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.


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.


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 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.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Dying for Mercy Giveaway - Winners

Congratulations to Hannah and Cheryl! Both will be receiving copies of Mary Jane Clark's "Dying for Mercy". They have been notified and their addresses are already on the way to Wiredset.

By the way, I recently finished this book and will be posting my review shortly. I loved it and hope the winners will, too.

Here are the answers to the three questions I asked:
Q) What's the name of the protagonist in "Close to You" and "When Day Breaks"?
A) Eliza Blake.
Q) Her biography says that "Mary support causes close to her heart, including research for a cure or treatment for fragile X syndrome". There's a specific reason why Mary is interested in Fragile X syndrome. What is it?
A) Her son has the syndrome.
Q) Who is Mary Jane Clark's former mother-in-law?
A) Mary Higgins Clark.

Thanks to everyone who dropped by and to everyone who entered. Also, thanks again to Kat at Wiredset for allowing me to host this giveaway.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Girl in a Blue Dress: A Novel by Gaynor Arnold

In Girl in a Blue Dress, Dorothea Gibson is grieving the death of her husband, the One and Only Alfred Gibson, a great novelist, despite the fact that she has been estranged from him for ten years. Not long after she gave birth to her youngest child, she was banished from the family home and spent the next ten years in near seclusion. Now that Alfred has died, she has been slighted again in that she has not been invited to his funeral and has not been adequately provided for in his will. In this novel, she looks back on her life from first meeting Alfred to reuniting with her children after his death.

Gaynor Arnold's inspiration for her novel was the life and marriage of Charles Dickens. Despite that, she maintains that this book is a work of fiction. In the author's note at the beginning of the book she addresses the changes she's made and liberties she's taken.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love books written in the first person and this one, written from Dorothea's point of view, is no exception. While I'm familiar with some of Dickens' stories, I haven't read any of them. Honestly, I didn't know very much about him. Nevertheless, I found this whole story fascinating and even if only bits of it mirror Dickens' own life, it was a intriguing life indeed.

Arnold's first novel is very well-written with an uncomplicated story line that's easy to follow. The only part that was a little confusing, at first, was the beginning where she alternates the narrative between Dodo (the young unmarried Dorothea) and the older Mrs. Dorothea Gibson. The one thing that struck me about this novel was that it relies heavily on dialogue, especially at the beginning. Later on, it evens out a bit, but to me the dialogue was still more prominent. Maybe it just seemed that way because it was written in the first person. Anyway, it's not a bad thing. It's just something I noticed.

As for the characters, I loved both Dorothea and Alfred. Dorothea did everything for her family and got tossed out. Because Alfred was so famous and their separation was not to be public she lived in near isolation until his death. I really felt sorry for her. Alfred was so full of himself as if the whole world revolved around him. I almost laughed out loud anytime he was referred to as "the One and Only". He seemed to be interested in all young women except his wife. I couldn't wait to see what he was going to do next. The story also featured a few notable minor characters that I loved reading about: Wilson, O'Rourke and even Queen Victoria.

I usually don't look up new words, however, in this story I ran across one that looked too interesting to ignore. New Word Alert: insouciance = impertinence, nerve, sauciness, rudeness. After stealing one of Alfred's notebooks, Dorothea says "...I am infused with a new spirit of insouciance."

Favourite quotes:
On page 162, O'Rourke says "Oh, Alfred does things by instinct. It wells up from the depths of his heart and passes by his head entirely, so although he writes what he knows, he doesn't always know what he writes." Another statement from O'Rourke on page 256 in talking to Kitty, daughter of Alfred and Dorothea, "...the Truth has many shades...".

Highly recommended. I'd love to read more of her work.

For more information regarding this book, please visit