29 June 2010

Vanishing Acts

By Jodi
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.

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.