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Karen Hickey (Ontario, Canada)
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After River
After River
by Donna Milner
Edition: Hardcover
5 used & new from CDN$ 2.55

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Cliched to the Max, Jan. 16 2011
This review is from: After River (Hardcover)
The author is a gifted story-teller and was able to develop full-sized characters. However, I found could not really identify with the story line. The central characters suffered every cliche possible: homosexuality; broken marriages; teenage pregnancy; teenage angst; rape; pedophilia; first loves; unrequited love; unfullfilled sexuality; ostracism; lost children; business failure--not to mention the cliches of the 60's--draft dodgers; afros; flower children; light and peace. With the exception of a murder (only a near-murder), the grist from all novels was included--no possible story line was excluded.

I couldn't really sympathize with the characters or the story line because it felt, to me, that the author wanted to write a book about every conceivable issue--in one attempt. While every family has a story, or several, I couldn't believe that all the woes of every family could happen to one.

One potentially positive thing about the novel--if you can read only one this year, this one covers all possible aspects of life.

Reluctant Genius
Reluctant Genius
by Charlotte Gray
Edition: Hardcover
27 used & new from CDN$ 3.81

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Informative and Illuminating, Feb. 15 2010
This review is from: Reluctant Genius (Hardcover)
While we all know that Bell was responsible for the telephone and, indirectly, all the high tech gadgetry we use or bemoan today, I had no idea of the extent of his interests nor the foresight he had--for things that were commercialized well after he'd identified their possibilities. He clearly wanted to be and was far more than a "one-shot wonder".

I enjoyed the insight into his foibles and his marriage which clearly proved the maxim "beyond a great man is a great woman." As a former Bell employee I was familiar with the name "Mabel Hubbard" but had no idea of just how wonderful she was.

It was also interesting to read about his peers and to learn about their foibles.

I had a little bit of trouble with the technical parts of the book but was truly fascinated by the character analysis. Alec Bell was a complicated man who clearly suffered from a lack of focus. Today, he'd be described as ADD I'm sure.

I was also a little confused by the title. While he was clearly reluctant to pursue commercial avenues for his inventions I'd say he was anything but reluctant when it came to inventing or to pursuing his interests. He was driven by the kind of thirst for knowledge that few of us can ever appreciate or experience.

I learned an awful lot from this book. I think it should almost be required reading for Canadians who typically know so little about our legendary heroes.

Sing Them Home: A Novel
Sing Them Home: A Novel
by Stephanie Kallos
Edition: Paperback
22 used & new from CDN$ 3.11

2.0 out of 5 stars Missed the Mark--Big Time, Jan. 20 2010
I didn't read Ms Kallos' first book so I didn't know what to expect when I began this book club entry. I was not impressed--neither were the other members of the club.

We all agreed that there were bits and pieces of the book that were interesting but, overall, it missed the mark. We thought it had the potential for a really good novel based on the premise of a mother dying in a natural disaster and the impact of that on her children. However, the author wasn't focused enough. Instead of an in-depth analysis of the characters, the reader's (and the author's) attention was distracted by: a fantasy representation of the dead which didn't really add to the plot (whatever that was); an exhaustive explanation of a town's burial practices which also didn't relate, except to provide a title. In addition, those burial rites were too fantastic to be believable. Frequent inclusions of Welsh were a distraction that disrupted possible enjoyment of the book. The ending was way too pat. It felt like the author had been told, after 500 pages, to 'wrap it up' and she did--with a very unoriginal conclusion.

I believe the book suffered from too little editing and too many flights of fancy. The author believes that where one adjective is good--seven is better--another distraction.

I would not recommend this book.

Three Cups of Tea
Three Cups of Tea
by Greg Mortenson
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
314 used & new from CDN$ 0.01

10 of 13 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Could Have Been Better, March 9 2009
This review is from: Three Cups of Tea (Paperback)
Greg Mortenson's life and life's work is a testimony to the power of one. His commitment to the children of Pakistan and Afghanistan is amazing as is his eventual belief that books, rather than bombs, will eradicate terrorism. His is an incredible personal journey with far-reaching impacts. Unfortunately I don't think the writing is on a level with the accomplishments. I found that the book was way too slow in many places--perhaps focusing a little too much on individual trips instead of on the schools and characters Mortenson came to love and rely on. But, if you want to read about an amazing individual who is committed to a task and has the skills necessary to win supporters and conquer problems, Mortenson is your man.

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

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good Old-Fashioned Story, Feb. 17 2009
This review is from: Water For Elephants (Paperback)
This novel is a delightful, old-fashioned story that successfully places the reader in the midst of the circus in the midst of the Great Depression. The primary character, Jacob, is very well-developed as both a young man and an old-timer. The business end of a circa '20's train circus is not for the faint of heart, and the business lives of its employees and performers not to be envied--but are portrayed without judgement. The author paints compelling pictures.

For a refreshing break from weighty novels, spy sagas or whatever, do yourself a favour and relax with this book--you'll practically hear the hurdy-gurdy and smell the midway.........

Shantaram: A Novel
Shantaram: A Novel
by Gregory David Roberts
Edition: Paperback
Price: CDN$ 13.36
52 used & new from CDN$ 2.53

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A Wonderful Read, but Not Perfect, Jan. 31 2009
This review is from: Shantaram: A Novel (Paperback)
I enjoyed this book a lot and, like other reviewers, was alternately anxious yet dreading to get to the end of the story.

I was recently in India, including Mumbai, and enjoyed the excellent descriptions of the city and the people. Since I was a tourist and not a resident, I didn't see so much of the loving, gentle side of its residents. Unfortunately for me, I saw more of the exploitation of tourists. However, I'm more than willing to take his word for the 'real' Indian soul. One of the paradoxes he illustrates in the story is the loving, gentle nature of the slum dwellers he meets and respects contrasted with the murderous, vengeful nature of many of his business associates. When people ask me about India, I can describe it only as a country of incredible contrasts--something any reader of this novel should pick up on.

I found parts of the novel uninteresting and self-indulgent on the author's part. His explanations of his 'law of complexity' (I might have that wording wrong) didn't seem to mesh with the balance of the novel. He may have done better to pen another book outlining his philosophy of life.

He is a great story-teller. I loved his characters--I felt I'd come to know well the primary people in his life. I loved the fact that I could laugh out loud as assassins described the killing of their enemies. His ability to describe events and make you truly participate was particularly true when he described prison life. And, while I didn't always appreciate his 'philosophizing', I appreciated his ability to demonstrate that no one is all good or all bad--we are all a mixture and we all sometimes get things very wrong.

Shantaram is a wonderful read and worth the investment of your time. I, for one, think it's far too rich and complex for a movie--much better suited to a multi-episode special on TV.

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