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Luanne Ollivier
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A Robot in the Garden: A Novel
A Robot in the Garden: A Novel
by Deborah Install
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.75

5.0 out of 5 stars Ben Chamber's wife Amy would like an android to help around the house (According to ..., July 10 2015
Oh, do you ever get that tingly little feeling after a few pages of a new book? And realize you've just re prioritized your to-do list so you can keep reading?

Deborah Install's debut novel A Robot in the Garden did just that!

Sometime in the near future in England, androids are an accepted part of everyday life, doing the cooking or gardening - even driving. They're high functioning, replacing the original robots.

Ben Chamber's wife Amy would like an android to help around the house (According to her, Ben does very little to help, well, very little anything) One morning though... "There's a robot in the garden" my wife informed me.

Ben is fascinated by the little robot - he's battered and worn and wherever could he have come from? He decides to keep him. But Amy has decided not to keep Ben - the marriage is done and she moves out. "But one thing she had said hurt more than anything else. 'He's never actually achieved anything.' She was right. I hadn't. It was about time I did."

And so Ben decides to save Tang, the broken robot. He will find his owner and get him fixed!

Tang and Ben set off on a journey that will hopefully heal Tang - and without him noticing - Ben as well. A Robot in the Garden houses quirky characters, odd situations, adventures and a pair of lead characters that you can't help but cheer for, between its pages. Ben is a perennial nice guy, who has just lost his way for a bit. And, as funny as it sounds, Tang has quite the personality, despite his limited vocabulary and boxy body.

I honestly laughed out loud so many times at Tang's antics. Tang was actually inspired by Install's own young son. As one character remarks "He's not so very different from a child if you ask me." Ben too is quite funny, albeit unintentionally sometimes.

I'm not going to spoil the book for you by revealing any more. Suffice it to say that the road trip to fix Tang is one you want to take.

A Robot in the Garden was funny, heartbreaking, heartwarming and so very, very good. How else could I describe The Robot in the Garden? Well, if you loved The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry - cross that with Wall-E and you'll have an idea. Absolutely, positively recommended!

Name of the Devil: A Jessica Blackwood Novel
Name of the Devil: A Jessica Blackwood Novel
by Andrew Mayne
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 19.99
29 used & new from CDN$ 10.74

4.0 out of 5 stars I really enjoy the trickery, July 8 2015
FBI Agent Jessica Blackwood returns in Andrew Mayne's new novel - Name of the Devil.

Blackwood is a unique character - she's a magician turned cop. Mayne's own background as a magician and a family in law enforcement add much to his books.

A new nemesis awaits Jessica this time out. A massacre in a small town church seems to point to spontaneous human combustion, exorcism, madness - and the devil. The residents in town are frightened and local enforcement baffled, so the Bureau is called in. And so is Jessica - to consult. For she sees with a different set of eyes and a different logic. I really enjoy the trickery, the sleight of hand, if you will, that Mayne uses in his plots. I like the behind the scenes, alternate explanations and illusions that Jessica exposes.

Jessica is a likable character. This time around, we get to know a bit more of her background with flashbacks from her childhood. Her magician grandfather is someone who fascinates me - there's much more to the man than simple magic tricks. Another recurring character is Damien, the extremely dangerous, seemingly all seeing man who seems to have his eye on Jessica - watching for her safety and providing her clues in an oblique fashion.

Mayne's plot is intricate, involved and far-reaching in Name of the Devil. Some of it is a wee bit over the top and asks the reader to suspend disbelief. And you should - it fuels an already action-filled read. Mayne has conjured up another great cat and mouse game with a unique protagonist - perfect for summer escapist reading. I loved the ending and will be watching for number three.

Hungry Ghosts
Hungry Ghosts
by Peggy Blair
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 14.72

5.0 out of 5 stars Blair winds social commentary about both countries throughout her novels to great effect. The novel is set in 2007 and ..., July 7 2015
This review is from: Hungry Ghosts (Paperback)
I am a huge fan of Peggy Blair's Inspector Ramirez series. The third book - Hungry Ghosts - has just released.

From the opening pages, I slipped back into the world of Inspector Ramirez of the Havana, Cuba police department. Ramirez is called to investigate an art exhibit vandalization. While there, a ghost joins him. Yes, Ramirez sees the dead - specifically the murdered. And one of those now following him is another dead prostitute - strangled with a pair of stockings.

Up in the colder climates of Canada, Detective Charlie Pike is also called to the murder of a dead woman on the Manomin Bay First Nation Reserve. She too has a stocking around her neck......

Blair's plotting is meticulous, inventive and oh, so well played. The two investigations mirror each other, from the crimes, the detectives, the metaphysical, politics and more. The cases are told in alternating chapters, guaranteeing that 'just one more chapter' late night read. Lots of twists and turns tie the two cases together in a most unexpected manner.

The plotting is rich, but so are the settings. The details surrounding both locales give the reader a vivid picture of both Havana and Northern Ontario, using architecture, the natural world, rules, laws, attitudes and language to bring both sites to life. I am fairly familiar with the First Nations lore and location, but did indeed learn something new. I am constantly fascinated by the details of Havana and the descriptions of what is not there (soap, meat and more) the limitations placed on the citizens, the city and land, as well as the customs and culture.

Blair winds social commentary about both countries throughout her novels to great effect. The novel is set in 2007 and many news/historical events are referenced, such as residential schools and Guantanamo Bay. This reality gives the books added depth.

But it is the characters of Ramirez and coroner Hector Apiro that have captured me. Ramirez is one of the last few honest cops left on Havana's force (although he does borrow rum from the evidence locker). He's dogged and determined and deftly weaves his way through the political mire of the department and country to achieve results. Seeing the dead only adds to the plot and the characters. Apiro's mind is brilliant and his personal storyline is both unique and moving. However, with this third novel, I found the character of Charlie Pike appealing to me just as much. His personal storyline is just as rich and compelling. Supporting players are just as well drawn.

The title? "...there are three kinds of ghosts. There are orphan ghosts, who have no children to honour them properly. There are the ghosts of those who die violently, who sometimes come back for revenge. And then there are the hungry ghosts, the ones who can't feed themselves enough no matter how hard they try. Most murdered women are hungry ghosts."

Hungry Ghosts was another satisfying read on so many levels. And an excellent addition to a wonderful series. Absolutely recommended - I'll be waiting for the next book. Hungry Ghosts could certainly be read as a stand alone, but I really recommend you read the first two books - The Poisoned Pawn and The Beggar's Opera. They're both just as good and you'll get to know the characters from the beginning.

Love May Fail
Love May Fail
by Matthew Quick
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 16.63
2 used & new from CDN$ 16.63

4.0 out of 5 stars 5/5 Matthew Quick is the best selling author of a number of novels, June 30 2015
This review is from: Love May Fail (Paperback)
3.5/5 Matthew Quick is the best selling author of a number of novels, including The Silver Linings Playbook and The Good Luck of Right Now.

His latest novel - Love May Fail - is newly released.

Portia Kane's marriage ends in spectacular fashion. Determined to save herself and perhaps find happiness - or at least solace - she heads back to her childhood home in New Jersey. Her high school English teacher Mr. Vernon was an unflinching, unfailing positive beacon in a somewhat bleak childhood. When she gets home, an old classmate gives her the bad news - Mr. Vernon was attacked by a student and gave up teaching. And Portia decides to save Mr. Vernon, just as he saved her. And maybe save herself in the process.

Quick continues the quirk factor in Love May Fail - each of the players is slightly left of center in one way or another. And many of the situations they find themselves in are just as unusual. I very much enjoy quirky characters that don't play to the mainstream. But I did find Love May Fail somewhat recognizable. Quick relies on some familiar plot devices last seen in The Good Luck of Right Now, such as the church and religion, (this time it's a nun not a priest), a bar and its regulars, cancer makes an appearance again and literary references to a specific book. (Albert Camus replaces Carl Jung) And it is this somewhat familiar plot that drops this book from a fantastic read to a good read for me. I enjoyed it very much, but still there was just something that stopped me from loving it.

There are four parts to the book and each has a different narrator - Portia, Mr. Vernon, Sister Maeve and Chuck (bartender and also a past student of Mr. Vernon). Initially I was quite taken by Mr. Vernon (Quick was a high school teacher and the book's prologue reveals some of his own experiences that became part of Mr.Vernon) But, although I knew I should feel sympathy for the broken Mr. Vernon, I found it hard to see past his angry disillusionment. And the same for Portia. She is the driving force of the book, but I just didn't overly like her. Her determination to save her old teacher versus helping her mother bothered me. But, as she says "not everyone can be saved." The standout characters for me were Sister Maeve, Chuck and his wee nephew Tommy. Their stories, their struggles and their journeys were the most engaging for me - and the ones I was most invested in.

Faith, or if you prefer, serendipity binds the lives of every character to the others in mysterious ways. And that what if and why not is at the heart of Quick's novels - that if we let go and just go with it, things just might work out. Who's to say it couldn't happen? The cover? One of Mr. Vernon's lessons - and a pretty good one. The title? From Kurt Vonnegut's Jailbird.

Second Life: A Novel
Second Life: A Novel
by S. J. Watson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.41
33 used & new from CDN$ 18.31

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I absolutely loved it., June 15 2015
This review is from: Second Life: A Novel (Hardcover)
Okay, here it is - the book I'll be recommending as required summer reading this year....Second Life by S.J. Watson.

Watson' debut novel, Before I Go to Sleep, was a runaway success. I absolutely loved it. (It's also a movie starring Nicole Kidman and Colin Firth) When I heard Watson had a new novel coming out, it immediately went on my must read list. But I did wonder if he could match the success of that first book. The answer is a resounding yes!

Julia and her husband Hugh have been raising Julia's nephew Connor as their son since he was a toddler. When her sister Kate is murdered in Paris and the crime remains unsolved, Julia feels compelled to try to see what she can find out for both her sake and Connor's.

Julia connects with Kate's roommate and learns that Kate was active in online hook up sites - casual sex online or in person. You can see it coming can't you.....yep, Julia joins the same site......

"I have another message, but it's not from him. This one is from someone new. As I open it I get the strangest feeling. A plunging, a descent. A door has been nudged open. Something is coming."

I'll tell you what's coming - one heck of a great read! Psychological, suspenseful twisty turny, keep you up late kinda read. I found myself breaking my rule (never peek ahead in a book) more than once - you know - just to see what happens and then going back to read a little slower.

Julia finds herself caught up in this online world......and then it spills over into her real life.....

"I wish I'd never met him. I don't know who he is, this man, this person I've let into my life. I want everything to go back to how it was before."

Uh, huh. It's too late Julia.

Watson's premise is not all that far-fetched. I'm sure many folks indulge in online anonymity. But he's taken that 'what if' to a whole new level. And even when I thought I knew what the ending would be (I refused to peek ahead that close to finishing) I was still surprised by the final twist.

Fair warning to gentle readers - there are some sexual scenes.

Absolutely recommended! I can't wait to see what Watson pens next!

If You Don't I Will (Version française) [Import]
If You Don't I Will (Version française) [Import]
Price: CDN$ 32.29
19 used & new from CDN$ 17.87

4.0 out of 5 stars That initial flush and fire of new love has slowly faded away, June 12 2015
Today's Film on Friday entry is If You Don't, I Will from French director Sophie Fillières. As with all of Film Movement's films, it was an official selection at many festivals.

Pomme (Emmanuelle Devos) and Pierre (Mathieu Amalric) have been married for many years. That initial flush and fire of new love has slowly faded away. On a hike, Pomme asks " What have we become?" Pierre's reply? " Your parents."

Fillières takes us into this couple's life - and although it seems like they both still want to 'fix' things, it is quite obvious that this is more on Pomme's part than on Pierre's. Until one last hike, where Pomme decides she is going to stay in the forest - without Pierre. "I'll totally lose weight - among other things."

Fillières uses visual metaphors to great effect - the too heavy backpack is a great example. Pierre is initially carrying it - and complaining. When Pomme takes over and takes off, she begins emptying the contents, mirroring the self exploration of her life and marriage while in the forest. Pierre attempts to do the same back in civilization.

Silence and still shots are used effectively to underscore the contemplation, the loneliness, the hurt and the separation. The forest setting is absolutely beautiful.

Both actors use expressions and body language to great effect - Devos's are more subtle - she says much with a simple smile and a knowing eye. Amalric's are more overt - and more hurtful. I was firmly in Pomme's corner for the entire film. But at the end of the film, I rethought my stance - it does take two. I'm not going to reveal what does happen - but I thought the ending was perfect. The last set of dialogue between the two is quite telling - and full of truth. The chemistry between these two actors was absolutely perfect and easy to believe.

If You Don't, I Will is another great addition to the Film Movement collection - and mine.

As always, there is a short bonus film included. A 17 yr old girl finds out she's pregnant minutes before she has to take her driving test - with her grandmother in tow. A good pairing - this is another look at love.

Crash & Burn
Crash & Burn
by Lisa Gardner
Edition: Audio CD
Price: CDN$ 22.82
16 used & new from CDN$ 21.52

4.0 out of 5 stars Gardner does a great job of playing with the reader, June 10 2015
This review is from: Crash & Burn (Audio CD)
3.5/5 I'm a fan of Lisa Gardner's DD Warren series and had expected this latest book to be another featuring the Boston PD detective. She does make a cameo in Crash and Burn, but this is a stand alone novel.

Nicky Frank crashes her car on a rainy night. She manages to crawl out of the wreckage, desperate to find a little girl named Vero. When police come upon the scene they mount a full scale search for the little girl. Nicky's husband is also located - and he tells them to call off the search. There is no little girl - Nicky has suffered more than one brain injury and is delusional. Or is she? Sargent Wyatt Foster has his suspicions and opens an investigation.

Gardner does a great job of playing with the reader. Nicky has memories but they're fractured. Her husband Thomas is evasive and secretive. Is there really anyone named Vero? The story is slowly played out as memories surface and Wyatt makes progress.

There were two readers for this book - Christina Traister and Mikael Naramore. Although there are readers who can cover every part, I do enjoy having two performers, especially when there are male and female roles. Both were excellent and conveyed the tension and mystery of Gardner's book.

Listening to a book provides a different experience than the written version. There was one line that is repeated throughout the story - "Vero wants to fly." Now it probably wouldn't have bothered me as much reading it - but I was so sick of hearing it by the middle of the book! (And I had an urge to count how many times Nicky said it)

Minor quibble aside, it was a good suspenseful listen. I did have things pretty much figured out by the end, but Gardner inserts a last twist before the final pages. A good read/listen but not my favourite from Gardner - I'll be watching for the next DD Warren.

The Alphabet House
The Alphabet House
by Jussi Adler-Olsen
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 24.71
35 used & new from CDN$ 14.06

4.0 out of 5 stars Teasdale and Young are too good at their subterfuge - they end up admitted to ..., June 5 2015
This review is from: The Alphabet House (Hardcover)
I'm a huge fan of Jussi Adler-Olsen's Department Q mysteries featuring Detective Carl Morck.

I thought it was the next entry in the series, but it's actually an older stand alone book from Adler-Olsen making a North America debut.

Two British pilots, James Teasdale and Bryan Young are doing flyover photo reconnaissance of a German town during WW2 when their plane is shot down. In an attempt to avoid capture, they jump on a train of wounded German soldiers. And finally in desperation, they throw two Germans off the train and take their places. Unbeknownst the them until later, the train is full of shell shocked SS officers bound for a mental hospital.

Teasdale and Young are too good at their subterfuge - they end up admitted to the hospital and subjected to treatment. Much time passes - until one of them escapes. And one is left.

I thought this was a great idea for a book. Indeed, it has its basis in reality. Adler-Olsen's father worked in a psychiatric facility and Jussi wondered about malingerers or those living out their lives in such a facility.

Once the two Brits land in The Alphabet House, the pacing of the novel slows down. Adler-Olsen draws out the time, echoing what the two servicemen would be feeling. There are many cringe worthy moments that can only make the reader appreciate that much of this is based in reality.

The second half is from 1975 when the the first goes back looking for his comrade. In this second half the pace picks up as we discover what happened in the last thirty years to both men. And how the past has a long reach....

The Alphabet House explores war, friendship and the innate desire to live, all couched in a tense, atmospheric narrative.

The Ghost Fields
The Ghost Fields
by Elly Griffiths
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 21.52
29 used & new from CDN$ 20.84

5.0 out of 5 stars I adore this series, June 3 2015
This review is from: The Ghost Fields (Hardcover)
My power went out this past Sunday - which was the perfect opportunity to sit by a window most of the day devouring the latest in Elly Griffith's wonderful Ruth Galloway series - The Ghost Fields. I've been eagerly awaiting this seventh entry.

Forensic anthropologist Ruth is on a dig in Norfolk, when she is called on by the local police to consult on a rather unusual call. A World War II plane has been uncovered by a developer clearing a field. Why call Ruth? Well, the pilot is still inside. And when Ruth determines that the body isn't that of the original pilot, but rather the son of a wealthy local family reported as killed in action, it becomes a murder case. Murder? Uh huh - there's a bullet hole in the skull and evidence the body has been placed in the plane.

Great premise as always from Griffiths. Her mysteries are well thought out and plotted with lots of possibilities as to the end result. I was quite sure of whodunit this time, but was proven wrong in the last few chapters.

But what draws me to this series are the characters. I adore the character of Ruth. I think it's because she isn't a 'cookie-cutter' protagonist. She's become a single mother later in life, she's hard on herself, generous with her friends, is highly intelligent, but shuns the spotlight. She's not beautiful in a conventional sense, but has that something that draws people to her. Griffiths has not endowed her with super sleuth abilities, rather she comes off as an actual person - unabashedly and happily herself.

The evolution of Ruth's relationship with Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson has been a constant from the first book. Indeed, this thread is just (if not more) as engaging as the mystery in each book.

There are many supporting players that I've come to enjoy (and dislike) as well. Griffiths has also fleshed them out with rich, full personal lives. Ruth's boss Phil's pronouncements are always good for a chuckle. Judy and Clough, who work with Harry, are part of Ruth's life as well. This is what I enjoy so much - Griffiths doesn't let her characters be - their lives are evolving as they would in real life. There were a few unexpected developments this time out with one of the Detectives. But my personal favourite is the enigmatic Cathbad, self proclaimed Druid.

I've learned something from every book in this series as well. Griffiths' cases use history as a basis. The Ghost Fields are abandoned air fields in Norfolk. The reasons and results from Ruth's archaeological investigations are always informative and interesting.

Setting is also a character in Griffiths' books. The Norfolk area, while seemingly bleak, is beautiful in Ruth's eyes. I think I would enjoy living in her little cottage in the Saltmarsh, 'where the sea and the sky meet.'

I highly recommend this character driven mystery series. You could certainly read this book as a stand alone, but do yourself a favour and start with The Crossing Places, the first book.

Beach Town: A Novel
Beach Town: A Novel
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars But not everyone is happy that they're there, June 2 2015
3.5/5 It's not truly summer until Mary Kay Andrews releases her newest book. Well, it's here - Beach Town has just released!

Andrews has set her latest on the Florida Gulf Coast this time. Greer Hennessey is a film location scout. Her latest search turns up sleepy Cypress Key - a run-down, sleepy little town off the beaten path that is just what the director is looking for. Cypress Key won't be sleepy much longer with the influx of the movie stars and crew. But not everyone is happy that they're there.....

Beach Town captures all the elements of a chick lit novel - love found, love lost and perhaps found again - Eb, the mayor of Cypress Key is quite attractive.... Complications in the form of misunderstandings, family and self sabotage - Greer has unresolved family issues.....And of course, there needs to be a sidekick friend, always a little 'out there' - CeeJay, hair and makeup maven. A dastardly boss with unrealistic expectations - movie director Bryce is definitely demanding. And lots of supporting players with their own issues and story lines.

I always look forward to the latest from Mary Kay Andrews - I like her warm, humorous storytelling. But, somehow this latest fell a little flat for me. It took a bit to figure out what it was that stopped Beach Town being another great read for me. And upon reflection - I didn't like Greer. Despite plot line developments that are meant to endear her to the reader, I just never warmed up to her. I found her self-serving and insensitive and I never felt like cheering her on.

Although there are lots of details about the movie biz, I found I wasn't overly interested - I prefer the books set on Tybee Island and the Outer Banks. Books that feature more 'everyday' people and situations. In Beach Town, those are the characters I enjoyed the most - Eb and his aunt Gin, residents of Cypress Key.

This latest just wasn't as heartwarming, heartfelt and humorous as I wanted it to be. Still, that being said, Beach Town was an entertaining read, light fare for beach chair perusing. And I will still be looking forward the the next MKA.

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