Thursday, December 31, 2009

Bone Hunter by Sarah Andrews

Read May 3, 2008

Sarah Andrews is an author to fall in love with. Her research is exceptional, her characters are fully formed and human, her mysteries full of red herrings and delightful turnarounds and always full of factual information. The series lead character, who tells the story in first person, is Em Hansen, is a forensic geologist; she teaches, often consults for the police and occasionally the FBI. This is the fifth book in the series (published in 1999), In this time out, she has been invited to speak at a Paleontology conference in Utah and the story begins the minute you open the book. To quote the opening paragraph, 'It’s all true. When the squad car rolled up behind me and the loudspeaker blared, “Hold it, right there!” I was, in fact, trying to break into George Dishey’s house. But I had an excuse. Really.'

In Andrews’ books you will find consistency of writing, often vastly different forensic applications of geology, as in the study of pigments, used to solve an art crime. In Bone Hunter, we learn of the good, the bad and the ugly sides of paleontology, from the historic to the criminal. Taking place in Utah, we also learn a great deal about the Mormon religion and renegade cults residing in the vast landscape of hidden canyons. Em has unwittingly become a suspect in the murder of George Dishey, a “renowned dinosaur expert”. Ms. Andrews has written an exciting and suspenseful book, a puzzling complexity of dinosaurs, science, liars, religion, and a dash of the psychic. A great mixed bag of fun. I highly recommend this and other books by Sarah Andrews.

One thing more, I found the Author’s Note about her research for the book fascinating, almost as much so as the story.

Songs for the Missing by Stewart O'Nan

Originally posted July 10, 2008
Reviewed on Barnes & Noble First Look group

This was a very well-written book following the story not of the missing young girl but of her family and friends. The disappearance, the loss, the helplessness, the hope, the eventual acceptance, all are there and we live it with them. It is a book about relationships as well. Every step was believable. Having been through sudden emotional trauma myself (albeit not the same trauma), I know that as time passes and you start to notice the rest of the world, it's a tremendous shock to find out that you have been going at one pace while the rest of the world has gone on much faster and carried on without you. I could feel some of this through various stages of the book. Stewart O'Nan has nailed it. Many people are not aware of this feeling until something happens in their own lives. The discoveries about the girl herself, the maturing of her younger sister, the distance then closeness in the family members are all in the book. I don't think any part was missed in this book and I highly recommend it. It is not the type of book you get to read very often. You don't get the feeling of sensationalism, only the feeling that you are one of the participants. Did I enjoy it? Yes, for the writing and for its honesty. 4 stars

Sachiko by Shizue Tomoda

Originally posted Thursday, November 27, 2008

This novel is the most believable I have ever read, it was like reading a true autobiography. This is not to say that I believe Sachiko is based on the author’s life, for that is something I do not know. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Shizue Tomoda has captured both the post-war Japan era and the American eras of the war in Vietnam and the breaking away of the ideals and conformity of earlier decades. Even as a Canadian living through the same decades, I could feel bonded with the story as it progressed.

This is the story of a young 14 year old girl in Japan who through sheer determination and belief in herself works hard to gather every bit of information she will need to go to high school in America despite the opposition of her family. Coming from a very traditional Japanese Buddhist family, this is no small feat. But Sachiko never veers from her decision and proceeds with her plans regardless. At the last moment permission and funds for her fare to the United States are provided by her parents, and she travels alone to America. She has already gained a sponsor, an invitation and scholarship to study in Newburgh, New York. I admire the strength and depth of feeling in this character both in her old world and the new. She settles quickly into her new life, and is doing well until she is shocked to discover the racism her sponsors harbor toward the blacks, and cannot avoid a confrontation with them. She is then sent to Minnesota to another family where she settles in quite happily and makes friends. The reader must keep in mind the times that this story is taking place. Existentialism, counterculturism, and other “isms” were a major influence, and thus caused more confusion for Sachiko than one might expect between cultures. When Sachiko falls in love, this very influence affects her deeply and as her love story plays out we see how much confusion, drama and trauma came out of this decade. This book never loses its focus and is a wonderful look at life in diverse cultures and mores. I would certainly recommend this book to both young people and adults. It is life as it was, fully captured, the book could have gone off on various tangents but sticks to its own truth. I most heartily congratulate the author on a beautiful slice of life. 4 1/2 stars

Descartes’ Bones: A Skeletal History of the Conflict Between Faith and Reason by Russell Shorto

Originally posted Thursday, November 27, 2008
Reviewed from Shelf Awareness for publisher/author

Interesting history of philosophy, reason, and science
This has been an unusual trip through the beginning of modern philosophy back in the 1600s to the present. I have not personally studied philosophy, but I found the book easy enough to read. There are many endnotes which in this case I found to be less distracting than footnotes yet easy enough to look up, and many references. The work is well-researched and written for the average person such as myself. There was a great deal of history showing Descartes’ reasoning, studies, and presentation of the original idea of duality of mind and body. This early beginning formed the basis for all science today, giving him the ‘title’ of the Father or Modernity”..

Shorto’s book takes a new look at the beginnings of Descartes’ work and follows through the centuries after his death, showing his effect on science and reason to the present day. However, he has taken an interesting route of demonstration. Descartes never lay quietly in his grave, he was moved through the centuries into various locations, some religious, some not. These relocations of his bones tended to coincide with important turning points in history, harking back to his view of duality and modernism. To make matters more mysterious, the skull was not with the bones. Surprisingly, the skull was located almost 200 years after Descartes’ death and has been authenticated. However, the bones (fragments), presumed carefully handled with each removal and noted, are no longer believed to be authentic. I found the book interesting and different, there are fascinating looks at several historical figures and times. The characters are humanized and real, and I think it would appeal to readers who are inquisitive, like factual science, or history, without sounding like a text-book. 3 1/2 stars

Where Am I Wearing? A Global Tour to the Countries, Factories, and the People that Make Our Clothes by Kelsey Timmerman

Originally posted Thursday, November 27, 2008
Reviewed through Shelf Awareness, for publisher/author

How many people think about their clothes, right down to their underwear and wonder who made them where? This is the start of Kelsey's journey of discovery. I expected to hear about sweatshops, horrific conditions, and protests What Kelsey Timmerman did was personal, interesting, realistic in his approach. He learns from his first unsuccessful foray in the Honduras (his T-shirt) and plans his worldwide trip in a more original manner. He made contact starting at the bottom and working his way up in order to see the actual factory in which each article he is wearing was made. His underwear was made in Bangladesh, jeans in Cambodia, Flip-flops in China, and shorts in USA. His first contact is in Bangladesh. He learns as he goes along that rather than try to pose as a buyer, it's better to tell the truth, he simply wants to see where his clothes were made. He is able to get into almost every factory, they can identify each article of clothing made by them, no matter how old. But what he really wants to do is meet the people, not as factory workers but as human beings.

In each location he makes friends with people who are working in the factories, learning how little they earn and how many hours they work, often working overtime free, what their hopes are. He finds that they all have hope rather than the despair they knew before. The fact that there are factories to work at has actually given them this hope. He learns that almost all have had to move from home in the country to work, and rarely see family. But they have a certain happiness outside of work. They accept the hard work because it is going to gradually increase their economy. Kelsey is still aware of the terrible living and working conditions, and yet this has always been a problem, even in the US, when they had garment factory conditions with poor pay and ill treatment, but the economy did eventually grow.

In Bangladesh, he takes a group of children (and an old man everyone thought he should take) to "Fantasy World", an amusement park, to ride on a roller-coaster (and other rides). These children are not factory workers, and the old man was a farmer who had always wanted to ride on the roller coaster. In return Kelsey learns to play a game called Kabbadi. In Cambodia he takes a group of workers bowling. He is doing exactly what he wanted to do, meet the people who worked in these factories. China is the hardest country to get to see the factory that made his flip-flops. He learns that the amazing dam on the Yangtzee River has displaced 4.5 million people because their homes and orange groves are now under water. His final destination, in the US, he takes in on his honeymoon. Here he not only meets the workers, but the actual person who worked on his shorts.

The book is very interesting and personable. Kelsey makes a lot of good points. It's a lot to chew on, but begs the question of whether the garment factories are good or bad for the economy of the people, and leaves one thinking what is good for the people and what appeases our souls. The people have hope, they are earning money they couldn't earn anywhere else. They are in fear of losing their jobs if the factories are closed down. There is a lot packed into this book but it is not preaching anything. It states facts, it humanizes the people, and gives us a lot to think about. I highly recommend this book. 5 stars

Jolted: Newton Starker’s Rules for Survival by Arthur Slade

Originally posted Thursday, November 27, 2008
Reviewed on Facebook for Harper Collins

This book is Young Adult Fiction and I have rated it from that point of view.
Arthur Slade has given us a story about a 14-year old boy with a very unusual heritage. For over 200 years the Starker family have all been killed by lightning. Newton is the last male descendant and as such is extremely restricted in his lifestyle, something a lot of young people will relate to. His home is equivalent to living in a bunker.

I really enjoyed this book, and I’m sure it will appeal to this age-group. Every chapter is short, every episode is a chapter.

Aside from the constant fear of lightning, “always check the weather before going out”, when Newton enrolls in the Jerry Potts Academy of Higher Living and Survival in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, he learns about friendship, trust, overcoming fear, and above all patience, although it takes the whole book to teach him the last.

Newton’s Survival List is the filler and the glue that joins the chapters. The book is very easy to read, each short chapter a different part of his learning. There are some good survival tips for anyone in the book, as well. I would recommend this book for children and teens 8-14, but not exclusively. A fascinating, entirely different type of style and storyline to enjoy. 4 1/2 stars

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Off Kilter by Linda C. Wisniewski

Originally posted Feb. 12, 2008.
Reviewed for Front Street Reviews

Linda Wisniewski tells her own story in a very personal way. She suffers from scoliosis which was never treated and finds that her entire life has been as “off kilter” as her spine. A verbally abusive father and an intimidated, detached mother combine to make her household a place of fear and anxiety rather than a place of refuge. Linda grew up as a Polish-American Catholic during the war and post-war years in a community primarily of the same ethnicity and religion. Growing up in the 1950s was a nation-wide period of turmoil. WWII had ended, the Cold War was beginning, female rebellion was just beginning to bud, and being a pre-teen and teenager in those years could be excruciating for an angst-ridden, discomfited child lacking in confidence.

Many readers will find there is a lot in the book that is familiar to their own memories and may relate to several times in her life. Linda tells her story mostly through flashback memories and then often puts a positive tone on the memory looking at it from her present. I was actually surprised that scoliosis, which can be very painful, is not a major part of the book but more of a side-issue. She has written her feelings almost cathartically but it is definitely not a long drawn out complaint. Certainly there are bouts of anger, depression, and mostly lack of self-worth, but we are taken through a journey of her discovery of self over the decades. And it does take decades to be renewed and to become the person she probably always was were it not for the demeaning childhood that shaped her into someone she was never meant to be. Even throughout the history, there are flickers of the person she was meant to be.

Personally, I learned a lot from this book and intend to make use of what I have learned. Her journeys through memories of good times bring her to some form of understanding of her past, but it is what she does with these memories to overcome her ingrained way of life is a wonderful story of how we can change our own destinies. There is a feeling of peace at the end of the book and it is a fitting ending. Despite the subject matter, the book is a surprisingly easy read. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is looking for peace, self-worth and contentment in their lives. In fact, I’m sure most readers will derive something positive from the book.

The Copper Indian by J.P. Morgan, D. Min.

Originally posted Nov. 27, 2008
Reviewed for Front Street Reviews

I love this book. It takes place mostly in the 1950s and 60s, an interesting era. It feels so real, so personal, is funny and serious all at the same time. It reads like the memories of a Police/FBI veteran telling vignettes to perhaps a grandchild about his adventures and misadventures in his career. J.P. Morgan has almost forty years’ involvement in law enforcement at many levels so it is not unexpected that this book would present that kind of hominess that makes it feel personal. This however is a book of fiction, and you will be surprised to find out who is apparently telling the stories. Our main character, Jim Utze is an absolute delight as he spends his childhood onward following his hero “The Lone Ranger’s” code of ethics. Being part Pima he also is following Tonto from his (Tonto’s) earliest days before the Lone Ranger but growing up in the “paleface” world, the Lone Ranger is his main hero. His mother was from Ireland and Jim is raised mostly as a single child of a Catholic family. She would like to see him become a priest, but Jim has other plans.

College appears to him to be the answer to a compromise with his mother, but it is not long before he realizes he can’t afford to get through four years of college without more money. His father who had been in the war suggested that he go into the service (as long as he was at college he would not be drafted, but that would be redundant if he couldn’t continue anyway). He mentioned the GI Bill and suggested the Marines. For a young man who lived by the rules of the Lone Ranger, this was a first introduction into a world where he might have to actually kill someone. At the same time, his goal in life was to be a detective for the NYPD. He spends most of his time in the NYPD on the narcotics squad and must learn that you can’t always talk your way around problems. The plus is that he is paired up with equally likeable partners. Throughout his years of working, he continues with his college plans with the FBI as a part of the future.

He meets an Israeli airline security girl and although he is very interested and infatuated with her, he remains unsure of how trustworthy she is, and of just exactly who she is and what role she plays; something just does not seem to sit right. I will not give away the plot of why he feels this way, nor the many ways he avoids violence in his work but it is well-worth reading. The book ends with a few loose ends, or rather ends looking for another book. The Epilogue is fascinating and seems to bring promise of another installment of all these characters. I’m sure I will be first in line when it comes out! I was that immersed in the book and absolutely enjoyed it. I highly recommend it to anyone who likes a dollop of humour with their dish of police interaction. 5 stars

Voices Under Berlin: A Novel of the Berlin Spy Tunnel by T.H.E. Hill

Originally posted Nov 16, 2008
Reviewed for Front Street Reviews

T.H.E. Hill is a veteran of Field Station Berlin and of Herzo Base. As such, he is perfectly attuned to the subject of his novel. Hill’s novel is set in the early days of the Cold War. The CIA and the U.S. military intelligence linguists are in fact involved in the planning and construction of the tunnel and also handling of processed data. From this point on, this review will refer only to the novel. The book is very entertaining, irreverent and humorous throughout. The story is told from both the Russian side via tapes and land-line calls and the U.S. side from the transcriptions by the ‘lingies” in the tunnel under Berlin. The characters are a mix of fun or stereotypical in order to bounce off each other like the straight man and the funny man. Through the tapes we come to know the characters you never get to “see”, but learn the personalities of, through the transcriptions.

There is a feeling of being a part of the cloistered community, especially once the wiretaps are in full operation. In a boring and inactive area, a lot of the action comes from the transcription of the tapes and calls. There is so much game-playing to alleviate the boredom that some characters suspect the head transcriber, Kevin, is playing jokes with the transcriptions and making things up. Some of the transcribers are unable todiscern the underlying information and make serious errors in judgment that Kevin just barely has time to correct before the reports go out. He has read the manuals, he knows the lingo, knows how to distinguish what is important and what is not. When he is questioned about where he finds certain words in the transcriptions, he can point out what was hidden that led him to know place or person, what clues to watch for.

Underlying the daily goings on is the content of some of the tapes talking about a spy who is dating a U.S. soldier, who the Russians suspect is involved in a U.S. operation in the area where the warehouse is (the warehouse is over the tunnel entrance). The concern rises as some tidbit of information is inadvertently dropped to the Russian spy, and the main characters in the tunnel each have a different idea of who the GI might be, but when they identify the spy, they will know. I do not want to include any spoilers, so I will step away from the mystery. Needless to say, the more I think about this book, the more I enjoy recalling it.

There is a “Guide to the Jargon” in the front of the book that’s very helpful. There is also a paragraph on “How the Russians Address Each Other”. A quick search by me on the internet for my own curiosity brought up several sites about the Berlin Tunnel, declassified in 2007.

I would definitely recommend this book to those who like Cold War humor, history, and entertaining reading.

Article “The Cold War Museum - the Berlin Tunnel by T.H.E. Hill

Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom

Originally posted Feb 20, 2009
Reviewed for Front Street Reviews

I began reading Winter in Madrid with the idea of a mystery and found it difficult to follow in those terms. Once I started reading the book as a historical novel, it began to really take form. C.J. Sansom has done an excellent job of relating conditions in Spain through the 1930s and 40s.

The Spanish Civil War has just ended and Hitler is preparing to move into Spain in WWII. A young man from Britain, survivor of the Dunkirk fiasco, finds himself heading to Spain as a spy. He is very uncomfortable with this assignment because the person he is to spy on was once his friend. Harry was chosen for two reasons, one, that he had already been active in the war and two, he had been a school- and room-mate of the person he is asked to spy on.

Three boys at public school in England, through the wonders of coincidence in life, have all become entrenched in Spain in various capacities. Bernie, the Communist, friend of Harry’s; Harry, raised by his aunt and uncle - a Colonel; and Sandy, the discontent son of clergy and somewhat subversive by nature.

From the historical perspective, the book features post-monarchist Spain; first the Civil War which put Franco in power, followed by WWII and the concerns of whether Franco will ally himself with Hitler. Spain is devastated in the Civil War and the inroads being made by Stalin and by Hitler along Spain’s borders puts the country in extreme poverty, famine and desperation. This is the background into which Harry has arrived at the Spanish Embassy for training to spy on Sandy. Harry finds himself much more involved than he ever expected once he gets to Spain. Having been there in 1931 with Bernie, he is overwhelmed by the change. This becomes even more convoluted when he happens to meet up with a fellow Briton, Barbara, who he remembers as Bernie’s girlfriend on a trip Harry took to Spain in 1936 to find out if Bernie is alive, a trip taken on at the request of Bernie’s parents. Now, in 1940, it seems that they are all about to be drawn in together.

Written in three parts, Autumn, The Beginning of Winter, and Deep Cold, this could as easily be representing the degrees of involvement as describing the time of year and weather. Sansom weaves with great texture the stories of not just the three schoolmates or the two wars, but the several people who play well-defined roles in and out of the schoolmates’ lives. Vividly depicting the chaos, the strengths and weaknesses of the people, the determination to stay alive in the city of Madrid, and in the prison camps, this is what makes the book flow. Though at times jumping back into the time of the Civil War, then returning to the possibility of Spain joining Hitler’s war can be a bit unsettling at times, it does work out. The final part of the book becomes much faster moving with lots of action. Though there are some slower parts in the beginning while the background is being set, the rest of the book and the ending are well worth the read. Definitely recommended to war aficionados, Spanish mid-20th century history, romance and intrigue.

Written on the Knee: A Diary from the Greek-Italian Front of WWII by Dr. Theodore Electris, translated with commentary by Helen Electrie Lindsay.

Originally posted Oct. 28, 2008
Reviewed for Front Street Reviews

The Little-Known War; a part of WWII, a personal look

Many books have come to light written by survivors of WWII within the past few years. What better way to hear it than through the eyes, ears, and voice of those who lived it? This is the case with Written on the Knee. The book is a compilation of Dr. Electris’ well-kept diaries, the letters to and from family members, especially the letters from his wife of three months when he was suddenly mobilized.

This is as much a love story as a war story, and often he touches on the war & discomforts only lightly, but every so often through exhaustion and fear both for his loved ones and for himself, we hear of the desperate trials and tribulations, not only of the soldiers but of the people who are caught between the devil and the natural topography of the mountains where most of this portion of the war was fought. This war was fought mostly in Albany, between the Italians, at that time in league with the Germans, and the mobilized Greeks. The Greek army suffered from lack of proper equipment, lack of food, lack of transportation. They moved mostly by night through the treacherous forests & mountains on foot, sometimes with some mules and/or horses. Shortage of medical supplies and the inability to pack them well from camp to camp was an ongoing problem; finding food almost impossible. This was dirty warfare, almost forgotten in history books, and yet was a major turning point in Hitler’s plans of taking on Russia, by delaying the timeline until winter, one of the worst winters in history.

The book concentrates a lot on family, the worry on both sides and the infiltration of the Germans into the village where the Electris family lived. His fear for his wife is very noticeable in his diaries. The long trek home, mostly alone in the dark through the mountains must be read, and the discovery of Germans occupying his home terrifying, since he did not know where his wife could be. These are the kinds of stories you can only hear from those who lived the time.

Helen has done a great translation, but also has written an excellent Prologue, Epilogue, and Appendix all of which shed more light on this battle; I learned a great deal. There are several photos in the book courtesy of the Hellenic War Museum as well as photos taken by Theordore Electris himself, and several maps showing various fronts and approaches. A very good read, I would recommend this book to anyone whose genre is historical, wars, non-fiction, realism, and even love stories. This is a must read for any who have never heard of the Greek-Italian portion of WWII.

What Came Before He Shot Her by Elizabeth George

Originally posted for Harper Collins First Read Group, Nov. 15, 2006. This was my first review.

An important look at the darker side of London, I would assume it to be a prequel to “With No One As Witness”, previously written.

Having read several of Elizabeth George's mysteries, I was surprised to find myself reading an entirely different type of book. Do not expect this novel to include more than a mention of the characters from her well-known and beloved Detective Lynley series. At the outset, I was not too sure what I would think of it, but as I read I became totally drawn into the characters and unable to put the book down.

The characters are believable, volatile, and very well drawn. This novel takes us into the darkest parts of London and gives us insight into the people who must deal, on a daily basis, with the dangers and hopelessness portrayed here. The book, utilizing a mix of patois and formal English, is situated around one particular dysfunctional "family" and ultimately how the events led to the final desperate outcome.

The book itself is somewhat of a prequel to George’s previous novel "With No One As Witness". It unrelentingly takes us back into the events and crises in the life of a young boy determined to protect his siblings regardless of the dangers he must face. The final horror brings us full circle to the shooting and death of a Scotland Yard detective's wife. I found the book took me on a journey I would not normally want to take, but is well-written for its subject matter. It is definitely not a light read but well-executed.

The Rosetta Key by William Dietrich

Originally posted Dec. 14, 2008
Reviewed for HarperCollins First Look group

Think Indiana Jones in the Napoleonic Wars!

I loved this book. Great adventure woven from history, think Indiana Jones in the Napoleonic Wars! This latest book takes place almost entirely in Egypt in the year 1799 and Napoleon is in the midst of his invasion of Israel. Ethan Gage is our hero and is in and out of trouble so fast and often it is hard to keep up with his sometimes hilarious and always stunning escapes. Here we have a classical treasure hunt in the deserts of Egypt.

William Dietrich's book is historically very accurate, and the treasure may indeed exist as has been rumored for centuries. Our protagonist finds himself “switching sides” through no fault of his own and with no political intention, constantly. The only political agenda of his is to find the object of his search and protect it or destroy it to keep it from the “wrong” hands while trying to find out what happened to his lost love Astiza. Other than the fact he is always avoiding execution, Evan is forever finding the girl, losing the girl, and finding the girl again.

Since Evan is also a gambler, perhaps the saying is true, ‘lucky at cards, unlucky at love’! I enjoy a book that is not only a great adventure and/or mystery but gives me extras, such as the historical bits and pieces I learned. “The Rosetta Key” follows a previous book, Napolean’s Pyramids, which I unfortunately had not read (but will definitely read it now), which sets the background for this book and involves the same search. I would not hesitate recommending this book to anyone. It would be of interest to readers of several genres. It has everything in it and I am so happy I was able to read it and review it. An absolute winner! 5 stars.

Justice Denied by J.A. Jance

Originally posted July 20, 2007

Be sure to read the Prologue which starts off like a shot and grabs you from the first sentence. I found this book to hold my attention from beginning to end with no flagging of interest. J.A. Jance lets you pick up where you left off if you have been reading the series. However, the book does not constantly dredge up superfluous references to what has happened before. I have only read one of this series in the past, "Failure to Appear", and was pleased to learn more about the continuing characters.

I found the book enjoyable, which follows a change in the hero (J.P. Beaumont)'s life and circumstances. A lot of the story is written through dialogue, which I found interesting and more personal. This gives the reader a chance to view the thought processes and workings involved in solving the crime. It is always fun to see the use of very current news and technology involved in these novels. One would almost suspect the author saves some space in the writing to insert the most up-to-date news in the book. The story itself goes in several interlocking directions and although there are a few constants in the story that appear to give away the ending, there are still surprises in store.

There were a lot of different names mentioned throughout because of the scope of the mystery, which was a bit distracting at times, but I learned a lot from the book. I do like mystery books that give you insight into other areas, in this case in the psyche. I would say this book runs the gamut of genres from cozy to police procedural, including some humour. I definitely liked this book and will be looking for more books by Jance in the future.

Bird Lake Moon by Kevin Henkes (YA)

Originally posted April 2007

Young adult fiction
Kevin Henkes has written a beautifully constructed lyrical tale weaving two stories into one. There are many traumas through life that children go through without the full understanding of their parents. Henkes takes two separate incidents in different families and brings them together into a story of two boys growing in friendship and healing as both arrive in neighbouring houses on Bird Lake. Mitch appears first and desperately wants to be a family in the vacant house next door to his grandparents. All his actions reveal his desperation and fear. A few days later, Spencer and his sister Lolly arrive at the vacant house Mitch so hoped to share with his mother. Mitch refuses to have anything to do with the “intruders” as he calls them, and begins trying to scare them off, but without realizing it, the only person who was scared was Spencer. The building of friendship and trust is beautiful to watch. You feel how deeply these two boys are scarred, but as they begin to trust each other they discover a lasting relationship. I felt I wanted to learn more about these boys by the end of the book, but hope is hinted at. Very well written, thoughts well communicated, and a great location. I would recommend this book to anyone from perhaps 7 or 8 and up, adults included.

Monday, December 28, 2009

When to Walk by Rebecca Gowers

Originally posted Mar. 4, 2008

I had a hard time concentrating on this book at the outset. The book covers 1 week (each day a chapter) in the life of Ramble (how aptly named she is!) Saturday left me very confused and seemed more erratic than necessary, but by Monday I was just getting into how it flows. The first part of the book was definitely difficult, and left me mostly confused and wondering when it could possibly garner some cohesion. It took me fewer days to get through the rest of the book, but the first part I really dragged through. At the point at which a bond was made with a neighbor, Ramble began to become more real to me. When Rebecca Gowers brings you into the convoluted mind of Ramble, you can begin to enjoy her non-adventures as a travel writer who never goes anywhere. She definitely has an interesting command of the English language and her research methods are quite fascinating.

For the full week her mind narrates the book, but I for one felt that the end was rather predictable. The book in itself is an interesting scenario of how a mind can work, but do we ever really know who she is by the end? I would have to leave that to future readers. Nevertheless, it is a very different book, full of unorthodox ideas and fun as well. I don't think I would necessarily recommend it to the average reader, but certainly to someone who is more interested in the psyche, and how people react to various crises. I believe Ramble is stronger than she knows and her current predicament is somewhat of a blessing. An unusual book, well researched in an odd way.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

When Day Breaks by Mary Jane Clark

Originally posted May 26, 2008

I enjoyed this book, a little different format from what I am used to in that it covers the movements and thoughts of all the potential suspects within each day. This was an interesting concept to me. Short, individual chapters keep all characters equally in the forefront of your mind rather than having to go back to check out some vital clue you may have forgotten or missed earlier in the book. This also sets the background of relationships, interactions, unexpected links, to build to a final solution.

Mary Jane Clark has created a vibrant background of television news production, the characters are strong, fascinating and astute. Much of the storyline gives insight into the lives of reporting and production crew, and the desperation to get the story at almost any cost to integrity. This book is a part of the KEY News series and Eliza Blake, single mother and anchor for the KEY Evening Headlines is very likeable. I will definitely read more from this author.

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

Originally posted Apr. 22, 2008
Great book! I thoroughly enjoyed this one.

I feel like I’ve been let in on a bunch of gossip that’s turned out to be mostly true. Emma Donoghue has written a story around a historic Victorian era divorce case. This is no ordinary lightweight frivolity, this is full-bodied passion. Ms. Donoghue has done a great deal of research into the case, which smacks of realism and is in fact often closely worded to the actual trial. But her research does not direct itself exclusively to the trial and what went before, but has done an in depth study of Victorian mores, the rights (and lack) of the Victorian wife, the fledgling women’s rights movements and the backgrounds of the real people involved.

This book is very well written, I admit to checking a couple of times whether I was reading fiction or non-fiction. The flow was such that I had trouble putting the book down. This is the story of Helen (the respondent in the trial) who is married to a much older man Harry Codrington, staid and totally English and an Admiral of the Navy, whereas Helen herself was born in India and brought up there as well as in Italy. She is used to walking out with a male companion on her arm in Italy, where this is an acceptable practice. The couple made their home with their two little girls in England, but the Admiral is often away and Helen has become very close to her good friend “Fido”(Emily Faithfull” to the point that she invites her to come for an extended stay in their home. However, when the Admiral is reassigned to his next station, Malta, he persuades Helen to accompany him. This is the background for the story, and the reader comes into it on their return to England.

In the years Helen is away, Fido has made a name for herself in the fight for women’s rights and also as a major member of a printing company for women. The two friends meet by chance on the street soon after the Codringtons return to England and become good friends again. Remembering that this is really the beginning of the book, the plot moves along quickly and smoothly and becomes more convoluted as it goes along. There is everything here. Misconceptions, misunderstandings, mismatched marriage and the eventual results of such. The gathering of evidence and the trial take up almost half the book. There are snippets of letters throughout the book, hints and surprises. We have naive Fido, frivolous Helen, and stodgy but trusting Harry, as well as interfering do-gooders to put it mildly. Excitement, passion, humiliation, blackmail, and all in this fictionalized version of, from the back of the book “...a scandalous divorce case that gripped England in 1864.” and “...explodes into a courtroom drama muckier than any Hollywood tabloid could invent...”. My heart went out to Fido, but in the end there is a lingering question.

I very much liked the format of the book, and learned a lot from the Author’s Note in the back, explaining her research and updating what became of many of the characters. This book was a real winner.

The Monsters of Templeton by Lauren Groff

Originally posted Mar. 4, 2008

I liked this book a lot; it is complicated in its own way and yet all laid out for us in a relatively direct manner. The occasional (revised) family trees helped to keep it in order. I loved the first line in the version I read "The day I returned to Templeton steeped in disgrace, the fifty-foot corpse of a monster surfaced in Lake Glimmerglass." Now, who wouldn’t be interested in a book that begins with the whole outer limits of the story presented in those few words? This book has so much within its pages! There are many stories within the story, some short, some longer, but all pertinent to the whole. There is also a quote from the Author’s Note referring to her final prompt to begin writing that I think gives us a glimpse of Lauren Groff’s own character as to how this story would be written: "That’s about the time his [James Fenimore Cooper] characters knocked on the door and joined the party."

This book is ostensibly about Willie (Wilhelmina) Upton, but it is also about a small town’s occupants, the history of both town and Willie’s heritage and much more. The book is descriptive, the characters are fully formed, and I can picture it all so easily. Willie came home from Alaska where she was working as part of an archaeology team, with a feeling of guilt and uselessness. Through living back in Templeton, Willie comes to an understanding of who she is. Her mother, a descendent of the town’s founding father Marmaduke Temple, challenges her to discover who her father is and tells her only that he lives in the town and is also a descendent of Marmaduke (Duke). An old school friend and an elderly librarian become two unlikely allies in her search. Each new search brings us another story as each descendent is “discovered”, and she learns there were more “monsters” in the town than the one in the lake, but it makes for a very interesting debut book. I am fascinated by Groff’s method and writing. I am certainly looking forward to more books by this author.

The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit by Lucette Lagnado

Originally posted Dec. 1, 2007
Full name: The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: My Family's Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World

I thoroughly liked this book. Lucette Lagnado speaks from the heart about her family's life with respect and candor. Mostly autobiographical in content, the history of the family and particularly the patriarch is the backbone on which it is written. A complete "riches to rags" story, the early part of the book deals with a world completely alien to post-war Egypt and its Jewish population. Fleeing from their country of birth and rich lifestyle into the unknown life of refugees with "no state", no home, is a journey of changes, separation, religious deprivation, illness, and much more. Lucette "Loulou" takes this journey and relates it without prejudice or blame. She gives us an understanding of the life of a refugee immigrant in the post-war world of the 1950/60s and beyond; a time of change not just in the country they have left but in the countries to which they flee. The suffering of the father trying to raise his family in the ways of both a strict religion and a strict culture is described with the perspective of both a little girl with great love for her father and as a young lady gradually breaking with tradition. She has written this book in a gentle, insightful and caring way that can teach us a lot without hammering it in.

The Immortalists by David M. Friedman

Originally posted Feb 10, 2008
Full title The Immortalists: Charles Lindbergh, Dr. Alexis Carrel, and Their Daring Quest to Live Forever.

This is truly an amazing book. I found it very interesting right through. The story of Charles Lindbergh in particular is almost 3 separate lives, or maybe even 4, and we are taken through each part with the same thoroughness and attention to detail. Dr. Carrel as well lead a very fascinating life, ahead of his time by about 70 years, but the two men’s lives mesh in an almost fantastical way.

Beginning with Lindbergh’s flight as almost an aside, it was mostly used to set the theme of the effect the notoriety had on his life. The death of his infant son also is not a major part of the story but more of a background. What is amazing and exciting is how these two men, an engineer and a scientist produced the forerunners of so many medical practices today. To read what they were able to produce with their “misguided” attempts at immortality is completely worthwhile. The “middle” portion takes us through the days leading up to WWII and the results. The final portion brings us back to exoneration, hope, prestige and Lindberg’s re-entry into flight. One is made to feel we come full circle by the end of the book. To be honest, I had no idea as to the depth of these personalities and the book was a real eye-opener. I am so glad I was able to read this fantastic story and heartily recommend it.

The Devil's Bones by Jefferson Bass

Originally posted February 5, 2008

Reading this book is as easy and enjoyable as if the author is sitting right with me and telling me about his experiences. Amazing. I’ve never felt so comfortable in a book before, especially considering the theme. Jefferson Bass is the pseudonym for a team comprising Dr. Bill Bass, world-renowned forensic anthropologist who founded the real “Body Farm”, and Jon Jefferson, journalist, science writer, and documentary filmmaker. With a background like this you know the novel will be informative and factual. The Devil’s Bones is the 3rd novel, and how I wish I had already read the first two! I loved the flow of the book, it was descriptive, entertaining, the characters and the relationships are strong and believable. The conversations are entertaining yet informative and the storyline held my interest completely. If I could have spared the time I would have read it at one sitting.

The main character is Dr. Bill Brockton, working with a team of PhD students and others. As the book begins, he has lost the woman he loved (also a colleague) when another member of the department murdered her and tried to frame Bill for the murder. The man responsible, Dr. Garland Hamilton, is in jail for murder. This story begins when Dr. Brockton is sent a box of supposed “cremains” to determine if this is indeed what the box contains. A request has been made by the very lawyer who defended his case. There appears to be something strange about his Aunt’s ashes and he has asked that Bill check it out. This leads us into the world of cremation, and the realization that this is a much bigger case than one would expect. As a suspected murder comes to light, the knowledge gained checking the crematoriums plays a part in solving this case, not to mention his brilliant PhD student and assistant Miranda. The escape of Hamilton from jail adds suspense and fear to the mix throughout the remainder of the book. A tiny chip of bone leads to a fitting finale. I enjoyed the book immensely, would recommend this book to anyone and now have a new favourite author!

The Good Rat: A True Story by Jimmy Breslin

Originally posted April 8, 2008

A surprisingly entertaining book considering the topic
Jimmy Breslin has built a story of the Mafia old and current around the court case against two extremely “dirty” cops in the NYPD. Burt Kaplan, working for the Mafia for decades, is the witness; now in his 70s and tired of prison life, he has turned “rat”. Kaplan is, from the book cover in this version “one of the most devastating turncoats of all time”. The court transcripts have a certain fascination which give great insight into the minds of the Mafia. Everything is run like a business, as is fairly well-known, but to hear it in the words of Kaplan, the descriptions of murder, making people disappear, comes across as just a day in the office. He tells everything straight as if describing ordering a meal to be delivered, or shipping a parcel out. Kaplan’s “voice” and Breslin’s style are what make the story so entertaining.

Breslin fills in background between sessions of the transcript with what appears to be the results of interviews through the years. Raised in the same location as the Families, he knew them personally and by reputation. This is what makes the story. He knows what he is talking about and has a wonderful flow between the transcripts and the “normal” lives of the people referred to. He gives us perhaps the most accurate picture of the history from the 1950s to the present of the “families” including their movement from Brooklyn to Staten Island, and on into the final crumbling days of the Dons. I was pleasantly surprised by this book, I thought it would be a lot of blood and guts described in great detail and do not usually read books to do with the Mafia. This book is so unexpected, I’m inclined to read Breslin’s other books on the same topics. I would recommend this book for it’s courtroom interest, it’s historical fact, and it’s entertainment value. Very good.

The Sheltering Sky by Paul Bowles

Originally posted February 21, 2008

Paul Bowles has spun a dramatic and unforgiving landscape in great detail. The story takes place in post-WWII North Africa predominantly in the Sahara. The book is very descriptive, and the characters are introduced and grow throughout the story, although I never feel particularly drawn to them. Three people, our protagonist Port Moresby with his wife Kit and his friend Tunner, adventuring together avoiding tourist areas and seeking the real Sahara. Although the Moresbys have traveled together in the past, the third party does make a difference in attitudes and understanding. The book is written in 3 distinct parts.

The clash of cultures is not helped when an older woman with her adult son crash the scene with little conception of who they are walking all over. And are they really who they seem? They follow very closely the same paths as Port, Kit and Tunner. It is not long before our travellers are split up in various ways and various combinations. Everything that appears to be so tranquil seems to be wrapped around something dark and dangerous. Depression, illness and loss become almost constant companions. Kit’s solo journey through the desert was interesting and the unchanging views were so well described I could actually see them in my mind. The caravan she joins feels real. As Kit becomes more and more withdrawn from reality one begins to wonder if she will ever return to herself.

In the third part, I felt disillusioned with the everyone! I can understand in a world of poor with an almost complete lack of ability to communicate because of the language barrier, but what I can’t fathom is why those who spoke English or French could not see what was happening with Kit. I thought the ending was too abrupt and unfinished. But others may not feel that way, it is my own thought. It just left me feeling a sense of loss. I did like the book for its descriptive nature, but I can’t say that it really grabbed me.

In the Space Left Behind by Joan Ackermann

Originally posted Jan. 5, 2009

This book is very well written with a plot that both teens and adults would find interesting. It is straightforward in a lot of ways, but actually runs much deeper. All through life everyone has “spaces left behind”. Colm is a 15 year old boy who is more adult than child. The space left behind when his father left the family, the children still very young, has produced in Colm a sense of responsibility far beyond his years. He is filled with disgust and anger from the many stories he has grown up with regarding his father, and yet he is a compassionate and caring young person with everyone else he comes into contact with. The second space comes when he loses his long-time companion, Chester, his dog, on the day that his mother and new husband leave for their honeymoon in Las Vegas, taking his little sister with them. Left to himself in the empty house his great-grandfather had built, he puts his high intelligence into play, remodelling the plumbing and the laundry room. The book is aptly named because with all the spaces left behind in his life, Colm is exceptionally close to his “family” but totally separated from his father. When his mother speaks of selling the house and all of them moving to Nevada, it is one strike too many.

An accident to an elderly neighbour brings Colm suddenly into a strange reunion with his father at a very vulnerable time. He neither trusts him nor wants anything to do with him. But circumstances intervene and he finds himself on a road trip across the country with his father. Between their opposite personalities, there is very little communication. Colm spends most of his time withdrawn into his own thoughts. There are some funny episodes along the way and it appears that nothing is the way it is perceived to be when they reach their destination. I enjoyed the book, it was different, engaging, and has something important to say.

High Crimes: The Fate of Everest in an Age of Greed by Michael Kodas

Originally posted about Feb 13, 2008

Fascinating storylines but could be smoother

I thought the book was a real eye-opener, especially as a non-climber who revered Mt. Everest from afar. The content is shocking, disturbing and disillusioning. The book was well-written but in a manner that felt like a magazine expose', particularly in the progression of chapters. Although the author did give dates and places, they did not run in a smooth fashion. It would have helped to keep track of each storyline within the main story if there were some indication in the chapter headings as to which party we were back to reading about; I found it very confusing to check back and forth to keep each story straight. Without a doubt there are problems on the mountain that should be dealt with: criminal, simple ill-preparation and neglect. The book certainly brought that to the fore.

However, I would have preferred that threats be described, rather than as verbatim conversation, simply because there is no way to prove this. As a wake-up call, shocking as it is, the book is well-worth reading. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but I did not come away from it feeling finished. Personally, I think one of the biggest eye-openers is the number of people who come to climb Everest without preparation, experience, or any real knowledge of high altitude climbing, doing it on a lark almost, another notch in their axe. Would I recommend the book? If you like sensational reading, then yes, go for it. If you expect some closure, I neither recommend it nor tell a person not to read it. This is one of those books which each person will have to determine for themselves. Everyone's take on it will differ. Did I like the author? Yes, but feel his style has not yet been firmed up for authoring books, it needs to be tightened and smoother flowing. Overall, it was slow going due to the problems noted above, but fast within each story, he does action best. I do applaud what he is trying to do.

Flint & Feather, The Life and Times of E. Pauline Johnson, Tekahionwake by Charlotte Gray

Originally posted December 10, 2007

Having grown up on the "Legends of Vancouver" and knowing so well the places described therein, having known since a little girl of Pauline Johnson's resting place by Siwash Rock, (I have often visited her grave through the years - Betty), I was thrilled to be able to review Charlotte Gray's book, Flint & Feather, and she does not disappoint! All the passion, determination, sensibility and presentation comes through strong and clear.

The book begins with a lengthy genealogy which some may find a bit tiresome, but to me it brought a vivid sense of history and pride, and I would not have skipped over it for anything. This background is essential to knowing how she and her siblings became who they were. Throughout the book, this pre-history plays a major role in Pauline’s life and destiny and how she handled it. Personally, I was amazed at how much I did not know of Canadian history both Iroquois and British, and how supportive the Iroquois Confederation was of the British in these early times, how civilized, organized and productive their people were, and what an impact they had on our history. In fact, a quick search on the Internet tells me “The Six Nations: Oldest Living Participatory Democracy on Earth”

Charlotte Gray has brought to life so completely Pauline's story that I found myself feeling as though I was there. I particularly enjoyed reading the excerpts of Pauline’s letters included in the narrative. It is incredible to think that she lived in the period 1861-1913, a time in which neither native, nor woman had much say in the world. Breaking into the literary “old boys club” was almost unheard of. Pauline was a trooper, and largely ignored what wasn’t quite “proper” to the British elite. However, she overcomes this as she does every other obstacle. This is without a doubt the best book on Pauline I have ever read. So many names are familiar, how she slips into two personas is absolutely amazing. This book does not only deal with Pauline's extremely unusual and fascinating life, but we learn a lot of history and geography throughout the entire book; not shoved down our throats, but just through the narrative, the poems and the travel. Pauline traveled everywhere... from the elite of London to the tiny mining and logging camps of western Canada. A truly amazing book, entertaining and honest, I highly recommend this read nut just to every Canadian, but the northern US and Britain as well. I am proud to learn of an amazing woman who overcame, in fact embraced, her dual race, one who fought the discrepancies between men and women of the day, and still reached the top! Even the terrible disease she fought to her death she overcame through sheer determination far longer that anyone would have imagined possible. This book is well worth reading about a woman who is endearing and a major force in getting us where we are today. Excellent book! My congratulations and adulation to Charlotte Gray!

Gone Baby Gone by Dennis Lehane

Originally posted October 20, 2007

Definitely written with a movie in mind, this book has already flashed through my mind in pictures while reading it. The action is fully described and compelling. Unfortunate to say that in reality in this day and age, the characters are not only believable but probable, from the detective team to all the faults in the justice system and to the occasional "bent" members of various enforcement agencies. The insight into how this comes to be, and the fullness of the characters of the criminals is quite interesting and perhaps will open some eyes. Another author I will be adding to my list of preferences!

The action is dramatic and fast paced with occasional sudden stops. The book is in 3 separate parts, which eventually tie all the ends up. While there appears to be some finality to each part, it still leaves you thinking, "is that all there is?". If it weren't for these breaks, I probably would not have put the book down. This is not to say that the reader feels there is any closure to each part, indeed each leaves a lot of questions unanswered until the final pages of the book. I liked the foreword and epilogue, which completed the story very well. It is a good read, and will no doubt be a good movie. I will be interested in hearing any feedback on how the movie fares in comparison. I live in an area where it is not likely the film will be played for some time.

Heroes - The Champions of our Literary Imagination by Bruce Meyer

Originally posted November 7, 2008

This book deals with how literature has played a role in our perception of what comprises a hero. The many examples are historical and diverse. Although the book is interesting it certainly isn't one I could read all in one go, although it is not a large book, but that was partly due to personal interruptions outside of the book. It did remind me of reading material for a literature, historical, or classical course. I liked the flow from truly ancient views of heroes to relatively more recent versions and how our perceptions and expectations evolved.

I did learn something from the book, but would have liked to see it proceed to today's world. Heroes and anti-heroes abound in our times and it would be of interest to make the comparisons and to learn how this has developed. I found it quite literary and even flowing regardless

The Burnt House by Faye Kellerman

Originally posted Dec. 5, 2008

Literally starts with a bang
The Burnt House was a great read. Decker & Lazarus, long-time working duo of the series quickly become old friends and acquaintances to this first time reader. The book is so well-written, combining police procedure with family life, that I felt completely at home with the characters.

The story starts off with a literal BANG!! as a commuter plane crashes into an apartment building. So many twists and turns begin when a search for the remains of one flight attendant purported to have been on the plane, becomes more complex with the appearance of another body in the rubble. Police procedure and how their families must cope became more real to me in this book than similar books I have read in the past. Just when I thought I had it all figured out (as did the team of investigators), it spun around in a completely different direction. I found the book at once believable yet surprising, and intricately woven. I am certainly going to search out more of the many earlier books featuring this duo.

America's Best Lost Recipes - The Editors of Cook's Country Magazine

Originally posted Nov. 7, 2008

I LOVE this book! I found many old recipes that I remember from my childhood. I was a little surprised that "Mock Duck" wasn't one that was submitted, we ate that a lot when we were young. A lot of the recipes have withstood time, such as Wacky Cake, which I think still shows up here and there. Having been subjected to such things as "Tripe & Onions" during the hard times (don't worry, this is one lost recipe that is not included), I'm not surprised that most of the recipes are sweet. Also, a lot of wartime recipes got "Lost" once sugar was once more available, and many of these recipes, though sweet, did not use a lot of sugar.

I found the Notes very helpful & consistently beneficial, and also loved the stories. Unfortunately, I have not made any of these recipes yet (not recently at any rate, but having made them in the past and comparing the recipes I have no doubt whatsoever that they will be excellent and turn out as expected). Since I reviewed an advance copy, I assume in the final printing those gorgeous photos will be in colour! And who would not be interested in a recipe called "Naked Ladies with their Legs Crossed"!

I am so thankful that there are conversion charts! As an older Canadian, I speak Fahrenheit, quarts, tablespoons and pounds much better than what I call "metricese"! And of course almost all my recipes are older than our metric.

Besides Wacky Cake, I remember having eaten: Chocolate Mayonnaise Cake, Red Velvet Cake (earlier recipe) and Hot Milk Cake. These were usually our birthday cakes. However, there are many more recipes that I have known about but never had.

Anxious to try: 7-Up Cake, Monkey Bread, Pioneer Bread, Just Chicken Pie, Glazed Pork with Caramelized Pears and Sweet Potatoes, ... Hmmm, guess I'll have to try most of them! Maybe not the Mile High Bologna Pie (but may substitute the meat! Maybe moose sausage? Keep it heritage...)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Now Silence: A Novel of World War II by Tori Warner Shepard

Reviewed for Front Street Reviews
Originally posted November 30, 2008

This is an unusual book. It appears to be at least 2 stories, perhaps 3 all running concurrently. Please be sure to read the Foreword, which sets out the military facts on which the book is based.

The story begins in Florida, February, 1944. The accidental death of a man starts a wave of events that eventually draws what seems to be an unrelated story into the small town of Santa Fe, New Mexico bringing his soon-to-be ex-wife (his widow, Anissa) and his soon-to-be new wife (his "widow", Phyllis) together and turning this usually calm town upside down.

Santa Fe has no eligible recruits for the military left, all were sent to the war in the Philippines and all were surrendered to the Bataan Death March. Many were still underage. The men of Santa Fe spent almost their entire war service as POWs in one of the most brutal camps in the Philippines. This part of the story is written in the same time frame as the story of the families left behind in Santa Fe. The interaction of the two sides of the world is very well-written. There are glimpses of how the men in the camp survived on one side, and how the family members every moment was played out in their minds from the other side, how they kept their love and faith going to bring them home. Everyone was a victim.

While trying to accept the two outsiders, the true widow and almost widow from Florida, there are other outsiders in Santa Fe as well; men in black coats, men watching and listening. There are questions about paved roads and trucks. Phyllis sees something and is told it is extremely confidential. Anissa has become involved with a fanatical religious faction, fully expecting that the war will soon end when Saint Germaine raises his blazing purple sword and the violet flame releases the planet from evil. It begs the question, has she too seen something she shouldn't have?

I found the Philippines sections and the families left behind in Santa Fe to be very real and the blending of the stories went very well. For three years neither side receives mail, but the families write every day anyway. However, some parts of the antagonism between the two outsiders didn't seem to fit at times. Phyllis, from Florida, is a person out of place but with her own purposes in mind, whereas Anissa, who had been in Santa Fe for a much longer time was very involved with the townspeople and in particular with her neighbour, Nicasia, who has already lost one son and her husband to the war. Living with Nicasia is LaBelle who is waiting for Nicasia's only other son Melo to return and marry her.

The war is suddenly over and the POWs are slowly returning but the war will never be over for them. It takes time for any expectation of normalcy to begin. But there is hope and a mother's faith and love. The book is interesting at different levels, and was a fairly quick read. I’d recommend it to anyone wanting a different perspective at the war years. Also for all those with an interest in this botched portion of war history.

Memories Vision by Ken Coleman

Reviewed for Front Street Reviews
First posted Aug 26, 2009

Ken Coleman has put together a wonderfully historic pseudo-biography that reads like a true interview of Queenie Jones, "most famous, notorious, and controversial black female entertainer of all time". I personally could not tell if this was a fictional account of an actual person or straight fiction. This centenarian has seen it all. The good, the bad, and the ugly, but mostly in reverse order. Being a black girl in the south in the early 1900s she witnesses the worst of America's history with the lynchings and murders of black people just for being there. Some of her story is reminiscent of that of Bessie Smith, Billie Holliday, Josephine Baker and later even Eartha Kitt and more, in particular finding a safe place to perform in France. But I am ahead of myself here.

Take a small girl who is very close to and admiring of her preacher father, only to lose him when he was caught by white men when he went after the light coloured boys who raped her at the young age of 14. Queenie was left with feelings of shame, guilt, and pregnant as well. As she says "I deserved it. I was being punished for being forward with boys. God was teaching me a lesson, one that took me another fifty years to learn." This is the way her life began, seeing children and men hung, stumbling over corpses, just because they were black.

This is not necessarily the story of white vs. black though. This is a story of love, of growth, of fame and fortune, and finally peace. This is a running history of America as told from the lips of one person who lived it all, the complete century. But it is also a story of awakening.

For what seems an unfathomable reason and is not explained in the early part of the book, Queenie has asked a young Jewish writer to come and write her memoirs. Steven Eidleberg can not understand why she has asked for him, and the most she would tell him was that one of his stories showed insight and compassion, she called it brilliant, Pulitzer prize material. But throughout the book he can not shake the feeling that more is involved.

The entire interviews are held in the hospital in secret while Queenie reminisces but grows weaker with every day. The life she led as a great, but raunchy, entertainer through the thirties to the sixties are a revelation of how many did live. A big woman with a bigger presence and amazing talent, her anger and lack of trust through those years made her tough and scrappy, and placed her in situations where only her great talent and fame saved her.

The interaction between these two extraordinarily different people is a marvel to behold. Steven feels spellbound by the story and believes this book will be his best writing ever. A story that "needed to be told". But his devotion to both the story and to Queenie herself causes a lot of rumbling in the Jewish community and gradually affects his marriage, but he can not let go. So much of the history of the black people he had very little idea of because it was virtually ignored in the Jewish community, and yet there are commonalities too, both races ostracized for different reasons. Both are outcasts, and both are in a way segregated. The book gives the reader a lot to ponder on these relationships and on the history of both. Understanding how the blacks accepted their lot is very psychological and I for one found these comparisons and reasonings of great interest.

The book is packed with famous names in the black music genre and the author has made it all feel very real and intense, and yet there is a full retinue of feelings described and eventually dealt with as the laws changed. There is an open joy in Queenie and yet she could fist-fight with the best of them. She could pack any venue with her talent. She survived the decades in whatever manner she was able. She was still performing into her 70s, was internationally famous, and always controversial and confrontational. A period of time comes into her life that brings her into a relationship that changes her completely.

What more can I say, there are surprises through the book, but especially toward the end. There is humour, great insight, an unusual but close connection between the writer and the singer as he writes as fast as he can to get the full story before she passes away. There is a wiseness in Queenie of age that probes Stevens insecurities and blind acceptance of the life he leads as a Jew. I particularly enjoyed one quote "when the student is ready, the teacher will appear". How often true. The book is very conversational in nature and I really enjoyed reading it. I feel I learned from it too. Mr. Coleman has done a remarkable job of writing the story in the voice of Queenie and of Steven, so much so that it is difficult to remember it is a fictional story.

KillRod: the Cross of Lorraine Murders by Bill Ison

Reviewed for Front Street Reviews
Originally posted Mar 31, 2008

I enjoyed the book KillRod: the Cross of Lorraine Murders. The style at first was reminiscent of Mary Higgins Clark, one of my favorite authors, in that we were shown flashbacks first of how the murderer came to be the way he was, and later getting into his mind through his own thought processes about the how and why of the murders. That said, Bill Ison has his own style of writing and flow and it held my attention from start to finish. I found it easier to follow along once I realized that each chapter heading told me where I was in time and place, so it made for a cohesive story all through.

His hero Hart St. James is a sculptor working in Hollywood doing sets. When Kelly Moran, a famous actress, asks him to come to her home no one is more surprised than he is. She wants to give her plain bedroom fireplace a more exciting look and asks him to work up some designs for her to go over. They spent a lot of time talking together over the next few days and learning how comfortable they feel with each other. With great shock after spending their only night together, he suddenly finds himself up to his unprotected neck in trouble as he tries to find a vicious killer and avenge the death of his newly discovered soul mate. He is sure that her death is political, that she must have inadvertently learned or heard something that put her in danger. Hart is a Special Forces veteran of the Viet Nam war and through his training and jungle time has developed a sixth sense of awareness and silent fighting that saves him several times. (I think a hard head did, too!) First a suspect in Kelly’s murder, somehow his skills have allowed him to work alone but with the police and FBI on the case.

His visit to Washington and his descriptions of the monuments and memorials there as seen through the eyes of a sculptor were wonderful. As beautiful as his descriptions of the seedy part of Chicago were sad and dreary.

Bill Ison has fascinating insight into how trauma can affect people differently, from the early beginnings of the killer to the early beginnings of Hart himself. Hart is pretty laid back except when his jungle tiger instinct kicks in. This book has excitement, action, strong characters, interesting locations, several twists, some humour, and some soul-searching as well. I enjoyed one chapter in particular about the “Big Seventeen”, very secretive and one more twist in this story. This is Bill Ison’s “first novel written specifically to be published”, and I certainly am looking forward to more of his writing. I recommend this book, it flows quickly and is easy to read for a thriller.

A Grave Breach by James Macomber

Reviewed for Front Street Reviews
Originally posted July 21, 2008

As the story unfolds the reader is introduced to atrocities performed over a span from WWII to the present, centering in particular around Bosnia. With a sudden leap into the content of the story, as the characters watch a horrific video of ethnic cleansing, I found myself unsure whether I would be able to read it, but was surprised to find it grab my attention firmly. I think it is a duty to us all to become informed, preferably with the hope that there will someday be an end to crimes against humanity. I found a lot of the content gave me an insight and understanding of worldwide conflict, loss of freedom and what it means, personal strengths and weaknesses, international law and interpretation, and much more. The "Grave Breach" of course, refers to the Geneva Protocols.

"A Grave Breach" is action-packed in a world-wide scenario from start to finish. At first I found myself looking for continuity, as the story jumped through several periods of time and place, but by the end these threads did come together. Surprises abound, good can be bad and vice-versa, and fighting for freedom and respect can make strange bedfellows. The characters are fully formed and consistent. The story itself remains strong throughout and unfortunately very believable.

The heroic force, if you will, is the law firm of Loring, Matsen, & Gould, with the primary hero being John Cann. Cann is a partner who, though an international lawyer, is basically a law unto himself, tough and able to deal with eliminating threat, he shows his compassionate side too. Throughout the book, several characters play heroic roles, including the elderly Matsen who made the first connection in WWII. It could be argued that the real hero is Janie, the survivor of a hideous attack that is refered to throughout the book (without details for which I personally was thankful)! This is the first book by James Macomber that I have read, so her story-line may have been the subject of another book. I liked what happened in the very end, emotionally both elated and sad. I felt almost like I had fallen off a precipice after the action in the preceding chapters. This is not the type of book I normally read but I did find it interesting, historic, and once I got into it I discovered I didn't want to put it down. If fast-paced factual-based thrillers, international law, political intrigue, and/or historical conflict fiction is your genre, I'm sure you will enjoy this book. The author has done an exceptional job of bringing the inhumanity-wracked, terrorist-ridden world to reality, and close to home. Certainly, the author is well-worth being on your "to read" list.

Cleopatra's Daughter by Michelle Moran

Originally posted Monday, November 9, 2009

Michelle Moran is, pure and simple, an excellent author. Cleopatra's Daughter is historical fiction that brings the history to life. Wonderful writing and characterizations based on real history, I found this book both entertaining and educational. The book begins with the final days of C(K)leopatra's reign in Egypt, the taking of three of her children to Rome, the youngest dying en route.

From this point, the story centers mainly around the twins, Kleopatra and Alexander, growing up in the home of Octavia, sister to ruling Octavian in Rome, and what the future may or may not hold for them when they turn 15, the age of adulthood.

The characters are well-rounded and historical, they are fleshed out with research and interact entirely believably. Many terms are in Latin and Greek, mostly easy to guess but there is also a glossary for all these words in the back. This is the first novel by Michelle Moran I have read and I will certainly recommend her as an author deserving of being read!

There is so much history woven into this book, and the characters feel so real that I wish history were taught in this manner. I was surprised first of all by how much I did recall, but even more how much I did not know. I found the Historical Notes in the back of the book very illuminating. Though beautifully written, the book does not gloss over the very real dangers of the times, but at the same time the personalities of the main characters deal with growing, loving, everyday lives of the upper classes and slaves. I loved this book and recommend both author and "Cleopatra's Daughter". 5 stars definitely.
Thank you Michelle!

The God Machine by J.G. Sandom

Originally posted Sunday, November 15, 2009

A fast-paced thriller of a ride which kept this reader on her toes.
With side by side search and chase sequences more than two centuries apart, the pace and mystery do not waver. A tremendous amount of research must have gone into this book, and into the hands of an author who knew what to do with it. J.G. Sandom has written previous thrillers, but this was my first introduction. It won't be my last.

The story is historical fiction written with a factual base. It touches on several levels of fear, legend, and historical religion. Exhilarating, penetrating, even while switching between centuries as far back as A.D.33, it does not lose its focus. But there are many red herrings, who does one trust? Is anyone who or what they seem? Is even the quest what it seems? These are but a few of the questions that must be solved.

This work of fiction will have the reader asking many questions along the way. Such luminaries as Benjamin Franklin, Leonardo da Vinci, and Thomas Edison are among the many seekers and inventors in this story. The search is purported to follow clues to the hiding place of The Book of Judas, but the action mushrooms as the search changes direction. The God Machine is claimed to be a machine, a direct line to God. Does it work? I recommend this book to readers of action, historical fiction, mystery, suspense and thrillers.

Hound by Vincent McCaffery

Originally posted Monday, October 26, 2009

This novel is written by a bookseller about a bookseller, in fact the author is very respected in the industry. There are several mysteries in the book, some solved before they are even thought about. The story is creative and true to the background of both writer and character. This is his first novel featuring Henry Sullivan, the first in a trilogy. Perhaps the character of Henry will advance and grow in future stories.

Do not expect a roller-coaster ride on this one. This book builds slowly, forming each character and location completely. The mysteries are almost background to the characters. The most consistent part that positively glows throughout is Henry's love of books and quotes from many of the old classics. In his work he meets many people with different preferences, different feelings about books. There are readers who have a full-bodied love of reading classics, readers of westerns, unexpected secret lovers of books, and the collectors. I think I would not be too far off the mark to say that the author has lived in this book, it lends so much personality to the books themselves.

The novel is not just about books and the book trade though. It also twists and turns around several love stories, past and present. Many of the characters have connections they are unaware of or have never questioned. There is also the murder of someone very special to Henry. One of the final mysteries begins as a love story after the discovery of letters and pieces of paper stuck in books in a hidden room. As an old mystery, it has its own unique pull, and it's own surprising finish.

Did I like the book? For content, story-telling, learning something new, and characters, yes I did. Expecting a mystery, I had my blinders on evidently because I started reading with a definitive murder mystery as the main theme of the book in my mind. Once I took the blinders off, I found the book enjoyable, but not a "real page-turner". This book does not need to be devoured but savoured slowly. All told, it was an interesting read, I'd recommend it but not for anyone who is looking for instant gratification and action in the mystery department. I give it 3 1/2 stars, but would definitely want to read another book by this author.

There was 1 comment on this posting when I had to transfer it:
sam said...
i read this book its fantastic and cant forget its story. i am sam, writing one novel on someone's life and the secret of death and life,dont know doing right or wrong but i am addict of writing and reading a lot, want knowledge.

thank you for this blog now i can know which book i should read.
and if you have time talk with me a liite

from sam
October 27, 2009 10:37 AM

The Invisible Mountain by Carolina de Robertis

Originally posted Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Carolina de Robertis writes with a passion as deep and intense as the tango, the thread that holds so much of South America together. The Invisible Mountain is a lyrical narrative on the tides of life in Uruguay throughout the twentieth century. As symbolic as the traditional shared cup or gourd of mate, Ms. de Robertis has a unique talent that embraces everything within the lives of three generations of women and their families. She conveys imagination and imagery exquisitely.

The novel begins with the introduction of the main characters' origins prior to 1900 to set the background for the story to come. A young man escaping a brutal life in Italy, and an infant girl whose mother dies in childbirth and is blamed by her father for the death. A miracle happens New Years Eve at the turn of the century which saves her life. From this point on the real story begins. This is the first generation, and the baby, Pajarita, will become the glue that binds the generations.

The book is divided in three sections: Pajarita, Eva, and Salome. Separate yet intertwined, these three women, grandmother, mother, and daughter, live through the turbulence of coups, revolutions, despair, hope, passion, and always the rhythm of life and country. Three very distinct women. Pajarita keeps her family fed when her husband disappears by selling the herbs and treatments she has learned at the local butcher shop, along with her personality and advice. Though set primarily in Montevideo, Uruguay, Eva, a poet, moves and marries in Buenos Aires, Argentina in the regime of Peron, before fleeing with her husband and family in the night back to Uruguay. Salome, in her teens, wants nothing more than to save her country and becomes a Tupamaro, a revolutionist.

This book is inspirational, historical, powerful and passionate. I became deeply invested in it, even feeling the music running through the background as if to say I am here, I will not be forgotten. Listen. Feel.

The Prodigal Tongue: Dispatches from the Future of English by Mark Abley

Originally posted Thursday, October 15, 2009

Well-written and surprisingly up to date, this Canadian author has introduced how the dictionary is an ongoing work, never to be finished, as the English language appears to take handsprings of changes at any given mini-decade to produce new words and change those of the past. He smoothly takes us through the many adaptations of English as determined by countries around the world.

I found the historic asides of the many languages around the globe to be exceptionally interesting, especially the history of the Japanese language. I particularly enjoyed one of the comments about a current phrase in Japanese/English: "a new Japanese phrase meaning 'to visit Tokyo Disneyland,' nezumi shibaku, literally means 'to flog the mouse.'" Now, isn't that a logical translation? What else is Disneyland and the Disney empire doing but "flogging the mouse". Wonderful.

This is not only a book about the "takeover" of the English language but also delves into how we perceive other cultures in the world of today. Very differently from the past, I learned. The new English as spoken in other countries is often based on the music lyrics, computer technology, texting, slang, and many other cultural symbology. Yet, each country adds some part of its own language either as a tag-on or mixed in one sentence. Books and movies presenting the imagined future of the earth also come into play. Some from science-fiction, some from today's outlook on a probable future. The reader would not find it difficult to think of many words that were not in use as recently as 10 years ago, and this changes almost daily in our rapid communication of internet, blogs, texting, email, et al.

On the other hand, within the past 50 years many words have gone out of style or taken on entirely different meanings. Just try watching an old 1940s/50s movie! Even in this new century the same could be said. Some words stick, others just disappear or remain localized.

Personally, I found this book enjoyable and informative. It was entirely readable, not dry or academic. This book was written for anyone with an interest in how even language can change at home and abroad, and how much impact the English language now has globally.

Whispers and Lies by Joy Fielding

Originally posted Tuesday, September 29, 2009

A slightly odd book, I wasn't exactly sure where it was going at first. There appeared to be a mystery running in the background, and the focus of the book was generally thoughts from the main character, some quite humorous. Suspicions abound about a few of the characters, but just when you begin to get a feel for what is going on, the book takes a full 180 degree turn. Definitely a surprise at this point! The remainder of the book does not hit quite as high as the middle, but it kept my full attention from that point on. I would call this suspense rather than mystery. I haven't read any of Joy Fielding's books before, so I don't know if this is her usual writing form. Regardless, it ends with a grande finale! 4 stars.

Haunting Beauty by Erin Quinn

Originally posted Sunday, September 20, 2009

A fascinating blend of two kinds of magic
A fascinating blend of two kinds of magic: the magic of life and discovery, and the magical world of myth and legend. The normal and the paranormal. Erin Quinn has done it again as the reader becomes silent witness to both worlds.

Danni, an abandoned soul in the real world, is the catalyst that binds the story together. With no memory prior to the age of 5, she has been bumped from one foster family to another most of her life. Now as an adult is suddenly whisked away to Ireland on a voyage of self-discovery and history with little knowledge of how or why. Danni is special and is about to learn far more than she would like.

Erin Quinn has the ability to draw her audience with her through the normal and the paranormal fluidly. Her characters range from innocent to deranged, from old to young, and then there are the lovers, sensual and strong, yet fragile at the same time. Her ability to slip through time and space in her writing captured me and catapulted me into a place I’d never been. Dual characters put a different spin on the story of Danni’s past and that of the young man in the normal world, who. suddenly appeared to bring her to this place. I don’t want to write too much about the storyline itself. Be assured it is provocative and seductive, a very satisfying read. It also appears to be the beginning of an exciting series. I really enjoyed reading this book. 4 1/2 stars.

1 comment posted originally, I am including it here:

I loved this book, thanks for sharing it :)
October 24, 2009 10:51 PM

Ultimatum by Matthew Glass

Originally posted Sunday, August 30, 2009

Matthew Glass has given us a thriller that is all too possible, drawing the reader in from page one. The book begins innocuously enough in the year 2032 in a mood of energy and optimism for rebuilding the nation’s basic foundation. The bright and popular newly-elected U.S. president has won his seat with an unprecedented majority on a platform of honesty, decisiveness, and trust. The excitement is contagious as the population celebrates their president-elect, but hidden clouds are on the horizon when he learns that the agreements he has inherited will challenge his government’s integrity..

Engrossing, tense, and tightly knit, Ultimatum is written with a strong sense of political process, heart-stopping decision-making, and intrigue. Although a work of fiction, it bestows a feeling of stark realism and drama as crises build. How these crises are approached by the president and the many people who form his government are quite fascinating to this Canadian reader. The characterizations are full-on, the plot development plausible, even perhaps ultimately probable. This book is a strong and shocking wake-up call involving the whole world.

Previous policies on global emissions have done nothing to prevent the looming disaster that had escalated to extreme proportions but the severity had been downplayed. This is where the president finds himself as he takes office. President Benton is a strong presence throughout the book and the author has smoothly if urgently demonstrated the transitions in rapid succession. His torment is felt as he wrestles to keep the honesty and trust promised in his platform. The world turns upside down and inside out within the first several days of his presidency as he becomes more aware of deals made by the previous government.

The story begins within the U.S. but the pace of global warming is overwhelming in its path of destruction. The horror is the speed and loss of land worldwide. Coastlines have disappeared and relocation of populations is in the millions.

Matthew Glass has set a momentum that does not let up but constantly accelerates. He definitely keeps the tension building. This novel is indeed a roller-coaster of a thriller. The action keeps the reader involved from start to finish, second-guessing outcomes, trying to predict responses, and what the final horror will be. This book will definitely bring some new thoughts on how much the world is really one; how things must be tackled worldwide, parts played by arrogance and greed. Very spellbinding and thought-provoking. Great writing, Matthew, I really enjoyed my adventure into the world of politics.