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.

Thursday 5 August 2010

British Mystery

Finished August 5
Cold in Hand by John Harvey
DI Lynn Kellogg of Nottingham is on her way back from a hostage negotiation when she responds to an urgent call and wades into a fight. She is shot and injured as is a young woman, and another young woman is killed. The grieving father blames Lynn, and is vocal about it.
DI Charlie Resnick, Lynn's colleague and partner, is called on to assist with the murder case.
As Lynn recovers, she is called back on another case where a young woman and her child were killed, revisiting old ground in order to make some progress. Another murder case that she is the lead officer has stalled when a witness goes missing. The Serious and Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) is taking an interest and Lynn worries about her other witness. SOCA says it is part of an international arms case they are working on and Lynn finds herself being drawn into situations that increase her worry.
This book focuses on the police and the cases, but gives a glimpse of the real criminal world they are up against. The impulses people act upon and the mistakes people make have greater impacts than they think. We see Charlie at his most vulnerable, and like him better for it. I liked seeing how music played a role in people's lives as well. Charlie likes his jazz and several other characters have strong feelings about music too.

Funny Book

Finished August 3
Simon's Cat by Simon Tofield
I first saw Simon's cat in this video, and loved it. This book was given to me by a friend for my birthday and I really enjoyed reading it (and will be sure to reread several times).
I think the pictures speak for themselves.

Sunday 1 August 2010

Canadian Mystery

Finished August 1
Death Spiral by James W. Nichol
I was just glued to this book, because it is so different from most mysteries.
Wilf McLauchlin returns to his small Ontario town from World War II an injured hero. He was a Spitfire pilot and his plane went down over Germany in the late days of the war. He lost the use of an arm, walks with a limp and a cane due to his hip injuries and temporarily lost his sight.
Now back home, he struggles with what to do. His father requests that he come into his law office until he goes back to law school in Toronto, and so Wilf does.
But strange dark events begin to happen in the town and Wilf finds himself drawn and involved in them. As they continue Wilf wonders about his relationship to these events and why they are happening now.
This story is dark and haunting and yet gripped me completely. The aftereffects of the war, the evil present in all of us and the urges that compel are all shown here.

Latest in Orchid Series

Finished August 1
Kill for an Orchid by Michelle Wan
This book continues the story of Julian and Mara in the Dordogne region of France.
Julian is a landscaper designer from England with a passion for orchids, and who is particularly intent on finding the one that seems unfindable.
Mara is an interior designer with a thriving business, who came to France from Canada and who has begun a relationship with Julian.
The two are getting serious and discussing marriage, when the rare orchid chase raises its head yet again, and Julian's past comes back to haunt him.
Mara is having trouble sleeping is Julian becomes involved with a group working against a big drug company whose latest sleep medication is based on orchids. Julian is worried about the wild orchids disappearing.
As Julian gets drawn to China in his quest, his relationship with Mara falters.
There is a lot going on here, and deception and intrigue are everywhere. Despite their feelings, Mara and Julian work together to figure out what is behind it all. A real page-turner, this story will keep you reading.