Monthly Archives: June 2013

Book Review: Dance, Gladys, Dance

Cassie Stocks is the author of Dance, Gladys, Dance and the most recent recipient of the Stephen Leacock Memorial Award for Canadian Humor Writing (not many women have won this award, so it’s a big deal). For this reason, I picked up the book, which I should also mention was published by the Edmonton publishing house NeWest Press. Another past winner of the award was Terry Fallis, whose writing I absolutely adore, so I knew I’d like this one as well.

Author Cassie Stocks

Author Cassie Stocks

The protagonist of the story, Frieda Zweig is a fun person to read about; she’s bitingly witty, and doesn’t hold back when offering judgements on the people and situations around her. at 27 years of age, she’s at a  cross roads in her life, (which surprised me to realize that Stocks made her so young, to be honest her crises seemed to be that of a woman in her mid-thirties and older, you’ll see what I mean if you read it) and finds an ad in a newspaper that leads her to a whole new group of people that eventually settle in to becoming her surrogate family.  Stocks created this character with some depth as well, Frieda surprised me when she (spoiler alert) rejected her ex, a seemingly perfect man who was dedicated to helping her work past her painter’s block. Aside from coming across as somewhat lazy at times, Frieda’s loyalty to her new group of friends is what gave the story it’s ‘warm and fuzzy’ feeling, which we all need a little more of in Canadian fiction.

The plot itself is a bit predictable, but I found the most interesting aspect of the book to be the storyline around ‘art’ and its importance to people and their lives. Stocks is an obvious supporter of the arts, as this message couldn’t have been clearer. Each character, although very different, had an artistic or creative streak,  or simply a sincere appreciation of the arts (dance, painting, sculpture, crafting, photography, etc). As a member of the Calgary arts community myself, I couldn’t help but like this book, and silently cheer on the characters while they rallied to support a not-for-profit arts centre. Dance, Gladys, Dance_0As a reader, it’s easy to sing the praises of an plot that reinforces your own opinions, but this isn’t the only reason I liked this book-it was also fun to read, which is something I really appreciate because there are many books that are not,

Oh yes, I should also mention that a ghost named Gladys is a part of the storyline, although not in a “spooky” way, more of a “fairy godmother trying to do good” sort of way. Although this gets the most attention in the publisher’s promotional efforts, I personally don’t see it as a pivotal part of the narrative, so it shouldn’t be your deciding factor on whether you read it. Stock’s new and quirky voice should be the reason you buy this book, so take it from me, and pick up a copy for a good summer read.

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Book Review: Children of the Jacaranda Tree

This book piqued my interest for a number of reasons, one of them being the controversy over at Canada Reads a few years ago which touched upon the same subject-the revolution and  human rights violations in Tehran. In that particular Canada Reads year, author Marina Nemat had a book in contention that described her experiences of being jailed at the age of 16 in Iran, which came to mind when I picked up this book. My embarrassing lack of knowledge around global history and geography (which will become clear the longer I write this blog) prompted me to launch into a book that I (rightly) assumed would give me a useful and important education into these historical events.

Children of the Jacaranda Tree by Sahar Delijani offers a brief understanding of the issues in Iran at that time, but it focuses more on the impact that it had on the the children of the first revolutionaries in particular. I enjoyed this book because it didn’t get bogged down by explanations or scene-setting, it simply touched upon people’s lives and how the fighting had affected them as individual people, not as ‘a people’, which so many historical novels typically fall into doing. The way the characters were chosen to demonstrate that effect was masterful, and I don’t use that word lightly. Instead of following a particular family, the characters were linked in an intentionally haphazard way which gradually introduced the reader to the commonality of their experiences and the far-reaching affects of the war. Rather than focusing on the parents who had to endure the brutality in the prisons, Delijani focused on the children of the prisoners, some of them surviving children, some of them simply retelling the stories of their parents’ ordeal. Children of the Jacaranda Tree

The book comes to a powerful close with a scene that involves Neda, a child who is born in a Tehran prison at the very beginning of the novel (which should be mentioned, the author herself experienced, having been born in Tehran to an imprisoned mother). She is forced to confront one of the most difficult challenges of the book; her lover Reza has admitted to her, a political refugee himself, that his father was originally a member of the Revolutionary Guard. This was the group who jailed and executed the political “rebels”,  and Reza’s father originally believed what he was doing was right, and only later left the group to become a political rebel himself having realized that the Guards he had originally aligned himself with did not stand for the same ideals he did.

This situation is so difficult (and admittedly engaging) as  a reader because it blurs the line of the good and bad.  Neda struggles to understand and accept this honest admission, but she also finds it troubling, questioning whether Reza’s father was personally responsible for jailing or torturing any of her family members. Although a resolution in the novel is impossible, it ends on a hopeful note, implying a step towards regaining a childhood spirit that was taken away from them both.

As a reader, I generally gravitate towards books with a humorous or light premise, but I think books like this are important for people to read because it forces us to learn about dark parts of the world in an engaging way. I don’t listen to the news enough, and I don’t always make the most effort to understand the political climates of other countries (let alone my own), but reading about these issues within a fictional narrative provides an accessible avenue for uninformed people like myself, and we have brave and honest writers like Sahar Delijani to thank for that.

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Book Review: Ballistics by D.W. Wilson

Oh boy. This is a great read, and I’m so happy I picked up this book (against my initial instincts that I wasn’t the right audience for it). When Wilson’s publicist spoke to me about this author he deemed it a ‘guy’s read’, and that regrettably,  turned me off of it. However, I had to read the book anyway, so I gave it a try. Within the first 20 pages, I was so glad I had picked it up, and over the two weeks of reading, I always had the characters in the back of my mind.

Ballistics by D.W. Wilson

Ballistics by D.W. Wilson

“It’s not the destination, it’s the journey” (p. 202). This particular phrase sums up the purpose and the style of the book. It’s one of those stories that ends abruptly before anything is resolved, but this is (presumably) done on purpose.  Although at times frustrating for a reader, it makes you stop and think about what the author is trying to tell you, and Wilson employed tactics such as this, as well as the mention of future events that the reader will never be a part of to force you to slow-down and really take in what’s written. It’s another well-developed but not-oft used strategy to  and as a speed reader of books, I need this reminder.

Aside from the plot, the setting of the book is key to its enjoyment. I worry that people who aren’t used to being in the mountains (as I am lucky enough to now be) may not connect with the story as much. It takes place in a real town called Invermere, which is a picturesque place nestled in the mountains of BC, around a big beautiful lake. For my eastern readers out there, I liken Invermere to Muskoka, as there are wealthy Calgarians that vacation there, with a mix of ‘townies’ (i.e. people that live there all year round, who tolerate the out-of-towners, but ultimately depend on them to keep their area alive and growing). I’ve been to Invermere myself (only once, so if I’m a bit off in my estimation of it, apologies), but just knowing the area even that little bit adds to the story. I think that prior knowledge helped me empathize with the characters in a particular way, as I had met people in real life that reminded me of Wilson’s fictional cast.

Invermere, British Columbia

Invermere, British Columbia

Ballistics by D.W. Wilson is definitely a masculine book, there are numerous fist fights, fires, sawed-off shotguns and all the perspectives are male. But don’t let this scare you off, it’s a beautiful story, and surprisingly, everything revolves around the female-dominated world of the domestic, so quite frankly, I hope this book appeals to both a male and female audience.

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Book Review: How to Host a Dinner Party by Corey Mintz

You should get your hands on a copy of How to Host a Dinner Party by Corey Mintz. It’s a quick read, with easy to understand tips on entertaining and a few recipes thrown in for good measure. I had never heard of Corey Mintz before I heard about this book, but now that I’ve read it, I’m eager for more.Corey Mintz

Corey writes a weekly column for the Toronto Star called “Fed”, in which he hosts a dinner party each week for (presumably) interesting people, and then writes about it. Hosting a dinner party each week sounds exhausting to me, but these experience are what led him to write this book, and who better qualified than he?

Each chapter chronologically follows the planning of a dinner party, starting from having the proper table and inviting the most pleasing assortment of guests, to the proper way to give and receive thank-yous following the big event. One of the most useful aspects of this book is the fact that he speaks from both the perspective of the host and the guest; realistically, we will all be one or the other at some point in our lives.

As a married, relatively new home-owner, dinner parties are becoming something that I’m exposed to more and more. So when a book like this was brought to my attention, I was immediately interested. Not being part of a lot of formal dinner parties in my childhood, this book was extremely useful to me, because it highlighted things that may be obvious to others, but not myself. For example, when it comes to wine etiquette Mintz writes: “Know that you are under no moral obligation to serve the wine that your friends brought…”(p. 123).

What brings this book past the ‘useful’ mark and pushes into the enjoyable arena is Mintz’s voice. Hilarious comparisons and examples really bring the writing to life which is not an easy task in an instructional book. One my favorite sections is where he breaks down everyone into a particular kind of dinner guest, which includes: “The Talker”, “The Bore”, “The Helper”, “The Sad Sack”, “The Drunk”, and so on. Although this sounds oversimplified at first glance, its true and we all know it.Book Cover

The cover of the book is misleading, it hints at the fact that the dinner party will be scientifically dissected, which it’s not in this book. Good manners, organizations tips and astute social observations make up the majority of the work, which lent itself to sitting down and reading it as a whole, rather than using it as a reference guide, which I don’t believe it was meant to be.  I should also mention the fun drawings at each chapter heading. Drawings of the author with his guests in various stages of the evenings are the perfect partner to the light-hearted writing, and it sets the tone of each chapter wonderfully.

One last thing-you should read the acknowledgements in the back of the book. Because I’m involved in the Canadian publishing industry, this is something I do regardless, as it’s such a small world we inhabit and many of the names are familiar. However, i recommend everyone take a gander at it when they finish the book as Mintz’s true personality really shines through in his thank you’s.

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Welcome to I’vereadthis.com

This blog has been a couple years in the making. I’ve just recently left my job in the publishing industry, with many mixed feelings, which I’ve realized is due to the fact that I love books, and I love working with books, but it was time to move on to something new. So with this in mind I felt a book blog was the best way to keep working with the people and things I love, on my own time with my own intentions and my own voice. And although this sounds silly and slightly narcissistic, I feel that my compunction to devour books can be a useful thing for others because I can save people from reading terrible books that don’t deserve their time and effort.

Thank you for visiting and I hope you find some good book recommendations. I read a wide range of books, due to many different factors (my work in the publishing industry has introduced me to A LOT of good and varied writers, I have a wide range of personal tastes, I read fiction to not only entertain but educate me, etc) so I’m hoping people will use this blog as not just a time waster while at work, but a resource for finding their next good read. I should also warn you, I’m a great lover of cats, my own in particular, so I’ll apologize in advance for posting random pictures of felines every so often, such as the one below.25739_707644563271_916667_n

So-take some time to browse the site, and I promise to not abandon this project for weeks at a time. I aim to make this blog reliable and consistent, and my goal is to post a couple times a week; this is my promise to you, fellow readers and supporters of ivereadthis.

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