Sunday 30 March 2008

More Canadian Fiction

Finished March 30
Where White Horses Gallop by Beatrice MacNeil
This is another wonderful Atlantic Canadian novel. It follows four friends from Cape Breton, along with their families, through the Second World War. Three of the young man enlist and after training in both Canada and Britain eventually make it to the front line. The fourth young man is already dealing badly with the trauma in his life and chooses a life at home. We see the parents of these young men and their feelings around the war and their sons' roles in it. We are invited into the thoughts of many of the characters as they try to understand what they are feeling and articulate it, if only to themselves. We also see the community of this small Cape Breton village and how the members interact and relate to the larger world.
I wept through portions of this book (so keep a tissue handy), and laughed through others. MacNeil includes a poem written by one of the Cape Breton Highlanders at the end that adds its voice to her story. This is a tale of both deeds and thoughts and adds to my list of great Canadian fiction.

Charming Memoir

Finished March 28
Truck: A Love Story by Michael Perry
This memoir is structured loosely around the rebuilding of a 1951 International pickup truck. Michael had the truck for a long time before he undertook the restoration with the significant assistance of his brother-in-law Mark. Over the year that this memoir covers, not only is the story of the truck covered, but also the story of Michael's life including his new relationship with Anneliese and her daughter Amy. He covers his house and garden, his volunteer firefighting, his writing (including book tours), and his familyand friends.
Perry has a great sense of humour and is self-deprecating when it comes to his own failings. This book is touching, honest and open. We get a real look, not just a glimpse into his life.
I was drawn to the book initially because my grandfather had an old International, but the book offered so much more. I also kept finding myself thinking how much my father would enjoy this book and I will be sharing my copy with him now that I am finished.

Monday 24 March 2008

Mysteries, Old and New

Finished March 21
Cover Her Face by P.D. James
Somehow, even though this book came out decades ago, I never read it until now. I've read other books by James, and enjoyed them. So when I saw this on the library shelves, I knew I'd better grab it. Here Dagliesh is called in to the murder of a young woman, Sally Jupp. Jupp was working as a maid in the house where she was killed. She had been recommended by the local home for unmarried mothers. She had a small child and was well-educated, but her attitude was now always one of submission. She like to challenge other people's feelings toward her. Her death appears to be by strangulation, but her cocoa had also been tampered with. As Dagliesh digs through all Jupp's personal entanglements, he finds the truth of her situation and how her actions led to her demise. A great read.

Finished March 23
This Night's Foul Work by Fred Vargas
This is the latest Commissaire Adamsberg mystery by Vargas and it involves Adamsberg's strange thought processes even more thoroughly than previous ones. His relationship with Camille has changed to one of friendship, although he still wants more. Danglard runs interference between him and the rest of his team. He has a feeling about the two bodies recently found killed, sure that they are not drug-related despite the injection wounds found on each body. The pathologist supports his belief and points him in the direction of a previous murderer who has escaped from prison. As Adamsberg gets drawn into events in Normandy, where he has gone to accompany Camille to a concert, he wonders whether there is a relationship to the case back in Paris. He is also worried about the newest addition to his team, a man his own age, who is from the next valley over to the one Adamsberg grew up in. He is not sure why the man has joined his team and what the man may be planning. As Adamsberg's team argues about his direction and again protects him, as well as each other, from the shades that haunt them, Adamsberg finds the explanation for the murders, but not for his personal situation.
I look forward to the next one already!

Thursday 20 March 2008

Another Great Listen

Finished March 19
Run by Ann Patchett, performed by Peter Francis James
This novel kept me interested throughout. The majority of the book takes place within a twenty-four hour period. Bernard Doyle is a former mayor of Boston, and he has arranged to meet his two younger sons (adopted and black) at a political speech given by Jesse Jackson. He has high hopes for the oldest of these two sons to make something of himself in the political arena. Tip however is passionate about fish. He is studying science at Harvard and resents having to humour his father on these outings, as does the younger brother Teddy. Teddy is very closed to his uncle Sullivan, a retired priest who is very ill, and would rather spend his time with him.
After the speech the three men stand outside in a strong snowstorm arguing about where to go. Tip wants to go back to the lab and as he walks away he ends up in the path of a car. A nearby woman throws herself at him to get him out of the way, and ends up getting hit herself. As the woman, Tennesse, her 11-year-old daughter Kenya, and the Doyle family make their way to the hospital, the ways in which the characters lives intersect becomes more clear. Over the next few hours, as the Doyle family, including the oldest brother Sullivan, take charge of Kenya while her mother is incapacitated, the characters learn how the worlds of privilege and poverty, have and have not, can intersect in unexpected ways. The characters reactions to both the situations that arise and each other are fascinating, and this story has elements of politics, ethical decisions, and human frailties.
I found the interview included at the end of the book was a plus as the author described the process of writing and how she saw the book.

Tuesday 18 March 2008

Orange Prize

The longlist for this just came out. (See,,2266167,00.html and,,2266162,00.html)
and I have only read one (although some were on my to read list already)! I think my list just grew considerably.

Here is the list:

Anita Amirrezvani The Blood of Flowers
Stella Duffy The Room of Lost Things
Jennifer Egan The Keep
Anne Enright The Gathering
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Tessa Hadley The Master Bedroom
Nancy Huston Fault Lines
Gail Jones Sorry
Sadie Jones The Outcast
Lauren Liebenberg The Voluptuous Delights of Peanut Butter and Jam
Charlotte Mendelson When We Were Bad
Deborah Moggach In The Dark [I read this one]
Anita Nair Mistress
Heather O'Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals
Elif Shafak The Bastard of Istanbul
Dalia Sofer The Septembers of Shiraz
Scarlett Thomas The End of Mr Y
Carol Topolski Monster Love
Rose Tremain The Road Home
Patricia Wood Lottery

Monday 17 March 2008

Italian Mystery

Finished March 17
The Garden of Evil by David Hewson
Like all of Hewson's mysteries in the series featuring Nic Costa of the Roman police, there is lots of art, in this case Caraveggio. There is also the Catholic Church, here in the guise of Sister Agata Graziano. When a previously unknown Caraveggio is found at the scene of a murder, questions are raised as to the authenticity of the work as well as its relation to the murder and its perpetrator. The police have suspects, but their hands have been tied by the influence, connections, and wealth of one suspect. As Nic becomes personally involved in the case, and guided by Agata, into the world of Caraveggio, he finds himself drawn into Caraveggio's world and his actions. The premise behind the "hand-tying" of the police seemed a bit out there to me, but the rest was a great read, with a glimpse into the world of present-day Romans.

Friday 14 March 2008

Audio Thriller

Finished March 14
Prepared for Rage by Dana Stabenow, read by Lorelei King
I was already familiar with Stabenow's Kate Shugak mystery series, set in Alaska, but this thriller is a completely different sort of book. There is tons of action, a fair bit of violence, global politics, and, of course, sex. We follow several characters here: Coast Guard captain Cal Schuyler; NASA astronaut Kenai Munro; CIA strategist Patrick Chisum; and Pakistani terrorist Akil, also known as Isa. Cal is captain of the Coast Guard cutter which is currently patrolling the Caribbean and will be the lead ship in the security around the launch of the space shuttle Endeavor that Kenai will be on. Patrick is desperately trying to find out Isa's real identity and figure out what he is planning, and uses resources outside his usual government one to try to get this information. Isa, meanwhile is single-mindedly moving toward his ultimate goal, taking advantage of opportunities that arise and keeping his plans tight to his chest until the last possible moment. This book keeps things moving and there is never a dull moment. It was a great listen!

Books for the Young Reader

Finished March 11
The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane by Kate DiCamillo, illustrated by Bagram Ibatoulline
This is a lovely book, both for the story and the illustrations. Edward Tulane is an expensive, specially-commissioned rabbit china doll. His owner, Abilene Tulane, adores him and takes him everywhere, dressing him appropriately for every occasion. Edward takes her attentions for granted, and mostly ignores her. However, in a dreadful accident, the two are separated and Edward travels through many owners and terrible situations over the next few years. He is rescued by the net of a fisherman, then relegated to a garbage heap, where he is once again rescued, this time by a hobo, and then taken to the bedside of a very ill little girl. Through all his travails, Edward begins to see what real love is, and how he didn't realize what Abilene had given him until long after he lost it.

Finished March 13
The Mysterious Edge of the Heroic World by E.L. Konigsburg
Amadeo Kaplan has just moved to St. Malo, Florida with his mother, a corporate father. His father is an artist in New York City, where Amadeo used to live. Amadeo has always wanted to discover something and when he finds that a schoolmate, William Wilcox, is working with his mother to clear the estate of the eccentric elderly woman next door, he asks to participate. As Amadeo assists in clearing out the collected effects of a lifetime, he also connects with both Mrs. Zender, the elderly woman, and William in ways he didn't anticipate. The story reaches back to occupied Netherlands in the second World War, and from Florida up to Wisconsin.

Tuesday 11 March 2008

British Mystery

Finished March 11
Not in the Flesh by Ruth Rendell
This Wexford mystery has two bodies. One is discovered in a shallow grave by a truffle hunter and his dog. Then, nearby, another body is discovered in the cellar of a boarded up cottage. As the police look through their missing person files, searching for possible identification of the two bodies, they also try to find out if the two bodies are related to each other in any way.
Wexford's one daughter is to be appearing in a new movie based on the book of a local author, and his other daughter is working as a social worker with the Somali community, and both have an interest in ending the practice of female circumcision. These activities also end up involving Wexford in ways he didn't anticipate. This is another great story from Rendell involving social issues as well as crime and intrigue.

Sunday 9 March 2008

For Older Teens

Finished March 8
Before I Die by Jenny Downham
Tessa is sixteen years old and dying of leukemia. But there are so many things she hasn't experienced and together with her friend, Zoey, she aims to do some of them while she can.
Tessa lives with her Dad, and her little brother, Cal, with her mother living in an apartment nearby. She feels frustrated and angry with her situation and sometimes takes out those feelings on her family who struggle to understand.
Tessa starts with a list of ten things she wants to do before she dies, the first of which is sex. Zoey helps her achieve some of these experiences, and for others she turns to her family and the young man next door who has his own issues, and learns that sometimes getting what you want isn't as good as you thought it might be. She also finds out that some things are more important than she thought. As we travel with Tessa down her final few months of life, we are touched by her strength, her frailty, and her too short life.
I was weeping by the end of this one.


Finished March 8
Le Bal / Snow in Autumn by Irene Nemirovsky, translated by Sandra Smith
These two novellas are strong stories,with most of the story within the protagonist's head. In Le Bal, a nouveau riche couple plan to hold their first ball, but don't include their young teen daughter in the invitations. As we look at things from young Antoinette's point of view as she exercises revenge for her mother's dismissive attitude, we see the desparation for acceptance of Madame Kampf, the relationship between the Kampf's and their social situation.
In the second story, we look at things from the point of view of a devoted servant, who has served the Russian aristocratic family for years, and emigrates with them to Paris. Tatiana has been with the family since the current master was a baby and she finds that changed finances of the family difficult as well as being homesick for the Russian winters.
These are both strong stories, very character driven, and one cannot help but wonder if they would have evolved into novels had Nemirovsky lived.

Saturday 8 March 2008

More teen fiction

Finished March 8
Exodus by Julie Bertagna
This teen novel was shortlisted for the Whitbread Children's Book of the Year Award back in 2002 when it was first published in the U.K. and now is finally making a stir here in North America.
Mara lives on Wing, an island in the North Atlantic at the end of the 21st century. But as has been happening for many years, her island is disappearing. Her people have moved to higher and higher ground as the world warms and the waters rise, but they are running out of places to go. Mara uses the old technology of the Weave (similar to the web of today) to show them that New Worlds, manmade cities that are built high above the water, do exist and that they offer hope for the future. As Mara leads her people to a new land, she must suffer personal loss and physical challenges, but she also finds help in others that know compassion.
The story is engaging and definitely "of our time" and the characters interesting.
I hope for more about Mara and her friends.

Poetry in the business world

Finished March 7
Leading from within: poetry that sustains the courage to lead edited by Sam M. Intrator and Megan Scribner
Poetry has always played a role in my life: inspiring, consoling, and offering broader understanding. This was something I got from both my parents, who also consider poetry a part of their lives. This book takes a variety of leaders: business, non-profit, education, and government and gives their voices to the poems that inspire them. Each of the 93 poems given here is introduced by a leader, who tells the reader the context in which the poem either first came to him/her, or in which they use it. The leaders show an aspect of themselves that one doesn't always see and encourage the use of poetry, both publicly and privately, to give strength and purpose to all of us. I found not only the poetry interesting but also the stories behind the choices.

Thursday 6 March 2008

Book Covers

Finished March 6
Seven Hundred Penguins
This wonderful collection of covers of selected Penguin (including Pelicans and Peregrines as well) from 1935 to 2000 is engrossing. The execution is good, done on lovely paper with great detail. But it is the covers themselves that this is all about. Each page contains an image of the cover. A section in the back gives the title, year, and very basic information about the artist. I found myself studying the covers in more detail than I would normally give to a book cover, and indeed one of the aims of the books is to have readers (viewers?) take a look at their own Penguin books with new eyes. The range of types of art is wide and choices include some of the traditional three panel covers as well as more diverse choices. There are choices in French and Spanish as well as English and some covers show age. I was just fascinated by this book and gave in and bought myself a copy to keep.

Tuesday 4 March 2008

Canadian Fiction

Finished March 3
Wind Tails by Anne DeGrace
This is one of the ten finalists for the Evergreen award this year, and a great read.
The story is set at a cafe on a mountain pass highway in B.C. As the various characters pass through the cafe, we learn their back stories and how they came to be where they are. As you can guess from the title, the book is inspired by the wind and each chapter has a wind theme to it, from Tailwind to Wayward Wind to Wind Shift the action in the chapter matches the heading. All of the story takes place in the late '70s. Local characters range from the owner of the cafe herself, Cass, to the truck driver Archie who drops the occasional waif on her doorstep, to the local police officer, Bob. Passing through are Jo, a young teen out of Calgary; Pink, a young man from the U.S. travelling with the wind; and many others with shorter appearances on the road for their own reasons. I loved the characters and how their stories led into each others' experiences, as well as the location, where the author allows you to picture the scene in your mind. I found it very engaging and thought-provoking. While the time setting may be different, it speaks to the world today as well.

Monday 3 March 2008

Wonderful Audiobook

Finished March 1
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, performed by Edwina Wren
This is a wonderful story following a famous manuscript through time. In 1996, Hanna Heath a young Australian conservator is asked to conserve the Sarajevo Haggadah, a unique Jewish religious book that, unlike most Jewish books, is illuminated. The illustrations are wonderful, portraying the story behind the Jewish seder. Most recently, the book was rescued from the museum in Sarajevo by the librarian. As Hanna carefully conserves the manuscript and notes the special aspects of it, she finds a small insect wing, a hair, some stains on the pages, and other things that might give some hints to where the manuscript has been over time. The book takes us back in time to where the manuscript was when it gained these items. The stories behind the history of the manuscript, its makers, and its various rescues is very engaging and takes us from Spain, to Italy, to Germany and to Sarajevo. The people involved in its history have engrossing stories of their own and as the stories emerge, we also learn Hanna's story and how she came to be who she is, and who she becomes as a result of her work on this manuscript.
This is an utterly engrossing book, that I had to listen to so avidly that instead of listening only in the car as I normally do, I had to bring it into the house and put it on the stereo and just sit and absorb it.
This will be a favourite for the year, I am sure already.

Saturday 1 March 2008

Fun Fiction

Finished March 1
Solos by Kitty Burns Florey
This is a fun story set in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn (zip code 11211) featuring the word-loving woman, Emily Lime. As you may have noticed, Emily's name is a palindrome and more of these and other word play instances abound. That is part of what makes it all fun. Emily has a dog, Otto, and a bird, Izzy. As we learn about Emily's life, her professions (gardening assistant and photographer), her friends in the neighborhood, and how she came to be where she is in her life, we also come to see the neighborhood itself. Emily just scrapes by financially, but has a rich life with friends, animals and her interest in the world she lives in.
One of Emily's friends is Marcus Mead, dog-walker and fellow word afficiando. Marcus's father is Emily's ex-husband and Marcus is aware of this, but doesn't think Emily is. When Marcus's father, Hart, offers Marcus money to kill Emily, Marcus must puzzle out what this is all about.
Wonderful characters, a neighborhood come alive, and personable pets. A great, entertaining read.

Older Fiction

Finished February 28
One Hundred Million Hearts by Kerri Sakamoto
I've been meaning to read this one for a while and finally got around to it. This story is told from the point of view of Miyo Mori a Japanese Canadian, living in Toronto. Miyo was born with physical disabilities that include a weak leg and chest. Her mother died when she was just a child and her father looked after her, even driving her to and from her work. She lived a very insular life until she encounters a man who assists her on the subway one day when her father wasn't able to drive her. As she begins a relationship she begins to resent her father, until she is faced with his death. As she learns of a half-sister who lives in Japan and the other things that she did not know about her father, she engages in a search to find her sister and her father's past. Her search leads her to discoveries about herself as well and gives in new insight to her father's treatment of her.
It was interesting to see the development of Miyo as she ventures into a new environment with the supports she was used to. She grows as she learns.