Category Archives: Reading

Not book reviews, per se. More my personal reaction to a book. I only post books I liked, so the ratings are always high.

Review: Waiting for Joe

Waiting for JoeWaiting for Joe by Sandra Birdsell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I started to read this novel to break up my slog through Henry Miller’s Tropic of Capricorn. But ultimately this novel was way more interesting, so I got hooked and powered right through it.

Joe and Laurie are facing bankruptcy. Neither is entirely honest with the other – both have had affairs, and both hide other things (Laurie her spending, Joe the direness of their financial situation). You really get the sense that that lack of communication has made their situation much worse.

There is also a sense of fate, or destiny, almost, in this novel. Joe’s mother drowns trying to save Laurie’s mother, and so they seem like star-crossed lovers. And there is an accident scene on the Trans-Canada highway, between Calgary and Brooks, that had me contemplating the idea of destiny.

Despite their flaws, I found myself rooting for Joe and Laurie. They were good people who just didn’t seem able to work through their own complex histories.And Joe’s father, Albert, is a really fine character. You’ll love him.

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Review: Sweet Jesus

Sweet JesusSweet Jesus by Christine Pountney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I actually finished this book several weeks ago, and procrastinated about writing a review. But the characters and story have really stuck with me.

The story follows two sisters and their adopted brother as they journey together to a mega church in Kansas. Connie, the oldest sister, is facing financial ruin, and is hoping to renew her faith. Hannah, a writer, is faced with a difficult dilemma – she wants a child, but her boyfriend, whom she loves, does not. Their brother, Jesus, has just suffered a wrenching loss, and is hoping to reconnect with his biological family.

I’m not a religious person, but one thing I appreciated was how Pountney presented this rather fundamentalist church. The church members weren’t portrayed as riducolous caricatures. But Poutney does, through her characters, point out how damaging some of their beliefs are.

Other things I loved about this book: the landscapes of the different regions and cities, the complex relationships between the characters, the way Poutney weaved the events of the day into the story. And the writing is beautiful.

Loved it.

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The OrendaThe Orenda by Joseph Boyden
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I’m a big fan of Joseph Boyden’s previous work, and this novel didn’t disappoint. If you’ve been following the Bird clan, I think you’ll find the latest installment satisfying as well.

Boyden takes us further back in this novel, to early colonization of North America. The story follows three characters: a Jesuit missionary (Christophe), a young Iroquois woman (Snow Falls) and Bird, a Huron leader, and ancestor of the Bird clan in Boyden’s other novels.

I think what I appreciated most about this book was that Boyden isn’t afraid to dive into the complexity of the characters and the societies they lived in. At points I was totally revolted by the Jesuit’s efforts to convert the Huron, but they believed, or at least hoped, they were doing the right thing.

We are with Snow Falls as she grows from a troubled girl into a much more confident, capable young woman. And we watch Bird try to shoulder leadership responsibilities in a time of volatile change.

Overall a complex, thoughtful book.

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Good Read: Practical Jean

Practical JeanPractical Jean by Trevor Cole

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jean has a bit of a breakdown after caring for her dying mother over several months. She decides the kindest thing she can do for her friends is spare them the misery of growing old by murdering them, one by one. But before killing each one, she will create a beautiful experience for that friend, to usher her over the threshold in the kindest way possible.

Though this seems kind of unbelievable, Trevor is such a skilled writer that I swallowed the plot and characters hook, line and sinker. At some points, I was begging Jean to get some counselling, for God’s sake, and stop killing her friends. And then, a few pages later, I was worried the police were going to catch her before she could finish (what is wrong with me, I wondered).

I would recommend this book to anyone who likes their humour a little dark.

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Just Pretending by Lisa Bird-Wilson

Just PretendingJust Pretending by Lisa Bird-Wilson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There were several things I liked about these short stories, most of which feature First Nations or Metis characters in Western Canada. First of all, the author delves into tough themes, such as abandonment, sexual assault, child neglect or abuse, mental illness and prejudice.

But the characters are so well developed that I really cared about what happened to them in each story. And the writer treated them with compassion. I think this is important because otherwise I wouldn’t have been inclined to get into such dark subject matter.

There was also a thread of humour running through the book which (besides causing me to almost snort tea through my nose) really illustrated how people use humour as a coping mechanism.

Finally, Lisa’s writing style is so smooth that I was able to get into each story and completely believe in the world she created.

Highly recommended.

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Brief Review (Non-fic)

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus by Charles C. Mann

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Mann argues that North Americans (pre-European) actively managed their landscape (including farming), in a way that usually balanced the needs of their societies with the need to protect the environment.

Overall I enjoyed this book. As a farm journalist and former farm kid, I was particularly interested in the sections that dealt with agriculture. Some sections were a little less interesting to me personally, and I found it pretty information dense (although I suppose that’s what we should want in a book detailing history). I would definitly recommend it to anyone interested in North American history.

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Thoughts on “The Unfinished Child”

The Unfinished ChildThe Unfinished Child by Theresa Shea
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Shea really nails the complexity of friendships between women. That mix of jealousy, resentment, and love that exists between some women was brought to life in Marie and Elizabeth. The plots pulled me along like a strong current. There is a well orchestrated plot twist part way through the novel that was very satisfying to me as a reader.

What I liked best about this novel is that Shea addresses complex, tough issues that people don’t like to talk about with compassion and sensitivity. She is a brave writer and I admire her for that. I felt like I gained some insight into people who deal with these issues, and into how people develop compassion.

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Quick Review: Dollybird

DollybirdDollybird by Anne Lazurko
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

4.5-5 stars!

I found the characters very engaging. I could see how they changed and grew as the novel progressed, and it was completely realistic to me.

I’ve been in a bit of a reading slump this summer – trying to get through some heavy books, and busy with other things. But this book is exactly what I needed to kick start my fall reading. The plot sucked me right in – I burned through the last 100 pages in one evening. I think I finished the entire book in three or four days. I’m normally a slow reader, so that’s a good clip for me.

It was also clear Anne did her research. The details about medicine (or lack of) at the turn of the 20th century made the characters and plot more credible. Also many good details about the setting (Ibsen and area, which was near Moose Jaw/Weyburn).

A wonderful piece of historical fiction.

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