Tuesday, May 20, 2008

We Are Now Beginning Our Descent by James Meek

In We Are Now Beginning Our Descent, Adam Kellas, a journalist and new novelist, receives an email from Astrid, a woman he met while covering the war in Afghanistan. In the email, she says she desperately wants to see him. Disillusioned from his war experience and convinced that he’s in love with Astrid despite their brief time together, he doesn’t think twice about boarding the first plane to the U.S with only the clothes he was wearing. Once he’s there, he not only learns the fate of his new book, but he also gets to see and know the real Astrid.

Meek is an exceptional writer. His prose is suspenseful, intense and very descriptive. I felt like I was part of the novel. It drew me right in and I didn’t want to put it down. Meek’s experience as a journalist covering the war for The Guardian gave him the necessary expertise to present this compelling and thought provoking novel.

One of my favorite parts of the book was the dinner party scene. It was amazing to watch as a disagreement amongst guests and an indiscretion on the part of the host lead to utter disaster. Given Kellas actions and state of mind, the title of the book is very representative of continual downward spiraling of Kellas’ life. His book, his relationship with his friends or Astrid: none of it is going well.

The only trouble I had was with the backtracking during the first half of the book, which made the story a little hard to follow. I got lost more than once and spent some time confused about what was going on. However, those periods were short lived and I quickly picked up the story again.

The ending was a little cliché, but in Meek’s very capable hands it comes across as sincere rather than corny.

I’d definitely recommend this book. I hope to read more of Meek’s work.

This review copy was provided by the publisher through the wonderful people at Edwards Magazine.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy GIlman

In A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax, Carstairs has given Mrs. Pollifax has a new assignment. She is to track down some missing plutonium at a famous health resort in Switzerland. It’s just enough plutonium to make an atomic bomb. Once there, she meets an eclectic bunch of characters. Some of them help her in performing her task; other hinder her. Mrs. Pollifax must be very discrete in her search for the plutonium. One wrong step could cost her her life.

I love this series and this installment is no exception. Mrs. Pollifax is a hoot. She always gets in more trouble than she should. She’s not bumbling, but sometimes she just stumbles upon the information or item she’s supposed to recover. Sometimes, she uncovers more than she should and that always gets her in trouble.

Besides Mrs. Pollifax, my favourite character is Robin Burke-Jones. He steals every scene he’s in. He’s funny, self-assured, forthright and despite his unsavory occupation, very helpful to Mrs. Pollifax. Hafez, the little boy who befriended Mrs. Pollifax, was also a delightful character. Because he was a child, he tended to go unnoticed and could eavesdrop on the sensitive situations. I loved how he just showed up sometimes. Of course, he became one of Mrs. Pollifax’s many distractions.

My one complaint about the series is that sometimes it’s a little too political. If that’s not bad enough, the series was written in the 70s, so the politics are dated. I don’t know a lot about the political climate at that time, so I think some of the nuances or implications are lost on me. I still love these books a lot, though. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I love this series and intend to read each of the books.

Monday, May 5, 2008

My Liar by Rachel Cline

My Liar is about the unusual and troubled friendship between of two women, Laura and Annabeth, in Los Angeles. Laura is a director, trying to get her movie, Trouble Doll, made. Annabeth is an editor who desperately wants to work on Laura’s film.

While the book was mildly entertaining and easy to read, my favourite part of the whole book were the sections detailing Annabeth’s editing job. It offered a great behind the scenes look at an aspect of the movie-making business that we don’t often get to see. The beginning of the book, about David, was so promising. It drew me in and I thought I was going to love this book.

However, that was not the case. I just didn’t care about the characters. I felt sorry Annabeth because of the way Laura treated her and her troubled upbringing, but Annabeth should have just stepped away from the relationship and sought better friends. I thought Laura’s final act of “betrayal” was beyond belief.

Cline uses a lot of references to real life movies and people in the business, including actors. I think devoted moviegoers would probably appreciate this, but most of the references were lost on me.

Rachel Cline fans, avid movie fans and those looking for an out of the ordinary L.A. based story may enjoy this one.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Bound by Sally Gunning

In Bound, Alice, an indentured servant in the mid 1700s, runs away after being mistreated by her master. The widow Berry and her border, Freeman, take her in and Alice soon earns her keep by preparing and spinning wool for the widow. What the widow and Freeman don’t know is that Alice has a secret and it’s only a matter of time before everyone finds out. When Alice’s past comes back to haunt her, her world is turned upside down. She must depend on those she doesn’t fully trust to save her.

I loved everything about this book. The story, the characters, the writing style. All wonderful. The story is powerful, thought provoking, and heartbreaking. Even though the time period was very different from my own, these characters seemed very real to me as if they could have walked right off of the page. The dilemma in which Alice finds herself isn’t too different from what could (and does) happen today. I think this makes the story and characters all the more real.

I appreciated all of the main characters and would have loved to know more about them, but this was Alice’s story. I especially liked that the whole story was told from her point of view. The reader only knows what she knows. Because of this we don’t get the full story about the widow’s fire or fine details about Freeman’s travels. How different the story would have been had the author included the points of view of Freeman, the widow, Nate or even some of the minor characters. I’m glad she chose to limit the story to Alice.

The insider’s glimpse into the birth of a country and it’s politics was especially interesting. I always found history out of a textbook dry and boring, but first hand accounts, even fictional ones, make it much more inviting. Gunning must have done a tremendous amount of research to be able to tell this story in such vivid detail. Thanks to novels like this one, historical fiction is fast becoming one of my new favorite genres.

The book was the historical note at the end of the book was very enlightening. In the note, the author explains the difference between indentured servants and chattel slaves and provides a few statistics on the slave trade in the world today. Fascinating stuff.

Highly recommended. I’ll definitely be picking up a copy of The Widow’s War to read more about the widow, Lyddie Berry.

Thursday, May 1, 2008

At A Loss For Words: A Post-romantic Novel by Diane Schoemperlen

In At A Loss For Words, a successful writer with writer’s block shares her story of a failed romance. He broke her heart 30 years ago and now he’s back to do it all again. Luckily she has her closest friends with whom she can commiserate. Meanwhile she tries to break through her writer’s block using suggestions from self-help books.

I really enjoyed Schoemperlen’s story. Most love stories out there are of the happy variety or at least have a happy ending. We don’t usually get to read about the disastrous romances. So not only is the story itself unique, but the way in which it’s written is too. Told in short snippets, it’s quirky and easy to read. I really didn’t want to put it down. The writer shares her inner most feelings and despite her broken heart, she keeps her sense of humor. There are some really funny bits that gave the story an overall lightness. A few times, though, it was hard to read because it reminded me of a few past relationships that I’d rather soon forget.

I questioned a few times whether what she was feeling was really love. Maybe it was, but it was also bordering on obsession. What is it about love that makes us so blind, deaf and well, stupid?

My one complaint is about the last page where the author reveals a previously unknown (to the reader) fact about the lover. At first, I didn’t think the additional information was necessary and somewhat changed my opinion of the book. However, now that I think about it, perhaps that is what the author had in mind. That is, to offer us one piece of information that could possible erase everything we felt previously for the heartsick writer. If that were her plan, it wouldn’t have been the same had she offered that information earlier in the book. It had to be revealed at the last possible moment to make the biggest impact. Interesting concept. I’m still not sure how I feel about it, but it definitely was a shock and invoked a strong response in me.

My favourite quote:
They [Kate and Michelle] remind me that if love is not exactly blind, then certainly it is a master of magical thinking, a wizard at seeing only what it wants to see, a virtuoso at hearing only what it wants to hear, and an unrivaled genius at revising reality to suit itself.

I’d definitely read another book by Schoemperlen and in fact, I already have Our Lady of the Lost & Found on my shelf waiting for me.