The Painted Girls by Cathy Marie Buchanan

Yes, I’m still working on my 2016 book challenge.

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Since The Painted Girls fulfilled the “something your mom recommends” category, I present to you my genius mother’s review:

“This book called my name from several places—bookstores, airports, discount chains—so I finally gave in and purchased it. Having a niece in the ballet industry, combined with my love of historical fiction, drew me in, wooed me. And once I began to read I couldn’t put it down. The dark underbelly of Paris, teeming with ne’er-do-wells, is revealed: the façade of the well-to-do patrons, the incredible struggle of the poor, the heartbreaking sacrifices of the dancers, all woven together to create an intriguing tale of love and loss.”

No. 18 on my challenge. Thanks for the recommendation, Momma. I whole-heartedly agree.

Dead Souls by Nikolai Gogol

deadsouls_gogolYou’re smart people, so by now you’ve probably figured out that I’m not the biggest fan of European classics. Dickens certainly did not meet my expectations, great or otherwise, I did not have a whale of a time reading Melville (heh!) and I’m sorry, but for all the fuss about Dorian Gray, his death was my favourite part of the whole novel.

And yet. And yet . . . I had hopes for Dead Souls. Not really high hopes, of course, but hopes nonetheless. I should have known better.

Now, it’s not that Dead Souls is a terrible read. Pavel Ivanovich Chichikov is a unique character with an outlandish mission that entertainingly sets him against a host of overblown caricatures representing all that was wrong with Russia back in the day (greed, stupidity, general suspicion). So it’s bound to have some good points. But my problem with this classic is the same problem I have with the others . . . it’s just so darn sluggish. Literally (for real, literally) a third of the book is superfluous exposition and hyperbole. And then after all the words he didn’t need to write, Gogol had the audacity to end mid sentence! What’s that about?!

Anyways… no. 1 on my challenge. Have I finally learned my lesson? Probably not. I’ll keep you posted.

Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

halfbloodblues-edugyanThis book is an award magnet. It won the Scotiabank Giller Prize (praise be!), was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Orange Prize for Fiction (holla), and was a finalist for both the Governor General’s Award and the Rogers Writers’ Trust Fiction Prize (hella impressive). So you can bet I was expecting it to be a good read.

It. Was. And bonus: Edugyan is a Victorian!

My only complaint quibble is that the dialogue made it a bit of a sluggish read—but really, it just forced me to slow down and take it all in.

No. 20 on my challenge. Because it was on the Canada Reads shortlist, too.

The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion

rosieeffect-simsionIf you haven’t read The Rosie Project, you should go do that now. Because you can’t read The Rosie Effect without first reading its predecessor, and you should definitely read The Rosie Effect. It’s funny, it’s heartwarming, it’s hyper logical, and it’s disastrous in all the best possible ways. An easy read perfect for the bathtub (not where I read it), the airport (also not where I read it), or your favourite green chair (you guessed it: also not where I read it). It’s not a great bedtime read (where/when I read it) unless your intention is to stay awake until 4 am on a school work night.

No. 17 on my challenge . . . because I happened to have this book on my TBR pile when Rosie and I were coming up with the categories.

William Shakespeare’s Star Wars by Ian Doescher

shakespearesstarwars_doescherWhen you’re a fan of the Bard and a fan of the Wars, there’s nothing to do but to read this book. Peppered with insightful asides, well-crafted Shakespearean insults, and elaborate illustrations (see below), this book/play/novelization, written in perfect iambic pentameter (the English major in me is whooping appreciatively), actually gave me a better understanding of the movie. Not to mention a few good laughs. This one gets a huge recommendation from me. READ IT. Readitreaditreadit.

No. 23 on my challenge. Though I don’t remember this particular scene from the movie. Mayhap it occurred behind closed doors.

shakespearesstarwars_facepalm

Illustrations masterfully done by Nicolas Delort.

Summer at Tiffany by Marjorie Hart

summerattiffany-hartAfter a disappointing erotic romance and a 520-page French classic, this light-hearted memoir of a charmed summer in 1945 New York was exactly what I needed.

The first women to ever be employed as pages at Tiffany’s, Marjorie and Marty spent four short months living the dream (on a strict budget of $20 a week, of course). Clubbing with moguls, gadding about with dashing midshipmen, modelling jewellery for eligible bachelors, nonchalantly stargazing from their station as famous faces breezed through the front doors (Judy GarlandMarlene Dietrich!), and standing in Times Square on VJ Day at the exact moment two million Americans learned that the war was finally over—no wonder the tagline reads: “Do you remember the best summer of your life?”

No. 3 on my challenge. Unlike most of the memoirs I tend to read, Summer at Tiffany is neither riveting nor profound. But it’s charming, it gives a bit of insight as to how young women lived and worked (and scrapped and saved) through the war years, and it’s a delightful way to spend a few hours.

The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas

threemusketeers-dumasLike most things in my life, my love for Dumas’ famous musketeers stems from a Disney movie.

Starring the thespian talents of Kiefer Sutherland (Lordy, that voice), Oliver Platt, Charlie Sheen (long before he had tiger blood coursing through his veins), and the hunka hunka burnin’ love that was a twenty-three-year-old Chris O’Donnell as D’Artagnan, the 1993 version of the Three Musketeers is a rip roarin’, family-friendly interpretation of the classic French novel that I now know does a marvellous job of introducing the infamous musketeers as Dumas first portrayed them—brave, loyal, and chivalrous, with rapier wit and hella impressive skills with a sword (which, fun fact, would have been a rapier). I watched that movie over, and over, and over, and over, and have since enjoyed every big- and small-screen adaptation I’ve seen—especially the recently concluded BBC television series, which I could not get enough of. So you can imagine my delight (and relief) when I loved the book just as much as I have all the adaptions. I guess there’s just something about a pack of unbeatable besties who would lay down their lives for loyalty and honour that warms the cockles of my heart.

No. 12 on my challenge. Originally serialized as Les Trois Mousquetaires in the French newspaper Le Siècle between March and July 1844, the first English translation was produced in 1846 by William Barrow and is still in print today.

Ask for It by Sylvia Day

askforit-sylviadayYou know, it’s not often that I don’t like a good romance—especially one that’s fraught with peril, intrigue, strife, and steam—but this “erotic romance” novel (as it is branded on the cover) just did not measure up. Maybe it’s because I’ve read a tonne of Sandra Brown novels (Hey Zeus! that woman can spin a sexy yarn), or because Outlander is just so. damn. good (kilts, kissing, and 18th century craic all the way), or because the sizzling bits in the first half of this tale border on sexual assault…

Oh, wait. Yeah. That’s it. It’s the rapey vibe. That definitely didn’t float my boat.

So no, I didn’t like it all that much. That said, the quality of writing is miles ahead of the 50 Shades trilogy, and that counts for something. Also, this was apparently the first manuscript ever written (though not the first book published) by Day, so maybe her other series are worth a shot (for you, not me—I’m going to stick with Brown and Gabaldon, who frequently write sizzling bits that do float my boat).

No. 22 on my challenge.