Wednesday 27 April 2016

Old Wolf

Finished April 24
Old Wolf by Avi, illustrated by Brian Floca

This children's novel has two narrators and takes place in the Iron Mountain area of Colorado. One is Nashoba, the aging leader of a wolf pack. The time is early spring, and the wolf pack hasn't eaten in a while. Nashoba is challenged by one of the young males in his pack and while he remains leader, he has been injured. He leaves the pack, including his two young cubs, in search of food to show that he still has the skills to remain leader. He is assisted by a raven, also aging, who hopes that his pack's kill will provide food for her flock as well.
Casey lives with his parents on the edge of the forest. He is just turning thirteen and is addicted to a video game called Bowhunter, where he shoots animals with a bow and arrow. Casey has played it enough to think himself skilled, but, in the world of the video game, the animals he shoots keep reanimating again and again. He seems to have most difficulty targeting two animals, a wolf and a raven.
This is a story of nature and its connection with us, and how we interact for both good and bad effect. The illustrations are lovely.

The Unquiet Dead

Finished April 24
The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan

This mystery novel is the first book by this author and is an example of both very good writing and good research. With fifteen pages of endnotes, Khan shows that she takes the time and care give her characters and plots backgrounds based in reality.
Her characters are complex and develop through their experiences. The two main characters here are detective Rachel Getty, a police officer with a difficult past and her boss, Esa Khattak, a man who also has not had a smooth career with the Toronto police.
Rachel's father was a cop, but not a man she admires. He was an abusive father and a drinker. Yet, she still lives at home, for reasons that she can only partially explain. Esa has a strong sense of faith and makes no secret of his Muslim identity. His job is dealing with cases that have minority sensitivities, and he chose Rachel to be his partner. The case they tackle here is one that seems like accidental death at first glance, but as more comes to light, there are secrets reaching back to the 1995 massacre at  Srebrenica. Esa was a volunteer in the area during that time, and knows some of the details of events, but Rachel must do her research to get up to speed.
As she learns more about her partner and boss, she also uses her own experience to lead her to insights in the case.
This is a fascinating new series, and I look forward to reading the second book.

Sunday 24 April 2016

Satisfying Clicking Sound

Finished April 22
Satisfying Clicking Sound by Jason Guriel

This short book of poetry by Canadian poet Jason Guriel, has a lot of sensory poems. Poems that evoke images and sounds but also smells and feels. His poems take everyday situations and add the odd to them, or make you notice something different.
Lines such as:
The snow is rising and erasing
two rakes forgotten on the lawn.
make you think of the snow differently. Instead of falling from the sky, it is rising on the ground, instead of covering things it is erasing them.
His poem "Somewhere in the Piano" makes you think of music differently as he gives us the idea that the music is there within the instrument just waiting for someone to release it.
A book to be savoured and sensed fully.

London Tides

Finished April 19
London Tides by Carla Laureano

This novel is a story of self-acceptance, and love.
Grace Brennan fled London a decade ago to work as a war photographer, leaving her fiance with her ring and a note. She was inspired by her photographer, who died in their home country of Ireland trying to cover the story of unrest there. But while Grace was running towards the work she loved and was driven to share, what was she running from.
She left behind Olympian rower Ian MacDonald, confused and unhappy at her flight. Ian has moved on, running his younger brother's restaurant business, but personally he still hasn't moved forward.
When the two of them reconnect, they will have to face all the things that kept them apart, as well as own up to their own identities.
This story shows how easy it is to do what others expect you to do, instead of being true to that small voice inside of you that knows who you really are and what you really want. It tells the story of PTSD and its effects on one's psyche.
This is a novel that follows the author's earlier book Five Days in Skye, whose characters also have a role here.

Red Lights

Finished April 16
Red Lights by Simenon, translated by Norman Denny

This dark novel is unusual for Simenon in that it was set in the United States, rather than France. On the Friday evening of Labor Day weekend, Steve and Nancy Hogan, meet as the always do in a small bar in downtown Manhattan for a drink before heading to their home on Long Island. The couple is a bit unusual for their time as Nancy went back to work after having children and is a well-paid executive assistant at a Madison Avenue firm.
This evening they are waiting for the worst of the traffic to stop before driving up to Maine to bring their two children back from summer camp. For some unstated reason, Steve has a bit of an attitude, drinking at first secretly and then more openly as they drive north. Nancy finally has enough of this, and tells Steve that she won't go on this way. When he pockets the keys, he returns from a bar to find her gone, likely to the crossroads ahead to get a bus. He follows, but has missed the bus and when he drives on, loses his way. As he continues driving on in the rain and dark, and his mind grows more confused, he goes over his resentments in his head, and we learn of his life and his wife's.
At one point Steve agrees to drive someone else north, someone he clearly suspects to be an escaped convict, and when he stops after getting a flat tire, loses consciousness. When he wakes the next morning, he finds himself alone and with his wallet gone. Phoning ahead to the camp, he finds that Nancy has never arrived, and as he realizes what must have happened to her, he finds his life forever changed.
The drinking and driving is definitely an element from another time. The novel was set in the early 1950s, and first published in 1955. But the dynamic of resentment and guilt are still clear in today's world. This new edition has an insightful foreword by Anita Brookner. The cover on this edition has the right feel to it, but I would have liked it better if the cars had been from the right era.

The Secret Kingdom

Finished April 15
The Secret Kingdom by Jenny Nimmo, read by John Keating

This is the first book in the Chronicles of the Red King series, a series linked to the Charlie Bone books. The story is introduced by Charlie as he looks back to his ancestor the Red King, and follows the boy Timoken as he finds his peaceful African kingdom attacked by monstrously evil creatures intent on getting access to all that is magical. Timoken's parents give santuary to a small fearful creature called a jinni, the last of his kind, who in turn gives them gifts for Timoken and his sister Zobayda. As the evil creatures attack their kingdom, Timoken and Zobayda's mother packs them a bag, gives brief instructions and sends them flying to safety.
Zobayda has a magical ring that warns and protects, and Timoken has the moon cloak as well as magician powers bestowed by the jinni. The two children are on the run as they are pursued for the cloak and a flask of a magic elixir.
Their journey takes them north and east, across deserts, past forests, and over mountains and lakes. The two befriend a camel and take him on as part of their small family. The magic protects, but the two must also show courage and fight for what is right and good as they encounter evil after evil.
I enjoyed this wonderful, magical tale, loving Timoken's reactions as he discovers his new capabilities and sharing his sadness as he loses those dear to him. A great beginning to the series.

Rings of Passage

Finished April 12
Rings of Passage by Karla Tipton

As the novel begins Anise Wynford is leaving the house in Massachusetts she has recently learned she inherited from her late father, a man she barely knew. Someone seems to present and nervous, she runs from the porch, putting on the ring she found in the house. She falls, dreams of being in a suit of armor on a horse in the middle of a battle and when she awakens she doesn't recognize her surroundings. As she is rescued by a horseman, she loses consciousness again, and wakens again in a bed in a stone room, and gradually realizes that she has been transported to another time and place. She is now in England in the time of Richard III.
We also see this story from Richard's point of view, as he too dreams of a dark-haired woman before rescuing that woman, Anise, from a place near his castle. Richard is still mourning the loss of his wife, yet feels strangely drawn to this woman. He is preparing for a challenge to his kingship, and while Anise is aware of the history, she wonders if she dares to alter it.
As the feelings between the two grow, and the role of the rings both Richard and Anise possess becomes known to more people, they must make decisions that affect each other and possibly the future.
This is a story of love, fate, and has a touch of fantasy to it with the magic of the rings and their origin. It is a story of intrigue and treason, of plots and battles. It is also a story of romance and passion.

Nine Women, One Dress

Finished April 10
Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

This lighthearted novel follows a designer dress through nine different women, each of them wearing it for a period of time, and each of them having their life influenced by that wearing.
The dress is the last dress made by Morris Siegel, a 90-year-old NYC garment district pattern maker, and one he knew was special as he was making it. He hopes that it will bring him one thing he has never yet achieved, the experience of creating the dress of the season. And it does.
The first woman to wear the dress is a model. She is new to the modelling business, and to New York. She is from Alabama, afraid to open her mouth to reveal her origins. She's pretty sure she doesn't want to be the model to be photographed wearing the dress of the season, but she is.
We learn Morris' story of how he came to be where and what he is, and as we get to know each dress wearer and the people around them, we learn their stories, the public ones and the private ones.
From a Bloomingdale's saleswoman to a movie actor to an executive assistant to a fine arts grad looking for work, these people all have a story.
The book is fast-moving, with a lot of characters, with many of the stories touching each other beyond the dress. It is funny, romantic, and a definite feel-good read.
I loved it and read it in one sitting, enjoying the experience thoroughly. Now if only I could get my hands on this dress, maybe it would change my life for the better too.

Sunday 17 April 2016

Lead Me Home

Finished April 9
Lead Me Home by Amy K. Sorrells

Set in the small town of Sycamore, Indiana, this novel follows two families. James Horton is a local minister, still not recovered from the loss of his wife Molly in a car accident more than a year earlier. Now he is dealing with the death by suicide of one of his parishioners, Frank Whitmore. Faced with a prolonged electricity outage impacting his dairy farm, Frank apparently felt he had no where to turn, and short 30 of his cows before turning the gun on himself.
The remaining cows will be taken in by another small dairy farm, with about 60 cows, nearby run by Laurie Burden, along with her sons Noble and Eustace. Laurie's husband Dale, a long-distance trucker left them a few years back. Eustace is a unique young man, intelligent and sensitive, but non-verbal. He has faced discrimination yet maintains his own priorities despite outside views.
James is also facing the foreclosure of the church itself, a result of dwindling attendance and debt owing on a structural repair a few years earlier. James' 17-year-old daughter Shelby, has been withdrawing from her friends and James since the death of her mother, She has been going out with a local bad boy, worrying those who care about her.
This is a tale of the economic pressures on a small farming community, added to some personal tragedies It is a story of faith, resilience, and community. Even when people feel that their situation affects them alone, because of their ties to the community, others are aware and respond in meaningful ways to make a difference. I like the nuances of the characters. There are no saints her, just real people struggling with their issues, supporting each other as best they can.

Saturday 16 April 2016

The Sandalwood Tree

Finished April 7
The Sandalwood Tree by Elle Newmark

This novel takes place in two different times. In 1947, Evie Mitchell is moving to India with her husband Martin and young son Billy. Martin returned from World War II changed, and Evie hopes that this time in India will help bring him back. Martin is an anthropologist and is coming to India on a Fulbright scholarship to research the end of the Raj and Partition. The two met while at University, where Evie was an aspiring astronomer. They come from different background. Martin's parents are Jewish academics and Evie's father is a blue collar Catholic.
In the small bungalow the two rent near Simla, Evie finds a cache of letters hidden behind a brick in the kitchen. They are dated from the 1850s, and Evie becomes fascinated by the two women who wrote the letters, searching for their story.
Felicity Chadwick and Adela Winfield are the two women, and we learn of their friendship, which began when Felicity was sent to England for her education while her parents continued to live in India. The letters date from when Felicity returned to England as a young woman.
Both time periods are ones of unrest. In the 1850s, there was the Sepoy Rebellion also known as India's First War of Independence, and upcoming Partition causes great unrest within India.
Evie is feeling lonely and isolated, without even her husband as a real companion. The local British have their own outlook that Evie finds colonial. Her ayah Rashmi, takes it upon herself to offer puja and advice to resolve what she sees are Evie's problems, much to Evie's embarrassment. She explores the local area, despite her husband's concerns, as part of her search for Felicity and Adela's story.
Felicity and Adela are both rebels in their time as well, dreaming of independence and a life without subjugation to a husband. Living on her own in India, Felicity is outside the world of her fellow Britons in many ways.
In both time periods, it is a crisis situation that changes how the women interact with those around them, bringing them closer and changing their relationships with those around them. I liked the independent spirit and curiosity displayed by the characters and their growth over time.

Friday 8 April 2016

The January Dancer

Finished April 6
The January Dancer by Michael Flynn

This science fiction novel is a true space opera. Told in installments, as a tale told from one character to another, the complex plot centers around a pre-human artifact that has an effect on all who come into contact with it.
A young woman harpist is in search of the story of this artifact, and her search has led her to a bar frequented by many travelers in the space highway, where she finds an older man, scarred and lost in his own thoughts. She supplies him with drinks, and he gradually tells her the story of the artifact, referred to as the Dancer, from its discovery by the trader named January, through many hands, to its fate as he knows it.
This is a tale of many creatures and of many worlds. The creatures include those descended from Old Earth, known as Terran, to those of newer worlds. There are those who patrol like the Hounds, and those who live for pleasure like those of Peacock Junction. The Interstellar Cargo Company (ICC) control a great many of these worlds and the space between them, but not all. There is an organization called Confederates as well. Those encountered here range from pirates to merchants, servants to thieves, and many classes of men.
There is humour and wit in abundance, and many fascinating characters that grab the reader's interest. The story of the artifact takes place across many worlds and through many sections of space.
As the harper learns the story, she retells it in her music, bringing her listeners through a range of emotions evoked by the tale of the artifact and its wake.
This is not a genre I read a lot of, and yet I found myself fascinated by the complex plot and the world created by Flynn.
He includes a character list, a map, and an explanation of the time system as it relates to the time system we use now.

Sunday 3 April 2016

Heir to the Sky

Finished April 3
Heir to the Sky by Amanda Sun

This teen novel is about a world divided. Kali is the daughter of the Monarch of Ashra and the Floating Lands, a world that was raised into the sky by the Phoenix hundreds of years earlier when the earth was overrun with monsters. Kali has been raised in a world of peace, but she has long had curiosity about the earth below, a green forest she can only see from afar. Kali's best friend Elisha is a girl from the village on Ashra, called Ulan. The annual ceremony celebrating the rending of their floating lands from the world below is at hand, and this year they will also be announcing Kali's engagement to Jonash, the son of the ruler of the biggest floating continent, Burumu. Kali has no feelings for him, but she knows her duty and has acquiesced.
Later Kali, looking through books in the library, overhears a conversation that has raised concerns for her, particularly the talk of a rebellion in some of the kingdom. She wants to tell her father, but he is busy with other matters. In the evening following the ceremony Jonash joins Kali and Elisha as the go to the outlands of Ashra. But there everything goes horribly wrong and Kali falls off the edge of her kingdom to the earth far below. She survives the fall thanks to her own wits and the help of a human below. She is surprised to learn that there are people on the earth, but pleased.
There are many monsters on the earth, and survival is not easy, and Kali appreciates the assistance of the monster hunters she has met there, particularly Griffin.
Kali takes her leadership role seriously, and she wants to return home to warn her father of what she heard, and asks for help to go to the mountains, hoping that she can signal to someone in the lands above and return there. As she and Griffin work towards this goal they encounter many dangers and unexpected assistance as well.

Saturday 2 April 2016

The Yellow Birds

Finished April 2
The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers

This first novel, and National Book Award Finalist, tells the story of one man's experience of war. The speaker, Private Bartle is twenty-one years old and telling his story in chunks of time that jump around from the events in Iraq back to basic training, forward to him back in the U.S., back to Iraq and so on. Before they go to Iraq, he is paired up with a younger man, Private Murphy by their sergeant, Sterling.
The war experiences are told in a very factual manner, each battle and death recorded as it appeared to them, As they experienced it. It is unemotional, but the very nature of telling shows the suppressed emotion. Whether it is a local translator, a fighter for the other side, one of their own, a civilian, they record each one, filing it away in their minds. And for some of them, this builds up inside, affecting them in ways that don't show, until they do.
The book has been compared to classics on the Vietnam War in the way it expresses the reality of the experience. Powers experienced this himself, serving in Iraq in 2004-2005, so he writes from his own knowledge. A powerful book.

The Hill

Finished April 1
The Hill by Karen Bass

This teen novel takes us to northern Alberta. Jared was travelling from Edmonton to Yellowknife on a private plane to visit his father when the plane crashed in the wilderness. Kyle was camping nearby with his family and witnessed the crash, coming to see what help he could provide.
Jared is a privileged young man, with a sense of entitlement that has also brought him arrogance. He is determined to climb a nearby hill to look for better reception, despite Kyle's information that there are no cell towers in the area, and that the hill is something his people never climb. Kyle's reluctance is ignored by Jared and despite his misgivings, Kyle feels he must follow Jared up the hill as he doesn't believe Jared has the skills necessary to navigate in the wilderness.
When Jared finds that he still has no cell service, the teens return to the site of the crash, but the plane is no longer there, and first Kyle, then eventually Jared realizes that they have entered another more dangerous world via that hike to the top of the hill. The world they are no in has limited connections with the world they seek to return to, and the danger of something strong and determined now hunting them.
This is a story of two young men from different worlds. Jared is someone who has not often consider others' needs, feelings, or opinions; a young man who has been the leader of his group of friends partly due to his wealth and privilege. He is not a happy person, and is quick to feel resentment when not treated in the way he is used to. Kyle is a young man who has undergone loss and hardship, but has respect for his elders and their teachings. He has resentment towards people like Jared, and yet the groundedness to not leave Jared on his own. He has the self-knowledge and confidence to move forward despite his fears, using the things he has been taught and listening to his world and the guides provided. Both boys undergo change through this experience, and the things they learn will resonate with them.

Cathedral of the Wild

Finished March 31
Cathedral of the Wild: An African Journey Home by Boyd Varty, read by the author

This memoir takes us through Boyd's life with background into his parents' lives. Londolozi was founded by Boyd's grandfather as a hunting camp, and transformed by his father and uncle into a nature reserve. Its place in South Africa set it apart, operating outside the normal apartheid regime through the working together of the Varty family and the local people. Boyd, named for his grandfather, grew up in this environment of a reverence for nature and respect for the local skills and knowledge of the people. Boyd's uncle developed into a well-known nature documentary maker, often involving Boyd and his older sister on the filming. From a young age, Boyd learned about his environment and how to manage it so that the wild animals would flourish.
As the visitors to the refuge came and were changed by their experience, Boyd learned from them, and ventured further afield to help his own spirit grow more resilient.
This is a novel of environmental entrepreneurship, connection to nature and passion for the world we share. Boyd reading his own words made it more intense and personal.
This is a story of hope for the future as well, one that encourages the reader to find their own path to fulfillment and happiness.

Friday 1 April 2016

A Pair of Docks

Finished March 28
A Pair of Docks by Jennifer Ellis

This novel is the first in a series titled The Derivatives of Displacement. Siblings Simon, Abbey and Caleb are close, particularly the twins Abbey and Caleb. When Abby sees Simon packing a backpack and heading off into the forest, she knows something is up. This is not usual behaviour for her older brother. She seeks out Caleb and the two follow him. They watch him stop at a tree, do something on the ground and then disappear. They are startled, and go to investigate, finding some stones on the ground there. As they touch the stones, they too are drawn out of their present-day world into a scene of clean building, a lake and spaceships. When they catch up to Simon, the three young people ad lib their way through encounters with people in this world, and are surprised to catch a glimpse of someone they know from present day.
Abbey is the most hesitant of the three about going through the stones, worried about being unable to return, and about what they may encounter.
Back home, the three plan for another visit, but when the go, the world they enter is one of a vast desert with sand dunes in every direction. What does this mean, and what is it about this world that makes Abbey feel ill.
Back home, Mark, a neighbour who lives up the hill with his mother and who has Asperger's is also concerned about their going through the stones. The reader gradually learns what unsettles Mark about this, and about other players in this gate through to future worlds.
This is a story about possibilities, about learning who you are and what you are capable of. A very interesting series that will appeal to many. Simon has computer skills, Abbey is a science geek, and Caleb is more creative. A good mix of skill sets for the challenges they encounter.