13

Books I’m Bringing: Easter edition

I never used to get that excited about Easter. Yeah, there was chocolate involved but it also meant dressing up, lots of church and a dinner that involved a ham which has never been my favourite. But for the last several years, it’s meant an extra long weekend to visit my in-laws at the lake which has pushed Easter onto my list of favourite holidays.

As those of you that have been followers for a while know, this means it’s time to talk about the books that I’m bringing! Sometimes the weather is sunshiney and awesome, other times it’s cold and wet but really it doesn’t matter what the weather is doing because I can read inside or outside.

When I first started thinking about what to bring, I thought this might be a good time for some of the non-fiction I’ve been meaning to get to: Missoula, Bitch, The War That Ended Peace. But with the kind of week it’s been, I’m not sure my heart can take anymore rage.

So fiction it is.

I’m bringing:

The Hypnotist by Lars Keplar. This seriously twisted husband/wife duo wrote The Sandman , a book that I couldn’t read alone at my bus stop. The Sandman was actually the third in the series, The Hypnotist is the first. I think I will have to read this one early in the weekend because I suspect my father-in-law might be eyeing it down and it will stay behind for him.

A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams. A long weekend always seems like a good time to read about beach vacations. Memorial Day weekend in 1938 and a socialite beachfront community? Sign me up. I had been looking for this book for a long time and it always seemed to be sold out. Found it on my birthday for $5 – a sign.

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie. Surely you all know my rule by now: a long weekend must include Agatha Christie. I recently watched the new production of And Then There Were None (recommend) and it whetted my appetite for another good Agatha Christie caper.

Servant’s Hall: A Real Life Upstairs, Downstairs Romance by Margaret Powell. OK so I guess I’m breaking my no non-fiction resolution a little bit. But since this is a Downton-inspired read, a follow up to Below Stairs, I don’t think there’s too much risk of giving myself a rage stroke from this one.

The Last Days of Magic by Mark Tompkins. I feel like maybe my  life needs some magic right now so what’s better than a book of magic and mysticism, filled with Celts, fairies, mad kings, Druids and a goddess? Probably nothing. I hope that there is some sunshine to be had for this one – I suspect reading would be greatly enhanced sitting in a bright spot in the garden.

Be Frank With Me by Julia Clairborne Johnson. When I bought this, the woman at the register got really excited. She said it was charming and full of heart and said she thought I would love it. Alright then!

The Illegal by Lawrence Hill. I’ve spent the week listening to the panellists on Canada Reads talking about how great this book is, how beautifully written, what wonderful, inspiring characters it has and how readable it actually is. So now I want to find out how right they are.

Where should I start? What are you reading this long weekend?

Happy Easter!

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17

Review: The High Mountains of Portugal

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

I am the only person in the world who hasn’t read Yann Martel’s The Life of Pi. Or seen the movie.

And if I’m being honest, I don’t even really want to. I’ve heard that the whole thing is one big allegory and I’ve never been one for that kind of reading. My reading is mostly firmly rooted in reality: crime fiction, history, historical fiction, biographies, social sciences – that’s my wheelhouse.

Yet when I read the description of The High Mountains of Portugal, something about it struck me and I wanted to read it. It was this piece, in particular: “…a Portuguese pathologist, devoted to the murder mysteries of Agatha Christie finds himself at the centre of a murder mystery…”

I mean, Agatha Christie? Sold.

mountains

This book is quest driven. In the first section, entitled Homeless, Tomás, mired in grief over the deaths of his partner, their son and his father, discovers the journals of a priest in the 1600s and sets out to find a relic described therein. He believes that finding this relic will change everything. Tomás is angry at God and wants to embarrass him, to take away God’s son as God took his. His quest takes him to the High Mountains of Portugal, to a small village, an ancient church.

Years later the pathologist tries to  help a woman from this same village in the High Mountains of Portugal find out what happened to her husband. Her grief also sends her on a quest but not for any one thing, just for answers. I enjoyed the beginning of both of these sections, especially the discussion around Agatha Christie: And so the explanation for why Agatha Christie is the most popular author in the history of the world. Her appeal is as wide and her dissemination as great as the Bible’s because she’s a modern apostle, a female one – about time after two thousand years’ of men blathering on.

The final section follows Peter, in the wake of the death of his wife, leaving Canada and his job as a Senator for his family’s native Portugal with a strange companion: a chimpanzee named Odo who he has in effect rescued from a chimpanzee ‘sanctuary’. This was my favourite section, the one that I was most able to enjoy. It too dealt with the themes of grief and faith but in a much less heavy handed way. There was no preaching about God and Jesus in this one. Just a man trying to figure out how to live life without his life partner and finding salvation in a change of place and a new companion.

This book is strange. I almost gave up on it several times. I think I’m glad I stuck it out but only because I so enjoyed the story of Peter and Odo. There is no doubt that Martel is at the top of his game – he is a writer of unquestionable talent and clearly a very brilliant thinker. But it’s almost too intellectual for me. I’m not a reader that enjoys ruminating on the mysteries of faith and religion. Just tell me what happened. The second section was so graphic, with the play by play of an autopsy, that I almost stopped right there. And then it took such a strange turn when the body is opened up – almost like a fairy tale. The first section dealt so much with the actual mechanics of the first automobiles that I could feel my eyes glazing over.

I’m not the right audience for The High Mountains of Portugal but I know a few people that would love this book. I’m going to loan them this book asap.If you like extended metaphors and allegorical story telling, if you love a book with a healthy helping of the strange and can totally suspend your disbelief, I’m sure that you’ll enjoy this one.

6

Crime Fiction shorts: Partners in Crime

I picked up Agatha Christie’s Partners in Crime because I saw a trailer for a TV version of it and wanted to read the book before I watched it.

I just watched the trailer again and am now surprised by how different it is from the book – namely that it’s taking place in the 1950s and Tommy and Tuppence are now evidently spies in the Cold War.

But we will get to that.

I chose Partners in Crime as a sort of palate cleanser after the short story experience of The Tsar of Love and Techno. I was ready to jump into a story and stick with it for a couple of days. Or hours, really. Agatha Christie books are never more than 300 pages.

So I was pretty shocked to realize that Partners in Crime are a bunch of short stories featuring Tommy and Tuppence Bereford!

tommy and tuppence

Tommy and Tuppence are probably the least popular of Agatha Christie’s characters. They are a married couple who solve crimes that come their way as proprietors of a detective agency in London. Tommy and Tuppence both worked for the secret service during the war – although as Partners in Crime was published in 1929, one presumes that “the war” in question was actually the First World War. Now that the way is over, Tommy is still working for the agency in some capacity but Tuppence is bored at home – their place isn’t that big and it doesn’t take that much effort to keep it running smoothly. So when Tommy’s boss asks them to operate this agency undercover, Tuppence convinces Tommy that they should do it.

The stories are short and sweet, if a little far-fetched at times. But they are still extremely clever. Some cases are little more than misunderstandings, such as the missing fiancée who is actually just at a kind of fat camp, while others are more serious and have shades of spy rings.

They decide that they will emulate famous fictional detectives, which actually is really hilarious. Sometimes they try and be Sherlock Holmes, other times a pair of detective brothers but when the decide to copy Hercule Poirot and encourage the use of “the little grey cells” – well that’s obviously the best.

This little book is very much of it’s time and while I don’t have much time for Tommy, I’m a fan of clever Tuppence. It seems like TV adaptations always make Tuppence seem kind of scatterbrained and flakey but she’s actually much the cleverer of the two. Tommy is very much a man of his time but Tuppence is quite modern.

In the end though, this book is from 1929 and when Tuppence gets pregnant, of course she will give up work.

I’ll still try and watch the show but I’m not sure that Tommy and Tuppence will be my Agatha Christie go-to.

17

Library Checkout: November 2015

We’ve already celebrated Thanksgiving up here in Canada but since this will go up on American Thanksgiving, just wanted to wish all of you celebrating a happy, delicious day with your loved ones.

I know I’m super thankful to Shannon at Rivercity Reading for starting this handy little library love chain letter because it means I don’t have to think about content for a blog post! And of course, I’m so thankful to have such wonderful libraries close to home because they continue to support my love of reading without devastating my bank account.

Let’s get to it!

LibraryCheckoutBig

Library Books Read

Dreams of Joy by Lisa See
Broken Harbour by Tana French
Snobs by Julian Fellowes
The Hypnotist’s Love Story by Liane Moriarty
The Pearl That Broke Its Shell by Nadia Hashimi

It felt like I had a strong library reading month but actually, I just had a strong library visiting month. I did manage to read these before my crippling inability to CHOOSE a book handcuffed me. (Anyone else feeling this right now? I dread finishing books because I have to DECIDE what I’m going to read next and I don’t want to make the “wrong” choice. As if there’s such a thing.)

Checked Out, To Be Read

The Wife, The Maid and the Mistress by Arial Lawhon
Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra (I thought I had A Constellation of Vital Phenomena, Chelsey, but I don’t! This is the one I grabbed)
Carol by Patricia Highsmith

For some reason when it’s time to choose a new book and I look at these books I don’t want to read any of them. But I have the same issue with all the books I have yet to read, the ones I’ve borrowed and my own. What is happening?

Returned Unread

The Bishop’s Man by Linden McIntyre

I started reading it, was looking forward to reading it in fact. But nothing about it hooked me and after 60 pages I decided that actually I wasn’t in the mood to read about the horrible things priests did to kids that the Church did nothing about.

On Hold

Still nothing! I don’t deserve to get to hold anything – I was late returning some of the books and now I owe $0.60.

What did your library month look like? Any tips for healing my choosing paralysis? 

 

10

Flat Crime Fiction: Broken Harbour

A few years ago, I did not read crime fiction.

Hard to believe now, isn’t it? I don’t even remember what triggered my love for the genre a few years ago but now I can’t get enough.

I read the Swedes, the Norwegians, the Scots.  I have a newfound love for Linwood Barclay and continue my love affair with Agatha Christie. Taking a stab at the Irish, I recently read Tana French for the first time and found that The Secret Place was well worth the 452 pages it took to get to a resolution. I was definitely game to read more of her work.

I thought Broken Harbour was the first of the “Dublin Murder Squad” books. It is not – it’s the 4th. Why can I never seem to get the right book in the right order? Why is this so hard?

It seems like they all work as standalones, so it’s not actually that big of a deal.

Detective Mike Kennedy is being given another stab at a high profile case: a family found dead in a house about an hour outside of Dublin, in what is now called Brianstown. He takes his brand new partner, Richie Curran, with him to show him how working a high profile murder investigation goes. When they get to the house, they see that the whole development is a dump – the victims’ house is one of the few finished houses in a sea of half built, abandoned house shells. Kennedy himself feels very uneasy about being back in Brianstown – it had been called Broken Harbour when he used to spend two weeks of the summer there every year as a kid. He has fond memories of the place, until he thinks about their last summer there.

His past is all super secrety and his fear that his younger sister, Dina, will find out about him working this case, is all very interesting but it leads to nothing.

Seriously. This book is 533 pages of dense crime fiction-y writing. And I would have been totally down with that if the secondary story had a point, but it doesn’t. Even the main event is kind of suspect. We spend a lot of time wandering around these wild animal message boards that one of the victims seemed obsessed with. Kennedy is a cranky old detective who wants you to believe that he’s seen it all but when his newbie partner sees things differently, Kennedy refuses to entertain his ideas.

I’m glad that these “Dublin Murder Squad” books work as standalones because I don’t think I want to spend any more time with Kennedy. The sister angle, which could have been so great, was really just sad. Same with the actual crime. It kind of made me feel like a voyeuristic creep for enjoying the sad state of their lives.

At least I didn’t enjoy it too much.

22

I Swear I’ve Been Reading

I have been suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuch a slacker blogger this week. I kept meaning to put some posts together but I’ve been so busy and then so tired from being busy that when I do get some time I just really want to watch 10 episodes of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia because, I mean, it’s the best.

And to be totally honest, I’m still not 100% on my game. So instead of the quality reviews and posts that you’ve obviously come to expect, here are a couple of mini-reviews. Less effort but you know that I’m not dead so everyone wins.

ShanghaiGirls_cover

Shanghai Girls by Lisa See. Pearl and May are a pair of beautiful sisters, daughters of a wealthy business man in Shanghai. It’s 1937 and they spend their evenings in the “Paris of Asia”, modelling for calendars and hobnobbing with all the right people in exclusive nightclubs. But when their father loses all their money, he arranges marriages for both of them with the sons of a man who has gone to California to find his fortune. Soon after, their entire world literally collapses as the Japanese fly in and bomb Shanghai. With nothing left, the girls travel to Los Angeles to join their husbands but nothing in their new life is what they expected.

Why did no one tell me that this isn’t a complete story?! I read the whole thing and then it ends and I was like “WHAT’S THE REST OF THE STORY!?”Apparently there’s a sequel (Dreams of Joy) that needs reading? But I don’t even mind because it just means I get to spend more time in Lisa See’s world. I find that See does an incredible job creating a real sense of place. Ultimately this is a classic sister story, where two very different women have to live together because of their sisterhood and it was wonderful.

ronson_coverSo You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson. I’ve been meaning to read this book all year. Every time I saw it at a bookstore, I would stop and read a few pages. Turns out I’d read a lot more of it than I realized because almost the entire time I was actually reading it, I had an intense déjà vu feeling. I expected it for the first chapter, and I knew I had read the Justine Sacco (the woman who sent that tweet about how she wouldn’t get AIDS in South Africa because she’s white?) chapter online but I had definitely already read about 60% of the book and I have no idea how that happened. Still this is the kind of book that I want to highlight and underline. Ronson’s look at shame in this social media age, where we share everything about ourselves, good and bad, so publicly was amazing.

But there were also parts of it that I read that made me so angry. Not because of anything he wrote but because of what he realized. Namely that if you are a woman and you f*ck up publicly, be prepared for your life to be over. Whether you’ve sent an ill advised tweet, become involved in a sex scandal or even called out men for sexist jokes, you will be hooped. But if you’re a man, it will probably blow over. I’d definitely recommend it, especially if you work with media in any capacity.

murder-after-hoursMurder After Hours by Agatha Christie. Do you ever think that I will read an Agatha Christie novel and come away going “that was terrible”? Me neither. A whole bunch of people are invited up to an English country house. Unusually for Christie’s novels, a lot of the story takes place before anyone ever gets murdered. You meet the victim and get an idea of how they are related to all the other people invited for the weekend. When the murder occurs, Hercule Poirot has just shown up for lunch. I will never know how Christie constantly manages to trick me. Every time I’m like “I got it this time, I’ve finally figured these out!” and every time I end up like “WHAT?! HOW?!” Agatha Christie, I will always bow down to you, you are superior to all of us.

How about you? What have you read recently?

4

Jo Nesbo Surprises: Blood on Snow

Full disclosure: I received a copy of this book from Penguin Random House of Canada in exchange for an honest review.

When I started reading Blood on Snow, Jo Nesbo’s latest book, I didn’t have any expectations of being surprised by anything new. I started this book at a time when I was looking to read something that was familiar. I was expecting cold Norwegian streets, gruesome crime, and a deeply flawed hero trying to reclaim some of his humanity by going after those responsible.

Blood on Snow is not that book. Jo Nesbo can still surprise.

nesbo

Olav is a contract killer. He’s good at his job – he’s efficient, knows his limits and doesn’t ask too many questions. But when his client asks him to kill his wife, Olav finds himself getting in too deep. When he goes off script and kills someone else, figuring that he’s solved the problem without killing the beautiful Corrina, he brings down a whole other world of hurt on himself.

This book is set in 1977. There are no cell phones, no tracking devices, no surveillance, no street cameras, no emails to leave a trail. Calls are made from pay phones in the street, tickets booked using false names without corresponding ID, and disappearing from Norway to Paris still seems far enough.

This book is short – just 207 pages. While I was reading it I thought of it a sort of novella but now I’m wondering if maybe it wasn’t more in the style of an Agatha Christie. Her novels are rarely more than 250 pages, yet they are complete stories, breathtaking in their complexity. Blood on Snow too has its own secrets to offer.

The best part of Blood on Snow is Olav. He’s unique. He’s what you might get if you crossed Holden Caulfield’s stream of consciousness with the underworld of any given city. Olav is well-read, books are his friends despite the fact that he suffers from dyslexia and it’s difficult for him to actually read them. He’s a deep thinker with a penchant for facts and a good heart – for instance, he has no money from his “jobs” because he sends it all to the widow of one of the men he was paid to kill. He doesn’t exactly mesh with the traditional version of a contract killer Hollywood has given us.

But eventually, Olav’s secrets are laid bare and then you might feel differently about him.

Jo Nesbo, you’ve done it again – you always come through.