Sunday, November 30, 2014

Month In Review

If there was one major theme in my reading this month, it's Christmas!  I read quite a lot of festive Chick Lit and absolutely enjoyed it.  It definitely got me in a wintery mood, now I just need the snow to start falling!

Here is what I read in November, with Goodreads ratings:

One Hundred Christmas Proposals by Holly Martin *****
The Great Christmas Knit-off by Alexandra Brown *****
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O'Neill ****
Christmas at the Beach Café by Lucy Diamond ****
Christmas Gifts at the Beach Café by Lucy Diamond ****
A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale ****
The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver ****
Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café by Rebecca Raisin****
Pastoral by André Alexis ****
Waiting For the Man by Arjun Basu ***

Canadian Book Challenge (3), Diversity in Books (2), TBR Pile (0), Classics Club (0)

What I'm Looking Forward to in December
December is always a month of odds and ends for me reading wise.  Books I bought that I didn't get around to, finishing up challenges (or at least trying to), books that were sent for review.  It will definitely be a diverse month of reading.  And of course, I need to read 5 more books to get to my goal of reading 100 books this year.

How was your reading month in November? What are you looking forward to reading in December?

Friday, November 28, 2014

"The Great Christmas Knit-Off" by Alexandra Brown

After being left at the altar, Sybil threw herself into knitting to cope with her heartbreak.  Her house is full of knitted goodies but other than that, her life is a mess.  And she may just be responsible for a major mix-up at work.  What Sybil needs is to get away for a little bit.  

Just a few weeks before Christmas, she sets off for the charming village of Tindledale, where her best friend Cher lives.  And it is there that she discovers the delightful Hettie’s House of Haberdashery, a store dedicated to knitting and needlecraft.  But Hettie, the store’s owner, is struggling and her nephew is doing everything he can to put her in a home and close down the shop.

When Hettie gives Sybil an opportunity to display her beautifully hand-knitted Christmas jumpers in the shop, the community responds in a positive manner.  And the ladies soon realize that together, they may just be able to save Hettie’s store.  All it will take is a bit of community spirit and a whole lot of yarn.

The Great Christmas Knit-Off is the start of a new series by Alexandra Brown, author of the Carrington’s department store series.  And I loved this novel just as much as I loved that series (which is a whole lot.)

You don’t have to be a knitter to enjoy this book, but if you are you’ll find a whole lot of extra fun in this book.  As an amateur knitter who never seems to finish anything (or as my husband puts it, only seems to knit squares), it made me want to grab my needles and get back into the hobby.

Lots of novels involve plots with a character who is down in the dumps and makes a big mess of things and then runs off.  But this has a great twist to that, taking place in a wonderful winter setting and bringing the community together through a fun hobby.  All the knitting aside (which honestly doesn’t make up the entire book), it is a very lovely story.

I pre-ordered this book and the day it arrived on my tablet, I woke up, made sure it was there, took my kids to school, then came home and read.  And I didn’t stop reading until I finished the book.  Alexandra Brown is such a wonderful writer and her words just flow through the pages.  She is great at making you feel as though you are right there in the book with the characters and she can whisk you away to far-off places in an instant.  

This is a fantastic holiday book that you can read and enjoy at any time of year.  I can’t wait for more Tindledale books!

Thursday, November 27, 2014

"Family Furnishings" by Alice Munro

I have a terrible confession to make.  I, Shan, lover of Canadian literature and really all things Canadian, have never read anything by Alice Munro.  That’s right, celebrated writer of stories that scream Canada, our first winner of the Nobel Prize for literature, Alice Munro.  But I can proudly say that I am now able to change that statement.

Family Furnishings is the newest collection of short stories by Munro, twenty-four stories selected from the last two decades.  It is a companion volume to her previous Selected Stories (1964-1994.) At 640 pages, this is a book you will treasure and devour slowly.  Most short story collections you can read straight through, this is one you will spend a lot of valuable time with.

I’m a big fan of CanLit that takes you inside the treasury of quaint small-towns we have.  Munro situates most of her stories here, presenting a uniquely Canadian way of life.  Her writing is flawless and beautiful.  I was blown away by how consistent her stories are, each one as good as the next.  Most of the time when I read short story collections there are stories I love and stories I can do without, but that is not the case here.  I felt the same way about every story, and for me, that is a pretty big deal.

Munro’s stories are about real people.  People we know in our everyday lives.  People who are trying to find their way just like us.  It doesn’t get any more real this.  Munro captures our world just as it is in her writing and you feel fulfilled when you read it.

In her video shown at the Nobel Prize award ceremony, Munro said, 

“Oh, well, I want my stories to move people, I don't care if they are men or women or children. I want my stories to be something about life that causes people to say, not, oh, isn't that the truth, but to feel some kind of reward from the writing, and that doesn't mean that it has to be a happy ending or anything, but just that everything the story tells moves the reader in such a way that you feel you are a different person when you finish.”

I would say that she has accomplished this.  

(Read the transcript of the video here or watch it here.)

I received a copy of this book courtesy of Random House of Canada.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Winter TBR

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week we are talking about Winter TBR's.  And I wanted to share all of the Christmas books I had on my TBR list this year.  In the past I've never really read many Christmas novels but last year we went on away to ski country for the winter holidays and I took a few Christmas chick-lit books with me.  The whole scene was perfect and I enjoyed the books so much so I thought this year I would read more.  And they are definitely getting me into the holiday spirit.  So here is my list (with links to the reviews I have already posted):

1.  A Proper Family Christmas - Chrissie Manby
2.  How the In-Laws Wrecked Christmas - Fiona Gibson
4.  Difficult Husbands - Mary de Laszlo
5.  One Hundred Christmas Proposals - Holly Martin
6.  Hello From the Gillespies - Monica McInnerney
7.  The Great Christmas Knit-Off - Alexandra Brown
9.  The Little Christmas Kitchen - Jenny Oliver
10.  Christmas at the Beach Café and Christmas Gifts at the Beach Café - Lucy Diamond

What is on your winter TBR?

Monday, November 24, 2014

"One Hundred Christmas Proposals" by Holly Martin

The last time we saw Harry and Suzie, he had set out on the mission to find the perfect proposal for Suzie, organizing one hundred proposals taking place around the world.  Suzie thought it was all just for their business, Perfect Proposals, but Harry was serious about marrying Suzie.  When we left them, they had just gotten engaged.

Now Harry and Suzie are back with a bigger task - organizing one hundred proposals in the month of December alone.  Add to this the task of planning their first Christmas together as a couple and a surprise visit from the parents, and they quickly find themselves wondering if their relationship can make it through the holidays in tact.

One Hundred Christmas Proposals by Holly Martin is the delightful holiday novella to follow-up the incredible One Hundred Proposals.  Fans of the first book will be very excited to see what Harry and Suzie are getting up to following Harry’s incredible proposal.

I was so excited when I heard about this novella.  The first book left me wanting so much more (in a good way) and I was secretly wishing that Martin would be re-visiting these characters.  I didn’t realize that it was going to happen so soon.

The only thing better than a Christmas story set in England is one that involves marriage proposals!  Harry and Suzie have outdone themselves, planning one hundred romantic proposals in the month of December.  It is absolutely lovely to read about the various ways that people can propose around England.  Holly Martin has such a unique idea here and it makes for very romantic books.

If there is ever a time for a romantic story, Christmas is it.  And this book will have you melting despite the cold weather outside.  Martin is a very talented writer and if you are a fan of sweet, romantic reads you need to pick up one of her books.  

Friday, November 21, 2014

"A Christmas to Remember" by Jenny Hale

Carrie Blake loves her job.  As a nanny, she spends all day nurturing and playing with children.  But they are other people’s children.  In her thirties, she’s starting to feel the pain of not being able to share these wonderful moments with her own family.  She is about to take on one more job for the Christmas holiday and then her mission will be to find a new career and a love life.

Single-dad Adam Fletcher is handsome and successful, but he is always working.  And his children are missing out because of it.  Even though his children are with him for the holidays, work comes first, and so he hires a highly recommended nanny to care for the children.

When Carrie arrives at the Fletcher household, she is dismayed at what she sees. Polite, adorable children, who need more than what money can buy.  And so she sets out on a mission to make Adam see that it’s time for him to put his family first.  But what she doesn’t expect to happen is to find herself falling not just for the children, but for their father.

A Christmas to Remember by Jenny Hale is a lovely story about the romantic and miraculous nature of Christmas.  If you’re looking for a beautifully festive read this holiday season, this is a great choice.

I really enjoyed this book.  Carrie is a nanny who is taking on a short-term job over the Christmas holidays.  She is surprised when she arrives to find that the children have very little in the way of a relationship with their father and she sets out to change that.  Which I have to admit, in the beginning made me think that I wasn’t going to like Carrie very much.  I mean, who is she to just walk into the home and tell people that how they are living their life is wrong.  

But with the introduction of Adam’s family, the dynamic in the house changes and Carrie soon becomes like a part of the family.  And this is where the story really develops and it’s easy to fall for character likes Carrie and Adam.

Christmas, romance, warmth, and family, this book has everything you need for a good book to curl up with when the wind is howling outside.  There are times in the book where it may seem like it is going to become predictable but trust me, read on.  If you love a good holiday romance, pick this one up.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

"Pastoral" by André Alexis

Father Christopher Pennant has been sent to his very first parish, the sleepy little town of Barrow, Ontario.  A town that has more sheep than people, it looks to be a great place to start out.  But for some people, Barrow isn’t as idyllic as it seems.  Elizabeth Denny is a young woman whose fiancé can’t choose between the sweet woman he is engaged to and the more worldly Jane.  Elizabeth turns to Father Pennant for advice, but he is dealing with a crisis of faith when he witnesses three miracles of nature, including a mayor who walks on water.  

Pastoral, by André Alexis, is a beautiful and simple novel that looks at the simplicity of rural life through a fresh lens.  Based on Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, the Pastoral, it is a definite stand out from the pack.  

This is a wonderful book to read, a book of simplicity yet with so much underneath, just like the town itself.  Alexis said that he wrote this as an ode to Lambton Country in Ontario, where he lived after immigrating to Canada from Trinidad, and his affection shows.  What absolutely drew me in about this book was the fact that you could not tell what time period you are in.  Sure there are cars and telephones, but that could span numerous decades.  Either way, if you’re reading this book in the city, you are magically transported to a much easier place.

This is a short book, 160 pages, but it is packed full of interesting characters.  It is great to discover these people and what they are about along with Father Pennant, and the Father himself is a great character as he finds his beliefs and his faith tested.  

Over the past two months I have read a lot of Canadian Literature and this is one of the books that shines bright in the crowd.  It’s depiction of life in small-town Ontario is simple, to the point, lovely, and lyrical.  This is Can Lit.

Pastoral was shortlisted for the 2014 Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize and is very deserving of this nod.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Sequels I Can't Wait to Get

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

This week is all about sequels, and since we're coming up on a new year I've got a list of books I can't wait to get.  But few of them are sequels.  There are definitely 5 books (actually 6, two are from the same series) that I'm absolutely looking forward to.

1. China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan - the sequel to Crazy Rich Asians, the book is about a woman who is about to marry Asia's most eligible bachelor.  I love reading about the incredible social circle these people travel in.

2. Marrying Mr. Darcy series by Katie Oliver - this is the follow up to the Dating Mr. Darcy series.  This one includes And the Bride Wore Prada and Love, Lies, and Louboutins.

3. A Proper Family Christmas by Chrissie Manby - the sequel to A Proper Family Holiday.  I loved the Benson family can't wait to see how things go with the introduction of a long-lost family member.

4. The Hungry Ghosts by Peggy Blair - the Inspector Ramirez series is fantastic. I thoroughly enjoyed The Beggar's Opera and The Poisoned Pawn and I've been looking forward to this book for quite a while now.

5. A Blessing & A Curse by Victoria Christopher Murray and ReShonda Tate Billingsley - First Ladies Jasmine Cox Larson Bush and Rachel Jackson Adams are back.  It’s always a scandalously good time when these ladies get together.

What sequels are you looking forward to? 

Monday, November 17, 2014

"The Little Christmas Kitchen" by Jenny Oliver

When sisters Ella and Maddy were young, their parents divorced and the girls were split up.  Ella grew up in London with their father and Maddy in Greece with their mother.  Over the years, the family grew apart, with the girls becoming two very different people.  But this Christmas, the family is going to be thrown back together.

When Ella finds out that her husband is cheating on her, she makes a quick escape to the only place she can think of, her mothers taverna in Greece.  Maddy is dreaming of a white Christmas and jets off to London to take a singing gig, but that leads her right into the path of her father.  It may seem like the sisters have done a life swap but it becomes much, much more.  As the girls each find themselves cooking up a storm in the others kitchen for Christmas, they find themselves coming to terms with the past.  And they both realize that the only thing missing this Christmas is each other.

The Little Christmas Kitchen by Jenny Oliver is a delightful novel about food, family, and the magic of both at Christmastime.  An absolutely delightful read, this book will get you right into the Christmas spirit.

I loved this sweet book.  I’m a sucker for a book that takes place in England at Christmas and discovering it all at the same time as Maddy is absolutely enjoyable.  But just in case you’re already tired of the cold and the snow, you also get the sun and sea of Greece.  It is two magical Christmas holidays in one.

The book alternates back and forth between Ella and Maddy, England and Greece.  I really enjoyed that method in this book.  With the girls being so different, you expect that you would like one more than the other, especially Ella who at first comes across as cold and distant. But both of these characters were wonderful as were all of the supporting characters.

The book does have a bit of a slow start but don’t let that put you off.  Once the girls are back in each others lives and then swapping lives, the book is very enjoyable.  If you’re looking for a sweet Christmas read, I definitely recommend this one.

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

"Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café" by Rebecca Raisin

The snow is falling in Ashford, Connecticut, the Christmas holidays are here, and the wedding of the year is just around the corner!  Lily, owner of the Gingerbread Café, is planning the day of her dreams, a Christmas Eve wedding to her incredible fiancé Damon.

Everything is falling right into place….until her mother-in-law arrives.  Lily can’t figure out why but for some reason, Olivia doesn’t seem to want this wedding to take place.  Already stressed out from planning for the big day and dealing with the bustling festive activity at her café, this is definitely something she doesn’t need.  Will Lily make it down the aisle with her sanity in tact?

Christmas Wedding at the Gingerbread Café is the deliciously festive third book in Rebecca Raisin’s Gingerbread Café series.  Set in a small village, this book is chock full of loveable characters, funny moments, and sweet treats.

I didn’t realize when I picked up this book that it is part of a series (I seem to be doing that a lot lately.)  But it’s okay, because this book is a great read all on its own.  The only reason why you’d want to start at the beginning of the series is to see the relationship between Lily and Damon develop but you can still enjoy this book just as much without it.

This is a great novel for the Christmas season, one to curl up with when it is snowing outside.  The village of Ashford is the perfect setting and Raisin whisks you right off to it.  I absolutely loved all of the characters, especially Lily and Damon as well Lily’s loveable friend, Southern-gal CeeCee.  What a great mix of personalities.

I also enjoyed how this book started out 10 days before the wedding and is a countdown to the big day by making each chapter one day.  This adds to the excitement of it all.  I was expecting a bit more craziness to it, it’s evident that there are going to be things popping up along the way that cause mix-ups and disasters.  I don’t think I got as much mayhem as I was expecting.  But this is a lovely, heart-warming book about a woman marrying the man of her dreams in the wedding of her dreams.

Make sure you have lots of warm beverages and baked treats on hand when you sit down to read this book, it will definitely have your mouth-watering!

I received a copy of this book courtesy of the publisher through Netgalley.  The opinions expressed above are my own.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Characters Who Should Get Their Own Book

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

So this is one list that was difficult for me to come up with ten but of which a few immediately jumped out at me.  Here are the characters that I wish would get their own books:

Eddie from the Carrington's series by Alexandra Brown - Eddie is the fabulous best friend every woman needs, especially at work.  And throughout the series we see him get this fab new life and become a reality star so I think that this entire journey should be chronicled in its own book.

All of the guests in The Guestbook by Holly Martin - In this book, Annie connects with the people who are staying in her guesthouse and they all share little bits of their stories.  It's a wonderful book but the problem is, we don't get the whole story!  So many backstories that could be written, especially of the young family so I want to read about them all.

Charmaine from A Cinderella Christmas by Holly Kingston - not only did I love this book and this character, I read her the entire time in the voice of Helen Flanagan aka Rosie Webster from Coronation Street.  I'd totally read a whole book about Charmaine's life.

Samantha, Charlotte, and Miranda from Sex and the City by Candace Bushnell - if Carrie can get her own prequels (The Carrie Diaries, Summer in the City), then the rest of the ladies deserve their own.  Plus, I want to see them all meet.

Monday, November 10, 2014

2014 Scotiabank Giller Prize

Tonight, the Scotiabank Giller Prize will be awarded to one very deserving and talented Canadian writer.  This year, the prize has been super-sized, with each finalist earning $10,000 and the winner taking home $100,000.

Each year I try to read as many of the long listed books as I can before the winner is announced and this year has been my most successful thus far.  I managed to read 11 of the 12 long listed books, this includes all of the short listed books.  And what an incredible list it was.  Here are the nominees, the first 6 being the shortlisted books:

The Betrayers by David Bezmozgis
Tell by Frances Itani
Us Conductors by Sean Michaels
The Girl Who Was Saturday Night by Heather O’Neill
All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews
The Ever After of Ashwin Rao by Padma Viswanathan

Waiting For the Man by Arjun Basu
American Innovations by Rivka Galchen
Watch How We Walk by Jennifer Lovegrove
Moving Forward Sideways Like a Crab by Shani Mootoo
Paradise and Elsewhere by Kathy Page
My October by Claire Holden Rothman

My Prediction: I think that All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews should win.  Not just because it has already won the Rogers Writers' Trust Prize for Fiction this year but because it is a beautiful, emotional, tender, and heartbreaking novel.  The flood of emotions is incredible, you’ll be both laughing and crying over such a sensitive subject, and as I mentioned in my review the writing style is tender but packs a big punch.  While there are so many great books on this list, this was the standout for me.

Which book do you think will win the Giller Prize this year?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"The Girl Who Was Saturday Night" by Heather O'Neill

Nineteen-year-old Nouschka Tremblay and her twin brother Nicolas spent their childhood in the Quebec limelight, the only children of famed singer and separatist, Étienne.  He would parade them on talk shows whenever his happy family was needed for his fame and then dumped with their decrepit grandfather Loulou before he disappeared.  For their entire lives, it was the twins against the world.

But now that they are on the cusp of adulthood, Étienne’s fame is gone and the twins are on their own.  Nicolas has turned to a life of petty crime, with every misstep being broadcast on the front pages of the tabloids.  But Nouschka is the one who stands a fighting chance.  She has enrolled in school and is quickly coming to the realization that if she is going to make it in this world, she may need to leave her brother behind.

The Girl Who Was Saturday Night, by Heather O’Neill, is a profound and touching novel about the price of fame and the bonds of family.  Set in Montreal in the days leading up to the 1995 referendum, it is a story of love and belonging, politics and relationships.

If you’re looking for a novel about a dysfunctional family this it.  There is no better family than the Tremblays to explore the theme of how our childhood informs our present.  It took me a little while to understand Nouschka, but the more I read the more I warmed up to her, finally seeing her as a girl who just wants to do right but doesn’t quite know what that is.  And who can blame her based on her upbringing.  

There is no doubt that O’Neill is a talented author.  Her writing feels effortless and yet it packs so much into it.  It is definitely one of those books where you think, I’ll just sit down and read a couple chapters then suddenly realize you’ve read most of the book.  You get lost in her words and incredible descriptions.

I picked up this book because it was nominated for the Giller Prize and the separatist themes that run through the book are definitely reminiscent of another nominated book, My October.  But the books present it in very different manners.  I felt with this one it was much more focused on the individual rather than collective feeling, and I think that this book would be much better for people outside of Canada to read and get a feeling of what this issue means in Quebec and in Canada.

Overall this was an enjoyable book.  Definitely one where you want to give a lot of time in one sitting.  I read this book in a week when I was doing a lot of running around and travelling by transit and this definitely wasn’t that kind of book.  I’d be immersed in it when I arrived at my destination and didn’t want to stop reading.  I think all that picking it up and putting it down ruined the reading experience a bit for me.  So make yourself a large pot of tea or coffee and settle in on a cold winter day with this book, you won’t regret it.

Friday, November 7, 2014

"Tell" by Frances Itani

It is just a few months after the Great War has ended and the people of Deseronto, Ontario are trying to put the pieces back together.  Kenan, a young soldier, confines himself to his house, damaged and disfigured from his time at the Front.  His wife, Tress, is struggling to adjust to the man who has returned and trying to help him deal with his trauma.  She turns to her Aunt Maggie for advice.

But Maggie and her husband, Am, have their own struggles.  An incident from the past lies unspoken between them.  When Maggie begins rehearsing with the Choral Society, she discovers a part of herself she thought was left in the past.  And as this happens, she draws closer to the Music Director, Lukas, a man who has just recently moved to town from Europe.

As these people go about their daily lives, struggling to find a new normal, they find themselves entwined with each other, and figuring out just what they will share and what they will hide from those who are closest to them.

Tell, by Frances Itani, is a moving novel about the burdens we carry and how the choices we make, even the ones to protect ourselves, can come back to hurt us.  

The setting of a small town in Ontario drew me in, especially since it is set in the months following WW1.  It reminded me of stories I heard from my grandmother, of how life changed because of the war and how people struggled to find a new way to live.  

This is a very unassuming novel, one whose purpose is to quietly hit you with the strength and emotion of the characters.  Unfortunately, for me, it never quite “hit.”  It is an enjoyable story, one that is easy to read.  But I never felt like the emotion came out of the pages.  I never felt much connection to the characters.  The writing style was absolutely beautiful, but the storyline fell flat for me.

This is the first piece of work by Itani I have read and given her achievements in the CanLit world, I’m not going to let it be my last.  This one just wasn’t my cup of tea and that happens.  This book has been shortlisted for the Giller Prize and I know many readers out there really enjoyed it so this is still one I would recommend to others looking for a CanLit read.  

Thursday, November 6, 2014

"Waiting for the Man" by Arjun Basu

Joe is a very successful advertising copywriter for a very successful New York company.  But despite his success, he is increasingly becoming disillusioned with his job and with life.  When a mysterious man begins to appear in his dreams and then he begins seeing this man on the streets, his life takes a very drastic turn.

The man tells Joe to wait.  And so he does.  Joe sits down on the front steps of his home and waits.  For instructions.  For direction.  He knows that this man will tell him to do, he just needs to find out what he wants him to do.

Soon, people begin to take notice of Joe.  Before he knows it, he’s the new viral sensation.  People are coming from all over the world to see Joe, companies are wanting to sponsor his “wait,” and he is everywhere in the media.  But he continues to wait.  And then the man finally gives him what he is waiting for - “go west.”

Waiting for the Man, by Arjun Basu, is a moving novel about a man who is disillusioned and struggling to find out if there is more to life than what he sees.  Alternating between when Joe is on his wait and where he winds up, this is a book that will ring true for many people, no matter what their place in life.

This was a very interesting read for me.  I loved the premise going into it and was looking forward to a great read.  But it started off slow for me.  And at one point I was wondering if I should keep going. I did, and it picked up.  I wasn’t blown away, but by the end of it I did enjoy the read.

The writing style of the book really stands out.  Basu is known for his 140 character Twitter stories and it is evident in this book.  His writing is clear and right to the point.  

I enjoyed how the book gets to the point with contemporary culture.  For me, it was a delicious commentary on our social media obsessed world with the next big viral sensation.  Unfortunately, the rest of it fell a bit flat.  I didn’t get much from Joe’s search for meaning nor did I find his discovery very satisfying.  Like I said, I wasn’t blown away but it was enjoyable.  A middle of the road read for me.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

"Us Conductors" by Sean Michaels

While locked in a room on a cargo ship journeying from America to Russia, Lev Termen, Russian scientist, inventor, and spy, writes a letter to the love of his life, Clara Rockmore.  Lev, the inventor of the theremin, is telling his life story to Clara, the finest theremin player in the world.  The two would never end up together, but Lev’s love for Clara would never die.

Through this letter, we learn of Lev’s early days as a scientist during the Bolshevik Revolution and the invention of the theremin, the musical instrument which would eventually take him to America in the 1930’s where he would ultimately help Russia spy on the US.  But life after he writes his letter to Clara takes an unfortunate turn.  

When Lev returns to Russia he is imprisoned in a Siberian gulag.  There he toils in harsh conditions doing difficult labour but his background and initiative help to turn things around.  Eventually he finds himself spying on Stalin, the man who gave him so much opportunity in the early years of his life.

Us Conductors, by Sean Michaels, is an incredible and beautiful novel about love and heartbreak, determination and consolation.  This is a book that I could not put down.  Michaels is a music critic and founder of one of the earliest music blogs.  He has written mostly non-fiction and short stories, and this is his first novel.  And what a way to introduce yourself.

This book is one of my favourites to come out of the Giller Prize nominations this year.  Based on real people and real events, this book is an inspired story of love.  It is definitely not a completely true story, Michaels admits this much in his Author’s Note where he shares that the book is “full of distortions, elisions, omissions, and lies.”  Turns out Termen wasn’t a murderer or a kung-fu expert.  However, none of this ruins the story, it never makes it seem as outrageous as it appears that Termen’s real life was already that way.  No matter what is true or fiction, everything blends well in this book for a truly satisfying read.

My initial thought when I picked up this book (and I really only picked it up because of its Giller nomination) was, am I really going to find a book about the man who invented the theremin interesting?  If you have those thoughts, throw them away now.  The man in this novel lives the lives of many men, it’s hard to imagine all of this happening to one person.  But Michaels writes with such beauty and strength, that even in the difficult times (the Siberian gulag for instance), you aren’t full of sadness but hope.

A stunning debut novel, I look forward to what else Michaels will bring us.  I can only imagine how much time he spent in the life of Dr. Termen, and it was well worth it. 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Top Ten Tuesday: Top Ten Books I Want to Reread

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish.

I don't re-read books.  It's not that I don't want to, it's just that there are so many books out there that I want to read, I never feel I have the time to read one for a second time.  It doesn't mean, however, that there aren't a bunch I would love to read again.  Here are the top ten:

1.  The Dating Mr. Darcy series by Katie Oliver (Prada and Prejudice, Love and Liability, Mansfield Lark)

2.  The Midnight Rose by Lucinda Riley

3.  Emancipation Day by Wayne Grady

4.  The Carrington's series by Alexandra Brown (Cupcakes at Carrington's, Christmas at Carrington's, Ice Creams at Carrington's)

5.  Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

6.  The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

7.  The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

8.  Everyone Worth Knowing by Lauren Weisberger

9.  The Undomestic Goddess by Sophie Kinsella

and the only book that I actually do re-read

10.  1984 by George Orwell

What books do you like to re-read?

Monday, November 3, 2014

"American Innovations" by Rivka Galchen

American Innovations is novelist Rivka Galchen’s first collection of short stories, a follow-up to her successful debut novel Atmospheric Disturbances.  A collection of stories that are slightly eccentric with a tinge of the supernatural, this book deals with the complexities of life with average people in unique situations.

A few of my favourites:

Once An Empire - a woman returns home late one night to watch all of her furniture climbing out the window.

The Lost Order - a woman receives a telephone call from a man trying to order Chinese food but doesn’t tell the man that she is not the restaurant.  This inability to tell the truth isn’t just with this stranger though.

Wild Berry Blue - the story of a 9 year old girl who develops her first feelings of love for a junkie who works at McDonalds.

Something I didn’t know about this collection because I was reading an e-copy and didn’t read the book jacket :

The tales in this groundbreaking collection are secretly in conversation with canonical stories, reimagined from the perspective of female characters. Just as Wallace Stevens’s “Anecdote of the Jar” responds to John Keats’s “Ode on a Grecian Urn,” Galchen’s “The Lost Order” covertly recapitulates James Thurber’s “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” while “The Region of Unlikeness” is a smoky and playful mirror to Jorge Luis Borges’s “The Aleph.” The title story, “American Innovations,” revisits Nikolai Gogol’s “The Nose.”  

Not that this would have made a difference to me as I have not read those stories, an interesting idea though.

There are definitely stronger and weaker stories in this collection, many people agree that the first half is stronger than the second.  And while I enjoyed reading this book, I found it to be a little middle of the road.  I honestly think that for me, it was because I had just finished reading another short story collection that blew me away.  I wonder how different it would have been for me if I hadn’t read the books back to back.  But I do think this would have left me feeling the same way I usually do after reading short stories, wanting just a little bit more.

I wish I could find more to write about this book but it has left me with not much to say about it, good or bad.