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.