Monday, March 31, 2008

After River - Donna Milner

After River by Donna Milner was released by Harper Collins Canada on Friday March 28.

It's summer 1966 in British Columbia, a stone's throw from the U.S. border. Fifteen year old Natalie Ward, her parents -Nettie and Gus and her three brothers live on their dairy farm in a secluded valley. Natalie is happiest within the enclave of her family. Their lives seem idyllic, both to themselves and to their friends and neighbours. When the need for a new handyman arises, Nettie hires a young American draft dodger - River Jordan.

"She was expecting him. She wasn't expecting the heartache that would follow like a cold wind".
Milner's masterful use of foreshadowing throughout this novel is never overdone, rather it leaves the reader hungering to follow the story. We are tantalized by some future cataclysmic event, that will change the seemingly perfect lives of the Ward family. River Jordan's arrival seems to be the momentum that begins the change.....

After River tells it's story flipping between the past and the present. We relive the past through Natalie and Nettie's memories. In the present it is 2003 and Nettie is dying from cancer. She needs to see Natalie before she dies. Natalie has been estranged from her family for over 25 years.

"The unnamed resentment I carried with me out the door the day I left. I carried it every day, like some animal clinging to my back that wouldn't let go because I kept petting it, stroking it, enjoying the perverse pleasure of letting it hang on".

What could have happened to this family to create such a rift? I will not spoil the book for future readers by detailing the events that lead up to this rift. Rather, I encourage you to experience this hauntingly beautiful book for yourself. Everyone will be able to relate to and reflect on the complexity of family relationships detailed in this amazing first novel.

Milner's writing is quite simply, beautiful.

"My favourite memory is of my father and brothers working in the fields. I carry a mental picture of them drenched in the golden glow of the late summer sun. I keep this precious gem hidden deep in the dark closet of my mind, behind all of life's stored clutter. I take it out rarely, cautiously. Like a fragile object stored in opaque tissue, I unwrap it with slow trepidation. I turn it this way and that, trying to see more, to see beyond the faded edges of memory".

Milner was a real estate agent until her husband encouraged her to start writing. I'm very glad he did. Milner is an important new voice in Canadian literature. This would make a great book club selection.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Dishwasher - Pete Jordan

It was the subtitle of this book that grabbed me. "One man's quest to wash dishes in all fifty states" How could you not be intrigued by this premise?

"For twelve Years, I was the most prolific dishlicker of them all. From 1989 to 2001 I dished my way around the country, unwittingly searching for direction" Pete Jordan

I was captured - I had to know more about this guy and his adventures.

Jordan as a teen has no great ambitions. He gets into trouble with the nuns in school for listing house painter as his career objective. He falls into dishwashing by accident. At Jack in the Box, he fails as a fry cook, is no better at cashier and is 'punished' by being sent to do the dishes. Jordan discovers that this is far from punishment - he's left alone, has a radio, lots of eats. (Although I did find myself gagging as describes the Bus Tub Buffet - let your imagination fill in the blanks) Thus, Dishwasher Pete is born. Jordan does what we've all thought of. If the job has served it's purpose (enough money to travel to the next state) or he's just had enough,he quits -with no notice.

The book is peppered with references to dishwasher facts and lore. Did you know that George Orwell was a dishwasher in Paris? Along the way, Jordan starts a 'zine' - "Dishwasher" and his name starts to spread in the dishwasher world. Word of his 50 state goal spreads and soon CNN, journalists, even David Letterman, are trying to track him down to interview him. Dishwasher Pete isn't interested and continues on his journey.

He washes dishes in many different environments - cafeterias, restaurants, fishing canneries, oil rigs and the list goes on. The book never bogs down - each tale of every job and the people he meets are fresh. We see glimpses of a yearning for something more - the house prices in Kansas ($12,000!) give him pause. Maybe he could save enough to buy one and have a home base. That pull gets stronger and a blue rimmed plate that keeps showing up in the dishwasher with the plain white ones provides an epiphany for Dishwasher Pete.

Does Pete succeed in his quest? what is he doing now? I'll let you discover the ending of Dishwasher.

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Killer Heat - Linda Fairstein

Killer Heat is the 10th eagerly awaited novel in the Alex Cooper crime series.

Fairstein is writing from experience. She ran the sex crimes unit for the District Attorney in Manhattan for over 20 years. Alex Cooper is also a Manhattan DA - sex crimes. Because of Fairstein's experience, the crimes, dialogues, law, atmosphere and characters all ring true.

Fascinating as well is Fairstein's use and accounts of New York's history. Crimes, clues and investigations all happen within parts of New York and it's boroughs that I'm sure many native New Yorkers don't even know about. For a fascinating video of Fairstein telling us about Alex Cooper and real footage of some of the locations used in Killer Heat, click here. Look for the video in the bottom right corner.

"Coop" usually works with Mike Chapman - a homicide detective with a predilection for the TV show Jeopardy's final question. She also works with Mercer - another detective who is the calm voice of reason. The relationships of these three are part of the charm of the series.

Killer Heat takes place in August in New York. A young woman's badly beaten body is found in an abandoned building in the East River. Yet another body is found and it looks to be the work of the same person. Do they have a serial killer on their hands? A third body is found and it appears the answer is 'yes'.

The interaction between characters, the settings, the fast paced action all add up to make Fairstein one of the authors on my "Waiting for the next book" list.

If you like the recurring characters of John Sandford and Jeffery Deaver, you will love Linda Fairstein. I dare you to read just one!

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Too many books....

But you can never have enough books right? Or enough books on hold at the library. The Spring and Summer releases are now in the catalogue at my local library. I have maxed out my card with the limit of 40 reserves. Ummm - and my husband's too. That's only 80 books I'm waiting to read. Not so much........
Maybe I should quit working and read full time.... Hmmm

Monday, March 24, 2008

Mudbound - Hillary Jordan

Mudbound by Hillary Jordan is a stunning debut novel.

I was absolutely blown away by this book. The cover art captured me first. The stark contrast of the ramshackle house against the bountiful cotton field intrigued me. I wanted to know the story of that house and it's inhabitants.

Laura has resigned herself to life as a spinster when she meets Henry McAllan in 1939. She eventually accepts his proposal of marriage and they settle down to urban life in Memphis, Tennessee. Family upheaval and Henry's desire to own a farm lands them, their two children and Henry's sly, cruel father in rural Mississippi on a cotton farm. There is no electricity, no running water and when the river rises, they are cut off from the town. There are tenant farmers on the land as well, black and white. Racial tensions and long held prejudices run deep in the Mississippi Delta.

Mudbound opens with Henry and his brother Jamie burying their father on the farm. Jordan's descriptions paint tangible pictures. " The soil was so wet from all the rain it was digging into raw meat". Laura's description of the farm also paints a vivid picture. "When it rained, as it often did, the yard turned into a thick gumbo, with the house floating in it like a soggy cracker"

From that opening scene, we relive how Henry and Jamie came to be burying their father. Each character has a voice in the telling of the story. Henry, Jamie, Laura, Florence and Hap - the black tenant farmers on the McAllan farm and Ronsel - their son. Ronsel and Jamie have both just returned home from the war. Both men have been changed by their experiences and form an unlikely friendship. In the Jim Crow south, this is unacceptable and drives the story to it's inevitable conclusion.

I could not put this book down. The characters,their lives, emotions and upheaval are so richly painted. The historical facts of the deep south in the late 1940's are woven into this stunning debut novel. Jordan's writing captured and held me until the last page. I cannot wait to read her next novel.

Mudbound evoked strong emotions in this reader. The past is still happening.

Jordan won the 2006 Bellwether Prize awarded to literature of social change. This founder of this prize is Barbara Kingsolver.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Unpredictable - Eileen Cook

Okay so after I decided Thursday to sit on the couch with a good book, I did just that. I picked up Unpredictable by Eileen Cook off the new book display at the library.

Sophie Kintock has been with her boyfriend Doug for 6 years. While they are doing laundry, he decides to tell her that he is leaving. Sophie thinks he means to go to the store. He means for good. Sophie knows that Doug is the love of her life and she is determined to get him back. She begins Operation Drive Him Home. Sophie has a spare set of keys and moves his car a few spaces every day. She steals into his new apartment building and takes one sock of every pair. It is during the act of sock appropriation that Doug and his new neighbour Melanie (a drop dead gorgeous, well endowed blonde) appear in the laundry room. Sophie hides under a sink and her heart sinks when she hears Doug ask Melanie out. Once they leave another tenant, Nick, comes in and finds Sophie crying under the sink. Nick is a really nice guy and a psychic researcher. Oh did I mention that Melanie believes in psychics? Sophie decides to masquerade as a psychic to give Melanie some 'good' advice. And so the story begins.....

Honestly, it takes a lot for me to laugh out loud while reading, but Unpredictable has so many humorous moments. It's the way that Cook writes - she is genuinely funny! Cook is a transplanted American now living in Canada (as is Sophie). There is one paragraph where Sophie goes to buy deli meat but has no idea about the metric system. I won't spoil it here but it's on page 20. You can enjoy the first chapter here. Eileen's blog is pretty funny too!

You can predict how the story will end, but that's not important. More enjoyable is the journey there. A thoroughly entertaining, enjoyable read. If you like chick lit authors such as Sophie Kinesella and Jane Green, add Eileen Cook to your list. I'm looking forward to the next one!

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Here in Canada Good Friday is observed as a statutory holiday. My daughter and son in law live the US. Interestingly it is a not a federal holiday, but only a state holiday in 16 states. Enjoy the day wherever you live.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Spring is Here?

Okay - so the groundhogs were wrong. I have double checked and all three big names in the groundhog prediction business said Spring would be here soon. They lied. I sit here this morning watching snowflakes happily swirl outside my window. Now mind you the grass is showing through in spots - enough to know that I maybe fed my two dogs a little too much this winter.
I'm ready for Spring! I have plans! I bought my vegetable garden seeds ( that still need to be started) , I have a new porch swing ( that still needs to be put together), I'm planning on looking at my bicycle ( that still needs to be overhauled) and that yard is really going to take a lot of work (and a big shovel and wheelbarrow)
Hmm- okay so another day on the couch with a really good book doesn't sound too bad. Spring will get here soon enough

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Great Mystery Book Contest!

Harper Collins Canada is running a great contest this month. It's called March Mystery Madness and gives you the opportunity to win 64 (!!) mysteries for your library. It's set up like a sports round robin playoff . There are four categories of mysteries. You vote for the ones you think should move on. The winners will meet in a championship showdown on April 11th, 2008. Every week you enter gives you a chance to win the entire 64! Vote here for your favourites.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Ahh - A fresh page

A new blog - a fresh page. Words just waiting to be written. Do you ever get that feeling when you're in a stationary supply store? All those notebooks and pads of paper just waiting to be written in...and you can't just buy just one and you really should have a fresh set of pens as well.

I spend a lot of time commenting on and recommending books to customers, friends and family and I've decided it's time to share my thoughts and reviews with the world. Not that I expect the world to stop by but maybe a few new friends and see some old ones too.