Sunday, 28 November 2010

Homicide Related

Finished November 28
Homicide Related by Norah McClintock
This young adult mystery features Ryan Dooley, a character McClintock has used before. Dooley is working hard to stay on the straight and narrow, living with his uncle, going to school, and holding down a job. He hasn't touched alcohol or drugs since he's been out. He has a girlfriend, Beth, that he can't believe he's lucky enough to have. He has a friend at school, and a friend at work. He is passing his courses.
But then things start to happen. Beth starts hanging out with another guy, a guy with money and a "good family". Jeffie, a friend from Dooley's past shows up asking for a favour. And Dooley's mother is back in the picture, briefly, and then gone forever. Dooley starts to wonder how much he knows about the people around him, his uncle, Beth, and whether there is more that he needs to know.
Lots going on here, and some tough situations for Dooley. But opportunities as well, and hope for the future.
A good read, that will appeal to teens.

The Steps Across the Water

Finished November 27
The Steps Across the Water by Adam Gopnik
This children's novel is a fantasy book set partly in New York City, and partly in U Nork, an alternate city with deep connections to New York City. The main character is a young girl named Rose who lives with her parents and older brother in Manhattan. Rose often doesn't feel she fits in, and has problems making friends at her private school. She also has a speech impediment which causes her to mix up words (like calling New York, U Nork) and makes her self conscious. She is adopted from Russia, and while made aware of this by her parents, is never made to feel that it makes a difference to her place in her family. She does have one friend at school, Ethan, who is even more of an outcast than she is.
But one night everything changes, and she finds out that U Nork does exist and that she has a role to play in its future. With intrigue, puzzles, and lots of interesting characters, this book will engage the young reader in the story of the two cities.
I first read Gopnik's essay collection Through the Children's Gate, and loved it, so when I saw this book I knew I had to get it for my 10-year-old niece. She loves mysteries and puzzles and reading, so it is a perfect fit.

The Glory Wind

Finished November 27
The Glory Wind by Valerie Sherrard
This children's novel is set in rural Manitoba a couple of years after the end of World War II. Told from the point of view of a young boy, it tells of his friendship with a girl his age, and the community reaction to her family situation, and how a tornado changed their lives forever.
This is a moving story and a pivotal point in this boy's life. It brings him understanding of things that were beyond his world before and helps him to grow. A great book about character, acceptance and society.

Saturday, 27 November 2010

Book Challenge: What's in a Name

I've finished this challenge with my latest book, The Glass Harmonica.
I tried to do it without changing the way I read. I try to read a lot of Canadian books, and several of these were Canadian which is great. These were all books that I was going to read anyway, and I've just been able to make them fit into the challenge.
For title: Mr Shakespeare's Bastard
For plant: Yarrow
For body of water: The Sea Captain's Wife
For food: Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie
For place: Gods in Alabama
For music: The Glass Harmonica
Looking forward to next year.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

The Glass Harmonica

Finished November 24
The Glass Harmonica by Russell Wangersky
I have to say that I was absolutely enchanted by this book. It is set on one street, McKay Street in St. John's, Newfoundland. Each chapter is linked to a house on the street and involves residents, visitors, and intruders. All the events take place between 1980 and 2006, but they don't come to us in chronological order. Each event links to others, sometimes subtly, sometimes overtly. We see things from so many points of view that we get a real sense of the people who live here and what their lives consist of.
From elderly residents with dementia, to young children, to single professionals, the characters all bring something unique to the book.
We see the relationships between them, misunderstandings, and missed opportunities. As an omniscent observer, we see more than normal and that makes the difference for this book.
Absolutely outstanding!

Friday, 19 November 2010

Practical Jean

Finished November 19
Practical Jean by Trevor Cole
This story is well-written and has a unique plot, but somehow I just couldn't connect with it and had to force myself to finish it.
Jean makes a living creating unique ceramic pieces based on leaves. They are fragile and expensive and often don't work out for her. She is married to Milt, a substitute teacher at the high school level.
For the last few months, she has been giving care to her mother who has been dying from cancer. This experience, seeing her mother in pain and no longer enjoying life has affected her greatly. Death has always had an affect on her, leading her to creativity in her work. This time however, she has decided to be practical. Her mother always despaired of her developing a practical nature, and while it is too late for her mother, Jean decides that it is not too late to apply her newfound practicality to her friends.
Working on the premise of dark humour, this novel brings many issues of today's life to the fore.

Arrival City

Finished November 17
Arrival City: the final migration and our next world by Doug Saunders
Doug Saunders is the European Bureau Chief for the Globe and Mail. He has put together this book to show how the move from rural to urban living is in its last phase. The ways in which we treat those areas, arrival cities, that immigrants first come to greatly affects how the cities themselves prosper. He uses examples from all over the world, primarily Europe, North and South America, China, India, and Bangladesh to show how this phenomenon is common to all cultures. He also uses history to show how this phenomenon is not a new one, but is only in its latest stage. He shows successes and failures and those still undetermined. This book is a call to those in power to recognize this truth and make policies that ensure success.
I found the stories of the individuals very interesting and they brought alive the reality of why these people move, how the process works, and what we can do to make sure it works well.
The failures really show how stereotypes and prejudice can make or break these arrival communities. Urban planners are beginning to learn, but not all of them have yet. This is a book that every mayor of a growing city should read, along with others in all levels of government. To follow the recommendations here will bring us all a better future.

The Night Shift

Finished November 16
The Night Shift: Real Life in the Heart of the E.R. by Dr. Brian Goldman
This book by Canadian E.R. doctor Brian Goldman, who also does the CBC Radio Series "White Coat, Black Art" is done in an interesting way.
It is structured around one night shift, with each case that comes in linking to other cases in the past. Goldman has changed names and identifying information to protect patients' privacy. Each case has both its medical and human elements and Goldman recognizes each. He also recognizes that doctors and nurses are also human and admits to his own failings and how he learned from them.
The hospital he works at is Toronto's Mount Sinai and he references other doctors' experiences to show differences in the cases that come in to different hospitals based on their location and specialties. I found the book fascinating not only for its behind-the-scenes scenarios, but also for the openness and insight that Goldman brought to it. He is a doctor always trying to improve and help others to improve, including his patients. He touches on many topics that relate to medicine, from ethics to technology, and makes it make sense to a layperson. This is a great and engaging read and I highly recommend it.

I Am Number Four

Finished November 14
I Am Number Four by Pittacus Lore
This teen novel has as the main character a young man who is from another planet. Right now he is going by the name John. He and 8 others like them along with nine other children, destined to be protectors of their planet, came to earth a decade earlier. They were each accompanied by an adult who helps them and teaches them. John's guide is Henri. John has some memories of his time on his home planet, Lorien, and of his grandparents whom he lived with. John and his fellow Lorien children are of an age where they are coming into their Legacies. This is when their powers come.
Beings from another planet, the Mogadarians, have also come to Earth and are hunting the Loriens. They destroyed their own planet and laid waste to Lorien. Now they have plans for Earth. John and his fellow Loriens must stay hidden to survive until the time for battle with the Mogadarians arrive. But they may find themselves up against their enemy before they are ready.
This is a story of power, coming-of-age, loneliness, and the environment. There is much here that will appeal to teens, including love. I really enjoyed this novel and see how it has left itself open to a sequel. I will look forward to that.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Evergreen Award

The OLA Evergreen Award, the adult tree in the Forest of Reading, has announced its 2010 winner.
The winner is Come Thou, Tortoise by Jessica Grant, an engaging tail of a young woman and her tortoise.
This is a first novel for writer Jessica Grant, who has also made the longlist for the IMPAC Dublin Award.
With great characters and a unique story, this is a book that will engage the reader. Highly recommended.
* Disclaimer: I am the chair for this book award.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Bury Your Dead

Finished November 11
Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny, read by Ralph Cosham
I think this is the best Louise Penny mystery yet. There was the usually wonderful mystery, but so much more here. We had history, issues, personal growth, that really made the book that extra bit special.
There has been a past horrible event in policing for Gamache. It has to do with a kidnapping of one of his agents, and we only gradually discover as the book progresses exactly what happened. Gamache and Beauvoir are both on leaving recovering from physical and mental wounds from this situation. Gamache is visited his mentor in Quebec City and taking rest, which includes doing some research into a personal interest of his. His research takes him to the Literary and Historical Society where he uses their library to research his interest in the battle of the Plains of Abraham.
When a body is discovered in the basement of this bastion of the English in the French Canadian city, Gamache gets drawn in by both the local police and the Society's board. He agrees only because the murder victim is a strong Quebec voice in the search to find the body of Samuel de Champlain. There are many questions: what was he doing at the society? what led him there? who killed him?
Gamache is also questioning the outcome of a recent case in Three Pines and sends Beauvoir there on an unofficial basis to look into the case again.
This story allows us to see both Gamache and Beauvoir in new lights, and see them both grow in their understanding of themselves and others. An absolutely wonderful read.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard

Finished November 9
Mr. Shakespeare's Bastard by Richard B. Wright
I found this novel to be a very quick read. It was pleasant and interesting. The story is told by Aerlene Ward, in her old age. She is a housekeeper at an Oxfordshire manor, and had started as a nursemaid to the now elderly landowner, Sir Walter. The youngest daughter of the family, Charlotte, has agreed to take down her story as Aerlene's eyes are failing.
Charlotte herself isn't sure whether she believes Aerlene's story that William Shakespeare was her father, but Aerlene's story rings true. The story begins with the life of Aerlene's mother Elizabeth, her sad love life, and her brief foray to London, where she met Shakespeare. It continues with Aerlene's own life as a child, and young woman. Aerlene is a calm woman, and bright and these qualities give her an advantage in life. She is also not afraid of hard work and that too helps her to have a successful life.

Sunday, 7 November 2010

Holding Still For As Long As Possible

Finished November 7
Holding Still For As Long As Possible by Zoe Whittall
Set in Toronto in late 2005 and early 2006, this book speaks from three voices. Josh is an EMS worker, a transsexual man, and a shy man. Amy is Josh's partner of 5 years, a budding filmmaker, and a confident woman. Billy is recovering from the fame of her teens, prone to panic attacks, and coming out of a seven year relationship. All these characters are in their mid-twenties. Amy and Josh's relationship is coming down from its high, and they are both unsure of whether they want it to continue or not. As Josh becomes interested in Billy, the love lives of these young people become more complex and angst-ridden.
The use of EMS calls as part of the plot adds interest and an extra layer (although I did wonder what happened to these people), letting us see the important, yet transitory role EMS played in the victims' lives.
The voices of the three characters came through nicely and I had a real sense of where they were coming from, and how they felt. The uncertainty of life for twenty-somethings was really part of the story, and took me back to my own twenties.
I really liked this book and found the characters very interesting and realistic.

A Man in Uniform

Finished November 7
A Man in Uniform by Kate Taylor
This novel is set in nineteenth-century Paris and revolves around the Dreyfuss Affair. Admittedly, I didn't actually know that much about this before I read the book, so besides getting entertained, I also learned a lot.
The main character here is Françoise Dubon, a lawyer who married into a family above his own social status. Both of his brothers-in-law are in the military, one as a Major and one as a Captain. Dubon was involved with the Communards in his youth, but that information is only known to his wife and a close friend. His early career as a lawyer included working to get Communards accepted back into society without restrictions, through an amnesty. He left that job, taking over his father's practice when he married.
Dubon also has a mistress, Madeleine, that he sees most weekdays between five and seven.
When a mysterious widow arrives at his office and asks him to work at identifying the true spy in an effort to get Dreyfuss an appeal, he finds himself agreeing, against his better judgment. His actions disrupt his personal life, put him into dangerous situations, and send the whole country talking.
The history is interesting. The character of Dubon is a complex one, with mixed motives. The story is a good one. All in all, a fascinating read.

Saturday, 6 November 2010

Where We Going, Daddy

Finished November 5
Where We Going, Daddy? Life with Two Sons Unlike Any Others by Jean-Louis Fournier, translated by Adriana Hunter
From the introduction, by Fern Kupfer, right through to the end of this short book I was captivated. Fournier has two severely disabled sons, Mathieu and Thomas. Both have both physical and mental disabilities that severely impact their lives. Fournier is a humour writer and this certainly comes through, but everything he says in these short vignettes is heartfelt and evokes his real feelings: love, frustration, guilt, anger, sadness. Not having been there, I can't really imagine the difficulties of having a disabled child, but Fournier illustrates his experience with his short impressions of situations in his life.
Highly recommended

Friday, 5 November 2010

The Matter with Morris

Finished November 4
The Matter with Morris by David Bergen
This is an intense look at a man struggling with grief and guilt and trying to find a reason behind what has happened and a way to move forward. Morris's son Martin had joined the army after an argument with Morris and has now been killed in Afghanistan. He was killed by one of the men in his own company in a sad accident. Morris feels responsible for Martin joining the army as Morris himself is a pacifist and was raised as one by his father, a Mennonite minister. Morris's father is failing in health and is now in a nursing home suffering from dementia. Morris is a journalist, who has made his living writing a syndicated column, often using his personal life and family as subjects. With the loss of his son, he has continued to write about his reactions to it, but has been asked by his agent to take a leave before his popularity declines further than it has. His writing has fallen towards anger and sadness and lost the wry humour it used to have. Morris's reactions leads to distance between himself and his wife Lucille. It also leads to changes in the relationship between him and his two daughters Meredith and Libby.
This is a story of Morris and how he reaches out, plumbs his own depths, and tries to get a grip on what has happened and how to come to terms with it, so he can continue life.


Finished November 2
Atonement by Ian McEwan, narrated by Jill Tanner

This is the story of the events of a single day in the summer of 1935 and all the things that came out of it. That summer Briony Talis was thirteen and her observations, misinterpretations, and resulting actions cause outcomes she never could have imagined. Her big misinterpretation is of the nature of the relationship between her sister Cecelia and Robbie Turner, childhood friends. Robbie is the son of their servant and has been treated by the family as a protege. Briony's cousins are staying with the family as their family begins to break apart. When the twins run away and her female cousin is assaulted during the search, it is Briony who points the finger at Robbie and this deliberation seals his fate.
The second part of this book is from Robbie's point of view and occurs during the retreat to Dunkirk where he, wounded, leads two officers to the beach from farther inland. We see how he feels, what he sees, and how he treats others.
The third part shows Briony as a young nurse in London, just before and after Dunkirk and how she has dealt with her actions that she now knows to be criminally wrong, and her realization of the awful truth. We see her growth, her guilt, and her lifelong sorrow at what she has done.
Finally we see her in old age, with the long look back at her life and her actions to atone for her guilt.
An amazing read that kept me engaged both by the story and the emotion.