Thursday, 31 October 2013

Murder in Thrall

Finished October 30
Murder in Thrall by Anne Cleeland

This mystery is very different. Narrated mostly by one character, DC Kathleen Doyle, there are also short bits at the beginning of each chapter by another character. This is a case of intense love, serial murder, and stalking. The story is complex as are the emotions of the characters. Kathleen is one of the objects of love at the beginning, but she also develops love for another character herself as the book grows more intense. This is a book about what people will do for love. At first I thought of Kathleen as a weak character, but her inner strength became more obvious as the book continued. At first I thought the relationship she develops unbalanced, but it became more obvious that she was a good match for her partner in many interesting ways. I liked the complexities and how it made you think about obsession, good and bad. This is one you want to reread almost immediately after finishing it, to see the subtleties.

An Appetite for Wonder

Finished October 29
An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins, read by the author and Lalla Ward

This memoir begins with Dawkins family background, continuing through his birth, childhood and early adult life up until the publication of his first book The Selfish Gene in 1976. He came from a family strong in biology and natural science, with his father an agricultural specialist. He was born and spent his early years in Africa, mostly in Nyasaland, now Malawi. His parents returned to England in 1949 when Dawkins was eight and his father took on farming a country estate he had inherited. He went to boarding school and then on to study zoology at Balliol College, Oxford. I found the early part of the book most interesting when he talked about his family's background and his childhood years, first in Africa and then at boarding school. He has lots of description about his university studies, his research, and his influences in his career as a scientist. These were interesting as well, but not as intimate as the earlier part of his life. He reads the book himself except for diary entries from his parents which are read by Lalla Ward, and I think this adds something to a book, particularly a memoir. Very enjoyable, educational, and entertaining.

Wednesday, 30 October 2013


Finished October 27
Allegiant by Veronica Roth

This is the third and final book in the trilogy that started with Divergent and continued with Insurgent. With the factions disbanded, a leader has taken control of the city who is forcing people to work together under factionless control, but not allowing anyone to leave to see if the information they have about the Outside world is true. Tris is scheduled for a trial about her behaviour, as are many others, including her brother Caleb, who betrayed her, and Four's father Marcus who led the city to war. A new group is forming that calls themselves the Allegiant and wants to fulfill the instructions they've been told to go out to assist the outside world, and Tris is drafted into this group following her trial. Only a small number of people will go on this first foray into the unknown, while another group will work to rebel from within the city.
Once Tris and her group make it outside, she finds that the outside world is completely different than she expected, and learns things about people she knows that change her whole world.
As Tris struggles with her reactions to this knowledge, the others of her group undergo their own struggles as they try to figure out what comes next for them, and what they want for their city. An unexpected but satisfying end to the series.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Have Mother Will Travel

Finished October 18
Have Mother Will Travel: a mother and daughter discover themselves, each other, and the world by Claire and Mia Fontaine

This joint memoir by mother Claire and daughter Mia is their second joint book, but I haven't read the first, Comeback, which is about Mia's rebellion as a teenager and Claire's fight to bring her back from a life involved with drugs and self-destruction. I was travelling with my parents as I read this, but I am closer to the mother's age here as Claire is 51 and Mia in her early 20s. While the two had grown very close during that time, Mia's time at university and subsequent move to New York City to work and Claire's choices in life had led to their connection being less strong. Claire wanted to reconnect and heard about something called the Global Scavenger Hunt and asked Mia to sign on as her partner in this endeavor. The book is split into two parts with the first covering some of their experiences during the Global Scavenger Hunt and the second part covering their following long-term vacation in Avignon together.
The book starts with background on their relationship, and the preparation for this adventure in a chapter called Big Bang. The first part then covers their adventures in China, Malaysia and Singapore, Nepal, Cairo, and Greece and the Balkans. The two learn a lot about each other, with Mia in particular learning about her mother's choices in life and why she chose the path she did. They also learn about each other's weaknesses and strengths and encourage each other to open up and face these.
The second part of the book has them living together for a summer in a studio apartment in Avignon, an area that Claire has spent time in before, but doesn't know overly well. They continue to learn about each and the close quarters and forced together time increase their bond, though not always smoothly.
An interesting book about a mother-daughter relationship and its continuous development.

The Lowland

Finished October 17
The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri

This novel tells the story of Subhash and Udayan Mitra, brothers born 15 months apart who were almost inseparable until the started university. The Mitra family lived in the Tollygunge neighbourhood in the outskirts of Calcutta, and the boys observed the activity of the local golf club in an interested way, as outsiders that couldn't hope to participate in the club's activities. Udayan took the feeling of being an outsider to heart and wanted to help those whe he felt were oppressed free themselves. At university they attended different schools, Subhash studying chemical engineering and Udayan studying physics. Udayan became involved in the Naxalite movement in the late 1960s and engaged in activities that acted against the government. . Subhash worried about this but tried to distance himself from this activity and went on to graduate studies in Rhode Island. Udayan's choices affect both brothers' lives in massive ways, and Subhash feels the need to take on his brother's responsibilities when Udayan is unable to fulfill them. Subhash's marriage is one he takes on in good faith, and he proves to be an excellent father to Bela. But his wife is not as committed to the marriage and makes her own choices and sets different priorities that lead to an estrangement and different paths.
This is a story of family, of responsibilities, of regrets, but also of unexpected love. This is a book I couldn't put down and thoroughly enjoyed.

Kicking the Sky

Finished October 16
Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa

This story overlaps and continues that of Barnacle Love. Because I just read Barnacle Love, I was perhaps more aware of the scene overlap between the two books. Here, the main character is Antonio Rebelo, Manuel's son and the story takes place in 1977. Emanuel Jaques, a young son of immigrants from the Azores who worked as a shoeshine boy was lured to his rape and murder, a crime that shocked Toronto at the time. Antonio and his friends Ricky and Manny are deeply affected by this incident. Tony's family has grown more protective, and pay more attention to how he spends his time, but because they both work, he is able to go off on his own or with his friends more than they realize. Manny's parents are less controlling and Manny is influenced by a new young man in the neighborhood, James, to engage in criminal behaviour. Also influenced by James is Ricky, a boy struggling to survive as he lives with his father, and engaging in dangerous behaviour. Taking on the role of a aunt, Tony's father's cousin Edite has come to Toronto from the US and is working for the Toronto Star. Edite has her own story of loss and family issues, that Tony gradually comes to know. Tony is both drawn to James and repelled by him, and this novel is a coming-of-age story for young Tony.

Wide Open

Finished October 14
Wide Open by Larry Bjornson

Set in the 1870s in Abilene, Kansas, this story is based on real events of the Midwest. The story begins in May 1871 and our storyteller here is Will Merritt, a boy. His father JT joined the United States 12 New York Cavalry during the Civil War, leaving his wife and son with his brother's family. When he returned for them in 1865 he found that he had a young daughter and that they had not been given the caring shelter he had hoped and the family moved on for other adventures. JT is always looking for what the future might bring and by 1871, he believes Abilene will provide the future he envisions.
Abilene is still a rough town, with one side of the tracks dubbed Texastown, a magnet for trouble and temporary visitors bringing cattle up from Texas to the train line. The mayor, Joe McCoy, hires Wild Bill Hickock to control this wildness. Will has a group of friends: Jasper, Gordon, Billy and Booth who are excited by this side of town and whose families are dependent on this activity for their livelihood. But there is a growing movement towards settlers and farming, providing a stable growth for the area, and Will's dad has decided to put his efforts behind that as he looks to the future once again. One particular family figures here, the Dunhams, with father Caleb and daughter Anna connecting to the Merritt family. Will's mother Eleanor is not a subservient wife, and works with JT towards their family's and community's future. This book shows the cruelty and compassion in this community and the inexorable move towards civilizing this region. Very entertaining.

Monday, 28 October 2013

Beautiful Ruins

Finished October 13
Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter

This story begins in 1962 in a small Italian village, Porto Vergogna, a village accessible only by boat or a difficult path from the cliffs above. A young American starlet, Dee Mornay, arrives and the young innkeeper, Pasquale is stunned by this development. No one comes to the village, with the exception of an American car salesman, Alvis Bender, who is trying to write a book, and who served in Italy during World War II as a young man and the men controlling hotel interests in other nearby villages don't like this development. Dee Mornay has apparently been sent there by Michael Deane, a man associated with the movie shoot of Cleopatra, starring Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. But when the visit that Dee is expecting does not arrive and her diagnosis of stomach cancer is questioned, Pasquale goes to Rome to find answers.
The story continues in the present day, when Michael Deane is producing reality television, and his assistant Claire Silver is trying to find a script that will draw him back to movies. With a hopeful playwright who knows Italian, and a man trying to find a woman from his past, the stories come together in a remarkable way.
There are all kinds of subtleties here as well. With the village name's English translation being Port of Shame, and the theme of jealousy arising throughout, this is a novel of chances, of love lost and regained. There is humour and sadness, and surprises throughout. A wonderful read.

Saturday, 26 October 2013

Barnacle Love

Finished October 11
Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa

This novel was shortlisted for the Giller when it first came out. The story is in two parts: Terra Nova and Caged Birds Sing. Manuel Rebelo is from the Azores, and grew up in a small village with his mother and siblings. His father disappeared when he was very young and his mother, Maria Theresa de Conceição Rabelo, pinned the family hopes to him depriving his siblings to give him opportunities. Lucky for him, his siblings realized it was their mother driving a reluctant Manuel and did not resent him for this. Manuel, however, didn't want to stay in the village and be the success his mother envisioned. He wanted to escape and go elsewhere, and when he was old enough, he signed on as a fisherman to go to fish the banks near Newfoundland. Circumstances left him in Canada, and the second half of the book is several years later, where Manuel is living in Toronto with his wife Georgina and two children, Terri and Tony. Manuel is a bit of a dreamer, and some of his ambitious dreams don't get realized when he doesn't put the necessary effort in. An interesting story of a young man and his dreams versus the reality of his adult life.

Friday, 25 October 2013

New York

Finished October 10
New York by Edward Rutherfurd

The long novel traces the history of New York City, primarily Manhattan, through the lives of several families over time. Unlike others of his that I've read, this doesn't include a family chart, but it does have a good map the shows multiple time periods. The time covered here is 1664 to 2009 and characters include natives, Dutch, English, slaves, freemen, Irish, Italians, and Puerto Ricans. There are Quakers, Catholics, Anglicans, other Protestants, and Jews.
In the Revolutionary War period, we have a father and son on opposite sides of the struggle, and detail on the tax and representation issues that led to the war.
In the Civil War period, we see the complex trade issues that were at play.
In the Great Depression time, we see the effect of the collapse on finances of families, both good and bad.
There are self-made men, and those who lives on the inheritances of their predecessors. We see the evolution of skyscrapers including the building of the Empire State Building and the collapse of the World Trade Center. We see the status that Brooks Brothers clothing had for the wearers and the lives of the women sewing for them. We see the tragedy of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, and the building of the New York Public Library and its famous Reading Room. We see the rise of hotels and the Rockefeller Center, and the evolution of Coney Island.
One family line is present from start to finish, the Masters family. Others such as the Van Dycks, the Adlers, the O'Donnells and the Kellers appear and reappear.
There are some real historical figures, with the largest coverage of these given to Lord Cornbury and his likely real habit of crossdressing.
A very interesting book and a good way to learn some history of a very interesting city.

Albert of Adelaide

Finished October 6
Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson

This quirky novel is set in the outback of Australia. Alberta is a platypus who has carefully planned and managed his escape from the Adelaide zoo, looking for a place he has heard where free animals like himself can live happily. He has managed to make his way north by hopping trains and is now well north of Alice Springs. As the book begins he is running low on supplies and is worried about survival, when he encounters a wombat named Jack who shares his supplies with Albert and the two begin to travel together. The first community they encounter is Ponsby Station, a mining town with a bar run by a kangaroo called O'Hanlin. They encounter other animals there, in particular a couple of bandicoots named Alvin and Roger, who reappear later in the story. Things get a little wild in Ponsby Station, and the two are forced to make a hasty run for it. They separate and Albert continues his adventures, first at an establishment called the Gates of Hell, run by a wallaby named Bertram and a possum named Theodore, an unpleasant couple of creatures. He befriends a stranded American, TJ, a raccoon from San Francisco who is attempting to find a way back home. As Albert makes friends, he also finds he has an undeserved reputation that both helps and hinders him. Throughout the book, there is reference to a creature named Muldoon, who we eventually encounter and learn his sad story.
This novel features numerous Australian animals, all looking for a better life than what was dealt to them, and all learning to deal with the reality of what they encounter. Interesting and thought-provoking.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Maya's Notebook

Finished October 4
Maya's Notebook by Isabel Allende, read by Maria Cabezas

This novel goes back and forth between Maya's experience on a remote island of Chile, and the events of her life that led up to this time. It is a coming-of-age novel, but also a novel of sadness.
Maya led a happy life with her grandparents in San Francisco until the death of her grandfather starts her down a road into self-destruction.
Because of it moving back and forth in time, you already know that she survives this period of her life, and her time on the island allows her the time and space to reflect on that time and to learn from it. From rebellion, to drugs, to sexual abuse, to living on the street, to being involved with criminals, Maya's life sunk gradually from the middle class home in which she began. As she reflects on the decisions that took her to those depths, she also begins to see how those decisions affected other people in her life, and how the decisions she takes now also have an affect. She sees how people care for each other in this community and in her life overall, and begins to make more adult decisions that take others' interests into account.
I didn't like Maya and didn't feel a connection with her at all, something which tends to affect my enjoyment of a book.But this novel is very well-written and tells an interesting story.