Sunday, November 28, 2010

Earthly Joys

Earthly Joys by Philippa Gregory
Historical Fiction

This is the story of a very famous gardener, John Tradescant who was a gardener to some famous people during the reign of James I and Charles I.

John is in the employ of Robert Cecil, building the gardens of Hatfield House and he is very close – a confidante and friend – to the great man. John loves travelling the world in search of new species of plants. After Cecil dies, John moves around from master to master until he is ordered to the new and fabulous estate of George Villiers – first Duke of Buckingham, the most powerful man in the land. The Duke of Buckingham becomes the lover of Charles I. John is a product of his times and loyalty is everything. John ends up loving his new master. John's personal life is turned upside down by this charismatic and reckless and hated person.

Gregory has written a brilliant novel about this period just before civil war. Definitely another winner from Gregory!

First Line: "The daffodils will be fit for a king."


Saturday, November 27, 2010

A Walk to Remember

A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks

Landon Carter is a teenage boy in North Carolina in the 1950s. Jamie Sullivan is the daughter of the town's Baptist minister. Jamie is sweet, religious and a 'goody-two-shoes'. Landon is the 'bad boy'. Boy meets girl. Love. Problems.

Typical Nicholas Sparks book with lots of romance and love under trying conditions. This book is for those who want a easy read with lots of love and want to shed a few tears in the process.

First Line: "When I was seventeen, my life changed forever."


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Lipstick in Afghanistan

Lipstick in Afghanistan by Roberta Gately

Elsa grew up poor in a suburb of Boston. She decides to become an ER nurse with the intention of helping others. When her mother dies she decides to become a foreign aid nurse and ends up being assigned to Afghanistan just after 9/11.

Elsa is assigned to a clinic in Bamiyan where there is no running water or electricity and where the Taliban has just left the village. Not even the ER of Boston with its gunshots, stabbings and illegal drug overdoses can prepare Elsa for the clinic in Afghanistan. She is also not at all prepared for the restrictions that go with being female in a Muslim country.

Parween is a Afghan woman. She has grown up quite liberally, being allowed a degree of freedom while living with her uncle. She has an arranged marriage which turns out to be a love match.

Parween and Elsa meet over a deadly accident when a bus hits a land mine and Parween's best friend is killed. They become very good friends and have adventures trying to save friends or to better Parween's circumstances. These adventures are not well thought out and indeed very dangerous.

Elsa also has a love interest, a Special Forces soldier whom she is not supposed to fraternize with.

I loved this story. Elsa is as naive as they come with respect to the hardships of the Afghanis. Elsa's heart is in the right place but she is thoughtless with her comments and actions. Parween is a rebel but being female has also made her very naive about the situation even though she has lived through terrible times and seen cruelty and tragedy. These women bond over their love of lipstick which makes them feel better.

This a great story about the hardships and turmoil of everyday life among the gentle and generous Afghan people.

First Line: "Do you hear it?"
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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Night Shift by Dr. Brian Goldman

The Night Shift by Dr. Brian Goldman

Dr. Brian Goldman works the night shift in the ER at Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto and has been doing so for more than 20 years. With another career as a radio broadcaster, Goldman uses his journalistic skills to take the reader through his 11pm to 7am shift and showcase some of the cases he has seen. This includes a woman who was in labour yet didn't realize she was pregnant, a suicidal elderly man, and a victim of a bar fight. This book shows you what kind of people and problems an ER sees, how doctors and nurses work together, and what doctors think about when they diagnose patients.

Interestingly, Goldman views his job as a part time job. He works more than 8 hours, as he often stays past his shift to make sure he doesn't leave any patients on the next doctor's plate (a very important item for him as he mentions it multiple times throughout the book). He describes how fatigue can affect doctors and nurses who work these hours and yet he still has a job as a radio show host. One wonders how he finds the time and energy to do this.

The most endearing part of this book, however, is how humane and honest Goldman comes across. You often think of doctors as being egotists that think they can never make a mistake or admit to making one. Goldman makes it clear that he is always afraid of making a mistake and hearing the three dreaded words "Do you remember" which usually implies a patient has died after being treated by the doctor. Goldman is also honest about how he selects cases not always based on how long the person has been waiting in the ER, but on how much the case interests him (let's hope that when I go to the ER, I'm considered interesting enough to be seen more quickly!).

I notice with non-fiction reads I really enjoy that I commonly say "I'm reading this book about ..." and mention some interesting fact about the book. I've done that a couple times while reading The Night Shift. This book looks at not only a Toronto ER, but our overall health care system and how doctors perceive their roles. A very interesting read!

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First Line: "Some people choose to work nights."


Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Narrows

The Narrows by Michael Connelly

Harry Bosch is a retired LAPD homicide detective who takes cold cases and solves them. Harry is asked by Terry McCaleb's (Blood Work, A Darkness More The Night) wife to look into Terry's death. Terry was a retired FBI agent and a heart transplant recipient operating a charter fishing boat with his partner Buddy.

Rachel Walling, the FBI agent who shot The Poet(Backus) and hopefully killed him in "The Poet" has been re-called from her exile because it looks like The Poet has returned. A road called Zyzzyx Road; an exit off a desert highway near Vegas and Bosch's newly found daughter is the burial place of many more of Backus' victims. As the FBI tries to unravel the clues, Harry is one step ahead of them as he realizes that McCaleb's death is tied to this infamous serial killer. Harry however just loves to step on the bureaucratic toes of the FBI.

Harry is encouraged to return to the LAPD. There is a three year amnesty so Harry would not have to take any of the police academy tests in order to return. What fan can not hope he makes the right decision to return.

I had not read The Poet before this book and went back and read it. The Poet should be read before this book. I also have not read Blood Work and feel I did not miss anything.

First Line: "I think maybe I only know one thing in this world."


Friday, November 19, 2010

The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman

Jan and Antonina Zabinski are the keepers of the Warsaw zoo when WWII starts and Poland is invaded. Their life before the invasion is a life of caring for the animals even to the point of keeping sick animals in their home with them to heal and recover. The Germans move into Warsaw and set up their headquarters right beside the zoo.

As the war progresses and the Warsaw Ghetto is created, the resistance movement becomes stronger and Jan and Antonia become involved. They house many Jews over the course of the war some for longer periods and some for very short periods. They house resistance workers. They use the former houses of the animals and the bombed out structures of the zoo. They had 'lost' their animals to German zookeepers who came and looted the animals.

This is a true story and one can only wonder at the bravery of this couple. This book depicts the hatred of the Germans for not only the Jews but also the Poles. The horror and absolute terror the Germans used is sickening. I did not realize the Germans were also interested in the perfection of certain animal species.

This story is an interesting one but at times the author got bogged down in details of natural history. The insect collection of a Pole was described for pages. I found the writing to be a bit choppy and scattered. I would also have liked to hear more about the Zabinskis after the war.

First Line: "At dawn in an outlying district of Warsaw, sunlight swarmed around the trunks of blooming linden trees and crept up the white walls of the 1930s stucco and glass villa where the zoo director and his wife slept in a bed crafted from white birch, a pale wood used in canoes, tongue depressors, and Windsor chair."


Monday, November 15, 2010

Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid

Fever of the Bone by Val McDermid

Tony Hill and Carol Jordan are back for another round in McDermid's most recent book. With a new boss on the force, Jordan is threatened to have her team taken away from her and is told she can no longer use Hill's profiling techniques to help solve crimes. Knowing that Jordan won't be able to use him, Hill takes the time to consult on another case in a different county. This also gives him a chance to visit the home of the father that he never knew. He's not quite emotionally prepared for learning about his father which adds another layer of complexity.

Meanwhile, Jordan's team is desperate to prove themselves and they start to investigate the murder of a teenage boy whom has been mutilated. There are striking similarities between the case that Hill is working on and Jordan's case. A serial killer may be on the loose and no one is sure who this person could be or what their motive is.

As always, I really enjoy the chemistry between Hill and Jordan. Hill is such a vulnerable character which makes him so endearing. I wasn't impressed with Jordan's increasing abuse of alcohol and would much like to see that solved quickly as it doesn't add anything to the story line. Though I've found that most of these books can be read as a stand alone, I think this one is best read in series. There's just too much background information that would be missed by a reader not invested in this series.

McDermid can't go wrong. All of her mysteries are page turners that keep you guessing up to the last minute. This book was left with an interesting ending between Jordan and Hill which leaves me looking forward very much to the next book to see what the resolution is!

Browse Inside this Book

First Line: "It all comes down to blood in the end."


Saturday, November 13, 2010

About Face

About Face by Fern Michaels
Romantic Mystery

Casey Edwards is released from the mental hospital and left to find her own way to her mother's home. Dr Blake Hunter, a handsome family friend, helps her while it looks like the other residents of Sweetwater just shun her.

Casey can not remember her past and tries to piece it together one step at a time. But there are others who wish her not to remember a thing. Casey is nearly run over. She tries to find court documents which either have disappeared or aren't there. Will Casey remember before she is killed or sent back to the hospital?

This book is really not quite a mystery as the opening chapter pretty much spells everything out. The plot is more about Casey's discoveries which are a mystery to her and her developing romance. It is also about what happens to the 'bag guys'.

I found it an easy read and hard to put down.

First Line: "Dust covered the out-of-date eyewear displayed on the rotating rack, and the scent of stale smock hung heavy in the air."


Tuesday, November 09, 2010

Buffalo Unbound

Buffalo Unbound by Laura Pedersen

Laura Pedersen's first autobiographical novel Buffalo Gal was about growing up in Buffalo in the 70's. Buffalo Unbound is an extension of that book. Buffalo Gal is an excellent book but does not have to be read before Buffalo Unbound. Buffalo Unbound contains a number of short stories about a variety of topics. Buffalo is finally coming out of the depression caused by the steel and car industries and is starting to thrive again. The new booming industries include: health care, banking and education.

Pedersen has written about the history, climate, arts and culture and shopping places of Buffalo. I believe this book is geared mostly to those who live around the Buffalo area or intend to visit. Several of the stories are written almost like a stand-up comedy routine, just plain funny.

Pedersen wrote this book in order to prove Forbes wrong in their assertion that Buffalo is on the 10 most miserable places to live list. She has done that and imparted to the reader how special Buffalo is in her heart.

First Line: "Buffalo Gal is a memoir I wrote about growing up in Western New York, the title taken from an American folk song with the chorus 'Buffalo gals, won't you come out tonight and dance by the light of the moon'."

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Saturday, November 06, 2010

The Poet

The Poet by Michael Connelly

Jack McEvoy is a journalist based in Denver. He is able to pick the stories he works on, which are usually murder stories in more depth. His next story is the story of his brother's suicide. Sean McEvoy was a cop and his suicide is thought to be because of a particularly troubling murder case Sean couldn't solve.

Jack starts to research policemen's suicides and comes up with the troubling coincidence of deaths very similar to his brother's right down to the detail of a Edgar Allan Poe quotation as a suicide note.

Jack is able to 'blackmail' the FBI to be included in the investigation all over the country.

I thoroughly enjoyed this mystery although I knew what was coming in part because I had read The Narrows previously. Jack McEvoy is not quite as 'great' as Harry Bosch but still a credible character. I think I didn't enjoy Jack as much as Jack doesn't seem to have the integrity and morals of Bosch. This is still a great mystery. I just recommend reading this before The Narrows

First Line: "Death is my beat."