Sunday, 31 January 2010

Audiobook Fiction

Finished January 30
Songs without Words by Ann Packer, read by Cassandra Campbell
This audiobook is told in the voices of three women, Sarabeth, her good friend Liz, and Liz's daughter Lauren. Liz and Sarabeth have been friends since they were children. First neighbours, then friends, then "almost sisters" when Sarabeth lived with Liz's family her senior year, after the suicide of Sarabeth's mother and her father's move to a new city.
Liz has married and had two kids, deciding to be a stay-at-home mom. Sarabeth has a creative artsy life, working as a home stager and making unique lampshades.
Lauren is caught up in the despair some adolescents encounter, feeling bad about herself and how others see her. As her feeling become apparent to the others in her world, Liz and Sarabeth's relationship also becomes rocky, and they both reexamine their lives.
About friendship, families, the ways we think of ourselves, this book looks at the roles we take and how others see us. A strong and engaging story with good characters.

Great Read

Finished January 28
Tinkers by Paul Harding
This little gem of a book was one I received with my Indiespensable subscription from Powell's. It has two narrators, George Washington Crosby, an elderly man lying on his deathbed and observing the world around him as well as reminiscing about the past. George was a machinist and took up clock repair after retirement, repairing all types of old clocks in his basement workshop. He is surrounded by his family: his wife, daughters, and grandchildren, as well as his sister.
From a time decades in the past, we also see the world from the point of view of George's father, Howard Aaron Crosby, who was an itinerant tinker, travelling the countryside with a mule and wagon. Howard was an epileptic and married to a woman who wasn't happy with her lot in life.
As we see their lives through their own lenses, we see not only how they got to where they ended up, but also how they viewed their own relationship as father and son, the commonalities between generations.
There is also a relationship to nature here that runs through the book.
The writing is lyrical and I found myself slowing down to better enjoy it, and take in all that it was imparting.

Wednesday, 27 January 2010


Finished January 26
Nothing Was the Same: a memoir by Kay Redfield Jamison
This memoir is a very intimate look at Jamison's life with her late husband Richard. She talks of her own struggles with bipolar disorder and how her husband helped find a way for the two of them to cope with it by applying his scientific mind and methods to it.
She talks frankly about their relationship, how it began and how it progressed, and how much they shared with each other.
She also talks about their struggles with Richard's battles against cancer, how they coped and how their friends helped them in finding assistance and investigating new treatments.
She also talks about how she has coped with Richard's death, about the differences between depression and grief and how her disorder prepared her in some ways to cope with the grief. She talks about how poetry and then music helped. And she talks about how she lives now.
A very frank intimate memoir, this book is well-written and inspiring.

Tuesday, 26 January 2010

Christmas Mystery

Finished January 26
Holiday Grind by Cleo Coyle
The main character here, Clare Cosi, one of the co-owners of a NYC West Village coffee shop, drinks coffee like it was going out of style. Clare owns the store with her ex-husband Matt, in a building owned by her mother-in-law and good friend. Clare also lives in the apartment above the store.
Just before Christmas, Clare and her staff are developing a line of flavoured lattes for the season, and when their neighbourhood Santa (who came up with the idea of the lattes) hasn't shown, Clare goes out to track him down. She finds him alright, but he is dead and the reaction of the police lead her down the road of her own investigation. Clare's significant other is a NYPD detective and while he supports her in trusting her instincts, he also has a big caseload himself, as well as some other issues.
The book includes a lot of information about coffee, including terminology and how-tos. It also includes a bunch of recipes, that sound really good.

Monday, 25 January 2010

Italian Mystery

Finished January 24
About Face by Donna Leon
This is always one of my favourite series and I enjoy the complexities of the plot and Brunetti's questions around morals and ethics. I also enjoy his family and the interaction between them. The other wonderful things about this series are Venice and the food. I'm always dying to eat Italian after reading one of these books.
This mystery has Brunetti drawn into two investigations that aren't really his. One is a very non-official one where his father-in-law has asked for information on a potential business partner. The other is where a Carabinieri officer has asked for assistance in locating a suspect in a murder. As Brunetti looks into these two, he also looks at who he can trust. We see more of some of the other officers he works with as well as more of his wife's parents.
A joy to read, as usual.

Saturday, 23 January 2010

Thoughtful Read

Finished January 22
The Gift by Cecelia Ahern
This book, taking place at Christmas and the days just before it, is a fable that emphasizes what is important in life. When Lou Suffern, an ambitious executive, with his eye on a possible promotion, sees a homeless man on his way into work, he is inexplicably motivated to give him his coffee. Talking with the man, he is intrigued and arranges to give him a job in the company's mailroom. But when the man, Gabe, keeps appearing unexpectedly in Lou's life, Lou begins to wonder what Gabe is angling for and how he seems to be in two places at once.
Lou is struggling to manage his work and personal life and both seem to be slipping out of his grasp. Gabe helps him identify what his true priorities are and gives him the gift of time to fix things in his life while that is still within his power to achieve.
An easy read, but it does get you thinking about what is important in your own life.

Mystery Audiobook

Finished January 22
Death Wore White by Jim Kelly, read by Roger May
This book has a lot going on. DI Peter Shaw has been teamed up with DS George Valentine, his father's old partner, demoted after the last case the two had.
There are still questions around that last case and the behaviour of the police.
When the two are sent out to the coast to check out hazardous containers that have washed ashore, they find more than they expected. Shaw already has an eye injury from a previous incident with hazardous waste washed ashore. When they find the container he is cautious and they search the beach, only to find a body in an inflatable ding, with human bite wounds.
When Shaw climbs a hill, he also finds a line of stranded traffic on the nearby road. When the two go to the road to find out what has happened, they find many hard to explain things, the largest of which is a dead body in the lead vehicle, with no footprints leaving the vehicle.
As the cases expand, and intersect in interesting ways, and another body is found we see into the heads of the two detectives and the motivations that drive them.
This was a very interesting book, with no easy answers.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Inspiring Photographs

Finished January 21
A Shadow Falls by Nick Brandt
This book of photographs of the wild animals of East Africa was inspired by photographer Nick Brandt's recognition of the dwindling animal populations and the effect increased human activity has had on the environment and the lives the animals struggle to lead.
The photography is amazing, with a mix of intimate and panoramic views, showing us the emotional lives of the animals as well as their interaction with the landscape.
Commentary is included at the beginning of the book by Brandt as well as philosopher Peter Singer and photography critic Vicki Goldberg. Also included are suggestions of where to give to aid in the preservation of these animal communities.
This book is compelling. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Teen Novel

Finished January 17
The Miles Between by Mary E. Pearson
While very different from her previous novel (The Adoration of Jenna Fox), this novel is equally compelling. I had trouble putting it down and read it in the course of 24 hours.
We follow Destiny Faraday through one day in her life. Destiny lives her life not getting attached to anyone else, moving on when she starts to care. She has been in boarding schools since she was a young child.
On this day, she has an odd encounter with a stranger at school, and that is followed by her discovery of a car. Destiny and three of her classmates: Seth, a new boy; Mira, a girl who always tries to smooth the waters; and Aidan, a brainy logical boy; take the car in search of a fair day.
Their encounters, discoveries, and the stories they share with each other take them to a new understanding of friendship, and the wonders of life.
The emotions are definitely here, and I found myself weeping at some points of the book. Definitely a novel to spark discussion among teens.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Australian Fiction

Finished January 17
After the Fire, a Still Small Voice by Evie Wyld
This extraordinary novel follows a father and son in Australia as they deal with inner turmoil. Frank has run from the city to a small shack on the coast that his grandparents bought, and that his parents took him to on family vacations as a child. He is running from his own anger, and from a failed relationship that he didn't take the time to make work.
Leon, Frank's father, tells of his own teen years, taking on the responsible role in the family after his father returns from the Korean War scarred and unable to take on the responsibilities that he left behind. Leon himself is drafted into the Vietnam War and is also scarred.
Frank hasn't talked to his father in years, and doesn't really want to.
Told in alternating chapters by the two men, we see how the dealt with the life that they were dealt and how they cope with the things that have brought them to the present in their lives.
The story is heartbreaking and yet ultimately hopeful, and very well written.

Thoughtful Read

Finished January 16
Dawn Light: Dancing with Cranes and Other Ways to Start the Day by Diane Ackerman
This is a book to take your time reading. From her two homes in Ithaca, New York and Palm Beach, Florida, Ackerman looks at her own experiences and observances of dawn through the seasons. Paying attention to birds, from cranes to hummingbirds, starlings to owls, she includes their actions and her reactions. Talking about art, from Monet to Hokusai and how they portrayed the natural world. Insects from bees to spiders are observed carefully and commented on. All of her writing connects one thing with another, in a way that you know is well thought out and yet somehow still feels like a stream of consciousness.
This book makes you sit back, take a deep breath and pay attention to what the world is doing around you. Which is something we all need to do more often.


Finished January 10
Now the Drum of War: Walt Whitman and his Brothers in the Civil War by Robert Roper
This book looks mostly at Walt Whitman, but also at his brothers George and Jeff, very successful in their own fields. George was a soldier during the Civil War and a well-regarded one. He fought at several major battles including Antietam. He was a leader among the men and considered lucky. Jeff, even though he had no schooling past the age of fourteen, became one of his century's great engineers. He built the Saint Louis waterworks among other large projects. Besides being a gifted poet, Walt spent much of the war visiting wounded men in the hospitals and attending to their needs. Taken from family letters as well as other historical sources, this book opens a new window on the Whitman family and I learned a lot about not only Walt, but his immediate family as well.
This was a very interesting read.

Saturday, 9 January 2010


Finished January 8
Why My Third Husband Will Be a Dog: the amazing adventures of an ordinary woman by Lisa Scottoline
This is a collection inspired by Scottoline's column Chick Wit from the Philadelphia Inquirer, and kept me laughing throughout. She has a knack for taking an ordinary situation and pointing out the ridiculous in it. In a few selections we hear from her daughter Francesca, and we see a lot of both her mother Mary, and her brother.
We also hear occasionally about her two ex-husbands, referred to as Thing One and Thing Two. And of course her pets (both dogs and cats) play a large role in her experiences.
For a humourous look at life, in small doses, this is a great selection.

Thursday, 7 January 2010

Audiobook from series

Finished January 6
Running Scared by Ann Granger, read by Nicole Arumugam
This is from the Fran Varady series, one of my favourites. Fran has through a variety of events in her life been homeless, and while she now has a home, she is still living close to the edge.
Her friend Ganesh has been left to manage his uncle's newsagency while he is away on a trip, and Fran has been given a job helping out in the shop. Fran has also taken on part-time work from time to time as a private investigator.
Ganesh has decided to get a renovation done on the small washroom behind the shop while his uncle is away. Just before the work starts, a man who has been attacked takes refuge in the shop and Ganesh allows him to use the washroom.
The man is later found dead near Fran's home, and when they find a roll of film hidden in the washroom, they wonder if the two events are related.
Fran also makes contact with a homeless girl that she knew from her own homeless days, and offers to help her. Between these two situations, Fran is kept busy and the police soon become involved in her life again.
I like the character of Fran, feisy and independent, and generally a good judge of character. She often takes risks when she helps others, but this doesn't dissuade her good nature.

Tuesday, 5 January 2010

Wonderful Writer

Finished January 5
The Man in the Wooden Hat by Jane Gardam
Gardam is one of my favourite writers and has been since I was introduced to her at the age of sixteen. This one builds on the last two of hers, Old Filth, and The People on Privilege Hill. Taking up a similar story to that of Old Filth, this one is mostly from the point of view of Filth's wife, Elizabeth (later Betty). From the time of their engagement to the death of both, this book looks at Elizabeth's past, her feelings around her marriage, and her feelings about Filth's rival, Veneering. This is a book about the characters, as Gardam's books are, and while the lives lived are not thrilling, they make for a very interesting tale.
She has not lost her touch.

Reading Challenge

For those of you into reading the meatier books, you may want to consider the Chunkster Challenge (
There are three levels of commitment. I'm thinking of taking a risk and going for the "Do These Books Make My Butt Look Big" option (which is four chunksters over the next 12 months).
Short stories and essay collections don't count (or I might try for a higher commitment), and books must be a minimum of 450 pages.

More Canadian Fiction

Finished January 3
Reading by Lightning by Joan Thomas
This book has had numerous award nominations and wins ( first novel award nominee, Book of the Year for Manitoba Reads, and Commonwealth Writers' Prize for Best First Book, Canada and the Caribbean) but more importantly it is a really good read.
We follow Lily Piper from her home on the Manitoba prairies in a community of strict Christianity, to England where she cares for her aging grandmother after her grandfather's death and explores her father's origins. She is in Lancashire for the start of World War II and tries to find her place there until news from home takes her rushing back to Manitoba.
It is back home where she takes a closer look at her family's expectations and how they have affected her attitudes and feelings. She also faces the expectations of community and friends, and must decide for herself how she wants to live and choose her own destiny.
Lily is a survivor, but sometimes she survives by being carried along by events, while she dreams a different future. This is a good read about a very interesting character.

Short Sotry

Finished December 31
A Day out for Mehmet Erbil by Louis de Bernieres
I got this lovely short story for Christmas. Set in the Gallipoli region of Turkey, it came to the author during research for his wonderful book Birds Without Wings. It tells the story of an encounter between a local man and a tourist. Inspiring and thought-provoking, it gets you thinking about assumptions and missed opportunities.

Great Canadian Fiction

Finished December 31
The Heart Specialist by Claire Holden Rothman
I got this book back in the summer for a birthday gift and now wonder why I never picked it up earlier (I know, I was reading the library books I had to return first!). It is wonderful. Inspired by one of Canada's first woman doctors, Dr. Maude Abbott, and with each section introduced by a quote from her, it takes you completely into another world. We follow the life of Agnes White, from her childhood to after the first World War. Agnes exhibits her love of science at a young age and fights doggedly to become a medical doctor. She is helped along by her governess and mentor, who steps into her life just when she needs her the most. Agnes continuously longs for and emulates her father who walked out of her life when she was only five, and we see how this loss deeply affects her the rest of her life.
This amazing novel will be one of my top reads of the year.