Posts Tagged ‘4.5 out of 5’

8th September
2010
written by Steph

Many moons ago, Jenny over at Shelf Love wrote a review of Jincy Willett’s The Writing Class that really intrigued me. I had heard of Willett before – heck we actually have another one of her novels AND a short story collection by her – but it was Jenny’s review that really got me excited to give Willett a shot. I mean, a novel that is both a satire AND a mystery novel all rolled up in one and focuses on the art (or lack thereof) of writing? What could be better than that? So in case you haven’t clicked over and read Jenny’s review already (which you absolutely should because it is brilliant), the idea behind The Writing Class is this: Amy Gallup is burned out author who peaked when she was young and precocious and who now makes her living by teaching continuing education writing classes at the local community college (as well stringing together mad-lib style author biographies that just barely count as writing). Through Amy, we meet new set of students at the start of her Fall course, and the narrative largely starts off focusing on the class and the various writing exercises (along with their results) that the students are asked to complete as they hone their craft. We also dip into Amy’s life outside of the class, gradually gaining insight into her rather limited and hollow existence, and we see how the class slowly starts to merge into a family unit, enriching not only each other’s writing but also each other’s lives. Unfortunately, a disgruntled and mysterious misfit in the group soon makes his/her presence known, attempting to disrupt and damage the group dynamic and growing bonds. What starts off as poison pen letters eventually spiral into increasingly sinister pranks that place lives at stake… (more…)
3rd September
2010
written by Steph

Well, I might as well just call this review "A Love Letter to Mary", because I continue to simply adore Laurie King’s Mary Russell series! Have you started them yet? If not, you are missing out, my friends. This is now my go-to series when I’m looking for a fun, comfort read that is guaranteed to soothe me of any worries (reading or otherwise), and one that I indulge in without any kind of guilt. These books are simply a pleasure, and I want everyone to know it. A Letter of Mary picks up a few months after the events of the second book in the series (which I talked about here). Life has become somewhat dull and uninspiring on the work front for Mary and Holmes, so it doesn't take much prompting of consideration for her to accept the request of one Dorothy Ruskin, feisty lady archeologist on leave from Jerusalem, to meet and discuss some matters of a rather sensitive nature. During their meeting, Ruskin gives Russell a remarkably well-preserved piece of papyrus in an exceedingly ornate, jeweled box, the content of which would prove rather earth-shattering if the scroll were ever authenticated. Not soon after leaving their company, Ruskin is struck dead in what appears to be an accidental hit and run, but the signs of which soon seem to point unerringly towards murder. It’s up to Mary and Holmes to determine who – and why – Ruskin was murdered, while Mary also struggles with the decision of what to do with the letter she has been entrusted with. (more…)
29th July
2010
written by Steph

When Tony and I were preparing for our Puerto Rican adventure, I agonized over what the perfect vacation read would be. I knew I’d be reading it on my Sony eReader, but that didn’t limit the field much. I dug deep and realized I was in the mood for a love story and something that was tropical in setting, since I figured my reading experience would only be ameliorated by being in the exotic haven that is Puerto Rico. And with that, the clouds parted and it became clear it was finally the time to read Love in the Time of Cholera. I read my first Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, just before I started blogging and it was love at first read. I could feel my mind expanding as I read that glorious novel, and I found Marquez’s way with words intoxicatingly seductive. It was a book I read slowly and carefully, anxious to savor each bit of it, determined to absorb all of its brilliance. It was a book that rocked my world, and I soon began to collect other books by this genius author so that I could work my way through his back catalog and revel in his brilliance. But I was also scared, because I’d heard many people state that none of his other books lived up to the transcendence of One Hundred Years. I worried that Marquez wouldn’t be able to capture that magic more than once, so as much as I craved more of his writing, I held off until now. (more…)
20th July
2010
written by Steph

Cloud Atlas is a book that I thought I would never read. I first tried to read it about three years ago when it was selected for my real-life book club. I was really excited, but that excitement soon dissipated when I started to read the book; I just found it torture! The writing seemed overwrought and like Mitchell had looked every word up in a thesaurus only to pick the most obscure option. For those of you not in the know, Cloud Atlas is a novel composed of six interrelated stories that are broken into halves (with the exception of the sixth story which is told in its entirety in the middle of the book). I did not even make it through the first half of story number one, that is how miserably I failed at this book back in 2007. I threw it away from me in frustration at the language and vowed I would never read it because it was an awful book. It’s odd then that given past experiences I should now be writing this review, but how things change in three years! I’ve written that one of the perks of our new eReaders is the ease with which they make looking up obscure words. You just double tap on the troublesome word and voila! A little window at the bottom of the screen pops up with the definition, not at all obtrusive or disruptive, so you can clarify your meaning and head on your merry reading way. Now, I’d like to think that over the past three years of voracious reading, I have in fact become a stronger, better reader, but the ease of looking up words was still a godsend when reading Cloud Atlas this time around. Whenever I encountered words like “peregrination” or “valetudinarian”, no longer did I have to muddle on in a cloud of confusion and frustration, and I think that definitely helped. (more…)
14th July
2010
written by Steph

Even casual readers of this little blog probably know that I have a deep admiration for Tana French. An admiration that perhaps borders on the cusp of obsession. I devour her books when I get my hands on them, and find myself completely absorbed by the world and the characters she so skillfully crafts for her readers. I’ve been to Ireland, and yet reading French’s books, I sometimes feel like her fiction is more vivid and real than my own experiences! It could be that she draws back the veil on a culture and a people the way that only a native Dubliner can, but I also think it’s just a testament to how compelling an author she is. She could probably write about my hometown of Toronto and make me think I’ve never even set foot there! 😉 Last year after reading French’s debut novel, In The Woods, I prowled the apartment restlessly until The Likeness made its way to me from the library. I was so caught up by French’s characters, I pretty much couldn’t read anything else in that time in between. I just wanted more. I tried to pace myself, but I pretty much rampaged through The Likeness, loving every moment of it, only to feel utterly bereft at the end of it. Why? Because I had exhausted all of French’s published works to date. What was an avid fan to do? (more…)
28th May
2010
written by Steph
My review of Eleanor Catton's debut novel (which was long-listed for The Orange Prize!) is now up as a web exclusive at BookPage! I was really excited to read this book as I'd heard so many interesting things about it from U.K. book bloggers (it was just released in the U.S. last week). From the first page I was hooked; I loved the writing especially, but above and beyond that, I think Catton has written an extremely bold and provocative novel about girls on the cusp of womanhood. It is not a simple, straightforward narrative, but I relished its ambiguity and its fearlessness. If this is Catton's first novel, then I can't wait to see what she comes up with in the future. My only disappointment is that the book did not appear on the short-list for the Orange Prize, something I consider to be a huge oversight on the judges' part. Read my review at BookPage for a further thoughts, but please do not let this book pass you by! Rating: 4.5 out of 5
18th May
2010
written by Steph

I am not exactly what you would call a war fiction fan – generally in bookstores while browsing, whenever I pick up books that mention the words “Holocaust” or “WWII” on their back cover, I roll my eyes and put the title swiftly back on the shelf.  It’s not that I don’t think these topics aren’t something that deserve attention in fiction, it’s more that I think they’ve been getting too much attention in fiction. Seriously, the next time you got to a bookstore, keep track of how many books you pick up that somehow involve a character being plagued by some kind of WWII wound of any kind and you’ll see what I mean. Of the various wars, I would definitely say WWII is the one that’s been mined the most by authors in terms of plot devices, but of course there are myriad books on WWI, the Vietnam War, and the American Civil War as well. This saturation of war fiction means that as a reader, I’m extremely selective regarding which titles I will actually pick up and read.  I find that if I look at enough of these books in succession, they all start to sound the same, which is not really what you want as a reader (or a writer, I’m sure), so it takes something special for a book to separate itself from the bunch. (more…)
30th April
2010
written by Steph

Do any of you remember the kerfuffle a year ago when Alain de Botton left incendiary comments on a New York Times reviewer’s blog?  I remember reading about the scandal with great interest, mostly because I couldn’t get over how ridiculously over the top it was for an author to write on someone’s personal site: “I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude." Amazing. Needless to say, I thought de Botton’s behavior and handling of what he felt was an abysmal review (which by my reading was actually measured and fair, if not effusive and overwhelmingly positive) was completely out of line and extremely childish. His tantrum probably brought more attention to the “offensive” review than it might have otherwise received, and his response was so disproportionate that it just made him look kind of insane. But perhaps in the end there’s no such thing as bad publicity, because the one thing that scrap achieved was that I was suddenly aware of Alain de Botton, something that had not been true previously.  And so, when I was at McKay’s a few months back browsing the stacks, his name jumped out at me, and I admit to being curious and picked up his debut novel, On Love (also known as Essays in Love in the UK and Europe). (more…)
19th April
2010
written by Steph

We're halfway through April (ack!), but it's never too late to share a review!  For the BookPage website, I reviewed The Hand That First Held Mine, and you can read my thoughts here. I admit I was drawn to the book because of its gorgeous cover (even the ARC was visually striking), but I wound up with more than just a pretty book in the bargain. I knew from the first few pages that O'Farrell's writing was elegiac but crisp, a combination I found intoxicating.  I soon found I had a mesmerizing psychological drama, familial thriller and love story all rolled into one on my hands.  And I loved it.  It swept me away, and I was moved by both the prose and the plot. I gulped this novel down and was sad for it to end.  It was my first novel by O'Farrell, but I know it won't be my last.  I've already been scouring the shelves for her 2006 novel, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, because I need to read more of what this woman has written! Loved the complexity and subtlety of this one, and would highly recommend it. Rating: 4.5 out of 5 [P.S. Yes, "ARC" means I got the book for free... but my time is not, and it was a good investment!)
2nd March
2010
written by Steph

Maybe not the ugliest cover ever for a book, but it's up there...

Right before the winter holidays, I had the pleasure of attending a Secret Santa book swap hosted by my friend Trisha.  To this festive fête I brought a wrapped copy of One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, because it’s one of my favorite books, and is also the book that first exposed me to one of my literary loves: magical realism.  I was delighted when a copy of The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende wound up for grabs that night, because it’s another magical realist book I’ve been wanting to read for quite sometime.  Alas, the copies I’ve always come across at the used bookstore have always been horrific mass-market paperbacks with atrocious covers, and I simply couldn’t bring myself to buy any of them.  They were just too ugly!  Now, I won’t say that the copy I wound up with at this book swap has a beautiful cover (the art is clearly airbrush work of the 1980s), but it was a lovely hardback copy with decaled edge pages, and the girl (named Eliza, who is also a friend, and also a Spanish-language speaker extraordinaire!) who brought it attested to the quality of the translation.  With all that in mind, I only felt a little bad when I stole it from another party attendee, forcing her to dive back into the wrapped gift pile. The House of the Spirits is a hard book to summarize, in part because so much happens.  It is one of those sweeping family epics in which readers are privy to the lives of the Trueba family over the course of three generations.  We begin with Clara as a young child, and watch as she grows up, marries Estéban Trueba, has three children of her own, and eventually becomes a grandmother and dies.  As the women in each generation reach maturity, the narrative torch is passed from woman to woman, though Esteban himself recalls parts of the past in his own words.  The beginning portion of the novel has much to do with love and relationships, but there are also discussion of social class (peasants vs patróns) and politics. In the last 100 pages of the novel, there is a shift so that the narration revolves heavily around politics and social uprisings, dealing with the first election of a left-wing leader in Chile and his ultimate deposition by a dictatorship. (more…)
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