What I’ve Read (2017)

I have been keeping track of the books I read for years.  This year, I have decided to commit them to digital memory (but I will probably back this up on paper).

This is by no means a place to boast, but rather just to record because there will (hopefully) be some great books here, but there will also be some pretty standard books and probably a few stinkers.

August

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig.

zen

The Hard Way Out by Dave Atwell

The Party by Robyn Harding

July

The Steel Kiss by Jeffery Deaver

Nine Dragons by Michael Connelly

Downward Facing Death by Michelle Kelly

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

This was a decent sequel to the Rosie Project.  It had a good amount of OCD related humour that fans of the Big Bang Theory would like and few good emotional turns.  I would have liked a bit more detail on some of the secondary characters, but since they weren’t the main characters, I shouldn’t complain.

June

Running with Raven by Laura Lee Huttenbach

I don’t read a lot of non-fiction, and few biographies.  This one, however, was definitely an interesting portrayal of an offbeat, but charismatic individual.  The book was fast paced and full of lots of colourful stories.  I don’t run, but I wish I could run eight with Raven.

Bit by Bit: How Video Games Transformed our World by Andrew Ervin

The Best of Adam Sharp by Graeme Simsion

While some of this was a bit unbelievable, I liked it on par with High-Fidelity (the book, no so much the movie–though don’t tell John Cusack I said that because he is one of my favourite actors.

It’s a story about love…funny how many ways there are to tackle this one.  You would think we could figure it out by now.

 

Object of my Affection by Jill Smolinski

object

May

One of the boys by Daniel Magariel

boys

This is a short novella that I read in one round-trip commute.  Despite that, it packs a lot into those relatively short pages and it should be celebrated for its economy with words as well as its emotional power, brutal descriptions and the ability to put you right in the action without sacrificing a good build up.

I don’t agree with the blurb that the father is complex protagonist/antagonist.  I don’t think he was written as a sympathetic character at all.  He is a mean, manipulative character that is interesting to read about, but not sympathize with.

 

The Readers of Broken Wheel Recommend by Katarina Bivald

broken

I read the blurb on this one at the library and thought the idea was interesting.  A young Swede ends up in Iowa, hoping to meet her long time pen pal, but arrives just as her funeral is winding up.  Sounds good so far doesn’t it?

It’s not exactly a love story.  It’s not exactly a comedy?  Okay, maybe it is a romantic comedy–but don’t ask me to cast the leads.  It isn’t a heavy book, but it is charming in its own way and definitely worth a beach read.

 

 

The One-cent Magenta by James Barron

magenta

Okay, thanks to Lawrence Block’s hit man character Keller, I have an interest in stamps.  Is it strong enough to read a book about one stamp?  Well, when it is this well written and really interesting (fascinating actually) the answer is yes (full stop).  This is a great book.  I enjoyed every single page.

The book is about the world’s most valuable stamp (think millions of dollars) and the interesting and strange characters that have owned it.  I don’t want to spoil the story, so just go read it.

Maggie Cassidy by Jack Kerouac

maggie

I guess I am still in my beat phase.  That isn’t a bad thing, but it is curious.  I decided to tackle some of Kerouac’s work that I am unfamiliar with–the truth is that I am unfamiliar with a lot of it and a lot of beat literature in general.

As I have said many times, I am not into Jazz music.  It doesn’t speak to me and it doesn’t make my body move.  In this book, there is clearly a jazz sensibility that propels the descriptions and dialogues.  Sometimes it is beautiful and sometimes it is hard to follow.  I think if this had been recorded in its entirety, I would have enjoyed it more.  Of course it would have to be read by a skilled reader and some who could transfer the vernacular to the lips.  I would have loved to hear the displaced Quebecois accent of Lowell Massachusetts.

It was a lovely and heartbreaking story of youth and definitely worth reading.

Off the Road by Carolyn Cassady

off the road

Maybe I like the thought and sentiment of the Beat Generation more than the beats themselves.  Having reread On the Road, I went looking for some more background information.  Perhaps, I should have looked for a more objective voice or a different subject matter.  This book was mostly about Neal Cassady the real life inspiration for Dean Moriarity.  I had little sympathy or connection to the character after reading the book and didn’t have any more when this book was finished, despite the fact that everyone in both books speaks so lovingly of him.  I probably should have read about Kerouac, or a thesis on the beat generation.

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

survivor

This novel started out great, but seemed to fall apart for me.  Normally this is because the author didn’t take chances, did respect where the characters had come from and where they were going.  This isn’t the case with this novel.  It took chances, but those chances did not pay off.  Those chances left me bored, left me skeptical.  Those chances made me want to skip to the end–which is coincidently where this book started.

It was definitely different and had the potential to shake things up.  It just didn’t. wouldn’t try to dissuade you from reading it because it wasn’t bad, it just couldn’t reach me.  It couldn’t shake me up.  Maybe I am asking too much of it.

 

Roses Are Difficult Here by W.O. Mitchell

roses

I remember when this book came out.  I was still quite young and had graduated university.  Of course, I had read Who Has Seen the Wind and loved it.  Of course, I took it as a Canadian Buddhist text–but that’s another story.  When they announced the book, I thought the title was perhaps one of the most beautiful I had ever heard.  I still think so.

The book was a lovely slice of small town western Canada.  I can’t say I identify with it, but it all feels so familiar.  It is beautifully written, with compassion and humour towards its characters.  No one comes across as morally superior or morally bankrupt.  In other words, they are just like us.  The us we don’t show people that is.

April

The End of the Day by Claire North

the end of the day

This book was a bit challenging in a post modern kind of way.  The storyline was far from linear and there were several chapters of interruptions–chapters written as if spliced from conversations overheard at a restaurant.  The effect was good, but the point is a bit lost on me.

The topic, the Harbinger of Death as a job, was unique and interesting.  It was funny and ironic, as well as brutal and gloomy.  I liked it, but didn’t like its challenges.  It didn’t leave me sad or angry, but it left me a bit unfulfilled.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

rosie

First off I enjoyed the book, but having watched many seasons of The Big Bang Theory, this kind of character can be a bit tedious and come off as quite heartless.  While I know that was the point, I am wondering if it could have been done better.  Maybe the phrase I am looking for is not so black and white.  Not having any experience with Asperger’s syndrome, I cannot fully understand this character.  Nonetheless, since they mentioned a “scale”, this seems to imply that there re stronger and weaker cases.

The story is funny and uplifting, and definitely worth reading.  I blew through it in two days of commuting.  And yes, I will read the sequels.

The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell

house we grew up in

Okay, when I went to the library I took all the Lisa Jewell books I found.  I know I shouldn’t do this, but I did, so there isn’t much point in talking about that.

Despite the fact that I have read two of her books this month, I have to say that once this book got moving, it became quite gripping.  I don’t always like books that move around in time so much, but this one wasn’t bad.  It was no Time Traveller’s Wife, but it seemed rather easy to keep things in perspective.

The story was not so complex, but it was rather mysterious.  There was quite a nervous tension permeating the whole book.  I sensed it early on, but I couldn’t put my finger on it until the end.

This one is definitely worth reading, but make no mistake, it is not a happy book full of happy people.  Rather it is a book populated by somewhat broken people and manifestations of their brokenness.

A Spot of Bother by Mark Haddon

botherI liked this book, though I felt like it took longer than it should.  I could relate to most of the characters, but felt that most of them were just a tad askew.  Maybe that was the point.  Maybe it was supposed to be looking at a slightly off kilter mirror of your family.

I did laugh out loud at parts and I am sure you will too.  You will also find moments of tension which are all too relatable for the all too human characters that populate this book.

Oddly enough, I got most of the reading done while waiting in line for my order of Fish and Chips on Good Friday.  The fact that I was able to concentrate in that noisy environment should tell you just how riveting the conclusion was.

After the Party by Lisa Jewell

after the party1

I am breaking a bit of a rule here.  I generally tell myself that I shouldn’t immerse myself in one author.  Even if I plan to read everything an author writes, I tried not to read them consecutively.  It leads to a kind of burn out.

While this book was well written, I had less sympathy with the characters and although they could be funny at times, I saw them as completely responsible for their own mistakes.  When a couple on the verge of a breakup tries to assess blame, they should look at these two.  When the say “we both made mistakes”, these two would have to nod in total agreement.

after the party2

However, as I wrote, it is well written and rather believable.  If you love her books this one will not disappoint.   If you’re me, and you love the ideas more than the books themselves, this one may seem less clear, less unique.

I have to say, I love who ever does these covers for her books–the graphic ones.  I mean, the artists seems to be able to convey mood without facial expressions.  I think that is truly amazing.  As for the cover of the one I read (shown below) I think it is just too literal.  It is too blatant and too much like a high school essay on themes. Oh well.

Roommates Wanted: Until You Fall In Love by Lisa Jewell

roomates

I’ve read a couple of Lisa Jewell books and liked them, so I thought a few more wouldn’t be a bad idea.  This one appealed to me because it was different and I knew that it would be filled with quirky characters.  The idea was interesting and I really started to care about the characters and what their choices would mean.  I also kept it in the back of my mind that Ms. Jewell does a good job of not going for the obvious endings.

I read the book on the bus and enjoyed it enough to smirk and chuckle inwardly despite being in a public place.  The title pretty much gives everything away, so there is no need for me to summarize.  Definitely worth reading, I just hope it won’t make you judge your life too harshly.

March

The Road to Little Dribbling by Bill Bryson

dribbling

Bill Bryson is one of the very few authors who can make me laugh out loud on a crowded bus and not worry about it in the slightest.  His follow up to Notes from a Small Island is full of his wanderings around Britain and the deadly funny observations he has.  I loved this book and now I am going to search out the audio book that the author himself recorded.

When the Music’s Over by Peter Robinson

music over

The Banks detective novels are wonderful.  This one is no exception.  I read this on express read from the library.  That meant I had only 7 days to read it.  Not a problem at all.  It was gripping.  I had to put it down only when I was too exhausted from work to keep reading.

The only problem with reading a series of books like this is that you have to wait for a year or more for the next one.  I have the same problem with Rankin and Butcher.  I desperately want to read another one, but have to wait.

Shark Mutiny by Patrick Robinson

Okay, this was a bit of a detour into escapist fantasy.  I usually read a couple of these books a year.  They are fun, technically accurate, but escapist fantasy all the way.  I bought this to read on the play during my Vietnam trip but didn’t get to it because there were too many good Japanese movies I hadn’t seen and I had the Bill Bryson book.

This was my least favourite of all the Patrick Robinson submarine books.  I am not sure why, but it just was.  I probably won’t pick up one of these again until 2018.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

woods

I have like Bill Bryson’s work since I read Notes from a Small Island many years ago.  I love his sense of humour and writing style.  This book was no different, except that it was about hiking the Appalachian Trail.  Maybe it is because of that Sheryl Strayed book that I find myself reading hiking books.  I don’t know.

The book is rather more informative than I felt was necessary, but perhaps that was the point.  I learned much more than I expected while still laughing out loud on the bus–which unnerved some of my fellow passengers, but only made me smile.  Recommended.

February

A Friend of the Family by Lisa Jewell

a-friend-of-the-family

I picked up this Lisa Jewell book before I picked up the other one (see below).  That I read them in a different order is neither here nor there.  It is just how things happen in my life of rushed morning commutes and even more rushed moments to get to those commutes.

I really enjoyed this book.  I thought it was going to be a little predictable, but it was much less predictable than I thought.  Of course the cover of the book I read (different than the picture I have put here) led me to a different conclusion.  It would also have helped if I had know whether Gervase was a man’s name or a woman’s.

a-freind-of-the-family-2

You can see how I was a bit misled.

Nonetheless, the story of three brothers and their upside down world turned even more upside down and more right side up was both funny and moving.  I could relate to all of the brothers and all of their difficulties and attitudes.  They had made decisions, badly and rashly and were going to have to deal with them.

I will definitely be reading more books by this author, so you can expect to see them appear here in this space.  Oh, and I found the other book cover, just so you can see what I mean.  Oddly enough, there are tons of different covers for this book.  I guess that it means I am late to the party.

The Three Count by Jimmy Korderas

3 count.png

Yes, I admit it.  I read books about Pro Wrestling…or Pro Wrestlers….older ones.  The truth is that I haven’t really enjoyed one since Mick Foley’s books, but that doesn’t keep me hoping that one of these will be a gem like those two were.

In this case, the book is written by a referee.  This seemed like a first, and I was instantly interested.  This seemed like a much bigger inside track than a wrestler.  I was also pretty interested that this would be written by a Toronto boy, and I expected to relive my youth a little.  Sadly, the book disappointed me at every turn.  Yes, it had good insight and history of the person, but very little about the events in the squared circle.  He didn’t want “to bury” anyone, but that is where most of the interest comes from.  I was expecting stories of mishaps, missed counts, and miscommunication.  While there was some of that, there wasn’t really a lot of that.

One chapter promised to explain what a ref does….but it didn’t.  At least, not the nuts and bolts detail I was looking for.  No terminology, no explanation of talking under your breath, not much of anything.

The one saving grace of the book are the chapters on Eddie Guerrero and Chris Benoit.  Their lives ended tragically and the tributes were both heartfelt and gave a good account of how the events played out for the performers on those harrowing days.

The Making of Us by Lisa Jewell

making-of-us

I am not sure at all how I came across this book.  Probably it was because I found one of her most recent books in the new book section of the library and thought the idea was so cool that I should check out some of her other books.  It could also be because the cover of this book is beautiful.  I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but it really is beautiful.

The book has the fascinating premise of finding out you were born via sperm donor and you and your siblings could find each other.  Unbelievable?  Unlikely?  I think we live in interesting times, and nothing is so unbelievable.  In fact, I thought the premise was brilliant.

The books was a portrait of people who had lives and parents and somehow managed to grow up without ever meeting their biological father.  It might be an examination of just what exactly family is.  It might be a story of how love is distributed and developed.  It might just be a good story.

It was tender as it was harsh.  I loved the different character perspectives that it was written from and I thought it was beautiful at times.  Definitely worth reading.

This Is A Book About The Kids In The Hall by John Semley

kids-in-the-hall

I loved watching the Kids in the Hall.  I thought they were funny, edgy and witty.  It didn’t hurt that they were Canadian either.  When I came across this book in the “new” section of the library, I just had to read it.

The book gives a good account of the actors, their history, their eventual forming, their breakups and their fights.  It isn’t one long melodrama, but rather a decent capturing of their history.  It made me go to YouTube and watch a ton of their sketches.

Unbound by Steph Jagger

The blurbs on thiunbound.pngs book compare it to both Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Eat Pray Love.  If I were to be honest, I see the comparison to Wild somewhat, but I am quite sure it doesn’t really touch Eat Pray Love.  Both this and Wild focus on a physically demanding journey and huge backpacks, but just don’t have the gravity of EPL.

 A woman, Steph Jagger, decides to ski 4 million vertical feet in one calendar year, and on the way through that journey destroys and reassembles herself.  I had just gone skiing and thought this book was calling out to me from the New books stack.

It was good, but didn’t really speak to me.  I enjoyed the journey, the struggles and the triumphs.  I didn’t understand the destruction and rebuilding and didn’t feel the romance the blossomed in her life.  Maybe, I am to cynical.

I think skiing is a good metaphor to explore, and Steph Jagger certainly has the personality and attention to detail that made it a good read.  I should also point out that it was rather funny.

January

Beware That Girl by Teresa Toten

beware-that-girl

I am probably not the target reader for this book.  It was well written and the pacing was good, but the subject matter didn’t really connect with me.  It reads like Gone Girl for teenage girls.  It was believable and tense and worth a read if the subject matter can grasp you.

Target America by Scott McEwen

target

Who’s kidding who?  There is no way I could declare this to be great literature.  It is escapist fantasy (based in reality) pure and simple.  Maybe it was a palette cleanser.  Enjoyable, fast paced, and full of lots of military bravado.  Think of it like reading 24 without as many double crosses.

The Sniper and the Wolf by Scott McEwen

sniper-and-wolf

After my less than stellar review of this book’s prequel, you might wonder why I would bother reading this one.  The truth is that I took both books out of the library at the same time and it was still around when I finished the other book.  Also, I am not a quitter.

This one was a bit more action packed and enjoyable than the previous one.  It was very fast paced full of death, betrayal, intrigue and macho killers.  I wouldn’t call it everyone’s cup of tea, and it wasn’t as deep as some political thrillers.  Still,  it made some very bad commutes do able.

Dr. No by Ian Fleming

drno

I have always wanted to read the source material for James Bond movies.  I knew that their resemblance to the movies had the possibility to begin and end with the title.  This one was at least slightly like the movie ….at the beginning.  The end was another matter.

A bit chauvinistic; undoubtedly a product of its time.  Good pacing, clearly described, but not entirely believable.  Bond is certainly more human and less invulnerable than the movies and for that I was grateful.  I might read a few more of this series but it probably won’t be until next year.

The Winters in Bloom by Lisa Tucker

winters

There are a lot of books which contain the phrase, “their past has caught up with them.”  This is the first time where the past has been rather human and altogether believable.  This is a book that reveals human failing for what it really is…human.

I  read this book less like a whodunit, despite the fact that it had all of the themes of it (hidden secrets, unreliable narrators,  infidelity, mistrust…) and more like a novel of discovery and redemption.  Very enjoyable and highly recommended.

Pirate Utopia by Bruce Sterling

pirate

When I think of Bruce Sterling, I flashback to the early days of cyberpunk.  This novel, or more precisely novella, is nothing like that.  It is a satire on the time between the World War one and World War two in a carved out niche in Italy ceded to Yugoslavia, where revolutionaries manage to change their world.  Women gain equality and poets can exert political influence.

It is definitely a satire and has some incredibly funny moments.  I just didn’t connect with it.  Satire is broad and doesn’t always allow for fully defined characters.  That is a failing in this novella.  I laughed but I wouldn’t have cried.  I cheered the lunacy of it all, but couldn’t gather up any other emotion or even intellectual curiosity for the time period.

Bit Rot by Douglas Coupland

bitrot.jpg

I have been a big fan of Coupland since I read J-Pod.  I know he is more famous for Generation X, but J-Pod was the novel that got me into him as a writer.

This book is a collection of his writings.  There re short stories, scripts, essays and random thoughts.  They range from a couple of sentences to several pages–which made it excellent for the commute.  It kind of reminded me a bit of Vonnegut, thought not as idiosyncratic.  I laughed sometimes.  I snickered sometimes.  I even shook my head once or twice.  I wouldn’t call it a great book, but a book of some great ideas.  It has honesty and a fair bit of self deprecation along with bravado and bold face taunts.  It isn’t everyone’s cup of tea….but maybe it should be.

Pleading Guilty by Scott Turow

I picked this one up because I was in the mood for some lawyer drama.  That shouldn’t sound weird considering Law and Order was such a long running TV show and people like John Grisham have really carved out such a niche.pleading-guilty

This book was less about courtrooms and more about good old fashion detective work.  That isn’t bad, but it wasn’t what I had planned on reading.  The main character was your typical haunted past type with a weakness for alcohol–making him seem more like a patsy than the outspoken justice hunter you might suspect.

It was a good read with lots of plot twists and turns.  The only downside was that most of the corporate characters were pretty two-dimensional and not easy to remember.

 

5 Responses to What I’ve Read (2017)

  1. I see what you meant about being drawn to graphic covers. You certainly are! (And so am I.)

  2. I enjoyed reading your book reviews. I’ve never read a Lisa Jewell book, and now I’m intending to. Which one would you recommend the most? I also am rather judgmental about book covers: I don’t like those that show photographs of people – I think the reader should decide her/himself what the main character looks like. I prefer covers like The Winters in Bloom. In my own books, I use more of a background photo with the title getting more of the attention. But…I may try to change my covers at some point, like Jewell obviously does. :-0

    • Anthony says:

      Not being in the publishing business (yet), I really have no idea who chooses the covers, or whether this had to do with different editions. I do know that I liked the drawn covers more in this case.
      I also like photographs that just depict something (like School of Terminal Velocity).
      If you do change the covers, it will mean more that you can display (on your shelf or on your wall).

      As for which Lisa Jewell book to read…..I would say Roommates Wanted or the Making of Us. They were just different enough, but full of good insights without being too heavy handed.

    • Anthony says:

      Thanks also for your compliment about my reviews. Based on what I have read on WP, most people want long very detailed book reviews–at least that is what popular bloggers seem to write.
      I am not so inclined. Maybe this is the result of too many literary essays at university. Maybe this is because I don’t want to spoil the book for you. I am not sure.

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