What I've been reading this winter

What I’ve been reading this winter

I find it funny that I spent much of last year barely scraping by with freelance work, while this year I’m overwhelmed with some really excellent writing gigs on top of my full-time job. Somehow, I’ve managed to to do quite a bit of reading anyway.

Routine. It’s a blessing, ain’t it?

Here’s what I’ve been into.

My Brilliant Friend, The High Water Mark by Noah Pelletier

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND – ELENA FERRANTE

Quick Summary

My Brilliant Friend begins in the 1950s, in a poor but vibrant neighbourhood on the outskirts of Naples. Growing up on these tough streets the two girls learn to rely on each other ahead of anyone or anything else. As they grow, as their paths repeatedly diverge and converge, Elena and Lila remain best friends whose respective destinies are reflected and refracted in the other. They are likewise the embodiments of a nation undergoing momentous change. Through the lives of these two women, Ferrante tells the story of a neighbourhood, a city, and a country as it is transformed in ways that, in turn, also transform the relationship between her protagonists, the unforgettable Elena and Lila.

Three-line Review

I’m disappointed I didn’t love this book the way my friends did. I enjoyed the glimpse into Naples lifestyle, and I thought the prose was beautiful, but the narrator’s obsession with Lila was too enraging for me to appreciate any of it. I can’t stand how pathetic Lenu is. Much of the story was too unbelievable for me. 

☆☆☆ / ☆☆☆☆☆

THE HIGH WATER MARK – NOAH PELLETIER

Quick Summary

Tallon Jackson had it made. He worked in a TV studio. He went to parties. He was a small town boy determined to succeed in Raleigh. And then he got fired for flunking a drug test.

The High Water Mark picks up after Tallon has lost his apartment and gone to New Jersey for a job offer from a college buddy eager to rekindle their friendship. But things don’t work out and Tallon returns to North Carolina where he must face the unthinkable: moving back in with his parents.

Three-line Review

I don’t often review books written by my friends, but I thoroughly enjoyed this one. It’s funny and quirky. A bit slow starting off, but I consumed half the book in one sitting. Tallon can be bit of a dick at times but I figure it’s a pretty accurate representation of people my age these days. Especially dating.

☆☆☆☆ / ☆☆☆☆☆

Talking Tico and Hard Light

TALKING TICO – JOE BAUR

Quick Summary

Over the course of his time abroad, Joe brings his experiences to life alongside the history of the region as he travels throughout Costa Rica and its Central American neighbourhood with stops in Panama, El Salvador and Guatemala. Xenophobic expatriates, delicious food, vibrant market scenes, an epic battle with Mothra, and inevitable culture clashes all make an appearance in Talking Tico, leaving readers with a new impression of this fascinating region.

Three-line Review

A really valuable read for anyone thinking about travelling or living in Costa Rica. I found the cynical attitude towards the typical tourist/group traveller a bit off-putting at times, but Baur’s sense of humour is great! I read this one pretty quickly. 

☆☆☆☆ / ☆☆☆☆☆

HARD LIGHT – MICHAEL CRUMMEY

Quick Summary

In Hard Light, Michael Crummey retells and reinvents his father’s stories of outport Newfoundland and the Labrador fishery of a half century ago. Speaking through generations of storytellers, he conjures a world of hard toil and heavy weather, shot through with stoicism, grim humour, endurance, and love. This is writing that is supple and charged with intensity, language that vivifies — electrifies — whoever and whatever it describes.

Three-line Review

I haven’t read much poetry in recent years, but a friend encouraged me to pick up Hard Light and I’m glad I did. Contained within are gorgeous vignettes from the hard life growing up in Newfoundland. Delicious details and imagery.

☆☆☆☆ / ☆☆☆☆☆

Resistance This is That

ANITA SHREVE – RESISTANCE

Quick Summary

About Resistance: in a Nazi-occupied Belgian village, Claire Daussois, the wife of a resistance worker, shelters a wounded American bomber pilot in a secret attic hideaway. As she nurses him back to health, Claire is drawn into an affair that seems strong enough to conquer all–until the brutal realities of war intrude, shattering every idea she ever had about love, trust, and betrayal.

Three-line Review

I don’t really have much of anything to say about this book — it was light, easy, and enjoyable but (despite the subject matter) lacked any real substance. A decent read for travel, perhaps. I think it perhaps did move me to tears at one point, so, there’s that.

☆☆☆ / ☆☆☆☆☆

THIS IS THAT – TRAVEL GUIDE TO CANADA

Quick Summary

From CBC Radio’s most beloved satirical comedy team comes This is That: Travel Guide to Canada, a hilariously outrageous parody of the travel guide genre and what it means to visit Canada. Searching for a weekend away with the kids? This is That: Travel Guide to Canada will teach you how to navigate the twelve petting zoos of Etobicoke and how to avoid pickpockets in Kamloops. Planning your summer holiday? Keep in mind that the city of Brandon, Manitoba, is closed for annual maintenance between July 12 and August 19 and that tipping your server in Swift Current is offensive.

Three-line Review

This book was given to me for a promo, but I actually can’t get over how funny this entire thing was. I LOLed an insane amount. Don’t confuse this for an actual travel guide though, cuz it ain’t. Four stars because there’s pretty much nothing about Newfoundland in there.

☆☆☆☆ / ☆☆☆☆☆

Ru Baltimore's Mansion

RU – KIM THUY

Quick Summary

Ru. In Vietnamese it means lullaby; in French it is a small stream, but also signifies a flow – of tears, blood, money. Kim Thúy’s Ru is literature at its most crystalline: the flow of a life on the tides of unrest and on to more peaceful waters. In vignettes of exquisite clarity, sharp observation and sly wit, we are carried along on an unforgettable journey from a palatial residence in Saigon to a crowded and muddy Malaysian refugee camp, and onward to a new life in Quebec. There, the young girl feels the embrace of a new community, and revels in the chance to be part of the American Dream. As an adult, the waters become rough again: now a mother of two sons, she must learn to shape her love around the younger boy’s autism. Moving seamlessly from past to present, from history to memory and back again, Ru is a book that celebrates life in all its wonder: its moments of beauty and sensuality, brutality and sorrow, comfort and comedy.

Three-line Review

This is one hell of a beautiful read, like a poetic memoir. The imagery Thuy creatives is unbelievable — I can taste every tangerine and hear every raindrop. I tore through this prose in just a few days. An important read now more than ever in a time of refugee crisis.

☆☆☆☆☆ / ☆☆☆☆☆

BALTIMORE’S MANSION: A MEMOIR – WAYNE JOHNSTON

Quick Summary

Descendents of the Irish who settled in Ferryland, Lord Baltimore’s Catholic colony in Newfoundland, the Johnstons “went from being sea-fearing farmers to sea-faring fishermen.” Each generation resolves to escape the hardships of life at sea, but their connection to this fantastically beautiful but harsh land is as eternal as the rugged shoreline, and the separations that result between generations may be as inevitable as the winters they endure. Unfulfilled dreams haunt this family history and make Baltimore’s Mansion a thrilling and captivating book.

Three-line Review

Wayne Johnston never fails to give me a book hangover. I feel like this should be required reading for all Newfoundlanders. I actually cried when I finished. I even kinda wish the old Newfoundland train was still around so I could make that tedious journey across the island.

☆☆☆☆☆/ ☆☆☆☆☆

RU and BALTIMORE’S MANSION were definitely my favourite reads so far this year. It’s the kind of writing I wish I could do someday. Check ’em out!

What have you been reading?

  • March 22 2017
    LC

    I’m somewhat relieved to read your review of “My Brilliant Friend” – every man, woman and their dog seemed to love it, but I had to put it down, halfway through. Can’t remember the last time I gave up on a book, before attempting to read that one.

    • March 30 2017
      Candice

      AGREE! Agh. Apparently the second book is better, but I don’t feel like picking it up.

  • March 23 2017

    I’m picking up My Brilliant Friend soon, hopefully I’ll like it!
    I’ve been really into memoirs lately. I’ve read Laura Jane Williams’, Lindy West’s, and How to Murder Your Life. I definitely need to take a break from memoirs and read more fiction!

    • March 30 2017
      Candice

      I don’t think I do enough memoir reading — maybe I’ll take a lesson from you!

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