Lock 14

Lock 14 (Inspector Maigret Mysteries)
-by Georges Simenon

160 pages, Penguin
ISBN-10: 0143037277 / ISBN-13: 978-0143037279

My Rating: 4/5 stars

lock14Acclaimed author, Georges Simenon, once again weaves a capturing tale of mystery and suspense, with the astute Inspector Maigret at the wheel. A series numbering over 100 books, the Inspector Maigret series – after a long stint of unavailability – has, thankfully, been reintroduced by Penguin Books to readers hankering for good mysteries. With an intriguing plot and a cast of believable characters, Lock 14, set early on in the Maigret series), is a swift but gratifying read.

Brusquer and less loquacious than Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, Inspector Maigret is all business as he takes on a new case that is sure to perplex even the most skilled of sleuths.

Set in France, in the region of a lock located on a busy section of canal, Lock 14, recounts the underhanded goings-on along these extensive waterways. With commercial barge interchange in the lock, coupled with high-class yachts and tourist boats, which were often gathered in close proximity, the result was an aquatic melding pot of working class and “upper crust” societies.

The varying degrees of society in the vicinity of Lock 14 have apparently collided, on a rainy April day, when two dockmen stumble upon the cadaver of elegantly-clad Mary Lampson while rummaging under the hay in a stable; 5 hours dead from apparent strangulation. Inspector Maigret is called to piece things together. First to be interviewed is the dead woman’s husband, Sir Walter Lampson, an Englishman and retired colonel of the Indian Army, whose pleasure craft is docked near Lock 14. The Inspectors sharp instincts are alerted when Lampson, along with fellow passengers of his yacht - who seem only bent on a life devoted to decadence - appear oddly aloof and indifferent to the murder. Ultimately shedding light on a heartrending occurrence of lost identity and lost love, Maigret gradually pieces together the stories of those involved, and how Mary Lampson and a second victim met their untimely end.

Regardless of the descriptive language outlining the characters, conspicuous is the lack of background on Inspector Maigret himself. Simenon leaves the reader guessing about the Inspectors persona, and the depths that lie beneath his somewhat gruff and abrupt exterior.

Despite their small size, Simenon's Inspector Maigret series of mystery books are highly satisfying and concentrated with page flipping “who-dunnit” suspense, keeping readers captured until the final pages. Lock 14, itself, saw publication in 1931 and yet remains accessible and a pleasure to read. These are excellent books that are small and easy to pack for a weekend getaway or outing, and can be easily enjoyed in a few brief sittings.

Buy Lock 14 at Amazon.

- reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset

The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset
-by Philip Lee Williams

494 pages (2001) paperback, University of Georgia Press
ISBN 0-8203-2334-9

MY RATING: 5 /5 stars

Williams delivers a classic of our day!

Williams’ impressive loveable tale — The True and Authentic History of Jenny Dorset: Consisting of a Narrative by a Retainer, Mr. Henry Hawthorne, Along With the History of Two Households, That of Dorset and Smythe: A Novel — is a more enjoyable and descriptive read than its lengthy title. A refreshing medley of life in 18th century Charleston, it is seasoned copiously with charming wit, sprightly comedy, and intriguing memorable characters. A truly captivating read, this pleasing narrative is written with a sincere heartfelt timbre and comes alive with animated anecdotes that will evoke chuckling, and searing wit that will leave its mark.

As Jenny Dorset, the household’s beautiful but unruly daughter, develops into a resolute rebel against authority as the American Revolution advances, the account charts her maturation, along with the raucous goings-on of the Dorset and surrounding households.

Penned from the observant perspective of Henry Hawthorne, the Dorset’s discerning and subdued family man servant who cares for the family loyally throughout the years, the reader will undoubtedly find the rich storyline highly entertaining, and written in a gratifying dynamic manner. The dedicated retainer, Hawthorne, patiently abides by the Dorset family’s rather eccentric and unruly lifestyle, and writes about his experiences first-hand, in perceptive memoir-like style. Hawthorne, loosely reminiscent of Wilkie Collins’ Mr. Gabriel Betteredge, the Moonstone’s elderly garrulous manservant, will surely entertain with his clever maxims, razor-sharp observations, and proverbial quotes. Also noteworthy are the narrator’s observations of the turbulent ‘timescape’ of the pre-revolutionary period, as war loomed on the horizon. (Williams’ tireless research is palpably evident!)

Most remarkable is the method in which Williams characterizes each member of the families involved in the story’s captivating plot — from the oddball dueling plantation patriarchs, Mr. Dorset and Mr. Smythe, hell bent on out-doing one another; to Old Bob, eldest of the family’s service staff, in his comedic stages of senility; and the spirited and ostentatious Jenny Dorset herself. Insertions of correspondence between characters, candid glimpses into their lives, and even excerpts of sheet music penned by the fictional Mr. Dorset, brings this beloved story alive and lends a realistic feel to the personal accounts.

Indeed, Williams’ novel is a great story-tellers’ delight! The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset manifests very engaging humor with every flip of a page. A classic of our day, it will quickly ascend as one of your favorites. Highly recommended.

Buy at The True & Authentic History of Jenny Dorset Amazon.com

orginally reviewed 10/28/2000
re-reviewed 04/23/2007

- reviewed for University of Georgia Press

Jane Eyre

Jane Eyre
-by Charlotte Brontë

ISBN-10: 1593081170 / ISBN-13: 978-1593081171
594 Pages (2005) Barnes & Noble Classics

My Rating: 5 / 5

a timeless classic

Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, a well-loved contribution to British classic literature, not only conjures images of mysterious gothic edifices and windswept moors, but more importantly, traverses the immeasurable depths of human emotion and its relation to the rigid social structure of the 19th Century. An exceptional amalgamation of ardent sentiment, extraordinary yet accessible characters, mystifying somber ambiance, and intelligent prose, Jane Eyre, is every bit as enrapturing as it was upon its first publication in 1847 by Smith, Elder & Company of London.

Orphaned as an infant, spirited 10-year-old Jane Eyre is sent to live with her rich relatives at Gateshead. Her aunt, Mrs. Reed, who had formerly promised her husband on his deathbed to love and treat Jane as one of her own, outwardly treats her adoptive niece with contempt. Reed’s own children, torment and treat Jane with hostility, constantly reminding her that she is destitute and reliant, and at their family’s mercy. Ultimately finding the antagonistic treatment insupportable, Jane resolves to stand up for herself, ending in a physical altercation with her vindictive cousin, John. She held accountable for instigating the clash and is severely castigated by her Aunt Reed. At the suggestion of a kind-hearted physician, Mr. Lloyd, Jane is sent away to Lowood School, a charity institution for orphan girls, run by Mr. Brocklehurst, in the hopes that she can escape her unhappiness at Gateshead and attain a sensible education. Jane’s Aunt Reed seems happy to be rid of her troublesome “possessed” niece, and instigates the cruel and unyielding Brocklehurst to keep her “in line” – singling her out from her peers, for discipline and ridicule.

Despite continually being made the target of the mean-hearted minister’s ire, Jane makes two special friends – a teacher, Miss Temple, and fellow student Helen Burns, who is eventually overcome by the poor living conditions and a typhoid epidemic that sweeps through the school. Due to the growing public outcry of the terrible conditions at Lowood, the school gradually is improved. Jane excels in her studies and flourishes in the improved surroundings, attaining a respectable education and becoming a teacher at the school. At age 18 she decides to advertise. As a result of her self-sufficient resourcefulness, Jane obtains a post as a governess and tutor at Thornfield, a sprawling country estate. She is warmly welcomed by the estate’s the friendly housekeeper, Mrs. Fairfax. As the months pass, the estate owner’s ward, Adèle Varens — a 10-year-old French girl of dubious parentage — begins to excel under Jane’s watchful eye and tutelage.

Walking to Thornfield one misty evening, Jane quite literally stumbles upon, Mr. Edward Rochester returning home from a long absence — the owner of Thornfield and her employer — a rugged, brooding man in his late-thirties. Although often aloof and “changeable”, Rochester is gradually bewitched by this young “other worldly” governess, and the two steadily form an unlikely attachment. Thus begins the greatest romance in literature. As the astounding drama unfolds, Jane also discovers that Thornfield harbors a secret…one that will change her life forever.

Brontë’s acute consciousness and understanding of the complexity of human emotions lends an unrivaled splendor and depth to Jane Eyre. She artfully molds what is a fundamentally mournful account into a tale of hope and happiness, imbuing it with vibrant, albeit succinct, metaphors of man’s immense capacity for kindness, decency and love.

Buy Jane Eyre at Amazon.com


- reviewed for Sterling Publishing Co., NY

The 6th Lamentation

The 6th Lamentation
-by William Brodrick

ISBN 978-0142004623
400 Pages (2004)

My Rating: 4.5 / 5

brilliant debut demonstrates storytelling at its best

The 6th Lamentation — Brodrick’s dazzling debut on the events leading up to, and following, the Nazi’s occupation of France during World War II, and the impact on those who lived through it — is a novel of immense ethical intricacy, startling enlightenments and turnarounds. An effectual combination of fact and fiction, the story melds the past and present, spanning three generations…concluding in place where modern day retribution and past atrocities converge.

When Father Anselm, a barrister turned monk, is called on by a suspected war criminal, Eduard Schwermann, to provide asylum, Larkwood Priory (at Papal request), risks public scandal and harbours the former Nazi throughout his ensuing trial. When Anselm discovers that the Church earlier granted Schwermann and a French associate sanctuary after the war, providing them safe passage from France to England and new assumed identities, he launches a private investigation to find out why. Meanwhile, French expatriate Agnes Aubret, struggling with a debilitating terminal illness, discloses to her granddaughter Lucy her past involvement in a secret assemblage in the French Resistance, called The Round Table – a group that intended to conceal Jewish children from the murderous Nazi regime. The group was ultimately exposed by an infamous SS officer: Edward Schwermann. As Anselm peers into Schwermann iniquitous dealings and Lucy explores her grandmother's painful past, they discover the two seemingly unconnected histories are entwined, and are both connected to a French collaborator by the name of Victor Brionne.

Through his meticulous plot formation and ethically multifarious depiction of primary and secondary characters, Brodrick proves a leader in contemporaneous historical regeneration, in this acutely suspenseful drama/thriller. While avoiding being overly detailed on the horrendous atrocities of the Holocaust, he maintains a balanced pace throughout the novel, and often takes a step back from the bigger picture, focusing on poignant details that are often missed in novels of this genre.

Not unlike Shakespeare's tragic protagonists, whom are capable of both good and evil, Brodrick’s complex characters are anything but static, as they explore the possibilities of complex human nature — and how, ultimately, a single good work can often be used to justify countless crimes against humanity.

While disparaged by some for being too loquacious, The 6th Lamentation is not a book to be hurriedly perused. Brodrick, unlike many of today’s contemporary authors, makes a substantial ‘meal’ of the English language, which deserves to be savored and relished. Its eloquent literary verbosity and prose is effectively counterbalance by the story’s harrowing plot and white-knuckle twists and turns of plot, which will assuredly keep the reader on tenterhooks until it’s final pages.

The author’s own intriguing life experience as a practicing lawyer, and former monk, in addition to excerpts of his family history, add a rich density that elevates this story to more than just another good novel on the bookshelf. The 6th Lamentation is highly recommended for those who yearn for a historical drama and mystery, with a well-written literary aptitude.

Buy The 6th Lamentation at Amazon.com.

- reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

Art of Still Life Drawing

Art of Still Life Drawing

160 pages (March 2006), paperback
Sterling Publishing Co., NY
ISBN: 978-1402732843

MY RATING: 5 / 5

Next best thing to a personal instructor

Whether you are a budding artist on the cusp of exploring drawing for the first time, or at a more advanced level and looking to embellish your proficiency, Art of Still Life Drawing makes accurate still life drawings uncomplicated and approachable for every level of sketcher. The book’s clear, precise step-by-step illustrations and explanations demonstrate the logic behind drawing, and thoroughly examine the fundamentals of attaining an amazingly vibrant and expressive composition. The building blocks of creating an accurate and successful still life, presented in coherent progression, will make even the most unskilled artist feel comfortable with delving into a more complex piece of art, and launch the emerging artists off on a great journey of creating something they’ve never attempted before.

Chapters include well-written and easy to follow instructions on the initial basic line drawing, perspective, incorporating light and shadow depending on the shape of the object; discussion of shapes, qualities and subjects of still life; amazingly informative instructions on rending the texture of an object (glass, metal, pottery, textiles, etc.); demonstration of creating accurate reflections and representing transparency; exploring the composition of the still life; and step-by-step studies of drawings from beginning to end, using different techniques and drawing implements.

Each comprehensive section of this lovely book is color coded for quick and easy reference at your fingertips, and a comprehensive index is also included at the back of the book for specific topic look-up. The reader will enjoy the sequential how-to’s in each chapter, with beautifully informative illustrations and understandable descriptive text, which offer helpful hints and different perspectives to each technique explored. Different drawing equipment and tools are discussed in achieving distinctive looks and renderings. The book also leaves room for coupling its instructions with the utilization of one’s own individual style, techniques and ideas, aiding in the creation of a still life that is anything but dull.

As a self-taught artist who is constantly endeavoring to better her drawing and painting skills, I can honestly recommend Art of Still Life Drawing as one of the better-end instructional drawing books available. It is the next best thing to having a real-life instructor by your side, guiding you through every step. With endless possible variations, Still Life Drawing offers artists, of any echelon, the ideal instruction for creating - and perfecting - still life compositions. Its inspirational lessons cover all the crucial precursors for capturing a realistic image, and is a must-have for any artist.

Buy Art of Still Life Drawing at Amazon.com


- reviewed for Sterling Publishing Co., NY

Design Is In The Details: Living Spaces

Design Is In The Details: Living Spaces
- by Brad Mee

160 pages (2005)
Sterling Publishing Co., NY
hardcover with jacket

MY RATING: 4 / 5

Fresh innovative design

Living spaces are literally the heartbeat of our home – where we meet, entertain, and relax and unwind. It is where we spend the majority of our time, at home. Therefore, it is only natural that we aspire the design of these rooms to work along with, and complement, the purpose and function of these beloved areas of our dwellings.

In Design Is In The Details: Living Spaces, renowned HGTV interior designer Brad Mee offers unique and inspiring tips for decorating these “living spaces” with professional finesse. Whether it is a living room, a great room, an entertainment room, or a special space such as a library or drawing room — these living spaces are given new life with Mee’s innovative steps to attaining a beautiful and livable space. Spanning from the subtle to the bold, he demonstrates how attainable attractive designs can be, no matter what the budget, resources, or floor plan, and provides ample tips for making your designs easier.

It all starts with the crucial initial assessment. Mee encourages analyzing the potential of the space you have to work with. The next step is to then outline and identify any special eye-catching feature in the room that you would like to enhance and, on the other end of the spectrum, note problematic characteristics you wish to conceal in that space. After listing the said characteristics, it is then suggested to prioritize the room’s advantages and disadvantages. What do you have to work with? What ‘feeling’ or ambiance is desired for the finished product? Does the room require any special needs, layout wise?

While claiming to meld style with a hospitable family-oriented space, many readers may find the design layouts featured in the photographs do not lend an overly practical feel to them. Most room designs are targeted to those who lean more towards the contemporary-modern look, and perhaps those who prefer more traditional colonial designs may lose interest in his more modernistic approach. However, even the most traditional of decorators will be able to garner helpful ideas from Mee’s wealth of interior designing experience — especially when it comes to the unique techniques of making optimum use of space and shape, and how it relates to the interplay of lighting, color, texture, and fabric in the overall design.

Design Is In The Details: Living Spaces is a comprehensive guide containing innovative ideas and eye-catching design for an exclusive and multi-functional space for all to enjoy. Mee’s demonstrates how attaining a signature look is truly all in the details that make up a collective workable design.

Buy Design Is in the Details: Living Spaces at Amazon.com

- reviewed for Sterling Publishing Co., NY

Eating Up Italy

Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa
-by Matthew Fort

296 pages (autumn 2006)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

Bella! Bella!

Matthew Fort’s infatuation for all things edible and Italian are wonderfully palpable in this gastronomic treasure. Heady and sumptuous as a fine red wine, Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa — part travel memoir, part specialty recipe book — recounts Fort’s journeys all over the stunning Italian countryside, while lavishly showcasing each region’s own unique culinary “nuances”.

Italy’s romance and mystique lay in its beautiful language, hearty people, culture, fascinating history...and, of course, its wide array of mouth-watering edible delights. One would be hard-pressed to find a better qualified author for the task. Fort, one of Britain’s most renowned food critic and writer, formed an enthusiasm for Italy at the tender age of 11. The love affair with the country and its cuisine has only deepened with time, as Fort, at age 50, takes a “gastronomic tour” of the beautiful country from its southernmost tip at Melito Di Porto Salvo to the northern region of Turin.

Fort brings the tastes, aromas, and regional culture of Italy directly to the reader, in stunning clarity, coupled with a signature wit. Eating Up Italy is a bonafide travelogue on its own merits — nonetheless, Fort doesn’t rest on his laurels, expecting us to take his word for it. The tried-and-true age old recipes, generously peppered throughout, involve the reader and add an inimitable richness to Fort’s personal experiences, on his travels.

From regional delicacies to every-day local cuisine, Fort’s selected recipes and instructions, layered amidst engaging anecdotes teaming with insight into the lives and food of the locals, are easy to follow and tempting to try. Fortunately, many of the recipes are ‘formalized’, using easily recognizable standard measurements, as many Italian cooking techniques are known to use vague measurements such as “a little bit of this, a little bit of that.“ Some recipes may be easier than others, as some call for ingredients that would be challenging for a typical North American ‘foodie’ to find at their local market.

The book, itself, is bound beautifully with a ‘foodified’ rendition of Venus di Milo. Its lovely thick buttery paper and dark brown ink, lends itself an “old world” feel. At the back of the book is a comprehensive index, in case a particular recipe or notation requires reference on a whim.

Truly a voyager’s enchantment and a food lover’s bible, Eating Up Italy captures the incredible country that has it all, and will have any food lover or travel enthusiast shouting “Bella! Bella!”

One can only wait with bated breath - and grumbling stomach - for Fort’s upcoming labour of love, Eating Up Sicily.

Buy Eating Up Italy: Voyages on a Vespa at Amazon.com.


- reviewed for Book Pleasures

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice
-by Jane Austen (annotated & edited by David M. Shapard)

740 pages (2004)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

a more focused glimpse into Austen’s world

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice, indefatigably researched by David Shapard, contains intriguing particulars ranging from regency-period events, economy, society and customs of the time, to facts about Jane Austen’s family life and personal history, as they apply – verse by verse, paragraph by paragraph – to her most beloved of novels, Pride and Prejudice.

Not only a lovely bound volume of Austen’s masterpiece, Shapard’s meticulous work is also a uniquely comprehensive reference tool, or glossary, for the analytical prowess of the Regency-period zealot. Even more enjoyable are the literary commentaries, and “enlightenments” of certain ambiguous passages and behaviour of Austen’s enduring characters.

Within its tirelessly investigated annotations, in simple easy-to-read terms, Shapard effectively explores the development of Austen’s novel, drawing from the historical context “behind the scenes”, that the Regency-period author drew from -- the society from which Austen lived, and the world that shaped her creative mind to produce such a well-loved story.

The striking detail and explanations, encompassed by ample definitions, maps, illustrations and how it all fits into the novel’s context, will add a full, rich dimension to one’s reading.

The Annotated Pride and Prejudice is a book every avid “Austenite” and Pride and Prejudice aficionado would not want to do without – it is a more focused glimpse into Austen’s world, which will offer immense delight to the book’s enthusiasts.

Buy The Annotated Pride and Prejudice at Amazon.com

- reviewed for Curled Up With A Good Book

Sophie & the Rising Sun

Sophie & the Rising Sun
-by Augusta Trobaugh

224 pages (2002)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

delicate as a paper crane

Simply, yet beautifully, written and poignant, Sophie and the Rising Sun — a narrative, in the plaintive voice of various characters — takes place in a sleepy southern town in Georgia.

Sophie, a refined southern lady and middle-aged spinster, finds she has depleted her “young and beautiful years” caring for her elderly mother and aunts, after her beau, Henry, never returned from WWI. Finds herself quite resigned to the idea of never finding love at her age, Sophie, finds solace in painting by the town’s beautiful river, and meeting with her dear friend Miss Anne — that is, until Grover Oto moves into town, under mysterious circumstances.

Gentlemanly and kind, Mr. Oto, an American-born man of Japanese decent, is soon commissioned as Miss Anne’s gardener. Despite being limited to mere greetings in passing, Oto and Sophie form a suppressed friendship. Discovering they both share a passion for creating art, they meet weekly at the river, painting in comfortable silence as their connection to each other flourishes. However, between the antics of Ruth - the prejudiced town meddler - and the rigid racial and social structure of the time, it is almost guaranteed that the unconventional duo of Sophie and Mr. Oto will be expected to keep a formal distance. Forced into hiding from the enraged townsfolk, after the Pearl Harbour bombing, Oto experiences the full consequences of the attack, as Sophie and Miss Anne courageously support him. Will he and Sophie ever be able to realize their true feelings for each other, in a society that is so obstinate regarding their cultural differences?

Through the words and reactions of her characters, the author offers a unique perspective of the events at Pearl Harbor. In its own way, the entire substance of the novel serves as a social commentary on the war’s psychological fall-out — including the malicious treatment (thinly veiled as patriotism) of Japanese immigrants, American citizens, living in United States.

And yet, the elegiac cadences of Trobaugh’s prose, coupled with her tender imagery and ambiance, adds an emotional richness to this touching account. Lovely for a light, but unforgettable, weekend read, Sophie and the Rising Sun is highly recommended.

Buy Sophie and the Rising Sun at Amazon.com


Snow Flower & The Secret Fan

Snow Flower & The Secret Fan
-by Lisa See
272 pages (2005)

MY RATING: 4.5/5

A history lesson with heart

Lisa See's beautiful, yet heartbreaking, tale of women's intimate relationships, and the rigid customs of 19th century China, is set in a remote village in Hunan province.Often in poetic, tender prose, the dynamics of the lives of two girls are recounted -- Lily, the narrator of the story, a sensitive daughter of a poor farmer; and Snow Flower a well-bred daughter of privilege -- spanning childhood ("milk years" and "daughter days"), adolescence ("hair pinning days"), mature married days as wives and mothers ("rice and salt days"), to old age ("sitting quietly days").From childhood the two girls' lives are bound together, at the instigation of a match-maker, by the customary laotong tradition - linking them to become life-long bosom friends (or "old sames"). Even at a distance, both geographically and status-wise, Lily and Snow Flower's correspondence reaches out across the boundaries as they write to each other in nu shu, a clandestinely-kept writing form known only to women, and a temporary respite in their oppression.Along with life's everyday hard lessons for a woman living in 19th century China, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan unveils the traditions behind arranged marriages, the superstitions and the ceremonies, the unyielding codes of conduct for daughters, wives and mothers, and the disturbing traditions of foot-binding ("Only through pain will you have beauty; only through suffering will you have peace"), and the placing of little value on women's life, except for their facility to bear sons for their husband.With a stoic acceptance - and, often times, eventual resignation - of their fate as the unappreciated sex, Snow Flower and Lily go their separate ways in life, due to a grave misunderstanding in their correspondence.

As both an excruciatingly poignant story and an enthralling historical account, See's beautifully portrayed Snow Flower and the Secret Fan will be sure to touch your heart.

Buy Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel at Amazon.com


The Shadow of the Wind

The Shadow of the Wind
-by Carlos Ruiz Zafón
512 pages (English ed., 2004)


histrionic but fabulously riveting

"You mustn't tell anyone what you're about to see today."So were the words of Daniel Sempere's father, a dealer in antiquarian books in brooding post-civil war Barcelona, when he introduces his young son to the esoteric Cemetery of Forgotten Books. There he has his young son "rescue" any book he wishes, from a lifetime of neglect. "The Shadow of the Wind", the boy's selection, was written by author, Julian Carax, purported to have enigmatically perished in a duel shrouded in ambiguity.As Daniel grows into a young man, he becomes obsessed with the book and its mystifying author. He also comes to the realization that Carax's books are conspicuously starting to disappear - a mysterious cloaked collector has been buying them up and setting them ablaze, one by one...and he has made it very clear that he is after Daniel's copy too.

Daniel enlists the assistance of Fermín Romero de Torres - an erudite vagrant who just happens to be a former Republican emissary - in piecing together the story of Carax's life, which turns out to be a superbly macabre Gothic-style epic. As a result, Daniel and Fermín are thrust into the middle of a perilous escapade as they struggle to avoid the perils of a psychopathic fascist agent.

Some brilliant passages induced comparisons to Gabriel García Márquez or Arturo Perez-Reverte, whereas others occasionally read like a melodramatic over-sensationalized screenplay (which makes sense, as Zafon is a former screenwriter). Zafon's use of comical relief in Fermín Romero de Torres is effective in offsetting the story's oftentimes far-fetched intensity.

Nonetheless, despite all its flaws, Ruiz Zafon's post Spanish Civil War thriller will indubitably entertain.

Buy The Shadow of the Wind at Amazon.com


The Thirteenth Tale

The Thirteenth Tale
-by Diane Setterfield
416 pages (2006)


Tell me the truth..."

“People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in books they write, they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved....”

Setterfield’s novel The Thirteenth Tale is a captivating debut — brimming with complex twists, secrets, confused identities, squeaky staircases and gothic-like intrigue — conjuring up loose comparisons to Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and Brönte’s Jane Eyre.At the heart of the story is Margaret Lea, a plain bookish girl who works in her father’s antiquarian bookstore in London. Constantly surrounded and preoccupied with books, she has also written a minority of amateur biographies of relatively unknown historical figures.The intrigue commences when a mysterious letter arrives for Margaret, from Vida Winters – an eccentric famous author who insists on confounding her aficionados and biographers with fictional adaptations of her life story with an oath of their authenticity. Aside from countless best sellers, Winters has also written a book entitled “The Thirteen Tales of Change and Desperation” which, curiously enough, only contains 12 stories. The letter summons Margaret to Winter’s home where she is asked by the terminally ill author to embark on a biography of her life at the tragic Anglefield Estate. It is a story of twins, shadows, scandal, and deception.

As work on the biography begins, both Winters and Margaret struggle to deal with the truth of their painful pasts. Not before the dreadful realities are skillfully revealed by the author, the secret behind the strangely absent “thirteenth tale” is finally uncovered.

The Thirteenth Tale succeeds in being equally heart-pounding and heart-wrenching, and most definitely worth a read. One can only look forward to Diane Setterfield’s next novel.

Buy The Thirteenth Tale: A Novel at Amazon.com


The Woman In White

The Woman In White
-by Wilkie Collins
720 pages (1860)

Wilkie Collins’ most captivating oeuvre

A master craftsman of timeless classics that still garner accolades today, Wilkie Collins’ brilliance was often eclipsed by the illustriousness of his well-known contemporary, Charles Dickens. Fortunately Collins’ literary tour de force can still be enjoyed and appreciated today.The Woman In White is unquestionably one of his best works — a superbly written, gripping gothic mystery that will enthrall Victorian lit and ‘whodunit’ lovers alike. Complex, yet incredibly involving, the novel is full of atmosphere and rich description. Collins is also verified as a superb stylist with his evocative array of unforgettable characters.Throughout the novel, Collins’ allows several of his characters to espouse the role of narrator, which lends an exciting edge, where readers are unsure which characters, can or cannot, be trusted.

When a mysterious woman clad in white, accosts Walter Hartright, a young art master on his way to a new commission to teach two half-sisters, the catalyst emerges upon which the entire narrative turns. The idealist Hartright is soon introduced to and fast becomes close friends with his two new pupils at Limmeridge House -- Laura Fairlie, the young naïve maiden and heiress, who abides by her father’s deathbed-wish to marry Sir Percival Glyde; and Marian, head-strong, independent, and fiercely loyal to her younger half-sister Laura. Despite Marian’s belief that her sister’s wedding should continue according to their father’s wishes, Marian soon becomes suspicious of Sir Percival’s intentions in marrying Laura, who she believes is only pursuing Laura for her fortune. Enter the cunning and rapacious Count Fosco from Italy, who is also strangely suave and genial a villain as one is likely to meet in literature. Sir Percival, together with his intelligent ally, Fosco, conspire to ruin the lovely Laura Fairlie, for her family fortune. There is also a secret of Sir Percival’s that he will keep, whatever the cost. As a result, the sisters and Hartright are drawn into the intrigue and danger as the plot unfolds. What is Sir Percival’s secret? Who is this woman in white? And how will she affect the lives of those at Limmeridge House?

The engaging mystery wrapped up in The Woman In White vies three sanguine youth against the likes of avaricious, black-hearted villains who will stop at nothing to get what they want. It is truly a riveting classic that encompasses romance, drama and mystery. The Woman In White is a timeless favourite and a must-read for any classics lover!

Buy The Woman in White (Penguin Classics) at Amazon.com



-by James MacKean
320 pages (2003)

a noteworthy first attempt

Expert violinmaker, McKean, ventures into new territory with his ambitious debut novel, Quattrocento - a story of fine art and love, cleverly disguised as time-travel conceit.At the heart of the story is Matt O'Brian, an art restorer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, who struggles with the realization that he has revealed a never before discovered quattrocento* masterpiece by Leonardo da Vinci; a painting of a beautiful young woman, who O'Brian names "Anna". The painting and the subject become the focus of his obsession, and O'Brian fears its discovery, as he does not wish to be parted from it. In the meantime, the Metropolitan Museum has finished the restoration of Federico's Studiolo, an ancient study, a placeO'Brian is often drawn to for quiet reflection.Unwilling to psychologically part with the painting that he has worked tirelessly on, O'Brian ultimately loses himself to the mysterious allure of the studiolo, and finds himself unwittingly whisked across five centuries to the quattrocento to be with the painting's beautiful subject, Anna. There he discovers she is a Contessa and also an artist, married to an elderly man. It is not long before O'Brian also encounters her dangerous suitor, a covetous knight named Leandro, who plunges the art curator into a treacherous love triangle, vying for the Contessa's affections. After falling in love and sharing their affection with a discreet kiss, Matt is parted from Anna, and is returned to present day.

O'Brian, desperate to return to Anna summons the aid of some ambiguous quantum mechanics, and is somehow jettisoned back to the quattrocento to pursue her again freely. Her elderly husband has since passed away, and most importantly the jealous suitor Leandro is (somewhat too conveniently) gone.

McKean's imaginative Quattrocento is a sprawling tale that is more fantasy than it is drama. The author's artistic background serves him well throughout the novel, as details regarding the beautiful world of art are truly breathtaking. Several passages meld "castle in the sky" whimsy and reality as O'Brian loses himself inside various art works. And yet, throughout the novel, it seems as though McKean has bitten off a bit more than he can chew with regards to physics and the idea of time travel, as the descriptions become often tedious and lack a lot of logic. But his efforts do deserve at least a nod of appreciation from art and book lovers alike.

*The cultural and artistic events of 15th century Italy are collectively referred  to as the Quattrocento (from the Italian for 400, or from "mille quattrocento," 1400).  Quattrocento encompasses the artistic styles of the late Middle Ages and the early Renaissance. -Wikipedia

Buy Quattrocento at Amazon.com


The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm

The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm: A True Story of a Japanese Woman
-by Lala Okamoto
227 pages (2006)

when cultures collide

The Art of Loving is a memoir that that recounts Lala Okamoto's travels abroad and the relationships she experiences with foreigners -- some upbuilding, some devastating.As a young naïve Japanese woman, susceptible and completely enthralled with other cultures, Lala candidly recounts the details of her quixotic disaster with Rolf, a German "cassanova" who seems bent on ruining Lala's life.Throughout the chronicle, Okamoto's includes several interesting disparity between cultures she has encountered, and evaluates them to her own Japanese background. It is an interesting case study in how the collision of cultures can be constructive or destructive, and how a hastily made decision can easily lead to heartache.


The Herb Bible

The Herb Bible
-by Jennie Harding
256 pages (2004)

an attractive and practical reference tool

The Herb Bible is a beautiful book both to look at and to read. It offers a comprehensive way to discover the wonderful world of herbs and how to grow them productively in your own garden or home. It is also a wonderful incentive to return to healthy, natural eating.It clearly and attractively outlines the uses and medicinal properties of many common herbs, what soil and environments the herbs require to grow successfully, and also includes many examples where each herb will enhance the tastes of certain dishes.The Herb Bible will quickly become a favorite reference book. It is both enjoyable and practical and will constantly be off your bookshelf being put to good use.

Buy The Herb Bible at Amazon.com


Memoirs of a Geisha

Memoirs of a Geisha
-by Arthur Golden
512 pages (1999)

cliché Geisha?

While a piece of fiction, Memoirs of a Geisha is presented as an actual life story from the viewpoint of a Geisha - definitely an ambitious undertaking, if one considers the fact that the author is a white male from America.

The voice of the story is Chiyo (who is later given the Geisha name "Sayuri"). Her memoirs chronicle her life as young girl sold into a Geisha's life by her poor widowed father. In a stoic, frank way, she narrates the challenges, the desperation, the achievements, the abuse, the secrets, and the cruelty that she experiences as she becomes one of Japan's most prominent Geisha.

While the milieu of the novel is often described in luxuriously striking detail, the characters are never really developed to a great extent throughout the novel. Despite the fact that the plot is charged with emotional intensity, the main characters remain fundamentally cardboard-like and stereotypical - "the antagonist", "the protagonist", "the love interest", and "the benefactor" are painfully obvious and often 2-dimensional and insipid.

Granted, Golden's attention to detail and research into the life of a Geisha is apparent from the outset of the novel. However, the actual writing of the account, while at times enjoyably metaphoric, was mediocre at best.

Nevertheless, Memoirs of a Geisha, in spite of its many flaws and clichés, remains a weekend page-turner that gives us a westernized glimpse into the disquieting life of a Geisha, often shrouded in mystery.

Buy Memoirs of a Geisha at Amazon.com


Love In The Time of Cholera

Love In The Time of Cholera  (El Amor en los Tiempos del Cólera)
-by Gabriel García Márquez
348 pages (1985)

cholera: an effective metaphor for love

Love in the Time of Cholera, an arresting tale of unrequited love, dramatically chronicles a 50-year love triangle set in Columbia, spanning from roughly 1880 to 1930. Gabriel García Márquez's novel, with an intensity that rivals the classics, explores the concept that suffering for love is akin to a genre of nobility. Based on the perception that love-sickness is a literal infirmity, the author effectively uses cholera throughout the novel as a metaphor for love - love as a malady comparable to a devastating ailment. 

The condemned vertices of the love triangle include the obsessive lyricist, Florentino Ariza, who falls desperately and dangerously in love with the beautiful headstrong Fermina Daza. After meeting only briefly, the two commence an intense 3-year romance-by-letter. As years pass and Daza matures, she ultimately casts off any feelings towards the romantically love-sick Ariza, and instead, offers her hand in matrimony to the practical and respectable Doctor Juvenal Urbino - a specialist in overcoming the wide sweep of choleraic outbreaks. 

Heartbroken and rejected by the only woman he will ever truly love, Florentino Ariza does everything in his power to try to forget Daza, to no avail. And so, for over 50 years, he is left to be tormented by his passion for the woman he cannot forget, attempting to move on and yet hoping all the while she will return to him, even in the winter years of his life. 

Aside from the unnecessary sexual content in certain chapters, the story-line and García Márquez's poetic style are captivating.

The touching bitter-sweet conclusion to the severity of Love in the Time of Cholera will be sure to satisfy.

Buy Love in the Time of Cholera at Amazon.com



Bleak House

Bleak House 
-by Charles Dickens
1088 pages (1852)

quite possibly Dickens' magnum opus

Bleak House boasts all the hallmarks of brilliant Dickens - a sprawling and ambitious plot (without the sacrifice of an iota of suspense or impetus), brimming with eccentric characters and an almost gothic thriller appeal. 

With wit, complexity and lack of guile, Dickens' winds through an unflattering vision of the Victorian legal system, to heartrending household drama, to an investigation of homicide. All characters are intricately drawn, hitting a compelling balance between austere emotional honesty and caricature subjects.

At the outset, we are introduced to Richard Carstone and Ada Clare, two young orphans and wards of Chancery, who learn they are potential heirs to a vast fortune. As they learn more about their prospective windfall, they quickly find out that their destiny is at the hands of a shady legal system. Notwithstanding, the two orphans, particularly the young and naïve Richard Carstone, become entangled in a colossal protracted legal battle for their fortune, known as "Jarndyce & Jarndyce". 

But at the root of the story is another orphan, Esther Summerson - poor and plain, trustworthy and kind - whose unknown descent proves to be entwined with the cool and aloof Lady Dedlock, a rich noble woman of 'dubious breeding'. The story unfolds further as Esther, and the young wards of court, Ada and Richard, are sent to live with a kind-hearted and benevolent guardian, John Jarndyce. While developing a deep love for Esther, which is truly touching and yet ultimately abandoned, John Jarndyce harbors a deeply unsettled past which inevitably comes to light. 

Bleak House validates the fact that pathos, social disparagement, and absurdity, and can all be contained in one wonderfully compelling chronicle. 

Dickens ambitious tale has fast become a personal favourite, and is a masterpiece that can be enjoyed over and over again - and has been, for generations.

Buy Bleak House at Amazon.com



-by Douglas Coupland
448 pages (2005)

Book Rule #15: Sequels are always disappointing.

Coupland’s' JPod is no exception to that rule. Although never blatantly publicized as a ‘sequel’, it is hypothetically purported to be Coupland’s new millennia answer to his early 1990s geek epic, Microserfs.

My comparison, Microserfs vs. JPod, in short?

Microserfs, in my opinion, was Coupland’s zenith of writing aptitude — fresh and original with ‘real’ characters that many a geek could relate to. The microserfs made you want to care about what happened to them. The story actually went somewhere.

JPod? Stale as 3-week-old bread, artificial as Twin Equal ‘sugar’ packets, featuring two-dimensional unbelievable characters. Gone are the refreshingly all-too-human disillusioned "microserfs" with their witty repertoires and flat foods. They are replaced with JPod'ers — dusky, gutter-mouthed and aimless, with their couldn’t-care-less-about-anything attitudes. The result? We could care less about them. Coupled with an implausible, over-the-top, and insipid plot, it is a novel that evokes apathy and indfference. Coupland’s frequent referrals (blatant plugs) to his other works of fiction were uncomfortable and tawdry.

Not that there weren’t any redeeming qualities in the book. The reader is treated to a few remaining bits of Microserfs-esque laurels — the memoir-like narrative, the fun cubicle surveys (“if you were to sell yourself as an item on eBay”) and splash pages with binary, spam, and technical what-not. However, it was not enough to compensate for JPod's weak plot and characters, which ultimately made the novel uninteresting and difficult to finish. As much as I wanted to like it, I didn’t. At all.

It was mentioned by a friend and fellow Microserf-aficionado that it’s “harder for authors to write like disenchanted young people when they have been rich and famous for 20 years.”

I agree 101% and couldn’t put it better myself.


The Periodic Table

The Periodic Table 
-by Primo Levi
240 pages (1985)

"a poetic causal nexus known only to chemists"

Primo Levi, a chemist and a young Italian Jew, grew up during WWII in Mussolini's Italy. The Periodic Table relates his story. Part autobiography, part poetry, part history and science textbook, Levi fuses these together in a "life-thesis" filled by both comedy and drama. This unique and unforgettable memoir is organized by the periodic table of the elements. 

The chapter titles range from Argon to Zinc and, like the elements themselves, each with its own distinctive characteristics. The element denoted in each chapter heading is often literally represented in the particular chronicle. And yet, if the reader delves further in interpretation, the element often relates metaphorically to the human experience depicted within the text. While the majority of the novel's chapters orbit various important biographical events in Levi's intriguing existence, three of the book's chapters are fictional: Carbon, Lead and Mercury. 

Often deceptively simple, Periodic Table is hardly an elementary read — Levi's concepts, philosophies and frequent use of veiled symbolism, require and deserve lengthy deliberation to digest their hidden depths. Beautiful in its precision, it is the story of a life touched by the experience of science, war and love.

Curious, unconventional, poignant and memorable, The Periodic Table is the magnum opus of memoirs. Read it.

Buy The Periodic Table at Amazon.com


A Room With A View

A Room With A View 
- by E.M. Forster
250 pages (1908)

an enchanting Edwardian-caricature

"If Miss Honeychurch ever takes to live as she plays, it  will be very exciting - both for us and for her."  - Rev. Mr. Beebe

A young Englishwoman's "coming of age", E.M. Forster's acclaimed A Room With A View is set in the Edwardian era of England's history. The heroine, Lucy Honeychurch, is a well-bred upper-middle class girl who possesses an extraordinary vivacity for life. However, her future happiness and fulfillment in life seems ultimately doomed by the decorum and pretensions of society's expectations.

Little does Lucy know that her life will be changed forever under a loggia in Florence and amidst the beautiful Tuscan countryside. On a Baedecker-style grand tour of Florence, Lucy is accompanied by her chaperone and elder cousin, Charlotte Bartlett (an incompliant spinster "much discomfited by any unpleasant scenes"). They stay at an eclectic pensione filled with British expatriates. There, Lucy becomes acquainted with the handsome and unconventional George Emerson, a modern freethinking Englishman who is staying at the loggia with his like-minded father. The two men kindly exchange their rooms with a view, with Lucy and Miss Bartlett, who were given rooms with no view. 

The plot revolves around Lucy's inward struggle with what high society expects of young women, versus what she desires for her own future. Lucy frustratingly finds herself at a crossroads. Should she bow to society's "rules" of 'proper' women of her day, and marry the stuffy and priggish Cecil Vyse back in England, a wealthy and learned gentleman who embodies all things viewed with favour in England's high class society. Or should she follow her heart and marry the broad-minded and genuine, yet penniless, George Emerson?

Forster's delicate and playful story-telling spirits us from an escapade through in the cobble-stoned alleyways of Florence and the lush fields of Tuscany, to the ceremonious rigidity of English lawn parties and drawing rooms. A Room With A View is brought alive by the impetus of a perceptive and contemplative mind. Highly recommended.

Buy A Room with a View at Amazon.com


Eleanor Rigby

Eleanor Rigby 
-by Douglas Coupland
256 pages (2005)

look at all the lonely people…

"Death without the possibility of changing the world is the same as a life that never was."

Enter lonely Liz Dunn. Thirty-something, overweight, friendless, neglected by society, and under appreciated by her dysfunctional family and workmates. Struggling under the millstone of loneliness, Lizz is resigned to the idea that anything interesting will ever happen in to her. Often misunderstood, her extremely pragmatic outlook on life is often mistaken for as morbid and apocalyptic.

Little does Liz know that her life will change forever, after an unexpected phone call from a local hospital. Her name and contact number just happen to be on the medic-alert bracelet of a stranger, barely clinging to life in a hospital bed. 

Eleanor Rigby takes readers on a bizarre but stunning journey of self-awareness, explores the waking nightmare of loneliness, and ultimately bestows a sense of hope. Coupland cleverly maneuvers believable characters in-and-out of nearly unbelievable circumstances, all the while maintaining his hallmark – sharp, sardonic humour and wit. 

Amidst the pain-filled past and present of his characters, Coupland always allows a thin ray of light in through a trap door. 

Eleanor Rigby is a rewarding read -- classic Coupland!

Buy Eleanor Rigby: A Novel at Amazon.com


Midnight at the Dragon Café

Midnight at the Dragon Café
-by Judy Fong Bates
320 pages (2004)

The people behind the faces of the local  Chinese-Canadian greasy spoon

With a quiet, unassuming elegance, Canadian-Chinese author Judy Fong-Bates sets the scene for her highly applauded debut novel, Midnight at the Dragon Café. Perhaps this story touched me more acutely than most of its readers, as it called to mind what my father and his parents must have experienced during and after their immigration from Hong Kong to a little town in Canada in the mid-1950s. Every word to me was genuine, haunting, compelling…

Little Su-Jen Chou (at the tender age of six), along with her beautiful yet bitter mother, immigrates to Canada from Communist China, to meet the father she has never known. A father who is the proprietor of the local Canadian-Chinese “greasy spoon”. With Su-Jen's mother constantly haunted with yearnings for her homeland, unpleasant family secrets uncovered, and the trials and challenges they face in a new and often-times unwelcoming land, Fong-Bates weaves a story full of heartbreak, tribulation and acceptance.

Poignant in its simplicity and yet weighty in its inner complexities, Midnight at the Dragon Café explores many social issues of the time, along with the disappointments, the pride, the sacrifices, and the triumphs of those who immigrated to Canada in search of something ‘better’. 

Stirring and well written, Fong-Bates’ stunning first novel deserves a heaping spoonful of praise.

Buy Midnight At The Dragon Café at Amazon.com


Like Family: Growing Up In Other People's Homes

Like Family: Growing Up In Other People's Homes
-by Paula McLain
240 pages (2003)

An unforgettable memoir about "forgotten" children

Candid, painful, sobering, yet hopeful, Like Family: Growing Up In Other People's Houses is McLain's compelling childhood memoir that spans a 15-year period in swestern America in the 1970-80's. 

Abandoned by their parents at a young age, McLain and her two sisters' lives as foster children begin in chaos. Displaced, not unlike refugees in their own country, they are shuffled from foster home to foster home. With little time to settle in or form close bonds with foster parents, Paula and her two sisters are often at the mercy of bureaucracy. 

Through McLain’s simple and yet touching narrative, the reader experiences the inner torment of the forgotten child in a "make-shift family"…the exploitation, the neglect, the abuse, and the anguish of being abandoned by the ones who should care for you the most. 

McLain allows her award-winning poetic expressions to shine, bringing her painful story to the fore...and never in an apologetic or pity-evoking manner. Like Family is well worth the read.

Buy Like Family: Growing Up in Other People's Houses: A Memoir at Amazon.com


- reviewed for Time Warner

Amanda Bright @ Home

Amanda Bright @ Home
-by Danielle Crittenden
336 pages  (2003) 

Bright indeed!

Well-written, brimming with quick wit and authentic characterization, Amanda Bright @ Home was an enjoyable light read. 

Inspite of the fact that I am not a mother myself, I could sympathize with many of Bright’s plights including her innate craving to feel needed and significant. (I think, deep down we all do.) As the main character - all too human and ‘real’ – Amanda is instantly likeable and true-to-life.

What hit close to home was Amanda’s frustration at being surrounded by superficial women of the community who seemed to sharpen their claws at the sight of simple, intelligent, Bohemian Amanda - an unexpected threat to their ‘perfect’ not-so-perfect pampered realm. In a community reeling with sprawling mansions, status symbols, face-lifts, and shallow fashion magazine ‘perfect’ ladies - down-to-earth Amanda struggles to fit in, and at the same time desperately attempts to find her place in the world - endeavoring to balance motherhood with the secular workforce she yearns to be a part of.

Where I harbor no major criticism of this touching bit of fiction, I must admit that at times I felt that the main character was a bit too envious of her peers’ situation, listing off their assets in stark contrast, overly emphasizing what she didn’t have – almost bordering on whining at times. However, this is not atypical if one is in an unhappy situation and is surrounded by negative feelings and self-depreciating thoughts. In this case, I suppose the old cliché applies: “the grass is always greener on the other side.” 

Since I am not a mother myself, I feel somewhat ill-qualified to give this book the review it deserves. However I can definitely say that my admiration for a mother’s many sacrifices has only deepened after reading this very enjoyable book. My kudos go to Crittenden for her compelling narrative.

- reviewed for Time Warner books

The Da Vinci Code

The Da Vinci Code 
-by Dan Brown
454 pages (2003) 

disappointing and over-done

After the renowned curator of the Louvre has been found murdered inside the museum, Harvard symbologist Robert Langdon teams up with French police cryptologist, Sophie Neveu, to uncover an ancient secret that many are willing to die to protect. Secret societies and baffling ciphers are encountered as they track an intricate trail of clues ingeniously hidden in the works of Leonardo Da Vinci. International intrigue and the obligatory danger ensues.

Where I’m usually one to avoid something that seems to be popular amongst the masses, this time I was curious to see what all the hype was about regarding Brown’s The Da Vinci Code. Remind me never again to follow suit. 

All brawn and no brains. The Da Vinci Code seems to be a testimony to such a statement. The plot, while  multifarious, in-depth, and complicated, feels forced and reads like an implausible made-for-tv screenplay, falling deftly between a Tomb Raider and Indiana Jones sequel.

The entire scheme of the book is over-written, the style predicable and prosaic, and the characters somewhat two-dimensional. Amidst the blatant social statements and ambitious manifestos against established religion in general, Brown seems to have forgotten the all important writer's mantra that "less is more."

Where the novel was somewhat diverting, I wouldn’t recommend it for those looking for a invigorating mind exercise of any kind. In my humble opinion, it is just another bit of modern fluff incognito, using Leonardo Da Vinci as an imposing smoke-screen attempting, unsuccessfully, to be clever.


The Dance of Geometry

The Dance of Geometry
-by Brian Howell
220 pages (2002)

shadows and light

Brian Howell's successful first book, The Dance of Geometry, is an indulgence for all of us art aficionados – those of us who have found ourselves irrevocably lost in a “story” captured on canvas, and the clandestine lives and experiences of the artists themselves.

Howell artfully interweaves three unique perspectives, offering the reader a rare glimpse into the mind and life of 17th century artistic mastermind, Dutch painter Johannes Vermeer – the artist as a child, pliable and vulnerable to influence; Vermeer as an artist in his prime; and a modern-day art copyist in quest of more than a mere replica of the Dutch artist's work. Excerpts of Vermeer’s childhood and experiences which would influence his work later on in his life are melded together, further on in the plane of time, with an abstract narrative of his journey to becoming an ingenious and respected artist in later years. 

The story casts shadows and light on the beautiful harmony, colour, and depth found in Vermeer’s art, possibly enhanced by incorporating the use of a camera obscura, and utilization of de Vries’ perspective and visual field

The final chronicle by the modern day art copyist delving into Vermeer’s work and milieu as an artist, is the final ‘signature’ to Howell’s literary work of art.

By and large, The Dance of Geometry is an engrossing piece of abstract work that is worth exploring in detail not unlike Vermeer’s own.


The Last Good Day

The Last Good Day
-by Peter Blauner
432 pages  (2003) 

forgettable mystery, un-thrilling thriller

The Last Good Day, a tepid less-than-riveting mystery/thriller, is Blauner’s unsuccessful attempt at creating a believable tense backdrop of New York suburban life shortly after September 11, 2001. While some parts of the storyline ‘hold water’, the majority of the novel lays fallow and unfortunately fails to deliver on almost every level imaginable. 

The various not-so-subtle references to 9-11 are not apropos to the plot, and as a result, appear to be a flimsy attempt to draw curious readers possibly scouting for terrorist intrigue. The shallow two-dimensional, and often gutter-mouthed, characters fail to engage the reader, and only highlight the carelessly constructed plot which is neither absorbing or captivating.

Is it just me or does Last Good Day read like a tacky made-for-TV movie? It certainly meets all the criteria, which seem blatantly placed there to appeal to the so-called 'trendy'...far too melodramatic, ladder-climbing elitists, gratuitous severity, and obscenities too proliferate to excuse. Take my advice and give this one a pass.

Any redeeming qualities to the novel? The photo on the cover is nice...

- reviewed for Time Warner books

The Moonstone

The Moonstone
-by Wilkie Collins
438 pages (1868)

magnum opus of suspense and intrigue

T.S. Eliot was not exaggerating when he dubbed Collins' masterpiece "the first, the longest, and the best of modern English detective novels". The Moonstone, first published in 1868, is the magnum opus of suspense and intrigue that will surely please the avid mystery and/or classics buff. 

The adventure begins when the priceless yellow diamond from India, known as the 'Moonstone', is brought to English as spoils of war and is bestowed upon the spirited Rachel Verrinder on her 18th birthday. Chaos soon commences. The valuable jewel is stolen that very night and the entire household falls under suspicion – including a hunchbacked maid, an assemblage of enigmatic Indian jugglers, and Miss Verrinder’s cousin Mr. Franklin Blake. Suspicion of thievery does not even escape Miss Verrinder herself. The famed Sergeant Cuff is summoned to the house to try and make sense of the baffling mystery of the diamond’s disappearance and the strange events that ensue.

The Moonstone is comprised of three novelettes and a handful of sub-sections, each narrated by three individuals (and a handful of other characters writing shorter supporting memoirs), with their own whimsical writing styles and detailed anecdotes about their adventures surrounding the jewel's disappearance and the aftermath. Their varying perspectives on incidents throw interesting light on the events unraveling around the reader. Introducing the novel is the household’s elderly and garrulous manservant, Mr. Gabriel Betteredge, with his witty maxims and proverbial quotes from his personal bible, “Robinson Crusoe”. The pious and almost-fanatical Miss Clack’s cold recital of events, is followed soon after by Mr. Franklin Blake’s narrative of events, and the mystery’s final and most ingenious outcome. It will not disappoint.

I leave you with a bit of insight bestowed upon us by the lovable and amusing Mr. Betteredge:
"When my spirits are bad -- Robinson Crusoe. When I want advice -- Robinson Crusoe. In past times when my wife plagued me; in present times when I have had a drop too much -- Robinson Crusoe. I have worn out six stout Robinson Crusoes with hard work in my service. On my lady's last birthday she gave me a seventh. I took a drop too much on the strength of it; and Robinson Crusoe put me right again. Price four shillings and sixpence, bound in blue, with a picture into the bargain.Still, this don't look much like starting the story of the Diamond -- does it? I seem to be wandering off in search of Lord knows what, Lord knows where. We will take a new sheet of paper, if you please, and begin over again, with my best respects to you."


The Anniversary

The Anniversary
-by Amy Gutman
342 pages  (2003) 

Three women. Three notes. One fear…

On the fifth anniversary of the trial and execution of infamous serial killer Steven Gage, three women separately involved in the Gasey case – Callie Thayer, Melanie White, and Diane Massey – each receive an ominous missive that they haven’t been forgotten. But almost as quickly as the women can digest the full meaning of the message, the threats leap from the printed page and into reality. Determined to no longer be a passive victim, Callie Thayer commences the battle of her life to expose the personified evil force responsible for so much terror and violence. Nothing prepares her for the entangling web of guilt, suspicion and untruths she will ultimately uncover. 

Talented author, Amy Gutman, weaves this gripping psychological courtroom thriller with stunning skill and white-knuckle suspense. Riveting, intense and most definitely addictive, I was feverishly impelled to finish The Anniversary in one sitting…and on the edge of my seat the entire time!

- reviewed for Time Warner books

All He Ever Wanted

All He Ever Wanted
-by Anita Shreve
310 pages  (2003) 

Never judge a book by it's...title

Never having the pleasure of reading any of Shreve's works prior to delving into "All He Ever Wanted”, I admittedly formed an unfair and premature opinion of the novel based on its somewhat flimsy melodramatic title. However, I was soon to discover that it is definitely a fitting and descriptive cover for the thespian narrative that unravels within. I was also taken unaware that this was a period piece, set in New England in the early part of the 20th Century - a fact I was all too happy to uncover, as I am an aficionado of period works.

“All He Ever Wanted” is a heart-wrenching account of unrequited love, obsession, jealousy and betrayal; exploring the most intense (and at times, darkest) workings of the human heart. Dreary and rather depressing, this candid narrative painstakingly chronicles a marriage of convenience gone sadly awry. It is written in the voice of Nicholas van Tassel, an English literary professor at a small college in New England as he ponders upon the memories of his fateful past… 

One harrowing evening after escaping a restaurant fire, van Tassel happens upon the striking Etna Bliss and is instantaneously enraptured. Here commences their somewhat stifled and confusing courtship. Ultimately, their marriage forces each character to make critical compromises that will change their lives forever: Man gives up romantic ideal of marriage (knowing full well his wife does not love him) if only to ‘possess’ her for himself; Woman relinquishes hope of marrying someone she loves and settles instead for a man who offers her freedom and a degree of independence (which is ultimately counterfeit).

Although the story is a little slow and one-dimensional at the outset, as the plot proceeds the reader will be taken in by the rich detail and character definition that quickly develops. The letters between certain characters were also a nice touch, allowing a glimpse into their personal thoughts - a unique perspective for the reader, digressing temporarily from the narrator’s recital. 

All in all, I must say I was thoroughly impressed by Shreve’s shrewd portrayal of affections not reciprocated in "All He Ever Wanted"…it is a theme all too familiar in the human game of love.

- review for Time Warner books