Saturday, 31 December 2011

Dead Man's Cove

Finished December 31
Dead Man's Cove by Lauren St John
This is the first book in a series featuring girl detective Laura Marlin. 11-year-old Laura has grown up in an orphanage, hoping for a home. When she is told an uncle exists and is offering her a home she is amazed, excited, and a little scared. Her uncle Calvin lives in St. Ives, and Laura adjusts quickly to life there. But there seem to be many secrets in town and Laura wants to know what is behind them.
What is going on with Tariq, the son of local shopkeepers? What does her uncle do, what is he hiding about his past, and where does he walk at night? Is the housekeeper up to something besides her wonderful cooking?
Laura is dedicated to detective work, and desperate for a friend.
A good mystery with interesting characters.

How the Dead Dream

Finished December 30
How the Dead Dream by Lydia Millet
Admittedly I don't know if I would have picked this up if I hadn't got it as part of my Indiespensible subscription. And it has been on my shelf for quite a while (it was the first Indiespensible pick back in 2008) so I finally decided to put the ones I haven't read yet in a pile with the oldest at the top and begin reading.
Here the main character is T and we follow him from his childhood through his life. He is a loner, the kind of guy who stands back from his life and watches. He struck me as being a man slightly on the autistic scale in the way he doesn't respond emotionally sometimes, like he doesn't recognize what others are feeling. He does make breakthroughs though and these make him more empathetic and he recognizes that he viewpoint has sometimes been flawed. Animals are his weakness, from his own dog, to endangered species.
He has trouble connecting with other people and while he tries not to hurt people's feelings, he doesn't always know how to do that. He went from being a child and man who seemed removed to being a man who saw injustice and the need to change. A very interesting read.

TBR Pile Book Challenge

This challenge is hosted by Roof Beam Reader and is called the TBR Pile Book Challenge.
The Goal: To finally read 12 books from your “to be read” pile (within 12 months).
1. Each of these 12 books must have been on your bookshelf or “To Be Read” list for AT LEAST one full year. This means the book cannot have a publication date of 1/1/2011 or later (any book published in the year 2010 or earlier qualifies, as long as it has been on your TBR pile – the host WILL be checking publication dates). Caveat: Two (2) alternates are allowed, just in case one or two of the books end up in the “can’t get through” pile.
2.  To be eligible, you must sign-up with the Mr. Linky on the challenge blog – link to your list (so create it ahead of time!) and add updated links to each book’s review.  Every listed book must be completed and must be reviewed (doesn’t have to be too fancy) in order to count as completed.
3.  The link you post in the Mr. Linky must be to your “master list” (see mine below).  This is where you will keep track of your books completed, crossing them out and/or dating them as you go along, and updating the list with the links to each review (so there’s one easy, convenient way to find your list and all your reviews for the challenge).  See THIS LINK for an idea of what the host means.  Your list must be completed by December 31st, 2011.
4. Leave comments on the challenge post as you go along, to update everyone on your status. Come back if/when you complete this challenge and leave a comment indicating that you CONQUERED YOUR 2012 TBR LIST!  Every person who successfully reads his/her 12 books and/or alternates (and who provides a working link to their list, which has links to the review locations) will be entered to win a $50 gift card from or The Book Depository!
5. Crossovers from other challenges are totally acceptable, as long as you have never read the book before and it was published pre-2011!
*Note – You can read the books on your list in any order; they do not need to be read in the order you have them listed. As you complete a book – review it, and go back to your original list and turn that title into a link to the review - that will keep the comments section here from getting ridiculously cluttered.

My 2012 TBR Pile Challenge List:

1. Miss Pettigrew lives for a Day by Winifred Watson
2. Memoirs of an Infantry Officer by Siegfried Sassoon
3. The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
4. The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson
5. Due Considerations by John Updike
6. Cities of Refuge by Michael Helm (finished July 9)
7. Darkmans by Nicola Barker (finished November 26)
8. The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (finished January 6)
9. The Journal of Helene Berr by Helene Berr and David Bellos (finished December 15)
10. Silas Marner by George Eliot (finished December 31)
11. Ivanhoe by Sir Walter Scott
12. The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Polly McLean (finished November 24)

1. Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie
2. Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

I  have tried to pick some books that I know will count towards other challenges, and hopefully increase the chances of success.

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Bride of New France

Finished December 28
Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
This novel follows a young girl, Laure, from the Saltpêtrière Hospital in Paris, a orphanage, school and poorhouse, to the early town of Ville-Marie in New France. Laure was taken to the Saltpêtrière when she was very young, grabbed from the arms of her begging parents by the city's archers. She was lucky to be taken in by a sponsor, but now that lady has died and Laure is back in the Saltpêtrière being trained as a seamstress. She is luckier than most, as she can read and write and has skill with a needle, but when she displeasures the Mother Superior, she is sent to be a bride to the men of New France. She is among many others sent for this duty, but she feels very isolated. As she adjusts to life in the new world, she discovers things about herself and what she is willing to do to survive.
I can't say I really liked Laure, she always seems to think herself superior to the others, whether in Paris due to her sewing and lacemaking skills, or in the new world. But she is definitely a survivor and accepts what she must agree to in order to find a life for herself. She is still young when the book ends, and one hopes she finds herself a life she can enjoy in the future. The history was interesting.

Emory's Gift

Finished December 27
Emory's Gift by W. Bruce Cameron, read by the author
This is a magical novel of a few months in the life of a boy. Charlie Hall finds himself a boy with few friends the summer before he starts eighth grade. He lives out of town and with his mother dying earlier in the year, a divide has been created between him and the other boys. As Charlie wanders around the creek and woods near his home, he encounters a grizzly bear, a rarity in northern Idaho. This is not your usual grizzly bear. Charlie feels a connection to the bear and apparently the bear feels the connection too.
As Charlie starts school, he finds that most other boys in his grade have had a growth spurt, that he didn't have, and he feels even more alone when his supposed friend Danny spurns him. Three things help him through: his ability to run, which gains him some new friends at school; his first love, who seems to feel strongly about him too; and Emory, the bear.
As the existence of Emory begins to become more widely known, Charlie's distant relationship with his father is tested, and so are other relationships. The bear has a message, but how will it give it, and what its meaning is will take time to discover.
This is a special book about love, faith, and trust and how they can heal.

Monday, 26 December 2011

Reading Challenges for 2012 and summary of 2011.

I always enjoy Reading Challenges
Here is a link to the ones I joined for 2011.
Plus one, The Canadian Book Challenge, I joined later in the year that runs July to June. (This one I am already done the required 13 and racking up more reads every month and thoroughly enjoying them.)

What's In a Name
The What's in a Name Challenge I've done for a few years, and finished the one for 2011.
I will be joining the 2012, which has the following as the challenge:
Between January 1 and December 31, 2012, read one book in each of the following categories:
  1. A book with a topographical feature (land formation) in the title: Black Hills, Purgatory Ridge, Emily of Deep Valley
  2. A book with something you'd see in the sky in the title: Moon Called, Seeing Stars, Cloud Atlas
  3. A book with a creepy crawly in the title: Little Bee, Spider Bones, The Witches of Worm
  4. A book with a type of house in the title: The Glass Castle, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, Ape House
  5. A book with something you'd carry in your pocket, purse, or backpack in the title: Sarah's Key, The Scarlet Letter, Devlin Diary
  6. A book with a something you'd find on a calendar in the title: Day of the Jackal, Elegy for April, Freaky Friday, Year of Magical Thinking
The book titles are just suggestions, you can read whatever book you want to fit the category.

Other Things to Know

  • Books may be any form (audio, print, e-book).
  • Books may overlap other challenges.
  • Books may not overlap categories; you need a different book for each category.
  • Creativity for matching the categories is not only allowed but encouraged.
  • You do not have to make a list of books before hand.
  • You do not have to read through the categories in any particular order.
Global Reading Challenge
I signed up for the Expert Challenge for 2011, which required reading three books from each continent. I did not complete this, doing no books at all for Australia/Oceania, only one for Africa and only one for South America. (I think I was reading too much Canada!)

I'm still looking for information on whether this challenge will be offered in 2012.

This is another challenge I've done before. I have until the end of January to finish the 2011 challenge, which I signed up for at the "Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big" level. At this point I only have one 750 page book left, and I have my eye on a couple.

The rules are changing for 2012 and the challenge is running January to December. They are also allowing collections now, so I can read short story or essay collections as part of my challenge, so that sounds like I have a few on my shelf that will fit in. Given that, I'm moving up to the "Mor-book-ly Obese" level, which requires 8 chunksters (450+ pages) of which three must be over 750 pages.

I thought that I would easily be able to do this even though I signed up for the PhD level of 16 books, since I actually owned 28 I hadn't read. But no, I only read a couple. Not so good. I don't know if this challenge is running again, but if I see it I will likely join, but at a lower level.

Update: This challenge is running again.So I will join. The levels have changed to an Olympic theme for 2012, so I will go for "Made the Olympic team" which means my goal is 6-10 books from the list.

This is a new challenge for me, although I have lurked before. This year the war is WWI, and I will go for the Swim level which is 11 or more books. There's so much available to read on this war or set during it.

These challenges should keep me with lots to read this year.

Christmas Books

Got quite a few books for Christmas that will keep me reading. Quite a nice mix of reading.

From my parents:
Semantic Antics by Sol Steinmetz

An Altered Light by Jens Christian Grøndahl

The Meaning of Tingo by Adam Jacot de Boinod

Small Island by Andrea Levy

 From my in-laws:
Just My Type by Simon Garfield
The Art and Embroidery of Jane Hall
The Broken Teaglass by Emily Arsenault
The Blueberry Years by Jim Minick
Forgotten Highways by Nicky Brink and Stephen R Bown
What the Librarian Heard by Linda Bingham
Read This Next by Sandra Newman and Howard Mittelmark

The Greenhouse by Audur Ava Olafsdottir

From my in-laws cats (they always choose something nice!):

Twelve Drummers Drumming by C C Benison

From a friend:
Slow Reading by John Miedema

Sunday, 25 December 2011

The Better Mother

Finished December 24
The Better Mother by Jen Sookfong Lee
A wonderful novel, moving between years. The main character is Danny Lim. Danny grew up in Vancouver's Chinatown, but left as soon as he became 18, not wanting the life his parents envisioned for him. Danny is struggling to come to terms with his homosexuality and remains in the closet to all but his sister and close friends. He works as a wedding photographer but dreams of a photography exhibit of his personal work. When Danny was a child he had an encounter with an exotic dancer that he has never forgotten. When something reawakens that memory, he is determined to find out more about her. So part of this book is Val's story too. Her act was the 'Siamese Kitten' and her story is also one of not facing up to her truth. The two bolster and encourage each other to move forward in their lives by being open about who they are and what made them that way. A novel of secrets, and of self-awareness, this book is hard to put down.

Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Fox Inheritance

Finished December 24
The Fox Inheritance by Mary E. Pearson
This is a sequel the The Adoration of Jenna Fox, and follows the two friends, Locke and Tara, who were in the accident with her. Someone made copies of their mind downloads and 260 years later the two have been given new life in new bodies. The doctor who revived them teaches them and prepares them for the world they now live in. But what are his motives, and what isn't he teaching them about their world?
When the two escape, their travels eventually lead them to Jenna, and more knowledge about what they've missed in those 260 years. There is much around ethics, social issues, and friendship here. The definition of what makes us human, and what manmade beings are capable of is an underlying, yet ultimately unanswered question. I didn't enjoy it as much as the first book, but it was still good.

A Killer's Christmas in Wales

Finished December 23
A Killer's Christmas in Wales by Elizabeth J. Duncan
A nice cozy mystery. The main character, Penny Brannigan is a Canadian who has lived in a small town in Wales for decades. She recently inherited a cottage that she is almost finished renovating. She is also almost finished renovations to another building in town that will become a spa, a business she will run with her partner Victoria. Penny also has a love interest, DCI Gareth Davies, and it is getting serious.
During the renovations for the spa, the body of a young woman and a cat were found hidden in the building and authorities are still trying to determine who she was and what happened to her. There is a new man in town, Harry Saunders, an American and he seems interesting in Mrs. Lloyd, a kind woman twenty years his senior. Florence, Mrs. Lloyd's companion is suspicious of his behaviour, and not just because it threatens her role in Mrs. Lloyd's life. After Harry convinces Mrs. Lloyd to invest a large amount of money with him, both he and the money go missing. When his body is found in nearby Conwy Castle, Mrs. Lloyd is one suspect. Penny's detective skills kick in and she tries to figure out who is behind a rash of local shoplifting as well as a theft from herself, and the murder. A good range of characters, with the cozy small town setting, make this cozy a winner.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Falling Togther

Finished December 14
Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos
Years earlier, three young people met at college and became inseparable. Cat, Pen, and Will spent their college lives together. Six years ago when first Cat, and then Will, walked out of Pen's life, she was lost. She has since made a life, had a daughter and mourned her father, but she has continued to miss her friends.
When she gets an email from Cat asking her to meet at their college reunion, she knows she must go. Will gets a similar email and also finds himself compelled to go. But Cat isn't what they find when they get there, and the search for her leads them around the world and finds themselves doing things they never thought they would. A tale of friendship, missed opportunities, and enduring love, this is a feel good novel with characters that come alive. Pen's daughter Augusta is a real cutie and steals the show when she is around. The language that exists between Pen and Will reminds readers of that special way of communicating that good friends have, the shorthand and easy back and forth that is one of the best parts of this book.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011


Finished December 13
Gamble by Felix Francis
Following in the footsteps of his father, Dick Francis, this is Felix Francis' first solo Dick Francis novel. He assisted his father on many of his recent books, and this novel feels and reads in the same style. Here we have Nick 'Foxy' Foxton ex-jockey, sidelined due to an injury, who is now an independent financial advisor. Because of his past, he has a lot of clients in the horse-racing world, and goes often to races. As the book begins, Nick is at the Grand National with a work colleague and possible new friend, when his friend is shot to death beside him. Herb was a nice young man, an American, who seemingly got on well with everyone, so Nick is unable to understand what has happened. He wonders if the wrong person was targeted. When Nick discovers a threatening note in Herb's coat pocket, he struggles to figure out what Herb was up to. Nick's concern grows when he finds that Herb has made him his executor and beneficiary.
Nick is also approached by a member of the gentry involved in the horse-racing world, who has concerns about a particular investment one of Nick's bosses has involved him in. Nick promises to check into it quietly. Nick is also worried about his girlfriend Claudia and what he perceives as a growing distance between them.
Nick has thought of his life as boring since leaving his life as a jockey, but now he is getting more excitement than he wants, and he trusts very few as he digs deeper into the mystery.

Monday, 12 December 2011

Oliver's Twist

Finished December 11
Oliver's Twist: the life and times of an unapologetic newshound by Craig Oliver
As the chief political reporter for CTV news, Craig Oliver is well known to many Canadians. This memoir covers his life thus far, from his childhood running wild in Prince Rupert through his early reporting days with CBC to his present role.
He chronicles his difficult childhood, talking about both parents who were alcoholics. It was in Prince Rupert that he first started his journalistic career, working for the small CBC radio station there. He moved next to the Prairies and on to Toronto and Ottawa. We see how he moved from the CBC to CTV when it was first starting up and the role he played in its early days.
He talks about his stint in Washington, how he found a way to gain information from the political players there and his travels covering U.S. roles in other countries.
Throughout his career, we see the development of relationships between other news people and between Oliver and the political players of the times. He talks about the different styles of the various politicians and his relationship with them.
In addition, Oliver also includes his passion for canoeing northern rivers and his experiences as he made longterm friendships with the men he shared this passion with. This addition really brought out the personal in the story and he includes a trip he made with his son. He also talks about his love for horse riding as a youth and how he rediscovered this joy later in life. Another personal chapter talks about his loss of vision and how he came to terms with the dependency on others he was forced to learn.
A very interesting memoir covering many decades of politics in our country and opening the doors to a very interesting life.

The Girl on the Escalator

Finished December 10
The Girl on the Escalator by Jim Nason
This collection of short stories involve a variety of characters, but they have in common surprising decisions, actions, and situations. From a successful advertising executive who quits her job to be a graffiti artist to the gay man who falls for a woman, the stories evoke emotions and interest.
Set in and around Toronto, the locations were true to life and reflected life in the city. Here, it is the characters who make the story and the strong portrayals provide surprising depth for short stories.

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Power of Six

Finished December 9
The Power of Six by Pittacus Lore
This is the second in the teen series that began with I am Number Four, now a movie. That book left us with Number Four on the run with his friend Sam and Number Six. This book follows the trio as they continue their travels, gaining strength through practicing and training and learning about their situation. The book also follows Number Seven, whose adult helper has not been doing her job, but who managed to deal alone with her Legacies as they developed, and find a place to practice them. Living at an orphanage school run by nuns in a small Spanish town, Seven (Marina) tries to learn about her fellow Loriens from the Internet and prepare for dealing with the enemy that she knows will come soon. This book adds a few other Loriens as the book progresses and we start to see the Numbers finding each other and gaining strength from that knowledge and their triumphs. We also start to see some of the enemy and get a glimpse of their leader, a very imposing figure. Fast-moving, with teens dealing with common teen issues as well as their own special challenges, this book is a good sequel in the series.

Saturday, 10 December 2011

Ed King

Finished December 9
Ed King by David Guterson, read by Arthur Morey
Overall I enjoyed this book, but there were a couple of areas that I found grating and likely would have skimmed if I were reading rather than listening to the book.
The book begins in the summer of 1962, when Walter Cousins looks for some domestic help when his wife Alice has a nervous breakdown and is hospitalized. He finds a British au pair, Diane Burroughs, who says she is 18, and is willing to come on short notice to look after things. Diane is sexy and knows it. When Walter sleeps with her, the situation alters and Diane admits she is underage and her attitude changes again at the end of the summer when she is no longer needed in the Cousins household. Unfortunately, she is pregnant, and Walter, while trying now to do the right thing, finds himself being milked and lied to. Walter is essentially a good man, who made a bad choice and definitely lives to regret it.
The story then follows the lives of Walter, Diane, and the baby (Ed King) over the course of their lives. We see how the lives interact in interesting ways as this book evolves to mirror the plot of a classic Greek tragedy. This modern novel based on a classical plot is part of an interesting trend lately.
The parts that were skimmable to me were the math stuff and the computer business stuff (note that I was a math honours student my first year of university, so it's not that I'm not math oriented, I just thought it went on a bit longer than necessary for the plot). Well written, and Guterson employs word play and characterization to subtley emphasize the connection to the classic.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

What's in a Name Challenge

I've finished the What's in a Name Challenge for 2011.
Here are my reads:
Evil: Monsters of Men
Size: Tall Story
Jewelry or Gem: The Hare with Amber Eyes
Life Stage:Two Babushkas
Number: Two Generals
Travel/Movement: Far to Go

I enjoyed this challenge, and was surprised at the ease of some and the struggle to find suitable titles for the others.

Tall Story

Finished December 6
Tall Story by Candy Gourlay
This children's novel is set in England where Andi lives with her parents, who are both nurses. Andi's mom is from the Philippines and she has an older half brother who her mother has been trying to bring over for years. Andi's parents have finally made the move to a home of their own, just as she finally works her way onto the basketball team at school. Now she must start all over at a new school.
Back in a small village in the mountains of the Philippines, Bernardo is living his life with his aunt and uncle. He too is fascinated by basketball, although not as much as his friend Jabby. Bernardo has grown tall and many people in the village treat him as a reincarnation of a legendary giant who brings good luck to the village. Nardo himself isn't sure what he believes.
When Nardo is finally approved to come live in England, things move quickly. How does the village react to his leaving? how does he feel leaving the only place he has ever lived, even if it does mean rejoining his mother? how does Andi feel about suddenly having a big (very big) brother? A lot happens to this family and Andi and Nardo are at the centre of the action.
A good story, with interesting characters.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011


Finished December 5
Annoying: the science of what bugs us by Joe Palca and Flora Lichtman
This science is a fairly new field and the authors gather information from a number of disciplines to try to figure out how to define 'annoying' and figure out what sorts of things annoy us and why.
From cell phone conversations to personal grooming, they look at the wide variety of annoyances in our lives. Taking us from the symptoms of Huntington's disease to the emotional response to music, from the taste of chili peppers to the chemistry of skunk perfume, these researches investigate every sideroad in their efforts to understand the annoying.
I found it fascinating to see what annoys, what doesn't and how some people are more susceptible. A great beginning to a new field of study.


Finished December 5
Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
I love how writers can take nuggets of information and create wonderful stories from them. Selznick's love of film history plays a role here, as well as a long ago backstage tour of the American Museum of Natural History. Selznick's unique books with their combination of text and drawings captivate the reader and make the stories come to life. The drawings offer more than the story, there are hidden themes and inspirations here as well. The story is a good one in and of itself.
This is a great book to engage children in reading and give them interest in history and nature besides. Set both in the 1920s and 1977, this book shows how events link over time. The theme around deafness is also interesting, showing how society viewed this disability and treated its victims. I learned quite a bit myself, and will make a point of visiting the Panorama next time I go to New York City.
All-in-all a very cool book that will appeal to all ages.

The Virgin Cure

Finished December 4
The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay
I loved this book! It is interesting how McKay can take a tiny bit of history and create a novel. In this case, she had been fascinated since she was a child of a photo of her great-great-grandmother, a doctor. When she began research to find out about this woman, she discovered the lower New York of the late 1800s. This novel is the story that came out of it.
Following a young girl, Moth, from the tenements, through a stint as an abused servant and into a brothel, McKay makes this world come alive. We see the abject poverty, the hope and despair, and the wiles and ruses used to gain a better life. The title, of course, comes from the myth of the time that sexual relations with a virgin could cure venereal disease, a myth that still exists around AIDS in many parts of the world today."Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose".
The character of Moth fascinates. She is naive, yet street smart in many ways. She longs for love and luxury, but doesn't understand the costs she is being asked to pay. The role of Dr. Sadie, McKay's ancestor is one of goodwill and good deeds in the face of overwhelming poverty and social ills. This is also a circumstance that can be compared to the growing gulf between rich and poor today. The circumstances here are ones that are real in many parts of today's world. This is a sad tale, but also one of hope.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Facing the Hunter

Finished November 28
Facing the Hunter: reflections on a misunderstood way of life by David Adams Richards
This book is a reflection on hunting, from a man who has hunted since he was a child, and who still hunts. Richards looks at the way of life he grew up with and that the people he knows well grew up with and pulls back the curtain on that for the rest of us. He talks about the current popular stance against hunting and the perceptions of hunting that the people who take that stance have. He talks about those who give hunting a bad name.
I grew up in a family where my father hunted occasionally and I remember taking moosemeat sandwiches to school. I remember fishing when I was young and how my father taught me to kill the fish quickly to limit its suffering. Richards also talks about respecting the animals, about the responsibility the hunter has to injured animals and about trusting your feelings about what feels right.
This is a very open, honest look at a behaviour (occupation? pastime? I'm not sure of the right word, but I know it isn't sport) that has a bad rap, and not reasons that reflect the hunting that many people in our country do. Many people hunt for food, and as a way of life that is involved with nature in a very true sense. This is a book that creates discussions and that is always a good thing.

Monday, 28 November 2011

In Other Worlds

Finished November 27
In Other Worlds: SF and the Human Imagination by Margaret Atwood
This book was a thoroughly enjoyable read. This is a book that while discussing speculative fiction, science fiction, their definitions and histories, also discusses Atwood's personal experiences around them. Atwood's reading, writing, and reviewing of these forms the core of the book.
Atwood has broken the book into three parts. The first part deals with her personal experiences and consists of her previously unpublished Ellman Lectures from 2010. The second part collects several of Atwood's reviews of works in the speculative and science fiction genres. The third part has tributes by Atwood to the genre in form of short pieces. She also includes a letter to a school district where her book The Handmaid's Tale was challenged in favor of intellectual freedom, and a discussion of cover art from a book series in the 1930s.
I found this a very personal experience, full of Atwood's usual openness and humour. She is a writer who knows her stuff and this book shows how she thinks about these genres. She looks at the history and gives examples and different points of view, and continuously uses her own experiences as a reflective tool. Her humour comes through again and again, and I found that made it even more personal. While the issues brought to the fore through speculative and science fiction are often serious ones, and need to be taken seriously and addressed, there are also things we can do to lighten the load. I love her sense of humour and also loved finding out about works I hadn't come across before. One line she quoted from Visa for Avalon by Bryher stuck with me "If an individual's right to a place of his own were not respected," Robinson muses, "it was the first link in a chain that would ultimately lead to the elimination of the unwanted by any group that happened to be in power." If that doesn't speak to the current Occupy movement, what does!
I also loved her take on works I was familiar with, and enjoyed nodding in agreement or wanting to go back and take a second look.
Well worth the read, and although I read this as a library book, I think I shall have to go buy my own copy now.

McSweeney's 37

Finished November 26
McSweeney's 37
This collection wasn't one of my favorite McSweeney's collections. Even the binding of the book didn't stand up. I read it as my bedside book, so the failure of the book spine was related to abuse on my part. I think it was design. Some stories I liked, beginning with the excerpt from A Moment in the Sun by John Sayles, tucked in a pocket inside the front cover. The selection of African stories I found less enjoyable, perhaps because they were written outside the story format I'm more familiar with, perhaps because they portrayed Africans in a negative way (they are by Africans, so that's allowed, isn't it!) I generally enjoy the McSweeney's and there is usually something in every issue that I find surprising or challenging, but this time I didn't enjoy the experience as much. And now I need to figure out how to glue the spine back on.

The Maladjusted

Finished November 26
The Maladjusted by Derek Hayes
This collection of short stories features characters who are, in a word, maladjusted. Their situations vary, their ages vary, their sex varies, but they are all uncomfortable in their current circumstances and not always sure what to do about it. Some of them do find a way out, others merely change to another uncomfortable circumstance, and some simply go on with life as they know it.
The characters are interesting and the situations they find themselves in are too. This is an interesting premise for a story collection, providing a link for otherwise unrelated stories.

Saturday, 26 November 2011

Kids' Stuff

Finished November 26
1. Something for Christmas by Palmer Brown
This short classic from the New York Review Children's Collection is a feel good tale of Christmas giving told with the characters of a small mouse and his mother. The small mouse wants to give someone special a gift for Christmas and his mother helps him realize the best gift of all is love.

2. Beyond the PawPaw Trees by Palmer Brown
Another classic from the New York Review Children's Collection is the story of young Anna Lavinia. Anna lives with her mother in a large house with many rooms surrounded by a field of pawpaw trees, enclosed by a wall. Anna's mother spends her days making pawpaw jelly and missing Anna's father. Anna Lavinia misses her father as well, and reads the books he left behind. Anna's mother tells her to "Never believe what you see", but her father left the instruction to "Believe only what you see", and Anna is inclined to her father's views, even though her mother cries when she thinks of him and tells Anna Lavinia he is off chasing rainbows.  She eagerly awaits the day he will return, sure that it will happen on one of the special days when the sky is lavender blue, since interesting things always happen on those days. When her mother sends her off to visit her father's sister, Aunt Sophia Maria, Anna Lavinia is thrilled. She has never been outside the wall before and is eager to have adventures. Her mother takes her to the train station and returns home, and Anna Lavinia is off on her adventure, and a good one it is. I had never come across this book before, but it is a lovely story (albeit the long-suffering mother) and I thoroughly enjoyed it. From cats to camels, tea cozies on trains to mirages off cliffs, Anna Lavinia sees a lot and believes it all.

3. The Houdini Box by Brian Selznick
This short book is inspired by Harry Houdini and tells the story of ten-year-old Victor who wants to be a magician just like him. Despite a lack of success, Victor keeps trying to get himself out of locked trunks and walk through walls, and is thrilled when he has a chance meeting with Houdini himself who promises to teach him some secrets.

Follow Me Down

Finished November 25
Follow Me Down by Marc Strange
This mystery is set in Ontario cottage country in the fictional small town of Dockerty. Orwell Brennan is the chief of police and there are threats to close down the local police force and use the OPP instead. When a man is found murdered just outside town near Brennan's home, he uses all the resources he can to stay in the loop on the case. The murder location falls in the OPP's jurisdiction, the victim proves to be from Halton Region and the Metro force steps in to manage things. Brennan wants to prove the worth of his force and also solve the case. When Metro, with Brennan's assistance identifies someone for the crime, Brennan isn't sure they have the right man and continues to gather information. The case has lots of twists and turns and more players than one first thinks. Brennan comes through in the end, proving the local knowledge of the community along with solid investigative skills always wins the day. A good mystery, and I always like the local stuff.

Friday, 25 November 2011

Not Being on a Boat

Finished November 25
Not Being on a Boat by Esme Claire Keith
An odd novel, set on a luxury cruise ship, this book takes us to a world dark and violent. Rutledge has bought a suite under the Lifetime-Lifestyles package. His suite includes a living room, bedroom, and bathroom, with a balcony. Money doesn't seem to be an issue for him and he is a hefty tipper. He doesn't give much away about his past, and is looking to explore the stopovers, make contacts, and generally enjoy himself. He makes himself known to his steward Raoul and lets him know he expects high-end service. He gets to know some of his fellow passengers, but only in a very superficial way. After a few excursions to shore, he decides to spend some time aboard at one stop and this changes everything. The ship must leave port suddenly and some of the passengers and crew are stranded. Violence in the region seems to escalate and further port stops are cancelled for the time being. Things on the ship seem to be going downhill fast and Rutledge must make choices and call on his contacts to ensure things go well for him.
This is a dark novel, with an interesting scenario, but I can't say that I really enjoyed it.

Room for All of Us

Finished November 24
Room for All of Us by Adrienne Clarkson
Clarkson gathers stories of Canadians who have brought something from another culture to make Canada a richer country in its people and outlook. From Ismaili Canadians, through Holocaust survivors, from Vietnamese boat people to Tamils, from Vietnam War deserters to Chilean refugees, she looks at people who came to this country with nothing or very little. These people haven't forgotten their past, but they have become Canadians and are looking to the future and how they can make Canada even better. This is an interesting look at an issue that reappears in our country time and again, how we accept immigrants including refugees, and what difference they make to the country.
The people she has chosen have not only done well for themselves, but also have done well for the country. The book makes the argument to continue our past practice of welcoming newcomers and continuing to make Canada a country where the identity of a Canadian is a positive, sharing, community-building one, that helps its poorest citizens become productive members of the community.
Inspiring and a call to look at our immigration practices.

Monday, 21 November 2011

The Cat's Table

Finished November 21
The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje, read by the author
This is a lovely story, based on Ondaatje's own experience as a child travelling from Sri Lanka (Ceylon) to England. The three-week journey has the young boy Michael sitting at the table farthest from the captain's table, known as the cat's table. Also sitting there are two other young boys, and some other interesting passengers. Michael describes the experiences of the journey, his relationships with the other two boys, his cousin Emily (who is also on board), and various other adults. The story includes not only the experiences of the 11-year-old boy, travelling on his own such a great distance, but also his reflections on them, his later analysis of the different interactions, and his life as a result of them.
Ondaatje's voice is wonderful, but it took me a while to get used to it. I listen to books in the car as I have a long commute and his sibilant voice sometimes wasn't clear over the road and car noise. Once I adjusted, I was mesmerized by the voice. Although this is billed as a novel, one can't help but wonder just how much of the story was taken from Ondaatje's real life experience. This story is engaging, surprising and one that will stay with you.

The Return

Finished November 21
The Return by Dany Laferri ère, translated by David Homel
This is a fascinating novel/memoir told mostly in poems. Laferrière came to Montreal from Haiti as a refugee fleeing the regime of Baby Doc. His father before him fled to New York from Papa Doc when Dany was only 4. When his father Winston dies, Dany struggles with how that makes him feel, telling the story of his emotions, his trip to New York and his father's funeral, and his subsequent return to Haiti. In Haiti, he feels both like a native and like a foreigner, and he reconnects with family and friends, explores the Haiti of his past and the Haiti of now. He finds himself finding a new relationship with his country of birth as he brings his father's spirit back home.
This book was extremely engaging and once I started it, I found it difficult to put down. Using poetry to tell the story makes it magical and brings the emotions to the fore. It allows the exploration of different aspects of the story that a straightforward memoir wouldn't allow. This book is a gem.

Shatner Rules

Finished November 20
Shatner Rules: your guide to understanding the Shatnerverse and the world at large by William Shatner with Chris Regan
I was never a watcher of Star Trek, although I did catch the occasional episode in after school television and I was working at a movie theatre when the first Star Trek movie was released. I never watched the other shows Shatner was in either, but became more interested in him when I came across a Youtube clip of a serious stage performance he'd done. This book is humour and memoir, philosophy and marketing. Shatner tells of his past, his acting career, his life, his habits, and his passions. Using the construct of actor's ego, he makes himself bigger than life, while talking of taking chances and being open to new ideas. Shatner is an interesting man, but Bill is even more interesting. From horses to songs, mindfulness to talk shows, we learn what he is up to now and why we should be interested. I am.

The Far Side of the Sky

Finished November 20
The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla
This is a story that is based on the reality of the German Jews in Shanghai just before and during World War II. The story begins in Vienna on Kristallnicht, when Franz, a young surgeon, finds his brother killed. It is made clear to Franz that his best hope is to leave, and he, wanting to take his daughter, his brother's widow, and his father with him finds that Shanghai is his only choice. Franz is also a widower and he dotes on his young daughter Hannah.
In Shanghai, Sunny is a nurse. Her father is a doctor and he encourages her in her medical career, believing her capable of more. Sunny feels herself an outcast in her society, child of a Chinese man and a white woman. Life in Japanese-controlled Shanghai is not an easy one, but Sunny drives herself harder by volunteering at the Jewish refugee hospital as well as working as a nurse in the County Hospital. Franz also works at the County Hospital, although he is not given the surgeon's role he deserves. He spends a large amount of time at the Jewish refugee hospital, doing what surgeries he can with the limited supplies he can find. Franz makes contact with the local Japanese officers and Jewish community, and as the war is brought to Shanghai struggles to use the contacts he has to protect his family once again.
This is a saga and a love story, and the tale of a Jewish community seldom told. Interesting history and interesting characters.

Friday, 18 November 2011

Better Living Through Plastic Explosives

Finished November 17
Better Living Through Plastic Explosives by Zsuzsi Gartner
A very interesting collection of short stories that I would call "what if..." stories. Stories that take something from our lives, a trend, a news items, an observation on society and take it to an extreme and see what happens. From the adoption of Chinese baby girls to aging sixties activists living suburban lives, Gartner takes everyday society in Canada today and says "what if". Thought-provoking and mind-boggling, this collection will have you reeling.

The Affair

Finished November 16
The Affair by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill
I always love the Jack Reacher novels and this was no exception. Dick Hill captures his voice perfectly, a great match for the series. Here, we reach back to 1997, when Jack Reacher was still in the army. The Affair tells the story of the event that began Reacher's wandering life. Reacher was a major in the army and an MP. When he is sent to small town in Mississippi, where there is an army base, his task is unusual. He is to be undercover, located in the town, rather than on the base, and to find out as much as he can around the recent murder of a young woman. It is suspected that, because the woman spent a lot of her time socializing with soldiers, a soldier may have been involved in the crime. Another MP Major is stationed on the base. Reacher discovers quickly that things are not straightforward and that he may be on a mission his career will not survive.
When Reacher meets the local law enforcement, he discovers that more has gone on in this community that he was told, and as he uses his army friends to gather information, he finds more about people on or connected with the base. Fast-moving, with a great plot (and some great sex scenes that Dick Hill brings to life!) this is a winner of a tale.

Monday, 14 November 2011

Into That Darkness

Finished November 13
Into That Darkness by Steven Price
This is a dark novel, set in Victoria after a major earthquake. The story follows three characters. Arthur Lear is an older man who lives alone in the house his grandfather raised him in. Arthur is an artist, a painter who hasn't worked on his art in some time. He is a man who feels his age, but the earthquake draws him out of himself to assist with digging others out and assisting them. Mercia is a single mother of two children, Mason and Kat, who runs a small cafe. She is a strong character and puts her children above other needs. Mason is Mercia's son, a small boy who notices more than other people think.
When the earthquake occurs Arthur has just been to the cafe and is at the nearby tobacco shop, where his friend Axa works. Mason is in the cafe with Mercia. Arthur survives the collapse of the building with minor injuries, but Mercia and Mason are buried for quite a while.
As we get a sense of the devastation around them, the lawlessness that has come upon the city, and the barriers to their finding loved ones, we get into each of the character's heads and see their motivations and the way they try to protect each other.
A very good read.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Half-Blood Blues

Finished November 8
Half-Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
This novel is told from the point of view of Sidney Griffiths and moves back and forth between 1992 and 1939-40. In 1939 Sid was part of a group of jazz musicians playing in Berlin. The group consisted of a mix of American and German musicians and had black players, Jewish players and others. Jazz music was becoming more of an unacceptable form of music in Germany, and the black and Jewish players had additional obstacles. One of the group was a young German black man named Hieronymus Falk, an amazing horn player. As the pressure increases, one incident in particular causes the group to try to leave for France and the jazz scene in Paris. For the members that leave Paris provides at first an opportunity and then becomes a waiting room as the Germans move closer. Before they can get out, young Falk is caught and transported to a concentration camp.
In 1992, the discovery of a number of recordings of the group and in particular a recording done in Paris of an original song by Falk has revived interest in the horn player as well as the rest of the group. Sid has moved on in his life, leaving music behind. Chip has made music his career. Chip convinces Sid to participate in a documentary and attend a festival in German, but Sid has regrets of some actions he took back in the day and finds that they still cause him guilt.
This story has it all: love, jealousy, fame and the aftermath of war. I found myself slow to get into the cadence of Sid's voice, but once I did I was held by it. The story and how it all ends is gripping and a great exploration of an experience and time not much talked about: the black man in Europe during World War II, and especially the jazz scene.
And I discover this morning that it has won the Giller too! Even better, as that means more will be likely to read it and experience this great read.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

The Favored Queen

Finished November 7
The Favored Queen by Carolly Erickson
I've been interested in the wives of Henry VIII since my high school days when I read a series of books about them. This novel is told from the point of view of his third queen, Jane Seymour, but also includes the end of Catherine of Aragon reign and all of Anne Boleyn's reign. Jane was a maid of honour to Catherine of Aragon and to Anne in turn. Here we see her own dreams and how her family's behaviour and her situation caused them to perish before she gained them. We see the relationship she developed with Henry and how her own good nature and moral sense brought her to her own fate.
This is an interesting characterization of the historical figure, reimagined by the author.

Death at Christy Burke's

Finished November 6
Death at Christy Burke's by Anne Emery
This novel is part of the Collins-Burke mystery series featuring Father Brennan Burke and lawyer Monty Collins of Halifax. Here, the adventures take place in Ireland, mostly in Dublin.
Monsignor Michael O'Flaherty, Burke's boss, is on vacation in Ireland, a place where he regularly brings Canadian pilgrims touring holy sites. He has just seen off a tour group and is looking forward to relaxing and spending time with friends. Burke and Collins are both here on vacation as well and Michael spends a good deal of time with them. Burke's uncle Finn runs a local named Christy Burke's and it has been targeted lately by unpleasant graffiti. Finn asks them to keep an ear and eye open for anything that may help figure out who did the vandalism. Michael decides to look into the background of the bar's regulars and his search leads him around Ireland, into Northern Ireland, and across to England as well. Burke gets drawn into family intrigues, some of which he isn't that comfortable with. Collins is less active in this mystery, helping with some information but also preoccupied with his own family issues.
The Irish conflict figures large in this book, and we get history as well as the present day goings on. I think it is this aspect that made the book dense for a mystery, the detail of information relevant, yet requiring concentration. There are many good characters here, with backgrounds more complex that they seem at first. An interesting story.

Saturday, 5 November 2011


Finished November 5
Shelter by Frances Greenslade
I read this book in one sitting as it just captured me. The speaker here is Maggie. She is looking back and telling the story of her childhood. Despite being the youngest daughter, Maggie was also a born worrier and her parents often reassure her. She spends time with her father in the woods where he teaches her to be self-sufficient and a resourceful camper. When her father is killed in a logging accident, Maggie's world is turned upside down. At first things her family seems to be adjusting well, but when her mom temporarily leaves her and her older sister Jenny with a couple in Williams Lake while she finds work, Maggie gets worried again. The stretch at the billet grows for the two young girls from months to years, and while they try to rely on each other and their own ingenuity, they long for their mother, Irene. When Jenny finds herself in trouble beyond what she can cope with, Maggie decides it is finally time to go looking for their mother, a search that leads her in a new direction and forces her to look at her mother in a new way.
Maggie is a strong character despite her worrier nature and has been taught from a young age to be self-reliant and resourceful. These skills put her in good stead both in Williams Lake and when she goes on her search. She has a good sense for her own safety and what risks are worth taking, but her youth and lack of life experience do show as well. As we learn more about Irene and her motivations, Maggie shows her strength of character and finds a way forward for the family.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Before the Poison

Finished November 3
Before the Poison by Peter Robinson
This is a wonderful novel with a very interesting mystery. Chris Lowndes left England decades ago and has a successful American career writing music for films. Following his wife's recent death, he has decided to return to his home country and has bought a large house in rural Yorkshire. As he settles in, he learns that a previous owner of the house, Grace Fox, was tried and hanged for murdering her husband. The story intrigues him and he wants to know more. As he locates and reads a write-up of the trial, and follows leads to local people and those who have moved elsewhere, he is drawn to Grace as a person and believes she could not have committed such a crime. Along the way he is also making himself a new home in Yorkshire, finding new friends, meeting his neighbours and coming to terms with moving on in his own life. The story will take him back to his own childhood and beyond to World War II. It will take him beyond his new home in Yorkshire to France and South Africa. It will take him beyond his grief to a new way of living.
The references to music, movies, and books are classic Peter Robinson and fit neatly into the story here. The emotional and nostalgic feelings of his characters are well drawn and make sense both in the story and with the characters. This is a story of past and present, motives and morals, that gripped me strongly.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman

Finished October 30
The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman by Meg Wolitzer
Duncan and his mom have been on their own together forever. When she loses her job in Michigan, the two head home to Drilling Falls, Pennsylvania and move in with his great aunt, Aunt Djuna, and his mom gets a job at Thriftee Mike's Warehouse. Duncan's mom has told him that his father, Joe Wright, died of a rare disease called panosis before he was born, but she doesn't like to talk about him.
Duncan is lonely, having lunch with the other new kid at school, Andrew Tanizaki, a loneliness only enhanced by his ill-begotten nickname Lunch Meat. So when he discovers he has special powers, he is surprised by his mother's insistence to keep them secret, but agrees.
In a rare move to make friends, he reveals his power to Andrew and immediately draws the attention of a boy at the next table. Carl gloms onto Duncan and insists that he be his partner for Scrabble, going to the upcoming Youth Scrabble Tournament in Florida. Carl is sure that he can use Duncan to win the tournament.
Across the country in Portland, Oregon, young April is also planning to attend the tournament. She is a non-athlete in an athletic family and feels that if she makes the sports network televised Scrabble finals, she will final get recognition by her family. In New York City, Nate is being groomed by his dad to win the tournament as well. Nate's dad is consumed with this goal, having lost the tournament himself when he was young.
The story of the three pairs of Scrabble players, the other players they meet at the tournament and the changes the tournament makes in all their lives is a good one, and will lead to lasting friendships. And Duncan's secret power is pretty cool too.

Pigeon English

Finished October 30
Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman
This is one of those novels with a clear voice, here the voice of Harri (Harrison) Opoku. Harri lives with his mom (a midwife) and his older sister Lydia on the 9th floor of an apartment building in London, England. Harri's dad, little sister and grandma are still back in Ghana and Harri wants desperately to see them again, as the phone calls aren't enough for him. Harri has made a friend, Dean, and the two boys spend a lot of time together. Another boy from Harri's school has been knifed and killed and Harri and Dean take it upon themselves to look for the killer since the police don't seem to be making headway. The two boys relish their role as detectives and take clues seriously, trying to gather fingerprints and other hard data.
Harri is also a bird lover, and takes a special liking to a particular pigeon, having secret conversations with it. He is also both fascinated and repelled by the local gang, the Dell Farm Crew, and is occasionally singled out by their leader X-Fire.
Harri is an innocent, trying to be the man of the house in his father's absence, and is a good boy at heart. Even his work to find the boy's killer is a good work, one he feels drawn to because the boy once did a nice thing for him. This is a story that will stick with you, young Harri's voice grabbing you and not letting go.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Under an Afghan Sky

Finished October 27
Under an Afghan Sky: a memoir of captivity by Mellissa Fung
Before her kidnapping and captivity in Afghanistan, Mellissa Fung had an active life, with her career in journalism advancing nicely. She was in a relatively new relationship and looking forward to upcoming changes in both her work and personal life.
Her kidnapping memoir shows this and how knowing her support system of family and friends was out there got her through her ordeal. She tries to create relationships with her kidnappers, asking about them and their families and their life goals. She writes letters to friends and family in her notebook, hoping that someday she will be able to give them in person. She prays and finds her rosary a comfort.
Her portrayal of the young men who kidnap her and the world she finds herself in is written in the present tense and comes across as raw and real. I know from media coverage that she found writing this book difficult, but something she needed to do. It gives us a window into her experience and into life in this difficult country. Well worth the read.

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

IFOA, the GGs, and IFOA Ontario

I thoroughly enjoyed yesterday, mixing with other hosts of IFOA Ontario, meeting people from the publishing industry, Canada Council for the Arts, authors, and other fans of reading.

I got my picture taken with Margaret Atwood (well, the cardboard cutout anyway ;-}).

I can't believe it is 75 years for the GG. Listening to the readings of the five finalists for English fiction made me want to curl up with a book. Even though two of the finalists couldn't be there themselves, their proxies did a wonderful job of it. And of course Shelagh Rogers was a wonderful host. She even had an embarrassing story to tell about herself and her first book interview, with Timothy Findlay. I've only managed to read one so far (The Free World) but have the others on my To Be Read list, especially after the teasers I got last night.

I'm so looking forward to IFOA Ontario coming to Barrie next Tuesday evening (November 1st). It is our chance to celebrate writers with Canadian writer Joshua Knelman, author of Hot Art, a fast-paced true-crime story about the world of international art theft; UK writer Stephen Kelman whose debut novel Pigeon English was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize; and US writier Meg Wolitzer who has a recent adult book Uncoupling inspired by Greek drama and a kid's book out The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman set at a national youth Scrabble Tournament. I'll be bringing some books to get autographed for sure.
Tickets are available at the Barrie Public Library and at Page & Turners.


Finished October 24
Requiem by Frances Itani
Itani is an amazing writer and her books never fail to capture me. Her writing just flows so naturally. This novel is about Bin, a painter, who has recently lost his wife to a stroke. The sudden death has hit both Bin and his son Greg very hard. Bin and his family were among the many Japanese to be forcibly moved from Canada's west coast after Pearl Harbour, and they spent the war years at an internment camp in the Fraser River valley. As Bin struggles with grief, he decides to drive from his home in Ottawa across Canada to the camp, accompanied by his dog Basil. The war years and what happened during them and as a result of them are something Bin has never really faced and dealt with, despite his wife's encouragement to do so.
The river that the camp lay beside was the first river to capture Bin's artistry, and rivers have become a major theme in his art ever since. Bin's memories move back and forth to happier days to with his wife and his childhood during and following the internment as he wanders back west. Music is another theme here, one that he can date to his life before Pearl Harbor, and that was intensified with his relationship with Okuma-san, and later a shared love with his wife. The music of Beethoven, his first love, carries him back across the country, both consoling him and reminding him as he goes.
This is a novel of feeling, a novel of grief, a novel of consolation. A joy to read.

Hoarfrost and Cherry Blossoms

Finished October 23
Hoarfrost and Cherry Blossoms by Susan Bainbridge
This novel is set in a small community in northern Canada called Everet in the 1970s. It revolves around a circle of friends who live in the community. The main characters are Brian, who works at the local fuel depot, and his girlfriend Mary, a school teacher. We also see other people in the community, the majority of whom have come from the south and don't stay in the Arctic their whole lives. These include the local RCMP officer, Jackson Pedley; the local priest, Father O'Reilly; the owners of the local hotel and restaurant, Bob and Sandra; and Brian's boss Jim.
The book is a collection of experiences taken over the course of about a year. They range from finding a local man frozen to death while on a cross-country ski expedition, to pranks at the expense of the nearest neighboring town, to harrowing airplane rides. At first the book seems light-hearted capturing the moments that highlight the lives of these people, but before the end we start seeing the underlying depression one of the characters fights against, and how even those close to them don't recognize it for the torment that it is.
This is a story of friends, people who care about others, and a close community that rallies together.

The Accident

Finished October 20
The Accident by Linwood Barclay, performed by Peter Kerkrot
As usual, Linwood Barclay delivers a fast-moving thriller. Themes in this book are around the economic downtown and people caught between rising costs and either stagnant or decreasing incomes. There are many accidents in this book, and many aren't accidents at all. The first accident is one whose aftermath is witnessed by two women tourists making their way to the garment district in NYC looking for deals. They are also among the first victims as they end up in the wrong place at the wrong time (another theme).
We are then taken by to our main  character Glen Garber, a building contractor whose wife, Sheila, is taking a business course at night to be able to offer assistance to him at work. The couple have an 8-year-old daughter, Kelly. When Sheila dies in an accident that doesn't fit with her character for Glen, he can't let go of it. Barclay's characters are ordinary people like you and me, and that is what adds to the intensity of his books. People, even ordinary good people, aren't always what they seem, and you don't always know them as well as you think you do.
There are many twists and turns, when you think you have things figured out and then new information shows you don't. A great, intense, page-turner that also makes a commentary on the current situation many people find themselves in.

Sunday, 16 October 2011

Four Strong Winds

Finished October 16
Four Strong Winds: Ian & Sylvia by John Einarson with Ian Tyson & Sylvia Tyson
This is the first authorized history of the singing and songwriting duo and Einarson has accomplished it well. He is careful to give both sides their opportunities to give their take on different moments in history and has interviewed a number of others whose lives touched theirs to show circumstance and how their careers were seen by others. This book concentrates on the musical history of the pair, particularly of the duo together and how their subsequent musical careers touched each others. It does not go deeply into their personal lives, but does include mention of other relationships during their time together.
It is a nice juxtoposition to a previous memoir I read by Ian Tyson, The Long Trail, which gave his take on his life and where he ended up. This book relies on many interviews and other research and is much more factually based as opposed to the personal narrative of Tyson's memoir.

The Perfect Order of Things

Finished October 15
The Perfect Order of Things by David Gilmour
This novel takes a main character from a previous book and has him narrate his own life. Revisiting significant places from his past, he reminisces about the events that made those places special to him. He talks about his family, showing us the relationship with his parents and older brother. He talks about his school friends and the escapades they were involved in. He talks about his first love and how that relationship ended. We see his subsequent relationships, including his marriages and how he continued relationships with both his ex-wives. He talks about his children and the special moments he remembers with them. He is a man obsessed with both Tolstoy and the Beatles, and hooked on the illusion of fame.
His is not an extraordinary life, and he looks back at events both happy and sad. It reads like a real memoir, and because the character is a writer, it keeps feeling like Gilmour is pulling experiences from his own life.
I had to laugh at one line in particular:
     I was fourteen years old, and I was bewitched by a girl from, in my mother's dreadful parlance, "the
     wrong side of the tracks." Her name was Shauna. ("Only girls who have sex in automobiles are called
     Shauna," my mother said.)
Something else to live up to?
A good read.

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Free World

Finished October 15
The Free World by David Bezmozgis
Set in 1978 in and around Rome, this book looks at one family of Russian Jews on their way to a new life. The family is comprised of three generations: Samuil and Emma, their sons Karl and Alec, Karl's wife Rosa and their two sons, and Alec's wife Polina. Samuil is not a practicing Jew, he served in the Red Army and was a card-carrying Communist who had a car and driver. Their life in Rome is one of limbo, waiting for immigration papers for their chosen country and adjusting to life in the West. We see love, responsibility, opportunity, and friendship. Alec is a playboy, always with an eye for a pretty woman. Polina, aware of his weakness has still given up her life to follow him, leaving her family behind. There is a whole community of Soviet Jews, all waiting for life in a new country: Australia, Canada, the United States and, of course, Israel. We see the how this search affects the various family members, and how priorities change as they wait. This is a snapshot of a point in history, done with a close-up of one family caught up in it. Those with good health and sponsoring family members in their destination country move through more quickly, others wonder if they are making the right choices.

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

One Amazing Thing

Finished October 12
One Amazing Thing by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, narrated by Purva Bedi, Soneela Nankani and Neil Shah
The situation here is nine people who get trapped in the basement of an Indian consulate in an anonymous American city after an earthquake. They try various means of escape to no avail, and prepare what they have to last until they are (hopefully) rescued. One of them is a college student who has a copy of the Canterbury Tales in her backpack, and she suggests they do something similar to distract themselves from their situation. They each tell a story of something that made a difference in their lives, finding connections through empathy and personal experience.
The characters come from a wide range of backgrounds, and all have beliefs that they bring that influence their actions and come from their stories. A wonderful read, especially with the different voices in the audio format.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Mind Over Mussels

Finished October 10
Mind over Mussels by Hilary MacLeod
This was an enjoyable light mystery set in PEI. This one includes a storm that cuts off part of the island, a few messy relationships, and the power of the mind.
While I enjoyed the village feel and the range of characters, I was sometimes distracted by poor editing and a disjointed plot. Things seemed to jump around a lot and characters talked in riddles.
I found the outcome unsatisfying overall and there seemed to be ongoing storylines where I didn't have enough information. I liked the quirkiness of the characters and the inventiveness of the plot.

Sunday, 9 October 2011

This Book Will Not Save Your Life

Finished October 7
This Book Will Not Save Your Life by Michelle Berry
Not only is the title true, but it won't make your life happier either. This is a sad book about a dysfunctional family, the Swamps. The story is told in sections with different points of view, each telling some of the family history and taking the story a little further along.
It begins with Sylvia Swamp, the youngest daughter at 28, being transported by ambulance from the hospital to a veterinary hospital for a scan. At more than 700 pounds, she doesn't fit into the hospital's equipment. She begins to reflect on her life and what brought her to her current state.
We next hear from Sylvia's mother Ruth. Ruth is narcissistic, and becomes addicted late in her first pregnancy to the book Dr. Spock's Baby and Child Care. She refers to it for every question she has in her life, struggling to fit its contents to her situation. At the same point she discovers the book, she also discovers a magician who works out of a local hotel. He becomes to her all that her husband isn't and she puts a lot of energy into that relationship at the expense of her family.
The next speaker is Sylvia's older sister Sadie, named by her father after his favourite dog. Sadie both wants to be like Ruth and doesn't want to be like Ruth. She loves her sister Sylvia and hates her. Sadie struggles with her life throughout, having a difficult adolescence.
Finally we have Benjamin, Sylvia's father, a man who seems almost an afterthought, a piece of furniture. He seems a man that things happen to, rather than a man who makes things happen. However, we learn that he does make things happen sometimes and they often have a lasting effect on him and others.
This is a book where things are not always as they seem, where life isn't fair, and where books won't save your life, not even if they are Dr. Spock's.

A Trick of the Light

Finished October 6
A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, read by Ralph Cosham
Absolutely wonderful. I thought her last one, Bury the Dead, was her best one, but this one comes darn close. As this series progresses, her characters become more complex. Part of that is because you get to know more and more about them, but she also looks at the motivations, reactions and interactions in interesting ways.
Here, Clara is finally having the evening every artist dreams of, a celebration of her work. When the body of a woman from her past is found in her garden the morning after, many questions arise. Who invited or brought her? How did she find Three Pines? What was she doing there? are just some of them.
In addition, Clara takes a harder look at the people around her. She has always been a people pleaser, a smoother of the waters, but at what cost? And what does she need to change to be truly happy?
Gamache and Beauvoir are still recovering from the horrible experiences they had earlier, and the progress is slow.
The theme here is dark and light, shadow and sun, and whether the things that come forward are the truth or, as the title says, a trick of the light.
I laughed, I cried, and I hated to see the book end. A great read.

Monday, 3 October 2011

The Find

Finished October 2
The Find by Kathy Page
One of the main characters, Anna Silowski, is a middle-aged paleontologist working as a curator in a museum. Taking a day with some colleagues for an impromptu prospecting trip, Anna discovers a partially exposed fossilized skeleton. An incident later in the day with one of her colleagues creates a division between them and leads to an ongoing struggle between the two regarding the dig project. Anna's choices in life have largely been influenced by her fear of what life has in store for her, specifically the fear that she might have a hereditary disease. It has influenced her personal relationships and is a secret she has kept from everyone except her immediate family. She worries that her actions are symptoms of the disease and wants to confide in someone to help her watch for trouble.
Scott Macleod is a young man who has struggled with his identity as the son of a native woman and white man. He also struggles with his relationship with his father, an alcoholic, where he acts as a caretaker of his father's life, putting his own life on hold.
When the two come together, Anna latches on to Scott to be her watcher, and asks him to assist the dig. He is the only one there without a background in paleontology and that fact creates rumours. The dysfunctional relationship between the two leaders of the dig and their behaviour adds to the tension. When the local natives launch a claim, Scott finds himself taking on another role, one that he never imagined.
The issues around identity, and how others see is comes up several times here. This is an interesting story with the relationships taking precedence to the plot.

The Dovekeepers

Finished October 2
The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman
This is a dense book with lots of plot, character, and insight. Inspired by the true events when Roman soldiers laid siege to the fortress of Masada in 70 C.E., Hoffman has told the story of four women who worked as dovekeepers at the fortress. Each woman takes her turn in telling her story, and each story also picks up where the previous one left off in the story of life a Masada and the women's relationships with each other.
First we have Yael. Yael's mother died in childbirth and her father has resented her all her life. She has grown to be self-reliant, and her journey across the desert from Jerusalem to Masada has taught her many things and given her both a burden and a gift. Her life at Masada is also a journey, where she acquires more knowledge and skills.
Second, we have Revka, the oldest of the women. Revka fled her small village with her daughter, son-in-law, and two grandsons after her husband, a baker, was killed by the Romans. Her life changed again in her journey across the desert, with the death of her daughter turning her son-in-law into a different man and silencing her grandsons. Her life at Masada begins with silence, but she gradually becomes close to the other dovekeepers and their children, and finds a new life.
Third we have Aziza, daughter of a warrior, lover of a warrior, and secretly a warrior in her own right. Aziza has be born three times and has had two names. She is a child of metal, and is unflinching when facing danger. She knows her own limitations and isn't afraid to be true to herself, even if it means defying those who love her. Aziza must rediscover her true self in Masada and play the role she is destined to play.
Fourth, we have Shirah, born in Alexandria to a woman dedicated to the priests and with a secret that determines her life and the life of those she loves. She has been far in her life, travelling to Moab and then to Masada. She is a woman of water, and of power and uses her powers judiciously. She loves her children and tries to defy their destinies even as she fears she cannot.
This book tells not only the history of Masada, a fortress where only two women and five children survived the siege, but also of women's roles, their relationship with other women and with men, and the struggles and courage all the players in this historical event underwent.
This book took longer than I thought it would to read, because there was so much to it, a depth of meaning that wouldn't be rushed. Wonderfully written, with complex characters and a great story, it is a book that will stay with me.

Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Teaser Tuesday (very early Wednesday)

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:
  • Grab your current read
  • Open to a random page
  • Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
  • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
My teaser:
"What I am about to bring into the world is precious," Yael assured him. "So if you are to blame, then you are the one to whom I offer my gratitude."

from The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

Monday, 26 September 2011

A World Elsewhere

Finished September 26
A World Elsewhere by Wayne Johnston
Read this one in less than a day in two sittings. Wonderful story that kept surprising me.
Set in the late nineteenth century, Landish, a young man from Newfoundland is at Princeton. He is approached for friendship by an extremely wealthy young man, Van, and it changes his life. The two become inseparable at Princeton until one betrays the other.
Landish returns to Newfoundland and refuses to follow in his father's footsteps as a sealing captain, wanting to be a writer instead. He is disowned and shortly thereafter convinced to take on a young boy, who was orphaned as a result of Landish's father's actions. The boy Deacon and Landish struggle to survive, but things become more and more precarious for them. When Van offers them a way out it seems at first an escape, but their new life is as much a difficult one as their early life together was.
A tale of jealousy, friendship, and love, this story resonates with life.

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Natural Order

Finished September 24
Natural Order by Brian Francis
This is a touching novel that explores a woman's feelings around motherhood, acceptance and regret. Joyce is in her eighties and living in a seniors' care facility. The appearance of a young man as a volunteer causes her to dig into her memories and think about the past. She thinks about the young man she had a crush on as a teenager and the sad end to his life she was told. She thinks about her own son, who died years ago, and her relationship with him. She thinks of the various times in their relationship that she had the opportunity to treat him differently than she did, and she struggles with the guilt she has over her relationship with him.
Through these memories and talking to the young volunteer, she finally admits the truth of her son's life and death, a truth she has denied even to herself for years.
This book reaches inward as Joyce sees how she failed her son even as she loved him and tried to do what she thought was best. Touching, honest and heartrending, this novel fills a void in Canadian literature.


Finished September 23
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, read by Neil Gaiman
Of course I loved it, it is Neil Gaiman. Every one of his books amazes me, but all in different ways. He has such an imagination that I am in awe.
Here, the main character is Richard Mayhew, a young man living in London and living a quiet ordinary life, a meek man. His life is changed completely when he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on the street, as he and his fiance are on their way to an important dinner. His act of human kindness takes him to a side of London he never knew existed and causes him to disappear from his ordinary life.
The London he now exists in is a difficult place, full of shadows and hidden meanings, full of creatures that are unpredictable or horribly predictable, full of creatures with special talents and amazing histories. Richard struggles against this world at first, until he realizes that he must deal with it.
Richard is everyman, who has been leading an ordinary life until he finds himself in this situation. This book asks the question: what does a man really want from life? and finds that the answer isn't as easy as one thinks. Taking someone completely outside of reality as they know it and challenging them to be all that they can be is a life-changer.
I loved it.

Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Lethal Rage

Finished September 21
Lethal Rage by Brent Pilkey
This is not your average police mystery book. It is definitely not police procedural, and shows the dark side of police work.
Set in 51 Division in Toronto, the main character is a recent arrival to the Division, but has been a cop in Toronto fox 6 years. 51 Division is the grittier part of the city though, and Jack takes to it like a duck to water. He feels he is making a difference there.
His wife Karen isn't as happy with the move. She worries about him more and says she doesn't like the change in him that she sees. Her parents aren't happy either. They are well-off and move in influential circles. They haven't liked Jack from the beginning, and he thinks they never will.
As the pressure on Jack to help solve a drug crime increases, he is quicker to anger and takes on guilt over an incident he was involved in.
Gripping, with a willingness to show the darker side, Pilkey's police background shows here.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

The Antagonist

Finished September 20
The Antagonist by Lynn Coady
This book is told in a series of emails from one man to another. Gordon Rankin (Rank) is nearly 40 and is led to begin these emails by coming across a book written by a man who he considered his closest friend 20 years earlier. Rank feels the book betrays that friendship, exposing Rank's inner thoughts and yet still portraying him as a caricature.
Rank is a big man and beginning with his father has been cast in a role that he doesn't want. The role is enforcer, bouncer, goon. His father, his university hockey coach, his friends, all consider him as a man who is defined by his size and not what goes on inside his head.
He is haunted by a dual tragedy that occurred when he was a young man and has lived his life in fear of such a tragedy occurring again.
This is a book to shake you out of your assumptions, to open your eyes to how we see each other. Particularly in light of recent tragedies related to those hockey players defined as enforcers, this is a book for the times. The novel shows insight, character growth, and shows our society in a new light. A wonderful read that I could barely put down.