Friday 30 June 2023

Hunger

Finished June 26
Hunger by Michael Grant


This is the second book in the Gone series for teens. I read the first one years ago, and own the third and fourth, so finally tackled the second so I could read these. This is a series that definitely builds on itself and needs to be read in order. This book is much darker than the first as food is becoming a real issue. Those in town have created a structure, and have organized a way to distribute food, but they know that they need to plan for other ways to provide food than what they have now. When they find crops in nearby agricultural areas, a new threat emerges. There is also a need to find a way to motivate everyone to work for their keep in some way so the onus doesn't end up on just a few. 
There is also a developing divide in town between regular kids and those who have developed special powers. Some of these powers are odd and the purpose of them is still being determined. Some of the regular kids are beginning to resent those with powers, particularly because many of them have taken on leadership roles. Some of those in leadership, like Sam, are feeling the stress of their responsibilities and are showing that stress.
The kids who have grouped at the former private boarding school are also developing a plot to regain power from those in town and their dark sides are a real threat to everyone.
The bigger threat we begin to see is the growing dark power of a mysterious underground presence who is focused only on its own needs, but has psychological powers that reach into the minds of anyone it has encountered or anyone who gets physically close to it. 
This is a dark novel, that seems even darker by the end, when the community has less resources than before, and more threats from both external and internal forces. 

This Poison Will Remain

Finished June 25
This Poison Will Remain by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds

This is the 11th book in the Commissaire Adamsberg series. Here Adamsberg is summoned back from Iceland for a case and is soon missing his son who stayed on there. He is at first dealing the case that recalled him, a hit and run death of a woman that has some subtlety to it, but that is dealt with fairly quickly. During that case, he has become aware both through the attention one of his staff, Voisenet, to some deaths due to a spider, one that is not typically deadly. This captures his attention, and he begins to gather information on the deaths himself. 
He also begins to realize that one of his own men is actively working against him, and applies himself to that puzzle. 
The spider case is quite interesting, and one that takes him from Paris to the south of France, where the deaths have occurred. He looks for links between the victims, and finds an interesting name that links the spider to some of the victims. As he looks deeper, he discovers other deaths that seem suspect when the link between the victims is known. He soon realizes that the group of men who are potential victims is narrowing with each death, and he puts some effort into protecting those remaining. 
He encounters and begins to consult with an amateur spider specialist, and finds her to be very helpful as the case progresses. 
As usual with this series, the unusual mental connections that questions that Adamsberg comes up with really make the story and are key to the plot. The side stories here, from the initial case, to the attempted betrayal of one his men, to the crime against another staff member, and to his own buried childhood memories all link through a common theme. 
This is a book that I read in small pieces as Vargas always leads me to go down other rabbit holes from her use of connections, quotations, and analogies. 
I also liked the appearance of one of the characters from a different, although linked series, Mathias from The Three Evangelists and a new connection to a character I love from Adamsberg's team. 
Always an educational read, this was also an interesting set of puzzles. 

People Change

Finished June 21
People Change by Vivek Shraya

This short book looks at change from a human point of view. The author herself has undergone many changes in her life: professional changes and personal ones. Here she looks at what factors lead to change for us, based on her own experiences. Sometimes there are things that happen early in our lives, when we are still figuring ourselves out, and events or experiences can influence us in major ways. 
There is also a common fear of change, and that is covered here as well, sometimes trapping us in a place in our lives that we may not always recognize as a trap. 
This book encourages us to celebrate our changes, to be open to experiences that offer different ways of being, and new inspirations for our existence. 
Sometimes, this book feels 'stream of consciousness' in its flow, and other times it digs deeper into the motivations beneath those meandering thoughts. I read this book slowly, pausing to consider different ideas along the way. 

Thursday 29 June 2023

The Lost Ticket

Finished June 21
The Lost Ticket by Freya Sampson

This charming novel begins with a scene from 1962 and an encounter on a London bus between Frank, a young man and an unnamed female art student. She gives him a phone number, written on her bus ticket, and he gives her the book he's been struggling to get into, and they agree to meet later that week. But when he gets home, he finds he's lost the ticket, and they never meet.
The story then jumps to the present, in spring 2022, with Libby Nichols, who has come to London to stay with her older married sister Rebecca getting on the 88 bus in London. She encounters an older man, Frank, who is struck by her red hair, and they have a conversation, where he encourages her to return to the art she used to love. 
Libby tells her story to Rebecca, and thus to us, that her boyfriend of eight years took her to a fancy restaurant to break up with her and take some time apart. Libby agreed to move out for a while to give him time to figure out what he wanted, and she's ended up here. Rebecca's nanny has had to go home suddenly to take care of a family member, and Libby agrees to look after Hector, her sister's son while she's staying there. 
Libby tries doing art on the bus, and finds herself angrily accosted by her chosen subject, and when she meets Frank again, she finds out about the girl he's been searching for for years, and how she changed his life. Libby decides to help him try to find this woman, and begins a social media and flyer campaign to put the story out. As she does, she finds herself making new friends, and thinking harder about what she wants in her life. But she also discovers that some things can't be planned and have to be dealt with as they happen. 
This is a feel-good novel of relationships, families, and chance encounters that are life-changing. A great read. 

The Party

Finished June 19
The Party by Lisa Hall

This dark mystery begins on New Year's Day as Rachel wakes up. She is in a strange bed and some of her clothes are missing. Her body has bruises and she suspects that she's had sex. She is in the spare room at a neighbour's house and remembers arriving at the party with her husband Gareth, but can't remember anything after that. She doesn't know if she's had an argument with her husband (they'd been having some issues, but had been working on improving their relationship). She doesn't know who else was at the party. 
Her husband had been distant recently, pushing her away and deflecting her questions. There have been some unsettling encounters with a man who worked with her husband, as well. As Rachel first returns home, then is convinced to go to the police, she talks to her friends and neighbours, gradually piecing together what happened that night. Many people have secrets of their own that makes them less than forthcoming about what happened and what they saw. 
The novel jumps back to earlier in the year at times, and this gives more insight into Rachel's relationships and the possibilities of the night in question. 
This is a fast-moving novel, with a narrator that has a lot going on in her life, and is now fuelled by anger. An unexpected and clever ending that will leave you with many questions. 

Tuesday 27 June 2023

Good Night, Irene

Finished June 17
Good Night, Irene by Luis Alberto Urrea

This novel focuses on a little known group of women who worked for the Red Cross attached to the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II. They were set up in teams of three to man Clubmobiles that supported the troops for morale. The large buses were similar to today's food trucks. They served coffee, tea, and donuts, and were equipped with record players and a speaker system to broadcast the music to those waiting for service. These mobile units travelled to airbases, troop stations, and to troops near the front. 
In particular, it focuses on Irene Woodward, a young woman from a well-to-do family in New York City. She is fleeing an abusive relationship, and hopes to do her part for the troops. She goes to Washington, D.C. for training along with a number of other young women, and they get trained to drive the truck they will be operating, and to make donuts and coffee. During training she made friends with Dorothy Dunford, a young woman from the Midwest who has sold her family farm after the death of her parents and the loss of her brother in the war. She is a take-no-nonsense woman with driving skills and gumption. The third girl in the bus is Ellie, a woman from Chicago. 
After training, the women travel by ship in a convoy to England, where they use a British truck until their new wheels are ready. Besides serving at their mobile unit, they go to various troop stations and officers' clubs to do similar work. 
Soon after D-Day, the women take their bus over to France, where they move east along with the troops, finding themselves in some tricky situations and experiencing war firsthand. Although not looking for love, Irene finds herself drawn to a fighter pilot named Hans who pursues her in a way that gains her trust. As Irene finds friendship and love, she also experiences the worst trauma of her life, witnessing situations she never imagined. 
This novel has real emotion and the characters feel very real. There is humour and grief, love and loss, and I was intrigued to see that Urrea found the inspiration for this book in his own mother's experiences as a Red Cross Clubmobile worker. 
An amazing read. 

The Sibyl in Her Grave

Finished June 17
The Sibyl in Her Grave by Sarah Caudwell (Hilary Tamar, #4)

This mystery is definitely on the odd side. Intellectual and with paranormal elements, it is set around a law professor (Hilary Tamar), lawyers they are friends with in London, and the aunt of one of the lawyers who lives in a small village in England. 
The aunt's story is told mostly through letters to her lawyer niece asking for advice on different legal issues that have arisen in her life, starting with one to do with taxes from investment income. It moves on to what may be murder, a sudden death of an unlikable woman who ran a fortune-telling business, to matters of inheritance, and more. 
There is a side-story of renovation work being done at one of the law firms, and the retirement decisions around an important client at that same firm. 
There is also a mysterious man who appears in the village, that may be a key clue in mysterious death. 
I enjoyed this mystery, with its explanations of legal issues, and the somewhat mysterious professor, who seems to have many contacts with former students. 
It is also interesting that we never know the gender of this professor, with their androgynous name and no other defining information beyond the university they teach at.  
The home of the fortuneteller is a very odd one, with the birds a particularly unsettling element. 
I would definitely be interested in reading more of this series. 

Monday 26 June 2023

White Slaves

Finished June 15
White Slaves: 15 Years a Barbary Slave by Nicholas Kinsey

This captivating novel is based on real people and events, which the author researched. On June 20, 1631, 109 men, women, and children were taken by pirates from the community of Baltimore on the southwest coast of Ireland. Most of these people were English Calvinists who had started a fishery there. The ship that took them was working for the ruler of Algiers, and they were headed along with others, mostly men from France and Spain, back to Algiers to be sold as slaves. While the distance in a fast ship, like those the pirates used would have been a few days by sea, the need to avoid government ships of all nations, and the draw of more plunder meant the ship took more than a month to make the journey. 
Kinsey, takes us into the story of these people, giving them individual voices and bringing the characters to life. He follows quite a few of the people through the many years that they they were unable to return home, using what facts were available and inventing a story around them. The characters he covers include men, women, and children, and both English Calvinists and Irish Catholics. This book unveiled to me not just this historical event, but the entire culture of the times, giving us insight into politics, religion, and trade. 
Religion was interesting to see how people chose to observe, and the attitude of the British government of the time to any who had converted to Islam. Seeing how the different individuals dealt with their situation was also really interesting. Some were unable to stop longing for home and the way things had been, others moved on quickly, and others gradually found themselves new lives. The treatment of the individuals as slaves was also enlightening, compared to the limited information I remember learning about slavery of black people brought to North America. 
This is a book that immerses you into another time and place thoroughly, and the stories draw you on, making me want to know more about what happened to the different people Kinsey portrays. 
A wonderful read!

Friday 23 June 2023

Belonging

Finished June 10
Belonging: The Paradox of Citizenship by Adrienne Clarkson

This set of essays / lectures was the CBC Massey Lecture series of 2014. The first essay talks about the circle we live in, with us at the center, widening to our immediate family, our community, and continuing. There was a line here that I found really spoke to me:
If we concern ourselves with the idea that we exist because others exist, that we are in a web of human relationships, then we understand our individualism in a different way from that of the solipsist. Individuals are no independent of each other. We have individual rights, but we also have duties to others
She goes on to look at this idea of circles in different cultures, from the North American indigenous cultures to the evolution of Eygalieres, a village in southern France, She refers to a 13th century experiment by the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II, who wanted to see what humans natural language was, without outside influence, but instead discovered that humans need the interplay of human contact to survive. She also talked about how we create identity, using the story of Martin Guerre as an example of recreating oneself.
The second essay begins with the idea of Greek democracy. Clarkson talks about the difference between acting as a private individual and acting in or for the state. The price of belonging to a state meant that a citizen's rights were subject to being taken away if the community felt its values or status were threatened. She notes that the Athenian rights were a privilege granted by their fellow citizens as a community. This leads to the freedom to speak, whether in the Athenian forum, in our own Parliament, or in other public venues. "At best, citizens belong to each other because they trust each other, and that trust is the key to all political functioning and fundamental to our modern notions of what a society can be." She emphasizes that Athenian democracy was not a utopia. Slavery was a reality, and women and men not born in Athens could not be citizens. One idea that I found important here was: 
To be able to belong and yet able to criticize -- to  disagree, to withdraw consent -- is quintessential to belonging, and it is a fundamental notion that has been carried down to modern times. But it must always be remembered that to subjugate all your selfhood, ideas, inclinations, and emotions in order to be part of a collective is not belonging. This kind of sacrifice to others in the group is conformity and, carried to an extreme, bondage. Belonging, in its truest sense, means understanding the nature of the connections between one another -- the very nature of interconnectedness. It can never mean dominance or submission.
She continues to the modern ideal of France with its "liberty, equality, and fraternity" and how the French Revolution influenced that. Quoting Edmund Burke who critiqued some of the worst aspects of that Revolution "liberty is secured by equality of restraint . . . another name for justice. Whenever a separation is made between liberty and justice, neither is . . . safe." Burke believed that when building a new society shouldn't start from nothing, but should take the best of the past as a foundation for the future. The good that came out of the revolution was the idea of personal responsibility. Clarkson talks about the differences between the ideas of citizenship in Athenian democracy and now in present day Canada. She ends with a quote from Margaret Laurence who urged us "to feel, in your heart's core, the reality of others." I really like that as a basis for living a good life, that we work for the benefit of and with the coordination with others. 
The third essay deals with the cosmopolitan ethic of belonging in Canada. From her own personal connection to the Chinese head tax, and about how it didn't fit with her experience. As she says, it isn't the laws that make you feel you belong, but the people. Whether they are people in your school, your work, the organizations you belong to, your neighbourhood, or even people you encounter more casually in the course of your day, it is these other people that make one feel a part of a larger group. She includes a 1913 photograph that states the duties of a citizen, one of which is to work for others and refers to the Icelandic Althing, where annually the citizens met to affirm the rights of all. Clarkson discusses the importance of public discourse, of listening to the ideas of other people, of engaging in conversations. In our private lives, we tend to seek out people like ourselves, who believe in similar things, and have the same experiences. Conversations that deal with larger societal issues can be difficult because they can touch emotions, make us feel threatened, or touch on deeply held beliefs. We must be able to have these conversations through seeking mutual understanding and hearing out the other person. This is something that is less common in our world. We don't do enough real listening and critical thinking about what we hear and read, about what our leaders say, and this idea leads to the importance of civic participation. She says "without every citizen's active participation in maintaining the public good, society cannot be expected to sustain the same benefits and freedoms." Democracy requires our ability to accept and include the Other. Democracy deals with obligations as well as rights. It requires us to be civil and treat each other with respect. Again, it comes down to the people. She also talks about volunteerism, and the large amount of this that we do in Canada. "We don't understand that as a society, we in Canada were always a poor country and that, to a large extent, that poverty created our national character." She compares us to our southern neighbour in terms of immigrants, beginning with terminology. Here we have the term "permanent residents" for those foreigners to come to live here after they've been here a certain amount of time, compared to the U.S. "resident aliens", and that in Canada 84% of immigrants become citizens, compared to 40% in the U.S. The period of engagement as future Canadian citizens work towards that goal is a key step in belonging. She talks about how we haven't until recently talked about much of our history that involved people who weren't white, but how important it is that we do. Clarkson came to Canada as a refugee, and she sees her determination to make this country home in the eyes and actions of later refugees from Roma to Somali people. 
The fourth essay is about ubuntu, a South African philosophy based on the concept that all humanity is connected, that the relationship between an individual and their community is interdependent and mutually beneficial. Clarkson begins with Canada's stance on South Africa's request to rejoin the Commonwealth in 1961, and the declaration that was made a requirement for membership. The South Africa of that time was one that had wandered away from the idea of ubuntu, an ancient value of African tribes. "Ubuntu implies seeing another human being as yourself and treating them as you would treat yourself, with love and respect." It is a way of making a deeper connection with those around us. Ubuntu isn't tied to religion or politics. Some religions have aspects that are similar, such as the Christian "love one another as we are loved by God," but the idea of ubuntu is often disparaged as simplistic and discarded in favour of economic philosophies and the emphasis on individual wants. She gives a lot of statistics on what Canadians believe about who can be a good citizen of our country, which is enlightening in its statements if not its practices. She talks about the failures of Canadians in terms of ubuntu, particularly when it comes to our indigenous peoples, but she also gives examples of where we have lived up to this idea.
The fifth essay touches on happiness, about how we treat people affects outcomes. Examples such as treating newcomers to Canada as if they will stay and become citizens leads to that happening most of the time, and the idea of acting "as if" is an important one in terms of creating happiness. She discusses Bhutan and its Gross National Happiness which is based on the Buddhist concept of interdependence. They believe that an ethical and moral life would bring genuine happiness, a happiness that is based on living well and acting well. There is also the idea of honour, and its ties to responsibility and a discussion of ethics: "to act ethically is to act outside of any expectation of reciprocity." Another part of gross national happiness is tolerance, which is something that has been a deep-rooted practice here at the human level, despite some of the official decrees. The fourth part is perseverance, which encourages us to think long-term. Some examples of this are the Manitoba Access Program and changes regarding our natural environment. When we harvest, we need to think about sustainability Clarkson says that Canada is a nation of immigrants, with a history that includes a collection of diverse traumas. Wherever we have come from, there were events that led us to this country, so the past matters, but it should not define our future. "A life defined by loss is not worth living." This discussion takes us back to the circle through the words of John Kelly who says the circle grows as "Canadians of all colours and religions are entering that circle" Clarkson ends with the idea of the paradox from the series title, that "we are most fully human, most truly ourselves, most authentically individual, when we commit to the community."
This is a book that I read slowly, stopping to think about the ideas raised and how they reflected in my own experiences. Definitely worth reading. 

Wednesday 21 June 2023

We Are Not Like Them

Finished June 9
We Are Not Like Them by Christine Pride and Jo Piazza

This novel is very interesting. Written by two women, black and white, about two women, black and white, who grew up as best friends, but now face a situation that threatens their friendship. 
The story is told in alternating voices by the two characters, beginning with Riley Wilson, a black television reporter in Philadelphia. Riley grew up in a supportive family, and is very close to her grandmother Gigi, who is now in hospital after a health incident. Riley often hears her grandmother's voice in her head, reminding her of things she's told her before, of live advice, of guidance in decisions that need to be made. Riley's story opens with one of these statements "You can't trust white people,' and yet we learn that Gigi was also close to Riley's best friend, Jen. Jen came into Riley's life when they were kids and Jen's mom Cookie dropped her at Sunshine Kids to get looked after while she was working. The two girls bonded quickly and have been there for each other when needed, although they've seen each other less as adults. 
Riley moved away to go to university and then for journalism jobs, but has recently moved back home and is hoping for a shot at the anchor position in the near future. 
Jen went straight into working after high school, mostly waitressing, but now works in a dental office. She married Kevin Wilson, who was in sales when she met and married him, but then decided to follow his father and brother into the police force. They've been trying to start a family for a while and Jen is well into her pregnancy this time. 
The act at the center of the story is told at the very beginning of the book, when fourteen-year-old, unarmed Justin Dwyer, a black kid, was shot by police officers, one of whom is Jen's husband Kevin. 
We see how each woman reacts to the story, how the community reacts and how Riley, Jen, Kevin, and others have choices to make along the way. 
This book is emotional and challenging, but it brings forward a lot of questions and issues that are ripe for discussion. Seeing how the two main characters navigate their way through this is enlightening. 
My copy included an interview with the authors that really added to the story, as well as discussion questions. This is definitely one that would be a great choice for book clubs. 

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett

Finished June 7
The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett by Annie Lyons

This is a very enjoyable read. The title character is in two timelines, both in London. One begins in World War II when she is a child and her father leaves for war. The other begins in the present day. Eudora is just turning eighty-five and she lives a lonely life. After a bad fall, she now walks with a cane and although she still goes for a swim most days, and Ruth, a social worker now comes to see her regularly, she and her cat Montgomery live a quiet life together. Eudora has recently sent away to Switzerland for information on booking a planned death.
Then, a new family moves in next door, and ten-year-old Rose Trewidney introduces herself into Eudora's life in a way that can't be denied, and soon Eudora is connecting with others in her neighbourhood as well. 
As we gradually see, from the earlier timeline, what events shaped Eudora, we see how those events now connect to her present and how she has created barriers to protect herself, but they have also prevented connections from forming. 
As she and Rose become friends and she shares more of her earlier life with her, and uses her experiences to help Rose face challenges of her own. She also begins to realize that her life has been a better one than she realized. 
This is a story with sad moments, but also joyful and amusing ones. Rose is a force to be reckoned with, and changes Eudora's life in subtle and interesting ways. 

Saturday 10 June 2023

You Lucky Dog

Finished June 4
You Lucky Dog by Julia London

This novel has quite a few interesting characters, some adorable dogs, and a lively romance.The novel opens with a dog walker, with his many dogs in tow getting arrested as he sells drugs to a undercover cop. The result of this is that the friend who returns the dogs to their homes makes a mistake. 
Carla Kennedy is a woman struggling to get her PR business off the ground. She only has two  clients, one of which is a young high maintenance but promising fashion designer, and the other is a deluded woodworker who isn't open to change. Her parents have recently divorced, her sister is a panicky mom to several hard to control children, and she's recently become the owner of a depressed basset hound named Baxter.
Max Sheffington is a university professor and neuroscientist who's been doing research on autism and dogs. He was drawn to the subject because of his younger brother Jamie, who is autistic. Max is up for tenure again this year, and could really use the extra research funding that change in status could bring. He has his own dog, a cheerful and well adjusted basset hound named Hazel. 
Carla finds the dog left at her house more energetic and curious than she is used to, and soon realizes that this is not her dog. She takes it along to her client meeting and the dog ends up in the fashion shoot. 
Max also realizes that the dog left at his home isn't his. He finds it staring into a corner, seemingly uninterested in anything his dog usually does. He works hard to get it interested and tries different foods to get it to eat. Max has a weekend trip planned with his brother and is getting desperate for a dog sitter
When the two finally connect, they realize that their dogs like each other A LOT, and they quickly agree to some meetups for the dogs to play together. Carly also agrees to take both dogs for Max's weekend away. 
As the two get to know each other, and what each other's personal situation is, they find themselves connecting in other ways. 
There is lots of adorable dog stuff happening, as well as interesting pieces of fashion, autistic research, and PR processes. I liked the touches of humour, and the way the two main characters developed over the course of the book. This is an engaging and uplifting read, with some surprises along the way. 

Friday 9 June 2023

The Wave in the Mind

Finished June 3
The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on The Writer, The Reader, and The Imagination by Ursula K. Le Guin

I've been reading this book slowly, savouring it. Le Guin was such a great writer, and this book has her not only writing, but talking about the process, the craft, and how reading is a relationship we have with a book. She also, naturally, talks about being a woman doing these things, and some of her writing in that area makes me think of Rebecca Solnit on that subject. 
The personal essays at the beginning of the book captured me and made me want to share them with a cousin that also enjoyed this author. She's so much funnier than I expected. The first piece, Introducing Myself, which was written to be performed, is absolutely wonderful. One quote: "As a matter of fact I think sex is even more boring as a spectator sport than all of the other spectator sports, even baseball."
Her second essay, Being Taken for Granite, has obvious humour right from the title and yet is thoughful and profound again right along with the humour. The next essay, Indian Uncles, gives some insight into her background and her parents, and the environment she grew up in. All of that is helpful in understanding in how she came to be the person she was. The essay My Libraries shows her feelings about libraries and what she values about them. She says a public library "must be available to all who need it, and that's everyone, when they need it, and that's always." The next piece is one she wrote for a magazine when she was asked to write about a favourite island. She had to think about it a while and finally chose Sauvie island on the Willamette river, where it enters the Columbia river. She gives some history of it, but talks about what makes it special and how it has, so far, defended itself against being spoiled in how it is used. The last essay in this section, called On the Frontier, was also written for a magazine, and talks about frontiers, physical and mental. 
The next section is called Reading and contains pieces about other writing, from Tolstoy to Borges to Mark Twain. I enjoyed her insights into these authors and their writing. There is also a very interesting piece in this section on rhythm in writing, both in poetry and in prose, and another about rhythmic patterns in the Lord of the Rings books. She also has a piece about reading poetry out loud, and I always like to read poetry out loud if I can, so that really connected with me. 
The third section of the book is called Discussions and Opinions. Many of the pieces here also touch on reading and writing. The first essay looks at narrative and the differences in fiction and nonfiction. The next piece was one that discussed awards and gender and started with an experience where a jury that consisted of three women initially picked only women  for the short list, and the discussion and actions that followed that. This experience drove her to amass some statistics on literary awards and the results were quite eye-opening. This naturally led into the theme of the next essay which looked at genetic determinism and a critique of the naturalist E.O. Wilson and his writing. The next essay talked about feet, and what we do to our feet in the name of beauty. Again, some thoughtful ideas emerged here. This was followed by another essay that touched on ideas of beauty, this time about pets (dogs and cats) and dancers. This essay talked about how we see ourselves and the beauty we see in those we care about that isn't what people who don't know them see. The essay that followed this one, again talked about beauty, and connected it back to the idea of rhythm, both in writing and music, and that made me think of these things differently. This is followed by the essay Telling is Listening, a discussion of communication. Not just communication between people, but also other creatures, and in indirect ways. She talks about conversation and how reading differs from watching television in that it is a conversation of sorts. She uses a lot of examples when she does this and that helps clarify what she is saying and making it understandable to the reader in real ways. The essay The Operating Instructions talks about literature is the guide to life, a manual on it for those that pay attention.The last essay in this section is a collection of thoughts on oppression, revolution, and imagination, grouped into themes. This essay is named from a quote by Primo Levi where he says "It is the duty of righteous men to make war on all undeserved privilege, but one must not forget that this is a war without end."
The final section of the book is one writing and includes talks that she has given when teaching writing, whether in classes or workshops. There are many things she brings into these discussions: trust, the writer's relationship with their characters, assumptions that writers make about their future readers, and the issues that accompany ego for a writer. She also has a piece dealing with that common question writers get about where they get their ideas from. This essay had a few paragraphs that really connected for me:
    Reading is active. To read a story is to participate actively in the story. To read is to tell the story, tell it to yourself, reliving it, rewriting it with the author, word by word, sentence by sentence, chapter by chapter.... If you want proof, just watch an eight-year-old reading a story she likes. She is concentratedly, tensely, fiercely alive. She is as intense as a hunting cat. She is a tiger eating.
    Reading is a most mysterious act. It absolutely has not been replaced and will not be replaced by any kind of viewing. Viewing is an entirely different undertaking, with different rewards.
    A reader reading makes the book, brings it into meaning, by translating arbitrary symbols, printed letters, into an inward, private reality. Reading is an act, a creative one. Viewing is relatively passive. A viewer watching a film does not make the film. To watch a film is to be taken into it -- to participate in it -- be made part of it. Absorbed by it. Readers eat books. Film eats viewers. 

As an avid reader, that really made sense to me. Later in the same essay she quotes Virginia Woolf about the need to feel the rhythm in a story to write well, and it is from this quote the she gets the title of this book. Woolf says "A sight, an emotion, creates this wave in the mind, long before it makes words to fit it; and in writing (such is my present belief) one has to recapture this, and set this working (which apparently had nothing to do with words) and then, as it breaks and tumbles in the mind, it makes words to fit it."
In the following essay she talks about the impulse to write and how writing comes to her. The last piece is a long poem about writing, which I read several times, getting more from it every instance. 
An amazing book. I borrowed this one to read, but have now ordered my own copy. 


Unprintable

Finished June 2
Unprintable by Julie Kaewert

This is the third book in A Booklover's Mystery series, but the first that I've read. Set around the small publishing house of Plumtree Press, the publisher Alex Plumtree is well-connected and carrying on the family business after the relatively recent deaths of his parents. He is also looking forward to his upcoming wedding, while his fiancee is on a photo shoot in Switzerland. 
The time is just before Britain joined the European Union, and there are political arguments going on around that with some less than truthful messaging as well. 
Alex's connections mean that the Prime Minister was an acquaintance of his father's and so when he gets called in by one of the Ministers to meet with him and the Prime Minister, it is unexpected, but it isn't totally unlikely. 
They ask him to do them a favour and publish a controversial novel, while not making it known that it's a favour to them. After some hesitation, he agrees to do both a trade version and a collector's edition. The collector's edition will be done with a local specialty printer, a woman he's worked with before, and will be done on a short timeline to come out before the upcoming general election.
As soon as word gets out about the publishing deal, things begin to get dicey. Alex is slapped with a lawsuit, phones and offices are bugged, some of his own staff are decidedly unhappy with him, proof copies go missing, and threats are made against both him and his local printer. When things escalate to murder and property damage, Alex finds himself in far more of a difficult situation than he ever anticipated, and begins to wonder who is behind all the threats and violence. 
The book is fast-moving with lots of action, and some interesting characters. I particularly liked the female printer and would have liked to see more of her. This is in the genre of cosy mystery with the amateur detective of Plumtree, and a bit more violence that a cosy often has. 

Tuesday 6 June 2023

Standing in the Shadows

Finished May 31
Standing in the Shadows by Peter Robinson

This is the 28th book in the series featuring Inspector Banks. Set in Yorkshire, this series always brings in some of the author's own interests, like music. 
This one starts at an archeological dig when a woman hoping for Roman artifacts finds bones much closer to the surface than she expected to find anything. The dig is located in a farmer's field that has been requisitioned by the government for a new highway access and amenity location. 
As Banks works with experts to identify the few traces located with the bones, and figure out a time period to look at, he finds himself and his team finding a link to a retired police officer, and an earlier crime. 
There is also a secondary timeline that begins in late 1980 when university student Nick Hartley is part of an investigation into a female university student who was found murdered. Nick is looking for answers himself and is confused and disappointed when his efforts seem to be dismissed by the police. As he moves forward into life after his studies, he finds his questioning nature helpful in his new career as a journalist. 
As the characters from the two timelines intersect, we see how the earlier crime was treated and how the later one resolves many questions. 
The music is one way that Banks relaxes, and here he has inherited a collection of old albums that he has to make room for and that the book mentions some of. 
I always enjoy seeing the various recurring police officers as well, and several show up here. 
Given that Robinson died in October 2022, I'm not sure whether we'll see any more of this series, which is a shame. He was a fantastic storyteller. 

June Reviews for 16th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

Post your reviews for books that you finished in June. 

Because this is the last month of the challenge, I will leave the link up until the middle of July so that you have time to wrap up your reviews. 

I hope you found lots of interesting Canadian authors to read, as I did. See you soon for year 17. 



Friday 2 June 2023

Lessons in Chemistry

Finished May 28
Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I started this book months ago but kept setting it aside as it is so good I didn't want it to end. The ending is satisfying though, so I feel good about finishing it now. The novel takes place in the early 1960s in small town southern California, but the story reaches back further. While it starts with an incident in 1961 that has Elizabeth meeting Walter Pine and thus setting off a new career in television for her, we quickly jump back ten years earlier when Elizabeth Zott, a chemist at Hastings Research Institute met Calvin Evans, one of the head research chemists there. 
Seeing how the two met gives an insight into how chemistry both in the scientific sense and in the sense of human attraction is at play here. Elizabeth is a feminist because she's had to be to get as far as she has, dealing with multiple barriers along the way. 
We see her dysfunctional childhood, the loneliness of her life, and her drive for science. As we get to know Calvin, we find he has also had a difficult childhood and has had to make his own way through similar efforts to those of Elizabeth. However, because he is a man, one he proved his intelligence, it all became much easier. 
As they grow closer, we see how in some ways he makes things easier for Elizabeth, supporting her research, ensuring she has the supplies she needs, and in others making things harder because now she has been labelled as a woman who is sleeping her way to job success. 
When things go wrong and Elizabeth is left to fend for herself as a single mother and she struggles to support herself, her daughter Amelia, and their dog Six-Thirty. Six-Thirty had found Elizabeth and claimed her and they bonded quickly. 
There is so much in this book: love and loss; the fight for sexual equality, the subtle acts that work away at a person just trying to live their life. I loved this book so much. 

Unscripted

Finished May 28
Unscripted by Davis Bunn

This fast-moving novel is set around the California movie industry. There are two main characters that we get to see the thoughts of. One of them is Danny Byrd, a line producer who has a good reputation for getting things done on schedule. The other is Los Angeles lawyer Megan Pierce who has been working with a entertainment law firm, working long hours and putting up with a lot of abuse as she's developed a lot of experience. 
As the book opens, Danny is in jail. John Rexford, aka Johnny Rocket, Danny's partner in business and friend since childhood has seeming left town with the investment money for their latest production. Due to Danny's trust, he also had access to Danny's personal accounts and cleaned them out as well. Without access to funds, Danny has relied on a court-appointed lawyer to this point and his outlook isn't hopeful. But as he gets called to meet with someone unexpectedly, he finds he has a new lawyer, paid for by someone who has chosen to remain anonymous, and she is working with another law firm that seems to have a different atmosphere from the L.A. based ones. 
As Danny finds his feet and jumps at a new chance to make a film to get a fresh start, he finds both old friends in the industry who are still willing to support him, and new ones in Solvang, the small town he finds himself based out of. 
This is a story of fresh starts for not only the two main characters, but also others, like the Emma Sturgis who is still mourning the loss of her father. 
This novel had me caring about the characters and wanting to know what happened with all of them. I also enjoyed the setting of Solvang and the community that came together there. A great read.