Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Desert Contract by John Lathrop

In The Desert Contract,Steve Kemp, an American in Saudi Arabia to conduct business, is reunited with Helen, his love interest from 10 years ago. A business phone call to a diplomat accidentally put him back in touch with her again. The diplomat turns out to be Helen's husband and she answered the phone when Kemp called. Despite the fact that she's now married to Harry, Kemp and Helen rekindle their love affair. Kemp desperately wants to run off with Helen. If his last contract pays off as he expects, he'll have enough money for the two of them to leave the country together. Things seem to be working out, until some odd requests from the client makes Kemp suspicious. As he investigates further, the situation becomes more outrageous, convoluted and dangerous.

This well-written thriller is set against the explosive Middle East unrest. There's a little romance thrown into the story, but not so much so to make it syrupy. I usually don't have much interest politics or Middle Eastern affairs, but this book was extremely interesting and a great read. Lathrop not only made it interesting, he made it real. He included details only an insider would know. Each section kept drawing me further into the story. I didn't want to put the book down and was surprised as the unexpected conclusion was revealed.

I would really have appreciated if the author had included a map of the area. While I sort of know where Saudi Arabia is, I had trouble picturing in my head it's position relative to other places in the book, like Cyprus. I guess I could look that up on the internet, but it would have been nice to have a map where relevant towns, cities, or landmarks in the story were labelled.

This is John Lathrop's first novel. He's lived in many places and serves 4 years in the U.S. Air Force. He's worked around the world including the area in which this novel is set. Without a doubt, his experience allowed him to include details that added a lot of realism to the book.


For more information about this book, visit Simon & Schuster's website.

If you liked this book, you might also enjoy Invisible Armies by Jon Evans. Here's my review. This book is also a thriller that takes place in the Middle East.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

My Very First!

Yesterday, I spent a hard day at our new house. We haven't moved in yet, but I was there cleaning and unpacking some kitchen items. It was a very long day and I came home exhausted. Despite being tired, I decided to check my email. I so glad I did because it contained a wonderful surprise. My very first AWARD!

Jo-Jo from Jo-Jo Loves to Read!!! gave me the Friends Award! Jo-Jo is a new blog friend who has now inspired me to jazz up my blog a little and learn how to add images. I appreciate this award very much. If you haven't checked out her blog yet, what are you waiting for? It rocks!

Here is what the Friends Award stands for:
These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this cleverly-written text into the body of their award.

I am going to pass this award on to:
Marci at Travels of a Bookworm
Jonita at The Book Chick
Heather at Books and Quilts
Luanne at A Bookworm's World
Cindy at Cindy's Love of Books
Nikki (Book Manic) at A Blog of Books

Thanks again, Jo-Jo.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Cartoon Marriage by Liza Donnelly and Michael Maslin

Cartoon Marriage: Adventures in Love and Matrimony by THE NEW YORKER'S Cartooning Couple is a delightful book filled with very funny cartoons dealing with weddings, sex, children, divorces, the opposite sex, and much more. Lisa Donnelly and Michael Maslin, both long-time cartoonists for The New Yorker are married to each other and draw on their relationship for inspiration. In this book, they present a wonderful collection of their works with a sort of "he said, she said" take on all things matrimonial.

This book was brilliant, hilarious and very well laid out. The cartoons are divided into sections each dealing with married life. Each section is prefaced with a comic strip introduction featuring the authors. I read it sequentially, like a book, but there's no reason why you couldn't flip through the book and read the cartoons randomly. I laughed out loud many times and ran over to where my husband was sitting to show him my favourites. He's now interested in looking more closely at it.

Donnelly and Maslin have distinct styles in cartooning. I'd be hard pressed to say which one I favoured over the other. Both are equally good. At first I didn't even notice the difference...I was too busy laughing. However, as I got further into the book I started looking at their styles along with the cartoons. After awhile I could easily identify their works (without looking at the signatures). I especially loved the introductions to the chapters where the couple storyboarded their own lives. This made the book more personal and made it more than just a collection of cartoons.

There's just one little "oops" with this book. It's bound upside down. I wouldn't have even noticed, but when I first opened the book, the contents were upside down. To solve this "problem", I flipped the dust jacket around so it matches the contents rather than the cover. Unless the next reader removes the dust jacket, no one will be the wiser. ;)

I'll be enjoying this one again and again. It's great.

Highly recommended for the married couple, the engaged couple, those who have divorced, even the single person. There's something for everyone.

Want to know more about this book? Visit Random House website for a synopsis or a peek inside.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Fool by Christopher Moore

I just knew I was going to like this Advanced Readers Edition of "Fool" when it showed up wrapped in brown paper sporting a warning:
WARNING! THIS IS A BAWDY TALE. Herein YOU WILL FIND GRATUITOUS SHAGGING, MURDER, SPANKING, MAIMING, TREASON, and heretofore UNEXPLORED HEIGHTS OF VULGARITY and PROFANITY, as well as NON-TRADITIONAL GRAMMAR, SPLIT INFINITIVES, and THE ODD WANK. If that sort of thing bothers you, then gentle reader pass by, for we endeavor only to entertain, not to offend. That said, if that's the sort of thing you think you might enjoy, then you have happened upon THE PERFECT STORY!

Fool is Christopher Moore's retelling of Shakespeare's King Lear. However, he doesn't simply retell it. He takes the tragedy, transforms it into a comedy, adds in characters and storylines from other plays along with some sexual innuendos and bawdy antics and comes out with a hilarious and highly entertaining story narrated by Pocket, the fool in King Lear's court.

Pocket was abandoned as a baby by his mother. He grew up in an orphanage and eventually ends up "working" for King Lear by entertaining his youngest daughter, Cordelia. Because fools are not taken seriously, Pocket can say whatever he wants. He's had his life threatened more times than I can count, yet, along with his protégé Drool, he continues to pester and insult those around him while trying not to get caught shagging the King's daughters. He manoeuvres his way around the court and manipulates others to achieve his desired outcome. All in a good way, of course.

This book is hilarious and I enjoyed it immensely. I know lots of people who love Shakespeare's works; I'm not one of them. In high school, I did everything I could to get out of reading Shakespeare. Even now, I probably wouldn't pick up one of his books. I don't find the style in which the plays are written to be accessible. Having said that, for me this book was very accessible and not at all like one of Shakespeare's plays. While I enjoyed the story, it was lascivious behaviours of Pocket and Drool that kept me interested all the way until the end. I just couldn't wait to see what trouble they'd get into next.

The author's note at the end is worth reading. Moore explains a lot about how Fool came about and explains his research into Shakespeare's works. It's interesting stuff.

For more information regarding this book, head over to HarperCollins website to Browse Inside or read the synopsis.

Highly recommended for those who aren't scared away by the warning. ;)

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Darkness at the Stroke of Noon by Dennis Richard Murphy

In Darkness at the Stroke of Noon, Booker Kennison, of the RCMP, is sent to the Canadian Arctic to investigate the death of two people killed in a fire. One of the dead is Dr. Kneisser who had been excavating a archaeological site containing the remains of those from the 19th-century Franklin Expedition. He found a journal that could create dire consequences for both the Inuit people and for Canada as a whole. Shortly after Kennison arrives he discovered that Kneisser has been murdered and not killed in a fire as originally thought. Because the location is so isolated, the suspects are few, but that doesn't mean it's going to be easy for Kennison. The cold and the darkness are the least of his problems as he tries to conduct interviews and collect clues.

This Canadian thriller offers sensational non-stop action. It takes place over just a few days and it's hard to believe that so much happened in that time period. Even one of the characters makes a remark regarding this towards the end of the book. There was so much action and intrigue I didn't want to put down the book. I couldn't wait to find out if some of the speculation was true.

The story and excerpts from the 19th-century journal are presented alternatively. I was impressed by Murphy's ability to write in two very distinct voices; one for the current story and one for the sailor's journal. His writing is exceptional. It's clear, concise and easy to read. I was mesmerized by excerpts of the journal. It felt like I was reading a part of history. The sailor's recollections were interesting, heartbreaking and hmmm....let's say not for the squeamish. Just thinking about it gives me shivers.

There were lots of great characters, but my favourite was Lillian, the Inuit cook. She doesn't just have a huge role in the beginning, but her skills become invaluable to Kennison when he needed someone on his side. She was a woman of few words and helped even though she was grieving. By the end of the book, she stole my heart.

I bet the Canadian Arctic is a fascinating place. While it might be a great place to visit, I don't think I could ever live up there. The landscape features two elements I dislike the most: extreme cold and darkness (for part of the year anyway). The story contained lots of information about the region and the Inuit, most of which was new to me. I had never heard of the Turqavik, a rebel Inuit group. Very interesting.

Highly recommended. I was disappointed to learn that Mr. Murphy passed away in 2008 shortly after finishing this book.

Want to know more about this book? Head over to HarperCollins. They have also created an interesting radio drama to promote the book. It's on the book synopsis page. It's worth a listen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Piano Teacher by Janice Y.K. Lee

The Piano Teacher is a compelling and intricately woven novel about choices, secrets, love and infidelity. It is set in the 1940s and 1950s in Hong Kong. Just before the war, Will Truesdale arrives in Hong Kong, meets Trudy Liang and the two embark on a ardent love affair. When the war starts and the Japanese occupy the city, lives are put in jeopardy and choices for survival must be made. Ten years later, after the war has ended, Claire Pendleton moves to Hong Kong with her husband, Martin. Shortly after she arrives, the Chen family hires her to teach their daughter piano. Being new to the city, Claire becomes lonely when her husband starts working long hours. That is until she meets a mysterious man and an affair ensues. It's only later that she discovers that he holds secrets long buried in the past.

I was fascinated by this novel. Lee's writing and story-telling is superb. She transports the reader back in time and takes the reader inside the lives of the characters. Her characters were so believable, it was easy sympathize with them in their plight. Rather than relating the story in a linear fashion, Lee jumps back and forth between the time periods slowly revealing the many facets of the story. This approach fit very well and added suspense to the shocking conclusion.

Through the story, Lee presents a lot of information about Hong Kong during that period of time and the people who lived through it all. I learned a lot. She really gave me a sense of being there in that dangerous environment without having to leave the safety of my favourite reading chair.

Before I read the book, I listened to an audio interview with Lee and an excerpt from the book. In the interview Lee mentions that in addition to using history books to research the time period, she also utilized advertisements to determine what people were doing at that time. It always amazing me when I hear about how much research goes into a book and the lengths to which authors have to go to gather that information. Lee's dedication and skill shone through in this novel.

Highly recommended. I'd love to read another book by Janice Lee.

To learn more about this book, visit the Penguin website.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Mackenzie Blue by Tina Wells

In Mackenzie Blue, Mackenzie, Zee to her friends, is starting grade seven. This means a new school, but she'll be attending it without her BFF (that's "best friend forever" for those of you who don't speak "text"). Alli has recently moved to Paris. While she still has contact with Alli through email and texting, it's not the same. Zee misses her terribly. Luckily she met Jasper over the summer and on the first day she runs into, literally, Chloe, a new girl from Atlanta. Things are looking up for Zee until her diary is stolen and parts of it start appearing on the chalkboards around school.

Aimed at 8- to 12-year-old girls [aka tweens], Wells presents a delightful novel featuring a pretty typical seventh grader. I think tweens will be able to relate to Zee because of her anxieties over a new school, the loss of her diary, upcoming puberty, as well as trust issues with new friends and classmates. Despite all of Zee's anxieties, the story is pretty upbeat and fun to read.

I like books that are a little quirky or present the story in a slightly different manner. Therefore, I really enjoyed reading the texts, emails and the diary/notebook entries.

I absolutely loved the art work. Pencil sketches/drawings are my favourite medium. I also loved that the artist included some doodles on the diary/notebook pages that could have been drawn by a seventh grader. Very cool. [Note: This ARE doesn't include all of the art work.]

Apparently this book is the first in a planned series. Mackenzie Blue and the Secret Crush is the next book. I think it'll be fun to follow Zee's further adventures. [Note: This ARE doesn't include the first chapter of "Secret Crush".]

Recommended for tweens.

Head over to HarperCollins Canada for more information on this book.