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.