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The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster
Price: $9.99

4.0 out of 5 stars The perfect Anytime Read, September 1, 2015
Annabelle Aster is kind of a woman-out-of-her-time. She may live in San Francisco in 1995 but she dresses in vintage clothes, takes tea and not just the drink but the whole British tea-time ritual, and she lives in a big aubergine (don't call it purple) Victorian house. Then she installs a particularly ugly red door with interesting carvings on the back of her house and her whole life is transformed. When she walks through the door, instead of her garden, she discovers a small farmhouse amid a Kansas wheat field. There is also a mailbox. When she receives a letter from her new neighbour, it begins an adventure that will take her half way across the country and one hundred years back in time.

The Lemoncholy Life of Annie Aster is the debut novel by Scott Wilbanks and what a fun tale it is. It is chock full of misfit characters who, although perhaps somewhat idealized, are extremely likeable. There is also time travel, an interesting mystery, a metaphorically moustache-twirling villain and his equally evil although less loquacious sidekick, and the kind of story that sucks you in right from the first page and keeps you curled up reading late into the night - the perfect anytime read when you want something light but satisfying.

The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel
The Little Paris Bookshop: A Novel
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully Written & Deceptively Simple, August 31, 2015
Jean Perdu is a Paris bookseller. He runs La Pharmacie Litteraire (The Literary Apothecary) from his barge on the Seine. He doesn't just sell books; he prescribes them based on what he feels the customer needs for whatever is ailing their soul and he is rarely wrong. But he has never found the book that will ease the pain he feels for the loss of his love two decades before. When he meets Max Jordan, a first-time novelist, who is uncomfortable with his new celebrity, the two set out on a journey to Provence seeking what they both have lost.

The Little Paris Bookshop by German author Nina George is a deceptively simple story about lost loves and the difficulty of reconciling the past so that you can be open to new loves. It is a beautifully rendered journey through the geographic, literary, and culinary landscape of France and a heartwarming tale of forgiveness and finding love at any age. The writing has an almost poetic quality allowing George to convey a huge range of emotions with very few words:

"He mainly thought of her as --. As a pause amid a hum of his thoughts, as a blank in the pictures of the past, as a dark spot amid his feelings. He was capable of conjuring all kinds of gaps."

Like Jean's barge, the story moves along at a slow languid pace but that's fine - it gives you more time to admire the scenery as it passes by.

[ The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: Perspectives from the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas BY Porras-Gallo, Mar ( Author ) ] { Hardcover } 2014
[ The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: Perspectives from the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas BY Porras-Gallo, Mar ( Author ) ] { Hardcover } 2014
by Mar Porras-Gallo
Edition: Hardcover

4.0 out of 5 stars Well-Documented & -Researched, August 22, 2015
The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 is estimated to have killed between 30 and 100 million people and has been characterized by the World Health Organization as the single most devastating pandemic in world history. The disease came in three waves: the first in the spring of 1918 was fairly mild and of short duration; however, it was the second wave in the summer that was particularly virulent and violent and, unlike most influenza pandemics which attack the very young, the very old, and those who are already ill, this flu tended to hit young healthy people particularly hard.

Despite its name, there is no consensus on where the flu started. The more virulent strain appeared in both France and the US in August of 1918. However, because of the war, the press tended to downplay its effects until it appeared in Spain in November. Since Spain was not involved in the war, it had not imposed the same wartime censorship. As a result, the pandemic, called the Naples Soldier in Spain after a song in a popular musical play, received a great deal more press than elsewhere.

The Spanish Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919: Perspectives from the Iberian Peninsula and the Americas edited by Maria-Isabel Porras-Gallo and Ryan A. Davis consists of several essays that look at the flu using both primary and secondary sources in various regions of the Americas including different parts of Brazil as well as Portugal and Spain. The various writers look at the social and religious as well as the medical, and political effects of the pandemic along with the different attempts to control and contain the outbreak. It is well-researched and well-documented including an explanation of the disease itself, how it spread, and many of the reasons why it became so deadly including troop movements and war shortages. This is a fascinating look at the worst pandemic in human history from a little-known perspective but one that illustrates the possibilities of future outbreaks especially in light of the recent Ebola epidemic and the importance of understanding the causes and movements of disease so that we are prepared to deal with them effectively, efficiently, and immediately.

Everything You and I Could Have Been If We Weren't You and I
Everything You and I Could Have Been If We Weren't You and I
Offered by Penguin Random House Grupo Editorial
Price: $1.99

5.0 out of 5 stars Beautiful & Quirky, August 16, 2015
It is some time the future and people want more - more time for work, for play, just more - and a drug has been found that allows people to stop sleeping giving them that more. There is one downside, though; the end of sleep means the end of dreaming. Marcos has never wanted to give up sleeping. In fact, it may be the thing he likes best in the whole world. But his mother, the woman who taught him everything about life and love and dancing, has just died, leaving him bereft and now he wants a change, something to help him cope so he decides he will take the drug. However, just as he's about to do it, he is interrupted. Something has happened that will change his life completely in ways he never could have imagined.

Everything You and I Could Have Been If We Weren't You and I by author Albert Espinosa is an oddly quirky book about life and grief and the importance of dreaming. It skips around changing time and place at will, often disjointed and it is not always clear how things, people, and thoughts are connected, very much like a dream full of strange events and even stranger people, one that doesn't seem to make sense until you think more deeply about it and then realize it is telling you something important.

"I've always thought that dreams are advertisements; some long, like paid programming, others short, like movie trailers and others teasers. And they all speak of our desires. But we don't understand them because they seem shot by David Lynch."

Everything You and I Could Have Been If We Weren't You and I is a beautifully written book that asks a great deal of its readers if they are to fully appreciate it. But, for those who are willing to look deeper and who appreciate the resonance buried underneath, it is a book full of wit and wisdom about what truly matters in a life well lived.

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas
2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas
Offered by Random House LLC
Price: $12.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Sweetly Funny, August 14, 2015
2 A.M. at the Cat's Pajamas is a story about a little girl named Madeleine and a jazz club called The Cat's Pajamas told over the space of 24 hours on Christmas Eve eve in Philadelphia. Her mother has recently died and her father spends his days in his room wrapped in a drug-induced haze, the mellow sounds of jazz on his record player. Madeleine has one ambition - to sing and she's good at it if only anyone would give her a chance to prove it. She is hoping she will get the opportunity at school. However, things don't go quite as planned and Madeleine ends up expelled for fighting, not only losing her opportunity to show her singing chops but her first taste of a caramel apple provided by her teacher, Sarina Greene. However, if she can't have the apple, she can still find a way to sing. When she hears about a jazz club called The Cat's Pajamas, Madeleine is determined to find a way to make her debut there. But Madeleine doesn't know how to get to the club so she mentions it to Sarina, who has just reunited with Ben, her long ago high school prom date. When they decide to check this club out, Madeleine will follow them.

The club, which is owned by Jack Lorca, was once the most popular jazz club in town but times are tough, his club has numerous code violations and the new police officer isn't about to give them a pass - which is a problem because Alex, Lorca's sixteen-year-old son is determined to play guitar in the club even though he's a minor. Not surprising, given the title, all of the disparate strings of this tale will converge at 2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas.

Since jazz is the tie that binds the characters, it is only fitting that there is a kind of syncopation to the rhythm of the story - short, staccato bursts of prose beside longer more mellow descriptions:

"Alex Lorca enters the club: hollering, clapping, popping his knuckles, kissing Sonny on the cheek, kissing his father on the cheek...Alex sings. Tonight! Most holy, sacred night!"

2 A.M. at The Cat's Pajamas is a sweetly witty tale full of quirky but extremely likeable characters, the kind of book that should be read more than once because it is even better the second time around.

The Ever After of Ashwin Rao: A Novel
The Ever After of Ashwin Rao: A Novel
Price: $9.99

5.0 out of 5 stars A Canadian Disaster & Its Aftermath, August 12, 2015
On June 23, 1985, Air India Flight 182 en route to London, England from Toronto, Canada exploded off the coast of Ireland. All 329 passengers and crewmembers were killed. Of those dead, 268 were Canadians. Yet, this tragedy received little outrage in Canada - these dead may have been Canadians by birth or choice but the colour of their skin marked them as `other'. To too many Canadians, this was an Indian disaster, not a Canadian one - Brian Mulroney, then Prime Minister of Canada, phoned the Indian President to offer his condolences. It would be almost 20 years before suspects were finally brought to trial. Although, there were several suspects, only one man would ever be convicted and then only of manslaughter and perjury. Author Padma Viswanathan uses this lack of outrage by the larger Canadian population as well as the lack of closure for the victims as the backdrop for her novel, The Ever After of Ashwin Rao.

Ashwin came to Canada in 1969 to study medicine and psychology. He settled into Canadian life with a growing practice and a Canadian girlfriend. However, when his father falls ill, he returns to India and accepts a job there. It is a period of political unrest in India. When Indira Gandhi is assassinated in 1984, Sikhs are blamed, leading to violence against them. As the violence spreads to their neighbourhood, Ashwin and his father hide some of their Sikh neigbours but witness the murder of two men at the end of their street. In 1985, Ashwin's sister plans a trip to India with her two children. Ashwin last speaks to her just as they prepare to leave to catch their flight on Air India Flight 182.

As the 2004 trial of the suspects finally begins for the bombing, Ashwin returns to Canada to do a psychological study of the survivors and their grief. He decides to keep his own loss a secret as he conducts the interviews. The novel deals mainly with two families: Venkat, a university professor, whose wife and son died in the crash, although only his son's body was recovered and Seth, who worked with Venkat and whose family has taken responsibility to help Venkat as he slowly disappears into his grief. Ashwin's own story becomes entwined with theirs.

The narrative shuffles back and forth from India to Canada as well as to Ireland and in time from before the bombings to the trials. It deals with the differences between Canadian-born Indians, those who immigrated to Canada, and those who remained in India in regards to issues like marriage, children, grief, and faith. It also contrasts the attitudes of other Canadians to the tragedy with the Irish who lived close to the crash site. Yet, despite the real disaster and its aftermath that are the background for this novel, this is neither a revenge story, a story of victimization, or a rejection of Canada despite its sorry attitude towards the crash and its victims or its tepid efforts to bring the guilty parties to justice. Viswanathan manages to give a nuanced look at what led to the tragedy as well as a very empathetic picture of how it affected survivors. Most surprising given everything that happened both in the reality of the disaster and in the novel, she provides a hopeful ending to the story.


The Night of the Long Knives (Dover Doomsday Classics)
The Night of the Long Knives (Dover Doomsday Classics)
Price: $5.96

5.0 out of 5 stars Early Sci-Fi with a Message, August 9, 2015
America has been devastated by a nuclear holocaust. Although there are still so-called civilized factions living (and warring) in some areas such as Atla-Hi and Alamos, much of the interior, now called the Deathlands, is blanketed by radioactive dust. Survivors or Deathlanders, who bear the scars both physically and psychologically of this holocaust, have developed a compulsion to kill. They may band together for immediate needs and for short periods but eventually they will be driven to murder each other.

Ray, the narrator, has just survived such a Murder Party when he meets Alice, another Deathlander, and they fall into an uneasy truce. When they stumble upon a plane that appears seemingly from nowhere and then a friendly old man they call Pop, their urge to murder is eased at least for the moment first by the murder of the craft's pilot and then by curiousity. A decision to steal the plane has some surprising consequences as they learn more about the world outside the Deathlands, about each other, and most importantly about themselves and their motives.

The Night of the Long Knives was written by author Fritz Leiber in 1960 at the height of the Cold War and at the end of the Red Trials in America and the title is taken from the 1934 purge by the Nazi Party of Leftists within the party as well as outside opposition. With the end of the Trials that had destroyed the careers of so many people within the arts including writers, many in the US were trying not only to put this sad period of their history behind them but also trying to understand how it could have happened and how they could move forward. This was reflected in much of the writing of the period but none does it better than this novella by Leiber. Ray talks often about the Last War and the capitalizing these two words reflects both the hope that the world will finally learn from the devastation of war and the fear that, given its recent actions, it has learned very little and, therefore is doomed to repeat it:

"Oh, I can understand cultural queers fighting city squares and even get a kick out of it and whoop `em on, but these Atla-Hi and Alamos folk seemed a different kind of cat altogether... - the kind of cat that ought to have outgrown war or thought its way around it. Maybe Savannah Fortress had simply forced the war on them and they had to defend themselves...Still, I don't know that it's always a good excuse that somebody else forced you into war. That sort of justification can keep on until the end of time."

With its very likeable trio of murderous Deathlanders and it's sparse noir prose and active voice as well as it's pacing reminiscent of the language and rhythm of the post-war beat poets, The Night of the Long Knives is still a very highly readable and engrossing novella despite its age. There is a great deal of violence both in the action and the language but this is a surprisingly hopeful story and it's message is still as important and relevant today, one could almost argue prescient.


The Truth and Other Lies
The Truth and Other Lies

4.0 out of 5 stars Disturbing & Great Fun, August 1, 2015
Henry Haydon is a best-selling author. He lives in an expensive house, drives an expensive car, and has a beautiful mistress. To use an old cliché: men want to be him and women want to sleep with him. Thing is though it's all a lie. The books are actually written by his wife who has always wished to remain anonymous and is happy to let him get all the credit and the adulation.

But then things start going terribly wrong and Henry is forced to take more and more drastic steps to protect himself before his whole house of cards falls in on itself. It seems impossible that he can finagle his way out of his problems but then you don't know Henry whose scheming is only outmatched by his charm and his luck.

Henry Hayden is in so many ways a despicable character yet it impossible not to root for him. Other characters, many of whom suspect that there's something just a little off about Henry, find themselves if not eventually in his corner at least unsure about him. As to us readers, despite knowing everything Henry has done, we are almost compelled to be complicit with him in both his crimes and their coverups. The Truth and Other Lies by German author Sasha Arango is at once disturbing and great fun. With sly humour and sharp sparse prose, Arango makes us willing accomplices to a very likeable very bad guy.


The Memory Game: A Ghost Story Like No Other...
The Memory Game: A Ghost Story Like No Other...
Price: $2.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Modern Ghost Story with a 19th c. Vibe, July 30, 2015
Fifteen-year-old David was killed in a hit-and-run car accident. But instead of heading off to heaven or wherever, he's seems to be stuck hanging around his old town. He seems to be the only ghost around and, although he can hear and see other people, he can't interact with them. That is until he realizes that Bethany, a girl from his school can both see and hear him. Trouble is everyone in town knows Bethany's a real loser always dressing weird and with her dead mother and drunken daddy, she's just begging to be ignored when she's not being bullied. But David needs answers to why he's still here as well as help to talk to his mother and dead beggars can't be choosers. As David gets to know Bethany and her circumstances and as he sees his old friends in a different less flattering or friendly light, he begins to realize that he never knew or perhaps more honestly never wanted to know how cruel or superficial they were or how smart and strong Bethany is and how unfairly she is treated not only by other kids but by the adults in town who define her by her father.

Despite being a modern YA ghost story, The Memory Game by author Sharon Sant is social commentary rather than horror or even spooky - more Dickens than King or Gaiman. David may be a dead teenager but he grows and matures and Bethany is a strong character despite her terrible circumstances. This is a story about bullying and defining people by what they look like and where they come from rather than by their actions and how we should never judge others on appearances because we can never completely know what trials and tribulations they are facing. The author makes it clear that adults are just as at fault for stereotyping based on false and superficial criteria as teenagers.

This is a fast read and, despite its subject matter, for the most part, an enjoyable one. It avoids devolving into melodrama right up until the ending which, although it continues the 19th c. ghost-tale-with-a-moral vibe, here it evokes Hans Christian Anderson.

The Gracekeepers
The Gracekeepers

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Atmospheric & Lyrical, July 29, 2015
This review is from: The Gracekeepers (Kindle Edition)
In a distant future, the world is almost completely covered by water. What remains of humanity is divided between the `landlockers', those who continue to live on what is left of the land and the `damplings' who live on boats floating on the water and who must wear bells when they are on land. Despite the dislike and mistrust between these two groups, many damplings are dependent on the landlockers for their living. This is the case of the performers in the Circus Excalibre including North and her bear. North is one of several narrators as well as Callanish, a landlocker who has a secret of her own and who lives alone as a gracekeeper, someone who administers burial rites for damplings - despite, the many other voices here, the story really belongs to these two.

The world depicted in The Gracekeepers by author Kirsty Logan has a mythic quality to it, perhaps not surprising since, despite its future setting, it is based on Scottish folklore. And, like in folklore, much is left unexplained and many questions are left unanswered.

Still, this is a beautifully drawn world with fascinating customs and secrets hidden in its watery depths. The Gracekeepers is a world and a novel full of conflict between the landlockers and damplings and between the characters who are often limited by their situations and their secrets, and where control of the world is divided between the heavy hand of the military and the religious revivalists who have become rich competing with the circus for the hearts and pennies of the entertainment-starved citizens. Logan has a deft hand with metaphors and imagery giving the novel an atmospheric almost misty quality. There is a lyricism and a rhythm to the prose that makes this novel a real pleasure to read.

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