Sunday, 29 January 2012

New Under the Sun

Finished January 29
New Under the Sun by Kevin Major
I have to confess that this book didn't capture me. In fact, I had to force myself to finish it. As I told some colleagues at work, if it had been a library book I would have returned it, but since I bought it I felt compelled to complete it.
I did like it better near the end, but never loved it.
We have Shannon, a Newfoundland native who left as soon as she could and hasn't been back for 20 years. Shannon has made a career with Parks Canada and is back to write a proposal to add native elements to three Parks Canada sites in Newfoundland and Labrador. She makes contact with her aunt Bertha, and has a visit from her sister and a university friend from Norway. Shannon doesn't seem to know where she is going, she isn't entirely comfortable with any of her visitors or her family beyond Bertha. Will she stay in Newfoundland or not? We aren't sure. Shannon also has a unhappy romantic history, never having found someone she really wants to be with long-term. Will things change now?
There are two (maybe three?) other story lines. One is the diary of a British man in the mid-1800s, fascinated by the Beothuk and particularly by Shanawdithit. He tries to draw as much information out of her as he can about her people, but never really treats her as she would wish. Although I have to say, he isn't that familiar with white women either, so perhaps he really doesn't know what to do with her other than mine her for information.
The other stories are fiction (a novel and short story) about early natives and an early encounter between Basque fishermen and natives. The novel I really didn't like all that much and at first I wasn't clear about it's place in the book. Since it took up more of the story as the book went on, that made it drag a bit for me.
I think that I found the book too slow for my mood, and not satisfying by the end.
I shall pass it off to a Newfie friend and hope she enjoys it more.

Saturday, 28 January 2012

Lost Melody

Finished January 28
Lost Melody by Lori Copeland and Virginia Smith
Almost a year ago Jill was injured in a subway accident in New York. She had dreamed of playing at Carnegie Hall, but the injury to her hand has meant she hasn't touched a piano since the accident. She's been living with her grandmother in the small Nova Scotia town where she grew up. Her boyfriend Greg, a local lawyer, is running for town council and ready to get serious about their relationship.
But Jill starts having a dream, over and over again, to the point she is afraid to go to sleep. Her dream seems to be about a disaster threatening her town. Tired, and wanting to stop the dream, Jill gives into the dream and announces publicly the perceived threat to the town.
The town is divided about Jill. Is she crazy, stressed by her accident last year, or is it a real prophecy? Even Greg isn't convinced. Will he stand by her and risk his campaign for council on association with her? The suspense builds. An interesting story about faith.

The Survivor

Finished January 28
The Survivor by Paul Almond
This is the second book in the Alford Saga, the first being The Deserter. The series is loosely based on Almond's own ancestors. We rejoin Thomas Manning/James Alford as he overcomes his grief and returns to the small English community of New Carlisle in hopes of work to earn money for supplies, both food and building materials. He ends up in a sawmill, soon proving his value as a hard worker. He teaches an orphan boy working at the mill to read and write and comes through for the boy at a crucial point.
Proving himself to the small community and becoming on good terms with the Garrett family, James returns to his land eager to make a life for his family.
Struggling against the elements, a harsh growing season, local villains, and personal sorrow, James and his family make a new home a begin to form a community with other newcomers.
I look forward to the next one.

Betrayal of Trust

Finished January 26
Betrayal of Trust by J. A. Jance, performed by J.R. Horne
This thriller set in Washington state involves many issues. The state governor is shocked when she finds what appears to be a snuff video on her young ward's cellphone. She realizes she needs to know more, but she wants to avoid a media onslaught.
She calls the Attorney General for assistance and he brings in two officers from his Special Homicide Investigation Team, J.P. Beaumont and his partner (and wife) Mel Soames. These two are highly skilled, with lots of experience and work well together.
The first task is identifying the young girl in the video and a hunt is on for missing persons. The trail leads to a more remote part of the state, and back to the capital again. With a focus on young people, bullying and abuse of privilege, this is a story that speaks to an issue that is in the news more and more.
The story is told from Beaumont's point of view, and issues take him back to his own teen years, growing up with a single mother. At the same time as the case is happening, Beaumont is contacted by someone claiming to be his father's sister's daughter. Since his own mother didn't reveal his father's information to him, except to name him after his father's hometown, Beaumont, Texas, Beaumont is unsure about trusting this sudden revelation.
Another case of personal and professional development in the life of a police officer. Interesting mentions of the realities of different police working with each other, and the necessities of facing up to hard facts in order to make true progress.

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Bad Boy

Finished January 24
Bad Boy by Peter Robinson
Part of the series featuring DCI Alan Banks, this story also features his daughter Tracy, who makes some bad choices leading to truly dangerous situations. Alan is away in the U.S. on vacation as the story begins, and Tracy becomes involved with her roommate's boyfriend. As her roommate does something in anger that starts the whole plot in motion, Tracy is drawn to the 'bad boy' image of the young man Jaff. Tracy's choice to offer the use of her father's home as a refuge to Jaff leads to attempted murder, kidnapping, and a run from police. Alan returns from vacation to find his home a crime scene and his daughter missing. As he tries to balance his police responsibilities with his emotions, he takes some risks that are ill-advised.
We see quite a few of the interesting police characters here: DI Annie Cabot, Detective Superintendent Catherine Gervaise, DS Winsome Jackman, and a new one Constable Nerys Powell. We see into the decision-making process of the police, and the politics involved in that.
This case keeps growing bigger, from a small but serious situation of a firearm to kidnapping, murder, drugs and torture. This is a fast-moving novel that looks at the personal as well as the big picture to keep you turning the pages.

Tell It to the Trees

Finished January 20
Tell It to the Trees by Anita Rau Badami
Set in the outskirts of a small mountain town in British Columbia, this novel follows an Indo-Canadian family of a father Vikram, his second wife Suman, his teen daughter Varsha, his small son Hemant, and his aging mother Akka.Vikram is an authoritarian figure, demanding a level of control of his family beyond normal. Suman has come to Canada as part of an arranged marriage and is both eager to please and isolated. Varsha feels abandoned by her mother, who died in an accident. Akka is a woman who recognizes the issues in the family, but has limited power to influence them. When a single woman, Anu, rents out the small cottage on the property, she offers Suman a friendship, but others in the family feel threatened by her modern and independent attitude.
This is a story of the desire for love executed in a dysfunctional manner.
The story is relevant and has some parallels to the current story of the Shafia family. I felt both anger and pity for the characters here, caught in what seems to be a story in which no one ends up with happiness. The best intentions here don't lead to the best outcome.
This would be a great book for book clubs, offering many avenues of discussion.

Friday, 20 January 2012

Various Positions

Finished January 19
Various Positions by Martha Schabas
This is a gem of a novel. Told in the voice of a teenage girl as she auditions for a place in the Royal Toronto Ballet Academy and then how things go for her there.
This is a story of wanting something and the lengths a person will go to to achieve their goals. This is a story of growing up, dealing with sexuality as one discovers it in oneself and becomes aware of it in those around us. This is a story of relationships: friends, family, teachers.
The writing is exquisite. One line that I loved: "...her eyes had the tender look of someone who's just taken off her glasses." I know exactly what she means by that.
It is set in the world of a ballet school around a ballet student, a world I am completely unfamiliar with. But one doesn't need to be familiar with that world to appreciate the story here, because it is about human behaviour.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Flying with Amelia

Finished January 19
Flying with Amelia by Anne Degrace
This volume of linked stories takes us from 1847 to the present, and across Canada. From a family fleeing the potato famine of Ireland through both world wars, the depression, the fight for women's rights and acknowledging the effects of global warming, this novel will give us glimpses of our country in a new way. Degrace says she intended to show that despite our country's youth, we have a rich history and social and cultural diversity. She succeeds in this. The voices here vary from women to men, and from young girls to elderly women. We see the big city, the small town, rural Canada, and the far north.
The stories capture and surprise and offer versions of our disparate experiences. A great read.

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

Come Looking for Me

Finished January 16
Come Looking for Me by Cheryl Cooper
This novel is 1813, during the War of 1812 (yes it lasted more than just one year). Emily is a young British woman who was travelling to Canada on a merchant vessel. The vessel was attacked by an American ship,the USS Serendipity, and she was kidnapped by the captain, Thomas Trevelyan. She's not sure what he intends and as the book opens, she fears for her future. The book begins with an attack on the ship by a British warship, the HMS Isabelle. On that ship we have the captain James Moreland, officers including one Fly Austen (sister of Jane Austen), a ship's doctor Leander Braden, 12-year-old midshipman Augustus (Gus) Walby, a young sailmaker known only as Magpie, a cook called Biscuit, and many other interesting characters.
The majority of the action in this novel takes place on ships, from the Serendipity, the Isabelle, the Amethyst, and the Prosperous and Remarkable. The characters are wonderful and the action gives a real sense of life on board during this time. The novel also covers a multitude of genres from rollicking adventure, to mystery (just who is Emily anyway), and romance. I loved the added touches to even the minor characters that made them come alive. Thoroughly enjoyable.

Monday, 16 January 2012

Fall From Grace

Finished January 15
Fall From Grace by Wayne Arthurson
This is a mystery novel set in Edmonton with a very different main character. Leo Desroches is a journalist working for an Edmonton newspaper. He was hired during a newspaper strike. Leo has a gambling problem, one that cost him his wife and kids, and a lot more. At one time he was living on the streets of Edmonton. This is his second chance.
When he gets offered the opportunity to see the body when covering a story on the murder of a young native prostitute, he includes the information gained in his story. That leads to a much bigger story, one that involves the police and stretches years into the past. Leo hangs on despite real danger, and finds a way to the truth.
Leo is an interesting character, growing up on military bases with a French-Canadian and a Cree mother and no knowledge of French or Cree. His father was a distant present and he doesn't have fond recollections of his childhood. Leo still struggles with the urge to take risks that led him to gamble, and not always successfully. Leo is also assigned to be the paper's native issues reporter going forward and he's a bit ambivalent about this role, as he hasn't really had any contact with the native side of his family. He is a very complex character, struggling with life, and trying to do better.
The story around the murdered native prostitute and the lack of action by police is one common in Canada until recently. This apathy around disappearing native women is a story that will only be getting bigger in the next few years as police across the country face up to the change they need to make to their culture to serve their community better than they have in this area.
With both these issues present in the book, this is a strong new presence in mystery books.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul

Finished January 15
Incidents in the Life of Markus Paul by David Adams Richards
Wow, can Richards ever write. This book moves back and forth between events in 1985 and 2006/7. In 1985 Markus Paul was a young man, living with his grandfather on the reserve. His grandfather Amos Paul was chief and Markus Paul was in love with a young woman Sky who lived nearby with her grandmother and younger brother, Little Joe.
When a young native man, Hector, is killed in what seems at first to be an accident his first day on the job loading ships rumours start, and soon fingers at pointed at another young white man, Roger Savage, who was waiting for a chance to work that day. This novel follows the search for what really happened to Hector, and what a number of people do as a result of his death. One of these is Amos, a careful man with a good heart. Another is Isaac, a middle-aged man who seemed destined to be chief one day. Another is Joel, Hector's older brother, who has often been in trouble with the law before. And we also have Roger himself, and a young reporter Max Doran, who is excited about the assignment to cover this story, but not experienced enough to see the pitfalls.
This is a book about how small actions have great outcomes, and these actions are laid out one by one before us, gradually revealing the truth and the politics, prejudice and beliefs that led to each action.
Years later Markus Paul is an RCMP officer still searching for the truth about what happened back in 1985, still haunted by it. When he finally discovers the truth, it is surprising and yet one can see how it all seemed inevitable. Richards is an author that seems to see into characters and show the complexities of them. A novel that will haunt you.

Friday, 13 January 2012

I am Half-Sick of Shadows

Finished January 12
I am Half-Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley, read by Jayne Entwistle
I am hooked on this series and the lovely, unexpected Flavia de Luce. The series started with The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, continued with The Weed that Strings the Hangman's Bag, followed by A Red Herring without Mustard. So that makes this the fourth book. Flavia is 11 (still) and has had a busy year. Here it is just before Christmas and her father has rented most of the house out to a film crew to get money to allow the family to stay in their home. The vicar gets the idea to call on the female lead to do an evening entertainment to raise money for the roofing fund for the church and thus the house is further invaded by villagers (in a good way). But like all good country house mysteries, snow arrives in earnest and traps everyone at the house.
The intrigue starts early and Flavia is heavily involved as usual. She manages to insinuate herself into every situation, all the while continuing her own plans for a chemically inspired Christmas that only she could think of. Great fun, with just the right dose of seriousness.

The Midwife of Venice

Finished January 10
The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich
This historical novel is set in Venice and Malta in the sixteenth century. Hannah Levi is a midwife in Venice, renowned for her skill in difficult births. Her husband Isaac is being held for ransom in Malta, caught as he was making a sea voyage to buy merchandise. After years of trying the couple has no children themselves. When Hannah is asked by a Christian nobleman to assist at a birth, she is torn between her humanitarian impulses to save lives and the papal decree against medical treatment by Jews to Christians. With the hope to obtain money to free Isaac, she decides to assist in the birth. This decision changes her life forever. Hannah has overcome her natural fear of risk to deliver this child, and must fight prejudice, criminal behaviour, and difficult circumstances to save her own life. Meanwhile in Malta, Isaac must fight against his natural argumentative tendency and work to save his own life with the skills he has as a literate, educated man.
The reader is sympathetic to Hannah and her plight, caught between a rock and a hard place as it were. Hannah's family history also comes into this story and her rabbi isn't presented in the best light. There are good and bad of every religious persuasion here and that adds to the realistic nature of the novel. A story of love, honour, and survival, this novel tells a good story.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

How the Scots Invented Canada

Finished January 8
How the Scots Invented Canada by Ken McGoogan
This is a wonderful book, a history of Canada in so many ways: politically, economically, culturally. I couldn't believe I hadn't read it earlier.
Ken takes a look at the accomplishments and contributions of Scots and Scottish Canadians over our country's history. From explorers to politicians, inventors to writers, community leaders to iconoclasts, this book takes a wide look at how Scots and people with Scottish ancestry have added to our country's rich heritage. Once I started reading, I could barely put it down. I also liked the way he naturally included women here. So many history books don't, and he's got them but not as token additions.
It is the kind of book that makes you want to go out and do something for your country, to show your patriotism and love for Canada. One of the best books I've read in a long time. I'm definitely going to be telling people to read this one.

Vital Signs

Finished January 7
Vital Signs by Tessa McWatt
This short novel is written in first person by a man faced with his wife's sudden illness. Mike's wife Anna has begun to speak in apparent nonsense as a result of a brain aneurysm that could kill her at any moment. As the couple and their three adult children (Fred, a doctor; Charlotte, self-possessed and private; and Sasha, an eager to please dancer) deal with the reality of the illness and the treatment choices, Mike also deals with his guilt over an affair he had years before.
Mike is a commercial designer, specializing in logos, and he attempts to use such drawings to communicate with Anna. He struggles with the urge to confess his guilt while knowing that his motivations are selfish and ill-timed. This is a book about relationships and the secrets and confessions change it. It is interesting being inside Mike's head as he goes through this process and struggles with things.

Two Billion Trees and Counting

Finished January 7
Two Billion Trees and Counting: the legacy of Edmund Zavitz by John Bacher
I learned a lot from this book about the state of trees, forests, and the environment in Ontario. I had no idea of the wastelands in the province at the beginning of the 20th century and the fight to convince those in power (government and corporations) that it benefited everyone in the long run to have well-managed forests. So many of the arguments made by Zavitz and his fellow forestry advocates echo those around global warming and other environmental concerns (tar sands anyone?) today.
I guess there will allow be those who see the short term profit and not the long term sustainability which leads to greater profits in the end, not to mention better living conditions for all.
A book every politician and voter should read to avoid making the mistakes of the past over again.
This book follows the life and career for Edmund Zavitz (1875-1968) and his influence on the environment, specifically reforestation, in Ontario. We see the progress and mistakes, the political manoeuvrings and the passion, the shortsightedness of some and the long term effects. This is an important book for Canadian environmental history.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

The Broken Shore

Finished January 6
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
A little history of my copy of this novel: I picked up this book in a bookstore along the Great Ocean Road when I was in Australia in 2006. On my flight home, my luggage was delayed and soaked, and the book I bought was damaged. I got the airline to reimburse me for the replacement, which I ordered from Dymocks in Australia (along with another book not available in Canada at the time), but then never read it until now, nearly six years later.
Joe Cashin has had bad experiences in his Melbourne police career recently and come close to death. Subsequently he has been posted to the quiet coastal community he grew up in. When a prominent local is killed, three local aboriginal boys are fingered for the crime, but Cashin doesn't believe it is that straightforward. It would be easy for him to go along with this story, but even as the deaths pile up, he moves forward in a different direction, searching for the truth.
Cashin is a man who has lived a difficult life, whose father died when he was young, who cares about people, and has a strong moral centre. This makes for a very interesting character.
We see him develop and the characters around him are also interesting. The plot is complex, yet never hard to accept. A great and gripping mystery with many facets.

A Dublin Student Doctor

Finished January 6
A Dublin Student Doctor by Patrick Taylor, read by John Keating
This is the third novel I've listened to in the Irish Country series. The others are An Irish Country Girl, an An Irish Country Doctor. There are others in the series I haven't read yet.
Patrick Taylor was born and grew up in Ireland and became a doctor there. He now lives in B.C.
This novel features Doctor Fingal O'Reilly. Dr. O'Reilly is driving home from the races in 1965 when he comes across an accident. One of his patients has crashed his motorcycle.
Dr. O'Reilly accompanies him in the ambulance to the hospital, and falls into reminiscences of his medical student days in Dublin. The novel becomes a tales of those days in the mid 1930s.
Dr. O'Reilly overcame his father's objections and other hardships to become a doctor. He studied at Trinity College and Sir Patrick Dun's Hospital. During those student days he made lifelong friends with 3 other medical students and romanced a nursing student, Kitty O'Hallorhan. The novel shows the extent of medical education at the time, the social situation in Dublin, and gives insight into the character of O'Reilly, who has been featured in the other novels in this series.
This novel is one where the characters are well-developed and the story of a life is shown deeply. A great read.

50 Book Pledge

Savvy Reader has sponsored the 50 book pledge, which asks people to pledge to read at least 50 books in 2012. I figure I can commit to that easily ;-)
They say more details are coming, so I`ll watch to see what they`re up to.
Savvy Reader is a HarperCollins blog, with a fair bit of posting.

Friday, 6 January 2012

Seven Good Reasons Not To Be Good

Finished January 6
Seven Good Reasons Not to Be Good by John Gould
Gould is another writer I hadn't read before, but I'm sorry about that. I thoroughly enjoyed this novel.
As the book opens, Matt is flying from Vancouver to Toronto with two purposes. One, to see his father who he hasn't seen in a while and who he worries about. Two, to see his best friend Zane and try to keep him from dying. Matt is also happy to leave home for a while. His marriage with Mariko is on the rocks, as she been having an affair. He has lost his job writing movie reviews when they discovered a bit more creativity on his end than he expected.
Matt finds himself suddenly resistent to visiting anyone though and holes up in a pricey hotel room for a while, and that choice gives him a totally new adventure.
Interesting characters and an amazing plot line make this book hard to put down.
The theme of goodness, and how the definitions of virtue and vice are hard to pin down evolve through the book.

Thursday, 5 January 2012

Beautiful Lie the Dead

Finished January 4
Beautiful Lie the Dead by Barbara Fradkin
This is the second book in the Inspector Green series that I've read (This Thing of Darkness is the other one). They are very well done and involve Green's personal life as well as his work life. Set in Ottawa, they evoke the flavour of the city. This is a winter novel, with snow a key part of the plot.
When a young woman vanishes less than a month before her wedding, there is uncertainty as to whether there is foul play. Bodies are discovered, trails are followed, and leads go back decades to earlier events. Some of the trail leads to Montreal as well, and the detective introduced there is an intriguing new character I'd like to see more of. Lots of family themed plot here and a glimpse into the power of wealth to change outcomes. A great mystery for this time of year.

Monday, 2 January 2012

The Long March Home

Finished January 2
The Long March Home by Zoe S Roy
This book follows Meihua, a young mother in China and her daughter Yezi. Meihua is the daughter of an American missionary woman and a Chinese man. She was born in the United States, but came to China to try to find her father. Instead she met and married Lon, and began a family. With the Cultural Revolution, Lon has been sent to the mines, and Meihua is struggling to keep a low profile and support her family with the help of a servant, Yao. When Meihua is denounced and sent to labour camp, Yao stays unpaid and raises the two younger children, struggling to keep enough food on the table. Yezi is only a baby, and grows close to Yao, even while seeing her father occasionally and her mother once a year.
As Yezi grows, the restrictions abate, and Meihua is released. Yezi learns about her American grandmother and joins her mother in curiosity about her grandfather.
I found the parts in China compelling and interesting as well as Yezi's experience when she came to see her grandmother. But the ending of this novel seemed rushed and simplified, like the author just wanted to wrap everything up neatly. This could have been a much better book, but for that.
I look forward to Roy's next effort.

Global Reading Challenge

I've found the 2012 edition of the Global Reading Challenge and will join.

The rules here are different than the one I did last year in that this one limits the reading to fiction. That is a bit disappointing, but still workable. (I amend that as I just looked at last year's and it was supposed to be fiction, but I didn't catch that, so didn't do it and never got reprimanded. But since I didn't finish anyway, I guess the point is moot. ;->)

I'm going to go for the Expert level again, which is 3 from each continent.

Read three novels from each of these continents in the course of 2012:
North America
South America (please include Central America where it is most convenient for you)
The Seventh Continent (here you can either choose Antarctica or your own ´seventh´ setting, eg the sea, the space, a supernatural/paranormal world, history, the future – you name it).

Select novels from twenty-one different countries or states if possible. (For Australasia, selecting a different state for your last book will be acceptable)

Sunday, 1 January 2012

Brief Summary of 2011 Reading

I'm not going to talk about individual books here, just give a summary of reading.

I read 193 books in 2011.
84 of them were by Canadian authors.
13 were kids' books.
8 were teen books.
46 were nonfiction.
6 were translations.
2 were graphic novels.
7 were short story collections.
27 were audiobooks.
2 were poetry books.
1 was a collection of essays.

Every Time We Say Goodbye

Finished January 1
Every Time We Say Goodbye by Jamie Zeppa
This is a novel about the Turner family, based in Sault Ste Marie, Ontario. The novel is told in several voices.
We have Grace, who was disconnected from life after her mother died. Grace who had a baby without a husband. While her brother Frank and his wife Vera supported her and the baby, there was a struggle for control. Grace left to make a new life for herself, and worried that when she went back for the baby, Frank and Vera wouldn't let him go.
We have Dean, raised as Frank and Vera's son, finding a birth certificate for Daniel, son of Grace Turner, and adoption papers. He is interrupted and next time he looks the papers are gone. Dean struggles with who he is and who his birth parents are. He runs wild and isn't an involved father himself.
We have Laura, who encountered Dean once on one of his sprees and can't forget him. When she finds him again, she won't let him go. Or will she?
We have Dawn, Dean's daughter, raised by Frank and Vera, having her own struggles for her place in the world. She wants to understand her family and why her parents weren't there for her, why she and her brother Jimmy live with Frank and Vera. As Dawn's actions finally bring the family together, there is hope for truth and a more positive future.
This book has sadness and happiness, death and birth. It is the story of a family with its ups and downs. Engaging and flowing, this book will capture you with its characters.