Thursday, August 30, 2012


Story Decription: 
Groundwood Books Ltd|September 1, 2010|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-88899-974-0 
Recommended for ages 14 and up – 208 pages. 
Finalist for the Ruth and Sylvia Schwartz Children’s Book Award 
Orphaned and plagued with the grief of losing everyone he loved, fifteen-year-old Abdul has made a long, fraught journey from his war-torn home in Baghdad, only to end up in The Jungle – the squalid, makeshift migrant community in Calais, France. 
When an altercation at the soup kitchen ends up with him accidentally stabbing a policeman, Abdul has to flee, and in desperation he takes a spot in a small boat heading to England.  A sudden skirmish leaves the boat stalled in the middle of the Channel, the pilot dead, and four young people remaining – Abdul, Rosalia, a Romani girl who has escaped from the white slave trade; Cheslav, gone AWOL from a Russian military school; and Jonah, the boat pilot’s ten-year-old nephew. 
The four of them end up hijacking a yacht and, despite their fear and mistrust, they form a kind of makeshift family.  And as the authorities close in on them, they find refuge in an unusual place – a child’s secret cave on the English coast.   
My Review: 
Abdul is a Kurdish refugee from Iraq who at fifteen-years of age has lost everyone in his family through the war and terror that has plagued his homeland.  He meets a boy is own age and they become fast friends, both enjoying playing guitar and loving The Beatles.  One day, Kalil, is beaten to death in front of Abdul’s very eyes and he vowed then to go to England to Penny Lane in honour of Kalil. 
Abdul first ends up in France where he meets an unlikely group of kids who oddly enough end up making a sort of makeshift family.  Rosalia, is a Romani girl who has escaped from the white slave trade but she is one tough cookie; Cheslav, is AWOL from a Russian military school and has an attitude like no other; and Jonah, the ten-year-old nephew of the horrible man whose small boat they are on in France escaping to England. 
When Abdul boards the smuggler’s boat with the other kids he really thinks his life is finally heading in the right direction, but that is not to be.  When a storm suddenly blows up things escalate quickly and become out-of-hand.  From here the story really takes off and you’ll find yourself reading faster and faster because you can’t wait to find out what is going to happen next. 
NO SAFE PLACE  was a sad story but showed the strength, endurance, and courage of a group of young people who had lived rough and tough lives but came out in the end as whole people.  I loved it!!

Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Story Description: 
Disney Book Group|April 1, 2008|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 13:978-0-078685172-0 
Lakshmi is a thirteen-year-old girl who lives with her family in a small hut on a mountain in Nepal.  Though she is desperately poor, her life is full of simple pleasures, like playing hopscotch with her best friend from school, and having her mother brush her hair by the light of an oil lamp.  But when the harsh Himalayan monsoons wash away all that remains of the family’s crops, Lakshimi’s stepfather says she must leave home and take a job to support her family. 
He introduces her to a glamorous stranger who tells her she will find her a job as a maid in the city.  Glad to be able to help, Lakshmi journeys to India and arrives at “Happiness House” full of hope.  But she soon learns the unthinkable truth: she has been sold into prostitution. 
An old woman named Mumtaz rules the brothel with cruelty and cunning.  She tells Lakshmi that she is trapped there until she can pay off her family’s debt then cheats Lakshmi of her meager earnings so that she can never leave. 
Laksmi’s life becomes a nightmare from which she cannot escape.  Still, she lives by her mother’s words: “simply to endure is to triumph” and gradually she forms friendships with the other girls that enable her to survive in this terrifying new world.  Then the day comes when she must make a decision.  Will she risk everything for a chance to reclaim her life? 
Written in spare and evocative vignettes, this powerful novel renders a world that is as unimaginable as it is real, and a girl who not only survives but triumphs. 
My Review: 
The writing style in this novel is very unique.  It is written in short vignettes making for a simple, quick, but captivating read. 
Lakshmi is a twelve-year-old girl living atop the mountains of Nepal.  Her mother and step-father are very poor but the step-father often squanders away any money they do have.  Although they live in nothing but a hut, Lakshmi is a happy girl deriving her pleasure from playing hopscotch in the dirt with her best friend and sitting quietly while her mother brushes her hair by the light of an oil lamp. 
Lakshmi’s step-father has run up a few debts with his gambling and tells Lakshmi that she is going to have to work to help support the family.  It is only due to his lack of responsibility that pushes Lakshmi out of the house to work.  She is told she is being taken to the city to become a maid. 
Lakshmi is taken to Calcutta, India and it is there that she realizes for the first time the real motives of her handlers.  She has been sold into prostitution at a place called “Happy House” and there is nothing “happy” whatsoever about this house. 
Her employer and owner, Mumtaz, has deceived her parents about the real conditions of Lakshmi’s working life.  For 30 rupees, men can purchase “quickie sex”.  Lakshmi thinks as soon as she has worked long enough to pay Mumtaz the 10,000 rupees she believes is her debt, she can return home to her family but Mumtaz places a 20,000 rupee debt on the books.  She says it’s to cover “ALL” the expenses – heat, food, clothing, make-up, and medical shots given by the dirty doctor. 
According to the author, each year nearly 12,000 Nepali girls are sold by their families “intentionally” or “unwittingly” into a life of sexual slavery in the brothels of India.  The U.S. State Department estimates that a staggering half million children are trafficked into the sex trade each year. 
The sad thing is that, when or if, some of these girls do make it home they are ignored by their families for fear of shaming them as happened to one girl in Sold.  I guess the lesson there is that sometimes being “free” doesn’t necessarily mean “being free”. 
Anyone interested in joining the fight against human trafficking and the sex slave trade can visit Patricia McCormick’s website for information regarding rescuing young women.  If we all helped, we could make a difference.  You can visit McCormick’s website at:   SOLD was an excellent, well-written account of just one girl out of millions caught up in the sex trade each year. 

Monday, August 27, 2012


Story Description:
Random House|June 10, 2011|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-4000-6382-6
The year is 1570, and in the convent of Santa Caterina, in the Italian city of Ferrara, noblewoman find space to pursue their lives under Gods’ protection.  But any community, however smoothly run, suffers tremors when it takes in someone by force.  And the arrival of Santa Caterina’s new novice sets in motion a chain of events that will shake the convent to its core. 
Ripped by her family from an illicit love affair, sixteen-year-old Serafina is wilful, emotional, sharp, and defiant – young enough to have a life to look forward to and old enough to know that life is being cut short.  Her first night inside the walls is spent in incandescent rage so violent that the dispensary mistress, Suora Zuana, is dispatched to the girl’s cell to sedate her.  Thus begins a complex relationship of trust and betrayal between the young rebel and the clever, scholarly nun, for whom the girl becomes the daughter she will never have. 
As Serafina rails against her incarceration, others are drawn into the drama, the ancienAt, mysterious Suora Magdalena – with her history of visions and ecstasies – locked in her cell, the ferociously devout novice mistress Suora Umilian, who comes to see in the postulant a way to extend her influence, and watching it all, the abbess, Madonna Chiara, a woman as fluent in politics as she is in prayer.  As disorder and rebellion mount, it is the abbess’s job to keep the convent stable while, outside its walls, the dictates of the Counter-Reformation begin to purge the Catholic Church and impose on the nunneries a regime of terrible oppression.   
Sarah Dunant, is the bestselling author of The Birth of Venus and In the Company of the Courtesan, brings this intricate Renaissance world compellingly to life.  Amid Sacred Hearts is a rich, engrossing, multifaceted love story, encompassing the passions of the flesh, the exultation of the spirit, and the deep enduring power of friendship.   
My Review: 
A great piece of historical fiction that was hard to put down.  It brought to life the world of an Italian convent in Ferrara, Italy in 1570.  Back in that era, women could be placed in convents by ‘force’.  Many of these women who ended up there were castaways from families; unwanted in general; others to curb promiscuous lifestyles; or even those with rich families who could provide a dowry with the young woman just for them to take her off their hands.   
The story itself is basically about a particular young nun, Serafina, who is extremely headstrong and stubborn.  She is sent to Santa Caterina totally against her will and has such a rotten attitude that she single handedly brings down the entire equilibrium of the whole convent.  When she first arrived she was prone to fits of screaming and disruption that it made it difficult for the other nuns to carry out their day-to-day duties.   
Zuona is a special nun in the regard that she is an apothecary having taught by her physician father.  This was a very strange career to teach a girl during this particular era.  Zuana likes to learn and holds dear the many herbs, roots, sinews and books she has.  She likes to learn and is somewhat of a thinker, not a dreamer like a lot of the other nuns.   
Serafina is an unwilling novice but when the Abby places her in the pharmacy with Zuana, Zuana is forced to confront a lot of her personal feelings, which she has repressed.  These are feelings that have prevented Zuana from accepting completely her life in the convent.  Zuana was sent to the convent after the death of her father. 
Madonna Chiara is the abbess and CEO and reruns a tight ship so to speak.  She can charm money from do-gooders, and ensures she gives the Bishop everything he wants to keep on his good side.  Chiara has lived in the convent since she was a young girl herself.  However, it is Serafina who provides the tension for all concerned in the convent.  Serafina was sent to the convent by her father so he could end a relationship Serafina was having with a fellow musician.   
Sacred Hearts is a phenomenal piece of historical fiction that will capture the hearts of all who read it.

Thursday, August 23, 2012


Story Description: 
Doubleday Canada|February 8, 2011|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-0-385-66827-9 
At midnight, the dogs, cats, and rats rule Venice.  The Ponte di Ghetto Nuovo, the bridge that leads to the ghetto trembles under the weight of sacks of rotting vegetables, rancid fat, and vermin.  Shapeless matter, perhaps animal, floats to the surface of Rio di San Girolamo and hovers on its greasy waters.  Through the mist rising from the canal the cries and grunts of foraging pigs echo.  Seeping refuse on the streets renders the pavement slick and the walking treacherous. 
It was on such a night that the men came for Hannah. 
Hannah Levi is known throughout sixteenth-century Venice for her skill in midwifery.  When a Christian count appears at Hannah’s door in the Jewish ghetto imploring her to attend his labouring wife, who is nearing death, Hannah is forced to make a dangerous decision.  Not only is it illegal for Jews to render medical treatment to Christians, it’s also punishable by torture and death.  Moreover, as her Rabbi angrily points out, if the mother of child should die, the entire ghetto population will be in peril.  
But Hannah’s compassion for another woman’s misery overrides her concern for self-preservation.  The Rabbi once forced her to withhold care from her shunned sister, Jessica, with terrible consequences.  Hannah cannot turn away from a labouring woman again.  Moreover, she cannot turn down the enormous fee offered by the Conte.  Despite the Rabbi’s protests, she knows that this money can release her husband, Isaac, a merchant who was recently taken captive on Malta as a slave.  There is nothing Hannah wants more than to see the handsome face of the loving man who married her despite her lack of dowry, and who continues to love her despite her barrenness.  She must save Isaac. 
Meanwhile, far away in Malta, Isaac is worried about Hannah’s safety, having heard tales of the terrifying plague ravaging Venice.  But his own life is in terrible danger.  He is auctioned as a slave to the head of the local convent, Sister Assunta, who is bent on converting him to Christianity.  When he won’t give up his faith, he’s traded to the brutish lout Joseph, who is renowned for working his slaves to death.  Isaac soon learns that Joseph is heartsick over a local beauty who won’t give him the time of day.  Isaac uses his gifts of literacy and poetic imagination – not to mention long-pent-up desire but to earn his day-to-day survival by penning love letters on behalf of his captor and paying illiterate public. 
Back in Venice, Hannah packs her “birthing spoons” – a secret rudimentary forceps she invented to help with difficult births – and sets off with the Conte and his treacherous brother.  Can she save the mother?  Can she save the baby, on whose tiny shoulders the Conte’s legacy rests?  And can she also save herself, and Isaac, and their own hopes for a future, without endangering the lives of everyone in the ghetto? 
The Midwife of Venice is a gripping historical page-turner, enthralling leaders with its suspenseful action and vivid depiction of life in sixteenth-century Venice.  Roberta Rich has created a wonderful heroine in Hannah Levi, a lioness with her the best of humanity’s compassion and courage. 
My Review: 
In 1575 in the Jewish Ghetto of Venice lives, Hannah Levi, a young midwife and the best and most well-known throughout the region.  Her husband, Isaac, is on the island of Malta incarcerated as a slave and there is a 1500 ducat price for his release which Hannah just cannot afford.   
Late one evening, a knock on her door brings her Rabbi, Ibraiham, along with a Christian nobleman by the name of, Conte Paolo di Padovani, and his brother, Jacopo.  The Christians had no right whatsoever to be in the ghetto and had no right to seek Hannah’s services, but that is exactly why Padovani is there.  His wife, Lucia, has been labouring for two days and two nights, the sheets soaked through with her blood, yet the baby remains unborn.  He begs Hannah to come with him to help his wife but Jewish women are strictly forbidden to birth Christian babies or provide any type of medical treatment whatsoever.  If Hannah agrees, not only will it be torture and death for her, but serious trouble for the entire ghetto.  She would be putting herself and everyone else at risk.  Not being the type of person able to refuse help nor money, Hannah strikes up a deal with Padovani and the money she earns she could use to save Isaac. 
The Midwife of Venice is a page-turning, heartrending, historical debut full of suspense and romance.  Roberta Rich is an up-and-coming author to watch!!  I will be highly recommending this novel to everyone, excellent!!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012


Story Description: 
Knopf Doubleday|July 17, 2012|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-0-385-53479-6 
Over the course of his career, New York Times bestselling novelist Chris Bohjalian has taken readers on a spectacular array of journeys.  Midwives brought us to an isolated Vermont farmhouse on an icy winter’s night and a home birth gone tragically wrong.  The Double Bind perfectly conjured the Roaring Twenties on Long Island – and a young social worker’s descent into madness.  And Skeletons at the Feast chronicled the last six months of World War Two in Poland and Germany with nail-biting authenticity.  As the Washington Post Book World has noted, Bohjalian writes “the sorts of books people stay awake all night to finish.” 
In his fifteenth book, The Sandcastle Girls, brings us on a very different kind of journey.  This spellbinding tale travels between Aleppo, Syria, in 1915 and Bronxville, New York, in 2012 – a sweeping historical love story steeped in the author’s Armenian heritage, making it his most personal novel to date. 
When Elizabeth Endicott arrives in Syria, she has a diploma from Mount Holyoke College, a crash course in nursing, and only the most basic grasp of the Armenian language.  The First World War is spreading across Europe, and she has volunteered on behalf of the Boston-based Friends of Armenia to deliver food and medical aid to refugees of the Armenian genocide.  There, Elizabeth becomes friendly with Armen, a young Armenian engineer who has already lost his wife and infant daughter.  When Armen leaves Aleppo to join the British Army in Egypt, he begins to write Elizabeth letters, and comes to realize that he has fallen in love with the wealthy, young American woman who is so different from the wife he lost.  Flash forward to the present, where we meet Laura Petrosian, a novelist living in suburban New York.  Although her grandparents’ ornate Pelham home was affectionately nicknamed the “Ottoman Annex”, Laura has never really given her Armenian heritage much thought.  But when an old friend calls, claiming to have seen a newspaper photo of Laura’s grandmother promoting an exhibit at a Boston museum, Laura embarks on a journey back through her family’s history that reveals love, loss – and a wrenching secret that has been buried for generations. 
My Review: 
The Sandcastle Girls is a love story between, Elizabeth Endicott, a wealthy Bostonian and a young Armenian engineer named, Armen.  This love story takes place during the Armenian genocide in 1915- 1916 but the entire storyline reverts backs and forth between the past and the present. 
I found the book a bit drab and didn’t enjoy the writing alternating between past and present tense.  I honestly cannot say that I will be recommending The Sandcastle Girls to anyone soon as I won’t be.  This novel was a huge disappointment to me considering the strength of and enjoyment in Bohjalian’s previous fourteen novels.

Monday, August 20, 2012


Story Description: 

Touchstone|June 5, 2012|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-4516-7276-3 

From the acclaimed bestselling author of Must Love Dogs comes a winning and witty new novel about a woman who emerges from the shadow of her overbearing family and finds herself “dancing with the stars.” 

Deirdre Griffin has a great life; it’s just not her own.  She’s the around-the-clock personal assistant to her charismatic, high-maintenance, New Age guru brother, Tag.  As the family wallflower, her only worth seems to be as gatekeeper to Tag at his New England seaside compound. 

Then Deirdre’s sometime boyfriend informs her that he is marrying another woman, who just happens to be having the baby he told Deidre he never wanted.  While drowning her sorrows in Tag’s expensive vodka, Deirdre decides to use his massive online following to get herself voted on as a last-minute Dancing With The Stars replacement.  It’ll get her back in shape, mentally and physically.  It might even get her a life of her own.  Deirdre’s fifteen minutes of fame have begun. 

Irresistible and offbeat, Wallflower in Bloom is an original and deeply satisfying story of having the courage to take a leap into the spotlight, not matter where you land. 

My Review: 

Chick-lit at its best! Claire Cook’s Wallflower in Bloom makes for an easy, fun, quick, beach or vacation read. 

This story is the best example of one I’ve read where a woman totally loses herself in the service of others, mainly her family.  How many of us women are guilty of this very thing?  Completely losing ourselves, putting our desires, needs, wants, and wishes aside for the sake of everyone else.  I myself am guilty of this obligatory commitment I feel to ensure everyone else is okay and has what they need at the risk of in the end being too worn out and tired to fight for myself because I feel I don’t deserve it.  My service is to others. 

In Wallflower in Bloom, Deirdre literally runs her famous, New Age Guru brother, Tag’s life.  She is on call twenty-four-hours-per-day.  She lives in a converted sheep shed on his large New England seaside compound. 

Deirdre one day decides she is sick and tired of living in Tag’s shadow, being his personal assistant and decides to change things by signing up for ‘Dancing with the Stars’!  She’s just had enough, and more than her fill of being his personal assistant, his social media guru, and managing both his personal and business lives. 

After a night of drinking very abnormal cocktails made with Tag’s very, very expensive liquor, she hops on his social media site and encourages Tag’s thousands of followers to vote for her as the wildcard replacement on ‘Dancing With the Stars’.

Soon Deirdre finds she’s really not cut-out to be a dancer, carries a bit too much weight but can’t stop indulging herself in some of her favourite fattening foods when she gets frustrated or put down by Tag.  However, Ilya is a marvelous, professional dancer who is able to help her learn.  He has the patience of a saint.  Deirdre realizes with five to six hours of practising the same dance steps over and over and over every single day that she must somehow forget the “wallflower” part of her personality and really “bloom!” or make a total laughing stock of herself. 

The term “chiasmus” is used a lot in the story and if you don’t know what it is now, you will completely understand it by the end of the novel. 

Claire Cook has always had a great sense of humour and it shines through bright and glittery in Wallflower in Bloom!  I can’t wait to share this one with my friends.


Story Description: 

Doubleday Canada|June 26, 2012|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-0-385-67663-2 

From a stunning new literary voice comes a brilliant debut novel that created an international auction frenzy, with sales in twenty-seven countries to date, about a young girl growing up in extraordinary times. 

On a seemingly ordinary Saturday morning, Julia and her family wake to discover, along with the rest of the world, that the rotation of the earth has suddenly begun to slow.  Set against this threat to normal life, The Age of Miracles maps the effects of catastrophes big and small on the lives of ordinary people, and in particular, on a young girl.  Extraordinary for its original concept, unforgettable characters, and the grace, elegance and beauty of Karen Thompson Walker’s prose, The Age of Miracles is a mesmerizing story of family turmoil, young love, and coming-of-age set against an upending of life as we know it. 

My Review: 

Eleven-year-old, Julia is learning to cope with the many changes that accompany growing up.  Her very best friend, Hanna seems to have deserted her, her parents aren’t getting along all that well, she sees her father with another woman in the other woman’s home while he is supposed to be at work, and the boy she has a crush on, Seth Moreno, acknowledges her one day and totally ignores her the next. 

Then Julia is forced to deal with a real life, scary situation.  On a Saturday morning, Julia and her parents, along with the rest of the world, learn that the earth’s rotation is slowing down which means the length of each day is getting longer and longer and no one seems to know why.  Some scientists think they have it all figured out while other scientists think they’re wrong.  Regardless, this is real, it is happening, and the days are getting longer and longer causing all sorts of problems.  This lengthening of days goes on for so long that it now takes multiple twenty-four hour periods to see the sun.  The earth’s magnetic field has shifted and some people are getting sick, folks cannot go outside during the lengthy hours of sunlight as the sun is burning their skin through their clothing.  Families, governments, stores, and schools all try to adapt the best way they can.  Kids are going to school at night, sometimes during the day, people are stock-piling food, water, and batteries, thinking the end of the world is coming, while others are moving their families to live in communes. 

The story is narrated by eleven-year-old, Julia so really more of the story is about coming-of-age but also part sci-fi and part young adult fiction.  However, as a full grown adult I did thoroughly enjoy the book.  It is beautifully written and I will be recommending it to my friends.

Sunday, August 19, 2012


Story Description: 

Simon & Schuster|August 7, 2012|Hardcover|ISBN: 978-1-4516-5770-8 

You are about to read an extraordinary story.  It will take you to the very depths of despair and show you unspeakable horrors.  It will reveal a gorgeously rich culture struggling to survive through a furtive bow, a hidden ankle bracelet, fragments of remembered poetry.  It will ensure that the world never forgets the atrocities committed by the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979, when an estimated two million people lost their lives.  It will give you hope, and it will confirm the power of storytelling to lift us up and help us not only survive but transcend suffering, cruelty, and loss. 

For seven-year-old Raami, the shattering end of childhood begins with the footsteps of her father returning home in the early dawn hours, bringing details of the civil war that has overwhelmed the streets of Phnom Penh, Cambodia’s capital.  Soon the family’s world of carefully guarded royal privilege is swept up in the chaos of revolution and forced exodus.  Raami clings to the only remaining vestige of her childhood – the mythical legends and poems told to her by her father.  In a climate of systematic violence where memory is sickness and justification for execution, Raami fights for her improbable survival displaying the author’s extraordinary gift for language.  In the Shadow of the Banyan is a brilliantly wrought tale of human resilience. 

My Review: 

The utter horror Raami lived through is truly heartbreaking, especially for a young girl of seven.  Raami is a strong girl who possesses more strength and courage than I’ve seen in kids twice her age and more. 

Raami was only five-years-old when the Khmer Rouge overtook her home in Cambodia between 1975 and 1979.  She was immediately thrust into a world of cruelty, poverty, hunger, and starvation.  Her beloved father, a royal, was imprisoned and she never saw him again.  His book of poetry he had written is what she remembers and it helps keep her moving forward.  Raami, her mother, and baby sister were able to stay together while her uncle and cousins were sent to die in labour camps and Raami’s baby sister is stricken with malaria. 

This was truly a heart-wrenching story where it has been estimated that the Cambodian genocide was responsible for the deaths of some 1.7 million people, a huge proportionate of the entire population of the entire country. 

The story is written in the first person and told through the eyes of Raami.  The words are so beautifully written, a real talent for a first time author.  An extraordinary story that takes you to the impossible highs and lows of what human beings can do in this life, both on the good side and the bad.  This is a story that will reach deep inside your soul and leave you shivering.  I would highly recommend this book to anyone and believe it needs to be read for the sake of the people who died and those still living that suffered through this terrible tragedy.