Tuesday, February 25, 2014

BOOK: An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear

An Incomplete Revenge by Jacqueline Winspear, 303 pages
book 5 of 11

Continuing Series Review Questions:

Give a brief summary of the book:
Maisie heads to a small village in the English countryside to investigate a property James Compton wants to buy. It happens to be the same area that her assistant Billy Beale and his family go to pick hops every fall. There is also a clan of Roma (gypsies) camped and picking at the time. Culture clash!

Likes? Maisie is getting more sure of herself, and the reader is getting to know her better. After her break-down in the last book, Maisie seemed stronger and did a little less looking back. She seemed to have closed some chapters in her life that have been bogging down the series. Less Maurice Blanche (her former mentor) was great - he has always given me the creeps.

Nothing in this book - all my dislikes have been dealt with. The mystery was pretty thin, but Maisie kept digging until she found it!

Additional Thoughts on the Series:
Looking forward to the next book, and how Maisie moves on with her life. Don't start with this one - this is a series all about character development, and references to previous books. Start at the beginning.

next book: 
After I get Among the Mad(#6from the library, I can get the next two, The Mapping of Love and Death, and A Lesson in Secrets on library audiobook.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

BOOK: Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

audiobook, 15 h 40 min
read by Wil Wheaton

This book was almost a little too predictable, and a little too much adventure/video game descriptions, but oh what a ride! When I saw that it was almost 16 hours on audiobook, only the promise of Wil Wheaton reading it made me take that route. I was worried about getting through that long of an audiobook in the three weeks that I would have it. Keep in mind, my 'commute' each way is 8-10 minutes to work, so I don't get a lot of listening done that way. However, I managed to listen to it in about ten days as I couldn't stop listening. The suspense! The action! The plot twists! The 80s references! So much good in this (that I could ignore that I was pretty well able to predict much of the dialogue)

Confession: I am a child of the 80s - graduated from high school in 1985, so covering junior high through university for the decade. I have so many cultural markers during this time. Not so much with the video games - a little Pac-Man, a little NES/Mario World, but I did recognize movies and TV shows. Plus, Wil Wheaton? from Stand By Me? One of my favorite movies (and my first date with my husband.) I was inclined to like this book regardless. The fact that I couldn't put it down ended up being super bonus.

Plot: A future world, with a on-line virtual world, the Oasis, where people can live a life. The designer of Oasis, when he died, released in his will, The Contest, whereby he had hidden an 'easter egg' inside the Oasis, which was filled with 80s references. By immersing yourself in his life, the clues would supposedly help you find the egg, and inherit his fortune and control of Oasis. A young 17 year old narrates his quest, with some virtual friends he has never met, plus a conglomerate 'bad guy' to contend with. There were a few places where I was worried it was only going to be a description of video game action, but it wasn't. Instead, War Games reference. Or Rush. Or Family Ties. Or Search for the Holy Grail.

The fact that you can see how kids in the future could easily get immersed in a virtual world gave this dystopian novel some scary themes. The real-life world was pretty dark, and the Oasis was a much safer place. But mostly it's just fun, adventure, and 80s culture. Awesome!

Saturday, February 15, 2014

BOOK: Dead in Their Vaulted Arches by Alan Bradley

Dead in Their Vaulted Arches, by Alan Bradley, 294 pages

book 6 in the Flavia de Luce series

Flavia de Luce, eleven year old chemist, poison-aficionado, amateur detective. Such an original character that Alan Bradley has developed, but it felt like our little Flavia was growing up, and becoming a little less self-centered, a little more aware of her surroundings.

The previous book, Speaking From Among the Bones, left us on a tremendous cliff-hanger, which is thankfully explained very early in this novel. In this one, ... no, wait. If you haven't read the previous books, you don't want to read a review or summary of this book. If you have read the previous books, then keep reading the series! A lot of back stories are wrapped up, and 'mysteries' are solved but careful reading left most of us knowing Dogger's true background. The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches is exactly what you would expect from a Flavia book, an excellent book in a fun series.

Summary - Flavia is as delightful as always. Bradley writes cozy mysteries set in 1950s England, still feeling the effects of the Second World War.  I'm not sure if the series is continuing - it is possible but if it does, I think the books will be quite different. I'll keep reading them.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

BOOK: The Bear by Claire Cameron

The Bear by Claire Cameron, 217 pages

review copy from Random House Canada

This book will inevitably be compared to Room by Emma Donaghue because of the narrator, but the books really aren't that similar. This is more of a survival story, but oh so heart-breaking. But there is also a little humor.

Twenty years ago, a couple were camping in Algonquin Park in Ontario, and were attacked and killed by a bear. Claire Cameron worked in the park around that time, and has written a novel based on that event, but imagining if the couple had had children. What if a five and two year old survived the attack and had to get off the island?

Anna narrates the story as she tries to be a good girl and get off the island with her brother. Her view of things, and voice, as she tries to deal with her situation as only a five year old can, are right on. Her misunderstandings and attempts to rationalize and care for her brother are heart-breaking. Watching children make sense of their world around them was something I really enjoyed with my children, and Cameron gets the voice perfect. Anna is conflicted between trying to follow the rules (supposed to wear shoes when camping), but knowing that she has to try to save her little brother.

It sounds so tragic, and it is, yet it is a book I am telling my friends about and passing along to colleagues. There is such a great mix of suspense and tension, and lightheartedness because five year olds can't really do stress - they make sense of things within their reality. So, Anna doesn't see a bear, she sees a black dog who can stand because she knows a black dog named Snoopy. So it was Snoopy who was sniffing at her because that's what Snoopy does. The length of the book is just perfect as well, because there is only so much bad stuff you can read about kids, and Cameron knew how much. It's a hard book to put down, and I imagine most people will read this in one sitting. You might want a box of kleenex near you before you start.

Saturday, February 1, 2014

LIST: January Books

Books Read in January

1. Strange Shores - Arnaldur Indridason, 304 pages
 book 9 of 9 sob!

Erlunder investigates a cold case whilst out in the moors thinking about his brother. Time lines were weird here, and the ending is relatively conclusive, but as other reviewers have said, there was enough information about hypothermia to  leave a devoted fan with some hope.

2. Last Night at the Lobster - Stewart O'Nan (audiobook)
 3 h 50 min

Just what the title says: watching the last night at a Red Lobster that is about to close. Character studies more than anything, because no real plot. And yet, it was an enjoyable little tale, sneaking into the lives of Manny, the manager as he deals with the lack of motivation to work the last night, when who really cares? It was set just before Christmas, so would make a nice, easy seasonal read or listen.

3. The Glass Castle - Jeanette Walls, 288 pages
 book club book

One of the questions in the discussion questions was along the lines of: "Walls tells her story with no judgement on her parents. Were you able to read without judging them?" Resounding NO! from all present. The question about which was the most vivid scene also brought lots of discussion since there were so many horrifying scenes. But, we all really enjoyed the book, found the writing compelling and easy to read, and the thought of reading Half-Broke Horses, also written by Walls, was unanimous.

4. Cockroach - Rawi Hage, 304 pages
Canada Reads 2014

Least favorite book of the month, but still okay. I preferred his other book, DeNiro's Game. I found it dragged a bit in the middle, but I found the ending got stronger and easier to read. Probably because there was less stream of consciousness rambling. I am looking forward to seeing how it fares in Canada Reads 2014 debates. Cockroach will be defended by Samantha Bee. This should be good.

5. How the Light Gets In - Louise Penny (audiobook)
15 h 1 min
Book 9 of 9 in the Three Pines Mysteries
Sometimes it takes me longer to get into Three Pines books than others, but listening to this one seemed to help. I was drawn into the story immediately. Penny often flips between story lines, and I could have used a slight pause by the narrator (Ralph Cosham) as those paragraph changes happened. Interesting interview at the end between Cosham and Penny, where we learn that Cosham reads the books blind - not having read it before. I think part of why this book was good was there were a lot of characters not really present (Mrs Gamauche, Peter, Jean-Guy is quite limited) and lots of Ruth. Ruth is the best, and nearly always made me laugh. Several large Quebec historical events are brought up for scrutiny, including native relations, corruption among high level officials and the construction industry, and one other event that I won't mention because it is eventually revealed but everyone will recognize.  This feels like it could even be the last of the Three Pines series, as many, many storylines were tied up, some which have really been the whole series.
 I wouldn't recommend reading this book without having read the previous 8.

6. Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead - Sheryl Sandberg (audiobook) 6 h 27 min

Nice feminist take on leadership, and the mindset that is required of individuals rather than institutions to see real change. Sandberg had an easy style, full of information and examples from her life. I liked her take on sharing the roles at home and with children, probably because if reflected my life the most. How the guys who are fun to date are not the ones to marry. How letting the father parent the child without having to insist on things being done the mother's way is the path toward sharing responsibility. How you can't feel guilt for working. Good stuff.

7. The Long Song - Andrea Levy, 310 pages
Orange Prize Longlist; Booker Prize Shortlist 2010

Last January I read Levy's Small Island, and it was one of my favorite reads of the year. The Long Song was a strong follow-up. I can see why it got the accolades it did in 2010. Set on a plantation in Jamaica, Miss July is born into slavery, lives through the freeing of slaves by Queen Victoria, and eventually recounts her life for her printer son. Some horrifying slavery stuff and an ending which seemed a little rushed but a good read none the less.

So, 3 audiobooks, 1 library book, 2 ROOTs (books I already owned) and a book club book. Nice balance of books.  Pretty good considering how busy January was with tournaments and finishing up the semester.

Favorite read: How the Light Gets In by Louise Penny.

New books acquired in January:
The Bear by Claire Cameron (requested review copy)
Maeve's Times by Maeve Binchy  (given by a friend who is also a Binchy fan)