Tag Archives: Books

What I Read This Week

7 Jul

Fifteen Dogs by André Alexis

Chocolate Lab

Well written and compelling, Fifteen Dogs was an unexpected pleasure. A charming and contemplative journey that explores the complexities and beauty of human thought.

Through the tale of a group of dogs who are given the “gift” of human language, André Alexis examines the depths of human essence — and our capacity for intimacy, love and understanding.

After gaining human intelligence, fifteen dogs must learn to survive with their new and strange awareness. The pack soon discovers that consciousness comes with a price and chaos ensues.

The author weaves a delightful and heart-wrenching story about the dogs’ experiences using their voices — from their awakening through to their eventual acceptance of their “gift”.

I especially loved the relationship between the canine, Majnoun and the human, Nira. Their road to understanding and their deeply shared intimacy, made me reflect upon the nature of language and consciousness. What does it mean to truly understand another being? Can beings achieve real happiness? How is language a barrier to understanding and can it be a bridge to pure love? How does language keep us apart and how does it foster belonging and harmony?

Fifteen Dogs is a bittersweet and endearing novel that depicts the beauty and vulnerability of human consciousness. Alexis’ clear, easy to read prose offers his audience a set of unique characters and a thought-provoking theme. A book that, I think, would generate a lot of discussion for anyone and especially any book club. I would highly recommend this novel to anyone who loves language and likes to explore human nature.

 

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We ♥ VWF 2016

23 Oct

Blog Post #191

The last weeks of October is always a favourite time of mine. The air is cooler and it is rainy with the occasional glorious sunshiny day. The trees are resplendent in their red, gold and yellow foliage.

The end of October is also the time when authors, poets and readers from across the globe descend upon Vancouver for the widely acclaimed Vancouver Writers’ Festival.

The festival is a week-long extravaganza of readings, performances, intimate talks and special events. The only problem is choosing which events to attend and getting tickets before they sell out.

After poring over the festival schedule, my good friend and fellow Novel Thinker, decided on two events that we most wanted to go to — This Really Happened, an event that we loved from last year and The Literary Cabaret, one of the most popular events.

The first event, This Really Happened, featured five authors who spoke, not about their work or their latest books, but instead gave a short talk about something that, you guessed it, really happened. The rules around this talk is that the story must be true and the author give it without the aid of any notes. The authors: Iain Reid,  Zoe Whittall, C.C. Humphreys, Lisa Charleyboy, and Omari Newton, stood up in front of the audience in turn, microphone in hand, and shared with us a moment in their lives that heralded their coming of age. Some of the narratives were hilariously funny, some were sweet and some were incredibly sad and heart-breaking. The audience was honoured with a glimpse of the writers’ personalities in a way that was more intimate and personal than if they had shared a passage from their work instead of a piece of their own history.

For a taste of this event, listen to TJ Dawe’s story from the Vancouver 2015 Writers’ Festival.

At the Literary Cabaret, six authors read selections from their latest works, accompanied by music led by Sal Ferreras and his band, Poetic License.

Over the summer, Mr. Ferrerars reads each author’s book and chooses music to complement each author’s selection. He and his band have 30 minutes to rehearse with the authors before the show. The result — a mesmerizing performance unlike any other. Each reading, unique and powerful, enhanced by music that transported us to the heart of the authors’ words — it was magical.

The authors that were showcased at this year’s Lit Cab, were Anosh Irani, reading from his new novel, The Parcel, journalist and novelist, Susan Perly reading from her book, Death Valley, Irish Poet, Billy Ramsell,  sharing poems from his collection, The Architects Dream of Winter,  Madelien Thien, reading from her novel, Don’t Say We Have Nothing,  Alexander Chee, reading a passage from his new novel, Queen of the Night  and Iain Reid, related a funny story that had been cut from his non-fiction book: The Truth About Luck — What I Learned on My Road Trip With Grandmainstead of his  new novel.  

I remarked to Michelle on our way home, that she and I should provide all the choices for next year’s book club picks as we certainly had a long list of must reads gleaned from this festival. Lol!! For sure, the stack by my bedside will grow by more than eight books!

Number9Dream — a Book Review

19 Sep

number-9-largeI really liked David Mitchell’s novel, Number9Dream, however, I find it difficult to compose a review.

The story is divided into 9 “dreams”, and the number 9 appears constantly throughout the book, in various forms — the main character was born on September 9, it’s been 9 years since a tragic event occurs, a room number is 333 on the 9th floor,9 vehicles arrive at the yakuza showdown, a deck of cards is shuffled “nine times for luck” and he thinks of Ai “ninety times per minute”. There is even a reference to John Lennon’s song, #9 Dream. As I was reading the book, I sometimes found it hard to discern whether I was reading a dream or was instead in the midst of the character’s reality.

The novel begins as Eiji Miyake embarks upon a journey to find his father, who he has never met. Through episodes that jump from dream to reality and back again, Eiji confronts his inner most self and faces his “reality” to discover his own identity.

Three of my favourite characters are: Goatwriter, a scholarly goat who writes incredible stories and loses them because he literally eats his words, his cook and housekeeper, Mrs. Comb,a hen and Pithecanthropus, their handyman. They live in a coach that moves around the land at its own whim. I also liked Eiji, Ai, and Buntaro.

There is a surrealistic feel to this book, as the reader is taken on a wild rollercoaster ride from the action packed first chapter and the reflections of the second chapter through crazy and dangerous yakuza wars and many dreamy sequences until the eighth chapter where Eiji finally comes to terms with his past.

This novel was dreamlike, surreal, funny and exciting. I would definitely recommend it.

Check out more of David Mitchell`s works. I also highly recommend Cloud Atlas — I loved it!

A Fairy Tale

10 Aug

oceanI love it when authors come to town to do a reading.  I love listening to them talk about their writing processes, enjoy the anecdotes about their lives, discovering a little about their personalities and getting my copies of their books signed — a little interaction that, for me, totally enhances my reading experiences.

So, I was pretty excited when my husband and I had the chance to see Neil Gaiman speak about his new book, The Ocean at the End of the Lane, at the Vogue Theatre in Vancouver on Thursday.

I had read the novel last month and I loved it. (It’s funny — every time I read one of Neil Gaiman’s books, that book becomes my favourite and this one was no exception).

The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a gem of a book. A fairytale, sometimes dark and scary, but full of hope and magical acts. The story begins as the narrator returns home for a funeral and wanders off to escape the sombre throng of mourners in the house. He ends up at the end of the lane at the old Hemstock place.  He encounters old Mrs. Hemstock who invites him in for tea. He agrees but asks if he can sit in the back beside the duck pond for a bit first. While he is looking out at the water of the pond he remembers everything — this is the beginning of the story. Told from his memory as a 7-year old, the tale has all the ingredients of a Grimm’s fairytale: evil (or at least seriously misguided) creatures, danger, magic, witches (?), spells, child heroes, scary episodes, death and salvation.  A very good read.

Mr. Gaiman gave a very interesting talk, he read  a passage from the novel, spoke about how the book came to be — he called it his “accidental novel”, he had actually started out to write a short story — he answered some questions from the audience, talked a bit about his wife and children and then read a little from Fortunately, the Milk…, his new book (coming out in September).  I can’t wait to get this book, it seems like it will be a great story — billed as a children’s book for all ages.

The only sad part about the experience was that we could not stay to have our books signed — the theatre was packed full with eager fans all with multiple books in hand. Neil Gaiman is known for staying until the last book is signed, even if  the books keep coming well after midnight. We couldn’t stay that long…

However, the talk was wonderful, I really enjoyed it and  the experience of hearing Neil Gaiman read from his work was an event to remember, as author readings always are.

So, I thank Harper Collins, and the Vancouver Writers’ Festival for the opportunity to attend this event that featured one of my very favourite novelists.

Click here for a review of Neil Gaiman’s talk in Vancouver.

Or listen to him talk about The Ocean at the End of the Lane” at Googletalks:

What I Read Last Week

4 Apr

sistersbrothersThe Sisters Brothers, winner of the Governor General’s Award for Fiction, the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize, and the Stephen Leacock Medal, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, the Scotiabank Giller Prize, and the Walter Scott Prize [whew!!], is Patrick deWitt’s second novel and well worth reading.

I would describe it as a gunslinger adventure tinged with fantasy.

Eli and Charlie, the dreaded Sisters brothers embark upon a life-changing mission, hunting down Hermann Warm on orders from their boss, the Commodore. Their pursuit causes Eli (the younger brother and the narrator of the tale) to experience some deep self reflection as the siblings encounter a motley bunch of travelers and many obstacles to the completion of their task.

The characters are colourful, quirky and memorable — from the wealthy “Commodore” to the lowly stable hand — keep the story lively and hilarious with just a little gore and violence thrown in. The grittiness and hardships of life for the two infamous gunmen-for-hire come to life as Eli Sisters chronicles their trek from Oregon City to the gold-studded rivers of California searching for the man who crossed the fearsome Commodore. Eli’s soul searching, as the brothers trudge through the wild frontier, compels him to take a long hard look at the life that he and Charlie are living and to realize his longing for something different.

I thought that this novel was well written, funny and thoughtful. It is a comical, somewhat gritty narrative of misadventure,violence, avarice, and love.
I would recommend this book. I am definitely going to read Mr. deWitt’s first novel, Ablutions and I look forward to his next one.

Books!

19 Nov

We have a lot of books. A LOT of books!

Recently, I remarked to my husband that perhaps we should think about opening our own used book store — we have the inventory and it would be fun, right? It was shortly after this that he packed up all the books that we have read but have no sentimental attachment to and we dropped them off at the book depository — we donated a mountain of books but we still have bookshelves full!

So, of course, last Saturday morning, we went to the Rotary Club of White Rock’s Annual Fall & Winter Book Sale!

There we were in a room full of hardcover and paperback books — books of all genres — it was heaven! We searched through the tomes and we both found a few treasures – at the great price of $2 each — for hardcovers! When we were done we had 12 novels and 3 art books.

My reading stack that had been steadily shrinking has been built back up a bit now. But it’s a good thing, because my book club’s potluck is coming up in a few weeks, and our activity is to create a poem using the titles of three or more books, otherwise known as book spine poetry.  I first heard of this endeavour from my husband, who wrote about it on his blog. Below is his poem:

Read his entire post here. Want to know more about book spine poetry? Try this post at Brain Pickings.

Hopefully, with all the books piled up and shelved around our place, I will be able to dream up a poem that I’ll be confident to share with the Novel Thinkers. I think it will be fun!

Happiness is… a Good Book!

1 Nov

So… since February, I have been working at a part-time job downtown. It’s not my dream job, but it’s okay – the people are great, the office is nice, the work is enjoyable — but the BEST part of this job, is the commute.

It is an easy commute — a short walk to the skytrain station and one bus right to the office front door. The fact that it takes about 50 minutes to complete this daily journey is a bonus! This past eight months I have read over 30 books!  That’s 3.75 books per month, a record for me!  My “to-read” stack is slowly diminishing, I have enjoyed some excellent reads and I have discovered some new authors that I really like. Susan Juby, Terry Fallis, Iain Banks and Keigo Higashino, to name a few. (The last two, are thanks to my husband – who is very good at suggesting new books/authors that I LOVE).

In fact, Keigo Higashino, who wrote The Devotion of Suspect X, is my new favourite mystery writer. Here is a short review, that I posted on Goodreads:

An excellent mystery! Great characters – even the murderer. Well written and a very good translation from Japanese – the book was easy to read and flowed nicely, but there was still a flavour of “Japanese”. I loved all the clever twists, the plot was unpredictable, by that, I mean I didn’t automatically figure it all out.  I would recommend this book to mystery lovers as a great read. I am looking forward to his next book, “Salvation of a Saint”, which has just recently come out.

Click here to read a review on the blog, almost falling:

Right now, I am reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, but as it is next month’s book club pick, I won’t give away what I think of it so far. I will be finished reading this New York Times bestseller in a few days and will be deciding on my next book — Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell or Still Alice by Lisa Genova.

Any other suggestions?

Harry Potter and the Twelve Years

10 Jan

Brynne was in grade three when her teacher began reading the Harry Potter series aloud to her classroom. I’m sure that this fanned her “like” of reading into a full-blown bonfire of love for the written word.

Harry, Hermione and Ron became permanent fixtures in our household for the next twelve years. This past Christmas, Brynne was elated to find Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part Two in her stocking. She now owns all the books and all the movies.

She loved the series from the start and eagerly awaited the publication of each subsequent book. Her dad read each new Harry Potter novel aloud to her – a memorable time for them both. I read the books, too, on my own, wanting to be involved in their lively discussions.

We all went to see the movies, excursions which became family traditions – we did not miss one. I know that Brynne will always remember Hogwarts, the adventures, the characters, the wondrous creatures. The books and films were important influences in her life.

With the release of the last movie on DVD, Blu-Ray and Digital download, an era has come to an end. Brynne will be turning 20 in a few weeks. She grew up with Harry Potter and it’s a little sad that there will be no more of his stories.

She and I have decided to watch all eight movies again, in order. We have watched the first three so far, curled up together on the couch, holding hands and thoroughly enjoying our foray back into the magical world of muggles and wizards.

I am relishing these special nights of sitting right next to her, her hand in mine, her head on my shoulder. I know that we will always have a close, loving relationship, but it has evolved into something new. She is no longer a child, she is a beautiful young lady finding her own way. I feel a twinge of sadness that my little girl is gone but I also feel a great surge of joy as I see the lovely woman she is becoming.

So, I am gladly looking forward to The Goblet of Fire tomorrow evening. Bring on the popcorn!

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