The Miniaturist: “There is nothing hidden that will not be revealed…” When the newly married Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam on a brisk autumn day in 1686 she is expecting to be warmly embraced into her husband’s household. Johannes Brandt is a wealthy merchant trader who is well respected, and Amsterdam is a glittery new start for Nella who comes from the country with a suitcase and her ancient, respected Oortman name. She soon discovers that her family name is likely the only reason she is there. Johannes’ sister Marin is a younger version of Downton Abbey‘s Dowager Countess, and she certainly runs the household, not a role Nella the new wife is going to assume.
Johannes is kind, but mostly away travellling, and his affections, when home are showered on his dogs, not Nella. The one gift he presents to her is a cabinet-sized replica of their home. Nella finds a miniaturist to furnish the rooms but, as cryptic package after package arrives, Nella’s wonderment shifts to eerie suspension. The miniatures of the household are exact replicas of the furniture and family members, and they are lovely at first. But then unrequested items like a small cradle arrive. It’s like the miniaturist knows the family’s deepest desires and secrets.
When Johannes’ favourite dog is killed and a long-time servant disappears, the artistry seems to turn to witchcraft. Nella is left wondering if the packages are benign predictions of the future or warnings of things to come. The whole experience is all the more alarming given that Nella is living in Amsterdam at a repressively pious time: puppets are banned, and even man-shaped gingerbread is forbidden. But false idols end up being the least of her concerns when Johannes is betrayed by a friend and arrested.
The Miniaturist is a beautifully written fairy tale with all the witchcraft and sugar plums you could possibly want. It’s beguiling. Fans of the Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern will enjoy this story. I think readers of historical fiction, Sarah Waters or Markus Zusak (The Book Thief) will like it too.
Todd Babiak’s latest novel about a Canadian family accidentally caught up with mobsters in the south of France needs to be read with the lights on and the doors locked!
This is not earnest Canadiana. Babiak has written a spine-tingling, torture-ridden, political drama about the Kruse family who end up hunted by a Corsican crime family hired by a political party with connections throughout the country and in the gendarmerie.
Christopher and Evelyn Kruse bring their 4-year-old daughter Lily to South France in an attempt to rekindle their love. Instead they are driven apart when their daughter is hit and killed by a drunk driver who happens to be their landlord and the poster-boy candidate for the Front National party, Jean-Francois de Musset. The next morning Jean-Francois and his wife are found brutally murdered, Evelyn is on the run, and Christopher discovers Russian goons hired by a Corsican crime family are hunting his wife. He must draw on his security forces training and own investigative skills to find her before they do.
Come Barbarians is a fantastic thriller where South France is as much a character as Christopher himself; dark, mysterious and desperately seeking some form of stasis.
If you like The Wire tv series, you’ll like Come Barbarians.
I think I also enjoyed this novel because we were in South France last year and visited many of the towns mentioned in the book, including Vaison-la-romaine where the book opens.
The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can’t Be Jammed takes aim at Michael Moore, Adbusters magazine, Naomi Klein, the women’s movement, leftists/rightists/centerists, hippies and basically any group that could be considered radical.
The book is an intellectual fistfight and I’m not sure who comes out the winner. Some readers will certainly feel beaten up.
The book is worth reading, but with special caution paid to rhetorical glissades and spin.
In short, Rebel Sell is a long missive advocating peace, order and good government.
Here are my top take-aways:
The anti-capitalists are still capitalists, they just don’t know it.
Corporate bullying (lobbying and tax exemptions) could be better dealt with by removing certain write-offs or decreasing the exemption percentages.
Two wrongs don’t make a right. As in Adbusters’ “Buy Nothing Day” and the sales of Adbusters’ running shoes do not make us a better society.
A capitalist society is not about conformity, and advertising is about knowing what’s available to buy.
Hipsters and elitests are simply struggling for status, which is no different than teens wanting the new, cool thing.
Feminists lost women power in some aspects of life.
Free love wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.
And peace, love and happiness have been, and always will be, distritributed unevenly.
Selling out is just realizing that you’re part of capitalism, and it’s not all bad.
My problem with the authors’ worldview is that it is presented from a single perspective that manufactures support for their argument.
Again, it is worth reading, but make sure your thinking cap is tightly secured.
The Rebel Sell: Why The Culture Can’t Be Jammed
By Joseph Heath, Andrew Potter (Canadian authors)
Published by HarperCollins
Available in hardcover, paper, ebook
The Woefield Poultry Collective was highly recommended to me by a bookseller at the now defunct Ardea Books. The thing I miss most about having a local bookstore is the staff recommendations. There is something less novel about email newsletters and websites than the in-store chit-chat and recommendations.
The woman, whose name I now forget, was a constant source of good reading material. She recommended YA novels that were brilliant, nonfiction that was stimulating and fiction that I could not pass up. I miss her.
Her last recommendation was The Woefield Poultry Collective. She said, “this novel is terrificly funny. I couldn’t put it down. It is about a woman from New York who inherits a farm and tries to make a go of it.”
The farm name is Woefield, and it is full of woe-betide characters and lousy soil. The only really farming seems to be rock farming. But the new proprietor, named Prudence, is not so prudent.
She, upon a brief introduction, invites the pale-face, homebody from next door to move in. Seth runs a couple of internet sites and doesn’t really leave the house. He does a lot of drinking and fretting about “the thing with the drama teacher.” In fact, he’s on Prudence’s doorstep because his mom just kicked him out.
Where others see a loser, Prudence sees an opportunity.
The novel is told in first person and alternatives between Prudence, the new farm owner, Seth the geek and lay-about, Earl the farm hand, and little Sara, who like Seth is a bit lost in the world.
Unlike Seth, Sara is a go getter. She’s landed at the farm because her family has moved into a subdivision and she can no longer keep her poultry in the yard. Prudence has offered to house the birds.
The book is laugh-out loud funny. Funny in ways that had me reading chapters aloud to James, especially the chapters from Sara or Earl’s perspective. The straight-man nature of these two in comparison to flaky Prudence and Chubnuts (Earl’s pet name for Seth) is hilarious.
When my parents told me that I had to move my birds, I didn’t say anything. In Jr. Poultry Fancier’s Club they tell us that leaders are Even Tempered, which means they don’t get mad even when everyone would understand if they were. The other thing leaders do is Take Action. I’m beginning to think I have some leadership qualities because even though I might feel mad, I try not to show it ...
When my parents told me I had to move my birds because some neighbors complained, I just got up and went to my room. I didn’t tell them this was what we got for moving to Shady Woods Estates, where the house are all packed together and there are rules about everything. I didn’t tell them that my chickens are the nicest part of Shady Woods, which they are. I didn’t mention that the word Shady is extremely ironic, which I learned about in English last semester, since there is no shade anywhere on our streets. You have to have trees to have shade and there are no trees left here. It’s also kind of ironic that I’m only eleven and a half and even I know this.”
The building of Sara’s chicken coop is as fraught with tension as Sara’s family life, but is also good for a laugh.
I’d be the first one to tell you I don’t know a whole hell of a lot about kids. Never had any. Barely even knew any. When you grow up in a musical family, ‘specially a musical country family, there’s a lot of working and playing music. Not too much being a kid. So for all I know, maybe all kids is bossy as hell. But I don’t think any of them could come anywhere near that little Sara Sprout. Good goddamn name for her ...
She was not afraid to dictate an order or two. I learned that after she looked at the chicken house ...
She told me it looked wrong, and I was about to tell her to go to hell when Prudence comes rushing over and sticks her nose in, trying to smooth things out.
Prudence told the kid I been working on it all day and asked what the problem was. So the kid started to tell her ... she pointed to the tar paper poking out here and there and said there were no vents and how chickens need excellent ventilation.
God help me, she had a point there. But I didn’t let on that I agreed. Truth is, I was getting a helluva kick out of her ...
Prudence told the kid I’d be happy to fix it and the kid said how at her junior poultry club they are taught that standards are important.
Standards. Can you beat that?
She told us that without standards you have nothing.
She had a point there. That kid’s not much for smiling, but she sure as hell makes up for it on the giving directions side.
Sweet. Delightful. Witty. I don’t think these adjectives do justice to Susan Juby’s novel. Sure it’s these things, but it’s also a good bit of farm humour. Anyone who has some farm experience knows these characters, and knows the style of farm-funny I’m talking about.
Bob Collins’ Outstanding in Their Field is a collection of crazy funny farm stories. Self-published and worth the read. Prudence wouldn’t own a copy of this book, but her life could be a farm-yarn in this collection.
Foodtree.com is a way to chart the provenance of your fruits and veg. Snap photos of your purchases at the farmers market, upload to Foodtree and tag with the market, farmer and product. It’s a delicious way to share what’s on your plate. (Available in Vancouver, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton and Boulder CO.) I’m sure Prudence would be all over this app, although I doubt anyone would be clamoring to snap pics of her spindly radishes—unless it was to make fun.
A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick is a great novel. I read it in 2 days. The plot is a little bit dark, there’s a small mystery, an unanticipated twist and a satisfying ending.
Rural Wisconsin, 1909.
Successful iron and oil man Ralph Truitt has put out an advertisement for a reliable wife. He’s spent 20 years getting over his first wife, the death of his daughter and the estrangement of his son. Life is lonely and he has a glimmer of hope that a reliable wife will at least allow him some joy and a warm body to sleep beside.
Catherine Land arrives in the railcar that Truitt has sent to collect her. A tramp, a whore, a conniving wench. Catherine is not at all like the photo she sent (that’s because it’s not of her) nor is she all that Truitt expected. She is however more than he bargained for, and in a good way.
But he doesn’t realize that at first. The bitter cold of the Wisconsin winter means that he can’t leave her on the platform so he takes her home in order to figure out what to do. Catherine is playing her pious, reliable wife role really well but Truitt knows she’s a liar. He just doesn’t know to what extent.
A Reliable Wife is certainly a reliable read. There some gentle bodice ripping, betrayals and twists of fate and interlaced story lines. I think ultimately it’s a novel about love and forgiveness. Each character does some unforgiveable things only to realize in the end that they were loved despite their faults.
Oh and there’s a poisoning. But I don’t want to give too much away.
This is not a discussion of whether ebooks are killing treebooks, or whether it’s possible to get cozy with an Amazon Kindle. It’s about how participatory culture and the online world interact with good olde book publishing.Clay Shirky, author of Here Comes Everybody, Deborah Schultz, and fellow panelists will share with the audience a variety of perspectives on what’s going right and what’s going wrong in publishing, assess success of recent forays into marketing digitally, digital publishing, and what books and blogs have to gain from one another. Penguin Group (USA), which houses some 40 plus imprints and publishes an extremely broad variety of physical and digital products everything from William Gibson’s first ebook in the 90’s to Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food to Charlaine Harris’ Sookie Stackhouse novels (the source for HBO’s True Blood) is deeply involved in exploring ways that old and new media might better collaborate. Audience members are invited to speak up about what they think book publishers could/should be doing to better provide relevant information and content to blogs, websites, and online communities. Come tell old media what you want and how you want it.
Clay Shirky ITP
John Fagan Mktg Dir, Penguin Group (USA)
Deborah Schultz Founder/Chief Catalyst, deborahschultz.com
Peter Miller Dir of Publicity, Bloomsbury USA
Ivan Held Pres GP Putnam’s Sons, Penguin Group (USA)
They certainly told publishers what they think. The summation was “you suck at this is the biggest way possible.”
I think it’s unfair to attack the folks on that panel but as representatives of the industry they do have to go back to their houses and understand that they need to convey, not that bloggers are an unruly bunch, but that publishers need to get off their asses and get involved with social media. Enough is enough.
If you’re going to hold a session called “New Think for Old Publishers”, you gotta come with some new thinking. Either that or tell the audience that it’s a research session…and the audience is supposed to bring the new thinking. Good idea, needed better execution. Nobody read the panel description to mean “we want the audience to tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it”.
The publishing people on stage said, essentially, tell us what we’re doing wrong and how we can fix it. You have 300 people who give up an hour of their lives to hear the cool things the traditional publishing business is doing…and you can ask them to consult on your business?
What went wrong is this:
* Publishers have not listened to the crowd for a long time.
* The crowd is restless.
* Publishers wring their hands about the web.
* The crowd offers options publishers don’t like.
* Publishers weep into their hands.
* The crowd wants to help and offers other suggestions.
* Publishers act like deer in headlights.
* The crowd plows down publishers and reinvents the industry without them.
What this panel really came down to is that the wisdom of the crowds is not being tapped. The crowd is now sick and tired of trying to help people who won’t help themselves.
Hold me to this: I’m going to organize a panel in Vancouver. We’re going to create a model for publishing and marketing books. We’re going to move forward as an industry. Leaders will be identified. Roles will be assigned. If you’re not open to totally change everything you’re doing, then you are not ready for this revolution. Don’t come.
Peter Miller Glibness. “Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Tips from a panelist who barely survived” in Publishers Weekly. Read the article.
Michael Tamblyn of BookNet Canada on 6 Things That Revolutionize Publishing
The Man Who Forgot How to Read: A Memoir by Howard Engel is not a literary masterpiece but it is a masterful work. Howard Engel, author of the Benny Cooperman detective novels, woke up one day and discovered that he could not read the newspaper. Not the newspaper, books, street signs, any written text. In the night he suffered a stroke that affected the part of his brain responsible for reading. He could write but could not read.
The Man Who Forgot How to Read is Engel’s story of his struggle to regain reading, from the day of the stroke to the day of the manuscript completion that is this memoir. I say it isn’t a literary masterpiece because compared to something like Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ memoirs, this is plain writing. It’s not literary writing that flows into the memoir. It’s the straightforward story of a man who lost a significant part of his identity over night. An author who cannot read.
I do think it is a masterful work regardless. The incredible journey Engel takes in order to read and write and complete not just this manuscript but a new Benny Cooperman novel is worth recognition. Oliver Sacks, who writes the afterword, thinks it’s remarkable as well.
I’m claiming this as a 2007 read although I did save 20 pages for this morning. What a great book.
In 2003 Gruen was working on another book when the Chicago Tribune ran an article on Edward J. Kelty, an American photographer who followed travelling circuses in the 1920s and 30s. She did a bunch of research on train circuses of the times and came up with Water for Elephants.
The premise of the story is that a young Jacob Jankowski, under extreme duress due to the accidental death of his parents, flees his veterinary exams and jumps on a train. The train ends up being the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth. Jacob spends 3 months on the circus as the vet, falls in love with his boss’s wife, acquires an elephant and almost gets thrown from the train several times.
I first heard about Ann Patchett from my friend Jennifer who adored Patchett’s novel Bel Canto. I’ve never read the book but I feel that I intimately know the story and I’ve been anxious to read Patchett ever since.
Run is stellar. And Ann Patchett is an author whose backlist I’m now going to seek out. In particular I want to read The Magician’s Assistant.
But back to Run. This is a beautiful book. The structure is an example of fine writing. Although the story follows chronological order there are nice loops back to the present. At no time do you feel like you know the whole story or where it’s going to go.
Bernadette Doyle is a loving mother who wishes to have more children and cannot. She and her husband adopt a black boy and a short time later they are contacted by the agency asking if they would take the older sibling. The birth mother wishes the boys be raised together. So Tip and Teddy join Mayor Doyle, Bernadette and Sullivan. Sadly Bernadette dies early of cancer, leaving the boys to grow up without their mother. The story picks up again when the boys are in university and one gets hit by a car.
Run is well constructed, the characters are interesting, and the dynamics between the characters are a powerful representation of the alliances and enemies that form in all families.
Canadian blogger ... that’s me, Monique Trottier. Here in Vancouver. I review books.
Yah right, where and when you might ask?
Well, I’ve fallen behind recently. I like to post an individual review for each book, but I’m desperate so here’s the quick roundup.
Town House by Tish Cohen
Very funny. Jack is afraid to leave the house. Clinically. This is a novel about the madcap adventures of Jack Madigan, son of legendary rock legend Bas Madigan. It’s quirky. I really liked it. Please have a look at this book.
Falling Sideways by Tom Holt
My first science fiction read. Ok, maybe not the first but the first I remember. David Perkins is the victim of a well-orchestrated scheme to let clones and frogs control the Earth. That’s not entirely accurate but I have 3 minutes before my flight. This was a good book too. Really well written. Not sure if I’m a fan of sci-fi yet, but if it’s all like this, I’ll try it.
Lullabies for Little Criminals by Heather O’Neill
If you pick any title in this list to investigate further, sorry no links, then pick this one. Baby is the main character. We follow her from childhood to older childhood. I truly believe that we use stories to make sense of the world. Baby tells herself pretty incredible stories to try to understand her druggie father, her missing mother, her attraction to the wrong sorts of men, the screwed up system of Child and Family Services. Heather has created a strong and confident voice in this character. As a novel it does all sorts of things right. For good or bad, it reminds me of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time. Strange characters, a look inside those characters’ minds, great writing, a bit of soul searching and strong narrative. 5 starts for sure.
The Big Moo by Seth Godin
One-page case studies and inspirational stories from 33 experts and thought wizards. I really enjoyed this book too. It’s business but inspirational business. I think it will sit on my shelf for years to come and will be pulled off frequently. It’s one of those reads that will mean different things to you at different times. Even if you’re not self-employed, if you’re interested in company structures, organizational behaviour and big ideas, have a read.
Many, many apologies for the lack of links but I know you can all Google and Amazon. I’ll fill in the blanks later. Also no spell check so the editors in the crowd, maybe skip this post, or read lightly.
I came across Claire Cameron’s The Line Painter in the HarperCollins Canada Facebook group.
See Facebook is good for something other than finding your elementary school detention partner.
The Line Painter is not a book I would typically pick up. It looks like a thriller. I suppose the quote from Andrew Pyper on the front should have been the clue that it was more literary than it looks. But I judge by the cover.
Anyway, The Line Painter is about dippy-canoe Carrie running away from home. Seems I only read books about run-aways these days. Carrie is an adult running away. Her boyfriend has been killing in an accident. The accident happens moments after they have a huge fight. She’s a little torn by what’s happened and feels lost in her world.
Carrie is unhappy to start with. She doesn’t know where her relationship is going, she doesn’t know where she’s going. Life is hard, confusing, and really not rewarding.
The road trip is meant to take her mind off her sucky life. The problem is the car breaks down in the middle of nowhere and the knight in shining armour is a psycho-looking guy who’s painting the highway lines at 20 km per hour. This rescue vehicle is less than flashy, although it does have flashy lights.
The thing that killed me about this book is the suspense. I kept waiting for the line painter to do her in. There are a couple of bears and other shady characters who I thought might get her too, but I really had my money on the crazy, alcoholic line painter.
I’m not going to tell you if I won that bet because I don’t want to ruin your life.
If you’re looking for a fast summer read, and something to make you feel a little creepy-crawlie, pick up Claire Cameron’s The Line Painter.