Monday 24 August 2015

Short-ish post on a cool Monday afternoon...

We hosted the annual summer BBQ for my husband’s family yesterday, so between preparing and cleaning up (and of course enjoying myself!), this is the first chance I’ve had to write a post.  Despite not really being in a blogging mood, I will write now, since I can’t seem to really engage with a new book until I’ve posted about the last book(s) I’ve read and I want to make the most of my extra reading time during the last week I have off before going back to work next Monday.

I read two books last week.  The first was Devil’s Pass by Sigmund Brouwer, a Young Adult novel that is part of the Seven series that I’ve mentioned in the past.  This is the third in this series that I’ve read so far, and it was as good as the others.  I don’t usually enjoy reading YA novels, but this one, like the others, was “unputdownable”.  In summary: This series is made up of seven books by seven different Canadian authors and are told from the points of view of the seven grandsons of revered David Maclean, now deceased.  While attending the reading of his will, each grandson is taken aside separately and given instructions detailed by David to complete tasks that he himself had been unable to undertake and complete during his lifetime.  This book is told from the point of view of 17-year-old Jim Webb, who, at the time of his grandfather’s death, has been living on the streets of Toronto for nearly a year, a life greatly preferable to living with his abusive stepfather.  His task is to head far up north to the Canol Trail, where he is given instructions to search for something that may have been lost decades earlier.  If found, the discovery would confirm his grandfather’s suspicions.  Along the way, Webb encounters adventures, dangers and friendships in the most unlikely places, and struggles to complete his task and fulfill his grandfather’s wishes while also dealing with his own issues.  Even though this novel is geared towards students in grades 7 and 8, I found myself making extra time to read because I wanted to find out what Maclean wanted Webb to find, and, if found, what it could mean all these years later.  I also appreciated the adventure of the plot and current-ness of the writing, without sex, profanity or graphic violence.  I think kids today can still enjoy what I would call “a good book”, a book that is “good” on its own, that doesn’t rely on shock value to gain readers.  I will try to get to the other four in this series before Christmas, then maybe I will have to start on the Sequels.  There is also a new series coming out soon, Secrets, about seven girls who find that they are out on their own after the orphanage where they resided burned to the ground.  That should be interesting, too, and I can’t wait to order them for my school libraries.

The next book I read was No Cure for Love by Peter Robinson, one of his standalone novels, and the only one that takes place almost entirely in Los Angeles.  Sarah Broughton is the up-and-coming star of a new police series, Good Cop, Bad Cop, when she starts receiving creepy letters from someone who identifies himself only as “M”.  Shortly before she is due to return home to England for the Christmas holidays, she receives a letter that is more personal than the last two, one that also demonstrates that the writer actually knows Sarah, for he refers to her as “little star” and calls her Sally, which was her name before she began starring on the TV show and changed it.  She brings this letter to her producer, who passes it on to a detective friend of his, and gets reassurances that it probably wouldn’t escalate into a dangerous situation for Sarah.  When, on the morning of her departure, she finds a dead body buried on the beach where she runs every morning, she reports it to the police, but is again reassured that the murder and the letters are probably not linked.  She has a niggling feeling that the phrase “little star” means something for her, but she can’t quite remember what significance it has.  She puts all of this out of her mind as she visits family in England, but when more letters arrive and another death occurs, she begins to take her situation more seriously, and delves into the hazy memories of her past to uncover clues that may lead the detectives to the murderer before it is too late.  I’ve read this book before, but it has been reissued with a Forward by Michael Connelly on the 20th anniversary of its original publication.  I reread it with the intention of reviewing it, but I was pretty disappointed in the novel on the whole.  The writing didn’t flow as it does in other novels, and it felt forced, sort of the way I feel when I wear bright colours just to try something different, but can’t wait to get home and change into what I’m really comfortable in, blacks, browns, grays, and greens.  It was pretty graphic, and Robinson used profanity in abundance, and in my opinion, this was totally unnecessary.  I had to keep reminding myself that this was written 20 years ago, and nothing has been changed, but it was still hard to really “enjoy” the book.  So I opted not to write a review, as I wouldn’t want to write an unfavourable review of one of Robinson’s books when he is really an awesome writer.  I just think maybe he should stick with the very suspenseful books he’s so good at writing, British mysteries.  He clearly has a fondness for California, though, as the location crops up in other novels of his:  the main character in Before the Poison, Chris Lowndes, writes music scores for Hollywood films, but returns home to Yorkshire following the sudden death of his wife;  and at the beginning of the novel Bad Boy, DCI Alan Banks is on an extended vacation in California following a particularly difficult case.  I guess I would only recommend No Cure for Love to existing Robinson fans, as I don’t really feel that it justly represents his talent as a writer, and even for existing fans, it’s not really one of his best, so better to stick to his other books.  If you’ve only read his “DCI Banks” series and want to try a standalone, I would definitely recommend Before the Poison or his early mystery Caedmon’s Song.

And I finished listening to two audiobooks this past week.  The first was also a Young Adult novel, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, a book my husband and I have been listening to since our extended summer driving trips began in July.  This novel, which my good friend in Toronto has been urging me to read for a couple of years now, is told from the point of view of Marcus, or W1n5t0n/M1k3y, a high school student/computer whiz who, after skipping out of school early one day, is caught in the aftermath of a terrorist bomb attack on a major San Francisco commuter bridge.  He and his group of friends are taken to a prison, tortured and interrogated for days by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) before being released and instructed to tell no one of their experiences in the prison.  What follows is an infringement of their Bill of Rights as freedoms and liberties are stripped one after another in the name of tightened security measures as implemented by the DHS.  Marcus takes on the responsibility of forming an underground computer network to bypass these security measures and restore the rights and freedoms to the citizens of San Francisco, but his endeavours may be backfiring, endangering the freedom of more individuals, including the girl he loves, or possibly even putting their lives at risk.  The narrator did an excellent job of representing Marcus’s plight and sounding like a teenager who was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and I’m glad to have finally had the opportunity to “read” this book, which is in the YA collection at both my schools’ libraries.  I don’t think it’s really appropriate for my students, being better suited to high school-aged readers, but it was an award winner (the White Pine award, which is grades 9-12), so I will keep it in the libraries.  It was definitely an interesting book, and tackled difficult issues about freedom and security, questioning who controls these things that we generally take for granted.  I’m not sure if I will give a book talk about this novel for my grade 8 students when we meet in September… I will have to give it some more thought.  

And I listened to a British mystery by Minette Walters, The Devil’s Feather, an audiobook I realized I’d listened to already, but since Walters’ books are always so detailed and complex, I can never remember what happens after a certain lapse of time anyway, so I kept with it and finished it earlier this afternoon.  It tells the story of Connie Burns, a war correspondent in Sierra Leone who suspects that there is a link between some horrific rapes and murders of women and British mercenary Keith McKenzie.  She encounters McKenzie again in Baghdad using another name, but her investigations uncover nothing useful, and she resigns to leave and take a much-needed break in England.  When she is abducted on her way to the airport, well-known terrorists groups are suspected, but none claims responsibility for her kidnapping.  When she is released, apparently unharmed, after just three days, the media accuse her of staging her own abduction for attention-seeking or monetary purposes.  Seeking refuge and solitude to deal with her trauma in her own way, Connie rents an isolated farmhouse in Dorset under another name and befriends Jess after a panic attack leaves her cowering and hyperventilating in her car upon her arrival.  As she struggles to deal with her post-traumatic stress, while fearing that her abductor may arrive at any moment to torment her further and possibly even kill her, she becomes involved in the complex relationships of the people who most immediately surround her - neighbour Jess and her five large mastiffs, Peter Coleman, the village doctor, and Madeleine Harrison-Wright, daughter of Lilly Wright, who owns the house where Connie is staying, but who is suffering advanced Alzheimer’s in a nursing home nearby.  Connie doesn’t always make the best choices, and readers are left hoping for the best while fearing the worst for the heroine in this nail-biter of a novel.  I have never actually read this book, only listened to it, but the fact that I could happily “re-listen” is probably recommendation enough for this excellent, complex psychological mystery.

OK, this was supposed to be a “short-ish” post, and at the end of last week’s post I promised to be brief this week, but it’s hard to be brief when I’ve read more than one book and finished more than one audiobook between postings.  After next week, I will be back to work, so I won’t have as much time to read (or write!), so my posts should be back to their normal length.  

Enjoy the rest of the cooler week!

Bye for now…

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