Wednesday, 5 July 2017

Two Times a Traitor

Finished July 4
Two Times a Traitor by Karen Bass

This children's novel begins with 12-year-old Laz Berenger visiting Halifax with his family on spring break. Laz's anger against his father has been stewing for months, ever since his father's job took them to Boston. His father is ex-military and has high expectations for Laz, but doesn't seem to always care about Laz's own interests. Laz wanted to stay with the one friend he'd made in Boston and take a course in parkour, something he's been trying without instruction. Laz and his younger sister Emmeline grew up spending summers at their grandmother's house in the country where she insisted on everyone speaking French. This last summer, she gave him a Saint Christopher medal on a chain, something that had been handed down through the family for generations.
At the Citadel, an argument between father and son erupts and Laz rushes away from his family. He explores on his own, finding an underground walkway beneath the outer wall. In the dark, he trips and falls, and when he awakens he finds himself in a forest on a hill. As he begins walking around, trying to figure out where he is, he encounters a group of men dressed in clothes from the past, and they take him to a ship, where he is brought before the captain.
As Laz gradually realizes that somehow he has moved to another time, he begins to panic about how to get home, especially when the captain takes all his clothes and his medal, and tells him he is suspected of being a spy.
Laz's language skills, and his forthright behaviour bring him both opportunities and trouble, and before long, he is sent into Louisbourg as a spy to observe and report back. When the siege starts unexpectedly, Laz finds himself loving his new home and his master. He is now torn between staying with the man he has come to love and respect, and getting his medal back, which he believes is the key to going home again. He begins to wonder what home really is, and what he really wants.
This story is of a boy, moving from a rebellious pre-teen to an assured young man as he is forced to deal with his situation on his own. A wonderful read incorporating Canadian history and a great character.

Leave Me

Finished July 2
Leave Me by Gayle Forman

Maribeth Klein has a busy life as a magazine editor in New York City. She is the mother of 4-year-old twins, and her husband also has a demanding career. So when she gets chest pains at her desk one day, she pops a couple of Tums and keeps doing all the things that she needs to do. But when they don't seem to be working and she's feeling worse she mentions it at her scheduled ob/gyn appointment. Her doctor sends her to the hospital, where she learns that she's been having a heart attack for the last few hours and needs a stent. During that procedure, things get worse, and she ends up having emergency bypass surgery.
After a week in the hospital, Maribeth is home, where her mother has come to help. Unfortunately, Maribeth's mother isn't particularly helpful, and everyone seems to expect her to just pick up where she left off, and seem annoyed when she isn't able to do that. Desperate at her situation, Maribeth listens to her inner self, and does what many women dream of, but few actually do, and leaves a note and runs away to be by herself.
She ends up doing a lot of thinking, about her life, about her beginnings, about what she wants. And she makes new friends, who like her for herself, and encourage her.
This is a story of a woman reaching her breaking point, and doing something positive for herself. It's about realizing that we all need to ask for help sometimes, and that's okay. This is a book that is also a wake-up call to treat yourself well, because as important as it is to help those you love, you can't do that if you don't ensure you're good first.

Sunday, 2 July 2017

We Are Okay

Finished July 2
We Are Okay by Nina LaCour

This teen novel has a character who is very alone. Marin is in her first year of college in a small private college on the East Coast of the US. She grew up in California, near San Francisco, and lived with her grandfather, who she calls Gramps. Marin's mother died following a surfing accident when Marin was only 3, and she's a strong reader, with a good sense of seeing different explanations for things. When Marin was starting high school, she became close friends with Mabel, another girl from her school. Mabel lives with her parents Ana and Javier, with her older brother Carlos away at college. She's going to college closer to home, in Los Angeles.
As the story progresses, we learn about Marin's situation, and how it was living with Gramps, with their separate spaces, with his letters to a woman named Birdie in Colorado, with his poker nights with his friends. She remembers a time when she was younger, and stayed with one of those friends and his family, Jones. Jones' daughter Samantha took her to school while she was there, during a hospital stay for Gramps.
We learn about the intricacies of the relationship between the two young women, and about the seashells her mother's friends gave her at the beach. We learn about why she feels alone, and why she feels like everything she knew was not true, not really.
This is a story of a young woman forced to face difficult knowledge very suddenly. It is about fear, and embarrassment, and loneliness. And it is about friends, and family and how things continue to evolve. A great read.

Just Like Family

Finished July 1
Just Like Family by Kate Hilton

This novel has flashbacks to earlier times in the life of the main character Avery Graham. In the now of July 2017, Avery is working as the chief of staff to the mayor of Toronto, Peter Gaines, a man she's known since she was twelve, and he first visited his father's cottage.
The cottages on an unnamed Ontario lake are a big part of the story. Avery's family had one for her, her older brother Ethan, and her parents. Her friend Tara had one with her parents, and her friend Jenny had one with her mom Greta, and her stepfather Don. Peter is the son of Don who moves to Toronto from California to go to law school and be closer to his father.
As we step back into Avery's past, we see the closeness of the three girls: Avery, Tara, and Jenny, and begin to understand what has both kept them friends, and created some distance between them.
We see how a tragedy at the cottage deeply affected Avery, sending her on a long journey to find herself, if she ever stops running from her past.
In the present, Avery lives with her long-time boyfriend Matt, who also has an extremely hectic worklife. The two have a good relationship, but they don't see each as often as they'd like.
Avery really throws herself into her work, and a project for the waterfront that has been a long time in the making is finally being realized. When issues arrive to hold up the project, Avery tries to deal with them, but one of her contacts warns her that rumor of a scandal around the mayor is starting. While Avery is in the middle of this, Matt proposes, and Avery is scared to move forward, despite her love for him. We gradually learn, through learning her past, why she fears commitment.
Avery is like many women, extremely competent, smart, and respected, yet with a lack of confidence at her core. The situation she is in will provide a wake-up call that she desperately needs.

11th Annual Canadian Reading Challenge

Here we go again. We have a new host for the challenge this year, but the idea is still the same. Read 13 books. This year the theme is highways and byways, so I'll try to keep it in mind while reading.

I'm excited to begin a new year, and actually got one started and finished on the first day, so will be posting that immediately after this one.
Thanks Melwyk for hosting.

Wrap Up of Canadian Reading Challenge 2016-2017

Well, I didn't read as many as I intended, nor did I get read books set in all the provinces and territories, but I did finish the challenge and enjoyed it.

10th Canadian Book Challenge
This challenge is hosted here. I've been doing this challenge for several years, and really appreciate John for hosting such a great challenge. He does a great summary list of books read by participants, both at the half-way mark and at the end, so if you are looking for books, these are great resources. Here's a link to the end of last year's challenge.
Here's a link to my commitment post.


1. Lost Among the Living by Simone St. James. Finished July 3. (set in England)
2. Broken Promise by Linwood Barclay. Finished July 12 (set in New York state)
3. Down in the Bottom of the Bottom of the Box by Jonarno Lawson. Finished July 26 (no setting)
4. Far From True by Linwood Barclay. Finished August 1 (set in New York state)
5. Red Stone by Gabriele Goldstone. Finished August 2 (set in the Soviet Union)
6. Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D.R. MacDonald. Finished August 22 (set in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia)
7. Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer. Finished October 3 (set in Michigan)
8. Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew'd by Alan Bradley. Finished October 11 (set in England)
9. A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny. Finished October 23 (set in Quebec)
10. Transit by Rachel Cusk. Finished October 30 (London)
11. Green River Falling by R.J. McMillen. Finished November 8 (B.C.)
12. Strange Things Done by Elle Wild. Finished January 25 (Yukon)
13. You Can Read by Helaine Becker and Mark Hoffmann. Finished February 4 (no setting)
14. Everything Beautiful is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman. Finished February 18 (Ontario)
15. Cake or Death by Heather Mallick. Finished February 23 (no setting)
16. Racing the Sun by Karina Halle. Finished March 6 (Italy)
17. The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys. Finished March 19 (Germany and England)
18. Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Finished March 29 (Ontario)
19. A Murder for Max by John Lawrence Reynolds. Finished March 30 (Ontario)
20. An Intimate Wilderness by Norman Hallendy. Finished April 8 (Canadian Arctic, mostly Nunavut)
21. One Tiny Lie by K.A. Tucker. Finished April 16 (set in US)
22. A Place Called Sorry by Donna Milner. Finished April 18 (set in BC)
23. The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker. Finished April 22 (set in Toronto and Cape Breton)
24. Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Finished April 29 (set in Toronto and Iran)
25. Fractured by Catherine McKenzie. Finished May 4 (set in Cincinnati)
26. Life on the Ground Floor by James Maskalyk. Finished May 29 (set in Toronto, Alberta, and Ethiopia)
27. Best Pirate by Kari-Lynn Winters, illustrated by Dean Griffiths (set on Crossbones island)
28. American War by Omar El Akkad (set in the United States)
29. Waiting for Sophie by Sarah Ellis, illustrated by Carmen Mok (not specific setting)
30. Princess Pistachio and Maurice the Magnificent by Marie-Louise Gay (not specific setting)

The Lonely City

Finished June 29
The Lonely City: Adventures in the Art of Being Alone by Olivia Laing

 

I started this book in audiobook, but ended up finishing it in hardcover as the audiobook had issues with a couple of discs. Having recently read Solitude, I was wondering how much the two books would have in common.
Olivia is from Britain, but this book, part memoir, is from time she spent in New York City. Her loneliness in this new city led to her exploring the experience of loneliness, both her own and others. The word "art" in the subtitle is a key to the framing of this exploration for Laing. She looks at a number of artists whose lives and art speak to their experiences, many of them intersecting with each other during their careers. Her explorations begin with Edward Hopper and his famous picture Nighthawks. It moves from there to Andy Warhol, who she revisits repeatedly, looking at his famous interviews, and his Time Capsules, among other things. She looks at Valerie Solanas, her SCUM Manifesto, and her unique relationship with Warhol. She explores David Wojnarowicz's art and activism, including his Close to the Knives and photographer Peter Hujar, whom he had a relationship with. This also leads her to the photography of Nan Goldin, and her portraits in Ballad.
She looks deeply at the work and journals of Henry Darger, an outsider artist, whose work was only discovered after his death, and thus a subject of analysis by many.
She also touches on others such as Samuel Delany, and Greta Garbo.
During her time in New York City, Laing lives in various sublets, from the East Village to Times Square, and it is during the period in Times Square that she talks about the influence of the internet, being connected, and disconnected at the same time. It also makes her think of fantasy worlds like Blade Runner, and SimCity.
This book introduced me to so many artists that I hadn't been aware of before, and made me realize just how common loneliness is in our society. For Laing, art was a way of finding connection, or communicating with others. Definitely a book to get you thinking

Thursday, 29 June 2017

At Least You're in Tuscany

Finished June 28
At Least You're in Tuscany: a Somewhat Disastrous Quest for the Sweet Life by Jennifer Criswell

This memoir is told with a great sense of humour and personal insight. I really enjoyed it.
Jennifer is a lawyer in New York City, but doesn't enjoy her job, and started planning ten years earlier to move to Tuscany permanently. Her grandmother was Italian, and that offers her a foot in the door. Saving money where she could for the last few years, and researching all the paperwork required to actually live her dream has been a long haul.
The book begins with a prologue a few months into her move to Italy, at pretty much the lowest point of her story, but the real story begins in the spring as she moves into a rented apartment with an amazing view of the countryside. She moved to Montepulciano with her weimaraner Cinder in tow. She has taken language lessons, but hasn't really immersed herself in the language seriously, and as she looks for work and waits on the final paperwork to allow her to gain Italian citizenship, she finds many barriers between her and her final goal. She just keeps reminding herself that at least she's in Tuscany.
Finding work isn't easy, partly due to paperwork issues, and partly due to her language skills. She realizes that she must take more Italian lessons and work hard at them to make herself more employable. She finds out the different cultural habits of her new neighbours, struggles to make her money go further as time goes on, and finds that her love life is everybody's business and a topic of small town conversation.
From food to friends, wine to working, we see how she meets each challenge and defies it, persevering to her end goal. A great read and insight into such a unique experience.

Princess Pistachio and Maurice the Magnificent

Finished June 20
Princess Pistachio and Maurice the Magnificent by Marie-Louise Gay

This book is part of the series featuring Princess Pistachio series. Here Pistachio watches her dog, whose name is Dog, sleeping and wonders what he dreams about. She realizes that all he does is eat and sleep, and thinks that she must liven up his life a little. She tries to get him moving to no effect. The next morning, she puts him in her school bag and takes him to school. It turns out to be show and tell day, and Pistachio forgot to bring something, so she decides to show Dog. But her classmates make fun of the dog. When she spots an advertisement for a dog to audition for a role in a play a few days later, she decides to take Dog, despite her best friend Madeline's laughter. It turns out that Dog does have the special talent required for the role, and Pistachio must come up with a stage name that is more exciting for him, hence the name from the title of the book.
As Dog's success continues, it changes the dynamic between Pistachio and Madeline, and both end up learning something about themselves and friendship from the situation.
I liked the way the book showed that everybody has undiscovered talents, despite first impressions. I also liked the way the situation led to new understanding for both Pistachio and Madeline, and modeled a good way to deal with issues between friends.
My only difficulty with the plot was when Dog ate an eraser at school. To me this seemed like a bad message, maybe getting kids to think about feeding something like that to their dog for fun. Unfortunately, I had a cat who took it upon himself to eat an eraser, which proved to be life-threatening to him and very expensive to me. So I'd like to emphasize to NEVER DO THAT!!
See unfortunate results below.


Thanks to Pajama Press for providing me with a free copy to review.

Too Much Time, Small Wars, & Not a Drill

Finished June 12
Too Much Time, Small Wars, & Not a Drill by Lee Child, read by Dick Hill

This collection has a number of great stories. The three title stories are all novellas, plus there are several shorter stories.
Too Much Time is set in Maine, where Reacher is walking into a pedestrian square in a small town, and witnesses a man grabbing a bag from a young woman. He isn't the only witness, but the police on the scene ask him to make a statement, saying it won't take much time. Of course, the story is bigger than it looks at first glance and it ends up taking far more time than even Reacher might have thought.  The copy on the cover says that this story leads into the new novel that is coming out this fall.
Small Wars takes us further back in Reacher's life, when he was still in the army. He gets brought into a unit stateside to temporarily take charge while their new commander recovers from a car accident. His first case is of a female commander of a special unit who has been apparently murdered on a country road. He must work with the state police to investigate. He calls on his brother for information on the officer, and brings in his own sargeant Neagley to be his right hand. I liked some of the dynamics of this one in terms of the characters.
Not a Drill is also set in Maine, when Reacher has gone up to the top of I95, just before the Canadian border to just see the end of the road. When hitching back down, he gets picked up by three Canadians who plan to hike a trail out on the peninsula. He gets talked into going with them, and when the trail gets closed down suddenly the next morning finds himself curious about what is behind the appearance of soldiers and questioning of hikers. This went in a different direction than I initially guessed, but a more interesting one.
James Penney's New Identity is another story from Reacher's army years. This one takes place in California and Reacher joins the story late, but has a key role in the plot. An interesting side to him here.
Everyone Talks has Reacher being questioned by a strong female investigator eager to prove herself. While lying in a hospital bed he gives up information slowly as he leads her towards the right conclusion.
Maybe They Have a Tradition takes place mostly in England where Reacher finds himself unexpectedly and in very bad weather. As he ventures towards the nearest town, he comes across a situation he is unexpectedly the right man for.
Guy Walks into a Bar has Reacher walking into a bar (of course) and seeing a woman alone at a table and mesmerized by the singer. As he watches, he gets an idea of what is happening and steps in to prevent the bad guys from getting their job done.
No Room at the Motel is another one that finds Reacher somewhere he hadn't planned, in bad weather, at least bad weather for that area. Here he watches what is happening, taking his time as he does to analyze things, and finds himself in the position to be a good samaritan.
The Picture of the Lonely Diner has Reacher coming up out of the NYC subway into an empty street, and he finds himself discussing the painting Nighthawks by Edward Hopper with an FBI agent. Oddly enough, this painting also came up in another book I'm reading.
I enjoyed all these stories, liking the twists and turns of the plot as well as the characters.

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Solitude

Finished June 10
Solitude: A Singular Life in a Crowded World by Michael Harris

This book caused me to stop and think many times. Following the introduction, the book is split into four sections, with the first two sections having two chapters and the latter two four chapters. In the introduction, Harris tells us of one of his inspirations for the book, finding out about the amazing experience of Dr. Edith Bone. Bone was imprisoned in Hungary in 1949 on her way back to the airport to fly home to England after a visit to family. It took some time for people to realize she was missing, and then discover what happened to her. She was in solitary confinement for seven years. Instead of going mad, or breaking down, she found ways to occupy her mind and emerged "a little wiser and full of hope."
Her story set Harris to thinking about the art of being alone, and to examine how our culture works against this ability. The first section looks at what people do when they're alone, how they occupy themselves. He finds that technology has filled those times that we used to have alone with attachments to others. If we disconnect from it, we often worry about what we've missed. The move towards social media and the sharing economy has only increased the need for connection. So he looks at what happens when we lose that capacity for a rich inner life. He finds that even though the capacity for solitude has decreased, the spread of loneliness has increased. As the saying goes, you can be lonely even in a crowd. Connection in the way that we now define it doesn't overcome loneliness. In fact, it can actually emphasize the feeling.
Another negative impact of the loss of solitude is the loss of the "ability to engender new ideas." The "aha" moment isn't one that normally occurs in a group, but comes to us as we let our brains loose to explore without reining them in. Loss of solitude also negatively impacts self-knowledge.
In the second section he looks at research around solitude, and the skill of daydreaming. I remember being criticized by teachers and even sometimes family for daydreaming. Luckily, instead of stopping, I just became better at stepping away from others to engage in it. I need my time to myself to either sit with myself, read and think, or do something like needlework that can let my mind wander away. Harris talks about the pressure to be doing something, and this reads true for me. Studies show that what happens to our brain when we daydream is a necessary piece to forming our identity. He talks about the rational mind versus the intuitive mind, and how even our work spaces have been changed to encourage collaboration and engagement rather than times of creative solitude.
The third section looks at identity and its relationship to solitude. Forming our own style means not conforming to the role society would have us take: what to wear, how to act, the proper way to talk, and many other "ways" that are expected of us. Even our technology pushes us in this direction. To have our technological tools work more efficiently, they like us to behave in predictable ways. The information that we are fed through our technology is based on previous choices we have made. Even the way we move is influenced by technology. It guides us to our destination, and we follow its instructions. We lose the serendipity of discovery that travel used to bring. Harris talks to researchers about mapping, our mental maps, and our wayfinding skills. This made me feel a lot better about the way I often ignore my car GPS's instructions if I see something interesting or don't like the way it is suggesting. The younger generation is particularly influenced by this tracking that is a given with today's technology. Someone has often been sharing moments of their lives broadly since birth, programming their time with educational opportunities, playdates, and sports, leaving them little time to be solitary. It also makes people more anxious when they don't know someone's whereabouts. We don't have permission to go off grid, to leave our phones and cameras behind and just live the experience. We don't have comfort with the experience of losing control of what may happen.
The fourth section is about how we allow others time for solitude, and how we communicate in our solitude. Harris investigates what happens to us when we read, and how reading, by allowing us to enter the experience of others unlike us, allows us to learn empathy. He looks at how even writing books has changed, with the advent of apps like Wattpad. He looks at the art of letter writing, and how it differs from the instant or near instant communication that we have come to accept as the norm. Harris looks at death and the growing demand for ways to prolong life, or at least appear to. He looks at digital memory-making, and the creation of avatars that outlive us, at the idea of the singularity. He tells us of his own experience with solitude as he took a week in a remote cottage, with no human contact and how he experienced that, including how he experienced coming back out of it.
This book was absolutely fascinating and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

The Wide-Mouthed Frog

Finished June 9
The Wide-Mouthed Frog: a pop-up book by Keith Faulkner, illustrated by Jonathan Lambert

This fun picture book was a gift from a friend, in case I needed to do a storytime. Thankfully, I haven't had to do that, and I hadn't read the book when I first got it.
It's a very short book, great for a storytime. The pop-up features worked great with the subject as the frog shows his mouth and tells us what he eats. He then asks a number of other creatures what they eat and we see their mouths pop-up as they tell him. But when he gets to the last creature, the story has a surprise and we see the frog change his mouth in response. This is also very funny.
The book ends with a big splash and kids will like the bright colours and the surprise.

Knife Edge

Finished June 8
Knife Edge by Malorie Blackman

This is the second novel in the series that began with Noughts & Crosses. This story continues with Sephy's story as she is now a mother of a little girl, Callie. She struggles with her emotions around her situation, reviled by members of both cultural groups.
As she tries to find her own voice, she loves her young daughter, but fears for her future as a visible example of her parents' choices. When a letter reaches her, supposed written by Callum, it changes her feelings to the point where she feels much more alone, and more distrustful of those around her.
Her relationship with both her mother and with Callum's mother also changes, and her new friends only help a little.
We also see Jude and the situation he faces now that he is on the run, and has lost trust for some of the leaders of his group. Living on his own to stay under the radar, he befriends a trusting young woman. She brings him feelings that he didn't expect and doesn't want to feel, and makes him unsure of his own convictions. His reaction is tragic, and his solution to his new situation brings more misery to both him and to Sephy.
This series is not predictable in its plot changes, and the characters begin to grow more complex as we see them mature. This is a very interesting series, with its emphasis on race and cultural change.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Waiting for Sophie

Finished June 6
Waiting for Sophie by Sarah Ellis, illustrated by Carmen Mok

This book for early readers is charming. Liam is awoken one morning by his Nana, who lives downstairs from him and his parents. She has exciting news. His parents have gone to the hospital because his little sister Sophie will be born soon.
Liam has to learn that waiting is part of life, and that it can bring you other joys. Nana-Downstairs, as she is called here, and Liam spend the day doing fun and naughty things like staying in their pajamas all day, eating funny things, playing silly games and watching movies.
Once Sophie arrives, Liam is enchanted by her.
Liam enjoys playing with Sophie, but is impatient for her to talk back to him. He wants her to be able to do things with him. Again, he finds that he must wait. Nana-Downstairs again offers advice. She helps him build something special. They have fun doing this.
When the females have a day out, Liam's Dad decides to build something. He doesn't build it from scratch, like Liam and Nana-Downstairs did, but from a kit. But since Dad isn't very good at building things, Liam has to help and make sure he doesn't mess it up.
I liked the big brother, big sister story here. Liam is a good big brother, patient and caring. I also liked how the adults didn't fit stereotypes.
The drawings are simple, but engaging, and show the emotions of the different characters vividly. I also liked how the sometimes offered a different perspective on a scene, and used enough details to make it interesting. I also thought the endpapers were a neat touch, covered with pictures of hand tools.

American War

Finished June 5
American War by Omar El Akkad, read by Dion Graham

This book feels all too possible as a future reality in these troubling times. This book imagines our world in the late 2070s, after a civil war has broken out in the U.S. over the use of fossil fuels. The former United States are no longer united. A southwestern portion has split off and become a Mexican protectorate. A small group of southeastern states has left the union to become the Free Southern States and holds on to the use of fossil fuels. As climate change took it's toll, coastal areas became enveloped by the oceans, and lost to habitation. This includes most of Florida and portions of all the coasts. This led to the relocation of the U.S. capital to Columbus, Ohio.
The book has a story within a story. A man in Alaska near the end of his life tells the outer story. The inner story begins in the spring of 2075 near the beginning of the civil war. The Chestnut family lives in Louisiana, which is Union territory, but
Sarat and her twin sister Dana are six years old, but very different. Sarat is all about curiosity, trying things out. She is built large and will grow into a large woman. Dana is girly, already into dresses and makeup, while Sarat wears overalls. Their older sister Simon, nine, is smart and eager to help. Martina, 39, and Benjamin, 45 have a good marriage. Benjamin works at a local shirt factory and the family has enough to live, but the war has meant that the school closed due to fighting drawing near, and Martina wants more for her children. As she encourages Benjamin to apply for a work permit to work in the North of the country, this is the first decision that will change all their lives forever. The second decision follows closely, the one to leave their home and go to a refugee camp.
As the story follows the lives of the Chestnuts, you see the difficulty of living a life of uncertainty, a life where growing children don't always make the choices you would like them to make.
This is a story of war, of rebellion, of family. It is a story of the inequities that come with war, about its effect on the lives of civilians. It is about children forced to grow up too quickly, and with teachers that have their own bias.
It was an amazing read.

Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Best Pirate

Finished May 31
Best Pirate written by Kari-Lynn Winters and illustrated by Dean Griffiths

This picture book, to be released at the end of the summer, continues with the characters introduced by Winters and Griffiths in the earlier Bad Pirate and Good Pirate books.
In this story, there are two pirate ships converging on Crossbones Island, both after treasure supposed hidden there. We first see the dog pirates, led by Barnacle Garrick. Augusta is Barnacle's daughter, and he aims to see her learn from one of his best crew members, Scully. Augusta tries very hard, but when an accident incapacitates Scully, she is determined to mend matters by going alone to the island to find the treasure.
In her search for the treasure, she finds that she isn't alone in her search. Scuppers, the son of the cat pirate ship's Captain Fishmonger, is also on the hunt for doubloons. When they end up in a fix together, Augusta tries to put the skills she learned to work, and find an innovative way out. With teamwork, they both make it to safety, and with treasure in hand return to their ships.
There is lots of lovely pirate language, and the end papers help define a lot of these for enchanted readers. The illustrations are wonderful, showing emotions and lovely details. The dogs are a variety of breeds, easily identifiable, and the cats range in type while still being entirely cats. And I love that the story shows how working together pays off.
Both author and illustrator are Canadian and known internationally for their great work. I'd already read and loved Kari-Lynn's Hungry for Math poetry book, and loved Dean's illustrations in the children's novel The Stowaways. It's great to see them come together in this series.
Thanks to Pajama Press for providing me with a pre-publication copy.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Pool

Finished May 30
Pool by JiHyeon Lee

This wordless picture book captures the imagination of a young boy and girl as they swim in their local pool. When they first arrive at the pool it is empty, but it soon fills with people and their accessories: inner tubes, inflatable boats, oars, water guns, and more. The two dive under the people and see each other and together they find a magical world of fish, sea plants, and many interesting creatures.
It reminded me of a false memory from my youth, when I was watching my older cousins swimming in a pool and, despite my father's warnings, was sure I could do what they were doing and so let go of the edge. Despite sinking, and causing my father to jump in fully clothed to haul me out, I was never scared, as I saw myself falling gently down through the water, watching fish and other creatures pass by. Of course there were no fish, but this book brought that time back to me.
Beautifully drawn, this story is a delight of imagination.

Lesser Spotted Animals

Finished May 30
Lesser Spotted Animals: The Coolest Creatures You've Never Heard Of by Martin Brown

I love this book! This book gives basic information in a couple of pages about many animals you may not have even heard of before, including size, what they eat, where they live, their status in terms of endangered, and another random piece of information. Each includes an illustration of the animal, along with some other images. Many of the entries mention other similar animals that you may not know much about.
The animals with entries in the book are: the numbat, the Cuban solenodon, the lesser fairy armadillo, the zorilla, the silvery gibbon, the dagger-toothed flower bat, the long-tailed dunnart, the Russian desman, Speke's pectinator, the onager, the banded linsang, the yellow-footed rock-wallaby, the gaur, the sand cat, the southern right whale dolphin, three monkeys (the red-faced spider monkey, the grey-shanked douc langur, and the golden snub-nosed monkey), the hirola, the crabeater seal, the ili pika, the zebra duiker, and the black-footed ferret.
There is lots of humour and some disgusting and weird information to keep kids interested.
I learned a lot about many animals I had never even heard of and thoroughly enjoyed both the pictures and the text.
What a fun and interesting read!

Monday, 29 May 2017

Life on the Ground Floor

Finished May 29
Life on the Ground Floor: Letters from the Edge of Emergency Medicine by James Maskalyk

This memoir is organized in a very interesting way. Maskalyk goes alphabetically through the letters of the alphabet, with each chapter on a topic starting with a letter. There are a couple of chapters where he combines two letters for his topic. So the subtitle doesn't mean what I thought it did, which was letters from one person to another.
Maskalyk works in emergency medicine at St. Mike's hospital in Toronto, and sometimes on the trauma team. He also teaches emergency medicine at the University of Toronto, and he works as an advisor, teacher, and consultant in emergency medicine in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
This memoir of his work in this field moves between his work at St. Mike's, his work in Ethiopia, and his offtime with his grandfather in northern Alberta, near where a lot of my family came from and some still live.
The interesting comparison of a rural area of Canada, with a very urban area of Canada, and an urban area of Africa is one that emphasizes both things in common and differences. The hospital he works at in Ethiopia struggles to get the staff, equipment, and drugs necessary to treat patients properly. The patients struggle to pay for what they need. The families are a big part of the caregiving due to staff shortages, and lack of experience. In Canada, St. Mike's is right downtown, with all the difficult situations that that environment brings: drugs, violence, homeless, and mental illness. But they have staff that are well-trained, the most up-to-date equipment, and easy access to the necessary medications.
With his grandfather in rural Alberta, medical care is available, but not necessarily coordinated. At one point, he reviews his grandfather's medications and eliminates ones that don't give enough benefit for the side effects, or aren't needed. At another he accompanies him to the loca doctor, and explains his grandfather's condition and the risks he faces, becoming an advocate for the right treatment at the right time. I loved the closeness between these two men, and the way they dealt with real life issues.
Maskalyk is a man who cares deeply, who wants to make a difference in the world for the good, and who lives a life that sometimes is a lonely one.
Highly recommended.

One Perfect Lie

Finished May 24
One Perfect Lie by Lisa Scottoline, read by George Newbern

This suspense novel takes some time to let the reader into what is truly going on. It starts as Chris Brennan is starting as a teacher and coach at a high school in small town Pennsylvania, not far from Philadelphia. We know that Chris is not who or what he says he is, but we don't know what his real identity is, and we don't find out for a while.
He is interested in a particular group of high school boys, those on the baseball team. He is looking for one that he can get close to, and influence in some way. He has his eye on three particular boys, and those three boys we learn more about, primarily through their mothers.
Raz is the son of Susan Sematov, an executive at the nearby outlet mall. Raz's father died recently and it has affected his normally easygoing and outgoing personality. Susan is worried about him, and his future. They were all hoping that he's be drafted by a good college for his pitching expertise.
Jordan has just made the varsity baseball team after working hard over the summer to improve his skills. His mother Heather Larkin has raised him on her own, working hard at the local country club. But the new ownership is changing the way she feels about her job, and she regrets not being able to go to any of Jordan's games. She worries about the effect some of his friends have, especially those that come from wealthy backgrounds. Evan is one of those kids. His dad bought him a new BMW that cost more than Heather made in the last year, and he seems to throw around his money recklessly. He's always on his phone, and is a boy that likes to party. His mother Mindy Kostis is worried about him and about her marriage. She'd caught her husband cheating before and they'd started fresh after therapy, but he's acting odd again, and she's scared it's starting again. She's afraid that Evan has grown secretive too, and she wonders what he's up to. She's determined not to use alcohol as a coping mechanism like she did during her earlier marital crisis.
As a reader, I wondered what effect Chris would have on these boys, and I didn't like some of his methods to find out more about them.
This is a novel of secrets, of people pretending to be something they aren't, and about families and their ways of communicating with each other. It's about learning to look for the good in people and doing the right thing regardless of what others might want you to do.
I enjoyed it.

Monday, 22 May 2017

The Pier Falls and Other Stories

Finished May 22
The Pier Falls and Other Stories by Mark Haddon

This collection of nine stories takes the reader to many places.
The title story tells in slow motion of the collapse of a pier at an English seaside resort, from the beginnings of the final structural failure to the cleanup months later. We see the victims and the emotions.
The Island, the second story, is one of a fairytale world, a story by a naive young woman of a fantasy that turns into a nightmare.
Bunny, the third story is set in a house on a London estate where two misfits in society connect with each other in a meaningful way.
Wodwo, the fourth story, is of a family consisting of an older couple, the three children, the children's spouses, and two of the grandchildren, coming together for Christmas where they get an unexpected visitor, whose presence precipitates a crisis that has lasting effects. It follows one of the children through the next year.
The Gun tells the story of a man looking back on an incident from his childhood that was a turning point for him, as he is at another turning point in his life.
The Woodpecker and the Wolf takes us to science fiction where we are on a small colony experiencing the emotions, physical effects, and behavioural changes that her and her companions undergo when they are so far from earth and trying to deal with unexpected problems that arise.
Breathe is another story of family, one where a woman returns to her childhood home after years away, finding that things are not as she expected, and trying to make things right, but learning that the person who needs help is not who she thinks it is.
The Boys Who Left Home to Learn Fear tells of a team of men travelling through jungle to try to determine what happened to a previous team of men who haven't returned as expected.
The Weir is the story of a lonely man, recently separated from his wife who finds himself risking his life to try to save someone unexpectedly and then finding that nothing turns out as he expected.
All of these stories have strong emotions, things said and things unsaid. Not all of them have satisfying conclusions, but they all make you stop and consider.

Home Leave

Finished May 18
Home Leave by Brittani Sonnenberg

This novel begins in a small town in Mississippi, with a very different speaker, a house. As the house tells us its history looking back on it with longing and regret, it also tells us the story of the family who lived in it, and the book continues the story of one of the daughters of the house Elise, as she leaves, marries a man who works and lives in different places in the world, has children of her own, and those children and her try to define home for themselves.
Elise left home when her mother didn't believe the terrible truth she finally had the courage to confess. At first she found religion, and sang in a Christian group as well as tried to spread the word of her church. But as she grew older, she found a man who she connected with and married him, soon becoming a seasoned ex-pat in a world she hadn't imagined as a girl.
We also see the background of Chris, the man Elise married, and the farming life he ran from. As the couple and their two daughters, Leah and Sophie, continually adjust to life in different cities and countries, it is when a tragic loss occurs that they find themselves redefining their lives and looking for more meaning and connection.

A Girl Named Digit

Finished May 16
A Girl Named Digit by Annabel Monaghan

This teen novel features Farrah Higgins, nicknamed Digit for her interest and skills in math. After encountering a difficult social situation at school, Digit has attended a high school in a new area of town where only the teachers and administration are aware of her skills, and she hides them from her peers to fit in. She is also seeing a therapist to help her manage her tendency towards obsessive-compulsiveness. Now in senior year, she hangs out with a group of girls she has been friends with the first year of high school. One day when they are watching a popular show together, she notices a series of numbers at the bottom of the screen, When she sees a different set of numbers the following week, and a third set the week after that, she can't keep herself from trying to analyze some sort of meaning from them. She finds them to be a reverse Fibonacci followed by a 911. She tries to figure out various meanings from the 911, One of them is the election of JFK as president on November 9th. At school the next day, her teacher tells them about an airport bombing at JFK airport.
Sure that she is on to something, Digit races home to tell her dad, who is a math professor at UCLA. He discounts the connection, but is willing to take her to the local FBI to make a report.
Digit gets frustrated when they don't take her seriously there, and decides to do a little sleuthing of her own, but she isn't prepared for the danger she puts herself in, and must find someone to help her.
Her second trip to the FBI is more dramatic, and she gets assigned a minder, but she finds herself distracted by the young FBI agent, and they find themselves running from dangerous men more than once as they work toward the people behind the terrorist scheme.
I really liked the character in the book as she discovers that being herself is a lot easier than hiding who she really is, and she finds that she has only looked at the surface of many of the people around her as well. Both a thriller and a coming of age novel, I found this a fun read.

A Bed of Scorpions

Finished May 14
A Bed of Scorpions by Judith Flanders

This is the second book in the series featuring book editor Samantha Clair. I've already read the first A Murder of Magpies, and the third A Cast of Vultures and thoroughly enjoyed them. This one has Samantha meeting her old friend, former lover, and art dealer Aidan Merriam for a long standing lunch date. Aidan has just found his business partner dead, an apparent suicide, but isn't sure whether something else isn't going on. He knows of Samantha's relationship with a police officer, and hopes for her help. Samantha is also on an arts committee about grants, where she has to make a presentation, and she is trying to connect with other segments of the arts world that have more experience with grant funding than she does. When Samantha calls her mother to confer, she learns that her mother is also Aidan's lawyer, making the case a true family affair.
Another plot line takes place in her office, where her highly competent Goth assistant has been offered a job elsewhere and Samantha plots for a way to keep her on board.
Samantha has a good eye for detail, that being one of her skills that make her a great editor, and this means that she can spot things that a casual observer wouldn't catch. This also means that as she gets closer to the truth about Aidan's partner's death, she also becomes a threat to someone with more to lose.
This is an interesting story about greed, jealousy, and men that don't take women seriously. A great read, with lots of humour.

Friday, 19 May 2017

Tender Wings of Desire

Finished May 13
Tender Wings of Desire by Colonel Sanders

I heard about this book through a news article, and I found that it was free to download through amazon. I downloaded and found it a quick read.
First, the cover has little to do with the plot. The time setting of the story is not given, but the main character Madeline, rides a horse as she escapes her parent's home on the eve of her wedding, and has packed only a few simple dresses. She does end up in a small coastal village, where she works in a tavern, and meets a sailor named Harland Sanders, who is American. He does have white blond hair, and dark framed glasses.
Madeline did not enamor me to her, as in the first sentence of the book I found that she detested embroidery, something I love to do. She also wasn't good at any of the other things young ladies of her social class and time were expected to be good at, didn't want to fulfill her parent's expectations of a good marriage to a man of status (or get married at all really), and instead of telling anyone, ran away without a plan or much in the way of money.
Her brother was sympathetic to her situation and seemed like he would have supported her if she had stood up for herself. What she apparently wanted was an education, but she did not end up having that wish fulfilled.
When she, working as a waitress and maid in the tavern, meets the sailor Harland, she is attracted to him, but partly because he is a common man. She doesn't interact with the inhabitants of the village apart from the very few who work at the tavern, and her rooms there seem better than most working class accommodation would have been.
It was also surprising to me that Madeline would choose to give herself to Harland before marriage, given that KFC started in the American south and this book is set more than a hundred years earlier (something I surmised from the lack of automobiles).
The writing was okay, but several plot points slip. For example, when she arrived at the tavern, she tied her horse to a post out front, and then we hear nothing about the horse until the final pages of the novella. The conversations are lacklustre, and none of the characters, other than perhaps the tavern worker who hires Madeline, Caoimhe, is that interesting.
I would say "don't bother," unless you really just want to say you've read it.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

There Is No Good Card For This

Finished May 7
There Is No Good Card For This: What to Say and Do When Life is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell, illustrated by Emily McDowell

I was attracted to this book partly because I love Emily McDowell's line of Empathy Cards, and partly because scary, awful, and unfair things are happening to people I love and I always struggle trying to find a way to show I care and am glad to do what I can to help, but don't really know what to say or do. This book does help.
The book has three sections: Laying Some Groundwork; The Three Touchstones of Showing Up; and Just Help Me Not Be a Disaster.
They start with the acknowledgement that we all know empathy and compassion are good things and that we want to be helpful friends, but that we are not perfect and we're never going to be. It is important to start with your own mindset. Aligning your actions with your intentions puts you in a better place, making you more able to reach out. They share their own stories of bad things that happened, and things that people said and did, from both sides: the person bad things happened to, and the person who wanted to help people bad things happened to. This insight and the research they've put into this help with the core message in this book which is trust. They look at what the barriers are for us in doing the right thing, and explore how to surmount them.
The three touchstones of part two are kindness, listening, and small gestures. They use examples of what to do and say, and what not to do and say, and show why we often mix them up. Sometimes it is about trying to connect when we should be just listening. Sometimes it is about showing kindness and not worrying about finding the "perfect" thing to say or do. The show the difference between compassion and pity and why it is so important not to go to pity. They also emphasize that even if you have been through something similar, this is not you, and they won't feel exactly the same way that you do, so don't assume they will. This means never using that line "I know how you feel," in any of its disguises. You don't. Instead, listen to them, but don't press them to talk if they aren't ready or willing to. Just show that you are there willing to listen if and when they are ready. Don't obligate them to respond to you if they aren't ready. Make sure they know that. For all of these three things in part two, they give good examples and show situations with possible actions.
The third part goes into more detail about what we might say, and why not to, and suggests things to say instead. They give some cheat sheets for different situations. Remember that it isn't about you. It's about them.
A great book, and so useful.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Fractured

Finished May 4
Fractured by Catherine McKenzie, performed by Teri Clark, Scott Merriman, Amy McFadden, and James Foster

Suspenseful, this novel begins just as Julie and Daniel Prentice and their young twins move into their new home in Cincinnati. They've left Tacoma after having issues with a stalker, Heather, following Julie's first novel, The Murder Game, written under her maiden name, Julie Apple. Like the author, Julie went to law school in Montreal, at McGill University, and her novel is based on some of her law school experiences. Julie works off her stress by running, and as she returns from her first run, she meets her neighbour from across the street, John Dunbar, and his teenage son, Chris.
The novel goes back and forth from this time, and the months that follow, to a time nearly a year later after some sort of accident has occurred. The story is told by John Dunbar in the time after the accident, and by alternating voices of Julie and John in the months preceding.
Julie had friends in Tacoma, including a close friend she ran with, but somehow she seems to get off on a bad first start in her new city.
She works at home, writing her next novel while Daniel is at work and the kids at school. She and John sometimes run together, but his wife Hanna, a lawyer, seems to feel threatened by the relationship. There is a homeowners group on their street, started and organized by Cindy Sutton, a woman with definite ideas. Cindy organizes monthly get-togethers, and mans a website, and regular newsletters. At the first party the Prentices attend, at Cindy's house, they learn of the no alcohol rule, and witness her tyrannical and blaming nature. After that, Julie can apparently do no right in Cindy's books, and Cindy keeps making rules to shut Julie out.
With Julie feeling more and more ostracized, the tension in the neighbourhood is high, and, because as the reader you know something happens, the suspense as it leads up to the "accident" is high.
This is a story of inclusion and exclusion, of how it feels when you don't belong, and of the frustrations of that. It is also a tale of guilt and remorse, as characters look back on their actions with "what ifs".

Blue Lightning

Finished May 1
Blue Lightning by Ann Cleeves

This mystery featuring Jimmy Perez of the Shetland police, takes place on Jimmy's home island of Fair Isle. Jimmy is visiting his parents with his fiance Fran. It is her introduction both to the island and to his parents. The weather is gearing up for a storm as they arrive, and the flight in is a bumpy one.
A lighthouse station at the north end of the island has automated and been renovated into a field centre for studying birds and plants. The head of station is Angela, with her husband Maurice doing most of the administrative work. Angela's assistant is Ben, and the cook and housekeeper for the centre is Jane. This is not a busy time for bird watchers, but there are four staying at the centre as this novel begins, two men and a married couple. Maurice's youngest daughter from his first marriage, Poppy, is also there.
Jimmy's parents have planned a party celebrating his engagement, and booked the field centre with Jane catering as the venue. The party goes well, but when a woman is found dead at the field centre the next morning, and the storm has hit in earnest, Jimmy finds himself investigating alone, something he isn't entirely comfortable with. It seems like the suspects are limited to those at the centre itself, but Angela's past behaviour and competitiveness have Jimmy looking into many motivations to make sense of the crime. When a second body is found, he knows that the killer is desperate and he must move quickly to prevent further deaths.
This is the fourth book in the series and seeing Jimmy back in his home island is interesting. I like both him and Fran as characters, and found the island fascinating.

Saturday, 29 April 2017

Among the Ruins

Finished April 29
Among the Ruins by Ausma Zehanat Khan

This is the third book in the series featuring Esa Khattuk and Rachel Getty, of Canada's Community Policing department, based in Toronto. This one is a departure in terms of setting however, as it begins with the murder of an Iranian-Canadian international activist in Iran.
Khattuk is on leave, taking a personal trip to Iran, following the action in book two, recovering from the situation he found himself in at the end of that case. Getty is a bit at loose ends, wrapping up paperwork and worrying about him. When a woman approaches Khattuk to let him know of the murder, he is shocked and dismayed, but unsure of what he can do to assist the situation. As she convinces him to take action, and he becomes involved with a local group of young people advocating for change, he also finds that he must involve Rachel, asking her to talk to people back in Toronto that may know what the activist was doing and why she returned to Iran despite the obvious dangers.
Rachel becomes closer to Nate as she relies on his assistance during Khattuk's absence, and she is still working to reestablish her relationship with her brother Zack.
This book involves both old and new characters, and a situation that is out of their official jurisdiction. However, with human rights being very much a part of their casework, it speaks to both officers and makes them take risks they wouldn't have thought they'd do. It also works to bring Khattuk back to his old self.
I loved the descriptions of Iran, from architecture, to food, to art, to culture that this book digs deep into. This is an interesting direction for the series, as well.

The Second Mrs. Hockaday

Finished April 25
The Second Mrs. Hockaday by Susan Rivers

This US Civil War novel begins with one wedding, quickly followed by another. Agnes, the daughter of Carthene, Placidia's father's second wife is being married, and Placidia, only sixteen was not part of the wedding party. Placidia, called Dia by her family is a girl of spunk, with a talent for horses. Energized by riding a horse deemed unrideable by others, she comes upon her father and a Confederate army officer who is purchasing a mule from him. A connection is made, and by the end of the weekend, Placidia is travelling with Major Gryffth Hockaday back to his farm. His first wife died in childbirth while he was away at war, and Placidia looks forward to taking on responsibility for the infant Charlie and the farm duties.
With their honeymoon cut short by war demands, the couple have only two days together before he returns to the fight, and they are separated until after the end of the war. Placidia misses him dreadfully, and fights off conmen, raiders, and other dangers alone with the servants on the farm. Despite her isolation, rumors that she was pregnant and killed her baby are circulating and come to the major's ears as her returns. Charged with a crime, Placidia tells what she feels she can in letters to her cousin, a young war widow with a daughter. Adding to the tale are court documents, and a few letters from Gryffth to Placidia during the war.
The second part of the book is told again in letters to the now grown man Charles from his brother, as they learn about the story of Gryffth and Placidia, and piece together the missing information to complete the story.
This is a sad book, of love, mistrust, and honor. A book of secrets and of promises. A tale of betrayal and of justice.

Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Fates and Furies

Finished April 23
Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff, read by Will Damron and Julia Whelan

This novel tells the story of a couple, Lotto and Mathilde, first in Lotto's voice and then in Mathilde's. Lotto is short for Lancelot, and he comes from Florida, where his father died young and his mother now holds the purse strings of a water bottling empire. He has a younger sister, Rachel, and a paternal aunt, Sally. After his father's death, he ran wild with a group of local kids a bit older than him, and when things came to a head, got shipped off to boarding school, in exile. He was an outsider at first, until he found a way to be popular, and his anger sadness is one he fights his entire life. He loves attention, adulation, and admiration. When his first choice of career doesn't take him where he dreams, he chances upon another that does. As he keeps looking for more, he finds himself also more lonely.
Mathilde is also exiled at a very young age, sent to an uncle that provides shelter, a basic education, and food, but no more. Mathilde grows up feeling that she doesn't deserve love or happiness, that at the core of her is a dark place. When her uncle won't fund her college, she finds a way to do it without him, but it only confirms her feelings about herself.
When the two meet, they find something in each other that fills a hole in them. And for a long while they feed off each other, but this dependency is both good and bad, and, in the end, unsustainable. Neither one gives all of themselves, Lotto not seeing what Mathilde is really worth, and Mathilde not seeing her own value.
This is a sad book, with characters who never get enough, who hold a grudge long past normal, and some who see the real goodness in people beyond what they themselves believe.

The Clay Girl

Finished April 22
The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker

I loved this book. I've been reading it very slowly, so as to savor it.
The main character here is Hariet (Ari) Appleton, and this book takes her from the age of eight through sixteen from 1961 on. Ari's family has issues, big issues. Her father is an abuser, and a charmer, and when she is eight and the authorities become aware of the abuse, rather than face up to it, he traumatizes his daughters further by killing himself in front of them. The kids are all farmed out to various relations, with Ari being shipped out to Cape Breton to stay with her Aunt Mary and Mary's partner Nia. They give her the home and love that she has never had from her own parents. Ari also has an imaginary friend that she talks with, and who never deserts her, Jasper, a seahorse.
Unfortunately, Ari is returned to her mother in Toronto, she reunites with her sisters, all of whom have been touched by their past. She also finds her mother with a new man, Len. A good man. Even as Ari's mother sinks back into a life of addiction and men, Len is constant and his family becomes a refuge for Ari, just as the family she left in Nova Scotia was. Her sisters have different reactions to their abuse, some needing to go through worse times before finding their feet. One leaves, one finds religion of a sort, and the others make their way through various dark experiences to happiness. Ari, as the youngest can't escape so easily, as even as she plans her way out, she finds new obstacles set before her, new losses to endure. But she also finds new allies, new friends, and new family, even where she least expects it.
Ari's voice is unique, and she emerges as an artist and storyteller through her life experiences. As she is told by her aunt, she is not dirt as some described her but clay, malleable into a wondrous being. I fell in love with her, and ached with her during the bad times. She is empathetic, observant, and smart. I want to see more of her story.

A Place Called Sorry

Finished April 19
A Place Called Sorry by Donna Milner

This novel takes place in the interior of B.C. in a small town called Sorry, with the majority of the story taking place in the 1930s. The story of the town's name is an interesting one, and speaks to the nature of the community.
Adeline (Addie) Beale lives with her parents and her grandfather Chauncey on a large ranch outside of town. Addie loves the ranch and pretty much lives outside, to the dismay of her mother, a woman who grew up in Vancouver and was educated as a nurse, but met Addie's father when he was getting his law degree, and married him. She misses the city, but she knows her husband's life is entwined with the ranch. When tragedy strikes the family, things change drastically.
Addie spends a lot of time with her grandfather, and he shares with her diaries that he kept as a teenager when he first arrived in B.C. with his father. As Addie gradually learns of her grandfather's past and its tragedies, she also finds a new friend in another outsider in their small town. Alan Baptiste is the son of Rose, the wife of the store owner in town Dirk VanderMeer. Alan's mother brought him with her when she married Dirk, afraid that if she left him on the reserve, he would end up in residential school. The two get along well, have similar interests, and both are picked on by the schoolteacher Mrs. Parsons, Alan for his race and Addie for her unconventionality.
When Alan's family also faces tragedy, he comes to work at the ranch and the two grow closer. But the town isn't done with them yet, and as the war begins, more challenges come into their lives.
This is a story of prejudice, of finding your own way in life, and of facing your past, even the parts you regret. It is also a story of our country's history, one that still affects us today.
Milner's writing, as always, brings it to life, making me care about these people and their lives.

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

A Cast of Vultures

Finished April 18
A Cast of Vultures by Judith Flanders

I thoroughly enjoyed the first in this series featuring book editor Samantha Clair, A Murder of Magpies, so was eager to read this one. There is a lot going on in this book, which always makes for a page-turner. Sam is involved in her neighbourhood, and has become a go-between between two gardening friends, Mr. Rudiger and Viv. Mr. Rudiger is her upstairs neighbour, living on the top floor of her house, and Viv is an older woman who lives closer to the farmer's market Sam visits every Saturday. When she stops by Viv's as normal to deliver some cuttings, Viv unexpectedly invites her in and involves her in a little B & E as a worried neighbour of a missing man. Soon after, a house in the neighbourhood burns down, and the circumstances lead to an investigation.
Meanwhile, the publishing firm Sam works at has called in management consultants to make some changes, and her able assistant Miranda has concerns about a memoir she is editing.
Sam attends meetings, both work and community, gathering information, calls on her well-connected mother Helena for assistance, as well as a young techie, and her boyfriend, a CID investigator.
When she finds herself targeted by unknown men, she can't help but start making connections.
I love Samantha's intelligence and wit, and the writing is wonderful.
One of my favourite scenes is this one:
Christ, I was naked. I'd been too startled, first, and then too scared, to notice, but here I was, standing with an adolescent boy in a light well at two in the morning, with only a phone to cover myself with. And phone coverage, as we all know, is never very reliable.
which gives an example of her humour. I also like that she knows her skill set and her values, but also acknowledges her failings and her insecurities. She is a woman who stands up for herself and her friends, but isn't afraid to admit her mistakes. A very relatable character.

One Tiny Lie

Finished April 16
One Tiny Lie by K.A. Tucker

This is the third book in a series, and the only one I've read so far. Livie is just starting college, at Princeton, the school that her father wanted her and her sister to attend, just like he had. When she was eleven, her parents died in a car crash, one that badly injured her older sister Kacey. Kacey has struggled to recover, and even though Livie seems to be doing well, getting great marks and doing everything according to a long-set-out plan, Kacey is worried about her. So Livie agreed earlier in the summer to talk to someone and she's been shaking her life up a bit.
Now, as Kacey sees her off to school, she finds herself talked into an off campus party, where she lets loose a lot more than she ever has, beginning with Jello shots. The next morning she finds herself with a new nickname, an incomplete memory of the previous evening, and a sore back. As she gradually remembers the events of the evening over the school term, she settles into a pattern of partying, studying, and questioning her own feelings, and finds herself drawn to a young man that she knows is trouble.
This is a story of coming of age, but also one of coming to terms with the past, not only for Livie, but for other characters as well. Her relationship with her sister is a strong one, but this is the first time she's really been making decisions that are hers alone.
Despite the American setting, the author is Canadian. This series will definitely appear to the adult reader ready to move on from teen fiction.

Monday, 10 April 2017

An Intimate Wilderness

Finished April 8
An Intimate Wilderness: Arctic Voices in a Land of Vast Horizons by Norman Hallendy

To understand the value of this book, you have to know the author's background. Hallendy has spent over fifty years building relationships with the Inuit, from translators to elders, to the elders' families. He was given the name Apirsuqti, which means "the inquisitive one." He is the world's leading authority on inuksuit. He has received recognition for his work from the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and the Royal Scottish Geographical Society. He is an ethnographer of international renown.
This book contains observations, descriptions of experiences, conversations, storytelling, Inuit history and legend, intricacies of the language and the importance of naming, and as with many things, the parts add up to so much more together than they do singly.
His work has allowed him to immerse himself in their culture, learning the words for places, experiences, symbols, people, nature, and ideas. He knows when to listen and when to ask questions. He respects the culture and you can tell he really wants to understand and know what he is asking about. He cares about the people he meets.
While this book tells of places, events, and ceremonies long kept to themselves, his telling of them is not a betrayal, but becomes a trusted, well-researched archive. Due to the influence of white colonizers on this culture, a disconnect has been introduced between the older people who still remember either for themselves or from their parents and grandparents the way things were done, the way lives were lived before and the younger generation who live in towns and lead a more modern way of life. As he says "There came a time when the elders no longer handed down tales, songs, customs, and mysteries. Instead, catechism and schooling were the shape the Inuit child's knowledge and future." This book is a bridge between those two world, to ensure the stories and traditional way of life are not forgotten.
There are so many beautiful and important things in this book and I am so glad they have been gathered up before they were lost to history. As one interaction goes "...when I asked him about myth and reality he explained to me that there are things said to have happened that may or may not have happened. It doesn't matter, as long as they are believed. The expression he used was sulinngikkaluaqtut ukpirijaujut, the reality of myth."
The book includes photos, drawings, maps, art, and other visual aids to understanding, some specifically made for the book.


Sunday, 9 April 2017

Monthly Mix-Up Mania 2015-2017 Completed

So, I completed the Monthly Mix-Up Mania, but not quite to the standard I set myself.
I had intended to read the books in letter order, but didn't stay on top of it, and ran out of time, with 3 letters to go. So I went back over the time period and found 3 books that met the requirements and used the for the B, E, and R of December.
It was a fun challenge, but sometimes limiting.
The home page for the challenge is here.

Official Start date: April 1, 2015. 
End date: March 31, 2017, yes, two years, because well, we have other challenges to do ;)

My books
J - A Jury of Her Peers by Elaine Showalter. Finished April 13, 2015
A - The Afterlife of Stars by Joseph Kertes. Finished April 18, 2015
N - Neverhome by Laird Hunt. Finished April 26, 2015
U - Uncommon Grounds by Sandra Balzo. Finished May 4, 2015
A  - All Saints by K.D. Miller. Finished May 20, 2015
R  - The Road Taken by Michael Buerk. Finished May 30, 2015
Y - The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles by Katherine Pancol. Finished June 26, 2015

F - Freedom by Jonathan Franzen. Finished July 15, 2015
E - Expect More by R. David Lankes. Finished July 18, 2015
B - Burned Alive by Souad. Finished July 18, 2015
R - The Road is How by Trevor Herriot. Finished August 6, 2015
U - Uncertain Soldier by Karen Bass. Finished August 8, 2015
A - The Arsonist by Sue Miller. Finished August 9, 2015
R - The Robber of Memories by Michael Jacobs. Finished September 2, 2015
Y - Yankee in Atlanta by Jocelyn Green. Finished September 4, 2015

M - A Murder of Magpies by Judith Flanders. Finished September 6, 2015
A - Astray by Emma Donoghue. Finished September 17, 2015
R - The Ragtime Fool by Larry Karp. Finished October 5, 2015
C - Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare. Finished October 11, 2015
H - Happy City by Charles Montgomery. Finished November 1, 2015

A - Above the Waterfall by Ron Rash. Finished December 21, 2015
P - Pack Up the Moon by Rachael Herron. Finished December 27, 2015
R - Rosemary Cottage by Colleen Coble. Finished January 14, 2016
I - The In-Between Hour by Barbara Claypole White. Finished January 19, 2016
L - The Longest Afternoon by Brendan Simms. Finished February 20, 2016

M - The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell. Finished March 12, 2016
A - Anomaly by Krista McGee. Finished March 12, 2016
Y - The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers. Finished April 2, 2016

J - The January Dancer by Michael Flynn. Finished April 6, 2016
U - The Unquiet Dead by Ausma Zehanat Khan. Finished April 24, 2016
N - The "Natural Inferiority of Women, compiled by Tama Starr. Finished May 23, 2016
E - The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton. Finished July 1, 2016

J - Joy Comes in the Morning by Jonathan Rosen. Finished July 8, 2016
U - Underground Airlines by Ben H. Winters. Finished July 17, 2016
L - Lauchlin of the Bad Heart by D.R. MacDonald. Finished August 22, 2016
Y - You're Not Lost If You Can Still See the Truck by Bill Heavey. Finished August 26, 2016

A - The Accidental Empress by Allison Pataki. Finished September 15, 2016
U - Untethered by Julie Lawson Timmer. Finished October 3, 2016
G - Green River Falling by R.J. McMillen. Finished November 8, 2016
U - The Undertaker's Wife by Dee Oliver. Finished November 17, 2016
S - Schlump by Hans Herbert Grimm. Finished December 1, 2016
T - Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple. Finished December 3, 2016

S - The Slow Waltz of Turtles by Katherine Pancol. Finished December 31, 2016
E - Eel River Rising by Laura Reasoner Jones. Finished January 14, 2017
P - The Palace of Heavenly Pleasure by Adam Williams. Finished February 4, 2017
T - Tapestry of Fortunes by Elizabeth Berg. Finished February 5, 2017
E - Eight Girls Taking Pictures by Whitney Otto. Finished February 12, 2017
M - Malice of Fortune by Michael Ennis. Finished February 13, 2017
B - The Burial by Courtney Collins. Finished February 18, 2017
E - Everything Beautiful Is Not Ruined by Danielle Younge-Ullman. Finished February 18, 2017
R - The Roanoke Girls by Amy Engel. Finished February 19, 2017

O - On Turpentine Lane by Elinor Lipman. Finished February 20, 2017
C - Cake or Death by Heather Mallick. Finished February 23, 2017
T - There Was an Old Woman by Hallie Ephron. Finished February 27, 2017
O - One for Sorrow by Mary Downing Hahn. Finished February 28, 2017
B - Boar Island by Nevada Barr. Finished March 1, 2017
E - Educating Alice by Alice Steinbach. Finished March 5, 2017
R - Racing the Sun by Karina Halle. Finished March 6, 2017

N - Noughts & Crosses by Marjorie Blackman. Finished March 9, 2017
O - Only Daughter by Anna Snoekstra. Finished March 11, 2017
V - Vigilante by Kady Cross. Finished March 12, 2017
E - The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. Finished March 15, 2017
M - The Madwoman Upstairs by Catherine Lowell. Finished March 18, 2017
B - Born a Crime by Trevor Noah. Finished March 18, 2017
E - The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys. Finished March 19, 2017
R - The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies. Finished March 19, 2017

D - Displacement by Lucy Knisley. Finished March 20, 2017
E - Egg Drop Dead by Laura Childs. Finished March 21, 2017
C - Crooked Heart by Lissa Evans. Finished March 28, 2017
E - Exit, Pursued By a Bear by E.K. Johnston. Finished March 29, 2017
M - A Murder for Max by John Lawrence Reynolds. Finished March 30, 2017
B - Baghdad without a Map by Tony Horwitz. Finished June 6, 2016
E - Expect More by R. David Lankes. Finished July 18, 2015
R - The Risk of Darkness by Susan Hill. Finished January 16, 2016