All The Light We Cannot See

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All The Light We Cannot See Photo: Simon & SchusterI’ve been tempted by All The Light We Cannot See a few times over the past couple months, and with an upcoming trip to the UK (a pair of nine-hour flights, plus several train trips), I finally caved and loaded it up on my Kindle.

After a couple of months of very sporadic reading (ultraheavy education theory books and ultralight wedding magazines) during my first-ever teaching contract this spring, I felt I was due a good novel, and this striking piece of fiction fit the bill.

It’s truly beautiful storytelling (it won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction). One day, if I can write something half as good, I’ll be a very happy lady. There are two parallel storylines at play here. A young blind girl and her father, a museum locksmith, flee Nazi-occupied Paris in 1940. Meanwhile, an orphaned German boy develops a fascination with radios, which earns him a place among the Nazi military elite.

The pace of the plot is pretty much perfect, and by the time the two storylines converge, I couldn’t put the book down. Coincidentally, I started the novel as Matt and I travelled through Manchester, where we spent a few hours at the Imperial War Museum North, which has a comprehensive chronological timeline display of the impact of both world wars on everyday people. I finished it right after we arrived in London, the morning of our visit to the Imperial War Museum London, an entirely different experience with its comprehensive, stunning and sobering Holocaust exhibition. Talk about being in the right place at the right time. The whole experience made for very interesting – and very thoughtful – reading.

There’s lots to love about All The Light We Cannot See – lyrical, descriptive writing, achingly sympathetic characters, beautifully-imagined settings and the magic of radio. It stayed with me for days.

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Sharp Objects

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Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn (Photo Credit: Random House)Over the holidays, my brother’s girlfriend Cara tore through Sharp Objects, and then left it for me.

I loved Gone Girl, and she said it was a quick read, so I took her up on her offer. She was right! I polished it off on a couple of busy nights over the Christmas break, although the subject matter may not make it the best before-bed read. It’s a murder mystery, a reporter story and a thriller all in one.

I really liked this one. Like Gone Girl, the themes are adult and dark, and it does have a decent twist (although it wasn’t a WAIT, WHAT? twist like Gone Girl’s. Have you read it? If you haven’t, and you haven’t seen the film, you really should. It’s great). I predicted the ending, but not the pathway that Gillian Flynn took to get there, so it was still a worthwhile mystery. Cara and I both work in different branches of the journalism industry, and it was nice to see a female reporter as a protagonist, although Camille Preaker’s mental instability would likely be a real-life roadblock. You have to be made out of tough stuff to work as a reporter (which is why I mainly stick to lifestyle work these days).

One bad personal note – I ate a pomegranate and it dripped all over the book, so it looks like I either killed someone while reading it, or had a very bad accident. So I’m sorry, Cara. I owe you a book. I really enjoyed reading Sharp Objects, and it was quick and easy over the holidays. It’s no Gone Girl, but it’s worth a look.

Golden Boy

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Golden Boy (Photo: Simon & Schuster)This is a very long-overdue post. August sort of got away from me – I took on some exciting freelance writing assignments (including some for Avenue magazine, a well-regarded local Calgary publication, that I’m quite thrilled about) and unfortunately, one of the downsides of getting paid for my writing (well really, the only downside) is that blogging sort of takes a backseat. Classes started up again this week too, which has meant a few days of chaos and stress. Don’t worry though – I haven’t stopped reading. You can expect reviews for Jane Christmas’s excellent travel book What The Psychic Told The Pilgrim, the beautiful book of poetry by Cynthia Rylant called God Got a Dog and the other books I muddled through in August shortly.

Today though, I want to tell you about Golden Boy, which is one of the most gripping novels I’ve ever read. I can’t believe that Abigail Tartellin is only 26 (or that she was waitressing when she got called by a publisher for the rights to this book). She’s amazing, and she’s only going to get better – and quite frankly, she puts small-time writers like me to shame. She has a real gift and her book is brilliant.

I gave up my bookstore job this fall in favour of a different opportunity with slightly better pay and more sociable hours, but I’m sticking around once a month to run a book club for teenagers there in the fall. So I attended the Fall Gala at Indigo Signal Hill on Saturday night to promote my new venture, and my friend Meg couldn’t recommend Golden Boy highly enough. Convinced by her enthusiasm and glowing review, I had a look and I was intrigued.

Max is the 16-year-old intersex son of a high-profile golden couple in a satellite town of Oxford in Britain. Max is well-adjusted, funny, compassionate and everything a 16-year-old should be, until a shocking betrayal forces him to re-examine everything he thinks he knows about himself.

I won’t give anything else away, except that it’s twisty and brilliant and poignant and sad and very, very well done. I have barely been able to put it down since Sunday, and have been reading it in fits and starts around my ethics and law readings for my education classes. I just finished it ten minutes ago and my face is streaky from mascara and I feel like I need to hold everyone in my world just a little bit tighter.

Please read Golden Boy. I think I may have found my new favourite novel of the year. Thank you again, Meg, for recommending it!

The Invention of Wings

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The Invention of Wings (Photo: Penguin)I actually read The Invention of Wings a couple weeks ago, but I got so distracted by the Robert Galbraith novels (and three jobs, and a weekend of moving Matt to Calgary, and the Calgary Stampede, and … excuses) that I didn’t get around to posting about it yet. But here we are, better late than never!

This is the latest offering from Sue Monk Kidd, and it has been very well received. It is a Heather’s Pick at Chapters/Indigo stores in Canada, and an Oprah’s Book Club 2.0 featured title as well. I really loved her book The Secret Life of Bees, which I read one summer when I was home from university, and I liked – didn’t love, but liked – The Mermaid Chair. So I was eager to pick up a copy of The Invention of Wings. Plus, I had read a brief write-up about it in a magazine – possibly Chatelaine – and I was intrigued.

The plot centres around two women – one white and one black – over 35 years in the early 19th century. On Sarah Grimke’s 11th birthday, she is horrified to be presented with her own slave – 10-year-old Handful. The story that follows – with each girl narrating alternating chapters – is a journey through the turbulent, racially-charged American South in the 1800s.

It’s a risk, as this great New York Times review notes, for a white, Southern writer (even in the 21st century) to take on the voice of a slave, but I think the chapters written in Handful’s voice are the strongest in the book. But this isn’t the only big issue Kidd tackles. The Invention of Wings also explores two very different mother-daughter relationships, feminist issues, religion, love and social justice inequalities.

All of these are ambitious topics on their own, so together, the book sometimes feels a little bit heavy. I was discussing it with my friend Erin this afternoon (she just finished it) and we agreed that we both had trouble at times with the uneven pacing. The beginning, where Sarah and Handful grow into young women together, is pacey and short – in fact, it’s over much too soon. The later chapters – where Sarah and her sister Angelina campaign for equality – are interesting and important, but lack the pace and punch of the early pages.

The character of Sarah is a fictionalized version of the real Sarah Grimke, and much of the later events of the book are based on Kidd’s meticulous research into her life. This might be why it feels like it drags a bit here – it is obvious that Kidd wanted to do this remarkable woman justice, and she probably had much more real-life detail to weave in from Sarah’s adult life than her childhood.

It’s a heavy read (because the subject matter is heavy), but I think the fact that I finished it two weeks ago and it’s still on my mind is a good sign. If you like Kidd’s work, or you’re interested in novels about race and the South (The Help springs to mind), you’ll want to give this one a try.

The Silkworm

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The Silkworm (Photo: Hachette Book Group)The best thing about starting a new series of books is that if you time it right, you can binge a little bit. I do this with TV all the time (I was a latecomer to Orange is the New Black on Netflix, so I was able to binge-watch season one about three months before the second season came out. This also explains a bit of quiet time on the blog in early June). I also did it with the first three Harry Potters. And now, because it’s taken me so long to discover JK Rowling as Robert Galbraith, I’ve been able to do it with the Cormoran Strike novels.

I bought The Silkworm pretty much immediately after I finished The Cuckoo’s Calling, and I’m so happy to report that it’s a consistent follow-up in what (I hope) will be a long-running series. These must be fun for JK Rowling to write.

I actually liked the mystery in The Cuckoo’s Calling better than The Silkworm, but that’s just personal preference. Galbraith does character development in the same way Rowling did for the Harry Potter books. It’s a slow simmer with really great payoffs. At the end of The Silkworm, we still don’t know why Robin mysteriously dropped out of university (or why this might have anything to do with her burning desire to be a detective in her own right), or if the hold that Strike’s ex-fiancee Charlotte still has over him will continue now that she has married another man. The characters in the Cormoran Strike novels are fully-formed people, which makes them a pleasure to read about.

Like The Cuckoo’s Calling, this isn’t a heavy read. But it’s pacey, fun, surprising and perfect for summer. I love reading these books, and can’t wait for the next one. If the best thing about starting a series other people have been reading for awhile is that you can binge, the worst part is waiting for more.