The Rosie Project

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The Rosie Project (Photo: HarperCollins)

I came upon The Rosie Project when my friend Jason and I took a wander through Chapters after meeting up for coffee and a catch-up for the first time in months. The Man Booker Prize Longlist for 2013 was recently announced, and Jason’s a big book fan, so we went for a browse. And then I saw Rosie, with her bright cover and charming description. I was particularly taken with the description of Graeme Simsion, a former IT consultant who decided to try something new.

It said: “Graeme Simsion, PhD, was the owner of a successful consulting business before he decided, at fifty, that he would become a writer. The Rosie Project is his first novel.”

If Graeme Simsion can career change, so can I! I thought. Sometimes, I feel self-conscious about going back to school after a moderately successful career in online media. But here was Graeme Simsion’s little bio on the back flap of The Rosie Project giving me a boost of inspiration.

I liked him already, just for that. And after my friend Jen, who works at Chapters and came over to say hi, gave the book her seal of approval, I was sold. Or rather Jason was sold – he promptly bought Rosie and turned her over to me to read first. That’s a nice friend for you (and also, he had the entire Man Booker Prize Longlist to get through first, which is no small feat). So I took Rosie home and promptly fell in love.

As Anita Sethi of The Guardian points out, this isn’t the first book to tackle the subject of autism. As a matter of fact, I often find myself drawn to books (fiction and nonfiction) about people on the autistic spectrum. I devoured Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time when it first came out, and last fall, I was completely captivated by Matthew Dicks’ Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend, which I picked up to read on a long-haul flight. I also really enjoyed Daniel Tammet’s fascinating memoir Born On a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant, which my friend Sarah lent to me when we lived in Manchester a few years ago.

But while it’s not the first book with a protagonist on the autistic spectrum, it’s rare to find one as charming as this. Don Tillman is one of the most endearing leading men I’ve come across in a long time. Simsion clearly loves him (he’s even set up a Twitter account for Don, written in his voice, which is really, really fun), and if you read this lovely long Sydney Morning Herald interview with the author, you’ll love him too.

It’s a really sweet, unlikely and unconventional love story with lots of charm, humour, moments of sweetness and sadness, and lots of other literary and film references (To Kill A Mockingbird! When Harry Met Sally!) that made me feel very happy and very at home reading Rosie. It doesn’t hurt that it’s a spectacularly-crafted romantic comedy, which is a genre that never gets old for me.

In short, go out and get The Rosie Project. Seriously, go get it right now. Best book of 2013 so far.

Buying a Piece of Paris

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Buying a Piece of Paris (Photo- Macmillan USA)During an emotional time last year, when I was dealing with some personal upheaval and getting ready to relocate from Australia back to Canada, I went through a random Francophile phase. I’m not entirely sure what fuelled it, other than a deep love of croissants. Within the space of about two weeks, I read the French parenting book Bringing Up Bebe (it should be noted and emphasised that I am single and childless), and the pseudo diet book French Women Don’t Get Fat (it should also be noted that I’ve been about the same size – a comfortable US 4/6 – for the better part of a decade).

I fully acknowledge that it is weird to read a parenting book when you don’t have any children, and a diet book when you don’t intend to go on a diet, but it was a weird time. I think what may have drawn me in was the French outlook in both. Everything in moderation, act like a lady, remain calm, look after yourself first. These are important messages, regardless of what you’re trying to do with them, and especially important messages when you are deciding what to do with your life in a time of great change.

A few months ago, I tried to recapture that same French spirit with Petite Anglaise, but it didn’t take hold in the same way – perhaps because I didn’t feel Catherine Sanderson fully embraced the French spirit in the way that that Pamela Druckerman and Mireille Guiliano do (and gasp! Druckerman is an American! Guillano splits her time between the US and France, but is clearly French through and through). It also may be that I didn’t need books about France quite as much as I did in late 2012.

But from time to time, one catches my eye. Enter Buying a Piece of Paris, which I found at the local library.

This fun little memoir is written by Ellie Neilsen, an Aussie who is charmed by the City of Lights as a tourist and decides to go about claiming a piece of it for her very own.

“…What I wanted, more than anything else in the world, was to walk into that butcher’s shop and buy a piece of paradise. I wanted to say, ‘Bonjour, monsieur’ and have Monsieur say, ‘Bonjour, madame’. And I wanted to be able to tell him, calmly and with some authority, that I would like half a rabbit (no, I don’t need the head) and a few pieces of canette (female duck’s legs) and some andouille. Whilst thanking Monsieur I would purse my lips, shrug a shoulder, and outline my weekend cooking-plans in flawless French.

Of course, this could never happen. For a start, I am not in the habit of eating rabbits, headless or otherwise. When I purse my lips I look comical or intoxicated (depending on the time of day), and I cannot speak French. I am, however, greatly in the habit of imagining myself in all manner of situations that are outside my real, everyday life. So that day, almost four years ago, as I stood at my window, willing the street beyond to leap up two floors and embrace me, a plan popped into my head. It was a perfect plan, one that involved daring, danger, and a ridiculous amount of money. It was a plan that would show that butcher’s shop who was who. I decided to buy Paris. Well, just a tiny bit of it. I’m not totally irrational.”

Nielsen is charming, sharply observant and a little bit silly. I identified with her strongly, except that financially, I have no hope of buying a piece of Paris (at least not anytime in the next two decades).

There are moments where she comes off as a little bit smug and entitled, but to be fair, I don’t think practical people run around having these types of whims. I don’t always agree with what she does, but it makes for a good read. This was just the right amount of French escapism to get me in the mood for summer, and give me a healthy case of the travel bug again.

Daughter of Smoke and Bone

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Daughter of Smoke & Bone (Photo: Hachette Book Group)This book is exactly why book clubs are so awesome. This time, it was Monique’s turn to pick. Her tastes run deeper into the realm of fantasy than mine do, and she’s a great judge of what will be a good read (this makes sense – when we were lowly high school students and young undergrads, we worked together at a bookstore. I always liked her picks then, too – and you could always count on Monique to throw truly awesome Harry Potter-themed parties).

I bought Daughter of Smoke and Bone at the same time as I picked up the hideously awful Geek Girls Unite. These days, I’m trying not to buy too many books (saving for school in September), but the wait list at the library was crazy-long. I took this as a good sign – and I was right.

While Laini Taylor, the author, is American, there are so many European things going on in this book that it gave me the travel bug all over again. The story starts with Karou, a 17-year-old art student in Prague with electric blue hair. She has been raised by chimaera – creatures that share characteristics of different animals and humans – and occasionally is sent on mysterious ‘missions’ to recover teeth for Brimstone, who acts as sort of a father figure. In return, she is paid in ‘wishes’ – this means Karou’s blue hair never fades and that she can fly.

So far, so good, right? Karou thinks so too, and she doesn’t have much trouble concealing her true background until she crosses paths with Akiva, a seraph. Without giving too much of the plot away (because holy moly, this book is full of brilliant twists and turns) Karou and Akiva find themselves taking on the roles of star-crossed lovers with a semi-Biblical twist. What if there were bad angels? What if there were good devils? And what if an ages-old battle between angels and chimaera could be halted with love?

It’s hard to explain this book without the full experience of reading it. Taylor’s sophisticated writing, rich characters, colourful descriptions, zinging one-liners and just the right amount of romance (yes, they go there in young adult fiction – this is one for older YA readers for sure) make this a great for teens and adults alike. It’s one of the smartest books I’ve read in awhile.

If the geek girls don’t feel like uniting over Leslie Simon’s book (and who would blame them?), they should certainly be banding together and passing this one around in the hallways of their high schools. It’s part one in a trilogy and I absolutely can’t wait to read the rest.

 

 

Life After Life

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Life After Life (Photo: Random House)I don’t know what to say about Life After Life, other than that it is rare that I am this disappointed by a book that has received such great press.

I first heard about Life After Life in a spring issue of Chatelaine magazine, where it was described brightly as “Sliding Doors meets Back to the Future.” I love both of those movies, so it made sense that this would be a book that I’d probably love too. It also had a cute fox on the cover. C’mon. Cute fox. How can you not?

Because I’ve been making an effort to be more cost-conscious this spring/summer, I placed a hold on it at the public library about two months ago. At number 63 on the hold list, I didn’t think I’d have a hope of reading this book before the end of 2013, but to my surprise, I got an email about a week ago saying it was ready for me to pick up! I raced to the library to get reading and … was instantly let down.

The book begins in a sort of Groundhog Day style. Ursula Todd is born in England and dies. And then you flip the page. Ursula Todd is born in England and lives. It’s not immediately clear what is going on or why (I actually thought for a moment that the library copy might have been a misprint, because the book kept starting, and starting again).

Even once I figured it out, it was hard to hold my interest. Every time Ursula “dies” she gets a re-do, and each time, she finds herself increasingly closer to meeting Hitler. A mission to assassinate Hitler isn’t problematic on its own (actually, it’s pretty interesting), but it takes so long to get there, and the story is so contrived, that I just really didn’t find myself caring about it.

I had a hard time caring about Ursula, too. She’s not particularly warm, or engaging, or interesting. And even when she was in danger, I find that I didn’t care about her, because she’d just die and get a do-over again.

Chatelaine’s review loved Atkinson’s sharp references to philosophy and history (and so, for that matter, did the New York Times), but that wasn’t enough to keep me engaged. I got lost in it, but not in a fun way. I was just lost. I feel like this is one of those polarizing novels that people say is good because they’re not entirely sure what else to say about it.

It may be well-written, and it can have all the philosophy, politics and history in the world within its pages, but I did not enjoy reading Life After Life. I was glad when it was over, and I was glad it came from the library so I could get rid of it when I was done.

Geek Girls Unite

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Geek Girls Unite (Photo: HarperCollins)Well, this was a disappointment. Feeling flush with cash after signing on for another month’s worth of steady full-time work for the rest of June/July, I thought I’d head over to Chapters and indulge in a bit of retail therapy. On a display table, I spotted a book with a promising purple cover. What really grabbed me was the whole title, though. Geek Girls Unite: How Fangirls, Bookworms, Indie Chicks, and Other Misfits Are Taking Over the World.

I might not be a fangirl or an indie chick (though I have recently mastered the sock bun and also have spent far too much time this summer trying to style my hair in an ‘inspired by Zooey Deschanel as Jess on New Girl’ look), but bookworm? I think I have that one covered (Hi, welcome to my book blog). Plus, I like Battlestar Galactica. I have opinions on which series of Star Trek I liked best. I went to a sci-fi convention once (OK, twice). I’m developing an appreciation for graphic novels. I have a pile of vinyl albums just waiting to go into frames to decorate my apartment when I move next month. So it’s not too much of a stretch to say that I might be part of the target audience for this book.

What I was expecting, I guess, was stories about how women pursue their passions, about groundbreaking female actors, designers, writers and directors. I was expecting to applaud and be inspired and to finish the book with an overwhelmingly happy sensation that the world is full of what one women’s magazine calls “Fun Fearless Females.” I guess that what I was really looking for was a collection of stories about girls like me.

Instead, what I got was a lot of pigeonholing. Each chapter is helpfully tailored to a specific “type” of geek (Fangirl Geek, Literary Geek and my personal favourite, Miscellaneous Geek – wow! Inclusive!). Within the chapter appears to be a prescribed thing of what each type of geek is expected to wear and like, who our boyfriend should be (there really is a section at the end of every chapter called “Perfect Match” – which is so, so condescending), and the type of people we should be friends (or worse, “frenemies”) with. Not only does it pigeonhole young women into categories based on the particular music they like, books they read or TV shows they watch, but it doesn’t allow for any variety or overlap for these young women to forge out identities of their own. And it promotes active dislike and judgement of others.

For example, according to this book, the type of girl who likes comic books should avoid “athletes” – but why can’t I like both? Can’t I watch Star Wars while I run on the treadmill (I totally have watched Star Wars while I ran on the treadmill)? Why so much hate for Lauren Conrad? Can’t I watch The Hills (I loved The Hills) AND have a book blog? How come it isn’t OK for me to copy looks out of Elle and Vogue because I love clothes and hair and makeup, and also to play Plants vs. Zombies compulsively on my phone for hours? And is it a crime to have nearly as much Flo Rida on my iPod as Iron & Wine? Do any of these things make me a bad person? Or less of a geek? And is it bad that I have diverse interests that lean towards the geeky in some ways, but the mainstream in other ways?

Of course the answer is no, but for a book that is about unifying women who have less-than-mainstream interests (as long as they are straight, funny, marginally attractive but not too attractive, and listen exclusively to indie alt-rock), it’s very judgemental. Actually, it’s beyond judgemental. It’s mean. I hope to high heaven that girls in junior and senior high school don’t read this. Because for a book that bills itself as funny, inclusive and smart, the message is anything but.

I don’t buy a lot of books these days, because I’m watching my cashflow. I wish I had saved the $15, because I still don’t know how fangirls, bookworms, indie chicks and other misfits are taking over the world.