Monday, 28 March 2011

The Curved Planks

Finished March 28
The Curved Planks by Yves Bonnefoy, translated by Hoyt Rogers
This book of poetry, translated from the French, is my first experience with Yves Bonnefoy. The poems evoke nature and feeling and have wonderful turns of phrase. I loved the line "Our mouths besotted / With the smell of grass." Another one that caught me was "Memories passed through their sleep / Like boats in the fog, stoking their fires / Before they head upstream."
I took my time over this collection, to savor it and enjoy the word, put together so elegantly. A wonderful collection of poems.

Dahanu Road

Finished March 28
Dahanu Road by Anosh Irani
This is a very sensual novel, appealing to the senses. Zairos Irani is a young man, close to his grandfather Shapur. As he spends time with the old man, he is told stories of the past. He is also the one to find a worker's body in the orchard, and he finds himself drawn to the man's daughter. Kusum also finds herself drawn to Zairos and at the basis of this is a memory from her childhood. Zairos has lived a life of idleness and his first moves are hesitant. As the both find themselves defying taboos with their relationship, it is Kusum who has the strength. Their story also leads back to the story of Shapur and Banu, Zairos' grandparents.
We see the age-old conflict between the landowning Iranis, and the local tribal Warlis who work for them. Zairos discovers this history is part of his family story as well. This book has humour and sadness, but it is the evocative nature of the writing that makes it come alive.
This book is one of the ten finalists for the 2011 OLA Evergreen Award.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

The Daughter's Walk

Finished March 27
The Daughter's Walk by Jane Kirkpatrick
This is a book that appealed to me as soon as I saw it. Based on a true story, this novel takes the facts that exist about this young woman and weaves a story around them.
In the late 1890s, Helga Etsby and her daughter Clara agreed to walk from Spokane, Washington to New York City. This was a story that was hushed up by Helga's family, and I became interested after reading a book about that walk called Bold Spirit. The book tells a shorter story of the walk from the daughter, Clara's, point of view and then goes beyond it. The author had also heard the story and was intrigued that Clara distanced herself from the family for many years and changed her name. She did a lot of research around Clara, and was able to find out a few things about her. She took this and family memories as well as other research and built this wonderful story around it. The story fills in where the facts leave off, but feels like it could have happened this way. Clara comes alive here and becomes her own person, something she didn't do in the earlier nonfiction book. I really liked the way the author took the facts and built a story around them that fit. This was a great read and very interesting.

Friday, 25 March 2011

Breath of Angel

Finished March 24
Breath of Angel by Karyn Henley
I received this as a prepublication copy from Library Journal and had never read anything by this author before. This is the first book in The Angeleon Circle series, and from the series and book titles you can see that angels are the theme here.
The main character is Melaia, a young priestess/chantress, who witnesses the murder of a messenger in her temple courtyard. Shortly after this event, the murderer shows up there, but while he did the act as a hawk, he now appears in his human form. He asks for a tale to be told. As Melaia discovers, the tale she tells is not complete and the version she tells has elements missing. As Melaia travels to the royal court, she ends up caught up in the feud between the two brothers of the tale, and takes refuge with a group of angels who are trying to set things right. There she finds that order can only be restored by one who has "the breath of angel, blood of man," and Melaia herself has a large role to fill in the story.
I found the story interesting and engaging, and would be interested in reading the rest of the series. I could see this appealing to teen readers based on Melaia's age and her growing awareness.

The Book of Unnecessary Quotation Marks

Finished March 23
The Book of "Unnecessary" Quotation Marks: a celebration of creative punctuation by Bethany Keeley
This is one of those short, humorous books that have you chuckling as you read. As a lover of words, grammar and punctuation, I was naturally drawn to this one.
It includes photos of signs with quotation marks in, surprise surprise, unnecessary places. Keeley groups them into categories like "Work", "Restaurants", etc. and a short comment is included with each one.
It really does make you wonder what goes through people's heads when they are making these signs. It also reflects sadly on our educational system that people misuse quotation marks so badly.
A fun book.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011


Finished March 23
Atlantic: great sea battles, heroic discoveries, titanic storms, and a vast ocean of a million stories by Simon Winchester, read by the author
Having read other books by Winchester, I was delighted to pick up this one and even more so to discover that he was reading it.
He uses a very interesting structure to tell the story of the Atlantic Ocean, Shakespeare's Seven Ages. He begins the book by telling of his own first experience of travelling the ocean, going over to Montreal on the Empress of Britain in 1963 (by coincidence, my birth year!). Then he talks about the structure he will use.
For the first age "At first the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse's arms" includes the physical and geographic history of the ocean, how it came to me and what it consists of. The second age, "the whining schoolboy with his satchel and shining morning face, creeping like snail unwillingly to school", tells the story of discovery. We see the various expeditionary trips across, the misconceptions, the discovery that it was really a bridge to a new land, and all the things we learned about it.
The third age, "the lover, sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad made to his mistress' eyebrow" includes the ocean in art. We hear of poems, prose, paintings, architecture, and music. This is a wealth of wonderful references to the influence of the Atlantic in culture. The fourth age, "a soldier, full of strange oaths, and bearded like the pard, jealous in honour, sudden, and quick in quarrel, seeking the bubble reputation even in the cannon's mouth" covers the wars fought across and in the Atlantic and they include many battles. The fifth age, "the justice in fair round belly, with good capon lin'd, with eyes severe, and beard of formal cut, full of wise saws, and modern instances" includes trade and commerce. Covered here is not only the trade across the ocean, and around the ocean, but also the commerce of the ocean's wealth, marine life. We see the wealth of the ocean in the fisheries within it.
The sixth age, "the lean and slipper'd pantaloon, with spectacles on nose, and pouch on side, his youthful hose well sav'd, a world too wide, for his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice, turning again towards childish treble, pipes and whistles in his sound" covers the shrinking of the ocean. This is the easy crossing of the ocean, using the new technology of flight; the diminishing of its fisheries due to overuse; the effect of pollution both in and above it, and the lack of respect man has paid to it. The final section, the seventh age, "second childishness and mere oblivion, sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything" looks at the future of the ocean. Will it be able to overcome what we and nature have done to it? Is there hope for new life? As the world warms and ice melts, and the ocean grows, how will that affect those who live around and on it? Will it fight back with more large natural events like hurricanes and tsunamis? Raising lots of interesting questions, this section offers new information, ways to look forward and hope for the future.
Winchester finishes with another personal experience, an Atlantic shipwreak on the skeleton coast that captured his imagination and drew him to search it out and leave his own mark.
As usual, Winchester takes a large topic, makes it come alive and allows us to see its many aspects, and ignites our imaginations. Wonderful.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Climbing Patrick's Mountain

Finished March 20
Climbing Patrick's Mountain by Des Kennedy
Patrick Gallagher has made a life in Vancouver hybridizing roses. He names his roses after the attributes of beautiful women. Patrick is from County Cork, Ireland, a place he fled twenty years ago. He finds out that his home in Vancouver is under threat and, hoping to find a way to save it and his roses, agrees to lead a garden tour to Ireland. His past in Ireland comes back to haunt him in various forms when he arrives in his birth country. With lots of information about gardens and plants, particularly roses, and Irish history, I found the story an interesting one. Patrick has never really dealt with his past, and this visit brings it all back. He must finally deal with that which he ran from.

The Wonderful O

Finished March 19
The Wonderful O by James Thurber
This is a classic I hadn't come across before, and I have to say I didn't enjoy it as much as I expected to. Parts of it seemed to ramble off the narrative.
The story is that a pirate with a map meets up with another pirate with a boat and crew and they sail to the island of Ooroo where there is supposed to be treasure buried. The map they have doesn't have the location of the treasure, so they ransack the island looking for it. The captain of the boat hates the letter O and gradually tries to rid the island of it, either by taking the Os out of words, or getting rid of the things and animals that have the letter O in their names. There are good islanders that plot to defeat these evil man, and a bad islander (a lawyer of course!) who plots against his fellow islanders. There are 4 words that contain the letter O and that are important words for the islanders. They must find them all.
I found the book interesting and it reminded me of another book I read (that I enjoyed more) called Ella Minnow Pea.

Saturday, 19 March 2011


Finished March 19
Pearl by Mary Gordon
This novel had been on my to-read list for some time, and I finally got around to it. The story is told by a narrator external to the story, yet who occasionally refers to their own existence, a very different outlook.
Pearl is an American studying the Irish language in Dublin. Maria is her mother. Joseph is Maria's best friend, a man who has played the role of substitute father in Pearl's life.
The story is told from the viewpoint of all three characters, yet still externally to them. Pearl has become involved with a political group in Ireland and has been tutoring a dyslexic teen, when things go horribly wrong. Pearl decides that she must use her life to become a witness to the tragedies and, after starving herself, handcuffs herself to the flagpole at the American embassy. As Maria and Joseph travel to Dublin, and try to figure out how to help Pearl, we see the backgrounds of all three characters and what has brought them to this point in their lives. We also see their struggles to find the path forward.
I found this novel very interesting. It raised some relevant philosophical questions and looked at roles and relationships.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

The Incident Report

Finished March 16
The Incident Report by Martha Baillie
This novel has an intriguing format. With the narrator, Miriam, an employee of the Public Libraries of Toronto, in the Allan Gardens branch, the book begins with a form used by the library to report on incidents that take place in the library. The rest of the book is in the form of short (sometimes very short) incident reports that consist of descriptions of events that take place in the library, in her personal life, or in her past. It was a very different way to tell a story and yet it worked in a very good way. The short sections made it easy to change scenes, introduce new characters and emphasize certain events.
Of course, as a librarian, I could also relate to some of the strange encounters one has with patrons, and the rewarding ones. A very interesting read with a few surprises along the way.

Tuesday, 15 March 2011


Finished March 14
Stargazing: memoirs of a young lighthouse keeper by Peter Hill
This book won the Saltire Award, but that isn't why I bought it. Amazingly the title intrigued me enough to both by it and put it on a wish list. So I ended up with two copies (am now trying to think of who should be the lucky recipient of the second copy).
In the summer of 1973 in Scotland, Peter Hill was trying to figure out what to do with his life. He'd been at art school, but wasn't feeling that it led somewhere for him. He applied and was chosen to work on lighthouses for the summer.
His experiences with the work, the companionship of the other lighthouse keepers, the solitariness of life at a lighthouse and the connectness that lighthouse keepers have with each other all fed this book.
Hill brings the life alive, from the storytelling at shift changeovers, to the interesting habits of the various lighthouse keepers, to the tales of how they came to take the jobs are all enlightening.
Lighthousekeeping is a job like no other, and today it has all but disappeared with automation. Hill tells the story as a way of keeping that history alive, and he succeeds brilliantly.

Children's Fiction

Finished March 13
I couldn't sleep so I sat up and read a pile of kid's books I've been considering for gifts. And they were all winners!
I started with The Death Defying Pepper Roux by Geraldine McCaughrean. This book follows a young boy in France, who has been told that he won't live until his fourteenth birthday. He has lived his life praying and following strict guidelines. As the day of his fourteenth birthday approaches, he breaks away from his life, taking on the persona of a variety of others as he runs from his supposed destiny. From ship's captain, to delicatessen worker, to journalist, to telegram boy, to the foreign legion, he finds himself friends, allies, and adventures. A great tale of belief, self-reliance, and perception.
Next up was When you Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. This tale follows Miranda a young girl in New York City. Miranda lives in an apartment with her mother, and helps her prepare to compete on a game show. Strange things start happening in her life. Her friend Sal gets punched for no apparent reason by a boy in their neighbourhood, the spare key for Miranda's apartment goes missing, and then she gets a mysterious note. It asks that she do something to save her friend's life. At first Miranda is confused and then scared. As another note comes to her, she begins to wonder if she can do what it asks. Along the way, Miranda makes new friends, and learn new wonderful things. A tale that was delightful.
The third book is Mockingbird by Kathryn Erskine. Here, Caitlin and her father are trying to come to terms with the sudden violent death of Caitlin's older brother Devon. Caitlin has Asperger's, and she has trouble reading other people's emotions and finding the appropriate response. She works with a counselor at her school who helps her find ways to improve her skills. As she looks for ways to deal with her own grief and loss and help her father deal with his, she becomes engrossed with the idea of Closure and works toward a way of finding it. A wonderful story that lets you inside Caitlin's head to see what someone with Asperger's experiences, and how their unique outlook can affect those around them. A wonderful story.
The fourth book I read was a Canadian fantasy book, Nieve by Terry Griggs. Nieve lives with her parents in a small town near a larger city. Her parents are professional weepers, hired by those experiencing loss or sadness. Her grandmother follows the old ways and has taught them to Nieve. When some of the people in town disappear, including Nieve's best friend Malcolm, she gets worried. Nieve finds strange weeds that start to grow everywhere and a duo, Wormius and Ashe, who arrive in town trailing a cloud of darkness. The darkness spreads everywhere and more and more people go missing. Nieve finally is able to go to her grandmother who shows her how to help her community overcome the darkness that is threatening to destroy them. From evil injections, to spirits, to magical footwear, Nieve finds new friends, strength in herself and great adventure. A very interesting tale of good versus evil.
A very productive night!

This High Wild Country

Finished March 13
This High, Wild Country: a celebration of Waterton-Glacier International Peace Park by Paul Schullery and Marsha Karle
I had to grab this book when I saw it. Growing up in Alberta (mostly), and in a family that camped and hiked, we spent a lot of times in the parks. My high school years were spent in southern Alberta, and we went to Waterton often. I've been less often to Glacier, but loved what I did see of it.
I've hiked Red Rock Canyon many times, and still have the bear bells I'd attach to my runners when hiking the switchback trail from Waterton town site.
This book brought back the memories, with Schullery's text and Karle's wonderful artwork, the parks came alive again. This is a gem of a book about a very special set of parks.

Monday, 14 March 2011

Paris Was Ours

Finished March 12
Paris Was Ours: thirty-two writers reflect on the city of light, edited by Penelope Rowlands
I saw this new book at the library and had to check it out. Paris is one of those magical cities that holds a certain mystique. I have only been to Paris once, in my youth, but my memories of it are still strong.
The writers here all lived or live now in Paris. They talk about their memories of the city, their feelings about the city, and how it compares to their lives elsewhere.
A wonderful collection, that awoke my own memories.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Crime and Punishment

Finished March 9
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky
This is a classic that I had never got around to reading until now. I was lucky enough to catch a blog that was discussing it to get some added direction on themes and commentary. Raskolnikov is not a sympathetic character. He definitely has his issue of poverty, but falls into depression and navel-gazing, blaming others rather than trying to pull himself forward. Throughout the book, one never gets the sense that he develops in this regard, staying very self-involved. His sister Dounia seems made of sterner stuff, rebuffing inappropriate advances and yet caring for those around her, even when her own plans are fast changing.
Raskolnikov never seems to be really sorry for his crime, and I found the epilogue to feel like a piece added on, and not a piece that flowed from the story.
There is a lot of social commentary here, and a good picture of the time in which the book was set. The author was careful to set the novel in real places, and apparently even now there are tours of the various places referenced in the book.
The themes around relationships are also interesting. Most seem troubled to some extent, and the discussions by very characters offer a variety of reasons why.
All in all, I found the book a very interesting read.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Stories from the Prairies

Finished March 7
Stories from the Prairies by Marie Anne McLean
This audiobook is part of the StorySave series, voices of Canada's storytellers. Marie Anne McLean grew up in Manitoba and the stories here are her own creation. They fall into three types
The first set of stories is set in the fictional small town of Thumbprint, Saskatchewan. McLean's interest in small town Saskatchewan began with her brother's experiences as an RCMP officer there. The stories capture various ideas and are vignettes of small town life. The second set of stories are World War II stories based on the experiences of McLean's father, Jack, and his fellow soldiers from D-Day to reunions. The third set of stories are family stories from McLean's family from her grandparents, to her parents, to her brother.
McLean tells a good story and makes them come alive. She is hesitant in spots as she looks for the right word or phrase, but the stories are well put-together and interesting.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A Likely Story

Finished March 6
A Likely Story by Eric Wright
This Canadian mystery is from the Joe Barley series. Joe is a man working on a novel, supporting himself as a part-time lecturer at a college in Toronto and part-time detective work. Here, his partner Carole is about to have a baby and he is thinking about the need to get a more permanent job.
First, a couple of cars disappear from campus parking lots, and then a part-time teacher goes AWOL. Joe tries to track down the teacher, but keeps getting information that contradicts what he thinks he knows. When the alternative campus paper starts running anonymous letters detailing battles between the English and Business faculties, the administration takes an interest.
Joe is trying to get to the truth behind these various mysteries, and is worrying about his impending fatherhood.
This is the first book I've read in this series, but it is a nice light mystery with an intriguing plot and good characters. Very enjoyable.

The Winter Ghosts

Finished March 5
The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse, read by Julian Rhind-Tutt
The main part of this story takes place in the past as Freddie tells it to a bookshop owner. His tale is told in 1933, but takes place in 1928. Freddie is still mourning the loss of his older brother in the First World War. His brother was the only one in his family that he had a true connection with, and he was not told the details of his brother's death at the time. Subsequently, he had a nervous breakdown and spent some time in a sanatorium, but he still feels very close to his brother and distanced from reality.
His doctor has advised him to take some time away and he has traveled to the mountains of southern France. He has a car accident on mountain roads in the early winter and sets off walking to find help. He ends up in the village of Nulle where he finds an inn where he can spend the night and where they will help with his car. Following instructions from the innkeeper, he attends a community feast in the town hall and meets a young woman named Fabrissa. When dangerous events happen, he helps Fabrissa leave and they both share their stories of loss. Over the next few days, Freddie discovers his true role in assisting Fabrissa and looking toward his own future.
With elements of mysticism and history, this story of loss and human caring was engrossing. I felt carried away into the world created in the novel. This is the third book by Mosse that I have read and, although each one is very different, they all share some of the same themes. I have enjoyed them all.

Saturday, 5 March 2011

A Red Herring without Mustard

Finished March 1
A Red Herring without Mustard by Alan Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle
This is the third novel in the Flavia de Luce series. It started with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, and continued with The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag. I thought the first much better than the second, but the third is back to the quality of the first. The plot itself is strong, and Flavia shows some character development, as does her father the Colonel.
There is less about the two sisters here than in the previous books, but Flavia more than makes up for it. Her adventures start at the fete where she asks for her fortune to be read by a gypsy. From there it leads to a family of disturbed neighbours, a supposedly defunct religious sect, and a local antiques shop. Flavia ruins a few dresses, engages in many chemistry experiments, and learns more about her dead mother, Harriet. I really enjoyed the bits with her father this time as we saw more of his character and the struggles to overcome his grief. Flavia herself shows concern for several other people, from the gypsy and her granddaughter, to the local orphan boy. The plot has lots of nice twists and turns, but hold together very well. A great read, and the audio by Jayne Entwistle is perfect as always. She captures Flavia's voice wonderfully.

Thursday, 3 March 2011

The Hare with Amber Eyes

Finished February 27
The Hare with Amber Eyes: a family's century of art and loss by Edmund de Waal
My mother-in-law lent me this book, and said it was great. She was right.
Edmund finds out that he will be inheriting a collection of netsuke from his great uncle. This causes him to wonder about how the netsuke came into the family, and he ends up tracing back his family history, the collectors over the generations, and the wonderful things they collected. From Odessa to Vienna to Paris to London to Tokyo, he follows various trails, and makes his family come alive for us. There is much art history, history of Jewish intellectuals and their place in the arts world, and social history.
Edmund tells us how he starts with one question and gets interested in some of the other things he finds along the way. He spent a couple years of his life following this trail, and the world is richer for it.
A very interesting book