Sunday 23 June 2013

Travelling Light

Finished June 23
Travelling Light by Peter Behrens

This collection of stories is grouped into three: Boy's Life, Away, and Coming Home.
The seven stories in the Boy's Life section all involve young people and defining events in their lives, from first loves, to leaving home. The nine stories in Away are all people on the move, away from the place they grew up, coming of age or trying to find their way. The seven stories in Coming Home are all people who have returned, briefly or permanently to their past, a childhood home, the country of their birth, a person they once had a relationship with, and how they fit in, or don't, to that past that may have changed some while they were away. I was struck by the very different feel from one story to another and by the different voices in the stories. Some stories are written in first person, some in third, some flowing easily, some clipped and abrupt. A wide-ranging collection of stories, some of them related to each other in subtle ways. A great collection.

Saturday 22 June 2013

Black Irish

Finished June 22
Black Irish by Stephan Talty

This mystery novel is set in Buffalo, but some of the plot takes place on the Canadian side of the Falls too. Absalom Kearney has come home to Buffalo to look after her father, the legendary cop John Kearney, who is suffering from Alzheimer's. She has become a cop too, one every bit as good as her adoptive father. Kearney adopted her when she was just a toddler and even though she has tried to find out more about the mother who gave her up, she hasn't been able to discover anything except for the neighborhood she lived in, the East Side. She grew up in the County, the bastion of Irish Catholicism in the city. But now something is going on in the County, men are being killed, tortured in horrible ways, and no one is talking. Abby learns of a secret Gaelic Clan, the Clan na Gael, that she thinks is running a parallel investigation to her own and warning people against talking to her. But Abby is smart, quick to make connections, and determined to get to the bottom of things in this case. With a trail leading back to the unrest in Ireland, this case has a deep past and lots of twists and turns. This looks to be the first in a continuing series, and I look forward to seeing more of Abby.

Mount Pleasant

Finished June 22
Mount Pleasant by Don Gillmor

This novel centers around the middle-aged Harry Salter, a non-tenured university professor with a mountain of debt. Harry has been expecting to inherit from his wealthy father, but when his father dies most of the money is gone and Harry gets only $4200. Harry is desperate enough that he can't accept this, and he tries to figure out what happened to the money.
Besides this more revelations await Harry and he begins to realize how disengaged his life is, that his marriage is in trouble and he barely talks to his son. He connects his own situation and his family history with his class at university. This is a story about money and debt and the place we give them in our lives. A story of expectations and entitlement, and the scheming that goes on behind the scenes.

Thursday 20 June 2013

The Sky Beneath My Feet

Finished June 20
The Sky Beneath My Feet by Lisa Samson, read by Rebecca Gallagher

This novel centers around Beth, a pastor's wife. Her husband Rick is the men's pastor at the evangelical megachurch called The Community in Baltimore. Rick didn't seek out this position and it isn't what he wants to be doing. When old friends of the couple who've moved away visit, they surprise them by offering Rick a job as lead pastor at their current church. Rick is about to start a month's sabbatical, and Beth was hoping to use the time to reconnect with him, particularly since a friend from church has offered up a beach house in Florida. But this sudden offer has Rick retreating from everything and everyone into the backyard shed to hope for divine guidance. Beth is frustrated and angry, and she finds herself taking risks and finding herself in new experiences. From a protest rally in Washington DC to the inner city of Baltimore, to a Florida beach in a storm, Beth finds her life taking her in a new direction, but struggles to figure out what she should do. She is   left dealing with issues in the lives of their teenage sons without Rick beside her for support and she isn't sure where to look for help.
This is a story about faith, about looking closer to home for those needing help, and about taking that first step.

Monday 17 June 2013

Children of the Jacaranda Tree

Finished June 15
Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani

This is the first novel by Sahar Delijani and draws from her own family history.
Azar and Ismael are taken to Evin prison when Azar is pregnant with their daughter. Neda is born while her mother is in prison. Parisa and her husband were eating dinner with their son Omid when the police came for them. Later, Parisa's sister Leila came for him, finding Omid sitting at the table surrounded by the violence of a search of the apartment. Omid's sister Sara was also born while Parisa was in prison. Their cousin Forugh also came to life with Leila and her parents after her birth. Her parents, Simin and Behrouz, Ismael's younger brother, were also in prison. There are many other children whose parents were imprisoned following the revolution; some were reunited, and other' parents never came out of Evin.
This is a novel not just of those times, the young people who felt betrayed after the revolution and were imprisoned for their passionate and dedicated belief in their country's future, but also of their children. Children who lost those early years with their parents; children who lost one or both parents entirely. Children who knew the truth of their history; children who were protected from the secrets of their parents' youth. Children who grew up in Iran; children whose parents took them out of their country in hopes of a better future. Children who now find themselves either participating in or observing another rebellion against the government. This is a story of Iran, its history, and its people.
I was able to meet Sahar Delijani and learn from her the makings of this story. Her own parents were imprisoned and she drew on the facts of their experiences and the experiences of other relatives and friends, but chose to tell her own story of the inner lives of those imprisoned. This is a story of two generations that love their country passionately, but don't always feel that their country is seen by the rest of the world as they see it.

Sunday 16 June 2013

Gold Digger

Finished June 16
Gold Digger by Frances Fyfield

This book totally grabbed me. I couldn't put it down, but I was scared of what came next. A great psychological thriller.The main character Di, had a rough childhood and ten years ago was the small one who was sent in to houses to burgle and gather valuables. When she went into Thomas Porteous' house, she could sense that she wasn't alone. She was arrested that night, but something else happened too, something pretty bad. When Di is released from jail, she makes her way back to Thomas, finding that they have much more in common than one would think. Like Thomas, Di has an unerring eye for art and she helps Thomas with his art collection and then with making a happy life.
When he dies, his children are ready to move in and get whatever they can, but Thomas had a plan and now Di has a plan, and she is waiting for them. With lots of twists and turns, emotional outbursts and wise analysis, the players take their roles. Great read.

Son of a Gun

Finished June 15
Son of a Gun byAnne de Graaf

This is a children's novel about child soldiers in Africa. The main characters here are a brother and sister, Lucky and Nopi, 8 and 10 respectively as the trouble in their lives begins. Their story is told in alternating voices and for part of the story they are together, but for much of it, they are separated. Their story is in Liberia, but it is representative of many in Africa in recent years.
The author provides a brief introduction, and a lot of factual information at the end of the book, including maps, facts about Liberia and its history, copies of posters and newspaper articles, facts about child soldiers and writings and drawings by these children.
This is a good introduction to the subject, but I would still encourage parents to discuss the book with their child before and after reading.

Saturday 15 June 2013

Ghost Town

Finished June 15
Ghost Town by Phoebe Rivers

This is the first book in the Saranormal series. Sara is twelve and she and her father have just moved to New Jersey from California. But the house they move into is an old Victorian, and Sara sees ghosts. Moving into a house full of them isn't what Sara wants, but she doesn't really have a choice.
Luckily there is a girl her age, Lily, who lives just down the street and is eager to make friends with her. But Sara keeps feeling the sadness of the ghosts in her house. She also wonders just how much her downstairs neighbour Lady Azura knows despite her business as a psychic and fortune teller. And most of all she worries about the ghost she sees near the haunted house, the ghost that talks to her wanting her to do something.
A good story aimed at readers from 8-12. Sara has the normal worries of a girl her age, plus a few extra ones due to her special abilities.

The Great British Bake Off

Finished June 15
The Great British Bake Off:: How to Avoid a Soggy Bottom and other Secrets to Achieving a Good Bake by Gerard Baker

I was attracted to this book by the subtitle, as I have had problems with a soggy bottom on my rhubarb pies. The book covers cakes, biscuits, bread, pastry, desserts, and fillings. There are some basic recipes for common creations included in each section, lots of history, information on the chemistry of baking, and lots of helpful tips and guides to getting a good result. I know have some strategies to try the next time I make a pie.

Friday 14 June 2013

Here and Now

Finished June 13
Here and Now: Letters 2008 -- 2011 by Paul Auster and J.M. Coetzee

I love Paul Auster, but haven't yet read any of Coetzee's novels. The two authors haven't met often, but they connected and decided to begin a correspondence. While they do talk about writing, their conversation ranges widely from current events to sports, politics to health, friendship to films. They are both very bright men, and I found it interesting to see how they fed off of each other, enlarging their own views as the consider what the other has said. I found that my own thoughts on these topics were awakened and went in interesting directions too. Of course, even in letters, these two are good writers and that is part of the book's appeal too. I found that it was a book I wanted to read slowly, so I could digest and think about what they wrote. To enjoy the writing, and the experience.

Wednesday 12 June 2013

Don't Go

Finished June 12
Don't Go by Lisa Scottoline, read by Jeremy Davidson

In this novel Scottoline's main character is a man, a bit of a departure for her. Mike Scanlan is a podiatrist that served as an army doctor in Afghanistan. Leaving behind his wife Chloe and newborn daughter Emily, he has committed himself to his task. But when a tragedy happens back home, he finds that his wife didn't handle his absence well, and when he finally returns home, a hero, he has trouble adjusting to his new reality and finds himself struggling between learning the truth about what happened back home and doing what is best for his daughter.
This book tackles the issues of returning vets from PTSD to physical losses, from the differing reactions of those at home to how they feel about what they have been through, from pride in the work they did to guilt over those they left behind. Gripping and suspenseful, this book is another winner.

Saturday 8 June 2013

The World's Strongest Librarian

Finished June 8
The World's Strongest Librarian: a Memoir of Tourette's, Faith, Strength and the Power of Family by Josh Hanagarne

Josh has struggled with his Tourette's for most of his life, and is still figuring out what he can do to minimize the tics that manifest the condition. He has had the support of his family behind him all the way, and found a career that encompasses his love of books, his dedication to helping others, and his curious nature. He is not afraid to ask for help, and take it when it is offered to him. He belongs to the Mormon faith and while he sometimes questions things within that, he believes in the tenets of LDS strongly and lives his life following them. One of the ways he has addressed his Tourette's over the years is weight-lifting. It helped for a while and then it didn't and he looked for help from others, and discovered that thinking about movement was a big help. The book moves nicely back and forth from memoir and life at the library. The memoir part starts at the beginning and moves forward. The library part uses experiences to connect with the memoir. He uses DDC (Dewey Decimal Classification) as chapter headings to indicate the contents of each chapter. Josh sounds like a really interesting guy and while our taste in books may not always coincide, I think we approach librarianship in similar ways. I found this memoir enlightening, intriguing, and entertaining.

Friday 7 June 2013

The Underwater Welder

Finished June 7
The Underwater Welder by Jeff Lemire

This graphic novel tells the story of Jack. Jack is a young man whose partner Susan is a month away from giving birth to their first child. They live in Tigg's Bay and Jack works as an underwater welder on a nearby rig. This is where Jack grew up and came back to after university. But he is still haunted by his father's disappearance on Halloween when he was just a child. But does his obsession with the past mean that he has lost sight of his present life and the future it holds? This novel follows Jack as he looks back and finds that the answers he really seeks are in the life he now lives with Susan.

Train I Ride

Finished June 7
Train I Ride by Kit Robinson

This collection of poetry was one I picked up at Word in the Street some time back. The poetry is full of images, images of what is happening in the author's head. Some of it describes his writing process and how he feels when he writes. Some of it is images from what he is writing about. The images come alive and flow into each other. Nicely done.

Tillie the Terrible Swede

Finished June 7
Tillie the Terrible Swede: How One Woman, a Sewing Needle, and a Bicycle Changed History by Sue Stauffacher, illustrated by Sarah McMenemy

This picture book is about an immigrant girl who came to the United States with a dream. When she arrived she found a job in a tailor shop and waited. One day, she saw a man ride past the shop on a bicycle and knew she wanted to ride one too. But women didn't ride bikes back then (the 1890s), it wasn't considered a ladylike thing to do. She persisted and began racing, and winning races too.
This is the story of the sudden expansion in popularity of bicycling at the time, and of women's rights, and of the history-making behaviour of Tillie. The drawing are simple, colourful and fun and fit the story well. A good one.

Montaro Caine

Finished June 4
Montaro Caine by Sidney Poitier

Well, I was intrigued enough that Poitier had written a novel to want to read it, especially as I had really enjoyed both his memoirs. I found the novel interesting enough, but not at the same level as the memoirs. Here we have the title character as the CEO of a multinational mining/chemical company, although you get little sense of just what the company does. When Montaro was a child his father travelled to Washington, D.C. to work on a research project about into autistic people. On the return trip, the plane crashed and his father was killed. But someone involved in the research project had given him an object for Montaro and that object and his research notes survived the crash.
Montaro seems to be in jeopardy of being replaced as leader of his company through some internal politicking. When he is approached by two strangers and asked to look at a coin, he is immediately brought back to his university days when he analyzed a similar coin. The story of the two coins is at the heart of this book, their origins and the people who have held them along the way.
There is a moralizing heart to this book about the need for peace, scientific discovery and forward-looking people working for the good of the planet rather than their own wealth. So it has got a bit of science fiction to it, along with an underlying commentary on doing good. However, I didn't really connect with any of the characters, finding that they seemed a bit flat to me. The story was interesting as was the underlying premise.

Tuesday 4 June 2013

Murder in the Dark

Finished June 4
Murder in the Dark by Kerry Greenwood, read by Stephanie Daniel

This is the third mystery featuring Phryne [pronounced fry-knee] Fisher that I have read, but the 16th in the series. The first is Cocaine Blues, and I have also read the 14th, Queen of the Flowers. This book occurs at the end of 1928 near Melbourne, when Phryne is invited to a party billed as the Last Best Party. Even before she accepts the invitation to the party, she gets warned off, but of course that only makes her determined to go. An attempt is made on her life, which intrigues her further, and she sets off for the party with her driver and maid to see what the story is. She stays at the manor house the party is held at without her servants, having them come each day to replenish her wardrobe and bring anything else she requires. This gives her the requisite freedom to do what she likes, with whom she likes. And Phryne is no slouch. She befriends rough women who dare to ride in a polo team, upper class men with lovely horses, a lovely young man with his own secret agenda, the extremely competent housekeeper, a mint-loving goat, and renews her friendship with her hosts, a brother and sister from Europe who travel with a large entourage of sybarites and hangers-on. When her host confides that he has been sent threatening letters, Phryne is on the hunt for the culprit. And when some of the partygoers appear to be kidnapped, she goes looking for them as well.
As usual, the mood and scene are brought to life and one gets a real sense of a slice of the world in 1928, with the freedom of access to multiple mind-altering substances, jazz music, and, in this crowd at least, a certain openness of sexuality. Great fun.
I've had this on my shelf for a while, but only recently took possession of a car that can play MP3s, so got to listen on my commute.

Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares

Finished June 4
Missed Periods and Other Grammar Scares: How to Avoid Unplanned and Unwanted Writing Errors by Jenny Baranick

OK, I admit it, I chose this book for the title. I've always been a big grammar fan and took a couple of editing courses a few years back too. The author teaches English and critical thinking classes and has a grammar blog by the same name as this book. With humour, pop culture references, and a flirty style, Baranick illustrates common grammar errors and gives tricks for avoiding them. Every chapter has an exercise or set of exercises to test the reader's learning for that section. A fun book about an important subject.

Monday 3 June 2013

The Four Corners of the Sky

Finished June 3
The Four Corners of the Sky by Michael Malone

This novel tells the story of Annie Peregrine Goode, a young woman driven to fly. Annie was left at the home of her aunt in North Carolina by her con artists father when she was seven. He promised to come back, but only showed up a couple of times briefly in later years. Annie was raised by her aunt Sam and her housemate and friend Clark Goode, a pediatrician. But her father Jack had always told her she was a flyer, and from her first foray into the sky at the age of nine, she knew it was true. She took flying lessons and was accepted at Annapolis and became a pilot for the navy. This much we learn early in the novel as Annie is returning to the family home for her 26th birthday, trying to make it before a storm hits.
But this birthday has much more in store for her, setting Annie off on the journey of her life, on the trail of her father, and his latest escapade which involves danger, federal agents, a persistent Miami vice cop, and Cuban history. Annie only wants to know one thing, who was her mother, the one piece of information her father has consistently withheld from her. But the truth brings so much more for Annie, and changes the course of her life forever.
A story that will bring tears to your eyes, make you laugh out loud, and heave a sigh as the story closes. A story that has romance, thrill, and mystery. A story to thoroughly enjoy.

Sunday 2 June 2013

Léon & Louise

Finished June 2
Léon & Louise by Alex Capus, translated by John Brownjohn

This novel follows the two title characters from before the met during World War I to decades later. Léon is from Cherbourg and when he determines that he doesn't wish to continue his schooling, finds work in a small town on the Marne as a Morse code operator at a railway station. Certain quirks of his character are already set, like his love for odds and ends, developed in Cherbourg when scouring the beaches for flotsam and continued throughout his life. In this small town, Léon meets Louise, a young woman similar in age to himself and also a war worker. Louise works as an office girl for the mayor. Slowly the two develop a friendship, one that looks to endure. But one day, when they are bicycling back from an excursion they are caught in German shelling and air attack and both are injured. After being treated for his wounds, Léon tries to find her, but cannot. It is only a decade later when a chance encounter connects them again. But Léon is married and Louise will not intrude upon that situation. When World War II comes, Léon is forced to do work at the behest of his SS superiors despite his best efforts, and Louise is shipped off to Africa on secret duties. It is several years before she returns to Paris and the story of the two continues.
Told by one of the grandsons of Léon, as a look back following Léon's death, the story shows two good people, connected in a way few are, and determined to do the right thing. An absolutely charming novel.

Beautiful Whale

Finished June 2
Beautiful Whale by Bryant Austin, foreword by Sylvia A. Earle

This book contains amazing photographs of whales. Humpback whales in Tonga. Sperm whales in the Caribbean. Dwarf minke whales at the Great Barrier Reef. Following a close encounter with a whale Austin was driven to pursue the goal of taking life-size composite portraits of whales. So very few humans get to have an encounter with a whale that we don't get to see their beauty and intelligence and thus disregard how our actions affect their environment. To take these photographs Austin has to be very close to the whales, remaining as still as possible while they slowly moved past him. As he describes his experiences, you realize the gentleness and curiosity of these large creatures.
Austin sold his vehicles, house, and camera equipment to finance this project when fund-raising didn't provide enough. The exhibitions he was able to mount drew responses better than he had hoped and brought increased attention to these little known animals.