It feels like I didn’t read as much this month as I should have. Yet, as I looked backed I discovered I had finished four books during the month. Perhaps the reason for the light feeling to my June 2019 roundup is the fact that I’ve had one academic book that I’ve been labouring away at for several weeks.
When it gets right down to it, having trouble getting through books could be the theme of the month. Two of the titles were books that I had made more than one start on, and a third was one that I had intended to read but never got around to starting at all. So, here goes.
This is one of the books that took me more than one crack to read. I started the book at Strong Badger Coffeehouse. Although the books at the shop were for sale, Brock, the owner, had no problem with people picking a book up off the shelf to read with their coffee. That’s what I did with Watchman. Until, of course, I came in one day and found out that someone had purchased the book. So, I had to keep my eyes open until I could find another copy.
Watchman is one of Rankin’s earliest books, and one that doesn’t feature John Rebus. Instead, the main character is Miles Flint. Flint is a watcher, a member of British intelligence whose job is to keep an eye on targets, but not to step in. Flint initially appears to be the dull, dutiful company man. A man who specializes in not getting noticed. His life, including his wife and son, seems predictable almost to the point of being scripted.
He wasn’t always this way, and he is unhappy with who he has become. So, one day he tags along on a mission that goes horribly awry, resulting int the death of a high value asset. Flint along with a couple of colleagues is called on to the carpet, and told to leave the matter alone. Flint is suspicious, thinking that there may be a mole in the organization. He disobeys his superiors, and next thing you know he is brought into a web of betrayal.
His superiors are unhappy with him, but offer him the chance to go to Ireland to observe the handover of an Irish terrorist. This turns out to be a set up to try and get rid of Flint, and what follows is a desperate chase from Ireland through the UK as Flint tries to stay one step ahead of his pursuers and save his skin.
Watchman starts out at a leisurely pace much like the work of the watcher. Slow and patient, but when the action starts it kicks into overdrive. Rankin paints a good backstory throughout so that Flint’s move from observing to taking action comes off quite believably. Flint is a nice change of pace from Rebus, as this book is from the Rebus mysteries.
Blood Hunt is another non-Rebus novel from Ian Rankin. It’s one of three novels written under the pseudonym of Jack Harvey. As a book it’s a pretty straightforward thriller. As with all Rankin novels, there are two things that set it apart. Rankin’s writing in general, and specifically creating believable characters that the reader cares about.
If Miles Flint is a sideline thrust into action, Gordon Reeves, the protagonist of Blood Hunt, is a former man of action (ex-SAS) who now plays the part for paying weekend warriors. When his brother, an investigative reporter, is found dead in the United States, Reeves and his brother are somewhat estranged owing largely to his brother’s drug use. Nonetheless, Reeves heads over to collect the body.
When he arrives in the States, the investigating officer tells him the death was a clear cut case of suicide, brought on by his drug use. Reeves still wants to see the site and comes away unconvinced. As he digs a little more it appears his brother was in the U.S. to interview some scientists connected to a shadowy corporation.
Flying back to England, Reeves meets with a young woman who was a friend(lover)? of his brother. She helps him go through his brother’s files and points Reeves to some other people who may help him get answers. Shortly after this the attacks start. The first appears to be a typical bar fight, but the violence and the frequency increases, with death soon following him wherever he goes.
He soon discovers that there are people from the corporation after him, as well as an organization supposedly investigating the corporation. In to this mix is thrown the character Jay. Jay is a former SAS team member of Reeves’s and there is a lot of ugly history between them.
Reeves crisscrosses between the UK and the US, looking for information that will exonerate his brother. All the while he is taking the time to reflect on his relationship with his brother and the many things he has missed out on. Eventually Reeves returns to England hoping to set a trap that will capture Jay and allow him to finally understand why his brother was killed.
Unlike Watchman, there is more focus on action in Blood Hunt, but there is still good dialogue and introspection. Plus, it has a great and innovative interrogation scene. Rankin clearly can handle a thriller with as much savvy as he does a police procedural.
Coop is a memoir by American writer Michael Perry. Perry is a fairly prolific author, turning out a new book about every 18 months. I’ve had this title sitting in the office at St. Philip’s for quite some time.This is a book that I would every so often pick up at lunch time and read a few pages while I was eating. Unfortunately, I would never bookmark the pages, and every time I came to read it again, I was starting at the beginning. Finally, I decided I was going to make a real effort to get through it.
Coop, on one level is a typical story of a city slicker trying to make a life for himself and family on a small country space. In this case the family is Perry, his wife Annaliese. daughter Amy, (from Annaliese’s first marriage), and a newborn (who comes along while this transition takes place). Much of the humour in the book derives from Perry’s grand ideas vs Perry’s incompetence. This is most evident in the earliest part of the book.
However, what makes this book stand out, is the way in which Perry connects the cycle of his life with the animals on the farm. with the cycle of his life from his childhood forward.
Perry was born into a small Christian Sect, and part of the book deals coming to terms with rejecting that teaching, while learning respect for the way that the movement had shaped his parents. As Perry tries to find his way through this new experience he constantly thinks back to his parents. Beyond being hard-working labourers and farmers, they also constantly took in foster children (usually among the most demanding cases).
The great cycle is that of life and death, and it’s the one that runs through the latter half of the book. This is the point where the book moves from humourous to moving. Friends and relatives are touched by this cycle, and it’s in dealing with death that Perry spends the greatest amount of time reflecting on his past family life, and how it plays into his present. I found myself with moist eyes on a couple of occasions while reading this book.
One other thing that I liked about the book, is that it didn’t glamourize this move from city life to the farm. Perry comes back time and again to how, moving forward, he has to move beyond his dreams, and make sure that he is there more often for his wife and daughters than he is always there.
This is a book that has sat on a shelf for quite a few months. I’d look at it from time to time but never pick it up.
Rosenblum goes through the history of the olive, from ancient times until the present. He takes time to focus on it’s religious, political and economic significance. Then he embarks on a world tour that covers the history of the olive and the many varieties that grow. In some countries it is the oil that is most important and in others the main characteristic of the olives are how good they are as a snack.
The one thing that really stood out to me in the book is how resilient the olive tree is. They can face freezing temperatures, marauding armies, political upheaval such as between the Israeli and Palestinian people, and given half a chance they will bounce back in just a matter of a couple of years. Although, I doubt they would survive Winnipeg winters.
Every so often you hear about fraudulent olive oil. One of the things that I really liked about Rosenblum’s book is that he does a good job of explaining the various processes for making olive oil. He also gives a good description of what constitutes extra virginity in olive oil. Beyond explaining why some oil has a reputation that exceeds it’s actual quality. I was particularly surprised that most Italian Olive Oil exported to the rest of the world is made with olives grown in Spain.
Finally, the book introduces the readers to olive growers all over the world, most of whom grow olives, and press olives for oil, because it is a calling as much as business. These are the real heroes of the world of olives. While climate change may put olives and olive oil at increased risk, the real risk may that the growers and breeders of this delicious fruit are increasingly disappearing, and a newer generation is not coming up to replace them