Tuesday 30 June 2009

Quirky novel

Finished June 29
The Pig Did It by Joseph Caldwell
This extraordinary and quirky novel continually surprised me with more and more unexpected behaviour by the characters.
Told from the point of view of Aaron McCloud, who has come to this small village in Ireland from New York City to stay with his aunt Kitty, the novel begins with Aaron's detour. The bus Aaron is traveling on is held up by pigs loose on the road. When Aaron tries to help, he ends up left behind and followed by a pig.
He takes the pig to his aunt's house and there the trouble really begins. The pig roots up the vegetable garden, unearthing some very disturbing.
The characters are all unique, from Aaron with his self-centered pride to Kitty with her career as a novelist correcting the classics to Lolly the attractive pig farmer. The haplessness of Aaron is a foil for the sureness of the others.
The final scene is unexpected and yet inevitable.
A great summer read.

Interesting Novel

Finished June 29
The Voyage Home by Jane Rogers
This novel follows Anne Harrington. Anne has traveled to Nigeria after her father's death there and has decided to travel home by ship. Along the way, distracted by her grief and what she reads in her father's diary, she becomes isolated. She is forced to interact with others when a stowaway begs for his assistance for his ailing pregnant wife. Anne is not able to cope well with the situation, and finds herself involved in a shadowy world of manipulation, lies, and murder.
Once home, Anne sinks into depression, finding it increasingly difficult to cope with her guilt and grief.
We see Anne again four years later as she must again make a choice about the future, this time a deeply intimate one.
Rogers really gets you into Anne's head in this novel, so you feel just as confused and at sea as she is, and the complex feelings involved feel real. It took me a while to get into this book, but once I did I was drawn in completely and found myself struggling with Anne's actions and feelings.

Monday 29 June 2009

Mystery in Series

Finished June 27
Dante's Numbers by David Hewson
Nic Costa and his colleagues are back. Their team is responsible for the security of museum pieces on display for and relating to a new movie based on Dante's Inferno. The Carabinieri are responsible for the security of the people, such as actors. When the leading man is killed, and his death is broadcast across the world, the action is abruptly pulled back to San Francisco. Here Nic and his colleagues are once again relegated to a lesser role, but they keep finding clues to the murder and what is behind it.
With characters such as twin retired firefighters and a emotionally damaged leading actress, and ties to Hitchcock movies, there is a lot going on.
The setting of San Francisco, foreign to the Italian police, offers interesting possibilities and with Nic still recovering from his recent loss, we see more about his relationship with the rest of his team. A great read, as usual.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Audio Fiction

Finished June 23
Lost in the Forest by Sue Miller, read by Blair Brown
Needing something to listen to, I grabbed this audiobook last week. I've read one other of Sue Miller's books and enjoyed it, and I found this one a good story as well.
In this book we see the life of Eva, divorced from Mark and now happily married to John, and Eva's three children, Emily and Daisy with Mark and Theo with John.
When John is killed in a car accident, everyone's lives change dramatically. Mark becomes involved in Theo's life. Daisy, who was very close to John, feels resentment against her parents. Emily takes on new responsibilities. Theo has trouble accepting his father's death, even though he was present when it occurred.
While the book touches on everyone, we see most deeply into Mark and Daisy. Mark tries to find a way to be a dad again, and struggles with his image of his role in everyone's lives. Daisy finds her world unstable, and enters a disturbing relationship with a family friend.
A story of people and relationships and how we see things in different ways.

Monday 22 June 2009

Kid's Book

Finished June 21
Middle School Is Worse Than Meatloaf: a year told through stuff by Jennifer L. Holm, pictures by Elicia Castaldi
Bought this book for my niece but think I'll wait a bit to give it to her (she's nine and I think a couple years older would be better suited). It is an interesting book though, told in an interesting way. Ginny is going into grade seven and has a to-do list. They don't include accidentally turning her hair pink or getting detention, but those things happen.
She has issues with friends, family (a new stepdad) and babysitting. She has her supporters, including a long-distance grandfather, and her mother is understanding. It is the layout of the book that really makes this work. It is a scrapbook style with collages of items on every page, illustrating Ginny's life in a way that words alone cannot.
I suppose it could fall into the category of graphic novel, but it is not the classic comic book style, and that is something that will intrigue young readers.


Finished June 20
The Mystery of Grace by Charles de Lint
The newest Charles de Lint book is as great a read as his books always are. This, the story of Grace Quintero, a young woman who goes through an amazing experience. Grace was very close to her grandfather, who has recently died. He taught her about cars, and she has become a mechanic, specializing in classic hot rods. Grace has many tattoos, a story of her life and what is important to her. They include the saint that she is named for, Nuestra Senora de Altagracia, her mother, and one honoring the Ford Motor Company.
When Grace meets John Burns at the Solona Music Hall, it is already too late for them. Grace has been transported to another world, where she works with new friends, Conchita, Henry, and David to try to figure out why their new environment exists and how it came to be.
A story of faith, friends, and love, this is a book that grips you and leaves you with wonder about the possibilities.
Grace is a woman who is not scared to face the truths in her life and that is what brings her to the larger truths.

Graphic Memoir

Finished June 20
Stitches: a memoir by David Small
I read an advanced reading copy of this new graphic memoir (to be released in September) and could hardly put it down. Small details his unhappy childhood, from the lack of affection in his family to mental illness of family members. He had throat cancer while in his teens, a result of x-ray treatments his father subjected him to, but his family never told him of his diagnosis. David left home at the age of sixteen, while still in high school, and found mentors that encouraged his talents.
This is a story of success through adversity, and I found David's straightforward honesty very engaging. He is already known for his successful picture books and I'm sure this new graphic memoir will be a hit as well.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Audio Fiction

Finished June 16
Family Connections by Anna Jacobs, read by Nicolette McKenzie
Haven't tried this author before, but it was on the new book shelf, and I needed something to listen to, so I grabbed it.
The story follows a few characters in Perth, Australia and in the Blackpool area of England that end up meeting up by the end. Gina Porter is sorting through the belongings of her recently deceased father when she comes across documents indicating that Gina's mother was his second wife and there is another family back in England. Also in Perth, Brad decides to take early retirement and travel to England when he learns that he has a daughter there (a result of a short dalliance years before).
In England, Lou defies her grandfather and mother and leaves for Australia with her boyfriend, intending to find her great-grandfather. Also in England, Peggy is finding it increasingly difficult to live with her domineering husband and seeks assistance at a local woman's wellness centre.
Lots of plot, and family stories, with drama and romance thrown in.
I enjoyed it, as a light entertaining read.

Tuesday 16 June 2009

Kid's Book

Finished June 16
Skellig by David Almond
This award-winning childen's book is another destined for a young relative of mine. Here, ten-year-old Michael's family has moved across town into a dilapidated house. A baby girl is born early to Michael's parents and becomes the focus of attention as her health wavers. Michael explores his new environment, finding a small being in the garage of the house. With his new friend, Mina, Michael befriends this being and learns a lot in the process.
Dealing with all the issues he is confronted with, Michael grows emotionally. He learns new things and ideas from Mina and teaches her some as well.
This is an enchanting story of compassion and relationships and I know my niece will love it.

Monday 15 June 2009

Fast-Moving Thriller

Finished June 15
Cemetery Dance by Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child
This is the first book I've read by this duo and I found it a quick read despite being over 400 pages. The action just pulled me along, and I found myself finishing it in only a few hours.
When journalist Bill Smithback is violently killed in his own apartment, all the witnesses agree on the identity of the killer, another resident of the building, Colin Fearing. The problem is that Fearing was found dead ten days earlier, an apparent suicide. Smithback's wife Nora Fearing is attacked again, and now finds herself wondering just what is behind it, determined to get to the bottom of the intrigue. NYPD Lieutenant Vincent D'Agosta, a friend of Smithback's is on the case and also determined to find the truth. He is joined by FBI Special Agent Pendergast, who has an interesting background and esoteric skills. The two of them work together to get to the bottom of the case. From zombiis to religious cults, from animal cruelty to investigative journalism, the action never stops.

Saturday 13 June 2009

A Series for Kids

Finished June 13
Spy Dog and Spy Dog 2 by Andrew Cope
I bought this series for my 6-year-old nephew, and I'm sure he'll find it great fun. The series centers around a very special dog, trained by the British Secret Service and now a family pet. The dog, Lara (Licensed Assault and Rescue Animal) has many skills unheard of in dogs. She can whistle, understand several languages, and use a computer. She has been trained to act normal and get taken in by the RSPCA and choose a family for adoption if she gets separated from her masters. In the first book, she does this, and while the Secret Service is looking for her, so is the drug kingpin she just foiled. She finds it difficult to behave like a normal dog, but her affection for her family becomes strong.
In the second book, she takes up surfing and foils a team of dognappers during a family vacation.
I must admit that while this series is great fun, I originally bought it as a family joke, as my sister's name is Lara, and I thought my nephew would find it funny to have his aunt's name the same as this heroic dog. After reading it, I know he'll enjoy it on its own merits as well.

A Sense of Guilt

Finished June 13
Inside the Whale by Jennie Rooney
This book is told in alternating voices by Michael and Stevie. Both were young adults at the time of World War II and are looking back at their lives and how their choices affected where they ended up.
Michael was a quiet young man, a follower rather than a leader, and an incident early in his war experience left him feeling a large sense of guilt. Michael feels he should be punished for what happened, despite the fact that he didn't do it intentionally. When he isn't punished, he finds a way to punish himself. After the war, when he learns what his actions have meant to others, he must live with the outcome. He chooses a life that is spent following the life he didn't choose.
Stevie was an exuberant young woman, working at the local peanut factory and enjoying her life as it unfolds. When her young man goes off to war, she intends to wait for him. Circumstances during the war change her direction, and she ends up working in the offices of the Ministry of Labour. When her young man pushes her away, she makes the choices she must for the sake of her family, and ends up marrying another young man at the war's end. As she reflects on her life and the events that led to her current situation, living with her daughter and granddaughter, she learns that life has brought her much that she is glad of.
This is a story about people and choices and while not fast-moving, it is very engaging and I felt a sympathy for both characters.

Immigrant Fiction

Finished June 12
Diary of Interrupted Days by Dragan Todorovic
This is a story of Boris, a young artist who grew up in Yugoslavia and emigrated to Toronto in 1993. In 1999, he is on his way back to Belgrade for his father's funeral, and intends to bring his mother to Canada. The book takes us back to Boris' life in Belgrade, and the lives of his best friend Johnny and Sara, who was Johnny's girlfriend, but ended up marrying Boris and emigrating to Canada with him.
The book gives a real sense of the situation in what is now Serbia during this time period and the issues of being an immigrant, especially one fleeing a homeland at war. Todorovic really gets inside his characters and you see how these young people struggle with the situations they find themselves in, trying to make sense of it all.
This is a great book and I highly recommend it.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Mystery in Series

Finished June 10
Borderline by Nevada Barr
This is the latest in the series featuring Anna Pigeon. After the events in Isle Royale, Anna is suffering from post-traumatic stress and she and husband Paul take an excursion in Big Bend National Park on the border of Texas and Mexico. This excursion includes whitewater rafting and Anna is able to use the beauty of nature to take her mind off her problems and participate in the social life of the guided trip. Then the raft is lost and the bedraggled group come across a pregnant woman in bad shape, caught up in debris in the river. They manage to bring her to shore, but things only get worse from there.
Elsewhere in the park a conference on border issues is going on. The conference includes academics and politicians, including the charismatic mayor of Houston, who is aiming for higher office. As the events on the river unfold, the mayor involves herself in this ongoing drama and Anna finds herself less able than usual to stay in control.
This is fast-moving and has lots going on, including some interesting personalities. I particularly liked the college students on the rafting expedition. Barr makes them come alive for the reader.
A great escape read, with real social issues as well.

Friday 5 June 2009

Book helping city

Finished June 5
One City by Alexander McCall Smith, Ian Rankin, and Irvine Welsh
This book was created to raise money for Edinburgh's OneCity Trust, a charity committed to supporting projects and ideas that will tackle social injustice and inequality in the city. The proceeds from this book go towards literacy and educational themed projects. J.K. Rowling wrote the introduction.
Each of the three authors wrote a short story set in Edinburgh. The stories are engaging, with interesting characters and a glimpse of the city. McCall Smith's story has an immigrant to the city as the narrator and shows someone adjusting to a new place and culture. Rankin's has a person on the edge, hanging on and trying to show his individuality. Welsh's story followed a number of characters through a surreal set of incidents surrounding an animal. I would say they all had a touch of humour to them that made them more interesting to me. There is also an interesting, perhaps subtle link between the stories.
A great book, for a great cause.

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Latest in Series

Finished June 3
A Matter of Justice by Charles Todd
This is the latest in the series featuring Scotland Yard Inspector Ian Rutledge, a man shell-shocked in WWI and haunted by one of his men whose death he feels responsible for.
In this case, Rutledge is called to a small village to investigate a murder where the victim's body has been displayed in an unusual way. He has just come from the wedding of a good friend and is the nearest inspector to the village. He finds the local inspector not entirely open about all the local feelings surrounding the victim, and the two sometimes seem to work at odds to each other. The victim is a London businessman, who has taken on the role of squire in the village and yet seems to have the animosity of most of the inhabitants including his estranged wife.
We are given information early on in the book about the early history of Quarles, the victim, and his business partner, Penrith, and the crime that drew them together during the Boer War. We also see the animosity of the brother of the man they betrayed and his plan to take them both down.
From this point we see the story from Rutledge's view and see how he works to find the truth behind the feelings against Quarles in the village and the juxtaposition of his reputation in London. We see how Rutledge is tenacious about this case, as he has been about his previous cases, and how Hamish, the voice in his head, affects his actions.
An interesting story of justice, and its side effects.

Epic Novel

Finished June 2
Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese, read by Sunil Malhotta
This is a long novel (19 CDs in audio) but a gripping one. We are told the story of Marion and Shiva Stone, identical twins, conjoined at birth, whose mother died at their birth. The twins were unexpected to everyone else at the mission hospital in Ethiopia. Their mother, a nun from India, worked there assisting the surgeon, their father. He was so shocked and devasted by the incidents surrounding their birth that he ran away.
Taking us from the 1950's into the 21st century, this story follows Marion's life as he looks back on his parents lives, on the lives of his adopted parents, also doctors at the mission hospital, to his own childhood and youth growing up in Addis Ababa. Marion follows in his parents footsteps, becoming a surgeon himself, and events force him to flee Ethiopia during its civil war and take refuge in Kenya and then in the United States, where he continues his medical training.
The author is himself a doctor and this knowledge is evident in the text. While there is a lot of medical information, it never seemed anything but natural to me, a necessary part of the story.
The best thing about this novel to me was the sense of place that is made so clear of this small mission hospital in Addis Ababa. From the mangled name of the hospital (Missing Hospital) to the staff (the priest gatekeeper and the administrative Mother Superior to name just two) one is immersed in the surroundings of the young boys as they grow up in this wonderful atmosphere.
This novel just flows, and I was enchanted by the wonderful story as well as by the narrator's voice, perfectly suited for the tale. While a long novel, it never felt like too much, and though the story drew us backward and forward through the lives of various characters, it never jarred.
A wonderful book that I will recommend highly.