Monday 30 June 2008

Australian Mystery

Finished June 29
Queen of the Flowers: a Phryne Fisher Mystery by Kerry Greenwood
The newest Phryne Fisher is a catchy one.
Phryne lives in Melbourne, Australia, although she is originally from England. This is set in 1928.
Phryne is a very independent woman, who lives her life as she wants and has moved to Australia partly to be as far from her father as possible. She has a butler and cook (a married couple), and a companion. She has adopted two daughters, but has never been married. She works as a private detective and has a lover. She has been chosen to be the Queen of the Flowers in the town's first Flower Parade.
When one of the flower maidens goes missing, Phryne is following her trail. She has contacts in town and works her connections to find out what she needs to know.
Her character is well-mannered, yet unconventional and is a plain speaker who is not afraid to confront the darker side of life, whether it be gambling, brothels, or criminals.

Saturday 28 June 2008

Dark Mystery

Finished June 28
Blood from Stone by Frances Fyfield
The dark psychological mystery is Fyfield's forte, and this one is no exception.
Here we start with the apparent suicide of Marianne Shearer a criminal defense attorney. Her last case was defending a man accused of kidnapping and rape of women. Due to her delays and aggressive reputation, two of the women withdrew from the case. The last one died, causing the case to end in acquittal. Shearer's death has renewed some people's interest in the case.
The unclear instructions that Shearer left for her lawyer lead him to look more closely into her life in order to discover her intentions. Her clothing at the time of death also results in questions.
As the life and death of Shearer become more clear to her lawyer and the others that he has involved, so does the truth of her last case.
I was riveted by this book, and had a hard time putting it down.

Adult Storytime

Finished June 27
Mr. Fooster Traveling on a Whim: a visual novel by Tom Corwin, illustrated by Craig Frazier
This is a lovely book, and the illustrations are beautiful, almost like woodcuts.
Mr. Fooster travels with a bottle of bubble soap in his pocket, and uses it when he feels the need.
His travels don't have a particular destination and while he notices things as he walks along (things adults sometimes forget to notice) he also reflects on things. His reflections include musings such as "Who figured out how to eat artichokes?" and "If the brain is made of 80 percent water, what might the ocean be thinking?" which made me muse as well.
He takes things as they come, and adjust to the circumstances he finds himself in.
I found myself mesmerized by this book, and hope there will be more.

Pleasureful Listen

Finished June 26
Life Beyond Measure: Letters to My Great-Granddaughter by Sidney Poitier, read by the author
Of course, just listening to Sidney Poitier's voice is a pleasure, but this book is also a pleasure from the content. Several years ago I listened to the audio version of Measure of a Man by Poitier, also read by him, and this book extends my knowledge of him.
The book is organized by issues and thus is not written as a consecutive timeline, but rather moves back and forth, even referring back to earlier sections at times. It is written as a series of letters to his first great granddaughter giving her information and advice, some of it personal to her as part of his family, some of it applicable to all of us. He talks of love, faith, demons, close calls, technology and death. He talks of his own quest for knowledge and how it is still ongoing. He talks of our responsibility to each other and to the earth that we come from. This would be a wonderful gift for a graduation or for someone starting a new phase in life. Inspiring and comforting both, it will bring pleasure to the reader.

Wednesday 25 June 2008

Chick Lit

Finished June 25
Love the One You're With by Emily Giffin
Thought I should read the hottest summer chick lit book, and I found it a nice catchy read. The main character, Ellen has married her best friend's brother Andy. Andy's family has money, but they are warm and welcoming as they've been from the beginning of Ellen and Margot's friendship. Ellen is enjoying her photography career and feeling good about her life.
Then she runs into her old boyfriend and he appears interested in her, and suddenly everything is different in her life. As the novel brings the two old lovers back into each others' lives, Ellen is more and more uncertain about what she wants.
Ellen is a good character and I feel that she is believable in her feelings and actions.
A great summer read.

Tuesday 24 June 2008

American Literary Fiction

Finished June 23
The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich
Erdich follows a small community at a reservation and the town nearby over 3 generations. In the early days there was an unsolved murder of a family. Only the baby was spared. Some in the community took action against supposed perpetrators, and the results of that still affect the community. There is intermarriage between the white townfolk and the native Ojibwe that also impacts the community.
One of the main speakers here is Evelina Harp. Her mother is Ojibwe and her father white and she has grown up with her grandfather Mooshum's stories about the past, which include the plague of doves of the title.
Another speaker is Antone Bazil Coutts, a mixed blood judge who used to live in town and now lives on the reservation and works as a tribal judge. He talks of the past and of his own experiences.
There are a couple of other interesting characters who share in the narration of this story and have their own unique views.
I liked how the history took them back to the days of Louis Riel and the rift between the church and the Metis. It dealt with the controversy of that history in how the characters relate to the church today as well.
I loved this book and will look for some of Erdrich's earlier works.

Saturday 21 June 2008

Italian Mystery

Finished June 21
The Girl of His Dreams by Donna Leon
This is the newest Commissario Guido Brunetti mystery, and it begins with the funeral of his mother. There is a story here that involves a priest that gave a blessing at the funeral and his request that Brunetti look into a possible scam by a religious personage.
The main story involves a young girl found drowned in a canal. She is only eleven and it is this girl who haunts Brunetti's dreams. He is bothered by the circumstances of both her life and her death and feels compelled to look into both further.
Brunetti always faces interesting moral situations, situations that cause him to look hard at Venetian society and the actions of its people and institutions. They also always cause him to look for assistance to his wonderful wife Paola and take her opinions very seriously. I very much like his character and several of the other characters in his department, both police and civilian.
The stories are always more than just mysteries and never have easy answers.
There is also always good food, and good food in Italy is some of the best.

World War II Novel

Finished June 21
Skeletons at the Feast by Chris Bohjalian
This story begins in Poland at the estate Kaminheim, owned by the Emmerich family. The Russians are advancing and due to the stories being told of their brutality against civilians, most people are fleeing in advance of them. The Emmerichs, consisting of Irmgard and Rolf and three of their children, Anna, Helmut and Theo. They also have with them Callum, a POW from Scotland who was working on their farm and whom Anna is having a secret relationship with. They must cross the frozen Vistula river and keep moving west from there. Part of the reason they are travelling with Callum is that they hope the might meet up with British forces eventually and that he will vouch for them.
We also follow Uri, a German Jew who escaped from a train travelling to the camps and has since been taking on various identities, often of German soldiers, to survive. He is looking for his sister Rebekah who was also taken to the camp and whom he is not sure still lives.
The third story is that of Cecile, a French Jew who had been working in a factory attached to a camp and is now being moved west with the rest of her camp to an uncertain destination. She feels close to Jeanne and tries to keep her motivated to live and hope for rescue from their situation.
As they all work their way west, they encounter each other and play roles that influence the direction of each others' lives.
This is a story of strong characters, particularly Anna and Uri, and the feelings that underlie their actions. The situation is constantly changing, but always somewhat desperate and none of them are really sure what they are ultimately hoping for.

Friday 20 June 2008

A Classic

Finished June 19
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, read by Jeremy Irons
This is one of the ones that everyone has heard about, but not a lot of people seem to have read. I finally decided to tackle it as I heard this audio version was very good.
Jeremy Irons does a wonderful job on bringing this novel to life.
The novel was so different than I expected it to be. So much sadder than I had thought. It also covered so much of America of that time period that really gave me a feel for the culture of the time.
It was sometimes hard to remember that this novel was set in the late 1940s and early 1950s, as there seems to be so much going on that I thought of as being more recent. I loved the descriptive passages, both of the geography and culture of the travels, and of Humbert's description of the people he interacted with, especially his descriptions of Lolita.
Lolita is knowing, yet naive; complicit, yet coerced; and this duality of her nature makes her even more interesting.
Some of the middle dragged a bit for me, so I was glad of the wonderful audio to keep me going with it. The end was worth it.

New Thriller

Finished June 24
The Woods by Harlan Coben
Paul Copeland is a county prosecutor in New Jersey. He is also a widower with a young daughter. Twenty years ago he was a counselor at a camp where there was a multiple murder. He had abandoned his post to be with his girlfriend and meanwhile four teenagers, two boys and two girls had also left the cabin for the woods. The bodies of two of the teenagers were later found and the others were presumed dead as well. One of the presumed dead was Paul's sister Camille. His family never got over it. His mother left them and he hasn't seen her again. Now, a body has appeared with his name on an item in its pockets and he is sure that it is the other presumed dead teen. But that changes his whole take on what happened that night.
Paul is also involved in a case where two white frat boys have been charged with the rape of a black exotic dancer. One of the boys fathers has tried both bribery and threats to have the charges against his son dropped. Paul is standing firm, but the father has many resources that he may use against Paul.
Also, nearby, Paul's old girlfriend from the camp, Lucy, is getting some papers turned in for an anonymous exercise by her students that also brings the memories of what happened at camp back. When the two find each other, they work towards finding out the truth of what happened that night.
Lots of action, some romance. I sat up until late finishing it.

Monday 16 June 2008


Finished June 15
13 Bullets: a vampire tale by David Wellington
This is my third novel with vampires and boy are they ever different from each other.
One of the big differences is how vampires are made. Here the vampires are rarer, but there are lots of half-dead and even more bodies of victims. This novel is very violent and the vampires are very much controlled by their bloodlust.
When Caxton, a state trooper gets involved in a chase of a half-dead with bodies in his trunk, she gets drafted into being the partner of vampire hunter Arkeley. Some other magic is involved: ghosts and hexes and charms, but the main focus is vampires. Each section of the book is dedicated to a particular vampire as the two chase down the vampires who are wreaking havoc in their neck of the woods.
Lots of action, lots of violence and a bit of interesting insight into cause and effect.

The Reading Brain

Finished June 15
Proust and the Squid: The Story and Science of the Reading Brain by Maryanne Wolf
This was an absolutely fascinating read and I learned so much about both the history of reading and what goes on in our brains as we gain this function.
As Wolf says, our brains were not designed for reading, but have adapted to achieve this skill. Reading uses several parts of the brain and depends on the functionality of each of those parts as well as the connections between them to succeed. Learning to read has some differences depending on the language of the reader, and that can affect the speed at which the skill is developed as well as what parts of the brain are more heavily used.
Wolf also addresses the issue of dyslexia, and talks about the different forms that this disability takes. There are different ways this can be addressed depending on what type of dyslexia the student has. She also addresses the problems of catching this early to both address it properly and to ensure the child does not feel stigmatized. Many people with dyslexia are very creative and innovative and we don't want them to feel inferior to their peers.
Wolf includes a discussion relating back to Socrates and his stand against reading as a lesser form of learning that could lead to a false sense of understanding a subject or idea. She discusses how this change from learning by dialogue to learning by reading can be related to today's change to learning through digital tools and how similar concerns may be applicable to our young learners now.
This book should be a must-read for teachers that will give them an insight to the issues that can exist around reading. I highly recommend it.

Different Teen Read

Finished June 14
Estrella's Quinceanera by Malin Alegria
This is an interesting view into the world of a young woman, Estrella, who is caught between two cultures. Estrella lives in the barrio on the east side of San Jose, California, and she has received a scholarship to attend a local private school. As she tries to fit in with the white girls at the school, she finds herself at odds with her culture and home life. Things come to a head with her fifteenth birthday, when her mother and aunt start planning her traditional Mexican quinceanera. As she struggles with first romance, her fit between the two worlds she exists in, and her own maturing she must face her real feelings and take responsibility for her own life.
This is an interesting glimpse into another culture and the author provides an extensive glossary of Mexican terms used in the novel to draw the reader into the attitude and traditions of the culture. This is a great novel for teens to become aware of Mexican American culture and traditions.

More Great Canadian Fiction

Finished June 14
After River by Donna Milner
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel set in a small town southern B.C. in the late 1960s. Natalie Ward lives on a dairy farm with her family of three older brothers. The family has been in her father's family for a few generations and everyone pulls their weight on the farm. When the hired man leaves, Natalie's mother takes on a young draft-dodger from the States to help out. River may dress a bit different than they are used to, but he knows about dairy farming and soon fits into their lives comfortably.
River's presence on the farm changes the family dynamic and eventually disrupts the close family life. Natalie left the farm when she was seventeen, and now as her mother is dying returns to the farm to face the truth of what happened back thirty-five years earlier. This novel covers the family relationships, emotions, culture of both the times and of small-town life.
This is Milner's first novel, but she has a strong voice and this story was well-told.

Friday 13 June 2008

Futuristic Read

Finished June 12
Broken Angel by Sigmund Brouwer
This story takes place in the near future. Caitlin and her father live in Appalachia an area that is tightly controlled by Bar Elohim and that has a strong Christian community. Everyone carries a vidpod that records their conversations to a central data bank and tracks their movement through GPS. Communities are regulated to grow only to a certain size and cameras record movements in the towns.
Caitlin's father brought her here from Outside after she was born, and they keep pretty much to themselves as she has a deformity on her back and arms that her father Jordan is keeping a secret. Things have now come to the point where the authorities are aware of Caitlin and are hunting her and her father as they try to escape.
This is a world of technology, medical manipulation and authoritarian control. It raises a lot of questions and would be a good book club choice, possibly even for teens.

Thursday 12 June 2008

Suspenseful Listen

Finished June 11
No Place Like Home by Mary Higgins Clark, read by Jan Maxwell
When Liza was a child of eleven, she woke to hear her mother yelling and found her stepfather holding her mother against the wall. She went for the gun she knew was in her mother's beside table and held it on her stepfather demanding that he release her mother. He threw her mother at her and the gun went off. Her mother was dead and she raised the gun and kept shooting at her stepfather. She was adopted by distant cousins and raised under another name.
Now as Celia, she finds to her horror that her new husband has bought a house for her as a birthday present, the same house where she and her mother lived. Her husband Alex doesn't know of her history, and she doesn't know how to tell him that she doesn't want to live there.
When they arrive to move into the house, someone has defaced the house with red paint and carvings, referring to Liza as a killer. Celia collapses from the stress.
As the police try to find out what happened, people start dying and the deaths all lead in some way back to Liza and the death of her mother.
Lots of suspense, plot twists and surprises to keep you reading.

Tuesday 10 June 2008

Canadian Fiction

Finished June 10
October by Richard B Wright
James Hillyer is a retired professor of Victorian literature, living on his own in Toronto. His wife died of cancer some years ago, and his daughter Susan has just been diagnosed with a similar disease. Susan is headmistress of a boarding school in England, a job she has aspired to all her working life. James visits her to touch base following news of her illness, and afterwards in London he meets a man he hasn't seen in sixty years.
Back in 1944, James spent a summer in rural Quebec with his uncle and spent some of his days with a young American Gabriel Fontaine who was a victim of polio. It is Gabriel that he meets again in London and who requests James to go with him on a trip.
The story goes back and forth between the present and the summer of 1944, and causes James to look at his own character and attitudes both past and present as well as those of others. There is also a theme of illness and mortality running through the novel that provides a key element to the story.
I enjoyed this book thoroughly.

Historical Fiction

Finished June 7
The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani
This story takes place in 17th century Iran. The main character who tells the story begins her story at the age of fourteen. She lives in a small village with her parents, and is an only child. When her father dies suddenly, she and her mother struggle to survive, but end up appealing to her father's half-brother Gostaham in Isfahan, who agrees to take them in. As she and her mother live in Gostaham's household, they must adjust to the ways of the household as well as their own precarious situation. She no longer has any money for a dowry and must consider alternatives for her future. Gostaham is impressed by her interest in carpetmaking, his profession and her natural talent for design, but laments that she is not a boy so he could take her on as an apprentice. The main character grows in knowledge and this is a coming-of-age novel in a historical setting.

Saturday 7 June 2008

Fantastic Stories

Finished June 7
M Is for Magic by Neil Gaiman
This is a collection of stories of fantasy by one of the masters of the genre. Gaiman's stories vary widely, some of them fantastic from the outset and some that slowly work towards it. Some that sneak up on you and some that enchant. A few left me feeling very unsettled, and there was a lot of magic that wasn't of the nicest sort.
The stories are great and this is a good collection for the older child or adult reader.

Thursday 5 June 2008

Thrilling Listen

Finished June 3
Blue Heaven by C.J. Box, Read by John Bedford Lloyd
I had to suspend belief on a few things, but this one had me sitting on the edge of my seat.
The book is set in northern Idaho.
Annie and William, 12 and 10, took off to go fishing after their mother's latest boyfriend failed to show up as promised. While in the woods near the river, the two witness an execution-style killing and the killer spot them. The kids run for their lives, quite literally.
When they don't turn up at home later that night, the police become involved, and several retired policeman from Los Angeles who live in the area volunteer for the search. Only problem is, these cops are the killers. You are in suspense the whole time, wondering who is going to find the kids first. The children's mother is sure that they are alive, and the local banker, a family friend, is worried.
Meanwhile, another retired policeman is visiting the area, following up on a lead on an old crime.
The plot keeps moving and there is lots to keep you guessing.

Tuesday 3 June 2008

Interesting Issues Raised

Finished June 3
Black & White by Dani Shapiro
Clara hasn't seen her mother in fourteen years when she left home at eighteen. Her mother Ruth is a famous photographer, most famous for a series she did of Clara. The series covered Clara from the age of 3 to 14, all of them naked. Clara has stayed in touch with her older sister Robin, who lives in New York City with her husband and three children and who has become a lawyer like their father. When Robin calls Clara to tell her Ruth is ill and Robin can't cope, Clara goes to New York and visits with her mother. Ruth is much more ill than Clara had expected, dying of lung cancer, but the issue of the photographs is still between them, and Clara still hasn't dealt with her feelings of hurt around them. As Clara, along with her husband and daughter deal with Ruth's dying they must also deal with the issue of the photographs.
Very interesting issue around the photographs and the rights of the mother and artist as opposed to those of Clara. We see the history of the photos, the public image and reactions, and the family dynamics around it all. There is a lot going on here emotionally to keep the reader interested.

Monday 2 June 2008

About Writing

Finished June 2
Off the Page: Writers Talk about Beginnings, Endings, and Everything in between edited by Carole Burns
This is a lovely collections of short comments about different aspects of writing, taken from interviews that Burns did on Besides beginnings and endings, it covers characters, places, inspiration for writing, style, language, relation to reality and the differences between writing novels and short stories. Besides the actual writing, it also covers the life of writing, the relationship with readers, and with other writers.
I found especially interesting the bits from writers I've read, especially when they were talking about books I've read. It brought it all "behind the scenes" for me, and brought out the personalities of the writers. This is a very readable book and I quite enjoyed dipping in and out of it.