Friday, February 27, 2009

Addition by Toni Jordan

In Addition, Grace likes to count. Maybe "likes" isn't the right word. "Compelled" is more like it. She counts everything; the number of times she brushes her hair, the number of poppy seeds on orange cake, the number of letters in her name, the number of steps she takes. Counting defines her world. That's basically her life until one day she walks into her favourite cafe and finds that all of the tables are full. There's no place for her to sit. That is until Seamus Joseph O'Reilly invites her to share his table. She doesn't know it yet, but her world is about to be turned upside down and secrets she'd rather not disclose will not be hidden for long.

A wonderfully funny and endearing story from Australia. Grace definitely has some problems, however, Tori Jordan almost had me believing that this was "normal". Of course, it isn't. Even Grace knows that not everyone is obsessed with counting like her, but Jordan shows us the person behind the OCD and all of a sudden Grace's counting doesn't really matter. It's part of who she is. I absolutely loved this book. It even made me feel a little bit better about myself. Not because Grace is even more screwed up than me, but because all of my little quirks are part of who I am.

I did find the beginning of the book a bit exhausting to read. The counting and recounting; it felt like I was going in circles. I could just imagine what Grace was going through.

The book seemed to suffer from a split personality, which isn't a bad thing necessarily. It went from sarcastic, funny and focusing on Grace's counting to hot and heavy sex scenes. I usually frown upon gratuitous sex or violence or the like, however, in this case the episodes didn't really feel out of place. They also appeared to distract Grace from counting. Besides Jordan really knows how to write those scenes well. Hot! ;)

My favourite quote: I like the spaces between people better than the people themselves. It reminded me a little of another of my favourites from Invisible Armies by Jon Evans. If I keep finding quotes like this people are going to think I don't like them. ;)

Grace's obsession with Nikola Tesla was intriguing and I enjoyed all of the information Jordan provides about his life. Ever since I saw a wonderful play at the Winnipeg Fringe Festival about Tesla, I've had a fondness for him. I'm a little embarrassed to say that I don't really know too much about him, but my ears perk up when I hear his name or in this case, my eyes light up when I read his name. It turns out that he, too, was a counter and suffered from OCD like Grace did. Interesting. I might have to do a little more reading on him.

On a personal note: I always thought my husband was a little OCD with numbers or counting. However after reading this book, I now think that he's just really comfortable with numbers and likes to know how many, how long, how far, and whatnot. He's not obsessed with them. I'll never complain again when he comes home from work and needs to know how many cookies I baked. ;)

Highly recommended.

Want to know more about this book? You can Browse Inside or read a synopsis.

Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup

In Slumdog Millionaire, Ram Mohammad Thomas has been arrested for allegedly cheating on the TV game show Who Will Win a Billion?. He has answered all twelve questions right and is entitled to a billion rupees. He's done so without ever having attended school or read a newspaper. The producers of the show assume that he has somehow cheated and have had him arrested. As he and his lawyer watch a tape of his performance on the show, Ram relates the details of his life about how he goes from a baby abandoned in a garbage, to bartender, to a tour guide at the Taj Mahal and beyond.

I adored this book. Parts of it were poignant and compelling, while other parts were quite humorous. Vikas's characters were convincing; I rooted for Ram and Salim all the way to the end. I laughed; I was moved to tears; I cringed at the brutality. While it is a work of fiction, it serves as a reminder of the despicable things human are capable of and the deplorable condition under which some people live. I also loved the first sentence of the book. I believe it's going to become a classic: "I have been arrested. For winning a game show." You just have to read more after reading that.

In general, I love to read books set in other countries. New cultures; new languages. I particularly find books set in India fascinating. I never tire of them. Their culture is so different from my own that I learn something new with each book I read.

This book was previously published as Q & A. The one I read was the movie-tie in edition and features a P.S. section at the back. It includes a biography of the author, an interview with him as well as other fascinating material. It's well worth the read.

I'd highly recommended this book.

I also saw the movie based on this book. While I'm not a big movie goer, I decided to see it because it's won so many awards and I was curious after reading the book. I'm so glad I did. It was sensational. Not as good as the book, in my opinion, but definitely worth seeing. My husband loved it and wouldn't stop talking about it. Now that I've seen the movie, I'd really like to reread the book.

Want to know more about this book? You can Browse Inside or read a synopsis.

For more information about the movie, visit the website. The site has music, so if you are at work, turn down the speakers. ;)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

La's Orchestra Saves the World by Alexander McCall Smith

In La's Orchestra Saves the World, WWII is looming in England and everyone is trying to help out, including La. She is lonely, suffering from a broken heart and wants to help out with the war effort. She decides to start an orchestra to bolster everyone's spirits and to provide a distraction from the horrors of war. The orchestra is a success and friendships are formed, but when the war is over and the members of the orchestra go their separate ways, La is left wondering what life has in store for her.

This is an extraordinary book. I've only read a few of Alexander McCall Smith's books, but it's easy to see why books are so popular. He's an exceptional storyteller with outstanding characters. La's story is quaint, unassuming and transports the reader back in time. His writing is lush with details and gave me a sense of really being there. It was like going on an adventure. I could see La riding her bicycle. I could see her feeding the chickens on Madder's farm. I wanted to tell her she didn't need to be lonely because I was there. Even though it takes place in another time and place, it is still very accessible. Every time I picked up the book it was like returning to an old friend who had news to share.

The book is filled with many fascinating characters, but La was my favourite. She was determined and caring. She knew that music could bring them all together in a time of suspicions and divisions. I also liked (or maybe felt sorry for) Henry Madder and wished he was in the story more. Like La, he was inconsolable and lonely. Life wasn't easy for him, but he persevered. While I liked Felix, he seemed a bit standoffish and was more reserved than La. In hindsight, considering the time period and location of the story, it is easy to see why.

Highly recommended. It was a pleasure to read this book. My only complaint is that I wanted more. I'm so glad he's such a prolific and wonderful writer. I'll have many more adventures with him.

Want to learn more about this book? You can read the synopsis at Random House.

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

An Accidental Light by Elizabeth Diamond

In An Accidental Light, Jack Phillips, a Police Constable, accidentally hits and kills Laura Jenkins, a 13-year-old young girl, with his car. He is devastated to the point where he is having trouble carrying on with his job, his family and life in general. Meanwhile, Lisa and Derek, Laura's parents, are distraught at the loss of their daughter. Derek becomes dejected, while Lisa tries to figure out how to continue living. Eventually Jack and Lisa meet and no one would guess at the outcome. This is a brilliant novel in which marriages are tested, trust is betrayed, past secrets are revealed and lives are forever changed.

I adored this book. Diamond's writing is superb. She has a wonderful ability to construct a multifaceted story that grabs the reader and doesn't let go. It didn't turn out like I thought it was going to. but I loved it anyway. Actually, it was so much better than I would have imagined in the end. The beginning of the story could have been ripped from the headlines, but the rest of it, how people carry on after a great tragedy, was the stuff we never see on TV.

The storyline and characters brought forward a despondency that I felt from the very first page of the book. From the dealing with the tragic death of Laura, to reacting to current family issues, to facing past demons, Jack's and Lisa's lives were filled with one heartbreak after another. The characters were so believable, it was hard not to feel for them. I couldn't help but wish that they'd find a little peace and happiness.

The novel is written in a unique way. Parts of it are written in the second person (using "you"), although it's not readily apparent who the "you" is. It's not until later in the book that we find out to whom Jack and Lisa are writing or speaking. This style was very well suited to the story. I don't think I've read another book written this way, but I'd love to read more of them.

The author arranged the novel so that Jack and Lisa take turns telling their stories, which contained so many similarities it was a little spooky. I had a little trouble switching from Jack to Lisa and then back again only because I got caught up in Jack story and wanted to hear more. Then I got caught up in Lisa's story and wanted more of that. I was totally immersed in this story. I wanted to know how it ends, but didn't want to let go of these characters.

Highly recommended. A book like this doesn't come around every day. I'd jump at the chance to read another book by Elizabeth Diamond.

Want to know more about this book? You can read the synopsis at Random House as well as have a peek inside the book.

Monday, February 2, 2009

In Mike We Trust by P.E. Ryan

In Mike We Trust is a young adult novel about Garth who wants to be honest about who he is. He wants the world to know that he's gay. However, his mother would rather him keep his secret until he's older, she says. In other words, she doesn't want anyone to know. When Garth's uncle Mike shows up they welcome him into their home. Despite his less than exemplary reputation, he quickly gains their trust. That trust might be misplaced, however, especially when he gets Garth involved in some not-so-good activities. Garth forgets all about being honest and lies to his mother and his best friend about what he's been up to.

Ryan presents a pretty good novel about secrets, lies, honesty and about being who you are. It's well written with some interesting characters. I really liked Garth despite his decision to go along with his uncle's scams and lie to his mother about it. I so wanted his mother to come around and let him be who he was. I could almost see why Garth and his mother trusted Mike so readily. He was family, he looked so much like Garth's Dad (who died not so long ago) and Garth and his mother were at a vulnerable time in their lives. Also, Garth thought that Mike really understood him.

The story line wasn't really what I was expecting, though. I thought it might be really light-hearted. Instead it focused on some difficult decisions and issues that teens face. It was much better than I thought it was going to be.

I don't really want to get too much of the plot away, but I'd like to mention one thing about it. I can't help but wonder if the story line might give some unsavoury people ideas about how to make a fast buck or make others less trusting of some very worthy causes. In this story, Mike's shtick is a little transparent, but I can see someone seizing the opportunity to take advantage of trusting people.

Recommended for teens. Some of them might be able to relate to Garth's predicament. I think some adults might like it, too. ;)

Want to learn more about this book? Synopsis at HarperTeen.

Confession by Lee Gowan

Set in Broken Head, Saskatchewan, Confession features the story of Dwight Froese, who has confessed to killing his father in a duel. He says he did it to avenge his mother's death the day before. Dwight believes that his father was responsible. There's a problem, though. The coroner has ruled his mother's death an accident. Dwight's world has turned upside down and he's basically caught between a rock and a hard place. How did this happen to him? Where does he go from here?

Gowan presents an awesome story that illustrates the struggle between fate and religion. Is Dwight fulfilling his destiny or is his life in God's hands? I really enjoyed this book. The story builds in intensity until the shocking and dramatic climax which I did not see coming at all. The Editor's note at the end of the story was equally striking. I had to read it twice to make sure I understood its implications.

The presentation was unique in that Dwight's story jumps among three time periods in his life; when he was a young boy, just after his parents died; and later in life. I got a little lost a few times with the jumping around, but after awhile it wasn't too hard to follow. This technique worked so well with this story. I don't often reread books, but in this case I really want to read it again just to enjoy this aspect.

Dwight is definitely a distinctive character. When he wishes someone dead, they die. When he visits them, they are miraculously healed. Men and women are inexplicably drawn to him. This results in some pretty intricate and risky relationships with the people of the town. It's amazing how one person can have such an effect on so many people.

I'm not sure that I understood all of the religious parts and references. Even though I was raised in the Roman Catholic church, it's been years since I attended mass. I probably have forgotten a lot of what I learned in catechism. That's another reason to reread the book.


Want to learn more about this book? Random House synopsis and Browse & Search.