To Go: 20
71. Infidelity — Stacey May Fowles
72. Nikolski — Nicolas Dickner
73. Palo Alto — James Franco
74. Born in Fire — Nora Roberts
75. Blankets — Craig Thompson
76. The Stonecutter — Camilla Läckberg
77. Rachel’s Secret — Shelly Sanders
78. Sutton — J.R. Moehringer
79. The Harem Midwife — Roberta Rich
80. The Golden Spruce — John Vaillant
In order to try to catch up on my terribly delayed book reviews, I’m going to do mega posts of mini-reviews. Here are the reviews on books 71-80.
Finished reading: November 13, 2013
Ronnie is an engaged hairdresser with a history of recklessness, who feels stifled by the unavoidable predictability and comfort her life is taking on. Charlie is an anxiety-ridden, award-winning writer, who feels suffocated by his literary success and familial responsibility to his breadwinning wife and autistic son. The unlikely pair meets at a holiday party catered by Ronnie’s fiance, and set off a torrid affair conducted on office desks and in Toronto hotel rooms. The affair offers them a chance to rebel and find solace in secrets, until it inevitably implodes.
Infidelity was enjoyable in a sad, morbid way. Stacey May Fowles’ joking Chistmas pitch for her novel was to buy it for the people in your life who “hate themselves” and that’s almost accurate: Infidelity is gorgeously written but terribly depressing. It’s also one of those novels that makes me feel a little bit insecure about ever getting married, because married people in literature—like Charlie and his wife Tamara—seem to be, just generally speaking, profoundly unhappy. But Fowles’ enviable prose makes self-destruction, and the destruction of three relationships, seem like a beautiful, poetic thing.
Finished reading: November 21, 2013
In the spring of 1989, three young people, unknowingly connected, leave their far-flung birth places. They all land in Montreal, each on their own voyage of self-discovery, and begin to wrangle with the branches of their family tree, a clan filled with nomads, pirates, and cartographers.
The summary sounds kind of pretentious, but trust me when I say Nikolski is gold. It was translated from French and went on to win the Governor General’s Literary Award for Translation and won Canada Reads in 2010, among other honors. It deserves them all. Nikolski was another book I had to read for English class and, again, I didn’t expect to enjoy it all that much, but it far surpassed my expectations. Nikolski is filled with lovely, complex characters, like Noah the would-be garbage archaeologist, Joyce the online pirate and Sarah the vehicular nomad, and makes an interesting statement about identity no longer being one thing (i.e. ‘Canadian’ or ‘native’) but a global concept.
Finished reading: November 23, 2013
Palo Alto is a collection of harrowing short stories about a group of troubled California teens and misfits as they experiment with vices, struggle with their families, and witness or take part in extreme violence.
Allow me to be brief and honest: I was not a fan of Palo Alto. It was well-written, but every character in every story had some serious issues (yes, I’m aware that it was stated upfront). I’m not someone who needs to feel similar to a character in order to be able to connect with them, but I felt so distant from the characters in Palo Alto that I couldn’t imagine relating to them, ever. It just felt like a bizarre reading experience.
Finished reading: November 24, 2013
Margaret Mary Concannon is a glass artist with a fierce need for independence and a volatile temper. Hand-blowing glass is a difficult and exacting art, and though Maggie is largely undiscovered she’s one of the best. When a wealthy Dublin gallery owner acquires one of her pieces he sees the soul in her art, and sets out to County Clare to convince her to sign a contract that would build her career with the gallery. When he arrives at her studio, both Rogan and Maggie are shocked by the attraction they feel for each other, despite their wildly different temperaments.
I bought Born In Fire with the intention of giving it to my mother for Christmas, and then read it myself first because I am a terrible human being (but I’m also a broke university student so I’ve already forgiven myself). It was a good start to Nora Roberts’ Born In series, which I’m now excited to read. And aside from Maggie’s mother being a bit of a harpy caricature, the book was pretty enjoyable overall.
Finished reading: November 26, 2013
Blankets is Craig Thompson’s autobiographical graphic novel about his relationship with his younger brother growing up, and a buddy relationship with a girl he met at church camp. Blankets also explores losing one’s religion, and the origins of faith.
I love graphic novels, and I’d been dying to read Blankets for years, so when I found it in a used bookstore for half the original price, I couldn’t resist buying it. I’m so glad I did: Blankets was a gorgeously illustrated, heartbreaking story, and I can’t imagine what it must’ve cost Thompson to write/draw it. From what I’ve read on the subject, the book’s publication caused a rift between him and his parents, who are deeply religious (which comes across in the story). I thoroughly enjoyed it, and if I were a human and not a robot I would have cried many tears.
Finished reading: November 29, 2013
Patrik Hedstrom has just become a father. So when he has to investigate the death of a young girl who both he and his partner Erica knew well, it hits a little too close to home. The daughter of a friend is found trapped in a fishing net down at the bay, but a postmortem reveals that it was no accidental death: the girl was drowned deliberately. As Patrik and the Tanum police force dig into the case, they unearth a decades-old secret that reaches far into the small town’s past.
In my last post I was saying that The Lost Boy was Camilla Läckberg’s most disturbing of the series but I actually have to retract that statement: it’s tied with The Stonecutter, which was equally shocking. The connection between the young girl’s murder and one of Fjällbacka’s stonecutter families from over fifty years ago is a grotesque one, and the murderer Patrik is seeking gives new meaning to the word chilling.
Finished reading: November 30, 2013
Rachel is a Jewish girl living in pre-revolution Kishinev, Russia. At only 14 she knows she wants more from life than being a wife and mother, and has dreams of being a writer. But her plans are put on hold when she witnesses the murder of her friend Mikhail, a Christian boy, and is forced to keep the killer’s identity a secret. Tension mounts in the small town, and the Jewish community is openly accused of Mikhail’s murder. While Rachel keeps the truth to herself, lies and hate-propaganda flood the town’s newspaper and incite Christian riots against the Jews. As Rachel struggles to survive the aftermath of the riots that decimated her community and took the life of a family member, kindness comes from the most unexpected person: another Christian boy, Sergei, who turns against his father, the chief of police, to help Rachel.
It felt like Rachel’s Secret got off to a slow start, and in the first few chapters I didn’t expect to enjoy it. However, when the book got into the meat of the story, it improved dramatically. But to be honest, it didn’t do that much for me (which I always feel guilty about thinking about fiction that deals with really tragic subjects). The book was an okay read, but it didn’t really captivate me.
Finished reading: December 6, 2013
On Christmas Eve of 1969, Willie Sutton, America’s most successful bank robber (and one who never used violence), was surprisingly pardoned and walked free after a decades-long prison sentence. A New York newspaper secured the rights to an exclusive interview with Sutton the day after his release, but when the paper published the piece there were inexplicable, and multiple, errors. Sutton is J.R. Moehringer’s imagining of what occurred during the day an anonymous newspaper reporter and photographer spent with Willie Sutton, and what motivated Sutton to rob so many banks: love.
It took me roughly four months to finish Sutton, but it was my own doing: I’m one of those terrible people who skims to the end of books, and I accidentally spoiled a big surprise for myself, one that really made me sad. I couldn’t motivate myself to read Sutton for a while, so I put it down and kept reading other books between August and December until I finally put on my grown up pants and started reading again. And it was really good; melancholy and bittersweet, with a neat narrative technique to show how profoundly Willie was living in the past—his memories sparked by the buildings on his tour of New York were the moments he felt truly sure of, but his interactions with Reporter and Photographer showed up in italics, as if what was happening in the present wasn’t nearly as important. Even though I spoiled the book for myself, it was a highly enjoyable read.
Finished reading: December 8, 2013
The Harem Midwife, the sequel to The Midwife of Venice, follows Hannah and Isaac Levi, Venetians in exile, to Constinople in 1579. They’ve set up a new life for themselves with their young adopted son, and Hannah is working as the midwife to the women in Sultan Murat III’s imperial harem. But one night, Hannah is unexpectedly summoned to the harem and presented with Leah, a young girl whose village was burned to the ground, and was sold into the harem. Leah begs Hannah to help her escape, but doing so would mean a death sentence for Hannah and her family. At the same time, the Levis’ home life is complicated by the surprise arrival of a beautiful stranger.
I read The Harem Midwife for The Afterword Reading Society, put on by the National Post, which is a cool weekly feature they’re doing now: a group of roughly 25 readers get copies of a new book, read it, and report back with their thoughts in a short survey. (If you’re interested, The Harem Midwife post is here.) Though The Harem Midwife is a sequel, it can be read as a stand-alone, which was good for me, because I haven’t read The Midwife of Venice, though I want to now. Especially since Hannah Levi is a really wonderful character, compassionate and loving and courageous, and generally an all-around bad-ass; and she and Isaac are a power couple. I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next in the Midwife series.
Finished reading: December 10, 2013
In the middle of a January night in 1997, Grant Hadwin swam across the freezing cold Yakoun river with a chainsaw, and made his way through the forest on the Queen Charlotte Islands. In utter darkness he expertly sawed into the Golden Spruce, a beloved and abnormal tree with special significance to the Haida, the native population living in the area. The next day, it fell, inciting the rage of the Haida, locals in the surrounding towns, and even the logging companies who mined the island for its trees. The Golden Spruce weaves together the stories of the titular tree and Grant Hadwin, the man who seemingly disappeared off the face of the earth before he could stand trial for his crime.
The Golden Spruce seems to be this almost universally revered piece of long-form journalism, but it didn’t do much for me. I fluctuated between being so bored that I almost fell asleep (multiple times), and being riveted to the page. When the focus was on Grant Hadwin, I was effortlessly sucked into the story: he’s an interesting, mysterious man who I desperately wanted to know more about. But when the narrative veered off into info dumps about trees, logging, B.C. geography—basically anything else that wasn’t Grant Hadwin, I was fighting to stay awake. I know this sounds like a ridiculous exaggeration, but it’s not: my eyes glazed over, I found myself reading for pages and not retaining any of it, and a couple of times I started to nod off. So I guess I know for sure now that books about trees definitely don’t strike my fancy.
P.S.: I finished my 100th book last night, so the challenge is over! Yay! I’ll be catching up on the last 20 book reviews hopefully in the next couple of days.