Wednesday 29 August 2007

Good Listen

Finished August 29
Good Harbor by Anita Diamant, read by Linda Emond
This is the story of two women who become friends. Kathleen Levine has lived in Gloucester, Massachusetts all her life. She converted from Catholocism to Judaism before her marriage, and raised her family here. She is a librarian at the local school, and has an affinity for pairing children with the right book to get them to read. Joyce Tabachnik is a freelance writer, who uses the money from her first novel, under a nom de plume, to buy a small house in Gloucester as a place to write and a vacation home for herself, her husband and their 12-year-old daughter Nina. The two women meet at temple one Friday and link immediately, sharing their thoughts, problems, and secrets. Kathleen has early breast cancer and is worried about it, as well as other issues from her family. Joyce is feeling distanced from her husband and daughter as Frank seems to be more interested in work than her, and Nina is at the age where mothers are embarrassing. As the two women create a friendship, they also help each other find their way in their lives. A very enjoyable listen.

Tuesday 28 August 2007

A Los Angeles Thriller

Finished August 28
City on Fire by Robert Ellis
This book is fast-moving with lots of action, lots of violence and lots of suspense. The main character, Lena Gamble, is a young detective still hurting from the unsolved murder of her brother not that long ago. In her first case as the lead detective, she and her partner Novak are paired with another team. The victim is brutally murdered, and yet doesn't seem to have fought her killer. When her husband's alibi doesn't pan out, her is the obvious suspect. But things aren't always that simple. Evidence links this crime with a previous killing of a beautiful young woman whose husband has admitted to the killing. Who is the man whose is killing these woman, and has he killed before?
Contributing to the suspense is the number of fires, fueled by the Santa Ana winds, that are moving in on the city.
Lena is a strong character and the motives for her actions ring true.

Monday 27 August 2007

Two Mysteries

Finished Aug 26
The Shape of Water by Andrea Camilleri
This is the first mystery I've read by Camilleri and I really like his style. His main character, Inspector Salvo Montalbano, is a good policeman who trusts his instincts and knows his area. The mystery is set in Sicily and there is a lot of mention of the crime the area is known for. Here, Silvio Lupanello, a local political leader, is found dead in his car, with his pants around his knees in a part of town known for prostitution and drug dealing. The case seems straightforward, but Montalbano notes small discrepencies and follows up on them, while still keeping the politicians happy. There is good characterization and humour here and I will definitely try some more by this author.

Finished Aug 25
Gone to Ground by John Harvey
Every Harvey book I read makes me like this writer more, and this one is no exception. Set in Cambridge, a body of a gay academic, Stephen Bryan, is found. Is it an encounter gone wrong? Detectives Will Grayson and Helen Walker consider the possibilities. There is an ex-lover, Mark McKusick, who seems to have remained on good terms with Bryan, but could he have been involved. What motive is there behind the removal of Bryan's computer, disks and papers on his book in progress. Why doesn't Stella Leonard's family want him writing about her? The questions are many, but the answers don't come easily. Stephen's sister, Lesley, a BBC radio reporter starts looking into the connection between the biography he was working on and his death. What about the hate crime against gays in the area? and does it have any relation to this case? Will is afraid of missing something by concentrating too hard on one perpetrator, but doesn't want to seem to be grasping at straws. The characters show real emotions and weaknesses and their suspicions are not always unbiased by their own backgrounds. I found it very engaging and hard to put down.

Thursday 23 August 2007

A Memoir and a Tale from World War One

Finished August 23
Botswana Time by Will Randall
I've had this one beside my bed for a while, reading it slowly and savouring it. This memoir is by a British teacher about the time he spent teaching and living in Kasane, Botswana. As he becomes part of the community and engages both with the children and with the other teachers and parents, he also learns about Botwana. He has a great respect for the country and its people and that comes through strongly here. His affection for the children also comes through strongly, and he draws the personalities nicely. He also, of course, encounters the animals, sometimes happily, sometimes not so much, but always described with great humour. He is self-deprecating, but not dishonestly. I really enjoyed this book.

In the Dark by Deborah Moggach
This tale set in Southwark during World War II, is of a teenage boy and his mother, running a rooming house. The father has been killed in the war, and the two are struggling to make ends meet, especially after the rationing begins. The maid, Winnie, is from the country, and acts like an older sister to the boy, Ralph. The local butcher, Neville Turk, is attracted to the mother and woos her by "helping out", sending her nice cuts of meat, and arranging delivery of coal when they run low. This strategy works, and as he marries Eithne and moves into the house, he begins making changes, starting with the addition of electricity. Ralph rebels by becoming a vegetarian and befriends one of the tenants, who is blind. Winnie also befriends Alwyne, reading to him in the evening. As the war continues, Turk continues his plans for the property and shows little regard for others' feelings. Ralph continues his transition to adulthood and Alwyne turns out to be aware of more than others think. An interesting story, told with subtlety and humour.

Tuesday 21 August 2007

A Light Listen

Finished August 16
Last Witness by Jilliane Hoffman, read by Kathe Mazur
I didn't think this was as good as her first book about C.J. Townsend, Retribution. Portions of the plot felt more forced and the C.J.'s fiance Dominick Falconetti, seems easily put off. As with the first book, the plot kept things moving, and events weren't pretty. Lots of violence in the murders is still part of things, and the serial killer C.J. put away in the first book tries for a retrial. His reappearance shakes her and she loses her cool and her intelligence for a while, but manages to hold on. Enjoyable and gripping.

Thursday 16 August 2007

Great book by Australian writer

Finished August 16
The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan
This is a great book that touches on the fear-mongering and media influence of the world today. The main character, Gina Davies, aka The Doll, aka Krystal, is a pole dancer in one of the popular nightclub's in King's Cross, Sydney. She is a loner, and aims to buy a decent home when she has enough money saved. But fate intervenes and she is caught up in something that she cannot control. The story given by the authorities about Gina she knows is not true, but as it grows and morphs, she finds she cannot find anyone who will speak for her. The authorities encourage the fear created by the story, and the media enjoy their power and contacts. In just two days, Gina has gone from being a struggling young woman, with few friends and a hard life to being the most wanted terrorist in Australia. And yet the book reads true. Flanagan shows how it happens, step by step, and the sadness of it is compelling.
This book is definitely worth the read, and will make you look at the media in perhaps a different way (unless you are already extremely cynical!).

Tuesday 14 August 2007

Poetry and Murder

Finished August 10
A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil by Christopher Brookmyre
This was a new author for me, and I really enjoyed it. The principal characters in the tale are from a town outside Glasgow, Braeside. As the story begins, two men are working at getting rid of two bodies. Unfortunately, they are not very successful. When the bodies are soon discovered, the men are immediately linked to them. This is where the complications start.
Karen Gillespie, the local Detective Superintendent, has only recently returned to Braeside. It turns out one of the dead men was a classmate of her, Colin Temple. The two men suspected of being involved are two more classmates, known as Noodsy and Turbo.
From here on the book moves back and forth between the investigation and the classmates school experiences. This is a very interesting way of having us learn about the people involved and gradually come to realize all the different relationships and loyalties. This is also how we come to know the real names of Noodsy and Turbo as we learn the circumstances of the granting of these nicknames. There is much humour here, right from the first page, and the author provides a glossary at the end for some of the Scottish slang terms used by the characters. I loved it.

Collected Poems by John Betjeman
I have always liked Betjeman's poems and became more interested in him years ago after reading a memoir by his granddaughter of her grandmother. This collection shows the progression of his work, and led me to discover some new favourites in addition to the ones I already liked. Whether talking about people, nature or life, Betjeman's poetry rings true and does not sound analytic.

Thursday 9 August 2007

4 books of different types

Finished August 9
Walking Ollie by Stephen Foster
The short yet entertaining book is the story of a man and his dog. Stephen and his partner got a lurcher puppy from an animal rescue organization. The dog had a lot of issues, but Stephen was determined not to fail in this matter. At one point he was spending more than four hours a day outside with the dog trying to overcome the dog's fear of him. Ollie was a exuberant, playful dog who loved to run outside, but lacked control and feared Stephen for no explicable reason. In the house he cowered and retreated and was extremely tense. They had trouble housetraining Ollie. Stephen talks about the methods and resources that he tried and how the relationship with the dog is today.

Finished August 8
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
This teen graphic novel is not for me, but it seems very popular with high school students and older teens. Enid and Rebecca are best friends, just out of high school. Enid seems very anti-establishment and tries on different "looks" as she searches for her identity. Rebecca is more the follower in this relationship and talks about following Enid to another city and moving in with her if she goes away to college. She lacks self-confidence and feels second best to Enid in terms of attractiveness. Enid is drawn to those on the fringes of society: the verbally abusive politically incorrect record store owner John Ellis; an old man, Bob Skeetes, who does astrological and psychic readings; an odd-looking couple Enid labels Satanists. The girls still engage in annoying childish behaviour like crank calls and describe others with politically incorrect racist terms and cruel comments. As I said, not my cup of tea, but I can see how it would appeal to young women at the age of discovering themselves.

If I Am Missing or Dead by Janine Latus
A sad memoir of a woman and her younger sister, both repeatedly caught up with men who are physically, verbally, or emotionally abusive. When Janine's younger sister Amy is killed by the man she was having a relationship with, Janine is compelled to look at her own life and analyze the reasons for their choices. She describes the situations well, admitting to her own love of "passion and drama" in a relationship and how that led her to put up with uncertainty and fear of her partner. She doesn't try to explain her sister's motives, but describes the home life they grew up with and the behaviours they experienced when they were young to show possible influences. Janine now speaks on domestic abuse and encourages all of us to approach and help those we see in need. I was moved by this book, and could see how a woman could be slowly inured to this type of life.

Mixing with Murder by Ann Granger, Read by Kim Hicks
This book is from the Fran Varady series. Fran is a young women who has been surviving on her own since she was sixteen. She is now in her early twenties. Her mother had left the family when she was quite young and she was brought up by her father and grandmother, but after they both died, she had to struggle to survive. She has the dream of being an actor, but is still anticipating her big break. Meanwhile she lives by doing odd jobs, and working at such jobs as waitressing and helping in a convenience store. Her friend, Ganesh, also works in the store, which is owned by his uncle. This story has Fran forced by a London club owner to go to Oxford and try to convince a former dancer at the club to return. But there is a lot more to it than that as Fran discovers and she gets mixed up in the middle of murder and deceit. This is a good series and Fran is an interesting, streetwise character.

Tuesday 7 August 2007

Finished one light fiction and one reference

Finished August 6
Balmoral by Isabel Vane
This is a light, amusing story that is a bit tongue in cheek. First, the author is a pseudonym for two British novelists. They chose the name on purpose. Isabel Vane was a heroine in the best-selling Victorian novel East Lynne. In that novel, she left home in disgrace but returned years later to care for her children as a governess.
In Balmoral, the character Sister Julie arrives at Balmoral as a nurse to Prince Harry after he was almost killed in a bunjy-jumping accident. She seems to know her way around Balmoral very well, and is very close to Harry, and to Prince William when he arrives. Some of the staff are suspicious of her, but can't put their finger on just why at first. Why does she seem to have such a close relationship with Harry? Why do the Queen's corgis seem to love her at first sight?What does John, the head footman, know?
I found this book delightful, funny and well-written.

The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction by Barry Forshaw
This small book is a guide for readers of crime fiction, giving historic origins, early examples of different types, and summaries of modern examples. I found it interesting in that it gave examples of titles, rather than authors, recognizing that authors may write more than one type of crime fiction. I got a full-page of books I want to read from it, and saw many I've already enjoyed. Of course, it is not all-inclusive and there were some favourites that I would have liked to see here that were missed, but it will definitely give most readers a place to start, or new authors to consider.

Sunday 5 August 2007

1 Fiction and 1 Non-Fiction

Finished August 5
Face of Death by Cody McFadyen
This is a great thriller set in the Los Angeles area. The main character appeared in an earlier McFadyen book and is a FBI agent dealing with violent criminals. Special Agent Smoky Barrett is still recovering from having her husband and daughter killed as well as being attacked and raped herself by the killer. She has also taken on her best friend's daughter, Bonnie, after her friend Annie was killed.
Now, a sixteen-year-old girl whose adoptive family were violently killed is asking for her. Sarah is distraught and believes that anyone who loves or cares for her will be hurt or killed. She has spent her life since the age of six in group homes and a series of foster homes. Smoky and her team take on the case to find who has targeted Sarah and why. False trails, old cases and dredged up emotions all come into it here. This book is fast moving with the classic good and bad sides, good characterization and a pretty good plot. I enjoyed it, and even cried at one bit of Sarah's story. But then I cry kind of easily.

Ecoholic: Your Guide to the Most Environmentally Friendly Information, Products and Services in Canada by Adria Vasil
This books covers pretty much everything in the way of products a person might buy from toiletries to clothes to food to household items and furniture. Unless you want to take copious notes, you should probably just buy your own copy. I realized that at the end of the first chapter. There is lots of good information here, particularly about labelling. I really like the fact that it is Canadian and highlights Canadian products where they exist. Saying that, however, it is not inclusive (although I doubt any book could be) and obviously you must look to your local market to see what is on offer as well.

Friday 3 August 2007

2 Fiction books

Finished August 3
Ice Trap by Kitty Sewell
Published in Britain a couple of years ago, this was released in Canada this year. The book is set in the far north of Canada, mostly in a town called Moose Creek, and in Cardiff, Wales. Shortly after Dafydd Woodruff qualified as a surgeon, he made a huge mistake in an operation on a child. While he was cleared of any blame, he cannot forgive himself and runs to a job in the Canadian north, covering for a doctor on leave. While there he makes some friends, some enemies and finds some peace. Thirteen year later, when he and his wife are unsuccessfully trying for a child he gets a message that he fathered children back in Canada, and yet he is sure that he didn't, until the DNA test comes through.
While his marriage becomes more fragile, he finds himself trying to make sense of the situation, and returns to Canada to face the situation head on. But he finds more questions than the one he came to solve.
I loved the description of the arctic beauty that Dafydd sees and feels drawn to, as well as his confused thoughts and feelings. The story flowed well and although I could guess some things before they were revealed, it seemed to be natural for the characters to miss things because they were too close to the situation. This is definitely a writer I will look for more from.

Finished August 1
In Distant Fields by Charlotte Bingham
This book is set just before and through World War One. It is set around the upperclass family of the Duke of Eden at his estate Bauders. One of the main characters is Kitty, the friend of the duke's youngest daughter, Partita. Bingham involves all classes of characters however and follows them through the course of the war. From the Duke himself to the son of his stableman, the characters are well-rounded and relate well to each other. While love is always a theme in Bingham's novels, she doesn't just concentrate on the young but shows the intimacy of the Duke and Duchess here as well. The difficult scenes of the war are dealt with at a remove of either letters or after-the-fact accounts, but that does not diminish them.
A lighter read for the summer weekend, but still strong enough to hold the reader's attention and interest.