Wednesday, 28 September 2016

Behind Closed Doors

Finished September 27
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

For me, this was the best thriller I've read in ages. This debut novel was unputdownable. I stayed up into the wee hours as I just had to finish it. The plot is chilling. The story is told in two timelines. They aren't that far apart and they both move forward, so at some point the "Past" timeline actually intersects with earlier "Present" timelines.
We know something is wrong early, and gradually learn just how wrong the situation is, and what is happening when no one else is around.
The plot here opens up thoughts on how little we know beyond the surface of what we see, and how we infer things from what we see.
This is a book about control and how fear can be used to make us do things we never thought possible.
Before she married, Grace had a successful job and a good life, if sometimes a lonely one. It is that vulnerability that opens her up to being used by a man that has his own agenda. It is a book about power and influence and about how so many take things at face value without looking closer at what is really happening.
Great first novel, and I'll look forward to seeing more from this author.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Roses and Rot

Finished September 25
Roses and Rot by Kat Howard

This tale of two sisters drew me in and didn't let go. Imogen is older than Marin by two years. They lived under the influence of a very controlling mother, one who used not only physical punishments, but verbal and emotional ones in an attempt to keep them under her influence and drive a wedge between them. Imogen has always used her writing to escape her reality, and has had some success with it. Marin is a dancer, with natural skill, but also dedication and constant pressure by her mother to succeed.
Imogen managed to get away more that a decade before this story begins, first to boarding school and then to college, but her mother never stopped trying to draw her back into her sphere of control. Marin has heard about an artists' retreat, Melete, in New Hampshire, where artists apply and are chosen for a nine month stay to focus on their work with the assistance of a personal mentor. She urges Imogen to apply at the same time, partly so the sisters can come back together for the first time in years.
The women discover that Melete is both more than and less than they expected. Strange things happen, they see things that don't seem believable, and they begin to understand that this is a place where the human world and the world of Faerie come together and the Faerie world exacts a price for this opportunity.
Howard brings this world to life, the stardust and the darkness, the giving of power and the drawing of energy. The artists that come here will never be the same, and no one who hasn't been will ever truly understand. And, of course, some of them may never return to the lives they imagined for themselves.
I read this book voraciously, not wanting to put it down until I reached the ending. I cared about the characters and their dreams and wanted to see what happened to them as their stay at Melete progressed and came to an end. A great read.

Saturday, 24 September 2016

The Best American Mystery Stories 2013

Finished September 24
The Best American Mystery Stories 2013 edited by Lisa Scottoline

I like short stories but somehow don't make the effort to seek them out that often. Each year this series has a different editor. The series editor, Otto Penzler selects works from hundreds of sources including magazines, journals, and websites. The annual guest editor then chooses the best from that, usually around 20 stories. The story writers range from best selling authors to the lesser known, but the stories are all extremely well written.
The authors for this year's stories are: Tom Barlow, Michael Connelly, O'Neil de Noux, Eileen Dreyer, David Edgerley Gates, Clark Howard, Andrew Kocsis, Kevin Leahy, Nick Mamatas, Emily St. John Mandel, Dennis McFadden, Micah Nathan, Joyce Carol Oates, Nancy Pickard, Bill Pronzini, Randall Silvis, Patricia Smith, Ben Stroud, Hannah Tinti, and Maurine Dallas Watkins. I was glad to see a couple of Canadian authors in the mix.
There are a nice mix of stories, most set in the present, some historical. Some are very dark, others surprising. Hard to pick a favourite as I liked most of them, but for different reasons.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Crafting a Colorful Home

Finished September 20
Crafting a Colorful Home: a room-by-room guide to personalizing your space with color by Kristin Nicholas, photographs by Rikki Snyder

The book appealed to the creative side of me when I spotted it at the library, and I found several things in it that appealed to me. As the subtitle indicates, it is organized room by room, with a few techniques and projects spelled out for each room or area. These instructions are very well done, with photos for the different steps and clear wording.
I would have liked more photos and discussion on what she's done in her own rooms as some of the room shots showed interesting things that I would have liked to see closer and learn about how/why she did them.
As the title indicates the rooms here have two themes. One is color, lots of it, mixed with thought but not looking too planned. Vibrant colours played across more subtle ones. She does discuss color palettes and layering of colors in the first chapter to get you familiar with good color design practices. The second theme is crafting. A lot of her home has been done by herself from painting to textiles to useful and decorative objects. Nothing here is too difficult for a beginner which is great. She also provides templates for the projects.
The areas she covers are: studio; garden and entryways; kitchen; living room; dining room; library; and upstairs bedrooms and stairway.
As a librarian, I also liked how she worked books into her rooms. It made it feel very cozy and comfortable to me.
Lots of ideas here, and I'll plan to put some into action.

The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo

Finished September 19
The Girl with the Lower Back Tattoo by Amy Schumer, read by the author

I always like to try listening to a book read by author when I see that option, and especially so from someone who performs for a living. Amy reading this herself makes it really come alive as she puts the emphasis where she intends and the jokes are hers entirely.
The book covers her life, so I'd consider it a memoir although it is organized by topics rather than in a strict timeline. She covers her family, her childhood and coming of age, her relationship and dating experiences, and she doesn't shy away from difficult topics from health to drinking to sex.
I really enjoyed the book and was laughing aloud on several occasions. But there are serious moments too. Amy is a woman who is from a generation younger than me, not afraid to show her strengths or stand up to those who would deny her rights or opportunities. She won't be judged. I like that a lot.

Thursday, 22 September 2016


Finished September 16
BiblioTech: Why Libraries Matter More Than Ever in the Age of Google by John Palfrey

Unlike most books looking at the role of libraries, this book is written by someone not trained as a librarian, but who has come into the library world through work. Palfrey is the Head of School at Phillips Academy in Andover, and led the effort to reorganize the Harvard Law School Library. He is also the founding chairman of the Digital Public Library of America.
While Palfrey acknowledges the world of information we now live in, he makes good arguments for the library being more important than ever before.
He looks at libraries in their role as equalizing access to information, education, jobs, and technology. The library is a safe place, one of the few where people from many walks of life come together. He also acknowledges the threats to libraries, the struggle to adapt to rapid change, lack of funding, and lower government support. The book is divided into themed chapters, each looking at a different aspect of libraries and using examples to make the point.
The first chapter, crisis, outlines the situation and the threats facing libraries. The second chapter looks at who uses libraries and how they use libraries. The next chapter looks at the spaces that libraries occupy and offer, both physical and virtual. The fourth addresses platforms and how the move to the cloud impacts libraries.
Then we move to those libraries trying something different, in a chapter titles Hacking Libraries. There are many forward-looking librarians moving their libraries into new and interesting territory. The following chapter looks at the human network of librarians, a sharing community like few others. Then the topic is preservation, with a focus on preserving culture. Following this is a chapter on the important role libraries play in education. Finishing up the topics is a chapter on law and libraries, looking at copyright and privacy in particular.
He concludes with a chapter emphasizing the importance of libraries and what we stand to lose if they don't adapt to meet the needs of their communities. As yet another well written book on the importance of moving to a community-led model, this outlines many important aspects to consider for those libraries serious about planning their futures.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

The Accidental Empress

Finished September 15
The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki

This historical novel keeps to the facts for the most part, telling the story of Elizabeth, "Sisi," the Austro-Hungarian Empress of Franz Joseph from late childhood in 1853 until Hungarian self-rule was established in 1867. She was born a duchess of Bavaria and enjoyed a remarkably free childhood, spending a lot of time outdoors, riding horses and enjoying nature. Her mother's sister was the mother to the young Emperor, and held a great deal of power as she served as regent until he came of age. It is true that her accession to Empress was not planned. Her older sister was intended as the one to marry Franz Joseph, but he became enamored of the younger lively sister and fought to have her as his bride. While Pataki has written the conversations that take place between the various players here, she draws on my historical resources to do so, creating an entirely believable personal insight into the royal historical characters. Sisi was very young when she married, just sixteen, and she got pregnant almost immediately. Alone at court without anyone she felt close to, other than her maid, she would have been easily manipulated by those more experienced with court life.
She was beloved by the people, and that comes across well here, as does the special relationship that she developed with the Hungarian people, having a definite influence on the nation's development.
I enjoyed seeing her learn and grow in her chosen role. The loss of innocence was necessary in her circumstances, but she sounded true to life. In the author interview at the back of the book, it sounds like she plans to write more about this fascinating Empress, and I look forward to reading more about Sisi.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

The God's Eye View

Finished September 9
The God's Eye View by Barry Eisler, performed by the author

This thriller builds on the Snowden story. Theodore Anders is the director of the NSA and he wants to know everything about everyone, so he can "keep America safe". But he is so used to having control that when he finds he has lost it, he will take extreme measures to regain it.
Evelyn Gallagher works as a computer analyst at the NSA and has been the primary creator of a program that draws images from cameras around the work and applies biometrics to them to look for patterns and anomalies. When she sees two people together who shouldn't be in normal circumstances, she reports it. But when something happens to those two people shortly afterward, she begins to wonder if the director has taken steps beyond legal limits. She also wonders what she can do, and who she can tell, and if she herself is in danger. These are all good questions, She is a single mom, struggling to make a good life for her deaf son Dash. When she meets Manus, a kind man at a baseball game, and he is deaf, she finds herself drawn to him. Is she thinking of Dash or is something else attracting her.
Manus has his own issues, including an extremely difficult childhood, and an unswerving loyalty to the person who took him out of the negative trajectory he was on and sent him in a different direction. The feelings he begins to have for Evie and Dash are new to him, and he isn't sure how to interpret them.
As Anders grows more desperate and takes more and more extreme actions, we also learn just how much access he has to people's lives and their secrets. This is a scary view of the world of security and intelligence and one that seems increasingly possible.
This book offers scenarios that are terrifying, and there is lots of violence in the plot. But the people and their motivations are well drawn, and I was both mesmerized and horrified as I listened.

The Black Notebook

Finished September 8
The Black Notebook by Patrick Modiano, translated by Mark Polizzotti

This novel is set mostly in Paris, with the majority of the plot done as the narrator looks back at a time in his life fifty years earlier. Jean was a young man, fascinated by Baudelaire and his mistress Jeanne Duval. As he walked around Paris, taking notes on the buildings, parks and other surroundings, especially their histories, he at times stopped at the cafeteria of the Cité Universitaire. It is there he met Dannie, a young woman who he developed a relationship with. He also met others: two relatively closely: Paul Chastagnier, a man in his forties who told Jean things and seemed to want to draw him into a closer acquaintance; and Aghamouri, a Moroccan man; as well as others he knew and talked to but wasn't formally introduced to.
Some of these people warned him against others in cryptic ways, not spelling out exactly what he should be wary of. Some took him into their confidences in a way that implied they trusted him more. Jean was young, but cautious, and his closest relationship was with Dannie. He went many places with her, met her often and didn't ask too many questions when he felt she wouldn't be open to sharing.
He wrote many things in the black notebook he carried everywhere with him. Names, phone numbers, observations, quotations, and questions. And he found that others were asking questions too, as a police detective brought him in and asked him about these people he'd met. Looking back decades later, he tries to piece things together as he tried unsuccessfully then, hoping the new information he has recently been provided will bridge some of the gaps.
Modiano has won many awards for his writing, including the Prix Goncourt, the Grand Prix National des Lettres, and the Nobel Prize in literature. This was my first book by him and I found it intriguing.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Mortal Fall

Finished September 4
Mortal Fall by Christine Carbo

This is the second novel in the series set in Glacier National Park. Here the main character is GNP's police officer Monty Harris, who also appeared in the first book, The Wild Inside. As the book begins, Harris is investigating the death of a man who is found at the bottom of a cliff near the Going to the Sun Road. At first, it appears to be a horrible accident, but soon Harris finds anomalies that don't fit. With the victim being an experienced park worker, and the fall site not an overly dangerous place, Harris starts looking harder at the victim's life.
The victim, Paul Sedgewick, known as Wolfie for his research on wolverines, was a family man, with a passion for the animal he researched. When another body is found nearby, the case grows more confusing. Is it a coincidence or not?
As Harris digs, he finds links to his own past and the correctional school his older brother Adam attended. He hasn't talked to his brother in years and doesn't have good feelings towards him. Will this influence his decisions on the case.
Harris is aware that leading his first major case is something he wants to do to prove himself to his superiors, and with his personal life falling apart, he must rely on others to assist him in the case despite his natural independence.
We see deep into Harris' personal issues here and that makes his character really come alive. The story also makes the park a big part of the story as the setting for the events.

A Long Way Gone

Finished August 31
A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

Long on my TBR list, I picked this up recently when visiting my parents and read it. It is the memoir of Ishmael Beah from childhood through his teens in Sierra Leone. He was visiting a nearby village with friends and his older brother Junior to do some dancing, passing through a third village that his grandmother lived in, when the war came to him.
As the boys tried to stay away from the rebels, they also worried about their families and wanted to find them. They returned to their home village of Mattru Jong, only to find it empty. With the army's soldiers undermanned, they provided little help in many situations the boys found themselves in. Wandering for years, trying to stay alive, the boys were separated and Ishmael found himself with new groups of boys his age.
Eventually conscripted by an army officer when the village they were in was attacked, Ishmael became a soldier, fighting to stay alive and keep the rest of the villagers safe. When he was eventually taken to the capital to begin the task of resuming his life, he found it very difficult to adjust. This is his story, but also the story of so many others. It is not a book that is easy to read, but it is important to know about lives like this as we understand the world around us.

Never Come Back

Finished August 29
Never Come Back by David Bell

This suspense novel opens with graduate student Elizabeth Hampton entering her childhood home in the small college town of Dover, Ohio, after being called by police. After learning that her mother is dead, and the circumstances of her death are suspicious, Elizabeth's immediate worry is about her older brother Ronnie. Ronnie still lives with their mother and since he has Down's Syndrome, relies on her for many things. He is high functioning, working and going to community activities. He was the one who found their mother when he came home late after being sent to a neighbours and not being picked up again.
Elizabeth is feeling guilty because after an argument with her mom, she hasn't talked to her in weeks. She calls on her uncle Paul for help, and on her on again off again boyfriend Dan. As events unfold and Elizabeth feels more vulnerable and that the police aren't looking beyond the obvious, she takes matters into her own hands to follow the clues in her mother's will to find the secrets of the past.
This is a novel of family secrets, of betrayals, and of the changing nature of families. Elizabeth is smart and determined to make a better life for herself, but she learns that she can't do it alone and must open herself up to others to truly live.

The Bob Watson

Finished August 28
The Bob Watson by Greg Bardsley

This novel features a man, Rick Blanco, who works at a desk job for a large corporation in California. Rick has been lusting after his nephew's nanny, Audrey, for years, and when she suddenly agrees to go out with him if he meets some requirements in regard to his nephew, he can't believe the chance and will do anything to make it happen. Part of the impetus for this is Collin's family's imminent move to another country for his father's work.
Rick and his sister Ana are not that close, and we only gradually learn why as the book unfolds. But he has taken time for his nephew Collin, doing things with him that are fun, whimsical, and not necessarily related to his future prospects. He genuinely cares about Collin and wants to spend time with him when he can. He also has sincere doubts about his own abilities to do the right thing, to not screw up, and this is another thing we gradually learn the roots of as the book unfolds.
Early in his career, Rick observed another man at his company, who has since moved on, as he found a way to get out of unproductive meetings without people noticing. Rick paid attention to what he did and found his own ways of doing similar things. He calls these activities "the Bob Watson" after the man he initially observed.
When Rick first receives the communication from Audrey, he is in one of these unproductive meetings, and he pulls a Bob Watson move to get out of it and uses a previous contact to find something cool to do with Collin. But as he does so, he finds that the people he encounters think he is Dick Rayborne, the HR director for his company, and a man who has done many things that have not been good for the employees. As they take Rick on a wild spree around town, through people's homes, luxury hotels, and the company's executive offices, Rick learns about Dick's actions and about his own abilities to make a real difference in the world, something that will offer his nephew an experience that he will never forget.
One of the lines from the book that is significant: "We're never gonna survive unless we get a little crazy."
I was initially a little confused by the book, but as I read further and began to sense the history behind Rick's issues, I began to really enjoy it. This is a book that offers hope against the world as it is now, that looks out for the people who can't look out for themselves. A great read.

Saturday, 3 September 2016

You're Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck

Finished August 26
You're Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck: The Further Adventures of America's Everyman Outdoorsman by Bill Heavey

This is a collection of articles from Field & Stream, freelance articles and other writings from award-winning journalist Bill Heavey. Covering hunting from deer to ducks, and ants to turkeys; fishing for a variety from bass to tarpon; the retail side of the outdoors business; and Heavey's personal life, this collection has pieces both hilarious and touching.
The book is organized into four sections by date: 1988-1999, 2000-2004, 2005-2009, and 2010-2014.
The writing is stellar, the situations relatable, and the personalities large.
I enjoyed this book immensely despite knowing little of the details around the equipment that he includes here. I read several bits out loud to family members as I chuckled, and noted lines of great truth.

Lauchlin of the Bad Heart

Finished August 22
Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D.R. MacDonald

This novel, set in rural Cape Breton, has at its center middle-aged Lauchlin MacLean. Lauchlin was near the beginning of a promising boxing career when his heart condition forced him to step back. He taught school for a while, but didn't enjoy it, and moved home to help manage the store his father started and his mother ran after his father's death.
Lauchlin had started a relationship with a local girl, Morag, when they were both young, that never really progressed despite their strong attraction and Morag's interest in more.
Lauchlin seems a man caught in limbo, reliving his past in his head while keeping in shape using the bag hanging in the back room of the store, having a series of casual relationships that never lead to anything permanent.
His older brother Frank, a doctor, has a yearning to travel back to Ireland to look for family roots and wants Lauchlin to go with him, but Lauchlin is reluctant to leave for reasons he can't clearly articulate. One of Lauchlin's friends, Clement MacTavish, married recently and his wife Tena went blind soon after. She is an independent spirit who isn't willing to sit at home and as she ventures out, she and Lauchlin begin a friendship.
This book shows us the history of the area, with the mountain homes gradually disappearing as the older generation died off, We see Lauchlin's relationship to that history, with his own family, and his neighbours. And we see the newcomers who bring new ideas, new needs and new issues. A novel of issues of the heart in numerous ways.