Saturday, September 30, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Path of Destruction by John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein

In 2002, John McQuaid and Mark Schleifstein wrote “Washing Away,” an award-winning series for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. The authors exposed the unique vulnerability of New Orleans to hurricanes, exploring “an obvious but little-acknowledged fact: here was a city that, for the six months of every hurricane season, lived with a substantial risk of utter annihilation…much of the city was built on top of a swamp, below sea level and gradually sinking.”

On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans and the Louisiana coast. In Path of Destruction: The Devastation of New Orleans and the Coming Age of Superstorms, McQuaid and Schleifstein revisit familiar territory, helping readers understand why this tragic event happened when there were so many warnings.

Path of Destruction outlines the factors that contributed to the tragedy in New Orleans. By 2005, many levees were still incomplete and those built had inadequate safety levels, with safety factors of 1.3 (bridges have a safety factor of 2). The Army Corps of Engineers were more interested in commerce than hurricane safety. When combined with sinking marshlands and unstable soil, these facts increased the likelihood that levees would be overtopped or broken by a Category 2 hurricane, turning much of New Orleans into a lake. Hurricanes sweeping in off the Gulf of Mexico no longer have extensive marshlands to diminish the storm’s strength for “the delta has collapsed like a soufflé.

McQuaid and Schleifstein also provide extensive evaluation of Katrina’s aftermath. Once the levees broke, 80% of New Orleans was under water and the delayed response by FEMA severely increased the misery caused by Katrina.

Despite the harrowing experiences of one year ago and the knowledge that what happened in New Orleans was “catastrophic structural failure” not an “act of God,” the US government is poised to repeat prior mistakes. The Corps is rebuilding levees to their former level of protection, leaving New Orleans as exposed as before Katrina. At one point, Corps contractors were caught “dredging up weak soil and incorporating it into a new levee.” Given the prediction of an increase in Katrina-like storms, the time to act and prevent future tragedies is now.

Read the review at Armchair Interviews.

ISBN10: 031601642X
ISBN13: 9780316016421

Pages: 384
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Publication Date: August 16, 2006

NOTE: I am working on a feature article for (a new social networking site being launched in November) about the batch of books published on Hurricane Katrina this year. Further analysis of Path of Destruction will be included in that article, which I will post here once it is published.


Tuesday, September 26, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: The Marble Orchard By Paul Johnson

After decades spent living a bohemian lifestyle spanning four continents, painter Carl Larson has finally returned to his hometown of Jamestown, New York. Expecting to spend only a few weeks there while he settles his widowed mother into a nursing home, he is unexpectedly caught by the ghosts of his past and a new artistic direction. Caught unaware by the force of his own memories, Carl is immobilized long enough for external forces to pin him in one place. Now facing the shadow of his eleven year-old self, and the events that led to his migratory lifestyle, Carl must confront the town and choices he’s spent a lifetime trying to escape.

Narrated alternately from the viewpoints of eleven year-old and fifty-three year-old Carl Larson, The Marble Orchard is both a story of self-knowledge and a ghost story. Paul Johnson explores the impact the ghosts of the past have on both memory and the present.

Carl is back in a place he worked to avoid and has returned hoping to quickly clean up his mother’s affairs and escape back to the world beyond Jamestown, New York. However, Carl has underestimated the power of his past to ensnare him – and the possibility that what he is running from isn’t Jamestown and his family, but rather self-scrutiny and awareness. As Johnson explains in an interview with the Las Vegas Optic on July 28, 2006: “the place you grew up is always full of ghosts if you go back.” The Marble Orchard is a cautionary tale of what can happen when one chances that return, and the gifts that can result.

In fact, The Marble Orchard is brimming with Johnson’s personal ghosts. In the same article with the Optic, Johnson goes on to explain that The Marble Orchard is “built around something that happened when I was 11.” One of the transformational moments in Carl Larson’s life is pulled directly from Johnson’s own childhood; a serious accident landed him in an overcrowded hospital and in a ward with men dying of gangrene. Because his own accident happened one month after the introduction of penicillin, his own leg was saved.

The man Johnson met there was the basis for the character of Carl Soderstrom. “He told marvelous stories. It gave me the notion of this great wide world out there. I couldn't wait to get out and experience it. He had a great influence on me.”

While it is unclear what ghosts Johnson is exorcising with The Marble Orchard, he maneuvers his plot and avoids the pitfalls, which can befall semi-autobiographical novels. Johnson keeps his plot tightly focused and does not let the tone of The Marble Orchard fall into pathos and regrets, focusing instead on hope and redemption.

It is in the small details of everyday life that Johnson shows he is a consummate observer of humanity. Whether it is house-proud Lorraine, demanding sufficient praise of her home, or Carl tripping over moldering carpets, Johnson includes minute details in his novel, creating verisimilitude for readers, engaging them more deeply in his tale.

Read the review at Front Street Reviews.

ISBN10: 0976627469
ISBN13: 9780976627463

Publisher: The Wessex Collective
Publication Date: June 1, 2006
Binding: Trade Paperback


Thursday, September 21, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Miss Understanding by Stephanie Lessing

Zoe Rose isn’t a typical girl. Ever since the little girls in kindergarten tormented her for not sharing her “Annie” wig (it was her own hair), she has been fascinated with girl behavior. She’s spent her life trying to understand what makes a normal girl and why they’re cruel to the girls who don’t understand the rules. And who exactly sets those rules?

Now she’s been hired as the editor of Issues magazine, a bastion of all that is girly and fashionista and she’s made it her crusade to reform women, starting with the readers of this notorious magazine. Can Zoe help Issues readers stop being girls who behave badly toward other girls, and turn them into a strong, united force of women that succeed in the male-dominated world? And will she finally understand what it means to be a girl?

Starting with the question “What would happen if a left-wing, radical feminist was suddenly appointed deputy editor of an ultra-girly fashion magazine,” Stephanie Lessing’s Miss Understanding looks at the world of fashion from a slightly different angle. It’s a refreshing break from mainstream chick lit, although the bitchiness factor is very high between the staff at Issues.

The conflict within Miss Understanding comes from the tension between fashion and feminism, representing the fight many women feel played out within their daily lives. Does Miss Understanding answer the questions Lessing raises? The short answer is no. The long answer is that she raises some important questions and she may help some readers start some inner reflection. This reader found Zoe’s psychosomatic illnesses detracted from Lessing’s key messages but that does not undermine the pure enjoyment factor of Miss Understanding.

Stephanie Lessing is a former Copy Chief at Mademoiselle, and has freelanced for Mademoiselle, Vogue, Glamour, Vanity Fair, Conde Nast Traveler, and Self. Miss Understanding is her second novel.

ISBN10: 0061133884
ISBN13: 9780061133886

Publisher: Avon Trade
Publication Date: November 2006
Binding: Trade Paperback
Author Website:


Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Winner of the first Eclectic Closet contest!

Thanks to Karen for the oh-so-gentle reminder that I forgot to post the winner. I'm not quite sure how that happened...

The winner of This is Not Chick Lit, picked by random number generator, is Kirsten at Nose in a Book. Congratulations!

Kirsten, drop me an email through my email listed in my profile and I'll get your book out to you. Thank you to everyone who entered and shared their book choices, most enjoyable for me.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Just One Sip by Katie MacAlister, Jennifer Ashley & Minda Webber

Judging solely on the cover of this new paranormal romance anthology, Just One Sip should have been a summer release. All three stories are fun romps filled to the brim with sexy paranormals that, while satisfying, definitely leave you wanting more.

The best known of the three authors is Katie MacAlister. Her story, “Bring Out Your Dead,” fits into the world of her popular Dark Ones. Belle is a tattu (possessing two souls), a counselor for the Society for the Protection of Revenants (zombies) and is now being pursued by a demon lord. MacAlister has introduced some delightful new beings to her universe in this story and this reviewer hopes that Belle, Sally (Belle’s spirit guide) and the revenants, are featured in future works.

Minda Webber’s offering, “Lucy and the Crypt Casanova,” considers what happens when the scoop of your life, which can make your career, is being investigated by the vampire cop who broke your heart. With strongly drawn characters and an interesting setting, Webber’s story holds its own against the better-known authors. Her unique perspective and the crazy characters featured on Lucy’s talk show, help Webber’s playful voice shine.

Of the three stories, the pack leader by a slight margin is Jennifer Ashley’s “Viva Las Vampires.” Her premise is unique; a vampire-themed casino owned by a real vampire in a Las Vegas run by two vampire cartels. Ashley has taken the vampire stereotypes and turned many of them on their head, creating sunbathing vampires who walk around in the Nevada desert. As the lead story in the anthology, her unique perspective is the perfect one to set the tone for this fascinating collection.

New York Times bestselling author Katie MacAlister writes historical, contemporary, paranormal, and young adult romances (as Katie Maxwell), paranormal thrillers, and historical mysteries. Light My Fire, the next Aisling Grey romance, will be published on November 7, 2006 and Last of the Red-Hot Vampires, the next Dark Ones romance, will be published in May 2007.

Jennifer writes historical, contemporary, and paranormal romance as Jennifer Ashley, historical mysteries under the pseudonym Ashley Gardner, and erotic paranormal romance as Allyson James. The Mad, Bad Duke, her next historical romance, will be published in December 2006.

Minda Webber’s first novel, The Remarkable Miss Frankenstein, won Best Historical Vampire Novel from the Romantic Times Book Reviewer's Choice Awards. The third in the series, The Reinvented Miss Bluebeard, will be published in July 2007.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 050552659X
Publisher: Love Spell
Publication Date: October 3, 2006
Binding: Mass Market Paperback

Katie MacAlister's Website:
Jennifer Ashley's Website:
Minda Webber's Website:


Saturday, September 16, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: Light My Fire by Katie MacAlister

Light My Fire, the third novel in Katie MacAlister’s Aisling Grey, Guardian series, may just be her best yet. Aisling, demon lord, Guardian, and wyvern’s mate, has just moved to London to finally receive some much-needed training on the duties and powers of a Guardian. From almost the moment she arrives at her mentor Nora’s house, events just keep getting stranger.

Jim, her trusty demon sidekick, manages to eat the imp king, ensuring Aisling a spot on the imp kingdom’s most wanted list. Drake, the sexy wyvern Aisling can’t resist, has just shown up in London and, in addition to making her pulse race, he tells her that the red dragons have just declared war on them. Dmitri, Drake’s cousin, is challenging him for leadership of the sept and refuses to acknowledge Aisling as Drake’s mate. Then again, Aisling isn’t sure she wants to be Drake’s mate since he’s sure to break her heart for a third time.

Almost from the opening pages, Light My Fire moves at breakneck speed. Aisling exists in a swirling mass of utter chaos, with crazy things happening to her at almost every turn. In the Aisling Grey, Guardian series, MacAlister has given herself ample room to stretch her humour muscles – and she has proven she has a deft comedic touch.

MacAlister carefully balances this series between extremes: the comedy against the blazing passion of Aisling and Drake’s relationship; the exasperation most feel around Aisling against her own determination to gain experience as a Guardian; and the large cast of secondary characters and supplementary plot lines against the story of Aisling’s development into her place in the Otherworld. The result is, in this reviewer’s opinion, the strongest book yet in this fantastic series.

New York Times bestselling author Katie MacAlister writes historical, contemporary, paranormal, and young adult romances (as Katie Maxwell), paranormal thrillers, and historical mysteries. Last of the Red-Hot Vampires, the next Dark Ones romance, will be published in May 2007.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 0451219821
Publisher: NAL Signet Eclipse
Publication Date: November 7, 2006
Binding: Mass Market Paperback

Author Website:
Dragon Sept Website:

Aisling Grey, Guardian Series:
1. You Slay Me by Katie MacAlister
2. Fire Me Up by Katie MacAlister
3. Light My Fire by Katie MacAlister


Friday, September 15, 2006

The Man Booker Prize Shortlist Announced

It's prize season and announcements are coming fast. Yesterday the Man Booker Prize Shortlist was announced. The six shortlisted books were chosen from a longlist of 19 and are:

Kiran Desai - The Inheritance of Loss (Hamish Hamilton)

Kate Grenville - The Secret River (Canongate)

M.J. Hyland - Carry Me Down (Canongate)

Hisham Matar - In the Country of Men (Viking)

Edward St Aubyn - Mother’s Milk (Picador)

Sarah Waters - The Night Watch (Virago)

From the press release:

Hermione Lee, Chair of Judges, comments:
“Each of these novels has what we as judges were most looking for, a distinctive original voice, an audacious imagination that takes readers to undiscovered countries of the mind, a strong power of story-telling and a historical truthfulness. Each of these novels creates a world you inhabit without question or distrust while you are reading, and a mood, an atmosphere, which lasts long after the reading is over.”

The winner will be announced on Tuesday 10th October at an awards ceremony at the Guildhall, London.

This isn't the shortlist I would have picked however, all sound like fascinating reads. I'm still planning to read a few of the longlist titles, and The Secret River by Kate Grenville, prior to the announcement of the winner (Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson; Get a Life by Nadine Gordimer; and Theft by Peter Carey).

What title are you most disappointed to find was left off the shortlist?

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Scotiabank Giller Prize Longlist

The Giller Prize is dedicated to celebrating the best in Canadian fiction each year, and to enhancing marketing efforts in bringing these books to the attention of all Canadians. The award recognized excellence in Canadian fiction – long format or short stories – and endowed a cash prize annually of $25,000.00, the largest purse for literature in the country.

The 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize longlist was announced on Monday, September 11:

* The Friends of Meager Fortune by David Adams Richards (Doubleday Canada)
* Pleased to Meet You by Caroline Adderson (Thomas Allen Publishers)
* The Garneau Block by Todd Babiak (McClelland & Stewart)
* Governor of the Northern Province by Randy Boyagoda (Penguin Canada)
* jPod by Douglas Coupland (Random House Canada)
* The Famished Lover by Alan Cumyn (Goose Lane Editions)
* DeNiro’s Game by Rawi Hage (House of Anansi Press)
* Inside by Kenneth J Harvey (Random House Canada)
* The Custodian of Paradise by Wayne Johnston (Knopf Canada)
* Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures by Vincent Lam (Doubleday Canada)
* Stolen by Annette Lapointe (Anvil Press)
* The Perfect Circle by Pascale Quiviger (Cormorant Books)
* The Immaculate Conception by Gaétan Soucy (House of Anansi Press)
* The Hour of Bad Decisions by Russell Wangersky (Coteau Books)
* Home Schooling by Carol Windley (Cormorant Books)

The shortlist for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize will be announced at a news conference on Tuesday, October 3 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Toronto. The finalists will be honoured and a winner announced at a gala black tie dinner and awards ceremony to be held on November 7th.

The launch of The Giller Prize twelve years ago coincided with a growing recognition of Canadian authors and literature both at home and abroad. With such acclaimed writers as Alice Munro, Margaret Atwood, Michael Ondaatje and Mordecai Richler winning honours and accolades around the world, the popularity of Canadian literature has continued to flourish.


Last call for entries to the first Eclectic Closet contest

The contest for a copy of the book This is Not Chick Lit closes on Friday, September 15. Please head on over and submit your entry now. I'll announce the winner in a post on Monday, September 18.

This is a great collection of writing by strong, innovative women. Small Spiral Notebook has a wonderful roundtable discussion with Roxana Robinson, Samantha Hunt, Holiday Reinhorn and the collection's editor, Elizabeth Merrick (thanks to BookSlut for pointing this out).

Monday, September 11, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: The Restoration of Emily by Kim Moritsugu

Emily Harada lives a structured yet unconnected life, a solitary existence which suits her perfectly. Her architecture work focuses on restoring historic houses and her personal life focuses on raising her teenage son, Jesse. Emily’s limited social needs are met by her friendship with Sylvia, she has chosen to live contentedly with her singlehood after divorcing Jesse’s father Stewart.

Even contented solitude can begin to wear after a while and Emily begins to question her choices, right around the time when Jesse starts to act like a typical teenager and an attractive former student reenters her life.

Kim Moritsugu’s fourth novel, The Restoration of Emily, showcases a woman in middle life, who at times appears bewildered by everything around her. Even though Emily has a take no prisoners attitude, calls a spade a spade and has at times had difficulty relating to customers and colleagues, she faces the next phase of her life a bit off-centre.

As Jesse becomes a true teenager, distant and unwilling to talk to “Em,” her walls appear to falter. As much as Emily is written as a loner, she still counts on her relationship with her son. Now that he is moving on without her, Moritsugu seems to suggest that it is time for Emily to also grow up.

By nature and preference a loner, Emily moves through life holding others at arms-length. Her sharp tongue is a weapon and she uses it to full advantage. After a lunch party her colleague Danny asks her “What happened to you back there? Demonic possession?” In her first meeting with a new client, Emily has her anti-authority radar on full blast: “We chat briefly about that house and owner, and Stewart gives me no immediate reason to get my back up…but my first impression is that the design of his eyeglasses is too trendy, his dress shirt too white, his jacket lapels too sharply cut, his Italian leather shoes too shiny.”

Moritsugu has created a very strong voice for Emily, whose cutting view of the world ably flows out of Moritsugu’s pen: “This is one of the many things I value Sylvia for: her ability to provide me with timely reminders about how pointless couplehood can be.” Now facing this new phase of life, one as a mother of an almost grown-up son, Emily must follow her own star and determine what is truly important to her. Emily’s restoration, in the autumn of her life, is an enjoyable one when handled with Mortisugu’s consummate skill.

Kim Moritsugu is the author of three previous novels: Looks Perfect (shortlisted for the Toronto Book Award), Old Flames, and The Glenwood Treasure (shortlisted for the Arthur Ellis Best Crime Novel Award). Moritsugu teaches creative writing at The Humber School for Writers in Toronto, Ontario.

Read the review at Curled Up with a Good Book.

ISBN10: 1550026062
Trade Paperback
Pages: 223
Publisher: The Dundurn Group
Publication Date: May 6, 2006
Author Website:


Wednesday, September 06, 2006

A mini-vacation - back on September 12.

I'm taking a mini-vacation this week to catch up on reading and writing reviews. So in the meantime, feel free to peruse the archived book reviews and I'll be back with fresh reviews on September 12.

In the news - I'm highlighted in this month's Armchair Interviews ezine. This is a bit blush-inducing, but publicity is a good thing. Andrea and Connie do a great ezine so I would recommend signing up on their site.

Happy reading everyone - and don't forget to enter my first book giveaway, the deadline is September 15!

Where did the summer go?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Buy a Friend a Book Week - October 1 - 6, 2006

What a brilliant idea! Why have I never heard about this? From the Buy a Friend a Book Website:
Just get yourself to a real-life or virtual book store during Buy a Friend a Book Week (the first weeks of January, April, July, and October) and, well, buy a friend a book (or e-book)! But here's the fun part: you can't buy your friend a book because it's their birthday or they just graduated or got engaged or had a baby or anything else. You have to give them a book for no good reason. In fact, this present out of the blue from you should shock the pants off of whomever you decide to give it to. And it'll make them happy. And that's the point: promote reading, promote friendships. Just make sure to let them know about Buy a Friend a Book Week.
One of the sites holding events as part of this week is my friend Susan's West of Mars blog. She'll be giving away seven books during the week so visit her site and read her instructions on how to enter. It's pretty simple - during the month of September, you email her (through her website) a story of how music has touched your life.

You can also enter the contest at Front Street Reviews for a copy of Catch the Wave, The Rise, Fall and Redemption of the Beach Boys' Brian Wilson by entering the contest at West of Mars. The rules are found here, once you enter at West of Mars you need to email Barb at Front Street Reviews.

Now to decide, who am I going to shock with a book...

Friday, September 01, 2006

Book Recommendation - Before I Wake by Robert J. Wiersema

I just finished reading Before I Wake by Robert J. Wiersema and this is an incrediblely moving book. I don't know how to write most of my reaction without giving away a lot of the plot so all I am going to say is this - do yourself a favour and get a copy of this book. Anyone who was moved by The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold or The Mercy of Thin Air by Ronlyn Domingue should definitely read Wiersema's debut novel.

Before I Wake shifts narration between Sherry's parents Simon and Karen, her nurse Ruth, and several other key characters. Initially I was sure this constantly changing voice would be distracting but it wasn't. I was pulled into the story so quickly that the perspective changes only enhanced the momentum.

I'm not one to cry when reading a book but I nearly did with Before I Wake. So for those of you who do cry, make sure you have a box of tissues close at hand.

Publisher Synopsis:
Tragedy can strike at any time. In a single moment of distraction, in one instant’s miscalculation.

On a beautiful spring day, three-year-old Sherry Barrett is injured in a hit-and-run accident. Her devastated parents, Simon and Karen, wait by her bedside, hoping for a that doesn’t come. Told that she will never recover, they agree to remove her from life support. And then the miracle occurs. Sherry doesn’t die. But neither does she wake.

Under the pressure of caring for their child, the fissures in Simon and Karen’s marriage become gaping wounds, and the family is pushed to the point of collapse. And then pushed even further by the undeniable fact that their little girl, trapped in her living death, has become a healer.

ISBN10: 0679313737
ISBN13: 9780679313731

Pages: 384
Publisher: Random House Canada
Publication Date: August 8, 2006