Thursday, June 28, 2012

22. Leaving Unknown by Kerry Reichs

and loving it!

From the author Kerry Reichs comes Leaving Unknown—a funny and touching story of a young woman who, while traveling across country, finds herself stuck in the true middle of nowhere, a.k.a. Unknown, Arizona.

Sweet Lips, Tennessee . . . Toad Suck, Arkansas . . . Okay, Oklahoma . . . Truth or Consequences, New Mexico . . .

Maeve Connelly's epic road trip is taking her through every colorfully named tiny town in America on her way to the far less imaginatively named Los Angeles, California. With her foulmouthed cockatiel, Oliver, her only companion, Maeve's heading way off the beaten track with little money and a load of painful baggage she wants to leave behind. But when her beloved rattletrap, "Elsie," breaks down outside Unknown, Arizona, she finds herself taking a much longer rest stop than she anticipated.

The only mechanic in the vicinity is on an indefinite walkabout, so Maeve's in for the long haul—and she'll need to find two jobs to pay for Elsie's eventual repair. But she's starting to feel strangely at home among the quirky denizens of Unknown—especially around her new bookstore owner boss—so Maeve is seriously considering saying good-bye to Hollywood for good . . . if she can keep her past troubles from coming to light.

Reich writes this story with wit, heart, great dialogue and characters that I want to keep reading about. Maeve Connelly is a delight, quirky and a breath of fresh air.  The banter between Maeve and her bookstore boss and writer Noah is fun to follow.  Lots of literary references are tossed back and forth between the two making the read that much more enthralling. There is an easy richness in the way Reichs writes.  She brings humor that had me laughing out loud and such poignant moments that I may have teared up once or twice.  By the time the last page is turned, I wanted to jump in my car and go to Uknown myself. It was like being somewhere you didn't want to leave. A truly satisfying read, I look forward to reading more by Kerry Reichs.  I reccomend you set aside an afternoon to enjoy leaving unknown.

Monday, June 25, 2012

21. R.S.V.P. by Helen Warner

Four women, one wedding and a day to remember - or rather forget . . .

Anna's world is rocked when she receives an invitation to her ex Toby's nuptials - Toby was The One, The Love of Her Life, The One That Got Away. Will attending his Big Day finally give her the sense of closure she so desperately craves? Or will it only re-open old wounds?

Clare is Anna's best friend, the person who was there for her when she and Toby split all those years ago. But little does Clare know that Toby's wedding day will also change her own life for ever.

Ella is a classic femme fatale. She loves men and leaves them without a backward glance. But the one person who's never fallen for her charms is Toby. As he prepares to get hitched, is it too late for a last-ditch attempt to win his heart?

Finally, Rachel is the blushing bride-to-be. This should be the happiest day of her life. So how come she feels nothing but a terrible sense of foreboding?

A wonderful book to escape with, this book reminds me of stories by Jane Green or Jennifer Crusie, both favourite authors of mine.  The premier novel by Helen Warner, R.S.V.P. interweaves the lives of four women while still maintaining their individual characters with a depth and detail that makes the reader feel like they were there.  The stories are told from both the present day, a reunion a few years ago and back to their first meeting about ten years ago.  Back stories are  deftly revealed with perfect timing.  Each page makes you eager for the next, the tension, drama and even humour propelling the reader into the lives of these four women.  A highly enjoyable read, I very much look forward to reading more by this new author. Delectable!
by Crumbs and Doilies cupcakes UK

Saturday, June 23, 2012

18. Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single girl of high standing at Longbourn Academy must be in want of a prom date.After winter break, the girls at the very prestigious, very wealthy, girls-only Longbourn Academy are suddenly obsessed with the prom, which they share with the nearby, equally elitist, all-boys Pemberly School. Lizzie Bennett, who attends Longbourn on scholarship, isn't exactly interested in designer dresses and expensive shoes, but her best friend, Jane, might be—especially now that Charles Bingley is back from a semester in London. Lizzie is happy about her friend's burgeoning romance, but less than impressed by Will Darcy, Charles's friend, who's as snobby and pretentious as his friend is nice. He doesn't seem to like Lizzie either, but she assumes it's because her family doesn't have money. It doesn't help that Charles doesn't seem to be asking Jane to be his prom date, or that Lizzie meets George Wickham, who tells her that Will Darcy sabotaged his scholarship at Pemberly. Clearly, Will Darcy is a pompous jerk who looks down on the middle class—so imagine Lizzie's surprise when he asks her to the prom!Will Lizzie's prejudice and Will's pride keep them apart? Or are they a prom couple in the making? From Elizabeth Eulberg comes a very funny, completely stylish prom season delight of Jane Austen proportions.

A retelling of Austen's Pride and Prejudice.  This time Bennett and Darcy are students at an exclusive school where wealth, designer clothes and knowing the 'right' people denotes social success. Reading this book was like greeting an old friend.  The modernization of the story allows for a fresh look at favourite characters.  For those teens new to the Austen story, this lively incarnation is a great update making use of modern-day themes of bullying, prom traditions and cliques. The characters and high school situations are easy to identify with and, just as in the original, we are cheering for Miss Bennett and waiting for Mr. Darcy to really  see her.  In Prom & Prejudice, we see a bit more of Darcy's story, his viewpoints and reactions.  As a result we also notice more the assumption and mistakes Liz makes, causing the reader to pull for the almost-couple once again. The interpretations of Jane, Bingley and Collins are fun and fitting. Using the search for an acceptable prom date as the basis for the interactions works much better than trying to deal with a modern teen marriage.  This way, the story can be kept emotionally involving without being alien to teen audiences.Well told, Prom & Prejudice is a great teen novel.  A fun way to learn the classic story of romance and how a young girl's pride and a young man's stereotyping of others can complicate things, especially for those readers who shy away from actually picking up an 'old' classic.

50 Book Challenge update

The list so far...

1. Love Overboard by Janet Evanovich
2. Soulless by Gail Carriger
3. Nikki Heat by Richard Castle
4. Circle 9 by Anne Heltzel
5. Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte
6. Fearless by Tim Lott
7. The Trouble with Magic by Madelyne Alt
8. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon
9. Agnes and the Hitman by Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer
10. Ghost of Crutchfield Hall by Mary Downing Hall
11.  The Black Donnellys by Thomas P. Kelley
12. When You Dare by Lori Foster
13. Viking In Love by Sandra Hill
14. The Time Time Stopped by Don Gillmor
15. The Accident by Barclay Linwood
16. Under the Afghan Sun by Mellissa Fung
17. Shelter by Frances Greenslade
18. Prom & Prejudice by Elizabeth Eulberg
19. Radiance by Alyson Noel
20. Shimmer by Alyson Noel
21. R.S.V.P. by Helen Warner
22. Leaving Unknown by Kerry Reichs
23. Mennonites Don't Dance by Darcie Friesen Hossack
24. Dreamland by Alyson Noel
25. Whisper by Alyson Noel
26. Evermore by Alison Noel
27. Making It Big by Lyndsay Russell
28. This book is Overdue by Marilyn Johnson
29. Family Tree by Barbara Delinsky

I'm at week a wee bit behind.  Can I catch up over summer?

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

17. Shelter by Frances Greenslade

The story of two sisters, Maggie and Jenny, and their quest to find out what happened to their mother who left them to billet in Williams Lake, a small town in British Columbia, and never came back. Set in the 1960s and 70s in the wilds of the Chilcotin, where it's still possible to lose yourself, the novel explores the attachment we have to our mothers, and the expectation we hold that they will always be our mothers, and nothing more.                                                                                                                                                  

I picked up this Canadian book as part of the Evergreen program.  I am glad it was nominated because I would not have given it a second glance otherwise.  That would have been my loss.  Frances Greenslade has delivered a poignant and touching story of loss, survival and family.


Jenny was the one who asked me to write all this down. She wanted me to sort it for her, string it out, bead by bead, an official story, like a rosary she could repeat and count on. But I started writing it for her, too. For Mom, or Irene as other people would call her, since she abandoned a long time ago whatever “Mom” once meant to her.            
Even now there was no stopping the guilt that rose up when we thought of her. We did not try to look for our mother. She was gone, like a cat who goes out the back door one night and doesn’t return, and you don’t know if a coyote got her or a hawk or if she sickened somewhere and couldn’t make it home. We let time pass, we waited, trusting her, because she had always been the best of mothers. She’s the mother, that’s what we said to each other, or we did in the beginning. I don’t know who started it.
That’s not true. It was me. Jenny said, “We should look for her.” I said, “She’s the mother.” When I said it, I didn’t know the power those few words would take on in our lives. They had the sound of truth, loaded and untouchable. But they became an anchor that dragged us back from our most honest impulses.
We waited for her to come to get us and she never did.
There was no sign that this would happen. I know people always look for signs. That way they can say, we’re not the type of people things like that happen to, as if we were, as if we should have seen it coming. But there were no signs. Nothing except my worry, which I think I was born with, if you can be born a worrier—Jenny thinks you can.

I like that this book has it's own soundtrack.  It's compiled of songs that I grew up with and as I read Shelter, they brought the story closer to my being.  Here is the Shelter "soundtrack" listed by the author:

Sweet Caroline by Neil Diamond
I Feel the Earth Move by Carole King
I Got You Babe by Sonny and Cher
Goodnight Irene by Leadbelly
I'll Have Another Cup of Coffee by Conway Twitty
Crocodile Rock by Elton John
Rock and Roll by Led Zeppelin
Heartaches By the Number by Ray Price
Dreamer by Supertramp
Bloody Well Right by Supertramp
Break on Through to the Other Side by The Doors
White Room by Cream
Tie a Yellow Ribbon Round the Ole Oak Tree by Tony Orlando and Dawn
A Horse with No Name by America
I'll Tell Me Ma (traditional)
Too-ra-loo-ra-loo-ra (An Irish Lullaby) by Bing Crosby
I've Been Everywhere by Hank Snow


Discussion question: What do you think made Irene leave? What emotion ruled her actions? Do you think she planned to return?
I think that Irene would have returned to the girls.  Whether or not she would have stayed, or taken them with her I don't really know.  
I think her leaving occurred because she was lost to herself at that point and unsure of what would happen.  She almost returned to herself at sixteen, pregnant by Emil and unsure of how she and the child would survive.  I wonder if she was attempting a do-over, a chance to try again with Emil and have it turn out better.   Lost as she was emotionally, I can see how trying to explain her circumstance and relationship with Emil to her daughters could be beyond her ability at the time.
I can't help but wonder if Irene leaving the girls with the Edwards felt more like intended abandonment because of the time that passed before Maggie discovered what happened to her.  
I do wonder if she ever let Emil know he had a daughter from their first relationship.  I can't imagine him not at least looking her up, seeking out that connection, after losing Irene and the baby.  Then again, with a small town like they were in, I wonder if he ever came back to the boat and heard of Jenny and that Irene had married.  Had he known all along that Jenny was his?  If so, did he stay away because Patrick was now her father?

Friday, June 15, 2012

16. Under the Afghan Sun by Mellissa Fung

In October 2008, Mellissa Fung, a reporter for CBC’s The National, was leaving a refugee camp outside of Kabul when she was kidnapped by armed men. She was forced to hike for several hours through the mountains until they reached a village; there, the kidnappers pushed her towards a hole in the ground. “No,” she said. “I am not going down there.”
For more than a month, Fung lived in that hole, which was barely tall enough to stand up in, nursing her injuries, praying and writing in a notebook. Under an Afghan Sky is the gripping tale of Fung’s days in captivity, surviving on cookies and juice, from the “grab” to her eventual release.

I read this book without having any background on the story or the author.   I am glad I did, as I was able to  - as much as a book will allow -take this journey with her.

I understood why she would be writing to specific people in her journal as well as keeping a diary during her detainment but was surprised to find I was eager to read more of the notes Paul was writing to her as well.   It was a great detail to have those brief glimpses into what was happening to him and her friends and family as they waited for news and for the negotiations to continue.  For  me, it punctuated her isolation from all that she knew.  As a reader I was grabbing fast to Paul's updates and worry for Melissa and at the same time realizing how hungry she was for that same contact.

I found the beginning and end of this memoir riveting and tense.  The middle was long, sometimes boring and I quickly grew impatient with it.  For this story, I think that worked wonderfully as it brought the reader into the experience of Melissa and the long, long wait she experienced.  I think she did a good job of describing the events , the feeling that time had stalled, and her constant attempts to connect with her captors.  That connection is so important as it was the only thing she really had any amount of control over and it was the one thing she could do to humanize herself to her captors.  It reminded me of my criminology classes and the strategy of making captors see their victims as humans, individuals and not as symbols of what they hate as it is much more difficult to harm or kill someone whom you see as a person.  Her  journaling of Canadian experiences such as the Canuks games, the Terry Fox run and the election achieved a similar effect for me as a reader.  These topics and others allowed me to connect with her as the protagonist and care more about her story.

Melissa's descriptions of her captors followed her emotional journey...factual and straightforward at the beginning, then empathetic and inquisitive as she gently manoeuvred herself into their daily lives, and finally reflective and understanding of their world.

I am not sure if it is Melissa's personality, reporter training  or her specific experience, but I found her approach in the book of providing relevant details and conveying the fear, stress and frustrations she felt to be very matter of fact.  I think I expected a bit more intensity of emotion in the story, but then again, that could also have been a survival tactic.  Don't break down - don't appear weak - don't give them any reason to hurt you.  Overall, I was impressed with her handling of the ordeal.  I would have liked a paragraph or two about how her friends and family fared and about her return to Canada after she was released.  How did the experience affect her shortly after gaining freedom?  How is she now?  The lack of that distanced her again from me.  Perhaps it has more to do with maintaining her standing as an objective journalist or want for privacy...but she did choose to write this memoir and it felt unfinished to me.

Here is a interview with author Melissa Fung.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

15. The Accident by Barclay Linwood

It’s the new normal at the Garber household in Connecticut: Glen, a contractor, has seen his business shaken by the housing crisis, and now his wife, Sheila, is taking a business course at night to increase her chances of landing a good-paying job.
But she should have been home by now.
Waiting for Sheila’s return, with their eight-year-old daughter sleeping soundly, Glen soon finds his worst fears confirmed: Sheila and two others have been killed in a car accident. Adding to the tragedy, the police claim Sheila was responsible.
Glen knows it’s impossible; he knew his wife and she would never do such a thing. When he investigates, Glen begins to uncover layers of lawlessness beneath the placid surface of their suburb, secret after dangerous secret behind the closed doors.
Propelled into a vortex of corruption and illegal activity, pursued by mysterious killers, and confronted by threats from neighbors he thought he knew, Glen must take his own desperate measures and go to terrifying new places in himself to avenge his wife and protect his child.
Even now I can't decide if I like this novel or not.  It definitely had a lot of potential, but I think the neat ending on all fronts took away from the appeal overall.  I read somewhere that this was like an episode of Desperate Housewives in regards to all the dealings between the neighbours.  It was that tone in the book that felt "off" to me especially given the exciting prologue and the first page where I was initially hooked with Glen saying, "If I'd known this was our last morning, I'd have rolled over in bed and held her. But of course, if it had been possible to know something like that--if I could have somehow seen into the future--I wouldn't have let go. And then things would have been different." (The Accident by Linwood Barclay)

The character that I found the most compelling was that of Sheila. Glen's character seemed a bit flat to me and really only seemed to have "life" when he was remembering conversations with his wife. Glen's character, to  me, seemed to be barely more than a vehicle to for the reader to follow and discover the story.  It was his memory of his late wife, his perceptions of the woman she was, her attitude towards others and her ability to cut to the chase, often with a wry humour that actually compelled me through the story.  Without her presence, I'm not sure that I would have really cared what happened to the other characters, even Kelly.  I wanted her to be an innocent party in the accident and I wanted to know that Glen's perception of her before the crash was accurate. With every discovery of her secret life, I hoped that she was ignorant of what was really going on. I rally enjoyed reading about their relationship and appreciated that it was not divulged all at once in some long narrative, but rather parcelled out in bits throughout the novel almost as though that was as much as Glen could bear to share about her at a time.

I still had some problems with how Sheila was written though.  If I recall correctly, she had studied some law and was presented as an intelligent, honest woman. While Glen seemed to think his wife was innocent  though misguided, I can't help but feel that she was much more aware of what she was doing.  I find it hard to believe that a relatively intelligent woman would not have seriously questioned the quality and liability risks of selling prescription medications out the back door before getting involved.  Had she started with selling purses or some other knock-off I would have found it more believable.  I also have to wonder if the story would have seemed more believable if she had, in fact, made a terrible decision and been responsible for the accident. At the end, all the plot points were wrapped up a little to neatly for me to really buy into it.

I didn't like how Sally ended up in the last chapters.  I felt the change from the sweet, helpful, almost family version to the heartless killer she was revealed as was not bridged well.  Even if her absence at Sheila's funeral had been played up a bit there may have been a hint of the difference in those personalities.  As it was written, I felt it came suddenly out of left field. I would have found it more believable if she had killed Theo in self defence or was truly distraught over the death of her father.

I did like the character of Fiona.  Straight shooting and unapologetic, I immediately wondered what had happened in her life to make her act that way.  She couldn't be all bad if she adored her granddaughter as she did. The tiny hope of redemption for the villains in the family is always fun in a book.   Her character was a nice contrast to Glen's and while her behaviour was often abhorrent, it had a strength and decisiveness I found lacking elsewhere in the book.

 I enjoyed the novel while I was reading it but found, when finished, I was rather unsatisfied with the episodic TV ending --everything wrapped up too nice and neat and explained.