28 February 2010

Blind Faith

By Ben Elton
Published by Transworld Publishers
Black Swan edition published 2008

What if everyone in the world behaved as if they were on a reality TV show? Would we have an egocentric culture? What if religious intolerance were thrown in? What if everyone was forced to think as a group and not have an ounce of independent thought?

I hate, hate, HATE this world Ben Elton has created. I suspect that's why he created it - to show us how easy it is to slip into a world where religious fervor is right and non-believers are wrong; where group thought is good and independent thought is bad; where every move is recorded and watched by your neighbours, your co-workers, strangers. There are parts of this book that made my stomach churn, and parts that made me angry, and parts that made me indignant, and parts that made me want to smack some heads together. This book brought on a lot of emotion, but it's a book that made me think, as well. How far are we from actually inhabiting this type of world?

Trafford Sewell is a thinking man in a non-thinking world. Set in the future, the world as we know it has experienced a flood (caused by either global warming or sent by God to rid the world of "Humanists"). Trafford doesn't accept the conditions he is forced to live in - a sweating, half-naked mass of humanity trapped in an over-populated, flooded London, where child mortality is high due to cholera, mumps, and measles (and the fact the Temple dictates that childhood vaccinations are an attempt to undercut God's will). In his attempt to find reason in an unreasonable place, Trafford discovers an existence beyond his expectations, but it's a secret, illegal existence that must be kept from the all-knowing eyes and ears of the Temple.

Elton has produced a story that seems a ridiculous concept, but you find yourself wondering how close we really are to this type of reality. How many of us would take a stand for something we believe in? Would it be easier to just go with the flow? Like I said, Elton makes you question yourself and your beliefs with this novel. I'll be a while yet trying to find the answers.

27 February 2010

The Seven Secrets of Happiness

By Sharon Owens
Published by the Penguin Group
First published 2010

Sometimes you just need to read a good old-fashioned romance novel. Thank you, Sharon Owens, for writing some of the best.

Although there's plenty of love in this book - looking for it, finding it, losing it - there's also plenty of heartbreak. Having a spouse die young should be a devastating experience, and Owens deals with the topic in a thoughtful, quiet manner, deftly guiding her readers through the pain of the experience while still infusing humour and touching moments throughout the book. And, of course, what's a romance novel without romance?

The book primarily centres around Ruby O'Neill, a lovely character trying to forge ahead with her life with the help of her best friend. Ruby's parents have their own little side story happening which is entertaining in itself and helps the reader to better understand Ruby's character. Enter Tom Lavery, Mark Crawford, and a host of bit players, and you have a thoroughly enjoyable novel.

Don't you love it when you're rooting for the characters to make a go of it in the romance department? Owens has once again hit the mark.

21 February 2010

The Heights

By Peter Hedges
Published by Dutton, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, March 2010

I was so wrong about this book. First, I thought it was a book for young adult readers. Then, I thought it quite possibly could be a weird sort of read because it was by the same author as "What's Eating Gilbert Grape", and the movie starred Johnny Depp, and Johnny Depp is known for being in bizarre movies, and the list goes on. Suffice to say, I apologise to Peter Hedges for my preconceived thinking, for here is a most interesting book about trust, betrayal, gossip, infatuation, love, and lust.

What I like best about this book is Hedges' ability to tell the story from the viewpoint of many different characters: Tim, the school teacher husband; Kate, the housewife turned breadwinner; Bea Myerly, the student who knows too much. There is a smoothness to the way Hedges writes and, although he is writing about everyday happenings, you want to read more and you want to read more now.

Hedges will bring you into the world of Brooklyn Heights with all its money and privileges, and then make you both yearn to be a part of this elite society and happy that you are not. Is love the same if you're rich? Is it easy to throw away what you have for an illusion? And what happens to the betrayed? This book reminds you that everyday life can lead to some of the most soul-crushing decisions we will ever make.

I feel like standing in the nearest bookstore and guiding people directly to this book so they don't miss it. If you weren't a Peter Hedges fan before, you will become one.

14 February 2010

The Book of Fires

By Jane Borodale
Published by Pamela Dorman Books/Viking
First published January 2010

The advance copy of this book has a most beautiful and striking cover - it's an illustration of fireworks exploding over London in the time period in which this book was set (1752). I was saddened to see the cover has changed to the one pictured here. I'm convinced that once you start putting beautiful girls on the covers of books - particularly if that book is written by a female - the only audience you're setting yourself up for is those who are expecting chick-lit. And this book is not chick-lit.

When seventeen-year-old Agnes Trussel discovers she is pregnant, she devises a plan to leave her village and make her way to London. Although her plan causes her to be deceitful, Agnes believes if she leaves the village she will not shame her family or be forced to marry the father of her child.

Upon arriving in London and swiftly losing her way, Agnes ends up at the home of John Blacklock who has advertised for the position of housekeeper. Agnes is hired, but instead of keeping house she becomes the apprentice to Blacklock, who makes fireworks.

Borodale seems to have channelled Tracy Chevalier with her beautiful descriptions of making the fireworks and how each chemical causes a different sort of explosion. The London world as seen through the eyes of apprentice Agnes is a scary yet wondrous place and, thanks to the amount of detail in this novel, you can imagine it perfectly.

Beautiful details, interesting characters, and unforeseen plot twists, make this an excellent first novel for Jane Borodale.