Review: Binary – John Lange (Michael Crichton)

2017: 73
3 of 5 stars
Published 1972

This short novel by Michael Crichton writing as John Lange early in his career, was actually the last one of 10 he wrote under a pseudonym between 1966 and 1972, 3 years after his first novel published under his own name, The Andromeda Strain, hit the best seller lists.

Binary is a thriller about the chase to prevent an insane man about to unleash a chemical weapon on San Diego on the weekend of the Republican Primary, with the President in attendance. What the naked woman on the book cover has to do with anything other than book sales, I couldn’t tell you! Very Pulp Fiction and of its time, I guess.

It’s a short novel, really not more than a novella in which Agent John Graves must piece together the clues to figure out what the impending attack will be, where and how and then work against a very clever villain who keeps one step ahead of him all the way. It’s real edge-of-your-seat stuff though the clues are almost painstakingly slow to come together at times because the reader knows more or less the nature of the attack and Graves does not.

Still, even in his early days, it’s evident Crichton can put together a page turner and it’s interesting to read some early computer-related stuff like how long it took to send a few pages of information by a telephone wire to be printed on the other side of the country and how data would be hacked and stolen. Cutting edge stuff in the early 70s but would be in a museum these days!

Review: The Chronicles of Avonlea – L. M. Montgomery

2017: 72
4 of 5 stars
Published 1912

Lucy Maud Montgomery is best known for Anne of Green Gables. She wrote many books about Anne Shirley but she also wrote about the Islanders and communities in and around Avonlea where Green Gables is. These are 12 stories about the men, women and children of various communities in the area around Avonlea and Carmody. Anne Shirley even gets name checked or makes a brief appearance now and then but the stories aren’t about her. They’re about an engaged couple that haven’t spoken in 15 years, or a proud old woman who sacrifices to do special things for the daughter of a lost love, or a young lad who has an extraordinary talent for the fiddle or two very different sisters trying to raise a young lad. We get heart warming stories, humourous stories, hopes and dreams all told in the superb prose of Montgomery, never cloyingly sweet or “folksy”, just prose glowing with wit and painting a perfect picture of rural Prince Edward Island and it’s inhabitants.

This book nearly completes my Cross Canada reading challenge. Just one for the Northwest Territories left, that will be “Late Nights on Air” by Elizabeth Hay.

Review: The Town that Drowned – Riel Nason

2017:71
4.5 of 5 stars
Published 2011

Ruby Carson falls through the ice while skating and has a vision as she nearly drowns. She sees her small town and 4 people under water and now everyone thinks she’s as weird as they think her brother is. But then surveyors come to town and the fate of it is to be sealed and flooded for a huge dam. The novel is a bit “coming of age” and a bit about having your home taken away. It takes place in the mid 1960s.

I really enjoyed this book. Ruby as a shy 14 – 16 year old, her interactions with the neighbours and her family are very real. Her younger brother, Percy, would be diagnosed as autistic today but that wasn’t known then. You just had an “odd” child and learned how to work with his need for everything to be the same all the time and how to handle his meltdowns when things changed. Percy is written with a very sympathetic and gentle characterization. We know he’s not weird, he’s just unique and though his mother is more understanding, we also see her worry and frustration and his confounded father’s anger at not having a son like everyone else’s. Ruby is outcast by her peers as well due to her vision which kind of turns out to be true. But the family and their close friends are people I’d like to know.

What’s very interesting is that this story is inspired by real events. There really is a Mactaquac Dam that was built in the mid 60s and the nearby towns were relocated before the flooding. A new planned town, a bridge and a pulp and paper mill were built. This book imagines what the impact would be on the ordinary people that lived in one of the villages that were flooded.

I’m nearly done with my Cross Canada Reading Challenge. This book covers the province of New Brunswick, with just one more province and one territory left to “read”.

Book podcasts

I won’t say I’m not a fan of podcasts, I just don’t seem to get round to them. I used to subscribe to a history podcast from the BBC History magazine (which is called something else now, History Extra, I think) and while they were interesting, I never seemed to keep up with them and I would end up with dozens of un-listened-to shows.

But that doesn’t mean they aren’t worth listening to. Podcasts are like radio but without the advertising breaks. I do listen to a fab ‘cast for my favourite television show, Coronation Street. It’s called Conversation Street and if you watch the show, you’ll enjoy it. (It’s a UK broadcast up to date with their episodes). That’s one podcast I never miss but it’s got nothing to do with books or reading.

I saw a link to a website today that has a very good book podcast hosted by an owner of an independent bookstore in Connecticut. Just the Right Book is hosted by Roxanne Coady.  It’s about a year old, there are 38 podcast episodes to date and they can all be listened to from the website or subscribed to on iTunes. You can also download them and play them on non-Apple devices.

From there, I jumped to Books on the Nightstand, which is no longer publishing new podcasts but does have nearly 400 back episodes you can stream or download. Episode #387 also has a list of other podcasts that a reader might find interesting.

BookRiot, a book blogging site, also has some podcasts, found here. Their main one has over 200 episodes. The others on the list of podcasts only have a handful of eps each. They can be subscribed on iTunes and also Google Play.

Now that I’ve started to look into this, I keep hearing the phrase “this way madness lies” and I can see I could get overwhelmed pretty quickly trying out all these podcasts. Just do a web search for “book podcasts” and look at the results!  The Guardian newspaper has a list of 10 “best” and BookRiot also comes up with a list of 25 “best”. This list, frankly, has some podcasts listed that intrigue me. Just the names alone are worth investigating, such as “Dear Bitches, Smart Authors” which is about the romance genre, “Drunk Booksellers“, “Lore” for horror fans (note to self, tell husband about this one), “Mugglecast” for Harry Potter fans,  and “So Many Damn Books” ( a pretty appropriate title!).  Both lists include a podcast from the Guardian, the New York Times Book Review and the New Yorker.

To bring this back to Canada, CBC has a radio show called The Next Chapter with host Shelagh Rogers and you can listen online to current and back episodes here. CBC also has Writers and Company with Eleanor Wachtel, with current and back episodes here. Canlit.ca has a Canadian perspective and “Write Reads” is a book club podcast out of Edmonton, Alberta though their streams don’t seem to be downloadable.

Many of those sites can be connected via iTunes and it looks like at least some of them allow downloading of the MP3 file of the ‘cast right off the website. That’s likely what I would do since I am not an Apple device person. But knowing me, I likely won’t keep up with any or many of them as interesting as some of them look. I’ve already downloaded a sampling and via this blog post, I can find them again via the links.

Someone that likes audiobooks will likely really enjoy podcasts and podcasts have their own dedicated fans as well. There are podcasts around the internet for any subject you can name, obviously, but since this is a blog for readers, that’s what you get from me today!

 

Review: Holding Still for as Long as Possible – Zoe Whittall

2017:70
3.5 of 5 stars
Published 2009

This was selected by my Goodreads Canadian Content group as the monthly group read for August, in conjunction with our monthly challenge to read books about LGBTQ characters or written by LGBTQ authors. I was happy that my library hold came through in time to read it for the group read and challenge.

The story follows a group of twenty something friends in Toronto as they try to figure out what they’re going to do with their lives, something a lot of people that age struggle with.  Josh is a transgender male who is a paramedic and we get a lot of inside info on what kind of toll that can take on the EMTs who save lives on a daily, or, in Josh’s case, nightly basis. Amy is his girlfriend, bisexual and a filmmaker. Hillary, who now calls herself Billy, used to be a famous pop star but is now struggling with severe panic attacks. Roxy seems to be the glue that holds them all together, the mutual friend that they all met through. Josh and Amy’s relationship is falling apart and Billy’s just broken up with her long term girlfriend.

There are new crushes, old loves, and people are just trying to figure it all out. The sexuality of the characters is secondary to the story, really. It is what it is. It doesn’t seem like the lives of these gay/trans characters are any different than others in the same generation, all facing adulthood, still not really settled into responsibility for the most part, Josh aside, who has a very responsible job but still, his personal  life is in upheaval. The story, the friendships, the getting-on-with-things, and that last push to full on adulthood, that’s what it’s about.

I did like the book and the story told from mainly three points of view, Josh, Billy and Amy. From my point of view, someone old enough to be a parent of any of these characters, it was a little harder to relate to them. My twenties were a lot more stable though they did end in divorce. It was a quick read and the second of Zoe Whittall’s I have read. I will be reading more from her.

Review: The Conjoined – Jen Sookfong Lee

2017:69
2.5 of 5 stars
Published 2016

Jessica’s mother has just died and she’s helping her father clear out the house. In one of the freezers in the basement, her father discovers a body and it turns out, there’s another body in the other freezer. Now there’s a shocker to start off a novel! Jessica’s mother, Donna,  took in foster children. There were two young teenage sisters that lived there for a short time in 1988 but who disappeared and these bodies appear to be those girls. What happened to them? Did Donna kill them and hide them all these years? Jessica finds it difficult to reconcile the mother she knew with that theory.

The novel looks back on the girls’ family history as well as Donna’s as Jessica digs down into the past to search out the truth. She ends up learning more about her mother and herself in the process.

I liked the book, though didn’t love it. Some of the flashback bits were told more than once, each with a bit more detail from a different point of view but I found that dragged a bit. It felt a bit unfocused at times. The ending really wasn’t quite as satisfying as I thought it would be, with the conclusion of the mystery left up to your imagination and assumption. There was no answer to how the teens were killed and the “why” might be assumed if you assume the identity of the one that did it. I did like the story in general and I liked the Vancouver setting.  It wasn’t that bad and it was a quick read but I felt let down a bit by the ending.