Expanded Reviews

Where’d You Go, Bernadette

Maria Semple

I laughed out loud. On multiple occasions. I feel like this novel was sort of made for the voracious reader, because it has so many unique elements. It’s screaming “I know you read a great many books,

 mainly fiction, and you must be tired of the same old thing. Here is something different!” And so it goes. Bernadette is about a mother and her daughter. It’s about a girl and her relationship with her parents. You get to go to Antarctica. Antarctica, for pete’s sake!  But Bernadette really steals every scene. She is so authentic and yet nearly other-worldly. We can all relate on some level to a character that brings agoraphobia to a new, hysterical level. Told through narrative, emails, conversations and letters, this book is a real treat. It’s Carpaccio on the menu when you’ve been craving it for over 5 years and haven’t found it anywhere.  It’s the taste of maple salmon. It’s a glass of ice cold champagne. A treat. Read it. Maria Semple used to write for the funniest show to ever grace television, Arrested Development. That should sell this book on its own. And if you’ve never seen Arrested Development, go and rent it or download it or whatever you kids do these days. You’re WELcome.

 

The Age of Miracles 
Karen Thompson-Walker
I have mixed feelings about this book. I’ll be staight-up honest with you all. The feelings are not mixes of “I didn’t like this” and “I did like this”, but more about how this novel made me feel. Sometimes, I will read a book that isn’t eloquent writing or brilliant literature, but I like what it does to me…how it makes me feel in some way or other. This book was well written and very creative. It follows a young girl as the world changes completely: the earth’s rotation begins to slow. And it’s a really, really big deal. Ultimately, this book bummed me right out. It scared me, and made me sad. But I can’t give it a bad review because it’s so well done and obviously was a labour of love. What I will say is that if you’re really sensitive about nature, or if you have deep-rooted fears of such apocalyptic things happening, this might not be the best choice. It does, however, give you cause to stop and think and really embrace and cherish this earth. Because it could change so rapidly so quickly.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet

 David Mitchell

(Adult Fiction, paperback)

A little book called The Secret History by Donna Tartt has long reigned as my favourite book ever.

It now has some serious competition. Although the two couldn’t be more different, this new novel is something I can’t stop thinking about. It’s brilliant, complex, and yet so fluid and simple.  Jacob de Zoet is the ultimate hero. David Mitchell has nailed it, and really this is a perfect novel. It has history, fact, fiction, magic and love, war and peace and you’ll come away a better person for having gone on the journey of Jacob’s life. You’re in Japan, you’re on dirty ships and watching crude surgeries unfold and lives beginning and ending with every chapter. Become trapped in a nunnery in the mountains. Go aboard a British warship. Walk the gardens of Nagasaki. Let yourself be totally taken to another time and another world.

Officially tied for my most favourite novel ever. Please read it.

Men and Dogs

Katie Crouch

For those of you that had the chance to read Crouch’s first novel,
Girls In Trucks, you are probably delighted to see this novel in front
of you. To get the business out of the way, yes it’s as sweet as GIT.
In fact, it’s almost better. Hannah, the driving character in this
novel, is a hilarious yet sympathetic character, the madwoman in all
of us. She makes the bad decisions that we manage to steer ourselves
away from, she says the things that we suppress. She also has to solve
the mystery of her father’s disappearance before she can complete the
metamorphosis that has obviously been stifling her life. And she does
so with reckless abandon through this fantastic summer read. It’s
light, funny and touching in a really unique way that lacks the
saccharine nature of many books in this genre, and has just enough
darkness to satisfy the most cynical of readers. I really couldn’t put
it down, and now find myself missing the characters, particularly that
of Hannah’s brother, who steers the more level headed side of
the family. This was an emotional and satisfying book, a guaranteed
good read for those wanting something light, but not willing to
sacrifice good plot, eloquent and clever writing, and believably
flawed characters.

The Lonely Polygamist
Brady Udall

So – Which category do you fall into? Those who think that polygamy is
interesting, and fascinating in a strange sort of way, or those who
think that it’s just plain…well…wrong.

Being a solid member of either team will still render this fine novel
rather appealing once you realize that it is so well written, it could
really be about anything. Brady Udall is a first-rate craftsman of
character and perspective, which is especially critical where there
are four wives and 28 children to contend with. In addition to the
main character of Golden, Udall weaves a couple of wives and children
into the spotlight throughout the 600 page book in a natural and clean
manner. There is a chart at the front of the book that gives the
names, ages and nicknames of all children and wives, but the reader
doesn’t need to refer to it much. The author clearly had this story
written in his mind, and put it on paper in such an organized and
enthusiastic way. Even an old couch, lovingly called “The Barge” is a
character in its own way. It’s hard not to get deeply involved, and
when a sister-wife or child gets hurt, we get hurt. When Golden aches
in his own existential chaos, the reader feels it too. This is the
sign of a remarkable novelist and a vibrant tale that just spills
forth from the covers. It is in its own unique genre of the “Family
Saga”.

A Visit From the Goon Squad
Jennifer Egan

*Winner of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize*

So, what is the “Goon Squad”? And who is this Jennifer Egan anyway?
I first heard the name of Jennifer Egan as an author about 5 years ago, when my partner threw her book (“The Keep”) across the room. It hit the wall and bounced down to the floor with a dull thud. Both of us are avid readers, and when we literally throw a book across the room, we know that it’s because of a major faux pas, and it’s usually a sign that we have invested much time or energy and been disappointed. I am lucky to have only experienced this a few times (in the interest of fairness, I won’t mention the titles here, but feel free to consult me at the store anytime and I’ll regale you!)

When the winners of the 2011 Pulitzer Prize were announced and Egan had won the award for Literature, I wasn’t quite sure what to think. I hadn’t heard of the novel and what little I knew of the author could fit into the palm of my better half’s fist as he tossed her earlier novel against the wall. I ordered the book, and when it arrived, the fresh and funky covered paperback looked intriguing and I opened it that night….and didn’t want to put it down. I’ve read the old back cover jibber-jabber about how a book “gripped from the first page and didn’t let go” but in this case it’s absolutely 100% true. This novel grabbed me like a Tarkovsky film and didn’t let go, and the novel winds down in the same way that a fantastic and perfect meal ends with a lovely dessert and a glass of blackberry port.

I am not going to tell you much, but I will throw out these keywords about the book, and if any of them grab you, you might want to come in and check out the novel: Music, Art, Africa, Love, Drugs. Oh, and did I mention Music? It’s at the forefront of this book, and I really cannot stress enough how much of an impact this novel made on me. I still think about it, and it changed me. Of course, it changed me in an different way than how Jason Hrivnak’s “The Plight House” changed me, but changed I remain nonetheless. I can also vouch humbly that this book made me want to be a better writer, and stands as a testament that we all have so much to learn about writing, and about reading. Beautiful, wonderful book.

True Things About Me
Deborah Kay Davies

As much as there’s a sub genre of fiction that I identify with and usually enjoy the most, I am thrilled by any book that makes me feel something. Anything. Anger, despair, joy, love or fear. Any emotion will do. What this novel has going for it is that it covers all of the emotional bases, and then some. The reader is a prodded tiger, a mother bear with her cubs in danger, a snake in the grass. Although the cover blurb gives one the sense that some pretty bad things are about to happen, it really doesn’t prepare you for what’s to come. This, among other things, is what makes Davies a fierce writer. You don’t just stroll through her novel, you hack through it like a jungle, and make a path as though you’re the first person to read the novel – ever. The story is a tale of obsession. A woman becomes completely obsessed with a man that she meets only for a few moments before they become rather intimately acquainted. From that point onward, she unravels as she goes to unending lengths to see him, to be with him, and to become his. He is unknown, and dangerous, and romantically stifling but somehow she is undeterred. Some people may be able to relate. Sometimes those that are the  least available seem to be the most interesting and intoxicating.

I can’t tell you what happens as the story spirals out of control, but I will tell you that there are so many heart stopping moments of unpredictable evil, insanity, lust, and rage that you’re glued to the pages until the end. Hitting the back cover of this book made me breathe deeply, blowing out one word as I exhaled: “Yikes”. Go ahead and dive in. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Annabel
Kathleen Winter

In order to get a small glimpse into what this novel is all about, you can simply look at the cover. It is a shadowed creature that could be a horse, but is veiled so well that it really could be anything if you just glance at it. Appearances can be deceiving. We’ve learned that once or twice as readers, right?
‘Annabel’ is the story of a baby born as a male and a female, with all of the parts necessary to live as either sex. What happens after that is really about family, appearances, and about the perpetual stress that life in a very small town can cause when there is something out of the ordinary. What I loved about this book is how much the surrounding elements of place played into the story. Labrador is clearly a haunting and difficult landscape, and Winter paints it through the story with the grace and ease only found when someone truly understands an environment – lives it, breathes it. The story of of Annabel couldn’t take place anywhere else in the world and have the same feeling to it, and streams of consciousness that seem almost slowed down by the cold in the characters themselves. Wayne, the child raised as a boy, is presented boldly to the reader and yet we hold him at arm’s length and never feel fully and completely involved in his secret inner workings. There are intimate scenes, for sure, but the ultimate dreams and goals of Wayne are left somewhat sheathed, or veiled as the cover image suggests. To me, this is just one aspect of Kathleen Winter’s beautifully subtle writing. The story is so good and so whole that she doesn’t need to give it all away. She is a writer who is obviously first a reader, and that offers a great deal when we think about how stories should begin, and how they should end.
In the spirit of such brilliant forces as Michael Crummey, Michael Winter and Kenneth J. Harvey, this novel takes the Canadian theme of identity and transformation to a fascinating and emotional new level. This is a novel for a rainy weekend, a book to send to your mother in law in Montreal, and to recommend to anyone who treasures a lovingly woven story.

Tiger, Tiger

Margaux Fragoso

So the cover has grabbed you, has it? Or the title? Or perhaps you’ve heard of this book from a friend, or read about it online. Whatever the reason, I have your attention and now you will hear firsthand what it feels like to crack open the cover of this memoir.

I opened it and didn’t put it down until I could no longer keep my eyes open, and I was halfway through. I read all of Part One in a sitting, and my emotions ranged from sadness, to strange happiness and comfort, to uncomfortable misery.

That’s just how she rolls.

This book is about a pedophile, yes. But more importantly, also about a little girl and an older girl and a young woman and a grown woman, and it’s about the roles that people play in our lives, whether we want them to or not. There are places where you may feel that you have to turn your eyes away from the page for a moment, but Fragoso approaches her story with a sort of nonchalance that makes for riveting reading and fantastic storytelling. She doesn’t get all teary and emotional, she doesn’t write with seething anger or blame, but honesty and peace. You will follow Margaux to her dark places and not want to leave.

I can’t wait to snuggle under the covers tonight and finish this crazy, tight laced Tiger’s tale.

The Hangman’s Daughter

Oliver Pötzsch

(Translated from the German by Lee Chadeayne)

Oh, what a lovely book. I am almost giddy to review this truly fascinating and wonderful romp through 17th century Bavaria. This is one of those novels that arrived at the store as a real surprise. I vaguely remembered ordering it, but I have no recollection of why I ordered it, or where I heard about it.  Historical fiction is not particularly unusual for me, but fiction in translation is. Perhaps I was pulled in by the beautiful cover? The enigmatic title? It matters not. What matters is the rolling and liquid prose and hard edged storyline, interrupted only slightly by the translation. That can’t be an easy job, and I appreciate the risks that the translator took with respect to the technical language of the day, including executioner’s and physicians’ tools and the other tricks of installing solid “time” when writing historical fiction. One aspect that I really enjoyed about this novel was the way Pötzsch built suspense and character. I felt as though I was looking over the shoulder of the Hangman’s Daughter, and the physician’s son. There is something brilliant about a mysterious tale that actually makes the reader feel like a detective. Who is killing the children, and why? What secrets do the dark and grimy homes hide in the village of Schongau? The story will lead you down dirt roads, into underground caverns, and through the suspicious minds of the townspeople. It is also a reminder of the intolerance and cruelty that was laid upon women who held wisdom for hundreds of years. This is a fine, fine book. Dark and nourishing, difficult to put down.

The Plight House

Jason Hrivnak

This book changed me.

What’s so great about it? Well, it left me in tears, and kept me entranced for several hours while I greedily plowed through it. It’s the most unique thing I’ve ever read, and calling it a novel somehow seems wrong. It’s not structured like a novel, it doesn’t start or end like a novel. It starts rather slowly, actually, and when I went to pass on my tattered and tearstained copy to my partner, I almost wanted to tell him not to read the Prologue. Not because it’s poorly writing or anything like that, but because it’s ‘normal’, and unlike the rest of the book. It’s written with a voice that’s simple and gentle, just a man talking about a girl he used to know.

Once you’re through the Prologue and start your journey through The Plight House, there’s no turning back. Don’t read this if you have to be somewhere, if you don’t have time to just give it the undivided attention it deserves. It’s like a guided meditation, it’s like a lucid dream primer, and it’s like a nightmare.

And it’s wonderful. Hrivnak has such a beautiful command of the language, and is undeterred in his creation of The Plight House. Some passages cause you to sink, like entering the ocean with your clothes on. Others are hopeful and uplifting, carrying the reader to heights of imagination and love. This book requires your cerebral and spiritual participation. Once you’ve read it, you will want to give it to anyone you love. Simply flawless.

Full Dark, No Stars
Stephen King

Stephen King has been penning nightmares since before I was born. It’s
not often that someone so prolific and widely published maintains a
standard of quality like the King. Although there have been a few
‘misses’ between the hits, he has managed to hold a severe and
calculating method of storytelling that still gives me the shivers.
This latest collection is no exception. In fact, it is one of his
strongest publications in the last decade, in this fan’s opinion. The
book is only four stories, but each one is so packed with chilling
premises and haunting conversations that slow readers will curse their
slowness, and my speedy reading desperately wants to slow down to
catch every single wretched word. Don’t be put off by the graphic and
violent nature of the opening tale, “1922” as it is an example of how
the little details, crude and dark as they may be contribute to the
story as a whole. Without the descriptions that may cling to your mind
for hours or days, the full effect of the situation may not reach the
reader. Relax, King knows what he’s doing. While the second story,
“Big Driver” wasn’t as riveting as the rest, it still casts a dizzying
spell and prompts the page turning into perhaps the darkest bit in
this collection, “Fair Extension”. This one, folks, left me feeling
supremely creeped out, moderately fearful of evil, and definitely
thinking about cause and effect. Lastly, the Master of Horror drives
us home through the woods and up the bumpy driveway, past collapsed
barns of fear and fields of terror into “A Good Marriage”. It was this
tale that reaffirmed my admiration and love for Stephen King. He knows
how to be a sad woman. He knows how to describe rage and love, and he
knows exactly what combination of words are needed to end a book with
the reader gasping for breath and panting for more. If you love
Stephen King, you need to buy this book and gobble it up. If you don’t
like Stephen King, I don’t know what to tell you, other than this
collection is still worthy of your time and money because it offers
the Big Three: Entertainment, Fear factor, and some stunning writing.
Hail to the King, baby.

The Beggar’s Garden (Stories)

Michael Christie

Wipe your feet, folks. You’re about to take a ride in the luxury vehicle of short stories. Although most of Christie’s tales surround characters of a low socio economic status (and that’s putting it mildly) his writing is the literary equivalent of a fully loaded BMW X3 with leather heated seats, a state of the art sound system and a license plate that reads “SPOILED”. Smooth and sure, each word is more confident in its placement and belonging than the one before it. If you are not a short story fan, you will be. This book will change your opinions about how a short story is structured, how it can evoke emotion, and how much creativity and punch can be woven into a fraction of the pages in a novel. Like the best music albums, I can’t pick a favourite track. Is it the opening story, “Emergency Contact” that felt oddly familiar to me, like a dream I’d once had? Or is it the incredibly visceral “Goodbye Porkpie Hat” which won Christie the Journey Prize in 2007?

Each story is a tiny portrait of Vancouver that is clean and subtle. I found myself nodding and thinking “I know exactly what he’s talking about.” The stories are very loosely linked, in an almost “Where’s Waldo” fashion. You think you may recognize a fur-collared jacket from another story, or a blinking neon sign mentioned somewhere else. What they all have in common in the heaviest sense is their no nonsense construction. You can feel the smooth nature of Christie’s writing like the moment the road goes from broken asphalt to fresh black pavement. He writes with intention and clever brevity. A few of the stories are from the point of view of a woman, and I had to stop several times to remind myself that it was actually a man making the sentences string together like a Christmas paper chain.

Told separately, you have in The Beggar’s Garden remarkable stories about unremarkable people. The characters are homeless men, broken women, and regular people confused by the complexity of their own emotions. As a whole, the book is an elegant surge into a world known only to those who have walked it in their skate shoes. This is Michael Christie’s first published work, and he is currently crafting a novel. I’m sure that I am not alone when I say this: Goody.

Everything was Good-Bye

Gurjinder Basran

Paperback, Mother Tongue Publishing, 256 pp.

Winner: Search for the Great BC Novel Contest

As I continue on my lifelong journey as a voracious reader, I find myself putting novels into categories that both surprise and interest me. Some books I call “boy books” only as an indication of the level of masculinity in the writing and character. This doesn’t mean that they can’t be enjoyed by women (I call to the stand Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi by Geoff Dyer), but it does mean that the relationship the reader might have with the book could be different depending on your gender. You may now ask yourself “Are there some experiences that women (or men) simply do not go through? Are there some experiences that only men (or women) go through?” I believe the reality is that the answer is yes to both.

All of that being said, let’s turn to this powerful book. It is about the life of a young Indian woman, Meena, and her relationship with her family and a ‘white boy’ named Liam. What this book is not is a real coming-of-age tale; I think it’s far too steely and raw to be called such. It’s darker than that. It’s very subtly self-referential (Basran’s characters make reference to Bollywood movies throughout the book) and Basran’s way with words guides the reader through Meena’s thoughts in a really wonderful “fly on the wall” sort of way. There is enough distance in her first-person narrative that I was able to not become too emotionally involved. It was an interesting dichotomy to experience. I felt her pain, her joy, her fear and hope but remained a viewer, an observer. Meena is a unique character, and has deep and rough imperfections that make her an intensely believable protagonist, and rather unbelievable ‘real’ person. This is part of the novel’s charm. Do those bad things, make the wrong choices that feel good at the time, and behave badly. It’s okay, it’s not real. Meena is doing them, and she is the only one being punished, and although you care about her as a character, Basran has managed to make her minutely unlovable, and this buoys the story and makes the other characters, such has her husband Sunny, and her defiant and tortured friend Kal stand out. Their “supporting roles” buoy Meena as she tries to follow her heart. She is not a perfect woman (who is?) but she defies our expectations, and moves to the sway of her own sari. She is brave in a way that is not encouraged in ‘real life’. I loved entering a world not my own, a rather foreign culture that I grew up just out of reach from. This is a brilliant first novel.

The Radleys

Matt Haig

Fiction, Paperback

Fierce, unrelenting fantastic fiction. That’s a short sum-up of the latest novel from Britain’s Matt Haig. The cover gives the reader a small clue as to what they might be getting into, and the real plot of this book is revealed in the first few chapters. But by then, happy reader, you’re already hooked. It’s the kind of novel for a rainy day, a winter evening or a night where you just can’t sleep. The tale of the Radley family will keep you captivated, curious and totally engaged. It has humour, grace, a bit of gore, and some really sexy elements. What a package. ‘Twilight’ for adults, or for people who hate Twilight. Highly recommended, excellent read!

An Object of Beauty

Steve Martin

If it’s not enough for you that Steve Martin is one of the finest actors of our time, you may be pleased and/or surprised to find that he is also one of the finest writers out of Hollywood. Shopgirl, his novella-turned-film is a heart-wrenching and unique love story that I can safely say changed the way I look at novellas. So here you have the latest from Martin. It’s the story of a girl, but it is also the story of the men who love her. Even more so, it’s about art. With full colour plates dotting this exquisite novel, you may find yourself up at 1am Googling artists you’ve never heard of, and likely never would have heard of (one of my favourites, an artist who carved a 3 dimensional self portrait head out of an Aspirin). It’s art, it’s New York City, it’s Steve Martin. This book is near flawless if you’re looking for a brilliant character study and a tour of the Big Apple. Loved it. Really loved it. Steve Martin is my secret boyfriend.

Family Album

Penelope Lively

The first thing about this novel that drew me in was the creation of a home as a character. Allersmead is just as much a part of this large and semi-functional family as the parents and children within it. This was my first foray into the fiction of Penelope Lively, who has written over twenty other novels. And you know what? I could tell. Although I really did enjoy most of this book, there were strange scenes of nothingness where my eyes glazed over and my brain went on autopilot, trying to remember where I’d left my slippers, and sinking deeper into my blankets, ready to trade the read for sleep.

The book is quite thin to start with. It’s not very long, the format is small, and it’s really almost a novella. With six children in the family plus parents bordering on inhuman and an odd Swedish au pair, I would have thought 200 or 300 pages would have been the very least required to fulfill this story. Not the case. One of two things is happening here. Either the author really wanted to write a book about a crazy family and simply ran out of steam, or she wanted to write something that guided the reader at arm’s length through a quick ‘Family Album’ and leave it at that. In all honesty, it’s a bit of both. With 9 characters all getting about the same face-time (the novel is divided into rather short chapters, most of which are written by any one of the children) in a limited number of pages, it’s difficult to get particularly intrigued or attached to any one of them. That being said, Lively’s way with words doesn’t leave you feeling short changed. Instead, I was left with the same feeling I get when I see an intense and long winded movie trailer – like I’ve seen all that I need to.

Citrus County

John Brandon

Dear Reader,
There are four things that you should know about this book before you decide to buy it:

1) It is published by McSweeney’s. This company is run by Dave Eggers, who wrote such wonderful books as A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius and the award winning What is the What.

2)  The cover is funky, fun, and unique. It sets the tone and mood for the story.

3)  I loved this book. It kept me guessing, and the strength of the character of Mr. Hibma is worth the price of admission.

4)  Once you have ready one of “McSweeney’s Rectangulars” as they are called, you will be very pleased to find many, many more books just like this, along with endless other entertaining, dark, quirky stories on their website, www.mcsweeneys.net

This book is an adventure. When you read it, you’re going to smell the dark earth of the ‘bunker’, you’ll feel the chill of cement floors in Mr. Hibma’s storage locker, and the torn and perfectly annoying nature of Shelby’s angst-filled teenage mind.

Now…get reading.

The Death of Donna Whalen

Michael Winter

If, like me, you have voyeuristic and somewhat dark tendencies when it comes to reading, you will truly be able to relate to my excitement about this book.

Michael Winter, an East Coast Canadian writer (and brother of phenomenal writer Kathleen Winter) is no stranger to our store’s shelves. This book, of course, is something really different that should almost have its own section. It’s not exactly True Crime, since he has changed all names, and combined some characters that would otherwise prove redundant for his concise purposes, and has paraphrased and placed statements into the third person. But the haunting aspect of this book that’s hard to shake is that it is 100% based on a real murder that happened in Winter’s town in 1993. The story is so compelling that I found myself awake at 1am online trying to Google all I could about the murder of Brenda Young, on whom the very visceral character of Donna Whalen is based. Now, writing this review I have decided to tell you nothing about what I found. I almost wish I hadn’t looked. I invite you to devour this book and wait until you have closed that back black cloth cover and sighed with a slight sad smile to do any research, should you be so inclined.

Winter has chosen statements and passages and wiretaps from thousands of pages of legal documents, and what is remarkable is how he’s put them together with such a flow and format as to sharpen the reader’s interest with every change of perspective. He has taken such care with his writing, and achieved a book of poise and grace that reads as a testament to injustice, mystery, and the small town life with which we are so familiar.

An important tidbit: at the back of the book, (careful, don’t peek at anything else!) there is a list of the characters and their connections and relations. I didn’t find this until I had finished, and it would have been extremely helpful, particularly in the first section of the book.

The Sky Is Falling

Caroline Adderson

Caroline Adderson already had several things going for her before I read the first few pages of this novel and got completely hooked. For starters, she’s a Vancouverite. Next, she’s already won an award (the Marian Engel award in 2006 for outstanding body of work of a mid-career writer!) and thirdly, the cover is fantastic (Nope, not going to tell you a thing. Come on into the store and molest it yourself). I loved the focal character, who seemed in some ways wise beyond her years, and in others simply as the second year university student that she was. Creating that level of parallel universe point of view can’t be an easy feat, and I really admired her ability to instill this into her character.
For Vancouver folks, this novel is a lovely little adventure back into the city. Through Adderson, I hung out in some old haunts, took a walk downtown, and a magical little jaunt through the UBC campus I so desperately love and miss. The novel is about activists. It’s about growing up, and it’s about how much you need to know about the world and about your cause(s) before you can throw yourself on the line. Remember being 19 and being so sure that you knew all you needed to know about yourself and what was “worth it”? This will bring you right back, and get you thinking.

ROOM

Emma Donoghue

*2010 Man Booker Prize Shortlist*

Well, that was intense. If you’re familiar with the terrifying and true story of Jaycee Dugard,you might understand a bit of what I mean. This is the kind of novel that really doesn’t need a cover/flap description, let alone a summary. It stands all by itself in its darkness,unique nature and readability. There are times when you’re scared to continue, and yet can’t wait to find out what happens next. Finding oneself at the last page, the reader may be sad that it’s over. This is what I would call a “situation read” as opposed to a languid winter read. It’s more a book that I would recommend sitting down with when you’re sort of in the mood for watching a really great movie. Or say you’ve got a few hours to kill. Or the power is out. It’s really going to wrap you up in its pages, and you won’t be able to go far without this story being completely on your mind. In my humble and unsolicited opinion, Donoghue’s insane creativity and imaginative horror should have won her this year’s Man Booker Prize, but alas I am not on the judging committee.  Tread lightly, happy reader!

By Nightfall

Michael Cunningham

Oh, Michael Cunningham, where have you been all my life? Why didn’t I read your other novels (The Hours, for one…)? I didn’t know your brilliance, and for that I now repent.

So there’s a start to my opinion on this novel. It isn’t just a story about a husband and wife, it’s really a satisfying and eloquent piece about men and women, and the grey areas that are so real and widely experienced and yet hidden away as taboo. I also found the many art references, and glimpse into the world of a Manhattan art dealer so fresh and interesting. Free tour of NYC Modern Art included! Also, some really intense moments. A phone call you hold your breath as the character answers. The cup of coffee you wish he wouldn’t drink. That midnight scene in the kitchen. Oh, happy reader, I won’t tell you any more. Please read this. I couldn’t put it down.


Mr. Shakespeare’s Bastard

Richard B. Wright

Canadian author Richard B. Wright may be most well known for his novel Clara Callan several years ago, but I love him best for one of his most recent novels, Adultery. When I saw this new arrival from Wright, I was thrilled and interested. Although he has written historical fiction before, that history has not usually extended further back than the 20th century. This yarn, however, unravels in the 1600s English countryside, and into the London of the day. Wright is a storyteller, and is relentless in terms of his masterful weaving of misery through the book. Love happy endings? Wright may not be for you. Interested in exploring the dirty streets of London and muddy country towns in Warwickshire? Ever wondered what it would be like to bump into Will Shakespeare in the street? This is the book for you. Beautiful winter read, intelligent and sanguine. Loved it!


Greedy Little Eyes (Stories)
Billie Livingston
Paperback, Vintage Canada
A new book by Billie Livingston comes out of a box as I’m receiving at the store. It has a funky cover (woman in pool with inflated alligator…remember those?) and great title, so I am excited. Less so, however, when I read the flap and realize that it is a collection of short stories. I don’t know about you, happy reader, but I get emotionally involved in every book that I read, and short stories feel like one night stands, if you’ll pardon the comparison.When it comes to this new collection by Vancouver writer Billie Livingston, you’re in for something completely different. These are ten meaningful and fulfilling relationships. Ten reasons to love Livingston, and ten ways to treat yourself to a story that will capture your attention and affection. I loved every single one, and found myself feeling like I’d received a great gift (or ten) from this writer. I have written about novels in which “not a word was wasted”, but in this case it’s particularly true considering the length of each tale. These stories have depth and substance, they are large alligators in a small pool. Pick this book up, and you will only put it down to sleep and eat your french toast. Brilliant.Based Upon Availability
Alix StraussCharacter is critical, especially in a novel where there are multiple perspectives. What I loved about Based Upon Availability were the strong, quirky, and downright bizarre female characters that Strauss wove together like a fine country quilt. Surrounded by the opulence of the Manhattan Four Seasons hotel in some form or other, each character has a very unique story and connection with the hotel. Opening with manager Morgan, who has the bulk of the narrative, we find that buying in too much to first impressions can often lead us down the wrong path in our relationships, be they with family, friends, or potential love interests. The setting of the hotel, the variety of characters, and the sharp writing made this one of my favourite summer reads.

A Perfectly Good Family
Lionel Shriver

ionel Shriver is the kind of writer that takes some getting used to. I mean this in the best possible way. Her most powerful and critically acclaimed novel to date, ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin’ was my introduction to Shriver and I have been addicted to her clear, straight up and witty prose ever since. With the release of her newest book, ‘So Much For That’ I decided to backtrack and take a look at some of her previous work. This novel, loosely based on her own family, attracted my attention with the recommendation from a friend.

The book opens with a woman’s arrival to her childhood home, a large and historic mansion. Her parents have passed away, and it’s time for her and her two brothers to break down the estate, decide what to do with the house, and thus hilarity ensues. Well, not quite. The family is morose, the house a character in itself, and while the pacing of this novel is not as quick as her other work I loved the passion with which she told her tale. Whatever truths lie within it, they are represented here with beautiful and very detailed writing. If you have ever had your mother say “that is a perfectly good piece of toast, here, just scrape the burned part off…” you will relate to this book in a very special way.

The Imperfectionists
Tom RachmanI opened this book with no idea what to expect. And now, having finished it 12 short hours ago, I am nearly at a loss to explain how this book really touched me, and why you should read it.
Luckily, I love to review books almost as much as I love reading them, and I can dig deep to come up with the words that may persuade you to put down whatever it is you’re reading, and pick up this truly creative work. Rachman surprised me with how complex he was able to make each character, even though they were each only given one small section. Multiple perspective novels are tricky, and he somehow avoided the cliched final chapter where he ‘brings it all together’. Instead, he builds each character on top of the other, and the relationships among them don’t become clear until he’s really ready to pull back the curtain. The pacing, intensity and believability were so strong throughout. It is the story of a newspaper that is failing, and the final days, but it is also a story about writers and readers. Tom Rachman is a gifted writer, and I’m really looking forward to whatever comes next.Curiosity: A Love Story
Joan Thomas
 

Joan Thomas’ first novel Reading by Lightning won a Commonwealth Prize and the Amazon.ca First Novel Award. A strong first novel is often an indicator of exquisite writing, so I sit up and pay attention when I see the second book by an author such as this. The new novel is astounding. It is so beautifully written, so lovingly formed and put together. In this novel, Thomas is a sculptor, making every single curve and shadow and angle as perfect as it can be. There is not one word wasted, and there were many lines that I read over and over again, which is very unlike me. Thomas has created a unique mix of lyrical, poetic prose and sharp storytelling. Mary Anning, the protagonist, was a real woman in the late 19th century who was at the forefront of palaeontology in England for that time. The recurring themes of bones, skeletons, fossils, and the quest for knowledge are dropped into the story like tiny perfect roses on a cake. The title of Curiosity has many levels, the curiosities that the Anning family make their living selling, the curiosity of Mary herself with respect to the fossils and bones she finds on the harsh seashore, and unforgettably so, the curiosity of her first love, a scientist who sweeps into town and chips away at her preconceived notions of men and women and the dark and secret world of passion. While this is definitively a work of historical fiction, it holds all of the jewels of authenticity, offering rich language, rough 19th century English vernacular, and additionally manages to evade any long-winded descriptive passages that can at times make a novel of this genre difficult to keep hugged to your chest. The veil of sadness present in most books of this nature is woven thinly here, the heartbreak minimal but incredibly visceral. I guarantee that you will not be able to stray far emotionally from this book; it will call to you and impress upon you the skill and masterful writing of Joan Thomas.Adventures in SolitudeGrant LawrenceWhen I sat down to write this review, the first thing that flew forth from my phalanges was “What’s not to like?” That sentence is a tough act to follow, but I’ll give it a shot. I love the format of the book, for starters. It does have a Part One and Part Two, but it’s so well sewn together that it resembles a Wes Anderson film. It’s funny, touching, interesting, rolling and so good that you don’t want it to be over. I read this book on my way to and from Sidney on a sunny Tuesday while cruising with BC Ferries. I cracked the cover, sat back, and was taken on a completely unexpected journey. This piece is a tight combination of memoir, history lesson, and sketch comedy. I loved Lawrence’s integration of the Desolation Sound historical figures and tall tales with the basic storyline: he hates the Sound, he falls in love with Jill Barber…oh, wait, that happens later. Lawrence grew up in West Vancouver, and his father was clearly the adventurous type. After finding an ad in the newspaper for 180 acres of waterfront land in Desolation Sound for a song, he hauls his family on the multi-ferry, multi-hour journey to what is at first just a piece of wet and green land in a small bay. As the story continues, a cabin is built and Grant and his family come to love and appreciate the bare nature, solidly eccentric characters, and life lessons that the Sound has to offer. Of course, the story isn’t that simple. Along the way there are storms, nude potlucks, fishing lessons, wayfaring squatters, women with rifles, and many other exciting stories to be told. Adventures in Solitudeis not just Grant Lawrence’s story, but the story of Captain George Vancouver and numerous other explorers and hippies, renegades and philosophers. The final chapter is dedicated to the story of the latest adventure in Lawrence’s life – meeting and falling in love with the lovely and talented Canadian singer/songwriter Jill Barber. For those of us hopeless romantics, these scenes in Desolation Sound are worth the price of admission. One of the best memoirs I’ve read in a long while, and definitely a solid spine on the BC/Regional shelf on any self-respecting West Coast bookstore.A Kind of Intimacy
Jenn Ashworth
Paperback, Europa Editions
Jenn Ashworth is either actually a sociopath, or just an intense and brilliant writer. Taken at face value, this is the story of a woman who managed to steer her life in the direction she desired without a thought for anyone else. Of course, madness ensues. The beautiful thing about this novel is how exciting and wonderfully voyeuristic one feels treading through day to day life alongside Annie as she thinks the thoughts of a truly ill person, and conducts herself in wild and mysterious ways. Every time I had to put down the book, it left me feeling like I had an excellent film on Pause. I loved the simplicity of her dialogues combined with the intricate nature of Annie’s rolling thoughts. You will never like Annie, in fact you will probably want to clobber her with a snow globe (you’ll understand that reference once you’ve read this…) but you will certainly want to follow her around as she does and says things that maybe we’ve all wanted to do and say, but were afraid to for worry of persecution or literal arrest. Where did Annie come from? What’s her story?  Annie holds a belief that her neighbor is infatuated with her. It is clear from Page One that he clearly is not. It can be difficult to read a thick novel where you don’t like the main character, and believe me, there are times when you want to toss it across the room because you can’t actually reach through the pages and slap Annie. But rest assured, the story is lush, the characters perfect in their cut-out capacities, and I would frame this as “She’s Come Undone” on crack, where Delores has a very evil twin. You won’t want it to end, but it ends. Oh, does it end.

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