Wednesday 23 September 2015

The Three Weissmanns of Westport

Finished September 21
The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

This novel is a delightful homage to Jane Austen's Sense and Sensibility. As the book begins, Betty Weissman is being told by Josie her husband of 47 years that he no longer wants to be married to her. He doesn't tell her about the new woman in his life, someone he works with. Betty was a young widow when they married, bringing her two young daughters Annie and Miranda with her. They are devastated by the news, as Josie is the only father they've really known.
Miranda, a literary agent, is also going through a career meltdown as it becomes known that more than one of her authors has been making up the stories in their memoirs. She has always been an impulsive woman, never settling down and not good with money.
Annie is a library director and the responsible one. She is widowed with two sons in university, and spends a lot of time dealing with work.
When Josie forces Betty of out their New York City apartment, Betty's cousin Joseph offers a cottage in Westport, Connecticut to her for as long as she needs it. Miranda's situation brings her along as well, and Annie sublets her place and joins them to save money and organize things. With Betty's divorce drying up her source of funds, and Miranda's assets locked by the courts, it is Annie that provides the funds to live on.
With Joseph's frequent and lavish dinner parties, the three women get to know a wide variety of people, some helpful, some destructive. As the woman gradually re-examine their lives and find what is important to them, the learn new things about themselves along the way.
Funny, poignant, and intelligent, this novel was great fun to read.

The Weeding Handbook

Finished September 17
The Weeding Handbook: A Shelf-by-Shelf guide by Rebecca Vnuk

This book is an overview of weeding helpful for the small public library. It begins with an overview of weeding, discussing the purposes behind weeding, the issues around it, and how to get started.
It next goes through a collection by DDC (Dewey Decimal Classification) number, talking about Fiction along with the 800s. For each range it talks about the type of information than gets outdated, and suggests guidelines for weeding books in that area. The book is clear about these being guidelines in many areas, as each community will have its own unique needs and things like space available and budget for collection will impact decisions.
The book then goes on to brief discussions for Reference material, media (CDs and DVDs along with older formats), ebooks, and databases.
There is a chapter about Youth collections which discusses some issues particular to Children's and Young Adult collections.
There is a section on Weeding Gone Wrong, which looks at some examples of bad planning and preparation and the issues that arose due to them.
The book them moves on to Collection Development Plans, explaining why these are a necessity behind every well-planned weeding procedure or project. Some sample plans are included: six for public libraries, two for academic, and one for a school library.
This book covers the main issues, explains the importance of weeding and collection development plans, and provides some helpful tips.

Sunday 20 September 2015


Finished September 17
Astray by Emma Donoghue

This collection of stories were inspired by historical incidents. Ideas were picked up from newspaper stories, letters, and history books.The book is divided into three sections: Departures; In Transit; and Arrivals and Aftermaths. It is similar to another collection of stories by Donoghue that I read years ago The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits. Again here, she includes the material that inspired here at the end of each story. For some it was just one small mention that inspired, for others it was a several mentions in different sources or a collection of material. Most are from the 1800s, but one is set in the 1600s, two in the 1700s, one in 1901, and one in 1967.
She fleshes out the little information she has to become realistic characters, and makes the stories come alive. Stories include a zoo attendant and the elephant he looks after, a lower middle-class woman driven to prostitution to support her family, a woman whose husband was declared dead when he went on a journey, a slave and his master's wife running off together, An Irish woman immigrating to Canada with her children to join her husband, two young men panning for gold in the Yukon, A western woman who led an unusual life, a group of men conspiring to steal a body for ransom, a woman forced to put her infant on an orphan train when she couldn't support him, accusations of sexual sins by one resident against others, A young Creole woman bored with her life and aspiring to more, a young mercenary fighting for the British in the American Revolutionary War, a young woman discovering a surprising truth about her father after his death, and two female sculptors that live together. Interesting tidbits of history brought to life

Monday 7 September 2015

A Murder of Magpies

Finished September 6
A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders

This delightful mystery takes place in London. Samantha Clair is an experienced book editor. Most of her authors fall into the category women's fiction, but she also has a gossipy writer in the fashion industry. Kit Lowell has recently sent her his latest book which is an expose on the death of a fashion designer and the fraud around him. There is a high possibility of libel accusations, so Sam is careful to get her firm legal advice before publication. Sam's star author has also just sent her newest piece in and it is a departure from her normal genre. Sam is thrown for a loop and doesn't know what to make of it, or how to approach the author with her reaction.
When a police inspector shows up to question Sam about a murder, she finds herself involved in a criminal investigation and when Kit goes missing, she is determined to follow all leads to find him. Luckily, Sam's lawyer mother is highly intelligent and well-connected and commands respect, and she is willing to jump in and help.
Sam is highly intelligent herself, and not willing to be relegated to the sidelines by the police in charge. There are many other interesting characters here too: Sam's conflict-avoiding boss, her capable Goth assistant, her young know-it-all fellow editor, her upstairs neighbours, not to mention Kit.
This book is a page-turning, highly entertaining read, containing lots of intelligent humour. Here is one example:
"I was sure plenty of people disliked him, or were jealous - he was successful, and he didn't suffer fools gladly. Although who did? Were there fool sufferers who lined up, panicked there might not be enough fools to go around? Focus! I shouted at myself."
I will have to seek out her earlier book now and look for anything else she writes.

Yankee in Atlanta

Finished September 4
Yankee in Atlanta by Jocelyn Green

This book is book 3 in the series Heroines Behind the Lines.
Caitlin McKae has followed her brother Jack into the war on the Union side, but when she is badly injured, she ends up in Confederate care in Atlanta, thought to have been fighting on the Confederate side. She keeps her own counsel, adjusts to life there and becomes a teacher at a local school, something her training prepared her for. When the war intensifies, the school is shut and Caitlin takes on the job as governess for the daughter of a fellow teacher who feels impelled to go off to war. Noah Becker is an immigrant from Germany, trained as a lawyer, and while not in favor of slavery feels the need to fight for his home. His daughter Analiese is the joy of his life and he values Caitlin's teaching skills, her emphasis on teaching responsibility, and her comforting way with children.
Back in New York, the focus is on Ruby O'Flannery, a young Irish widow, mother to a young son Aiden, and working as a domestic and seamstress. She is recently converted to evangelistic Christianity, and is visited often by a young pastor Edward Goodrich who came back from the front to tend his injured father.
The book follows the trials and tribulations of the two women. Caitlin is struggling to survive, to care for Analiese, and to eventually find her way home, Ruby is struggling to create a better life for her son, to stay on her new course despite her unhappy past, and to look for a future she is afraid to dream of.
This novel gives a good sense of the history of this time, and social situations, and the changes taking place with the war and western expansion.

The Empathy Exams

Finished September 3
The Empathy Exams: essays by Leslie Jamison

This collection was the winner of the 2011 Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize. It is a collection of essays about our interactions with others, about how we communicate about ourselves, how we feel about that communication, and how we react to others' communication.  The opening quote sets the tone: "I am human: nothing human is alien to me."
The book begins with the title essay and is about the author working as a medical actor who has been given a script and a specific protocol including a followup checklist and who evaluates doctors on their empathy with patients. The task is interspersed with her own medical issues.
* Devil's Bait is about the author's exploration of Morgellons disease including the attendance of a conference.
* La Frontera is about a visit to Mexico, partly for a literary gathering and includes Tijuana, Mexicali, and Calexico.
* Morphology of the Hit is about her experiences in Nicaragua where she taught Spanish to kids, was punched in the face and had a broken nose as a result, and includes the follow-up to this with the police.
* Pain Tours (I) has three parts. La Plata Perdida is about a visit to the silver mines of Potosi, Bolivia. Sublime, Revised is about the reality TV show "Interventions" which is about trying to stop addicts. Indigenous to the Hood is about going on a gang tour in L.A. which is led by ex-gang members.
* The Immortal Horizon is about the Barkley Marathons, an extreme marathon race held in the Appalachians, inspired by a prison breakout.
* In Defense of Saccharin(e) is about sentimentality, sweetness, and artificial sweeteners.
* Fog Counts is about her visit to a minimum security prison in Fayetteville visiting Charlie Engle.
* Pain Tours (II) has three parts. Ex-Votos is about Frida Kahlo and her pain as a result of a streetcar accident at the age of eighteen. Servicio Supercompleto is about Joan Didion's account of the El Salvador civil war, looking at the contents of a grocery store as inspiration. The Broken Heart of James Agee is about Agee's book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men and looks at labor, hunger, and guilt.
* Lost Boys looks at the murder of 3 boys in West Memphis in 1993, the three teenagers that were convicted of the crime, the trilogy of films that covered the case, and the subsequent release of the men years later.
* Grand Unified Theory of Female Pain looks at how women express their wounds, society's reaction to that expression, individual reaction, and what it means.
The book also includes an interview with the author.

The Robber of Memories

Finished September 2
The Robber of Memories: A River Journey Through Colombia by Michael Jacobs

Jacobs has long had an interest in Colombia and the Magdalena River, but it was a chance encounter with an again Gabriel Garcia Marquez that pushed him to this journey to follow the Magdalena River from its mouth at Barranquilla to its source at Páramo de las Papas.
The book has another focus as well. Jacobs' father had died following a decline into dementia and his mother, who is Italian, is suffering from advanced Alzheimer's. Marquez also suffered from dementia as he aged. There is a doctor in Colombia, that Jacobs meets up with on his journey, that has worked with a group of people from a specific area suffering from a type of Alzheimer's and identified a gene associated with that type.
And there is the nature of Colombia's political history, where the rebels and paramilitaries have caused a type of memory loss in its citizens, who must survive in this uncertain environment.
Jacobs covers the river's history, the political violence and literary allusions to the river to begin. While a map is provided, I found it more frustrating than useful as it did not include most of the places he visited. This is a continuing frustration I have with books that include maps that don't relate well enough to the contents of the book itself.
He spends a fair bit of time in Barranquilla, where the river ends, beginning his stay with the Hotel El Prado, the country's first tourist hotel, which opened in the 1930s. He makes contact with Juan Alberto Montoya at NAVESCO which moves cargo along the river and from there to Hector Cruz at Naviera Fluvial Colombiana.
Before the actual river journey, he makes a couple of sidetrips. One is to the Boca de Cenizas, a hazardous inlet where the Magdalena reaches the sea. For this, his pilot is Alejandro Henao. Another sidetrip is to Mompox, which is on a disused arm of the river. One his way to Mompox, he stops in La Gloria where he meets the famous Cristian Valencia of Biblioburro. In Mompox, he is a subject of interest, first connecting with Nando, an optician, and from there to a dentist and historian, a poet, and including a visit to the local cemetery.
His river journey begins on a tugboat called the Catalina which is pushing barges upriver destined for Barrancabermeja. He has a new Colombian friend who will be his companion for the journey, Julio Caycedo. The captain of the tugboat is Diomidio Raimundo Rosales, who often calls for the author using "Migueleeto." Other crew include Alfredo, who is in charge of the large tanks on one of the barges, Juan Cano, a young pilot, and the cook Leiva. The tug has trouble near the end in getting much past Gamarra. There is a particular windy part of the river which is difficult earlier as well, the Pinellos, partly because of low water. Honda is as far as most previous travellers get on the river itself. When he leaves the tugboat, he switches to a chalupa, which is a small fast boat.
Along the way, he meets human rights activists, journalists, the afore-mentioned Alzheimer doctor, friendly taxi drivers, hippie hostel owners, accommodating farmers, and yes, FARC members.
An interesting journey, with interesting people along the way.

Sunday 6 September 2015

The Eye of the Day

Finished August 31
The Eye of the Day by Dennison Smith

This book begins in 1938 with an accidental explosion at Greensboro, a rural railway station in Vermont. At the station, Amos Cobb is a handyman with various employers and as the book begins is on a ladder stoking adding fuel for the engine. Aubrey Brown, age 11, is waiting on the platform with his father Everett for his mother who is expected on a passenger train shortly.
The explosion sends a spike from the train's body through Amos' head, entering his jaw, exiting through the top of his head and blinding one of his eyes. Aubrey gets a couple of small cuts from exploding light bulbs, but his thoughts immediately go to Amos, a man he likes and looks up to, and who worked as a handyman at his grandmother's summer home nearby. Aubrey's grandmother is a grand, opinionated lady who runs the lives of her daughter, son-in-law, and grandson as much as she is able to. Her daughter, Aubrey's mother Ruth, is delicate, having an enlarged heart, but a way of observing and listening that endears her to those around her. Aubrey's father Everett is an archeology professor, academic, absent-minded, but totally in love with his wife.
The following summer Ruth insists on hiring Amos despite his disfigurement, and the family is his sole employer that year. That summer Everett has a new camera that has caught the interest of Aubrey, and when he finds that Greta Garbo is staying on the lake that summer, he is determined to get a shot of her. He gets more than he bargained for, and his summer is derailed shortly thereafter.
We continue with Aubrey's story as he enters the orbit of his uncle, Jack Shaw of Standard Oil, and comes under the fascination of Jack's wife Ethyl.
Jack's orbit is large and high, and one of his close associates is Irénée du Pont, a man with much power and influence. With Jack, Aubrey goes to Mexico, Nazi Germany, Cuba, and the oil fields of Alberta, using his camera to capture the lives he comes across along the way.
Meanwhile Amos flees his home to avoid committing violence against his wife Donna and, unbeknownst to him gets accused of just what he hoped to avoid. He wanders, with some purpose, north and then west, finding a companion, Kona, along the way that understands him as no one else has, even Aubrey. But when his path crosses Jack's, his life is spun in another direction from what he wants, and he ends up in the war.
When Aubrey and Amos meet again near the end of World War II in Italy, they must understand each other in new ways, and find that they get along well. When one saves the other's life, the story changes again, and only one returns to the mountains of Vermont to try to find a life again in the ruins of his life.
The writing in the book is wonderful, and I found myself reading portions aloud to whoever would listen to me. I loved the imagery, the dialogue, the characters, the plot, everything about this book.
Here is a small example from Amos:
"I don't got a picture of Kona, but I figure those paintings of hell in the churches are there to make you think of Heaven, so I carry Donna around."
This is my favourite read this year so far, and I can't say enough good things about it.

Last Train to Istanbul

Finished August 28
Last Train to Istanbul by Ayşe Kulin, translated by John W. Baker

This historical fiction novel is set before and during World War II. It centers around two Turkish sisters, Sabiha and Selva. They are the daughters of Fazil Reşat Paşa, one of the last Ottoman pashas, educated well, and raised to be enlightened. Sabiha, the oldest, does what is expected of her, marries Macit, a young man of good background who has a promising government job as a member of the general staff working in foreign affairs under President Inõnü. 
Selva is more intelligent, the pride of her father, and knows her own mind. When she falls for a young man from a good family, Rafael Alfandári the problem is that he is Jewish. Both families are opposed, but Selva is determined. Once her family realizes that she won't do what they want, they agree to a civil marriage, but Fazil cuts her out of his life. Feeling ostracized, the young couple decide to start their lives in Paris, But when the Nazis move in, their situation becomes dangerous. They move to Marseilles where Rafo puts his money into a chemist shop where he also works, and Selva gives English and piano lessons. But their situation becomes more difficult, and now they have a child to consider as well, young Fazil, named for his grandfather. 
Back in Turkey, Sabiha is very worried about her sister, trying to get Macit to intervene in some way, pleased when Tarik Arica, the young man from the diplomatic corps she has been tutoring in French gets a posting in Paris, hoping he can do what her husband Macit seems unable to and bring Selva home. The two sisters' stories work together to bring the real history of this time to life. We see the Turkish diplomats in Ankara, Paris, Vichy, and Germany working to save their citizens from all religious backgrounds, looking back at their long history of tolerance, and trying to stay neutral to keep their own country safe. We see the plight of other Jews in France as well, and how some of their histories entwine with those of the Turks. 
A good read that will have your emotions involved with these characters. 


Finished August 22
Carpentaria by Alexis Wright

I bought this novel from Red Kangaroo Books as a souvenir when I visited Alice Springs in 2009, so about time I finally got around to reading it. The novel was the winner of the Miles Franklin Literary Award for 2007. Wright is a member of the Waanyi nation.
It is set in the gulf country of north-western Queensland around the town of Desperance. The town was settled by people named Smith some indeterminate time back. The aboriginals have split into two groups: the Westend Pricklebush people named by Norm Phantom, and the splinter group in the Eastend, led by Joseph Midnight. Norm had a strong-willed wife, Angel Day, with whom he had seven children, the daughters Girlie, Janice, and Patsy, and the sons Donny, Inso, Will, and Kevin. Donny and Inso work at the Gurfurrit mine that both supports the community with jobs, and kills the community through its activities. Kevin, the youngest, has disabilities that often confine him to bed with seizures. Will has his own part of the story here. Norm stuffs fish, making them seem alive again, and using his own secret mixture of ingredients to do so.
Angel eventually leaves Norm to take up with Mozzie Fishman, a religious figure who leads a convoy of aboriginal men through the desert on long trips of conversion, and moves to the Eastend.
One day a man walks out of the ocean, having lost everything in a storm, including most of his memory. His name is Elias Smith, and the two adopts him easily. He forms a friendship with Norm and often the two fish in the ocean together until the mayor, Stan Bruiser, conscripts Elias to be town watchman. When something goes horribly wrong in town, Elias is blamed and driven from the town, and the magical part of the story begins in earnest. Will is blamed, and local police officer Truthful E'Strange is searching for him, while drawn to one of his sisters.
This is a story of myths and politics, of white and aboriginal, of land and water. As the story began, the river was being renamed Normal from its previous Wangala, after Norm Phantom.
I would classify this book as a tale using elements of magic realism to tell the tale of colonialism, corporate greed, native rights, and the land itself. It refers to the ancestral serpent, the creator of Dreamtime, and the names of people both tell us about them and mislead us. Time is hard to pin down, and the elements are used to control the plot, moving people towards and apart from each other. This is a tale of depth, of layers and meanings that you have to think about. A wonderful book that I am already drawn to reread.

What's In a Name Challenge 2015 Wrap-Up Post

What's In a Name Challenge

What's In A Name 2015 logo

This challenge has to do with book titles and there are six categories. I finished this challenge in late August.

  1. A word including "ing" in it. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. Finished March 17
  2. A colour. A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler. Finished April 10
  3. A familial relationship The Crane Wife by Patrick Ness. Finished January 23
  4. A body of water I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson. Finished February 16
  5. A city The Serpent of Venice by Christopher Moore. Finished August 18 
  6. An animal The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol. Finished June 26

The Qualities of Wood

Finished August 20
The Qualities of Wood by Mary Vensel White

This novel is set near an unnamed town in the Midwest. The farmhouse where most of the story takes place was the home of Betty Gardiner. After her death, the house was passed down to her children, and her grandson Nowell has just moved into the house with his wife Vivian. Sherman, Nowell's father passed away years before, and his mother Beverley is managing the portion of the house that would have come to him. Nowell is working on his second novel and the couple has agreed to move into the house for a year while he writes and they fix up the house for sale.
Vivian works her way through the accumulated contents, sorting things into piles to keep, sell, donate and throw away. She had stayed on in the city for a while to earn more money to see them through the year and as she arrives the police have found a young woman's body in the woods behind the farm. Nowell's brother Lennie arrives a few days later with his new wife Dot, and the tension between the two brothers grows.
Vivian feels pushed away by Nowell as well as he retreats into his writing, and although she gets along with Dot and has made a friend in a local woman Katherine Wilton, she feels ill at ease. The two neighbours through the woods, bachelor Mr. Stokes and single mom, Kitty Brodie, now grieving her daughter, both have her wary.
With memories of her own lost in the woods experience, Vivian tries to make sense of what is happening, in the woods, in her new home, and in the small town dominated by descendents of the founder William Clement.

The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Blends

Finished August 20
The Readers' Advisory Guide to Genre Blends by Megan M McArdle

This short guide gives an introduction to the topic of genre blendings, discussing the issues that arise with books that blend genres, the primary one being where to put things on the shelf if you have a collection that separates genres.
My library doesn't separate genres, but we do use spine labels to help guide patrons, and because we don't use multiple labels, this can result in similar issues.
Following the introduction and issues, this guide focuses on seven genres and the blends between them. A chapter is devoted to each genre, with an overview of the genre, a discussion of genre blending with that genre and sections discussing the blending with each of the other six genres. These sections include a look at three books that blend the two genres, sometimes with a third genre as a bonus, and two books that deflect readers back to the genre that most interests them of the two blended ones.
Genres covered here are Adrenaline, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery, Romance, and Science Fiction.
This is followed by a chapter on Whole Collection blends. This chapter looks more at format and offers genre blends in the formats of TV, Film, and Graphic Novel. For each of these formats, it looks at three examples, offering suggestions for the other formats and then gives a short list of other genre blends in the format discussed.
The next chapter is advice on how to do readers' advisory for genre blends, including suggested questions to ask readers, promotion ideas, and finding aids.
The last chapter is a discussion of genre blending with literary fiction, an interesting viewpoint on varieties of literary fiction. For me, this would be a path to guiding readers to books they may have classified as literary and therefore not of interest to them. By emphasizing the genre element in these literary or classic novels, we can expand readers' range and introduce them to new authors. McArdle gives 6 examples for each of the seven genres.
There is also an appendix of authors who are particularly adept at writing genre blends..
This is a good addition to any public library collection of readers' advisory tools, and a good resource for readers' advisory training for staff.