Sunday, October 31, 2010

Faux Finished by Peg Marberg

In Faux Finished, Jean Hastings is an interior designer and owns Designer Jeans with her daughter, Jean Jr. They have just finished redecorating the dining room at the Sleepy Hollow Country Club and plan to celebrate with a grand reopening. Suddenly, there are two dead bodies and Jean is compelled to investigate.

This book was pretty good. It's a fun cozy mystery with an interesting side story (interior design) and likeable characters. I did have a little trouble keeping some of the characters straight because there was so many of them. Also, a few of them had similar names, which didn't make things easier. Luckily there was a list of "Citizens of Seville, Indiana" at the beginning of the book that helped me keep track. I referred to it often. If it weren't for that, I'm afraid I would have been very lost at times.

The interior design aspect of the book was interesting, but there wasn't enough of it. Jean appeared to spend more time investigating mysteries than doing her full time job. I would have preferred that she do more designing (or talk about designing) while she was solving the mystery. She was a pretty good amateur detective, though, and I enjoyed following her around as she put together the pieces.

I didn't know it as I was reading, but this is the first book in An Interior Design Mystery series. It didn't quite feel like one. There was some background information presented, but I believe there were some previous investigations or events that were referenced. I assumed they happened in another book. Imagine my surprise when I learned this was the first in the series. This could have been the author's intention or maybe it was just my impression. It felt a bit odd.

I appreciated the information about the Art Deco style at the end of the book as well as the decorating tips on how to achieve that style. Before reading that section, I wasn't sure what Art Deco was. Now I have a better idea and I'll be sure to keep my eye out for it.

I'd really like to read the second book in the series before I recommend this series to others.

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

Faux Finished by Peg Marberg, The Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin), ©2007. ISBN 9780425314282(mass market), 214p.

Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump by Emily Brightwell

In Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump, Michael Provost is found floating next to the wharf. As Mrs. Jeffries and her team investigate, they discover that no one would want this man dead. Well, almost no one. They soon discover that this death may be connected to another death; one that Provost himself was investigating. Of course, Inspector Witherspoon is also investigating, and Mrs. Jeffries is there to help him as needed. Mrs. Jeffries isn't sure her suspicions are correct and starts to doubt herself. She certainly has her hands full in this cozy Victorian mystery.

I adore this series. It's quaint, very British and so fun to read. The Victorian setting makes this series different from others. Rather than getting bogged down in details of the era, Brightwell offers little clues about the setting. For example, characters travel by carriage, not cars. I especially love how Mrs. Jeffries holds her meetings with her "team" and assigns the different tasks to solve the mystery. I also love how she dispenses the information they gather to the Inspector without him catching on to what she's doing.

I've only read a few of these, but I love them. I have noticed that Mrs. Jeffries has taken more people into her confidence about helping the Inspector. Pretty soon everyone in town is going to know about her secret. Everyone except the Inspector, that is.

This particular story was a little confusing at times and I think I mixed up two of the characters at one point. That didn't last long, though, and it certainly didn't stop me from really enjoying this book.

New words:
bombazine (page 6): twilled material
woolgathering (page 61): daydream. This isn't a new one for me, I just love the word.
temerity (page 107): nerve, gall

Highly recommended for the cozy mystery lover.

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

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

Mrs. Jeffries Holds the Trump by Emily Brightwell, The Berkley Publishing Group (Penguin), ©2008. ISBN 9780425222089(mass market), 245p.

A Palette for Murder: Murder, She Wrote by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain

A Palette For Murder is part of the Murder, She Wrote series. In this "episode", Jessica is invited to the Hamptons for some rest and relaxation. She plans to spend some time on her secret passion, painting, and finds an art class in the area to attend. When the nude model drops dead in class, Jessica is bothered that someone so young has died right before her eyes. She's determined to find out how this happened. This mystery will take her inside the art world where money, deception and greed might keep the truth from being revealed.

I really enjoyed this book. In fact, I've enjoyed most of the ones I've read from the series. There were a few exceptions, but those are few and far between. This book was fun to read. Even though a murder takes place and some dangerous situations ensue, the story remains light and fun to read. By having Jessica new to the art scene, the author was able to explain the basics of the art world and artists. All of this information was interesting.

Part of the reason I enjoy these books so much is that I loved the Murder, She Wrote TV series that was on a number of years ago. I even bought a few of the DVDs. I was thrilled to find books based on the characters from that series

I've read a number of these books and have watched the episodes from the TV series many times. It still amazes me that people are surprised that murder and other bad things happen when Jessica Fletcher is present. Don't they know that it follows her around? I realize that's part of the charm of the series. The reader/watcher knows something is going to happen, but the other characters are totally oblivious to it.

New word:
blatherskite (page 197): talkative person, one who engages in silly or unimportant chatter.

Recommended for fans of the TV show. I think other cozy lovers will enjoy it, too.

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

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Donald Bain's website.

A Palette for Murder by Jessica Fletcher & Donald Bain, New American Library (Penguin), ©1996. ISBN 0451188209(mass market), 290p.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark

The Book of Unholy Mischief takes place at the dawn of the Renaissance. In it, a book with immense power and many secrets is said to exist and people are dying to get their hands on it. When Chef Ferrero takes in young Luciano as an apprentice, Luciano not only learns his way around the kitchen, he also becomes aware that his mentor might know more about the book than he's letting on. He soon gets caught up in the mystery of it all. As Luciano performs his assigned duties, he witnesses a murder that leaves him unsettled as well as wary about whom to trust. Still, he does his best to unravel what's going on while protecting and helping those he cares about.

I really enjoyed reading this book. It was presented in a perfect format for such a story. The adult Luciano related his childhood memories, which allowed for some interesting foreshadowing. I just adored how it all unfolded. The story grabbed me at the beginning and didn't let go until the very last page. I even thought about the characters when I wasn't reading the book.

I found it almost comical at times that the mysterious book caused such intense emotions even though there were many rumours about its contents and not many details. It didn't come across as unbelievable, though, considering the story took place a time when people were thirsty for knowledge and ready for change.

One very interesting (and controversial) part of the book was the suggestion that there was corruption at the root of Christianity. The book offered other ways to look at some of the stories in its history. I'm not going to get into those theories, but I will say that I found it extremely fascinating.

I was totally taken in by Luciano. He was naive at first, yet loveable. He didn't always do right the right thing (eavesdropping and stealing were among his transgressions), but he tried to remain loyal to Chef Ferrero, his friends on the street, and his love, Francesca. I also really liked Chef Ferrero. He took in and mentored Luciano and stood by his principles. I didn't care that much for Francesca, Marco or Domingo. They all seemed to want something from Luciano. Nevertheless, all of the characters were fun to read about.

The book is filled with great descriptions of food. They made my mouth water. Many of them sounded a bit modern, though; very much like dishes we'd eat now. I thought I heard/read somewhere that the food of that time was more rustic and very heavily seasoned because the meat/ingredients were so rank. Having said that, Newmark explains in the author's note that her Chef Ferrero is no ordinary chef and possessed knowledge that his contemporaries did not. Perhaps that why his food was so extraordinary.

Favourite quotes:
Much of life is waiting. It helps if you can do it with grace. (page 278).

New words:
doge (page 1): chief magistrate
imbroglios (page 12): mess, embarrassment
ignominious (page 27): humiliating
erudite (page 61): learned, knowledgeable
avuncular (page 68): resembling an uncle
tisanes (page 75): herbal beverage or tea
salubrious (page 190): healthy
pugnacious (page 201): aggressive
hirsute (page 201): hairy
obeisance (page 287): bob, genuflection
doublet (page 315): man's jacket with or without sleeves
halberds (page 315): long-handled medieval weapon

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

For more stops on this blog tour (reviews and interviews), please visit the Pump Up Your Book! website.

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

For more information about the author, please visit Elle Newmark's website.

I'd like to thank the author and Tracee at Pump up Your Book! for this review copy.

The Book of Unholy Mischief by Elle Newmark, Washington Square Press (Simon & Schuster), ©2008. ISBN 9781416590576(format), 367p.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Pasta Bowls from CSN Stores.

Honestly, I didn't really NEED new pasta bowls. I have two old sets. One set I bought at Canadian Tire for $8 on sale and the other I got at a garage sale for $1. Both sets are chipped, stained and have seen better days, but they still worked.

I still figured it was time to get some new ones. It was a really easy decision once I saw these ones on the website. I fell in love.

I was waiting for the matching serving bowl to come in (CSN was out of stock for awhile), but I thought about it and decided to do without it. My husband and I usually serve from the kitchen so I didn't really need a serving dish that much. I figured I'd spend my money elsewhere. (Did you see my post about the mandoline?) Having said all that, now that the serving bowl is in stock, I reserve the right to change my mind and order it in the future. Or maybe I'll order another piece from the Hot Tamale Collection. Isn't it beautiful?

As beautiful as the dishes are on the website, they are more impressive in person. The colours are bold and vivid. Also, the bowls are larger than I thought they'd be. That's a huge plus for big eaters like me and my husband. Well, maybe not such a good thing for our waistlines. Because the bowls are a little larger, I can snuggle a piece of garlic toast right in beside the pasta and not have to use a side plate.

We use our current pasta bowls a lot; not just for pasta. I can see us using these ones even more. I'm thinking: stew, main-dish risotto, chili, etc. ; anything that's a little too runny for a plate, but not quite suitable for a regular soup bowl. These ones are so pretty I'm tempted to use them for snacks and dips or maybe even a serving dish for a small side.

Check out these pasta bowls at the CSN stores website. If these ones are not to your taste, type "pasta bowls" into the search box for more selections.

Disclaimer: I received a coupon/gift certificate from those nice people at CSN Stores that partly covered the cost of this item. I tried to present an honest review despite that fact.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

OXO Mandoline Slicer from CSN Stores

I love making (and eating) scalloped potatoes. However, I refuse to make it unless I can get the potatoes sliced paper thin. I used to have a mandoline, but it was old and a little broken, so it got thrown out before we moved. So when I saw the mandolines on the CSN website, I knew I had to have one. You can probably guess what I made first.

But first let's back up a little...

When this slicer arrived, I was immediately impressed with the packaging. I just knew something special was inside because those people at OXO made the box even look beautiful. Notice the instructions on the lid in the second photo. A more detailed instruction booklet was included inside.

I did some trial cuts with a potato before making the above-mentioned scalloped potatoes. The slicer is well-built, sturdy and comes with an easy to grip food holder. The food holder clips to the underside of the body when not in use. This means that it's not necessary to keep the storage box. As far as cleaning goes, the whole thing comes apart without difficulty making cleaning a breeze. The body is even dishwasher safe (a must in this house).

I found the slicer fairly easy to use. I was able to create slices in various thicknesses and a couple of different sized juliennes. The crinkle cut also worked like a charm. However, I couldn't get the waffle cut to work correctly. It looked like it should work in theory, but the slices are too thick so the waffle pattern doesn't come through. Maybe I'll have more luck with more practice.

Like most things in this world, the slicer is made for a right-handed person. I happen to be left-handed. So when I use the slicer, I can't easily see what the thickness dial is set to. It's just something I'll have to get used to.

Back to those scalloped potatoes. Scalloped potatoes are fairly easy to make, but slicing the potatoes can be chore without a mandoline. Luckily, I have one now and I had those potatoes sliced in no time. I'd love to include a picture, but they were so good, we ate the whole thing. Delicious.

The second thing I tried to make using the slicer was sweet potato fries. While the regular potato went through the slicer (set on thin slices) with no difficulties, the sweet potato (set on large julienne) was less successful and took a little practice. After a few tries, I was able to get some decent looking fries, though, so I'm happy.

If you're in the market for a mandoline slicer, this one can be found on the CSN Stores website.

And that's not all. In a day or two, I'll have my second review of another CSN Stores product!

Disclaimer: I received a coupon/gift certificate from those nice people at CSN Stores that partly covered the cost of this item. I tried to present an honest review despite that fact.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Q & A with Anne Fortier

HarperCollins Canada has put together another fabulous blog tour. This time it's for Anne Fortier's book, Juliet. If you remember, I posted my review of this wonderful book awhile ago. Today is part two of the tour as Anne stops by to answer a few of my questions. Enjoy!

Me: How long did it take you to write Juliet? Are you working on anything right now?

Anne: I got the idea for JULIET in 2005, and started writing later that year. By early 2008 I had entered the editing phase together with my agent, and by early summer 2009, I rounded up my final edits with the publisher. Because JULIET has been sold to 33 countries so far, there has been an obscene amount of PR work to be done, but I am doing my best to get going on the next book.

Me:In Juliet, the point-of-view shifts from first person in the present to third person in the past. How did you decide to write it this way?

Anne: I was very aware that it can be tiring for the reader to switch back and forth between two different narratives, so I did not want to create two parallel narrators. I wanted the reader to identify first and foremost with Julie Jacobs in the present day, while the medieval narrative is told from several different points-of-view, and quite often from Romeo’s. In that way it resembles Shakespeare’s play, which has many different characters in play in different scenes.

Me: How did you decide to take on the subject of Romeo and Juliet?

Anne: It actually started with a fascination with the city of Siena. Only after deciding to write an historical novel set in Siena did I discover – thanks to my mother – that in fact, the very first version of the Romeo and Juliet-story had been set in Siena, long before Shakespeare. Knowing that, it was irresistible to sit down and think about what the Bard’s tragedy might have looked like, had the events played out in the city of the Palio horserace.

Me: Do you remember the first time you read Shakespeare? Did you love it right away or warm up to it later?

Anne: I first read Romeo & Juliet in high school, in a Danish translation, and I definitely did not fall in love with it then and there. I thought the language was very complicated, and there was always something about Romeo that annoyed me – the infatuation with Rosaline followed by the sudden passion for Juliet. It wasn’t until I started working with the play in order to write JULIET that I began to fully appreciate it. Now, or course, I love it.

Me: Tell us about your writing environment. (music or quiet, desk or comfy chair, etc.)

Anne: I always write most efficiently at a desk, but I do like to lie on the couch while I am working on a plot. When I was younger I always had music playing – music that fit the atmosphere of the story – but over the past five years I have come to prefer silence and find music very distracting. I don’t mind ambient noise so much, except if it is people talking. My most unfortunate habit is to eat sweets while I am writing; for some reason I just crave chewing on something. A toothpick helps, though.

Me: Tea or coffee? Cats or dogs? Dark or milk chocolate?

Anne: Hot chocolate, actually. Or herbal tea. Big black dog, and dark dark dark chocolate … 85 percent. I munch that whenever I feel a headache coming on, and it usually helps.

Well Anne, thanks so much for taking time to answer my questions. I really appreciate it. I can't wait to read more of your work. Hopefully, I won't have to wait too long. ;)

Sunday, October 17, 2010

CSN Stores - Finally!

Way back on July 20, 2010, I posted about CSN stores and how I was going to buy something from them, but I didn't know what.

I had tons of trouble just picking out something. I didn't have a problem finding something I liked. The problem was that I liked everything. I tried to narrow it down to something I really needed. I had various things in mind: bookcase, pasta bowls, bread machine, another bookcase, another set of pasta bowls, mandoline slicer, various kitchen utensils, various home furnishings, another bookcase and on and on. At least one thing was out of stock and decided to wait for awhile for it to come in. In the meantime, I had picked out more stuff I liked. Almost every other day I changed my mind. I'm usually really good at making decisions, but this was hard.

I finally made a decision and ordered the items. I had a little trouble with the ordering process and found it a little confusing at times. I should say at this point that I'm not a big online shopper. I can count the number of times I've ordered something online on one hand. So my experience with ordering will probably be very different from those who do a lot of online shopping.

Anyway, I added the items I wanted to my cart, which went fine. However, the final price changed a number of times before I actually submitted the order. I think it had to do with the international fees (I'm in Canada so this covers the international shipping costs, duties, and brokerage fees), which kept changing based on the various fields I filled in (postal code, coupon, etc.) At one point the charge disappeared all together. If that wasn't confusing enough, at first it was presented as one charge, then on the final screen, it was split between the two items. I almost backed out of the order because of the fluctuating price. However, I submitted the order and crossed my fingers.

After that ordering confusion, everything went very smooth. I received an order confirmation email immediately and shipping emails shortly after that. Once the items crossed the border, I received another email letting me know. I received the items a lot sooner than the estimated delivery time. Yippee!

So, the items are here and I absolutely love them!!!!

Did I forget to mention what I got? You'll just have to come back for my reviews which should be posted in the next day or so.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

How to Photograph Absolutely Everything by Tom Ang

How to Photograph Absolutely Everything is a reference book for the amateur/recreational photographer that features step-by-step instructions on taking successful photographs with a digital camera. It starts off with a primer on the different digital cameras and their features. It then discusses the many aspects of photography: focusing, settings, timing, composition, lighting, cropping, etc. before getting into the instructions for taking pictures of people, landscapes, animals, architecture and events. The book also has a creative section for those wanting to make works of art. The last section covers more mundane applications like documenting items for insurance purposes, recording collections or photographing building projects or home interiors.

This is a great book. It's filled with hundreds of photographs and detailed instructions to get good results whether you own a simple point-and-shoot type digital camera or a more complicated DSLRs (digital single-lens reflex) camera. Tom Ang, the author, provides many tips and tricks for setting up the shot and setting the camera to achieve the results you want. He proves that by giving simple clear instructions, the amateur photographer can take decent and sometimes outstanding photographs without the need for expensive camera equipment (other than a digital camera) or an extensive course on photography.

The diversity of the photographs and situations in the book are outstanding. There are just too many to mention. I'll just say that everything I would want to photograph was included; I couldn't find one thing missing. In that sense, the book really does tell you how to "photograph absolutely everything". While this book does offer a lot of things, it will not replace the owner's manual for your camera. The two do make great companions, though. The manual tells you how to use the camera, this book tells you how to take the photographs.

Even though I do have a DSLR camera (don't ask me what all of the buttons are for), I really appreciated that the majority of the demonstration photos had Ang holding a point-and-shoot type camera. It made me realize that great photographs can be captured with a variety of digital devices. I'm probably going to try out many of these techniques on my husband's point-and-shoot camera to see what kind of results I'm going to get.

The adequate table of contents gave a general overview of what the book contained, which should aid in finding the various sections. The glossary had clear concise definitions and was interesting. It introduced some great photographic terms. My one disappointment was that it introduced terms that weren't in the index. So I could read the definitions for "clone" and "white balance", for example, but I couldn't read more about them because they were absent from the index. Having said that, the index does contain many entries and is useful for finding items in the book.

Highly recommended. You won't be an expert photographer after reading or going through this book, but you will have some techniques up your sleeve to create some wonderful photographs.

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

For more information about the author, his work and his other books, please visit Tom Ang's website.

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

How to Photograph Absolutely Everything by Tom Ang, DK Publishing, ©2007. ISBN 9780756643089(Paperback), 384p.

The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew

The Practical Astronomer is a guide to the night sky for the amateur astronomer. The book features a general overview of the universe and a section on the equipment for watching and recording observations before getting into the meat of the book: the constellations and objects found within them, the planets and their moons, and other items you might see if you look up at sky, such as comets, meteors, atmospheric phenomena, UFOs, the ISS (international space station), satellites, weather balloons and so on. The book also has star charts and a reference section, both of which will aid the avid stargazer.

I loved this book. If I'm outside on a clear night, I always look up at the stars, but with the exception of the Big Dipper and Orion (my favourite constellation because he's just so darn easy to find), I don't really know what I'm looking at. This book has definitely expanded my knowledge of the night sky. My favourite part is the section on starhopping, which is a new-to-me term. Basically, it's "using known stars or group of stars to point the way to other stars or celestial objects". As it turns out, I was already doing it (in a very limited way) and I didn't even know it. You know how you can use the Big Dipper to find the North Star and the Little Dipper, well, that's starhopping. This book has lots of examples.

Beside the large section on stars, there's also a section for planets. There's tons of interesting facts to read about: rings, moons, retrograde motion, Uranus's axial tilt and much more. There's even an explanation for us "old folks" on the demotion of Pluto and why the solar system now only has 8 planets.

Closer to the back of the book there are star charts for both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. I've seen these before, but had no idea how to use them. Thankfully, the authors have included a great explanation of how to use them. It'll still going to take me some time to figure out exactly how they work, but at least now I have a chance.

The book also includes a glossary with clear, concise descriptions of the some of the terms used in the book as well as a really good index and table of contents. All of these helped me find items I was interested in.

Highly recommended. Perfect for star-gazing adults, but even a budding teenaged astronomer would love this book.

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

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

The Practical Astronomer by Will Gater and Anton Vamplew, Dorling Kindersley Limited (DK), ©2010. ISBN 9780756662103(paperback), 256p.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Take a Chance on Me by Jill Mansell

Take a Chance on Me focuses on the lives and loves of the residents of Channings Hill. Cleo has a new boyfriend, Will, until she learns some disturbing news about him. If that wasn't bad enough, she keeps running into an old classmate, Johnny, who used to tease her relentlessly. He keeps popping up in unexpected places, which really isn't too surprising considering they live in a small town. As the encounters add up, she begins to come around and realizes that he's not all that bad. Meanwhile, her sister, Abbey, finds a letter from a woman in her husband's drawer and assumes he's having an affair. The truth, though, is way more than she bargained for and brings huge changes into their lives. There's a host of other characters in the book all connected to each other through their various relationships with Cleo and Abbey.

I enjoyed reading this book. I don't read a whole lot of chick-lit, so I don't have a lot to compare it to. As it turns out, it was pretty good with lots of great characters. It seemed meatier than other I've read in the genre and a lot less flighty. The story was a little larger than life at times, but remained mostly believable. The thing that I liked the most was that it wasn't predictable. The author did a great job of mixing it up and keeping the story moving. The book made me realize that drama isn't limited to the big cities; even small towns have their fair share.

The book was filled with fun to read about characters. I didn't have a favourite, but I liked Cleo, Abbey, Ash and eventually Johnny. Georgia and Fia weren't my favourites, but I still liked reading about them. The back of the book synopsis (on this ARC) made it seem that the story was going to be all about Cleo. I was surprised when it turned out to have a large cast of fun-to-read-about characters and it wasn't all about her.

New words:
badinage (page 71): banter
satsumas (page 79): kind of tangerine
scuppered (page 149): spoiled
acerbic (page 393): sharp

Recommended. Up until now, I'd only heard of Jill Mansell. I'm really glad I finally had the chance to read one of her books. I'd definitely read another.

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

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

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

Take a Chance on Me by Jill Mansell, Sourcebooks, ©2010. ISBN 9781402237515(Uncorrected Advance Copy), 412p.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Blog Tour for Juliet

When I posted my review of Juliet by Anne Fortier the other day, I forgot to mention a few things. First, the review is one of many for a blog tour that the great people over at HarperCollins Canada put together. Pop over to The Savvy Reader to read what my follow bloggers had to say about this wonderful book.

Second, there's a second part to the tour. Later in October, Anne Fortier will be answering some questions I had for her about her book and writing in general. In fact, she's answering questions for all of the tour participants. It's sure to be fun and enlightening. Don't forget to come back for that.

Lastly, I'd like to thank Shannon from HarperCollins Canada for inviting me to participate in this blog tour. I appreciate the opportunity.

It's time for Canada Reads!

You've probably already heard that Canada Reads is shaking things up for its tenth anniversary. It's a great way for all of us to be heard and to be involved in the selection process. Here are the details in case you missed them.

There's still lots of time to nominate a book. To do so, head over to the recommendation form and fill-in your selection.

If you read my blog at the beginning of the year, you might remember me gushing about Cathy Buchanan's The Day the Fall Stood Still ( my review). I nominated it because it remains one of my all-time favourites and in my opinion deserves to be chosen as the Canada Reads selection for 2011. Haven't read it yet? Click on the book title above for a sneak peak.

So, have you nominated a book yet? What did you pick?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Juliet by Anne Fortier

In Juliet, Julie travels to Siena, Italy to claim a family treasure after her aunt dies. Well, that's what she thought she was doing. Once there, though, she discovers some evidence that's she's a descendant of Gulietta, the young woman who was in love with Romeo. The same one who inspired Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. As Julie meets other descendants, she realizes that the feud and curse that Shakespeare wrote about are very real and continue in her lifetime.

This is an awesome book. I really enjoyed reading it. Because the story was so well written and appealing, it was easy to read and enjoy. I just loved how it was all put together and how the story unfolded. Through letters, journals and other written documentation, Julie is able to piece together the past events of her ancestors and figure out who the keys players are in both time periods. The book alternates between past and present, which sometimes can be confusing, but not so in this case. Fortier makes it easier on the reader by writing the past (1340s) in the third person and the present in the first person. I could tell right away which time period I was reading about. The other thing I really liked about this format was that the author pretty much gave equal billing to both the past and present. I believe it's partly because of this that I really enjoyed reading about both time periods.

I should say that I'm not a fan of Shakespeare. While I like the gist of the stories, the language totally puts me off. I found it absolutely torturous in high school. I just didn't get it and honestly still don't. While Fortier doesn't recount the play so much as the story that apparently inspired it, she made the story so accessible. I haven't read Romeo and Juliet in many years and remember just a little about it. I think I remembered enough, though, to see how the story that Fortier related could inspire the play.

A big part of the story revolves around the Palio (horse race) and it's preparations, rivalries and outcomes. The race never ceases to amaze me. I actually saw part of one race on TV once, however, I had no clue what it was. It was broadcast in Italian, so I didn't understand a word of what was going on, but it was way to fascinating to turn the channel. It's amazing that the race is still being run today.

Favourite quotes:
...Romeo and not about love. It is about politics, and the message is simple: When the old men fight, the young people die.

New words:
munificent (page 52): generous
magnanimity (page 102): fairness, generosity, nobility
ductia (page 111): instrumental dance
estampie (page 111): dance and musical form
dryad (page 112): fairy
perfidious (page 159): disloyal
cotehardie (page 221): gothic fitted dress
toadying (page 244): flattering, submissive
loggia (page 260): terrace

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

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

For more information about the author, please visit Anne Fortier's website.

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

Juliet by Anne Fortier, HarperCollins, ©2010. ISBN 9781554684991(Advance Reading Edition), 447p.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Ark by Boyd Morrison

In The Ark, Dilara Kenner, an archaeologist, is contacted by family friend Sam Watson with information regarding her missing father and his quest for Noah's Ark. He also mentions that the lives of millions of people are at stake. All of a sudden Watson takes ill and collapses. As he lays dying, he tells Dilara she must contact Tyler Locke before the world is destroyed. Dilara finds Locke on an oil rig and together they realize that they have just seven days to find the Ark and save civilization before it's wiped out again.

Great book! It's an action lover's dream. From the very first page to the last, it's wall-to-wall action. I barely had enough time to catch my breath in between action scenes. The book was so compelling, I really had a hard time putting it down. The most interesting parts for me were the sections specifically about Noah's Ark, the speculation surrounding it. and the Bible's version of the story. I think the author's theory regarding The Ark was interesting and mostly plausible.

Besides the Noah's Ark element, the book also contained a bizarre plot, a calculating madman, and some fascinating technologies that were fun to read about. The author detailed some of these objects in the afterword stating which are real and which are products of his imagination. To his credit, I would have been hard pressed to tell you which ones were which before I read that section.

I liked all of the characters (including the bad guys), but my favourite was definitely Tyler. He relied not only on his physical skills, but also on his keen sense of observation. His camaraderie with his buddy Grant provided some laugh-out-loud funny moments. I really enjoyed reading about the two of them.

New word:
klaxon (page 299): siren

Boyd Morrison, the author, appears to be a real renaissance man. Besides being an industrial engineer (Ph.D.) formerly employed by NASA, Microsoft and RCA, he's also a Jeopardy! champion, actor and writer. I hope he can find the time to write more books like this one.

Highly recommended. If you like the action and subjects in James Rollins's books, I'm sure you'll like this one, too.

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

For more information about the author and his other books, please visit Boyd Morrison's website.

I'd like to thank those nice people at Simon & Schuster for this review copy.

The Ark: A Novel by Boyd Morrison, Touchstone (Simon & Schuster), ©2009. ISBN 9781439198674(Trade Paperback), 420p.

Think of a Numb3r by John Verdon

In Think of a Numb3r, Dave Gurney is pulled into an investigation after his recent retirement as NYPD's top homicide investigator. His old college classmate asks for help after he receives a series of odd, puzzling and could-be dangerous letters. Dave hasn't heard from his friend in years and immediately urges him to go to the police, but to no avail. When his friend is murdered, the police become involved and call Dave in as a consultant. When they discover that more deaths appear to be connected to this one, they launch an investigation into hunting down a bizarre serial killer. Gurney's experience might give him a leg up on the killer, but his dedication might jeopardize his marriage and his life.

I loved this book. Absolutely! From the first page, I was totally immersed in the book and breezed through it in no time. Ten pages in: I knew I was going to enjoy the book. Even the writing is suspenseful. Fifty pages in: I was sad because I knew at some point this book was going to end and I already didn't want to. By the end, I was totally satisfied and couldn't have asked for a better story.

There isn't a whole lot of action in this book. No car chases, gun battles or hand-to-hand combat. It's more of a thinking man's mystery; a psychological thriller. It does, however, offer an in-depth inside look at police work as discussions take place and theories are hammered out at the conference table despite the politics and egos that come with the territory. It really is sensational.

Despite his long and decorated career, Gurney remains a reluctant hero in this story. The insight into his mind and his personal life add to the suspense as the author reveals more and more as the story progresses. At times, I think Dave forgot that he was supposed to be retired. I love how he bounces ideas off his wife, who was perhaps more clear-headed about the investigation because she wasn't close to it. She seemed a bit standoffish to me; she and Dave didn't appear to do much together. Perhaps that comes from years of being married or perhaps that's because they refused to discuss the one subject they needed to talk about the most, their son.

The cover of the book is pretty cool. I didn't notice it right away, but when the light hits it a certain way, the number reflect the light.

When I was reading, I marked numerous passages that I loved and was going to quote here. However, when I went back to look at them. their meaning and relevance were lost out of context. Several of them were just too long to quote. Having said that, here's one that I liked and still makes sense in isolation:
It was a curious thing about the past--how it lay in wait for you, quietly, invisibly, almost as though it weren't there. You might be tempted to think it was gone, no longer existed. Then, like a pheasant flushed from cover, it would roar up in an explosion of sounds, color, motion--shockingly alive. (page 114)

New words:
vitiate (page 17): make something ineffective
vacuity (page 79): emptiness
picayune (page 90): small-minded
perfunctory (page 111): automatic, obligatory
sophistry (page 169): lack of imagination
patrician (page 200): noble
eponymous (page 193): having the name that is used as the title or name of something else.
pederast (page 309): a man who has sex with a adolescent
obsequious (page 383): flattering
unfilial (page 388): not befitting a son or daughter

Highly recommended. I look forward to reading more books by this author. I can't wait for Verdon's next book.

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

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

Think of a Number by John Verdon, Crown Publishers (Random House), ©2010. ISBN 9780307588920(Hardcover), 418p.