Wednesday, 19 October 2016

An Officer and a Spy

Finished October 19
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris

This historical novel follows the Dreyfus affair from the viewpoint of Colonel Georges Picquart. As the affair begins Picquart is a professor at the school training officers and he is brought in unofficially as a watcher at the court. As he reports that the case looks to be failing, the government introduces a secret dossier of documents that "proves the guilt" of Dreyfuss that the defence has no access to. The case is thus decided without fair hearing. Shortly afterward Picquart is put in charge of intelligence. As he follows leads on possible espionage and tries to find a place with his staff, he never really fits in, and begins to mistrust the integrity of some staff members. As he looks deeper and gains access to the secret dossier of the Dreyfuss case, he finds that there has been a grand miscarriage of justice. At first he tries to work within the system, going to his superiors and laying out the evidence, but as it becomes clear that not only isn't this of interest to them, but that they will go to extreme measures to prevent him reopening the case, he finds he must go outside the army to get justice.
This is a tale of an officer, loyal to the army he has made a career in, and a man of integrity. He risks his own career and life, and when the army gets personal in its attack, he gets serious about digging in his heels to take the case to its final result.
The history is widely known, but Harris takes us inside the organization that made it, the army. He takes us inside the experience of a key player in the story, and he has definitely done his research on the facts, using newly available material to bring the story alive for the reader.
A fantastic read, that got me thinking about how little has changed from then to today in terms of government organizations hiding truths and facts for their own ends. In particular, the Snowden case, still unresolved, has elements in common with this.

Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys

Finished October 18
Cecily G. and the 9 Monkeys by H.A. Rey

As the cover indicates, this is the first book that Curious George appeared in. It was first published in France in 1939 as Rafi et les 9 Singes, and in England as Raffy and the Nine Monkeys. When the author and his wife fled France in June 1940, they went to New York and there they published the first Curious George book in 1941, followed by the newly titled reprint of this book.
In this book, all the characters are animals, and Cecily the giraffe is lonely as all her friends and family have been taken away to zoos. George, his siblings, and his mother are looking for a new home as the forest they lived in was cut down. As the animals find each other and play together, it is George's mother Madame Pamplemoose who is the adult figure, stopping the monkeys when Cecily is being taken advantage of too much, or when she finds the games too dangerous.
It is definitely a book of its time, and I found many of the monkey games had Cecily as a prop rather than a participant.
The afterword by Louise Borden is interesting as it gives a short biography of Rey and his wife and the books.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

The Scoundrel

Finished October 12
The Scoundrel by Lisa Plumley

This light historical romance was an enjoyable read. Set in 1882 in the town of Morrow Creek in Arizona Territory, local blacksmith Daniel McCabe is in no hurry to settle down. He likes flirting with the ladies and the bachelor life. Local schoolteacher Sarah Crabtree is considered the most level-headed of the three Crabtree sisters and she leads an active outdoor life as well as teaching the local children. She and Daniel have been friends since childhood, but she's always harbored secret romantic feelings for him. When Daniel's young nephew Eli arrives on a train from the east to stay with him, he suddenly finds himself unequipped to provide a stable home environment for him and looks for a quick solution. When he proposes a marriage of convenience to Sarah, she can't believe it, and agrees before she considers the ramifications.
As Sarah adjusts her expectations and Daniel adjusts to his new domestic life, lives change, and dreams give way to realities.
Fun characters make this book an easy read.

Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd

Finished October 11
Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle

Flavia is back home in England, but things are not the same. When she arrives home, Dogger meets her at the ship, but at home no one is there to welcome her. Her father is sick with pneumonia in hospital. Too sick for visitors she is told although she yearns to see him. Her oldest sister Ophelia is having relationship issues, and her young cousin Undine is an interesting character addition.
Flavia still relies on her bicycle Gladys to get around between home and the village of Bishop Lacey, and on an errand for Cynthia, the vicar's wife, she discovers a dead body in peculiar circumstances. As she is alone and not pressed for time, she takes the time for a careful inspection of the body and its environs, both of which will help her as she works toward the solution to this crime.
Twice Flavia ventures up to London in search of information, and one of her Canadian friends assists her on that end of things, providing some adult guidance and expertise in some areas.
Flavia also makes use of the telephone to gather information using subterfuge to deal with suspected eavesdroppers. Flavia has matured some here. She is less likely to blurt things out, thinks about how others may react to what she says, and generally is more polite in company than she was previously. She is also more independent, perhaps gained confidence from her solo sojourn to Canada in the previous book.
Things are changing in Flavia's life, and as Dogger says early in the book, not necessarily for the better. I look forward to seeing how Flavia deals with the new challenges this book leaves her with.

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Memoirs of a Mongol without a Pony

Finished October 11
Memoirs of a Mongol without a Pony by R. G. Stern

This memoir was dictated to his father by Shane Stern, a man born with Down's Syndrome. Shane tells us his life story from his earliest memories in Florida through moves to Minneapolis, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and most recently Tucson. Shane is a happy person, looking for things that interest him, and game for a try at most activities. His mother is an artist, and his father a doctor, and through them he has been exposed to many wonderful opportunities to meet a range of people. But Shane is also a friendly and outgoing person unafraid of strangers, approaching each of them as a potential friend. From a young age, he was interested in sports, spending hours engaged in physical activity such as basketball, swimming, and gymnastics, giving him an interest in others engaged in the same activities. He analyzes activities and figures out for himself the best way to go about doing them for himself, from bowling to sweeping. He is a particular fan of the Temple basketball team, and has a longstanding superfan notoriety with them. He also is non judgemental, expecting people to behave well, and thus often leading them to behaviour well. However, he is capable of mischief, and has a fondness for swearing, along with a good sense of humour.
He makes friends wherever he goes from inner city schools to sports events to art galleries. He looks for the fun in life and therefore usually finds some. I like his attitude.
His life story, thus far, is filled with wonderful friends, a vast array of experiences others would envy, and love and caring from friends and family.

Monday, 10 October 2016

A Climate of Fear

Finished October 10
A Climate of Fear by Fred Vargas, translated by Siân Reynolds

Commissaire Adamsberg is back, and this time the case reaches into the past and outside France. Another police inspector, Commissaire Bourlin, calls Adamsberg to see if one of his officers, Danglard can have a look at a symbol that was left at the scene of an apparent suicide. There are some things about the scene that don't seem right, and a small symbol drawn at the scene may be a clue to what really happened to Alice Gauthier.
She had a visitor shortly before her death and her insistence on venturing out alone to send a letter may be another clue. Adamsberg is intrigued and agrees that things don't look right. When they identify her visitor and go to see him, things get even more worrisome. Alice and her visitor's mother were both part of a group of French people who went to a remote island in Iceland and underwent some sort of harrowing experience when fog trapped them there for two weeks.
Adamsberg begins investigating this trip and the terrible things that happened there, when another death links the victims to a different group of circumstances, one moored in the revolutionary past. As usual, Adamsberg lets his mind direct his case, following his thoughts and the "itch" that keeps him from settling into the case. But not all his team are with him and as the team diverges, he and Danglard grow apart.
We get to see him interact with the different team members in new ways. Veyrenc, Retancourt, Voisenet, Mordent, Justin, and the others all play important roles as does Adamsberg's neighbour Lucio.
I like Adamsberg's thought processes, how he takes his time and lets his thoughts wander, how he uses quiet to bring ideas out of hiding. He is a complex man, imperfect, yet with excellent instincts. A man who observes carefully, and knows his own weaknesses as well as his strengths.


Finished October 3
Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer

This novel begins just after the death of Bradley Hawthorne, husband of Char and father of Allie. Char gave up a fulfilling career as a journalism professor in Washington, D.C. when she met Bradley, moving to small town Michigan. Allie has been living most of the year with Bradley and Char, with brief visits to her mother Lindy in California. Now Char realizes that she has no legal parental rights with Allie, despite being one of her primary parents. Char has always been careful not to tread into Lindy's role as mother, and she doesn't know what to do to keep Allie living with her.
Allie takes seriously a role she herself stepped into as a tutor to a younger, troubled girl, Morgan. She meets Morgan formally once a week for sessions, but also has taken on the role of big sister to the girl. Morgan's parents are also dealing with some health issues for their younger child, Stevie.
As Char and Allie walk carefully into their new roles with each other, they are waiting for Lindy to make a definitive move. With Morgan's problems escalating, a move by Morgan's parents creates a crisis for Allie and Char, once that will have lasting changes to their lives.
This is a story today's complex families, with step parents, foster parents, adoptive parents, and friends and other family members complicating the family dynamic. When things are going well, everyone gets along, but when things aren't going well, power and feelings take on deciding roles that may not always look out for the best interests of all family members.
This is a story of families in all their complexity, with the mixed up feelings that go along with that. We are all human and some of us become stronger with adversity. Char and Allie are ones that become stronger, but it takes them awhile to figure out their new relationship and realize all they have to lose.