Mexican Hooker #1: And My Other Roles Since the Revolution by Carmen Aguirre

26067164Aguirre previously wrote “Something Fierce“, about her revolutionary life in South America after the Chilean coup that killed Allende’s socialist revolution. Something Fierce won the CBC Canada Reads competition in 2012. This new book travels back and forth in time between South America and Vancouver, so both before and after her first book. But the central focus of this book is on the aftermath of a brutal and horrific sexual assault in Vancouver when she was 13 years-old. Her rape was a violent and degrading act of power and aggression, not a sexual act per se. I had the privilege of seeing Aguirre act in an ATP play in September 2013. What I learned from this book is that she had attended a parole hearing for her rapist during the run of this play (he was being held in Bowden Prison). This is an extremely powerful and at times profoundly disturbing book and is not for the faint-hearted, but Aguirre eloquently outlines her path to forgiveness (of herself) and reconciliation.


The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Nonfiction by Neil Gaiman

24331386This is a mixed-bag collection of Gaiman’s non-fiction writings: transcripts of speeches and addresses, introductions to books by favourite authors, newspaper reviews, and other articles on diverse subjects. Not surprisingly, he offers a passionate argument for the value of reading and the importance of libraries and bookshops. He was a precocious reader as a child, reading and then re-reading authors like CS Lewis. He also describes how reading some of the same books to his children has changed his perceptions. He also writes extensively about comics, aka graphic novels, which is a form of writing that has distinct and unique features compared to novels. So, there are some redundancies but overall this is a very good read with lots of favourite author recommendations.

The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson

25776122Simonson wrote the delightful “Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand“, and this book, only her second, is even better. The story takes place in an English village (Rye, in Sussex) before WWI, with all the snobbery and vicious gossip that characterized Downton Abbey. The description of the limited role of women is particularly well-told in this pre-suffragette era. The book ends with a graphic description of the horrors of trench warfare; belligerent and ignorant troop commanders are particularly odious. This is an excellent read.


The Excellent Lombards by Jane Hamilton

26031214Hamilton is a great writer (A Map Of The World, The Book Of Ruth, etc.). This new book is a very fine addition to her list of novels, a book about complex family relationships but mainly a coming-of-age story about a young girl who doesn’t want to grow up. Consequently, at times her behaviour is wildly erratic, both frustrating and endearing. Highly recommended.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler


Butler’s imaginative novel, written in 1979, uses time travel to explore two very different times and places: 1976 LA and Maryland in the early 1800s. Specifically, an African-American woman is transported multiple times to a time and place of slavery. The book explores how behaviour is influenced by context, of how a modern woman is required (or coerced) to take actions that enable slavery because of complex relationships and situations. This book has strong and compelling story-telling.

Minister Without Portfolio by Michael Winter

A Canada Reads contender. The best feature of this book is the physical description of place, especially Newfoundland. The main character, Henry, is hard to feel much about, either positive or negative; his actions often seem confused, especially his relationship with Martha. The theme of Canada Reads this year was “starting over”. Henry’s journey involves several transitions but he doesn’t seem to grow or change that much. Overall, a very good book, deserving to be on the Canada Reads list, but not surprising that MWP was the first book to be voted off the competition.

The House Of The Spirits by Isabel Allende

This was Allende’s first novel, published in 1982, and it represents outstanding story telling. The characters are all so vivid: the mercurial Esteban with his legendary temper; three generations of strong women – Clara (a delightful clairvoyant), Blanca and Alba. The story, of course, shows the evolution of the Chilean tragedy; the last 100 pages gives a brutal account of the coup with all the violence, lies and deceit. A great read.

Wild Rose by Sharon Butala

ButalaWild Rose by Sharon Butala writes wonderfully about the beauty of Saskatchewan, especially her descriptions of the grasslands flowing in the wind (e.g. Perfection of the Morning). This book describes the adventures of a French-Canadian newly-wed couple as they travel west from Quebec to homestead in Saskatchewan in the early 1880s. Butala’s description of the isolation and hardship of homesteading is beautifully written and compelling; the bitter cold of winter is especially evocative. The core of the book is a story of resilience for a headstrong young woman, Sophie. This is a great read. (As an aside, Butala has recently relocated to Calgary).