Friday, September 28, 2007

The Septembers of Shiraz by Dalia Sofer

In The Septembers of Shiraz, Isaac Amin and his family, wife Farnaz, and daughter Shirin are in Iran after the revolution while Parviz is in America attending college. Their lives were good and prosperous until Isaac is arrested for being a wealthy Jew. While he suffers in prison, his family must come to terms with the possibly that Isaac may not be returning home. He also wonders if returning home is possible.

Sofer has created a beautiful, poignant and tragic portrait of a family in turmoil. The characters’ perspectives are presented in alternating chapters giving us insight into their daily lives and struggles. The subject matter is, at times, hard to read, especially the parts about Isaac and his prison mates. One of the sadder parts of the book for me was near the end when Farnaz compares her grief to Isaac’s. It bothered me that her grief will likely not be recognized.

I liked all of the main characters, but I was particularly fond of Shirin. She was so brave at such a young age to do what she did. I don’t think I would have been that brave. I didn’t know what to really make of Parviz. He seemed a bit detached from his family, but I guess with a pretty young woman around, his mind was elsewhere. I was amazed by one of Isaac’s prison mates (Ramin). He still had hope after suffering so much grief.

Great first book. Recommended. I really enjoyed reading it and hope to read much more from this author.

The Merchant of Menace by Jill Churchill

In The Merchant of Menace, Jane Jeffry has volunteered to host two holiday parties on consecutive days. What was she thinking? Her new neighbours are disrupting the neighbourhood and she is overloaded with work and company. How will she pull this off? She gets even more overloaded with work when an “unsavoury guest” is found murdered next door. Jane and her neighbour Shelley jump into action to find out what happened.

Churchill has created fairly likeable storyline and lots of remarkable suspects for Jane to question. I particularly liked Ginger, Pet and Addie. I really don’t like Mel, which is too bad because he’s a recurring character in this series. Hopefully, he’ll grow on me. As for the storyline, I thought I’d figured it the mystery, but I was wrong. I think that made me enjoy it more.

I’ve read a few other books by this author and wasn’t quite happy with them. However, I liked this one a whole lot more. That’s really good, because I have quite a few more books by her on my bookshelf (from various used book sales). I’m now looking forward to reading them.

Recommended for cozy mystery lovers.

Friday, September 21, 2007

All Aunt Hagar's Children: Stories by Edward P. Jones

Every time I read a book of short stories I say to myself, “I enjoy short stories so much why don’t I read them more often?” That’s exactly what happened with this book.

All Aunt Hagar’s Children: Stories, is a exquisite collection of short stories by Edward P. Jones. I had a little trouble getting into this book at first, but after a story or two I found the rhythm of his writing. It’s not hard to see why this author has won all kinds of awards. His stories and characters are nothing short of brilliant. The setting for this collection is Washington D.C. However, the characters are ordinary citizens rather than the politicians we hear too much about.

I don’t know if I have a favourite story or character, but some of them are very memorable. I liked all of the selections here, but for different reasons. In “The Rich Man” is particularly liked Horace. He was very foolish, but I felt sorry for him in a way. In “A Poor Guatemalan Dreams of a Downtown in Peru”, I liked the character Arlene as well as the title of the story. The “Root Worker” had both a wonderful storyline and interesting characters. And finally, I loved the style in which the stories were told in “Common Law” and “Tapestry” and “Bad Neighbours”.

I haven’t read anything else by Jones, but I’ll be on the lookout for more of his work. I’ll more than likely read the first few stories again because, as I mentioned earlier, I had trouble getting into the book at first. I might even reread a few of the others that I really enjoyed. This signed copy will be treasured for many years to come.

Recommended.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

ScotiaBank Giller Prize

Congratulation HarperCollins!!

HarperCollins has an amazing 5 titles on the long list for the 2007 Scotiabank Giller prize. I think that’s awesome.

Here's the link for more information about the Giller prize as well as the long list, http://www.scotiabankgillerprize.ca/home.htm.

Monday, September 17, 2007

A Murderous Yarn by Monica Ferris

In A Murderous Yarn, Betsy Devonshire, owner of Crewel World and amateur sleuth, must determine who killed one of the participants in an antique car rally. She becomes involved after she sponsors one of the cars and volunteers to record the cars arrivals and departures in the rally. When the murder occurs and she’s the alibi for the widow, Betsy starts poking around to find the killer.

Ferris presents a fairly good cozy mystery with some interesting characters. The story is more about antique cars than needlecrafts, but nevertheless enjoyable. I do admire antique cars when I see them on the street, but that’s not what I expected the story to focus on. The author does manage to keep at least part of the story in the needle world, but just barely. I did learn a something…I now know what “orts” are. Also, I was reminded that painted canvases and completed original works are extremely expensive.

I’ve read one other book by this author, but I think I preferred this one, even though the other focused more on needlecrafts. Click here for the review.

For more information on some of the cars featured in the book, there’s tons of information and pictures on the Internet. Here are a few that I found:
1) For the Stanley Steamer (warning the second one has sound):
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stanley_Steamer
http://www.stanleysteamers.com/

2) For the Maxwell:
http://www.clanmaxwellusa.com/maxcars.htm
http://www.carnut.com/photo/list/_maxm1.html

[Disclaimer: These are the first sites I got when I did a search. I’m not affiliated with these sites and I don’t know that they are safe. Surf at your own risk.]

Recommended for cozy mystery lovers.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Heroes: The Champions of Our Literary Imagination by Bruce Meyer

I’m having trouble finishing this book. When I first got it I thought I might have a hard time getting into it. However, I found it was very accessible and somewhat interesting. It didn’t really hold my interest for very long, though. It’s a little too scholarly for me. The book would probably fit nicely into academia. I just couldn’t relate very well to Plato, Aristotle, Chaucer and “old” guys like that, because I haven’t read them.

I did find myself thinking a bit differently about another one of my books, so this book has “reached” me in a way.

I probably would have liked it more (and read more) had it contained more contemporary references. I haven’t given up on it totally, but I think I’ll set it aside for the time being.

Received from HarperCollins Canada Reading Group on Facebook.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Confession$ of a Wall Street Shoeshine Boy by Doug Stumpf

In Confession$ of a Wall Street Shoeshine Boy, Brazilian born Gil is a shoeshine boy at Medved, Morningstar while Greg Waggoner is a reporter searching for a big story which will be his first big break at Glossy magazine. Greg thinks that Gil is his ticket to stardom after he learns that Gil has overheard a very important conversation between a trader, Jeff Steed, and one of the big bosses, Bill Bigelow.

Stumpf’s book is an unusual but very interesting look at a famous American icon through the eyes of a shoeshine boy. It would have been a very different story had the book been called Confession$ of a Sleazy-Crooked Wall Street Trader. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

I had a difficult time reading the sections with Gil’s broken English. I had to slow down and read very carefully. Not something I’m used to, so it was a little distracting at first. However, I found that the broken English really provided a distinct voice for Gil. His chapters were very different from those of Greg’s. I didn’t really enjoy reading about the adolescent/locker room talk antics of Gil and the traders, but that really provided lots of insight into their characters. With this story, the author proved that money couldn’t buy manners or sophistication.

Although part 1 gave a lot of background information, I much preferred reading parts 2 and 3. Gil’s life in Brazil and upbringing were interesting (part 2) as was the insider trading matter between Steed and Bigelow (part 3).

I didn’t appreciate the cover art at first; I thought it was sort of plain. However, after I noticed the reflection in the shine on the shoe and the saw the new main jacket colour (red) on Amazon, I gained a new appreciation for it. It’s cool.

Even though Gil didn’t understand a lot of what was being said around him at the firm, I think he made out pretty well for himself. I’m wondering if he was actually smarter than he was made out to be. The money he received certainly didn’t change him. It changed what he could do, but in the end, he wanted to treat his employees like he wanted to be treated on Wall Street, fairly and with respect.

Overall, it was a pretty good read. I’d definitely recommend it to those looking for something out of the ordinary.

I got this book from the HarperCollins Canada Reading Group on Facebook.

Just Plain Pickled to Death by Tamar Myers

In Just Plain Pickled to Death, Sarah, who’s been missing for 20 years, has been found dead in an old barrel of sauerkraut. This barrel of sauerkraut was supposed to be a wedding present to Magdalena Yoder from her future father-in-law. Some wedding present, eh? Magdalena isn’t that pleased either, but solving this one before her upcoming nuptials is going to test her skills and try her patience.

Myers presents a pretty good cozy mystery that is fun and easy to read. She has a great sense of humour. The story line is over the top, but that makes it fun. I just love Magdalena, the main character. She’s a hoot. [She doesn’t use “dear” as nearly as often as she does in some of the other books that I’ve read. For that I’m thankful.]

I’ve been reading this series out of order so some of the continuing story lines are jumbled up. Nevertheless, I’m enjoying this series very much.

The recipes included are simple fare with nothing too complicated. I’ll probably save a few of them to make at a later date.

I’d definitely recommend this book to cozy mystery lovers.

Wake Up Little Susie by Ed Gorman

In Wake Up Little Susie, Sam McCain must determine who killed Susan Squires and put her body in the truck of an Edsel. That’s bad enough but the body is discovered on the day of the car’s big unveiling. Like the poor Edsel needs more bad luck!! Suspects abound in this retro mystery set in the 1950s.

Gorman present a pretty good story with plenty of 50’s charm and ambience. McCain is a great character with a superb, sarcastic wit. That made this book fun to read. My one disappointment was that I had to read about his sexual escapades. Maybe they added “atmosphere” for the time period or provided additional information about his “character”; however, I thought it was gratuitous. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading this book.

I’ve read one other one by Gorman. I really enjoyed it. Here's my scanty review of that book: http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/2286411.

I have a few other books by Gorman, but none from this series featuring Sam McCain. I’d love to read another one, so I’ll be looking for more. I’m looking forward to reading some of the others as well.

Recommended.

Americas Best Lost Recipes: 121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget by the Editors of Cook's Country Magazine

America’s Best Lost Recipes: 121 Kitchen-Tested Heirloom Recipes Too Good to Forget is a fine collection of recipes from the past submitted by readers of Cook’s Country magazine. They were “looking for something special, recipes that tasted great but also recipes that told a story, that truly represented a special window into the American experience.” I think they succeeded.

The recipes are presented in a very nice layout. Each recipe is preceded by an interesting history of the recipe. I especially like the quotes by the submitters. Notes from the test kitchen follow each recipe. I found this particularly helpful, especially the ones that mention successful and not so successful substitutions. The editors even included some great photos of the food. Even though in this ARE they are B&W, the photos made the food look delicious.

The book contains some interesting, not-so-standard recipes that I’ve never heard of. I’m really looking forward to trying some of them. There are also many recipes with unusual names, such as Grandpa Cooley’s Angry Deviled Eggs, Joe Froggers, Tipsy Squire, Naked Ladies with Their Legs Crossed, Bops, and Mile High Bologna Pie to name a few.

Each time I look at the book, I mark more pages of recipes that I hope to make one day. Here’s the ones I’m likely to try first: SzĂ©kely Goulash (Pork Stew with Sauerkraut) p. 38 sure to be a hit with my pork-loving husband, Chocolate Sauerkraut Cake p. 117 and Grandma June’s Sauerkraut Soup p. 29. What can I say, we like sauerkraut. Yum.

My only disappointed with the book is that four out of the six chapters deal with baked goods and sweets. Currently, I’m trying to cut down on these things for health reasons, so I probably won’t be using this book as an everyday cookbook. I will, however, bring it out for special occasions and treat my family to some delicious goodies.

I got this book from HarperCollins Reading Group on Facebook.

The Burnt House by Faye Kellerman

In The Burnt House, Decker is called in to help out at the scene of a terrible plane crash. Soon the parents of a flight attendant contact him and insist their daughter, Roseanne Dresden, didn’t die in the plane crash. Decker feels for the parents and does a little digging to see what he and his team can uncover. When the last body is recovered almost everyone expects it to be Roseanne’s. When it turns out it’s not, the investigation gets really interesting. Who can this person be? Where is Roseanne? Decker and his team conduct two investigations to get to the bottom of things.

Kellerman’s story is straightforward and presented in a chronological order making it easy to read. Her characters are likable, believable and fun to read about. One of my favourite characters is Rina. She isn’t a major character in the story, but I like her and the fact that she makes many references to Judaism. (I find other religions fascinating). I wonder if she plays a more active role in other books.

I liked that the author used all of the characters in the story line and that it didn’t turn into a one-man show with Decker having all of the answers and finding all of the clues and information to advance/complete the investigations. I find this happens with other mysteries far too often and the minor characters just look incompetent.

This is my first book by Kellerman. It won’t be the last. It looks like I have a huge backlist to catch up on.

Definitely recommended.

I got this book from the HarperCollins Canada Reading Group on Facebook.