Wednesday 28 March 2012

Pulp and Paper

Finished March 26
Pulp and Paper by Josh Rolnick
This collection of short stories offers diverse experiences from a varied group of characters.
This collection is a winner of the John Simmons Short Fiction Award. The eight stories here are split into two sections, with four stories set in New Jersey and four set in New York. The main characters in the stories range from children to adults, and include both women and men. From a bereaved father to a young boy struggling with his mom moving on from his father's death, from violent disruptions to slow decay, these stories show loss.
The strength of these stories is in the characters and their reactions to the events that take place around them. An engaging and promising collection.

Monday 26 March 2012

Walking Backwards

Finished March 25
Walking Backwards: grant tours, minor visitations, miraculous journeys, and a few good meals by Mark Frutkin
This nonfiction books is a look back at ten cities Frutkin visited in the past (sometimes quite distant) and his experiences doing so. From the sixties to the recent past, this is a tale of adventures, enlightenment, getting lost and finding the unexpected. There is a wonderful lot about food (I started getting hungry) and culture.
A wonderful look at travel and its perks, by a great writer.
A favourite line: Paris is not a city of a thousand novels but is a single novel of incomparable complexity and depth, one with over two million characters.
I love to travel, and this made me want to rush out and buy tickets to somewhere, to revel in the experience again.

Sunday 25 March 2012

The Wild Rose

Finished March 24
The Wild Rose by Jennifer Donnelly
This is the third book in the Rose series, with the first being The Tea Rose (read before I started blogging), and the second The Winter Rose. Here the story focuses around Seamie, Fiona's younger brother, an adventurer, and the woman he loves, Willa Alden (the Wild Rose). Their story started in the Winter Rose, and continues here. It is an ill-fated love affair, with the two separated time again through either their own actions, or through other circumstances. With locations from London to Nepal to Egypt, the action takes place in interesting locales, and with the backdrop of the First World War the action and intrigue come naturally. There are spies, adventurers, suffragettes, and hard working men and women. From the charms of Arabia to the excitements of Paris, the novel takes us on a wide range of experiences during the second decade of the twentieth century.
As always the characters are varied and the main ones show complexity. Willa feels frustrated by her injury, and yet determined to make a name for herself in surveying Everest and, later, parts of Egypt. While the women based in England are driven by getting the women a voice through the vote, Willa is independent, oftel playing a man's role, and yet also self-destructive. Seamie is torn between his love for Willa even while she drives him away, his love of adventure, and his responsibilities. Even the "good" people sometimes do things they aren't proud of and this is no fairytale romance.
We see the damaged men that return from the war, and the various methods employed in an attempt to rehabilitate them. Enjoyable and entertaining.

The Pun Also Rises

Finished March 22
The Pun Also Rises: how the humble pun revolutionized language, changed history, and made wordplay more than some antics by John Pollack, read by Pete Larkin
This is more than just a history of puns, it is a history of language, a history of humour, and shows that social changes over the centuries around this form of humour. Puns are rich in the use of language and that is both the appeal and the fun of them. But because they play with language, puns are also seen as a threat by some. They've definitely been used subversively and politically and have been a tool of social and political change. They are also a great tool for literacy and language learning. A few puns are included here, but the book is more about the history. Having a punster for a father, I've grown up with puns, and found the book very interesting.

Thursday 22 March 2012

The Disciple of Las Vegas

Finished March 21
The Disciple of Las Vegas by Ian Hamilton
This is the second book in the series featuring Ava Lee, the Toronto-based, Chinese-Canadian, martial arts expert, forensic accountant. The first was the Water Rat of Wanchai. Here we have Ava and her partner Uncle working for the richest man in the Philippines, Tommy Ordonoz.
The action takes Ava from the Philippines to Vancouver, San Francisco, London, and, of course, Las Vegas. Besides tracking down the largest money prize she's ever gone after, more than $50 million, Ava is also being targeted by a previous victim and there is a price on her head.
With fast moving action, some decidely unpleasant men on both sides of the financial situation, and some new friends, this book will keep you reading right until the end. I didn't go to bed until I finished it.

Wednesday 21 March 2012

Worth Dying For

Finished March 20
Worth Dying For by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill
Wonderful, as always. Reacher is on his way to Virginia, continuing where he left off in 61 Hours. Again, he is in a rural area, this time in Nebraska. He has been let off near a small motel, the Apollo Inn, in the middle of nowhere. There is one other patron at the motel bar, a doctor well on his way to getting drunk. When a call comes in from a patient of the doctor, Reacher insists on driving him to the patient's home. What he finds there set him off against the victim's husband and gets the husband eager to have revenge. As usual, one thing leads to another, and Reacher is heavily involved.
The community is one bound to a very controlling family, seemingly locked in a situation they can't get out of. Some of the situation there are in is due to the family's greed. But there is also an incident dating back 25 years to a missing child that has set the community against each other. Reacher finds himself investigating this old case to try to find the truth, and he finds so much more. International smuggling is part of the scene and some very determined people are involved.
A great listen, very entertaining, with pageturning action.

Friday 16 March 2012

To The Edge of the Sea

Finished March 16
To the Edge of the Sea by Anne McDonald
This short novel is lyrical and flows between four characters. Set in the summer and fall of 1864, this book begins in PEI and takes us across the Canadas to Niagara Falls. Two young men in PEI, brothers, Alex and Reggie are very different. Reggie, the oldest, is seasick every time he goes out on his father's fishing boat, yet he is the responsible one, the one who asks before he acts. Alex is impulsive and a natural fisherman. When a circus comes to the island, Alex leaves in the night to go to town to see it. He is drawn to the actions of the highwire performers and follows them beyond his island home. Reggie is changed by Alex's disappearance and makes choices in his own life that change his life forever.
At the same time, the leaders of Upper and Lower Canada come to PEI to try to get agreement to form a nation. This is the start of a road trip from the island across the Canadas and we see things from the eyes of John A Macdonald himself and the eyes of Mercy, daughter of PEI delegate George Coles, a young woman both drawn and repelled by John A. This is a journey, and a discovery and a leaving.
Mercy leaves behind her younger, more innocent self. John A leaves behind part of himself as a cost to forming a new country. Alex leaves behind his island home and family. Reggie leaves a life he was born into, but not without cost. From Canadian history to the famous Farinis, this novel explores change and a sense of inevitability. Very enjoyable.

Big Bad Sheep

Finished March 15
Big Bad Sheep by Bettina Wegenast, illustrated by Katharina Busshoff
This is a cute children's book I picked up at a library conference this week. When the Three Little Pigs wander by the sheep, chanting "The Wolf is dead", one of the sheep wonders what he was like. Karl, who is a bit of a sheep troublemaker decides to apply for the job, and goes off with his friend Locke to the Job Office. He convinces the recruiter to let him do the job on probation and tries to really get into it.
This is an interesting read around taking on a persona. Putting on the wolf accoutrements gets Karl into the mindset of being a wolf, and he forgets his real identity. Locke is shocked and appalled at Karl and himself ventures outside his comfort zone to try to fix things.
I enjoyed the story and the idea of putting on an identity with putting on the skin of that identity and how the sheep come to terms with the results of this.
Aimed at ages 8-12, this is an imaginative story that takes a child beyond fairy tales to thinking about the characters.

Tuesday 13 March 2012

Save Me

Finished March 12
Save Me by Lisa Scottoline, read by Cynthia Nixon
Another great thriller from Scottline, and nice to have finished it on the drive down to Philadelphia for PLA Conference. Rose McKenna is a young mother who has volunteered at her daughter's school as a lunch mom because she is worried about reported teasing by other kid's. Her daughter, Melly, is in third grade and has a large birthmark on her cheek. Melly is self-conscious about it, and Rose is aware of that and worries about her fitting in. When Rose sees some other girls teasing Melly, she approaches them and reminds them of the school's anti-bullying policy.
Unexpectedly there is an explosion and subsequent fire and Rose has to decide whether to help the girls she is talking to, or go look for Melly who has run to the washroom. Even after Rose makes her move, she keeps questioning her decision and feels the need to find out all aspects of what happened that day. Despite her husband's advice, Rose keeps digging and her actions put her into another life-threatening situation.
With lots of twists and turns, interesting characters, and a good plot, Scottoline pulls off another great read. Looking forward to hearing her speak Thursday evening.

Friday 9 March 2012

Crossing the Continent

Finished March 9
Crossing the Continent by Michel Tremblay, translated by Sheila Fischman
This is a gem of a novel. Nana (Rhéauna) is ten years old, the oldest of three sisters who live with their grandparents near the tiny French village of Maria, Saskatchewan. Unexpectedly, Nana's mother, who lives in Montreal, has sent for her to come and live with her, with her sisters following sometime in the future. Nana is sent on the train, but because of the great distance makes three stops along the way.
The first stop is in Regina, with her great-aunt Régina, a sour woman that Nana has always been a little afraid of. Nana discovers something wonderful about her great-aunt and sets off from Regina looked after by a young man working on the train, Jacques.
Nana has a long ride to Winnipeg, but is met by a large contingent at the stations, all organized by her great-aunt Bebette. Here the food is much better, but Nana is overwhelmed by the people, the food, and the circumstances.
Nana's next train journey is much longer, to Ottawa. She has a companion on the portion to Toronto, a friend of Bebette's who talks nonstop the whole way. She is in awe of the Great Lakes when she first sees them, and is able to find solace in the view from her window.
In Ottawa, she stays with her cousin Ti-Lou, a woman with a considerable reputation and elite clientele. Nana doesn't entirely understand what Ti-Lou does, but gets a sense of it, and is able to unburden her worries to Ti-Lou and get some interesting advice in return.
The last leg of her journey to Montreal is short, and Nana is looked after by another nice young man, Michael, who delivers her into the hands of her mother.
One theme obvious here is Nana's exposure to the three archetypes of women: the spinster, the wife and mother, and the prostitute. Nana gets a taste of each seeing a glimpse of each life and the appeal of each. The other is of course the journey (Canadian novel as road trip, as my niece is studying in her university course) which is both real and symbolic. The journey is also a coming of age, from a sheltered existence in a small isolated village, to a life of responsibility in a big city, with added knowledge of life along the way and increased exposure to bigger and bigger places as she goes. It also crosses a large expanse of our country.
The novel is also apparently backstory to another Tremblay novel Chronicles of the Plateau Mont-Royal, a book I shall have to seek out now and read. Thoroughly enjoyable and highly recommended.

Wednesday 7 March 2012

The Englishman's Daughter

Finished March 6
The Englishman's Daughter: a true story of love and betrayal in World War I by Ben Macintyre
Near the beginning of World War I, many Allied soldiers found themselves behind enemy lines on the western front. This concentrates on four British soldiers that were forced to hide for years in a tiny French village called Villeret. Other soldiers similarly trapped in the area are also touched included, but the author concentrates on these four particularly because he became aware of their story when invited to a memoiral service at their gravesite in the late 1990s. He didn't at first understand why he'd been invited, until he was introduced to an elderly woman after the service. She told him of the seven British soldiers hidden in the village, that three had eventually managed to escape and make their way home, and that four were betrayed and given up to the Germans. She said "Those seven British soldiers were our soldiers. One of them was my father."
He was hooked and delved through records in France, Britain and Germany, visitied the village again and again digging into the stories and memories of the people there, most of them descendants of the people whose lives were lived there during that time. This is the story he discovered, and, as he says, it made the war personal to him, because the stories made the soldiers individuals who came alive for him. It is a fascinating tale of one small village during the war.

Distrust That Particular Flavor

Finished March 6
Distrust That Particular Flavor by William Gibson, read by Robertson Dean
Gibson is widely known for his novels (which I haven't read!) but also has written a variety of pieces on different aspects of contemporary culture. He was born in the southern United States and moved to Canada as a young man. Having met and married a Canadian woman, he stayed and now lives in Vancouver. This comes up only briefly in the writings contained here.
This is a collection of articles, speeches, book reviews, and essays on culture, technology, urban life, and the relationships between our lives and the changing world. The articles range over 3 decades, and many have short commentary by the author following them, a take on how he feels about that piece of writing now. The whole feels very conversational as that is the style he often seems to write in, and even the older pieces are surprisingly relevant. I liked the range of subjects and the different ideas he has about the subjects and how they inspire his fiction writing.  I also liked how his personal life often crept in, and illuminated the writing. It is always fun to see behind the scenes and get an insight into the personal side of a writer.
A very entertaining and enlightening collection.

Tuesday 6 March 2012

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!

My Teaser:
The Englishmen came to Villeret at the same time as the hunger. The village had never been as rich as Le Catelet or Hargicourt, but it had not experienced real want since the war of 1871.

from The Englishman's Daughter: a true story of love and betrayal in World War I by Ben Macintyre

Monday 5 March 2012

City of Glass

Finished March 4
City of Glass by Cassandra Clare
This is the third book in The Mortal Instruments series. First was City of Bones, second was City of Ashes. I am really enjoying this series, and finding the books go very quickly. Here, Clary is determined to go to Idris and find the warlock that holds the secret to reviving Clary's mother. But Jace is determined that she shouldn't go, as he is worried about her safety. Jace even tries to get Simon to help in keeping Clary in New York.
Of course, Clary goes despite what others may want her to do, and finds Idris more than she expected. There is a lot going on here, with Clary, Jace and Jace's adoptive family. We also see Simon mature into his new life and find both friends and foes in unexpected places.
Clary learns (again) that things aren't always what they seem, and that her gifts offer interesting solutions to seemingly difficult situations. We see the struggle between the Shadowhunters and the Downworlders and how Valentine gives them a common enemy. But can they really work together?
There are new characters introduced here, more Shadowhunters and other creatures. Tragedy comes to the Lightwood family and another battle kills many more. But there is hope and a new way forward, thanks to Clary and her skills.

Sunday 4 March 2012

Eyes Like Leaves

Finished March 3
Eyes Like Leaves by Charles de Lint
This was an interesting read. de Lint actually wrote this book early in his career, but it wasn't published until now. He did an edit of it, but tried to remain true to the young man he was when he wrote it, which was interesting.
This novel is in a fantasy world and reminded me a bit of Le Guin's Earthsea.
There are many different peoples in the book, but the main struggle is for a balance in the world. The Summerlord has lost his staff and Everwinter is creeping over the world, looking to end summer, kill the Summerlord and all the Summerborn. Also, the Saramund are wreaking violence and destruction on the settlements in the lands. One mage is trying to fight against this evil, and he has taken on a couple of young men to learn the skills needed.
Strength comes from within, from one's "taw" a deep inner core of the self, and also from the magic of the earth itself. The world is an interesting one, as is the struggle, and seeing how the Summerborn react to each new challenge keeps you turning the pages. With elements of folklore as well as a complete world, this is fantasy that offers broad appeal.

A Challenge for March

Saw the challenge for Magical March and figured since I was reading this genre anyway, I might as well sign up!

I have a couple to post about already that fit the theme, and I am sure that I'll have a few more this month.
I am aiming for Sorcerer's Class.

Thursday 1 March 2012

Of Mice and Men

Finished March 1
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck, read by Gary Sinise
I had always wanted to read this, especially after having read another two of his books. When I saw the audiobook at the library I grabbed it. I really didn't know what it was about at all, and found the two men, George and Lenny fascinating.
Even though you aren't given a lot of information, you get a real sense of place and time in this novel. In the environment of today, Lenny would have been in special classes as a child, and given tools to use to help him function in society. Here, he had his Aunt Clara and George and both were limited in the help they could provide. Society is both more accepting and less understanding of Lenny and his limitations and quirks.
The hunger of the men for a real home, something that was their own felt very real.
This is a sad and haunting story, about society, friendships, and love. I was weeping as I drove by the end.