Archive for March, 2009

Old City Hall

Author Robert Rotenberg certainly hit the jackpot with Old City Hall (published by Touchstone). It’s hard to believe that this is his first  mystery novel. He writes like a seasoned pro. Set in Toronto, police arrive at the posh condo of Kevin Brace, Canada’s most famous radio personality, to investigate what looks like a simple case of murder. The book opens with Gurdial Singh, the morning newspaper deliveryman, being confronted with Brace, standing at the front door of his condo with his hands covered in blood. All he says is “I killed her, Mr. Singh. I killed her.” But did he? From that moment on he remains silent, refusing to speak to anyone. Even his own lawyer. With a host of wonderfully written characters, and drawing on his eighteen years as a criminal lawyer, Rotenberg weaves an amazing story, full of twists and turns that manages to keep our attention til the very end. I loved the bits about Toronto, the historic info about the city, the descriptions of city landmarks, and even quirky references to places like Gryfe’s Bagels on Bathurst St. Already on the Top 10 Bestseller list, this is one great book you won’t want to overlook.

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The Private Patient

P.D. James has once again proved that she is a master in the art of mystery writing. The Private Patient (published by Knopf Canada) is her 18th novel. She was born in 1920 … you do the math. Set primarily in Dorset, Commander Adam Dalgliesh and his team are sent to Cheverell Manor to investigate the death of Rhoda Gradwyn. A simple, routine surgery with a week’s recovery was what Mr. G.H. Chandler-Powell, FRCS, FRCS (Plast), MS – in otherwords Master of Surgery – had anticipated for his patient in this private facility away from the media and glare of the public. Which is exactly what Gradwyn, one of London’s most notorious investigative journalists wanted. Coming through the operation with flying colours, she is discovered dead in her bed the next morning by kitchen staff when they arrive with her breakfast. A typical scene in many a mystery, but James manages to make it different. She is an amazing writer, her characters are sharp and intelligent, her settings beautifully drawn and her mysteries first-rate. This book will be coming out in paperback shortly.  Either pick it up later for a holiday read, or bite the bullet and get it now. Why wait. I didn’t. Anyone who can still write like she does at the age of 89 sure deserves to be read.

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Good for a giggle

The Diagram Prize for the Oddest Book Title of the Year has just been awarded to : The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais by Philip M. Parker. Now there’s a book with a select audience.

Runners up are : Baboon Metaphysics, Curbside Consultation of the Colon and the Large Sieve and its Applications, and Strip and Knit. Curbside consultations?!! … of the colon! … where? … at a bus stop?

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The Brain that Changes Itself

If you have a curious nature and are interested in the human body, or science and technology, then The Brain That Changes Itself by Norman Doidge, M.D. (published by the Penguin Group) will really interest you. It is a collection of fascinating cases that deal with people whose medical conditions have long ago been considered hopeless. For instance, blind people learning to see, aging brains being rejuvinated, and stroke patients recovering their faculties, to name just a few. It also discusses neuroplasticity, which is probably the most important breakthrough in neuroscience  since mapping the brain’s anatomy. Don’t be afraid of the subject matter or the fact that it’s written by a doctor, it’s an easy, fascinating read in plain language. The expression “thinking outside the box” sure is applicable here. You will be amazed at what medical science can do!

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You’ve Got Mail

There is a small publication (actually it’s a newsletter) called Nutrition Action Health Letter, published by the Centre for Science in the Public Interest, that I think is the best resource with current, up-to-date, information relating to health issues that you’re likely to find anywhere. It is the world’s largest-circulation health newsletter. Every issue focuses on a different topic, for instance the current one talks about how to keep your brain young. Previous issues dealt with Vitamin D, the benefits of exercise, dealing with diabetes. And every issue also examines a product that you find in your local grocery stores – this time it’s dips and spreads. One major fact about this publication – they accept no advertizing. This newsletter is not available at your local newsstand, it’s by subscription only.

You can go online to their website to read archived editions since 2004, and to sign up for a subscription.  It’s really cheap and well worth it. Check it out at in Canada or in the US.

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Three Cups of Tea

Wow!  If ever there was a book to motivate you into action, Three Cups Of Tea (published by the Penguin Group) by authors Greg Mortenson and Oliver Relin is the one.  Mortenson certainly lives up to the idea that one man can make a difference. In his case a HUGE difference. Motivated by a failed attempt to climb K2, he decides to build a school in the tiny village of Korphe in Pakistan to thank the people of this community for nursing him back to health after his failed attempt to climb the world’s second highest mountain. Starting out with no money and no means, just his ambition, drive and sheer determination he goes on to eventually build 55 schools in Pakistan and Afganistan. (The total now stands at 70, not the 55 mentioned when the book was printed.) We also learn so much about the conflict in this area of the world that has plagued us since the 9/11 crisis. 2 years on The New York Times paperback best seller list certainly means that Dr. Greg (as he is affectionately known by the locals) is spreading the word about how education, not fighting, is the means to solving the problem of terrorism. There is a young reader’s edition of this book (9-12 year olds) as well as a picture book edition for really young readers. Smart, since this is a story for young and old alike.

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Bookworm or Bibliophile?

Terry Mapes writes in The (Mansfield,Ohio) News Journal… “Bookworms are those who simply like to read books. They read library books, books they borrow from a friend or books they own. Once they have read a book, they are done with it. Bibliophiles are bookworms with a difference. They enjoy reading books, but they also enjoy the books themselves for the pleasure they receive looking at them, touching them and collecting them.”

Are you a bookworm or a bibliophile? I’m definitely a bibliophile.

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In Defense of Food

… a healthy reading choice for healthy living.

In Defense Of Food by Michael Pollan (published by the Penguin Group) is perhaps the best book so far to sum up how to eat well without succumbing to all the fad diets and ‘in-the-moment’ research that we know will be tomorrow’s taboo. He essentially says “eat food, mostly plants, not too much”. It is well written, easy to understand and fascinating to read. His in depth knowledge is evident and this book is not his first foray into the subject of food/eating. He also wrote The Omnivore’s Dilemma but  I suggest you start with In Defence of Food if you’re just now trying to improve your diet and sort out all this mumbo-jumbo advice that we’re bombarded with about food these days. Read it and eat!

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Mystery Writers… do you know these authors?

… writers you might not be familiar with (hence the mystery)… not writers who write mystery novels, though some might. These are a few of my very favourite authors.

Louise Penny  Think cosy British murder mystery but with a definite Canadian twist. Chief Inspector Armand Gamache is called to solve murders in the tiny community of Three Pines in Quebec’s Eastern Townships. Start with Still Life to get a real feel for the people, place and atmosphere where murders seem to occur while residents of this idilic village go about their daily lives.

Elizabeth Hay  Late Nights on Air is the 2007 Giller Prize winner and, wonders of all wonders, this time the judges actually got it right.  The cast of interesting characters work at a local radio station in Yellowknife, and for a good portion of the book they are on a canoe trip in the arctic wilderness. The power of the north is so evident in her writing that it grasps you right into the story. A definite winner!

Charlotte Gray  Read Sisters in the Wilderness and I dare you to complain about your life ever again. This book is the story of sisters Susanna Moodie and Catharine Parr Traill, two of Canada’s most famous pioneer women. The hardship and struggles they endured is almost unbelievable. In addition to just trying to survive “in the bush” they both became very famous writers themselves. This is an amazing story!

William Deverell  His book April Fool is a real favourite of mine.  Retired lawyer Arthur Beauchamp only wants to tend his hobby farm in the idilic setting of B.C.’s Garibaldi Island, but he gets dragged back to Vancouver to defend an old client. With a quirky set of characters and great writing (Deverell was the creator of the TV series Street Legal) you’ll definitely want to check this book out.

Anita Rau Badami   She has written 3 novels, my favourite of which is Can You Hear the Nightbird Call? This book tells the story of 3 women over the span of 50 years, from the Partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 to the Air India crash in 1985.  Full of rich emotions, powerful descriptions and amazing characters, this is a book that will stay with you long after you have finished it.

Sandra Gulland   Sandra was originally from the US but moved to Canada in 1970. Her Josephine B. Trilogy (comprising The Many Lives & Secret Sorrows of Josephine B., Tales of Passion Tales of Woe, and The Last Great Dance on Earth) will please anyone who loves historical fiction. Her books focus on Josephine, as opposed to Napoleon, and provide lots of fascinating details about her life and the time she lived in.

Susan Hill   She is a British writer. She has many books to her credit but I’ve only read her mystery series involving Detective Inspector Simon Serrailler. There are 4 books in this series so far. The mysteries aren’t linked but the background events are so I suggest you start at the beginning. It is the perfect ‘set’ to take on holiday because they are all in paperback  – the last one coming out in June I think.  The books are The Various Haunts of Men, The Pure in Heart, The Risk of Darkness and Vows of Silence.

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2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize

Canadian author Marina Endicott has won the 2009 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for best fiction from the Canadian/Caribbean region for Good to a Fault. Last year’s winner was The Book of Negroes by Lawrence Hill, and we know how good THAT book is, so check this out.

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