Saturday 26 February 2011

The Guilty Plea

Finished February 26
The Guilty Plea by Robert Rotenberg
Got this as an advance reader's edition (publishing date is May) at the recent OLA conference. And boy am I glad. Once I started reading, I was hooked. This is just as good, if not better than his first book Old City Hall.
We have some of the same characters coming back, specifically Detective Ari Greene and Officer Kennicott. Terrance Wyler, youngest of three sons in the Wyler Food company, is involved in a high profile divorce. He has a new famous girlfriend, and his influential family on his side. When he is found the morning of the trial murdered in his kitchen, eyes naturally turn to his about to be ex-wife Samantha.
We have great plot, interesting characters, and an edge-of-the seat story. Rotenberg is the new mystery author to watch in Canada, and his second novel is a winner.

Monday 21 February 2011

The Water is Wide

Finished February 21
The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy
I became interested in reading this book after reading Pat Conroy's recent memoir of his life. The book talks about the months in 1969 and 1970 that Conroy taught at a small black school on Yamacraw Island, South Carolina.
Conroy was appalled at the lack of knowledge of the students (grade 5 to grade 8) that he was responsible for. Many could not read, or do simple math. They lacked knowledge of geography, history, and science. Conroy had taught high school before and so was not prepared with all the tools to teach younger children. He relied on his instincts and used ingenuity to find ways to engage the children, enrich their learning experience and fight for their right to a decent education. He encountered racism, apathy, and indifferent. He was not always wise or prudent in his fight and it ended with him being fired and never teaching again. But it taught him a great deal.
I found it a very interesting memoir of a specific period with a specific situation and hope that it boded a new beginning to educational change in that county.

Sunday 20 February 2011

Monsters of Men

Finished February 17
Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness
This is the third and final book in the Chaos Walking series and I found it the most difficult to read. It was very violent and I actually took a break from it part with through as I found it was getting to be too much. They all have a lot of violence, but it really seemed to hit me this time, perhaps as I was feeling that the plot wasn't progressing at that point. There is such hate between some of the characters here that it was very depressing. However, that part did pass and the book went in a very interesting direction, particularly with the Return.
The series as a whole held together very well and I found it had interesting themes to it.
For some reason, I'm having a difficult time writing about it though, so this will be a short entry.

Wednesday 16 February 2011

Data Smog

Finished February 16
Data Smog: surviving the information glut by David Shenk
This book has been on my "to read" list for many years and, noticing it in the library, I decided to tackle it. For a book written 14 years ago, it is surprisingly relevant today. If anything, the smog has gotten worse.
The book illustrates the "laws of data smog" and discusses some ways to tackle the problem.
Here are the laws, with some explanation:
1. Information, once rare and cherished like caviar, is now plentiful and taken for granted like potatoes.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Information, or data, comes to us from many sources through many mediums, with information overload replacing information scarcity as a problem. Information is not knowledge and needs to be considered in context and as part of a bigger picture.
2. Silicon circuits evolve much more quickly than human genes.
The power of technology has grown more quickly than our ability to process it. We are overwhelmed and have trouble dealing with the deluge. ADD is on the rise, along with cardiovascular issues, vision issues, and confusion. This leads to impaired judgment and overconfidence. We have grown dependent on technology and it has become like a drug we rely on.
3. Computers are neither human nor humane.
Technology has unexpected consequences (kind of like kudzu) and we are losing control to the machines that were supposed to serve us.
4. Putting a computer in every classroom is like putting an electric power plan in every home.
Computers help access are deliver large amounts of information quickly. They are not filters, but pumps. They can be useful tools, but are not a substitute for learning. Measurement of factual knowledge of various groups from schoolchildren to adults has shown that we know less about the world we live in than we used to, not more.
5. What they sell is not information technology, but information anxiety.
This is the sales call to upgrade to new technologies constantly. The faster and faster pace takes hold of us are instead of helping us be more efficient places more expectations on us.We are forever playing catch-up.
6. Too many experts spoil the clarify.
The opportunity of immense amounts of information allows groups to manipulate and spin data to prove pretty much any point of view. With so much expert opinion, determining which ones are reliable becomes more and more difficult.
7. All high-stim roads lead to Times Square.
It is no longer difficult to get your message out, but finding a receptive audience can be a problem. It takes more to get our attention, and that has led to more extreme efforts to get that attention (shock jocks, trash TV, excessive violence, extreme rhetoric, noisier advertising are all part of this). Everything is a crisis that demands immediate attention and we become jaded and less caring.
8. Birds of a feather flock virtually together.
This is nichification, the more and more specialized places where people of like minds can come together. Instead of information leading to more communication and discourse among people from different backgrounds and with different perspectives, there is more fragmentation and less understanding. Less information is truly shared.
9. The electronic town hall allows for speedy communication and bad decision-making.
People have more of a voice, but less ability to self-govern. Instead of government being leaders of the people, they respond to surveys and research on what people want and respond to that. The government ends up being followers to citizens that don't understand the full nature of the problems that are being faced.
10. Equifax is watching.
Personal privacy has become harder to maintain as information on our habits obtained from merchants, government, and other sources is more easy for others to obtain. 
11. Beware stories that dissolve all complexity.
The good story, whether selective, exaggerated or wrong, spreads quickly and without barriers around the globe. This can have great effect to individuals, companies, and even countries that get caught in these apocryphal stories.
12. On the information highway, most roads bypass journalists.
Because it is easier to disseminate information without going through traditional media, anyone can send out information and the average person is less able to assess the quality and factual basis of the information given. This leads to misinformation, misunderstanding and more confidence in less knowledge. The age of the news bite, without the education needed to analyze what it means to us is ultimately less relevant.
13. Cyberspace is Republican.
Technology favours the ideals of libertarian, free-market Republicans towards a decentralized society with little regulation and public infrastructure. This utopia is always long-term with little attention paid to the short-term costs to society.

This book is still extremely relevant and provides much food for thought on how to change the flow of information to make it work for us in a healthier and more helpful way.

Sunday 13 February 2011

I Think I Love You

Finished February 12
I Think I Love You by Allison Pearson
This is totally a feel-good novel and I could hardly put it down. In 1973-74 two young girls in Wales, Petra and Sharon, are part of a group of girls completely obsessed with David Cassidy. They collect posters, pictures, facts, and share them obsessively. Petra does most of this at Sharon's house as Petra's mother definitely thinks this music and behaviour are common and not to be exhibited by Petra. She has Petra practicing the cello, aiming for a classical career. So Petra lives two lives, the ladylike one her mother expects and the secret life of teenage passion with Sharon. This goes on until the two girls attend a David Cassidy concert, one of his last, and Petra is outed to her mother.
Flash forward 24 years, and Petra discovers something that triggers a memory of that younger self. With a marriage on the rocks, and uncertainty of her own desirability, she jumps at the chance to finally meet David Cassidy. But will he be a disappointment to her fantasy?
We also follow Bill, who in the 70s was a young journalist working for the Essential David Cassidy Magazine, where he makes a living writing letters to fans from David and making up articles and other bits and pieces to fill the pages. 24 years later, he is still working in the magazine world and he too finds himself drawn to meeting David with Petra and Sharon.
This book took me back to my own childhood crushes. I watched the Partridge Family on TV, and had (have!) some of their record albums. I even had a Partridge Family board game, although I'm not sure where that ended up. Mom, if you are reading this, is it still there? I was smitten more with Shaun Cassidy myself, but definitely understand the whole scenario quite well. I loved the book and the places it took me.
I have to wonder if the young girls of today miss some of this with the easy deluge of information on the Internet.

The Book of Ebenezer Le Page

Finished February 11
The Book of Ebenezer Le Page by G.B. Edwards
This book is the only novel written by this author and, as John Fowles tells us in the introduction, Edwards went to great lengths to minimize the information available about himself.
He was born on the island of Guernsey and lived there until joining the Royal Guernsey Light Infantry in 1917. He appears to have longed for the land of his birth even though he never lived there again.
This novel follows a character, Ebenezer Le Page, who was born on Guernsey in 1890 and stayed there for the rest of his life. It takes the form of a diary and follows his life from a young man through World War I, loss of friends and family, World War II and the German Occupation, the privations that came with that, and reaction to the growing dependence on tourism. The character reads true and we see his feelings, his joys and regrets, his friends and his family, his stubbornness and his loyalties.
I was lent this book by my mother-in-law and had heard good things about it elsewhere. I absolutely enjoyed it and the chance to live vicariously in Ebenezer's shoes for a short while. This is a great novel about a place and a life lived there.

Toby: a man

Finished February 10
Toby: a man by Todd Babiak
Toby grew up in Montreal and now works for a TV station there doing a show on etiquette for the modern man. The night before the election, Toby finds his father sitting in his parents' driveway in their car, which is on fire. Trying to cope with this incident, his father's increasingly strange behaviour, and his own lack of courage in dealing with it, Toby struggles through the night. Faced with the added distress of the betrayal of his girlfriend, he undergoes a minor meltdown on live television. This causes him to lose his job. Having lived beyond his means in order to play the "successful man about town," he swiftly also loses his car and condo and is living back in his parents' basement.
When a brief encounter with a female in distress leads her to dump her toddler on him without warning and disappear, his life becomes something he doesn't recognize. As he takes the advice of old friends and family, he finds a new purpose to his life and finds that being a man means more than handkerchiefs and dressing well. A real eye-opener.

StorySave: Alice Kane

Finished February 10
StorySave: Voices of Canada's Storytellers: Alice Kane: Tales of Wonder
This audiobook is part of a series by the Storytellers of Canada. It gives the listener access to storytellers from across the country. The 13 stories told by Alice Kane are from Irish folklore and I recognized many themes from folktales and fairy tales I know. Some here are short tales, while others (like Flann) are long and involved, almost a combination of a bunch of tales into an integrated story.
Listening to these I was captivated and engaged and I thoroughly enjoyed them. I will be checking our collection for others from this series.

Tuesday 8 February 2011

Sounding Line

Finished February 4
Sounding Line by Anne DeGrace
This novel is set in a small fishing village in Nova Scotia, and follows an incident of a UFO that disappeared into the bay, and what the effect is on the community.
We see young Pocket Snow and his family, a mother slowly fading, a father afraid to let her go, and an uncle holding the family together.
We see Pocket's classmate Cuff and his boasting and wild schemes that come to nothing. There is also their quieter friend Ernie and his silent determination.
This is a small but closeknit community and while there are disagreements and divisions, they also come together when it is needed.
Arriving in town is a young reporter from Ottawa, unsure of himself, and looking for a way forward to his own life. Also new to town is a woman with psychic abilities who has come to assure the aliens that they are welcomed.
Despite the initial event and its otherworldliness, this novel is very grounded. One gets a very real sense of the community and the dreams of the young men here.
Based on a true event of a UFO sighting in Nova Scotia in the 1960s, this novel takes the idea in interesting directions. A great read.

Wednesday 2 February 2011


Finished February 2
Confession by Lee Gowan
This Canadian novel is a sad one. Young Dwight Froese has lived a difficult life in small town Saskatchewan, with an engaging  but slightly mad young mother and an abusive older father. When he finds his mother's dead body, he is sure his father killed her and challenges him to a duel. He ends up killing his father. Later he is told that his father didn't kill his mother and that her death was an accident.
Dwight spends some time in a mental institution and is taken under the wing of a prominent local doctor, who is also the father of the girl that Dwight has had a crush on since second grade. As Dwight finds a new and different relationship with God, he also eventually finds a new purpose to his life that is unfortunately mired in the past.
Sad, poignant, and very readable.

Tuesday 1 February 2011

When Autumn Leaves

Finished February 1
When Autumn Leaves by Amy S. Foster
Autumn is a wise woman and a member of the Jaen, a sisterhood dedicated to helping others. She lives on Avening, an island off the BC coast. Avening is a different community, where it is hard not to believe in magic. Autumn has come to the point that she must move on, and to do so she must select her own replacement. She takes the next year to look at the list of candidates that the Jaen have given her as well as some she has noticed on her own.
This is a tale that speaks to the magic that is present everyday, that is tied to the earth and the elements that make up our world. As Autumn looks at the women and girls in her community, she finds powers that she hadn't realized were there. The women and girls haven't been always aware of the nature and strength of their gifts either and we see them gain knowledge.
I enjoy this side of the spiritual and have had some personal experiences that speak to it as well. There is more out there than we know. This is a great story and a captivating read. Enjoy.