Sunday, 28 February 2010

More Canadian Fiction

Finished February 28
February by Lisa Moore
Another finalist for the Evergreen award 2010. This novel follows Helen, moving back and forth over time from her early adulthood and life with her husband Cal and more recent times. Cal worked on the Ocean Ranger oil rig and was one of the crew that died when it sank in early 1982. Helen was left pregnant with three young children. We see how this has affected her life, and we also see the effect on her children, most noticably on John, her eldest.
The changes in time let us see how some things remain the same over time and a theme can reoccur. It also lets us see growth in Helen in her life. This book is one to savour and read slowly, which I did. I found the short sections helpful to taking in the story. This book shows us what is going on and allows us into the heads of Helen and sometimes John, but mostly we learn about the people shown here by what they do and how they do it. Helen is a survivor, and her strength has inspired her children to be survivors as well. It is only in the most current times that we see Helen finally heal from her hurt and truly move on with her life.

Evergreen 2010

Evergreen finalists for 2010 have been announced.
These are ten great Canadian books, which Ontario library users will read and vote on at their public library. Voting takes place in October, giving readers lots of time to read all ten books.
There is a great lineup this year with several first novels, and two memoirs. With something for everyone, this is a great reading list to get you going.
I've read all of them and enjoyed them all.

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Fascinating memoir

Finished February 24
Burmese Lessons by Karen Connolly
This memoir of the author's time visiting Burma and her relationship with a Burmese dissident is honest and emotional, but also touches on the idea of identity. She initially visits Burma to write about a writer who is being imprisoned, but ends up falling in love with Burma and its people. She meets many interesting people struggling to gain democracy for their country who are or have been imprisoned and tortured for their actions. When she meets and falls for a leader of the dissident movement, she is forced to face up to her own expectations of life and what she is willing to do for love.
Her writing gives a true feel to the situation in Burma at the time, and the lives the citizens of that country are forced to lead. You can also see that she doesn't hold anything back regarding her own reactions to it all, and that honesty is what really makes this book.
No wonder it was picked as one of the 2010 Evergreen finalists.

OLA Superconference begins

OLA Superconference 2010 kicked off this evening with an amazing plenary session. 

John Ralston Saul, Adrienne Clarkson, Nino Ricci, Jane Urquhart, and Mark Kingwell talking about the Penguin series Extraordinary Canadians of which they are some of the authors. Humour, insight and even a bit of hockey!

The discussion among them ranged from clothing to parental influence to creativity to happiness.  Ralston Saul's device kept going off when a goal was scored in the Olympic hockey game just to add an extra touch of excitement to it all. 

Extraordinary Canadians discussed this evening were L.M. Montgomery, Norman Bethune, Glenn Gould, and Pierre Trudeau. And it ended on the note of calling "Heathcliff" out the window on one's honeymoon (it's more common than you might think!)

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Great Read

Finished February 27
A Week in December by Sebastian Faulks
This is Faulks first novel set in the present and boy does it have a lot packed into it. Taking place over the course of a week in December, from Sunday to Saturday, this follows a number of people, all of whom have some relationship to a dinner party being planned for the Saturday.
We have money-obsessed hedge fund manager John Veals, his wife Vanessa, and their son Finbar; Spike Borowski, a Polish footballer recently signed to a local team, and his new girlfriend; Knocker al-Rashid, lime pickle entrepreneur, his wife Nasim, and the son Hassan, as well as some of Hassan's friends; R Tranter, book reviewer and Victorian writer enthusiast; and Gabriel Northwood, a barrister along with a defendant from his current case, subway driver Jenni Fortune. There are also several other more minor characters. All of these people have their own backstories that we learn as well as their current circumstances. We also see how their lives intersect in interesting ways before the dinner party as well as at the dinner party itself.
There is a lot of social commentary going on here too: we have the economic situation, immigration, prejudice, self aggrandizement, stereotypes and so many people figuring out where they fit in the world.
This is a book with great depth that just flows. This would be a wonderful book club choice as there is just so much to discuss. It is one of those books that you definitely want to reread to see all the lovely things the author has done. I think this may be one of my top books for the year.

Friday, 19 February 2010

Great Listen

Finished February 19
The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle
This lovely book was a joy to listen to and finished this morning just as I pulled into the parking lot at work. Told from the perspective of a precocious 11-year-old girl in the summer of 1950, it gives a real feel for the time. Flavia, her two older sisters, Daphne and Ophelia, their father and his man, Dogger, live in a decaying English mansion named Buckshaw. Flavia has a passion for chemistry and has her own laboratory where she engages in experiments.
This summer a series of events happen to shake her world. First a dead bird is found on the doorstep, with a postage stamp impaled on its beak. Flavia notes that this shakes her father, and thus the mystery begins. When, hours later, Flavia comes across a dying man in the cucumber patch, things really begin to move. Flavia takes it upon herself to figure out what is going on and as she does her investigations she rides her bicycle Gladys all over the countryside. From rooftops to pits, cemetarys to police stations, Flavia forges ahead, uses her scientific instincts and gets to the heart of the problem.
The reader did a lovely job of giving voice to this young detective, and she came alive for me.

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Interesting Theories

Finished February 16
The Design of Business: why design thinking is the next competitive advantage by Roger Martin
This is a fascinating look at business success written by the Dean of the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto.
Martin has been involved in business strategy for years, directly in businesses, as a consultant, and as a board member. Therefore he knows whereof he speaks. He gives solid examples of businesses that use design thinking, as well as a good overview of what design thinking really is and how to keep it from devolving into the reliable standard way of doing business.
The examples include both health care and consumer products and show how management can either lead design thinking themselves or create the environment to foster it. The last chapter gives ways to help all in business to move towards this successful way of doing business.
This will definitely get you thinking out of the box.

Monday, 15 February 2010

Engaging Thriller

Finished February 13
Deeper than the Dead by Tami Hoag
Set in 1985, before the days of DNA evidence, this books deals with the case of serial murder of women. The women are found with their eyes and mouths glued shut, and multiple cuts on their bodies.
Taking place in the quiet town of Oak Knoll. The sheriff is a guy who looks forward and one of his deputies has taken some courses from the FBI.
When local schoolkids come across one of the bodies, their teacher Anne Navarre is concerned about how it will affect them. Navarre has had some training in child psychology and want to get the kids the help they need. The parents involved differ widely, from caring and kind, to caring about public appearance, to hard discipline. As we see the case develop, we also see how the kids deal with it, each in their own way, and how it affects each family. A tragic story, but an interesting look at a community and a variety of characters.
Good plot with lots going on.

Friday, 12 February 2010

Very Interesting Read

Finished February 11
The Last Days of Old Beijing by Michael Meyer
This is a fascinating read, looking not just as the current day situation of architecture and urban planning (or lack thereof) in Beijing, but also at the history of the architecture of the city.
Meyer includes an extensive bibliography for further reading as well.
Meyer lived in a room in old courtyard housing in the Dazhalan area of Beijing, to better understand what was being lost with the destruction of these neighbourhoods. He found an active community that interacted with each other and knew their neighbours. Meyer volunteered to teach English at the local grade school and thus became part of the life of the neighbourhood. He made friends and gained insight into the people's lives. When necessary to better understand lives, he visited the areas that migrant workers came from, or followed workers as they did their work.
I learned so much about China, its people and its history.

Thursday, 11 February 2010

Great Mystery

Finished February 10
Old City Hall by Robert Rotenberg, narrated by Paul Hecht
This is an absolutely outstanding mystery. It has it all, great characters, great plot, great setting, good pace. And the audio version is great with the narrator's voice slightly gravelly and just perfect for the book.
Radio personality, Kevin Brace, the "voice of Canada", meets his newspaper delivery person every morning with a slice of orange and and smile, while drinking his today. Except for one morning, where he isn't there right away and when he appears, he has blood-covered hands and confesses to murdering his wife.
After that Brace stops talking and won't say a word, even to his lawyer, whom he communicates with in writing only. A conviction seems certain.
The police investigating the case include a seasoned homicide detective and a fairly new police officer (who turned to the police from a career as a lawyer after his brother's murder remained unsolved). They are both good at noticing things and both look at the aspects of the case very closely, finding new things to think about as the case moves forward. Also on the case is a fairly new Crown attorney, for whom this is his first homicide case. He also has his own thoughts about his role, and how that is played out for the best outcome. So very many interesting characters, with so many interesting things going on in both their personal and professional lives.
A wonderful read, with good humour as well.

Wednesday, 10 February 2010

Canadian Fiction

Finished February 6
The Boys in the Trees by Mary Swan
This book shows vignettes of life around the family of William, his wife, and two daughters, immigrants from Britain in the early twentieth century. They seem a devoted family, protective of their eldest daughter who has medical issues. When William commits an unthinkable crime, the people whose lives touched theirs are shocked and some struggle with guilt thinking they might have prevented the situation.
We learn the story through these vignettes, and learn more about each of these people involved. We observe and make our own analysis of the information we see.
This story is subtle, yet haunting. It is the details that Swan shows us that makes each character come alive for us. This is a book to savour.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

Children's Book

Finished February 3
Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur
This book is written from 11-year-old Aubrey's point of view. As it begins, Aubrey is alone in her house and her mother hasn't been around in a while. Aubrey and her mom survived a car accident that killed Aubrey's dad and her little sister, 7-yea-old Savannah. Aubrey's grandmother arrives and discovers the situation, and ends up taking Aubrey back to live with her until things get sorted out. We see how Aubrey struggles with her emotions, and her feelings of abandonment by her mother. We see how, with her grandmother's help, she begins to move forward with her life.
Her new friend Bridget helps too, as does the counselor at school. Aubrey discovers that she is not alone, that she has people that will help her and support her.
Aubrey's voice is very clear and real and we see her develop as a character. A very good read.

Tuesday, 2 February 2010

Travel Memoir

Finished January 31
Narrow Dog to Indian River by Terry Darlington
This book narrates a trip by English canalboat down the Intercoastal Waterway by Terry and his wife Monica, and their whippet Jim. The Darlington's are very able boaters, but in their seventies. The book talks about not only the trip, but the people they meet along the way, the variety of weather issues that they encounter, and Terry's health issues.
There is lots of humour, and I found myself laughing out loud at some of his observations. Jim is a character with his own idiosyncrasies, and motivations, and often provides a way to begin conversations with the natives. Terry is often perplexed by the accents of the locals and some of the humour is due to this. I thoroughly enjoyed this read, and plan to go back and read his previous book.