Monthly Archives: April 2007

Grace (Eventually), by Anne Lamott

There just aren’t words for how much I love Anne Lamott.

The other day I heard Shelagh Rogers on Sounds Like Canada interviewing Heather Mallick about her new book Cake or Death (which you’ll probably see me reviewing here, eventually).  They got talking about writers they like, and one of them mentioned Anne Lamott.

“Oh I love Anne Lamott!” swooned Heather.

Love her!” agreed Shelagh.

“And you know what? She’s — a Christian!!” Heather confided, in tones of shock and awe.

“I know! A Christian!!” Shelagh concurred. 

Here they were, these two cool, smart, funny, left-wing, middle-aged women, gobsmacked at the thought that cool, smart, funny, left-wing, middle-aged Anne Lamott is (gasp) a Christian.

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Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

Mary, by Janis Cooke Newman

Mary is a fictional biography of Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of Abraham Lincoln.  Without knowing a great deal about the real Mary Lincoln, I found this an engaging and engrossing read.

I had a vague sense of having read somewhere that Mrs. Lincoln was mentally ill, and in fact while I was reading this novel I ran across a random reference from someone in an online forum who made passing mention of the fact that “Mrs. Lincoln was completely batshit.”  Like so many nineteenth-century women she seems to have suffered from a variety of poorly-understood neuroses, compounded by copious use of the popular treatments for nervous disorders, including laudanum.  Her eldest (and only surviving) son Robert had her committed to an insane asylum for a period of time, although she eventually got out of there and lived independently for her last few years.

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Filed under Fiction -- historical

Lucky, by Alice Sebold

Like many readers, I only picked up Lucky after I had read Alice Sebold’s very successful first novel, The Lovely Bones. I assumed that the memoir came after, but the fact is it was published three years before The Lovely Bones, and rereleased after the novel proved so successful.

Both books tell the story of a young girl’s rape.  The Lovely Bones is fiction; Lucky is fact, telling Sebold’s own story of being raped by a stranger in the park during her freshman year in college in the early 1980s.  The title is, of course, searingly ironic.  Sebold was told she was “lucky” to survive because another girl had been raped and murdered in the same park.  She agrees that survival is a great thing — but surviving as a rape victim is far from “lucky.”  The memoir portrays not just a raw and honest portrait of the rape itself but also of the aftermath: how Sebold was changed by what happened to her.

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Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

Paris to the Moon, by Adam Gopnik

Adam Gopnik and his wife Martha moved to Paris with their infant son, Luke, in the late 1990s.  The two New Yorkers had had a lifelong fascination with Paris and spent some time there before, and decided it would be a good place to spend their son’s preschool years.  Paris to the Moon consists of the columns Gopnik wrote for the New Yorker during their years in France, along with some more personal reflections.  It’s sort of a cross between a memoir and travel-writing.

Gopnik spends a fair bit of time in the introduction of the book apologizing for how much he talks about his personal experience as the parent of a young child in Paris.  I thought this was funny because, for my money, I’d have liked the book to have included a lot more of that personal, family perspective.  My favourite parts of the book were where he talked about buying Christmas tree lights in Paris, or taking Luke to the park or swimming pool.  The family-memoir aspects of the book were far more interesting to me than Gopnik’s reflections on French politics or fine dining in Paris.  These were all too often inflated with philosophical-sounding generalizations about Parisians and New Yorkers, about the difference between American life and French life, which, when you peeled away the intellectual language, boiled down to nothing more than sweeping generalizations.

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Filed under Nonfiction -- memoir

The Boleyn Inheritance, by Philippa Gregory

SPECIAL NEWS FLASH!! Third Goddess Added to Pantheon!Yes, it’s true. The time has finally come.  After withholding judgement for a few years, I have decided to elevate Philippa Gregory to the vacant third position in my pantheon of Historical Fiction Goddesses, alongside long-time Goddesses Margaret George and Sharon Kay Penman.

I’m sure Philippa has been waiting with bated breath for this announcement and can hardly contain her glee.

While I haven’t read her earliest work (most people say she’s gotten better with time), I have read all of her recent series on the Tudors, and generally enjoyed them, though none as much as the first in this series, The Other Boleyn Girl.  The latest, The Boleyn Inheritance, is the only one to surpass that, and I enjoyed it so much it earned the author a place in my elite pantheon of very favourite historical fiction authors. Continue reading

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Filed under Fiction -- historical

Forest Mage, by Robin Hobb

For item #2 on my post-Lent fiction fun list, another new novel by another of my favourite fantasy authors.  I have loved all nine of Robin Hobb’s “Realm of the Elderlings” trilogy of trilogies — the Assassin series, the Liveship Traders, and the Tawny Man trilogy.  The first volume of her new Soldier Son trilogy, Shaman’s Crossing, seems to have generally gotten less effusive reviews than the earlier books, but I enjoyed it.  Now I’ve finished the second novel in this trilogy and I’m eagerly awaiting the third.

I’ve read some bad reviews of Forest Mage on Amazon, usually complaining that not much happens in this book.  Frankly, much as I love Robin Hobb, there’s a point I reach in every one of her books where I think, “This could have been cut a little” because there always seems to be a stage at which not much is happening and the hero or heroine seems to be stuck in a rut.  This is certainly true of Nevare, the hero of Forest Mage, who has just about every bad thing you can imagine happen to him in this book.  His body and mind are being taken over by an alien magic; he loses his fiancee, his military career, and his family, not to mention his manly physique.  He doesn’t necessarily respond with courage and initiative; at a lot of points in the novel, Nevare folds like a card table. 

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Filed under Fiction -- fantasy

Ysabel, by Guy Gavriel Kay

For my first plunge back into fiction after Lent, I could not do better than read the newest book by my favourite fantasy author.  I was first introduced to Guy Gavriel Kay through reading his Fionavar trilogy back in the 80s — classic high fantasy with characters from our world drawn into an epic conflict in a fairy-tale world where the archetypes of all our myths and legends live and breathe. 

His later novels took a different direction, which I liked even better — vividly drawn fantasy worlds based on places and periods in our own world’s history, but with fantasy “twists” thrown in.  My favourites of these later novels include Tigana and The Lions of Al-Rassan, but they’re all great.

Ysabel takes Kay down a completely different path.  First, though I haven’t seen it marketed as a young adult novel, it certainly seems more geared to that readership than his previous novels which were clearly “adult.”  The teenage protagonist, the lack of spicy sex scenes common in Kay’s other novels, and the single main plot rather than the usual complex tapestry of interwoven subplots, all suggest that this book could more easily be enjoyed by teen readers than most of Kay’s other work.  That doesn’t mean it’s not enjoyable for an adult reader, although I missed some of the complexity and surprises that I’ve come to rely on in GGK’s writing. Continue reading


Filed under Canadian author, Fiction -- fantasy