Tuesday, 29 April 2008


Finished April 29
Losing You by Nicci French
This is a book that is hard to put down (of course, the fact that there are no chapters adds to the difficulty). The plot moves along, fast and unforgiving and you move with it. Nina is recently divorced, and today on her fortieth birthday she and her two children are supposed to be leaving for Heathrow and from there to Florida. Her daughter, Charlie, is fifteen and hasn't come home from the sleepover she was at last night. Something about the situation just feels wrong to Nina, and she calls the police. They are wont to dismiss it as a simple runaway situation, but Nina knows there is more to it. As she relentlessly tracks down where Charlie has been and what she has and hasn't done, she must also fight the police tendency to bureaucracy and statistics. Nina is a mother who knows her daughter less than she thought, but more than others believe and she fights against time to find out what has happened.
I spent pretty much all Monday evening engrossed in this book, reluctantly going to bed at a decent hour and finished it this morning. The pace of the plot is quick and left me feeling almost breathless. Nina is a great character as well. A great read.

Sunday, 27 April 2008

Action-packed teen read

Finished April 27

Gone by Michael Grant

This book starts with a school setting, where everyone fourteen or older has suddenly disappeared. As the students try to come to terms with this, they also discover that cellphones and landlines no longer work, computers work but cannot access the internet, they have no television or radio. Essentially, they have lost contact with the world. A group of three young people, Sam, his best friend Quinn, and advanced student Astrid team up to go to each of their houses to check on their families. Astrid is worrying about her four-year-old autistic brother Peter. They find no adults anywhere. Cars have crashed, children are without parents. As the three explore they find a barrier wall around them that they cannot get through. They are cut off from the outside world.

Sam is a natural leader and begins to take charge, but other alliances also arise. There is a group of bullies that band together to try to control everyone, and then a group of students from the nearby private school arrives and takes charge.

The story also follows a young woman who is driving with her grandfather in the hills outside of town when the disappearing takes place. The truck crashes and she is left hurt, with her dog guarding her.

Other changes also become apparent. Some of the children have powers that appear to defy science, and animals appear that have mutant features. The kids struggle to figure out what is happening and keep each other safe.

This is an engrossing read, and the ending leaves an obvious opening for a sequel.

Thriller with a different point of view

Finished April 27
The Killer's Wife by Bill Floyd
This story has a very different scenario from any I've read before. The main character, Leigh, is the ex-wife of a man who is a convicted serial killer. After she gave him up to the police, she got a divorce, changed her name and moved across the country. Now, a member of one of the victim's families has tracked her down and made her identity known.
As Leigh struggles with her past come back to haunt her, she reflects on life with her husband and the guilt she feels about his deeds.
She must also deal with the reaction of those around her and her son. As she gets drawn into the past, she must also deal with a new killer who is replicating her husband's methods and, it seems, focusing on her.
Lots of suspense, good writing around the emotions of the ex-wife, and a good plot.

Saturday, 26 April 2008

Humour in the Workplace

Finished April 25
The Levity Effect: Why It Pays to Lighten Up by Adrian Gostick and Scott Christopher
This book promotes having fun and work, and offers up the research to support its platform. The authors show how the right kind of levity can increase productivity, improve communication, foster creativity, increase trust, have a positive effect on health, and better the bottom line. To get you started down the road to fun, the authors also provide some ideas on ideas that have worked. The ideas come from real-life examples and while not all are appropriate for all workplaces, there should be something that you can comfortably try in yours. They help you with arguments in favour of fun, citing the research that has already been done. They also urge you to take this fun attitude home to improve the environment there as well as relations with your family. Some great ideas are given, but the best part is the consolidation of the research on this aspect of the workplace. So get out there and lighten up at work!

Latest Nevada Barr

Finished April 25
Winter Study by Nevada Barr
This is the first instance where Barr has revisited a National Park in her Anna Pigeon series. Here, Anna returns to Isle Royale in Lake Superior off the coast of Minnesota. This story is set in winter, around the real-life study of wolves on the island. Anna has accepted this opportunity to be part of the study as she knows that wolves will be a future consideration at her park in the Rockies. This year the study has a couple of government-chosen observers as Homeland Security is moving to open the park in winter as part of their border patrol against terrorism. If the park is opened in winter, the winter study of wolves will be shut down, and the park employees and scientists are fighting to prove that the study is still offering valuable information. However, it would appear this year that the wolves are behaving oddly, showing less fear of humans. As the group tries to figure out what is going on, people's fears began to surface. When a female member of the team is savaged by wolves the danger becomes personal and Anna finds herself fighting to save her own skin.
As usual, lots of action, drama and personal agendas going on. I read it almost nonstop, and enjoyed it thoroughly.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008


Finished April 23
Before Green Gables by Budge Wilson
I've been a huge Anne of Green Gables fan since I was a kid, visiting the tourist centre in PEI on a summer vacation once and buying all the books, so I was eager to read this.
The book includes references made in LM Montgomery's books to Anne's earlier life, and had a number of interesting episodes. However it just didn't do it for me. That said, the author didn't try to copy Montgomery's style, which is probably good, and yet that may be why it didn't feel a part of the whole to me. Prequels are always difficult anyway, and when written by someone other than the original writer, the difficulty only increases.
The story was interesting, and there were many good characters, although they aren't written as deeply as I would have hoped. I think that fan's of Anne will still find it an enjoyable read, and it offers a interesting idea of how Anne's personality began.

Friday, 18 April 2008

Great mystery

Finished April 18
The Calling by Inger Ash Wolfe
This is supposed to be the first in a series of books featuring DI Hazel Micallef, of the Port Dundas, Ontario police. In this book, she has been acting head for a few years as the powers that be have delayed replacing the head for her detachment. She is divorced and her mother, the former mayor, lives with her.
When a elderly woman in the community is found murdered Hazel is faced with the most difficult case she has ever had. When they begin to find links to cases elsewhere in Canada, she faces a decision whether to forge ahead in order to keep from alerting the killer or to involve other police forces. The relationship between her and the other police staff is done very well, as is the relationship between her and her mother, Emily.
Hazel is also suffering from back pain, and that reflects on her ability to function. She has a lot of faults, that make the character more realistic.
The author is writing under a pseudonym and as I write this, we do not know who they are. The publicity states: "a well-known North American writer". I would hazard a guess that he/she is Canadian, and either living in, or familiar with Ontario. It will be interesting to see who it is.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Orange Prize

The shortlist has been announced:

The Guardian has an article about the choices.

The Outcast by Sadie Jones
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O'Neill
Lottery by Patricia Wood
When We Were Bad by Charlotte Mendelson
The Road Home by Rose Tremain
Fault Lines by Nancy Huston

Tuesday, 15 April 2008

Very Different Mystery

Finished April 15
Go With Me by Castle Freeman Jr.
This is a very odd, but engaging book. It is short, only 160 pages, filled with dark humour, and gave me a sense of the existential. Set in the New England backwoods, it begins with a young woman asleep in her car, armed with a paring knife, waiting for the sheriff to arrive at work.
She is being stalked by a local man, and is afraid for her life. The sheriff tells her that he can't help her, but directs her to a group of men who congregate at a nearby factory. There, she is joined by two men, one young and one old in her uncertain cause. As the three roam the area searching for her victimizer, we move back and forth between the three searchers and the men at the factory. The odd, disjointed conversations and reminiscences of the men add to the strange atmosphere present throughout the tale. The actions and attitudes of Lester and Nate, the two men who are searching for Blackway are both offhand and deliberate. This book is different from any other book I can think of, but I couldn't put it down!

Fictional Memoir

Finished April 14
A Partisan's Daughter by Louis de Bernieres
This is a wonderful little book about the relationship between two people who encounter each other on the street and begin meeting to talk. Over the period of time that they meet, Chris imagines that he falls in love with Roza, but is not completely sure. Roza, in turn, grows fond of Chris as well.
When Chris, bored and feeling estranged from his wife, spots Roza standing on the street, he thinks she is a hooker and propositions her. Roza corrects him on his impression, but gets in his car anyway and asks for a lift home.
As they meet repeatedly, sitting in the kitchen of Roza's dilapadated home, Roza tells Chris the stories that lead to her present life. The point of view goes back and forth between the two, but the reader is never sure whether Roza is telling the truth or not. Chris gullibly believes it all, and makes the stories part of his own memory. They come to depend on each other more than they realize and, as with so many relationships based on stories, create their own images of each other.
I found it an engrossing story with lots of human interest and two very interesting characters.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Poetry Anthology

Finished April 11
101 Poems that could save your life: an anthology of emotional first aid
edited by Daisy Goodwin
This is a small collection of poems organized by theme for those life moments when we can all use a lift, a laugh, or a step back. Topics include everythings from Bad Hair Day to When You Lose Your Pet, and many things in between.
I found several old friends and made some new ones.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Second in a Series

Finished April 11
Crazy School by Cornelia Read
This is the second book featuring Madeline Dare. Madeline and her husband Dean have left Syracuse for a town in the Berkshire Mountains in Massachusetts. When the job that Dean came to do was delayed, Madeline took a job at a school for troubled youth. The rules surrounding both faculty and students at the school are bizarre, and Madeline finds the staff more troubling than the students. When Madeline tries to help the students in ways that are not necessarily those of the school, she finds herself targeted.
Given some of the stories in the news recently around private boarding schools, this plotline doesn't seem that much of a stretch. I loved the Madeline Dare character in her first book and continue to be a fan. She has an interesting background and a strong relationship with her husband and yet is very human.
I look forward to seeing more of her.

Children's Fiction

Finished April 11
100 Days and 99 Nights by Alan Madison
This novel features Esme a second-grader whose father is a career soldier. The title refers to the length of a tour of duty, which Esme's father goes away on for a good portion of the book. Esme is a cute little girl, with the usual sibling issues with her younger brother Ike, a good attitude about school and friends and a zoo of stuffed animals.
The chapters are named for the stuffed animals alphabetically and include the story of how each was added to her collection. The book gives a glimpse of the life of a armed forces child and shows positive family situations.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

Short Fiction

Finished April 10
Salt River by James Sallis
This lovely piece of fiction reads like poetry to me. So much is intimated at rather than spoken and yet is understood. The genre label on the back says this is mystery, but I would not describe it as such. There are some things that happen that the main character, Turner, feels are linked, and he is able to show how by the end, but that never seems to be the main focus of the book. I loved the nature that pervades the book and yet it was definitely not a gentle presence here. There is much loss here and yet despite all the 'getting over things' that the characters have to do, the book is hopeful. As one of the characters says at the book's end, "I am crying because the world is so beautiful".

Wednesday, 9 April 2008

Nobel Prize winner

Finished April 9
Detective Story by Imre Kertesz, translated from the Hungarian by Tim Wilkinson
This is a short but chilling piece of fiction by an extremely talented writer.
The story is told by Martens, a man in prison. Martens was previously an inspector (aka torturer) in the secret police of a recently overturned dictatorship. He tells the story of a particular case: the surveillance, arrest, torture, and assassination of Federigo and Enrique Salinas, father and son. The voice of Martens is very neutral, except for those moments when he excuses his actions or inactions by saying he was the 'new boy' at the time. It appears to be his way of distancing himself from his role. I could see, in the final pages, the obvious reference to the present. It is a warning of where the path could lead.

Short Stories

Finished April 9
The People on Privilege Hill and other stories by Jane Gardam
I've loved Jane Gardam as a writer since I was first introduced to her at the age of sixteen, by a cousin I was visiting. This story collection is no exception.
I think her characters are all very realistic and I can connect to them easily. Here the title story has characters from her last novel, Old Filth, which was an unexpected delight.
The stories range wildly in situation, characters and setting, but all have a casual tone to them, a bit of the everyday even when something in the story changes lives.
I think one of my favourites in this collection is Snap, in which a woman, married thirty years to the only man she's ever had sex with, breaks her ankle in the ensuite bathroom of a hotel she stays at with her lover. Gardam has many great stories here though and I plan to revisit them soon.

Monday, 7 April 2008

To Be Canadian

Finished April 7
The Unfinished Canadian: The People We Are by Andrew Cohen
This is one of the shortlisted books for the Evergreen award. Cohen is a well-known journalist and he has researched his topic well. He looks at the Canadian identity: historical, mythical and realistic and makes suggestions for the future.
He draws on the writing of many others who have looked at this perpetual question, both Canadians and observers of Canada. He discusses our dismaying lack of knowledge of our own history, and how little we are required to learn of it.
He talks about our relationship with our neighbour to the south and how we like to deny the similarities we have. Yes, we do have differences, but we also are more similar to them than we are to any other nation. He includes our reputation for doing good, but also shows that, as a country we have done and could do much better. There is much to think about here, and a challenge for use to improve for the future.
We are, as he says, yet unfinished and have so much potential.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

IMPAC Dublin Book Awards

The short list has been announced:

The Speed of Light by Javier Cercas (Spanish)
The Sweet and Simple Kind by Yasmine Gooneratne (Sri Lankan)
de Niro's Game by Rawi Hage (Lebanese Canadian)
Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones (Australian)
Let It Be Morning by Sayed Kashua (Israeli)
The Attack by Yasmina Khadra (Algerian) [I've read this]
The Woman Who Waited by Andrei Makine (Russian)
Winterwood by Patrick McCabe (Irish)

I've read only one of them so far, so the list grows again.

Feel Good Novel

Finished April 2
The Best of Good by Sara Lewis
Tom Good is 47, a bartender who plays guitar, writing songs for himself and living in the same small apartment that he's lived in for years. Tom's life was heavily influenced by his older brother's death at 17.
When Diana, an old girlfriend, returns to town, Tom learns that she has a son who looks a lot like him. As Tom tries to come to terms with this information he begins to look at his life as others might see it, and becomes more interested in it himself.
This tale is very character-driven and we see Tom, who has been locked in a sort of limbo for years, grow into the person he should have become earlier. There is poignancy and humour and we feel for Tom as he cautiously makes contact with the people around him.

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

Foster Child Memoir

Finished March 30
Hope's Boy by Andrew Bridge
This memoir is from the former CEO/General Counsel of The Alliance for Children's Rights. Bridge was born into poverty, and lived first with his grandmother and then with his mother in extreme poverty. When his mother began to struggle with mental health issues, he was removed from her and placed first in institutional care, and then in foster care. His story as he learns to survive in all his environments shows how he clung to the love he was offered by his mother and grandmother through all the difficult years that followed. From the descriptions of how the social system failed his family, and how many of the people around them showed no concern, this memoir is open and honest. Bridge was not a perfect child, and he doesn't claim that he was, but he shows how he learned the system and did what he had to in order to get out of that system.