Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Foreign Audiobook

Finished October 27
The Creator's Map by Emilio Calderón, read by Tony Chiroldes
I just finished listening to this entrancing novel in the car today. It is set in Rome beginning in 1937 and taking us through the Second World War. As it begins, a group of Spaniards have banded together to wait out the Spanish Civil War. The narrator, José María has remained neutral to the war. With no family remaining, he concentrates on his new career as an architect. It is only when the beautiful young Spaniard Montse involves him in her intrigues that he becomes involved in things. The two end up spying on local Nazis and become involved in a plot to collect mystic artifacts through their relationship to a young Italian prince. The prime artifact that is sought is the title of this novel, the creator's map, supposedly drawn by God.
As José tells his story you see how his emotions embroil him and ultimately make his decisions for him.
The reader of this audiobook makes the words flow and come to life. Rome exists in the listening.

Canadian Children's Fiction

Finished October 26
A Very Fine Line by Julie Johnston
Rosalind Kemp is the youngest of several sisters and lives in a small town in Ontario. She is a bit of a tomboy as well as an artist and is trying to find her own place in the world when she encounters her gift of second sight. When she finds out her family history of clairvoyance from a maiden aunt, she works hard to escape the gift that has apparently been given her.
Ros is a girl who keeps to herself. She is close to her cousin Corny (Cornelius) who is near her own age, and her older sister Marietta, but doesn't have friends around girls her own age. She likes to draw, but her drawings don't always appeal to others.
She eventually finds that she must face her whole self to move forward with her life. This is a good story for tweens and young teens.

Children's Fiction

Finished October 24
The Box of Delights by John Masefield
This classic children's fantasy story is one I missed in my own childhood. The copy I bought is a new edition by the New York Review, and a lovely one with great illustrations.
Kay Harker is on his way home from boarding school for the Christmas holidays, and encounters an interesting character when he changes trains. From that point on, all sorts of things begin to happen. From encounters with suspicious characters to wizards, to gangs of criminals things are constantly happening around him. At one point it would appear that Christmas celebrations themselves are threatened. Kay must be strong and work hard to rescue his friend, and foil the wizard's plot.
This will be a great Christmas present to a great young reader I know.

European Novel

Finished October 22
Benny and Shrimp by Katarina Mazetti
This novel from Sweden is a charming story told from alternating points of view. Desiree (alias Shrimp) is a widowed librarian trying to come to terms with her young husband's sudden death and her own longing for children. Benny is a dairy farmer, whose mother has recently died from cancer. The two meet in the cemetery, with the graves they are each visiting next to each other. They come from very different worlds, and have very different interests, but are increasingly drawn to each other.
This novel is really about the characters and the choices they are up against. Once started, I found it hard to put down. It is not a conventional love story, but it is one that will grab your emotions.

Monday, 19 October 2009


Finished October 19
20 Canadian Poets Take on the World edited and introduced by Priscila Uppal
This is an interesting collection of translated works of poetry from many different languages, all translated by Canadian writers. Some of the translators had never done anything like this before. There is an introduction to each poet and that includes information on how the translation was approached.
The poetry in and of itself is interesting, but the narrative that accompanies each poet/translator is also very interesting.
This is an interesting and unique work in the field of Canadian literature.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

Canadian Mystery

Finished October 18
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
This is one of Penny's best.
Once again a dead body has turned up in Three Pines, this time in Olivier's bistro. He appears to be a stranger, homeless. But the deeper Gamache digs into this mystery, the more he finds that things are not what they seem.
We see all the usual inhabitants of Three Pines, plus the new couple who have taken on the old Hadley place intending to make it into an inn and spa. Besides Gamache's usual team we have a new local policeman Morin, who brings his own experiences to the story.
Here, character plays an important role in the story, and not just in the mystery of the body, but also in other stories going on in and around Three Pines.
A good read, that will have you thinking about how things seem.

Thursday, 15 October 2009


Finished October 14
Thicker than Water by Anthea Fraser
Fraser's books always have a psychological edge to them, and so does this one. There is much more of the physical here than many of hers have though. The book is told in four sections with an epilogue. Each section follows a different character, and it is not until the fourth section that we see how the characters are related to each other.
The first three characters are attractive people with friends as well as lovers. But they are all also secretive of their pasts. Even those closest to them don't know much about their childhoods. They also all have trigger points, at which they become nervous or ill at ease, and tend to avoid. Here each of them encounters something unexpected that reminds them of their past and makes them scared and nervous. Until the fourth section, we are left to wonder at what past experience has affected them so terribly. Each of the first three sections ends abruptly and I couldn't help but wonder what happened next to all the characters in that part of the story (although of course that is not the story being told!), and I think that is merely a result of my own curious nature.
A good a gripping read, but not a happy one.

Tuesday, 13 October 2009

King Arthur

Finished October 13
Gwenhwyfar: the white spirit by Mercedes Lackey
I've always enjoyed the various series by authors around the character and times of King Arthur and his knights. This new book is no exception.
This novel is told from the point of view of Gwenhwyfar, third daughter of a Celtic king. Lackey has gone back to Welsh myths and found a story of Arthur having three queens in succession with the same name. This Gwenhwyfar is the third queen. While a dutiful princess, Gwenhwyfar also knows her own mind from a very young age. Although blessed with the power of the Goddess, she feels a strong pull to be a warrior and idolizes a woman warrior in her father's kingdom, Braith. Acknowledged by Braith and encouraged by her father, who has no sons, she begins her warrior training with her mother's reluctant approval.
We see the young girl grow into the strong warrior, helped by others to recognize her particular strengths and using them to the best advantage of both her father and the High King, Arthur. She excels in the life she as chosen and is respected by both the war chiefs and Arthur's chief strategist, but in the end, she is still the daughter of a king and must conform to the duty required of her as a princess.
The character of Gwenhwyfar is made to come alive more than in most other Arthurian books I've read where she is often a peripheral figure. Here, she is central to the action, and speaks her own mind when it matters.
This book is well written and engaging and allows us to see many of the other well-known characters in this world in a new light.

Australian Fiction

Finished October 9
The Incredible Journey by Catherine Martin
My mother-in-law spotted this in a book sale and thought of me. I'd never heard of it before, but it was first published in 1923 and is one of the first depictions of an aboriginal character in fiction. The author was raised to think of aboriginals in a more enlightened way than most in her time, and, as she says, "in order to put on record, as faithfully as possible, the heroic love and devotion of a black woman when robbed of her child".
There is an introduction to the edition I read that places this novel historically and gives some idea of just what a stir it made at the time. Martin was born on the isle of Skye and grew up in South Australia following the Highland clearances.
The book follows the character Iliapa, an aboriginal woman who went after her son when he was stolen away by a white man. Interestingly, the book was published right around the same time as the state parliament passed a law increasing the state's power over aboriginal children, including allowing them to be taken from their parents.
While still depicting some prejudices of the time, it speaks to the aboriginals as being treated with injustice by whites and having the same intellectual capacity. Definitely ahead of its time and an interesting work in the history of Australian literature.

Medical Snapshots

Finished October 8
Lives in the Balance: Nurses' Stories from the ICU edited by Tilda Shalof
This is a collection of stories from nurses who work in ICUs in both Canada and the United States. The stories vary from general to specific and uplifting to heart-wrenching. The ICU nurses work in technologically advanced, intellectually-demanding work and due to the often one-on-one nurse to patient ratio, can get involved emotionally with their patients. These stories bring those experiences to life and the reader can feel the fast pace and intensity of the work that is required.
This book opens a window into experiences that we don't often get to see (luckily!) and put real people and personalities into those situations.

Wednesday, 7 October 2009

New YA Novel

Finished October 6
The Bride's Farewell by Meg Rosoff
This historical novel takes place in the 1850s when Pell runs away from her home and village the night before she is to get married. With her, she takes her youngest sibling, a mute boy named Bean, and her horse Jack.
She sees how marriage and motherhood wore down her mother and determines that she cannot live that life. On the road to Salisbury, she meets interesting, helpful and dangerous people. One of the people that helps her is a Gypsy woman with several children, Esther. When she is unexpected left without the meagre earnings and without her possessions, she must find a way to find what she has lost and make a living.
Pell's emotional ties to her family are stronger than she expects, and ultimately alter the course of her travels.

Saturday, 3 October 2009

Latest from mystery writer

Finished October 3
The Water's Edge by Karin Fossum
This is Fossum's lastest featuring Inspector Sejer. As usual it is a masterpiece of psychological fiction.
When a couple is out walking in the country, they meet a man who seems scared and evasive. Later in their walk they find the body of a young boy, obviously abused. Are the two connected? As Sejer and Skarre look for the reasons and person behind the boys death, they also discuss the nature of urges and paedophiles.
Despite public appeals, the man in the woods does not come forward.
When another boy from the same school disappears, the whole community is on edge. Parents are driving their children to and from school, and everyone is impatient for the case to be solved.
This is full of suspense as well as psychological issues. We see inside the mind of the man responsible, as well as the woman in the couple who saw him. We are asked to wonder why people behave the way they do.
An excellent and interesting read.

Thursday, 1 October 2009

IFOA Author

Finished September 30
We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek
I grabbed this book to read as Meek is coming to Barrie for the International Festival of Authors and I wanted to experience his writing. Boy, am I glad I did.
It took a while before I got engrossed in the book, but once I did, I had a hard time putting it down. The plot moves back and forth in a continuous basis between late 2001 and late 2002, with a epilogue in 2003. The main character is Adam Kellas, a British journalist who have lived a very nomadic life during his journalistic career. In October 2001 he accepts a posting to Afghanistan and chronicles his experiences and observances there, including a connection he made with an American writer, Astrid.
In late 2002, he is back in London, has just had his new novel, a thriller written for the mass market, accepted by a publisher, and out of sorts with his world. As he encounters friends, exes, and acquaintances his thoughts travel back to the previous year to experiences there.
This book is about Kellas' thoughts and actions and takes us from Afghanistan to Britain to America, as well as inside Kellas' mind. We see his dreams, illusions, and realities in very interesting ways.
A great read for the times.