Saturday, 31 May 2014

When Mountains Move

Finished May 31
When Mountains Move by Julie Cantrell

This novel begins in Mississippi, but is set mostly in Colorado. It is the spring of 1943 and young Millie is about to be married to Bump (Kenneth) Anderson, but has reservations. Not about Bump, but about herself. Something happened to Millie recently that has affected her trust in others and how she reacts when a man touches her.
Millie marries Bump in happiness and the two move forward to a future in Colorado where they will manage a ranch for Cuay Tucker. Millie has a natural affinity with horses and Bump has recently qualified as a veterinarian, and both are hard workers, so they are perfectly suited for their new lives. When they arrive, they find a small welcoming town not that far from the ranch that is their new home. There is an older man, Fortner, who is the son of the original ranch owners and who is looking to work at the ranch again. There is Oka, Millie's newly found grandmother, a Chocktaw woman, who comes to help in the ranch's early days.
As Millie learns the nature of this new landscape, and makes a home for her family, she also finds a way to come to terms with what has come before and move forward in strength and hope for a future.
Millie epitomizes the pioneer spirit, adventurous and hardworking and willing to see the best in others. The life she and Bump lead in Colorado is one that sets them on the path for a better future than either of them grew up with. This is a novel of hope and positive outlook in the face of adversity. I liked the inclusion of positive native culture here as well, respecting the hardships dealt to them and the traditions they observe.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Stitch Me Deadly

Finished May 29
Stitch Me Deadly by Amanda Lee

This book is the second in the series featuring embroidery supply store owner Marcy Singer, but the first that I've read of hers. It is set in the small Oregon town of Tallulah Falls. Marcy recently moved here from San Francisco, leaving a career as an accountant to open her own store.
On a rainy morning, Marcy is coming down with a cold and popped out to the local cafe to get a camomile tea. As she returns, she sees an older woman approaching her store and hurries back to usher her in. The woman identifies herself as Louise Ralston, shows her an old family sampler, and asks for her help in finding ivy before falling ill. Marcy calls for an ambulance, but finds that the woman has died at the hospital.
As Marcy herself comes under suspicion in Mrs. Ralston's death, she decides to try to find out what Mrs. Ralston meant when she referred to ivy, and who might have stood to gain from her death.
There is lots going on here, with Marcy herself only recently out of a serious relationship and attracted to two local men, but not wanting to get serious with either one too quickly. Marcy's mom, Beverly Singer, a San Francisco-based costume designer, arrives early in the story to provide moral support and explain one of the pieces of evidence against Marcy.
As Marcy becomes acquainted with Mrs. Ralston's extended family, more questions are raised about behaviour and motives, and Marcy finds herself asking more questions.
The dog on the cover is Marcy's large and friendly dog Angus who is a comfort and happy companion. Marcy not only runs her shop but also offers classes several evenings a week in different needlework techniques and is constantly working on her own needlework projects. Her growing friendships with the local people in Tallulah Falls provide a community, and the small town itself provides a cosy setting for the mysterious deaths at the heart of this novel series. An enjoyable, light mystery series.

Tuesday, 27 May 2014

The Night Rainbow

Finished May 27
The Night Rainbow by Claire King

This enchanting novel lets us into the world of Pea, short for Peony, a girl who is five-and-a-half and dealing with a world that has changed for her. Her papa has died in an accident, and her mother, who is pregnant has retreated into her sadness. Pea spends the day roaming from the farmhouse she lives in down to the lower meadow which is across the stream and past the donkeys, or up to the windy hill, where the windmills turn and she can see the far away sea. She and her younger sister Margot, four, try to do things to bring back mother's smile, but can's seem to get it right.
Pea's mother was pregnant before, but when she went to the hospital she came home without the baby and she was sad. Pea is hoping that this baby will make her happy again.
When Pea meets an older man, Claude, and his dog Merlin, she thinks she might have found a friend, or maybe even a new papa to do the things her old papa used to do like give hugs and fix leaks. But Claude is a lonely a quiet man with secrets of his own. When people see him with Pea they don't seem to like it and Pea wonders why.
Margot seems wise beyond her years, comforting Pea when she is scared, cheering her up when she is sad, and helping her find the right thing to say to her mother.
I've read a few novels that are from a young child's point of view and each one's voice is unique, but they all seem to capture the combination of innocence and knowledge, of wonder and pleasure in simple things that we often lose as we grow up. Pea's voice is sometimes an uncertain one, but that is because her world is a bit uncertain at present.
The story takes place in France, and Pea's mother is English and that foreignness along with her sorrow over her recent losses have distanced her from the others in the village. It is Pea's connection with those who live nearby that will also help reconnect Pea and her mother to each other.

Somebody to Love

Finished May 27
Somebody to Love by Lori Wilde

I decided to start my mini-vacation with a light read and picked up this romance. It is part of a series that takes place in the town of Cupid, Texas.
Here we have Zoey McCleary, a young woman known for her impetuousness. Zoey's longtime best friend Jericho Chance is back in town after finishing his PhD in archeology and she finds that suddenly she has an attraction to him that goes beyond friendship. However, Zoey is also studying archeology and student teacher relationships are definitely frowned upon.
The summer dig near town has potential links to both young people's ancestors, but is there someone who doesn't want it to be successful? When odd things start happening at the dig after an exciting find, love may not be the only thing in danger.
This book has mystery as well as a will they or won't they romance plot going on, and the archeology setting is an interesting one as well. An enjoyable read, and being a Western girl myself, I can also get into a good looking cowboy.

Haunt Me Still

Finished May 25
Haunt Me Still by Jennifer Lee Carrell

I enjoyed Carrell's earlier book Interred with their Bones and so picked up this one. Definitely another good one. Kate Stanley is back again and this time a wealthy Scottish woman, Lady Nairn, wants her to direct a very special production of Macbeth.
Lady Nairn was a famous actress years before, who retired when she met and suddenly married the Scottish lord. She is now widowed, but wants to mount the production to carry our her late husband's wishes to showcase his Macbeth collection. The lady is also the guardian of her granddaughter Lily, a fifteen-year-old girl, still grieving her parents' deaths and vulnerable to those who would take advantage of her yearning for them.
Carrell is a scholar of literature and uses her knowledge to build this story around Macbeth, drawing from legends around the play, what is known about the play's origins, and real history, not only of Macbeth, but also of a later Scottish noble that Shakespeare could have had contact with, Elizabeth Stewart, countess of Arran. I like the detail and how she mixes the real with the imagined to create a gripping story.
She also uses pagan ritual, the religion of Wicca, and the use of darker magic that is erroneously connected to the white magic of Wicca. This was also very interesting to see real depictions of the religion along with the myths that many scared of it connect it with.
This is a battle of good and evil, where those acting in greed, revenge, or self-aggrandisement care little for others in their quest for their own ends. Kate is, of course, on the side of good, and her knowledge and expertise in Shakespeare and Elizabethan drama work to lead her in the right direction. But as she struggles to stay one step ahead of those who would stop at nothing, she cannot be sure who to trust.
Ben is back here as well, and plays a key role, but we see much less of him than we would like. However, the plot dictates this, and there is hope for future books with these two.
The plot moves the reader along quickly and makes this book a real page-turner.

Sunday, 25 May 2014

What an Animal Reading Challenge 2014

So, yet another challenge.

This one features animals and is called the What An Animal Reading Challenge.


1. Read at least 6 books that have any of the following requirements:

a. there is an animal in the title of the book

b. there is an animal on the cover of the book

c. an animal plays a major role in the book

d. a main character is (or turns into) an animal (define that however you'd like).

Level 1 - Read up to 6 books

Level 2 - Read 7-12

Level 3 - Read 13 or more

2. The animal can be any type of animal (real or fictitious)--dog, cat, monkey, wolf, snake, insect, hedgehog, aardvark...dragon, mermaid, centaur, vampire, get the idea...

3. Challenge runs from January 1, 2014 to December 31, 2014. That’s a full year to read at least 6 books (you can read more if you’d like). 

4. Books can be fiction or nonfiction.

5. You may make a list of books at the beginning of the challenge or you can just list them as you find them.

6. Book titles may be swapped out at anytime (assuming you made a list to begin with).

7. Crossovers with other challenges are permitted and encouraged.

8. You don't have to have a blog or write a review, but you can if you want to.
 If you don't have a blog, just post in the comment section that you'd like to join. You can post your books in there. Or you can sign up by joining the group on Goodreads for this challenge by clicking here.

9. Books can be in any format of your choice (print, audio, ebooks)
I am going to go for Level 3, and I know I have a few this year that I've already read that fit so I'm off to a good start.

Gentle Spectrums Reading Challenge

Once I found the Color Coded Reading Challenge, it led me to another interesting one

Gentle Spectrums, which has two parts. 

Pencil Crayon Notepaper

Share any 10 books entitled with a colour.
You may repeat the colour spectrums;  even exact hues.
A different book title is a different book title!
Funky lipstick or paint shades might be a stretch.
Well-established hues are at your leisure:  maroon, jade, emerald…

Sparkling Tree & Daisies
Fit one book title into each category.
Here are abundant subjects to peruse together!

Trees, flowers, grass, gardening & crop-sowing references.
A building, rooms, a room or building’s parts.
Culture names, locations ~ lakes, towns, famous spots.
Synonyms, gems, ruins, geological formations.
Types of relatives, last names, full names.
A title of 5+ words (articles are fine).
Lame puns or quotations, outrageous, silly;  actual cheeses!
Mystical, eerie (enchanting content fulfills title;  no debunked ending).
Any words approximating weather or seasons.
Positive messages, conveys pleasant images!
I like being able to use a colour more than once (I have several with the word Blue in them) and I also really liked the second part, as it offers so many ideas. I'll work through what I've read so far to see what I've already read and then look through my TBR piles.

Color Coded Reading Challenge 2014

I've been looking for a challenge involving colors in book titles and just came across this one, so am adding it to my challenges for the year. 

Color Coded Reading Challenge 2014

Here is the page where one signs up Color Coded Challenge.  

Here are the rules:

*Read nine books in the following categories.
1. A book with "Blue" or any shade of Blue (Turquoise, Aquamarine, Navy, etc) in the title.
2. A book with "Red" or any shade of Red (Scarlet, Crimson, Burgandy, etc) in the title.
3. A book with "Yellow" or any shade of Yellow (Gold, Lemon, Maize, etc.)in the title.
4. A book with "Green" or any shade of Green (Emerald, Lime, Jade, etc) in the title.
5. A book with "Brown" or any shade of Brown (Tan, Chocolate, Beige, etc) in the title.
6. A book with "Black" or any shade of Black (Jet, Ebony, Charcoal, etc) in the title.
7. A book with "White" or any shade of White (Ivory, Eggshell, Cream, etc)in the title.
8. A book with any other color in the title (Purple, Orange, Silver, Pink, Magneta, etc.).
9. A book with a word that implies color (Rainbow, Polka-dot, Plaid, Paisley, Stripe, etc.).

* Any book read from January 1 through December 31, 2014 will count.
*Crossovers with other challenges are fine.

*Everyone who completes all nine categories will be entered in a year-end drawing for a book-related prize package.

Sign ups accepted until Nov 30, 2014.

Death on the Ladies Mile

Finished May 24
Death on the Ladies Mile by Diana Haviland

This novel is set in the fall of 1882 in New York City. Amanda Whitney is a young woman, well-born, whose family lost their fortune due to fraud from her father's business partner. Her father has since died and her mother has found a position as a paid companion. Amanda's independent spirit has led her to a position as a society reporter for the Ladies Gazette, and she has been assigned to cover what is anticipated as the biggest wedding of the season. Amanda has written several stories on the preparation for the wedding, talking mostly with the bride's mother as the bride seems shy and subdued. The bride's family is one that has recently made a large fortune thanks to the bride's father's entrepreneurial spirit, and the marriage to the son of an old New York family is his way of getting a stronger foothold in high society.
One day, when Amanda comes to the bride's family home to do a story on the wedding gifts, the bride appears to have disappeared. Amanda learns that the bride has been found dressed in all her wedding clothes in an alley next to one of the most exclusive brothels in the city, strangled with her bridal wreath. The bride's father has hired a private detective, ex-policeman Ross Buchanan, to find the murderer quickly. As Amanda encounters Ross, she too wants to find the man who did this to the quiet young woman she met, and uses her job and contacts to find information that Ross doesn't have access to.
Ross is reluctant to have her involved and worried about her safety as some of the people involved live in bad parts of town and may not hesitate to do her violence, but when she does encounter violence it comes from an expected quarter. As more women are found dead in bridal dress, the city erupts in a fear for young women.
I liked Amanda's independence as she struggled to be true to her own self and live on her own as much as she can within the confines of the society she needs to conform to. Her sensibilities are challenged here as the details of the case emerge, but despite these she perseveres in her sense of justice.

Vanishing Wildlife

Finished May 23
Vanishing Wildlife: a sound guide to Britain's endangered species from the British Library Sound Archives

This recording collects sounds from 31 different wildlife species, letting the listener experience the noises they may never be able to listen to in the wild.
Sounds included her are: Captercaillie, Scottish Crossbill; Red Squirrel; Scottish Wildcat; Pine Marten; Black Grouse; Hen Harrier; Woodlark; Nightjar; Stone Curlew; Red-backed Shrike; Adder; Natterjack Toad; Wryneck; New Forest Cicada; Bittern; Marsh Warbler; Black tailed Godwit; Otter; Pool Frog; Mole Cricket; Noctule Bat; Pipistrelle Bat; White-tailed Sea Eagle; Roseate Tern; Greater Horseshoe Bat; Corncrake; Quail; Cirl Bunting; Wart-biter; and Field Cricket.
I really liked the bats, trying to think how to describe the sounds they make the best I could come up with was a kind of damp squeaking.
The nightjar noise would give me a headache if it went on much longer than it did here, but most of the other birds were very pleasant to listen to, inducing a feeling of pleasure and stress release.
Some noises were surprising, others what you would expect.
This is a lovely and unique collection for any animal lover.

Saints and Sinners

Finished May 22
Saints and Sinners by Edna O'Brien, read by Suzanne Bertish

This collection of ten short stories is all about the people and their relationships with each other. Starting with the story The Shovel Kings, we see a woman who encounters an Irishman in a London bar and learns his story, how he came to London as a boy, hoping to make his fortune and return home to a better life, but ended up not fitting in in either place, an exile in both the city he lived most of his life in and the country he calls home.
In Sinners, the landlady of a bed and breakfast is disgusted by the antics of the trio of people staying in her inn one night and makes it clear to them the next morning.
Madame Cassandra has a woman with marital troubles trying to visit a psychic to learn of her future and what she has told others.
Black Flower has a art teacher who has worked with prison inmates going on an outing with a recently released political prisoner who is a target for revenge still.
Plunder has a young girl caught in a siege, in an unnamed country.
Inner Cowboy has a developmentally delayed young man caught up through circumstance in two different crimes, despite his innocence.
Green Georgette has a young girl describing her and her mother's experience of class division in a small town.
Manhattan Medley has a woman who has moved to the city and gotten caught up into an affair with a well-known married man.
In Send My Roots Rain, a librarian perpetually disappointed in love waits in a hotel lobby for a teatime meeting with a famous poet, reflecting on her past experiences.
And lastly in My Two Mothers, a young woman describes her own view of a mother who left for America, but returned to marry and is touched by that experience.
O'Brien's writing is lyrical and emotive and full of the feelings of her characters. The one problem of listening to this in audio format is not being able to stop and savour the writing, to jot down one's favourite passages. She is a master storyteller.

Saturday, 24 May 2014


Finished May 22
Slam by Nick Hornby

Sam Jones is fifteen and living with his mom. Sam has always been aware of the difficulties his parents faced when his mom became pregnant with him at sixteen, but history is repeating itself as Sam's girlfriend becomes pregnant. Up to now, Sam's focus has been on doing well in art at school emulating Tony Hawk at the local skateboard park. Sam has a poster of Hawk in his bedroom and he often talks to it, and asks for advice, and the advice, drawn from Hawk's book, has usually felt apt to Sam.
There are several instances in this book where Sam goes to sleep at night and then has what feels to him as a jump to the future, finding himself awaking to a world several months later where he lacks the knowledge of the intervening time. These experiences help him in facing his future and dealing with the new challenges his situation has brought him.
I liked Sam's relationship with his mother, which felt close and respectful, without losing the parenting needed. His father's role was less close, and not always as helpful. His girlfriend's parents provided another type of parenting, and there were some interesting aspects to how they viewed their daughter and Sam, and how they changed as the situation developed.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Sand Castle

Finished May 21
Sand Castle by Frederik Peeters and Pierre Oscar Lévy, 

This graphic novel starts with a young man waking near a beach located in a small cove. He sees a young woman arrive to swim and tries to leave to give her privacy, but finds himself injured.
Soon a family arrives with two small children and the father regards the young man suspiciously. As more people arrive, the people on the beach begin to realize that something is wrong.
Each realization by each person is different. Some are intrigued by the science behind it, some are scared by what they see, some try to escape the situation, and others react in denial. As they all begin to admit that something is seriously wrong, they also come to terms with it in different ways.
Because the menace here is unseen and the cause is unknown , it makes it more scary. The randomness of the people being here to experience this horror is also an element that adds to the terror it evokes.
An idyllic scene, with random victims, of a horrific and unassailable fate, enacted by unknown forces. Scary, indeed.

Monday, 19 May 2014

Tyringham Park

Finished May 19
Tyringham Park by Rosemary McLoughlin

This novel begins during World War I and ends during World War II. It is set mostly in Ireland, but a little in Australia. As the book begins, the youngest child of the manor, Victoria, just a toddler has disappeared from her carriage when left along for a time by her mother. A great search is launched and theories range from drowning in the nearby river to being snatched by a servant who has just left to emigrate to Australia.
The older child, 8-year-old Charlotte, seems deeply upset by the news, and remains silent for days. But is her demeanor just about the loss of her sister, or does the treatment she receives from her nanny, Nurse Dixon, have something to do with it.
Charlotte's mother is disappointed in her husband, a distant cousin who spends a great deal of his time in India or London. She is mad for the hunt and trains her horses to respond to her through fear. She has little interest in the daily lives of her children but dislikes others taking an interest in their development.
Charlotte feels herself to be unattractive and having little skill in anything. As she grows older, others encourage her natural aptitudes, but her mother discourages her confidence whenever possible.
But Charlotte's own passions sometimes take on a life of their own, and having her dreams realized brings her less happiness than she would hope.
This is a story of egos, or people who take out their own disappointments on others, and of the fleeting happiness of dreams built upon lies and deception. An engrossing story, but a sad one.

Sunday, 18 May 2014

The Secret Purposes

Finished May 18
The Secret Purposes by David Baddiel

This novel is set in Konigsberg, Cambridge, the Isle of Man, and Auschwitz, most of it during World War II. The main story follows Isaac Fabian, son of a rabbi, who rejects his religion and becomes a communist while at university. He also marries outside his religion, to Lulu, a woman he meets at university.
As Hitler's persecution of Jews grows more blatant, Isaac and Luly emigrate to Britain, on their way to their final destination of America.
While living in Cambridge, working menial jobs to get by, the British government begins rounding up Germans, including Jews, and interns them on the Isle of Man. Lulu manages to escape this fate, but Isaac does not and the two are separated even more than the couples where both are interned.
While Lulu struggles to make ends meet and look after their daughter Rebecca, she also looks for ways to work towards Isaac's release. Isaac, meanwhile, adjusts to his life in restricted quarters, angry at the lack of understanding of a government that would round up Jews as suspects of possible German espionage.
June Murray, a translator at the Ministry of Information is also struggling with the government's view of Jews, and makes it her mission to find the proof she knows exists of the terrible suffering that the Jewish people have undergone by the Germans. Her unauthorized trip to the internment camps brings her in contact with Isaac and makes her more personally involved than she intended.
Again with an historical novel, I learned much I didn't know about historical actions. While I knew there were internments, I hadn't realized that the British interned German Jews as well. Some were living in poverty like Isaac, but the experiences varied widely, and some were working in their fields and well respected before their internment. There is much to ponder in this novel, from the nature of ethnicity and culture, to the outcomes of fear during wartime, to individual human behaviours and motivations. This is an intense book, that looks at an experience seldom talked about.

A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain

Finished May 17
A Man Came Out of a Door in the Mountain by Adrianne Harun

This is a novel with layers, more complex than it seems at first.Set in a small town along Highway 17 in northern B.C. this novel is drawn partly from the disappearance of women, many of them native along this highway, a tragedy that has led to this highway being dubbed the Highway of Tears.
The novel is set around a group of young people. Leo Kreutzer is the only son of a mixed race marriage. His mother is native and his father white. Leo's mother has big plans for him, wanting him to become a mining engineer and thus Leo is taking a distance course in physics this summer, a course Leo is struggling with. His father is away working in a northern camp. Leo's uncle Lud also lives with them as he is dying from cancer. Lud is an old soul, a man attached to his landscape, a man in touch with the old legends, a man who seems to see and know things beyond the visible. Leo is driven to record his uncle's knowledge while he still can.
Leo's best friend is Bryan. Bryan and his sister Ursie live alone since their mother died and also have a mix of white and native blood. Their father is also away working in a camp, and recently his letters have grown more sparse. Their aunt, Madeline, is their closest family member and she has helped Ursie get a chambermaid job at the motel where she also works.
Another friend is Tessa. Tessa and her siblings were taken into a series of foster homes when she was eleven, none better than the home they'd been taken from. After two years Tessa and her older sister came back, but Tessa was changed. Leo has always had feelings for Tessa, but while close, the relationship has never progressed into true boyfriend/girlfriend status.
Jackie is full native, a strong girl, tough and tough-looking, she works at a nearby logging camp's dining hall. She has earned a reputation of not being one to take any crap from anyone, be it men making sexual suggestions to her or her friends, or those commenting on her ethnicity.
Also in town is Flacker, a man running a small empire of alcohol and drug supply. His closest allies are the two Nagle brothers, local bad boys who work for him and deal his products. He also has an addicted girlfriend Cassie, who lives with him along with her two young children. These children are one of Bryan's soft spots and he tries to smuggle them food.
There are many transients moving along this highway and a couple have come along this summer making contact with these five teens. Hana Swan arrived at the camp where Jackie works and befriended her, but she seems a dangerous girl to Leo, encouraging risky behaviour.
Kevin Seven is a magician, specializing in card tricks, who has taken a room at the motel where Ursie works and who starts to have an influence on her.
As a fire starts near the town and everyone plans for the worst, things seem to get more intense, and the five teens find themselves drawn into danger and risky situations.
The story of these people is woven through with the legends, the philosophy of the unseen, and the terrible truth of the highway. An amazing read.

Saturday, 17 May 2014

The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial

Finished May 15
The Great Tennessee Monkey Trial by Peter Goodchild, with full cast

This recording is a docudrama that is based on original sources and trial transcripts of the Scopes Trial of 1925. Good actors make it come to life.
This has not only the different voices that help to tell the listener who's speaking when it isn't directly indicated, but the reaction of the court observers. Even though you know the history, you still hope things will turn out differently.
An interesting look at a point in history that doesn't seem that far off of some of the views still held in the United States.

Friday, 16 May 2014


Finished May 14
Mandela: An Audio History: Commemorative Edition
Hosted by Desmond Tutu, Commentary fy Nelson Mandela

This CD takes audio footage from different points in the history of South Africa that involves Mandela's story and adds commentary to give additional context bringing Mandela's story to life in an interesting way.
There is a brief introduction and then the story is broken into five parts.
The Birth of Apartheid (1944-1960)
The Underground Movement (1960-1964)
Robben Island (1964-1976)
State of Emergency (1976-1990)
Democracy (1990-1994)
It was interesting to see the change in attitude toward Mandela and his compatriots. From a young man and competent lawyer trying to influence social change, to a terrorist, to hero, to benevolent but wise leader. As he moved into the world seeing him as a terrorist, it was like no one saw how the actions of the government were what cornered him into this behaviour as the only way to bring change. In our current world of multiple terrorist groups, it makes one stop to ask what else is going on that made these men reach the point of violent protest.

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Mystery in the Sand

Finished May 13
Mystery in the Sand by Gertrude Chandler Warner, narrated by Aimee Lilly

This is the sixteenth in a series featuring the four Alden siblings, Violet, Jessie, Benny, and Henry. They are staying in a mobile home on the beach while their aunt and uncle, who own it, are away travelling. On their first morning they befriend an older man, Mr. Lee, walking on the beach with his dog, and discover that the strange object he carries is a metal detector.
When Mr. Lee allows Benny to try the device, he discovers a locket, and the children try to find the owner using clues the locket provides. This information leads them to a unique home in the town, where a reclusive woman named Mrs. Smith lives.
This book covers issues such as rumours and prejudice, with an emphasis on looking for facts rather than making decisions based on gossip.
The children respect each other and others they meet, cleanup after themselves, and work together to get things done. While their behaviour is somewhat formal at times, this is a pleasant read.

Tuesday, 13 May 2014

Blood Always Tells

Finished May 11
Blood Always Tells by Hilary Davidson, read by Kirsten Potter

This mystery thriller is a stand alone novel. As it begins Dominique Monaghan, a model turned stylist, has reconnected with an ex-boyfriend that she feels had wronged her. She has plans to get even, but are those plans really her own, or was she influenced by someone with their own agenda? As the evening begins to go horribly wrong and she finds herself the victim of a kidnapping, she begins to question her boyfriend's actions and realize that she is in over her head. She calls the one person she always turns to when things go really wrong, her big brother Desmond Edgars.
Desmond has his own issues, particularly with relationships, but he loves his sister dearly and drops his plans to come to her aid. But he too finds that things are not clear, and with only the small bits of information that Dominique told him on the phone and his own observations and gut feeling, he must convince the police that there is more to the story than what appears to them, and that they must dig into the past as well as looking at those current players to find out the whole story.
There are three families whose lives cross here, and each has their own issues and enemies.
This story has multiple plotlines, intermingling with each other, great characters, and enough action to keep you reading long past your bedtime. I am always pleased with Davidson's work, and this one is no exception.

Sunday, 11 May 2014

The Toy Maker

Finished May 11
The Toy Maker: The Life and Times of Inventor Frank Hornby by Anthony McReavy

This is the biography of Frank Hornby, inventor of Meccano, Hornby Trains, and Dinky Toys. Frank grew up in a working class family in Liverpool and showed much curiosity as a child. He became a desk clerk working for an importer and it was through playing with his own young sons that he came up with the idea that became Meccano. Luckily for him, his employer encouraged him, even lending him the money to register his patent and starting out as a funding partner in the business once it started.
Frank deviated from the normal practice of manufacturers by dealing directly with retailers, starting with hardware stores and general merchants, as this was before the advent of stores specific to toys. He was keenly aware of the importance of safeguarding ideas, and not only registered his patents but worked strongly to defend them against imitators, both at home and abroad.
Frank built success on top of success, and became a solid and respected businessman in Liverpool, even running successfully as MP for one term.
Meccano not only became a successful children's toy due to his hard work, but also his innovative marketing ideas, which included toy specific magazines, and contests for those who built things with it. His influence on more than one generation of engineers brought his inventions into laboratories and universities as tools for development as well.
This book outlines not only his life, but also the inventions that he brought to life and the history of the company he created. An enlightening biography.

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

Finished May 10
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman

I picked this book up from one of my to-be-read piles as a nice slim novel to slip into my purse. I started it just after finishing the book Painted Girls and was interested to see Degas reappear as a character here. Chessman brings us into the life of the American painter Mary Cassatt, who lived in Paris for much of her professional life. She does this through the eyes of Lydia, Mary's older sister.
Lydia suffered from Bright's disease and had more regular flare-ups of debilitation during her last couple of years. Not very much is known historically about Lydia, who never married, and while Chessman used biographical information of Mary Cassatt and her family, knowledge of the lives of people of this wealth bracket living in Paris at this time, and family letters to frame her story, she also added elements to flesh out Lydia's character.
The book is framed around five portraits of Lydia by Mary, and each portrait has its own chapter here which includes a full colour reproduction of the painting in question. We see the relationship between the two sisters, Mary's involvement in the artistic and cultural life of Paris, including her close relationship with Degas, the Cassatt family life, and the creation of these wonderful paintings.
The first, the cover painting, Lydia Reading the Morning Paper, was created in Cassatt's studio in Paris in 1878-1879, and this chapter introduces us to the characters, Lydia's illness, and Cassatt's world.
The second, The Cup of Tea, was also created in Mary's studio in Paris, this time in 1880-1881, gives us further insight into the sisters' relationship.
The third, Lydia Crocheting in the Garden at Marly, was created at the Cassatt country house in the summer of 1880. This gives us a glimpse of life in the country, the activities the family did while they were there and the visitors they had.
The fourth, Woman and Child Driving, was again an open air setting, this time in Paris and with additional subjects. The child is Degas' niece, Odile, and the man is a Cassatt family servant.
The last, Lydia Seated at an Embroidery Frame, was done in the Cassatt home in Paris in 1881, and shows another common pastime for women.
What the novel gives us is a closer look at these particular artworks, and some interpretation of them, as well as a look into the relationship between the model and the artist.
A lovely novel with a unique structure and subject.

Friday, 9 May 2014

The Blue Fox

Finished May 9
The Blue Fox by Sjon, translated by Victoria Cribb

This short novel is set in 1883 in rural Iceland. It gives a sense of the place and time, but also has the feel of a fable.
Fridrik B Fridjónsson studied natural history at the University of Copenhagen, travelling to Iceland in 1868 to sell his parents' farm and other belongings after their deaths and return to Denmark. But an encounter with a young woman causes him to stay at the farm and make his life there.
In 1883, he lives at the farm with his servant, Hafdís Jónsdóttir (Abba), and upon her death, he pays the local pastor, Reverend Baldur Skuggason, to give her a funeral and burial. Skuggason's servant, Hálfdán Atlason, comes to convey the body in its coffin back to the church from the farm.
Both servants had Down's syndrome and few children with the syndrome at the time in Iceland survived to adulthood. Many treated them as less than human. Fridrik was not one of those people, and he and Abba lived together happily, learning things from each other and being happy.
Following the funeral, Reverend Skuggason, went hunting after a fox that he heard was in the area, and we see this part of the story from an omniscient observer point of view.
The writing is engaging and lyrical, drawing the reader in. This is a story to read slowly, savouring each sentence and thinking about the meaning behind the words. I loved it.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

Time and Project Management Strategies for Librarians

Finished May 8
Time and Project Management Strategies for Librarians edited by Carol Smallwood, Jason Kuhl, and Lisa Fraser

This collection of articles offers several useful tips for becoming more effective, productive, and organized.
Information that I found particularly useful dealt with core competencies (taking a hard look at what you need people to know and do), management strategies (how to best train and direct staff and tasks), reference services (how to help adjust to changing services), project charts (taking a big picture approach to projects in the organization), time management (setting aside blocks of time for specific tasks), to do list software (I'm trying one that I like and it is looking good so far), email management (using the power of the email tool I already have), asynchronous collaboration (getting rid of some of the barriers around working with others, especially those in different locations).
There's something here for pretty much everyone, and every type of library. A great professional resource.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

The Cage Keeper & Other Stories

Finished May 5
The Cage Keeper & Other Stories by Andre Debus III, read by the author

This collection of stories focuses on characters living on the margins, many dealing with situations that are challenging. They are not always easy to read, but they feel real.
The story The Cage Keeper's main character is a worker in a halfway house, a job he took on through family connections. When one of the inmates goes off the rails, he finds himself struggling to deal with the situation.
Duckling Girl has two characters that end up connecting, a sad illiterate girl, abused and resigned to her life situation, and a man who takes a step away from his privileged life as he plans a life to help those in difficult situations.
Wolves in the Marsh has a young boy who has a moment of personal growth as he hunts alone in the marsh near his home.
Forky has a man recently released from prison, entering his first relationship since his release and dealing with his issues from his incarceration.
Mountains is the account of a waitress, unhappy in her relationship with an ex-soldier struggling with PTSD, as she looks for an escape from her sadness.
White Trees, Hammer Moon has a man who is about to go to prison taking his two estranged stepchildren on a camping trip as a farewell gesture before he leaves.
Last Dance is the account of a night-time turtle hunt from a man doing this for the first time with an old friend and his mentor.
Dubus's writing is casual and matter of fact, yet somehow brings the emotions to the fore. His reading of the book emphasized this, with his voice just reading on calmly despite the desperation and sadness the words evoked.

Monday, 5 May 2014

The Impossible Knife of Memory

Finished May 4
The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson

This teen novel has high school senior Hayley Kincain as its main character. Hayley's mother died when she was just a baby, and she lived in this small town with her grandmother until the age of seven, when her grandmother died. Following that her life path becomes a little less clear, but she has spent the last five years on the road with her father, until he finally decides to move back to the house and town he grew up in so Hayley can spend her senior year in a real high school instead of reading textbooks in the truck and in hotel rooms. Hayley reunites quickly with a friend from the distant past, Gracie, but has more trouble adjusting to high school. She doesn't know the rules of how to act, and finds many of her fellow students' behaviour unappealing. Her introduction to nerdy Finn, first as a friend, then as math tutor and perhaps more, have her feeling less sure of herself and yet more connected to this town.
But Hayley's real struggle is with her father, a veteran of both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, suffering from his own demons in the form of post traumatic stress disorder. It is these disturbing memories that first drove the two into a nomadic life, and now brought them here. Hayley has been forced into the role of looking out for and after her father, loving him fiercely, but always wary of what he will do next. As his behaviour grows increasingly erratic, she is finally forced to look to her own past and reach out for help to those who care about her.
Once I started reading this book, I could barely put it down. Hayley has all the inner concerns of any girl her age, plus the burden of her father's illness. She is a character that is finely drawn, and that I quickly grew to care about. Her struggles brought me both tears and laughter, and her father's PTSD is revealed in all its complexity. His flashbacks show the experiences that brought him to where he is now.
A wonderful book.

The Renaissance Society

Finished May 4
The Renaissance Society: How the Shift from Dream Society to the Age of Individual Control Will Change the Way You do Business by Rolf Jensen and Mika Aaltonen

This book provides a hopeful look at the future. It posits that society will shift into a post-materialistic outlook starting with the West and followed by the East, now coming into its materialistic phase. It looks at the route societies take as they develop, with motivations moving up Maslow's pyramid to the top level of self-actualization. One example is the gradual shift from sporting brand names, to brand names that have been given an individual twist, a personalization that is yours alone. The shift in economic heft will also move from material objects to services, those that require a real human touch.
The current trend in the west to think short-term, current or next quarter will move to the "extended now", a view with more long term outcomes in mind. This will include such things as retail theatre, emotional marketing with a focus on relationships between providers and users, and a move toward green products. I found the chapter on leadership dilemmas very interesting as it looks at the relationship within organizations and the motivations that drive the employees as recognized by the leaders.
Two things I found missing. One is that the emphasis on the move to a new Renaissance with its numerous comparisons to the historical renaissance makes no mention the large loss of human life that preceded the historical renaissance, a loss that led to many of the opportunities that brought a true renaissance in thought and culture. We don't have such a population loss now, nor are the authors anticipating one preceding their posited renaissance, and no mention of what takes the place of that cause in their theory.
The second is in all their talk of the rich nations of the West and the middle class, there is no acknowledgement of the growing gap in incomes within many of those nations, and the resultant disappearance of the middle class and growth of the poor. With the large number of people facing real hardship within these rich nations, how does that impact their theory?
Lots of interesting ideas, and a hopeful outlook for the world as a whole, but not an entirely convincing package for this reader.