Where have I been? What have I read?

You may have noticed that I’ve been MIA these last few weeks. Let’s call it a summer break: after finishing up the 80 pages of academic writing I had due in April, I didn’t have too many words left in my brain for book reviews. But don’t worry. I’m back, and I’m going to tell you all about the books I read while I was away – in tiny, one-sentence reviews.

You’ll probably see longer reviews of some of these pop up in the next few weeks – let me know if there are any that you’re particularly interested in hearing about, and I’ll move them to the top of the pile.

Why Hasn’t Everything Already Disappeared? / Jean Baudrillard
This book is the result of an old, grumpy, slightly terrified French philosopher thinking a little too hard about contemporary life, and it’s both really right and really wrong about a lot of things.

The Magicians / Lev Grossman
Dosed with unabashed nostalgia for the Narnia Chronicles, Grossman reimagines what it might mean to attend a school for magicians – and still find yourself disappointed at what the world holds.

In the City of Lost Things / Paul Auster
I first read this novel in the first year of my undergrad, and it’s weirdly stuck with me – and weirdly proved impossible to find in bookstores. Strong female protagonist journeys to the (apocalyptic, chaotic, decaying) city of last things to look for her missing brother – and learns too late that the city proves just about impossible to escape.

The Vegetarian / Han Kang
A Korean woman gives up eating meat after a series of unsettling, cannibalistic dreams; this small act of resistance quickly snowballs – producing social, familial, political, and artistic ramifications.

Spill Simmer Falter Wither / Sarah Baume
Okay – stop what you’re doing and get your hands on a copy of this book, because it’s easily one of the best I’ve read this year. The old, suspicious anti-hero at the centre of this novel can’t put his finger on why he’s suddenly possessed with the urge to get a dog, but once united, the two prove oddly and inseparably similar – wounded and muddling along as best they can.

All the Birds, Singing / Evie Wyld
The best way to describe this novel is as a weird one. Sheep? Sex workers? Australia? Arson? Mysterious beasts ripping apart lambs?

The Mirror World of Melody Black / Gavin Extence
The back cover makes this sound like a fun and unsettling romp through parallel worlds, but the truth is this novel is a beautifully frank look at the inside of mental illness.

The Saga of the Swamp Thing / Alan Moore (et al)
I’ve read four of the six volumes which chronicle this version of the Swamp Thing, and even though I’m not generally a graphic novel / comic sort of person, I weirdly and truly dig the trials and tribulations of this unlikely, plant-based superhero. Apocalypse! History! Memory!

A Complicated Kindness / Miriam Toews
A Mennonite girl in small-town Canada slowly and surely comes to grips (or else to no grips at all) with the fact that her gentle religion has torn (and continues to tear) her family apart. (It sounds inane but it’s not. It’s brilliant, and heartbreaking, and clever, and hilarious.)

 

So there you have it – that was how I spent my May. What have you read this past month that you loved / hated / felt unmoved by? Is there anything on my list you want to hear more about? Let’s chat!

 

 

 

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The good and the bad of bookstore cats

NietzcheEvery job has its clichés – and in the case of working in an independent bookstore, most of them turned out to be true.

I used to work at a shop called The Book Man, and my time there was full of the best bookstore tropes: It was founded by a lovely old man who bought us pastries on the weekends. It was owned by his daughter, which meant it was a shop run by a family of beautifully bookish nerds who loved to read just as much as I do. I was paid overtime in books. People really did come in and ask about the book they’d seen on display last week – surely we knew which one they meant? You know, the blue one?

But the best cliché by far was our bookstore cat. Nietzsche was everything you could hope for in a store cat: he slept in an armchair most of the time, he was named after a philosopher, and people came to the store just to see him.

On the other hand, having a store cat had some surprising – and awkward – downsides.

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Top Ten Tuesday: the five-star reads of 2016 so far

thumb_circle_bookrockI’m stingy when it comes to giving books five stars; looking back on my Goodreads record for 2015, for example, barely ten per cent of books made the grade. Interestingly, it averaged out to about one a month in 2015 – and I’m apparently right on track to hit that quota in 2016. For today’s Top Ten Tuesday (hosted, as ever, by the Broke and the Bookish), I present four books that truly knocked my socks off in the last three months.

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Top Ten Tuesday: The blossoming TBR of spring

This week’s Top Ten Tuesday topic is all that is shiny and new on the to-be-read pile this spring. My spring to-read pile is looking more like a mountain, but that’s hardly new. This time of year inevitably gets a little crazy, so I’m trying to be realistic about what I’m going to read in the next three weeks – and this is the result. (Hint: it’s still not entirely realistic.) It’s funny how even cutting down this list to books that I’m desperate to read doesn’t make it that much shorter…

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Top Ten Tuesday: Five books to read if you’re in the mood for CanLit

It’s time for another Top Ten Tuesday, and I’m going to feature some CanLit. But these books aren’t just any Canadian books: they’re this year’s Canada Reads selections, which I’m desperately trying to read before I cash in my tickets to see the Canada Reads debates live and in person at the end of this month.

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Top Ten Tuesday: historical fiction meets art history

Top Ten Tuesday - Bayrock, Bookrock - Sidebar crop copyTuesday means it’s time for a list, and this Tuesday is all about the past: historical fiction!

Anyone who knows me (or reads my review guidelines) will know that historical fiction isn’t my favourite genre by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, I tend to avoid it completely if I can.

But there are exceptions to every rule, and in this case there’s one weird little niche of historical fiction that I apparently can’t get enough of: art world novels. And here are more of them than you think (although I have snuck in few that are questionably historical. As ever, click a cover to hop over to the Goodreads page.

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The best releases of 2015 (feat. The Cascade)

The Cascade, my student newspaper alma mater, runs a giant “Best Of” issue every January. Despite not holding a position at the paper since 2014, I still manage to sneak in every year to rave about the best books I’ve read. This year the list includes Martin John by Anakana SchofieldAll True Not A Lie In It by Alix Hawley, Bone Gap  by Laura Ruby, and seven others (including two reviewed by Katie Stobbart over at The Quotidien.

All in all, it’s a pretty great list. You can read the full feature here and browse the full issue here. Needless to say, I highly recommend all of the books below.   Continue reading

Top Ten Tuesday: Shiny and new on the to-read pile

Top Ten Tuesday - Bayrock, Bookrock - Sidebar crop copy It’s Tuesday, which means it’s time for a bit of bookish list action. Hosted as ever by the Broke and the Bookish, this week’s theme is books new on the to-read pile. As someone with a weird assortment of novels and school books piling up on my bedside table (and what is turning into an almost pathological addiction to requesting library books), this week’s theme is exactly up my alley. And who knows, maybe you’ll spot a couple of titles that will end up on your precarious bedside table stack too. Let me know if they do! Just click on a cover to hop over the Goodreads description.

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Shostakovich: three books about a Soviet composer

In the second year of my undergrad, I took a Russian history course on a whim. Not too much of it stuck with me, to be honest – except an enduring love for Soviet composer Dmitri Shostakovich.

I’ve recommended his memoir to several people I know, with limited success. For some reason, biographies of soviet-era classical composers tend to be a hard sell to friends and family.

But with Shostakovich starring in two recent novels – written by an award-winning YA novelist and a Man Booker Prize-winning author, respectively – I think I might have more luck pushing his excellent memoir on the people around me.

In celebration of this trend, here are three excellent works about an excellent and oft-underrated Russian composer.

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