Sunday, February 27, 2011

MEME: Crime Fiction Alphabet (author Tarquin Hall)

Hosted by Kerri at Mysteries in Paradise
By Friday of each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.
Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book's title, the first letter of an author's first name, or the first letter of the author's surname.
So you see you have lots of choice.
You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow. 

 This week the letter is H is brought to you by Tarquin Hall, author of The Case of the Missing Servant, the first in the Puri Vish mystery series. Find more H entries here.

Tarquin Hall is a writer and journalist who has lived for many years in South Asia, as well as the Middle East, Africa, and the United States. He is married to the journalist Anu Anand and divides his time between Delhi and London, England. His website is (taken from the back cover flap)

The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall, 298 pages

Global Reading Challenge: India

Puri Vish is a Most Private Investigator in Delhi, with a great staff. He is hired to find a missing servant that the owner of the home has been accused to 'ruining', if not more. Unfortunately, even her name is barely known and India has over a billion citizens. Vish takes the case, a nice change from many of his marital background check cases.

Vish reminded me of a cross between Poirot and Holmes. Poirot because he keeps his ideas to himself, and Holmes because he notices little details. I kept thinking it would be a bit of a comedy, because the tone is light, and there is some humor, but Vish is a serious investigator, with high quality investigative tools. There are some great characters that can be further developed, especially Vish's mother, who looks into an attempt on Vish's life, much against Vish's wishes. But she is very good. The employees, with nicknames like Facecream, Tubelight, and Flush, are smart and loyal and look interesting in their own right.

Add all these great characters to the vivid setting of India with its unique culture and traditions, and Tarquin Hall has written a great mystery novel that I'm glad I've caught at the beginning. The next book in the series, The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing, was just released last summer. Vish also refers to some of his past cases in this novel, so maybe some of them will be written.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

BOOK: Little Children by Tom Perrotta

Little Children by Tom Perrotta, 319 pages

What's in a Name 4? stage of life in title

Great story with lots of characters who all get a back story. It's mostly about Sarah and Todd, two suburban parents who meet on the playground and begin an affair. There is also another story about a recently released sexual offender, Ron, and his difficulties in integrating into the same suburban neighbourhood. The plot is thin, as we follow Sarah and Todd and Ron throughout the summer. Todd takes up football, Sarah joins a book club and rediscovers Madame Bovary. The toddlers are toddlers, interfering with the parents attempts to get together. I'm not making this sound very enticing, but Perrotta writes a great tale in an easy style, and I flew through the book, judging the characters and their bad decisions as I read. Hey, I'm as suburban as these characters, who do lots of judging of each other. Lots of flawed, unhappy characters, including Sarah and Todd's respective spouses. I'm not sure why the sexual offender story was there, as it felt like two different stories. I see how they came together at the end, but it wasn't really necessary and added a few extra characters who had bigger roles than were needed.

Little Children has been made into a movie, which I haven't seen. I'd certainly be interested in reading another Perrotta novel, like The Abstinence Teacher.  He wrote about real people, not perfect by any means, but people you recognize, especially if you hang around the playground very much. Lots of the blurbs on the inside describe it as 'hysterical' and 'wickedly funny' and 'laugh out loud moments'. I wouldn't go that far at all - funny isn't the word, but still an enjoyable read.

Little complaint: Lightning happens at the same time as thunder, but if you aren't where they happen, you'll see the lightning first, then hear the thunder. Light travels faster than sound. "...another boom of thunder, this one considerably louder than the first, and followed seconds later by a cracking spike of lightning." page 121. This error is repeated in the next paragraph as well, only the lightning happens even sooner after the thunder. This took me right out of the story, as I had to reread this to see if that's what he meant. Basic high school science, dear editors.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

BOOK: Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys

Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys, 158 pages
 News from the homefront 1939-1942

A British book, set during the second world war, that is composed of letters, with a humorous mindset. If any of those appeal to you, this is your book. If I was, your inbox would look like this:
If you enjoyed La's Orchestra Saved the World, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, and 84 Charing Cross Road, then may I recommend Henrietta's War?

Bloomsbury Group has made a series of  reprints of books from the early twentieth century 'chosen by readers for readers'. I bought the first six, including this and The Brontes Went to Woolworths, partially based on the good reviews these books were getting around the blogosphere last year, and partially because I liked the idea; also, they are so pretty. The full set, with similar covers but in different colours appealed to me visually, as well as the interiors by idea.

Joyce Dennys wrote this series of letters during the war, in the countryside of England These were published during the war, and then she put them away. She found them in 1985 while spring cleaning, and they were published that year. Henrietta's War, and Henrietta, appear to be quite autobiographical. Dennys was a doctor's wife, just like Henrietta. The letters Henrietta writes are to her dear childhood friend Robert, who is fighting at the front. Henrietta is relatively well off during the war - she still has help come in, she isn't in London during the worst of it and her husband is a doctor, but her goal is to distract Robert, so she writes amusing little vignettes, and tries to steer away from any misery or upsetting news. There are some wonderful characters in her town, the kind that caused the quote, "it's the old women of England who will break Hilter's heart in the end." they so want to do their part, but are often sidelined. Luckily, we have Henrietta, and Joyce Dennys to document their attempts.

I'll be looking for a sequel Henrietta Sees It Through: More News from The Homefront 1942-1945

Sunday, February 20, 2011

MEME: Crime Fiction Alphabet (review of Buried Strangers)

Hosted by Kerri at Mysteries in Paradise
By Friday of each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.
Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book's title, the first letter of an author's first name, or the first letter of the author's surname.
So you see you have lots of choice.
You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow. 

This week the letter is G is brought to you by Leighton Gage, author of Buried Strangers.
Leighton Gage's wife is Brazilian and he spends part of each year in Santana do Parnaiba, Brazil, the rest of the year in Florida and The Netherlands. He has four daughters. This is his second novel in the Mario Silva series set in Brazil. (Bio info taken from the cover of the book)
See more G entries here.

Buried Strangers, by Leighton Gage, 308 pages

Global Reading Challenge: South America (Brazil)

The other mystery series I've read from Brazil, Inspector Espinoza series by Luiz Alfredo Garcia-Roza, is more akin to Poirot. Set in Rio de Janerio, Espinoza is a thinker, he analyzes suspects, and thinks about motives. Buried Strangers is more of a police procedural, with political intrigue in Sao Paulo.

Chief Inspector Mario Silva works for the federal police. His boss is only interested in his political advancement, so Silva is left to connive the time and money to investigate real crimes, like the pile of skeletons found which seem to be families. Has no one been reported missing? Silva works with the local police, and his team. I'm looking forward to reading more in this series, as his team was a colourful cast with lots of personality, that seem to work very well together.  The story is intricate, and well-plotted with twists and turns as the police investigate. We stay for the most part on the police side of the investigation, but each character is given a background which adds depth to the good and bad guys.

Brazil has a different history, and culture, and reading mysteries exposes me to such different places.This story includes many historical issues, including police on the take, treatment of native Brazilians, slums, some Nazi war criminals, and organ donations. Silva writes from a local perspective, and his love and knowledge of Brazil come through.

The Mario Silva Series
Blood of the Wicked
Buried Strangers
Dying Gasp
Every Bitter Thing

Saturday, February 19, 2011

BOOK: My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger

My Most Excellent Year by Steve Kluger, 403 pages

2nds Challenge: I read Last Days of Summer in 2009

A Story of Love, Mary Poppins and Fenway Park. If any of those appeal to you, this charming book is for you. Kluger writes easy young adult novels, with winning, if precocious teens. This one has a few lost souls - two teens with no siblings who become 'brothers', each essentially adopted and parented by both sets of parents after the death of  T.C.'s mother when he was six. TC and Augie could not be more different - TC is a baseball nut, Augie is a musical fanatic, and gay even if he isn't completely sure he is, or if he knows how it will work. TC falls in love with a perfect girl, Ale, who is not going to give in very easily.

The concept of the story is that all three are writing an essay about their most excellent year, grade ten, the year before. TC, Ale and Augie are all a little idealized - socially involved, mature, extremely well spoken, talented, and adjusted. Granted, not all teens are like that, but there are some, and it's nice to read about great kids trying to find their way, with parents who seem to make the right choices. I enjoyed this quick read, and it didn't hurt that I've always been a huge Mary Poppins fan.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

BLOGGING: It's Tuesday, Where Are You?

Since I'm here in Prince Edward Island, in the middle of another storm, I thought I'd ask the question - Where is reading taking you in this world today? It's been a while since we've played this. Three weeks ago, I would have said we didn't have  much snow this winter; now, we are running out of space to move the snow. Crazy.

I am in Sao Paulo, Brazil with Chief Inspector Mario Silva and his team as they investigate the discovery of a field full of skeletons. Who are they, and how did so many people go missing? (Buried Strangers, Leighton Gage)

Where is reading taking you today? Leave a comment, write a post, spread the word.

Monday, February 14, 2011

BOOK: Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod

Light Lifting by Alexander MacLeod, 219 pages

4th Canadian Book Challenge

Short Stories. I have a theory as to why I like short stories. I grew up in school with the readers - short selections with questions afterward designed to test your comprehension and inference ability. I read novels at home and from the library, but at school, we read A Duck is a Duck, Helicopters and Gingerbread, or How it is Nowadays. Fiction, and nonfiction selections were all present. But this theory only really works if a whole generation of readers from the 1970s in Canada also like short stories, and I doubt that.  (As an aside, how smart was it to have a grade one book called A Duck is a Duck, and then teach rhyming words? )

Some of my favorite writers have supplied me with many collections - Stephen King, Maeve Binchy and LM Montgomery, in my quest to read all I can find by them. In university, I read a wonderful collection, Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod, and now this book, Light Lifting is a collection by Alistair's son, Alexander, which was shortlisted for the Giller Prize in 2010.

Each of the seven stories is strong and evokes a place from somewhere in Canada, mostly Ontario. Small towns, and big cities. A few of these stories take a turn at the end and are a bit surprising, in the violence and the open-endedness.  "Miracle Mile" has two runners competing, going through the rituals before their meet, and reminded me of The Bone Cage. A brother wonders what ever happened to the boy who lived across the street from them in "Good Kids," which turns into a characterization of a neighbourhood on the edge. They were the 'good' family, and the neighbour was the riff-raff, but he teaches them a bit about loyalty and toughness. I liked this story a lot.Another one I liked was "Light Lifting" which reminded me of all those summer jobs I had while working through university. Students pop in for a few months of grudge work, then back to school, often leaving the regular workers who would stay there forever.

I'm just recapping these stories, I'm not giving a sense of why I liked the book. I'm going to go with a quote from the back cover from the Giller citation:
His stories are a careful marriage of the lyric, and the narrative: each unfolds around a resonant, ineffable moment, replete with history and emotion, a Gordian knot comprised of all the strands that lead up to and away from it.

also reviewed: kate at kate's bookcase; kevin at kevinfromcanada; melanie at the indextrious reader;

ETA  here's a wonderful article about Light Lifting, where the author shares his playlist choices that go with each story. Two songs per story, with his reasons why he picked them.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

MEME: Crime Fiction Alphabet

Hosted by Kerri at Mysteries in Paradise
By Friday of each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.
Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book's title, the first letter of an author's first name, or the first letter of the author's surname.
So you see you have lots of choice.
You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow. 

This week, E is for Edwards. Author Martin Edwards first book in his Lake District series, The Coffin Trail. Other books in the series include: The Cipher Garden, The Arsenic Labyrinth, and The Serpent Pool. Find more entries for this week here.
The Coffin Trail by Martin Edwards, 286 pages

Global Reading Challenge: Europe (England)

Lake District - area in northwest England, full of tarns, and fells

It took me a while to get into this mystery, as it takes a while to establish the characters and determine who is who. Daniel Kind, and his girlfriend, impulsively buy a house in the Lake District to get away from Oxford and London life. Daniel is a historian, and professor and he is also trying to learn about his late father, a former police officer from the very area he moves to. He makes contact with his father's old sergeant, Hannah Scarlet, who has just been named head of a cold case squad. There were a lot of coincidences with people and situations to get this set up going I thought, as Daniel had a connection to the old case that Hannah begins investigating. Stop! Too much of this! I must be a tad more patient with the first book in the series.

In the beginning, I got a very creepy vibe from Daniel, and I originally thought he was the bad guy. This led me to have difficulty identifying with him, as for the first half of the book, I suspected him at every turn. (Also, I didn't like the cover and it made me think less of the book for quite a while. Sorry, book.) Most of my issues with the plot and characters can be attributed to getting the series set up. (Maisie Dobbs, however, made me love the first book and the set up to get her story going, so it is possible to be less abrupt.) The ending however, with its twists and turns, did make up a lot for the beginning. At the half way point, I wasn't planning to read anymore in the series; however, but the end, I'm thinking I'll give the next book a chance.

thanks to Susan at you can never have too many books for the suggestion to read this series. I so seldom remember who recommended a book to me that when I do, it's quite exciting.
also reviewed: nan at letters from a hill farm;  kerrie at mysteries in paradise;

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

BOOK: Austenland by Shannon Hale

Austenland by Shannon Hale, 192 pages

I was looking for a fun, light book to read between mysteries, and Austenland was just the thing. I'm not a huge Janemaniac, or Austenphile, but I did like the movie Pride and Prejudice, and I quite understand the Colin Firth/Mr Darcy adoration. This book has Jane Hayes, thirty-something New York career girl, who has just about given up on men. This is mostly her own doing, as she falls back on her DVD of P&P when things go bad, and now her expectations are widely divergent from her life, because the guys she meets are not Mr Darcy. When her grand-aunt Carolyn discovers her Darcy obsession, she arranges an all expense trip vacation to Austenland. Austenland is at Pembrooke Place, sort of a fantasy baseball camp for Regency mad women. They come and experience life in early 1800 England, but with flush toilet, and including actors who will become their suitors.

The plot involves Jane having difficulty immersing herself in the acting, and having difficulty differentiating the actor from the man. If you are a Jane Austen fan, and enjoy light comedy romances, that is all you need to know. If you are not, I'm not sure this book is for you. The wonderful Shannon Hale wrote this adult novel and it's really a fairy tale for grown-ups, also known as chick lit.

Monday, February 7, 2011

CHALLENGE: Book Awards V

Michelle says:
Thanks to all those who participated in the first four book awards challenges!! Are you up for a fifth? The challenge for Book Awards V will last for 10 months, from February 1 through December 1, 2011.

  1. Read 5 books from 5 different awards during February 1, 2010 through December 1, 2010.
  2. Overlaps with other challenges are permitted.
  3. Choices don't have to be posted right away, and lists may be changed at any time.
  4. 'Award winners' is loosely defined; make the challenge fit your needs.
To join, go to the Book Awards V Challenge.

Some awards I might try:
Man Booker - True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
Pulitzer - Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegnar
Newbery -The Single Shard
Giller - Alice Munro
Orange Prize - Larry's Party by Carol Shields
Agatha Award - The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
Bram Stoker Award - Duma Key by Stephen King
Carnagie Medal - Just in Case by Meg Rosoff
Edgar Award - Citizen Vince by Jess Walter
The Gold Dagger - The Broken Shore by Peter Temple (2007)

What I read:
1.Carnagie Medal 2007
Just in Case by Meg Rosoff
2. Agatha Award 2009
The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny
3. Orange Prize 1996
A Spell of Winter by Helen Dunmore
4. CWA Gold Dagger 2007
The Broken Shore by Peter Temple
5. Man Booker 2011
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes

Sunday, February 6, 2011

CHALLENGE: New Authors Challenge

Hosted at Literary Escapism by Jackie. I want to keep track of the new authors I read. Last year, I read 51 new authors to me, and 11 debut authors.
Here are the guidelines:
  1. The challenge will run from January 1, 2011 through December 31, 2011.
  2.  Since this is an author challenge, there is no restriction on choosing your novels. They can definitely be from other challenges. However, the authors must be new to you and, preferably from novels. 
  3.  You can pick to do either 15, 25 or 50 new authors.
  4.  After reading your new author, write your review and then come back here and add your link to Mr. Linky
Here's the list:
  1. Kate Morton - The House at Riverton
  2. Damon Galgut - In a Strange Room
  3. Angie Abdou - The Bone Cage
  4. Terry Fallis - The Best Laid Plans
  5.  Donna Leon - Death in la Fenice
  6. Martin Edwards - The Coffin Trail
  7. Leighton Gage - Buried Strangers
  8. Joyce Dennys - Henrietta's War
  9. Tom Perrotta - Little Children
  10.  Tana French - In the Woods
  11.  Patrick Taylor - An Irish Country Doctor
  12.  Ruth Rendell - Tigerlily's Orchids
  13. Marsha Mehran - Pomegranate Soup
  14. Diana Wynne Jones - Charmed Life
  15. Aminatta Forna - The Memory of Love
  16. Helen Dunmore - A Spell of Winter
  17. Helen Humphreys - Coventry
  18. Robert Goolrick - A Reliable Wife
  19. Vera Brogsol - Anya's Ghost
  20. CC Benison - Twelve Drummers Drumming

Debut Authors: (or I'd have to wait to read another book by them)

  1. Alexander MacLeod - Light Lifting
  2. Eleanor Brown - The Weird Sisters
  3. Selden Edwards - The Little Book
  4. Ransom Riggs - Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children
  5. Heather O'Neill - Lullabies for Little Criminals
  6. Kathleen Winter - Annabel
  7. Mike Brown - How I Killed Pluto and Why It Had It Coming
  8.  Jill Sooley - The Widows of Paradise Bay
  9.  Gerard Collins - Moonlight Sketches
  10.  Valerie Compton - Tide Road

MEME: Crime Fiction Alphabet

Hosted by Kerri at Mysteries in Paradise
By Friday of each week you have to write a blog post about crime fiction related to the letter of the week.
Your post MUST be related to either the first letter of a book's title, the first letter of an author's first name, or the first letter of the author's surname.
So you see you have lots of choice.
You could write a review, or a bio of an author, so long as it fits the rules somehow. 

This week is letter D. D is for Death in La Fenice by Donna Leon. This is the first book in the Guido Brunetti Mystery series, which is up to book number 19. Looks like I have some catching up to do. I'm a bit late this week, but hopefully will get on track with the letters next week.

Death in La Fenice by Donna Leon, 278 pages

Global Reading Challenge: Italy; Criminal Plots Challenge: first in a new to you series

At the Opera House in Venice, the conductor never comes back after the second act. He's been poisoned by cyanide in his coffee. Commissario Guido Brunetti is called in to investigate. It's Italy, so expect unreasonable bosses, great food descriptions, lots of wine, red tape, and wonderful atmosphere. Brunetti deals with his unreasonable boss, and has a wonderful family with aristocratic connections.

The mystery is secondary to Brunetti's interactions with the suspects and the setting. The writing is clear, with great characters.  As my Camilleri mystery series (Inspector Montalbano) is practically up to date, this will supply my Italian fix when I need it. I quite enjoyed all the references to different areas of Italy that are mentioned and the accompanying stereotypes of Naples and Sicily.  Yes, I'll be reading more of this series.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

BOOK: Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis

Best Laid Plans by Terry Fallis, 312 pages

4th Canadian Book Challenge; Canada Reads 2011

I have found the perfect book for my brother-in-law to read. He used to work for a Liberal MP, so this book, about a reluctant politician of the Liberal persuasion as narrated by his back-room Liberal manager, should entertain him to no end. Plus, the book is very funny, with lots of word-play as befitting the winner of the Stephen Leacock Award for Humour (2008).

I liked this book and found it funny. I also, at times, found it slow and predictable. I can see why people would love this book - satire of Canadian politics, great word-play, the underdog/idealist takes on the establishment, I can also see why people may not like the book - wide-eyed innocent makes all the right decisions, plays on words and continual jokes, chess games over and over, caricatures of stock characters. Part of my problem was it took me all week to read the book (starting the new semester is tiring) so I had lots of time to be thinking about the book. But then, I still blame the book itself if it took me a long time to read because something in the book made me slow down while reading, or made me a tad reluctant to pick it up again. I'm not a fan of books that slow me down - I don't want to savor and think over things. Keep me moving book! Then again, this is not the book's fault - my brain and the book just aren't completely connected.

I'm completely on the fence with this one - there is an aspect of the book I really enjoyed, and I also found it predictable and repetitive.

also reviewed: buried in printlavender lines,

Final ranking for Canada Reads for me:
1. tie: Unless and Essex County - each so very different, and each so very good
2. Best Laid Plans - has the humor and satire, it really is a good book
3. The Birth House - I remember liking this one a few years ago, but didn't leave a big enough impression
4. The Bone Cage - still a good book, but not one I've vote for.