Thursday, July 31, 2008

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

A novel by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows.

Quickie Recap: The people of Guernsey started a book club during their WW2 occupation as an excuse for breaking curfew. However, as a London writer featuring them in an article soon finds out, the group who started out mostly as mere acquaintances at best quickly became much more, and they continue to rally around each other even as the aftereffects of war are still so keenly felt.

Quickie Review: I must have thought I would like this book, after all, it was in my home, on my night table. But I kept piling other books on top. When I finally reached for this one, I was surprised to find myself enjoying it - and not just enjoying it, but being truly captivated by its spirit. I don't want to use the word 'whimsical' here, it sounds just a tad too dismissive, but it felt homey to me. I was planning a vacation to the island myself before remembering that this is a work of fiction, and none of the characters would be there to greet me. I'm not exactly sure how a novel is written by two, but I can assure you that Shaffer and Barrows are very good at it, as the work is seamless and absorbing. This is an especially good curl-up-on-a-rainy-day book.

Quickie Recommendation: While I'm not sure I ever want a copy of the potato peel pie recipe, this book shall win a coveted spot on my bookshelf, to be read and reread.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Gargoyle

A novel by Andrew Davidson.
Quickie Recap: A porn star is nearly killed in a horrific car crash, and while clinging to life and fantasising about death in a burn ward, his only visitor is a schizophrenic woman who claims to have known him in another life over 700 years ago.
Quickie Review: Wow. What a book. Pinging back and forth between gruesome and romantic and out of this world, the words and images never stop. Davidson is an artist who offers up a whole selection of juicy stories, many of which moved me to tears without a single drop of sentimentality, all weaved together in an unusual and compelling narrative that is tough (well, for me, quite impossible) to put down. I read 465 pages in 24 hours, stopping only to implore others to seek out a copy of their own (apologies to the man on the bus whose morning commute I interrupted with my enthusiasm).
Quickie Recommendation: Must-read.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

King John of Canada

A novel of the Near Future, by Scott Gardiner.


Quickie Recap: Canada decides to get rid of the Queen of England and hold a lottery to establish a monarchy of our own. The guy with the winning ticket is John, and in John Canada gets WAY more than it bargained for!!

Quickie Review: I was\still am absolutely blown away by this book! I want to live in this Canada, this great country that Gardiner has created. I feel like I've fallen in love with his ideas. Gardiner is obviously a smart guy with big, bold opinions of his country. This is most definitely a political novel, of which there are not many floating around by Canadian writers, but this gem is so much more than its unique genre. It's funny, it's abrasive, it's loud but unfailingly polite. It seems that Gardiner has distilled the Canadian spirit and shoved it into these pages. I felt such an instant connection to this book, and it's no wonder - it's home.

Quickie Recommendation: Absolutely and without hesitation to anyone, but especially to all Canadians - 30 000 000 should sell, be read, and be referenced. Brilliant. I don't know where this book has been hiding, but I implore everyone to get out to their book stores and demand a copy now.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Other

A Novel by David Guterson.
Quickie Recap: A strange friendship nets one man millions and makes him (and us) question just what a "good life" really means.
Quickie Review: I did not like Snow Falling on Cedars (also authored by Guterson). I know, I know, I'm in the minority here. Everyone else thought it was positively brilliant, and I thought it was not bad, certainly not badly written, it just didn't grab me. This one grabbed me in all kinds of fun places. This is a story I haven't heard told before, and speaking as someone who sometimes feels like she's already read every story worth telling, that's a rarity. The author lets us peak at two different lives, very different lives, each unique and ideal in its own way, each causing us to evaluate priorities in new ways. In that way, this book is just as introspective as Cedars was, but in a more engaging and dynamic way. This book is not as mellow (and by mellow, I mean boring). It actually takes you along the separate paths of a very strange man and a pretty ordinary man, but both paths have the same destination: you end up looking back at yourself.
Quickie Recommendation: B-

Saturday, July 19, 2008

A Briefer History of Time

The science classic made more accessible - more concise - illustrated - updated with the latest research, by Stephen Hawking with Leonard Mlodinow.
Quickie Recap: Contrary to the title, A Briefer History is not actually any shorter than his previous book, A Brief History of Time. Rather, Hawking has edited out the boring bits but expanded on the better bits, plus added up-to-the-minute findings that didn't exist even 5 minutes ago.
Quickie Review: Hawking is a cool guy because he can write a book like this without assuming that I, the reader, am an idiot. He gives me some credit. He also knows that no one is as brilliant as he is. He is a gentle explainer, and for that, I thank him. One of these days, I am going to get string theory. I really am. Today was not that day, but until that day, I'm going to keep reading books like this, books that maybe bring me a little closer to spanking the ignorant out of me. It had some definitely Ohhhh moments, and even some Oohhh! moments, and once, an Oh? moment, but I'll leave you to guess which section that was.
Quickie Recommendation: Pretty fly for a white guy.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Black Out

A novel by Lisa Unger.

Quickie Recap: Annie Powers is a well-to-do suburban housewife and stay at home mom, or at least that's what she'd have you believe. The truth is, she has secrets, some of which are unknown even to herself, but when something mysterious is threatening her family, she does everything she can to get to the bottom of it all.

Quickie Review: Unger flips back and forth between present and past effortlessly, effectively creating a feeling of suspense that lasts a good 354 pages. Unger is not a master of her craft, but she is a good story teller, and I have to say that I had fun reading this book. It wasn't bluntly obvious, it was more delicate than that, the kind of book that has you combing the pages for hints, and you know what's coming without exactly being able to predict it.

Quickie Recommendation: Good stuff.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


The Science and Politics of Fear, by Dan Gardner.
Quickie Recap: We have two processing systems when we are contemplating a threat to ourselves: our gut, and our head. Gut is quick to react, but often wrong. Gut doesn't differentiate between a little risk, and a big risk. Politicians and journalists have been all too happy to take advantage.
Quickie Review: I like to think that I'm relatively aware, when reading a newspaper or watching a news network, of the games they play, but I still feel this book will change the way I digest the news. Gardner focuses on the things we are familiar with: crime rates, cancer prevalence, the threat of terrorism, and basically breaks down how the media (and the people behind the media) have blown these all out of proportion, so that we all tend to overestimate the actual risk of these things, while grossly underestimating the things we actually should be worried about. Psychologists have known for years that we are vulnerable to misinterpreting the data when appeals are made to our emotions, and the very first work in this field was done by people working for the tobacco industry....Yeah.
Quickie Recommendation: It's not a "page-turner", but it is well-written, interesting, and informative.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

The Tenth Gift

Quickie Recap: Julia Lovatt proves what I've been saying for years - the gift of a good book can be life-changing. She reads a written diary of a young servant who was captured by pirates and about the man who loved her enough to chase after her.
Quickie Review: This is two great stories in one; Julia Lovatt tells her story -how the book has piqued her, changed her, haunted her - while telling Cat Tregenna's story of peril, adventure and foreign encounters. This book has got a little bit of everything and is deeply entertaining while still managing to provide a historical context and a bond between two women who are separated by 400 years. It'll put spice into your life, even if by osmosis.
Quickie Recommendation: Ten thumbs up.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Novel About My Wife

Quickie Recap: Upon losing his wife, a man sets out to remember her and discovers that she was perhaps unknowable.
Quickie Review: This book made me a bit melancholy. It made me wonder if we can ever really know anyone. It also made me wonder if I I can ever really know this book. There were entire sections that left me puzzled. Sure, I got the gist, but I also often felt like I was missing something. A few times I flipped pages backwards just to see if I'd missed a passage or something. The main character is dead so we can never set the record straight, which is a clever device, but I was frustrated by the narrator who was just plain clueless. I felt like I was left hanging a lot and it cut into my enjoyment of the book. Otherwise, this is exactly the kind of thing I treasure - the darkness, the mystery, the unfolding of a person over time. I just wish that when I got to the end, I felt like I had known her just a bit.
Quickie Recommendation: Not fabulous, not futile.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

The Making of a Nurse

Quickie Recap: Tilda Shalof has been a caregiver since she was a kid, nursing both parents through serious illness. You might feel compelled to say that if anyone was born a nurse, it was Shalof, but she's the first to set you right: a nurse is something she became, and became through difficulty and adversity, and continues to along the same path even after more than 20 years in the field.

Quickie Review: My sister is a nurse. Everyone knows a nurse. But I guarantee you, there are spots in this book that will surprise you. Just what is that nurse thinking when she's cleaning up shit, or when she's just accidentally given you the wrong meds, or when yet another conservative government is elected and thinks health care is a great place to start cutting...? Well, Shalof will tell you. She's got a great attitude and a nice sense of humour, but she is human, and that's probably why I liked this book - she's just doing her job, like we all are, with good days and bad, always trying to learn, sometimes making mistakes, struggling with motivation and ethics and a volatile job market.

Quickie Recommendation: Good stuff.

Friday, July 4, 2008


A novel by Andre Alexis.
Quickie Recap: Living, surviving and thriving in the political landscape of Ottawa in the 80s - watch as the characters variously cuckold a husband, design the "perfect" prison, inherit millions, and then watch it all go to hell.
Quickie Review: The awful truth is, I wanted to like this more than I did, in the end. And in the beginning and the middle, too. It fell a little flat. Frankly, the only thing that really kept me going was the setting - it was great to be walked along the streets of Ottawa, a truly great city, and on in which I've lived myself. I felt like a ghost, haunting the same spots where I myself have eaten sandwiches or rested my achy feet after a day on the Hill. But though the official blurb promises "unforgettable characters", I find this to not quite be true. A lot of the book is forgettable. I just wasn't captivated. There was no magic, no spark that connects the reader to the story, and when I read the last sentence and put the book down, I felt a tad disappointed, and a tad relieved to be done. Alexis' previous effort was much better, and I hope to see that calibre from him again soon. Unfortunately, I feel like he missed the mark with this one.
Quickie Recommendation: Not so much.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Petite Anglaise

In Paris. In Love. In Trouble. A true story by blogger Catherine Sanderson.

Quickie Recap: Sanderson authors the blog Petite Anglaise, where she has journaled her experiences not just as an expat, but as a a girlfriend, mother, friend, and professional. This book unveils how her blog has changed her life, sometimes in surprising ways.

Quickie Review: Lots of bloggers, it seems, are aspiring authors. This is not always a good thing. Sanderson, however, is neither a blogger nor an author. She is a writer, and she carries you away with her words. I was swept along, devouring chapter after chapter. It doesn't matter if you've followed her blog or not, but I do think this story is particularly poignant for those of us who have also shared parts of ourselves online. Although this book details falling in and out of love with men, we also get to see her fall in love with herself a bit, which is a lovely, intimate thing that left me blushing at times because I felt such a strong connection to the experience.

Quickie Recommendation: La chevre adore la Petite Anglaise. (Oui!!)