Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Turtle Valley - Gail Anderson-Dargatz

This is the first novel I have read by Gail Anderson-Dargatz and I am sure it will not be the last. It is realistic in in its portrayal of characters and events and poetic in its style -- an absolutely delightful read. Finally, a novel with a female protagonist, set in Canada, written by a female Canadian writer -- a novel that doesn't drive you to the dark recesses of your mind.
This is the story of Kat, a woman at an emotional crossroad, who goes home to help her parents move their most precious possessions from their home which is threatened by a wildfire. Interwoven into this plot are the stories of her parents' and her grandparents' generations -- family secrets and skeletons are revealed --history repeats itself -- mysteries are unraveled and solved -- I absolutely loved it and am now off to the Chapter's website to see what else this writer has written.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

The Flying Troutsman - Miriam Toews

I came to this novel with equal amounts of enthusiasm (because I had previously read and laughed my way through A Boy of Good Breeding) and trepidation (because I had previously read and cried my way through A Complicated Kindness). Both sentiments were experienced as I read, laughed and cried my way through The Flying Troutsman. You may think that it is only the characters in this novel who are on a road trip but as a reader I found that I too was (thankfully) firmly buckled into their white knuckle emotional adventure. Once again Toews' genius for deftly painting the intricate contradictions inherent in human nature and motivation captivate the reader's attention from the very first words.

All That Matters - Wayson Choy

In All That Matters, Wayson Choy expands on the story of the Chen family first introduced in The Jade Peony. This time, Choy makes use of a single narrator, the eldest son, who has recently arrived on the west coast with his grandmother and father. What I really like about Wayson Choy's work is not only his flowing style but also the content of the plot which, with a refreshing and sometimes brutal, frank voice describes the two solitudes experienced by most first generation Canadians.

The Jade Peony - Wayson Choy

The Jade Peony by Wayson Choy was an enlightening read granting a peak into Vancouver's Chinatown. I really enjoyed the use of multiple narrators as it provided different perspectives on the family members of Chen family. I also found that the choice of youthful narrators was clever because it allowed the author to use the mouth of babes to reveal "truths" that adults might chose to politely conceal. Their understanding of their "condition" and the events of their lives was both revealing and endearing.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Shelf Monkey - Corey Redekop

This is a very very funny novel. It has a rapid fire style which never seems to run out of ammunition aimed at best-sellers self-servingly hyped by high profile literary wanna-bes. The narrator is a likable fellow who loves to read and needs work so logically gets himself a job at a bookstore. Sounds rational, sane? Ahh, but there the rub begins. He meets some kindred spirits at the store and begins to make choices that most would consider unwise. If the narrator and the author have anything in common besides a wicked sense of humour Redekop should be firmly locked in a padded cell next to his favourite shelf monkey...although I hope that is not the case as I look forward to reading more of Redekop`s original wackey work.

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Year of the Flood - Margaret Atwood

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and was disappointed to learn that it is not shortlisted for a Giller. Too bad. I think it is definitely better than Anne Michael's obscure Winter's Vault. I guess I just don't like poetry much. I really liked Oryx and Crake so it is no surprise that I enjoyed The Year of the Flood. I found the characters sympathetic and realistic. Atwood's world, though far from utopic, offers more hope than the dystopia of Handmaid's Tale. I have always and probably will always love Atwood. I even like HER poetry....

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Good to a Fault - Marina Endicott

I loved this novel!
After having been involved in a car accident, Clara, the protagonist, decides to look after the family of a woman who has been diagnosed with cancer. Unaccustomed to a house full of children, one of whom is an infant, Clara finds herself exhausted, unemployed, and questioning her own motivations. The characters are exceptionally realistically brought to life, the plot, intricately woven, the sentences infused with images which seemingly occur naturally and do not interrupt the flow of the writing. It was so good, I was truly sad to reach the last word.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Asylum - Andre Alexis

Having lived most of my life in Ottawa and having worked during my university years on Parliament Hill, Alexis's local references to familiar places and situations frequently evoked personal memories. I found that the absurd idealism which led to an absurd prison project at an absurd price at the taxpayer's expense while somewhat exaggerated was nonetheless authentically founded on a grain of truth.

Miss Elva - Stephens Gerard Malone

I really enjoyed this novel as it combined great characters and an intriguing plot. Set in Nova Scotia, Miss Elva tells the story of two brothers and two sisters whose lives intertwine in tragic ways. I loved Miss Elva's subtle observations and intricacy of the story. Malone faithfully and unflinchingly paints and accurate portrait of small towns and small minded people.

The Naked Island - Bryna Wasserman

I chose this book because I am a traveller and I had been to many of the places mentioned in the blurb: Indonesia, India, Nepal, Singapore. It is described as a "Gothic travelogue--one woman's journey through a tortured dreamscape of love, possession and ecstatic release." (Sarah Sheard)
Unfortunately, I found this novel to be as self indulgent as the protagonist. I would not recommend this novel to anyone unless they needed kindling.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

The Winter Vault - Anne Michaels

With one of my favourite novels, Fugitive Pieces, in mind, I expected to immediately fall in love again with Anne Michael's new novel, The Winter Vault. It was not to be. There were times while reading this book, I actually contemplated not finishing -- I think in my entire life I have only "not finished" a book once -- Cloud Atlas -- which received rave reviews and which I just couldn't get into...oops, I digress.... Anne Michaels's The Winter Vault was a difficult and disturbing read. I liked the images she uses and the idea of the protagonist being a winter vault but this time I found her style very dense and and disjointed (maybe it is deliberate but I found it distracting). Nonetheless, I suspect that if I made a greater effort while reading this novel, I would unearth a richness that I have missed the first time around.

Gargoyle - Andrew Davidson

I quite enjoyed this book as I came to it without any expectations. It tells the story of a creep whose life is transformed following a car crash and his encounter with a mentally ill woman. I liked the way the author encourages us to believe in the possibility of rehabilitation and challenges us to rethink our preconceived notions.

Come, Thou Tortoise - Jessica Grant

Jessica Grant's narrator touches both our funny bone and our heart from her opening words. She reminds us unequivocally and daringly of our collective naive credulity in the "grown-ups" who guided us through childhood. Grant's audacious transparency and honesty challenges us to acknowledge a kindred ingenuousness that we would, for the most part, prefer to deny even to ourselves. This is a delightfully uncomfortable read which draws us laughingly out of our smug protective adult shell.