Saturday 28 November 2009

Children's Fiction

Finished November 28
Carbonel, The King of the Cats and The Kingdom of Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh
These two books are part of the same series and I have lovely editions from the NYRB for a gift to give this Christmas.
Lovely cats, a touch or two of magic, lots of adventures and two nice children make for a great read. We see young Rosemary Brown gain possession of a broom and a cat to begin, and follow her and the cat Carbonel as they work to find the tools and means necessary to free Carbonel from his spell. Rosemary is joined by John and he helps to discover the final step.
In the second book, Carbonel's kingdom is threatened by the greedy queen in the neighbouring kingdom and Rosemary and John once again do what they can to save the day.

Thursday 26 November 2009

Thriller plus paranormal

Finished November 26
Blood and Ice by Robert Masello, read by Phil Gigante
This thriller, set mostly in Antartica, turned out the have a touch of the paranormal to its plot. The main character is a journalist, Michael Wilde, who has retreated from his life after a terrible accident that put his girlfriend into a coma. When he is unexpectedly offered a last-minute assignment to go to a research station at the South Pole, he jumps at it.
He meets some other interesting people at the pole, each there for their own reason, and makes particular friends with the two who arrive the same time as him, a marine biologist and a doctor.
When offered the chance to do a dive into the frigid Antarctic Ocean, he again jumps at it, and makes an unexpected discovery of what seems to be a woman frozen into the ice. It turns out to be a couple.
We jump back in time to the world the young couple belong in, that of the 1850s, and gradually discover the events that led to them being trapped in the ice where Michael found them.
As we discover their past, we also learn how the discovery of them affects the residents of the research station for both the good and the bad.
I liked most of the characters, yet found the plot, while fast-moving, a bit forced at times. I also felt that the ending left a lot of things unresolved. The story was interesting and the plot inventive.

More Great Canadian Fiction

Finished November 26
The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens
The tale had me hooked right away. It is all about the central character Mary Gooch. Mary is obese (or as she calls it, mishearing when she was a child, possessed by an obeast). She works part-time in the local drugstore, and lives a solitary sort of life with her husband.
On the eve on their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, her husband doesn't come home. At first Mary isn't sure what to make of it, and soldiers on. When she finally faces up to his disappearance, she decides to follow the faint clues she has to follow him.
Mary has never ventured far beyond the small town of Leaford, Ontario and her journey takes her first to the big city of Toronto and then across the continent, opening her horizons in many ways.
She encounters many different people, from different walks of life and finds connections to them in unexpected ways. She finds inner resources and external supports that change the way she approaches her life. This is a tale of self-discovery at its best and most urgent, and a wonderful read. Definitely one of my favourites for the year.
I also like that Lansens uses Canadian settings, showing her own roots.

Monday 23 November 2009

Feel Good Novel

Finished November 22
The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes
Well Marian Keyes and has done it again and even better than before. Instead of her usual focus on one woman and her life, this book looks at the inhabitants of four apartments in a low-rise building in Dublin. We see how their lives intertwine, what issues each character is going through and how they deal with those issues.
As usual we do not have complete knowledge of any given character, but enought to get a feel for what is happening, what has happened and what may be on the horizon for them. We get glimpses into their thought processes and what motivates them.
Keyes is an expert in the human situation and with this novel she has so many interesting situtations and characters to show us that expertise that we barely even notice how long it is as we are caught up in the plot so thoroughly.
I read most of this book in a single day, and felt a sense of loss when I finished it. I want to see what else happens to these people and their friends. In many cases, I want to befriend these people and become a part of the story.
Marian Keyes never disappoints and this novel, while a bit different in scope, will keep you reading.

Friday 20 November 2009

For Animal Lovers

Finished November 20
Rescue Ink: How Ten Guys Saved Countless Dogs and Cats, Twelve Horses, Five Pigs, One Duck, and a Few Turtles by Rescue Ink with Denise Flaim
This book about Rescue Ink and its members is not only about an animal rescue group, but also about a group that works to educate people about the fact that abuse is wrong. A lot of people that rescue animals are female but this group is definitely male, and they are not afraid to be seen cuddling a small animal. But they are also not afraid to face abusers head on and work in as peaceful a way as possible to show them the error of your ways. They are careful not to break the law, but they definitely have more power than most to get the attention of abusers and then offer them solutions.
As they say, if you see an animal kept outdoors in inadequate shelter, instead of judging and reporting them, offer to help them with shelter or drill deeper to the reason the animal is kept outdoors.
The book shows us each member of the core Rescue Ink group and tells us how they got to where they are now. This was very interesting and thought-provoking.

Wednesday 18 November 2009

More Canadian Fiction

Finished November 16
The Last Woman by John Bemrose
This is a novel set in cottage country in Ontario that encompasses not only a variety of relationships, but also native rights and the environment.
Billy has been away from Pine Island, where he used to be band chief, for ten years. He left after the loss of a case regarding native land rights where Richard was the band lawyer.
Billy and Richard had a falling out around the case and their relationship soured.
Richard and Ann were only recently married back then, and Ann's father was still alive. Now he has passed away and the couple have a young son with his own special issues.
Ann also has a personal past with Billy that has never been fully resolved, and while she is happy to see him back, she is not sure quite what she wants from him.
Billy is not sure what his place in his native community now is, and struggles to come to terms with issues in that society and the larger community around them.
There is a lot going on in this book and it grabs and holds your attention. This is a book that would appeal to book clubs, with a lot of discussion points and much to engage the reader.

Saturday 14 November 2009

Canadian Fiction

Finished November 14
Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell
This novel had me glued to it until I finished it in one sitting. We follow Teodor Mykolayenko and his family from the spring of 1938 until the spring of 1939. The Mykolayenko's are immigrants from the Ukraine, who have settled in Alberta.
Teodor has just returned to his family after a year spent in jail for stealing his own grain. His wife and children have been living in a shed on the land of his sister Anna and her family. Anna has agreed to pay the fee to homestead the land beside her own, with Teodor breaking the land and taking on the ownership of it. He and his family work hard to break and plant the land, build a house and barn, and make a home for themselves.
When Anna's shiftless and cruel husband returns, both families find themselves fighting to defend what they have worked so hard for.
This novel gives a real feel for the difficulty of homesteading, the difficulty of living in a land where you don't speak the language and don't have a support system to assist you. This is a gripping story of a family where each character comes through deeply.

Epic Audiobook

Finished November 13
Cathedral of the Sea by Ildefonso Falcones, translated by Nick Caistor, read by Paul Michael
This long (18 CD) book is a gripping tale that follows the lives Bernard Estanyol and his son Arnau. Bernard was born a serf, and when his father dies his lord takes advantage of numerous rights that enrage and frustrate Bernard.
As a last resort he and his infant son Arnau escape to Barcelona, where they take refuge with Bernard's sisters family, a family that Bernard and his father helped to be successful as potter artisans. The city is just beginning two large building projects, a cathedral and the church of Santa Maria de la Mar. Santa Maria is a church built by the people for the people and this book also revolves around its construction.
As a boy, Arnau joins the guild of men who transport goods, the bastaixos. This guild also hauls stones from the quarry to Santa Maria to be used to build the church and Arnau becomes a true member of the guild by hauling his first stone.
In the various times of crisis the city faces, Arnau survives severe hunger, joins the king's army, and defends Jews attacked by prejudiced zealots. He becomes a successful and respected member of the community.
When he is betrayed and brought on charges before the Inquisition, he learns who his true friends are and how much Barcelona has become his home.
I learned a lot of history here, but in a very entertaining way. The book offers moments of hearbreak and hope and I am not surprised it was so successful in Spain. It won the Euskadi de Plata 2006 for the best novel in Spanish, the Que Leer 2007 Prize for the best book, as well as the Italian Giovanni Boccaccio 2007 award for the best foreign author. It has been published in thirty-two countries.

Wednesday 11 November 2009

British-American Fiction

Finished November 11
After You by Julie Buxbaum
This novel tells the story of a summer from the point of view of a mid-thirties American woman, Ellie Lerner. Ellie has flown to London from Boston suddenly when her best friend Lucy has been murdered. Worse, Lucy's 8-year-old daughter Sophie witnessed the attack. Lucy's husband Greg is struggling to deal with it, and Ellie steps in where she is needed, abandoning her own life.
Ellie has left her job and her husband Phillip to be there, and Phillip is not understanding her need to be there for Sophie and Greg, and not be with him.
As Ellie helps Sophie deal with her guilt and grief, they read The Secret Garden and find that life has its pleasures still. Ellie also finds out that despite being best friends with Lucy for more than thirty years, she doesn't know her as well as she thought she did. Ellie begins to realize she hasn't faced her own life's issues and that she must confront them to move on with her life.
Dealing with emotional pain and regret, this novel takes us into Ellie's world.

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Literary Fiction

Finished November 10
Love and Summer by William Trevor
Set in the village of Rathmoye in Ireland, this story tells of a few months one summer. A young man appears in the village on the day of the funeral for an prominent woman, Mrs Connulty. He had only come to photograph the burned out cinema, but takes photos of the funeral. Miss Connulty, liberated by the death of her mother keeps an eye on the young photographer, Florian Kilderry and witnesses the events of the summer.
On a farm near the village, the farmer Dillahan lives with his new wife. He also lives with guilt over the accidental death of his first wife and their child. His new wife, Ellie, is a convent girl who came to work for him after the accident and stayed in marriage.
When Ellie encounters Florian, she is drawn to him, and begins an attachment that can't hope to end well.
As expected, Trevor is capable of making literature out of ordinary lives and drama in everyday happenings. You feel the strong emotions present in these characters, and find yourself inextricably drawn into their lives.

Canadian Fiction

Finished November 9
Your Sad Eyes and Unforgettable Mouth by Edeet Ravel
This book was recommended to me back in January and I finally got around to reading it. I really enjoyed it. The novel is very character-driven, centering around Maya, daughter of a Holocaust survivor. Maya's father died before she was born and she lives with her mother and grandmother. She is a bit of a misfit and feels it until one summer when she attends an unorthodox summer camp. The following summer she meets and becomes friends with Rosie, another daughter of Holocaust survivors and embarks on a new life embracing her Jewish culture as a way of staying close to Rosie.
As we see Maya coming to terms with her feelings and her impulses, we are made aware of her motivations and thoughts.
This is a book of a woman coming to terms with her life.

Saturday 7 November 2009

Dog Book

Finished November 7
Everything for a Dog by Ann M Martin
This book follows three characters: Bone, Charlie and Henry. Bone is a dog, born a stray and after a short stint in a home, a stray again.
Charlie is a boy whose family has had a terrible loss. His dog Sunny comforts him and becomes his best friend as he recovers.
Henry has wanted a dog for years, but his parents still won't let him have one.
As these three stories come together we see how the bond between a dog and their owner is a strong one.
There were a few bits that had me crying, but the overall story ended on a good note.

Feel Good Novel

Finished November 6
Home Safe by Elizabeth Berg
I found this book a quick read, but a very enjoyable one. The main character Helen Ames is a writer, or at least she was until she hit the writing block she is currently up against. The block began eleven months ago when her husband died suddenly.
Helen has gone from depending on her husband to do certain things to depending on her daughter. And while she depends on her daughter, she still sometimes treats her daughter too much like a child. Her best friend Midge is urging her to move on.
When Helen discovers from her accountant that her husband withdrew most of their retirement savings in a large withdrawal shortly before he died, she doesn't know what to think. Because of her worry over money, she decides to take a job teaching a creative writing course, something she would never have considered before.
A phone call from a stranger leads her to discover things about both her husband and herself that she would never have guessed. She also finds a new relationship with her daughter.
Elizabeth Berg's books always leave me feeling good and this one is no exception.

Fun Word Book

Finished November 4
Ounce Dice Trice by Alastair Reid, drawing by Ben Shahn
I had bought this book for a gift, but I'm finding it so nice, I might have trouble giving it up.
It is a lovely book celebrating words and the sounds they make. From words that sound like what they describe to words the give you certain feelings, you really look at words more closely. There are some lovely circular garlands that lead you through several interesting words back to the beginning. There are lists of words to name different things and different lists of counting words.
This is a great book for any age person who likes words.

Thursday 5 November 2009

Canadian Memoir

Finished November 4
Small Beneath the Sky: a prairie memoir by Lorna Crozier
This memoir had me enthralled from the first page. The imagery is some of the best I've ever read and she intersperses memoir segments with impressions on nature and her prairie surroundings.
Her memoir is open and honest and she doesn't try to gloss over the difficult times. She has gained permissions from some people she grew up with to tell their stories and has changed the names of others. Her family life was not easy and she talks about the role family dynamics played in not only her life, but that of her immediate family as well.
The writing is lyrical and flowing and her writing brings her world to life.
This is one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time, and I highly recommend it.

Monday 2 November 2009

Canadian Fiction

Finished October 30
Underground by June Hutton
This is a book I asked for and got for my birthday this year and finally got around to reading. I'm sorry I waited as I really enjoyed it.
It tells the story of Albert Fraser, who enlists as a soldier in World War I at the age of sixteen, is injured and returns to an unhappy home in B.C. He lives a perambulatory life, working a variety of working class jobs until the Depression makes him jobless and homeless. After being taken in by a couple in the north, he decides to help in Spain and volunteers for the Spanish Civil War. Inspired by the sight of Picasso's Guernica, he moves toward a future life.
We really see Albert's worries and fears and how he deals with them. This is a young man, who spent a long time looking for his place in the world, trying different lives and finding that they didn't suit him, until finally finding a life for himself.

Another Kids Classic

Finished October 29
I Believe in Unicorns by Michael Morpurgo, illustrated by Gary Blythe
A lovely book about the power of reading, as a young farm boy gets introduced to books and sees how the people in his village work together to save the library when it is threatened.
This edition has lovely illustrations which bring the story to life.
I know a young boy who will be getting this one for Christmas.