Book Reviews from Your Gibsons Library Community
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This First Nations author speaks as 1st person throughout as she tells the story of reservation living. Passage of time as well as diving in and out of Spirit World creates a real feeling of the story for the perceptive reader…
A bleak post-pandemic tale, lyrically told. The narrator, Hig, is holed up on the edge of a small private airport outside Denver, Colorado, with his dog Jasper and a grizzled old gun-collecting survivalist. Hig was a pilot in the Before days & has found a stash of airplane fuel, so he takes regular short flights in his little plane. There are of course a few other survivors, and therein lies the tale. The writer conjures beauty, brutality, grief, resilience, everything we are experiencing right now. Highly recommend the book and the author.
This review is really for a series, starting with Book 1, Slow Horses. The Slow Horses are a group of failed MI-5 agents, each one dumped there to serve out their punitive, purgatorial careers under the rude, slovenly, cagey Jackson Lamb. Each Slow Horse character (in a crew of about 6, depending on the day and the ineptitude of those in the Field at any given time) is special in his/her own way and clearly drawn. The Slow Horse building is so grunge you can smell the dampness. Plots? Yes, there are plots. Sometimes the plots are three dimensional, involving several levels of spydom. Can’t say enough good things about this series, read them in order. Slow Horses, then Dead Lions, then The list, then Real Tigers, and so on. The series is a delight.
Scythe by Neal Shusterman
My family and I (wife and two teenage daughters) do a lot of road trips and we always listen to audiobooks on the drive. When we agreed upon this one I thought it would be enjoyable enough but I definitely didn’t think I would love it, I was a bookseller for decades and kind of overdid it on teen dystopias a long time ago. Well Scythe surprised me with how good it was. In fact I enjoyed it so much I’m tempted to read the second one on my own instead of waiting for our next trip! I threw out the dystopian description but this is one of those imagined futures that borders on utopian (much like The Giver or Brave New World, for that matter). It’s set in a future where mortality has been conquered along with poverty, war and all the other real troubles are world faces. In order to cope with the overpopulation that comes with nobody ever dying, there are “reapers”, honoured individuals that basically go around randomly choosing people to kill. There’s virtually no chance of dying (some people even jump off buildings for kicks knowing they’ll magically be brought back to life) unless you’re chosen by a reaper and even then the odds are infinitesimal. The story revolves around a reaper and two teens he chooses to be his apprentice, I won’t say much more so as not to give it away. Neal Schusterman has created a highly enjoyable and original world with plenty of plots twists and a story line that’s just as engaging as the premise. I loved it!
The Queens of Animation by Nathalia Holt
Tells the story of women who helped shape the early days of Disney and its projects. Difficult to keep track of everyone’s names and histories as there was so much information. I would recommend this book for fans of Disney, seeing women’s roles at Disney and those interested in art and animation. – Andrea T
Catch and Kill by Ronan Farrow
As my old boss used to say, this was a worthy read… I confess I hadn’t heard of this book until it came up in a newspaper article about a protest organised by Farrow and the employees of Hachette Publishing over the publication of Woody Allen’s latest memoir. (Ronan Farrow is Woody Allen’s estranged son.) I didn’t follow the Harvey Weinstein trials or the Me Too movement as much as I should have, so this was essential reading to me. Farrow’s first hand experience exposing Weinstein’s sex crimes while being spied on, harassed and muffled by his own network is one of those stranger than fiction accounts. He writes well and manages to bring in just enough personal experience to keep the story grounded and interesting without letting himself distract from the story. I’d be highly surprised if it wasn’t already optioned for a movie, it would lend itself perfectly to that medium.
Illusive by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Find it on Overdrive
Illusive, a young adult novel by Emily Lloyd-Jones, is about a group of superpowered criminals. The story’s main character, Ciere, is an illusionist who has hidden what she truly can do. Throughout the story there is action that keeps the reader wanting to keep reading. Reading it was very enjoyable! I like the action that was there and recommend it to anyone who likes science fiction and mystery.
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
So…I’m a 45 year old man, a Canadian and was a bookseller for 25 years and I had never read Anne of Green Gables!!! It’s just one of those books that never interested me, I’d never even watched the TV series and literally all that I knew was that it was set on Prince Edward Island and involved the story of an adopted orphan girl. In fairness I’ve been meaning to read this for the past decade and never got around to it but COVID -19 took care of that excuse. What I found was an absolutely charming story of a precocious orphan girl who ends up being adopted by a middle aged brother and sister who have spent their lives quietly living the life of farmers in rural PEI. They had asked to adopt an orphan boy thinking he could help on the farm and initially plan on sending her back but they’re soon won over by her charming personality – as was I! It is a kid’s book and as such a little formulaic; Anne, who does something inappropriate but doesn’t mean to be “a bad little girl”, learns from her mistake and then does something else wrong. But all in all, this a delightful piece of literature.
Recursion by Blake Crouch
If you haven’t read Blake Crouch yet, you’re really missing out. Both Recursion and Dark Matter are awesome, engaging and intelligent books that draw the reader in from page one and don’t let go until the very last line. Without giving away too much, I’ll just say that Recursion is about collective memory, consciousness, time and reality. It takes big concepts and puts them in a story that grabs and entertains you in a suspense-filled plot that I didn’t want to end. I loved it. Definitely one of the best of 2019 .
Dear Canada (series)
Dear Canada (various authors) is a series of historical novels by Scholastic Canada written in diary form of young women living during important events in Canadian History. Books can be found in Overdrive . There are many books in this great series. Recommended for Ages 8 – 12, but my 13-year-old and I enjoy reading them still.
Wartime Sisters by Lynda Cohen Loigman
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STAFF PICK – Andrea T.
The Wartime Sisters is about Ruth and Millie two estranged sisters, raised in Brooklyn and reunited at the Springfield Armory in the early days of WWII. I very much enjoyed this book and discovering the reasons behind the two sisters damaged relationship. The bonds of sisterhood are tested again and again. Lynda Cohen Loigman doesn’t play favorites, she wants you to understand and appreciate both. Sprinkled between the sister’s stories are the narratives of two other women, Lillian, and Arietta. Both are wonderful characters with their own pasts that influence the relationship of the sisters when the past catches up with them. This is about how families and things that happen to us as children can have a significant impact on who we are, how friendship and caring of others makes such a big difference in people’s lives. I would recommend this to anyone who enjoys a family drama with a splash of historical fiction blended within.
The Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides
A well written book with a plot twist.
My Lovely Wife by Samantha Downing
This book had me hooked by page one! I read quite a lot of suspense fiction and this one had an unusual twist on your average thriller-type storyline. This is NOT a normal married couple. (Or at least let’s hope not!) Although they seem like the perfect little family to the outside world, let’s just say that they have an unusual and twisted hobby in common. It’s a great, fun read and it held my attention to the bitter end. 5 Stars!
The Testaments by Margaret Atwood
Wow! I loved this book. I originally read The Handmaid’s Tale as a teenager and re-read it last year after watching the TV series (yes, it diverges from the novel considerably but it’s excellent television). It took me a 20 pages or so to get into the swing of following the 3 different characters accounts but after that I was hooked. The book is set about a decade (maybe longer?) after the first book and follows the lives of an aunt, a Canadian teenager, and a teenage daughter of a commander. Atwood does an amazing job of keeping the plot racing and making the aunt’s backstory sympathetic (I don’t know why I’m not naming her its pretty obvious who she is!) In fact the aunt was my favourite part of the book.
The Strain by Guillermo Del Toro
So…This book isn’t particularly well written and it’s a genre I rarely read; a fairly formulaic horror thriller but I’m going to give it a five anyway! This is a good old fashioned page turner that had me hooked from the start. I de died I’d try reading some horror fiction for the month of October and stumbled upon this one. Its basically a vampire story but the main characters are CDC doctors, a Jewish holocaust survivor whose been hoarding weapons for decades for a vampire outbreak and a New York rat exterminator. The vampires are more like zombies than the charming Twilight style blood stickers which kept the story from feeling cliched. There are a shitload of loose ends at the end of the book, I’m fine with leaving the reader hanging on for a sequel but the authors could have tied things up better.
Daisy Jones & the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid
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Taylor Jenkins Reid has created a very readable story of a fictional band in the late 1970’s (I pictured Fleetwood Mac as I read). The most compelling part of the novel is the intense chemistry between Billy Dunny (who’s happily married to someone else) and Daisy Jones.
I raced through this and it’s an enjoyable enough read, but the author’s narrative device of writing the whole book as a series of recollections by various members of the band didn’t work for me. Having the entire novel narrated back as past tense recollections made the story feel too detached and not engaging enough. Honestly it felt more like a Rolling Stone band profile than a novel. Still worth a read though.
Sour Heart: Stories by Jenny Zhang
Find it in our library
I picked up this book because it was a short-story collection by an author I’d never heard of, published by a larger press, so I was curious. How lucky am I to have stumbled upon my new favourite author! Jenny Zhang is brilliant. A collection of linked short stories that focuses on the lives of several immigrant Chinese families in New York City, told primarily from the perspectives of the children in the families, Zhang deftly drops psychological insights into long, rhythmic sentences filled with urgency. I feel like I’m with that child in that mash of emotion and calculation and puzzling out the puzzling behaviour of people around her. It makes for one mind-blowing scene after the other, and the contrast of childlike urgency and confusion with profound insight crackles and pops. Totally mind-blowing fiction.
River-Horse by William Least Heat-Moon
This book is a slog, let’s just get that out of the way right now! At about 500 pages it’s a hefty tome but it feels even longer thanks to Heat-Moon’s plodding plotting and his style of overwriting. I really enjoyed Blue Highways when I read it years ago and the idea of his traveling the USA via rivers intrigued me and I’m glad I read the book but…
The author travels the entire journey with a man we know only as Pilotis, this gets annoying fast and we never learn a thing about the man he travels months and thousands of miles with. There are other travel companions and they remain similarly anonymous so there’s virtually no meaningful human interaction in the entire book. They stop frequently on their journey but apart from accounts of small talk with waitresses and the occasional farmer we never learn anything meaningful about the towns they pass through or the people who live near the water or work on it (the people who works the river locks or pilot river barges are pretty much universally described negatively).
All criticisms aside, the journey they embark on is audacious and worth reading about. I had no idea what sort of impact damns, dredging and other human activities have had on the US’s waterways and it’s worth reading the book for this alone. This is definitely not a must read but if you have a love for travel and nautical literature it may be worth picking up.
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
I put off reading this book because I heard it was so depressing! But so many people raved about it, I decided to give it a go. I found it difficult to get into this book because there were so many characters to keep straight. After 100 pages or so I was hooked. The characters are so well developed, you feel like you know them intimately. A Little Life is definitely not an uplifting book but it stays with you long after you’ve read it. 4 and 1/2 stars!
A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
Possibly one of the greatest books I have ever experienced. The story-line centers around the unspeakable childhood trauma of one of the main characters and how everyone around him has adjusted their lives to deal with it. I could not put this book down. Although many parts are not for the faint of heart, it is a book that will leave an impression on you long after the last page has been read. Beautifully written and achingly honest. 5 stars.
How to Tame a Fox (and Build a Dog) by Lee Alan Dugatkin and Lyudmila Trut
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This is not only a wonderful story about lovable foxes slowly turning into pets at the hands of scientists, but also a story of defying a backwards government in the name of science. The characters in this book do whatever it takes to forward science for everyone. It is inspirational and uplifting and finishes with cute foxes that you can call your friend. 4 stars.
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What will it take to change our future? This book tackles that subject in a way I have not ever seen before. Ben explains the use of DNA and synthetic biology to begin the process of creating a beast from the past. Half adventure story, half scientific treatise, it will captivate the reader with an almost science fiction approach to making a difference in our world today.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
I’ve been meaning to read this for years and finally got around to it. I have a soft spot for romantic comedies (I also loved Me Before You, Bridget Jones Diary etc.) so it was no surprise that I loved this book.
There were frequent laugh aloud moments as I read and I’d say it’s about a perfect length for an escapist read (I read it on a weekend trip away). 4 and 1/2 stars!
Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This is the first novel from the master of short fiction, George Saunders. I love his short stories because they are full of distinct voices, brilliant and humorous contrasts, a healthy dose of speculative elements, and always the love and compassion of this author comes through. For Saunders fans, this novel will not disappoint. Clever, strange, funny, tragic, absurd and utterly beautiful. And now historical fiction + ghost stories like you’ve never seen them before. (See? He’s got everything.)
Eating Dirt by Charlotte Gill
I love a good memoir, local history and travel writing so this book ticked a lot of boxes for me! Charlotte Gill’s got a direct engaging writing style I enjoyed and she does a great job interweaving her account of her many years tree planting with a look at the impact of logging on our forests. I came away from reading this with a new respect for our old growth forests.
Although I really enjoyed the book I would have liked the author to go into her personal story a little more, there’s absolutely no backstory of how she got to be a tree planter and virtually no glimpse of her life outside of the job. Overall an excellent read, if you loved The Golden Spruce or the Hidden Life of Trees then this will be right up your alley. 4 stars!
A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult
Although this book is well written and Jodi clearly did her research on this sensitive topic, I didn’t find it a really compelling read. Maybe because we hear about shootings in the states every other week- I’m not terribly interested in reading fiction about a gun-man in the U.S. 3 and 1/2 stars.
Shoe Dog: A Memoir by the Creator of NIKE by Phil Knight
This is by far one of the best memoirs I’ve read, period. Yeah I’ve read (and loved) the Jobs bio by Isaacson and Vance’s biography of Elon Musk but I don’t particularly love business books I just love a good memoir or biography of pretty much anyone if it’s well written.
Phil Knight has created what comes across as an honest (hard to know for sure) and self deprecating book about his creation of Nike and his passion to go against the grain. Ultimately this is the story of a young man who knew he didn’t want to conform to the stereotypes of what a successful college educated would become in the 1960’s. Running was still very much a misunderstood and under appreciated past time then (apparently it wasn’t unusual for joggers to actually be accosted on the street in the early 1960’s) but that didn’t stop Phil from hustling up an empire starting with a few bucks and a bunch of shoes in the trunk of his car (a cliche but apparently true!). The business side of the book is fascinating but more than anything I loved story of a young man finding himself, there’s plenty of international travel and adventure along with the deal making and hustling. This may sound strange but small bits of the book actually reminded me more of Hunter S. Thompson or Kerouac than a book you’d find in the business section. 5 stars!
A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Found this to be a slog for about the first hundred pages. But it had been recommended by many and so I persevered. I couldn’t put it down! I came to love and respect the main character who was so well characterized that I felt I knew him. What a great read! 5 stars!
So, Anyway… by John Cleese
I’ve been wanting to read this for a couple of years, I’d heard it was interesting but not particularly funny but that wasn’t my experience. I found myself laughing aloud quite regularly while reading even though it is a serious account of Cleese’s childhood and younger years. (he’s not trying to be David Sedaris but there’s still plenty of laughs dotting the book).
Cleese spends a fair bit of time describing his upbringing as a single child with a doting Father and somewhat self- obsessed and neurotic Mother and his formative years at Cambridge where he started to develop his comedic talents. Honestly, he seems to have a led a fairly charmed life: there was no drug addiction to conquer, no lean years of sleeping in his car and while trying to make it in show business. So it’s particularly impressive that his story is still so entertaining.
I was a little disapointed that the book ends in the early 1970’s (I’m a huge Faulty Towers fan and would have loved to know more about its creation) but I guess I should have paid more attention to the subtitle “The Making of a Python”. 5 stars!
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
Couldn’t put it down! 5 stars!
The Consuming Fire by John Scalzi
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John Scalzi is a truly amazing writer who seems to be getting better all the time, this is second book in the Interdependency Sequence and I think I loved it even more than the first. I’ve always enjoyed science fiction but lately when I’ve tried revisiting the favourites of my youth (Asimov, Heinlein etc ). I’ve been dismayed by the tedious writing style and blatant sexism. What I love about Scalzi is that’s he’s writing good old fashioned hard sci-fi but with a very contemporary voice. I won’t really go into the plot, presumably if you’re reading this you’ve probably already read the Collapsing Empire, there’s some major new relevations in this follow up that really upped the plotline and kept me riveted to the last page. 5 stars!
21 Lessons for the 21st Century by Yuval Noah Harari
I think Harari is a brilliant and engaging writer who challenges his readers to broaden the way they think about the human species. So why only 3 stars? Have you ever been to a party and met a super smart interesting person, chatted with them enthralled for an hour but then found yourself unable to actually remember the finer details of your conversation? That’s how I feel about this book. In theory Harari is taking the points from his previous two books (do yourself a favour and read Sapiens if you haven’t already, it’s the shit!) and applying them to our present. In reality the book felt like not very coherent essays that don’t connect particularly well. Most of the chapters would make a fine magazine article but together as a book I felt they were lacking cohesion. Someone saw me reading this the other day and asked want it was about and I felt myself struggling to describe it, I still do! I enjoyed Harari’s writing enough to plow through the book and it was interesting to see more of the author’s personality come through (spoiler alert, he’s a hard core atheist!). Definitely worth a read for super fans but the first two books are definitely better. 3 stars!
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
This was a really fun book. Not exactly deep, but if you’re looking for pure entertainment about the super-fabulously-eccentric rich, this is a good pick. Pure candy! 4 stars!
The Power by Naomi Alderman
I really wanted to love this book. It got great reviews on Goodreads, which I usually find to be a reliable source. In this book, teenage girls everywhere suddenly discover that their bodies can produce a deadly electrical charge. At first there are just a few who have this power. Then suddenly all girls and eventually all woman can tap into this power – which of course, changes the whole power dynamic of men and woman the world over. I really liked the fascinating premise of the book. Unfortunately, it just didn’t hold my interest after the first half of the story. Give it a try, though. I’d love to hear other people’s perspectives on this book. Submit your book review so I can hear what you think about The Power. I gave it 3 stars.
Still Me by Jojo Moyes
The third installment in the life of Louisa Clark, Still Me delivers another engaging look at Louisa’s quirky and lovable unique self. Now in New York, Louisa finds herself in a new country with a new, difficult employer. This book doesn’t disappoint, even after the high expectations I had after reading Me Before You. Definitely recommended! 4 and 1/2 stars!
City of Women by David R. Gillham
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Excellent story, recommend it highly. The main protagonist was annoyingly bland for a large portion of the book, and a reluctant ‘supporter’ of the resistance. However, I came to think this was intentional, reflecting a realistic struggle for a person – a very ordinary, typical person – who would rather just do nothing and try to survive. A brilliant depiction of how extraordinary circumstances force morality, in one direction or another. Several complex characters, making decisions and acting under the most horrific circumstances. All about ‘What would you do?’ 5 stars.
Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
This novel is set in Britain at the time of WWII, from the declaration of war to the end. The narrator is the typical cute but plucky daughter of a high-ranking cabinet official, supporting characters are her best pal and 2 young men who are also close friends. Begins with young people struggling with ‘doing the right thing’ when the country goes to war. And then reality hits. This book captured me from page 1. Great character development, evocative on setting. I recommend other titles by this author as well. 4 stars.
Ulysses by James Joyce
I had to check excellent, because how could I not with a work that is considered the greatest work of modernist literature. But Ulysses is a slog. Joyce created several distinct sections of the story of a single day in Dublin….June 16, 1904. Fantastic word pictures throughout, and some observations that are so unique, and a web of characters that he manages to keep aloft… but it is not an easy read. Take your time to appreciate the literary genius of the man who veers into drama in one very long section, punctuationless stream of lascivious consciousness in Molly’s soliloquy, and a catholic mass-type call and response section that contains superlative language and a lot of humour, too. 4 stars.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
A wonderful read! It includes much of the 20th century history of Penang and detailed information on the complexity of Japanese gardening. It is an illusive mystery and is intriguing and informative. 5 stars.
Man Seeks God: my flirtations with the divine by Eric Weiner
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Only book I have EVER laughed out loud! Highly intelligent, witty,hilarious, thought provoking, best-of-its-kind-ever book. Educational and every page highly entertaining. 5 stars.
Sarong Party Girls by Cheryl Lu-Lien Tan
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This is about a Singaporean woman named Jazzy and her desperate quest to find a white husband. I picked up this book because I thought it looked like fun. But the quote on the front also intrigued me. Ruth Ozeki, author of A Tale for the Time Being, said that the author of this book was “saying something profound and insightful about the place of women in our globalized, capitalized, interconnected world.” When I started reading it, I found it funny and entertaining, yes. But I kept waiting for the depth and insight Ozeki seemed to have gotten out of this book…. I kept waiting for…. more. There must be more to it! This book has great reviews from Kirkus , National Book Award winners, and celebrated authors such as Ozeki and Paul Theroux. I was just expecting more from it. I was definitely left wanting. 2 and 1/2 stars.
Before the Fall by Noah Hawley
Before The Fall is like a cross between the Goldfinch and Gone Girl. It’s tempting to call this a a literary thriller but it’s so much more. The perfect summer read. 4 and 1/2 stars.
Amazing book! What a read! It starts in 18th century Ghana with 2 half sisters and follows the lives of their children and their children’s children up to present day. Each generation struggles, living in Africa and America – wars, slavery, the civil rights movement. You can see how the lives of each generation effected the next. Well written and constantly engaging the reader. I loved this book! 4 and 1/2 stars.
Red Notice by Bill Browder
A true story that was so compelling, I could not put it down.Bill Browder was a real maverick, and fighting against Putin, well, he’s amazing! 4 and 1/2 stars.
The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick.
Arthur Pepper, age 69, just lost his wife. Going through her things, he finds bracelet of hers that leads to clues about her former life before they met and fell in love. Arthur travels the world to discover more about his much-loved and missed wife. It’s a charming book about love, moving on and finding adventure and meaning after losing a love. He’s an endearing character. Recommended. 4 stars.