Sunday, February 28, 2010

Simon's Cat by Simon Tofield

Simon's Cat is a collection of cartoons featuring Simon's cat, naturally.

The book is hilarious. If you have a cat or know a cat, you'll likely recognize many of these scenarios. Ok, so a few of them are slightly exaggerated, but only a little.

I'd never heard of Simon or his cat before this book made the rounds on the book blogs. I love cats as much as the next person (make that cat lover) so I figured it was going to be something I'd like. As it turns out it was especially good for me. Cats make me...make me...m..ACHOO! Even though I think they are the most fascinating domestic creatures, I can't have one in the house. Having this book around is almost like having a cat. I said, almost. There's definitely less hair (even though my hair seems to get everywhere, no cat hair means no sneezing), no scratched furniture, no litter box to clean, no disgusting cat food to scoop out. Hey wait a minute! This book is BETTER than having a cat around. ;) Just kidding. I love cats and this book.

I can't wait to follow Simon's Cat on YouTube.

Highly recommended.

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

For more information about the author, please visit The Official Simon's Cat Website.

I won this book over at A Sea of Books. Thanks Gwendolyn. I'd also like to thank those nice people at Hachette Book Group for sponsoring the giveaway.

Simon's Cat by Simon Tofield, Grand Central Publishing, ©2009. ISBN 9780446560061(Paperback), 240p.

Estate of Mind by Tamar Myers

In Estate of Mind: A Den of Antiquity Mystery, Abigail Timberlake buys a crude rendition of Van Gogh's The Starry Night at an auction. While she thinks the painting is worthless, the frame might be salvageable. When she gets home, though, she discovers a hidden masterpiece beneath the painting; a lost treasure called Field of Thistles also by Van Gogh. Others must know or suspect what's going on because suddenly people pour out of the woodwork to lay claim to the painting. When scandal and deaths follow, Abigail has her hands full uncovering the secrets and determining the truth.

This was such a fun read and a welcome break from some meatier and emotional books I've been reading. I love cozy mysteries but they generally get left on my bookshelf because I've got a ton of other books to read. Note to self: I must read more cozy mysteries.

Anyway, this book is part of a series, but it can definitely enjoyed as a standalone book. Myers has a healthy sense of humour and uses it liberally in this book. She uses her knowledge about antiques (she's a collector) to inject authenticity into the story. I found it fascinating. All in all, the book is quick and easy to read with eccentric, likeable characters.

I've read a few books by Myers and while I love them, I'm still not wild about her sometimes overuse of the word "dear". Maybe it's a southern/regional thing. It grates on me a little, but not enough to stop me from reading and enjoying her books.

Recommended. Definitely for fans and other cozy lovers. Others looking for a light, fun read would probably enjoy it, too. Myers has written a couple dozen books and I plan to read them day.

I picked this book up at a charity used book sale a few years ago. I'm so glad I finally got around to reading it.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit the HarperCollins website.

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Tamar Myers's website. [Caution: Music/beating drums on the home page. Turn down your speakers.]

Estate of Mind by Tamar Myers, Avon (HarperCollins), ©1999. ISBN 9781554685448(Mass Market Paperback), 290p.

The Truth About Love by Josephine Hart

The Truth About Love takes place in Ireland during the 1960s. It looks at the lives of three people after a teenager dies in a horrific accident. The German, a neighbour, knows all too well about tragedy and lost love. Sissy, the mother, teeters on the verge of madness because of her grief. Olivia, the boy's sister, tries to help the family through these difficult times. A desolate love story about losing a loved one.

The book is poetic, emotional and beautifully written. I liked how the author presented the characters stories, how she explained their grief and how little details of the accident were scattered through the book. However, it might have been a little too intellectual for me. While I really enjoyed some parts, other parts just didn't grab me. I seemed to hover on the edge of the story most of the way through only somewhat understanding what was going on. Just when I thought I was getting into the story, I'd get to another section and lose interest. I also had trouble following some of the dialogue.

The last section about the conflict in Ireland was pretty interesting and contained lots of information that I didn't know. But again, I had some trouble following what was happening.

Favourite quote: This quote is part of a paragraph about the German and the tragedy he's experienced. I liked the imagery of this one statement: And he doesn't seem to bend under the weight of his memories (page 128). I know how heavy some memories can be.

While I didn't love this book, I think it has redeeming qualities. I found lots of rave reviews online, so others have enjoyed the book. Marci from Serendipitous Readings called it "Stunning, Powerful, Unforgetful, Dangerous." Her whole review is here. Conversely, I found at least one review where the reader had trouble and didn't finish the book. I think the book has an audience, but I don't think it's going to be for everyone. Therefore, I can't wholeheartedly recommend it.

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

For more information about the author and her other books, please visit Josephine Hart's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

The Truth About Love by Josephine Hart, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9781554685448(Trade Paperback), 247p.

After the Falls: A Memoir by Catherine McClure Gildiner

After the Falls: Coming of Age in the Sixties is the memoir of Cathy McClure Gildiner. It's the second instalment in a trio of memoirs from this author. In this part of her life, Cathy writes intimately about her years as a rebellious teenager and her departure for college.

Gildiner's memoir is wonderfully written and reads more like a novel, rather than a disjointed collection of events. Each event flows naturally into the next. Sometimes I find that when I read a biography or memoir there are sections that aren't quite as interesting as the rest. However, I didn't find this to be true about this one. Each and every story or situation is fascinating and made me want to read more.

She spells out the ups and downs in her life with humour and honesty, but there seemed to be an underlying sadness, especially with the events surrounding her father's illness. I was particularly interested in the early sections of the book when Cathy relates details from her early childhood. I'm amazed that she could remember so much from that time period. Equally interesting were her dealings with the radical and political groups toward the end of the book.

While I couldn't exactly relate to life in the sixties (I was born in the sixties), I found that I gained a certain understanding of older siblings and relatives who lived through it. What a difference a decade (plus a few years) makes. The world was different then; I hadn't given that fact much thought until now. Anyway, Gildiner really gives the reader a sense of what the world was like by detailing her experiences in those tumultuous times.

Favourite quotes (from an uncorrected proof, so they may or may not be present in the final publication):
Shame is not like guilt. You can't say five Hail Mary's and get rid of shame. It enters all of your pores as a gas and then liquefies in each cell. It becomes a part of you. (page 26)
Real experience is what you get when you don't get what you want.(page 119)

New word alert: seditious = rebellious; braggadocio = overblown, empty boasting

As I mentioned above, this book is the second in a planned trio of memoirs. The first instalment, Too Close to the Falls, spent 71 weeks on the best seller lists. According to Gildiner's blog, a follow-up memoir called The Long Way Home will cover ages 21-25.

Recommended. I plan to track down her first book, while I anxiously await the publication of her third memoir.

Want to read more reviews? Check out Colleen's at Lavender Lines, Jonita's at The Book Chick and Marci's at Serendipitous Readings.

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

For more information about the author, her other books and her blog, please visit Catherine Gildiner website.

Review copy provided by Random House via Just Another Online Book Club on Facebook. Thank you.

After the Falls by Catherine Gildiner, Alfred A. Knopf Canada (Random House), ©2009. ISBN 9780307398222 (Uncorrected Proof), 344p.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Boldface Names by Shinan Govani

In Boldface Names, Ravi, a gossip columnist, goes to all the parties and schmoozes with all of the celebrities. As great as that is, things get even more interesting when he's put in charge of a young starlet, Leeza Pellegrino. It's all very mysterious because he's not told why she's been left in his custody. As the two of them travel the world for Ravi's job, Leeza causes all kinds of trouble for them both. Ravi just hopes his secrets are not exposed jeopardizing his dream position in Paris. Eventually the story comes to a head and secrets (some of them anyway) are revealed.

I'll admit that it took me about 20 pages to get into this book. In fact, I put it down once before (after about 10 pages) thinking that this book wasn't for me. However, I decided to give it another chance. Once I got into it, I really enjoyed it. It was such a fun, fast-paced read I'm glad I picked it up again.

The story, featuring a young not-quite-famous starlet and the Olsen twins, was farfetched and rather silly. However, the hilarity in the form of name dropping, metaphors, euphemisms as well as the biting social commentary more than made up for it. I'm not much of a celebrity follower, but I recognized many of the names anyway. I may have missed some of the nuances, but it didn't take away from my enjoyment of the book. Those current on the celebrity rumour mill would get a kick out of this one.

Being a twin, I liked the chapter on celebrity twins called Wombmates. I found it interesting and surprising to see which of the celebrities had a "wombmate", even though I try to downplay the fact that I have one myself.

I know very little about the author, Shinan Govani. All I know about him, I learned from the back of the book. It seemed to me, though, that there were a few similarities between him and Ravi. I wonder if he used some of his own experiences to create this character.

Favourite quotes:
Always talking about something by referring to something else. You really should go to metaphor rehab, Ravi...or, like, a Betty Ford for euphemisms. (page 2, Rory speaking to Ravi. I really liked this first one because it set the tone for the story. The book is filled with metaphors and euphemisms.)
...gossip...was like standing on a roof on a windy day shredding a feather pillow and then trying to collect the feathers later (page 36)
He believed that you could tell a lot about someone from how they dance, and even more from how they karaoke. (page 42)
Saying you're are busy these days was a bit like saying in a job interview that the worst thing about you is that you are a perfectionist. The boast was sly, but it was still a boast. (page 58)

It's amazing how many famous names Govani managed to squeeze into this book. I'm positive that if I listed them in a single column, they most certainly would be longer than this review. However, don't expect to see glowing references in this one. In fact, the book contains lots of zingers and will likely leave you shaking your head or laughing out loud.

Recommended. A must read for celebrity watchers, but not for those who are easily offended.

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.

Boldface Names by Shinan Govani, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9781554683192(Trade Paperback), 232p.

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos

In Sing Them Home, Larken, Gaelen and Bonnie are called home after the death of their father and face the task of not only coming to terms with his death but also with the disappearance of their mother Hope, a tragedy that happened many years ago. Larken, the oldest, is an art history professor with an obsession with food. Gaelen, the only son, is a handsome weatherman who keeps one eye on the skies and another on women. Bonnie, the youngest, is the oddest of the bunch. She's sort of a nomad and scavenger looking for pieces of her missing mother's life and a place of her own. Each one of them needs a release from grief's hold while they stumble upon the road to recovery.

Awesome book! Kallos has created a magnificent story with eccentric, yet endearing and lovable, characters. The story is told with humour and compassion and grabbed me from the very first page. You'd think with such a dire story line, the book would be sad and depressing. Of course, there were sad parts, but the story was also funny and uplifting.

I love the way Kallos drops little hints throughout the story and unravels the mystery of Hope's disappearance subtly. You really have to be paying attention. I also loved how the story was interspersed with Hope's diary. It was sad reading the entries, especially as she started deteriorating from her illness. I was surprised that Llewellyn (a doctor and Hope's husband) chose to keep Hope's illness a secret from her. I think I'd want to know if I had a debilitating illness. Anyway, it was great to be able to get to know Hope through these entries.

Kallos's depiction of the dead in the graveyard and Bonnie's interaction with them was a little eerie at first, but after awhile I found it a little amusing and strangely comforting.

I was fascinated by the Welsh traditions presented in the book. I'm a huge believer in singing to soothe the soul. I honestly think the world would be a better place if we had public gatherings where singing was included for all, not just for those gifted with wonderful voices. Anyway, that explains why I was surprised and awed by the Gymanfa (see new words below). The funeral rituals and the language were also interesting. The explanation on pages 144-145 perfectly explain the language:
People unaccustomed to seeing written Welsh fear they’re hallucinating, or suffering a transient ischemic attack. A cat making haste across a computer keyboard could produce these non-word-looking forms, or an insensible typist with misaligned hands (page 144).
My one complaint is that there were a couple of Welsh conversations where no translation was offered. I love being exposed to new languages, but I get frustrated when I don't know what is being said.

With 540 pages, this book could have been trouble for me. My attention span can be short and I sometimes have trouble finishing chunky books (or chunksters as I've heard them called). Usually towards the last half of the book, I start wondering how much is left, why it couldn't be shorter, why the author had to drone on and on or why the editor didn't cut more. This one was different, though. I could have read another few hundred pages easily.

Favourite quote (along with the one above regarding the Welsh language):
The more restricted one’s view, the more one is compelled to give meaning to what is available. It’s how we rise to the challenge. We elevate the mundane. We sanctify the ordinary (page 191).

There were plenty of words I was unfamiliar with in this book. I won't list them all, but here's a sampling:
- plein air (page 15) - style of the French impressionist painters who completed their work out of doors to capture light and atmosphere
- Solfege (page 116) - the teaching of the essentials of music theory
- Gymanfa (page 118) - literal translation is a gathering or assembly for the purpose of singing (source: Ontario Welsh Festival)
- Elegiac (page 177) - synonyms: mournful, sad
- Catafalque (page 141) - platform for a coffin
- Cleave (page 323) - synonyms: slice, cut
- Introit (page 390) - part of a mass when the priest first approaches the altar (or when the minister enters the church).

Highly recommended.

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

For more information about the author and other interesting stuff, please visit Stephanie Kallos's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at HarperCollins Canada for this review copy.

Sing Them Home by Stephanie Kallos, HarperCollins, ©2008. ISBN 9781554684359(Trade Paperback), 540p.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Canada Also Reads

If you are Canadian, you've probably heard of Canada Reads, but have you heard of Canada Also Reads sponsored by the National Post?

Well, one of my all-time favourite books has been long listed in the Canada Also Reads competition: The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Buchanan. I just adored this beautifully written book (my review). I haven't read any of the other books, but I've heard good things about a number of them. It looks like a good competition.

Anyway, the winner will be determined by public vote. Make sure you follow along and vote for your favourite when the time comes. I don't have to tell you where my vote will go. ;)

Good Luck Cathy!