Monday, October 27, 2008

The Elegant Gathering of White Snows

The Elegant Gathering of White Snows by Kris Radish

All of a sudden eight women in rural Wisconsin decide to go walking. It is a journey of the heart and touches women from everywhere. Each of the women walking is of a different age and from a different background. There are women who have lost children, women who have been raped, women with mental diseases and women lost from their families and their own dreams. They are walking and finding themselves. As they walk the whole of 'women hood' gets behind them and is empowered. Further this empowers several women who hear about them to follow their own dreams.

What a load of .... I did finish this book but found it to be poorly written and even more poorly edited. First the premise of the story just didn't grab me and as I progressed further into the book it became even more unbelievable. There seemed to be a lot of extraneous drivel unnecessary to the story. I, at first thought, I just didn't get it but as I continued felt even the author didn't get it

First Line: "Just a glass."



Sunday, October 26, 2008

Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer

Eiger Dreams by Jon Krakauer

Krakauer has summited some of the highest peaks in the world. He has a lot of stories of heroism and tragedy. This book is a compilation of articles that Krakauer has written about his experiences (mostly in Alaska) and the tales of others in the climbing world. Not all of these pieces are incredibly interesting, however there were two that I really enjoyed.

The first was about ice climbing and specifically climbing waterfalls in Alaska that have frozen for the winter. Putting your trust in ice to hold your weight and travelling a thousand feet straight up is something else. There is a yearly expedition in Alaska for ice climbers where they attempt to climb different frozen waterfalls. Krakauer participated in this and explains what it was like.

The other interesting article was about canyoneering in the south western states. This involves hiking, rock climbing, and wading through water. Krakauer's guide tells him that there are many places in the south western states that haven't been set foot on by people at all. It sounds like it would be an amazing experience.

That being said, I felt kind of ripped off by this book. Krakauer didn't take time out to write anything specifically for this book, but rather just took magazine articles that he's already written, put them into book format, and re-sold it to make more money. Sure it reaches a different market (like me, I don't buy the type of magazines that he writes in), but it would have been nice for some original content.

First Line: "In the early moments of The Eiger Sanction, Clint Eastwood saunters into the dimly lit headquarters of C-2 to find out who he is supposed to assassinate next."



Wednesday, October 22, 2008

44 Scotland Street

44 Scotland Street by Alexander McCall Smith

Pat is accepted as a new tenant at 44 Scotland Street. Her flatmate is Bruce, a narcissistic athlete. Bruce thinks it is his due to have women fawning all over him. Pat seems to fall straight into his clutches. Bruce is continually looking in mirrors. Bruce just made me want to vomit.

Also at 44 Scotland Street is the very pushy Irene and her precocious 5 year son Bertie. Bertie plays the saxophone and is learning Italian and of course can do no wrong. However he gets suspended from Nursery school for writing graffiti in Italian. It is the fault of the teacher according to Irene. Irene then takes him to a therapist where she seems to do most of the talking. Bertie just wants to be a normal little boy.

Also at 44 Scotland Street is Domenica MacDonald a mysterious intellectual who observes the comings and goings of the inhabitants of the house.

Pat takes a job at an art gallery owned by Matthew. Matthew is a failure. His father keeps buying him places to work in but Matthew gets bored very easily and can not make any decisions. Matthew is very kind and nice.

I found this book to be like other of McCall Smith's books . He explores differing personality traits and packages them up in nice entertaining vignettes. The characters are rogues, oddballs and naive people. I especially liked the inclusion of Ian Rankin.

First Line: "Pat stood before the door at the bottom of the stair, reading the names underneath the buttons."



Buffalo Gal

Buffalo Gal by Laura Pedersen

Laura Pedersen has written a wonderful memoir about growing up in Buffalo in the 70s and 80s. It is very funny and brings back so many memories. Laura depicts the snowy winters in Buffalo. Growing up in Toronto, I remember my parents yelling at us to turn down the thermostat because we were going to heat the whole neighbourhood. We used to change into our school clothes at night so we wouldn't have to change in the freezing cold of the morning. So much of her upbringing was a great trip down memory lane. There were the canning sessions and the surplus of apples in the fall. I had forgotten about the casseroles with Campbell's soup. I have eaten my fair share of those.

Buffalo Gal is a social history of Buffalo and the times. It is a time when you knew your neighbours and they did favours for you with no payback expected. There was a sense of community. Pedersen also talks about the industrial downturn and the plants shutting down.

Pedersen grew up with no parental interference. She basically parented herself. She was free to skip school. She made her own meals and even went to gamble across the river in Ontario. This is probably what gave her the independence to become the youngest person with a seat on the American Stock Exchange. She was very industrious and had a number of interesting money making schemes.

I found Buffalo Gal to be funny and full of one-liners. It reads like a great comedy sketch.

First Line: "I was fourteen years old when I first stepped onto the trading floor of the American Stock Exchange in downtown Manhattan"



Tuesday, October 21, 2008

The Map Thief by Heather Terrell

The Map Thief by Heather Terrell

Mara is called up when an ancient and potentially history-changing map is stolen from an archeological dig site in China. She takes a trip to China and meets up with Ben, the site manager of the dig to determine what she's gotten herself into. She learns that Ben has found a map of Chinese origin that indicates the Chinese were the first sail around the world, rather than the Portuguese. She sets off with Ben and chases the map around the world.

Meanwhile, we also learn of the mapmaker's fate back in the 1400's. How he was separated from his love to serve his admiral, sailed around the world, and then came home but not as the hero he expected to be. We also learn about a Portuguese navigator who learns of his country's lies of discovering the world first and how he deals with it.

This book gives you insight into map making and navigation in the early 1400 and 1500's. While the idea behind the book is quite interesting, I found the characters pretty weak. Mara seemed distant and weak to me, and Ben seemed like too much of a pushover without much spirit. Furthermore, the first 50 pages or so continuously mentioned a "Chrysalis" case. I haven't read Terrell's previous book though, so I had no idea what happened in that case. All the references to the case without explaining what happened only confused me. I'm not sure if I would read another book with Mara as the main character, but I would consider reading another Terrell book.

First Line: "The Mongolian steppes thunder as three hundred thousand horses charge across the plains."



Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Ritual by Mo Hayder

Ritual by Mo Hayder
Mystery/Sick Shit

DI Jack Caffery starts back to work in Bristol after moving from London to escape his demons. The man who Caffery believes killed his younger brother is dead, which seemed to release Caffery from his life in London and has allowed him to move to Bristol. However he can't quite seem to let it go and he leads a bit of a drifter's life: following around the 'Walking Man', using the services of hookers, staying away from real relationships, and not fully moving in to his home.

Caffery gets called in when divers find a single hand in a lake. Flea Marley is the head diver and immediately thinks something isn't right. Hands don't float, so how was the person able to see this hand? Flea is persistent, but she has her own demons to fight as well, including the death of her parents, her father's friend who has some pretty strong drugs to help her deal with her parents death, and her junkie friend.

It's harder to relate to Caffery in this novel. I used to understand the grief, guilt, and hatred he carried around with him about his bother's loss, but it seems to have morphed in this novel into something completely different. He's much more distant than he used to be, which is a shame because the hint of vulnerability he had in his previous 2 novels made me like him that much more. Flea Marley is similar in this respect. There's something about her that just doesn't quite click with me so that I completely embrace her character, even though I still like her.

Hayder is known for the horror she brings into her novels and the crazy twists and turns that keep you guessing. Pig Island was an excellent showcase for her talent. This novel was a bit more tame than her previous books. However, it did set up a Caffery/Marley partnership that should produce more interesting books in the future.

First Line: "Just after lunch on a Tuesday in May and nine feet under water in Bristol's 'floating harbour', police diver Sergeant 'Flea' Marley closed her gloved fingers round a human hand."

Ritual at Chapters



Monday, October 13, 2008

The Amber Spyglass

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman

This is the third book in a fantastic series. Lyra and Will find each other and continue with their adventure. They journey though many different worlds and also have their own personal journeys. They have a host of creatures who help them: armored bears, little people named Gallivespians with deadly spurs, witches and angels. Although each of these creatures has a path they would like to lead these children on, Will and Lyra seem to want to do their own thing and decide to first visit The Land of the Dead.

Meanwhile, Dr. Malone goes in search of the children. On the way she visits a land where the creatures are diamond shaped and they live in tandem with big seed pods which they use as wheels. She learns to communicate with them and starts to learn how they can see Dust and see it disappearing from their lives. Dr. Malone wants to find a way to reverse the outward flow of Dust and save civilization.

There is a war between good and evil and the church is front row center.

I found this book even better than the other two. I don't think I have ever read a series where each book keeps getting better. You could see the two children growing in their personal development. A great book!!!

First Line: "In a valley shaded with rhododendrons, close to the snow line, where a stream milky with meltwater splashed and where doves and linnets flew among the immense pines, lay a cave, half-hidden by the crag above and the stiff heavy leaves that clustered below."



Thursday, October 09, 2008

Bruno, Chief of Police

Bruno, Chief of Police by Martin Walker

This is such a delightful book!! Bruno is the Chief of Police in a French market town. His usual police activities include thwarting the food inspectors trying to implement the EU regulations and marshalling for the patriotic parades in the village square. When the head of a Algerian family is brutally murdered, Bruno must deal with the National Police, the gendarmes and a very political judge magistrate.

Racism is the obvious motive. Bruno doesn't believe this for a minute. When the village doctor's son is caught in a compromising position with some Nazis and a lot of various illegal drugs, he is thought to be the prime suspect. Bruno, however, just can not let go of a few loose ends. Bruno is eccentric, charming and good at his job.

This book is full of Gallic charm with a great mystery and even the nice twist at the end. The reader is pulled into the quaint village life and learns a lot about the Vichy government during WWII and the resulting terror and feuds. Some of the Promo material describes this book as a marriage of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency and A Year in Provence. This is such an apt description. I loved this book and will look forward to the next in the series

Learn more at Chapters/Indigo

First Line: "On a bright May morning, so early that the last of the mist was still lingering low over the great bend in the river, a white van drew to a halt on the ridge over the small French town."



Sunday, October 05, 2008

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson

Bryson takes a look into the history of the earth, universe, the human race, and science in general. In over 450 pages, he manages to give you, well, a brief history of nearly everything involved with these subjects! It's a bunch of interesting facts stringed together with information about those who came up with the facts and what was involved to figure them out. Bryson covers everything from when Earth was created, what's at the centre of the earth, why do volcanoes/earthquakes happen, what are we all composed of, why did the dinosaurs go extinct, what is out there in our universe, how long people have been around, and much much more.

It truly is amazing how recent some of these discoveries are! I guess I take for granted how common knowledge these discoveries are and just assume that we've known about them for a long time. It's also interesting to get the context behind the many discoveries that have shaped our history and learn a little bit about the people who made these discoveries.

This book won't be for everyone. Some will find it too tedious and boring. But if you have a general interest in our history and how things have formed, then you'll enjoy this book. It's not the quickest read, but it is still quite interesting. I did find, however, the chapter on fossils a bit dull, but it moved on fairly quickly. It would be nice to get a compact view on our history in terms of human events to sit alongside this volume.

First Line: "No matter how hard you try you will never be able to grasp just how tiny, how spatially unassuming, is a proton."



Friday, October 03, 2008

The Last Days of Dogtown

The Last Days of Dogtown by Anita Diamant

This book is a collection of stories about the last inhabitants of a village just north of Gloucester, MA in the early 1800s. There is a wide variety of individuals.

There is Black Ruth. A black woman who dresses like a man and who is a stone mason. She lives with Easter Carter, the local witch. Easter runs a sort of local bar and dispenses fortunes along the way.

There is Oliver Younger, whose aunt treats him more like a slave than a relation. Mrs. Stanley operates the local brothel and provides customers for Polly and Sally. Mrs. Stanley's grandson also lives there.

There is Cornelius Finson, a freed slave. He is in love with Judy Rhines. A forbidden love which makes each of them the lonliest person alive.

This book details each of their stories and how they came to leave Dogtown. It is a read about hardship and endurance and about love and loss. I loved the eccentricities of each of the individuals and how Judy Rhines seemed to be the glue holding everyone together.

First Line: "Judy Rhines decided to take the footpath through the pasture"