Sunday, September 30, 2007

Lost In a Good Book

Quickie recap: Thursday Next returns after her Eyre Affair to solve yet more crimes against books, get tutored by a Dickens character, look after her pet dodo and its offspring, literally save the world from extinction, and try to locate her husband whose only proof of existence is the baby in her belly. Man this girl is underpaid!

Quickie review: Sadly Mr Fforde still has not responded to any of my offers to have his babies (and I so would!), so for now I can only content myself by reading his books, and actually, it's not so bad, as consolation prizes go. You don't have to be as big a book worm as I am to enjoy his novels, but it does help you to appreciate the nuances - I feel as though Fforde has buried little treasures among the pages just for me to find and savour, but in reality I must admit that you too can luxuriate in the luxurious world of his books if only you're smart enough to pick one up.
Quickie recommendation: Obviously you should read this book, and obviously Jasper should accept my invitation for good lasagna and bad wine and just accept that he's keen to be my boyfriend!

Franny and Zooey

Quickie recap: Franny, having survived a bizarre childhood, has quickly become disenchanted with the inauthenticity of those around her. Her solution is to try to find God, even though she can't quite believe in him. Her older brother Zooey, a product of the same strange environment, offers her advice to try to lead her to a different kind of enlightenment.

Quickie review: Salinger is a master of angsty, intellectual prose. This novel is a conversation piece, not just a pathway to spiritual illumination but a statement of belief in itself. Although Franny takes a decidedly Christian approach in her quest for God, it is clear that Salinger is more of a Zen man himself, deftly bringing his protagonist from a state of ignorance, through to confusion, and finally, to peace and wisdom.

Quickie recommendation: Om.

How to Kill Your Husband

(and other handy household hints), by Kathy Lette.

Quickie recap: Ladies like to bitch, and when these 3 ladies get together, their favourite topic is their husbands, otherwise known as the cheater, the mooch, and the never-does-fuck-all.

Quickie review: Oh, I thought the title held such possibilities! The cover itself promises a "hilarious novel" but what I got instead was a book that tries too hard and ends up embarrassing itself. Lette can't stop herself from making cringingly-bad pun after cringingly-bad pun, and the worst part is, you know she thinks she's being clever. It brings the narrative to a screeching halt each time - I just keep picturing a middle aged woman in a fuzzy bathrobe typing away at a novel that she has strung together based on pieces of scrap paper where she has written every little play-on-words she has ever thought up while watching her kid's recital or baking shepherd's pie. The plot went from unconvincing to straight-out unbelievable and there was no sympathy for characters that were too cartoonish to be even remotely relatable.

Quickie recommendation: What, you have to ask? Ugh. No, make that double ugh.

Eats, Shoots & Leaves

The Zero Tolerance Approach to Punctuation!, by Lynne Truss.

Quickie recap: A panda walks into a cafe. He orders a sandwich, eats it, then draws a gun and fires two shots in the air.

"Why?" asks the confused waiter, as the panda makes toward the exit. The panda produces a badly punctuated wildlife manual and tosses it over his shoulder.
"I'm a panda," he says, at the door. "Look it up."
The waiter turns to the relevant entry and, sure enough, finds an explanation.
"Panda. Large black-and-white bear-like animal, native to China. Eats, shoots and leaves."
So, punctuation really does matter, even if it is only occasionally a matter of life and death.

Quickie review: Bitchy, ranty, witty, brilliant. Never has grammar been so moist before (as in, not dry...not dry at all)! She gives hell to the green grocers, to the civil servants - to basically all us morons who deserve it.

Quickie recommendation: Sticklers unite!

Back Roads

Quickie recap: Harley is a young guy who should be in college, but instead has become a reluctant father to his 3 younger sisters when his mother takes their father's life. A story of longing and misplaced passions morphs into a disturbing psychological revelation.

Quickie review: O'Dell writes characters that are quite simply gripping. She channels hope, desperation and anguish astonishingly well. My heart raced me through the pages, wanting and needing to know, and yet afraid to find out and haunted by the tantalizing possibilities that flit through the paragraphs like ghosts.

Quickie recommendation: Oh yes.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

The Culprits

A Love Story by Robert Hough.

Quickie recap: Hank survives being pushed in front of a subway and reacts like any other Canadian man: he sends for a Russian mail-order bride. But when she arrives - surprise, surprise - he doesn't exactly get what he's bargained for.

Quickie review: I didn't even notice that Hough had sub-titled this novel ' A Love Story ', and I'm glad I read it without being tainted by such an identity. It certainly doesn't read like a love story: the terrorism and tinnitus set it apart from others in the genre. But it does read like a good book - meaty, complex, gritty.

Quickie recommendation: Hough has given me a craving for more.

Dear God

Children's Letters to God From Around the World, by Carmel Reilly.

Quickie recap: Kids from all corners of the globe share their thoughts with God.

Quickie review: Touching, sweet, funny, heart breaking. Some kids think writing to God is futile since he already knows everything, some confuse him with Santa and ask for new toys. But whatever they write, they write from the heart.

Quickie recommendation: It gladdens the heart.


Quickie recap: Paula can't sleep. Tomorrow she and her husband will tell their children something that will change all their lives forever. She spends the night writing to her kids, explaining the series of events that has led them here.
Quickie review: The story itself is thoroughly enjoyable, topical, and well-written. I found the gimmick of constantly referring to 'tomorrow' to be a little tiresome after a while, and it was perhaps a little distracting but the story propels itself and is captivating enough for the reader to forgive the small annoyances. At the end of the book you feel you may as well have been drinking coffee with your next door neighbour - I had an overwhelming urge to hug Paula and her husband, and if a book can make me care about people who don't exist, I think it's done its job.
Quickie recommendation: Yes.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

The Color of Water

A Black Man's Tribute To His White Mother, by James McBride.
Quickie recap: As a child, James only knows that his mother is different from the other mothers. She admits only to being "pale skinned" but as he grows older and watches the world react to his family, he realizes the truth: that his mother is of a different color.
Quickie review: It's about race, but it's not just about race. It's about the strength of family, growing up, self-identity, and love. Emphasis on love, because it's palpable from the first page to the last, and while it is clear that his mother has much to be proud of, it is equally so the other way around. The words glow, they make you want to jump right in for milk and cookies, to be a part of something special, even when times are tough, because it's during those that the family really comes together. McBride has quite a success with this memoir, but I'm still not sure if it even begins to rival the success his mother has had with her family.
Quickie recommendation: For the awww in all of us.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Bonfire of the Vanities

by Tom Wolfe.

Quickie recap: When Sherman McCoy, Wall Street bigshot, gets into a hit-and-run accident with his mistress, the shit hits the fan, and a young assistant D.A., a desperate journalist and a fervent reverent combine their efforts to make an example of him while quickly forgetting the young victim fighting for his life in hospital and becoming a case of black vs white, rich vs poor.

Quickie review: Wayyyy back in 2004, I read a book by Wolfe called I Am Charlotte Simmons, and my disgust for him was cemented in that moment. Yuck. It was a farce. It was an old man trying to be cool by emulating "street slang", and writing rap lyrics from the heart of the black community which made Vanilla Ice seem gangsta in comparison. It was awful. I think it prompted a couple of monkeys in a scene from the movie Madagascar to comment "I hear Tom Wolfe's speaking at Lincoln Center" (the other monkey signs frantically) and the first monkey responds, "Well, of course we're going to throw poo at him!" I heartily agreed. So I've been afraid to pick up another of his books since. In contrast, Bonfire of the Vanities wasn't that bad - but still not good. It deals with the race issue in a marginally more subtle way, but not with any sensitivity or insight. You feel a little bit dirty reading this book, like Wolfe is trying to impress you with his connections to high society, but it falls flat and dull and utterly un-literature-like. It reminds me of another cartoon-quote (Fry, Futurama): its level of intelligence is lower than Nancy Drew, but higher than The Hardy Boys. Enough said.

Quickie recommendation: Leave it on the shelf.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Solitude of Emperors

Quickie recap: Vijay is a young Bombayite struggling with his role as an Indian. An inspection of the great Indians of the past, he considers what makes an emperor truly great, and in turn, what makes an ordinary citizen great as well.
Quickie review: An intricate mix of one person's introspection and the epic history of a conflicted country makes for a strangely moving read.
Quickie recommendation: Pretty good.

Larry's Party

Quickie recap: Larry is an ordinary guy living an ordinary life; the extraordinariness of it is in the telling.
Quickie review: Carol Shields! I always knew that she was good, but no one told me she was great! I feel shocked, shocked because she's always been on the periphery, I've read her before but never given her due - until now. I was blown away by how she brought such depth and beauty to an ordinary life. It really highlights how unordinary we all are, in our own ways, and what a master Shields is at her craft to do this without thwacking us over the head with it.
Quickie recommendation: Oh yes!

The Book of Stanley

Quickie recap: Stanley is dying of cancer until suddenly, he isn't. He's cured. And that's not the weirdest thing that's happening, things so unnatural you might even start up a religion based upon them....

Quickie review: MMm social satire. While Buckley plays the clown a bit with his satire, Babiak is a straight man in comparison, but holy cow, he's razor sharp. I wrote recently that my book karma was sparkling, and this book definitely fell into that category. I was blown away by Babiak, who was unknown to me before I picked up Stanley, and now I'd consider myself a devotee. I almost wish I could keep it to myself for self-satisfied savouring, but I won't, I'll tell you about it so you can pick up a copy and see for yourself the rising star that is Todd Babiak.

Quickie recommendation: Keep your eye on Todd.

Quickie redux: check out the Book Lounge for more about this author and others!

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Can You Hear the Nightbird Call?

Quickie recap: Three Indian women grapple with the same terrorist events - two from their new homes in Canada, and one right in the middle of the violence. They struggle with their roles as wives, mothers, and daughters of India and what that means from afar and from right up close.
Quickie review: Fictional characters recount the true, bloody events of India in the 80s in a stirring, compassionate, and sometimes surprising way.
Quickie recommendation: Yup.


Quickie recap: Cassandra is a political blogger who offers a creative solution to the retiring-baby-boomers-social-security-crunch: voluntary suicide by age 65. Her proposal causes a small furor, and eventually makes its way up Capitol Hill.
Quickie review: Buckley continues to be my sweetheart. I think he should come to my house right this minute so we can be best friends already. He makes me giggle. He makes me read with a cocked eyebrow. He makes me want to call people up and rant about what a great book I just read. And he definitely makes me want to get a really long stick so I can poke him to make sure he's busily writing his next one.
Quickie recommendation: Please do!

The Birth House

Quickie recap: Dora Rare is learning to be a midwife\healer in an age when modern medicine is slowly infiltrating Nova Scotia.
Quickie review: Beautiful, quiet, unsuspecting. The lull of the narrative takes you to Canada's picturesque east where the setting is intimate and soon the characters may as well be your neighbours too (for better or worse). McKay manages a true sense of family history and creates a story that takes you back (even if you've never been there).
Quickie recommendation: A lovely, lovely read.