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ExUrbanis

Urban Leaving to Country Living

Books Read in July 2011

August4

Another road trip to Ontario in July helped me up the number of books read for the month – and I read a lot of GOOD ones! I hope you get some ideas for your TBR list.

I’m really behind in my blogging because of the road trip and a really bad cold that laid me low before we left, but I do hope to publish detailed reviews of all or most of these titles throughout this month.

1. A Dog’s Purpose: A Novel for Humans by W. Bruce Cameron
5 star ratingA Dog's Purpose,A Novel for Humans,W. Bruce Cameron
Just released in paperback. A wonderful story told by the dog in question: Toby, Bailey, Ellie, Buddy – well, you’ll see….

It made me laugh out loud and sob uncontrollably. It’s my pick for my book of the month – which says something given the quality of the others I read. If you’ve ever loved a dog, you will love this book. My review is here.

2. The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence 5 star rating
It’s been several years since I read this Canadian classic and it has held up even better than I could imagine. Told by elderly Hagar Shipley, it’s her story – of love and loss, and the tragedy of not communicating. See my review.

3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak 5 star rating
Set in WWII Germany, the story of a young girl and her best friend, the boy down the street. If you love to own books, you’ll appreciate this. In a twist that makes it stand out from other books in this genre, the story is narrated by Death.

4. Room by Emma Donoghue 4.5 star rating
A gripping story told by five-year-old Jack, of his life in “Room” with his Ma who was kidnapped before his birth and has been held for seven years in this one-room prison. Not nearly as dark as it sounds. Jack will warm your heart. You can read more about what I thought.

5. To Fetch a Thief by Spencer Quinn 4.5 star rating
The third in the Chet & Bernie mystery series, of which I am a huge fan (as you may know). In this story, the intrepid detectives track a stolen circus elephant across the California desert. Chet is, as ever, endearing.

6. The Stone Diaries by Carol Shields 4.5 star rating
My third reading of another Canadian classic by wordsmith Shields. Described as a family album set to a novel, this account of 90-something Daisy Goodwill’s life is rich and real.

7. The Bird Sisters by Rebecca Rasmussen 4 star rating
The gentle story of two elderly sisters, Twiss and Milly, who live alone in the house where they grew up in Spring Green, Wis. Ultimately, it’s a portrayal of sacrifices made for family – and the roads that lead from them.

8. Unfinished Business: One Man’s Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things by Lee Kravitz 4 star ratingUnfinished Business,Lee Kravitz
After losing his job, Lee Kravitz—a man who always worked too hard and too much—took stock of his life and decided to spend an entire year making amends and reconnecting with the people and parts of himself he had neglected. Much to ruminate about here as Kravitz reaches out to family & old friends, caught up on commitments he meant to keep but didn’t, and looks at roads not taken. My review is here.

9. Diary Of A Provincial Lady by E.M. Delafield 4 star rating
Originally published in 1931 and surely the basis for Bridget Jones’s Diary and like books. Wry, clever, and, ultimately, more sophisticated than current versions.

10. Gator Aide by Jessica Speart 3.5 star rating
First in the Rachel Porter mystery series. Novice U.S. Fish and Wildlife agent Porter is called to attend the murder investigation of a stripper because the victim’s pet alligator was found dead at the scene. Rachel’s likable, if a little less-than-mellow in her attitude toward equality with the good ol’ boys.

11. Nancy’s Wedding Feast and Other Tasty Tales by James O. St. Clair & Yvonne C. LeVert 3 star rating
literary road tripHistorical narratives from Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, accompanied by recipes that complete the tales, to give the full flavour of Cape Breton’s rich and varied cultural palate. An interesting foray into the history & culture of the island.
This a stop on my Atlantic Canada Literary Road Trip.

12. The Magnificent Spinster by May Sarton
I didn’t finish this so won’t rate it, but did read 260 pages of it, so feel it should count. In response to my request for reader feedback, I received a lovely email which has encouraged me to pick this up at another time, and give it another try.

Links for my Canadian readers:

A Dog’s Purpose

The Stone Angel

The Book Thief

Room

To Fetch a Thief: A Chet and Bernie Mystery

The Stone Diaries

The Bird Sisters

Unfinished Business: One Man’s Extraordinary Year of Trying to Do the Right Things

The Diary of a Provincial Lady

Bridget Jones’s Diary

Gator Aide

Nancy’s Wedding Feast and Other Tasty Tales

The Magnificent Spinster

Books Read in June 2011

July4


Remember how our mothers and grandmothers used to “spring-clean”? It’s not much mentioned these days, it seems. But I learned when I moved to the country and started to heat with a wood furnace, just why Grandma did it – to wash away the wood soot that ends up on everything.

Between cleaning and getting into the garden on the few non-rainy days we had this past month, I ended up spending less time reading. Here’s the eight books I managed to get through.

1. Agnes Warner and the Nursing Sisters of the Great War by Shawna M. Quinn
Agnes Warner & the Nursing Sisters of the Great WarAgnes Warner of Saint John, New Brunswick served as a nurse in WWI in France & Belgium. She sent letters home, which her friends there bound into a small book to sell to raise funds for Warner to carry out further relief work. That booklet forms the core of this well-researched book about Agnes Warner, her work, and the role of nurses, particularly Canadian ones, in the War (that was supposed) to End All Wars.
4.5 star rating

2. Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth by Lisa Napoli
Napoli, who works in American radio in Los Angeles, spent several months helping Bhutan’s youths to launch and refine their own radio station. You can read my review of her account here.
4 star rating

3. In the Shadow of the Glacier by Vicki Delaney
First in the Constable Molly Smith mystery series, set in fictional Trafalgar, British Columbia (near non-fictional Nelson). The mystery was decent and I enjoyed the Canadian setting, but the surprise ending that came out of nowhere yet was there all along, elevated this book to above average.
4 star rating

4. The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford
Published in 1942, this fictional account of gentry-class girls growing up in 1920s and 1930s England is wickedly funny.
4 star rating

5. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
The second in the ‘Fanny’ trilogy, this one is still funny, but a little more outrageous as the “lumping Colonial” (from Nova Scotia!) who is to inherit Hampton Court turns out to be Cedric, a swishy “Little Lord Fauntleroy” who becomes the life of 1930 London society.
3.5 star rating

6. The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley
The Go-Between,L.P. HartleyPublished in 1952 and set in the summer of 1900. The jacket says: “While visiting the country estate of a classmate, Leo becomes the charmed and innocent carrier of messages between the beautiful daughter of the house and her lover, a handsome tenant farmer. It is a secret known only by the three, the deeper meaning of which is not perceived by the youngster. Then one terrible night, a sudden and agonizing glimpse into adulthood seals forever Leo’s blighted fate.”
3.5 star rating

7. The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives by Lola Shoneyin
Set in modern-day Nigeria, in Baba Segi’s polygamous family. An interesting study of personalities, and a culture and a social situation unknown to me. The family dynamic was both foreign and familiar. The secret of the title is easy to discern, though, and seems anti-climatic when it is finally revealed to Baba Segi. The presentation of the subject matter can be a tad raunchy, which detracted from my enjoyment of the book.
3 star rating

8. Tabloid City: A Novel by Pete Hamill
Highly billed, this low-key thriller started out promisingly but built to several anti-climaxes. Set in NYC, a city I love to visit but don’t know as well as I’d like, it may have been more interesting to me if I could have pictured the exact locations cited as each character’s situation was documented. Some foul language, which seemed mostly unnecessary.
3 star rating

Links for my Canadian readers:

Agnes Warner and the Nursing Sisters of the Great War

Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth

In the Shadow of the Glacier

The Pursuit Of Love

Love In A Cold Climate

The Go-between

The Secret Lives Of Baba Segi’s Wives: A Novel

Tabloid City: A Novel



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Book Review: Alligator by Lisa Moore

March9

In 2006, I volunteered briefly with our wonderful local reading festival Read By the Sea, which invites Canadian authors to the North Shore of Nova Scotia to read excerpts of their work to appreciative audiences. That year, my husband and I had the pleasure of accompanying the authors to lunch, and so I ate chowder in the company of Steven Heighton, Janet Lunn, Lisa Moore, Harry Thurston, Catherine Safer and Deborah Ellis.
Alligator,Lisa Moore,St. John's,Newfoundland
Since that summer, I have wanted to read Lisa Moore’s Alligator: A Novel and cannot fathom why I have not done so before this. Ah well, the wait was worth it.

From the dust jacket:

Meet Colleen, a seventeen-year-old would-be eco-terrorist, who barrels down the rocky road of adolescence while her mother, Beverly, is cloaked in grief after the death of her husband. Beverly’s sister, Madeleine, is a driven, aging filmmaker who obsesses over completing her magnum opus before she dies. Frank, a benevolent young man without a family, believes that his success will come from his hog-dog stand–a business he’s desperate to protect from socio-pathic Russian sailor Valentin.

Set in modern day St. John’s, Newfoundland, the book tells its story through alternating chapters about one of the main characters mentioned. Moore’s word pictures shine. Through them, and many seamless flashbacks, she provides character development, background and plot advancement simultaneously.

There’s a housefly near the jar, bluish and iridescent, cocooned in a spider’s web and dust. The fly has been there, lying on the cracked paint of the windowsill, since Frank moved in a few months before Christmas, two days after his nineteenth birthday.

Although most of the characters are satisfactorly developed, to me, Frank was the most clearly drawn of them. Having lost his mother recently to cancer and being left truly all alone in the world at eighteen, he is a sympathetic figure. His loneliness becomes palpable when his thoughts at seeing Colleen dance in a bar emerge:

He wants to tell her about his hot-dog stand and how hard he’s worked to get it and how much money he makes. He wants to say I can make this much money in a night. He doesn’t want to say it, but he wants her to know it.
He would like to say, I don’t do drugs.
He would like to tell her about the Inuit guy who hanged himself in the apartment over his at Christmastime…
He would like to tell her, or have her intuit, how much respect he had for his mother and how empty the world is without her. He would like to explain how he feels like he has a hole in his chest. He would like her to put her hand on his chest and show him once and for all there is no hole.

More than a plot, the book holds a slice of the characters’ lives and their interactions, although there is a climatic event that affects several of them. The prose in this book sings. Moore’s writing style is fresh and seems to move swiftly.

Alligator is a Canadian best seller, winner of the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize (Canadian and Caribbean region), and a Globe and Mail Book of the Year award. I look forward very much to reading Moore’s latest novel February

literary road trip

This is a stop on my Literary Road Trip through Atlantic Canada.

Solid four of five stars.

Links for my Canadian readers:
Alligator
February

Or better yet, buy from a independent book sellerShop Indie Bookstores by searching this site that has links to independent booksellers across North America.

P.S. If you click through the affiliate links in the book titles, you may notice a different cover. I like to see the cover that’s on the copy I read – and it’s usually different than Amazon.com because they display the American release, and I read the Canadian. Again, the links are affiliate links so I will receive a small percentage of any purchase you make after clicking through from this blog.


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Book Review: Latitudes of Melt by Joan Clark

November18

Ice plays a major role in Joan Clark’s novel Latitudes of Melt,Latitudes of Melt,Joan Clark

Ice delivers Aurora from the frigid North Atlantic to her new family in Newfoundland. Ice becomes her son Stan’s career. The huge icebergs that break off the earth’s polar regions and float off the shore of Newfoundland sink ships but are beautiful to swim around. Ice gives the book its title, referring to the latitudes at which icebergs melt.

“Because Newfoundland was roughly between 46 and 51 degrees north, it was smack in the middle of the latitudes of melt.”

Read the rest of this entry »

What Are You Reading Monday – 02Nov09

November2

What are you reading Mondays is hosted by J. Kaye’s Book Blog

This week I finished reading :

The Iambics of Newfoundland: Notes from an Unknown Shore
Iambics of Newfoundland, Robert Finch

After spending the greater part of a decade traveling around the island of Newfoundland… NPR radio (host) Robert Finch chronicles the people, geography, and wildlife of this remote and lovely place.

Read the rest of this entry »

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What Are You Reading Monday – 26Oct09

October26

What are you reading Mondays is hosted by J. Kaye’s Book Blog

This week I finished reading :

Nothing. Nada. Nyet. I’m just working away on the two that I’m currently reading.

I’m currently reading:
All You Have To Do is Be,Tom Caldwell
1. All You Have To Do Is Be

A very special gift from my sister because Tom Caldwell was our father’s brother.

This week, I read the chapters “forgiving” and “Good”. References, in addition to the Bible: Charles Spurgeon, Alfred Lord Tennyson, William Shakespeare (MacBeth) and Charles Sheldon.

2. The Iambics of Newfoundland: Notes from an Unknown Shore
Iambics of Newfoundland, Robert Finch

After spending the greater part of a decade traveling around the island of Newfoundland… NPR radio (host) Robert Finch chronicles the people, geography, and wildlife of this remote and lovely place.

This week, I particularly enjoyed the chapter about the CBC: “A Half Hour Later in Newfoundland”

Shop Indie Bookstores
Yes, this is an affiliate link – they all are.

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What Are You Reading Monday – 19Oct09

October19

What are you reading Mondays is hosted by J. Kaye’s Book Blog

literary road trip It was a very busy week, reading-wise for me! I finished a remainder,
a top 100 title, two stops on the Atlantic Canada Literary Road Trip, and a library book that I cannot ever remember ordering: Strength Training for Seniors, The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Pie Society, Settlement of Memory, Latitudes of Melt, and East of the Mountains. Read the rest of this entry »

What Are You Reading Monday – 12Oct09

October12

What are you reading Mondays is hosted by J. Kaye’s Book Blog

I’ve just finished reading :

1. The Lonesome Gods

The Lonesome Gods,Louis L'AmourI’ve never read anything by Louis L’Amour who is one of the most prolific writers I’ve run into, and seems to be “THE” name in Western fiction. My dad used to read a lot of books by L’Amour. He’s been gone eleven years so I thought it was about time I investigated those books that were always around the house when I was growing up.

Based on this book, I won’t be wasting my time on any more L’Amour fiction. I finished this one only because I thought some clever coming plot twist would reveal the reason why his work is popular. Alas, I read to the bitter end without finding any such thing.

Perhaps L’Amour’s earlier writing was better. After all, one doesn’t churn out 89 novels & 14 short-story collections over 40 years and maintain quality. I had chosen this novel because, according to Google, it was one of his best-selling books.

I found the writing to be uneven, and L’Amour’s phrasing repetitive. Where in the world were his editors?

His characters were overdrawn, either being completely good, intelligent, kind to animals, well-and-widely-read (in the Wild West where many were illiterate), world-wise, strong, resourceful, astute in business, knowledgeable about their surroundings and on & on OR evil, smarmy, unkind to all creatures, not as smart as the good people and so on.

The plot was formulaic and predictable. You know that the hero will live, get the girl & get rich and the bad people will lose their land & money, and die (all but perhaps one or two that might make for a similarly formulaic sequel).

L’Amour’s setting in 1850s California–definitely the frontier–may well be historically accurate although I found his manner of dropping in semi-relevant facts (some with a century’s perspective) awkward and irritating – much like talking to a social-climbing name-dropper.

If this was a full review, I’d go into greater detail. I’ll save us both from that. Sorry, Dad.

I’m currently reading:

1. Strength Training for Seniors,Michael FeketeStrength Training for Seniors
Subtitled: How to Rewind Your Biological Clock

My chiropractor has recommended core strengthening for me. Since I don’t have the strength to do planks, I thought I’d better get in shape.

2. A Settlement of Memory
A Novel by Gordon RodgersA Settlement of Memory,Gordon Rodgers
From Books in Canada: Rodgers has written a complex and compelling narrative using the history of the labour movement in Newfoundland as his historical anchor. William Coaker and the Fishermen’s Protective Union are paralleled by Tom Vincent and his FC Union based in the outports of the coast and islands of Bonavista Bay. Rodgers’ novel is backed by extensive research; which is the skeleton for a consistent and authentic narrative.


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Book Review: GALORE by Michael Crummey

September16

Michael Crummey was born & raised in Newfoundland, lives there still, and has set all of his meticulously researched novels & collections of short stories thus far in this beautiful, windswept, and harshly-demanding Canadian province.

Galore by Michael CrummeyGALORE is set in the outport villages of Paradise Deep and The Gut, joined by the Tolt Road over the headland between them, in an undefined period that covers most of the nineteenth century and the first few years of the twentieth. The novel chronicles the lives of two rival families (the Sellers and the Devines) for six generations, and I often referred to the genealogy chart at the front of the book, especially during my first reading.

Inspired by the works of Read the rest of this entry »

Book review: A FISH OUT OF WATER – How I Got Hooked on Lunenburg by John Payzant

May29

John Payzant was born in Halifax Nova Scotia on Canada’s Atlantic coast. But, like so many Atlantic Canadians, he spent most of his working life in Toronto Ontario as an investment dealer on Bay Street, considered to be Canada’s version of Wall Street.

In 2004, he decided to trade in city life and move to the small town of Lunenburg near his birth city. Lunenburg’s historic waterfront is also on the Atlantic.

PhotobucketSince his city friends thought Read the rest of this entry »

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