Monday, December 7, 2009

Favourite Reads of 2009 Part VII. . .

Back to Kitchener today for an adult list of favourite reads from Sharron Smith, Manager of Readers' Advisory Services for Kitchener Public Library. I love that she decided this year to expand her reading into different genres. I see a New Year's Resolution coming. . .

Sharron's Favourite Reads of 2009:

My favourite reading genre is historical fiction, and I love a book that will transport me back in time and reveal the past. However, as part of my commitment to read outside my comfort zone, I look for advice from colleagues and of course, the Dewey Divas and Dudes. As a result, I read several things this year that surprised me and discovered books that have made it on to my list of “best reads”. I highly recommend taking reading chances occasionally, you never know, you may discover a new favourite!

The Day the Falls Stood Still by Cathy Marie Buchanan
In 1915 Niagara Falls, seventeen-year-old Bess Heath meets Tom Cole on the same day that she learns that her father, the director of the Niagara Power Company has lost his job. Up to this point, Bess, the younger of two daughters, lived a gentile existence; however now both she and her sister are forced to deal with the repercussions of a reduced social status. Tom, the grandson of the town famous river man, has a love of the powerful river that runs deep and strong. From very different backgrounds, the two young people are draw together and as their relationship develops, each is forced to make choices. This is a story that captures the tumultuous power of Niagara Falls, taking the reader into a time when daredevils shot the river rapids in barrels, fortunes were made and lost and the progress of the hydro era was all.

Agincourt by Bernard Cornwell
Bernard Cornwell is able to infuse most everything he writes with the perfect combination of extraordinary storytelling and an accuracy of detail. In his latest historical novel, he chronicles events leading up to the legendary battle of Agincourt through the eyes of Nicholas Hook, an English archer who experienced it all. It is through Hook, that the reader is given a first hand of account of a number of Medieval battles, culminating in the one that by any definition should have seen an overwhelmed British army defeated by the French in 1415. As the reader is drawn through the story, you get a real sense of the horrors of war, and the desperation of the men fighting under Henry V through the author’s vivid descriptions of this horrific battle. This is truly an amazing story of survival, a true page turner.

The Map of Moments: A Novel of Hidden Cities by Christopher Golden and Tim Lebon
I’m not one to willing pick up a horror novel, however this title was recommended by a colleague and the setting, post-Katrina New Orleans, drew me in. This most French of U.S. cities is a favourite of mine and the authors really capture the essence of place in this tale. As they chronicle the history of the city, they throw in just the right amount of magic and voodoo as the main protagonist, Max Corbett, is taken on what could be called a “magical mystery tour” of the Big Easy. Max has returned to NOLA for the funeral of his former lover and after the funeral, following a few drinks is offered the chance to speak to her once more as long as he follows a “map of moments”, a map that will take him through the city’s dark past. This is an ingenious blending of thriller and ghost story and while there is no happy ending to this eerie tale, it is again very much about survival.

The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, translated by Marlaine Delargy
After a glowing recommendation from Maylin, I decided to give this dystopian novel a try. Swedish writer Ninni Holmqvist has crafted a cautionary tale of what might be, if we are willing to surrender the individual for the greater good. As the story begins, we meet Dorrit as she is preparing to enter “The Unit”, a state run facility for those who are childless; women enter when they are 50, men at 60. Outwardly, the Unit is a wonderful place with restaurants, a library, fitness centre, spas, museums and parks all provided at no cost; however, all residents are expected to participate in health related experiments and a variety of organ donations. Although we know at one level, the ultimate outcome for anyone living in here, we are lulled into the almost gentle nature of life in this facility until the pivotal moment that everything changes for Dorrit. This is a book that has stayed with me long after the last page was turned and I will continue to recommend it to readers. This is a thinking book, and can you imagine what it might be like?

The Family Man by Elinor Lipman
Switching gears, this is just a fun read. Set in New York, a man reconnects with his step-daughter and finds love himself along the way. I hadn’t read Lipman before, but again based on a recommendation, picked it up one Sunday afternoon and got lost in the story. Time well spent!

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel
If there is one historical time period that has my heart, it is the time of the Tudors. Having read widely and extensively in this area (both fiction and non-fiction) these people are so very familiar to me and I know their stories. Or thought I did. However, in her Booker winning title, Mantel reveals the personal story of the man, Thomas Cromwell, who played a significant role in the divorce proceedings of Henry VII. When he was determined to rid himself of his first wife and marry the woman he believed would give him his heart’s desire, a son, Anne Boleyn, it was Cromwell he turned to. With vivid detail, the harshness, horrors and cruelty of Tudor England is revealed; this is must reading for any fan of this perhaps most famous time in British history. And what can I say, I was planning on reading anyway, but I got an enthusiastic recommendation on this one from Margaret Atwood! Who could resist?

The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens
Lansens is an author who is able to delve into the heart of her characters and create an immediate reader connection. In her previous titles, Rush Home Road and The Girls, she introduced us to unforgettable characters and she has done it again with her latest title. Here she chronicles a woman’s journey to find herself when on her twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, her husband disappears. Mary Gooch is a woman who has sought solace through food and her weight has spiraled. Forced to confront her internal demons, it is this departure that forces her to face a number of challenges, such as flying, and connecting to others far from home when she searches for him in California, a place as far removed from small-town Southern Ontario as you can get. It is when Mary starts to move beyond herself that something extraordinary happens, her journey is one of hope and inspiration.

Dog On It by Spencer Quinn
Hmm, what can one say about a canine detective? I have long been skeptical about books that feature “talking” animals and while the dog at the heart of this mystery doesn’t actually talk out loud, his thoughts are revealed to the reader. Again, this one was recommended to me and I’m really glad I listened; this is just fun and a great mystery as well. Chet, a loveable canine, is the narrator of this story and along with his partner/owner, PI Bernie Little; they investigate what is initially a case of a runaway teenager that ultimately becomes something much more serious. To say the least, Chet is one amazing detective, so do yourself a favor and spend some time with Chet, you may become a fan, I can’t wait for their next “case”.

Serendipity by Louise Shaffer
This was the perfect book to read following a spring getaway to New York. One of the best things I did in New York was to go to the theater and theatre is at the heart of this story, an insider’s view of that world. The young woman in this novel is 37-year-old Carrie Manning and her life really is a disaster, she has been dumped by her fiancĂ©, she doesn’t really have a job and her mother has recently passed away. Now, for Carrie, relationships have always been a bit rocky, and it seems that this is somewhat the norm in her family as her mother was estranged from her mother as well. Carrie decides that if she is ever going to be able to move forward, she needs to understand who she is and where she has come from. It is as she digs into the past that she will ultimately understand the forces that have impacted on the women in her family and she gains an understanding about the choices we make. This novel focuses on the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship, and how the past continues to reverberate in the present. If you love New York and the theatre you’re sure to enjoy this one.

The Taken by Inger Ash Wolfe
This mystery is the latest release from a pseudonymous “well-known and well-regarded North American writer”, a writer whose real identity continues to be shrouded in mystery. Last year, I was drawn to read the first title, partly to see what the “fuss” was all about, but once I began, I was hooked! The detective here, Detective Inspector Hazel Micallef, is sixty-two years old and is a woman with issues…work, family and health. In the first book, she was caught up in a breakneck race to catch a cross Canada serial killer. In her second outing, recovering from recent back surgery, and convulsing in her ex-husband’s home, she is called in, despite being on sick leave, to help with what seems to be a case of kidnapping but what is soon revealed to be so much more. The hunt to uncover the “perp” is just as breathless as in the last outing. While this series has a bit more “gore” and detail that I usually look for in a mystery, it has some of the best plotting around and if you find yourself solving most mysteries long before you get to the end, give this series a try, there are twists and turns and red herrings to satisfy every mystery fan and it just keeps getting better. Now if we could just uncover the real identify of the author, any ideas?

1 comment:

Cathy Marie Buchanan said...

Love your list. So happy to see my debut, The Day the Falls Stood Still, included alongside plenty of other books I admire. My son is on a Bernard Cornwell bing, so nice to see a librarian touting it since I was a bit clueless about whether it was "good reading".