Thursday, 30 October 2008

Western Canadian Fiction

Finished October 29
Crown Shyness by Curtis Gillespie
A unique take on the politics of Canada in novel form, the book takes a political magazine journalist as its central character. Paul Munk is liberal-minded and socially conscious. He is writing an article for the magazine he works for on a man trying for leadership of a right-leaning party. Daniel Code is a former pastor and an advocate of the religious right, with views that Paul finds himself constantly surprised by.
Paul's older brother, Rick, has just got out of jail after serving a second time. While in jail, Rick was corresponding with Tammy over a long period of time and the two plan to live together now that he is out.
Paul wants to be there for Rick should he need any help, but Rick doesn't always want the help Paul tries to offer. As the two brothers adjust to each other and the rest of their family, we see rifts in both the family and the wider political community.
This is an interesting tale with a lot of angles to it, taking us from Calgary to the backwoods of Montana.
I also found some of the Calgary scenes interesting on the personal level, as Paul's family lives in the northwest of the city in the area of Nose Hill Park, an area that I lived in as a child.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Story of a Soldier

Finished October 28
The Long Walk Home by Liane Fulder
This book is the story of Paul Franklin, a Canadian soldier injured in Afghanistan who lost both his legs. The story covers Paul's time in Afghanistan just before the incident that injured him and the experiences of Paul, his wife Audra, and their son Simon following Paul's injuries.
Paul and his family made themselves very accessible to the media throughout and continue to be open about their experiences. Fulder has brought the story together here, to see how one soldier and his family were affected by the war.
The story definitely has interested, but I felt that the author moved around in time too much and that made the story lose its flow and therefore its intensity. There were also errors with dating at least one of the photos included and I felt that a significant error to the reader.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Dependable Author

Finished October 26
Silks by Dick Francis and Felix Francis
As expected this book was a great read. The main character, Geoffrey Mason is a barrister who rides as an amateur jockey on his own horse, a jumper. Due to his occupation, some acquaintances call him Perry. He has recently served as the defendant's lawyer over a case where the man was accused of beating up a man who complained about his behaviour. The man was found guilty, and Mason thinks he probably was, but the man isn't happy and threatens Mason with what will happen to him after he gets out. As it turns out, that happens a lot sooner than Mason expects.
Meanwhile a jockey that Mason is acquainted with is murdered, and another jockey he knows is arrested for the crime. The jockey charged with the crime wants Mason to represent him, and Mason is reluctant at first, but when he starts getting intimidating threats he gets his back up.
There is violence, intrigue and, of course, an interesting woman.
What more could you want?

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Canadian Fiction

Finished October 26
A Sharp Intake of Breath by John Miller
This novel follows the life of a Jewish man, Herbert "Toshy" Wolfman. Toshy was born with a cleft palate and a cleft life in the first decade of the twentieth century in Toronto. At the age of five, his parents have saved enough money to pay for the operation to fix his palate. He does not get his cleft lip operated on until he is an adult.
Toshy's parents own and operate a fabric business. He has two older sisters, Bessie and Lil. Lil is interested in the anarchist movement, and particularly of Emma Goldman. Bessie eventually becomes a maid in the house of industrialist Rupert McNabb and his wife. Rupert has bought the Orange Sunset diamond for his wife, and Toshy is jailed for theft of this jewel.
As Toshy tells the story of his life, his insecurities, his loneliness, he also tells his sisters' stories and enlightens his grandnephew Ari.
I found the jumping around in time a bit confusing at first, but it began to flow quickly and Toshy's story is a compelling one. Some people have taken his facial deformity to indicate stupidity, even some in his own family, and he must learn to trust his own instincts on his capabilities.

Saturday, 25 October 2008


Finished October 25
Can't Remember What I Forgot: the good news from the front lines of memory research by Sue Halpern
Some of this book was hard to get through, just the terminology can be difficult as they aren't words that I use everyday. The gist of the book was very interesting however. Halpern takes us through a variety of avenues of memory research, and shows how they interconnect.
She also shows the progress over time for the research into memory and gives hope for future breakthroughs. Throughout the book, she refers to her own worries over her memory and whether she is more at risk since her father had dementia of an unconfirmed nature before he died. I think that the personal element is what prevented this book from being too academic, something it could easily have become.

Historical Fiction

Finished October 25
Coventry by Helen Humphreys
I had bought this book a few weeks ago, and took it with me to get the author to sign it for me yesterday. She read from the book at lunch, and it intrigued me and I started it on my public transit trip home. I read it when I had trouble sleeping in the night and finished it off this morning at breakfast.
The story is mostly set on November 14, 1940, in Coventry, England. This is the day that German bombers destroyed the city, including its cathedral. The main character, Harriet Marsh is firewatching on the roof of the cathedral when the evening begins. As the bombing begins, she connects with another firewatcher, young Jeremy Fisher. Harriet leads him back through the city to search for his mother Maeve.
We also see the story from Maeve's point of view, where she begins the evening in the pub and spends some time searching for Jeremy.
There is a bit at the beginning taking us back to World War I, when Harriet was newly married, and a bit at the end taking us forward to 1962, after Coventry Cathedral was rebuilt. The rest of the book occurs on November 14, and takes us through the night as the three characters make their way through the burning city and react to the destruction, heartbreak and devastation that they encounter. The interactions between the characters, particular between Jeremy and Harriet are what make the book, as they both bring their feelings and needs into the situation in which they find themselves.

Vignettes in History

Finished October 24
The Frozen Thames by Helen Humphreys
I got this book for Christmas last year and have been reading bits of it slowly since the spring. I finished it off as I was enroute to a readers' advisory seminar where Humphreys was the lunch speaker. It is a fascinating idea done extremely well. She researched all the times the Thames in London froze over between 1142 and 1895 and wrote vignettes for each of those instances. They are short, each 5 pages or less, and interspersed with illustrations. Each one is a engrossing look at a moment in time and the points of view are extremely varied. All of the stories are based on real events and give a strong sense of time and place.
I was also fascinated by the interesting information given in passing in the stories, things like the interesting taxes conceived of over time. In one story there is mention of the Hearth Tax, a tax based on the number of hearths in a building. It made me think of the more recent British tax on televisions, a modern day sort of hearth. There is another story that mentioned window taxes, the result of which is windows that were bricked up.
What all of the stories have, of course, is the frozen river and the nature of the ice for that particular time. The ice is varied, smooth and hard, thin and dangerous, bumpy or consisting of large pieces frozen together. The characters are influenced by this weather phenomenom and some make life changes because of it.
This is one of the most interesting and fascinating books that I've ever read, and I know I will go back to it often.


Finished October 23
Say Goodbye by Lisa Gardner
This thriller features FBI Special Agent Kimberly Quincy, soon to become a mother. She is told a story by a prostitute, Delilah Rose, about a missing woman. She connects with Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Sal Martignetti who has been collecting information on missing prostitutes for the last few months. As the two begin to compare notes, they find leads on the missing women.
Part of the book is also told from the point of view of a man who was kidnapped as a young boy and sexually abused by his captor. He has developed an intense interest in spiders, and this becomes part of the clues the two agents work with. There are many things going on in this book, and as the story progresses, the tension increases and I found myself gripped by the plot. Kimberly is also an interesting character, a self-admitted type A personality, driven by her work, and unsure of her readiness to raise a child. As she struggles with her issues, we see her as a human being as well as an investigator.

Monday, 20 October 2008


Finished October 19
Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor
It is 1934 and 4 years ago Philippa Penhow went missing. A letter from her seemed to indicate that she had gone to America, but the situation is suspicious.
Now Lydia Langstone has just left her abusive husband and runs to her father in Bleeding Heart Square, a man she has never met before. Also living in the same house in the square are Mrs. Renton, a seamstress; Mr Fimberry; and Mr Serridge, the landlord of the house. Another man, Rory Wentwood soon arrives to take the room in the attic. As the stories of the characters begin to intertwine we also get entries from Miss Penhow's diary. The diary entries give us a sense of what has happened between Miss Penhow and Mr Serridge. The rest of the story leads us deeper into the other doings of Serridge as well as his hanger-ons.
I didn't like this one as much as the other books I've read by the author. I found it slow to develop and only the last hundred pages or so were truly interesting.

Canadian Fiction

Finished October 18
Through Black Spruce by Joseph Boyden
This is a wonderful novel revolving around native characters from a community in northern Ontario. The chapters are told from the points of view of Annie, a young native woman, and her uncle Will Bird, who is lying in the hospital in a coma. The chapters alternate between the two viewpoints. Annie has been on an adventure out in the wider world, and has brought back Gordon, a native boy from the city with her. She is teaching Gordon ways of living off the land. She visits her uncle in the hospital every day and begins talking to him on the advice of the nurses, telling him what she has been through over the last little while.
Will's story is told in his own head, but also deals with his secrets over the last little while, the things that led to him being where he is right now. He also talks about past events in the family, some secrets, some not.
The reader learns a lot about the Bird family and their lives up to now. We also see the community and how the people in it relate, the issues and lifestyles. In Annie's side of the story we also see city life and the world of modelling as she experiences it.
A fascinating and very human story, this is also a story of hope. I loved it.

Saturday, 18 October 2008

The newest Atkinson

Finished October 17
When Will There Be Good News? by Kate Atkinson
This latest Atkinson novel lives up to her previous ones. This features DCI Louise Monroe and Jackson Brodie, both of whom appeared in some of her earlier books.
Here young Reggie Chase is working as a child minder for Dr Joanna Hunter and is very pleased with her employment.
A man who has completed his jail term for a crime committed thirty years before is now not where he should be and Louise is worried about his whereabouts. She has warned the survivor of his crime.
When Reggie ends up saving someone's life in an accident, the stories become intertwined, and Jackson becomes involved in an investigation that becomes personal.
Atkinson's novels always contain an element of the absurd, and a lot of very good humour, even when they deal with serious situations, and this novel is no exception. I could barely put it down, and will likely reread it again soon.

More animals

Finished October 15
Mutts Shelter Stories by Patrick McDonnell
I've always loved the comic strip Mutts and this collection of his strips around animal shelters and the animals that need homes is no exception. The strips are intermixed with pictures and captions regarding real animals that were adopted from shelters and thus is very inspiring. I already have two cats that I adopted from shelters, and was tempted to go out to my nearby shelter for more.

Tuesday, 14 October 2008


Finished October 14
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame, illustrated by Charles van Sandwyk
This is one of those classic children's stories that I somehow missed reading when growing up. I bought a beautiful copy for a gift for my nephew and decided to read it myself before I sent it off to him.
It is a lovely story set in rural Britain with fields and rivers, woods and meadows. The main characters are all small creatures who live in this environment. There is Rat, a river rat who lives near the water and ventures into the areas nearby; Mole, who is befriended by Rat and learns to explore this world outside his hole; Toad, a bit full of himself and yet appreciative of his friends; and Badger, a wise older animal, source of good advice and clear thinking.
As the animals encounter difficult situations and make new friends, we see nature up close and also the value of friendship and respect for others.
I'm sure my nephew will love it.

About History

Finished October 14
The Uses and Abuses of History by Margaret MacMillan
This book is basedon the 2007 Joanna Goodman Lecture Series at the University of Western Ontario. MacMillan is a Canadian historian, who previously taught at the University of Toronto, and is now warden of St. Anthony's College at Oxford University.
This book talks about the various ways history is used: for cultural identity, for nationalism, to push a particular agenda, to predict what will happen in a future situation. She looks at how history can be a trap that we fall into when assessing a current situation. She looks at how some individuals and groups have manipulated history, telling false or one-sided stories and how others have suppressed history in order to increase their power or authority. Even leaders of nations have fallen into these traps.
While it is useful to gain knowledge from past events, no situation is exactly the same as another and it can be dangerous to assume the same actions will produce the same results in a present situation.
MacMillan also talks about how some historians have been writing their works in language that is too esoteric and specialized to be disseminated widely, and how that can cause truth about history to be ignored and knowledge to go astray. The book is thought-provoking and the author's examples cover many recent events, making it topical too.
This should be required reading in every high school world history class.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Fast-Paced Thriller

Finished October 11
Collision by Jeff Abbott
Set mostly in Texas, this thriller involves ex-CIA men, men in training for a dangerous life, and government contractors. The world of government contracting in the Middle East can be a lucrative one, and Ben Forsberg is a consultant that helps security businesses to get these contracts. Suddenly Ben finds himself a suspect in a case where a contract killer has made a hit.
Pilgrim is an ex-CIA man, now part of a deep secret government group trying to take action against injustices. He also becomes involved in the same incident as Ben. When the two finally meet up, they find they both have information vital to their survival and begin working together. There is tons of action here, danger, and lots of death. The plot is very active and yet we still get a sense of who the characters are and what is important to them.
A great thriller, with lots of twists and turns, good characters and a great story.

Evergreen nominee

Finished October 10
Radiance by Shaena Lambert, read by Tara Ward
The time is 1952 and Keiko Kitigawa, a girl injured in the Hiroshima bomb attack, has come to the United States. She is brought to the U.S. by a committee working to prevent more bombs and bomb tests from happening. In return for her speaking out against the bombs as a victim, they will give her plastic surgery to remove the scars she has on her face from the blast.
Daisy Lawrence will be her host mother while she is in the U.S. Daisy and her husband Walter live in the suburbs of New York City on Long Island.
Keiko tells of the fox legends her grandfather told her rather than of her experiences on the day of August 6, 1945. She keeps herself tightly under control, except for certain times.
These times are in the nights at the Lawrences' house where she walks in her sleep and confesses her fears to Daisy in the dark bedroom. As Daisy and her connect, Daisy grows protective, and yet Keiko always reverts to her public face during the day.
The relationship between the two women is a fascinating one. While Keiko's thoughts are a mystery to us, we see from Daisy's point of view the connections and frustrations that exist. Keiko feels compelled to do what she has agreed on for her surgery, but also feels unhappy about this decision. The time and place are given so well that you feel what life was like in the American suburbs of the 50s. Daisy is an educated woman, childless and a homemaker. The relationship between her and Walter is a complex one as well, and shown rather than described.
This book has depth and feeling to it, and is a wonderful read.

Friday, 10 October 2008

Animals as Family

Finished October 9
Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O'Brien
This is an amazing story of a woman and the barn owl she raised and lived with. Stacey was asked to take on the owl when it was only four days old. It had an injured wing and would never be able to survive in the wild. Knowing that it would be a long-term time-consuming commitment, Stacey agreed. She takes us through the whole experience from the small owlet to the aging adult owl. The book includes photos recording his growth, and Stacey carefully recorded many aspects of his life and behavior for science, but the tales of Wesley's personality and the love between Stacey and Wesley are what really make this book. Stacey takes on the necessary, from providing four to seven mice a day to grooming sessions that Wesley needs, but she also learns about his personality, emotions, and playfulness.
The chapters on biologist behaviour are also interesting and open a world I hadn't seen before.
When Stacey herself becomes ill, it is her ties to Wesley that sustain her through the most difficult periods of her illness. The humour, dedication and love that come through her are touching and remind us of our connections to other creatures.

Great Read

Finished October 9
Every Secret Thing by Emma Cole
Kate Murray is a journalist from Canada covering a trial in London, England. When an elderly man sits next to her and starts a conversation, she doesn't give it her full attention. His last comment to her, referring to her grandmother, catches her attention. As she calls after him, she witnesses his death by a hit and run driver. Her interest drawn, she attends her funeral and meets his nephew. She is warned off but that only gets her more interested in tracking down the story the man was trying to get her to tell. As more people start to die, Kate finds herself running for her life, and the truth of what really happened decades before.
With a trail leading back to the first World War and in both Europe and North America, Kate uses her journalistic skills to track down the story that was buried years before, and try to bring justice to those who never received it.
This story is well-written and plot-driven. Kate is an interesting character, with many resources. As she learns more about the past, she is driven to new thoughts about the people she knows as well.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

BC Mystery

Finished October 7
West End Murders by Roy Innes
Innes is a new author for me, but this is not the first book in the series featuring RCMP Inspector Coswell and Corporal Blakemore. The setting is Vancouver and their have been a series of murders in the west end targeting high profile gay men. The Vancouver police have been getting anywhere with the case and the RCMP is asked to step in. Coswell works with a Vancouver police force officer named Burns who liases with Vancouver for any assistance. Blakemore is new to town and Coswell assigns him to go undercover on the case.
A visit is expected soon from the mayor of San Francisco, another high profile gay man and there is pressure to solve the case from the Vancouver mayor and from Ward, Coswell's boss.
Coswell is an interesting character, with a big ego and a gourmet appetite. There is some discussion of good Vancouver restaurants, food and wine around this aspect of Coswell's personality. There is also an interesting relationship between the police and a female newspaper reporter who is hot on the story.
I enjoyed the mystery, and liked the way it was brought together at the end. I found it to be generally well written with a few minor items that seemed forced. An entertaining read, with an interesting plot.

Sunday, 5 October 2008

Crime Novel

Finished October 5
Fractured by Karin Slaughter
This novel features Detective Will Trent of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation.
When a wealthy woman comes home one day, she finds an apparant breakin at her house. She rushes up to her teenage daughter's room and finds a man standing over the body in the hall upstairs with a knife in her hands. As she tries to get away she ends up entangled with the man and in the struggle kills him with her bare hands. Will arrives on the scene as an observer to the Atlanta police, but when he spots something that no one else has, it ends up becoming his case. He is sure that the killer is still out there and another girl is missing.
Will ends up teamed up with Faith Mitchell from the Atlanta police and the two end up tracking down suspects at the girl's school, a nearby college and into the past. The story is a good one, with lots of interesting twists and turns, and the cops are given interesting lives as well.
Will Trent has a disability that causes him problems, but also gives him insights into some aspects of the case that are unique.

Departure for Author

Finished October 4
Broken by Karin Fossum
I've long been a fan of Fossum's mystery series, but this book is a departure for her. It took me a lot longer than usual to get through and I didn't enjoy it. I think that was partly because I didn't really like any of the characters.
The story is about an author and one of her characters. It begins with an author who looks out at the queue of characters waiting for her to write about them. She then goes to bed and as she lays there hears someone come into the house and up the stairs. The person comes into her bedroom and sits down in a chair. It is one of the characters, who has jumped from his place in the queue because he is so desperate to have his story told. She ends up complying and the story goes back and forth between the character's story and the interaction between the author and the character. The idea is interesting if bizarre, but it just didn't do it for me. The author wasn't very interesting in herself, and the character I found weak and unsympathetic. I kept wanting to slap him to get him to have some backbone.
I hope she returns to the style used in her earlier books.

Bad Girls

Finished October 3
Bad Girls: 26 Writers Misbehave edited by Ellen Sussman
This is a wonderful collection of essays by a varied bunch of writers. Each explores the "bad girl" in herself and the behaviours that brought into her life. We all have a bit of bad girl in us and I found I could relate to many of the experiences. Some talked about bad girl episodes in the past and how they changed now that they are older, and I can relate to that too. My bad girl impulses are less radical than when I was younger too. There is also discussion around the good girl versus bad girl, and that was interesting. I had a reputation as a good girl, and sometimes I acted out the bad girl simply to say I wasn't a goody two-shoes. Some used the good girl as a disguise for bad behaviour. The collection really gets you thinking and a book club guide is included her to assist in discussion. I think this would be a great book club choice as all women should be able to relate to something by one of the writers.

Friday, 3 October 2008

Quick Fun Book

Finished October 3
Everyday Cat Excuses: Why I Can'd Do What You Want written and illustrated by Molly Brandenburg
This is a gem of a little book that I picked up off our new book cart this afternoon and read (some of it aloud, to others!) It doesn't take long to read, but the prose is exactly what I can imagine my own cats saying, and the drawings are simple, yet eloquent.
What more can I say?

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Feel Good Novel

Finished September 30
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
This was a lovely book that gripped me quite early. The book is written as a series of letters between the main character, Juliet Ashton, a writer and her various friends and acquaintences and sometimes between them. In that sense it reminded me of another favourite book "84 Charing Cross Road".
After World War II, Juliet does a round of events to market her recent book, a collection of humorous columns written during the war under a pen name. She is struggling to come up with a new book idea.
She gets a letter from a man in Guernsey who had come across her name on the flyleaf of a book he'd bought in a secondhand store, and asked for her help in locating some other books. As she begins to correspond with him, and then with other members of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, she grows more and more interested, and finally travels to Guernsey to meet them all and see if this might be the book idea that she is looking for.
The good humour, friendliness, and feeling of humanity she gets from this group who found unique coping strategies to survive the German occupation is heartwarming.
One of my parents friends is from the Channel Islands and this book has awakened an interest in her experiences, which I shall follow up.

British Mystery

Finished September 30
Leave the Grave Green by Deborah Crombie, read by Michael Deehy
I've been reading this series in fits and starts over the past few years, and not in any kind of order. This is one of the earlier ones that I missed, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
Scotland Yark Superintendent Duncan Kincaid is called in to a case in the Chiltern Hills. The body of Connor Swann, the son-in-law of two of the country's most famous opera personalities, has been found in a local river lock. Marks on his neck raise the possibility that he was strangled. Swann was a charmer, but also one for the ladies. He was estranged from his wife Julia and had a gambling habit. As Kincaid and his Sergeant Gemma James follow the various trails in search of answers to his death, they discover family secrets and baggage from past events. Kincaid and James also find their relationship growing closer.
I really like the characters Kincaid and James in this series. They are well rounded and have lives, and issues, outside their professional ones. This adds something to the books that enriches the cases they work on.