Archive for Fiction

Orphan Train

What amazing luck that I picked this up! I was desparate, I’d read everything I had on hand (being laid up for almost a week with a bug meant I had ample time to read) and I took the advice of the girl in the book store who said to give it a try, she thought I might like it. Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline gets a 5* rating right off the bat from me. I love historical fiction, and this book is based on the orphan trains that transported orphaned, abandoned, homeless children from New York City to the west in the late 1800s early 1900s for “adoption” by families in the midwest. There are 2 parrallel lines in this story… young Niamh Power, originally from Ireland, recently orphaned and abandoned to the Children’s Aid Society in New York sets off to a life of she does not know what on one of those trains heading west. Fast forward to 2011 and we’re dealing with wealthy Vivian Daly living out her senior life on the coast of Maine. She agrees to allow young Molly Ayer do her community service work (either that or juvie) helping Vivian clear out her attic where box upon box of stuff hasn’t seen the light of day for decades. The stories alternate back and forth, the plot is easy to follow, and the entire book is fascinating, and SO well written. I was so pleasantly surprised at how much I loved this book. It’s just $10 in bookstores now, it’s a steal as far as I’m concerned. Fork over the dollars and then pass it on to a friend. Guaranteed you won’t be disappointed. It’s the best 10 bucks I’ve spent in ages.

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The Soul of Discretion

The Soul of Discretion is Susan Hill’s 8th book in her very popular Simon Serrailler series. She’s a fantastic writer and as a review I recently read said “She is a perfect substitute for the late P.D. James. Her books are intelligent and well written.” I second this opinion. All our favourites are back – Simon, new girlfriend Rachel, his sister Cat and even Dad Richard and his second wife Judith. All said, I didn’t find the actual mystery that compelling and as interesting as some of the others that Simon has been involved with. BUT the sub plots involving the rest of the gang were so compelling and well written that it’s worth reading this book just for the background story. You’re definitely left with wanting to know more, what happens next, and for this reason I give this book a 2 thumbs up. Who knows maybe I didn’t find the actual police crime all that interesting because the other stuff was way over the top interesting and so unexpected. Could be. Anyway, if you’re a Susan Hill Fan and love her Simon Serrailler series, you must read this book.

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A Man Called Ove

There have been quite a few “cute” books of late. Cute meaning that they’re quirky little stories of interesting characters doing peculiar stuff – like being 100 years old and climbing out of a window in a senior’s home, or hiding in a wardrobe while trying to buy a bed of nails at Ikea, or in the case of A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, just being an old curmungeon trying to instil law and order in his local neighbourhood. A feat by the way, that he finds terribly hard to achieve because it seems nobody pays any attention to the rules. The story starts out with Ove trying to buy an iPod. It’s really funny. He’s dealing with a sales assistant “with a single digit body mass index” who looks ill at ease as Ove shakes the box and demands to know if it’s a computer. Why he wants this doesn’t appear again til the very end of the story. By then I’d forgotten about the iPod because the story is full of episodes pertaining to just how difficult Ove is to get along with. Even though he was ousted as Chairman of his Residents’ Association he still does his morning rounds of the community, just making sure things are as they should be – he’s that type of curmudgeon. The character Ove was born on Backman’s blog where over 1,000 readers voted for him to write a novel about Ove.  The book subsequently became a word-of-mouth sensation across Europe, and now it’s here on our bookstore shelves. I liked it a lot. It’s about love and community, it’s tender and moving in parts, and it’s very funny. Give it a go.

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Adult Onset

I loved this! Adult Onset is Ann-Marie MacDonald’s long awaited new novel. Children’s author, Mary Rose MacKinnon aka “Mister” to some, and her partner Hilary are your typically busy urbanites who live in central Toronto. Completing the picture are young daughter Maggie, son Matthew and dog Daisy. Mary Rose is the stay-at-home mum who frets over things like the simple act of buying tomato soup. Should she get the organic one in a can full of toxins or should she get the glass bottle that isn’t organic. Hilary, 10 years her junior, is a theatre director who is often on the road dealing with a show, leaving Mary Rose at home to tend the fires, and buy the tomato soup. Added to this mix are Mary Rose’s parents who are elderly, forgetful, and as often happens with age, they repeat the same stories over and over – but with different details each time. You get the picture. Taking place over the course of an ordinary week, this is the story of how memory and repression can sometimes rear their ugly head to question the most ordinary details of a young life. Sort of… now that I look back and think of it… Some parts of this book are extremely funny. The scene of Mary Rose meeting her parents in Union Station in the midst of the chaos that seems to be a constant construction season is hilarious to say the least. You sometimes feel that you know their neighbourhood so well you must have been there yourself. That’s fantastic writing! All in all, this is an ordinary book about ordinary lives that takes place in an ordinary week. Only a great writer can take something so ordinary and make it extraordinary. Read this book!! You won’t be disappointed. I didn’t want it to end.

This book would make a fantastic Christmas gift for the avid reader on your list.

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The Silkworm

We all know by now that Robert Galbraith is none other than our favourite author J.K. Rowling. The Silkworm is her second novel written under her Robert Galbraith pseudonym. I was a bit on the fence about this book. Did I like it or not? Novelist Owen Quine goes missing and his wife enlists the help of our favourite untraditonal sleuth, Cormoran Strike and his wonderful sidekick Robin Ellacott to find him and bring him home. He eventually turns up, murdered in a particularly gruesome scene that we’re reminded of off and on as the story enfolds. That was part of what I didn’t like. It’s not a pretty picture. But I kept going because I particularly like Cormoran and his relationship to his ever vigalent, enthusiastic, helpful Robin. Poor Cormoran, at times he’s not sure he should have taken on this case. Quine’s wife is a bit odd to say the least. I found some of the characters confusing. There are writers, publishers, publicists, a whole whack of book related people and I kept getting them mixed up. But once again, I didn’t care because I like Cormoran & Robin. And of course this book is really well written – it’s J.K. Rowling! She’s a master of the page at every turn. So I kept going, and in the end, I’m happy to say I give it a thumbs up. Just be prepared, it’s more than a bit gruesome.

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The Bookman’s Tale

The Bookman’s Tale by Charlie Lovett caugh my eye in the store quite a few times before I decided to pick it up and take a peek. I just had to many other titles to check out. Grief  striken antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly flees from North Carolina to the English countryside after the sad death of his beloved young wife, Amanda. After 9 months of never even entering a bookshop, he finally gets the nerve to check out Hay-on-Wye, the famous town of books just over the border in Wales. While he’s flipping through books he discovers a piece of paper approx 4″ square tucked inside An Inquiry into the Authenticity of Certain Miscellaneous Papers by Edmond Malone. Judging by the state of the paper Peter was certain it had been there for at least a century. Out of sheer curiosity he turns it over and is gobsmacked to see what looks like a portrait of his wife Amanda staring back at him. Without a second thought, he quickly inserts the picture into a shabby copy of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dickens’ unfinished final novel, and buys it, knowing without any doubt, that he can restore the book and get two or three times the asking price. But first and foremost, he is determined to find out what the story is behind the beautiful woman in the picture. His search leads him back  through the ages all the way to Shakespeare’s time. And with clues and dangers leading the way, he sets out to prove once and for all, the truth about the Bard’s real itentity. This is a really interesting and fascinating book. If you love historical fiction, anything to do with books and their authors in bygone days, and the process of uncovering the secrets that lie on the shelves in your library and bookstores, then this is the book for you. I loved it.

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The Heist

I cottoned on to Daniel Silva late in the game. I read The English Girl sometime last year, and when I spotted his latest The Heist, I just knew I had to read it. He’s an amazing writer. His books have an art theme to them (at least those that I’ve read so far), they hop all over Europe and the Middle East, they’re full of intrigue, and each one is a page-turning thriller that will keep you up reading well into the night. Gabriel Allon is an art restorer, assassin, and Israeli spy. How’s that for a CV! While he is busy restoring an alterpiece in Venice he is visited by the Italian police who need his help in sorting through a murder scene in Lake Como that has lead to the arrest of his friend, eccentric London art dealer Julian Isherwood. The dead man is a fallen British spy who has been involved in the trafficing of stolen artworks. To save Isherwood, Allon must track down the real killer and, last but not least, find the most famous missing painting in the world – Caravaggio’s Nativity with St. Francis and St. Lawrence. I can’t imagine the amount of research that goes into each of Silva’s books. The art background is meticulously done, and sorting through the political background of the Middle East, making it clear and digestible to the average reader, is enough to make anyone’s head spin. But Silva does all this and more amazingly well. This is a brilliant book. And you won’t be satisfied with just this one book. You’ll be searching for others in the Daniel Allon series – guaranteed!

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My October

I spotted My October by Clare Holden Rothman in the bookstore and decided I had to have it, regardless of what the book was about, and whether or not it was well written. Because I LOVE the cover. It reeks Montreal, specifically Le Plateau area with the outdoor staircases that are so unique to this great city. It deserves to sit on my coffee table while the leaves turn and litter the sidewalks, just like on the cover. This is a novel full of historical detail that brings memories to the forefront of my mind… the FLQ bombings, the murder of Pierre Laporte, and the kidnapping of James Richard Cross. They’re all in the book.  Yes, Je me souviens. Luc Levesque is a famous Quebec author who has been at odds with his life for awhile. He is recognized wherever he goes as a writer for a generation of Quebecers. His wife Hanna is Anglophone from a family and background very different from Luc’s. She is his translator, and has spent her adult life distancing herself from her English family. Hugo is their 14 year old son who struggles with his identity and fitting in at his elite French school. This is the story of those 3 identities and how they form a family and deal with life, conflicting emotions, ideals and views. The backdrop to this is the October Crisis. This is a beautifully written book.  It’s a finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards for 2014, and it’s a well deserved nomination. If you like reading fiction books set in Canada by Canadian authors that deal with recent historical events, this is for you.  Read it and remember.

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No Safe House

Right from the get go Linwood Barclay has been one of my favourite authors. His latest book No Safe House is destined to be another great hit for this wonderful writer. This is the first time he’s done a cross over from one book to another. Terry Archer & family first appeared in No Time for Goodbye. They suffered a traumatic event that nearly cost them their lives. Now we continue with the Archers years later when wife Cynthia is living on her own, hoping to cool the demons that threaten to permanently ruin the relationship she has with her family. There’s been what appears to be a senseless murder of two elderly residents in their idyllic little town. Then daughter Grace gets into a nasty spot of trouble with her boyfriend due to peer pressure and bad judgement. Poor Terry is betwixed and between. He wants to help Grace before the authorities come calling, but try to keep Cynthia from figuring out that Grace is in a whole lot of trouble. Quickly the whole family become involved the shadowy underside of their hometown, and eventually they reconnect with the ruthless, unrepentant criminal that saves their lives 7 years ago who they had hoped never to lay eyes on again. As per usual Barclay is in top form. The book is definitely a fast paced thriller that doesn’t disappoint. If you’ve never read any of his books, I suggest reading No Time for Goodbye first. It’s not necessary but hey, you’ll get double the dose of enjoyment from one of Canada’s finest writers. Enjoy!  I certainly did. Barclay never disappoints.

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The Care and Management of Lies

Jacqueline Winspear’s The Care and Management of Lies is a wonderful story of “The Great War”, WWI, the war to end all wars. I’ve read so many books about the war over the past couple of years, all of them wonderful by the way, but this one is the first that has a story revolving, in part, around food – yes, food. Which is probably why I loved it so much. When Kezia Marchant marries her best friend Thea Brissenden’s brother Tom, little does she know that, not only will farm life change her beyond imagination, but she will be left to “tend the shop” when Tom goes off to fight in the war. Tom is amazed at how Kezia embraces farm life and cooks meals that rise way above the ordinary, basic farm food that he grew up on. In order to buoy his spirits while off fighting the unthinkable, and not reveal just how difficult it is to run the farm, Kezia writes delicious descriptions of imaginary meals she’s prepared for her beloved. These letters from Kezia become the heart and soul of his existence in the hell-hole that he’s landed in. Even his fellow soldiers need daily rations of readings to keep them satisfied. In reverse, Tom sends home letters that hide the unthinkable horrors of war. Each hide their true feelings of that terrible time of hardship and horror, hoping against all odds that the ghastly war will end soon and their lives will be returned to something akin to normal quickly. But everyone thought the war would be over by Christmas that first year didn’t they. I really enjoyed this book. It was a surprise find for me… I’m glad I spend so much time wandering around book stores. I have no idea how you’d find these treasures I discover online.

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