Monthly Archive November, 2011

Mondays are murder
Bookmark and Share

It’s getting to be that time of year!  <cue sing-songy, sugary-sweet voice>  The holidays are upon us, with their relentlessly cheerful music, with their overwhelming scents of evergreen and fresh baking, with their enormous weight of soon-to-be-disappointed expectation!

Don’t get me wrong – I love the holidays.  But I feel that steeling myself with a little world-weary, careworn cynicism is a good way to prepare for the insanity ahead.   So when I was at the Maple Library and saw Simon Brett’s The Shooting in the Shop, with its decorative fairy lights, Christmas crackers, wreath and handgun on the cover, I knew it would find a place in my holiday-prep reading!  When I opened the jacket and the first two sentences read “Christmas can be murder… Carole Seddon hates Christmas…” – well, the deal was sealed!

The Shooting in the Shopis the eleventh (or so) novel in the Fethering Mysteries series by Simon Brett.  The Fethering Mysteries feature Carole Seddon – veteran of the home office and champion of all things traditional – and her next-door neighbour Jude – a healer and New Age guru of sorts.  Together they ferret out facts and pursue truth whenever murder comes to their little village.  Which it seems to do with frightening regularity (as it tends to do in novels of this sort!).

This time around, a high-end boutique has burned to the ground, and while arson is always suspected in such cases, no one was expecting to find the body of the shop owner’s step-daughter in the ruins.  And when she was found, no one expected that she had been shot!  The family seems to have a vested interest in getting the investigation wrapped up as soon as possible – hoping for a finding of suicide.  But Carole and Jude are unsatisfied with the party line coming from everyone close to the situation.

Brett’s novel (and I will assume the entire series) is a very refreshing modern take on the classic English drawing room murder.  Carole and Jude could well be Miss Marple and Poirot wandering about the countryside, digging up clues, following up leads, asking impertinent questions everywhere they go.  Occasionally, one might wonder what in heaven’s name the police are up to – but Carole and Jude are so good at what they do, eventually one relaxes into the knowledge that whatever the police are doing, they obviously aren’t very good at it, so why don’t these lovely ladies just get on with it?

And then, to top it all off, Carole – despite hating Christmas – ends up having a rather nice one for all that!  Definitely put this one in your holiday reads pile!

Down-to-Read with Daniela: Life of Pi by Yann Martel
Bookmark and Share

 Life+of+Pi+cover photo

Age Group:
Adult

Genre:
Canadian Literature, Classic, Horror, Survivalism, Suspense, Thriller

Awards:
Man Booker Prize (2002), Exclusive Books Boeke Prize (2003), Hugh MacLennan Prize for Fiction (Canada) (2001), Governor General’s Literary Awards / Prix littéraires du Gouverneur général Nominee for Fiction (2001)

Summary:
On a voyage to Canada with his family, 16-year-old Indian boy Pi Patel finds himself stranded on a lifeboat with a menagerie of wild animals aboard. Alone, terrified and desperate, Pi must find his sea legs quick.

He soon discovers that getting food and water is going to be a challenge with a menacing 500 pound Bengal tiger lurking around. Pi must become inventive quick, using all of his skill and intellect to hatch a plan for survival – for both him and his dangerous ship mate.

My Thoughts:
Intense. This one word sums up Life of Pi. Although it had a slow start, Life of Pi is well worth your patience. The novel tackles many provocative themes, especially regarding religion and faith. It left me with lots to think about and I am still stunned by the ending. The fine line between truth and fiction is blurred in this fascinating story of survival. I can’t wait for the movie adaptation to come out in 2012!

Find out why Life of Pi is the winner of so many awards. Borrow Life of Pi from your local Vaughan library today!

History as Fiction
Bookmark and Share

 

While experts disagree on a precise definition of this genre (http://www.historicalnovelsociety.org/definition.htm) it is definitely in the ascendent lately thanks to such authors as Philippa Gregory and  TV series such as The Tudors. An interesting historical novel can transcend its genre, and really open a window to its times, whether taking place in Tudor England the early Canadian west or the American South pre integration. Here are some suggestions which are all good reads and will expand your knowledge of the period they explore.

Girl with a Pearl Earing. Tracy Chevalier

girl

 

 

 

The Other Boleyn Girl. Philippa Gregory.

bolyen

 

 

 

 

 

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. Wayne Johnston

colony

 

 

 

 

 

11/22/63. Stephen King.

 king

 

 

 

 

The Lacuna. Barbara Kingsolver

lacuna1

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Last Crossing. Guy Vanderhaeghe    lastcrossing2

 

 

 

Mondays are murder
Bookmark and Share

Until recently, I was completely uninterested in the Jack Reacher series by Lee Child.  Oh sure, I would see the books on the Fast Track and New Books displays.  I could even bring myself to read the summaries and praise on the book jackets.  But nothing ever really compelled me to actually read one until I read this article in Maclean’s recently.

I mean, really?  First of all, I completely agree with the Reacher Creatures who are incensed that Tom Cruise might be called upon to play their 6-foot 5-inch hero.  But second of all, there are legions of fans out there who are so committed to this character, Jack Reacher, that they call themselves “Reacher Creatures?!”  At that moment, I decided that I had to find out what the big deal is.

We have a number of Jack Reacher titles in the digital collection, so I was able to start near to the beginning – with #2, Die Trying.  You know me by now, I will not let not starting at the beginning stop me from starting a series.  (Whew, that was an exhausting sentence!)  So I checked it out, transferred it to my Kobo and got to reading.

Die Trying

The title comes from assurances somewhere mid-book that Reacher will save Holly Johnson, abducted FBI agent, or he will die trying.  But who is Jack Reacher, and how did he come to be collateral damage in a federal-level abduction scheme in the first place?

Jack Reacher is a lone wolf, retired Army drifter.  With the Military Police until he got out, Reacher has learned basically all he needs to know about protecting himself and others from imminent threat.  He also has a courteous streak.  It’s this streak that leads him to offer assistance to a woman on a crutch who is trying to make her way out of a dry cleaner’s with nine hangers of clean clothes.  Next thing Reacher and the woman know, they are surrounded by armed men and forced into a car.  And with that inauspicious start, Jack Reacher gets to know Holly Johnson.  Johnson is a newly-minted FBI agent, specializing in high-end corporate crime.  but she is also much more than that. 

If Reacher is to save them both from the clutches of the the madman that nabbed them both, he is going to have to pry as much information as he can out of the recalcitrant FBI’er.  And he is going to have to draw on every single iota of what he learned in his military career.

I will be the first to admit that the plot of Die Trying hangs together pretty loosely.  But it hangs on the strength of Jack Reacher and his ability to be infinitely compelling.  There might be unanswered questions and insufficient explanations, but none of them is enough to turn me off from reading more!  Now, to go pick up Killing Floor and get this party started right – from the beginning!

Down-to-Read with Daniela: Dinosaurs to Dodos by Don Lessem
Bookmark and Share

5127GN2Q2VL. SL500 AA300  photo

Full Title:
Dinosaurs to Dodos: An Encyclopedia of Extinct Animals

Age Group:
Children

Genre:
Non-Fiction, Science, Historical, Animals

Summary:
A richly detailed account of life’s earliest inhabitants, from trilobites to prehistoric mammals like the fierce sabre-toothed tiger and formidable mammoth. Lessem showcases some of the most intriguing extinct species in picture galleries at the end of each era, providing the reader with a sense of the size and characteristics of the creatures. Filled with an amazing variety of species and accompanied by fascinating illustrations from Jan Sovak, Dinosaurs to Dodos brings children back in time, opening their imaginations to other worlds.

My Thoughts:
This book will help children see beyond just dinosaurs to explore a wild, untamed history of animal life bursting from the depths of the oceans to the skies above. The fantastic illustrations showcase scenes of life as they may have actually occurred.

The end of the book contains a short yet ominous reflection on the current levels of extinction. These rates are rising at frightening speeds because of human interference. For kids, this would be a great launching point for reflection on the deterimental impact of human behaviour on the environment.

A fascinating book on a fascinating topic! Borrow Dinosaurs to Dodos: An Encyclopedia of Extinct Animals from your local Vaughan library!

Mondays are murder
Bookmark and Share

Brett Kavanaugh is an artist.  She is an artist of ink and skin at The Painted Lady, her tattoo shop along the canal at The Venetian in Las Vegas.  Brett’s handiwork graces the bodies of many lucky individuals, but one of the human canvases she is most proud of is Dee Carmichael – lead singer of the girl-pop-punk band The Flamingos.  Dee sports black-and-white tattoos in the double-digits.  Allergic to colour ink, Dee has never allowed Brett to talk her into filling the stark outlines on her body.

So when she is found dead in a seedy hotel room, her flamingo tattoo roiling with colour, Brett suspects fowl play (I am really really sorry, but I had to do it) right away.  Brett is initially caught in the dragnet of suspicion, trying to convince betrayed band-mates and frenzied fans that she is not responsible for the beloved singer’s death.

But that gets increasingly harder to do when someone starts posting to a blog claiming to be Brett, and claiming to be the hand behind Dee’s death.

With her help of her brother Tim, a Las Vegas cop, her fellow tattoo artists at her shop, and competitor Jeff Coleman, Brett races against information traveling at the speed of the internet to find out who had it in for Dee – and who has it in for her!

cover image

Ink Flamingos is the fourth book in the Tattoo Shop mystery series by Karen E. Olson.  Even though I haven’t read the first three, I didn’t find it difficult to keep up with the characters or their relationships.  Olson doesn’t waste a lot of time on needless story-telling either.  The books opens right away – SMACK – with the death that gets everything rolling.  And it doesn’t stop racing along until the very last page.  Though I found some of the machinations within the story to be convoluted (any time there is twins, prepare to be confused!) and difficult to unravel, at no point did I want to give up on the story.  Another series to back-track to the beginning!

cover image 2

“Series” update: I put series in quotation marks, because it’s not really a series book.  BUT.  I finished reading the first book by Belinda Bauer (whose Darkside I recently wrote about in this column).  Blacklands won Bauer the 2008 Crime Writers’ Association Debut Dagger award, and rightfully so.  Blacklands tells of how Steven Lamb, a 12-year-old boy who is trying to heal the cracks in his family by locating the body of his Uncle Billy.  Billy is thought to have been kidnapped and murdered by Arnold Avery, a serial killer with a penchant for children, though Billy’s body was never found.  Steven thinks that if he can just locate Billy’s remains and bring them home, everything that threatens to tear his family apart can be put to rest.  So he decides that he is going to write Arnold Avery a letter.  Blacklands is a wonderful novel – tight, taut, tense, and full of heartbreaking pathos.  To read it is to experience the slow disintegration of a family from the inside, as well as to follow Steven on a coming-of-age journey that could not be more poignant.

Down-to-Read with Daniela: He’s Just Not That Into You by Greg Behrendt and Liz Tucillo
Bookmark and Share

147 large photo

Full Title:
He’s Just Not That Into You: The No-Excuses Truth to Understanding Guys

Age Group:
Adult

Themes and Genres:
Non-Fiction, Psychology, Self-Help, Man-Woman Relationships, Communication, Sex Differences

Summary:
The witty, hilarious Greg – and his accomplice Liz – explore dating through a typical man’s point of view. Using a letter-answer format, Greg tackles some of the most challenging relationship difficulties that women endure at the hands of their disaffected male partners. Not only does Greg warn us that they are just not that into us, but he urges us to save “the pretty” and demand more from the men in our love lives.

My Thoughts:
I know, I know, how embarassing to admit that I actually voluntarily read this. Not to mention it’s pushing on being a decade old now. But it’s amazing to see how the phrase, rather the phenomena “he’s just not that into you” continues to prevail in pop culture, even spurring a fairly recent movie adaptation.

While this book does play into many male-female stereotypes, there is a lot that rings true. And Greg’s witty banter is also entertaining to read. Ultimately, rather than being a depressing tirade on the inadequacies of the male gender, the book succeeds in uplifting women to recognize deception in their male partners and to have the confidence to save themselves for someone much better.

The book also includes these mini-workbooks at the end. I loved this one, especially the responses I found scrawled in (tsk!tsk!) from library patrons:

MY SUPER-HELPFUL STANDARDS THAT I WILL NEVER EVER FORGET OR FORSAKE NO MATTER HOW HOT I THINK HE IS:

1. I will not date men period! (I am becoming a nun)
2. I will never give him the upper hand!

And there you have it. Real responses straight from our patrons! Book vandalism, but hilarious nonetheless. Gotta love it.

See what all the hype is about and borrow He’s Just Not That Into You from your local Vaughan library. Try the movie too. It’s quite entertaining!

Mondays are murder
Bookmark and Share

Clare Cosi has a dream job – she runs her ex-mother-in-law’s Greenwich Village coffeeshop.  Okay, so the ex-mother-in-law part is a little weird (though it seems to work for them), but two out of three ain’t bad!

Clare also helps solve crimes.  It helps that her new beau is a NYPD detective.  Mike Quinn has helped Clare understand the importance of the informant in police work, and that is how Clare conducts herself.  Unlike some amateur sleuths, Clare shares her intelligence with those in an official capacity along the way.

And they need some help in Roast Mortem because someone is torching coffeeshops all over New York City.  Clare herself has just been roped into helping out with the five-borough bake sale in support of the NYFD, much to the delight of her boyfriend’s cousin, the other Michael Quinn.  Mike the Detective is a little unsure about Clare’s involvement with Michael the Fire Chief.  There is some bad blood there that no one wants to talk about.

Cleo Coyle’s coffeeshop cozies aren’t cloying.  They don’t have that zany manic-ness that so many themed cozies can have.  And since this is the 9th installment in the series, it seems pretty fair to say that Coyle has hit on a good thing with this one!  So sit back with a cuppa your favourite brew and a pastry almost too fancy for words and eat it up!

cover imageCherry Bomb cover image

Series update: If coffee is not your thing – if you prefer, perhaps, a drink of a stronger variety, look no further than J. A. Konrath’s Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels series.   Leave it to me, however, to read the first book, and then pick up – on  whim – the 6th (and most recent) book, Cherry Bomb!  I love Konrath’s series.  Jack Daniels is a great cop – tough and hard on the job, but more than enough woman off it.  Make no mistake, these books are not for the faint of heart.  It would be a mistake to think that the detective’s pithy name indicates a cozy mystery.  Konrath writes hardbitten crime, full of imaginative (and perhaps a little gratuitous) violence and unapologetic s*x.  Like tequila, these should be taken with a grain of salt.

Down-to-Read with Daniela: Terezin: Voices from the Holocaust by Ruth Thomson
Bookmark and Share

61g2ZKpUGzL photo

Age Group:
Children’s

Genre:
Non-Fiction, International, Holocaust

Summary:
Between 1941 and 1945, Nazi Germany transformed the small town of Terezín, Czechoslovakia into a ghetto and transit site for death camps. Terezín was a camp plagued not only by disease and starvation, but also by deep deception. Staged as a “show” camp, Terezín was used to fool the world about the horrific living conditions endured by imprisoned Jews. Jewish artists from around the world were forced to use their artistic talents to create propaganda.

In her narrative, Thomson showcases the recovered works of artists who created chilling representations of life in Terezín. She also uses direct testimony from many prisoners, allowing the reader a glimpse into the day-to-day terror.

My Thoughts:
Terezín: Voices From the Holocaust is a short, informative book that will help children understand more about the Holocaust. While the images do evoke the fear and horror of the time, they are not too graphic as to frighten children. The language is fairly easy to understand but an older child will still need some assistance from a parent. Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust would also be a great addition to the curriculum as it is brief and very visual.

An important addition to Holocaust literature, borrow Terezin: Voices From the Holocaust from your local Vaughan library.