Monday 27 June 2011

The Last Christian

Finished June 26
The Last Christian by David Gregory
Proselytizing through fiction is what I came away with from reading this book.
It's a thriller set in the year 2088, a time where Christianity has disappeared from North America. Abigail Caldwell emerges from a jungle village in Papua New Guinea, the sole survivor of a mysterious illness that killed the other villagers. Abby's parents were missionaries to the local Isisi tribe, and Abby lived her whole life there. Abby is assisted in making her way back to her parent's home country of the United States by an American doctor working in the country. She is forwarded an old message left for her at the mission offices by her grandfather saying that he and her grandmother felt that her mission was to reintroduce the Christian faith in America.
There is also another force at work in the US. The leading manufacturer of artificial intelligence has perfected a technique to download the human brain to a silicon device. Brain transplants have begun and the manufacturer is looking to enlarge his market by getting government funding for the operation. How determined are these people to achieve their goal? And is the technique really perfect or does it come at a cost? These two questions are the core of the plot, and keep things moving along.
Abby is an intelligent person with a one-track mind. Her intensity and focus moves those around her to assist her in her actions.
An interesting plot, but a bit forced at times.

Crooked Letter Crooked Letter

Finished June 24
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin
This author was new to me, but definitely caught the flavor of the setting here. The book's title refers to the spelling of Mississippi, a new fact to me.
The action is in the present, but has flashbacks to the 1970s when the two main characters were young.
Larry Ott was a bit of an outsider, a reader rather than a jock, lacking any real friends. When he encounters Silas Jones, a black boy near his age, he makes some overtures. The two boys begin to hang out together when they aren't in school, finding a way toward a friendship of sorts.
Action by Larry's father creates a barrier between the two and the friendship falters.
Fast forward a few years and Larry takes a neighbour girl to the drive-in, his first date. He returns home without her, and she is not heard from again. Larry denies any wrongdoing and is never charged, but becomes ostracized further by the community.
Go forward a few decades and there is another missing girl. Larry is under suspicion and Silas is the town constable. As Silas tries to chase down the facts around the case, he and Larry must face the events of their past and make their way through them.
A fascinating tale of suspicion and prejudice, this book is a great read.

Thursday 23 June 2011

A Discovery of Witches

Finished June 23
A Discovery of Witches by Deborah Harkness, read by Jennifer Ikeda
Ikeda's voice is a good match for this book.
Set in a world where witches, demons, and vampires exist alongside humans, the main character Diana Bishop, sets events in motion. Diana has denied her magic since her parents died when she was a child. But when her academic research gives her access to a book sought after by all 3 types of creatures, she finds herself the center of much unwanted attention.
It is a vampire, Matthew Clairmont, who comes to her aid, protecting her from invasive witches and other vampires.
Can a witch and a vampire become friends, or even more. Diana has been warned against other creatures all her life.
The story takes us from Oxford, England to a chateau in the Auvergne in France, to small town Madison, New York. It takes us into rich history involving knights, historical documents, and intrigue. Diana discovers her own history and what her parents foresaw for her, and must finally accept her gift of magic.
Engaging and interesting, this novel offers a lot, and is book one of a planned trilogy.

Wednesday 22 June 2011

Nine Parts of Desire

Finished June 21
Nine Parts of Desire: The Hidden World of Islamic Women by Geraldine Brooks
This has been my "purse book" for the last few weeks, one I read waiting in line, waiting for appointments, and when eating lunch out alone. I think reading it slowly like I did gave me time to absorb and ponder the book. 
Brooks was a prize-winning foreign correspondent for the Wall Street Journal, who spent six years covering the Middle East. Her gender allowed her access to people and situations that male journalists could not, and inspired this book. She tells of experiences in many Islamic countries and made connections with women in these different communities. She tells of prejudices, opportunities, and contradictions.
An eye-opening book on a world that is complex and important to the world today. Brooks went in with a respectful attitude and a willingness to listen and try to understand the realities of these women's lives. She probed for their reasons for the choices they made, the societal pressures they experienced, and observed how men and women interacted in these societies.
A great read.

Tuesday 21 June 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
Share the title & author, too, so that other TT participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!
Here's mine:

"Which was how Larry found himself in the motor pool among engine blocks hanging from chains and upraised hoods and good-natured city boys with cigarettes in their uniform pockets. Larry smiled at their jokes but kept to himself, in his bunk, in the mess hall, alone over his clean work station handling wrenches, ratchets, screwdrivers, and pliers that felt and weighed the same as his father's had, that smelled and gleamed the same, his year-long apprenticeship as a mechanic in this army barracks where Jeeps and trucks came in an endless line, Private First Class Larry Ott, Serial Number US 53241315, not so disinclined as his father had claimed, emerging a certified mechanic."

from Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter by Tom Franklin


Finished June 20
Delicate by Mary Sojourner
This collection of stories has mostly middle-aged women as the main characters. These are ordinary lives, showing struggles with jobs, families, relationships, and friends. These are working women dealing with their lives. Sojourner brings the characters to life, and you feel their pain and their laughter. As a middle-aged woman, these stories really spoke to me. I may not have dealt with the various issues her characters have, thanks to luck, I can relate to the feelings and urges. These are stories about life, and full of life. A keeper.

An Uncertain Place

Finished June 19
An Uncertain Place by Fred Vargas
This is the latest in the series featuring Commissaire Adamsberg.
The story begins as Adamsberg leaves for a conference in London. His neighbour Lucio insists he helps a cat in distress before he goes. In London, Commandant Danglard is in his element as an anglophile. During a walk with a local DCI, they find themselves witness to a unique crime scene. Several pairs of shoes outside a cemetary, with feet still in them. This is disquieting, but not their case.
On return to Paris, Adamsberg's team is called in to investigate a gruesome murder. Tales of vampires, connections between the London shoes and the Paris murder, and a traitor within Adamsberg's team bring this book together. Adamsberg is not your usual detective, and while his team is mostly loyal to his methods, there are those who would like to get rid of him. As Adamsberg finds links to other similar cases, and a small mountain town in Serbia, he must also face someone from his own past who threatens him.
A great story as usual!

Mistakes Were Made

Finished June 17
Mistakes Were Made (but not by me): why we justify foolish beliefs, bad decisions, and hurtful acts by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson
This book has been on my to read list for a while, and a couple of chapters were reading in a recent HR course I took, so when I saw it as I was weeding a section at work, I grabbed it. And what a wonderful read it was.
The authors looked at what they saw happening: people dodging responsibility when things went wrong, public figures unwilling to take responsibility when they made mistakes, people blind to the hypocrisy they exhibit to others, and went after the reasons behind them.
Making mistakes affects our feelings about ourselves and we are wired to lessen that feeling of cognitive dissonance. We do this by standing by our decisions, making excuses and explanations, and expanding the blame to others (i.e. he started it). Often this means that others lose respect for us, and we exacerbate the initial mistake. As they did the research they discovered that knowing about the phenomena doesn't mean you are immune to it, but at least being aware means that you can choose to stop when you see yourself going down that road.
They talk about many instances of this from false memory syndrome, to wrongful convictions, from mistakes in the workplace to marital relations. I recognized myself, and the society I live in.
One example is to do with the criminal justice system. "But from our vantage point, the greatest impediment to admitting and correcting mistakes in the criminal-justice system is that most of its members reduce dissonance by denying that there is a problem. ... Doubt is not the enemy of justice; overconfidence is." To me this is portrayed in two recent situations. The first is that of Canadian pathologist Charles Smith whose errors from 1982 to 2003 in blaming parents and other caregivers for children's death has resulted in a public inquiry into more than 220 cases and countless lives ruined. Another example is the G20 in Toronto last year, in which there were blatant examples of miscarriages of justice and violation of human rights and yet the authorities are still denying the need for a public inquiry and the police have closed ranks, refusing to admit publicly than any of them did wrong.
A similar thing occurs in marriage "While happy partners are giving each other the benefit of the doubt, unhappy partners are doing just the opposite." In unhappy couples, one partner doing something nice is explained as a fluke or due to some outside circumstance, whereas mistakes are signs of malice and embedded flaws.
The book looks at how we self-justify, showing that we minimize our own actions or their effects whenever possible, and make excuses when we can't, driving us further away from an honest accounting and resolution.
This book should be required reading, particularly for those in a position of power or authority.

Wednesday 15 June 2011

White Woman on the Green Bicycle

Finished June 15
White Woman on the Green Bicycle by Monique Roffey
This is a wonderful book that follows the lives of a British man, George, and his wife, Sabine. They came to Trinidad in 1956, where he would work, as many did, in a shipping company as a clerk, on a three-year contract.
The book begins in 2006, when Sabine has resigned herself to living in Trinidad for the rest of her life. Her daughter, Pascale, has married locally, and her son Sebastian works in England. George does freelance writing for the local paper. When George discovers one of her long kept secrets, he is driven to take new risks in his life, in an effort to revive their relationship. This section occupies the major part of the book. We see events from both George and Sabine's viewpoint.
In the next section, the book moves back to 1956 when the couple arrived in Trinidad. From her on, we see things from Sabine's view only. She has brought with her a green bicycle and she bicycles all over Port of Spain and the surrounding area on it. She is a legend, but she doesn't realize it right away. Also in 1956, the young Eric Williams is beginning to speak out for home rule. Sabine's wanderings take her to one of his speeches and she is fascinated. We see how she fought to be her own person and fought against the seduction of the island that had already captured George.
The book follows through other major events in 1963, culminating in the riots of 1970 when the family almost left. Throughout, Sabine rages against the island and studies it, and finds that she has become part of it, whether she likes it or not. This is a story of modern-day colonialism and the struggle of a developing country to find its own voice. Sabine belongs here and yet she will never belong. This is both her home and her prison. And, as the white woman on the green bicycle, she makes one final stand for what she believes is right.
A fascinating book that tells a unique story.

Invisible Listeners

Finished June 14
Invisible Listeners: Lyric Intimacy in Herbert, Whitman, and Ashbery by Helen Vendler
I'm not really sure how this book got on my TBR list (maybe my love for poetry?) but it was one started but not finished, until yesterday.
Not a long book, it focuses on the addressed invisible listener in these three poets works.
For Herbert, his listener was God, and the author shows how it changed from a vertical relationship to a still vertical but more intimate, parental type relationship, to a horizontal one, where Herbert addressed his listener as "friend".
For Whitman, she shows the change in the treatment of listener as well. Here it changes from a hopeful near future friend he can have a full relationship with, to a future generation where such a relationship can exist, to the ultimate invisible listener of Death. His address to death is a very intimate and friendly one, unusual even among poets.
For Ashbery, he is struck by a painting viewed in 1959 by Francesco Parmigianino, "Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror". He is moved to research the painter and painting and finally writes a poem addressing him in 1972. He finds in him a fellow artist who shows art distorting what it portrays, and addresses him as a friend.
This is an interesting look at the role of invisible listener in poetry, and while more academic than my usual reading, gave me insight into the poems I love.

Tuesday 14 June 2011

Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print

Finished June 14
Killed: Great Journalism Too Hot to Print, edited by David Wallis
This is a book that has been on my shelf for a while and I finally pulled it down to read.
Wallis has gathered a number of articles commissioned from 1942 to 2003 by a variety of newspapers and magazines, but cancelled before making it to print. They vary widely in subject and were pulled for a number of reasons. Many of the would-be publications didn't give clear and honest reasons for the cancellation of the articles, and some were published later either in other publications, or in books.
It was very interesting to read, and I learned a lot about a variety of issues and people. Politics keeps coming up here, whether it is government politics, business politics, or gender politics. It is interesting to see how fear limited the sharing of information, and see how the editorial process works. Self-censorship is one of the worst forms of censorship, based on fear of risk, whether it be of reader reaction, offended advertisers, or future access to those of importance.
I'm glad I read it.


Finished June 12
Bloodtide by Melvin Burgess
This teen novel was recommended on a list recently and since our library had it, I decided to check it out. It is one set at some uncertain dystopian point of time in the city of London (England). Two young teens (14) Siggy and Signy are twin sister and brother, the youngest in the ruling family of Val Volson. King Val is marrying Signy off to Conor, the leader of another fiefdom, hoping the union will bring peace to their area and unite them against the halfmen.
Both of these two fiefdoms are in the old city of London and surrounding them is a land inhabited by halfmen, creatures of mixed human/animal blood. The halfmen are men in varying degrees, some of them able to pass as men in most circumstances. The mixed blood creatures are men mixed with a variety of animals, including dogs, cats, and pigs. The ring of land they inhabit serves as a buffer between the fiefdoms and the controlled city of Ragnor. We learn very little of Ragnor in the book.
The action is set in the two fiefdoms and shows the fight for control between the Volsons, Conor, and the halfmen. There is intrigue, betrayal, magic, and science here.
The plot seems to be guided by the old gods: Odin and Loki among others.
The character that I cared most about was not Siggy (who seemed weak to me) or Signy (who seemed self-centered and manipulative) but Cherry, the shapeshifter who played a pivotal role in the plot.
This is the interesting beginning to a series of books that continues with Bloodsong.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Two Babushkas

Finished June 8
Two Babushkas: how my grandmothers survived Hitler's war and Stalin's peace by Masha Gessen
I've started to go back to one of my earlier book lists and read books that I put on the list years ago. This is one of them. Finally tracked down a used copy.
Masha was born in Russia, but emigrated to the United States with her parents and younger brother when she was a young teen in 1981. She had fond memories of her grandmothers and went back to Russia as a young journalist to spend time with them. She became intrigued with their stories and managed to get a grant to write this book. She has moved back to Russia now herself.
This book follows her grandmothers from the 1920s to the 21st century. Her grandmother Ester was born in Poland and moved to Russia to study after the beginning of World War II. Her grandmother Rozalia was born in Moscow. They are both ethnic Jews, not religious but labelled different by the Russian government.
The book follows them from girlhood, through World War II hardships, marriage, children, job hunting, widowhood, social ostracism, and much more.
Masha has been able to coax an amazing amount of detail out of her grandmothers and adds historical research and personal papers to her resources to fill out the stories. These are very interesting women who have had very interesting lives.

Sunday 5 June 2011

One Was a Soldier

Finished June 5
One Was a Soldier by Julia Spencer-Fleming
This is one of my favourite mystery series, featuring Clare Fergusson and Russ Van Alstyne. This one continues the story, with Clare returning from duty in Iraq (as a helicopter pilot). The story moves back and forth between events beginning with Eric McCrea's return from duty and group therapy sessions for those returned from overseas duty. Eric returned in June (and Clare not much later) and the therapy sessions start in September. Besides Eric and Clare, who are both in the National Guard, with Eric an MP, there are also Dr. Stillman who did medical work overseas as part of the Guard, Tally McNabb, and Will Ellis. Will is a former high school track star who lost both his legs in Fallujah as a Marine. Tally had an affair while overseas the effects of which followed her back and threaten her marriage. All the vets are dealing with issues due to their overseas experiences. Coming home is hard on all of them and they all have issues they are struggling with.
Clare hasn't been upfront with Russ about her issues, and she is struggling with even admitting the issues to herself. When one of the vets dies, the others take it hard. Clare particularly can't accept the police verdict of suicide and this drives a wedge between her and Russ. She draws the other vets into an unofficial investigation and that has effects on them all.
This is a good one, with a variety of issues brought forward, and a good plot.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Bryson City

Finished June 3
Bryson City Seasons by Walter Larimore

Finished May 29
Bryson City Tales by Walter Larimore

These two books tell of Larimore's move to the small town of Bryson City, North Carolina to serve as a family doctor and the events and characters that he encountered there. Bryson has changed identifying details to protect patient privacy, but he includes information about his own family and the issues they encounter.
Bryson City is in the Great Smoky Mountains, just outside the park, and offers a variety of experiences to a doctor that he wouldn't encounter in city practice. For Dr. Larimore, God is a center to his life and many of the experiences he relates here show that. Although references to this occur throughout the book, it doesn't come across as preachy or false (unlike some others I've read), and he is honest about his own questioning. Larimore and his wife have a young daughter with a severe case of cerebral palsy and their experience with this is told in the book as well. Larimore sees accidents, diseases, and personal tragedies in his practice and tells of them with humour and honesty. He talks about his own choices, questions, and concerns as well.
This is a book that centers on small town life and the feeling of community that comes to the fore there. These are what I categorize as "nice reads" where you learn something and feel good after reading.