Friday, November 23, 2007

Helpless by Barbara Gowdy

In Helpless, Celia is a single mother who works two jobs to make ends meet. Her young daughter, Rachel sometimes accompanies her to her dead-end-low-paying jobs. Rachel’s bi-racial features give her an exotic beauty that draws the attention of others. One such individual is a middle-aged vacuum repairman named Ron. Ron quickly becomes obsessed with Rachel. He assumes she is being abused because of some things he’s observed while watching her at her home. When a blackout occurs in the city, Ron makes his move and kidnaps Rachel. With the help of his girlfriend, Nancy, Ron keeps the girl hidden while the family, police and neighbours search frantically.

Gowdy presents a beautifully written story about obsession and love and how it can blind us. Ron was so obsessed with Rachel he couldn’t see his own obsession for what it was or see Celia’s love for Rachel. I truly enjoyed reading this book. While the subject matter was hard to read at times, the characters were authentic and the story made it a fascinating read.

I loved the title of the book, but not because that’s what the characters must have been feeling. It was because that’s what I was feeling while reading it. I thought I knew what was going to happen and I felt “helpless” to stop it. Every time I picked up the book, I dreaded reading further, but I couldn’t help myself. I had to know what happened to Rachel.

It’s not hard to see why the book was long listed for the Giller prize. It’s faboulous.

Highly recommended.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Missing Witness by Gordon Campbell

In Missing Witness, Travis Eddington is murdered. His wife, Rita and his daughter, Miranda, were the only other people in house at the time. Juan Menchaka saw the two leave the house; Rita was carrying the gun. Shortly thereafter, Miranda, who’s a troubled little girl, goes into a catatonic state and is hospitalized. Travis’ father, Ferris Eddington, a wealthy rancher, wants Dan Morgan to defend Rita because Morgan is the best lawyer around. Rita swears she didn’t do it and it’s up to Morgan and the newest addition to the law firm, Douglas McKenzie, to defend her.

Campbell’s legal thriller is fantastic. I loved it! It’s faced paced and simply hard to put down. The story is finely crafted and filled with great characters and plenty of twists and turns. I was mesmerized until the very end. The story is told in the first person through the eyes of Doug McKenzie who’s known the Eddington family since childhood. Campbell sticks to the story and doesn’t include any unnecessary tangents or flashbacks. It’s pretty straightforward, however, the story gets a little complicated at times because of the rules of law. The author does a great job in leading the reader through those parts. Even the acknowledgements at the end of the book are interesting. Loved it all!

I love books written in the first person and this book is no exception. I’m sure writing all the events from one person’s perspective and having that one character in every scene presents a challenge for the writer, but for me it’s a joy to read. It’s interesting to see how the author manages to get all of the information across through that one person. I love it.

There just so much I love about this book. If I write anymore, I’m going to reveal too much of the plot.

I’d definitely recommend this book. I hope to read many more books by this author.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

A Golden Age by Tahmima Anam

A Golden Age is a beautiful and touching story about the Bangladesh War of Independence told through the eyes of one family, Rehana and her children Sohail and Maya. While Sohail and Maya join the movement against Pakistan, Rehana is a little reluctant to let her children go. Eventually, she relents and does what she can to help her country.

Anam presents an interesting perspective on this time period in Bangladesh’s history. Her characters are believable and the story line was compelling. It turned out to be quite the page-turner. With the information that Anam provides regarding the War of Independence, I think I really got a sense of what life was like in Bangladesh in the 70s. To be quite honest, I wasn’t quite sure where Bangladesh was. Now, I know.

Rehana was my favourite character. I worried with her when she had very difficult decisions to make. I felt her anguish. I also loved the descriptions of the food that she was making. It all sounded wonderfully appetizing. I’m a big fan of Middle Eastern/East Indian cuisine and each dish made my mouth water. I’m going to have to find recipes for some of Rehana’s dishes and attempt to make them myself.

Because I like being exposed to other languages, I was delighted to see that the text was peppered with both Urdu and Bengali.

This debut novel is wonderful. I’m looking forward to more of Tahmima Anam’s work.

Highly recommended.

A Killer's Kiss by William Lashner

It’s not often that I stop on page 3 of a book and proclaim out loud, I LOVE THIS BOOK. That’s precisely what I did with this book.

In A Killer’s Kiss, Victor Carl is a lawyer with a soft spot for his ex-fiancĂ©e, Julia. Her husband, Wren, has just been murdered. Even though Julia is the prime suspect, the police have Victor in their sights because Julia and Victor have been spending time together and the murder weapon is found in his apartment. When Victor finds out that $1.7 million dollars is missing from Wren’s business accounts and the other business partners (thugs, really) approach him to recover it, he goes into overdrive to clear his name and get to the bottom of things. The suspects and motives pile up as Victor works the case.

Lashner has written a great mystery/thriller. The opening chapter is brilliant. I was hooked and wanted to read the rest of the book as fast as I could. There are lots of interesting characters, plenty of red herrings and some devious twists and turns in the storyline that kept me guessing who-dun-it and why until the very end.

Victor Carl is a great character. He is sarcastic and witty. It’s sort of unfortunate that he saves his best stuff for Sims and Hanratty. I would have liked to see a little more of that attitude. Although, too much of a good things isn’t great either. It is no wonder Lasher has written seven books featuring this attorney. Julia, the femme fatale, plays the part perfectly. Derek turns out to be quite a funny guy and steals every “scene” he’s in.

I love books written in the first person and this book is no exception. I’m sure writing all the events from one person’s perspective and having that one character in every scene presents a challenge for the writer, but for me it’s a joy to read. It’s interesting to see how the author manages to get all of the information across through that one person. I love it.

This is the seven Victor Carl book in the series. I’d love to read the others and I hope to find them on my travels.


Wednesday, November 14, 2007

The Birth House by Ami McKay

In The Birth House, Dora Rare is the first daughter born into the Rare family in five generations. In her teen years, she spends a lot of time with Miss Marie Babineau, a midwife and holistic healer in the remote village. As time goes by, Dora becomes the apprentice of Miss B and carries on her legacy of catching babies.

McKay presents a beautiful story about birth, sex and traditional medicine around at the time of WWI in a fishing village in Nova Scotia. These women live in a time when modern medicine is offering them a “choice” different from traditional methods. Even though the women are given a choice, sometimes that choice is made for them. In the end it comes down to the women’s right to choose.

I have a fondness for books set on the east coast of Canada and this one is no exception. I loved it. At times it was a little like going through a scrapbook with the little ad inserts, journal entries and letters interspersed with the main text of the story. My favorite character was Dora, but all of the characters were outstanding and believable.

The storyline was extremely interesting and reminded me that going to doctors and having babies in hospitals wasn’t always the norm that we see now. I especially loved the section at the back titled “Notes for the Willow Book” which contains fascinating information about how herbs and such are used as remedies in traditional medicine.

My favorite quote (page 153):
…And don’t forget to collect the seeds before autumn. You’d think the fruit was the prize, or the leaves or even the roots…but it’s the seeds that keeps the secrets. Like any other mother, the plant done spent all her life learnin’ the earth. It’s her seeds that does the rememberin’ for her. It’s all right there in the seed.

I’d definitely recommend this book. I'm looking forward to more works by this author.

[Somehow this review doesn’t do it justice. I just can’t find the words to express how I feel about this book. It’s an absolute joy to read. I wouldn't change a thing.]

Into the Wild - The Movie

I saw the movie “Into the Wild” on the weekend. While I didn’t love it as much as I loved the book, it was pretty good. The story was basically the same, but I think the movie presented a more uplifting message than the book. To me, in the book the story was presented in a matter of fact way (more like a newspaper account); it felt more like a tragedy (maybe that was just how I “read” it.) But after seeing the movie, I can definitely appreciate the inspirational message. The other difference I noticed was the way the story unfolded. The book was more chronological, which I found easier to follow.

The movie itself was beautiful. The scenery was spectacular in every shot. It was pure joy to watch.

I really liked seeing Hal Holbrook (Ron Franz) again. I can’t remember when I saw him last. I saw his name in the credits; otherwise I may not have recognized him. My eyes welled with tears when Ron was saying goodbye to Chris. Great performance. [By the way, in the book the author lets you know what happens to Ron. ;) ]

My husband and I had an interesting discussion afterwards. Mostly we talked about how the book was different (I read it, he didn’t), but we also talked about Chris’ adventures and why he did what he did.

I’m glad I got to see it especially after reading the book.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

The Rest of Her Life by Laura Moriarty

In The Rest of Her Life, Kara is driving in the family SUV when she strikes Bethany and kills her. As we soon see, that one moment of distraction will not only affect her life but also the lives of her family, her friends, and many others for a long time to come. The story is as much about the accident and its aftermath as it is about the relationship between family members. Some of the relationships are strengthened; some seem almost unaffected, while others appear to be irreparable.

I really enjoyed this book. I must be self-centred because I could really relate to Leigh. It was almost scary. While I didn’t want to act like she did, I probably would. It wasn’t that I had sympathy for her; I just didn’t see her actions/words as that absurd. It felt a little weird because I couldn’t possibly know how she really felt. [I don’t have children and I don’t know anyone who was killed in a car accident or even involved in a serious car accident.] The story frightened me a little because it could happen to anyone. A momentary distraction while driving, walking down the street or performing any other daily task could have disastrous consequences.

I loved that the book was from the mother’s perspective. While reading the book, I often thought about how the book would be different if it was written from a different point of view. Kara’s? Diana Kletchka’s (the victim’s mother)? Bethany?

I think this would make an excellent book group choice. The author provides lots of fodder for some sure-to-be-interesting discussions. I’d definitely read another book by this author.


I picked this book on HarperCollins First Look program, but was rejected. Thankfully, I got a copy through Bookcrossing.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida

In Let the Northern Lights Erase Your Name, Vendela Vida presents a beautiful and touching story of a woman’s search for the truth about her family and her own identity. The story begins with Clarissa’s father’s death. As she’s going through his things, she discovers that his name is not on her birth certificate; he’s not her biological father. She’s very angry and in a state of shock when she embarks on a quest to Lapland in search of her roots.

While this wasn’t my favourite book, I did enjoy reading it. It was easy to read, interesting and straight to the point. The author doesn’t bother with any tangents not related to the story. Every event in the book directly relates to the plot. This makes it easy to follow and quick to read.

I wasn’t particularly fond of the main characters. I found them too angry and distant to like. I did, however, like Anna Kristine, the healer whom Clarissa encounters on her journey. The story line was unique and kept me interested until the end. I really wanted to know how it all turned out for Clarissa.

The author intersperses lots of interesting information about the Sami (otherwise known as Laplanders, indigenous people of northern Europe) and their lifestyle within the plot of the book. I remember learning about Laplanders in school at one point, but I don’t remember them being called Sami. The information was fascinating and I will probably read more about them.

I really appreciated the map at the beginning. I had a vague idea were Lapland was, but not the specifics. It was nice to be able to refer to it on Clarissa’s journey.

Overall, it’s a really good book. I’d recommend it.

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

In Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer takes a look at the adventures of Chris McCandless (aka Alex Supertramp), who ran away from his family and tried to live off the land only to meet a tragic end in Alaska.

I loved this book and was totally captivated by Chris’ story. Once I started it I couldn’t put it down. The author starts out with the grizzly discovery of McCandless’s body in Alaska and then backtracks to tell the rest of the story. Using the sparsely written journals, photos McCandless took and interviews with the people McCandless befriended or ran into on the road, Krakauer pieces together the last two years of McCandless’ life. I love how the author hangs onto the story and doesn’t let it go. Even after he has finished his assignment (an article for a magazine), he continues to investigate.

The author also gives us a glimpse into the lives of other adventurers who have tried similar things. However, as we soon discover, no one is quite like McCandless. My least favourite part of the book was when the author was describing his own trek up the Alaskan mountains. I couldn’t see what this had to do with the story. However, when I finished that section, I realized that it had a lot to do with the story. The author was an adventurer too and offered great insight into McCandless’ actions.

For reasons I won’t go into here, the whole story has left me a little frightened, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

While we may never know what exactly happened to Chris, the author does a magnificent job of investigating the story and coming up with some explanations.


Now, I have to go see the movie.