Monday, July 29, 2013

234. Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee

Bobcat and Other Stories by Rebecca Lee

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

2012; Jun 11, 2013 Algonquin Books, 209 pgs

Age: 18+
"Rebecca Lee, one of our most gifted and original short story writers, guides readers into a range of landscapes, both foreign and domestic, crafting stories as rich as novels. A student plagiarizes a paper and holds fast to her alibi until she finds herself complicit in the resurrection of one professor's shadowy past. A dinner party becomes the occasion for the dissolution of more than one marriage. A woman is hired to find a wife for the one true soulmate she's ever found. In all, Rebecca Lee traverses the terrain of infidelity, obligation, sacrifice, jealousy, and yet finally, optimism. Showing people at their most vulnerable, Lee creates characters so wonderfully flawed, so driven by their desire, so compelled to make sense of their human condition, that it's impossible not to feel for them when their fragile belief in romantic love, domestic bliss, or academic seclusion fails to provide them with the sort of force field they'd expected."

Received a review copy from Library Thing's Early Reviewers.

In the brief one sentence blurbs about these stories in the publisher's summary I had no idea I would be reading about life in the late 1980s and the effects of Communism in China and the Eastern Bloc countries.  This is one of my main reading themes so needless to say I was well pleased with the subject matter.  I also found the stories to have a Christian component to them which left me thinking afterwards.  Rebecca Lee is a master at creating little worlds that suck you in and make you forget the real world while you are reading.  Each story was a unique experience where I found myself immersed in the characters' reality.  However, Lee is fond of ending her stories before any major event happens, just prior to an implied or impending climax.  This was startling to me at first and I often didn't "get" the point of these stories.  The author does use foreshadowing at times so that it is possible to deduce how the story would have ended yourself, sometimes.  This is what kept me from fully enjoying this collection.  However, Lee is a brilliant writer and I really was pleased to experience these literary microcosms.

One small note of contention: before I read the book I had it marked down as being by a Canadian author but upon receiving it can find no mention of Lee's Canadian identity whatsoever.  Why had I thought she was Canadian?  Upon reading it I found many of the stories have a Saskatchewan connection.  Going to the publisher's site I again could not find anything about Lee's citizenship or heritage.  She is presented as American.  Well after some digging I finally found an article where she acknowledges her Saskatchewan childhood and is "so proud to be considered part of this great tradition of Canadian writers".  That was with the publication of the 2012 Hamish Canadian edition of the book. Why not proud enough to even mention her birthplace in the author bio. on this US edition?  Hmmmm....

1. Bobcat (2010) - A dinner party is being held and the hostess who is pregnant ruminates about the guests individually and collectively as well as about her own marriage.  Beautiful writing, wonderfully told; I liked the narrator and felt her a genuine person as the thoughts about life and these people went through her mind.  The ending was startling and at first I didn't get it.  I thought about it and do "get" it but am not sure I understand the point.  However, the getting there was enjoyable.  (4/5)

2. The Banks of the Vistula (1997) - Engrossing.  A new student at a Lutheran college in the late 1980s is taking a Linguistics course and for her first paper, wanting to make an impression on the professor, plagiarizes it.  Turns out she copies verbatim an obscure piece of Russian propaganda from the 1940s which horrifies her professor who is an ex-pat. from Poland with a checkered past.  Fantastic story with great insight into the two main characters.  Only problem is, once again, I did not get the ending.  It just seemed to end at the point when something should have happened.  So, do I rate this a one for a complete let down of an ending or higher because I was thoroughly engrossed until the end?  (3.5/5)

3. Slatland (1992) - Finally, a story that I get!  Once again I was totally immersed in the world and characters that Lee lead me into.  A man and a woman, in love, living together for two years.  It's again the late '80s and the man is a Romanian refugee and he is constantly engaging the woman in conversation about how the Americans do not appreciate the life they have, Americans have no problems - Romanians *they* have problems.  He tells her what Communist life in Romania is like then what a fairy tale it is like in America.  All the references are to America but funnily enough the story takes place in Saskatchewan, Canada!  Without going into further detail, the woman starts to wonder if perhaps the man has a wife back in Romania and thus the story becomes more complicated.  As with the first two stories in this book, Lee has a way of abruptly ending her stories before they seem finished, however, this time I was satisfied.  We were let in on the character's intentions and understand what the final out come is.  I completely loved this one!!  One thing I need to mention and discuss is the professor psychologist the woman saw twice in her life, first as a child of 11 then later in the story as an adult.  The professor is an odd person and he is given a very creepy description from the first encounter. I came away thinking he might be a child predator.  At the second encounter Margit is just as uncomfortable with him and she again describes his strange demeanor, only this time I came away thinking she was misunderstanding him that he probably has Tourettes.  A *very* interesting character indeed!  My favourite story so far, even though it involved magical realism.  (5/5)

4. Min (1995) - Again takes place in the late '80s, this time in Hong Kong.  A girl is friends with a boy, Min, from Hong Kong on their Christian College Campus and he asks her to come home with him for the summer.  His father will pay for her ticket and give her a job.  So she goes, there is no misunderstandings as they have a purely platonic relationship and she knows that his family will be arranging his marriage next year.  She does find this arranged marriage bit very hard to comprehend and is flabbergasted when the father asks her to narrow down the entries to around 50, interview them and then leave them with a final list of ten to work with from there by the end of the summer.  This is her summer job!  Meanwhile she meets the ahma next door, a Filipino girl and eventually thinks that she and Min should meet each other, but the Chinese and the Filipinos have had a dislike for each other for centuries.  Another story in which I was completely immersed in.  Rebecca Lee has a way of sucking me into these little worlds inhabited by only a few characters who are so likable and real.  This story again ends before anything happens but we are given a foreshadow of what the future will hold; and like a happy dream I'm pleased to have awoken from it.  (5/5)

5. World Party (2013) - After I read this I started thumbing back to read snippets but, you know, I don't want to have to think and try to figure out what a story means.  I have to accept that Rebecca Lee ends her stories before they are finished and chances are I won't get the point.  But I love her little worlds!  Once again we are on a Christian College Campus, this time from a professor's point of view.  It is early 1980s and campus protests run around trees, pollution, apartheid and sexism.  The narrator belongs to a committee that votes on faculty members that "may be behaving badly" and they have such a meeting tonight.  She ponders about two of her friends, a female who is more outgoing than her and a male she is very close with and foreshadowing tells us he dies shortly after the time of this tale.  We are also told of her son's little Quaker school, her divorce and her son's "problem", probably Asperger's.  Rambling on here has helped me to see "the point" of the story which ends with her vote.  Wonderfully written, I just wish I felt satisfied with the ending. (4/5)

6. Fialta (2000) - This is probably the longest story in the book and once again concerns academia but in quite a different way.  A young man is chosen as one of a select few to study at a master architect's as an intern.  There are five of them I believe, two of them new this year the others second years.  The professor is an eccentric and one of his rules in no "fraternizing", so of course the young man falls head over heels in love with the young woman who is the architect's special chosen one.  The author narrates this story as a male and doesn't pull it off in my opinion.  I thought the narrator was a lesbian until it got around to identifying him as a male.  The author wasn't able to capture his masculinity, especially since the narrator's voice was the same as in all the previous stories in this collection which were female.  This is also probably the most simplest story included here with the ending being easy to understand.  It ends, as usual, before anything dramatic happens but the narrator foreshadows what will happen next leaving the story with a final ending for once.  I finally get the ending I've been wailing for and this turns out to be my least favourite story in the collection!  (3/5)

7. Settlers (2013) - This is the shortest story in the collection.  A 35 year-old single woman mulling over thoughts of her life which include her friends at a dinner party.  Specifically she's thinking about marriage and children. One friend has it all, another is settling into a strange partnership and the man our narrator likes she doesn't officially date though they go out together.  Then 8 years later, same people, same place, another dinner party.  The woman contemplates the same things: the perfect husband has repeatedly cheated on his wife, the strange couple are married and settled but not passionate, her ex-not boyfriend is more attentive than he ever was and she is married to a nice man and going through a protracted miscarriage, but that is ok because sometimes it is better to just pass through this world.  Depressing little story but the belief in God makes it more poignant than pointless.  Since this one is so short it is hard to fall into the little created world but still the characters are vivid.  (4/5)

Sunday, July 28, 2013

212. The Wonders of the Holy Name by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, O.P. (E.D.M.)

Sunday's Christian Book Review

The Wonders of the Holy Name by Fr. Paul O'Sullivan, O.P. (E.D.M.)

Rating: (3.5/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1947; 1993, TAN Books, 45 pgs
(current edition is 2009)

Age: 18+

"Few Catholics today know about the amazing power of the Holy Name of Jesus. Urges us to invoke the name of Jesus often. By reverent use of the Holy Name, we can glorify God, call on His aid, pay our spiritual debts, assist the Poor Souls, etc. Remarkable!"

A friend gave me a bunch of her books when she moved, including this.

Starts off with three letters of approbation from Cardinals from 1947. An interesting little booklet that discusses the history, method and doctrine of praying the name of Jesus, repeatedly many times through the day. First discusses the wonders of the Holy Name and what exactly saying "Jesus" means.  Next follows a succession of historical events where calling upon the Holy Name brought relief and answers to prayers such as the plague in Lisbon in 1432.  Then a discussion of Saints who received miracles by specifically calling upon the divine name of Jesus.  Next the doctrine of the Holy Name is explained and while it is a simple prayer to repeat "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus" for specific intentions or for general prayer, this part tells how one must know exactly what one is calling upon when devoutly saying the Holy Name.  I'd never heard of this prayer before and can see myself putting it into practice quite easily as I do call upon the Lord quite frequently.  The history was interesting but I did find the section on the Saints could have been written better.  It presents the mysticism and miracles as plain facts, when in reality they should have been prefaced with such phrases as "legend has it" or "it has been said" as some of the miracles presented are quite, shall we say far-fetched.  Not that I don't believe in miracles, just that the Church gives us the opportunity to make up our own minds about these things.  Well-written otherwise and I liked the style from this time-period.  The editors did make a few footnotes that updated some of the material. The current edition on the publisher's site is copyrighted 2009, so there may have been more updates at this point.  My review is of the 1993 edition.

Saturday, July 27, 2013

2013 Mystery/Crime Reading Challenge - FINISHED

(edited) - Today I officially finished this challenge, having signed up for the Lieutenant level of 15 books.  Since the challenge goes until the end of 2013 I will continue to participate and see how far I can rise up the ranks but at the rate I've been going this year I doubt I'll become a Sherlock Holmes.)

1 novel = 100 pgs
5 short stories = 1 novel

5 books= Detective
10 books = Sergeant
15 books = Lieutenant
20 books = Captain
25 books = Chief
30+ books = Sherlock Holmes

2. Rally 'Round the Corpse by Hy Conrad
4. The Wisdom of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton
5. A Question of Identity by Susan Hill
6. Night's Child by Maureen Jennings
7. The Bedlam Detective by Stephen Gallagher
8. More Twisted: Collected Stories 2 by Jeffery Deaver
9. The Hypnotist by Lars Kepler
10. The Woodshed Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
11. The Nightmare by Lars Kepler
12. Muscle for the Wing by Daniel Woodrell
13. Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen
14. The Lighthouse Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
15. The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler
FINISHED - 15 books = Lieutenant

16. Mr. Monk Helps Himself by Hy Conrad
17. A Tap on the Window by Linwood Barclay
18. The Accident by Linwood Barclay
19. The Heist by Janet Evanovich & Lee Goldberg
20. Let Him Go by Larry Watson
20 books = Captain

21. Sugar Creek Gang #1: The Swamp Robber by Paul Hutchens
22. Give Us a Kiss by Daniel Woodrell
23. How to Be a Good Wife by Emma Chapman
24. Joe Victim by Paul Cleave
25. Unseen by Karin Slaughter
25 books = Chief

26. The Tulip Eaters by Antoinette van Heugten
27. Police by Jo Nesbo
28. Close to the Heel by Norah McClintock
29. The Maid's Version by Daniel Woodrell
30. The Cleaner by Paul Cleave
30 + books = Sherlock Holmes

230. The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler

The Fire Witness by Lars Kepler. Translated by Laura A. Wideburg
Joona Linna, #3

Rating: (5/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Jul 9, 2013, McClelland & Stewart, 512 pgs

Age: 18+

"Psychologically tense and as fast-paced as The Hypnotist, the third book in the Joona Linna series by Lars Kepler is already a worldwide sensation, appealing to fans of Stieg Larsson and Jo Nesbo. 
Detective Inspector Joona Linna, under internal review by the National Police for an alleged infraction, is on leave to solve some troubling personal business when he is called in to "observe" the investigation of a gruesome and strange murder at Birgittagarden, a youth home for wayward teenage girls. But it's not long before Linna is drawn deeply into the intricate, disturbing case. Intriguing, astonishing, and with all of the suspense that first captured audiences in The Hypnotist, The Fire Witness is Lars Kepler at his most psychologically complex and thrilling."

Received a review copy from Random House Canada.

Absolutely shocking!  Perhaps the best thriller I've ever read!  Do I sound like I'm being over dramatic?  Perhaps, however I cannot write about Kepler's third book without gushing.  I read a LOT of thrillers and I'm not surprised very often.  I don't always figure it out, though I often do, but when I don't I'm usually close.  The Fire Witness absolutely astounded me!  I had no clue who the killer was.  Well, actually, I had an obscure little theory going which I thought I was pretty clever of me but then WHAM, BAM it all starts unravelling in the last about 30 pages and I couldn't have been more giddy with shock.  The case itself is also deliciously deviant and becomes more and more than what it first appears to be as the book continues.  There is one twist after the other.  I was on the edge of my seat for the whole ride.  This book brings a double whammy to the table though.  While we have the outstanding main case there is also a secondary case going on that involves Joona's life personally.  We were introduced to this topic in the last lines of "The Nightmare" and it is carried out through this book.  For the most part it stays in the background, while every now and then Joona thinks back upon it and we are given slightly more details on a mystifying horror that has dogged Joona's being for the past 12 years.  Hardly interrupting the main case it pops up just often enough for us to want to know what is going on.  Then at the end of the book when we know this case is being wrapped up, Joona's personal case takes centre stage and the set up for the next book is obviously laid on the table.  Creepy, creepy, creepy is all I can say.  Absolutely can't wait for the next book.  Please hurry!

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

228. A Journey Through History: A Guide to the Niagara Parkway from Chippawa to Black Creek by Paul Krueger

A Journey Through History: A Guide to the Niagara Parkway from Chippawa to Black Creek by Paul Krueger

Rating: (4/5)

(US) - (available online new only here in Canada)

2002, Willoughby Historical Museum, 48 pgs

Age: 18+

"This booklet is intended to be a guide for the 11.5 km (7.2 mile) stretch of the Niagara Parkway/Niagara Parks Commission Recreational Trail, from Chippawa (King's Bridge Park) to Black Creek."

A friend loaned me the book.

If you go down to the end of my street you will be on the Niagara Parkway and driving anywhere along this road is a beautiful scenic drive.  This little guidebook takes you from the village of Chippawa down to an area called Black Creek where a thriving town was stood.  There are not a lot of actual historical sites left standing along this route but the area is extremely rich in historical background being both a major area for the War of 1812 and the Rebellion of 1837.  One of the greatest victories for the US Army ever, The Battle of Chippawa, was fought along here.  Reading this guide before setting off on the short afternoon drive will submerge you in the exciting and often bloody history of this idyllic stretch of scenery.  We are told of wars and rebellions, an assassination, Fenian raids and a tiny island that has seen more action than could be imagined by looking at the now controlled wildlife preserve.  We are told of the early schooling, there is a museum of the area in an old one-room schoolhouse, rum-running across the Niagara River, life of the early settlers, the original Native inhabitants and the strict religious Ebenezer society.  Finally, the back of the book ends with a detailed flora and fauna description to be on the look out for.  An interesting piece of local history for me and a useful travel guide for the historically inclined tourist.

Monday, July 22, 2013

227. The Lighthouse Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner

The Lighthouse Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
The Boxcar Children, #8

Rating: (3.5/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1963, Scholastic, 128 pgs

Age: 7+

"Renting a lighthouse is unusual, but even more so is an unfriendly boy's peculiar behavior."

Purchased a used copy from a thrift store.

I am in the process of re-reading the original 19 in order.  This book takes place immediately following book 7, The Woodshed Mystery.  It is the same summer and as the family is driving home from a visit to nearby Aunt Jane's new home, they decide to stop at the beach where they find a lighthouse for sale.  They end up renting instead of buying and this is where they stay for the next couple of weeks.  While the last book had one of the finest mysteries to date in the series, this one is hard pressed to even find a mystery within its pages.  A truly charming story which I thoroughly enjoyed but the mystery consisted of wondering what the boy next door was up to and figuring it out all very quickly.  Of course, they didn't tell the boy they knew what he was up to but that's not exactly mysterious!  This one contains quite a bit of interesting information on sea life and seafood and Warner actually makes a political statement on her thoughts on the space race.  She thinks that time and money would be better spent on exploring the sea (for the purposes of feeding the world) than on exploring outer space.  A new character is introduced and ends up going to Henry's college so I expect we'll see him in future books.  A perfectly enjoyable story about the family, has the family very gently "roughing it" in an old lighthouse but not exactly a mystery.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

226. The Truth is Out There Vol. 1: Brendan & Erc in Exile by Amadeus

You may have noticed that this month I started posting reviews of Christian books on Sundays.  This is a feature I plan on continuing.  Today's review is of this wonderful Catholic graphic novel, but since I have a separate blog for my graphic novel reviews I'll just leave you with a link to the review in case you'd like to go check it out!

Friday, July 19, 2013

SHORT STORY: The Sparrow by Jason Mott

SHORT STORY: The Sparrow by Jason Mott
The Returned Prequel Trilogy, #2

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle US) - (Kindle CAN) - (Kindle UK)

Jun. 1, 2013, Harlequin MIRA, 29 pgs

Age: 18+

"In this short story by Jason Mott, author of The Returned, one determined couple seeks to reunite a young girl with the father who thought he had lost her forever...
When Heather and Matt Campbell find ten-year-old Tatiana Rusesa on the side of the highway, she is thousands of miles away from her village in Sierra Leone. She hasn't seen her family in almost two decades, not since she and her mother were killed by rebel soldiers. Now Tatiana has inexplicably returned, a lost orphan with no place to call home.
As the world dives deeper into uncertainty and chaos, Heather is determined to save Tatiana and help her find her way back to her family. But how much is she willing to lose to protect a girl she doesn't even know?"

Received free from Kindle.

The second prequel short story is even more compelling that the first one.  This time the focuses is on parental love and the child's love of parent.  Countering that is the effect on another couple in which the wife has a deep maternal instinct and the husband has no corresponding paternal ones.  The return of a little girl from war torn Sierra Leone of the 1990s brings closure, love and the end of guilt to one family and the realization of what is missing and eventually the end for another family.  A sweet, profound story, that this time did deal with some issues from a religious angle.  I loved it!  I can't recall if any of these characters are mentioned in the novel; I have a feeling it may have been the priest but it would have only been in passing.  I've pre-ordered the last story in this prequel trilogy and looking forward to it!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

177. Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen.

Redemption by Jussi Adler-Olsen. Translated by Martin Aitken.
Department Q, book 3

Rating: (4/5)

(UK) only
(Audible US) only

Jul. 18, 2013, Penguin UK, 628 pgs

Age: 18+

"Two boys, brothers, wake tied and bound in a boathouse by the sea. Their kidnapper has gone, but soon he will return. Their bonds are inescapable. But there is a bottle and tar to seal it. Paper and a splinter for writing; blood for ink. A message begging for help . . .
Her husband will not tell the truth: where he goes, what he does, how long he will be away. For days on end she waits and when he returns she must endure his wants, his moods, his threats. But enough is enough. She will find out the truth, no matter the cost to him - or to herself.
In Copenhagen's cold cases division Carl Mørck has received a bottle. It holds an old and decayed message, written in blood. It is a cry for help from two boys. Is it real? Who are they and why weren't they reported missing? Can they possibly still be alive?"

Received a review copy from Penguin Books UK.

I just love this author and it was with great anticipation that I settled down to read the third installation of Department Q.  A fairly typical crime of kidnapped children and religious cults but an added twist brings it up a notch to a level we've come to expect from Jussi A-O.  I did find this book lacking just a tad compared to the previous two; it wasn't a page-turner for me as there just didn't seem to be a real sense of the unknown or dramatic time running out.  The reader knows the answers to the questions and follows along as the police catch up and discover what is going on.  I always felt I knew where things stood with the major crime and it just didn't have that *extra* special thrill for me.  However, I did enjoy the story and the book.  I'm comparing the third book to the first two.  A lot of time and effort is spent on the three main characters, delving into their personal lives and building their characters.  Assad has always been mysterious and now he's even more so, only there may be a shadow hanging over him that makes me wary of him now.  Carl's character takes major strides in working through his problems with a new psychiatrist, his love life improves and we learn more about that fateful night that changed his life forever.  Rose on the other hand gives us a conundrum right from the start which I figured out from the get-go so I was not too fond of that aspect of her character.  It could prove interesting in the future, though; I'll certainly be watching where this character goes!  So overall, a great story, I really liked it but since I've read the first two, it just didn't quite reach the standard they've already set.  Still looking forward to the next volume and hoping for another wicked crime!

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

MOVIE BREAK - Saint Ralph (2004)

Saint Ralph 
(2004) (on TV) (at a friends) 

This was on TV last night and a friend and I had planned to get together and have a girls' night in.  She had seen it before but I hadn't and the story line really appealed to me.  It is so refreshing to watch a positive Catholic movie.  It's also wonderful to see such a good quality Canadian made movie which was set locally, Hamilton, ON.  This was just a fabulous movie.  We laughed, we cried, we yelled at the TV, we were rooting for the boy to win the race.  It was a real interactive, sweet, sad and inspirational movie!  I am sooo glad I watched it and it was waaaaay better than I even imagined it would be.  Stars:  Gordon Pinsent, Jennifer Tilly.

SHORT STORY: The First by Jason Mott

SHORT STORY: The First by Jason Mott
The Returned Prequel Trilogy, #1

Rating: (5/5)

(Kindle) Only

Jun. 1, 2013, Harlequin MIRA, 28 pgs

Age: 18+

"In Jason Mott's haunting and unforgettable debut novel, The Returned, an impossible miracle is occurring all across the globe. Read how it all begins in this short story, The First.
It's been just over a year since Edmund Blithe died, and just over a month since his fiancée, Emily, stopped wearing her engagement ring. Emily has finally begun to move on… Until Edmund mysteriously and inexplicably returns, sending the world—and Emily—into a tailspin.
Edmund is only just the beginning. Around the world, people's loved ones are returning from beyond, seeking only to reenter the lives they left behind. As the world dives deep into uncertainty, Emily and Edmund are determined to find their way back to one another…even if it means risking everything.
The reappearances continue in The Sparrow, and look for The Returned from Harlequin MIRA, a moving tale of a family given a second chance at life and a world where nothing—not even death—is certain."

Received free from Kindle Store.

Having already finished reading the book "The Returned" (not published yet, review to come soon), I found out about this short story trilogy.  So I went back and read this which is intended to be read as an introduction to the book.  It also contains a preview of the novel.  In the first chapter of "The Returned" Edmund Blithe is mentioned in one sentence as being the very first reported Returned.  This is his story.  It is a story of young love, the sadness of fresh grief and the feelings of starting to accept a loved one's death after a year long mourning period.  A lovely, beautiful tale that makes one think what one would do if given the chance to spend an unknown amount of time with a dearly cherished loved one who has passed on.  It makes me wish I could read the book for the first time again!  Go ahead and whet your appetite!

Monday, July 15, 2013

214. White Shanghai by Elvira Baryakina

White Shanghai: A Novel of the Roaring Twenties in China by Elvira Baryakina. Translated by Anna Muzychka & Benjamin Kuttner

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

2011; Dec 10, 2012; Glagoslav Publications, 544 pgs

Age: 18+

"Some called the place the ‘Splendour of the East’; others the ‘Whore of Asia’. A melting pot of different nations, fused by war and commerce, this was the Shanghai of the 1920s.
The Great Powers are greedily exploiting China for its cheap labour and reaping the cruel rewards of the opium trade. However, as a flotilla of ships carrying the remnants of the defeated White Army enters Shanghai, the uneasy balance of this frenetic international marketplace comes under threat.
Among the refugees is Klim Rogov, a journalist whose life and marriage have been destroyed by the Russian Revolution – all he has left are his quick wits and a keen worldliness that will serve him well in navigating the lawless jungle of Shanghai. He finds work as a reporter at a British-run newspaper, rubbing shoulders with international gangsters while defying the intrigues of sinister communist agents, clinging all the time to the hope that someday he'll be reunited with his beloved wife, Nina."

Received a copy from LibraryThings ER Program.

A sweeping, epic historical drama focusing on a family and those they interact with.  This book appealed to me because of my literary interest in the Russian Revolution and in Communist China.  I found this book an eye-opener as I was relatively unaware of the situation going on in Shanghai involving the Russian refugees escaping the socialist take over of their own country at a time when China itself was very unstable politically as its various factions tried to gain ground and take their country into one run by a government.  Communism hadn't won at this time but other forces gained very little ground and much defeat.  Shanghai became a place where the international communities needed to protect themselves, spies and double agents roamed the streets and decapitated heads flew, then adorned poles.

Like any good piece of Russian Literature this book is populated with a huge cast.  The story moves back and forth from concentrating on certain persons/people at a time but eventually they all intersect and become a part of one another lives.  I thrive on this type of storytelling; I find there it refreshing to receive different perspectives of the same story.  The first couple of chapters were slow but after that I was hooked quite profoundly and found myself sitting down and reading huge blocks of this chunkster at a time.  Many people from this story start out naive enough, wanting what is best for them/for others, but as they live the hardscrabble life and hearts are broken more than once they become hardened and I found everyone ended up making choices to survive that were contrary to their original nature.  Therefore I found it difficult to actually like any of the characters as I disproved of them all for the most part.  And many of them end up paying for their sins.  Nina, I found to be a very interesting character; here is one who started off greedy wanting all she could get for herself and she remained true to this philosophy right to the end, but perhaps she's finally found how it is to truly love someone back even if it means they most forgo their freedom to have the love back.

The story itself is quite political and I'd recommend that readers have some knowledge of the beginning of communism in both Russia and China.  The book is full of historical information, but not much in the way of letting you in on all the whys and wherefores .  It does assume you know what is meant.  The book is after all originally written and printed in Russian for an intended Russian audience.  The only quibble I have is that the book did contain a certain amount of typos.  I didn't really notice any until about a third of the way through, at first they were sparse, then they became a bit more frequent, then they settled but never quite disappeared.  They are obvious enough to make mention, but mainly consist of spelling errors and transposed or missing words.  This didn't detract from my reading of the book but it would be greatly improved by an intense edit before any further printings.  I'd recommend to those who are interested in the early stages of both these countries as they entered Communism and those who enjoy an epic family drama., knowing that there are no happy endings for everybody, just a few.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

205 . Miracle Hour: A Method of Prayer That Will Change Your Life by Linda Schubert

Miracle Hour: A Method of Prayer That Will Change Your Life by Linda Schubert. Foreword by Rev. Robert DeGrandis, S.S.J.

Rating: (4.5/5)

(Kindle) - print copy available from publisher below

1991, Self-published, 33 pgs
Current publisher: Miracles of the Heart
Nihil obstat; Imprimatur

Age: 18+

"A method of prayer that will change your life. A simple format for a daily hour of prayer. Provides a clear format for prayer to help you focus your time. Includes suggestions for specific prayers of praise, intercession and surrender. Available in English and in Spanish. If you wish to buy this as a digital download, its available in 21 languages."

A friend moved into a retirement home and gifted me a lot of religious books and booklets including this.

I talk to God all the time and have no trouble saying my prayers but I have a hard time when I want to ask for something for myself also in maintaining a regular prayer time.  My prayer life has peaks and valleys   This little booklet presents a truly wonderful way on how to pray including everything a prayerful life should include.  The book proposes a one hour prayer time divided into 12 units of 5 minutes each.  It is easy enough to tailor to yourself and make it fit your lifestyle.  I don't think the whole hour at one time would be mandatory but I do think the components and the 5 minute durations are the key to this system.  I was very inspired reading this little book and actually turned my reading of it into a prayer session.  The book is written by a Catholic and has an Imprimatur, but it was also written at the height of the Charismatic Renewal.  I'm a Traditionalist so I was uncomfortable with just a tiny bit of the text.  The book is also not written to Catholics specifically but to all Christians and then at certain points it will say "for the Catholic".  Truly a special little gem to have on hand that will only invigorate anyone's prayer time.  I will be holding onto this and am carrying it in my purse for the time being to see how it has an affect on me.  Among other things your prayer time will include, praise, worship, repentance, forgiveness, spiritual warfare and listening to God.

Friday, July 12, 2013

210 . Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise by William Kotzwinkle, Glenn Murray & Elizabeth Gundy

Walter the Farting Dog Goes on a Cruise by William Kotzwinkle, Glenn Murray* & Elizabeth Gundy. Illustrated by Audrey Colman
Walter the Farting Dog (4)

Rating: (4/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

2006, Puffin Books, 32 pgs

Age: 6+

"Everybody is having a great time on a cruise . . . until a terrible odor permeates the ship. All signs point to Walter, and so he is first banished down below, with the stinky cheeses, and then into a lifeboat to float behind the ocean liner. Then catastrophe strikes! How long will the great cruise ship and its frightened passengers be marooned on the high seas? About as long as it takes Walter to digest that cheese!"

My son received this as a gift a long time ago.  He`s clearing off his shelves and I thought I would read it before sending it to the thrift store.

Honestly, I was not expecting much from this book because of the title and my dislike of toilet humour.  However, I was pleasantly surprised and found a cute, funny, enjoyable story.  Besides the extensive use of the word ``fart`` there is nothing uncomfortable about the scenario presented.  This bodily function is treated as such and the humour comes from the situations created rather than resorting to the `toilet`` variety.  One feels a little sorry for the unfortunate Walter and is happy when his farts save the day.  Digital artwork is not my favourite but the bright, bold purple, pink, orange, green colour palette is stunning and captures the attention throughout.  A pleasant surprise for me!  I`d recommend to any parent who won`t mind repeating the word `fart`` throughout a readaloud.

*Glenn Murray is a Canadian author so I'm counting this book towards the Canadian Reading Challenge.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reviews of 3 DC Super-Pets Chapter Books

204 . The Cat Crime Club by Steve Korte. Illustrated by Art Baltazar
Dc Super-Pets

Rating: (3/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug. 1, 2012, Capstone Press, 56 pgs

Age: 6+

"The evil CAT CRIME CLUB plans to steal funds from a local circus, and only KRYPTO and the SPACE CANINE PATROL AGENTS can stop them."

Received a review copy from Capstone Press.

These books all follow a similar pattern and this series has been very popular with young readers.  My son has outgrown it now but he loved it earlier.  I prefer the one on one plots so found this book a bit contrived starring Krypto and the entire Canine Agents vs the Cat Crime Club (characters we've never heard about before).  Superman makes a cameo appearance which is always nice with these pet series as the owner's do not always show up.  My son used to like the ones with a lot of characters so some children may get a thrill out of the number of pets.

207 . Swamp Thing vs the Zombie Pets by Jon Sazaklis. Illustrated by Art Baltazar
DC Super-Pets

Rating: (3.5/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug. 1, 2012, Capstone Press, 56 pgs

Age: 6+

"SOLOMON GRUNDY's zombie pets are taking over the swamp. SWAMP THING's bog buddies must stop them."

Received a review copy from Capstone Press.

This is a fun story that kids will certainly enjoy with zombie animals and simply plenty of action and humour.  I found it interesting as I've never read a comic containing either Swamp Thing or the villain in this one Solomon Grundy.  It prompted me to look up their character histories which I always enjoy doing and especially enjoyed finding out about Grundy as his name appears in my most favourite song in the entire world, "Superman" by Crash Test Dummies.

209 . Deep-Sea Duel by Jon Sazaklis. Illustrated by Art Baltazar
DC Super-Pets

Rating: (2.5/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Aug. 1, 2012, Capstone Press, 56 pgs

Age: 6+

"When the evil OCEAN MASTER crashes an AQUA-FAMILY reunion, AQUALAD, and his Super-Pet FLUFFY must stop the fishy foes"

Received a review copy from Capstone Press.

I have to say *I* wasn't particularly thrilled with this entry in the series.  I'm sure the intended audience will enjoy the book as it follows suit with the overall theme of the series and this one in particular is written perhaps for the younger end of the age group.  However, I just found the story silly and the dialogue of Aquaman very un-superhero-ish.  But when Atlantis is attacked by Ocean Master and Aqualad who is away receives a distress call from Aquaman and has to come back and save the day ... um ... no.  It most certainly should have been the other way around.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

201 . How the Two Ivans Quarrelled by Nikolai Gogol.

How the Two Ivans Quarrelled by Nikolai Gogol. Translated by John Cournos.
The Art of the Novella

Rating: (4/5)

(Kindle) - (US) - (Canada) - (UK)

1835; Dec. 2007, Melville House Publishing, 83 pgs

Age: 18+

"This lesser-known work is perhaps the perfect distillation of Nikolai Gogol’s genius: a tale simultaneously animated by a joyful, nearly slapstick sense of humor alongside a resigned cynicism about the human condition.
In a sharp-edged translation from John Cournos, an under-appreciated early translator of Russian literature into English, How The Two Ivans Quarrelled is the story of two long-time friends who have a falling out when one of them calls the other a “goose.” From there, the argument intensifies and the escalation becomes more and more ludicrous. Never losing its generous antic spirit, the story nonetheless transitions from whither a friendship, to whither humanity, as it progresses relentlessly to its moving conclusion."

Purchased a copy as part of the publisher's monthly book club.

I was first introduced to Gogol in an unusual way, by my grade 10 French teacher of all people.  M. Berard told us his love for this Russian author of short stories and spent some time reading aloud to the class "The Nose" from a French translation, of course taking time out to make sure we were getting it.  It's something I'll always remember.  Flash back to now and when I received this book, I thought Gogol?  Gogol? isn't that the  "Nose" guy so I looked him up and indeed it is the same author.  So it was with some glee I went into reading this story and finding out what my old French teacher found so delightful about him.  I thoroughly enjoyed the story but it was not what I expected.  Oh it was funny,  hilariously so at times, and I found myself chuckling at the satirical characterizations of the two Ivans and their quips to each other.  By the way there is also a third Ivan, who we must never confuse with the second Ivan!  But this isn't just a farce; it starts off funny and always has a tongue firmly planted in cheek but as the story progresses a gloom descends upon it and comedy turns to tragedy or perhaps travesty, depending on your point of view.  We start with a smile on our face and end, as the author intends, feeling "gloomy".  Now, I'm one of those people who love a depressing little story but these two brought this upon themselves and their fate still made me finish the book with a hearty, "HA!"  I'm finding I have quite a taste for Russian Literature, new and old, as a future review will prove.

Monday, July 8, 2013

200 . Pepita: Inoue meets Gaudi by Takehiko Inoue

Pepita: Inoue meets Gaudi by Takehiko Inoue. Translated by Emi Louie-Mishikawa

Rating: (4/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (UK)

Apr 16, 2013, vizmedia, 108 pgs

Age: 16+

"Takehiko Inoue (Vagabond, Slam Dunk, Real) is one of Japan’s leading manga artists, and he has long been obsessed with the architecture of Antoni Gaudi.  Pepita is a travel memoir about Inoue’s travels to Catalan, the people he meets, and the stunning architecture he experiences. It’s also an art book of the highest quality, constructed and framed by a leading practitioner of Japanese comics."

Received a review copy from Simon & Schuster Canada.

A famous manga artist keeps a journal while he visits Spain to see first-hand the buildings of a famous architect he greatly admires.  This book appealed to me right away because I love art journals, travelogues and architecture!  It is not exactly what I expected but enjoy it, I did!  Described best perhaps as a coffee table book, this is a very visual book full of illustrations, photographs and (something I really appreciated) photographs the author has altered by illustrating over them.  I had no idea who the Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi (1852-1926) was, nor was I familiar with any of his buildings before reading the book.  However, through the author's love of his subject we get a good appreciation of Gaudi's work and the man, briefly, through his work.  Informationally, the reader is introduced to the work of Gaudi as it is discussed through the eyes of an appreciative artist.  I highly enjoyed both the text and the illustrations.  The text is written in a variety of forms: paragraphs, illustration/photo blurbs, short sentences and an engaging flowing style I found read like poetry though it was in prose not verse.  Truly, one of the most unusual books I've come across this year but one I highly appreciated aesthetically.  I think the book is going to appeal to fans of the author/artist, aspiring artists, Gaudi/architecture connoisseurs and art journal enthusiasts.

Sunday, July 7, 2013

187 . Saint Vincent de Paul & 193 . Saint Anthony of Padua

187 . Saint Vincent de Paul:Servant of Charity  by Sister Catherine Ethievant. Illustrated by Augusta Curelli. Translated by Caroline Morson
Along the Paths of the Gospel

Rating: (5/5)

(US) - Out of Print

1999, Pauline Books and Media, 72 pgs

Age: 7+

"Vincent had a big heart. It was filled with all kinds of dreams and wishes. At first, his greatest dream was to become successful and famous. This dream finally did come true, but not at all in the way he had planned. Wonderful things began to happen as soon as Vincent opened his heart up to God."

Purchased a new copy from an online Catholic bookstore.

Saint Vincent de Paul is a saint whose influence is strongly felt today with his charities and religious orders still in full swing 350 years after his death.  This brings a relevance to knowing his story not felt with other often unknown saints.  Vincent wasn't always a saintly man; he grew up wanting what most young men want: career, fame, fortune and that is what he pursued through the priesthood in his day.  Vincent wasn't a bad person though and while he loved the luxuries of life he soon found they didn't bring happiness or contentment of the soul.  God lead him in another direction, that of teaching the poor and illiterate about God and he set about preaching throughout the countryside to the poor and prisoners; teaching other priests to preach to the common man and organising ladies into first the Daughters of Charity, then the religious order the Sisters of Charity.  Here he found his happiness that luxury couldn't fulfil.  A delightful, simple picture book story in a palm-sized format with plenty of text that manages to bring a detailed outline of Vincent's life from birth to death and the legacy he left behind.  Beautiful watercolour illustrations.  Another fine entry in this excellent series of titles on various saints for the approximate 7-12 year range.

193 . Saint Anthony of Padua: Proclaimer of the Good News by Marie Baudouin-Croix. illustrated by Augusta Curelli. Translated by Sister Maryellen Keefe, OSU
Along the Paths of the Gospel

Rating: (5/5)

(US) -  Out of print

1999, Pauline Books and Media, 72 pgs

Age: 7+

"Have you ever heard of Saint Anthony of Padua? He is known as "the saint of miracles" because of the amazing things God did through him. Anthony came from a rich and noble family. But he gave up everything to follow Jesus more closely. He dedicated his entire life to spreading Jesus' Good News. Anthony was always ready to do whatever God asked and to help those who were poor or suffering or confused. He had many exciting adventures along the way"

Purchased a new copy from an online Catholic bookstore.

Most Catholics have a close relationship with St. Anthony as he is the one we pray to for lost items.  Anything missing around the house and I can be heard calling upon St. Anthony to help me find it but what is the story behind this and who exactly was St. Anthony many of us may not be so sure.  From the early 1200s Anthony (born Fernando) was a godly child and asked his parents to let him become a priest at age 15.  His wealthy family was not exactly pleased as they had thought he would follow in the father's footsteps and be a knight to the King but being a religious family they finally relented and gave Fernando to the Augustinian monks to serve the "King of the World".  Fernando loved being a priest and devoted himself to the poor and tried to live as Jesus did but he saw that some priests had a love for money, wealth and material items making him feel angry inside.  Until one day he met some men who belonged to "The Little Brothers", who followed Francis.  They had given up their earthly items, lived as Jesus did and helped the poor.  After he heard of the martyrdom of these certain brothers he begged his order to let him join them and eventually he was given permission.  He traded his white robes for the brown habit of the Franciscan monks, changed his name to Anthony, and devoted his life to helping the poor, evangelizing and preaching the Good News.  Miracles are associated with Anthony ever afterward as he continued on and the small story of one of his books being stolen from him, which he prayed for its return only to have it shortly show up is how he became the patron saint of lost items.  Like all the books in this series, a small palm-sized picture book with a lot of text and gorgeous watercolour illustrations, it ends with a specific prayer to the Saint and makes for interesting and detailed reading even in this brief format.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

199 . American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960s, 1960-1964 by John Wells

American Comic Book Chronicles: The 1960s, 1960-1964 by John Wells

Rating: (5/5)

(US) - (Canada)

Nov. 2012, TwoMorrows Publishing, 213 pgs +index & notes

Age: 16+

"The American Comic Book Chronicles is an ambitious new series of FULL-COLOR HARDCOVERS, where TwoMorrows' top authors document every decade of comic book history from the 1940s to today! John Wells leads off with the first of two volumes on the 1960s, covering all the pivotal moments and behind-the-scenes details of comics in the JFK and Beatles era! You'll get a year-by-year account of the most significant publications, notable creators, and impactful trends, including: DC Comics' rebirth of Green Lantern, Hawkman, and others, and the launch of Justice League of America and multiple earths! Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's transformation of superhero comics with the debut of Marvel' Fantastic Four, Spider-Man, Hulk, X-Men, Avengers, and other iconic characters! Plus Batman gets a "new look", the Blue Beetle is revamped at Charlton Comics, and Creepy #1 brings horror back to comic book form, just as Harvey's "kid" comics are booming! These are just a few of the events chronicled in this exhaustive, full-color hardcover. Taken together, the series forms a cohesive, linear overview of the entire landscape of comics history, sure to be an invaluable resource for ANY comic book enthusiast!"

Received a review copy from Two Morrows Publishing.

I am not actually finished this book yet but I've read more than half and have no intention of stopping; it's just that I am reading it slowly since it is so awesomely entertaining and figure I've read enough to review it.  If you have any certain love for the comics and their history, whether you be an old pro or a relative newbie, I can't see any comic fan not just adoring this book.  It takes a behind the scenes walk through the comic book history year by year, publisher by publisher.  Absolutely chock full of illustrations from adverts, mini page shots (readable), cover shots and full-page page reproductions,  Just looking at the pictures is a joy.  But the meat is in the extensive text.  Intended as a full series to cover the years 1940-1999 (I think); this set of years is perfect to start off with as it is these years all the oldies dropped out of circulation and during this time that "National Comics" became DC Comics and the new upstart Marvel Comics came onto the scene.  The book covers all the major publishing houses: Dell, Gold Key, Archie, Harvey, MAD, DC, Marvel, etc.

I'm a '70s girl myself and while these years cover before I was born, many of the titles were what I read during my childhood or collected through used sources.  It has brought back some great memories, introduced me to some new titles I'd like to read and given me an amazing insight into the behind the scenes and public history of comics.  These years are also crucial as it is the period when the industry finally increased the permanent price of .10cent comics to .12cents and even the wallet busting .15cents at Dell.  Imagine if comic books were still priced so kids could buy them with their allowance!  Absolutely fascinating reading and I plan on getting the rest of the series from this time period forward; I'm not much interested in the earlier years.

DVD Break: The Journey (1990)

The Journey
(1990) (DVD) (own)

Had to search a bit to find anything about this but it is on imdb and was an Australian Children's Network made-for-TV movie, part of a show called "More Winners".  Anyway this was a cheesy thing about a witch and a curse set back in the 18-somethings, but still we found it amusing.  It was extremely creepy for a kid's show though.  Wouldn't recommend it but it wasn't a waste of my time either.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Movie Break: Quartet (2004)

(2012) (pay per view) (at friend`s)

This wasn`t exactly what I had expected.  I think the original trailer presented it as much more of a comedy than it is.  So when we were presented with such a touching story, I was surprised.  It is a comedy but with much more to it.  The dignified performances by these veteran British actors and musicians is outstanding.  My main interest in the movie was because of Dame Maggie Smith and Billy Connolly.  They did not disappoint and Connolly especially put on a fine performance.  The movie had a bit of a slow start but once it got off the ground I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Not a 5 star but perhaps a 4.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

197 . Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell

Tomato Red by Daniel Woodrell

Rating: (4/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

1998, Plume/Penguin, 225 pgs
Current Publisher: Back Bay Books

Age: 18+

"In the Ozarks, what you are is where you are born. If you're born in Venus Holler, you're not much. For Jamalee Merridew, her hair tomato red with rage and ambition, Venus Holler just won't cut it. Jamalee sees her brother Jason, blessed with drop-dead gorgeous looks and the local object of female obsession, as her ticket out of town. But Jason may just be gay, and in the hills and hollows of the Ozarks that is the most dangerous and courageous thing a man could be.
Enter Sammy Barlach, a loser ex-con passing through a tired nowhere on the way to a fresher nowhere. Jamalee thinks Sammy is just the kind of muscle she and Jason need."

Borrowed a copy through Inter-Library Loan.

Daniel Woodrell's Ozark novel's are masterpieces of literature.  Beautifully written with language that keeps the reader spellbound.  Having read a few other of his Ozark novels, I found this one not quite as good, hence the 4 star rating, but still very, very good.  Tomato Red differs in that there is a sort-of happy ending, even if it is bittersweet and doesn't include everyone.  It is a short book at just over 200 pages but as usual, Woodrell manages to fully flesh out the four main characters: Bev, the "whore", her two children 17yo gay Jason and slightly older sister Jamalee who wants to be rich and everything a Venus Holler resident is not.  Along comes Sammy Barlach, drifter, petty felon, and all round loser who is taken right into being one of the family and maybe he will be the one who finally helps the family to more than just "dream" the impossible dream.  But tradgedy strikes, someone is killed and now is the time for the future to be dashed or reclaimed.  A sad tale of poverty and those looking only to be loved.  Circumstances cause their downfall, not the past prejudices as to who they are hooker, homosexual, unrealistic dreamer, and petty felon.  These are not even an issue when they make the biggest mistake of their lives and one of them has to brutally pay the price for it.  A dark tale full of eccentric characters and even though the family is unique I found Sammy to be my favourite character as to what drove him to have the desire to be a part of and protector of this quirky, dysfunctional family.

Monday, July 1, 2013

194 . Notes From a Coma by Mike McCormack

Notes From a Coma by Mike McCormack

Rating: (5/5)

(US) - (Canada) - (Kindle)

2005, Jonathan Cape, Ireland
Mar. 5, 2013, SOHO Press, 199 pgs

Age: 18+

"Rescued from the squalor of a Romanian orphanage, and adopted by the rural community of west Mayo, J. J. O'Malley should have grown up happy. The boy has no gift for it, though, and his new life has a brutal way of giving him plenty to be unhappy about. After a sudden tragedy, J. J. suffers a catastrophic mental breakdown. Unable to live with himself, he volunteers for an improbable government project which has been set up to explore the possibility of using deep coma as a future option within the EU penal system. When his coma goes online the nation turns to watch, and J. J. is quickly elevated to the status of cultural icon. Sex symbol, existential hero, T-shirt philosopher─his public profile now threatens to obscure the man himself behind a swirl of media profiles, online polls, and EEG tracings. Five narrators─his father, neighbour, teacher, public representative, and sweetheart─tell us the true story of his life and try to give some clue as to why he is the way he is now: floating in a maintained coma on a prison ship off the west coast of Ireland. Brilliantly imagined and artfully constructed─merging science fiction with an affectionate portrait of small town Ireland─Notes from a Coma is both the story of a man cursed with guilt and genius and a compassionate examination of how our identities are safeguarded and held in trust by those who love us."

Received a review copy from Soho Press.

Astounding!  Just loved it!  First off though it was not what I had originally thought it would be.  I was under the impression it was some sort of science fiction dystopia about prisoners being put into comas.  It's not.  The book takes place in a present day Ireland, if not exactly *the* present day Ireland;  the author takes liberties to make his reality work.  The writing is not linear and this will put some readers off but this format of telling a story from the points of view of a group of alternating narrators is one of my favourite devices and I was hooked by the second chapter.  On the surface we have typical Irish literature: the lives of a rural family, (while not dysfunctional) an unhappy family for the most part, especially JJ the main character.  JJ's life is told from his adoption up through his participation in this government trial coma program for prisoners.  JJ is a unique volunteer though and the book tells how that comes to be.  I loved JJ and his father; the other characters held no special charm for me but were very important in the telling.  What makes this book different, perhaps avant-garde, maybe pretentious, is the author has chosen to add footnotes which tell a separate story of the prison coma program called Somnos.  These footnotes continuously interrupt the flow the of the novel and can take up the bottom portion of several pages in a row causing you to hold your place as you read them.  It takes a bit to get used to them but honestly, after a while, I got the flow and while I at first thought it was indeed pretentious on the author's part to use this device instead of using separate chapters to tell this part of the story, I did become used to it and in the end can say I enjoyed it.  Not something I'd like to see become a norm but certainly a unique device by McCormack that turns out to succeed and I found the story to be a fantastic look into the psyche of a depressed man, while also enjoying the occasional thoughts of the Catholic characters whether they were practising or not.  Very much a literary novel but when all is said and done, a simple story and an easy read.  I may read another of the author's books if the summaries entice me as I appreciated his style and outlook.