5

Daisy Jones & The Six

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

In my last post, I talked about how I was feeling the urge to read non-fiction and today I’m going to talk about a fiction book that I really loved hahaha

Nothing if not consistent right?

To be fair, I read a couple of non-fiction books (back-to-back!) when we were at my in-laws’ and I felt zero guilt about it which was nice.

But I had been waiting and waiting for a copy of Taylor Jenkins Reid’s Daisy Jones & The Six to show up at my door and when it did, I needed to read it RIGHT AWAY.

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Daisy Jones & The Six is the story of a fictional 70’s band. It’s told in a series of interviews from the band, their stories don’t always match up as time changes the their memories. Their road to stardom, the groupies, the dynamics within the band, how songs were written and what contributed to the end of the dream are all laid bare.

This book is surrounded by a LOT of hype. If you spend any time on bookstagram, you’ve definitely seen it in your feed many times over. It’s a Reese’s Book Club pick and Reese is also producing it as an Amazon miniseries.

So by the time I finally got my hot little hands on this book, I was also a little bit worried that it wouldn’t live up to the expectations I had built for it.

Twenty pages in:

Daisy: I had absolutely no interest in being someone else’s muse.
I am not a muse.
I am the somebody.
End of fucking story.

Yeah, this book was very much in my wheelhouse.

I. Loved. This. Book.

I loved that, despite the number of men involved in the story, set in a masculine time in a masculine industry, this story was a feminist one. I loved that the women decided their own futures, were in charge of their own destinies. I loved how fully formed each woman was – even a ‘peripheral’ character like Simone came to us as a whole person with her own story.

I loved that Jenkins Reid told an entire story via interview. I loved how layered this made the story, how the events were told from different perspectives, experienced differently by the players. I loved that it was a story about falling in love with yourself, about understanding one’s weaknesses and finding a way to live with them anyway. I loved what the novel had to say about love and marriage and working together and rock ‘n’ roll and what it’s like to be the girl in the room.

Such is Jenkins Reid’s talent that I forgot at times that I was reading about a fictional band. I definitely had to stop myself from googling things more than once. Daisy is a flawed heroine, someone who makes terrible decisions and hurts the people around her but you still can’t help but root for her, to be dazzled by her (fictional) talent. I miss her already.

Daisy Jones & The Six made me laugh, cry, cringe, gasp and everything in between. Taylor Jenkins Reid has the ability to make me care so much about the characters she creates – this was true when I read After I Do, still true for The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo and it holds up now. If I had to pick a favourite between Evelyn and Daisy, I honestly don’t think that I could.

If you’re worried the book won’t live up to the hype, don’t be. This is a book that will sit with you long after you finish the last page. It’s the kind of book that you’ll see on the bus, the beach, at the park – in short, everywhere.

 

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0

Into That Fire: A grown up love story

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

I’m lucky enough to get books sent to me by Penguin Random House Canada. But I often forget what I’ve requested and sometimes the books arrive and my excitement levels are fairly low. I look at some books and go “why did I think this would be something I’d want to read?”

I know, I’m a jerk.

That’s kind of how I was feeling when I sat down to start reading M.J. Cates’ Into That Fire. Plus, it’s CanLit which is a genre I still struggle with. I tried to get a sense of what other readers were feeling via goodreads but there was virtually no information about the book there. I was apprehensive to say the least, anticipating a several-days’-long-slog of a read.

I could not have been more wrong about Into That Fire. It was wonderful.

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It is 1916 and Imogen Lang knows she’s about to break Quentin Goodchild’s heart. He is her best friend in medical school but she knows that he wants more than she’s prepared to give. Imogen has plans to go on to Baltimore, to work in a lab and with patients to try and find a cure for madness. When she finally tells Quentin how she feels, she breaks his heart and Quentin determines to join the army and die. He leaves to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force (the States isn’t involved in the Great War at this point) and Imogen leaves for Baltimore to try and further her career. But Imogen wasn’t prepared for the sexism she was going to encounter in pretty well every aspect of her life and when she hears that Quentin has been killed she starts to think about the life she might have had with Quentin.

Into That Fire takes its time. The characters have the space to become fully fleshed out, to live and love, to fail and succeed. I had initially thought of it as a WWI story but it’s so much more than that. It mostly centers around Imogen and her fight to become recognized as a professional in a time when women basically all dropped out of the few careers open to them once they married and had children. There’s a whole psychology thread to the book that I wasn’t sure I would enjoy but I felt like it added so many layers to the book.

I can’t say that this is an emotional book but I did find myself getting ENRAGED by some of the sexism Imogen encounters. She is constantly being undermined, forced to explain herself, and held to infuriating double standards. When the man she marries blames her for the problems in their marriage because she insisted on working once they had children even though he always said that he wanted her to work, supported her dreams, I almost threw the book across the room. I wasn’t swept away but I was definitely invested.

I spent a fair amount of time wondering about the identity of M.J. Cates. It’s a pseudonym for a Canadian writer who has written many novels and won several awards under another name. If you know who this is, please please tell me. I did a casual google and couldn’t find out. I’m leaning towards Cates being a woman but I honestly couldn’t put money on it.

Into That Fire is a full grown love story with layers and three-dimensional characters, littered with truths about the human condition. I’m still thinking about it and need to tell more people about how good it is.

1

The Hiding Place

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

You know how there are certain times of year that have piles and piles of new thrillers ready for you to read? This is definitely one of those times of year as people get ready to escape chillier climes for sunshine and beach reading.

C.J. Tudor’s new book, The Hiding Place, is definitely a great book for reading poolside. This isn’t to be confused with Corrie Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place which is about something very, very different.

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Joe Thorne has come home, a place he never thought he’d willingly come back to. Arnhill is a little village in the north of England, marked by the rise and fall of the coal mine. The cottage that Joe rents was the sight of a horrific murder suicide; a teacher at the school killed her son and then herself. Joe isn’t bothered by living in the same place that was so recently the sight of so much horror – he’s here to keep an eye on a friend from the past, to make sure that something that happened years ago isn’t happening again.

If you read Tudor’s previous novel, The Chalk Man, this one might feel familiar. Both feature rather unlikable middle-aged men who were a part of a particular kind of friend group in their youth, trying to piece together what happened years ago and what relevance, if any, they have to what’s going on in the present day.

But The Hiding Place has a creeping element of horror that was unexpected. Horror is not a genre I ever read but I was surprised to find that I enjoyed it, probably because it was done with a light touch. I thought that I knew how the story was going to end and I definitely guessed part of it, but Tudor did a better job than I realized of obfuscating the mystery.

I’m trying to find more to write about this book but I’m struggling. I liked it, I enjoyed reading it, I’ll probably pass it along to friends who I think would enjoy it. But it’s not the kind of book the benefits from a whole lot of dissection. Some books are just meant to be enjoyed on a beach, or a plane, by a pool, or apres ski. The Hiding Place wouldn’t be out of place in any of those spots.

6

A beautifully written letdown

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

You know those authors whose work you read where one book really stood out but other work hasn’t but you keep wanting it to click? I think Diane Setterfield is one of those authors for me. I remember loving The Thirteenth Tale and was really excited about Bellman & Black but it never quite worked for me and the same thing has happened with Once Upon A River.

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Our story begins on the shortest night of the year when regulars gather at The Swan to have a drink and tell stories. On this night a stranger stumbles in with a dead girl in his arms before collapsing in front of them all. They tend to the man’s injuries and put the girl in another room. Later, the little girl comes back to life but she can’t speak and tell them who she is or what happened to her – she isn’t the daughter of the man she came in with.

For the next several months the community tries to figure out who this little girl is and what happened to her.

This book was about 100 pages too long in my estimation. But I can see why it’s this long because the problem with Setterfield is that she writes so well! Once Upon A River was at once incredibly easy to read and way too long and I spent a lot of time thinking about not finishing it. One of the early issues that I had with it was she tried so hard to make the river a character in the story. Pages and pages of description of the river and life by the river and how the river takes people for her own and gives so much to the people at the same time. I’ve never been one for long descriptions of nature (I don’t want to think about what this says about me…) so this was just way too much for me.

The other issue I had, aside from the story taking so long to actually come together, was that it didn’t feel like the reader was in on any of it. In most mysteries, the reader feels like they have an idea of what’s happening and I think it’s one of the reasons the genre is so fun to read. We like to feel like we’re on the inside. Once Upon A River kept introducing new characters, motivations, stories.

And again, it was so beautifully written I wanted to scream:

…And Lily herself haunted these fantasies, an invisible figure who diverted wasps from flowers that Ann bent to smell, who removed thorny brambles from the bushes where the red ball landed, damped the sparks that leapt from the fire on to the hearthrug. She averted all dangers, managed all risks protected from all harm. Nothing could hurt Ann while she lived in the Vaughn’s house and while Lily watched over her from afar; the child’s life was nothing but comfort safety and delight.

When the story did eventually come together I was satisfied but it never quite took the sting out of the rest of the experience for me. I wanted to like this one so much more than I did.

10

Allergic to the Man Booker

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

We’re all aware that in the last few years there’s been renewed interest in feminist dystopian writing. Margaret Atwood gets trotted out to crown new authors and we keep searching for someone to write something that captures how we feel.

The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh definitely fits this description, down to a Margaret Atwood quote on the cover: “a gripping, sinister fable” she calls it. But if you look more closely, you will also see that this was nominated for the Man Booker Prize and you know what that means.

It means that the book will barely be readable, undone by lofty prose pretending to tell big truths about how to human.

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Grace, Lia and Sky are sisters held captive on some kind of island by their parents. Their father, who they sickeningly call King (could be his name, could be a title, either way: ew), has disappeared after going to the mainland for supplies. He is presumed dead and it is up to their mother, a woman who takes far too much enjoyment out of meting punishments to the girls for their transgressions, to keep them safe.

But safe from what? Presumably men and the things that they do to women. But what is King doing to these women, his daughters? One of them is pregnant and how did that happen when he’s the only man on the ‘island’? With their father gone, Grace, Lia and Sky along with their mother must fend for themselves when three males find their way onto the island.

It seems like The Water Cure is supposed to be some kind of thrilling fable, a cat and mouse game on an island inhabited only by women and the man who has taken it upon himself to guard their virtue. But I spent most of the book just wondering what the hell was even happening. It seems like perhaps Mackintosh was so busy ensuring her prose was beguiling and vaguely sinister to remember to actually incorporate any kind of plot. All these shadowy insinuations on what happened to force the family to the island never come to anything, the reasons for the men coming to the island are hardly more clear and the ‘resolution’ if we can call it that, left much to be desired.

Don’t even get me started on the odd 2nd person storytelling in the beginning.

The Water Cure clocks in at just 266 pages but I lost count of how many times I checked to see how many pages I had left. I probably should have DNF’d this but I was so sure there would be some kind of payoff.

There wasn’t. Shame. I’d have loved to have found a cool new feminist dystopian novel.

2

Canadian Chick Lit

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

You know how the more you read of a certain genre, the harder it becomes to enjoy it? I’ve been reading Chick Lit for close to twenty years (what?!) and I go through phases where I think I won’t ever enjoy another iteration.

I worried a little bit that that was happening with The Matchmaker’s List by Sonya Lalli but I’m happy to report that it did manage to redeem itself. Plus, this book is Canadian and you all know how that’s always been a challenge for me.

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Raina Anand has just turned 29 and her nani is keen to get her married to a nice Indian boy. Raina has a great career, owns a condo in Toronto (no small feat!) and has a great group of friends – she’s a catch! The problem is that Raina’s heart isn’t in it; she’s still hung up on Dev, the guy she was with while living in London who definitely isn’t ready for that kind of step. When they broke up Raina was devastated and wore out the patience of her best friend, who is now planning her own big Indian wedding.

There was a point in the book when I was afraid it was going to become a story about a girl waiting on the wrong kind of boy to come to his senses and realize he wants to be with her, that she would only feel validation once he loved her.

Happily, the further I read the more layers I peeled back. The Matchmaker’s List is a kind of boy-meets-girl story made fresh by the cultural observations of an Indo-Canadian woman. It’s the story of three generations of women in a family trying to come to terms with what their relationships to each other and their community look like. Raina gets into all kinds of trouble by letting her grandmother think that she’s gay so she will stop trying to set her up. In borrowing a narrative that doesn’t belong to her, she realizes that she’s cheapening the story for those who it does belong to.

The Matchmaker’s List was funny, it was honest, it felt real. It’s a completely Canadian story while also being universal in its themes of love, family, and the journey to find our true selves.

3

Review: A Spark of Light

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

More than ten years ago, a friend gifted me a copy of Jodi Picoult’s My Sister’s Keeper for Christmas. After devouring that in the Dublin airport, I made my way through her back catalogue. At this point, I’ve read nearly all of her books, seen her speak in a bookstore and follow her on Twitter. I’d stopped reading them as religiously as earlier – I felt like her books had become somewhat formulaic.

But Small Great Things was incredible and got me back on the Picoult bandwagon.

I expected another tour de force with A Spark of Light and was somewhat disappointed.

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A Spark of Light is the story of a shooting at an abortion clinic, of the person doing the shooting, the people stuck inside, and those who are affected on the outside. The book begins with the climax of the shooting and works backwards, hour by hour, to fill in the gaps of how that day came to be. The story is told by the hostage negotiator whose daughter and sister happen to be in the clinic, by the daughter, an older woman who has just received bad news, a nurse doing her best to help those injured, a doctor who always feared this day would come and a protester who is undercover, trying to get dirt on how the clinic really operates.

Picoult is not known for shying away from big issues. She always thoroughly researches her stories, her characters are always fully formed. Picoult specializes in taking big issues and breaking them down so that they are digestible, so that readers can see things from a perspective they hadn’t necessarily considered before. She didn’t do that with Small Great Things – it was clear where the right side was. Unfortunately, it felt like Picoult was going out of her way to balance the scales in A Spark of Light.

I went back and forth on this one. A Spark of Light starts with the adrenaline running and I found myself immediately invested. But the further back we find ourselves, the less exciting the story is, the further from the action we are. I thought maybe Picoult was trying to show both sides initially so that she could come down on the Pro-Choice side in the end, but she didn’t.

I guess I expected more from Picoult in this instance. At a time when women’s rights are under attack, when men are increasingly legislating women’s bodies, it felt a little irresponsible to give a voice to those who would support those politicians. I guess the bottom line for me is that I don’t really care about what would motivate a man to shoot up an abortion clinic. I do think Picoult tried to work around the shooter but I’m not sure that it totally worked for me.

Had this book been released five years ago, I probably wouldn’t have an issue with it. It’s classic Picoult in a lot of ways. But in light of the state of the world, it was a little too much reality for me.