An Embarrassment of Riches

An Embarrassment of Riches is a blog about the best the library has to offer. From audio books to movies, from novels to zines, library staff and guest bloggers will tell you about their latest library discoveries. Read. Watch. Listen. Chat.

Chanur Saga bookjacketI grew up 60 miles from Roswell, New Mexico; so my love of SciFi is natural. CJ Cherryh writes a very entertaining SciFi series called The Chanur Saga about a galaxy far, far away that is full of Hani, Mehendo'sat and Kif with sundry other species, and not a human in sight. Family, Trade and inter-species Diplomacy are the bedrocks of society. Then the Outsider stows away aboard the Hani ship 'The Pride of Chanur' and all hell breaks loose.

You don't have to love SciFi to appreciate Cherryh's world building (spoiler alert -- methane breathers!); or the ironic way she depicts the Powers that try to rule over folk perceived as weak or inferior. She handles culture shock with humor and insight enough to make you wonder: suppose it was me who made First Contact. What view of human kind would I give?

The Chanur Saga is fantastic! George Lucas would want to film it if it ever came to his attention.

“You need a rest, and so do I," I'd say firmly, and then I'd close the door (also firmly) and brew myself a cup of tea. Then, with a sigh of happiness, I’d pull out a book or pop in a DVD and take at least an hour for myself. My kids both stopped napping at about three and a half, but I didn't stop being a quiet time-enforcer until both of them were in the care of Portland Public Schools five days a week. Days with young children can be very long, and I found that if we had this time to refuel, the rest of the afternoon and evening would be much more pleasant for everyone.

A library patron recently told me that she uses audiobooks to entertain her preschooler during quiet time and I think this is a brilliant idea. Let them be diverted for a while by Frances, a badger who likes to make up charming little songs, or let them spend some time enjoying the sweet friendship of Frog and Toad. I’ve made a couple of lists to give parents ideas for audiobooks that would be perfect. The first list contains audiobook CDs and the second contains downloadable audiobooksI offer them with the sincere hope that the stories you'll find on them will provide enough time for both parent and child to feel refreshed.

No visit to memory lane is complete without a few moments of fascination and horror.  Remember your 20’s?  I do -- my first apartment, helpful or harmful roommates, dating, and encounters with people that have since turned into lifelong relationships. I love that I had so much energy and anything felt possible. I still love many of the people I encountered then.

So, it’s not surprising that I love the HBO series Girls created by Lena Dunham, a sometimes comedic and horrific drama. This series is a very entertaining guest that I want to invite into my living room.  Dunham’s girls explore connections with lovers, jobs, friendships and all the possibilities of life while trying to maintain and develop their self esteem in wild New York City. It’s the exciting and uncomfortable 20’s unveiled in all it’s shabby glory, something to witness and marvel at while discussing the thought-provoking topics that each episode brings up. Oh and she just wrote a funny and moving collection of essays called Not that Kind Of Girl: A Young Woman Tells You What She's "learned".  I’ve learned that I love what Lena Dunham creates and hope she keeps making books, movies and television for a long long time.

 

cover image of mr. phillips

Mr. Phillips is a modern classic in my estimation. Faintly inspired by Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, this single day novel focuses on the life of a middle-class British male who has been summarily sacked from his job of accountant last Friday. Monday morning however, he dresses the part and leaves for the office just the same, Mrs. Phillips being none the wiser. The reader is privy to his thoughts (which are borderline sexually obsessive) as he spends the day wandering London, doing some very normal things like riding public transport and the not very mundane like witnessing a bank robbery. It is bawdy, but great. 

Having walked the streets of London myself on those quiet weekday afternoons (not because I had been made redundant, rather a work schedule thing); I have selected a musical pairing for this book. If there was ever an album to enjoy while exploring the city (employed or no) it would be Songs for Distingue Lovers by Billie Holiday.

 

 

Film adaptations of popular books are usually eagerly anticipated happenings. There is a curiosity inherent in waiting to see just how beloved characters and settings, so well established in the mind’s eye, present themselves on the big screen. It can be very satisfying to see a movie character who is the embodiment of the person you have been imagining all along. On the other hand it can be deeply frustrating to see a film character say or do something that your well-established fantasy character would just never say or do.

Orange is the New Black dvd coverThe bigger challenge in accommodating a film translation is accepting the subtle or not-so-subtle changes to the story line that Hollywood feels it needs to make the movie work. Take, for example, the Netflix adaptation of Orange is the New Black, an episodic rendering of Piper Kerman’s 2010 memoir of her time in prison. Bored with her middle class life and fresh out of Smith College, Kerman took up with a group of artists-turned drug smugglers. In exchange for a world of first class travel and posh resorts, Kerman became a drug mule, delivering large cash payments to international drug bosses. Ten years after she quit the business, federal officers knocked on her apartment door and arrested her. She was sentenced to fifteen months in a minimum security women’s prison in Danbury, Connecticut.

The show is highly entertaining, with familiar characters come to life and new and interesting ones added to the mix. The film versionOrange is the New Black book jacket highlights and deeply embellishes the drama, which was much more subtle in the book. The book highlights Kerman as an adept lexicographer of prison life as well as someone who took a painful experience and made something of it. But the amped- up drama of television keeps viewers hooked and waiting (as I am, I admit) for season three.

I’m grateful to have read the book. It is an engaging and informative read and since the publication of the book, Kerman has become an outspoken advocate of prison reform. Part of her success of Orange is the New Black comes from indirectly highlighting some of the failures of the U.S. Prison system. By creating an emotional connection to these injustices through the book and through a highly-watched television series, Kerman has been a powerful advocate for change.

Beyond the potential discrepancies between book and film, it’s just plain interesting to see a beloved story come to life before our very eyes. So watch the show or read the book? Why not do both!

One of the things I like about science fiction is that it can encompass almost any other genre, but to be done well, the author really needs to be aware of the elements that define both science fiction and the genre from which they are borrowing. One particular melding that I’ve been enjoying is that between science fiction and the murder mystery—especially when it involves the intersection of our inherent human nature—jealousy, greed, envy, etc.—and the unintended consequences of technology.

Caves of Steel book jacketThese stories have a long history. For me, Isaac Asimov set the template in the 1950s with his first two Robot novels, The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun. What gives the stories their power as science fiction are the ways in which Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics shape Nimbus book jacketthe murder investigation at the center of each tale and the society at large. Another of my favorites is Nimbus by Alexander Jablokov which opens with someone murdering members of a group who had been secretly modified as children years before. What those modifications were and who is responsible are closely linked—and that’s all I’m going to say about it. More recently, Ken MacLeod wrote The Night Sessions where artificial intelligences play a central role following the bombing of a church and murder of a bishop. MacLeod writes very sophisticated novels that often focus on artificial intelligence and this is no exception. And finally, just published in 2014 is Jon Scalzi’s Lock In which opens with a murder in a world where a large number of people are fully conscious but trapped within catatonic bodies. Some can escape by either projecting their consciousness into machines or into the minds of “Integrators”-- individuals who can share their physical bodies with others. One of the big questions here is how do you know who is responsible when consciousness can be swapped?

Whether you like science fiction or mysteries, there is much to explore within this sub-genre. Using a science fiction setting allows for all kinds of new and interesting questions—the nature of reality, what is consciousness, the ethics (if any) of non-human intelligence—these are just a few that you won’t find in, say, an Agatha Christie story. So, if I’ve piqued your interest, go ahead and dive into this subset of science fiction and let me know what you think in the comments below.  Also check out this list for more great science fiction mysteries.

cup of teaMany mornings lately, I have had a date with an Earl. During the hot summer months I don't often crave his company. But when the rains begin, he once again becomes appealing. He is warm and steamy, he smells wonderful, and he gets my day off to a great start. When the Earl is not available, or I'm just not in the mood for his charm, I soothe myself with a robust English or Irish breakfast, or perhaps even some zesty orange and spice. And for those mornings when I need extra calming, green always does the trick.

This is your friendly reminder of the wonders of tea. Coffee is swell, but, to me, nothing beats a warm cuppa. The endless varieties only add to the pleasure. One of the best parts of my mornings is the daily choosing of the tea! Black (especially Earl Grey), green, white, or red, I can always find a tea to match my mood.  Then it's time to take in the aromas and flavors of the day's selection, a bit of peace and tranquility before the start of the day.

The library has many wonderful books about the history and culture of tea. If you are so inclined, check one out, brew yourself a steaming pot of your favorite blend, wrap yourself in a blanket in front of a rainy window, and lose yourself in the world of tea.

 

 

When Angela Johnson was in elementary school, her teacher chose Harriet the Spy as the class read aloud.  Harriet carries a notebook and keeps notes on classmates and neighbors, and has a unique voice amongst children’s books characters. Listening to Harriet, Johnson knew she wanted to be a writer.

Johnson’s own writings, inspired both by the outrageous storytelling of her father and grandfather and her love of poetry, have a lyrical voice and a rhythmic cadence. Her tales range from tender to outrageous, from preschool to teens, from fiction to historical fiction. Angela’s characters and families reflect her African American culture, yet her emotional tone rings true for all.  No wonder she’s won numerous literary awards for both diversity and her amazing voice. Check out this booklist with some of my favorites.

Sweater selfie of Cathy Carron's belle curve cardiganFall, It took you long enough to come around, but all is forgiven now that you’re here.  Let’s not waste another moment. It’s time to break out the yarn stash and get knitting! I know you year-round knitters are out there, but so far my knitting habit is strictly seasonal. It comes on strong only when the temperature drops and holds steady through the winter, though admittedly, it’s been slow to progress.  

The first year I did scarves: messy and uneven, with lots of irregularities that I tried to pass off as design features. They were presented to family who had the good sense to politely tuck them out of sight. Next it was hats: ribbed hats, striped hats, much too itchy baby hats, and one unintentionally slouchy Rastafarian hat.

Last year was known in my house as the year of the snood, and so this fall I’ve been determined to make a great leap forward: sweaters.  That was until I picked up Short Story: Chic Knits for Layering by Cathy Carron and my great leap has started instead, with an enthusiastic hop.Book jacket: Short story by Cathy Carron

The belle curve cardigan on page 82 proved to be the perfect middle step between knitting circular accessories and piecing together a sweater with sleeves.  It was relatively quick to knit up, has no seams and was knit on circular needles.  Most important, it passed the test of withstanding frequent interruptions and a five year old ‘helper’ without resulting in a wooly meltdown.

Carron is known for her knitting books, loaded with innovative patterns, ranging from basics with a twist, to over-the-top looks for more daring souls and this one is no different. So if you’re not quite ready to knit a sweater, but can’t in good conscience bestow another hat upon a family member, check out Carron’s Short Story and she’ll get you halfway there.

Looking for more tried and tested books for the novice knitter? Check out my list.

Long ago, I spent four summers in a small fishing town in Southeastern Alaska. I slimed fish, lived in a tent, met the love of my life, and discovered a lifelong appreciation for hiking. I drank vast quantities of lousy beer with fishermen, cannery workers, and loggers at the Harbor Bar. I caught my first fish, crossed paths with black bears, watched killer whales breaching, saw so many bald eagles that I almost stopped finding them thrilling, and took a skiff out to the local glacier where seal pups cavorted on blue icebergs.

It was an amazing place.

It gets too dark there in the winter for me, so I live in Portland now (with the aforementioned love of my life). I miss it, but I’m so glad that I discovered the books of John Straley, which bring that world to vivid life. There are colorful bits of folk tales interspersed with perfect descriptions of the landscape and the people. The characters are so important and such a pleasure in Straley's books.

In his Cold Storage Alaska, which I listened to on audiobook this past summer, one character asks, "Is everyone in this town a goddamn comedian?"

The man he’s talking to replies, "No, actually most of the people in this town are drunks or depressives, but we have our funny moments."

And they really do. Straley has mentioned that this novel was influenced by his love of screwball comedy and you can tell, although officially, it's categorized as crime fiction.

Miles, the main character of this book, is a medic who pretty much holds together the fictional small fishing town of Cold Storage, Alaska. He's a good guy, but kind of lonely. His brother, the bad son in the family, is coming back home after spending years in jail, bringing with him a whole bunch of money he thinks he's earned and the ugliest and most ferocious dog anyone has ever seen. The ownership of the dog is not in dispute, but someone will be coming after that money. So that's the plot. But really? All this is just a framework to start with so you can listen to the people in this book have wildly entertaining conversations in bars, in diners and out on boats in the untouched Alaskan wilderness.

From whence comes the phrase "chocolate cities and vanilla suburbs"? Why is Detroit in bankruptcy and NYC always bailed out by American taxpayers? In what way is American culture and fashion a re-play of Regency and Edwardian England?

Warmth of Other Suns book jacketDon't know? Ask Isabel Wilkerson and Jacques Barzun. Respectively, they are the authors of The Warmth of Other Suns and From Dawn to Decadence. This is history that Miz Hackett, your 8th grade teacher, never heard of. Wilkerson, a journalist, and Barzun, an eminent historian, have answered history's questions in a personal way. This is not memorize the dates boredom. No, these are the impolite questions you'd ask your neighbors if you only had the guts about what it's really like where they come from and what they think about it all .
 
The Warmth of Other Suns is the story of our cities in the 20th century as told through the recollections of three individuals who lived "theFrom Dawn to Decadence book jacket great migration." They didn't know that they were part of some historical drama, so the stories are straight shooter talk of folk who weren't afraid to change their destiny in the face of tall odds. Barzun's From Dawn to Decadence is subtitled 500 Years of Western Cultural Life: 1500 to the Present. He does a remarkable job of connecting how we behave to where that behavior begins. I mean seriously, why is there money for opera and classical music but punk rockers have to work at Fred Meyer to support their art? See page 637 of Barzun for a hint.

I read a new graphic novel that is so compelling I couldn’t put it down. It’s definitely a page turner!  March is an autobiography by congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis. It is filled with stunning visuals by award-winning Nate Powell. The story starts with the family chickens. His care of the flock helps him build his moral core. As a reader it  helped me get to know him and care about him. At the same time, this comic book is a biography of our civil rights movement in the United States. Important issue, important man: Fantastic read. Don’t miss it.


If you are interested in more comic books about history they can be found in the History through graphic novels list.

plane guy

What’s in your carry-on?

Some people fret about clothes, maps, or hotel reservations for an upcoming vacation.  Me?  I’m too busy worrying about what to read.  While ebooks can alleviate this dilemma, I’m still a physical book guy and limited luggage space makes for challenging decisions.

What makes a good book for a getaway?  Easy reading, light subject matter, and a touch of humor are a start.  There’s also a number of factors to consider such as: flight length, travelling companions, and tome portability. Taking these variables into account I’ve put together a short list of potential travel companions.  

What’s your next vacation read?

 

 

The Bridge photoIn a landscape of endless grey and flowing clouds, a body is found on a bridge, “dead” center, if you’ll forgive the pun, inconveniently straddling two jurisdictions. Who will take the case, Portland or Vancouver… err wait, make that Denmark or Sweden, all that grey bridginess confused me!  And just to complicate things, what if the body turns out to actually be two bodies… the upper half of one and the lower half of another? Diabolical, I say.

What stands out about The Bridge, more than the color-drained Scandinavian setting and the tricky plot, is character. While at first the two detectives seem to be embodiments of a Danish/Swedish culture clash, they soon become fully realized entities all their own. Saga Norén is a leather pant clad, goatlike (I kid you not, her acting in this role is partly based on a small goat ) Swede with a sharply analytic mind and no social skills. In fact, many watchers believe she has Asperger’s syndrome, though that hasn’t been explicitly stated.  Martin Rohde is a fiery Dane, a devoted yet philandering family man, which leads to him being all kinds of tortured. He’s very perceptive of psychology and emotions, and Saga needs him to help her interpret the confusing world of interpersonal relationships. It’s the contrast between these two and their complex friendship that really makes the series. If you like Nordic noir, you must try this.  After binge viewing the entire first season in the space of two weeks, I found myself wandering the house, responding to questions with Ja, ja, and Nej, and brewing up a steaming hot batch of glögg, the better to view season two with. Trailer is here.

Here's a challenge for you: go to your favorite library. Stand away from the traffic. Take a deep breath, now center yourself. Head for your favorite section, cruise the shelves and pick out a book that you are gonna love. No book lists, reviews or friend recommendations allowed, just your innate good taste and curiosity.

If you have been good, maybe the spirits of literature will reward you with a Captain Alatriste tale:

Behold, a roCaptain Alatriste book jacketllicking tale of heroes with swords, hi-jinks in high places and the demands of honour. Wrap it up in writing as literary as it gets, and Bob's your uncle.  Arturo Perez-Reverte's title character is a native of seventeenth century Spain, the Golden Age. Captain Alatriste is hired to waylay and kill two English heretics as they arrive in Madrid. A career soldier who has been impoverished by an inexplicable outbreak of peace, he agrees. In a dark alley, el capitaine is about to do the deed when his pesky sense of nobility intervenes. He lets them go, pisses off some very big hombres and winds up in the sights of a state that likes to burn non-conformists at the stake. This of course gets him involved with the artists of the day.   The Cavalier in the Yellow Doublet book jacket

Lope de Vega. Pedro Calderon de la Barca. Names ring a bell? They would if we were not predisposed to associate literature primarily with Anglo-Saxon names. No matter, join Capitaine Alatriste as he leads us into a new world of art to appreciate and explore; even if it must be done at the point of a fast riposte or parry.

In addition to Captain Alatriste, also try The Cavalier in the Yellow  Doublet  and The Club Dumas, a Perez-Reverte novel that's not part of the series. Enjoy.

 

Our guest reader is the irrepressible Dee Williams, a pioneer in the tiny house movement and author of The Big Tiny. Check out Dee's recommendations and if you'd like more good reading, try the My Librarian service and get a handcrafted list made just for you.

There are a dozen or so books that have taken up permanent residence in my little house… some are practical, reminding me how to frame up a wall or flash a window, while others simply remind me what it means to be human and alive, and dad-gum lucky to have this time on the planet.  Here are a few of my favorites:  

  1. My copy of Lloyd Kahn’s Home Work is dog-eared and stuffed with sticky notes that seem to have multiplied over the years.  It’s got thousands of photos of beach houses, rolling homes, adobe huts, stick-built houses and stone-built barns.  This book inspired me to rethink form, function and materials, and also made me want to be more like the quirky, cool people that Lloyd writes about.  Lloyd has also recently published Tiny Homes on the Move, and it is equally over-the-top awesome!

  1. Peter Menzel’s Material World (Sierra Club Books) has held me captivated for years.  It includes photos of families and all their worldly possessions sitting out in front of their house (if they have a house), so the reader gets this voyeuristic snap-shot of how a Mongolian family lives compared to that of a family in Guatemala, Serbia, the United States or dozens of other countries.  It’s a pretty humbling comparison to hold in your hands and heart.

  1. I’ve come close to peeing my pants, laughing, as I’ve read and then re-read Deek Diedricksen’s Humble Homes, Simple Shacks, Cozy Cottages, Ramshackle Retreats, Funky Forts: And Whatever the Heck Else We Could Squeeze in Here.  I’ve learned something new every time I’ve thumbed through this hilarious, well-informed encyclopedia of funky-smallness.

  1. I received Tammy Strobels’ new photography book, My Morning View, in the mail a few months ago, and man-o-man it blew me away.  It chronicles Tammy’s journey of living in a tiny house on a ranch outside Mt. Shasta (effing beautiful!!!), and also of working through her grief after losing her dad to a stroke.  Her iPhone photography project is absolutely inspiring, and full of helpful advice for would-be photographers like me.  

  1. Any thing by the poet Billy Collins, Diane Ackerman, or Mary Oliver.

  1. One of the first books I purchased when studying architecture and building was Francis D.K. Ching’s, Building Construction Illustrated. This book has it all, from an introduction to passive solar concepts to the basics of platform framing.  It even provides the common dimension of kitchen counters, tables and couches… super helpful information while designing a little house.

  1. While I was building, Joseph Truini’s book, Building a Shed provided some alternative ways of framing out the overhangs and basic framing for my house.  This book also offers some good advice for preparing a site for building a “ground-bound” house.  All in all, it’s well worth the read!

Whether you get on the waiting list for these books at the library or purchase them, I think it’ll be well worth the investment.  And of course, there are many other books that I’ve totally enjoyed. Cheers!  And happy reading!

My Librarian and our featured guest readers are made possible by a grant from the Paul G. Allen Family Foundation to The Library Foundation, a local non-profit dedicated to our library's leadership, innovation, and reach through private support.

applesThe apples have arrived! The apples have arrived! I don't know about you, but every year I wait patiently for autumn, my favorite season. Yes, I know, autumn means that winter is not far behind, with the cold, and the rain, and the darkness, but there is just something about the crisp, cool colorful days of fall that restores my soul, and prepares it for the winter to come.

As I wander through the stores, the farmer's markets, and the countryside, I am reminded of the many fabulous varieties of apples that we can enjoy here in the Pacific Northwest. So many colors, fragrances, and tastes to be savored. Almost nothing beats biting into a fresh, crunchy apple, except maybe a warm piece of apple pie!!

So, this is your friendly reminder to take advantage of the season's apple bounty! It doesn't last long. And why not take a bite out of the books on the list below? A mix of fiction and non-fiction, they all feature apples on the cover. Immerse yourself in the apple deliciousness!

Her bookjacketSometimes I need to read books that pierce my very soul, the more heart-wrenching the better. That’s when I turn to memoirs like Her by Christa Parravani. This is the tale of identical twins, Christa and Cara. It's the story of the connections between twins and what happens when you tragically lose that connection. And how someone can survive and grow from that tragedy. It's beautiful and powerful. For more heartbreaking stories of survival, try one of these.

And then there are times that I need snarky narrators that take me into their lives, lives so angst-filled that the only way to get through them is to revel in the What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding bookjackethumor. Kristin Newman’s, What I was Doing While You Were Breeding was just the book I needed recently. Newman is a TV comedy writer and it shows, in a good way. It’s a travel guide and memoir in one tidy package. She spent her time between writing gigs in her 20’s and 30’s, jetting off to exotic locales and meeting gorgeous men. Alright, I might have felt a little jealousy towards her; when I was that age, I was totally living paycheck-to-paycheck and the only place I jetted off to was my hometown in Ohio with a plane ticket purchased by my mom. Oh, wait a sec, that’s still pretty much the story of my life. But that aside, she’s a witty, breezy writer who reveals an awful lot about her experiences with quite a few men in a highly entertaining manner. It's a story about being free and reckless, traveling to fabulous lands, and it's hilarious.

If you’d like a few more snicker-worthy memoirs, check out my list here.

Istanbul is my favorite city to wander through. When I think of Istanbul I think of fishermen lining the Galata Bridge, crossing the Bosporus and the Golden Horn by ferry, moving from Europe to Asia and back again. It is a city of mosques and palaces, and where shops spill out onto the sidewalks. You wake to the call to prayer and spend your day immersed in history knowing that you are never far from a pastry shop.  It is also a great place to visit by way of a story. Try these for a taste of Istanbul.

A Coffin for Dimitrios by Eric Ambler. Charles Latimer is a writer living in Istanbul between the wars. He gets a plot idea when the body of a notorious criminal washes up on the shore, but as he researches the story he starts to doubt that the body was really Dimitrios and sets out to find him.

Istanbul Passage book jacketIstanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon . It's 1945, WWII is over and the cold war is starting. Leon Bauer, an American businessman, has spent the war years in Istanbul. During the war he did odd jobs for the CIA. He is asked to help with the delivery of a Romanian the Americans want to keep from the Soviets. The delivery goes wrong, his CIA contact is dead and he has to decide what to do with the smuggledIstanbul Memories book jacket man with the Nazi past that everyone now wants.

Baksheesh by Aykol Esmahan is the story of Kati Hirschel. She runs the only mystery bookstore in Istanbul and is shopping for an apartment. A man is murdered in the apartment she wants to buy and she’s a suspect. The dead man was involved in shady business dealings and Kati starts to investigate.

On the serious side, Orhan Pamuk writes literary novels set in Istanbul.  He also wrote a memoir, Istanbul: Memories and the City, about growing up in the 50’s and 60’s in Istanbul.

 

The Children Act bookjacketThe problem with reading an e-book is that you never quite know when it's going to end. You could be swiping, swiping, swiping, growing more exhausted by the characters and their machinations, as I did with Freedom (sorry, Franzen fans) and with each swipe wondering, "WHEN...WILL...IT...BE...OVER?!"

Then there are times when you're wholly immersed in a character's life and then..."WHAT? That's the end?!" That's how I felt with The Children Act by Ian McEwan. I was floating along on a cushion of imagined world, when suddenly the story fell out from under me. I paged back and forward, but sadly, there were no more words. Too bad, because I was so caught up in Fiona's life, the challenges of her work as a family court judge and her failing marriage -- I so wanted to be the voyeur in the room, finding out how it all turned out.

McEwan creates this really admirable, powerful and ethical woman, who is conflicted and flawed. He does it with such a deft hand that you are left wanting more. You just want to sit down with Fiona and have a chat. "Listen, you're so smart and thoughtful when it comes to intervening on behalf of children in your courtroom. Why are you so blind when it comes to your husband?" I'd have to say that The Children Act is an almost-perfect gem of a book. If only there were a little more...

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