Thursday, January 31, 2008


A novel by Alissa York.
Quickie recap: Dorrie is the 4th and newest wife in the Hammer family, wed not for her looks or personality, but purely for her skill in taxidermy. The mormon household is alive with secrets, fresh from violent times in 19th century Utah, the family functions because everyone is thinking of someone or something else...until some of those secrets begin to reveal themselves.
Quickie review: I think this will have to be a review-in-progress, because I'm still thinking on this one, not sure how I feel about it when all is said and done. Generally, I think the fact that it's still bothering me is a good sign. I think York is a fine author, there were some beautiful words, some haunting images. Possibly the reason I feel a bit tripped up is the taxidermy bits were a little too instructional for my taste. It took me out of the story a bit to be told not to rip the tearduct with my scalpel, be careful not to burst the eyeballs. But otherwise, York's graphic style is what makes Effigy successful. Ultimately, I feel rewarded for having made it to the end. I feel like some bit of truth has broken off and is floating around in my head, and in the coming days and probably weeks, it will be gnawing at me, whispering.
Quickie recommendation: A worthy read.
Incidentally, I happen to watch and adore the show Big Love. Is anyone else watching this? I found the book to be a sharp contrast - these are the roots of the religion, the first "Saints", and their struggles to make it all work.

Everything's Eventual

14 Dark Tales, by Stephen King.

Quickie recap: A book of short, "spine-chilling" stories, including "Riding the Bullet", which is apparently notable because it was first released as an e-book, and "1408", notable because they somehow stretched a few pages into an entire (and I'm guessing lame) movie.

Quickie review: This book was completely forgettable. I just finished, and yet I find that I have to thumb through just to recall some of the stories that I read just days ago. The only story that I could recount in any way is the one that left me most puzzled, since it was not "spine-chilling" , or even remotely scary. It was just a dude in a motel room contemplating suicide. And barely even that. And then nothing happened. Nothing. Did King forget to finish it? Or did it fall into the galleys by accident before printing? Nobody knows. The rest are pretty functional cliches for their genre. If this book had one redeeming factor, I would say that the little blurbs that precede the story does give some insight into King's inspiration, or frame of mind when writing each piece, and while I may not be a devoted fan, I'm always glad that someone is getting the printed word down on the page, and as the cover reminds me, Stephen King is a BESTSELLER, and who am I? Just a girl who'd rather be reading Proust.

Quickie recommendation: Nah.

Friday, January 25, 2008

The End of the Alphabet

by CS Richardson.
Quickie recap: Ambrose Zephyr and Zappora Ashkenazi are a content couple until a grave diagnosis from the doctor throws their life askew. Ambrose has about a month to live his childhood dream: to travel the world alphabetically, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar. But of course, mortality makes for an awkward travel companion and this trip becomes about more than just its destinations.
Quickie review: The first thing I noticed about this book was its cover. Oh, that sounds cliche, but the thing is, of course some covers are beautiful, others are less so, some are informative, some are artsy, some are stark, some are bold, some are ugly. But covers rarely give me pause. It's just a cover. Usually I take the dust cover off, and store it in a drawer, where I am less likely (but still not unlikely) to tear it. But this one even feels nice. You want to pet its smoothness while you read it, and happily, it's so delightfully written that there is no excuse to put it down. For me, this book spoke to me in the small details. At the end of his life, you realize that a man is not his job, or what's parked in his garage, or what's framed on his walls. It's his inability to make a decent cup of tea that makes him real. I felt touched. I was so swept away by the quiet romanticism that the tragic aspect seemed unreal to me. It kept me warm, and made me believe.
Quickie recommendation: A perfect gift for your lover.

Friday, January 18, 2008

The Gum Thief

Quickie recap: Bethany and Roger are both Staples employees, with nothing else in common whatsoever, except a lack of friends. They don't make friends, though - instead, they become correspondents of sorts. They take turns writing entries in Roger's journal as he pens his first novel.

Quickie review: Okay. Right out of the gate, you know how I feel about Coupland. I like the idea of him more than I like him in actuality. His books are very hit and miss for me, but there are definite cases of good work, and I dare say I think this is one. Roger and Bethany and ordinary people, veering toward loserdom, working in a big box office supply store and hating it, as you would expect. But they find a form of escapism - they write. And they're not very good at it, but their attempts are sweet and entertaining. These characters made you root for them no matter how pathetic they came off. Their problems - alienation, stagnation - their suffering, they're our problems, and our suffering. It's universal. This book made me feel like, maybe every one of us is all alone, but we're together in this aloneness, and that's something, right?

Quickie recommendation: I admit it. I liked it. I think this book does what his earlier ones were supposed to - it speaks to who we are.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Abstinence Teacher

by Tom Perrotta.

Quickie recap: Ruth is a sex ed teacher until she admits to her class that "some people like it" - oral sex, that is. The uproar was instantaneous. She soon finds herself an abstinence teacher instead, part of a pilot project applauded by the good old religious right. But when you through politics and religion together, you know the fight is about to get personal.

Quickie review: This was a really cool read. Can I call it a satire? You can just imagine it happening. In fact, it probably is happening in similarly picturesque suburban communities right now, and that's what makes it so brave and at the same time, so funny. You get right away how senseless and ridiculous the situation is, but you also get this tempering point of view from the other side - not a complete justification, but maybe a little insight on how this stuff is allowed to happen. The Abstinence Teacher dares to go there. It asks why. It points out the ludicrous. It's interesting, topical, and frightfully close to reality. Very, very nicely done.

Quickie recommendation: Very much so. If you've read Perrotta's Little Children, you know he's a solid author who doesn't shy away from tough subjects. This one is completely different in tone, but just as strong.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Shampoo Planet

Quickie recap: Tyler is a 20 year old kid trying to find himself. His 90s sensibilities clash with his hippie mother, but the more physical distance he puts between himself and her, the more he realizes that maybe it's not her choices he has a problem with.

Quickie review: As much as you could argue that this is about a 90s lifestyle and psyche and culture, it also shows a very sad lack thereof. There's a void that Tyler feels even if he can't quite put it into words, but it's palpable. That being said, I still don't like this book. I haven't liked it any of the times I've read, but I keep trying. I want to like it, I want to like Coupland, but with this book, I feel like he just misses the mark. He goes for the easy mark. He drops so many name-brands it leaves you feeling empty. His characters feel more like cartoons of the people they're supposed to be - too obviously weird, too witty, too cool, too geeky. Sure they illustrate a point, but they don't illustrate people, and I guess that's why I find that this novel is just way too cold. I don't connect. I don't know these people.

Quickie recommendation: Not so much.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

The Girls' Guide to Hunting and Fishing

Quickie recap: Love\lust\dating\relationships - they're a lifelong learning adventure and Jane is still playing the game, probably not any more successfully at 45 than at 15, but by god she tries, and boy do we really pull for her.

Quickie review: I like to read and reread this book, not because it's the second coming of women's lit, but because I find it cute, and it's a relief to hear about someone else's blunders, cringe at someone else's mistakes, and feel butterflies for someone else's crush.

Quickie recommendation: What can I say, except we all need guilty pleasures.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

The Book

Quickie recap: If you've seen The Rick Mercer Report or read his blog, then you know what to expect: no politician in this country (and some others thrown in for good measure) is safe from his wit, his criticism, his famous Rick-Mercer-eyebrow-lift.

Quickie review: His rants are razor sharp, and he's got the best of them from the past 4 years conveniently bound together in one hard-backed edition. You can relive the highlights of the sponsorship scandal, the gay marriage issue in Canada, and enjoy barbs at any and all political parties. This guy loves politics, and it shows. He's not just a headlines kind of guy , and he's not in it just to poke fun. He actually has insight and opinion, he just happens to not suck at discussing them, and this book (The Book, rather) is a supreme example of him not sucking. His rants are bite-sized, to the point (very appealing to us bloggers), and spot-on.

Quickie recommendation: Mercer is practically a Canadian institution. Shame on you if you don't.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Stories From the Vinyl Cafe

Quickie recap: You may know Dave and Morley from Stuart McLean's radio show on the CBC - if you don't, you can always scurry over and get yourself in on the podcasts. Dave and Morley live and love in Toronto, and get themselves into frequent hilarious-type situations, kinda like me, only with less swearing and more family values.

Quickie review: I was first introduced to the Vinyl Cafe because it was an answer to a Trivial Pursuit question that I didn't know. I hate not knowing. So I looked up Mr. McLean and the gang who run this fictional record store and I've been hooked ever since. These stories are originally broadcast on the radio and are great to listen to in that capacity. To that end, they're not great literature. The sentences are not always complete, the grammar is off. I buy these books because they're great to read aloud, and that's how they come alive. They're meant to be conversational. They're sweet and funny and hearty, and if you have a snowy Sunday afternoon and a nice little afghan, than all you need is this book to have a little piece of perfection.

Quickie recommendation: Yup.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Life of Pi

by Yann Martel.

Quickie recap: This is a story that will make you believe in God. When the cargo ship sank, Pi was the only survivor. Well, the only human survivor. He spent 227 days lost at sea in a small life boat catching whatever rain and fish he could, all of which he had to share with a 450 pound Bengal tiger.

Quickie review: See that recap up above? You still have no idea what this book is about. It's not about the plot. It's not about the amazing ordeal, the insurmountable odds, or the incredible fortitude, the crippling grief, the indomitable will to live. It's not just about fear. It's not just about survival. It's not just about belief.

I saved this book, rereleased and illustrated by Tomislav Torjanac, to read as my first book of 2008 on purpose. I read it and fell in love years ago. I remember how it sent shivers up my spine. How I ached to talk to others about it. How I passed the book around, begged others to read it, felt tears threaten each time I tried to tell someone of its power. It was a treasure then, and now, this beautiful edition nearly sent me catapulting over the edge again. I read a lot, will always read a lot, but this kind of spine-tingling book comes along rarely in a lifetime, and I know now just as surely as I did the first time I read it that Life of Pi is one of those books, the kind you remember forever, the kind that goes down in history, the kind that changes you just for having read it.

Quickie recommendation: Do you have to ask?