Wednesday, May 30, 2007

The Sex Lives of Cannibals

by J. Maarten Troost.

Quickie recap: Maarten and his wife Sylvia head off to a tiny little stinker of a barely-island in the south pacific, where things are rarely postcard perfect, but sometimes paradise-like nonetheless.

Quickie review: After my initial disappointment over the lack of actual sex in the book (unless you count the dogs), I was able to find both the humour and the poetry of his misadventures in a truly foreign land.

Quickie recommendation: I have rarely enjoyed cannibalism quite so much as this.

Tuesdays with Morrie

by Mitch Albom.

Quickie recap: Mitch's one-time favourite prof and mentor, Morrie, is diagnosed with ALS and has only months to live. As his body betrays him and he bids his goodbyes, he takes the time to teach one final lesson: love, above everything else.

Quickie review: I know, I know, I am the last person on earth to read this book, but here's the deal: I was wrecked after reading The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Wrecked. And I thought it might be a good idea to give myself, say, 2 years worth of padding before I attempted another one. Albom impresses me with his quiet style, and the way he elicits emotion without be emotional.

Quickie recommendation: Morrie is a man worth getting to know, and an inspiration waiting to happen.

Leap of Faith

by Queen Noor.

Quickie recap: A young American just out of college, Lisa takes a job as an urban planner in Jordan...and then just like that she falls in love with an older man who happens to be the King, and who happens to have 8 children and who happens to ask her to marry him 3 weeks after they first meet. Fun, right? She says yes...and then...well, royal stuff happens.

Quickie review: I found it historically interesting to get her perspective on the political turmoil of the time while also getting a personal account of what goes on behind the palace walls...but her writing was at times very dry, and I think she missed a lot of opportunities to make her story really come alive.

Quickie recommendation: Meh.

Ali and Nino

by Kurban Said.

Quickie recap: The town of Baku exists on the cusp of Asia and Europe and it is there that a young Muslim named Ali falls in love with a lovely Christian named Nino. Their relationship, if it is to be, must overcome many obstacles.

Quickie review: As you will see on this site, I am no critic. I am a book lover, maybe even a book pervert. I find reasons to love even the silliest of books, but this one, not so much. For me, the characters felt really flat and I just couldn't care about them, and without that basic reader involvement, I just don't see the point in a love story.

Quickie recommendation: Sorry, Kurban, no disrespect, but I wouldn't recommend it.

I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence

by Amy Sedaris.

Quickie recap: Amy Sedaris, exclusive member of the Can-Make-Me-Belly-Laugh club, knocks another one out of the ballpark. As she puts it: the word 'entertainment' is "charmingly old-fashioned, like 'courtship' or 'back alley abortions'.

Quickie review: You really get the sense that her parties would be a lot of fun, and she inspires you to create your own. I wasn't overly impressed by any of her recipes (she at times refers you to read the directions on the back of a can of pumpkin), but the atmosphere sounds like it would more than make up for whatever the food is lacking (and never underestimate the power of plenty of booze).

Quickie recommendation: I like parties, and I like people who host parties, and I like going to parties, and I like breaking up parties...and as it turns out, I like reading about them too.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

The Eyre Affair

by Jasper Fforde.

Quickie recap: Thursday Next exists in an alternative 1985 where she works fighting crimes against literature, and becomes involved with Jane Eyre in all kinds of interesting ways (okay, that's a shitty recap, it's the kind of book that you just have to read yourself).

Quickie review: This impressed me. Usually I grow impatient with too many references, but I just really felt that these were obviously not superficial. They were weaved expertly and really became part of the story. It redefines our relationship to fiction.

Quickie recommendation: I don't consider myself to be a huge Bronte fan, but you don't have to be to read this book. However, if you weren't already a Fforde fan, you will be.

Speculative Fiction

Quickie shout-out: Dear Mr. Fforde, you're Ffreakin awesome! Jack Schitt is the best-named character ever!

Quickie thank you: Dearest Eclecta, it has been a pleasure to read through your private library. I am in your debt.

A Year in the Merde

by Stephen Clarke.

Quickie recap: Paul West is a Briton working in France for one year to open "authentic" British tea rooms, but his experiences with the country and the people are even worse than he expected.

Quickie review: I thought this was supposed to be a light, funny novel, but actually, it surprised me. It's more than that. At times it's actually quite clever, satirical, understated, and downright hilarious. Sometimes his tongue is so firmly in cheek that I found myself winking at the book in complicity!

Quickie recommendation: Absolutely.

A Mighty Heart

by Mariane Pearl and Sarah Crichton.

Quickie recap: As a Wall Street Journal reporter, Daniel Pearl was in Pakistan covering possible terrorist connections when he went missing. His pregnant wife, Mariane, in a foreign country with few friends or trusted allies, had to do much of the work of finding her husband herself.

Quickie review: These kinds of books make me wary for 2 reasons. First, because we already know the outcome. Does this spoil the enjoyment of the book? Generally yes, but in this case, no: the heart of the story is Mariane's faith and her fight, both of which are abundant. Second, because the writing is often sub-par. Just because you live through something amazing doesn't make you a story-teller. Here, Mariane has some help (from Crichton), but the good news is that she is a journalist, and has a gift for words, even when the words must be very difficult to write.

Quickie recommendation: Yes.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Murther and Walking Spirits

by Robertson Davies.

Quickie recap: When Connor Gilmartin is murdered, it isn't just his life that flashes before his eyes, but the lives of all the ancestors that made him into the man he is today.

Quickie review: It ended up not being what I expected, but that's not a criticism in the least. Some authors lose their edge as they get older, but this book is as strong as ever. Bravo.

Quickie recommendation: Robertson Davies, one of my favourite authors, is always a pleasure, and though this book has a different tone than I'm used to from him, I found it masterful.

The Diviners

by Margaret Laurence.

Quickie recap: Morag had a strange and somewhat unstable childhood, her parents leaving her an orphan at the age of 5, she went to live with virtual strangers and was forever an outcast. As a young woman, she strove to provide a more stable environment for herself and her child, but as she looks back over the years, she finds that maybe she hasn't succeeded at all.

Quickie review: The writing is not for one sentence anything short of superb. Laurence draws a living, breathing web around her characters and biting into the meat of her novels is always satisfying. The Diviners was like buttah.

Quickie recommendation: Margaret Laurence is a genius. Her books aren't just great to read, they're great to read and read again.

Peace Like A River

by Leif Enger.

Quickie recap: Reuband Land shouldn't be alive, but his father's miracle saved him from stillbirth, and he has been witnessing the man's miracles ever since. His family launches upon an adventure to find their fugitive brother and the results are nothing short of miraculous.

Quickie review: Normally I would be wary of such a premise, but this book manages to be unassuming and yet addictive at the same time. The characters are created with such restraint that even considering the topic at hand, they're always approachable and extremely readable.

Quickie recommendation: I couldn't put this book down, and that's the highest praise I know how to give.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

River Town

by Peter Hessler

Quickie recap: Hessler spends two years teaching English to Chinese students at a teacher's college as a volunteer for the Peace Corps. The language barrier ends up being the least of them all.

Quickie review: Hessler is a young and somewhat cocky writer whose narrative is often overshadowed by excerpts from his students' writings. However, he finds the delicate balance between appreciation and frustration when writing about his years as a stranger in a strange land, and both his triumphs and his failures become achievements.

Quickie recommendation: China is a rich subject, and this book offers a new and worthy perspective.

Saturday, May 12, 2007


edited by Nancy Southam.

Quickie recap: Family, friends, and foes alike all gather to tell their favourite stories involving a true Canadian great - Pierre Trudeau.

Quickie review: In the fall of 2000, I had just moved to the city of Ottawa, and I remember the first time I laid eyes on the majestic Parliament buildings on the hill: the huge buildings were dwarfed by the thousands that lined up outside of them. They were there to say goodbye to the man who had struck a chord throughout the country, and still does today. This book is a great assembly of memorable passages, all of them paying respect to a man much worthy of it.

Quickie recommendation: His memory still resonates.

Delta of Venus Erotica

by Anais Nin

Quickie recap: A series of short, erotic stories.

Quickie review: Way, way ahead of her time, Nin was perhaps one of the first known female writers of erotica. Paid by a wealthy male at a rate of a dollar per page, he pleaded for her to "leave out the poetry" but an essence of feminity has remained, and years later, it survives as a best seller.

Quickie recommendation: Written for one discerning client, it may not be your cuppa erotica-wise, but historically, and from a feminist point of view, it's fascinating.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

House of Meetings

by Martin Amis.

Quickie recap: Two half-brothers find themselves imprisoned together in a Soviet work camp, where conditions are tough, but not so tough as it is to both love the same woman, which they do.

Quickie review: Gritty, heart-breaking, loving and cynical at the same time. The backdrop leaves little room for doubt, and the narrator is unmerciless of his telling of the truth.

Quickie recommendation: It's not a pretty picture, but I'm glad it was painted, and I think you will be too.


by Jodi Picoult.

Quickie recap: The police chief and head of clan in a small town is confronted by a distant cousin who admits to having just killed his wife - at her request. The chief must then deal with the swirl of a painful court battle while his own marriage hits a serious road bump.

Quickie review: Picoult is a vice of mine. Her stories are simply told and simply enjoyed.

Quickie recommendation: It's not a work of great literature, but it's a mesmerizing story.

The Lady and the Unicorn

by Tracy Chevalier

Quickie recap: Like 'Girl with a Pearl Earring', Tracy once again brings a work of art to life. A rich tapestry is woven as expertly as the story of those who made it.

Quickie review: Her vivid imagination is immediately noticeable, and plausible and romantic story is quickly spun.

Quickie recommendation: If you like a little art, a little history, and a little love, then you'll like this (no mixing required).

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

The Glass Castle: A Memoir

by Jeannette Walls.

Quickie recap: Jeannette's parents are...not like other parents. They dream big, and do little. Life for their kids is precarious, at best.

Quickie review: The writing is so honest that I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to write, but the book's success has much to do with the unflinching look at a family unlike any other.

Quickie recommendation: I truly enjoyed it, and can't imagine anyone who wouldn't.

Suite Francaise

by Irene Nemirovsky.

Quickie recap: During the second world war, the Nazis have occupied France and the German soldiers must billet with French families. This means that a German soldier now sleeps in a bed left empty by the sons, brothers, husband and fathers of the women left behind - men now either prisoners of war or long dead - and the wives are quickly finding that the differences between them are not so very large.

Quickie review: Remarkably, Irene wrote this while the historical events were actually taking place. The novel was unfinished because Irene herself was taken prisoner and killed during the war. However, the words are sweet and her intentions for the fully finished work are provided in the back, and it is utterly fascinating to experience the war from so many sides at once.

Quickie recommendation: Touching and beautiful, do read.

Black Dogs

by Ian McEwan.

Quickie recap: June and Bernard, two young communists, meet and marry in 1946, but the honeymoon is soon over (literally) when June has a life-changing experience during which she finds religion, and her husband no longer knows how to live with her.

Quickie review: Set 40 years later, as the Berlin wall falls, the contrast between spirituality and rationalism is not as stark as you'd think. McEwan brilliantly weaves the plot between the two, between June's version of the events and Bernard's, always leaving us guessing. The black dogs become both literal and metaphorical as the characters explore the demons that have haunted and shaped their family.

Quickie recommendation: I think Ian McEwan is the bee's knees.

From Here to Eternity

by James Jones.

Quickie recap: In the weeks and months before Pearl Harbor is attacked, the G Company stationed in Hawaii is fighting another enemy - each other.

Quickie review: For a self-proclaimed "war book", war takes an awfully long time to break out - about 825 pages, actually. It might more aptly be called an "army book" and not a very flattering one at that. But the truth isn't always pretty and Jones writes from experience. It's gritty and raw and the characters are often abrupt and stoic but it has brilliant insight.

Quickie recommendation: What can I say? It's a classic and I'm probably the last person on earth to have read it.

Florence of Arabia

By Christopher Buckley

Quickie recap: Florence witnesses a grave injustice and resolves to do what she can to fight for female equality in the middle east. But where the US government is involved, things tend to turn to shit.

Quickie review: Political satire! Oh my! A couple of chapters in, I recognized a name and realized I was reading the same author of Thank You For Smoking, another biting piece of work worthy of your eyes. This book can't help but be funny at times, but is also scathing and surprisingly sensitive, and above all - merciless.

Quickie recommendation: I frankly don't know how you could go wrong.