Tuesday, March 29, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten Of The Best Books I've Read Recently

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is ten of the best books I've recently read. One of them I just finished last night! Sometimes a run of good books is really about picking books that you are pretty sure you will like or reliable authors. These books just make you want to read another great book.

Miss Marple: The Complete Short Stories - Agatha Christie
Really, you can't go wrong with Agatha Christie. Last year, I listened to all the Miss Marples on audiobook. My library has since let the registrations lapse on all the Christie books. That seems just wrong. So, to get to the last few Miss Marple mysteries, I had to buy the book. Well worth it.

next to try: Tommy &Tuppence books

Her - Harriet Lane

Great little psycholgical thriller, all the more scary by the ordinariness of the people. 

next to try: something by Patricia Highstreet, maybe Strangers on a Train

The Hero's Walk - Anita Rau Badami

I really liked it as I read it, and then listening to Vinay Virmani defend it on Canada Reads just solidified my love. All the panelists agreed it was the best written book.

next to try:  More Badami!
Tell it to the Trees, Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? 

The Lost Garden - Helen Humphreys

Lovely Humphreys' British homefront book.
next to try: The Lost Dogs by Humphreys

The Door in the River - Inger Ash Wolfe

Fabulous Canadian mystery with a near retirement female Captain, Hazel Micallef

next up: The Night Bell, the most recent in the series

The Frozen Thames - Helen Humphreys

Short, historical vignettes matched with artwork.

next up: Are there more books like this? point me in the direction

Reykjavik Nights - Arnaldur Indridason

First prequel to the Icelandic police detective Erlendur series. I just lent this to a colleague who has a trip booked to Iceland. I'm so jealous!

next up: Oblivion, another prequel set to be released this summer

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks - E Lockhart

I was reading the back battle at The Tournament of Books, and saw that Frankie competed back in 2009. It didn't make it past the first round, but it was a Zombie book that got to come back and compete as a fan favourite. Pretty good showing for a YA book.

next up: How to Be Bad by Lockhart, Myracle,& Mlowski

Ask the Passengers - AS King
Another good YA book. I am back into 2015 for best books

next to read: I Crawl Through It by A.S. King

 The Shepherd, the Angel, and Walter the Miracle Christmas Dog - Dave Barry (audiobook)

A touching, humorous Christmas book. 

next to read: I won't start thinking about this til December

Friday, March 25, 2016

BOOKS: Bitches be Crazy

Publishers do love a trend - it's the next Gone Girl! Gone Girl was very good, as was Gillian Flynn's backlist of Sharp Objects and Dark Places. They weren't like Gone Girl, but they were dark and creepy.

12 Books to Read if You Loved "The Girl on the Train" (That Aren't "Gone Girl")

Of course, as Sheldon Cooper would say - "once I know there is a twist, it has been spoiled already." I'm looking for it, and calling a book The Next Gone Girl, already tells me a whole bunch about the book, and I'm on edge waiting for the twist. That can lead to disappointment if the twist isn't what you expected.

I've read a few books lately that could all fit in that category - the next Gone Girl. I think what that means is a book with an unreliable narrator, could be told from alternating points of views, possibly crazy ladies and plot twists. What is meant is that they are psychological thrillers, or suspense.

The Widow by Fiona Barton, Her by Harriet Lane, and In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.

Note: I think I will have to give some spoilers in my review of Her, but not the other two, as I compare and contrast the books. So, if you don't want to know details, it may be time to leave. I won't give away actual endings.  But come back when you've read the book and we can dish. Unless you are like Jenny Who Reads the End; I know she's staying.

In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Full of suspense, but uses that style of writing where the narrator asks lots of questions, to further the plot. Will I like this style of writing? Sometimes it can be frustrating, but maybe this author will be okay? When Leonora is invited to a 'hen' party from an old high school, should she go? She hasn't spoken to that friend in years, but maybe she should. Maybe if she convinces her old friend, Nina, who is still in contact Nora will go. They go.
Who are these people? Nora doesn't know any of them.
Half way through, Nora wakes up in the hospital. From there, the story alternates between past and present and some *memory loss. Does Nora even remember anything? She has some thoughts, but is she imagining them? Where is her phone? Why isn't she asking the people that come to see her at the hospital any useful questions!?

I'm picking at this book but it read very quickly and was enjoyable enough even if the title, cover, and sing-song catch line on the cover someone's getting married, someone's getting murdered gave a fairy tale, Once Upon a Time vibe that didn't really match the story. I read it too quickly to notice any incongruencies in what happened, but I'm pretty sure they were there and would be fun to discuss. This was the least complex of the three books, and aspires to be a locked room mystery, but Miss Marple would have been all over the murderer in this one.

(*This device of memory loss was less annoying In a Dark, Dark Wood than in Elizabeth Is Missing, which I read last year. Using Alzheimers as a plot device was a cheap plot way to not let the reader have a clue what was going on. I knew that the main character was being told over and over again where Elizabeth was, but because she didn't remember, we didn't know. Instead of billing Elizabeth as a mystery, it should have been sold as  'What it is like to have Alzheimers.')

The Widow by Fiona Barton, 336 pages

Good while I read it, lots of suspense. I won't, however, remember the story next month. I barely remember it a week later. I did have the thought when I read it that The Widow would pass the Bechdel test as the main character and the reporter that deals with her after her husband dies are both women. But, I guess they talk about him and the previous crime he had been accused of, so maybe it doesn't pass after all. But they were well developed characters with lives of their own and inner thoughts and that made the read feel more layered and complex.

This one has the alternating points of view, not so much twists as gradual reveals.

Her by Harriet Lane, 261 pages

Now here is a book for which the comparison to Gone Girl does harm. Because there is not a big crazy plot twist. In fact, near the end, page 225, Lane has a character say as they talk about a book:
I don't say that I've read it and enjoyed it, though I found the final plot twist unsatisfying, as plot twists often are: nothing like life, which -- it seems to me -- turns less on shocks or theatrics than on the small quiet moments, misunderstandings or disappointments, the things that it's easy to overlook.

If that is not foreshadowing, I don't know what is! In fact, the next line is a response of " 'I don't think I like these characters,' he's saying: an annoying remark , one which I can't be bothered to engage." Double ha! Ms Lane, that is quite a response.

So, there are two women. Nina recognizes Emma on the street, but Emma has no clue who Nina is, (She does eventually have some frissons of recognition.) In some very weird ways, Nina finds ways to insert herself into Emma's life. Emma has young children and is feeling overwhelmed in that way you can when it doesn't feel like your kids will ever not need you. Nina is at a different point in her life, even though they are the same age. Nina's daughter is seventeen, she is a painter, and well off.

Lane keeps the level of suspense simmering throughout. Because we have read Gone Girl, the reader is on edge, waiting. What will be the reveal? How do they know each other? What could be the connection where Nina remembers Emma, but not Emma remembering Nina? The chapters are written alternating, and sometimes they recount the same event almost identically. Maybe one or two little differences. I found this just ramped up the suspense for me, watching for what tiny little differences would appear. When differences did happen, I noticed!


The reviews at Librarything and Goodreads mostly seem disappointed in the ending. That was all? Except for the actual ending, which is very open ended and shocking, if you want it to be. Most reviewers hated it. I thought it was perfect. Because there are sociopaths living around us. And they are crazy but they can manage to appear normal for most of their existence. And I bet we (the non-sociopaths) dismiss and ignore the signs of them because it is beyond our understandings. Because when you realize what Nina did, and why, it is so subtle and over the top at the same time, that we really don't want to think that there are people like that living around us, hidden. In Gone Girl, the action just kept ramping up because Nick and Amy were both crazy, egging each other on. Here, there is no retaliation because no one even knows what is going on, except Nina.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

BOOKS: Helen Humpherys

I went on a little Helen Humphreys spree...

The Lost Garden, 183 pages

Such a wonderful book! A horticulturist from London gets sent to the country to oversee a garden to supply food for England during the war. She is unsure of herself, in charge of young women all with their own struggles during the war. She finds a hidden garden and tries to make sense of the person who planned it. Again, I'm impressed with how much Humphreys can say with so little. Personal struggles within the country struggles. Very touching.

The Evening Chorus, 302 pages

Another WW2 novel and how people try to survive during trying circumstances. James is in a prison camp in Germany; his young wife is left behind on her own in England. James spends his time observing birds and Rose ends up with James' sister living with her.

External conflicts as well as internal conflicts. Life.

The Frozen Thames, 192 pages
Did anyone else ever read London by James Rutherford? It was a behemoth of a book, endeavoring to chronicle the history of London by making stops and telling stories at many points in time for 2000 years. It was excellent.

This is the precis version of London, and it was excellent as well. Through out its history, the River Thames has frozen over about forty times. Not every year, given the temperate climate, but often enough that it was an event. Humphreys takes each time that it has frozen and written a little story. The book itself is small, and has pictures and photographs representing the stories. From the poor to royalty, the frozen river had an impact. Each individual story isn't the story though - it's how Humphreys chronicles the events and records a time in history. With the new building of London Bridge, the Thames will never freeze again.

Overall, Humphreys includes many nature motifs in her novels - the flora in The Lost Garden and fauna in The Evening Chorus and ice in The Frozen Times. If I was her publisher, I'd package up The Lost Garden, The Evening Chorus and Coventry as a set that represents England during WW2.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY:Ten Books I Really Love But Feel Like I Haven't Talked About In A While

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week's topic is Books I Really Love But Feel I Haven't Talked About In a While. Awesome topic! I looked through my books at librarything and found some that made me go - oh, that was a great book! It didn't take me very long to decide to make it all Canadian books. I enjoyed even spending the time going back and reading all the reviews I wrote for these books and remembering the love. 

Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod
Amazing collection of short stories. Giller shortlisted. His father is Alistair MacLeod, whose collection of stories, Lost Salt Gift of Blood almost made the list as well.

The Incident Report by Martha Baille
A series of reports by a librarian, Baille impressed me with how much she said with so little.

Listen to the audio for this one to fully get the Martin Short experience. Even if you only tolerate Short, I think you will find the underlying intelligence and Canadian niceness will change your opinion of him. Classy guy (when he isn't trying to hog the spotlight!)

The Lizard Cage by Karen Connelly
Set in a Burmese prison, this one is so good at showing how attitude and how you treat people is everything.

Unless by Carol Shields
I'm sure I do talk about this one a lot, but the comments on women writers and the place of women in society hasn't really changed in the almost 15 years since Shields wrote her final novel.

Great Canadian novel. Duddy is quite a character and this reminded me that there are a few more Richler novels I'd like to read. 

The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence
If you run across any Margaret Laurence books in second hand stores, don't be put off by the horrendous covers her books seem to have. I read The Fire-Dwellers and the cover did not help me in picking it up, but inside, the stories and characters are so readable and relateable that you will be happy not to judge a book by its cover.

The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway
A look at life in a city under siege. Just because horrendous things are happening, doesn't mean that we hear about it in North America. With all the discussions about refugees, this book would be an eye-opener about how bad life can be even if it doesn't sound bad.

The Wife's Tale by Lori Lansens
Mary Gooch goes on a journey to find her husband, but you'll be surprised at what she finds instead!

(That's my click bait summary!)

Gretzky's Tears by Stephen Brunt
Brunt writes great sports book - I've also read his Bobby Orr book. 

Have you read any of these books? 

Friday, March 18, 2016

BOOK: Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson

Swamp Angel by Ethel Wilson, 180 pages
first published in 1954

Our family online reading group (Facebook group) chose in a democratic vote Swamp Angel from the Canada Reads longlist. The theme for this years Canada Reads is starting over. 

The main character makes a plan, and leaves her second husband who she married on a grief rebound after her husband and daughter died. Always interested in fishing, she ends up at a fishing lodge in the interior of British Columbia.

Before reading activity: If you had to begin to recreate your life, what geographical location would you select and what would you aspire to do there?

A little English village, and be a food historian

 I would like to live in Manhattan and be a writer
I would like to live in Ireland and be a farmhand.
It's Ireland for me and I would love to own a pub in a little village..!!

Meanwhile, back in Vancouver, the left behind husband tries to find out what happened and where his wife left by checking with her friend and her mother. The mother used to be a rodeo cowboy and owns the titular 'Swamp Angel,' a gun. This part of the story, confused me a bit. While I really liked the mother and found her a great character, it introduced unneccesary suspense into the story as I kept thinking he was going to chase her down, or the gun would have more to do with the story than symbolic.

Artifacts of our lives. Share an image, description, or both, about an artifact you carry in your memory or in your present possessions that you value for some reason beyond its material value.

have a crib blanket my grandmother made for my brothers and me - it reminds me that when she had so little she still found ways to make things for us. I have her stemmed water glasses, purchased at woolworths 5 and 10 (like today's dollarama). She loved pretty things and couldn't afford much. They still aren't valuable but I love them. But the one thing I treasure the most is the enamelled box she gave me when I was young. I have kept it for nearly my whole life and have always filled it with memorabilia.

This bowl from the 70s became a staple in my childhood, adolescence, and adulthood. It represents my appetite for it gave me the volume needed to hold my cereal, my soup, my chicken broccoli, and my ground hamburger with onions and tomato soup. Knowing this bowl has held my food for 30 years and the food of others much longer is surreal. The bowl symbolizes family and home for it is always there to hold what needs to be held

 Just filled this baby up with some late night stew! It's the only survivor of the 3 piece wedding gift for mom and dad. I guess there was a green and white one as well.

Ultimately, once I realized not to be concerned, the story was a gentle one. Bringing her peacefulness, Maggie is just so happy to be living a life on her own terms. She is smart, helpful, and a hard worker - a strong character. The owner of the fishing lodge needs a lot of help, and Maggie has the plans and determination to make it a success. His bitter wife cannot deal with Maggie and her lack of ulterior motives. 

A nice theme of being kind, and having good things happen.

Slight complaint: my edition is a 'critical edition' which was full of footnotes. Not interesting footnotes, but only footnotes detailing which punctuation had been in the manuscript, or in different editions. A writer many find the comma choice fascinating, but alas, I did not. It may also be an interesting activity for an editor. Totally distracting to the reader. And then! there were actual typos in the text! [On the bus,] She sat next to the widow.  It was actually the window. Now that changes the story!

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

BOOK: The Hero's Walk by Anita Rau Badami

The Hero's Walk by Anita Rau Badami, 359 pages
review copy from Random House Canada

How awesome is Canada Reads? Each year, CBC radio hosts a debate about five Canadian books with five known people (I don't want to call them celebrities) on public radio. The books have a theme sometimes - this year's is 'starting over'. Lively debates, voting out, strategic voting by times, listening in each day to hear people discuss and debate literature and how it impacts our life. Sweet.

The Hero's Walk was chosen for 2016 Canada Reads, suprising the author with attention for her fifteen year old book. Because of this, Anita Rau Badami was at my local library last week for an evening of reading and discussion as she tours the country. She was wonderful - reading a couple of passages from her book, telling stories about her life and writing, and signing books. I found her very delightful and funny and I'll admit that hearing her talk about this book predisposed me to like the book. It could be that knowing she wrote this book to look into what it means to be a hero, even in simple, everyday life, made me read it slightly differently. But I did, and it was a very good read.

Badami first of all made me really feel the setting of a town in India, and the Big House, where most of the action takes place. Sripathy Rao is the character in the middle of the story. His life is a disappointment, to his mother and slightly to himself. When his daughter Maya and her husband and killed in Canada (after her father disowned her for her marriage), their orphaned daughter must come to live in India. Sripathy has a super cranky mother, actually quite mean, a put upon wife, a lazy lay-about son only interested in protesting, and a fifty year old sister who is still hoping to marry. Having this little girl, Nandana, arrive at their house causes nearly everyone to re-examine their life and make some changes.

Humourous, with real, everyday characters, I wanted to see these people do well and make the changes they needed to be happy. With the death of Maya hanging over everyone, Badami could have written a dark, heavy book, but instead it was charming and wonderful. I hope she and her book, do well at Canada Reads, and I'll be looking for more of her books to read.

Other books to try: Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?, Tell It to the Trees, Tamarind Mem

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Ten Books On My Spring TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. This week the topic is one of my favourites: books on your spring TBR. I love making these little mini-lists of books I want to read this spring. I've got a couple of categories I'm looking at:

from the library:
In a Dark, Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

Finders, Keepers by Stephen King

The Widow by Fiona Barton
thanks to whoever reviewed this earlier this year (bellezza? joy?) I will be the first of 30 to get the book at the library. Cool being ahead of the crowd!

The Evening Chorus by Helen Humphreys
after reading The Frozen Thames and The Lost Garden, I must read more Humphreys. 

from my shelves:
Her by Harriet Lane

The Leftovers by Tom Perrotta

series reading:
Poppet by Mo Hayder

The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith

from the Bailey's Prize for Women's fiction:
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
I love Atkinson's writing, but tried to listen to this one last year. I'll attempt again but with paper book.

My Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout
I was glad to see a Strout book on the list this year, after Olive Kitteridge and The Burgess Boys, she's a reliable author