Friday 31 December 2010

Last Book of the Year: The Long Trail

Finished December 31
The Long Trail: My Life in the West by Ian Tyson
I've been a fan of Ian Tyson for a long time, and knew I had to read his autobiography when I heard about it.
He tells his story like he's talking to you, in a very conversational style, and that suits him. I found it interesting and learned a lot about him from it.
Now I've got the urge to pull out some of his CDs and play a few songs. Maybe my favourites "Four Strong Winds", "Springtime in Alberta", or "Magpie". Guess I'm still an Alberta girl at heart.

Book Challenge: Chunkster Challenge

Another challenge I'll be doing is the Chunkster Challenge.
The 2010 edition doesn't wrap up until the end of January, which is a good thing as I've fallen behind a bit.
But I still want to indicate that I'll be starting up again for 2011 from February 1st.
Given the other challenges that I'm committing too, and the need to read a LOT of Canadian as the chair of the OLA Evergreen Award, I'm going to scale down to the "Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big" level of six Chunksters (2 books which are between 450 - 550 pages in length; 2 books which are 551 - 750 pages in length; 2 books which are GREATER than 750 pages in length). Given that I subscribe to Powell's Indiespensable books, and have just received The Instructions, I know that I have one for sure in the long category just waiting to be read.

Book Challenge: Global Reading Challenge

I'm also going to aim for the Global Reading Challenge.
I read a lot of books in translation and enjoy new geographic settings, so am aiming for the Expert level of 21 books. Not sure about my seventh continent yet, may mix it up a bit.

Book Challenge: 1001 Books

Have decided to try for this challenge read for 2011:
1001 Books You Must Read before You Die.
I have read 102 of the books so far.
I am going to try for the PhD level of this challenge (16 or more books) as I own another 28 of the books on this list. That means I don't even have to go shopping to do this one! Or take books out of the library!
It should be fun.

Thursday 30 December 2010

Started Early, Took My Dog

Finished December 30
Started Early, Took My Dog by Kate Atkinson
I love Kate Atkinson's novels. She is such a good writer. Everyone I read amazes me. She has great characters, with interesting complexities. Her plots are interesting and unique. This new novel is no exception.
Jackson Brodie is back again, this time looking for the missing past for a woman. But he isn't the only one searching for something, and there are parties interested in keeping it all buried.
A new and interesting character here is Tracy Waterhouse, retired police detective superintendent. She is working in mall security now, until she witnesses something that triggers action in her. Her choice changes her life forever.
There is Tillie, an aging actress sliding into dementia, haunted by a loss in her past.
And there is Courtney, agreeable, content, with her growing pack of remembrances.
Atkinson's turn of phrase keeps jumping out at me too. Some of my favourites:
"Some women were destined for widowhood, marriage was just the obstacle in their way."
"It used to be the poor who were thin and the rich who were fat, now it seemed to be the other way around."
"...couldn't feel sorry for womeone who was so imperfectly equipped to deal with any drama that they weren't themselves the centre of."
She is just a great writer, and tells a great story.

Tuesday 28 December 2010


Finished December 27
Trespass by Rose Tremain
This was a very surprising novel. A lot of the story revolved around brothers and sisters and their relationships to each other. We have antiques store owner Anthony Verey and his older sister Veronica. Anthony is feeling that the passion has gone out of his life and looks to Veronica for rescue, as he has done all his life.
In the Cevennes, Aramon Lunel, a weak and alcoholic old man, looks to rid himself of his ancestral home, but still requests help from his sister Audrun. The disfunctional relationship between these two is darker, but no less fraught than that of the Vereys.
More of the plot comes when the two families cross paths briefly, but significantly.
This is a sad story, about lives unfulfilled, about a lack of real happiness, about the dependencies of siblings. But also a rich story, with much to ponder.
A very good read.

Monday 27 December 2010

The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey

Finished Dec 27
The Last Days of Ptolemy Grey by Walter Mosley
Another wonderful novel from Mosley. Ptolemy Grey is 91, and lives alone in a small apartment. He has a young relative who comes from time to time to help him with the basics, but mostly he is ignored. His memory is also deteriorating, and he has trouble remembering the words for what he wants. He is set upon by one of his drug-addicted neighbours who steals from him every chance she gets. When he goes to the funeral of one of his relatives, he meets a young woman who is different. She actually listens to him and she helps him while still respecting his wishes. This proves a turning point for Grey, and help with his memory issues will also lead him to remember the one secret he still has to act on.
This novel has elements of magic realism, and characterization is very important. Grey himself is a complex character and not simply a forgetful old man. A tale of hope as well as reality.

Sunday 26 December 2010

Sunset Park

Finished December 26
Sunset Park by Paul Auster
Every time I read a book by Auster I find myself in awe of his writing. His plots are always engrossing and characters are always interesting. This novel is no exception.
Sunset Park is an area of New York City, and the title refers to a city-owned vacant house there that four young people decide to live in. Their reasons are various, the paths that lead them there come from different directions, but all have their secrets.
We see the stories of not only these four characters, but also the parents of one of them, Miles Heller. Miles has been running from his past for years, and we see the effect this has had on his family.
There is so much going on here, some overt, some under the surface, that it is hard to know where to start. From literature, to film, to physics, there are surprises here. People's behaviour and motivations have long lasting effects and bring each character to a new understanding of their own life.
I loved it!


Finished December 26
Unbroken: a World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand
This book follows the life of Louis Zamperini, from his childhood days as a rebel and troublemaker, through his triumph participating in the Berlin Olympics, to his stint in the war as a bombardier in B-24s, and subsequent experience as a POW in Japan.
The background of his life was extremely interesting, and gave a great picture of his early life. His drive to run is strong and sustains him through several difficult periods. The experiences as a POW (although unreported by the Japanese) were difficult and eye-opening.
While I have read some history about the war, I still learned a lot from this biography, and found Louis an interesting man. The trial of being stuck at sea before being discovered by the Japanese was done very well, and gave a good impression of all the men involved.
Definitely worth reading.

The Sleeping-Car Murders

Finished December 23
The Sleeping-Car Murders by Sebastien Japrisot
This is a tiny novel that I've been carrying around in my purse, reading whenever I'm stuck waiting somewhere (take-out chicken wings, post-office line-ups...) and finally finished it in a post-office line-up this week.
I've been a fan of Japrisot for a while and my mother-in-law gave me a trio of his paperbacks earlier this year, of which this is one.
A woman's strangled body is found in the sleeping compartment of a train recently arrived in Paris from Marseilles. She had been one of six passengers in the compartment. As the police begin to work the case, they search for her fellow passengers, but someone else is ahead of them and the passengers are meeting sudden violent deaths. We see the story from the point of view of Grazzi, one of the police on the case. This is a fascinating little intellectual piece of work, and I thoroughly enjoyed the plot, as well as the characters.

Monday 20 December 2010

Step Closer

Finished December 20
Step Closer by Tessa McWatt
This is a rambling, haunting sort of novel. Emily, a 30ish Canadian woman who is living in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, is trying to write about events that happened five years earlier. In her present, she lives with an American virologist, and works to help him put his ideas and words into Spanish. In her past, she was trying to be a writer, working in a bar, and became involved in a private drama between her roommate and someone from his past. The pilgrim trail plays a role in the earlier story that she is still trying to figure out. By writing about her experiences, about the experiences told to her second-hand by her roommate and by her own imagination, she finds a way to flesh out that story and find an ending to it that makes sense to her.
Her preoccupation with these past events also has her disconnected from her present and she finds herself and her partner growing apart, and can't find a way to reconnect. It is only by coming to grips with the past that she can find a way forward in the present.
While the events definitely are important to the story, the interactions between the characters are the real meat of things here. What are people telling themselves about themselves and about others and what are they hiding from?

Moonlight Mile

Finished December 20
Moonlight Mile by Dennis Lehane, read by Jonathan Davis
This book features the private investigator Patrick Kenzie and his wife Angie Gennaro. Patrick is doing PI freelance work for a corporate investigative firm, hoping to get hired on permanently, but tired of getting strung along. Angie is going to school nights, working towards a new career.
Twelve years before Patrick took a case that still bothers him. He was hired to find a missing child, 4-year-old Amanda McCready. He did find her and brought her back to a neglectful mother and unhappy home life. She is now sixteen and has disappeared again.
As he talks to those who know her he becomes more involved. Amanda is doing well despite her circumstances, on track for a scholarship to an Ivy league school. But she has been gone three weeks and so has her best friend. Amanda's mother and stepfather deny her disappearance, but her aunt Bea insists something is wrong. As Patrick digs deeper, he finds himself involved with drug dealers, Russian mafia with a psychotic leader, and thieves who warn him off.
Fast-moving and coming to a wonderful climactic ending, we see Patrick realize things about his own life as he finds what is happening in Amanda's.

The Sudden Disappearance of Seetha

Finished December 18
The Sudden Disappearance of Seetha by Andrea Gunraj
This novel by Guyanese-Canadian author Andrea Gunraj follows brother and sister, Navi and Neela, as they move from childhood to adulthood. The novel begins at a dramatic point, the disappearance of Neela's daughter Seetha. We then move back to the childhood of Neela and Navi. They are raised by their maternal grandmother as their mother has gone to work as a nanny overseas. There is a stigma to them as their parents were not married, and Neela is constantly warned against making the same mistakes as her mother.
Navi does well at academics and is doted on by the whole community, causing jealousy between the siblings. His aim in life is to escape to a life far from his village and do well. Neetha is the rebel and she falls for a young brute Jaroon, who persuades her to go to Eden, a new eco-resort that is being built in the wilderness. Neetha abandons her half-hearted education as a teacher to go to this new development, but soons finds that it is not what she expected. Life in Eden offers her opportunities as well as limitations, but she soons fears for the safety of herself and her child and flees.
Navi, meanwhile has done well for himself following a scholarship overseas with a promising career in business. But the events surrounding Neetha cause the two siblings to come back together to find a way forward with meaning for both of them.
We see this story from alternating points of view, following each sibling as they grow. We see their relationships, disappointments, and realizations. I found it very interesting to see the character growth here, as well as being drawn in to the story itself. A great read from a promising new author.

Monday 13 December 2010

The Power of Nice

Finished December 13
The Power of Nice: how to conquer the business world with kindness written and read by Linda Kaplan Thaler and Robin Koval
The authors and the CEO and the president of Kaplan Thaler Group, one of the fastest-growing ad agencies in the US. They cite their own experiences as well as those of others to illustrate how being nice doesn't mean being walked on, but means being respectful and thoughtful of others. They talk about saying "yes" and how it doesn't always mean that you committ yourself to doing yet another thing, but that it can also mean helping those asking to find the right person that can help them. The examples given here are great at illustrating how the concept works, and the "nice-cubes" offered throughout give workable exercises to help you down the path of niceness.
The book encourages us to be more aware of how our behaviour affects others and to act in a way that we can respect in order to feel good about ourselves no matter what happens. I try to do this, but found ways to think about being nice that I can work harder at.
A great, thought-provoking read with insight and humour.

Sunday 12 December 2010

The Frumkiss Family Business

Finished December 12
The Frumkiss Family Business by Michael Wex
I found this book a bit odd and disconnected at first (but then I am not Jewish, despite living in Thornhill). It got better as it went along and I got interested in the characters and their interactions and motivations.
We change points of view often, which makes the story more interesting to me. We have Faktor and his second wife Chana as two of the main characters. Faktor is a Jewish writer who grew up in Poland and emigrated to Canada after the Second World War. The next generation includes his daughter Tammy from his first marriage (who marries Earl Frumkiss, hence the book's title), daughter Ava, and son Niven. Tammy's children are also main characters: Vanessa (who marries into a hasidic family in Israel), Rachel (married to Howie) and Randall (who memorizes many of his grandfather's stories). We see the family dynamics, the sibling interactions, and the inner world of the Jew in Toronto.
I found it very interesting and liked the character Rachel the best.

Saturday 11 December 2010

An Irish Country Doctor

Finished December 10
An Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor, read by John Keating
This is one of a series of stories located in the small Northern Irish village of Ballybucklebo. This story is set in the 1960s, when young, newly-minted Dr. Barry Laverty takes an assistant position in the village. The doctor, who soons becomes Barry's mentor is Dr. Fingal Flahertie O'Reilly. We see the variety of patients, and medical situations a rural general GP deals with and see how Barry learns that following all the rules doesn't always make a situation work better.
This is a feel-good novel that gives a sense of the Irish countryside of the past. It has elements of the coming-of-age novel with Barry's growth as well. There are lots of good characters and great situational comedy. An entertaining read.

Friday 10 December 2010

The Other Side of the Dale

Finished December 6
The Other Side of the Dale by Gervase Phinn
I've had this on my shelf for a while, but it was a quick read once I got started. Phinn writes about his experience as a school inspector in Yorkshire. This book begins with Phinn's interview for the inspection position, and continues through the first few months of his job.
His work requires travel, diplomacy, and sometimes physical exertion. There is a lot of humour, a great deal of insight, and lots of good stories.
Phinn clearly loves his job, and enjoys the variety of interactions his job entails. I found this book a feel-good one, with a positive outlook. I am looking forward to the books that follow this one.

Charlotte Sometimes

Finished December4
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer
Another lovely New York Review Children's Collection edition. Why did I never see so many of these books when I was young?
This one is a particularly lovely story. Charlotte is away at boarding school, and wakes up on her first morning to be in the same bed, in the same room, but not the same. As she begins to discover that she has changed places with a girl several decades earlier, she tries to find ways to cope, and a confidant who she can share the situation with.
As we see things from Charlotte's point of view, we feel her confusion and worry. I found it interesting and a good story.

Friday 3 December 2010

They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children

Finished December 2
They Fight Like Soldiers, They Die Like Children by Romeo Dallaire
Stayed up late last night to finish this one as there is a waiting list for it at work. It is a heavy subject, but a very readable book. Dallaire writes in a very conversational style and the book is written like it is speaking to you directly. There are three sections where he has included a fictional child soldier and fictional UN peacekeeper to help show the feelings, and reality of the experiences.
He talks about the situations that create child soldiers, the community repercussions, the international repercussions, and the work of Child Soldier International. The last chapter is what we as individuals can do to make a difference for this issue.
He offers hope by showing the progress that has been made in understanding the problem, and has concrete examples of next moves that can be made. These children that have become child soldiers are not just small humans, but also weapons, used by their commanders as another expendable, easily replenished tool in their arsenal. The wars they fight are often more internal criminal actions with no real end goal, than they are traditional wars. They pit children against their own people, making it hard for them to go back to communities, if those communities even exist any more. He also shows that there are a variety of ways to deal with these soldiers, depending on their unique situation and their gender. Yes, many of these soldiers are girls, and they aren't just doing the chores and acting as "bush wives", but also leading other child soldiers. These girls often have more trouble integrating back into the community than the boys, as they no have no traditional value as a marriage offering, and may even have rebel babies that come back with them. Yet, he offers ways to help these young soldiers as well.
I cried, yes, but I was also left with hope that we can do something about this situation and help not only those who are now or have been child soldiers, but also work to prevent it from happening. This is an important book for policy makers to read, because as we all know, the world is smaller than you think.

Sunday 28 November 2010

Homicide Related

Finished November 28
Homicide Related by Norah McClintock
This young adult mystery features Ryan Dooley, a character McClintock has used before. Dooley is working hard to stay on the straight and narrow, living with his uncle, going to school, and holding down a job. He hasn't touched alcohol or drugs since he's been out. He has a girlfriend, Beth, that he can't believe he's lucky enough to have. He has a friend at school, and a friend at work. He is passing his courses.
But then things start to happen. Beth starts hanging out with another guy, a guy with money and a "good family". Jeffie, a friend from Dooley's past shows up asking for a favour. And Dooley's mother is back in the picture, briefly, and then gone forever. Dooley starts to wonder how much he knows about the people around him, his uncle, Beth, and whether there is more that he needs to know.
Lots going on here, and some tough situations for Dooley. But opportunities as well, and hope for the future.
A good read, that will appeal to teens.

The Steps Across the Water

Finished November 27
The Steps Across the Water by Adam Gopnik
This children's novel is a fantasy book set partly in New York City, and partly in U Nork, an alternate city with deep connections to New York City. The main character is a young girl named Rose who lives with her parents and older brother in Manhattan. Rose often doesn't feel she fits in, and has problems making friends at her private school. She also has a speech impediment which causes her to mix up words (like calling New York, U Nork) and makes her self conscious. She is adopted from Russia, and while made aware of this by her parents, is never made to feel that it makes a difference to her place in her family. She does have one friend at school, Ethan, who is even more of an outcast than she is.
But one night everything changes, and she finds out that U Nork does exist and that she has a role to play in its future. With intrigue, puzzles, and lots of interesting characters, this book will engage the young reader in the story of the two cities.
I first read Gopnik's essay collection Through the Children's Gate, and loved it, so when I saw this book I knew I had to get it for my 10-year-old niece. She loves mysteries and puzzles and reading, so it is a perfect fit.

The Glory Wind

Finished November 27
The Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard
This children's novel is set in rural Manitoba a couple of years after the end of World War II. Told from the point of view of a young boy, it tells of his friendship with a girl his age, and the community reaction to her family situation, and how a tornado changed their lives forever.
This is a moving story and a pivotal point in this boy's life. It brings him understanding of things that were beyond his world before and helps him to grow. A great book about character, acceptance and society.

Saturday 27 November 2010

Book Challenge: What's in a Name

I've finished this challenge with my latest book, The Glass Harmonica.
I tried to do it without changing the way I read. I try to read a lot of Canadian books, and several of these were Canadian which is great. These were all books that I was going to read anyway, and I've just been able to make them fit into the challenge.
For title: Mr Shakespeare's Bastard
For plant: Yarrow
For body of water: The Sea Captain's Wife
For food: Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
For place: Gods in Alabama
For music: The Glass Harmonica
Looking forward to next year.

Thursday 25 November 2010

The Glass Harmonica

Finished November 24
The Glass Harmonica by Russell Wangersky
I have to say that I was absolutely enchanted by this book. It is set on one street, McKay Street in St. John's, Newfoundland. Each chapter is linked to a house on the street and involves residents, visitors, and intruders. All the events take place between 1980 and 2006, but they don't come to us in chronological order. Each event links to others, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. We see things from so many points of view that we get a real sense of the people who live here and what their lives consist of.
From elderly residents with dementia, to young children, to single professionals, the characters all bring something unique to the book.
We see the relationships between them, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities. As an omniscent observer, we see more than normal and that makes the difference for this book.
Absolutely outstanding!

Friday 19 November 2010

Practical Jean

Finished November 19
Practical Jean by Trevor Cole
This story is well-written and has a unique plot, but somehow I just couldn't connect with it and had to force myself to finish it.
Jean makes a living creating unique ceramic pieces based on leaves. They are fragile and expensive and often don't work out for her. She is married to Milt, a substitute teacher at the high school level.
For the last few months, she has been giving care to her mother who has been dying from cancer. This experience, seeing her mother in pain and no longer enjoying life has affected her greatly. Death has always had an affect on her, leading her to creativity in her work. This time however, she has decided to be practical. Her mother always despaired of her developing a practical nature, and while it is too late for her mother, Jean decides that it is not too late to apply her newfound practicality to her friends.
Working on the premise of dark humour, this novel brings many issues of today's life to the fore.

Arrival City

Finished November 17
Arrival City: the final migration and our next world by Doug Saunders
Doug Saunders is the European Bureau Chief for the Globe and Mail. He has put together this book to show how the move from rural to urban living is in its last phase. The ways in which we treat those areas, arrival cities, that immigrants first come to greatly affects how the cities themselves prosper. He uses examples from all over the world, primarily Europe, North and South America, China, India, and Bangladesh to show how this phenomenon is common to all cultures. He also uses history to show how this phenomenon is not a new one, but is only in its latest stage. He shows successes and failures and those still undetermined. This book is a call to those in power to recognize this truth and make policies that ensure success.
I found the stories of the individuals very interesting and they brought alive the reality of why these people move, how the process works, and what we can do to make sure it works well.
The failures really show how stereotypes and prejudice can make or break these arrival communities. Urban planners are beginning to learn, but not all of them have yet. This is a book that every mayor of a growing city should read, along with others in all levels of government. To follow the recommendations here will bring us all a better future.

The Night Shift

Finished November 16
The Night Shift: Real Life in the Heart of the E.R. by Dr. Brian Goldman
This book by Canadian E.R. doctor Brian Goldman, who also does the CBC Radio Series "White Coat, Black Art" is done in an interesting way.
It is structured around one night shift, with each case that comes in linking to other cases in the past. Goldman has changed names and identifying information to protect patients' privacy. Each case has both its medical and human elements and Goldman recognizes each. He also recognizes that doctors and nurses are also human and admits to his own failings and how he learned from them.
The hospital he works at is Toronto's Mount Sinai and he references other doctors' experiences to show differences in the cases that come in to different hospitals based on their location and specialties. I found the book fascinating not only for its behind-the-scenes scenarios, but also for the openness and insight that Goldman brought to it. He is a doctor always trying to improve and help others to improve, including his patients. He touches on many topics that relate to medicine, from ethics to technology, and makes it make sense to a layperson. This is a great and engaging read and I highly recommend it.

I Am Number Four

Finished November 14
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
This teen novel has as the main character a young man who is from another planet. Right now he is going by the name John. He and 8 others like them along with nine other children, destined to be protectors of their planet, came to earth a decade earlier. They were each accompanied by an adult who helps them and teaches them. John's guide is Henri. John has some memories of his time on his home planet, Lorien, and of his grandparents whom he lived with. John and his fellow Lorien children are of an age where they are coming into their Legacies. This is when their powers come.
Beings from another planet, the Mogadarians, have also come to Earth and are hunting the Loriens. They destroyed their own planet and laid waste to Lorien. Now they have plans for Earth. John and his fellow Loriens must stay hidden to survive until the time for battle with the Mogadarians arrive. But they may find themselves up against their enemy before they are ready.
This is a story of power, coming-of-age, loneliness, and the environment. There is much here that will appeal to teens, including love. I really enjoyed this novel and see how it has left itself open to a sequel. I will look forward to that.

Tuesday 16 November 2010

Evergreen Award

The OLA Evergreen Award, the adult tree in the Forest of Reading, has announced its 2010 winner.
The winner is Come Thou, Tortoise by Jessica Grant, an engaging tail of a young woman and her tortoise.
This is a first novel for writer Jessica Grant, who has also made the longlist for the IMPAC Dublin Award.
With great characters and a unique story, this is a book that will engage the reader. Highly recommended.
* Disclaimer: I am the chair for this book award.

Friday 12 November 2010

Bury Your Dead

Finished November 11
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny, read by Ralph Cosham
I think this is the best Louise Penny mystery yet. There was the usually wonderful mystery, but so much more here. We had history, issues, personal growth, that really made the book that extra bit special.
There has been a past horrible event in policing for Gamache. It has to do with a kidnapping of one of his agents, and we only gradually discover as the book progresses exactly what happened. Gamache and Beauvoir are both on leaving recovering from physical and mental wounds from this situation. Gamache is visited his mentor in Quebec City and taking rest, which includes doing some research into a personal interest of his. His research takes him to the Literary and Historical Society where he uses their library to research his interest in the battle of the Plains of Abraham.
When a body is discovered in the basement of this bastion of the English in the French Canadian city, Gamache gets drawn in by both the local police and the Society's board. He agrees only because the murder victim is a strong Quebec voice in the search to find the body of Samuel de Champlain. There are many questions: what was he doing at the society? what led him there? who killed him?
Gamache is also questioning the outcome of a recent case in Three Pines and sends Beauvoir there on an unofficial basis to look into the case again.
This story allows us to see both Gamache and Beauvoir in new lights, and see them both grow in their understanding of themselves and others. An absolutely wonderful read.

Wednesday 10 November 2010

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard

Finished November 9
Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard by Richard B. Wright
I found this novel to be a very quick read. It was pleasant and interesting. The story is told by Aerlene Ward, in her old age. She is a housekeeper at an Oxfordshire manor, and had started as a nursemaid to the now elderly landowner, Sir Walter. The youngest daughter of the family, Charlotte, has agreed to take down her story as Aerlene's eyes are failing.
Charlotte herself isn't sure whether she believes Aerlene's story that William Shakespeare was her father, but Aerlene's story rings true. The story begins with the life of Aerlene's mother Elizabeth, her sad love life, and her brief foray to London, where she met Shakespeare. It continues with Aerlene's own life as a child, and young woman. Aerlene is a calm woman, and bright and these qualities give her an advantage in life. She is also not afraid of hard work and that too helps her to have a successful life.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Holding Still For As Long As Possible

Finished November 7
Holding Still For As Long As Possible by Zoe Whittall
Set in Toronto in late 2005 and early 2006, this book speaks from three voices. Josh is an EMS worker, a transsexual man, and a shy man. Amy is Josh's partner of 5 years, a budding filmmaker, and a confident woman. Billy is recovering from the fame of her teens, prone to panic attacks, and coming out of a seven year relationship. All these characters are in their mid-twenties. Amy and Josh's relationship is coming down from its high, and they are both unsure of whether they want it to continue or not. As Josh becomes interested in Billy, the love lives of these young people become more complex and angst-ridden.
The use of EMS calls as part of the plot adds interest and an extra layer (although I did wonder what happened to these people), letting us see the important, yet transitory role EMS played in the victims' lives.
The voices of the three characters came through nicely and I had a real sense of where they were coming from, and how they felt. The uncertainty of life for twenty-somethings was really part of the story, and took me back to my own twenties.
I really liked this book and found the characters very interesting and realistic.

A Man in Uniform

Finished November 7
A Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor
This novel is set in nineteenth-century Paris and revolves around the Dreyfuss Affair. Admittedly, I didn't actually know that much about this before I read the book, so besides getting entertained, I also learned a lot.
The main character here is Françoise Dubon, a lawyer who married into a family above his own social status. Both of his brothers-in-law are in the military, one as a Major and one as a Captain. Dubon was involved with the Communards in his youth, but that information is only known to his wife and a close friend. His early career as a lawyer included working to get Communards accepted back into society without restrictions, through an amnesty. He left that job, taking over his father's practice when he married.
Dubon also has a mistress, Madeleine, that he sees most weekdays between five and seven.
When a mysterious widow arrives at his office and asks him to work at identifying the true spy in an effort to get Dreyfuss an appeal, he finds himself agreeing, against his better judgment. His actions disrupt his personal life, put him into dangerous situations, and send the whole country talking.
The history is interesting. The character of Dubon is a complex one, with mixed motives. The story is a good one. All in all, a fascinating read.

Saturday 6 November 2010

Where We Going, Daddy

Finished November 5
Where We Going, Daddy? Life with Two Sons Unlike Any Others by Jean-Louis Fournier, translated by Adriana Hunter
From the introduction, by Fern Kupfer, right through to the end of this short book I was captivated. Fournier has two severely disabled sons, Mathieu and Thomas. Both have both physical and mental disabilities that severely impact their lives. Fournier is a humour writer and this certainly comes through, but everything he says in these short vignettes is heartfelt and evokes his real feelings: love, frustration, guilt, anger, sadness. Not having been there, I can't really imagine the difficulties of having a disabled child, but Fournier illustrates his experience with his short impressions of situations in his life.
Highly recommended

Friday 5 November 2010

The Matter with Morris

Finished November 4
The Matter with Morris by David Bergen
This is an intense look at a man struggling with grief and guilt and trying to find a reason behind what has happened and a way to move forward. Morris's son Martin had joined the army after an argument with Morris and has now been killed in Afghanistan. He was killed by one of the men in his own company in a sad accident. Morris feels responsible for Martin joining the army as Morris himself is a pacifist and was raised as one by his father, a Mennonite minister. Morris's father is failing in health and is now in a nursing home suffering from dementia. Morris is a journalist, who has made his living writing a syndicated column, often using his personal life and family as subjects. With the loss of his son, he has continued to write about his reactions to it, but has been asked by his agent to take a leave before his popularity declines further than it has. His writing has fallen towards anger and sadness and lost the wry humour it used to have. Morris's reactions leads to distance between himself and his wife Lucille. It also leads to changes in the relationship between him and his two daughters Meredith and Libby.
This is a story of Morris and how he reaches out, plumbs his own depths, and tries to get a grip on what has happened and how to come to terms with it, so he can continue life.


Finished November 2
Atonement by Ian McEwan, narrated by Jill Tanner

This is the story of the events of a single day in the summer of 1935 and all the things that came out of it. That summer Briony Talis was thirteen and her observations, misinterpretations, and resulting actions cause outcomes she never could have imagined. Her big misinterpretation is of the nature of the relationship between her sister Cecelia and Robbie Turner, childhood friends. Robbie is the son of their servant and has been treated by the family as a protege. Briony's cousins are staying with the family as their family begins to break apart. When the twins run away and her female cousin is assaulted during the search, it is Briony who points the finger at Robbie and this deliberation seals his fate.
The second part of this book is from Robbie's point of view and occurs during the retreat to Dunkirk where he, wounded, leads two officers to the beach from farther inland. We see how he feels, what he sees, and how he treats others.
The third part shows Briony as a young nurse in London, just before and after Dunkirk and how she has dealt with her actions that she now knows to be criminally wrong, and her realization of the awful truth. We see her growth, her guilt, and her lifelong sorrow at what she has done.
Finally we see her in old age, with the long look back at her life and her actions to atone for her guilt.
An amazing read that kept me engaged both by the story and the emotion.

Sunday 31 October 2010

Domestic Fiction

Finished October 30
Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
This novel is written by a Canadian who now lives in the United States. It is set partly in California and partly in India. The novel is told from alternating points of view.
In India, Kavita gives birth to a daughter, for the second time. She is determined that this time her husband will not take the baby away, however he convinces her that they cannot afford to keep it. They need a son. She goes with her sister to the city, Bombay, and leaves the baby girl at an orphanage. At first she harbours resentment for her husband, but eventually she is able to move on with her life, but never forgetting the baby girl, Usha, that she left at the orphanage.
In California, Somer met a young med student from India, and the two fell in love and got married. Now that she is finished her residency, she hopes to have a baby, but the odds are against her. After much inner turmoil, she agrees with her husband, Krishnan, to adopt a baby from India, from the orphanage where his mother is a patron. The name they call her is Asha.
The point of view moves back and forth, mostly from the points of view of Somer and Kavita, but eventually from Asha's point of view as well. We also have smaller segments from the other characters.
This book is about culture, about adjusting to other cultures, about being open to those cultures, and about what motherhood really means. It is an interesting story, and I found the characters engaging.

Saturday 30 October 2010

More Poetry

Finished October 30
Chez Nous by Angie Estes
I came across a review of this book in a copy of The Believer, and it intrigued me, so I bought a copy of the book. I've been reading it slowly, savoring the poetry (and occasionally struggling with the French words included). The poems included here have a relationship to home, whether it is to be at home with language, or with place. The poems use layered meanings to convey themselves and include references to literature and history. I found the poems lyrical and full of meaning. Very enjoyable.

Suspenseful and Insightful

Finished October 29
Room by Emma Donoghue
This book begins in Room, the garden shed where Jack lives with Ma. Jack is five and Room is all he has ever known. Ma was brought here seven years ago and has been here ever since. It is Old Nick who comes to visit at night. He brings food and other things the two need. When he comes Jack is supposed to be asleep in Wardrobe, but sometimes he isn't asleep. Ma works hard to keep Jack healthy, both mentally and physically. She makes crafts and invents games and limits his TV time. But Ma worries about a time when she won't be able to keep Jack safe, and so she comes up with a plan.
This book speaks in Jack's voice of his world and his reactions to it. At the beginning Room is his world, and as Ma slowly begins to reveal to him what exists Outside, we see his struggle to deal with this new knowledge. Both characters show realistic reactions to their circumstances and that is the strength of this book, the voices. I went into this world thoroughly as I read and it came alive for me.
Seeing how someone deals with being a prisoner and trying to look after someone else in that environment is a real eye-opener and you begin to realize all the things to think of. A well-done story with a lot to say.

Canadian Fiction

Finished October 27
Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart
This is a wonderful read of a novel. Slow, lots of character development, an inward-looking book. Told in a narrative manner by a single speaker, this book looks back at the past with new eyes. We don't learn until the end who the listener is that is being told the story. The speaker is Liz Crane, an entomologist specializing in butterflies. She lives alone in the farmhouse that she spent the summers in as a child. Her story takes us back to the summer that she was sixteen and gradually reveals to us the events that changed her life and the lives of everyone else there. The first part of the story sets the scene, introduces the characters, and brings the setting to life. Prompting this look back is the recent death by IED of Liz's cousin Amanda in Afghanistan.
Liz tells us not just of her family and her aunt and uncle's family, and of the Mexican farm workers, but also of ancestors, both farmers and lighthouse-keepers. All the past comes to influence the events that happened that summer. This book is one to savour and read slowly and take the time to see the language and the story.

Tuesday 26 October 2010

Canadian Fantasy

Finished October 25
Yarrow by Charles de Lint
This was a used book I grabbed as I like de Lint's fiction and hadn't read this one. Once of his earlier books (1986) it is definitely a simpler book than his more recent The Mystery of Grace. I enjoyed the read and got caught up in its good versus evil storyline, but definitely found it a lighter read.
Cat is an author of fantasy novels who is inspired by her dreams. The stories that she writes are told to her by her dream people, who she has spent time with for years. There is some uncertainty as to whether these people are real or created in Cat's head.
An evil man has come to live in Ottawa, and he feeds off of dreams, sometimes going so far as to drain people's souls and take their lives. He is hooked on Cat's dreams, because of their depth and strength, but also feeds off many others in the community. Ever since he has been feeding on Cat's dreams, she has lost her connection with her inspiration and she faces writers' block for the first time. As Cat reaches out to the real people in her life, she also finds that she has a richer life and stronger personality than she realized. This is a book of self-awareness and self-knowledge as well as being a good versus evil tale.

Entertaining Audiobook

Finished October 21
Gods in Alabama by Joshilyn Jackson, read by Catherine Taber
I chose this book because I loved listening to Backseat Saints. That audiobook ended with an excerpt from the beginning of this book and it intrigued me. The books are related, with the storylines weaving into each other a couple of times, each told from the point of view of a different woman. This one is told from the point of view of Arlene Fleet. Arlene lives in Chicago, after running away from Alabama twelve years earlier. Arlene's encounter with Rose Mae (of Backseat Saints) a girl from her past leads her to return to Alabama. Arlene's aunt has been trying to get her to come back for years. Arlene made a deal with God. She would never lie or fornicate nor return home if the body of Jim Beverly would never surface. Arlene had hit him in the head with a bottle and hid his body at the end of her second last year of high school. She has concentrated on her grades and her career since then, but her boyfriend Burr is getting impatient with her pushing him away and worries about her manipulation of the truth as she works to keep her word to God. There are many barriers to Arlene going home, just one of which is Burr's race. We see the workings of Arlene's mind and how she is tied to her roots for life.

Tuesday 19 October 2010

Canadian Fiction

Finished October 17
The Promise of Rain by Donna Milner
This is a book that has two related storylines. One is in 1962 and told in the voice of Ethie, who is eleven. Ethie has an older brother Frankie and another older brother, closer to her in age, Kipper. Kipper has Down's Syndrome. When Ethie's mother dies suddenly that summer, her father slips further away from the family before another crisis forces him to find his way back to his family. The distance that Ethie's father Howard has sometimes had with his family is a result of his experiences in World War II. This leads us to the second storyline, which is Howard's experiences in World War II. Barely trained, Howard and his best friend Gordon left Winnipeg as new recruits and were sent off to Hong Kong. Poorly supplied, the two boys find life in Hong Kong slow at first and then find themselves in the middle of a deadly and vicious fight with the Japanese. They become POWs, but life is difficult and Howard undergoes experiences that change him forever. It is these experiences he has struggled with for years, not even talking to his wife about them. Now, with his wife's sudden death, his family's need, and people from the past reappearing in his life, he must face his past.
This is a very human story, and the emotions of the characters made it come alive for me. I could feel the situations they were in and how they reacted to them. A great read, that I could barely put down, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Canadian Poetry

Finished October 17
Pigeon by Karen Solie
I like poetry, and I'm trying to read poetry more often. I took this book out as it had won the GG award this year. I hadn't heard of the author before but I enjoyed most of the poetry. Good imagery and I liked her use of language.

Thursday 14 October 2010

Catching Up

I was on vacation last week and didn't blog about the reads I did, so I am catching up today. Didn't read all that much as I was too busy visiting etc.

Finished October 1
Rules of Betrayal by Christopher Reich, read by Paul Michael
This is the third book in the series featuring Dr. Jonathan Ranson and his wife Emma. In this one Jonathan is no longer with Doctors without Borders, but is on his own in Afghanistan, working as a freelance travelling doctor with an Afghani assistant. He hasn't seen Emma since their adventures in London months before.
After Jonathan barely survives an encounter with an Afghan warlord, and Emma is betrayed and tortured, Jonathan is contacted by Emma's superior, Frank Conner, head of Division. He is asked to undertake a mission into the heart of operations of a Middle East arms dealer that Emma was working with.
Lots of fast action and suspense that will keep you on the edge of your seat, which is what I expect from this series.

Finished October 3
Cleo: the cat who mended a family by Helen Brown
Written by New Zealand journalist Helen Brown, this personal memoir talks about how Cleo the cat helped her and her children, particularly her son, adjust to tragedy and change. Helen and her family already had a dog and she wasn't interested in adding a cat to the household, but her oldest son Sam was intent on wanting the cat, and willing to give up birthday gifts in exchange. Helen agreed to adopt the cat as soon as it was ready to leave its mother and Sam picked a name for the kitten. When the family was hit by sudden tragedy, the cat was forgotten until it appeared on their doorstep. Helen was again reluctant, until she saw the smile on her son's Rob's face, which hadn't been their since their loss, and she gave in.
As the family adjusted to the cat, and vice versa, the cat distracted them from their sadness and helped them to move on to a new way of living. Through its long life, Cleo again and again helped guide them, cheer them up and keep them positive.
Wonderfully written even through the heartbreak, this book illustrates the power of pets in our lives and how important they can be for such small creatures.

Finished October 9
The Fraser by Bruce Hutchison
Having travelled to B.C. on my vacation, I figured this would be a good choice for vacation reading. Originally written in 1950, this new edition is a facsimile, faithfully reproducing the original text. Well-researched and engagingly written, this history covers the settlement of B.C. which is tightly tied to the history of the Fraser river. Hutchison was a journalist who spent most of his life from childhood in B.C. and spoke firsthand to some of its early settlers.
I learned so much that I hadn't know about the history of this part of Canada that I was very glad I read the book. The last chapter contains musings about the future of the river, and it would have been nice to see an addendum that looked at what had really happened to the river in the last 60 years and how those changes affected the province.
A great read that includes both the big view and the personal stories, this book should be a must read for students of Canadian history. Others will also like the engaging writing and fascinating stories.

Saturday 2 October 2010

Dependable Author

Finished September 29
Crossfire by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
Classic suspense, with good plot, horses, threats, and danger.
Francis' books are always a good read keeping you turning the pages all the way to the end and this is no exception.
The main character, Thomas Forsyth, was badly wounded in Afghanistan and has been given six months leave to recuperate. Having lived in army housing for so long, he has no home of his own to go to so retreats to his childhood home at his mother's racehorse training home in Lambourn. They haven't ever really gotten along, but she seems more on edge than normal. Once he digs deeper and discovers what she has gotten herself into, he steps in to help, and gets himself in deeper than he'd thought.

Thursday 30 September 2010

Historical Fiction

Finished September 28
In the Fabled East by Adam Lewis Schroeder
This is the second novel by this author, and it follows two main characters from France into Indo-China. Pierre Lazarie goes to Saigon in 1936, fresh from a degree at the Sorbonne. He has a fascination for the East and thinks this will be good to explore as he awaits an opportunity to teach at the Sorbonne. However, his plans take an abrupt turn when Captain Emanuel Tremier asks for assistance in tracking down his mother Adelie who left France for Saigon in 1909 and never returned. Pierre is drawn to her image and eagerly follows the trail, traveling up the Mekong with his fellow bureaucrat Henri Le Dallic.
The other story is Adelie's herself. She is in the late stages of tuberculosis and desperate to get well to keep her young son Manu out of the military and immersed in his artistic world. She latches onto a fable heard of a secret spring in the Laotian jungle that offers a promise of immortality. We see her desperation and her travels into the jungle.
We also see incidents from a later time period, 1954, where Emanuel himself leads a team through the jungle in the last days of a later war.
Mystery, magic, fable, and dreams wind their way through this story in a way that is unexpected and yet flows naturally. A haunting story and a very engaging one.

Wednesday 29 September 2010

Canadian Audiobook

Finished September 28
A Map of Glass by Jane Urquhart, read by Hillary Huber
This story has a tale in the present and a tale in the past that are related to each other.
In the present Sylvia Bradley married her father's medical partner, Malcolm, who thinks she has a "condition" and treats her carefully in response to this. Sylvia met another man, Andrew Woodman, a historical geographer. He connected with her in a way that changed her world. A year after Andrew's death, Sylvia works up the courage to leave her community for the city and meet with Jerome McNaughton, the young artists who discovered Andrew's body.
There, she tells Jerome Andrew's story and shares Andrew's notebooks with him. This experience opens a door for Jerome into his own past and reveals secrets he didn't know.
The past story is Andrew's story, the story of his family, mostly that of his grandfather Branwell who married against his father's wishes. Branwell married an orphan French Canadian girl, and became an innkeeper and muralist painter. The story of Branwell is linked back to the present and it is the imagery that makes this book come alive. There is a lot here about surfaces and different textures. It is hard to know how to describe the book, except to say that it evokes strong images throughout.

Monday 27 September 2010

Modern Classic

Finished September 25
Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea
I got this book through my Indiespensable subscription, and have been reading it slowly before sleep most evenings. I wanted to savour every bit of it.
Urrea is a real storyteller and this story flows so beautifully it is hard to put down (but I made myself!) I reread passages to see how he had used language to convey so much.
The story is a quest, an adventure, a coming-of-age. It has elements of magic realism and folk tales, and feels like a story that is timeless.
Nayeli is 19 and works at a taco shop in the small village of Tres Camarones in Sinaloa. She often thinks of her father who left to find work in the United States (Los Yunaites). He sent a postcard to her once from there, from Kankakee, Illinois. As she thinks, she realizes that most of the men from the village have left for the north. Unfortunately this has also been noted by a gang of drug dealers, who decide to take over the village.
Nayeli sees the movie The Magnificent Seven at the village theatre and decides that she will go north and find seven men to protect and revitalize her home. Joining her are her girlfriends Yolo and Vampi and her friend Tacho. As they make their way north they encounter many interesting characters, and some of these, like Atomiko, join their group. The U.S. is portrayed as a kind of dreamland, a place where the men went to and never came back from.
There is hope, humour, and a wonderful story here. The characters are great, each with their own defining personalities and idiosyncrasies. Nayeli finds more than she expects, and with the help of her friends and her aunt Irma, finds more than the seven men she went looking for.
Highly recommended.

Canadian Mystery

Finished September 26
This Thing of Darkness by Barbara Fradkin
This is part of a series of novels featuring Inspector Green of the Ottawa police, but the first one that I've read. The story starts with the discovery of the body of an elderly man, beaten brutally to death.
At first police suspect a mugging that got too violent, as the body seems stripped of valuables, down to the shoes. When the victim is identified as a retired psychiatrist whose work was considered controversial, more scenarios look possible.
There are recent changes to his will that may have raised ire or expectations. There is a mysterious young woman who visited the victim regularly. There was a recent break-in at his home where papers and records including the will were taken.
We see most of the story from Green's viewpoint, but there are also a couple of minor characters for whom we also have brief insights. One of them is a young Somali-Canadian, Omar, seemingly nonviolent, but with a scary gap in his memory. The other is Green's young wife, a psychiatric nurse.
There are interesting characters, and no clear good and bad. The themes of mental illness are interesting and invite discussion. An intriguing mystery.

Tuesday 21 September 2010


Finished September 21
Noah's Compass by Anne Tyler, read by Arthur Morey
The voice of Morey is perfect for this novel. Liam Pennywell has just been downsized from his job teaching fifth-grade at a private school, a job that was itself not his ideal job. As a philosophy graduate, Liam's life took a hard turn many years ago when he was left as a single father. Now he finds himself moving into a smaller apartment in the suburbs of Baltimore. On the night he moves in to his new home, he is burgled and suffers a head injury, the result of which he has no memory after going to bed the previous evening.
His memory loss troubles him and he grasps straws trying to find ways to bring it back. These efforts lead him to interesting acts and encounters that change his life in ways he would never have expected.
As Liam states at one point, he feels that he has never really been engaged in his own life. And while that sounds sad, this book isn't. It is in fact hopeful, as is Liam.

Japanese Internment

Finished September 20
Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas
This book is told from the point of view of Rennie Stroud, a 13-year-old Colorado girl and begins in 1942 after Pearl Harbor. Rennie's older sister has gone to live and work in a factory in Denver, and her older brother Buddy left college to enlist. An internment camp for Japanese has been build near their small town, only a mile or so from the Stroud farm. Rennie struggles to form her own opinion of the situation looking at both her family and the townspeople. Rennie's father Loyal, is a deeply ethical man, and he knows that this internment is wrong and that Americans have been denied their rights. Rennie's mother Mary is worried about the opinions of the other ladies in her sewing group, even as she agrees with her husband. Rennie's grandmother is fading into dementia and goes between moments of lucidity and wandering.
Feeling in the town against the Japanese grows when a young girl is raped and murdered and the sheriff cannot find the culprit.
Loyal stands by his principles and hires some of the young Japanese men to assist with his farming. As the Japanese begin working on farms in the neighbourhood, more see them for the individuals they are. Rennie gets to know the young workers on their farm and grows close to Daisy a Japanese girl they hire to help in the house. Rennie also begins to see the various townspeople with new eyes, and works to support her best friend and her family. Rennie also sees that fighting back isn't always the right way to go about defending your actions, and that some people won't see what they don't want to.
A great book for older teens.

Great Premise

Finished September 19
Delivery by Betty Jane Hegerat
This book begins in the middle and then takes you back and forth to find out what led to this radical action, and where it leads.
As the cover states, Lynn Howard had recently divorced her husband and began to appreciate her independent life when her college-age daughter Heather announces her unplanned pregnancy. Heather is determined to go through with the pregnancy but put the baby up for adoption. But Heather hasn't counted on the emotions the birth will bring and decides that she needs more time with the baby. After three weeks, Heather abruptly decides to give the baby to the adoptive parents then and there and insists Lynn is the one to deliver the baby to them.
Lynn has her own baggage from the past and her own feelings for the baby and cannot bring herself to give the baby up. Instead she runs, driving west out of Calgary, not really sure where she is going.
Lynn finds herself going to the Quadra Island cabin of a friend of her ex-husband's, a place she never thought she'd see again after multiple family vacations. There she finds calm, solitude, acceptance, and time to think things through. As Heather discovers her act, Heather is also forced to think about all her options. Lynn's ex-husband Jack gets involved, as do others.
This is an interesting novel of family dynamics, woman's roles in society, and expectations. I really enjoyed it. Lynn was a very interesting character, who can see what she would have done differently in her own life and how she hopes to not have her daughter make a mistake she will later regret. Heather herself is an interesting and volatile personality still not sure of what she wants in life. It is the characters that I found really made this book for me.


Finished September 17
Making Toast by Roger Rosenblatt
This short memoir is the story of the first couple years after the sudden death of Rosenblatt's daughter Amy. Amy was a young mother of three children and a pediatrician. Rosenblatt and his wife dropped the lives they were living and moved into the in-law suite in the house Amy shared with her husband and children and began as Rosenblatt's wife, Ginny, says "to live Amy's life". They do what needs to be done with the children and the house and help Amy's husband Harris to have a life as well.
The title refers to Rosenblatt's task of making breakfast to each child's liking every morning, specifically toast.
He talks about the other people, friends and family, that help to make things go smoothly and the emotional help both taken and offered.
Well-written and reflecting on Amy's life, this book is a lovely tribute to his daughter.

Giller Longlist Announced

Here's the longlist as announced:

The Matter With Morris by David Bergen (on the waiting list for)
Player One by Douglas Coupland
Cities of Refuge by Michael Helm (sitting on my bookshelf at home!)
Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod
The Debba by Avner Mandelman
The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman
This Cake is For the Party by Sarah Selecky
The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud
Lemon by Cordelia Strube (have out from the library)
Curiosity by Joan Thomas
Sanctuary Line by Jane Urquhart (on the waiting list for)
Cool Water by Dianne Warren (I've read this. See blog)
Annabel by Kathleen Winter (I've read this. See blog)

I've read two so far, and have others waiting for me. (Perhaps during my upcoming vacation?)

Tuesday 14 September 2010

Fascinating Premise

Finished September 14
Heaven Is Small by Emily Schultz
I loved the first paragraph of this book: "Moments after his death, an event he had failed to notice, Gordon Small sought new employment". That just grabbed my attention and the rest of the book did not disappoint.
Gordon gets a job as proofreader at Heaven Book Company, proofreading a variety of romance novels. Heaven is the largest publisher of romance novels in the world, and has every type of genre possible. Free copies of the published works are available for the employee's to take and read.
But Gordon starts to realize that he might actually be dead, and stuck in a kind of limbo at Heaven Book Company. He starts to question other staff, and decides to embark on a project to make contact with his ex-wife, Chloe Gold, whom he has never stopped loving.
What effect will his actions have on Heaven? Will he be able to make contact with Chloe? And what will happen if he does?
The writing is wonderful, the premise unique and inspiring, and the book a winner.

Monday 13 September 2010

New Fiction with a Touch of Fantasy

Finished September 12
Extraordinary by Nancy Werlin
Having read Werlin's previous novel, Impossible, and loved it, I jumped at the chance for a copy of this book from Penguin. Again we have a teen girl as the main character, and a situation that has more to it than she first thinks.
Phoebe Rothschild is growing up as part of a wealthy, high-achieving family, but she doesn't always feel that she lives up to what her family's standards are. When Mallory enters the scene as the new girl at school, and is different enough that she becomes a target of the popular girls, Phoebe befriends her. The two grow very close, but Mallory is not all that she seems, and when Mallory's brother Ryland enters Phoebe's life, things change again. Phoebe becomes fascinated by Ryland, and he begins to influence her in ways she doesn't always like.
Phoebe has another friend, Benjamin, who has always helped to ground her, and although she only sees him a few times a year, they have a strong friendship.
When Phoebe finds out the true nature of Mallory and Ryland and what they are asking of her, she is shocked and dismayed. As she learns the reasons behind their actions, she isn't sure whether she can do what they want or not. We see Phoebe grow and learn about her self and what she is capable of and what is important to her.
This is a story about friendship, about individuality, and about self-confidence. A great book for teen girls.
Thank you Penguin.

Thursday 9 September 2010

Enjoyable Listen

Finished September 9
Backseat Saints by Joshilyn Jackson, read by the author
I picked this off the new book shelf at work, having never heard of the author. Well, now I am a fan. I thoroughly enjoyed this book, sometimes turning the engine off, and leaving the CD on to finish a section before getting out at my destination. This is a very "Southern" novel, from the reader's voice to the content. Ro Grandee is a young married housewife in Amarillo, Texas, occasionally helping out in her father-in-law's gun store, where her husband Tom works. His father controls Tom by promises of future success based on hard work and limited wages now, but lives well himself. Tom takes out his frustrations on Ro, who literally rolls with the punches. But Ro was born Rose Mae Lolly, in Alabama, and grew up with an abusive, alcoholic father. Rose Mae's mother left them when she was eight, and then she became the prime target for her father's violence. She learned to be tough and a good shot with a gun.
When Ro meets a gypsy at the airport, and gets her cards read, she realizes the truth in the gypsy's statement that Ro's husband will kill her if she doesn't kill him first.
Growing desperate, Rose Mae first looks to the men in her past and then realizes that that line of thinking just leaves her with more problems. She runs for her life with her pawpy's old gun, and her hounddog Fat Gretel.
This book is funny, poignant and gripping. I am now waiting to read her earlier book Gods in Alabama.

Visual Tale

Finished September 9
Back + Forth: a novel in linocuts by Marta Chudolinska
This book is like nothing I've ever read before. I loved it.
Although wordless, this book uses images to convey a story that evoked my emotions. A young women looks both at her present life in Vancouver and back to a previous time in Toronto with sadness.
The images, all prints done from linocuts, are detailed enough to show what you need to know, but not fussy with detail. You can see emotions from facial expressions and rain, but still the drawings stay simple. I found myself studying each image carefully to see the story.
The author is a recent graduate of OCA (Ontario College of Art) and includes a brief history of linocut novels and her inspiration for this book. That I also found very interesting.

Tuesday 7 September 2010

Edge of the Seat Reading

Finished September 6
Every Lost Country by Steven Heighton
I stayed up late last night to finish this as I couldn't bear not to know how it ended. I was gripped by the story and characters and how events overtook intentions.
This novel is told variously from four points of view: Sophie Book, a high school student who has been brought to Nepal by her father; Lewis Book, a doctor hired by a mountain climbing expedition; Amaris McRae, a videographer also part of the expedition; and Wade Larson, leader of the expedition and extremely self-centered.
The group intends to climb a mountain near the Nepal-Tibet border. Their base camp is within sight of the border. One day a group of Tibetans tries to cross the border while being chased by Chinese soldiers. Sophie has always been one to support the disenfranchised and she is compelled to record what is happening. One of the guides, Kaljang, leads her to safety behind some rocks. Sophie's father Lew however is also compelled to help those in need and when he sees some of the refugees are injured he crosses the border with his medical bag and goes to help. Amaris is also compelled to record what is happening and the Chinese grab her and her camera and take her and Lew with the Tibetan prisoners back down from the pass to China.
Lawson is angry at the situation and refuses to let the circumstances affect his climb. Against advice from others, he continues toward the mountain's summit.
Sophie, however, is worried about her father and what he might do, and decides she must act.
As we get caught up in the plight of the refugees and their individual stories, we also see how the relationship between Lew and Sophie changes, and how Amaris is forced to deal with her past after running from it for years. The story is compelling and the characters interesting and with depth. This is a great read and highly recommended.

Monday 6 September 2010

Short Memoir

Finished September 5
One More Theory About Happiness by Paul Guest
This is a memoir that touches on the high points of a life. Beginning with his life-changing bicycle crash at the age of twelve, Paul related the story of his life to his present.
The bike crash broke two vertebrae in his neck and severely damaged his spine. Paul comes to terms with his situation more quickly than you'd think, and his parents send him back to school days after his return from the rehabilitation hospital. His discovery of poetry allows him to find a focus in his life, and his interest in words and language become his career and his means to independence.
What this memoir really offers us is vignettes, glimpses into his life that illustrate things he learned about himself to move him forward.
Like poetry, it uses few words to show a great deal. This is a very interesting book about an interesting man.

Canadian Mystery

Finished September 4
Still Missing by Chevy Stephens
This novel is a page-turner. I kept losing track of time as I was reading it, as I got so caught up in the plot.
Annie O'Sullivan is a real-estate agent at the end of an open house for a home she is trying to sell when she is abducted. This novel starts several months after she gets free from her abductor and we learn her story from sessions with a psychiatrist. Her abduction lasted for a year and in her sessions we learn the details about that as well as about what has happened to her since as she works her way toward recovery.
The police are still working to identify her abductor, and she is still dealing with a lot of fears around her ordeal. It is Annie's voice we hear and she makes it real for us.
This is a very disturbing story and yet offers hope for a better future. Annie has had struggles in her life before, but this is something she's had to pull herself through, keeping herself distant from friends and family.
She is a changed woman and will never be the person she was before, but she can find a future.
This is a first novel for a talented writer from Vancouver Island, and I'll hope to see more from her.

Thursday 2 September 2010

Saskatchewan Fiction

Finished September 2
Cool Water by Dianne Warren
Except for the prologue, which is historical, this book takes place within a period of just over 24 hours. Set in the small town of Juliet, near Swift Current, this book follows several people from town through their day. From the escape of a horse from its trailer in the wee hours one morning to camping in the sand dunes in the wee hours of the morning of the next day, this book follows the events in people's lives. Some are mundane, some life-changing, but all have their own resonance here.
We have the horse owner, off to start a new life and hoping to make a good first impression. A young man, now on his own, trying to find his identity and place. A couple on the brink of financial disaster struggling through their life, yet finding comfort in each other and their family. Their eldest son, learning about his dreams for the future. A well-off, but distant middle-aged couple facing a different life-changing event than they thought they were. A middle-aged man and his widowed sister-in-law finding that life goes on in unexpected ways.
The characters here, whether major or minor all have their own voice and feel authentic. And the landscape of Saskatchewan, in the sand hills, has its own role here as well. This is a book to savour and enjoy.

Tuesday 31 August 2010

Recommended to me

Finished August 29
The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville
On a recent visit to B.C. a very knowledgeable clerk in Tanner's recommended a couple of books to me. We'd had a short yet interesting conversation and I bought two books on her recommendation. This is one of them.
I'd read Kate Grenville before, but liked this one even better than the other I'd read.
Set in the little town of Karakarook, New South Wales, this follows three characters: two visitors and one who lives there.
Douglas Cheeseman is an unprepossessing middle-aged man who is in town as the on-site engineer to replace an aging and damaged bridge, known as the Bent Bridge. Douglas is recently divorced and is aware that his wife found him boring. He also suffers from vertigo, an interesting ailment for a bridge engineer. He is also fascinated by concrete.
Also visiting Karakarook is Harley Savage. Harley was born into an artistic family whom her lack of art skills disappointed. She has had three husbands, and isn't looking for any relationships. Harley is in town to help setup a Heritage Museum, on loan from the National Museum of Applied Arts. She is also a textile artist, who specializes in vernacular interpretations. She is a large woman, uncomfortable in social situations.
The third character is Felicity Porcelline who is obsessed by perfection, in her person, her home, and her life. She worries about wrinkles and cleanliness. She moves in the community, yet set apart from the others. Even when directly interacting with other people, Felicity is obsessed by her own actions and appearance.
The theme indicated by the title is an interesting one. Felicity is in constant pursuit of perfection, yet within she is a very flawed woman. Harley and Douglas are very aware of their flaws, physical and social, and yet find that those very flaws give them strength.
I loved the characters and seeing what was going on within them here. Definitely a great read.

Friday 27 August 2010

Great Memoir

Finished August 27
Population: 485 by Michael Perry
Having read his book Truck: a Love Story, I was interested in reading more. This book actually was written before Truck and contains chapters about his work both as an EMS and as a volunteer firefighter in his hometown of New Auburn, Wisconsin. Perry puts it all out there, including the sad, happy, embarrassing, and comic. He talks about working with his brothers and mother, how his work as a firefighter linked him back to his community, and shows a variety of personalities in both his coworker and his fellow citizens. This is a story of a small town, human relationships, and self discovery.
Perry is an excellent writer who finds the humour in every situation and yet doesn't take advantage of his insight to belittle others or make himself a hero.
This is a book to read slowly and savour every bit, which is what I did, carrying it around for a long time in my purse, reading it in stolen moments when waiting for appointments or taking a quiet moment for myself. I'm now lending it to my dad, who enjoys Perry just as much as I do.

One I Didn't Read

Not Read
The World Above the Sky by Kent Stetson
I was attracted to this book as it was by a Canadian author who's won a GG award. However, I didn't get far. Before I got to the end of the first chapter, I was entirely disenchanted, crawled out of the top bunk I was reading in, announced to my roommates that it was so badly written I had to get another book to read. It seemed to pack in so many plot elements that it was trying to include something for everyone. From the living grail and the Knights Templar, to the Cathars, to the Vikings, to the Goddess, to seal women and native legends it had it all. I particularly disliked the "soul temporarily leaving the body" business.
I was particularly annoyed that I'd actually bought the book. I did find a taker for it among the other women at my retreat and hope she finds something in it that I didn't.
Since he's won a GG for drama, perhaps his plays are better.

Thriller by Canadian Author

Finished August 25
Switch by Grant McKenzie
Set in Portland, Oregon, this fast-paced thriller follows the character Sam White. Sam is an out-of-work actor now working as a security guard in a shopping mall. As he returns home after a night shift, he finds his house a smoking ruin and two body bags being removed from it. After falling into despair, and being questioned by the police, he receives a package with a cellphone in it and the cellphone rings with a call that tells him his wife and daughter are still alive. To get them back alive, he has to commit a series of violent acts that make no sense to him. As he tries to follow the instructions given him, hoping his family is safe, he meets Zack Parker, also a victim of the unknown caller, and the two begin to compare notes. They work together trying to stay one step ahead of their tormenter and figure out his identity.
I read this book in one day, and also did a variety of other things, so it was definitely a quick and engaging read.

Even More Canadian Fiction

Finished August 24
The Truth About Delilah Blue by Tish Cohen
This story is mostly told from the point of view of Delilah Blue Lovett, and a little from the point of view of her father. When Delilah was eight, her father brought her to Disneyland from Toronto, and they stayed in L.A. Delilah was told that her mother needed a break. But then she is out of contact with her mother for years. Delilah never really fit in, despite shortening her name to Lila. Lila is now twenty and determined to be an artist, like her mother was, but her father does not support this. He wants her to choose a more practical career. She starts doing life modeling for art classes, so that she can gain instruction without needing to pay for it. As she finds herself baring more than just her body, her mother reenters her life, accompanied by Kieran, Lila's younger stepsister. As her mother divulges the secret of Delilah's move to L.A., Lila begins to question her trust in her father, and to question her own sense of self and identity.
Meanwhile, her father is beginning to show signs of early-onset Alzheimer's and his confusion affects his ability to talk about the past and his motivations. Lila worries about his wellbeing and also worries about her new young stepsister.
Lila is a young woman dealing with a lot of new information and in stepping back and seeing her parents as flawed individuals, she also learns about her own strengths and feelings. I really enjoyed this book, and the growth the characters showed.

More Canadian Fiction

Finished August 22
Annabel by Kathleen Winter
The writing in this novel just blew me away. I kept reading bits of it aloud to anyone around. I'd started doing that just a few pages into the first chapter. I've already got several other people interested in reading this, starting with my godmother, Morag.
So now, the story. We start in 1968, where in a small town in Labrador, a child is born at home to Jacinta and Treadway Blake. The baby seems to be both male and female. Only the parents and a trusted neighbour, Thomasina, present at the delivery, know this. It is decided to raise the child as a boy, Wayne. Treadway works hard to teach his child all the traditional male skills present in their hunting and fishing culture. But Wayne's feminine side, Annabel, is still there, and is nurtured by the females in his life, Jacinta, Thomasina, and his friend Wally (Wallis).
We follow Wayne through childhood where he never really fits in with the other boys, no matter how much his father tries. We see what he does with the growing knowledge of his own body. As a young adult, Wayne goes away to St. John's and we see how he struggles to find a life there, how the decisions he makes influence that, and how his father and Thomasina and Wally help him find a new way forward.
The characters are well-drawn and complex and we see them grow and change. This is going to be one of my favourite books this year. Kathleen Winter knows the land this book is set in and can write about it. She is a wonderful, expressive writer.

Saturday 21 August 2010

Airplane Reading

Finished August 20
Fauna by Alissa York
In this novel we see things from a variety of points of view. The characters lives intersect and their different views give us a bigger picture of things.
Edal Jones is a federal wildlife officer who is on stress leave. She often gets called in on animal smuggling cases at the airport and through the book we see some of those. She is also coming from an unhappy childhood, and is one of two characters whose story we see from that earlier time period as well as from the present.
When she is out on her bike one day she sees a girl taking birds who have flown into office towers and wonders about what she is doing with them and follows her.
The girl, Lily, goes to an autowrecker's yard near a ravine, a yard that has become a sanctuary for both animals and humans. Lily is living out on her own with her dog, Billy. She is also escaping something.
The owner of the autowrecker's yard is Guy Howell. The yard is something he inherited and he has a talent for seeing vulnerability in living things and understanding what to do. Guy is working with an injured redtail hawk to rehabilitate it. Guy has one employee, Stephen, whose heart was weakened by an infection he got on a tour of duty in Afghanistan. Stephen is apprenticing there and doing the books and learning about animals. Stephen also has a history he isn't entirely comfortable with.
Lily encounters a young vet tech, Kate, when she is out on day, and Kate comes into the yard and finds a sort of place there. Kate is happy at her work, and yet still getting over a tragedy in her young life and finds herself drawn to the young Lily.
A separate menacing presence enters the ravine and touches on the lives of these people, a young man with issues and anger and who is looking to make his own mark. Stephen encounters him first and tries to make a difference in his attitude, but the others encounter him in some way as well. This young man is the other character that we see the full backstory of, and it isn't a happy one. He has experienced loss and abuse and struggles with himself.
I really liked this book and the insights and growth of the characters.
These are all people who have experienced loss. The losses and experiences differ, as do the way the characters deal with what they face. This is an emotional book, not meaning that it made me cry, but that the characters were so vulnerable and looking for ways to respond to those living things they encounter.

Thursday 19 August 2010

Audio Memoir

Finished August 19
Losing It: and gaining my life back one pound at a time by Valerie Bertinelli, read by the author
I've been watching the new sitcom "Hot in Cleveland" that Bertinelli is in, and thoroughly enjoying it, so when I needed a new audiobook for the car, and saw this on the shelf, I grabbed it.
It was quite interesting, and she is very open about her life and where she feels she has come to by the age she is at when she wrote it. Having her as the reader made it much more authentic as well.
She talks about getting into acting and how the opportunities that came her way shaped her as did the strong parenting she had growing up. She is very candid about her relationship to Eddie Van Halen and the mistakes both of them made in their marriage. She is hopeful for the future and looking forward to a life lived more self-aware than she had been previously.

British Mystery

Finished August 18
The Shadows in the Street by Susan Hill
Hill's police officer, DCS Simon Serrailler has long been a favourite of mine. His is a solitary man, finding it difficult to make a meaningful connection with a woman, and dividing his time between his career and his art. In this novel, he has just come off a difficult case for SIFT, Special Incident Flying Taskforce, and is on a sabbatical on a remote Scottish island. While there he thinks about what he wants next in his life.
Back home in Lafferton, his sister Cat is still coming to terms with the loss of her husband Chris. She's struggling to look after her family and figure out where she wants her medical career to go next. She worries about how her older son is handling the loss of his father.
Also a new Dean for the cathedral is making drastic changes, and planning more and this has the congregation, including Cat, divided about the future direction of the cathedral and its functions and services.
Also in the community someone starts targeting local prostitutes and the police are struggling to find leads. Simon is recalled from his leave to head up the case. When other women begin to go missing, criticism of the police begins, and the community fear grows.
It is really the characters that are so strong in these novels and even the minor characters are brought to life, so that you can see what drives them and what their lives are about. They are a wide range of characters and all very interesting.
As usual, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.

Tuesday 17 August 2010

Audio Classic

Finished August 16
Peace Like a River by Leif Enger, performed by Chad Lowe
I listened to the audiobook on the recommendation our staff member who buys adult fiction. She loved it and thought I would too. And she was right.
The book is told from the point of view of Reuben Land, a boy of eleven. Reuben was born with no air in his lungs and his father Jeremiah overrode the doctor and insisted on his son breathing, and he did, an event considered a miracle by the family. As a side effect of this however, Reuben suffers from severe bouts of asthma. Reuben also feels that his father has a direct connection to God and is capable of things most ordinary men are not.
In 1962 Jeremiah came across two young men preying on a young woman in a school locker room and the young men vowed vengeance. As the young men escalate their battles against the Lands, Reuben's 16-year-old brother Davy (and boyfriend of the young woman) joins in the escalation and kills the young men.
The Land family finds their lives upturned by the events, and when Davy breaks out of jail and goes on the run, things only become worse for the family.
Jeremiah, Reuben, and the boys younger sister Swede, an 8-year-old budding writer, set off in an Airstream trailer in search of Davy. They encounter friends and strangers and make new lasting relationships, but it is Reuben who is most changed by the experiences. He suffers from guilt in being the only eyewitness to Davy's actions, and thus being used in the case against him. He suffers from other betrayals and secret-keeping. He is harder on himself than most others are on him. This is a haunting story that will stay with the reader for a while.

Sunday 15 August 2010

Birthday Books

Had a family get-together today, and a delayed birthday celebrations.
Received a pile of books:
* The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis [I took this out of the library, but didn't get too far before I had to return it]
* Ordinary Thunderstorms by William Boyd [followup novel to Restless]
* The Tenants of Moonbloom by Edward Lewis Wallant [NYRB release]
* Stargazing by Peter Hill [memoirs of a lighthouse keeper and winner of Saltire Award]
* Bittersweet: lessons by my mother's kitchen by Matt McAllester [highly recommended]
* Biblioholism: the literary addiction by Tom Raabe [secondhand book, gift from my in-laws cats]
* How to Have a Beautiful Mind by Edward de Bono [I've liked his previous works]
* The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi [on my list and winner of Le Prix Goncourt 2008]
* Tallgrass by Sandra Dallas [novel about Japanese internment camp in Colorado]
* The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw[a first novel with a magical storyline]
* Journey to the Edge of the World by Billy Connolly [travels in Canada]
* Growth of the Soil by Knut Hamsun [winner of Nobel Prize, but unknown to me until now]

I also got a couple of CDs and a DVD documentary.
Looks like it will all keep me busy for a while.

Canadian Novel

Finished August 14
Beside Still Waters by Barry Callaghan
This novel did not capture me right away. It was only in the last section of the novel that I really started to be hooked by the story.
The writing however is excellent, and the characters are brought to life.
Adam Waters is the main character and we follow him in different times of his life in 3 locations. One location is Toronto, and we see Adam in various times of his life here, where he grew up. A second location is Puerto Rico, where he serendipitously encounters his first love, Gabrielle, and they fall into each other's arms again. They also tell each other the missing histories of their lives and learn more about what makes each of them live.
The third location is Gabon, where Adam follows Gabrielle's trail. Gabon is in turmoil and Adam makes his way through very dangerous and difficult situations before finding the leper colony where Gabrielle has gone.
Adam is not that happy with his life, but Gabrielle is more unhappy with hers. She finds past experiences limit her ability to be happy in her life.
I think this is why I found it hard to get engaged by the novel at first. With most of the characters unhappy and showing little sign of finding their way to happiness, I was not looking forward to reading more. But at some point I found myself wanting to find out more about the characters and what brought them to where they are.
A very different and interesting book, but thought-provoking.

Friday 13 August 2010

Second in Series

Finished August 13
Flight of Shadows by Sigmund Brouwer
This book is the second in the series begun by Broken Angel. In the first book we left Caitlyn just beginning to deal with life in the world Outside Appalachia. Here we see how both government and non-government are interested in her, not always for the same reason.
Billy and Theo run into their own problems and aren't sure of the motives of those who help them. Caitlyn is also rescued by someone she doesn't entirely trust, and looks hard before accepting help.
This book gives us insight to the world first introduced in Broken Angel, with more background information of what happened in the world to get to this point. I found that part of it particularly interesting.
We also see more about Caitlyn and what makes her special.
A good read, with intriguing ideas and scenarios that give opportunities for insight.

Reading a Good Book

Exactly the right thing to do in the summer heat!

Wednesday 11 August 2010

Canadian Short Stories

Finished August 11
Vanishing and other stories by Deborah Willis
I noted the blurb by Alice Munro on the cover of this book: "The emotional range and depth of these stories, the clarity and deftness, is astonishing."  And the promise conveyed in that sentence was not disappointed. This is a very engaging collection of stories that all surprised me in some way and made me read more closely.
Willis brings out so many realistic stories from so many disparate characters that I am indeed astonished. I have always loved short stories, but these really grabbed me. The main characters were old, young, male, female, and often looking back at past events. She made me feel the reality of these people's lives and yet let me see them from outside as well.
I absolutely loved her writing and will be looking for more of her.

Monday 9 August 2010

Canadian Mystery

Finished August 8
The Weight of Stones by C.B. Forrest
The main character here is Toronto Detective Charlie McKelvey. He's been a bit stuck since the murder of his estranged son a couple years earlier, trying to find who was behind the crime. He doesn't think the detectives on the case have followed through on the leads provided, and has hounded them with his requests for information.
He is also having difficulty on the home front, growing more and more apart from his wife. They are dealing with their grief in very different ways, and although Charlie has been going to the support group at his wife's request, he doesn't feel he is getting anything from it.
As he finds the chance of justice growing more distant, he also gets felled by an unexpected illness, forcing an early retirement. With all the time on his hands, the case looms larger for him.
We see inside Charlie's head, and it isn't a happy place. He hasn't been happy in years and the obsession and guilt from his son's death aren't helping. This is a very human story, with a very flawed protagonist, but it feels real.

Friday 6 August 2010

Thrilling Listen

Finished August 6
The Neighbor by Lisa Gardner read by Emily Janice Card, Kirby Heyborne, and Kirsten Potter
Sandra Jones, a young wife, mother, and teacher has disappeared. When her husband returns from his job, reporting for a Boston paper, late one night his wife is nowhere to be found, and their 4-year-old is alone in the house. After searching the house and yard for her he calls the police.
Detective Sergeant D.D. Williams is called in to the case by the local police and immediately begins to suspect the husband, Jason. She doesn't think that he is responding in the right and expected way. Instead of being frantic about his wife, he is completely focused on their daughter Ree.
Before long there is another suspect offered up, a convicted sex offender who lived just five houses down, Aidan Brewster. And once they go to her school to talk to her fellow teachers, it would appear she has a passionate defender in a grade-seven student who has been helping her with Internet research.
As the police gather suspects rather than eliminating them, and both they and Jason agree that Ree knows more than she is saying, things get more and more tense.
We learn that both Sandra and Jason are fleeing from monsters in their past, and they haven't shared the specifics with each other. We learn the terrible sorrow of the young sex offender. Things are revealed to us little by little by the different voices, and just as quickly new questions are raised.
What was Jason doing on the Internet and what shocked Sandra into taking her concerns to others? What did Ree see? Why was Sandra so scared of her father? What is Jason running from? This is a book that will keep you on the edge right until the end.

Poignant and Inspiring First Novel

Finished August 6
Amphibian by Carla Gunn
I loved this book! I could hardly put it down, starting it yesterday evening and finishing it at breakfast this morning.
The novel centers on 9-year-old Phineas Walsh, a boy who loves knowledge and is passionate about the environment. Phin has created his own world Ruell, that he writes about and draws pictures of. It is a world with a variety of life forms, interdependent on each other, but sometimes destructive (similar to earth).
He is also hooked on the Green Channel, a channel focused on the world and environment.
Phin's parents are separated, and have been for about a year. His mother is a journalist who works from home most afternoons. His father is a foreign correspondent who spends most of his time away, but phones Phin often to stay in touch. He is also close to his Granny, who is a biologist and shares his interest in the environment. Phin's best friend is Bird (Richard L'Oiseau), and he has a cat named Fiddledee.
Phin's mom thinks he worries too much about the environment and worries herself about the effect on his life. She begins taking him to a psychologist. Phin also has some issues at school with a bully, Lyle, and with information from his teacher that doesn't seem right to him (and I agree!!)
Phin caught my heart and I loved his lively intelligence. This book gets inside his head, and makes sense.