Snappy Staff Reviews - March 27, 2012
Annotation:After a tsunami rages through their town in India, Ahalya and Sita are left orphans and homeless. Knowing no one else to turn to, they set out to find the convent in another town where they attend school. Along the way they are abducted and sold to the owner of a brothel in Mumbai. This is the start of their hellish descent into the horrors of human trafficking. While this is a dark topic, the author does a great job of keeping hope alive. A well written book, that's catalogued as a thriller but reads like fiction.
Annotation:American Dervish tells the story of Hayat, a young American boy caught between two perpetually quarrelling Pakistani parents - parents who left their homeland and the fundamentalist religious doctrines that ruled their communities and families. Hayat’s mother’s friend Mina, who escapes a troubled marriage along with her young son, arrives from Pakistan like a breath of fresh air. Mina introduces Hayat to the beauty of the Quran, and he becomes deeply influenced by their private readings and teaching sessions. When Mina begins to find her way in her adopted country, finding a job and developing relationships with men, Hayat’s feelings create a confusing storm of anger, resentment, and fervent adherence to the teachings of the Quran. These conflicting feelings lead him to make some devastating decisions dividing the very people he loves…including Mina. The voice of Hayat does not waver, the portraits of Muslim communities in America and the family dynamics all ring true. "What a pleasure to encounter a first novel as self-assured and effortlessly told as Ayad Akhtar's American Dervish." - The New York Times
Annotation:Vacationers have been coming to Badenheim in Austria every year for its pleasant air, charming atmosphere, and convivial social scene. In the summer of 1939 the city has taken on a darker mood. The “Sanitation Department” has been measuring rooms, promoting resettlement in Poland, and registering Jews. Increasingly cut off from the outside world, the visitors can do nothing but wait. If you are a fan of Katherine Anne Porter’s “Ship of Fools” or Ann Patchett’s “Bel Canto” you will enjoy this book.
Annotation:Twenty-four year old Laura, the narrator, looks back to 1998 the year she was fourteen. Lonely and struggling with the mental illness of her father, Laura becomes friends with a popular girl but manipulative girl, Chloe, who has an adult boyfriend, Carl. While out with Carl and Chloe, Laura has a chance encounter with a handicapped man which leads to a violent act that haunts Laura throughout her life. This is an edgy novel, often creepy, with lots of tension which explores themes of teens navigating in an adult world that is far from safe.
Annotation:Venezuelan novelist Barrera Tyszka’s thoughtful meditation on the nature of illness, is the 2006 winner of Spain’s Herralde Prize for fiction. The intertwined stories of two illnesses one psychosomatic and the other terminal challenge Andres Miranda’s conception of the role of the physician. This would be a great choice for a book club.
Annotation:When reading becomes the Queen’s life's focus and she gradually loses interest in her endless official duties, her court and government are sent reeling by this new royal practice. With this mistaken for the onset of senility,” plots are hatched by the prime minister and the queen’s staff to discourage the queen’s preoccupation with books. Lots of fun in the palace with the proper behavior and royal protocol. This satire will make you smile.
Annotation:The basic premise of BEAUTY QUEENS is simple: PLANE FULL OF BEAUTY QUEENS CRASHES ON A DESERT ISLAND! But in the hands of brilliant and possibly unhinged author Libba Bray, this setup is only the beginning. The teenage beauty pageant contestants have much more going on than the reader at first suspects. Just when you think you have each character pegged, Bray upends all expectations, with a large dash of slapstick humour and over-the-top social satire. Oh, and did I mention there are very attractive pirates? And an evil villain with a hidden underground lair and a death ray? Surreal and fast-moving, full of wit and cutting insight, BEAUTY QUEENS is the perfect antidote to tortured vampires and dark and brooding dystopias.
Annotation:The setting is Laos in the seventies after the communists have taken over. Hoping for a quiet retirement after serving the Party faithfully, seventy-two year old Siri Paiboun is instead appointed national coroner and must solve the murders of three Vietnamese nationals or risk an international incident. The involvement of the supernatural, the exotic setting, and Siri’s bonds with some interesting characters make for an enjoyable read. The first in a series.
Annotation:Chloe, a 39-year-old divorced mother and a lifelong member of the Jane Austen Society applies for what she thinks is a documentary set in Regency England only to learn once she is selected that it is in fact a reality TV dating show. A very funny look at all things Regency with a 21st century twist.
Annotation:An intimate look at pre-war 1939 Germany and a group of young black or “half blood” jazz musicians consumed by their music but buffeted by world events. The sounds of jazz, German boots on cobblestones, hunger, fear, love and jealousy come alive in this compelling second novel.
Annotation:The caller is a cold book, there’s not much hope in it. The author Karen Fossum takes us into the world of both victims and perpetrators which is unusual in crime fiction because the victims are generally silent for good reason. It is Fossum's way of examining the dark recesses of human behaviour that stand out in this book. Although there's nothing judgemental about the way that she does this, it's a matter of her drawing the picture, explaining the acts and describing the consequences, leaving the question of guilt or innocence, inexcusable acts and mitigating circumstances open to the reader to consider. This story is very much about consequences. The acts of one irresponsible, foolish young man who causes havoc with practical jokes that annoy, frighten and discomfort. As the level of concern grows, Inspector Sejer (say ear) does his best to find the perpetrator, even though the nature of the crime being committed as part of these jokes is sometimes obvious, sometimes a little obscure, The problem is that the perpetrator is clever, and very cool and collected, and you just know the outcomes are going to get worse
Annotation:If I tell you that THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is about Hazel and Gus, two teens who met in a cancer survivors’ support group, you might assume that it’s kind of a downer. And there are sad parts! I won’t lie about that. But if you’re looking for a sentimental tear-jerker, you’ve got the wrong book. John Green is known for novels featuring smart, quirky teens, snappy dialogue, and profound epiphanies about the Big Questions that sneak up on you amid all the sparking wit, and THE FAULT IN OUR STARS is no exception. I think it’s his best yet. It’s also great to read if you love • Sarcasm • Video games • Amsterdam • Love stories that are sweet without being sappy And/or • Reflections on the relationship between life and literature—like, what really does happen to the characters after the book ends? Hazel Grace Lancaster and Augustus Waters are two characters I loved getting know, and who I won’t forget in a hurry. I don’t think you will, either.
Annotation:When a neighbour's dog is mysteriously killed, Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old autistic savant decides to solve the crime in the spirit of his hero, Sherlock Holmes. Christopher's voice is clear and logical, his descriptions spare and to the point. What emerges is not only the solution to the mystery, but also insight into his world.
Annotation:Jim Harrison, fiction author, is perhaps best known for Legends of the Fall. The Great Leader is about a detective in northern Wisconsin who loves fishing and will retire soon after 40 years on the job but is haunted by his last case. A charismatic young man who runs a cult that needs pre-adolescent girls to maintain his strength and power. Even after retiring he follows the suspect down to Mexico, using the skills of his young next door neighbour, computer nerd. The characters are so human and believable. Action is quiet and plodding like life, but realistic.
Annotation:When literary critic Charles Sainte-Beuve begins an affair with Adele, the wife of his friend Victor Hugo, the scandal remains officially unacknowledged. The “unspoken” scandal complicates the lives of Charles and Adele over the course of several decades. An engaging novel of heightened sensibility for fans of literary historical fiction.
Annotation:Sophie, resigned to a boring life making hats, meets Howl, a young but powerful wizard with a terrible reputation for breaking hearts and ignoring his responsibilities. Diana Wynne Jones writes with humour and understanding as she creates appealing characters and unusual situations. She is my favourite writer.
Annotation:Sometimes procrastination is a good thing. While trying to complete a screenplay, Miranda July distracted herself with the local Pennysaver. She became fascinated by the ads and wondered who these people were. July set up interviews with a number of the individuals and soon, their lives began to inform the script she was writing. One individual even had a small part in the completed film – The Future. This is a must read for fans of Bill Richardson and Veda Hille’s A Craigslist Cantata.
Annotation:In until thy wrath be past, it is a dead person who observes events until she can finally rest. Because a dead person is speaking to the reader, we know more than the police about what really happened, or at least some of the story. For the police a cold case of 2 missing teens is revived when the body of a young woman in a diving suit surfaces in the River Thorne in the far north of Sweden.at the first thaw of spring. The same night Prosecutor and main character Rebecka Martinsson has her sleep disturbed by haunting visions of a shadowy, accusing figure. Could the body belong to the ghost in her dreams? And where is the dead girl's boyfriend, also reported as missing the previous winter?, Rebecka is drawn into the investigation that centres on old rumours about a plane carrying supplies for German troops in 1943 that never arrived. Sweden’s early collaboration with the Nazis is still a raw wound, so shame and secrecy shroud the locals' memories of the war. On the desolate shore of a frozen lake lurks a killer who will kill again to keep the past buried for ever beneath half a century's silent ice and snow. The author weaves together witness accounts and secrets from the past in juxtaposition with the present, in particular depicting a pair of DERANGED brothers with deceptive cleverness and this is where the quotation used in the title comes into play.
Annotation:An auto-biography of his life growing up, his career choices and those he's met along the way. He shares unforgettable stories including his wild excesses of the eighties to his quest for sobriety and a family. Written in the same style as you would retell your own stories, it is not malicious or full of trashy gossip. An excellent, easy and interesting read about one of Hollywood's top stars.
Annotation:The setting of this book is beyond the Arctic Circle to Inuit (in yoo eet) territory. McGrath makes the most of every sensory extreme. The cold seems to leak from the page, leaving you chilled, both by its suspenseful plot and by the epic descriptions of this vast white landscape. Then there are the people, the main character Edie, an experienced tracker and guide struggles with alcoholism, has a difficult relationship with her ex and is determined to show the domineering men of the community that she can guide and track as well as any man. All these issues make Edie a deeply empathetic personality. She's a tough cookie: she fights her way through the ice-fields with a tenacity that southern readers everywhere will relish. Her ingenious and original character is backed up by a cast of crazy scientists, corrupt officials, placid policemen, Russian oil men and locals lost in “a fog of drink, boredom, unwanted pregnancies, low expectations and educational underachievement”. But the most addictive character – both hero and villain of the piece – is the Arctic itself. The DESOLATE Landscape makes a seductive location for a thriller, a land of wonder and terror shut in darkness for months of the year, a place in which temperatures rarely rise above freezing and, in winter, regularly fall below -40ºC.
Annotation:Two cities exist on Europe's eastern edge, not adjacent to one another, but by literally occupying the same area. Forbidden to acknowledge the existence of one another, the residents in both cities have honed the ability to "unsee" people, places, and events existing in the other realm. Against this backdrop, Inspector Borlu, of the Extreme Crime Squad, investigates the death of an archaeology student. This is a gritty, intricate and paranoid blend of fantasy, science fiction, and crime noir.
Annotation:Jean-Baptiste Baratte, a young engineer from Normandy, is charged by Louis XVI’s minister with the exhumation of the overflowing cemetery of Les Innocents, or Cimetière des Innocents. Les Innocents was the oldest and largest cemetery in the Paris located at its very heart. The cemetery, first established in the Middle Ages, was often used for mass graves. By the 1780’s, the cemetery was contaminating the surrounding air and water because of overuse and climatic conditions. Baratte, who sees himself as an educated man of reason, perceives the work as a chance to release the encumbrances of the past and make way for a new France. Little does he know the impact the work of removing bodies from the cemetery will have on his own life, the neighbouring inhabitants, the men charged with removing the bodies, and ultimately France itself. The book pulls the reader in with fully-drawn characters, vivid imagery, and a richly imagined pre-revolutionary Paris. Pure was the recipient of the 2011 Costa Book of the Year Award.
Annotation:Review by Clementine Bojangles of the blog Early Nerd Special: Over the course of four summers at his family’s beach house, Chase McGill grows up. He falls in love, discovers sex and lust, and watches as his family changes and evolves in front of his eyes. He and his siblings mark their lives by their summers, but as they grow up, their relationship to the beach house and to each other begins to change. Hannah Moskowitz is still in college, and this is her second novel. There’s no doubt that she’s a talented writer. The story she’s crafted here is a dark, complex, layered look at the slow disintegration of a family and what happens as a result. Full of prose that is at times sparse and very often beautiful, this is a novel that is meant to be read slowly and savored.
Annotation:The Buddha in the Attic tells the story of a group of young women brought over from Japan to San Francisco as ‘picture brides’ in the early part of the 20th century. During this period, Japanese immigrant workers along the West Coast would hire a matchmaker to find them a bride from their home country using photographs, and recommendations from family members. The Buddha in the Attic follows the remarkable lives of these young women, from the difficult journey over the Pacific exchanging photographs of their yet unknown husbands and imagining a future in a mysterious new land. Told in the collective “we”, the women arrive in San Francisco and experience their first nights as new wives. They struggle to adapt to a new language and alien culture while engaged in the arduous labour of fruit-picking and working as domestics. As their families and community grows, they find themselves raising children who fully embrace the American ideal rejecting any notion of their Japanese heritage. A lyrical work of fiction, that pays tribute in the most beautiful way. “Otsuka combines the tragic power of a Greek chorus with the intimacy of a confession…An understated masterpiece…[that] seems destined to endure.”– San Francisco Chronicle The Buddha in the Attic was the recipient of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction.
Annotation:This retelling of the Arthurian Legend is grounded, gritty and shocking. Philip Reeve’s fresh and very believable view of Arthur as an ambitious violent lout and Merlin as his subtle and unscrupulous spin doctor is intellectually stimulating and entertaining. A great story well told
Annotation:It’s New Year’s Eve and Micayla is alone house–sitting an empty mansion for her Uncle Nicco when she hears clinking on the first floor. Her cop instincts kick in and with nothing but her PJ’s and gun she heads downstairs to investigate. She soon finds herself stumbling into a heist, and things quickly go from bad to worse when she accidently sees some incriminating photos of her uncle which implicate him in a murder…torn between her duty as a cop and her knowledge of the consequences to having seen the pictures she finds herself fleeing with the intruder. Soon passions ignite but can these two unlikely partners in crime ever find love?
Annotation:"Journalist and essayist Wade Rouse writes about family life and holiday celebrations in this uproariously funny and often poignant memoir. From his experiences as a closeted frat boy at Mardi Gras in New Orleans to his first Thanksgiving with his inlaws, Wade shows us that “Family is the gift that keeps on giving, no matter how much we wish they would stop.” "
Annotation:Althought Vargas, a French female anthropologist is known primarily for her Detective Adamsberg mysteries, this book is a part of a trilogy of three unemployed history graduate students who end up sharing a derelict home in Paris. Marc, Luc and Mathias become named the three evangelists by Marc’s uncle Vandoosler, a retired detective. When a tree suddenly appears in a neighbours back yard, and then the neighbour disappears, this strange band of men must search for the killer. Vargas has quirky characters, great sense of location and a suspenseful plot.
Annotation:"Picture a teenager with highly developed survival skills, a flexible idea of truth, a contempt for altruism and a sarcastic sense of humour. Now see an alien warrior with an inflexible code of honour and no sense of humour. Now imagine them inextricably bound together on a quest of vengeance. Funny, tense and engrossing. "
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Welcome to Vancouver Public Library's fourth installment of our lively Snappy Staff Reviews. A panel of staff members present a selection of their favourite books in a beat-the-clock, timed presentation.