Popped by the Simon and Schuster Canada site this morning and found this new contest you might want to enter. You and your friends can each have a copy of this promising new novel from Philippa Gregory. Gregory is a New York Times Bestselling author of The Other Boleyn Girl. Visit Simon and Schuster Canada site and enter the contest to win 10 copies for your book club. If I win I will share them with you and kick off our own book club. Good Luck and Happy reading! Visit http://www.simonandschuster.ca/ to enter.
A truly good story takes you on a voyage to a place you didn’t know you wanted to visit. The Forty Rules of Love is just that kind of story; reading it is just that kind of journey. Elif Shafak is one of Turkey’s best-selling female authors. Up until I received this novel, her latest, The Forty Rules of Love, I had never heard of Shafak and that’s a shame really. Shafak is a gifted storyteller. The Forty Rules of Love consists of two parallel stories, one of which is set in contemporary time and the other of which takes place in the 13th century. The contemporary plot revolves around a housewife, Ella, about to turn 40, who is hired as a reader for a literary agent to read a book dubbed Sweet Blasphemy. Ella is a realist or so she thinks at the start of the book when she begins reading a new novelist’s rumination. The Forty Rules of Love is in some ways her coming of age story. Quickly Ella falls in love with the prose in the novel she reviews and then reaches out to the author through email beginning a relationship. But what sort of relationship will it be? That remains up to Ella, taken by the writing of this new author Aziz. She knows little of him but his talent and this portion of the book is told in a nouveau sort of epistolary for our times – through written emails to each other. Their emails grow increasingly amorous. “Her first email to Aziz was not a letter so much as an invitation, a cry for help. But Ella had no way of knowing this as she sat in the silence of her kitchen and composed a note to an unknown writer she didn’t expect to meet now or any time in the future.” The plot within Sweet Blasphemy revolves around the Sufi poet Rumi and his spiritual encounter with Shams of Tabriz. As Shams schools Rumi in spiritual matters he learns to open his mind more fully to that which he cannot see or touch and he realizes his life has been missing a key ingredient. Ella, in the contemporary plot line, can be seen to follow the same story arc only with a more romantic outcome. As Shams unveils each of his rules of love to Rumi, Ella and Aziz can be seen experiencing, internalizing and reacting to the fictional rules as their own. There is a certain subtle magic realism about this novel, not as overt as the Latin American authors who perfected the genre, but gentler and slightly more spiritual in nature. Perhaps that’s another reason I so enjoyed this book. The characters in this book are beautifully illustrated and the narrative at times complex, but not so as to detract from the read, only so that it illuminates the strength of the writer’s talent. In the end there is an unexpected twist and prose so lovely and insightful that it is also slightly heartbreaking. The Forty Rules of Love is more than a great love story: it is also an intriguing look at the intimate relationship that can exist between author and reader, writer and reviewer.
The Forty Rules of Love, 2010, Viking, $32.50 Canadian and $25.95 US.
Thriftymommastips’ rating $$$$$ out of $$$$$
thriftymomma is not compensated for her reviews, but receives a copy of the books she reviews.
It’s no big secret really that I want to be Jodi Picoult when I grow up. This journalist turned author is one of my all time favourite contemporary authors. House Rules is yet another topical, well researched, beautifully written story that makes me yearn for more as soon as I have turned the last page. While the plot of House Rules centres around the CSI obsessed Jacob, a teenager with Asperger’s, a high functioning form of autism, it is equally the story of the mother and his sibling Theo. This is the story of a family dealing with a child who has special needs and perhaps that’s why I so eagerly nabbed this one when I discovered it at the London Public Library. My own daughter has sensory processing disorder amongst other diagnoses, so Jacob gave me some excellent insights into what makes her tick and also explode into meltdown. The mother Emma is such a vivid character that she could be any one of the mothers I know dealing with the challenges of parenting children who have special needs. Jacob’s social skills tutor Jess is found dead and suspicion quickly falls on Jacob, whose disability makes him appear a perfect suspect. Asperger’s is categorized by social skills deficits, high intelligence, flat tone and affect, lack of empathy for others. To outsiders – lawyers, jurors and police officers – Jacob appears calculating and cold. The trial that ensues here is a huge portion of the plot and that can be tedious in some novels. However, Picoult is quite able to balance multiple competing viewpoints by allowing the trial to take centre stage in the last half of the book. It is an effective plot device. It is a remarkably realistic insight she gives us into the minds of lawmakers, some too slow to change or comprehend grey areas of law and life. Picoult is excellent at illuminating the very nature of invisible disabilities. Some of the characters are able to see Jacob’s strengths and differences and others believe him to be a liar. This novel does not contain Picoult’s best writing, but it does contain some of her most memorable characters. Jacob is incredibly compelling and through this character Picoult brings unique and perceptive insights into autism and sensory processing dysfunctions. “These are some things I can’t really stand,” he lists. ” 1. The sound of paper being crumpled. I can’t tell you why, but it makes me feel like someone’s doing that to all my internal organs.” House Rules casts light on how we as a society are still lacking compassion and ability to embrace differences. Emma’s job as a columnist is revoked during the trial for instance by the very people who believe they are supportive of families with special needs. She is a single mother existing on fumes and cannot get a bank loan to pay her lawyer. She has spent a lifetime crafting her son’s environment so that he can function and avoid sensory overload. For instance Tuesdays are red food only days. When Oliver the lawyer enters their world he gives us fresh eyes through which the reader can see, at once how essential it is to have red Tuesdays for Emma and her family, and yet how absurd at the same time that a life must be lived within such parameters. My only criticism of this novel is that I saw the ending coming and usually Picoult is able to deal a surprising twist at the end of her books – as in My Sister’s Keeper, which had such a tour de force ending I felt gobsmacked for days after I finished the book.
House Rules, $32.00 Canadian $28. U.S.
SimonandSchuster publishing, Atria Books, 2010
thriftymommastips rating $$$$$ out of $$$$$
I don’t usually blog about press releases, but this week the Penguin Group’s very cool Ebay.com charity auction initiative caught my eye. A much awaited new Guy Gavriel Kay book was launched on line earlier this month, with one lucky winner bidding just over $500 for the first copy of this new novel Under Heaven. Matching contributions were made by both the publisher and author. The total proceeds $1570 go to the Indigo Books and Music Love of Reading Fund, which supports high needs elementary school literacy programs across Canada. The winner was identified as Neil Negandhi of Toronto, a fan of the author, but with this much press and this much money raised for charity everyone involved won. Negandhi ended up with the first book off the presses, authenticated by publisher as the first copy and autographed by the author. This is truly an excellent example of combining social media, new media, philanthropy and publicity. It is no secret that publishers have been struggling with economy and ebooks and multiple other stressors that impact the industry. Earlier this month Penguin Group Canada also launched a web site http://www.guygavrielkay.ca/ dedicated to Guy Gavriel Kay’s works. In addition there is now a Twitter and Facebook account along with downloadable artwork and posters. While other companies might be struggling to find their footing in this brave new digital world Penguin Group Canada clearly already has a leg up on the competition. Gavriel Kay’s novel is on sale in Canada this week. Penguin Group Canada was founded in 1974.
Thriftymomma doesn’t receive compensation for her opinions or review.
Still Alice by Lisa Genova is a lovely, bittersweet, insightful l look, at the devastating diagnosis of early onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Alice Howland, an accomplished Harvard professor, is barely 50 when she starts to realize her brain is beginnning to fail her. Forgetfulness is becoming an issue. She often is at a loss for words and occasionally becomes lost at work on the campus near the university where she teaches. She loses her place in a telephone conversation with her grown children often and simply isn’t as sharp as she once was. These small blips require further investigation and so she reluctantly and, with disbelief, consults her doctor. The diagnosis, while shocking, isn’t completely a surprise as Alice seems to know in her gut that something is wrong long before it is given a name. Early-onset Alzheimer’s. She keeps the diagnosis to herself for far too long, until she is no longer able. When she shares the devastating news with family, they react in their own ways, each one revealing different facets of the disease. To Alice’s oldest daughter it is particularly frightening as she becomes pregnant and worries the genes might be passed to her twins. Projecting into the future she also worries she may someday be a burden to her own children if she develops symptoms. Youngest child Lydia, the artistic actress, surprisingly rises to the challenge as caregiver of her mother. Their bond is strengthened by the mother’s vulnerability. Lydia chooses not to have the testing that would reveal her future health. Her brother Tom carries survivor guilt of sorts when it is revealed that he should not get Alzheimer’s. Her husband, John, a brilliant doctor, hides his feelings and refuses to believe his wife may someday be unable to remember his name. He is a secondary character at best in this story and he is sometimes unlikeable as the heartbroken husband struggling to decide if he can manage his feelings while unable, at times, to see the essence of Alice beneath the deterioration. John chooses work as a refuge from his homebound formerly vibrant wife. “If I am in lab, I don’t have to watch you sticking Post-it notes on all the cabinets and doors. I can’t just stay home and watch you get worse. It kills me.” can’t take it Alice. The impact on Alice’s family is dealt with nicely here in this novel, as each of Alice’s children struggle to decide if they will be tested for genetic markers that will tell them whether they may develop the same terrible disease. But it is Alice’s story that clearly dominates the novel and her character we feel for all throughout her sad journey. While this is a fictional story, Genova, who has a PHD in neuroscience from Harvard University, is an expert on the details of this disease, and I loved that I learned so much about the inner workings of the brain from this book. This book has all of the elements of a good story and has won a few accolades along the way including the 2008 Bronte prize and yet I felt the writing lacked sophistication and style. This is a great story and it is nicely written and I would recommend it to almost anyone, but the writing is simply good, not great.
Still Alice, by Lisa Genova is published by Simon and Schuster, New York 2007
The Mass Market edition was $10.99 in Canada.
thriftymommastips rating $$$$ out of $$$$$.
Thriftymommastips did not receive any compensation for this review
Admit One: My Life in Film by Emmett James is one of the funniest, easiest, reads I’ve been sent in a long time. I wasn’t prepared for how witty this book is and after reading the cover blurb assumed Admit One would be a sad memoir of a poor youth raised in Croydon, South London. Memoir as a genre can be self indulgent and frankly I have read far too many that fall into the let’s blame my parents for every sad thing that ever happened to me category. This story however is not one of those point the finger maudlin tales. From start to finish this is a catchy, witty saga of a young lad who seeks solace at the movies and in fact tells his life story as it relates to major movies that came out during specific times of his life. It is a simple device _ this echoing of life’s stories through other media, such as film, books, art. And yet when used effectively it is a lovely way to frame a story and it can propel plot along nicely. Admit One starts with an open letter prologue to Steven Seagal which made me chuckle. James begins to list the top 10 films of his youth and then goes on to note that readers will notice no Steven Seagal movies on the list, with good reason. I enjoyed everything about this book. Its deadpan humour was a perfect pick me up for this reader during a long dreary winter in Canada. There’s even an adoption subtheme that made me like the book even more as it is revealed that James’ mother was adopted and then goes on later in life to adopt a pair of girls. As some of my readers know I am an adoption advocate, frequent speaker and writer about adoption. Chapter One starts with The Disney version of Jungle Book 1967 and it is clear that a young boy’s reverence for film will feed his imagination and shape his destiny early on. The author’s musings on films and directors/animators tweaked a nostalgia in me that was unexpected and a welcome reminder of days gone by and also major films and television shows/ rituals that shaped my own childhood. In my own family as a youngster we would gather around the TV on Sunday nights without fail to watch Walt Disney’s weekly family movie. James knows these are the things that bind us, often strangely even more than life’s big events, the small weekly rituals with emotional resonance long preserved into tiny gems hidden within longterm memory. Remarkably this memoir ends up carrying us to Hollywood and the older James stumbles through a series of humourous missteps as an extra, eventually landing himself a part on the blockbuster hit Titanic. I thoroughly enjoyed this one as a light, entertaining read.
Admit One: My Life in Film, by Emmett James, Fizzypop Productions, 2010. 2nd edition. $19.95 hardcover. (A very good price)
The first edition was published in 2007, by Wheatmark Books in Arizona
thriftymommastips rating $$$$ out of $$$$$
Thriftymomma was no compensated for this review but instead received a free copy of the book for review.
Thriftymomma was not compensated in any way for this review but received a free copy of the book from the publisher.
I have been a great fan of Cordelia Strube from the time she first drew attention for her novel Alex and Zee. Strube’s first novel was nominated for the W.H. Smith Books In Canada first novel award and it garnered a fair bit of praise roughly 15 years ago, back when young Canadian authors were being discovered and celebrated regularly, in both this country, and on the world stage. Strube’s various other novels Milton’s Elements and Teaching Pigs To Sing are firmly tucked away in my own personal home library of great Canadian authors. Teaching Pigs To Sing was a finalist for the Governor General’s Award. When I heard of Strube’s latest novel Lemon, I quickly contacted Coach House books and asked for a review copy for thriftymommasbrainfood. And from the moment I received this one in the mail I couldn’t put it down. I read it on the treadmill at the Y and while waiting for my daughter’s at their various activities which they do all over town. I literally could not put it down. And that doesn’t happen that often any more as my reading time vies with many other obligations, commitments and passions. Strube is a witty author, with a strong narrative voice, perhaps an aquired taste for some, but her characters are often strong females with a very jaded view of life, or a cynical eye. Lemon is no exception. Lemon is the story of a disenfranchised young girl, 16, named Limone, nicknamed Lemon, who spends her days rebelling at school and her off hours volunteering in a children’s cancer ward at a local hospital. At the start of the story when we meet Lemon, she has three mothers. The biological mother seeking her, her adoptive father’s depressed ex who tried to kill them both, and her most recent stepmother. Lemon lives with the most recent stepmother, a school principal who has become agoraphobic since being stabbed. The young teen escapes her life by reading voraciously. In her sad world teens beat each other up to feel something, sexting each other constantly, then betraying their friends by posting their pervy messages on sites like Youtube. Cyberbullying is the norm at Lemon’s high school and teachers seem to look the other way as most of the students have some secret underground perversion. Despite the claim that Lemon feels she has three mothers, she sees herself as an orphan in a world that is not worth living in and she spends her spare time hiding in trees observing the drug dealers, thugs and lowlifes in her neighbourhood. While she was at one point adopted, those parents have long since broken up. When we meet her, her adoptive mother is dead, her birthmother is searching for her and Lemon is conflicted. Her adoptive father, who eventually it is revealed, turns out to be her biological father, is a horrid skirtchaser she dubbed The Slug. Lemon’s closest friend is a child named Kadylak dying of cancer, her one teenage friend is the school slut and her only other friend is a dark intense poet practising to be a psychiatrist. When Lemon’s only true friend dies of cancer she receives a package from the family containing the girls’ drawings and it plummets her into a downward spiral. “Brightly coloured birds with stick legs under an always smiling sun. Drawings I watched her pen intently with felt marker, wondering why the sun was always smiling. She who could not go outside for fear of burning her chemo-blasted skin always drew smiling suns. I believed she would survive because of those suns.” While this book is extremely graphic, Lemon is a beautiful character with an unflinching view of the really desparate world she feels she has inherited. In the mirror she sees her biology tying her to people she either doesn’t know or cannot stand. In the end this is a story about the nature of family. When a young drifter who is also an environmentalist comes to live with the odd pair, the novel clearly becomes an essay on the nature of family and what it is that binds us to this earth. Lemon is one of the most humourous, sad and touching books I have read in a very long time. It is very respectful of adoption language and truthful in rendering the emotions involved in this bittersweet process. It is life in an adoptive family, but darker, way funnier and taken to the extreme. This is a story I will treasure.
Lemon by Cordelia Strube
Coach House Books
Toronto, 2009, 260 pages, $19.95 Canadian $21.95 U.S.
thriftymommas rating $$$$ and 1/2 out of $$$$$.
It is quite unusual for me to choose a young adult book to read or review for that matter. But something about this one tweaked my interest when shopping at Chapters/Indigo recently and as a result it has changed my whole reading perspective. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson came recommended by a staffer named Emily as you can see here. It also has garnered more awards than most authors accumulate in a lifetime of writing volumes of novels. This young adult book is one of the most compelling character studies I have seen since reading The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold. (a new movie currently in theatres based on the bestseller. In Speak, the narrator is a young girl starting high school. Melinda Sordino, selectively mute, has stopped communicating in any meaningful way since she broke up a summer party by calling the cops. All of her friends hate her since she ruined the summer’s biggest social event. While most readers will probably be able to guess at the reasons behind the phone call, the author doesn’t reveal the details until a crucial point in the book. Melinda is traumatized, depressed and anxious. She slowly reveals details of why and how she came to be non responsive and disenfranchised from her parents and her former friends. Halse Anderson has done a remarkable job recreating the truly awful awkwardness of early grade nine and the strange but real high school environment. A mother of teenagers at the time she wrote this novel, she captures details with a wonderful mix of humour and pain, always realistically conveying atmosphere, setting and dialogue. Melinda is failing or flailing in most of her subjects. She is depressive to everyone except her parents, who do not stop working or admonishing her poor academic performance long enough to figure out what truly might be happening with their daughter. This is a sad, brave, book because it deals with mental illness and violence. But Speak is also ultimately a hopeful story that chooses to pull back the curtain that shields people from seeing mental illness as something that affects young people. Melinda’s high school is a place of refuge and terror, an escape and a prison. “The art room is one of the places I feel safe. I hum and don’t worry about looking stupid.” This is a book I will keep for my daughters to read when they are old enough to read it (I would estimate 12 and up). Speak conveys a powerful message about voice and truth, safety and the complex world of contemporary teenagers. It is precise and unflinching and it has opened my eyes to another genre of novel and the fact that there are some truly amazing authors writing young adult fiction.
thriftymommastips review $$$$$ our of $$$$$.
Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson is published by Penguin USA, 1999.
198 pages. $14 Canadian and $10 USA.
This Xmas vacation I learned about surface tension and static electricity. How many families can say that? Ours can, thanks to this excellent Usborne book my daughters received from Santa this year. Although it at first seemed a bit pricey, it is already proving to be a treasure. (Santa) Mommy ordered this through my daughter’s school Scholastic Canada catalogue earlier in the year and it cost me $14.95. It is a durable softcover and the experiments have internet links to explain more about the individual projects and to encourage further learning. Yesterday morning we cracked this open and began experimenting. My fiver made an excellent paper airplane that actually flies, unlike the ones she usually makes and leaves all over the house. We have already done water surface tension with a floating paperclip. (My fiver again replicated this experiment with a guinea pig dish last night as we were cleaning Cottonball the guinea pig’s cage) and the dancing pepper experiment. To do this one take a small see-through container and place a layer of pepper at the bottom. Put the lid on top. Find something that is wool (a sweater, scarf or mitts) this proved to be the tricky part as half of our products here are cotton with some polyester thrown in to prevent shrinkage. Finally we found some wool mitts and then used them to rub the top of the container for about 30 seconds to one minute. Watch as the pepper springs to the top of the container. Unfurl a paperclip and gently use the end to manoeuvre the pepper grains around the lid. This works because the wool creates static energy inside the container and the metal paperclip moves the grains around. Fun! Not only that my kids both have excellent and educational information to share when they get back to school next week. Now which experiment will we do today?
thriftymommastips review $$$$$ out of $$$$$
thriftymomma doesn’t get compensated for reviews.