2019 Reading List

Book Titles Link to Outside Reviews

Fiction

My Memories of a Future Life by Roz Morris. Indie Published. I have very confused feelings about this book. I’m reading Roz Morris’s non-fiction about writing fiction (Nail Your Novel), which is full of inspiration and great advice. I know also that she has ghost written many novels. So I really expected and wanted to love this book. From the outset I really loved the title. But….. this is where I get really confused and don’t know what I think about it. As a whole, did I love it? No. Did I want to stop reading it? No. Is she (In my humble opinion) a “good” writer? ABSOLUTELY. Some of her turns-of-phrase and imagery were the sort, that as a lover of words, you stop to admire and maybe read again and have fleeting (and extended) moments of writer’s envy. Simultaneously inspired and intimidated. Example: “He drew the curtains and put a lamp on a low table. When he switched it on the shadows flowed like water into the hollows of the woman’s face.” Her scenes are vivid, the characters distinct. The setting feels alive. But…the story had some issues for me. I found it hard to believe that so many people were so deeply invested in the mundane regression sessions of one average woman. The menacing, almost kidnapping, seemed really implausible to me. The final big scene with the stealing of the tapes and all that follows, was over-the-top to me. Gene was so mysterious, then he turned out to just be a jerk, and her sudden reversal from an artist to someone who decides she hates her art didn’t sit right with me. I guess I was asked to take too many leaps of faith. I got tired, and wasn’t making it across all the chasms by the end. So I guess I feel the plot (though very detailed), was weak, but the writing was wonderful. It was so vivid I know parts of it will stay with me for a long time.

Vox by Christina Dalcher. (Light spoilers) This book started off really well. I thought I was going to love it. The premise was excellent (and scary!) especially for the times in which we live. But after a strong start it fell apart for me just past the halfway mark. It felt very rushed and all the characters started sounding the same. I have no problem with “curse” words, I use them often myself, but at one point it felt like a simplistic way to make the characters sound tough, and it felt way overused to me. I also couldn’t figure out why an old school friend activist that she thinks about often, but hasn’t seen in 20 years, is suddenly being held hostage in the lab? How did they know they had been friends? And what did they think would be accomplished by bringing her there?
I also think that everyone who compared this book to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, did the author a disservice. It made me expect more than this book offers. Atwood is an incredibly layered and masterful writer. This book is not layered, and Dalcher herself says in endnotes that she wrote it in two months based on a shorter work. That made me wonder if that’s why the beginning (likely worked on longer) was stronger, maybe if the publisher wasn’t trying to ride the popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale (which is of course, just an assumption on my part), an editor would have encouraged her to go deeper. I saw enough “good stuff” in Dalcher’s writing and imagination to hope that her next novel slows down and goes deeper. (By “slows down” I don’t necessarily mean the plot slows down, there are many edge of your seat stories. I mean that I felt rushed to the next scene, instead of there being an unfolding tension within the story). I won’t be surprised though, if I hear that VOX is being made into a movie, it has good bones.

Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. I don’t usually read anything that is labelled romance. Not because of any snobbery, I actually love romantic movies. It’s just that I only have so much time to read, and frankly I find romantic love the least interesting of the “loves.” Something labelled romance is usually two people meet, they don’t really like each other, they begin to fall in love, just when you think they will admit it to themselves and each other, something throws in a wrench, but they overcome that and all is well. This book is not that. It’s more about love opening up the main character to be able to love herself. Few books make me cry. This one did. I will likely even read the two books that follow because I care about this character. 

Foe by Iain Reid. Canadian. I’m so unsure what I think of this book. It was very slow. Right off the bat the main character is the only one who’s speech is not in quotation marks. That made me curious as to what that meant, and it’s honestly what propelled me forward. That and the fact that I trust him as a writer. I have read two other of Reid’s books. I read “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” and found it very creepy and page turning, even though I guessed the twist early, so the end wasn’t as satisfying surprise wise. In this one I didn’t guess the end, and when the twist came I was hooked for the rest of the book. I just think it was a bit too slow moving overall. The first book I read of his, The Truth about Luck was wonderful. Not creepy at all, just funny and heartfelt. I know I’ll buy whatever he writes next, but I may wait for paperback for the next one.

Other People’s Houses by Abbi Waxman. For someone who likes suburban drama like Big Little Lies, the writing in this book is quick and funny. The details of daily family life well observed. I just became impatient and bored. I knew that everything was going to work out for everyone for the most part. In my 30’s I probably would have enjoyed this more and probably even read more of her work. I’m just not in that space anymore. It would make a good HBO series.

The Interestings by Meg Wolitzer. I don’t know what’s with me this year. I’m getting impatient with books often. This book is really well written, Wolitzer can sure tell a story. The detail is incredible. I just found them all uninteresting and skimmed along large sections. But I really feel it’s me not the book. I totally get why people love her work, she creates a very vivid world. I liked the end best, when the characters were older and coming to terms with life, and that’s a no brainer to understand; I’m older and coming to terms with life. I am not very interested in YA novels about the angst of being young, and I’ve started to realize there is a SA genre (Sophomore Adult) about angst in your 30 and early 40s, in the midst marriage, toddlers and teens. I’m not there anymore either. That’s not to say I can’t enjoy novels about people in any of those age groups, from teen to 40s, but it has to be about something more than the angst that goes with that age. I need MA novels, about the angst of “Mature” or older adults, lol. Which may be why I did enjoy The Wife by Wolitzer (but I saw the movie, I didn’t read the book, and I actually think I’d like the movie version of anything she wrote).

Everything Under by Daisy Johnson. There was a lot of hype around this book, as the author was nominated for the Man Booker Prize at 27 years old. It was a let down for me. It’s a challenging story (which is something I enjoy) and the writing is beautiful, but I never really entered into this book. I found myself impatient at times. I’m glad I read it, and it is rather haunting, so it will be one I likely remember (over time I tend to forget what books were about and only remember if I liked them or not), but it I don’t think the murkiness of the style served the book. It was very drawn out, which builds suspense, but that suspense has to pay off. It didn’t for me. You can read the review in The Guardian by clicking the title. 

Alphabet by Kathy Page. Canadian. I found it hard to get into this story of a young man serving life in prison for murdering his girlfriend, but once I did, I really wanted to know how things would turn out for him. I liked that it didn’t have a pat ending. It’s more of a deep dive into one person’s mind and struggle than a story. I look forward to reading more of her work. 

The Home for Unwanted Girls by Joanna Goodman. Canadian. Plot: In 1950s Quebec, Maggie’s English-speaking father has ambitions for his daughter that don’t include marriage to the poor French boy on the next farm over.  When Maggie becomes pregnant at fifteen, her parents force her to give baby Elodie up for adoption. Elodie is raised in Quebec’s impoverished orphanage system. It’s a precarious enough existence that takes a tragic turn when Elodie, along with thousands of other orphans in Quebec, is declared mentally ill as the result of a new law that provides more funding to psychiatric hospitals than to orphanages. As time passes, Maggie realizes she must take what she wants from life and go in search of her long-lost daughter.

My thoughts: I enjoyed this book, but it wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought it would be a grittier more emotionally gripping story. It is more of a light romance with historical interest. It is a rather sanitized version of a tragic situation.

Also, I grew up in Montreal and I found the story was a bit heavy handed in the stereotypical references to things Quebecois. For example all the French characters drink Pepsi and Elodie works in a smoked meat deli, and snacks on May West cakes…(which at the time of the story setting would have been called Mae West – it changed to May West in the 80’s when the estate of Mae West demanded the change). It seemed liked a simplistic, English way, to define French culture.

The Wife Between Us by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.  Overall I suppose I enjoyed it, even if it didn’t have me on the edge of my seat . I guessed part of the twist but not all. The ending was a bit too tied up in a bow for my preferences. And the final twist was silly and unnecessary. 

Brother by David Chariandy.  Canadian This book is a must read. It’s a heartbreaking story that may be fiction but tells so much truth. The writing is beautiful. I can’t wait to read more of his books. 

Woman 99 by Greer Macallister. This book had some interesting historical details. The author says that all the “treatments” she describes are from the historical record. This story itself was OK. I knew exactly how it was going to end. I didn’t know how she would escape but I knew she would and I knew the love story would end how it did. So it didn’t keep me on the edge of my seat, but overall it was an ok, light story (despite the heaviness of the topic).

The Nature ofthe Beast by Louise Penny. Canadian. This was my first Inspector Gamache novel. I really enjoyed it. Great characters, loved the Canadian setting. will definietly read the whole series. 

 

Writing and Story

Daemon Voices by Philip Pullman. I thought I was going to really love this book after the first couple of essays, but as it went on I found some of them dry and there was a fair bit of repetition of ideas from one essay to another. Also, I am not familiar with his books as I am not that much of a Children’s Lit reader, so that may also be why it fell a bit short for me.

 

Memoir and Personal Essays

The Lives Our Mothers Leave Us by Patti Davis. I read this book as “research” for the novel I am writing. There are three mothers and four daughters in my story. They all have complicated relationships. I wanted to read about other mothers and daughters to get ideas and insights into this complicated dynamic. So in that sense this book did turn out to be worth reading for me. As a memoir in general, it was a bit thin. There are 24 mother daughter stories. They include Patti Davis herself (for those who don’t know she is Ronald and Nancy Reagan’s daughter) and 23 other notable women including; Lily Tomlin, Candice Bergen, Julianna Margulies, Whoopi Goldberg and Anne Rice. But instead of each woman telling her story, Davis interviews them and then she writes about their relationship with their mother. So everything filters through her in a way that loses some of the real emotion and insight that would have come from the women themselves. All the stories have a sameness about them somehow and at times are a bit sickly sweet. Click the title to read an excerpt. 

Homes by Abu Bakr al Rabeeah with Winnie Yeung Canadian. I read this touching memoir in two sittings. Usually I am reading the memoir of one person, and while this is that, it is so much more. It’s the memoir of thousands. It is also immediate. This is not history, this is an ongoing story to which we do not know the end. I’m so glad that it was highlighted through Canada Reads 2019 (It came second).

Upstream, selected essays by Mary Oliver. This is a beautiful book. Always a poet, these essays by Mary Oliver illuminate the natural world. I loved it. This quote from the essay Winter Hours sums up my feeling: “I would say that there exist a thousand unbreakable links between each of us and everything else, and that our dignity and chances are one. The farthest star and the mud at our feet are a family; and there is no decency or sense in honoring one thing, or a few things, and then closing the list. The pine tree, the leopard, the Platte River, and ourselves–we are at risk together, or we are on our way to a sustainable world together. We are each other’s destiny.” 

The Beautiful No by Sheri Salata. This book came to me at a point when I was feeling like I had maybe waited too long to pursue my goals. It was a feel good kick in the pants that at 57 there is still time and many positives about this next chapter of my life. Click title for more info.

What My Mother and I Don’t Talk About Edited by Michele Filgate. I read this as research for a novel I’m writing that involves mother daughter relationships. I enjoyed it. Like most collections by multiple authors I enjoyed some more than others. 

Self-development

The Compound Effect by Darren Hardy. Excellent book. Lots of get it through my thick skull advice that daily choices are what steer your ship, not the occasional grand gesture or action. I will be rereading this, along with the book Finish by Jon Acuff and maybe, just maybe, I’ll do the things I say I want to do and stop spinning my wheels. Link goes to a great summary of the book for those who don’t want the full ride.

Start by Jon Acuff. I love this book. Jon Acuff is brilliant and funny. I have this as an audio book and I just play it over and over as I’m working around the house, falling asleep or driving. I read his book Finish also. It is also excellent. I’ve read a lot of these sorts of books, and his are by far the best in my opinion. Because they have actually got me out of my fear rut and moved me forward.

Unfu*k Yourself by Gary John Bishop. Much of the same get up and do something advice that you find in many books. But his no nonsense approach gives it an extra kick. I found myself highlighting lots of passages. These books are my guilty pleasure. They give me a kick until I need another kick. 

General Non-fiction

When–The Scientific secret of Perfect Timing by Daniel H. Pink this book is about when to do things for the best results. It was interesting and I found one new tip I already use, the Nappuccino (a cup of coffee followed immediately by a 25 minute nap) it really works! I wake alert and ready to refocus. It was an interesting read. I have read two of his other books, Drive which is very good and A Whole New Mind – Why Right-Brainers will Rule the Future (that one was my favourite).

You’re Wearing That? Understanding Mothers and Daughters in Conversation by Deborah Tannen. I read this book as research for the novel I’m writing, but I learned some things that will be useful in my relationship with my daughter now that she is a young adult. What I found most interesting was the way that intention and message get mangled between mothers and daughters in ways it does not in other relationships. I have a good relationship with my daughter, but we have our “moments” and I think what I learned from this book will make things even smoother, and when we do have moments I’ll be better able to deconstruct where things broke down. 

The Unconquered In Search of the Amazons’s Last Uncontacted Tribes by Scott Wallace. I heard about this book on a podcast and it sounded very interesting and I did enjoy it. Click the title for more info. 

It’s Momplicated by Debbie Alsdorf and Joan Edwards Kay. I was reading this because I’m writing a novel that has a mother daughter relationship at it’s core. I was looking for inspiration for their struggle. But I ended up skimming most of it because it was way too God/bible focused for my taste/purposes.