What I Read This Week

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.



Do Not Say We Have Nothing

Blog Post #365

“What happens when a hundred thousand people memorize the same poem? Does anything change?
~ Madeleine Thien, Do Not Say We Have Nothing

China photo

Madeleine Thien’s novel, Do Not Say We Have Nothing, is a sweeping saga of revolutionary China covering Mao Zedong’s rise to power to the 1989 student protests at Tiananmen Square and across the Pacific to present day Vancouver.

This complicated multi-generational story chronicles a dark era in Chinese history, where friends and families turned on each other in a frantic effort to save themselves from China’s cruel regime. It was a brutal time for the people, especially students, artists and musicians — a time when their very existence was threatened by their resistance to conform.

Central to this story are historical events including the destruction of the Shanghai Music Conservatory, the vilification of the musicians and teachers there and the Tiananmen Square massacre. Do Not Say We Have Nothing follows the lives of Sparrow, an accomplished composer, his cousin Zhuli, a talented violinist, and the brilliant pianist Jiang Kai, one of Sparrow’s most promising students. The book tells the tale of the immense loss, the unspeakable violence and the cruelty that gripped the lives of the Chinese people for over forty years.

Thien expertly weaves together family history, music and math to explore the depths of human emotion that enable us to survive tragedy and loss — even to hold on to love and self no matter the obstacles we face.

The novel follows the characters through the decades as each survives the devastation in their own way. The story travels back and forth in time, moving from Shanghai to Beijing to Vancouver, chronicling the history of the families.

In this novel, Ms. Thien exposes us to great insights into the history of China. With beautiful writing, a compelling story and memorable characters, the author takes us into the dark inhumanity of Chairman Mao’s Cultural Revolution — retelling a story that must not be forgotten.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing is noteworthy novel, haunting, dark, and beautiful in its complexity. Well worth the read.



What I’m Reading Now

Blog Post #301

Next Thursday, I am going to the Jane Austen book club at the historic Stewart Farm with my good friend, Dani.

Imagine sipping tea, sampling traditional baking and discussing Austen’s classic novel, Emma, with a group of interesting people in a cozy Victorian farmhouse. Can you think of a better setting to talk about a classic novel?

I’m looking forward to this outing — so, I’d better get back to reading the book!!

(Stay tuned for details)

1898 illustration of Mr Knightley and Emma Woodhouse



A Tale for the Time Being — Book Review

Blog Post #171

“Time itself is being, and all being is time … In essence, everything in the entire universe is intimately linked with each other as moments in time, continuous and separate.”

― Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being



A Tale for the Time Being has many “beings” — it is a metaphysical story, a coming-of-age tale, and a mystery. It is tragic, magical, quirky and historical.

I loved it.

As I was reading this book, I found myself really thinking about time, geography and connections. I questioned my idea of how time works — are there different ways of experiencing time, is time malleable, fluid? What is the connection between author and reader? Can either or both influence the shared events that happen across time and space. How and where does technology fit into our perceptions and experiences of time. Can time slow, come to a stand still? These and many other questions passed across my mind.

The novel is poetic and beautifully written with strong, genuine characters that I really cared about. The story and themes were enticing and thought-provoking. The history and science added another dimension to this book.

I enjoyed the historical facts that were expertly woven through the novel (I even read the footnotes that translated key Japanese words and phrases — something I NEVER do!) I loved the flow and writing style of the book. I was delighted with the mystical nuances that floated throughout the pages.

This title is on my Top TEN Must Read List and I plan on reading it again as I believe it has infinite possibilities, ideas and insights.

“Even the snap of a finger, he says, provides us with sixty-five opportunities to wake up and to choose actions that will produce beneficial karma and turn our lives around.”

― Ruth Ozeki, A Tale for the Time Being








The Remains of the Day — A Review

Blog Post #25

I was browsing through my book lists on Good Reads looking for a “good read” — ok, ok, I can HEAR your groans! It was a tough decision as there are countless intriguing titles on my Want to Read list. While I was trying to decide, I took a casual look at books I have previously read and I came across this review for “The Remains of the Day.” This was a book I enjoyed immensely when I read it a year ago and I am sharing my Goodreads review here. 

RemaiinsKazuo Ishiguro’s  The Remains of the Day  is an eloquent and moving novel. His writing style is easy and comfortable, and his story imparts a deep range of emotions — both joyful and sad — I fell into the book immediately and hated to be called back from Darlington Hall to my own living room. I was so sad when I finished reading the very last word, sad that the story was ended.

This book is the narrative of Stevens,a stoic English butler, whose one aim in life is to be the best butler he can possibly be, to attain the highest level of service, to have “dignity” above all else. In the opening of the book, he embarks upon a journey in the countryside of England, ostensibly to renew a friendship with a former coworker, with hopes that he can convince her to return to the manor where they once worked together. As the story unfolds, the reader learns a lot about Stevens from his memories and meandering thoughts as he travels through small villages towards his destination. The entire novel is written as if the reader is hearing Stevens’ own thoughts and seeing his own impressions, witnessing the vignettes of the past that have led him to this sojourn. At times, I wanted to reach out and shake him, make him break out of his stoicism…give in to his emotions.

Stevens’ reminiscences are sometimes laugh-out-loud funny and at times, achingly sad. His motoring holiday turns out to be an unexpected journey of self-discovery and we, as readers, are an intimate part of that journey. Ishiguro is a master at capturing all the nuances and complexities of the human psyche. There is one specific moment in the book that, for me, was so completely overwhelming — almost unbearably poignant, that it will forever be etched in my heart.

The Remains of the Day is, quite simply, a beautifully written book. Have you read it? What did  you think?

Watch Kazuo Ishiguro talk about The Remains of the Day and Never Let Me Go.


Brynne’s Daily Drawing #25



Walk on Down The Road

the roadI just finished reading Amy Tan’s The Valley of Amazement and I must say that I was a bit disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, I love Amy Tan’s writing and I have read several of her novels — The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter, The Hundred Secret Senses, and The Kitchen God’s Wife (my favourite!) — but I found her newest book to be a little tedious, long and predictable. [SIGH] When I finished the book, I wanted to read something completely different. So…

…after some minutes of searching our bookshelves, I came across The Road by Cormac McCarthy. Yes, this is just the change of pace I was looking for, I exclaimed to the cat, I’ve wanted to read this for a while and now is as good a time as any!

Well, I wasn’t too far into the story (page 71 to be exact) when I began to think that this was NOT the right time to be reading this post-apocalyptic tale — current events being what they are, added to the despair I was experiencing.

The flow of the McCarthy’s narrative is easy to fall into, and the writing is exceptional — so good, in fact, that I was overtaken with a sense of dread almost from the first paragraph. For me, when I experience strong emotions of any kind, as I read a novel, I feel that the author has a special gift — the ability to bring a story to life, to evoke a visceral response through the written word. This was true for The Road — I felt as if I was living it! I felt the cold, the hunger and witnessed the stark, grey devastation of smoking destruction. The gloom and trepidation hung heavy on me as I trudged along with the man and the boy, searching for hope…

That dark sense of doom stayed with me throughout the story and when I was done, I wanted nothing more than to curl up with a fuzzy blanket, and hold on to my loved ones and cuddle with the cat! But I do think that The Road is a great read — it’s just not a happy, light, walk in the park. I would recommend it — but read at your own risk!

Read my review of The Road on Goodreads.