Monday, April 30, 2012

BOOK: I've Got Your Number by Sophie Kinsella

I've Got Your Number, by Sophie Kinsella, 435 pages

Kinsella is the master of, what is dismissively called, 'chick lit.' She is most famous for The Shopaholic books, but some of her stand alone books have been my favorites: Remember Me? and Twenties Girl.  I've Got Your Number reminded me more of the Shopaholic, still an enjoyable read, but covering more familiar characters and plot - silly good-hearted girl too concerned with what others think, high-powered man impressed with silly good-hearted girl, and misunderstandings a-plenty.

Poppy loses her fiance's heirloom engagement ring and her cell phone on the same day. She finds a cell phone (a necessity for today's modern girl) and tries to hide the fact that she's lost the ring. The cellphone belonged to the PA of  high-powered Sam, which allows nosy Poppy to insinuate herself into Sam's business and personal life. The use of the cellphone and texting was very well done and makes this a modern Three's Company of misunderstandings and mixed signals.

Like most Shopaholic books, I am detachedly bemused in the first half of the book, and then suddenly in the second half, unable to put it down, and impressed with the plotting. Kinsella gradually sucks me in, and the characters grow just enough to keep me invested in the ending, which while telegraphed a mile away, turns out just the way you want. Sigh. Nicely done.

also reviewed: joy at thoughts of joy; martina at virginie says; colleen at books in the city; chris at book-a-rama; jonita at the book chick; lindsey at reeder reads;

Sunday, April 29, 2012

BOOK: Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg, 308 pages

Orange Prize Longlist 2012; What's in a Name 5: topological feature

Some books, when you read the description, sound perfect for you. The plot, the characters, the setting - I'll love this book, you think. And usually you do. There are other books, where the description sounds boring. Island of Wings - missionary minister and his new wife head to a isolated island, full of birds, in the 1830s, to bring civilization to the natives. None of that sounds good to me, and yet Karin Altenberg kept me interested and reading the whole time. Colour me surprised and impressed!

Good historical fiction makes you want to learn more about the people or the time or place of the novel. St Kilda's, the isolated island off the coast of the Hebrides Island off Scotland, is a World Heritage Site, both for cultural and ecological reasons. St Kilda's Site is just the site to investigate, after reading the book, to get an update on the inhabitants and the research that is going on there now. I was fascinated by the history of the island and these images from Google maps are beautiful. Altenberg based her story on real characters and the history of the island. Facts like the 8-day infant illness (infants on the island had a 60% fatality rate in those days) showed the research and tragedy of the island.

Rev Mackenzie, full of optimistic, paternalistic, British hubris arrives on St Kilda's Island with his new young wife, reading to enlighten the natives, whether they want it or not. (oops, my opinion of missionary work is coming though). Altenberg keeps her characters very real, with strengths and faults. Mackenzie did have a good heart, but his conceit and ego caused problems, with the St Kildans, and with his wife. Lizzie, his wife, seemed to try to fit in, although she never made any attempt to learn the Gaelic language.

[Mackenzie] felt pleased to have reached the moment when the St Kildans, who had thought themselves complete and self-sufficient, had been made to realize that they were not and, moreover, that he was the one who had led their minds to this conclusion. p 134

A study of a marriage disintegrating, a look at the role of religion and colonialism, and some great history combined to make this a fascinating read, worthy of the Orange Prize nomination.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

BOOK: The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark

The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark, 105 pages

Muriel Spark Reading Week

This was the most disturbing Spark book yet. This one really reminded me of The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan, with the British tourist travelling to Italy and behaving oddly, along with some strange violence. Lise is a thirty-something spinster (written in 1970) departing on holiday. After her complete freak-out when trying on a dress that is 'stain-resistant', you realize something is off with Lise. While Lise continually looks for her imaginary boyfriend every where she goes, she does befriend a few people, but all her interactions are bizarre, in that she doesn't make any sense, and Spark keeps us away from her thoughts, so we have no idea why she does anything. Well, except for that foreshadowing sentence that occurs pretty early in this book is a pretty big clue.

Wikipedia tells me The Driver's Seat deals with themes of alienation, isolation and loss of spiritual values and is a psychological thriller. So, does it meet all the characteristics of what I have come to expect from a Spark book? Detached characterization with little emotional involvement, a foreshadowing sentence that makes the story take a left turn, sinister undertones all the way through (often for good reason!), short (under 200 pages), big themes and symbolism, and interesting story on the surface? For the most part, yes. This story wasn't as interesting but I imagine it was ground-breaking at the time for its themes, so it gets pass. This novel was also nominated for the Lost Booker Prize of 1970 that was announced in 2010.

Thus ends my Muriel Spark adventures for the week. I read three of her twenty-two books, and will continue to look for some more. Reading them so close together let me have my own comparative literature course, and I think I've made some interesting generalizations.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

BOOK: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark, 128 pages

Muriel Spark Reading Week

Not at all what I was expecting! I thought it would be like Dead Poet's Society, with the inspirational teacher, who changes the lives of her students, teaching them to think for themselves, challenge the societal norms. This was not Dead Poet's Society.

Beginning in 1930, the 'Brodie set', a group of eleven year old girls fall under Jean Brodie's influence at a day school in Edinburgh. Again, Spark begins the story, and you think you know where this is headed, and then Bam! She drops a sentence that makes you look at the story in a new way, looking for more clues because this story has taken a turn to the sinister.

The story flips back and forth, from the 1930s to after the war when the girls have grown up. I loved how Spark reliably attached the information about each girl, each time their name was mentioned. "Eunice Gardiner, small, neat, and famous for her spritely gymnastics and glamorous swimming," would be repeated almost every time Eunice reappeared in the story. Gradually, a few of the girls started to stand out as they grabbed a bigger part of the story. Most shocking to me was how terrible of a character Miss Jean Brodie was. She was manipulative, of questionable politics, and down right mean to some of the students.

I'm beginning to gather some impressions about Muriel Spark and her writing, but I'll need a few more stories to make generalizations. So far, I've got sinister undertones, 'satire' and making comments about society in an obtuse way, layers upon layers of meaning, and one sentence that jumps out and changes the path of the story.

Next up this week: The Driver's Seat and find more Muriel Spark reviews at Stuck in a Book.

Monday, April 23, 2012

BOOK: Symposium by Muriel Spark

Symposium by Muriel Spark, 147 pages

Muriel Spark Reading Week

This is my first Muriel Spark book. Hmm. It's very intellectual, a satire I believe.

Satire: A literary work in which human vice or folly is attacked through irony, derision, or wit.

The thing is, even though I had to look up what exactly satire means, and I can't really elucidate what Sparks attacked, I do sense it. And the reason why I still liked the book, even though I'm sure I missed huuge amounts of what the layers were, is that the superficial layer of the plot and character was good. I enjoyed it, and the weird people, and discovering all their connections and layers. I used the word intellectual because Sparks doesn't play to the emotions - I was watching them all from a distance, detached. Plus, I usually like British books.

The story is about a dinner party - Hurley Reed and Chris Donovan throw the best dinner parties. They agonize over the menu, work to get just the right mix of guests. The story starts at the party, and then backtracks into the recent past of the characters attending, gradually revealing their connections to each other. Gradually, a mystery is revealed and some characters are rather sketchy. And then Spark throws a sucker punch and you realize, it's going to be like this? She drops a line that makes you rethink the whole book. That's why I enjoyed the book. I like getting surprised like that.

Next up in my Muriel Spark adventure: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. This is her arguably most famous book, and one that makes the "1001 books you need to read before you die" list.

Check out Stuck in a Book for more reviews of Muriel Spark's books this week.

Friday, April 20, 2012

BOOK: A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny

A Trick of the Light by Louise Penny, 339 pages

Canadian Book Challenge 5 (book 7 in the series)

I am often conflicted as I begin the Inspector Gamache books, because part of Louse Penny's style drives me nuts. The reflection. 'Should she?' The analysis of every eye blink, 'she thought she noticed a glimpse of apprehension in his face as he turned around', takes me right out of the story. Then, as the story progresses, I notice it less, and usually suddenly I am caught in the plot and not worrying so much about the writing. The good news with ATrick of the Light is I got absorbed in the story even earlier than usual, and enjoyed this one probably the most of all the series.

Another death in Three Pines brings Armand Gamache and Jean-Guy Beauviour and the Surete homicide team to investigate the murder of someone in the flower bed of Clara Morrow, one of the main characters in Three Pines. Clara has just had the opening of her solo art show, and at the party afterward, which brought many of the Montreal art scene to Three Pines, the murder occured. I liked that most of the novel takes place in Three Pines, with Myrna, Ruth, Gabriel and Olivier, all the wonderful characters who appear in nearly every book. None of the characters are perfect; all have flaws that make them seem real.  I particularly liked how Jean-Guy is developing a friendship with Ruth the alcoholic poet, and his story after the 'incident' in the factory and his subsequent drug use, is the story I am most interested in. I'm looking forward to reading more about his story.

This cosy mystery has been nominated for an Agatha Award for best novel, (winner to be announced April 28) and the next in the series, A Beautiful Mystery, will be released in early fall this year.

also reviewed: suziqOregon at whimpulsive; kerri at mysteries in paradise; literary feline at musings of a bookish kitty;

Thursday, April 19, 2012


What are your literary “pet peeves”?

Dreams! I hate reading about a character's dream in a book. Just use another symbol or metaphor, but to hide it in a dream is going to confuse me. I can't think of any times that a dream helped me or enhanced a story for me.

Also, I don't like hearing real people tell me about their dreams either. Too much information about your psych. Am I the only one who doesn't like to read about dreams? Do you have a different pet peeve?

Bonnie's pet peeve today is also a good one.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

BOOK: The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block

The Rose and the Beast by Francesca Lia Block, 229 pages

Once Upon a Time6

Francesca Lia Block brings her magical, lyrical writing to fairy tales, with her unique vision rewriting some classics stories. Like traditional tales, they are short, briefly hitting the plot points, but her poetic style adds a charm to the modern setting. Most of these are set around Los Angeles, and identifying the original story was part of the fun for me. "Wolf" is the Little Red Riding Hood story, but the girl here is escaping her abusive step-father as she hops a bus to her grandmother's in the desert. The Sleeping Beauty tale, "Charm" is also a dark, dark version, where the main character is also an abused child, living a drug induced life to escape her pain. The sleeping here was the drugs, until she meets Charm, her saviour. Fairy tales were originally written as morality plays, and Block takes modern themes to the old stories in a way that is amazing.

I preferred the stories that were completely modern takes, like the two I've described, but Beauty and the Beast, Rose White and Rose Red, Cinderella, and Thumbelina were also recognizable and wonderfully done. There were a few I didn't recognize - Bones, or Ice. I have become a huge fan of Block, and her style of writing is one of the few magical and poetical that I really enjoy. Weetzie Bat, and then Cherokee Bat and the Goat Guys, were both fairy tale type books set in modern LA. She is usually on the young adult shelves, but she covers some more mature themes that not all young teens would want to read.

Monday, April 16, 2012

BOOK: The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones

The Uninvited Guests by Sadie Jones, 259 pages

review copy from Random House Canada, released April 17, 2012 in Canada

How would this book be classified? The feel, the tone, that I got was a little farcical - picture Arsenic and Old Lace? That's one of my favorite movies, by the way, so clearly it's a compliment. I'm giving the impression now that it is funny or comical, but it isn't at all. The word I've seen used to describe this is witty, which can work here. At the same time, the reader, and some of the characters, are never really sure what is going on, what is real or not. Have I completely confused you?

Set in the early 1900s, Edwardian age, a family is trying to save their house. Charlotte Torrington Swift, newly married to Charles Swift, and mother of three Emerald, Clovis and Smudge. The whole of the story takes place on an evening as Charles has left to go to Manchester to try to secure a loan. Emerald is having a birthday dinner with some family friends and a neighbour. Before the dinner can begin, a train derails on a nearby line, and some of the survivors are shunted to Sterne, the house the children grew up in. One of the survivors appears to be known to Charlotte.

The line between cars and horses, telephones but no electricity, upper and lower class, childhood and adulthood, appearances and reality continually blur throughout the book, in that wonderful time period of early 1900s. The fun in the book, beside the Great Adventure of Smudge, is not really knowing what and who everyone is, so I'm not saying any more.

Smudge wondered if Mr Darwin had ever noted that his precious evolution had betrayed the horse rather meanly, in not allowing them to develop a tiptoe along with a walk, trot and canter. The cowardly grass-eating things might have been able to sneak past predators and not had to run away so much. p93

This is my most enjoyable read from Sadie Jones, following great reads like The Outcast, and Small Wars. This one is a little more fun, and a little more weird than the other two.

also reviewed: bookfool at bookfoolery;  katherine at a girl walks into a bookstore;

Monday, April 9, 2012

BOOK: The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue

The Sealed Letter by Emma Donoghue, 397 pages

2nds Challenge; What's in a Name 5: something in your purse or backpack; Orange Longlist 2012

Life was very different for women in Victorian London. Emma Donaghue looks at what it would be like to be unhappily married for a gentle-women with very few options. Using real characters, like Emily 'Fido' Faithful, and based on the real divorce case of Helen and Henry Codrington, she takes the reader into the 1860s and the legal process. This sounds dry, but this book is anything but dry.

Helen Codrington is an old friend of Fido's. Fido is a modern woman, supporter of the Cause, spinster, and part of the group of women promoting increased working rights for women. Helen has recently returned from Malta with her naval husband, and a close 'friend' that she is enamoured of. The story follows their interactions and the events leading up to the divorce case, often from Fido's naive perspective. The court case is riveting, and as each witness tells their version of truth, it makes you wonder how legal decisions are every properly made. The characters are fascinating with all their complex motives, and the helplessness of a woman's position makes me realize how far we've come.

I liked this story on three levels: the plot and characters moved along so fast and kept me interested, the court case and the legal process, and then the historical aspect of women's rights and how power in marriage has changed. For people who have read Donaghue's very popular book Room, The Sealed Letter is a very different book. It's hard to believe they are written by the same author - Donaghue is very talented! If you told me The Sealed Letter was an old book by Sarah Waters, I would have been less surprised.

This book has been nominated for the 2012 Orange Prize longlist, and since it was previously published in Canada, it was also longlisted for the Giller Prize in 2008.

also reviewed: jill at the magic lasso; jackie at farm lane books;

Thursday, April 5, 2012

BOOK: White Horse by Alex Adams

White Horse by Alex Adams, 292 pages

published April 17, 2012 (review book from Simon and Schuster)

 For people who are worried about genetic mutations, and corporations playing around with DNA and letting it into the population: I wouldn't recommend this book! If, however, you like apocalyptic books (like The Stand, or The Road) White Horse is a book to add to your collection. Be warned however: it is the first in a proposed trilogy, and when this one ends, you will be wanting the next book. Great last sentence! (but I'm not telling). Also warning, it's pretty gruesome in parts, but I read a little fast over those parts, sort of with my fingers covering my view.

Thirty year old Zoe narrates the book in first person, so we only see the story from her perspective, as an urn appears in her apartment and people are starting to get sick around her. She begins seeing a shrink, but the world is changing with all the sickness and death. The time line goes back and forth; then, when Zoe worked at Pope Pharmaceuticals and people begin getting sick, and now, as she makes her way across a devastated Europe. There is intrigue (the company she worked for), danger (navigating the new landscape as a lone female), and romance, as she tries to meet up with her boyfriend, hoping he is still alive.

Human beings may no longer be a viable life form, but Zoe is determined to keep her human characteristics and morals. This is not easy in the new world. I'm trying to imagine all the ways this trilogy will head. There is still a political aspect of governments and who is in charge. Plus the new genetic creatures that are around, and the individual relationships that Zoe has with others. Lots of potential!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

BOOK: Blood Red Road by Moira Young

Blood Red Road by Moira Young, 458 pages

Random Reading Challenge

The first of a proposed trilogy The Dust Lands, Blood Red Road is another edition of post-apocalyptic fiction that is all the rage since the Hunger Games. It is hard not to compare the two books as both have a strong yet reluctant female lead who puts her life on the line to save a sibling. Here though, Saba has to find her twin brother Lugh, after he is carried away from their desolate home by some men. Eventually, we discover that the men are Tonton, a band of men who protect the King. Lots of dust, the tech remains of the Wrecker - there's a Mad Max feel to this book, and Coliseum fighting to the death. Why does every society seem to enjoy watching two peons fight for their life?

The plot hops along here - bang, bang, bang, one life threatening event after another as Saba gathers a rag-tag band of friends on her quest to find and save Lugh. There's some girls (the Free Hawks) and a hunky boy, Jack with which Saba has a conflicting relationship. Hint - huge attraction which she doesn't recognize. The language is more like The Knife of Never Letting Go, with the evolved slang - 'an' for 'and', all the g's are dropped, and 'of' for 'have'. (Which, having read my high schoolers writing, we are almost at now.) I didn't find it difficult to read the style and was swept along with the plot. It's easy reading, with engaging characters, (I especially liked Saba's pet Crow), and lots of action. I'm not so invested in the characters that I'll run out and get the next book as soon as it becomes available, but I can see reading another book in the series.

This is my second Young Adult read for the Random Reading Challenge. The next challenge will be posted the beginning of May, with a brand new theme. Check out the Challenge Blog for more details.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top Ten Books To Read In A Day

The Topic today is 'books to read in a day'. I will try to go easy on the children's books and the graphic novels, both of which I could easily have chosen many options from.  Head on over to The Broke and the Bookish to link up and to see what everyone else is saying!

1. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick, 525 pages
Although it looks huge, much of the book is illustrations. However, the written story is just as important, and is the perfect blending of the two media. If you've already read this, Selznick does have a newer book out, Thunderstruck, which is also excellent and along the same lines.

2. Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, 234 pages
She lives it in one day, surely you can read it in one day. I dare you to put this one down - it's too delightful!

3. 84 Charing Cross Road by Helen Hanff, 97 pages
Letters written during the 1950s and 1960s between and American journalist and the British book store employees. Book lovers unite.

4. The Housekeeper and the Professor, 180 pages
Lots of math, but much more about family, and what it means to make a family.

5. Terry: Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope by Douglas Coupland, 176 pages
A collection of essays by Coupland, and picture collages, that tells the story of Terry Fox and his Marathon of Hope from the 1980s. Can't read it without crying.

6. Green Angel by Alice Hoffman, 116 pages
This was poetic and charming and reminded me a little bit of Weetzie Bat. The story of a young girl dealing with grief.

7. Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli
My children's book entry, but it is also perfect for Once Upon a Time as a folklore story. 

8. I Feel Bad About My Neck by Nora Ephron, 137 pages
Hilarious essays about aging. Hilarious.

9. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (graphic novel)
A memoir about life in Iran in 1980, the revolution, for a young girl. Many readers have their first introduction to graphic novels from this series of several books.

10. Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys, 158 pages
Charming letters written to a soldier to keep his mind off the war and updated about life on the homefront during WW2. It's about the war, but also the plucking attitude needed by those in England.

Monday, April 2, 2012

BOOK: The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith

The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection by Alexander McCall Smith, 258 pages

Series Goals: most recent book in No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series (released April 3, 2012) Thanks to Random House for the review copy.

I thought once Mma Makutsi married Phuti Radiphuti that the series would end. However, just as I was getting caught up with the No 1 Ladies Detective Agency, another book was released. The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection checks back in on Tlokweng Road to find things in turmoil. Mma Ramotswe has had a dream of a strange man visiting, Grace and Phuti are dealing with a builder to have their new home built, Mma Potokwane at the orphanage is dealing with a Board of Directors who seem to want to run the orphanage like a business, and Fanwell the apprentice gets in some trouble when an old friend asks for a favor. This was the busiest, and most suspenseful book yet!

There was some actual suspense, as I wasn't sure exactly what was going on in several of the 'mysteries', and because it was all the main characters dealing with problems, I was more worried about what might happen. But the best part was the appearance of Clovis Anderson, the writer of Mma Ramotswe's detective handbook, who may not be exactly as he seems. My only complaint in the book, if it can be called that, is I missed Mr Polopetsi, the part-time worker at Speedy Motors and part-time detective. He wasn't in the book at all.

This edition brings all the qualities that fans of the series look for: words of wisdom, gentle events, and beautiful Botswana dealing with the conflict of past traditions and present progress just like every country. People are the same everywhere, and a cup of red bush tea makes everything a little better.

The Saturday Big Tent  Wedding Party by Alexander McCall Smith, 213 pages

What's in a Name 5: word found on a calendar in title

Usual fare, although it appears Charlie has had twins, and cattle killing is pretty serious stuff no matter where you are, but especially in Botswana, a big cattle country. Grace and Phuti are planning the wedding, and by the end, with the help of the formidable Mma Potokwane, the organizing gets done. And we haven't seen the end of the little white van.

Reading this book on its own would not seem like much - it's the familiar, gentle characters and lessons that are appealing, like a pair of cozy flannel pajamas and a cup of cocoa on a cold winter day. Start at the beginning, and give it a few books to catch the rhythm.