Friday, 20 February 2009

Interesting Fiction

Finished February 20
Lark & Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips
This novel takes us back and forth between Corporal Robert Leavitt in Korea in July 1950 and the town of Winfield, West Virginia in July 1959.
In West Virginia Lark, 17, and her brother Termite, 9, live with their aunt Noreen (Nonie). Termite is Leavitt's son, born hydrocephalic and unable to walk or talk. In the West Virginia portion of the story, we see things from the points of view of Lark, Nonie, and Termite. We see the children's mother Lola from many viewpoints, including Nonie's and Leavitt's, that let us understand her motivations and actions. Termite and Lark are very close and Termite communicates with sounds, sometimes parroting those around him, and very much in tune with the sounds of his environment, reacting to things before those around him hear them.
Leavitt is caught up in an action in South Korea involving refugees. Leavitt, injured, has taken shelter in a tunnel with many of the surviving refugees and is unable to contact the rest of the men in his unit.
Back in West Virginia, Lark and Termite like to watch the world from a tunnel near them. It took me a while to get drawn into this but once I was it fully engaged me. The characters are what drives this book for me. Although there are certainly major events that take place in both settings that change the course of lives and matter deeply, the characters are what makes this book come alive.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Childhood Memoir

Finished February 17
The Dangerous Edge of Things: a village childhood by Candida Lycett Green
This book takes you through just over a year in Candida's life in the small village of Farnborough in Berkshire. From January 1949 through February 1950, Candida describes her life in the village, her relations with the other children, the adults in the community, and village life. Candida lives with her father, the poet John Betjeman and her mother Penelope Chetwode. Her brother Paul is off at boarding school most of the time. Candida has a best friend, June, who lives in the village with her parents and older siblings. Many of the men in the village work on farms. Nearby is the Harwell Atomic Research Centre, where some in the community work. Candida's knowledge of her fellow villagers grows during the year and she finds that many have hidden depths she didn't realize. This is a memoir of a year that Candida becomes more aware that people are complex and in which she loses some of her innocence.
Well told and giving a good sense of village life, this memoir is very readable and engaging.

Wednesday, 11 February 2009

First Novel

Finished February 12
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
This is a fascinating look at the world of racial identity during the Second World War.
The main character, Henry Lee, was born in Seattle to a Chinese couple, and educated in Chinese until the Americans entered the war. At that point his father got him accepted into a scholarship program at the white school. As part of his entry he worked in the school cafeteria at lunch, dishing up food to his classmates. He also works after school, cleaning.
When he is joined by another Asian, he is at first unsure what to do, but grows to bond with the girl, Keiko Okabe, who was also born in Seattle, but to a Japanese couple. Her family is better educated than his, with her father working as a lawyer, and thus more open to the two being friends.
Henry has also formed a friendship with a black jazz musician, Sheldon. Rather than have his lunch stolen every day at school, he gives it to Sheldon on his way to school, after stopping to listen to him play on the streetcorner. Keiko also loves the music Sheldon plays, and the two try to listen to him play at a nightclub, getting them noticed by another jazz musician who writes a piece in their honor.
As the war continues, and the Japanese are harassed and then evacuated to camps, Henry struggles with his feelings for Keiko and his family's attitudes toward the Chinese as well as to their place in America.
The story moves back and forth between the war years, and Henry's life in 1986 after his wife has died. Henry's memories are awakened after the discovery in the basement of a hotel of possessions of Japanese citizens of Seattle left in storage during the war and never claimed.
The story is a touching one and shows how individuals made a difference even in difficult times.

Reading on the Plane

I'm on vacation right now, and am in Australia.
Naturally it is a long trip from Canada, and I had to keep myself busy on the plane. Besides a bit of sleep and a couple of meals, I watched two movies, and read two books cover to cover.
Here is the bit about the books.

Finished February 9
How to Be Single by Liz Tuccillo
The author of this book travelled the world to get experiences of single women in a variety of countries. Her main character Julie did the same. Julie left her job as a publicist for a publishing company and signed a book deal with her employer to write a book about being single.
The story goes back and forth between Julie on her travels in various cities and countries and her single friends back in New York. Her story begins with a discussion of why each of those friends is single. Her friends are: Georgia, a mother of two whose husband has just left her and is now with a younger woman; Ruby, who sinks into a deep depression at the end of every relationship, no matter the length, and no matter whether it is with a man or a pet; Alice, a legal aid lawyer who has set her mind and her energy towards finding a man; and Serena, whose interest in meditation and yoga sends her in unique directions looking for a meaning in her life.
Julie is sometimes joined by one or another of her friends on her travels, as well as getting assistance from them in terms of contacts in different countries.
One person she meets in her first stop (Paris) is Thomas, an owner of nightclubs that gives her a different view of the single life and the life of those not-so-single.
Julie's travels take her to Paris, Rome, Brazil, Australia, Bali, China, India, and Iceland. Along the way she learns something from each of the stops: a quality that each nation's women bring to their attitude towards relationships. Interesting insights and a offer of hope to those still looking for a meaningful relationship in their lives.

Finished February 10
The Anteater of Death by Betty Webb
The main character here is Teddy (Theodora) Bentley, a zookeeper assistant at a private zoo in central California. The place setting is Gunn Landing, a upper-class community with environmental limits on further expansion. The leading family is, of course, the Gunns, headed by matriarch Aster Edwina, and though Teddy's family has lost most of their money, she is also from a privileged background.
Her mother is very class conscious and resents Teddy's choice of job, as she resented Teddy's choice of boyfriend back in high school, shipping her off to a finishing school back east to get her away from the Latino boy.
The boy is now the local sheriff, Joe Rejas, and Teddy, now divorced, is finding herself drawn to him once again. The story begins with a body being found in the caged area of the anteater at the zoo, Lucy, one of Teddy's favorites, and an animal in the later stages of pregnancy.
Once the sheriff makes the arrest of a zoo employee for the death, Teddy feels compelled to get involved to clear her friend's name and find the true criminal. Her investigations get complicated by her family as well as intrigues within the Gunn family, but the case gets solved.
Teddy is an interesting character living in a small houseboat, and very attached to the animals in her life. She has a place between the local gentry and the working people and moves back and forth between the two groups. A light but different mystery.

Sunday, 8 February 2009

British Mystery

Finished February 7
River of Darkness by Rennie Airth
This mystery set around Scotland Yard detectives is set just after World War I. Inspector Madden is a man who quit the force after his wife and infant daughter died from influenza. Then the war began and he enlisted. After the war, he returned to Scotland Yard at his old rank. Working on the case with him is young Constable Billy Styles, willing to learn but very green. Madden reports into Chief Inspector Sinclair.
The case this are dealt is a difficult one. A couple and their two servants have been killed in an apparant botched robbery. The only survivor is a young girl who is found hiding under a bed, not saying a word. While initial thoughts are of a gang attack, Madden is sure that it is only one man. He relies on his war experiences, and his contacts to get to the heart of the matter. Madden is willing to break the rules when it makes sense to do so, but is a man who cares about the victims and the survivors. As it becomes clear this is not a standalone case, the impetus to solve the case quickly to prevent further deaths grows.
This is a real page-turner and I thoroughly enjoyed the personalities of the men involved.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

Second in a series

Finished February 3
Extracurricular Activities by Maggie Barbieri
This is the second book in the series that started with Murder 101. The series features college professor Alison Bergeron. Here we have her best friend, Max, about to get married and her ex-husband, Ray still hanging around more than she likes. Also hanging around is another acquaintance from college, Peter Miceli, husband of Gianna Miceli, and member of the mob.
Alison is waiting for her wanna-be boyfriend, NYPD detective Bobby Crawford to be free of his previous relationship before she starts a relationship with him.
When a dead body, missing parts, is left in her kitchen, things start going bad. There are more visits from Peter and other unwanted visitors, threats and injuries. There is also another body. Alison just wants to get her job of collecting curricula for her department done, and be with Bobby, but things are not going her way.
I find Alison a great character, and can really get into her. The plot keeps things moving and there are enough unexpected events to keep things interesting. Another good one.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

Debut Novel

Finished January 31
The Prairie Bridesmaid by Daria Salamon
This is a great novel of a woman and her relationship issues. Anna Lasko is a high school teacher whose long-term boyfriend has taken a job overseas just at the moment their relationship has tumbled, once again, into a negative place. Anna is depressed about her job, and about being a bridesmaid in the wedding of one of her longterm friends. She is looking for a way out of her relationship, but feels guilt over her feelings. Essentially she is a woman who has always tried to please others, but never feels happy about the end result.
Adding to the angst her younger sister has moved to Iran with her new boyfriend and is now only communicating with Anna about the way her life has been changing.
Besides her three best friends, Anna also communicates with Buddy, the squirrel who has taken up residence in her house, and her Ukrainian grandmother. Her Baba is losing her sight, but insists on staying on her farm by herself. Anna helps her with her household and farm chores and runs errands.
As you immerse yourself in Anna's life, you see how she got herself into the situation she is now in, and you root for her to find a life that she will be happy in. This is a great book and a new author to keep an eye on.

Award Finalist

Finished January 30
Impossible by Nancy Werlin
This novel is grounded in modern times, but has a strong element of fantasy as well.
Lucy Scarborough is seventeen and lives with her foster parents. When she was born, her mother fell into severe mental illness and left her with Soledad and Leo. The couple had taken Lucy's mother Miranda in when she was homeless and pregnant. Lucy still sees her mother from time to time but the encounters are always disturbing.
Running through the book is a version of the song Scarborough Fair that Miranda asked Leo to make sure Lucy knew and that Miranda still sings when she sees Lucy.
As Lucy discovers her mother's diary and a message that was left for her, she finds out what she is up against. The women in her family have been cursed to fall into madness when they fail to complete three "impossible" tasks conveyed in the song. Lucy is different though, as she is not alone and she shares her information with her foster parents and her good friend Zack. As the group works to help Lucy overcome the fate that she seems destined for, the power of love is a true force in their quest.
This is a teen novel that will appeal to adults, especially fantasy and romantic suspense readers. I stayed up very late to finish this one. And hey, there is a Canadian connection here as well!


Finished January 29
Runner by Thomas Perry
My first read of a Thomas Perry book and I quite enjoyed it. The main character in this series is Jane Whitefield. Jane is of Seneca background and has helped several people over the years escape from situations and establish new lives. This novel begins at the hospital where her husband works. A young pregnant girl has arrived looking for Jane, using a name as referral that Jane knows from her previous work.
As Jane and her new charge, Christine, run from those after Christine, they find themselves up against some very tough characters. Christine has got herself into a situation with a man that is way beyond her capability to handle, but Jane teaches her some ways to look out for herself that end up coming in handy.
I really like the Jane Whitefield character. She has her own issues and that makes her come alive. The situations were extreme yet that is whay this type of book is all about. Jane protects those that are vulnerable and that makes for a great story.