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March 18, 2013 book review - Life of Pi by Yann Martel

posted Jan 24, 2013, 2:42 AM by Susan and Nicolle   [ updated Jan 24, 2013, 3:18 AM ]

Life of Pi 
is a masterful and utterly original novel that is at once the story of a young castaway who faces immeasurable hardships on the high seas, and a meditation on religion, faith, art and life that is as witty as it is profound. Using the threads of all of our best stories, Yann Martel has woven a glorious spiritual adventure that makes us question what it means to be alive, and to believe.

Growing up in Pondicherry, India, Piscine Molitor Patel - known as Pi - has a rich life. Bookish by nature, young Pi acquires a broad knowledge of not only the great religious texts but of all literature, and has a great curiosity about how the world works. His family runs the local zoo, and he spends many of his days among goats, hippos, swans, and bears, developing his own theories about the nature of animals and how human nature conforms to it. Pi’s family life is quite happy, even though his brother picks on him and his parents aren’t quite sure how to accept his decision to simultaneously embrace and practise three religions - Christianity, Hinduism, and Islam.

But despite the lush and nurturing variety of Pi’s world, there are broad political changes afoot in India, and when Pi is sixteen, his parents decide that the family needs to escape to a better life. Choosing to move to Canada, they close the zoo, pack their belongings, and board a Japanese cargo ship called the Tsimtsum. Travelling with them are many of their animals, bound for zoos in North America. However, they have only just begun their journey when the ship sinks, taking the dreams of the Patel family down with it. Only Pi survives, cast adrift in a lifeboat with the unlikeliest oftravelling companions: a zebra, an orang-utan, a hyena, and a 450-pound Royal Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

Thus begins Pi Patel’s epic, 227-day voyage across the Pacific, and the powerful story of faith and survival at the heart of Life of Pi. Worn and scared, oscillating between hope and despair, Pi is witness to the playing out of the food chain, quite aware of his new position within it. When only the tiger is left of the seafaring menagerie, Pi realizes that his survival depends on his ability to assert his own will, and sets upon a grand and ordered scheme to keep from being Richard Parker’s next meal.

As Yann Martel has said in one interview, “The theme of this novel can be summarized in three lines. Life is a story. You can choose your story. And a story with an imaginative overlay is the better story.” And for Martel, the greatest imaginative overlay is religion. “God is a shorthand for anything that is beyond the material - any greater pattern of meaning.” In Life of Pi, the question of stories, and of what stories to believe, is front and center from the beginning, when the author tells us how he was led to Pi Patel and to this novel: in an Indian coffee house, a gentleman told him, “I have a story that will make you believe in God.” And as this novel comes to its brilliant conclusion, Pi shows us that the story with the imaginative overlay is also the story that contains the most truth.
*Summary by Goodreads

February 18, 2013 book review - The Expats by Chris Pavone

posted Jan 24, 2013, 2:38 AM by Susan and Nicolle   [ updated Jan 24, 2013, 4:33 AM ]

Kate Moore is a working mother, struggling to make ends meet, to raise children, to keep a spark in her marriage . . . and to maintain an increasingly unbearable life-defining secret. So when her husband is offered a lucrative job in Luxembourg, she jumps at the chance to leave behind her double-life, to start anew.

She begins to reinvent herself as an expat, finding her way in a language she doesn’t speak, doing the housewifely things she’s never before done—play-dates and coffee mornings, daily cooking and unending laundry. Meanwhile, her husband works incessantly, doing a job Kate has never understood, for a banking client she’s not allowed to know. He’s becoming distant and evasive; she’s getting lonely and bored.

Then another American couple arrives. Kate soon becomes suspicious that these people are not who they claim to be, and terrified that her own past is catching up to her. So Kate begins to dig, to peel back the layers of deception that surround her. She discovers fake offices and shell corporations and a hidden gun; a mysterious farmhouse and numbered accounts with bewildering sums of money; a complex web of intrigue where no one is who they claim to be, and the most profound deceptions lurk beneath the most normal-looking of relationships; and a mind-boggling long-play con threatens her family, her marriage, and her life.
*summary at Goodreads

The Light of Amsterdam - by David Park December 11

posted Aug 21, 2012, 4:48 AM by Susan and Nicolle   [ updated Nov 5, 2012, 2:51 AM ]

*image credit: Goodreads.com

Book Summary

It is December in Belfast, Christmas is approaching and three sets of people are about to make their way to Amsterdam.

Alan, a university art teacher stands watching the grey sky blacken waiting for George Best's funeral cortege to pass. He will go to Amsterdam to see Bob Dylan in concert but also in the aftermath of his divorce, in the hope that the city which once welcomed him as a young man and seemed to promise a better future, will reignite those sustaining memories. He doesn't yet know that his troubled teenage son Jack will accompany his pilgrimage.

Karen is a single mother struggling to make ends meet by working in a care home and cleaning city centre offices. She is determined to give her daughter the best wedding that she can. But as she boards the plane with her daughter's hen party she will soon be shocked into questioning where her life of sacrifices has brought her.

Meanwhile middle-aged couple, Marion and Richard are taking a break from running their garden centre to celebrate Marion's birthday. In Amsterdam, Marion's anxieties and insecurities about age, desire and motherhood come to the surface and lead her to make a decision that threatens to change the course of her marriage.

As these people brush against each other in the squares, museums and parks of Amsterdam, their lives are transfigured as they encounter the complexities of love in a city that challenges what has gone before. Tender and humane, and elevating the ordinary to something timeless and important, The Light of Amsterdam is a novel of compassion and rare dignity.

*Review credit - Goodreads.com

November 20 -The Light between Oceans by ML Stedman

posted Aug 21, 2012, 4:34 AM by Susan and Nicolle   [ updated Aug 21, 2012, 5:15 AM ]

*image credit - ourbookreviewsonline.blogspot.com
*image credit - Goodreads.com

Book Summary

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.
*Review cited from Goodreads.com 

October 22 book - The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

posted Jul 25, 2012, 2:02 AM by Susan and Nicolle

Book Summary

The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. Within the black-and-white striped canvas tents is an utterly unique experience full of breathtaking amazements. It is called Le Cirque des Rêves, and it is only open at night. 

But behind the scenes, a fierce competition is underway—a duel between two young magicians, Celia and Marco, who have been trained since childhood expressly for this purpose by their mercurial instructors. Unbeknownst to them, this is a game in which only one can be left standing, and the circus is but the stage for a remarkable battle of imagination and will. Despite themselves, however, Celia and Marco tumble headfirst into love—a deep, magical love that makes the lights flicker and the room grow warm whenever they so much as brush hands. 

True love or not, the game must play out, and the fates of everyone involved, from the cast of extraordinary circus per­formers to the patrons, hang in the balance, suspended as precariously as the daring acrobats overhead. 
*Goodreads -  http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/9361589-the-night-circus 


August 20 book club - The Curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon

posted Jul 25, 2012, 1:55 AM by Susan and Nicolle   [ updated Jul 25, 2012, 1:55 AM ]

Book Summary

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time is a murder mystery novel like no other. The detective, and narrator, is Christopher Boone. Christopher is fifteen and has Asperger's Syndrome. He knows a very great deal about maths and very little about human beings. He loves lists, patterns and the truth. He hates the colours yellow and brown and being touched. He has never gone further than the end of the road on his own, but when he finds a neighbour's dog murdered he sets out on a terrifying journey which will turn his whole world upside down.

July 23rd Meeting - 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami

posted May 16, 2012, 4:57 AM by Susan and Nicolle   [ updated May 16, 2012, 5:01 AM ]


The year is 1984 and the city is Tokyo.

A young woman named Aomame follows a taxi driver’s enigmatic suggestion and begins to notice puzzling discrepancies in the world around her. She has entered, she realizes, a parallel existence, which she calls 1Q84 —“Q is for ‘question mark.’ A world that bears a question.” Meanwhile, an aspiring writer named Tengo takes on a suspect ghostwriting project. He becomes so wrapped up with the work and its unusual author that, soon, his previously placid life begins to come unraveled.

As Aomame’s and Tengo’s narratives converge over the course of this single year, we learn of the profound and tangled connections that bind them ever closer: a beautiful, dyslexic teenage girl with a unique vision; a mysterious religious cult that instigated a shoot-out with the metropolitan police; a reclusive, wealthy dowager who runs a shelter for abused women; a hideously ugly private investigator; a mild-mannered yet ruthlessly efficient bodyguard; and a peculiarly insistent television-fee collector.

A love story, a mystery, a fantasy, a novel of self-discovery, a dystopia to rival George Orwell’s—1Q84 is Haruki Murakami’s most ambitious undertaking yet: an instant best seller in his native Japan, and a tremendous feat of imagination from one of our most revered contemporary writers.

summary website credit: www.goodreads.com

June 25th meeting - The Discovery of Heaven by Harry Mulisch

posted May 16, 2012, 4:45 AM by Susan and Nicolle   [ updated May 16, 2012, 4:45 AM ]



The discovery of Heaven begins with the meeting of Onno and Max, two complicated individuals whom fate has mysteriously and magically brought together, They share responsibility for the birth of a remarkable and radiant boy who embarks on a mandated quest that takes the reader all over Europe and to the land where all such quests begin and end. Abounding in philosophical, psychological and theological inquiries - yet laced with humour that is as infectious as it is wilful - the Discovery of Heaven convinces us that it just might be possible to bring order into the chaos of the world through a story.  

summary credit: www.goodreads.com

Freedom by Jonathan Franzen for May 14, 2012

posted Mar 29, 2012, 1:08 AM by Susan and Nicolle   [ updated Mar 29, 2012, 1:11 AM ]

Patty and Walter Berglund were the new pioneers of old St. Paul—the gentrifiers, the hands-on parents, the avant-garde of the Whole Foods generation. Patty was the ideal sort of neighbor, who could tell you where to recycle your batteries and how to get the local cops to actually do their job. She was an enviably perfect mother and the wife of Walter’s dreams. Together with Walter—environmental lawyer, commuter cyclist, total family man—she was doing her small part to build a better world. 

But now, in the new millennium, the Berglunds have become a mystery. Why has their teenage son moved in with the aggressively Republican family next door? Why has Walter taken a job working with Big Coal? What exactly is Richard Katz—outré rocker and Walter’s college best friend and rival—still doing in the picture? Most of all, what has happened to Patty? Why has the bright star of Barrier Street become “a very different kind of neighbor,” an implacable Fury coming unhinged before the street’s attentive eyes? 
In his first novel since The Corrections, Jonathan Franzen has given us an epic of contemporary love and marriage. Freedom comically and tragically captures the temptations and burdens of liberty: the thrills of teenage lust, the shaken compromises of middle age, the wages of suburban sprawl, the heavy weight of empire. In charting the mistakes and joys of Freedom’s characters as they struggle to learn how to live in an ever more confusing world, Franzen has produced an indelible and deeply moving portrait of our time.  

*review credit: www.goodreads.com

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