Monday, 28 May 2012

Mystery reviews

At long last, here are some overdue book reviews.  Please don't let the fact I didn't post about them right away make it seem that they aren't good - each of these following mysteries I loved, and are very good.

Sworn to Silence
- Linda Castillo - first in the Kate Burkholder series.  Kate is a police officer who returns to the Amish community of her childhood, invited by the city council (not Amish led) to be the police chief.  She hasn't been back since leaving as a teenager, turning her back on it after she survives the terror of being attacked by the serial killer named the Slaughterhouse Killer.  Shortly after she returns, a murder occurs, which mimics the way the victims of the Slaughterhouse Killer died many years ago. Kate is forced to confront her own memories, as well as her family, in solving this case, as she has to determine if there is a copy cat killer, or if the Slaughterhouse Killer has returned.

This was a fascinating mystery.  I really liked the character of Kate, I liked the police department in the tiny town she is police chief of, the depiction of  the Amish community, and the rogue FBI agent sent in to help.  John  Tomasetti, who has a tortured past of his own.  The mystery has lot of suspense, clues sprinkled through out, and a great pace.  It does have a weak ending, which was disappointing - for me, the killer didn't quite ring true, but this may be because it is her first book, as well as the debut of the series.

Kate herself is fascinating and complex, as is her background in the Amish community.  This book has really stayed with me ever since reading it.  The crimes are a bit graphic, but otherwise, this is a very good police procedural.  I will be reading more in the series.

I have Wendy at Musings of  a Literary Feline to thank for her review of Sworn to Silence, here. , which got me looking for the book.  Yaay Book bloggers!

One Good Turn - Kate Atkinson - 2nd in the Jackson Brodie series.  This takes place in Edinburgh, Scotland, two years after he inherited the fortune in at the end of Case Histories, the first book in this series.  Jackson is still with Julia, the actress sister from Case Histories.  He has followed her up her because of a play she is appearing in.  It is quite amusing to see how having all that money has changed Jackson, and how it hasn't.  He still doesn't see his daughter very often.  He quit his job, so he is no longer a police detective, or anything official.  He is bored. So when he sees a crime on a side street during the Fringe Festival held in Edinburgh every year, he jumps in to help.  And lands himself in a complicated mystery case that is by turns funny and bittersweet. This was fun to read from beginning to end.  I really like the character of Jackson.  He is like a rumpled Peter Falk - he doesn't seem to be paying attention, he jumps off into tangents, yet he is kindly and sweet, and determined.  I am so glad there are at least two more in this series!  I really am enjoying how he gets what we all dream of, enough money to retire, and he's not happy because things aren't good with Julia as they could be, and he doesn't have enough contact with his daughter.  At his heart he is a simple man, and wise enough to know that the things that matter, money can't buy, even though money is often at the root of most of the cases he used to work on, as it is here in this mystery. Highly recommended.

Elly Griffiths:
The House at Sea End - Book 3
A Room Full of Bones - Book 4

I have become a huge fan of this series.  Ruth Galloway is the plus-size forensic archaeologist who features in this series.  She is such a fun character.  She is plus-sized, loves food, and like Jackson Brodie above, somewhat bittersweet in character. She doesn't suffer fools gladly, and in a moment of weakness in the first book in the series, a gripping and terrible mystery and death leave her vulnerable, and she sleeps with the very married DCI Harry Nelson of the nearby police force.  In an surprising turn of events, she discovers she is pregnant, and at the end of book 2, The Janus Stones, she gives birth to a baby girl.  The House at Sea End and A Room Full of Bones take place over the first year of baby Kate's life.  Nelson's wife does not know at first, and slowly guesses, until she realizes on her own the truth at the end of The House at Sea End.  A Room Full of Bones is about the fall out for all three, and baby Kate.

This is not a series about a soap opera, however.  This all plays out in the background of the story, in each book, and for me it deepens the story.  It gives me an insight into all the characters involved, and all the secondary ones as well. It deepens the emotional connection too.  On top of all this, Ruth gets called in on interesting cases, mysteries that span centuries: in The House at Sea End, the bodies of several men are discovered in a cleft in a cliff mostly hidden by the sea.  They turn out to be from WW 2, and we (and Ruth) get a crash course in the Home Guard, and what it was like to fear invasion from the Germans, and what happened one night when the Germans did cross.  It was very interesting to read, and as the body count mounts, the mystery deepens when new bodies turn up, all linked to the WW 2 grave. It's up to Ruth and Nelson to try to figure out the clues, as they fight their attraction to each other, and work out what role he gets to play in Kate's life as the undeclared father. It's a nice interplay of the past affecting the future, and how the choices made now make the future to come, as the mystery graphically illustrates.

A Room Full of Bones takes us back in time to the medieval ages, and a bishop's casket that is uncovered during an excavation for a new building site.  The church it originally was part of was long since decommissioned.  Ruth is called in to examine the bones and determine if they could be the holy bones of the bishop.  In the same museum where the casket is to be opened to the public,  the curator of the museum is killed just before the museum is filled for the casket opening. Ruth   stumbles upon the body when she is  the first to arrive at the museum, s she gets an eyewitness viewing to the scene of the corpse and the casket. Later on, because of her field of work, she is taken downstairs to look at skulls collected by the ancestor of the museum.  They are Aborigine skulls from Australia, and the death of the curator is possibly linked to an Aborigine group who are seeking to reclaim the skulls to go back to Australia to enter the ground and the Dreamtime, a very important part of Aborigine religion.

This was a fascinating mystery.  In fact I read both books breathlessly, one in February, then A Room Full of Bones last month, unable to put them down.  There is something about Ruth, and her view of the world, and where she lives on the saltmarshes of Norfolk, that she is living a life I'd like to lead. . The mysteries are good, the characters are really fun, and it's very well-written  I really like the progression of the characters through each novel. I have always enjoyed series where I can see how events impact on characters, and this series is rich with this.   I highly recommend this series to anyone. Oh, and the descriptions of the archaeological digs is fascinating too.  Ruth is one of my favourite mystery characters, and this series is among my favourite series now.

So have you read any good mysteries lately?

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Birthday Books

      It was my birthday on Sunday.  My family surprised me by taking me out to the mall, and saying my birthday present was a new cell phone, of my choice!!!!  The biggest surprise ever, as I have never owned one before, though I have been looking at them for a while.  I am now living just after the Iron Age according to my 23 year old son,as between the new laptop and a cellphone, I have leapt light-years ahead from being in the Stone Age before.  Now if I can just figure out how to get music on my phone, and how to text, I'll be the hippest just turned 49-year-old ever. (Sadly, I know that last phrase 'hippest' dates me, and I've lost many cool points with that.  Sigh)

At the end of the day, I realized that I was the lucky recipient of the new cell phone, Cranford on dvd (I'd already seen it this winter from the library and really enjoyed it, so am thrilled to have my very own copy of this very sweet BBC comedy-drama of village life by Elizabeth Gaskell). And two wonderful book tokens for Amazon so I can do some book shopping shortly.  Then, this morning, I remembered - I had been making a box of books for my birthday!  So my ex-partner brought down the books, and here are  
Susan's Books to celebrate my birthday:

-The Impossible Dead - Ian Rankin (Malcolm Fox #2......first book was very good, so I was so happy to see this in paperback so soon)
- Novel Destinations - Shannon McKenna Schmidt and Joni Rendon (subtitles "Literary Landmarks from Jane Austen's Bath to Ernest Hemingway's Key West",  who could resist this?)
- The Bibliophile's Devotional - Hallie Ephron (subtitled, "365 days of Literary Classics".  This is to remind me of how many great books are out there that I still have not read!)
- Why I Wake Early - Mary Oliver (my favourite poet, I am collecting all her books now.  I love this title poem also.  She is my heroine and guide when it come to writing as clearly as possible, to say exactly what I mean and not waste language if it's not needed)
- District and Circle - Seamus Heaney (another poetry book, how could I resist one that features a subway line that I've ridden on? His use of language and words is rich and fills my mouth - alliteration abounds (I know! bad me!), and the poems  delve into the meaning of things - I could write this in all literary terms, but really, these poems have depth and they are about every day life in England, and they teach me about using language.  Remarkable)
- The Collected Poetry of Nikki Giovanni - this has been on my wishlist for almost a decade.  I love her speech patterns, her poems are like she is talking directly to us, and she is wry and funny and moving and bitter and wistful and even loving in them.
 - A Train in Winter - Caroline Moorehead (another subtitled book: "An extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship and Survival in World War 2.  I had to get this as soon as I saw this. It's about a group of women who were resistance fighters in WW2, who were rounded up in the detention camps and sent to Auschwitz - and how they tried to support one another and keep each other alive during the trip and in the camps. Only one train during one trip, took the 230 women to the death camps during the 4 year war, hence the title.  It was the only time women of the Resistance from France were sent.  The book explores why they joined the Resistance, and how they helped one another. A must-read, for me)

Now, to be honest, my birthday list I gave to my family did have many books listed on it, so I was careful not to pick any up for the box.  Dervish House by Ian MacDonald is top of the list, as is Tim Power's new book, Hide Me Among The Graves,  the sequel to The Stress of Her Regard,which I am rereading now to refresh my memory as I read it many years ago.  I'm also waiting for Artur Erlandur's Outrage to come out in softcover.  I don't think I will have any difficulty using my book tokens, do you?

Sunday, 6 May 2012

TSS: Synchronicity in writing

As you know, Gentle Reader, I have just started writing stories again.  I am working on one now, that features a ghost that haunts a china cabinet.  My heroine, the owner of the antique store where the cabinet is currently on sale, has just found a packet of letters stuck at the back of the bottom of the lowest drawer.  The letters date from the 1800's, and she is just starting to look for any family members.

On Friday, while on the bus on the way to work in the morning, I saw someone reading one of Ottawa's free newspapers, Metro News, and saw over their shoulder  this article: "Wallet Found Sixty Years Later Helps to Reunite family".  The wallet was found in an antique black cabinet in an antique store.  I've linked you to the original article.

  I've cut out the article to remind myself that
1) stories are all around us, and
2)  coincidences abound in our lives.  Jung called them synchronicity, when something happens that is similar in some way to something else we had done, but from a completely different source.    Like a confirmation from our  soul, Higher Spirit, the universe, however you want to name it, I think of it as the frisson of energy you get when  something occurs and it answers us in some way about something we had started to do - a yes to a decision made.  Here are various links to synchronicity: Jung's description, (and I like the example given here of the dream a patient had, and then the very rare beetle showing up the next day); a dictionary definition, which comes from Jung, who coined the term; and wikipedia, from which I love this partial explanation: "Jung believed that many experiences that are coincidences due to chance in terms of causality suggested the manifestation of parallel events or circumstances in terms of meaning, reflecting this governing dynamic."  This is because I've met people who have argued that synchronicity doesn't exist, or it's invented because we are looking for it, hence we find it.  I wasn't looking on Friday, I was just seeing what the bus rider's newspaper had, and there it was. I had started writing my story on Tuesday.

I think it's amazing.

Have you ever experienced synchronicity, Gentle Reader? 

I know, some of you might be saying, "but Susan, this happens all the time!  People are always finding letters not delivered from 70 years ago, etc. " That's not the point - yes, it does happen.  It's the connection, the proximity of one event to the other, that matters. The link I instantly felt.  It's like the universe is saying yes, I'm writing what I am supposed to be writing, right now.

and it links to something else I have been doing:
It helps very much that I am enjoying writing it, and having fun bringing in my love of history and research, especially Canadian history!  I am learning about Ottawa's history now, which is not something I've paid much attention to - I know bits and pieces, how Ottawa was once named Bytown because of Colonel By, who built the Rideau Canal from 1827-1832, which is the waterway which links Ottawa to Kingston.  I didn't know it was built to transport goods and soldiers along a defensible line because of the War of 1812 with the US. Here is a link to the wikipedia article on the Rideau Canal, with some lovely old artwork as well as what it looks like today in Ottawa.

 I found the sweetest, dearest old house right beside the National Gallery of Art, where I have spent one evening a week over the last month getting to know early (earliest) Canadian art.
This picture is by Cornelius Krieghoff, who painted from 1830 to the time of his death in 1872.  He painted mostly rural Quebec scenes, featuring Les Habitants, as the French were called right up until the 20th century.  The house I found on St Patrick St looks very similar to this one in the painting.( I happen to love this painting also. )  It turns out this house, Rochon House, is the oldest house in Ottawa (but not the oldest building, which is from 1827), and a heritage site.  It was built about 1830, so when I look at it, I think of my ancestors who arrived in London Ontario in 1832, and wonder if the house they built in the wilderness, a log cabin, was smaller than this one.  The best link I  can find so far for the house is from the Ottawa Historical Society, here. I can't find a photograph yet.

 I think it's a wonderful, exciting feeling when so many different things I am doing, are all fitting together like this.

What do you think, Gentle Reader? Have you had times like this in your life?

 I've added to my collection of various books I'm currently reading, Capital Walks:Walking Tours of Ottawa, by Katharine Fletcher.  I have to find her Historical Walks, so for now this is giving me a way to learn more about my city, both for myself and for my main character.

So what are you finding interesting today, Gentle Reader?  Have you had any coincidences in your life lately, any synchronicity that has thrilled or awed you?

Saturday, 5 May 2012

shiny sparkly books

I am having a problem settling down to read a book for the past two weeks.  I keep picking up one book, reading a few pages, then going to another one, then seeing's not that I'm not enjoying what I'm reading, on the contrary!  I'm enjoying every book on the go, from The Morville Hours, to In the Garden with Jane Austen, to Les Miserables, to The Winds of Marble Arch, to Women Food and God by Geneen Roth, to Smokin' Seventeen.  I want to read them all!  And they are all in progress!!!

 I think I have so many books that I want to read, that I can't find the one that says 'me' with that quiet voice, because it's too heavy to carry with me everywhere - Les Miserables. So I end up carrying other books or trying to find other books to read on the bus journey to and from work, which end up spilling over into my evenings.  This is good for my reading totals, but leaves me feeling a little distracted. Between library books and books that I keep looking at on my shelves, I am being distracted by shiny new books:

- Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel
- River Marked - Patricia Briggs
- Hanging Wood - Martin Edwards
Raising Stony Mayhall - Daryl Gregory
 - Deadline - Mira Grant
- Hexwood - Diana Wynne Jones

These are books I've held in my hand, opened to page one.....then thought, no I have to finish something else.....usually a library book.  Then I go to the library books and try to finish one or two of them.  I feel like I have ADHD with books - every cover sparkles, and I open it, and then I get distracted by another, and another.....and I want to read them all!  Over at So Many Books blog, Stefanie described feeling something similar earlier this week, only hers were about library books.

I really am not complaining, I know I have an embarrassment of riches when it comes to new books to read.  I am thrilled I have so many. It does make me wonder though, Gentle Reader:
Do shiny new books distract you from your reading plan?  Does the cover of a book matter?  How about the feel of a book?

I ask this because I opened my copy of The Mill on the Floss by George Eliot, and decided the print was too small, even though it's a Penguin classic.  I really want to read a classic soon, I'm behind on my own reading plan for this year.  At the bookstore last week, I came across another edition,  that when I held - I think it was New American Library paperback edition, and I loved it and started reading it in the store!  I wanted to buy it and hold it and read it.  But I already owned a copy, so I put it back, wistfully.

  It's the same reason that when I did hold Les Miserables later that night, I thought, 'yes!" It felt right in my hand, and I loved the feel of it, the paper, the cover, everything about it. If only it didn't weight over 5 pounds even as a softcover, I could carry it with me everywhere!

So I bought it, and have been enjoying reading it, though I find it distracting to have to put it down  and start another book for the bus to and from work because with my knees inflammed with osteoarthritis at the moment, any extra weight I carry really bothers them.  It's just too heavy with my lunch bag to take on the bus. So it stays at home and waits for me.

So, my questions on this lovely Saturday afternoon are: do you find that you need to read a book straight through to finish it?  Or can you pick one up, and then another, and another, and read several simultaneously?  And, do different editions matter?  Should I go and buy that other edition of The Mill on the Floss just because it felt so good in my hands, and I wanted to read it?  And, are you being distracted by new books vs library books, shiny new book covers, this spring?

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

A Victorian Celebration challenge


I can't resist this challenge.  It's so much in the range of what I want to read more of this year:  Victorian literature.  It's only for two months - June and July.  What could be simpler and easier?  It's hosted by Allie at A Literary Odyssey. The sign-up link is here.

So far, on my list of possibilities are:
- Mill on the Floss - George Eliot
- Silas Marner - George Eliot
- Barchester Towers - Anthony Trollope
- any Charles Dickens novel, since I've only read two so far
 - The Brontes by Juliet Barker
- The Life of Charlotte Bronte by Elizabeth Gaskell
 - North and South - Elizabeth Gaskell
- Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell
 *OF course this list is not a final version, and subject to whim.

I've asked Allie at  A Literary Odyssey to see if  biographies about other people than writers is allowed. 

 There's no limit on how many you can read, ,just good Victorian literature to read while the hazy days of summer  arrive.   I can read just one! or all of them!  or a combination. **Hurray: Allie just responded to me :  books about Victorians, history, art,etc, are allowed.  Time to see if I can find a copy of Parallel Lives by Phyllis Rose, and fingers crossed that Claire Tomalin's  Charles Dickens: A Life biography will be in paperback in time- I think it's out in July. I'd also like to get Victorian House by Judith Flanders, about how the Victorian home developed.  Her other book, Consuming Passions, about the development of leisure in the Victorian Age, also sounds very interesting.