Wednesday 22 July 2009

Chick Lit

Finished July 20
Anybody Out There? by Marian Keyes, performed by Terry Donnelly
The reading of this novel was especially good and I think it really made the book come alive for me. Anna Walsh has a great job as a PR rep for a hot cosmetics company in New York City. She meets a wonderful man and has a whirlwind romance before they marry.
But the book doesn't begin there, it begins with Anna waking up in her parent's home in Ireland, with some bad injuries. She is on heavy duty painkillers and her story is revealed to us as she comes to terms with it herself.
Anna has a dislocated knee, facial lacerations, and badly injured hands (including missing fingernails). As Anne deals with her family's compassion and protection, she continues to call her husband Aidan and can't figure out why he isn't answering her or returning her calls or emails.
Anna determinedly returns to New York and to her job, and begins to search for her husband. Her search takes her to interesting places and into interesting situations and she meets people that will become longterm friends.
Meanwhile her family's lives and her friend's lives continue and she gets caught up in their situations as well.
Highly entertaining and touching, this is a great summer read.


Finished July 19
The Way Home by George Pelecanos
Chris Flynn went down the wrong path as a teen, ending up in juvenile detention instead of college. He made some friends there that he stayed friends with after he got out, and went to work for his father as a carpet installer.
One day, he and his partner discover a stash of money under the floor when replacing carpet in a house. Chris has a bad feeling about it and insists they leave it where they found it, and they do.
But Chris is right and the money is trouble and Chris and his friends' lives are changed by it.
Chris is a young man struggling to decide what he wants out of life and who he wants to be. He also struggles with his relationship with his father, and trying to find a way out of the bad dynamic that started with his teen years.
So this is a story that deals with overcoming bad decisions and with families. It deals with the issues of youth crime and how we deal with youth offenders. It has more depth than the average suspense novel and a good story too.

Sunday 19 July 2009

Canadian Fiction

Finished July 18
The Flying Troutmans by Miriam Toews
Hattie has returned from her life in Paris to help her sister out yet again. Min has a history of mental illness and Hattie has helped out when necessary all their lives. Min is sinking into a depression and Hattie comes to help with her niece and nephew, 11-year-old Thebes and 15-year-old Logan. When Min is hospitalized and pushes her family away, Hattie decides the best thing to do would be to go on a road trip to find the kids' dad Cherkis. As they drive around the U.S. following Cherkis' trail and encountering interesting people, Hattie thinks on her own life and whether it is what she wants, or whether she has just been running away. Logan has had too much responsibility at a young age, as Hattie had. Thebes is very quirky and yet is good at bringing everyone together.
This book is both an internal and an external quest for Hattie, and she doesn't get any easy answers. The characters are drawn well and come to life here and as a reader, I got a sense of their emotions. The children are particularly well done, complex and very interesting.
I really enjoyed this book.

A Romance

Finished July 17
Water, Stone, Heart by Will North
A little romance is sometimes exactly what you need. Here we have Andrew Stratton, professor of architecture, recently divorced by his wife who derides his choice of profession. He decides to take a summer course in building dry stone hedges in England while he thinks about his passion for architecture linked to the earth.
Nicola, a painter, has been living a quiet life since she left her abusive husband.
Both are in Boscastle, a small village on the coast of England and they get to know each other through the friendship of a small girl, wise beyond her years.
The story is told against the real-life background of Boscastle and the real-life event of a 2004 flash flood that destroyed much of the village. Nicola has a argumentative bent that she uses as a protective device. Andrew is suffering from a crisis of confidence. Both find something in the other that they need.
I learned a lot about dry stone hedges and how they are built (which was interesting), and enjoyed the setting and the characters. There are lots of intriguing people here and this is no cookie-cutter romance.

Wednesday 15 July 2009

Short Fiction

Finished July 15
Ant Farm and Other Desperate Situations by Simon Rich
I read this book as a result of a review that said it was really good and the information that the author was a finalist for the Thurber Prize for American Humor.
It is definitely a quick read, as I think it took me about an hour and a half and I did a few other things during that time.
Some bits were funny and more bits weren't very funny and some bits were just kind of sad. A few bits were offensive unfunny. Nothing made me laugh out loud.
Maybe it's because I'm not American? (although I don't really think that's it)
Glad I borrowed it from the library instead of buying it though.

Children's Fiction

Finished July 15
What-the-dickens: the story of a rogue tooth fairy by Gregory Maguire
From the author of Wicked, this story for the young crowd is a tale apart. Three young children and their older cousin are stranded in a bad storm. They are running out of food and when the older cousin, Gage begins a story to occupy their time, even the most skeptical of them is interested. The story he tells is of a skibbereen who doesn't do what is expected of him, and yet is someone more of value to his community because of it.
The skibbereen is called What-the-dickens and his odd name is only the beginning of his story. The daring adventures of him and his skibbereen friend Pepper are engaging and the reader, along with the children, finds herself wanting more.
I know my niece will like this one and she will be getting it soon.

Tuesday 14 July 2009


Finished July 14
Direct Red: a surgeon's view of her life-or-death profession by Gabriel Weston
This is not a memoir done in a chronological style. Weston uses a themed approach, with each chapter focusing on a particular aspect of her experience while training as a surgeon in Britain.
I found this to be extremely engaging and an approach that leads the reader into dipping in and out of the book in short sessions.
She speaks of her own learning experiences including when she felt she fell short and she also takes about more general experiences including her own view among her peers. This is a very open book offering insight into the experience of a surgeon and the issues they face. She speaks of the need to balance toughness with compassion and the importance of communication both between patient and doctor and among medical professionals. As a woman she also speaks to gender issues both good and bad.
I really liked this book and I understand she has a new book out soon that I will be looking for.

Monday 13 July 2009

Teen Fiction

Finished July 13
Graceling by Kristin Cashore
This is a great fantasy novel for older teens. It takes place in a land of seven kingdoms, kingdoms that had mostly got along with each other, but where discord has arisen lately.
Katsa, the main character, is a young woman who is niece to the king of Middluns, an inland kingdom with four kingdoms adjoining it. Katsa's mother died when she was an infant and her father soon after, and she has grown up at court. Katsa is special in that she has a Grace. Everyone who has a grace has one eye that is one colour and one eye another, although the combinations of colours differ. Sometimes the Grace reveals itself at a very young age, but other times it takes awhile to discover what the grace or skill is for that individual. In Katsa's kingdom, those with a Grace are treated with a wary respect. Katsa's skill had revealed itself when she was eight when she killed a man she felt threatened by. She took several years to train herself to control her strength and intent and the king now uses her as an enforcer, hurting or killing those who cross him.
Katsa has worked with a few people she trusts to create a Council where she uses her power for good, to defend the weak and right wrongs in the kingdoms. It is in doing a rescue related to this that she meets another with Grace, a young man named Po. Po is graced with fighting skills and the two find each other helpful in training and honing their skills. As Katsa learns more about Po, she finds him a friend, something she has few of. As they unite to find the truth behind some strange events, they both learn more about their Grace and about themselves.
This is a gripping tale that I had trouble putting down. Katsa is an interesting character and she must recognize and control her emotions to become the person she is meant to be.
The writing is very good and as this is a first novel it will be interesting to see what else comes from this author.

Book That Relates to My Job

Finished July 12
Sacred Stacks: the higher purpose of libraries and librarianship by Nancy Kalikow Maxwell
This is an interesting look at academic and public libraries and the people that work there. Maxwell is an academic librarian, but has also worked in public libraries.
This book looks at the role of libraries in the community and how we deliver service. Maxwell relates libraries to having a sacred, yet secular role, and librarians as having a calling of a sort to public service.
While comparisons to religious institutions are throughout, she recognizes that the current attitude toward a more general spirituality and seeking of knowledge lends itself well to libraries. She looks at the various functions libraries play from organizing information, to archiving it for posteriety to adding to individual and societal growth. The libraries role in the community is key here, with the library being a "third place" in people's lives after home and work. Her last chapter looks at the implications and expectation this places on libraries and librarians and explores some interesting ideas.
I found this a book that made me take a harder look at my library and the role our staff play in our community and I would recommend it to other librarians.

Wednesday 8 July 2009

Humorous Canadian Mystery

Finished July 7
Bad Guys by Linwood Barclay
This is the second book in the series featuring Zack Walker, scifi writer and journalist. Zack and his family are back in the city and his daughter has started college. She also appears to have picked up a stalker. Zack wonders whether he should be worried about this or whether he is overreacting again.
Sarah isn't entirely comfortable having Zack reporting to her at the paper. Zack is doing features and is currently going out with a private investigator who has been hired to figure out who is ripping off high-end menswear establishments. Things get a little hotter than the two expect, and Sarah starts to worry herself.
As usual Zack ends up in a crazy situation, wondering how he got there.
The book has lots going with and just keeps moving. I read it very quickly as it just grabbed me and wouldn't let go. Another good beach read.

Tuesday 7 July 2009

Audio Fiction

Finished July 6
Shanghai Girls by Lisa See, read by Janet Song
This book follows two sisters from Shanghai, Pearl and May. When the book begins in 1937, Shanghai is the Paris of Asia, with a large international community and busy nightlife. Pearl and May work as "beautiful girls" modelling for advertisements of all kinds. This world begins to fall apart when their father reveals his financial problems have caused him to sell the two sisters as wives to "golden mountain men". The sisters fight against this at first, but when they realize the full story of their family situation, the city is already under attack by the Japanese. They must fight just to survive.
As the girls make their way out of Shanghai and to Los Angeles, they undergo a great deal, and these events seal their fate. In Los Angeles they struggle to begin new lives with men they don't know. But their strong bond as sisters carries them through.
From 1937 to the late 1950s, the sisters lives change enormously. See really makes the reader feel the reality of living as a visible minority in the U.S. at this time. It is a great story, and also a revealing one about the unsavory past of North American immigration.
Back in my undergrad days I took a course that looked at immigration to Canada from China and Japan from the beginnings until the early twentieth century and while their are differences, there are a lot of similarities as well. It is an interesting subject and this is a good book for a taste of it.

Saturday 4 July 2009

New Collection

Finished July 4
McSweeney's 31
I had been intrigued by this book ever since it arrived and had been reading sections of it ever since. Finally finished it off this morning.
This is a beautifully bound hardcover consisting of a number of forms of literature with descriptions of each form and examples given of original writings and new writings in that form.
The forms covered include: pantoums, biji, whore dialogues, Graustarkian romances, nivolas, senryu, Socratic dialogues, consuetudinaries, and legendary sagas. I had only heard of a couple of these previously (sagas and dialogues) and was intrigued by the others.
It would appear that the favourite for both myself and the editors was the pantoum, an interesting form of poetry, because in addition to the section allocated for this form, several examples also appeared at the end of the volume.
I love having my mind stretched by stuff like this.

Books and Reading

Finished July 1
The Polysyllabic Spree by Nick Hornby
The subtitle of this book is "a hilarious and true account of one man's struggle with the monthly tide of the books he's bought and the books he's been meaning to read".
I've had this hanging around for a while and picked it up on Canada Day and read the whole thing. (I know I should have picked a Canadian book, what can I say.) The book is a collection of Hornby's columns from Believer magazine and each column begins with a list of the books he bought during the last month and another of the one's he's read.
The column goes on to discuss these, mostly about the ones he read. It is definitely amusing and I enjoyed it thoroughly and have added more books to me "want to read" list.