Monday 30 March 2009

Undercover Thriller

Finished March 29
The Likeness by Tana French
This is a long read, more than 400 pages, but an interesting one. Cassie Maddox is a detective in Dublin and she has recently moved from Murder to Domestic Violence following a difficult murder case that affected her psychologically. (See French's previous book In The Woods for that case.) Back when Cassie first started in the police force she did a spot of undercover work and this case leads her back to that.
Here, a young woman is found dead in an abandoned cottage in a rural area. The interesting things are that she is a dead ringer for Cassie, and she is living under the name Lexie Madison, a name Cassie used years ago when she was undercover. Cassie agrees to go undercover again as this young woman to see what led to her death.
Lexie lives with 4 other grad students in a house inherited by one of them. They are a close-knit group and operate more or less as a family. As Cassie takes on the role of Lexie, she finds herself seduced by the comfort of the situation, and must work hard to keep her mind on why she is there. We see things from Cassie's point of view and therefore are privy to her decision-making process as she determines what to share and what not to share with her superiors.
There are many tense moments and an interesting conclusion.

Thursday 26 March 2009

Fascinating Nonfiction

Finished March 25
Outliers: the story of success by Malcolm Gladwell, read by the author
This is an absolutely engrossing book about why people are successful. Looking at successful people in sports and business situations, Gladwell looks beyond the assumptions about success being a result of intelligence and ambition and digs deeper into what really led to success. Outliers are those whose achievements fall outside the norm, outside the bell curve of the general population.
In many cases of sports success it comes down to birthdate and cut-off dates for enrollments. Those who were older than than peers ended up being shunted at a young age into a path that gave them more and better opportunties. In cases like Asians being better at math, it leads backward to cultural expectations and values.
For Silicon Valley billionaires, it mattered what year you were born and where you lived, and in airline pilots where you were born can make a big difference in your success.
The lessons taken from this book provide insight into better utilizing people's potential and better use of the human resources available to us.
As usual, Gladwell never disappoints when providing new ideas and views.

Tuesday 24 March 2009

The Wonder of Words

Not Finished!!
Alphabet Juice: The Energies, Gists, and Spirits of Letters, Words, and Combinatins Thereof: Their Roots, Bones, Innards, Piths, Pips, and Secret Parts, Tinctures, Tonics, and Essences: With Examples of Their Usage Foul and Savory by Roy Blount Jr.
Okay, the reason I didn't finish this book is because it is the kind of book that you dip in and out of, that you savour in small bites, that you want to write in the margins of. And so, of course, I have put the book on my wishlist (and if I haven't got it by my birthday, I shall treat myself!).
I should have known by the wonderful title that I would feel this way about the book, but when, by page seven, he was complaining about the combination very unique, he had me.
A treat for all of those who love words, this is an absolute treasure of a book.

Saturday 21 March 2009

Great New Novel

Finished March 20
Beat the Reaper by Josh Bazell
This book is extremely entertaining! A thriller with humour, it follows Peter Brown (Pietro Brnwa) an emergency room doctor who is in witness protection from being a mafia hitman. Sounds ludicrous, yes, but boy does it make a good plot.
As Brown encounters someone from his past who recognizes him, alternating chapters deal with the present and go through Brnwa's history to show how he came to be where he is right now.
The medical details scattered throughout the book aren't just there for fun, they have a role in the plot. Brown has a wicked sense of humour and isn't afraid to show it. He also has a strong sense of what is right and lives by that even when it doesn't necessarily serve him well.
The author, Josh Bazell, is a medical resident, so the medical knowledge comes from a good source as do the details of the hospital environment. His imagination is wonderful and I will definitely be looking for more from him.

Entertaining Listen

Finished March 19
The Beach House by Jane Green, read by Cassandra Campbell
This is definitely a romance, but also more complex than that. It is also about being true to who you are, moral behaviour, and taking responsibility for actions.
The book follows a number of groups of people, separately at first, and then as they engage with each other. Nan married into an old Nantucket family and raised her son there after her husband walked into the sea in an apparent suicide. Her son, Michael, is a jeweller in New York City, never finding the right woman to settle down with, and sometimes making bad choices in the women he has relationships with. Nan's money is getting tight and she decides to open her historic home to boarders for the summer to get some much-needed income.
Daniel and Bee are married with two young daughters, but their marriage is shaky. They are trying counselling, but Daniel has a troubling truth to face before they can truly move forward.
Daff and Richard has recently divorced after Richard had an affair. Their thirteen-year-old daughter has not been dealing with the family breakup very well and is acting out in a variety of ways.
Daniel and Daff both become boarders in Nan's house and Michael returns home, running from the bad decisions that he has made.
Of course, it all works out in the end, that's the type of book it is, but it is an entertaining book, with engaging characters.

Tuesday 17 March 2009

Interesting Viewpoint

Finished March 17
The Ayatollah Begs to Differ by Hooman Majd
I chose this book because it was recommended highly to me by my uncle's friend Lee, and I'm glad I did.
As the cover states, this book takes a look at the paradox that is modern Iran. Tightly tied to Shia Islam, the country presents a modern face despite its strong sense of Islamic nationhood. The author is from a Iranian family with good connections. His maternal grandfather was an Ayatollah, and his father was a diplomat under the Shah. Majd intended to return and live in Iran when he finished his education, but the revolution of 1979 changed his plans. Not because he wasn't sure that he wanted to live there, but considering his father's ties to the regime of the Shah was hesitant of his welcome. He has kept up his strong ties to the country and visited often and remained connected to many, including former president Khatami.
As a journalist in the United States, he writes informatively of his subject, showing its pride in its heritage and wanting the respect internationally it feels it's history owes. He talks of interactives with various government officials, attending private and public ceremonies, what goes on behind the walls of homes both traditional and modern, and the many social customs that reflect the character that is unique to Iran.
I learned so much about Iran and its culture and yet felt entertained throughout.

Saturday 14 March 2009

Finished earlier this week

Finished March 9
Without Reservations by Alice Steinbach
This memoir of a journey through Europe is a winner. Alice, with her sons off living their own lives, feels like she is in a rut. She looks a the things that she wanted to do and didn't and decides to take a leave from her job as a journalist and travel for several months. Because she wants to immerse herself in her surroundings, she chooses a few places in Europe and makes her plans in advance for accommodation and, in some cases, activities.
Throughout she sent postcards back to her home near Baltimore telling her impressions of her journey. She takes a break from her journalistic outlook and tries to look at things with fresh eyes. She makes friends, both longer-term and temporary, gains new ideas, and revisits old skills and attitudes. In making this jourey she rediscovers her own independent identity, not as a journalist or as someone's mother, but as a person.
She begins in Paris, where she begins a wonderful friendship; goes on to London, where she explores both new and old; Oxford, where she takes a course on the history of English villages, and rediscovers dancing; and Italy, where she spends time in many places, including Milan and Venice. This is a great memoir and a book full of interesting thoughts and insights.

Tuesday 3 March 2009

Vancouver Mystery

Finished March 2
Death on a Short Leash by Gwendolyn Southin
This mystery is part of a series featuring Margaret (Maggie) Spencer, a woman who has left her middle class banker husband to be more independent. She has two grown daughters and is now working in a detective agency, where she is romantically involved with the detective, a former police officer. The book is set in the early sixties, and Maggie is tackling her new life with gusto and an open mind.
What starts off as a missing persons case, soon becomes one of murder and intrigue. Elements include a strip club, a suspicious commune, a possible puppy mill, and threats against Maggie herself. The character is an important part of this novel, as are her relationships with family and friends. The plot is interesting, and of the time, and the action varies in intensity as Maggie and Nat follow different sets of clues.

Teen Novel

Finished February 27
The Dead and the Gone by Susan Beth Pfeffer, read by Robertson Dean
A companion novel to Life as We Knew It, this novel takes place over the same time period only in a different place, New York City. Here we have 17-year-old Alex Morales, dealing with the chaos unleashed by the asteroid hitting the moon offcourse. Alex lives with his parents and two sisters in an apartment in upper Manhattan. His father is in Puerto Rico for his grandmother's funeral and Alex has no idea whether he has survived. His mother works at a hospital in Queen's and was called in to work after the event, but hasn't been heard from since. Alex doesn't know for sure what happened to her, but is worried that she may have been drowned in the subway. His older brother Carlos is a marine, stationed in California and manages to communicate to the family that he has been mobilized. Alex is left alone with his two younger sisters, Brianna and Julie. They do have some things going for them. They are strong Catholics, with all three going to Catholic schools and involved in their local church, which offers some respite. They also have an uncle who owns a bodega and get some food initially from him. Since Alex's father is the apartment building manager, they also have limited access to some of the other apartments in their building.
As Alex struggles to take charge of his family and do what is necessary for their survival, he also struggles with his faith and how that impacts on the things he needs to do. This is a story of desperation and hope, of community and change. Alex is challenged, but finds the courage and support to deal with those challenges.

Greek Mystery

Finished February 26
Murder in Mykonos by Jeffrey M Siger
A young female tourist disappears on the island of Mykonos and no one takes notice until a body turns up on top of the bones in a crypt of a remote church. The island's new chief of police, Andreas Kaldis, is still finding his bearings in his new job and teams up with Cycladic Islands homicide chief Tassos, who is near retirement, to solve the murder.
They discover what no one wants to hear about, a serial killer gone undetected for years.
When another young woman disappears, things get more intense and the police are working against time to find her. With too many suspects and none at had to keep an eye on, they must follow the clue of the churches to lead them to their killer.
Starting out relaxed, and intensifying with the disappearance of the second woman, this is a fast moving book, taking into account politics and island rivalries as well as the realities of corruption.

European Mystery

Finished February 23
Blacklight Blue by Peter May
Enzo MacLeod, Scottish, former forensic scientist now teaching at Cahors, is betting that he could use his expertise to solve seven unsolved murders described in a book by Parisian journalist Roger Raffin. He's solved two of them as the book begins and is now working on the third, the murder of a Parisian rent boy more than fifteen years earlier. He is distracted from the case as he has just been told by a specialist that he has a rare form of leukemia with only months to live.
Also, someone seems to be intent on destroying his reputation and his relationships. Enzo finds himself the suspect in a murder investigation, and his daughters, Sophie and Kirsty, are targeted with violence. Enzo tries to protect his family by putting them in a safe place while he tries to work out who is after him. Taking us from France to England and Spain, the pace of this mystery is fast and the plot is gripping.
The only detail that bothered me was Enzo's ability to travel to other countries while out on bail.