Monday, June 29, 2009

Would You Rather...?

Love & Sex: Over 300 amorously absurd dilemmas to ponder, by Justin Heimberg & David Gomberg.

Quickie Recap: Authors ask if you'd rather fuck the tin man, or the scarecrow, or if you'd rather breast implants made of Nerf, or Play-doh. The catch of the game is: you must choose.

Quickie Review: It's exactly what you think it is. Some questions you'll skip over, others will leave you giggling for a long, long time. I played it with my mother on a road trip (true story! I now know her preferred blowjob soundtrack), and around a campfire with 20 acquaintances. Both times were good times.

Quickie Recommendation: Oh, it serves its purpose all right.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Cutting for Stone

by Abraham Verghese.

Quickie Recap: Marion and Shiva are twins born of an Indian nun and a British surgeon. Their birth parents disappear very suddenly from their lives and they are raised in a mission hospital in Africa.

Quickie Review: This book was beautiful and incredible in ways I hadn't really anticipated. To call this book compelling would be to sell it short. It juxtaposes culture and brutality while hinting at the great things to come. It's a literary page-turner that I felt privileged to read.

Quickie Recommendation: Oh yes.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The Thing Around Your Neck

Quickie Recap: These 12 stories span between America and Africa, and offer up a variety of experiences but are linked by their intimacy, their excellence, their fine detail.

Quickie Review: This was my first taste of Adichie and it was quite satisfying. The stories are powerful, offering careful slices of lives worth observing. 'The American Embassy' was for me particularly memorable but each story gives a taste of culture and humanity in stirring ways.

Quickie recommendation: Yes.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Six Months in Sundan

A young doctor in a war-torn village, by James Maskalyk.

Quickie Recap: Dr. James Maskalyk spends 6 months in an isolated hospital working for MSF and the people of the small town Abyei in southern Sudan, practicing the medicine of poverty.

Quickie Review: Delicious, and I'm not just saying that because I probably fell just a tiny bit in love with Dr. James while reading his book. This book is surprisingly introspective and personal. It's not preachy, it's not bloated with a sense of purpose, and both of those things are almost forgivable when a doctor returns from a Doctors Without Borders mission. Instead, what he does is opens an intimate window on what it's really like to be an aid worker in a foreign country, trying to do what's best, and struggling to define what that even means. It's sad at times, as it must be, and the sense of struggle is often so strong that I wish I could climb through the pages and give the poor guy a hug.

Quickie Recommendation: Of course the work of Medecins sans frontieres is commendable, but this book seems to me to be first and foremost a tribute to the Sudanese people. It is not without heartbreak, and I admit that my copy is somewhat tear-stained, but that's because it's a beautifully written treasure. My favourite non-fiction of the year so far.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Border Songs

by Jim Lynch

Quickie Recap: Brandon is the newest member of the border patrol, and his extreme height and autistic tendencies make him possibly the most notorious and most maligned. But it's soon apparent to everyone that he has a sixth sense for detecting things that shouldn't be - bombs, drugs, illegal aliens. This makes him good at his job but unpopular in a town along the border where his own father is being offered huge amounts of cash and the girl across the border that he's crushing on is part of the biggest North American grow-op.

Quickie Review: Lynch is an American, so I felt like I was reading a story that had been flipped because it's not everyday when Canadians are portrayed as the bad influence. At the heart of the book, though, is Brandon, and he's a great character that makes you feel so much more forgiving of everything else. His sympathy is so far-reaching it even leaps up off the pages and extends to the reader. The genius of the book is how under-the-radar the satire is, but you can feel it like a light buzz that once perceived becomes hard to ignore.

Quickie Recommendation: One of the most striking and unforgettable characters makes this book one not to be missed.

Monday, June 15, 2009

My Father's Tears

and other stories, by John Updike.

Quickie Recap: In this collection of short stories, Updike is in the mood for reminiscing. They look back at past loves, high school, raising families, travels, surviving suburbia.

Quickie Review: Although these stories do focus primarily on aged characters, you never get a morbid feeling. These people are living. They are remembering, and taking stock. They have learned from life even if the reader sometimes has to infer the lessons. I fell in love with Updike for his short stories more than a decade ago and every time I get my hands on more I do my own remembering: that he is a master of this medium.

Quickie Recommendation: Always a delight.

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Neighbor

by Lisa Gardner

Quickie Recap: It's a "detective" novel, so I can't give too much away. Let's just say that a wife disappears in the middle of the night under suspicious circumstances, leaving behind not just her cash and ID, but also her young daughter. The police identify two suspects very quickly: her husband who is clearly hiding something, and the convicted sex offender down the street who is guilty just by virtue of his record. Now the squeeze is on to find her body and make the arrest - but which one will it be?

Quickie Review: It's a mystery, and it bears some reference to her last fare, Say Goodbye, which I read and reviewed last summer. My sister considers Gardner to be at the top of her game in this genre, and I suppose she must be right. After all, The Neighbor did have that page-turner quality. Bonus points that I found this one to be a little less predictable and it attempts to touch on some real-life issues in a not insensitive way.

Quickie Recommendation: A book to read while floating in the pool.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009


by Colm Toibin.

Quickie Recap: Eilis leaves Ireland for America, away from her family, but also towards opportunity and independence. She finds both, and in them she comes to realize that maybe they're not exactly what she wanted.

Quickie Review: I immediately had the sense that I was reading something very special. It was beautiful and captivating. I devoured it, but come the last 15 pages or so, I dreaded the reading, not just because I didn't want it to end, but because I was so enthralled with the main character that I didn't want to see her get hurt. Faced with a tough choice, I was rooting for Q but fearful she'd opt for P. I read it as if she were my friend, as if the outcome mattered to me personally. This felt more like a letter to me than a novel. I fell in love.

Quickie Recommendation: This is the other book I referred to as most likely not moving from my top 5 of 2009 - along with The Good Mayor and Come Thou Tortoise. Loved it.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

The Story Sisters

by Alice Hoffman.

Quickie Recap: After suffering some trauma, the Story sisters invent a fantasy world complete with their very own language. But as they grow through adolescence and beyond, they learn that their other world can't keep them safe.

Quickie Review: Of course I wish this book was better than it was. I breezed through it of course, because it's "easy-reading" and it has a huge readership I'm sure. At least one seems to be the better sort for its genre, and I didn't dislike it. In fact, I read it knowing exactly who it would be perfect for. It's the kind of book that would be great to throw in your beach bag for the summer.

Quickie Recommendation: Not for serious readers.

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Good Mayor

a novel by Andrew Nicoll.

Quickie Recap: Tibo Krovic does his job with zest; the town cannot help but dub him the "good mayor" and he lives up to that title every single day. That he is such a competent mayor is a true testament to his will, because Krovic is tortured at work. He is in love with his married secretary.

Quickie Review: Breath-taking. The jacket refers to Nicoll as a former lumberjack, which completely blows away every lumberjack stereotype you thought you were comfortable with. This novel is subtle, sensitive, beautiful. It's a love story, in a way, that veers toward the Kafkaesque toward the end. This too will probably stay in my top 5 for all of 2009 - which means beware the remaining 6 months' worth of books, there are only 2 spots left! Bring your A game, because Nicoll certainly has, despite this being his first novel. You just get swept along into such sweetness and tenderness, yet also fantastic and funny.

Quickie Recommendation: Not to be missed!

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

The Devil's Tickets

A night of bridge, a fatal hand, and a new American age, by Gary M. Pomerantz.

Quickie Recap: Two couples - first, Ely and Jo, who become celebrities through their thrilling bridge playing and their pioneering of the system, and then Jack and Myrtle, whose marriage is as troubled as their bridge game, until a passionate game has fatal results.

Quickie Review: Is it weird that I really liked this? Yes, it's about bridge. But it's also about the time, the politics, the depression, the emancipation of women, and it's oddly titillating. Both couples followed in the story and worthy of our attention, and the author does a very good job of showing how their lives intertwined even if they never met. It's hard for me to imagine a card game meaning so much that I might fire bullets into my spouse's chest, but Pomerantz does an awesome job of painting a picture of a period when this was unreasonable, yes, but not unimagineable.
Quickie recommendation: Fascinating.