Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Wide-Mouthed Frog

Finished June 9
The Wide-Mouthed Frog: a pop-up book by Keith Faulkner, illustrated by Jonathan Lambert

This fun picture book was a gift from a friend, in case I needed to do a storytime. Thankfully, I haven't had to do that, and I hadn't read the book when I first got it.
It's a very short book, great for a storytime. The pop-up features worked great with the subject as the frog shows his mouth and tells us what he eats. He then asks a number of other creatures what they eat and we see their mouths pop-up as they tell him. But when he gets to the last creature, the story has a surprise and we see the frog change his mouth in response. This is also very funny.
The book ends with a big splash and kids will like the bright colours and the surprise.

Knife Edge

Finished June 8
Knife Edge by Malorie Blackman

This is the second novel in the series that began with Noughts & Crosses. This story continues with Sephy's story as she is now a mother of a little girl, Callie. She struggles with her emotions around her situation, reviled by members of both cultural groups.
As she tries to find her own voice, she loves her young daughter, but fears for her future as a visible example of her parents' choices. When a letter reaches her, supposed written by Callum, it changes her feelings to the point where she feels much more alone, and more distrustful of those around her.
Her relationship with both her mother and with Callum's mother also changes, and her new friends only help a little.
We also see Jude and the situation he faces now that he is on the run, and has lost trust for some of the leaders of his group. Living on his own to stay under the radar, he befriends a trusting young woman. She brings him feelings that he didn't expect and doesn't want to feel, and makes him unsure of his own convictions. His reaction is tragic, and his solution to his new situation brings more misery to both him and to Sephy.
This series is not predictable in its plot changes, and the characters begin to grow more complex as we see them mature. This is a very interesting series, with its emphasis on race and cultural change.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Waiting for Sophie

Finished June 6
Waiting for Sophie by Sarah Ellis, illustrated by Carmen Mok

This book for early readers is charming. Liam is awoken one morning by his Nana, who lives downstairs from him and his parents. She has exciting news. His parents have gone to the hospital because his little sister Sophie will be born soon.
Liam has to learn that waiting is part of life, and that it can bring you other joys. Nana-Downstairs, as she is called here, and Liam spend the day doing fun and naughty things like staying in their pajamas all day, eating funny things, playing silly games and watching movies.
Once Sophie arrives, Liam is enchanted by her.
Liam enjoys playing with Sophie, but is impatient for her to talk back to him. He wants her to be able to do things with him. Again, he finds that he must wait. Nana-Downstairs again offers advice. She helps him build something special. They have fun doing this.
When the females have a day out, Liam's Dad decides to build something. He doesn't build it from scratch, like Liam and Nana-Downstairs did, but from a kit. But since Dad isn't very good at building things, Liam has to help and make sure he doesn't mess it up.
I liked the big brother, big sister story here. Liam is a good big brother, patient and caring. I also liked how the adults didn't fit stereotypes.
The drawings are simple, but engaging, and show the emotions of the different characters vividly. I also liked how the sometimes offered a different perspective on a scene, and used enough details to make it interesting. I also thought the endpapers were a neat touch, covered with pictures of hand tools.

American War

Finished June 5
American War by Omar El Akkad, read by Dion Graham

This book feels all too possible as a future reality in these troubling times. This book imagines our world in the late 2070s, after a civil war has broken out in the U.S. over the use of fossil fuels. The former United States are no longer united. A southwestern portion has split off and become a Mexican protectorate. A small group of southeastern states has left the union to become the Free Southern States and holds on to the use of fossil fuels. As climate change took it's toll, coastal areas became enveloped by the oceans, and lost to habitation. This includes most of Florida and portions of all the coasts. This led to the relocation of the U.S. capital to Columbus, Ohio.
The book has a story within a story. A man in Alaska near the end of his life tells the outer story. The inner story begins in the spring of 2075 near the beginning of the civil war. The Chestnut family lives in Louisiana, which is Union territory, but
Sarat and her twin sister Dana are six years old, but very different. Sarat is all about curiosity, trying things out. She is built large and will grow into a large woman. Dana is girly, already into dresses and makeup, while Sarat wears overalls. Their older sister Simon, nine, is smart and eager to help. Martina, 39, and Benjamin, 45 have a good marriage. Benjamin works at a local shirt factory and the family has enough to live, but the war has meant that the school closed due to fighting drawing near, and Martina wants more for her children. As she encourages Benjamin to apply for a work permit to work in the North of the country, this is the first decision that will change all their lives forever. The second decision follows closely, the one to leave their home and go to a refugee camp.
As the story follows the lives of the Chestnuts, you see the difficulty of living a life of uncertainty, a life where growing children don't always make the choices you would like them to make.
This is a story of war, of rebellion, of family. It is a story of the inequities that come with war, about its effect on the lives of civilians. It is about children forced to grow up too quickly, and with teachers that have their own bias.
It was an amazing read.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Best Pirate

Finished May 31
Best Pirate written by Kari-Lynn Winters and illustrated by Dean Griffiths

This picture book, to be released at the end of the summer, continues with the characters introduced by Winters and Griffiths in the earlier Bad Pirate and Good Pirate books.
In this story, there are two pirate ships converging on Crossbones Island, both after treasure supposed hidden there. We first see the dog pirates, led by Barnacle Garrick. Augusta is Barnacle's daughter, and he aims to see her learn from one of his best crew members, Scully. Augusta tries very hard, but when an accident incapacitates Scully, she is determined to mend matters by going alone to the island to find the treasure.
In her search for the treasure, she finds that she isn't alone in her search. Scuppers, the son of the cat pirate ship's Captain Fishmonger, is also on the hunt for doubloons. When they end up in a fix together, Augusta tries to put the skills she learned to work, and find an innovative way out. With teamwork, they both make it to safety, and with treasure in hand return to their ships.
There is lots of lovely pirate language, and the end papers help define a lot of these for enchanted readers. The illustrations are wonderful, showing emotions and lovely details. The dogs are a variety of breeds, easily identifiable, and the cats range in type while still being entirely cats. And I love that the story shows how working together pays off.
Both author and illustrator are Canadian and known internationally for their great work. I'd already read and loved Kari-Lynn's Hungry for Math poetry book, and loved Dean's illustrations in the children's novel The Stowaways. It's great to see them come together in this series.
Thanks to Pajama Press for providing me with a pre-publication copy.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Pool

Finished May 30
Pool by JiHyeon Lee

This wordless picture book captures the imagination of a young boy and girl as they swim in their local pool. When they first arrive at the pool it is empty, but it soon fills with people and their accessories: inner tubes, inflatable boats, oars, water guns, and more. The two dive under the people and see each other and together they find a magical world of fish, sea plants, and many interesting creatures.
It reminded me of a false memory from my youth, when I was watching my older cousins swimming in a pool and, despite my father's warnings, was sure I could do what they were doing and so let go of the edge. Despite sinking, and causing my father to jump in fully clothed to haul me out, I was never scared, as I saw myself falling gently down through the water, watching fish and other creatures pass by. Of course there were no fish, but this book brought that time back to me.
Beautifully drawn, this story is a delight of imagination.

Lesser Spotted Animals

Finished May 30
Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You've Never Heard Of by Martin Brown

I love this book! This book gives basic information in a couple of pages about many animals you may not have even heard of before, including size, what they eat, where they live, their status in terms of endangered, and another random piece of information. Each includes an illustration of the animal, along with some other images. Many of the entries mention other similar animals that you may not know much about.
The animals with entries in the book are: the numbat, the Cuban solenodon, the lesser fairy armadillo, the zorilla, the silvery gibbon, the dagger-toothed flower bat, the long-tailed dunnart, the Russian desman, Speke's pectinator, the onager, the banded linsang, the yellow-footed rock-wallaby, the gaur, the sand cat, the southern right whale dolphin, three monkeys (the red-faced spider monkey, the grey-shanked douc langur, and the golden snub-nosed monkey), the hirola, the crabeater seal, the ili pika, the zebra duiker, and the black-footed ferret.
There is lots of humour and some disgusting and weird information to keep kids interested.
I learned a lot about many animals I had never even heard of and thoroughly enjoyed both the pictures and the text.
What a fun and interesting read!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Life on the Ground Floor

Finished May 29
Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine by James Maskalyk

This memoir is organized in a very interesting way. Maskalyk goes alphabetically through the letters of the alphabet, with each chapter on a topic starting with a letter. There are a couple of chapters where he combines two letters for his topic. So the subtitle doesn't mean what I thought it did, which was letters from one person to another.
Maskalyk works in emergency medicine at St. Mike's hospital in Toronto, and sometimes on the trauma team. He also teaches emergency medicine at the University of Toronto, and he works as an advisor, teacher, and consultant in emergency medicine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
This memoir of his work in this field moves between his work at St. Mike's, his work in Ethiopia, and his offtime with his grandfather in northern Alberta, near where a lot of my family came from and some still live.
The interesting comparison of a rural area of Canada, with a very urban area of Canada, and an urban area of Africa is one that emphasizes both things in common and differences. The hospital he works at in Ethiopia struggles to get the staff, equipment, and drugs necessary to treat patients properly. The patients struggle to pay for what they need. The families are a big part of the caregiving due to staff shortages, and lack of experience. In Canada, St. Mike's is right downtown, with all the difficult situations that that environment brings: drugs, violence, homeless, and mental illness. But they have staff that are well-trained, the most up-to-date equipment, and easy access to the necessary medications.
With his grandfather in rural Alberta, medical care is available, but not necessarily coordinated. At one point, he reviews his grandfather's medications and eliminates ones that don't give enough benefit for the side effects, or aren't needed. At another he accompanies him to the loca doctor, and explains his grandfather's condition and the risks he faces, becoming an advocate for the right treatment at the right time. I loved the closeness between these two men, and the way they dealt with real life issues.
Maskalyk is a man who cares deeply, who wants to make a difference in the world for the good, and who lives a life that sometimes is a lonely one.
Highly recommended.

One Perfect Lie

Finished May 24
One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline, read by George Newbern

This suspense novel takes some time to let the reader into what is truly going on. It starts as Chris Brennan is starting as a teacher and coach at a high school in small town Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. We know that Chris is not who or what he says he is, but we don't know what his real identity is, and we don't find out for a while.
He is interested in a particular group of high school boys, those on the baseball team. He is looking for one that he can get close to, and influence in some way. He has his eye on three particular boys, and those three boys we learn more about, primarily through their mothers.
Raz is the son of Susan Sematov, an executive at the nearby outlet mall. Raz's father died recently and it has affected his normally easygoing and outgoing personality. Susan is worried about him, and his future. They were all hoping that he's be drafted by a good college for his pitching expertise.
Jordan has just made the varsity baseball team after working hard over the summer to improve his skills. His mother Heather Larkin has raised him on her own, working hard at the local country club. But the new ownership is changing the way she feels about her job, and she regrets not being able to go to any of Jordan's games. She worries about the effect some of his friends have, especially those that come from wealthy backgrounds. Evan is one of those kids. His dad bought him a new BMW that cost more than Heather made in the last year, and he seems to throw around his money recklessly. He's always on his phone, and is a boy that likes to party. His mother Mindy Kostis is worried about him and about her marriage. She'd caught her husband cheating before and they'd started fresh after therapy, but he's acting odd again, and she's scared it's starting again. She's afraid that Evan has grown secretive too, and she wonders what he's up to. She's determined not to use alcohol as a coping mechanism like she did during her earlier marital crisis.
As a reader, I wondered what effect Chris would have on these boys, and I didn't like some of his methods to find out more about them.
This is a novel of secrets, of people pretending to be something they aren't, and about families and their ways of communicating with each other. It's about learning to look for the good in people and doing the right thing regardless of what others might want you to do.
I enjoyed it.

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Pier Falls and Other Stories

Finished May 22
The Pier Falls and Other Stories by Mark Haddon

This collection of nine stories takes the reader to many places.
The title story tells in slow motion of the collapse of a pier at an English seaside resort, from the beginnings of the final structural failure to the cleanup months later. We see the victims and the emotions.
The Island, the second story, is one of a fairytale world, a story by a naive young woman of a fantasy that turns into a nightmare.
Bunny, the third story is set in a house on a London estate where two misfits in society connect with each other in a meaningful way.
Wodwo, the fourth story, is of a family consisting of an older couple, the three children, the children's spouses, and two of the grandchildren, coming together for Christmas where they get an unexpected visitor, whose presence precipitates a crisis that has lasting effects. It follows one of the children through the next year.
The Gun tells the story of a man looking back on an incident from his childhood that was a turning point for him, as he is at another turning point in his life.
The Woodpecker and the Wolf takes us to science fiction where we are on a small colony experiencing the emotions, physical effects, and behavioural changes that her and her companions undergo when they are so far from earth and trying to deal with unexpected problems that arise.
Breathe is another story of family, one where a woman returns to her childhood home after years away, finding that things are not as she expected, and trying to make things right, but learning that the person who needs help is not who she thinks it is.
The Boys Who Left Home to Learn Fear tells of a team of men travelling through jungle to try to determine what happened to a previous team of men who haven't returned as expected.
The Weir is the story of a lonely man, recently separated from his wife who finds himself risking his life to try to save someone unexpectedly and then finding that nothing turns out as he expected.
All of these stories have strong emotions, things said and things unsaid. Not all of them have satisfying conclusions, but they all make you stop and consider.

Home Leave

Finished May 18
Home Leave by Brittani Sonnenberg

This novel begins in a small town in Mississippi, with a very different speaker, a house. As the house tells us its history looking back on it with longing and regret, it also tells us the story of the family who lived in it, and the book continues the story of one of the daughters of the house Elise, as she leaves, marries a man who works and lives in different places in the world, has children of her own, and those children and her try to define home for themselves.
Elise left home when her mother didn't believe the terrible truth she finally had the courage to confess. At first she found religion, and sang in a Christian group as well as tried to spread the word of her church. But as she grew older, she found a man who she connected with and married him, soon becoming a seasoned ex-pat in a world she hadn't imagined as a girl.
We also see the background of Chris, the man Elise married, and the farming life he ran from. As the couple and their two daughters, Leah and Sophie, continually adjust to life in different cities and countries, it is when a tragic loss occurs that they find themselves redefining their lives and looking for more meaning and connection.

A Girl Named Digit

Finished May 16
A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan

This teen novel features Farrah Higgins, nicknamed Digit for her interest and skills in math. After encountering a difficult social situation at school, Digit has attended a high school in a new area of town where only the teachers and administration are aware of her skills, and she hides them from her peers to fit in. She is also seeing a therapist to help her manage her tendency towards obsessive-compulsiveness. Now in senior year, she hangs out with a group of girls she has been friends with the first year of high school. One day when they are watching a popular show together, she notices a series of numbers at the bottom of the screen, When she sees a different set of numbers the following week, and a third set the week after that, she can't keep herself from trying to analyze some sort of meaning from them. She finds them to be a reverse Fibonacci followed by a 911. She tries to figure out various meanings from the 911, One of them is the election of JFK as president on November 9th. At school the next day, her teacher tells them about an airport bombing at JFK airport.
Sure that she is on to something, Digit races home to tell her dad, who is a math professor at UCLA. He discounts the connection, but is willing to take her to the local FBI to make a report.
Digit gets frustrated when they don't take her seriously there, and decides to do a little sleuthing of her own, but she isn't prepared for the danger she puts herself in, and must find someone to help her.
Her second trip to the FBI is more dramatic, and she gets assigned a minder, but she finds herself distracted by the young FBI agent, and they find themselves running from dangerous men more than once as they work toward the people behind the terrorist scheme.
I really liked the character in the book as she discovers that being herself is a lot easier than hiding who she really is, and she finds that she has only looked at the surface of many of the people around her as well. Both a thriller and a coming of age novel, I found this a fun read.

A Bed of Scorpions

Finished May 14
A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders

This is the second book in the series featuring book editor Samantha Clair. I've already read the first A Murder of Magpies, and the third A Cast of Vultures and thoroughly enjoyed them. This one has Samantha meeting her old friend, former lover, and art dealer Aidan Merriam for a long standing lunch date. Aidan has just found his business partner dead, an apparent suicide, but isn't sure whether something else isn't going on. He knows of Samantha's relationship with a police officer, and hopes for her help. Samantha is also on an arts committee about grants, where she has to make a presentation, and she is trying to connect with other segments of the arts world that have more experience with grant funding than she does. When Samantha calls her mother to confer, she learns that her mother is also Aidan's lawyer, making the case a true family affair.
Another plot line takes place in her office, where her highly competent Goth assistant has been offered a job elsewhere and Samantha plots for a way to keep her on board.
Samantha has a good eye for detail, that being one of her skills that make her a great editor, and this means that she can spot things that a casual observer wouldn't catch. This also means that as she gets closer to the truth about Aidan's partner's death, she also becomes a threat to someone with more to lose.
This is an interesting story about greed, jealousy, and men that don't take women seriously. A great read, with lots of humour.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Tender Wings of Desire

Finished May 13
Tender Wings of Desire by Colonel Sanders

I heard about this book through a news article, and I found that it was free to download through amazon. I downloaded and found it a quick read.
First, the cover has little to do with the plot. The time setting of the story is not given, but the main character Madeline, rides a horse as she escapes her parent's home on the eve of her wedding, and has packed only a few simple dresses. She does end up in a small coastal village, where she works in a tavern, and meets a sailor named Harland Sanders, who is American. He does have white blond hair, and dark framed glasses.
Madeline did not enamor me to her, as in the first sentence of the book I found that she detested embroidery, something I love to do. She also wasn't good at any of the other things young ladies of her social class and time were expected to be good at, didn't want to fulfill her parent's expectations of a good marriage to a man of status (or get married at all really), and instead of telling anyone, ran away without a plan or much in the way of money.
Her brother was sympathetic to her situation and seemed like he would have supported her if she had stood up for herself. What she apparently wanted was an education, but she did not end up having that wish fulfilled.
When she, working as a waitress and maid in the tavern, meets the sailor Harland, she is attracted to him, but partly because he is a common man. She doesn't interact with the inhabitants of the village apart from the very few who work at the tavern, and her rooms there seem better than most working class accommodation would have been.
It was also surprising to me that Madeline would choose to give herself to Harland before marriage, given that KFC started in the American south and this book is set more than a hundred years earlier (something I surmised from the lack of automobiles).
The writing was okay, but several plot points slip. For example, when she arrived at the tavern, she tied her horse to a post out front, and then we hear nothing about the horse until the final pages of the novella. The conversations are lacklustre, and none of the characters, other than perhaps the tavern worker who hires Madeline, Caoimhe, is that interesting.
I would say "don't bother," unless you really just want to say you've read it.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

There Is No Good Card For This

Finished May 7
There Is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell, illustrated by Emily McDowell

I was attracted to this book partly because I love Emily McDowell's line of Empathy Cards, and partly because scary, awful, and unfair things are happening to people I love and I always struggle trying to find a way to show I care and am glad to do what I can to help, but don't really know what to say or do. This book does help.
The book has three sections: Laying Some Groundwork; The Three Touchstones of Showing Up; and Just Help Me Not Be a Disaster.
They start with the acknowledgement that we all know empathy and compassion are good things and that we want to be helpful friends, but that we are not perfect and we're never going to be. It is important to start with your own mindset. Aligning your actions with your intentions puts you in a better place, making you more able to reach out. They share their own stories of bad things that happened, and things that people said and did, from both sides: the person bad things happened to, and the person who wanted to help people bad things happened to. This insight and the research they've put into this help with the core message in this book which is trust. They look at what the barriers are for us in doing the right thing, and explore how to surmount them.
The three touchstones of part two are kindness, listening, and small gestures. They use examples of what to do and say, and what not to do and say, and show why we often mix them up. Sometimes it is about trying to connect when we should be just listening. Sometimes it is about showing kindness and not worrying about finding the "perfect" thing to say or do. The show the difference between compassion and pity and why it is so important not to go to pity. They also emphasize that even if you have been through something similar, this is not you, and they won't feel exactly the same way that you do, so don't assume they will. This means never using that line "I know how you feel," in any of its disguises. You don't. Instead, listen to them, but don't press them to talk if they aren't ready or willing to. Just show that you are there willing to listen if and when they are ready. Don't obligate them to respond to you if they aren't ready. Make sure they know that. For all of these three things in part two, they give good examples and show situations with possible actions.
The third part goes into more detail about what we might say, and why not to, and suggests things to say instead. They give some cheat sheets for different situations. Remember that it isn't about you. It's about them.
A great book, and so useful.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Fractured

Finished May 4
Fractured by Catherine McKenzie, performed by Teri Clark, Scott Merriman, Amy McFadden, and James Foster

Suspenseful, this novel begins just as Julie and Daniel Prentice and their young twins move into their new home in Cincinnati. They've left Tacoma after having issues with a stalker, Heather, following Julie's first novel, The Murder Game, written under her maiden name, Julie Apple. Like the author, Julie went to law school in Montreal, at McGill University, and her novel is based on some of her law school experiences. Julie works off her stress by running, and as she returns from her first run, she meets her neighbour from across the street, John Dunbar, and his teenage son, Chris.
The novel goes back and forth from this time, and the months that follow, to a time nearly a year later after some sort of accident has occurred. The story is told by John Dunbar in the time after the accident, and by alternating voices of Julie and John in the months preceding.
Julie had friends in Tacoma, including a close friend she ran with, but somehow she seems to get off on a bad first start in her new city.
She works at home, writing her next novel while Daniel is at work and the kids at school. She and John sometimes run together, but his wife Hanna, a lawyer, seems to feel threatened by the relationship. There is a homeowners group on their street, started and organized by Cindy Sutton, a woman with definite ideas. Cindy organizes monthly get-togethers, and mans a website, and regular newsletters. At the first party the Prentices attend, at Cindy's house, they learn of the no alcohol rule, and witness her tyrannical and blaming nature. After that, Julie can apparently do no right in Cindy's books, and Cindy keeps making rules to shut Julie out.
With Julie feeling more and more ostracized, the tension in the neighbourhood is high, and, because as the reader you know something happens, the suspense as it leads up to the "accident" is high.
This is a story of inclusion and exclusion, of how it feels when you don't belong, and of the frustrations of that. It is also a tale of guilt and remorse, as characters look back on their actions with "what ifs".

Blue Lightning

Finished May 1
Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

This mystery featuring Jimmy Perez of the Shetland police, takes place on Jimmy's home island of Fair Isle. Jimmy is visiting his parents with his fiance Fran. It is her introduction both to the island and to his parents. The weather is gearing up for a storm as they arrive, and the flight in is a bumpy one.
A lighthouse station at the north end of the island has automated and been renovated into a field centre for studying birds and plants. The head of station is Angela, with her husband Maurice doing most of the administrative work. Angela's assistant is Ben, and the cook and housekeeper for the centre is Jane. This is not a busy time for bird watchers, but there are four staying at the centre as this novel begins, two men and a married couple. Maurice's youngest daughter from his first marriage, Poppy, is also there.
Jimmy's parents have planned a party celebrating his engagement, and booked the field centre with Jane catering as the venue. The party goes well, but when a woman is found dead at the field centre the next morning, and the storm has hit in earnest, Jimmy finds himself investigating alone, something he isn't entirely comfortable with. It seems like the suspects are limited to those at the centre itself, but Angela's past behaviour and competitiveness have Jimmy looking into many motivations to make sense of the crime. When a second body is found, he knows that the killer is desperate and he must move quickly to prevent further deaths.
This is the fourth book in the series and seeing Jimmy back in his home island is interesting. I like both him and Fran as characters, and found the island fascinating.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Among the Ruins

Finished April 29
Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan

This is the third book in the series featuring Esa Khattuk and Rachel Getty, of Canada's Community Policing department, based in Toronto. This one is a departure in terms of setting however, as it begins with the murder of an Iranian-Canadian international activist in Iran.
Khattuk is on leave, taking a personal trip to Iran, following the action in book two, recovering from the situation he found himself in at the end of that case. Getty is a bit at loose ends, wrapping up paperwork and worrying about him. When a woman approaches Khattuk to let him know of the murder, he is shocked and dismayed, but unsure of what he can do to assist the situation. As she convinces him to take action, and he becomes involved with a local group of young people advocating for change, he also finds that he must involve Rachel, asking her to talk to people back in Toronto that may know what the activist was doing and why she returned to Iran despite the obvious dangers.
Rachel becomes closer to Nate as she relies on his assistance during Khattuk's absence, and she is still working to reestablish her relationship with her brother Zack.
This book involves both old and new characters, and a situation that is out of their official jurisdiction. However, with human rights being very much a part of their casework, it speaks to both officers and makes them take risks they wouldn't have thought they'd do. It also works to bring Khattuk back to his old self.
I loved the descriptions of Iran, from architecture, to food, to art, to culture that this book digs deep into. This is an interesting direction for the series, as well.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Finished April 25
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

This US Civil War novel begins with one wedding, quickly followed by another. Agnes, the daughter of Carthene, Placidia's father's second wife is being married, and Placidia, only sixteen was not part of the wedding party. Placidia, called Dia by her family is a girl of spunk, with a talent for horses. Energized by riding a horse deemed unrideable by others, she comes upon her father and a Confederate army officer who is purchasing a mule from him. A connection is made, and by the end of the weekend, Placidia is travelling with Major Gryffth Hockaday back to his farm. His first wife died in childbirth while he was away at war, and Placidia looks forward to taking on responsibility for the infant Charlie and the farm duties.
With their honeymoon cut short by war demands, the couple have only two days together before he returns to the fight, and they are separated until after the end of the war. Placidia misses him dreadfully, and fights off conmen, raiders, and other dangers alone with the servants on the farm. Despite her isolation, rumors that she was pregnant and killed her baby are circulating and come to the major's ears as her returns. Charged with a crime, Placidia tells what she feels she can in letters to her cousin, a young war widow with a daughter. Adding to the tale are court documents, and a few letters from Gryffth to Placidia during the war.
The second part of the book is told again in letters to the now grown man Charles from his brother, as they learn about the story of Gryffth and Placidia, and piece together the missing information to complete the story.
This is a sad book, of love, mistrust, and honor. A book of secrets and of promises. A tale of betrayal and of justice.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Fates and Furies

Finished April 23
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, read by Will Damron and Julia Whelan

This novel tells the story of a couple, Lotto and Mathilde, first in Lotto's voice and then in Mathilde's. Lotto is short for Lancelot, and he comes from Florida, where his father died young and his mother now holds the purse strings of a water bottling empire. He has a younger sister, Rachel, and a paternal aunt, Sally. After his father's death, he ran wild with a group of local kids a bit older than him, and when things came to a head, got shipped off to boarding school, in exile. He was an outsider at first, until he found a way to be popular, and his anger sadness is one he fights his entire life. He loves attention, adulation, and admiration. When his first choice of career doesn't take him where he dreams, he chances upon another that does. As he keeps looking for more, he finds himself also more lonely.
Mathilde is also exiled at a very young age, sent to an uncle that provides shelter, a basic education, and food, but no more. Mathilde grows up feeling that she doesn't deserve love or happiness, that at the core of her is a dark place. When her uncle won't fund her college, she finds a way to do it without him, but it only confirms her feelings about herself.
When the two meet, they find something in each other that fills a hole in them. And for a long while they feed off each other, but this dependency is both good and bad, and, in the end, unsustainable. Neither one gives all of themselves, Lotto not seeing what Mathilde is really worth, and Mathilde not seeing her own value.
This is a sad book, with characters who never get enough, who hold a grudge long past normal, and some who see the real goodness in people beyond what they themselves believe.

The Clay Girl

Finished April 22
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker

I loved this book. I've been reading it very slowly, so as to savor it.
The main character here is Hariet (Ari) Appleton, and this book takes her from the age of eight through sixteen from 1961 on. Ari's family has issues, big issues. Her father is an abuser, and a charmer, and when she is eight and the authorities become aware of the abuse, rather than face up to it, he traumatizes his daughters further by killing himself in front of them. The kids are all farmed out to various relations, with Ari being shipped out to Cape Breton to stay with her Aunt Mary and Mary's partner Nia. They give her the home and love that she has never had from her own parents. Ari also has an imaginary friend that she talks with, and who never deserts her, Jasper, a seahorse.
Unfortunately, Ari is returned to her mother in Toronto, she reunites with her sisters, all of whom have been touched by their past. She also finds her mother with a new man, Len. A good man. Even as Ari's mother sinks back into a life of addiction and men, Len is constant and his family becomes a refuge for Ari, just as the family she left in Nova Scotia was. Her sisters have different reactions to their abuse, some needing to go through worse times before finding their feet. One leaves, one finds religion of a sort, and the others make their way through various dark experiences to happiness. Ari, as the youngest can't escape so easily, as even as she plans her way out, she finds new obstacles set before her, new losses to endure. But she also finds new allies, new friends, and new family, even where she least expects it.
Ari's voice is unique, and she emerges as an artist and storyteller through her life experiences. As she is told by her aunt, she is not dirt as some described her but clay, malleable into a wondrous being. I fell in love with her, and ached with her during the bad times. She is empathetic, observant, and smart. I want to see more of her story.

A Place Called Sorry

Finished April 19
A Place Called Sorry by Donna Milner

This novel takes place in the interior of B.C. in a small town called Sorry, with the majority of the story taking place in the 1930s. The story of the town's name is an interesting one, and speaks to the nature of the community.
Adeline (Addie) Beale lives with her parents and her grandfather Chauncey on a large ranch outside of town. Addie loves the ranch and pretty much lives outside, to the dismay of her mother, a woman who grew up in Vancouver and was educated as a nurse, but met Addie's father when he was getting his law degree, and married him. She misses the city, but she knows her husband's life is entwined with the ranch. When tragedy strikes the family, things change drastically.
Addie spends a lot of time with her grandfather, and he shares with her diaries that he kept as a teenager when he first arrived in B.C. with his father. As Addie gradually learns of her grandfather's past and its tragedies, she also finds a new friend in another outsider in their small town. Alan Baptiste is the son of Rose, the wife of the store owner in town Dirk VanderMeer. Alan's mother brought him with her when she married Dirk, afraid that if she left him on the reserve, he would end up in residential school. The two get along well, have similar interests, and both are picked on by the schoolteacher Mrs. Parsons, Alan for his race and Addie for her unconventionality.
When Alan's family also faces tragedy, he comes to work at the ranch and the two grow closer. But the town isn't done with them yet, and as the war begins, more challenges come into their lives.
This is a story of prejudice, of finding your own way in life, and of facing your past, even the parts you regret. It is also a story of our country's history, one that still affects us today.
Milner's writing, as always, brings it to life, making me care about these people and their lives.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Cast of Vultures

Finished April 18
A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders

I thoroughly enjoyed the first in this series featuring book editor Samantha Clair, A Murder of Magpies, so was eager to read this one. There is a lot going on in this book, which always makes for a page-turner. Sam is involved in her neighbourhood, and has become a go-between between two gardening friends, Mr. Rudiger and Viv. Mr. Rudiger is her upstairs neighbour, living on the top floor of her house, and Viv is an older woman who lives closer to the farmer's market Sam visits every Saturday. When she stops by Viv's as normal to deliver some cuttings, Viv unexpectedly invites her in and involves her in a little B & E as a worried neighbour of a missing man. Soon after, a house in the neighbourhood burns down, and the circumstances lead to an investigation.
Meanwhile, the publishing firm Sam works at has called in management consultants to make some changes, and her able assistant Miranda has concerns about a memoir she is editing.
Sam attends meetings, both work and community, gathering information, calls on her well-connected mother Helena for assistance, as well as a young techie, and her boyfriend, a CID investigator.
When she finds herself targeted by unknown men, she can't help but start making connections.
I love Samantha's intelligence and wit, and the writing is wonderful.
One of my favourite scenes is this one:
Christ, I was naked. I'd been too startled, first, and then too scared, to notice, but here I was, standing with an adolescent boy in a light well at two in the morning, with only a phone to cover myself with. And phone coverage, as we all know, is never very reliable.
which gives an example of her humour. I also like that she knows her skill set and her values, but also acknowledges her failings and her insecurities. She is a woman who stands up for herself and her friends, but isn't afraid to admit her mistakes. A very relatable character.

One Tiny Lie

Finished April 16
One Tiny Lie by K.A. Tucker

This is the third book in a series, and the only one I've read so far. Livie is just starting college, at Princeton, the school that her father wanted her and her sister to attend, just like he had. When she was eleven, her parents died in a car crash, one that badly injured her older sister Kacey. Kacey has struggled to recover, and even though Livie seems to be doing well, getting great marks and doing everything according to a long-set-out plan, Kacey is worried about her. So Livie agreed earlier in the summer to talk to someone and she's been shaking her life up a bit.
Now, as Kacey sees her off to school, she finds herself talked into an off campus party, where she lets loose a lot more than she ever has, beginning with Jello shots. The next morning she finds herself with a new nickname, an incomplete memory of the previous evening, and a sore back. As she gradually remembers the events of the evening over the school term, she settles into a pattern of partying, studying, and questioning her own feelings, and finds herself drawn to a young man that she knows is trouble.
This is a story of coming of age, but also one of coming to terms with the past, not only for Livie, but for other characters as well. Her relationship with her sister is a strong one, but this is the first time she's really been making decisions that are hers alone.
Despite the American setting, the author is Canadian. This series will definitely appear to the adult reader ready to move on from teen fiction.

Monday, 10 April 2017

An Intimate Wilderness

Finished April 8
An Intimate Wilderness: Arctic Voices in a Land of Vast Horizons by Norman Hallendy

To understand the value of this book, you have to know the author's background. Hallendy has spent over fifty years building relationships with the Inuit, from translators to elders, to the elders' families. He was given the name Apirsuqti, which means "the inquisitive one." He is the world's leading authority on inuksuit. He has received recognition for his work from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He is an ethnographer of international renown.
This book contains observations, descriptions of experiences, conversations, storytelling, Inuit history and legend, intricacies of the language and the importance of naming, and as with many things, the parts add up to so much more together than they do singly.
His work has allowed him to immerse himself in their culture, learning the words for places, experiences, symbols, people, nature, and ideas. He knows when to listen and when to ask questions. He respects the culture and you can tell he really wants to understand and know what he is asking about. He cares about the people he meets.
While this book tells of places, events, and ceremonies long kept to themselves, his telling of them is not a betrayal, but becomes a trusted, well-researched archive. Due to the influence of white colonizers on this culture, a disconnect has been introduced between the older people who still remember either for themselves or from their parents and grandparents the way things were done, the way lives were lived before and the younger generation who live in towns and lead a more modern way of life. As he says "There came a time when the elders no longer handed down tales, songs, customs, and mysteries. Instead, catechism and schooling were the shape the Inuit child's knowledge and future." This book is a bridge between those two world, to ensure the stories and traditional way of life are not forgotten.
There are so many beautiful and important things in this book and I am so glad they have been gathered up before they were lost to history. As one interaction goes "...when I asked him about myth and reality he explained to me that there are things said to have happened that may or may not have happened. It doesn't matter, as long as they are believed. The expression he used was sulinngikkaluaqtut ukpirijaujut, the reality of myth."
The book includes photos, drawings, maps, art, and other visual aids to understanding, some specifically made for the book.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

Monthly Mix-Up Mania 2015-2017 Completed

So, I completed the Monthly Mix-Up Mania, but not quite to the standard I set myself.
I had intended to read the books in letter order, but didn't stay on top of it, and ran out of time, with 3 letters to go. So I went back over the time period and found 3 books that met the requirements and used the for the B, E, and R of December.
It was a fun challenge, but sometimes limiting.
The home page for the challenge is here.

Official Start date: April 1, 2015. 
End date: March 31, 2017, yes, two years, because well, we have other challenges to do ;)

My books
J - A Jury of Her Peers by Elaine Showalter. Finished April 13, 2015
A - The Afterlife of Stars by Joseph Kertes. Finished April 18, 2015
N - Neverhome by Laird Hunt. Finished April 26, 2015
U - Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo. Finished May 4, 2015
A  - All Saints by K.D. Miller. Finished May 20, 2015
R  - The Road Taken by Michael Buerk. Finished May 30, 2015
Y - The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol. Finished June 26, 2015

F - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Finished July 15, 2015
E - Expect More by R. David Lankes. Finished July 18, 2015
B - Burned Alive by Souad. Finished July 18, 2015
R - The Road is How by Trevor Herriot. Finished August 6, 2015
U - Uncertain Soldier by Karen Bass. Finished August 8, 2015
A - The Arsonist by Sue Miller. Finished August 9, 2015
R - The Robber of Memories by Michael Jacobs. Finished September 2, 2015
Y - Yankee in Atlanta by Jocelyn Green. Finished September 4, 2015

M - A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders. Finished September 6, 2015
A - Astray by Emma Donoghue. Finished September 17, 2015
R - The Ragtime Fool by Larry Karp. Finished October 5, 2015
C - Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Finished October 11, 2015
H - Happy City by Charles Montgomery. Finished November 1, 2015

A - Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash. Finished December 21, 2015
P - Pack Up the Moon by Rachael Herron. Finished December 27, 2015
R - Rosemary Cottage by Colleen Coble. Finished January 14, 2016
I - The In-Between Hour by Barbara Claypole White. Finished January 19, 2016
L - The Longest Afternoon by Brendan Simms. Finished February 20, 2016

M - The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell. Finished March 12, 2016
A - Anomaly by Krista McGee. Finished March 12, 2016
Y - The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Finished April 2, 2016

J - The January Dancer by Michael Flynn. Finished April 6, 2016
U - The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Finished April 24, 2016
N - The "Natural Inferiority of Women, compiled by Tama Starr. Finished May 23, 2016
E - The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton. Finished July 1, 2016

J - Joy Comes in the Morning by Jonathan Rosen. Finished July 8, 2016
U - Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters. Finished July 17, 2016
L - Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D.R. MacDonald. Finished August 22, 2016
Y - You're Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck by Bill Heavey. Finished August 26, 2016

A - The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. Finished September 15, 2016
U - Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer. Finished October 3, 2016
G - Green River Falling by R.J. McMillen. Finished November 8, 2016
U - The Undertaker's Wife by Dee Oliver. Finished November 17, 2016
S - Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm. Finished December 1, 2016
T - Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. Finished December 3, 2016

S - The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. Finished December 31, 2016
E - Eel River Rising by Laura Reasoner Jones. Finished January 14, 2017
P - The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure by Adam Williams. Finished February 4, 2017
T - Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg. Finished February 5, 2017
E - Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto. Finished February 12, 2017
M - Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis. Finished February 13, 2017
B - The Burial by Courtney Collins. Finished February 18, 2017
E - Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman. Finished February 18, 2017
R - The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel. Finished February 19, 2017

O - On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman. Finished February 20, 2017
C - Cake or Death by Heather Mallick. Finished February 23, 2017
T - There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron. Finished February 27, 2017
O - One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn. Finished February 28, 2017
B - Boar Island by Nevada Barr. Finished March 1, 2017
E - Educating Alice by Alice Steinbach. Finished March 5, 2017
R - Racing the Sun by Karina Halle. Finished March 6, 2017

N - Noughts & Crosses by Marjorie Blackman. Finished March 9, 2017
O - Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra. Finished March 11, 2017
V - Vigilante by Kady Cross. Finished March 12, 2017
E - The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Finished March 15, 2017
M - The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. Finished March 18, 2017
B - Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Finished March 18, 2017
E - The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys. Finished March 19, 2017
R - The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies. Finished March 19, 2017

D - Displacement by Lucy Knisley. Finished March 20, 2017
E - Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs. Finished March 21, 2017
C - Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans. Finished March 28, 2017
E - Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Finished March 29, 2017
M - A Murder for Max by John Lawrence Reynolds. Finished March 30, 2017
B - Baghdad without a Map by Tony Horwitz. Finished June 6, 2016
E - Expect More by R. David Lankes. Finished July 18, 2015
R - The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill. Finished January 16, 2016

Friday, 7 April 2017

Three Jack Reacher Novellas

Finished April 4
Three Jack Reacher Novellas: Deep Down, Second Son, High Heat, and Jack Reacher's Rules by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill

This collection of three short novels and a collection of Jack Reacher trivia and anecdotes was enlightening. I've read quite a few of the books in this series, and these ones were a jump back to the past.
Deep Down goes back to Jack's Army days, when he is called in to go undercover to discover which of four high-ranking women at the Pentagon is leaking information. The situation is a difficult one, complicated by another sad occurrence.  This is classic Jack Reacher, working on his own and using unconventional methods to get the job done.
Second Son goes back a lot further, to when Jack is thirteen and his father takes a new posting at Okinawa. There is a side story here of Jack's grandfather in Paris who is ailing and who his mother must travel to see once she gets word. Jack, his brother Joe, and their father are left in their new home to manage alone. There is an issue with other Marine kids already living there who want to show their authority to the new kids. There is also worry over a new evaluation test the school authorities want the two boys to take to decide on what grade they'll be placed in. This causes Joe angst as he is a worrier. And lastly, there is an issue with their father's responsibilities that causes him to worry. An interesting look at a younger version of Reacher.
High Heat is also a look at a younger Reacher. Here he is sixteen, on summer vacation on his own, just arrived in New York City, and planning to see the sights and then go visit Joe, who is at West Point, north of the city. It is a day of extreme heat, and Reacher, finding that the Yankees are not playing in town, looks to find some music, and hopefully some pretty girls. A chance encounter on the street gets him involved in something much more dangerous, and things are starting to get very interesting when a power outage changes the game again. Lots of interesting insights again, and a great plot.
The Rules are short excerpts from the series, along with information on the military, weapons, and the beliefs that are behind the person Reacher is. It begins with the classic "hope for the best, plan for the worst".

A Murder for Max

Finished March 30
A Murder for Max by John Lawrence Reynolds

This mystery is part of a series of books for ESL adult learners. Orca, among other publishers, realized that as many people learned English as adults, they didn't want to read children's books. The Rapid Reads series is appealing to adult readers, and yet uses vocabulary aimed at ESL learners. I love that this series and others are now available to the public, filling a gap that was ignored before.
Here the action takes place in the small town of Port Ainslie, Ontario. The police chief, Maxine Benson, used to work for the Toronto police, but the end of her marriage and a craving for a more relaxed lifestyle led her to this small community. She has one officer, and an imposing dispatcher working for her. When a murder occurs, and there is no shortage of suspects, everyone expects her to call in the provincial police, but she figures that she can solve the case herself, and prove herself to the locals that don't really think a female police chief is capable of serious casework.