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.

Writing and Story

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.” 

Self-development

General Non-fiction