Tuesday, June 23, 2009

The Scarecrow by Michael Connelly

In The Scarecrow, Jack McEvoy, a crime reporter for the Los Angeles Times, has just been told he's being laid off. Shortly after that he receives a call from a woman complaining about one of his stories. In that story, a 16 year old boy is accused of murdering a young woman. The woman on the phone swears this boy is innocent even though the police say he has confessed to the crime. Since his career as a crime reporter is near the end, McEvoy decides to produce the story of his career focusing on how society helped create this teenage murderer. However, as his investigation begins to heat up, McEvoy soon realizes that something is wrong with the confession and the case need closer examination.

I loved this book. It contains all of the things a great thriller should. It's fast paced with plenty of intrigue and wonderful, convincing characters. Once I picked it up, I didn't put it down for very long until I got to the explosive and shocking ending. The story was extremely interesting and intense. I love how Connelly presents the story, jumping back and forth between the good guys and the bad guys. With this story, you don't have to wait until the very end to see the killers, Connelly puts them upfront.

The book is timely as it gives insight into the life of a journalist when newspapers are struggling to keep their heads above water. It also offers a glimpse into the life of a computer genius who can take control someone's life with just a few keystrokes. It was alarming to learn much damage this guy could easily do from his computer. With all of our personal information stored on various computers around the world that "hackers" potentially have access to...well that's more than a little bit scary.

The book is filled with some great characters. I especially loved Jack McEvoy. He sought to right a wrong and diligently and tenaciously worked the clues that he uncovered.

Scattered throughout the novel, there are 12 URLs (website addresses) in the text which relate to the story. If you're the adventurous type, try typing them into your browser. You won't be sorry. I did and was pleasantly surprised by what I found. Incidentally, I waited until I finished the book, to check out the websites. You just never know when a spoiler will surprise you. These URL "extras" were definitely one of the things I loved about this book.

This isn't the first of Connelly's books I've read. Coincidently, I also read The Poet which just so happens to be mentioned in this book several times and features the same two main characters, Jack and Rachel. I'll definitely be reading more of his books. I'd love to check out the Harry Bosch books. I've heard great things about them.

Highly recommended.

For more information:
- about the author, visit Michael Connelly's website.
- about the book, visit the Hachette Book Group. Look on the right hand sidebar for a great Q&A with the author, as well as Reading Group Guide.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The Girl Next Door by Elizabeth Noble

The Girl Next Door, highlights four intersecting stories about the people who live in one particular apartment building in New York. There's Eve and Ed who've recently moved to New York from London; Jason and Kimberley, their young daughter Avery and the Schulmans next door; Violet, the elderly neighbour who's friendly enough, yet remains somewhat distant; Jackson Grayling III, the lazy but incredibly rich bachelor; Charlotte Murphy who lives in a dream world; and a host of other minor, but still memorable, characters.

This book is fantastic. I loved every word and enjoyed reading it immensely. I adored watching the story unfold as the bits and pieces from of the characters lives were interwoven into one cohesive novel. Even though the stories jumps around from story to story and character to character, I found it very easy to follow. I admit that I found the list of characters at the beginning daunting. I couldn't imagine how I was going to keep everyone straight and remember them all. However, Noble is an expert storyteller. She leads the reader through the stories and often provides gentle reminders as to who the characters are.

While the stories remain mostly separate, the characters have interactions with each other and are brought together by the desire for a rooftop garden. Each story provides a little glimpse into their lives: getting the pretty girl's attention, being lonely in the new city, having a baby, falling for the doorman, fantasizing about the next door neighbour, dealing with the infidelity of a partner. It's sort of everyday stuff, which makes this book and its characters so easy to relate to. I think the title reflects that, too. Every one of the characters could be the "girl next door" (or "boy next door"). While their actions were not always admirable, they were genuine and believable.

With so many characters, you'd think there would be at least one I didn't like. Surprisingly, there wasn't. That is, I really liked them all. I especially loved Violet. I was totally memorized by her fascinating and heartbreaking life story as she was telling it to Eve. I also really liked Todd and Gregory because they made me laugh.

Highly recommended. This is probably one of the best books I've read so far this year. I'll definitely be looking for more works by Elizabeth Noble.

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

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Strangers by Anita Brookner

In Strangers, Paul Sturgis is a retired bank manager who lives alone. In fact, he's alone a lot. The only other person left from his family is a cousin by marriage with whom he doesn't get along, but still manages to visit every Sunday. His only other interactions are with strangers; his hairdresser, the people he sees in coffee shops, the people he meets on trips. He's lonely and desperately wants more, but it just isn't happening. That is until he meets Vicky Gardner, many years his junior, in Venice. She mainly interested in herself and very demanding, but at least she's some company for Paul. Sometime later, he runs into an old girlfriend, Sarah, and they try to find some common ground again. He knows he's near the end of his life and ponders how he's going to spend those days.

This is a terrific book. Brookner examines the loneliness and uncertainties of old age with wonderful, beautifully written prose that accentuates just how alone Paul is. Reading it was a little emotionally draining, though. At times the book is very depressing. I kept thinking about growing old, being alone and coping with it all. In contrast, a few of the events are exasperating bordering on comical.

While I really liked Paul, not all of the characters were likeable. Vicky was maddening. She was only interested in herself and what she could get from others. I could see why Paul put up with her though. Someone is better than no one, I guess. I couldn't quite get a handle on Sarah, Paul's former girlfriend. I'm not sure why, possibly because I didn't really like her either. I also couldn't understand some of Paul's reactions towards her. Even with the company that Paul finds, it struck me that he was still with strangers. Vicky did almost nothing to find out about Paul and Sarah had changed so much she, too, was now a stranger.

I'll admit that while I enjoyed reading this book, my attention wondered more than once. There's not a lot of action in the story. Mostly, the novel takes place inside Paul's mind while he remembers past events and tries to figure out where to go from here. I still enjoyed it enough to think about reading it again.

Recommended. I'd love to read another novel by Brookner. Her writing is superb.

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

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Into the Beautiful North by Luis Alberto Urrea

In Into the Beautiful North, Nayeli, a young woman, has noticed that there are very few men living in her town. They have all gone north to find work and perhaps a better life. This has left her town in a vulnerable position against the bandidos. After watching the movie The Magnificent Seven, she decides to head north to America to recruit her own group to protect the town. Yoloxochitl, Vampi and Tacho, her three friends, accompany her on this journey north. Nayeli also has another mission: to track down and hopefully bring back her father, who travelled north and left his family behind. The trips isn't without its trials and tribulations, but the group is determined to succeed.

I adored this book. It's a wonderful novel about friendship, love, betrayal, discovery and so much more. I love learning about different cultures, but haven't read much about Mexicans or Mexico before. This book was a real eye-opener for me. Urrea shows us the lives of illegal Mexicans as they attempt to cross the border into the United States and travel under the radar. When Nayeli and Tacho were travelling across the country, it was interesting to see and experience America through their eyes. I also loved how Urrea introduced the phonetic pronunciations of some of the difficult names. Without his help for Nayeli (nah/YELL/ee) and Yoloxochitl (YO-low/SO-sheet), I would have been lost.

There were quite a few surprises in the book for me. I was very surprised at the outcome La Osa's and Chava's interviews. I don't want to give too much away, so I'll leave it at that. I was also surprised by the way the legal Mexicans treated Nayeli and Tacho. I guess it made some sense, but I didn't expect it. I was also struck by the absurdity of process when the guard asks Tacho if he's going to cross the border again after being caught the first time. Tacho replies "Yes" to which the Border Patrol says, "All right. See you next week".

The book is filled with fantastic characters. Nayeli was a brave young woman who took matters into her own hands to save her town and get her father back. She seemed vulnerable at times, but had great leadership abilities. Besides Nayeli, my favourite character was Tacho. He made me laugh so many times throughout the book. I won't forget him anytime soon. I also loved the Atómiko and the couple, Doña Araceli and Don Porfirio, who took in the group and shared what they had even though they had so little themselves.

The next time I see President Obama or an American news program talking about illegal aliens and securing the borders, I'll definitely be thinking of Nayeli and her friends. I'll remember that they were good people with honourable intentions. People first, illegal second.

Highly recommended. I'd definitely read another book by Urrea.

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

Want to read other reviews? Here's a one from Heather at Books and Quilts.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Ghostwriter by Travis Thrasher

In Ghostwriter, Dennis Shore makes his living scaring people with his horror novels. He is very successful. However, after his wife dies and his daughter goes off to college, he develops severe writer's block. With a deadline looming, he becomes desperate and submits another person's manuscript as his own work. After receiving praise for his new work, the real author tracks him down and starts making Shore's life a living hell. He's about to lose it all. "The horror he's spent years writing about has arrived on his doorstep, and Dennis has nowhere to run".

I enjoy reading this novel. I especially liked the whole "turning the tides on the horror writer" side of it. Once I started reading it, I didn't want to put it down. The book is nicely laid out with flashbacks to give some background information. I admit I got confused and lost a few times with the jumping back and forth and at one point I couldn't figure out which book they were talking about. However, I found my way again after rereading a few sections. I liked the characters that Thrasher created for this novel, but Cillian, the other author, gave me the creeps. I kept wishing he'd go away. It wouldn't have been much of a story then, would it?

I didn't really like the whole supernatural aspect of the book. That just not something I'm interested in. However, it didn't stop me from enjoying the book. Also, the Pink Floyd references were lost on me. I hope I didn't miss anything.

Until I visited Travis's website, I didn't know that he was a Christian writer. [I'm not familiar with the "FaithWords" imprint. That should have been a clue. Duh!] I thought the inclusion of the church marquee messages were a little odd for this type of book, however, I really enjoyed them. We had a church near us that put up similar messages and they were a hoot to read. Here's are a few of the ones from the book: "We are not Dairy Queen, but we have great Sundays", "Have you read my #1 bestseller? There will be a test, God", "GOD is like ALLSTATE...You're in good hands with Him."

This edition included a short interview with the author. It's very informative and worth the read.

I haven't read any other books by Thrasher. While I really enjoyed this one, I'm not sure I'll be reading any others. The supernatural and love stories are not my favourites.

For more information about the author, please visit Travis Thrasher's website. There's tons of cool information there. For more information about the book, visit Hachette Book Group's website.

Recommended for Thrasher's fans and those interested in the supernatural.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Winners of the Asian Heritage Month Giveaway

The winners for the Asian Heritage Month Giveaway are:
Bermudaonion (declined)
jessica.marie (replacement)

Emails have been sent. They have until midnight on June 4, 2009 to reply. If needed, I'll pick alternate winner(s) on Friday, June 5, 2009.

Thanks to everyone who entered and dropped by.

UPDATE: It turns out that bermudaonion won these books at another site. So in her place I've picked jessica.marie.

Winners of the Latino Book Month Giveaway

The winners for the Latino Book Month Giveaway are:
rhapsodyinbooks (declined)
Bingo (replacement)

Emails have been sent. They have until midnight on June 4, 2009 to reply. If needed, I'll pick alternate winner(s) on Friday, June 5, 2009.

Thanks to everyone who entered and dropped by.

UPDATE: It turns out that rhapsodyinbooks won these books at another site. So in her place I've picked Bingo from Bookin' with "Bingo".

Winners of the Mother's Day Giveaway

The winners for the Mother's Day Giveaway are:
Robynl (didn't send address)
robin_titan (replacement)

Emails have been sent. They have until midnight on June 4, 2009 to reply. If needed, I'll pick alternate winner(s) on Friday, June 5, 2009.

Thanks to everyone who entered and dropped by.

Update: June 5, 2009. I didn't receive robynl's address by the deadline, so I picked a replacement winner. Congratulations robin_titan!