30 May 2010

The Bishop's Man

By Linden MacIntyre
Published by Random House Canada

The Bishop's Man is a novel both engrossing and frustrating. The story is told through Father Duncan MacAskill and centres around his life as the priest who other priests hate to see coming; the priest sent by the bishop to make priests who are caught up in any kind of scandal - sexual or otherwise - disappear. That's the engrossing bit. The frustrating bit is the constant time-shifting MacIntyre employs in order to tell MacAskill's story. It's summer, it's winter, he's old, he's young, he's in Honduras, he's in Toronto, he's in Cape Breton. Enough already.

The book gets off to a slow start and if I hadn't been reading this for a book club, I probably would have stopped a few chapters in. But perseverance pays off. MacAskill's decline into alcoholism and mental despair was exceptionally well-written. In fact, MacIntyre's tone throughout made you feel the isolation of the parish, the sadness of those touched by sexual abuse, and the loneliness of a man who dreams of experiencing life outside the priesthood. MacIntyre stepped away from writing graphic scenes of sexual abuse, and he didn't need to - you hated the perpetrators and felt the pain of the victims anyway.

MacAskill performed his priestly duties for the bishop, but not without questioning the actions of the church and, eventually, himself. There are moments when you despise him, moments when you tolerate him, and moments when you wish he would stop being tormented and find peace.

I liked this book although it left me feeling quite hollow. Whether that was the intention of the author or not was one of the topics covered by the Bool Club (that's not a typo...long story).

Out of the four females involved in today's discussion, I was the only person who liked the book. Booler CB liked it well enough, but I don't think it topped her list of books to recommend to friends; Booler NS didn't like the book; and Booler PC couldn't find it in her heart to even finish it. So, there were some diverse opinions floating around. All agreed, however, on the overall bleakness of the story - setting a novel about sexual abuse, suicide, and religion against a backdrop of dead-of-winter Cape Breton was downright depressing.

The Bishop's Man won the 2009 Giller Prize. While the majority of the Bool Club wouldn't recommend this novel, I do.

27 May 2010

Comfort Food

By Kate Jacobs
Published by the Penguin Group
Berkley Trade Paperback Edition /April 2009

Cooking show host Gus Simpson has two daughters, two cats, a best friend, and a nineteen-room manor house. Sounds dull. What if I said fifty-year-old cooking show host Gus Simpson is on the verge of losing her long-running TV series unless she teams up with Spanish hottie (former beauty queen and aspiring TV host) Carmen Vega? What if those two daughters are still dealing with unexplored feelings from their father's death more than ten years earlier? What if Gus' next-door neighbour and BFF spent her days hiding from her past? Sounds way more intriguing, doesn't it?

Jacobs builds a lovely story about family, friends, love, and career, all centered around a cooking channel show, with a behind-the-scenes insight into how these shows are filmed, and how food - as always - brings everyone together.

It's not a complicated story, but I read it swiftly and missed it when I wasn't reading it. This novel was exactly what it said it was - Comfort Food.

24 May 2010

A Dubious Legacy

By Mary Wesley
Published by Black Swan
Originally published in Great Britain by Bantam Press, 1992

The synopsis on the back of this novel is what intrigued me:

"Henry brought his new bride, Margaret, to Cotteshaw in 1944. On the threshold she gave him a black eye and went straight to bed where she remained, apart from the occasional malevolent outburst, for the rest of her life."

With a wife in bed, what does Henry do for entertainment? He invites friends for dinner, sleeps around, hangs out with the gay couple down the road, brings his dogs everywhere, never gets over his first love. It all sounds like a bit of a comedy, yet it's not.

Two of the books main characters - Antonia and Barbara - are introduced early on and Wesley makes it easy for the reader to get caught up in their lives as they evolve from the greenest of girls to married middle-aged women, their lives constantly intersecting with Henry's and Margaret's.

I like Wesley's style, particularly the fact that she doesn't dumb down any of her books - if you don't understand it, she's not explaining it to you. She uses a vocabulary now considered old-fashioned or too cumbersome, but these words are what give her characters their depth and what sets Wesley apart from many other writers.

Mary Wesley once commented that her "chief claim to fame is arrested development, getting my first novel published at the age of seventy". From all accounts, Wesley led a fascinating life, which left her with lots to draw on for writing her novels (see this Wikipedia article for more http://bit.ly/18w4bw ).

A Dubious Legacy is sophisticated, sexy, and funny. Another fine book from the Mary Wesley library.

19 May 2010


By Anna Godbersen
Published by HarperCollins Publishers
First paperback edition, 2009

Rumors is a Luxe novel; which is to say it is part of a series of books that centres around Manhattan society at the turn of the twentieth century. While I'm sure I am well out of the age range meant to be targeted by these books, I am totally caught up in them and look forward to reading the next book in the series.

Rumors picks up where the first book in the series - The Luxe - left off. I won't tell you where that is because if you haven't read the first book, I don't want to be the one to spoil it for you. However, the book continues with the same flare for gossipy girls, snooty heiresses, ill-mannered boys, and interfering servants, all of which make for some interesting and unforeseen plot twists.

I'm sure part of the fun of writing about socialites during this time period is what this era allows you to do; suspense can be drawn on the strength of a note passed from one grand house to another (via servants, of course) - no texting, no phoning, no emailing - and the tension in awaiting a reply can be unbearable. And, of course, a lady has a strict code of conduct to live by, which means everything forbidden is that much more exciting.

These books are well written with a good main storyline to draw you in. Many thanks to my niece who generously loaned me the first two books in the series. Be warned, sweet niece, I'm on my way over for more!!

15 May 2010

You Better Not Cry

By Augusten Burroughs
Published by St. Martin's Press
November 2009

If you've read anything by Augusten Burroughs, you know he's led a fantastical, demented life. I don't always believe everything he writes, but I certainly enjoy his writing style.

In this book of short stories for Christmas, Burroughs made me laugh out loud, shake my head in disbelief, and catch my breath at the beauty of his writing. How much love do you carry for one single person in your life that will make you write:

"Because he will grip you by the shoulders and wrench you around and he will bring his bristly mouth to yours and blow stars down your throat until you are so full of light."


On the other hand, the first story - which details Burrough's childhood confusion of Jesus and Santa had me roaring with laughter.

With respect to the messed-up messages of watching Christmas shows on television:

"...Jesus brings presents to all the poor, foreign, and crippled children and Santa brings presents to the regular children, like me."

And explaining his confusion to his grandmother:

"But then I heard this song called, 'Here Comes Santa Claus' and it goes, 'Hang your stockings and say your prayers, 'cause Santa Claus comes tonight,' and I realized, 'say your prayers' means they are the same person. It's just that, most of the year, Jesus is naked except for his little rag and his thorn hat and then on Christmas, he puts on his good red suit."

To put it in text-messaging parlance - LOL!!

Write more books, Augusten Burroughs (and send them all directly to me)!

14 May 2010

My Name Is Memory

By Ann Brashares
Published by the Penguin Group
June 2010
ARC courtesy of Penguin Group (Canada)

I was really looking forward to reading this book. I read and thoroughly enjoyed the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants series and I couldn't wait to throw myself into this new book billed as "The story of a love that lasts more than a lifetime".

Daniel and Sophia have met and fallen in love at various points throughout history. The book begins in 2004 when Daniel and Sophia are in high school. Daniel recognises Sophia (now Lucy), but Sophia only begins to have memories of Daniel at the Senior Ball, the last event of their high school days.

After that, I pretty much stopped reading.

The portions of Daniel describing his past lives and "memory' are tedious and I started to skip over them around page 68. Time shifting is not something I like at the best of times, but this was poorly done and rather preachy in tone. I gave up any hope of finishing this book at page 111.

The first two pages were skilfully written and set the book up rather nicely for what could have been an interesting and fascinating story. It's hard to fall in love with a love story when your attention is diverted by badly written time warps. We already know Daniel realises he has been born many times over. The stronger part of the story was Lucy getting in touch with her past lives, but there was so much going on in the book, I stopped caring.

A disappointment.

02 May 2010

Scottish Girls About Town

By Jenny Colgan, Isla Dewar, Muriel Gray, and sixteen other Scottish women authors
Published by Downtown Press
Originally published in Great Britain and Ireland in 2003 by Pocket Books

As with the other "About Town" books (Irish Girls About Town, American Girls About Town, and Irish Girls are Back in Town), Scottish Girls About Town is a compilation of short stories by many authors, with the proceeds of each book going to various UK charities. A splendid idea, and an excellent way to introduce readers to new authors.

Personally, I bought this book because I am a huge fan of Isla Dewar and this was a way to get my hands on something else she's written. In the Garden of Mrs. Pink is a wonderful short story set in 1972 Edinburgh. Abby is ten years old and her summer days are spent with ailing Grandpa Mac, who lives with Abby and her mother. Abby's mom is a widow who works her fingers to the bone trying to keep a roof over their heads and, in Abby's view, has ignored Abby. So, off Abby goes to find neighbourhood adventures and finds herself quite often chatting with a garden gnome in the garden of Mrs. Pink. Beautifully written, Dewar leads us through Abby's eye-opening summer where she meets Mrs. Pink and begins to understand her mother's life.

Other stories of note: FriendsRevisited.Com by Carmen Reid, Crossroads by Manda Scott, A True Romance by Shari Low, A Mixed Blessing by Aline Templeton, and Private Habits of Highly Effective Women by Abigail Bosanko. The other stories ranged from so-so to so poorly written that I didn't even finish reading them.

As mentioned, this book is a great way to check out authors you have never read, and I did find a few whose novels I'll be purchasing. All in all, this is a good book for those who like short stories.

01 May 2010

The Lollipop Shoes

By Joanne Harris
Published by Black Swan
First published in 2007 by Doubleday

The Lollipop Shoes is a sequel to Chocolat, one of Joanne Harris' yummiest books. Generally, I find sequels to be a huge disappointment. For the most part, I think sequels are written only as a way for the author to make a few more dollars off a wildly popular book and they can never measure up to the original. I was pretty sure Harris would only write a sequel because of her love for her characters and I think I was right. Past characters were instantly brought back to life and I felt as though I had finished reading Chocolat only yesterday, which is pretty good seeing as I read it back in 2002.

The story resumes in Montmartre, where Vianne Rocher and her family are now living above - where else? - a chocolaterie. Vianne has changed since we last met. In an effort to be ordinary, she has given up her cantrips and potions and convinces herself and Anouk that portions of their past lives didn't occur and that there is no such thing as magic.

Zozie de l'Alba is introduced on page one of this novel and by page two we know she is bad news. Zozie's life intersects with Vianne's in a page-turner filled with witchcraft, suspense, heartbreak and, of course, chocolate. The ending, as usual, turns on the changing wind.

Another exceptional book from Joanne Harris.