Friday, September 24, 2010

Noah's Turn by Ken Finkleman

In Noah's Turn, Noah is a 40-something TV writer, whose life is in a rut. His wealthy aunt is close to dying and while he waits for his inheritance, he drinks and thinks about his next lay. His friend Patrick McEwen has suddenly become a huge literary success, which now matches his over-inflated ego. Noah lets his jealousy of Patrick get the better of him and ends up doing something that will definitely bring about change.

I really enjoyed this book. I read it over several days, but it's really appealing enough (and short enough) to read in one sitting. While it's mostly a dark comedy, it does sport some serious reflections on life. Written entirely from Noah's post of view, this really is his story from how he feels about himself and others to his desires and state of mind before and after his deed. My one complaint is that I wanted the book to be longer. At 231 pages, it seemed so short. I could have easily read about Noah for another 100 pages. I sort of wish that the author went a little further with the story that the Hobson girl wrote and how Noah reacted to it.

The author mentions Dostoyevsky's Crime and Punishment and I'm sure there are some comparisons/contrasts one could draw from that. While I find it interesting, I'm just not that familiar with the novel to do so. I'm also not that analytical.

This novel does feature some sex, violence and offensive language. I've read a lot worse, but those sensitive to those kinds of things should be prepared. I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that fans of Finkleman's wouldn't be surprised at the content.

Favourite quotes:
Time is the most democratic of all laws. We're all treated equally. (page 208)

Noah had always imagined the gap between sanity and insanity to be a vast no-man's land like the complex of walls and wire and cameras and searchlights and electric current that divided Cold War East and West Berlin. But now he realized that the gap was no wider than a chalk mark that could be crossed with a forehand tennis stroke. Sanity and insanity, he now thought, lived cheek by jowl and allowed those on either side to pass freely without questions or papers. In Noah's case, all it took was a decision to cross the line. It was simply a matter of will. (page 116-117)

New word:
hagiography (page 137): biography of a saint or one that reveres its subject

I hadn't heard of Finkleman before, but I probably should have. He has an extensive resume as a writer, producer and actor. I'm going to keep my eye out and see if I can catch some of his TV/film work.

Recommended. For his fans, for fans of Canadian fiction and for those looking for a pretty good dark comedy.

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.

Noah's Turn by Ken Finkleman, HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9781554687527(Hardcover), 234p.

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann

Let the Great World Spin features a cast of characters who are vaguely connected to each other. It opens with a tightrope walker performing his feat between the World Trade Centre towers. Along the way, other characters emerge: Corrigan, a monk; Claire, the mother of a dead solider; Blaine and his girlfriend, both artists; Sam, Compton and the others, computer techs; Tillie, a prostitute; a judge and a few others.

I heard such good things about this book before I picked it up, so it had a lot to live up to. It wasn't quite what I expected, but it didn't disappoint me at all. In fact, I loved it. The book is multifaceted, emotional and very compelling. It reads like a series of short stories with seemingly little connection between them. However, as you get further into the book the connections reveal themselves. It's sort of like six degrees of separation game, where everyone is connected to everyone else, even though some of those connections are obscure.

The eclectic characters in the book each tell his/her story. Slowly but surely they come together to become one cohesive unit. I warmed up to some of the stories right away (Corrigan's story), while others took awhile (Claire and the other mothers story) to register with me. Most, if not all, of the stories come back to the tightrope walker. [ I'm sure there's some symbolism there about balance or danger or something or other.] While I didn't notice a huge difference in writing style from one story to the next, the different character voices came through. It's through these characters that a picture of New York appears. I tend to think of New York City in terms of the city itself (concrete, crowded, busy) rather than the people who live there. This book made me realize that the city is more than all of that stuff.

There are so many layers in this story, I'm sure there's a lot more to it than I got from my first reading. I rarely reread books, but I think in this case I would get a lot more out of it the second time around.

This book make a great book club book. I'm sure there would be many different reactions to it, making for a lively discussion.

My favourite quote pretty much sums up the book for me:
It never occurred to me before but everything in New York is built upon another thing, nothing is entirely by itself, each thing as strange as the last, and connected. (page 306)

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 his other books, please visit Colum McCann's website.

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

Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann, HarperCollins, ©2009. ISBN 9781554684830(Trade paperback), 349p.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames

In The Long Quiche Goodbye, Charlotte and her cousin, Matthew have taken over the Fromagerie Bessette (as known as The Cheese Shop) from Pépère and Grandmère, who ran the shop for many years. It's now the grand reopening after some much needed updating and the addition of a wine shop. Before the festivities are over, a body is discovered right outside the front door. To make matters worse, Grandmère is found near the body with bloody hands and is soon arrested. No one, except the police, think that the old woman is capable of murder and now it's up to Charlotte to find the real culprit and prove her grandmother innocent.

This book was such a entertaining read, but it really made me hungry every time I picked it up. It not only featured a pretty good mystery, but it's also filled with facts about cheese, types of cheese, and all things cheese. Who doesn't love cheese? The storyline provided plenty of suspects, motives, red herrings and secrets making the mystery fun to follow.

I liked all of the characters, especially Pépère and Grandmère, both of whom I adored. I hope I have half their energy when I'm their age. I also loved Rebecca, the Amish girl. Her enthusiasm was contagious and her references to TV mystery shows were priceless. I just wish there was a little more about her Amish family and background in the book. I admit I had a little trouble keeping some of the neighbourhood shopkeepers and other minor characters straight. I couldn't remember who worked where or who was friends with whom. I think I had it sorted by the end, but it was a tad confusing.

I'm not a connoisseur of cheese, so I wasn't surprised that most of the cheeses mentioned in the book were unfamiliar to me. I love cheese, but I'm pretty boring when it comes to experimentation. I really haven't had the opportunity. I especially liked how the author not only described a cheese but also paired it with an accompaniment, such as fruit or wine. Very cool. I've kept track of a few of the more delicious sounding ones to try (if I can find the cheese).

I love it when food related cozies include recipes. This book includes ones for risotto, quiche, polenta and more. They all look delicious. I haven't made one yet, but I hope to soon.

This book also included a sneak peak at the next book in the series: Lost and Fondue. I can't wait to read it and resisted the urge to read the few included pages. I really want to be surprised when the book comes out next year.

New word Alert:
coterie (page 17): small exclusive group
gamine (page 73): boyish girl or appealingly boyish
garbological (page 116): relating to garbology, the study of trash.

Highly recommended. I'd gladly read another book by this author.

For more information about this book or to browse inside, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author, please visit Avery Aames's website.

Thanks to Dana Kaye from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

The Long Quiche Goodbye by Avery Aames, The Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin), ©2010. ISBN 9780425235522(mass market), 314p.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith

Corduroy Mansions is the first book in a new series from Alexander McCall Smith. It features a cast of characters connected to one another by Corduroy Mansions, the building in which some of the characters live. There's William, who tries a variety of methods to get his son Eddie to move out on his own; Marcia, who's sweet on William; a quartet of young women who live downstairs; the MP Oedipus Snark, who's hated by many people including his own mother Berthea; Barbara Ragg, who'd love to get her claws into William; and many others. Oh, and there's also Freddie do la Hay, a vegetarian terrier, who insist on wearing a seatbelt.

I loved this book. I wouldn't be surprised if this book turns up on the best seller lists. Smith is a fantastic storyteller. His sense of humour and irony make this book appealing and inviting. The characters and storyline are quaint, quirky, delightful, charming and outrageously funny. A pure delight to read. I love how he writes. His writing isn't overly complicated, which makes it easy to read. He does, however, throw in a word now and then that is new to me and seems totally foreign(see new words below). I'm sure those with a larger vocabulary will recognize the words or be able to decipher their meaning, but not me. Some of the time, I'm not even sure they are belong to the English language. I love being exposed to new words, so I love it.

His characters are truly outstanding. Sure, some of them are a bit odd and quirky, but they are also very human. My favourites would certainly include: William, because of his hilarious methods to get rid of his son; Terence (Berthea's brother), because of his odd choice of cars; and of course Freddie, because, well, just because. There wasn't one in the bunch that I didn't love reading about.

This isn't the first book of Smith's I've read. I've also read a few books in The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency series, as well as the standalone book La's Orchestra Saves the World. I think I liked the latter one a bit more than this one, but just by just a hair.

I love the cover on this book. The dog is absolutely adorable. My one complaint is that this dog doesn't look capable of carrying a box/bag of shoes as he does in the story. Nevertheless, he remains as cute as can be. The book is also dotted with illustrations that further enhance the story. Nicely done.

New word Alert:
risible (page 3): ludicrous
oleaginous (page 68): ingratiating
solipsistic (page 69): from sol•ip•sism the theory that only the self exists
meretricious (page 147): superficially attractive
paneurhythmy (page 153): type/method of dance
palimpsest (page 162): overwritten manuscript
odious (page 183): hateful
crepuscular (page 186): like twilight
soidisant (page 209): self styled
amanuenses (page 253): scribe or writer's assistant
iambic pentameter (page 265): poetry pattern containing five iambs (rhythm unit in poetry) .

Highly recommended. I'm especially looking forward to the next instalment in this series. I'd gladly read all of Smith's books if only he'd slow down a little so that I might catch up.

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

For more information about the author and his numerous other books, please visit Alexander McCall Smith's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Random House for this review copy.

Corduroy Mansions by Alexander McCall Smith, Alfred A. Knopf Canada (Random House of Canada), ©2009. ISBN 9780307399083(Hardcover), 353p.

Grace Under Pressure by Julie Hyzy

In Grace Under Pressure, Grace Wheaton wanted to work at the Marshfield Manor ever since she was a little girl. Now she's getting her chance. She's recently acquired the position of assistant curator, but when the curator is killed, she assumes his role. She suspects that a Ponzi scheme and the nasty demanding letters that Bennett (the owner of Marshfield Manor) has been getting have something to do with the death, however, she's having a hard time convincing the understaffed police force of this. Grace has her hands full with her new job, but somehow manages to find time to assist the police in tracking down the culprit and solving the mystery.

This was such a good book. Once I picked it up and I didn't want to put it down. It was fun, entertaining and a joy to read. The story contained plenty of suspects, motives and red herrings, which kept the story moving along at a steady pace. Along with the main storyline, Hyzy threw in some interesting side stories. I liked learning more about Grace's roommates, their business and the history of the house in which they live. I also enjoyed the mini mystery involving Grace's grandmother. Both of side stories give the reader more background information about Grace and her family and provided a base on which to build the series. I can't wait for the next instalment.

I love the idea of a big old house having secret compartments and hidden away rooms. It's a little scary when I think about it. but it makes a ideal setting for a mystery. Hyzy does a good job of utilizing the setting in this story.

New words:
coffee klatch (page 77): informal social gathering
asperity (page 123): roughness
fiduciary (page 134): trustee

Highly recommended. I'm looking forward to reading the next book in this series. Also, I'm definitely going to check out the White House Chef Mysteries, Hyzy's other series.

For more information about this book or to take a peek inside, please visit Penguin's website.

For more information about the author and her other works, please visit Julie Hyzy's website.

Thanks to Dana Kaye from Kaye Publicity for this review copy.

Grace Under Pressure: A Manor House Mystery by Julie Hyzy, The Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin), ©2010. 9780425235218(mass market), 310p.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

The Human Body Book by Steve Parker

The Human Body Book is an illustrated reference book detailing the inner workings of the human body. It starts off with an introductory section that shows how the body works as a whole, how the systems work together and more general topics, like cells, DNA and fluids. It then goes on to the individual systems that make up the body: skeletal, muscular, nervous, endocrine, cardiovascular, respiratory, skin, hair and nails, lymph and impunity, digestive, urinary and reproductive. The book is also accompanied by an interactive DVD.

This book has become one of my new favourite reference books. I just love it. The material is fascinating and presented in a clear concise manner. The numerous images, illustrations and photographs are well labelled and annotated. It's gorgeous. If you seen and/or relied on older anatomy books, you'll be amazed by the advancements that have been made allowing this book to feature simply outstanding photographs and images of what's taking place in the human body. The stunning cover completely compliments the book. The vellum dust jacket overlays the book cover which features the upper half of the human body without skin thereby allowing the viewer to see partial sections of the different systems. It's pretty awesome.

The large format of the book makes the book a little heavy (Aren't all medical/anatomy books heavy?) for perusing. However, it's format allows for large photos and adequate font sizes making the book that much more accessible.

At the end of each system section, the book lists and explains the disorders which can occur in the system. For example, the disorders for the respiratory system include: common cold, influenza, bronchitis, asthma, pneumonia, TB, and many others. I'd heard about many of the afflictions mentioned in the various sections, but didn't know much about them. I found this part of the book particularly interesting.

For me, the table of contents, glossary and index can either make or break a reference book. If I can't find items I'm interested in, the book isn't very useful. This book does it right, though. These items are exceptional and greatly enhance the material inside. The table of contents breaks the book down by systems. Further breakdowns within the sections make the items easy to access. The glossary is extensive with concise and easy to understand definitions. The index has tons of entries that make area of interest very easy to find. Well done.

The DVD-ROM makes a great companion to the book. It's awesome that it works on both a PC and a Mac. It features full body representations of the systems discussed in the book. The user is able to navigate by body by clicking on the various items which are then highlighted and labelled allowing the user to learn more about the item. The DVD also has a few striking animations that detail the processes that take place in the body. Overall, it's very cool and is a wonderful addition to the book. Despite that I do have two little complaints about it. Firstly, the DVD is really hard to remove it from its plastic sleeve. It seemed to stick to the plastic and I was really afraid that I was going to damage it before I got it out. Luckily, I didn't. Secondly, I would have loved a narration on the animations. There are sound effects, but nothing to describe what I'm seeing. If I switch to the individual frames, I read the text, but it's not really the same.

Highly recommended. For adults or older teens who are interested in how the human body does what it does.

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

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

The Human Body Book: an Illustrated Guide to its Structure, Function, and Disorders by Steve Parker, DK Publishing, ©2007. ISBN 9780756628659(Hardcover), 256p.