This is the face of a kid who has no idea what’s coming. And what’s coming is … his little brother or sister! The reason why I’ve been completely off of eating food, or of doing anything other than lying around and feeling nauseous, for that matter, is I’ve been getting through my first trimester with my next baby. A very exciting time for our little family, and while I try not to talk too much about my kid(s) here, it’s funny how being pregnant ends up being an all consuming kind of thing that influences everything that I do. So I thought I’d make my little announcement; that’s our next bit of exciting news in what has been a rather exciting year for us.
Back to my regularly scheduled blog, I have spent the last few weeks touring around Canada, but mostly reading. It was glorious, guys. There is something so decadent about devouring book after book, not feeling guilty about discarding one and moving on to another in the next minute. I read A LOT, so this is an exceptionally long blog. I decided to put them down from my favourite to least favourite, because when you get bored halfway through, at least you’ll have seen the really good books that you should be reading.
Life After Life, by Kate Atkinson
Book description: On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.
Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions
My review: I’m not sure how I can do this book justice. I laughed, I cried, I gasped, I ended it with a sigh of satisfaction and grief, because it was SOOOO good and I was sorry to put it down. Life After Life became an instant favourite for me. I think everyone in the world must read this book.
It is such a neat concept and Atkinson has some major dark humour in there, I just reeled from it. The concept is that Ursula’s life is lived over and over again, each time improving her history and other’s. As the reader, you live her life over and over again too, holding your breath as you wonder how she’ll do this time. There was some incredibly emotional moments in the book, that made it almost hard to put down or pick up again. I don’t want to go into too much detail, because I want you to read it, but if anyone else has loved this book as much as I did, we need to talk about it!
The Blind Assassin, by Margaret Atwood
Book description: The novel opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge.” They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister Laura’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a- novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.
Told in a style that magnificently captures the colloquialisms and clichés of the 1930s and 1940s, The Blind Assassin is a richly layered and uniquely rewarding experience. The novel has many threads and a series of events that follow one another at a breathtaking pace. As everything comes together, readers will discover that the story Atwood is telling is not only what it seems to be–but, in fact, much more.
My review: I’ve been waiting a long time to read The Blind Assassin. Truth be told, it intimidated me a little bit. I’m always worried that I’m not going to like Atwood’s work, which will make me feel like an inferior person. Does anyone else feel like that with a famous author? I haven’t always loved her stuff before, and I would wonder if it’s only because I didn’t really get it. I didn’t want to be disappointed, in the book or in myself.
I needn’t have worried. This is definitely one of Atwood’s best. I loved the story within the story within the story, each equally compelling. I loved using newspaper articles to move the story along and reveal secrets – it’s something I would love to have the talent to use someday. And I loved what this tale spun into. As I realized what the narrator was trying to tell me all along, I couldn’t help delight in what a good book it is. I love books that cause delight. Definitely a must-read.
This is Where I Leave You, by Jonathan Tropper
Book description: The death of Judd Foxman’s father marks the first time that the entire Foxman family—including Judd’s mother, brothers, and sister—have been together in years. Conspicuously absent: Judd’s wife, Jen, whose fourteen-month affair with Judd’s radio-shock-jock boss has recently become painfully public.
Simultaneously mourning the death of his father and the demise of his marriage, Judd joins the rest of the Foxmans as they reluctantly submit to their patriarch’s dying request: to spend the seven days following the funeral together. In the same house. Like a family.
As the week quickly spins out of control, longstanding grudges resurface, secrets are revealed, and old passions reawakened. For Judd, it’s a weeklong attempt to make sense of the mess his life has become while trying in vain not to get sucked into the regressive battles of his madly dysfunctional family. All of which would be hard enough without the bomb Jen dropped the day Judd’s father died: She’s pregnant.
This Is Where I Leave You is Jonathan Tropper’s most accomplished work to date, a riotously funny, emotionally raw novel about love, marriage, divorce, family, and the ties that bind—whether we like it or not.
My review: Tropper’s dysfunctional family dynamic is all kinds of awesome. Most of the people are terrible and you can’t help but root for them. Like, all of them. It’s a gift to be able to depict the worst in people and somehow make it endearing. I think Tropper’s compassion to the human spirit is the reason why this book is so good, but maybe I’m getting too deep there. I just enjoyed this book from beginning to end, and you probably don’t need to think that deeply about it. Am also crazy excited to see the movie, largely due to my long-standing love affair with Tina Fey.
Night Film, by Marisha Pessl
Book description: Everybody has a Cordova story. Cult horror director Stanislas Cordova hasn’t been seen in public since 1977. To his fans he is an engima. To journalist Scott McGrath he is the enemy. To Ashley he was a father.
On a damp October night the body of young, beautiful Ashley Cordova is found in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Her suicide appears to be the latest tragedy to hit a severely cursed dynasty.
For McGrath, another death connected to the legendary director seems more than a coincidence. Driven by revenge, curiosity and a need for the truth, he finds himself pulled into a hypnotic, disorientating world, where almost everyone seems afraid.
The last time McGrath got close to exposing Cordova, he lost his marriage and his career. This time he could lose his grip on reality.
ONCE WE FACE OUR DEEPEST FEARS, WHAT LIES ON THE OTHER SIDE?
My review: This book was creepy. Sooooooooper creepy. A perfect read for around Halloween, I think. It was long, though, and all the heightened creepiness was almost too much to take. I was even staying in an old, creaky house while I was reading this, often by myself in the evenings and it was a perfect backdrop to it, although I left more lights on than I normally would! I really enjoyed it, though. It could have been a touch shorter, by the end I was kind of like: get to the end, already, we get it, things are not as they seem. But it was a satisfying read on the whole.
I Am The Messenger, by Markus Zusak
Book description: Ed Kennedy is an underage cabdriver without much of a future. He’s pathetic at playing cards, hopelessly in love with his best friend, Audrey, and utterly devoted to his coffee-drinking dog, the Doorman. His life is one of peaceful routine and incompetence until he inadvertently stops a bank robbery.
That’s when the first ace arrives in the mail.
That’s when Ed becomes the messenger.
Chosen to care, he makes his way through town helping and hurting (when necessary) until only one question remains: Who’s behind Ed’s mission?
My review: At first I raved about this book. Five stars! I really liked the concept and thought it was super original. Also, my adoration of Zusak’s The Book Thief rendered me very lenient.
Then I thought about it some more and had to check myself, and how I felt about the book. My biggest issue is that it did not really pass the Bechdel test, which, sure, is meant for movies but I see no reason why it shouldn’t apply to books. Especially when there is so much more room to develop female characters in a novel than there might be on film. But that didn’t really happen here.
I suppose in part it has to do with the fact that every character is in the book due to their relationship with Ed Kennedy, so of course they generally just talk about what they are to him. But what went a little further in my dislike of how the women characters were depicted is that Ed Kennedy is a classic “Nice Guy,” in love with his friend Audrey and spends his days and nights longing after her even after she’s told him repeatedly that she does not feel that way about him. Ugh. This has been for some reason an ideal for many a man out there, but for me, like many women, it just gives me the creeps because there is almost nothing worse than a guy who cannot take the hint but keeps on hanging on to hope that someday, with enough puppy dog eyes, he’ll get the girl.
And then at the end of the book he does get the girl! That infuriated me. No women would write that ending. A much better ending would have been Ed Kennedy moving on to better things in his life, which matches the rest of the story.
Rant over. I had to think a lot about this book to dislike it, but I did get there, so that’s my final say.
Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell
Book description: Cath is a Simon Snow fan.
Okay, the whole world is a Simon Snow fan…
But for Cath, being a fan is her life—and she’s really good at it. She and her twin sister, Wren, ensconced themselves in the Simon Snow series when they were just kids; it’s what got them through their mother leaving.
Reading. Rereading. Hanging out in Simon Snow forums, writing Simon Snow fan fiction, dressing up like the characters for every movie premiere.
Cath’s sister has mostly grown away from fandom, but Cath can’t let go. She doesn’t want to.
Now that they’re going to college, Wren has told Cath she doesn’t want to be roommates. Cath is on her own, completely outside of her comfort zone. She’s got a surly roommate with a charming, always-around boyfriend, a fiction-writing professor who thinks fan fiction is the end of the civilized world, a handsome classmate who only wants to talk about words… And she can’t stop worrying about her dad, who’s loving and fragile and has never really been alone.
For Cath, the question is: Can she do this?
Can she make it without Wren holding her hand? Is she ready to start living her own life? Writing her own stories?
And does she even want to move on if it means leaving Simon Snow behind?
My review: I preferred Fangirl to Eleanor & Park, but I had some issues with not being able to get into Rowell’s voice. That being said, enormous props to an author for finally tackling the university years, something I find frightfully missing in literature, whether adult or young adult. I’m not sure why, university or college being pretty much some of the most formative years of many people’s lives, whether fictional or otherwise, but it seems we can only write about teenagers, or adults who are pretty much fully formed. Love the subject matter, wished I felt stronger about Rowell in general.
Behind the Scenes at the Museum, by Kate Atkinson
Book description: Ruby Lennox begins narrating her life at the moment of conception, and from there takes us on a whirlwind tour of the twentieth century as seen through the eyes of an English girl determined to learn about her family and its secrets.
My review: After reading the stunning Life After Life, I was so very excited to read Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum. And, not entirely surprising, I was disappointed. My expectations were too high. Museum was, in a word, boring. It just didn’t live up to what I have come to expect from my new author-crush.
However, after looking into it, I realized that Museum is Atkinson’s first novel. Which is tremendously exciting. Because it means that Atkinson is just getting better. It goes against the idea that most authors have one, maybe two, good ideas in them before they’re used up. And the voice that I fell in love with in Life After Life, it was there in Museum. It was basically taking shape before my eyes. As Ruby’s character matures, so to does Atkinson’s style. I almost want to say that Museum is like a sketch of what Life eventually becomes. A really long sketch.
But now I’m probably being a little too harsh. Museum did, after all, win a Whitbread Award, UK’s most prestigious literary awards (now called the Costa Awards) according to Wikipedia, so what the heck do I know. Well, I do know I’ll be looking for her next endeavour, that’s for sure.
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, by Chris Hadfield
Book description: Colonel Chris Hadfield has spent decades training as an astronaut and has logged nearly 4000 hours in space. During this time he has broken into a Space Station with a Swiss army knife, disposed of a live snake while piloting a plane, and been temporarily blinded while clinging to the exterior of an orbiting spacecraft. The secret to Col. Hadfield’s success-and survival-is an unconventional philosophy he learned at NASA: prepare for the worst-and enjoy every moment of it.
In An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth, Col. Hadfield takes readers deep into his years of training and space exploration to show how to make the impossible possible. Through eye-opening, entertaining stories filled with the adrenaline of launch, the mesmerizing wonder of spacewalks, and the measured, calm responses mandated by crises, he explains how conventional wisdom can get in the way of achievement-and happiness. His own extraordinary education in space has taught him some counterintuitive lessons: don’t visualize success, do care what others think, and always sweat the small stuff.
You might never be able to build a robot, pilot a spacecraft, make a music video or perform basic surgery in zero gravity like Col. Hadfield. But his vivid and refreshing insights will teach you how to think like an astronaut, and will change, completely, the way you view life on Earth-especially your own.
My review: I know this book is an insta-classic, much beloved Canadian astronaut Col. Hadfield’s memoir, so it seems sacrilege to have anything critical to say about it. I think I’m just not that into memoirs, but it wasn’t my favourite. He does have excellent insight as to how to go about making your dreams a reality (hint: it involves working really hard and checking your ego), so that’s a real plus. And he seems like such an all-around likeable guy. I remember when he was the Grand Marshall at Calgary Stampede, right after the big flood, and thinking that it was such a coup for Calgary to have such an amazing guy there. But it was a little long for me. I kind of just wanted to hear about going to space, not the life on earth part. I should have read the title, I guess.
Eleanor & Park, by Rainbow Rowell
Book description: Two misfits.
One extraordinary love.
Eleanor… Red hair, wrong clothes. Standing behind him until he turns his head. Lying beside him until he wakes up. Making everyone else seem drabber and flatter and never good enough…Eleanor.
Park… He knows she’ll love a song before he plays it for her. He laughs at her jokes before she ever gets to the punch line. There’s a place on his chest, just below his throat, that makes her want to keep promises…Park.
Set over the course of one school year, this is the story of two star-crossed sixteen-year-olds—smart enough to know that first love almost never lasts, but brave and desperate enough to try.
My review: I have heard so much about Rainbow Rowell’s rather famous young adult books and I was sooo excited when I received Eleanor & Park as well as Fangirl. Reading these on vacation seemed like the perfect place for them. I was looking for fluffy teenage romance.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about it being fluffy. Rowell goes into WAY more depth than I thought she would. Maybe that’s why I couldn’t really wrap my head around it, but my end reaction on reading Eleanor & Park was a resounding meh. It just didn’t do it for me. I like that it touched on really important issues, like abuse, racial discrimination and poverty. And yet …
My problem, I think, is having just come off of reading Atwood’s Blind Assassin, which is masterful and securely a “grown up book.” Eleanor & Park came off, in comparison, as feeling a little shallow and kind of immature. It’s probably unfair to say that. I just couldn’t get into Rowell’s voice. It grated on me. I know this is a sacrilegious opinion, and so many people adore this book, so I say read it anyway. Just not after reading Atwood.