What I’m Reading: We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

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TITLE | We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves

AUTHOR | Karen Joy Fowler

STAR RATING | 4

ABOUT | Meet the Cooke family: Mother and Dad, brother Lowell, sister Fern, and our narrator, Rosemary, who begins her story in the middle. She has her reasons. “I spent the first eighteen years of my life defined by this one fact: that I was raised with a chimpanzee,” she tells us. “It’s never going to be the first thing I share with someone. I tell you Fern was a chimp and already you aren’t thinking of her as my sister. But until Fern’s expulsion, I’d scarcely known a moment alone. She was my twin, my funhouse mirror, my whirlwind other half, and I loved her as a sister.”

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT | Wholly original in concept and voice — jaunty, smart and heartbreaking — this is one of my tops reads of the year.

WHO I’D RECOMMEND IT TO | Anyone who enjoys witty yet emotionally gripping work, especially in the context of complicated family relationships.

FAVOURITE QUOTE |

“One day, a package of junior-sized tampons was left on my bed along with a pamphlet that looked technical and boring, so I didn’t read it. Nothing was ever said to me about tampons. It was just blind luck that I didn’t smoke them.”

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What I’m Reading: This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

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TITLE | This is the Story of a Happy Marriage

AUTHOR | Ann Patchett

STAR RATING | 4

ABOUT | A vibrant and moving portrait of love, friendship, work, and the writing life.

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT | I found her observations on writing as a profession at once consoling and encouraging.

WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE ABOUT IT | I would have liked more essays on her writing philosophy and process, but that’s just me.

WHO I’D RECOMMEND IT TO | Anyone who appreciates a witty, elegant collection of personal essays.

FAVOURITE QUOTE |

“The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living. My short stories and novels have always filled my life with meaning, but, at least in the first decade of my career, they were no more capable of supporting me than my dog was. But part of what I love about both novels and dogs is that they are so beautifully oblivious to economic concerns. We serve them, and in return they thrive. It isn’t their responsibility to figure out where the rent is coming from.”

#flashreview: The Sisters Brothers

The Sisters Brothers

TITLE | The Sisters Brothers

AUTHOR | Patrick DeWitt

STAR RATING | 4.5

ABOUT | An unforgettable tour de force tale — wearing a cowboy hat — about a pair of mismatched brothers bound by blood, violence, and love.

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT | The complex and compelling narration, and the eccentric cast of characters. Funny, brutal, and ultimately beautiful — I will read anything that DeWitt writes.

WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE ABOUT IT | That there isn’t a Coen brothers film adaptation.

WHO I’D RECOMMEND IT TO | Anyone who doesn’t like Westerns. This redeems the genre in every way.

What I’m Reading: I Am Pilgrim

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TITLE | I Am Pilgrim

AUTHOR | Terry Hayes

STAR RATING | 4

ABOUT | A former intelligence agent who wrote a book on forensic pathology becomes involved in a case where someone uses his book to commit untraceable murders.

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT | It’s a smart, satisfying, ambitious thriller. Technically it’s a debut novel but scriptwriter Hayes is an accomplished storyteller. The pages turned themselves.

WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE ABOUT IT | It is a bit US-propaganda-ish and I believe the editor could have been a little more ruthless in cutting out extraneous detail and author intrusions.

WHO I’D RECOMMEND IT TO | Anyone who enjoys full-tilt, action-packed thrillers.

FAVOURITE QUOTE |

‘What are you doing?’ he asked, leaning against the door frame, so tired his face looked like an unmade bed.

What I’m Reading: Blood, Bones & Butter

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TITLE | Blood, Bones & Butter

AUTHOR | Gabrielle Hamilton

STAR RATING | 4

ABOUT | Gabrielle’s unconventional journey through the kitchens she inhabited through the years before opening her acclaimed New York restaurant ‘Prune.’

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT | I don’t think I’ve ever read a more authentic, gritty (yet tender) memoir before. In addition to that — she writes so beautifully — Hamilton’s prose deserves a Michelin star.

WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE ABOUT IT | The scene about the rat. It was an important scene and she was right to include it, but I’ve had a nightmare or two since reading it.

WHO I’D RECOMMEND IT TO | Anyone who loves authentic cooking and/or writing, especially if they are interested in Italy and Italian cuisine.

FAVOURITE QUOTE | So many — but here is one from the first chapter (p.7), when she is describing her mother:

She lived in our kitchen, ruled the house with an oily wooden spoon in her hand, and forced us to eat dark, briny wrinkled olives, small birds we would have liked as pets, and cheeses that looked like they might well bear Legionnaire’s Disease.

What I’m Reading: The Crimson Petal and the White

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TITLE | The Crimson Petal and the White

AUTHOR | Michel Faber

STAR RATING | 5

ABOUT | Sugar, s 19-year-old prostitute in Victorian London who years for a better life.

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT | Its glorious sweep and subtlety. I fell for Sugar on page 28 and was in love by page 894. (Yes, it’s 894 pages long, and not one page is extraneous.)

WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE ABOUT IT | That it ended.

WHO I’D RECOMMEND IT TO | Anyone who enjoys Victoriana or a cocky heroine with big ideas and a heart to match them.

What I’m Reading: The Kick-Ass Writer

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TITLE | The Kick-Ass Writer: 1001 Ways to Write Great Fiction, Get Published, and Earn Your Audience

AUTHOR | Chuck Wendig at terribleminds.com

STAR RATING | 4

ABOUT | Excellent writing advice delivered in an easily accessible, totally hilarious way.

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT | Funny! Oh, so funny. I was ROFLing all over the place. Also: great, up-to-the-minute practical advice.

WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE ABOUT IT | There were a couple of typos. A minor thing that if nothing else made him come across as more human and less like a velociraptor writerbot from the future that has come to eat us up like the happy skinbags of soylent green that we are.

WHO I’D RECOMMEND IT TO | Every single one of my writer friends. (Except those who don’t like naughty words. Wait … I don’t have any friends that don’t like naughty words).

FAVOURITE QUOTE | ‘Self publishing is a viable path. It is not, however, the easy path. […] You don’t just do a ballerina twirl and a book falls out of your vagina.’

Also: ‘So plan the plot, for Chrissakes. This isn’t an improvisational dance. Take some goddamn notes.’

What I’m Reading: Magic for Beginners

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TITLE | Magic For Beginners

AUTHOR | Kelly Link

STAR RATING | 5

ABOUT | In the publisher’s words: ‘An exquisite, dreamlike dispatch from a virtuoso storyteller’; In my words: Surreal short stories that are blackly funny, and that keep surprising you. Inventive and compelling.

WHAT I LOVED ABOUT IT | Everything. This is what Tom Spanbauer calls ‘dangerous writing.’ Also: the illustrations by Shelley Jackson.

WHAT I DIDN’T LOVE ABOUT IT | That it ended.

WHO I’D RECOMMEND IT TO | Anyone who enjoys their fiction a little left of centre.

FAVOURITE QUOTE | [From the story THE CANNON]  “I once fornicated with a married woman inside the Sweet Mouth. She was agoraphobic. I said I was agnostic. I said, “Yes, like that […]” and she said, “How do you like this?” and “Watch your head,” and while we were fucking, her husband came up and lit a match, and then we were flying. We sailed out like a grappling shot. I held onto her hips and the tails of her hair and fucked her as we passed over the countryside, and she wrapped her legs around my waist and she fucked me back. When we were finished, we flew along side by side, and she remarked that she was grateful to me and the cannon and her husband. The affair had cured her of her agoraphobia. We fucked some more, to celebrate […]” (p.69)