Tuesday 29 January 2008

A Thoughtful Read

Finished January 29
Death of a Murderer by Rupert Thomson
This novel is an introspective one. Billy Tyler, a middle-aged police constable, is assigned a 12-hour-night shift to guard the body of a mass murderer of children in a hospital mortuary.
His wife doesn't want him to work the shift and he isn't terribly happy about it himself. As he works the shift he thinks about both the woman whose body he is guarding and about the evil in himself and in others. His thoughts cover events from his childhood through the present. As the night passes, he thinks about the turns his life has taken from his relationship with friends, with his wife and with his disabled daughter.
A very interesting novel that raises many questions.

Monday 28 January 2008

Book of Lists

Finished January 27
To-Do List by Sasha Cagen
This book caught my attention when it arrived at the library. It is a collection of to-do lists including everyday shopping to romance and life goals. Cagen has drawn these lists from contributors all over the world, organized them into topical groups and annotated them with some contextual information.
I think it is interesting because it allows us to look into the lives of others, seeing things we would not normally see. Some entries are mundane, but some are very touching.
It is an interesting idea for a book.

Psychological Mystery

Finished January 26
The Chameleon's Shadow by Minette Walters
The latest mystery by Walters has an injured soldier from Iraq as its main character. Lieutenant Charles Acland suffered facial injuries, including the loss of an eye. He also has amnesia around his time in Iraq, and migraines.
Previous to his posting to Iraq, he had broken up with his fiance and is reluctant to talk about it. He prefers time alone, and doesn't like to be touched. He also seems to have a lot of anger issues around women, including his own mother. When his aggression results in a fight in a pub, the attention of police is drawn to him. The investigation of three related murders and an assault in the area that appear to have elements of aggression in them leads the police to consider him a suspect for them.
As he begins to deal with his aggression and starts to talk to his doctor about the sources of his rage, he also finds himself drawn further into the investigation.
I liked the character Acland, as well as several of the supporting characters used here. I also was interested in the theory of singularity one psychiatrist mentions, and how that relates to random events. It caused me to look at things differently.

Friday 25 January 2008

Second in a series

Finished January 25
The Terra-Cotta Dog by Andrea Camilleri
This is the second in the series featuring Inspector Montalbano, set in Sicily. Montalbano is an honest policeman, shy of media appearances and public honors. He likes what he does and does not want promotion. When a big-name gangster decides to do a deal with him in order to give himself up, Montalbano finds himself getting publicity he does not want. When his contact gives him more information, he finds not only present day criminal activity but also a mystery from the past. He is drawn to solve the historic mystery and ends up getting more than he expected.
A great character, and interesting plot.

Wednesday 23 January 2008

What I Read on Vacation

I was off on vacation last week (a big family get-together at a resort in Mexico) and got some reading done, both in transit and there.

Finished January 12
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson, translated by Anne Born
This gem of a book was recommended by another librarian that I am on a committee with, and he was right about it being a good one. I had actually bought it before he recommended it, being drawn to it by both good reviews and an interest in Norwegian writing (I'm one-quarter Norwegian heritage).
The main character, Trond, has retired to the country a couple of years after the death of his wife in an automobile accident. He bought a run-down cottage on a nice piece of land near a lake and is gradually making the house habitable. One night he hears his neighbour calling his dog and goes out to talk to him. Afterwards he realizes that he knows the man from a summer when he was a youth. That summer a tragedy occured in the other man's family that impacted on both families and eventually caused both families to break up. As Trond recalls this summer from his past and the feelings that it engenders, he also looks at the more recent tragedy in his life and how he has reacted to that.

Finished January 12
Twilight by Stephanie Meyers
I bought this book on my stopover in the Houston airport as my niece had been raving about it and hinting that she'd like her own copy. I decided to read it and then give it to her. It is the first in a vampire romance series for teens, and therefore when I got a nosebleed on the plane and bled all over it, it somehow seemed appropriate! She thinks the bloodstains add interest and she can tell exactly what part I was it when it happened.
The main character, Bella, is seventeen and has chosen to go live with her police-chief father in a small town on Washington's Olympic peninsula (a very rainy part of country). Her parents have been separated for years and her mother and her have lived in Phoenix ever since, but she wants to give her recently-remarried mother some space. Her father has tried hard to make her as comfortable as possible including buying her a used vehicle. She makes friends fairly easily as school, but finds herself drawn to Edward, part of a family that seems to have ostracized themselves from the rest of the school. Edward is equally drawn to her, and as the two become closer she learns that he is a vampire. Edward's clan hunts wildlife rather than people, but still doesn't want others to know of their special nature. When other vampires come to the area to visit, Bella becomes involved in a lethal game where her life is at stake.
I found this a good read, and can see the appeal for my niece. I'll be reading the others in the series too (and maybe buying them for her).

Finished January 16
The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill
This historical novel is engrossing. The main character, Aminata Diallo tells her story as she looks back on her life from her final years in London, England.
Aminata was kidnapped from her village in West Africa when she was eleven after watching her captors kill her mother and possibly her father. She is forced to walk to the coast with other captives, a journey that takes months and that not all survive. Once arrived at the coast, she is put on a ship to South Carolina with other captives and endures many horrors during the trip to America. Once there she is sold to a slaveowner to work on an indigo plantation and is taken under the wing of the slavewoman healer there. Eventually, after being sold again, she ends up in New York during the American Revolutionary war and becomes one of the Black Loyalists who emigrate to Nova Scotia. Time and again, Deena, as she becomes known, is separated from the family she has created, and alone agrees to join the new colony of Freetown in Sierra Leone.
The book uses a combination of real historical events and good characterization to grab the reader and make the story come alive. This is definitely one of my favourite books of recent reads.
Hill has included an excellent epilogue where he talks about the history that he drew this story from and he also includes a list for further reading.

Finished January 16
The Road by Cormac McCarthy
This is another book I had been meaning to read for awhile and once I started I had to agree with one of the blurbs that said once started it was nearly impossible to put down. I found myself a spot in the shade and read all afternoon, taking a break for a swim and dinner, and then continuing reading in the evening until I finished the novel.
The postapocalyptic novel follows a father and his young son as they struggle to survive in a world that has been ravaged. They are making for the coast, although they don't know that things will be any better there. As they travel they must find provisions and avoid other travellers, particularly those that might do them harm. The relationship between the father and the son is a big part of this book, and really makes it what it is. The son is really the only thing that keeps the father going, with the hope that he can find a better life for him.
I have been recommending this book to others ever since I finished it, and it is one I will definitely be rereading.

Finished January 19
Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali
I read this one on the plane coming home.
This story is set in Portugal and looks at life from the point of view of a number of residents and visitors to a small village there. Some are native Portuguese, others are long-term residents from England, and still others are tourists. There is a range of ages as well from ten up through eighty-four. Some are reminiscing about the past, some living in the present, and others looking to the future. As they deal with the world as its changes come to them, they also look at it in the context of their own familiar lives.
Ali writes beautifully and with great humour and her characters are what make this book. They come to life and illuminate the landscape they reside in.

Friday 11 January 2008

Second in a series

Finished January 10
The Snake Stone by Jason Goodwin
As the subtitle indicates, investigator Yashim returns. For those of you who haven't read the first book in this series, The Janissary Tree, I highly recommend it. (It's not just me, it won an Edgar!) Yashim is a eunuch, previously part of the sultan's household who was granted his freedom many years ago. He still has a good relationship with the Valide Sultan (mother of the sultan) and visits her. The sultan has moved out of Topkapi Palace to his new palace, Besiktas, but many things still center on Topkapi and the Sultanhamnet area.
Yashim's vegetable seller friend has been attacked and badly injured. Shortly thereafter, the bookseller that he often goes to is killed. When a Frenchman who has befriended Yashim is found dead, Yashim investigates what is going on as a defence of having the blame resting on him. He consults with his friend, the Polish ambassador, Palewski and finds that his household is also involved in what is happening.
This is a great story, every bit as good as the first book, and again has a bit of a romance present. Yashim's friends are varied and interesting and many make their appearance again here.

Tuesday 8 January 2008

Great Novel

Finished January 8
Winterton Blue by Trezza Azzopardi
I should have guessed how good this book would be since I read her Remember Me, which was great. Here, she has two main characters. Anna is a young woman whose mother, Rita, has a large influence on her life. Rita is impetuous, flirty, and loud. Anne is embarrassed by her behaviour but finds it difficult to say why.
Lewis is influenced unduly by the untimely death of his twin brother twenty years before. He has tried to escape it, but finds that it still follows him and influences how he feels about his environment.
As he struggles to come to terms with the reality of what happened and Anna struggles to accept her mother as she is, they meet and immediately recognize something in each other.
This is more than a love story, and Azzopardi does it very well. While it is early days yet, I think this will end up on my top reads for the year.

Collected Writings

Finished January 6
The Woman at the Washington Zoo by Marjorie Williams
This collection of writing by the journalist Marjorie Williams is divided into three sections. The first section is a selection of her writing on politics in Washington, D.C. and has very interesting insights into a variety of players. The second section is a collection of essays, many of them previously published in the Washington Post. They are about her life, her family, and insights into life in general and really show her intelligence. The last section is about her experience with cancer (which she died from in January 2005). Her honesty and insights took my breath away. We have lost an amazing writer with her death.

Monday 7 January 2008

Thriller in New York City

Finished January 5
Precious Blood by Jonathan Hayes
This book starts with a vicious murder. A young woman is killed and hung upside down on a wall of her apartment, while the killer covers himself in her blood. The woman's roommate barely manages to escape after hiding from the killer during his actions.
Edward Jenner, former medical examiner for the city, is called by the father of the victim to take a look at the case for him. Jenner had left his job a few months after 9-11 when he couldn't recover from the mass cases they had to deal with. When Jenner agrees to take care of the roommate for his friend, her uncle, who is out of the country, he finds himself drawn further into the case. When his research leads him to an earlier death and both bodies have strange writing on them, the case leads to religious books as well.
This is a violent book, but fascinating plot makes it a good read.

Audio Mystery

Finished January 4
An Unacceptable Death by Barbara Seranella, read by Anna Fields
This is a Munch Mancini mystery, the first I've read. Munch has a checkered past, including drug and alcohol abuse and prostitution. She's cleaned up her act and now works as a mechanic (a job she is good at and respected for). She is short, only five feet tall. She has a daughter, left in her care by a dying friend and a fiance who is a policeman.
Here, the world as she knows it falls apart when her fiance is killed by fellow policeman and accused of being a dirty cop. She digs into the events surrounding his death and struggles to find the truth.
Interesting and an unusual character.

Friday 4 January 2008

Children's Fiction

Finished January 3
Schooled by Gordon Korman
This novel has an interesting plot. Capricorn Anderson has been raised by his grandmother, Rain, on an organic farm. She has home-schooled him and he has had no real contact with the outside world. She has, however, taught him how to drive and when she gets hurt falling from a plum tree on their farm he drives her to the hospital. She has to go into the hospital for a while and he ends up staying at the home of a social worker and going to middle school from there. He is out of his element regarding a lot of the world he now lives in, but how he adjust to it with a good attitude is what this book is about.
A good character and the plot opens lots of possibilities.

Thursday 3 January 2008

A Disturbing Thriller

Finished January 2
Pig Island by Mo Hayder
This was the first book I have read by this author and she is a very good writer.
Here the journalist Joe Oakes has made his career by exposing supernatural hoaxes all over the world. This interest of his began as a young man when a loved aunt was convinced by a charlatan to forego traditional medical treatment for her cancer and use his meditative methods instead. She died in agony. Joe and his cousin Finn set out to find the man and expose him, and though Finn lost interest, Joe finally wrote about him. The man, Malachi Dove swore that Joe would be sorry and that when he died it would be after running rings around Joe. It is now twenty years later and Joe has been given the opportunity to visit the island where Dove and his followers have holed up. There have been strange sightings of what looks like a cross between a man and a beast on the island and Joe is determined to get to the bottom of it. Joe's wife is trying to both hold onto him and get closer to a doctor she is enamoured of. As they move closer to the truth, Joe is no longer sure of anything.
This book was scary not from the gore, although there was lots of that, but from the manipulation and psychological goings on.

Wednesday 2 January 2008

British Fiction

Finished December 31
Arlington Park by Rachel Cusk
This book is set over a single day in Arlington Park, a suburb of London. The men work, many of them in London, and the women look after children and may work part-time. This follows the lives of several women whose lives interconnect, and shows how they think and feel and behave. It starts with Juliet, a part-time teacher who feels a slave to her children and husband. Also included are Amanda who does housework obsessively and feels utterly alone; Solly, who has foreign lodgers that infuse her with feelings that she hadn't acknowledged before; Maisie, who has begun to notice the loss of the sense of direction and purpose to her life; and Christine, who has aspired to the life she now has and yet feels undone by it still.
This is a fascinating book of how our realities don't always live up to our dreams and how the struggles of everyday life are influenced by our mindset and supports.

Historical Fiction with a touch of mystery

Finished December 30
Sepulchre by Kate Mosse
Having loved her book Labyrinth, I was eager to read this one. It is quite a long book (547 pages), and I found it slow in spots in the last third. Like her first book, there is a link between a character in the present and characters and events in the past. Here it is through blood ties, through music, and through a special set of Tarot cards. Meredith Martin is a researcher writing a book about Claude Debussy. She is also tracing her family history, having grown up with adoptive parents. She has two clues to her family: one is a piece of music and one is a photo of a World War I soldier. Some other things that happen along the way that help direct her thoughts and inquiries as well. When she gets to the small village in the Pyrenees, she finds a connection with a young man who is also searching for the truth. Together they find more than they expected.