Wednesday, 28 November 2012


Finished November 26
Darkmans by Nicola Barker

I've had this on the shelf for a while and finally tackled it. Like all of her books that I've read, it isn't straightforward, and it took me awhile to figure out what the different fonts indicated. One font stands for thoughts, and one for speech in a foreign language. The story takes place in Ashford a modern town near the Chunnel. At the center of this story are Beede and his son Kane. Beede runs the laundry at the local hospital, but has been involved over the years in various civic activities. Kane deals in the black market for prescription drugs. The two live in the same house, with separate living spaces. They've lived largely separate lives for years, but the actions here bring them together. Beede has been helping Elen deal with some issues around the health of her husband Dory. Elen is a bit of a mysterious woman, one of those women who seem to draw men of all types and she's been drawing Beede for a while. When she meets Kane by chance, he also finds himself interested in her despite himself.
Elen and Dory also have a child, a young boy named Fleet, who lives in his own world and shows signs of high intelligence in certain areas. I couldn't help but think that he is autistic.
Dory has insisted that they move into a new suburb and their house has had numerous problems. The builder they hired has been dragging his feet on getting any real work done, and things have been getting tense. Dory also seems prone to going into trance-like states where he does things that he doesn't remember later.
Another central character is Kane's ex-girlfriend, Kelly Broad. Kelly is a girl from a disreputable family, a girl who dresses flirtatiously, but is really pretty good underneath. Kelly thinks Beede is behind the disappearance of some of Kane's supply a while back, a disappearance that she was blamed for. She is trying to clear her name, and perhaps interested in Kane still.
A young Turkish Kurd who comes to Kelly's aid is an interesting touch, He understands more English than he speaks, and is quite well-spoken when talking his own language, and has an interesting background. And an interesting phobia, salad.
Also figuring in the story is John Scogin, a court-jester from the court of Edward IV, a man we mostly see traces of, like a ghost.
All these characters, and more, interact in interesting ways and reveal their own idiosyncrasies as they do. This is a book about fathers and sons, love and jealousy, past and present, a book about the way some things just get under your skin and never let you go. The book became more and more fascinating the further I read, and at 838 pages, that made it very interesting. Barker is never a disappointment.

Sunday, 25 November 2012

Mr Stink

Finished November 25
Mr Stink by David Walliams, illustrated by Quentin Blake

This is a great children's novel. Chloe is an unhappy little girl. She has no friends at school, is constantly compared unfavourably to her over-achieving younger sister by her ambitious mother, and finds comfort in food. She has seen the homeless man, known around town as Mr Stink, sitting in the park with his dog and has wondered about his story. When she approaches him, she discovers that he is a good listener and actually takes an interest in her. Chloe offers Mr Stink her family's shed as a place to stay, but how will her mother react when she finds out, and what effect will it have on her mother's political aspirations?
This book raises the question of judging someone by how they appear, and focusing on what is really important in one's life.

Saturday, 24 November 2012

The Silver Nutmeg

Finished November 24
The Silver Nutmeg by Palmer Brown

This book follows Beyond the Pawpaw Trees, and once again Anna Lavinia is having adventures. When her father returned last time, he wanted her to have another point of view and made a hole in the garden wall for that purpose. But he didn't finish the job, leaving a hole that Anna Lavinia must clamber through. The view through the hole is of Dew Pond Hill, because a hill with a dew pond is something special.
The land is going through a dry spell, with the well run dry, meaning Anna Lavinia must go to the spring for water for her mother. On one of her trips, she returns to find a visitor, Uncle Jeffrey, who has come to replenish their spice supply and tell stories. Anna Lavinia gets permission from her mother to go to the dew pond and there she finds a new friend, Toby, and insight into Uncle Jeffrey's life.
A lovely tale of adventure.

The Patience Stone

Finished November 24
The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Polly McLean

This short novel is set in a single room, in a war zone, perhaps in Afghanistan. In the room, a man lies comatose, unmoving, being tended to my a woman. As we discover this woman is his wife, and he has been injured as a result of a fight. The woman's relatives, including her husband's family have abandoned her and her children, and she struggles to look after the children and her husband.
She talks to him, and begins to be more and open, expressing her feelings, her secrets, her innermost thoughts. He is for her the patience stone, the stone that absorbs all secrets until it finally explodes, the stone of a fable that she has been told.
Despite the fact that the reader only sees what happens within the room, the world outside intrudes. The war, the destruction, the uncertainty all show themselves. This is a story that reveals the life of a woman in a very restrictive society, the struggles and the actions women must take to keep going.

The Ghost of Thomas Kempe

Finished November 24
The Ghost of Thomas Kempe by Penelope Lively

This children's novel centers on a young boy, James and his family. They've recently moved into an old stone cottage in Oxfordshire, and the attic room has been fixed up for James' bedroom.
Besides James there is his sister Helen and their parents. Shortly after they moved in, a dog appeared and joined the family, and James named him Tim.
Strange things are happening around the house and James is getting the blame, but he isn't responsible. Gradually James begins to realize that there is a ghost that seems to be behind it all, and he looks for more information about ghosts, and how to get rid of them.
It is only when he learns more about his ghost's circumstances and tries to communicate with it that he begins to have success. But first there is much trouble, not only for James, but for his community as well.
It is interesting to watch this young boy problem solve, looking for information, finding allies, and being open to different options. A great story.

Wednesday, 21 November 2012

Liar & Spy

Finished November 20
Liar & Spy by Rebecca Stead

This is the second book I've read by the author, with the first being When You Reach Me (a homage to A Wrinkle in Time). Here we have Georges, a boy in the seventh grade, as the main character. Georges family is just moving from their house to an apartment, the result of a downturn in family finances after Georges father lost his job. The apartment is in the same neighbourhood, so Georges is able to keep going to the same school. At school he is not in the cool crowd, and doesn't really have any friends, and finds himself the target of bullies. His father worries about him and encourages him to find friends. When he does meet a boy his age in the apartment building, Georges is a little unsure of the friendship and proceeds cautiously. Safer asks Georges to do things that Georges isn't entirely comfortable doing, but he finds himself doing them anyway. But how far should he go outside his comfort zone to please his new friend? Safer is part of an interesting family and Georges enjoys his interactions with them, especially Safer's little sister Candy.
This is a book about friendship, uncertainty and belonging. Stead has a real knack for showing how we all have our own quirks and that is perfectly okay and normal.
I'm definitely going to be including this title in a Christmas gift this year.

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Whirl Away

Finished November 20
Whirl Away: stories by Russell Wangersky

This collection of stories offer a variety of individuals, all of whom have something going wrong in their life. We see their struggle, their way of coping, their inner worries. They each have something in their life that failed them in some way, whether it is job loss, loss of a partner, or simply loneliness.
They are reaching out for something, someone to pay attention to them, someone who will accept them, someone to love them. They are damaged, broken, yet he makes them sympathetic, relatable.
A moving collection.

Shadow of Night

Finished November 19
Shadow of Night by Deborah Harkness

This is the second book in the series that began with A Discovery of Witches.
It takes up where that one left off. Diana and Matthew are now in 16th century England, landing in Matthew's home in Woodstock. They have travelled to have the time for Diana to develop her abilities and learn more about herself, away from the immediate threats to the couple in the 21st century. But there are threats to them in this time as well. Another purpose of their trip is to find Ashmole 782, the book Diana was able to call up once in the Bodleian but that has eluded them since. Their travels here take them back to Sept-Tours, to London, and to Prague. Diana is in danger from other creatures, and from powerful humans, and Matthew and his relations must work diligently to keep her safe.
Diana encounters more members of Matthew's family, and begins to make friends of her own. Some of these friends are those Matthew introduces her to, and some are ones she meets herself. Part of the purpose here is to learn more about her skills, and that means meeting witches who can help her and teach her. This is accomplished, and Diana learns the true nature of her witch abilities, the reason she has trouble learning spells, and the way to direct her skills to best effect. Most of the witches she meets are of the time, but she does encounter another time-walking witch that she spends time with.
The couple also find the trail to Ashmole 782, and learn more about this mysterious work, the cause of the missing pages, and some of its nature.
But their presence creates changes in history and Matthew's relatives in the present try to contain these effects as much as they can.
Using many real historical figures, Harkness brings history to life while also furthering the personal adventures of the couple. Meeting kings and queens, writers and thinkers, the two move in interesting circles.
This book will leave you eager for the next installment.

Thursday, 15 November 2012

Rose Reisman's Choose It and Lose It

Finished November 14
Rose Reisman's Choose It and Lose It: the road map to healthier eating at your favourite Canadian restaurants by Rose Reisman

I liked that this book gathered information from a number of restaurants in one spot, and I liked the number of restaurants included. It gave good overviews with history of the restaurants and one other nugget of information. Sometimes this other information was general information on that's restaurants offerings in terms of healthiness, sometimes trivia, sometimes something more specific.
For each restaurant, there was a main "choose it" option, and a main "lose it" option, with three additional items under each category. Sometimes these include a children's menu choice, sometimes an appetizer, sometimes a "snack", sometimes another meal.  For a couple of restaurants with broader menus, there was a double set of entries, giving two main "choose it" and "lose it" items with extra choices under the second mains. (Essentially the restaurant had double the information)
As a person who can't eat cheese, I was surprised to find so many of the "choose it" choices were cheesy. For some restaurants, all of them were, which wasn't personally helpful.
One other thing that I didn't like was that sometimes one of the additional "lose it" choices was healthier than the "choose it" choice. And sometimes the category didn't make sense. A case in point is MacDonald's. The main "choose it" choice is the Big Mac at 540 calories, 29 grams of fat (10 saturated) and 1020 mg of sodium, with the main "lose it" choice as the Angus Deluxe at 780 calories, 47 grams of fat (17 saturated) and 1660 mg sodium. No arguments there. But an additional "lose it" choice is the McChicken Sandwich at 470 calories, 27 grams of fat (5 saturated) and 790 mg sodium. That would be my sandwich choice if I went (because it has no cheese!) and it is healthier than the Big Mac, which is a "choose it". Then I noticed it is listed as a "snack". The "choose it" snack is a cheeseburger. That makes no sense. The McChicken is a regular sandwich choice on their menu, unlike a cheeseburger, and I would have put it in the same category as a Big Mac in terms of choices. Yet it is not recommended, while the Big Mac is. So now I am wondering about the alternatives not listed here (the Quarter Pounder, the Fish Fillet, etc). Are they better or worse than the Big Mac? Now I have to go to McDonald's website to check. So, this entry actually didn't help me other than it made me go looking for more information. (Big Xtra, Quarter Pounder with Cheese, and Fish Fillet are all better than the Big Mac, with the Fish Fillet the best at just 410 calories, 20 g fat, and 580 mg sodium).
So the problem now is that, knowing this, I now feel the need to do this with every restaurant since obviously only some choices are listed for each one and they may not be the best choice at that establishment. For me, this book raised more questions than it answered, and didn't always lead to the best choice. Too bad, because I've loved (and bought) all her cookbooks and was really looking forward to this one. I guess it is good that it raises the idea of some seemingly healthy choices being less good than they appear, and gets people looking for more information, but it certainly wouldn't be my final stop on that search for information.

Monday, 12 November 2012


Finished November 12
Citadel by Kate Mosse

A thick one, but a good one. I've loved the other books I've read by her and once again this one takes place in southern France. Events occur in two time periods, the 4th century and during World War II. The story has a link back to Labyrinth.
In the fourth century a monk, Arinius, has been taxed with saving a document that the Christian leaders have decided is heretical. Like a few others, he disagrees and has accepted the task of taking the Codex to another land and hiding it safely away for a better time.
In World War II, another man Audric Baillard is looking for the Codex, trying to keep it out of the hands of the Germans and others who would not honour it. Audric is an old man by now, but still strong and smart and working with the Resistance to save France. Citadel is both the name of a house in a small mountain village, and the name of a Resistance group, a group of women working actively to defeat the Germans. At the centre is a young woman Sandrine and as the book begins we see her becoming aware of what is happening around here and beginning to plan her group. As usual, we have strong women at the centre of the novel, in both time periods, and the men who love and honour those women.
While fiction, this novel is written around real events of the Second World War, and was inspired by the massacre at Baudrigues on August 19, 1944 and the women that died there.
Carcassonne was once a city of peace and tolerance and it is this legacy that Mosse honours here. A tale of love, of history, and of good prevailing in the end, this novel will grip you to the end.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Something Red

Finished November 10
Something Red by Douglas Nicholas

This first novel by the award-winning poet Nicholas is set in medieval times and follows the journey of young Hob, a boy just becoming a man as he travel through northern England with his Irish mistress Molly (Maeve), her granddaughter Nemain, and the man Jack. As the story begins they are travelling through a mountain pass, one protected by the warrior monks of a monastery set in the pass, as winter approaches. They feel the presence of something evil, and are glad to reach the protection of the monastery.
As they continue their trip, visiting an inn, and travelling along with a group of pilgrims, they find the evil follows them and Maeve must call on all her skills to defeat it. They encounter many travellers, as well as old friends as they travel. Besides the pilgrims, other travellers include a group of masons, men escorting a number of horses to a castle, and an old woman from foreign lands with her retinue.
Hob is learning a lot, about the nature of evil, about the ways of magic, and men and women, and about himself. Nemain is also growing into her skills and he finds her both changed and familiar to him during this time. As they take shelter in a well-protected castle from a vicious winter storm, they find that the evil has also taken shelter and they must draw on all resources to face it.
This is a story of coming of age, of magic, of good and evil and of destiny.
An enchanting tale of a vanished world.

Ancient Light

Finished November 10
Ancient Light by John Banville, read by Robin Sachs

This short novel is told from the point of view of Alexander Cleave, a stage actor nearing the end of his career who is called unexpectedly to take a film role. The novel moves back and forth as Alex reflects on his memories of his first love, and finds connections to his present.
Alex's first love occurred when he was fifteen and had an affair with his best friend's mother, twenty years his senior. Their illicit couplings, the places they met, his feelings around it, and his devastation at its end are all memories looked back on, and he finds gaps and discrepancies that trouble him. He is also still reeling years after his daughter's suicide in Italy.
His film role pairs him with another troubled young woman and they find shared grief. The role he plays also raises questions in him around his daughter's death.
This is a book about memory, and its unreliability. A book about loss and about love. As Alex reflects and mulls over his past, we see the effect on him, and his outlook on life.

Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Watching the Dark

Finished November 6
Watching the Dark by Peter Robinson

This is another mystery novel in the series featuring Alan Banks. Here, the story begins with the murder of a policeman, and leads to another murder, criminal activity involving migrant workers, and a trail to a case several years old. Annie is just about to return to work after her injury, and gets involved in the domestic end of the case. Banks is off digging into the cold case in Estonia, looking for the ties between the dead policeman and an Estonian journalist.
As usual I enjoy the personal and inner lives we see of these characters, how they relate to each other, the way their history affects their behaviour, and the likes and dislikes. There are weak criminals, repentant ones, and those too arrogant for their own good in the long run. Banks himself is a bit of a rebel, with a strong interest in justice, but not necessarily in following the rules. Annie is also so inclined, with an interest in helping those who have been victimized. She is still recovering both physically and mentally from her close call, and that also is brought into the story. We have the usual fellow police officers, as well as a few new ones, including a lovely blonde. And as in all Banks novels, we have music, both classical and modern, with a lean towards folk. Bringing in the recent criminal trends of human trafficking in its many forms and the drug trade, this novel is a nice addition to the series.

Sunday, 4 November 2012

The Emperor of Paris

Finished November 3
The Emperor of Paris by C.S. Richardson

This novel, moves between several characters and between time, but is all set in the city of light, Paris.
I have read his first novel The End of the Alphabet, and enjoyed it, so made sure I bought this one when I learned he was going to be speaking at our library. This is a story of an illiterate baker, Octavio, one I suspect has a reading challenge like dyslexia, and of a woman who loves to read, Isabeau. It starts, however with their parents. Octavio's father Emile has similar reading challenges to him, and a reputation as the thinnest baker in Paris. The meeting between Emile and his wife has become a legend in their neighbourhood, repeated often. Octavio's arrival changed the dynamic between his parents, and Emile's war experience in the Great War changed that further. Isabeau's parents were also small business people, creating fashionable clothing for the middle class. After a childhood accident, Isabeau's mother became protective and limited her interaction with the outside world, but Isabeau found that her love of the pictures of the Louvre has led to her  independent life. Self-conscious and shy, Isabeau lives a life of intelligence and imagination, and Octavio's storytelling draws her attention.
Besides these main characters, there are several supporting characters who have a role bringing these two together. Each has their own story, tied to the city and their interaction with it.
I loved the way this story moved around, giving hints and leading you further and further into the lives of the characters.

Joseph Anton

Finished November 1
Joseph Anton: a memoir by Salman Rushdie, read by Sam Dastor

This memoir was an eye-opening look at living under threat. Whether it is the actual fear from the threats by Muslim extremists, the restrictions placed on his movements by the police and security officials, the reaction of media, the public reaction or his own family member's reaction, we see the effects on Rushdie's life. Joseph Anton was the pseudonym he chose for the police to use for him during most of this time, initiated once they realized this was not a short term situation.
Salman Rushdie lays out his life before the reader, both good and bad, embarrassing and uplifting, to show that he is a person just like the rest of us. Being a writer meant that he was still able to work during this time, but his circumstances also limited in his work in terms of doing research, promoting his work, and dealing with publishers. He had a core group of friends and family that helped keep him going, supported him intellectually, emotionally, and through physical means like offering temporary homes.
During his time under security restrictions, the life of Joseph Anton, Rushdie had one marriage end, another begin and end, a son grow up, and another son born. It was years before he was allowed to return to the country of his birth, and his restrictions cost him a great deal both financially and emotionally.
With support, he found ways to deal with and work around these restrictions as he tried to lead as normal a life as he could under the circumstances. This memoir is revealing and open about his own feelings and reactions, with moments of sadness and humour. A joy to read.