Salem Falls


Salem Falls (Photo: actually read Salem Falls a couple of years ago. I got really into Jodi Picoult after I read My Sister’s Keeper (I still haven’t seen the movie because I’m so disappointed that they changed the ending of the book, which was so, so powerful and I know wasn’t a decision that Picoult was happy with).

When I lived in Manchester, I actually bought a ticket to hear her speak at a special evening presentation hosted by the lovely Central Library, which is a crazy-beautiful circular building right in the city centre and possibly one of my favourite places in the UK. I found her to be really insightful and inspiring – I liked hearing her speak on the writing process, and read from her latest novel at the time (which was either Change of Heart or Handle With Care). I also got to meet her afterwards when I had her sign a couple of books for my mom and me, and she was really, really nice.

So when I came home and found Salem Falls on my parents’ bookshelf, I figured it was time for a re-read. I’m so glad I had completely forgotten the twist ending, because it surprised me all over again! Picoult is really good at twist endings.

The story centres on a former teacher, Jack, who was wrongfully accused of having an inappropriate relationship with one of his students. After serving a sentence for a crime he didn’t commit, he decides to start fresh in New Hampshire. But one night, he ends up in an inadvertently compromising position when he runs into a group of teenage girls who have taken up an interest in Wicca, which sets the small town afire with accusations and blame.

Most of the good parts of this novel centre around the courtroom – Picoult is great at writing legal scenes and creating lots of suspenseful drama. This one sounds a bit crazy, but it has a nifty twist ending, a couple of sweet love stories going on in the background and well-written teenage characters (I always like when authors give teenagers some credit and credibility). I liked it just as well the second time around as I did the first.

Dare Me


Dare Me (Photo: Hachette Book Group)Maybe it’s because there’s nothing in Dare Me that resonated with my own experiences in high school, but I really didn’t enjoy this one as much as I hoped I might.

Like this review says: “Count yourself lucky if you’ve never met (let alone parented!) teenagers like cheerleaders Addy Hanlon and Beth Cassidy.” If bulimia, ultra-competitiveness and Mean Girls-style backstabbing is the name of the game in American high schools, I’m thrilled to have experienced my awkward years in sleepy Canada, where the most exciting thing that happened was that an older guy from the university invited me to breakfast once after we met at the Model United Nations. I just don’t think it would have been in me to take part in the deceptive, dangerous world of Dare Me.

I was hoping for a fast-paced, suspenseful thriller. What I got was sort of disturbing and neurotic and very self-absorbed. It really was like reading the inner monologue of a really warped 16-year-old girl, which I guess is what Megan Abbot was going for, but even the adult characters in the novel (don’t get me started on the cheerleading coach!) are unlikeable. I like a book where I can at least root for someone (even in Gone Girl, while your allegiance flips and flops, there’s always someone to cheer for). Here, I’ve got nothing. This one wasn’t worth the Kinde price, in my opinion. It just sort of left me feeling unsatisfied, disturbed and vaguely icky.

Jamie’s America


Jamie's America (Photo: Penguin UK)A friend and I had a discussion the other day about whether cookbooks should count on my reading list for 2013. What I ended up deciding was this: If I use a cookbook just to flip around through different recipes and make random things, then no, it shouldn’t count. But if I read it cover to cover, then yes! It definitely should.

I actually had a little flip through Jamie’s America last October when I spent a few weeks staying with my lovely friends Amy and Gabe. Amy, like me, loves Jamie, and she uses this book all the time. During my stay with them, Amy made a couple of things out of this book that were absolutely delicious, including what I think were the Chili Con Jamie and the Fiery Dan Dan Noodles.

Inspired by Amy, and armed with an Indigo gift card, I ordered this one online during the Chapters/Indigo Boxing Day sale, along with Cook With Jamie. I’m so glad I did. It’s not just a great cookbook, it’s also a really cool story of Jamie’s travels across the US. I watched Jamie’s American Road Trip – the TV show that ties in with this book – back in 2009 when I lived in the UK, and spent many happy minutes (which probably added up to many happy hours) in the kitchen at work talking with my colleagues about it.

It’s no Ministry of Food (which is sold here in Canada as Jamie’s Food Revolution), but it could be my close second favourite in my Jamie Oliver collection – and it’s worth it for the vivid writing and beautiful photos alone.

Secret Daughter


Secret Daughter (Photo: HarperCollins)I spent some time in a thrift store the other day and came home with a stack of books, including Secret Daughter by Shilpi Somaya Gowda. This book has been getting a lot of buzz lately – it’s a Heather’s Pick at Chapters/Indigo and had an intriguing blurb on the back, so I picked it up for $7.

I am probably being very controversial here, because everyone else in the world seems to love this book. It has great reviews on and, but I found it kind of slow going. Because the story jumps around to accommodate three different points of view – an Indian mother forced to give her daughter up for adoption, the American mother who adopts an Indian baby and the grown-up daughter – and spans more than 20 years, it felt unnecessarily complicated and clunky.

There were many times where I felt like the author’s agenda overpowered the narrative – there is so much going on in this book that it can be confusing to keep track of it all. There were moments where I felt like I needed some kind of a flow chart to keep track of who all the characters were, who was part of what family and even what year it was.

I can see why book clubs like it, because there’s a lot to talk about, but in terms of sweeping family sagas, I’d much rather tackle The Thorn Birds or Gone With The Wind, because the stories are stronger and easier to follow. The beauty of reading is that it’s totally a personal preference what ‘sticks’ and what doesn’t, but I’m glad I only spent $7 on this one rather than buying it new.

The Reader


The Reader (Photo: Random House)You know those books that everybody talks about but you haven’t read? And then they make a really well-received film about the book and then you feel like you can’t possibly go and see the film without reading the book? And then years pass and everyone has seen the movie or read the book except you and you just sort of smile and nod when people talk about it, because now you have to seek it all out on your own or risk being the person who can’t follow along with important cultural touchstones?

Well, for me, that’s The Reader.

I hadn’t really heard much about this book until the 2008 movie with Kate Winslet, but I didn’t want to see it until I had read it. And even though it won tons of awards and was part of the 2009 Academy Awards hosted by Hugh Jackman (in my opinion, the best Oscars ever – just check out the opening number!), I never got around to seeing it. Or reading it. To tell you the truth, I actually kind of forgot about it.

And then I came across a slightly beat-up copy at the thrift store and thought it was time to bite the bullet. I’m so glad I did. For a slim book, it deals with really weighty subject matter (is there ever a time when the Holocaust is light? I don’t think so). In fact, I learned a brand new word when I was trying to figure out how to describe The Reader – Vergangenheitsbewältigung. It means the struggle to come to terms with the past, and it is often used to describe post-1945 German culture and literature.

It’s the perfect word to describe The Reader, which is moving and confusing and sad – all the emotions that this type of book really ought to be. The Reader presents complicated issues and moral dilemmas in a way that isn’t always satisfying, but is very realistic. I thought about it for a long, long time when I was finished – and isn’t that the mark of very good writing?