Sunday, December 30, 2007

Total Constant Order by Crissa-Jean Chappell

In Total Constant Order, Fin is a teenage girl who is obsessed with numbers and counting. It’s her way of trying to keep things under control. Soon after moving to Florida she finds out she’s got OCD and her doctor prescribes Paxil to help her. The story follows Fin through her daily life while she deals with her disorder, school, bullies, doctor visits, and Thayer (another teen who’s possibly as messed up as she is).

I really enjoyed this book. Sometimes the chapters seemed unconnected and a little erratic, but this fit nicely with the story and the storyline came through loud and clear. I loved some of the questions the therapist asked Fin. Sometimes, I stopped reading the book to ponder how I’d answer the question. It turned out to be somewhat enlightening. Each of the characters was interesting and believable. I didn’t quite understand the mother’s actions at times, but now that I finished the book I know why.

I sort of had an idea what OCD was about, but now I understand it a little better. It was interesting to follow the thoughts of a person who suffers from the disorder. Rather than outline the symptoms of OCD (which could be quite dry), the author concentrates on Fin’s experiences and feelings. I think it was very well done.

I was quite proud of myself when I figured out the numbers on the section headings. It wasn’t too difficult so it’s not much to be proud of, but at least I didn’t have to ask my husband (the math genius in our family) for help. sigh.

Overall, this book is a really good read. I’d recommend it to teenagers as well as adults.

Big Boned by Meg Cabot

In Big Boned, Heather Wells, former pop star and sometime amateur detective, is working as an administrative assistant at New York College. She comes to work one morning and finds her boss shot dead in his office. When a colleague’s love interest is arrested for the murder, Heather springs into action to clear his name and find the real culprit. She works on the case all the while dealing with (or is that “avoiding”) her math professor boyfriend, Tad, the strike on campus, Cooper, and her father. She’s one busy gal. I’m surprised she can hold it together.

I loved this book. It’s laugh out loud funny and a delightful read. It was exactly what I needed at this time of year…a nice escape and a good laugh. Cabot’s writing is witty and her characters are fun to read about. I just about fell over with laughter when Heather took up running. [I hope she finds her uterus. I just about lost mine laughing so hard.]

While I haven’t read the first two books in the Heather Wells “series”, I have read Boy Meets Girl by Cabot. I loved it. I’ll be keeping my eyes open for more of Cabot’s work, especially the first two instalments featuring Heather.

I can’t wait to find out what happens next. Do things work out with “name withheld to prevent a spoiler”? I guess we’ll all find out in the next book.


Friday, December 28, 2007

Deafening by Frances Itani

In Deafening, Grania, a deaf woman growing up in Canada in the early 20th century, meets and falls in love with a hearing man, Jim. While Jim is soon off to fight in WWI, Grania stays at home and tries to cope without her beloved. Life is not easy for either, but through letters they try to keep their love alive.

I loved this book. Itani has written a wonderful and beautiful story about love and the obstacles lovers face. In this case, the obstacle is “distance”, not only the physical distance between the lovers while Jim is a stretcher-bearer in the war and Grania copes with life on the home front, but also the “distance” between the hearing and non-hearing world.

While I didn’t think I’d enjoy reading about the war, Itani’s story telling is so spectacular I found it very interesting and I truly enjoyed it. The graphic details about the war were a little gruesome, but necessary for the story. She gives the reader a real sense of what life was like in this time period not only with the war, but also life on the home front with returning soldiers and influenza.

One of my favourite parts was when Grania was young and was being taught by Mamo using the Sunday book and the explanations of how Mamo taught Grania to communicate. Mamo was one of my favourite characters. She was so loving and caring for Grania. I also loved when Jim was explaining how he thought the hands told the story of the last moments of people’s lives (not the face). He had a hard time looking at the dead men’s hands.

The P.S. section at the end of the book was enlightening, as usual. While I usually save it to read at the end, I find myself occasionally peeking back there to see what’s included. I especially loved that Itani included some additional reading recommendations. Wonderful.

It’s no wonder this book won so many awards. It’s fantastic.

Highly recommended. I’ll be looking for more of Itani’s work.

Precious Blood by Jonathan Hayes

In Precious Blood, Edward Jenner, a former Medical Examiner, is asked to look into the killing of a young student. She is found hanging on a wall in her apartment. As soon as Jenner sees the body, he strongly suspects a serial killer is on the loose. Before he and the police can solve this one though, more gruesome discoveries are uncovered. They soon have a theory as to his motive and method for selecting his victims, but they must acts fast before he strikes out again. Jenner is particularly moved to action after he becomes involved with a potential victim.

Jonathan Hayes presents an interesting, fast-pace page-turner that’s definitely not for the faint of heart. The graphic details he provides about the deaths of these women might be a tad much for some readers. He takes a few funny digs at CSI the TV show. Fans will appreciate these, but the reference will likely be lost on non-viewers. There are just a few, so they won’t be missing much. The storyline is easy to follow, but parts of it were a little predictable. The characters are likeable and interesting.

I noticed a few disconnects/inconsistencies in the story. It could have been that I wasn’t paying close enough attention, but I thought I noticed a few things that didn’t quite add up. If it wasn't just me, hopefully the editors will catch these before the book is officially released.

Overall, it’s a pretty good read.

The Book of Negroes: A Novel by Lawrence Hill

The Book of Negroes is a sensational, but very sad story about Aminata Diallo. As a young girl she is abducted near her town of Bayo in central Africa. She’s forced to walk in a coffle, survives a horrendous trip across the ocean and enslaved to work on an indigo farm in South Carolina. She eventually escapes and her life marginally improves. Later, she is utilized and praised by the slavers and abolitionists for her ability to read and speak several languages. That’s the basics of the story, but there so much more than that.

This is undoubtedly the best book I read this year. It’s also quite possibly the best book I ever read. It’s beautifully written with an absolutely stunning storyline. The author provides plenty of horrendous and heartbreaking details of the lives of not only Aminata, but several of the other fantastic characters as well. I loved watching Aminata transform from a frightened child into a very strong and courageous woman.

There were a few times that I had to read quickly, not because I needed to know that Aminata survives the ordeal, but because I couldn’t bare such horror any longer and I wanted to get to the next scene as quickly as possible. One thing I liked about the Hill’s story is he provides time for the reader to recover (if that’s possible) from some of the appalling events in the book. I don’t know if I could have read the whole thing had it gone from tragedy to tragedy. It would have been too emotionally draining. As it was, I got exhausted reading this book. It stuck with me so much I had a lot of trouble starting the next one. I also loved that the author used straightforward, everyday words to tell his story and I didn’t have to run for the dictionary to look up unfamiliar words.

The story is peppered with two languages that I’m unfamiliar with, Bamanankan and Fulfulde. I love being exposed to different languages and was thrilled to see a little of each used along Aminata’s journey.

Both the title and the cover of this book have been changed for publication in the USA. While Someone Knows My Name (US version) is still appropriate, I prefer the title The Book of Negroes (Canadian version). I also prefer the Canadian cover art with Aminata’s haunting eyes.

I’ve mentioned before that history isn’t my “thing”, but I found the historical aspects of this story fascinating. It was all new to me; I’d never heard of the Book of Negroes. It was a fascinating time period in our history. The author has kindly included a link for more information about the The Book of Negroes. There is lots of information about the Black Loyalists and a reproduction of the actual Book of Negroes.

Aminata and several other characters, as well as this story line, will be with me for several moons to come.

Highly recommended.

Heather's review.