Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Tell It To The Trees by Anita Rau Badami

"...Tight as a fist, we are, and as hard if you get in our way. Suman is the only weakness, the little finger, but Papa and I knew right away we'd have to hold her hard in our grasp. That way she wouldn't have a chance to do anything silly."

I really had no idea that Anita Rau Badami's newest offering, Tell It To The Trees, would be so chilling, so utterly disturbing.

Tell It To The Trees is a story about a dysfunctional family of East Indian immigrants whose burden of secrets spells disaster for them and others. The story centers around the Dharma family, headed by Vikram Dharma who lives in the house that his father, Mr. J.K. Dharma, built years ago in the isolated wilds of Merrit's Point, British Columbia. Living with him are his mother, Akka, his second wife Suman, Varsha Dharma, 13 year old daughter of Vikram and his first wife Harini (Helen) and Memant son of Suman and Vikram.

The novel opens with the finding of the frozen body of Anu Krishnan, a young, successful woman of East Indian descent, outside the Dharma home. Anu was a tenant who had been renting the back house on the Dharma property for the past 8 months.

The events leading up to this point are recounted in the voices of Varsha, Suman, Hemant, and Anu Krishnan, the tenant. In the voice of Varsha we learn the history of the Dharma family and the tragic family event that occurred when she was four years old. When she was four, her mother Harini left her father and shortly afterwards dies in an accident. Vikram and Harini fought a great deal and Varsha's mom went out a lot, what Varsha calls "roamings". Harini was very beautiful and she had many beautiful and expensive things which Varsha found intriguing. When Varsha asked her mother where she got them, she was told that she "found" them. She asked Varsha to keep this a secret from her father, something the little girl found almost impossible to do. When Varsha sought out her grandmother, Akka, she was told "Go tell the trees,...They won't tell a soul." Shortly after this, Harini leaves and is found dead. The reader never really learns the circumstances of Harini's death but later events lead us to consider several possibilities. Varsha was told by her father that she must forget her mother and never ever forgive her. Her father removes all evidence of Harini's existence in their lives, including pictures and all her personal belongings - thus setting the stage for the Varsha's determination not to ever lose someone again.

Eventually, Varsha's father travels to India and returns with a new wife, thirty year old Suman who arrives in Canada six months after their marriage in India. She is quiet and not very pretty but she has a good heart and is willing to love Varsha. Suman learns almost immediately that Vikram is jealous, controlling and has a terrible temper. No matter what she does it is never good enough for Vikram, who demeans and abuses her and the children.

Akka, wise to her son's ways, advises Suman again and again to leave, but the reader discovers that there are several reasons why she cannot. One of the main reasons centers around Varsha, who as her narrative develops, is revealed to be a deeply disturbed young girl. Intensely affected by the loss of her mother, Varsha will do anything to keep from losing another mother. She becomes manipulative, cruel and cunning in her plan to thwart Suman from gaining any chance to leave or even to assert herself. Varsha is also emotionally entangled with her step-brother Hemant whom she controls absolutely. Varsha, although a tragic character, is intensely dislikable, as her narrative progresses.

The entire fabric of the Dharma household is upset with the arrival of Anu Krishnan, a self-confident East Indian woman who was once a classmate of Vikram Dharma. Anu has come to Merrit's Point to take a break in her hectic life and possibly to write a book of stories. As time passes, Anu comes to understand that the Dharma family has many secrets and that things are not as they appear to be. On the outside they present an image of the perfect family, but the reality of life in the Dharma family begins to emerge as Anu gets to know Suman and Akka. Unable to bear Suman's abuse, Anu begins to support her emotionally and offers to help her. It is a decision that has heart-rending repercussions for everyone but also offers possibility to Suman. Some readers may not like the inconclusive ending....

Tell It To The Trees is the first of Badami's novels that I have read. It was amazing, unsettling and completely riveting. Despite the story being told from four different perspectives, each narrative flows seamlessly from one to the other. Although the reader knows where the story is leading (to the death of Anu), Badami is able to create a suspenseful recounting of what actually happened, with the result that both shocks and disturbs. What begins as a simple recounting of events through the eyes of several narrators increasingly becomes a psychological thriller.

This novel explores many issues including those of arranged marriage, wife and child abuse, immigrants in Canada, and especially identity. Tell It To The Trees vividly portrays the increasing isolation of the Dharma family in the Merrit's Point community - an isolation that is matched by Suman's isolation from the rest of this frightening family. The writing is beautifully descriptive and provides the reader with a definite sense of the wildness, isolation and cold surrounding the Dharma family. This is in contrast to the beauty of Suman - her colourful saris and a her delicious, unique food.

I thought the idea of the children telling their "secrets" to a tree very interesting. Varsha, overcome with guilt both her own and that of others, uses the tree like a confessional.

Tell It To The Trees is brilliant, well-crafted novel that makes me definitely want to read more from this author. You can check out this booktrailer:

Book Details:
Tell It To The Trees by Anita Rau Badami
Alfred A. Knopf Canada 2011

Monday, November 28, 2011

The Great Plague by John Barry Part IV It Begins

Camp Funston military emergency hospital 1918.
It Begins Part IV.It is difficult to know for certain just where the 1918 influenza originated. Circumstantial evidence suggests that several people probably carried the influenza virus from Haskell County, Kansas to Camp Funston around late February or early March, 1918. Within days the first cases of influenza began appearing and within three weeks, 1100 men were hospitalized from Funston. The virus was found in military camps in Georgia and then in other camps as well as cities located adjacent to military camps. From there it is likely the virus spread to Brest, France where American troops disembarked on their way to the bloody fields of Europe. The disease spread to Chaumont and then to Paris, to Spain where it picked up the infamous name, "the Spanish flu" and onward throughout Europe, the United Kingdom as well as Asia and the Orient. Most cases were mild and there were doubts that it was in fact influenza. But there were some cases that were serious with victims dying within hours of getting sick. Then, it seemed to disappear. But as Barry writes,
"For the virus had not disappeared. It had only gone underground, like a forest fire burning in the roots, swarming and mutating, adapting, honing itself, watching and waiting, waiting to burst into flame."

In hindsight, it is easy to see now that the 1918 pandemic came in waves. The first spring wave, as mentioned above was mild, but the second wave was much more lethal.  Barry writes that a phenomena known as "passage" can cause a virus to increase in potency. It does so by passing from one animal to the next, each time adapting better to its host environment and becoming more efficient at infection.  So the first wave may have been mild due to the virus beginning to adapt to its new host (man). Then as it gained proficiency at infecting each new person, it became more lethal. Researchers believe this is the explanation for why an outbreak of mild influenza in February, 1918 in the US gradually developed into a virulent form of influenza later in the year.

By late spring, early summer of 1918, people began to die of influenzal pneumonia. The second wave began gradually with separate outbreaks of increasing severity occuring throughout America and Europe. Increasingly there were reports of ships pulling into port with sick sailors who spread the virus to dock workers, troops and others. In this manner, the virus was spread around the world.  But the worst was to come and it began at Camp Devens, a military cantonment thirty-five miles northwest of Boston. Built to hold a maximum of 36,000 men, by September 6, 1918 it was severely overcrowded with over 45,000 men. Gradually, from late August into early September, medical personnel began to see more and more men with pneumonia and influenza like illness. Staff did nothing to quarantine the sick soldiers and they were unprepared for what happened next - an explosion of illness unlike anything they had ever seen.

Suddenly hundreds of soldiers became ill with a severe form of pneumonia. There were so many sick men, that the hospital was completely overwhelmed by September 26. Not only were soldiers dying, but also the doctors and nurses treating them. The pattern was the same for most: influenza illness that rapidly progressed to pneumonia which led to cyanosis and death in a matter of hours. The men getting sick and dying were young and in the prime of their life.

When Welch, Cole, Russell and Vaughan, all top researchers and medical men, saw the dead and dying, viewed the autopsies they were "puzzled and felt an edge of fear."
The outbreak was not confined to Devens though because soldiers had transferred out of Devens immediately before the outbreak and taken the virus with them along the eastern coast of the US, into the midwest, down to Mexico and throughout the world.
Barry states that two parallel struggles emerged: that of society which now struggled to cope with the sick and the dying and that of the medical community which raced to find the cause and the cure.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

Turn of Mind tells the spellbinding story of Dr. Jennifer White, a sixty-four year old retired orthopedic surgeon specializing in hands, who is implicated in the murder of her neighbour and best friend, Amanda O'Toole. What makes this story so unusual is that it is told in the voice of an obviously intelligent woman as she slips between lucid moments and periods of dementia. Jennifer recounts what is happening to her in the present but also reveals pieces of her life as she remembers them. From this the reader must try to piece together what happened the day Amanda was murdered but also must attempt to understand Jennifer's past and her relationship with the murdered woman.

The novel opens with the police questioning Jennifer in her home at 2153 Sheffield Avenue in Chicago where she lives with her personal caretaker, Magdalena. Her neighbour, 75 year old Amanda has been found dead in her home just down the street from Jennifer. Jennifer is a prime suspect because Amanda's corpse has been found mutilated - four fingers on her right hand have been surgically removed. When Jennifer is interviewed by Detective Luton, she apparently has no idea that her friend has been murdered, nor can she really provide any information to police. The persistent Luton, however, is convinced that locked in Jennifer's mind somewhere is the truth about what happened to Amanda.

Throughout the novel, the reader, through Jennifer's narration, gradually explores the complex relationship Jennifer and her husband James had with Amanda and her husband Peter as well as the relationship she had with her children, Mark and Fiona. Jennifer was married to James, an attorney, who recently passed away due to a heart attack which occurred while he was driving. Amanda and Peter, who had no children, eventually divorced after 40 years of marriage, with Peter moving to California to live with a younger woman. Amanda and Jennifer had a combative but close relationship; both women had strong personalities and were very controlling.

Jennifer's voice is authentic and very realistic when she is suffering through her episodes of dementia. This is especially so as she describes her actions and feelings whenever she wanders, whether it be from her home or from the care facility she is placed in later on. Jennifer's narration reveals that the two couples became emotionally entangled, and that secrets where discovered on both sides. It is difficult, in my opinion, for the reader to determine whether or not Jennifer did murder her friend - an indication that Alice LaPlante succeeds brilliantly in masking the truth until the very end of the novel. There are plenty of hints and plenty of potential suspects too! The ending with its ultimate (and possibly even predictable) twist is quite satisfying.

Two of the more unusual themes in this novel are that of religion and hands, both of which are separate themes and yet also interconnected. The main character, Jennifer White is a lapsed Catholic who hasn't been to confession in 46 years. Because she studied medieval history as a graduate student prior to medical school, Jennifer has managed to collect various Catholic artifacts over the years, such as a large statue of St. Rita of Cascia, the patron saint of impossible causes, and a St. Christopher medal (patron saint of travelers). But among her most prized is a copy of The Icon of The Three Hands. The latter item is worked into the novel in a fascinating way because it involves the loss of a hand, a healing and it also identifies the nature of the relationship between Jennifer and Amanda.

The icon was painted by St. John of Damascus who lived under Muslim rule and therefore was forbidden to have images or statues. The Byzantine Emperor, Leo III issued a verdict forbidding veneration of holy images, which John wrote against numerous times. When the Emperor denounced John to the Caliph, his right hand which he used to write the treatises defending veneration was cut off. After begging to be given his amputated hand, he prayed for hours in front of an icon of the Mother of God and his hand was healed. In thanksgiving to the Theotokos, John of Damascus added a third hand - a copy of his own right hand made of silver. The Mother of God icon is thus known as the Icon of the Three Hands.

An expensive 15th century copy of this unusual icon was purchased by James for Jennifer who was drawn to it, perhaps because she is a surgeon who specializes in healing hands, something the icon represents. When Amanda sees the icon she immediately covets it but not for the same reasons as Jennifer. It is something Jennifer loves dearly and Amanda recognizing this uses this situation to warn Jennifer that she knows something about her and James - a secret that could unravel their life. The reader is presented with this view of Amanda as a manipulative and controlling woman who is determined to find a weakness in James and Jennifer.

If you'd like a novel with a bit of mystery, told in a unique way and which touches on themes of love, betrayal, power, aging and identity, Turn of Mind, winner of the prestigious Wellcome Trust Book Prize, will more than satisfy.

Book Details:
Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante
Bond Street Books Doubleday Canada 2011

Saturday, November 26, 2011

how to save a life by Sarah Zarr

When someone lives a certain kind of life all the time, it's hard to describe to them what it looks and feels like to someone who lives a certain other kind of life.

How to save a life is another great book by Sarah Zarr that deals in an unusual way with two teenagers trying to cope with difficult circumstances in life. The novel is written in the alternating voices of two teenage girls whose lives are very different. Jill MacSweeney is struggling to come to terms with the death of her father with whom she was very close. Jill who lives with her mother, Robin, is in her last year of high school.  Her mother has decided to adopt a baby. This was something she and Jill's father had often discussed and Robin feels that this is the time. She posts her intention online and receives a response from a girl in Omaha. Robin then takes the unusual step of inviting this teen to spend the final weeks of her pregnancy at her home in Denver, where they will arrange an open adoption.

Mandy Kalinowski is the pregnant teen who lives in Omaha with her mother and her mother's boyfriend, Kent. Mandy is determined to give her baby a chance at the life she never had living with her mother and her numerous boyfriends. When Mandy sees Robin's request online of offering to adopt a baby she responds and they strike a deal. She will give Robin her baby and move on with her life. Mandy tells Robin only what she needs to know and not all the specifics of her situation.

How To Save a Life opens with Mandy traveling by train to meet up with Robin and Jill in Denver. It is apparent from the beginning that Mandy is a very needy person who is in search of a father figure, especially when she tries to connect with a much older man sitting next to her on the train. In fact, when he leaves to go to the bathroom she manages to copy his mailing address down, despite the fact that this fellow has made it clear to her that he's not interested. After Mandy arrives in Denver and settles in with Robin and Jill, they learn that she is not as far along in the pregnancy as she indicated. The reader gradually begins to suspect that Mandy has been living under less than ideal circumstances at home and soon learns the reality of her situation, although that is not known to Jill and Robin until much later in the novel.

The relationship between Jill and Mandy in the novel is complicated. Neither of them are likable characters but as Zarr develops her characters, they grow and mature and more positive attributes are revealed. Jill is a bit goth, rebellious and judgmental. She lives the life of an upper class kid, somewhat spoiled and she is angry at her mother for bringing this strange girl into their lives, at a time when she is struggling to cope with her dad's death. In the overwhelming and unacknowledged pain of her loss, Jill strikes out against those who love her, alienating her friends and her on-again, off-again boyfriend, Dylan, alike.

When Ravi Desai, loss prevention associate, shows up at Margins, the store where Jill works, she is unexpectedly attracted to him. Jill's bad behaviour is unsuccessful in alienating Ravi, whose sensitive nature allows him to connect with her. He helps Jill understand that she has changed since her father's death. Because he didn't know the old Jill who existed when her father was alive, he is more readily accepting of the person she is now. He believes that she is a good person, even when Jill hates herself and how she is so mean to everyone around her, especially Mandy. Ravi recognizes that Jill's behaviour has its source in her grief and pain over the loss of her father.

Mandy, on the other hand, is afraid of Jill, but is much stronger emotionally than she appears. Mandy has come to Denver with a plan, and that is to save her baby's life and make sure it is a life that is happy and secure. As she lives with Robin and Jill, she comes to realize that her baby will not want for anything but will not have her mother. Unknown to Jill and Robin, Mandy's feelings about the baby begin to change as she nears her delivery date, thus adding another dimension of suspense to the novel. But Mandy has no plan for herself after the birth of her baby. She has no idea what will become of her or where she will go.

As the novel progresses, the relationship between all the characters in the book work towards a resolution that is both unique, warm and hopeful. For example, Dylan helps Jill understand something about Mandy that allows her to change Mandy's life in a fantastic waym while Ravi offers Jill the possibility of a future.

I want to start again. Not necessarily in a relationship but for myself. I want to start again with me, as the me I've become without Dad here. Good and bad and all of it.

In the end, Jill offers Mandy what they both want - something different from what they both have now. For Mandy, it means saving not only her baby's life but hers as well. For Jill, saving Mandy means moving forward after her dad's death.

How To Save a Life deals with themes of friendship, loss, and identity.

Book Details:
How to Save A Life by Sarah Zarr
New York: Little, Brown and Company 2011
341 pp.

Friday, November 25, 2011

The Butter Battle Book by Dr. Seuss

War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
War, huh, yeah
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Say it again y'all
War, huh, good God
What is it good for
Absolutely nothing
Listen to me
Edwin Starr, War 1969

While browsing through our extensive picture book collection at the branch where I work, I found two Dr. Seuss books I hadn't read.  I never read Seuss' books growing up but they were a staple in the extensive literary diet of my four children. In fact I collected many Suess books and we especially enjoyed Hunches in Bunches, a lesser known title. But there are two I don't have and one of them is The Butter Battle Book which was published in 1984. In this story, a young Yook (as they call themselves) is taken to the Wall which separates his people from the Zooks on the other side. His grandfather tells him,
It's high time that you knew
of the terribly horrible thing that Zooks do.
In every Zook house and in every Zook town
every Zook eats his bread
with the butter side down!

The Yooks we learn, eat their bread the correct way, with the butter side up! Because of this terrible difference, all Zooks cannot be trusted and the grandfather is part of the "Zook-Watching Border Patrol". The grandfather Yook was able to patrol the border successfully for a time using a "Snick-Berry Switch" as a deterrant - and most Zooks stayed away until one day, an inquisitive and "rude" Zook named VanItch appears. VanItch breaks the Yook's switch and starts what becomes an escalating series of threats and counter threats made by both sides, until the ultimate weapon in this "cold war" is created by both Yooks and Zooks. Who will use it first?

This book is clearly a satire on the ridiculousness of war. Here we have two societies who are not all that different except for they way they butter their bread! They even look alike in the book. Their weapons look the same, so in many respects their societies are very similar. And yet, they are willing to annihilate each other solely because they butter their bread differently.

The situation outlined in The Butter Battle Book is reminiscent of the situation that existed post World War II and continued into the early 1980's between the capitalist United States and the communist Soviet Union. Their homes are filled with posters promoting their way of buttering bread. Zooks are separated from the Yooks by a Berlinesque wall.

The "Cold War" saw both sides in an escalating nuclear arms race, each possessing numerous nuclear bombs capable of annihilating one another several times over. The Cold War reached its climax with the Cuban Missile Crisis in October, 1962. The bomb, in The Butter Battle Book is called "The Bitsy Big-Boy Boomeroo", the name of which is an obvious allusion to the first atomic bomb, named Fat Man which was dropped on Hiroshima and the second bomb, Little Boy which was dropped on Nagasaki in 1945.

I must clarify that I believe there are some things worth fighting against and fighting for. It was worthwhile fighting the evil of the Nazi regime, and the rapacious Japanese expansion in Asia. But many wars arise from greed, misunderstanding or intolerance.  The Butter Battle Book demonstrates that sometimes, war made for these reasons, is good for nothing....

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder

This day
is like the best
of both kinds
of books.

I want to cherish
each moment and yet,
I've got to know
that this character
named Cade
will be okay
when this story

Sixteen year old Amber is about to have her life thrown into complete chaos. But before that officially happens, she takes a day off from her life, slips out of her house and takes a limo to the town of Newport. She brings her iPod, her phone, her drumsticks and her jelly beans. Amber's plan is to spend time at the beach, her favourite place to de-stress. Instead, her plans get altered when she meets a beautiful boy named Cade, at the aquarium. They seem to have an immediate connection through their love of movies, music and Amber also recognizes that like her, this boy is also going through some kind of life-altering experience.

Through the equisite poetry of Lisa Schroeder we follow Amber and Cade as they spend the next twenty-four hours together. They flip a "lucky penny" to determine where they will go and what they will do. Along the way they get up the courage to tell one another about what is happening in their lives and offer each other respect, love and hope. Amber knows that Cade is troubled and she genuinely wants to help him. In many ways, Cade and Amber's relationship in The Day Before is a truly poignant story, which leaves the reader with a sense of many possibilities to be discovered.

However, while I really enjoyed this book, in particular the poetry and the blossoming relationship between Cade and Amber, what I disliked strongly was the underlying premise the author used to set up Amber's trip. It was overly melodramatic and in my opinion, utterly unrealistic.


We learn that Amber was switched at birth. Her birth parents go to court to obtain custody of her and are partially successful when the judge awards shared custody. This means that Amber will spend six months with the family who raised her for the past 16 years and six months with her biological family. Based on my personal experience and my knowledge of family law, I cannot believe that any court would grant such an order involving a 15 year old girl, without her consent or any consideration of her feelings or the impact on her life. Generally speaking courts do listen carefully to the wishes of children over the age of twelve, and especially so to an older teen. Is there actually a precedence in family law in the United States for this situation? How would such a ridiculous ruling affect this young girl's education? How could Amber possibly maintain any continuity in her education? In my opinion, because of this, The Day Before, is fatally flawed. Schroeder could have retained much of the drama of the situation simply by having Amber leave for a day to in an attempt to come to terms with the knowledge that she was switched at birth and has been raised by people who are not her biological parents.

If you don't mind the ridiculous premise behind Amber's situation, ignore it and read The Day Before, enjoying the lyrical poetry and the sweet relationship between two intelligent, caring teens.

In the video below, Lisa Schroeder discusses how she puts a little bit of herself into each of her novels:

If you'd like to see what other books Lisa Schroeder has written, check out her colourful website at

Book Details:
The Day Before by Lisa Schroeder
New York: Simon Pulse    2011
307 pp.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Left Neglected by Lisa Genova

Left Neglected is Lisa Genova's second book, again telling the story of a woman coping with a serious neurological problem. Thirty-seven year old Sarah Nickerson is VP of Human Resources at Berkley Consulting, which "offers strategic advice to companies all over the world in all industries". Her job is a pure stress, pressure cooker position in a company that is known for its premiere consulting work and high burnout and divorce rate among staff.

Sarah and her husband Bob, also a Harvard business grad, live in Welmont, a wealthy suburb of Boston and have three children, Charlie, Lucy and Linus (named after the Charlie Brown characters). Sarah's life is incredibly hectic, a combination of having to juggle 70 to 80 hour work weeks with the responsibility of raising three small children. But all that changes one morning on a rushed drive to work, when Sarah pulls out her cell phone and is involved in a serious single car accident. Sarah suffers trauma to the right side of her head. She awakens eight days later in ICU to discover that her brain does not recognize the left side of her body. She knows she has a left side but doesn't know where it is. Her brain ignores all sensory information that originates on the left side of her body.

At first Sarah believes that she will recover within two weeks and be back into the groove of her hectic life. She can't afford the time to be disabled. She enters therapy, first at the hospital and then at the Baldwin Rehabilitation Center. Instead of a fast recovery and a return to her crazy out of control life, Sarah begins to realize that this process will take more time than she might be willing to admit.

"The more therapy I have, the more I realize that this is not a math equation. No one will give me any guarantees. I might get better and I might not. The therapy might help, and it might not. I can work hard as I've always worked at everything I've ever done, and it might not be any more effective than just lying here and praying. I've been doing both."

As she works to rehabilitate herself, Sarah must also come to terms with her past and in particular with her broken relationship with her mother, who emotionally abandoned her when she was young. Sarah gradually learns to redefine her life, the nature of success and her priorities in life. What started out as an obstacle and a disability has become an opportunity for positive change and personal growth.

The title, Left Neglected has two meanings; referring both to a neurological disorder arising from the head injury that Sarah experiences and her emotional abandonment by her mother and father during her childhood.

There were many facets of this book I really loved. I enjoyed the overall writing style of the novel conveyed through the voice of Sarah, which was both engaging and genuine. Genova infused Sarah's voice with humour that lightened what could have been a very oppressive situation and added to the character of the book.

I felt that Left Neglected portrayed events in a realistic way, especially in contrasting Sarah's lifestyle before and after her accident, demonstrating how Sarah's disability impacted her life, it's effects on her relationship with her husband and children and how it changed the way she viewed others.

I was also thrilled to see Lisa Genova take on the issue of cell phone usage while driving. Where I live, talking on cell phone while driving is banned, yet hundreds of people still do this. It's easy to spot these people because these are the drivers who wander into the oncoming lane, drive too slow or can't make a turn properly. In Left Neglect, a momentary lapse of attention while fishing for a cell phone, changes Sarah's life forever.

Although I enjoyed Still Alice, I feel Genova's writing has continued to grow and that Left Neglected is more enjoyable and better written than the former. This is a great book that will appeal to older teens, book club participants and those who enjoy books about overcoming personal difficulties.

Below is a video in three parts of an interview with author Lisa Genova:

In the second interview, author Lisa Genova discusses the dreams Sarah has in the first part of the book and their significance in the story.

In the third part of the interview, Lisa talks about how another author who had self-published, Julia Fox Garrison, introduced her to a literary agent and then revealed a surprising piece of personal information that helped Lisa write Left Neglected.

Book Details:
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova
New York: Gallery Books (Simon & Schuster, Inc.)
327 pp.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Goliath by Scott Westerfeld

Goliath, the final installment in the Leviathan trilogy, is the best of the three books. The story centers mainly around Nikola Tesla, a Serbian inventor, who in real life, made many discoveries in the area of electricity, and who in Goliath believes that he has the ultimate weapon capable of stopping the carnage of World War I. In the Leviathan series, Tesla is a "Clanker boffin, a maker of German secret weapons" and the inventor of the Tesla cannon, a lightning weapon that almost destroyed the Leviathan in Behemoth.

The growing relationship between Deryn and Alex and their conflicted feelings for one another, she a commoner and he a royal prince, adds the requisite romantic tension to the novel.

The story opens with both Alex and Dylan (Deryn) aboard the Leviathan on their way to some secret destination in Northern Siberia. There, in the region of the Tunguska River, they rescue the renowned scientist, Nikola Tesla and his crew of Russians. The Tunguska River area has been devastated by some kind of massive explosion, which Tesla claims is the result of his doomsday machine - Goliath. However, Dr. Barlow, the British scientist onboard the Leviathan doesn't think this is likely. She believes there might be an alternative explanation for what has happened in the region.

In the meantime, Dr. Tesla has managed to convince the British Admiralty that the Leviathan should journey to New York, whetr Tesla will demonstrate his secret weapon's ability to inflict massive destruction, thus convincing the Germans, Austrians and British to end the war. Alex forms an alliance with Tesla, believing that stopping the war is his destiny. However, soon he realizes that the situation may not be as it appears. Has he aligned himself with a madman, or with a brilliant scientist capable of performing the impossible and stopping a terrible world wide conflict?

Filled with the necessary battles, crises and twists, unusual creatures and alternate versions of history, Goliath builds to an exciting but satisfyingly predictable conclusion. There were many aspects of Goliath that I enjoyed; the strong female characters, the touch of romance and the merging together of both Clanker and Darwinist technology, especially the gradual acceptance in both Deryn and Alex of aspects of both societies. There are the fantastical creatures bred by the Darwinists; two headed eagles, three meter tall bulls and so forth. But perhaps the most ingenious are the chatty and "perspicacious" lorises who evolve into delightful "characters" in this novel, adding a touch of humour here and there.

Once again the book is illustrated with the beautiful pencil sketches of Keith Thompson and has a great cover featuring the two attractive young protagonists.

Goliath is a welcome conclusion to Westerfeld's innovative steampunk trilogy.

Book Details:
Goliath by Scott Westerfeld
New York: Simon Pulse

Saturday, November 12, 2011

In Theatres Soon.....

If you've read Brian Selznick's Invention of Hugo Cabret, you will hardly be able to wait until November 25 when the film is released into theatres.

One of my daughters is a huge fan of TinTin, so The Adventures of TinTin, which will be released December 21, is highly anticipated in our house. Produced by Peter Jackson and directed by Steven Spielberg, TinTin promises to be a thrilling cinematic adaptation of the beloved books by Herge. The Adventures of TinTin is based loosely on the TinTin books but especially The Secret of the Unicorn and Red Rackham's Treasure. Starring Jamie Bell as TinTin, Andy Serkis as Captain Haddock, and Daniel Craig as Ivanovich Sakharine,the movie traces TinTin's efforts to locate a treasure hidden 300 years ago by an ancestor of Captain Haddock, who scuttled his ship, the Unicorn, to prevent pirates from capturing it. Clues to the treasure's whereabouts are hidden in three tiny models of the ship, the Unicorn. Tintin, his faithful dog, Snowy, and Haddock race to locate the treasure before, Sakharine, a descendant of the pirate who attacked the original Unicorn centuries earlier. Check out the trailer below:

The other movie I'd like to see is War Horse which is also directed by Steven Spielberg and tackles the story about a young man, Albert, whose horse is sold to the calvary and sent overseas with troops to fight in World War I. This movie is based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo. War Horse stars Tom Hiddleston (Loki in Thor) as Captain Nichols and Jeremy Irvine as Albert.This movie might appeal to older viewers. Having read several of Michael Morpurgo's books and loved all of them, I will have to make a concerted effort to add this one to my gigantic "to read" list. The cinematography and the drama of the movie's trailer has captured my interest. The IMDB website indicates a Christmas Day release for those of us in Canada.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Eve by Anna Carey

Eve tells the story of a girl and boy in a post-plague world. America specifically has been destroyed by a plague that killed anyone who received a vaccination against it. This meant that most adults were killed along with many older children. The result has been a catastrophic collapse of society and the emergence of a new order and a new country, The New America, ruled by one man, The King.
Eve, was five when her mother died. She along with numerous other orphans were sent to special schools where they received a special education that included the learning of Latin, writing, painting and piano. They also received a special kind of indoctrination - to fear men. Men, the girls are told, "could be manipulative, conniving, and dangerous." Through literature, they learned to avoid men at all costs.

The story opens the day before Eve's graduation, when she along with thirty-nine other girls will walk across the bridge to the giant windowless building to begin learning their trades. Eve is excited to begin this new chapter in her life. She wants to become a painter and paint murals in the King's capital, the City of Sand. She imagines a life of leisure and accomplishment. However, Eve begins to question what is going on when the school rebel, Arden, escapes. Arden tells Eve the true purpose of the building across the lake from the school - the graduates are enslaved to breed babies for the new world.

When Eve discovers that Arden is telling the truth, she escapes into the unknown wilds the night before "graduation" in search of a safe haven known as Califia. Eve stumbles upon Arden and the two of them starving, run into a young man, Caleb, who instantly is drawn to Eve. Caleb hides Arden and Eve from the government troops who are searching frantically for Eve. It is at this time that Eve discovers why she is being hunted - The King wants her for his wife.

Caleb takes her to a refuge camp in the wilderness. The camp run by a tough character named Leif, is populated entirely by boys of various ages. Eve who has been indoctrinated to distrust men, must now rely on Caleb and Leif for her safety. As Eve spends more time with Caleb she gradually begins to realize not all men are as The Teacher described in the school. Some men are bad, but some men like Caleb Eve identifies as a "good man". Gradually Eve finds herself falling in love with Caleb. From this point on, there are several twists in the story but essentially the remainder of the novel tells the story of Eve and Caleb and their attempt to reach Califia.

Overall, this novel was enjoyable and very exciting. The dystopian society is gradually explained throughout the book. After years of indoctrination, I'm not so sure Eve would have so quickly undertaken the task to learn about what was going on in the windowless building across the lake from the school. Nevertheless, this does set the stage for Eve leaving the sheltered world she has been raised in.
She also seems to quickly overcome her biased view of men and learns about loving and happiness from Caleb.

Eve is the first book in what will be a trilogy. The second book, Once, is due to be published next year. If you'd like to watch the book trailer and read about possible casting for a movie check out the website

Book Details:
Eve by Anna Carey
Alloy Entertainment 2011
318 pp.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

K-Pop Videos

I've been trying to figure out the whole Kpop music scene now for about 6 months. It's a very fascinating genre of music that has incorporated many North American music influences, especially that of Michael Jackson, Madonna and Lady Gaga, along with Korean and Asian culture. There are a ton of videos online, many of them very very popular. For the teens in my family it all started with Korean dramas and then gradually led to the music.

Here are two of my favourite videos by 2NE1, a South Korean girl pop band. Formed in 2009, the group's acronym means "New Evolution of the 21st century. 2NE1 is comprised of four members, CL, Dara, Bom and Minzy.

I'll be featuring more of these in the coming weeks and months. Do you have any favourites you'd like to share.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Glogging Historical Fiction

 Below is a poster I did in Glogster showing some of the women characters tackled in recent historical novels for teens.