Wednesday, 26 February 2014

Hard Going

Finished February 25
Hard Going by Cynthia Harrod-Eagles

This novel is part of the mystery series set in London featuring DI Bill Slider. His right hand man is DS Atherton. This case begins with the discovery of a man murdered in his own home. He was found by his cleaning lady, the morning after he was killed. As Slider and his team work to figure out who committed the crime and why, they encounter several possible suspects.
The victim, Lionel Bygod, was a retired solicitor who was active in a philanthropic way in his community. Not only did he participate in organizations who helped those in need, but he also offered his assistance to individuals that he had come to know. But he also seems to have started again several years back when he moved to this neighbourhood cutting off contact with those from his life previous to that, with few exceptions.
And so the questions begin: was it someone from his previous life who found him, was it someone he had used poor judgment in helping, was it the person who found his body? Slider and his team keep open minds as they learn more and more about Bygod.
I liked getting to know the personalities of Slider and his team members, as well as the gradual unveiling of Bygod's life. I also liked the author's sense of humour, with characters uttering malapropisms and puns. This humour comes through in many of the chapter titles, such as Algorithm and Blues. This is the 16th book in the series, so it looks like I have some catching up to do.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Up On The Roof

Finished February 25
Up On The Roof by P.K. Page

This collection of stories is wide-ranging and told from the viewpoints of very different characters. One thing they have in common is the skilled use of language. The stories leave you unsure of what is real and what is in the character's imagination. From a middle-aged man who escapes his domestic issues by moving up to his roof, to a man who finds comfort and a new motivation is his aging parents' collection of books. From a woman who is driven to make sculptures to a woman who uses the debris from a life she hates to make beauty. A very interesting collection.

Sunday, 23 February 2014

Library Technology Companion

Finished February 23
Neal-Shuman Library Technology Companion by John J. Burke

This is the 4th edition that I read, and it provides history on technology in general as well as library-specific technology and then moves in the basics of technology knowledge including tips on information sources and evaluation.
Part II takes the reader through computers and other computing devices; general applications; communication from email to wifi, integrated library systems, discovery layers and OPACs; storage devices both current and obsolete; databases and electronic resources; the internet, and web 2.0.
Part III covers using technology, whether supporting patron needs, including accessibility; using 2.0 tools in furthering the library's mandate, or teaching others.
Part IV covers the technology environment from security to troubleshooting, ergonomics to gaming.
The last section takes a peek at the future and how things might develop also covering the elements of a good technology plan.
We all know the problem with books is that they are out of date by the time they make publication and so a few of the future developments are also happening, but that is a minor item. This book has good coverage of the technology side of libraries and is a useful addition to the professional collection.

Jump Cut

Finished February 23
Jump Cut by Ted Staunton

This is the third book in Seven, The Series (previous books are Between Heaven and Earth and Lost Cause). Each book follows one of the seven grandsons who have been tasked with an assignment in their grandfather's will.
Here we have Spencer, who is off to Humber College in the coming fall to study film. He is a huge movie fan, and often imagines the world around him in filmography terms. He has been given a seemingly simple assignment. Find the aging movie star Gloria Lorraine and film himself getting kissed by her. He is given the money for a good camera and any travel that may be required. There is also a backup assignment if Gloria Lorraine should no longer be living. Spencer easily finds information on Gloria Lorraine on the Internet and his mother remembers her father's love of the actress when she was growing up. He finds her on Facebook and sends her a message, finding her in a seniors' home in Buffalo, not far away at all. This ease makes him feel a little resentful of the larger travel undertaken by his cousins, but he is determined to follow through and get the kiss.
However Gloria Lorraine has other plans. She tells him they have some errands they need to run before she will give him the kiss, and Spencer's adventure begins. With shady characters, guns, and drugs, Gloria's errands take them back into Canada and into northern Ontario on a journey into the past. Oh, and did I mention Gloria's film-loving granddaughter is along for the ride?
Spencer is a nice young man that knows he isn't the macho type that most girls like, but he cares about his family, and keeps his promises, and he thinks on his feet too.

Friday, 21 February 2014

Just One Evil Act

Finished February 21
Just One Evil Act by Elizabeth George, read by Davina Porter

This book could have used some editing without losing the story. It came in at 24 CDs (723 pages)
Barbara Havers' neighbour Taymullah Azhar has had his daughter taken by the girl's mother Angelina Upton. Angelina had disappeared herself for several months and then returned, and seemed to be back for good, redecorating the house and such, but it appears that this behaviour was just to lull Azhar into complacency before she took Hadiyyah.
Because the two were not married, and Azhar is not named as the father on the birth certificate, it seems he has little legal standing, and so Barbara helps him in hiring a private detective to find them two. He reports little headway in the search, until suddenly Angelina and her new Italian lover appear accusing Azhar of kidnapping Hadiyyah. It appears that she has disappeared from the Italian town where Angelina know lives.
Lynley is sent to Italy to liase with the Italian police on the investigation, a good choice as he speaks relatively fluent Italian. He develops a good relationship with the detective in charge of the case and there are several lines to follow in both countries.
Barbara lets her personal feelings for Azhar and Hadiyyah influence her to the point where she disregards her professional duties and makes some questionable contacts and judgment calls. These put her in a bad position in terms of work and with a supervisor who doesn't like her to begin with, may affect her future with the police.
We also see some of Lynley's personal life as he begins to move forward and show an interest in a woman again. Lynley wants to protect Barbara due to his knowledge of her good intentions and their history, but he can only do so much in the situation he now finds himself in.
When things in Italy escalate and a death occurs, things get more complex and a charge of murder is a distinct possibility.
An interesting case of parental rights, jealousy, and the difficulties of communicating in a different language and culture.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

Lost Cause

Finished February 19
Lost Cause by John Wilson

This is the second book in Seven: The Series, which started with the novel Between Heaven and Earth by Eric Walters. This is the story of Steve, the younger twin brother of DJ, from the first book in the series. Steve didn't get on with his grandfather as well as his brother or some of his cousins, but he finds himself intrigued by the task that his grandfather has set for him, and pleased that it offers him the chance to go to Europe, which he had wanted to do this summer but wasn't sure he could raise the money to do. The task is framed as a bit of a mystery, and it takes Steve to Spain to uncover his grandfather's past. He discovers his grandfather fought against Franco in the Spanish Civil War as part of the International Brigades. He also discovered his grandfather's early romance, and together with a young Spanish girl, he uses the material he discovers to trace his grandfather's footsteps to discover a story that isn't as straightforward as he first thought it might be. 
This gives us some history in the context of the Spanish Civil War, and the geography of the area around Barcelona where Steve's grandfather fought. Like DJ, we see Steve develop as a character as he ventures out on his own for the first time. 
Another enjoyable read.

Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Hush Little Baby

Finished February 17
Hush Little Baby by Suzanne Redfearn

This novel had a mesmerizing storyline that caught me and didn't let me go. I ended up reading this in just a few short hours. Jillian Kane is a successful architect, with a doting husband who loves to spend time with their two kids. But that is just how it looks on the surface. Her husband Gordon is a police officer with a controlling nature, where he is the one who calls the shots. He is charming and gregarious, but behind closed doors he uses his physical strength and threats to control her behaviour.
Jillian longs to break free as she fears she will be killed if she doesn't, but she fears what he will do to the children. As she tries to make a break for it, his manipulations work only too well and she looks like the one in the wrong. As his threats escalate and she realizes what he is capable of, she takes a chance and makes a run for it with the kids. But without a plan or money, how can she make a go of it.
Jillian finds support where she didn't expect it, and realizes a hidden strength in herself that pushes her forward in her fight to live her own life without fear and in her children's best interests. But even then, she will need to be smart and careful and even then there are no guarantees.
This is an interesting look at appearances and manipulative behaviour, and grew from an experience the author had with a friend who claimed to be abused by her husband. She began to wonder what someone who knew a woman really well could make others believe by using her weaknesses and taking advantage of social expectations.

Rude Bitches Make Me Tired

Finished February 17
Rude Bitches Make Me Tired: Slightly Profane and Entirely Logical Answers to Modern Etiquette Dilemmas by Celia Rivenbark

This book tackles etiquette from a real world point of view. Separated into topics such as visiting, office manners, and check splitting, Rivenbark went out and asked people what etiquette issues bothered them the most and found that she wasn't alone in some of her pet peeves.
She addresses real world situations with humour and insight and provides real solutions with a dose of common sense. I've been in a lot of the situations she refers to and find them just as annoying as she does. The slide into self centered behaviour is something many of us bemoan, but few address.
This book may provide you with some useful strategies, and entertain you as well.
A good read.

Monday, 17 February 2014

In the Darkness

Finished February 16
In the Darkness by Karin Fossum

This is the first book in the Norwegian mystery series featuring Inspector Sejer, although it was one of the more recent ones translated to English. Here a man, Egil, missing for months turns up dead in a local waterway, and his injuries show the violence to which he succumbed. He went out, apparently to show his much-loved classic car to a potential buyer, and while the car was found splattered with blood, his body hadn't until now. It is not the only unsolved murder case on Sejer's desk. He has another one that occurred just a few days before Egil's disappearance, a prostitute found dead in her own apartment. He can't help but wonder if there is some connection between the cases.
Eva, a local struggling artist, is divorced and shares custody of her young daughter with her ex-husband. She lives in hope that she will one day be "discovered" and gain the attention she believes her art is due. Meanwhile, she struggles to put food on the table and keep her bills paid, relying on a small Arts Council grant. She visits her father, who lives in a nearby town and whose health is failing, on a regular basis. But her life has changed recently and when she receives a phone call one day from a stranger, her unease grows.
This book introduces Sejer, his dog, and his family situation, but doesn't yet develop the characters of the other police officers.

She's All Eyes

Finished February 14
She's All Eyes: Memoirs of an Irish-American Daughter by Maura Conlon-McIvor

This memoir covers only a few of years in Maura's life, from when her youngest brother Joey is born to her high school years. Joey changed the family dynamic considerably as he was born with Down's Syndrome. Maura's father Joe Conlon was a detective with the FBI, working in California. Both Maura's parents had a strong Irish heritage and Maura had a large Irish family back on the east coast. Maura had a couple of uncles who were priests. The title derives from the doctor's description of Maura when she was born, and the observation turned out to be apt. She is an observer, wanting to be like her father, watching her surroundings and making notes.
Her father turned more inward with Joey's arrival, participating less with other family members and pushing even his wife away. He spends time with Joey though and bonds strongly with him. The family defies some of the social pressure towards how they should be dealing with Joey and celebrates his differences, cherishing him and working to make life better for him and others with developmental issues. With another large loss in the family, the dynamic changes again, and Maura's mother works to assert herself more and bring Joe back into the family life more than he has been.
Throughout all this Maura observes and notices, and analyzes what she sees.
An interesting memoir of an interesting family.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

The Wanting

Finished February 12
The Wanting by Michael Lavigne

This novel revolves around three characters: Roman Guttman, a Russian-born postmodern architect in Israel; Anyusha Guttman, his 13-year-old daughter; and Ami, a young Palestinian.
As the novel begins, Roman is injured in a bus bombing, and this incident throws him into a confused state of mind. At times he reverts to his past and his life in Russia, his meeting and relationship with Anyusha (Anna)'s mother, and the events that caused him to come to Israel. He takes a drive out into Palestinian territory and the journey results in more difficulties.
Meanwhile Anna has become more involved with an extremist Jewish sect, unknown to Roman, and his absence results in a lack of supervision that makes her more vulnerable to their influences.
Amir observes both Anna and Roman from his otherworldly position, for he was the one that bombed the bus that caused Roman's injuries. We see how his life led to this action, how he feels about it now, and how he feels about Roman and Anna's actions.
This is a story about extremism in its different forms and the outcomes for both society and surviving individuals. It is about love, and how it can lead us to do things we would never have dreamed of doing. It is about the uncertainty of life and how intermingled our lives are.

Monday, 10 February 2014

Burning Paradise

Finished February 10
Burning Paradise by Robert Charles Wilson

This novel takes the reader from Buffalo, New York down to the Atacama desert in Chile. This is in our world, but different. A world where history diverted from ours in the early twentieth century.
As the book begins, it is November 2014, and the world is about to celebrate one its most widely celebrated holidays, Armistice Day. It is a hundred years since the Armistice was signed at the end of the Great War, and the world has been relatively peaceful ever since, with a gradual growth in prosperity.
But only a small number of its people know why. They know that the world has been interfered with, that the dawn of radio communication provided a way for another entity to subtly control communication between people around the world, changing the course of history the world would have seen without this interference. This entity is using human technology for its own purposes, controlling the course of research, ensuring anything that would threaten its existence is quashed, defunded, redirected to a purpose better suited to its ends.
In 2007, this entity felt threatened to such an extent that it took drastic action, killing those scientists actively trying to reveal the truth. Cassie's parents were both killed at this time and her uncle Ethan nearly so. Those who survived went into hiding, communicating only face to face and by post, avoiding anything that involved radio communication or similar means of sending information for fear it could be intercepted.
Cassie and her younger brother Thomas live with their aunt Nerissa, outsiders of a sort, never able to reveal what they know about the world, relaxing only when together with others in their small Society. And they have an emergency plan should a threat like that of 2007 ever return. And one night it does. And so the plan is set in motion.
This is a story of an alternative world history, one where mankind is manipulated by an outside force, where peace is imposed artificially.  It seems like a better world in some ways, but is it really, and what would happen if the interference stopped. A book that gets you thinking, but also has green slime and giant insects. A great read.

Sunday, 9 February 2014

Graffiti Knight

Finished February 9
Graffiti Knight by Karen Bass

This teen novel is set in Leipzig, Germany in 1947. Wilm is in his second last year of high school, yet he has stopped trying in school. Living in the Soviet Zone of Germany feels like being in prison, his sister has become a shadow of her former self, and his father's war injury has left him resentful and his mother subdued. Wilm escapes on the weekends to his uncle Bruno's farm to work and get some much needed food. His math teacher Herr Bader has taken an interest in him and tries to get him to try in his schoolwork again so that he can attend university as his parents wish.
One day Wilm gives in to an impulse when playing a game with his friends and takes a risk against the Soviets. He gets away with it, and makes a new friend, an older man who encourages his university aspirations and urges him to find ways to build rather than destroy. But Wilm likes the way his act of defiance made him feel and begins to take more risks, leaving a message behind each time, giving his opinion of the police, that they are mere puppets, Marionetten, of the occupying Soviets. That is, until one of his acts of defiance puts those he cares about into danger.
Great story, set in a time and place that I've not read about before. Bass makes Wilm, come alive as a complex character being forced to grow up more quickly than he should. His friends Karl and Georg, his sister Anneliese, and Georg's friend Ruth also are multidimensional. She also gives a real sense of what post-war Soviet-occupied Germany was like for the people who lived there.
An additional cool factor for me is that the author is Canadian, and from the same part of the country as my parents. This book made the OLA Best Bets list this year, a well-deserved honour.

Chronicle of a Working Life

Finished February 9
Chronicle of a Working Life by Monica Dickens

This is actually three books in one, all memoirs of Dickens early working experiences. This volume contains One Pair of Hands, originally published in 1939; One Pair of Feet, originally published in 1942; and My Turn to Make the Tea, originally published in 1951. Monica Dickens is the great granddaughter of Charles Dickens, the famous novelist, and she became a successful writer in her own right.
One Pair of Hands tells of her experiences working as what was known as a cook general, essentially a cook cum housekeeper. She worked for a variety of employers in this role, hiding her own upper middle class background as she did so. A couple of her jobs were out of town, and thus included her living in. Some of her employers were kind, some were overly demanding. She makes no secret of her own shortfallings, and it was interesting to see the activity between tradesmen and staff like her, as well between staff in larger households.
One Pair of Feet takes place during the early part of World War II, when she is looking for some work that is also meaningful to the war effort. She determines to try as a nurse, and finds a hospital that is willing to accept her for training quite quickly. It is located near London, in a small town. She lasts for more than a year in the training program working in a variety of wards. Her description of her training, her relationship with her peers, with nurses further ahead of her and with other hospital staff is interesting. It was also interesting to see the interaction between hospital staff and patients. Many of the patients were ambulatory and helped out with some of the work required. Of course she lived in the nurses residence during her time at the hospital and that was interesting as well.
The last book, My Turn to Make the Tea is her experiences learning the ropes as a junior reporter at a small town weekly newspaper. She describes the weekly cycle of the paper, the types of work involved, which varied widely, and her relationship with the other people that worked there. She also talks about her lodging experience. It was hard for her to find a place that she could afford on a reporter's salary and then she had some issues with her landlady. Her relationships with the other lodgers was one of camaraderie, and the different personalities were fun. From an avid Young Conservative to a lady juggler, they brought life to her story.
Despite their happening some time ago, the focus on the people she encounters in all these situations makes the books something you can relate to easily. A very enjoyable read at 658 pages, it fulfills one of my Chunkster Challenge requirements.

Saturday, 8 February 2014

Between Heaven and Earth

Finished February 8
Between Heaven and Earth by Eric Walters

This is a great read and part of a very interesting series. DJ is gathered with the rest of the family to hear his grandfather's will being read. His grandfather was a vibrant person, compassionate and genuinely interested in others. He was very present in the lives of his grandsons and cared deeply for their mothers, his daughters. His wife died when his girls were still young, the youngest only four, and he raised them on his own.
He left a video message for his grandsons, and a special task for each one, fully funded from the estate.
DJ's task is to climb Kilimanjaro and release some of his grandfather's ashes at the top. DJ is very interested in sports and a quarterback on his football team. He thinks this task will be relatively easy. His twin brother Steve is also working to complete his task which has taken him to Spain.
When DJ gets to Tanzania, he finds many challenges, and not all of them are physical. He's a good kid, seventeen years old and always trying to do the right thing, but not always sure what that might be. He finds Kilimanjaro to be an unexpected challenge, one that physical strength isn't always the key to succeeding at. He makes friends, both older and younger than himself, and learns a lot more about himself, just as his grandfather had hoped for him.
As I said, this book is part of a series called Seven. There are seven grandsons, and their grandfather left them each a task. Each book tells the story of one of the grandsons, and each is by a different Canadian author. This is the first one I've read, but the idea is intriguing and I'll be interested in hunting down the others.

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2014

Historical Fiction Reading Challenge 2014

Just discovered this challenge and couldn't resist.
Here are the details.
Each month, a new post dedicated to the HF Challenge will be created. To participate, you only have to follow the rules:
  • everyone can participate, even those who don't have a blog (you can add your book title and thoughts in the comment section if you wish)
  • add the link(s) of your review(s) including your name and book title to the Mister Linky we’ll be adding to our monthly post (please, do not add your blog link, but the correct address that will guide us directly to your review)
  • any kind of historical fiction is accepted (HF fantasy, HF young adult,...)
During the following 12 months you can choose one of the different reading levels: 
20th century reader - 2 books
Victorian reader - 5 books
Renaissance Reader - 10 books
Medieval - 15 books
Ancient History - 25 books
Prehistoric - 50+ books

I am choosing Ancient History for my level.

Monday, 3 February 2014

Kid Soldier

Finished February 3
Kid Soldier by Jennifer Maruno

This short novel follows 15-year-old Richard Fuller from Niagara Fall, Ontario. Richard is a hard worker, willing to work at whatever job comes his way, whether it be picking fruit, helping deliver bread, or figuring out how to fix a broken tractor. When a neighbour offers him the chance to participate in a military training exercise, he jumps at it and finds that he has an aptitude for signal work.
As World War II begins, Richard finds himself drawn to the war and manages to sign up even though he is underage. This book follows him to training camp, across the ocean to Britain, and through training in England as he prepares to do his duty.
From the detail of the signalling work, to the bombings of England by the Germans, this book immerses you in Richard's life as a soldier.
Richard is a very likeable young man, kind to those younger than him, happy with simple pleasures, interested in his newfound English family, and dedicated to his work. A look at the war from a interesting angle.

Sunday, 2 February 2014

Somewhere in France

Finished February 2
Somewhere in France by Jennifer Robson

This first novel is a winner of a story. Privileged Lady Elizabeth (known to her friends as Lilly) has lived in luxury all her life, and despite her longing for adventure, her parents are against her taking any role in the war effort.
When she learns a useful skill behind their back and is discovered, their reaction appalls her and she makes a break, leaving to do whatever she can to help.
Eventually her efforts lead her to a position as an ambulance driver in the newly formed WAACs, a job that takes her close to the front.
Despite the horrors she is exposed to, Lilly is not dissuaded from her task, and neither are the friends she has made among the other women serving with her. At the same field hospital that she is stationed at, is a young doctor, Robert Fraser, her brother's best friend, and a man that Lilly admires for many reasons. Their different backgrounds should mean that they have no future together, but do their feelings for each other make a difference in this chaotic time.
With the realities of the war, this book brings history to life and had me glued to the story. With the popularity of shows like Downton Abbey at present, I should think this book a popular choice for many readers.

Sense & Sensibility

Finished February 1
Sense & Sensibility by Joanna Trollope

Having just finished Jane Austen's Sense & Sensibility, I thought it would be interesting to read this modern day version of the story. Trollope does a good job of it. All the characters have the same names as the original book and the plot tracks in a similar way, but with nicely done tweaks to really bring it to the present day. Elinor is an architect student, Margaret is a stereotypical teenage girl with her "whatever" and eye-rolling, actually more of a presence here than the original. Marianne is overly emotional in both books, but here her illness (and that of her dead father) is asthma. I won't give the details of all the changes, but they do all fit nicely with both the old plot and the modern day.
Very nicely done.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Beautiful Goodbye

Finished January 31
Beautiful Goodbye by Nancy Runstedler

This children's novel follows young Maggie who has recently lost her father. Maggie is still filled with grief over her loss. Their family has moved across town to a less expensive house and Maggie's mother seems to be working all the time. This means Maggie must babysit her younger brother Cole.
One Saturday when Maggie's best friend Gillian is visiting, she decides to explore the attic in the old house. Gillian discovers a Ouija board, and the two girls decide to try it out by asking a few questions. After all, it is only a game isn't it? The board leads the three children on an adventure they would never have expected and changes them all.
I remember having a Ouija board when I was young, but have no idea what happened to it. I liked this story for what it said about grief and how life goes on despite it. It is also cool that the author is a librarian.