Wednesday 25 April 2007

A Good Mystery

Finished April 25
Darkness and Light by John Harvey
This is the second book I've read featuring Frank Elder, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Elder has left the force and lives in a cottage in Cornwall. His ex-wife asks him to do a favour for a friend of hers whose sister appears to be missing, and he returns to check out what might have happened to the woman. He also spends some time reconnecting with his daughter Katherine.
When the woman eventually turns up, dead and in her own bed, Frank is reminded of a case eight years earlier and teams up with the local police force to investigate. Lots of interesting characters and a good story kept my interest going.

Sunday 22 April 2007

4 Kids books

Finished April 21
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
This inventive book might throw a reader off due to its size, but that is definitely misleading. It is told in a combination of text and black and white pictures, all by Selznick (except those that are really movie stills as told in the book). The tale is set in 1931, and because the story comes around to the early movies, the black and white nature of the pictures fits very well. Hugo is young boy whose father was a clockmaker and who now lives in the railway station with his uncle who looks after the railway clocks. When his uncle fails to return one day, Hugo keeps doing his work as well as trying to fix an automaton his father was working on when he died. As Hugo begins to be noticed by others and starts to venture beyond the station more and more, he discovers others have secrets too.
Recommended, particularly for boys, 8-12

Curious George Visits the Library by Margaret and H.A. Rey's
This is the usual sort of Curious George story where he gets into trouble without trying to, in this case at the library. The Man in the Big Yellow Hat leaves him at the storytime and looks for books for himself, but the monkey gets bored and starts looking for books that appeal to him, borrows a book cart and ends up crashing it. All his new friends from the storytime chip in to help tidy things up and get books too, and George gets a library card and gets to take books he likes home to enjoy.

The Librarian from the Black Lagoon by Mike Thaler, pictures by Jared Lee
This Scholastic title is another classic. A child's class is going to the library and he says that they've been told lots of scary stories about the library, the librarian and her authoritarian rules. The pictures of these are very amusing. When they actually go to the library they find they are welcomed, they can touch the books to their heart's content, and the librarian is friendly and helpful. It even ends with a knock-knock joke, which should appeal to most kids.

The Wolves in the Walls by Neil Gaiman, illustrated by Dave McKean
This is a wonderful book from the same duo who wrote and illustrated Coraline.
When Lucy begins to hear noises in the wall and attributes them to wolves, she is given other explanations by her mother, father, and younger brother. But when the wolves do come out of the wolves the family grabs what they can and runs to hide in the garden. The wolves take over the house and the family's possessions. But Lucy has left her beloved pig puppet behind and goes back to rescue it. She must go in the walls herself so that the wolves don't see her. When she gets back to the rest of the family, they decide to live in the walls as it is warmer than the garden. As they watch the wolves make messes they get upset, and come out of the wolves. Now it is the wolves turn to run!
Wonderful, funny and great pictures.

Finished three in a day

Finished April 20
The Sunday List of Dreams by Kris Radish
This was a great book and very positive and uplifting.
Connie Franklin Nixon, divorced mother of 3 grown daughters is just about to retire from her career as a nurse. Before starting as a medical consultant, she has three months in which to fulfill some of the dreams she has been adding to her list since she was pregnant with her first daughter. As she goes through her household, getting rid of things, she discovers that her oldest daughter has a business making and selling sex toys. This launches her into her list faster than ever and takes her to a new relationship with all of her daughters, a new awareness of herself, new friends of many ages, and a new career that she never dreamed of.
I highly recommend this book and am buying a copy for my own mother.

Once by Morris Gleitzman
This young adult book follows a young boy, Felix Saint Stanislaus as he leaves the Catholic orphanage that his Jewish parents entrusted him to when he thinks he might be able to help them. As he gradually discovers the reality of the situation for Jews in Austria he meets other young children, a Jewish dentist who is helping them and a variety of Nazis. He learns different ways to survive and function in the world he lands in, and how to help others. He is a natural storyteller and this makes it easier for the others he is with to deal with their realities.

Christine Falls by Benjamin Black (aka John Banville), read by Timothy Dalton
This great crime novel stars Garret Quirke, a Dublin pathologist who was adopted out of an orphanage as a young boy by a leading Dublin judge. He has grown up with the Judge's own son and the two married sisters from Boston. Quirke's wife, Delia, died in childbirth 20 years ago.
Now Quirke discovers that his adopted brother has falsified a record for another young woman who has died giving birth and this sets him off on a quest for the truth that leads to other deaths, beatings, and back to Boston.

Tuesday 17 April 2007

A Mixed Bag of Reading and Listening

Finished April 16th
The Tenth Circle by Jodi Picoult
I've been reading this one slowly for some time, as it never really grabbed me. I found it disappointing compared to some of her others. Comic book artist Daniel Stone ran from his past as a young man, and reinvented himself to become the husband of Laura and the father of Trixie. Has this denial caused his marital problems and the harm come to his daughter as she is apparently drugged and raped by her boyfriend at a party. Will Daniel's suppressed violence reemerge as he reacts to the situation. Will the two parents reconnect as they focus on helping their daughter? The suspense seems unnatural and many plot moves seem very manipulated by unlikely opportunities. The inserts of graphic novel did not add anything to the story from my point of view.

Finished April 14th
The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard
This suspense novel focuses on a night that changed many lives in a town forever, and what happened seventeen years later to bring out the truth of the events of that night.
In a small farming town in Kansas, 18-year-old Rex Shellenberger helps his father, town sheriff, and older brother, Patrick, look for newborn calves as a blizzard hits. He discovers the body of a naked teenage girl. Meanwhile Mitch Newquist sneaks down the stairs from the bedroom of his girlfriend, Abby Reynolds, to get a condom from her father's doctors office for their first time. As the events unfold and Mitch disappears from town by morning, Abby's father grows distant with his family, the town's reverence to the unknown dead girl known as "The Virgin" grows, time moves on. Seventeen years later, Mitch is drawn back to town and the secret harbored by his father, Rex's father, and Abby's father unfolds in dramatic fashion.
A great read.

Finished April 13th
Queen Emma and the Vikings: A History of Power, Love and Greed in Eleventh-Century England by Harriet O'Brien
This history of Queen Emma of England, born in Normandy and married to two English kings, Aethelred, the Anglo-Saxon and Cnut, the Dane, is fascinating. Emma had children with both kings, including a son from each that also became King of England, Hrathcnut by Cnut, and Edward (the Confessor) by Aethelred. Her great-nephew William from Normandy also ushered in the next radical change to the country. Emma is brought alive here from her introduction to England as the young bride of a king two decades older than her through the consort, and partner, of a decade-younger Danish warlord, to the Queen Mother. She is a strong figure and her influence is shown through the political actions of her second husband and her strong will to have her children maintain control of the country after his death.

Finished April 12th
Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, read by Stephen Fry
Unabridged audiobook
Another classic that I never got around to reading. I really enjoyed this audiobook, and found it very amusing, with lots of wry humour. Earthman Arthur Dent is rescued from his about-to-be destructed planet by friend, and non-earthling, Ford Prefect.
After being forced to endure bad poetry and being set loose in space, the duo find themselves rescued, improbably. They join galaxy president Zaphod Beeblebrox, on the lam for stealing the spaceship containing the improbability computer, and his girlfriend Trillian (former earthwoman and astrophysicist Tricia McMillan). The ship also has on board a robot, Marvin, with a depressive personality. The humour is great, the stories unexpected and imaginative and great fun. Sorry I didn't catch it sooner.

Tuesday 10 April 2007

A Variety of Fiction

Finished April 9
Everyman by Philip Roth
I can't believe I've never read a Philip Roth book before. This book is wonderfully written and just flowed. The main character tells the story of his lifelong battle with mortality. From his hernia operation at the age of nine, through to his multiple arterial surgeries, he has had issues with his health. He discusses his life from the beaches of his childhood, through his three marriages and sexual affairs. He talks about his relationship with his older brother, Howie, who was his first hero, an athelete and successful businessman. He talks of his childhood helping out in his father's jewelry store. He has an unhappy relationship with his two sons from his first marriage, and a very good one with his daughter from his second marriage. He looks back at what he had in life that he did not value until it was too late and the loneliness he deals with now. This is a moving book.

Finished April 6
A Good Death by Gil Courtemanche, translated by Wayne Grady
The story begins on Christmas Eve, with the gathering of a large family. The father, who has always been a tyrant to his children, is 86 and is ill with Parkinson's. He has difficulty talking and takes comfort in food. The narrator, Andre, is the oldest child and while he has always had issues with his father, finds himself able to take a step back and look at his father's decline and his mother's situation and to think about their deaths. Various family members try to either control their father's diet, in the interests of his long-term health, or let him do what he likes in the interests of his short-term happiness. But how do their decisions affect their mother? Andre finds himself aligned with one of his nephews, teenage William, also known as Sam, in helping his father find a good death.
This is an amazing book and I could barely put it down. I highly recommend it, especially to those with a loved one who is dying.

Finished April 5
Blind Submission by Debra Ginsberg
This is chicklit set in the publishing world. The main character, Angel Robinson, loves to read books. The bookstore she works in is closing and her boyfriend, a writer, urges her to find work in the office of a literary agent. He has his own agenda in wanting her to get them to accept his work. Angel gets a job with the famous agent Lucy Fiamma, and finds Lucy to be a difficult boss. She also has issues with the other employees, who are not especially helpful to her. Kelly, whom everyone calls Nora against her wishes, is unhappy and ignores Angel for the most part. Anna appears helpful at times and undermines Angel at other times.
Angel finds she has a talent for spotting winning writing and Lucy acknowledges this skill while further undermining her relationship with others in the office. There is also a mystery character who is sending Angel chapters by email that correspond uncannily to what is happening in her life. Is someone stalking her?

Finished April 4
You Don't Love Me Yet by Jonathan Lethem
I listened to the audio version of this which was read by the author. Lucinda Hoekke has quit her job in a coffee shop to work in a performance art gallery answering a complaint line for an old boyfriend. Lucinda has also broken up, again, with her boyfriend Matthew. They remain good friends, and still play together in a band. Matthew is the singer and Lucinda plays bass. The real genius of the band is Bedwin who plays guitar and writes the songs.
Matthew works at the zoo, where is has a special relationship with one of the kangaroos.
Lucinda grows interested in one of the callers to the complaint line, who she refers to as The Complainer. His musings interest her and when the band gets invited to perform an actual gig, and needs more songs, she suggests some of The Complainer's words as lyrics. Bedwin is inspired and writes several more brilliant songs using the words as inspiration for lyrics.
The band is a hit and gets several offers including a spot on a live radio show. When The Complainer finds out, he insists that he should be part of the band since his words have been used, and the disaster begins.
I don't know whether this book would have held my interest as well in text form. I definitely got a bit tired of Lucinda and her lack of direction in life.

Finished April 3
Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn
This psychological thriller features Camille Preaker, a reporter for a newspaper in Chicago. Her editor asks her to investigate a case back in her home town of Windy Gap, Missouri, where two young girls have gone missing. The body of one has been found, and there is much worry over the other. Camille has to gear herself up to return to Windy Gap, as she has bad memories of her childhood there. She does not get along well with her mother, and has practically no interaction with her stepfather. The last time she saw her stepsister, Amma, who is 13, Amma was just a baby. She also has difficult memories of her other stepsister, Marion, who died at the age of 9, when Camille was just 13.
As we move through the book, we discover Camille's way of dealing with her mother, and the lack of maternal attention she received. She forms a relationship with a special investigator from Kansas City partly as an attempt to discover more information for her story. This is a dark story with lots of heartbreak.