Tuesday 30 September 2008

First in Series

Finished September 29
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness
This is the first in a series called Chaos Walking, and Ness's first book for teens. It is a gripping story and I could barely put it down. Todd Hewitt is almost 13, and on this birthday in a month he will become a man. Todd lives on New World, and ever since the settlers of Prentisstown were infected with the Noise germ, Todd hears everything the men in town think and they hear his thoughts. The animals are also affected and Todd hears the farm animals, the wild beasts and his dog, Manchee, as well. As he gets closer to his manhood, he senses that people are hiding things from him. When he encounters something unusual out in the swamp, he tries to keep his thoughts around it quiet until he can talk to the two men who brought him up, Ben and Cillian. This new element forces Todd to flee the town with his dog with little knowledge of what awaits him out in the rest of his world.
Todd's confusing feelings and the stories he has been told about his world affect how he reacts to what he encounters in it, and sometimes that is not a good thing. As he meets others and shares his story, he struggles to reach what he thinks will be a safe haven.
This story had lots going on, and lots of emotional situations, and Todd is a very likable character, even when he makes mistakes. He grows a lot here and I am eagerly looking forward to the next in the series.

Memoir aimed at Teens

Finished September 27
The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara with Susan McClelland
Mariatu Kamara was raised in a small rural village in Sierra Leone until the age of twelve. Hiding from rebels, Mariatu was going for food with a group of others when she was caught by the rebels. Forced to watch them torture and kill people she knew, the rebels eventually cut off both her hands and left her. Mariatu survived by going for help, eventually making it to the nearby town of Port Loko, where she was transported to a hospital in Freetown. Mariatu took advantage of any help offered and fought for her own survival and dream and is now a college student in Toronto enrolled in an Assaulted Women's and Children's Counselor/Advocate Program. She is also a UNICEF Special Representative. Her story from her childhood in a rural village living by subsistence farming, through the attacks by the rebels, her journey to Freetown for medical help, her survival there in the refugee camps (along with two other cousins who also lost their hands), and her eventually sponsorship to Canada is told with candour and equanimity. With her attitude towards helping the rest of her family and her country survive this history, she offers hope for the future.

Children's Fantasy

Finished September 27
The Book of the King by Jerry B. Jenkins and Chris Fabry
This is the first book in the Wormling series, and features Owen Reeder, a boy who lives above a bookstore with his father, the bookstore owner. What Owen discovers early in this book is that things are not what they seem and their are powers, both in and around him, that he is unaware of. When set upon by bullies, he finds that there is a power that saves him from harm, and he is intrigued by this. When a stranger tries to give him a book and his father tries to prevent him from taking it, he finds that he is not sure who to trust anymore. For part of his adventures, he is assisted by the stranger, and by Constance, the young daughter of his cleaning lady. For most of the difficult bits, he must rely on the book and the knowledge he gains from it.
This looks to be an interesting series, good versus evil, with multiple worlds and Owen is a good character, bookish but not meek.

Another Scandanavian Novel

Finished September 27

To Siberia by Per Petterson

This wonderful novel is narrated by a young Danish girl from her childhood through the German occupation of Denmark during World War II to a few years after the war. She is very close to her older brother Jesper, who watches over her, teases her, and cares deeply for her. He calls her Sistermine, which I found a lovely term. They live in a small town, with their father, a cabinetmaker, and their mother, a religious zealot who writes her own hymns. The family also moves before the war to an apartment over a dairy and they run the dairy as well. They go regularly to visit their grandfather's farm and help with harvest. The Germans arrive when the girl is 14 and the occupation from her point of view is described very well. She and Jesper grow ever closer until he must run from the Germans. After the war, her wanderlust, always a part of her, takes her away and she tries various jobs in various places, always set apart from others around her. The characterization here is very well done and you feel the loneliness of her life and her longing for something else. The title comes from her plans, even as a child to someday go to Siberia.

Thursday 25 September 2008

Thriller on audio

Finished September 24
Sweetheart by Chelsea Cain, read by Carolyn McCormick
This is a followup novel on the book Heartsick that introduced Portland detective Archie Sheridan. In Heartsick, which I haven't read, Sheridan had been tracking a serial killer known as the Beauty Killer for more than a decade and had finally got her caught and in jail, although not without personal cost.
Here, Sheridan is investigating a body found in a park, and reporter Susan Ward becomes involved in identifying the victim. Archie is distracted by the escape of the Beauty Killer, and is obsessed with her. As both the case and the hunt for the Beauty Killer move through the book, we see deeply into Sheridan psyche and his obsessions. We also see into reporter Susan Ward and her nontraditional choices in life.
While gory at times, and graphic, this novel presents real emotions and human behaviour and show what drives people to do things. I enjoyed it.

Tuesday 23 September 2008

China Journey

Finished September 23
The River at the Center of the World: a journey up the Yangtze, and back in Chinese time by Simon Winchester
The edition of this book that I read had a new afterword by Winchester bringing some of the issues around the river and his trip up to date.
Winchester has visited China often and his knowledge of the language assists greatly in both facilitating this journey and informing it. He travels with a guide, Lily, up the river from the mouth to the headwaters. The book breaks the journey into sections, with a map showing the relevant area at the beginning of each section. The trip starts out in the water where the Yangtze waters meet the ocean, and Winchester talks about the major towns that lie along his route, the history of the river, its trade and navigation, and the people he meets. As always in his books, he makes the story interesting, informative and yet not weighed down with too much information. The geography of the river is fascinating and his trip was taken after the Three Gorges Dam project had started, but before it was complete, so this is one of the last glimpses of that section of the river, now buried beneath the waters. I learned interesting tidbits of Chinese history and all kinds of things about the river itself that add to its imagery in the imagination.
I highly recommend this to travellers, historians, and just those who like a good story.

Second in a series

Finished September 22
The Silver Swan by Benjamin Black
This second in a series featuring Dublin pathologist Quirke is by John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black. This is set a few years after Christine Falls, the first in the series and opens with Quirke being asked a favour by an old schoolfriend. The friend's wife has been found dead, naked and seemingly drowned and he asks that a postmortem not be done. He says he doesn't want her body dealt with in that way. Quirke is intrigued and agrees, but finds interesting information when he examines the body. He is "getting himself in trouble" again. He feels out his contact from the police, Inspector Hackett and without asking for his help, arouses suspicions in him as well. As the two men work separately to discover the truth about what happened to Deirdre Hunt, Quirke's daughter Phoebe becomes involved and is in possible danger.
The book was well written and the characters well developed, but I didn't like anybody, and thus the novel never really grabbed me. Quirke is a sad character, driven by his own past, but never really facing up to things and I find that sad.

Monday 22 September 2008

Historical Fiction

Finished September 20
Above the Falls by John Harris
The story in this book is based on real people and real events in Canada's north. Harris has researched this well, and provided capsules on each person at the end of the book.
The setting is up in the Northwest Territories above the South Nahanni river at the lakes named Rabbitkettle and Glacier in 1936. The bush pilot George Dalziel (Dal) was known as the flying trapper, as he flew men to his traplines and gave them a cut of what he got from their work. There was a movement to close down this sort of activity as it was seen as encroaching on the natives' livelihood. Two trappers that Dal set down at his line disappeared near the end of the season, with their cabin destroyed. Harris takes that unsolved event and makes a story for it. The story is one that could have been true, and the events surrounding it are described well, with as much basis in fact as possible.
I found this interesting as it is an area and time that hasn't had a lot written about it, and thus opens new territory in Canadian literature. The conversations are well-written and flow and the story is made interesting for more than just the mens' disappearance.

Teen Historical Fiction

Finished September 19
Hush: an Irish princess' tale by Donna Jo Napoli
Melkorka is an Irish princess, first-born in her family, with a younger brother and sister. After her brother is injured badly, her father vows revenge and sends her and her sister away. Before they reach their destination, she is kidnapped by a Viking slave ship. On the ship, she is grouped with other slaves of many different nationalities. She must learn to survive. As she observes and reacts, she takes refuge in silence and soon finds that her silence gives her power.
This story is based on an Icelandic folktale, the story of which is included in the book, and crafted from that into a story of a young girl learning a new life.
Melkorka is well characterized and her growth in the book is natural and shows her as an individual. This is a strong female character, intelligent and quick and a good listener. The historical facts have been well researched and provide a good base for the story.

Friday 19 September 2008

Kids' Read

Finished September 17
Alcatraz versus the Evil Librarians by Brandon Sanderson read by Charlie McWade
Alcatraz Smedry has been bumped from foster home to foster home up until now, his thirteenth birthday. In the mail today, he received a bag of sand from his absent parents, and his life will never be the same. Alcatraz is taken under the wing of his grandfather Leavenworth, and they are on the trail of the sands which have been stolen by the librarians. As Alcatraz learns about his family from his grandfather, he discovers that what he has always assumed to be klutziness is really a talent for breaking things. Everyone in the family has some sort of talent, and none of them are what look like talents initially, but they do prove to be useful.
I borrowed this audiobook for the title, and liked the story. There is a lot of imagination here and a sense of fun. What I didn't like were the constant interruptions by the narrator. To me they lost the flow of the story, and that made it a lesser book.

Wednesday 17 September 2008

Teen Fantasy/SciFi

Finished September 15
Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves
I'm started to think that there is nothing that Neil Gaiman wrote that I didn't like. He has such a fun sense of imagination and I am always intrigued by the plot and amused by the humour. This book was no exception.
Joey Harker is a high school sophmore who tends to get lost easily and is last picked for teams. During a school assignment, he walks straight out of his world and into another. At first confused, then scared, Joey learns that this is a battleground between forces of magic and science struggling to control the multiple worlds. Joey joins an army of versions of himself from different worlds, who all have different powers and skills that help to keep the worlds in balance. As Joey struggles with his longing for home, and his new studies, he must also learn to work in a team and find ways to win the struggle against the two evil forces.
Joey came across as very real, with real thoughts and issues. The situation he had to deal with was a very difficult one and he grew a lot during the book.


Finished September 13
Loose Girl: a memoir of promiscuity by Kerry Cohen
Kerry grew up in a permissive home, and her parents divorced when she was still in primary school. As she struggled to find a place she belonged, she found sex substituted for love and affection. This book details her story towards a true relationship and shows the various thought processes such a journey entailed.
Her honesty in the book is compelling, and she admits the bad decisions and mistakes she made, but she was one of many searching for herself in this way. I found a lot of feelings I could relate to, that I also experienced as a teen and young adult and I admire her for analyzing these and perhaps helping others recognize issues they are still dealing with.

Wednesday 10 September 2008

Thrilling Listen

Finished September 9
The Good Guy by Dean Koontz, read by Richard Ferrone
Tim Carrier, a bricklayer, is having a beer after work at his friend's bar, when he is drawn into conversation by a man who then passes him an envelope with the line "Ten thousand now. You get the rest when she's gone." By the time Tim realizes he's been mistaken for a paid killer, the man is gone. Tim looks inside the envelope and finds the money and picture of a woman. The picture has her name and address on the back. When another stranger walks in and sees Tim with the envelop, he approaches, and Tim knows he is dealing with the killer. He gives him the money, but keeps the picture and says the job is off. When the stranger leaves, Tim follows him out, only to discover that he is a cop. Not feeling like it is a good idea to call the police on this now, Tim instead goes to the woman and the chase begins.
Tim is the "good guy" of the title and the woman has no idea who is after her, so the two take off, staying one step ahead of the killer. As the story progresses, the scenes move back and forth between the killer and his prey and we see into the dark mind of a man who kills for a living, and lives to kill. We also see the calculated actions of a man who cares about people and wants to thwart the killer and those who hired him. Tim draws on all his skills and past experiences to outwit the killer. As we see the two men, their differences stand out more and more, and right down to the end we see the different focus the two have on life.
This was my first book by Koontz, but I found the writing well done, and the plot just realistic enough to be very scary.

Canadian Fiction

Finished September 9
Late Nights on Air by Elizabeth Hay
I read this book for my bookclub (our first book) and enjoyed it, but not as much as I enjoyed Hay's "A Student of Weather".
I really enjoyed the descriptions of the north and what life was like in Yellowknife during the time period in which this book was set.
I found Gwen the most likeable character and enjoyed watching her grow in the book.
The book looks at the characters who work at a radio station in Yellowknife in the late 70s. Harry is an old hand at radio, who tried television and didn't do well there and now has come back to where he started twenty years ago. He sometimes seems older than he is (in his forties). Dido and Gwen are women in their twenties who came to the north for different reasons, but both end up working at the radio. Dido is from the Netherlands and has a beautiful voice. Gwen is interested in a behind the scenes job, but ends up on air, and grows into her job.
Eleanor is the receptionist, who plays an important role at the station, and in the book.
Besides the life in Yellowknife and at the radio station, the book also encompasses a six-week trip (hiking and canoe) by four of the book's characters, and that trip really does a lot for Gwen in particular.
The book sometimes moves slowly, but is always drawing one on, wanting to see what develops for the characters.

Possibly Nonfiction

Finished September 7
Where to Invade Next (part of issue 26 of McSweeney's)
This book, apparently based on a comment made General Wesley Clark about future plans by the United States, contains detailed analyses of seven countries that the U.S. considers dangerous and possible plans to deal with them.
The seven countries are Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Syria, Sudan, and North Korea. The book is well-researched, reads as plausible, and therefore is rather scary.
The book includes no forward or introduction other than the quote by Clark, and that makes it come across even more as a government document, rather than as a creation (albeit a well-researched one).
The given possibilities for U.S. action against these countries is very interesting reading and it will be interesting to see if any of it comes to pass.

Friday 5 September 2008

Forensic Thriller

Finished September 4
The Chemistry of Death by Simon Beckett
I've read the sequel to this already and thoroughly enjoyed it, so went back to catch this one. David Hunter moved from London to rural Norfolk three years before to escape his life after his wife and daughter were killed by a drunk driver. Hunter was a forensic anthropologist, but has taken on a job as a simple country doctor.
When a woman's body is discovered in the woods near where he lives, he struggles to not get involved, but under police pressure agrees to help with the enquiry. Life in the village changes as the inhabitants look at each other with suspicion and old resentments are awakened.
When someone David cares about goes missing and the police suspect the same murderer, David becomes involved with a passion, trying hard to work out the information he comes across in order to discover the killer's identity.
This is an interesting portrayal of village life and the feelings about outsiders, as well as about trust, human behaviour, and love.

Odd Little Comic

Finished September 1
The Super Crazy Cat Dance by Aron Nels Steinke
This neat little comic was waiting for me when I returned from holidays, part of my Indiespensable package (a neat service from Powell's bookstore in Portland, Oregon).
As the cover says, this comic is for kids and grownups alike. It is cute, happy, and fun, and both I and my husband enjoyed it.
All in black and white, the drawings are simple, but animated. Printed on recycled paper with soy inks, it is also environmentally friendly.

Tuesday 2 September 2008

Vacation Reading

I've just come back from a week away, so here is what I've been reading.

Finished August 23
Borderlands by Brian McGilloway
I've been carrying this one around for a while in my purse for waiting in lineups and at offices. It is the first in a new series featuring Inspector Devlin of the Garda in Ireland.
Local teen Angela Cashell's body is found on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. There is a ring on her finger, and a photo placed with her body.
As Devlin and his team work the case, they are led back to a disappearance of a woman 25 years before and clues that link to many men, on both sides of the law.
The personal life of Devlin and his fellow police officers is also brought into the book. His wife Debbie is no pushover and she often gives him useful advice.
I liked this book and will look for more as the series progresses.

Finished August 27
Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann
The subtitle of this book is "a sheep detective story," and that is definitely what this is. George the shepherd is found dead, a spade through his body. The sheep find him first and after the initial shock try to work out what happened. George read to his sheep regularly and on many subjects including sheep diseases and romance novels (what the sheep call "Pamela stories"). The sheep are led in their detective work by Miss Maple, the cleverest sheep in Glennkill. Also taking on significant roles are Mopple the Whale, the memory sheep; Othello, a black Hebridean four-horned ram, and Zora, a brave black-faced sheep. The characters of the sheep are well-developed and show individuality. There is much humour here and great fun. This is a good summer read, and I left it with my mother to be passed around among her needleworker friends.

Finished August 28
The Postcard by Tony Abbott
This book is for 8-12 year-olds and I found it to have a unique story. Jason Huff is sent off to Florida after his grandmother's death to assist his father in packing up her belongings. His grandmother, Agnes Monroe Huff was the daughter of a wealthy man, who owned a hotel among other holdings. Jason receives a strange phone call that leads him to the discovery of a postcard among his grandmother's things. The postcard shows the Hotel DeSoto, the hotel owned by Jason's great-grandfather. He also finds a magazine, Bizarre Mysteries, with a story that seems to be about his grandmother. At the funeral, Jason notices many strange characters. As Jason follows the clues left to him, and is joined by Dia, a young friend of his grandmother, he finds himself more and more interested in his grandmother and her life.
Jason is an interesting boy, respectful of adults, yet not a goody-goody. The story developed in interesting ways and was theatrical in plot.
I've left this book with my eight-year-old niece to read.

Finished August 29
Like Eating a Stone: Surviving the Past in Bosnia by Wojciech Tochman, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones
This book was a finalist for the Nike Polish Literary Prize and for the Prix Temoin du Monde. First published in 2002, this is the first English translation. The book begins with a quote from Tadeusz Mazowiecki about the Bosnia War: "Humanity unites us in misfortune, in experiencing it. If only people understood that." Tochman does his best to help us do that.
The stories cover the Serb Republic (not Serbia) and the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina.
His stories of survivors searching for family members as well as their remains are poignant. Over 100,000 people died in the wars, and it was years before the mass graves began to be exhumed. The book includes a picture to begin each chapter. One chapter talks about the displays of victims clothing, and the codes that indicate how much of the victim's body was found. Another talks about life in the refugee camps. There is mention of the abandoned towns and villages and some attempts to repopulate these. One key figure in the stories is Dr. Ewa Klonowski, born in Poland and now living in Iceland. She spends all her time trying to identify bodies, and it has become her life. She talks about how the bones speak to her.
While this is a short book, it is a book that touches the reader.

Finished August 31
Sweeping Up Glass by Carolyn D.Wall
This mystery is set in Kentucky in 1938. Olivia has run Harker's Grocery since her father died and she recovered from a car crash. Her mentally unbalanced mother Ida lives in a tarpaper shack out back. With Olivia lives her grandson William who she has raised. This year someone is hunting the silver wolves that live on Olivia's land and as she tries to find out why, she also finds out that she and William are also under threat.
The reappearance of William's mother begins the revelation of terrible secrets among the community and about Olivia's family. As Olivia searches desperately to save herself and her friends, she must confront the evil that has bound her community for years.
This story is riveting and intense and Olivia is a genuine rebel who has friends in both the white and the black people in her community. She has raised William to be strong as well and he fights for what he feels is right alongside her. This story takes the reader to a specific region and time period and brings it alive. I found it engrossing.