VAL'S BOOK REVIEWS


VAL'S BOOK REVIEWS



Raise-a-Reader.
Canada's literacy campaign.


AUTHOR
TITLE
(PUBLISH DATE)
RATING (OUT OF 10)
COMMENTS
Allende, Isabel
Daughter of Fortune
book cover
(1999)
2
What a disappointing read! The characters were all over the place, and new ones were introduced near the end, leading to nowhere. For example, why was the character of Lola Montez even mentioned? She appeared on all of a few pages at the end of the book, with absolutely no significance to the story. Was she supposed to be Eliza's long-lost mother?

In all, Eliza's long search for Joaquín seemed rather boring; the story had chapters, characters and storylines that could have been totally eliminated to tighten the writing; I was disappointed to find out that John was Eliza's father - I felt that it had literally been included as a last thought. I would have rather read about the developing of an intimate relationship between Eliza and her adoptive mother, Ms. Rose.

Available off-site: Plot summary, topics for discussion, reviews, excerpts, author interview, reading questions, author biography, and the author's official site.

Reviewed: March 2001

Amis, Martin
London Fields
book cover
(1989)
1
Amis attempts to make his characters amazingly quirky, but rather than being fascinating, they wind up being rather annoying. The writing is pompous and rather difficult to sift through.

Available off-site: The Martin Amis Web.

Reviewed: October 2001

Ammaniti, Niccolo
I'm Not Scared
book cover
(2004)
8
A good story about a boy's loss of innocence in rural Italy. This novella is based on a true story.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 6 October 2006

Canadian author
Anderson-Dargatz, Gail
A Recipe for Bees
book cover
(1998)
8
This book started off slowly, but by the third chapter was a much more interesting read. The story is told through Augusta, whose mostly turbulant marriage takes her from her youth to her old age.

Available off-site: Reading guide here or here.

Reviewed: Summer 2002

Canadian author
Atwood, Margaret
Alias Grace
book cover
(1996)
9
Excellent writing by Atwood; her massive research efforts paid off. She presents an unbiased view as story-teller of a (fictionalized) true story. Very poetic.

Available off-site: Reading guide, and Margaret Atwood's official site.

Reviewed: July 2000

Canadian author
Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin
book cover
(2000)
4
I usually adore Ms. Atwood's writing, and eagerly consume each of her words, however, this novel of a story within a story was rather tedious and dry. It lacked her usual wittiness, or rather, it lacked much of Atwood's charm.

I highly agree with the New York Times' review by Thomas Mallon (link below).

Available off-site: Reading guide, reviews, and Margaret Atwood's official site.

Reviewed: November 2003

Canadian author
Atwood, Margaret
Cat's Eye
book cover
(1988)
7
I read this immediately after reading "Alias Grace." It's not as good as Alias Grace, but is quite an interesting book about the relationship between females. This book has been said to have been semi-autobiographical.

Available off-site: Reading guide, and Margaret Atwood's official site.

Reviewed: July 2000

Canadian author
Atwood, Margaret
The Edible Woman
book cover
(1969)
4
Atwood's first novel was not overly exciting and I did not feel compelled to finish the book, even halfway through.

Available off-site: Reading guide and Margaret Atwood's official site.

Reviewed: August 2005

Canadian author
Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale
book cover
(1985)
9
According to Atwood, it is a tale that is "[a] cognate of A Clockwork Orange, Brave New World, and Nineteen Eighty-Four…" Offred is a Handmaid, one of the women who are responsible for the repopulation of Gilead, and it is her tale that it related. This is a modern classic which mirrors a world in which we already partake, but with interesting twists. Among other things, it brings to surface the struggles of women, class issues, ageism, and racism. A must-read for any woman, but also is a book that must not be overlooked by men. I highly recommend this great book for book clubs, as the above-mentioned topics are cause for great discussion.

Available off-site: Reader's guide and author interview, study questions, character summaries, chapter summaries, reading guide, a study guide, and Margaret Atwood's official site.

Reviewed: Summer 2002

Canadian author
Atwood, Margaret
Oryx and Crake
book cover
(2003)
8
Atwood's newest book is a take on the absurdity and destructiveness of humankind's technological advances of today. I would recommend this book as it is witty and has an adventurous storyline, but it is just not Atwood's best.

Available off-site: Official site from the publisher, reading guide, author interview, various book reviews, and Margaret Atwood's official site.

Reviewed: Summer 2003

Canadian author
Atwood, Margaret
Wilderness Tips
book cover
(1991)
5
Atwood is bizarre and witty in her writing, but I am just not a fan of short stories.

Available off-site: Margaret Atwood's official site.

Reviewed: Summer 2005

Austen, Jane
Emma
book cover
(1815)
7
This book was a window into the lives of the upper-class in England's Victorian age. Although the story moved very slowly and was somewhat predictable, Austen's writing was charming.

Available off-site: A list of reading guides, and the Jane Austen Information Page.

Reviewed: November 2001

Canadian author
Badami, Anita Rau
Tamarind Mem
book cover
(1996)
6
We are presented with two narrations in this book: first the young daughter who has moved to Calgary from India, and then her mother who is now a widow who is travelling throughout India to see the sites that her husband never took her as a railroad employee. Some enlightened moments, but the writing was average, and so was the storyline.

Available off-site: Author's biography, and a list of links from Google.

Reviewed: January 2004

Canadian author
Baldwin, Shauna Singh
What the Body Remembers
book cover
(1999)
7
This is the story of Roop, a young Indian woman whose kismat (destiny, fate) it is to become the second wife of a wealthy man. This book gives an interesting view of British colonialism as seen through Indian eyes, but unfortunately, the author does not take chances in her writing (HINT: Isn't Tuesday a bad day for travelling?).

Available off-site: Author's biography.

Reviewed: January 2003

Canadian author
Bergen, David
The Time In Between
book cover
(2005)
5
This was very boring and irrelevant writing that could have been an interesting look at a former Vietnam veteran returning to an unrecognizable land thirty years later. Bergen falls short, especially in characterization, but also in connecting all of the pieces.

Available off-site: For discussion (questions).

Reviewed: 9 March 2006

Binchy, Maeve
Nights of Rain and Stars
book cover
(2005)
4
An overly simplistic, formulatic story of four people who run away from their lives and meet on a small island in Greece. My first read of Binchy, unfortunately.

Available off-site: Concordances.

Reviewed: May 2006

Canadian author
Birdsell, Sandra
The Russlander
book cover
(2001)
7
Birdsell writes wonderful prose in this story of Katya, a Mennonite girl who escapes being slaughtered along with most of her other family during World War 1 in pre-communist Russia. I found this book started off rather slowly, but wound up being quite an interesting historical read.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 9 March 2005

Canadian author
Bock, Dennis
The Ash Garden
book cover
(2001)
7
Bock is a good writer but I thought that the book moved quite slowly.

Available off-site: Author interview.

Reviewed: December 2005

Brown, Dan
Da Vinci Code
book cover
(2003)
8
This is an above-average historically-based mystery/thriller. The characters are somewhat generic and the puzzles simplistic, but overall a fun read with conspiracy theory and symbolism to ponder.

Available off-site: Da Vinci Code Research Guide, Dan Brown interview on Da Vinci Code, and How the Da Vinci Code Doesn't Work.

Reviewed: May 2007

Canadian author
Burles, Heather
Smouldering Incense, Hammered Brass: A Syrian Interlude
book cover
(1999)
5
Burles' account of travelling alone through Syria and neighbouring countries during the late 1990s is sometimes interesting culturally, but overall I just did not care for the author's writing or stories.

Reviewed: 11 October 2004

Carey, Peter
True History of the Kelly Gang
book cover
(2000)
5
This book about Australia's infamous "Kelly Gang" just was not exciting.

Available off-site: Author biography, and reading guides: paperback; hardcover.

Reviewed: Summer 2003

Canadian author
Chong, Denise
The Concubine's Children: Portrait of a Family Divided
book cover
(1994)
9
Wow! What a phenomenal read! This book of non-fiction traces the family history of Ms. Chong's maternal side, and details how this side of her family was divided between China and Canada. A great history lesson about Vancouver and Nanaimo's Chinatowns, Canada's treatment of Chinese immigrants, and of the hardships faced in China. A must-read. Please let me know if you find a reading guide for this one!

Reviewed: December 2000

Canadian author
Cohen, Leonard
The Favourite Game
book cover
(1963)
6
The first of two novels by Cohen. A strange and sometimes warped book about a young Jewish man from Montréal who is coming of age. It has been said that it is semi-autobiographical - I would hate to think that Cohen is so cruel, lost, and egotistical.

Reviewed: 2001

Canadian author
Compton, Wayde
49th Parallel Psalm
book cover
(1999)
9
This book is a black history of British Columbia as told through poetry and stories. Wonderful use of language. EXCELLENT!

Reviewed: 2001

Canadian author
Coupland, Douglas
Hey, Nostradamus!
book cover
(2003)
9
Coupland's writing is wonderful and he thoroughly engaged me as a reader. This is about more than a highschool shootout: it is about life and death, the existance of God, the lives of people who have to face their own demons, and ultimately about how people treat each other.

Available off-site: A visual presentation of the book from Coupland's website, and a reading guide.

Reviewed: 6 October 2006

Canadian author
Coupland, Douglas
JPod
book cover
(200?)
2
I found this book to be a great disappointment after reading "Hey, Nostradamus!" Unfortunately, either you "get it" or you really don't and are left to have to try to decipher the techno-geek humour.

Available off-site: A website for the book.

Reviewed: June 2007

Canadian author
Crummey, Michael
River Thieves
book cover
(2001)
3
This was a hard-to-follow, boring read. I was interested to read about the Beothuk, but lost interest when I lost track of the characters' names.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: June 2006

Canadian author
Day, Frank Parker
Rockbound
book cover
(1928)
8
This is truly a lost classic. Day's writing is an allegorical story of (hu)man versus nature in a fictionalized town on the south shore of Nova Scotia where everyone is vying for a better life.

Available off-site: Reading guide (opens in .pdf), The Archives of Frank Parker Day, and CBC's Canada Reads.

Reviewed: 26 June 2007

DeFoe, Daniel
Robinson Crusoe
book cover
(1719)
7
This fictionalized story of Alexander Selkirk's adventures as a castaway has some interesting points to it, but because most of the novel details Crusoe's life outside of the deserted isle, the story seems drawn out. It was a popular novel of its' time, but the continual writings of Crusoe's feeling of his English superiority versus the "savage" or "un-Christian" behaviour of others is extremely pompous to read.

Available off-site: Reading guide, study guide, and a book summary.

Reviewed: January 2002

Diamant, Anita
The Red Tent
book cover
(1997)
8
An interesting look into Biblical times with a fictionalized account of Dinah, whose story we only get a snippet of in Genesis 34. This is Dinah and the monthly happenings inside the "Red Tent" a women-only place to communicate freely in a patriarchial society. The story follows Dinah through her trials of life, and her inability to escape her place in the world as a "lowly" shepherd's daughter.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 17 October 2005

Dickens, Charles
Hard Times
book cover
(1854)
5
This is the first book that I’ve read of Dickens. I did not care for the storyline, and actually found it rather boring. I have been told that this is not his best work, so maybe I'll eventually attempt another of his books, such as "A Tale Of Two Cities."

Reviewed: January 2002

Doyle, Roddy
A Star Called Henry
book cover
(1999)
8
This book takes us into the life of Henry Smart who faces a life of poverty growing up in the poverty of Ireland in the early 1900s. He comes to follow in his own father's footsteps (wooden leg in hand) as an escapist, who joins the Irish Republican Army as a hitman. It was an enjoyable read, but Dowell's writing will not serve as an enticement for me to read the next two books in this trilogy.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 12 November 2006

Eggers, Dave
A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius
book cover
(2000)
1
I still can't believe that such a pompous person even got published! His story is whiny, and really not too original. I give him a "one" for the time it must have taken him to write such drivel.

Reviewed: May 2000

Faulkner, William
As I Lay Dying
book cover
(1930)
8
Faulkner's book of the Bundren family en route to bury Addie Bundren, their mother and wife, in her family cemetery at quite a distance from their home. At times humourous, this book is wonderful for character study; each chapter is a stream-of-consciousness of each character's thoughts, giving a total of fifteen different narrators.

Available off-site: A reading guide, and in-depth analysis.

Reviewed: July 2003

Faulkner, William
The Sound And The Fury
book cover
(1929)
5
This novel is the most difficult thing that I have ever read and most of the members in my book club felt the same way. Difficult to determine exacting what was occuring, and a lot of characters to decipher. Great if you have majored in Literature at university, but otherwise you will most likely require additional aid (there are many study guides available online).

Available off-site: A reading guide.

Reviewed: November 2007

Canadian author
Findley, Timothy
Famous Last Words
book cover
(1981)
2
Although Findley chose an interesting twist of seeing the major events of World War 2 through the eyes of poet Ezra Pound's fictional character, Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, I quickly lost interest in this book. It started off wonderfully with the main character escaping from a train, but then led into nothing but name-dropping and nothing of particular interest. I read the first half of the book (200 pages), and left it at that.

Available off-site: An analysis of the book, and the Ezra Pound poem that inspired the book.

Reviewed: November 2002

Canadian author
Findley, Timothy
The Wars
book cover
(1977)
7
This book deals with the fraility of life, the effects of war on all living creatures, and an insight into the horror that our Canadian grandfathers (and grandmothers) went through during the World Wars (this book focuses on World War 1). I would have preferred the story to have been a little longer, and with a different narrator.

Available off-site: The author's biography, and an in-depth English class project about the novel.

Reviewed: April 2002

Fisher, Antwone Quenton
Finding Fish: A Memoir
book cover
(2001)
9
This is a sad memoir of a child, Antwone, who grows up completely in foster care. Although Mr. Fisher had a lonely childhood and lacked in love from others, his enlightened spirit soars in his writing, and the words flow off the page. You'll never think of pancakes in the same way again.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: July 2003

Fitzgerald, Penelope
The Bookshop
book cover
(1978)
7
This novella is about a widow in 1950's small-town England who opens a bookshop, much to the dismay of some other townspeople. Some good character writing.

Available off-site: Author biography, and reading guides here, and here.

Reviewed: 2004

Foer, Jonathan Safran
Everything Is Illuminated
book cover
(1992)
8
A fictionalized, autobiographical story of a young Jewish-American who travels to the Ukraine to find the woman who saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Foer uses humour to approach the topic of the holocaust, and creates an interesting genealogy of the main character to fill in gaps that the main character knows he will never have revealed.

Available off-site: Author website, and reading guide. Each successive printing has a different cover. Also check out: Who is Augustine?.

Reviewed: December 2006

Follett, Ken
The Pillars of the Earth
book cover
(1989)
7
This almost 1000-page novel which spans fifty years of British history during the 1100s, covers the lives of master craftspeople, townspeople, royals, monks, and the politics involved during the building of a cathedral. I found some parts of this book interesting, such as the social history of the time, and because events in the book were not always predictably written. Overall, I found the book much too long and felt forced to finish to the end after having invested so much time in reading.

Available off-site: Author's website.

Reviewed: July 2004

Gaines, Ernest J.
A Lesson Before Dying
book cover
(1997)
8
Gaines' novel is a rich portrayal of racial segregation in the late 1940s United States (Louisiana). He sets the scene early by talking of churches and schools being separated by colour, and how this disparity between the groups leads to a (an innocent?) black man being sent to die by electrocution for killing a white man. Gaines has choosen an interesting metaphor for racism by using the characters of a black school teacher (education) and an uneducated man whose fate is to be decided by others (ie. whites). Note: there is not much talk about the actual execution, for those of you who are squeamish.

Available off-site: Reader's guide, and a thorough analysis of the book.

Reviewed: October 2007

Garcia-Marquez, Gabriel
Love in the Time of Cholera
book cover
(1985)
7
This book proved to me that I really am not a romance novel reader. I enjoyed Garcia-Marquez' writing, but found that the story of a man waiting more than fifty years to be with a woman who rejects him a tad far-fetched. Certain things were strangely written, too, such as one of the main characters being consumed with constipation his whole life (What was THAT about? Are enimas SUPPOSED to be romantic?).

Available off-site: Reading guides here, here, and here; and study notes.

Reviewed: July 2002

Canadian author
Gibson, Margaret
Opium Dreams
book cover
(1997)
7
This book had some high points, including a well-written ending, but at any time was not difficult to put down.

Reviewed: October 2002

Godwin, Gail
Evenings At Five
book cover
(2003)
2
Really, where do I start?

The fact that this book even got published is a modern miracle. It is a short story that is horribly written, does not contain a single word with which I had to consult my dictionary, has large print, *DRAWINGS!* (sigh), and didn't really go anywhere or make any sense. I cannot say anything further than: do not waste your time!

Off-site: Reading guide and Author's website

Reviewed: 9 March 2006

Golden, Arthur
Memoirs of a Geisha
book cover
(1999)
9
This is a well written book. Golden is very convincing, and really brings you into the geisha world. Not the ending I would have preferred, though!

Off-site Reading Guides available here and here, and an interview with the author.

Reviewed: October 2000

Gopnik, Adam
Paris to the Moon
book cover
(2000)
2
An utterly boring scope of minute differences between New York and Paris life. A definite sleeper, unless you consider this author's writing to be witty, which I did not.

Off-site Reading Guides available: Copies of this title from the publisher, Random House, have a reading guide included at the end of the novel.

Reviewed: 17 May 2005

Canadian author
Gowdy, Barbara
The White Bone
book cover
(1998)
5
A well-researched novel about the lives of elephants in constant fear of human preditors. I learned a lot about elephants, but the story was not exciting.

Off-site: Reading guide

Reviewed: May 2004

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum
book cover
(1959)
1
Once again, hype leads to a non-spectacular read (see my review of "Daughter of Fortune"). This controversial book (and the movie) did nothing for me. The story was not only bizarre, but left me to wonder: What was the point?

Available off-site: Book notes, and an excerpt of the book.

Reviewed: June 2001

Haddon, Mark
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time
book cover
(2004)
7
It is most likely that this interesting book title has led to the popularity of this novel. Overall it is an interesting read of a teenage boy whose autism gives him a different outlook on the world, but it is not a novel that I would insist that anyone add to their list of to-be-read books. It is, however, quirky and short if that is what you are into at the moment.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: November 2007

Harvey, Miles
The Island of Lost Maps
book cover
(2000)
5
This was well-researched book about map history, however I felt that it was just a long essay that occasionally attempted to tie in the true story of map thief Bland.

Available off-site: Author's website. Includes links to map sites.

Reviewed: February 10, 2005

Hegi, Ursula
Stones From the River
book cover
(1997)
9
Trudi, a dwarf, is the town's storyteller who lives part of her life through turbulant, Nazi-torn Germany during the Second World War. Hegi takes us through Trudi's life from early on, showing how cruel life can sometimes be.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: December 2003

Canadian author
Highway, Tomson
Kiss of the Fur Queen
book cover
(1998)
This book has not yet been rated.
A review of this book will appear here soon.

To Be Reviewed: December 2006/January 2007

Canadian author
Hodgins, Jack
Broken Ground
book cover
(1998)
8
This novel takes place on Vancouver Island in a fictional town of homesteading World War One veterans. It weaves an interesting story of the townspeople, and especially of memories of the war that some members cannot leave behind. Reminiscent of W.O. Mitchell's "Who Has Seen The Wind," Hodgins' leaves a lasting impression of Canadian societal culture on his readers.

Reviewed: January 2004

Hosseini, Khaled
The Kite Runner
book cover
(2004)
8
For a first novel, I thought that Mr. Hosseini did quite well in characterization and I found most of them to be quite realistic.

The story flowed well and started off exciting, but I was extremely disappointed when the author chose to tie everything together by making the main character (Amir) and his servant (Hassan) half-brothers. So many authors make the mistake of wrapping everything up or making things soap-oprahish, and it ruins a good story. Why did there have to be a kinship between these characters when it already showed such a mutual bond between them? It would have made the story much stronger if the main character (Amir) wanted to adopt the Hassan's child simply because of the love he felt for his old friend.

Available off-site: Reading guide, author's website, and concordances.

Reviewed: 3 January 2006

Canadian author
Humphreys, Helen
The Lost Garden
book cover
(2002)
9
I thoroughly enjoyed the writing and storyline of this short novel. Humphreys' story of love and loss during the Blitz is intregruing, poetic, and touching.

Available offsite: Reading guide

Reviewed: April 2005

Irving, John
A Widow For One Year
book cover
(1998)
2
I couldn't get past the fact that this book seemed reminiscent of the 1970's and Irving's success with The World According to Garp. Its humour seemed old-fashioned, and I didn't care for it.

Reviewed: January 2001

Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go
book cover
(2005)
4
An overall disappointing work by a former winner of Britain's Booker Prize (for "The Remains of the Day"). This story was an attempt at science fiction but greatly missed the mark. I was looking for the expertise in writing exhibited by Ishiguro's other work, but it fell quite short of the mark.

Available off-site: For Discussion

Reviewed: April 2006

Ishiguro, Kazuo
The Remains Of The Day
book cover
(1989)
9
Winner of Britain's Booker Prize, this original story brings us into the life of Stephens, an aging butler, who recounts major events that happened in his employer's household during the war years. Punctuated with humour, this story is about life's deeper tragedies.

Available off-site: Leading Questions

Reviewed: February 2002

Ishiguro, Kazuo
When We Were Orphans
book cover
(2000)
9
Another masterpiece from Ishiguro. This time his main character is Christopher Banks, a Shanghai-born man of British desendant, who fashions himself as a Sherlock Holmes to rescue his long-disappeared parents and save the world from war. Banks is the epitome of British colonialism during the opium wars in China, his selective or distorted memory aiding in his denial of the facts.

Available off-site: Discussion Questions

Reviewed: 12 November 2006

Canadian author
Johnston, Wayne
The Navigator of New York
book cover
(2002)
8
There is something to be said for not reading the book cover, as it will devulge the story before you read it!

I strongly disagree with those who picked "The Navigator of New York" over Yann Martel's "Life of Pi" for the Canada Reads series on CBC Radio. I would recommend this book as I enjoyed Johnston's writing and descriptions of the Arctic, and of New York in the late 1800s/early 1900s, however, I found the continual renditions and additions to the past a bit over-the-top.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: Summer 2003

Jones, Edward P.
The Known World
book cover
(2003)
3
This book followed a non-linear storyline with a multitude of characters and was completely confusing.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: May 2007

Kerouac, Jack
On the Road
book cover
(1957)
7
This is a book which is difficult to describe; it is a classic depiction of the early Beat Generation, in the style of J.D. Salinger's 1951 novel, "Catcher in the Rye." Sometimes a difficult read due to what seems to be a lack of plotline, the story will make the reader feel insightful to Kerouac's writings by reading to the end.

Available off-site: A reading guide, chapter summaries and questions, and a comprehensive guide

Reviewed: April 2003

Kingsolver, Barbara
The Poisonwood Bible
book cover
(1998)
9
I enjoyed this novel of life in Africa's Congo in the early 1960's, as narrated by the wife and four daughters of a missionary. Kingsolver does a wonderful job with her characters, and since each character is very different from the others, once you come to know the personalities there is little confussion as to who is narrating at any one time.

Available off-site: A Reading guide.

Reviewed: October 2003

Kingsolver, Barbara
Prodigal Summer
book cover
(2000)
4
This was a great disappointment after having enjoyed Kingsolver's masterpiece, Poisonwood Bible. The characters were poorly written, as was the story.

Available off-site: A Reading guide.

Reviewed: May 2007

Kneale, Matthew
English Passengers
book cover
(2000)
8
I would recommend this piece of historical fiction that was nominated for the Booker Prize. This is a very interesting book, full of character studies, the history of Tasmania, and racism in the 1850s. Some great writing, and as a bonus I also learned a little about ships.

Available off-site: A Reading guide, and related websites.

Reviewed: February 2006

Canadian author
Kogawa, Joy
Obasan
book cover
(1981)
7
Overall I didn't care for Kogawa's writing and the story (although based on her life) was lagged.

Available off-site: Summary and study guide.

Reviewed: February 2008

Kundera, Milan
The Unbearable Lightness of Being
book cover
(1984)
5
A highly sexist book set in the 1960s about sex and relationships. Some great writing, but not too exciting a read.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: April 2004

Lahiri, Jhumpa
The Namesake
book cover
(2003)
8
I quite enjoyed Lahiri's writing, and her attention to detail was impecible. This was a very true-to-life story in that there was not always happiness, and the main characters learned to accept their circumstances in finding out who they were. Very interesting comment on fitting in within and outside of cultures.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: August 2007

Lamb, Wally
I Know This Much Is True
book cover
(1998)
8
I had mixed feelings on this one. Some of the writing was great (characters), but some of the storyline was a little too far-fetched and wrapped up too neatly! I give it an "eight," because I actually cried at the end of the book! Worth the 900 pages.

Available off-site: Reading Guide.

Reviewed: August 2000

Canadian author
Lansens, Lori
Rush Home Road
book cover
(2003)
6""
What started off as an interesting story turned into an Oprah-ish type novel where the characters faced extreme drama at every turn and are faced with unbelievably unrealistic coincidences. I thought that the book would cover an interesting topic of the Underground Railroad as part of the novel took place in Chatham, Ontario, but it did not. I really wanted to enjoy this book, but it left me unfulfilled. I was surprised that the author didn't reunite her main character with her first love, although she DID literally stumble upon his grave. Bad writing, but I give it a "6" because some of the characters had potential.

Available off-site: Reading Guide.

Reviewed: August 2005

Canadian author
Laurence, Margaret
The Diviners
book cover
(1974)
8
Laurence's award-winning novel about a woman, Morag Gunn, who in her life experiences love and loss. Very strong, well-written characters. I enjoyed the whole book, but I especially loved the first chapter.

Reviewed: December 2001

Lawrence, D.H.
Women in Love
book cover
(1920)
2
What an incredibly dull book. I just could not stay awake long enough to finish reading it.

Reviewed: March 2003

Canadian author
Lee, Sky
Disappearing Moon Cafe
book cover
(1990)
3
A hard-to-follow story about a family with secrets in Vancouver's Chinatown.

Reviewed: August 2004

Letts, Billie
Where the Heart Is
book cover
(1998)
2
This is the fifth Oprah Book Club™ book that I have read, and I have been greatly disappointed by four of the books. The characters in this book are not only ridiculously (and ethnocentrically) named, but are not at all interesting. I think it's wonderful that Ms. Winfrey is getting people interested in reading, but some of the authors are being provided too much hype for their average (or, in this case, below-average) writing.

Available off-site: Author interview, reviews, and reading questions.

Reviewed: 2000

Canadian author
MacDonald, Ann-Marie
Fall on Your Knees
book cover
(1996)
7
Ms. MacDonald's first novel is about a highly dysfunctional family from Cape Breton whose grasp at coping includes variations on the truth and the keeping of secrets. This book started off wonderfully, but I did not enjoy, nor find, the final 200 pages necessary (books 8 and 9). To me, part of a good read's appeal is having being left some things for the reader to figure out on their own.

Available off-site: Author interview and discussion questions here and here, and reading guides here and here.

Reviewed: September 2002

Canadian author
MacLeod, Alistair
No Great Mischief
book cover
(2001)
5
MacLeod is a wonderful writer, but I found nothing to lure me to this fictional memoir of a family descended from Scotland. Actually, I found most of the story quite boring other than certain characters' relationships with animals. The Gaelic inclusions were interesting but after a while I found myself skipping over these passages because I neither knew how to pronounce them nor how to translate them. I really do not understand all the praise for this book - it seemed that each time MacLeod hit upon a new mantra for his characters to use he would just repeat them over and over.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 11 January 2007

Canadian author
Martel, Yann
Life of Pi
book cover
(2001)
9
Robinson Crusoe, meet Noah's Ark!

I was very hesitant to read this book, mainly because it seemed to be one of those much-hyped novels, and because its premise seemed quite strange. I was, however, pleasantly surprised (I am not a huge fan of magic realism) - this book had everything I look for in a good read: solid writing and characters, witty humour, and above all - a great STORY to read, no matter whether you want to analyse deeply or not. Bravo!

Note: This novel is based on a short story by Brazilian author Moacir Scliar.

Available off-site: A reading guide, an author interview, and the e-book, The Narrative of A. Gordon Pym (Edgar Allan Poe).

Reviewed: May 2003

Mason, Daniel
The Piano Tuner
book cover
(2003)
9
An interesting tale of an English piano tuner who travels to Burma during a time of political strife.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: May 2007

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend
book cover
(1954)
9
I loved this novella! It was an exciting, fun read, and is what inspired Stephen King to write! (Hmmm... I haven't read SK in YEARS!)

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: February 2008

McEwan, Ian
Atonement
book cover
(2001)
7
This book had some wonderfully written passages (such as when Briony steps out of her childhood at the end of chapter seven) but overall most of the writing was difficult to sift through and I found myself skimming through the text, which is a rarity for me. The book could really have been separated into three individual chapters as they were not well connected.

Available off-site: A reading guide.

Reviewed: 15 November 2005

Canadian author
McKay, Ami
The Birth House
book cover
(2006)
7
I loved learning a little about midwifry but thought that the writing in this novel was unremarkable. Nothing really new here, especially the battle with the doctor.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: February 2008

Merle, Robert
Malevil
book cover
(1972)
9
I love this book, and have read it at least three times. It really makes you think about what life would be like if you were one of the few to survive the apocalypse. It was written in the 1970's and is sexist, but the storyline is very interesting! Unfortunately, this book is now out of print.
Canadian author
Michaels, Anne
Fugitive Pieces
book cover
(1996)
9
This is the first novel from Anne, who has already published two books of poetry. This story, about the atrocities of the Second World War, winds the lives of three central characters first through Poland, and then Greece and Toronto. A definite winner for any book club.

Available off-site: Reading guide, and other links for Anne Michaels.

Reviewed: November 2000

Miller, Sue
While I Was Gone
book cover
(1999)
4
I was not impressed with the writing in this novel, and I found the story unexciting.

Available off-site: Reading guide

Reviewed: December 2006

Canadian author
Mistry, Rohinton
A Fine Balance
book cover
(1995)
9
This tightly-written story of four Indian people with differing backgrounds was entertaining. The inter-mingled stories were unpredictable, making for a very refreshing read. I highly recommend Mistry's writing, and I look forward to reading more from him.

Available off-site: Reading guides here, here, and here.

Reviewed: February 2003

Canadian author
Mistry, Rohinton
Family Matters
book cover
(2002)
8
Although I didn't enjoy this novel quite as much as Mistry's A Fine Balance, I must say that I was once again deeply impressed by the realistically depicted characters and storyline. Mistry is one of the best writers of our time; his writing is a pure joy to read.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: September 2004

Canadian author
Mistry, Rohinton
Such A Long Journey
book cover
(1991)
7
This first novel by Rohinton Mistry is a well-crafted piece of historical literature, but I am pleased to say that his writing has only become more refined in his later works. Mistry gives us unforgettable characters, but the storyline was just not as much a pleasure to read as is his other, later novels.

Reviewed: December 2004

Canadian author
Mitchell,
W(illiam)
O(rmond)
Who Has Seen the Wind
book cover
(1947)
7
This is a touching Canadian classic about a young boy who grows up in the prairies of Saskatchewan and learns about mortality, freedom, nature, and his place in the world. Nicely written, but I would have preferred the story to be entirely about the life of the young boy, and less about some of the town’s characters.

Available off-site: an author profile and a theme page.

Reviewed: May 2002

Nabokov, Vladimir
Lolita
book cover
(1955)
2
This book from 1955 falls under the "too much hype" category (this book is controversial as it deals with an older man and a 12-year-old girl). It was a very drawn-out book, and lacked a worthwhile storyline. It is my personal belief that Nabokov wanted to see if his perverted writings would get published in his lifetime.

Available off-site: English 102 Lolita Webpage.

Reviewed: June 2001

Naipaul, V.S.
Half a Life
book cover
(2001)
1
This is by far one of the worst books that I have ever read. The characters are incessantly boring, and are extremely unlikable losers.

What was the point of this book? Is there something that I just didn't "get" about the novel?

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 11 January 2006

Canadian author
Ondaatje, Michael
Anil's Ghost
book cover
(2000)
3
Ondaatje is a great poet (read "Letters & Other Worlds"!), but I find that this book is all over the place. I read only half of it; its characters and storyline weren't developed enough for my liking.

Available off-site: Questions For Discussion, and an excerpt from the book.

Orwell, George
Animal Farm
book cover
(1945)
8
A political classic with an interesting storyline and characters. I do, however, prefer his other book, "1984," to this one. (My review of 1984.)

Available off-site: A list of Reading Guides, and a list of related sites from Yahoo!.

Orwell, George
1984
book cover
(1948)
9
I have loved this book since reading it for high school English class. Orwell's writing was very political - this one is about government control and censorship. Also check out the movie adaptation with John Hurt - it is wonderfully done.

Available off-site: A list of Reading Guides, a summary, and The 1984 Homepage.

Proulx, E. Annie
The Shipping News
book cover
(1993)
8
Proulx's unique writing style, along with great knowledge of the sea, add to this story of a man (Quoyle) who moves with his two young daughters to Newfoundland after experiencing disaster and heartbreak. Many interesting characters of small-town Newfoundland nurture the landscape, and contribute to the deeper meaning of the book.

Available off-site: Reading Group Discussion Points, a short author Bio, and E. Annie Proulx's official homepage.

Reviewed: May 2001

Canadian author
Ricci, Nino
In A Glass House
book cover
(1993)
8
Part two in a trilogy. This book continues the life of Vittorio Innocente, who winds up in Ontario, and living with his father in a small community. It is a story of a young man's struggles, including getting to know both his father and his half-sister.

See my reviews of the other two books in the the trilogy: Lives of the Saints (part 1), and Where She Has Gone (part 3).

Reviewed: Summer 1999

Canadian author
Ricci, Nino
Lives of the Saints
book cover
(1990)
8
Part one in a trilogy. This is a great story about a young boy, Vittorio Innocente, whose mother has a bad reputation in the small Italian town in which they live, and whose father (who he has never met) lives in Canada. I found that it had a bit of a slow start, but it picked up, and the ending left me wanting more! Good thing this is the first in the trilogy! (Note: Originally published as "Book of the Saints.")

See my reviews of the other two books in the the trilogy: In A Glass House (part 2), and Where She Has Gone (part 3).

Reviewed: Summer 1999

Canadian author
Ricci, Nino
Where She Has Gone
book cover
(1998)
8
Part three in a trilogy. This book continues the life of Vittorio Innocente, who, now as an adult, tries to find himself and further the connection between his grown-up half-sister and himself. This book further explains the past as Vittorio remembers it, but we are shown how memories are mostly a representation of what we wish to remember. Ricci's writing is astounding, and he really shows his writing skills in how past events from the other books are interlinked to conclude in a full circle.

See my reviews of the other two books in the the trilogy: Lives of the Saints (part 1), and In A Glass House (part 2).

Reviewed: Summer 1999

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone
book cover
(1997)
6
My reading group was interested as to why the Harry Potter books were so popular for both kids and adults, and so we read this one. It was a fun book, but we all decided to stay with adult reads (it got mixed reviews). (Note: Titled "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone" in the United States.)

Reviewed: July 2000

Roy, Arundhati
The God of Small Things
book cover
(1997)
5
I was the only one from my book club who didn't care for this one. Roy is very poetic, but the story didn't do much for me. The story also had too many words that escaped me - they were in a mix of Hinda and Malayam. The publisher needs to add a glossary to this one! (Thanks for the correction, Zack!)

Off-site reading guides available here and here.

Reviewed: September 2000

Salinger, J.D.
The Catcher in the Rye
book cover
(1951)
8
The story is of Holden Caulfield, a 16-year-old, who is lost in the world. It is represented in flashbacks, with Holden having just flunked out of his fourth private school. This coming-of-age book is a classic, and is worth the read.

Available off-site: A list of reading guides, and a link to studynotes.

Saramago, Jose
Blindness
book cover
(1997)
10
This book is EXCELLENT! Do not miss this Nobel Prize in Literature 1998 winner! It is a great comment on how our society works, showing what happens when a whole society experiences "white-blindness." Saramago's writing is near-perfect in this one!

On April 9, 2002, I received an email from a person doing a paper on the multiple meanings of blindness, and who wanted my opinion on the subject. This is what I wrote to them: "My synopsis of Saramago's book: I believe that it is a metaphor for today's society, anywhere in the world. What he brings to light is how many governments and their actions go unquestioned by its citizens. For example, how does the government deal with those who experience "white blindness," or for that matter, AIDS or leprosy? Even those who are legally blind face prejudice or not being "normal" (I think "handicapped" is the word that they use) according to society's standards. One could also look at Saramago's book as a statement of stratification between the government officials and the common people, but basically I think that his point is that we're all the same (nameless, faceless) to the government, and also blind/defenceless to its power, its intentions, and its actions. This could also be a metaphor for the treatment of different people in history, such as the treatment of the Jews during World War 2... "

Call Harcourt-Brace at 1-800-543-1918 for the "Reading Group Guide" (while supplies last), or click here. Blindness Study Guide.

Reviewed: 2000

Review, July 2005: This novel is still thrilling, even after a third read.

Saramago, Jose
The Tale of the Unknown Island
book cover
(1999)
8
Very short parable (51 pages), but good.
Sebold, Alice
The Lovely Bones
book cover
(2002)
6
Sebold's second novel is a story of a young girl who was murdered by a neighbour at age 14, and who looks from heaven into the lives of people that she knew. I don't know why this book was so popular; I was not exactly enthralled by the storyline or the writing.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: January 2004

See, Lisa
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan
book cover
(2005)
7
See is a good writer and the historical context is interesting, but nothing exciting happens.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: December 2006

Shelley, Mary
Frankenstein
book cover
(1818)
8
This gothic classic of the romantic era stills makes an enjoyable read. Victor Frankenstein is a scientist who creates a monster that he later discovers is a perpetrator of evil doings. Unfortuately, the 1994 movie (which has been said to be the closest to the text) is too Hollywood; by reinventing the story, it misses some vital scenes in the book.

Available off-site: A list of Frankenstein links from Yahoo!

Reviewed: January 2002

Canadian author
Shields, Carol & Blanche Howard
A Celibate Season
book cover
(1990)
5
For this book, the two authors wrote letters back and forth to each other. This book takes us into the lives of a married couple who spend 10 months apart, and whose lives are reveiled through their letters to one another. Very humourous in some spots, but overall I was disappointed with the stereotyping of the characters, and the ending was a letdown.

Reviewed: April 2001

Sijie, Dai
Balzac And The Little Chinese Seamstress
book cover
(2000)
8
An interesting look into China's Cultural Revolution through the eyes of a man who lived it. Very nice writing, indented with subtle symbolism.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 6 August 2005

Steinbeck, John
The Grapes of Wrath
book cover
(1939)
4
This Steinbeck novel depicts the depression era of the 1930's, following the Joad family on their way from Oklahoma to California in hope of a better life. While Steinbeck attempts to inform about the true hardships of the time, he fails miserably in entertaining the reader. With none-too-exciting events and boring inter-chapters, it is a difficult book to keep the reader hooked.

Available off-site: A reading guide reading guide, study guide, and a listing of links from Yahoo!

Reviewed: August 2002

Steinbeck, John
The Red Pony
book cover
(1937)
2
I first read this book in high school, and I HATED it. I decided that I should attempt to re-read it as an adult - I still don't think too much of it.

Available off-site: a study guide, and a list of John Steinbeck links from Yahoo!

Stoker, Bram
Dracula
book cover
(1897)
7
Although I enjoyed the writing and storyline, this book has a few inconsistencies. It is clearly written by a male of the times as the women were viewed as the weak sex; its religious overtones were quite over-the-top.

The movie directed by Francis Ford Coppola featuring Gary Oldman, Sir Anthony Hopkins, Winona Ryder, and Keanu Reeves is a farce, as the writing and most of the acting was so poor that at many points it was made extremely laughable (the talented Sir Anthony Hopkins was the movie’s only saving grace, as he played his role very tongue-in-cheek). The storyline varied greatly from the original story, and once again, Hollywood added a romance plot where one did not need to be, and was not intended by the original writer.

Available off-site: a reading guide, a study guide, an in-depth study, and of further interest, a list of Count Dracula sites from Yahoo!.

Reviewed: June 2002

Stone, Robert
Damascus Gate
book cover
(1998)
2
This was a book that was enjoyed by other members of my book club, but one that I could not get into. This book needs a glossary as many readers will not be able to understand many words used.

Reviewed: August 2004

Swift, Graham
Last Orders
book cover
(1996)
8
An interesting story of life and death as told through flashbacks as four pub-mates travel to spread the ashes of their fellow pub-mate, Jack Dodds. I especially loved the narration by each character; one of the final chapters contains powerful writing, narrated by Jack's widow, Amy. Winner of the 1996 Booker Prize.

Available off-site: Book outline (very helpful for this book), reading guide, and an author biography.

Reviewed: April 2004

Tan, Amy
The Hundred Secret Senses
book cover
(1995)
7
I enjoyed this one, maybe because it was an easy read (ie. not too deep). I was surprised at the ending.

Reviewed: April 2000

Canadian author
Taylor, Timothy
Stanley Park
book cover
(2001)
6
This novel seemed so promising with a link to the mystery of two young children murdered in Vancouver's Stanley Park in the 1950s. The story focusses around a chef, Jeremy, and his father, an Anthropologist doing his fieldwork by living among the habitants of Stanley Park. The Professor's main drive is to figure out the mystery of the murders, but this fascinating story gets pushed back when the author spends too much time detailing restaurant menus.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 9 June 2005

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit
book cover
(1937)
7
Tolkien's most famous book is a good read, which includes dwarves, a hobbit, and a dragon. It was a fun book with great, witty writing, but is definitely not the best children's adventure book I’ve ever read (I prefer C.S. Lewis).

Available off-site: A list of reading guides.

Reviewed: September 2001

Umrigar, Thrity
The Space Between Us
book cover
(2006)
7
I wasn't too enthralled by Umrigar's writing and, quite frankly, found the characters and storyline quite cardboard.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: May 2007

Unsworth, Barry
Morality Play
book cover
(1995)
3
This short novel of group of 13th Century players who re-enact a true murder story was incredibly dull, and at the end I sped through the pages in order to just be finished with it. I also found nothing realistic or drawing about the characters.

Available off-site: Discussion questions, author's biography, and a morality game for fun.

Reviewed: 29 February 2004

Canadian author
Urquhart, Jane
The Stone Carvers
book cover
(2001)
8
A story of love lost to war, and the creation of the wonderous carved war monument at Vimy Ridge in France. Not my favourite book, but it was an enjoyable read nonetheless.

Available off-site: Reading guide.

Reviewed: 17 September 2005

Canadian author
Vanderhaeghe, Guy
The Last Crossing
book cover
(2002)
3
Even though the premise of two English brothers searching for their other brother in the wilds of North America in the 1870's sounds to be great subject matter, I found this book to be an extremely boring read and could not wait to be finished with it. Along with the boring writing, I did not find the characters especially interesting or believable.

Available off-site: Reading guide; About the author

Reviewed: September 4, 2004

Canadian author
Wah, Fred
Diamond Grill
book cover
(1996)
9
This is a powerful biotext about the historical effects of racism on ChineseHYPHENCanadians in Canada (read: Chinese Immigration Law) and how the author, who can visibly "pass" as white, is affected by it in trying to define himself in his mixed heritage. Set in a diner, it ties in recipes (which I need to try!) and links memory to food to talk about the culture.

Reviewed: December 2006

Walker, Alice
The Color Purple
book cover
(1982)
9
This book is an astounding piece of fiction. Alice Walker introduces us to Celie and her sister, Nettie, who after being forced apart by Celie's husband, live completely opposite lives. Although the movie version of this story elaborated on the novel's original story, I feel that the movie is one of the best films ever made because of Walker's strong characters, historical reference, and, not to mention, some absolutely brilliant acting.

Available off-site: Various study guides here, here, here, here, and here.

Wiesel, Elie
Night
book cover
(1958)
9
A harrowing account of Wiesel's own youth spent in concentration camps. Very touching and thought-provoking.

Available off-site: About the author, reading guide and more.

Canadian author
Wilson, Ethel
Swamp Angel
book cover
(1954)
7
A well-written, symbolic book about a gun, a woman who leaves her husband, and the lives of those around them. Set in British Columbia.
Winterson, Jeanette
Written on the Body
book cover
(1993)
7
This book started out slowly, but evolved into a very interesting story which came full circle. Although she was very poetic in her writing, at times I felt that Winterson rambled.

So, was the narrator male or female? It really doesn't matter. Winterson teaches that love is something that shouldn't be taken for granted.

Available off-site: the author's official site.

Reviewed: July 2001

Woolf, Virginia
To The Lighthouse
book cover
(1927)
8
This book is a departure from most other books that I've read. It is a poetic writing that explores feminism, relationships, and the meaning of life through a stream-of-consciousness. Note: This book must be read slowly to capture the full meaning.

Available off-site: A study guide and a study notes.

Reviewed: March 2002

Canadian author
Wright, Richard B.
Clara Callan
book cover
(2001)
8
This was an enjoyable, easily read novel about two sisters in the 1930s. Through correspondance between the sisters and a diary by the title character, we see how the sisters' lives share many similarities, even though one lives in a big city (New York) and the other in a small (ficticious) town in Ontario.

Winner of the Governor General's award.

Available off-site: Reading guide, author interview & more.

Reviewed: 18 June 2005

Zafon, Carlos Ruiz
The Shadow of the Wind
book cover
(2001)
8
Aside from a few unbelievable coincidences this book was quite entertaining and nicely written. No other book that I have read captures the love of books quite as well. A story that will stay with you for a long time.

Available off-site: Author interview, reading guide.

Reviewed: August 2007


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