Monthly Archives: December 2017

‘The Child Finder’ by Rene Denfeld

“Where are you, Madison Culver? Flying with the angels, a silver speck on a wing? Are you dreaming, buried under snow? Or—is it possible—you are still alive?”

A little girl disappears in the snowy woods on an expedition to cut a Christmas tree with her parents. One moment Madison is running ahead and playing in the snow, and the next she is gone. Three years later, a woman is determined to find her, convinced that she is alive. Naomi is a private investigator specializing in missing children…because she was once one herself. Despite the dark and disturbing subject matter of kidnapping and child abuse, there is a wave of hope and healing rippling through this book, although it may still be too sensitive a topic for those who have first hand experience with this unfortunate reality.

Alternating narratives between the child and the finder are beautifully and skillfully written–the lyrical prose not in any way bogging down the thriller quality, keeping the pace unstoppable. The author also deals very carefully with the difficult bits, not dwelling unnecessarily, but telling the story all the same. I think this is what helps her achieve the hopeful tone despite the subject matter. Yes, it is a thriller about child abuse, but it is also about love, compassion, survival, strength, rehabilitation, and healing. It is clearly a cut above the psychological thrillers so prevalent today because it has suspense and substance in equal measure–it illuminates in the darkness, and that is a significantly valuable role that literature can play in our lives.

‘The House of Unexpected Sisters’ by Alexander McCall Smith

The usual investigative crew is at it again, with many of the usual friends and villains. Tea is served and the story continues. Botswana is once again richly portrayed and described. The African sunsets are magnificent and a simple serene backdrop to the complicated activities of humans, especially those in need of  The No. 1 Ladies Detectives Mma Ramotswe and Mma Makutsi!

Precious and Grace trip through the mysteries with the help of an extended family which should by now be familiar to you if you have followed the series. Mma Ramotswe learns some unexpected things about herself in this 18th instalment and has to face up to some unsettling stuff, which she of course does with her usual wisdom, grace, and style. Mma Makutsi’s  husband’s furniture store name describes this series best–‘double comfort.’ Like I always say, we all need a series at times! 🙂

‘The Prisoner and the Chaplain’ by Michelle Berry

” The Prisoner and the Chaplain is about two men; one man awaiting execution, the other man listening to his story. As the hours drain away, the chaplain must decide if the prisoner’s story is an off-the-cuff confession or a last bid for salvation. As the chaplain listens he realizes a life has many stories, and he has his own story to tell. Each man is guilty in his own way, and their stories have led them to the same room, a room that only one of them will leave alive. If you had only twelve hours left to live, what would you have to say?”

I’ve always loved the simplicity of books or movies that take place in one room with only two characters. When done well it can be a very effective setting for a story to unfold. This one was well done. There is a suspenseful intensity that drives the novel forward, because the clock is literally ticking during this prisoner’s last 12 hours. I liked the humble nature of the Chaplain and though there are some brutal moments in some of the scenes, albeit it gently handled (we are talking death row here folks), it  is a reflective probe into the life of one criminal.

Incidentally, the author, a teacher of creative writing at the University of Toronto, also runs a bookstore in Peterborough called Hunter Street Books.

‘The High Road’ by Terry Fallis

True confessions of a non-re-reading book club member…this is the sequel to the hilarious Canadian classic political satire The Best Laid Plans. The best plan for me was to read the sequel (which I have been wanting to get to for awhile anyway), and hopefully use that to jog my memory of the first book which I read years ago. There were plenty of reminders in the second book about what happened in the first, so I think I’m good!

In this conclusion to the first book, Angus and Daniel are now properly elected to the federal government and have been given the task to discover why a bridge between Ottawa and Hull has collapsed. Angus McClintock, a Scottish friendly giant of an engineering professor, becomes an unlikely political candidate, not only because he only got into politics to avoid teaching English to engineering students, but because he refuses to engage in back-slapping, back-scratching, and backstabbing to meet his goals. He is a fresh and honest face in politics because he truly wants to achieve things that are going to be in the best interests of the public, not just to further his own agenda or career. And the best part about this book and its prequel is the sense of humour running throughout. These books are laugh out loud funny, making you feel somehow better about politics, even if you’re not Canadian.

‘Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces that Stand in the Way of True Inspiration’ by Ed Catmull

Need a Christmas gift for the ‘business/leadership’ person in your life? I really enjoyed this memoir by the head of Pixar Animation Studios. Catmull’s personal story is engaging and well written. It is full of great advice about how creativity and excellence can be fostered in the workplace. As head of Pixar (later bought out by Disney Studios), Catmull was a good friend and partner of Steve Jobs and other great talents in computer technology. He had an intuitive sense about how to give storytellers and filmmakers the freedom to develop ideas and make mistakes, and how to get these diverse people to work together, thereby arriving at the creative culture that brought us great films like Ratatouille, Up, Toy StoryFinding Nemo, and many more.

Even though there are lots of background reveals about the makings of these much admired animated films in the book, the focus is primarily on how the business evolved. There are amazing insights and sound advice along the way for leaders in any business or industry, who are interested in being intentional about managing innovation.