A Map of Glass, Jane Urquhart

Jane Urquhart is one of my favorite authors, as you can probably tell by how many of her books I’ve reviewed here. I first heard of her some years ago at the International Festival of Authors in Toronto. She was introduced by Timothy Findley, another of my favorite authors and one who is sorely missed. She in turn acknowledged him as one of her mentors. Before you say, oh those Canadians are so polite, let me just add that I have found this great generosity in every writing community into which I’ve stuck a toe.

Appropriately enough for this season of extraordinary cold and snowfall, this novel starts with an older man stumbling through the snow, a man whom we quickly understand seems to be suffering from a form of dementia. However, he is driven to find a place, an island, and has a map of shoreline in his mind even when the words to describe it have been lost.

The man is Andrew Woodman. His frozen body is found on the island at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River by Jerome McNaughton, an artist who has come at the tail end of winter to find inspiration in the grim landscape. While not sure of what he is after, Jerome is drawn to decay and change, winter ice breaking up, branches hanging on still to last season’s twigs and seed pods. “But it was not the quickening of nature that intrigued him, rather the idea of nature’s memory and the way this unstable broken river had build itself briefly into another shape, another form, before collapsing back into what was expected of it.”

When he returns to Toronto, Jerome is sought out by Sylvia Bradley, a housewife living 30 miles from the island, a woman who has been severely sheltered. Seeing the world through her eyes, we understand why her parents and then husband keep her so enclosed: as a child she was so overwhelmed by the world that she made it go away most of the time. She fixated on rituals and the small things of her enclosed world.

Sylvia has developed a friendship with Julia, a blind woman for whom she makes tactile maps of places out of fabric and other materials. However, the great change in Sylvia’s life came when she met Andrew, a casual encounter on a street in town, and through him learned about love and the joy and pain and attention that comes with it.

When I was a child, I believed in places rather than people. Trees and shorelines and paths through the woods seemed more reliable to me, more constant. I was shattered to learn that this was not true, that trees may be cut down, shorelines eroded, and beloved places sold out from under you to be transformed beyond recognition.

This is a book about a place, seen through the lens of people who lived there. It’s about what we can learn of people through their places. Through Andrew’s journals we learn more about the island and the peninsula by it where Sylvia and Andrew’s ancestors live. We learn how these people are changed by this place and the place changed by them. Jerome says, “‘. . . after reading Andrew’s journals, I think maybe landscape—place—makes people more knowable. Or it did in the past. It seems there’s not much of that left now. Everyone’s moving, and the landscape, well, the landscape is disappearing.'”

Within this absorbing story of Sylvia and Jerome and Andrew lies a profound meditation on love and memory and geography and change. I was deeply moved by this story and came to a new understanding and acceptance of losses that still haunt my dreams.

What places hold great significance for you?

The Spare Room, Helen Garner

This novel is a small masterpiece. It opens with Helen preparing her spare room for an expected visitor, her friend Nicola who is coming to Melbourne for a three-week course of treatment for her cancer. Sounds grim, but there are humorous notes even on the first page as we learn that Nicola will care about the feng shui aspects of the room. In fact, Nicola doesn't believe in traditional medicine but instead puts her faith in Chinese herbs and magnetism and just about any other alternative treatment she can find. She gaily assures Helen that her cancer will be completely cured by the end of the three weeks.

The more rational Helen tries to go along with her friend's whims, but is shocked by how debilitated Nicola is, how much worse her condition is than described. Much of the push-pull of the story involves Helen fluctuating between respecting her friend's independence and wanting to knock some sense into her.

In addition to Nicola's life, Helen's own sense of herself is at stake. She thinks of herself as a good friend, as someone who is good in an emergency—qualities that are put to the test by Nicola's worsening condition. I think of myself as a good friend to have but can't imagine there are many people I'd be willing to care for as Helen does: up most of the night repeatedly changing the sheets and Nicola's nightgown, biting her tongue as Nicola swears that the pain is just the toxins working their way out. In the meantime, Helen has set her own life aside, including her writing and her relationship with her grandchildren who live next door.

How much do we owe each other? What of ourselves should we give up for others? I have always been clear that, for me at least, there is no limit to what I would give up for my children. There was a limit, however, to what I was willing to give up for my elderly parents, to what I was willing to do for them. Mind you, it was pretty far out there: the boundary was that I would not quit my job and move in with them to be a full-time caregiver and companion. However, if their circumstances had been different, if they hadn't been well able to afford the alternatives which were in fact much more effective for their situations, I might have decided differently. I see many of my friends struggling to define these boundaries now.

And that's family. What about friends? I was comforted and delighted when a community came together to help a friend with early-onset Alzheimer's who had no family besides a distant sister.

There is little rumination in this book; events move too fast for that. Scene follows scene, laughter mixed with fear, annoyance mixed with affection. It's a remarkable story that will make you think about your own place in the world and your own loved ones.

How much of your life would you give up to help a friend?

Pascali’s Island, by Barry Unsworth

In the waning days of the Ottoman Empire, Basil Pascali has drawn a small salary from the Sultan for the last 20 years in return for sending reports of suspicious activities on the island where he lives. Nisi is a fictional Greek island occupied by the Turks. However, the Sultan's machinery of empire has grown so complex—byzantine, indeed—and his network of informers so vast, that Pascali's efforts go unacknowledged, perhaps even unread.

Except by us. The book is a series of reports to the Sultan in Pascali's inimitable voice. However formally he starts out, he quickly moves into an informal, gossipy tone, sharing details of his meals and fantasies. He even reveals that he has sometimes made up suspicious items to juice up his reports.

No need to do that now. A mysterious Englishman, Anthony Bowles, shows up wanting to do archeological research on the island and employing Pascali as a translator for his dealings with the local Pasha. Pascali also introduces Bowles to his friend Lydia, a bohemian artist who lives on the island, and the two quickly become close. Pascali tries to discover what Bowles is actually up to on the island, almost certainly something nefarious. At the same time, he must tread carefully so as not to offend the Pasha.

For me, this book was the rare instance of seeing a movie first, the 1988 film starring Ben Kingsley, Charles Dance, and Helen Mirren. I loved the film. How could I not with three of my favorite stars? I was fascinated by the decaying empire that had become too large and complex to survive. But the two things I loved most about the film were the depiction of Lydia's lifestyle and Pascali's loquacious but futile missives to the Sultan.

Unfortunately, Lydia's role in the book is much more circumscribed. However, Pascali's narration is given the limelight. The Sultan is so remote and so far above him, yet over 20 years of report-writing become so familiar, that Pascali alternates between prostrating himself to the Sultan and chatting with him. It's as though he's writing to god. In fact, he reminded me of a character in one of Jane Langton's books who writes letters to god and then balls up the paper and throws it up into the air. I think all writers must feel that way sometimes, that we are throwing our words out into the void, never knowing if anyone is paying attention.

I highly recommend both the book and the film. The book is a fantastic example of the use of voice—Pascali's voice alone could carry the book even without all the mysterious happenings and hidden agendas. With them, we have an exciting and thought-provoking read, one that makes me wonder once again how much we can know about the people around us, even those close to us.

What book have you read where the narrator's voice was irresistable?

Dark Southern Sun, by Shaun J. McLaughlin

This historical novel begins with two children coming upon the body of a man who has washed up on the beach. We're in Australia in 1845. The children debate whether the man is alive, the girl certain he is, the boy doubtful. A gull swoops and, deciding he is carrion, nips his hand. The hand twitches, settling the question.

It is Ryan, whom we first encountered in Cross Currents, which followed Ryan’s adventures in the Patriot War.

The children bring him water and fetch adults to help him. Gradually he heals and begins to learn the language of the Wathaurung, an indigenous people. The boy, Weeyn, is able to help, having learned some English. The people name Ryan Warrain, which means Belongs to the Sea.

So begins Ryan's adventures in Australia. He has escaped from the penal colony on Van Diemen's Land (later Tasmania and now part of Australia) and is eager to use his strength and his skills to carve out a life for himself. He tangles first with Walter Fraser, a white man who started the school where Weeyn learned English but who has a bad attitude toward the native people. Ryan also gets in trouble with Loklok, a warrior from a related tribe who is engaged to the girl who found Ryan, Alinga, and is jealous of her feelings for the white man. After a fight with Loklok, it seems better for Ryan to go. He hires on at a sheep ranch.

In the ten years that follow, Ryan not only survives but prospers. He starts several businesses, all successful, though he is dogged by the enemies he's made: Fraser and Loklok. McLaughlin emphasises the adventure inherent in starting businesses from scratch in a new land. As in the excellent television series Deadwood about the western U.S., we follow the baby steps of the settlers as they move from frontier to civilised society. Ryan becomes peripherally involved in an uprising by settlers objecting to British taxes. This is one of the few times he refers back to his life in Canada and his experience there of strategy and guerilla warfare.

The characters are well drawn. We see Ryan's shortcomings as well as his virtues. Even Loklok and Fraser have some internal conflicts. Loklok and Fraser are convincing, in part because they do have some good qualities, but also because we get hints as to how they became the men they are.

The story has lots of historical detail. I'm not expert enough to verify its accuracy, but certainly McLaughlin cites many sources. In the Note at the end he explains what elements of the story are fictional (all of the main characters) and what are nonfictional, describing the real people on whom some of the characters are based and the revolt against the British. McLaughlin also provides a glossary of Wadawurrung words used, though I didn't need to use it, finding the context sufficient.

The action is pretty non-stop, but I enjoyed especially the rare descriptions of the land.

Ryan can now appreciate the scenery he missed the day he washed ashore. A river ten paces wide at the mouth penetrates the land without rapids or obstacle as far as he can see from the beach. Behind the row of dunes, a narrow tableland abuts a wall of precipitous hills. Row upon row of gum trees cover the slopes. Ryan catches glimpses of nearby thick trunks through which parrots of green, red and blue dart with noisy squawks. In the distance, the conglomeration of treetops reminds Ryan of a green, woolen sweater draped across broad shoulders.

While this is a sequel to McLaughlin's novel about the Patriot Wars, it can be read as a standalone. Anyone who enjoys historical novels, stories of adventure, or Australia's early days will like this book.

Are you fascinated by Australia? Why?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a digital copy of this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Mastering the Craft of Compelling Storytelling, by Ray Rhamey

This book is a great resource for both beginning and experienced writers. While there are many books on the craft of writing, what makes Rahmey’s book stand out is his focus on making your story grip readers and compel us to read on.

On his blog, Flogging the Quill, Rhamey regularly presents the first page of a work in progress that has been submitted to the blog. He invites readers to vote on whether they would continue reading (yes/no/maybe). Then he gives his own vote and his rationale. Not only does this provide valuable feedback to the author of the page, but all writers can learn a lot from reading and voting and perusing Rhamey's responses.

This new craft book is a boon to writers. It contains specific explanations and tips for writers, all delivered in an easygoing style that makes the medicine go down easily. Rhamey, whom I met at a recent writer's conference, includes copious examples and quotes from other writing gurus. He even inserts a few cartoons to keep things lively.

Underlying Rhamey's specific advice for creating an irresistible story is a principle he calls writing for effect.

In storytelling, you’re not writing to inform the reader—you deliver information, of course, but that's not the purpose—you're writing to affect the reader. To craft narrative that creates an effect in the reader's mind—the experience of the story.

Rhamey offers sections that range from the big picture, such as how to how to create complex characters, to the smallest, such as the section on wordcraft where he demonstrates how certain words can weaken the story. He describes techniques for storytelling, description and dialogue, providing multiple examples for illustration. I especially like his description of how to handle transitions and flashbacks. These are often stumbling blocks for even experienced writers.

Best of all, there are exercises at the end where you can test your chops against some of the first pages submitted to his blog and then see what he has to say about them.

For me, the most effective use of this book is during the revision stage. It's easy for me to get hung up on revising the first chapter over and over. To do this kind of critiquing, I have to switch from my creative brain to a more analytical mindset, which is better done after I've finished a first draft. However, others may find it useful to read while still planning their opus, especially the sections on crafting characters and choosing a point of view.

I recommend this book to writers who want to keep their readers turning page after page, compelled by the story to go on.

If you want to submit your first page to Rhamey’s blog, see the directions on his website. He also provides a first page checklist, excerpted from this book, and suggests that you evaluate your first page against it before submitting.

Writers: what craft book have you found most helpful?

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a digital copy of this book free from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Passport to Peril, by Robert B. Parker

No, not that Robert B. Parker. This isn’t a Spenser novel. This Robert B. Parker—no relation—was a foreign correspondent who was on the ground in countries such as Germany, Hungary, Turkey and Spain for many of the early 20th century’s key events. He found time to write a number of suspenseful spy novels full of the insider knowledge acquired through his journalistic travels.

This 1951 thriller starts on the Orient Express between Vienna and Budapest. In order to get into Russian-occupied Hungary, John Stodder had bought a false passport in Vienna. He couldn’t travel under his own name; the Russians had refused him access because of uncomplimentary articles he’d written. He wasn’t after a story, at least not one for the paper. He wanted to find out what had happened to his brother during the war.

The only problem is that his passport belongs to a dead man, Marcel Blaye, who had been murdered only the previous day. He discovers this when Blaye’s beautiful and terrified assistant enters his compartment where she had been booked to travel with her employer. The man Blaye told her wanted to kill him lurked in the corridor outside.

The non-stop action begins, as Stodder realises that his passport won’t work at the border where they will be looking for Blaye’s murderer. The chase is on, as Stodder and Maria try to elude, not just the man in the corridor, but Russian soldiers and a mysterious Polish countess. They also have to decide what to do about Blaye’s mission and find the truth about Stodder’s brother.

What makes this story stand out are the details about places and politics. It’s an exciting story, with all kinds of twists and turns. Like an Alfred Hitchcock film, we have an ordinary man finding himself suddenly in extraordinary and dangerous circumstances. I never tire of the courage and resourcefulness the most ordinary person can display when neeeded.

Some fellow writers and I were discussing whether books could have too much suspense. Most of us agreed that the pacing had to vary, as it does here with moments of regrouping and recuperation. They don’t last long, but they help maintain the interest. We also liked some comic relief, here provided by the most unlikely pair of U.S. spies you can imagine. Plus there’s a nightclub where the dance floor rotates and booths drop to the basement and rise again at the touch of a button.

If you miss the spy novels of the 1950s, pick up this one, newly reissued by Hard Case Crime. It won’t disappoint. Then if you want, you can pick up a Spenser novel and leave the bitterly cold world of spies for the mysteries of Boston.

What spy novels have you enjoyed?

Best books I read in 2014

As a writer, I learn something from every book I read. These are the ten best books I read in 2014. Please check the links to the blog archive for a fuller discussion of each book.

1. The Empty Family, by Colm Tóibín

Tóibín has long been one of my favorite authors. This collection of short stories only confirms my appreciation of his work. There are silences at the heart of many of the stories in this collection. I think about what is not said, what core of emotional truth becomes the secret spring for a story. By the end I felt as though I’d lived an additional nine lives.

2. The Rings of Saturn, by W.G. Sebald

I’d been meaning to read this book for some time. It’s ostensibly a travel memoir, a record of a walking tour of Suffolk, on the east coast of England that Sebald took in August, 1992, yet he moves through history, literature, and philosophy. He infuses his stories of what has been lost or forgotten with plenty of drama. This is a book I will long treasure and return to.

3. Andrew Wyeth, Looking Out, Looking In

I loved this exhibit at the National Gallery, but I also loved the essays in this catalogue by Nancy K. Anderson and Charles Brock. I’ve longed been fascinated by thresholds and other liminal spaces, but had never really thought about windows before. These essays deepened my thinking and pushed it in new directions.

4. The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, by Rainer Maria Rilke

This novel by one of my favorite poets plunges the reader deep into the mind of a troubled young man, seducing us with poetic prose that draws us in ever deeper. Twenty-eight-year-old Malte leads a solitary life in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century. He walks the streets, dismayed by the poverty and despair of the people he sees. Death is all around him: a man dying near him in a cafe, a young girl dying in front of his eyes on a trolley. He says, “I have no roof over me, and it is raining into my eyes.”

5. The Stone Carvers, by Jane Urquhart

Urquhart is one of my favorite writers, and this is one of her best books. I find it hard to summarize because of its complexity, though it reads like a dream. It’s about people with big dreams: to build a huge stone church with a bell in remote pioneer settlement in Ontario, to build a huge monument to the Canadian dead at Vimy Ridge. It’s about people with small dreams: to marry and create a home, to find the next meal, to preserve the names of the dead.

6. World Within World, by Stephen Spender

This autobiography by the well-known British poet has been called “the best autobiography in English written in the twentieth century.” The appeal of this book lies in his openness. Spender gives us simultaneously the story of his emotional, intellectual, political and poetic journeys during the years 1928-1939. He brings out the inner and outer conflicts of his time, as he pursues his goals first of trying to discover his real self and then to find a right relation to the world.

7. Call the Midwife: A Memoir of Birth, Joy, and Hard Times, by Jennifer Worth

I’ve greatly enjoyed this series on PBS, but this book (the first of three) is even better than the show. In the early 1950s Worth, then Jennifer Lee, having trained as a nurse, was placed at an Anglican community of nuns to learn midwifery. Together with the nuns and two other young midwives-in-training, Worth serves the vibrant but shockingly poor Cockney East-Enders, as a midwife but also on occasion as a district nurse. Her stories of her fellow midwives and the characters she meets are funny and sad and enchanting.

8. A Thousand Years of Good Prayers, by Yiyun Li

Yiyun Li’s short stories bring to life a world of people far removed from the headlines and stereotypes. Some are set in China and some in the U.S., but most include or reference the tension of sons, daughters, or fiancés who have gone to the U.S. to study and may or may not return. All are told in the voice of a storyteller, one who gives us an entrée into the lives of ordinary people with astonishing stories to tell. I love the way Li uses subtle turns of phrase, as well as proverbs, aphorisms, and references to mythology to convey the flavor of Chinese dialogue.

9. The Weight of a Human Heart, by Ryan O’Neill

Nearly all of the stories in this collection have some kind of experimental format: one is a series of figures; another a list of rules for writing a short story; yet another an examination paper. Some, such as the one told by labeling the components of a short story, probably appeal most to other writers. However, they are clever and surprisingly effective.

10. Myth of the Welfare Queen, by David Zucchino

Zucchino is a journalist who in this extremely well written book sets out to explode the stereotype of the welfare queen by introducing us to two remarkable women. Although the story takes place 15 years after I went off of welfare, there is much that I recognise. The truly sad part of the book is that Zucchino's portrait of the two women is just before Clinton signed the welfare reform act in 1996 that effectively removed the safety net. So as hard as the lives are of those portrayed in this book, we know they are about to get a lot harder.

What were the best books you read last year?

The Last Place, by Laura Lippman

One of the advantages of a faltering memory is that I can reread mysteries feeling just as much suspense as the first time around. This 2002 book starts with Lippman’s sleuth, Tess Monaghan, pulling a caper with her preppy terrorist friend.

Whitney isn’t really a terrorist, but she’s pretty scary. Combining a sense of entitlement with a willingness to kick butt in a good cause, she may be my favorite character in the Tess novels. Here, she and Tess are out to, er, discourage a pedophile who made the mistake of preying on Whitney’s underage cousin. They get a bit carried away, ending up with Tess, who hid Whitney’s involvement, in court-ordered therapy.

Penitent and grateful, Whitney recommends Tess’s services to a group pushing domestic violence legislation. The task is to investigate five unsolved homicides that appear to be the result of domestic violence, in the hope of showing that stronger legislation is needed. Unfortunately, and much to Tess’s dismay, one member of the group is wealthy Luisa O’Neal, with whom Tess tangled in an earlier book. Interspersed with Tess’s investigation are brief chapters giving us the thoughts of someone who is following Tess and appears to be obsessed with her.

As always, Lippman superbly manages the threads of the five homicides, Luisa O’Neal, and the predator following Tess. There are enough subtle reminders to enable the reader to keep the different characters straight, even as we, along with Tess, are led into a more and more complex maze.

As so often with mysteries—and an aspect I love—this story shows how the present has been molded by the past. Each character bears the fingerprints of his or her experiences. Another aspect I love is the chance to inhabit other lives; for me here it is the lives of watermen and women on the small, disappearing islands in the Chesapeake Bay.

But what I appreciate most about Lippman’s books are the endings. So many otherwise excellent books trail off or stop abruptly, as though the author got tired of writing. There is no deus ex machina here, no dangling threads, only the conclusions that the story’s characters and events make inevitable.

In a series such as this, we have the comfort of familiar characters such as Tess and Whitney along with the chance to see more deeply into them with each installment. Watching Tess joust with her therapist in this book made me see another side to her. It’s been four years since the last Tess Monaghan book. A new one, Hush Hush, comes out next month. Much as I enjoy Lippman’s standalone novels, I’m eager to delve into Tess’s new adventures.

What’s your favorite book by Laura Lippman?

The Raven Boys, by Maggie Stiefvater

This is not the sort of book I usually read. The hint of anything paranormal is enough to make me abandon almost any book. However, the holiday season with its memories of childhood sent me back to the sort of Young Adult books I loved back then: stories of ordinary kids stumbling across a bit of magic.

Blue Sargent has her hands full with school, waitressing at Milo’s pizza place, walking dogs, tutoring children, and various other activities. You might think her an ordinary teen if it weren’t for her mother and the other women—aunt, cousin, friends—who sometimes or mostly live in the house at 300 Fox Way, all of them psychics, true ones, though as Blue’s mother says, “‘accurate but not specific'”. However, Maura and her fellow psychics have no trouble being specific about Blue’s future: if she kisses her true love, he will die.

True love hasn’t been on the menu for Blue, and certainly not with the boys from the local prep school, Aglionby, whom she calls raven boys for the school patch on their jackets featuring a raven. When four of them show up at Milo’s and one who displays the slick grace of a president asks if she would come talk to his friend who thinks she’s cute, Blue responds with disdain.

When not in class or eating pizza, the four boys are consumed by a quest. It’s really the President’s quest but he has fired the imagination of his three friends and they willingly take on the tasks he assigns them. They want to map the ley line—one of the ancient lines of power that hippies and New Agers have been scouting for decades—that runs through this town of Henrietta, Virginia, and to discover and rouse what they think is buried there.

I found the writing extraordinary. The teens, Blue and the four boys, are vividly drawn, genuine in their actions, words and environments. Their seemingly ordinary teen-ness gives way to a deeper understanding of the way in which each is damaged, details that are fed out slowly throughout the story. And Stiefvater slips in bits of characterisation that bring them into focus. For example one of the boys is messing about with wood, and is asked what his plan is.

Ronan smiled his lizard smile. “Ramp. BMW. The goddamn moon.”

This was so like Ronan. His room inside Monmouth was filled with expensive toys, but, like a spoiled child, he ended up playing outside with sticks.

Of course, this is only one of the many facets of Ronan.

Cryptic predictions and comments by Blue’s mother and her cohorts combined with the triteness of everyday life often make scenes at home hilarious. For instance, one of them asks for grape juice to pour into a bowl to see the future. Blue holds up a jug of Cran-Grape. “‘That will work fine,'” the seer says. However, it is a death she wants to see, and the scene effortlessly shifts from silly to serious.

That is one of the great strengths of this book: the way scenes hold a range of emotions and move between them so naturally that it is only looking back that I can marvel at the tiny turning points. Often in manuscripts I see single emotions: this is the scene where he is angry; this is the one where he is tender. But we are more complex than that. We can experience a dozen emotions just walking from one room into another.

Another great strength is what Donald Maass, literary agent and author, in his recent book, Writing 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling, calls micro-tension. These are the questions and conflicts that make us keep reading page after page, long after we should have turned out the light.

Stiefvater does this in many ways, one of which is with slight asides that create a little question in the reader’s mind. For example, in a conversation between Blue and one of her mother’s friends: “‘And you have plenty of time to grow into your own intuitive talents,’ Neeve added. Her gaze seemed hungry.” Why hungry? I must read on! Of course, it’s important not to do this too often, and Stiefvater uses it sparingly.

Her dialogue also keeps the reader alert. Her characters often don’t respond directly to what’s been said, and even when they do it can create that little tension-producing gap. Here’s Blue talking with Gansey, the President boy, about her talent for enhancing other people’s psychic ability:

“Yes,” she said, “I guess I make things that need energy stronger. I’m like a walking battery.”
“You’re the table everyone wants at Starbucks,” Gansey mused as he began to walk again.
Blue blinked, “What?”
Over his shoulder, Gansey said, “Next to the wall plug.”

The one fault in the book is the ending. Like so many books these days, it just falls off after a climactic scene, as though the author got tired of writing, leaving many story questions unanswered. Of course, this is the first in a projected four-book series (three published so far), so perhaps the dangling threads are meant to make us read the next book. However, that seems like a cheap trick from such an accomplished author.

What makes you keep reading?

Playlist 2014

My expectations for this year have all been overturned. I was certain that I knew what the shape of this year would be, this changed life. But my ideas were replaced by new, maybe better dreams and plenty. Thes are the songs that kept me company. Many thanks to my friends for their music.

These Days, Tom Rush
Urge For Going, Tom Rush
Time Has Told Me, Nick Drake
Blue Moon With Heartache, Rosanne Cash
Open Road , Michael G. Ronstadt
Diamonds On The Soles Of Her Shoes, Paul Simon
Harvest Tune, Mike Marshall & Chris Thile
J.S. Bach: The Goldberg Variations, No. 1, Mike Marshall & Chris Thile
Arctic Air, Malmö Academic Choir & Orchestra
Underbar En Stjärna Blid, Malmö Academic Choir & Orchestra
Gift Horse / Over The Water, Craig Taborn
There's The Day, Cathal McConnell
No Money, Ben Moss & Laurel Swift
It's Alright, Precious Bryant
Rise Up, 3rd String Trio
Cinecitta, 3rd String Trio
Ah, Mari, 3rd String Trio
Vent D'Automne, 3rd String Trio
The Introduction (Carolan's Cottage), Daron Douglas And Karen Axelrod
Miss Thornton's / Mason's Apron, The Latter Day Lizards
Arran Boat/Paddy Fahey's/Devlin's/Bagdad Bully, Alexander Mitchell
Candles In The Dark, Alexander Mitchell
Seamus O'Brien, The Latter Day Lizards
Bright Morning Stars are Rising, Jacqueline Schwab
The Dreamer, Tom Rush

What have you been listening to?