Monday 28 July 2014

A Tap on the Window

Finished July 27
A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay

Barclay is a master of the everyday becoming dangerous. Here the setting is the small town of Griffon in upstate New York, near Buffalo. Cal Weaver and his family moved to Griffon about six years ago, when Weaver started his career as a private investigator. Two months ago, Weaver's teenage son, Scott, died tragically. Cal and his wife Donna are struggling to go on, barely interacting with each other, each finding their own way of coping with their grief and loss.
As Cal is returning home one evening, a girl his son's age, taps on a window when he is stopped at a light and asks for a ride. He knows that a man his age giving a ride to a teenage girl looks bad, but when she says she knew Scott and that she thinks someone might be watching her, making her scared, how can he say no? So, he gives her a ride, and when she asks to stop at a local diner because she feels ill, he does that too. Cal begins to sense there is something wrong at this point, but he has already become involved.
When the police stop at his house the next day to say the girl is missing, he immediately starts following what leads he has, determined to find her. His search uncovers the secrets of many people, and some will guard those secrets with threats and force on others.
As Cal uncovers more of these secrets and starts to find out some of the acts that have been going on in his community, he finds his circle of trust growing smaller.
Cal isn't a perfect man, and his grief has caused him to act in ways he is later ashamed of. But he is a good man at heart, trying to make sense of things and trying to protect the vulnerable when he can.

Sunday 27 July 2014

The Web and the Wing

Finished July 26
The Web and the Wing by Teresa Raftery

This novel covers the time period from November 11, 1918 to the late days of 1930, and is the first book in a planned trilogy. The story begins in the village of Ardleagh in Lancashire, where the Earl of Eglinton and his family are returning following the was. The eldest son was killed, and James is now the one who will inherit the title, a development that will mean that his father will determine a different course of study for him than James wants for himself.
Claire has returned to the estate to help out, after working as a teacher in the village recently. She was taken in years before by her aunt Anna when Claire's father was killed in a mine accident, and her mother having died when she was just a toddler.
Over the years Claire and James had been playmates, Claire introducing James to the unstructured play of village children and a world his privileged upbringing wouldn't have normally exposed him to. The two also became close in other ways and feelings have developed between them, feelings that Claire knows can lead nowhere due to their difference in class. She determines to find herself a life of her own elsewhere and a chance encounter provides her an opportunity that will lead her farther than she thought.
The Earl's sister Amelia married a Spanish nobleman, and has a daughter Leonora a few years younger than James, and Leonora is allowed to attend boarding school in England and have her social debut there.
Leonora's father, Alva, Duke of Arradova, has a close friend, Raimundo de Conde, a general in the Army. As Spain sinks into political turmoil, Alva and Raimundo are involved and Leonora's future is being determined by her father.
As the plot moves the characters from Lancashire to London, Cordoba to Biarritz, Paris to Berlin, we see the lives of these three young people develop. We also see the political history that leads to the Spanish Civil War and World War II developing.
This is a novel that ties in the personal stories of these characters to history in a very real way. I will be looking forward to the continuation of their stories.

Based on a True Story

Finished July 25
Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti

This is the first novel for Globe and Mail columnist Renzetti, and her writing experience shows well here.
There are two main characters here. Augusta Price is a middle-aged English actress, known for her role as a barmaid on a soap opera, and as a vampire doctor in another show. She also has a history of substance abuse, and has spent more than one session in a treatment center. As the story begins, she has just been released from another treatment center and is already looking for a drink, she has likely lost the chance at an acting role in an upcoming series, and is worried about a book a former lover may be writing.
Frances Bleeker is a journalist in London. She left her native California to make a career for herself in Britain, and has had some success with a tabloid. She has also developed a crush on her boss there, Stanley. New ownership of the paper has her desperate for work, as well as determined to make her own way.
An interview for the tabloid with Augusta about the paperback release of her own memoir brings the two women together, and Augusta's desperation and Frances writing skill and need for a job bring the two of them into a partnership.
This book has a road trip that takes both women on an emotional trip into their pasts, but also offers new hope for the future.
I really enjoyed the complex characters, and the way the plot unfolded.

Monday 21 July 2014

Secrets to the Grave

Finished July 21
Secrets to the Grave by Tami Hoag, read by Kirsten Potter

This mystery novel is set in the town of Oak Knoll, California in 1986. A local artist, Marissa Fordham has been found brutally murdered,stabbed dozens of times, with her 4-year-old daughter strangled and left for dead. Except that young Haley survived.
In this time before many of the scientific tools available now, the police have less to go on in terms of evidence. Young Haley is severely traumatized and when led to her memories of the attack refers to the murderer as "bad daddy". But no one seems to know who Haley's father really is, and she seems to call nearly everyone she meets "daddy".
Anne Leone, child advocate, takes Haley into her home and works carefully to heal Haley, as she recovers from her own recent close call with murder. But will this put both of their lives into more danger?
Her new ex-FBI husband Vince, now a consultant, has volunteered his services to the local police and works closely with the lead officer Tony Mendez.
Marisa's sponsor, Milo Bordain, is a self-centered woman who is used to telling others what to do. She is horrified at the murder and tries to get custody of young Haley, despite her lack of mothering instinct.
A good friend of Marisa's Zander Zahn is a well-known math professor, but comes across as odd due to his autism and quirky collections. He is the one who discovers her body, and it seems to have brought back painful memories of his own.
Marisa's best friend Gina is devastated by the loss of her friend, but still seems to be hiding something from the police. Will she survive to tell the tale?
Lots of interesting characters, lots of twists and turns to this plot.
I had already read the book before this one Deeper than the Dead, and it was interesting to see how the characters from that novel were a few months down the road.

A Small Weeping

Finished July 21
A Small Weeping by Alex Gray

This was a new author for me, and I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery novel set in Glasgow. The main character here is DCI Lorimer and the case begins with the discover of a prostitute's body in an elevator in the railway station in the wee hours. The station is closed at this time of day, but the murderer appears to have avoided any of the cameras. She has been strangled to death and then placed carefully, with a flower between her hands, which are set as in prayer.
With little to go on, Lorimer asks psychologist Solomon Brightman (Solly) to assist by creating a profile of the killer. He has some ideas, but the case seems stuck until another murder occurs with the same positioning of the body. This time, the victim is a nurse at a private mental institution, and both the staff and the patients come under scrutiny.
The case focuses on the people in a big way, which I always find interesting and although the action mainly takes place in Glasgow, there is a lovely sidetrip to Skye.
There are some side stories here as well: the growing relationship between Solly and Rosie, the very competent pathologist; a visiting police officer from Florida, Lipinski, sharing methods and practices; and Lorimer's wife Maggie, a schoolteacher with dreams of her own.

Sunday 20 July 2014

The Plantagenets

Finished July 20
The Plantagenets: The Kings Who Made England by Dan Jones

This extensive history of the Plantagenet line of English royalty includes most of the Norman kings as well, taking us from the reign of Henry I to the ascension of Henry IV.
It begins in 1120, with the shipwreck that killed the son and heir of Henry I, William the Aetheling, which set up a power struggle between King Stephen, nephew of King Henry I and Empress Matilda, Henry's daughter and heir.
The Plantagenet Dynasty began with the next king, Henry II, eldest son of Empress Matilda, who married another powerful woman, Eleanor of Aquitaine. Henry II took the throne in 1154. The Plantagent kings reigned as follows.
Henry II (1154-1189)
Richard I (1189-1199), second son of Henry II
John (1199-1216), fourth and youngest son of Henry II
Henry III (1216-1272), eldest son of John
Edward I (1272-1307), eldest son of Henry III
Edward II (1307-1327), youngest son of Edward I
Edward III (1327-1377), eldest son of Edward II
Richard II (1377-1399), grandson of Edward III, second son of his eldest son Edward, The Black Prince
Henry IV, who took the kingdom from Richard II, was also a grandson of Edward III, by his son John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster, and his reign began the rule of the House of Lancaster.
This book definitely shows the human failings of the kings, but also the courageous acts and leadership abilities. We see the fear and jealousy, the misguided advice and bad decisions, the political intrigues and the emergence of British law. This is the line of kings that brought us the Magna Carta and parliament, the line that showed that a king had responsibilities towards his subjects of good government.
This set of kings won large portions of what is now France, and lost them again.
Laid out in short chapters, this book shows us predominantly the public side of these men, with glimpses of the personal.

Monday 14 July 2014

Silence for the Dead

Finished July 14
Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James

This novel is set just after World War I, in 1919. Kitty Weekes has just lost her factory job in London. In her desperation she applies for a job at a remote hospital for mental patients, and she is accepted. She spends the last of her money getting there.
What had she expected, she isn't sure, but it isn't what she has found. The hospital is desperately understaffed, and despite her lack of real credentials, she muddles through her duties as a nurse. The men who are patients here are a mix from kind to cruel, from lost to angry. But one thing they all have in common is the nightmares. They don't talk about them, but they all know that there is more here than mental issues. Kitty's lack of knowledge and rebellious nature lead her to break the rules, but also complete the horrific tasks that she is given. When she learns of a secret patient, Patient Sixteen, she finds that she must discover the reason for the lack of information on him.
Given her past experience, Kitty is pretty good at reading people, and she finds that many of the men here turn out to be people that she cares about. She also finds that despite her lack of training, she's not that useless as a nurse as she thinks.
This is a story of ghosts intent on finishing what they started, and of men vulnerable to the influence of such spirits. This is a story of cruelty and madness, but also a story of hope and renewal.
I like the spunkiness of Kitty. She isn't about to give in and do what others want her to unless that is what she wants herself.

Ghost Girl

Finished July 12
Ghost Girl by Helena McEwan

This novel is set in the 1970s. Cath is thirteen and is the new girl at the Catholic convent boarding school in England. Her father works in the foreign service and she has not lived in England until now. Most recently, she was in South America.
Her older sister Very is at art school in London. When Cath has school breaks, she travels to London and stays with Very. Very cares deeply about Cath, that is clear, but Cath must find her own way, both at school and in London.
Luckily, I never had to go to boarding school, but I've been the new girl, and I felt for Cath in her uncertainty, her lack of knowledge of the current pop culture, and her nostalgia for the life she knew until now. Certainly at many times, the girls at school were cruel in the way only girls can be, but she is not the only new girl, and not the only one singled out for embarrassment.
What surprised me the most was the cruelty of some of the nuns who are teachers at the school. The teachers who weren't nuns seemed better, and not all of the nuns had cruel streaks, but some of them seemed to delight in making the girls' lives unhappy.
The novel is split into four parts, with the first and third parts being in London, the second part being at school, and the fourth part mostly at school until the end of term when Cath arrives back in London.
I found the writing very interesting, with Cath's thoughts often moving to school when she was in London and vice versa. Other than the words themselves, there is no indication of this change so it gives a real sense of the distracting nature of the thoughts at times.
Cath was a delight, a quiet girl, a thinker. She enjoys the astronomical facts she learns from the other new girl, Olive, sharing them with Very. She delights in the experiences she undergoes in London with Very's friends, for the most part. She likes being alone, sitting quietly with others, observing the world around her. School is not easy, but she finds it may not be as bad as she first thought, although there are moments that are worse than she imagined. This is a unique coming of age experience, uniquely told.

Saturday 12 July 2014

Never Saw it Coming

Finished July 11
Never Saw It Coming by Linwood Barclay

This novel is set in the town of Milford, like some of his other novels.
Keisha Ceylon is a woman who makes a living as a psychic, telling fortunes, and, as she sees it, giving hope to those who have missing loved ones. When she sees a Wendell Garfield and his daughter Melissa on television begging for help in finding Wendell's wife Ellie, she sees a potential client.
But when she encounters Wendell, her visions relating to Ellie's disappearance are closer to the real situation than she would have guessed, and stating them puts her own life in danger.
This novel is like a set of dominos, with each action leading to another in a way that seems impossible to predict or stop. The deaths accumulate in a way that the reader doesn't see until it seems too late to change the outcome.
Keisha is a con woman, but one who is trying to do her best by her son Matthew and one who is willing to work to survive. Her upbringing gave her a certain outlook and skill set that both led her to the life she lives and allow her to get herself out of a tight situation. She can think on her feet, and her reading of people likely helps in the line of work she has chosen.
Thoroughly enjoyable in a macabre sort of way.

The Invention of Wings

Finished July 9
The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd, read by Jenna Lamia and Adepero Oduye

This novel is based on the real lives of two sisters during the early 1800s. The sisters are Sarah and Angelina Grimké some of the first women to fight for abolition and women's rights. The novel begins on Sarah's eleventh birthday in 1803 in her home in Charleston, South Carolina. Her mother marks the occasion by a move from the nursery to having her own bedroom as well as the gift of a slave girl, Hetty, who is ten.
Sarah is appalled at the idea of owning a slave, but her efforts to free Hetty are stifled. As the novel continues over the next thirty-five years, the narrative moves back and forth between Sarah and Hetty. Hetty is the name that the owners have given this slave girl, but Handful is the name that her mother has given her and the one she uses for herself. Because of the girls' similar ages, and Sarah's attitude towards slavery, the girls grow closer than normal for an owner and a slave. The Grimké household treats slaves better than many, but still has many instances of cruelty. It is one of these instances that is linked to Sarah's intermittent speech issues.
Kidd mingles the real facts of Sarah and Angelina's lives and the world they lived in, with the invented life of Hetty and her experiences, to create a story that is enlightening and emotive.
Sarah experiences love, loss, betrayal, frustration, embarrassment, and triumph over this time, but never loses sight of her promise to Hetty's mother Charlotte to do what she can to free Hetty. Hetty undergoes love, loss, torture, and happiness in her life, always striving for the right to do as she chooses.
The interactions between the two are nicely done, with Hetty always more grounded in the practical and the confident than Sarah. She often supports Sarah emotionally when Sarah becomes despondent. Sarah, and her sister Angelina, support Hetty in different ways, with material goods, permissions, and the gift of literacy.

Sunday 6 July 2014

Ghana Must Go

Finished July 6
Ghana Must Go by Taiye Selasi

This first novel is mesmerizing, and I found it hard to put down. Kweku Sai has died suddenly in his home in Accra, Ghana. Unbeknownst to him, his ex-wife Fola is also living in Accra. With his death his four children come to join their mother in Accra and as they do reveal the stories of his leaving them and the family fallout from that leaving.
This is a story of love, of betrayal, of belonging and not belonging.
The oldest son Olu has become a doctor like his father, a surgeon, and has married Ling, also a doctor. But he has struggles with love and belonging, never feeling good enough.
The twins Taiwo and Kehinde have always been close, but grew apart as they got older. Each has struggled with their otherness, and with the terrible experience they went through together shortly after their father's death. This experience has not only come between them, but also has separated them from those around them.
The youngest Sadie is the most physically like their father and she does not see her own beauty, but only her otherness. She is not who she wants to be. It will take this visit to Ghana and the death of her father to bring her the insight to see who she is and come to terms with it.
Fola herself has her own history of leavings, a history beginning with her mother, followed by her father. She is a confident woman, but the leavings are a weakness and she has not coped well with Kweku's abandonment of his family.
So this is a story of loss, but also of discovery. A story of endings, but also new beginnings. A story that will tug on your heart and make you think about the way we think of ourselves and the relationships we have. About how vulnerability is difficult, but how allowing ourselves to be vulnerable can also bring us love.
Highly recommended.

The Arrival

Finished July 6
The Arrival by Shaun Tan

This wordless graphic novel tells the story of immigration, following one man's journey from his homeland to a new and foreign place to bring his family too.
From leaving his home, wife, and child by train, the man then travels a long distance by ship to a foreign city. He undergoes an immigration process which includes medical examinations, and alights in this new land.
He finds someone who helps direct him to a place where he can rent a small furnished apartment, and also acquires a small pet-like companion.
He then goes out for food, confused by the abundance of things that he doesn't recognize, but again is helped by others. The same process is followed for finding employment.
Each of the people who helps him also tells him their immigration story.
After much time, his family arrives to join him, and they become the ones helping others navigate a strange place.
Done with sepia drawings, this graphic novel conveys the strangeness of immigration and the process to learn how to live in a place where the language, food, and way of life are not the ones you are used to.
This has become a classic for good reason.

Saturday 5 July 2014

A Game of Thrones

Finished July 5
A Game of Thrones: The Graphic Novel: Volume One by George R.R. Martin, adapted by Daniel Abraham, art by Tommy Patterson

There's been so much buzz about Game of Thrones with the TV series on that I thought I'd explore it in a small way. Lots of drama, lots of violence, lots of intrigue, and lots of sex. Pretty much like what I've heard about the TV show.
Given how much some of the characters look like the actors from the TV, I couldn't help but wonder if this was drawn later and sure enough the series began in 2011 and this book was published in 2012.
This volume was split into 6 issues, and the table of contents gives page numbers, but the book doesn't actually have page numbers, so that was a bit annoying.
Following the six issues was a section on how the book was made showing the making of the drawings and discussing the choices made about what to include from the book, some of which was cut out of the TV series.
Drawings were well done, and the plot flowed nicely even in this abbreviated format. A good adaptation.

Friday 4 July 2014

The 8th Canadian Book Challenge

I've been doing this wonderful challenge for a few years, and will be participating again for 2014-15

The 8th Canadian Book Challenge goes from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 and the goal is to read 13 or more Canadian books in the year. Last year I tried for 50 and only got to 45, so will try for 50 again this year.
This year you can adapt your own photos, but I'd love to point people at one of my favourite Canadian photographers, Terri Corbett, and her Creeks Bend Photos.
She's done family photos for my family, but also amazing landscape and nature photos, including quite a few of my family's barn, including one that just won first prize in a Grande Prairie photography contest.
I just saw CBC's quiz, 100 novels that make you proud to be Canadian, and I've only read 40 of them, so maybe I can tackle some of those in this season's challenge.

The Stonehenge Letters

Finished July 2
The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky

This novel reads like nonfiction. A psychiatrist is researching why Freud never won a Nobel Prize, and goes through the Nobel Archives in Sweden. He discovers a file containing letters from several people including four Nobel winners. Each letter offers an explanation for some aspect of Stonehenge's origin or construction. As he continues to search for the why behind this file, he discovers a secretive prize that Nobel's executor created drawn of Nobel's intent to put great minds to the mystery of Stonehenge.
Besides offering details of Nobel's life and relationships and the behaviour that led up to the creation of Nobel prizes and his interest in Stonehenge, the novel also offers information about the creation of the Nobel prizes, including this secretive one, and the letters contained in the file.
As the speaker/researcher here is a psychiatrist with an interest in Freud, there are numerous references to Freud, and an appendix containing a Freudian analysis of Nobel. A second appendix discusses radiation poisoning.
There is also a complete list of sources for the quotations used in the novel, a bibliography of works cited in the author's research, and an informative note with acknowledgements from the author.
This is a very imaginative and different novel, drawn from a unique viewpoint. The author is a Canadian psychiatrist and as the book says "This novel is a work of the imagination, although it does incorporate some factual material. We leave it to the reader to determine which elements are indeed verifiably true."

Tuesday 1 July 2014

The 7th Canadian Book Challenge Wrap-Up

Another year of this challenge completed.

I was hoping to read 50 books, and got to 45

Here are my reads:
  1. Chanda's Secrets by Allan Stratton. Finished July 4
  2. Ru by Kim Thúy. Finished July 9, 2013
  3. Evil in All Its Disguises by Hilary Davidson. Finished August 5, 2013
  4. The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright. Finished August 15, 2013
  5. Edith and Mr. Bear by Dare Wright. Finished August 15, 2013
  6. Edith and Midnight by Dare Wright. Finished August 15, 2013
  7. Edith and the Duckling by Dare Wright. Finished August 15, 2013
  8. The Doll and the Kitten by Dare Wright. Finished August 15, 2013
  9. Holiday for Edith and the Bears by Dare Wright. Finished August 15, 2013
  10. Barnacle Love by Anthony De Sa. Finished October 11, 2013
  11. Kicking the Sky by Anthony De Sa. Finished October 16, 2013
  12. How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny. Finished November 22, 2013
  13. Gwynneth Ever After by Linda Poitevin. Finished December 1, 2013
  14. The Whirlpool by Jane Urquhart. Finished December 3, 2013
  15. The Walker on the Cape by Mike Martin. Finished December 7, 2013
  16. An Irish Country Wedding by Patrick Taylor. Finished December 23
  17. Lona by Dare Wright. Finished December 23
  18. Sweetness from Ashes by Marlyn Horsdal. Finished January 5
  19. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley. Finished January 28
  20. Beautiful Goodbye by Nancy Runstedler. Finished January 31
  21. Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson. Finished February 2
  22. Kid Soldier by Jennifer Maruno. Finished February 3
  23. Between Heaven and Earth by Eric Walters. Finished February 8
  24. Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass. Finished February 9
  25. Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson. Finished February 10
  26. Lost Cause by John Wilson. Finished February 19
  27. Jump Cut by Ted Staunton. Finished February 23
  28. Up on the Roof by P.K. Page. Finished February 25
  29. Ink Me by Richard Scrimger. Finished February 28
  30. The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan. Finished March 4
  31. Close to the Heel by Norah McClintock. Finished March 6
  32. The Bear by Claire Cameron. Finished March 7
  33. Devil's Pass by Sigmund Brouwer. Finished March 8
  34. The Middle Stories by Sheila Heti. Finished March 9
  35. The Silent Wife by A.S.A. Harrison. Finished March 15
  36. The Rule of Three by Eric Walters. Finished March 17
  37. The Wind Is Not a River by Brian Payton. Finished March 25
  38. Always Watching by Chevy Stevens. Finished March 28
  39. The Stowaways by Meghan Marentette. Finished April 3
  40. The Hole in The Middle by Kate Hilton. Finished April 12
  41. The Poisoned Pawn by Peggy Blair. Finished April 18
  42. An Inquiry into Love and Death by Simone St. James. Finished April 24
  43. Last Message by Shane Peacock. Finished April 26
  44. Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson. Finished May 11
  45. A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrienne Harun. Finished May 17 (author isn't Canadian, but the setting and story is)

The Cairo Affair

Finished June 30
The Cairo Affair by Olen Steinhauer, read by Edoardo Ballerini

This fast-moving thriller jumps around to different narrators in the course of the story, often going over the same ground from a different point of view. At the centre of the story is Sophie Kohl, the wife of an American diplomat currently stationed in Budapest. The couple hasn't been in Hungary long, with Emmett's previous posting being Cairo. As the story begins in 2011, Emmett and Sophie are out for dinner, with Emmett accusing Sophie of infidelity during their time in Cairo just before a gunman enters the restaurant and shoots Emmett in the head, killing him.
Sophie is searching for answers and wondering whether his murder has anything to do with her affair in Cairo. With this thought in her head, the first person she reaches out to for help is her former lover Stan Bertolli, a Cairo-based CIA agent. Stan has genuine feelings for her and eagerly jumps in to help, but his impulse to protect her causes her trust to waver, and she reaches out to others.
Omar Halawi is an Egyptian intelligence officer and tied to a man Emmett met with shortly before his death, a man who since then came to Cairo. Is this man part of the story as well.
A contractor for the American government, John does whatever he is asked, whether it is driving someone into Libya or scouting out a meeting location. John has many skills and plays a key role in the story here.
A woman that Sophie and Emmett met decades ago in 1991 on their honeymoon in Yugoslavia, reappeared during their stay in Cairo and reminded them of a time and action they thought was long buried. It is the echoes of this that led to where Sophie is now, looking for the story behind Emmett's death and the actions in Cairo that relate. With intrigue and the passing of information, this story has many twists and turns, with each character adding to the understanding of the situation.