Tuesday 31 July 2012

The Age of Miracles

Finished July 31
The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

This novel started from a bit of news, one I also had noted and wondered at. The news was that we had to add a second to the year to adjust for a change in the time of rotation. Walker took that idea, and ran with it. In this novel, the change is much more than a second, and it goes on increasing each day, leading to huge societal changes. At the centre of the book is Julia, 11 years old and living in California. Julia finds that relationships change. She has never had a lot of friends, but the change in time leads quickly to changes in her friendships. She also sees it in the relationships of those around her. As the novel progresses and the changes accummulate, we see the effect they have.
Some people try to stick to doing things with the sun, even as the days grow impossibly long and create communities apart from the rest of society. Julia adjusts to doing things in the dark sometimes and sleeping in the light. We see the effect on energy use and food supply. We see how people are trying to find solutions even as they don't know the cause of the "slowing".
I found myself drawn in to Julia and her experiences, particularly those around friendships and her relationship with her grandfather. When she struggles with whether to keep secrets, I identified with her conflicted feelings. Along with everything else, Julia is experiencing her first love, and trying to figure out how to behave about it. She is a very engaging young woman who has interesting observations on the world as it is changing.
I was lucky to get an Indiespensable copy of this, in a nicely boxed edition, which included an interview with the author, providing interesting background to her process in the creation of this novel.
A great read that gets you thinking, what would I do? I think this book would appeal to teens as well as adults.

Sunday 29 July 2012

Just the Rules

Finished July 29
Just the Rules: Tosca's Guide to Eating Right by Tosca Reno

This short guide is a portable tool for following the Eat-Clean Diet regime. Each rule is listed with short explanations and a sense of humour. This is common sense told in a plain and simple, straightforward manner. All of it makes sense, and so do the reasons behind it. A great overview of eating healthy.

Mission to Paris

Finished July 28
Mission to Paris by Alan Furst

It is 1938 and Hollywood actor Fredric Stahl is sent by Warner to Paris to make a movie for Paramount France. Stahl was born in Austria, loves Paris, and is not a fan of the Nazis. But the Nazis seem his as a perfect agent of influence for them and use charm, cajoling and threats to get him to look, act or do things on their behalf. Stahl can sense what is going on, although not the extent of what they'll do. He finds himself informed of his vulnerability by the American embassy and can't stand to just avoid, but must also work actively against them. As things get more dangerous and his film responsibilities take him to Morocco and Hungary, he learns more and gets himself into more dangerous situations. He also finds himself attracted to a young Parisian socialite and an emigre. 
This is a story of the lead-up to World War II, the city of Paris, and the loyalties of a man to those who helped him create the life he now leads.
Furst is a master of the spy novel, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Wednesday 25 July 2012

On an Irish Island

Finished July 24
On an Irish Island by Robert Kanigel

This book looks at the legacy of the Blaskets, islands in the north west of Ireland. As the Irish language was vanishing throughout Ireland, these islands drew scholars and writers to them. A pocket where Irish was still the language spoken daily, this area drew a variety of visitors that elevated the islands both nationally and internationally. From J.M. Synge, the playwright to Carl Marstrander, a Norwegian linguist, the area drew both writers and scholars of the Irish language.
Some of these visitors encourage the local inhabitants to write of their lives as well, creating a body of work about their lives that is still studied.
I hadn't been aware of the role this area played in Irish nationalism, language, and literature. Part of their legacy is the language that is still spoken and studied today, but the Blaskets also represented a dying way of life with the move from rural to urban, the growth of modern conveniences, and the decline of community.
A very interesting study that provides many insights.

Sunday 22 July 2012

The Iron King

Finished July 22
The Iron King by Julie Kagawa

This is the first novel in the Iron Fey series. Meghan Chase is about to turn sixteen and yet the only ones who seem to notice are her four-year-old stepbrother Ethan and her friend Robbie. Meghan has never quite fit in, something she has felt keenly since her father disappeared when she was six. Now she seems to be noticing odd things like the creature near the computer at school. Ethan is scared of things in his closet and Meghan finds herself wondering what she sees when she looks in too.
When she arrives home from school on her birthday, she finds things changed, particularly her brother. Robbie soon arrives, but when he reveals what she must do to find her brother, she has trouble believing it. Once she arrives in the world of faeries, Meghan learns of the many creatures and dangers awaiting her and finds the truth of her existence, the child of a faery king and a human, someone to be fought after. Her heart leads her both to her brother and towards the mystical faery prince Ash, but will she be able to save Ethan?
Lots of interesting fantasy elements. I always find it interesting to see different authors portrayal of the world of faery and its creatures and this one doesn't disappoint. There is a great story here, with danger, romance, and a girl coming into her own power.

I am Number Four: The Lost Files: The Legacies

Finished June 20
I am Number Four: the Lost Files: the Legacies by Pittacus Lore

This book originally was only available as an ebook, but has now been put together in one volume. It includes the Lost Files, which consists of the back stories of Six and Nine; and it includes the Legacies, which is what happened to One, Two, and Three. Here, there is a bit of a twist, in which we see some of the story from a Mogadorian viewpoint. This provides an interesting vantage point, and I'm sure will figure in the developing story.
The book also includes the beginning chapters from each of the trilogy books: I am Number Four, the Power of Six, and The Rise of Nine.
This book fills in some of the holes, adds information about the fallen and about the surviving legacies.
It also gives the reader some insight into the other side, the Mogadorians, and what is happening with them. A good addition to the series.

Saturday 21 July 2012

In the Shadow of the Banyan

Finished July 20
In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner

This novel takes us to Cambodia in the late '70s, in the time of the civil war. Raami is seven years old, the oldest daughter in a royal family. She wears a leg brace as a result of polio. She lives in Phnom Penh, with her father and mother and little sister Radana, her aunt Tata, and Grandmother Queen.
When the Khmer Rouge take over the city, Raami and her family are forced to flee their home. At first they go to their country home, near the Mekong river, but are soon forced out of that by the revolutionary soldiers as well.
As they join others, living in makeshift shelters, forced into further and further hardships, separated from those they love, Raami tries to keep her father's advice in mind. He told her that you can always find a tiny glimpse of beauty no matter what ugliness and destruction is around you. Raami's Papa is a poet and has told her stories ever since she was little, engaging her imagination and teaching her the myths of the Cambodian spiritual world. While witnessing the world changing around her, Raami keeps her imagination and the stories. She is a witness even while being a victim of the regime. Raami's voice is strong and individual and brings the novel to life before us. Raami is a child who is forced to mature under harsh conditions, forced labour and the loss of family members, but she hangs on to a bit of that childhood innocence throughout.
The author was also young, only five, when she too was forced out of her royal house with her family. Bringing portions of her own history into this story adds to the emotional integrity of the book, and the afterword, where she tells us briefly of her own story and her own return to Cambodia as an adult, is moving.
I also found the mention of the youth of many of the soldiers interesting, given the large number of child soldiers today in the Middle East and Africa. This seems to be a theme common to internal uprisings that warrants discussion.
This book is an amazing read, bringing a country in a difficult historical time to life for the reader. I highly recommend it.
My parents visited Cambodia earlier this year, and I look forward to talking to them about it after they read this book.

My Life in Literature (Meme)

I saw this on Roof Beam Reader and thought it fun, so decided to do my version.

because it’s easier but also because it allows for more options.  I like ease and variety, man.
  1. Describe yourself: Wild Thing
  2. How do you feel: Had a Good Time
  3. Describe where you currently live: Off Main Street
  4. If you could go anywhere, where would you go:  Lake on the Mountain
  5. Your favorite form of transportation: Walking Backwards (not really but lack of choice)
  6. Your best friend is: Gone Girl
  7. You and your friends are: Worth Dying For
  8. What’s the weather like: An Altered Light
  9. You fear: Stray Bullets
  10. What is the best advice you have to give: Room for All of Us
  11. Thought for the day: All That Matters
  12. How I would like to die: Into that Darkness
  13. My soul’s present condition: Quiet

Friday 20 July 2012

The Biplane Houses

Finished July 20
The Biplane Houses by Les Murray

This collection of poetry by Australian writer Les Murray has insight, humour, and culture. The title poem refers to a style of house and many of the poems contained here have Australian imagery and culture. The poems themselves vary widely in style and tell stories, evoke history, amuse, and make social commentary. A great collection.

Thursday 19 July 2012

Running Blind / Echo Burning / Without Fail

Finished July 19
Running Blind / Echo Burning / Without Fail by Lee Child, performed by Dick Hill

I love Lee Child's Jack Reacher books but had missed quite a few of the earlier ones, so when I saw this three-in-one audiobook, I grabbed it.
Running Blind has Jack targeted by the FBI for the serial murders of retired military women. Of course, he did not do the murders, but gets involved in figuring out who is behind them. With a lack of evidence, the investigators are indeed running blind, and Jack helps lock onto the little they know to lead them to the killer.
Echo Burning has Jack hitching his way around Texas, where he is picked up by a desperate woman. Carmen is a victim of domestic abuse, trapped in her marriage by the love for her child. She wants to find someone to kill her husband once he gets out of jail, but Jack isn't her man. He does however want to help her, and when things go bad for her, he takes on the case to figure out who is behind the victimization and how she can get her life back. On a lonely ranch in a sparsely populated part of the country, things can get very scary.
Without Fail begins with an approach to Jack by his brother's ex-girlfriend, a Secret Service agent in charge of the newly elected Vice President to see if he can get through her protection around the man. Reacher soon discovers that her move is in response to a very real threat against the man. As he grows more involved in the situation, Reacher is determined to unmask and disarm the would-be assassins.
Great reads as usual, and nice to catch up on the previous cases.

Monday 16 July 2012


Finished July 16
Skylark by Meagan Spooner

This novel is obviously the beginning of a series. It begins in the City, within the Wall, where Lark Ainsley has been waiting for the day her Resource would be harvested, just like that of every other child in the City. But she is older than any of the other unharvested children at sixteen, and when her turn comes, she finds it is nothing like she thought.
Instead of being harvested and released back to a defined role within the City, she is expected to provide the   City with a power source, and she finds she has no option but to flee.
Beyond the Wall is somewhere she has never been, and she wonders whether the tales she has heard are true. She encounters situations and people that she has never imagined, and finds a larger world than she expected. Lark's journey has just begun, but she continues to learn about herself and what she is capable of doing.
A dystopian teen novel, with an interesting twist of magic.

Sunday 15 July 2012


Finished July 15
Thirst by Shree Ghatage

This novel begin with a young East Indian man in Wales in 1942, who appears to have lost his memory. He is taken in by a kindly older man, Mr Owens who lives with his troubled daughter Catherine. They call him Hari. Hari stays with them awhile hoping his memory will return, troubled by Catherine's illness. He decides to go to London, hoping to find assistance there.
When he goes to London, something there triggers his memory and he remembers who he is, Vijay Chafékar, a young man in London to study law. We now get the story of his past life in India. We see how he entered an arranged marriage shortly before coming to India, and see the story of his young bride Vasanti, mourning the recent loss of her father and very innocent, trusting, and intelligent. We see the story of their marriage, and how they gradually get to know each other, trust each other and grow into their new roles. Vijay's reasons for travelling to London are more complex they he lets on, and have to do with his relationship with his father. But his experiences in London educate him in life, and how people are the way they are.
An insightful book of the gaining of knowledge, and of how simple acts can change the course of a life in big ways.

Reading Canadian

The blog Book Mine Set hosts a Canadian Reading Challenge every year from Canada Day to June 30. This is his wrap-up of the 5th year of the challenge. Partly because of being on the Evergreen Book Award committee last year, I wound up reading 100 Canadian books! But this wrap-up offers a great resource of Canadian books for future reading. He's lists all the books read by author and title, and provided links to each reader's review. I've started on the 6th Challenge (great image for it, by the way)

and look forward to many more hours of reading great Canadian books. I'm off to a slow start, only two so far, by since I didn't actually start until August last year, I figure I'm ahead of the game already.

Cities of Refuge

Finished July 9
Cities of Refuge by Michael Helm

This novel is set in Toronto, and the title alludes to the various cities that exist for different people. Kim is a woman in her late twenties who has rejected the life of academic historian her father planned for her. She works a night security shift at the ROM and volunteers at GROUND, an organization that assists refugees. One night on her way to work, Kim is attacked and the attacker isn't identified or caught. She deals with this trauma by gradually venturing out into the night again, by writing about a man she imagines to be her attacker, and in trying to dredge any information from her memory of the attack to assist in identification. Kim's mother is ill and gradually failing and Kim moves back in with her and her stepfather to assist.
Her father Harold won't let go of this and is sure her work with GROUND has exposed her to the attack. He digs deeper into the world of refugee assistance, but continues to hide some of his own past from his daughter. The past connects with present in his head and logic begins to fail him.
In the world of refugees and those helping him, we meet the young man Rodrigo, a refugee from Colombia living in Canada illegally picking up casual labour, trying to stay out of trouble. He is living with Rosemary, a woman compelled by her faith and sense of right to help those refugees who have failed the government's criteria. Also helping is Father André whose feels assisting refugees and others in need is part of his mission.
As these world's gradually come together we see how each views the city around them in different ways.
Wonderfully written, with complex characters, this book has many layers and stories that reach back into the past.

Saturday 7 July 2012


Finished July 7
Neversink by Barry Wolverton

This children's novel is set in the Arctic in the lands of Neversink, Tytonia, and Ocean's End.
Auks live on Neversink. There are different kinds of Auks, and puffins are one kind. Lockley is a puffin and he and his mate Lucy are waiting for her to lay her egg this season, hoping that this time they will be successful. Owls rule Tytonia and consider themselves in charge of Neversink as well, although a peace treaty was signed many years before.
Recently Egbert, a walrus has come to live on Neversink, as has Ruby, a tiny hummingbird blown off course who now returns every summer.
On Tytonia, Rozbell, leader of the opposition, has the grand aim of ruling and takes things into his own wings, using force, intimidation, and rumours to gain leadership. When Egbert invites owls to his party, Rozbell uses the opportunity to take back control of Neversink, subjugating the auks.
The auks are afraid to fight back, and things go from bad to worse. Can Lockley do what needs to be done to save his colony and protect his own?
With inferences to literature and language, this book has humour, myth, and a good story.

Private Peaceful

Finished June 6
Private Peaceful by Michael Morpurgo

This children's novel opens a door on the realities of the First World War. Thomas (Tommo) Peaceful is waiting for dawn, and thinking back on his life as a child in rural England.
We see the strong family ties he has, the difficulties faced by his family, particularly after his father's untimely death, and the social structures that existed. His love for his brothers: Big Joe, forever a child, and Charlie, a mentor and protector centers him.
Like many young men at the time, Tommo lied about his age to join up, wanting to stay with his brother. Barely sixteen, military life was a big change, particularly the powerless of individual soldiers, especially when  they lacked good leaders.
The realities of war come to life, both the good and bad, the camaraderie and the deprivations. It  asks the big question What is courage and shows the difficult decisions these young men faced.
A wonderful book.

The Enchanted April

Finished June 4
The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim

This novel was written after World War One and is a happy one. Two young women both see an advertisement in a newspaper while at their club, and one approaches the other to suggest they follow through on renting the castle in Italy for a month. This is a very daring action for both women. Mrs. Wilkins feels taken for granted in her marriage and unloved and feels that this would be a good use of the money she has put aside for a rainy day. Mrs. Arbuthnot has devoted herself to good works and the poor since an unhappy event in her marriage pushed her towards a judgemental religious outlook. She has grown apart from her husband.
In an effort to make her small savings go further, Mrs. Wilkins suggests they invite another couple of women and they place an ad of their own. One of the two is an older woman, Mrs. Fisher, much caught up in the past glory of association with writers and important men. The other is a young, beautiful lady, who feels that her beauty is an obstacle to her happiness.
As the four arrive at the castle, they at first exhibit their personalities, but as the gardens bloom around them, they bloom too, and begin to make connections and soften their outlooks.
A lovely story of happiness, renewed love, and the power of rest.

Thursday 5 July 2012


Finished July 4
Canada by Richard Ford

This novel is told by Dell Parsons, a man looking back at a few months fifty years earlier, where two actions changed his life. The opening lines tell us "First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later. The robbery is the more important part, since it served to set my and my sister's lives on the courses they eventually followed. Nothing would make complete sense without that being told first."
So the first section of the book deals with the robbery, the situation his family was in at the time, his parents' personalities, his twin sister, Berner's personality, his own immaturity, and longing for a normal life. We seem them, outsiders in the two, partly due to his father's recent, lifelong army career, partly due to his mother's ethnicity and attitude, partly due to the small town culture of Great Falls, Montana at the time. Dell is small for his age, bookish, interested in chess and beekeeping, longing to begin high school in the fall. We see that Dell is a person things happen to for the most part, not a boy who takes action. The robbery uproots his whole world, and he begins again.
The next section of the book deals with the next few months of his life, in rural Saskatchewan. He lives at first in a mostly abandoned prairie town, in a shack with no running water. Later, when things turn colder and his shack is needed for other purposes, he lives in a small room in a hotel owned by the man who has provided for him. He works, tries to figure out his new life, and lets things happen to him again. It is during this time that he learns some life skills, and gains some maturity. He is in an odd situation, casually looked after by others who have no real interest in him. At the end of this, he moves on again, to a more normal life, one we don't get the details of.
The last, short section is in the present, looking back, telling us where he ended up and how, and what he makes of those earlier experiences.
This is the story of a life and shows that how one reacts to events is so important. As we see Dell's life, and the life of his sister Berner, we see how different reactions produced different outcomes. We see how Dell's acceptance of life and what it brings has brought him some measure of happiness in the end despite those earlier experiences.
A great book club book.

Gone Girl

Finished July 3
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, read by Julia Whelan and Kirby Heyborne

This thriller is one of the creepiest books I've ever read. Why? Because you think that maybe there are really people like this out there.
On their fifth wedding anniversary, Nick Dunne arrives home after a neighbour's call to find his front door wide open, his living room a mess, and his wife Amy gone. After a panicky search, he calls the police.
Nick doesn't display the usual emotions that come with such a disappearance though, and his voice shows that their marriage wasn't doing well. As the days move forward in the investigation, and Amy remains missing, we discover Nick is hiding some things too, and he begins to realize that Amy knows him better than he ever realized.
Juxtaposed to his voice as the days move forward are earlier entries from Amy diaries. They portray a perfectionist, eager-to-please woman, but paint Nick in a bad light. 
Halfway through the book, things suddenly change. The reader does get some hints of this, but the reality is still somewhat shocking.
This is a story about a marriage, about expectations in relationships, about how we try to portray our better self to others, but not always to those we are most intimate with. It raises some interesting issues around relationships, and society. It deals with society's fascination with true crime and the media hoopla that accompanies certain cases.
I'd love to discuss this book with others who've read it.

Tuesday 3 July 2012

The Red House

Finished July 2
The Red House by Mark Haddon

This novel takes place over a week. Richard and his sister Angela have had little contact in recent years. Richard paid for his mother's nursing home and Angela visited her weekly. At the funeral of his mother, Richard is struck by the fact that this is his family and invites Angela and her family on a country vacation in Wales with his wife and stepdaughter.
Richard's wife Louisa feels that her working class background means she must work harder to please Richard by following his high culture interests. Louisa's daughter Melissa is part of the in-crowd at her school, but resents the world around her.
Angela is a good teacher, but feels her role is to be responsible for all those around her, and yet she resents anyone else taking on these tasks. She doesn't know how to nurture herself, and feels caught in the past, a past that she has mythologized. Angela's husband Dominic is a sensitive man, who feels diminished by the loss of his career as a musician. He has begun an affair with another woman in an effort to feel loved, a move not very successful for him. He wants to be a good father, but is wary about taking the lead. Their son Alex is an independent young man, with a plan for the future, a passion for adventure sports, and like most teenage boys, a strong interest in the female sex. Daughter Daisy has recently turned to religion as a place to feel wanted, but is finding that it is coming through for her as she imagined. Where does her resentment come from, and is she willing to face it? Son Benjy lives in a fantasy world in his head, a world of battles and dangers, and yet is fearful of anything that may threaten his real world.
Put all these people together in a house for a week in the country, a place with bad cellphone reception but surrounded by nature, and you get some interesting things happen.
There are realizations, decisions made, and connections that grow between family members. An interesting story of relationship dynamics.