Sunday, 25 August 2013

The Life List

Finished August 23
The Life List by Lori Nelson Spielman

This novel is set in Chicago. Brett Bohlinger has grown up in a privileged family, her mother running a multi-million dollar cosmetics company. Her mother has recently died and Brett is hit hard by the loss. She fully expects to take over as head of the company, but it turns out that her mother had other things in mind.
Back when she was fourteen, Brett has made one of the lists that many of us have made listing all the things she hoped to do in her life: things like have children, learn languages, go places, etc. Brett had long forgotten this list, but her mother had found it back then and saved it and now expects Brett to fulfill the goals on this list as a condition to her inheritance. Brett is stunned. She feels her goals have changed radically, but her mother has left her more than just the list. There are messages for every goal she completes, and it turns out that her mother knew her even better than she guessed.
This is a feel good book despite the fact that it starts with a major loss, and I would call it a coming of age book even though Brett is in her 30s. Sometimes we need to be reminded of our hopes and dreams, because we have got off course somewhere along the way. Women, particularly, have a tendency to please others at the expense of our own needs, and sometimes lose the confidence we had when we are young to try new things and take risks. This book reminds us that sometimes we need to take those risks if we want the reward of happiness or just greater self knowledge.

Thursday, 22 August 2013


Finished August 22
Bedlam by Christopher Brookmyre

I picked this up when I saw it in a bookstore as I'd really enjoyed his A Tale Etched in Blood and Hard Black Pencil a few years ago. Since that was a mystery, I'd assumed this was too, and I suppose it is in a sense, but really it is much more science fiction.
Ross Baker works as a scientist developing medical technology for the large corporation Neurosphere at their Stirling offices. He works hard, but doesn't feel appreciated, and his work drive has put a strain on his relationship with his girlfriend Carol. This particular Monday, he is feeling down in the dumps, and when he overhears a conversation that tells him his girlfriend is pregnant, he feels even worse. Why would they know before him, and what does that mean for his relationship? He decides to accept an invitation from a fellow scientist to be a test candidate for a new scanner to get out of his office.
But when he emerges from the scanner, he finds himself apparently in a video game, one he eventually recognizes as a favourite from his youth, Starfire. As he struggles to find a way, he gradually learns more about this place where he is trapped. When he is asked his name, his mind reverts to that young boy, and he gives his childhood gamer name, Bedlam.
With his emotions reaching back to his life with Carol, he follows any trail he can to find his way through various video game worlds, hoping to find an escape.
As this book progressed I was drawn into it more and more, and the ethical message that Brookmyre embeds here is one that doesn't seem that futuristic. Rooting for Ross, I found myself in a pageturner that I had trouble putting down. Very different from the other book of his I've read, this book is just as good if not better. A new favourite.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

Monday or Tuesday

Finished August 18
Monday or Tuesday: Eight Stories by Virginia Woolf

This small collection of stories was first published in 1921, but count among her most early stories. They are unconnected to each other, and each shows a different aspect of her imagination. She deals with gender, nature, and the meanderings of our inner thoughts. A nice collection

Arlene Sardine

Finished August 16
Arlene Sardine by Chris Raschka

This book was also mentioned in a discussion discussing on creepy picture books. I found it startling, but not creepy. Arlene is a brisling, born in a fjord, and has a dream of becoming a sardine. So that is the quest she goes on. Gets herself caught in a net, killed and processed into a sardine can. Not sure I'd read it to younger kids, due to the whole death thing. It still seems to think of Arlene being aware of things later in the process. Not in a bad way though. Definitely a different subject for a picture book.
The pictures are simple, but nicely done, and the play of words works well.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes

Finished August 16
Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier

Once upon a time, there was an orphan boy, found floating in a basket in a sea, with a raven perched on the edge, with his eyes pecked out. After a short stint in the orphanage he is adopted be a master thief who trains him, and sets him to work stealing. Treated badly, Peter is always trying to find a way out of his life, but his lack of sight impairs him.
One night he meets a man who seems to be able to read his mind, and whose carriage boasts a wealth of locks, something Peter finds intriguing. As his interest grows, he finds himself drawn to this man, and soon enough Peter finds something to steal that will change his life. He takes a mystery box, that, when it is opened later, seems to contain eggs, but the contents of these eggs can only be described as fantastic. Once he tries a pair of the eyes hidden in the eggs, Peter is off on a wild set of adventures that bring him a good friend, travels over the ocean and desert, and perhaps even the truth about his own past.
A wonderful adventure tale, with lots of action and suspense, and a character who longs to belong somewhere.


Finished August 16
Dog-Eared by Patrick McDonnell

I love Mutts, and this one is a particularly good collection. I like the play on words in the title comic. The humour throughout is good, but he also includes more serious topics like animal welfare on a regular basis.

Thursday, 15 August 2013

A Dreadful Murder

Finished August 14
A Dreadful Murder: the Mysterious Death of Caroline Luard by Minette Walters

I bought this book online as it was one of her I hadn't read, but was surprised to see it was part of the Quick Reads series, a series for adult literacy learners.
The story is based on the true story of the murder of Caroline Luard in Kent in 1908. Walters carefully outlines the facts of the case, discusses the rumours of the time, and adds her own supporting characters and plot twist. An interesting mix of true crime and fiction.

Looking for Me

Finished August 14
Looking for Me by Beth Hoffman, read by Jenna Lamia

This book is the story of a woman from her childhood, through to her thirties. Teddi grew up in rural Kentucky, on a small family farm with her parents and younger brother Josh. Very early on she developed an interest in making objects nice, and had an eye for furniture. She began finding pieces, doing work on them and selling them by the side of the road. She knew she wanted to find a way to do this for a living, and relying on the one contact she had in distant Charleston, she makes her way into a career that fits her.
Her younger brother has always been attuned to nature, and, following an incident with animal cruelty leaves home suddenly. Teddi's search for her brother has been a constant in her life for years, and despite everything she still lives in hope that he is out there somewhere. Meanwhile, though, her life in Charleston goes on, and she finds that if she wants happiness, she must let her brother go and live for herself.
A story with a strong female character, with a good storyline, and a bit of romance. Very enjoyable.

Lonely Doll books

Finished August 15
The Lonely Doll by Dare Wright
Edith and Mr. Bear by Dare Wright
Edith and Midnight by Dare Wright
Edith and the Duckling by Dare Wright
The Doll and the Kitten by Dare Wright
Holiday for Edith and the Bears by Dare Wright

I had heard the book The Lonely Doll mentioned in a discussion of children's books that people found creepy and decided that I had to see for myself. Then I found that there were a whole series of these books, all around Edith, the Lonely Doll. I ordered some to see what they were like.
The stories in these picture books are simple, told in short text with large black and white photographs of the doll and other characters posed in situations, acting out the story. They are quite different, and I didn't find them creepy at all. The first book was originally published in 1957, and that explains the only action in the book that I thought might be an issue, when the doll and her friend Little Bear get spanked after doing something naughty. Given the time period, spanking was quite acceptable as a punishment, although it no longer is. Generally though these books teach lessons by experience, and one sees real affection between the characters. I found them very engaging.
The author had a career as a fashion model before becoming a photographer, and I found the fact that she was born in Canada another interesting tidbit.

Monday, 5 August 2013

Evil in All Its Disguises

Finished August 5
Evil in All Its Disguises by Hilary Davidson

Lily Moore is back again, this time invited to Acapulco by a travel PR agent to write up the area. But Lily's first encounter besides the hotel staff is another travel writer, Skye McDermott, who is very unhappy and not like the Skye Lily is used to. In the middle of a discussion Skye excuses herself and never returns, leaving Lily with her purse and all its contents.
The next thing Lily discovers is the hotel has changed ownership, a fact that would have changed her mind about coming on the trip had she known. As Lily starts to question Skye's disappearance and the hotel's lack of guests, she gets more and more worried, and not just for Skye.
Even if she makes it out of Acapulco, will she be safe? There seems to be a lot at stake here and Lily is a good investigator, but she doesn't always make the right choices of who to trust.
A good plot with a fast pace that will keep you reading.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

All That Is

Finished August 4
All That Is by James Salter

A very different book, character-driven rather than plot-driven.The main character her is Philip Bowman, a man who served in the navy in the Pacific in World War II, went on to college, and became an editor at a New York publishing house.
We see Philip's relationships with women over the years, marriage, affairs, loves and lusts. But it is not only his life we see. There are vignettes of others, some peripheral people in Bowman's life, others who played a larger role.We see the differences between how people see themselves and how others see them. The illusions and the vanities. The decades covered here were a time of great change, changes in art, culture, sexual norms, ease of travel and we see these reflected in Philip's life over this time. We see Philip's thoughts from time to time, about his life and about life in general, about his lovers and about himself.
This is also about the world of publishing, the travel, the parties and dinners, the wooing of authors. We see the industry as it was, made up of many small publishing houses.
This is a quiet book, a book that reveals a life, moments in lives, but doesn't judge or analyze.

Saturday, 3 August 2013

Standing in Another Man's Grave

Finished August 1
Standing in Another Man's Grave by Ian Rankin, read by James Macpherson

I hadn't read an Ian Rankin in years, but spotted this one that features Rebus and grabbed it. Rebus here is not with the police exactly. He is a civilian working for the police, specifically a unit that investigates cold cases. When he meets a woman, Nina Hazlitt, trying to link her daughter's disappearance years before with several other missing women, one of which is a new case, he becomes intrigued and listens to her story enough to request the case files for the earlier women. All disappeared along the A9 highway.
With what he has learned, he approaches the detective on the current case, who just happens to be an officer he worked with closely, Siobhan Clarke, to convince her to explore the link between these old cases and her own. Not to mention get him involved back on a current investigation.
But Fox in the Complaints department also has his eye on Rebus, and notes his relationships with supposedly retired crime boss Ger Cafferty, and current crime boss Frank Hammell, who is also linked to the latest girl to disappear.
I like the way music, lyrics and song titles play roles in these books, and this one has several instances of that. I also like the way Rebus relies on his instincts and finds ways to prove that those instincts are spot on, even if it means breaking the rules. Rebus truly cares about the victims and pushes himself to try different approaches to a case. Seems like there is hope for more from Rebus after all.