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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Cover to Cover with Fates and Furies

When it comes to covers, simple can be good. Simple can also be colossally awful. I’m still trying to figure out what it is that separates one from the other. For instance, I found the simple, similar covers for The Girl on the Train to be really, really boring. But faced with another set of simple, similar covers – Lauren Groff’s Fates and Furies – I find myself head over heels. What gives?

The most common cover I’ve come across is the North American edition, but also what seems to be the pick for translated editions:

Hardcover    Layout 1Dutch_edition     Polish_edition

Something about this design appeals to me on a basic level. Is it waves? Is it frost? Is it a topographic map? Does it matter? Any of the above speak well to the title of the novel – evoking the sense of forces outside of human control. And I especially like how the waves overlap the text to a variety of degrees across these covers, even as the font, title placement, and image all remain the same.

Fates and Furies also avoids the Girl on the Train fiasco of one boring cover by supplying a couple of different designs across countries. I love the contrast between the North American edition and the UK edition – playful design and pattern, vibrancy and violence.

UK editionHardcover

Interestingly, the large print edition seems to have gotten its own cover, which riffs subtly on the original North American printing as well – confirming my perspective of waves.

LargePrint

Last but not least, the Spanish cover takes a completely different direction – keeping in the same colour scheme but moving towards more substantial imagery.

Spanish edition

Going back to the NA cover, I think my love for its simplicity comes from a place that is both surprising and unsurprising: unlike The Girl on the Train, I was bowled over by Fates and Furies. It’s funny – we’re always told not to judge a book by its cover, but I never thought I’d find myself judging a cover by its book.

How about you? What’s your favourite cover? Leave me your thoughts and opinions in the comments!

Cover to Cover is a weekly feature appearing every Wednesday. You can browse through past posts here. 

 

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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Cover to Cover with Neil Smith’s Boo


Boo
was one of the best books I read last year, and I continue to recommend it to everyone I know – my roommate, my mother, my former boss, the people I’m taking classes with. If I run into a stranger in the fiction section at a bookstore I’m going to chuck this one at them and run away. I literally just stopped to text a friend to recommend this book. I’m addicted. And so can you be.

Eighth-grade science nerd Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple wakes up in heaven and figures his faulty heart finally gave out. But soon the plot thickens – and Boo finds himself tracking down the mystery of his own murder.

That said, this is the only cover I’ve seen in the wild, and I’m not really all that enamored with it:Canadian edition

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Canada Reads 2016: The Illegal by Lawrence Hill

The illegalLawrence Hill has been on my radar (well, everyone’s radar) since The Book of Negroes. I wasn’t surprised to see his name on the Canada Reads short list for this year, and actually pretty glad; while he’s on my to-read list, he’s not on my immediate to-read list, which means who knows when I would have gotten around to picking up his work. Canada Reads to the rescue!

Synopsis: Keita escapes the cruel dictatorship of his homeland (the fictional Zantoroland) to make a better life for himself in a new land (the fictional Freedomstate), by doing what he loves best – running marathons. But even in a new country, theoretically full of possibility and opportunity, he must fight: to ransom his kidnapped sister, to avoid the authorities who would deport him as “an illegal”, and to find happiness when the state seems bent on denying him even the basic rights of personhood.

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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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Cover to Cover with The Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train was one of the slam-hits of 2015, selling more than 8 million copies worldwide. That’s crazy. That’s a crazy amount of books. This stunning popularity means there are two really strange things about this chilling thriller of a novel. Firstly that, quite frankly, I hated it. Secondly, that I’ve only ever seen one cover for it, anywhere, ever, and it’s this one:

First edition.jpg

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Cover to Cover with Undermajordomo Minor and the covers of Dan Stiles

I’ve been talking about Undermajordomo Minor for ages – and while I was beginning to lose hope that this day would ever come, I finally have a copy officially and safely ensconced on my Kindle / my roommate’s bookshelf. (It is so great having roommates who have great taste in books. I highly recommend it.)

In celebration, for the first time ever, I’m featuring a book on Cover to Cover that I haven’t actually read. Even if it sucks (which  I doubt), these covers are plenty great in and of themselves.

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