Monthly Archives: January 2013

‘A Secret Kept’ by Tatiana de Rosnay

A Secret KeptstarstarstarAfter the enormous success of her earlier book  Sarah’s Key, and the subsequent movie hit, I must say I was a little disappointed with her second novel. Although the story is interesting enough and definitely kept my attention, the secret was not kept well enough because I had it figured out very early on, and I did not find it as  shocking as the author seems to think.

Set in France, a brother surprises his sister with a nostalgia visit to an island they used to vacation on as children. Revisiting this setting unleashes a troublesome memory which distracts the sister enough while driving to cause a serious car accident. The tragedy sets off a series of events which become revealing in a number of different ways. The story focuses on love, family, and the power memory holds on our lives. It explores various relationships and how we view our past and people like our parents.

The setting of the story is unique and makes me want to go there. Le Gois is a causeway leading to the island of Noirmoutier.  The passage has limited access because it becomes covered by the tides, rendering it a dangerous crossing and regularly impossible. It becomes a powerful symbol in the book.

‘419’ by Will Ferguson

419starstarstarstar

Guest Post by Dirk Booy:

Most of us have received an email from nowhere promising great riches if we just help someone get through a tough situation. Usually it appeals to our sense of justice, offers a financial incentive, and suggests that a life is in danger if we do not help. The stories are so unbelievable that we simply hit the delete key and wonder who would get suckered into such a scam. ‘419’ explores what happens when someone actually does reply.

Will Ferguson’s book, winner of the 2012 Giller prize, is titled after the Nigerian criminal code, number 419, specifically written to control fraud like email scams. The story tells of how an elderly man responds to such a scam and is eventually ruined by his tormenters. It’s a fascinating behind the scenes look at how such scams operate and why people respond. In the end, it’s a tale of how a family fights back and tries to reverse the damage caused by the scam – both to their family as well as others indirectly involved.

I found it original and captivating. Ferguson weaves a story that takes place in Canada and Nigeria involving different families and shows how a simple email scam can affect so many people. I found his descriptions of Nigeria to be real and authentic. Although the plot and style are somewhat cumbersome, the originality of the story makes it well worth the read.

‘Talking Back to Facebook: The Common Sense Guide to Raising Kids in the Digital Age’ by James P. Steyer

Talking Back to FacebookAside from the occasional Guest Post (usually by my husband which indicates at least a close proximity to the book), I am committed to reading all of the books I write about on my blog. However, this one came across my radar and I thought I would put it out there before reading it, mainly because ironically I am unable to get my hands on a copy. This book looks hugely important for parents and anyone who is interested in how social media affects youth. It has gotten excellent reviews and it’s not just about Facebook.

Firstly, about the book: “In this essential book, Steyer-a frequent commentator on national TV and radio- offers an engaging blend of straightforward advice and anecdotes that address what he calls RAP, the major pitfalls relating to kids’ use of media and technology: relationship issues, attention/addiction problems, and the lack of privacy. Instead of shielding children completely from online images and messages, Steyer’s practical approach gives parents essential tools to help filter content, preserve good relationships with their children, and make common sense, value-driven judgments for kids of all ages.
Not just about Facebook, this comprehensive, no-nonsense guide to the online world, media, and mobile devices belongs in the hands of all parents and educators raising kids in today’s digital age.”

Secondly, here is my dilemma in finding a copy. Sometimes it is interesting to see how the publishing world works. In the UK it is available from two online booksellers only in ebook but not compatible with my Kindle. It is not available at my local UK library nor my library in Canada. Amazon.com doesn’t have the Kindle edition for it, whereas Amazon.ca does. This is weird because it is an American author who works for an American company called Common Sense Media. My Kindle is registered for .com so .ca won’t sell it to me. The good news if you are in North America, is that hard copies can be found at bookstores (and for Kobo from Chapters), but since I am in UK now I decided to post without reading, get the title out to you, and hope to catch up with a copy later in NA.  Good luck and let me know if you think it’s good!

‘Between the Lines’ by Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

Between the LinesstarstarstarJodi Picoult is one of those famous authors whose name is printed larger than the title on the cover of a book. Many have read at least one of her bestselling novels. She is a master at taking a difficult issue, representing all aspects of it through her character’s perspectives, and delivering a good storyline with lots of plot and conflict.

‘Between the Lines’ is Picoult’s first young adult novel and it is unique because she wrote it together with her teenage daughter Samantha. What they set out to write was a timeless, ageless, old fashioned fairy tale with a modern romantic twist for a new generation. It would be visually pleasing as well, with beautiful illustrations and a story that would stand the test of time. In this I think they succeeded except that I think the target audience would be younger than typical YA age, more like 9 – 12 range.

In the introduction Picoult writes about how she and her daughter worked together on the novel, not only doing the hard work of imagining how the story would be written and where it would go, but taking turns typing and saying most of the lines out loud.

Imagine if characters had a life of their own when the reader wasn’t around? And what if the characters were tired of being stuck in a story that always had the same ending? What if the reader could help a character escape? This of course is fantasy. By definition a fantasy is imagining the impossible or improbable. Fantasy is important, especially for children. It allows children to vicariously experience things like love, longing, fear, failure, anger etc., all  in a safe environment so they can wonder about how they themselves would react.

Picoult says her fans asked her to write something for their children, to introduce them to her writing until they were old enough to handle her heavier adult books.   She has delivered, and this one will live happily ever after with all of her other novels.

‘The Shadow of the Wind’ by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

The Shadow of the WindstarstarstarAn atmospheric novel with an ‘old world’ feel to it, ‘The Shadow of the Wind’ is also humorous and lightheartedly ironic. Although it was recommended to me as a page turner, I didn’t feel it became so until the latter half. Don’t be in too much of a hurry and you won’t be disappointed by the slow and wordy pace. The writing is beautiful but you do have to be in the mood to enjoy it and let it take its time. There is actually more mysterious intrigue than any fast paced plot but in the end all is revealed and comes to a satisfying conclusion. If you enjoy gathering wisdom quotes, this novel is full of them which is admirable in a translated novel. Daniel and Fermin were my favourite characters, both grounded and developing, in contrast to many of the other characters, especially the women, who remained rather two dimensional.

“Barcelona. 1945: A city slowly heals from its war wounds, and Daniel an antiquarian book dealer’s son who mourns the loss of his mother, finds solace in a mysterious book entitled ‘The Shadow of the Wind’, by one Julian Carax. But when he sets out to find the author’s other works, he makes a shocking discovery: someone has been systematically destroying every copy of every book Carax has written. Soon Daniel’s seemingly innocent quest opens a door into one of Barcelona’s darkest secrets–an epic story of murder, madness, and doomed love.”

In case you are ever travelling to Barcelona, there is a detailed walking tour complete with pictures and map included at the end of the book. Readers can explore and revisit the setting of the book.

Zafon has written two more gothic tales set in Barcelona which are what I would call “loose sequels”after this one: ‘The Angel’s Game’ and ‘The Prisoner of Heaven’. His first book, called ‘The Prince of Mist’, was published as ‘young adult’ genre. I like what the author says about that classification which he apparently, didn’t agree with. He says he believes that good storytelling “transcends age limitations.” That is something that I strongly agree with.

‘7: An Experimental Mutiny Against Excess’ by Jen Hatmaker

7 An Experimental Mutiny Against ExcessstarstarstarstarThis was an entertaining book to read over the Christmas holiday time. Talk about a season of “excess”! Jen Hatmaker’s book is a reflection on how life would be if we dared to live with less and were less drawn into the consumerism of our culture. She dedicated herself to 7 months of fasting from things and then paid attention to how limiting certain things like food, clothing and media affected her life.

“Fasting helps us develop mastery over the competing voices in our heads that urge us toward more, toward indulgence, toward emotional volatility. Like consistent discipline eventually shapes our children’s behaviour, so it is with us. Believe it or not, God can still change us. Not just our habits but our hearts. Say “no” for a year and see for yourself.”

What I appreciated about the book is that she shares a fresh perspective without throwing around a lot of guilt. Here is what she did in the 7 months.

Month 1: Limited her eating to only 7 foods.
Month 2: Limited her clothing to 7 items.
Month 3: Gave away 7 items per day.
Month 4: Shut down 7 media screens from use.
Month 5: Adopted 7 habits for a greener life.
Month 6: Limited shopping to 7 vendors only.
Month 7: Stopped to pause for rest and prayer 7 times a day.

Hatmaker writes with a good deal of humour but also delivers some very interesting insights. One reviewer said that what Hatmaker does is “makes you laugh and then slaps you up the side of your face.”  In this book she does not deliver a directive or offer a template because everyone is different and has unique lessons to learn.  It’s a clear case of the questions being more important than the answers. What she does offer is an amusing challenge to “live simply so that others may simple live”. This important book underscores the message that what we do does make a difference and it is our responsibility to God and others to take our actions seriously.

New Year’s Resolution

P1020551Happy New Year! Welcome to (among a few other things) another year of books and reading! Maybe you got some new books for Christmas or an Indigo or Waterstones gift card? Maybe you are looking forward to placing a few new holds at the library after hearing recommendations from friends or family members. Or maybe you need to look no further than your own bookshelf!

My New Year’s resolution this year is to do just that. My own bookshelves are filled with books I have not read yet. How that happens, I’m not quite sure, but it happens to me and apparently to many others as well. A friend of mine told me a funny story of how she had gone overdue on a library book and went to the library for special permission to extend the due date so that she could finish it. The gracious librarian agreed but when my friend returned home she noticed that the very same book was actually already sitting on her shelf! 🙂

It’s almost embarrassing to admit that I have read only 4 out of the 13 books in the snapshot above of a section of my bookshelf. So, I will challenge myself to this year read one book a month from my own collection. Wish me luck!