4. Good Omens by Neil Gaiman & Terry Pratchett

Good Omens is a lot of fun. The apocalypse is coming, and an angel and a demon decide to work together to try and prevent it. There are old prophecies and new teenagers determining the fate of the universe. The humour is tight, the use of irony really well done (and I am someone who feels irony has become cliche, and too often is a kind of shorthand for the author’s intellectual superiority, or the character’s/audience’s stupidity; it can become cruel or heavy handed so quickly. But that doesn’t happen here, so I digress).

I had strong feelings of Identification with Pepper, a young girl who works very hard to make sure the boys her age accept her as equal. There’s a moment where she tries to pretend she doesn’t play with toy horses. She hides her ‘girly’ magazines and shows off her comic books. In fact, I felt a bit indignant on her behalf. I remember slyly listening to the Spice Girls while publicly ridiculing anyone who had anything to do with them. Same thing: a social pressure to choose ‘boy’ things or ‘girl’ things, and a culture that privileges those ‘boy’ things. Anyhow, while Pepper played the token girl in this group of children, I found her really compelling because of these small moments that showed how hard it can be to fill that role, because it made it clear that being the tough girl is a role and that Pepper has more to her than that. It’s awesome that she’s tough. It’s also awesome that she plays with her stable until it’s worn to bits. It’s also awesome that her name is actually Pippin, because I am the kind of person that would totally inflict that name on a child. 

I feel like the authors must have had a good time writing it - there’s a sense of wonder and enthusiasm throughout the book - but it is still very well crafted (there are no jarring jumps in style or awkward transitions that collaborations sometimes contain). Actually, there’s something about this book that makes me think “yes, it would be wonderful to sit down and write a book with someone else,” but that might have as much to do with my current lack of productivity which makes writing something other than my poetry project, anything else, seem like a fantastic idea.

I’m already a Neil Gaiman fan, but I haven’t read Terry Pratchett, and now I think I’m missing out.


3. Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen

I’ve been hearing about Sara Gruen for a while, and I do like horse books, so I thought I’d give it a shot. Riding Lessons seems like the adult version of the young adult series Thoroughbred by Joanna Campbell - terrible things happen, horse must rehabilitate woman, woman must rehabilitate horse, family farm is put at risk, horse-related crime, and some romantic entanglements to work through for some extra drama.

The most interesting thing about this book is the way it deals with disability. The main character, Annemarie, is injured in a riding accident. There’s some talk that she might be paralyzed, but she’s not. Actually she’s mostly okay until her uterus ruptures during birth, but then she’s still okay. Which makes me wonder about the use of debilitating accident as a plot point: it seems cheap. Actually, it reminds me of the new Batgirl, who was shot by the Joker and spent some time in a wheelchair, but her story begins after she has returned to her previous ability level. There are mental repercussions to deal with, but the physical healing happens mostly off-screen, before the story begins. Then there is Annemarie’s father, who has rapidly progressing ALS. I like his character, and the different ways the family deals with his illness seem pretty likely to me. But again, his illness is a plot point, and the story focuses on the ways that Annemarie fails to address her father’s illness until it is too late. While I don’t think (though opinions on this will vary) that the depiction of disability is particularly troublesome—though not likely, Annemarie’s recovery seems plausible to me, and it makes sense that she is still processing the accident years later—it all feels rather cliché. Especially the resolution.

That said, I read the book in one night. It’s a plot-driven (crisis! another crisis! another crisis!) page-turner. Not sure if I’ll bother with the sequel.


2. The Widows by Suzette Mayr

This book is awesome. Three elderly women decide to go over Niagara Falls in a barrel (constructed with the aid of modern science!). The Widows shifts through time between the plummeting barrel and the pasts of the three German women who ride in it.

Apart from a somewhat slow beginning, the action is expertly paced. Suzette Mayr fills her books with dark humour, and constructs characters that break through the mundane to touch a supernatural optimism.

I actually laughed out loud when I read:

"Frau Schnadelhuber is addicted to Clotilde, like cigarettes, like gorgonzola. Gorgonzola the most delicious thing on this intensely troubled Earth and life without gorgonzola would be the same as death." (207)

Because yes. Exactly.

I enjoy that this book is centered around three elderly ladies, survivors of the World Wars even, but contains unapologetic descriptions of both straight and queer sex and sexuality. These are not the chaste and venerated grandparents that our culture prefers to imagine! This is no Viagra ad either, couched in euphemism and focused on male pleasure. These women, told over and over that they’ve aged into obsolescence, respond in the only way that makes any sense. By pulling off a heist, driving across Canada, and plunging over the Falls.


#1. Cold Fire by Kate Elliot

Okay! I’m reviving the 95 books blog for 2012. I have no idea how many books I read in 2011, but now I’m done with grad school and I’ve got a job writing for a neurosurgeon. You can expect to see me review:

-fantasy books!
-books written by people i know!
-the occasional science book!

So to start: Cold Fire by Kate Elliot. This is the second book of a fairly enjoyable YA fantasy series set in an alternate history where Northern Europe is still covered in glaciers, the Caribbean was never conquered by Europeans, and where sentient dinosaurs evolved in North America. The story follows Cat, a Phonecian girl caught up in magical intrigue. There’s adventure, there’s fighting, there’s romance. Cold Fire starts off slow—the first chapter is basically a slightly reworded version of the final chapter of the previous book—but picks up the pace soon after that. It’s a quick read and fairly enjoyable. The plot is fairly conventional, and the world not as exceptional as I would have hoped from series descriptions, but it is great to see someone developing an alternative history fantasy series which isn’t medieval and populated by white Europeans. And Cat is a fairly solid heroine - smart and independent. She’s been trained as a spy, and with the exception of her magic sword, her powers are focused on stealth.

A solid read for people who enjoy the YA fantasy genre.


Moved to GoodReads

I’ve become enamored of the GoodReads site, and so have moved my public reading over there, while taking control of my author page. I’ll post here also, but for my mini-reviews and to see where I’m at, visit my GoodReads page:  http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/583427.Jonathan_Ball

Up to 60 now, which according to GoodReads puts me 18 books ahead of schedule. Here’s the latest round-up:

51. Dog, cock, ape and viper (Rufo Quintavalle)
52. this is not eden (Tracy Hamon)
53. Spawn: Architects of Fear (Todd McFarlane & Arthur Clare / Aleksi Briclot)
54. Interruptions in Glass (Tracy Hamon)
55. The Dainty Monsters (Michael Ondaatje)
56. The Anxiety of Influence (Harold Bloom)
57. Metropolis 16-29 (Robert Fitterman) 
58. The Brave Never Write Poetry (Jones)
59. Metropolis XXX (Robert Fitterman)
60. The Hayflick Limit (Matthew Tierney)

31 – 40 of 95 Books

My next 10 books in the 95 Books Challenge for 2011:

31. The Inquisition Yours (Jen Currin)

I previously read Currin’s Hagiography, and this book is, to me, a great leap forward for Currin. Her surrealistic imagery seems more anchored and necessary — sometimes in Hagiography I found myself wondering if the poems would be substantively different if their images were interchanged. I met Currin while in Ottawa recently and was impressed with her reading from this book, which further confirmed the grounding these poems have in real emotion — too often, similar poets use surrealistic imagery as a way to escape saying anything of note, as a flight into “quirkiness,” but there’s none of that here.

32. The Invention of Honey (Ricardo Sternberg)

33. Abundance (Robert Kroetsch and John Lent)

34. At Alberta (Nathalie Stephens)

35. Moosewood Sandhills (Tim Lilburn)

36. Willard and His Bowling Trophies (Richard Brautigan)

This book really fizzles near the end, as does Brautigan’s The Hawkline Monster. But because it’s Brautigan, the books is full of intelligence, wit, and great writing. Brautigan is the master of simple, stunning, clever sentences that seem to lie flat but upon closer inspection are full of sadness and satire:

The Logan brothers had a good life because they were doing exactly what they wanted to do and they had their bowling trophies to show how good they were at their life. (51)

Where Brautigan shines is in crafting strange, ambivalent images that don’t reveal the author’s own mind, but thrust forward various conflicting options from which the reader must choose. This is difficult to do well, and Brautigan’s genius is in managing to be noncommittal without bleeding his writing of force. Observe how well he sets up the final image here, an image that sets up two different possible and contrasting comparisons:

They always felt sad after making love, but they felt sad most of the time, anyway, so it really didn’t make that much difference, except that they were no warm and touching each other without any clothes on and passion, in its own particular way, had just crossed their bodies like a flight of strange birds or one dark bird flying. (63)

His writing can even be devastating in its simplicity. Here Constance asks Bob for a glass of water, but Bob can’t do anything right, so he brings her a sandwich:

She didn’t know why she was eating the sandwich. Ever since he had brought her the sandwich instead of a glass of water, nothing seemed to make much difference. (74)

And though it all seems silly (the “Willard” of the title is a papier-mache bird presiding over stolen bowling trophies, the loss of which have driven the Logan brothers near-madness and to a life of crime), the books deepens Brautigan’s obsessive engagement with the myth and meaning of America. Here the ghost of Matthew Brady, who after a brief walk-on role flits out of the novel having done nothing, really:

He disappeared back into the swirls of ghostly time, taking with him a photographic impression of Willard and his bowling trophies to be joined visually with the rest of American history because it is very important for Willard and his bowling trophies to be a part of everything that has ever happened to this land of America. (110)

37. The Productive Writer (Sage Cohen)

38. Erewhon (Samuel Butler)

39. Fear Not (Maurice Mierau)

This is an outstanding poetry collection that you should read right now.

40. How Did You Sleep? (Paul Glennon)

Glennon is one of the best fiction writers in this country, although I prefer his The Dodecahedron. Our grandstanding of inferior artists for the benefit of lazy American readers, at the expense of the visibility of truly excellent writers like Glennon (or the previously mentioned Tony Burgess, to name just two examples) is a national shame.

Jonathan Ball’s first 30

The fact is this, suckers — I don’t have time this year to review all of these books in detail. So instead, I’m mostly just going to list books, with maybe a note or two. But I do plan to write longer, more substantial reviews from time to time — maybe late, maybe never, some of these books will get more substantial reviews, which will show up here as they do. At least three of these books will see published reviews later — when they do, I will link to the reviews, as I’ve now linked the title of Ross’s book to my review in theWinnipeg Free Press.

1. Unclutter Your Life in One Week (Erin Rooney Doland)
2. Getting Things Done (David Allen)

What can I say? New Year’s Resolutions….

3. The Disappointment Artist (Jonathan Lethem)
4. Konfessions of an Elizabethan Fan Dancer (bpNichol)
5. Bardy Google (Frank Davey)
6. Consider the Lobster (David Foster Wallace)

Wallace’s essays are stunning, erudite, funny, poignant excursions into topics as diverse as lobster festivals, porn industry awards, Kafka, prescriptive grammar, and sports autobiographies. As hyped as this book is, it exceeds its hype.

7. The Hunt (Jason Dickson)
8. Fish Bones (Gillian Sze)
9. Update (Bill Kennedy & Darren Wershler) 
10. Guy Maddin’s My Winnipeg (Darren Wershler)

Don’t take my word for it — George Toles, screenwriter or co-screenwriter of many of Maddin’s movies, and Guy Maddin himself, have praised this book in conversation. In fact, Guy told me a story about being embarrassed to be recognized while buying this book from McNally Robinson. (Although he understood he’d probably be sent a copy, he likes to buy books to support writers.)

11. The Lateral (Jake Kennedy)
12. The European Roots of Canadian Identity (Philip Resnick)
13. Emergency Hallelujah (Jason Heroux)
14. Genesis (Bernard Beckett)
15. The Others Raisd in Me (Gregory Betts)
16. The Book Collector (Tim Bowling)
17. Parse (Craig Dworkin)
18. Execution Poems (George Elliott Clarke)
19. The Lost Books of the Odyssey (Zachary Mason)

If you liked Clockfire, and/or Homer’s Odyssey, then I guarantee you will LOVE this book.

20. The Road (Cormac McCarthy)
21. David Cronenberg’s A History of Violence (Bart Beaty)
22. Ravenna Gets (Tony Burgess)
23. People Live Still in Cashtown Corners (Tony Burgess)

If you aren’t reading Tony Burgess, you are missing out on one of Canada’s best authors, period, not to mention some of the most gripping, experimental horror in the genre.

24. Snowball, Dragonfly, Jew (Stuart Ross)
25. Literature and Evil (Georges Bataille)
26. Mother Superior (Saleema Nawaz)
27. The Captain Poetry Poems Complete (bpNichol)
28. Atom Egoyan’s The Adjuster (Tom McSorley)
29. A Lover’s Quarrel (Carmine Starnino)
30. Hagiography (Jen Currin)

Handy Mandy’s first 15

1. The Reef (Nora Roberts)

contains a witch, sex,
shark attacks, pirate’s treasure,
romantic drivel


2. Congo (Michael Crichton)

well researched story
but the character with the 
most depth was the ape


3. Clockfire (Jonathan Ball)

fun yet scary book
my favourite play was one
called ‘acknowledgements’


4. A Dry Spell (Susie Moloney)

an intelligent
read, characterization
is top notch, encore!


5. Child of God (Cormac McCarthy)

a disturbing tale
of a sociopathic
corpse-fucking redneck


6. Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier)

a tedious start
a captivating middle
a heartbreaking end


7. The Almost Moon (Alice Sebold)

the murder of an
old woman who has shit her
pants does not allure


8. The Pilot’s Wife (Anita Shreve)

a dead pilot with
two wives and a double life
who would have guessed it


9. Remember Me (Mary Higgins Clark)

secret passageways
and mental illness do not
a good story make


10. Hidden Riches (Nora Roberts)

can a romance book
be good with a leading man
named jedidiah?


11. Cities of Refuge (Michael Helm)

it went on and on
this novel really should have
been a novella


12. Forgotten (Mariah Stewart)

crappy imitation of
silence of the lambs


13. Puppet Master (Jan Coffey)

a fast-paced thriller
with too many characters
but quite compelling


14. Body Movers: 3 Men and a Body (Stephanie Bond)

a witless floozy
fancies herself a private


15. Betrayal (Karin Alvtegen)

leads to getting in bed with
a comatose mom


— Handy Mandy

2011 Starting Late

Ryan and I considered shifting the blog to another site, but have been too overwhelmed with work to do so, or to post, although we are still doing the 95 Books thing this year. I just read book 28 this morning. So this post stands as an announcement that the blog will become active again shortly.

In the meantime, I want to know who has been doing or is doing the 95 Books thing this year. Last year I had a hell of a time figuring out what was happening — who was reading, who fell off the wagon, how many people were even involved, and so on. So I want to post a complete list of those who are engaged in the challenge this year. And I want to know who wants to be added to or invited to this site. And please include your name in your posts. 

Who out there has been/is taking the 95 Books challenge this year?

Handy Mandy’s 2010 reading list

Only read 50 books, but didn’t begin counting until July, so not a bad pace overall.

1. Walking Shadow (Robert B. Parker)
2. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
3. ‘Tis (Frank McCourt)
4. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
5. SeinLanguage (Jerry Seinfeld)
6. Bootleg (Damon Wayans)
7. Just After Sunset (Stephen King)
8. The Journey Prize Stories 20 [2008]
9. In the Lake of the Woods (Tim O’Brien)
10. Shopgirl (Steve Martin) 
11. In the Heat of the Night (John Ball)
12. Cold Case (Steven White)
13. The Colorado Kid (Stephen King) 
14. Magic for Beginners (Kelly Link) 
15. House-keeping (Marilynne Robinson)
16. The Collector (John Fowles) 
17. Making Light of Tragedy (Jessica Grant) 
18. The Partner (John Grisham) 
19. The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency (Alexander McCall Smith) 
20. The Lair of the White Worm (Bram Stoker) 
21. 20th Century Ghosts (Joe Hill) 
22. Red Harvest (Dashiell Hammett) 
23. Season of the Machete (James Patterson) 
24. The Killing Circle (Andrew Pyper) 
25. Swim the Fly (Don Calame) 
26. The Eyes of Darkness (Dean Koontz) 
27. Gods Behaving Badly (Marie Phillips) 
28. The Wildfire Season (Andrew Pyper) 
29. Letters to Wendy’s (Joe Wenderoth) 
30. The Judas Strain (James Rollins) 
31. I Am Legend (Richard Matheson)
32. Break No Bones (Kathy Reichs)
33. Beautiful Pigs (Andy Case)
34. Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist (Dorothy Gilman)
35. Running from the Law (Lisa Scottoline)
36. When the Wind Blows (James Patterson)
37. Still (bpNichol)
38. The Following Story (Cees Nooteboom)
39. Asthmatica (Jon Paul Fiorentino)
40. Stripmalling (Jon Paul Fiorentino)
41. white (rob mclennan)
42. In the Dutch Mountains (Cees Nooteboom)
43. Baldur’s Song: A Saga (David Arnason)
44. The Associate (John Grisham)
45. Cross Country (James Patterson)
46. Relentless (Dean Koontz)
47. Shutter Island (Denis Lehane)
48. Foreign Body (Robin Cook)
49. The Guardians (Andrew Pyper)
50. Crown Fire (David Annandale)