Saturday 28 June 2014

Midnight in Europe

Finished June 23
Midnight in Europe by Alan Furst

This novel is set in the months just before World War II. Cristián Ferrar is a Spaniard living in France. He came as a young boy with his family, and has done well for himself, becoming a senior partner with the international law firm Coudert Frères. The increasing aggression of Germany and the direction of the civil war in Spain, both have Ferrar worried.
When he is approached by the Spanish government to assist them in obtaining arms, he agrees, but makes sure his firm is aware of his involvement in this agreeing to do it outside of his official work. This agreement leads him into many interesting relationships, and calls on his quick thinking and air of authority to take command of difficult situations. This involvement may also increase the danger to himself and his family and he must think about making plans for them should Europe become involved in a larger war.
Ferrar also realizes that a irregular relationship he has developed with an American woman may mean more to him that he realized, and his love life is something that he has to think more seriously about than he has until now.
This is a story of spies, danger, and intrigue that will have you turning the pages to find out what Ferrar gets into next. A great read.

The Golden Egg

Finished June 22
The Golden Egg by Donna Leon

This novel features the wonderful Commissario Guido Brunetti of Venice. Brunetti is asked to look into a minor retail licensing violation, so he begins to wonder the real purpose of his being asked to do this, and discovers ties to the mayor. Brunetti's wife Paola tells him of the death of a developmentally handicapped man who had worked at their local dry cleaner and, though initially reluctant, Brunetti finds the man's death hides more than he imagined. Brunetti's initial inquires make him more and more curious, and though dismayed, he keeps at it until he finds the history that led to this.
This is a story of jealousy, of neglect, of how easy it is to look the other way when we note an injustice. Like many of the novels in this series, the crimes that take place are part of a larger story of social injustice. It is interesting to see Brunetti's personal life as his children grow up, and the emotions that the stories evoke in the detective as well as the reader.

Wednesday 25 June 2014

The Widow's Walk

Finished June 20
The Widow's Walk by Robert Barclay, performed by Kirsten Potter

This book is a paranormal fantasy romance, set around an antebellum mansion called Seaside. Garrett is an architect and he has been drawn to this house all his life. He finally had the opportunity to buy it and did so, but the house has been sadly neglected, and needs a lot of work. As he stays overnight there, he has a strangely vivid dream of a woman, and when he actually encounters her, his mind can't take it in.
But when he actually talks to her thinks get even more crazy. Can her story be true, that she lived in this house more than 170 years ago and has been caught between worlds ever since.
As the two, Garratt and Constance, compare stories, and have more vivid dreams, their search for answers grows more desperate. They both feel strongly that their time to find out what has left Constance in this limbo is something they have a limited time to answer.
The premise of the story was interesting, but didn't flow well. The writing was melodramatic at times, and the novel overall needed a good editor. There were two or three instances where statements made in the story directly contradicted statements previously made, and that kind of thing bothers me.

Monday 16 June 2014

A Girl Called Fearless

Finished June 15
A Girl Called Fearless by Catherine Linka

This teen novel is set in the present, but a different present that what we live now. It begins in California where Avie lives with her father in a gated community and goes to a school with other girls like herself. Ten years or so ago, women started getting cancer and dying at inexplicable rates. By the time they finally traced it to a hormone in beef it was too late and all women past puberty and before menopause who had eaten beef were dead or dying. At first, it was just dealing with the grief, but now women's lives are becoming more restricted and when Avie discovers that not only are U.S. colleges closed to women, but her own father has arranged a marriage contract for her that will save his business. Avie finds that she has been sold, and there is nothing she can do about it. Or can she?
Childhood friend Yates has become a student revolutionary and he is urging her to escape to Canada. Avie wants to listen to him, but is that just because she has stronger feelings for him than that of friendship?
There is a lot going on in this book. It draws from other dystopian novels with women losing rights, echoes of novels like The Handmaid's Tale show here. But it also speaks to the limited lives of real women in many countries now, where the men in their lives control what they can do and where they can go and what their futures hold. Avie has definite challenges, but she is luckier than many, having an education, connections, and training to make a real stand for herself.

Sunday 15 June 2014

The Accidental Salad

Finished June 15
The Accidental Salad by Joe Decie

I picked up this graphic fiction book at the recent Comic Arts Festival in Toronto. The author was there and was kind enough to add a nice little drawing inside just for me.
I really liked this book, and would describe it as graphic short stories. Most are just one page or less and yet, they tell you so much. The stories come from Joe's life, touching on his friends, family, and activities. The title story tells how he ordered a salad by accident because it included two of his favourite foods in combination, and what he did afterwards. There is a humour at play here that is silly, light-hearted and a bit self-deprecating. I could imagine members of my family saying some of these things. This is a guy I could definitely be friends with.
Thoroughly enjoyable and I will be looking for more by him.

Saturday 14 June 2014

Thursdays in the Park

Finished June 14
Thursdays in the Park by Hilary Boyd

This novel tells the story of Jeanie. Jeanie is just about to turn 60, and George her husband of 32 years left their bed ten years ago with no explanation. Jeanie still loves him, but she doesn't understand his retreat from her and he won't explain it no matter despite her questions. She's been too ashamed to confide this to anyone, even her best friend. Every Thursday afternoon, Jeanie takes a break from running her health food store to take her two-and-a-half year old granddaughter Ellie to the park. One afternoon she meets a man at the park, Ray, who is with his young grandson Dylan. After several meetings, Jeanie feels an unexpected connection with him, and pours out her heart to him. But her growing feelings for Ray are different than the love she still feels for George. She is drawn to him despite her better judgement.
George wants changes in their life, but Jeanie likes her city life in Highgate and enjoys running the store. She doesn't want the life in the country that George seems to have set his sights on, but he doesn't seem to be listening to her and when he continues with his plans despite her reservations, she begins to question her marriage more earnestly.
This is a story of a marriage, a chance at new love later in life, and the way a relationship, even when supported by love can stagnate when a couple stops communicating or paying attention to each other in a meaningful way.

Waiting for Wednesday

Finished June 14
Waiting for Wednesday by Nicci French

This is the third novel in the series featuring pschotherapist Frieda Klein, but I haven't read the first two. Here, Frieda has been ousted from her alliance with the police and is still physically and mentally recovering from the attack that nearly took her life. Also, she has a stalker, a man who had been thought dead, but it later came out that it was his twin brother who had died.
Frieda's lover, Sandy has left for work commitments in New York City, although they communicate regularly. Josef, a friend with construction skills has taken it upon himself to give her a lovely large bath, but this job seems to be growing and leaving Frieda without her usual solace of a meditative soak.
Her replacement with the police, Bradshaw, is resentful of her despite his holding the position and when he sets her up, along with others, she reacts differently than her fellow therapists. One statement that the student who approached her used has caught in her mind and she can't let go of it, working her way methodically back to the source of the statement to figure out why it calls her so strongly.
But the book opens with a woman dead, and her young daughter making the discovery of her body. Ruth was a loving mother and wife, a friendly neighbour, and a happy worker, seemingly the perfect woman. But as her secret emerges, the police struggle to discover who knew what and when they knew it.
Frieda's sister-in-law Olivia seems to be going through a crisis as well, and her niece Chloe draws Frieda into the situation.
Meanwhile, dogged journalist Jim Fearby has seemingly completed his quest to have a man released for a crime he didn't commit. But Fearby is haunted by the question of who did kill the young woman, and his doggedness leads him to other missing young women trying to find a connection. When Frieda and Fearby have their paths cross, they join forces as they look towards patterns and opportunities.
Frieda is not well, and she has many people in her life both wanting her to do things for them, and wanting to take care of her, but even though she recognizes that she needs help, she is bent on following the trail she is on,  and resentful of the demands of others, even those who demand only to help.
This is a complex novel, with several plot lines, and a lot of beneath the surface issues. An engrossing read

Friday 13 June 2014

Attack in the Library

Finished June 11
Attack in the Library by George Arion, translated by Ramona Mitrică, Mike Phillips, and Mihai Rîşnoveanu

This novel was first published in 1983 and was "hailed as a benchmark in Romanian crime fiction". This is the first of his novels to be translated into English.
My copy of this book included an introduction that gives some background and context for the novel. Romania was, of course, under a totalitarian leader at the time that controlled what was published. This means that he had to write to evade censorship or punishment from the regime, yet he still wanted to express some of his frustration with the environment he lived in.
Arion was a journalist who wrote this novel as a result of a bet he made with a colleague. It took him several years to write. Arion`s character is Andrei Mladin, also a journalist, who has a mocking outlook, both at himself and others. Irony underlies much of his commentary, which the lighter more obvious humour of the words is a cover for. The writing evokes the political setting of the novel giving the reader a real feel for the life of the character.
The translation tries to convey the tone of the original, and the footnotes, while at times repetitive or simplistic, do provide some useful information. This objective on the part of the translators means that this novel does sound like a translated novel, but it works.
Mladin meets a famous young female musician in the course of his work, and begins a relationship with her only to find that someone seems determined to frame him for a crime he didn`t commit. As we see the various characters, each embodying a different social and experiential Romanian, we also get a sense of the country and its character.
This is definitely an original.

And the Dark Sacred Night

Finished June 11
And the Dark Sacred Night by Julia Glass, read by Mark Deakins

This novel has early forties husband and father Kit Noonan having a bit of a mid-life crisis. He lost his job a few months back and is having difficulties finding a new one. His family is experiencing financial challenges as a result of this and the relationship between him and his wife Sandra is strained.
Kit's mother had him very young and has never revealed to him the exact circumstances of her pregnancy or who his biological father is. She married when Kit was nine or ten and he was absorbed into the home of Jasper Noonan and his two sons, both older than Kit. Sandra urges Kit to see Jasper as the first step in a real search for his biological roots, and he complies.
Kit's reintroduction into Jasper's life has Jasper reevaluating his life and his relationship with his sons, as well as his love life. Kit does find the family of his biological father and connects with them, but this connection brings unexpected knowledge as well.
The reader gets taken from Kit's life into the life of his mother the summer she got pregnant, and the life of his paternal grandmother Lucinda, as she struggles with her feelings about her son's paternity and her new chance at connection with Kit's reappearance in her life.
This is a complex novel of relationships, the need for connection with others, and the insights of hindsight.

Sunday 8 June 2014


Finished June 8
Saigon by Anthony Grey

This is not a new book, but the 30th anniversary edition of an amazing novel centred on Vietnam. The action here takes place over 50 years from 1925 to 1975. At it's centre is the Sherman family, specifically Joseph Sherman. In 1925, at the age of 15, he came to Vietnam with his mother, father, and older brother Chuck to hunt. The hunting was to obtain specimens of rare animals for the Washington museum created by Joseph's grandfather. This first visit of Joseph to Vietnam also connects him to three other families that play an important role in the novel. One is the French Devraux family. The hunting guide that the Sherman's have hired is Jacques Devraux, and his son Paul is his assistant. Chuck, Paul, and Joseph are close in age and make a connection. Joseph's mother also makes a connection with the Devraux family that will have a lasting effect. Servants to Devraux family, Ngo Van Loc, his wife Mai, and their sons Dong and Hoc, are not treated well and their lifelong struggle to regain an independent life now includes a strong resentment against the Devraux men. In their first days, the Shermans also meet the Tran family. Tran Van Hieu is a mandarin and at one of the formal events, the Tran children have stayed in the palace grounds while the formal event takes place inside. Joseph makes the acquaintance of the three childen Tam, 12; Kim, 11; and their sister Lan, 10.
His experiences lead Joseph to a lifelong fascination with Vietnam, and he becomes a scholar in the history of the region. When he returns again in 1936, he again encounters the Devraux and Tran families and renews his friendship with Paul, while creating a different connection with Tran Van Lan.
Joseph returns to Vietnam again in World War II, first as a pilot and then as an OSS officer working with the Vietnamese against the Japanese. His experiences here form strong bonds with the Vietnamese revolutionaries and the reader sees a chance to avoid the future tragedies of this nation lost in the colonially oriented decisions of the war's aftermath.
When Joseph return next, it is as a reporter, and he covers the French struggle against the Vietnamese, in particular the battle at Dien Bien Phu.
As the Americans become more involved in the tragedy of Vietnam, Joseph returns many times, as a reporter, a government official, or a civilian who cares deeply about the country he has intimate ties with.
At almost 800 pages, this is not a light read, but the novel flows quickly, leading the reader on through the strong characters he creates. Each section begins with a short historical comment of what is going on politically in Vietnam at the time. This gives us context and a grounding in the forces that influence the characters in that section. I learned so much about Vietnam's history through the reading of this novel, and highly recommend it to those who may be visiting this country or just interested in history.