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Olive Kitteridge
Olive Kitteridge
by Elizabeth Strout
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.00
165 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Olive: overbearing but insightful, April 9 2012
This review is from: Olive Kitteridge (Paperback)
Olive Kitteridge, a retired teacher, is not a likeable woman by average standards. She is strong, obstinate, resolute, set in her views. Married to an infinitely patient husband, they love each other in an almost contradictory way, unyielding and at the same time sort of shattered. They have a son who is oppressed by her solicitude and, when she used to teach, all of her pupils were scared of her.

Yet Olive is capable of a gentleness that is surprising in a woman who is always-right. She can touch lives with a heart that proves to be extremely kind, and although she is always, always brutally honest with herself and others, the advancing old age is making her see things under a different perspective.

This is a well written novel, moving at times, funny too in certain parts. It is mainly, in my opinion, an exploration of the human condition when getting older. I would not say this has become one of my favourite books (for no particular reason actually, it just did not "blow me away") but it is definitely a book that deserves a try.
3.5 Amazon stars.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats
by Jan-Philipp Sendker
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.68
55 used & new from CDN$ 4.80

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tribute to Love, April 9 2012
Love with a capital `L'. Not a sappy novel though. No. This is a well-structured, finely written romance. It made me look up Kalaw (Burma) where most of the story is set, on the map. It made me close my eyes, in the attempt of almost identifying myself with the protagonists, following them through their walks. An invisible witness to their feelings, breaths, existences. Opening up to life. Falling in love.

A short synopsis and no spoilers: Julia Win, a young lawyer from upscale New York, starts looking for her father, Tim Win, of Burmese origin, a prominent lawyer himself, who disappeared without a trace four years before. A working appointment missed, the trail of his last steps going cold and colder. Now frozen. He is never seen again. His wife and children, including Julia, gradually resign themselves to his disappearance, not without some inner battles. The feeling of abandonment mixed with bitterness never leaves Julia. One day, she finds a very old letter written in the 1940s by his father to a certain Mi Mi in Burma. An address in Kalaw is all she needs to follow her instinct and hop on to a plane in search of her father. Will that old letter, folded and refolded several times, be the key to her father's disappearance? Once in Kalaw, she is approached by a gentle but strange man, U Ba, who seems to know her although they have never met before. He also drops hints that he knows of Tim Win's whereabouts. Surprised and confused, Julia starts listening to the unfolding of an incredible story. Is U Ba really talking about HER father, covering the first twenty years of his Burmese life that nobody, not even his American wife, ever learned about? What was going on here? But she did not travel so far for nothing and U Ba's words lead to a touching, moving journey that will change Julia forever.

Like I stated above, I do not intend to spoil the story with too many details. Suffice it to say that it spans from the 1950s up to nowadays and it will take you from upscale New York City to Kalaw, an impoverished location in Burma. The narrative flows beautifully, poetically. There may be several romantic clichés but they fit in perfectly, without blemishing or rendering the narrative banal or overly-sentimental. What is also interesting, is the accurate, vivid description of this remote place, Kalaw, its colours, sounds, scents. Most locals impregnated with superstitious beliefs which could definitely change someone's life for better or worse. A touch of magic realism (just a touch) reminiscent of Garcia Marquez's novels, fits in charmingly. Definitely 5 (or more!) Amazon stars.

The main theme explored is, of course, Love. Not just the filial one between father and daughter. True love between a man and a woman. How it fluoresces, changes and haunts whomever is touched by its wonderful spell. How, because of, and thanks to it, the human being is able to endure anything. Anything at all.

Water For Elephants
Water For Elephants
by Sara Gruen
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 11.91
63 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A tender love story, about humans and animals, Aug. 2 2011
This review is from: Water For Elephants (Paperback)
I loved this book. A tender love story recounted by a nonagenarian in present time.

USA, 1930s. Jacob Jankowski had it all planned out: about to become a veterinarian, looking forward to join his father's practice, fate disrupts everything. Almost overnight, he is employed in a circus, the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Animals love him and he loves animals, but not only. He falls in love for the very first time in his life. But love, just like wild animals, can be dangerous if one is not too careful, and it slowly dawns on him that all the glittery world of a circus is not always what it seems...

The book is written in alternating chapters between present day and the past. The present day is represented touchingly, moving in a few parts, although the main character Jacob, now mostly sitting on a wheelchair with a few aches and pains, still has a sense of humour and a passion for life that is uplifting. He is now ninety. Or ninety-three.

The chapters about his past are absorbing and mesmerizing not only because of him falling in love for the first time with lovely Marlene, they also offer an engaging insight of circus life, the workers, the animals, and what is behind all those lights and delights. Very interesting.

So drum roll please. Let the show begin Ladies and Gentlemen. Sit back and be prepared for a few surprises, enjoy the show!

I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel
I'd Know You Anywhere: A Novel
by Laura Lippman
Edition: Hardcover
59 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

2.0 out of 5 stars No, I did not like this book much, July 26 2011
Not what I had expected from an author I usually like. A lukewarm book, I would not even call it a thriller but rather, a descriptive anatomy of the aftermath of a serious crime. A crime involving Elizabeth, kidnapped at 15 near her home and held captive for several weeks by a young man, Walter Bowman. Bowman, later found, tried and sent to death in Virginia (capital punishment due to a different case, but I do not want to spoil the story) is now counting the days to his death, drawing closer.

He contacts Elizabeth after more than 20 years sitting on death row. Elizabeth, now happily married with children and just returned to the USA after a few years in London due to her husband's work, is disturbed by Walter's approach.
Inevitably, her inner world starts to collapse and thoughts of whatever happened so long ago start to resurface, darkening her mind and soul. Despite a supportive family, she is torn to the very core of her existance.

Why did I not like this book much? Because, mainly, I found it boring. It failed to engage me in full. Sorry. I found it overly descriptive and I did not warm to any of the main characters, not even Elizabeth, despite her sufferings, despite everything. In fact, I found her to be a bit annoying as well, almost too naïve (I refer to her adult life) to the point of being exasperating, although I understand the author's intention to try to convey the dilemma, the sort of attachment -still there, after so many years- between captive and captor (and the same happened during her captivity).

There is also the moral, uncomfortable issue about capital punishment and in this respect, the author offers, through the characters, different opinions, which will definitely make the reader think.

The psychological side of the story, seen from different points of view (the story runs in parallels, shifting from past to present day), is the most interesting part of this book, in my opinion. Not bad at all, however it was repetitive, and precisely because it could, and should, have been more engaging, this aspect too turns out to be a bit of a disappointment. My true vote: 2.5 stars.

Secret Daughter
Secret Daughter
by Shilpi Somaya Gowda
Edition: Paperback
74 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

5.0 out of 5 stars Great, great novel, July 20 2011
This review is from: Secret Daughter (Paperback)
A full 5 stars from me and congratulations to the author Shilpi Somaya Gowda. I loved the comment by Mary Jane Clark (New York Times bestselling author) on the front cover as it perfectly summarizes my opinion: "It's moving and thought-provoking and informative and imaginative and beautifully executed. What a wonderful story!". It is indeed.

India, rural village, 1984. Kavita delivers a lovely daughter but she knows she is not expected to keep her as the whole family, especially her husband, want a boy. So in order to save the baby's life, she is forced to give her up. She will never forget her though, and this decision will forever haunt her. USA, 1984. Somer and husband Krishnan, both medical doctors, decide to adopt an Indian baby after several struggles and failures to have their own a baby. They both fall in love with the photo of the baby girl they are supposed to adopt and set out for the long journey to India to get to her.

The story is told by different perspectives and characters (in third person) in alternating chapters and it ends in almost-present day. It is a remarkable journey through two different cultures (Indian and American) and that baby girl is the indisputable connection to all protagonists. As she grows up, she questions her identity and things start to get more difficult for her adoptive parents.

When narrating about the Indian side of the family -Krishnan the adoptive father was born and raised in Mumbai, then moved to the USA due to his medical studies- the book reminds me of another one I read not too long ago, "The Pleasure Seekers" by Tishani Doshi (which I also reviewed and recommend, although the main subject there is totally different). What I mean to say is, this new book, just like The Pleasure Seekers, made me feel curious about a culture I do not know enough about and would like to.

Other themes explored here are infertility, motherhood, fatherhood, loss and emptiness caused by many different factors. And love, above all.
I do not want to spoil the story by saying any more. It has to be read and savoured as it unfolds page after page. Lovely, lovely, lovely. With substance.

Set In Stone
Set In Stone
by Catherine Dunne
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 10.94
40 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars Not bad, July 20 2011
This review is from: Set In Stone (Paperback)
Meet the Graham family in Dublin. A solid, happy family of four, Lynda, Robert and their children Ciaràn and Katie, barely out of teen hood. A lovely house in the suburbs, good jobs to keep them going. Ciaràn is the only one that has some problems, he is rebellious and hostile most of the time, but who isn't when 19? Until he befriends Jon at the university, who has a great and positive impact on him. Jon himself comes from a desolate background and his parents do not care about him. For the time being, he is allowed to stay with the Grahams and they welcome him with open arms.

Jon's arrival coincides with a series of unpleasant episodes that influence and affect their balanced and safe life. Lynda seems the only one to have a sort of "puzzled" vibe about Jon, despite his being so nicely behaved at all times, almost to good to be true, although she is too distracted by the escalating unpleasant events to dwell on her feeling, until she shakes it off for good.

What is happening in their ordinary, uncomplicated life is shaking everybody's ground. Lynda is convinced it is something from the Past looming to haunt them all. Could she possibly be right? Her trusting husband Robert at first disregards Lynda's comments. But as the events take more serious turns each time, he is forced to face the truth. Something set in stone and never forgotten is back again.

In my opinion, definitely a beach read, quite a page turner in that "page-turning" way books without much substance but with a fairly good plots have. Not a thriller at such, and quite easy to discern a pattern from the beginning that only the protagonists did not see, until it hits them in the face. So to speak.
My true vote: 3.5 stars.

When You Least Expect It: A Novel
When You Least Expect It: A Novel
by Whitney Gaskell
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 12.78
29 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

3.0 out of 5 stars About infertility and adoption, July 17 2011
India and Jeremy are a happily married thirty-something couple living in West Palm Beach, in a cozy, welcoming cottage. They both have careers they love and their life seems perfect, except for the baby that never comes. Several expensive infertility treatments fail one after the other and finally, also due to the financial strain they are under -those treatments are very expensive-, they decide to adopt a baby with the last remnants of their money.

And adoption agency matches them up with Lainey, a young lady with dreams of stardom and a lazy boyfriend who gets her pregnant. She is not ready to be a mother, her boyfriend is not ready to be a father and despite the initial decision to terminate her pregnancy, she carries on with it, with the intention of having the baby adopted afterwards. The pregnancy is viewed just like an accident that, once over, will not disrupt her plans of stardom. In the meantime, she finds herself homeless all of a sudden and even her own mother is unable, or unwilling, to offer any kind of support. India offers an unusual solution to this particular problem.

The life of all main characters are, from now on, indisputably connected. Everything seems to proceed awkwardly at first, then things get a bit easier. But everyone underestimates the changes a baby can bring.

This book offer, in my opinion, a fairly good introspective at the desperation some people have to go through when unable to conceive and it also shows just how strong, tenacious and unbreakable the love of any parent is, especially a mother, adoptive or biological.

Each chapter is written, or viewed, alternatively by each main character, India, Jeremy, Lainey. A minor disappointment was, if I may, the conclusion which I saw coming from the first chapters.
My true vote: 3.5 stars.

Room
Room
by Emma Donoghue
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 18.80
62 used & new from CDN$ 0.17

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing, July 13 2011
This review is from: Room (Hardcover)
Wow. A desolating, overwhelming story, strangely uplifting at the same time.

Meet 5-year-old Jack. He lives in Room with his Ma and no one else. All the rest is... Outer Space. Except for Old Nick who comes by almost every evening to stay with Ma while Jack is sleeping in Wardrobe. Jack and Ma do not like Old Nick, but there is nothing to be done about that...

Little Jack's voice is poignant, almost funny at times and we read the story through his eyes, words, innocence and love for his mother. Innocence and ignorance are what protect him from the evil of his living condition, although his mother does her best to raise him in an impossible-to-imagine situation. "Room" is the only reality he has ever known.

And then... page after page I was eager to know what could possible happen, if at all possible, to change that kind of life... The author was just great to convey certain feelings and emotions and oh, what a lovely character Jack is. And his Ma. Courageous, tenacious, desperate Ma.

Every object in Jack's world has a capital letter (Room, Table, Chair etc) conveying the sense of belonging, and even contentment, to such place; the capital letters are a writing technicality that add depth to the story. Jack is a wonderful narrator and the story will keep you glued to the pages. Extremely well done to the author.

The Burying Place
The Burying Place
by Brian Freeman
Edition: Hardcover
30 used & new from CDN$ 0.02

5.0 out of 5 stars Digging into the Burying Place, July 1 2011
This review is from: The Burying Place (Hardcover)
The author Brian Freeman reminds me more and more of Harlan Coben. Impossible not to compare the two writers, they have similarities that are hard to miss. Fast-paced, twisted story-lines, mostly entirely believable, that keep you glued to the pages. Tension and puzzlement building up from page 1.

The protagonists change but the main characters are still here. Lieutenant Jonathan Stride, still physically weak and emotionally depressed after the traumatic fall from a bridge (in "The Watcher"), his life partner Serena, struggling to understand his feelings, long-term colleague Maggie trying to help out. Their personal problems aside, they must deal with a puzzling case, the disappearance of a baby from her own home where no intruders seem to have broken into. And one after the other, women from different backgrounds start disappearing without trace. Two different cases that seem to have no connection but...

A great book for fans of fast-paced, intriguing mysteries.

Alone in Berlin
Alone in Berlin
by Hans Fallada
Edition: Paperback
43 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Just great, June 30 2011
This review is from: Alone in Berlin (Paperback)
I buy lots of books. Sometimes, unavoidably, I am disappointed by my choices. Other times, more often, I am not. And finally, very rarely, I am absolutely and utterly engrossed by the printed matter under my nose. This was one of those cases.

I was literally glued to the pages until the very end, and that means after the epilogue, when more surprising information was delivered. Such information is mentioned in some of the other reviews so this is not a spoiler: this book is based on a true story. Nobody will probably ever know to what extent the real mixes with fiction, but suffice it to say, it is a gripping book until the very last page in my opinion.

What I loved about it, is the quick-paced minutiae. To some it may seem like a slow trickle of details, emotions, feelings, not much "action" there, but I did not perceive it this way: the author rendered pain, bitterness, fear and love just so extremely well. Not too many crude descriptions, but fear, desperation and brutality rendered so vividly that sometimes I had to swallow twice from the tension. And scorn, irony, a sardonic smile enveloping certain atmospheres.

An unusual subject too, the German side of the story viewed by some simple, plain people who desperately try to rebel to the whole situation in their own way (including some seemingly inflexible hard-hearted uniforms). Many characters populate the scene, although the main story-line is dominated by Otto and Anna Quangel, husband and wife. Otto is certainly one of my favourite characters. Together with his wife Anna, they represent a solid, hard-working couple; in the beginning they did not even seem to be hostile to the National Socialists. But when their only child Ottochen is killed while fighting, their world turns upside-down. And their consciences start to backfire. An insuppressible desire to "do something" pervades their thoughts, starting with Otto, quiet, laborious Otto, later influencing his wife who turns out to be a great help and support for the scheme he has in mind: peppering Berlin with subversive postcards, inviting the population to rebel against the regime.
Otto's dignity, integrity and moral values never falter. He is the guiding hand to Anna, they work in unison and the postcards -and the moral value to them- becomes the center of their lives. They are so solitary and careful nobody would suspect them. But then... walking on thin ice, no matter how carefully, can be dangerous. In those days, it meant certain death. But Otto and Anna Quangel are prepared to face anything.

The author never lived long enough to see his book published (in 1947) as he died shortly after finishing it and it is also probable that details from his own life -he's described to have been quite an unstable person who went into rehab several times- are portrayed in this book befitting certain scenes. In any case, he produced this wonderful book in a very short time and it is sad that he was unable to enjoy the success it generated. I gather the English translation was done recently and that is perhaps why I hadn't heard of this book before. Better late than never, do read this book if you like the genre, it is highly recommendable.

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