Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Tenth Gift by Jane Johnson

In The Tenth Gift, Julia's lover, Michael, has given her an ancient book about embroidery, The Needle-Woman's Glorie as a good-bye present. Upon closer inspection, Julia finds not only an inscription, but also tiny hand-written print scattered amongst the beautiful embroidery patterns. It turns out that Catherine Anne Tregenna, Cat for short, a seventeenth century servant, had been using the book as a diary. What a treasure! In the book, Cat recorded her life in the Harris' household, her abduction by pirates and her life as a slave in Morocco. Julia is fascinated by the diary and goes to Africa to authenticate it. Even though they are separated by four hundred years, the stories of these two women share so many details it's as though they've lead parallel lives.

This is a great book; I loved it. It really is a delightful, well-written and easy to read piece of fiction. It's billed as a love story and while that part is quite good, it's the historical parts that drew me in. I was memorized by Cat's story in the 17th century. I had no clue that the Europeans were victims of slavery perpetrated by the Salé pirates from Morocco. Fascinating stuff. The parallel lives concept was very cleverly done and wonderful to follow. I especially loved how the author pulled all of the parallels together in the end. I also liked that the romance sections of the story weren't overly syrupy or over done. Johnson suggests the attraction rather than making it blatant. The treatment of the captives on the ship to Morocco was particularly disturbing to read, but offered variety and contrast to other parts of the book.

As for characters, I liked Julia, but I loved Cat. There was something about her and her story that drew me right in. I was particularly struck by her acceptance of her fate in Morocco. Michael, Julia's former lover, wasn't all that likeable, but I loved reading about Al-Andalusi and Idriss, Cat and Julia's love interests, respectively. Both men were mysterious, dark and, while not always likeable, especially in the case of Al-Andalusi, interesting.

I appreciated the map that was included at the beginning of the book with all of the relevant places marked. I liked having that picture in my head as I read the novel, especially because it concerned an area of the world with which I'm not familiar. Sure, I could look it up on the internet or in an atlas, but those maps are usually filled with irrelevant information. This is much better.

As much as I loved this book, I thought two of the "scenes" were a little over the top: the fact that Julia and Cat had similar writing styles and the scene near the end where Julia is in the attic with the candle. Both came across as contrived and impractical. These are very small parts of the book and didn't undermine the overall story at all.

My favourite quotes from the story are:
History is a very malleable thing usually written by the victors (page 309).

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they have never happened before, like larks that have been singing the same five notes for thousands of years (page 3).

The author's note at the back of the book is very informative. It never ceases to amaze me the amount of research that goes into a book, especially one that references historical events. I bet this one was especially daunting because it took place in the 1600s.

I found two other covers for this book on the internet. While I love the Moroccan archway on this edition(pictured above), I really preferred the cover featuring the old weathered book.

This book would be great for book clubs. It's sure to stir up some interesting discussions about the treatment of women in other countries, the similarities between the women's lives as well as many other topics. This edition even has a reading guide at the back of the book with some great questions to get groups started.

Highly Recommended.

A very strange coincidence: I took a break from the book to watch an episode of Law & Order: UK on television. I thought I was seeing things when in the credits I saw the name Catherine Tregenna. It turns out she's a Welsh playwright who just happened to have written the episode we were watching. Spooky.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website.

For more information about the author, please visit Jane Johnson's website.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Dying for Mercy by Mary Jane Clark Giveaway!

Kat over at Wiredset has graciously offered me two copies of Dying for Mercy by Mary Jane Clark to giveaway. Isn't that great? I haven't read the book yet, but I have read other ones and loved them. This one looks great!

Book Description:
When death shatters the serenity of the exclusive moneyed enclave of Tuxedo Park, New York, Eliza Blake, cohost of the country's premier morning television show KEY to America, is on the scene. While attending a lavish gala at her friends' newly renovated estate, Pentimento, Eliza's host is found dead—a grotesque suicide that is the first act in a macabre and intricately conceived plan to expose the sins of the past involving some of the town's most revered citizens.

Determined to find out the truth, Eliza and her KEY News colleagues—producer Annabelle Murphy, cameraman B.J. D'Elia, and psychiatrist Margo Gonzalez—discover that Pentimento holds the key. Nestled in the park's sprawling architectural masterpieces, picturesque gardeners' cottages, and lush, rolling landscape, the glorious mansion is actually a giant "puzzle house," filled with ingenious clues hidden in its fireplaces, fountains, and frescoes that lead them from one suspicious locale to another—and, one by one, to the victims of a fiendish killer.

As Pentimento gives up its secrets, it becomes clear that no amount of wealth or privilege will keep the residents of Tuxedo Park safe. But just when Eliza unearths one final surprise, she comes face-to-face with a murderer who believes that some puzzles should never be solved.

Trailer for Dying for Mercy:

About the Author:

New York Times bestselling author Mary Jane Clark has written 12 novels, all set in the high stakes world of broadcast journalism. She worked at CBS News headquarters in New York City for three decades, her experience there leading her to create KEY, a fictional television network. What her characters can get involved in as they cover their assignments is as varied as the stories on the morning or evening news. Her media thrillers are published in 22 languages.

Fast-moving, unpredictable, and always changing, the television news world offers a never-ending stream of ideas for Clark’s books. Her writing style has been described as “clear and speedy.” Influenced by years of writing television news stories, where every second counts, she gets right to the action in her suspense novels, in which every word is a clue.

The daughter of a FBI agent, Clark grew up in Westwood, New Jersey, and graduated from the University of Rhode Island. She is the mother of two grown children and lives in New Jersey and Florida. She spends her time researching her next novel, writing, concocting new plots while walking the beach, decorating ,and supporting causes close to her heart, including research for a cure or treatment for fragile X syndrome.

To be entered in the draw, send me an email at mparke[at]mts[dot]net with the following:
1) Your Full Name. [I'll ask for your mailing address if you win.]
2) The answers to these three questions:
a) What's the name of the protagonist in "Close to You" and "When Day Breaks"?
b) 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 intereted in Fragile X syndrome. What is it?
c) Who is Mary Jane Clark's former mother-in-law?
3) A sentence or two about why you want to read this particular book.

All entries must include these three (3) elements.

The draw is open until midnight (CDT) August 12, 2009. At time, I'll pick two winners from the qualifying entries. Winners will have three days to supply their mailing address. After I've received the addresses, I'll forward them to Kat who will then ship out the books.

Friday, July 24, 2009

The Castaways by Elin Hilderbrand

Secrets abound in The Castaways, a novel about friendships, love, loss and forgiveness. Set on Nantucket Island, these four couples seem to be the closest of friends: Chief and Andrea Kapenash, Addison and Phoebe Wheeler; Tess and Greg MacEvoy; and Jeffrey and Delilah Drake. On Tess and Greg's anniversary, the two head out for a celebration on their sailboat only to meet with disaster; they mysteriously drown. Their friends are devastated and desperately want to know what happened on the sailboat. They also worry endlessly about what's going to happen to the couples' two young children, Finn and Chloe, now that their parents are gone. As the details come together and secrets are uncovered, the other couples must come to terms with the deaths of Tess and Greg.

I devoured and adored this book. From the very first page I was hooked. Told from the various characters perspectives, the story takes the reader through past events that lead up to the deaths and the aftermath. I loved how it unfolded with little tidbits of the mystery scattered throughout the memorizing storyline. It was a very quick read, but I took my time with it because I really didn't want to put it down and I certainly didn't want it to end.

The characters were varied, interesting and believable. I don't think I had a favourite, but I did like some more than others. After some reflection, I realized that I was more drawn towards the men in the book. Addison's anguish was palpable and the Chief (I really felt sorry for him) with his nearly unwavering stiff upper lip was admirable, but I just didn't warm up to Delilah that much. Maybe I didn't I understand her. I think I got a little bit better handle on Andrea, but again I didn't love her. It seemed to me that she thought she was entitled to grieve more than the others. Don't get me wrong, it's not that I didn't like these two; I really did. I loved reading about them all.

If there's one thing that disappointed me (just a little) in this book, it was the ending. I love reading mysteries and got caught up in the mystery part of the story (What really happened to Tess and Greg?) Without giving too much away, I expected the mystery part to come to a round-'em-up-finger-pointing conclusion a la Jessica Fletcher (from the Murder, She Wrote TV series. Needless to say, it didn't. It wasn't that the ending was bad, it just didn't end like I thought it would. Maybe that's a good thing, eh?

The structure of the story very much reminded me of Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos. The writing styles are different, but I think if you liked that book, you might like this one, too.

I'd definitely like to read another book by Elin Hilderbrand.

Highly recommended.

For more information regarding this book, please visit the Hachette Book Group website.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Kaye at Pudgy Penguin Perusals has awarded me A Bookworms Award for Bookfriends. I'm honoured. Thanks a lot Kaye!

If you haven't visited Kaye's blog yet, what are you waiting for? Besides having a great name, her blog is awesome! Go check it out.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

French Women For All Seasons by Mireille Guiliano

French Women For All Seaons: A Year of Secrets, Recipes & Pleasure is the follow-up book to the hugely popular French Women Don't Get Fat. While the first book focused on the basics for a more holistic approach to living and weight loss, this second books deals with refining the ideas and digging a little deeper into them. The material is presented by season and not only features recipes and menus, but also has advice in fashion, skin care, exercise, flower selection and much more. There are also a few standalone sections at the back: wine selection, entertaining, and French terms. Guiliiano combines all of the information with childhood memories and tons of "food for thought".

There are so many great things to love about this book. With a serene and Zen-like presentation, Guiliano takes the time to explains some of the basics from the first book for those of us who missed that one. That would include me, but more about that later. I especially loved her explanation of the 50% solution. Basically the idea is to only eat half of what's on your plate, then stop and reflect. If you aren't satisfied, eat half of what's left, and again stopping to check your level of satisfaction. I also loved that she stressed the importance of drinking water. I think I would die if I couldn't drink water and had to rely on other beverages. I *love* water. In case water doesn't thrill you, Mireille's also an advocate for drinking red wine daily (without skipping the water). I *love* Mireille.

Next up are the recipes all of which look quite easy to prepare. There are a few more complicated ones, but most of them are simple and nourishing. Sure there are a few more decadent looking ones, but that's where portion control or the 50% solution comes in. In addition, Mireille explains that when a French woman indulges, she compensates for it by eating lighter before or after her "treat". For the purposes of this review, I tried the Salmon with Fennel En Papillote on page 72. It was easy and delicious. Definitely something I'd make again. I loved the combination of ginger and lemon juice on the salmon and on the fennel. Even my husband commented on how good it was. The hard part is deciding which recipe to try next.

Along with the recipes, the author includes menus for a whole week for each season giving the reader ideas on how to put the recipes together with other foods for balanced eating. All of them looked delicious; I loved these.

I also loved all of the scarf ideas. From the sounds of it, the scarf is a major accessory for a French woman. She wouldn't be caught without one and would most likely own several. All of the ideas sounded fun and mostly easy to do. I had trouble following a few of them, but I think with practice and the correct scarf, I think I should be able to figure it out. I think I might try to incorporate a few of these ideas into my wardrobe.

All three chapters near the end of the book were fabulous. Here Guiliano explains wine and makes suggestions on pairings with different foods; includes recipes and ideas for entertaining; and gives the reader a French lesson explaining some of the terms she used in the book. Awesome!

Lastly there's an index at the back of the book which is extremely important to find all of those wonderful recipes as well as other information on living holistically.

I admit I haven't read the first book. The author suggests that you start with that one to "in order to achieve your point of stable equilibrium" and then progress to this second book. I love reading books in order, but in this case I decided to read this one first. Now, I'm really looking forward to obtaining and reading a copy of French Women Don't Get Fat. I can already tell I'm going to love it.

For more information about this book, please visit the Random House website. For more information about the author, her other book and plenty of other wonderful things including recipes, please visit Mireille Guiliano's website.

Highly recommended.

Update: This review can also be found on Edwards Magazine Bookclub.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Six Suspects by Vikas Swarup

In Six Suspects, Vicky Rai has gotten away with murder yet again. At his party to celebrate his acquittal, he is murdered. When the police search the party attendees, six are found with guns: The Bureaucrat, Mohan Kumar; The Actress, Shabnam Saxena ; The Tribal, Eketi; The Thief, Munna Mobile; The Politician, Jagannath Rai; and The American, Larry Page. All are immediately suspected of murdering Rai. "India's best-known investigative journalist", Arun Advani, guides the reader through the crime as he investigates the suspects and tries to flesh out the murderer.

This unusual and uniquely presented murder mystery was sensational and a joy to read. It's definitely one of the best I've read this year. Using different sections, Vikas Swarup takes the reader through the suspects, the motives, the evidence and, finally the solution to the crime all while giving the reader a glimpse into life in India. While the stories of each character remains mostly separate, some of the characters do make guest appearances in the others' stories as the author reveals some connections amongst the characters. In the end, it seemed a bit like a spider's web, but still very easy to follow.

Speaking of characters, they were a wonderful outrageous group, albeit offbeat, representing different aspects of life in India. Like the story line and the presentation, the characters were original, but seemed a little larger than life. I loved them all and appreciated all of the background information the author presented. I don't think I had a favourite, but I really liked Eketi, Mohan and Shabnam.

I loved how Swarup used different writing styles for some of the characters. It helped to differentiate them and their sections. For example, he used only dialogue for the politician and diary entries for the actress. The American's story was chalk full of hilarious clichés that made me laugh-out-loud a number of times. You could just tell that Swarup has a fantastic sense of humour. [I wonder if it gets to use it much in his day job.]

Every mystery needs a good ending and this one didn't disappoint. The ending with its carefully crafted wicked twist was priceless. I didn't see it coming and still shake my head when I think of how Swarup revealed the culprit.

I've also read Slumdog Millionaire (originally published as Q & A ) by this author and loved it. I also saw the movie based on the book and was surprised at how different it was. It was well worth seeing.

I love reading books set in India and never tire of them. I'm beginning to think that maybe I was in India in a previous life. However, that's doubtful since the names still give me a little trouble and trip me up sometimes. I figure the more I read, the better I'll get. Eventually, I hope to overcome this "disability". It's not going to stop me from reading more books by India authors or books set in India. I'm definitely looking forward to Swarup's next book. He's one of my new favourites.

For more information regarding this book or to Browse Inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada.

Highly recommended.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Home by Marilynne Robinson

In Home, Glory has come home to look after her ailing father. She's not been home long when they get word that Jack, the prodigal son, has decided to return. Glory's father, Robert, is ecstatic, but Glory isn't too sure about it. Because of the difference in age, Glory doesn't get along with Jack that well. In fact, she really doesn't know him that well. As her father's health continues to fail, Jack helps with the yard work and attends to his father, but is clearly bothered by something and he tries to keep to himself. Along the way, we learn more about the Jack's past, where's he been for 20 years and why he's returned. The story transports the reader to the 1950s, a simpler time when men wore suits even while at home and women were expected to be keepers of the house.

To say this book is beautifully written is an understatement. It's gorgeous with a lyrical quality to it. It took me a few pages to get into this story, though. I guess I've been reading novels that are more plainly written and less complex and it took me some time to get into the rhythm. Once I did, though, I loved every word. The theological discussions amongst the characters were especially interesting. Theoretical without being preachy.

Robinson's characters were exceptional, complex, fascinating and flawed. Jack made me wary and filled my head with questions. Why come back? Why now? Why leave the first place? I think Glory may have felt a little of this at the beginning. She didn't trust him. Jack's return brought them all closer together, yet there still remained some distance between them.

Jack's comment to Glory about not belonging in the house in Gilead, got me thinking about the word "home". Where is home? Is it the place you grew up? Is it the place where you're heart is (isn't that a saying or something?) Is it where all your stuff is? Is the location important or can "home" be anywhere your family happens to be living? And perhaps the one question that kept popping up: Can you ever go home again?

There are many wonderful and delicious passages scattered throughout the book. I wished I'd marked some of them for inclusion here, but I was so caught up in the reading, I didn't. I just know that this review really isn't doing the book justice. It's simply one of the most beautiful books I've read in a long time. Writing, characters, storyline...all divine. Even the cover is gorgeous. It's so reminiscent of the setting and to me it just says "home".

Highly recommended. I'm now really looking forward to reading Robinson's other books, especially Gilead which is, I believe, the another side of the same story told from another character's perspective.

For more information about this book or to Browse Inside, please visit the HarperCollins Canada website.

Life Sentences by Laura Lippman

In Life Sentences Cassandra Fallows, an author, has an idea for her new book. She's already written three, 2 of which were bestsellers. When she hears an old classmate's name, Calliope Jenkins, mentioned in a news report, she decides to investigate further and use the story in her next book. Callie has spent seven years in prison for killing her child yet has told no one what really happened. While Cassandra searches for Callie, she discovers that you can't always rely on your own memories to find the truth.

In this well-written, suspenseful novel, Laura Lippman examines memory and truth. She illustrates her points using characters who knew each other in grade school and members of the protagonist's own family. It's interesting how individuals remember things differently. I've already encountered this with my own family in that when we reminisce, we discover that we not only remember different details, we remember the events differently. A quick personal example to illustrate my point: Supposedly, when I was very little I fell down the stairs. My sister, who was also very little at the time, remembers this. All I remember is that the little girl in the white dress fell. I have no memory of it being me. Weird, eh?

Anyway, Lippman is a wonderful writer and has created a diverse cast of characters for this novel. Because Cassandra spends considerable time tracking Callie down through old friends and her lawyer. there's not much of a mystery. However, the story will leave you on the edge of your seat waiting to see how it all turns out.

One thing that surprised me in the story was that people didn't come forward or try to contact Cassandra to straighten out the facts once her books were published. I guess that's where truth
comes in. Sometimes the truth is more awful than we want to remember.

For some reason, this book didn't grab me the way Lippman's other books did. I really enjoyed it, but for me something was missing.

Recommended. This wasn't my favourite book from Lippman, but I love her work and will continue to read more of her books. If you'd like to read more of her books, I'd also recommend: What the Dead Know and Another Thing to Fall.

For more information about this book, visit the HarperCollins Canada website. For more information about the author or her other books, please visit Laura Lippman's website.