens Mason with what will happen to him after he gets out. As it turns out, that happens a lot sooner than Mason expects.
Meanwhile a jockey that Mason is acquainted with is murdered, and another jockey he knows is arrested for the crime. The jockey charged with the crime wants Mason to represent him, and Mason is reluctant at first, but when he starts getting intimidating threats he gets his back up.
There is violence, intrigue and, of course, an interesting woman.
What more could you want?
Sunday, 26 October 2008
A Sharp Intake of Breath by John Miller
This novel follows the life of a Jewish man, Herbert "Toshy" Wolfman. Toshy was born with a cleft palate and a cleft life in the first decade of the twentieth century in Toronto. At the age of five, his parents have saved enough money to pay for the operation to fix his palate. He does not get his cleft lip operated on until he is an adult.
Toshy's parents own and operate a fabric business. He has two older sisters, Bessie and Lil. Lil is interested in the anarchist movement, and particularly of Emma Goldman. Bessie eventually becomes a maid in the house of industrialist Rupert McNabb and his wife. Rupert has bought the Orange Sunset diamond for his wife, and Toshy is jailed for theft of this jewel.
As Toshy tells the story of his life, his insecurities, his loneliness, he also tells his sisters' stories and enlightens his grandnephew Ari.
I found the jumping around in time a bit confusing at first, but it began to flow quickly and Toshy's story is a compelling one. Some people have taken his facial deformity to indicate stupidity, even some in his own family, and he must learn to trust his own instincts on his capabilities.
Saturday, 25 October 2008
Can't Remember What I Forgot: the good news from the front lines of memory research by Sue Halpern
Some of this book was hard to get through, just the terminology can be difficult as they aren't words that I use everyday. The gist of the book was very interesting however. Halpern takes us through a variety of avenues of memory research, and shows how they interconnect.
She also shows the progress over time for the research into memory and gives hope for future breakthroughs. Throughout the book, she refers to her own worries over her memory and whether she is more at risk since her father had dementia of an unconfirmed nature before he died. I think that the personal element is what prevented this book from being too academic, something it could easily have become.
Coventry by Helen Humphreys
I had bought this book a few weeks ago, and took it with me to get the author to sign it for me yesterday. She read from the book at lunch, and it intrigued me and I started it on my public transit trip home. I read it when I had trouble sleeping in the night and finished it off this morning at breakfast.
The story is mostly set on November 14, 1940, in Coventry, England. This is the day that German bombers destroyed the city, including its cathedral. The main character, Harriet Marsh is firewatching on the roof of the cathedral when the evening begins. As the bombing begins, she connects with another firewatcher, young Jeremy Fisher. Harriet leads him back through the city to search for his mother Maeve.
We also see the story from Maeve's point of view, where she begins the evening in the pub and spends some time searching for Jeremy.
There is a bit at the beginning taking us back to World War I, when Harriet was newly married, and a bit at the end taking us forward to 1962, after Coventry Cathedral was rebuilt. The rest of the book occurs on November 14, and takes us through the night as the three characters make their way through the burning city and react to the destruction, heartbreak and devastation that they encounter. The interactions between the characters, particular between Jeremy and Harriet are what make the book, as they both bring their feelings and needs into the situation in which they find themselves.
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys
I got this book for Christmas last year and have been reading bits of it slowly since the spring. I finished it off as I was enroute to a readers' advisory seminar where Humphreys was the lunch speaker. It is a fascinating idea done extremely well. She researched all the times the Thames in London froze over between 1142 and 1895 and wrote vignettes for each of those instances. They are short, each 5 pages or less, and interspersed with illustrations. Each one is a engrossing look at a moment in time and the points of view are extremely varied. All of the stories are based on real events and give a strong sense of time and place.
I was also fascinated by the interesting information given in passing in the stories, things like the interesting taxes conceived of over time. In one story there is mention of the Hearth Tax, a tax based on the number of hearths in a building. It made me think of the more recent British tax on televisions, a modern day sort of hearth. There is another story that mentioned window taxes, the result of which is windows that were bricked up.
What all of the stories have, of course, is the frozen river and the nature of the ice for that particular time. The ice is varied, smooth and hard, thin and dangerous, bumpy or consisting of large pieces frozen together. The characters are influenced by this weather phenomenom and some make life changes because of it.
This is one of the most interesting and fascinating books that I've ever read, and I know I will go back to it often.
Say Goodbye by Lisa Gardner
This thriller features FBI Special Agent Kimberly Quincy, soon to become a mother. She is told a story by a prostitute, Delilah Rose, about a missing woman. She connects with Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Sal Martignetti who has been collecting information on missing prostitutes for the last few months. As the two begin to compare notes, they find leads on the missing women.
Part of the book is also told from the point of view of a man who was kidnapped as a young boy and sexually abused by his captor. He has developed an intense interest in spiders, and this becomes part of the clues the two agents work with. There are many things going on in this book, and as the story progresses, the tension increases and I found myself gripped by the plot. Kimberly is also an interesting character, a self-admitted type A personality, driven by her work, and unsure of her readiness to raise a child. As she struggles with her issues, we see her as a human being as well as an investigator.
Monday, 20 October 2008
Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor
It is 1934 and 4 years ago Philippa Penhow went missing. A letter from her seemed to indicate that she had gone to America, but the situation is suspicious.
Now Lydia Langstone has just left her abusive husband and runs to her father in Bleeding Heart Square, a man she has never met before. Also living in the same house in the square are Mrs. Renton, a seamstress; Mr Fimberry; and Mr Serridge, the landlord of the house. Another man, Rory Wentwood soon arrives to take the room in the attic. As the stories of the characters begin to intertwine we also get entries from Miss Penhow's diary. The diary entries give us a sense of what has happened between Miss Penhow and Mr Serridge. The rest of the story leads us deeper into the other doings of Serridge as well as his hanger-ons.
I didn't like this one as much as the other books I've read by the author. I found it slow to develop and only the last hundred pages or so were truly interesting.
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
This is a wonderful novel revolving around native characters from a community in northern Ontario. The chapters are told from the points of view of Annie, a young native woman, and her uncle Will Bird, who is lying in the hospital in a coma. The chapters alternate between the two viewpoints. Annie has been on an adventure out in the wider world, and has brought back Gordon, a native boy from the city with her. She is teaching Gordon ways of living off the land. She visits her uncle in the hospital every day and begins talking to him on the advice of the nurses, telling him what she has been through over the last little while.
Will's story is told in his own head, but also deals with his secrets over the last little while, the things that led to him being where he is right now. He also talks about past events in the family, some secrets, some not.
The reader learns a lot about the Bird family and their lives up to now. We also see the community and how the people in it relate, the issues and lifestyles. In Annie's side of the story we also see city life and the world of modelling as she experiences it.
A fascinating and very human story, this is also a story of hope. I loved it.
Saturday, 18 October 2008
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
This latest Atkinson novel lives up to her previous ones. This features DCI Louise Monroe and Jackson Brodie, both of whom appeared in some of her earlier books.
Here young Reggie Chase is working as a child minder for Dr Joanna Hunter and is very pleased with her employment.
A man who has completed his jail term for a crime committed thirty years before is now not where he should be and Louise is worried about his whereabouts. She has warned the survivor of his crime.
When Reggie ends up saving someone's life in an accident, the stories become intertwined, and Jackson becomes involved in an investigation that becomes personal.
Atkinson's novels always contain an element of the absurd, and a lot of very good humour, even when they deal with serious situations, and this novel is no exception. I could barely put it down, and will likely reread it again soon.
Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell
I've always loved the comic strip Mutts and this collection of his strips around animal shelters and the animals that need homes is no exception. The strips are intermixed with pictures and captions regarding real animals that were adopted from shelters and thus is very inspiring. I already have two cats that I adopted from shelters, and was tempted to go out to my nearby shelter for more.
Tuesday, 14 October 2008
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Charles van Sandwyk
This is one of those classic children's stories that I somehow missed reading when growing up. I bought a beautiful copy for a gift for my nephew and decided to read it myself before I sent it off to him.
It is a lovely story set in rural Britain with fields and rivers, woods and meadows. The main characters are all small creatures who live in this environment. There is Rat, a river rat who lives near the water and ventures into the areas nearby; Mole, who is befriended by Rat and learns to explore this world outside his hole; Toad, a bit full of himself and yet appreciative of his friends; and Badger, a wise older animal, source of good advice and clear thinking.
As the animals encounter difficult situations and make new friends, we see nature up close and also the value of friendship and respect for others.
I'm sure my nephew will love it.
The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan
This book is basedon the 2007 Joanna Goodman Lecture Series at the University of Western Ontario. MacMillan is a Canadian historian, who previously taught at the University of Toronto, and is now warden of St. Anthony's College at Oxford University.
This book talks about the various ways history is used: for cultural identity, for nationalism, to push a particular agenda, to predict what will happen in a future situation. She looks at how history can be a trap that we fall into when assessing a current situation. She looks at how some individuals and groups have manipulated history, telling false or one-sided stories and how others have suppressed history in order to increase their power or authority. Even leaders of nations have fallen into these traps.
While it is useful to gain knowledge from past events, no situation is exactly the same as another and it can be dangerous to assume the same actions will produce the same results in a present situation.
MacMillan also talks about how some historians have been writing their works in language that is too esoteric and specialized to be disseminated widely, and how that can cause truth about history to be ignored and knowledge to go astray. The book is thought-provoking and the author's examples cover many recent events, making it topical too.
This should be required reading in every high school world history class.
Saturday, 11 October 2008
Collision by Jeff Abbott
Set mostly in Texas, this thriller involves ex-CIA men, men in training for a dangerous life, and government contractors. The world of government contracting in the Middle East can be a lucrative one, and Ben Forsberg is a consultant that helps security businesses to get these contracts. Suddenly Ben finds himself a suspect in a case where a contract killer has made a hit.
Pilgrim is an ex-CIA man, now part of a deep secret government group trying to take action against injustices. He also becomes involved in the same incident as Ben. When the two finally meet up, they find they both have information vital to their survival and begin working together. There is tons of action here, danger, and lots of death. The plot is very active and yet we still get a sense of who the characters are and what is important to them.
A great thriller, with lots of twists and turns, good characters and a great story.
Radiance by Shaena Lambert, read by Tara Ward
The time is 1952 and Keiko Kitigawa, a girl injured in the Hiroshima bomb attack, has come to the United States. She is brought to the U.S. by a committee working to prevent more bombs and bomb tests from happening. In return for her speaking out against the bombs as a victim, they will give her plastic surgery to remove the scars she has on her face from the blast.
Daisy Lawrence will be her host mother while she is in the U.S. Daisy and her husband Walter live in the suburbs of New York City on Long Island.
Keiko tells of the fox legends her grandfather told her rather than of her experiences on the day of August 6, 1945. She keeps herself tightly under control, except for certain times.
These times are in the nights at the Lawrences' house where she walks in her sleep and confesses her fears to Daisy in the dark bedroom. As Daisy and her connect, Daisy grows protective, and yet Keiko always reverts to her public face during the day.
The relationship between the two women is a fascinating one. While Keiko's thoughts are a mystery to us, we see from Daisy's point of view the connections and frustrations that exist. Keiko feels compelled to do what she has agreed on for her surgery, but also feels unhappy about this decision. The time and place are given so well that you feel what life was like in the American suburbs of the 50s. Daisy is an educated woman, childless and a homemaker. The relationship between her and Walter is a complex one as well, and shown rather than described.
This book has depth and feeling to it, and is a wonderful read.
Friday, 10 October 2008
Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O'Brien
This is an amazing story of a woman and the barn owl she raised and lived with. Stacey was asked to take on the owl when it was only four days old. It had an injured wing and would never be able to survive in the wild. Knowing that it would be a long-term time-consuming commitment, Stacey agreed. She takes us through the whole experience from the small owlet to the aging adult owl. The book includes photos recording his growth, and Stacey carefully recorded many aspects of his life and behavior for science, but the tales of Wesley's personality and the love between Stacey and Wesley are what really make this book. Stacey takes on the necessary, from providing four to seven mice a day to grooming sessions that Wesley needs, but she also learns about his personality, emotions, and playfulness.
The chapters on biologist behaviour are also interesting and open a world I hadn't seen before.
When Stacey herself becomes ill, it is her ties to Wesley that sustain her through the most difficult periods of her illness. The humour, dedication and love that come through her are touching and remind us of our connections to other creatures.
Every Secret Thing by Emma Cole
Kate Murray is a journalist from Canada covering a trial in London, England. When an elderly man sits next to her and starts a conversation, she doesn't give it her full attention. His last comment to her, referring to her grandmother, catches her attention. As she calls after him, she witnesses his death by a hit and run driver. Her interest drawn, she attends her funeral and meets his nephew. She is warned off but that only gets her more interested in tracking down the story the man was trying to get her to tell. As more people start to die, Kate finds herself running for her life, and the truth of what really happened decades before.
With a trail leading back to the first World War and in both Europe and North America, Kate uses her journalistic skills to track down the story that was buried years before, and try to bring justice to those who never received it.
This story is well-written and plot-driven. Kate is an interesting character, with many resources. As she learns more about the past, she is driven to new thoughts about the people she knows as well.
Tuesday, 7 October 2008
West End Murders by Roy Innes
Innes is a new author for me, but this is not the first book in the series featuring RCMP Inspector Coswell and Corporal Blakemore. The setting is Vancouver and their have been a series of murders in the west end targeting high profile gay men. The Vancouver police have been getting anywhere with the case and the RCMP is asked to step in. Coswell works with a Vancouver police force officer named Burns who liases with Vancouver for any assistance. Blakemore is new to town and Coswell assigns him to go undercover on the case.
A visit is expected soon from the mayor of San Francisco, another high profile gay man and there is pressure to solve the case from the Vancouver mayor and from Ward, Coswell's boss.
Coswell is an interesting character, with a big ego and a gourmet appetite. There is some discussion of good Vancouver restaurants, food and wine around this aspect of Coswell's personality. There is also an interesting relationship between the police and a female newspaper reporter who is hot on the story.
I enjoyed the mystery, and liked the way it was brought together at the end. I found it to be generally well written with a few minor items that seemed forced. An entertaining read, with an interesting plot.
Sunday, 5 October 2008
Fractured by Karin Slaughter
This novel features Detective Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
When a wealthy woman comes home one day, she finds an apparant breakin at her house. She rushes up to her teenage daughter's room and finds a man standing over the body in the hall upstairs with a knife in her hands. As she tries to get away she ends up entangled with the man and in the struggle kills him with her bare hands. Will arrives on the scene as an observer to the Atlanta police, but when he spots something that no one else has, it ends up becoming his case. He is sure that the killer is still out there and another girl is missing.
Will ends up teamed up with Faith Mitchell from the Atlanta police and the two end up tracking down suspects at the girl's school, a nearby college and into the past. The story is a good one, with lots of interesting twists and turns, and the cops are given interesting lives as well.
Will Trent has a disability that causes him problems, but also gives him insights into some aspects of the case that are unique.
Broken by Karin Fossum
I've long been a fan of Fossum's mystery series, but this book is a departure for her. It took me a lot longer than usual to get through and I didn't enjoy it. I think that was partly because I didn't really like any of the characters.
The story is about an author and one of her characters. It begins with an author who looks out at the queue of characters waiting for her to write about them. She then goes to bed and as she lays there hears someone come into the house and up the stairs. The person comes into her bedroom and sits down in a chair. It is one of the characters, who has jumped from his place in the queue because he is so desperate to have his story told. She ends up complying and the story goes back and forth between the character's story and the interaction between the author and the character. The idea is interesting if bizarre, but it just didn't do it for me. The author wasn't very interesting in herself, and the character I found weak and unsympathetic. I kept wanting to slap him to get him to have some backbone.
I hope she returns to the style used in her earlier books.
Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave edited by Ellen Sussman
This is a wonderful collection of essays by a varied bunch of writers. Each explores the "bad girl" in herself and the behaviours that brought into her life. We all have a bit of bad girl in us and I found I could relate to many of the experiences. Some talked about bad girl episodes in the past and how they changed now that they are older, and I can relate to that too. My bad girl impulses are less radical than when I was younger too. There is also discussion around the good girl versus bad girl, and that was interesting. I had a reputation as a good girl, and sometimes I acted out the bad girl simply to say I wasn't a goody two-shoes. Some used the good girl as a disguise for bad behaviour. The collection really gets you thinking and a book club guide is included her to assist in discussion. I think this would be a great book club choice as all women should be able to relate to something by one of the writers.
Friday, 3 October 2008
Everyday Cat Excuses: Why I Can'd Do What You Want written and illustrated by Molly Brandenburg
This is a gem of a little book that I picked up off our new book cart this afternoon and read (some of it aloud, to others!) It doesn't take long to read, but the prose is exactly what I can imagine my own cats saying, and the drawings are simple, yet eloquent.
What more can I say?
Wednesday, 1 October 2008
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This was a lovely book that gripped me quite early. The book is written as a series of letters between the main character, Juliet Ashton, a writer and her various friends and acquaintences and sometimes between them. In that sense it reminded me of another favourite book "84 Charing Cross Road".
After World War II, Juliet does a round of events to market her recent book, a collection of humorous columns written during the war under a pen name. She is struggling to come up with a new book idea.
She gets a letter from a man in Guernsey who had come across her name on the flyleaf of a book he'd bought in a secondhand store, and asked for her help in locating some other books. As she begins to correspond with him, and then with other members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, she grows more and more interested, and finally travels to Guernsey to meet them all and see if this might be the book idea that she is looking for.
The good humour, friendliness, and feeling of humanity she gets from this group who found unique coping strategies to survive the German occupation is heartwarming.
One of my parents friends is from the Channel Islands and this book has awakened an interest in her experiences, which I shall follow up.
Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie, read by Michael Deehy
I've been reading this series in fits and starts over the past few years, and not in any kind of order. This is one of the earlier ones that I missed, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Scotland Yark Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is called in to a case in the Chiltern Hills. The body of Connor Swann, the son-in-law of two of the country's most famous opera personalities, has been found in a local river lock. Marks on his neck raise the possibility that he was strangled. Swann was a charmer, but also one for the ladies. He was estranged from his wife Julia and had a gambling habit. As Kincaid and his Sergeant Gemma James follow the various trails in search of answers to his death, they discover family secrets and baggage from past events. Kincaid and James also find their relationship growing closer.
I really like the characters Kincaid and James in this series. They are well rounded and have lives, and issues, outside their professional ones. This adds something to the books that enriches the cases they work on.
Tuesday, 30 September 2008
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
This is the first in a series called Chaos Walking, and Ness's first book for teens. It is a gripping story and I could barely put it down. Todd Hewitt is almost 13, and on this birthday in a month he will become a man. Todd lives on New World, and ever since the settlers of Prentisstown were infected with the Noise germ, Todd hears everything the men in town think and they hear his thoughts. The animals are also affected and Todd hears the farm animals, the wild beasts and his dog, Manchee, as well. As he gets closer to his manhood, he senses that people are hiding things from him. When he encounters something unusual out in the swamp, he tries to keep his thoughts around it quiet until he can talk to the two men who brought him up, Ben and Cillian. This new element forces Todd to flee the town with his dog with little knowledge of what awaits him out in the rest of his world.
Todd's confusing feelings and the stories he has been told about his world affect how he reacts to what he encounters in it, and sometimes that is not a good thing. As he meets others and shares his story, he struggles to reach what he thinks will be a safe haven.
This story had lots going on, and lots of emotional situations, and Todd is a very likable character, even when he makes mistakes. He grows a lot here and I am eagerly looking forward to the next in the series.
The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland
Mariatu Kamara was raised in a small rural village in Sierra Leone until the age of twelve. Hiding from rebels, Mariatu was going for food with a group of others when she was caught by the rebels. Forced to watch them torture and kill people she knew, the rebels eventually cut off both her hands and left her. Mariatu survived by going for help, eventually making it to the nearby town of Port Loko, where she was transported to a hospital in Freetown. Mariatu took advantage of any help offered and fought for her own survival and dream and is now a college student in Toronto enrolled in an Assaulted Women's and Children's Counselor/Advocate Program. She is also a UNICEF Special Representative. Her story from her childhood in a rural village living by subsistence farming, through the attacks by the rebels, her journey to Freetown for medical help, her survival there in the refugee camps (along with two other cousins who also lost their hands), and her eventually sponsorship to Canada is told with candour and equanimity. With her attitude towards helping the rest of her family and her country survive this history, she offers hope for the future.
The Book of the King by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry
This is the first book in the Wormling series, and features Owen Reeder, a boy who lives above a bookstore with his father, the bookstore owner. What Owen discovers early in this book is that things are not what they seem and their are powers, both in and around him, that he is unaware of. When set upon by bullies, he finds that there is a power that saves him from harm, and he is intrigued by this. When a stranger tries to give him a book and his father tries to prevent him from taking it, he finds that he is not sure who to trust anymore. For part of his adventures, he is assisted by the stranger, and by Constance, the young daughter of his cleaning lady. For most of the difficult bits, he must rely on the book and the knowledge he gains from it.
This looks to be an interesting series, good versus evil, with multiple worlds and Owen is a good character, bookish but not meek.
To Siberia by Per Petterson
This wonderful novel is narrated by a young Danish girl from her childhood through the German occupation of Denmark during World War II to a few years after the war. She is very close to her older brother Jesper, who watches over her, teases her, and cares deeply for her. He calls her Sistermine, which I found a lovely term. They live in a small town, with their father, a cabinetmaker, and their mother, a religious zealot who writes her own hymns. The family also moves before the war to an apartment over a dairy and they run the dairy as well. They go regularly to visit their grandfather's farm and help with harvest. The Germans arrive when the girl is 14 and the occupation from her point of view is described very well. She and Jesper grow ever closer until he must run from the Germans. After the war, her wanderlust, always a part of her, takes her away and she tries various jobs in various places, always set apart from others around her. The characterization here is very well done and you feel the loneliness of her life and her longing for something else. The title comes from her plans, even as a child to someday go to Siberia.
Thursday, 25 September 2008
Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain, read by Carolyn McCormick
This is a followup novel on the book Heartsick that introduced Portland detective Archie Sheridan. In Heartsick, which I haven't read, Sheridan had been tracking a serial killer known as the Beauty Killer for more than a decade and had finally got her caught and in jail, although not without personal cost.
Here, Sheridan is investigating a body found in a park, and reporter Susan Ward becomes involved in identifying the victim. Archie is distracted by the escape of the Beauty Killer, and is obsessed with her. As both the case and the hunt for the Beauty Killer move through the book, we see deeply into Sheridan psyche and his obsessions. We also see into reporter Susan Ward and her nontraditional choices in life.
While gory at times, and graphic, this novel presents real emotions and human behaviour and show what drives people to do things. I enjoyed it.
Tuesday, 23 September 2008
The River at the Center of the World: a journey up the Yangtze, and back in Chinese time by Simon Winchester
The edition of this book that I read had a new afterword by Winchester bringing some of the issues around the river and his trip up to date.
Winchester has visited China often and his knowledge of the language assists greatly in both facilitating this journey and informing it. He travels with a guide, Lily, up the river from the mouth to the headwaters. The book breaks the journey into sections, with a map showing the relevant area at the beginning of each section. The trip starts out in the water where the Yangtze waters meet the ocean, and Winchester talks about the major towns that lie along his route, the history of the river, its trade and navigation, and the people he meets. As always in his books, he makes the story interesting, informative and yet not weighed down with too much information. The geography of the river is fascinating and his trip was taken after the Three Gorges Dam project had started, but before it was complete, so this is one of the last glimpses of that section of the river, now buried beneath the waters. I learned interesting tidbits of Chinese history and all kinds of things about the river itself that add to its imagery in the imagination.
I highly recommend this to travellers, historians, and just those who like a good story.
The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black
This second in a series featuring Dublin pathologist Quirke is by John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. This is set a few years after Christine Falls, the first in the series and opens with Quirke being asked a favour by an old schoolfriend. The friend's wife has been found dead, naked and seemingly drowned and he asks that a postmortem not be done. He says he doesn't want her body dealt with in that way. Quirke is intrigued and agrees, but finds interesting information when he examines the body. He is "getting himself in trouble" again. He feels out his contact from the police, Inspector Hackett and without asking for his help, arouses suspicions in him as well. As the two men work separately to discover the truth about what happened to Deirdre Hunt, Quirke's daughter Phoebe becomes involved and is in possible danger.
The book was well written and the characters well developed, but I didn't like anybody, and thus the novel never really grabbed me. Quirke is a sad character, driven by his own past, but never really facing up to things and I find that sad.
Monday, 22 September 2008
Above the Falls by John Harris
The story in this book is based on real people and real events in Canada's north. Harris has researched this well, and provided capsules on each person at the end of the book.
The setting is up in the Northwest Territories above the South Nahanni river at the lakes named Rabbitkettle and Glacier in 1936. The bush pilot George Dalziel (Dal) was known as the flying trapper, as he flew men to his traplines and gave them a cut of what he got from their work. There was a movement to close down this sort of activity as it was seen as encroaching on the natives' livelihood. Two trappers that Dal set down at his line disappeared near the end of the season, with their cabin destroyed. Harris takes that unsolved event and makes a story for it. The story is one that could have been true, and the events surrounding it are described well, with as much basis in fact as possible.
I found this interesting as it is an area and time that hasn't had a lot written about it, and thus opens new territory in Canadian literature. The conversations are well-written and flow and the story is made interesting for more than just the mens' disappearance.
Hush: an Irish princess' tale by Donna Jo Napoli
Melkorka is an Irish princess, first-born in her family, with a younger brother and sister. After her brother is injured badly, her father vows revenge and sends her and her sister away. Before they reach their destination, she is kidnapped by a Viking slave ship. On the ship, she is grouped with other slaves of many different nationalities. She must learn to survive. As she observes and reacts, she takes refuge in silence and soon finds that her silence gives her power.
This story is based on an Icelandic folktale, the story of which is included in the book, and crafted from that into a story of a young girl learning a new life.
Melkorka is well characterized and her growth in the book is natural and shows her as an individual. This is a strong female character, intelligent and quick and a good listener. The historical facts have been well researched and provide a good base for the story.
Friday, 19 September 2008
Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson read by Charlie McWade
Alcatraz Smedry has been bumped from foster home to foster home up until now, his thirteenth birthday. In the mail today, he received a bag of sand from his absent parents, and his life will never be the same. Alcatraz is taken under the wing of his grandfather Leavenworth, and they are on the trail of the sands which have been stolen by the librarians. As Alcatraz learns about his family from his grandfather, he discovers that what he has always assumed to be klutziness is really a talent for breaking things. Everyone in the family has some sort of talent, and none of them are what look like talents initially, but they do prove to be useful.
I borrowed this audiobook for the title, and liked the story. There is a lot of imagination here and a sense of fun. What I didn't like were the constant interruptions by the narrator. To me they lost the flow of the story, and that made it a lesser book.
Wednesday, 17 September 2008
Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
I'm started to think that there is nothing that Neil Gaiman wrote that I didn't like. He has such a fun sense of imagination and I am always intrigued by the plot and amused by the humour. This book was no exception.
Joey Harker is a high school sophmore who tends to get lost easily and is last picked for teams. During a school assignment, he walks straight out of his world and into another. At first confused, then scared, Joey learns that this is a battleground between forces of magic and science struggling to control the multiple worlds. Joey joins an army of versions of himself from different worlds, who all have different powers and skills that help to keep the worlds in balance. As Joey struggles with his longing for home, and his new studies, he must also learn to work in a team and find ways to win the struggle against the two evil forces.
Joey came across as very real, with real thoughts and issues. The situation he had to deal with was a very difficult one and he grew a lot during the book.
Loose Girl: a memoir of promiscuity by Kerry Cohen
Kerry grew up in a permissive home, and her parents divorced when she was still in primary school. As she struggled to find a place she belonged, she found sex substituted for love and affection. This book details her story towards a true relationship and shows the various thought processes such a journey entailed.
Her honesty in the book is compelling, and she admits the bad decisions and mistakes she made, but she was one of many searching for herself in this way. I found a lot of feelings I could relate to, that I also experienced as a teen and young adult and I admire her for analyzing these and perhaps helping others recognize issues they are still dealing with.
Wednesday, 10 September 2008
The Good Guy by Dean Koontz, read by Richard Ferrone
Tim Carrier, a bricklayer, is having a beer after work at his friend's bar, when he is drawn into conversation by a man who then passes him an envelope with the line "Ten thousand now. You get the rest when she's gone." By the time Tim realizes he's been mistaken for a paid killer, the man is gone. Tim looks inside the envelope and finds the money and picture of a woman. The picture has her name and address on the back. When another stranger walks in and sees Tim with the envelop, he approaches, and Tim knows he is dealing with the killer. He gives him the money, but keeps the picture and says the job is off. When the stranger leaves, Tim follows him out, only to discover that he is a cop. Not feeling like it is a good idea to call the police on this now, Tim instead goes to the woman and the chase begins.
Tim is the "good guy" of the title and the woman has no idea who is after her, so the two take off, staying one step ahead of the killer. As the story progresses, the scenes move back and forth between the killer and his prey and we see into the dark mind of a man who kills for a living, and lives to kill. We also see the calculated actions of a man who cares about people and wants to thwart the killer and those who hired him. Tim draws on all his skills and past experiences to outwit the killer. As we see the two men, their differences stand out more and more, and right down to the end we see the different focus the two have on life.
This was my first book by Koontz, but I found the writing well done, and the plot just realistic enough to be very scary.
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
I read this book for my bookclub (our first book) and enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed Hay's "A Student of Weather".
I really enjoyed the descriptions of the north and what life was like in Yellowknife during the time period in which this book was set.
I found Gwen the most likeable character and enjoyed watching her grow in the book.
The book looks at the characters who work at a radio station in Yellowknife in the late 70s. Harry is an old hand at radio, who tried television and didn't do well there and now has come back to where he started twenty years ago. He sometimes seems older than he is (in his forties). Dido and Gwen are women in their twenties who came to the north for different reasons, but both end up working at the radio. Dido is from the Netherlands and has a beautiful voice. Gwen is interested in a behind the scenes job, but ends up on air, and grows into her job.
Eleanor is the receptionist, who plays an important role at the station, and in the book.
Besides the life in Yellowknife and at the radio station, the book also encompasses a six-week trip (hiking and canoe) by four of the book's characters, and that trip really does a lot for Gwen in particular.
The book sometimes moves slowly, but is always drawing one on, wanting to see what develops for the characters.
Where to Invade Next (part of issue 26 of McSweeney's)
This book, apparently based on a comment made General Wesley Clark about future plans by the United States, contains detailed analyses of seven countries that the U.S. considers dangerous and possible plans to deal with them.
The seven countries are Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea. The book is well-researched, reads as plausible, and therefore is rather scary.
The book includes no forward or introduction other than the quote by Clark, and that makes it come across even more as a government document, rather than as a creation (albeit a well-researched one).
The given possibilities for U.S. action against these countries is very interesting reading and it will be interesting to see if any of it comes to pass.
Friday, 5 September 2008
The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett
I've read the sequel to this already and thoroughly enjoyed it, so went back to catch this one. David Hunter moved from London to rural Norfolk three years before to escape his life after his wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver. Hunter was a forensic anthropologist, but has taken on a job as a simple country doctor.
When a woman's body is discovered in the woods near where he lives, he struggles to not get involved, but under police pressure agrees to help with the enquiry. Life in the village changes as the inhabitants look at each other with suspicion and old resentments are awakened.
When someone David cares about goes missing and the police suspect the same murderer, David becomes involved with a passion, trying hard to work out the information he comes across in order to discover the killer's identity.
This is an interesting portrayal of village life and the feelings about outsiders, as well as about trust, human behaviour, and love.
The Super Crazy Cat Dance by Aron Nels Steinke
This neat little comic was waiting for me when I returned from holidays, part of my Indiespensable package (a neat service from Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon).
As the cover says, this comic is for kids and grownups alike. It is cute, happy, and fun, and both I and my husband enjoyed it.
All in black and white, the drawings are simple, but animated. Printed on recycled paper with soy inks, it is also environmentally friendly.
Tuesday, 2 September 2008
Finished August 23
Borderlands by Brian McGilloway
I've been carrying this one around for a while in my purse for waiting in lineups and at offices. It is the first in a new series featuring Inspector Devlin of the Garda in Ireland.
Local teen Angela Cashell's body is found on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. There is a ring on her finger, and a photo placed with her body.
As Devlin and his team work the case, they are led back to a disappearance of a woman 25 years before and clues that link to many men, on both sides of the law.
The personal life of Devlin and his fellow police officers is also brought into the book. His wife Debbie is no pushover and she often gives him useful advice.
I liked this book and will look for more as the series progresses.
Finished August 27
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
The subtitle of this book is "a sheep detective story," and that is definitely what this is. George the shepherd is found dead, a spade through his body. The sheep find him first and after the initial shock try to work out what happened. George read to his sheep regularly and on many subjects including sheep diseases and romance novels (what the sheep call "Pamela stories"). The sheep are led in their detective work by Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in Glennkill. Also taking on significant roles are Mopple the Whale, the memory sheep; Othello, a black Hebridean four-horned ram, and Zora, a brave black-faced sheep. The characters of the sheep are well-developed and show individuality. There is much humour here and great fun. This is a good summer read, and I left it with my mother to be passed around among her needleworker friends.
Finished August 28
The Postcard by Tony Abbott
This book is for 8-12 year-olds and I found it to have a unique story. Jason Huff is sent off to Florida after his grandmother's death to assist his father in packing up her belongings. His grandmother, Agnes Monroe Huff was the daughter of a wealthy man, who owned a hotel among other holdings. Jason receives a strange phone call that leads him to the discovery of a postcard among his grandmother's things. The postcard shows the Hotel DeSoto, the hotel owned by Jason's great-grandfather. He also finds a magazine, Bizarre Mysteries, with a story that seems to be about his grandmother. At the funeral, Jason notices many strange characters. As Jason follows the clues left to him, and is joined by Dia, a young friend of his grandmother, he finds himself more and more interested in his grandmother and her life.
Jason is an interesting boy, respectful of adults, yet not a goody-goody. The story developed in interesting ways and was theatrical in plot.
I've left this book with my eight-year-old niece to read.
Finished August 29
Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia by Wojciech Tochman, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
This book was a finalist for the Nike Polish Literary Prize and for the Prix Temoin du Monde. First published in 2002, this is the first English translation. The book begins with a quote from Tadeusz Mazowiecki about the Bosnia War: "Humanity unites us in misfortune, in experiencing it. If only people understood that." Tochman does his best to help us do that.
The stories cover the Serb Republic (not Serbia) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
His stories of survivors searching for family members as well as their remains are poignant. Over 100,000 people died in the wars, and it was years before the mass graves began to be exhumed. The book includes a picture to begin each chapter. One chapter talks about the displays of victims clothing, and the codes that indicate how much of the victim's body was found. Another talks about life in the refugee camps. There is mention of the abandoned towns and villages and some attempts to repopulate these. One key figure in the stories is Dr. Ewa Klonowski, born in Poland and now living in Iceland. She spends all her time trying to identify bodies, and it has become her life. She talks about how the bones speak to her.
While this is a short book, it is a book that touches the reader.
Finished August 31
Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn D.Wall
This mystery is set in Kentucky in 1938. Olivia has run Harker's Grocery since her father died and she recovered from a car crash. Her mentally unbalanced mother Ida lives in a tarpaper shack out back. With Olivia lives her grandson William who she has raised. This year someone is hunting the silver wolves that live on Olivia's land and as she tries to find out why, she also finds out that she and William are also under threat.
The reappearance of William's mother begins the revelation of terrible secrets among the community and about Olivia's family. As Olivia searches desperately to save herself and her friends, she must confront the evil that has bound her community for years.
This story is riveting and intense and Olivia is a genuine rebel who has friends in both the white and the black people in her community. She has raised William to be strong as well and he fights for what he feels is right alongside her. This story takes the reader to a specific region and time period and brings it alive. I found it engrossing.
Wednesday, 20 August 2008
Interred with Their Bones by Jennifer Lee Carrell, read by Kathleen McNenny
This book gave me the same feeling as Da Vinci Code. A quest for a long lost object, man and woman previously unknown to each other working together towards goal, with some help from others, lots of murders, lots of travel, lots of action.
In this novel Kate Stanley, currently directing Hamlet at the Globe Theatre in London, is visited by her academic mentor, Roz Howard. Roz has "found something big" and wants Kate's help to find it. But later that day Roz is found dead in the theatre and Kate feels someone stalking her. The prize that Kate is headed towards is Shakespeare's long-lost play Cardenio, and the clues she finds take her back to North America before returning to England. She is barely one step ahead of a killer, and using all her Shakespearean knowledge to figure out where to head next.
The book deals not only with the lost play, but also the identity of Shakespeare himself, bringing up many of the theories around the playwright's identity.
I found Kate an interesting character, and there was lots of action, never a dull moment. The Shakespeare element is strong and interesting (to me at least) and an author's note at the end talks about the elements of truth contained in the book, which was also very interesting.
A good read.
Tuesday, 19 August 2008
The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
This is a great read, with a strong female protagonist (Frankie). Frankie is going into her sophmore year at Alabaster, an expense boarding school that her older sister and her father also went to. Over the summer, she has grown into her body and is quite goodlooking. She also has a sharp mind. She immediately gets a senior as a boyfriend, the goodlooking Matthew Livingston. When she finds herself sometimes ignored in favor of Matthew's friends, and feels herself being boxed in by others' opinions of her, she takes matters into her own hands.
Frankie has a good sense of herself, is aware of potential weaknesses, and knows she is every bit as smart as the boys in the school's exclusive secret society. As she infiltrates the society, she shows that she is not to be underestimated.
I really liked this character, and she displays a good sense of self.
Monday, 18 August 2008
Half-Assed: a weight-loss memoir by Jennette Fulda
I saw this memoir in the new books that came in and it looked intriguing. Fulda lost more than half her body weight, and while I don't need to lose that much, I definitely need to lose weight. In this memoir she concentrates more on the mental aspects of her journey, the thoughts that went through her head, the inner arguments that she engaged in, and how she changed as a person on the inside, not just the outside.
She has a great sense of humour and yet remains sensitive to many of the issues that come up around weight loss and how society reacts to those who are overweight.
As she says, there is no secret, no diet is perfect, and we all wander from our course occasionally, but the key is to keep at it. To not let one slide develop into an avalanche.
I found her writing engaging and interesting and her story intrigued me enough to take a look at her website, which I also found interesting.
This is no ra-ra book for Jenny Craig or South Beach or Atkins, but an honest account of the journey to a happier life.
Friday, 15 August 2008
What Never Happens by Anne Holt, translated by Kari Dickson
This is an interesting mystery from a Norwegian author, and part of a series, although this is the first one I've read.
When a famous woman TV show host is killed and her tongue has been cut out and displayed on the desk in front of her, the media is agog. The police, led by Adam Stubo, struggle to find motives and suspects in the crime. When a second woman is killed, this time an up-and-coming politician, the police are unsure whether the crimes are committed by the same person. Stubo calls on his wife, Johanne Vik, who is on maternity leave, to assist in finding the answers to the crimes. Vik trained as a profiler with the FBI, but left the organization with a bitter taste in her mouth and no desire to revisit that past. As celebrities continue to die, Vik is forced to call on her FBI education and her intuition to figure out who is killing and why.
This book has an interesting plot, and the whys of the murders are even more interesting. We see into the characters of the various people involved.
I liked it.
Thursday, 14 August 2008
Sway: The Irresistible Pull of Irrational Behavior by Ori Brafman and Rom Brafman, read by John Apicella
This short book was so fascinating that after I finished listening to it, I listened to it again, the second time sharing it with a fellow librarian as we commuted together. She also found it fascinating.
The Brafman brothers use examples and research to show the many forces that cause us to engage in irrational behavior. These include loss aversion, the diagnosis bias, and the chameleon effect. Loss aversion is the tendency to go to lengths to avoid a perceived loss. Diagnosis bias is our tendency to ignore information that doesn't fit with our initial take on a person or situation. The chameleon effect is the tendency to take on behaviors that have been arbitrarily assigned to us, sometimes even without our knowledge. The many examples that they use to show how these tendencies show up in real life situations and cause unhappiness, loss and even death are eye-opening. They include an epilogue that gives tips on avoiding the pull of irrational behavior that are useful.
As I said, I found it utterly fascinating.
Tuesday, 12 August 2008
Voices by Arnaldur Indridason translated by Bernard Scudder
This was my first read of Icelandic mystery and I found it very good.
The main detective, Erlendur, is a fascinating character himself, and the murder victim in this book has his own interesting history.
I found the dynamic between the police characters interesting, and especially that Erlendur seemed to have such free range to act how he wanted in the course of the investigation, more or less setting up house in the hotel where the murder took place.
Characterization is very imporant here and the police have to look at everyone involved closely to find motivations for people's behaviour. Nothing is as it first seems.
The murder victim is the doorman at the hotel, killed in the room he lived in, in the hotel basement. One of his secrets is the past life as a child soprano, the most famous in Iceland. But everyone here has secrets, even Erlendur.
Monday, 11 August 2008
Soul Catcher by Michael White, read by William Dufris
This saga of slave catcher Augustus Cain takes us from the Mexican-American War through to the civil war as Cain looks back on a life running from his past as he engages in what he intends to be his last job as a slave catcher. He has been drawn into the occupation due to a skill in tracking and finding slaves that he first identified as a young man.
Rosetta is the runaway slave that he has been hired to find. She runs from a master who has taken his ownership in every way he could and runs to save her soul from that subjugation.
As their lives become entwined, in the days before the Civil War, Cain must face the past he is trying to forget and face up to what his life has become. Rosetta fights to gain her freedom, and yet must also face the subtleties of human behaviour.
This is a journey in a very physical sense, but also a mental journey for both of the main characters. There is a lot of history contained in this story, as well as extremely well-written characters. The reading of the book by Dufris is excellent and captures the characters of the various players in the story.
I loved this novel.