Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Equal of the Sun

Finished May 30
Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani

This is the second novel I've read by this author. The first was The Blood of Flowers. This novel is also set in Iran, but earlier, in the late 1570s. The story revolves around a real Iranian princess, a daughter of the Safavi dynasty, who lived from 1548 to 1578. Pari Khan Khanoom was one of the chief advisers to her father Tahmasb Shah, and groomed to take this role. When her father died suddenly, a suspected poisoning, she worked behind the scenes to keep the government functioning and prepare the way for the next shah.
The story is told by one of her trusted servants, a eunuch named Javaher, who came from noble lineage. Javaher is trying to clear his father's name and restore his family's honour. He is driven by this purpose, as well as strong loyalty to the royal family, especially Pari and her father.
This is a story of political intrigue and maneuvering, based on real historical figures and events. Amirrezvani takes us into this world, using the language of the formal court and palace and the language of more casual and more intimate encounters. She brings to life the complex world of the harem, the roles of women (much more than the stereotypes), and the world of the palace eunuchs. Her characters come alive for the reader, showing passion and human failings.
We see lust for power that doesn't stop at murder, and a sense of the complex relationships that influenced the powerful in this land. A sense of the Machiavelli with the end justifying the means prevails among many, and the need to change alliances quickly is shown.
This book will give you a glimpse into another vanished world.
In a sense this book is like a Philippa Gregory historical novel, but in a different type of country. Equally well-researched, with a reliance on historical fact.

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Carrying Mason

Finished May 28
Carrying Mason by Joyce Magnin

This children's novel is set in the late 1950s in a small town in Pennsylvania. Luna is 13, the second oldest in her family of five children, and mourning the death of her best friend Mason. Mason was an only child, who lived with his mentally disabled mother Ruby May. At first Luna is struck by her own loss, but she soon feels for Ruby May, who having previously lost her husband, has now lost her only child. Ruby May is grieving and is missing the support she had from Mason. Luna approaches her parents, proposing that she move in with Ruby May and play the role in Ruby May's life that Mason had been taking on.
Along the way, Luna discovers her own strength and even teaches some others a few things. Luna isn't perfect, but she has a good heart and faith, and those will go a long ways. Luna truly cares about Ruby May and sees her as a person. A feel-good novel that allows children to think about those who a developmentally delayed in new ways.

Come Home

Finished May 28
Come Home by Lisa Scottoline, read by Maggi-Meg Reed

Another great thriller with an everyday mom at the centre. Jill Farrow is a pediatrician, engaged to be married, and proud mom of her 13-year-old precocious swim team leader daughter, Megan. But when her ex-stepdaughter Abby shows up drunk and distraught to tell her that her ex-husband is dead, she finds that she still has unfinished business from that marriage. As we discover, the marriage ended abruptly, with her ex cutting her off from contact with Abby and her sister, Victoria. She finds that she still feels like they are her children and wants to figure out what really happened with her ex's death and what really happened between the two of them. She can't move forward until she figures out what went wrong in this previous relationship.
As she delves deeper into things, she finds that things look suspicious and lead her into danger and threaten her new family.
With twists and turns and thrilling moments, this fast-paced novel takes us on a whirlwind journey of discovery by a woman who learns more about herself as she figures out this mystery.
Scottoline always raises interesting questions, about relationships, about feelings, and about women.


Finished May 25
Insurgent by Veronica Roth

This is the second book in the series that started with Divergent.
We left that one with Tris, Four, and a few others escaping to Amity headquarters after a major breakdown in the balance between factions. Tris is reeling from everything that just happened, overwhelmed by grief, shame, and anger.
Through this book she learns more about her parents, her brother, Four, and about the other factions. She also learns about the factionless in the society she lives in, and finally, about what is Outside.
Tris does a lot of growing up here, and learns about herself and what she really believes. She is tested again and again, but proves herself stronger than she thought.
This book is a great and strong sequel and makes sense of many things that happened in the first book. The ending is amazing, changing everyone's perceptions and showing them the purpose of their society.
It's a great read, and I highly recommend the series.

Friday, 25 May 2012

The Mulligans of Mt. Jefferson

Finished May 25
The Mulligans of Mt. Jefferson by Don Reid

This novel focuses on three men, lifelong friends, now in middle age. Set in the small town of Mt. Jefferson, Virginia in 1959, the novel takes each man in turn, telling his story now, and through the past the story of the boys growing up and becoming the men they now are. Buddy is now a police officer and when his friend Harlan is shot knows that there is more to the story then he is being told. Cal is a minister and wants everyone to find their peace and not hurt others. No man is perfect and the two friends are worried about Harlan. Cal himself is struggling with changes in his life, trying to find his best way forward. Buddy believes in the law and treating people fairly, but doesn't abide telling stories, knowing how they can grow and cause more trouble in the end.
The town has many secrets, as do the inhabitants, but the focus here is on Harlan and what really happened to him.
I liked the aspect of long-term male friendship and the bond these men have from their childhood staying strong, but the situation here puts stress on them. The small-town life and time setting are interesting showing a world that wasn't that much simpler than ours, just with different issues.
This novel is part of an ongoing series set in this town and therefore doesn't wrap things up nicely, but the ending was a little abrupt for me.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Comeback Love

Finished May 24
Comeback Love by Peter Golden

This lovely little book is a love story and the story of finding what is important in life.
The story goes back and forth between the present and the late 1960s, when Gordon and Glenna first met.
In the present, Gordon feels like his life is falling apart. On his way to visit his sister Elaine in Boston, he stops in New York to visit his parents' graves and see his old girlfriend Glenna. But Glenna is more than just any old girlfriend, she is the one he has always longed for and grieved over losing. Is it possible to go back?
In the past, Glenna is a med student and Gordon is trying to stay out of Vietnam and become a writer. He writes articles for the Long Island Press for little pay and is beginning to make a name for himself. But Glenna is a beauty and sometimes he wonders what she sees in him. Glenna herself has issues not always visible to Gordon and their relationship has its ups and downs. We know from the beginning that things between them didn't work but we see how things developed as we follow that storyline, and we see in the present what in his life has driven Gordon to take the risk of seeing Glenna again and reaching out to her.
A novel that explores the vulnerability that exists in relationships and the risks of opening oneself to love.

Speak Ill of the Dead

Finished May 20
Speak Ill of the Dead by Mary Jane Maffini

Camilla MacPhee is a lawyer who runs an organization for victims rights. She has agreed, under pressure from her father, to take on an assistant, Alvin, under a government job training program, but finds herself frustrated with the young man's attitude and work. When her best friend Robin asks to meet her at a nearby hotel, Alvin has misplaced the message, and Camilla finds herself coming into a scene where Robin, obviously in shock, is coming out of a hotel room where someone has been murdered.
With Robin refusing to talk and the police focusing on her, Camilla must figure out herself who might be behind the murder. The murder victim, a catty fashion writer, has no shortage of enemies, but Camilla must figure out motive and opportunity. Camilla is also looking after Robin's six cats while Robin takes refuge at her parents' home.
With lots of Ottawa ambience, an interesting group of suspects, and a twisty plot, this yarn will keep you turning those pages.

Defining the Wind

Finished May 20
Defining the Wind by Scott Huler

Huler was fascinated when he encountered the Beaufort Scale in his dictionary, finding the terminology poetic and wanting to learn more. (The book cover is actually an image of that dictionary page.) So he went searching for Beaufort, wanting to know more about the man behind the scale and what inspired him.
But he also looked into the wind directly, travelling on a sailing ship, visiting a wind tunnel, and looking into meteorological history. He found out a lot about Beaufort and his influence on both wind measurement and modern nautical procedures. Since Beaufort kept extensive diaries, there is a lot of personal as well as professional information known about the man. He also shows us the development of wind measurement, with discussion on all the different measurements before and after the Beaufort Scale, discovering that the Scale itself has changed over time.
The chapter that I enjoyed the most was Chapter 8 A Picture of the Wind: Poetry, the Shipping Forecast, and the Search for the North Shields Observer. I think I enjoyed this one because of its literary and cultural focus and its taking the reader back to what drew Huler to do this research in the first place, the language used in the dictionary version of the Scale. He introduces us here to more interpretations of the Scale, through picture books, art, and music that add to its draw. He also completes the search for the man who wrote the words used, the North Shields Observer.
Well worth reading, this book both educated and entertained, and now I'm waiting for my music CD containing the Beaufort Scale to arrive!

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

The Time of My Life

Finished May 13
The Time of My Life by Cecelia Ahern, read by Amy Creighton

This novel has a storyline that startled me and then captured me. Lucy Silchester lives in a studio apartment with her cat, goes to work translating instructions for appliances, and avoids questions about her life. But she's been receiving invitations that she finds she can't keep ignoring. The invitations invite her to book a meeting, a meeting with her life. Not only has she been avoiding other people's questions about her life, she's been avoiding dealing with her life herself.
Lucy split with her live-in boyfriend nearly three years ago, and still hasn't completely dealt with it. She is operating in automatic, making no plans for the future, just going to work and coming home and hiding from her life. But her life won't let her hide anymore. When she meets with her life, she finds it unsatisfying and tries to avoid facing up to the truth, but her life won't let her.
She finds herself spending a great deal of time with her life, facing up to the truths that she has been avoiding and a few that spin her life into new directions, and getting to know herself again.
This is a book that will have you looking at your own life, and asking yourself what you've been avoiding. It doesn't package everything up with happy endings, but it does offer hope and that dealing with reality is a lot better than not dealing with it, because your life is still there, even if you're ignoring it.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

City of Lost Souls

Finished May 13
City of Lost Souls by Cassandra Clare

This is the fifth book in the Mortal Instruments series and picks up where book four left off. Jace has disappeared along with Sebastian, and the Clave is not able to locate them. Clary is worried and feels that things would have been different if only she had stayed with Jace. Jocelyn is in protective mother mode, keeping an eye on Clary, now that she has been questioned by the Silent Brothers and all her secrets have come out.
Simon is feeling lost, and hesitant about trying to contact his family to try and explain himself. The Lightwoods are worried about Jace and the younger generation is determined to find him. But not as determined as Clary, who would give anything to save Jace.
As usual Clary rushes into things, and here she finds strengths she did not realize she had. Finally she finds the fighting instinct in battle, but will it be enough to change the course of events.
Simon knows what he owes Jace, and is determined to do what he needs to do to find and help Clary. And he will pay a high price for that.
Lots going on, teenage angst, love affair issues, and big changes, leaving us once again waiting for the next installment. 

Monday, 14 May 2012

A New Leaf

Finished May 10
A New Leaf: growing with my garden by Merilyn Simonds

Simonds follows the seasons in her garden, talking about the large variety of plants, her relationships with them, the history of her garden, and her family and friends.
The writing is a mix personal experience and gardening advice. I found it very interesting, with good advice regarding gardening, but I was a bit put off by her invented titles for all the people in her life. From her spouse, Beloved, to good neighbors Garden Guru, Rosarian, Humanist, and Farmer, nobody is identified by their real name, and I found that came across as affected to me. Perhaps she was trying to protect them by not naming them, but that did not work for me.
But her descriptions of her gardens, her love of plants, flowers, vegetables, and trees comes through clear and strong and captures the reader, making one want to go out and dig in, if not go out to garden centres and shop.

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

The Spies of Warsaw

Finished May 7
The Spies of Warsaw by Alan Furst, ready by Daniel Gerroll

This novel takes place in the months just before World War II and Germany's invasion of Poland. The action is centered around a French miliary attache and spy, Colonel Jean-François Mercier. Mercier had fought beside Polish forces in World War I and was decorated for his actions then. He regularly meets with Polish military intelligence, and has been running a spy, an engineer in a tank facility, out of Germany. His social obligations in Warsaw bring him into contact with German, Russian, and Polish diplomats and spies and involve him in some interesting situations. It is through these social functions that he meets Anna, a native to Paris whose heritage is Polish and who works as a lawyer for the the League of Nations. The novel has romance, intrigue, danger and a strong sense of history. Thoroughly enjoyable with moments of suspense and foreboding.

Personal Pleasures

Finished May 5 
Personal Pleasures by Rose Macaulay

This collection of essays about things that bring pleasure has a bit of a quirk to it. Not only does Macaulay write about the reasons that those things bring her pleasure, but she also includes the drawbacks, the potential non-pleasurable side effects, of those same things. It is kind of the opposite to finding silver linings in storm clouds. Although since she was a novelist famous for her satire, this is rather in keeping with her outlook. Many of the things she finds pleasure in, I do too. Some essays have a dated feel to them, but seeing that she died in 1958, that is not totally unexpected. It was interesting to see those things that still persist in bringing pleasure more than fifty years on.

The Bungalow

Finished May 3
The Bungalow by Sarah Jio

This novel's speaker is Anne Calloway, an older woman whom circumstances cause to look back on her youth when she was a nurse stationed on Bora-Bora during World War II. The major part of the story occurs in 1942 and 1943 on Bora-Bora. Anne is engaged, but unsure of her feelings toward her fiance and finds herself drawn to a soldier named Westry. The two develop a secret friendship and meet in a small hidden building, the bungalow of the title. But things are happening to Anne's best friend Kitty that cause Anne to feel more distance between the two, and unsure of Westry. When Anne and Westry witness a crime, things between them change again, and their world is changed as Westry is redeployed and Anne's stint is over.
It is Anne's granddaughter that urges her to take advantage of a recent letter and dig into the past to find the answers to those questions she has wondered about for decades.
A story of mystery, romance, and circumstances that will appeal to many readers.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

Jerusalem: the biography

Finished May 1
Jerusalem: the biography by Simon Sebag Montefiore, read by John Lee

This long (21 CDs) book is a dense history of the city from its beginnings to the present day. Encompassing the history of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim faiths, it also tells of the passion and violence that this city has seen. I learned so much about the history of not only this part of the world, but of the three religions, of the relationship Europeans had with the city, especially during the Crusades, and of the relationships between the different cultures, the Arabs (of a variety of faiths), the Ottomans, the Europeans, the Jews, and the Africans. Like the city itself, history adds new layers on top of the old making it difficult to trace back to what came before. There are wars, rivalries, marriages and liaisons that all had an effect on this unique city. A fascinating book that uses up-to-date research to illustrate the changes over time.
I did sometimes find it hard to keep track of the action with the large numbers of players and the names that reappeared again and again as generations of peoples struggled to make this city their home.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

All that Matters

Finished April 30
All that Matters by Jan Goldstein

This novel focuses on 23-year-old Jennifer Stempler, a young woman who is severely depressed to the point of attempting suicide. After her father's departure at a young age, she and her mother struggled. When her mother died in a traffic accident her senior year, she struggled with the loss. Now that her serious boyfriend has dumped her, she can't see anything worth living for.
But her grandmother won't give up on her, and fights to take her home to New York and help her find her health again. Along the way, Jennifer fights her grandmother's optimism. It isn't until she hears her grandmother's story for the first time that she finally finds something to hold onto.
A story about depression and hope, about the resilience of life in the face of tragedy and disappointment.
I loved the story in the book, but did have some reservations for the seemingly easy dismissal of the physiological component of depression through the rejection of medication.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Misdemeanor Man

Finished April 29
Misdemeanor Man by Dylan Schaffer

Gordon Seegerman is a lawyer with the Public Defenders Office in Santa Rita, California. He does as few cases as possible, mostly misdemeanor cases. He is also in a band that does its own version of Barry Manilow songs, Barry X and the Mandys. Coming up is a gig that Barry himself might attend, and Gordon is putting his energies toward being prepared for that. He doesn't want another case, but one is assigned to him. It appears to be a simple misdemeanor, a man who has flashed a couple of people, including an eight-year-old girl in a department store. But there seems to be more to the case, and Gordon is up against his ex for the court case. As Gordon digs deeper, he finds interesting connections to prominent community members. Gordon's a smart guy who hasn't really taken his law career seriously until now.
But there's a lot more going on here too. Gordon's dad is a police officer who was forced to retire in disgrace, and who is suffering from a fast-progressing genetic form of Alzheimer's. Gordon is afraid he carries the gene too, but has put off getting tested. He lives with his dad and grandfather and is one of his dad's main caregivers. Gordon came to his love of Barry Manilow from his mother, who died when he was eleven. She loved Manilow, played him constantly, and Gordon grew up loving the songs. He was never close to his father, and yet feels he needs to be there for him now.
Gordan's band is doing well, and the love of playing keeps him sane.
An interesting character, an interesting case, and the promise of more.

Alice Hartley's Happiness

Finished April 29
Alice Hartley's Happiness by Philippa Gregory

My mom bought this book last summer when we were in a discount book store. The reason she bought it is that Alice Hartley was also my (paternal) grandmother's name. Scanning the back cover where it said "Alice Hartley is a woman in her prime. Yet she is not happy. Her husband refuses to respond to her mature delights, leaving her powerless as his interest strays elsewhere. ..." grabbed our attention. When my grandma asked me for books, she was always careful to tell me "no sex", so this description seemed too funny.
My mom read it last summer, often laughing out loud and reading me passages. It's been sitting in my pile since then, and since I've been sick for a few days it seemed a nice light read, and it was perfect.
I think of Philippa Gregory for her historical novels, well-researched and with great characterization. This book shows the research and characterization, but is a total hoot. It's a send-up of romance novels, but with a nice humorous base in the men versus women power struggle. Alice takes advantage where she sees it, and finds that she sees what appeals to not only women her age, but many other women and some men too.
One of my favourite lines: "Why do they never learn - these fictional characters who so blithely trigger their own denouement?" I also loved the session with the young mothers doing affirmations.
A wonderful, side-splitting, grin-inducing novel. Enjoy it.