Tuesday 28 April 2009

Quirky novel

Finished April 27
Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
This lovely first novel by Canadian author Jessica Grant has two narrators: Audrey Flowers, native of St. Johns, Newfoundland and lately of Portland, Oregon; and Winnifred (aka Iris) her tortoise.
Audrey gets a call from her uncle back in Newfoundland telling her that her father has been hit by a Christmas tree protruding from a passing vehicle and is now in a coma. Audrey leaves Winnifred with friends (although she worries about her a lot) and has adventures on the way home.
Once getting home to discover that her father has died, she struggles with adjusting to this new reality and then has to deal with the sudden disappearance of her uncle Thoby, as well as her pet mouse, Wedge.
Audrey (known affectionately to some as Oddly) has a wonderfully quirky sense of humour and a equally quirky set of friends. She must work through memories and current concerns to find a way to deal with her father's death.
Winnifred also has memories of her various owners and previous journeys and pines for Audrey and her care.
I loved this book and the characters created.

Friday 24 April 2009


Finished April 23
In Spite of Myself by Christopher Plummer
This is a highly entertaining piece of writing by a great entertainer. He has certainly done a lot of things that aren't looked kindly on by society: drinking a lot, playing tricks on people, having a lot of relationships; but he notes those and moves on.
His life is really his acting career, and yet he is not all about himself. He notes those he admired, those he worked with and gives praise to those he thinks deserve it (and that is a lot of them).
Even when he talks about those he had difficulty working with, he tries to find the reasons behind that.
I enjoyed this book a lot and learned a lot about his career and life and interesting insights to many others in the entertainment industry.
This book is on the shortlist for the 2009 Evergreen award.

Thursday 23 April 2009

First in Series

Finished April 22
The Chalk Circle Man by Fred Vargas
The first in the series featuring Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg has now been translated into English. I've read several other books in the series and loved them, so had to go back to see the beginning.
It offered insights into the more recent books featuring him, showing him when he first took on the job in Paris, commissaire of the police headquarters of the 5th arrondissement, and introduces some of his staff. The only staff member shown in detail here is Danglard, but his portrayl is done very nicely. We see the thought processes of Adamsberg and learn of his history with Camille.
The mystery here is the appearance of blue chalk circles overnight on the pavement in Paris. The circles are large, about two metres in diameter and have words written around the edge: "Victor, woe's in store, what are you out here for?" Within the circle is some discarded item, and the circle appears to be drawing attention to it. Adamsberg feels there is something darker going on and begins to gather photos of the circles. Sure enough, one morning there is a dead body in the circle and the pictures Adamsberg gather prove useful in determining pattern. Adamsberg also has a woman who has come to see him because she wants help finding a man she met in a cafe. She also mentions the chalk circles and Adamsberg finds himself drawn into a series of meetings with her.
I quite enjoyed this one, and wish that they had translated them from the beginning so I could have read them in order.

Monday 20 April 2009

Spy Novel

Finished April 20
The Tourist by Olen Steinhauer
Great story, good barely put it down.
Milo Weaver was a "tourist" for the CIA, a blackops agent last travelling under the identity Charles Alexander. The job became unbearable for him and six years back he quit, and took a desk job analyzing information for the agency.
He is now married with a daughter, and a librarian wife. He has spent a good deal of his time lately tracking an assassin known as The Tiger, and when he finally tracks him down, is very surprised at what he finds. He is asked to do some fieldwork again, and while resistant, gives in to help a good friend out of a jam. But this new work leads to discoveries about old cases and he ends up looking for help from those he never thought he'd ask.
Things move along quickly here with never a dull moment, and I got very caught up in the plot.
I think this would make a great action movie, and I understand that George Clooney has already taken an option out on it.

Sunday 19 April 2009

Gem of a Novel

Finished April 19
The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa
This lovely little novel tells the story of a young woman who works for a housekeeping agency and gets assigned to the home of a mathematics professor. The professor was injured in a car accident and his short term memory only lasts eighty minutes. Every morning the housekeeper must introduce herself again to him. He attaches notes to his clothing with binder clips, with the notes reminding him of things that are important, from medication to his memory loss, to the identity of his housekeeper. When he discovers that she has a young son, he insists that her son come to his house after work rather than go home to an empty apartment. The relationship that develops between the three is a fascinating one. His life is driven by mathematics and he spends his days working on problems for contests and sending them in to win prizes. His first question to the housekeeper is about her shoe size, and he uses numbers to tell stories about life. The housekeeper and her son, whom the professor nicknames Root, get drawn into the world of math and into his life.
While I admit that I have always had a love for math, I also found the relationship aspect of this book wonderfully written.

Saturday 18 April 2009

Change Your Life

Finished April 18
The Power of Less: the fine art of limiting yourself to the essential . . . in business and in life by Leo Babauta
This short book addresses the issues we all face of having limited time and many things to do. Babauta addresses the issues of attention, productitivy and motivation as he gives advice to help you do less, but do it better. One of his key concepts is to only make one change at a time. Trying to change too many things at once is a recipe for failure. Another concept is to start small. When we go to make a change, the tendency is to make a big change, but that can be hard to keep up. If you start small and add to it gradually, you are more likely to stick with it. Another key concept is to go public with your change. Let others know you are doing it and keep them up to date with your progress. This reinforces the change you are making and adds external motivation.
Babauta talks about both work and personal life, and his later chapters deal with health and fitness as necessary changes to make. There are a lot of good ideas here. Just don't get too excited about that and try to do more than one thing to start!

Aboriginal Fiction

Finished April 16
Flight by Sherman Alexie, read by Adam Beach
This short novel comes alive in this reading by Adam Beach. He does the voice of the main character, Zits, a native teen, with all the nuances and emotion that you'd expect from the character.
Alexie is of course an extremely talented writer and this book is a wonderful example. Zits grew up never knowing his father, with his mother dying of breast cancer when he was only 6. Since then he has had a difficult, unhappy life, going from foster home to foster home. His name is a nickname he has taken on from his facial acne problem.
Zits has just engaged in a terrible act of violence when he finds himself transported through time and space into the body of an FBI agent in the 70s. He doesn't understand what has happened to him at first and struggles with his new identity. From here he gets transported again, this time into the body of a young Indian boy during the battle at Little Bighorn. He continues his travels first moving into the body of an Indian tracker, then into a private pilot in the present, then a homeless Indian man, before coming back into his own body. As he engages in the struggle that each new body dictates, he struggles to find meaning in his own life.
This is a wonderful book, great for teens as well as adults.

Tuesday 14 April 2009

Florida mystery

Finished April 12
The Night Watchman by Mark Mynheir
This intriguing thriller has the main character of Ray Quinn, an ex-Orlando police detective, badly injured in his last case, now working as a night watchman at an apartment building.
His partner, Trisha, was killed at the same time that he was injured and he carries that knowledge as a burden. When there is a violent death in the building he works in, he initially distances himself from it. But when the sister of one of the victims comes to him looking for help, unsatisfied with the outcome of the police investigation, he finds himself being drawn back into investigative work.
With the help of the sister, and his coworker Clevis, Ray finds the investigation a trickier one that he thought and it may be putting other lives at risk.
Ray is an interesting character, with alcohol problems and many demons haunting him, but he is essentially an honest man and that is what he draws on to follow this case.
The author is a Florida detective and brings that knowledge to his writing.

Saturday 11 April 2009

Fast-Paced Mystery

Finished April 11
Break Neck by Erica Spindler, read by Lorelei King
This audiobook had a lot of going and a lot of emotional angst for the two cops that are the main characters. Kitt Lundgren and M.C. Riggio are partners in the violent crime unit of Rockford Police. Kitt is in the process of getting back together with her ex-husband following her recovery from alcoholism following their child's death. M.C. is committing herself to a new relationship. At work the get the case of a student killed very efficiently, with only his computer missing from his apartment. The leads don't amount to much, but when more deaths follow and they seem to connect with the first one, cybercrime appears to be a motive. That necessitates involving the FBI, and they do. The murders hit close to home for M.C. however and her colleagues worry that she is too close to what is happening to maintain her objectivity. Are they right?
This book will keep you on the edge of your seat, and involve you in M.C.'s large Italian-American family life.

Great Canadian Read

Finished April 7
Payback: debt and the shadow side of wealth by Margaret Atwood
This book has been billed as a look at the literary side of side, but it is much more than that. It does indeed look at how debt has appeared in literature, including both financial debt and social debt, but it also looks at the history and meaning of debt itself. Atwood talks repeatedly about the balance that is a natural part of debt: for every debtor a creditor. She talks about historical practices around debt forgiveness and what that meant to society. She talks about the debt we owe the environment for what we have taken from it without giving back and how that debt is now being called in. Throughout this book she shows a wonderful sense of humour, dry and witty that had me laughing out loud.
This book is an important one, not just because of the times we are in, but because of the message it has for humanity and the way that the role of debt is explained clearly for even the financially illiterate to understand.
This book is part of the CBC Massey Lecture series and is a finalist for the OLA Evergreen Award. Read it.

Monday 6 April 2009

Inspiring Read

Finished April 6
Hot, Flat, and Crowded: why we need a green revolution -- and how it can renew America by Thomas L. Friedman
I loved this book. I have been following the environmental issue and politicians' responses to it for a few years, but Friedman really brings it together here. He doesn't shy away from the realities of what we have done and what we need to do, but he does make it seem possible. I found the chapter on China and what it is doing particularly interesting. We in the west need to get our politicians away from using the environmental agenda against each other and work together so we strengthen our own countries and face this world issue with leadership. It made me think about what I was doing (the "easy" things like changing light bulbs and installing a more efficient furnace and windows), to what I could do. I discovered there is a solar initiative in my own neighbourhood and am going to their next meeting. This is a book that everyone should read. I found it energizing me to take action.

Friday 3 April 2009

Thriller on audio

Finished March 31
Three Weeks to Say Goodbye by C.J.Box, read by John Bedford Lloyd
This thriller moves at a fast pace and has lots going on, but I found elements of the story that just didn't ring that true for me.
Jack and Melissa have a nine-month-old girl that they adopted privately. Now the father and his father, a powerful Denver judge, say that they want the girl. They seem to have no interest in the relationship that has developed between the baby and her adoptive parents. They also seem to have a lot of influence in Denver, meaning that Jack and Melissa have no legal options to fight the case. That is one of the things that doesn't ring true to me.
Jack and his two best friends set out to find ways to change the situation, either by getting the father to sign the papers or finding dirt on him and his father. Here the end justifies the means, and keeping Angelina is all that matters.
An entertaining book despite its faults.