Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Classic Literature

Finished March 27
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
This classic novel of the French Revolution centers on a doctor and his daughter. Dr Manette was held in the Bastille for years without a trial, and was a broken man when released. Rehabilitated by his daughter Lucie, he makes a new life in England. When Lucie falls for a young Frenchman, Charles Darnay, it would seem that Manette cannot escape his past. As the novel builds to its climax in Paris, the reader is drawn in completely to this world of revenge and renewal.


Finished March 22
The Things They Carried by Tim O'Brien
The subtitle of this book, "haunting stories of the Vietnam war", says it all. The stories are based on O'Brien's own experiences and those of his fellow soldiers. Although fiction, these stories read like fact, and reveal the soldier's lives in a way I hadn't expected. This is the twentieth anniversary of this book's publication, and I am including a link to an article and interview.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

Fascinating memoir

Finished March 21
Life is So Good by George Dawson and Richard Glaubman
Richard Glaubman, a schoolteacher, became intrigued when he heard about George Dawson, a man who learned to read at the age of 98. When Richard met George, he became even more interested and decided to tell George's story, with George's help. Born in 1898, George had very interesting stories to tell about his life and the events he witnessed. From watching a man he knew get accused of a crime he didn't commit and get lynched for it, when he was ten, to signing a contract with a white man when he was 101, George has watched racial relations in the U.S. change dramatically. George was brought up to speak to white man a certain way and always defer. George, as the eldest boy, was forced to work to help support his family rather than attend school. He lived and worked away from home while still very young, and learned that hard work gets respect. Having a yen to wander as a young man took George from Mexico to California, and expanded his experiences in a way he hadn't thought possible. Eventually though, he ended up back in Texas and settled down. It wasn't until someone came to his door with a pamphlet on adult education classes that he realized that he hadn't totally lost out on the opportunity to learn to read. He tackled this new task with the same effort he had always applied to any work he took on. As I read about George's life and his outlook on life, I was very taken with his story.
An interesting life and a good read.

Canadian Mystery

Finished March 19
Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe
This is the second mystery featuring DI Hazel Micallef. She is recovering from back surgery, living temporarily in the home of her ex-husband Andrew and his new wife Glynnis. She's not sure that she's ready to go back to work, but a new case decides the matter for her.
A body is reported tangled below the surface of a nearby lake. The incident matches that of a new short story being serialized in the local paper.
When divers locate the body, it is not what Hazel and her team expected, but it leads them to a strange web-based video that causes them to be very worried indeed. Even though Hazel feels she is being manipulated, she cannot keep from continuing the investigation. But who else might she be endangering.
The case leads her out of her region and down into Toronto, and as she pushes the limits of her job, she may be jeopardizing that as well.
Lots going on, and an interesting plot line keeps the reader enthralled.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Gentle Read

Finished March 16
An Irish Country Girl by Patrick Taylor, read by Terry Donnelly
This book is part of Taylor's Irish Country series which features Mrs. Kinky Kinkaid as the doctor's housekeeper in the village of Ballybucklebo.
In this book, Kinky is preparing for a Christmas Day dinner, and begins reminiscing about her past. She starts the story by telling a group of village children a story about a ghost, the St. Stephen's Day ghost, from a personal experience when she was fourteen and living down in County Cork. Following this sad story about a young man close to her family, the children leave and Kinky continues to reminisce about her girlhood and young womanhood over the next few years. The reader sees how life formed Kinky into the woman she is now and how she ended up in the village.
Kinky is an endearing character and it is pleasant to see how the young woman was and what her issues were.

Monday, 15 March 2010

Great Fiction

Finished March 15
Small Wars by Sadie Jones
This book was captivating, I could hardly put it down.
Set mostly in Cyprus in 1956, it tells the story of Hal and Clara. Hal is a young soldier, moving up quickly through the ranks, now a major. Clara and their toddler twins Meg and Lottie have joined him about a month after his transfer to Cyprus.
The action (small wars) that Hal sees here in Cyprus affect him and their relationship. As Hal finds things different than he imagined, he distances himself from Clara. Clara has also found it difficult to find her place here and Hal's distancing does not help the situation.
A crisis brings things to a head and creates a deeper crisis for the young couple that will change their whole future. This is a difficult story, but a gripping one, and the two main characters are well written and come to life for the reader.

Saturday, 13 March 2010

Canadian Fiction

Finished March 12
Beatrice and Virgil by Yann Martel
I'm afraid that this book was very much not my thing and I didn't enjoy it. It is a nice short book though!
The main character is a writer, Henry, who writes under a pen name, but when his last project was essentially turned down, he decided to stop writing. He and his wife moved to an unnamed European city and took up a life there. His publishers still forward mail to him and he receives a note along with a scene from a play and a marked up short story of Flaubert's. The author of the note lives in the same city as Henry. This combination intrigues him someone, and he writes a small note back intending to drop it off in person. The author of the note (and of the play) is an older man, a taxidermist. He is regarded as odd by his neighbours, and this proves to be very true. As Henry responds to the taxidermist's request for help with his play, he becomes more involved with him.
I didn't like that the book was one section, not split into chapters. I found that made it hard to find good spots to suspend reading (maybe I was supposed to be entranced and not want to put it down?). The plot was slow and I found it depressing and violent (Now I read violent mysteries, so I'm not sure why this bothered me, but it did). I found that at the end I wasn't surprised, but saddened and numb.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010


Finished March 8
The Age of Empathy: Nature's Lessons for a Kinder Society by Frans de Waal
The author is a biologist who uses his studies of social behaviours in animals as a basis for the study of empathy. He argues that empathy comes naturally to humans as well as many animals. Acknowledging that there is far more research that needs to be done, he nevertheless shows that there is a solid base for further research on a variety of animals.
While many have argued that humans are, by nature, selfish, looking out for themselves at the expense of others, de Waal argues against this, and makes a good case. Using examples from recent history and culture, he shows the human side of this story. The animal side is shown through his own research with chimpanzees and elephants as well as the research of many other biologists.
This is a compelling and hopeful book.

Sunday, 7 March 2010


Finished March 7
Making Rounds with Oscar: the extraordinary gift of an ordinary cat by David Dosa
If you read the paper or watch the news you've probably seen a story about Oscar, the cat at a nursing home that goes and sits on the bed of people just before they die.
David Dosa is a geriatrician that works with patients at that nursing home, Steere House in Rhode Island. Many of the residents of Steere House live with Alzheimer's or other types of dementia. Oscar is friendly and provides a feeling of home and comfort to many, but he nevers comes and spends significant time with any resident until they are in the last hours of their life.
Dosa had this occurence pointed out to him by Mary Miranda, the day shift nurse. Dosa was a skeptic at first, but after he took Mary's advise and met with the families of the residents who'd had Oscar come, and observed Oscar's behaviour himself, he found that he couldn't deny that something special was happening.
Dosa shows us not only the phenomenon of Oscar and his empathy, but also the effects of dementia on patients and their loved ones. We see these people in one of the most difficult times of their lives, and see how caring people and animals make the ordeal more livable. Oscar is the catalyst for this story, but it is so much more than that.

Very Different Mystery

Finished March 6
Still Waters by Nigel McCrery
This is a very different mystery novel. Main character DCI Mark Lapslie gets called off sick leave when a traffic accident brings a body to light. Mark doesn't understand why he would be linked with this case. He's been off on leave due to his acute synaesthesia. Mark's version of this means that sounds set off tastes for him. The sensory overload at work was too stressful, and the condition has even affected his marriage.
Both voices and other sounds trigger the tastes and sometimes they are extremely unpleasant. Even when not, they don't always go together well.
The body that has come to light has been dead around 9 months and has had some fingers chopped short after death. It also appears that the victim was poisoned. Lapslie is intrigued by the case and despite some discouragement from his superiors keeps doggedly on, following every clue he has.
We also see some of the story from the murderer's viewpoint, a woman who ingratiates herself with elderly isolated women and then poisons them and assumes their identity.
How is Lapslie connected with her and will he be able to find her before she finds and kills her next victim. This is a very interesting plot and although very violent, makes a great and engrossing story.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

A Look at North Korea

Finished March 6
Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick
This book looks at the lives of six North Koreans over a fifteen year period that covers the death of Kim Il-sung, the taking over by his son Kim Jong-il, and a devastating famine that killed up to 20 percent of the population. Demick, Beijing bureau chief of the Los Angeles Times, has done thorough research to verify as much of this information as she can. All six of her subjects now live in South Korea and she includes the tales of their escape here as well. The facts of living in North Korea are worse that I'd imagined, and each person's experiences are told with clarify but not without feeling.
This book is worth reading to better understand this country, alienated from the rest of the world more than any other. I found it compelling to read and enlightening.

Canadian Fiction

Finished March 5
The Sea Captain's Wife by Beth Powning
The main character, Azuba Galloway, grew up in a small community on the Bay of Fundy, Whelan's Cove. Her family were shipbuilders, and she always dreamed of going to sea someday. When she meets and marries a sea captain she expects to sail with him, but he leaves her shortly after their marriage while he goes on another voyage.
She doesn't feel comfortable with the other captain's wives, and is lonely in the big house on the hill, and finds a friend in an unlikely place. Just before her husband returns, her actions cause a scandal, and when he next returns to sea, he feels that she and their daughter must go with him.
As they voyage, Azuba discovers that sea life is not as she expected, and the difficulties test her in ways she didn't expect. They also test the marriage and allow Azuba and Nathaniel to see each other in ways they hadn't before. This is a story of discovery and adventure as well as a story of the couple.
Capturing the time period of the last days of the Age of Sail, this book gives a good sense of the life on board a ship and travelling the seas.

Audio Thriller

Finished March 4
Sworn to Silence by Linda Castillo, read by Kathleen McInerney
Main character Kate Burkholder definitely has her flaws, but she has a tough history that has led to them. Now the chief of police of Painters Mill, Ohio, she grew up Amish. At the age of 14, she survived an attack that ultimately led her to withdraw from the life she knew.
When one of her officers discovers the body of a murdered woman that has signs the same as a killer that operated in the area 16 years ago, Kate is drawn back to the attack she survived. What happened to her then comes back to haunt her. As she struggles to keep her own secret, she is also walking a line between her law enforcement present and Amish past. As this case develops, Kate also struggles against prejudice and the agendas of others to find the truth.
Lots going on here, and many characters with interesting issues.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010


Finished March 1
Invisible by Hugues de Montalembert
This memoir is short but gripping. The author returned home to his New York City apartment on a summer night in 1978 to find two men robbing him. They turned on him and one threw paint thinner in his face. Within a few hours, he was completely blind. As a painter and a filmmaker, vision was part of his being in a deep way.
Sharing his reactions and experiences, freeflowing at times, Hugues takes back control of his life, and regains his independence in a way others thought foolhardy. He talks about how being blind changed how others reacted to him and interacted with him. He talks about how he began a new life and about how his strong sense of vision allowed him to imagine his surroundings to such a strong degree that he sometimes confused them with real memories of seeing things.
He writes with great insight and absolutely no self-pity as he shares his new sense of himself and his life.
This book kept me reading, except when I had to break for work or driving my car for the whole day, and yet I found myself reading more slowly to savour it.