It’s Monday, but it feels like Sunday, and I’m looking forward to yet another week off over the holidays. Hope you had a Very Merry Christmas, and that Santa was good to you - and of course, I hope your gifts included books! I got a pair of awesome kitty mugs from our neighbour, so I am drinking my steaming tea from one of them this morning - mmmm!!!
I have many books and audiobooks to tell you about today, so I think my summaries will be brief. The first book I read last week was We Are All Made of Molecules by Susin Nielsen. This book is one of the Ontario Library Association Forest of Reading nominees for the Red Maple Award (grades 7-8). It is told from the point of view of two main characters in alternating chapters. Stewart is a geeky, brilliant boy who scores high on the academic scale but low on the social one. Ashley is hip, beautiful and popular, but not so smart academically. When Stewart’s dad and Ashley’s mom decide to move in together, their worlds collide and it is a far cry from The Brady Bunch, where everyone gets along. It doesn’t help that Stewart is still grieving for his mom, who passed away a few years before from cancer, or that Ashley’s parents split up because her dad is gay, something Ashley cannot share with anyone at school, not even her best friend Lauren. Ashley is horrified to learn that this geek will be her “stepbrother”; her only consolation is that he goes to a school for gifted children on the other side of Vancouver. But due to their relocation, Stewart decides to attend the regular high school, which means he will be in the same grade as Ashley and will be in some of her classes. They must all, Stewart and Ashley, as well as his dad and her mom, learn to get along, and to realize that, while they have their differences, they are all made of molecules. This hilarious, moving story was such a wonderful, insightful reading experience for me, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Stewart’s character reminded me of the main character in Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, Christopher, who is also brilliant but is mildly autistic. I don’t think Stewart is autistic, just “geeky”. Ashley’s character, too, is hilarious but also insightful. She is supposed to be “clueless”, but I sense that she is really alot smarter than people give her credit for. The (hilarious!) names she calls Stewart, his friend Alistair, and Stewart’s cat, Schrodinger, demonstrate real creativity, and I suspect she is just confused and misunderstood. This delightful read is sure to appeal not just to preteens and young adults, but to adults of any age.
I read another book this week, also set in Vancouver, but so totally different from the one mentioned above. That Lonely Section of Hell by Lori Shenher tells the inside story of the botched Missing and Murdered Women investigation by the Vancouver Police Department, and the eventual arrest of serial killer Robert Pickton by the RCMP. Shenher reveals the ways in which the investigation went wrong right from the very start: from the 1998 tip about Pickton that went uninvestigated to the denial of adequate resources to run the investigation properly. She describes the years she suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder during and after working on this case, the frustrations, sexism and utter failure to follow up on leads that were provided right from the beginning. I rarely read non-fiction, but I like watching murder mysteries, so I thought I would give this short book a try. Well, it grabbed me right from the beginning and held my interest until the very last page. I, like the author, felt the frustration of failure and I wanted to shout at the various police investigators, “Why aren’t you listening to what she is saying?!” This book was clearly not exploitative, but was rather an honest, searing account of the investigation and her experiences during and after the investigation and trial; there were few details about the murders, no photos inserted in the middle pages of the book, and it treated the women who were missing and murdered, and their families, with sensitivity and respect. I learned so much about this case, and the ways in which investigations can go wrong, from this book that I would recommend it to anyone who enjoys reading police procedurals. This kind of thing never happens in any of the books I’ve read, and some of the decisions they made and things they did were almost unbelievable - definitely “stranger than fiction”! It was fascinating, frustrating, compelling and shameful.
And speaking of police procedurals, I finished listening to The Impossible Dead by Ian Rankin last week. Rankin is most famous for his “Inspector Rebus” series - there is a new “Rebus” book that has recently come out, Even Dogs in the Wild, featuring Rebus as he comes out of retirement. Well, I have enjoyed listening to a couple of books from his other series featuring Malcolm Fox, a police investigator working for the Lothian and Borders Police Department who has been working in the Complaints Department for a number of years. This department is like Internal Affairs, which investigates allegations of corruption or misconduct within the police department itself. I listened to The Complaints some time ago and enjoyed it, so my expectations were fairly high with this book, too, and it did not disappoint. In The Impossible Dead, Fox and his team are called away to the Fife Constabulary as a disinterested third party to investigate members of their police department. One of their officers, Paul Carter, has been found guilty of misconduct, and it is Fox’s job to determine whether fellow officers were complicit in this misconduct. What seems like a straightforward investigation, albeit one where they face obstacles and resistance at every turn, becomes more complex and far-reaching as they dig deeper and uncover a web of secrecy, lies and corruption at all levels, possibly including prominent members of government. Add to this the stress of an ailing father and a difficult relationship with his sister, and this reader could understand Fox’s need to immerse himself in the case and continue digging where others may have stopped and called it a day. A complex plot, an interesting, believable protagonist, and a fabulous narrator (Peter Forbes) made this a totally enjoyable listening experience - and I love the Scottish accent, so that was a bonus! I would highly recommend this as a good choice of audiobook if you like police procedurals.
And I read a book aloud to one of my grade 3-4 classes, The Bad Beginning by Lemony Snicket, the first book in "The Series of Unfortunate Events”. I read this book for myself a number of years ago, and remember enjoying it, so I chose this as a readaloud, and was delighted to find that the kids LOVED it!! We finished it the last day they visited the library before the Christmas Break, and they were enthralled to the very last page. This book begins the journey of the Baudelaire orphans, Violet, Klaus and Sunny, to create a new home and family after their parents perish in a fire, one that also destroys their entire home, a mansion that had a huge library and all of their worldly possessions. They temporarily live with Mr Poe, a friend of their parents and a man who works at the bank and who will oversee their enormous fortune until Violet comes of age (she is just 14 years old at the time of the first book). They are then sent to live with their closest relative (closest geographically), Count Olaf, who is a wholly despicable character, a nasty man who is only interested in getting his hands on their fortune, and he will do anything to achieve this end. What follows are the various ways the children try to escape their fate, and the loathsome behaviour of Count Olaf and his group of friends. This book was a fabulous readaloud, as it stretched and challenged the children’s knowledge and understanding of language and literary techniques. They loved it, and I’m not sure that the next book I read to them will even come close to measuring up to the engagement and enjoyment we experienced with this one. They wanted me to read the second book in the series, The Reptile Room, but I think they can take this out and read it on their own. The next book I will read to them is The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupery, which they may not enjoy as much, but I think they should have the opportunity to be exposed to this delightful novel. By the way, I watched the movie, “A Series of Unfortunate Events”, last night, and it was perfectly dreadful compared to the book! It incorporated the first three books in the series (I think there are 13 in total), and I suppose, as a movie to entertain children, it was OK, but only if you had never read the book. I only watched it because the teacher at the school had the kids watch the movie after we finished reading the first book, so I wanted to be able to talk about it with them when we get back to school. So if you think this might be something you want to check out, please, please, please read the book!!
OK, that’s all for today. Enjoy the rest of the holiday season - it will be back to the real world soon enough!
Bye for now…