Saturday 30 April 2011

An Eye for Glory

Finished April 30
An Eye for Glory: the Civil War chronicles of a citizen soldier by Karl Bacon
I picked up an advance copy of this title at a conference earlier this year and once I started reading it, I couldn't stop. The citizen soldier here is Michael Palmer, a married father, who feels compelled by his religious feelings to fight in the war against slavery. He knows that others are fighting for other reasons, but that is his reason. He doesn't want his children growing up in a country that allows slaves.
He enlists voluntarily after feeling that God wants him to fight, and his best friend John joins along with him. His story is told after the war, as a record for his children, put together from memories, his journals, and letters to and from his wife. He was in the war for several battles including Gettysburg. He sees friends die, sees both good and bad leadership and decisions, and sees the horrors of war firsthand. At first he isn't sure he can kill, but finds that in the heat of battle he can. It is only when he encounters an enemy soldier that he has mortally wounded, and that takes his last moments to find comfort in the Bible, that he begins to question himself. He internalizes these issues, sharing them with no one, and just goes on with his duty. But it changes him deeply, and it is only when he returns the bible to the soldier's widow that he finds a change he can live with.
This was an interesting view of the war from the view of one soldier, an educated man with a strong sense of  morals. We see his questions and struggles and how he deals, or doesn't deal with them. We also get a sense of the futility of battle often felt by those in the ranks, who simply obey orders. With this year being the 150th anniversary of the beginning of the war, it seemed a good time to read more about it.

How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming

Finished April 29
How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming by Mike Brown
When the official word of astronomers decided that Pluto wasn't a planet after all, I was upset. How could what I learned about the ninth planet be wrong? I said that Pluto would always be a planet to me.
Then I saw this book on the new shelf at work and decided to read more about it. Mike Brown, while not one who voted on the decision, definitely had a hand in the final outcome. He told us about his lifelong search for planets, and how he worked with other astronomers to keep trying to find planets beyond Pluto, all the while asking "What is a planet?". We learn about the struggles for an answer to that question and how there could be many different ways of looking at it. Brown lets us into both his personal life and his work life here and we see the different players, the astronomical community and how it works, and how he struggled with how to respond as each change occurred. He came across as a nice, earnest man and a good teacher. His explanations were very easily understood, without feeling like they had been simplified for us.
This book has changed and expanded my view on the planets and the other objects out there. I know understand why Pluto isn't a planet, and I'm okay with that.

Haunting Jasmine

Finished April 28
Haunting Jasmine by Anjali Banerjee
I received a review copy of this book from Penguin Canada. Jasmine, the title character, has been separated from her husband for a year and is finally at the point where the divorce is finalized. Because her husband cheated on her, she has a hard time trusting men. She is also extremely focused on her job in the investment world and worried about the next big deal.
So when her beloved aunt tells her that she must go to India to deal with issues with her heart and needs Jasmine to mind her home and bookstore while she is gone, Jasmine feels she must go back to Shelter Island in Puget Sound. In a way, Jasmine is glad of the escape, but she also worries about keeping up with work.
She finds that the bookstore offers its own challenges, and to face them she has to look inward. Her lifelong love of books has been something she has forgotten lately and the bookstore forces her to reconnect with that.
I loved the book theme, and how Jasmine's need to slow down and consider things makes her look at her life as well. This book was a welcome introduction to a new author.

Thursday 28 April 2011


Finished April 27
Dragonhunt by Frances Duncan
I heard of this book in a book I read earlier this month, Book Ends. It sounded interesting and I managed to pick up a used copy. It is an older book (published in 1981) but doesn't read that way. I loved the use of words, the imagery, and the story. It read like an allegory to me, perhaps because of the visions the main character, Bernice, has. She was very interesting. At first, I thought she might be autistic, because of the way she avoided social situations and meeting people's eyes, but as I read on, that seemed to be more something she had grown into. To me, it felt like she'd had abuse in her life and had retreated from that.
An example of the wonderful language:

" Bernice now felt she wanted to give George words, felt as obsessed with wanting words as she had felt denying them. She wanted to find exactly the right words with the right nuances, to swim in an ocean of words and by fishing to pull up for his benefit exactly the most perfect word, to lay it at the altar of that smile. She tried, but was not satisfied, for words were too important, too invocative and evocative, and there were elements she wished to neither invoke nor evoke. Also, words had no revocative power; once uttered they remained, objects with separate identities, as palpable as a clam or pearl, able to punish, haunt, wreak havoc with their existence. Better to suppress the desire to give words, to abort their existence."
Not a long book, but an intense one, and one I wanted to savour.

Tuesday 26 April 2011

Easter Weekend Reading

While I took time away from the computer this past weekend (except for Saturday at work) and read, did needlework and relaxed.
I managed to finish 3 books and work on a couple of different needlework projects.

Finished April 22
The Big House: a century in the life of an American summer home by George Howe Colt
This is a book I picked up last summer out on Vancouver Island. It was recommended by one of the staff at Tanner's in Sidney. Colt tells the story of a summer home on Cape Cod that was built in 1903 and that he spent summers at regularly all his life. Not only is it the story of an interesting house, but it is also a social history of summer homes on the Cape and a family history. Colt talks about the last summer he spent at the house with his wife and young children, and reminisces about the time he spent as a child. He also delves back further into the lives of his grandparents and great grandparents. Also included are aunts, uncles and cousins. He talks about the family secrets, including mental illness, and about the summer family relationship with the locals. This is an interesting book, that I thoroughly enjoyed. It made me want to explore and pick through all the things in the Big House, to see what interesting things came to light. It also reminded me of the farmhouse I spent some of my summer vacation at for most of my childhood, a house that my grandparents lived in.

Finished April 24 
Oxford Letters by Veronica Stallwood
This is one of the books in the series featuring writer Kate Ivory. My mother-in-law picked this up at a library sale for me. I love this series, set in Oxford and featuring the inquisitive writer. Here, Kate returns from vacation to find that her mother, Roz, is ill, and has a middle-aged married couple who appear to have taken control of Roz's life. Both Kate and her mother's business partner are concerned, and Kate begins to dig deeper into this couple's history. There are warning letters and emails, violence, intrigue and second guessing around a really good story. An interesting side story to do with Roz's history also makes an appearance. And of course Kate's love life moves forward. A great read, as expected.

Finished April 24
Cakes and Ale by W. Somerset Maugham
This is a classic that I had never read, but that was recommended in the book, Book Ends, which I finished recently. It also counts toward my 1001 Books to Read Before You Die challenge. It took about half the book to really get into it. In the first half I was a bit put off by the biting wit that seemed mean-spirited, about some of the writer characters. However the delving of the main character into his past and a woman that he knew in his youth, the wife of a famous writer, made the book come alive. Rosie's character came to life here as a wonderfully engaging, life-loving woman. Her husband Edward Driffield also was shown as more than that described directly. We see how the various people in an author's life have influence on their writings. Apparently this novel caused quite a commotion at the time, with various people taking offense at the portrayal of characters they saw as based on themselves. A very interesting read and I'm glad I took the time.

Wednesday 20 April 2011

Deloume Road

Finished April 19
Deloume Road by Matthew Hooton
Another new voice in Canadian fiction pulls off a great first novel.
This book is set the summer in a small rural community on Vancouver Island during the first Gulf War. We get a variety of points of view of the people who live on Deloume Road and also occasional flashbacks to 1899 from Gerard Deloume, whom the road is named after.
We see the young boy Matthew and his developmentally disabled brother Andy. We see Matthew's friend Josh. There is another young boy Miles, whose family circumstances leave him feeling along in many ways. There is a Ukrainian immigrant butcher, who runs a deli and pig farm. We see Al Henry, a native artist whose pilot son has crashed in the northern B.C. bush, and his wife Beth. We experience the feelings of Irene, a young Korean widow, waiting on the birth of her child. The characters are different ages and from different backgrounds, but have Deloume Road in common.
Above all, we see how these lives come together and touch each other in ways that change lives. There is a real sense of community here, and a sense of loss. The characters here all experience or have experienced some type of loss, and while they are different losses, the feelings are common.
This is a poignant book with great characters and great imagery.

Sunday 17 April 2011

When the Killing's Done

Finished April 15
When the Killing's Done by T.C. Boyle, ready by Anthony Heald
This was a great read. Admittedly parts of it got my anger up enough that I switched to the radio (not a good idea to drive while angry ;->).
The book is set in Santa Barbara and the nearby Channel Islands. One of the key characters is Alma Boyd Takesue, a National Parks Service biologist who is one of the key people working to restore the ecosystems of the Islands. Her chief opponent is Dave LaJoy, a local businessman who has formed a lobby group called FPA (For the Protection of Animals) and isn't above breaking laws to get his way.
We see the backgrounds of both characters, but also other people in their lives. For Alma, we see the ties to the channel islands not only for her, but also for her grandmother and mother. Her grandmother, Beverley's story of being washed to one of the islands in a shipwreck in 1946 and surviving there for several days begins the novel. We don't hear about her mother's ties until much later.
For Dave, we see how he came to animal rights, but also the apparent disconnect when it comes to animals creating issues in his own life. We also see the background of his girlfriend, folk singer Anise, and her tragic relationship to the island of Santa Cruz.
Things aren't always black and white, and emotions take a strong role here too for both Alma and Dave. Lots of questions are raised and the plot is thought-provoking.

Thursday 14 April 2011

Book Ends

Finished April 10
Book Ends: a year between the covers by Naomi Beth Wakan
While I finished this a few days ago, I've been dipping in and out making book lists and, yes, doing some book ordering. I was able to get quite a few of the ones that interested me used for decent prices, so now I have packages to look forward to.
I LOVED this book. I liked the way she wrote about her reading and her life. She sounds like a really interesting person, and I'd love to sit down and have a long chat with her. She liked a lot of books that I've liked and ones that are on my "to read" list. I liked her eclectic tastes in reading, as I think I also have eclectic tastes. I liked the fact that she is Canadian, like me. I liked her love of research.
Her interest in things Japanese is stronger than mine (probably due to her living there for a few years) but I do have an interest there too. My interest was sparked by a course I did in my undergrad on Asian literature. I also love poetry, and as she is a poet we share that interest too.
I felt that I could really connect with her and this book just really grabbed me. I've ordered some of her other books as well as some she read and that sounded interesting.
This is definitely a reader's book and I highly recommend it.

Monday 11 April 2011

When Sparrows Fall

Finished April 8
When Sparrows Fall by Meg Moseley
This is a novel I would classify as domestic fiction with elements of romance and Christian fiction. I received an advance copy of this book through Library Journal, and I always like to expand my knowledge of what fiction is out there. This book is set in rural Georgia, and gives us two viewpoints. One is Miranda Hanford, a young widow with six children. Miranda is part of a small leader-centred church, a church she is starting to feel uncomfortable about, especially since the pastor, Mason, is asking them all to sell up and move with him to a different state. Mason seems to have some sort of information about Miranda that he threatens her with exposure of if she doesn't comply and she feels isolated.
The other point of view is Miranda's brother-in-law, college professor Jack Hanford. Jack becomes involved in Miranda's life when she takes a serious fall and her oldest child calls him for assistance as he is listed as guardian for the children. Jack's brother, Miranda's husband, had not wanted him around and Jack is surprised and touched about being called on. He steps into the family's lives and finds that there is much more here than he knew.
We see some interesting commentary around some of the extreme Christian churches around, and the isolation that they can bring to their congregation. We also see how the community can become helpful when they are allowed to be. Lots to think about.

Monday 4 April 2011


Finished April 4
Suddenly by Bonnie Burnard
Sandra, Colleen, and Jude are women friends with a long history. Sandra and Colleen have been friends since Sandra's brother Richard began dating Colleen. Jude joined the group when Sandra's kids were young. Their partners Jack, Richard, and Gus also get along, and the couples have spent a lot of time together over the years. They've come through a lot of difficult times and helped each other through relationship woes and troubles with children and parents.
Now Sandra faces the ultimate crisis and the friends find themselves coming together in support not only of each other but of their families as well.
This book is a combination of present and past, with the past brought to the fore through sharing stories, and prompts from Sandra's longtime journals. We see things from each of the women's viewpoints as well as from Sandra's husband Jack's. This is a story of friendship over many years and how sustaining that kind of friendship can be.
I really enjoyed this book, could barely put it down and highly recommend it.

The Corruptible

Finished April 3
The Corruptible by Mark Mynheir
This is the second book in the series featuring Ray Quinn, a former homicide detective now working as a private investigator. I'd read the first in the series, The Night Watchman, and enjoyed it, so when I got this advance copy from Library Journal, I knew I'd want to read it.
Ray has been doing a lot of domestic work lately and getting tired of it, so when he is approached by the wealthy owner of an investment firm to find the security man who has apparently taken off with sensitive information, he is intrigued. The large fee intrigues him further. The security officer, Logan Ramsey, is an ex-detective too, and Ray knew him, so he is off to a good start.
Ray has unique access to the police as a consultant for them, and this access gets him directly involved in a murder case when Ramsey turns up dead. Ray usually trusts his instincts, but even he can be fooled sometimes.
Ray is an interesting character, and this story was well-plotted. I could guess some of it before it was laid out for me, but that didn't detract from the good story. Ray shows some growth personally, and so does his sidekick.

Spies of the Balkans

Finished April 1
Spies of the Balkans by Alan Furst, read by Daniel Gerroll
This story takes place in 1940 and early 1941, mostly in Greece. The main character here is Constantine "Costa" Zannis, who has a senior position in the police force in the port city of Salonika.
Greece fights back an Italian invasion coming from the north and pushed the Italian forces back to Albania. There is increasing pressure on the Balkans from the Germans, and Zannis begins to see signs of spies from a variety of countries. Zannis himself also becomes involved in facilitating an escape route from Germany to Turkey. As time goes on the danger escalates and Zannis finds that he has come to the notice of the Germans as well.
We see his personal life as well as the issues he deals with as a policeman, and this novel provides great plot and characters. For those who, like me, like novels set during the early twentieth century, this novel is a great read. There is danger, suspense, romance, and humour.