January Book Reviews: 5 down, 47 to go!

I’m still committed to my resolution to read 52 books this year, and here’s a review of what I’ve read so far in January.

The End of the Alphabet by C. S. Richardson

photo: lovelaughterinsanity.com
photo: lovelaughterinsanity.com

This book was described to me as a wonderful love story, and that it certainly was. It’s short and quick —  I read it in a day. Ambrose Zephyr and Zappora Ashkenazi are a married couple who are deeply in love. They also have a deep fascination with alphabet letters and with travel, so when Ambrose is suddenly diagnosed with a fatal disease on his fiftieth birthday, they decide to act on his lifelong dream: to travel the world in a pilgrimage through the alphabet, from Amsterdam to Zanzibar. It was a delightful read and one I’d recommend for a good Valentine’s Day present.

Seeking Peace: Chronicles of the Worst Buddhist in the World by Mary Pipher

photo: bigbluemarblebooks.blogspot.com
photo: bigbluemarblebooks.blogspot.com

First of all, I just love Mary Pipher. I’d read anything written by her. There’s something about her writing style that’s so laid back and comfortable, as if we’re just sitting on the couch, sipping tea, and discussing life. In Seeking Peace, which is a sort of autobiography, she looks at the factors that contributed to her mental breakdown following the stellar success of Reviving Ophelia and how she turned to Buddhist philosophy in order to reinstate peace in her life. It was an inspiring book that I recommend to anyone who feels stressed and overburdened in their life.

February by Lisa Moore

photo: elishastam.wordpress.com
photo: elishastam.wordpress.com

This is one of the Canada Reads contenders that will be debated on CBC in a few weeks’ time. (I decided to be ambitious and read all five books in order to enjoy the debate, but that won’t happen because most of the other books are checked out of the library.) It’s set in Newfoundland in 2009 and tells the story of a woman whose husband died on the Ocean Ranger, an oil rig that sank off the coast of St John’s in 1981. She’s left to raise four kids on her own, but never seems to deal with her grief. She’s stoic, resourceful, but emotionless, which doesn’t make her very likeable. The book has constant flashbacks, skipping around the decades with every page turn, which I didn’t like. Most of all, I hated the deep, dark cloud of depression hanging over the whole book, despite being well-written.

A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

photo: wikipedia
photo: wikipedia

In a sort of sequel to The Kite Runner, this book is about the women of Afghanistan. I loved it, inhaling the whole book in two days, and telling everyone I know that they must read it. This book was depressing in a different way than February. This depression incited rage within me, a sense of indignant injustice at the way men treated (and continue to treat) women in Afghanistan, and sadness at the staggering sacrifices made by these women to survive. It left me wondering what I can do to help women around the world. In other words, rather than leaving me feeling dull and glassy-eyed, I felt what Anton Chekhov said a good book should be: “an ax to break the frozen sea within us.” I still don’t have an answer, but this book is a first step toward increasing awareness.

Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese

photo: readreactreview.com
photo: readreactreview.com

I was surprised by how much I loved this book. It’s set in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a place I’ve always wanted to visit and I learned a lot about it from descriptions in this book. The story is full of medicine, from its doctor characters to its doctor author, so I learned more about performing vasectomies and liver transplants than I ever thought I’d know. It’s a big read, but I like that its length makes for a complex, convoluted story that’s truly satisfying.

Away by Jane Urquhart

photo: fantasticfiction.co.uk
photo: fantasticfiction.co.uk

I feel guilty saying this, but I’m really not a CanLit fan. Away is another contender for Canada Reads 2013 and since I’ve heard great things about Urquhart, I had high hopes for this book that were quickly dashed. It was way too ‘airy-fairy’ for me, dreamy in its recollections of Irish folklore and its storyline frustratingly vague. It had potential to be gripping, telling the tragic tale of a starving Irish family who makes the trip to Canada and starts a new life here, but then the mother abandons her little son and newborn daughter to join her “spirit guide” (aka Irish faerie man) on the shores of a lake and it went downhill from there. I think I’m giving up on Canada Reads. I’d rather read books I really love and find inspiring.

Stay tuned for more book reviews at the end of February!

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6 thoughts on “January Book Reviews: 5 down, 47 to go!

  1. There is much to love in Canadian literature, don’t think of it as CanLit, like a university course that you have to get through. I can understand why you didn’t like Away, but try Urquhart’s The Stone Carver, which is probably more to your taste. I think you would love Annabel Lyon’s books., The Golden Mean and The Sweet Girl, set in ancient Greece. You might enjoy Charlotte Gill’s book Eating Dirt about tree planting in Northern Canada which is really interesting. Also, I loved The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt. So there!

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