Wednesday 29 February 2012

Freddy's War

Finished February 29
Freddy's War by Judy Schultz
This is the sad tale of a young Canadian soldier from his childhood, through his old age. Freddy grows up in Edmonton, born on Christmas Day to a mother who died in childbirth. Befriended by the older lady, Serena, next door who takes him under her wing, Freddy finds a new life with reading, music and new friends. One new friend, Yip, is Serena's gardener and Freddy finds a father figure in him. But when Freddy gets in trouble, he lies about his age and joins up in the army.
Shipped to Hong Kong, Freddy is fascinated by the world there, and is better equipped than most due to his early experiences in Edmonton's Chinatown. Despite great hardship, he manages to survive the war and come back home. But his experiences scar him, and their subsequent effect on him show that for Freddy, the war never really ends. Despite new friends and support, Freddy falls into a decline that will define his life.
A look at the after effects of war on a young, impressionable man, that read true.
A very good read, with good discussion questions that are included for book clubs or school classes that may be interested.

The Rope

Finished February 28
The Rope by Nevada Barr, performed by Joyce Bean
I've been listening to this one in the car and finished it off on my trip to work yesterday. I've liked this series from the beginning, but haven't done the last couple as the violence was getting too much for me. This one is less so, and takes us back to the beginning of Anna's career with the National Park Service with her first season as a seasonal ranger. The action takes place at Glen Canyon, and Anna is inadvertently drawn into a bad situation. Anna is still grieving the loss of her husband Zack, and takes the job wanting to get far away from the familiar and things that remind her of her life with Zack. When she sets off on a hike on her lieu day, she goes out unprepared for her trek. She regains consciousness at the bottom of a solution hole (a natural dry well) without her clothes or her pack and no memory of how she got there.
Meanwhile back at camp, her possessions have disappeared along with her and her fellow rangers suppose that she must have decided not to stick it and go home.
As Anna slowly regains pieces of her memory, she also struggles to survive. As Barr herself refers to in the text, portions of this book seem a bit "Perils of Pauline", but not overly so given the reality of the situation. The plot is a good one, and comes together nicely. And Anna herself is forced to make decisions and take actions that move her life forward and lead to her new career.
I find it interesting that this is the second book lately in a long-term series that has been a "go back and explain how this all started" book. The other one is The Affair by Lee Child, in the Jack Reacher series. I wonder if this is a new trend?

Sunday 26 February 2012

Me and Earl and the Dying Girl

Finished February 26
Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
This teen novel is written in the voice of Greg Gaines, Jewish, 17, a senior in high school in Pittsburgh. Greg has worked hard to stay under the radar, aligning himself with none of the different groups at school and generally passing through without fully engaging.
He is the typical teenage boy who is worried about what others think of him, wants to not get beaten up or publicly embarrassed, is drawn to girls but unaware of how to engage in conversation with him. His best friend is Earl, a boy with a severely dysfunctional home life. The two of them eat lunch together in the office of one of the teachers, and spend a lot of time together at Greg's house watching movies, making movies and just hanging out. When a girl that Greg was friends with when he was in sixth grade is diagnosed with leukemia, Greg's mom thinks it would be good if he renewed the friendship and spent some time with her. Greg struggles with this, not sure how to go about and ends up using weird humour riffs to entertain Rachel.
The book is written with a very strong "this is what is going on in my head" streaming style, and go back and forth between regular text and script style. Greg and Earl made films for fun because of their own fascination for certain movies. The films definitely play a role here. Greg is struggling through the high school years, unsure about how to relate to the people around him, and that really comes through here.
Can't say for sure since I haven't been one, but I get the sense that this book would really appeal to high school boys. But the appeal goes beyond that because of the growth in Greg and the issues he is dealing with.

Tuesday 21 February 2012

The Lucky Child

Finished February 21
The Lucky Child by Marianne Apostolides
This was a short quick, but satisfying read. Apostolides was drawn to her family's history and began to do research on it, particularly the period during the war when her father was a boy. This fictional account draws on that history and the immediacy of it is very well done. Set in Thessalonika and mountain villages nearby, this tells the story of Agamemnon, an officer in the army, a veterinarian who was in charge of the army's animals. He also served his community as a veterinarian, and was a strong royalist. This tells the story from the wars early years, through 1943 and deals with not only the Nazi occupation of Greece and the effect that had on this community, but also the communist EAM/ELAS groups that later led to civil war in Greece. We see the story from a variety of points of view, Agamemnon, his wife Mary, his young son Taki, his older daughter Loukia and see how the point of view changes the story. We see their interactions with the neighbours and the dangers they face. This is an interesting vignette of this short period in time. Apostolides also includes information on her real family history in an epilogue that adds context to the tale.

The Law of Similars

Finished February 21
The Law of Similars by Chris Bohjalian, read by Tim Jerome
Set in Vermont, this story has homeopathy as a main subject. Leland Fowler is a state prosecutor for Vermont and a single father. Two years ago, his wife Elizabeth was killed in a car accident and he is very close to his 4-year-old daughter Abby. For the last several months Leland has been fighting a cold that never seems to let go. He has tried any number of remedies and seen his doctor, but nothing works. In the local health food store, a clerk recommends her aunt, a homeopath. Leland Fowler goes to Carissa Lake, the homeopath and she prescribes him a remedy. Leland also finds himself interested in her romantically and mounts a campaign to persuade her in that regard.
At the same time, another patient of Carissa's doesn't fare so well. He has gone to Carissa for help with his dependency on drugs for asthma and dermititis. Carissa makes an offhand comment that is taken seriously and he ends up in a coma. And Carissa is the target of his wife's anger and frustration.
Given Leland's job, he is in a bad position of divided loyalties and finds himself making decisions and taking actions that he would just as soon not have anyone know.
There is a lot of information around the history and practice of homeopathy here, perhaps too much for me. The main substance of the plot is around moral and ethical dilemmas and the actions a person might take and the outcomes around that. To me, Leland is a weak character, and his attitude at the end of the book, to me, is a sad one. He is, as he puts it 'living for the future', and that is a sad state of mind. The story was interesting and the plot unique, but I felt unsatisfied at the end of the novel.

City of Ashes

Finished February 20
City of Ashes by Cassandra Clare
This is the second book in the Mortal Instruments series that began with the City of Bones. We rejoin Clary Fray in New York City as she still tries to find a way to release her mother from the coma she is in. Clary has discovered that she is a Shadowhunter, although she still needs training to be good at it. Clary struggles with her feelings for Jace, her newfound brother, and tries to be closer to her friend Simon. She is staying with Luke, a friend of her mother's and a man who has been a father to her. Meanwhile, her real father, Valentine is busy trying to muster an army of demons to defeat the Clave and become the most powerful man on earth. Can Clary and Jace stop him? When he obtains the second Mortal Instrument, the Sword of Souls, they realize what he is trying to do and work to figure out his location and plan to keep their loved ones safe.
Seeing into the world of vampires, werewolves, and fairies, keeps this story fresh. We see how the Downworlders and the Shadowhunters must work together to defeat this enemy that threatens them both.
A good read, with lots going on, and new developments for Simon, Jace, and Clary.


Finished February 19
Forbidden by Syrie James and Ryan M James
This teen novel looks to be the first in a new series. It begins with Claire Brennan, a scholarship student at an elite high school in Los Angeles, ready to start a new term. Claire's mother has moved them around a lot and Claire is desperate to stay at Emerson Academy until she finishes high school. But Claire is starting to have visions, and she confides in her two best friends about them.
There is a new boy at school, Alex MacKenzie, from Scotland. But he seems shy and at first Claire doesn't know what to make of him. Then she notices something else and begins to wonder and so do her friends.
Alec chose Emerson Academy as a place to lie low and have an experience he never did, high school. But he's an angelic watcher gone AWOL, and is constantly on the lookout for danger and signs of his cover being blown. What he didn't plan on is developing feelings for Claire.
Obviously, this is paranormal romance, with a touch of thriller thrown in. There is suspense, fast-paced action, and first love. Here we have the world of angels (Grigori), Fallen (the ones the angels watch for bad behaviour), and Nephilim (part angel, part people that the angels are wary of). A good read, and an ending that seems perfect to lead to a sequel.

Sunday 19 February 2012

City of Bones

Finished February 17
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare
This is the first book in a teen series. Clary Fray has grown up with a somewhat overprotective mom. Her best friend is Simon and the two teens go out to an all ages club near their homes in New York City. While there Clary sees something happen that she realizes no one else sees. She tries to deal with this on her own, but can't make sense of it. When her mother disappears, and she is attacked by an extremely scary monster, she finds herself rescued by one of the people she saw earlier. She learns that there is a whole other world that she has been unaware of, one of demons, and the Shadowhunter warriors who keep them in line. She also learns that the Sight she has developed to see these beings also is part of her heritage and part of what endangers her life. As Clary moves further into this new world and works to find and save her mother, she also learns about herself and her capabilities. An interesting beginning.

Only in the Movies

Finished February 16
Only in the Movies by William Bell
Jake has wanted to be a screenwriter ever since stumbling onto a movie set when he was a kid. But for some reason, he kept it to himself. As he nears high school and the decision to choose a career track nears, he finally reveals his dream to his parents.
With his parents' help, he enrolls in the York School of the Arts, and meets a number of interesting creative young people. Instant Grady becomes a friend early and the two often study together. Instant is a jazz musician. Vanni O'Riada has an Irish musician father and an Indian mother and is a poet. She also has a large nose she is rather sensitive about. The three become close and hang out together.
When a new girl, Alba, comes to school, Jake is drawn to her and enlists Vanni's help to get her attention. Nothing here goes as planned, and Jake discovers that his crush may have threatened his grades.
A great novel for young creative types.

Shot at Dawn

Finished February 15
Shot at Dawn by John Wilson
This children's novel is World War I fiction, a study of a fictional Canadian soldier. We have Allan McBride, a young man from rural B.C., who joins up thinking it a great adventure and eager to prove himself. He is inspired by Ken, a slightly older young man from his community who he has always looked up to and who has been fighting in the war for some time. The hard training is more than Allan expected, but he perseveres and fights hard to stay at the front when Ken would try to send him back.
The story is told as a reminiscence of young Allan as he awaits death by firing squad the following morning. He is kept company by a young officer who he asks to take down his story. This fictional tale tells of many real events of the war, and includes the reality of a soldier's difficult life. The author is clear in the notes however that it is not based on a particular soldier.
A good book to open discussion around this war in a young reader.

Wednesday 15 February 2012

A Dirty Death

Finished February 14
A Dirty Death by Rebecca Tope
This English mystery is set on a farm near a small village. Guy Beardon is the victim of the very dirty death referred to in the book's title, drowning in a slurry pit. At first everyone, including the police assume it is an accident. But when another death occurs, second looks are taken.
Guy's daughter Lilah finds herself suspicious of everyone except her younger brother and the young policeman she went to school with. As she interacts with people from the village, she finds herself looking carefully at their actions and questioning their motives. She is also compelled to look closer at her own relationship with her father and the influence he had on her life.
An interesting mystery, as well as watching a young woman forced to face adulthood with the loss of her father, a very quick growing up.

Sunday 12 February 2012

When She Woke

Finished February 12
When She Woke by Hillary Jordan
I'd already read Jordan's previous novel Mudbound, which was one of the early choices by Powell's bookstore for their Indiespensable subscription, and enjoyed it.
This novel is set in a future United States and Hannah Payne is a young woman in her twenties brought up in a strong evangelical household in Dallas. Hannah has always had a rebellious streak, wanting to know the why behind things in her world. She has a loving father, a somewhat stricter mother, and a sister, Becca, she is close to. When Hannah falls for a man who she should not, she tries to hold her feelings back, but when he reciprocates those feelings, she falls easily into a secret relationship.
As the book begins, Hannah awakes in jail, having been died red as part of a punishment for aborting her baby. Hannah didn't give up the name of the doctor who helped her, or the father of her baby, and that has added more years to her sentence. When she is freed into society, she finds herself an outcast, struggling to survive. As she adjusts to her new circumstances and learns who to trust, Hannah finds that she is stronger than she ever thought.
With elements from Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter, and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, this novel looks at society, its expectations, and its punishments in an interesting light.
Thoroughly enjoyable read, and a good choice for a book club.

Lake on the Mountain

Finished February 11
Lake on the Mountain by Jeffrey Round
This is a Dan Sharp mystery, the first one I've read. Dan is a private investigator specializing in missing persons. He has a great track record on finding people. Dan is also gay, and this plays a big role in his book. He's been dating Bill, a doctor, for around a year, but still doesn't feel part of Bill's life. A trip for the two of them to a wedding in Eastern Ontario marks the first real public outing for the two of them. Dan's best friend Donny tries to get him to see that Bill isn't a real partner to him. Dan's teenage son Ked is a strong presence, the one person around which Dan's life is built, and a call to reason. Ked has a good head on his shoulders and tells Dan when he is out of line.
This book takes Dan back to his beginnings in Sudbury and also helps him look into a long-time missing persons case. Another of Dan's clients reminds him of his own early life in Toronto, escaping a home that made him feel unwanted. There is a lot of character development here, and it is needed as Dan has a lot of developing to do. He's been lucky in his life overall to get him where he is now, but he isn't entirely happy and needs to figure out what would make him happy.
An interesting book, with some interesting themes

Saturday 11 February 2012


Finished February 10
Redbreast by Jo Nesbo, read by Sean Barrett
This is the first Jo Nesbo book I've read, but he's been on my "want to read" list for a while. At first reading this as an audiobook required more concentration as the book moves between different time periods, but it soon started to flow for me.
This book is the third in the series featuring Harry Hole (pronounced Hulla) and includes a high profile incident involving Harry and the aftermath of that incident. Harry is reassigned to a surveillance position, and becomes interesting in a report of a rare and very expensive gun that seems to have entered the country surreptitiously. There is some question of a connection of this gun to recent neo-Nazi activity, and we find ourselves being led back to World War II. Norway was an occupied country, and Norwegians fought on both sides of the war. This novel includes the issues surrounding that time period, Norway's image around that and the myths about how Norwegians behaved during the occupation. Harry's investigation regarding the gun takes him to both South Africa, where the gun came from, and Vienna, where he believes the gun's new owner once was.
There are also issues around Harry's former partner, who dies in this book, and Harry's love life. Intriguing, complex and with an amazing plot, this novel has me hooked on the series.

Friday 10 February 2012

Beasts of New York

Finished February 9
Beasts of New York: a children's book for grownups by Jon Evans
In some ways this book makes my think of Watership Down, but a lighter version ... and with squirrels instead of rabbits. We follow young Patch, son of Silver, of the Seeker clan, of the Treetops tribe, of the Center Kingdom. The Center Kingdom is Central Park in New York City. It is late winter and Patch can't find any of the nuts he buried, and he's not the only one either. Something is going on and Patch is determined to get to the bottom of it. The rats seem to be up to something. In his quest for food, Patch overhears rats and a rogue squirrel plotting and talking about the King Beneath. Then Patch is diverted and must make the quest of his life to find his way back home.
With squirrels, cats, birds, and rats, we get into the lives and behaviors of these animals. Patch has fear, but knows that he must take risks to win his home safe home. He meets many animals on his quest from Zelina, Queen of All Cats; Toro, a loyal blue jay; Daffa, a pigeon with a geographic-centric memory; Karmerruk, a lordly hawk; and White, a lonely albino squirrel. I loved the characters, and the story has a bit of a folk tale feel to it.

Monday 6 February 2012

T'he Water Rat of Wanchai

Finished February 6
The Water Rat of Wanchai by Ian Hamilton
This mystery is the first in a new series featuring Ava Lee. Ava is a forensic accountant. She was born in Hong Kong, but grew up in Canada and lives in Toronto. Her work involves tracking down money that has gone missing. Her partner is Uncle Chow, an older man based in Hong Kong that she worked with early in her career and subsequently teamed up with. Ava is a small woman, but highly trained in martial arts, a skill that sometimes comes in handy in her work when traditional methods fail.
In this book, Uncle has been approached by an old friend to recover $5 million that has gone missing in a deal with a seafood company. Ava's investigation leads her to Hong Kong, Thailand, Guyana and the British Virgin Islands and into many interesting situations.
There are a lot of interesting characters and a fast-moving plot.
This is a thriller with a strong female protagonist. I'm looking forward to the next one.

Sunday 5 February 2012

Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth

Finished February 5
Nancy Clancy Super Sleuth written by Jane O'Connor, illustrations by Robin Preiss Glasser
Picked this up at OLA Superconference. This book will be released in late April and is the next step for all those kids who loved Fancy Nancy. She's got a bit older and is having some adventures at school. She loves Nancy Drew and wants to prove her detective skills, but lacks a mystery. That wish leads to more than one mystery and she finds that listening, observing, and using her powers of deduction go a long way. Her partner in sleuthing is her best friend Bree, and she plays a great older sister to JoJo. From the dress (a pink trenchcoat) to the methodology, Nancy soon has the detective work down pat.
I have a young girl I know that I'll try this out on and see what she thinks.

Trap for Cinderella

Finished February 4
Trap for Cinderella by Sebastien Japrisot, translated from the French by Helen Weaver
I love this author for his psychological suspense. This was my latest purse book, and I finished it off Saturday morning. Written in 1962, my copy is a Penguin from 1979. This novel takes place partly in a French resort beach house and partly in Paris.
A fire occurred at the beach house and one girl is killed, while another is badly burned and in a state of amnesia. The injured girl undergoes surgery, but must take others' word for her identity. Of the two girls who were childhood friends, one is a wealthy heiress that has a bit of a cruel streak, the other is a hardworking girl eager to be the chosen friend. As the book develops, the reader is unsure of the girl's identity, then sure again, then unsure. The suspense around the identity of the girl, the events on the night of the fire, and others who may or may not know what happened is with us right to the end. The title has an additional significant meaning that we also don't learn until the end.
Japrisot's books are often short, but contain a lot of mental suspense. And immensely satisfying endings.

Saturday 4 February 2012

OLA Evergreen Award Shortlist for 2012

OLA Evergreen Award 2012
Announced Friday, the Evergreen Award shortlist for 2012 is a great one (yes, I am the outgoing chair of the award, so somewhat biased). And I've read them all!
Here they are:
The Accident by Linwood Barclay
Bedtime Story by Robert Wiersema
The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla
Mennonites Don't Dance by Darcie Friesen Hossack
Natural Order by Brian Francis
Requiem by Frances Itani
Shelter by Frances Greenslade
Under an Afghan Sky by Melissa Fung
Various Positions by Martha Schabas
Libraries will promote these over the next few months, and public voting will take place in October.