Category Archives: contemporary

Case of the Missing Morris Dancer by Cathy Ace

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This book’s catchy title caught my eye on a display in the Library, and I’m happy to report it did not disappoint! The story is set in idyllic rural Wales, at the stately home of the eighteenth Duke of Chellingworth who is about to be married. His doting mother is anxious to provide a wedding weekend with complete aristocratic traditions for her family, friends, and folks who live in the nearby village. Plans seem to be going along delightfully, until a key member of the local Morris Dance troupe does not turn up for an important meeting. As luck would have it the village is the home-base for an all-women private investigation agency called WISE. The WISE women spring into action, happy to help the Mother of the Groom who is also an honourary member of their group.

Each of the WISE women use their personal strengths and connections to work together and solve the mystery. Wedding preparations continue throughout the story, and are woven into the investigation. The Duke is delightfully portrayed as a bumbling mommy’s boy, and a bit of a snob. This story reminds the reader that things are not always as they seem, particularly in quaint villages. If you enjoy this book, you can read more by Cathy Ace, and follow the WISE women on more adventures.

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Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

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Do you remember the campy version of Batman from the 1960’s TV show?  That’s the way he was portrayed for several decades. But everything changed in 1986 thanks to Frank Miller’s Batman: the Dark Knight Returns. Miller’s depiction of the Dark Knight, along with Alan Moore’s Watchmen, ushered in a new, darker era for comic books.

The Dark Knight Rises is itself a very interesting read. Batman retired ten years ago. But crime has continued unabated in Gotham City. When an extremely violent gang appears, something within Bruce Wayne snaps and he can’t keep Batman hidden inside anymore. But Wayne is over fifty years old; fighting crime is much harder in his aging body.

Gotham City has also changed. Commissioner Gordon is retiring. His chosen replacement, the first woman Commissioner, feels the Dark Knight is a menace who must be hunted down. This is part of a larger debate within Gotham City, where various individuals weigh in on how they feel about the Dark Knight’s return. This part of the story feels very relevant to today, both in the way that it is presented (with talk show hosts bringing in various guests to debate) and in how divided in thought everyone is. And while The Dark Knight Returns has these modern aspects, it is also very much a product of its time, having been written during the Cold War; it expressly deals with people’s fears from the time (but with a superhero twist).

One warning though: the physical book is rather daunting thanks to the sheer amount of dialogue in it. The art is also not particularly appealing, making this graphic novel a bit harder to get through as well. But the story is very much worth it!

Paris for One and Other Stories by Jojo Moyes

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In the follow-up to her bestselling novels, Me before You and After You, author Jojo Moyes has published  an  eclectic  collection of nine short stories each from a woman’s perspective and dealing with  a variety of themes from troubled relationships to near magical shoes. The longest story in the set is “Paris for One” and centres on Nell who by her own admission is “not the adventurous type”, but has given up a planned trip to Brighton to have a romantic trip to Paris with her boyfriend, Peter.  At the outset it is clear that Peter has no intention of joining her, and instead of following her routine inclinations and cancelling, she embarks for Paris on her own.  The weekend does not start promisingly when Nell finds her hotel has double booked her and she spends the first night sharing with a stranger.  Preserving she soon discovers the delights of the city and the company of an attractive Frenchman named Fabien.

My favourite tale is “Between the Tweets”  and follows a formerly popular TV personality with a squeaky clean image and sinking ratings.  Mr. Travis is being trolled on the internet by a woman who claims to have had a spicy relationship with him.  The story is a delight about a PR nightmare with an unusual twist.

Each tale in this collection is intriguingly written, and  the characters are well drawn (if not necessary all entirely likeable) using dialogue for the most part mixed with subtle narration . Moyes experience as a journalist as well as a fiction writer is evident in the succinct  use of description that give the barest of details and leaves much to the reader’s imagination.

This would be a great and quick read for Moyes fans and anyone would relishes the joys of an interesting short story.

 

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

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This elegantly written book shows just how connected we all are.  Here in Thunder Bay, it’s common to discover you have something or someone in common to almost everyone you meet.  The “one degree of separation” phenomenon is understandable in a city the size of ours, but could it work in the metropolis of New York?  This book proves it can, and one incredible dress is the touchstone that unites a group of nine diverse women.  It’s appropriate that the dress at the centre of this book is an iconic little black dress.  The dress takes on a mantle of magic as it fills a specific need for each woman that wears it.   The dress is created by a pattern maker at the end of his career, so it’s special as soon as it’s made.  A fresh off the bus model has the privilege to wear it first, and is an instant star.  After that the dress becomes the main character of the story.  Rosen gives the nine women their own chapter and voice, as their lives intersect with the dress. The dress works its magic in the lives of a Bloomingdales sales girl, a private detective, and a personal assistant, among others.  Rosen’s writing is a delight to read, and helps keep all the stories straight.  Readers discussing this book online have shared their own stories of life-changing moments, revealing that sometimes truth is stranger than fiction!

 

Sting by Sandra Brown

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One of the perks of working in a library is getting recommendations from patrons on what they read and liked. Many of the novels that I have come to love the most were little gems that came from these suggestions, so when a number of library members with whom I normally share reading tastes said read “Sting” by Sandra Brown, I put it on my to-read list.  I’d read Sandra Brown years ago, when she was firmly in the romance or romantic suspense period of her career so I thought this would be more of the same and was delighted to find she’d carved out a great thriller, instead.

The novel begins with poised and polished Jordie Bennett in a seedy Southern bar, where she has attracted the attention of the bar patrons, especially two particular men.  Unknown to her, these men are hired assassins and she is their target.  Within a few pages, the hit has turned into a kidnapping as one of the killers, decides that rather than collecting a paltry sum for her death, he can shake her brother down for the 30 million in stolen mob money that he may have access to.  The story then twists into a neat little cat and mouse between Jordie and her kidnapper, Shaw Kinnard, a man with secrets of his own.  In this situation, Jordie must rely on her wits to survive.

“Sting” is like a roller coaster ride of a book, weaving happily in one direction before vering off somewhere completely different. I have read a number of thriller or romantic/thrillers but this one was full of surprises. Everything here works; the characters, the situation, the dialogue and the romantic elements complement each other well.

A number of writers who have honed their skills in the traditional romance market, like Catherine Coulter and Tess Gerritsen have moved on to write superb thrillers which I enjoy, now I will add Sandra Brown to that list. My only regret is that it took me forever to try her again. PS. I just checked out another of her books, “Friction”.

 

 

City of the Lost by Kelley Armstrong

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Werewolves, witches, and omens….are exactly what you won’t find in the newest series by supernatural queen Kelley Armstrong. She is best known for series’ such as Otherworld and Cainsville but with City of the Lost she takes a hard turn away from her signature style and ventures into murder mystery completely based in the human realm. This series is also referred to as the Rockton series or the Casey Duncan series in reference to the central locale and character.

Rockton is a town of last resorts and only accepts a select few. You won’t find it on any map or website and to become a resident you must apply to town council for approval, and even that comes with a limited term for your stay there. Imagine walking away from everything and everyone you know and disappearing into the Yukon to live without any luxuries or conveniences of modern urban life. It is supposed to be a safe haven for those with nowhere else to run – but recently the town has experienced its first murder. Enter Casey Duncan, a homicide detective with a secretive past and every reason to go off the grid. She arrives with her best friend who carries her own fair share of secrets and soon the action really gets going.

This should definitely be on your spring reading list – even if you haven’t been an Armstrong fan in the past but enjoy thrillers and murder mysteries.

Review: The Wealthy Barber vs. The Wealthy Barber Returns by David Chilton

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About a year and a half ago, I realized how ignorant I was with regards to money and started to educate myself in matters of personal finance in order to resolve my ignorance. Since then, I have read a number of books and articles, significantly improved my spending, started living below my means, and started saving. As I began my journey to becoming financially literate, one book that I was always recommended was The Wealthy Barber by David Chilton (1989). The book being nearly 3 decades old, I was hesitant to read it since I know financial matters are time sensitive. What I decided to do instead, was read The Wealthy Barber Returns by David Chilton (2011) first, then go back and read Chilton’s first book.

I’ve actually read The Wealthy Barber Returns twice. The first time was in January 2016. The second time was just last month to get a refresher before starting his first book. I credit Wealthy Barber Returns with kicking my butt into gear and getting me to save at least 10% of my income, and opening up a RRSP. The illustration that caused me to do so was the following from this book: twins open up RRSPs. Each of them contributes $4,000 a year at 8% rate of return compounded annually. Hank opens up his RRSP and makes these contributions starting at age 25 for 10 years. Simon contributes starting at age 35 for 30 years. Because of the “magic” of compound interest, at 65, Hank’s RRSP is worth $629,741 and Simon’s $489,383. In spite of the fact that Hank saved for a third less time, he comes out $140k ahead by starting early. After reading this, I knew that even if could only contribute a few hundred dollars a year to start out, it was worth starting in my young 20s to get the compound interest ball rolling.

Besides a 10% fund, I also appreciated the various advice found in The Wealthy Barber Returns. Some of his advice is very simple (If shopping is your weakness and causes you to waste money, avoid the malls) while other advice is more complicated and situational, such as his banter on TFSAs vs. RRSPs and renting vs. owning. Although I agreed with the majority of what Chilton had to say, I did disagree with him on a few points-the main one that sticks out is his dislike of emergency funds (he claims that although great in theory, they don’t work out in practice). Regardless, I still believe The Wealthy Barber Returns is still a good introductory book for finance for Canadians- it certainly helped me better my finances.

Now onto Chilton’s first book- The Wealthy Barber. The first thing that surprised me when I started the book was the fact it was put in story format and didn’t discuss finances until Chapter 4. The narrative format has been praised as helpful to get the average reader engaged in a topic they otherwise wouldn’t have touched, but for me, knowing that the characters are fictional I was bored and ready to get to the heart of the book. I hate to say it, but if the useless banter between fictional characters were removed, the book would have been under 100 pages. However, I did get a refresher on things I already knew and learned a few things as well. The main point of the book is “save 10%- pay yourself first” which is an excellent reminder and cannot be emphasized enough. Chilton also talks about trying to evaluate your possible retirement needs and save in an RRSP, which is so crucial in this day of fewer pensions.

Nonetheless, I have to admit this book is dated. It started with the characters referencing VCRs several times, and more concerning, outdated financial advice. For example, when referring to RRSPs, the characters never mentioned the Home Buyers’ Plan (HBP) which allows you to withdraw up to $25,000 from your RRSPs to buy or build a home. Same with TFSAs- they came about in 2009 (20 years after the publication of this book) and they are a great way for Canadians to save, so someone starting with this publication would miss that valuable info. Also, a few weeks ago the government announced they will be doing away with the Canada Savings Bond program which was mentioned numerous times throughout this book as an option for saving. And when it comes to investing or buying a home, the characters referenced making 13% on a mutual fund annually, buying a home for $57,000 (at an 18% interest rate!), and buying a condo for $80,000. Any Canadian who gets their percentage figures from this book is going to be really surprised when s/he looks online for modern prices.

For all these reasons, I would much rather recommend The Wealthy Barber Returns over Chilton’s original publication. Finances are a time sensitive thing: prices and percentages change, new products are introduced and old products are done away with. Even though The Wealthy Barber is encouraging in some ways, it’s too out of date as a beginner’s guide to personal finance. My recommendation is to stay within the past decade for anything to do with personal finance; possibly less if it’s about a specific product.