Monday, 29 April 2013

The Library of Unrequited Love

Finished April 28
The Library of Unrequited Love by Sophie Divry, translated by Siân Reynolds

This short novel is the first novel for Divry. It takes place on the lower level of the public library in a unnamed provincial town in France. The librarian goes into work one morning to discover a patron who had been locked in overnight. She then says she can't let them out before the library opens as it would alert others to the patron had been in the library after hours, and proceeds to talk about the library, her life, her dreams, and other matters. The text is one long monologue by the librarian, although there are a few points where the patron obviously commented or reacted in some way, but we only get the librarian's words.
There are points where she seems to fall into an unhappy and untrue stereotype of librarian:
"Being a librarian isn't an especially high-level job, I can tell you. Pretty close to being in a factory. I'm a cultural assembly line worker. So what you need to know is, to be a librarian, you have to like the idea of classification, and to be of a docile nature. No initiative, no room for the unexpected; here, everything is in its place, invariably in its place."
But other times she seems to be more progressive. She espouses the views of Eugène Morel (a man I was admittedly ignorant of until now) a Frenchman who had the following view demands of libraries:
"...make it easier to borrow books, have longer opening hours, keep the collections up to date, have comfortable seats, special areas for children, and the underpinnings of the whole thing, the idea, the supreme aim, was that the people should be able to read."
and she feels that:
" my job, there's nothing more exciting, to make you feel wanted, than to be able to size up the person in front of you, guess what they're after, find the book they need on the shelves and bring the two together. Book and reader, if they meet up at the right moment in a person's life, it can make sparks fly, set you alight, change your life." 
She has dreams of more for herself, both professionally and personally, but lacks the hope or will to make these dreams come true.
This is a gem of a book, and I have to thank Ben McNally for introducing me to it.


Finished April 27
Traps by MacKenzie Bezos

This novel follows four women, whose lives intersect and shows how each life has fallen into a potential trap at some point, but that each women also has the capacity to extricate herself from that trap and move forward in a more positive way. We have Dana, a young security guard with advanced defense skills and emergency medical skills, who is so focused on safety that she is afraid to take chances with love. We have Jessica, an Oscar-winning actress who has stopped taking jobs and has become afraid to leave her house because of her father, who has repeatedly sold her out to the paparazzi, and then publicly campaigned for her to let him back into her life. There is Vivian, a teen mother of twins, who has gone down the road of prostitution to survive, but will do whatever it takes to protect her children. And there is Lynn, a recovering alcoholic, estranged from her family, who has devoted her life to running a dog shelter on an isolated ranch in Nevada. The choices each woman makes aren't easy, but there interactions with each other give them the strength to make the changes to look forward to the future. A great read.

Who I Kissed

Finished April 27
Who I Kissed by Janet Gurtler

This teen novel tells the story of Samantha, a young swimmer at the top of her game. Her father and her have moved to a new community in the same area to allow her to work with a better coach, and she is hoping for a new start there and a chance to make the nationals. When one of her team members invites her to a party she goes, but something happens there that changes her life forever. She kisses a boy she meets (something she has never done before), who then has an asthma attack and dies. She finds out he is highly allergic to nuts, and she had eaten a peanut butter sandwich before the party. Her feelings of guilt paralyze her and she begins withdrawing into herself. How her situation leads her down other avenues, good and bad, that she wouldn't have otherwise gone down shows the emotions that often affect teens. We also see how Samantha's own history has affected her choices.
The author's own son has both strong nut allergies and asthma and this led her to the idea for this story.

Friday, 26 April 2013

The Monster in the Box

Finished April 26
The Monster in the Box by Ruth Rendell, read by Nigel Anthony

This is part of the Inspector Wexford mystery series. A man that Wexford hasn't seen in years suddenly reappears in his life. Wexford first encountered him decades earlier when he was a young police officer on his first murder case. The man has reappeared from time to time since then in Wexford's life, often around cases involving strangulation. Wexford has never had any hard facts to tie him to any murders, but has strong feelings around his involvement. He also feels strongly about the man's awareness of Wexford and feels that like Wexford has kept tabs on him, he has also kept tabs on Wexford.
The story is both a mystery and a story of Wexford's life. It is a story about recognizing evil and about letting one's delusions get the better of one. An interesting slowly paced novel that I really enjoyed.

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Authentic Letters from Upper Canada

Finished April 21
Authentic Letters from Upper Canada including an Account of Canadian Field Sports by Thomas William Magrath: the whole edited by The Rev. Thomas Radcliff: illustrated by Samuel Lover and Introduced by James John Talman.
[No image as book cover is plain green cloth]
This collection of letters dates from 1832 and 1833, and was originally published in 1833. This edition, with the introduction by Talman was published in 1952.
The letters originate from two families, the Magraths, a family of 8 plus one servant that immigrated to Canada from Ireland in 1827, and the Radcliffes, a party of 13 including servants that immigrated in 1832. Both groups were from the wealthier class of Irish, being able to afford more costs associated with starting out in a new country than most. Two of the twenty letters are from a servant girl in the Radcliffe party, but her name was changed by the editor. The editor was the elder Radcliffe who remained in Ireland. The letters provide detailed information on costs, the conditions of the time, and the activities undertaken by those who came to Upper Canada. They also describe the quick growth taking place at the time in the new communities, with the Radcliffes clearing their own land near the planned settlement of Adelaide in Middlesex County, and it being quite populated less than a year later. With letters from several men, one woman and a servant, this is an interesting snapshot of the times.

Help the Helper

Finished April 21
Help the Helper: building a culture of extreme teamwork by Kevin Pritchard and John Eliot

The authors of this book are Kevin Pritchard, the GM for the Indian Pacers, who has managed other basketball teams and played for five NBA teams, and John Eliot, a university professor and consultant to pro atheletes and athletic coaches, as well as a consultant to a variety of businesses and medical centers. Because of their background a lot of the experiences here, and the examples illustrating those experiences are from the sports world, specifically the basketball world. As I am not a watcher of sports in general or basketball in particular, I found some of this hard to follow.
Despite that, this book was very interesting in how it talked about teamwork. Every chapter did have at least one business example as well, as followup instructions on implementation within the reader's circumstances.
The first chapter explains the Help the Helper philosophy, the second is about creating at atmosphere of unselfishness within your team, the third is about hiring for what is best for the team rather than individual excellence, the fourth about moving away from the carrot and stick method of motivation to a motivation based on spirit, the fifth about managing the energy of the team as opposed to the people individually, the sixth about avoiding distracting communication, the seventh about real toughness involving resiliency and authenticity, the eighth about a 3D approach to measuring: observing, listening, and statistics, not relying on numbers as the driver, and finally, the ninth about being an unleader, a leader who carries the load so the team can do what they are out there to do, who looks for ways to make the team's work the team's work and not a task assigned by the leader.
I liked the idea of looking to the sources of success for your team, finding out what drives the team, and then finding team members who are good at those things, and then working to develop and enhance those skills in all team members. Lots of great ideas here to make teams work as real teams not just a bunch of people who work in the same place.

On Cats

Finished April 21
On Cats by Doris Lessing

This book is a gem, written by the Nobel Prize winning author on the cats in her life, from her childhood in Africa, to her life in England. She gives the reader a true sense of each cat's personality, showing her careful observance of their behaviour and how they interact both with other creatures and with herself and the other people in her life. The cats are the stars here though, and one comes to know and love each cat as its story is told, and I found myself also reflecting on the cats in my own life and their quirks and behaviour.
A wonderful book for anyone who loves cats.

Anna Dressed in Blood

Finished April 20
Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

This teen novel is another venture into the paranormal. Cas (Theseus Cassio) Lowood is high school student who has taken on his late father's unusual vocation, that of killing the dead. When Cas was just seven, his father was killed in such an endeavour and Cas has secretly harboured a plan to eventually return to that scene and take on his father's killer.
As the book begins, Cas and his mother, who is also a white witch, are in North Carolina and Cas is releasing the ghost of a dead hitchhiker who has been haunting a certain stretch of road since his violent death in 1970. Cas is always on the lookout for a new challenge, both to move the ghosts on to what he hopes is rest, and to increase his own skills in order to be prepared for his longterm goal. A friend has alerted him to a particular intriguing ghost in Thunder Bay, Ontario. This girl, Anna, was apparently violently killed on her way to the prom, never reaching her destination, and kills all those who dare to enter the house she called home. She wears her white prom dress, which is dripping with her blood.
As Cas and his mother adjust to a new city, and Cas makes some high school friends, he is maneuvered into an encounter with Anna. What ensues is a more violent encounter than he expected, and yet he somehow feels a connection to this ghost. As he realizes that she is the most powerful ghost he has encountered yet, he calls on his mentor and new friends to assist him in putting her to rest. He finds, however, that his father's killer has been trailing him and the danger he now faces is more extreme than he had thought.
A tale of romance, vengeance, and the unpredictable nature of magic, this is an interesting start to a new series.

Salvation of a Saint

Finished April 20
Salvation of a Saint by Keigo Higashino, read by David Pittu

This crime novel was nominated for an Edgar Award, and is part of a series featuring a physics professor, Manabu Yukawa, nicknamed Detective Galileo, who is brought into cases as a consultant.
In this case a man dies of poisoning. His wife, whom he is about to divorce, is visiting her parents hundreds of miles away. Detectives Kusanagi (male) and Kaoru Utsami (female) don't agree on suspects. Utsami is focused on the wife despite the seemingly physical barriers to her involvement. It is Utsami who goes to the professor, but he relies on both detectives to provide him with information and opinions that lead to his theory of the crime being accepted by both.
I found this novel very interesting as it really showed the cultural differences between Japan and my western experience. The way the characters interacted, the formalities, the apologies, and the nature of the police investigation all beautifully illustrated this cultural difference.

As Sweet As Honey

Finished April 15
As Sweet As Honey by Indira Ganesan

This novel is written in 3 sections. The first and third sections are narrated by Mina, and the second by Meterling. In the first section Marriage, Mina is telling the story of events when she was a girl from the vantage point of the future. Her home is the island of Pi in the South Indian Ocean. Her older cousin Meterling has recently got married, but the groom dropped dead during the wedding dance, a shocking and sad circumstance. As Meterling grieves and adjusts to her new situation, we see the reaction of her husband Archer's family, her own family, and the larger community. As the months pass, other marriages take place in the family and we see the different nature of these unions and the reactions to them as well. Mina is particularly close to the two cousins closest to her in age, Rasi and Sanjay. They all live with their grandmother, aunts, uncles and cousins in a multigenerational home. Mina's parents are both in the United States, studying and working towards a better life.
The second section Time Passes covers Meterling's move to London with her new husband and child, and her gradual adjustment to life there. We see how her past haunts her, quite literally, and what she does to learn about her new environment and move forward. We see her fears and worries, her emotions and her triumphs.
The third section Returning (Nine Years Later) is back in Pi. Mina has travelled home as have Rasi and Sanjay from their current homes in the United States. Mina and Rasi are both at university and Sanjay is about to begin. This is the first time their parents have sent them home without coming themselves. Also, for the first time a few years Meterling and her family are home visiting. Meterling's son Oscar is beginning to show independence. Mina observes her family again as more marriages are considered, and the younger generation begins to consider its future.
This is a very interesting novel, showing the closeness of the family despite distances intervening, the changes that life in foreign countries brings to their outlooks and expectations, and the gradual change that occurs even in the remote land they grew up in.

Sunday, 14 April 2013

See Now Then

Finished April 12
See Now Then by Jamaica Kincaid, read by the author

This is one of the oddest books I've ever read. I'm having some difficulty describing it. Since this is the first book I have read by the author, I'm not sure whether this work is her usual style or a departure.
We have the characters Mr. Sweet, Mrs. Sweet, and their children: the young Hercules and Persephone. Mrs. Sweet loves her garden, her children, cooking and her husband. She has gained weight over the course of the marriage, and spends most of her time looking after her home and garden and knitting and mending. Mr. Sweet's life is his music, specifically music for the lyre. He has a retreat above the garage where he can remove himself from daily life and immerse himself in his interests. He hates his wife, and questions arise as to whether he ever loved her. He doesn't like his son either, but does like his daughter, trying to remove her from her mother's influence. Hercules is a boy interested in athletics and other physical endeavours. He plays with his toy soldiers, is somewhat embarrassed by his mother, and finds little in common with his father. Persephone is a character we only see from other viewpoints, never from her own, so she is peripheral in that sense.
This story is told in bits and pieces, not in a straightforward time narrative. The voice jumps around between three of the characters in third person, and sometimes a removed narrator. This is a story of things changing over time, of things staying the same over time, of now becoming then, of thinking of then now, of the future becoming now and then then. There is a lot of repetitiveness here, of the same words used over and over, sometimes right after each other, sometimes farther apart. Sometimes the same things is said over and over several times, either using the same words or paraphrased. To me this made the book about language and how it is used, the meaning of words, the sound of words, and the feelings that words engender.
There is also an element of fantastical here, especially with relation to body parts. With heads being removed and replaced, bodies bursting open and being sewn closed, body parts being thrown impossible distances, giving a surreal feeling to those parts of the story.
Having the author read the book herself made me pay attention to her inflections, her pauses, her lack of emotion in emotional scenes, and definitely added a great deal to the experience. However, this is also a book where I think I would have enjoyed the print version in a different way, moving back and forth over the book, taking more time over certain passages. I would see these two formats giving very different experiences of the book.
Definitely a book that would engender discussion.

Friday, 12 April 2013

Out of My Mind

Finished April 12
Out of My Mind by Sharon Draper

This children's novel has a main character Melody, who is eleven years old and suffers from severe cerebral palsy. She can't walk, can't feed herself, and can't talk. But inside, she is extremely bright with an almost photographic memory. Her parents have fought for her to have access to education and recently her school has started integrated their special needs students with the regular classes.
With the help of her school-supplied aid and a family friend, Melody researches and finds out about a device that will allow her to communicate with those around her in a way that reflects her real voice.
This is a novel about not judging others by how they appear, about recognizing that we are all unique and bring different skills to the table. This is about challenging those preconceived notions about others' capabilities. A great book for young people that will expand their minds with new ideas.
I really got a sense of Melody's frustrations. The author makes her a real girl, not a perfect one. She makes mistakes and takes out her anger on others who don't deserve it like we all sometimes do. She learns that she too has made judgements that aren't always accurate.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

Snow White Must Die

Finished April 9
Snow White Must Die by Nele Neuhaus, read by Robert Fass

This is the fourth book in the series featuring detectives Pia Kirchoff and Oliver von Bodenstein, but the first translated into English. I was attracted by the title when I saw it on the new book shelf and found it captured me almost immediately. Set near Frankfurt, this story stretches back to crimes committed 11 years before. The man found guilty of those crimes has just been released from jail. The two detectives have recently begun a case around a long dead body found in a tank on an old airfield, and soon have another case when a woman is pushed from a bridge onto a busy road beneath. The detectives soon find a link between the two cases, and the old case of the missing girls, presumed dead. When another girl in the same village goes missing, Pia is sure there is a link and that time is of the essence.
Also here, we see into the detectives' personal lives, with von Bodenstein having marital issues that distract him, and Pia worried about the legalities of her housing situation. There are additional dramas among other officers as well.
This is a novel about greed for power and influence, and the corruption that often goes along with it. A book about ego, and about people driven by their own wants without regard for others. A story of justice gone wrong, and village politics. Lots going on, and an interesting new author.

Monday, 8 April 2013


Finished April 8
Testify by Valerie Sherrard

This short teen novel is about a teen, Shana, who is just trying to be a good friend. Her best friend Carrie confided in her that her new stepfather was abusing her, but she needed help to prove it. Shana was so upset about this and convinced by Carrie's emotional confession that she agreed to testify in court that she had seen him touch Carrie inappropriately, even though she hadn't seen anything.
Afterward, when Hayley, another friend in their group, is accused of stealing by Carrie, Shana begins to wonder. She talks to Hayley, and begins to question Carrie, but is confused and upset by what she discovers. She decides to come clean about her perjury, but has she just put herself in danger?
This is a very interesting story that encompasses a few issues. One of them is the nature of truth and how one person can tell lies so often she actually starts believing them herself. Another is the power of gossip and innuendo, and how that can destroy a reputation so easily. A third is about social media and how careful one has to be about what one reads and believes.
A really good read.

Code Name Verity

Finished April 8 
Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein

This book has been marketed as a teen novel, but after reading it I am not sure why. The two main characters are young British women in World War II. One of them "Verity" has been captured by the Germans in France after she made a mistake. After being tortured, she has agreed to give her captors information in exchange for small concessions. She tells the whole story of her friendship with the other young woman, an Air Transport Authority pilot named Maddie. Her written story is the first two-thirds of the book. The last third is Maddie's story. This is a story of courage in the face of extreme danger, of friendship taken to the extreme, and of two very bright young women, thinking on their feet. One gets a real sense of the atmosphere of the war, the way it became a different world for a short time, and the barriers that dissolved under the pressures and needs of the war. It is a story of the nature of truth.
I always love stories set in the first half of the twentieth century and this one is a winner for sure.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Counting Back from Nine

Finished April 7
Counting Back from Nine by Valerie Sherrard

This is a great choice for April, a novel written in poetry. Laren (pronounced like Karen) has a secret, and not a good one. Her new boyfriend is her best friend's ex-boyfriend. And what happens when her friends find out is something she isn't ready for. But Laren finds that there are much more difficult things to deal with in her immediate future, and she isn't ready for them either.
As Laren works through these issues, she finds herself wondering about her own actions, and about those close to her. Why has her younger brother suddenly taken up vegetarianism? Why is her mother busy redecorating everything? What does being a friend mean?
I really liked the way each poem dealt with an issue in a unique way, and fit so well together as a whole. This is a very cool book.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

American Creation

Finished April 2
American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic by Joseph J. Ellis

This book looks at U.S. history from the early days of the revolution to the Louisiana Purchase, ranging from 1775 to 1803, and analyzes six different component actions. First he has an overview of the founding overall, the bigger picture and the reasoning for covering the period he does here. Then each chapter looks at an event or time period, at who the different players were and what actions they took, even at what we know about what they were thinking from their papers and conversations. Included here is a discussion of the significance of each of these.
The first chapter covers the first year of the revolution, really a little more than a year, as it is the time period from April 1775 when shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, and the adoption of the Declaration of Independence in July of 1776. Here, you could really see how the actions of the British fed into the more radical plans of the revolutionaries, pushing them further towards a true revolt. The American petitions were not only not entertained by the British, but the British began to hire foreign mercenaries to quash the rebellion by their own people. Definitely not an action that would lead to a peaceful outcome.
The second chapter covers the first hard winter of the war, in which the British sat comfortably in the city, while the Americans sat in the rural breadbasket, freezing and starving. Ellis describes the poor planning on the American side, and the lessons they learned from this experience, as well as the complacency of the British and the mistake they made in not taking advantage of the situation.
The third chapter is entitled The Argument and covers the period from 1786 until 1788. This is really about the political beginnings, the struggle to define the political model for the United States. Washington and most of the officers in the Continental Army were nationalists, those who believed in a strong central government. The majority of people were confederationists who believed in state-centered government. Madison was the creative brains behind the nationalists. It came down to the Henry - Madison debate of 1788 where Patrick Henry's eloquence wasn't a match for Madison's convincing argument.
The fourth chapter is called The Treaty and deals with the issue of the Native Americans, setting the stage for the removal of the natives by sheer demography. Despite good intentions by Washington, the sheer volume of settlers pushing westward led to the failure of the legitimate rights of the Native Americans.
The fifth chapter deals with the creation of the two-party system with Jefferson and Madison defining the Republican opposition against Washington and Adams Federalists. It was interesting to see the opposition party reasoning that still exists now coming from Jefferson as he found himself taking actions later that he had earlier argued against when in opposition.
The last chapter is about the Louisiana Purchase and how it changed the plan of gradual westward expansion  to a sudden jump of increased land as part of the nation. It is about squandered opportunities and precedent setting, and about the racial issues that still haunt the country today.
A very interesting look at an interesting country.