Sunday, October 27, 2013

"Going Home Again" by Dennis Bock

Charlie Bellerose has returned to Canada, his marriage failed and his daughter remaining in Spain with her mother.  Upon his return he reunites with his brother Nate, with whom he has had a rather contentious relationship.  The past is the past and as both try to recover from failed marriages, they find themselves becoming a family again.

But a chance encounter with Charlie’s first love Holly brings his past back to the forefront as he remembers his college days in Montreal and the death of his best friend Miles.  While Charlie tries to deal with these memories, his job, and remaining a part of his daughter’s life, Nate finds himself caught up in a bit of trouble, falling for Holly’s sixteen-year-old daughter and bumping heads with his ex-wife and her new partner.  But neither expects what happens next.

Going Home Again by Dennis Bock is a novel about love, divorce, sibling rivalry, parenting, and mid-life crises.  In its pages are lives that are recognizable to most of us, it’s the everyday details of life and the troubles that come that this book is full of.

I liked the flow of Bock’s writing in this book, it was easy to read through, I enjoyed the way the past was brought into the present and how it all played out.  Charlie was a character I could enjoy and feel for, which is a big contrast to how I felt for his brother Nate.  I’m not sure if we’re supposed to dislike him or if Bock is presenting him as a person who is flawed but we should feel sympathy for.  All I know is I just couldn’t find anything in him that I could appreciate and I didn’t care too much for his parts of the story, even if they did make up a bit of the book.

This was an interesting read for me.  I liked the premise and Charlie’s memories of the past were wonderful to read.  I was very interested in his life in Montreal, how he fell in love with Holly, and his life in Spain.  As well, when he first returned to Canada, I was eager to see how it played out.  But then it dropped off from there for me.  The parts set in the present just didn’t grab me, they felt a little reaching.  

Maybe for me it’s the curse of reading a book that has been nominated, and short-listed, for a major literary award.  I’m expecting big things out of the novel, especially given the fact that books I have already read and enjoyed did not make the shortlist.  And those big things just didn’t come for me.  Is it the fault of the novel or my expectations?  Probably me, but no matter what, the book I was expecting just did not materialize.  This is a three star book for me, good but not great.  

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Two Award-Nominated Canadian Short Story Collections

In Hellgoing, Lynn Coady presents nine unique stories that present human nature in a funny and incredible way.  A young girl whose religious fanaticism leads her to anorexia and the nun who is charged of helping her, a couple involved in an S&M relationship, a bride who throws herself down the stairs in order to cope, these and many more interesting characters make up this award-nominated collection.

These are stories of flawed people with unusual problems and yet the characters come across the relatively few pages and make you like them.  The theme that runs through the book are people whose inner lives are at odds with the world they inhabit.

While I usually find that when I read a book short stories that a few stories stand out more for me than others, that wasn't the case here.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading every single story.  One really has to wonder what is going on in Coady's head, or who she meets in life, that she was able to bring these characters to life!  I'm not a big reader of short stories, I often find that a little too much is missing for me.  But this time around, I found the balance just right.  There is enough to the story to hold my interest but the right amount is left up to the imagination.  

I don't often feel confident enough to recommend a book of short stories, but this one I do.  Coady uncovers the things that live deep down inside of us, the things that people keep hidden and she brings them to the light of day in her pages.

Hellgoing has been shortlisted for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize and Rogers’ Writer Trust Prize.

How to Get Along With Women is Elisabeth de Mariaffi’s debut collection of short stories.  While the twelve stories in this book may not give you the advice suggested by the title, they do give you unique insight into female relationships.  With subjects such as love, friendship, loss, anxiety, and abuse, this book covers a variety of topics.  

My feelings about this book were typical of how I feel about short story collections, some stand out more than others.  In this book, there were two stories that really hit me - “The Astonishing Abercrombie” and “He Ate His French Fries in a Light-Hearted Way.”  In both of these stories I found the main characters to reach out and grab me, there were more to the stories than met the eye, and I really wanted to know more about everyone involved.  

But unfortunately, the rest of the stories did not do the same for me.  That is understandable though.  There are lots of other people out there who have felt differently about this book and the fact that it is an award-nominated book this year shows that it is worth picking up, especially if you’re a fan of short stories.  

A word of warning though: reading this book in public, say on the bus or in a waiting room like I did, will make for some very interesting looks toward you, given the fantastic title and cover.

How to Get Along With Women was long listed for this year’s Scotiabank Giller Prize.

Monday, October 21, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Last week's readathon definitely got me back to reading.  I've been accomplishing a lot more and reading a lot more each day.  It's a great feeling.  Unfortunately, I can't say the same for reviewing.  I really need to get things in gear and write all those reviews that are still waiting around!

What I Read Last Week
All three of the books I had started previously so I finished them all.  And The Orenda was such a long one it felt like reading a couple of books!

What I'm Reading Right Now
Going Home Again by Dennis Bock
What I Plan to Read Next
Cataract City by Craig Davidson, The Crooked Maid by Dan Vyleta

If I can get all three books finished this week then I have completed the Giller Prize shortlist.  I'm really hoping to do so, because then I'll be done the entire list before the prize is announced, something I haven't done yet!

Sunday, October 20, 2013

"The Orenda" by Joseph Boyden

Snow Falls, a young Iroquois girl, has witnessed the brutal murder of her family at the hands of a Huron warrior.  That warrior, Bird, sees in her the ghost of his murdered daughter and recognizes the special powers that Snow Falls possesses so he kidnaps her to take on the rest of his journey.  One member of Bird's group is Christophe, a Jesuit missionary who has devoted himself to learning the language and culture of the Huron in the hopes that he can bring them to Christ.

Bird's tribe have long been at war with other tribes but now they are facing a bigger threat, one that comes from overseas.  As we follow Snow Falls, Bird, and Christophe, we see a people desperately trying to hold on to their way of life and a people trying to lead them to a new life.  As these two worlds collide, life changes dramatically for everyone.

The Orenda is Joseph Boyden's incredible new novel that looks at the beginnings of our country and takes readers on an incredible journey into the history of our First Nations people.

Quite a few words come to mind when I think of this novel - sweeping, powerful, epic, breathtaking.  This is one of those novels that you think no one could undertake, that it just can't be written in a way that gets across the true story.  How does one put to the page the violence and savagery of people on both sides of the conflict while remaining respectful?   How can you accurately portray both the beauty and horror of generations of people?  But Boyden has done just that.

At the Word on the Street Festival in Toronto this year, Boyden explained the process of writing this novel.  He said how it took him two and a half years to write the first 50 pages of the book because of the burden that was on him to tell the story right.  But after receiving the blessings of First Nations elders to write this book, it took him only 14 months to write the next almost 450 pages.

I loved the art of storytelling used in this book.  There isn't one big main event, there isn't one main theme.  Rather, it is an overall history of a people, beautifully told.  You don't even notice the length of the novel, you're just wrapped up in the book.  Yes, at times it is violent and gruesome but set against the rest of the story it is necessary and acceptable.  

The Orenda is one of those books.  When people talk of the great Canadian novel, this will surely be mentioned.  It will be discussed in classrooms for years to come.  But this novel is not just a Canadian book, it's bigger than that and one I highly recommend to all readers.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

"Caught" by Lisa Moore

Twenty-five-year-old David Slaney has escaped from prison.  After being caught in the waters of Newfoundland bringing marijuana back from Colombia, he was sent to jail.  But he's out now and he wants back in the drug trade.  In addition to evading the police and capture, Slaney is heading across Canada to find his old partner so he can make his way to Mexico and back to Colombia.  But he isn't the only one on this fugitive journey, close behind him is a detective who plans to make this high-profile arrest no matter what it takes.

Caught, by Lisa Moore, is a thrilling, fast-paced novel that takes you on an escapade across Canada, down to South America and back and will almost have you cheering for the guy that has escaped from prison.  

Set in the late 1970's, there's a retro feel to the book, making it easy to feel like you're back in a different time.  The way that Slaney and his friend Hearn planned to smuggle drugs into the country had me laughing, thinking "that's how people used to do it?"  But it was a different time and a different way than we're used to.  

As Slaney crosses the country he meets various people who are willing to help him and others who want to turn in him, as well as reuniting with the woman he was with when he went to prison.  As he tries to outrun the police we see him also try to outrun his mistakes.

A departure from what Moore usually writes, at first glance this doesn't seem like it would be considered a work of literary genius, but her writing takes a sensational plot and turns it into a good work of literary fiction.  Even though you believe you see the ending coming (and what happens is probably what you're expecting), it doesn't lose your interest.

While much of the book is about character development and there are quite a few characters to sink your teeth into, there really is only one who stood out for me, Slaney.  I love a book where the character really shouldn't be loveable given what he's done, but the author writes them so beautifully you find yourself (if only for a brief time) on their side.  He was the only one I felt a pull toward, an understanding of.  I kind of wish there had been a bit more to Hearn, though I wonder if maybe I was just missing something.  The same with the police detective.  There was a lot I was left wondering as to how they were involved in all of this.

I really appreciated how along Slaney's journey from one end of Canada to the other, Moore knew when to just let him travel and when to stop and have a visit.  By this I mean, she didn't drag out the journey for the sake of it, nor did she quickly skip over it and into the caper.  There is just enough on either side, a book that pulls you through page after page without getting long or pointless.  It is the same with Slaney's journey south.

There is a nice balance to this book that I think will appeal to a variety of readers.  There is a combination of literary fiction and thriller that will fans of both genres wrapped up in the novel. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

Happy Thanksgiving all!  This is our last day of a four day weekend.  This year we decided to enjoy the holiday just the four of us and not go anywhere.  It's been a wonderful lazy four days.  Saturday was also Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon and I was able to devote a very good chunk of the day to reading.

What I Read Last Week:
Caught by Lisa Moore is shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Roger's Writer Trust Prize this year.  The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich is a historical fiction novel about a Jewish midwife who delivers a baby for Christian nobility. 

What I'm Reading Now
All three of these books were started last week, two during the readathon.  So this week will be devoted to finishing them.  The Orenda by Joseph Boyden was longlisted for the Giller Prize and shortlisted for the Governor General's Fiction Award.  Hellgoing by Lynn Coady was shortlisted for the Giller Prize and the Roger's Writer's Trust Prize.  And Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding is, well, Bridget Jones.

What Are You Reading This Week?

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon!

It's over!

Another readathon has come to an end.  This one definitely gave me the push I needed to get back into a reading blitz.  I see good things ahead for me and this blog!  Now it is time for the final survey.

1)  Which hour was most daunting for you.
Around 8pm I started to feel very tired and that's when my husband asked if I wanted to watch a movie and it was very tempting to put my book down.  So I read for another hour and a bit and then went and watched the movie.  And fell asleep after.

2)  Could you list a few high-interest books that you think could keep a Reader engaged for next year?
Definitely Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding.  It's a big book but it's so easy to read straight through.  You can't help but love Bridget!

3)  Do you have any suggestions for how to improve the readathon next year?/ 4)  What do you think worked really well in the readathon?
No suggestions, you guys have this all planned out and running smoothly.  The Twitter presence this year was fantastic, I think I spent more time networking on Twitter than on my computer and I feel as though I met a lot more people this year.

5)  How many books did you read/ 6)  What were the names of the books?
2 completed, 2 more started.  Caught by Lisa Moore, The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich, Hellgoing by Lynn Coady and Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding.

7) Which book did you enjoy the most?/ 8) Which book did you enjoy the least?
I was thrilled to start Bridget Jones but other than that I didn't have a favourite or least favourite, I chose four really good books.

10)  How likely are you to participate in the next readathon?
Very likely.  This is a regular event for me so as long as I don't have any pressing engagements that day, I will be here.  April seems so far away!

Final Tally
Total time spend reading: 8.5 hours
Total books finished: 2
Total pages read: 736

Mid-Event Survey

Hooray for the halfway mark!

1)  How are you doing? Sleepy? Are your eyes tired?
Good.  Yes.  And yes.  I'm starting to feel tired now.  Think I'll get up, head down to the store and pick up some snacks.  I think I can get a few more hours out of me before I fall asleep.  Though I think first, I shall watch my distraction show (Project Runway.)

2)  What have you finished reading?
Caught by Lisa Moore and The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich.  I'm currently reading Hellgoing by Lynn Coady and I have cheated myself a bit and gone ahead and started Bridget Jones.

3)  What is your favourite read so far?
Luckily, I've liked all the books I have picked up.  I think Caught is my favourite though.

4)  What about your favourite snacks?
Definitely the Vanilla Dip doughnut I got from Tim Horton's.  It's been my favourite doughnut ever since I was a kid (it has sprinkles!)

5)  Have you found any new blogs through the readathon?
I had the pleasure of meeting Kristilyn from Reading In Winter today on Twitter.  She is a fellow Canadian and it turns out we're both reading Hellgoing today!

Update 2
Time spent reading: 4 hours
Pages read: 372
Books read: 2 ("Caught" by Lisa Moore, "The Midwife of Venice" by Roberta Rich)

Total time spent reading: 6.5 hours
Total pages read: 552
Total books read: 2

This afternoon gave me a good chunk of time to read while everyone else napped, read, or watched television.  I have one more book to finish then it's on to Bridget Jones, which has been my biggest motivator today.

Update 1
Time spent reading: 2.5 hours
Pages read: 180

I managed to get a couple of hours of reading in this morning.  I thought my kids would sleep in, since they went to bed late last night, and that would give me a few hours on my own to read but they were up bright and early before 8am.  Now that swim lessons are done though, I should be able to devote the next few hours to reading.

How are you doing?

It's here!  It's here!  Time to get things started.  A quick intro before I dive into my books.

1) What fine part of the world are you reading from today?
I'm in the beautiful city of Toronto, Ontario.  The weather is unseasonably beautiful and it is Thanksgiving long weekend.  A perfect time for a readathon.
2)  Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?
That would be my 4th book, the brand new Bridget Jones book.  I'm saving that for the end as my motivation.
3)  Which snack are you most looking forward to?
Yeah, I didn't enough time to grocery shopping yesterday so I'm not prepared on that front.  Thankfully, there is a convenience store in my building so I won't have to go far when I want something.  I do have my lovely teas from Teavana ready to go and I'm most looking forward to trying the Chocolate Bananas Foster tea.
4)  Tell us a little something about yourself.
I'm a stay at home mom to two young kids who for the first time are both in school full day!  So I'm enjoying my days to myself though they seem to be just as busy as when the kids are home.
5)  If you participated in a previous readathon, what is one thing you will do different today?
Read more.  I like the routine I seem to have found for readathons, so this time around I'm hoping to be able to last a bit longer.  I have my distractions planned this time around so I hope I don't get thrown too far off course.

Happy Reading Everyone!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon

It's that time of year again!  Tomorrow is Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon.  I really enjoy participating in this.  Though I never read as much as I hope, I read much more than I usually do in a weekend and I like that.

This is me all prepared for the readathon.  I have chosen 4 books I really want to get through and that I think will be a good mix to keep me interested.  The first is The Midwife of Venice by Roberta Rich which I'm already halfway through.  The second is Hellgoing by Lynn Coady which is a collection of short stories.  This will be good for when I'm taking the kids to swimming lessons and I like to include one short story collection because I can read the stories in between other books or when I'm getting tired.  The third book is Caught by Lisa Moore, which is probably what I will start with since it looks to be the most serious of books I chose.  The fourth book is Bridget Jones: Mad About the Boy by Helen Fielding which of course is highly anticipated.  I think this will be my motivation to push through the first three books!  I have also got a great selection of teas from Teavana to accompany my reading.

Are you participating in the readathon?  What do you plan to read this weekend?

Thursday, October 10, 2013

"Minister Without Portfolio" by Michael Winter

Henry Hayward's life has come to a dead end.  His girlfriend has left him, his work is uninspiring, and he has nothing to call his own.  When an opportunity comes up to go to Afghanistan as an army-affiliated contractor, he sees it as a chance to get over his heartbreak and jumps at it.  But one day, while on routine patrol, everything changes for Henry.  A roadside attack takes the life of his friend Tender Morris.  When Henry returns home to Newfoundland, he is tormented by the guilt that he is responsible for Tender's death.  

Back at home, Henry takes it upon himself to care for the people and places that were important to Tender.  Henry buys and begins to rebuild Tender's summer home.  And soon, he begins to care for Martha, Tender's pregnant girlfriend.  But what he isn't prepared for is Tender's family history and the trials that small-town life can bring.

Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter is an honest and insightful look into love and human nature.  Like a government minister with no specific responsibilities, Henry Hayward has no responsibilities in life until one life-changing moment in Afghanistan.  But in the spirit of the position of minister without portfolio, he can try his hand at anything, which is why he is granted this nickname.  Readers will relate to his search for meaning and responsibility in life and devour his journey bit by bit.

While at first glance it may seem like there isn't much to the story, that is where the incredible and skilled writing comes in.  This book has an effortless and distinct Atlantic Canadian voice that draws you in to the simplicity of Henry's life.

For me personally, the story wasn't enough to keep glued to the book, but the writing was so wonderful that I wanted to keep going.  And the story definitely picked up for me as I went along.  I think what didn't make this book a winner for me was I just couldn't connect with the characters.  But I can understand that other readers will feel much more strongly about this book than I did.

I saw Michael Winter speak at this years Word on the Street in Toronto and he spoke about drawing on real-life experiences for this book including one particularly worrying scene involving an incinerator.  Knowing this makes me even more interested in his writing as I think he used great skill to weave this and other stories of his own into the novel.  I find it particularly interesting that were certain stories he didn't include because he didn't want the novel to become unbelievable!  

Of all the books on the Giller Prize long list this year, this isn't my favourite but it's certainly not one I would shy away from recommending to others.  I think it captures the Atlantic Canadian voice wonderfully  and is a uniquely Canadian novel.

Monday, October 7, 2013

It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

It's Monday! What Are You Reading? is a weekly meme hosted by Sheila at Book Journey.

My poor little blog has been feeling neglected over the last few months and rightfully so.  It took a lot longer to get into the new school year routine than I had expected.  Between the schedules of two different schools, a community project, and a three time a week French class, things are busier than I expected and unfortunately, my reading has taken a backseat.

But it's now literary award season in Canada and there are ton of great books that I'm hoping to read by the time the awards are presented in November so I've got tons of motivation to get back to the blog.  And Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon is coming up on Saturday so that should give me the kick in the pants I need!

What I Read Last Week
 Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter is nominated for the Giller Prize this year, the story of a man who returns from Afghanistan and takes to building the house of his friend who killed on duty, as well as caring for the man's wife.

What I'm Reading Now
The Orenda by Joseph Boyden is the story of three people - Bird, Snow Falls, and Christophe.  Bird is a Huron warrior and has captured Snow Falls, an Iroquois girl and Christophe, a Jesuit missionary.  It has been nominated for the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award.

This book is 486 pages long so I imagine it will take me much of the week to read.

What I Plan to Read Next

How to Get Along With Women by Elisabeth de Mariaffi is a collection of short stories about power, identity and sexuality.  It is nominated for the Giller Prize.  

What Are You Reading This Week?