Tuesday, 3 October 2017

2017 Reads: July to September

This quarter, I borrowed a bunch of library books in order to put some pressure on myself to continue to get back into reading, so I have a slightly more interesting picture of some of these titles. This was moderately successful, though I maxed out my renewals on some titles that I didn't get around to reading this quarter and had to return them yesterday before reading them. Having overdue fines is a shame I can't bear.

Some of the books I read. Apparently I forgot to take photos of the others.

Commonwealth - Ann Patchett

This was really good, if somewhat strangely paced. It starts with the christening party of Franny, the youngest child of Fix and Beverly Keating, where Bert Cousins arrives with gin and kisses Beverly. They start an affair that breaks up their families and brings their six kids together every summer in Virginia. The story is told mainly through Franny's eyes, and it's a strange, funny, sad story about actions, unintended consequences, and the bonds of family. Truly one of the best books I've read this year.

Do Not Say We Have Nothing - Madeleine Thien

This book is not critically acclaimed for nothing. It starts in 1991, with Marie and her mother taking in a refugee, Ai-ming, who has connections to Marie's father and brings with her the stories that make up the rest of the plotline: connections between different generations and families, starting withe the Cultural Revolution in China and ending with Tienanmen Square. It can be somewhat hard to follow and keep track of, with the jumping from era to era, but it's beautifully woven overall. 

Saints of Big Harbour - Lynn Coady

This was a familiar story to me, in that I recognized the characters like they could be people from my own life. It's set in the fictional Cape Breton town of Big Harbour, focusing on the life of Guy Boucher and a cast of characters that he is related to or meets: his mother and sister, his alcoholic uncle, his alcoholic English teacher, the girl he has a crush on from Big Harbour, and her best friend. Guy is the main narrator, but there are a bunch of other chapters from the other characters. Some of it falls a little flat, since the fractured viewpoints don't always work that well, but I liked it for staying true to the Maritime spirit.

Farmageddon: The True Cost of Cheap Meat - Philip Lymbery

I've been carefully inching toward vegetarianism for years (and will probably make it over to veganism at some point) and I decided to read Farmaggedon for a good overview of the environmental cost of factory farming. I've been reducing my animal consumption for a while, but needed a kick and decided to grab this to help along with it. It's an interesting and sobering look at the cost of our food, plus has loads of great sources to follow up on.

The Lonely Hearts Hotel - Heather O'Neill

I like Heather O'Neill's writing but sometimes I feel like if you've read one of her books, you can pretty much fill in the rest of them. Some tragic children, with sad backgrounds, grow up on the streets in Montreal and attempt to overcome adversity but can't truly rebuff their pasts. Usually gritty. They're always good and entertaining, but I have yet to finish one and think "Hey, this wasn't like the rest of them!" Rose and Pierrot are children born out of wedlock and left at one of the many institutions run by nuns in Montreal in 1914. Both are brilliant performers and soon are sent out by the Mother Superior to entertain potential donors. And they fall in love. And here begins their really tragic story: Pierrot and Rose are separated by the nun who has sexually abused Pierrot for years, and once both are out of the orphanage, they drift in and out of bad situations, till they find one another. It is really good, I swear. But familiar.

The Light Between Oceans - M.L. Stedman

I have the DVD of this on hold at the library and will be watching it soon, now that I've finished the book. This broke my heart, to be perfectly honest. You have a lighthouse keeper with PTSD, his wife who miscarries multiple times, and a baby who washes up on the rock where they live with the light in a boat with a dead man. They take the little girl and raise her as their own - and that's fine, till they leave the lighthouse and move back to the mainland. It was beautifully told, but it was unbearably sad. 

The Two-Family House - Lynda Cohen Longman

This was a random library selection when picking up my holds. It's about two brothers who own a company together and share a house, one brother living upstairs with his family, and the other downstairs. Their wives are close friends and raise their children together, but after both are pregnant with their youngest children at the same time, a rift forms, and they eventually become deeply estranged. It was surprisingly one of my favourite books that I read this quarter, though I saw the twist coming from a mile away.

Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague- Geraldine Brooks

This is a book that a friend's mother gave me when we stayed with them in Ottawa, telling me it was one of her favourites and since I'm a librarian, she wanted to hear my thoughts...which I still haven't messaged to my friend. So after I post this, I'll message him. But anyway. This was really interesting. It's set in Eyam, a village in Derbyshire that quarantined itself in 1666, when the plague arrives, which actually happened. It's narrated by the fictional Anna Frith, a widow and housemaid, who tells the story of the desperation and fear that grips the village, as well as her own tragic losses. The last bit of the novel gets a little over the top, but most of the story during the quarantine is really good. 

In a Daze Work - Siobhan Gallagher

This is a really fun concept: it's a choose-your-own-adventure journey through the daily grind - work, buying coffee, shunning social contact, bingeing on Netflix, etc. I enjoy picking it up and leafing through. It's funny as hell and sometimes a little too relatable. Also I went to the same high school as the author and she's incredibly talented.

Spoiler Alert: The Hero Dies - Michael Ausiello

I only Michael Ausiello because I am a rabid Gilmore Girls fan and was when it was airing. So was he. This is the memoir about Ausiello's last year with his husband, Kit, and what it was like to live with a spouse dying of cancer. It's tragic and funny, and Ausiello doesn't shy form sharing the ups and downs of their relationship. The emotion was definitely raw in this one, and it makes up for any shortcomings in narration.

Looking for Bootstraps: Economic Development in the Maritimes - Donald J. Savoie

Returning to my first academic love: the Maritimes and what the hell we're going to do. This was an interesting overview of the economic history of the Maritimes, and exploring how we ended up as a struggling region, small and unheard in Confederation. Savoie explores the relationship between the federal government, the provincial governments, and the competition in a region that doesn't (and shouldn't) be sabotaging one another. It was fascinating, and laid out the evidence for my own mixed thoughts on why we are where we are, the frustrations of being a young person in a chronically depressed region, and where we may end up if we don't get our collective acts together, along with the recognition that we can't bear all of the blame. It was very thorough, and I highly recommend it. 

Total read this quarter: 11
Total read previous quarter: 11
Total read in 2017 to date: 32


  1. Congrats on getting back on the reading wagon. This is a great list.

    I loooooved Commonwealth. It was my first Ann Patchett actually. Looking forward to reading my way backwards through her older titles!

    DNSWHN sold over 100k copies in Canada, which is absolutely bonkers. MThien cried during a toast my boss gave her and then I gave her a hug because she seemed like a hugger, lol. A year ago I was working at the bookstore when it started collecting all the awards, and customers were upset there weren't enough copies in the store. Unbelievable.

    I had to skip your paragraph about Heather O'Neill because I am really looking forward to cracking that open and don't want to be spoiled in any way!

    As for The Light Between Oceans, I wish I had read the book and not watched the movie first. It was beautifully shot and acted, but I know I was missing gorgeous passages that became silent moments in the film.

    Looking for Bootstraps sounds interesting! Adding to TBR. Thanks!

    1. You get to meet the coolest people in your job!

      Looking for Bootstraps is really good. Savoie is both an excellent scholar and a good writer, which we know isn't always the case. I really appreciate his works on the Maritimes, since he's one of a few do work on the region, and his work was also key when I wrote my undergrad thesis.


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