Thursday, 17 August 2017

Waking Gods

Finished August 13
Waking Gods by Sylvain Neuvel

This is the second book in the series that started with Sleeping Gods. The novel opens with the appearance of a second giant robot, this one appearing out of thin air in the middle of a park in London, England. There is debate about how to handle it while the powers that control the first robot, dubbed Themis, work to transport it to England.
The powers that want to approach the robot with a show of force win out, and things do not go well. The robot has powers to shield itself from harm and the resulting reciprocative attack by the robot is a deadly one. By the time Themis gets there, they know what they are up against, but aren't sure at first what to do. An idea by the pilots works, and things calm down.
Back at the base, when Themis suddenly disappears with Vincent inside, no one is sure what to think. When more robots begin to appear at cities around the world, things begin to look very dark for humankind, and a new weapon is brought to bear by one of the robots, resulting in more questions.
This book takes us further into the ideas debated in the first novel, with the mysterious consultant appearing to give encouragement to the Earth Defense Corps leaders.
But the ending, now that will have you on the edge of your chair, and eager for the next book.

The Stockholm Octavo

Finished August 12
The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann

This historical novel is set in the 1790s in Stockholm, Sweden. The narrator is Emil Larsson, a young man, who has worked hard to raise himself to the level of a secretaire in the government. His position is in the Customs and Excise office, and he has a sideline in reselling confiscated goods. He has come to his position through hard work, and hard play, teaching himself to be a skilled card player, and betting wisely, gaining the money to buy his position.
Now his Superior has decided that all the secretaires should be married, and Emil is one of the few who has no wife or fiance. Emil's favourite place to go to play cards is the house of Mrs. Sofia Sparrow, an older widow, who both runs a gaming parlour, and is a fortune-teller. She doesn't always use cards in her prognostications, but fairly often. When Emil is next at her house playing cards, she approaches him, and says she's had a vision for him concerning love and connection. She would like to lay an octavo for him, but first she must explain the rules around it. The cards serve as a guide to realizing the vision. Eight nights in a row she will lay cards until a card makes itself known as one of the Octavo. Laying the cards helps to identify who the people are in each role, and can then make it possible to manipulate them so the vision goes in the direction the seeker wishes. The seeker, in this case Emil, must swear an oath to complete the laying. Then he must work to identify who the people are in each role. The roles are: The Companion; The Prisoner; The Teacher; The Courier; The Trickster; The Magpie; The Prize; and The Key.
Along with this plot line, there is also one of royal intrigue. The King, Gustav has recently changed the law to give commoners rights and privileges previously reserved for the nobility. This has caused some of the nobility to rebel by refusing to sign the law, and be imprisoned for that rebellion. The group refers to themselves as the Patriots. Once released, they take their rebellion less openly, and choose the king's younger brother, Duke Karl as their leader. Duke Karl is a weak man, easily influenced by the flattering idea of becoming king. One woman in particular, the widow of one of the rebels, is determined to see the plot through. Her name is the Uzanne, and she has power beyond most women.
Another big theme to this novel is the use of the folding fan. A recent addition to the town's merchants is a skilled fanmaker, Christian Norden. He studied fanmaking in France and married a French woman, but with the growing unrest in France, they came to Christian's home country to make a new start. The Uzanne is a big collector of fans and uses them to get what she wants, whether it be a man or something else. She has some lovely and special fans in her collection and one of them plays a large role in this novel.
There is a lot going on here, and as Emil gradually identifies the people who have roles in his Octavo, we also see the plots developing. Some things, I could guess at ahead of time, but others took me by surprise. A very different and interesting novel.

Sunday, 13 August 2017

The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead

Finished August 11
The Man Who Shot Out My Eye Is Dead: Stories by Chanelle Benz

The stories in this collection are from the past and the present, from America and Europe, from male and female narrators. The range of Benz is quite wide and she displays it well here.
West of the Known is a story of the Wild West, of an outlaw brother come to free his young sister from a difficult life, but things don't always turn out how the characters expect, and this one has some interesting twists and turns.
Adela is a story within a story. It is written as an anonymous tale from the early 1800s, with plenty of footnotes to explain the story's origins. A tale of a woman whose settled life is unsettled by two young boys, eager for an adventure and romance. This is a story that raises questions. Why did she tell them her secrets? one wonders. A story filled with regrets.
Accidental is a story set in the modern day, a tale of a woman whose lives a difficult life. Her parents split up young and she lived mostly with her mother. Now, her mother is dying and she's trying to fulfil one of her last wishes. Her trip takes her back to the past in other ways, uniting her with not only her father, but other men from her past as well.
The Diplomat's Daughter is a tale of a woman who grew up as the daughter of an American diplomat, but who found herself living a different life after a military attack on a refugee camp she was volunteering at.
The Peculiar Narrative of the Remarkable Particulars in the Life of Orrinda Thomas is another story within a story. Presented as a memoir published in London in 1840 by an American slave woman, it tells the tale of a woman rescued from slavery to become a literary star and poet in her own right, who finds that her life is not what she thought.
James III has a twelve-year-old boy finding life difficult with his mother, step-father, and half-brother. As we meet him, he is on the run, beaten, bleeding and shoeless, when befriended by a young black man at the train platform. Overwhelmed by his situation, the boy looks to extended family and his new acquaintance to move forward with his life.
Snake Doctors is a story of a man who learns of his grandfather's death, not realizing that he'd been still alive. A letter of confession his grandfather left leaves more questions than it answers, sending him on a search for the truth.
The Mourners is another story more historical. As the story begins, a man is dying, and his wife is tending to him, trying to do the best she can by him. She is not the woman his family would have picked for him, and the marriage has brought children, but also had children taken from it. Some months after his death, the woman's father asks for her to come to him urgently, and she finds that her father is once again trying to use her to his own ends. A story with a surprising ending.
Recognition bring a young man historian to an archeological site of the end of a failed community. He has written much theory about this community, and now finds himself asked to comment on the findings there. But a woman who may or may not be someone he knows has her own agenda.
That We May Be All One Sheepefolde is a story from the sixteenth century narrated by a young monk, taken into the order as an orphan and finding a home there. As Henry VIII dismantles the monasteries and takes their lands and possessions for himself, the narrator finds his life uprooted and his loyalties torn.
These are all stories with interesting plots and characters, ones that surprise but also feel like one should have known they were coming. Very good writing.

The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin

Finished August 7
The Peculiar Miracles of Antoinette Martin by Stephanie Knipper

This novel begins with Rose Martin watching her young daughter Antoinette sleeping. She loves her deeply, but worries over her. We get the sense that something isn't right with the child. We next see ten-year-old Antoinette on her own, leaving the farmhouse to go out to the field of flowers beyond. We see that she responds to nature, but has difficulty moving, and is unable to talk. They live at the home that Rose and her sister Lily grew up on, at a farm near a small town called Redbud, in central Kentucky, near Lexington. The farm is a commercial flower farm.
Rose's sister Lily lives a couple of hours away in Covington, Kentucky, the north end of the state. She works for an insurance company there. Not far, but she hasn't talked to her sister in years, Not since shortly after their parents died, and Rose asked Lily to stay at the farm and help. Lily felt then that staying was a challenge that she wasn't up to, and Rose resented her for that decision. Both women have wanted to reach out many times since then, but neither has the courage.
So when Lily gets a call from Rose, once again asking her to come home, and tells her of her own failing health, Lily goes. She is still wary, afraid of the way she begins to act when she is around her young niece. She is very surprised to find that their neighbor, Seth, a man that Lily once thought she had a future with, is back in Redbud and working at the farm. Lily never really got over Seth, and thus the homecoming is even more emotional that she guessed. As she gets to know Antoinette, she finds that she can relate to the young girl, but when she discovers that Antoinette has healing powers of some sort, she is upset that neither her sister nor Seth has told her. As she learns more, she understands the situation better, and begins to find her place again there.
Lily's neighbor from Covington, Will, a young doctor who is a good friend, has followed Lily south, and shows up unexpectedly. Will has strong feelings for Lily, but also is a sensitive and observant man, and he begins to notice Antoinette's abilities fairly quickly. He also notices something else about them that no one else has, something that makes a big difference.
This is a story of love, of families, of how it feels to be "different," of the sacrifices that people will make for love. It is a story of a woman who comes to accept herself as she is, rather than fighting against her impulses. A story of two sisters who care deeply for each other.

Winter Child

Finished August 6
Winter Child by Virginia Pésémapéo Bordeleau, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli

This poetic novel takes us through the life of a man from his birth, all from the viewpoint of his mother. His was a difficult birth, and he nearly died. Again and again over the years, many events come close to ending his life, but manages to survive.
His mother has felt from the first that he would be her weakness, her worry, the one she had to always watch out for. Not that he has lived his life that way. He has taken many risks, and laughed at the dangers, but for her it is a lifetime of waiting for what she knows is coming for him. We see how they change over time and he gets older and more independent, living a life away from her.
The memories of the man's life and the mother's own life are told sometimes from her, and sometimes as if watching it from outside. They don't come in order, but are jumbled and come at random, one from the present, one from years before.
The language here is wonderful, evocative of the emotions of the characters. I always love novels written by poets as the writing always flows so nicely, and the descriptions make things come to life.


Tuesday, 8 August 2017

The Blacksmith

Finished August 6
The Blacksmith by Jenny Maxwell

This was a reread of a book I read a couple decades ago. It really stuck in my mind then, and I decided to do an interlibrary loan of it to refresh my memory. It's the first in a series, and features a girl turning into a woman. Ann is the younger of two sisters, raised by a single mom. She is constantly being made to feel a disappointment to her mother for not being feminine, graceful, and pretty, all things her older sister, Glory, definitely is. Despite this, the sisters are close and supportive of each other.
Luckily her absent father's brother Henry and his wife have taken an interest in Ann, and she spends a lot of time at their home in the country, especially with his uncle at his blacksmith shop. As a teen, her mother limited her time there, but she is elated to find that her uncle has left her the property including the house and the shop in his will, ensuring that she will not be coerced into selling it.
Ann is able to get a base education in metalwork and an apprenticeship in blacksmithing, renting out the property until she is able to take on the job of a smith herself. She is a tall, strong woman, ideal physically for this job.
One of the inclusions in her property is an old right of way through the neighbouring estate, allowing her to ride a horse through whenever she wants, and her father's other brother, John, a lawyer, makes sure she uses this right from the beginning of her use of the property, so as not to lose it. With the property vacant, this is no issue, but soon the property is sold and a group called the Children of God moves in. They try to limit her access, but Ann keeps insisting on her rights, and gaining them back. Their attitude and secrecy however mean that they do not give up easily, and Ann is soon questioning just how far they will go to keep her off their land.
This is a book of a woman who lacks confidence in many areas of her life, but has one thing, her profession, that she knows she is good at. She works on her own terms and this gives her the strength to do what she needs to do to stand her ground. It has suspense, great characters, and a good plot line. I enjoyed this read just as much as my first.

Monday, 7 August 2017

Firing Lines

Finished August 4
Firing Lines: Three Canadian Women Write the First World War by Debbie Marshall

This book looks at three female Canadian journalists that covered WWI on the ground in France. The book is organized into three parts. Part one gives us background on each woman individually, their history, and how they ended up reporting on the war. The second part covers the war more or less chronologically, with the women's reports intermingled in each topical chapter. The third part looks at each woman's life individually after the war. They weren't the only female reporters during the war, but they each came from a different background, with a different outlook about what was happening, and they supported each other professionally.
Beatrice Nasmyth was the youngest of the women, twenty-nine as she went to Europe in 1914. She was a strong believer in women's rights, particularly of the right to vote.  Her cousins, Arthur and Clifford Sifton were active politicians in Canada both federally and provincially and supporters of women's rights. She was a charter member of the Vancouver branch of the Canadian Women's Press Club and a friend of the poet Pauline Johnson. She was based in London during the war, but told a variety of stories that grew her own views on Canadian identity, making her reassess some of her earlier actions against immigrants of other races.
Mary McLeod Moore was in her early forties as the war began, with more than a decade of journalism experience behind her, already based in London. She'd been writing occasionally for Saturday Night Magazine since 1910, beginning a regular column for them in 1912 called London Letters. Her father was a military officer, and she had been given a strong education. With her journalist reputation strong, she was in a good place and position to report on the events of the war.
Elizabeth Montizambert was thirty-nine and living in Paris before the war began, and that gave her an advantage over others. Elizabeth was born into a wealthy family of self-made entrepreneurs, leaders of New France, and professionals. University-educated, well-travelled, with many friends who were artists and writers, Elizabeth had begun writing for the Montreal Gazette in 1912 covering Paris art, culture, society, and fashion. As the war begun, her columns made the transition to life in a city facing the challenges of war.
Seeing the reports from the women's own experiences and their interviews with those closer to the action was fascinating, These were women eager to let others know what was really going on, sometimes sending their stories through private hands in order to avoid the military censors. Their unique angle on the experiences of war, in London, Paris, and nearer the front lines awakened their readers back home to the reality of what was happening.
This is an important book in our country's history, showing Canadian women's take on the events in the war that gave Canada an identity outside of a British colony.

Battleborn

Finished August 3
Battleborn: Stories by Claire Vaye Watkins

This collection of short stories takes place mostly in Nevada, and covers time periods from the Gold Rush to the present. We see very personal tales of love, loss, and the quest for a dream. The stories give a real sense of the setting, whether it be desert, the scramble of the frontier, or the urban life of bar hopping. Watkins takes us inside her characters' heads, giving a real sense of the feelings that develop and motivate them.
These aren't happy stories, they're just stories of life, as her characters struggle to stay alive and maintain some control over their future.

The Unfree French

Finished August 3
The Unfree French: Life Under the Occupation by Richard Vinen

This heavily researched book looks at the lives of the people who lived in occupied France during the Second World War. The book is organized roughly in the order in which things happen, with the first chapter about the summer of 1940 and the last chapter about the liberation. There are also some experiences grouped by type here. Chapters are given over to the prisoners of war, the French who were in Germany, women, Jews, and the youth forced to work for the Germans.
While there were descriptions of individuals here, they were not gone into in depth, and I found the book gave a very good accounting of what was going on with different groups, and at different times, and in different areas, but this is not a piece of narrative nonfiction, giving us a connection to the people that lived under German control, which is what I was hoping for when I bought this book.
I learned a lot and I found the book very informative, but a tad dry. It was more academic than I expected.

Road Signs That Say West

Finished August 1
Road Signs That Say West by Sylvia Gunnery

This teen novel has three sisters at the center. The oldest is Hanna. Hanna started university, but quit part way through her first year, and went to Europe to work as a nanny. That didn't work out well for her, and she is home now. The girls are supposed to be looking after the house while their parents travel in Europe. But Hanna has the brilliant idea to do a road trip together while they have the chance, all the way from their home in Nova Scotia to Vancouver.
The youngest sister Claire is game right away. She's been having a hard time since a close friend of hers committed suicide earlier in the year. She's always been game for whatever Hanna wants to do. The middle sister, Megan, takes more convincing. She has a summer job lined up, and needs to keep up her swimming practice to stay competitive.
As the girls journey across the country, they encounter other young people, some they like, others they don't. They get invited to a wedding and find themselves offering to help paint a house. They have fights, and get scared. They get hurt, and share secrets and fears.
This is a tale of sisters, with all the messiness that relationship brings. A tale of love despite differences, as they all prepare for what the future may bring them.

Welcome to Gamla Stan!

Finished July 31
Welcome to Gamla Stan! by Michal Hudak

I picked up this book in Gamla Stan, the oldest part of Stockholm. A book for children grade 3 or 4 and up, it gives the history of this part of the city. The guide to the history is a seagull named Holmer, Stock Holmer, and he has something special to add in commentary in every part of this history.
There are also activities from coloring some of the pictures here to identifying some of the doors pictured, for those who are reading locally, or maybe checking it out through Google Maps Streetview.
Gamla Stan is a set of four islands at the heart of the city of Stockholm, with a rich and vibrant history, and this book gives facts, stories, and exciting details that will intrigue the reader. With lots of pictures, drawing, songs, legends, and a few quizzes, this is a book to go back to again and again.

Malagash

Finished July 29
Malagash by Joey Comeau

I loved this book. It's short but intense and entirely captivating.
The story takes place in Malagash, Nova Scotia, a small town where Sunday's father has chosen to come back to to spend his final days. Sunday is a young teen, an avid computer programmer, and she has decided to record as much as she can of her father's last words and put them in a computer virus that will make him live forever. Sunday's dad is dying of cancer, something she fights against, her mother tries to protect her and her younger brother Simon from, and yet something her father is determined to face openly. Everytime they visit him in the hospital, they part with the words "goodbye forever" on both sides, a cheerful way to indicate that at some point the words will be true.
The writing here is superb, and so many of them rang true for me. When Sunday talks about her dad, she says at one point "His face is very serious, which is one of the ways my father smiles" and I knew exactly what she meant. Her dad teases her with metaphors about how the end will come for him, but life will go on, saying "a leaf will fall," "a weight will lift," "snow will blanket the town." He loves sly humor, asking "How come the cat never comes to visit? Is she mad at me?"
Sunday is desperate for his words and begins to leave her phone when she leaves him, so she records his interactions with Simon, with her mother, with her uncles.
Simon is also an interesting character, referred to affectionately in the family as "the waif." Sunday begins to spend more time with him, sharing comfort and interests, and finding he has insights that had escaped her.
The other family members have wonderful ways of speaking as well. Her grandmother says "I always feel young. I stopped feeling old a long time ago," when talking about her own past. Sunday's mother tries to draw her back into the family activities, saying "Your grandmother has the most badass spoon collection you've ever seen. She's got a whole ros of spoons from old mental hospitals. She has a spoon from the Amityville Horror House."
The book is touching, sad, funny, poignant, and oh, so worth reading.

The Lost Sisterhood

Finished July 27
The Lost Sisterhood by Anne Fortier

This novel alternates between two time periods. The earliest one is around 1250 B.C., in the Late Bronze Age, where the story begins with a young woman Myrina and her younger sister Lilli. The two girls return from a successful hunting trip to find their village changed forever. They must find a new home, and Myrina relies on stories from her mother Talla to lead them back to the Temple of the Moon Goddess where she hopes they will be taken in. It is a long trip with many challenges, not least is the reception at the Temple itself. But this is just the beginning of a longer journey, one measured in years, and taking the two woman and their companions across the Mediterranean to new lives.
In the present day, Diana Morgan is a sessional instructor at Oxford, a philologist and an expert in Greek mythology. When Diana was a young child, her father's mother, her Granny, came to live with them, and she became the recipient of Granny's stories. Despite being told that her Granny had mental health issues, Diana believed in the stories of the Amazons that Granny told, and of Granny's life as Kara, one of them. When a man she's never met before, Ludwig, approaches her to assist at a dig, she is surprised and wary. Despite the warnings of her mentor Katherine Kent, and her colleague James Moselane, Diana meets Ludwig at the airport and finds herself at a dig in the middle of the Tunisian desert. What she finds there makes this a personal quest for her.
Instead of going home, she goes on to Knossos to meet her best friend Bex who is on a dig there and has found something she thinks Diana will be interested in, and Diana finds herself running toward the answers to her questions about her grandmother, away from her professorial duties, and staying a step ahead of at least one group of people determined to stop at nothing to keep her from finding answers. Her journey takes her from England to Tunisia, Greece, Turkey, Germany, and Finland.
This is a story of the origins of the Amazons, one that is very believable. This is also a story of women across the ages fighting for the right to live their own lives, on their own terms.
It brings Greek mythology and classic tales alive from Mycenae, Thracia, Ephesos, Troy, and Crete. We see the characters Otrera, Hippolyta, and Paris brought to life.
A engaging quest of a novel.

Hunting Houses

Finished July 23
Hunting Houses by Fanny Britt, translated by Susan Ouriou and Christelle Morelli

This novel is set in Montreal with Tessa working as a real estate agent. Tessa loves her husband, Jim, and their three young sons: Philemon, Boris, and Oscar, but finds herself looking for more in her life. When an old boyfriend, Francis, comes into her life through a listing she's taken on, she finds herself tempted to meet him again. Back when they were in a relationship, he was 30 to her 19, and it didn't end well.
As Tessa goes about her life, spending time with friends and family, ferrying her boys to activities, we see her marriage from the inside and see how the "what ifs" of past relationships can live on. This is a story of ordinary life, and how our past is always a part of us.

Sunday, 6 August 2017

The Place of Shining Light

Finished July 21
The Place of Shining Light by Nazneen Skeikh

This book has suspense, romance, and spiritual enlightenment.
There are several related storylines that the reader follows here. One of them is that of Khalid, a Pakistan antiquities dealer, who steals to order, makes very good fakes, and engages in illegal import and export of art. His wife Sofia loves him very much, but is happy with a simple life, and still cooks all the meals for the household, even when he has numerous guests. Khalid has two sons, one of whom, Hamza, lives overseas and works for the family business from there. The other Hassan, is the apple of Sofia's eye, but a disappointment to Khalid who finds him a playboy who is always asking for financial handouts. Khalid relies on his nephew Faisal as his closest confidante in all business matters.
Adeel is an ex-military officer who has been hired by Khalid to steal a Buddhist statue from Bamiyan (the place of shining light). Adeel is a reliable young man, very close to his mother, who has done work like this before. This time however, the statue causes him to have a spiritual awakening, affecting him in a way he has never felt before. He wants to keep the statue for himself.
Ghalid is a wealthy land-owner, a wannabe politician, with a predilection for young boys and girls, preying on the people of his own village. He is not well-liked locally, partly due to his predation, and partly due to the lack of help he has given the locals over time.
As Khalid tries to track Adeel and the statue when they go missing, he engages both his military contacts that recommended Adeel, and a more criminal element that may have connections to the Taliban.
Adeel is resourceful and has many skills, but when he finds himself joined by a young woman who is looking for a new life, he finds both himself both exasperated and attracted.
An engaging novel with a lot of interesting characters.

Hope Has Two Daughters

Finished July 18
Hope Has Two Daughters by Monia Mazigh, translated from French by Fred A. Reed

This author is the wife of Maher Arar, a Canadian man imprisoned, tortured, and cleared of terrorism charges. Monia was thrust into the limelight during her fight for her husband and his rights.
This novel takes place in two time periods: 1984, and 2010-2011, both periods of revolution in Tunisia. In 1984 Nadia is in her final year in the lycee when a short-lived revolution takes place. Nadia has been exposed to a wide variety of books and thinking through her father's extensive library, and finds her actions lead to her suspension from school. She begins studying English at the American Cultural Center where she meets a young Canadian man, Alex, who is adding technology to the school's library. Nadia's best friend Neila has been dating a young man Mounir, who is from the disadvantaged part of town, Ettadamoun Township, and has been studying to be a lawyer. Mounir is implicated in the uprising and sentenced to 7 years in prison. Nadia finds that her future in Tunisia is limited due to her actions, and believes moving to Canada as Alex urges her to do is a wise move despite her parents' feelings.
In the more recent time period, Nadia's daughter Lila is visiting Tunisia for the summer to improve her Arabic. She is staying with her mother's old friend Neila and her husband, but finds the school boring and not offering the learning she expected. When she is unexpectedly befriended by a neighbour woman her own age, she finds herself drawn into a new group of friends, young people who come from both the wealthy neighbourhood and Ettadamoun Township, and who believe the time is ripe for a new kind of society, beginning with the revolution dubbed the Arab Spring.
As both mother and daughter go through their own enlightenment during each revolution, they also find the Arab Spring bringing them together not only with each other, but with family and friends.
A very useful glossary to terminology is supplied at the back of the book.

Happiness for Beginners

Finished July 16
Happiness for Beginners by Katherine Center

Helen Carpenters is 32. She's been divorced for a year from her immature husband Mike. She's trying to figure out how to give herself a kickstart to a new beginning, and decided to sign up for a wilderness survival course that her younger brother Duncan mentioned. When she gets to Duncan's to drop off her dog, she finds that he has forgotten entirely (typical for him) and she must take the dog to her vet to board. She also finds that Duncan's long-time best friend James is also going to the course and is expecting to drive out to Wyoming with her.
Helen is disgruntled by all these surprises, especially as she was looking forward to some solo driving time to belt out the tunes, and a good visit with her grandmother, who brought up her and Duncan in Evanston, along the way. She gets more surprises along the way, from James, from her beloved Grandma Gigi, and from the company, BCSC, who is running the course.
Helen finds the group taking the course mostly consists of university students: guys wanting a near death experience to fuel their adrenaline, and sorority girls wanting to tone their bodies. She ends up befriending a young woman named Windy, beautiful and nice, and a good listener. The challenges of the trek are daunting to many: no soap, no washing, no deodorant, no toilet paper, sleeping under tarps rather than in tents, and only one book each. But Helen welcomes these, reading the company's guide as her book, and relying on the advice in Chuck Norris jokes she has grown to know from her boss at work. She also learns that she must deal with all the issues of her past to move forward.
This is a story of learning one's strengths, working as a team, and recognizing that we sometimes need help in recognizing love when it comes along.

A Greyhound of a Girl

Finished July 14
A Greyhound of a Girl by Roddy Doyle

Roddy Doyle never fails to grip me with his stories. Here Mary O'Hara, twelve years old, is doubly unhappy. Her best friend, Ava, moved to another part of Dublin and the two girls won't see each other daily as they were used to. And Mary's grandmother, Emer, who she is close to, is in hospital dying. As Mary walks home from the school bus, past the group of chestnut trees near her home, a woman she's never seen before appears among the trees and speaks to her. At first, Mary thinks that it is an older woman, but as she gets closer, she realizes that the woman is just wearing old-fashioned clothing. The woman knows who Mary is, and gives her a message for her grandmother. She says "Tell your granny, it'll all be grand."
Mary lives with her parents and two older brothers. Her mother, Scarlett, talks in exclamation marks most of the time, something that Mary lets her know frankly. Mary's brother's are lumbering, exuberant, and shy with woman. They are Dominic, 14 and Kevin, 16, but seem to Mary to have become a different species lately, going by the nicknames Dommo and Killer. After a snack, Mary and Scarlett head off to the hospital to visit granny.
When Mary meets the strange woman the next afternoon, she has to admit that she forgot to pass on the message, and the woman, identifying herself as Tansy, makes herself known to Mary's mother as well. As they both become aware that Tansy is the ghost of Emer's own mother, who died when Emer was very young, they together commit to a road trip to the past of the four generations of women.
This is a tale of love, and comfort, with many touches of humour. We see Tansy and Emer's lives in more detail as we go back in the past.
The book copy I got described itself for all ages from nine up, and I totally agree with that. A keeper.

The Garden of Small Beginnings

Finished July 13
The Garden of Small Beginnings by Abbi Waxman

Lilian Girvan is a single mom, widowed suddenly three years earlier when her husband Dan was killed in a car accident near home. She's always been close to her sister Rachel, but when she collapsed in mourning following the accident, Rachel stepped in to support her and look after Lilian's two young daughters. Now, Annabel is 7 and Clare is 5. Lilian works as an illustrator for a small textbook publisher, Poplar Press. She also has a lovable dog named Frank and a long-time babysitter named Leah. Rachel works for an art importer, and plays the field.
Lilian has recently been asked to take on the illustration job for a book on vegetables by the Bloom Company, which sells flowers and seeds. One of the corporate owners is running a free gardening course on Sundays over six weeks at the local botanical gardens, and Lilian's boss wants her to go. While children are allowed, Lilian asks Rachel to look after the girls, but Rachel thinks it is a better idea to come along.
The group taking the course is small, consisting of two retired teachers, Francis and Eloise; a retired banker, Gene; a young man who seems into nature, Mike; and a single mom Angie, who brings along her 5-year-old son Bash after the first week. The teacher is also young, part of the Dutch family who owns the company, Edward. There is also an assistant, who helps with a lot of the physical work and garden preparation, Bob, whom the women immediately dub "impossibly handsome."
The dynamic between these characters make up the substance of the book as when Lilian asks Edward for advice improving her own garden, the group takes turns going to each member's home after their weekly class and doing a project on each garden.
Each chapter starts with helpful gardening advice, and there is lots of humour in the plot.
A feel-good novel about the power of nature and friendship to heal.

The Last Wave

Finished July 12
The Last Wave by Gillian Best

This novel moves around in time from 1947 to the present. Martha is at the core of the story, which includes her husband John, her children Iain and Harriet, Harriet's partner Iris, and their daughter Myrtle, and Martha and John's neighbor Henry.
Martha became a swimmer at a young age after a new drowning incident in 1947. This incident brought out a reaction in her father and her taking swimming lessons helped calm his feelings around it. Martha found the sea to be a natural fit and she increased her distance and endurance simply for the love of the act itself. She had never thought of swimming competitively until an insistent reporter, looking for a story, put it in her head. But marriage was imminent for the young Martha at that point and she turned her back to the sea to take on the role of wife and mother. Ten years later, the call became too strong, and she broke out of the traditional role she had chosen to take on the challenge of swimming the English Channel. By the end of her life, she had swum across the channel ten times, and tackled health and aging issues. For Martha, the sea is an escape from her life, a calming influence, a place that she can stop thinking and just be.
This is a story of relationships, of intolerance, of anger and regret, of families and those who become family through the act they take on for us. A wonderful book

The Whole Town's Talking

Finished July 10
The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg

This novel takes place in Elwood Springs, Missouri as many of her novels do, but this one covers more time and takes a different view.
The book starts in 1889 with Lordor Nordstrom, the found of Elwood Springs as he settles in the United States, and starts a community that includes many other Swedes, but also those immigrants from other backgrounds. It tells of his search for a wife, one that has the support and assistance of the other men and women of the small community. As Lordor looks at the community, he picks a place on a hill in town with a pleasant view in all directions, and donates it for a cemetery, calling it Still Meadows. It introduces us to his friends and neighbours: Birdie and Lars Swenson, Henry and Nancy Knott, Old Man Henderson, and many others.
The story takes us through the years, with each new generation moving in, and learning about them, but until 1911 when the first town person was interred in the cemetery this is just background. Because something special happens to those buried here, and the reader will enjoy the premise of this story as it takes us up to 2021.
This is a story about community, about what life is really about, and about lasting love. I really enjoyed it, especially the little twist at the end.

Heather, The Totality

Finished July 7
Heather, The Totality by Matthew Weiner

This short novel is told in five parts, with two storylines that come together.
One storyline is Heather's, and it begins with the meeting of her parents Mark and Karen. Their date was a setup. Mark's dad was a high school football coach, perpetually disappointed in Mark for his lack of sports prowess. This made Mark determined to be a success in business and he applied himself to that goal diligently. Karen was in PR and also a hard worker, but a successful career wasn't a goal for her, and she was quite happy to take on the role of society wife and mother. Heather is the center of their lives.
The second storyline follows Robert (Bobby) Klasky, beginning with his childhood as the son of a single mom in Newark. His mom was a promiscuous drug-user, and he grew up having to fend for himself, and having a decided lack of social skills. He spent some time in jail after a social misunderstanding that led to an assault, but managed to stay away from the life of crime many of his peers led. He learned how to run a forklift and worked in construction.
The main action of the book as the story lines come together occurs as Heather is fourteen. She is a pretty girl, but also smart and well-liked. She is on the debate team and cares about people. The condo building that she and her parents live in is undergoing major renovation, but her father is too stubborn to move out during this phase as most of the other condo owners have. Karen is finding herself more at loose ends now that Heather is more independent, and is thinking of ending her marriage which she no longer finds fulfilling. Mark is also unhappy with the marriage, but not sure how to fix things. When he notices a young man on the construction crew eyeing Heather with interest, he is determined to deal with the situation himself.
And that changes a great deal.

Cottage Cheese Thighs

Finished July 6
Cottage Cheese Thighs by Jenn Sadai

I took my time reading this book to think about the issues that Jenn highlights here. This is a book about body image, and about the society pressures around women's body image. It is also a memoir of Jenn's only journey from yoyo dieting to meet these unrealistic body images, and her move aware from that dynamic to a more realistic, healthy, and happier life loving her body, taking care of it, and not worrying about external judgments. Other than for the purposes of the book to show her change in lifestyle is not one of denial, she also eschews the use of a scale in her life.
Jenn used an image of her own body for the book cover, and had to veer away from some of her new choices to show the "cottage cheese" look she wanted.
She talks to other women, friends and acquaintances about the need to stop letting media dictate what a woman's body should be and love our own bodies for the work they do for us. Yes, that means giving them healthy fuel to do that work, but it doesn't mean giving up all tasty foods in chasing an unrealistic ideal.
Her message is a good one, and I hope that others will read this book and think hard about the way they treat their own bodies.

The Twenty-Three

Finished July 5
The Twenty-Three by Linwood Barclay

This is the third and final novel in the trilogy that started with Broken Promise and continued with Far From True. The book starts in a very dramatic way, with detailed descriptions of several people as they start their day as normal only to find things going horribly wrong. A librarian is one of the first people to die. As the reader gradually begins to suspect that there is large-scale poisoning of some sort going on, we look at all the players that we found in the first two novels. David Harwood, living with his son Ethan and his parents is worried about a woman he's come to have feelings for, and her son.
Cal Weaver is worried about his sister Celeste and the unfriendly attitude of his brother-in-law, but he also has strong feelings for the little girl Lucy Brighton that he met recently. When Lucy telephones him for help, he knows that he must assist this special girl that he's made a strong connection with.
Marla Pickens, still recovering from the dramatic events that restored her son to her, worries about her father Gill, as well as her young son Matthew.
George Lydecker's parents worry about where he is, now that he's been missing for longer than they've known him to be before.
Detective Barry Duckworth, worries about his son Trevor, and about the community in general. He's also beginning to put together some of the pieces to the puzzling crimes in the town. While the boyfriend of a cold case murder victim is starting to pull himself together after years of guilt and sadness, his girlfriend's father has finally given up trying to help him. 
Duckworth finds that a new murder victim with the same look as two previous unsolved murders may hold the key to finally finding the killer. The larger community catastrophe of the mass poisoning also has him making the connections to finally figure out the meaning of the number 23 that has been appearing all over town. 
At the college, the new head of security finds a lot on her plate as well, and she works closely with Duckworth to make the crimes occurring on campus get the attention they needed all along. 
Lots going on here, grief and relief, but the ending leaves us with new questions.

Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Two Times a Traitor

Finished July 4
Two Times a Traitor by Karen Bass

This children's novel begins with 12-year-old Laz Berenger visiting Halifax with his family on spring break. Laz's anger against his father has been stewing for months, ever since his father's job took them to Boston. His father is ex-military and has high expectations for Laz, but doesn't seem to always care about Laz's own interests. Laz wanted to stay with the one friend he'd made in Boston and take a course in parkour, something he's been trying without instruction. Laz and his younger sister Emmeline grew up spending summers at their grandmother's house in the country where she insisted on everyone speaking French. This last summer, she gave him a Saint Christopher medal on a chain, something that had been handed down through the family for generations.
At the Citadel, an argument between father and son erupts and Laz rushes away from his family. He explores on his own, finding an underground walkway beneath the outer wall. In the dark, he trips and falls, and when he awakens he finds himself in a forest on a hill. As he begins walking around, trying to figure out where he is, he encounters a group of men dressed in clothes from the past, and they take him to a ship, where he is brought before the captain.
As Laz gradually realizes that somehow he has moved to another time, he begins to panic about how to get home, especially when the captain takes all his clothes and his medal, and tells him he is suspected of being a spy.
Laz's language skills, and his forthright behaviour bring him both opportunities and trouble, and before long, he is sent into Louisbourg as a spy to observe and report back. When the siege starts unexpectedly, Laz finds himself loving his new home and his master. He is now torn between staying with the man he has come to love and respect, and getting his medal back, which he believes is the key to going home again. He begins to wonder what home really is, and what he really wants.
This story is of a boy, moving from a rebellious pre-teen to an assured young man as he is forced to deal with his situation on his own. A wonderful read incorporating Canadian history and a great character.

Leave Me

Finished July 2
Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Maribeth Klein has a busy life as a magazine editor in New York City. She is the mother of 4-year-old twins, and her husband also has a demanding career. So when she gets chest pains at her desk one day, she pops a couple of Tums and keeps doing all the things that she needs to do. But when they don't seem to be working and she's feeling worse she mentions it at her scheduled ob/gyn appointment. Her doctor sends her to the hospital, where she learns that she's been having a heart attack for the last few hours and needs a stent. During that procedure, things get worse, and she ends up having emergency bypass surgery.
After a week in the hospital, Maribeth is home, where her mother has come to help. Unfortunately, Maribeth's mother isn't particularly helpful, and everyone seems to expect her to just pick up where she left off, and seem annoyed when she isn't able to do that. Desperate at her situation, Maribeth listens to her inner self, and does what many women dream of, but few actually do, and leaves a note and runs away to be by herself.
She ends up doing a lot of thinking, about her life, about her beginnings, about what she wants. And she makes new friends, who like her for herself, and encourage her.
This is a story of a woman reaching her breaking point, and doing something positive for herself. It's about realizing that we all need to ask for help sometimes, and that's okay. This is a book that is also a wake-up call to treat yourself well, because as important as it is to help those you love, you can't do that if you don't ensure you're good first.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

We Are Okay

Finished July 2
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

This teen novel has a character who is very alone. Marin is in her first year of college in a small private college on the East Coast of the US. She grew up in California, near San Francisco, and lived with her grandfather, who she calls Gramps. Marin's mother died following a surfing accident when Marin was only 3, and she's a strong reader, with a good sense of seeing different explanations for things. When Marin was starting high school, she became close friends with Mabel, another girl from her school. Mabel lives with her parents Ana and Javier, with her older brother Carlos away at college. She's going to college closer to home, in Los Angeles.
As the story progresses, we learn about Marin's situation, and how it was living with Gramps, with their separate spaces, with his letters to a woman named Birdie in Colorado, with his poker nights with his friends. She remembers a time when she was younger, and stayed with one of those friends and his family, Jones. Jones' daughter Samantha took her to school while she was there, during a hospital stay for Gramps.
We learn about the intricacies of the relationship between the two young women, and about the seashells her mother's friends gave her at the beach. We learn about why she feels alone, and why she feels like everything she knew was not true, not really.
This is a story of a young woman forced to face difficult knowledge very suddenly. It is about fear, and embarrassment, and loneliness. And it is about friends, and family and how things continue to evolve. A great read.

Just Like Family

Finished July 1
Just Like Family by Kate Hilton

This novel has flashbacks to earlier times in the life of the main character Avery Graham. In the now of July 2017, Avery is working as the chief of staff to the mayor of Toronto, Peter Gaines, a man she's known since she was twelve, and he first visited his father's cottage.
The cottages on an unnamed Ontario lake are a big part of the story. Avery's family had one for her, her older brother Ethan, and her parents. Her friend Tara had one with her parents, and her friend Jenny had one with her mom Greta, and her stepfather Don. Peter is the son of Don who moves to Toronto from California to go to law school and be closer to his father.
As we step back into Avery's past, we see the closeness of the three girls: Avery, Tara, and Jenny, and begin to understand what has both kept them friends, and created some distance between them.
We see how a tragedy at the cottage deeply affected Avery, sending her on a long journey to find herself, if she ever stops running from her past.
In the present, Avery lives with her long-time boyfriend Matt, who also has an extremely hectic worklife. The two have a good relationship, but they don't see each as often as they'd like.
Avery really throws herself into her work, and a project for the waterfront that has been a long time in the making is finally being realized. When issues arrive to hold up the project, Avery tries to deal with them, but one of her contacts warns her that rumor of a scandal around the mayor is starting. While Avery is in the middle of this, Matt proposes, and Avery is scared to move forward, despite her love for him. We gradually learn, through learning her past, why she fears commitment.
Avery is like many women, extremely competent, smart, and respected, yet with a lack of confidence at her core. The situation she is in will provide a wake-up call that she desperately needs.

11th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

Here we go again. We have a new host for the challenge this year, but the idea is still the same. Read 13 books. This year the theme is highways and byways, so I'll try to keep it in mind while reading.

I'm excited to begin a new year, and actually got one started and finished on the first day, so will be posting that immediately after this one.
Thanks Melwyk for hosting.

Wrap Up of Canadian Reading Challenge 2016-2017

Well, I didn't read as many as I intended, nor did I get read books set in all the provinces and territories, but I did finish the challenge and enjoyed it.

10th Canadian Book Challenge
This challenge is hosted here. I've been doing this challenge for several years, and really appreciate John for hosting such a great challenge. He does a great summary list of books read by participants, both at the half-way mark and at the end, so if you are looking for books, these are great resources. Here's a link to the end of last year's challenge.
Here's a link to my commitment post.


1. Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James. Finished July 3. (set in England)
2. Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay. Finished July 12 (set in New York state)
3. Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box by Jonarno Lawson. Finished July 26 (no setting)
4. Far From True by Linwood Barclay. Finished August 1 (set in New York state)
5. Red Stone by Gabriele Goldstone. Finished August 2 (set in the Soviet Union)
6. Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D.R. MacDonald. Finished August 22 (set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia)
7. Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer. Finished October 3 (set in Michigan)
8. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley. Finished October 11 (set in England)
9. A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. Finished October 23 (set in Quebec)
10. Transit by Rachel Cusk. Finished October 30 (London)
11. Green River Falling by R.J. McMillen. Finished November 8 (B.C.)
12. Strange Things Done by Elle Wild. Finished January 25 (Yukon)
13. You Can Read by Helaine Becker and Mark Hoffmann. Finished February 4 (no setting)
14. Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman. Finished February 18 (Ontario)
15. Cake or Death by Heather Mallick. Finished February 23 (no setting)
16. Racing the Sun by Karina Halle. Finished March 6 (Italy)
17. The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys. Finished March 19 (Germany and England)
18. Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Finished March 29 (Ontario)
19. A Murder for Max by John Lawrence Reynolds. Finished March 30 (Ontario)
20. An Intimate Wilderness by Norman Hallendy. Finished April 8 (Canadian Arctic, mostly Nunavut)
21. One Tiny Lie by K.A. Tucker. Finished April 16 (set in US)
22. A Place Called Sorry by Donna Milner. Finished April 18 (set in BC)
23. The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker. Finished April 22 (set in Toronto and Cape Breton)
24. Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Finished April 29 (set in Toronto and Iran)
25. Fractured by Catherine McKenzie. Finished May 4 (set in Cincinnati)
26. Life on the Ground Floor by James Maskalyk. Finished May 29 (set in Toronto, Alberta, and Ethiopia)
27. Best Pirate by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Dean Griffiths (set on Crossbones island)
28. American War by Omar El Akkad (set in the United States)
29. Waiting for Sophie by Sarah Ellis, illustrated by Carmen Mok (not specific setting)
30. Princess Pistachio and Maurice the Magnificent by Marie-Louise Gay (not specific setting)

The Lonely City

Finished June 29
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

 

I started this book in audiobook, but ended up finishing it in hardcover as the audiobook had issues with a couple of discs. Having recently read Solitude, I was wondering how much the two books would have in common.
Olivia is from Britain, but this book, part memoir, is from time she spent in New York City. Her loneliness in this new city led to her exploring the experience of loneliness, both her own and others. The word "art" in the subtitle is a key to the framing of this exploration for Laing. She looks at a number of artists whose lives and art speak to their experiences, many of them intersecting with each other during their careers. Her explorations begin with Edward Hopper and his famous picture Nighthawks. It moves from there to Andy Warhol, who she revisits repeatedly, looking at his famous interviews, and his Time Capsules, among other things. She looks at Valerie Solanas, her SCUM Manifesto, and her unique relationship with Warhol. She explores David Wojnarowicz's art and activism, including his Close to the Knives and photographer Peter Hujar, whom he had a relationship with. This also leads her to the photography of Nan Goldin, and her portraits in Ballad.
She looks deeply at the work and journals of Henry Darger, an outsider artist, whose work was only discovered after his death, and thus a subject of analysis by many.
She also touches on others such as Samuel Delany, and Greta Garbo.
During her time in New York City, Laing lives in various sublets, from the East Village to Times Square, and it is during the period in Times Square that she talks about the influence of the internet, being connected, and disconnected at the same time. It also makes her think of fantasy worlds like Blade Runner, and SimCity.
This book introduced me to so many artists that I hadn't been aware of before, and made me realize just how common loneliness is in our society. For Laing, art was a way of finding connection, or communicating with others. Definitely a book to get you thinking

Thursday, 29 June 2017

At Least You're in Tuscany

Finished June 28
At Least You're in Tuscany: a Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life by Jennifer Criswell

This memoir is told with a great sense of humour and personal insight. I really enjoyed it.
Jennifer is a lawyer in New York City, but doesn't enjoy her job, and started planning ten years earlier to move to Tuscany permanently. Her grandmother was Italian, and that offers her a foot in the door. Saving money where she could for the last few years, and researching all the paperwork required to actually live her dream has been a long haul.
The book begins with a prologue a few months into her move to Italy, at pretty much the lowest point of her story, but the real story begins in the spring as she moves into a rented apartment with an amazing view of the countryside. She moved to Montepulciano with her weimaraner Cinder in tow. She has taken language lessons, but hasn't really immersed herself in the language seriously, and as she looks for work and waits on the final paperwork to allow her to gain Italian citizenship, she finds many barriers between her and her final goal. She just keeps reminding herself that at least she's in Tuscany.
Finding work isn't easy, partly due to paperwork issues, and partly due to her language skills. She realizes that she must take more Italian lessons and work hard at them to make herself more employable. She finds out the different cultural habits of her new neighbours, struggles to make her money go further as time goes on, and finds that her love life is everybody's business and a topic of small town conversation.
From food to friends, wine to working, we see how she meets each challenge and defies it, persevering to her end goal. A great read and insight into such a unique experience.

Princess Pistachio and Maurice the Magnificent

Finished June 20
Princess Pistachio and Maurice the Magnificent by Marie-Louise Gay

This book is part of the series featuring Princess Pistachio series. Here Pistachio watches her dog, whose name is Dog, sleeping and wonders what he dreams about. She realizes that all he does is eat and sleep, and thinks that she must liven up his life a little. She tries to get him moving to no effect. The next morning, she puts him in her school bag and takes him to school. It turns out to be show and tell day, and Pistachio forgot to bring something, so she decides to show Dog. But her classmates make fun of the dog. When she spots an advertisement for a dog to audition for a role in a play a few days later, she decides to take Dog, despite her best friend Madeline's laughter. It turns out that Dog does have the special talent required for the role, and Pistachio must come up with a stage name that is more exciting for him, hence the name from the title of the book.
As Dog's success continues, it changes the dynamic between Pistachio and Madeline, and both end up learning something about themselves and friendship from the situation.
I liked the way the book showed that everybody has undiscovered talents, despite first impressions. I also liked the way the situation led to new understanding for both Pistachio and Madeline, and modeled a good way to deal with issues between friends.
My only difficulty with the plot was when Dog ate an eraser at school. To me this seemed like a bad message, maybe getting kids to think about feeding something like that to their dog for fun. Unfortunately, I had a cat who took it upon himself to eat an eraser, which proved to be life-threatening to him and very expensive to me. So I'd like to emphasize to NEVER DO THAT!!
See unfortunate results below.


Thanks to Pajama Press for providing me with a free copy to review.

Too Much Time, Small Wars, & Not a Drill

Finished June 12
Too Much Time, Small Wars, & Not a Drill by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill

This collection has a number of great stories. The three title stories are all novellas, plus there are several shorter stories.
Too Much Time is set in Maine, where Reacher is walking into a pedestrian square in a small town, and witnesses a man grabbing a bag from a young woman. He isn't the only witness, but the police on the scene ask him to make a statement, saying it won't take much time. Of course, the story is bigger than it looks at first glance and it ends up taking far more time than even Reacher might have thought.  The copy on the cover says that this story leads into the new novel that is coming out this fall.
Small Wars takes us further back in Reacher's life, when he was still in the army. He gets brought into a unit stateside to temporarily take charge while their new commander recovers from a car accident. His first case is of a female commander of a special unit who has been apparently murdered on a country road. He must work with the state police to investigate. He calls on his brother for information on the officer, and brings in his own sargeant Neagley to be his right hand. I liked some of the dynamics of this one in terms of the characters.
Not a Drill is also set in Maine, when Reacher has gone up to the top of I95, just before the Canadian border to just see the end of the road. When hitching back down, he gets picked up by three Canadians who plan to hike a trail out on the peninsula. He gets talked into going with them, and when the trail gets closed down suddenly the next morning finds himself curious about what is behind the appearance of soldiers and questioning of hikers. This went in a different direction than I initially guessed, but a more interesting one.
James Penney's New Identity is another story from Reacher's army years. This one takes place in California and Reacher joins the story late, but has a key role in the plot. An interesting side to him here.
Everyone Talks has Reacher being questioned by a strong female investigator eager to prove herself. While lying in a hospital bed he gives up information slowly as he leads her towards the right conclusion.
Maybe They Have a Tradition takes place mostly in England where Reacher finds himself unexpectedly and in very bad weather. As he ventures towards the nearest town, he comes across a situation he is unexpectedly the right man for.
Guy Walks into a Bar has Reacher walking into a bar (of course) and seeing a woman alone at a table and mesmerized by the singer. As he watches, he gets an idea of what is happening and steps in to prevent the bad guys from getting their job done.
No Room at the Motel is another one that finds Reacher somewhere he hadn't planned, in bad weather, at least bad weather for that area. Here he watches what is happening, taking his time as he does to analyze things, and finds himself in the position to be a good samaritan.
The Picture of the Lonely Diner has Reacher coming up out of the NYC subway into an empty street, and he finds himself discussing the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper with an FBI agent. Oddly enough, this painting also came up in another book I'm reading.
I enjoyed all these stories, liking the twists and turns of the plot as well as the characters.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Solitude

Finished June 10
Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

This book caused me to stop and think many times. Following the introduction, the book is split into four sections, with the first two sections having two chapters and the latter two four chapters. In the introduction, Harris tells us of one of his inspirations for the book, finding out about the amazing experience of Dr. Edith Bone. Bone was imprisoned in Hungary in 1949 on her way back to the airport to fly home to England after a visit to family. It took some time for people to realize she was missing, and then discover what happened to her. She was in solitary confinement for seven years. Instead of going mad, or breaking down, she found ways to occupy her mind and emerged "a little wiser and full of hope."
Her story set Harris to thinking about the art of being alone, and to examine how our culture works against this ability. The first section looks at what people do when they're alone, how they occupy themselves. He finds that technology has filled those times that we used to have alone with attachments to others. If we disconnect from it, we often worry about what we've missed. The move towards social media and the sharing economy has only increased the need for connection. So he looks at what happens when we lose that capacity for a rich inner life. He finds that even though the capacity for solitude has decreased, the spread of loneliness has increased. As the saying goes, you can be lonely even in a crowd. Connection in the way that we now define it doesn't overcome loneliness. In fact, it can actually emphasize the feeling.
Another negative impact of the loss of solitude is the loss of the "ability to engender new ideas." The "aha" moment isn't one that normally occurs in a group, but comes to us as we let our brains loose to explore without reining them in. Loss of solitude also negatively impacts self-knowledge.
In the second section he looks at research around solitude, and the skill of daydreaming. I remember being criticized by teachers and even sometimes family for daydreaming. Luckily, instead of stopping, I just became better at stepping away from others to engage in it. I need my time to myself to either sit with myself, read and think, or do something like needlework that can let my mind wander away. Harris talks about the pressure to be doing something, and this reads true for me. Studies show that what happens to our brain when we daydream is a necessary piece to forming our identity. He talks about the rational mind versus the intuitive mind, and how even our work spaces have been changed to encourage collaboration and engagement rather than times of creative solitude.
The third section looks at identity and its relationship to solitude. Forming our own style means not conforming to the role society would have us take: what to wear, how to act, the proper way to talk, and many other "ways" that are expected of us. Even our technology pushes us in this direction. To have our technological tools work more efficiently, they like us to behave in predictable ways. The information that we are fed through our technology is based on previous choices we have made. Even the way we move is influenced by technology. It guides us to our destination, and we follow its instructions. We lose the serendipity of discovery that travel used to bring. Harris talks to researchers about mapping, our mental maps, and our wayfinding skills. This made me feel a lot better about the way I often ignore my car GPS's instructions if I see something interesting or don't like the way it is suggesting. The younger generation is particularly influenced by this tracking that is a given with today's technology. Someone has often been sharing moments of their lives broadly since birth, programming their time with educational opportunities, playdates, and sports, leaving them little time to be solitary. It also makes people more anxious when they don't know someone's whereabouts. We don't have permission to go off grid, to leave our phones and cameras behind and just live the experience. We don't have comfort with the experience of losing control of what may happen.
The fourth section is about how we allow others time for solitude, and how we communicate in our solitude. Harris investigates what happens to us when we read, and how reading, by allowing us to enter the experience of others unlike us, allows us to learn empathy. He looks at how even writing books has changed, with the advent of apps like Wattpad. He looks at the art of letter writing, and how it differs from the instant or near instant communication that we have come to accept as the norm. Harris looks at death and the growing demand for ways to prolong life, or at least appear to. He looks at digital memory-making, and the creation of avatars that outlive us, at the idea of the singularity. He tells us of his own experience with solitude as he took a week in a remote cottage, with no human contact and how he experienced that, including how he experienced coming back out of it.
This book was absolutely fascinating and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

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.