Friday 30 November 2007

Canadian Fiction

Finished November 30
Helpless by Barbara Gowdy
The storyline here is interesting. A young, pretty girl, Rachel, is abducted from her yard one evening by a man, Ron, who has been attracted by her beauty, and subsequently convinces himself that she is being abused by the adults in her life. Ron involves his girlfriend Nancy in looking after the girl in the well-appointed room he has built for her in his basement. Nancy, presented with this situation by the man she loves protects the girl while remaining loyal to Ron, but struggles with her own feelings over what she is doing. As Rachel's mother Celia struggles with her own situation, supported by those close to her she questions her own behaviour and whether it has led to this horrible situation. Despite the strong feelings presented by the story, I found the characters lacked depth.

Thursday 29 November 2007

Great memoir

Finished November 29
When a Crocodile Eats the Sun: a memoir of Africa by Peter Godwin
This memoir by journalist Peter Godwin tells not only of the years from his sister's wedding to his father's death, but also gives a great deal of information about the history of Zimbabwe and the political and economic situation as it deteriorates. He also talks about his father's history as he learns of it in his father's final years. So much of this is fascinating it is hard to know where to start. The people that Godwin encounters in his trips to Zimbabwe are shown as individuals and their issues are shown in factual terms as Godwin's journalistic roots take over. While Godwin shows the collapse of the economy in Zimbabwe, his description of the people there give the reader hope for the future.
I learned so much here, especially about Zimbabwe and its history, but also had an enjoyable read.

Monday 26 November 2007

First in a trilogy

Finished November 26
The Evening of the World: a romance of the Dark Ages by Allan Massie
This novel follows Marcus, a young man looking for his life's meaning in the Europe of the Middle Ages. He travels from Italy to Greece to Byzantium to England, and experiences the world of Christian monks, poor villages and great palaces. He meets that challenges that come to him from serving as interpreter for Visigoths attacking Rome to fighting seductive spirits and confrontational knights. The tale is couched as a story told by the scholar Michael Scott for his pupil, the young Emperor Frederick, grandson of Frederick Barbarossa in the early 13th century. An interesting tale, slow in spots, with lots of rhetoric and religious arguments.

Wonderful Novel

Finished November 25
The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell
This novel both fascinates and horrifies. Esme Lennox was born in India and came to Scotland with her family as a schoolgirl, following her brother's death from typhoid. Esme is a non-conformist, good in school but not popular with her fellow students. They make fun of her for her lack of social skills, but don't really try to get to know her. She is close to her older sister Kitty, but it is Kitty that eventually betrays her secrets. Her defiance of social norms and independents spirit eventually cause her parents to put her into a mental hospital at the age of sixteen, and she does not get released until the hospital is closing more than sixty years later. The story goes back and forth between the past, the ramblings of her sister (who has Alzheimers), and the present. I could barely put this book down.
Highly recommended.

Sunday 25 November 2007

Historical Fiction

Finished November 24
Stormy Weather by Paulette Jiles
This work is set in Texas in the late 1930s. The Stoddard family is following the man of the house around the state as he chases down work related to the oil fields. When he dies, leaving them with little they retreat to the family home of the mother, Elizabeth and try to make a go of it. With the mother and the three daughters going back to a farm in drought conditions, where they find they owe a great deal in back taxes and have little money and a racehorse as their only assets, they put their heads together and find a way to survive. Leasing out the land, repairing the damaged house, reclearing the fields and finding what work exists brings them both closer together and pushes them apart. They rely on each other and yet annoy each other as well. The girls have different personalities and skills and learn to take advantage of what they have and make the most of it. This is an interesting story of the time and place and well told.

Mysteries of the Mind

Finished November 22
The Man Who Forgot How to Read by Howard Engel
This memoir by Engel tells the story of how he dealt with the stroke that took away his ability to read, among other things. It was a mild stroke, and did not affect his physical movement but besides the alexia, it also affected his vision and his memory. Because Engel, as a writer, naturally took to writing to communicate, and was still able to write despite not being able to read, he describes what is going on within very well. He talks about his struggle to learn to read again and the tools he uses to assist him in this. He also talks about his coping mechanisms for his memory problems and what has changed in his behaviour. He contacted Oliver Sachs about his condition and includes a couple of meetings with him in this work. I found the book fascinating as he shows the coping mechanisms and the thought behind them in coping with his disabilities.

Historical Fiction audiobook

Finished November 21
The Tenderness of Wolves by Stef Penney, read by Sally Armstrong and Adam Sims
This tale is set in northern Ontario in the winter, and several trails converge to the final scenes. In the small town of Dove River, on the north side of Georgian Bay, a man is found murdered and a 17-year-old boy disappears. Members of the Hudson's Bay Company track after the boy, unsure if he was involved in the death, while another man seen at the cabin of the victim is arrested. The boy's mother feels that he is being blamed for the murder and sets out to find him with the assistance of another man. As the various trails lead to a Norwegian community and to a remote Hudson's Bay post, people's lives and stories converge. The travelling in the winter wilderness takes up a lot of plot in the book, giving nature and its brutality a compelling role. The characters learn about themselves, about the people who are close to them, and that makes the book more interesting as well.

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Short story collection

Finished November 21
Cheating at Canasta by William Trevor
Trevor has long been a favourite of mine, and this collection does not disappoint. His characters all have their own idiosyncrasies and the interaction between characters along with the resulting inner response is what really make his stories interesting. From the stories of couples, siblings and old friends, his stories always have a touch of sadness as well as human candor. His curiousity about human nature comes through, as ever.

Sunday 18 November 2007

Neat book about human behaviour

Finished November 17
Quirkology: How We Discover The Big Truth In Small Things by Richard Wiseman
This interesting book by a British researching psychologist about the odd bits we have learned about human behaviour over the years is fascinating. He has grouped the information into chapters focusing on chronopsychology, lying and deception, belief, decision making, humour, helping others, with the last one a miscellany. Interesting bits I learned including that those born in the summer are luckier than those born in the winter, you should watch people's eyes to detect whether their smile is genuine or not, and women who drive minivans are more likely to break the rules. This last is one of the examples Wiseman includes in his afterword about how to pep up dinner conversations. I dare say I know some minivan driving women who would be put out by this psychological discovery. There are many neat things to be learned and I encourage all with an interest in the way others as well as ourselves behave to take a dip into this book.

Wednesday 14 November 2007

Historical Fantasy

Finished Nov 14
Marion Zimmer Bradley's Ravens of Avalon by Diana L. Paxson
This prequel to The Forest House by Bradley and Paxon tells the story of the rebellion of the Britons against the Romans, led by Boudica, the Briton Queen. The story starts with Boudica as a young teen, getting training from the priestesses and druids at the island of Mona and carries through until her death. The story of the Romans conquering and making peace with the Britons, followed by the rebellion, is a historical one. Many historical characters, including Boudica, appear here. The priestess and druid characters play a large role in the course of history and also in the plans and feelings of the main characters. The main priestess in the story, Lhiannon, became a friend of Boudica on Mona, and remains close to her. The novel blends history and fantasy well, and includes interesting explanations for actions by the main players.

Tuesday 13 November 2007

A Dog Story

Finished November 13
Rex and the City by Lee Harrington
This charming memoir about a woman, her boyfriend and the dog they adopt together from a shelter is a touching one. They had both been talking about getting a dog for quite a while. On impulse they stopped one day at a shelter, and the rest is history. Her boyfriend, Ted, felt a connection to the dog when he saw it at the shelter. The shelter hasn't given them any information on the dog, so they don't know what it has been through previously, but are pretty sure it must of been abused from the way it acts. They take advice from many many books and from other dog owners. They don't always agree, but that is also part of the story. Included are the ups and downs, the moments of despair and of joy. A wonderful for pet owners and pet lovers and that many of us can relate to. Inspiring and a feel-good book.

Monday 12 November 2007

Finished two on the weekend

Finished November 10
The Worst Thing I've Done by Ursula Hegi
This novel is about relationships and related in an interesting way to the second book I read.
Here Annie, Mason and Jake grew up in houses side by side and remained a threesome through their lives until now. When Annie and Mason got married a few years ago, Annie's parents were killed in a car crash on their way home, her mother living only long enough to have Opal, Annie's sister delivered. Annie has been both mother and sister to Opal and Mason and Jake have been involved as fathers. Now that Mason has killed himself, Annie has pushed Jake away as well, and is trying to see the truth of the relationship that the three of them had. This story is told from many points of view: Annie's, Mason's, Jake's, Opal's, Aunt Stormy (her mother's best friend) and Pete (Aunt Stormy's lover).
At first Annie drives for relief from grief, listening to radio psychologists solving people's relationship problems, but later she paddles, and eventually finds solace in her work again.

Finished November 11
The Cruellest Month by Louise Penny
This is another mystery set in the village of Three Pines. Someone in the community has been frightened to death during a seance and Armand Gamache of the Surete of Quebec is called in to investigate the death. Along with this, Gamache and his family are being attacked in the newspapers as a result of his role in disclosing severe police misconduct years earlier. Gamache knows that a traitor is planted among his team, but tries to keep his own fight to himself.
He finds jealousy and other toxic secrets among the villagers.
It is the disclosure of the idea of the "near enemy" among emotions, explained to Gamache by Myrna, that I was able to relate to the previous book. It is an interesting idea, and one taking place more than we may think. A fascinating story.

Saturday 10 November 2007

London Mystery on CD

Finished November 8
All Shall Be Well by Deborah Crombie, read by Michael Deehy
This is part of the series featuring Superintendent Duncan Kincaid and Sergeant Gemma James. Jasmine Dent appears to have died in her sleep. She was suffering from cancer, and had even considered suicide. Duncan is her downstairs neighbour and one of the two people that discover her. He sees some small inconsistencies and is led to the conclusion that Jasmine was murdered, but isn't sure why or by who. In searching her apartment he comes across her journals, dating from her childhood and begins searching her life for clues to her death. As he learns more about his neighbour's history, he finds much that he didn't know about her. A very satisfying mystery. This book also allows for Duncan and Gemma to spend some time together outside of official work, extending their relationship into new territory.

History and a Children's book

Finished November 4
Two Souls Indivisible by James S. Hirsch
I've had this one beside my bed and have been reading it slowly over the last couple of months. This is the story of two men in the U.S. armed forces that were POWs in Vietnam. Fred Cherry was an air force pilot and was injured when his plane came down. He was the first black officer to be captured. Porter Halyburton was a navigator for the navy's planes, and was younger, white and from the south. The Vietnamese put them together hoping that racial tensions would break the men. Instead, Halyburton nursed Cherry intimately and argued with the guards for items that Cherry needed. The intense connection between the two men, coming out of this forced relationship sustained them both throughout the many years they spent in captivity as well as continuing through the rest of their lives. A big part of this was the personality of the two men, Cherry never allowing himself to be baited, and Halyburton's sensitivity and sense of fairness.

We All Fall Down by Eric Walters
Will, a grade-nine student will be spending the day at his father's office. Will isn't looking forward to it, partly because he hasn't felt close to his father lately. His father, John is vice-president in an investment company located in the World Trade Center and has been working long hours and travelling a lot. As Will makes his way through the day, from the train ride in to meeting his father's co-workers, he finds that his father has not stopped feeling close to him. When the planes hit the towers and Will and his father deal with the aftermath, they discover each other in new ways and through new eyes. This story has drama, good character development and moves quickly.

Monday 5 November 2007

Touching Memoir

Finished November 3
A Three Dog Life: a memoir by Abigail Thomas
Abigail Thomas' husband Rich was hit by a car while walking their dog in New York City. The accident shattered his skull and severely damaged his brain. This book is the Abigail's story of her life through the years following the accident, the dogs that saved her sanity and grounded her, and the new life she made. Rich has no short term memory and is sometimes prone to rages and hallucinations. He also has amazing insights, and a perceptiveness she can't explain. Abigail tells her story with honesty, laying open her guilt, her lack of guilt, and, of course, her supporting cast of dogs. I just couldn't put this book down. It is one of the most absorbing memoirs I have read.

Saturday 3 November 2007

The latest Francis

Finished November 2
Dead Heat by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
The latest Dick Francis, and the first since the death of his wife, is no disappointment. In his classic style, the action takes place near the world of horses. This time the protagonist is a young chef, whose brother is, and late father was, horse trainers near Newmarket. Max Moreton became a chef at a young age, and has been running his own restautant for more than ten years. He also works some outside venues and has just done a celebrity chef dinner at the Jockey Club. Unfortunately he, and most others who attended have food poisoning. He has a luncheon, again at the club, and must scramble to get the food and service ready while the inspection agencies launch an investigation and close his restaurant due to the food poisoning. When a bomb blast rips through the private boxes where his luncheon was, killing one of his staff, several guests and injuring more he begins to wonder what is going on.
As his investigation leads him to believe that the poisoning was deliberate, and he delves further into the disruptions to his life, he is led to more disturbing facts.
As usual Francis offers plenty of action and suspense, including near misses and just-in-time saves. He also, as in many of his books, offers a spot of romance, some travel, and new insights into the horse and criminal worlds. A winner.

Thursday 1 November 2007

Modern Day Fantasy

Finished October 31
Solstice Wood by Patricia A. McKillip
This is an interesting look at the relationship between the "real" world and the world of faerie. Sylvia Lynn lives far from the small village that she grew up in, running a bookstore that she owns. When her grandmother, Iris, calls her to let her know her beloved grandfather has died, she returns. She reconnects with family and her best friend, and with the woods that she has always felt drawn to. It is only when she attends the Fiber Guild meeting hosting by her grandmother that she realizes the power that exists in the forest and the control that the Guild tries to place on that power through their knitting, embroidering, and sewing. She is forced to face her own history in a way that she has been running from for years as well as reveal the secret that she has been hiding from everyone else.
There are interesting character and motivations and the plot offers another view of the effects of magic on the world.