Author Archives: lakauz

The Light Keeper’s Daughter by Jean E. Pendziwol

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You can’t beat a local story by a local author and this novel excels in all departments. I literally could not put this book down as it drew me into the story of the lighthouse keeper on Porphyry Island and his two daughters Elizabeth and Emily. It is not possible to say much about the plot without giving away too many spoilers, but suffice it to say that there are enough twists and turns to keep you fully engaged right up to the last page.

The story is also told by another key character, Morgan, whose urban life in Thunder Bay is intimately connected (but unknown to her) with the light keepers daughters. I have noted that while English literature is shaped by history, Canadian literature is dominated by the natural environment, and the point is well proven in this novel. The real star of the show is the landscape, dominated by Porphyry Island, which is almost magical in its appeal. Silver Islet, the Sleeping Giant and Lake Superior also feature strongly.

Jean E. Pendziwol pulls you into her compelling narrative which contrasts the slow pace of an idyllic life growing up on Porphyry Island, to the fast pace and perils of modern city life. Porphyry was the second lighthouse constructed on the Canadian side of Lake Superior, and first lit the waters near Black Bay in 1873. Andrew Dick, the keeper on Porphyry Island from 1880 to 1910, left behind several personal journals that recorded his time at the light with his Indigenous wife Caroline and their ten children. These journals were the inspiration for The Lightkeeper’s Daughters which is a testament to the Canadian men and women who served as Great Lakes lighthouse keepers during the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

John Pateman is CEO/Chief Librarian at the Thunder Bay Public Library.

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Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

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In the follow-up to her bestselling novels, Me before You and After You, author Jojo Moyes has published  an  eclectic  collection of nine short stories each from a woman’s perspective and dealing with  a variety of themes from troubled relationships to near magical shoes. The longest story in the set is “Paris for One” and centres on Nell who by her own admission is “not the adventurous type”, but has given up a planned trip to Brighton to have a romantic trip to Paris with her boyfriend, Peter.  At the outset it is clear that Peter has no intention of joining her, and instead of following her routine inclinations and cancelling, she embarks for Paris on her own.  The weekend does not start promisingly when Nell finds her hotel has double booked her and she spends the first night sharing with a stranger.  Preserving she soon discovers the delights of the city and the company of an attractive Frenchman named Fabien.

My favourite tale is “Between the Tweets”  and follows a formerly popular TV personality with a squeaky clean image and sinking ratings.  Mr. Travis is being trolled on the internet by a woman who claims to have had a spicy relationship with him.  The story is a delight about a PR nightmare with an unusual twist.

Each tale in this collection is intriguingly written, and  the characters are well drawn (if not necessary all entirely likeable) using dialogue for the most part mixed with subtle narration . Moyes experience as a journalist as well as a fiction writer is evident in the succinct  use of description that give the barest of details and leaves much to the reader’s imagination.

This would be a great and quick read for Moyes fans and anyone would relishes the joys of an interesting short story.

 

Sting by Sandra Brown

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One of the perks of working in a library is getting recommendations from patrons on what they read and liked. Many of the novels that I have come to love the most were little gems that came from these suggestions, so when a number of library members with whom I normally share reading tastes said read “Sting” by Sandra Brown, I put it on my to-read list.  I’d read Sandra Brown years ago, when she was firmly in the romance or romantic suspense period of her career so I thought this would be more of the same and was delighted to find she’d carved out a great thriller, instead.

The novel begins with poised and polished Jordie Bennett in a seedy Southern bar, where she has attracted the attention of the bar patrons, especially two particular men.  Unknown to her, these men are hired assassins and she is their target.  Within a few pages, the hit has turned into a kidnapping as one of the killers, decides that rather than collecting a paltry sum for her death, he can shake her brother down for the 30 million in stolen mob money that he may have access to.  The story then twists into a neat little cat and mouse between Jordie and her kidnapper, Shaw Kinnard, a man with secrets of his own.  In this situation, Jordie must rely on her wits to survive.

“Sting” is like a roller coaster ride of a book, weaving happily in one direction before vering off somewhere completely different. I have read a number of thriller or romantic/thrillers but this one was full of surprises. Everything here works; the characters, the situation, the dialogue and the romantic elements complement each other well.

A number of writers who have honed their skills in the traditional romance market, like Catherine Coulter and Tess Gerritsen have moved on to write superb thrillers which I enjoy, now I will add Sandra Brown to that list. My only regret is that it took me forever to try her again. PS. I just checked out another of her books, “Friction”.

 

 

Stalin’s Englishman: the lives of Guy Burgess by Andrew Lownie

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The story of the Cambridge Spy Ring, or the Magnifivent Five as they were dubbed by the media, continues to be of interest, long after the Cold War ended. How did this group of young, wealthy, Cambridge University students fall into the clutches of the Soviet Union during the 1930s? The reality is that Burgess, Maclean, Philby, Blunt and Cairncross, all brilliant young men, were very willing recruits because, in the polarised politics of the time, they saw it as a simple choice between Fascism or Communism, and they chose the latter.

Guy Burgess was the most important, complex and fascinating of the Cambridge Spies. An engaging and charming companion to many, an unappealing, utterly ruthless manipulator to others, Burgess rose through academia, the BBC, the Foreign Office, MI5 and MI6, gaining access to thousands of highly secret documents which he passed to his Russian handlers. And he did all of this in plain sight while drawing attention to himself via a disolute and promiscuous lifestyle. There was no security vetting in those days. The only entry requirements were that you went to Eton and Oxbridge and came from a ‘good family’. It was all about the connections which tied the ruling class together.

Burgess lost his father at an early age and some have speculated that this may have influenced his later direction in life. He was devoted to his mother and was an outstanding Cambridge undergraduate. He joined the Cambridge University Socialist Society and came into contact with other rich young men who were attracted to Marxism and how it was being implemented in the Soviet Union. His comrades included John Cornford, who was killed in the Spanish Civil War, and James Klugmann, who went on to become a skilled organiser within the Communist Party of Britain.

This is Andrew Lownie’s first full biography and he draws a rich picture of Guy Burgess’s lives, both personal and political. He shows how Burgess’s chaotic personal life of drunken philandering did nothing to stop his penetration of the British Intelligence Service. Even when he was under suspicion, the fabled charm which enabled close personal relationships with numerous influential figures prevented his exposure as a spy for many years. But it was the exposure of Donald Maclean which led to Burgess’s exile in Russia. Maclean was tipped off by Kim Philby and had to be smuggled out of the country. Burgess was instructed to escort Maclean to Europe, where we would be taken care of by his Soviet handlers. Burgess did not realise that he had been given a one way ticket and that he would become a fellow defector with Maclean in Moscow.

Burgess and Maclean left England in 1951 and disappeared for the next five years. Their mystery was solved when Tom Driberg visited them in Moscow and published Guy Burgess: a portrait with background in 1956. Burgess was not happy in Moscow and missed his mother, friends and London life. When he died in 1963 his ashes were sent back to England and placed in the family plot besides those of his father. Guy Burgess had finally had his wish and returned home.

Through interviews with over a hundred people who knew Burgess personally, many of whom have never spoken about him before, and the discovery of hitherto secret files, Stalin’s Englishman brilliantly unravels the many lives of Guy Burgess in all their intriguing, chilling, colourful, tragic-comic reality.

Review by John Pateman -Chief Librarian/CEO Thunder Bay Public Library

Someone You Know by Brian McGilloway

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someoneOn my first trip to Ireland, I found myself in a bookstore discovering a number of new authors to me, including couple of great mystery writers, Liz Nugent and Brian McGilloway.  While, Nugent has yet to break the North American market, McGilloway has been quietly building a fan base with his Benedict Devlin and DS Lucy Black series.  Both writers are very distinctly Irish and the landscape, the language and the history of Ireland figure into the subplots giving a flavour to the books that adds to experience.

“Someone You Know” is the second in the Lucy Black series and begins about two weeks before Christmas, when the body of an at-risk sixteen-year-old girl is found lying on the train tracks. The body was placed there just before a scheduled train run but a railroad mechanical failure prevented the murder from looking like a suicide.  The girl was known to the police due to her tragic home life and had disappeared from a care home a few days before her death. It quickly becomes clear that as well as the victim a number of other girls are being groomed by a stalker and that the police are in a race against time to prevent more murders. The identity of the killer seems obvious at first until a series of twists take both the reader and the police into unexpected directions.

Lucy Black grounds the book with a deep back story that is woven into her persona and effects hurt2how she works through the mystery.  She is a damaged character, carrying the scars of a broken childhood with conflicted feelings about her father, who is suffering from dementia and her mother who abandoned the family but is now working as an administrator for the police force.  The secrets she carries have made it difficult to trust anyone but empathic to the victimized and abused women and children that make up her caseload.

When I saw the book on the shelves at Eason, (the Irish equivalent of Chapters), the novel was called Hurt, but whatever the title it’s a great read and the perfect choice to introduce you to a fabulous series.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

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In the follow-up to his debut novel, Rules of Civility, author Amor Towles has written another fascinating and lyrical historical novel that captures the essence of a not so distant past.  This novel follows the story of Count Alexander Rostov , one of the last remaining members of the aristocracy left in Russia following the Revolution.  Rostov, a man of wit, charm and education who has never worked a day in his life is sentenced by a Bolshevik tribunal as being an unrepentant aristocrat and sentenced to house arrest at the Hotel Metropol, which sits across the street from the Kremlin.  Instead of a large palace or a luxury suite, he is stripped of his possessions and forced to live in a small attic room for over 30 years.

Rostov is not crushed by the change in his circumstances,  and instead develops close relationships with the staff and the regular guests at the hotel.  Against the backdrop of world events, Rostov observes the world and engages the interest and the friendship of a precocious nine-year-old named Nina.  As the years pass, it is Rostov’s charm and friendships that keep him safe from the purges that plague the outside world, despite a close relationship with the American ambassador Richard Wilshire.

Both of his novels are a joy to read, and the author’s love of language and wordplay is evident, as is his ability to illustrate overwhelmingly complicated situations with the use of quiet observation.  Rostov would be what my mother called a “charmer”, with the innate ability to understand human nature and gently manipulate situations to his advantage.  While the novel covers decades of fictional time, I was saddened to close the final page and look foward to any further works by Towles.

hotelmetropolLobby of the Hotel Metropol in Moscow, built in 1905.

Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

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womancabinIn the wake of books like Gone Girl and Girl on a Train, the latest novel by author Ruth Ware has been receiving a lot of press, as it combines first person point of view of a character that may or may not be an unreliable narrator and the classic crime story of a locked door mystery.

Travel writer Lo Blacklock has scored a prime assignment for her magazine to cover the inaugural voyage of an ultra luxury cruise liner through the Baltic Sea to view the Northern Lights.   Following a night of partying, Lo wakes to what she believes is the tossing of a woman off the side of the boat. When she reports the crime, everyone claims that no one is missing and the cabin beside her was empty, but Lo remembers the woman, having borrowed mascara from her.  Is she imagining things or is everyone conspiring against her?  In the days leading up to the trip, Lo’s apartment was burgled and she is suffering from vivid nightmares and sleep deprivation; combine that with drinking and prescription medication, perhaps, she is wrong, so why is her gut telling her that she’s in danger?

The book is set in the modern day but carries the feeling of a golden age mystery like “The Lady Vanishes” or “Murder on the Orient Express” as our technology does us no good in the middle of the ocean, where we are isolated and at the mercy of others.  This is an excellent read and Ware, the author of “In a Dark, Dark Wood” knows how to write a tight mystery. Despite enjoying the book, I must admit I never warmed to Lo, who is a conflicted and complex character, but would recommend this as a read for a cold winter night.