Monday, April 30, 2012

"Another Piece of My Heart" by Jane Green

Andi felt blessed when at the age of thirty-seven, she finally found the perfect man.  Ethan is an amazing husband and devoted father to his two daughters, Emily and Sophia.  Andi was thrilled to become step-mother to the two girls and accepted them as her own.  But Andi struggled to accept the fact that she may never have children of her own.  Her dream of motherhood and raising a child may never come true.

Complicating the situation is teenager Emily.  She sees Andi as an obstacle to her father's love and she will do everything she can to break up the family dynamic.  Just when it looks like Andi cannot handle the rebellion anymore and Emily may have won, a crisis hits the family.  The two find themselves at a crossroads, with everything they ever believed about family and motherhood coming into question.  

Another Piece Of My Heart by Jane Green is a sweet novel about love, family and motherhood.  It raises the question of what happens when you find everything you have ever wanted, but one thing stands in the way of pure happiness.  This is a book that hits the nail on the head for so many issues that exist in families today - blended families, teenage rebellion, infertility.

Jane Green does an excellent job of setting up the family dynamic, introducing all of the characters, their struggles and their joys.  Andi is a character that instantly draws you in.  I do feel that the rest of the characters were somewhat glossed over, the reasons for their behaviour not fully developed.  The storyline is pretty standard fare, nothing out of the ordinary for this type of novel.  And keeping with this, while the story does pick up toward the end of the novel and really pull you in, it ends up being wrapped up in a nice neat package which most likely wouldn't happen as smoothly in real life.

My biggest criticism of the book is I just didn't like how it went back and forth between Emily and Andi's point of view, one in the first person and one in the third person.  That being said, this is still a book that is good to curl up with or relax in a hot bath with.  It's an easy and quick read, you won't find yourself losing interest but you may walk away from it at the end not feeling very many emotions.  And that's okay with this book.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Vanished" by Liza Marklund

Annika Bengtzon is working as a copy editor at Stockholm's Evening Post when a call comes into the newsroom.  With her colleagues busy working on a story about a double murder at the docks, Annika takes the call.  It's from a woman who claims that her organization, the Paradise Foundation, can help people change identities and completely erase their pasts and she wants Annika to write a story about them.

Shortly after meeting with her, Annika is contacted by another woman named Aida who has a connection to the double murder and whose life is in danger.  To help her escape, Annika puts her into contact with the Paradise Foundation.  But when Aida turns up dead, Annika decides to dig deeper into the organization and finds that it's not what it seems.  And as Annika and local council employee Thomas try to shed light on its activities, they find their own lives in danger.

Vanished, by Liza, Marklund, is a fast-paced thriller by Scandinavia's Queen of crime fiction.  Reading this book you will easily see how she has earned that title.  Annika Bengtzon is a fantastic heroine.  She is flawed and complex, but committed to fairness and justice and will be loved by every reader.  The scope of this book is very wide and it makes for a great story, one that is rooted in an actual story Marklund investigated herself in her earlier career as a journalist.  

This book is a part of a series centred around Annika Bengtzon.  What I like very much about this series is that while you do see Annika move her way up at the paper, and grow into her role as wife and mother throughout the series, you do not have to read the books in chronological order.  This is the second book of the series that I have read (see my review of The Bomber here) and this one takes place earlier than the previous book.  It's a very interesting way to discover the character of Annika and I love that you know bits and pieces from all over her life while you're reading, but not the whole story.  

There is a lot going on in the book - Annika's past, her ill grandmother, her relationship with Thomas, the Paradise Foundation, the involvement of the Yugoslavian Mafia in the murders, Aida's past in Yugoslavia - and there are some points that I personally felt could have been dealt with better (for example, not as much attention or more explanation) however, Marklund is a very skilled writer and does an excellent job of weaving all of this together.  

Vanished is a well-written and thrilling novel.  Having thoroughly enjoyed both this book and The Bomber, I look forward to reading the rest of the Annika Bengtzon series.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Beautiful Bookstores

If these bookstores were in my corner of the world, they'd get all of my money just because of their beauty!

Selexyz Bookstore in Maastricht, Netherlands. This bookstore was built inside a former Dominican Church (source)

Livaria Lello in Porto, Portugal, built in 1906 (source)

El Ateneo Bookshop in Buenos Aires, Argentina, built inside a former theatre (source)

Friday, April 13, 2012

"419" by Will Ferguson

It all begins with a simple email: "Dear Sir, I am the son of an exiled Nigerian diplomat, and I need your help…"

When Laura Curtis' father gets caught up in this con, he ends up losing his money, his home and his life. Determined to take revenge on father's killer, Laura sets off dangerous world of the Lagos underworld and into the heart of the 419 industry. But she soon discovers that this scam reaches much further than she thought. A pregnant young woman who appears out of a sandstorm in sub-Saharan Africa, a young man whose village has fallen prey to the destruction of the oil industry, these lives and more are all connected to Laura's through one of the worlds most notorious email scams.

419, by Will Ferguson, is a fast-paced, sweeping novel that takes you into a world full of crime, suffering, greed, revenge and redemption. The 419 email scams (named for the section of the Nigerian Criminal Code dealing with fraud) are well known throughout the world and have become an industry in Nigeria. This books takes you inside a world you know of, but couldn't possibly understand the scope of. We often find ourselves wondering who could possibly fall victim to one of these scams but this book shows just how the goodness of human nature can easily be taken advantage of.

Ferguson masterfully weaves the stories of many people together into one book, jumps from person to person but consistently keeps the book flowing straight through to the end. I have to admit that there were points where I thought "okay, where is this going," but when it got to that point, I was impressed with skillful writing that brought me there.

Ferguson has obviously done his research. The 419 world is highly intricate and through it all he manages to put a human face to these people, to make them understandable and even make the reader sympathetic to their plight. This book doesn't just cover the 419 scams, it looks at the effects the oil industry has had on Nigeria, it's economy and the its citizens. It examines what can happen a country gives its young people an opportunity for education but little opportunity to put that education to work.

My favourite part of this book was when Laura travelled to Nigeria to get revenge. In the beginning, I really questioned her strength and character but she turned out to be a fantastic and funny heroine. I couldn't help but smile and cheer as she worked her revenge on the man who swindled her father.

Will Ferguson is a fantastic writer and I am such a fan of his earlier humour writing, especially Happiness and How to Be a Canadian. I barely had to look at the blurb on this book to decide whether or not to read it, his name on the cover is enough for me. But when I did find out that this book differs from the previous works of his I have read, I strongly questioned whether or not a book of this genre would be any good. Well, I never should have doubted him. This is an incredible novel and it proves that Ferguson is a talented writer of any genre.

I received this book courtesy of Penguin Canada. The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Fantastic Libraries Around the World

Who doesn't love a beautiful library???

Main reading hall of the City Library of Stockholm (source)

Library of the Dutch Parliament, The Hague, Netherlands (source)

Main reading room, Library of Parliament, Ottawa, Ontario (source)

Uris Library, Cornell University, New York (source)

Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library at University of Toronto, Ontario (source)

Monday, April 9, 2012

"Ecoholic Body" by Adria Vasil

Adria Vasil, Canada's straight-shooting green living expert, is back, and this time it's personal…care, that is.

Ecoholic Body: Your Ultimate Earth-Friendly Guide to Living Healthy & Looking Good by Adria Vasil is the only book you will need to turn your personal care as green as you possibly can. It literally has you covered from head to toe to make sure you get chemicals out of your body and out of your life.

This indispensable guide covers everything. It gives you the lowdown on the "mean 15" ingredients to avoid, the best skin care, all the latest eco-fashions, the scoop on nature's best for kids, and how to green your health care and feel your best. The book also includes labelling of Made in Canada products, a nation-wide store directory, do-it-yourself homemade body care, and something that is very important to ecoholics, money saving tips.

The best feature of this book is Vasil's exhaustive testing of products from every type of personal care. She doesn't just tell you which products have the best ingredients and the least chemicals, she tests every product for effectiveness, smell and feel, rating them on a scale of 1to 5. And for that I give her a standing ovation. Years ago I switched all of my personal care products to all-natural except for one - deodorant. I was never able to find a natural deodorant that I felt confident leaving the house with so I just gave up on that one. But after reading Adria's test guide, I went out and bought the top-rated one and I am in love.

Adria Vasil doesn't just talk the talk, she lives the life and writes her book with honesty and humour. Reading this book is like getting tips from your girlfriend, from the beginning you trust everything she says and every recommendation she gives. She doesn't just tell you what to avoid then throw you at the mercy of the drugstore shelves, she straight up tells you what not to buy and why.

Ecoholic Body is the third book by Adria Vasil. The first - Ecoholic - covers everything you need to know about going green in every aspect of your life. Her second book - Ecoholic Home - gives you all of the information you need to make your home the cleanest, greenest and most efficient one on the block. There is also a US edition of Ecoholic in bookstores now to help Americans decode what is really green and what is just green washed on their shelves as well.

These days it's all about going green and saving the earth and that's a good thing. But it's not as easy as it seems and if you find yourself confused by the messages out there then you need some Ecoholic in your life. And if you've been living the green life for a while and think you've got everything down, this book will continue to motivate you and introduce you to some fabulous new products and stores. There is something in this book for everyone and declare it a must-read for all.

Be sure to check out Adria Vasil's website, on Twitter @ecoholicnation, and her weekly column in Now Magazine.

I received this book courtesy of Random House of Canada. The opinions expressed above are purely my own.

Friday, April 6, 2012

"Song of My Heart" by Kim Vogel Sawyer

Sadie Wagner will do anything for her family so when her stepfather is injured and can no longer work, as the eldest child she decides it is time for her to take on a job. The town of Goldtree, Kansas offers her everything she could ever want - a job as a clerk at the mercantile and the opportunity to become a professional singer at the local opera house. Though the opera house isn't what she thought it would be, she can't risk the money her family needs so she will do anything to keep her job.

Thad McKane is the new sheriff in Goldtree. It's not quite what he wants to do but it will earn him the money he needs for training to become a minister. Goldtree isn't the type of town that would need a sheriff, but it has been plagued by bootlegging operations and the town council wants Thad to find the culprit before word gets out to the people living there.

When Thad and Sadie meet, there is instant attraction. But when Thad hears Sadie practicing the bawdy tunes she sings at the opera house, he begins to wonder if she is as innocent as she seems. And as he does a little digging, he finds that Sadie may be a part of the crimes he is investigating.

Song of My Heart by Kim Vogel Sawyer is a beautiful work of historical Christian fiction. Readers are instantly transported back to a different time and caught up in a different world. It isn't just a simple love story, it has scandal, blackmail, illegal dealings, and enough intricacies to keep the reader turning the pages. Most importantly, it has strong Christian messages that readers can appreciate and relate to.

The best thing about the book is the fabulous characters that make for a very interesting town! Sadie is a girl that everyone will relate to and empathize with, Thad is a dashing suitor, Asa Baxter is a great villain, and twins Melva and Shelva Baxter are a right laugh!

I think it may be time for me to quit saying I'm not a big fan of historical fiction because this is another fantastic offering from the genre. I know that I can at least say I'm now a fan of Kim Vogel Sawyer and will definitely be looking for more of her books.

Monday, April 2, 2012

"Web of Angels" by Lillian Nattel

On the surface, Sharon Lewis is your average mother. She is the centre of a vibrant house full of three kids and a loving husband. She has a close-knit extended family and lives in a quiet, community-oriented neighbourhood. But Sharon keeps a secret from everyone but her husband.

Everything is going well for Sharon until the day Heather Edwards, a pregnant teenager living down the street, commits suicide. This act, and the fallout from it, has a significant impact on the Lewis family and leads to the unravelling of Sharon's secret - she has DID, dissociative identity disorder. And the multiples who make up Sharon are aware of a secret that exists in Heather Edwards' family, one that threatens the life of Heather's surviving sister.

Web of Angels by Lillian Nattel is a heartbreaking, haunting and beautiful story. It takes the painful and unfortunate reality of evil that exists in this world and deals with it in a kind and loving manner. The character of Sharon is beautifully crafted and obviously well-researched. Nattel has taken DID and made it understandable for those who are not familiar with it.

What was impressive about this book is that it's not about a woman and her DID, it's about a woman who happens to have DID. We are able to view, understand and learn about the disorder in the larger context of a crime happening within a close knit community. Sharon and her multiples are loving, strong and courageous, fighting for what is right at all costs.

This book is full of sensitive topics but covers them in a manner that is not overly graphic. There is a lot to deal with and take in and the weak of heart may have trouble with some of it, but it is an important subject and Nattel's writing tackles the subject in the best way possible.

Web of Angels will most likely challenge your views and preconceptions of DID and open your heart to those who are dealing with it. You will be astonished by the way Nattel is able to take heart-wrenching topics and write them in such a beautiful way. A page-turner for sure, Web of Angels is a must-read.

Thank you to Random House of Canada for providing me with a copy of this book for review. The opinions expressed above are my own and I have received no compensation for this review.