Saturday 28 May 2011

Guilt by Association

Finished May 28
Guilt by Association by Marcia Clark, read by January LaVoy
This is a first novel for Clark, who co-wrote a nonfiction book about the OJ trial, after being the lead prosecutor on the case. Her character here is a DA in Los Angeles, and Clark's knowledge and expertise in this area show.
Rachel Knight is a dedicated lawyer who is focused on her work. She still has some issues from her past that she hasn't dealt with and that affect her relationships. She works in the Special trials Unit, a group that handles tough, complex cases.
Rachel lives at the Biltmore, close to her office. On her way home one evening after the end of a successful case, she gets sidetracked by a crime scene at a nearby seedy motel. There she finds that another young DA is a victim. She is determined to get to the bottom of what happened to Jake, despite being warned off the case. Jake's caseload is split among the other attorneys, and Rachel ends up with a rape case on a young girl from an influential family. She enlists the help of a detective she is friends with, Bailey, and the two go after the few clues they have on the case. Bailey also helps with Rachel's search for information around the case where Jake died. Rachel works hard and plays hard, has a couple of really good girlfriends and maybe a new boyfriend, but no one really knows what has made her what she is. Her determination and smarts lead her to interesting situations. This book is exciting, funny, and satisfying. Rachel is a great new character and I hope to see more of her.

Migration Songs

Finished May 27
Migration Songs by Anna Quon
This is a first novel for Quon, a young half-Chinese-Canadian writer raised in the Maritimes and living in Dartmouth. Joan, the young woman who is the main character in her book is also half-Chinese-Canadian, and is still struggling to find her place in life.
She is an only child, and this book tells not only her story, but also the story of her parents. Her maternal grandparents came to Canada from China to escape the changing life under Mao. Her father is from England and was fascinated by China and admired Mao. Joan has worked several low skill jobs as she struggles to feel comfortable in her life. At 30, she still lives with her parents. When Joan's older friend Edna dies, Joan discovers many secrets about the people around her, particularly Edna, and also makes discoveries about herself.
This is a woman with intellience, humour, and who cares about others, but she struggles to express herself and deal with the world around her. She has always been a loner. As we see her make more connections with others, we also watch her begin to blossom. This was an intense book as I cared so much about Joan, and was rooting for her throughout.

Halfway to Each Other

Finished May 27
Halfway to Each Other: how a year in Italy brought our family home by Susan Pohlman
Susan's marriage was on the rocks when she and her husband decided to move to Italy for a year, because it felt like the right thing to do for them. Tim quits his job, they sell their house, and get rid of or store belongings. They have 2 children: Katie, fourteen, and Matt, eleven.
The idea to make the move came to them on a business trip to Italy.
There are a lot of references to listening to God, to letting God guide them, and how they found appropriate verses from the Bible for situations they found themselves in.
I'm afraid that I just didn't connect with this book. At the start of their time in Italy their behaviour screamed "stereotypical ugly American" and while Susan made reference to this, the behaviour as she described it never really changed. It was subdued a bit as they learned some of the language and made some local and expatriate friends, but it still didn't feel like they were letting that go.
What this book really described is how the two adults took a year off work, removed themselves from the environment that was eating away at their marriage and tried to reconnect with each other (although at times even that seemed half-hearted). It worked for them and they've moved on together, so good for them.
I wish I hadn't bothered to read this one though, as there are so many other books I want to read. The cover and idea grabbed me, but it didn't live up to them.

Tuesday 24 May 2011

In the Garden of Beasts

Finished May 23
In the Garden of Beasts by Erik Larson
I had an advance reading copy of this from Library Journal and spent part of the long weekend reading it. It tells the story of William E Dodd, the first U.S. ambassador to Hitler's Germany and the story of his daughter Martha. Dodd became the ambassador in 1933, and was not Roosevelt's first choice. He took along with him his wife Mattie, his 26-year-old daughter Martha, and his 28-year-old son Bill.
This book is based on extensive research, including Dodd's diaries (published by Martha and Bill after his death), other Dodd papers, and Martha's papers.
It really focuses on the first year the family spent in Germany, and how they gradually realized the true nature of Hitler's aims. You can see the move from skepticism to disbelief to disgust in their outlook. Dodd could hardly force himself to interact with the German government after the Night of the Long Knives.
Martha had a different path, but ended up at the same place. She played the party girl, going to nightclubs, socializing with Nazis and diplomats from other countries. At first she defended the Nazis as setting their country right, but gradually began to see the harm they were causing to their citizens.
This was a fascinating read, and opened another viewpoint to this period in history to me.

Sunday 22 May 2011

Bright Before Us

Finished May 21
Bright Before Us by Katie Arnold-Ratliff
I got this book in the mail from Powell's on Friday, and it sounded so interesting I started reading. What a great read. This is a debut novel from a promising new writer. The main character here is Francis. Francis is in his first year of teaching, and has a second grade class. On a field trip, some of the children discover a body on the beach and Francis begins a downward spiral. Immediately he doesn't react as he should by protecting and helping the children, and it only gets worse. He connects the body to a woman from a past relationship and his behaviour becomes erratic and unpredictable. He lets down his students and his wife. The book moves back and forth between Francis in the present, and his past relationship with the woman in the past he still hasn't moved past. Francis is still stuck in the past, reliving his mistakes in this past relationship, and obsessing on his relationship with his parents. His grief is strong, and he uses the coping mechanisms that he knows, which have never really worked for him.
The event of finding the body seems to release a lot of emotion that he has buried and forced him to finally deal with it. But it isn't easy for him to move forward, and even by the end of the book, he still has a lot of difficult times ahead.

Identity Economics

Finished May 20
Identity Economics by George A. Akerlof and Rachel E. Kranton, narrated by Sean Pratt
Grabbed this book from the new book shelf at work as I needed something to listen to on my commute.
It was interesting, but I am glad I have a degree in economics, as some of the terminology was definitely subject specific. It talked about a relatively new aspect of economics that uses individual or group identity perception to predict behaviour. Some types of identity are generally fixed (race, gender), while others are temporary and may change over time. Standard economics says that people would choose economic behaviours that would be of most benefit to them, but that doesn't always happen. Identity economics shows that how a person identifies themselves influences their behaviour (one example: they want to do what the rest of their peer group is doing so they fit in). The authors use examples from work, school, and home to show different ways this happens. They also show examples of both fixed identity and temporary identity and how behaviours can change over time.
It was quite interesting and can explain a lot of things that don't seem to make sense otherwise (like election results ;->) It made me think about things in a different way.

Friday 20 May 2011


Finished May 19
Divergent by Veronica Roth
This novel is set in a Chicago of the future. Society has been divided into 5 factions based on natural tendency. The Abnegators think of others before themselves; the Amity are always trying to find compromise and make people feel better; The Candor see things in black and white and always tell the truth; the Erudite seek knowledge and wisdom; and the Dauntless are brave and protect the community.
At the age of sixteen, young people take an aptitude test telling them what faction they have an aptitude for. The following day they choose their faction. They don't have to choose the faction that they have an aptitude for, but most do.
The main character here, Tris (Beatrice) has an unusual experience during her aptitude test and is told by the tester that she shows aptitude for more than one faction. She is told that this is dangerous and that she must tell no one. Tris now has to decide which faction she will join. Will she stay with the Abnegators where her parents are or transfer to another faction. Tris's brother Caleb is less than a year older than her, and is also choosing this year. Once you choose a faction, you must go through an initiation. If you fail, you become factionless, without a community, and are essentially homeless.
Tris decides to change factions to Dauntless and finds the initiation grueling, and very educational. This is a very interesting book that begs for a sequel.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Bedtime Story

Finished May 18
Bedtime Story by Robert J Wiersema
A book I couldn't put down. I stayed up this evening until I finished this. I didn't even stop to eat dinner. This book had me until the end. This is what a page-turner is all about.
Chris Knox is working on his second book, which is taking far too long. He makes a living as a columnist for the Vancouver Sun. His son David has just turned eleven, and Chris finds a book in a used bookstore to give to him for a gift. The author wrote a series of four books that Chris read when he was young and he hopes David has a similar experience. But David gets far more than Chris expected.
Like other boys before him, David gets enthralled by the book, reading it every chance he gets. When David slips into convulsions and a coma after reading the book one evening his parents rush him to the hospital. But no one seems to figure out what is wrong with him. That is, until Chris becomes convinced that the novel David was reading is responsible for his condition. As Chris works against the disbelief of others and treachery, David is also struggling. Caught in the fantasy world of the book, David fights to complete a quest.
A great book within a book, this story is gripping and wonderful. Highly recommended.

Tuesday 17 May 2011

The Red Garden

Finished May 17
The Red Garden by Alice Hoffman, read by Nancy Travis
Needing an audiobook for my commute, I grabbed this off the "New" bookshelf. The book is a series of vignettes set in the small town of Blackwell, Massachusetts over a period of three hundred years. Starting with ill-prepared settlers getting stuck there in a snowstorm and surviving due to the fortitude of one woman, the town has a long history. We see bears, eels, bees and other wildlife. There are families that appear and reappear in the various times. There are people on the run, and people looking to find something. From the Civil War to the Vietnam War, the people of the town are touched by events around them. There is love, grief, and happiness.
At the center of the town is the first house, the Brady house, and, behind it, a garden. A special garden, where only red plants can grow. And at the heart of the garden, love, and truth.
This book is one that grabs you and keeps you wanting more. The characters are intriguing and unique. The stories they live fascinating. I really enjoyed it.

Sunday 15 May 2011

A Secret Gift

Finished May 16
A Secret Gift: how one man's kindness - and a trove of letters - revealed the hidden history of the great depression by Ted Gup
I saw this book on the new book shelf at the library and it intrigued me. It continued to do so throughout. When Ted's mother was moving, he came into possession of a suitcase full of documents including a bunch of letters addressed to a Mr B Virdot. At first Ted was distracted by other things, but when he began to examine the letters and ask his mother questions, he discovered a family secret. Mr B Virdot was a name his grandfather used in 1933 to make small donations to needy individuals in the town of Canton. The letters sent in response to a newspaper advertisement explaining their circumstances and why the recipients would be grateful for any money sent opened a window onto the experiences of the Great Depression. Ted's grandfather, Sam Stone, only kept the letters from the recipients of money sent. Ted tracked down the descendants of the letter writers and found out the rest of their stories. Linking the letters to the larger stories of the writers was eye-opening and particularly significant in light of the current economic situation.
The stories are touching, sad, and hopeful, and the honesty of the writers comes across. Most were embarrassed to admit need, proud of the hard work they were trying to do, and many wanted to pay the money back at a future time. Some lives ended sadly, but others were stories of success. Many showed how the offer gave hope in a difficult time.
This is a really interesting bit of history.

Crewel Yule

Finished May 15
Crewel Yule by Monica Ferris
This is a nice light mystery, part of a series featuring needlework store owner Betsy Devonshire. Here, the events take place at the Nashville Needlework Market, an event for needlework shop-owners. Here the event is moved from its usual February time slot to mid-December.
One of the shop-owners falls from the ninth floor to the lobby level below, or did she. Present here besides Betsy are here employee Godwin, and a Milwaukee policewoman, Jill. Jill is in town for a police conference, but is stuck at Betsy's hotel due to bad weather.
When the death occurs, Jill takes charge until the local police arrive, and asks for Betsy's help. There is no shortage of people who would want the victim, Belle Hammermill, dead, but Betsy's attention to detail helps them make the connection.
Humour, good mystery plot and interesting location (at least for a stitcher like me!) made for a good read.
This was a Christmas present that I finally got around to reading.

Rodeo Queens

Finished May 14
Rodeo Queens: on the circuit with America's cowgirls by Joan Burbick
I put this on my reading list quite a few years ago, and finally bought a used copy to cross it off that TBR list. It was even more interesting than I thought it would be. Joan noticed that her local paper in Idaho showed all the past rodeo queens for the Lewiston Rodeo in a special annual section. She began to wonder about them and about how they looked at that time in their lives looking back.
She interviewed many rodeo queens and princesses and her book covers not just the rodeo royalty and their role over time, but also the role of rodeo itself. She includes looks at the issue of race in the history of the rodeo queen, specifically that of the role of the native women. She looks at expectations, myths, money and the interaction between the queen and the cowboy.
One of my cousins was a rodeo princess and it would be interesting to get her views on this analysis. Growing up in the west, I was aware of rodeo royalty and had been to a few fairs featuring rodeos (including the famous Calgary Stampede). This book only looks at the American rodeo and its queens, but I would think much of it would be similar here.
There is a lot of depth to Joan's research and as a university professor, she asks a lot of good questions that bring people out of their shells to discuss their experience.
It's great when a book goes beyond what you expected and gives you even more to think about.

Last Night in Twisted River

Finished May 10
Last Night in Twisted River by John Irving, read by Arthur Morey
This was a long one (20 CDs), and it moved slowly, but was beautifully written. There were times when you could tell what was coming, because he gave you a little bit of plot and then he went back and gave you years of other plot, and eventually came back to the event you knew was coming and were dreading.
He really played with the whole anticipation thing. And played well.
This is a great story, occurring over many years. It begins with the young father and widower Dominic and his 12-year-old son Daniel. Dominic is the cook at a logging camp in Twisted River, New Hampshire. The event the novel is structured around is the night that Daniel mistakes his father's lover for a bear and hits her with a frying pan, killing her. The novel moves backward, showing us how Dominic came to be where he is, and forward, showing what happens to the two as they live a life as fugitives. Daniel eventually becomes a novelist, with many of his novels exploring bits of his own life, and thus the story of their lives is also the story of a novelist, and his stories. The main characters here are really developed into complex people with complicated lives and thoughts. Many of the minor characters are passing and are shown just enough to intrigue.
The pace is slow and, sometimes predictable and yet even those predictable events have enough of surprise in them that they are still interesting.
This was a great read.f

New Challange

I've discovered that a blogger I follow has issued a challenge that I can't resist. Her blog is Zen Leaf and her challenge begins June 1st and goes until June 1, 2012, Over those 52 weeks, the goal is to read a book a week (or adjust to your own level) and lose a pound a week (or other health goal). It is called the 52-52-52 Challenge. I accept the challenge to lose a pound a week. I need to lose more than that, but that is a good goal and a good motivator. I'm going to adjust the reading goal a bit to fit my needs. She says "I know many book bloggers naturally read well over 52 books every year. You can always choose to challenge yourself to read two books a week, or three, or whatever works for your level. Make the challenge work for you! There are also book bloggers out there who struggle to read a book a week, though, so hopefully this will make a good challenge for them!"
My situation is that I am always taking out library books and reading them before books I already own, since they have a due date. And yet I keep buying books and asking for books as a gift. And I read a lot. So my goal will be to read two books a week that I own. Hopefully that will knock my TBR (to be read) pile down a bit.
Thanks Amanda at Zen Leaf!

Sunday 8 May 2011

The Winter Rose

Finished May 8
The Winter Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
Several years ago I read and loved Donnelly's first novel, The Tea Rose. Just recently I discovered that it was the first in a series and immediately put a hold on the library copy of the second one, The Winter Rose. The first novel featured a young woman from the East End of London, Fiona, who defied the circumstances of her birth and the social power at the time to found a tea company.
This novel follows a young woman, born to wealth, but possessed of a powerful need to do good in the world. Defying her family, she becomes a doctor and tries to better the health and lives of the poor in London. Her name is India, and in the course of her work she encounters both the high and low of London society. She gets support from Fiona in her endeavors and also encounters the man known as the head of the worst criminal gang in the East End. But Sid Malone is more than he seems and India finds that many of the men in her life are different than their public personas.
I took this out on Saturday, and finished it Sunday evening. I could barely put it down. Donnelly writes gripping stories, where you find yourself wanting to know what happens next. A great read.

Tuesday 3 May 2011

All Different Kinds of Free

Finished May 3
All Different Kinds of Free by Jessica McCann
This novel took its inspiration from a real situation where a black woman took her case to freedom to court.
Here we have Margaret, whose mother was freed by her owner, Mr Ashmore, and who therefore was born free in Maryland in the early 1800s. She became a seamstress and married a freed black man. After a few years, the two moved to Pennsylvania, a free state.
Margaret had been taught to read and write by Mrs. Ashmore, who is now a widow. Mrs. Ashmore is convinced by her daughter to send someone after Margaret and her family, claiming ownership. The man she sends, Mr. Prigg doesn't have any papers proving such ownership, so the Pennsylvania court disallows such action. But Mr. Prigg kidnaps Margaret and her children. The subsequent story is how Margaret first tries to prove her freedom, and then finds her family torn apart, sold into slavery. Mrs. Ashmore finds that guilt over her actions cause regret and she makes some steps toward assauging that guilt.
This was a very interesting story, drawing a picture of different types of slave owners and their outlooks. It shows the social feeling of the day and how once freedom has been tasted, it is hard to submit again.

Sunday 1 May 2011

Malvinas Requiem

Finished May 1
Malvinas Requiem by Rodolfo Fogwill, translated by Nick Caistor and Amanda Hopkinson
This book originally came out 25 years ago, and had a huge impact in Argentina, contributing to the defeat of the military junta. Malvinas, aka the Falkland Islands is the setting for the book.
In this novel, in the final days of the war, in June 1982, 24 young Argentinian soldiers banded together and hid underground in the mountains. At night, they venture out and trade for the necessities with both the British and the Argentines. Underground, they stockpile supplies, share stories, and worry about the future. They come from all over Argentina, and none of them wanted to be in the war.
The novel speaks to the futility of war, particularly this one. There is dark humour, pragmatism, and a unique viewpoint by the dillos, as they call themselves.
Finally translated into English, this is a book that lets us see the reality of the Argentinian soldiers lives and how they were treated.