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.

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The Night Circus

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The Night CircusWhat a lovely surprise this book was! My neighbour Susan gave me a copy of The Night Circus to borrow, and my first impression of the cover was that had the potential to be really, really weird (as a side note, the cover image to the right is not the cover of Susan’s book, but this is what was available from the publisher).

After all, circuses are kind of weird, right? This means that books about circus people are probably also weird, right? Well, hat in hand, I was completely wrong. And I’m so glad I stuck with it beyond the first chapter (which, admittedly, was pretty weird, but made sense later) because this was one of the most surprisingly enjoyable books I’ve read this year.

It’s fantasy without being overly wacky. I’d describe the writing as having a lovely, dream-like quality and there is enough magic to keep things interesting without being over-the-top. There are two parallel stories that take place within this novel – one about the magic of the circus itself, which spans a considerable period of time, and the other about a boy who is enthralled with the show that appears and disappears in the night. Erin Morgenstern has managed to weave together an offbeat tale and an unlikely love story that completely and totally works.

Once I got through the slow-going first couple of chapters, I couldn’t stop. I carried this book with me everywhere. I read it in bed, in the bath and all over my house. It’s an easy, gentle read with a very satisfying conclusion, and coming from a fairweather fantasy fan, this is definitely one worth picking up. Thanks to Susan for her excellent judgement!

My Legendary Girlfriend

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My Legendary Girlfriend (Photo: Mikegayle.co.uk)I’m not a Goodreads user generally, but I was so baffled by why anyone would think that My Legendary Girlfriend by Mike Gayle was good that I had a look at some reviews to make sure I wasn’t alone.

Thank goodness I wasn’t. ‘Mags’ described the experience as “like I was being dragged through a very slow and painful death” and recommended it for “people who just came from a break-up and need some promise and sympathy.”

Maybe that’s why I picked it up. I promise that I’m not that sad, but I thought the story of a young British teacher trying to get past a bad breakup might be sort of sweet and a little bit comforting. I spotted it on a display shelf at the library and judging by the cover, it seemed quick and light – perfect for some bedtime reading as I gear up for spring final exams.

However, I agree with most of the reviews online (and maybe this is why I should reconsider my aversion to Goodreads). ‘Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance’ says “Never judge a book by its cover … disappointing waste of good reading time.” I also appreciated this review by ‘Kricket’: “When you read the blurb on the back it could really go either way. It’s just when you get into the story – ugh. If one of my male friends was behaving the way the main character was, I’d have encouraged him to seek psychiatric help rather than dating/marrying him.”

I guess I should have known when I went over to MikeGayle.co.uk where he describes the process of getting this book published. Maybe I’m in a foul mood after not enjoying this story, but I found his descriptions to be nearly as annoying as reading this book. I’m so glad that I didn’t waste a penny on this one. Straight back to the library it goes.

Eleanor & Park

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Guys, did you know that some publishers do little video previews for books? I seriously had no idea, but this is very, very sweet, and a nice way to introduce Eleanor & Park, which was my book club pick for April/May.

I might have mentioned this before, but my book club is a group of two girls who are old friends from high school plus me. We used to put on wizard robes and attend midnight screenings of Harry Potter (yes, really. We were possibly the least rebellious teenagers in the history of ever – or at least in the history of suburban south-west Calgary and its rural surroundings). Now both of them are married, one is a mom of an adorable almost-three-year-old, and we like to read teen fiction from time to time to remind us of the silly 17-year-old girls that we used to be.

Eleanor & Park was my first book club pick for 2013 and I chose it based solely on this New York Times review by John Green, although  I found out afterwards that it’s also a Heather’s Pick at Chapters/Indigo. I also really liked the author’s name ‘Rainbow Rowell’ and I thought about that for a long time when I first started looking into this book (normally I just grab and go with books, but choosing a book club pick requires careful thought, as they are subject to the judgement of my two wonderful friends). Were Rainbow Rowell’s parents hippies? Is it a pen name? Is it a name she chose herself? In the end, I decided it didn’t matter very much. John Green wrote: “Eleanor & Park reminded me not just what it’s like to be young and in love with a girl, but also what it’s like to be young and in love with a book.” That was good enough for me.

And oh, what a book! This is the kind of teen fiction that I would have devoured at 17, and at 27, I have to admit that I was still completely and utterly captivated by it. The feelings are so strong, the romance is so vivid, and if it’s at all possible, this book has a brilliant, moving, pulsing soundtrack that comes from being set in the ’80s where the main characters listen to a Walkman on the bus out of a shared set of headphones. There’s lots of swearing in it too, which is realistic if you grow up in a poorer area of a big city like Eleanor and Park do (I would have felt vaguely guilty enjoying the swearing so much as a teenager – this is something that you grow into, I guess).

There are unexpected twists and turns, beauty, love, euphoria, sadness and a grand rescue. It’s the stuff teenage dreams are made of, and possibly grown-up dreams too. I thought Eleanor & Park was so fantastic that I stayed up late and read it all in one sitting. I laughed out loud, cried buckets, bought a black eyeliner and spent about $20 on iTunes because of this book. It’s brilliant. I think you should read it too.

Rilla of Ingleside

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Rilla of Ingleside (Photo: Penguin)Did you know that Rilla of Ingleside, the last book in the Anne of Green Gables series, is the only Canadian novel written about WWI during the actual war from the viewpoint of the women who stayed at home while their sons, brothers, boyfriends and husbands went off to fight?

I sure didn’t when I first read Rilla of Ingleside as a kid – I was way too preoccupied with hoping that her handsome boyfriend Ken Ford would make it home safely from the front. But for my 20th century Canadian History class (a prerequisite for the Bachelor of Education I hope to start in September), we had to write an essay on the historical impact of a piece of Canadian fiction. When I saw Rilla of Ingleside on the list, I knew I had to re-read it.

As it turns out, re-reading a beloved childhood classic as an adult is a lot of fun. There were lots of parts about Rilla that I remembered, and other parts that I either forgot about or just didn’t register when I first read it, which must have been when I was about 11 or 12 (I got the entire Anne of Green Gables box set for Christmas the year I was in grade five, though my mom and I had read Anne together years earlier).

I didn’t know (before I had to write my paper and spent hours poring over this stuff) that diary entries made by Rilla on specific key dates during the war were closely linked to diary entries made by LM Montgomery herself as the battles in France raged on. I also wasn’t mature enough to figure out the similarties between Walter’s (Anne’s second-oldest son, and Rilla’s favourite brother) poem The Piper and John MacRae’s In Flander’s Fields, or to catch the portrayal of Rilla as a symbol of Canada worth dying for. But it’s all there in this moving book, which I enjoyed even more the second time around.

Rilla of Ingleside contains very little of the lightness of the early Anne books – in fact, it’s rather deep and dark, and possibly works better as a standalone piece of fiction than the end of an iconic series. But it’s worth a read for its historical significance alone. I’ve never had so much fun writing a school paper before.