“The Raw Shark Texts” by Steven Hall

Disappointingly, the cover for the Canadian edition does not feature
the inkblot artwork of the original – which ties the title to the
Rorschach tests, an important link. The Raw Shark Texts is an
excellent novel from first-time novelist Steven Hall. If you are
tired of books that spoon-feed the reader and ties up every loose
end, this is the book for you (It’s also reminiscent of books like
Fight Club). It lets the reader think and figure for him- or herself
what really happened. This reads almost like a movie script (in fact,
the book has already been optioned for a film), as it starts with
vague unease and blasts into full-tilt action – a great summer read.

“Fire in the Blood” by Irene Nemirovsky

This is a short novel by the best-selling author of “Suite
Francaise”. You will find the same brisk, clear writing and incisive
study of human nature, as well as a surprising and endearing love story.

The setting is a small village in the French countryside.
Generations of farming families know all about each other and very often
keep these secrets hidden. The story-teller, Sylvio, is one of these,
until a totally unexpected murder uncovers a chain of events in his past
that brings him out of his reverie.

Like “Suite Francaise”, this manuscript was only recently
discovered by Nemirovsky’s biographers, and in fact was found in the
same suitcase ,saved by her daughters, that gave the world “Suite

It is a pleasure to read such beautiful moody pictures of this old
French world and I find the characters well-drawn and completely

Review by Anne McDougall

“Consumption” by Kevin Patterson

This is an up-close look at White and Inuit people living together.

A beautiful Inuit girl, Victoria, marries but never really accepts
the Scot, Robertson, who runs the Hudson Bay store at Rankin Inlet.
She had contracted tuberculosis at age 6 and was sent south to Montreal
for care at a sanatorium. When she returned l0 years later, she
was torn apart by the two cultures, in spite of Robertson’s general
acceptance by the community, as well as their three children.

The author is a doctor and has practised for a number of years in
the North. He writes sharply and sensitively about the physician in
this book. He also has great understanding of the Inuit who had spent
some l0,000 years “on the land”,i.e. the tundra stretching back from the
west side of Hudson Bay ,and had trouble with schools, store-bought food
instead of walrus meat, prefabricated wooden houses which in high winds
are not as snug as an igloo.

The tension builds to considerable violence, which is not resolved
until the end of the book. The characters are very sympathetic and
though Patterson doesn’t pretend to solve the difficulties of our living
together, he paints a picture which makes the reader very much hope we do.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Obama – From Promise to Power” by David Mendell

9780060858209.jpg With Barack Obama so much in the news these days, it is helpful to read this well-researched book by Chicago Tribune reporter David Mendell.

Obama himself wrote his own story ten years ago, “Dreams from my Father”, before he became famous. It came out again last year and was reviewed by Books on Beechwood last March. It tells the commendably detached story of how Obama struggled to find his own identity -with a black father from Kenya and a white mother from Kansas, U.S.A.

Mendell’s book goes on from there and shows how once Obama did settle on his identity he has become a remarkably steady character, not pushed around by the tremendous media pressure that has descended on him in his run for the presidency.

After graduating with honors from Harvard Law School, Obama became the first black president of the Harvard Law Review. In early working days he experienced the violent moods of inner city kids in L.A. After a year in Manhattan, he took a job in Chicago with an organization pulling urban blacks and suburban whites together in a plan to save manufacturing jobs in metropolitan Chicago. He worked for multiculturalism, believing blacks should enter the mainstream power structure and work for change. He himself decided politics would be a faster way to a achieve this and won a seat in the Illinois State Senate on Chicago’s South Side.

The rest of Mendell’s book is an exciting look at the game – and the fight – to win the Presidency of the United States. We meet Obama’s vivacious wife, Michelle, and two young daughters. For the rest we can watch television and see the pressure piled on this young family.The story of course is still mid-way. This is a very good background book.

Book Review by Anne McDougall

“The Oxford Murders” by Guillermo

This is a fascinating detective novel, particularly if you know and like Oxford, or if you know and like the world of mathematics and logic. If is just as fascinating if you are not especially up on these things, because the story swings between head and heart and concludes in an intriguing twist.

Martinez has graduated from the University of Buenos Aires with a thesis in algebraic topology and has a scholarship to Oxford. He moves into quarters in the house of an old professor’s wife, and her granddaughter, Beth. During his first two weeks he meets the famous Arthur Seldom, one of the leading minds in logic. Seldom pays a visit to Martinez’ apartment, because he has received a message announcing “The first of a series”, with the address of Mrs. Eagleton, and a time of arrival. What he walks in on is an old lady, murdered in her chaise longue. Further discussion with the police reveal Seldom’s message had included a perfect circle, or symbol, similar to symbols he had used in his own book of philosophy, which had a chapter on serial killers.

This book continues, as you can imagine, with more symbols, and more murders. But there is a surprising connection between Seldom, and the beautiful granddaughter, which is itself linked with the murderer’s convictions. It keeps you guessing til the end.

Review by Anne McDougall

“Giving” by Bill Clinton

giving.jpg If you’ve ever put down the daily paper and wondered, where has all the good news gone? you might try this book by ex-president and author, Bill Clinton.

Although it’s impossible not to look for the political angle, what you find instead is an amazingly level-headed, well-written account of what Clinton calls “an explosion of citizen service” since the conclusion of the Cold War. In a world where l00 million children in poor countries don’t go to school, and half the world’s people live on less than $2.00 a day, it’s perhaps no surprise that information technology and globalisation of commerce have made everyone more aware that the name of the game is sharing, so that all may benefit.

As for his involvement, Clinton points out that when he met Hilary in law school, she was working to provide legal services to the under-privileged. In Arkanas, she ran the legal aid clinic and prison project. She did it, he notes, because it made it her happy. Clinton himself left the White House in 200l. In 2002 he started the Foundation in his name and in 2005 convened the Clinton Global Initiative at the annual opening of the UN General Assembly. Their pledges rose from $2.7 million the first year to more than $7 million the following year.

This book looks at the various ways we can give: with money, time, things, skills, good ideas, even including organizing markets for the public good (companies are making money by cutting greenhouse gases in Denmark). He discusses the part governments can play. He examines non-governmental organizations and looks at the results of their giving and how these have to checked. He includes a thorough list at the back of the book of names, books and websites.

Next year may be an election year in the US….but this seems to me to be a book for all time.

Review by Anne McDougall

“The Law of Dreams” by Peter Behrens

lawofdreams.jpg This is the story of the Great Famine in Ireland and the violent adventures of young Fergus O’Brien who undertook to escape it.

Set in l846, in County Clare, the book describes the inhuman living conditions of farmers and their tenants ruled by overseas landlords. This is not a political account. Behrens points out in remarks at the end that the British people probably had no more idea of the suffering in Ireland than most of us in North America do of the people today living in Somalia, or Eritrea. “The Law of Dreams” simply recounts the horrific life Fergus experienced from the moment his father and mother and sisters were burned to death when their cabin was destroyed and he escaped, to tramp his way first to a ship to Liverpool, living a rough life with the Bog Boys en route, then to work on the railroad in Northern Wales, and finally to a ship going to Canada with a life on board that you can hardly believe for its suffering.

Fergus has both courage, and indomitable dreams. The Toronto Star points out that this book “has to resonate with North American readers, no matter how their ancestors came to these shores.”

It is vividly-written historical fiction, with a story you won’t soon forget.

Review by Anne McDougall

“The Last Chinese Chef” by Nicole Mones

This is a delicious novel. One reviewer in fact warns: avoid reading while hungry.

The Last Chinese Chef

It is written by an American, Nicole Mones, who ran a textile business for l8 years in China before returning to the U.S. where she writes for “Gourmet” magazine. She combines a sensitive knowledge of Chinese life with a love of food. And so we learn all kinds of things about the important place of cooking in Chinese life, and a reverence for food miles away from our careless attitude to Chinese takeout. Instead, the ceremony of preparing and dishing meals is central to the whole fabric of Chinese family life.

Against this tantalizing background rushes the story of an American journalist, recently widowed when her husband was killed in a car accident. Grief-struck, she accepts an assignment in Beijing to cover a legendary chef, American-born but half-Chinese. The story weaves gently and convincingly between the chef rediscovering his ancestors who had made their mark in the Chinese culinary world, and the American widow coming to grips with some of her own personal problems. Throughout the story they partake of fantastic dinners with menus and recipes for anyone interested…almost too many…but always impressive and surprising.

With China looming all around us, economically and politically, it’s both a pleasure and a help to dip into its ancient and stunning history regarding putting food on the table.

Nicole Mones has already won recognition for her books “Lost in Translation” and “A Cup of Light”. She has another winner with this one.

“A Thousand Splendid Suns” by Khaled Hosseini

cover-splendidsuns.jpg The author of the bestselling “Kite Runner” has written a second novel, and I must say I find it shattering.

It is set in Afghanistan, which of course is on all our minds as Canadian soldiers get killed there. The author Khaled Hosseini was born in Kabul, Afghanistan. He has lived in the U.S. since l980, where he is a U.S. envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency. He brings to life in a startling way his home country’s misery in the midst of non-stop war.

This misery fills the lives of the families he describes: the illegitimate daughter who is married off to a cruel widower, and a second young girl who loses both parents in a bomb attack and has the same fate. The Washington Post Book World finds parts of “The Kite Runner” raw and excruciating to read and the same thing applies here . We get a picture of the Soviets departure, the war lords return and finally the Taliban. Reading about their ferocious rules in the newspaper is quite different from seeing how they apply, in this new book.

Hosseini writes sparely and vividly. The 25 years away from his country have not dimmed his awareness, nor his great affection for his own people. He shares this in “A Thousand Splendid Suns”. At times the story is heart-breaking.

Reviewed by Anne McDougall

“Consequences” by Penelope Lively

It is 20 years – and more than 20 books of fiction and non-fiction later – since the English writer Penelope Lively won the Booker Prize for “Moon Tiger”. Her new book,”Consequences” has all the charm and elegant understatement for which she is renowned.It is set in England and follows the love stories of three generations of one family. She concentrates on the women and shows how in each case they follow their heart, even when they are breaking conventional, society-based traditions.

The first pair leave London for a very rough, though beautiful, cottage in Somerset. There are truly lovely descriptions of the countryside, as well as their life together as Matt Faraday succeeds in making a living as artist-engraver. World War ll brings tragedy, and he is killed in action. By a series of extraordinary, but quite believable circumstances, the grand-daughter of this pair eventually follows her own passion for art and publishing and winds up at the original Somerset cottage – with an ending that even Penelope Lively doesn’t quite disclose.

Lively writes of the periods she knows so of course the book is dated – as shown by the touching photograph of Victoria Station in war-time London on the cover of the book. It only adds to the beauty of “Consequences”.

Reviewed by Anne McDougall