Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Read recently


  • The Far Side of the Sky by Daniel Kalla - Follows a Jewish family who manages to escape WW2 Vienna to Shanghai. Fascinating subject matter; sadly, stilted writing, unless Kalla (himself a physician) is describing surgery.
  • Mudwoman by Joyce Carol Oates - Chilling, weird, engrossing tale of a female academic's gradual unraveling into mental illness, prompted by flashbacks to her troubled childhood.
  • Bring Up The Bodies by Hilary Mantel - Absolutely brilliant. Mantel has a rare gift for langauge, as in this line from the end of the book (see how it promises more fun for volume 3?) "The word 'however' is like an imp coiled beneath your chair."
  • The Library Book by Alan Bennett et al. - Delicious short essays and humourous stories about libraries. Includes contributions by Seth Godin, Caitlin Moran, Kate Mosse, Lionel Shriver, Stephen Fry, and Zadie Smith (Everybody Has Everything by Katrina Onstad - Thought-provoking examination of middle age, marriage, and accidental foster parenthood. I'm pleased she has been longlisted for the Giller - well-deserved.
  • The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore - Chilling short ghost story from a masterful writer.
  • The Flight Of Gemma Hardy by Margot Livesey - Supposed to be inspired by Jane Eyre, this watered-down version of the story is engrossing but ultimately forgettable.
  • Stray Love by Kyo Maclear - Watch the trailer here. Saigon pops up again (see: above), as does Guyana (see: the Husband) in this novel about a mixed-race boy, Marcel, trying to uncover his story.
  • Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin - Every year, I try a few mysteries just to check. I think I mysteried out in the early 90s (when I read every Nancy Drew, and then every Agatha Christie, and then every Ellis Peters) and now I have just lost my appetite. Sorry, mysteries! I recognise that this is a good story but I just wasn't into it.
  • The Town That Drowned by Riel Nason - sorry, but did this really win the regional Commonwealth Book Prize for Canada and Europe? It seems like a decent teen novel to me, but nothing more. This is a solidly interesting story about a factual event in NB history: the submersion of a small town underwater, as seen through the eyes of a young girl and her autistic brother. This book is ITCHING to be paired with Pascal Blanchet’s White Rapids.
  • The Fault in Our Stars by John Green - I laughed and cried at the same time on p. 280. Which is to say, it was good. Very good. Surprisingly original and fresh for the subject matter (young girl with terminal cancer falls in love).
  • In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes - Interesting setting; haunting narrator. An historical novel set in the 60s following a young (read: pregnant in high school) couple who try to get rich on Mideast oil by moving to Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. Barnes deftly weaves together the implications of the status of women in both small-town, fire-and-brimstone Oaklahoma and the Bedouin tribes of Saudi Arabia.
  • The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright - A woman speculates on her history of adultery while preparing to pick up her boyfriend's daughter during a snowstorm. Introspective, thoughtful, compelling.
  • The Red House by Mark Haddon - An extended family gets to know each other all over again while on holiday in the English countryside. One sprained ankle, a few stolen kisses, and several knock-up fights later, everyone emerges more or less unscathed, and perhaps in some cases even closer. Haddon focuses on his unique blend of dry humour and serious insight.
  • The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls - I could not put this down. As usual, this is my "I'm behind the curve!" pick of the litter. I did hear tons of great press about this when it came out, but I somehow never picked it up until now. Having watched Chichester's Choice only the night before, it was almost impossible not to draw parallels between these two stories of victims of childhood abuse, parents utterly unprepared to be parents, individuals of great intelligence and promise whose lives somehow veered off the course we would consider to be normal, or appropriate. Walls tells the story of her childhood and youth spent in numerous small towns across America (as her father dodges taxes, unions and various other government agencies he has antagonised) before her parents finally settle in Appalachia, where Walls and her siblings are still taunted for being the poorest of the poor, the family with a garbage dump in their yard. While all four siblings make lives for themselves, in New York City and California, their parents continue to live on the streets.
  • The Painted Bridge by Wendy Wallace - A story about Victorian-era "hysteria" and the advent of photography. Could be easily paired with Helen Humphrey's Afterimage for fruitful discussion!

Stay tuned for my top picks of Summer 2012!

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