Posts Tagged ‘books read in 2009’

3rd November
2009
written by Steph
My doubleheader for the November issue

My doubleheader for the November issue

For the November issue of BookPage, I pulled double duty and reviewed TWO books.  I first elected to cover The Pursuit of Other Interests by Jim Kokoris, but when Generation A by Douglas Coupland popped up a week or two later with no one to cover it, I knew I couldn't let it lie by the wayside and volunteered to read and review it too. I went into Pursuit hoping it might be a bit like Joshua Ferris's Then We Came to the End.  It didn't wind up matching the brilliance of that novel for me, but to be fair, I love TWCTTE A LOT.  And Pursuit was actually a really engaging and fun read in its own right - just ask Tony.  I laughed out loud at least 3 or 4 times while reading it, and when the book largely revolves around job loss in these trying economic times, you know that's no small feat.  This book had a lot of heart and managed to walk the ridiculously tricky line between levity and sobriety, and I ultimately enjoyed reading it very much.  If I were rating it on the blog, I'd probably give it a 4 out of 5, so it's well worth spending a few days with.  You can read more on my thoughts here. As for Generation A, well, what can I say except that I LOVED IT and it easily sauntered onto my "best books I've read this year" list.  The writing mesmerized and excited me, and when I was through with it, I was in a frenzy to get my hands on more Coupland. And this is coming from someone who up until this book had had a slightly negative view of Coupland (though I had never read him before).  Now I'm completely in awe and on a mission to read everything he's written.  This book was brilliant and could very well wind up being my favorite read of the year.  This easily snagged 5 stars from me.  Go out and read it now!  You can read my official review of it here. So, all in all, loved the books I covered for November's issue.  Next month?  Nanny Returns... The Pursuit of Other Interests Rating: 4 out of 5 Generation A Rating: 5 out of 5
29th October
2009
written by Steph
Someone's gotta do it!

Someone's gotta do it!

I still consider this little blog to be a fringe element when it comes to the world of blogging in general, and book blogging in particular, so it really was a flattering surprise when Trish from Hey Lady! Watcha Readin’? contacted me regarding reviewing something for TLC Tours.   Having never been part of such a thing, I thought it would be fun to try something new, so after perusing the selections for October/November, I signed up to read Looking After Pigeon by Maud Carol Markson. Looking After Pigeon is a thin novel, one easily read in a single afternoon (which is what I did).  It is a story told in retrospect – Pigeon as a grown woman has some serious scars and issues related to her past, and in an effort to move past them, she has undertaken the task of writing down the events of one summer, which she attributes as the source of all her relationship/commitment/general anxiety woes.  We learn that during the summer in question, Pigeon was just five years old, and it was this summer that her father up and abandons the family with no warning.  Consequently, Pigeon, her two siblings (Dove and Robin), and their mother move to a beach house on the Jersey shore.  This summer marks upheaval and dramatic change for the entire family, but ostensibly it is Pigeon who is affected most by the various events. (more…)
27th October
2009
written by Steph
Prepare to be astounded...

Prepare to be astounded...

After reading Nanny Returns in its entirety so that I could review it for the December issue of BookPage, I was in the mood for something a little less fluffy and a lot more substantial.  I guess as I’ve been working on bulking up my brain to deal with Classics and other meaty novels, I’ve kind of lost my tolerance for the chick lit genre.  I used to devour those books when I was a teenager, but now I find them fairly predictable with underwhelming writing.  I guess my recent trend has been to turn towards a new genre – specifically mysteries – when I am in hot pursuit of plot-driven stories, and feel the need to put my brain on cruise control (a plan which Dorothy L. Sayers soundly thwarted!). Well, for those of you who are similarly inclined, I warn you that The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster is anything but a passive read.  This was my first Auster and pretty much my mind was exploding and combusting throughout the entire thing, while I was frantically scrabbling about trying to pick up the pieces and get back on the narrative train.  I have pretty much decided that there’s no way for me to summarize any of the three novellas/short stories that make up this work, as a plot summary would fall so ridiculously short of capturing the heart of any of these pieces of fiction.   Also, it would probably be misleading to talk about the things that happen in these stories, because I kind of got the feeling that the plots (such as they were), were really just excuses for Auster to write about… non-plot things. Ostensibly they are detective stories, only they are driven by internal struggles and contemplations far more than they are by external factors.  Anything that happens in any of them does so merely to act as a catalayst to murky pontification on a myriad of subjects.  These are stories in which the things that happen are often confusing and befuddling, and maybe only important insofar as they illuminate and shed light on other things. Within The New York Trilogy, I would say Auster touches on topics of language, authors and authorship, identity, religion, solitude, and in the process manages to toss everything you thought you knew about fiction and narratives on its ear.  There is tons of metafiction going on here, which can be discombobulating, but also really illuminating.  This is the kind of book that while I read it, I wasn’t convinced that I fully got what was going on, but I still felt like my mind was expanding and that I was certainly gleaning something, however intangible and elusive it might be, from it. (more…)
20th October
2009
written by Steph
Sing it with me: Start at the very beginning...

Sing it with me: Start at the very beginning...

When it comes to selecting our next reads, Tony and I are VERY different.  I suppose you could call me an intuitive reader – I get a strong sense of the type of book I would like to read next, and select a book I feel will best mesh with those feelings and desires.  Sometimes I want a sad book, other times a lighthearted one.  Sometimes I really want to challenge myself and slowly push my way through a tricky read, while other times I need something fun or straightforward.  For me, there is nothing worse than reading the right book at the wrong time.  For Tony, there is no such thing.  The right book is always the right book; he can make a mental list of the books he wants to read, and then steadfastly make his way through it in order with little concern for whether the tone of what he just read might complement or detract from his next read.  Perhaps it’s a function of having so many books, but sometimes the choices overwhelm me and I agonize over what to read next, but Tony can always happily pluck something from a pile and begin to read with a breezy sense of laissez faire.  I hate that! 😉 Anyway, my point is that for me, context is key, and I think Gaudy Night exemplifies this in a lot of interesting ways.  I was in the mood for something fun, and I haven’t read a fullblown mystery novel in a while, so I decided to give my first Sayers novel a whirl.  I can’t remember exactly where I first heard of her, but I do know that this particular novel is recommended in Nancy Pearl’s Book Lust and I also remember reading somewhere at some time that it is not necessary to read these novels in any specific order.  I’ve spoken before at length about how I’m particular about my detective fiction – I like novels from the Golden Age, and I really like my mysteries to be set in England – so really, Gaudy Night (which takes place at Oxford University in the 1930s) should have been just the ticket. (more…)
16th October
2009
written by Steph
We Have Always Lived in the Castle

Ooooh... spooky!

After finishing Jane Eyre, I found my appetite whet for more gothic novels.  I’ve also been in the mood to read more female authors lately, as I realized that I have had a slight bias towards male authors this year.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I sometimes feel like female authors will write a gentler or more soothing novel, perhaps more emotional focusing on the inner life.  A broad brush for both sexes, I realize, but one of the reasons I picked up Jane Eyre is because I was feeling testosterone overload in my reading.  The issues in the books I was reading weren’t specifically male or anything like that, there was just something about the style and the slant that was mentally wearing me down.  I am probably not expressing this experience very eloquently or coherently, and I fully admit that I am perhaps more sensitive in my reading whims than others so I may be the only one who feels this way and picks up on the subtle nuances between male and female writers, but I guess all of this is to say that Dracula was out when it came to picking a spooky book!  But the immortal prince’s loss was Shirley Jackson’s gain, as this finally gave me the push I needed to pick up We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I realize this book has pretty much exploded around the book blogging stratosphere of late, especially with the R.I.P challenge in progress, so at this point I suspect there are few if any of you who are not at least aware of its existence.  I can’t say much about the plot of the book since this is one of those books where it’s best to go in knowing as little as possible, as Jackson slowly reveals information to you at just the right pace.  But the basic idea is that the Blackwood family has always been social outcasts amongst the small village in which they live, but this has only increased since the majority of them were mysteriously poisoned with arsenic one night, leaving behind young Mary Katherine (Merricat), her sister Constance (who was charged and acquitted for the murder of her family), and their ailing Uncle Julian.  Through Merricat’s eyes, we learn of how the two Blackwood sisters live an extremely isolated life, cut off from almost everyone except out of necessity.  Then one day, their cousin Charles shows up quite unexpectedly, and for one of the sisters, quite undesirably, and all of a sudden, the fraying threads that have been keeping their life in tact begin to break apart and everything begins to crumble… (more…)
15th October
2009
written by Steph
True Love Wills Out!

True Love Wills Out!

How’s that for turnaround time?  After taking about two weeks to read through the first two-thirds of the book, I positively raced through the last portion of this novel.  And what can I say: I LOVED it.  This may not have been the most important book I’ve read this year, nor perhaps even the most impressive, but it was fun to read from beginning to end and it ultimately captured my heart quite deftly.  I cannot say for certain that I did indeed read this book when I was younger, but I am definitely glad that I read it again now as in an odd way it reminded me of how I used to read when I was younger – purely for pleasure and purely to be swept away by a magnificent story.  I feel Jane Eyre definitely delivered on both those counts, as it was for me a whirlwind of emotion and a novel that really engrossed me.  The writing was lovely and evocative, the characters strong and luminescent, and as the temperature slowly begins to drop outside, I can hardly think of a better book to curl up with! (more…)
11th October
2009
written by Steph
The saga continues...

The saga continues...

This past week I’ve been slowly working my way through the second volume of Jane Eyre. Please don’t take my glacial progress as evidence that this second of three installments was difficult or the prototypical “middle child” of the book.  I’ve really been enjoying it A LOT, but there’s no denying I’ve been reading it slowly.  However, I can attribute this to two things: 1)   I was away at a conference for three days this week, which considerably cut into my reading time.  I got to read on planes, but other than that, I was inundated with science and group dinners the rest of the time, so Jane did languish a bit as a result 2)   This is simply a book that I’ve been having fun reading and just haven’t felt the need to rush through.  I’m enjoying the time I spend with the book, and as easy as it is to flip the pages, I feel I’m not doing so mindlessly but am instead really reveling in the time spent.  I feel like I am reading for the sake of reading, rather than for the sake of finishing the book.  Some people might not feel there is a distinction there, but for me there is!  And hey, we’re slowly embracing the “Slow Food” movement, so why not the “Slow Read” movement? (more…)
4th October
2009
written by Steph
As you can see, this wasn't actually called "Part the First", but it's more fun to call it that!

As you can see, this wasn't actually called "Part the First", but it's more fun to call it that!

Normally I don’t review or record my feelings about a book until I’ve done gone and finished the whole thing, although of course there are exceptions, such as with the 2666 read-along!  As Jane Eyre is likewise a rather epic novel, and also conveniently broken into parts (or volumes, as I believe they are actually called), I figured it might be nice to switch things up and post my interim reflections as I finish each part.  Also, this will mean you won’t have to wait three weeks (or however long it will take me to finish this sucker!) in radio silence.  Really, it’s win-win, I think!

So, Jane Eyre is a book that I was pretty sure I had read when I was maybe 11 or 12 in Grade 7 or 8.  It’s certainly one of those books about which I know the general plot, so it’s very hard for me to say whether in fact I have really read this book.  On the one hand, I kind of know what happens in it in terms of the big moments and the various twists, but on the other hand, as I embarked upon Part 1, nothing about it seemed very familiar at all!  I was surprised to find that the novel started with young Jane, as in my mind I thought the book only involved her trials and tribulations as a governess (when in fact it appears to be a fictional autobiography of sorts).  Moreover, I was even more startled to find that young Jane was so feisty and spirited!  For whatever reason, I had always thought Jane was puritanical and reserved, not the resilient young tornado who makes up the first half of this first volume.  I found myself actually quite enamored by the young Jane, and while I don’t always see that same fierce spark in the older Jane, I do think she is quite a wonderful leading lady.  I certainly am enjoying the feminist undertones that are emerging, though they do still feel quite nascent at this point in the novel. (more…)
30th September
2009
written by Steph
In a way, this book does dig its own grave...

In a way, this book does dig its own grave...

One of the nice things about going to a used bookstore where the merchandise is pretty much dirt cheap is that it allows me to be more adventurous with my reading choices.  I would never plonk down $14 on an unknown author, but when a book is only $2 or so, I feel I can take some risks.  When I found The Gravedigger by Peter Grandbois, the mentions of magical realism and comparisons to Gabriel Garcia Marquez made this a book I knew I wanted to read, even though I’d never heard anything else about it.  I decided to take a chance… but did it pan out? Before I talk about my reaction to the novel, the basic premise: Juan Rodrigo works as the gravedigger for a tiny rural village in Spain.  As undertaker, he is tasked with more than just burying the dead, he is also a gifted storyteller who is able to communicate with the spirits of the recently departed, sharing their life’s true story (both the highs and the lows) with all who remain behind in the land of the living in the hopes that he can ease their burdens and help them move on with their lives.  Both jobs come with quite the burden of responsibility, but Juan Rodrigo has one other important task he must undertake on a daily basis: raising his thirteen year-old daughter, Esperanza, who is as headstrong as her deceased mother.  And as Esperanza begins the fraught journey that every girl must take as she begins to blossom into a woman, Juan Rodrigo finds that this job is about become even more difficult. (more…)
27th September
2009
written by Steph
Book club pick for Sept/Oct

Book club pick for Sept/Oct

This book was selected for the upcoming meeting of my real-life book club.  I first read it back in 2004 or 2005 and enjoyed it so much that when I found a cheap copy at McKay’s during one of our initial visits, I bought it so that Tony could experience it.  If not for my bookclub, I’m not sure that I would have re-read it again any time soon, but I have to say the experience was not at all unwelcome. This seems to be one of those books that pretty much everyone has read, so I’m tempted not to give a synopsis.  Then again, judging from the way my bookclub voted (we are a bit different in the way we operate compared to most other clubs, I think: rather than a single person picking a book for us to read, the person in charge of organizing the meeting for that month picks 3 potential books and sends us the information.  We then all vote for which one we want, so that no single person can be held responsible should we not like the book! 😉 ), apparently there may be a hidden faction of individuals who are not familiar with this one.  So: the basic premise is that this novel revolves around a young, autistic narrator named Christopher.  Christopher has been tasked with writing a book for school, and we, the readers, are looking at the final result.  The story is told through Christopher’s eyes, which makes for an interesting and pretty unique reading experience given Christopher’s unusual way of looking at the world.  The novel’s main catalyst is Christopher’s discovery that his neighbor’s dog has been murdered, and he decides that he will discover who committed the crime.  Through his investigations he winds up uncovering a much larger secret that has been kept hidden for far too long, one that causes him to stretch and grow in ways he never thought possible. (more…)
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