Monday, 31 August 2009

Kansas Mystery

Finished August 30
Deadly Descent by Charlotte Hinger
The main character, Lottie Albright, is a historian living in Western Kansas. She is working on a project collecting family histories for the county as well as supporting a local candidate running for the Senate. When a letter arrives for her archives accusing the candidate of racist attitudes, she finds herself caught in the middle of a family upset between two sisters. When the letter writer, Zelda, is found murdered, the family is even more split and Lottie finds herself delving into the past to try and find out what is really behind the rift.
She applies for the job of deputy to help gain access to information, but also digs into a cold case in order to gain points with the sheriff. Lottie's twin sister Josie is a psychologist and Lottie finds herself consulting with her to try to figure out the motives behind the terrible events that are taking place. Lottie is able to use her research skills to reopen the cold case and find information that helps her understand the current crimes.
An interesting combination of the present and past, this first novel combines history with interesting facts to make a story.

North Carolina Mystery

Finished August 29
A Little Learning by Jane Tesh
This is the third book in a series featuring former beauty queen and fledgling private investigator and artist Madeline Maclin Fairweather. She lives with her new husband Jerry in the small town of Celosia, North Carolina. Jerry has made a living as a con artist, but has promised to get a job and go straight. Madeline gets hired to solve a riddle to find the key to gain an inheritance. She also agrees to help out a local art teacher by teaching the grade four class some drawing techniques. While at the school, she gets involved in the suspicious death of a teacher. There is no shortage of suspects as the teacher is one to annoy her co-workers and family.
As Madeline tries to keep her husband occupied and on the straight and narrow, she is also preparing paintings for a new exhibition and solving her cases, which makes her one busy lady. Madeline is a quick thinker and shows genuine interest in the people she encounters.

Dystopian Novel

Finished August 28
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, translated by Marlaine Dalargy
This Swedish novel takes place in a society where productivity is paramount. Women over 50 and men over 60 who are childless and not in "progressive industries" are sent to the Unit. They have comfortable accommodation, plenty to eat, and state of the art amenities, and take part in drug and psychological testing. They also gradually donate their organs until the "final donation". They cannot contact anyone outside the Unit, although they have access to current television and media. The book follows Dorrit Weger as she enters the Unit following her 50th birthday. We watch as she makes new friends, continues to write books and adjust to her new reality. This is an exploration of psychological reactions under specific conditions, and explores the idea of who is valuable (needed) and who is dispensable in society. The subject matter is difficult, but it is handled well, and the character of Dorrit is deeply described. I highly recommend it.

Canadian Fiction

Finished August 27
Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark
My mother was returning this book to a friend so I read before giving it back. Set in Newfoundland, this is the story of Aurora, found by fishermen floating on an ice floe in 1912. She was brought up by one of the fishermen's families, Merla and Francis St. Croix. We watch Aurora grow up and get married and have children, never leaving her new home in Newfoundland. She has always felt like a "come from away" and with her white hair and oddly coloured eyes has looked different from her neighbours. This is a character-driven story following not only Aurora, but also her husband and children and granddaughter. This is a great read and a moving story, another Canadian gem.

Immigrant History

Finished August 22
Hard Passage: A Mennonite Family's Long Journey from Russia to Canada by Arthur Kroeger
I was interested in this book as I am of Mennonite heritage on my maternal side. The Kroeger family came from the same area in Russia (really the Ukraine) as my family did, the Chortiza-Rosenthal area. My grandfather was born in Chortiza and emigrated to Canada in 1923, the first year of the organized emigration from Russia to Canada. Kroeger's family came in 1926. My grandfather was reluctant to talk about his early life and while I have reminiscences from some of his siblings, this adds to my knowledge of the situation in Russia. Kroeger used a variety of published resources as well as his father's papers and photos to tell his story.
I found this book full of facts and yet very readable. I'm glad to have found it to add to my knowledge of my own family history.

Historical Trek

Finished August 21
Bold Spirit: Helga Estby's Forgotten Walk across Victorian America by Linda Lawrence Hunt
My mother-in-law came across this book and passed it to me. It tells the story of a Norwegian immigrant woman who took a risk to attempt to save her family's home. Helga and her daughter Clara walked from Spokane to New York City along to win a prize of $10,000 from an anonymous woman sponsor who wanted to show that women had the physical and emotional stamina to endure such a journey. The two women faced danger from both other travellers and from nature and met many interesting and helpful people along the way. Unfortunately they did not get the prize and faced hardship and family tragedy before arriving back home. The cost to Helga to regain her family's trust and community's regard was to never talk of this accomplishment and its outcome. It was only through chance that her story did not disappear although it has many missing elements due to destruction of documents by her family. This is an inspiring historical story that was very nearly lost and I am glad that it was not.

Friday, 14 August 2009

Great New Mystery

Finished August 14
Wife of the Gods by Kwei Quartey
Read a good review of this book and that, combined with the fact that one of my uncles spent two years in Ghana with CUSO, let me to read the book.
I was not disappointed. The main character is a policeman with the CID in Accra, the capital. His name is Darko Dawson and he has some interesting skills, as well as some weaknesses that he must deal with.
Darko is haunted by the disappearance of his mother, which happened when he was twelve, who went to visit her family village and never returned home. When he is assigned the investigation of a murder in that same village, he vows to look for clues as to what happened to her while he is there.
The case he has been assigned is the murder of a young woman who was volunteering doing AIDS education while studying to be a doctor. He encounters a local fetish priest with his many wives, a local healer, and of course his own relatives.
Darko questions his own actions and regrets some of his rash moves, but he does have a good instinct for knowing when someone is lying and it is this that serves him well. He is a good observer of human behaviour and it is this skill that makes him a good policeman.
This is definitely a winner and I will be recommending it to patrons looking for new mystery writers.

Wednesday, 12 August 2009


Finished August 11
Darling Jim by Christian Moerk
This is a gripping story, with a very different plot.
The story begins with the grisly discover of bloated and emaciated bodies in a house. It is unclear exactly what happened, but it would appear that the older woman, Moira has killed her two nieces and been killed herself in a struggle with one of them.
When Niall, a young postman discovers the diary of one of the women in the dead letter bin, he feels compelled to follow the story back to its source and find out the truth of what led to this tragedy. His story takes him to a small village near Cork, to fairytale-like stories of wolves and castles, and to three sisters who cared about each very much.
It took me a while to get into this story but once I did, I could hardly put it down. The story just flows and Niall is a young man who believes in stories, and what librarian doesn't like that!


Finished August 3
Jump by Tim Maleeny
This was a new author for me, and I really enjoyed it.
Set in San Francisco, the book begins following the death of a landlord, falling from the twentieth floor (top floor) of the apartment building he ran.
There is no shortage of suspects, but also a possibility of suicide exists. Very recently retired cop, Sam McGowan lives on the twentieth floor and his old partner asks him to do some unofficial detective work to see whether the police should make this a murder investigation.
Sam has always relied on his wife to make contacts with the neighbours, but she has recently died, and he must get to know them while also finding out about their actions that evening.
The various characters are original and highly entertaining, as is the plot. Sam comes out of the shell he has been in since his wife died and gets back into real life.
I particularly liked the way the author moved from chapter to chapter, using similar wording to link the actions from one scene to another.
A great mystery.

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Psychological Thriller

Finished July 31
Ravens by George Dawes Green
This is a suspenseful ride into the world of a sociopath. When Shaw McBride and his friend Romeo Zderko stop for a rest at a convenience store of I-95 in Georgia, they get sidetracked into a world that is a strange one indeed. Shaw overhears the news that a local family has a winning lottery ticket (for a multimillion dollar jackpot) and works out a plan to get some of the money.
Shaw visits the Boatwright family that night and takes the family hostage, while Romeo acts as the threat against other family members should anyone decide to resist.
Shaw's manipulation of both the Boatwrights and his own friend show his personality and single-mindedness.
While there are spots of humour, this is a dark novel about manipulation and the power of personality. I'm still not sure whether I liked the book, but it shows excellent writing and strong characters.

Audio Thriller

Finished July 31
The Sign by Raymond Khoury, read by Richard Ferrone
This is a fast-moving action-filled thriller. The sign itself is a large glowing sphere of light that appears in the sky. It first appears in Antarctica over an ice shelf that is breaking up. Because of the presence of a TV journalist, the image is broadcast all over the world and debate begins about the origin and meaning of the sign.
The sign appears again in the Arctic and then in Egypt, over a coptic monastery. As religions around the world try to decide whether to celebrate or denounce the sign, Grace Logan, the journalist also tries to figure out why she seems to be in the right place at the right time.
Meanwhile, in Boston, Matt Sherwood is told that the sign might have something to do with his brother, who might not be dead after all. As Matt fights to find the truth and to stay alive, this story really heats up.
Violence and mayhem are present, and things just keep carrying you on to the final scene. Not everything gets wrapped up nicely, but this is escape literature and it fulfills the need for entertainment. A good vacation read.

Mysterious Mystery

Finished July 29
The Fate of Katherine Carr by Thomas H. Cook
This is a very different sort of mystery book and I'm finding it hard to classify. The main character, George Gates was one a travel writer focused on places where people disappeared. After he settled where he lives now, his eight-year-old son Teddy was snatched and it was a long time before his remains were found. George retreated inwards and now writes light, human-interest stories for his local paper. When he meets Arlo McBride, a retired missing persons detective, he becomes fascinated with the case of Katherine Carr, a woman who vanished twenty years before. He also becomes involved with a 12-year-old girl Alice who has progeria, a premature aging disease.
Together, George and Alice look at Katherine's story and at the clues and circumstances around her disappearance and find a different result from what they expected.
George lives with regret over his lost son, and how he might have prevented it. Katherine's story gives him a way to deal with his loss and move forward.

A Way of Looking at Life

Finished July 28
The Joy of Appreciative Living: your 28-day plan to greater happiness in 3 incredibly easy steps by Jacqueline Kelm
I've actually had this book out of the library for a while, reading it slowly and had to break away from it at one point to think about what it was saying. I started doing the daily appreciations, got off track and am only now getting back on.
For me, this book was about attitude, that is maintaining a positive one. Many other authors have touched on the idea of a gratitude list, but this plan also includes weekly visioning and monthly assessments. Reflect not on what you don't like in your life, but on what you want more of. Just figuring that out might take you a while, and for me it is something I am still thinking about. This plan isn't hard to do, but you do have to commit a small amount of time daily to get real results out of it.

Nonfiction Quickie

Finished July 28
The Whatchamacallit: those everyday objects you just can't name (and things you think you know about but don't) by Danny Danziger and Mark McCrum
This very cool book was recommended by a coworker. I found terms I knew well, and many that I did not. Examples of use or detailed descriptions are given, and many entries also include related terms. My favourites include:
* tmesis (the separation of parts of a compound word by the intervention of one or more words, such as abso-bloody-lutely)
* tittle (the dot on top of the lower case i and j)
* pulicue (the distance between the forefinger and thumb when extended)
* phosphene (sensation of light caused by excitation of the retina rather than light itself) [This happens to me when I cough in the dark and I never knew it had a name!]
* noclilucent (particular and unusual high cloud, seen only in the evening)
* desire line (path more people want to take, despite any existing roads, walks, or tracks).
As you can see from my list, the subjects are varied and yet I find this sort of thing fascinating.

Great New Novel

Finished July 25
Baking Cakes in Kigali by Gaile Parkin
Got a bit behind in posting my reads.
This one was a prepublication copy that I got through Library Journal, and I absolutely loved it. It has the feel of an Alexander McCall Smith Botswana novel but more depth to it.
The main character is Angel Tungaraza, who is from Tanzania. She and her husband Pius are in Rwanda where he, a university professor, is doing consulting work for the United Nations. They live in a U.N. compound, with local security guards protecting them. Angel and Pius are raising their five grandchildren as both their son and daughter have died. Angel bakes cakes out of her home to raise extra money.
It is this sideline that gives Angel opportunities to meet a wide variety of people. These include U.N. volunteers, officials from other countries, and locals. Angel speaks English and Swahili, which allows her to converse with most, but not all people she meets. In meeting with people who come to her for cakes, she gets drawn into issues in their lives, and it is these serious issues and how Angel confronts them that add the depth. Issues from genocide to AIDS, from feminism to literacy are touched on. Angel learns from each experience and applies them to her own life and relationships. Angel is a character who is complex and sometimes troubled, but tries to be honest with herself. She is a "professional somebody" who weighs her words and actions carefully before she moves forward. She has compassion for others and is genuinely interested in the people she meets.
As I said, I loved this book and highly recommend it.