My Reading

Currently reading:

Will Ferguson’s 419

Just finished: (NOTE: I do not mention books that I cannot recommend.)

March 2013

Grace Note by P.J. Parsons. I thought that reading a piece of fiction written by a colleague would be uncomfortable, but I was sooooo wrong. Of course, if the book stank, maybe it would have been but this book is fabulous. I totally lost myself in the European Middle Ages. The page turner hosts the very well-developed characters of Hildegard of Bingen (yes, St. Hildegard) and Lysanor, and secondary characters who add spice to country and convent life. If you’re interested in historical fiction, order this book online. The language, the research, the settings will not disappoint. I think book clubs might especially like this one. Some readers are sure to love it and others might have different opinions. The last part of the novel, in particular, is bound to bring up rich discussion.

Louise Penny‘s Still Life (thanks, DF, for the nice prezzie) and (WOW!) The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks. I learned so very much from this historical account of a Jewish prayer book making its way through continents and centuries. How does Brooks do it? I’ve read two of her books now, and am so impressed not only with the amount of research she does but with her storytelling abilities. If you like Barbara Kingsolver, you’ll love Geraldine Brooks.

April 2012

The Odds: A Love Story by Stewart O’Nan, thanks to the fine foks at Simon & Schuster (US), who sent an Advance Uncorrected Proof to me as a contest win. L.O.V.E.D. it. If you like the poignant subtly of Bonnie Bernard’s work, you’ll like this book. It’s the story of a married couple on the brink of financial and love disaster, who take a trip to Niagara Falls to test the odds of staying together. We spend the weekend with them, and their memories. Along the way, we are forced to search for meaning in our own selves and relationships without even realizing it.

December 2011

Crepusculo por Stephenie Meyer & Secret Daughter: A Novel by Shilpi Somya Gowda

August 2011

Caleb’s Crossing by Geraldine Brooks. A fantastic historical novel about the first Native American to attend Harvard College. I was sent an advanced copy of this by Penguin Group (Canada), and am so grateful. I am not certain I would have picked it up otherwise because although I like historical fiction, I don’t tend to seek it out. If you don’t either, I’d encourage you to do so with this one. Brooks’ writing is engaging and clear, and the voice of the narrator is exquisite. Bethia Mayfield is a feisty and intelligent 12-year-old when we first meet her. As she grows up and old, we grow to care about her very much. We are, especially, reminded of the discrimination smart girls felt (and perhaps, to some extent, still feel) in the colonies. Based on this book, I’d like to read others by Geraldine Brooks, and will begin with People of the Book or March, which won the Pulitzer Prize.  (I wonder what rock I’ve been living under to have missed such a prolific writer!) Oh, and one more thing: The typeface in my copy is divine.

November 5, 2009

Suddenly by Bonnie Burnard

Check out my review dated November 11, 2009.

October 2, 2009

The Winter Vault by Anne Michaels

I’m not going to review this one because of time limitations. I would recommend it to anyone interested in engaging with poetic language. Set in the 1960s, Michaels contextualises the love story in the building of the St. Lawrence Seaway (Ontario) and the Answan dam in Egypt. The lives that are destroyed by these “innovations” include those of the two main characters. There’s also a storyline that involves occupied Warsaw, which might seem like too much for some who like clean story lines. It works because of the relationship between Jean, the female main character, and her Polish emigre lover. This novel reminds us that the redemption of the human spirit is possible, if not imagined.  A profound story told by a genius storyteller.

Sept. 13, 2009

The Twisted Heart by Rebecca Gowers

See my review post dated Sept. 14, 2009

Sept. 2, 2009

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

A fantastic story that’ll make you happy, sad and thankful you can read. I’d heard about this one for a long time, and finally picked it up. While some of the horrible animal abuse scenes made me uncomfortable, I took solace in knowing that in the end, the good guys win. This is one of the best endings I’ve read in a long time. For anyone who needs a good story, but really relevant to book clubs who like to delve into history and ambiguous memories of the narrator.

August 24, 2009

The Interpretation of Murder by Jed Rubenfeld

Yay! A real page turner that is certain to make me an historical mystery reader. Rubenfeld’s New York City at the turn of the last century is rich with description of architecture, the police department, and the high society. Oooh, it’s a good one. Plan on spending a few nights in the tub with several glasses of wine with this one.

August 15, 2009

The Little Stranger by Sarah Waters

Not one of my favourite Waters books. Maybe because it’s a ghost story, maybe because it’s yet another story about the annoying class system in England, maybe because I just wasn’t in the mood. Others, and those more important than me, think it’s a good story. Maybe you’ll like it. Waters is a fantastic storyteller.

The Opposite of Love by Julie Buxbaum

See my short review post dated July 6, 2009

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

See my short review post dated June 23, 2009

Something Different, Something Smart

Blindness by Jose Saramargo

Holy Cow, what a book. This is on my life’s top 10 reads.

What would society look like if we all went blind? Well, a whole heck of a lot worse than it is now if we can imagine the world according to this extraordinary Portuguese author. In an award winning style of unconventional narrative, Saramargo and his translators (the first one died while working on the novel) paint for us through nameless, but not label-less, characters how whether we see or not, we can all be crappy to one another and yet find faith in humanity through dogs and each other.

Good for the Person who Seeks Travel, Wisdom & God

July 4, 2007
Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

My friend Sue sent this entertaining, eupeptic and instructive “memoir” to me. Both she and Jennifer send me the most awesome books–I guess they both know me well by now.

At first I wasn’t sure about reading about a successful-New York-author-in-her-30s search for pleasure, spirituality, peace after a bad divorce and failed love affair. I mean, really. Cry me a river. I thought, “you get an advance to go live in Italy, India and Bali and I’m supposed to have compassion for your misery? No way, sister!”

I did end up with compassion for “Liss”, as the author’s Bali medicine man calls her. Not only did I feel for her, but also I respected her in the end. I always respect people from whom I learn. I enjoyed learning about: the history of the Italian language–and was happy someone felt about Italian the same way I feel about Spanish; life in an Ashram and the experiences of meditation; and, being introduced to some of the intricacies of Bali real estate.

Gilbert’s prose is effortless, and sparkled with humour. Especially impressive is her ability not to overuse references to wiser people who have left us as so many contemporary New York authors do.

Thanks, Sue! I’ll be certain to share the book with others.

A good, good read for beach readers who like substance, travellers, yogis (or those interested), spritual seekers, lovers (or those interested).

Travel in time, place and social consciousness

July 28, 2007
The Birth House by Ami McKay

It’s been a while since I read this book, but I thought of it yesterday while laying on the beach. The delicious memories it evoked have prompted me to write a bit about it here, and to recommend it to you, my readers. You can find out more about The Birth House at the official–and fantastically adept social networking–website. She also has her own personal/professional page.

Thoughtful and historically rich details about an area called Scot’s Bay in northern Nova Scotia form the important setting of this beautiful story of Dora, a young woman who has a gift for helping women deliver their babies, and her friends and family in a small fishing village. Recipes for natural remedies, clips from real ephemera material (such as clips from early 20th c. newspapers), and powerful dialogue tell the story of the Halifax explosion from a caregiver’s perspective, life before electricity and the interwoven religious and mystic powers that formed this community.

Especially important is McKay’s historical reflection on the struggle for women’s control over their own healthcare. Coming from British Columbia, where many of my friends chose home birth or at least considered it a “normal” option, to a place where it still is considered “weird” and “dangerous” by locals and some of the mainstream press, I think The Birth House can work to remind us how far we still have to go.


8 thoughts on “My Reading

  1. Hi DeNel,
    Just wanted to say that your book recommendations are fantastic. I have read both of them, and completely agree with your reviews. Good books are so satisfying, and these two were great reads. Looking forward to reading any others you suggest.
    All the best,

  2. Glad you enjoyed them, Heather. I just read Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard ( catalog/display.pperl?978034547099). I’m on a review panel for Random House in the US, and every-once-in-a-while they send me a book to read and review. I didn’t recommend this for a reading/book club, but I certainly enjoyed the suspenseful narrative, colourful characters, and down-right good storytelling set in the American mid-west in a small town much like the one I grew up in.

    Thanks for taking the time to read what I have to write!

  3. Hi DeNel!

    It’s been a while since I’ve visited your blog, and when I came across my name here I was startled! Ha, ha! Heather MacLean? Oh, that’s me!

    Over the summer I had a chance to read some amazing books, so I thought I’d share:

    The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway

    The Hour I First Believed by Wally Lamb

    After River by Donna Milner

    I’m deep into thesis writing, but enjoy coming up for air at the end of the day (after a little yoga, gotta stretch!) to some good fiction. The G&M just released their “must reads” for fall, I have a long list I can’t wait to dive into. In the meantime, this is next on my list:

    The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley.

    I’ll let you know!

    All my best from Kingston, and I’ll talk with you soon (the excitement of a new semester! yay!)


    1. Thank you for the recommendations, Heather! I read The Cellist last spring and loved it, too! I heard Lamb on CBC and have been waiting to get The Hour I First Believed. I’ll put After River on my tbr list, too. Thanks, and happy writing! drs


  4. Hey DeNel –
    Just got a “referrer” from your blog to mine so I thought I would visit. Noted your current reading includes Vanity Fair. Earlier in his career Editor Graydon Carter was the Editor of a magazine called The Canadian Review based in Ottawa. I wrote a Television column for him in 1975-76 (yeah I know, before your time or at least early days!). He certainly went on to bigger and better things. Just a bit of trivia.

  5. Hey Pat! Good to hear from you. Sorry to have taken so long to respond. I’ve been head down writing myself.

    I think that’s a pretty great story about Carter. I’ve always admired him. He may have gone on to bigger and better things, but so did you!

    Take care.

  6. Hi DeNel, So, a tough question (or,maybe not so tough),…how is what you are reading related to what you are writing? When you read fiction, are you thinking about your writing or, is fiction a way to ‘escape’ your writing? And, is that even possible when you write about fiction? I’ve had lots of time to read while I’ve been on sabbatical this year but, I read from two completely separate ‘stacks’ of books -one which is spread across my desk downstairs while I write and, another which lives upstairs, in my Kindle. Are your stacks of books ever introduced to each other?

    1. Hi! The only fiction I read related to my writing is fiction that is chosen by mass reading event producers or a book club I am studying. As you know, close reading and literary analysis isn’t my area of expertise so I don’t read for that purpose. However, I usually read that fiction through a different lens than I would read the fiction I choose for my own pleasure. My pleasure reading is indeed an escape from my life and my work.

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