Never judge a book by its cover, right? But that is just what I do, too often. I read Flesh, Bone and Water because I was out of books and the library was closed Sunday. Also it was free, an advanced readers' copy that I was given at the Northern Lights Library System Conference in September. Then it languished on the book pile on my night table.
What a pleasant surprise! Flesh, Bone and Water switches settings between London, England and Brazil and times between the narrator/protagonist's youth and his present as a forty-seven year-old physician. It tells a simple enough story of a young man whose mother dies, whose father is too stern, and a forbidden love. The contrast of cultures, of youth and middle age kept me turning the pages. The Brazil setting and different life style was fascinating because I know nothing of Brazil.
Flesh, Bone and Water is Luiza Sauma's first novel and she is a woman writing from a man's viewpoint. She was born in Rio de Janeiro and raised in London. A lesson for me- the old adage is true. You can't judge a book by its cover.
And for a complete change of pace, here is Krysten Ritter's Bonfire, a psychological thriller. Ten years ago, Abby Williams left Barrens, an Indiana small town. Now an environmental lawyer, she is assigned, with a team, to investigate Optimal Plastics, suspected of contaminating the community's water. Since she left, Optimal has become the "saviour" of Barrens, employing most of the town and contributing heavily to its economic and cultural life. The population has risen form 2,000 to over 5,000 and it's a much more prosperous place.
Before she even reaches Barrens, the bad memories and the intense feelings return. More than anything, she'd rather turn around and go back to the life she's carved out in Chicago.
Abby and her team are stonewalled when they try to investigate Optimal. The illness and disappearance of a childhood friend turned high school nemesis haunt her. She tries reconnecting with her father. There are old high school classmates ( she never had friends ) but who among them can she trust? Perhaps no one Soon even her investigative team doubts her stability and is afraid she might be having a breakdown. Bonfire rushes to a climax and a satisfying conclusion. I read it in a day.
Krysten Ritter is an actor, producer, and writer. Perhaps it is her experience as Netflix's Marvel's Jessica Jones and her other roles that have helped her to craft such a page turner.
The Substitute is a difficult book to get into, at least it was for me. Warren Botts, the substitute, is taking a break from his lab (he's a PhD) and teaching middle school science. He's introverted, more than a little socially inept but very concerned about creating his lessons effectively. One morning he finds one of his students, Amanda, hanging from a tree in his backyard. Of course, he becomes a suspect, has few social supports, and the mystery of the young girl's death are a big part of the book.
An anonymous narrator, who has an even more dysfunctional home life than Warren, is an alternate observer of the murder. This narrator isn't any more likeable than Warren and it is hard to relate or engage with either of them.
However, I did persevere and it was worth it. I did not have any idea who had killed Amanda and the revelation was a surprise.
Nicole Lundigran is a Canadian author and The Substitute is a House of Anansi book.
Our Little Secret by Roz Nay is another character study of a disturbed murder. Not that I think there is another kind. The story opens with Angela in a police interrogation room as she informs the detective that she will talk to him and answer his questions BUT only if he lets her tell her tale her way. He agrees and she starts 10 years earlier when she was a high school student.
A brilliant girl but a misfit who catches the eye of the BMOC, HP, a handsome, easy-going charmer. Eventually, hormones being what they are and teenagers what they are, the become lovers.
Angela has been accepted to Oxford University, England. She wants to stay in her pokey hometown but can't. Off to Jolly Old.
Their relationship doesn't last the separation and HP marries Siska, the Aussie he met in England.
The "threesome" that develops is strange but we always hear and see it from Angela's point of view. When Siska disappears and is found dead, suspicion falls on her. Did she do it? Was she set up and framed by others? Our Little Secret is well done but again it's hard to connect with Angela.
Our Little Secret is Roz Nay's first novel who now lives in BC. Simon and Schuster are publishers.
One of the best parts of this dystopian YA novel, the first in the Winterkill series, is the setting. The Canadian prairies are re-imagined in a time when civilization as we know it has collapsed. There is the river, the prairie and the forest at the edge of the colony. The trembling aspen description and the use of Saskatoons is spot on. A band of survivors has settled into a protected community with very strict rules.
It is run by The Committee and life is, for the most part, a struggle. There are the taboos, the inhospitable winter months, the loss of technology and the return to labour-intensive methods. Emmaline is 15, soon to be 16, and a gatherer. She finds things for the herbalist who tries to look after ills with the most primitive of potions. Few can read and there isn't much to read.
The story follows Emmaline, Tom, and Kane who all have secrets and suffer from the lack of freedom and the strict repression of the Committee. There is the danger from outside. Watchers along the wall are tasked with sounding the alarm if the malmaci approach. There are three groups in the community- the English-speaking, the French speaking, and the French-First Nations speakers.
Boorman's story comments on religion, power, and repression. Winterkill is the first in the series, followed by Darkthaw and Heartfire. If the next two books are as good, I'll read the second and third.
Kate Boorman lives in Edmonton.
1558- England is a land torn by religious conflict and an uncertain political future. Ned Willard, the son of successful merchants in Knightsbridge, sees his future changed as the struggle for the monarchy between Mary, Queen of Scots, and Elizabeth develops. Trade with Europe is affected and through a series of misfortunes, Ned must make the decision to go to London and work for Sir Francis Walsingham who is developing a secret service for Elizabeth. When she ascends to the throne, Ned becomes the spymaster, Walsingham's, trusted assistant.
Follett intertwines the stories of the Guises, powerful French Catholics, with the Huguenots who risk torture and their lives to worship as Protestants. Then there are the star-crossed lovers, the pirates, and adventurers. The Knightbridge part of the story occurs in the shadow of the great Cathedral built centuries before and A Column of Fire completes the trilogy begun with Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Through the engaging characters, Follett describes the dawn of England's secret service, the terrible era of religious intolerance, and cruel times that were England and Europe's in the 1500's.
Marty Chan is an Edmonton writer of young adult books and plays. Because of my, ahem, age, I don't usually read YA but Marty is coming to the Arts Festival and I thought I should read some of his work. I have seen one of his plays (The Bone House was mounted at Fringe in Edmonton.)
Fire and Glass is the first in the Keepers of the Vault Trilogy. Kristina and Dylan are junior high outcasts because they are 'uncool' new comers. They gravitate to one another when they both experience some "strange" sounds and sights which no one else seems to notice. Their curiosity leads the to the abandoned fourth floor of the school. A eerie and frightening experience awaits and leaves them with a load of questions and no answers. Chan has captured the teen angst and society of a junior high school so well. As Dylan and Kristina join forces against the "Goth djinn stalker who likes to play with fire", the mystery deepens and the dangers multiply. I wished the book was longer (because as an adult, I just like longer books) and will recommend it to my grandson. It's an engaging story and I think I'll break my own rule about no time for YA fiction and read the other two novels in the series. Fire and Glass leaves you hanging and wanting more.
Will Ferguson is a Calgary writer whose 419 won the Giller prize in 2012. Of his four novels, two are humourous romps and the other two serious books. The Shoe on the Roof has a main plot revolving around a psychology experiment gone wrong. Thomas Rosanoff (not to be confused with the Thomas Rosanoff, his famous father) loves Amy. She tests his love in an age-old way and he fails. Amy leaves him ruing his choice and desperate to win her back. Perhaps, he thinks, 'if I can cure Amy's brother, of the delusion that he is Jesus, she'll take me back.' The search for a cure leads him to a technique that may work. Thomas is a medical student and he and his friend, Bernie, have a lab where they can conduct research. This is a complex story exploring, the nature of love, the lengths desperate people will go to, and the limits and dangers of psychiatry.
Apart from the plot which keeps the pages turning, Will Ferguson is a fine writer. The descriptions are unique and though lyrical, do not intrude on the story. This is a talented man, telling a great yarn with amazing writing. A quote: "The sun through the window gradually shifted, throwing light across the floor and then reeling it back in."
Christmas is on the horizon, snow is on the ground, and if you'd like a head start on your presents Fire and Glass or another Marty Chan title would please a 12+ reader. (It's even printed in a dyslexic friendly font.). The Shoe on the Roof would satisfy the adult bibliophile. The great thing? Both Canadian authors.
Killer of the Flower Moon; the Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI- David Grann
Oklahoma in the 1920’s was home to the richest people in the world, the members of the Osage Indian tribe. They had been pushed and herded onto a reserve in Oklahoma that was poor, stony land. Beneath the worthless surface a wealth of oil lay undiscovered. An astute part-indigenous lawyer had negotiated and kept the mineral rights to the reserve with the Osage people. When oil was discovered, they were rich.
The white oilmen and other white inhabitants of the area envied the wealth and inveigled methods of cheating or controlling what should have belonged only to the Osage. Each tribal member was assigned a white “guardian” who “managed” their wealth. The rationale depicted the Indians as a savages with no ability to administer their own fortune. In reality, many of the Osage were good investors and quite competent to look after their oil revenue. The white “guardians” were bigoted, greedy pillars of the community who plotted to take the underserved windfall from the Osage.
Killers of the Flower Moon looks at the cold-blooded murders of dozens of Osage people in the 1920’s. They were poisoned, executed gangland style, bombed in their own home, and beaten to death. Local sheriffs were disinterested in the cases and in some, the Osage family paid private investigators to try and solve the murders. They failed. Evidence disappeared or was destroyed, witnesses were too frightened to testify, or the white population all colluded in a cover-up.
Tom White, a former Texas Ranger, was eventually appointed by the FBI to head a team that could solve the murders. J. Edgar Hoover had just taken over the bureau and was eager to have a “big case” closed as soon as he could. White was, in looks, a stereotype of the Rangers. Tall, good looking and laconi; in other ways, he was his own man. He seldom used physical force or employed firearms. He believed in trying to ‘get his man’ by other means. Many Texas Rangers died in gun battles, ambush, or violent fights. This was, in many way, the end of the wild west.
David Grann has researched many documents and files which are primary and unpublished. He consulted thousands of pages of FBI files, secret grand jury testimony, court transcripts, informants’ statements, logs from private eyes, pardon and parole records, private correspondence, diary entries and more. In the end, he uncovered a much wider criminal conspiracy. The murders of the Osage started earlier than official investigators thought and many more people died by violence or poison. All these deaths were orchestrated to make sure that the ‘head right’ (mineral rights) passed from family to family member until one last person was left and controlled by one greedy “guardian.” The crimes were insidious and if David Grann had set out to write a fictional thriller, it could not have been more engaging. The sad thing is that back in the 1920’s some person or persons unknown did get away with the murders of many Osage.
I love mysteries. They are my go-to genre when I want to relax and escape so I am delighted to have found The Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz. Enough murders to satisfy and plenty of clues and red herrings.
Best of all? The Magpie Murders includes two mysteries in one. There is the series detective Atticus Pund, who must solve his final case before an aggressive brain tumour kills him. The murders take place in the fictitious village of Saxby-on-Avon near Bath, England in the 1950's. Atticus Pund survived concentration camps to settle in England and become a private detective. He and his assistant, James Fraser solve difficult cases, much in the style of Sherlock Holmes.
Alan Conway, author of the Pund books, is a client of Susan Ryeland, as editor, and Cloverleaf Books, publisher, owned by Charles Clover. In this second mystery, Alan is thought to have committed suicide but it seems unlikely that he did. His latest novel was just delivered to Cloverleaf and he is a huge success financially. Susan is asked by Charles, her boss, to find the final chapters of Conway's novel which are inexplicably missing. In her quest for the end of the book, she is drawn into the role of amateur detective. The mysteries intertwine in clever ways and both keep you guessing until the end. In the fashion of old-time Agatha Christie, the puzzle is king and its solution doesn't depend on forensics or other technologies. The detectives' wits save the day.
This is the first novel by Anthony Horowitz that I have read. I will be putting holds on some of his others at my local library.
Other book recommendations from this summer include: non-fiction: White Trash: The 400 Year Untold History of Class in America, The Genius of Birds, No is Not Enough. Fiction: Do Not Say We Have Nothing, The Child, War Cry.
Cora is a slave on a Georgia cotton plantation when the story begins. She is an "outsider". Her mother escaped and left her when she was a young girl and she fends for her self as best she can. The Randalls own the plantation and the slaves. The elder Randall dies and James and Terrance inherit. Neither of them are what you would term "good" masters. Terrance, in particular, is a sadist. When another slave, Caesar, gives Cora the chance to run away with him, she takes it and thus begins her experiences on the Underground Railroad. She and Caesar meet good people and evil. They have near-captures and during one, Cora kills a white assailant. Now she is doubly cursed as an escapee and a murderer. Colson Whitehead cleverly intertwines Cora's story with other typical characters of the pre-Civil War era in the United States. The plights of the slaves and the horrors they were subjected to are revealed in a way that doesn't dwell on the inhumanity but works to imbue admiration for those black people suffering them. The novel goes back and forth through time and although Cora doesn't always know what fate befell people she loved, we do. It was a dark time before the Civil War and Whitehead evokes it so well.
Inferno is Steven Hatch's every personal experience of the ebola outbreak in West Africa. The initial cases of the virus were in Guinea but soon, Liberia was the centre of the horror. Dr. Hatch had worked as an infectious disease specialist in Monrovia, Liberia's capital. He went home but six months later when the ebola epidemic was in full bloom and the world was reacting with paranoia and fear, he came back to work in a treatment centre in Bong county. The conditions were primitive and the training people received didn't prepare them for working in searing heat while wearing PPE or personal protective gear. Tyvek suits, taped where they met the shoes, three layers of latex gloves, hoods and goggles. The outfits were awkward to move in, the goggles fogged up making vision difficult and the sweat pooled in the headgear and the entire PPE. For their own protection, medical personnel had to wear the suits whenever they dealt with patients. There was no way to know whether someone with a fever was developing ebola, suffering a malaria attack or presenting with some other tropical fever.
There were two main areas in the ebola centre, one for those sick and awaiting diagnosis and one for those whose blood tests confirmed ebola. Ebola confirmation wasn't a for-sure death sentence but many people died because there was no drug to treat it, dehydration was a major problem since rather than bleeding out (as books like The Hot Zone described), people suffered horrendous nausea and diarrhea. They would get weaker and weaker and finally die. Age or status didn't matter. Healthy adults, children, old people and babies, all were possible hosts for the virus.
Survivors had to deal with unenviable problems. Some no longer had any family, some were afraid to go back to their villages because they might be killed for carrying the virus, and other people were afraid they might still be contagious. The entire country was thrown into chaos. For Hatch, the ebola epidemic and its consequences were his personal hell, hence the book's title.
At the end of the book, Dr. Hatch appeals to people to get their children vaccinated against measles. After he returned from Bong County, there was a mini-outbreak of the disease in visitors to Disneyland. He points out that compared to measles, ebola is relatively difficult to spread. An infected person will likely only infect two others because the virus is passed by touch (contact.) Measles is airborne and although not as virulent as ebola, it can disable and kill. Someone with measles can pass the virus to 18 others.
This book exposes the nasty political atmosphere that developes and the 'dog and pony' show that the media turns the outbreak into. When Dr, Steven Duncan returns to the US after working with ebola patients and dies from the disease himself, panic ensues. It turns out SARS is much more a virus to fear.
Inferno reveals some of the problems both domestic and international that dealing with a dangerous disease outbreak causes. There is much more than the immediate danger and the urgent need to treat those affected.
Years ago when my kids were toddlers, my brother said, "Have you ever thought of keeping sugar away from them completely?" Terry was diabetic (maybe the condition was exacerbated by the many fine rye and cokes he consumed) but it turns out he may have had a point. The Case Against Sugar presents a history of sugar (Did you know that desserts were an invention of the 1850's and that originally only the aristocrat class in Britain could afford sugar?) that reveals the efforts to import sugar, then to grow sugar beets, the use of slave labour and finally the efforts of Big Sugar (much like Big Tobacco) to market sugar to women and children. There is a lot of suppressed or under-reported research to implicate our huge sugar consumption with diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, cancer and Alzheimers. In short, the diseases of North America and Europe. As each indigenous culture's taste turns to sugar, the incidence (or in some cases, the actual appearance) of these diseases increases. We could be poisoning ourselves. Table sugar is about half glucose and half fructose. Fructose follows a different metabolic pathway than glucose and is processed in the liver. It doesn't show up in blood sugar BUT it stimulates fat production and insulin resistance which is the cause of type 2 diabetes. The trend of food processors to use high fructose corn syrup as a sweetner is likely developing more and more type 2, obese diabetics.
Gary Taubes is a science writer and admits that he is biased against sugar. He has included an extensive section and notes to support his opinions. The biggest problem with researching the effect of sugar on our health is the complexity of the kind of nutritional studies that need to be done. The Case Against Sugar isn't the easiest read but it certainly made me think.
I am an avid reader and like to share some of my "finds" with others.