Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Secret Race

Finished October 28
The Secret Race: inside the hidden world of the Tour de France: doping, cover-ups, and winning at all costs by Tyler Hamilton and Daniel Coyle

The world of cycling and doping has been in the news a lot lately due to American investigations, civil cases, and retired riders coming clean. This is a book covering it all. Hamilton was part of the Lance Armstrong team, one of Lance's chief rivals, and the first rider to be caught for having transfused blood not his own. He'd already moved on with his life when things started coming out in a big way, and when the authorities approached him, made the choice to be totally honest, about his own doping and what he saw around him. He gets us into the mind of the rider, and shows us how the decisions to dope get made, the pressure, the way the teams work. We see a side of Lance Armstrong we don't see in his public persona. And we begin to understand why doping is so pervasive and why no one talked about it.
With several friends and relatives into cycling, I've grown more interested in this sport and how it works. This book gives behind the scenes information and reads like a novel.


Finished October 26
Doppler by Erlend Loe, translated by Don Bartlett and Don Shaw

This short novel has been a bestseller in Scandinavia, and I quite enjoyed it. Doppler is a man who has had a sudden realization that he doesn't like people, and has gone to live in the woods. While he doesn't take money with him, he isn't above bartering for things he wants, or stealing them from other people. Doppler sometimes seems completely out of touch with the world, and other times seeing the world very clearly. The cover calls the book "an enchanting modern fable about one man and his moose". And the moose enters the tale very early, becoming Doppler's companion, confidant,and tentmate. As Doppler relates to his wife, children, and the men he encounters, we see both the interactions between them and Doppler's thoughts. I see him as kind of an everyman for the modern time.

Thursday, 25 October 2012

A Door in the River

Finished October 21
A Door in the River by Inger Ash Wolfe

This is the third book in the series featuring OPS officer Hazel Micallef. Here, Hazel is back living with her mother after recovering from back surgery. She is worried about her mother's health, but also her own future. There are plans for the local OPS office in Port Dundas to become a regional centre, with Ray Greene in charge, an officer who had previously worked under Hazel. Hazel is an angry woman, and not a diplomatic one. She tends to be aggressive in her encounters with others, and I found this made her a less sympathetic character for me. But she has a good eye for crime, as shown in the case here.
A local man is found dead, seemingly of a heart attack after an insect bite, but Hazel finds questions around the death. When she digs deeper, she finds her instincts right. This death occurred on the nearby reserve and Hazel immediately butts heads with the reserve police force. Doing her own investigation, she ignores jurisdiction and permissions and forges ahead with the case.
Her small squad shows enthusiasm and gets involved, with one young officer, Wingate, taking large risks to help the victims identified as the investigation moves forward. With the investigation unveiling illegal gambling, prostitution, and human trafficking, we see both local involvement and the international nature. Getting inside the head of one of the human trafficking victims and seeing how the experience affected her attitude toward life was eye-opening.

The Postmistress

Finished October 21
The Postmistress by Sarah Blake, read by Orlagh Cassidy

This novel jumps back and forth between London, England and the small Cape Cod town of Franklin, Massachusetts in the months before the United States entered World War II. In London, we have American journalist Frankie Bard, first giving war commentary on the radio to folks back home, and later travelling into Germany and German-occupied France to gather the story of refugees.
In Franklin, we have Iris James, the postmistress, a strong, upright woman who has recently fallen in love with an older man, Harry. She knows that Harry is the man for her and takes the step of getting a doctor's certificate proving her virginity, a document that means a lot to her and she believes will mean a lot to Harry too. Iris is a watcher, watching the people of the town, their comings and goings, and caring about them. Harry is also a watcher, but he is watching for threats from outside, specifically for German u-boats. Every day, he goes up in the town hall and watches the ocean.
New to town is Emma, the doctor's new wife. Emma has led a life filled with loss, with both her mother and older brother dying in the influenza pandemic when she was a child. Her relationship with Will gives her a home and the love she has craved. They are very close, but Will feels the need to prove himself as a result of his late father's reputation in town. As a new doctor, when he loses a patient, he takes it personally and struggles with the guilt he feels around it. The need to make penance for this drives him away from his home and Emma toward danger in a move that sets him down a new path.
Also, in Franklin a more minor character, Otto, has a role. Otto rooms with Harry and works for him in the local garage, and has an obvious German accent. The townspeople make assumptions about him and treat him as a threat to them, imported from the war overseas.
As we see these stories evolve, and eventually come together in a way that brings all these lives to a meeting place, we see the effect of the war and people's choices on others.
A wonderful story, with strong characters and interesting storylines. Seeing war through different eyes with focus on the home front and the refugees results in a very engaging read.

Sunday, 21 October 2012

A Christmas Home

Finished October 21
A Christmas Home by Greg Kincaid

This short novel is set in the small town of Crossing Trails, Kansas, where, like many parts of the United States, finances are getting tight. A large employer has closed, resulting in lost jobs, and lost tax revenue for the town. At the center of this story is Todd McCray, twenty-four years old and working at the local animal shelter. Todd has a developmental disability, but has wonderful skills with animals, particularly dogs, that serve him well in his work. He has recently moved out of his parent's home to a nearby cabin, and is beginning to live a more independent life. With the town's financial issues comes a threat to Todd's job and the shelter itself. As Todd, his friends, family and coworkers fight to save the shelter, Todd must also examine his life to see what it is he truly wants. A particular help is Todd's best friend Laura, a young woman with physical disabilities, whom Todd has assisted by training a service dog for her needs. Laura believes in Todd, and encourages him to find the path that is meant for him.
With romance, urgency, and wonderful dog characters, this novel is a feel-good one for the season.

The Sweetest Dark

Finished October 20
The Sweetest Dark by Shana Abé

This is the first teen novel, launching a new series. This is a book of both historical fiction and the paranormal. Set in the first year of World War I in England, it focuses on Eleanore Jones (Lora), who was found at the age of ten on the streets of London and grew up in an orphanage. Lora always felt herself different than other children, and heard the sound of singing around her all the time. When her orphanage is destroyed in the war, she finds that she has been given a place in an elite girls school on the coast. There, she finally learns of her true nature, that of a drakon. This is an interesting departure from the paranormal popular creatures of late, and the awakening of Lora is done well.
As she arrives at the school Lora captures the attention of two very different young men, and it is their involvement that leads her to both danger and knowledge. As she learns of her nature, and begins to practice the skill of turning from human to smoke and dragon, she also learns of the history of her people. But she will be called upon to use her new skills in ways she never imagined.
A wonderful new series for teens that includes romance, danger, and history.

Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Don't Buy It

Finished October 16
Don't Buy It by Anat Shenker-Osorio

I found this book fascinating. It deals with two subjects I find interesting, economics and language. The author talks about the use of language around the economy in the United States and how that use feeds the political arguments around the economy. She is progressive politically and shows how the conservatives language is dominant right now and how progressives can work to change that.
Right now the dominant view of the US economy (and indeed economy in general) is as an entity unto itself. Some refer to it like a god, with people being asked to sacrifice for the sake of the economy. Some refer to it as a living organism that does what it does without outside influence. Neither of these are true, but they work to the conservative's agenda.
One of the biggest problems is the lack of understanding by most people about how the economy actually works, that what we do changes the direction of the economy. One common fallacy is that spending is using up money. Spending money transfers that money to someone else, who can also use it and that can continue again and again. 70% of the US GDP is from consumer spending, which means that consumers have a huge influence on the economy. Another common fallacy is economic mobility, which conservatives sell as the ability of anyone to move up. Mobility actually works both ways, but no one mentions downward mobility. Financial literacy has actually decreased in recent years, with fewer people with a good understanding of how even basic finance like mortgages work. This makes it easier to create false stories that influence these people. As the author emphasizes time and time again, the economy is NOT an independent entity, but the result of our collective endeavours.
Progressives can change this in several ways. One, is changing the language to one that uses metaphors of man-made things like cars (i.e. drive the economy) to indicate that some control is needed and that the economy is something we created. Another is to tell people what they can do as individuals to change the economy to something that works for the people and the planet.
Many talk of economics as a science, with rules that govern it, but the author shows in vivid ways how these "rules" aren't rules at all, but merely convenient constructs to illustrate behaviours.
She also suggests four things that can be done to move the economy in the right direction, a direction that will  work for the majority of people and for the planet. If only everyone from politicians to those that vote for them would read and understand these lessons.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

The Good Girls Revolt

Finished October 14
The Good Girls Revolt: How the Women of Newsweek Sued Their Bosses and Changed the Workplace by Lynn Povich

The story of the women of Newsweek began in the sixties, but continues into the present. Lynn follows the development of the case from its inception through its public unveiling to subsequent cases and slow change at the newsmagazine. While she was beginning to write this, she was approached by women working at Newsweek in the early twenty-first century, who were still feeling unfairness in the workplace and had just discovered the historic case. This present situation became part of the story included here, and brings in the changes, and gaps that still exist 42 years later. This was a landmark case for women's rights, and one of the interesting elements is the reaction by women both then and now to the term feminism. Among women today, there is a lack of knowledge of the history that partly explains this, but there is also a mindset among many women across time about what feminism is.
A very interesting book, about an important historical change that had long lasting impact on the workplace.

Thursday, 11 October 2012


Finished October 11
Wilderness by Lance Weller

This debut novel will capture you. It begins with Jane, an old woman in a nursing home, but she is a very small part of the story. The story goes back to the latter part of the nineteenth century, moving between the US Civil War and a few days in the late fall of 1899. She looks back at her parents: her first father and mother, her second father, her third father and her second mother. The Civil War portion tells the story of Abel, Jane's second father, the one she had for the briefest time. Abel fought on the rebel side, and his memory takes us through the loss of fellow soldiers, the lost of family, and the loss of others he meets along the way. It is doled out in bits, with pieces alluded to, hinted at, and told partly, before we hear the tale in full. The time in 1899 tells of Abel's last journey, and his relationship with Glenn and Ellen, Jane's third father and second mother. It tells the tale of how she came by these parents, and the challenges that these adults faced. The writing is lovely, and the story will capture you as you wait to find out how they manage through their difficult lives.

The Beautiful Mystery

Finished October 9
The Beautiful Mystery by Louise Penny, read by Ralph Cosham

Another beautiful mystery indeed. I swear that Louise Penny gets better with every book, which makes this one good beyond words.
On the professional side, Gamache is called to the remote monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loups, on the edge of a northern Quebec lake, where the choir director has been found murdered. He decides to bring along Beauvoir to assist him, and the two travel up to find a small group of monks, who grow vegetables and tend chickens, and make chocolate. But more importantly they sing, and it is Gregorian chants that they sing. Recently a recording of the monks was released and they drew a lot of attention, and raised some money to help improve their building.
Now that the choir director is dead, they have to make some choices about their future, and Gamache and Beauvoir must figure which one of the brothers committed the crime.
On a personal level, Beauvoir is getting better, feeling happy and optimistic about his future. But Gamache still worries about him, more so in this remote place, where he is still vulnerable to evil and his demons. It continues the story of the men, their history, and the incident that won't let them go.
Listening to this book, I also found Cosham's voice perfect for the book as it has been for others in this series I've listened to. And now I am waiting for the next one.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Rape Girl

Finished October 10
Rape Girl by Alina Klein

This short teen novel deals with the difficult subject of rape. The main character Valerie is sixteen, and has a house party when her mom is away for the weekend. But it isn't the party that is the issue here, it is what happens later. A boy she likes comes into her house uninvited and doesn't take no for an answer. Luckily, Valerie tells her mom soon after and the police take the case seriously.
But Valerie finds a backlash, where many of her friends don't believe her, and the guys at school stand up for their friend. Valerie's life has become much more difficult and she begins to question why she came forward. Her mom is sad, her brother is angry, and she is both, sometimes at the same time.
The author dealt with rape at a similar age, and wanted to deal with this story in a real way.
This is an important subject, and this book addresses a lot of the issues around rape by someone you like in a honest and real way.

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Close Your Eyes

Finished October 9
Close Your Eyes by Amanda Eyre Ward

This is a novel with a mystery at its heart, but also a novel of loss and of family. We follow two women. One is Lauren, who mother was killed when she was a small girl. Lauren's father was arrested and convicted of the crime, and Lauren and her brother Alex went to live with their maternal grandparents. But Lauren has never really dealt with her loss, and Alex has spent years trying to find evidence to clear his father. Now Alex is leaving to go to Afghanistan as part of a Doctors without Borders team. Lauren feels even more lost without him and finds herself desperate, desperate enough to try to take up Alex's quest for their father's case.
We also follow Sylvia, a woman a decade older than Lauren. Sylvia grew up in New York City, with a bitter mother Pauline, who made no secret of the rejection she'd received by Sylvia's father when she became pregnant. Sylvia finds herself in a relationship with no future, pregnant, and decides to choose her baby rather than her lover. She returns to New York City, looking for help from her best friend Victoria, and instead finds her friend in even worse shape. But in her search for her past, she also finds that she can help someone else.
The two stories connect through these women, and their past. A very enjoyable novel.

Monday, 8 October 2012

The St. Zita Society

Finished October 6
The St. Zita Society by Ruth Rendell

This stand-alone mystery is Rendell's latest. The plot revolves around the people who live on Hexam Place in London, primarily the servants. June, a long-serving retainer of one wealthy woman forms the St. Zita Society, a group encompassing the servants, to discuss issues that affect them. The group is loosely formed and lacks real purpose.
The plot here moves very slowly and the characters are the focus of the story. June, an elderly servant, of a similar age to her employer, who shows a certain level of familiarity with that employer. Henry the driver for a Lord, who is having a secret relationship with the lord's daughter, and with his wife. Montserrat, an au pair to the Still family, who does as little as possible, but assists Mrs. Still in her affair with an actor. Rabia, the nanny in the Still family, haunted by her own losses, overly attached to her charges. Jimmy, driver to a pediatrician, who begins to assert himself. Thea, boarder and unofficial servant to a gay couple, who also helps out their other boarder, an elderly woman. And, of great importance, Dex, a gardener with mental health issues, who thinks a god named Peach lives in his phone.
As the characters interact, we see the character flaws come to light.
Ending on an uncertainty, this novel leaves this reader unsatisfied.

Monday, 1 October 2012

The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making

Finished September 30
The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M Valente

This children's novel attracted me by the title, but that is just a couple of chapters of the story. September is the name of the girl, and when asked by the Green Wind if she wants to go to Fairyland, she doesn't hesitate. The time is World War II (although not stated explicitly) and her father is off in Europe where the war is, while her mother builds airplane engines. September is quite handy herself, as she proves along the way.
Getting into Fairyland isn't as easy as she thinks, and she finds that there is more than one way of doing it. Once she arrives, she finds that Fairyland itself has undergone a few changes, and the one in charge seems to be a bit of a tyrant, especially compared to the previous well-loved Queen Mallow.
This book talks about losing one's heart and the tendency towards heartlessness in many children, but also the changes that take place as one gets to care about others. September is an adventurous child, but also one who is willing to make friends and take care of those she believes deserve it. She is a good judge of character, and not as heartless as she thinks.
From soap sculpture characters to large dragon-like creatures, from sea creatures to walking lanterns, September finds many interesting friends along her journey. Her actions will bind her to Fairyland in a way she never imagined.
I particularly loved the Wyverary, a creature whose mother was a Wyvern and whose father was a Library. His knowledge is limited to A to L, but very useful still. September herself likes words, and is a reader who "liked it best when words did not pretend to be simple, but put on their full armor and rode out with colors flying."
The Fairyland portrayed here is an interesting one, with certain rules, places that move around, and dangerous forests. A great place for an adventure for a young girl with an attitude.