Friday, February 27, 2015

Etta and Otto and Russell and James by Emma Hooper

Etta has never seen the ocean and decides now is the time to set off to see it.  Etta, 82 years young and beginning to experience difficulties with her memory, sets off from her home in Saskatchewan to the Atlantic Ocean on foot with few provisions and a piece of paper in her pocket with some pertinent life details in case she needs a memory boost.  As her journey begins we experience her life on her journey (accompanied at times by a coyote she names James), what her husband Otto is creating in her absence, how her best friend and neighbor Russell reacts as well as learning the past history of all three of these characters.

I thought I was going to be reading a book similar to The Unlikely Pilgrimageof Harold Fry because of the whole walking a long way for a strange reason premise.  Nope.  This book just feels darker and stranger.  I enjoyed the writing, it was almost poetic at times, but it doesn’t fill you with warmth just loss and confusion.  I liked the journey and I did like the (semi-)ambiguity of the ending, but I think many readers will scream aloud at the conclusion.  (Out of curiosity I checked the Amazon reviews and quite a few people were upset with the ending.  Just a word of warning to those who like things neat, tidy and happy at the end, you’re not going to get that here.)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Lives in Ruins: Archaeologist and the Seductive Lure of Human Rubble by Marilyn Johnson

Did you ever want to be Indiana Jones?  Would you like to learn to survive in the wild like ancient man?  Do pyramids, obelisks and ancient cities give you goose bumps?  Then this is a must for your reading list.

Johnson talks to a wide variety of archaeologists to learn what their days are like and the challenges of the profession.  Most of the stories are inspiring, some are bewildering and some are just sad knowing that the money to preserve our history has all but disappeared. 

This is a profession I’m sure many thought about pursuing at one time or another and many more may decide to pursue.  If you know anyone thinking about entering this field this is a must read.  It is an eye opening look at the amount of extremely qualified professionals who cannot find work while more and more graduates are vying for the same positions.  Simply put, there are not enough jobs for everyone.  If you still decide to pursue a career in archaeology it better be something you are passionate about because so many of the subjects Johnson interviews are living hand to mouth, but they love their jobs so they see it as an acceptable trade off.

An enjoyable pick on audio, the reader has a nice calm voice that is also engaging.  

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Beyond the Call by Lee Trimble with Jeremy Dronfield

Bomber Pilot Captain Robert Trimble finished his tour of duty in the European Theatre and was anxious to return home to his wife and his newborn daughter he hadn’t even met yet.  But duty called.  He was offered a position to retrieve downed planes and crew in Europe from a post at Poltava in Russia, which seemed a safer deal than being called back up for a second tour of duty.  Keeping aircraft and American technology away from the Russians was not his only job in Poltava.  Trimble discovered upon arrival that he was being tasked with a much different mission.  Russians treated their POWs horribly (often sending them to gulags or killing them on sight) and they weren’t treating former Allied POWs from German camps well at all.  Trimble was supposed to retrieve aircraft, but he was also to covertly find and help American and British POWs liberated from camps with no way to get home with an avenue home by way of trains to Odessa.  This man is responsible for secretly getting over 1,000 people out of Poland and on their way home, and until now no one knew his story.

Lee Trimble learned about this part of his father’s life less than a decade ago when Robert Trimble finally started to open up about his experiences.  It is a fascinating look at the courage and wherewithal of one man and how he helped so many that were losing hope.  There are a number of heartwarming events and gripping edge of your seat maneuvers, but what will stick with me the longest is the frustration Robert faced because of politics and bureaucracy.  He overcame so much and helped so many people, but it is awful to contemplate how many he was not able to help because of the roadblocks governments threw in his way.

Lee Trimble will be at the Hillsborough Library talking about this book on Monday, February 23rd at 6:30pm.  Sign up here to learn more about the story behind the story.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

Darling Beast by Elizabeth Hoyt

Need something funny, fun and steamy just in time for Valentine’s Day?  You can’t go wrong with any book written by Elizabeth Hoyt, but this one in particular is great fun.

Lily Stump is a well-known, but down on her luck, comic actress using the stage name Robin Goodfellow.  Forced out of her apartments she moves with her maid and son to the portion of a theatre not consumed by a recent fire as the rebuilding of the space and replanting of the pleasure gardens surrounding it occur.  Out in the garden she meets the man she names Caliban.  He is mute, and seems agreeable to his new name.  His face is not much to look at but his physique and sweet manner more than make up for it.  Imagine Lily’s surprise when she discovers that her gardener escaped from Bedlam, is an accused murderer and happens to be an aristocrat.  Of course antics, escapes, disguises and surprises ensue.

I thought this would be a retelling of Beauty and the Beast but Hoyt found her inspiration from an older tale, that of the Minotaur.  Each chapter starts with an excerpt from the tale so we get two love stories in one!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafdottir

Butterflies in November by Audur Ava Olafdottir

Our main character is having an interesting time of it.  She is dumped by her lover and her husband in the same day.  She also wins two lotteries: a portable summer cabin to be placed anywhere in the country, and millions of Icelandic kronor.  And her best friend is laid up in hospital, on mandatory bed rest for the health of her unborn twins, so her deaf-mute four year old son Tumi is left with nowhere to go.  Our main character takes all these circumstances and shoves them together.  She is now Tumi’s guardian and he is comfortably seat-belted in the back of her car, the glove compartment is filled with money and the cabin is transported to the east of the island.  Road trip!

This book has been described by some reviewers as humorous.  I didn’t see it.  I guess the parts that others would find funny I just saw as being Icelandic.  I have spent less than three weeks in Iceland but that is long enough to know that its uniqueness is its charm.  If you want to know more about how Icelanders see the world (and what to do if you accidently run over a sheep on the Ring Road) this would be a good book to pick up. 

Know that there are recipes at the back of the book of the foods the characters experience.  Some of it is good, some is definitely Icelandic.  And no, that isn’t exactly a compliment. 

Also, like much Nordic literature, it starts out rather slow before it gets going.  The road trip doesn’t start until about halfway through the book.  Again, I love Iceland, so I enjoyed the book but I can’t see every reader sticking with it to take a ride with these quirky characters.

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Authority by Jeff VanderMeer

Control, the chosen nickname of John Rodriguez, has just been promoted to the Director of the Southern Reach after the former director failed to return from an expedition to Area X.  All is not well in this remote outpost, nothing is as it seems on the surface and numerous factions appear to be a work behind the scenes.  Will Control gain control?  Or will the Southern Reach control him?

This is the second entry in the popular Southern Reach trilogy.  I thought I was lost after finishing the first book in the series.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  I am MORE lost than I was before!  It is a great listen, but you should start with Annihilation.  Not that it will help all that much.  You’ll just be more grounded in the world, not that you’ll know what’s going on.  Still I WANT to know what is going on and am waiting to listen to the third entry: Acceptance.

The Outsorcerer’s Apprentice by Tom Holt

If you look through the hole in a food with a hole (optimally a doughnut, but bagels and fried onion rings will work in a pinch) you can be transported to an alternate reality.  That reality is one in which faery tales are real.  And the wizard is using the denizens of this land as a massive resource for his businesses in our world, nothing like outsourcing to sorcerers…

Love Terry Pratchett?  I am pretty sure Holt is his brother by another mother. This is absurd British humor and if you like that kind of thing you will really enjoy this book.  If you think the very idea of looking through a doughnut and going to a land of knights and dragons is utterly ridiculous and you couldn’t deal with the very idea, please skip this book.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

The Frozen Dead by Bernard Minier

The Frozen Dead by Bernard Minier

The corpse of a horse is discovered on a mountaintop arranged in a very strange way.  The only way to access the scaffold the horse is placed on is by cable car, but neither of the guards on duty at the water power plant owning the cable car heard it move.  Since the horse was a favorite of a very wealthy and prominent businessman law enforcement is forced to drop their other cases to work on this one.  A few days after the horse incident a man is found murdered in a way reminiscent of the animal.  Could the two be connected?  Will there by more?

Commandant Martin Servaz is a sympathetic and smart man, very well drawn and likeable, as is the rest of his unit – you really want them to solve the case and hope that they all stay safe.  There is also a storyline about an insane asylum for the criminally insane, the patients no other place wants, or can, hold and again the characters there are also well developed and as you read you keep wondering how it all ties together.

This is a great read for these cold snowy nights but there is no need to be concerned because this book is set in the French Pyrenees far from us and if the criminally insane (think Hannibal Lecter types) were to escape from their escape-proof asylum they would not be able to make it to us.  This is a suspenseful well-constructed read that was wonderful on audiobook.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck

Wolf Winter by Cecilia Ekbäck

This book takes place in the Swedish Lapland in 1717, beginning that summer when Maija, her husband Paavo and their two daughters, Fredericka and Dorothea, journey there from the Finnish coast to start their new lives in a new home.  But things are not well on Blackäsen Mountain where they live.  A man has been murdered and other tragedies befall the residents.  Worst of all Paavo must leave his family in their new home to find work elsewhere to gain money, leaving the three women in the wilderness for their first brutal winter on the mountain.

Maija is a strong woman trying to forget her past and her ties to the old ways, ways frowned upon and condemned by the Christianity that rules her new land.  Fredericka has met some of the Lapps and has talked to them about their old ways, ways that seem to be awakening in her.  She must use the knowledge that is coming to her through odd avenues to protect her family and find the evil that lives on the mountain.

If you need to feel better about the freezing temperatures outside this book will make even our weather seem warm. This is a stark and unforgiving landscape.  Frostbite is a constant worry, as is freezing or starving to death.  The Church and the King both have a presence in the remote regions of Sweden but they are not seen as benevolent entities, more like oppressive and controlling forces.  Politics, religion, and the evil that can live in man all come together to form a suspenseful mystery.  Having read a lot of mysteries I did figure out one storyline before the characters in the book, but that is more a sign of our times and how we don’t naturally expect good in other people, than a sign of poor writing.