BOOK REVIEWS

Upon recommendation, I just finished this book. A fast and engaging read, and not so much a 9/11 story, as it is a coming of age, all in the midst of tragedy. Whether directly affected by this moment in history, or not, when reading this book, you can understand the bond and camaraderie of New Yorkers. 

To quote the author, on why she wrote this story:

“Make it a simple story about hope. Make it a story about human resilience. Make it a story where people still laugh, still brush their teeth, still fall in love, a story where people redeem one another by small gestures, a story where people have no choice but to keep going in the face of huge tragedy and unspeakable loss.”

– Laurie Martella


Recent articles have declared The Hidden Life of Trees a European bestseller which, in my experience, suggests that its research is likely further ahead than current thinking in North America. Canada’s Greystone Books, with its usual insight and dedication to books on environment, has brought the rights to publish Hidden Life in Canada in September.

Assertions made in this fascinating book suggest that trees have a dependable way of communicating many complex issues, a suggestion some readers may perceive as flaky.  However, one German literary critic praised the humble narrative and celebrated the writer’s ability to break down a few boundaries people have about how the biological world may actually work.  Author Peter Wohlleben has managed state forests in Germany since 1987, and began to adopt alternative approaches after visiting private forests and finding that “they treated their forest much more lovingly, and the wood they produced was more valuable.” He stepped off of the traditional path of biological thinking and found that the more he researched, the more amazing the data. He now runs an environmentally friendly woodland in Germany where he is working for the return of primeval forests.

Wohlleben gives us countless examples of how roots are the most important part of a tree, and demonstrates how trees learn and work in community. Of course this could qualify as anthropomorphizing, but the theory is hard to refute when he backs up his wondrous examples with scientific data.  The wood-wide web pervades our forests: “Over centuries, a single fungus can cover many square miles and network an entire forest. The fungal connections transmit signals from one tree to the next, helping trees exchange news about insects, drought and other dangers.”  You will be shaking your head with wonder throughout the entire book.

When we started our bookstore back in the 1970’s, one of our most popular titles was The Findhorn Garden. Perhaps some of you remember it: a bunch of hippies in Scotland grew gargantuan cabbages and other fantastic flora. Of course, at the time, people kind of laughed because, it was, after all, just a bunch of drop-outs doing their thing. Laugh no longer! Wohlleben’s book is backed up with lots of difficult-to-discount research. Perhaps The Hidden Life of Trees will at last succeed in convincing people that facts and wonder can exist in a forest together!

 


Jennifer Manuel surprises book club with a gift

Members praised the The Heaviness of Things That Float  (the June Book Club selection) for its writing style, setting, plot, character development and especially the authenticity of the novel.  The main character is Bernadette who is about to retire after working as a nurse for 40 years in a IMG_0507remote West Coast reserve.  We had a lively discussion about  bridging cultures and becoming part of a community.

A special surprise was that the author Jennifer Manuel had reached out to our group and sent a letter thanking us for reading her book and shells she had collected on Vancouver Island for each member. It was exciting to feel a connection to the author whose book we thoroughly enjoyed and enthusiastically recommend.

Mill STreet Books, Almonte ON –  https://millstreetbooks.com/our-blog/


 

all the time in the world

All the Time in the World by Caroline Angell

ISBN-13: 9781627794015 PB

Henry Holt/ Raincoast Distribution

I trust and enjoy Henry Holt publishing, and this one didn’t let me down. It has many elements that I like in a book – a glammy upper east side NYC backdrop, musical elements, self-discovery, and the writing is crafted in such a way where you can’t put the book down because you’re drawn right into the characters. 

It’s a mix of tragedy, a dynamic upper class family, and a heroine who, while trying to get her career as a composer off the ground, is keeping the family she works for from collapsing.  

– Laurie Martella


categorical universe

The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

Chronicle Books / Raincoast Distribution

ISBN-13: 9781452145716 PB (also avail in HC)

“I sank like a stone and waited. For rescue or death, whichever came first. I’m confident you’ll work out which.” That was just one of 12 year old Candace Phee’s quirky journal entries. Born and raised in Australia she’s given an assignment by her teacher to write an autobiography about themselves in alphabetical order. Candace takes this as a chance to pour the truth into her writing. At the same time she tries to restore her family to happiness, write to a penpal who (for some odd reason) doesn’t answer back, and help Douglas, a new and unexpected friend “return to his alternate dimension”. “My family is a mess,” Candice says to Douglas. Candace’s mom has breast cancer and depression, and has a secret longing to travel to new orleans. As for Candace’s father, he is an antisocial computer geek, and has been at war with his brother ever since he thought that he stole a program from him and made millions from it. A sibling, Candace does not have because, sadly, her little sister ‘Sky’ had died when she was a newborn baby.
I would recommend this book because Candace’s quirky insight makes me think about
details of our world that we never really notice. She thinks of things that we make a big fuss about seem like small problems. The only problem that isn’t very small for her is unhappiness. I love the way that she never gives up and that she is brutally honest in order to make people happy. No matter how hard it is, even if it includes death, she will do almost anything to reinforce perfect contentment. This will include getting three plane tickets to New Orleans, bringing someone to a different dimension, writing ever faithfully to a pen pal who doesn’t reply, creating a friendship between a certain father and uncle, and giving a fish a soul mate and friend. On her long and interestingly worded journey, she keeps her opinions and experiences enclosed in an assignment and story. I recommend this book to anyone who wishes to escape from the ordinary world. Presenting to you:
The Categorical Universe of Candice Phee

  • Book Review by Cara Knights (10 years):

with malice 

With Malice by Eileen Cook

ISBN-13: 978-0544805095 HC  – June 2016 release

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt / Raincoast Distribution

With Malice, was a real pager turner. A young woman, Jill, travels to Italy on a special tour before she embarks on her ivy league university life, and future plans. Her BFF, Simone, who is opposite in every way, and from a different walk of life, joins her – but Simone doesn’t return home.

While in Italy, the two friends fight, spectators and witnesses recount the scenes for the police. Ugly truths are learned, and it winds them up in a big car crash. Jill was driving. She survived and Simone did not.

Jill returns home in air ambulance with no knowledge or recollection of even having been in Italy. Amnesia!

The story is pure entertainment as the reader puts the pieces together to decide whether this was an accident or whether there really should be “justice for Simone”. Justice for Simone is a blog created by high schoolers who knew both girls, and it was enlightening look at how social media really spins gossip and speculation into a story based on zero fact, but has the audience buying into it and believing.

– Laurie Martella


 

Last Midwife

 

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

978-1250074461 HC $ 29.99

St. Martin’s Press/ Distributed by Raincoast Books

A historical fiction set in 1880 in a small Colorado mining town – it’s a gritty, hardworking town and Gracy is the last midwife in the area. She’s highly skilled (famous for catching her first baby at age 10), but she’s at odds with the local physician we sees her work as nothing more than “superstition”. She’s accused of murdering an infant and it rocks the town – she’s delivered basically all the children in the town. It divides everyone and reveals an even more sinister plot by the more powerful men in the town. A great historical fiction of a specific time and place, but at the heart of it it’s the struggle of women in a very male dominated world.

– Roberta Samec


 

Sweetest Thing

The Sweetest Thing You Can Sing by C.K. Kelly Martin

9781770864115 PB $14.95

Dancing Cat Books / Distributed by UTP

Another really intelligent YA read from C.K. Kelly Martin. It deals with a teenage girl navigating relationships – her brother, who abandoned her family, her parents (who are still in shock about his disappearance), her girlfriends (and the formation of new friendships) and boyfriends (how far she’s willing to go to please a boyfriend). The main character Serena holds her own, and eventually discovers that she can be her own person – not what her friends, boyfriends or family expects her to be.

– Roberta Samec


 

Transferral

Transferral by Kate Blair

978-1770864542 PB $14.95

Cormorant Books / Distributed by UTP

– Fast-paced speculative YA fiction set in present day London, but in an alternate reality. We can cure all diseases, but the disease must be transferred to someone else, so the punishment for crimes is disease. The main character is a teenage girl whose father is running for Prime Minister. His party is very much in favour of the “transfers”, but she starts to question the ethics. I would love to see this turn into a series.

– Roberta Samec


 

Delicate

Delicate by C. Kelly Martin

978-1-77086-452-8 TP $14.95

Cormorant Books / Distributed by UTP

– A YA book about sexuality and relationships, but despite seemingly “lighter” subject matter, it’s a really intelligent look at some hard issues that teenagers (and adults) face – including loss of relationships, infidelity, STI’s and dealing with a close friend who’s abusive. In the end, it’s really about people falling off the pedestals that we’ve put them on, and how to deal with that person (and yourself) after the fall. It’s really quite excellent.

– Roberta Samec


 

forgetting time

The Forgetting Time by Sharon Guskin

9781250076427 HC $29.99

Distributed by Raincoast Books

The Forgetting Time is not a book that can easily be forgotten after you put it down. It stays with you. It haunts you with thoughts of the after-life. Oddly, this is the second book this month that I read about reincarnation. As a mother, I found myself so engaged with this mother’s quest to do whatever she could to help her son, who did not fully belong to her alone. Chilling. Compelling. Read it!

– Laurie Martella


 

furiously happy

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson

9781250077004  HC $ 31.50

Distributed by Raincoast Books

Furiously Happy made me laugh out loud at times while reading. It is so relatable, probably to everyone! Jenny is so frank and funny, it’s hard not to become enthralled in her crazy antics. Loved it so much that I am now reading her first book, Let’s Pretend This Never Happened. Well actually, I’m listening to the audiobook which is a great way to go as it is Jenny reading, and adding her own vocal colour to the stories.

– Laurie Martella


 

Breaking words

The Breaking Words by Gilaine E. Mitchell

9781770862999 PB  $21.95 – Cormorant Books

Just finished this one on the weekend.

It’s a compelling story of a woman in small town Eastern Ontario who leads a double life: one as a wife and mother of a six-year-old, one as a prostitute. Her marriage is not great, she’s a bit lost in this double-life and hates lying to her daughter about what she does at night. She seems to not think she deserves her love. There’s a reveal about how she got to this point in her life that’s heartbreaking but releasing at the same time.

Hard to read in parts as a mother of a six-year-old, though.

– Robera Samec


 

second life

My Second Life by Faye Bird

9780374348861  $20.50 HC     FSG / Raincoast

My Second Life had me gripped from the get-go! I read it in a day and a half, which is a record for me as of late. It had me ignore my daughter a few times on my vacation while she says to me “Mom, you really love that book”. I read it while walking.

It is YA cross-over, with fast pacing, and ease of reading, all while maintaining a good writing style. It’s a chilling story about a girl named Ana, who knows that she has lived before as Emma, and she was involved in the events around an accidental death of a child. Poor girl has been trying to live a normal life for 15 years, knowing and feeling that she was someone else, and not being able to fully connect with her current life. The events of her past (life) haunts her new life, until she meets someone who will help put the pieces together and as she awakens the past. I’m getting goose bumps even as I type!

– Laurie Martella


Electric Brain

 

The Brain Electric  by Malcolm Gay

FSG/Raincoast 

9780374139841  $29.95 HC

The author did very well turning a heavy subject matter into a fun read. He brought the characters to life, which made me more invested in the story. This is a collection of different stories about different scientists – stitched by an underlying theme. All to say, look at what we can do now when we can hook our brains to machines . It is non– fiction, but there were anecdotes that made it feel like fiction, and a pleasure to read.

– Laurie Martella


 

 

Hunter and the Wild Girl

The Hunter and the Wild Girl by Pauline Holdstock

Goose Lane Editions

9780864928627  $32.95 HC

I enjoyed it very much. It’s a story of two society outcasts in rural 19th century France – a steward of a crumbling old estate and a feral girl (who’s something of legend in the neighbouring village). A terrible tragedy rips apart the stewards’ life and he’s holed up in exile in the estate working on taxidermy. The feral girl becomes a part of his life by accident, and they kind of help each other out and are companions of sorts. There are many other voices in the book – various characters that are connected to the two main characters, but it revolves around them. Compelling and tragic at the same time.

– Roberta Samec


 

secret music

A Secret Music by Susan Doherty Hannaford

Cormorant Books

9781770863675 $21.95 TP

 Everyone who’s read this book just loves it. The setting is Montreal in the 1930’s era.

Inner dreams, ambitions, secrets, Chopin and classical composers, loss, anger, acceptance, forgiveness, leaving home and growing up all weave through this compelling story of a brilliant young composer who is haunted by his family’s dark secrets and wrought with guilt for his own mistakes.

The story partly revolves around the mental illness of a central character, which adds to the mystique of deep dark family secrets. I’m not ready to leave Lawrence, and his story, but I know he will be okay. He has grown.

– Laurie Martella


Nightingale

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

St. Martin’s Press/Macmillan – distributed by Raincoast

9780312577223 $32.50 HC

I know why this is a NYTimes best seller. It’s an epic novel set during WWII in occupied France, following the experiences of two (quite different) sisters. Each made a difference to the lives of others and to the war while fighting for their survival despite what they had to endure. They survived these harrowing experiences of which there were so many.

The author paints a very vivid, descriptive, and gut wrenching narrative which made me feel gluttonous for devouring these gruesome bits for which I couldn’t get enough of because they are based on real history. I felt closer to the war, and the pain. The one factor that I appreciate about this novel, that may at times be overlooked, is the recognition of women’s courage in face of the war, and how women too became involved in the resistance. The Nightingale was a hero who worked underground with the guerrilla movement to aid the escape of many fallen American and British pilots from France and back to England where they could continue to fight. Danger is detailed throughout and many a scary turn did this novel take. There were many Nightingales and this was a story to recognize all.

 – Laurie Martella


The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler

St. Martin’s Press / Macmillan – distributed by Raincoast

9781250054807  $31.50 HC

book of speculation

Comparing this book to Night Circus is fair in that both books are centred around mystical circus people a century ago, through ancestral connections. The book is cursed. Black magic. It’s quirky too, as a librarian who happens upon this ancient book, a circus conductor’s show log, becomes obsessed with how the book is tied to his family – and how can he lift the curse.

– Laurie Martella


All Day Breakfast by Adam Lewis Schroeder

Douglas & MacIntyre

978-1771620642  $22.95 TP

All Day Breakfast

It was an interesting take on the zombie concept. Not horror per se, but more of a political thriller.
Slow to start but certainly built some momentum as the story went along. Equal parts comedy, action and drama All -Day Breakfast should entice most readers of science fiction and possibly horror genres.

– Adam Samec


Twisted by Lisa Harrington

Dancing Cat Books  / Cormorant

9781770864139 $14.95 TP

Twisted

This YA book had me enraptured from the very beginning. It’s a pyscho-thriller involving a twisted family plot, full of secrets, suspicions and a truth that you see coming but winds up to be way more twisted than you thought. It deals with the mental illness (eludes to schizophrenia) of the protagonist’s brother who has a warped and obsessive relationship that is revealed as the story grows and comes to a climatic crescendo that is so visual in your mind that you can picture watching it as a blockbuster teenage thriller flick. The writing is fast paced, and intense at times – so intense in fact that I couldn’t put it down, and had to get to the end even though it meant I didn’t get to sleep until 3 am. And how could I sleep after that rush?

It’s set in Halifax, and the author does an excellent job of depicting student life and the life of Haligoonians.

– Laurie Martella


The Whites by Richard Price

Henry Holt & Co/Macmillan – distributed by Raincoast

9780805093995  $32.95 HC

the whites

NYT bestseller #14  crime fiction – great stuff -compare to Lawrence Block

– Karen Stacey


Summer of the Dead by Julia Keller

Minotaur Publishing/ Macmillan – distributed by Raincoast

9781250044754  $18.50 TP

Summer of the Dead

The 4th in her Virginia small town mystery series- great characters. Lead is a female DA, single Mum  with a rebellious (and great) teenage daughter.

– Karen Stacey


Emberton by Peter Norman

D&M  – 9781553655541 – $19.95 TP 

emberton This is a fascinating book and a very engaging read. Emberton is the publisher of a very old and widely respected dictionary, from whose offices comes a strange postcard offering Lance Blunt a job. The trouble, or part of it, is that Lance has never been able to read. Indeed, no printed page is anything to Lance but a meaningless jumble of migraine-inducing gobbledegook. But he’s unemployed and a little bit curious and after a period of apprehensive hesitation, Lance presents himself at the reception desk of the Emberton Tower. Peter Norman has created a bizarre world of secrets and confusion, preposterous nonsense and perversely sinister motivations. It is shot through with a level of foreboding that Bram Stoker and Mary Shelley would be proud to have achieved, yet with a degree of absurdity that Samuel Beckett might eagerly embrace. If you can imagine an episode of The Office written by Hannibal Lector, based on deleted scenes from The Stepford Wives and Soylent Green, you’ll want to read this book just to see how that would play out.

– Neil MacRae


 

Malice  by Keigo Higashino

Minotaur Books  –  9781250035608  –  $26.99 HC  

Malice

Keigo Higashino is already among the most popular and critically acclaimed writers in Asia.  This is only the third of his many books to be translated into English.

Like many translated works of fiction, Malice is rich with unfamiliar cadences and unexpected perspectives that are intriguing in and of themselves.  But the story and characters Higashino presents are also captivating.

Malice is essentially a straight-up murder mystery:  a wealthy and successful Japanese novelist, about to move to Vancouver, is found strangled to death behind the locked office door in his all-but-empty house.  An author of children’s books, the friend and protégé of the murdered writer, quickly emerges as the prime suspect.  Their relationship is freighted with jealousies and betrayals in adult life, some dating from childhood.

Chapters trade back and forth between the suspect writer’s description of relationships and events and notes made by the investigating detective, whose examination of the crime is at first diverted and then spurred by his subject’s confession.  But how truthful, and how complete, is that confession?  As the detective observes, ordinarily the planning of a murder is directed at avoiding suspicion and capture.  But in this case, an admitted killer has gone to great lengths to twist the character of his victim and to create proofs of a false motive.  Not a whodunit but a “why’d he do it”, Higashino turns the mystery on its head.

– Neil MacRae


 

The M Word: Conversations about Motherhood

Kerry Clare (Author)  $22.95 PB
Gooselane Editions

M Word

This is a very timely book for me as I struggle with my interpretation of motherhood as a business owner and in the context of society at large. The greatest strength of this book is that the contributors are all writers – so every chapter is strong. I also appreciated that there were a few stories by women who chose not to be mothers. There’s even a comic strip!

– Roberta Samec


 

The Bone Orchard by Paul Doiron

Minotaur Books  –  9781250034885  –  $29.99 HC  

Bone Orchard

 

Beginning with his Edgar-nominated first novel, The Poacher’s Son, Paul Doiron has been steadily developing the character of Maine game warden Mike Bowditch and his own skills as a writer of crime fiction.  This is the fifth book in a series that started very well and has been steadily improving.

The editor of Down East magazine and a fishing guide in coastal northern Maine, Doiron knows his setting intimately and describes it with affection and precision.  His characters are expanding in fascinating ways as the series continues while the stories grow in depth and complexity with each new book.  This is the kind of series that can be joined anywhere, but having enjoyed one, readers will want to go back to the beginning and read them all in order, then re-read the one they started with and eagerly look forward to the next.

– Neil MacRae


 

Stars Between the Sun and Moon

Lucia Jang and Susan McClelland

D&M  – 9781771620352  –  $32.95 HC  

STars Moon and Sun

 

It is a rare 300-page memoir engaging enough to be read in a single sitting, but this is one.  With the collaboration of journalist Susan McClelland, Lucia Jang describes a life of poverty and deprivation in North Korea from the last years of rule by “the eternal leader” Kim Il Sung through the rise of Kim Jong-Il.  Her family are factory workers, established and employed, yet like most of the population they must struggle to survive on government rations and what little can be coaxed from a small garden allotment.

 

Lucia Jang’s story is not unfamiliar.  All too regularly we read of profiteers in misery and desperation, of human trafficking and sexual slavery, of totalitarian oppression and arbitrary imprisonment.   Jang describes all these circumstances with a kind of stoic acceptance that is altogether unusual.  Her struggles against abuse and injustice are very personal and immediate.  There is no great heroism here and no crusading for noble causes, there is only one woman’s stubborn will to survive and to protect those she loves.  It is, in its way, a stunning achievement to tell such a story without bitterness or outrage, without emphasizing villainy here or exaggerating nobility there.  Here is a simple and direct description of how things were and what happened.

From outside its borders, North Korea has long been regarded as a sinister and mysterious nation; binding its citizens in coils of ignorance, isolation, starvation and terror.  This book presents that world from the inside and from the ground.  It is noteworthy, and praiseworthy, that McClelland – twice awarded by Amnesty International for excellence in human-rights journalism – has made no obvious effort to influence or convince.  Jang makes no excuses and solicits no sympathy.  Readers’ reactions – horror, revulsion, empathy or outrage – will come from within themselves.

– Neil MacRae

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