Saturday 31 July 2010

Second in Series

Finished July 31
The Ask and the Answer by Patrick Ness
This is the second book in the Chaos Walking series that started with The Knife of Never Letting Go.
We start with Todd being separated from Viola and Mayor Prentiss having taking control of the town of Haven, now called New Prentisstown. He has also declared himself the President. The men and the women are separated again and strict rules are in place.
Todd and Viola are both told by Prentiss that he wishes for peace and a hopeful future, but neither of them trusts him.
Todd is paired with Prentiss' son Day and put to work outside the town.
Viola is in a healing house while she recovers from her injuries and learns a trade herself.
As we see the trust between the various players falter, and recover, only to falter again, the novel has us riding an emotional rollercoaster. Ness keeps throwing new problems into the novel and you never know what is going to happen next.
A great suspenseful read, with lots going on and the relationship between Todd and Viola developing to new levels. Looking forward to the next one.

NYC Story

Finished July 31
Heroic Measures by Jill Ciment
This novel takes place over a few days in New York City. An older Jewish couple, Alex and Ruth, is looking at selling their coop as they are worried about the stairs to their 5th floor home becoming a problem for the future.
Their elderly dachshund, Dorothy, has suddenly lost control of her rear end, causing them to rush her to the animal hospital.
Alex and Ruth are worried about their dog, their home, their future, and Alex's artwork.
With a tanker stuck in the Midtown Tunnel and everyone talking about terrorism, the whole city seems to be worried about the future as well.
With people traipsing through their home and worry over the tunnel situation growing, Alex and Ruth's concern is centered on Dorothy and her chances of recovery.
We also see things from Dorothy's point of view.
I really enjoyed this look into the life of a couple and seeing their lives up close and personal. Learning about their past, and their friends, and seeing their relationship with each brought to life made this an excellent read, and I read it in one sitting.
Highly recommended.

Tuesday 27 July 2010

New Fiction

Finished July 27
Red Hook Road by Ayelet Waldman
This book starts with a tragedy. Between their wedding and the reception, a young couple is killed in a car accident. The rest of the book follows their families over the course of that summer in Maine, and the following three summers.
The young man, John, grew up on the coast of Maine. He went to school to become a boat designer and he and Becca are restoring a boat they intend to use to run Caribbean charters. John's mother Jane makes her living cleaning houses for the summer people. John's younger brother Matt is the first in the family to go to college. John also has a young cousin, Samantha, who was adopted from Cambodia, and who served as the flower girl at the wedding.
Becca's grandmother was from the island and her grandfather is a famous violinist whose Parkinson's has now forced him to teach rather than perform. Becca's mother, Iris inherited the family home in Red Hook and she teaches at Columbia University, so the family uses it as a summer home. Becca's father Daniel was a boxer in his youth and now teaches law at CUNY. Becca has a younger sister Ruthie, who is academically minded and has just been accepted into a Master's program at Harvard.
We see how the tragedy affects the different family members in different ways as they struggle to deal with their grief and move on with their lives.
A touching and insightful story that takes a closer look at grief and its different manifestations.

Monday 26 July 2010

Poetry for the Real World

Finished July 26

Ballistics by Billy Collins

I have been reading this book of poetry slowly, savouring each poem. Billy Collins takes ordinary moments in life and captures them eloquently in his poems.
Each one is a gem.
It is hard to find words to describe the experience I had with this book, other than to say, READ IT, YOU'LL LOVE IT.

Friday 23 July 2010

Audio Thriller

Finished July 23
The Nearest Exit by Olen Steinhauer, read by David Pittu
This is the second in the series that started with The Tourist. This continues more or less where that book left off. Milo Weaver is still experiencing some fallout with his wife from his recent adventures, and feeling less than optimistic signs up again as a Tourist. The jobs he is given seem very easy and he think they are being careful to give him jobs that they can watch the outcome of easily. Then he is given a job that he can't stomach, and he agonizes over what to do. Again he enlists the help of another to find a solution that he can live with, but even that goes wrong for him.
There is trouble within the Tourism department and suspicions grow when information seems to be leaked to others. Milo finds himself becoming involved again despite his best intentions.
This book will keep you on the edge of your seat and the plot is a nice twisty one. A great read.

Monday 19 July 2010

Mystery Thriller

Finished July 19
Choker by Frederick Ramsay
This is from the series featuring Ike Schwartz, but is the only one I've read in that series. Ike is the sheriff of Picketsville, Virginia, but is also ex-CIA. When on a vacation by the water on the Delmarva peninsula, Ike is called by an old friend, Charlie Garland, still in the CIA.
Charlie's niece's fiance, Nick, disappeared a couple of months ago when flying a small plane and the family is looking for answers. Ike uses his old skills to backtrack and figure out where Nick and his plane ended up, but finds more questions arising. The search has led him into a situation of international terrorism.
Back home, acting sheriff Frank Sutherlin is looking into missing church silver and the questionable behaviour of a group of teens. Local pastor Blake Fisher suspects some of the local kids of being drawn into satanic worshiping without full knowledge of the consequences.
From the domestic to the international, there is a lot going on here and the action gets very intense at times. Another book that will keep you reading right until the end.

Edge of the Seat Mystery

Finished July 18
Final Approach by Rachel Brady
This novel features Emily Locke, a woman still recovering from a tragedy in her life four years earlier. When someone from that time shows up asking for her help in a case, she is reluctant to help, until she hears that it involves a missing child.
For Emily, that is how this all began. Four years ago, when a friend's child was missing, Emily found him and called the police. But her own family tragedy, losing her husband and young daughter, also came out of this time. She feels the man who is now asking for her help betrayed her back then, and can't bring herself to trust him entirely.
As she immerses herself deeper into the case, she finds more similarities with that past case and her own loss, and she becomes sure that the answer to this case will also bring her answers of her own.
The plot is fast moving and emotional, and the book is one I just couldn't put down.

Teen Series

Finished July 14
This World We Live In by Susan Beth Pfeffer
This is the third book in the series that started with the book Life as we Knew It and continued with The Dead & The Gone.
This book brings the character featured in the two earlier books together, a year after a meteor collided with the moon and caused all the catastrophic changes. We start with Miranda Evans, who began her diary in the first book. She and her two brother cut wood and scavenge for food and household needs in the neighbourhood around their home in Pennsylvania. Miranda's mom, Laura stays home and tries to keep it all together. The family takes advantage of the few times electricity comes on to run appliances.
When Miranda's father and stepmother arrive with their small baby and three strangers, there is both welcome and wariness. Food is limited and the additional mouths pose a potential problem. But Miranda and her siblings are pleased to know their father and his new family are still alive.
As the group find a way to move forward together, the weather strikes again, with a violent storm including a tornado.
Miranda's diary is once again the method of storytelling here, and we see her growth and her resolve as she realizes that she must become an adult in order to help her family survive. This is a moving book and a satisfying continuation of the series.

Tuesday 13 July 2010

Reading Challenge

I completed the aimed level for the Chunkster Reading Challenge (Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big) and now think I should have aimed for a higher level (since I have until January 2011 to complete it).
This level meant going for 4 books over 450 pages, which I have now done.
1. Burmese Lessons - 463 pages
2. Crow Road - 501 pages
3. The Passage - 766 pages
4. A Fierce Radiance - 527 pages
I also thoroughly enjoyed them all.

I'm thinking to change my aim to the level of Mor-Bookly Obese, which requires 6 books over 450 pages (or 3 over 750).
So I shall keep reading (as if I wouldn't have anyway!)

Great Read

Finished July 12
A Fierce Radiance by Lauren Belfer
Set in New York City during World War II, this novel follows the character Claire Shipley, a photographer for Life magazine, divorced single mother as she does her work and raises her son.
Claire is assigned to a story on penicillin, following the treatment of a patient at the Rockefeller Institute. Having lost a child to an infection, Claire is touched personally by the story. She is attracted to the lead doctor on the team, James Stanton.
We see the fascinating science going on during this time period, and the manipulation and intrigue surrounding it. Not only penicillin was being worked on during this period, but also antibacterial drugs, developed by natural substances found in soil. The was means government involvement in penicillin as its success will impact the troops.
There is so much going on in this book that it makes it feel like an epic although it covers a relatively short time period. With the war, the impact of Life magazine and the range of stories it tells, life in New York City at this time, science influenced by government and corporate greed, and human relationships this book tells a strong, cohesive story that gripped me to the end.

Monday 12 July 2010

Doggy Read

Finished July 12
One Good Dog By Susan Wilson, read by Fred Berman and Rick Adamson
There are two voices in this novel: Adam March, a man who was abandoned to foster care at the age of 5 and pulled himself up to the top of his profession, until he made a terrible mistake; and Chance, a dog bred to fight and now at the end of options at the animal shelter.
As the book says, both need a second chance, and in this story they offer it to each other.
Adam has been haunted by his past the deeper he tries to push it. In a single moment circumstances, emotions, and that haunting past have caused him to lose self-control and, in doing so, lose everything else he values. He loses his job, his home, his family, and serves his community service hours working in the kitchen and dining room of a homeless shelter.
Chance doesn't like his life as a fighter, and the first chance he gets, he takes off for the streets. But he finds street life hard and the authorities hard to dodge and ends up in the shelter.
When circumstances bring the two together, both think it is only temporary, but they might need each other more than they think.
A good story and the audio is well done with different readers for the dog and the man.

Friday 9 July 2010

Domestic Fiction

Finished July 6
The Condition by Jennifer Haigh
The books takes a look at a family in the late 70s at a family vacation home on Cape Cod. It then jumps to 20 years later looking at the same family.
The parents have divorced. The older son is a successful doctor living a good life in Boston, but keeping his real life separate from his family. The younger son has been running away from expectations and his own wants most of his life and only now is forced to look at his life and what he really wants. The middle child, a daughter has been living the last two decades with her genetic condition which she has let limit her life. When she is finally offered a chance to really enjoy life, her family baggage might get in the way.
The parents have their own issues too.
This look at a single family and how the lack of real communication has affected every member is an interesting vignette. Wonderfully written with characters that feel real, this book is a great choice for a summer read.

Tuesday 6 July 2010

American Fiction

Finished July 4
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
I've been reading this one beside the bed for a while. The story was interesting, but I didn't find myself engaged by it. I'm discovering that if I don't like any of the characters I have a harder time connecting with a book and I think that is what happened here. It wasn't until closer to the end that I found myself really enjoying the book.
The story is set in Wisconsin in the early part of the twentieth century. Ralph Truitt, successful businessman, has advertised for a "reliable wife". He is hoping to lure his son back and for him this is a first step. He is thinking of it as a new beginning.
Catherine Land has answered the ad, and also sees this as a new beginning, but she has her own goals and plan.
Each of these characters has their own unhappy past, which we gradually discover. But what happens is unexpected for both of them and eventually gives them a new beginning they hadn't thought to look for.

Saturday 3 July 2010

Psychological Thriller

Finished July 3
Out of a Clear Sky by Sally Hinchcliffe
Manda is a computer programmer and help desk operator at the local university and has a passion for birdwatching. She has recently been dumped by her long-term boyfriend Gareth, and is still upset by that situation. They own a house together and need to figure out what to do with it before they can completely move on.
Manda finds that she is suddenly noticing a man that she has seen at birdwatching events everywhere she goes. She begins to get fearful about him and, as other strange things happen with her computers and house, scared to even be home. As she also reflects on her own childhood and its unhappiness, she also finds similarities in her current life.
Manda is a victim, but she is one who can't seem to help herself properly and makes mistake after mistake as she gets herself into deeper trouble.

War Story

Finished June 28
The True Story of Hansel and Gretel: a novel of war and survival by Louise Murphy
Two young children, brother and sister are left in the woods by their father and stepmother who are fleeing from the Germans in the last months of World War II. To hide their identity as Jews, the two are told their names are now Hansel and Gretel.
On their travels through the woods, the two eventually encounter a house lived in by Magda, an eccentric old woman known to local villagers as the witch. Despite the urging of others, Magda takes in the two children as her grandchildren. She receives help from family members in hiding the real identity of the children, and trying to give them a normal life. When a new German General comes to town with his own agenda for some of the children, things become even more difficult for the villagers.
With a close look at the difficult lives of villagers during this time period, history comes to life. But the added element of the Hansel and Gretel story adds another dimension to the story.
A fascinating and engrossing novel. This book was a San Francisco Chroncile Best Book of the Year.

Character Novel

Finished June 27
Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow
This is a story about two brother. The younger, Homer, went blind as a teenager while his older brother was off fighting in World War I. After their parents were killed in an accident the two live on in the family mansion across from Central Park, living an increasingly reclusive life.
Due to Homer's blindness, Langley tends to make most of the decisions, and begins hoarding a variety of items, especially newspapers. As they become more and more cut off from their neighbours, they also lose access to more and more services. Homer is a bit of a victim of his brother's paranoia and persecution complex and, as the story is told from his point of view, he is the more sympathetic character.
A very interesting novel.

Historical Fiction

Finished June 26
The Rebellion of Jane Clarke by Sally Gunning
In the town of Satucket Jane Clarke lives with her father, stepmother and younger siblings. Her father runs one of the two mills in town and there is a longstanding rivalry between the two mill families, the Clarkes and the Winslows. Jane's big rebellion is to turn down a marriage proposal that her father had expected her to accept. She feels that she wants to know the man better before entering into the marriage, but as punishment she is sent to Boston to be companion to her father's sickly Aunt Gill.
Taking place just before the Revolution, there is considerable uneasiness in Boston between the people and the soldiers. Jane tries hard to observe what is happening rather than taking others' words for incidents, especially after she becomes involved in a situation that is reported inaccurately. She feels that she helps her aunt some, and keeps an eye on the servants, Prince and Martha, who sometimes seem to be taking advantage of Aunt Gill. She also tries to meet more often with her brother who is working in the law office of John Adams, on of the top lawyers in Boston at the time. In running errands for her aunt, she becomes acquainted with Henry Knox, the manager of a local bookseller and stationer, who both visits her at her aunts and escorts her to local events.
Jane sometimes misses her home and her family, and finds herself growing closer through letters to both her stepmother Mehitable and her sister Bethiah. She also finds comfort with her stepmother's parents who have a house in Boston. By vistiing with her family and friends, she also encounters her spurned suitor Phinnie Paine and learns more about him.
This has a wealth of history and great insight into this young woman's thoughts and feelings as she learns to think and act for herself.

Adventure Fiction

Finished June 24
The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin
Ashley Knox, an athletic writer/columnist on the verge of marriage, and Ben Payne, an emergency pediatric sports orthopedic surgeon, meet at the airport in Salt Lake City. They are booked on the same flight and share a bit of their backgrounds as they wait. When their flight is cancelled, they are both disappointed.
Ben notices a private flight operator and makes arrangements for a flight out before the approaching storm, and invites Ashley to join him. Private pilot Grover has years of experience, and has no qualms about the flight. He also has his dog on board.
However, the unthinkable happens and the plane crashes badly in the High Uintas Wilderness of Utah, miles from any settlement. With Ashley's broken leg and Ben's broken ribs, they must think carefully about every move they make towards their goal of survival. Ben travels always with a digital recorder, on which he records messages to his wife, to give her later. He has been doing this for his travels their entire marriage. Ashley is entranced by this practice and tries to draw him out about his wife Rachel and their life together.
A story of adventure, courage, and love, this is a book that will keep you reading. I loved it.

Chinese Adoptions

Finished June 23
The Red Thread by Ann Hood
Maya has been getting over a tragedy in her life for some time. One thing she has done towards this is open an adoption agency to help people adopt babies from China. This book takes place a few years after her agency started up and is focused on a group of couples who came to the same orientation and are due to adopt their babies at the same time. We get to know the various couples and see the situations in their lives that brought them to the point of adoption. The dynamics between each couple are interesting and the situations are varied. As expected, it is mostly the women driving the process, but the men react in interesting and varied ways.
We also gradually see into Maya's past and watch as she finally comes to terms with it herself.
An interesting book, and an engaging story.

Friday 2 July 2010

Billed as Hot Read for the Summer

Finished June 23
The Passage by Justin Cronin (Advance Readers' Edition)
Billed as the read for Summer 2010, this chunky (766 page) novel is gripping and has not only an interesting plot, but also interesting characters.
It begins by looking at a young single mother and her daughter Amy, struggling to survive and at a US Army project called NOAH, a secret project designed to weaponize the human body. The first twelve test subjects for this project turn into something other than human: deadly, hungry for blood and hard to kill.
The thirteenth test subject is the six-year-old girl named Amy and when the first twelve escape, an FBI agent named Wolgast rescues her.
We then jump ahead several decades to a small community in California, living mostly in a lighted compound and starting to encounter technical problems to their existence. Existing her are both First Families (the founders of the community, all of whom came as children) and Walkers (those that showed up at the community later looking for safe haven).
As the community begins to disintegrate we follow a group of young people looking for another haven: Peter, whose brother Theo was attacked and taken by the virals; Alicia a young woman raised by a Walker; Sara and Michael, brother and sister, engineer and nurse; Caleb, a young man eager to prove himself; and others.
Watching as the characters follow a faint lead, and grow into their adult selves keeps you glued to the page.
For a large book, I read this amazingly fast and enjoyed it thoroughly. Will have to keep an eye open for the next two in the trilogy.

Ethiopian Tale

Finished June 18
Beneath the Lion's Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
We follow the family of Hailu and Selam in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia beginning in 1974 with the revolution. Hailu is a doctor and Selam is dying in the hospital. Their oldest son Yonas takes refuge in prayer, pleading for an end to the violence. Yonas' wife Sara feels herself to be abandoned by God after the loss of their parents and earlier pregnancies, even as she prays for her daughter's life to be spared. Hailu's younger son Dawit has joined an underground student resistance movement, and finds himself pushing to do more.
The family dynamics play a large role in the plot, as does the revolution and resistance in Ethiopia. When Hailu makes a decision to spare a prisoner further torture, he is ordered to report to jail and the fight for freedom becomes more personal. As the family becomes more involved in the political situation, we see the desperation and hidden depths of the characters we have come to care about.
Told from multiple viewpoints, this story is an emotional and powerful one.

Short Stories

Finished June 14
Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-Eyed Stranger: New and Selected Stories by Lee Smith
Stories with settings in the American South dealing with relationships, family, and how we all deal with what life brings to us. It is characters that are Smith's strong point. They come alive for the reader. They are us, our friends, our neighbours. The things that happen in their lives are things we are familiar with and can relate to. People get married, have babies, break up, and die. There are so many of the stories that I loved that I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite. What I do know is that this is a writer I want more of and will be seeking out her earlier books.
What is ordinary, she illuminates in a way that is unexpected, yet rings true every time.

Thursday 1 July 2010

Aussie Mystery

Finished June 12
Cocaine Blues by Kerry Greenwood
This is the first in the series featuring Phryne Fisher. This one has her just arriving in Melbourne, Australia from England. She was asked by an couple worried about their daughter's wellbeing to check into the situation, but plans to set herself up as a detective. On the voyage she has made friends with a female doctor, Dr. Macmillan, who is coming to be part of the staff of the new Queen Victoria hospital, a hospital for women.
The books are set after World War One, and Phryne is a very competent young woman, who drives well, pilots airplanes, and is capable of pretty much anything she sets her mind to. It is her knowledge of human behaviour and her powers of observation that make her a successful detective.
I'd read one of the later ones in this series and found it entertaining, so found it interesting to see how the series began. On her first day, Phryne witnesses a young woman who is considering drastic moves after being the object of a abusive employer. When Phryne takes a bit of revenge for her, the young woman, Dot, comes to work for Phryne. Phryne meets a Russian countess and her grandchildren who do innovative theatre and comes into contact with a world of drugs. She also hears about an incompetent and abusive abortionist from Dr. Macmillan and assists the police with that case.
She finds that two taxi drivers, Cec and Bert, and good allies and involves them in some of her activities.
There is lots going on here, but nothing that Phryne can't handle (even though she does make some bad decisions). A thoroughly enjoyable book, and one that made my vacation flight go more quickly.