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): 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.