Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Teaser Tuesday

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: "In many ways Joe felt closer to his sister-in-law than to his brother, respected her more, yet he and Gratton carried the same seed of whatever it was -- mud, blood, hardship. He wouldn't anoint his own childen with that legacy."

from The O'Briens by Peter Behrens

Death Toll

Finished August 29
Death Toll by Jim Kelly, read by Roger May
This is part of the series featuring DI Peter Shaw and DS George Valentine. Here, when bodies are being moved out of King's Lynn's cemetery due to rising water levels, workers discover remains of a body buried above another coffin. Shaw is able to draw the victim from the bones, and he is quickly identified as a young man that went missing 28 years earlier, at the same time Nora Tilden, the body in the coffin was buried. Nora was the owner of a local pub, the Flask, that lies near the cemetery. As Shaw and Valentine concentrate their efforts on this cold case, looking for fresh clues, they also continue to work on the case that ended the career of Shaw's father, and resulted in Valentine's demotion.
Both Shaw and Valentine are complex characters, with personal issues that affect their reactions to both cases. Shaw is quick to anger when religion and race prejudices emerge. Valentine is calmer, but leads a lonely existence. I enjoy this series not just for the plots, which are always good, but also for the psychology and character development.

Monday, 29 August 2011

Mennonites Don't Dance

Finished August 27
Mennonites Don't Dance by Darcie Friesen Hossack
This collection of short stories has a base in the Mennonite community with all the main characters either living in a prairie Mennonite community, or coming from one. Some characters appear in more than one story, although in a subtle way.
Since I am half Mennonite myself, this book really appealed to me. I could relate to the culture and the values. Many of the themes here though go beyond any one culture and speak to family and how the attitudes and actions of our parents affect our lives into adulthood.
Some stories were sad, some happy, but all spoke of the relationship between people and family dynamics.
A great addition to Canadian short stories.

Sunday, 28 August 2011

Raising Orion

Finished August 27
Raising Orion by Lesley Choyce
Eric wakes up in the hospital after nearly freezing to death in the Arctic. Molly runs her used books store in Halifax and lets a group of young musicians use it for practice space. Todd is fourteen and seriously ill in the hospital. This book shows how these characters interact with Molly as its center. Molly grew up as the daughter of lighthouse keepers on Devil's Island off the coast of Halifax. She reflects on her early life as she tries to comfort Todd and is also reminded of her own life-changing event at the age of fourteen.
This is a novel about interactions between people, the effect we have on others lives, and the interesting linkages between people over space and time. How we connect to others is deeper than we sometimes think, and the ways we can offer support are varied. I loved this book and how it made me think about these things. Highly recommended.

Saturday, 27 August 2011

The Deserter

Finished August 24
The Deserter by Paul Almond
This is the first book in a new series called the Alford Saga. Loosely based on Almond's own ancestors, this book includes a good deal of historical research as well as some artistic license.
The book begins around 1800, when a young man named Thomas Manning is on a British man o' war moored in a small bay of the Gulf of St. Lawrence riding out a spring storm. Thomas knows the price to be paid if he gets caught deserting, but he has planned in advance for just such an opportunity and knows he may not get another chance before his ship heads back to join the fight against Napoleon.
He makes his way ashore and begins the trek inland, encountering a tribe of Micmac natives. They assist his endeavors and he becomes close to them. He begins to make a home for himself, but also works at a French village building ships. He also encounters some English settlers, using an assumed name, James Alford, to hide his identity in case they are looking for him for desertion.
As he learns skills from his employer, and from the natives, Thomas begins to make a life and start his own family. This book ends with him at that point, opening the opportunities for furthering the story in later books. The story flows well and Thomas comes across as a believable characters. The natives are also portrayed well and with respect. This is an interesting story and I look forward to future installments.

Alone in the Classroom

Finished August 21
Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay
This is a novel that crosses several time periods, told by Anne.
The earliest time is 1929, in a small town in Saskatchewan, where Connie Flood is a young teacher. The new principal, Parley Burns, unsettles many in the community. Connie finds his attentions unwelcome, while another teacher is drawn to him. Burns starts a dramatic club that puts on a play, and singles out a particular girl with tragic results. Connie takes a young man with a learning disability under her wing for special tutoring.
A few years later, in another town near Ottawa, Connie, now a journalist encounters Burns again when she is working on a story around a young girl who went missing. While in town she boards with Anne's grandmother, and her younger brother eventually marries Anne's mother.
As Anne looks back on the events that occurred in her and Connie's lives we see the patterns, and the parallels. One of the patterns is threes: principal, student, teacher; grandmother, mother, daughter; aunt, niece, lover; mentor, teacher, student. Another is the influence of older male on younger female. We see the results of obsessive love on people's lives. We also see how events early in a person's life can stay with them throughout the rest of their lives. This is a book about relationships, emotions, and impulses.
A good read.

Saturday, 20 August 2011

The Water Man's Daughter

Finished August 19
The Water Man's Daughter by Emma Ruby-Sachs
This first novel by Ruby-Sachs is set in the townships of Johnnesburg, South Africa. A company is installing water pipes in the township, working with the government. It sounds straightforwardly as a good thing, but there are many underlying issues here relating to wealth, water rights, public health, and the gangs that arise in poverty-stricken areas.
Peter Matthews is an executive with the water company. He is from Canada, and when he goes out with a group of local politicians, something happens. The next day he is found, dead in the black township of Phiri, with his body mutilated.
Nomsulwa Sithu is a young woman who has grown up in Phiri. She runs an social organization fighting for water rights. Sometimes her activities have gone beyond the usual protests and meetings with local politicians. Her cousin Mira works closely with her. He sometimes needs to be reined in, but generally respects her judgment.
Zembe Afrika is head of the local police in Phiri. She has close ties to the community, but also move forward in her career. Sometimes her sense of social justice is stronger than her sense of criminal justice. Usually she can manage this, but this case may not develop that way.
Claire Matthews is the twenty-one year old daughter of Peter. She arrives in Johannesburg griefstricken yet determined to find out what happened to her father. Afrika pairs Nomsulwa with Claire as an escort, much against Nomsulwa's wishes. But Afrika has information about Nomsulwa that could harm her.
As we move through the story, we look at things through the eyes of the three women: Nomsulwa, Claire, and Mama Afrika. What we learn causes us to change how we think about the characters. What we think changes how we feel. This is a book about complicated lives, and will grasp you and keep you thinking even after you finish it. A winner.

Friday, 19 August 2011


Finished August 18
Checkpoint by Nicholson Baker
This short novel takes place within a few short hours in a hotel room in Washington DC. The time is during George W Bush's presidency. Jay is upset about the political situation and feeling like he has to do something to change the course of history, to make a difference. He has asked his old friend Ben to drive up and talk to him, and bring a tape recorder to tape what Jay has to say. Ben is the kind of guy who, despite having a young family, also feels that he needs to nurture his friendships and be there when his friends need him.
Once Ben gets there Jay reveals his plan to kill the president. The book is a conversation between the two men, that from time to time goes back in time, over to other issues, and makes a number of diversionary tracks, but essentially is about the political situation of the time, the feelings of impotence about the reality by the common man and the need to make a difference in the world.
At first I was a bit put off, but gradually I felt myself drawn into the discussion, seeing the larger political picture, the origins of the political situation and its antecedents, and the differences a person can really make. I've always liked Baker's writing and meant to read this one ages ago. I'm glad I finally got around to it.

Astonishing General

Finished August 17
The Astonishing General: The Life and Legacy of Sir Isaac Brock by Wesley B. Turner
This book is an account of Isaac Brock, focusing on his time in Canada. Very little is here about his life before coming to Canada, and most of this book is limited to external views on his life. The author includes some excerpts from letters and other personal papers, but I left the book without a strong feeling about this man. I don't feel that I really got a sense of who he was. Some of the information given here about his life and actions seems contradictory, and other information is less substantiated by other sources.
He definitely seems dedicated to his military responsibilities, but also with a strong sense of family, despite his distance from them. The information gathered in this book is interesting, and includes a great deal around Isaac's role in the War of 1812. I was sometimes confused by the jumping back and forth in time when the author started one discussion and seemed distracted by certain elements, going forward in time or to other viewpoints.
There were times when the view jumped back and forth between Canadian and U.S. sides of the battle without clear delineation. Despite these issues, I learned a lot from this book and was intrigued by Brock as a person. An interesting addition to the Canadian historical record.

Friday, 12 August 2011

The Global Forest

Finished August 11
The Global Forest by Diana Beresford-Kroeger
Beresbord-Kroeger is a botanist and medical biochemist and an expert on medicinal, environmental, and nutritional properties of trees.
This book links that knowledge with a poetic style to celebrate trees, mourn losses, and educate the reader. Told in short chapters that echo traditional storytelling, Beresford-Kroeger shows how trees are a part of the larger environment, giving examples of how they interact with other plants, insects, animals and man. She shows how trees help each other out, and explains the role of mother trees in a forest. She tells us how they breathe, providing us with the oxygen we need and converting or storing our waste carbon. She shows how the trees green chlorophyll echoes our own red hemoglobin in function and movement through the living. She shows how they provide food, shelter, medicine, and comfort to other living entities, including us. The connections she explains are eye-opening. She makes several arguments for change in how we treat these important elements of the earth, and hopefully we are listening.
A wonderful lyrical read, although it did have me reaching for my dictionary from time to time for scientific terms and other wonderfully new words. The short chapters offer just enough to ponder upon before going on the the next one.

Thursday, 11 August 2011


Finished August 10
Tangles: a story about Alzheimer's, my mother and me by Sarah Leavitt
This graphic memoir is written in a very open manner, documenting Sarah's mother's early onset Alzheimer's. We see not only Sarah's reactions to the disease affecting her mother, but also the rest of the family's. Sarah is very open about the issues, the struggles, and the emotions present here. The drawing really make things come alive. We see the emotions in people's faces and the struggles her mother and the rest of the family faced. This is a book that can open up discussions around this difficult health issue for many families, breaking through the barriers of fear and denial that often come up.
There is nothing that seeing that you are not alone in what you are going through to help with mental health around this for the caregivers.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

French Lessons

Finished August 10
French Lessons by Ellen Sussman, read by Kathe Mazur
This is a delightful little novel about love and Paris.
It is structured around three private French tutors and their clients, on a single day in Paris.
It begins with the three tutors meeting before going off on their teaching tasks for the day. We how they interact with each other, and get a taste of their characters.
We then move to each tutor with their client. Nico, a man in his early thirties, tutoring and about to publish his first collection of poetry has a client who is a young American French schoolteacher, Josie. Josie is suffering from a recent loss and trying to find a way to move forward. We see how he draws her out and gets her to engage with life again.
Philippe, a shameless flirt who has a life as a musician as well meets his long-term client Riley. Riley is an expat American housewife, who has followed her businessman husband to Paris with her two young children. Riley is struggling with French and feels lonely and disconnected from everyone but her children. Recent news from her mother has her feeling even sadder about life. Philippe changes his usual practice with her and the flirting awakes Riley's passion again, for life, for Paris, for a future she can look forward to.
Chantal is a beautiful young woman who has spent a week with Jeremy, the husband of a famous American actress who is shooting a film in Paris. Jeremy's wife has hired her to help Jeremy become more comfortable with speaking French. This is their last day together and they begin as usual with moving through the city talking about what they see. Because of a fight Jeremy had the night before with his wife, he is feeling ungrounded and sees Chantal differently. They meet both Jeremy's stepdaughter and wife during their lesson time and stray from their usual routine and conversation to become more personal.
We end up back with the tutors again, seeing how the day has changed them and how they move forward with their lives.
This was an interesting book, light yet with deeper insights. Romantic and thoughtful, we see how the characters learn from the experience and allow themselves to move on with their lives as different people.

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Walking Papers

Finished August 9
Walking Papers: poems by Thomas Lynch
Poetry books always take me longer to read than their length would suggest.
I like to savor the poems, reading them slowly and often more than once. This collection of poetry is a combination of everyday experiences, life events, and history.
I liked the way they were put together and the humour evident in many. These poems relate life with friends, not necessarily much in the way of material possessions, and an acknowledgement of human experience.
A lovely book

Sunday, 7 August 2011


Finished August 7
Coppermine by Keith Ross Leckie
Based on real events, this historical novel begins in 1913 when two Catholic priests disappear into a remote Arctic area known as the Coppermine. Three years later, RWMP officer Jack Creed is sent to find out what happened to the priests and hires a young Copper Inuit, Angituk McAndrew to serve as interpreter.
Their journey is a long one, and often difficult both physically and emotionally. Near the mouth of the Coppermine on the Arctic Ocean, the two discover the remains of the priests and Creed is able to determine from the remains that the priests were killed. After talking with local Inuit the two find and arrest two Inuit hunters. The four make their way back to Fort Norman and from there to Edmonton for the trial. The journey is long and dangerous and along the way Creed becomes friends with the Inuit and begins to understand their way of life and beliefs.
In Edmonton, the Inuit find everything very different and look to Creed for reassurance and information. We see the trial, the media interest and Creed's own issues around justice.
This is a book that looks at the historical relationship between the white man and the Inuit and about tolerance for others culture. We also see issues related to the First World War and how man treats man. Creed's character develops over the course of the book. I really enjoyed this story and respect the research involved.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Our Fathers, Ourselves

Finished August 6
Our Fathers, Ourselves: daughters, fathers, and the changing American family by Dr. Peggy Drexler
I got a ebook copy of this from the publisher. I was attracted to it as I feel I have a very good relationship with my father and was interested in the experiences of other woman. The author was drawn to doing this research for a different reason. Her father died when she was three-and-a-half and she was always envious of her friends' relationships with her father and curious about what her own relationship would have been like.
She also watched her husband's relationship with her daughter and saw how it was different from her relationship with her daughter.
She was led to interview a number of women, young and old, about their relationships with their fathers and how they felt about those relationships.
I found her insights from these interesting, and became even happier and more thankful about my relationship with my father. As she found, whether good or bad, our fathers are always with us.

Thursday, 4 August 2011

Mr. M

Finished August 4
Mr. M: the exploring dreamer by Soizick Meister, words by K. George
I grabbed this off the new book cart at work yesterday. It looks like a children's picture book, but is so much more. Meister has painted the figure of Mr. M for years. In this book she inserts Mr. M into both thoughtful and amusing situations in British Columbia landscape. Mr. M is both the common man and the other. The works here relate to our self-knowledge and how we place ourselves in the world. I love how the works relate to each other and the humour and wordplay depicted here.
A neat, surprising, little book.

Invisible Chains

Finished August 3
Invisible Chains: Canada's Underground World of Human Trafficking by Benjamin Perrin
Wow. I was aware that human trafficking was going on in the world and even in Canada, but several things in this book really surprised me. First, I was surprised at the extent of this crime here. Second, I was surprised at the lack of arrests and convictions, especially given the extent. Canada is an embarrassment among other countries on several counts. This is especially interesting given Harper's "law and order" platform. Here are some criminals he can really go after, victims he can really rescue, and look good both domestically and internationally doing so. Of course it would require cooperation with NGOs (something he isn't good at) and open and clear communication (ditto).
This book is very readable and something we should all be aware of. As Perrin shows, the education of the average citizen on this issue can assist in freeing the victims and bringing justice to the criminals. Much more needs to be done by the government, but the more we know about this crime and the signs of it, the likelier we will make a real difference. Perrin outlines endeavours by a number of other countries that give us a roadmap of where to go.
This is an amazing book, with so much information. Perrin knows his stuff and works to make a difference himself every day.

Never Knowing

Finished August 2
Never Knowing by Chevy Stevens, performed by Carrington MacDuffle
This is the second book by Stevens. Her first, Still Missing, is a finalist for the OLA Evergreen Award.
This novel uses the same device as her first, sessions at a therapist. I don't think it works as well for this one. There was one instance where I felt the contents of the session seemed like they came after the session. I can't say I liked the reader for this either. To me, the way she read it gave the main character, Sara Gallagher, a tone (put-upon, whiny) that I didn't like, and I don't think the author intended. It made her less sympathetic. But enough about what I didn't like.
The story was great. Sara is an adopted child who has felt that she was treated different from her siblings and always fantasized about her real parents, particularly her father as she always felt unloved by her adopted father. Now she is in her thirties and about to get married to a wonderful man and has a daughter she loves. She thinks she is ready to find out who her birth parents were. She researches and finds her birth mother who rejects her out of hand. As she struggles with this, she discovers that her mother was the only survivor of a violent serial killer, one who has never been caught. Which means that her birth father is a serial killer.
The rest of the book follows Sara's struggle to come to terms with this and what she feels she may have "inherited" from her father. It also shows her struggle with the publicity around it, that may have put her and her family in danger. Pageturning action abounds. And, Stevens gives us the occasional extra little twist just when we relax our guard. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Irma Voth

Finished August 1
Irma Voth by Miriam Toews
Irma is 19, lives in a rural Mennonite community in Mexico, and has been ostracized by her father for marrying a young Mexican man. Her father has expected her to live in another house on the property in exchange for work. Her husband, Jorge, sticks around for a while, but then tells her she asks too many questions, and makes himself scarce.
When Irma's father rents the remaining house to a film crew making a movie, Irma is intrigued and finds herself working as a translator between the director and a German actress. Meanwhile Irma's younger sister Aggie is finding life under their father's rules unbearable and wants to run away.
As the situation deteriorates, Irma finds she must make a choice and face the past she has always denied. This is a strong story with elements of coming-of-age and independence. The characters are complex and interesting. A great read.