Sunday, July 30, 2006

A Good House - Bonnie Burnard

The Basics: A Good House, Bonnie Burnard, 1999, 283 pages, hardcover, winner of the 1999 Giller Prize

How I found it: I believe I was browsing Wikipedia's list of Giller nominees and winners, then reading plot summaries for nominated books on I picked A Good House because it sounded interesting. When I picked the book up at the library the cover looked familiar and as I read it I realized I had read it not long after it first came out because my mom had a copy lying around her house.

What's it about?: It is the history of one family from small town Ontario. We follow them through births and deaths and into the next few generations until there are so many characters (grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and their spouses) that it becomes difficult to remember who is who. Each character has their own storyline and at times those storylines end up being truncated or rushed as Burnard scrambles to pack it all in.

Did I like it?: It was not a bad book, but it's not my favourite. Burnard has introduced way too many characters and included many useless details that don't lend anything to the story. She writes as if she is preparing the story to be converted into a screenplay for a movie that countless women will cry at and which will feature Julia Roberts or Michelle Pfeiffer. It's that kind of story. The book is touching, I will give it that, but I really don't think it is great literature and I can't believe it won the Giller.

Will you like it?: This is obviously a woman's book (sorry - I always hate saying that). It is a pleasant and engaging read but it is nothing special. Anyone who has grown up with lots of family around, or who wishes they had, will enjoy this book - a simple story about people who love and support each other.

But don't take my word for it: Readers on both loved and loathed it, and a reviewer from the University of New Brunswick student newspaper had a similar reaction to me.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women - Michael Gross

The Basics: Model: The Ugly Business of Beautiful Women, Michael Gross, 1995, 524 pages, hard cover

How I found it: Gross was actually a guest judge on a recent episode of Canada's Next Top Model. As part of his appearance he helped prepare the contestants for the tougher aspects of modeling and his book sounded interesting.

What's it about?: This book is basically a history of modeling from it's beginnings in the early 20th century up to the early 1990s. Gross goes into meticulous detail about every event of importance in modeling in that period. There are lots of interesting behind the scenes stories and lots of gossip. The book is definitely a history of the business aspect of modeling so there is a lot of focus on the rise and fall of various modeling agencies and not as much focus on the actual models themselves.

Did I like it?: If the book had been more about the models and less about the agencies I would have liked it a lot more. I found the business dealings between the agencies to be quite dry and found myself skimming through those sections. I didn't mind this book but it wasn't that exciting because all the gossip is about models that I am too young to remember. Since the book was finished in the early 90s, the models that are familiar to me today don't even make it into the book and there is no gossip or history about them.

Will you like it?: Unless you are a die-hard fashion industry worshipper you should skip this one. I'm sure there are better introductions into how the modeling industry works than this huge history volume. Or you could just go watch Top Model for the reality TV version of modeling - much more entertaining.

But don't take my word for it: Readers on all seemed to like it, and otherwise I can't seem to find any reviews.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

The Sea - John Banville

The Basics: The Sea, John Banville, 2005, 195 pages, hardcover, winner of the Man Booker prize for 2005.

How I found it: When I reviewed Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go I discovered that book was nominated for the 2005 Booker so I checked out the list of other nominees and decided to read the winner for that year, Banville's The Sea.

What's it about?: Max, a middle-aged Irish man, loses his wife to cancer and doesn't know what to do with his life. He heads back to a resort town where he spent an important childhood summer to try to figure it out, get away from his pain, and write an art book. The book is told primarily through Max's memories of his wife and of the events of that fateful summer. Max rarely exists in the present and it seems he prefers it that way.

Did I like it?: While this is a short novel, and a well-written one, for me it seemed to drag in places and I skimmed through some of Banville's prose. The story itself, as remembered by Max, is not that interesting (although there is a big revelation at the end of the book about why that summer was so important). I just didn't relate to Max, which is probably why I didn't love this book. I understood his pain, but couldn't relate to why he acted the way he did.

Will you like it?: This book is quite well-written and well executed. I had never read any Banville before, but he seems to be a talented writer. While I don't exactly recommend this book, I won't warn anyone away from it either. It is a good book, I just didn't really enjoy it - if that makes sense.

But don't take my word for it: Readers on liked it, the Sunday Times reviewer had a reaction similar to mine, but the reviewer from the Washington Post got sucked in by Banville's mastery of the English language.

Monday, July 10, 2006

Dead Air - Iain Banks

The Basics: Dead Air, Iain Banks, 2002, 485 pages, paperback.

How I found it: I was randomly browsing through the shelves of the local used bookstore a few months ago and for some reason I picked it up. I'm really not sure what it was that called to me - I can't remember anymore.

What's it about?: The protagonist is Ken Nott, a left-wing radio shock jock who is muddling through life in London in a post 9/11 world. The many-threaded plot centers around Ken's relationships with women and his friends, and the trouble his big mouth gets him into.

Did I like it?: Not really. It started off well with lots of carefully-crafted dialogue sections. The paint by numbers plot soon got me down, however. Banks only seems to introduce plot elements and characters so that he can create a very obvious story arc with them that is neatly tied up further on into the novel. As well, Ken's big-mouth ways and rants just seem like an excuse for Banks to give his opinion on 21st century politics under the guise of a character.

Will you like it?: Apparently Banks mostly writes science fiction and this is one of his few 'regular' novels. Perhaps that should have been my first clue. The book is not terribly written, but it does suffer from some hideous plot devices. In my opinion, the last 200 pages are hideous and wouldn't even make a good B movie. Things really go downhill after Banks includes yet another idiotic plot situation for his protagonist to scramble out of. This would be a good beach book, but other than that, I'd say avoid it.

But don't take my word for it: Some readers on have the same sentiments I do, while others are literary idiots, a reviewer from seems to share my views, as does one from the Guardian.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Everything About Me Is Fake... and I'm Perfect! - Janice Dickinson

The Basics: Everything About Me Is Fake... and I'm Perfect!, Janice Dickinson, 2004, 260 pages

How I found it: Janice promoted her first book, the autobiography No Lifeguard on Duty, on America's Next Top Model, and after reading that book, I wanted to read her next one.

What's it about?: The book is a random hodge-podge of stuff. It is supposed to be a self-help book about how women should love their bodies and realize that the models they see in magazines are totally fake and digitally and surgically manipulated. The book sticks to its self-help purpose slightly but is more a vehicle for Janice's whacky celebrity tell-all stories and fanatical beauty tips (more laxatives anyone?).

Did I like it?: Not really. There isn't much substance to the book and besides Janice's scandalous stories and crazy narrative, it would be pretty boring as well. I liked her autobiography because it showed that she is not just some cracked-out washed-up has-been - she has drive, is a business-woman and has overcome a lot in her life. This book showed none of that - it is just a cash-grab on the part of her publisher to ride on the success of her first book.

Will you like it?: Unlikely. You'll only like her first book if you thought she was funny on Top Model (which many didn't) and you'll only like this book if you are a Janice-fanatic (which many aren't). If you are only mildly interested in Janice read No Lifeguard on Duty or maybe just go watch some Top Model re-runs. Skip this book.

But don't take my word for it: Readers at didn't like it either, a review from

Monday, July 03, 2006

The Leave No Crumbs Camping Cookbook - Rick Greenspan & Hal Kahn

The Basics: The Leave No Crumbs Camping Cookbook: 150 Delightful, Delicious, and Darn-Near Foolproof Recipes from Two Top Wilderness Chefs, Rick Greenspan and Hal Kahn, 2004, 232 pages, paperback

How I found it: It was recommended to me by a MEC employee at a member seminar on back-country cooking.

What's it about?: This book is both a recipe book and a book about how to be a chef in the back country. It will give you ideas and recipes to help you move beyond pre-packaged freeze-dried cardboard tasting backpackers food or the standard spaghetti with pesto. The book draws heavily on the use of a dehydrator and lots of at-home prep, which will appeal to the ultra-liters but also has some recipes for canoe-trippers or car-campers willing to carry more and spend more time cooking.

Did I like it?: I loved this book. I got a copy from the library but I loved it so much that I have ordered my own from Chapters. The recipes all seemed yummy (unlike a lot of the more traditional backpacking cooking books where the recipes seem too healthy - I don't want brown rice in the backcountry - I want restaurant-type food!). As well there were lots of ethnic dishes to tempt me including recipes for backcountry sushi (it involves dehydrating and rehydrating the fillings), pad thai, Chinese dumplings, matzo balls and chala bread you bake in your camping pot. The book is also hilarious! The two guys who wrote it have an awesome sense of humour and I actually laughed aloud at some of their tips and jokes. (I do have to offer a slight disclaimer though: I haven't actually cooked anything from this book yet - haven't had time. But from reading over the ingredient lists and instructions, it looks pretty foolproof and mighty tasty. I promise to come back and edit this review if the recipes suck but I really doubt I'll have to.)

Will you like it?: If you backpack and own a dehydrator you will be in heaven with this book. Even if you don't own a dehydrator you will still be excited to own this book. Anyone who is serious about eating something tasty at the end of a long day on the trail should own this book as it will help you avoid the pasta and pasta and more pasta backpackers rut. (Did I stress how much I love this book?)

But don't take my word for it: Reader reviewers on loved it, an article from Stanford Magazine (where Greenspan is an alumnus).