Monday, July 17, 2006

ON BEAUTY by Zadie Smith (2005)

England's wunderkind novelist who broke on the scene with the satiric WHITE TEETH, has established herself with this third novel about a blended family living in small town New England. Dad is a progressive professor who made the predictable middle-aged man's mistake and had an affair with a colleague. Mom is a luscious African American whose kindness keeps her weary family together. The three siblings position themselves for approval from a variety of sources. What Smith does most convincingly is write dialogue. Zora and Levi and Kiki leap off the page.

ON BEAUTY won the Orange Prize for fiction. The title is stolen from a poem by Smith's equally ambitious literary spouse, Nick Laird.

THREE WISHES by Deborah Ellis (2005)

Banned by the Toronto Board of Education, this collection of personal essays from the point of view of both Israeli and Palestinian children and teens tries to account for the prejudice into which they are born. In their own words, these vignettes are equally despairing and hopeful about the burden of growing up in the Middle East today.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

THE MASTER (2005) by Colm Toibin

Toibin inhabits the psyche of American man of letters Henry James in this triumph of imagination and style that takes place over the course of five years in James's life in England, when he found himself writing for the stage at the same time as the celebrated and immensely popular Oscar Wilde.

THE MASTER recently won the 2006 Dublin IMPAC Literary Award, the richest prize for English language fiction.


This novel explores the life of quirky siblings Emma and Blue who embark on separate journeys of self-discovery due to their mostly inept parents. Emma becomes obsessed with archaeology and digging up the past and Blue finds his own way through his work as a tatoo artist with the support of his girlfriend, a former stripper.

Camilla Gibb won the Trillium Book Award this Spring for her most recent novel SWEETNESS IN THE BELLY.

THE MEMORY BOOK (2005) by Howard Engel

Private Investigator Benny Cooperman is recovering in a Toronto hospital from a serious blow to the head. He has a peculiar condition that allows him to write, but not to read. And, while he can remember great swaths of his distant past, he finds himself sometimes brushing his teeth with his shaving cream. Friends in homicide tell Benny that he was found in a dumpster on the U of T campus beside a dead woman. Probably left for dead himself.

Engel's book gives an insider's perspective on what it feels like to be utterly frustrated by a head injury.

There is a captivating afterword by Dr. Oliver Sacks, who does his best to explain Engel's condition alexia sine agraphia and its ramifications.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

THE DELICATE STORM (2003) by Giles Blunt

Already a fan of Detective John Cardinal from Blunt's other crime novels, it was a quick decision to pick up this one. Blunt's characters are believable and cunning and full of human frailty. I especially enjoyed the mini-history lesson refresher about the 1970 FLQ Crisis which is the thread that connects the contemporary murders Cardinal is compelled to solve.

PRAIRIE HARDBALL (1997) by Alison Gordon

Baseball writer Kate Henry takes a holiday at home in small town Saskatchewan and brings along her partner, Detective Andy Munro. They join her parents for her mother's induction in the Saskatchewan Baseball Hall of Fame since she played in the 1940s (while all of the boys were at war) on the legendary Racine Belles.

While at the reunion in North Battleford, one of the Belles is murdered.

PRAIRIE HARDBALL is part nostalgia for the glory days of the game, part road trip and all intrigue. It has me reaching for the rest of Alison Gordon's Kate Henry Mysteries.

THE BOOKFAIR MURDERS (1997) by Anna Porter

World-class editor Marsha Hillier is networking her way through a posh party at the Frankfurt Bookfair when she stops to chat with Andrew Myles, a top literary agent who represents the darling of the event, Margaret Drury Carter who has recently signed a three-book deal for $20 million--a sum worthy of Stephen King and Tom Clancy. As the narrator quips, "Andrew was dead, so he didn't respond."

In addition to being populated with real people from the publishing world, THE BOOKFAIR MURDERS is an intriguing mystery with many suspects.