Monday 31 March 2014

The Wise Woman

Finished March 31
The Wise Woman by Philippa Gregory

This novel is set during the reign of Henry VIII, in the north of England. Alys was left as a foundling on the step of the local wise woman, but when she looked to a local farm boy with an eye to marriage, his family arranged for her to get considered at the local abbey instead. Alys was drawn to the better life she could see for herself there and joined enthusiastically, considering the Mother Superior as a maternal figure.
But Henry VIII had different plans for the abbeys, and the young lord Hugo and his men set fire to the abbey, destroying it, and leaving Alys on the run back to the old wise woman. She finds it hard to live again in the squalor of poverty, and yet goes unwillingly to the local castle to heal the old lord. When he finds her able to read and write in both English and Latin, he takes her on as a scribe, and at first Alys just wants to keep her head down until she can find her way to another abbey.
But when Hugo sets his sights at her, she finds herself torn, and when she feels herself a pawn in the maneuverings between Hugo, his wife Catherine and the old lord, she looks to the wise woman for help.
Relying on deep magic to keep control over her own life, Alys finds herself both suspect and perhaps out of her depth. As the intrigue continues, Alys finds that she has lost her soul, and isn't sure whether she is willing to do what it takes to get it back.
A story of suspicion, legends, and politics, at a time where women were only useful as mothers, workers, and sexual objects, this novel brings history to life.
At times it seemed like Alys was sinking into madness and desperation as she yearned for a life of wealth, love, and luxury.

Letters from Skye

Finished March 31
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

This novel, told in letters, begins with a fan letter from a young man, David Graham, in Illinois to a poet on the Isle of Skye. The poet, Elspeth Dunn, writes back, and the two begin a correspondence that grows into friendship and love. But Elspeth is married, and while their marriage has not been going well, she is torn between her feelings for David and her responsibilities to Iain.
When the first World War begins, David signs up as an ambulance driver, and the two finally connect in person. The feelings are strong, and the letters continue between the two young people. Iain has gone away to war and distanced himself from Elspeth, never writing to her, and when he goes missing, her guilt over David comes back to haunt her. But her love for David persists and her worry when he too goes missing is almost too much.
As World War II is in its early days, Elspeth's daughter Margaret finds that her mother has has old memories awakened after a bomb attack, and Margaret begins to search out her mother's past to make sense of what is happening.
This story of love, of mothers and their children, of war, is brought to life through these letters. I loved the details of the relationship and the descriptions of the house Elspeth built on Skye. I loved Maither and her quiet support for Elspeth throughout.
A lovely story.

Murder Strikes a Pose

Finished March 30
Murder Strikes a Pose by Tracy Weber

This first novel is set in the Seattle community of Greenwood. Kate Davidson is a yoga instructor who runs a studio in Greenwood. When a homeless man, George, and his dog Bella set up to sell newspapers in front of her studio, at first she just wants their disturbance to move, but ends up finding a way to work with the two of them and becomes friends with George. When Kate finds George dead one night and Bella confined, she can't help but wonder if George's death was premeditated and, if so, who would be behind it. Despite being warned off by the police and George's estranged family, Kate is persistent and works even harder to find the answers to George's death.
With George gone, Kate has also taken on Bella, hoping to find her a welcoming forever home, but Bella's issues are more complicated than Kate realized, and with her health issues and her reactions to other dogs and now some men, finding a good home won't be easy. But Bella seems to attach herself happily to Kate and Kate is determined to do her best by her.
Also, Kate's best friend Rene is determined to do something about Kate's love life, and who better than the owner of the new pet store in the area. But will Kate be able to take down her defences long enough to make a real commitment?
A nice mystery with a strong main character and interesting plotline.

Always Watching

Finished March 28
Always Watching by Chevy Stevens

This novel is the third by Stevens, loosely linked to her earlier two. Here, the main character is Nadine Lavoie, the psychiatrist that worked with the characters in the first two novels. Nadine has had a difficult life, and has recently moved to Victoria for a couple of reasons. One is that her daughter Lisa is living on the streets in Victoria, and Nadine hopes to find her and mend their relationship. The other is that she needs to be part of a team rather than work in private practice and she has joined with a local hospital.
When a young suicidal woman is brought in and assigned to Nadine, old memories are awakened. The woman, Heather, has recently lost her baby, and blames herself. Heather and her husband Daniel had been part of a secluded community, The River of Life Spiritual Centre, but Heather had insisted on them leaving so that she could feel in control of her own family. Now she feels, along with pressure from others, that this is what caused her loss.
The old memories that Nadine has also have to do with the community, or an earlier iteration of it. When Nadine was thirteen, her mother took her and her older brother to the commune run by Aaron Quinn. At first things seemed to go well, but then the commune and Aaron became more controlling. Nadine has fears that she has never understood the origin of, but has a sense they came from her time at the commune.
As Nadine begins to dig deeper into what happened in her own past, she also awakens the concerns of those in the present and may have put herself and others in danger. Lisa, struggling with her own issues of abuse, finally reveals her secrets to Nadine, but is it too late to make things right between them and heal?
There is lots going on here, and issues of control, abuse, and trust are key to this story.

Sunday 30 March 2014

Lust in the Library

Finished March 26
Lust in the Library by Amelia Fayer

This novella consists of two linked stories that take place in an academic library. Sara Owens is the assistant head of special collections, an achievement for her young age. She is attracted to William Hammond, a visiting researcher, but doesn't have the confidence to make a move to show it. William has been making some subtle moves, but Sara hasn't picked up on them. Veronica, a student assistant at the library, takes it into her own hands and gives Sara a push in the right direction.
Meanwhile Veronica, who hopes to go on to library school, is having her own relationship issues. She thought she was onto a good romance, but caught him kissing her roommate, and certainly won't stand for that despite the attraction she holds for Andrew. But was it all a misunderstanding? Andrew is persistent and Veronica does what is needed to protect the library's collection.
A nice humorous look at relationships that include a "in the stacks" sexual encounter, or two.

The Wives of Los Alamos

Finished March 26
The Wives of Los Alamos by Tarashea Nesbit

This novel has a very different structure. Nesbit did a fair bit of research on Los Alamos and the women who lived there with their scientist husbands, and came up with an approach that spoke to all the women, spoke from a first person point of view, but in a group sense, and felt very personal.
Each chapter has a different theme, and is made up of short paragraphs around that theme. Within each paragraph, the voice offers different experiences in the same vein, some of them opposite to each other. These speak both to the range of backgrounds of the women, as well as the commonalities.
Living in this small community, forced to interact with each other, with only a partial understanding of what their husbands were working on, very limited access to the outside world, and assigned housing with undependable utilities, these women were creative, feisty, and good sports.
I could barely put this book down, it did such a good job of pulling me into the experience of Los Alamos.
Here are a few examples to give you a taste of the way this book is written.
From the chapter "West":
We lied and told our children we were packing because we would be spending August with their grandparents in Denver or Duluth. Or we said we did not know where we were going, which was the truth, but our children, who did not trust that adults went places without knowing where they were going, thought we were lying. Or we told them it was an adventure and they would find out when we got there.
and from the chapter "Land":
In that first week we were invited to learn how to run our clothes through the hand-cranked mangle at the community laundry. Before this, we had other people do our laundry, or we had electric wringers, and for many of us our memories of those hand-powered water extractors were of the heavy crank and our mother's warnings not to get our hair caught in it. We were still wearing high heels and they stuck in the mud and we pretended that we learned what we were taught about the mangle but instead gathered our husband's shirts in a wet bundle and carried them home, smiling sourly. We hung the clothes on the line and ironed the cotton shirts on our kitchen table. Because our clothesline was erected in one of the only spots on the mesa that was not in direct sunlight, in the morning we brought our children's cloth diapers and our husband's boxer shorts in as square little ice boards.
and from the chapter "Talk":
We were a group of people connecting both honestly and dishonestly, appearing composed at dusk and bedraggled at daybreak, committed, whether we wanted it or not, to shared conditions of need, agitation, and sometimes joy, which is to say: we were a community.
There is just something about this writing that takes the individual and group experiences of these women and makes them come alive for me. I feel their frustration, their loneliness, their anger. It opened my eyes to another historical experience, one that could never happen now due to the advances in communication, and makes you feel what it might have been like.


Saturday 29 March 2014

The Wind Is Not a River

Finished March 25
The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton

This novel is set during World War II. John Easley is a Canadian journalist, fighting to tell the story of the US forces fighting the Japanese in the Aleutian Islands. The US Government has been keeping the fighting here out of the news and they don't want journalists in the area. John has tried twice and been caught and sent out twice. The death of his younger brother in Europe seems to change him and make him more determined than ever to tell the story of this aspect of the war.
John is also newly married, and his wife Helen is the best thing that ever happened to him. The two have set up their home in her home town of Seattle and doing well. But his determination to keep going back to the north has caused a rift in their relationship and they parted on an unhappy note.
John manages to bluff his way onto a plane in the Aleutians and that plane is shot down. John and a young airman are the only survivors, but the fog and the circumstances mean that the manage to stay unnoticed by the Japanese, but struggle to survive.
Helen, meanwhile, finds a way to get herself into Alaska following John's trail, hoping to figure out what happened to him and where he might be now. She is torn between looking after her ailing father and finding her husband, but is determined to find him if she can.
This is a story of a little told part of World War II, as well as a story of determination, of love, and of the things that drive us all.
A fascinating book.

The Boy in the Snow

Finished March 23
The Boy in the Snow by M.J. McGrath

This novel is part of a series featuring Edie Kiglatuk. Here Edie finds herself down in Alaska from her home in Ellesmere Island helping her ex-husband Sammy in his bid to race the Iditarod. Sergeant Derek Palliser is the other member of Sammy's support team. Edie is out for a walk when she sees a spirit bear and follows it, losing her way. When she gets back on track, she finds a small baby dead in a spirit house, but it is unclear who placed him there.
Edie's search for the truth and for justice for the small boy lead her to political corruption, the dark underworld of human trafficking, and immense danger for herself and her friends.Edie does things she's never done before, like driving a truck, and uses her wayfinding and tracking skills to learn more about the young women in danger here.
The Iditarod is the background and the reason for Edie being in Alaska, and while never the focus for action, characters revolve around it, whether they are directly involved, or not.
There is also a focus on the fear of the "other", here a splinter group of Russian Orthodox believers that, because others don't understand their beliefs and they live apart from the community, are vilified and blamed for behaviours and actions they have no relation to.
The quest by some in this novel for power is one of both sheer determination and complex planning, as they try to stay ahead of events and have backups for anything going wrong.
Edie's own differences and reactions are something they didn't plan for, and she becomes the unravelling.
A very different environment with unique characters.

Saturday 22 March 2014

Cataract City

Finished March 22
Cataract City by Craig Davidson

This novel follows two men from boyhood through middle age. The setting is Niagara Falls, Ontario. The story is sometimes told by one man, sometimes by the other. Both boys grew up in Niagara Falls, with their fathers working at the Nabisco factory. Owen Stuckey (Dutchie, then Dutch) had a mother who was a nurse and a father who wanted better and took courses to take himself into a management role at the factory. Duncan Diggs' father worked hard at the factory but had no aspirations for more. The two lived on the same street at first, and became friends through school, both being loners of a sort.
As the book begins, Duncan is getting out of jail after eight years, a term he served after killing another man. Owen comes to pick him up in Kingston and take him home to the Falls. Owen is a cop.
We learn the story of their friendship, their common love for a local wrestler, and the terrible experience they went through as children that both bonded them and forced them apart. Wandering in the woods for days, they were lucky to have survived.
We learned how they found each other's friendship again in their late teens and how, even though they were on different paths, they still found something in each other they needed. We see the circumstances that took Duncan to jail and the role that Owen played in that drama.
And then we find them in the present, with Duncan looking for his lost love, and closure on his prison sentence, with Owen looking for a way to make amends, and gain some closure himself. We learn about friendship and how history repeats itself, and what a man will do when it comes right down to it.
A great story, that I could barely put down.

Designs of Desire

Finished March 20
Designs of Desire by Tempeste O'Riley

Definitely not my usual reading fare, I picked this book up at a recent library conference. As a librarian with a passion for readers' advisory I like to be familiar with a large variety of genres and authors, and this book definitely filled a gap for me.
This is the first gay romance I have read, and it was more explicit than I am generally comfortable in a romance book. I will be reading some others in this genre to get a broader sense of what is out there for readers looking for books of this type.
This book has lots going on. The main character James is a graphic commercial designer and an artist and has a history of bad relationships. The love interest Seth is head of a large local corporation looking to expand into the area of bed and breakfasts appealing to the GLBT community. He has hired James' company to do the branding for this new venture and James is assigned to the job.
James also has a physical disability that he has learned how to accommodate his lifestyle to and doesn't like having others do things for him because they think he can't.
When people from James' past begin to make threats against him, thinks start happening quickly.
One thing I found a bit uncomfortable about this novel was the subservient nature of James at times. I agree that everyone has a right to their own way of getting sexual pleasure as long as all involved are on board, but James' submissiveness comes into his public life as well, calling Seth "sir" and obeying him without question at times. I wouldn't be comfortable with this behaviour in a woman, and so wasn't comfortable with it here either, despite James seeming to be.

Morning Glory

Finished March 20
Morning Glory by Sarah Jio

This novel moves back and forth between two women, one in present day and one in the 1950s. As the book begins Ada Santorini has chosen to leave New York City as a way to deal with her ongoing grief over the loss of her husband and daughter. She has rented a houseboat in Seattle for the summer and hopes to be able to find a way to move on with her life.
In the 1950s, Penny Wentworth has found that her new marriage is vastly different than she thought it would be. Her new husband Dexter, an artist, is away for long periods of time and yet doesn't want her to find her own occupation. She is bored and lonely, with the other wives in the houseboats around her older and accomplished in their own right. She is sympathetic to young Jimmy, whose parents seem to ignore him or dismiss his interests. As she begins to feel more abandoned, she dreams of a different life, with someone who really cares about what she wants.
When Ada finds a trunk containing Penny's belongings, she grows interested in the secrets surrounding this woman, and begins to ask questions that were buried for years.
This is a story of loss and grief, of moving forward despite those, of finding a life that means something and that speaks to your true self.
It is a story of expectations and miscommunication. It is a story of hope.
I enjoyed this read.

Monday 17 March 2014

Adult Programs in the Library

Finished March 17
Adult Programs in the Library by Brett W. Lear

This is the second edition that I read, and I liked the process and planning parts of the book, findings several elements quite useful. The program planning timeline checklist was good, as was the advice to tie the programming to the library's strategic plan, something I am trying to formalize. The chapter on formats helped to show the different options available and how they are best used.
The chapter on Technology gave some links to good examples of libraries using technology and showed different ideas for expanding the audience for programs through recording, remote technology tools like Skype, and online discussions.
I also found the different examples of programs delivered by other libraries, their promotional materials and planning notes very interesting.

The Rule of Three

Finished March 17
The Rule of Three by Eric Walters

This teen novel is set in Mississauga in the near future. On an ordinary spring day, computers across the world suddenly stop working. That means that anything that uses a computer also stops working. Adam's father is a pilot and should be flying back home from Chicago later in the day. His mother is a police officer in charge of a local division and will be busy dealing with the emergency situation. Lucky for Adam, he has an older car, one that predates the use of computers, and his is one of the few on the road still working. He and a couple of his friends swing by the elementary school to pick up his younger siblings, and make their way home.
Adam's next door neighbour Herb is retired from a federal government job, and immediately sees the potential for the situation to get worse. He and Adam's mother turn into the leaders in their community, as they put together a group of people to defend, supply and assist the whole neighbourhood to move forward with hope. Adam turns out to have skills useful to the community as well, and as his character develops, he learns some hard lessons and teaches others to value community as he does.
This is a novel with an interesting dystopian situation, and these novels that seem rooted in the possible always seem the scariest to me as they can be so close to our reality. This novel begs for a sequel, and I'd like to see how this community survives and how the characters move forward as well.


Finished March 17
Night by Elie Wiesel, translated by Marion Wiesel

This is another classic that I had never got around to reading. This is the memoir of Elie Wiesel of his experience in the concentration camps in World War II. Wiesel was born in Transylvania, a part of Europe that was one of the last to succumb to the rounding up of the Jews. He and his family were taken from their home in 1944, and this book tells their experience as Elie loses the members of his family, questions his own faith, and realizes the horrors that man is capable of.
The book reads as a very present experience as Elie captures the stream of events as they happen, including his inner thoughts and feelings.

The Sun and Other Stars

Finished March 16
The Sun and Other Stars by Brigid Pasulka

This novel takes place in the village of San Benedetto on the Italian Riviera. Etto is twenty-two years old and unfocused in his life. Two years ago his twin brother died in an accident, and a year ago his mother died, perhaps accident, perhaps deliberate. He lives with his father and works in his father's butcher shop. His friends try to draw him out, but he resists them, participating socially only in the most perfunctory way. Etto's brother Luca was a soccer star, a sport known as calcio here, and was in the early stages of a promising professional career.
There is a strong tradition in San Benedetto of obsession with calcio, the men gather in bars and cafes to discuss the sport, arguing over teams, watching the games and getting passionate about who they support and their position on the scandals that arise. Etto's father Carlo doesn't have a regular favourite team, but he is loyal to a player, the Ukrainian Yuri Fils. So naturally, when Yuri is named in a scandal, Carlo defends him.
Etto often gravitates to the old calcio field near his high school, which was closed down the year before he graduated. Luca is buried in one of the goals of the field, and it is one of Etto's chores to keep the field mown, even though no one really uses it anymore. So he is surprised one day to find someone wanting to use it, and even more so when the users turn out to be Yuri Fils, his sister Zhuki, and the rest of Yuri's entourage. When Etto is drafted into playing with them, he finds another old habit awakened, his love of art, and begins a secret project that helps him to work through his feelings.
As first Etto's father and then the rest of the village discovers the presence of the famous calcio player, the village dynamics change, and Etto finds himself looking towards his future with purpose, honoring the tradition of his family and acknowledging the losses he must live with.
This is a story of grief, of families, of the support of a small community, and of the healing powers of both sport and art. Highly recommended.

The Silent Wife

Finished March 15
The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison, read by Karen White and Donald Corren

This novel tells the story in two voices, a man and a woman who have lived together for more than twenty years. Jodi is the female voice and works part-time out of her home as a therapist. She has taken numerous cooking classes over the years and makes their home a welcoming one for Todd. Todd has created a company that began with renovating buildings, and now also develops new buildings. He works hard and plays hard and his serial affairs are something Jodi is aware of and accepts quietly. She knows that he always comes back to her, and that they don't reflect on how he feels about her.
Despite Todd's marriage proposal years ago and their long relationship, the two have never actually got married, and that is at the root of the issues that arise on Jodi's side of this story. Jodi, as a psychologist is an advocate of Adler and believes that as long as she abides by his standards, her life will be a good one. The Adler School "emphasizes the human need and ability to create positive social change and impact. Adler held equality, civil rights, mutual respect, and the advancement of democracy as core values" and this is the life Jodi believes she has led.
But Todd's latest relationship is different, because the object of his affair is now pregnant and wanting to marry him. Jodi's legal rights don't stand up to this. Todd comes across here as a man used to having everything, and just going along with the flow. Because Jodi is in denial and Todd's lover, Natasha is being demanding, Todd succumbs to everything Natasha is asking of him, and yet still believes that he can have a relationship with Jodi.
When one of Todd's actions finally awakens Jodi to reality, she finds that she is capable of actions that she would never have envisioned for herself.
This is a story of a relationship disintegrating and the two players making the moves that seem inevitable.

Sunday 16 March 2014

Die Trying

Finished March 14
Die Trying by Lee Child

This Jack Reacher novels begins in Chicago and takes Jack to a remote valley in northern Montana. As Reacher is walking along a sidewalk in Chicago, a woman steps out of a dry cleaner with her arms full and drops her cane. He steps in to assist and ends up being taken along as she is kidnapped. The journey to their destiny takes some time, enough time for the two to get to know each other somewhat.
The search that begins for the woman in Chicago escalates quickly and becomes a matter of politics and personal relationships.
Themes here include the right-wing militia movement, conspiracy theories, and megalomania. Reacher, of course, is more than capable of dealing with what is thrown at him most of the time, and finds necessary assistance when the time is right.
A great read.

Wednesday 12 March 2014

The Runaway Wife

Finished March 11
The Runaway Wife by Rowan Coleman

This novel is told by Rose Pritchard, a woman who has fled her home in London to the remote Lake District village of Millthwaite, taking her young daughter Maddie with her. The reader only gradually discovers the reason why she fled, learning each piece of information a shred at a time until the true story of the domestic abuse Rose suffered is laid bare. The reader does know early on that she fled due to something her husband did, but the true extent of the abuse is not made clear until near the end.
Rose has come to this village because of an encounter years earlier when she was pregnant with Maddie, when a young man searching for information on Rose's father, a painter, treated her with kindness and respect and connected with her in a way that Rose found meaningful and enduring. The village is his only clue to where he might be, but her flight to the village also finds another figure from her past, the father who left her and her mother when she was nine, and who has not contacted her since.
The troubled relationship with the man she once adored is something she wasn't looking to revisit and doesn't know if she can stomach at this point in her life, but the presence of Maddie and Maddie's own eccentric nature bring both Rose and her father to make the effort.
Rose's lack of a normal adolescence has her experimenting with love in ways not always well thought out, but this experimentation and the support of her best friend increase her confidence to the point that she is ready to face her husband and deal with the situation as she needs to to move forward.
At times, this novel seems light, but there is a real respect for the complexity of domestic abuse and how women get caught up in this destructive dynamic.

The Winter People

Finished March 10
The Winter People by Jennifer McMahon, read by Cassandra Campbell and Käthe Mazur

This novel is set in and near the small town of West Hall, Vermont. The voice moves back and forth between several characters. In the present day we have Ruthie Washburne, seventeen years old and aching to leave West Hall to go to college. She lives on a farm with her mother Alice and younger sister Fawn. Her father died suddenly a few months ago and her parents live very simply with no computers and as little contact as possible with government and other authority. Ruthie comes home late one night to find the lights on but no sign of her mother. When the next morning finds Alice still missing, Ruthie and Fawn start looking for clues, finding disturbing evidence of a hidden past and dangerous circumstances. Included in their find is an published diary of a previous resident of the farm, Sara Harrison Shea.
Also in the present day is Katherine a woman mourning the sudden loss of her husband in a car accident a couple of years after the loss of their young son to leukemia. As she retraces her husband's last movements, they lead her to West Hall, and include the diary of Sara Harrison Shea.
The past includes entries from Sara's diary as well as the voice of Sara's husband Martin, as he watches his wife lose herself in grief over the loss of their only living child, Gertie, in what seems like a horrible accident.
Ruthie can't help but wonder if Alice's disappearance is related to the diary and the circumstances laid out in it, and when others find their way to the farm following similar clues, she is forced to go to the nearby rocky outcropping known as the Devil's Hand to see if the diary is based on more than a mother's grief-stricken delusions.
Sara's description of "sleepers", the dead brought back to life temporarily, and Ruthie's own dreams of places and people unfamiliar to her also provide clues to the true situation. This is a disturbing book of magic and it's effects.

Sunday 9 March 2014

The Middle Stories

Finished March 9
The Middle Stories by Sheila Heti

These stories are all stories with an odd twist to them. Fairy tales gone wrong such as women that live alone in a shoe and mermaids held captive in glass jars. People who think they know what they want until they get it and find that they don't want it after all. People who wander aimlessly through life looking for a purpose. Each story offers a different surprise, a different way of thinking. These are not happy stories, but are they are stories that make you think.
This edition offers nine new stories that weren't in the original release of this book.

Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty

Finished March 9
Vicky Swanky Is a Beauty by Diane Williams

This book of short stories contains disjointed, surreal stories ranging in length from two sentences to two and a half pages. Most are told in omniscient third person, but some in first person. There is in many of the stories a sense of the main character being out of step with the people around them.
I can't say I like this kind of writing as I really don't understand the stories. Some things I can guess at, others start off with a storyline of a sort but then seem to take off in a new direction without explanation. Many are unsettling and seem to have behaviour that isn't acceptable. Are they a comment on society? One is not sure.

Saturday 8 March 2014

Devil's Pass

Finished March 8
Devil's Pass by Sigmund Brouwer

Another book in Seven: the Series. This one features Jim Webb, who goes by Webb. Jim is seventeen and has been living on his own a few months. Jim's dad died when he was ten and a few months later Jim's mom remarried his stepfather Elliott Skinner. Jim's life changed radically after that as he learned to live the life he was expected to, rather than the one he really wanted to live.
Jim task is given to him in steps. As he completes each leg of his journey he learns more about his grandfather, himself, and the nature of monsters. Despite Jim's efforts at hiding what was going on in his life, his grandfather knew there was something wrong and looked for the causes. Jim learned to be tough and street smart, to be alert to danger and prepare himself for most situations. Jim's love of music grew within him despite his circumstances, and helped him to deal with what life threw at him. He developed a strong sense of injustice and doing what was right and David, his grandfather knew that. That is what led him to choose this particular task for Jim.
Jim travels from Toronto, to the Northwest Territories, and beyond to find the answer to the question David has tasked him with. And, in doing so, perhaps finds a way to go home again.
This is a story about secrets, and about the different forms that monsters take in our lives, and about finding the truth behind the stories.
A very interesting task for a very interesting character.

The Bear

Finished March 7
The Bear by Claire Cameron

This novel was inspired by a real incident that took place in Algonquin Park in 1991. A couple who were camping were attacked and killed by a bear, and analysis of the incident failed to uncover any obvious reason for the attack. Cameron was a camp counselor at the time, and was struck by the seeming randomness of the attack.
In this novel, she recreates the incident in the same place as the real one, but adds the presence of two young children, Anna and Alex, ages 5 and nearly 3. The story is told from the point of view of Anna and I found her voice very believable. Alex has a family nickname, Stick, and this is how Anna refers to him. He is still developing his spoken communication skills and his difficulty with Anna's name results in him calling her Nana. Also playing a role in the story is Anna's doll Gwen.
As the book begins the two children have been put to sleep in the tent while their parents sit near the fire as the day moves into evening. The bear attack for Anna thus has certain aspects of being a dream as she struggles to understand what is going on, and uses past experience for making sense of what she observes and hears.
As the story progresses, Anna's recollection of past events fills in some background of the family, helping the reader to get a good sense of the family dynamics.
As I read, I both wanted to keep reading and to delay getting to the end of the story. Like many a big sister, Anna is both annoyed by her younger sibling and compelled to protect him as best she can. It is this that enables her to follow her mother's instructions to get to a safer place and use the knowledge she has to keep herself and Stick safe.
I found it interesting to see the adult reactions and assumptions, as Anna struggled to adapt to her home situation. The epilogue brought Anna's experience to a new realization and a type of closure.
This book is already making the bestseller lists, and the inevitable comparisons with another book with a child narrator, Room. I think this will be one of my favourite books of the year. I think the cover is perfect too.

Close to the Heel

Finished March 6
Close to the Heel by Norah McClintock

This is one of the books in Seven: the Series. Each book is written by a different Canadian author, and focuses on one of the grandsons of David, who has recently passed away. David left a task for each of his grandsons, fully funded from his estate. Other books I have read in the series are:  Between Heaven and EarthLost Cause, and Jump Cut and Ink Me.
This book tells the story of Rennie, the grandson David only recently discovered the existence of. Rennie and David didn't have a lot of time to get to know each other, but Rennie liked David a lot. Rennie has had big changes in his life recently and has had to learn new skills to deal with them in a productive way. His relationship with his father isn't as close as it could be, and Rennie is surprised when his dad agrees to let him go off on his own to Iceland to complete his task.
But things in Iceland don't go so smoothly. The family of the guide who is supposed to lead Rennie on his task has some issues it is working through, and his presence uncovers some family secrets. Rennie's questions may put himself in danger as well and his handling of the developing situation will affect both his own confidence and his father's view of him.

Thursday 6 March 2014

No Wonder You Feel Like Crap

Finished March 5
No Wonder You Feel Like Crap by Richard Weinstein

This book came to my attention through Netgalley, but I didn't get around to reading it while I had access, so read the book more recently. Written by a chiropractor with decades of experience, the research backing up his reasoning is cited extensively in the back of the book. He also uses several examples of his own patients when talking about treatments and results.
I'm planning to try his suggestions to see if they can address some of my longer term health issues. The core of his theory is cortisol imbalances, and he makes a good case for this, using anecdotal evidence from his own work, physiological information, pharmaceutical information, and research that backs up the theory. His treatment is called the 3R Program and consists of three parts: Repairing the intestinal tract, Resolving inflammation, and Restoring hormonal balance. Besides this physiological treatment, he also has chapters on psychological and emotional causes of conditions and pain that provide useful information.
Included in his discussions are issues of conflict between western reliance on pharmaceuticals and eastern practices, which rely more on paying attention to the body closely and looking for root causes. He also critiques our food industry with the effects of hybridization, genetic manipulation, and chemical additives.
An interesting theory that bears looking at.

Wednesday 5 March 2014

The Painted Girls

Finished March 4
The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

I listened to the audiobook version of this and found it slow-moving, but in the end I enjoyed the story. Set in Paris in 1878, the book revolves around the three van Goethem sisters, real girls in history. The story is told in three voices, that of the oldest sister, Antoinette, who had been in the second cadre of the ballet until she got too mouthy and now works as an extra at the Opera; the second sister Marie, who had been kept in school with the nun's until her father's death and then joins the Opera as a "petite rat"; and newspaper stories of the day that set the larger scenes of the story.
Antoinette leaves her job at the opera to take a part in the Emile Zola play l'Assommoir, where she plays the part of a laundress, a job her mother does in reality. Shortly before this, and during this time she becomes affiliated with a young man, who makes her feel special, but leads her into troubling directions. The young man, Emile Abadie, also exists in real history, but there is no evidence that the two real people had anything to do with each other.
Marie finds that she is actually talented at ballet, and she works hard to learn everything she needs to know to move into the corps. She also attracts the attention of the painter Degas, and is a model of his for several years both of paintings, and of the controversial sculpture Little Dancer, Aged 14. Marie is also an avid reader of the newspapers when she can get hold of them, and has become a convert to a belief widely espoused at the time that physiognomy predicts character. As a result, she believes her own looks mean that she is destined for a depraved and unhappy life, and having this reinforced by the reaction to the statuette modelled on herself does not help.
The youngest sister Charlotte, is the one that reality brought a long ballet career to, but we only see the beginnings of that here, as she is first too eager to show off, and then nervous of how others perceive her. She is the sister that we don't see inside the thoughts of, and thus is less well developed to us.
One gets a real sense of the Paris of the day, and of the worlds of both the lower class and the ballet at the Paris Opera. This book gave me historical information I wasn't aware of before and enlarged my view of the cultural world of the time in terms of art and ballet, of the social structure of Paris at this time in history, and of the penal system of the time. All in all, a very interesting novel, based on real people in history.


Finished March 3
Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith

This novel captured me right away. Did it help that the main character is a librarian? Maybe.
Isabel was born in Seattle, but her parents moved back to Alaska shortly after she was born to live in the homestead of her father's grandmother, in the country near Soldotna. This is where she spent her early years and learned about being alone, about making do with what you have, and about the meaning of treasure.
Following her parents divorce, her father moved to Portland with her and her older sister, where she soon realized she was several years behind when it came to fashion. This, perhaps, led to her love of vintage clothes.
All of Isabel's background sets the scene for this novel, a single day in her life. Planning for a party she is going to in the evening. Working as a preservation and conservation librarian, in the lower level of the library, with other subspecialists. The reader gets brought into her life, her friendships, her coworker relationships, as she moves through her day. In many ways, this is an ordinary day, but it is also an extraordinary day, for many reasons.
I loved Isabel, her thoughtfulness, her depth of feeling, her appreciation for small things, her imagining of others' lives. And I loved the cover of the book, how it just feels right for it. I love her love of postcards, one I share. With an earlier Indiespensable selection, I was made aware of this book through a reference in the accompanying package of goodies, which included postcards inspired by this book:

As I said, I prefer the cover version of the copy I had to the blue one in the package above, but the package is what got me looking for a copy. And I am so glad I found one.

Saturday 1 March 2014

The Frangipani Hotel

Finished March 1
The Frangipani Hotel: stories by Violet Kupersmith

This collection of short stories is set either in Vietnam, or in Houston among Vietnamese immigrants. Many of the stories have a paranormal element to them. Whether they are found in the hotel of the book's title, in a small mountain city, out on the water, in a convent, or along a Vietnamese highway, the ghosts are unique and compelling. Other paranormal characters appear behind a Houston grocery store, or at the window of an apartment building. The element of unreality that pervades this book gives the stories a mesmerizing effect as you get drawn into their reality. These stories are unlike any I've read before and promise more from this author.

The Naturals

Finished March 1
The Naturals by Jennifer Lynn Barnes

This teen novel is set around a group of teenagers, but the girl telling the story 17-year-old Cassie. Five years ago, Cassie came across a difficult scene to deal with. Her mother was missing and her mother's dressing room showed signs of a violent struggle with lots of blood. No body has ever been found, and Cassie was sent to live with her paternal grandmother, since her father was stationed overseas with the military.
When Cassie is approached in the restaurant she waitresses in by the FBI, she is taken aback. They want her to join a group of teenagers being specially trained to take advantage of natural skills each has to do with solving crimes. They believe that Cassie is a natural profiler and with the right training she can be very skilled and a benefit to the FBI in solving cold cases. Cassie agrees to join the group, believing that this opportunity might bring her closer to answers about her mother. She meets a group of teens with very interesting interests and soon finds herself immersed in training.
But when a current case starts to get personal, Cassie and her fellow students find themselves trying to stay ahead of a very clever killer.
The characters here are interesting, each with their own quirk, hard to get to know, and eager to develop their skills. Cassie finds herself  unable to stay on the sidelines, which she has done up until now, and learns some things about her own issues as she does.

Ink Me

Finished February 28
Ink Me by Richard Scrimger

This book is the fourth in Seven: the Series, following  Between Heaven and EarthLost Cause, and Jump Cut). Seven cousins are each given a task to do by their grandfather as part of his will. Along with the task, they are given the funds necessary to carry it out. Here, the cousin whose story it is is Bernard, nicknamed Bunny. Bunny is fifteen, big for his age, and developmentally delayed. His brother's story was told in Jump Cut and the books stories integrate with each other. Bunny's task is to get a tattoo of his grandfather's service insignia. Arrangements have already been made with the tattoo shop in question, and Bunny's chooses to go on his own. When he gets off the streetcar near the shop he finds a large boy beating up a smaller one and comes to the smaller boy's assistance. In the tattoo shop, communication goes awry and Bunny comes out with a different tattoo than the one intended, and it is this, along with the assistance he gave the boy that will chance his life's direction in a radical way. Bunny is used to being underestimated and pushed to the sidelines, so when his new friends seem to genuinely value some of his skills and accept him into their group, they earn his loyalty. This book has some interesting twists, and Bunny is a very interesting character. Really enjoyed this one.