Sunday, 28 June 2015

The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles

Finished June 26
The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol, translated by William Rodarmor and Helen Dickinson

This is another good summer read choice. Set in Paris, this novel tells the story of a French family. Josephine lives with her husband Antoine and her two daughters, 15-year-old Hortense and 9-year-old Zoe. As the book begins, Antoine has been out of work for some months, and Josephine has been working hard to support the family, only to discover that Antoine has a girlfriend on the side. Josephine asks him to leave and he goes to live with his girlfriend, a hairdresser named Mylene. Soon after the two go to Africa to raise crocodiles for a Chinese man.
Josephine's older sister Iris has married a lawyer and lives a good life, but is bored and senses that her husband is growing tired of her. To impress someone at a dinner she attends, she claims she is writing a novel set in the 12th century and convinces Josephine to write it. Iris will attach her name to the book, but Josephine will get the money, something she badly needs. Against her better judgement, Josephine agrees.
As we see Josephine's extended family, her snobby mother; her kind and wealthy, but lonely stepfather; her brother-in-law, we learn a little more about her, and how she came to live the life she is in. As she must raise her girls mostly alone, we see her gain confidence as well. We see how she grows to like her brother-in-law more and her sister less as she becomes more aware of what drives each of them.
Her stepfather also begins to tire of his wife's attitude and look elsewhere for happiness.
The story extends to Josephine's friends and neighbours, with the one single mother eager to take any option to avoid working herself, while the other has a mysterious secret and the confidence to support Josephine in her steps toward a new life.
Fun and lively, this book has also been made into a movie in France, and I shall be looking for its release here.

Friday, 19 June 2015

The Killer Next Door

Finished June 18
The Killer Next Door by Alex Marwood, read by Imogen Church

This suspense novel has some very graphic scenes of murder and its aftermath. But it is also ones of those books with interesting twists and turns and I just wanted to stay with it and read until the end.
In the London suburb of Northbourne, there is a house, 23 Beulah Grove, that has been split into small bedsits and apartments. The landlord is Roy Preece, a man in his 40s who inherited the house from an aunt. Overweight and predatory on his female tenants, Roy is always looking for ways to increase his rent income.
As the book begins, Collette is being shown a bedsit. The previous tenant, Nikki,  disappeared and he is quick to move someone else in, even though all her stuff is still there.
Vesta lives in the basement, in the largest apartment, one she's lived in all her life. Her rent is controlled, and on her small pension she isn't going anywhere.
Collette rents the small bedsit on the main floor, cleaning up Nikki's stuff herself to enable her to move in more quickly. Collette is on the run, and has been for three years. She hasn't been back in England since she ran from witnessing a violent attack, and both the police and her former employer are looking for her. They seem to keep finding her, causing her to move on often. She is back because her mother has been moved to a nursing home and she wants to be close to her.
Also on the main floor is Gerard, a reclusive music teacher, who plays his music at high volume for hours. They share a bathroom.
On the second floor is a young woman, Cher, of mixed race, who lives a precarious life, stealing what she needs to survive. When Roy warns her that he is raising her rent, she must take more risks to get the money she needs.
Also on the second floor is Hussein, a refugee claimant from Iran. He was a teacher there, but his views got him in trouble and his wife went out one day and never returned. He thinks she was taken to prison and tortured, but he doesn't know for sure. He isn't allowed to work while he waits, but he has been writing articles for anyone who'll take them, and the refugee board pays for his room. He and Cher share a bathroom.
On the top floor is Thomas, a man who works for the Citizens' Advisory Bureau, and whose manner and incessant talking turn away most people he encounters. He is lonely and eager to connect with others.
As the tenants interact, we see how they are all people who have slipped below notice of the rest of the world. But they make connections to each other. Vesta has always been good at making friends and she has befriended both Hussein and Cher, and quickly includes Collette in her group. She is a motherly figure, with common sense and good at observing what goes on around her. She knows that Roy is always trying to find ways to urge her to leave so he can raise the rent, by not performing maintenance and making changes to make her home less inviting, but she is determined to stay in the only home she has.
One night, the sewer back up, and Vesta is hardest hit, bringing out her emotions against Roy. When something terrible happens that night she, along with the other tenants deal with the aftermath, working together to keep their lives intact without involving the authorities.
What they don't know is that one of them is a killer, who has already murdered more than once and who has his eyes on his next victim. The reader knows him as The Lover and must wonder which of the male characters he is as the book progresses.
With Roy's greed, Collette's fear, Cher's desperation, Vesta's intransigence, Hussein's grief, Thomas' loneliness, and Gerard's obliviousness, the characters combine to form interesting interactions.
I really enjoyed this read.

The Flood

Finished June 18
The Flood by David Sachs

This disaster novel has a dystopian feel to it. As the book begins, there has been a massive (9.6 on the Richter scale) earthquake in Antarctica and a massive carving of the ice shelf. These events have caused tsunamis going up all oceans from there, and there are reports of massive loss of life from the Southern hemisphere.
In New York City, emergency measures have asked everyone to evacuate and Travis awoke to this news, made his way on foot to his ex-wife, Corrina, and son, Darren, and they along with Corrina's husband Gerry have made their way to the piers where all ships and boats available are taking on people for the evacuation. The four make it onto a cruise ship, and the ship heads out to sea, encountering the bump of the tsunami wave out there, where is it much less devastating. They believe all is well, but when they encounter another ship that has come under the control of people with violence in mind, things change completely.
They are left with a stranded ship, cut off from outside communications, and with most of the ship's officers dead. As the passengers and refugees come together to manage the aftermath, leadership clashes and resentment over the division of supplies, along with no signs of rescue, cause things to quickly slip into an untenable situation.
This book looks at human reaction to disaster, the urge by some to help others and the urge by others to help themselves. We see how some can stay calm and others quickly become panicked. Travis, as a paramedic, is more the calm, thoughtful type, used to dealing with rapidly changing situations. Others, caught up in their own image of importance breed resentment and create divisions unnecessarily. This book will make you think about how you react to situations, as well.
The writing is great, and the main characters have complexity that makes the plot even more interesting.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

The Wilding

Finished June 17
The Wilding by Benjamin Percy

This novel is about a man, his relationships with his father, his wife, and his son. But it is also a tale of the wild nature in all of us. There are three main speakers: Justin, a schoolteacher who has never lived up to his father's expectations of male behaviour; Karen, Justin's wife, who has largely withdrawn from their marriage after the stillborn death of their second child years before; and Brian, a young man, suffering both physically and mentally from injuries received in Iraq.
Justin works hard at his job, but has left the house repairs slide lately due to his heavy workload. He still loves Karen strongly, but has almost stopped trying to connect with her after repeated rejections. His father is a man's man, and wants to take Justin and his sixth-grade son Graham on a weekend hunting trip at the spot he and Justin go to every year, as the area is slated for development. This will be Graham's first hunting trip.
Karen is obsessed with exercise, running daily and cooking only healthy, organic food she has carefully researched and bought. She is also obsessed with the obverse, looking up ugly diseases and disgusting illnesses on the internet to make herself feel better. She has no respect for Justin, but there seems to be little rational reason for her feelings toward him. Having lost one child, she is protective of Graham, and worried about the influence of Justin's father Paul.
Brian suffered a head injury in Iraq when a bomb sent off near the vehicle he was in, and has bad headaches and unexpected mood changes as a result. He lives alone, operating the business he inherited from his father, and is obsessed with the idea of becoming a wild animal.
The hunting trip is a opportunity for Paul to orient Graham to hunting, and yet Justin shows himself to be comfortable in this environment, a man who knows how to do things and worries about things appropriately.
When the presence of a bear becomes apparent, Justin must decide how much he is willing to risk for his family, and whether he can overcome his father's authority to protect Graham.
Karen also finds herself put in the position to make a choice that will affect her family, and she finds herself strangely pliant in the face of another's wishes.
Brian is drawn to Karen after meeting her through work, and yet also drawn to the wildness in himself. He will be forced to make a choice as well.
I liked the immediacy of nature in this book, from the two instances with the owls to the setting of the hunting camp and the recurring bear. The native story about nature and its revenge was also an interesting element.

Island Girls

Finished June 15
Island Girls by Nancy Thayer

This perfect summer read. Boston resident and Nantucket real estate agent Rory Randall has recently died, and a surprise clause in his will leaves his Nantucket vacation home to his three daughters from different marriages, provided they live there together for summer.
The oldest, Arden, is a successful TV show host in Boston, doing a show about decluttering. She is feeling threatened by a new younger colleague and hopes to use the summer on the island to make some new contacts and prove her worth to the station's managers.
Meg is a professor at a Boston college, with a strong belief in helping people succeed, a writing project to work on for the summer, and a lack of self confidence in her personal life. A younger colleague has shown interest in being more than a friend, but Meg doesn't feel confident to take the chance on real love.
Jenny already lives on the island, has been living in the Nantucket house for years, running a successful computer company with both local and off-island clients. She has recently ended a relationship and has a big local project beginning that she is working on with another computer company entrepreneur.
The girls haven't spent much time together since the summer that an incident occurred that resulted in Arden and Meg being banned from the vacation home at Jenny's mother's insistence.
Spending time together will give them a chance to get to know each other as adults, and deal with the long ago family rift.
The women are all successful in their own ways, all distrustful of men after watching Rory's charm with women, and all a bit lonely for family.
We see not only these women, but their mothers, and how they came to where they are now. A feel-good novel with a touch of romance.

The Lonely Polygamist

Finished June 13
The Lonely Polygamist by Brady Udall

This novel has three narrators, with the story moving between them. One is the polygamist of the title, Golden Richards. We see Golden's story from his childhood, his parents' marital issues and him following his father west. We learn that it is through his father that Golden has ended up in this community, as the husband of four women, the father of 15 daughters and 13 sons. Money has been tight and Golden has looked further afield for jobs for his construction company. He is working on a project he is reluctant to have his community know the nature of, and lives at the construction site, 200 miles away in Nevada, during the week. This has thrown off the routine of the marriages, and Golden finds himself drawn to a woman he sees one evening when he takes a walk.
He is a man unsure of himself, one who has let life take him along for the ride, doing what was expected of him, what he was told to do, but now he finds himself expected to make decisions, to take the lead, and he isn't prepared. Golden is also grieving the loss of a daughter, one born with a disability, that he had unexpectedly bonded with in a way he hasn't had the time alone with his other children to do.
There are issues with his wives, with the middle two, sisters, resenting his first wife, Beverly, who tends to make a lot of the family decisions. He can sense the frustration against him, and the frustration with the situation they find themselves in. He doesn't seem able to do anything about it.
Another voice belongs to his youngest wife, Trish. Trish is still grieving their stillborn son, and feeling less secure in her position in the marriage. Golden seems to be spending less time with her and less able to interact with her when he does. There are things at the house she lives in that need fixing, but he doesn't have the time.
The third voice is one of Golden's sons, Rusty. Rusty is his fifth son, the third child of his third wife, and a boy often in trouble. Rusty has been chosen by Beverly to live in her house instead of with his mother and aunt to deal with his behaviour, but it only serves to make him feel unfairly punished, and lonely for the house he wants to be in. His behaviour deteriorates instead of improving, and he wanders, making friends with a lonely man, and visiting Trish.
All three of these characters are lonely, desperate to be seen as individuals, to be loved, and yet also wanting to belong. As each of them reaches a point that will change their lives, they make choices, and those choices will affect both them and the rest of their family.
An interesting look inside a way of life I am totally unfamiliar with. Udall doesn't demonize polygamists, nor does he idolize them. He portrays them as people, people who grew up with this life, who have problems just like people elsewhere, and who have to decide what they want when faced with difficult choices.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Haunted by the Earl's Touch

Finished June 13
Haunted by the Earl's Touch by Ann Lethbridge

Picked up this Regency romance after meeting the author and found it a fun read. Bane Beresford arrived at Beresford Abbey just in time to watch his grandfather die. The grandfather who had denied him, who had wished that he didn't exist. But Bane will be the next Earl, his two cousins both younger than him, though more traditionally brought up. Also attending the old Earl's last moments are Bane's aunt Mrs. Hampton, and her son his cousin Gerald, as well as his cousin Jeffrey, a fashionable man about town. And a young woman, who Bane cannot place. She turns out to be a woman whose upbringing was supported by the old Earl, and who he has now left a fortune, provided she marry within a certain time period. Bane doesn't like being manipulated, but he finds himself drawn to Mary, even more so once he begins to see that she is more than a pretty face.
But the Abbey has its secrets, and the new Earl and his ward find themselves fighting for more than love or money.
A fast-moving tale of romance and suspense, this book will keep you turning the pages.

Sunday, 14 June 2015


Finished June 13
Here by Richard McGuire
This book is about a space. The space is often a room in a house, a living room, but sometimes we see what it was before it was a house, or before white settlers came, or before man was there at all, or we see it after it wasn't a house anymore, 
We see the interactions of people, of nature, of animals. We see the similarities across time, and the differences. It is a house for more than a hundred years and in that time we see many people who lived in it, visited it, expressed their emotions, relaxed, fought, celebrated and grieved. 
The drawing show sometimes just one time period, sometimes more on the same page. When more are shown, we often see themes, nuances of meaning and more obvious themes across time, with similar conversations or actions. 
Here is one example of a double page image in the book so you get an idea of the content.

There is a great review at Harper's.
I loved it. and wanted to spend more time going back and forth, looking more closely at each image, finding the depth of meaning contained in it. 

Between You & Me

Finished June 11
Between You & Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen by Mary Norris, read by Mary Norris

This is a mix of memoir and grammar guide, two of my favourite things. Having the author read it just adds to the fun. Norris worked as an editor at The New Yorker for decades, and she tells her own history including what came before in her life, and her experiences at the magazine.
She also includes a lot of information on comma issues regarding grammar and editing. From copulative verbs to compound nouns, from profanity in print to pencil quality, from the nuances of punctuation to editorial personalities, Norris makes language even more interesting than it already is to me.
She injects humour into her subject, and is not shy about exposing her own mistakes and embarrassments. Language is such fun, and she emphasizes that. The rules shouldn't be taken too seriously, but you should know that you are breaking them, and why. A very enjoyable read.

Monday, 8 June 2015

The Undertaking of Lily Chen

Finished June 8
The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff

This graphic novel follows a young Chinese man as he follows his parents instructions to find a bride for his dead brother so that his brother will have a companion as he travels into the next world. Following a Chinese tradition traced back to the year 208 A.D., the Chinese, when faced with the death of a unmarried man, look for a woman's body to bury with his as a companion. Deshi's brother has died in an altercation with him, and now he is faced with a task that seems impossible. Looking in graveyards, hospital morgues and funeral homes for the answer to his parents' wishes, Deshi finds himself faced with a feisty young woman with her own dreams for the future, in the world of the living. Lily is the daughter of a peasant, with parents that are expecting her to marry their landlord to ensure they don't lose their home. This is not the life she has dreamed of and when she meets Deshi, she takes off with him in search of a better life, but is death what awaits her?
A tale of two young people, facing traditional expectations from their parents, and looking for their own answers.
Engaging and with great drawings, this novel will keep you turning the pages.

Sunday, 7 June 2015

Kill My Mother

Finished June 7
Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer

This graphic novel is told in two parts. The first part is in 1933 and Annie's father, a police officer was killed recently. Her mother, Elsie, went to work for Neil Hammond, her father's best friend a private detective in the hopes that he would find her husband's killer. Neil is often drunk and keeps making passes at Elsie. He seems to think that her husband Sam's honesty in a corrupt police force was the reason behind his death, and doesn't seem interested in investigating. He is interested in finding a woman a new client, who he learns is the wife of a prizefighter, has asked him to find, and his ethics don't question the instructions to kill the woman when he finds her. Unfortunately for him, things don't go as planned.
Annie is resentful that he mother isn't home to look after her, and rebels in as many ways as she can. Her boyfriend Artie is a reluctant companion to these escapades and Annie is constantly bossing him around.
The second part takes place in 1943. Annie is a single mom, looking for a way to be successful in Hollywood. Elsie runs a security and media agency in Hollywood, and has just taken on a new star. The prizefighter is trying to make a career in Hollywood as well, but is still looking to his wife for support and to make things easier for him. All these characters converge on a small Pacific island to do a USO production for the troops. Annie's boyfriend Artie is now an officer and in charge of the troops here. With many of the characters having their own reasons for being there unrelated to USO event, and with the island still held only partially things get out of hand and tragedy comes to many.
I liked this story, the difficult mother-daughter relationships, and the drawing. A good plot, interesting without being predictable.

Arsène Schrauwen

Finished June 6

Arsène Schrauwen by Olivier Schrauwen

This graphic novel tells the story of a period in the life of the author's grandfather. He left Belgium to go to an unnamed tropical Belgian colony where he joined a cousin of his.
On the way over by ship, he met a strange older man who warned him of various dangers associated with the country he was going to. These warning stuck with him and he adjusted his behaviour to a radical degree to avoid these dangers.
His cousin had an idea for a planned ideal community that would be build out by itself, and when his cousin had a medical emergency, Arsène was asked to take the lead on the trip with all the construction team to the chosen location and get things going. Arsène was drawn to his cousin's wife, whose father was funding the project, and fantasized about her.
The trip was not an easy one and Arsène encountered many of the dangers he was warned of along the way, but managed to avoid any long-term effects. 
Warning: contains graphic sexual content.

The Pocket Wife

Finished June 4
The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford, performed by Cassandra Campbell

Dana Catrell may have been the last person to see Celia Steinhauser alive, but the problem is that Dana can't remember everything about that afternoon. She had a lot to drink, and Celia told her something about her husband that both shocked her and made her angry. Dana wondered why Celia was so upset about it herself, and whether Dana's anger overcame her.
Dana had an incident when she was in college where she was hospitalized at Bellvue, and diagosed with bi-polar disorder. She's had a bad time after the birth of her son, now in college himself, but has mostly lived a happy and normal life without medication. But she can feel the signs of an episode coming on, and she is trying to maintain control while she figures out her own actions that day.
Dana swears that Celia showed her a picture that she took of Peter on her phone, but the photo doesn't seem to be there. Dana is sure that one of Peter's own phone contacts was Celia, a woman he claims not to have known well, but when she checks, that contact doesn't lead to Celia. Is Dana imagining things? Dana knows that she has a motive to kill Celia, and the opportunity, but did she really do it? She hopes not, but all the things she remembers don't seem to be true.
The detective assigned to the case is Jack Moss. Jack has marital issues of his own and worries about his estranged son Kyle. Jack grabbed the case because he recognized Celia's name as being the same as Kyle's GED teacher. He worries about whether Kyle has anything to do with Celia's death, and even more so when some of the evidence involves Kyle. Jack is being pressured by one of the lawyers in the office to close the case, but he wants to make sure he does it right. Jack has feelings about cases, about when something is important in terms of evidence, but is he letting his worry about Kyle influence him too much?
The title of this book comes from an instance of Peter, Dana Catrell's husband of putting his phone in his pocket when she called him and it was an inconvenient time for him to talk, making her a pocket wife, easy to dismiss.
This book had me engrossed in Dana's story, hoping along with her that she hadn't killed Celia, worried that she had. I also really like Jack and his goodness.

Nothing Like Love

Finished June 3
Nothing Like Love by Sabrina Ramnanan

This first novel is a wonderful immersion into the life of a small community in Trinidad and Tobago called Chance. The year is 1974. The story revolves around two young people, their family and friends. Vimla Narine is a smart young woman. She gets the highest marks in her class, has been accepted to teach at the school in Chance, and is in love with Krishna. Krishna is the son of the village holy-man, Pundit Anand. When the two young people are caught alone at night, it doesn't matter that they were only talking, a scandal has begun. Pundit Anand uses his influence to make things worse, causing Vimla to lose her teaching offer, and sending Krishna to study religious texts at his aunt's in Tobago while his father arranges his marriage to another young woman. Both Vimla and Krishna are heartbroken, but Krishna finds a new world in Tobago, one that his father's tight control on his life hasn't brought to his experience. Vimla finds herself approached by the beautiful Chalisa Shankar, the young woman that Pundit Anand and Chalisa's grandmother have arranged to marry Krishna.
This is a story about parental, and grandparental, expectations, how adults try to push their dreams onto the lives of their children and grandchildren without asking the young people if these are also their dreams, or looking at the natural skills of the young men and women to see if they suit. It is also about young people being brave enough to stand for their own dreams.
I love how Ramnanan uses the unique way the islanders talk to bring their world to life. We see the festivals and traditions, the way that people mingle socially, the moral expectations.
This is a novel that flows nicely, with a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages to find what happens next. Definitely a winner.