05 December 2010

Stand By Me

By Sheila O'Flanagan
Published by Headline Review
an imprint of Headline Publishing Group
First published in 2010

Dominique Brady, named after St. Dominic and pronounced the same way, was brought up in an ultra-religious Catholic home in Ireland. Her brother, Gabriel, is being groomed for the priesthood and his parents couldn't be prouder. Dominique, however, has no time to waste on religion and gets on with being a teenager in the 1980s, eventually getting a job in a diner where she meets her future husband.

Dominique's life changes over the years and she becomes a wealthy socialite, raising money for charities, and throwing the best parties. But life is never an easy path and Domino, as she is now known, has serious choices to make along the way. Of course, that's where the title of the book comes into play: if you're married, do you always stand by each other? If you're a family, do you always stick up for each other? When is it necessary to stand by your friends?

O'Flanagan always writes an interesting story, often with complex layers and digging deep into marital and family life. As well, O'Flanagan's supporting characters are well written and some become as important as the main characters in how the reader feels about them and how their lives will turn out.

Stand By Me is a bit of a saga, covering Domino's life from her late teen years into her forties. It dissects love, depression, betrayal, and religion, yet doesn't become boring or preachy. O'Flanagan has turned out yet another book that provides the reader with a good storyline, some thought-provoking moments, and an overall enjoyable read.

26 November 2010

Mini Shopaholic

By Sophie Kinsella
Published by Transworld Publishers,
a Random House Group Company
First published in Great Britain in 2010

Becky Brandon (nee Bloomwood) has a spoilt daughter. Everyone says so, including Becky's husband, Becky's mom, Becky's mom's best friend, and the new nanny. Minnie has been barred from various shops and she's only two. Grabbing the items she wants from store shelves and yelling "miiiiiiiiiine" has become Minnie's catchphrase. What's a shopaholic mommy to do? How can Becky continue to buy baby Dior and baby Dolce & Gabbana and other designer toddler outfits if Minnie doesn't behave in the shops?

When a banking crisis hits Britain, Becky, Luke, and Minnie - still living with Becky's parents - have to Cut Back (it amuses me that Kinsella writes it with the importance of capital letters). Luke has made Becky swear she will not buy any new clothes until she wears everything in her closet three times. But Becky is planning a surprise birthday party for Luke and shopping at the Pound Shop is just not going to cut it.

Sophie Kinsella has written another Shopaholic book (this is number six) that had me in fits of giggles from beginning to end. Between spoilt little Minnie, the problems Becky encounters whilst trying to buy a house, and the whole cast of characters trying to ensure Luke's surprise birthday party remains a surprise, this installment is one of the best in the series.

For lighthearted fun and pages of giggles, this book is a must-read for all Shopaholic fans.

04 November 2010

Minding Frankie


By Maeve Binchy
Published by Orion Books
an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group Ltd
2010

As soon as I heard Maeve Binchy had written a new novel I was excited. After all, who can tell a story like Maeve Binchy? Even the book's cover announces:
"The new novel from the world's favourite storyteller"
Maeve (I feel I can be on a first-name basis with my long-time reading buddy) has thrown a few curveballs with this novel. I didn't particularly like all of these curveballs, but I went with it and ended up rethinking my position on a few topics.

Biggest curveball - She has managed to create a character I actually despised. Really, truly despised. Moira Tierney, the novel's social worker, is the biggest pain in the arse character Maeve has ever produced. Mind you, she's meant to be completely unlikeable. Moira's character was so well written, I hated every word out of her mouth and every idea in her head. At one point, I had my fill of her and walked away from the book for a while. It takes talent to create that character.

Minding Frankie is a story that proves that families come in all shapes and sizes and that the birth of a baby can change people's lives. Frankie is the baby. Before she is born, her mother seeks out Frankie's father, Noel, to tell him he is the father. The catch is that, even though Noel doesn't remember Stella or the one-night-stand he had with her, Stella is now dying of cancer and she wants Noel to raise Frankie.

The best part of this book was catching up with character's from Binchy's past novels; a technique of Binchy's that is useful in drawing you quite quickly into the story. There are new characters as well and, as usual, all the stories are nicely weaved together, which is amazing given the number of people in this book.

This is a novel that touches on extended families, adopted families, broken families, alcoholism, paternity, celebrity, and death. It spends a great deal of time with the hated Moira Tierney but, through that character, Binchy gives us an in depth look at the life of a social worker.

Written in that strong Maeve Binchy style, with an insight into community life and family living that only Maeve Binchy seems to have, this is another winner from "the world's favourite storyteller".

11 October 2010

Dust City


By Robert Paul Weston
Published by the Penguin Group
October 2010
ARC courtesy of Penguin Group (Canada)

Henry Whelp is a teen wolf doing time at St. Remus Home for Wayward Youth. Generally, he is a nice kid, liked by other kids and adults alike. But Henry believes he may possibly be bad like his father (the Big Bad Wolf), who is presently doing hard time for killing a little girl (Little Red Riding Hood) and her grandmother. His mother died when he was young - hit and killed by a truck transporting fairy dust - and his subsequent confusion about her death and his father's incarceration not only led to a wayward crime, but to a psychiatrist's office, as well. When Henry discovers the psychiatrist has kept secrets from him, he ponders the answers to long-asked questions: Are there still fairies? If not, what happened to them? Is his father really responsible for a double murder?

Weston leads the reader from there into Henry's trek into the dark, gritty, grimy world of dust, fairies, goblins, dwarves, and humans, known as Dust City. Dust is the drug of choice in Dust City; fairy dust, that is. But it's dust that has been tampered with by Nimbus Thaumaturgical, is inhaled and absorbed by the body, and brings some of the book's characters on some pretty wild head trips.

Characters in Dust City include, Snow White, Cinderella, Jack of Jack and the Beanstalk fame, Rumpelstiltskin, and more. I liked this touch; it made the story less grim, yet more Grimm, if you get my drift. The story itself was slow getting into but it picked up once there was less reform school and more details of life in the city. Weston has a talent for relating to YA readers without dumbing-down his vocabulary and his writing style is fast-paced - once the story got going, there was no holding back.

While this book is marketed as a YA novel for twelve years and up, I wouldn't recommend it for anyone younger than fifteen. It tackles some pretty heady themes, including drug abuse, drug runners, murderers, racism, and genocide. It also contains graphic accounts of violence and drug-induced hallucinations. Overall, however, I certainly recommend this novel for fans of YA fantasy fiction.

30 September 2010

Edith's War


By Andrew Smith
Published by Axiom Publishing Inc.
2010
Copy courtesy of Andrew Smith

Edith Maquire got married because Joe Maguire was off to war and he wanted somebody to come home to. It all sounded terribly romantic to young Edith, so she agreed. Now, Joe is at war and pregnant Edith is living in Shrimpley with Joe's mother and younger brother.

It's 1940. The Maquires' war is okay for them so far; they have chickens in the yard and food in the kitchen. Liam Maquire, full of youth and propaganda, starts trouble with his Italian neighbours. But the Maquires and Baccanellos will have none of it; long-time friends and neighbours - and far out of the reach of the cities - they believe they will remain friends and neighbours for some time to come.

However, within hours of Mussolini's declaration of war against Britain, Winston Churchill issues an internment order against Italians living in Britain, and the Baccanello males are scooped up and taken away for the duration of the war.

It's 2002. Will and Shamus Maquire, children of Edith Maguire, are strolling the streets of Venice awaiting the arrival of their eighty-three-year-old mother. It's to be a reunion of sorts, at Edith's behest.

The book goes back and forth between Edith's life during WW II and her sons wondering why their mother wants to see them. Smith does a credible job of putting the internment of Britain's Italians under the microscope covering everything from the torpedoing of the Arandora Star on its way to Canada to internment camps in Liverpool, helping to shed light on a little-discussed topic.

The lives of those left to live out the war is also examined, and we discover that the definitions of proper and acceptable behaviour change the longer the war goes on.

Andrew Smith has written a totally believable novel, creating wonderful characters in a beautifully written narrative. Recommended for both those who like history and those who like good fiction.

19 September 2010

The Mistress of Nothing




By Kate Pullinger
First published in 2009 by Serpent's Tail,
an imprint of Profile Books Ltd
Winner of 2009 Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction

Who was Lady Duff Gordon? Was she the beautiful and intelligent woman who entertained politicians, writers, and great thinkers of the day? Was she a tragic figure who had to leave her family in England to move to the dry air of Egypt due to her tuberculosis? Was she a generous woman, willing to help anyone who asked? Or was she a mean-spirited woman who turned on her long-time maid in the most spiteful manner?

According to Kate Pullinger, Lady Duff Gordon was all of these.

While this book has Lady Duff Gordon at its centre, Sally Naldrett is the core. Sally is Lady Duff Gordon's lady's maid and the narrator of the story. She moves to Egypt to care for her Lady and falls in love with the people and its customs. Being an English maid without any English customs to adhere to gives Sally and her Lady a set of freedoms they never before experienced; freedoms which can change your life's expectations.

This was a selection for the Bool Club. Although we all liked the book well enough, three of us thought it took more than half the book before it became compelling reading. There was a divide in the discussion on whether or not Lady Duff Gordon had made Sally feel she was more a companion than a maid, thus leading Sally to believe they were on friendly terms, or whether Sally should have known there would always be a line drawn between a British Lady and her maid no matter where in the world they should live.

Although this book was terribly slow to get going, it turned out to be quite interesting and, eventually, I was unable to put it down. This is an easy read and a good book for anyone interested in historical fiction.

06 September 2010

Second Fiddle


By Mary Wesley
Published by Black Swan
Originally published in Great Britain by
Macmillan London Limited, 1988

Claud Bannister, 23, meets Laura Thornby, 45, at a concert. Claud is there with his mother. Laura is there because the conductor is her current lover. Martin is there because the British government has him following Clug, the conductor, who is from Roumania and may or may not be a spy. Claud instantly falls for Laura, as does Martin, who finds that tailing Clug is not that much of a hardship as long as Laura is around.

Laura doesn't fall in love; she prefers to love 'em and lose 'em. But Laura is quite intrigued with Claud and guides him from boyhood to manhood, filling his head with ideas for his novel, and helping him open a market stall. She manipulates him to the point where he thinks her ideas are his own and he has fallen madly in love with her.

Laura's personal life is a deep pit of mystery. She prefers to be alone in her orderly, non-cluttered life, not getting attached to people or things. She is mostly cut off from her family, which consists of her mother and her uncle. Speculation is that her uncle is also her father - it's never quite made clear. Wesley has the habit of introducing darker themes in her novels and then leaving them to the reader to decide; after all, a good book doesn't have to spell everything out for you.

Second Fiddle is full of village life, where everyone knows everyone else's business and the Thornby family are accepted, although talked about as the oddities they are. Wesley covers incest, alcoholism, and suicide in her usual style - deal with it and move on. Don't let the darker themes of this novel put you off - this is an interesting novel full of simmering back-stories that will entertain and intrigue you to the very end.

24 August 2010

When Blood Calls


By JK Beck
Published by Bantam Books, an imprint of
The Random House Publishing Group
Available 31 August 2010
ARC courtesy of JK Beck

"Truth is often elusive, and some debts are best paid outside the bounds of the law."

Sara Constantine, an attorney with the LA District Attorney's Office, has been offered a new position. It's a little bit different from what she's used to; instead of prosecuting for the DA's office, she'll be prosecuting for PEC - the Preternatural Enforcement Coalition. Generally left to regulate itself, PEC operates not under human law but under a series of laws known as the Covenant.

Sara's first case is to prosecute a vampire for the murder of a judge. Lucius Dragos is known in PEC circles as a vicious killer and they've tried to take him down before, but to no avail. Now Sara must take this information and reconcile it with what she knows of Lucius Dragos - the man she met as Luke only days before and with whom she had shared a bed. And now that Sara and Luke have that bond, can she detach herself from her feelings for him and prosecute the case?

As urban fantasies goes, this novel is - dare I say it - quite realistic. Beck draws her reader into a world of werewolves, goblins, hellhounds, shape-shifters, and vampires
as easily as if she were writing about cotton candy and sunny skies. Beck's paranormal world has a legal system and a code of honour to live by and the book becomes a legal thriller that keeps you in suspense and in the dark as to what will happen next. As part one of the Shadow Keepers series, it certainly hits the mark in making you anticipate the next installment.

While the book is not scary, it's not for the faint-hearted - it's full of graphic violence
and explicit sex. But it works. And it's damn good.

19 August 2010

Undead and Unpopular


By MaryJanice Davidson
Published by The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
June 2006

Betsy Taylor, queen of the vampires, is annoyed, irritable, pissed. Why? She has decided to give up blood. And without blood a vampire is cranky. To add to her crankiness, a delegation of European vampires has come to town to check out their queen for themselves. They may accept her, they may decide to overthrow her; who knows?

Eric annoys her, Jessica annoys her, Marc annoys her, Tina annoys her, the zombie in the attic annoys her. Plus, her thirty-first birthday is looming and the fact Betsy can't see any party preparations going on around her annoys her, even though she insisted she didn't want a party.

Installment five of the Undead series has Betsy facing up to some moral dilemmas such as should a vampire be punished for killing someone hundreds of years ago and, if so, what exactly should that punishment be?

Whether planning a party, a wedding, or a punishment, Betsy is sure to win you over with her always funny sarcasm and her ever-increasing cast of sidekicks.

17 August 2010

Undead and Unreturnable


By MaryJanice Davidson
Published by The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
November 2005

Queen of the Vampires, Betsy Taylor, is getting ready for Christmas, much to the dismay of those vampires who live with her. She may be dead but Betsy and best friend, human being Jessica, still like to enjoy the festive season. And, I suppose, Christmas shopping is way more fun when you take your little sister along; that would be your super-religious daughter-of-the-devil little sister, of course.

Installment four of this series has Betsy looking for a serial killer with her newest ghost companion, Cathie; the queen also meets the oldest vampire going who invites her to write a newspaper column about what its like to be vampire queen; and Betsy and Laura get to meet their new sibling. All this, plus a special guest appearance by the devil.

Merry Christmas, everyone!

16 August 2010

Undead and Unappreciated


By Mary Janice Davidson
Published by The Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
July 2005

Elizabeth Taylor (Betsy, to her friends) is the undead queen of the vampires. She has a very sexy on again/off again relationship with her consort, Eric Sinclair. Her friends and family know she is undead and mostly, they are okay with it. She lives in a mansion owned by her best friend Jessica.

That brings us up to speed. Undead and Unappreciated is installment three of the Undead and... series. This time around, Betsy meets her half-sister, Laura, who is quite literally the spawn of the devil and destined to rule the world. Also, the employees of Scratch - the vampire nightclub Betsy inherited when she killed Monique the evil vampire in a previous novel - have decided to go on strike.

I quite like this series because (a) even though there are lots of killings and feedings the stories are not scary (b) Betsy's sarcasm for everything cracks me up (c) the chick-lit/romance aspects of the story are a nice mix with the vampire lifestyle.

If you're looking for vampires that are snarky and sexy (as opposed to sparkly and sulky) this series is for you.

11 August 2010

Girl in a Blue Dress


By Gaynor Arnold
Emblem edition published in Canada in 2010
Emblem is an imprint of McClelland & Stewart Ltd.

"A Novel Inspired by the Life and Marriage of Charles Dickens"
The One and Only, the Great Original, Alfred Gibson is dead. His wife, Dorothea, is not at his funeral; she is not welcome. Alfred's mistress, however, is in attendance, as is most of England, all mourning the death of the great author, actor, and playwright. To his Public, Alfred Gibson is a genius, a benefactor to those who need help, and a family man through and through. To Dorothea, Alfred is a man who can rewrite his life with the stroke of a pen, forcing her to leave her home and family after twenty years of marriage.

Gaynor Arnold's first novel is a heartbreaking story of what may or may not have happened between Charles and Catherine Dickens, transformed into this work of fiction as Alfred and Dorothea Gibson. What started as a true romance shifts into a desperation on Alfred's part to rid his family of Dorothea so he may pursue his life as he wishes.

Told from Dorothea's point of view, we are swept away on her every emotion from her first meeting with Alfred to the night she leaves the family without saying goodbye to her children in person:
"...So I had to creep round the bedrooms after you were all asleep and say good-bye to each of you in the silence of my heart."

Alfred's funeral is the starting point of the novel and Dorothea takes us on a trip through the present and the past to give us a full picture of Alfred the husband and Alfred the public figure. The Public forgives Alfred everything he does because he is a larger-than-life character; Dorothea may not forgive so easily.

This is a sad story, but well told and very hard to put down. To me, saddest of all is this quote from the Author's Note:
"Above all, in Dorothea Gibson I have tried to give voice to the largely voiceless Catherine Dickens, who once requested that her letters from her husband be preserved so that 'the world may know he loved me once'."

06 August 2010

A Royal Pain


By Rhys Bowen
Published by the Penguin Group
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2009

In Book II of the Royal Spyness Mysteries, we find
Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the late Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, granddaughter of the least attractive of Queen Victoria's daughters, half-sister to Hamish (present Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch), thirty-fourth in line to the throne, still in London, still holding her own in the workforce, and still spying on the Prince of Wales. That pesky Wallis Simpson is everywhere and the Queen is worried the Prince is spending too much time with Mrs. Simpson and not enough time on his royal duties.

Much to my delight, Georgie and Mrs. Simpson often find themselves in the same social circles and their repartee often leaves me in fits of giggles.

Royal snooping aside, Georgie plays host to a Bavarian princess, finds herself involved with the local communist party, and discovers that bad things come in threes: that would be three deaths in one week.

Bowen writes exceptionally well about British society in the 1930s, from the lowly street beggar to royalty itself, and I find myself feeling as if I'm a character watching from the sidelines instead of merely sitting on my chesterfield reading a novel.

With its good humour, good plot, and blockbuster ending, you won't want to miss installment II of this series.

05 August 2010

The Perfect Man

By Sheila O'Flanagan
First published in paperback in 2010 by Headline Review
An imprint of Headline Publishing Group

Britt McDonagh, hard-nosed divorce lawyer, has written a romance novel entitled "The Perfect Man" and it has hit all the best seller lists. She agrees to talk about her novel and offer some writing tips on board a cruise ship during a two-week Valentine Cruise and takes her single-mom sister, Mia, with her to act as her PA.

Britt has a hard time reconciling her hard-hearted lawyer self with her softer, romantic self, so she writes the novel under the name Brigitte Martin and presents herself to the world as a glamorous woman, which is quite unlike the heartbroken divorced woman she actually is.

Mia's past includes a passionate affair in Guatemala which produced a daughter. The relationship never sustained itself, but four years on Mia still loves Alejo and can't move on.

"The Perfect Man" is, of course, a romance novel; what else could it be when a Valentine Cruise is so conducive to love? As usual O'Flanagan has hit the nail on the head in the romance department.

Also as usual, O'Flanagan delves deep into family relationships. The unfolding story of Britt and Mia - who had never been exceptionally close but were now roomies for the duration of the cruise - show us exactly how siblings can be.

O'Flanagan also takes us inside the life of a best-selling novelist; the doubts of a writer, how to take an idea and make it into a book, and what happens when the writing takes over. Perhaps O'Flanagan was referring to herself when she wrote this paragraph after Britt questions herself on what to do with her book's characters:

"They're not real people, she reminded herself sharply. I can do whatever I like with them. But she knew she couldn't. She knew that they were the only ones who were calling the shots. She just hoped they knew what they were doing."

I knew what I was doing when I purchased this book - Sheila O'Flanagan never, ever disappoints.

02 August 2010

Fly Away Home


By Jennifer Weiner
Published by Atria Books
A Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
July 2010

Jennifer Weiner has always written good books; I've read them all. But with last year's "Best Friends Forever" and now her latest novel, "Fly Away Home", Weiner seems to have taken on a new maturity and complexity in her writing. While previous novels seemed to centre around one main character, "Fly Away Home" is about a family, each character given an equal story, each story drawing the reader into the family.

US politicians cheating on their wives makes for a good story in real life and it makes for an excellent story here. What does a fifty-something wife do with this kind of news after she has spent her entire married life devoted to her husband, furthering his political ambitions? What do you do when your duties as a wife outweighed your duties as a mother - your every waking hour being consumed by life as a senator's spouse - and now you've been replaced by a younger version of you?

When Richard Woodruff's family finds out about his "transgression" each member embarks on a life-changing journey of their own. Wife Sylvie retreats to her childhood summer home in Connecticut; married daughter Diana, an ER physician, has to come to grips with her own affair with a med student; and single daughter Lizzie, having just come out of rehab, has to adjust to life without drugs or alcohol.

While each character's story is compelling, the minor players in the book bring out Weiner's comedic side - Gary, mouth-breathing husband of Diana; acerbic-tongued retired judge Selma, Sylvie's mother; and Sylvie's best friend, Ceil, round out the characters and make the book a little less serious.

This book has intrigued me more than any other Weiner has written. It's serious and funny, heart-breaking and loving. It's based on what we hear in the news, but brings us where the news never goes, which is into the heart of a family on the verge of splitting apart. "Fly Away Home" is Weiner's best novel yet.

29 July 2010

Dirty Rotten Tendrils


By Kate Collins
First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, October 2010
ARC courtesy of Kate Collins

Reality TV has come to New Chapel. Or, at least the winner of America's Next Hit Single has. Cody Verse has returned to sue his former writing partner; however, court proceedings are halted when Verse's lawyer is found dead. The suspects are rounded up, including Cody Verse, his former writing partner, his partner's grandparents, his celebrity girlfriend, and Attorney Dave Hammond. Hammond hires private detective Marco Salvare and flower shop owner Abby Knight to clear his name and off we go into adventure number ten of the Flower Shop Mysteries.

Collins had me giggling a fair bit whilst I read this book - her use of puns and wordplay is always spot on but she outdid herself here (writing partners Chapper and Verse got me going). And any time Abby's extended family makes an appearance, I'm all for it. After all, these are the characters we've grown to love and their position in the story can either help or hinder Abby's investigation.

It's all here: a mystery to solve, a romance to enjoy, and some jaw-dropping plot developments. Dirty Rotten Tendrils is not available until October, so mark your calendars!

28 July 2010

The Return Journey


By Maeve Binchy
Publishing history:
Delacorte Press hardcover edition published March 1998
Dell mass market edition published June 1999
Dell Trade paperback edition / June 2007

The good thing about short stories is that if you don't like them, they are finished quickly. The bad thing about short stories is that if you do like them, they are finished quickly. The short stories in this book are perfect; they end in a satisfactory place, but you always want to know just a tiny bit more about the characters.

"The Home Sitter" tells of a couple who hire Allie to house-sit for a few months while they are away. The husband is besotted with Allie, which brings out feelings of insecurity in the wife who immediately concludes the two will have an affair. To make matters worse, they return many months later to find Allie has befriended every neighbour, something the couple has never done.

In "Package Tour" friends Shane and Moya spend many months planning a trip together. A romance slowly simmers but, as the departure date nears, Shane and Moya discover that the choice of luggage and how one packs can make or break a relationship.

"Cross Lines" is a story of travellers who judge each other by how they are dressed, but change their initial impressions after being seated together on the plane.

Binchy writes her characters as real human beings with believable story lines. As always, her stories are a treat to read and easy to recommend.

21 July 2010

Garden Spells


By Sarah Addison Allen
Published by Bantam Dell
Bantam Discovery trade paperback edition / May 2008

Claire Waverley lives by herself in the old family home where she runs a successful catering business, the success of which comes from the magical herbs and flowers grown in her garden. Claire was brought to this house when she was six by her mother who later abandoned her and her sister, Sydney, to be brought up by their grandmother.

Sydney left town when her high school sweetheart broke up with her. Ten years later, with a child of her own, Sydney is drawn back to the life she swore she would never have again.

Now, Claire and Sydney have to come to grips with their past and decide how to deal with the Waverley legacy.

Sarah Addison Allen takes you into a magical world where eating apples can tell your future, where you glow with colour when you're in love, where unexpected presents will always have a future use, and where the world is perfect when multi-coloured sparkles rain down on your face.

Simply put, this novel is enchanting.

19 July 2010

Sleeping with Anemone


By Kate Collins
Published by New American Library
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, February 2010

Episode nine of the life and times of Abby Knight, owner of Bloomers Flower Shop and part-time sleuth, is yet another clever mystery by Kate Collins.

Abby's flower shop is trashed, three attempts are made to kidnap her, her mother's art keeps getting stolen from Bloomers, the flower shop receives a burning brick tossed through a window, Abby receives threatening mail, and Marco decides Abby needs twenty-four-hour protection. Plus, the Knights and Salvares are putting pressure on Abby and Marco to get engaged. Plus, plus, Abby is protesting against Uniworld's use of hormones in cows. Plus, plus, plus, there's a murder.

As usual, Collins has written a terrific story involving mystery, suspense, friends, family, and love of the Marco and Abby variety, which means you can't put it down until it's done and then wonder what you'll read while you're waiting for the next installment.

16 July 2010

Tell It To The Skies


By Erica James
Published in Great Britain in 2007 by Orion Books,
an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group Ltd.

Lydia has a secret past. She lives in Venice now and nobody there knows anything about her. But, as always, the past has a way of catching up with you when you least expect it. For Lydia, the past becomes the present twenty-eight years after leaving England. It all starts with a glimpse of a face Lydia thought she would never see again.

Raised partly by her parents, partly by her grandparents, but mostly by herself, Lydia does what she can to make life bearable for her and her sister, Valerie. Not able to trust easily, Lydia has few friends and those friends she has suspect Lydia's life is not quite what she's letting on.

Known for her beautiful romance novels, Erica James has taken a chance with this book and has written a cruel and heart-breaking account of a childhood nobody should have to endure and of a life spent trying to make it better. As always, though, James has written a book you can't put down until you reach a happy ending.

11 July 2010

Evil in Carnations


By Kate Collins
First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin group (USA) Inc.
First printing, February 2009

Abby Knight, owner of Bloomers Flower Shop, convinces her roommate, Nikki, to attend a speed dating event. Nikki picks the smarmiest guy in the room and then kills him. Well, that's what the police think. So, Marco and Abby band together to try to get Nikki off the hook.

What I like most about this novel is that both Abby's and Marco's families play a role, which always brings a fun and interesting flavour to Collins' books. I like the interaction of the main characters with their families and what that brings to the investigation, as well as the part the families play in the love lives of Abby and Marco. Pure fun.

But, back to the mystery at hand. Did Nikki really kill her date? Or do Abby and Marco find the killer after investigating a wide array of suspects? Once again, Collins has filled her novel with lots of juicy characters, a good plot, and a fun Abby and Marco storyline.

Shoots to Kill


By Kate Collins
First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, August 2008

Let me just say upfront that this is by far my favourite Flower Shop Mystery (#7 in the series).

Abby Knight, owner of Bloomers Flower Shop, has her identity stolen and is a suspect in a murder investigation. This was a brilliant plot by Collins and it had me intrigued from the first page because it was actually more than Abby's identity that was stolen, it was her life, her looks, and possibly her boyfriend, Marco Salvare.


Besides the regular cast of characters - Lottie, Grace, Marco, Nikki, and Abby's parents - this book has two of the most interesting characters Collins has ever written: siblings Elizabeth and Oliver Blume. These characters are so well written they bring out a parade of emotions in the reader; you enjoy them, are irritated by them, feel sorry for them, wish something more for them.

While I wanted the mystery solved, I was sorry to come to the end of this book. I was so caught up in the characters and what makes them tick that I could have read more. If you only read one book in this series, read this one. But, really, just read them all.

A Rose From the Dead


By Kate Collins
First published by Obsidian, an imprint of New American Library,
a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First printing, December 2007

Abby Knight is the owner of Bloomers Flower Shop. She shares an apartment with her best friend, Nikki, and she dates PI hottie Marco Salvare. How does a florist get involved in a criminal investigation? In this episode of the Flower Shop Mysteries (#6 of the series), Bloomers has a booth at a funeral directors' convention. A murder occurs and the police suspect Abby's friend, Delilah Dove.

Throwing herself full tilt into the investigation to clear her friend's name, Abby gets herself mixed up with twin pranksters, an eco-warrior who believes in "green" burials, and a harpist who likes to record the sound of departing souls. Of course, Marco is there every step of the way.

I like the way Collins always plays Abby and Marco off each other - the banter is realistic and you can see their love lives progress throughout the series.

While Abby's escapades usually take place around the court house square, this book takes place mostly at the funeral directors' convention. Collins manages to make a convention about death an interesting place to be and some well placed jokes and puns about the funeral industry in general brought a smile to my face.

A good plot with some interesting twists, lots of fun along the way, and another murder solved by Abby Knight (or was it Marco?).

01 July 2010

A Vintage Affair


By Isabel Wolff
Published by HarperCollins Publishers Ltd.
First Canadian Edition 2009

After working in the textiles department at Sotheby's for a number of years, thirty-three-year-old Phoebe Swift decides to take her clothing expertise and open a vintage clothing shop. Running the shop consumes all of Phoebe's time, which is fine by her as her personal life is a shambles - she's single again, her parents have divorced, and now Phoebe has a baby brother. And she carries a huge, painful secret with her always.

In the course of viewing and purchasing vintage clothing for the shop, Phoebe meets Therese Bell, a woman in her eighties who carries her own huge, painful secret.

This book is so much more than meets the eye. The cover has a romantic feel, the tag line is full of romance, so you're fully prepared to read a lovely romance novel. But the secrets these women hold, how their friendship develops, and how their secrets are finally revealed will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Wolff's descriptions of the clothing in the book are exquisite; you can see every detail, every stitch, come to life. But the personal stories of two women are what keep you turning the pages. Well done, Ms. Wolff!

29 June 2010

Vanishing Acts


By Jodi
Picoult
Published by Simon and Schuster, Inc.
Washington Square Press trade paperback edition November 2005

Vanishing Acts is a book of memory. Is what we remember really what happened? Are childhood memories really remembered or are they a mix of partial memory and stories we've been told? If you were traumatised, would you remember? Would you want to?

As usual, Jodi Picoult doesn't just engage our reading mind, she engages our questioning mind. You simply cannot read one of her novels without bringing away a hundred questions and wondering what people you know would do if placed in the same situation as Picoult's characters.

This novel centres around Delia Hopkins, who works with her bloodhound to find missing persons. The other characters revolve around Delia: Eric, her fiance; Sophie, her 5-year-old daughter; Fitz, her lifelong friend; and Andrew, her father.

Delia has memories she can never quite place, but she is forced to come face to face with them the day the police arrive at her door to make an arrest.

We are taken from New Hampshire to Arizona via the court system never knowing which characters to trust or believe. What you can believe is this is another Jodi Picoult page-turner from beginning to end.

25 June 2010

It Must Be Love


By Sharon Owens
Published by Poolbeg Press Ltd.
2008

Sarah Quinn is about to have a beautiful Christmas wedding at a Scottish manor owned by her fiance, Mackenzie Campbell. All her friends envy her for snagging the gorgeous, older Mackenzie. On the eve of the wedding, Sarah overhears Mackenzie talking to his best friend. What she hears in this conversation prompts her to leave the manor in the middle of the night, eventually ending up at the Irish seaside.

This is where the book really picks up speed. After all, small town life is invariably more interesting than city life; everybody knows everybody's business and the quirks of townspeople stand out far more than in a big city.

Owens' storytelling style is straightforward; no time-shifting, no extraneous information to divert from the story, and in an easy-to-read manner. While this novel is billed as a romance (and there's lots of it), there are also other stories to draw you in - drugs, crime, a bit of a mystery and, believe it or not, even a fetish thrown in for good measure.

Perhaps my favourite characters in this book are Sarah's parents, Agatha and Richard. Owens gives them the best comedic lines and I had more than a few chuckles whilst enjoying sentences such as this description of Agatha's disapproval of a matter:

"Mrs Quinn pursed her lips until she could have fitted them through the eye of a needle."

Owens pulls a lot of characters into this book, but she gives each one a good storyline, one story weaving into the next, with satisfactory resolutions to all stories at the end.

23 June 2010

World Without End


By Ken Follett
Published by Penguin Group (USA) Group
First printing, October 2007

There is nothing like a good saga to keep a reader riveted to the story to the very end. At just over a thousand pages the ending to this novel was a long time coming, but every word brings you further and further absorbed into the world of the four main characters - Caris, Merthin, Gwenda, and Ralph.

The book jacket sets up the story rather nicely:

"On the day after Halloween, in the year 1327, four children slip away from the cathedral city of Kingsbridge. They are a thief, a bully, a boy genius, and a girl who wants to be a doctor. In the forest they see two men killed."

World Without End does not pick up where Pillars of the Earth finished. It is now two hundred years later and, while the central characters have changed, the setting is still fictional Kingsbridge, England, where nuns and monks and townspeople vie for control of the city and all that happens in it.

As in Pillars, Follett spends a great deal of time explaining medieval architecture, from bridges, to churches, to hospitals. It's extremely interesting and the story wouldn't be complete without it; it is an insight into how various guilds came into being and to how the style of architecture changed over time and from one country to the next.

The real story, however, lies with the characters - Caris, who has always wanted to be a doctor; brothers Merthin and Ralph, one who wants to become a knight and one who actually becomes one; poor Gwenda who can never seem to fight her way out of poverty; and the nuns and monks of Kingsbridge. There are wars, plagues, greed, revenge, and religious in-fighting, and through it all a city grows, lovers meet and part, lives begin and end.

As I said, this novel is a saga. Be prepared to spend some time reading it, then be prepared to miss it when it's done.

15 June 2010

Theodore Boone, Kid Lawyer



By John Grisham
Published by Dutton Children's Books
a division of Penguin Young Readers Group
May 2010
ARC courtesy of Penguin Group (Canada)

Theodore Boone is going to be the new hero for every young reader out there. He's smart, funny, studies hard, and dispenses legal advice to his schoolmates. Theo has picked up most of his legal knowledge from his parents (both of whom are lawyers) and from spending his free time hanging out at the courthouse chatting about legal cases with judges, lawyers, secretaries, and bailiffs.

Grisham has taken his legal expertise and given it all to this character - and it works. Theo doesn't come off as a 13-year-old know-it-all, but as someone who has a real interest in law and who genuinely likes to help his schoolmates. His legal limits are tested, however, when he is drawn into a murder trial after acquiring knowledge about the accused from a witness who is reluctant to come forward.

Using a clear and concise style to explain somewhat complicated American legal terminology to young readers, Grisham has hit the mark with a good mixture of drama, intrigue, and suspense.

This is the perfect book for young teens. Even the well-past-it teens will enjoy it. I happily await Theo's next case.

11 June 2010

My Fair Lazy


By Jen Lancaster
Published by New American Library
a division of Penguin Group
First Printing May 2010
ARC courtesy of Penguin Group (Canada)

Full title of this book: My Fair Lazy, A Memoir, One Reality Television Addict's Attempt to Discover If Not Being a Dumb Ass is the New Black, or a Culture-Up Manifesto.


There is no substance to this book; it's snarky instead of humourous. The constant use of footnotes is annoying as they only serve to add a sarcastic remark to an already sarcastic sentence. This style of writing is good for short pieces (i.e. a blog post or a short story) but is grating when faced with an entire novel.

Possibly Lancaster is fun in real-life, but she comes across as a real pain in this memoir and I couldn't take any more of her life past page 155.

Does Lancaster succeed in her quest to experience new cultural horizons and improve her interactions with human beings? I don't know, because I don't care.

05 June 2010

California Demon


By Julie Kenner
Published by the Penguin Group
June 2006

"My name is Kate Connor, and I'm a Demon Hunter."

Thus begins our love affair with Kate, her family, her friends, husband number one (who is dead), demons, and the damned. Yes, Kate hunts demons; she manages to fit it in between volunteering at the old-age home, raising two kids, and helping her husband with his political campaign. She works for Forza Scura, which is a secret arm of the Vatican (and which is probably more thoroughly explained in the first book of the demon-hunting soccer mom series, "Carpe Demon"). Although this is the second book in the series, it was quite easy to pick up the story.

In this episode, Kate discovers a mysterious demon book with blank pages, fights off demons who want their book returned, tries to control her boy-crazy daughter, and gets strange vibes off the new teacher at the high school. The fight scenes are exciting (who knew the damage you could do with a knife and some holy water?) and show the depths of Kenner's research into various methods of self-defence.

I picked up this book based on Kenner's Codebreaker Trilogy which I couldn't put down and foisted upon everyone I knew who could read, so I was pretty sure this was going to be a series I would like. If you like ass-kicking, demon-hunting, family-loving soccer moms, this is a series for you.

04 June 2010

Promises to Keep



By Jane Green
Published by the Penguin Group
Available 05 June 2010
ARC courtesy of Penguin Group (Canada)

Jane Green's new novel is different from her other novels for two reasons. One, it is infused with recipes and, two, it made me cry.

The recipes tie in nicely with Steffi's storyline; she is a vegan chef who, at thirty-three, has yet to find a permanent job (or a permanent lifestyle, for that matter). Food also plays a fitting role in the book as a nice backdrop to the moods of the characters.

Steffi's sister, Callie, is a forty-three-year-old photographer, mother of two, with a husband and lifestyle most of us would envy.

While the book centres around Steffi and Callie, Green - as always - makes the lives of the minor characters just as interesting, introducing them and then deftly weaving their stories with Steffi's and Callie's until we see the whole picture. I was completely smitten with Callie's best friend, Lila. Lila is one of the best characters Green has ever written; she is humourous, self-aware, and straightforward, and Green has used all those traits to perfection.

I like the UK title for this book - The Love Verb - much better because this book is all about love. Whether it be parental love, married love, best friend love, sisterly love, or a love that is taken, Green brings to light what it takes to give and receive love in the most difficult of circumstances.

Only Jane Green can keep me up at night, laughing, crying, and enjoying the kind of book only she can write. Run out and buy this book, and then say goodbye to those you know for a few days because you won't want to be interrupted while you read!

01 June 2010

Her Royal Spyness


By Rhys Bowen
Published by the Penguin Group
Berkley Prime Crime mass-market edition / July 2008

If I were twenty-one in 1932, who would I want for a best friend? Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, daughter of the late Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch, granddaughter of the least attractive of Queen Victoria's daughters, half-sister to Hamish (present Duke of Glen Garry and Rannoch), thirty-fourth in line to the throne - known to her friends as Georgie.

Times are tough in 1932 and Georgie's brother Hamish (called Binky) has cut off Georgie's allowance. Living in a Scottish castle with Binky and Fig (Binky's snooty spouse), Georgie decides to move to the family house in London and see what she can do to support herself. She's really not prepared for much in the way of employment:

"I, meanwhile, had been shipped off to finishing school in Switzerland, where I was having a spiffing time mixing with the naughty daughters of the rich and famous. We learned passably good French and precious little else except how to give dinner parties, play the piano, and walk with good posture."

Once in London, Georgie soon gets herself reacquainted with some old friends from the finishing school, and they don't always lead her down the respectable path expected of a Lady. Throw in Georgie's various jobs, an attempt at blackmail, a dead body in the bathtub, a much-married mother, and a rather roguish (though handsome) Irish peer, and you've got a delightful novel. And - I almost forgot - the Queen would like Georgie to spy on the married lover of the Prince of Wales.

Overall, Georgie is a smart, witty, enjoyable character in a smart, witty, enjoyable book. I'm looking forward to reading more of this series.

30 May 2010

The Bishop's Man




By Linden MacIntyre
Published by Random House Canada
2009

The Bishop's Man is a novel both engrossing and frustrating. The story is told through Father Duncan MacAskill and centres around his life as the priest who other priests hate to see coming; the priest sent by the bishop to make priests who are caught up in any kind of scandal - sexual or otherwise - disappear. That's the engrossing bit. The frustrating bit is the constant time-shifting MacIntyre employs in order to tell MacAskill's story. It's summer, it's winter, he's old, he's young, he's in Honduras, he's in Toronto, he's in Cape Breton. Enough already.

The book gets off to a slow start and if I hadn't been reading this for a book club, I probably would have stopped a few chapters in. But perseverance pays off. MacAskill's decline into alcoholism and mental despair was exceptionally well-written. In fact, MacIntyre's tone throughout made you feel the isolation of the parish, the sadness of those touched by sexual abuse, and the loneliness of a man who dreams of experiencing life outside the priesthood. MacIntyre stepped away from writing graphic scenes of sexual abuse, and he didn't need to - you hated the perpetrators and felt the pain of the victims anyway.

MacAskill performed his priestly duties for the bishop, but not without questioning the actions of the church and, eventually, himself. There are moments when you despise him, moments when you tolerate him, and moments when you wish he would stop being tormented and find peace.

I liked this book although it left me feeling quite hollow. Whether that was the intention of the author or not was one of the topics covered by the Bool Club (that's not a typo...long story).

Out of the four females involved in today's discussion, I was the only person who liked the book. Booler CB liked it well enough, but I don't think it topped her list of books to recommend to friends; Booler NS didn't like the book; and Booler PC couldn't find it in her heart to even finish it. So, there were some diverse opinions floating around. All agreed, however, on the overall bleakness of the story - setting a novel about sexual abuse, suicide, and religion against a backdrop of dead-of-winter Cape Breton was downright depressing.

The Bishop's Man won the 2009 Giller Prize. While the majority of the Bool Club wouldn't recommend this novel, I do.

27 May 2010

Comfort Food

By Kate Jacobs
Published by the Penguin Group
Berkley Trade Paperback Edition /April 2009

Cooking show host Gus Simpson has two daughters, two cats, a best friend, and a nineteen-room manor house. Sounds dull. What if I said fifty-year-old cooking show host Gus Simpson is on the verge of losing her long-running TV series unless she teams up with Spanish hottie (former beauty queen and aspiring TV host) Carmen Vega? What if those two daughters are still dealing with unexplored feelings from their father's death more than ten years earlier? What if Gus' next-door neighbour and BFF spent her days hiding from her past? Sounds way more intriguing, doesn't it?

Jacobs builds a lovely story about family, friends, love, and career, all centered around a cooking channel show, with a behind-the-scenes insight into how these shows are filmed, and how food - as always - brings everyone together.

It's not a complicated story, but I read it swiftly and missed it when I wasn't reading it. This novel was exactly what it said it was - Comfort Food.

24 May 2010

A Dubious Legacy


By Mary Wesley
Published by Black Swan
Originally published in Great Britain by Bantam Press, 1992

The synopsis on the back of this novel is what intrigued me:

"Henry brought his new bride, Margaret, to Cotteshaw in 1944. On the threshold she gave him a black eye and went straight to bed where she remained, apart from the occasional malevolent outburst, for the rest of her life."

With a wife in bed, what does Henry do for entertainment? He invites friends for dinner, sleeps around, hangs out with the gay couple down the road, brings his dogs everywhere, never gets over his first love. It all sounds like a bit of a comedy, yet it's not.

Two of the books main characters - Antonia and Barbara - are introduced early on and Wesley makes it easy for the reader to get caught up in their lives as they evolve from the greenest of girls to married middle-aged women, their lives constantly intersecting with Henry's and Margaret's.


I like Wesley's style, particularly the fact that she doesn't dumb down any of her books - if you don't understand it, she's not explaining it to you. She uses a vocabulary now considered old-fashioned or too cumbersome, but these words are what give her characters their depth and what sets Wesley apart from many other writers.

Mary Wesley once commented that her "chief claim to fame is arrested development, getting my first novel published at the age of seventy". From all accounts, Wesley led a fascinating life, which left her with lots to draw on for writing her novels (see this Wikipedia article for more http://bit.ly/18w4bw ).

A Dubious Legacy is sophisticated, sexy, and funny. Another fine book from the Mary Wesley library.

19 May 2010

Rumors


By Anna Godbersen
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
First paperback edition, 2009

Rumors is a Luxe novel; which is to say it is part of a series of books that centres around Manhattan society at the turn of the twentieth century. While I'm sure I am well out of the age range meant to be targeted by these books, I am totally caught up in them and look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Rumors picks up where the first book in the series - The Luxe - left off. I won't tell you where that is because if you haven't read the first book, I don't want to be the one to spoil it for you. However, the book continues with the same flare for gossipy girls, snooty heiresses, ill-mannered boys, and interfering servants, all of which make for some interesting and unforeseen plot twists.

I'm sure part of the fun of writing about socialites during this time period is what this era allows you to do; suspense can be drawn on the strength of a note passed from one grand house to another (via servants, of course) - no texting, no phoning, no emailing - and the tension in awaiting a reply can be unbearable. And, of course, a lady has a strict code of conduct to live by, which means everything forbidden is that much more exciting.

These books are well written with a good main storyline to draw you in. Many thanks to my niece who generously loaned me the first two books in the series. Be warned, sweet niece, I'm on my way over for more!!

15 May 2010

You Better Not Cry


By Augusten Burroughs
Published by St. Martin's Press
November 2009

If you've read anything by Augusten Burroughs, you know he's led a fantastical, demented life. I don't always believe everything he writes, but I certainly enjoy his writing style.

In this book of short stories for Christmas, Burroughs made me laugh out loud, shake my head in disbelief, and catch my breath at the beauty of his writing. How much love do you carry for one single person in your life that will make you write:

"Because he will grip you by the shoulders and wrench you around and he will bring his bristly mouth to yours and blow stars down your throat until you are so full of light."

Beautiful.

On the other hand, the first story - which details Burrough's childhood confusion of Jesus and Santa had me roaring with laughter.

With respect to the messed-up messages of watching Christmas shows on television:

"...Jesus brings presents to all the poor, foreign, and crippled children and Santa brings presents to the regular children, like me."

And explaining his confusion to his grandmother:

"But then I heard this song called, 'Here Comes Santa Claus' and it goes, 'Hang your stockings and say your prayers, 'cause Santa Claus comes tonight,' and I realized, 'say your prayers' means they are the same person. It's just that, most of the year, Jesus is naked except for his little rag and his thorn hat and then on Christmas, he puts on his good red suit."

To put it in text-messaging parlance - LOL!!

Write more books, Augusten Burroughs (and send them all directly to me)!

14 May 2010

My Name Is Memory


By Ann Brashares
Published by the Penguin Group
June 2010
ARC courtesy of Penguin Group (Canada)

I was really looking forward to reading this book. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series and I couldn't wait to throw myself into this new book billed as "The story of a love that lasts more than a lifetime".

Daniel and Sophia have met and fallen in love at various points throughout history. The book begins in 2004 when Daniel and Sophia are in high school. Daniel recognises Sophia (now Lucy), but Sophia only begins to have memories of Daniel at the Senior Ball, the last event of their high school days.

After that, I pretty much stopped reading.

The portions of Daniel describing his past lives and "memory' are tedious and I started to skip over them around page 68. Time shifting is not something I like at the best of times, but this was poorly done and rather preachy in tone. I gave up any hope of finishing this book at page 111.

The first two pages were skilfully written and set the book up rather nicely for what could have been an interesting and fascinating story. It's hard to fall in love with a love story when your attention is diverted by badly written time warps. We already know Daniel realises he has been born many times over. The stronger part of the story was Lucy getting in touch with her past lives, but there was so much going on in the book, I stopped caring.

A disappointment.

02 May 2010

Scottish Girls About Town


By Jenny Colgan, Isla Dewar, Muriel Gray, and sixteen other Scottish women authors
Published by Downtown Press
Originally published in Great Britain and Ireland in 2003 by Pocket Books

As with the other "About Town" books (Irish Girls About Town, American Girls About Town, and Irish Girls are Back in Town), Scottish Girls About Town is a compilation of short stories by many authors, with the proceeds of each book going to various UK charities. A splendid idea, and an excellent way to introduce readers to new authors.

Personally, I bought this book because I am a huge fan of Isla Dewar and this was a way to get my hands on something else she's written. In the Garden of Mrs. Pink is a wonderful short story set in 1972 Edinburgh. Abby is ten years old and her summer days are spent with ailing Grandpa Mac, who lives with Abby and her mother. Abby's mom is a widow who works her fingers to the bone trying to keep a roof over their heads and, in Abby's view, has ignored Abby. So, off Abby goes to find neighbourhood adventures and finds herself quite often chatting with a garden gnome in the garden of Mrs. Pink. Beautifully written, Dewar leads us through Abby's eye-opening summer where she meets Mrs. Pink and begins to understand her mother's life.

Other stories of note: FriendsRevisited.Com by Carmen Reid, Crossroads by Manda Scott, A True Romance by Shari Low, A Mixed Blessing by Aline Templeton, and Private Habits of Highly Effective Women by Abigail Bosanko. The other stories ranged from so-so to so poorly written that I didn't even finish reading them.

As mentioned, this book is a great way to check out authors you have never read, and I did find a few whose novels I'll be purchasing. All in all, this is a good book for those who like short stories.