Saturday 29 November 2008

World War II Novel

Finished November 27
A Good War by Patrick Bishop
This is a first novel and very well done. The main character is a Polish fighter pilot, Adam Tomaszewski, flying with the RAF during the Second World War. At various times in the war he encounters an Irish soldier Gerry Cunningham. The story of the pilots is interesting as is the later section on fighting behind the lines in France. Adam's character is well-developed and we see him in various stages throughout the war, as he responds to situations in wartime, including those involving love.
While this involves various events of the war, it really hinges on Adam (or Tommy as some call him) and his reactions to the different situations, and the way those reactions affect his life.
I really liked him, and found myself trusting his judgment of those around him, which definitely had an effect on my take on the story.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

Great Canadian Read

Finished November 25
Ragged Company by Richard Wagamese
I absolutely loved this book. Wagamese really got inside the head of his main characters and made me feel like I was there too.
Four of the main characters are homeless people, living in a large city: Amelia One Sky (also known as One for the Dead), Timber, Double Dick, and Digger. They have gradually found each other and now move through the major part of their day as a group. As the book begins, they decide to take refuge from the cold by going to a movie. They encounter the fifth main character, Granite, at the movie theatre, and continue to run into him as they keep going to movies.
When Digger finds a cigarette package that still contains some cigarettes as well as money and a lottery ticket, their lives begin to change. The lottery ticket turns out to be a big winner, $13.5 million, but they can't claim the money as none of the four have identification. They bring Granite in to assist them.
As their lives transform, we see how they adjust to their new situation. We also see how they got to be where they now are and how they deal with their pasts now.
Working in a profession where I encounter homeless people on a daily basis, I found this book very moving. How one sees the world is a big part of the plot.

Monday 24 November 2008

Great Teen Novel

Finished November 22
Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer
Miranda is sixteen and living on the outskirts of a small town in Pennsylvania. There is interest in an impending event, an asteroid about to hit the moon. Most of her teachers assign papers around the subject and Miranda, younger brother Jonny and her mother plan to watch the event. They've called her older brother Matt at Cornell and got his permission to use his telescope. Miranda's father and her stepmother Lisa live in Springfield, Massachusetts and have just announced that they will be having a baby.
When the astral body collision takes place, the moon is knocked out of its orbit and closer to the earth. This causes all kinds of issues on the earth, beginning with tidal waves.
Miranda's mother makes frantic preparations, stockpiling supplies and preparing for the worst, which puts their family in a better position than many.
As more events affect them, the family struggles to survive, stay safe and hope for a better future.
The story is very believable and the family interactions read true to me. Miranda is your average sixteen year old at the beginning, interesting in boys and school. As she develops due to the circumstances, her priorities change and her character emerges. The story is told in Miranda's diary and gives a bit of distance to the more horrific of the events. I found the story engrossing and close enough to possible to be very scary.

Canadian Mystery

Finished November 21
The Murder Stone by Louise Penny
Inspector Gamache is back, as good as ever. Here, he and his wife are vacationing at the Manoir Bellechasse, one of the best auberges in Quebec. They are there to celebrate their wedding anniversary, a tradition they have held for several years.
The other guests at the Manoir are a family, getting together to honour their dead father. There are lots of rivalries and grievances within the family and the tension is very high.
There is a heat wave and when it breaks, a dead body is found. Gamache finds himself with almost everyone at the auberge a suspect, from the family to the staff. As his team digs deeper to find the truth, the murderer is trapped there and may be getting desperate.
Gamache has great insight and his team works well together. The setting in Quebec is lovely and the other characters are interesting if not always likeable.
A good story with a great finale.

Friday 21 November 2008

Interesting Listen

Finished November 20
Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (and What It Says About Us) by Tom Vanderbilt, read by David Slavin
This was an abridged version, which I don't normally go for as I always wonder what I missed, but the librarian I carpool with and I wanted to listen to this together (and hey as she admitted, she bought this for our collection!) so we did.
We found it very interesting and learned a lot that surprised us about traffic and had some of our suspicions verified (yes women ARE safer drivers). As the author says, traffic isn't just about driving and cars, it is about human nature. There are physical and technical aspects to traffic, but also a lot of psychological ones. I found it interesting enough that I shall try to find time to read the book, and get the stuff I missed.

Tuesday 18 November 2008

Great Mystery

Finished November 18
All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson
I can't believe it, but each book is better than the one before.
Here, a group of schoolboys discover a body hanging in the woods, and Detective Inspector Annie Cabot gets the case. The body is identified as Mark Hardcastle, set and costume designer for the local Eastvale Theatre. The situation points to suicide, but other information makes Annie wonder. When a link to higher society is found, Banks is called back from his weekend off to take on the case.
When Annie and Banks keep working on the case after being told it is cut and dried, strange things begin to happen. Someone seems to want the investigation shut down and is willing to play dirty.
The ties to the play Othello that the Eastvale Theatre was presenting are an interesting twist. The plot is gripping and you feel the frustration that Annie and Banks come up against.

For the Younger Crowd

Finished November 15
The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd
Ted and his older sister Kat live with their parents in London. Their dad is a demolition expert. Their aunt Gloria, sister to their mother, is stopping off in London with her son Salim, as they move from England to New York City.
Salim wants to ride the London Eye while in town, and while the kids are waiting in line they get offered a free single ticket. Salim takes it and gets on the ride, but when it comes back down he is not there. After the initial panic, the police are called in and try to figure out what happened.
Ted and Kat work together to try to solve the puzzle as well, and Ted's special way of thinking gives them insight into the mystery.
This is a great story, with an interesting puzzle to solve that also highlights autism. The family relationships are well written and Ted's personality really comes through.

Finished November 16
Blue Bloods by Melissa de la Cruz
This is the first in a series of books centred around a group of vampires. As the young vampires go through puberty they transform from humans into their true selves. The novel centres around a group of students at Duchesne School in New York City, a private school with a student body consisting of a large number of "blue bloods" as the vampires define themselves. The main character is Schuyler Van Alen, who is being raised by her maternal grandmother. Schuyler's mother is in a coma and Schuyler visits her at the hospital regularly. As Schuyler copes with the discovery of her true vampire nature and deals with the usual teenage social issues at school, she must also figure out who is murdering young Blue Bloods. Schuyler works with her friend Oliver against the denial of the leaders of the clan over the threat to their future.
Schuyler comes across as a relatively normal teen dealing with an abnormal situation. The explanations for historic events and cultural trends are interesting, and the plot keeps things moving. Teens with an interest in the vampire genre will find another interesting author to read.

Saturday 15 November 2008


Finished November 14
How Fiction Works by James Wood
This is a nice not-too-long book about the elements of fiction. Wood covers narrative, detail, character, language, dialogue, realism and style. The information is split into short, very readable sections, and the footnotes are kept to a minimum. Wood includes a bibliography of the fiction he references, and the works about fiction that he refers to.
Wood deals not only with the elements that make up fiction, but also talks about the development of fiction over time. Some techniques are not used anymore, while others remain viable in modern fiction.
This book is very readable and offers insights to both fiction readers and fiction writers on the nature and history of this wonderful material.

Thursday 13 November 2008


Finished November 13
Hit and Run by Lawrence Block
An interesting main character, a likeable hit man who collects stamps. Keller is a hit man who intends to quit after this last job. He's saved enough money to live comfortably and looks forward to retirement.
In Des Moines, waiting for the go ahead for his last job, somewhere else in the city the governor of Ohio is gunned down. Back at his motel, Keller watches the story on television and finds that the killer's face is very familiar. When he calls his associate Dot, who sets up his jobs, there is no answer. He's stranded, his picture is everywhere, his ID and credit cards are no good to him, and he just spent most of his cash on stamps.
As we watch Keller, a surprisingly moral man, make his way back to his home in New York, and find more interesting goings-on there, we sympathize with him. When he continues his wanderings to New Orleans, we find him getting into even more interesting situations.
There is lots going on here, but the character of Keller is the really interesting thing in this novel.
I enjoyed it, and found it hard to put down.

Wednesday 12 November 2008

Murder Mystery

Finished November 12
Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay
Just as entertaining as I expected, this fast-paced mystery kept me reading.
Set in a small town in upstate New York, this mystery begins with a family, the Langleys, shot to death in their own home. Nearby neighbors Jim and Ellen Cutter and their son Derek become more involved in the crime than they expected at first. Derek was friends with Adam Langley and it turns out he was in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Past indiscretions are dredged up in the search for the truth about the murders, and Jim isn't sure who he should trust.
From the corrupt mayor to the conniving college president, there are plenty of interesting characters.

Tuesday 11 November 2008

Quirky Novel

Finished November 10
The Footstop Café by Paulette Crosse
This is a quirky novel set around a dysfunctional family who lives near Lynn Canyon in the suburbs of Vancouver. Morris is a podiatrist with a foot fetish. His wife Karen runs the Footstop Café out of their home, with a multitude of foot-related items for sale. Their sixteen-year-old daughter Candice thinks she's a lesbian, but is afraid to come out of the closet. Their young son Andy has recently changed schools after setting off a home-built bomb in his previous school. Andy wears thick glasses and is prone to being picked on.
Entering their lives come Moey, a kick-boxing instructor with a dream of being a belly-dancer; Egret, a Olympic diving hopeful with a thing for Candice; and Karen's parents, an Anglican minister and his Tibetan wife.
As the family is forced to confront the reality of their lives, the absurd comes to the fore and the story gets very strange.
The author publishes fantasy fiction under her real name, Janine Cross.

Monday 10 November 2008

Slow Mystery

Finished November 8
The Private Patient by P.D. James
This is a very slow-moving book and at times I wished things would just move along a bit faster. It is however, a well-written book, and that makes it good.
The characters are what makes the book, from the investigative journalist Rhoda Gradwyn, a woman who books surgery to get a scar removed, to the staff at the private hospital where she gets the work done. You know from the start that Rhoda will die, but not the circumstances of the death. The buildup to the murder is extensive and we get to know the various staff at Cheverall Manor, from the cook and his wife to the doctor himself.
As the characters make themselves known you begin to see the underlying resentments and motivations, but until the murder is done, you don't get to see it all. I do wish the book had moved a bit more quickly, but I enjoyed the story despite that.

Teen Novel

Finished Nov 7
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
This is a book that is disturbing. The main character is a 9-year-old boy, Bruno, whose father is a commandant in the German army during World War II. Bruno and his family move from Berlin to a house out in the country. The only things around it are woods and a fenced-in area that Bruno can see from his room. Bruno is lonely and misses his friends from Berlin. His sister, Gretel, is a few years older and not a willing playmate for him. He decides to go adventuring, as he plans to be an explorer when he grows up, and during his first adventure finds a new friend.
As the book follows Bruno's life, we also see the situation and the people around him from his point of view. At the age of nine, and naive, he doesn't truly understand the nature of his father's job, or what is going on in the world. This makes his viewpoint interesting and I think is what really grabs you about the book. As the reader, we understand more than Bruno and yet can see how he would interpret things as he does.
This book is aimed at teens, and older children will be okay with it, particularly if they are engaged in discussion about the book.

Audio Thriller with a twist

Finished November 6
The Darkest Evening of the Year by Dean Koontz, read by Kirsten Kairos
This is a strange thriller, involving not only some very scary bad guys and good people in danger, but also supernatural phenomena.
Golden retrievers play a central role here, particularly Nickie, a dog rescued by Amy as part of her golden rescue organization. Nickie is special, and not only Amy realizes this.
Amy and Brian McCarthy, a young architect, are beginning a relationship, but this experience brings them together in a way neither had envisioned.
There is lots going on, and we see things from many points of view: Amy's, Brian's, and multiple guys on the bad side of things.
An interesting story of hope against all odds, and secrets revealed.

Wednesday 5 November 2008

Visual Treat

Finished November 5
500 Handmade Books: inspiring interpretations of a timeless form
This collection of photos of handmade books is absolute pleasure to look through, although I found that I had to do it in small doses otherwise my senses would be overloaded.
The creativity and innovation on display here is amazing. I found myself wanting to actually see the books in real life so that I could examine them more closely.
Some of the books were traditional in form, but intricate or innovative in materials used. Others pushed those norms and were books that didn't seem to be books without a closer look.
This is a book to savour in small bites. I may just have to get my own copy, rather than look through the library copy.

Tuesday 4 November 2008

Boston Mystery

Finished November 3
Tethered by Amy MacKinnon
This is MacKinnon's first novel and it is a winner. The setting is unique, a small town funeral home. Clara Marsh is an undertaker without a religion. She has had a difficult past that she keeps to herself. When she comes across a young girl, Trecie, playing in the funeral home, she finds herself concerned despite herself. A local police officer, Mike Sullivan, approaches her about a body of a young girl that she prepared for burial three years earlier. The girl was found murdered in a nearby strip of woods and never identified. As Clara begins to think the two girls are linked, she must emerge from her lonely life and take the chance of connecting with others in the community.
Mike has his own issues, the biggest of which is the death three years earlier of his pregnant wife. He is also caught up in his own world of lonesomeness.
As Clara becomes more involved in the case involving abuse against young girls, she must also face her own past and how she dealt with the challenges in her life and the choices she made.
This author shows a lot of promise and will be one to watch.

A Different Education

Finished November 2
The Film Club: a true story of a father and son by David Gilmour
This is a very different memoir a few years with a father and his young adult son. Gilmour's son Jesse is having a lot of trouble in school and David has been trying to work with him to get his marks up. Finally he agrees to let Jesse quit school as long the two of them watch three movies a week together, movies that David picks.
This book takes us through the next few months as the two of them watch and discuss movies, and Jesse grows into an adult. David talks about the films, and the experiences that Jesse shares with him. These include Jesse's love life (or at least a portion thereof), his friends, and his creativity. David also includes information about what was going in his own life, with his career worries, his discussions with Jesse's mother (his exwife) and his current wife.
This book is an engrossing look into the relationship between a father and a son, and examines the issue of trust within that relationship. It is exciting to see the growth in Jesse and to see how the relationship changes over time.

Saturday 1 November 2008


Finished October 31
Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones
This is a book I've been meaning to read for a while as it came highly recommended. I'm glad I finally made time for it, as it was wonderful.
The story takes place on a remote island in the Solomon Islands. The story is told from the point of view of a young girl in the community, Matilda. Her father has gone to work overseas, in Australia, and her mother is gripped by religion. The mines on the island have been closed due to insurgency and there is fighting between local rebels and soldiers. All the whites have left except one man, Mr. Watts.
Mr. Watts takes over the school to keep the children occupied and he reads Charles Dickens' Great Expectations to the children, explaining as he goes. In addition to the reading, various members of the community visit the school to impart their knowledge about everything from fishing to knowledge of colour. As the village comes under attack by the players in the conflict, the community finds that imagination can be dangerous as well as freeing.
Matilda is an intelligent girl, who remains shaped by this period in her life. Her observations of the members of her community and the knowledge she gains from this experience are insightful and illustrative.


Finished October 31
Rules of Deception by Christopher Reich, read by Paul Michael
This thriller, set in Switzerland, brings in some interesting themes. We have a main character Jonathan Ransom, who is a doctor working with Doctors without Borders. As he climbs in the Alps with his wife, who also works for the organization, she is hurt and later found dead in a crevasse.
The following day, Ransom receives an envelope addressed to his wife with baggage claim tickets inside. When he goes to claim the bags to satisfy his curiosity, he becomes intimately involved in a high-stakes intrigue involving murder.
As he struggles to keep a step ahead of the police who are now looking for him, he follows the clues in his wife's possessions to try to find out just what his wife was involved in, and to clear himself of any crimes.
We have involvement not only from the Swiss police, but also from U.S. intelligence agents, including conspiracies against conspiracies. The outcome of the events could mean a new large-scale war.
The action is fast, and Jonathan is a sympathetic character. This book will keep you engaged and wanting to find where the action is taking you.