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BookChick (Simcoe, ON Canada)
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My Own Personal Soap Opera: Looking for Reality in All the Wrong Places
My Own Personal Soap Opera: Looking for Reality in All the Wrong Places
by Libby Malin
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.40
10 used & new from CDN$ 4.00

4.0 out of 5 stars You don't have to like soap operas to enjoy this one!, March 31 2010
Frankie McNally is the head writer for the soap opera Lust for Life, whose ratings have seen better days. It doesn't help that Frankie's own life resembles a soap opera- she's forced to work with Victor Pendergrast, the nephew of the soap's sponsor, against her will, their lead actor has broken his leg and is holed up in Frankie's apartment, and her secretary is more often away from her desk than at it. Add to this the fact that someone is copying one of the show's storylines and acting it out in real life, and her cheating ex-husband has just written a bestselling book- and she's in it!- and Frankie doesn't know what's more complicated- the soap or her personal life. It's up to Frankie to sort everything (and everyone) out; that is if she can stop long enough to listen to what her heart's been trying to tell her all along.

"My Own Personal Soap Opera" is a light-hearted romp through the life of a talented soap-opera writer. It offers some fun insight into what goes on both behind the cameras and when the cameras aren't rolling. Frankie, the book's main character, was well-developed. As a reader I really had a sense of her own personal dilemmas, and cheered her on as she figured out what she wanted from life. Frankie's quirky personality also paved the way for a few really funny scenes which had me laughing out loud.

Frankie wasn't the only great character- Victor (the sponsor's nephew) was charming as an older man who truly has the best interests of his aging aunt in mind. I loved Kayla, Frankie's often absent secretary as she added a lot of spark to the plot as well.

You don't have to be a fan of soap operas to enjoy "My Own Personal Soap Opera" (I'm not!). Libby Malin has created a warm and funny story about a woman who just doesn't have it all figured out yet that will appeal to a large audience, especially to those who enjoy women's fiction.

The Life O'Reilly
The Life O'Reilly
by Brian Cohen
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 20.95
27 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Never too late to change, March 31 2010
This review is from: The Life O'Reilly (Paperback)
On the surface, Nick O'Reilly has it all. He's a partner at his elite law firm, has an apartment overlooking Central Park, and has the financial security that so many can only dream of. Sure, he works ridiculously long hours and is chastised for occasionally not coming in to work on the weekends, but he's living the dream, right? Wrong. Nick feels that something is missing, specifically a family and some reason to come home. His dissatisfaction remains vague and is easy to ignore until he takes on a pro-bono case at the urging of the senior partners at his firm. When he begins working on his case he meets Dawn Nelson and her son Jordan, victims of domestic abuse and violence. Dawn is desperate to escape from her former husband's clutches, and it is Nick that can offer her a way out of the situation. Little does Nick know that working on Dawn's case will highlight all that is missing in his own life, and will change him forever.

The Life O'Reilly captivated me from the beginning. I think that it was the character of Nick that sucked me in- he was so well-developed and relatable. Plus, it brought attention to something that I've always felt strongly about- that you can have all of the money and financial security in the world, and still not be happy. We have this man who's done so well for himself- he's a lawyer and has a beautiful apartment, job security, financial security, a few close friends and a loving mother. Yet, he's not truly happy. He realizes that something is missing from his life, and that "something" is having someone sepcial to share it all with. From the outside he has it all, but Nick has realized that "having it all" is not enough.

I'll admit that I did have a few minor problems with this book. There were a few chapters in the middle of the book that just didn't work for me as a whole. I felt that the events in these chapters were unrealistic, although they were necessary for the conclusion of the book. I would have liked for the middle to be more developed, character-wise. Thankfully, due to some clever foreshadowing early in the book and a multi-layered plot I was able to get through these parts and really immerse myself in the last portion of the book. I also found that the first person perspective didn't allow me to connect with a few characters who I felt were important, although this perspective did allow me to really get inside Nick's head.

Thankfully, these small problems didn't diminish my enjoyment of the book as a whole. The message was wonderful- it is never too late to change your life around for the better. Life needs to be lived to the fullest at all times, and if this means if you end up somewhere that you never thought that you would be, that's okay. We're not born with little instruction manuals that tell us what we're supposed to be (although that would be nice!) and as humans, we have the ability to grow and change in our everyday lives. That is what Nick's story taught me.

Cool Water
Cool Water
by Dianne Warren
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.89
10 used & new from CDN$ 2.11

28 of 29 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy addition to the Can Lit genre, March 25 2010
This review is from: Cool Water (Hardcover)
In the small town of Juliet, Saskatchewan you may imagine that not much goes on. But you would be wrong. Surrounded by the Little Snake sand hills, the residents of Juliet go about their daily lives, caught up in the hills and valleys that life often brings. Lila prepares for her pregnant teenaged daughter's upcoming wedding, even though she knows that the union is doomed to fail. Vicki and Blaine Dolson, the parents of six young children and in dire financial straits, struggle just to get by. Lee, who was abandonded as a baby and raised by his "aunt" and "uncle", tries to carry on the family legacy after his aunt and uncle pass away. The foundation of Hank and Lynn Trass' marriage is threatened by one tiny piece of paper. Willard and his sister-in-law Marian continue to live under the same roof and run the local drive-in theatre despite the fact that Marian's husband, Ed, has passed away, and the two are heavily denying their growing feelings for one another. All of these characters, as well as more secondary ones, come to life under Dianne Warren's hand in the engrossing "Cool Water".

It surprised me how much I enjoyed this book. Once all of the characters and their stories were introduced, I became caught up in their various lives and problems and had a hard time putting the book down. The writing itself is understated which fit perfectly with the laid-back vibe of the small town of Juliet. For me these aspects combined (the low-key writing, the small town, the fact that the entire book takes place only over the course of about 24 hours) to convey the message that small towns are not filled with small people, but rather with people who may seem simple yet are incredibly complicated. This book worked so well with a small town as the setting, and would not have worked as well if it had taken place in a large city. In Juliet, all of the character's lives were intertwined, even if it was in a small way.

Vicki and Blaine Dolson and their six children emerged as early character favourites for me. They are struggling financially, and they are also struggling with the difference between how their parents did things and how they are doing things. Vicki's focus is on her young children and you can tell that she would do anything to make them happy. You can also tell that she is a really good mom, and that housekeeping and chores can come backseat to that, because her kids are her priorities in life. She's almost unapologetic about the fact that she is nothing like her mother-in-law, nor will she strive to be like her. She is a whole new generation. I enjoyed the stories of all of the characters, but the story of the Dolson's remains my favourite.

Cool Water is Dianne Warren's first full- length novel, and one that I highly recommend picking up. It does the Canadian Literature genre proud.

A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents
A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents
by Liza Palmer
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.60
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A satisfying read, March 24 2010
Five years ago, when her mother died suddenly in a car accident, Grace Hawkes walked out of the funeral and out of the lives of her family. She's ignored phone calls and e-mails, and has settled herself into a new life, one devoid of emotion and completely empty of her past. She's dating one of the bosses at her work, and she's with him because he's safe and doesn't require much from her. All of this changes one day when she receives a phone call from her sister Abigail. Abigail tells her that their father has had a stroke and is in the ICU and asks Grace to come down and see him. Grace is still angry at her father, who cheated on her mother countless times and eventually abandonded the family altogether 22 years ago, and she sees no reason why she should reutine with him now. Grace's siblings insist that it is time for her to rejoin the family, and before she knows it she is with her brothers and sister at her father's bedside.

Everything changes when Connie, her father's second wife, and Dennis, Connie's grown son, arrive at Ray's bedside as well. Connie presents herself to be the perfect little wife, devastated about her husband's illness, but Grace, Huston, Abigail and Leo find out that there is more to her than what's on the surface. What follows is the often exciting, and also heartbreaking story of how the Hawkes family comes together at their father's hour of need.

For the first chapter or so I was doubtful that the character of Grace would grow on me. She seemed so cold and distant with her siblings, despite the fact that not one of them had done anything to make her shut down emotionally. As new layers of Grace are revealed to the reading audience you can't help but feel sympathy for this woman who had lost so much and has been living an empty life devoid of emotion. In fact, Grace turned out to be one of my favourite personalities in the book, and I'm glad that I gave her a chance to reveal herself.

Despite "A Field Guide to Burying Your Parents"' dark themes (death, loss, illness, abandonment), I loved this book and sailed right through it. The various serious issues were handled with a delicate touch that did them justice, yet were not overly depressing. The story was exciting, and just when you thought that it was over, a new twist revealed itself. The characters, specifically the four Hawkes siblings, were wonderful, and I couldn't help but love each and every one of them as they bonded together in their time of need. The smaller supporting characters were endearning as well, especially Abigail's 4-year-old twins. The ending? Wholly satisfying, and even though I could guess what was coming more or less, it didn't make me any less happy when everything came together.

Balancing Acts: A Novel
Balancing Acts: A Novel
by Zoe Fishman
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.40
45 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A debut novel worth picking up, March 10 2010
Charlie used to dominate Wall Street, but has changed paths and now runs a yoga studio with two fellow yoga-lovers; the reason behind her sudden switch from her old, fast-paced life to yoga remains mysterious. Naomi used to love to be behind the camera, but her life changed when she got pregnant with her son, Noah, now 8. Now she's trying to deal with the fact that Noah's once-absent father (and her ex) wants back into her son's life after years of being uninterested. Sabine is the editor of romance novels, but would rather be writing them than editing them. She's single and living in New York City, but can't help wanting a little more. Bess is currently writing snarky captions for a celebrity gossip magazine, but longs to break out and write something worthwhile that will get her noticed in the literary world. She's also missing her boyfriend, Dan, since he's moved to LA to pursure screenwriting.

These four women happen meet up at their 10-year College reuinion and despite the fact that they are so different they all agree to sign up for a beginners yoga class at Charlie's new yoga studio, Prana. In the six weeks that they take classes together all of the women will find out something new about themselves and will learn to face the things in life that they fear most. They may even form new friendships that will last beyond Saturday morning yoga class.

The stories of these four different women are what made "Balancing Acts" so hard to put down. Each woman has a different story, yet all seemed realistic and none seemed far-fetched or overly dramatic. Sometimes I'll read a book and find myself thinking that the things that happened to the main characters were hard to envision happening in real life, but the stories in this novel carried with them enough reality to make them plausible. I did find the writing itself to be stiff and awkward at times, but the plot helped to carry me through those parts. Beware: this book will make you want to try yoga if you haven't already. By the time I was done the book I was itching to haul my yoga mat out of storage and practice my downward dog.

Despite the rough patches here and there this is still a debut novel worth picking up.

The Heights
The Heights
by Peter Hedges
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.70
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Hedges offers surprising insights into everyday life, March 6 2010
This review is from: The Heights (Hardcover)
Tim and Kate Welch are an average middle-class couple who live in The Heights, a decidedly upscale neighborhood. Tim is a history teacher at a local private school and Kate is a stay-at-home mom to their two little boys, trying to be the kind of mother that she didn't have growing up. When Kate is offered the oportunity to return to work and make more money than they are used to seeing on an average paycheck, Tim decides to take a year off and get better aquainted with his sons.

Enter Anna Brody, the woman who has just purchased the most expensive brownstone in The Heights along with her elusive husband. For some unknown reason Anna sets her sights on Tim and Kate and decides to bring them into her priviledged circle while the rest of the neighborhood looks on in awe. Anna is not always what she appears to be and as she becomes closer to the Welch's, she begins to turn their safe little world upside-down.

I loved "The Heights"! Peter Hedges has a talent for pinpointing the truths of the rhythm of a middle-class family. I had to laugh in the first couple of chapters when Kate calls Tim to rejoice about their son pooping on the potty. How true! It is the little things in life that parents often treasure and celebrate, and Hedges has captured some of these moments beautifully and with accuracy.

This novel was written with both humour and real emotion as Tim and Kate evaluate their marriage and how hard they are willing to fight for the life that they have created together. I couldn't put it down, curious as to how this couple's story would end and hoping that it would not end like so many others. At once honest, accurate and compelling, I recommend this to anyone who has ever been part of the middle-class.

The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi
The Forty Rules of Love: A Novel of Rumi
by Elif Shafak
Edition: Hardcover
10 used & new from CDN$ 28.26

9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A worthy follow-up, March 6 2010
"The Forty Rules of Love" is the follow-up novel to Turkish author Elif Shafak's 2007 novel, "The Bastard of Istanbul". Ella Rubinstein is forty years old, the mother of three, and she is stuck in a rut. She remains married to her husband David even though she suspects him of cheating on her numerous times. Her life is one of ease and financial security, but it lacks passion. Determined to re-enter the work force after taking a break to raise her children, Ella takes a job as a reader for a literary agent. The first book that she is given to read and summarize is "Sweet Blasphemy", a novel that tells the story of how the great poet Rumi met Shams of Tabriz, the man who changed Rumi's path in life forever. As Ella reads this novel she begins an intimate correspondence with Aziz Zahara, the author of the novel, because she has found something in Aziz's words that is desperately missing from her own life.

Shafak has chosen to write the book using parallel narratives, a daring choice that pays off in her case. One narrative is that of Ella, and we join her as she experiences discontent in her own life, highlighted as she reads the story that the literary agency has assigned to her. The other narrative tells the story of Shams of Tabriz, the whirling dervish who enters the great Rumi's life and impacts it greatly. Although this potentially could have been confusing, it is not, as Shafak writes with such grace that we are clear on whose story she is telling, and how that story relates to the other one.

Despite the fact that I did not always agree with the choices that Ella made in her personal life, I could clearly understand the author's intended message: sometime's following one's passions does not make the most logical sense, yet doing so brings the greatest benefits. This was a thought-provoking book, one that brought many interesting questions to light.

The Way Home
The Way Home
by George P. Pelecanos
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.39
43 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars A thriller with a twist, March 5 2010
This review is from: The Way Home (Hardcover)
Every so often I take a chance and read something outside of my preferred genres. In this case it was George Pelecanos' "The Way Home", which is essentially a thriller. In this case I'm glad that I took a chance on something different, because this book had more of an impact on me than I could have anticipated.

Christopher Flynn has landed himself in juvenile detention for many reasons, but primarily because he's selfish and he doesn't seem to care about anyone but himself. His mother hasn't given up on him, but his father, who is unable to admit that Chris' actions are likely a result of his own parenting style, has. Chris seems to have given up on himself.

Fast forward a couple of years and Chris is back in the free world, determined not to lapse back in to his old ways. He's working as a carpet installer for his dad and he's working with Ben, one of his former jail buddies, who now walks the straight and narrow path himself. Chris and Ben find something in a house that they are installing carpet in, and Chris recognizes that by touching it he could get himself and Ben in a lot of trouble that they wouldn't welcome. I can't say much more without giving essential plot pieces away, but someone decides to touch this particular item and trouble is attracted to it like a magnet.

Pelecanos has written an exciting thriller with heart. What captured me about this book in the beginning was the story of Chris, a boy who has everything that he could possibly need yet continues to fight with deep-down unhappiness, leading to his actions and eventually his arrest. At this point the book is not a thriller, but more of a social commentary. The thriller aspect is introduced to the book gradually and before I knew it the plot was action-packed.

"The Way Home" reminded me a little of "The Hour I First Believed" by Wally Lamb in the sense that both authors were telling stories, but they were also commenting on the failures of our justice system. As exciting as the thriller portion of the book was, it was the descriptions of life inside of a jail cell and how the system discourages rehabilitation in its own way that stuck with me after the last page had been turned.

This was ultimately a satisfying book, one that will encourage me to seek out more of Pelecanos' novels, and one that made me glad that I took a chance and read something different.

Saving Ceecee Honeycutt
Saving Ceecee Honeycutt
by Beth Hoffman
Edition: Hardcover
75 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Charming Southern Fiction, March 5 2010
12-year-old CeeCee Honeycutt has been all but abandonded by her traveling salesman father, and left home alone with her mentally ill mother, who still thinks it is 1951 when she was crowned the Vidalia Onion Queen. CeeCee has no friends other than her elderly neighbor, Mrs. Odell, because her mother is known to go around town wearing old prom dresses from Goodwill, and no person her age wants to be associated her. When CeeCee's mother dies suddenly everything changes and CeeCee is whisked away from her home in Willoughby to live with her Great-Aunt Tootie, a woman she doesn't remember and has had no recent contact with.

Aunt Tootie's home in Savannah, Georgia is like nothing CeeCee has ever seen before. Aunt Tootie is clearly a woman of financial means, and once CeeCee settles herself in she discovers that she just may like it in the South. With the help of Aunt Tootie, Aunt Tootie's cook and friend, Oletta, and Aunt Tootie's controversial neighbors Miz Goodpepper and Violene Hobbs, CeeCee begins to not only feel at home, but she begins to deal with the shock of the death of her mother and the abandonment of her father in one transformative summer.

What I loved about this book was how strong the female characters were. Aunt Tootie is passionate about restoring old homes to their former glory, and she has a strong love for her grand-niece, whom she had only met once before. Oletta, Aunt Tootie's cook, is a strong black woman who can cook up a storm but who also offers CeeCee the gift of friendship when she needs it the most. The exotic Miz Goodpepper is the most entertaining of the bunch, as she always has something unconventional up her sleeve and is willing to share her adventures with CeeCee. Violene Hobbs, although she is not the favourite of the ladies of the neighborhood, demonstrates strength in her beliefs as well, even if her beliefs are not popular.

I ultimately did not love Saving CeeCee Honeycutt as much as I thought that I would. Don't get me wrong, I enjoyed it, and would recommend it. The characters were wonderful and showcased how strong and loving a group of females can be. However I found that once CeeCee moved to Savannah, everything turned out just a little too perfectly for her and the lack of real conflict in the remainder of the book disappointed me a little. Despite this, I found this coming-of-age novel to be absolutely charming in the way that novels set in the South should be.

The Parabolist: A Novel
The Parabolist: A Novel
by Nicholas Ruddock
Edition: Hardcover
13 used & new from CDN$ 13.69

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Mystery, literary fiction and medical drama all rolled into one..., Feb. 28 2010
In a Toronto alley police officers find a female rape victim with her attacker lying dead nearby. The only clue that they have as to the person or persons who killed the attacker is a clump of Crisco shortening on the victim's body. In a nearby medical school, Jasper Glass dissects a cadaver with precision as practice for his future as a doctor with his partner, the irresistable Valerie Anderson. Robert Moreno, a parabolist from Mexico, becomes the substitute teacher for a group of medical students taking a poetry class. Marnie Kennedy, an engaged medical student, decides that she is looking for one last fling before she marries her successful yet boring fiance. All of these story lines converge in family physician Nicholas Ruddick's debut novel, "The Parabolist".

Ruddick has written a novel that is part mystery, part medical drama, and part literary novel that will keep you riveted all the way to the shocking conclusion. The seemingly unrelated storylines converge in a way reminiscient of Colum McCann's "Let The Great World Spin".

With his cast of colourful characters, Ruddick effortlessly draws you into the world of 1975 Toronto. I, for one, was specifically drawn to the eclectic group of people who made up Robert Moreno's poetry class. Although I don't read a lot of mysteries, the mystery aspect of this novel was subtle, yet interesting enough that it will appeal to a broad audience. This one will definitely leave you with something to think about, and I actually went back and read the ending a couple of times to make sure that I took in all of the important details.

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