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.