Friday, December 26, 2008

The Lump of Coal

by Lemony Snicket
HarperCollins, 2008

A thinking, talking, moving lump of coal dreams of becoming an artist, or at least proving useful in a barbecue. Rejected first by a snooty art gallery owner, then by the owner of an inauthentic Korean restaurant, the lump of coal despairs of ever finding success. Will his encounter with one of Santa's helpers bring about his very own Christmas miracle? Read the book yourself to discover its satisfying conclusion.

Told in a style similar to Snicket's engaging Series of Unfortunate Events.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

The Angel of Bastogne

by Gilbert Morris
Broadman & Holman, 2005

Ben Raines is a seasoned hard-nosed reporter who needs a vacation. His plans to spend Christmas, a holiday he spurns, is thwarted when his editor assigns him the task of writing the newspaper's annual front-page Christmas article.

Ben decides to do an anti-It's a Wonderful Life tale by finding the men who served in his father's unit during the Second World War. Willy Raines was wounded while saving the lives of his fellow soldiers and Ben wants to show that their lives were not worth saving, that one person's actions don't make a difference.

Of course, Ben finds something entirely different as he goes on his journey of discovery. And in doing so, he finds new hope, direction, and fulfillment in living.

An emotionally satisfying story in the tradition of It's A Wonderful Life and Skipping Christmas (by Grisham).

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Latke Who Couldn't Stop Screaming: a Christmas story

by Lemony Snicket
McSweeney's Books, 2007

A Christmas book by Lemony Snicket, author of the Series of Unfortunate Events?! Yes, indeed. Sort of.

A runaway latke has to explain his role in Hanukah to different Christmas symbols he meets along his way.

Informative and humorous, with simple but clever illustrations.

Friday, December 12, 2008

What Child is This?: A Christmas Story

by Caroline B. Cooney
Delacourte Press, 1997

Liz's family celebrates Christmas in a big way, but Liz still feels she's missing something. Matt and Katie are foster kids shuffled from home to home, never sure where they'll be spending the next holiday. Liz and Matt both envy Tack's family, who run the River Wind Inn and seem to have it all together.

When Matt and Katie's social worker gives them a chance to make a Christmas wish, Katie wishes for a family. But Pollard won't allow her wish to be printed and hung on a tree. After all, "Christmas is about little things" and no one is going to give her a family for Christmas. Matt knows this is true, but he still thinks Katie's wish deserves to be posted, so he prints it off and hangs it on the wish tree at River Wind Inn.

When Katie's wish is taken from the tree, each learns what Christmas is truly all about.

A satisfying story that will touch your heart (if you have one!).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

A Highland Christmas

A Hamish Macbeth Mystery
by M.C. Beaton
Warner Books, 1999

Christmas in Locdubh, Scotland, promises to be a dismal affair, with the Calvinist element firmly against any secular display. And Constable Hamish Macbeth's hands are full with a frightened old woman whose cat has gone missing, a forlorn little girl in need of friends, and the mysterious theft of some holiday goods. Can he make everything right by Christmas Day?

Beaton is a wonderful author who creates memorable characters, and Macbeth is a hilarious protagonist. If reading this doesn't fill you with Christmas cheer, nothing will!

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Family Blessings

by Fern Michaels,
Pocket Books, 2005

At this time of year, I do like a good Christmas read. This story starts in late November and carries the reader through the Christmas season.

A freak tornado sweeps through Larkspur, Pennsylvania and lifts Cisco's house from its foundations just before Thanksgiving. As if that's not bad enough, her beloved triplet grandchildren, all newlyweds, seem to be having marital problems. Secrets and lack of communication are at the heart of it all. Will the couples get their priorities straight and their marriages back on track, or are three divorces in the offing?

This ought to lighten your Christmas stress. But someone should have told the author not to create characters whose names start with similar sounds - I mean Cisco, Sam, Sonia, Sara, Zach, and (Father) Stanley? A bit much, don't you think?!

You might want to try Michaels' No Place Like Home first. It is her previous Christmas novel, in which these characters are introduced.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Librarian's Night Before Christmas

a picture book
by David Davis
Illustrated by Jim Harris,
Pelican Publishing, 2006

Love the premise, but very hit and miss in terms of how well the concepts are presented in rhyme.
  • example of a hit: "He was bearded and gabbed like a good storyteller/ And he grinned like a writer with a New York bestseller."
  • example of a miss: "Santa charged through the door, and his black knee boots shone/ He bowed as he asked, "Need interlibrary loans?"

Borrow it from the library (like I did) if you want to, but don't bother making it a purchase. Not even for your favourite librarian or library worker. (I'm a librarian, but could care less if this made it onto my personal bookshelf.)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Could it Be Forever?

My Story
by David Cassidy
Headline Publishing Group, 2007

No one who grew up in the 1970s can forget The Partridge Family or its hunky lead actor, David Cassidy. It's telling, though, that this book was published in the UK, where David's star often shone brighter than it did in North America.

When I heard that David was coming to Centre-in-the-Square this coming February, I thought it would be cool to go and see him. A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so to speak. And when I saw that he'd written this book, I thought it might prove an interesting read.

And so it is. The book covers his life pretty much from birth to the present, and in my opinion his stated purpose of allowing the reader to discover the "real" David Cassidy is achieved. In addition to his own words, the book is interspersed with the words of his family and close friends, who provide the perspective of more objective observers.

If you want an inside look into the life of a superstar, one who, at his peak, was even bigger than Elvis or the Beatles, read this book. It is definitely an eye-opener.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Another Season

A Coach's Story of Raising an Exceptional Son
by Gene Stallings and Sally Cook
Little, Brown & Company, 1997

Gene Stallings always dreamed of having a son, a strapping boy who would grow up to play football, the sport he loved. On June 11, 1962 it appeared his dream had come true. That illusion was shattered within hours when he and his wife, Ruth Ann, learned that Johnny had Down syndrome. Later it was also found that he had a major heart defect.

This book describes how the Stallings dealt with these blows. Advised to institutionalize their son, they instead chose to love and embrace him, and to raise him at home. It was sometimes a challenge, but Johnny also contributed so much to their lives and, later, to the lives of others. A vital member of whatever football team Gene was coaching, Johnny helped everyone he came in contact with to develop their compassion muscles, while his parents raised public awareness of Down syndrome and other disabilities.

Johnny died this summer at the age of 46, and as I read this book, I was amazed at the positive influence he had and how many lives he touched. It made me wonder if I will touch half as many in my lifetime, and yet I would be the one to appear more richly blessed.

Lessons I Learned in the Dark

Steps to Walking by Faith, Not By Sight
by Jennifer Rothschild
Multnomah, 2002

Jennifer Rotschild sees spiritual things more clearly than most people. Perhaps that is because she is physically blind. It wasn't always so; her sight began to fade as a middle-school student and she was declared legally blind at the age of 15.

In Lessons I Learned in the Dark, Jennifer shares the story of what it was like to go from being a sighted person to someone dependent on others, on a cane, and on other sensory cues. She also draws parallels between coping with physical blindness and approaching life with faith. Some of the lessons are: take the first step; fall down - get up; and laugh at yourself.

Today Jennifer is a highly sought-after public speaker, musician and song-writer, as well as a wife and the mother of two boys. Her story is one of encouragement and inspiration and its message is for anyone.

She has written a companion book, Lessons I Learned in the Light: All You Need to Thrive in a Dark World and another entitled Fingerprints of God: Recognizing God's Touch on Your Life.

Monday, October 27, 2008

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

by Stephen King
Pocket Books, 2000

The New York Times bestseller, this book is truly both a memoir and a how-to for writers. The middle section, "What Writing Is", is about 150 pages of pithy advice that can benefit writers of any genre. This is bookended by a series of forewords and instructive autobiographical material that help the reader understand King's attraction to the horrific.

A fascinating read, I have already begun to apply some of the tips provided, including the admonition to "kill your darlings". Not to worry, this merely means getting rid of anything that doesn't move the story forward. Having just killed 913 words of my latest piece, I can tell you that a lot of chopping is easily done.

A great Christmas gift for the writer in your life, even if she wouldn't typically read Stephen King.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Some Writers Deserve to Starve!

by Elaura Niles
Writer's Digest Books, 2005

Subtitled 31 Brutal Truths about the Publishing Industry, this book delivers just that - the brutal truths. As someone who's been shopping her work for the last few years (primarily children's picture books at this point), I know how difficult it is to break into the market. And even though "many of us won't make it" (Truth #31) and "sometimes the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow doesn't hold much gold" (Truth #10), I hope that the tips in this book will bring me closer to publication.

Samples of other truths: "a rose by any other name...doesn't sell" (#5), "many writers are working in the stone age" (#21), and "consults are not an Olympic sport". For more detail, seek out your own copy of this book.

I borrowed a copy from my local library, but if anybody's listening, this would make a great Christmas present!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Mistaken Identity:Two Families, One Survivor, Unwavering Hope

by Don and Susie Van Ryn,
Newell, Colleen & Whitney Cerak,
with Mark Tabb
Howard Books, 2008

Don and Susie Van Ryn had a 21-year-old daughter, Laura. Blonde, blue-eyed, athletic, and on fire for God.

Newell & Colleen Cerak had an 18-year-old daughter, Whitney. Also blonde, blue-eyed, athletic, and with a zest for God.

April 26, 2006. Both girls are travelling in a van back to Taylor University after a banquet. A tractor trailer driver falls asleep. His truck swerves across the centre line and strikes the van. Five people are killed instantly, one person is thrown 50 feet from the vehicle, but survives. She is identified as Laura Van Ryn.

Don, Susie, and their other children arrive at the hospital in Fort Wayne as quickly as possible. They spend five weeks at Laura's side, making decisions for her care and tending to her needs. But at the end of that time, they suspect that it is not Laura they are caring for.

This book tells the story of the Van Ryn and Cerak families, whose lives are inextricably woven together through this shocking case of mistaken identity. But mainly it is the story of their faith in Jesus Christ, a faith that enabled them to cope with unthinkable circumstances and to continue in love and hope.

Monday, October 6, 2008

A New Kind of Normal

Hope-filled Choices When Life Turns Upside Down
by Carol Kent
Thomas Nelson, 2007

Carol Kent continues the story she began with When I Lay My Isaac Down. Her new normal involves weekly visits behind a prison wire as she visits her son, incarcerated for life without any chance of parole for the killing of his wife's ex-husband.

With this book she outlines the huge adjustments she and her husband have had to make, both in terms of their way of life and where they live it, and in terms of their dreams and hopes for their son's future. In spite of an unthinkable situation and the shedding of copious tears, she and Gene have determined to live lives of hope that will honour and glorify God. They trade ashes for beauty, and use their circumstance to reach out to others who are suffering and in need of hope.

Carol uses the story of Jesus's mother, Mary, as a template for the person whose life has turned upside down and as an example for how those who hurt can choose to live within the constraints of their new normal. At the end of each chapter are questions to help the reader think through his own experience for answers that will help him.

This book is a must-read for those whose life situations have left them discouraged and despondent. Buy it for yourself or for someone you love.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Touching Spirit Bear

by Ben Mikaelsen
HarperTeen, 2005

I like to keep on top of what my kids are reading in school, so when I found out my daughter's grade 8 class was reading this together, I decided to pick up my own copy.

Cole Matthews is a young offender on the verge of being convicted of a violent assault against a classmate. Faced with the choice of going to jail or taking part in traditional native Circle Justice, Cole chooses the latter. He figures he'll play along and outsmart those who are trying to "help" him. He believes they don't really care.

Banished to an island off the coast of Alaska, things don't go quite as Cole planned. A failed escape attempt, followed by his near-fatal mauling by a bear, lead to the beginnings of a changed outlook. Cole's anger does not immediately subside, but over a period of time he learns the lessons he needs to know in order to choose a different future for himself.

As far as the native elements are concerned, a review by Beverly Slapin (click here) concludes that Touching Spirit Bear is "a terrible book". While I didn't always find Cole, or the situations he was in, to be credible, I did find it a mostly enjoyable read.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Death in the Air

by Shane Peacock (Canadian author alert!)
Random House, 2008

When Monsieur Mercure, the famous trapeze artist, falls from a great height to crash at Sherlock's feet, the boy is drawn into his second case. A close look at the bar the man had been gripping proves it was no accident.

As Sherlock investigates, it becomes clear that there are three prime suspects, and at least one person knows something that they're withholding. When Sherlock learns that a large sum of money has also been stolen from the entertainment venue, he knows instinctively that the two incidents are linked. But how?

As the case unfolds, the danger to Sherlock increases. Will he solve the crime before Scotland Yard pieces it together? Will he receive the reward and recognition he deserves? Will he even live to tell the tale...?! If you want the answers to these questions, you'll have to read the book.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

What's Possible!

50 true stories of people who dared to dream they could make a difference
by Daryn Kagan
Meredith Books, 2008

I love reading inspirational stories, so to find a book packed with 50 of them was fantastic. Each story tells of how the individual discovered his or her passion and followed through on it. The choices made were not necessarily lucrative, but certainly the people involved found more fulfillment in living out their dreams and in helping others than in any kind of 9-5 or higher-prestige endeavour.

Reading this book excited me and encouraged me to keep pursuing my own dreams and to keep thinking of creative ways to make a difference in the world.

Check out for more uplifting stories.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Eye of the Crow

by Shane Peacock (Canadian author alert!)
Tundra Books, 2007

The first in a new series called the Boy Sherlock Holmes.

Sherlock Holmes is a 13 year old boy. He's not too interested in school, though it's not due to a lack of intelligence. There are just too many people problems there. He'd rather be out in London, reading the Illustrated Police News, and knowing what's going on in the world.

Sherlock's parents married for love, and life has not been easy, but they are intelligent individuals who have instilled a love of learning and observing in their offspring. When a woman is murdered and a suspect jailed, Sherlock is drawn into the case. The picture of the woman in the newspaper looks remarkably like a young version of his mother, and when Sherlock goes to the Bow Street Jail to see the suspect admitted, the accused makes eye contact with him and insists that he did not commit the crime. The police witness the communication and assume that Sherlock must somehow be an accessory, and the boy must prove his own and the other's innocence.

Lots of action, great historical and setting detail; cliffhangers at the conclusion of every chapter. Makes for a wonderful read-aloud. Highly recommended for boys and mystery lovers of all ages.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Catering to Nobody

by Dianne Mott Davidson
Bantam, 2002

Goldy Bear, owner/operator of Goldilocks Catering (where everything is "just right"!), is in a pickle. The local constabulary has closed down her business until they feel satisfied that she had nothing to do with the poisoning of a funeral attendee (her former father-in-law, no less) at an event she catered. A single mom, whose wealthy ex is less than reliable at making child support payments, Goldy depends on her business to pay the bills.

Fortunately for Goldy, the lead investigator on the case, Tom Schultz, takes a fancy to her despite her strong-willed ways, and invites her to participate in finding clues. Her livelihood on the line, Goldy takes the job seriously. What, if anything, connects the death of her child's former teacher, the poisoning of her father-in-law, her new tenant/assistant's changed behaviour, and her son's fascination with Dungeons and Dragons? The results may surprise you.

I liked this better than Crime Brulee, but not as well as the Hannah Swensen or Agatha Raisin mysteries. I do, however, look forward to reading the next in the series while I wait for new HS and AR books to appear.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Quiet Please

Dispatches from a Public Librarian
by Scott Douglas
Da Capo Press, 2008

Scott Douglas is a librarian somewhere in California's Anaheim Public Library system. He is young, not too hip, and not completely sure of his career choice.

Many years ago when I and a friend were lowly pages in the Toronto Public Library system, we talked about all the stories we could write about life in the library. Today as a librarian and budding author, I am always interested in reading about the library experiences of others. I picked this book up expecting to read funny stories; what I got was much more.

Scott admits that many of his stories are exaggerated to increase the humour factor; he has also changed the names of his "characters" and created amalgams of others. Still, I recognize many of the people from libraries I have worked in, and I'm sure other librarian-types will too. I am just concerned about what our patrons will think of us if they read this book! They may never look at us in in quite the same way again. We seem so unassuming.

I didn't expect insights along with the funny stories, but Scott's insights are what really make the book. As he relates his tales, he thinks about what they mean for himself, his coworkers, the patrons, and the future of libraries. In spite of his uncertainty, he comes to the conclusion that libraries have a function and place in our society, and he will be a part of keeping libraries relevant and attuned to the communities they serve.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

When I Lay My Isaac Down

Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances
By Carol Kent
NavPress, 2004

In 1999 Carol Kent's world came crashing down. Her son, J.P. - her only child, and a naval officer with a promising future - shot and killed his wife's ex-husband. With plenty of witnesses and his capture a short distance away from the scene of the crime, J.P. was immediately arrested and jailed. This book tells the story of how Carol and her husband, Gene, were able to come to terms with this tragedy and of how their relationship with God was not terminated, but deepened and strengthened.

The Kents were blessed to have an incredible support system that carried them through J.P.'s imprisonment, hearings, and trials, and that continues to lighten their burden now that he has been sentenced to life in prison without parole. Even in this dark outcome, they have found meaning and purpose to their lives.

Carol uses her family's story to encourage others who may be going through their own unthinkable situations. Each chapter concludes with questions to help the reader discover God's power in whatever circumstances s/he may be facing. Though Carol continues to have her own difficult days, her faith remains unshakable and yours can too.

I look forward to reading the follow-up book, A New Kind of Normal.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Just Ask Mom

Everything She Told You When You Weren't Listening is in This Book
by Nancy Malone
CPO Publishing, 2008

Okay, I'd admit it - I didn't listen very closely to my mom when I was growing up. I usually had my nose in a good book. And that's what Just Ask Mom is - a good book.

Desperate for answers to your troubling laundry questions? They're here. Don't know how to manage your money? Look no further. Not a whiz in the kitchen? Nancy tells you how to become one. There are chapters on everything you need to know to run your home and life successfully.

Full of pithy Momsense, this book is a great gift for college students living away from home for the first time, for newlywed couples, and for anyone who didn't listen to their mom when they should have been paying attention.

I borrowed it from the library first, but now I'm going to buy my own copy.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Through the Valley of the Kwai

From Death-camp Despair to Spiritual Triumph
by Ernest Gordon
Harper, 1962

The book's cover is uninspiring and belies the story within its pages. I hadn't thought I would be so captivated by a World War II account, but the subtitle intrigued me, and I was not disappointed. Indeed, I could hardly set the book down.

At one time, Ernest Gordon had considered being a missionary, but he had turned his back on his faith by the time of the war. Captured by the Japanese in 1942, he joined POWs in camps in Changi, Chungkai, Kanburi, and Nakawm Paton. There he experienced all that a POW could experience - starvation, disease, physical and verbal abuse. The Japanese were creative in the tortures they devised. Gordon was also involved in the building of the bridge over the River Kwai.

A resident of the Death House for a period, Gordon was not expected to live, but the kindness of Christian, "Dusty" Miller, and another friend, Catholic "Dinty" Moore, Gordon survived malaria, diphtheria, and a host of other ailments. When he was released to a small shack his friends had built him within the camp, Gordon was invited to teach other prisoners about God. He didn't know much himself, but armed with a Bible, Gordon read it cover to cover, and discovered that Jesus was a man the prisoners could relate to, believe in, and trust. As a result of what they learned, the camp was transformed. POWs who had treated each other in the manner of animals, now showed loving-kindness, compassion, and caring.

I won't spoil the story by going into any more detail. Read it for yourself; it's a fascinating story!

Monday, July 7, 2008

Crime Brulee

a Culinary Mystery with Recipes
by Nancy Fairbanks,
Wheeler, 2001

Carolyn Blue, food writer, is on assignment in New Orleans. Her husband and several of their friends are there as well for a meeting of the American Chemical Society - a great opportunity to mix business with pleasure. But when Carolyn's best friend, Julienne, disappears from the first dinner gathering after a nasty spat with her husband, Nils, Carolyn is the only one to suspect that something sinister has happened. When no one else (including the police) seems interested in actively looking for Julienne, Carolyn takes on the task herself.

Midway through our heroine's harrowing search, I was pretty sure I knew which of three possible culprits had committed the dirty deed, and the conclusion of the book confirmed my suspicions. Still, this was a good read, with enough twists and turns to keep the reader guessing. The reader also gets a vivid tour of New Orleans and a strong sense of its inhabitants.

Several of the mystery series I read have comical or humorous elements; I wouldn't include this series among them.

The Missing Girl

by Norma Fox Mazer
Harper Teen, 2008

A psychological thriller, this book should definitely give the reader the creeps. Five sisters are circumspectly watched by a man who has worked hard to maintain a life of anonymity. We get into the minds of each of the girls, as well as the mind of the predator. What happens when he abducts one of them will change their lives forever.

Mazer's writing style exactly captures the thought lives of each of the characters. She creates a vivid story that teen readers will not soon forget.

Thursday, July 3, 2008

90 Minutes in Heaven

a True Story of Death and Life
by Don Piper with Cecil Murphey
Fleming H. Revell, 2004

A New York Times Bestseller, I was looking forward to reading this book, which had been recommended to me by a friend. It tells the story of a pastor who was in a serious (even fatal) car accident, died, went to heaven, and returned to earth 90 minutes later. Not only is it miraculous that he came back to life, but that he survived the multiple surgeries and pain that followed.

I had expected the book to deal largely with the 90 minutes Don Piper spent in heaven, as per the title. Instead, there are a couple of chapters on his time there, and the bulk of the book is devoted to the details of his accident, his time in hospital and recovery, and how his experience changed his life and allowed him to touch the lives of other people as well. I did find parts of the story touching, and I don't doubt its credibility, but I do wish he'd gone into more detail about what heaven is actually like. Of course, those who have come near death, are in hospital, and/or are in serious pain, may find that the book meets their needs entirely.

Cec Murphey, who is the book's real writer, did a better job with Franklin Graham's Rebel with a Cause. Here there is far too much repetition, and it strikes the reader as amateurish.

Perhaps we get more of what we're after in the companion volume, Heaven is Real: Lessons on Earthly Joy - from the Man who Spent 90 Minutes in Heaven. If I read it, I'll let you know.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Room of Marvels

by James Bryan Smith
Broadman & Holman Press, 2007

A huge Rich Mullins fan, I stumbled across this book when I was looking for books about this well-known and well-loved musician, who was taken from us all too soon.

In Room of Marvels, Christian writer Tim Hudson has suffered a series of devastating losses and is on the verge of losing his faith. Advised by his pastor to go on a silent retreat, he visits a monastery where he experiences a vision of heaven that transforms and renews his spirit. In heaven, Tim meets people he's influenced in his life and who have influenced him. These meetings help him understand that love is not just important, it's the only reason for living. He also comes to accept the truth that we live on an eternal plain, that death is not the end and is not something to be feared.

While I'm not 100% sure of the theology in spots, the book sends an important message to believers, and has brought comfort to countless readers. It is semi-autobiographical and helped the author to recover from his own grief as well. I was moved by the fictional account and by the true story behind it.

Monday, June 23, 2008

The Last To Die

Ronald Turpin, Arthur Lucas, and the End of Capital Punishment in Canada
by Robert J. Hoshowsky
Dundurn Press, 2007

Written by one of my former high school classmates, this book was nominated for the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award in the Best True Crime category this year. It lost out to Julian Sher's book, One Child at a Time: The Global Fight to Rescue Children from Online Predators, but there is no shame in that - Sher is a well-known Canadian writer, with several true crime titles under his belt. Though widely published in magazines and newspapers, this is Hoshowsky's first book, but undoubtedly not his last.

Accused of killing a Toronto police officer, Ronald Turpin was a small time hood not given to violence or the use of guns. There is no doubt cast on his guilt - he was caught trying to escape the scene of the crime - but there are questions about what exactly transpired between the two men and whether Turpin might have been convicted of a lesser crime that spared him the noose.

The conviction of Arthur Lucas, for the murder of a pimp and his prostitute, is even more questionable. All of the evidence against him was circumstantial, and while he was found to have a very low IQ, the crime had all the marks of a professional assassination, performed by someone more capable than he of carrying out a methodical, planned execution.

Hoshowsky has done an admirable job of scouring primary and secondary materials, interviewing along the way a number of people connected with the two cases. He paints a vivid picture of both men and the crimes they are alleged to have committed. We never really know where Hoshowsky stands on the issue of capital punishment, but even the reader most compelled towards the death penalty must find some sympathy for Turpin and Lucas, who had the worst of beginnings in life and then made the worst of choices.

Occasionally repetitive, I was nonetheless impressed with the work, which taught me much that I hadn't previously known about capital punishment in Canada - particularly with respect to the last two hangings, which took place on December 11, 1962. I was also impressed by the fact that the foreword was written by Peter C. Newman. Way to go, Robert!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sisterchicks Go Brit!

by Robin Jones Gunn,
Multnomah Books, 2008

Book 7 in the Sisterchicks series. Not necessary to read in order. A way to travel inexpensively and vicariously through the lives of the characters. Light reads that albeit give the reader something to think about.

For some reason, I didn't get into this book as easily as I did the others. The rhythm wasn't there or I just couldn't get the hang of the dance - although the pace did pick up around chapter 19.

Liz and Kellie are BFF (Sisterchicks) with dreams. Liz has always wanted to go to England, and Kellie has desired a career in interior decorating. An unexpected opportunity to travel to Britain brings these longings together.

As ever, the book left me longing for a true sisterchick with whom to share life's experiences.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Before Green Gables

by Budge Wilson,
Penguin Canada, 2008

I stumbled across this book, the prequel to L.M. Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables series, and am so glad I did! This year marks the 100th Anniversary since Montgomery's publication of Anne, and Before Green Gables is both a wonderful tribute to the originator, and a marvellous addition to the collection.

Wilson begins the story in Nova Scotia with Anne's loving parents, Bertha and Walter Shirley, and takes us through their deaths into Anne's life with the Thomas family, the Hammonds, and the orphanage, where Mrs. Spencer comes from PEI and chooses Anne for Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert. We recognize all the names from Montgomery's Anne books, and meet some new characters along the way. Wilson has clearly done a careful reading of Montgomery's work and captured her voice and Anne's character exceedingly well.

The story is by turns sad, hilarious, and hopeful. The characters are complex and real. I advise you to get out your hanky!

If you loved the Anne you knew before, you will love her even more after reading this book. I plan to purchase my own copy to complete my collection of the series.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Grace Will Lead Me Home

by Robin Givens,
Miramax, 2007

Most of us know Givens as an actor and as the former wife of boxer, Mike Tyson. It was a marriage that we could have predicted would fail. So when I saw this book on the shelf of my local library, I was intrigued by its title, which hints at the author's spiritual journey.

The story is fascinating. Givens' grandmother and mother were both victims of spousal abuse and left their husbands. While Robin's mother, Ruth, did an excellent job of raising Robin and her sister on her own, the absence of a father left a huge hole in Robin's heart. Furthermore, she felt very much under her mother's thumb during the early years. As a young adult, Givens defied her mother by pursuing an acting career, and rebelled again in marrying Tyson. The union nearly destroyed her and it was not until long after she left Mike that she finally found the wholeness she was searching for in a connection with Heavenly Father.

Women who are in abusive relationships (or have been), or who have experienced fatherlessness will find much to connect with in this book. I had a hard time putting it down. The author relates the facts while remaining gracious to, and forgiving of, her former husband.

My only disappointment is that Givens stops short of filling in some important gaps for the reader. The only post-Tyson relationship she reports on is one she had with Brad Pitt, but she had two sons by other men after her first marriage dissolved. I am sure that the choices she made after leaving Tyson also played a part in her journey "home".

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Foul Deeds

by Linda Moore
Vagrant Press, 2007

Rosalind works as a researcher for a private investigator named McBride. She also has a sideline as a script analyst for a production of Shakespeare's Hamlet. In the process of investigating an apparent heart attack that may have been murder, art and life are found to mirror each other.

A director of plays herself, Moore has the inside scoop on all things theatrical and uses this to her advantage in creating the drama that is Foul Deeds. Set in Halifax, the mystery novel is one of the best I've read in ages, and Canadian to boot. Subtitled a Rosalind mystery, I hope this means that future installments are to come.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Sleight of Hand

by Robin Hathaway
Thomas Dunne Books,

Third in the Jo Banks mystery series. Jo Banks is a motel doctor who consistently runs headlong into danger. Shortly after a dead body is discovered on the side of a road in South Jersey, Jo finds herself performing hand surgery in a farmhouse kitchen. Why does the patient, Max, not want to go to the hospital? Is the printing press that caught his hand used for sinister purposes? Where is Max's wife and what does his Down syndrome daughter know and understand?

Initially held at gunpoint, Jo continues to see Max as a patient and to keep his existence a secret. She becomes compelled to know the truth about who he is, and how/if he ties in with the execution- style murder that opened the story.

Hathaway keeps the reader spellbound through many twists and turns in the plot. Jo is an engaging heroine, and the supporting characters are well drawn. I can't wait to read the next in the series, or in Hathaway's other series, the Dr. Fenimore mysteries. Check out for information about forthcoming titles.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Good News from North Haven

by Michael L. Lindvall
Crossroads/Carlisle, 2002

A pastor himself, Lindvall has put together eighteen stories about a Presbyterian pastor and his quirky congregation in "North Haven", Minnesota. Not quite as hilarious as Philip Gulley's Harmony series (about a Quaker pastor and his assemblage in Indiana), there are nevertheless some laugh-out-loud moments, along with nuggets of wisdom.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Out of Circulation (A Miss Zukas Mystery)

by Jo Dereske
Avon, 1997

This series starts with Miss Zukas and the Library Murders. As with all series books, it is advisable to read them chronologically.

A librarian by profession, I love to read fictional works with librarian protagonists. Sometimes I'm disappointed with the results, but Miss Zukas (Helma) is one of the happy exceptions - a hilarious send-up of the stereotype :)

In Out of Circulation, artist friend Ruth, persuades Helma to join her on a mountain hike to mark Ruth's upcoming 40th birthday. After doing her research and purchasing all the necessary equipment, Helma is prepared for any eventuality on the trail. Good thing - a dead body turns up on the first day. After the victim is removed from the scene, Helma and Ruth trek on to see if they can find and assist his missing partner. An unexpected snowstorm hits, they find a wounded and unconscious hiker, and take shelter in an emergency cabin. Four others share these close quarters. One of them is a murderer.

Kudos to author Jo Dereske for keeping me guessing right until the guilty party is revealed. A terrific read and a great addition to the series.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

The Carrot Cake Murder: A Hannah Swensen Mystery

by Joanne Fluke
Kensington Books, 2008
Tenth in the series; includes recipes.
When Gus shows up just in time for a family reunion, after a 25 year absence from Lake Eden, his family is thrilled. They also have a lot of questions for him: why did he disappear in the middle of the night without telling anyone where he was going? Why did he stay out of contact? What has his life been like?

Gus appears to have a lot going for him - he flashes a lot of money around, treats everyone to an expensive brunch, tells them about the nightclub businesses he owns, and makes like he's a bigwig. But when he turns up dead on the second day of the reunion, it quickly becomes clear that not everything was what it seemed. There are several people who might have wanted him dead.
Hannah, our amateur sleuth and professional cookie baker, has her work cut out for her. Working with (and against) local cop and sometimes boyfriend, Mike, and with the able assistance of her family and other sometimes boyfriend, Norman, Hannah starts piecing things together. Can she protect her business partner's dad from being falsely accused? Will she catch the killer before he - or she - strikes again?

I knew "whodunit" early on, but it didn't spoil the read because I still needed to know all the threads that pulled it together. I recommend this series, but suggest you read them in order, starting with The Chocolate Chip Cookie Murder. The only book that really disappointed was The Sugar Cookie Murder, but you might want to read it for the romance angle...

Monday, March 31, 2008

The Shack

by William P. Young
Windblown Media, 2007

Forget Oprah's book choice, this is the book everyone's talking about and the "must read" of the year!

When tragedy strikes the Phillips family, its patriarch, Mack, is overwhelmed with feelings of grief and anger. Where is God when evil happens - why does He allow it, and can He really be trusted ? Three and a half years later, Mack is still wallowing in "The Great Sadness". Then he receives a mysterious note that compels him to return to the scene of the tragedy and to meet God face-to-face.

The story gives the reader much to think about, and presents God and the trinity in a fresh and accessible way. An endorsement from Eugene Peterson, author of The Message, states "This book has the potential to do for our generation what John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress did for his. It's that good!"

Buy your own copy of The Shack - I did. I guarantee you won't be disappointed!

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Death of a Cad

by M.C. Beaton
St. Martin's Press, 1987

Second in the Hamish Macbeth series.

Priscilla Halburton-Smythe is engaged to be married to Henry Withering, a successful London playwright. Her delighted parents decide to throw a house party in his honour and are besieged with phone calls from people who want to be included. Thus, a motley assortment is gathered, including Captain Peter Bartlett, the "cad" of the book's title.
It comes as no surprise when Bartlett winds up dead, the result of an apparent hunting accident. Enter our hero, local bobby, Hamish Macbeth, who also happens to be more than half in love with Miss Halburton-Smythe herself. Hamish outwits his superiors when he discovers the killing was no accident, but murder.
Several suspects present themselves. Bartlett endeared himself to noone with his boorish ways and penchant for casual sex. Hamish must discern which of the house guests, or an outsider, brought about the Captain's untimely demise.
Beaton has created a very charming hero in Macbeth, and the reader cheers him on - both in his investigations and in his attempts to woo Priscilla, whose wealthy parents consider him beneath contempt.

Wonderfully written.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Less Than Frank

by Lynn Bulock
Steeple Hill, 2006

Second in the Gracie Lee mystery series, after Love the Sinner.

Frank is a crooked businessman and no-good husband. When he turns up dead from a single bullet wound to the head, it comes as no surprise to anyone who knows him. The only question is which of the several suspects was the trigger man.

Gracie Lee's son, Ben, was seen arguing with Frank the morning of the murder. Gracie Lee knows that her son would never kill anyone and needs to figure out who did it before the handsome and infuriating detective, Ray Fernandez, charges Ben with the crime.

While Bulock tends to ramble at times, she has created likable characters and a reasonable plot. Not the calibre of secular authors M.C. Beaton, Robin Hathaway, Jill Churchill, or Joanne Fluke, but enjoyable nonetheless. I will read the next book in the series while I continue to seek out the best mystery authors who write with a Christian slant.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

The J. Alfred Prufrock Murders

by Corinne Holt Sawyer
Fawcett, 1989

This is the first in a series of mysteries set in Camden-sur-Mer, a retirement home in the tiny town of Camden, California. Our amateur detectives include four 70-something ladies, who live at the center - the formidable Angela Benbow, and her friends - Caledonia Wingate, Nan Church, and Stella Austin.
The book opens with a death. Sweetie Gilfillan, retired librarian and plain jane, who lived at the smallest cottage on site, was stabbed multiple times and fell down a staircase. She is found face down on the beach. Initially no one can figure out who would want to murder the innocuous victim - "poor Sweetie" - who always had her nose in a book. Angela and her friends decide to help the police in their investigation - partly because the murderer may be a threat to all of them, but mostly because it's an exciting adventure in their otherwise humdrum lives.
Then a second murder takes place. Paulette Piper, who's been married three times and may have been after a fourth husband, is found at the bottom of the center's back stairs, pushed to her death. What could connect the two victims, for surely their murders must be related?

There are plenty of suspects - Mr. Grogran, the angry drunk who lived next to Sweetie; Mr. Littlebrook, whom Paulette may have set her sights on as husband number four; Mr. Torgeson, director of the residence, who may have a secret to hide. Did one of them do it?
I enjoy pitting my wits against the sleuth (or in this case, sleuths) to determine the guilty party. Though in this story I was pretty sure who the culprit was before the close, there were enough red herrings to keep me wondering. And Sawyer kept me laughing without demeaning her protagonists, as Angela and her "partners in crime" got themselves into one humorous predicament after another along the way.


Monday, March 17, 2008

Tying the Knot

by Susan May Warren
Tyndale, 2003
Second in the Deep Haven series, this book was written during a difficult period in the author's life, though you'd never know it from the ease with which it reads. Warren has the romance genre down pat, with lots of attraction, tension, miscommunication and misunderstanding between the hero and heroine. In addition to creating a well crafted plot, she paints vivid settings and is able to evoke strong emotions from the reader.

Anne has come to Deep Haven to find peace from her past, a past that has scarred her deeply. Brought up in a Christian home, she spent her teen years in the inner city of Minneapolis as her parents worked among its broken people. High school was intolerable. More recently, Anne's work as an EMT in that same area brought her face to face with a teen strung out on drugs, a teen who shot and wounded her without provocation. The only memory from that night worth holding onto is the man who prevented the shot from hitting her in the face, the man who sang "It is Well with My Soul" over her as she was carried from the scene on a gurney.

Noah is in Deep Haven for different reasons, though he too has a scarred past. God has given him a vision for a wilderness camp that will take urban teens out of their day-to-day reality and plant them in a beautiful natural environment absent their gang colours and associations, where they can be challenged spiritually and physically. With her medical credentials, Anne is the only one who can help Noah's camp get off the ground, as the local church committee refuses to provide financial backing without a trained medical person on staff. Will Anne cooperate? And will she learn to trust Noah? To see beyond his exterior tough guy appearance to the interior man of faith?

Friday, March 14, 2008

Me, Myself, & Bob

by Phil Vischer
subtitle: A True Story About Dreams, God, and Talking Vegetables
Nelson Books, 2006

If you haven't heard of VeggieTales (in which two key players are Larry the lovable cucumber and Bob the tomato, his straight sidekick), I have to wonder where you've been for the last ten years. Me, Myself, & Bob is the fascinating story of their creator, Phil Vischer, and the spectacular rise and fall of his animation studio, Big Idea Productions Inc.

Phil Vischer grew up in small town Iowa, in a very religious Christian family. His grandfather on his father's side was a big businessman, and his mother's father was a pastor. A bit of a loner with a quirky sense of humour, Phil had a vivid imagination and a passion for audiovisual media and computers. Some of the technical detail in his book is lost on me, but he does write with the layperson in mind, I think, and certainly his wit comes through loud and clear throughout the telling of his tale.

The best part of the book apart from the overall "story" takes place in the last three chapters where Phil shares the lessons he learned from Big Idea's explosion and its following implosion. They are lessons we can all benefit from and apply to our lives. Though what Phil, his family and colleagues went through was painful and difficult, Phil finds that God does indeed produce beauty from ashes.