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J. Nickel (Canada)

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Deadly Jewels: A Novel
Deadly Jewels: A Novel
Offered by Macmillan CA
Price: CDN$ 13.99

4.0 out of 5 stars This was a fun, interesting read, April 6 2016
In Jeannette de Beauvoir's Asylum, I learned about the horrific real life events of the Duplessis orphans while reading a murder mystery set in current day Montreal. In Deadly Jewels she again skillfully uses the technique of blending little-known history into fiction to tell the story. This time it’s the British crown jewels, which were secretly shipped to Montreal for safekeeping during WWII. Deadly Jewels involves the murder of a doctoral student, the tunnels under the city of Montreal, neo-Nazis, the occult, and some Holocaust survivors.

The main character, Martine LeDuc, publicity director for the city, is sympathetic and likeable, but I have to admit I’m developing a bit of a literary crush on her side-kick, the suave détective-lieutenant Julian Fletcher. As with her earlier novel, the city of Montreal actually becomes a living, breathing character, with the author's lively and clear descriptions of the city and its bilingual culture.

This was a fun, interesting read. Although characters from de Beauvoir’s first novel return, you can read Deadly Jewels without having to read Asylum first (although I recommend that book too). 4.5 stars.

The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy
The Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy
by Sara Angelini
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 25.82
38 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

4.0 out of 5 stars Fun, if you don't take it too seriously, Aug. 4 2015
Set in modern day San Francisco, in this retelling of Pride and Prejudice, Fitzwilliam "Will" Darcy is a judge, and Elizabeth Bennet is a lawyer who appears in his court. Darcy and Elizabeth get to the mutual attraction much quicker than they do in P&P, and instead of the class system keeping them apart, here they have to get past the obstacle that a lawyer-judge relationship is unethical and career ruining.

This is a fantasy-romance and not to be taken too seriously. There's lots of sex, and carousing, and the occasional F-bomb, but I think Angelini still kept Elizabeth and Darcy true to character--in a 21st century version. The author plays with elements from P&P in a fun way --for example, Elizabeth and her friend Charlotte Lucas work at the law firm Gardiner & Associates, and the brief appearance of Mr Collins is when Elizabeth defends him against a charge of soliciting a prostitute. This novel focuses on the two main characters, and Wickham, Lydia, Mr Bennet and others are barely mentioned. Jane And Bingley aren't as pathetic as they are in P&P, and Caroline Bingley and Mrs Bennet are somewhat different and rather more likeable.

I think the secret of reading these Pride and Prejudice-inspired books is to go in with really low expectations. If they're lousy, discard them without a thought. But just maybe they will be fun. Which is how I'd describe the Trials of the Honorable F. Darcy: lots of fun. I read the 338 page book in one sitting the other night in my hotel room in Seattle.

Recommended for: a vacation read, or a rainy day. You don't have to have read Pride and Prejudice to enjoy this, although it would add entertaining layers. Readers who self-identify as a Jane Austen "purist"should stay away.

Asylum: A Mystery
Asylum: A Mystery
by Jeannette de Beauvoir
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 22.77
26 used & new from CDN$ 1.50

4.0 out of 5 stars Murder mystery in a richly detailed setting, March 30 2015
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This review is from: Asylum: A Mystery (Hardcover)
The author takes two horrible real life events from Montreal's history, and winds them into a current-day murder mystery. The first is the CIA conducted mind-control drug experiments at the Ravenscrag Institute (now part of McGill University), conducted from the 1950s through the 1970s. The second event is the mass institutionalization of children in Quebec from the 1940s through to the 1960s. In traditionally Catholic Quebec, it was an unspeakable disgrace to have a baby out of wedlock. These children were taken to so-called orphanages. Other families surrendered their children when they had huge families that they couldn't feed. The Canadian government helped support the Church financially in running these institutions, but the Church figured out that they could get more government assistance for running mental hospitals. Thus, sometimes overnight, healthy children were deemed mentally ill. Years later it was discovered that these children were horrifically abused and sometimes used for medical experimentation. These children are now known as the Duplessis Orphans.

Fast forward to current day Montreal, were in a short time, four women have been found raped, murdered, and posed on park benches. Concerned about Montreal's reputation as a tourist destination, the mayor appoints his director of public relations, Martine LeDuc, to liaise with the police to report on progress and pressure a resolution. Martine goes beyond these instructions and discovers the link between the four murder victims is the Duplessis Orphans. Woven in with Martine's efforts to solve the mystery is a back story of an orphan named Gabrielle who is trying to survived the asylum.

The strength of this novel is in those scenes at the asylum. I also loved all the rich detail about Montreal and its bilingual culture. And of course I was fascinated to learn about this dark period of Quebec history.

Frommer's London Day By Day
Frommer's London Day By Day
by Joe Fullman
Edition: Paperback
28 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars Very basic, Aug. 10 2013
A very basic little guide, suitable to the first-time visitor who only wants to see the highlights. All this information is available for free elsewhere. For my third trip to London, I thought this small guide might be handy to throw in my bag for its maps but I didn't use it once. The free map provided by my hotel was covered a wider area and had more information. This is suitable only for someone who doesn't know much about London and who only wants to visit the top tourist areas of the city.

The Road to Urbino
The Road to Urbino
by Roma Tearne
Edition: Paperback
9 used & new from CDN$ 0.77

5.0 out of 5 stars Fabulous read ....., Aug. 14 2012
This review is from: The Road to Urbino (Paperback)
This novel is very different in story and style than Roma Tearne's earlier four novels, and it's exciting to see growth and change in a writer. What she did keep is her wonderful flair for painting word images, her concern for the victims of war, the use of art in healing pain, her explorations of memory, and the settings of Sri Lanka, England, and Italy.

The story follows two protagonists. The first is Ras, a middle aged immigrant from Sri Lanka, as he awaits trial in London for stealing The Flagellation, by Italian Renaissance artist Piero della Francesca.

Through his first person narration, we hear about his early childhood in Sri Lanka, where his father disappeared one night and his mother died in a bomb blast. He and his brother spent most of the next years in a Tamil detention centre, until they had a chance to escape to England at the age of 19 and start a new life. Ras marries and has a child, Lola, and then divorces. He ends up working as gallery attendant at the National Gallery, where he is befriended by the charming and kind art curator, Charles.

The second protagonist is Alex, a friend of Charles. Through Alex, we get a fuller picture of the life of Charles and his wife Delia. They, and their circle of friends, spend a lot of fabulous summers in Italy, enjoying la dolce vita--art, food, company, etc. Being a Roma Tearne novel, some sad tragic events occur that change everything.

Everyone in this novel is consumed by an obsession, wherein we find the source of most of the conflict. But all the characters are also scared by war--even though the wars were thousands of miles away, or decades in the past.

It took me about 30 or 40 pages to warm up to it, but then I loved this novel. I actually wasn't ready for it to end, or to leave these characters lives (I especially liked Charles and Delia), which is really unusual for me with any book.

Olivia and the Little Way
Olivia and the Little Way
by Nancy Carabio Belanger
Edition: Paperback
21 used & new from CDN$ 0.75

0 of 4 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Simple book with a loudly preachy message, Jan. 3 2012
My 11 yr old received this, and its sequel, as a gift recently. As an avid reader, she was thrilled to open books, but her face fell when she saw the cover. I immediately recognized it to have the religious publisher didactic look to it, but didn't say anything and just watched how she'd react. I remember receiving gifts of poorly written, boring books that hit you over the head with their Biblical message on How to Be a Good Christian, and this appeared to be of that ilk. After reading the description on the back cover, she asked me if she had to read this book. I told her of course not, although she might want to try it to see if it was as bad as she was assuming. A few days later she brought them to me and emphatically told me she wasn't interested.

Just to see if these were as bad as the Bible fiction I'd read as a child, I started reading Olivia and the Little Way. Instead of preaching Biblical principles, this book's purpose is to inculcate the reader with the tenets of Therese of Lisieux, and 19th century Catholic nun who is also known as the Little Flower. Olivia's grandmother teaches her to pray to the saint, and to follow St. Therese's "Little Way," which is basically practicing random acts of kindness and a secret self-denial. Except Therese doesn't do this out of unselfish altruism, but instead to garner points with God, as her goal was sainthood.

Olivia sets out to follow this Little Way, but of course she's human and has struggles. In two instances, the author has Olivia "successfully" practice in a way that I find morally questionable and I certainly don't want my child to do. One involved a self-sacrifice based on an unfounded judgement of a person and situation, and the second involved taking punishment for something she didn't do. Ah, no, neither of those is "a good thing."

Literature in service of a cause is always problematic, and children's fiction from religious publishing houses is generally drivel: poorly written, flat, clichéd, and predictable. One of its hallmarks is a dearth of complexity. Further, the world view is exceedingly simplistic, and reinforces gender stereotypes. Olivia and the Little Way falls under this description. Its message to proselytize for Therese of Lisieux is without a trace of subtly. Yet, it's not the worst book I've ever read. Olivia was drawn realistically enough that I could sympathize with her challenges and she wasn't an annoying goody-two-shoes.

Recommended for: nuns.

Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain
Unbearable Lightness: A Story of Loss and Gain
by Portia de Rossi
Edition: Hardcover
79 used & new from CDN$ 1.27

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Surprised by how good this was . . ., Oct. 28 2011
I don't read celebrity biographies because I expect to find them boring and poorly written. I was interested in this one, however, because Portia had battled anorexia and bulimia. So I must say that I'm delighted that this far exceeded my expectations. In fact, this was so well written that I suspect someone expecting a straightforward celebrity bio won't like this book, with its nuance and non-linear time line. Probably disappointing to those readers is that she neither fawns over nor trashes other celebrities. Nor does she discuss the other anorexics that she worked with on Ally McBeal.

De Rossi goes deep into her thoughts during her anorexia and bulimia, which was a result of her feeling like a fraud in Hollywood. First, because she felt fat and ugly, and more importantly because she was gay. The Epilogue shows a completely new person, and is an important conclusion to her story.

Recommended for: This is a must-read for anyone interested in the mind of someone with eating disorders (including constant dieting), or interested in coming out of the closet stories. It's also a must-read for anyone who thinks that celebrities have a charmed, perfect life.

How to Build, Maintain, and Use a Compost System
How to Build, Maintain, and Use a Compost System
by Kelly Smith
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 24.47
19 used & new from CDN$ 5.70

4.0 out of 5 stars Shows how composting is fun and easy, Aug. 19 2011
If you think you want to start composting, but feel overwhelmed and don't know where to start, this book is for you. This book is also for you if you already compost, but you're wondering if you're doing it right, or if there is anything else you should be doing. I fall into the second group. I grew up in a household where we composted, and I've always composted since I've had my own house. But I'm a rather lazy composter, and for the most part I just dump my fruit and vegetable scraps and yard waste into the bins. Every year or so I dig out what I've made, and I have to admit I find it rather mesmerizing to dig through the pile. With Kelly Smith's help, I've learned why some of my composting techniques didn't work so well and others turned out great. And I now know that I have to give the pile a big stir every now and again. I also really enjoyed the information on worms. Lots of clear information, step-by-step guides for those starting out, and an extensive trouble-shooting section. The book has both a very helpful table of contents and an index. This would make a great housewarming gift for a first-time home buyer.

English Journeys Some Country Houses and Their Owners
English Journeys Some Country Houses and Their Owners
by James Lee Milne
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: CDN$ 9.89
23 used & new from CDN$ 0.60

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I had a wonderful time reading this book., July 20 2011
I had a wonderful time reading this book. At only 133 pages, one could easily read it in an hour or so. But I took much longer because I had to look up each property on the internet. Looking up the properties was highly rewarding, because I saw that most (although not all) of these "houses" were not what you and I call houses. Unless of course your house is situated on thousands of acres and has hundreds of rooms.

There are three sections to the book: the introduction by Michael Bloch, and then Part One: Houses Now Owned by the National Trust, and Part Two: Houses Which Escaped the National Trust. In the intro, he explains how the National Trust is a private charity and has never been part of the government. Silly me--I had it confused with English Heritage, which is part of the government and owns properties such as Stonehenge. Anyway, when the National Trust "was founded in the 1890s, its main object was to acquire land in order to preserve and give public access to gems of the English landscape which were under threat from the expansion of suburbia. However, by the 1930s it recognized that equally in need of preservation were the many beautiful country houses . . . Thanks to a long agricultural depression, the deaths of heirs in the First World War, and the vastly increased taxation of incomes and estates, most of their traditional owners, if they had not already abandoned them, looked as if they would be unable to continue living in them for much longer." James Lees-Milne's job was to visit these properties and arrange for their transfer to the National Trust. Entries are listed in alphabetical order by property name (which is handy for easy reference) and are made up of Lees-Milne's diary entries from his visits.

These diary entries are interesting, enlightening and often quite wry (especially if you find eccentric British aristocrats funny, as I do). Sometimes the entries are sad. Whatever the mood, he has a sharp eye for observing character and a gift for assessing the properties and their contents. It's also a bit of an elegy for a lost way of life and class of people (some people would say this loss is the world's gain, but we won't go there now).

Recommended for: This is a must read for all Anglophiles, and a fun quick read for anyone planning on visiting an English country estate or two. Also great for anyone interested in English history.

Elizabeth I: A Novel
Elizabeth I: A Novel
by Margaret George
Edition: Hardcover
29 used & new from CDN$ 6.32

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Margaret George does it again, April 25 2011
This review is from: Elizabeth I: A Novel (Hardcover)
In this novelized version of Elizabeth I, Margaret George looks at the later part of her life--the years of the Spanish Armadas (the famous one was just the beginning), the years after the deaths of her most trusted advisors, and the years when her life was entwined with the Earl of Essex. Her story is told in the first person by Elizabeth herself, and interspersed with sections by her cousin, Lettice Knollys. Lettice is a Tudor-era character previously unknown to me, but a very important person in Elizabeth's life as she was the wife of the queen's dear Robert Dudley and the mother of Robert Deveraux, Earl of Essex. Lettice is physically similar to Elizabeth, but contrasts sharply in her character. Compared to Elizabeth's virginal status, cousin Lettice is rather a cougar; not only is she thrice married, she also has affairs with several of her son's friends. Also woven into the story are the characters and writings of Will Shakespeare, Edmund Spencer, John Donne and Francis Bacon.

I have been recommending Margaret George's Tudor novels for years because they are entertaining reads that are well researched. Unlike every film treatment of the dynasty that I can remember, George doesn't change the known facts to "improve" the story. Instead she leaves the historical record intact and then weaves her fiction around it (a formula that should be followed by more authors of historical fiction). It is always a bonus to actually learn something while being entertained.

And now I finally understand who all the various men in Elizabeth's life were!

Recommended for: This is a must-read for any fan of the Tudors. Also recommended for those who love long books that they can sink themselves into.

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