Thursday, July 31, 2008

134. Beachcomber Boy

Beachcomber Boy
written and illustrated by Eleanor Frances Lattimore

Pages: 124
Finished: July 30, 2008
First Published: 1960
Genre: children's realistic fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: The author is one of my favourite childhood authors and I am trying to find, read and review as many of her books as I can locate since she has become forgotten to this generation. Dh read this to the 8yo for bedtime read-aloud.

First sentence:

Barry was a boy who liked long words.

Comments: Set along the South Carolina shore during the months of fall and winter, this is the story of a little boy named Barry who wants to be a beachcomber. He and his sister are the only children living in the cottages along Logan Beach all year round until the Robertson boys arrive and move into a cottage further down the beach. Along with the episodic adventures of the boys along the beach is the continuing mystery story of a bottle that washes ashore with the message "out of coffee" inside. At the end Barry meets a real beachcomber and his ideas about his future aspirations are challenged.

Another winning book from Ms. Lattimore! This sweet, simple story tells of a carefree childhood and a time when children could wander around and have adventures on their own. I loved the story and thought it was simply delightful. The 8yo really enjoyed the story and talked all week about shells, driftwood, whales, and the twists and turns of the mystery as it progressed.

Lattimore illustrated her own books and this has the simple line drawings I've come to admire from her. This book is long out of print and worth tracking down if you are looking for wholesome books for your younger children.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

133. The Ragwitch

The Ragwitch by Garth Nix

Pages: 304
Finished: July 30, 2008
First Published: 1991
Genre: YA/Children's fantasy
Rating: 2.5/5

Reason for Reading: I'm reading all of the author's works.

First sentence:

"Come on, Paul!" shrieked Julia as she ran down the dune, the sand sliding away under her bare feet.

Comments: Julia and her brother are playing on the beach when Julia finds an old rag doll. She takes it home with her and starts to act strange. When she leaves the house before the break of dawn one morning, Paul hears her and follows. The doll has taken over Julia's body and become a massive mix between Julia and the doll. The Ragwitch is free! She opens a door to another world and Paul quickly follows. Now Julia must fight from inside the body of the Ragwitch, while Paul is sent on a journey to obtain items from the four Elemental Masters to kill the Ragwitch.

I feel a bit guilty for giving this book such a low rating since I just love all of Nix's other work. But this is his first novel and it shows. I really had a hard time staying interesting and forced myself to finish the book. The plot is simple fantasy fare that any voracious reader of fantasy will find mundane. The characters are flat and it was impossible for me to care what happened to them. However, the writing itself is good and dialogue flows nicely, and it is interesting to see how Nix developed as a writer. There are glimpses along the way of what was to come next for him, The Old Kingdom Trilogy.

This book does contain the typical Nix darkness and death but not nearly as much as some of his other books and I could easily recommend this book to a younger age group (10+) and as a first fantasy outing this book may please. I do not recommend this as your first Garth Nix read but I do recommend that fans eventually read at some point just to see how his writing has progressed and to catch a glimmer at where his future writing came from.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Monday New Review Books in the Mail

Lots of ARCs came in the mail last week, all from Harper Collins Canada.

Home by Marilynne Robinson and Mudbound by Hillary Jordan

Plus a bunch of new books by Canadian YA authors. I can't wait to read the new Airborn book by Kenneth Oppel (Starclimber).

Remember how a few weeks ago I mentioned how well my arc reading was going. How I would alternate my reading, read an arc then read an old book. Of course it all went out the window the beginning of this month. Everything was going so well than the first week of July I kept getting calls from the library that ILL requests were in and books I'd been in line for forever were in for me as well. So all these books decide to drop on me at the exact same time and though we have an excellent ILL program we only get to keep them for 4 weeks so I've been desperately trying to get all the library reading done this month and not reading as many arcs as I should have. Fortunately, I've only got a couple of library books left that are due back by the end of July.
So I am declaring August as ARC/Review Copy month here at Back to Books. With very few exceptions I'm going to dedicate the month to catching up on the arc reviews so I can get back to my lovely alternating plan that was working so well pre-July. And I'm not going to order any more ILLs during August either. Wish me luck.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

132. The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher

The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: A Shocking Murder and the Undoing of a Great Victorian Detective by Kate Summerscale

Pages: 304
Finished: July 26, 2008
First Published: Apr. 2008
Genre: true crime, nonfiction, history
Awards: Samuel Johnson Award for Nonfiction 2008
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: The publisher, Walker & Company, sent me a Review Copy. Book Award Challenge.

First sentence:

This is the story of a murder committed in an English country house in 1860,
perhaps the most disturbing murder of its time.

Comments: This is a most ambitious book which documents the murder case of a three year old boy, is a biography of one of the very first police detectives and shows how this murder and this particular detective spurred on the very first detective fiction such as that written by Wilkie Collins. The book succeeds on all points and is a riveting and incredibly interesting read.

The murder is quite memorable in this time period because it is the first time that public attention focused on a murder committed in a middle class home where one of the inhabitants of the home must be the murderer. At this time in England a man's home was literally his castle and the recent ruling that allowed police to enter one's home without the owner's specific permission was absolutely shocking to the middle and upper classes.

The author takes the reader back to this time period (1860s onward) and expertly discusses the mindset and proprieties of the day which make the understanding of why this case was so scandalous for its time. The formation and early days of policing, plus the introduction of "detectives" into the force is fascinating, as is the life of the firstly lauded then scorned Detective-Inspector Jonathan Whicher. The references to the detective novels which were just starting to replace the sensationalist fiction of the previous generations is fascinating to the reader of Victorian literature. Wilkie Collins' "The Woman in White", Dickens' "Bleak House" and several books by a popular writer of the times known only as 'Waters' are quoted and referred to often, though many other books are also mentioned.

The book profusely uses direct quotes from contemporary sources such as newspapers, broadsheets, books, trial documents, journals, letters, etc. There are also a few helpful footnotes along the way and an extensive 'Notes' section at the back, along with illustrations, photographs, and endpapers that show the schematics of the house the reader is immersed in the time period.

Well written in an engaging voice and obviously well-researched this is a gem of a book for those interested in Victorian life. Though the book focuses on a true crime and the police procedures of the time there is a wealth of information on all aspects of life in the time period. I also went into this book not knowing anything about the murder case itself and found the revealing of the investigation and eventually the killer to be as exciting as any mystery novel. Highly recommended.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

131. The Bleeding Dusk

The Bleeding Dusk by Colleen Gleason
The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, Book 3

Pages: 346
Finished: July 26, 2008
First Published: Feb. 2008
Genre: paranormal romance
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

First sentence:

The lair of the Queen of the Vampires was tucked away in the snowy mountain range of Muntii Fagaras.

Comments: As the third book in the series it is difficult to summarize the plot without spoilers so I will keep it brief. Victoria (and the rest of the gang) are on the trail of a demon who has evil plans and Beauregard has also become more of a threat making Sebastian torn between his loyalties.

Honestly, I found this entry in the series quite a bit slower than the first two. The pacing of the first half was slow and the romance was a bit much for me. Victoria's swaying between yearning and anger does become tiresome after a while. Plus, with all the romance we were rewarded with only one, rather lame, sex scene.

Halfway through, the pace does pick up and the danger and intrigue take over the plot. It was at this point I felt the book more worthy of the first two installments. And if there is anything Colleen Gleason can do: it is to deliver a totally unexpected and devastating ending. The last several chapters I just couldn't read fast enough. I wanted to turn the pages faster than I could read them which made the book a worthwhile read and of course, I must now read the next installment which will be published next month, August, (I believe) to find out what happens next.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

She Made Us Laugh - R.I.P.

Estelle Getty (July 25, 1923 – July 22, 2008)

130. The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle

The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting
Illustrated by Sonja Lumat
Doctor Dolittle, Book 2

Pages: 276
Finished: July 23, 2008
First Published: 1922
Genre: children's animal fantasy, adventure
Awards: Newbery Medal
Rating: 5/5

Reason for Reading: Read aloud to my 8yo. Decades Challenge. Newbery Project. Book Awards Challenge

First sentence:

All that I have written so far about Doctor Dolittle I heard long after it
happened from those who had known him -- indeed a great deal of it took place
before I was born.

Comments: In this second book of the series we meet Tommy Stubbins, the boy who becomes Dolittle's assistant. Once again Dolittle sets off on a voyage this time to meet the great botanist Long Arrow, son of Golden Arrow and along the way they meet many side adventures. Dolittle becomes set on learning the shellfish language, meeting the Great Glass Sea Snail, ends up on Spidermonkey Island, saves the island from floating into the Antarctic and helps the natives build a thriving city and society.

Both the 8yo and I thoroughly enjoyed every word of this book. Everything a child could want in a book is here: adventure, fantasy, science and animals all rolled into one. The action starts in the first chapter and is non-stop right to the very end which comes to a heart warming ending that leaves the reader with the feeling that there most certainly must be a sequel.

The edition I have is unaltered from the original text. At least I can find no indication that it has been altered, though the spelling has been Americanized. This edition is part of the Grosset & Dunlap Illustrated junior Library which has been in publication since the 1950s so I am fairly confident the text has not been edited. Since these books are often cited as being racist by PC fanatics I will note that I found absolutely nothing offensive in the book at all. The original illustrations have been omitted and replaced by a handful of full-colour plates illustrated in a cute fashion which I am not fond of. I will look for an original edition with Lofting's illustrations to replace this one someday.

Having read the first two together I can say for certain we will continue on with the series. The 8yo thought it was one of the best books we've read together and we both agree it is even better than the first book. Having read this as a child myself it is great to see that it lived up to my expectations and then some. Recommended!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Medical Mystery Challenge - COMPLETED

I just finished the Medical Mystery challenge! This one was so easy, since this is my favourite genre, well, forensic mysteries specifically. I read the 3 books listed in my original list, so yay for me for sticking to a list.

Here are the books I read:

1. The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen
2. Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell
3. Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass

My favourite was #3!

129. Carved in Bone

Carved in Bone by Jefferson Bass
Body Farm, Book 1

Pages: 343
Finished: July 21, 2008
First Published: 2006
Genre: forensic mystery
Rating: 5/5

Reason for Reading: Medical Mystery Challenge.

First sentence:

I picked up the hunting knife with my left hand and tested its heft, then shifted it to my right hand to compare.

Comments: Dr. Bill Brockton, anthropologist, is called in to a case in a backwoods town of Tennessee where a woman's body has been found, wonderfully preserved, in a cave. What Bill doesn't realize is that he is getting himself into a heap of trouble involving a long standing feud between two families, a corrupt sheriff's department, Big Jim (a backwoods gangster), and someone who doesn't want him poking his nose into any of this. Along with his policeman friend, Art, these two middle aged men walk write into the middle of a very dangerous and sorrowful tale.

Dr. Bill and his buddy, Art, are about two of the best detectives I've met in my long list of mystery reading. Bill is the main character, while Art comes along for the ride here and there. They have an equal relationship with neither one being the boss as in classic pairings of men detectives (Holmes/Watson etc.). These two guys have a running commentary whenever they are together that is so funny. They love puns and telling jokes and are very Southern. In fact, the book itself was as Southern as it gets and I just loved the uniqueness of a mystery taking place in this setting.

The mystery was well-written, and while I had my ideas early on the author(s) twisted things up whenever I thought I'd got the case solved. The forensics were fabulous, enough detail without getting boring for the layman and just a bit gruesome to keep it fun but certainly nowhere near as gory as other authors I'm used to reading. I think I enjoyed this book so much just because it was so much fun. The characters, the setting and the ride all perfectly meshed into one very fun and satisfying mystery. I will definitely read the next two books and be keeping up with this series.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Monday New Review Copies

Last week two books arrived in the mail. One is a review book and the other is a prize I won. It's kind of a good news, bad news situation. First the good news!

I won this book from John at The Book Mine Set in the final giveaway for the first Canadian Challenge. It is even signed by Ted Harrison! A classic Canadian poem that has become a classic children's picture book. I'll be sharing it with the 8yo and counting it towards the second Canadian Challenge. I love it! Thanks, John!

Now the bad news :(

Remember when everyone was clamouring to receive a free Penguin Classic to review on the UK website. Well, I managed to snag one, but was totally disappointed when I found out what book I'd be getting. The Confessions by John-Jacques Rousseau. If you've read my blog for long you may have read of my dislike (bordering on hatred) for anything concerning French history. I find it totally b.o.r.i.n.g! Yes, even Marie Antoinette bores me... On top of that I avoid historical books set in the 1700s like the plague. I'm not interested in either of the two revolutions or the time period... at all. So, they couldn't have randomly picked a worse book for me if they had tried! I've read the first page and, oh boy, I don't know if I'll get any further but I promise I will try to (somehow!) read a couple of sections. Maybe if I assign myself pages and make it into a school assignment I might fair better. Wish me luck!

Sunday, July 20, 2008

128. Mr. Fooster Traveling on a Whim

Mr. Fooster Traveling on a Whim: A Visual Novel by Tom Corwin
Illustrated by Craig Frazier

Pages: 101
Finished: July 18, 2008
First Published: June, 2008
Genre: graphic novel
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from the publisher, Flying Dolphin Press.

First sentence:

Mr. Fooster has a long list of things he likes to do.

Comments: Rather than starting this review with a summary of the plot I will be starting with a summary of the physical book itself. This is a small hardcover book, dimensionally just a bit smaller than the size of a trade paperback. The cover has a matte finish yet the bubble is raised and glossy. I found myself touching the bubble on the cover numerous times. Also on the cover we see the words "A Visual Novel" and after looking at the copyright page I see the LCC have catalogued it as a "graphic novel". Upon browsing through the book I would say it looks like a child's picture book with text on one side and an illustration on the other for each two page spread. This is not a children's book, though. It is a book for adults and I think the publishing industry is going to have to come up with some new names for this emerging genre of books that are for adult readers and yet combine text and illustration though not in the typical comic format of a graphic novel.

The story is about Mr. Fooster who likes to go for walks. In his pocket he carries a bottle of children's bubbles. As he walks around he always asks himself questions such as "Who figured out how to eat artichokes?" and "How come we never see baby pigeons?". It is hard to describe the story but at first magical realism surrounds the events, then the story takes on a fairy tale aspect and finally becomes a fable. The pen and ink drawings are superb. They add a magical, whimsical feel that the text alone could not purvey. This is a tale full of whimsy with a clear message for adults to never loose their imagination, not to let their lives stand still rooting themselves to one spot and not to forget that the little things in life do matter. A very sweet story and yet, slightly Kafkaesque as reality becomes blurred and Mr. Fooster comes to an unfortunate situation. But, in the end, all ends well and I can see this as a perfect gift book for those who enjoy fantasy and/or fairy tales.

Friday, July 18, 2008

127. Postmortem

Postmortem by Patricia Cornwell
First in the Dr. Kay Scarpetta series

Pages: 342
Finished: July 17, 2008
First Published: 1990
Genre: forensic mystery
Award: Macavity Award, First Novel 1991
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: Medical Mystery Challenge. Book Awards Challenge.

Also, all my favourite authors Reichs, Gerritsen, Slaughter, etc have been compared to Cornwell so I thought I ought to go back and read the original author of the forensic mystery.

First sentence:

It was raining in Richmond on Friday, June 6.

Comments: Dr. Kay Scarpetta, Medical Examiner in Richmond, Virginia is working a case concerning a series of women who are brutally raped and strangled. Each case appears to be the work of the same man and a serial killer must be on the loose. Things escalate and danger feels closer to home, making Kay feel as if she can trust no one.

This is a well-paced and well written thriller. I often felt I knew where the story was going only to be surprised as it turned in a different direction. I enjoyed the mystery part of the story but was disappointed with the revelation of the killer.

Also, I read a lot of forensic mysteries and watch all the CSI-type shows on TV so I found the 1990s technology very hard to take seriously. In this book DNA was fairly new, there were big scenes describing high-tech for the layman such as how Kay could connect her modem to the 'server' computer at work, print outs were on perforated green-lined computer paper. All the emphasis on the pre-internet 1990 technology did spoil the effect for me a bit. I think another 20 years are needed to make this read more like an historical mystery, rather than just dated.

I will continue reading the series. I really enjoyed the characters especially Marino the brusque, burly, coarse cop Kay has to work with but does not like. Also Kay herself is a very likable strong, yet feminine female character.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

126. Down to a Sunless Sea

Down to a Sunless Sea by Mathias B. Freese

Pages: 134
Finished: July 14, 2008
First Published: 2007
Genre: short stories
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: The author sent me a review copy.

First sentence:

While a young child growing up in Brighton Beach, Adam would go shopping with his mother on Brighton Beach Avenue.

Comments: This collection of short stories written by a clinical social worker and psychotherapist is unlike any other collection I have read. The writing is compelling and the stories are deep and dark. It is hard to call each story a "story" as most of them do not have a plot in the general sense but are more like character studies or as it says in a blurb on the back "case studies". Each tale takes the reader inside the life or inside the mind of a person who suffers, whether it be physically, mentally or from trauma, but each character is either a victim or a tormentor. Some stories were disturbing, some were enlightening, some were sad, and I admit a couple I just didn't get. A couple of stories hit me personally as I related to certain events. One story that particular stays with me is Little Errands which places the reader inside the mind of an individual with OCD as he obsesses over his small daily compulsions. If you are looking for happy endings this is not the book for you. If you like delving into the minds of people who do not fit the societal "norm" this is a treasure. Recommended.

Monday, July 14, 2008

Big Day for the 8yo - Parental Brag Alert

I just have to mark the milestone today in my 8yo's life. Today for the very first time he read a book quietly to himself. Both dh and I were in the living room with him and as he lay on the couch we could just barely hear him reading under his breath. He came over and asked me what a word was once.

He has struggled with reading. It's been a long, slow road for him and he is doing well with his school readers and Level 1 easy readers but always reading and sounding out aloud to us, needing encouragement as he goes. It is a slow and steady process for him.

But to see him reading to himself today made mum and dad very proud and when he was finished and looked up at us you could just see how proud he was of himself! He really, truly does believe he can read today!

This is the book that he took the leap with:

Monday New Review Copies

Last week was a slow week for my mailbox with only two review copies arriving. But I also read and reviewed two review copies since last Monday so my pile didn't get any bigger. These two books arrived and I am eager to read both of them:

Sunday, July 13, 2008

125. The Seance

The Seance by Iain Lawrence

Pages: 263
Finished: July 12, 2008
First Published: July 8, 2008
Genre: YA, historical fiction, mystery
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: I received a Review Copy from Random House Canada. Qualifies for the Canadian Challenge.

First sentence:

At five minutes to midnight, a stranger arrived for the seance.

Comments: It is 1926 and Scooter King is his mother's helper. Madam King is a spiritualist who holds fake seances and Scooter is the one who pulls all the strings behind the scenes. One night he follows a mysterious stranger and ends up at the theatre where Harry Houdini will soon be performing. As Scooter enters the theatre, unnoticed, he enters the room where Houdini's Torture Tank will be on public display the next day, and he discovers a dead body hanging in the chamber. Houdini is out to prove that all spiritualists are fakes but Scooter and he must join forces to find out not only who killed this man but who is trying to kill them both.

Iain Lawrence writes wonderful books and each book is significantly different than the others. The historical setting of 1926 American city-life is vibrant and even more so as we enter the world of fake spiritualists of the time and backstage theatre life. His characters even speak the slang of the day adding to the authenticity. The murder mystery is an added bonus that will probably keep kids guessing, though I, an adult, did see where the plot was going fairly on. Houdini certainly was an entertaining character and those who are familiar with his life will appreciate the research the author must have done to be true to character.

I noticed several Holmesian 'nods' in the book, names and such, so I wondered if Arthur Conan Doyle was going to appear in the story somewhere. He did not; but the author's afterward explains how this story came to be and the real history behind it along with the connection between Doyle and Houdini. A really fun historical romp that I enjoyed.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Totally Off Topic But A Funny Coincidence

You know when you have to fill in those annoying little letter codes to verify you are a real human being and not a bot posting spam? Most of the time, heck 99% of the time, they are just a bunch of random letters and numbers. But...

Have you ever got letters that actually meant something and made you laugh? Today I got both of these:

HMEGGZ (ham and eggs anyone?)

The next one is pretty rude but I couldn't believe it when I saw it:

FKCNGU (keeping my blog g-rated so no translation, I'm sure you can figure it out)

It doesn't take much to amuse me...

Friday, July 11, 2008

124. Trials of Death

Trials of Death by Darren Shan
Fifth book in Cirque Du Freak: The Saga of Darren Shan series

Pages: 202
Finished: July 10, 2008
First Published: 2001
Genre: YA, horror
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: next in the series.

First sentence:

If people ever tell you vampires aren't real -- don't believe them!

Comments: At this point in the series it becomes increasingly difficult to summarize the story without giving away what has happened in previous books so I will no longer summarize each individual book in much detail. This book does start a new phase for the series, though. Darren is still with the Vampire Council and a new threat has begun.

This turn in the story's plot was very interesting and excitement. I'm really enjoying the whole vampire community that Shan has created. Shan has strayed from the typical (Dracula) type of vampire and created his own, very unique, vampire mythos. This particular book in the series is probably my favourite so far. The twist at the end took me by surprise and the cliff hanger ending has me anxious to run to the library for the next volume. What a great series for vampire fans!

Thursday, July 10, 2008

123. Jack the Ripper

Jack the Ripper: Journal of the Whitechapel Murders 1888-1889 by Rick Geary
Second in the Treasury of Victorian Murder series

Pages: 64
Finished: July 8, 2008
First Published: 1995
Genre: true crime, graphic novel
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: next in the series. I also read a lot of books about Jack the Ripper.

First sentence:

A shocking murder on the east end: I'm told that the body of a woman was found this morning in a squalid alley-way of the whitechapel district ... mutilated in a most horrifying manner ~

Comments: Rick Geary has given us a first hand account of the Jack the Ripper case through the eyes of a contemporary but unknown British gentleman who kept a meticulous set of journals. In these journals the gentleman followed closely the news of the killings, while occasionally setting down his own opinion.

Mostly a typical accounting of the Ripper case, though the narrative voice is interesting. If you already know the case it isn't very intriguing but would probably make a good read for first exposure to the killings. The illustrations are amazing! Much better than in the first book of the series. This is such a brutal murder case and the illustrations are very dark and shadowy with many night time scenes. The intricate detail in each panel leads one to linger on each page before continuing. A decent showing in this series but not my favourite.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

122. Dolphin Freedom

Dolphin Freedom by Wayne Grover
Illustrated by Jim Fowler
Third (and last) of the Dolphin Trilogy

Pages: 107
Finished: July 7, 2008
First Published: 1999
Genre: children, animal, non-fiction
Rating: 3.5/5

Reason for Reading: next in the series. My dh read this to the 8yo. I read it once they were finished with it as we enjoy all being able to discuss a book.

First sentence:

The little white dog paddled furiously as she tried to keep up with the
large dolphin.

Comments: Wayne Grover and his friends once again are boating around off the coast of Florida when they realize their ever present dolphin pod is missing. They have a nasty run in with dolphin poachers but after telling the local police are told they can't do anything about it. Wayne decides he must rescue Baby and his family one way or the other and they get themselves into lots of troubles as they set out to rescue the dolphins from deplorable holding pens off a Bahamian island.

This third book in the series is quite different from the first two. For one it is longer and written at a higher reading level and secondly it is not the sweet, heart touching story of the others. This one involves lots of adventure, a fight in a Bahamian Bar and the men swim for their life as they are shot at. It is a well-written adventure story for children but I must say it was my least favourite of the series. On the other hand, I must tell that it was the 8yo's favourite of the series. He was on the edge of his seat with excitement during the final shoot-out getaway. This one is definitely a "boy" book!

Monday, July 7, 2008

121. The Plague of Doves

The Plague of Doves by Louise Erdrich

Pages: 313
Finished: July 7, 2008
First Published: May, 2008
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 4/5

Reason for Reading: I received an ARC from Harper Collins Canada. Louise Erdrich has been on my list of authors I'd like to read for a while now.

First sentence:

The gun jammed on the last shot and the baby stood holding the crib rail,
eyes wild, bawling.

Comments: This is a book that is very hard to summarize; there are many characters, many plot lines and at times they seem unrelated. It starts in North Dakota in 1911 when a terrible crime is committed on the outskirts of a white town, Pluto, that is on the edge of a Cherokee reservation, both sparsely populated. From that point on the story progresses forward to the present and we see that the whites and the natives intermarry and their descendants are all related to each other through blood, whether directly or once or twice removed.

The narrative is not linear; it jumps back and forth through the decades working its way to the present in the final chapter. Each chapter is narrated in a different voice. We are slowly introduced to the myriad of characters through the eyes of various narrators and we learn of their relationship to each other in an offhand manner many times. While I enjoyed the many voices it did become confusing at times as I would become disoriented and not know who was narrating at times.

There are also no dates given throughout the story nor any political or social events to hang a time period on which could also be confusing to some readers. It did not bother me so much as I felt that the story itself gave me a feel for the time, never exact but I'd feel we were in the 60s/70s or 20s/30s.

The characterization is wonderful, I really got to know and care for these people. The writing is tremendously rich and almost lyrical at times. This is not a fast read, I did find my normal reading speed was slowed down as I read this book which demands to be read slowly and savoured. The final reveal at the end was a brilliant twist I did not see coming.

While the book does deal slightly with race issues (whites, Native Americans and those of mixed-blood), racial tension doesn't figure significantly as a theme. Ultimately this is a saga of a small town (Pluto and the reservation combined) and the relationships of the people, where everyone knows everyone and are likely to be related to them somewhere down the line, and the secrets that are kept for generations until in the end all is revealed. A quiet, beautifully written story about people with dark undertones but also light and humorous at times. Recommended.

Monday's New Review Copies

Last week my mailbox was busy. Some of these arrived with the mailman in the morning and others arrived at suppertime with the UPS truck. Only a couple of these are actual ARCs, the majority of them are review copies of the final books. I'm excited to read everyone of these! I'm also happy to report that even though the review copy pile is getting bigger I seem to be staying on track and keeping on schedule with my reading.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

120. Losing It

Losing It - And Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time by Valerie Bertinelli

Pages: 273
Finished: July 6, 2008
First Published: 2008
Genre: autobiography, memoir
Rating: 2/5

Reason for Reading: I enjoyed watching One Day at a Time as a child and always though Valerie was beautiful. Needing to loose weight myself, I though her weight loss story might be inspiring.

First sentence:

Some people measure depression by the medication they take or the number of times per week they see a therapist.

Comments: This is more of a memoir than an autobiography. While it does go chronologically Valerie only tells bits and pieces of her life. Running throughout the book she talks about her poor body image even as a skinny teenager, though she didn't start dieting until she started gaining weight at a much older age. I was very disappointed in this book.

Valerie's acting career is skimmed over mercilessly. One Day at a Time gets a brief discussion, Touched by an Angel gets even less page time and her many made-for-TV movies are only mentioned by name. Most of the book is spent talking about Eddie Van Halen's various drug and alcohol problems along with his volatile relationships with the various lead singers of the group. Valerie talks of how this affected her and her family but there is so much of it that it became boring especially since I have absolutely zero interest in this rock group to begin with.

Valerie's weight loss and Jenny Craig experience was relegated to the last two chapters and very quickly told from the first phone call to the final results. I was hoping this book would be an inspiring weight loss story, instead I found her words made it sound so easy and fast and simple to lose weight. "Hey, just call Jenny!" ... yeah, right.

I will give her credit for being candid in this memoir. She didn't skip over the ugly parts and talks about her own drug use and adultery. I was surprised with the profanity in the book, though. This probably won't bother most people but there was more than I was comfortable with. I do not like swearing in narratives and I guess I just didn't expect Valerie to be the type to cuss so much.

If you want to read the story of a woman who survived a rock star marriage and an alcoholic and drug abuser husband then you will probably enjoy this book. But if you are looking for the story of Valerie's acting career or looking for weight loss inspiration this is not the book for you.

Friday, July 4, 2008


My very first Interlibrary Loan disappointment. I just got a call today that they have been unable to find a library with a copy of

Peachblossom by Eleanor Frances Lattimore.

It makes me so sad to know that this book is no longer available to anyone in the province of Ontario. This used to be one of my favourites when I was a little girl. Written in 1943, it is about a little Chinese girl during WWII.

ETA (July 5): Pussreboots has generously offered me her copy when she has finished reading it! How cool is that? Thanks so much Puss!

Thursday, July 3, 2008

119. The Bone Garden

The Bone Garden by Tess Gerritsen

Pages: 370
Finished: July 2, 2008
First Published: 2007
Genre: thriller
Rating: 4.5/5

Reason for Reading: I've been reading the author's books and this is the last one on my list. Medical Mystery Challenge.

First sentence:

March 20, 1888
Dearest Margaret,
I thank you for your kind condolences, so sincerely offered, for the loss of my darling Amelia.

Comments: A woman in present day Boston finds old bones buried in her backyard. She becomes intrigued by finding out who this mysterious woman was and meets an old man who is the family historian of the house she now lives in. The present days scenes are interspersed throughout the book with the main focus being on the retelling of the mysterious death of the woman from the past. Taking place in the 1830s, a group of medical students is working on the post maternity ward, where childbirth fever kills the majority of patients. One doctor, Norris Marshall, becomes enamoured of a young girl who stays by her sister's side. Once her sister dies a series of murders start to take place. These are mutilations of nurses, then a doctor, and the killings just do not stop. Police are certain the killer must be a surgeon and one policeman in particular turns to Norris as his suspect. With the help of the people he thinks he can trust Norris must make the law believe he is innocent of the crimes.

Oliver Wendell Holmes and medicine of the early 1800s take the forefront in this mystery which was a page-turner from page one. I love this time period and I love historical medicine so it is no surprise I loved this book. I found Gerritsen's depiction to be well-researched and accurate (at least, to my knowledge). This is Tess Gerritsen's first stand-alone since she started her popular Dr. Maura Isles series. Though Dr. Isles does make a cameo appearance near the beginning of the story. There is always some trepidation when reading a stand-alone by a favourite series author but there is no reason for concern here. The characters are well developed and the plot is exciting and has a shocking conclusion. Even though I love the Dr. Isles series, I have to say I enjoyed this book the most of any other I've read by Ms. Gerritsen.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Happy Canada Day!


This is a day to be proud of our country and what it has accomplished in the last few years. Here is my tribute to the Canadians we should thank for their hard work, perseverance and devotion to our country.

Ralph Klein.
Cut the provincial budget to eliminate the Province of Alberta's deficit. One of the best politician's ever.

Preston Manning
Probably the most intelligent Canadian alive. His radical ideas of balanced budgets, tax cuts, and liberalized trade have become accepted policy.

Don Cherry
A proud Patriot. Don is the voice of the blue-collar worker and the Men and Women of the Armed Forces.

current Prime Minister Stephen Harper
The best Prime Minister Canada has seen since John Deifenbaker (1957-1963)

The Canadian Men and Women in Afghanistan and around the world who risk their lives for our freedom.