Saturday, November 29, 2008

181. When Twilight Burns

When Twilight Burns by Colleen Gleason
The Gardella Vampire Chronicles, Book 4

Pages: 354
Finished: Nov. 28, 2008
First Published: Aug. 2008
Genre: paranormal romance, historical romance
Rating: 3/5
Reason for Reading: Next in the series.

First sentence:

Victoria opened her eyes.

Comments: There isn't a lot I can say about the plot of this book. If you haven't read the series so far any synopsis would give away information from previous books and if you are a fan of the series you will be reading this book no matter what the plot it. One thing I will say, though, is that the action is back in London, which I enjoyed after the previous two books had been placed in Rome.

The was a quick read and just as readable and fun as the prior books in the series. I am disappointed in the ending even though I did suspect right from the beginning what her romantic decision would be. I had hoped things would turn out differently. I'm also surprised at how tame the ending was. Every other book in the series ended with a shattering blow to the story line with something totally unexpected happening. This one didn't have that and the book just kind of ended on a 'so what' note for me. Of course that won't stop me reading the final installment due out in 2009. I'm addicted to the characters and this series and can't wait to find out how it all ends in the last book.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

180. The Great Karoo

The Great Karoo by Fred Stenson

Pages: 484
Finished: Nov. 23, 2008
First Published: Sept. 2008
Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from Random House Canada.

First sentence:

The Concorde stagecoach had been a tarry, shining black when they left the train station in Calgary.

Comments: This is a tale of the Boer War and the Canadians who fought in it. The story focuses on the First Canadian Mounted Rifles and also briefly concerns the Royal Dragoons and the Lord Strathcona Horse (of which I was an army wife many years ago). These are all Canadian Mounted troops. While the book is about the war it mainly focuses on Frank Adams, an Albertan ranch hand, and the friends he goes to war with and the people he meets on the front line. The main focus is on the people and relationships and their reactions to the events around them but there is also a lot of background on the war and military politics.

This is a tough book for me to review as it really didn't do it for me, whatever "it" may be. A lot of characters are introduced right away; some are major characters, other minor and yet others who fleet in and out of the book. Typically I enjoy a large cast of characters in my books but I found it hard to identify with anyone and with two characters called Frank and Fred I frequently got mixed up and had to keep looking at the jacket flap to see which one was the main character. (Frank). The middle part of the book focuses on the military aspects of the war, the battles, the politics and I found that when characters starting dying (this is a war after all) it really didn't affect me as I'd never developed a relationship with them at this point and also up to this point I found the book a slow read. Though I never lost interest enough to put it down.

The last third of the book is when things seem to pick up. The characters are familiar enough to have some meaning to the reader and I found the story more interesting from this point on and found the ending satisfying. In summary, I found the book contained too much describing and telling rather than characterization and personally I'm all about the characters when it comes to books I love. The writing is good and while I wasn't thrilled with it; it did manage to keep me reading for close to 500 pages. It simply just didn't do "it" for me, for whatever reason. Your mileage may vary.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Toon Books

Toon Books are a new set of graphic novels aimed at the emerging reader. They are written and illustrated by professional artists/authors and are wildly intriguing for the young reader. My son who is reading at a Gr. 2 level enjoyed these immensely. The three I am reviewing are the second and latest set (Aug. 2008) to be released.

Jack and the Box by Art Spiegelman is printed in the traditional horizontal format of a picture book and is the easiest to read of these three. Large print and easy (K-1) vocabulary along with a funny story about a gift jack-in-the-box with a sense of humour; along with the wonderful illustrations make this an addictive read for children. If your child can read the title, they will be able to read the book. Lots of fun!

Stinky by Eleanor Davis is for a little more experienced reader (Gr. 1 -2). My son read this very well and he is one who struggles with reading. But the wonderful story of a Stinky swamp creature who hates clean little kids but meets a friend in a boy who seems to like the exact same mucky, gross things he does is an appealing story for boys. One that will keep kids reading just for the fun of it. Divided into chapters this book gives a good sense of accomplishment when finished by the emergent reader.

Mo and Jo: Fighting Together Forever by Dean Haspiel & Jay Lynch is again for the more experienced reader, divided into chapters and is the highest reading level of the lot, approx Gr.2-3. My struggling reader had some difficulties with the vocabulary but with a little help from Mum and Dad he was eager to read the super hero story. With both a girl and boy character this should appeal to both, though I think boys are going to love this one for sure. Every boy's dream of becoming a superhero comes true when Mo and Jo's mailman comes to their house and admits that he is the Mighty Mojo but he is retiring and would like to give them his costume which contains his powers.

As a parent I was thrilled with these enticing books that held my reluctant reader's interest and kept him reading page after page without any pressure from mum or dad to just try and read one more page. In fact we all liked them so much I've ordered the first three for Christmas presents this year and look forward to the next books that will published next year. These 'early readers' are a fabulous use of the graphic novel format.

Rating: 5/5

Sunday, November 16, 2008

179. Too Close To Home

Too Close to Home by Linwood Barclay

Pages: 404
Finished: Nov. 15, 2008
First Published: Sept. 2008
Genre: thriller
Rating: 4.5/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from Random House Canada.

First sentence:

Derek figured, when the time came, the crawlspace would be the best place to hide.
Comments: The Cutters live in a small community in upstate New York; they live far back from the road and share the first part of the driveway with their neighbours, the Langleys. Teenage Adam Langley and Derek Cutter are best friends. One evening the Langleys are cold bloodedly shot and killed in their own home. Derek is the last known person to have seen them alive and the police start to question the validity of his story. The Cutters soon start to realize that the answer to the murder is much closer to home than they thought.

Canadian writer, Linwood Barclay, has written several novels but this is my first time reading him. This is one of those few page-turning, read while you eat, stay up late into the night books. A very quick read for me that had plenty of suspense, twists and reveals along the way. Don't be too sure of yourself if you think you have it figured out, I kept changing my mind till near the end and the secrets that keep outing themselves will keep you guessing too. I most certainly will look into Barclay's backlist. If they are anything like this one, I'm sure to have found a new favourite author.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Canadian Book Challenge 2 Completed

A couple of posts ago I reviewed my last book for the Canadian Book Challenge 2 hosted by John. It is always a lot of fun to participate in this challenge as I've tried over the last few years to add more Canadiana to my reading and John's challenge helps me focus on that goal. In fact, I read an amazing number of Canadian authors these days! This challenge requested we read 13 books before Canada Day, 2009. I did not make a preliminary list but just went with the flow as a chose books. Here are the books I read:

1. The Seance by Iain Lawrence
2. The Horseman's Graves by Jacqueline Baker Saskatchewan
3. Newton and the Time Machine by Michael McGowan
4. The Shooting of Dan McGrew by Robert W. Service Yukon
5. The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson
6. Starclimber by Kenneth Oppel
7. Jolted by Arthur Slade
8. Getting the Girl by Susan Juby BC
9. Night Runner by Max Turner Ontario
10. Bookweird by Paul Glennon
11. The Shadow of Malabron by Thomas Wharton
12. My Name is Number 4 by Ting-Xing Ye
13. Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper

I enjoyed every book I read this year but my top 3 picks would be The Horseman's Graves, The Gargoyle and Night Runner.

178. The Line Painter

The Line Painter by Claire Cameron

Pages: 232
Finished: Nov. 13, 2008
First Published: 2007
Genre: literary fiction
Rating: 4/5
Award: Northern Lit Award
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from Chapters-Indigo Top Book Reviewer Program. Qualifies for the Book Awards Challenge.

First sentence:

I turned off the car and sat still.

Comments: This is a very difficult book to summarize as it is best to go into this book with only the knowledge that the book flaps give. Carrie's car breaks down in the middle of nowhere, way up in Northern Ontario. It is the middle of the night and her cell phone is getting a very small, off and on, signal. As anyone who knows Northern Ontario at night there is nothing but thick forests of trees, very dark, animal sounds and no other traffic to be seen. But Carrie does see a large truck slowly coming towards her that pulls over and asks if her car is broke. The man has a menacing aura about him and at first Carrie doesn't want to get in his truck but she eventually does and discovers he is a civic worker and he is on duty, his truck paints the lines on the roads.

Much happens in this story which had a genuine feel of an old B/W classic noir film. There is a sense of suspense and an unnerving feel throughout the book but I wouldn't classify this as belonging to the suspense genre. The book is about so much more. Carrie learns a lot about herself, comes to terms with her past and knows that her future will never be the same. What starts off as a road trip for Carrie ends up becoming the life defining ride of her life.

I really enjoyed this book. The suspense kept me firmly planted on the edge of my seat and as the plot revealed itself I quickly became aware that I was getting into something more than a suspense novel. Though the reader, just like Carrie, never really knows whether her safety is in jeopardy or not. A wonderful portrait of Northern Ontario, small town rural life and the eccentric characters who populate such places. A very satisfying read.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

177. Takeover

Takeover by Lisa Black
Theresa MacLean Mysteries, 1

Pages: 340
Finished: Nov. 10, 2008
First Published: Sept. 2008
Genre: Suspense
Rating: 4/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from Harper Collins Canada.

First sentence:

The sun had barely come up, and already it was too hot.

Comments: Theresa MacLean, forensic scientist, and her fiance, police detective Paul Cleary, are working the same case of a man found dead in the bushes in front of his home, while his wife and two-year old are nowhere to be found. Theresa goes off to take forensic details of the body at the hospital while Patrick goes to the Federal Reserve bank, where the man worked, to interview his coworkers. Patrick hardly steps foot in the place when two armed robbers takeover the bank and hold the people on the first floor hostage, including Patrick who pretends to be a bank worker while covering his gun so as not to alert the robbers to his police status.

What ensues is a page-turning, thrilling story of hostages, bank robbers with a plan bigger than anyone can imagine, professional negotiations and the terror involved in dealing with ones loved one in a hostage situation.

Very well written in a face-paced narrative with an unpredictable and not necessarily happy ending. Though I did guess one of the major twists fairly early on it didn't hamper my enjoyment of watching the plot unfold. A quick read, I read it in 24 hours, and a satisfying book for fans of suspense novels.

Monday, November 10, 2008

176. Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help

Milrose Munce and the Den of Professional Help by Douglas Anthony Cooper

Pages: 225
Finished: Nov. 9, 2008
First Published: 2007
Genre: YA, Gothic, fantasy, humour
Rating: 3.5/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from Random House Canada. Qualifies for the Canadian Reading Challenge.

First sentence:

Milrose Munce was on fine terms with the dead.

Comments: Milrose Munce has always been able to see ghosts and his school is full of them. He has especially made great friends with those on the third floor of the school where the chemistry labs are located. This school has seen its share of accidental deaths and every floor but the first is haunted with many ghosts. It seems though that Milrose has been seen talking to thin air and clapping the back of the air around him and he is sent for Professional Help. Just before he goes he meets a girl, Arabella, who can also see the ghosts and has also been sent to Professional Help. They soon learn that Professional Help is even more sinister than it sounds and they find themselves in a part of the school they never knew about which is actually between the walls. Milrose and Arabella set out to find out what happened to all those sent here before them as they try to find a way out with the help of their ghostly friends.

This book was a lot of fun with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. It has a dark Gothic feel to it and all the ghosts died fairly horrible deaths but over all the story is light and fun. Filled with magic, ghosts, exorcists and students who see dead people, readers who enjoyed such books as A Series of Unfortunate Events or the Pure Dead books by Debi Gliori will love this. I do recommend the book for the YA age group though as there is quite a bit of innuendo which is not quite s*xual but certainly is very close.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

175. Saye

Saye by Jeremy H. Walker
Saye, Book 1

Pages: 206
Finished: Nov. 7, 2008
First Published: 2007
Genre: YA, science fiction
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from the author.

First sentence:

In the Earth's night sky near the constellation Cepheus and by the brightest star to the east, there lies a number of planets.

Comments: On a desert planet inhabited by humanoid beings there has been a long war between the land beings and those of the five great lakes who are water beings living under the water. Once the war has been declared over and the water people believed to have been annihilated, along comes Saye. She is found by a member of the temple city and taken back there to be accepted into their protective fold; for it is obvious that Saye is a child of both races. However, the emperor of the land has vowed the war is not over until every one of the water people has been destroyed, including Saye.

What an absolutely delightful book! In just over two hundred pages Walker has managed to create a fully developed planet and two races of beings. The writing is beautiful and the narrative is almost like that of a fairy tale, weaving one under its spell. The main character is a strong female who is orphaned, alone and yet full of fighting spirit; not letting anyone take advantage of her.

The supporting characters are equally realistic and this book was a complete joy to read. I was swooped down into life on Valiku right from the opening page and became fascinated with the world and peoples Walker introduces us to. The book also contains illustrations by the author which are haunting pencil sketches that really add to the beauty of this story. Whether you call it fantasy or sci-fi, this is one of the best YA books of this genre I've read in the last couple of years. I haven't read any other reviews of this book on other blogs to date and I can't help but wonder why all the YA fantasy fans out there are not reading this book. Bring on Book 2 Mr. Walker! I am anxiously awaiting the continuation of this very unique story.

Friday, November 7, 2008

174. The Keepsake

The Keepsake by Tess Gerritsen
Book 7 Jane Rizzoli series

Pages: 509 (large-print edition)
Finished: Nov. 6, 2008
First Published: Sept, 2008
Genre: crime thriller
Rating: 4.5/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from Random House Canada.

First sentence:

He is coming for me.

Comments: Dr. Maura Isles is invited to a CAT scan of an Egyptian mummy recently found in the basement storage of a museum. During the scan a bullet appears in the "ancient" mummy's leg. Rizzoli and her partner are called in for the autopsy and the case begins when it is confirmed that the mummy is from modern times. More bodies are found in the form of various ancient burial preservations and Rizzoli and her partner discover they are on the path of a serial killer who has been at it for quite some time.

After my disappointment in Gerritsen's last book in this series The Mephisto Society, I am glad to say she is back to form in this fabulous crime thriller. Not only are the murders and the serial killer very unique, the plot is full of twists and turns and while I figured out part of the solution there was more to it that surprised me in the end. Not particularly gory (or perhaps I am becoming jaded) but certainly taught and tense. A page-turner and one of those books that you tell people "Be quiet, I'm at a good part!" quite frequently. As usual I look forward to Tess Gerritsen's next installment in this series.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

173. The 7th Victim by Alan Jacobson

The 7th Victim by Alan Jacobson
A Karen Vail Mystery, Book 1

Pages: 420
Finished: Nov. 4, 2008
First Published: Nov, 2008
Genre: crime thriller
Rating: 5/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from the author.

First sentence:

"Dispatch this is Agent Vail."

Comments: FBI Profiler Karen Vail is on the case of a serial killer who follows a ritualistic routine in his violent and gruesome murders of young brunettes. Karen also has some personality clashes with members of the squad and troubles in her personal life. She is recently divorced from a bitter, angry man and her son does not want to visit at his father's home anymore. She also must finally deal with the fact that her mother's Alzheimer's has reached the point where she needs constant supervision.

This murder case is taught and tense. The writing is gripping and it is evident the author has done his research. The characters are incredibly real and the plot is intense. Jacobson pulls no punches and twists and turns the plot until the reader is shocked with the ending results. Plus the author stuns the reader by solving the mystery just a little too far away from the end of the book making the reader wonder what could possibly happen next but this is where he then throws in his penultimate twist. I dare any reader to figure out "whodunit" before the final reveal.

One of the best stand-alones in this genre that I've read in quite some time. If you enjoy psychological suspense thrillers I can't recommend this book more highly. I am certainly intrigued enough by Jacobson's work here to go back and read his two previous books, False Accusations and The Hunted, and look forward to his next book.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

172. Regina's Closet

Regina's Closet: finding my grandmother's secret journal by Diana M. Raab

Pages: 166
Finished: Nov. 1, 2008
First Published: Sept. 30, 2008
Genre: memoir
Rating: 4.5/5
Reason for Reading: Received a Review Copy from the author.

First sentence:

I was ten years old the morning I found my grandmother dead.

Comments: This is the author's fascinating memoir of her beloved grandmother who killed herself in 1964. Her own mother comes to visit her and each time she brings some nostalgic memento from the past to pass on to her daughter. One year, she brings a portfolio of typewritten pages which turn out to be the grandmother's retrospective memoir written some years before the author's birth. Regina Klein, Jewish, was born in 1903 in Poland and lived through the first world war. Subsequently her family moved to Vienna, then Paris and lived there until the very early days of WWII. They were then fortunate enough to decide to emigrate to the United States before France could be invaded by the Germans.

Actual entries from the journal are used in the book with the author's comments interspersed throughout adding more detail and information for the reader. Thus aiding in a deeper understanding of this woman. After the journal ends Ms. Raab continues the story of her own birth and the life of Regina, both through the eyes of her childhood self and with the deeper insight of her adult self.

This is a short book, which is a very fast read that includes both photographs and copies of documents as well as a map of the pre-WWI area. This book isn't about anyone famous or heroic but about a normal, yet very determined, woman and her family and the events of history that lead to that woman taking her own life at the age of sixty-seven for no apparent reason.

This is a truly wonderfully well-written book. The author inserts just enough of herself into the book that it does not overshadow the main story of the grandmother. A beautiful book full of life, death, chaos and how both war and suicide effect families many years after the events themselves. Recommended.