Sunday, 27 December 2009

Canadian Fiction

Finished December 27
The Fallen by Stephen Finucan
This novel is set in Naples, Italy during World War II and centres around a young Canadian lieutenant. Thomas Greaves has been tranferred to a British branch of the security police after an incident. We don't fully understand what has affected him until close to the end of the book. One of Greaves tasks in Naples is to work with a local museum to help protect their collection. He also travels to nearby rural areas to liase with local authorities.
In Naples, the population struggles to find enough to eat and criminal gangs operate using bribery to get heads turned the other way.
Besides Greaves we also see things from the point of view of two museum staff, the elderly curator, Augusto Parente, and his young female assistant, Luisa Gennaro. Another main character is Aldo Cioffi, Parente's nephew, a young man who, though trained as a doctor, does as little as possible in the way of work, and only thinks of himself.
As the characters interact and affect each other's lives, we see how the lines blur between good and bad, between protectors and criminals. This debut novel shows a deep understanding of human nature and is a wonderful read.

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

About Story

Finished December 23
"told" the art of story by Simon Aboud
This interesting analysis of storytelling breaks storytelling into twenty principles, discusses those and then puts a selection of the principles together to tell a story. The story examples are good at showing the principles as they are laid out and make you think about the components of a story and what role each of those components plays.
A very interesting book.

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Different one for this author

Finished December 20
13 1/2 by Nevada Barr
This is the first novel I've read by her that wasn't part of her Anna Pigeon series, and while that series has lots of violence, this one was darker than those.
The novel follows three characters for the most part. One is a boy (who becomes a man) who was convicted, at the age of eleven, of killing his father, mother and younger sister. The second is his older brother, who was injured in the attack. The third is a woman who ran away from home at the age of fifteen, discouraged by her future prospects and the abusive life she'd led to that point. As these three people come together in post-Katrina New Orleans, we see very human struggles and the issues of trust come into the story.
This was a very intense novel and I found it both hard to read and hard to put down.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Intellectual Mystery

Finished December 14
The Oxford Murders by Guillermo Martinez
The narrator of this mystery is a young mathematician from Argentina who has come to study at Oxford. Shortly after his arrival he is one of the two people to discover his elderly landlady dead. There is an odd clue that was left in a note to another mathematician, who was a friend, with a cryptic symbol and the words 'the first in the series'.
As he and the older mathematics professor, Seldom, try to work out the series before it takes place, the young student also tries to look at other aspects of the case.
A knowledge of mathematics is not necessary to appreciate the nuances of this mystery, as we slowly work with the student toward the solution.

Feel-good audiobook

Finished December 14
Thanks for the Memories by Cecelia Ahern, read by Caroline Lennon
Finished this audiobook on the way home from work. It's a light romantic comedy of a book, leaving you with a happy aftertaste.
Joyce Conway of Dublin has had an accident leaving her in the hospital for a few days, and now she finds she has memories that seem to be from someone else. She also has knowledge and skills she never had before. She puzzles over these strange occurrences and begins to get back to her changed life. She moves in with her elderly father temporarily, and looks to her friends for help in detecting the cause for the changes in her life.
Justin Hitchcock is still restless and unhappy from the changes in his life. He has moved to London from the U.S. to be closer to his daughter at ballet school, and still hasn't come to terms with his divorce. He is doing a series of lectures at Trinity College in Dublin, traveling back and forth from London. Justin's younger brother Al and his wife Doris are visiting and they and his daughter help him figure out his recent obsession with a woman he met briefly in London, and the feelings he has around his first blood donation.
This is a fun and lively book, plotted around a very interesting premise. I enjoyed it.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Quirky Book

Finished December 14
How to Avoid Huge Ships and Other Implausibly Titled Books
This quirky little book is a collection of odd book titles, all from the Diagram Prize, the annual contest to determine the oddest book title of the year. Celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of the prize, the Bookseller magazine, who established the prize, decided to bring the titles together to celebrate. The book contains fifty of the best winners and runners-up.
I've followed this wonderful prize for a few years now, and am always amused by several titles in each year's short list. I was immediately grabbed when I saw this title on our new book cart and was the first one here to take it home to look at.
The book gives a history of the prize and its development first, and follows with colour images of the books.


Finished December 14
God Is by David Adams Richards
This book examines faith, the ideas of good and evil, fate (although it doesn't call it that), and the forces that work on our lives. Using instances from his own life and experiences, the author takes on the idea of God's existence and those who argue against it.
I should say that my own religious background is Protestant, and although I was baptised as a child, I am not a regular churchgoer. But Richards addressed the issues that I have had with religion by talking about the sometimes disconnect between religious actions and faith. A lot of what he discusses here is stuff that I have thought but not been able to put into words.
This is a very interesting book, and certainly helped me to think about the issues he discusses in new ways. I recommend it.


Finished December 13
50 Architects You Should Know
This is a good overview of the leading architects through history, arranged in historical order. It gives brief information about the architect themselves as well as the major buildings that they designed.
The pictures included are good quality and help to show the architect's work, but could have used more complete captions. I found that I sometimes had trouble orienting myself, especially when there was more than one picture of a building.
I would have liked to see more pictures, at least of all the buildings discussed for each architect. I found that when a building was discussed, yet no pictures included, I would have to go elsewhere to find out what the building looked like.
I also found the timelines not as useful as they could be, partly due to lack of explanation. The timelines ran across the top of every architect page, and included various historical events and lifetimes of artists, architect and designers. Sometimes I could see relationships between events and the architect whose page they were and sometimes not. Sometimes I could see influences cited to the artists and architects whose timelines appeared on an architect's page, sometimes not. But no pages included the life timeline for the given architect as part of this information. Separate information was given in a sidebar, but a life timeline would have made sense.
A good book to start with, but you will definitely want to use other sources of information as well.

Monday, 7 December 2009


Finished December 6
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville, read by Bill Wallis
This story follows the life of Daniel Rooke. Touching on key points in his childhood, it focuses on his work as the astronomer with the First Fleet and its work in New South Wales. We see how, as a child, he was an outsider. He found a mentor and eventually a passion as an astronomer. Due to the lack of a job market for this profession, he joined the marines, and went to America before his trip to New South Wales.
Various things along the way influenced his interest and his character, but as he tries to establish himself in his profession in New South Wales, he not only charts the stars, but begins to establish a relationship with some of the native people. In particular he grows close to a young girl and it is his feelings around the natives and their identity that sets his future in ways he had never dreamt.
This is a book around character more than events, but the setting also plays a role. I really enjoyed the book, but found the execution of the audio inconsistent, with some varying volume and some sections were harder to hear.

Friday, 4 December 2009

British Mystery

Finished Dec 3
Midnight Fugue by Reginald Hill
Dalziel has come back to work, although there is some concern whether he is ready to be back, even by himself. When he gets up one morning to go off to his first case review meeting, he gets sidetracked and is approached by Gina Wolfe, in search of help regarding her missing husband. Gina has been sent to Dalziel by her fiance, a policeman Dalziel met years earlier.
What starts off as a favor by Dalziel turns into a murder case and the reasons started many years before. There is a lot going on here, but Hill manages to meld things together wonderfully. As we move back and forth between the different characters, we watch to see motives, mistakes, and methods. Once I got into this I stayed up past my bedtime to finish it.

British Fiction

Finished December 1
Portobello by Ruth Rendell
This is not a mystery, but more suspense around a number of characters in the same neighbourhood of London whose paths cross in interesting ways.
Eugene Wren is an art dealer and gallery owner recently turned fifty. He has a long-term relationship with a forty-year-old physician named Ella, which is about to become more permanent. Lance is a twenty-something unemployed uneducated man, kicked out by his parents, and recently dumped and kicked out by his girlfriend. He now lives with his great uncle Gilbert, a reformed ex-con, now heavily involved in the Church of the Children of Zebulun. Gilbert dislikes Lance intensely, but takes his rent money in exchange for as little as possible. Joel is the son of a wealthy couple who has been ostracized from his family and now is experiencing mental health issues.
As the world of these characters overlap and they interact with each other, each drawn towards a change in their lives that will require drastic adjustment after difficulties.
Intense psychological plots are Rendell's forte and this is a gem of an example. Little by little you are drawn into the minds of the characters as they move inexorably further towards their fates.

Historical Fiction for Teens

Finished November 29
Ruby Red by Linzi Glass
This novel was shortlisted for the Carnegie and well worth it. It is set in South Africa around the time of the Soweto Riots. The main character is Ruby, a white teen girl. Ruby goes to the English high school (as opposed to the Afrikaans high school). Her father is a lawyer who defends not only the rich, but also poor black activists. Her mother owns an art gallery where she often highlights up and coming black artists. This puts her family under a vigilant eye by the powerful, and Ruby lives a very private life, not admitting her own or her parents' views openly.
When she rebuffs the advances of a boy in her school and falls for a Afrikaans boy, she alienates her school friends and begins to be harassed. When the riots begin, her family is caught in the middle.
There is a lot going on here, and Ruby must mature faster than most teens as she deals with it. There is lots of interesting history here, and a section at the end gives more information on South African history. Glass was born in South Africa, emigrating to the U.S. as a young adult.

Uprising by Margaret Peterson Haddix
This novel is set in New York City in the early 1900s and centres around three young women. Bella has emigrated alone from Italy, hoping to earn enough to provide sustenance for her mother and siblings back home. Yetta is a Jewish girl who has emigrated from Russia with her elder sister, running from the pogroms against the Jews back there. Jane is the daughter of a busy industrialist, who lost her mother at a young age. Bella and Yetta both work at the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, and struggle to survive on what they earn. When Bella loses her only support in the new world, she also struggles against a landlord who takes advantage of her ignorance. Yetta is one of the first to join the strike against her employer, and walks the picket line, being abused and even jailed for her actions. Jane is lonely and bored, and joins other wealthy young women taking an interest in the strike as an action in the suffragette movement. As the three young women meet and become friends, their lives intertwine. When the fatal fire happens at the shirtwaist factory, only one survives.
This story is done very well, giving a realistic view of conditions at the time (both social and economic). The story is told as a looking back by the survivor, to a young woman who has tracked her down and wants to understand what happened. Both realistic and engaging, this story will keep you reading until the end. More historical information is included in an appendix.