Saturday 31 May 2008

Massive Mystery

Finished May 31
Careless in Red by Elizabeth George
Over six hundred pages of mystery in this, the newest of George's Lynley and Havers series. When we last saw Lynley he had just lost his wife and had quit the force. Now he is walking the coastal paths of Cornwall, trying to find his way. When he comes across a body, he finds that his reflexes kick in and he finds a way to report it. As he stays in the locale for the investigation, he finds himself drawn into the life of a vet who has a holiday cottage there, as well as into the investigation despite himself.
This story involves surfing, Cornwall style; cliff climbing; Cornish pasties (of course!) and village life. As usual the story involves the past as well as the present, and human emotions and failings.
Well-written, with a good plot and lots of interesting characters.

Thursday 29 May 2008

Unfinished Novel

Fall of Frost: a novel by Brian Hall
At 100 pages in, I gave up on this one. Hall has done extensive research using facts of Robert Frost's life whenever possible. The fictional part is what is going on in some private situations and in Frost's own head.
The book jumps around a lot through different time periods, back and forth, and I just found that more confusing than helpful to the plot.
All in all, this should be very character-driven, but the characterization didn't come alive for me.
I have so many books that I wanted to read that I decided I'd given enough time to this one and have moved on.

Tuesday 27 May 2008

Mystery on CD

Finished May 27
Thunder Bay by William Kent Krueger
This was a new author for me, although the book is part of a series featuring Cork O'Connor. Here Cork has a private investigator's license, although his main source of income is a fast food stand operated mainly during the summer months. Cork has been both a city police officer and a sheriff previously.
In this book, there are two main storylines, one mystery and one personal for Cork. The personal one involves Cork's daughter Jenny who is planning to leave for college in the fall, only a few weeks away. The main storyline involves an old Ojibwe medicine man, Henry Meloux, who has played a strong role in Cork's own spiritual growth and life choices. Henry is suddenly taken ill, and asks Cork to find the son he never knew, fathered more than seventy years before. Cork is able to use what information Henry has given him to find the son, Henry Wellington, as well as what happened to the boy's mother. After Cork makes contact with the son in Thunder Bay, he is followed back to Minnesota and an attempt is made to murder Henry Meloux.
As Cork and Meloux go back to Canada to find out what is going on with the son that Meloux feels has need of him, they draw themselves into more danger.
I really liked the native content in this novel. There was history, culture, spirituality that really made the novel for me. Meloux is a very intriging character and Cork's character is shown through his relationships with his family.

Fascinating Memoir

Finished May 26
Twenty Chickens for a Saddle by Robyn Scott
Robyn Scott had a rather peripatetic childhood and this memoir covers the ages from six to adulthood when she was in Botswana. Her parents had both grown up there and came back with her and her two younger siblings when she was almost seven. Her father worked as a doctor, travelling to small village clinics, at first by air and then by car. Her mother homeschooled the children until high school, when they went to boarding school (her and her sister in neighbouring Zimbabwe and her brother in neighbouring South Africa). At first they lived near her paternal grandfather and his second wife, in a shared yard. The children spent a great deal of time exploring their environment, learning about the plants and animals that surrounded them. They also learned about the people, the culture and the superstitions, mainly through the contact with her father in his capacity as a doctor. When they move to their own farm, near the border with South Africa, she encounters a different environment and a different mindset as a lot of the neighbours there are Afrikaans. During her years growing up, AIDS became a prominent feature in Africa, and because of her father's profession she was very aware of the issues.
This memoir was absolutely fascinating in its glimpse into another culture and way of living and I found it engaging, humourous and enlightening.
Highly recommended.

Short and Sweet

Finished May 25
The Bachelor's Cat: a love story by L.F. Hoffman
I picked this up because it was mentioned in one of the lists I follow as being the favourite of another librarian, and because I like cats (having two of my own).
It is a nice read. An artist, the bachelor in question, is going through a bad stretch when he finds a very young kitten on his doorstep and no sign of an owner. He takes it in and looks after it and finds himself growing attached quickly.
He has a on-again-off-again relationship with a beautiful sexy young woman, with the relationship generally controlled by her wants and needs. During one of the off phases he meets another woman, who is not his usual type and begins a relationship with her. When the first girlfriend comes back for the next on-phase he is torn between the two women and the cat plays a role in the final decision that he makes.
Cute, a bit schmaltzy, but honest.

Saturday 24 May 2008

More Suspense

Finished May 23
Delusion by Peter Abrahams
This novel of suspense takes place when events that happened twenty years ago are called into question. Back then, Nell and her boyfriend Johnny Blanton were surprised one evening by an attacker who killed Johnny. Nell was the only witness and a culprit was soon identified, convicted and sent to jail. Later, Nell married the policeman who handled the case, Clay Jarreau, and he adopted her child by Johnny, Norah.
Now a video has come to the surface that gives an alibi to the convicted man. Nell is stunned by the news and starts to question her memory and what happened when she picked out the man. Meanwhile, Norah is acting strange and having trouble in college and won't talk to Nell and Clay about her behaviour. Clay becomes hostile in the face of Nell's search of the past and a rift opens between them. A casual friend of Nell's, LeeAnn is a reporter who is bent on tracking down the truth, and Nell learns a lot from her.
As this case gathers together the suspense builds and danger looms. Nell is the only character with real depth, although the convicted man, Alvin Dupree, has some interesting thought processes. A good page-turner with lots of action.

Thursday 22 May 2008

Sad Mystery

Finished May 21
The Collaborator of Bethlehem by Matt Beynon Rees
This is the first mystery is what promises to be a series featuring Omar Yussef, a teacher at the UN girls school in Bethlehem. Omar is in his fifties and has lived in Bethlehem since he was a child. He lives with his wife Maryam and their son and his family. He has two other children who have left to go abroad. He is a teacher who believes in using reason and judgment rather than just believing what you are told or what you read and he encourages this kind of thinking in his students, sometimes drawing the criticism of administration or parents. Omar used to teach at the Freres school, which is where his grandchildren now go.
When one of his former students George Saba, a Christian, is accused of being a collaborator in the death of a young Palestine guerilla, he finds that he must try all avenues to clear George's name. The guerilla is the husband of another of his students and she gives him important information in his cause. He finds himself up against the guerilla organization, the police, and sometimes his own friends and family. Omar is a man who fears the outcome, but who cannot stand back and watch while his friend is framed.
I was moved by this story, and found Omar a complex character.

Wednesday 21 May 2008

Another in the same series

Finished May 20
Voice of the Violin by Andrea Camilleri
I had the next one in the series handy and I was already there in my head, so decided to continue with the fourth book. This continues the personal storyline between Salvo and his girlfriend Livia that developed in the previous book, and allows both characters to develop. On the mystery front, one of Salvo's men hits a parked car on the way out of town and both men are surprised to see the car undisturbed on their trip back. Salvo does a little private investigating and has someone call in the crime he discovered. As he pieces the story of the beautiful victim together, he must delve into her personal life, involving husband, friend, and lover. Reporting to a new commissioner who doesn't like him, Salvo has the investigation taken out of his hands, but can't keep from discovering more things about the case. This book has lots of action, and some more good food too.

Tuesday 20 May 2008

Third in Series

Finished May 20
The Snack Thief by Andrea Camilleri
Inspector Salvo Montalbano attempts to avoid getting drawn into a case involving a Tunisian killed on a fishing boat, and instead focuses on a case of a man found stabbed to death in the elevator of his apartment building. The elderly man is found quite soon after he has been stabbed, and his wife has an alibi, having left early that morning to visit her sister. It becomes apparent that the dead man had a mistress who he met in his office on a regular basis, and as they track down the mistress, they discover that there may have been more going on in the office than it appeared. When the mistress and her young son disappear, Montalbano attempts to find them.
Livia, Montalbano's girlfriend has a larger role in this book, and becomes more than just a surface character. Food continues to play an important role and I recommend making reservations in an Italian restaurant for after your reading!

Atlantic Fiction

Finished May 19
Ragged Islands by Don Hannah
The main character here is Susan Ann Roberts, lying in a hospital in Toronto, while her two children and some of her grandchildren make their way to her side. As she lies there her mind takes her back to the places in the Maritimes that were important to her life. She visits her Aunt Aggie's farm, her foster parents' house in Shediac, finally making her way to Ragged Islands where she lived all her married life and alone until her recent move to Toronto. Along the way she meets people that meant something in her life. Some of them are ones she always had questions about such as her birth mother. Some of them she had never met before. She also meets up with a beloved childhood pet.
This is an interesting way to revisit a life, but I found it a bit choppy. Ultimately it didn't bring Susan Ann the closure she was wanting, but it did bring a different type of closure, and that may be all we can really expect.

Amusing Fiction

Finished May 18
Gods Behaving Badly by Marie Phillips
This is a wonderfully entertaining read. The Olympian Gods have been reduced to sharing an old decaying house in London and doing mundane jobs to make ends meet. Aphrodite does phone sex, and Artemis is a dogwalker. Apollo is still as full of himself as ever, and when a spat between him and Aphrodite spirals out of control, Alice and Neil, mortals, end up caught in the middle.
Alice is a cleaner, first at the TV studio where Apollo does a pilot episode for a psychic show, and then as a freelance cleaner. She is hired by Artemis to clean the gods' house, which certainly needs it. Neil is Alice's friend, but he has stronger feelings for her which he has been too shy to articulate. Apollo's interest in Alice draws Neil's jealousy, but when things escalate, Neil is forced by Artemis to step in and be a hero.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and found it an engaging read. Knowledge of Greek myths assists in understanding all the humour, but is not an absolute necessity.

Teen Read

Finished May 16
The Adoration of Jenna Fox by Mary E. Pearson
Jenna Fox has moved from Boston to California with her mother and grandmother. Her father still commutes to Boston and only visits California occasionally. Jenna was in an accident and spent a great deal of time recovering, but there is something more going on, and she isn't sure what. Her grandmother, Lily, whom she has always been close to, doesn't seem to like her anymore. Her mother seems nervous and overly protective.
At first Jenna can't remember anything, but she is given home movies to watch to jog her memory and gradually, slowly she begins to remember. Some of the things she remembers seem odd, like she shouldn't have been old enough to remember them. Some raise more questions. What really happened in the accident and following it and why doesn't anyone want to give her the answers?
As Jenna begins to find out the truth of her recovery, she must face larger questions.
This is a great book, that raises all kinds of discussion questions. It would be a good book club choice.

Suspenseful Listen

Finished May 16
No Time for Goodbye by Linwood Barclay, read by Christopher Lane
Cynthia Bigge wakes up the morning after a big argument with her parents and finds her family missing. No sign of either of her parents or her older brother Todd. Both her parents cars are missing and there is no note. Uneasy, but making excuses she goes to school, but finds that her brother isn't there either. The police can find no trace of them.
Now, twenty-five years later, Cynthia is still wondering what happened and a local crime show does a segment on her missing family. Cynthia starts to see a strange car in the neighbourhood, gets a mysterious phone call, and finds her missing father's hat on the kitchen table.
Cynthia's husband Terry is sympathetic, but wonders about her behaviour and is concerned that she may be making things up. When she races after a man in a mall that she is "sure" is her brother, he really begins to worry.
Cynthia was brought up by her aunt Tess after her family's disappearance and still has a close relationship with her. She also has a close relationship with Rollie, her father's friend and the principal of the high school where Terry teaches. Terry starts to ask them questions about the past, and Cynthia and Terry hire a private investigator to dig deeper to see if the truth can be found.
There were moments here where I could guess what was coming next, but that never interfered with the suspense. I could hardly wait to get back in my car to hear the next segment.

Friday 16 May 2008

A Collection of Writings

Finished May 16
Armageddon in Retrospect by Kurt Vonnegut
Mark Vonnegut, Kurt's son writes an informative introduction to this collection of not-previously-published works. There is a strong war theme here as well as reference to humanity's moral shortcomings. This collection begins with a letter Vonnegut wrote to his family informing them of his prisoner-of-war status during World War II, and includes both fiction and nonfiction pieces. As usual his work has a dark overtone to it and yet includes his unique sense of humour. Some pieces shock, and some are poignant but all are well-written and thought-provoking. The pieces included here speak not only to Vonnegut's despair of human civilization, but also his hope for it.

Third in series

Finished May 15
A Twist of Orchids by Michelle Wan
I've been reading this series since it started and I'm still thorougly enjoying it. The setting is France's Dogrdogne, although the author is Canadian.
Mara Dunn is an interior designer, who is from Canada but has lived in France for almost a decade. Her friend and lover Julian Wood is a landscape designer and orchidologist. He is from Britain, but has also lived in France for a long time. They are both well-integrated into the local community and have many friends, both local and foreign inhabitants.
One of the neighbours has died in a seeming accident, leaving behind a husband, Joseph, suffering from Parkinson's. Joseph believes someone is coming into his home at night and terrorizing him. Mara is helping out with his meals and thinks something fishy is going on.
Local Turkish shopowners have trouble when their son disappears and their shop is ransacked. They ask Julian, a regular customer, to help find their son but is unable to locate him before he turns up dead of a drug overdose. Julian wonders if this is connected to a undercover drug officer found dead nearby.
Meanwhile someone is casing and robbing unoccupied vacation homes in the area, focusing on antiques and leaving mocking poems behind.
There is a lot going on, and Mara and Julian are still working out the intricacies of their relationship, which adds some emotion to the mix.

Wednesday 14 May 2008

Fascinating Fiction

Finished May 13
The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
This story is about more than just the cellist of the title. It is about living in Sarajevo when it was a war zone, and how living in such an environment affects you. The cellist has made the decision to play his cello in the square where twenty-two people were killed by a shell while standing in line for bread. He plans to play each day for twenty-two days. He becomes a kind of symbol for the people of the city and a potential target for the attackers.
Arrow is a young woman, previously non-violent but trained in sharpshooting, who has been drafted to assist in the protection of the city by working as a sniper against the soldiers in the hills. She chooses her own targets and works alone until she is asked to protect the cellist against a sniper sent by the soldiers. Arrow has separated herself from her previous identity as a coping mechanism, but she may not always be able to go her own way.
Dragan is an man in his sixties who works in a bakery, a protected and vital job. He makes his way each day to the bakery through the dangerous streets of the city. He goes even when he doesn't work to get bread and to eat, saving the provisions at home for the rest of the family. He lives in fear of being killed.
Kenan is a married father with three children. Every four days he makes his way across the city to the brewery for water from the spring there. He must walk across most of the city and cross the river. Each trip he weighs his options as to which route to take, which bridge to cross and still could be taken by a shell or sniper. He also gets water for an elderly neighbour that he doesn't even particularly like.
As each of these three characters comes across the cellist, their story changes due to their awareness of what life in the city has become, and that is what makes the story here.
A wonderful and fascinating read.

Monday 12 May 2008

A Taste of Travel

Finished May 11
Unforgettable Canada: 100 Destinations by George Fischer and Noel Hudson
This book is a great introduction to travel destinations in Canada. It gives a 2-4 page blurb with pictures of each destination. I liked the fact that it wasn't organized geographically, as that mixed it up a bit. I would have liked an overall map though, that showed where the destinations were exactly as that information was not given in the text. I have been to quite a few of the destinations but have a number that I would like to visit and this book reinstilled that interest. Sometimes in the urge to travel, we forget just how many wonderful places there are within our own country!

Spy novel

Finished May 10
At Risk by Stella Rimington
This one had been on my list for a while, and I finally got around to it. Rimington used to head up Britain's MI5, so I was interested to see her take on the spy novel. Her main character is a woman, Liz Carlyle, who is an intelligence officer with MI5. Liz has been doing fairly well at her job, although it has necessitated making some sacrifices in her personal life. She knows that she is good at her job and she feels that this is where she should be, so making those sacrifices is part of the price she is willing to pay. In this first novel, Liz is brought in on a case where there is suspected terrorism. One of her former contacts has come back to her rather than his current minder, and she goes with her gut on the followup to his information. This necessitates working with the police as well as MI6, and she is never sure that MI6 is telling her everything they know. She also doesn't particularly like the MI6 agent that she must work with. She is a strong woman who doesn't let herself be pushed around, and knows the value of her own intelligence. She treats her contacts well. I really liked her as a character. I enjoyed the book with all its twists and turns and will look for the others that Rimington has written.

Thursday 8 May 2008

Exciting Listen

Finished May 8
Where Are You Now? by Mary Higgins Clark, read by Jan Maxwell
This is classic Higgins Clark, with lots of twists and turns and suspense. Here Carolyn MacKenzie has just finished an internship with a judge and is taking a break before her next job, hopefully as a DA in New York City. Carolyn's older brother Mack disappeared from his shared apartment ten years ago, but always calls on Mother's Day and this year is no exception. Except this year, Carolyn vows to him that she will find him and find out why he disappeared. She can't stand the way her and her mother's lives have become so wrapped around this. A warning note is left for Carolyn at the church her uncle presides over telling her not to look for him, and her mother urges her to abide by her brother's wishes. She pretends to, to placate her mother, but continues to revisit his friends and haunts to try to track him down.
Meanwhile a beautiful young woman has gone missing in the city and Mack's best friend and roommate is a suspect in that crime but, due to Carolyn's renewal of the search for Mack, so is he. As Carolyn pursuit's her search, she brings herself into danger as well.
Lots of suspense and a good storyline.

British Fiction

Finished May 6
The Outcast by Sadie Jones
This is a brilliant first novel featuring a set of fascinating characters.
The main character here is Lewis Aldridge and this book follows his story from his father returning from the Second World War until the late fifties. Lewis' mother is a bit of a rebel, and she is very close to him, reserving times for mother-son outings on picnics in the woods. On one of the picnics, she falls victim to a terrible end and this is the start of Lewis' problems. Lewis retreats into himself and his father's reaction to the situation does not assist in Lewis's recovery. As his father remarries and Lewis' issues grow they finally result in a very public crime. Lewis goes to jail for two years and when he comes back, finds that all in the community don't seem to want to give him the chance to begin again. The father, Gilbert is a very interesting character here as well, including the choices he makes in wives. There are many other village characters here, but the family of Carmichaels play the biggest role. The father, Dicky is a bully and is also Gilbert's boss. The oldest daughter Tamsin is a beauty and knows it. She uses her beauty to manipulate those around her. The younger daughter, Kit, is an observer, and she has been observing Lewis throughout the years and understands better than most what kind of person he is. As Lewis faces up to the community, all these characters come together in a very interesting way.

Monday 5 May 2008

Wonderful Read

Finished May 4
The Stone Gods by Jeanette Winterson
Generally categorized as science fiction, this book is so much more. It is a commentary of the earth and the way humanity has behaved over time. It is about the past and the future, about the inevitability of man's destruction of his world, and about the hope that humanity can get past that and work together for a better outcome.
Winterson touches on today's hot topics of technology, global warming, war, globalization, corporate control and individual rights. She includes social and class issues as well as political ones, but you never feel that you are being preached at or forced to a particular point of view. Here, the possibilities are many. The story takes place in three main parts.
The first is a world where people can have themselves "fixed" at any age they want. It is a society based on consumerism. Billie is a bit of a rebel. She runs an old-fashioned farm and while she works for the large corporation, she does speak her own mind. She agrees to travel to a potentially habitable planet with a group looking at planning a colony.
The second part takes place on Easter Island and is told from the point of view of a sailor left there who analyzes the behaviour of the natives.
The last part is from the view of another character names Billie in our world "post 3 war" where again she works for the big corporate entity that runs things, but steps outside the standard behaviour.
This will be on my list of favourites for the year.

Saturday 3 May 2008

Upsetting Read

Finished May 3
The Labrador Pact by Matt Haig
If you're an animal person, this book may not be for you. I felt sick when I finished, like I'd been kicked in the stomach, and it left me feeling hopeless.
The story is told from the dog's point of view. Prince is adopted as a puppy into the home of Adam and Kate and their two children, Hal and Charlotte. Prince abides by the Labrador pact, with a sense of duty toward his family. He must protect them, keep them safe and always be on the lookout for threats to their wellbeing, not just as individuals, but as a family unit. He is coached by an older lab, Henry, whom he meets on his morning outing to the park. He asks Henry for advice when he senses problems, and does his best to keep his family happy and safe. When he finds that the family's own behaviour is what provides the threat, he is unsure what to do, but tries his best to abide by the pact and do his duty.
With my reaction to the book being so visceral, I really can't recommend it. It is however original in viewpoint, and the story flows and holds together very well.

Friday 2 May 2008

Lives Told

Finished May 2
The Rain Before It Falls by Jonathan Coe
This is a story of women, mostly those from one family.
Gill is middle-aged with grown daughters, Elizabeth and Catharine, when her Aunt Rosamund dies. Rosamund has left tapes giving her life history for Gill to give her cousin's granddaughter Imogen. Gill has trouble finding Rosamund, so she and her daughters listen to the tapes. The story on the tapes makes up the majority of the book.
Rosamund's story begins with her evacuation to the country during WWII to stay with her mother's sisters family. She meets and becomes close to her cousin, Beatrix. So this story tells of what happens to Beatrix, her daughter Thea, and her granddaughter Imogen. Coe brings the story alive for us by including Rosamund's commentary and emotional reactions to the story she tells.
I loved this book and the characters portrayed. I will definitely be looking for more books by Coe.

Thursday 1 May 2008

Audiobook Mystery

Finished May 1
Death of a Maid by M.C. Beaton, read by Graeme Malcolm
This is another tale of the wondrous Hamish Macbeth, a village policeman in the highlands of Scotland. Macbeth is self-effacing, eschewing promotion for the life he loves as the anachronous village policeman. This tale starts with the apparent murder of a local cleaning woman, Mrs. Gillespie. She is not much liked and is a snoop. As Macbeth starts to investigate her death, he is led to believe that she is a blackmailer. As he delves into the lives of the people around her, including her employers, he finds much to take his attention. When his old girlfriend Elspeth takes a vacation in the area, he finds her assistance in the case helpful, but is confused by his feelings regarding her. As Macbeth follows the various paths to unbury the secrets Mrs. Gillespie held, he finds his own life in danger.
An amusing tale, with a lively lead character and lots to interest the reader.

Translated Novel

Finished April 29
By a Slow River by Philippe Claudel, translated from the French by Hoyt Rogers
This novel is a fictional memoir of a time in the narrator's past, during the First World War. In the village he lives in in France, the factory keeps most of the young men out of the war, so the village exists as a sort of island in the midst of the fighting, not that far from the front line. The narrator, who was a young policeman at the time, describes the deaths of three females in the town that affect him in a personal way. As he discusses them you get a sense of the village and how the inhabitants interact. One of the main characters is the prosecutor, who is a widower and lives alone in a large house with grounds. He has two servants who meet his modest needs and he lives a reclusive life outside of his job. The first female to die is a young, pretty schoolteacher, and her death shocks the community. The second is a young girl, very pretty and full of life and the light of her family. The third death is the policeman's own wife, young and pregnant. As he deals with his own feelings around the deaths and the regrets he has around his actions, he gives a intimate picture of life in the village, and his own shortcomings.