Sunday, July 31, 2011

A Mortal Curiosity, by Ann Granger

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The only bad thing I can say about this book is that I have now, to the best of my knowledge, read all of the Lizzie Martin & Inspector Ben Ross mysteries and will have to wait until Ann Granger writes more. These books are a sheer delight. The real subject of all of them--beyond murder and investigation--is a stark criticism of the elaborate class system of Victorian England, with respect to landowners, servants, police officers and women in particular. Ms. Granger also includes details that make the reader feel they've truly been transported back in time: the period dress, the thick fog caused by coal-burning factories, the expectations on children, even the food people eat. All of it combines to guide the reader through a tour of London and its surroundings circa the 1860's, and invites them to stay to solve a murder or two while they're at it.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Crawling: A Father's First Year, by Elisha Cooper

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Relatable and sympathetic, this memoir of a nervous guy becoming a nervous father is worth the read for any father (or mother) who has ever looked at their beautiful newborn infant and thought, "What the hell do I do now?"

Saturday, July 23, 2011

George Washington Carver, by John Perry (Christian Encounters Series)

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This small, easy-to-read book details the life of George Washington Carver, African American scientist and inventor who is most remembered for having invented peanut butter. The story is a compelling one, though the book does leave out or gloss over the more unpleasant aspects of Mr. Carver’s life, such as slavery and racism. It’s not that it doesn’t address these things, it’s just that there’s a lot it doesn’t say. For instance, the author makes reference to Carver’s mother being bought by white landowner Moses Carver in 1855 when she was thirteen years old, and then later giving birth to a half-white child named James, but it avoids the obvious assumption that George’s brother James was the product of rape at the hands of Moses Carver.  Later in the book, the author exults the research done at Tuskegee Institute but makes no mention of the famous Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments in which African American males were unknowingly injected with syphilis and then denied treatment, a violation of the Nuremberg Code. These omissions do not really change the story of George Washington Carver’s life (he was not involved in the syphilis experiments, for instance) but they do make the book seem like it’s being deliberately edited to be more palatable to white readers. Nonetheless, like many of the books I have received from, this biography of George Washington Carver encouraged me to do further research on my own (not that I wasn’t familiar with Carver, but it still made me want to read more).

Friday, July 22, 2011

Island of the Sequined Love Nun, by Christopher Moore

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Quirky and delighted with itself, this seems to be a "typical" Christopher Moore book, which makes me think the genius and weight of Lamb was an exception to his normal style. This book was, in a word, frothy.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible, by A.J. Jacobs

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I expected to be amused--and I was--but I did not expect to be inspired. I expected the author to use the experiment to poke fun at the Bible and reveal the ludicrous commandments that surely no one could take seriously. And he did. Sort of. But not really. He actually had a bit of a spiritual awakening throughout the year, which I did not expect (nor, I think, did he).

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

FREE BOOKS from Simon & Schuster!

Simon & Schuster is offering advanced reader copies of three new thrillers to Canadian readers! Head over to their site to check out the books and request one today!

All you need to do is send an e-mail to with the subject line THRILLS and let her know which book you'd like to receive. Hurry, though! Offer ends July 31, 2011, or sooner if they run out.

You can check out a description of the books here:

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Secret Daughter, by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

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I am stunned and delighted by this first time novelist's ability to deftly play with the contrasts of subtlety and drama, expectation and reality, hope and despair. As readers we are at once anxious, hopeful, saddened and joyful for these characters and their parallel journeys. This skillful handling of contrasts is perfectly appropriate for a novel that deals with gender and class struggles in modern India, interracial marriage, immigration and international adoption--all subjects which are themselves full of contrast. Yet at its heart, Secret Daughter is a novel about family--about the special love between a mother and daughter; however simple or complicated that may be--and that is what makes it almost universally relatable and emotionally gripping.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

BOOK CONTEST ALERT: Socrates' Book Reviews

I just started following a blog called Socrates' Book Reviews (intrigued by a reading challenge called Cruisin' Through the Cozies) and I noticed she's offering a free giveaway of the book Settling, by Shelley Workinger! Yay! Check out the link below for details:

A Rare Interest in Corpses, by Ann Granger

This is the first in the "Lizzie Martin Mystery" series (also published as The Companion) but I was pleased to see the format of alternating between Lizzie's perspective and that of Inspector Ben Ross was present, even in this earlier book. It seems this book was republished as "The Companion" in the United States, but I like the original title better. It says so much about Lizzie Martin and the series. She's a Victorian English woman but clearly written from a modern perspective, which causes the other characters to react to her as the anomaly that she is. It's precisely this quality which is quickly making the "Victorian English detective written by a modern writer" one of my favourite sub-genres of mystery fiction, which surprises even me since I normally hate historical mysteries!

Bossypants, by Tina Fey

It may not be a book filled with great stories that I remember years or even days from now, but it was a delightful little fluff memoir that I couldn't put down. It made me feel like I really KNOW Tina Fey, but then, nearly everything she does makes me feel that way. Such an unapologetic nerd--what's not to love? I especially liked her childhood (and adulthood) photos interspersed throughout the narrative. If I had one complaint it would be that I wish there were more photos. I wanted to see every awkward haircut she described, every outfit she was convinced was "so rad" at the time despite all evidence to the contrary, and maybe--just maybe--a prom picture.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Surviving Your Serengeti: 7 Skills to Master Business and Life: A Fable of Self-Discovery, by Stefan Swanepoel

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Surviving Your Serengeti is not the sort of book I typically read. It’s described by the publisher as “an adventure fable providing a captivating metaphor on how everyone can triumph over life’s challenges.” I think the last “self-help” book I read was in high school. Nonetheless, I was intrigued by the idea of a metaphor or fable (I’m a sucker for fables) and especially by the fact that each of the seven eponymous skills was based on various jungle animals. I’ve long loved bestiaries (compendia of beasts), both medieval and modern, so I thought I’d give this book a try. It wasn’t entirely what I was expecting, but I did enjoy it overall.
One thing I really liked about it was that as the author presented each skill through the behaviour of each animal, it felt like I was taking a little personality quiz (Which Animal Are You?) which was really fun. Without revealing too much, I think I may be an elephant. The irony is that when I was a daycare teacher I used to have a particular group of children who always wanted to play “baby animals” and somehow managed to ALWAYS assign me the role of “Mama Elephant.” At the time I wasn’t sure if I should be offended (Am I huge? Am I grey? Do I stamp my feet? Why an elephant?!?) but reading this book, I couldn’t help but chuckle.