Thursday, December 31, 2009

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

In Juliet, Naked, Duncan is obsessed with a singer-songwriter, Tucker Crowe, who hasn't recorded or even been seen in years. Annie, Duncan's girlfriend, has learned to live with this obsession. That is, until one day she decides she wants her own life. When Duncan moves out to live with another woman, Annie contacts Tucker Crowe through email. Remarkably he answers back and a relationship ensues.

This book was great. The story follows the various relationships some of which are more interesting than others. It starts off with Duncan and Annie's relationship, then progresses through Duncan's relationship with Gina, Annie's relationship with Tucker, and Tucker's relationship with Jackson. There are also Tucker's relationships (or in some cases non-relationship) with his other children and ex-wives and a few interesting side stories that keep things moving.

I enjoyed the music aspect of the book, but Duncan's obsession has him spending a great deal of time analyzing Crowe's music with other Crowologists, which was honestly lost on me. I'm amazed that people can read so much into music; I can't. I can tell you how a song makes me feel, but I generally leave the analyzing of lyrics or musical qualities to others. Having said that, I found it all interesting and the fact that I was lost didn't stop me from enjoying the book.

I loved the scenes about Fake Tucker or Fucker, as everyone called him. His antics, the situation, the mistaken identity; it seemed so absurd. It was a little jarring when little Jackson spoke his name, though. No one in the book seemed to think it was odd.

I don't know if I liked the characters all that much. I loved reading about them, but I don't think they'd be my friends. Maybe a bit too sullen for my liking. Maybe a bit too much like me. It seemed to me that most of them were lonely and looking for something more to enhance their lives. The exception being Gav and Barnsey, who were certainly an odd pair and the life of the party. Even though the characters were a bit gloomy, there's a great deal of wit in the story and it fun to read.

I really loved the ending, especially the last few pages. It took me a few minutes to figure out what was going on, but then I laughed out loud.

I haven't read any other book by Hornby, but of course I'd heard of him. I love discovering new-to-me authors who have a few books under their belt. That way I have more of their work to read should I like the one I'm reading. I'm definitely going to check out his other books.

Recommended.

For more information about this book, please visit the Penguin website.

For more information about the author or her other book, please visit Nick Hornby's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin Canada for this review copy.

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby, Riverhead Books (Penguin Group), ©2009. ISBN 9781594488870(Uncorrect Proof), 405p.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Sand Sharks by Margaret Maron

In Sand Sharks, Judge Deborah Knott is attending a conference for district court judges. While there she discovers the body of one of her colleagues. She soon finds out that he isn't well liked making the suspect list very long. She wishes that her husband Dwight, a Sheriff's Deputy, was here to help, but he's off taking care of some family matters. Deborah has her work cut out for her if she hopes to solve this mystery and bring the culprit to justice.

I really enjoyed this book. A suspenseful story with interesting characters keeps the readers guessing until the end. This book is part of a long-standing series, but I think it can be enjoyed on its own. Having said that, I haven't read any of the other books and a few times I wish I had, especially when past events were discussed. I don't think I missed anything to do with this mystery, though.

As the book progressed, I gradually became more fond of the Judge Knott character. Not that I didn't start out liking her, it's just that the more I read about her, the more I wanted to read. I would have liked to see how she interacted with Dwight, but I'll see that when I read other books in the series. ;)

I particularly enjoyed the ancient quotes that preceded each chapter. They served as a nice introduction to each section. The legal jargon and conversations were less interesting and lost me a few times.

I've read lots of books where the point of view shifts around from character to character and from first person to third and I enjoyed them very much. In fact, I think it's an interesting approach. However, here it was introduced so late in the book (more than half way), it was jarring and seemed a little unnatural. I'm not sure why the author chose to write the story this way. I'm now curious to see if her other books were written similarly.

Recommended. I'd like to read more books from this series and perhaps some of Maron's other books.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

For more information about the author, please visit Margaret Maron's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group for this review copy.

Sand Sharks by Margaret Maron, Grand Central Publishing, ©2009. ISBN 9780446196116(Advance Reading Copy), 291p.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Best of 2009

It's fun reading all of the "best of" lists each year, so once again I've decided to create my own. Just to be a little different, I've created some categories. Hopefully, next year I'll be a little more creative with these. Note that these are books I read this year and not necessarily published this year.

In no particular order, here's Daisy's Best of 2009.

Books that I will remember for a long time:
Still Alice by Lisa Genova
The Housekeeper and the Professor: A Novel by Yoko Ogawa
Ravens by George Dawes Green
Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup
Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup
Library of the Dead by Glenn Cooper
We Need to Talk About Kevin: A Novel by Lionel Shriver

Excellent books that I thoroughly enjoyed reading, but were not quite as memorable as those above:
Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill
The Castaways: A Novel by Elin Hilderbrand
Home by Marilynne Robinson
The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly
The Girl Next Door by Elizabeth Noble
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick
An Accidental Light by Elizabeth Diamond
Addition by Toni Jordan
The House at Midnight by Lucie Whitehouse
Into the Beautiful North: A Novel by Luis Alberto Urrea
La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

The one book that scared me so much that I'd rather not remember all of the details:
Afraid by Jack Kilborn

Books that changed the way I look at my life and the world:
How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Life Museum by Keri Smith
Going Gray: How to Embrace Your Authentic Self with Grace and Style by Anne Kreamer
My Little Red Book by Rachel Kauder Nalebuff
The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8 Lee

Well, that's it. I'd definitely recommend all of these. Do you have a "best of" list or a book to recommend?

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

In The Opposite of Love, Emily Haxby breaks up with her boyfriend just as she thinks he's about to propose. However, after awhile, she begins to think she's made a mistake. It doesn't take long for other things in her life to start falling apart and Emily must face her fears, rejection and the loss of Grandpa Jack before things can turn around for her.

I admit I let this book sit on my bookshelf because I thought it was going to be another bubbly chick-lit book with a heroine who's her own worst enemy in the shopping/dating/marriage/work world. I was so wrong. It was great! I enjoyed every minute of it. All of my preconceived (and incorrect) notions were thrown out the window after the first chapter or two. I'm glad something finally spurred me to pick this one up.

There was an overall sense of sadness to the book, but I didn't find it depressing. I worried about Emily when I wasn't reading the book. It didn't seem like anything was going to go her way and I kept hoping for a glimmer of hope or something to keep her going. Of course, the ending had me in tears, but I wouldn't have wanted to see it end any other way.

As for characters, I liked them all, but I loved both Grandpa Jack and ever-so-lively Ruth. I could see why they were friends. I could also see why Emily cared deeply for Grandpa Jack and eventually for Ruth.

My favourite quote from this book appears on page 57, when Emily lists the things she's learned from Grandpa Jack:
To tie my shoes, to always carry a book, to say please and thank you and follow up with a card, to daydream as a hobby, to tip big, to question the existence of God, to grin through pain. To show up.

Recommended. I can't wait to read After You which has also been sitting on my bookshelf. I hope to get to it sooner rather than later.

Want to see what others have said about this book? Here's one from Jonita at The Book Chick.

For more information about this book, please visit the Penguin website.

For more information about the author or her other book, please visit Julie Buxbaum's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin Canada for this review copy.

The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum, Penguin, ©2009. ISBN 9780143054795(Paperback), 303p.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

One Hundred Butterflies by Harold Feinstein

In One Hundred Butterflies, Harold Feinstein presents a collection of photographs of butterflies and moths from around the world. Quotes and information about the insects accompany the images.

This an absolutely gorgeous book. The photographs are exquisite. The layout with one butterfly/photograph per page is an ideal way to view these beauties. All of the glorious colours and shapes really standout against the black backgrounds. Even the endpapers are beautiful.

Inside, you'll find butterflies with odd names, such as: Welling's Gaudy Checkerspot, page18; Anna's Eighty-Eight, page 52; Drury Callicore, page 53; Painted Jezebel, page 84; Stinky Leaf Wing Butterfly, page 91; and the African Blue Salamis, page 99. I was amazed and surprised by the butterflies that have very different colouring on their top and bottom sides. I had no idea these existed. Examples include: Owl Butterfly, page 34-35, which is yellow and blue on the top, but has owl-like features on the underside; Blue Morpho, page 37; and the Variable Cracker, page 38. I was also taken aback by the unique shapes of the Indian Leaf, page 92-93, and the Dead-Leaf, page 98; the luminous beauty of the Jungle Queen page 94-95; the batik-dyed quality of the Lacewing, page 118-119; and the stained glass effect on the Glasswing page 124.

There are lovely quotes scattered throughout the book, which make a great addition to the images. Some of these quotes have to do with butterflies; others with nature and beauty. I loved them as well as the interesting and relevant information about the butterflies and moths.

Of all of the photographs, I'd be hard pressed to pick a favourite. I'll just say that my favourite is the one I looked at last. ;)

One nice addition for the book would have been a scale of some kind to give me and other the viewers an idea of the size of these marvellous creatures. I found this especially true of the Pandora Sphinx Moth. As first I thought it was not only unusual, but also quite beautiful. As I wondered about it more, I thought it could also look quite scary if it was shown full size (which I hope it's not.)

I loved the following line from the author's note at the beginning of the book:
The earth laughs with flowers, but it dances with butterflies (page 7).

Recommended. This book would make a lovely gift and/or coffee table book. Butterfly lovers, nature photographers, artists and those interested in these subjects would especially love this book. I'll be on the lookout for Feinstein's other books.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

For more information about the author and his other works, please visit Harold Feinstein's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group for this book.

One Hundred Butterflies by Harold Feinstein, Little, Brown and Company, ©2009. ISBN 9780316033633(Hardcover), 128p.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bear Portraits by Jill Greenberg

In Bear Portraits, Jill Greenberg presents a series photographs featuring a variety of bears in a outdoor studio setting. Some of the expressions she captures are almost human-like; others exhibit the raw and unforgiving power of these huge beasts. Her subjects range from the 40 pound European Brown Bear, 4-month-old Amos to the 1600 pound Grizzly named Koda. In between, there are Kodiaks, polar bears, brown bears and black bears. The text accompanying the images comes from various sources: ancient proverbs and well-known persons such as Shakespeare, Elvis Costello, and many more.

Beautiful book with marvellous subjects. The gorgeous images in this unique setting allows the viewer to see the bears up close and personal. Something we rarely, if ever, get to do. After glancing at the first couple of photos, I flipped to the introduction because at first I thought that these bears were stuffed. The author explains that they are indeed real and was surprised herself "that the bears didn't look alive or real in the pictures." All of them have, however, been raised by humans from birth and judging from the credits at the back of the book, each has some previous experience in front of the camera.

The one minor flaw in the book is in the images that span two pages. Some of the beautiful details are lost to the spine of the book. That's a shame. The only other thing is that it would have been nice to know which bear appears in which photograph. A label might have been too intrusive, but a listing in the back of the book might have accomplished this nicely.

If I had to pick a favourite, it would be "Silly Old Bear". The photograph is wonderful, but the reference (Christopher Robin and Winnie-the-Pooh) makes it special.

Recommended. This book would make a delightful coffee table book.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

For more information about the author and her other photography projects, please visit Jill Greenberg's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group for this book.

Bear Portraits by Jill Greenberg, Little, Brown and Company, ©2009. ISBN 9780316031882(Hardcover), approximately 60 photographs.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

It Can Happen To You: A Novel by Lynn Crymble

In It Can Happen to You, Penny is depressed and is in an unhappy marriage. She's barely manages to get through the day, until a chance encounter connects her with a local life-renovation expert, Linda, and her team of specialists. Penny's about to become a new woman with a new life, but she's not quite sure how she feels about all of these new people she's met and the changes that are being made. In this book about getting second chances and attaining happiness in unconventional ways, Penny must decide what she really wants.

Awesome first novel. I loved it. Most of it was laugh-out-loud funny but surprisingly a few sections brought tears to my eyes. Penny was a fantastic character with a wonderful sense of humour. Some of her interactions with her husband Jack had me in stitches. However, the bathroom scene, while being funny, left me a little unnerved. I'll just say I never want to be in that situation.

I always find it interesting when authors leave part of the story up in the air at the conclusion of the book. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. In this case, it's totally appropriate. To avoid spoilers, I'm not going to comment on that further except to say that life's like this. Even after we accomplish what we set out to do, it's not over, life goes on. Some people are happy with how things turned out; some are not. Perfect ending to a delightful story.

My one complaint is that Penny seemed to spend a little too much time walking around with her new best friend Haggis, an Irish Wolfhound. I know that walking-the-dog-therapy really helped Penny sort things out, but for me it got a little tedious.

My favourite quotes from the book are listed below. The first two I like because I can relate to the statements. The last one is just too funny (or sad, depending on how you look at it) to ignore.
...her home was a fortress, not a prison, to Penny. She felt protected and insulated from all the chaos and craziness of life. She like the sameness and predictability of each day. (page 36)
Penny hates it when friends and neighbours phone up and simply say hi without further comment, like she has instant voice recognition. That, or call display. For this reason alone, she almost prefers telephone marketers. At least you can tell them apart from everybody else. (page 295)
[Penny] likes the fact that Canadians will elect a person only if he or she has taken and passed a French fluency test. Maybe the Americans should have instituted a sort of competency test as well. Like basic geography. That might have eliminated a candidate here and there. Might have saved some stress. Some embarrassment. A few thousand lives. (page 82)


Highly recommended. I hope Crymble writes many more books. She's definitely on my authors-to-watch list.

For more information about this book or to Browse Inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

It Can Happen to You by Lynn Crymble, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9781554683079(Trade Paperback), 403p.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

I Can See You by Karen Rose

In I Can See You, Eve, a graduate student, is currently investigating the lure of the virtual communities to see if they can be used to help some people interact better in the real world. Years ago, she was attacked and left with some rather brutal physical and emotional scars. The virtual world was her refuge. Now, she's trying to find out if that world can help others. Noah Webster, a member of the Minneapolis/St. Paul Police Department "Hat Squad", has his own past demons to overcome. When Eve's test subjects are found dead from apparent suicides, he's convinced that someone has murdered them and somehow they are all connected. Together they set out to identify the killer and stop him before more bodies turn up.

This was a really good book. Fast-paced and very suspenseful. The story moved at lightning speed; at times I felt that I just couldn't keep up. It left me breathless. Even though the story was complicated with some great side stories and red herrings to keep the reader on his/her toes, I didn't feel lost or confused about what was going on. I particularly enjoyed the technical/hacker/computer information, although some of it was lost on me. I still found it all very interesting.

My one complaint is Eve's moaning about being broken and unavailable for Web got a little tiring after awhile. If she truly felt that way, she should have followed it up with some clear and concise actions...cutting ties with Web would have been a start. But she didn't. She kept seeing him, leading him on, kissing him all the while grumbling about not being able to completely follow through.

Highly recommended. I'll be looking for more of Rose's books to read.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

For more information about the author, please visit Karen Rose's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group for this review copy.

I Can See You by Karen Rose, Grand Central Publishing, ©2009. ISBN 9780446538343(Advance Reading Copy), 480p.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill

In Any Known Blood, Langston Cane V sets out for Baltimore "to reconstruct the lives of his ancestors" after being fired from his speech writing job. He is the son of a white mother and a black father, who's a prominent member of the community. Once in Baltimore, Langston visits his estranged Aunt Mill and discovers that she has boxes of family documents dating way back. As he gathers the information he's after, he writes the narrative of his family history.

I adored this book. It's a sensational look at blacks in Canada and across the border in the eastern United States as they overcome adversity and fight for their rights and dignity. Starting in the present and working back through time, Langston learns about the first four Langston Canes. I loved the structure that Hill used to tell the story. It's presented chronologically, but in reverse, just like if you'd be investigating your own family tree. He starts in the present with information about himself, then links it to his father, Langston Cane IV; which leads him to his grandfather, Langston Cane III; then his great-grandfather, Langston Cane II; and finally his great-great-grandfather, Langston Cane, the first.

You'd think with 5 of the characters named Langston Cane, it might get a little confusing. But it isn't at all. The book is masterfully constructed in that Hill introduces the historical sections by having Langston V uncovering a past event through another character or document. The reader is lead gently from present to past and back again. Hill leaves lots of clues about time period for the reader. It also helps that the present day sections are written in the first person while those in the past are written in the third person.

The book is filled with tons of great characters besides the five Langston Canes. Yoyo was one of my favourites. His "people of pigment" article for the Toronto Times (pages 257-259) was hilarious. I was also quite fond of Aunt Mill. She was a tough one to like at first, but she eventually warmed up to Langston V and helped him uncover the past.

I've never been a history buff or even liked history that much, but I find that the more historical fiction I read, the more interesting it becomes. Because of this book, I was prompted to look up John Brown and his raid in Harper's Valley, Virginia (The first Langston Cane was supposedly one of Brown's men in the raid, fictionally of course). Fascinating stuff.

The "Acknowledgement" and "A Word About History" sections at the back of the book are both enlightening and well done. I appreciate the amount of research that goes into books with historical portions. Amazing.

I love coming across new words. I've actually heard this one before, but I didn't know what it was.
New word alert: Scrapple (from page 262) - According Wikipedia: Scrapple (Pennsylvania Dutch) is traditionally a mush of pork scraps and trimmings combined with cornmeal and flour, often buckwheat flour and spices.

I was surprised that this wasn't a new book from Hill, but an older one that was reissued. I guess his other books are becoming more popular after his success with The Book of Negroes. That book, by the way, is one of my all-time favourites ( my review).

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Lawrence Hill's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

Any Known Blood by Lawrence Hill, HarperCollins, ©1997. ISBN 9781554685080(Trade Paperback), 505p.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

This is How by M.J. Hyland

In This is How, Patrick Oxtoby moves into a seaside boarding house after his relationship with his fiancée comes to an end. He's despondent about his life and the breakup and tries to turn things around. However, things don't get much better at his new location despite his concerted efforts. He's just not able to connect. On a particularly anger-filled and frustrating night, he discovers that one action performed in a fit of rage is all it takes to change his entire world.

I'm not really sure how I feel about this book. I enjoyed reading it, but didn't love it. Strangely, though, I had a hard time putting it down. I especially love books written in the first person and while I liked this one, it was a little too depressing for me. On the plus side, it was a quick read because the writing was straight forward with nothing overly complicated. The story, a study really, centred on Oxtoby's desolate life in which he felt he didn't belong. At first, it seemed laid back. However, the pace picked up after Patrick committed his crime and he awaited his fate.

Part of the problem was that I just didn't feel a connection with this character. I felt sorry for him, but he or his predicament didn't move me as I thought it should. I found his inability to accept what he had done confusing. Likewise with his insistence that he didn't mean to harm his housemate. I think it went beyond professing his innocence; he truly believed he'd done nothing wrong and had no clue as to why he was in jail.

I found the cover to be an odd choice for this novel. While the landscape definitely looks bleak, the man stooping down to pat the dog, makes me think of happy things and that things aren't as bad as they seem. Could they represent his hope or his intentions? Otherwise, I just can't see a connection.

Recommended. Even though I didn't love this book, it was a pretty good character study. I'd really like to read another by Hyland.

Want to read another review? Here's one from Jonita over at The Book Chick.

For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit M.J. Hyland's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

This is How by M.J. Hyland, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9781554685011(Trade Paperback), 376p.

B as in Beauty by Alberto Ferreras

In B as in Beauty, Beauty Maria Zavala, who simply goes by B, is a "woman of size" and is underappreciated because of it, especially at work. She feels helpless to change people's attitude towards her until she meets Madame Natasha Sokolov, a sort of "modern day fairy godmother" who shows B that inside she's the woman she's always wanted to be. With a few minor tweaks, there really is a beauty there waiting to get out. And once she accepts that, her life will get a whole lot better.

I loved this book. At times it was laugh-out-loud funny; at other times it was very touching. I loved that it was written in the first person and that B occasionally "talks" to the reader. It's like she's acknowledging me as an insider. She knows I'm watching her every move and doesn't mind. Ferreras has a wonderful sense of humour and shows it right at the beginning of the book with Chapter 0. The exchange between the two women police officers Elaine and Carol (page 302) had me in stitches. Too funny.

I loved that he doesn't mention how fat B is. She could have been a size 14 or a size 22. She could have weighed 150 or +250. Smart move. This way the story appeals to more women. I don't think the audience for this is limited to larger women, though. When it comes right down to it, I think many women could relate to B.

B was a great character. I really felt for her when she overheard her boss, Bonnie, talking about her while they were both in the restroom. Bonnie was a horrible, horrible woman and I couldn't wait until someone knocked her down a notch. Madame on the other hand was a darling and offered B tons of great advice. As part of B's "makeover", Madame introduced her to some pretty strange men all of whom preferred "women of size". [I love that term, so excuse me while I use it more than once].

I had to keep glancing at the cover because I couldn't believe this book was written by a man. Alberto Ferreras really knows women. From her inner most thoughts to her relationships with other women, he nailed it.

Favourite quotes (from pages 19, 262 and 263 respectively):
...no one in college had taught me how to survive in a snake pit, and that--I hate to tell you--should have been my number-one skill.
When you do something stupid but you don't know how stupid it is, you are somehow protected by your imbecility.
If you don't want people to know what you did, then don't do it.

Highly recommended. I hope Ferreras writes more books...that is if he can find the time between performing and filmmaking. Awesome first novel!

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

For more information about the author, please visit Alberto Ferreras's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group for this review copy.

B as in Beauty: A Novel by Alberto Ferreras, Grand Central Publishing, ©2009. ISBN 9780446697897(Trade Paperback), 325p.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Odd Mom Out by Jane Porter

In Odd Mom Out, Marta Zinsser, an advertising executive, has recently moved to the Seattle area with her 10-year-old daughter, Eva. Marta soon finds out that she's not quite like the other mothers in the area. Much to the dismay of her daughter, who just wants to fit in, Marta likes to wear her combat boots rather than expensive heels like the other mothers. Marta is also rather fond of her Harley motorcycle while her new peers drive high-end luxury cars. In addition to being the "odd Mom out", Marta is so busy with her daughter and her career, she really hasn't had time for much of a social life. Eva is determined to change all of that and does everything a 10-year-old can do to push her mother out of her comfort zone and into their new surroundings.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was light, funny and an overall good read. Sure, parts of it were a bit unrealistic, but from my experience that's typical of the chick-lit genre. Porter created a nice balance in the story with some parts of it being a little predictable, while other parts were a nice surprise and turned out differently than I would have expected.

I admired Marta for wanting to be herself rather than changing to suit other people. However, I couldn't figure out if she was really happy and comfortable the way she was or just dressed down to dissuade attention from the opposite sex fearing hurt feelings again. One thing I didn't understand was her reaction when she first found out about Luke's career and social standing. She didn't like him because he was more successful than she was??? As for other characters, I really liked Eva. She could have come across as a meddling brat, but didn't. She had good intentions. As for Luke, Marta's love interest, I liked him, but I just couldn't quite figure him out. Some of his actions were odd.

As I mentioned above, I thought parts of it were unrealistic: Luke, didn't tell Marta anything about his business dealings even though she had contact with some of his colleagues; the love at first sight scenario where Marta just catches a glimpse of Luke while she's running and she's ready to give up her self-imposed celibacy (it's not like she's not 16); the school system where it seemed that parents did more work than the teacher. This last bit seemed way over the top and I wondered if the author was using satire or giving a social commentary on the ridiculousness of certain aspects of the school system.

Recommended if you're in the mood for a fluffy read. I think I have at least one more book of Porter's on my bookshelf and I'm looking forward to reading it.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Jane Porter's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group for this review copy.

Odd Mom Out by Jane Porter, 5 Spot (Grand Central Publishing/Hachette Book Group), ©2007. ISBN 9780446699235(Trade Paperback), 408p.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Library of the Dead by Glenn Cooper

In Library of the Dead, Will Piper, of the FBI, is called in to investigate the Doomsday serial murder case. It's extremely weird because each victim was notified of their impending death via postcard. Just as things get interesting and Piper seems to be hot on the trail, he's yanked off the case. He continues to investigate anyway and uncovers a bizarre, intricate and puzzling secret that dates back to the 8th century and a young boy with an extraordinary gift.

Awesome first novel! I devoured this book. It contained a wonderfully woven plot involving British monks in the 8th century (the year 777 to be exact), the British government (with Churchill as the Prime Minister) in the 1940s and Area 51 in present day, 2009. A couple of the scenes were a little harsh, but otherwise this book was easy to read and fast-paced. The gripping plot is full of intrigue and will leave you asking if free will exists or if our fates are predetermined.

It reminded me a little of novels by James Rollins in that it blends mystery with history. However, I found that Cooper's thriller contained less action. That's not to say it was boring. In fact, I really had a hard time putting it down. I got the shivers more than once when I realized what was happening and saw how the story was coming together. It was pretty scary. However, that was nothing compared to the extremely tense and unexpected ending. I was so involved in the story I didn't have time (or desire) to think about how this could conclude, so when it happened, my only words were "Oh. My. God".

Despite the fact that the story jumped around through the different time periods, it wasn't hard to follow at all. Cooper does a magnificent job of leading the reader from one time period to the next. It also helped that there was a date at the beginning of the chapters.

New Words Alert:
1) consigliore (page 210) (also spelled consigliere) means "counsellor" in Italian. Additionally, it has the specific connotation of "counselor to a Mafia boss".
2)tonsured (page 216): partially shaved head - a shaved patch on the crown of the head of a priest or monk in some religious orders.

This book was published in the United States as Secret of the Seventh Son.

Highly recommended. Cooper is definitely on my authors-to-watch list. I can't wait for the sequel, Book of Souls due out in March 2010.

For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

For more information about the author and other interesting stuff, please visit Glenn Cooper's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

Library of the Dead by Glenn Cooper, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9781554683093(Trade Paperback), 393p.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville

The Lieutenant focuses on the life of Lieutenant Daniel Rooke. As a young boy, he was obsessed with prime numbers and had an insatiable curiosity for science. Eventually he entered His Majesty's service, became an astronomer and, after some time, set sail to New South Wales with a ship of full of convicts. Once there, he befriended an Aboriginal child and through her got to know the Aboriginal people and their culture.

This was such a good book. It was based on real events (which are explained in the author's note at the end), but remains a work of fiction. I loved it from the very beginning. The story was accessible, interesting, heart-warming and tender. I was particularly fond of Rooke's work in astronomy and linguistics. His passion for these subjects were so thrilling, it was hard for me not to get caught up in it, too. When I got close to the end of the book, I had to put it down for and leave it for a few days. I generally have to do that when a book gets too emotional. No use me being a basket case for the rest of the day or not being able to sleep. Also, I really didn't want this book to end, so the little break prolonged it for me.

This book was written entirely from Rooke's point of view. While that was totally appropriate for this story, I couldn't help but wonder how the Aboriginal's felt about this "invasion". I would loved to have heard parts of this story told from their point of view.

While Rooke went to extraordinary efforts to learn the language, he still encountered some difficulties. When it says on page 149*: "He could hear it, but his mouth did not know how to make it.", I understood perfectly. I'm terribly inept at learning new languages. Part of the problem is that I have trouble replicating the sound that I hear.

As I said above, I was particularly interested in Rooke's astronomy work as well as his approach to learning the Aboriginal language. Because of this, two of my favourite quotes deal with those subjects. From pages 291* and 152* respectively.
The exquisite instruments of astronomy could add new stars to the sum of the world's knowledge, but it took a soul to wonder at the beauty of those already discovered.
But language was more than a list of words, more than a collection of fragments all jumbled together like a box of nuts and bolts. Language was a machine. To make it work, each part had to be understood in relation to all the other parts.

The author's note at the back explains the real events on which this book is based. Grenville notes, "This is a novel; it should not be mistaken for history". It's evident that a tremendous amount of research went into writing this book. I appreciate that a great deal.

New word alert: promontory = cape, headland, peninsula or outcrop.
"The forest-covered promontories seethed under gusts of wind that darkened the water to gunmetal grey." (page 219)*.

Highly recommended. I'd gladly read another book by Kate Grenville. Perhaps I'll look for a copy of The Secret River. It's won many awards and looks terrific.

Want to read another review? Here's Heather's over at Books and Quilts.

For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

The Lieutenant: A Novel by Kate Grenville, HarperCollins, ©2008. ISBN 9781554684328 (Uncorrected Proof), 302p.

*Please note: This book is an uncorrected proof edition. These quotes may or may not appear in the editions available to the general public. Also, the page numbers may not match other editions.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Short Girls by Bich Minh Nguyen

In Short Girls, Vietnamese-American sisters Van and Linny are estranged, but have agreed to travel to the home of their father to help him celebrate his new American citizenship. He is obsessed with his inventions, like the Luong Arm, designed to help short people, like his daughters and thinks citizenship will help him with his work. The novel takes us through the sisters' lives from careers and romances to life with their father, now deceased mother and other family members.

I enjoyed this novel. It wasn't at all what I was expecting. Even though it was mostly a serious book, there was more humour and the overall tone of the book was much more light-hearted than I had expected. The authors presents the story in two distinct voices. One for Van, the somewhat stuffy married lawyer. One of Linny, the less established and flighty sister. This approach outlined the differences in the sisters quite well and successfully brought forward the story.

I learned a bit about the Vietnamese culture despite the fact that the family is very Americanized. I loved the conflict that ensued as they struggled with their culture, family life and finding out who they really wanted to be. The other thing I really loved about the book was how the characters and their relationships with each other changed and grew over the course of the story. This was especially true of the relationship between Van and Linny.

Besides Van and Linny, I really enjoyed reading about their father, Mr. Luong. I think he equated being short with being inadequate somehow. His inventions were an attempt to change that. He was so passionate about them but really wasn't taken that seriously. It was nice to see that change (especially from his daughters) over the course of the novel.

If I'm not mistaken, there was one outstanding issue left unresolved in the book. To avoid exposing a spoiler, I'll just say that I found it refreshing to have an unknown at the end of the book, especially since it made sense to me to leaving the reader hanging.

I think this book would make a pretty good selection for book clubs. Many of the issues and themes (family relationships, estrangements, immigrants, inadequacies) would provide groups with plenty to discuss.

Recommended. I'd gladly read another book by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit the Penguin website.

For more information about the author and other interesting stuff, please visit Bich Minh Nguyen's website. Thanks to the back of the book, I now know her name is pronounced Bit Min Nwin.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Penguin for this review copy.

Short Girls: A Novel by Bich Minh Nguyen, Viking Penguin, ©2009. ISBN 9780670020812(Advance Uncorrected Proof), 292p.

Monday, October 26, 2009

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith

How to Be an Explorer of the World: Portable Art Life Museum is filled with suggested activities for artists and everyday explorers of the world. Based on the idea that artists are essentially collectors, many of the activities include the gathering of items and then documenting the results or findings. Smith challenges the reader to set aside any preconceived notions or expectations and look at the world in many different ways.

I just knew I was going to like this book when I read the following on the back of the book:
WARNING
To whoever has just picked up this book. If you find that you are unable to use your imagination, you should put this book back immediately. It is not for you. In this book you will be repeatedly asked to... suspend your disbelief, complete tasks that make you feel a bit strange, look at the world in ways that make you think differently, conduct experiments on a regular basis, and see inanimate objects as alive.

I didn't just like it, I adored it. It's unlike any other book I've ever come across. I've had it by my side for the last little while, thumbing through it when I had a spare few minutes. Every time I open it, something new jumps out at me. It starts with a fantastic introduction about how the book came about and also includes how to use the book, methods and tools for exploration, additional tips, how to get started and much more.

In addition to the activities, the book is also filled with wonderful thought-provoking quotes. Sometimes the quote is directly related to the activity it accompanies; other times the connection is a little more obscure.

The back of the book is filled with a variety of pages for documenting the activities as they progress or are completed. I'm not sure if I'm going to use these pages or come up with another method for tracking or displaying my finished projects. I have a few empty scrapbooks that would work, but I'd also love to have an online component.

A couple of examples of the activities:
Exploration #17: Instant Sculpture Consider that everything around you is a source for sculpture. Try making quick pieces using whatever you have around you in the moment.
Exploration #50: Found Smells Go for a walk. Make a list of all the smells in your neighborhood. Be as detailed as possible. Attempt to identify sources.

I'm not sure how to classify this book. It sort of looks like a children's book, but a very intelligent and sophisticated one. However, Chapters has is in the self-help section. Go figure. It would be perfect for the budding artist or anyone (young or old) with an active imagination.

I've always looked at things a little differently, taken photos of things that others pass by, picked up or kept things that others would throw away, noticed ordinary things and imagined other uses for everyday items. Generally, I've been curious about a lot of things that cross my path. For this, I've been labelled "weird". This book has given me the license to continue being me. ;) I was so smitten with this book, I immediately went out and purchased two of her other books: Wreck This Journal and This is Not a Book.

I'd like to thank Julie Wilson (aka The Book Madam) from Book Madam & Associates for this book. I won it from her fabulous Twitter contest. Go check her out!

For more information about this book, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author or any of her other books, please visit Keri Smith's website. It's fantastic. Beware: I got information overload the first time I visited.

Highly recommended.

Friday, October 23, 2009

I'm still here.

I'm still here despite not having posted a new review in over a month. Some unforseen circumstances popped up and it couldn't be helped. I have been reading, though, and will have lots of new books to share with everyone in the near future.

With any luck, I should have some new reviews posted by early next week.

Stay tuned....

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food by Jennifer 8. Lee

In The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food, Jennifer 8. Lee explores Chinese food around the world. On her travels, she uncovers the origins of the fortune cookie (and why they don't have them in China), General Tso chicken, and chop suey (in a chapter called "The Biggest Culinary Joke Played on One Culture to Another".) She delves into the world of soy sauce, kosher ducks, food delivery, restaurant workers and much more. Along the way she meets many fascinating people: John and Jenny (and their heart breaking story), fortune cookie makers, restaurateurs and immigrants. One thing is for sure, you'll never look at Chinese food the same again.

This book is utterly fascinating. From the very first page, I was hooked. I didn't know all of the locations (in America or around the world) or restaurants to which Lee referred, but the subject matter itself was interesting and very well presented. I loved how the author opened with the lottery winners, who just happened to get their winning numbers for a fortune cookie. She returned to them time and time again throughout her narrative making the book one cohesive unit rather than a bunch of disjointed anecdotes.

One of my favourite parts was when one of the people that Lee met received a fortune cookie that read: Do or do not. There is no try. Lee immediately recognized that it was from The Empire Strikes Back and writes, Yoda our new Confucius is. Priceless!

The other part that I found really interesting was the chapter that offered "a window into the relationship between Jews and Chinese food" called "Why Chow Mein is the Chosen Food of the Chosen People--or, the Kosher Duck Scandal of 1989". This was all new to me, but I wondered how prevalent it was and whether or not it included Jews in Canada. According to Lee, Jews love Chinese food. I won't go into any more details about the relationship, you'll have to read this book for that. I'll just say it's amazing.

To my surprise, soy sauce in the United States and apparently here in Canada doesn't have to be made with soy. Lee explains how this came about and how some people have gone to great lengths to change that. It makes sense to me that all soy sauce should actually contain some soy, but I don't always read the ingredients list. After reading the chapter called "The Soy Sauce Trade Dispute", I immediately went to my soy sauce stash. The little packets (that I had been hoarding like gold) actually are made with soy so I'm going to keep those. My favourite bottled stuff is made with soy-based hydrolyzed plant protein. While it's not the best, it still might qualify as soy sauce. However, I also have some stuff that doesn't contain any soy at all. There just a little left so it'll probably end up in the trash. To my surprise, I actually had a two bottles of the "real" stuff (made with soybeans and naturally brewed) in the refrigerator. Both of those bottles are keepers. When was the last time you read the ingredients on your bottle of soy sauce?

As a final teaser: do you know where the greatest Chinese restaurant in the world is? Well, Lee does. She lays out her research and criteria and comes up with a winner. I'm not going to tell you who the winner was, but I will say it was a surprise.

The research that went into this book was extensive. You can tell not only by the acknowledgements, detailed notes and extensive bibliography that wrap up the book, but also by a statement from Lee in which she states that in the three years she spent on the book, she visited six continents, twenty-three countries and forty-two states (page 251).

Highly recommended. Whether you love Chinese food or not, this book is a fascinating look at Chinese people, culture and food.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

Mating Rituals of the North American WASP by Lauren Lipton

In Mating Rituals of the North American WASP, Peggy Adams discovers that she's married a man she doesn't know after a wild night of drinking in Vegas. She doesn't remember a thing. This isn't a good thing especially since she has a long time boyfriend. Luke, Peggy's new husband, is equally horrified and the two of them are determined to get an annulment as soon as possible. However, Luke's great-aunt, who's thrilled her nephew has decided to marry, makes them an offer that will solve both of their financial problems. Rather than getting an annulment, they make an arrangement that keeps their marriage a secret from their respective partners and keeps the truth from great-aunt Abigail.

This books was unrealistic, predictable, but a whole lot of fun to read. I enjoyed every minute of it. It's pretty well written with some great characters. Even though I thought I knew how it was going to turn out, I didn't want to put the book down. The story was engaging and unique while the characters were larger-than-life. Most of the fun centres on the chaos and the he said/she said situations that come about after Peggy and Luke decide to stay married.

I loved great-aunt Abigail. She was a hoot. I suspected, though, that she knew all along what Luke and Peggy were up to (staying married for the money). I also think that she was somewhere aware of the money troubles that Luke tried to keep from her. She just didn't seem as "out of it" as she was made out to be.

One character that puzzled me was Jeremy, Peggy's date. He didn't really add anything to the story, in my opinion. Wasn't Peggy's life complicated enough without this additional character? I mean she was already pre-engaged to Brock and married to Luke. She didn't seem that flighty that she needed to be dating after all of the other stuff that was going on. The big scene with Peggy, Jeremy and Brock didn't come across as intense as it could have been and seemed a little unnatural.

I wasn't enamoured with the poetry. I couldn't tell if it was good or bad or even mediocre. It's just not my thing. I didn't quite believe the whole scene with the poem that Luke wrote. It felt contrived to me.

Another thing that sort of bothered me. That was use of the word WASP. Is that politically correct? It's so hard to tell these days. I personally don't much like some of the labels we use to describe people, so I try hard not to use them. I'm not sure about this one.

Despite all of these things I really did enjoy the book.

Recommended for the beach, a lazy day in the hammock, or anytime you need a nice light humorous read.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

Want to know what others think? Here's a review from Jonita at The Book Chick and another one from Heather at Books and Quilts. Enjoy!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Get Real by Donald E. Westlake

In Get Real, a production company of reality TV shows decides to create a show about real life thieves. The ideas is that the cameras would follow the gang around doing whatever it is they do, including the planning and execution of a "job". While the producers try to maintain control, but they really have no idea what they've gotten themselves into. The gang have plans to complete the planned job for the show at the same time pulling another "unplanned" job right under the noses of the production company. There's one thing they agree on...no one wants to go to jail.

I really liked this book. Westlake provides plenty of laughs, some pretty good twists, a great story line and tons of interesting and likeable characters. All in all the book was fun to read.

I loved the reality TV based storyline which the back of the book describes as including "some edgy social commentary". I don't watch much reality TV frankly because it doesn't interest me. Well, I'm not sure what even qualifies as "reality" anymore. There's just so much crap on TV these days. I don't watch shows like Survivor, Big Brother or the Amazing Race where real people (wannabe actors?) mostly do weird and/or stupid things for fame or cash. However, I have been known to tune into a few other shows which feature real people and may or may not quality as reality. Anyway, I loved the explanations about reality TV and how the production company takes reality and makes it entertainment (arguably).

As for characters, I especially loved the members of the gang, John (and his pessimistic attitude), Stan, Tiny as well as the others. They made me laugh out loud many times. I'm definitely going to look for more books featuring these guys.

My favourite quotes from the Advance Reading Copy edition, from page 80:
...reality shows do not solve society's problems. They don't even consider society's problems. Reality is escapist entertainment at its most pure and mindless

And from page 233:
If we use actors, then it's got to be a scripted show, so then we need writers, and all at once we're into unions and all kinds of other expenses and it prices us right out of the market. The whole point of reality shows is to give the networks a way to fill airtime on the cheap.

This is the first book I've read by Westlake and I'd love to read more. Unfortunately, Mr. Westlake has passed away, but there's a huge backlist waiting for me. I better get started.

Highly recommended. For those who love reality shows (really?), those who detest them and those who just want a really good book to read.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

Monday, September 14, 2009

The Great American Taste Test

America's Most Wanted Recipes by Ron Douglas attempts to duplicate the recipes from America's favourite restaurants. In this taste test, participants were required to try one of the recipes from the book and then go the restaurant to try the "real" thing. After doing so, they were asked to blog about their experiences. Sounds like fun, eh?

Once I got the book, I sat down to pick a recipe and restaurant. Despite being from Canada (we don't have all of these restaurants here) I had many to choose from. Should I pick something from Applebees, Olive Garden, Red Lobster or one of the others? Then I saw it: Dairy Queen's Heath Blizzard on page 81. I absolutely love blizzards. The only problem is that we don't have Heath chocolate bars in Canada, at least not here in Manitoba. I knew that the Skor bar is similar and thought about substituting one of those. Then I saw the recipe tip which suggested trying Reese's Peanut Butter Cups instead. OMG! I love those things. I had a plan.

First to DQ. Although I had a Reese's Peanut Butter Cups Blizzard a long time ago, I remembered very little about it. After the first bite, it all came back to me. It was delicious. The only thing I didn't like was that the chocolate pieces were too big. The great thing about chocolate is that it melts in your mouth. However, when the chocolate bits are this big and then freeze, they don't melt all that much. For me, it almost loses its chocolaty goodness. Other than that, I loved it. Creamy, chocolaty (a little), peanut buttery. Yum!

Next the home made version. As much as I love blizzards, there's just no way I could eat two in one day. So I waited a few days to try the recipe at home. It was so easy. A little chopping followed by putting four very easy-to-find ingredients into the blender until it's mixed up and creamy. The books suggests putting the mixture into the freezer for 20 to 30 minutes for a thicker texture. That sounded good, so into the freezer it went.

After a short stint in the freezer my homemade blizzard was ready for tasting. It was great! Creamy vanilla ice cream with all of the flavours of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. It was a little different than what I had in the restaurant, though. I did chop up the chocolate bars into really small pieces because that's the one thing I didn't like about the "real" one; the chocolate pieces were too big. The other difference was the quality of ice cream. As the DQ blizzard melted, it remained very creamy. Mine at home was a little watery. I believe that could be easily remedied with higher quality ice cream. Or better yet, I could make Dairy Queen's Ice Cream on page 82 of this book. Despite this, my homemade blizzard was delicious. In some ways I enjoyed it more than the "real" thing.

Based on this experience, we will be enjoying this recipe (and many others from the book) many times over.

That's it for this taste test. I had planned on doing a few more before today, but life got in the way. Thanks to the wonderful people over at Atria Books (Simon & Schuster) for allowing me to participate. It was a blast.

Stay tuned for my review of the book which I'll do once I try one or two more recipes. I might even conduct another taste test.

In the meantime, if you want more information about the book or to take a peek inside, please visit the Simon & Schuster website.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Step Closer by Tessa McWatt

In Step Closer, Emily is compelled to write about a horrific event that happened to her and her two friends on the Santiago de Compostela trail in Spain. She's become obsessed with telling the story, working through the details of what happened and determining her role in it. All of this comes at the expense of her current relationship with Sam, who becomes more distant as Emily continues to write. This story within a story examines guilt, accusations, acceptance and tragedy and asks how well do we really know other people.

I found myself very easily distracted while reading this book at first. It took be three or four tries to get through the first 30 pages or so. I just couldn't figure out what was going on. However, once I got that far into the book, it started to make sense and I started really enjoying it. Even with that, I found that I really had to focus to keep track of the shifts in the story from Gavin's childhood, to what happened on the trail, to what was happening between Emily and Sam.

McWatt's ability to shift so easily and quickly between stories was splendid, a little confusing at times, but still splendid. Just when I got into Emily's story, McWatt would change gears and head into a section about Gavin or Marcus, but not before foreshadowing what was to come with a little piece of the puzzle. All of this really added to the suspense of the book. I was on the edge of my seat until the very last page. I found myself thinking about the book long after I finished the last page.

McWatt's writing is just beautiful. One of my favourite quotes comes quite early in the book. From page 18:
April stirs people, with its particular tilt of the earth, the ribbon-like quality of light. It brings the season of thaw, of rebirth, of pilgrimage.

Sam's work in virology inspired Emily to study up on his work. The information in the book about bacteria and viruses was fascinating. I loved how the author eventually ties it all in with the story that Emily is writing. Equally fascinating was the scenes leading up to the running of the bulls in Pamplona. I had no idea that the bulls were treated so poorly. Some traditions just are not worth repeating.

Even though I had a little trouble getting into this one, I'd love to read another book by this author.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Edwards Magazine Bookclub and HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

This review is also available on Edwards Magazine Book Club website.

For more information about this book or to Browse Inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Wait Until Twilight by Sang Pak

In Wait Until Twilight, Samuel discovers a set of triplets in his hometown. The problem is that they are seriously deformed and their much older brother is mistreating them. He is initially repulsed by them, but now he can't stop thinking about them and soon comes to realizes that it's up to him to save them. Samuel's a pretty typical teenager. That is, until he discovers that he must tackle the monsters around him and those deep within himself.

I really wasn't sure what to make of this book. It's a coming of age story mixed with a bit of fantasy, horror and humour. A little bit of everything really. The solid story was memorable, scary and very suspenseful. I really like that it was written in the first person from Samuel's point of view. It really felt really authentic because Pak used words and phrases that a teenager would use. My favourite part was the ending that finished strong with a nice tie-in to the Samuel's haunting dreams.

All in all I enjoyed it, but it felt somewhat disjointed in parts. A couple of times I was anxiously awaiting for something to major to happen between Samuel and Darryl or Samuel and the triplets. I didn't feel like the babies had consumed "Samuel's every waking and sleeping thought" as the back of the book had promised. Well, at the end they did, but I guess I was looking for it a little sooner.

Sang Pak is a new novelist with degrees in English and psychology from the University of Georgia. He clearly drew from both of these areas for this story. I'm going to keep my eye out for more of his work.

Recommended.

For more information regarding this book or to Browse Inside, please visit the HarperCollins website.

We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

In We Need to Talk About Kevin, Eva writes a series of letters to her estranged husband. Franklyn. In those letters she talks about their lives together and those of her children. She writes a lot about her son, Kevin, who on that one fateful Thursday walks into his school and brutally murders some of his classmates, a cafeteria worker and a teacher. She's brutally honest about how she feels and even wonders if she's at fault for Kevin's actions.

Even though I loved this book, it took me a few pages to get into the story. I think the way it was presented, through letters, distracted me. About the time Eva started writing about Kevin, I got used to the format and my interest soared. After that, I didn't want to put the book down. In fact, a few times it kept me up way past my bedtime. I'm always looking for something different, so it was exciting to read a novel that was presented in such a unique way.

Because all of the letters are written by Eva, we only get to hear her side of the story. She tells us what other people think and feel, but it's through her eyes that we see these people and their views. I kept wondering if there was something she wasn't telling us. Was she mentally incompetent? Could we trust what she was saying or writing in this case? I wondered how different the story would be had it been from another character' point of view, say Franklyn, Kevin, or even Celia.

I really loved how the story unfolded through Eva's letters. We get some of the story chronologically, but that doesn't stop Eva from interjecting other events and details into her letters as she sees fit. This way we get bits and pieces of what happened, but we don't get the whole story until the very end. It was suspenseful, to say the least.

When Shriver included other real life serial killers in this story I was ambivalent about it. I really wanted to hear about Kevin, not these other school shooters who've already had their 15 minutes of "fame". Don't get me wrong, it's not that I wasn't interested. I followed each and every one of their stories closely on CNN as they were happening. My eyes were glued to the TV and I remembered many of their names and details of their horrendous acts. I just thought it was Kevin's turn; his story that needed to be told. However, I then realized that Kevin's story became more real to me every time Eva and Kevin referenced the others. For me, it was like Kevin was one of them; the one I missed seeing on CNN.

I'm always delighted to find an edition of a HarperCollins book with a P.S. section at the back. This added bonus was very enlightening, especially the "About the Book" section where Shriver talks about writing this book and the response she's gotten.

I've read one other book by Shriver, The Post-Birthday World . As you can tell by my review, I loved it.

Highly recommended. I'm looking forward to reading many more books by Lionel Shriver. I just love her work.

For more information about this book or to Browse Inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Ravens: A Novel by George Dawes Green

In Ravens, the Boawrights have won the lottery, $318 million! Before they can claim their prize, though, two grifters, Shaw McBride and Romeo Zderko take the family hostage and demand half of the winnings. While McBride keeps his eye on the family, Zderko rides around town keeping track of the extended family members. The deal is that if McBride becomes unreachable, Zderko has orders to go to the nearest family member's house and kill them.

At first glance, I didn't know what to make of the novel, but Green totally sucked me in after the first few pages. His completely original storyline is absurd bordering on comical, yet somehow scary and full of suspense. I couldn't wait to see how this was going to end. Were the conmen going to get away with half the money? How many bodies were going to pile up in the process?

You'd almost expect the conmen to be bullies. Not so with these guys. McBride was witty, sarcastic and warmed up to some of the family members while Zderko just didn't seem to have the nerve to play his part in the grand plan. If the time came, could he kill? I believe he asked himself this question. Even though these two were unlikely in their roles, they were sensational. Other notable characters were Burris, the less than stellar police officer, and Nell, the grandmother. Even though everyone had counted Burris out as an officer of the law, he kept at. As for Nell, I really hated the way she treated Burris (he was sweet on her), but I loved her spunkiness.

All through the book, I couldn't help but wonder about the title. Why Ravens? So I looked the word up in Wikipedia. Under behaviour I found: "Common Ravens usually travel in mated pairs, although young birds may form flocks. Relationships between Common Ravens are often quarrelsome, yet they demonstrate considerable devotion to their families". While I wouldn't call Shaw and Romeo a "mated pair", the rest of the description is remarkably accurate. There could be another explanation for the title, but I think this is interesting.

New Word Alert: seining = to fish with a seine, which is a large fishing net with floats along the top edge and weights along the bottom.

Because my husband plays Texas Hold'em online for fun, when I came across the following statement from Nell, I giggled:
We don't cotton to Tedious Hold'em around here. Where you go all-in on a pair of nines and cross your fingers and pray? There's more skill in Bingo. (page 79)

Highly recommended. I'll be seeking out other books by this author.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

For more information about the author or his other books, please visit George Dawes Green's website.

Monday, August 24, 2009

The Doomsday Key by James Rollins

In The Doomsday Key, three murdered bodies are found on three different continents. The connection? A pagan cross burned into their flesh. Sigma Force comes in to solve this cryptic mystery that could end up destroying not only those involved but everyone on the planet.

This is another great book from Rolllins. I love how his novels are current with what's happening in the world. He takes relevant and important topics then weaves them into a fast-paced, action-packed, entertaining and possible, but not probable scenario. Without using monsters, ghosts, zombies, vampires or other such fantasies, Rollins scares his readers. He does it with the truth. Well, ok, some truth mixed with his vivid and active imagination.

There's so many things to love about this book; the story line, the characters. Topics like the food supply and dying bees take centre stage along with a host of other interesting historical tidbits. Characters like Painter, Gray, Rachel, Monk and Kowalski, who always makes me laugh, are fun to follow and read about. It amazes me that they can get into so much trouble and yet survive. I also love the historical and scientific notes at the beginning of the book as well as the "Author's note: Truth or Fiction" section at the back. Both put the story into real life context for the reader.

I found the information about Máel Máedóc (Saint Malachy) fascinating. He was a twelfth century Irish Catholic priest, who apparently had a vision in which he was given information regarding all of the popes until the end of the world. I love how this information was incorporated into the story.

I appreciate the map that's included at the beginning of the book. For me it's so much easier to have that as a reference rather than having to look it up on the internet or in an atlas.

There's a quote that I really love because it really underlines the basis of the whole book. Paraphrasing Kissinger on page 158: Control oil and you control nations, but control food and you control all the people of the world.

I've read one other book by Rollins, The Last Oracle. As you can tell by my review, I enjoyed it immensely. I'll definitely be seeking out more of his books.

Highly recommended.

For more information about this book, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Try Fear by James Scott Bell

In Try Fear, Ty Buchanan defends Carl Richess on the charge of DUI. It's all routine, until Carl is murdered and his brother, Eric, is charged with the murder. Along with his assistant, Sister Mary Veritas, Ty defends Eric, who he thinks is innocent, and uncovers various levels of corruption through the city ranks. Ty promises Kate, Carl and Eric's mother, that he'll do everything he can to insure she doesn't lose another son.

This book is the third in the Ty Buchanan series and once I got used to Bell's writing style, I quite enjoyed this book. It's well written with a pretty good storyline and fun characters. Since I'm an avid watcher of CSI type shows on TV, I really liked the multiple references to them in which Bell explains that real life isn't like CSI. A few of Buchanan's "stunts" in the courtroom smelled a little like Hollywood. Sure they were cute, entertaining and made great reading, but Bell didn't convince me they were realistic. I know he's a lawyer, but perhaps he embellished a little to make the story more appealing and give Buchanan some character. Enjoyable book nonetheless.

I loved Ty Buchanan. He's a great character. His wit, double talk and circuitous questioning at the trial had me sold from the beginning. I didn't quite understand why he lives on the religious compound in a trailer, but maybe that's explained more fully in previous novels in the series.

James Scott Bell is a former trial lawyer who really knows his stuff. Not only does he write fiction, but he also has written books about the law and writing. More information regarding this can be found on his website.

While I mostly enjoyed this book, I don't think I'll be seeking out any more of Bell's books. Most of his books are billed as "inspirational fiction" and that just doesn't interest me. Also, his book are set in Los Angeles and while I can appreciate that Bell is from LA and loves it, for some reason, novels set in large American cities don't appeal to me that much. At least, not when the city plays a prominent role in the novel.

Recommended.

For more information about this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit James Scott Bell's website.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Runaway Devil by Robert Remington and Sherri Zickefoose

Runaway Devil is the true story of a 12-year-old girl, JR, and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Jeremy Steinke, who murdered her parents and younger brother in Medicine Hat, Alberta. JR "would become the youngest Canadian convicted of multiple homicide and one of the youngest females anywhere to commit familicide, the annihilation of one's entire family." In this book, Remington and Zickefoose, both of the Calgary Herald, examine the evidence and reveal how it all came together in a bizarre story of young love gone seriously awry.

I usually follow news stories like this one. It's like a bad traffic accident you just can't look away from. However, I hadn't heard of this horrific crime before I picked up the book. In fact, not knowing about it was the main reason I wanted to read the book.

Overall, I found the story fascinating. The crime, the criminals, the victims, the whole "goth" world. All of this made it a remarkable read. However, parts were rather dry, especially the sections where the authors described photos or contents of social networking sites pages of JR, Jeremy and the others. I can appreciate that this information was crucial to the story and needed to be included, however, it just didn't come across as exciting reading material. I'm sure the authors did the best they could; I honestly can't think of a better way to present it. The book got better, though, and my interest in it picked up dramatically with the questioning and subsequent trials of JR and Jeremy.

Several photos were included to accompany the text. While they were nice to have, I couldn't figure out why a few of them (photo of the old furniture on the deck at Jeremy's trailer, photos of Grant and Jordan) were included. Granted the authors were limited in that they couldn't show the photos of the majority of the players (JR and her family), but the ones mentioned above didn't add anything to the story for me.

The story of Runaway Devil and Souleater (JR and Jeremy's online personas respectively) was incredible. However, I found it hard to believe that JR and Jeremy didn't know each other's ages. While age becomes a taboo subject among adults, I don't think that's the case with teens. JR lied about her age online, but her close friends must have known what her true age was. Don't teenagers talk to each other? JR's parents were against older guys calling the house for her. I would have thought one of them might have said, "Look, she's only 12." before telling them not to call again. Anyway, we just have their word for what they knew and the two of them did not exactly exemplify trustworthiness. We know that at least one of them was lying about who killed Jacob, JR's younger brother.

The other thing that I found hard to fathom about the story was how a 12-year-old was able to manipulate an adult, a 23-year-old adult, to the point where he was willing to kill for her. Jeremy was desperately seeking acceptance from someone. It's kind of sad that he couldn't find that in someone his own age.

Because JR was a juvenile offender under the age of 18, Canada's Youth Criminal Justice Act was suppose to provide her with anonymity. However, that act doesn't account for the internet. At least not yet. It took me less than 5 minutes to find JR's full name as well as numerous photos of her online. The authors did what they could to comply with Canada's legal restrictions and detailed their efforts in the author's note at the beginning of the book. Maybe one day the laws will catch up with the changing world.

After JR finishes serving her sentence, what will happen to her? Will she be reformed? I didn't get the impression that she fully understands what she's done. Will she get it when she's older? If not, God help us all. As for her sentence, there's got to be a better way to deal with young offenders who commit horrendous crimes. I'll leave all other comments about the law to the pundits.

Recommended. I don't have children, but I can't imagine having a teenage daughter (or son for that matter) and not being scared or a little uneasy after reading this book.


This review can also be viewed on Edwards Magazine Bookclub website.

For more information about this book, please visit McClelland.com or the Runaway Devil website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Edwards Magazine Bookclub for this review copy.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Dying for Mercy by Mary Jane Clark

In Dying for Mercy, Eliza Blake, co-host of Key to America, attends the party of her good friends, Valentina and Innis Wheelock, who live in the exclusive neighbourhood of Tuxedo Park. At the party, Innis commits suicide by stigmata, but not before he leaves behind some peculiar clues that Eliza and her coworkers must solve in order to unravel the mystery. Suicide by stigmata is admittedly strange, but maybe not for Innis. He and Valentina have recently returned from a holiday in Italy. While they were there, Innis became obsessed with St. Francis of Assisi, who first experienced stigmata. Eliza doesn't know it, but someone is determined to cover up Innis's mystery and will stop at nothing.

I loved this book. Mary Jane Clark's the queen of short chapters squeezing in 151 in 371 pages. It's not just the short chapters that I love, though. Her story telling abilities amaze me. The way she presented this mystery (and others), jumping between characters, had me on the edge of my seat reading well past my bedtime. While she provides plenty of red herrings to keep readers on their toes, she doesn't include extraneous details or irrelevant side stories. Her mysteries are tight, suspenseful and intense.

Unlike a few of her other books, this one wasn't so focused on the behind the scenes workings of the network news, although we do get to see a little of that. This one focused more on Eliza's friendship with the Wheelocks, the bizarre manner of suicide, St. Francis and other religious items. Even though there was quite a bit about religion, it didn't come across as preachy or even religious.

I love learning new things. Even though I was raised in the Catholic faith, my detailed knowledge of it is seriously lacking. The information in this story about the stigmata and other religious material filled in some holes in my education and prodded me to look up a few items on the internet. It was all fascinating stuff.

I've read a couple of other books by Clark. It Only Takes a Moment ( my review) and When Day Breaks( my review). I really enjoyed both of them. I can't wait until her next book is published. Until then there's a large backlist from which I can choose a book to keep my busy.

Highly recommended. For the beach, the hammock or your favourite reading chair.

For more information about this book or to Browse Inside, visit the HarperCollins Canada website. For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Mary Jane Clark's website.