Saturday, March 28, 2009

Book Review - Baby by Patricia Maclachlan

Patricia Maclachlan's character development in so few pages is nothing short of awesome

What would you do if a baby was left at your doorstep with a note from her mother saying she would be back some day? Could you care for that baby, even come to love her, knowing she could be taken from you at any time? I don’t know that I could be that selfless, deal with that loss. In Baby we bear witness to the quirky, loving and ill-fated family that must deal with such sadness.

Patricia MacLachlan proves to be a master of the metaphor in this beautifully written story that, at its core, is about the importance of words; learning them, sharing them, avoiding them, and most importantly, hearing them.

Although some aspects of this story are mournful, what we take away from Baby is a family’s ability to put the pieces back together after a profound loss. Anyone having gone through a similar tragedy would draw inspiration and strength from this family, just as they did from the baby on their doorstep.

3.5/5 Snakes

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Book Review - The Gargoyle by Andrew Davidson

**Spoiler Alert

A divine marriage of contemporary and historical fiction

The robust intensity and graphic imagery with which The Gargoyle began was so powerful that it incited corporeal revulsions of nausea and regurgitation. Determined not to give in to my weakness, I continued reading, though I had to continually remind myself that the terrifying scene playing out was the creation of an obviously brilliant imagination, as opposed to something that the author had actually experienced.

We begin with a loveless orphan, who in his attempts to survive in the world alone, created a mini-empire in the pornography industry, on the back of the only thing that he could rely on; his beauty. In the first few pages we learn how his reckless life falls apart… or does it?

After surviving a near-fatal car crash, due to hallucinations induced by drugs and alcohol, this unnamed anti-hero spends his days monstrously marred and permanently disfigured in the burn ward of the hospital, battling the ‘painsnake’ inhabiting his spine, and fantasizing over his eventual planned suicide. He is biding his time and calculating the most effective way to end it all, when his reality is turned upside down by a visit from a schizophrenic patient that has ventured out of the psychiatry wing.

It was through this eccentric storyteller, Marianne Engel, that I became mystified by Davidson’s creativity. What at first seemed to be ridiculous delusions from an unstable woman soon became the interconnected tales that transport us to Germany in the 1300s, where the love affair between these diametrically opposing characters was said to have first began.

As impossible as it is for our healing anti-hero to believe such fantastic stories, the genuine love and affection for Marianne, that he finds filling the void that has been his loveless existence, is enough to inspire a will to live that was once unimaginable. A lifetime spent using and seducing women, and a livelihood based on superficial beauty and degradation of the flesh was all but forgotten with his awakening to a life with true love.

“What an unexpected reversal of fate: only after my skin was burned away did I finally become able to feel. Only after I was born into physical repulsiveness did I come to glimpse the possibilities of the heart: I accepted this atrocious face and abominable body because they were forcing me to overcome the limitations of who I am, while my previous body allowed me to hide them.”

Love, religion, death and redemption are the predominant themes throughout the novel, not only through the main story, but also in the sub-stories of those that would eventually become our anti-hero’s protectors in his withdrawal journey through hell; the Japanese Buddhist, the Viking, the Italian ironworker, and the lady on the hill.

My one wish is that I would have read Dante’s Inferno before reading this novel, because much of the latter part of the story draws parallels to this historical work of poetry. Although prior exposure to Inferno is not necessary for the comprehension of The Gargoyle, I fear that I may have missed out on some of the references or implicit meanings Davidson included, without having read it first.

4/5 Snakes

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Review - Forever ... by Judy Blume

Can't say I'm impressed with this one

Judy Blume brings nothing but fond memories when I think back to reading Are You There God, Its Me Margaret, or Blubber. I know I’m not alone when I credit her for keeping reading interesting at nine years old. It turns out I missed another of her books that she wrote in the ‘seventies, that was targeted at an older audience. The main character is seventeen, so I can only assume that is was aimed at older teens … I hope so anyway. Of course the book I’m referring to is Forever, a story of first love and consequently, teenage sex.

Now, granted, safe sex and protection is a main theme of the book, and whether it is slightly outdated or not, it still feels like an after school special. However, I was rather confused with this books ultimate agenda, because even though the content is extremely graphic and comes off as a soft porn, how-to guide for sex, the basic writing style and lack of intellectual prose makes it appear to be aimed at a younger audience of possibly thirteen or fourteen.

Now, I may be old fashioned, but I certainly don’t want my thirteen year old reading a manual on how to give it up to her teenage boyfriend because she thinks she’s in love. Although, my thirteen year old won’t have that opportunity, I’m sure there are plenty out there that will, and I think this story is far too laissez-faire with its message. I can completely understand why this book was banned by many, especially in the time period that it was written.

If the intended messages were about being responsible, and not throwing your dreams away by getting too serious too quickly, I think they could have been portrayed in a much more tactful way.

1/5 Snakes

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Book Review - Holes by Louis Sachar

Grab a copy and dig in!

Calling all reluctant readers, Holes is exactly the type of story that grasps a young reader in its clutches and doesn’t let go. What more would a child ask for than a tall tale passed down through generations, defenceless criminals being held captive by evil and slave-driving authorities, the search for a missing treasure, and the heroic underdogs that save the day?

Whilst enjoying the fast pace of this novel, kids will be taught about finding pride in their accomplishments, the importance of being accountable for their actions, and their intrinsic ability to adapt to any situation. Not only an intricately woven tale with sub-plots that lead to a magical end, Holes is heavy in social commentary, as it tackles such issues as racism, poverty and bullying. Based on the exploration of these issues, as well as some violent and even fatal scenes arising from them, it’s now apparent to me why this book has been critically acclaimed.

I would recommend that a parent read this story alongside their child so that they can encourage discussion and include an experienced, adult point of view. That being said, the mere broaching of these subjects to a young audience is exactly what it’s going to take to create awareness and better help our youth to conquer these problems in their adult lives.

4/5 Snakes

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Book Review - Chew on This by Eric Schlosser

It might be hard to swallow

I recently picked up Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser to become better versed in the horrors of fast food, so that when I was preaching to my niece about the ill effects of this garbage, I would sound credible. To my amazement I came across an abridged version that was targeted at kids: Chew on This. After reading a couple chapters of Fast Food Nation I decided to put it on hold and dig into the tween version so that I could pass it along to my niece when I was done. I must say, increasing font size, adding some pictures, and putting the word poop in some subtitles, does not a children’s book make. While I found the book interesting and informative, I’m not sure how Schlosser’s direct and unimaginative reporting style would fair with young minds, especially those addicted and in denial.

There were some pretty affecting findings in the book, none the less, as Schlosser points out that the fast food industry is feeding and feeding off of children. Not only is the majority of the marketing targeted at the youth, but children’s foods are manufactured to taste sweeter and less bitter than adult foods, often altering a child’s future tolerance to normal flavoured foods, consequently keeping them hooked on the junk food. We are also taught about the chemical labs that have the omnipotent power of flavouring foods with additives, as well as making their odours more appetizing … since we probably wouldn’t want to eat them in their unaltered state.

Schlosser enlightens us on the horrifying process by which cattle and chicken are mass produced and inhumanely treated in feedlots, for their short lives, and how the millions of pounds of waste they create can affect neighbouring water bodies and soil. Of course the common family farm doesn’t usually factor into this equation because most of them have been put out of business by approximately four huge meat packing companies that are cornering the market. Now, they aren’t the only ones that have had to close up shop, as Mom ‘n Pop restaurants all across North America have been shut down by the low prices and ‘Speedee Service System’ (Originally created by the McDonald’s brothers) of the fast food chains.

As unfortunate as all of this is, the part that strikes a chord the most with me is the slave labour that fast food creates. With ‘McJobs’ now a part of the English language, basically meaning a low-paying job that will lead to nowhere, there doesn’t appear to be an end in sight. Our teenagers are working until the wee hours of the morning on a school night to dish out burgers, and overseas children and teenagers are working 16 hours a day, for sometimes as little as .20 cents an hour, to make the crappy toy in a happy meal. And for what … so that we can feed the corporate monster and make ourselves, and our children sick? For Shame.

3/5 Snakes

Monday, March 16, 2009

Book Review - The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

Must be re-read as an adult to experience the full joy from its genius!

For Milo, life was void of excitement, mystery and fun. As he plodded on through the motions of school and everyday life, he found himself always in a hurry to be someplace else, unfortunately to no avail, as he could not find interest in anywhere he ended up. That all changed when he happened upon a tollbooth in his bedroom upon returning from school one day.

And so began his wild adventure to the Lands Beyond. With the help of a ticking watchdog named Tock and a clumsy Humbug, Milo commences a journey to return the sorely missed princesses Rhyme and Reason to the City of Wisdom. Although it first appears that Milo is there to help the characters in this faraway land, it is soon apparent that he will also be the recipient of much guidance and important knowledge that he has been lacking in his own life.

Milo is reminded of the importance of slowing down to appreciate the beauty that life has to offer, the necessity of unpleasant experiences in order to properly appreciate the good times, and that everything we learn is necessary and has a reason or a purpose, even if we’re not aware of it at the time. He encounters such demons as Procrastination, Habit, Insincerity and Fear in The Mountains of Ignorance, and must draw on his newly acquired knowledge in his efforts to prevail.

Not only has Norton Juster created a timeless adventure, he has creatively infused all the necessary elements of life’s important lessons, making The Phantom Tollbooth beloved by both children and parents alike.

5/5 Snakes

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Book Review - The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau

I'm still anxiously waiting for the library to get the movie in

Doon and Lina have just graduated from their final year of school at the age of 12, and consequently experience the right of passage bestowed upon all the people of Ember at this stage; Assignment Day. They receive their jobs from the mayor and set out to do their civic duties as many others before them, but when Lina stumbles across a message that appears to be from ‘the Builders,’ creators of the City of Ember, it is clear that theirs is a much more burdened fate.

The City of Ember is a fascinating tale of a dystopian society, where a young boy and girl in all of their bravery and desperation, work together to try and save their beloved people from a looming eternal darkness. This being the first Book of Ember in a series that currently consists of four, all questions were not answered by its completion, but I look forward to moving on to the second book and unravelling more of the saga.

4/5 Snakes

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Book Review - The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay

A glimpse of Quebecor culture in the 1940s

The budding of spring, a time for enlightenment and new beginnings, casts the mood for this beautiful and haunting tale told through magical realism, and reverent love for family, a place and a time. Michel Tremblay’s passion for his beginnings is shared with us through a day in the life of the residents of la rue Fabre in the heart of Montreal in the ‘40s, with the fat lady next door paying homage to his beloved mother.

The mystical sisters, Rose, Violette and Mauve, have sat in their rocking chairs knitting booties for generations of the past, and persevere for seven babies soon to be, the magical triple clicking of their needles a necessity for continuum. Helplessly driven by a predetermined pattern, they are merely observers to the struggles of their tormented neighbours, as they sit with instruments in their hands and compassion in their hearts.

The eccentric and opposing personalities Tremblay presents us with intermingle through the pages amidst their willful ignorance, blinding judgements, and suffocating shame. These transgressions, perpetuated by the shadow of a stifling religion, a begrudged war, combined with a lack of imagination, serve to disquiet them as they struggle to find their footing on the soft ground of the changing season.

The Fat Women Next Door is Pregnant although brimming with delicious prose, did prove to be a difficult read at times. The compilation of 22 distinctly different, three-dimensional characters – a supercilious cat, a matriarchal witch, the she-wolf of Ottawa – and a writing style with no regard to paragraphs or a properly referenced dialogue, left my head swirling on more than one occasion. Seemingly each and every character begged to have their depth explored and their connection with the reader furthered, and as such, I think the story would have been better served as an elaborate, 800-page epic.

Aside from this, I came away from the novel with the feeling that ‘family’ is the true essence of our being, as through all of the chaos and ridicule that can be found on these pages, the love that emits from this clan is a fortress of undeniable strength and authenticity. By the end of the story you’re sure to have a fondness in your heart for the fat woman next door.

4/5 Snakes

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Book Review - Losing It and Gaining My Life Back One Pound at a Time by Valerie Bertinelli

Valerie Bertinelli is a bright light of inspiration

In the interest of finding motivation wherever I could get it, I decided to read Losing It – And Gaining My Life Back One Pound At A Time. The book is not so much a weight loss success story as it is an honest account of Valerie Bertinelli’s struggle with food as she tried to juggle an unhappy marriage and self-image.

Interestingly enough, it appears as though she employed the “laws of attraction” or “The Secret” to start her journey into weight loss, although never coming out and labeling her techniques as such. Things really started to change when for a second or third time she was accosted by Jenny Craig to be a spokes person, and finally decided to give it a shot.

Although she was a beloved TV actress from the 70’s through to the 90’s, she couldn’t be anymore down to earth as she dishes the dirt on her past mistakes and recent growth as a wife, mother and individual. It is apparent that she was vain, naïve and insecure, for most of her life, but her willingness to share these flaws publicly, in the hopes of finally being able to break free, be herself and face her demons, shows her true character and strength.

All-in-all a fluff read, and whether it will motivate me to make the necessary changes in my life in order to slim down, remains to be seen.

2.5/5 Snakes

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Review - Catch-22 by Joseph Heller

Yossarian Lives!

Catch-22 is an existential, anti-war satire told through asininity and disjointed logic, often running on bureaucracy and “military intelligence,” or a lack there of.

Heller uses a non-chronological narrative which can be hard to follow at times, but eventually results in an affective lead-up to the novels important conclusions. We are presented with a military wrought with corruption and greed, whereby the senior officers pose more of a threat to the men then the actual enemy.

This classic is a reminder that in a world of distorted values, where success measures worth, we must question whose definition of success we will find validity in and ultimately find our individuality. We are left with the message that to be true to ones self is the only goal worth pursuing, and that often the only way for that to come to pass is to stand up against the masses and face adversity. But when all is said and done, as evidenced even today, weakness, greed and corruption prevail, and the soldiers march on.

Yours truly, Washington Irving

5/5 Snakes

Monday, March 9, 2009

Book Review - Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

A different bird, that Alex Supertramp

Into the Wild is a true account of Christopher McCandless’s foolhardy pilgrimage to his death in the wilderness of Alaska. Although he was clearly suffering from hubris, this passionate idealist was on a mission to understand himself and his connection to nature, in his solo journey under the alias Alex Supertramp.

There is no shortage of irony in this tragedy, as this young man who once had a dream of putting an end to world hunger, and even donated all of his savings to this cause, died of starvation. It should also be noted that for McCandless, his trip into the wild was an exercise in freedom, a sort of protest of society in a world full of rules and boundaries, only to come to his end “... trapped in the wild.”

There are many critics who accuse him of willful ignorance and arrogance in underestimating the fierceness of the Alaskan bush, and his ability to handle it with his limited experience. Although partly true, how many of us could say that we would survive even half of the experiences that he courageously conquered, all in the interest of pursuing his dreams?

In the end, along with countless others that he encountered in his travels, I am inspired by his story, and I will take with me his final realization after months of solitude, that "Happiness isn’t real unless it’s shared."

2.5/5 Snakes

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Book Review - Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

Three cheers and an A-men for Maniac Magee!

Maniac Magee is like a story told through an imaginative child on the playground at recess, where exaggeration and fantasy are just as important as any truths. Spinelli’s clever, funny and creative approach to dealing with such staggering issues as death, homelessness and racism, is to be applauded. The clear message is that ignorance breeds hate, and if we could just get to know one another and put aside our fears, things could be very different in our world divided.

It is through the talented, compassionate and fearless Jeffrey ‘Maniac’ Magee that the gap between the East and West ends of the city of Two Mills, finally comes together. Maniac unwittingly spends most of his time teaching people from both sides about one another, thus helping to break down the fear of the unknown. This orphan also has the fortune of coming across many kind-hearted people in his travels, from both neighbourhoods, and it is through them that he learns about love and what it means to be a part of a family.

It is such witty creations as a tricycle biker gang named ‘Heck’s Angels’, and a young girl who takes all of her books with her to school in a suitcase every day, so her younger siblings won’t crayon all their pages, that make this a rather entertaining read.

3.5/5 Snakes

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Book Review - Spanking Shakespeare by Jake Wizner

I'm expecting big things from Wizner after this smash hit for mature teens.

Think coming-of-age story for the 21st century. Think Diary of a Wimpy Kid for the mature teen. Think self-deprecating humour by a misfit, that has developed a cult following. Add these all up and you’ve got this hilarious, laugh-out-loud, quick witted novel, Spanking Shakespeare.

Shakespeare has the terrible misfortune of having a father who drinks too much, a nagging mother who is constantly pushing him towards a therapist’s couch, and a brother named Gandhi with a propensity to be malicious. Sound like the end of the world? Well, it’s not, and deep down inside he knows it’s not. But being a teenager full of angst, it is Shakespeare’s dutiful responsibility to wallow in his own self-pity and blame anyone and everyone for the continuous catastrophes that make up his life. In this regard Wizner does an outstanding job of capturing the essence of the teenage psyche. Shakespeare is the downtrodden victim representing all 17 year old boys and their dilemmas with popularity, prom, girlfriends, sexual frustration, et cetera, et cetera.

My only contention with this story is its blatant disrespect of religion, as its sacrilege in the last few chapters was a little unsettling, and even seemed unnecessary. My best guess is that Wizner has some pent-up anger resulting from the circumcision of his member, and has been viciously seeking revenge against God and the covenant as a result. Once I got passed that, I could admit that this was quite an enjoyable book overall, and it’s sure to be appreciated by any teen 16 and up, boy or girl.

3/5 Snakes

Friday, March 6, 2009

Book Review - I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

A true gem for any age

The intimacy of a first-person narrative often has me missing the characters of a novel by its end, and I Capture the Castle is no exception. Cassandra is an insightful, considerate and engaging aspiring writer, who is at the mercy of poverty and her high maintenance family. Her enchanting journal entries are descriptively vivid and poetic, written with a 1930s English style and taking place in a castle.
Religion is a reoccurring theme, as we learn about old-world Pagan customs, as well as Cassandra’s questioning of her devotion to Christian beliefs. One memorable quote being “Man’s extremity is God’s opportunity,” as Cassandra had deducted per the vicar assuring her not to feel guilty for only praying in bad times.

At its heart this novel is about love in all of its beautiful and pathetic forms; innocent, unconditional, authentic versus opportune, forbidden and unrequited. Set in a different time, it feels slightly misogynistic at one moment and then completely liberating and ahead of its time at the next. This is one book where I will not watch the movie, for fear of spoiling its subtle and artistic beauty. I highly recommend this entrancing story for any teen or adult alike.

4.5/5 Snakes

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Book Review - Fruit by Brian Francis

Ten Minutes after writing this review I found out that Mercy Among the Children had been the first to get voted off the table. What an upset!

In the interest of broadening my literary range and exposing myself to more Canadian talent, I decided to read the selections from CBC’s Canada Reads 2009. After thoroughly enjoying Mercy Among the Children, I was anxious and excited to move on to the next book, to see if there was any chance that David Adams Richards could be defeated. Unless Canadians have collectively lost their marbles, there is certainly no danger of this happening with Fruit.

Life can be difficult at thirteen, and for Peter Paddington there is no exception. In fact things are worse for him as he is more than fifty pounds overweight, struggling with his sexuality, and – this is the real kicker – wakes up one morning to find that his nipples have transformed in to what look like maraschino cherries, that, to make matters worse, spontaneously start talking to him. That’s right, you didn’t read that wrong, talking nipples. The inclusion of this bizarre aspect to the story was the point of no return for my attention span, I’m afraid. Since the conversations his nipples would instigate were of an antagonizing nature, I can only assume that this was meant to signify his body’s betrayal of him, a feeling common to many people struggling with their weight. Clever, I suppose, but a little too bizarre in my opinion.

There were some redeeming qualities to the story though, as Peter was often extremely creative and witty. His habits of asserting himself through mental telepathy, worshiping the Virgin Mary through his closet door frame, and concocting homo-erotic bedtime stories to help lull him to sleep at night, had me giggling. On the flipside, Fruit is riddled with cliché, and most of the characters are the epitome of common stereotypes. There’s the Italian family… with the kitchen in their basement, who own a restaurant, with a daughter that works at said restaurant whilst tending to the household chores and minding the ripening tomatoes, and while she does all this, her Camaro driving brother is given free reign to do whatever he pleases, as he is the apple of his non-English speaking parent’s eyes. The clichés continued with fervor in the overbearing, menopausal mother with the Protestant inferiority complex, and all of the school cliques; goody-goodies, (head) bangers, athletic group, slutty girls group, et cetera, et cetera. It soon becomes apparent that this typecasting must be part of the author’s shtick, his way of exposing the conventions of everyday existence, I’m guessing.

Before reading Fruit I had heard from quite a few people that they had enjoyed it, so I suppose I could be missing something. From what I gather, it’s a story about becoming an active member in your own life, and that, to me, is an important message. However, Brian Francis’ lack of capture and the endless cliché left a lot to be desired.

Now it’s on to The Fat Woman Next Door is Pregnant by Michel Tremblay!

2/5 Snakes

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Book Review - Bud, Not Buddy by Christopher Paul Curtis

Funny, informative and a genuinely nice story to boot!

My ten year old niece had read Bud, Not Buddy, recently, at school, and as I’m always interested to know what it is she’s being taught, I decided to pick it up. At first I was discouraged by the book as it seemed to deal with a rather depressing story of a young orphan during the depression era, who was acting out revenge upon a foster family that had mistreated him. While making a mental note to explain to her the errors of vengeful retribution, I continued on and was soon pleasantly surprised by the novel’s turn.

Christopher Paul Curtis has created a beautiful piece of historical fiction that teaches a young reader about some of the issues that were plaguing the American population of the 30s, as well as telling a heartwarming story about a young boys will and determination to find his estranged father. Along the way Curtis is able to share with us the trials and tribulations of racism, homelessness and labour-union disputes, whilst keeping the tone of the book light, with a witty dialogue that often had me chuckling.

Not to say that it was all roses, though, because there is really no way to sugar coat families forced to live in Hooverville tenements at the side of the railroad tracks, especially in a day and age when tent cities are erecting all over North America due to the recent recession and mortgage crisis. The fact of the matter is these struggles were happening in the 30s just as they are happening now. It is important that we can share these realities with our children in such a way that they become interested, and through compassion, help to make changes in our world so that these mistakes won’t happen again in the future.

4.5/5 Snakes

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Book Review - The Landing by John Ibbitson

Charming and inspiring

The first thing about The Landing that caught my attention was its pricing. This is the only book that I’ve noticed costs the same in US dollars as it does in Canadian. Whether this is due to my not paying enough attention to the pricing of previous reads, or if this is just something obscure, I don’t know, but it was definitely cause for a little shock.

My introduction to this young-adult novel was through The Toronto Star, announcing that it had won the 2008 Governor General's Award for children's literature. I was often reminded about it at work, as it was included on one of our showcase tables for some months, but I hadn’t had the occasion to hear any personal reviews for it. None the less, as I am a fan of all things Canadian, I put a hold on it at the library, and picked it up.

The first quarter of the book, I must admit, did seem a little slow to start, and I found myself wondering how it could possibly keep a teenager interested, if I was struggling. As it continued I started to become a victim of its charms, and grew fond of the young Ben and his determination towards learning the violin. As I often do, I played all of the referenced music on my computer whilst reading the passages, to try and obtain the true essence of the character's situation. This proved to be helpful in determing the tone of various scenes, and I would recommend other readers do the same if they have that option.

Set in the years following the depression, Ibbitson descriptively illustrates the hardships associated with those harsh times. The relationship that Ben forges with a neighbouring socialite is both painful and inspiring, as he dreams of one day leaving The Landing in Muskoka. As is often the case with growing up in a rural area, he is torn between his obligation to his struggling family and persuring his dreams.

The last few chapters will have you on the edge of your seat, as the novel takes an unexpected turn at its climax. Slow start and all, I am hopeful that Ibbitson will have a vision for a sequel.

4/5 Snakes

Book Review - Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

A little bit of a sleeper at times, imho.

Hatchet is a story of lone survival in the wilderness. When a young boy off to visit his father in Northern Canada, is stranded off-course when the pilot of the small bush plane taking him there has a heart attack, he is forced to perform a crash landing.

While the boy fashions himself a shelter and works on taking care of the necessary amenities of life, he starts to become a different person. With a new found appreciation of nature and beauty, a carefully learned patience and a dedicated persistence and drive, he notices the marked difference in his thoughts and feelings.

Author Gary Paulsen infuses divorce and infidelity as part of the story line, and repeatedly has the boy, Brian, flashback to stressful images and thoughts related to his parents failed relationship. Although this inclusion seems slightly contrived and sometimes unnecessary, it’s interesting to note how the old Brian was eager to inform his father of ‘the secret,’ while the newly enlightened Brian decided better of it.

2.5/5 Snakes

Book Review - Acceleration by Graham McNamee

Home-grown talent

Acceleration is a surprisingly entertaining and fast-paced teen thriller, set in Toronto. The majority of the story plays out on the property of the Toronto Transit Commission, which makes the story that much closer to home for someone like me, who has been a TTC rider for over two decades.

Although a quick read, the content was notably substantive and lacked any plot holes. The character development for such a short novel was highly detailed, and I was impressed by McNamee’s insight into the mind of a deranged psychopath.

Due to violent content, although not outlandish, I wouldn’t suggest this novel be read by anyone under 13. It wouldn’t hurt to read the story with your teen so that you can give the “Don’t try this at home message,” and besides that, you’ll probably enjoy it.

4/5 Snakes

Monday, March 2, 2009

Book Review - Saturday by Ian McEwan

The pursuit of morality in a Post-9/11 Britain

The beginning of Saturday was an exercise in sounding out medical vernacular, causing me to envision a prodigal episode of Sesame Street, whilst with the help of my Oxford, piecing together sentences with grave patience. This incidentally helped little with my inability to comprehend the complicated neurological procedures being described, but it did make for a quickened response time in my dictionary drilling skills.

Although the beginning was toilsome, I soon found myself captivated and carried away by McEwan’s infectious prose. His adept understanding of people and the inner-workings of casual - or painstaking - everyday happenings, and further to that, the feelings and thoughts associated with such occurrences, is like none other I’ve experienced. There were times in the novel when I felt myself blush at the brutally honest confessions that his protagonist was making to himself about his responses to some of life’s challenging situations, things that I might not even be inclined to admit to myself, let alone publish for the world’s perusal.

Through this one day in the life of Henry Perowne, a neurosurgeon in his late forties, we observe him teetering on the brink of midlife crisis, as he reflects on the anomaly that he imagines himself to be. We are privy to his onslaught of contradictory convictions relating to his car, his choice of careers, and to a quickly emerging and terrorizing international conflict with the Middle East. Through his ruminations, personal relationship with an Iraqi, and heated discussions with his daughter regarding the implications of an imposing war with Iraq, juxtaposed by the anti-war rally that is taking place on the neighbouring streets of London on this very day, we are met with a rhetorically balanced assessment of the issues surrounding this historical tragedy.

Steadily relevant to the last decade, reoccurring themes relating to violence, terror and invasion, would have made this novel hot topic for the water cooler, when it made its debut back in 2005. During these keen observations of Saturday, February 15th, 2003, McEwan, has led us on a journey that dares us to awaken ourselves to our consciousness, to be honest with ourselves, and to question our ability to take action, feel compassion and forgive.

This was my first encounter with McEwan, but now that I’m aware of his extraordinary command of the written word and his expert insight, I look forward to poring over everything he has to offer. I think my next selection shall be Atonement.

4.5/5 Snakes

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Book Review - A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

An important novel that teaches us about ourselves.

No other young adult fiction that I’ve come across has been as spiritually themed as A Wrinkle in Time, a story that is intrinsically pure in its message of faith, hope and belief in goodness. For some, this is precisely the reason they turn away from it, but for me, it is just another reason to embrace it.

The fight between good and evil is left in the hands of three children; Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend, Calvin. As they voyage through space and time using the fifth dimension and the assistance of three bewildering ‘ladies,’ they must penetrate the shadowing 'Black Thing,' and confront its brain, the evil and poisonous ' IT.' For Meg and Charles Wallace, the significance of their journey is tenfold as they bear the responsibility of trying to locate and free their father from this unknown dimension and its demonic clutches.

Madeleine E’ngle has created a world where we can acknowledge and appreciate that humans are flawed, that pride and arrogance defeat us and that sometimes only a willing suspension of disbelief can keep us from losing our way. We become vigilantly aware that it is the ignorance and fear of the different or unknown that plagues humanity, and that patience, sacrifice and love are all necessary shields that need bear in the face of conflict.

I look forward to sharing this extraordinary story with any and everyone I can.

5/5 Snakes