Review: THE STUBBORN SEASON by Lauren B. Davis

October 1929 in Toronto was as desperate as anywhere else during the great depression. People lost everything when the market crashed, and devastated, some even committed suicide. The lucky ones were not homeless, but lived a frightened existence anyway – often believing it was only a matter of time before they too joined the masses riding the rails.

Irene MacNeil is ten years old and does not quite understand the world depression, but she knows that something is not quite right in her own house. Her parents often argue and her mother, believing they’d missed the opportunity to invest when the time was right, harangues her father daily on missed chances. Margaret reads the papers religiously and as the news seems to get worse her mood mirrors the daily horrors so that in fact her mother and the world seem bent on the same disastrous ending. Her father, Douglas, prefers to ignore anything negative, and continues along as if nothing is wrong, telling his daughter not to worry, everything will be okay, all along finding his own relief in alcohol. Irene grows up in this atmosphere, where things don’t seem to get better until inevitably something happens that changes the lives of her family.

I can’t say that this is a happy story but it is a good one.

Review: SWEETSMOKE by David Fuller

Sweetsmoke, described on the cover as ‘a novel of the civil war’ is about the civil war, but it’s also very much about slavery, murder and justice.

I’ve read a few books about slavery and the stories of brutality are often echoes of the same terrible evil and the horrors suffered by many. This story adds another dimension. There are heart-wrenching tales of injustices, but what makes it different is the focus on the murder of a freed black woman and the efforts of a slave to discover her murderer. An additional flourish that gives this book an interesting perspective is that it takes place in 1862, during a raging civil war that most people at Sweetsmoke believe will end in a victory for thee south.

I don’t think I’m an adequate judge of whether the adversaries and obstacles faced by the protagonist, Cassius, are realistic, but I do know I really liked this book. Cassius is a very likable character and lives among others who are portrayed in shades of grey (except the children who are depicted as completely evil), as people really are. It’s interesting to note that the author did not use quotation marks when one of the slaves was speaking, as if what they had to say was of no importance compared to someone who was either freed or white.

When Cassius discovers that Emoline, a woman who cared for him when he needed it most, did not die accidentally, he decides to find her murderer - not an easy thing to do for a slave. Since Cassius’s job on the Sweetsmoke plantation is carpentry, he has a bit of leeway to move around, unlike most of the other slaves. While this allows him to do a bit of detective work it also lends itself to jealousy and resentment among the other slaves who feel he is favored by the plantation owner. The search for Emoline’s murderer leads Cassius away from Sweetsmoke and the further he gets, the closer he comes to the truth. Along this journey Cassius encounters traitors, slave traders and soldiers and sees first hand the terror of war.

I highly recommend this book – it is difficult to put down. I would like to thanks Lex at and Hyperion for giving me the opportunity to review this book.

Review: DAUGHTER OF MINE by Laura Fabiani

Tiziana Manoretti is a successful young engineering technologist who lives with her parents and leads a happy, active life until she discovers a long-held secret about her origins. She feels betrayed and angry, and decides to go on a trip to Italy, and specifically Gaeta, the village where she was born. There Tiziana hopes to find some answers and reflect on the revelations recently gleaned from her parents. While there she wastes no time in meeting new people and experiencing the local cuisine and culture.

This novel contains romance, suspense, humour and a hint of mystery. The chapters are fairly short and the plot moves along at a fair pace; it kept my interest. Occasionally, I found elements of the story a bit hard to believe but certainly not enough to hinder enjoyment of it. The characters are distinctive and well developed, and although I did find a few of the physical descriptions of the males slightly ‘cookie-cutter-ish’, the character of Giacomino (a man whose mother tries to find appropriate and newly arrived tourists to marry her son) lent quite a humorous touch. The descriptions of Naples, Rome and Gaeta were vivid, colourful and made reading the novel feel like one had recently visited the country. I also enjoyed reading about the local cuisine and life in Italy where

“…Italians sped, ran through red lights, and honked other drivers out of their way, hurrying along to jobs where service to the public was always in slow mode.”

Daughter of Mine is a charming, engaging novel complete with several twists and turns to keep the reader’s interest. Anticipation of what will happen next also keeps the pages turning and ends the story with a satisfying conclusion.

I'd like to thank the author for giving me the opportunity to read and review her book and I look forward to reading her next novel.

Review: MARLEY & ME by John Grogan

Anyone who has ever enjoyed the companionship of a pet will likely relate to some of the episodes described in this non-fiction book. The author started writing a month after his beloved Labrador retriever, Marley, died at the age of thirteen. John Grogan is a columnist at the Philadelphia Inquirer and often worked Marley stories into his column. When his dog died he wrote about that too and said in an interview, “The day the column ran, nearly 800 Inquirer readers emailed or called. A typical day might bring 30 to 50 responses. That's when I knew I had a bigger story to tell.” Obviously other people could relate.

Marley was not just the worst dog, but also the best. The only predicatable thing about Marley was his unpredictability. John and Jenny Grogan decided to get a puppy not long after they were married – figuring that a dog would give them some idea what parenthood would be like. Of course the puppy grew up to be close to one hundred pounds of a constantly moving, pulling and running blur who would tear up the house in a terrified frenzy every time a thunderstorm hit. Living in Florida, the thunderstorm capital of the world, did not help John and Jenny’s furniture, sofa cushions, woodwork and just about anything else within reach become victims of Marley’s thunder phobia.

When the couple decided the time was right, they had their first child and in Marley’s world, the baby fit right in. Apparently dirty diapers were a special treat and Mr. Grogan describes the expression of pure heaven on Marley’s face whenever he came into contact with the diaper pail.

Marley did go to school to learn better manners and John was thrilled when Marley actually came 7th in his class (out of a class of 8) and was not expelled as he had been on their first attempt at training. John’s hopes for better behaviour were not even dampened when Marley happily ate his graduation certificate.

I very much enjoyed reading about Marley’s antics, but the story dragged a bit for me whenever it delved deeper into the author’s life. I was not so interested in that! I suppose I just couldn’t relate to this man but I could relate to having a dog like Marley. Mine was a black lab named Coal who once greeted me at the door once with her tail wagging and my long and very sharp bread knife sticking out of her mouth. At least she had hold of the handle part! I’m happy to report that after I was able to figure out how to get it away from her, there were no injuries.


My husband and I are planning a trip to New York this spring so receiving this book now was timely.

At the front of the book is a page titled ‘Be a Fodor’s Correspondent’ with headings that speak to the commitment of these guides. The headings are ‘Tell us when we’re right’, ‘Tell us when we’re wrong’ and ‘Tell us what to include’ and under each are requests from the publisher for an honest opinion about the book. Calling the reader a ‘correspondent’ may be a marketing ploy but it does extend to the reader a certain amount of ownership to the book and which I think is a good way of connecting to the guide users.

The table of contents is divided by area, i.e., there is Lower Manhattan, Soho and Little Italy, Central Park, Midtown, the Upper East Side, etc. These sections follow a table of
General items of interest such as New York City with kids, New York City Like a Local, New York City for Free as well as other ideas. After this the contents focuses on well-known areas and where to eat, shop, accommodations and entertainment. There is a list of maps to be found in the guide and then a page about how to use the book, which is somewhat superfluous because I found the book’s structure highly intuitive. However, the list of symbols is a useful tool.

The guide is structured for practicality. It gives information on accommodations and dining depending on your budget. Districts are explored for their culture and history so if that’s the kind of thing that interests you, this is a good guide for that alone. What I also enjoy is the advice that is offered everywhere, for instance:

“Driving is not recommended as parking here is very difficult.” Then directions about taking the subway to the Lower East Side are given.

The book is full of brightly colored photos of everyday situations found in diverse areas of New York which gives one a ‘feel’ for the city. Maps are everywhere and give a good sense of ‘place’ in relation to areas of interest. The pages are quite sturdy, so much so that they give the guide quite a heft (well, that could also be because this book is 550 pages). I have to admit I weighed the book on my kitchen scale – it weighs just short of 1 ½ lbs (about .6 kg). Now that’s not much if you’re driving to New York and you have it tucked into your glove compartment but hauling this book around in your luggage might get heavy. However, even if you tend to travel light, I’d make room for this book.

All in all, I found this book to be an excellent resource. It’s complete as far as I can tell, and one can always check the Fodor website ( for more information.

Review: NO SUCH CREATURE by Giles Blunt

Owen Maxwell and his great uncle, Max, travel around the US ostensibly selling wigs and other accoutrements to theatrical companies for their productions. Max is highly theatrical himself and often quotes Shakespeare to his young charge. Owen, just 18, is tired of the uncertainty of life with his uncle, especially given the fact that selling disguises to acting troupes is just a cover for their real profession – which is thievery. Preferably thievery from wealthy republicans. Max and Owen have a couple of cohorts whom Max hires when they have capers planned, one of whom (Roscoe) adds considerable flavour and humour to their jaunts as he contributes Jeopardy-like trivia questions whenever their occupations has them spending time together’.

Enter Sabrina, the daughter of an old friend of Max’s. Sabrina is a young woman of considerable charm who hits it off with Owen. Sabrina is followed relentlessly by an admirer who stops at nothing trying to save her soul from the devil, or worse, Max and Owen. Into the mix we have three felons who are very interested in Max and Owen’s spoils from various jobs. When Sabrina, Max and Owen hit the road in a Winnebago, they are followed by four people who are desperate to find them, Bill, Sabrina’s saviour and the three felons. What ensues is in turns harrowing, comical and sometimes a bit sad.

The only problem I had with the story was the abrupt introduction of Sabrina. She seemed to come out of nowhere. That leant a sort of credibility issue to the plot – not that other readers wouldn’t have problems with credibility overall – I just usually run with a plot and ignore those sorts of issues. However when a character is introduced awkwardly it has a tendency to take me out of a story. (Everyone’s a critic, eh?!) Other than that small hiccup though, I enjoyed this novel.

This was a bit different from anything I’ve read lately so I’m happy about that but even more, since I hadn’t read anything by Giles Blunt before it’s nice to find a new to me author that I enjoy. I will check out his ‘John Cardinal’ crime series.

Review: CODEX by Lev Grossman

Another story about an ancient book! If you like Geraldine Brooks's People of the Book then you may enjoy this as well.

This one sees a junior financial analyst leaving New York for England to take a promotion with his firm after having worked long, hard hours for several years. As a favour to his employers Edward agrees to catalogue a rare book library for one of the firm’s wealthy clients. At first he’s bored but then becomes more focused in finding one particular book that may or may not exist but is referred to in several other books. His research takes him to the library where he encounters Margaret, a rare book scholar, who knows just about everything concerning medieval manuscripts. Margaret insists the book does not exist but agrees to help Edward with the cataloguing and research. As time goes on, Edward finds himself distracted by a computer game that seems to mirror in a surreal way his search for the book. One has nothing to do with the other - or does it? The wealthy clients, the Wents, also figure very mysteriously throughout.

This was an fun book, and does not delve into serious historical aspects as does the novel 'The People of the Book'.

Review: PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks

The Haggadah is an ancient illuminated Hebrew book that has survived across centuries of war, plague and persecution to come under the study of Hannah Heath, a rare book professional. She travels to Sarajevo where the book is located and makes minor repairs to the binding. In the course of her examination, the book reveals minute clues to its previous journeys and Hannah researches the possible routes the book may have taken to bring it to its present location.

The story reveals the nature of this journey through vignettes visiting different periods of time from the 1500’s to the present day and describing how the book came to be made. Eventually the plot returns to present day and Hannah, who begins to worry that the current caretakers of the Haggadah may have ulterior motives in regard to the book. She can't let the matter of the book rest and her suspicions lead her to various locations and specialists in medicine and science to help her discover the hidden agendas of various people she encounters. In so doing she discovers something in her own background that connects her to the book on a much more personal level than she had anticpated.

This is an interesting novel, but not a page-turner since too much of the book is interrupted by the back and forth traveling between centuries.**1/2. Hardcover, 384 pages.


I hope everyone has a happy and healthy new year with lots of good books to read!!!

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