Thursday, 23 July 2015

The Soul of Discretion

Finished July 23
The Soul of Discretion by Susan Hill

This is part of the series featuring DCS Simon Serrailler. I love this series and the characters. Simon is with the Lafferton police and the odd man out in his family, where everyone else is a doctor. His sister Cat is also one of his best friends, and she is going through a bad time since the hospice she works at changed to a day unit. She is trying to determine what to do next, and has a couple of options open to her. But as a single parent after the death of her husband, money is a consideration.
Simon has allowed Rachel to move in with him, but he is still holding back in their relationship, and when he gets asked to go undercover to try to get more information on a pedophile ring, he agrees quickly. It is a difficult assignment, exposing him to images and descriptions of crimes that are beyond what he could have imagined. His father, now retired, seems to be having issues as well. Things aren't going well between him and his second wife, Judith, and he is impatient and quick to anger. When he takes an action that is beyond acceptable, events are set in motion that will change his life further.
We see different points of view here: Simon's, Cat's, Rachel's and others, all of them making difficult decisions, struggling with figuring out what the right thing to do is. These are competent men and women, but facing questions that are life-changing.
Simon's new boss Kieron Bright is a new character, and a likeable one. I hope to see more of him in future novels. I also like the new plot involving Cat's son Sam, who is thinking about his future.
This is a great read, but I expected that going in.

Monday, 20 July 2015

Where They Found Her

Finished July 20
Where They Found Her by Kimberly McCreight, performed by Tavia Gilbert, Lauren Fortgang, Rachel F. Hirsch, and Therese Plummer

The well-to-do town of Ridgedale, New Jersey doesn't see a lot of crime, but one night the body of a baby is found in the woods near the university. Molly Sanderson has been writing for the local paper, but mostly arts and culture and human interest stories. That night she is the only reporter available, and she takes the job with only a small reservation when she is told by her editor that there may have been a body. The fact of it being a baby's body is a shock, and with Molly still not completely recovered emotionally from having her second child born stillborn, it isn't an easy story at all. For her, something about the story seems to connect with her own feelings and she fights to stay on it. Her best friend Stella is supportive, but has her own issues. Her husband, Justin, is also supportive but seems to fear her relapse into depression.
Sandy has had a tough life, raised by her mother Jenna who isn't the best role model. She is trying really hard to study and get her GED, encouraged by a local teacher and mentored by a senior at the local high school, but money is tight, and Sandy has a hard time separating the difficulties in her life from her goals. When her mother goes missing, she doesn't think she can manage without her.
Barbara has always got what she wanted, she is proud of her two children and works hard to control their lives and ensure they take advantage of every opportunity. She even has a tight control on her husband despite him being the local chief of police. But when things start to go wrong, even she can't control everything.
This story is told by Molly, Sandy, and Barbara, with flashbacks from Jenna's high school diary. With the current events having trails leading way back into the past of Ridgedale, this story is about secrets, lies, and the failure of trust. Molly is stronger than she realizes, and finds that this story will change her life in ways she never imagined.
Great story, with lots of surprises.

Cemetery Road

Finished July 19
Cemetery Road by Gar Anthony Haywood

Twenty-six years ago, Handy and his two friends stepped beyond their usual small-time robbery to go after a man that Handy had a personal grudge against. But they weren't the only ones going after him, and their actions led to death despite their non-violent plans. The three men separated, and Handy hasn't seen either man since.
When R.J. Burrow, one of Handy's friends, dies a violent death, he can't help but wonder if it connects back to that crime. He goes back to L.A. from his home in St. Paul for the funeral, and finds that he must find out what is behind R. J.'s death. Is the third man, O'Neal Holden, really the good guy he makes himself out to be? Why did R. J. go visit a man in jail that none of them should want to meet?
Back home in Minnesota, Handy's daughter is digging deeper for questions about her past, and Handy may not be able to hide the truth any more.
The past doesn't stay buried, and Handy is just beginning to understand that running from it is never really a solution.
This mystery has characters with complex back stories, and a plot that isn't straightforward. A good read.

Saturday, 18 July 2015

Burned Alive

Finished July 18
Burned Alive: the Survivor of an "Honor Killing" Speaks Out by Souad in collaboration with Marie-Therese Cuny

This memoir was a bit different than I expected. Souad is a pen-name for the woman that was set on fire by her family as she still fears for her safety. Her experience happened more than twenty years before her story was published, but the physical and mental results of it still affect her.
Souad was raised in Palestine, and her father owned land in the village she grew up in. Her life though was still a life like those of past generations. She was not given any schooling, and lived a very restricted life, almost like a slave to her father. Women in her family and in her village were generally not valued, with their only aim in life to become a wife, securing a bride price for her father. Her loneliness and focus on the goal of a husband led her to make a bad choice with a man who lacked the ethics he should have had, and she became pregnant, drawing shame down on her family, who chose to try to get rid of her and her shame in the way accepted in their community. Their punishment was not successful, but brought her to the attention of a foreign aid worker who got permission to bring her abroad and give her the medical treatment that saved her life.
Souad has the husband and family she always wanted, but still is not happy as she has the constant reminder of her physical disfigurement that limits her activities.
This is a sad story, and one that is still happening for women today, decades later.
Souad speaks for the agency that saved her life and this part of the book reads more stilted and judgmental though it is important work that they are doing.

Expect More

Finished July 18
Expect More: Demanding Better Libraries for Today's Complex World by R. David Lankes

This short volume is aimed at the general public, rather than librarians, but it looks at the future of libraries and the things that communities should look to their libraries to provide. Lankes includes all types of libraries here, public libraries, school libraries, academic libraries, corporate libraries, and special libraries. Each has a community they serve and the way that their interact with that community is key to the services they provide.
He states early in the book that what libraries and librarians do is facilitate, and what they facilitate is knowledge creation. There are four ways that they do this: provide access; provide training; provide a safe environment, and build on your motivation to learn. He breaks this down. Providing access isn't just referring to books, databases and other collections of information, but also knowledge, something dynamic and created by the individual and the community. He puts this well by quoting a very graphic metaphor.
Joan Frey Williams, librarian and prominent library consultant, put it best when she said that libraries must move from grocery stores to kitchens. A grocery store is where you go to consume, to buy ingredients for your meals. A kitchen, however, is where you go to combine these ingredients with your own skills and talents to make a meal. Kitchens tend to be social spaces, the place where everyone ends up at a party because it is the place where there is action occurring. Libraries need to be kitchens -- active social places where you mix a rich set of ingredients (information, resources, talents) into an exciting new concoction that can then be shared.
Training gets librarians involved in active learning. They aren't just showing members how to use a resources, but showing them how to see the bigger picture, determining which tools are the right ones to use to solve a given problem, and doing training at the point of need.
Providing a safe environment isn't just about the physical, but also about the intellectual, creating an environment where it is safe to explore all kinds of ideas, offering appropriate privacy and lack of censorship.
Building on motivation to learn is about librarians asking questions of individuals and the community and figuring out what they want and how the library can help them get there. It's about letting them drive the programs and services libraries offer. As he says,
This is more than talking about the community ultimately owning the library by funding it through tax dollars or tuition. this is allowing co-ownership of library services.
What great libraries do is engage in conversation with their communities, "an exchange of ideas where both parties are shaped by the conversation and shape the other conversants". There has to be willingness to learn from all those involved in the conversation. Libraries need to be of the community rather than for the community.
Lankes shows that what kind of library your community has is really about the people that work there, the librarians. Do they engage and evolve with technology? Do they have the skills to impart technology knowledge across all age groups? Can they create and maintain a virtual presence that is engaged with the community? Do the use technology to engage collaboratively with their community? Are they skilled in asset management, not just inventory skills, but preservation and building collections that meet community needs? Are they able to actively reach out to all sectors of their community? Do they understand their community's social mores and cultures? Do they know how to build bridges between the diverse groups in their communities? Do they understand how to make projects and services sustainable? Do they know how to assess impacts of library services on their community? Can they guide their community through a continuous change process? Do they have the skills of transformative social engagement, that is able to help the community organize around its needs in light of larger community agendas? He describes librarians as "the intersection of three things: the mission, the means of facilitation, and the values librarians bring to the community." He talks about intellectual honesty, transparency about being key to trust.
Lankes talks about the differences between bad libraries, good libraries, and great libraries. Bad libraries are collection-driven, good libraries are service-driven, but great libraries are community-driven. He is careful to note that this doesn't mean great libraries don't have collections, only that the collections they do have and what types of resources are in those collections are driven by community need, not by librarian prescriptives. Libraries need to spend more time on connections to their community and less time on book collections. The emphasis needs to be on connections between people, not connections between items. "You build a new library when the old one is too small to accommodate the community, not when it is too small to accommodate the stuff." Librarians need to be learning too, from all members of their community, all ages, all education-levels, all cultures. The mission of the library is to improve society, not maximize use of library services.
My library's mission statement speaks to enriching the community and based on this book, I think we're heading in the right direction.

The Ice Queen

Finished July 17
The Ice Queen by Nele Neuhaus, translated by Steven T. Murray

This book is set primarily in and around Frankfurt, with detectives Pia Kirchhoff and Oliver Bodenstein the main characters. As the book begins, the pair have a case involving an American man, originally from Germany, a Holocaust survivor. The man is elderly, brutally murdered, with a number scrawled at the scene. While powerful forces move in to quickly remove them from the case, they have already gathered clues that make them question the man's real identity.
This is closely followed by the murder of another elderly man, with a similar scene, and the same number scrawled there.
When a third murder occurs, this time of an elderly woman, also with the same number, the detectives start to make links between the victims, links that keep leading back to a powerful local family.
The trail for these murders leads all the way back to World War II, and jealousy.
But there is also another story playing out among a younger generation that is linked to this story. When they also start to be found dead or wounded, the detectives find the two cases hard to separate, and wonder how many murderers there are.
I really like these two detectives, and the glimpses we see into their personal lives. They react to things based on their personal experiences, and make mistakes of judgement at times, but that just makes them easier to relate to.


Finished July 15
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen

This is a story of two people Patty and Walter Berglund, and their lives both as a couple and as parents, and as individuals, including before they became a couple. Patty is from the suburbs of New York City, a misfit in her own family, successful as a basketball player, but not meeting the expectations of either of her parents. Walter is from a small town, also a misfit in his family, an achiever in a family on unachievers, a man who cares about people, about nature, and about doing the right thing. They are both naive in their own way.
We see what leads to their meeting each other and becoming a couple, what leads to their marriage and life in Minnesota, and we see how their lives change, and how they grow apart from each other. Patty's attitude towards their rebellious son Joey moves from indulgence and pride to anger and estrangement.
This is a story of love, all kinds of love, romantic and everyday, familial and passionate. This is a story of marriage with all its intricacies. It is a story of family, of the expectations families have of their members. It is a story of people, with strengths and weaknesses unique to them, trying to find their way in the world and connect to each other.

Tuesday, 14 July 2015

Nijigahara Holograph

Finished July 12
Nijigahara Holograph by Inio Asano

This book is written in manga style of back-to-front, but comes with a nice warning at the front so that you are reminded where to being.
It is a story of children, bullying, parents and teachers who don't pay attention, those who take advantage of such situations, and the difficulties of dealing with it from the children's side. It is about hope, through the imagery of the butterfly.
Not an easy book to follow, but the drawings are wonderful and the underlying message meaningful.
One gets a sense of the pain, the frustration, the sadness from the characters.

Sunday, 12 July 2015

H is for Hawk

Finished July 9
H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald, read by the author

This memoir is of just a year in Helen's life, but it is a life-changing year. Helen's father died suddenly and unexpectedly and she grieved him intensely. Part of her reaction to his death was to return to love for hunting birds by purchasing a young hawk and training it. Helen's immersion in this activity speaks to both her state of mind in her grief, and her love of hunting birds. She had trained other smaller birds before, but never a goshawk, and the task both scares her and invigorates her. She names the bird Mabel, and finds herself also relating to T.H. White's experiences training a goshawk, told in his book The Goshawk.
Helen loses herself at times in her task, wants to train through positive reinforcement, and identifies strongly with the bird. We get to see Mabel's personality as she goes through the training, learning what is expected of her, and showing unexpected quirks.
Her writing and openness about her experience is amazing, The detail around the training process was fascinating, and her own feelings are described frankly,
A great read,  made even better by the author reading it herself.

Wrap-up Post for 8th Canadian Book Challenge

The 8th Canadian Book Challenge

The 8th Canadian Book Challenge ran from July 1, 2014 to June 30, 2015 and the goal was to read 13 or more Canadian books in the year. The previous year I tried for 50 and only got to 45, so tried for 50 again this year, but only made it to 26. I also tried to read books set in different parts of the country, trying to hit every province and at least one territory. Didn't do so well there either.

Here are my reads.
1. The Stonehenge Letters by Harry Karlinsky. Finished July 2 [set outside Canada]
2. Never Saw It Coming by Linwood Barclay. Finished July 11 [set outside Canada]
3. Silence for the Dead by Simone St. James. Finished July 14 [set outside Canada]
4. Based on a True Story by Elizabeth Renzetti. Finished July 25 [set outside Canada]
5. A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay. Finished July 28 [set outside Canada]
6. Fish Change Direction in Cold Weather by Pierre Szalowski. Finished July 30 [Montreal, Quebec]
7. Little Bastards in Springtime by Katja Rudolph. Finished September 10 [Toronto, Ontario]
8 and 9. The Rat and The Slug by Elise Gravel. Finished September 17 [no setting]
10. No Safe House by Linwood Barclay. Finished September 20 [set outside Canada]
11. The Great and Calamitous Tale of Johan Thoms by Ian Thornton. Finished October 7. [set outside Canada]
12. That Night by Chevy Stevens. Finished October 28 [Vancouver Island, BC]
13. Ysabel by Guy Gavriel Kay. Finished December 15 [set outside Canada]
14. Keeper'n Me by Richard Wagamese. Finished January 11 [set in Toronto and White Dog, Ontario]
15. The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. Finished January 22 [set in Quebec mostly]
16. As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust by Alan Bradley. Finished January 30 [Set in Toronto]
17. Gently Down the Stream by Ray Robertson. Finished January 31 [Set in Toronto]

18. The Secret Life of Squirrels by Nancy Rose. Finished February 12 [no setting]
19. Girl Runner by Carrie Snyder. Finished February 14 [Set in and near Toronto]
20. Remembrance by Alistair MacLeod. Finished February 26 [Set near Toronto]
21. Frameshift by Robert J. Sawyer. Finished March 14 [set in California]
22. The Afterlife of Stars by Joseph Kertes. Finished April 18 [set in Hungary, Austria, and Paris]
23. Wonder by Dominique Fortier, translated by Sheila Fischman. Finished April 21 [set in Martinique, London, and Montreal]
24. The Night Stages by Jane Urquhart. Finished May 17 [set in Gander and Ireland]
25. All Saints by K.D. Miller. Finished May 20 [set in Toronto and Vancouver]
26. Nothing Like Love by Sabrina Ramnanan. Finished June 3 [set in Trinidad and Tobago]

9th Canadian Book Challenge Entry Post

Once again I'm joining this book challenge.

I will definitely read the required 13 books, but not sure I'll set a goal beyond that this year.
Here's the link to the guy who hosts the challenge. 9th Canadian Book Challenge
Come on and read Canadian with me.

Let Me Die in His Footsteps

Finished July 7
Let Me Die in His Footsteps by Lori Roy

This novel, set in and near a small town in Hayden County, Kentucky, moves back and forth between two time periods: 1936 and 1952.
In 1952, Annie Halloran is just about to come into her ascension, something all local girls celebrate at the age of 15 1/2 by looking into a well to see the face of the boy they will marry. But Annie is unsure of whether she wants to know this. Annie has the gift of "know-how" something her grandmother also has, and something that makes many in the community wary of her. A local boy Ryce Fulkerson, son of the sheriff, is interested in her, but another girl in the community has already laid claim to him at her ascension. Annie is sure she wants Ryce anyway, he seems too nice. Annie lives in the hills with her parents, younger sister, and grandmother, where they farm lavender.
When Annie ventures to look in a well, her younger sister Caroline tags along, and the two find something they didn't expect. Annie has a feeling that someone has come, and that trouble is ahead, and she fears it is her Aunt Juna, a woman Annie has never met, but who she believes is her birth mother.
In 1936, Sarah Crowley and her younger sister Juby live with their younger brother Dale and their father on a farm in the hills, where they grow tobacco. Dale is spoiled as the male child in the family, and has only a young girl, Abigail Watson, as his friend. Juna is a troublemaker, and all the other family members are a bit wary of her. She has a man, Abraham Pace, who wants to marry her, but she keeps putting him off. Sarah is eager for her to be gone as she seems to make life more difficult and thwarts Sarah's own interests in romance. When a tragedy occurs, Juna sets the blame on a man Sarah is sure is innocent, but the community is convinced, and the man is hanged. This changes things in the community, and sets a new course for Sarah.
This book was interesting in its views that were forward-looking in some ways, and superstitious in others. Both time periods have young woman coming into adulthood, trying to choose their futures, but finding that there are other influences that will affect where they will go.

Monday, 6 July 2015

The Birthday Lunch

Finished July 5
The Birthday Lunch by Joan Clark

This novel is set in small town New Brunswick, where Hal and Lily live in a an apartment in a renovated house. Lily's sister, Laverne, lives in the apartment upstairs and they rent out the first floor to a pleasant and quiet widow. They were able to afford the house after an inheritance when Lily and Laverne's mother passed away.
Hal put his inheritance from his own parents towards a new venture, an antique store, something he has longed dreamed of doing.
As the book begins, it is Lily's birthday, and Hal has planned a nice day with her, including a lunch, a dinner, and a hotel in the city. However, Laverne also expected to have lunch with Lily, and she isn't a woman who likes to be thwarted. There has been animosity between Laverne and Hal for some time, and things don't seem likely to improve.
Hal has to deliver a couple of pieces to a new client out of town, and when he is delayed, he finds that Laverne has already got Lily to come upstairs for lunch.
But when the day turns tragic, Hal and his children each must analyze what led to Lily's death, and each of them must look to what led them to the lives they now have.
This is a story of families, of jealousy, of grief, and of obsession. It is a story that will cause you to reflect and look more closely at motivations. A great read.

The Whisper of Legends

Finished July 3
The Whisper of Legends by Barbara Fradkin

This novel is part of the Inspector Green series, but here Green ventures away from Ottawa when his daughter Hannah goes missing while on a trip on the Nahanni River.
Hannah has been living with her mother in Vancouver, and her new boyfriend Scott has come up with the idea to do a canoe trip on the Nahanni. Hannah has done some wilderness camping, but nothing like this. She has told her father they are going with a reputable company, but he soon finds that this is not the case. Scott has organized this trip on his own, and not filed a plan for his group with the park.
We see the very beginning of Hannah and her group and see that there are already some things going wrong, Then the story switches to Michael Green and his desperate search for Hannah. Green is also out of his depth here, much more comfortable in an urban environment, but he soons finds local allies who know what they're doing, and his staff sergeant Brian Sullivan has come along. Sullivan supports him, helps with logistics and planning, and checks Green when he gets out of control.
Meanwhile, back home in Ottawa, Green's wife is getting close to her due date for the pregnancy of a girl, and Green is torn about being away from her.
This is an interesting mystery, with a plot that reaches back in time, and a variety of interesting characters, including a local young RCMP officer.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake

Finished July 1
The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender

I loved this novel. It is split into 4 parts. The first part occurs when Rose is turning 9. Her mother makes a lemon-chocolate cake for her birthday, and it tastes odd to Rose, empty, hollow, sad. She seems to understand quickly why, that she is able to taste the emotions of the person making food. From now on, this is constant, and she reverts to eating mass-produced food as a means of protecting herself. Some foods she finds herself unable to eat at all. She is unable to tell her parents, as she finds herself privy to her mother's emotions. She is only a young girl, and often the emotions she tastes are too much for her. She tells her brother's friend George, and he is intrigued, having her test food somewhere else. Her brother, Joseph, is aware, but has his own issues.
The next part is when she is twelve and has learned to deal better with her ability. She still has issues with some food, but has tasted a difference in her mother's emotions lately that make it easier for her to eat food prepared by her. She has grown to learn tastes of food grown in different areas, made in different factories. It is now that she becomes aware of her brother's issues more, and is concerned and curious about what is going on with him.
The third part is when she is seventeen, and even more able to deal with her ability. Her brother has moved out and become more insular, rarely venturing from his apartment. When something dramatic happens with him, she is the only one truly aware of what is happening.
These first three parts are all times that change her life in significant ways.
The fourth part takes place in the years following the third part. Rose finishes high school and begins working. She experiments with food in the restaurants surrounding her home, working her way further and further out, finding ones she can manage and some she even enjoys. As she does so, she becomes more aware of the secrets of her family, She begins to make connections to others and find a life for herself that she can look forward to.
This book begins with a very interesting premise, one that becomes more nuanced through the course of the novel. This book is about Rose, but also about family secrets, the feeling of being different from others, and how that affects relationships with others.


Finished June 30
Content: Selected Essays on Technology, Creativity, Copyright, and the Future of the Future by Cory Doctorow

This collection ranges from around 2004 to 2007 in terms of original publication. Because there is a fair bit of overlap in the subjects of some of the essays, I would have liked it more if they had been organized in chronological order. It would have been easier to see the evolution of his ideas and opinions over time that way. I was also a bit surprised at the date of the original material given that this was published recently. While all these issues are still relevant, there have been changes to the technology, environment, and public sentiment since these were written.
That said, I did find the content interesting. DRM (digital rights management) is still an issue, particularly for libraries. The standards and models for ebooks are still evolving, copyright is still important and still not balanced as well as it could be between creators and users, and privacy is a bigger issue than ever before.
Cory, with his life including both technology activist and fiction author, has a different outlook than many creators of content, more open to reuse, less concerned with protecting his own territory. He uses facts to show his point of view, arguing on the side of increased ability to use what others have created to create new material.
Something I'd recommend to other librarians as food for thought.

The Cry of the Sloth

Finished June 29
The Cry of the Sloth by Sam Savage

This novel is entirely composed of letters, notes, and other writings by the characters. The central character is Andrew Whittaker, a middle-aged man, whose wife left him for about two years ago. Andrew inherited a few rental properties from his father, but they appear to be running into disrepair and the tenants don't always pay the rent. He is beginning to have financial difficulties because of this. Some of the letters included are signed by other people, but I wasn't sure whether they really were, as the first couple were praising Andrew, as opposed to the impression I got from his own struggling writing. Later in the book, I began to revise this feeling, believing that they were indeed composed by others.
The action here takes place over a period of four months from July through October, sometime during the Nixon administration. Andrew seems to me to be suffering from depression, with his mental state deteriorating over the course of the novel.
Besides the letters to his ex-wife, sister, mother, tenants, an old college roommate, and creditors, there is also a series of letters to potential contributors to a literary magazine that Andrew created and edited. It also is suffering from financial problems and he has an ambitious plan to hold a literary festival to raise the necessary monies to bring it back into the black. Besides letters, other writings include bits of the novel Andrew is working on, shopping lists, advertisements for his rental units, and signs aimed at the tenants.
The title comes from an entry in a encyclopedia set about animals that Andrew finds in his house, and reappears at several points in the novel as something that Andrew identifies with.
This is an unusual book, that forced me to slow down to read it.