Thursday 26 January 2012

Quick post on a rainy Thursday evening...

I know I've already written a post this week, but I just finished reading All the Colours of Darkness by Peter Robinson, and had to write about it.  I've read this novel several times since it was published in 2008 but it's been a while and so I've forgotten how really amazing it is.  There are nineteen books in the "DCI Alan Banks" series; this is number eighteen, and I believe it is one of his best.  It is definitely his "darkest", in a variety of ways.  His exploration of the British Intelligence Service, MI5 and MI6, and their (fictionalized) behaviour as it relates to a police murder investigation kept this reader on the edge of her seat. There is a certain murkiness to the way in which people's lives are investigated, intruded upon, and often destroyed, all in the course of duty, or so it would seem.  The callousness of these agents' actions is shocking but all-too-believable.  But the actions and choices of the main character, DCI Banks, in his search for the "truth", are also questionable, and the motives behind his unwillingness to accept the decisions and directions of his Chief Superintendent may reflect a certain "darkness" in his own character.  This novel was not "light", nor did it make me "feel good", but I couldn't put it down; even though I knew the ending, I'd forgotten the details and the excellent ways in which the tone and the mood of the actions and settings, not to mention the depth and complexity of the characters, are created for and presented to the reader.  If I had to recommend one of Peter Robinson's books for a reader new to this series, this would definitely be one of the choices, right up there with The Summer That Never Was, and Aftermath.

OK, that's all I wanted to say tonight.  I just couldn't wait until next week to pass on my enthusiastic response to and recommendation for this novel, so thanks for indulging me.  I'll write a "real" post next week, content "to be determined".

Bye for now!

Monday 23 January 2012

Morning post on a rainy day...

It feels like I haven't written a post in a while, and I'm all off-schedule with my early posting last week, so I'll write today, Monday, rather than Wednesday and hopefully by next week I'll be back to my normal routine.

It's a rainy, "spring-like" day, although it's barely the end of January.  It's been a very strange winter so far. It was lovely and sunny yesterday, though, and we had a nice walk in St. Jacob's in the afternoon.  The bookstore there is closing, sadly.  I often bought books there;  in fact, I recall a post on a Sunday evening a few months ago when I wrote about the two books and the fabulous mug I bought in St. Jacob's earlier that day.  I'm always sad to hear that bookstores are closing.  I didn't really ask for details, so perhaps they are just relocating... I will hope for the best!

I didn't end up finishing The Lovers by John Connolly last week, nor did I read P.D. James' Children of Men.  I was at work on Monday and the Connolly novel was just not working for me.  I had listened to Beth Orton's CD "Central Reservation" earlier that day, which always puts me in mind of Peter Robinson, so I found one of his paperbacks on the shelf and checked it out.  It was Bad Boy, his most recent in the "DCI Alan Banks" series.  Of course I've read it before, but not for a few months, and I just needed something I knew I would enjoy, so as not to waste anymore reading time.  The novels in this series feature Alan Banks, a Detective Chief Inspector working for the Eastvale Police Department.  He's had his fair share of work-related and personal problems, and he can be a bit of a rebel when he has the mind to behave in less-than-conventional ways, but he always seems to come out alright in the end.  These novels appeal so much to this reader because the situations are believable and the characters are three-dimensional and complex, not merely a means to keep the story going.   In this story, Banks is away on holiday in California when a mother turns her daughter in for possession of a loaded gun, the recovery of which goes horribly wrong, setting in motion a series of events in which Banks' daughter, Tracy, is involved, at first willingly, then by force.  I'll admit that this is not one of my favourites of his, but it was close at hand when I needed it, and it was a good chance to re-immerse myself in the world of Banks and the Eastvale Police Department.  I like that Robinson has personalized all of the characters by giving them each unique hobbies and interests.  For example, Banks loves music, mostly folk bands from the 1960s, and opera.  This is how I discovered Beth Orton, which is why listening to her music reminded me of his books.  In fact, I went to see him read a few years ago and when it came time for him to sign books, I had him sign her CD, not having any nice, new hardcover books for him to sign, just cheap, secondhand paperback copies of his novels.  DI Annie Cabbot is vegetarian and loves yoga and meditation.  She also draws in her spare time.  DS Winsome Jackman loves the "Dr. Who" series.  These are just a few examples of how he makes his characters "real" for the reader.  I've read all of the novels in the series at least once, but most more than once.  At first I read them in no particular order, starting with In a Dry Season, the tenth in the series.  Once I owned them all, I started at the beginning and read them all again in order.  In that way, I could follow the relationships between characters as they developed, fell apart, or otherwise changed, and I understood the context when a minor character reappeared in a later novel.  I asked Robinson, when I saw him read, whether he would recommend starting at the beginning of his series.  He said "no", that writers develop over time and so, if it's your first time reading an author who has written a number of books, it might be best to start with something later, then go back and read the earlier stuff.  I could see that once I reread his novels in order;  I'm not sure I would have been so keen to read his other books if I had started with Gallows View, which was shorter and much less developed in terms of characters and story that In a Dry Season.  In his later novels, Robinson often refers to earlier "cases" that were the subjects of earlier novels.  I think that you can certainly start anywhere in the series and understand what's going on, then go back and read earlier novels out of interest.  The exception to this is Friend of the Devil, the seventeenth novel.  It relates directly to characters and situations presented in Aftermath, number twelve in the series, so I recommend reading that one before Friend of the Devil.  Otherwise, just jump in and enjoy!

I'll close now, as my cat Silver is trying to climb on my lap.

Bye for now!

Sunday 15 January 2012

Sunday morning post...

I have something planned for Wednesday morning, so I decided that I would write my post early this week. But as I sit down with my cup of chai tea on this brisk, sunny Sunday morning, I realize that there is little to write about in terms of books for me, so this may be a short post.

I believe that in one of my recent posts I talked about book ruts, or the waste of valuable reading time.  Well, I'm experiencing that again right now.  It's too early to start Pride and Prejudice, our next bookclub selection, and I just finished an Elizabeth George novel, so I don't know that I want to read another.  I was thinking that I wanted to read something by someone I've never read before, or at least a novel that I've never read before.  I went to the paperback stacks on Thursday during my lunch and took a few novels, some from regular fiction, but most from the mystery section, as I felt like a good mystery would suit my mood.  I took a book by Peter Abraham, I don't recall the title, an Ian Rankin mystery, a mystery by Colleen McCullough (remember Thornbirds?), something by John Connolly, and something else I don't recall.  As I tried the first page of each, Abraham and Rankin were immediately returned, as well as the "something else".  I had high hopes for the McCullough novel, but by Friday, when I took it to read over lunch and found that I just wasn't interested in the story, I knew it, too, had to go.  The John Connolly novel is pretty good.  I brought it home to read over the weekend and it's proving to be interesting enough that I may stick with it, although so far it has not been one that I absolutely cannot put down, like some others I've read recently (the Zoe Heller and the John Le Carre come to mind).  The novel is entitled The Lovers, and it is about a private investigator who, because of a recent disappearance, goes in search of answers as to why his police officer father, 25 years earlier, shot and killed two teenaged boys and then killed himself.  I've read one other book by this author, The Book of Lost Things, which was quite lyrical and haunting, a bit creepy and somewhat fable-like, if I recall correctly.  This novel, too, is lyrically written and haunting in tone.  I like books in which adult characters try to find answers to childhood mysteries, as you get the child's perspective juxtaposed with the more informed, more "symbolic" (or even psychological?) adult interpretation of events.  I have recently come to the conclusion that I do not like adult novels written from the point of view of a child or teen.  This became evident when I read A Complicated Kindness by Miriam Toews, and tried to read Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley and Room by Emma Donoghue.  The first is from the point of view of a teenager in a Mennonite community in I think somewhere in Saskatchewan, the next is from the point of view of a child "detective" in 1950s Britain, and the last is from the point of view of a 5-year old boy who lives in a single room with his mother.  Incidentally, I'm listening to Room as an audiobook right now, and while the child's point of view is, to me, rather annoying, I'm very intrigued by the story and want to find out why they are being held hostage in this room (if I were reading the physical book, I would just skip ahead, but I can't do that with an audiobook!).  More on that book when I finish it.  Anyways, getting back to the types of books I do like, other examples of this type of novel that I've read and enjoyed are The Summer that Never Was by Peter Robinson, in which DCI Banks revisits the unsolved mystery of the disappearance of his boyhood friend as it relates to a recent disappearance, and Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood, in which an adult artist recalls her childhood as she prepares for a retrospective in Toronto.  These are just a couple of examples.  Oh, another fabulous (in my opinion!) novel like this is Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know.  I think I will stay with The Lovers and see what happens.

To add to the problem of my indecision in terms of reading materials this weekend, I was at a second-hand store yesterday and happened to find a trade paperback copy of P.D. James' The Children of Men for $2.00.  I love trade paperbacks, and this one looks to be in excellent condition.  I don't think I've ever read any P.D. James, although I think I've started one or two mysteries in the "Adam Dalgliesh" series.  I saw the film version of this novel years ago, with Clive Owen and Julianne Moore, and I thought it was an interesting story, somewhat like Atwood's A Handmaid's Tale but different.  I like dystopian novels like Atwood's and Lois Lowry's The Giver, so I thought this would be a great purchase and a worthwhile addition to my book collection.  I was so excited by my purchase that I started reading it last night, but it didn't immediately "grab" me, so I think I will stick with John Connolly for now.

Wow, I didn't expect to write so much after having read so little!  But there you go, I really enjoy talking about books and the book selection process.  I'm now going to enjoy the rest of the day and hopefully take advantage of hours of quality reading time this afternoon.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 11 January 2012

Time for morning tea and book talk...

It's foggy, overcast, and cloudy outside, but my steaming cup of tea is very inviting to me this morning as I think about what I've been reading and discussing with my book group.

We met last Friday to discuss Bel Canto by Ann Patchett, and it was a successful meeting once again.  None of the book club members had read this book before, which is always a bonus for me as facilitator, being able to introduce the whole group to something new.  I was working last Thursday afternoon when one of my members came into the library and was checking out another of Patchett's books, I think it was Run, and she told me that she really enjoyed the selection - that really made me happy, and it was unprompted and natural, since there was no way she could know I would be helping her check out her books.  Anyways, some members loved this book; I think the term they used was "delightful".  During our discussion, we talked about the wonderful relationships that were developed during the time of the hostage situation.  If you remember, this book is about a terrorist hostage-taking in an unnamed Latin American country where the boundaries between hostage and terrorist become blurred quite early on, and the situation goes unresolved for four and a half months, which I believe is quite a long time for such a situation.  The relationships between and among the hostages and terrorists play a significant role in the novel, once the author explores individual characters in-depth at the beginning of the novel.  We discussed the individual characters, and how they adapted to, and in some cases even embraced, their new situation as hostages.  Some hostages even blossomed and found untapped skills and talents.  But not all members loved this book.  Some found the situation too unrealistic and fairy-tale like.  I pointed out that this was based on a real situation that took place in Peru in the late 1990s.  Unfortunately, at the time of our last meeting, I hadn't brought full details of the actual situation, but I will bring that with me to our next meeting.  A member brought information about something called the Stockholm Syndrome.  According to Wikipedia ( "In psychology, Stockholm Syndrome is an apparently paradoxical psychological phenomenon in which hostages express empathy and have positive feelings towards their captors, sometimes to the point of defending them. These feelings are generally considered irrational in light of the danger or risk endured by the victims, who essentially mistake a lack of abuse from their captors for an act of kindness."  This absolutely happened in the book, and quite likely in the actual hostage situation (I'll know more about that when I read the information I found yesterday).  I think after the discussion, those members who at first found the book unrealistic realized that this could, and possibly did, happen.  The other "criticism" of the book, shared by most everyone in the group, was the elevated role of Roxane Coss, the opera singer whose presence and performance was the main reason for the event taking place.  She was always portrayed in the novel as being "above" the other hostages, almost ethereal.  Her requests were always fulfilled, while the demands of the terrorists were consistently not met.  She was the focus of the book, all activity revolved around her presence, and yet she spoke very little and her actions did not make up a significant part of the book.  It was almost as if she was "in that world but not of it", to paraphrase what I think is a quote from somewhere.  To sum up, everyone thought it was a worthwhile read, and I'm personally glad I selected it as a book club novel, otherwise I may never have finished it due to the difficulty I had getting into the novel the first time I tried to read it. 

Last night I finished reading Elizabeth George's fourth book in the Inspector Lynley series, A Suitable Vengeance, and it was certainly up to her standard of writing.  If you recall from a previous post, I think sometime in October, I mentioned that this novel was odd in that it is well into the series and yet it seems to start from the beginning, providing information of events that happened before the first novel in the series.  This seemed strange to me, so I'm glad I waited until some time had passed between the end of the last George novel and the start of this novel, so I had time to distance myself from the characters and forget what had happened.  As I wrote in that previous post, this novel would fill in the gaps and make clear the references to previous events that are made in later books.  I now fully understand the complex relatioships of Lynley, Simon, Deborah and Helen, and how they came to be where they are and with whom.  It also provided background information and context for the relationship of Lynley and his brother Peter, as well as their mother.  And the murder mystery was interesting, even without these individual complex relationships.  So it was a worthwhile read, but I think if I were recommending this series to someone, I would encourage them to read this one first, before the first novel in the series, since it would save alot of guesswork and also set the stage for the rest of the series.  I wonder why she wrote them in this way... curious.  Oh well, interesting reading nonetheless.

Now I need to decide what to read next... hmmm...  I'll think about that later.

Bye for now!

Wednesday 4 January 2012

Wednesday morning tea and post...

Happy New Year!  It's so wonderful to see the sun this morning, after so many days of rain.

I finished Bel Canto long before I expected, as it became less intense and much easier to read as the style, content and character interactions changed.  But I don't want to discuss it much today, as it is our book discussion group selection and so I will discuss it more fully after the discussion on Friday.  I will mention that I recommended it to a friend for whom I thought it would be perfect, and she said she has already read it and loved it.  She said she read other novels by Patchett, but none gave her such enjoyment as this one.

I have a list of all the book I read, and as I was writing down this last title in my list, I went back to see how many books I've read this year:  42.  I have also listened to 14 audiobooks, for a total of 56 books for 2011.    That means I've been on track this year, in that I aim to read about one book each week.  I recognize that some books take longer than a week, and some are so short (or so compelling!) that they can be read in just a few days.  I figure that I can listen to one audiobook in a month, depending again on length and what I am doing that provides the opportunity to listen.  The number of books read also depends on how much time is spent in a "book rut";  that is, how much valuable reading time is spent trying to find a book to read that will "grab you" and hold your interest enough to stick with it and finish it.  I will use these past few days as an example.  I finished Bel Canto on Monday afternoon.  It's now Wednesday morning and I am still without a good book to read, so by the time I find a book and read enough to decide this is a book I will stick with, I will have lost almost 2 days, and that's only if I find a book right now that suits my needs.  What if I don't find anything until tomorrow afternoon?  That's then 3 days wasted!  I could have read an entire really compelling novel in 3 days!  I hate wasting valuable reading time, which is probably why I reread books so often.  They are available, usually right on my bookshelf at home, I know I have enjoyed them before so chances are I will enjoy them again, and if something else comes in at the library that I have reserved, I can put it back on the shelf without guilt because I own it and I've already read it at least once.  Who knew that so much thought goes into book selection and reading choices?!

Getting back to my list, I noticed that the first book I finished reading in 2011 was We Need To Talk About Kevin, the Orange Prize winning title by Lionel Shriver.  I thought, "Well, that was a good book and I haven't read it for a year, it's on my bookshelf right over there, maybe I'll reread it in preparation for seeing the movie that should be coming out soon (I hope)."  So I started it, but, since I know how it ends, this rereading is so depressing that I think I have to put it down.  If you recall, in this novel, the main character, Eva, is exploring, through letters to her estranged husband Franklin, what she believes is her role in the upbringing of their son Kevin, a boy who, shortly before his 16th birthday, murders a group of fellow high school students and a teacher.  I'm not giving anything away here, it says this on the back cover of the book.  What is interesting is Eva's story.  How much did her attitude and behaviour as a mother influence the actions of her son?  Is she somehow to blame?  This novel is brilliant, well-written, thought-provoking and heartbreaking, but I think I need something a little "lighter" to start off 2012.  Maybe I can get back to that Elizabeth George novel, the next in the Inspector Lynley series, the one that I commented on in a previous post as seeming out-of-order because it appears to go back in time to the very beginning of the relationships between Lynley, Helen, and Simon, before Simon marries and Lynley falls in love with Helen.  Or maybe I need to read something by an author I've never read before.  I went out into the library stacks yesterday on my lunch hour and pulled three books by authors I've never read which sounded interesting, but I decided against them after reading reviews.  Well, I still have one of them, a novel by Patricia Highsmith, sitting on my desk at work.  I've never read anything of hers, but she is supposedly a great contemporary crime novelist.  I watched the film "The Talented Mr. Ripley", which was based on one of her novels.  I thought the film was just OK, but the book might be more interesting.  That is not the one I have checked out, but maybe I will put that one on hold and give it a try.  Or maybe I should read something by Franz Kafka, not because his works are uplifting or "light", but because over the past few days I've come across several references to his works, not something that happens very often.  I don't know if I've ever read anything of his, or whether I have any of his novels on my personal bookshelves, but I can have a look and see.  I have a copy of Kafka's Soup by Mark Crick, which is a little book written in the form of a cookbook in which the author imitates different famous authors' writing styles to describe each recipe.  It is brilliant!  I love how convincing he is as he writes in the styles of authors as diverse as Harold Pinter and Virginia Woolf, Geoffrey Chaucer and Jane Austen.  It's too small to keep me busy reading for more than a few hours, but I must take a look at it again just for fun.

Ah well, I must end my post now and get ready for work.  Happy reading in 2012!

Bye for now!