Sunday, 26 August 2012

Trust Your Eyes

Finished August 24
Trust Your Eyes by Linwood Barclay

I think one reason Linwood Barclay's books are so successful is that his characters are ordinary people, people like you and me. The things that happen to them, while threatening and sometimes fatal, are things that could happen to anyone. It's all a matter of coincidence, timing, and circumstances. His characters are just going about their daily life, when something they do intersects with something that someone dangerous is doing. And things move quickly from there.
Here, we have Ray, an illustrator, who has come back to his hometown after the accidental death of his father. He must plan for his brother Thomas' future and wrap up his father's estate. Thomas is intelligent, but not able to function independently, and he has an obsession with maps. Thomas has covered the walls of his rooms with maps and spends all his time on his computer on a program called Whirl360, very similar to Google streetview, where he travels the cities of the world, memorizing the streets and what is on them. He has been dependent on his father for everything, and with his father gone, Ray must find an appropriate living arrangement for him.
When Thomas sees something on his virtual travels, he is sure he is witnessing a crime, and tries to convince Ray to follow up on it. When Ray reluctantly does, we reach the moment where the worlds intersect and the two men get drawn into a world for which they are unprepared.
With lots of suspense, and interesting characters, we are brought into a story that is hard to stop reading. Luckily this was my book for a flight, and I managed to almost finish it during that time. With two pages left, I could hardly wait to find a moment to reach the final, satisfying conclusion, one with a nice little twist to it.

Friday, 17 August 2012

The Prisoner of Heaven

Finished August 17
Prisoner of Heaven by Carlos Ruiz Zafon, read by Peter Kenny

We are transported back to Barcelona, moving between 1957 and 1939/40, this novel continues the story begun in the novel The Shadow of the Wind (read before I began blogging), and also brings characters from the novel The Angels Game (haven't read yet). Once again, as in The Shadow of the Wind, we have the main character Daniel Sempere telling us the story. Daniel is married to Bea now and has a young son. His friend Fermin Romero de Torres also plays a large role here, telling us of the events from the 1939/40 period, when Daniel was a small child and Fermin suffered a period of imprisonment. Fermin's difficult, almost fantastic, story includes that of a fellow prisoner, the writer David Martin, a friend of Daniel's mother Isabella. We learn part of Isabella's story here as well.
The past is brought forward by a strange visitor to the bookstore, who has Daniel conveying a message to Fermin, who opens up about his past and the connection to Daniel's family. This is a story of Spain under Franco, a story of friendship, jealousy and trust. Daniel's story moves forward, leaving us looking towards more story at the end, and yet developing his character and his relationship with his wife. We see how the past never truly lets go, influencing our lives and our relationships. I look forward to Daniel's further adventures in future novels.

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Not So Big Remodeling

Finished August 14
Not So Big Remodeling: Tailoring your Home for the Way You Really Live by Sarah Susanka

I'm a sucker for home design books and magazines, and I think I have a pretty good eye for design, but I have a small house. I like the attention to detail in this series of books, and the examples the book gives for different situations. There is lots of information here, and before and after plans and images to give the reader a feel for the changes. Gave me some more things to think about for my house, if I ever have the energy to get back at it.

Monday, 13 August 2012

Guardians of Being

Finished August 12
Guardians of Being, words by Eckhart Tolle, art by Patrick McDonnell

I picked this one up because I'm a huge Mutts fan. It is a short, thoughtful book that encourages you to be in the moment, showing how our animals can help us remember to no think, but to be. McDonnell's art is wonderful, of course, and some of it is from previous work in his Mutts series, as our the characters used. A reminder of what is important in life, and how to take the time to enjoy life for what it is. Just like his comic art predecessor Charles Schultz, McDonnell reminds us with the help of Tolle's words that happiness is indeed a warm puppy (or in my case a purring cat).
A nice little book.

The Next Best Thing

Finished August 10
The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner, read by Olivia Thirlby

This novel has been on beach read lists this summer, and I would say that would be appropriate. It's a novel with twists and turns and a feel-good ending. It has romance, career development, and emotional development. The main character, Ruth Saunders, was injured in a car accident as a young child, an accident in which her parents were killed. The accident left her with damage on her face and neck and she underwent several surgeries as a child. Since the accident, she has been cared for by her grandmother Rachel, a feisty woman with a great sense of fashion.
Ruth has always dreamed of writing for television and a couple years back decided to move to LA to give it a shot. Her grandmother, naturally, moved as well, and the two of them have been making a life for themselves. Ruth has had some TV writing jobs, and is now writing her first series. When her series gets picked up by a network, she becomes a show-runner. We see Ruth struggle with confidence, assertion, and control as she works on the series. We see the complexity of this type of work and learn some of the jargon. We see her love life develop along with her personal confidence and feel for her missteps.
To me the emphasis on her overcoming her physical disfigurement was interesting, but I am not sure that I liked how physical beauty and strength were portrayed here. Maybe I am reading too much into things though. As a light entertaining romance, it is great.

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Consider the Lily

Finished August 9
Consider the Lily by Elizabeth Buchan

This novel has been in my reading pile for a while and then migrated to my purse. I finished it while eating lunch. This is a book about people, about gardening, and about the power of money to influence behaviour. It begins in the summer of 1929, with the estate of Hinton Dysart getting increasing rundown due to financial limitations. Kit Dysart is the only son in the family and has been told to marry money to save his family estate. At the wedding of his sister Polly, he meets two cousins, the lovely Daisy Chudleigh, and the orphaned heiress Matty Verrall. Both young women fall for him, but he only has eyes for Daisy until his father calls him home to deal with more financial fallout. Matty seizes the situation and proposes and Kit agrees.
But Matty is always aware of the reasons Kit agreed to marry her, and of the feelings he continues to have for her cousin Daisy. Matty is also now resented by Daisy, who has strong feelings for Kit.
Matty's unhappiness grows as she remains unable to have a child, and after redoing the estate and proving herself to be an able manager of the household, she begins on the garden. As she learns more about the garden's history, she discovers her talents in this area, and learns of the link between the Dysart family history and her own situation.
Interspersed with comments on the garden by the present-day Harry, this story set between the wars, has strong characters and shows the love for gardening the author has. A wonderful read.
My copy also included discussion questions and an author interview, so perfect for a book club.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

All The Poems of Muriel Spark

Finished August 7
All the Poems of Muriel Spark by Muriel Spark

Came across this one in discards, and having read some of her novels, thought reading her poetry might be interesting. It has quite a variety. Some I found confusing and hard to understand, but most were simple, clever, and many showed a sense of humour. An enjoyable little collection.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Accidental Captives

Finished August 6
Accidental Captives: the story of seven women alone in Nazi Germany by Carolyn Gossage

This is an interesting nugget of history I wasn't aware of until I heard of this book. The women were on an Egyptian ship bound for South Africa. On the ship were missionaries bound for Africa, women and children on their way to join their husbands, US tobacco farmers, and volunteer ambulance workers volunteering with the Free French army. This book concentrates on the Canadian women on board, and follows them from the beginning of the trip, through the bombing of the ship by Germans, the capturing of all those on board, their landing in occupied France, and their internment in Germany. Seven of the Canadian women went on to get permission to travel to Berlin to try to secure their release, and this book follows them through the months in Berlin and their trip home.
Using official documents, books published by a couple of the women, articles by a life journalist and photographer on board the ship, and family documents of the women, Gossage is able to piece together this amazing story. Four of the women had written down at least parts of their story, and these help us to see the reality of their lives through these difficult months. One of the four had two small children with her, and chose not to leave the internment home for the uncertainty of Berlin, a wise move in retrospect. The ones who did make it to Berlin showed adventure, stamina, and a sense of optimism that got them through, making friends with the locals, and finding lighter moments even in the midst of disappointment.
Well-researched, this book gives us a view into another part of history.


Finished August 4
Gold by Chris Cleave

I was a little reluctant to start this novel as I'm not a big sports fan, but boy am I glad I read it. The plot does revolve around 2 British women, Olympic-level cyclists, but it is about them as people. That's not to see I didn't learn a lot about competitive cycling that I didn't know (admittedly I didn't know much), because there is definitely information on that here, but it is woven seamlessly into the plot. We see the training, the structure and support behind the competitors, and the long road to success.
Kate and Zoe are the two women, and they met at the age of nineteen at a national training program in track cycling, the kind that is done in the velodrome, where they also began training with their coach Tom, and met Jack, Kate's future partner.
As the book begins, they are 24 and Zoe, Jack, and Tom are at the Athens Olympics, while Kate is back in England with baby Sophie. The book goes forward from there, with the background story brought in through the characters' looking back. The main action takes place in the lead up to the 2012 London Olympics, with both Zoe and Kate training for the events, Zoe struggling with her drive, her history, and her fame, and Kate struggling to continue to be a good mother to her fragile daughter.
For both women, this is their last chance at an Olympics. Next time, their age will mean they won't be able to vie against younger competitors. We see Zoe as she struggles with her emotions, her anger, her guilt, her strong competitive drive that has her taking crazy risks, even off the track.
Kate is a natural rider and has the drive, but has been sidetracked before by her love and concern for her family. Jack tries to be a good father, but Kate isn't always willing to step away, and Jack often feels that he is more the fun parent. Sophie has health issues, but she wants her parents to do well too, and hides the extent of her illness when she can.
This book is about drive, friendships, love, and just being human. The characters come alive for us as complex people, not just the Olympic stars we see in the news. A great read.

Saturday, 4 August 2012


Finished August 1
Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand, read by Erin Bennett

This novel takes place over one summer, beginning with a warm June evening, graduation day for Nantucket High. As usual, there are a few parties, and one of them is on a beach. But leaving that party Penny Alistair drives her boyfriend Jake Randolph's jeep, with her twin brother Hobson (Hobby) in the back along with a friend Demeter Castle. Something was driving Penny to drive recklessly and the trip ended in a crash, with Penny dead and Hobby in a coma. Jake and Demeter were wearing their seatbelts and escaped injury.
Zoe, the single mother of Penny and Hobby is devastated. Zoe is an easy-going mother, often more like a friend to her children. She works as an private chef and a caterer and lives in a small house on the beach. Jake's parents Jordan and Ava have a marriage that has been growing apart, especially since the death of Jake's little brother from SIDS. Ava has immersed herself in sadness, a sadness that Penny was drawn to, spending more and more time lately with Ava. Jordan is the owner and editor of the local newspaper, a newspaper that has been in his family for generations. It is a big part of his life, and why he refuses to leave Nantucket, even though Ava has wanted to return to her native Perth, Australia for years.
This accident and its aftermath drive Jordan to pull Jake away from Nantucket, giving in to Ava's wish to return to Perth.
Demeter feels strongly about her role as outcast, overweight and with few friends. She wants badly to be part of the crowd, and particularly wanted to be close to the very popular Penny. What did she say to Penny that night on the beach, and did that lead to Penny's self-destructive actions. Demeter's parents, Al and Lynne, don't seem to see her issues for what they are and are only too happy to ignore signs of unhappiness. But things won't stay hidden, and Demeter's alcoholism eventually comes to light.
We see these stories from many points of view: Zoe's, Jake's, Jordan's, Demeter's, Ava's, Hobby's, and Lynne's. I liked this aspect, seeing how different views changed the story. Everyone has secrets, and sometimes the secrets affect the lives of those around them. An interesting story about a group of normal, flawed human beings and the emotions that drive them.