Tag Archives: United States

Joyce Carol Oates, A Book of American Martyrs


I greatly enjoyed this book! I have great deal of trouble concentrating on anything, so a great big chunk of a book such as this one was bound to be a challenge but surprisingly, it went really smoothly and held my attention. What was it? Oates super writing? Her way of showing the characters’ points of view? The gripping topics: pro-choice vs. pro-life, gender politics, family dynamics, the social context and class differentials in the abortion debate,

Some of the characters are beautifully developped an complex. On the other hand, there are some that are only shadows in the book while do they play an important role. Case in point: the father of the doctor who gets murdered… he takes in his grand-children to raise them when the mother is unable to continue to play her role after her husband’s death. How does he live through the events? One can only guess.

Reference: Oates, Joyce Carol. A Book of American Martyrs. Harper Collins, 2017.

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Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking


I am fascinated by portrayals of grief. Grief is such a complex experience and so different from one person to another. Of course, we all have plenty of experiences of grief, of losing people we love, but also grief over more abstract loses (lost opportunities, life changes we did not wish, ideas we have to let go).

A book I recently read, Journal d’Irlande by Benoîte Groult, was as much a celebration of vacations in Ireland as a reflection on the losses of old age. Benoite Groult had already discussed that in another book, but I was very much present in that Diary.

In The Year of Magical Thinking, Joan Didion shares her process of grief of coming to terms with life on her own in the year where her daughter fell very ill and her husband died. The initial response is one of disbelief, “how could these things happen?”. And a kind of numbness. The year ends up being a roller coaster. Grief does not get lighter with time, but comes and goes in great waves. At times, she forgot her husband was gone… They had lived a life of intense closeness. Both were writers and both worked from home. Constant presence makes the depth of the void greater.

And the writing is beautiful. It is a book that delights and surprises… It is not a depressing book, in spite of its somber subject matter. It is a fascinating look into sensemaking.


Didion, Joan. The Year of Magical Thinking. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 2005.

Other things:


https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=4956088 (with book excerpt)



Jack Ford, Chariot on the Mountain


Jack Ford tells us a story of a slave in Virginia who manages to turn a court proceeding upside down, and to be deemed a free woman, against many odds. She was not allowed to sue a white man who had mistreated her but somehow a Virginian judge let her owner free her although she had to leave the state.

This novel is based on archival material the author chanced upon. The story starts with the death of a farm owner who has fathered a daughter with a black slave. That child is the woman who is freed in the end. The farmer’s wife, following her husband’s death, is determined to free this slave to live up to a promise she made her husband on his death bed. As this was difficult to do in Virginia and because a nephew is challenging that interpretation of the farmer’s will which leaves everything to the wife, she uses the underground railroad to take the woman to Pennsylvania and carries out legal proceedings to free her there.

However, the story does not end there. The nephew finds the woman with the help of some slave catchers, and brings her and her children back to Virginia. The farmer’s wife and a friend hear of this and manage to free the slave and her children from the shed where they were imprisoned. This incident then leads to the black woman’s decision to sue the nephew for $1000 for the mistreatment she suffered at his hands.

The story is told in a straightforward and clear way and it highlights the following things: (1) the humanity of slaves, (2) the possibility of respectful relationships between white people and people of color be they slaves or not, and (3) the profound injustice of the lack of legal existence of slaves.

Being freed was not, however, the end of all sorrow. The former slave lived the rest of her life in poverty and died only years later.

Thanks to Net Galley and the publisher for access to an electronic copy of this book. This book was published on July 31.


Ford, Jack. Chariot on the Mountain. Kensington Books, 2018.

Joseph J. Swope, Disturbed


If you tear down a haunted house, do the malevolent spirits that inhabit it die? And how can you get rid of a malevolent spirit anyway?

This book will not give you a convenient easy answer.

A seriously mentally ill young man moves to a new town to start a new life. His condition is now under control with the medication he is taking and he is under the care of competent professionals. He acquires a house, makes friends with a neighbour and finds a job that brings him into contact with a congenial bunch of people. Things are looking up, right?

That’s without counting on the evil spirit that inhabits the house and intends to use him to carry out some revenge. And who seems to collude with the voices inside his head. This combination sends him back over the edge and he is only saved by the woman he loves at a very high cost. And just when we think that the burning down of the house did away with the spirit, it seems to be pointing its nose…

This was a fun read and it kept my attention. However, the repeated descriptions of the even spirit were a bit overdone. I don’t mind evil, but it has to be a bit more realistic.

Thanks to NetGalley and Black Rose Writing for making this book available. It was published in May 2018.



Swope, Joseph J. Disturbed. Black Rose Writing. 2018.

Siobhan Adcock, The Completionist


I always enjoy an interesting work of speculative fiction. This one did not disappoint. It is set at an indeterminate time in the future, in the United States. Environmental changes have made water a scarce and costly resource which must be produced in a distant location and transported through disputed territory. This has led to long term warfare that is destroying a generation of young men. We have following the personal struggles of one of them. But the main concern of the book is for the work and mission of “completionists”, nurses who accompany women undergoing artificial insemination, or who miraculously get pregnant naturally. The birth rate has plummeted and children have become so precious that strict protocols must be followed by women to care for themselves and their offspring under threat of large fines. The sister of the young man I referred to before is such a nurse and another sister gets pregnant. This is the perfect pretext to explore all the issues of the ethics of completion work, the constraints on pregnant women and mothers, and of the personal consequences of war such as PTSD and contamination by chemical warfare agents. This novel is loaded with issues, and its a good story.

Thanks to the publisher for making this novel available through Net Galley. It became available on June 19, 2018.


Adcock, Siobhan. The Completionist. Simon & Shuster, 2018.

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The Completionist

Jeanne Oliver, The Painted Art Journal

Jeanne Oliver, The Painted Art Journal

I love art books, whether they show one artist’s production or whether they are “how-to” books with lots de demos. They are highly visual and colorful. And they are usually inspiring.

This is certainly the case with Jeanne Oliver’s book. She demonstrates her approach to visual journaling with many different tools and mediums and encourages her reader to experiment. There are two very distinctive aspects to this book, and they are in the definition of “journal”. On the one hand, a journal is not necessarily a daily account of events and thoughts. On the other hand, a journal is not necessarily what fits into the book format.

The book format is indeed present in her process of journaling. She even suggests building your own book with a variety of paper textures and binding it yourself. But she also uses a wall display to gather pictures, artifacts and other visuals that could be used in the composition of book pages or spreads, or in other ways.

The journal, as she uses it, is more a chronicle or memoirs, representing multiple aspects of one’s life, encounters, and events. The topic to be developed or the story that one wishes to tell can be done at any point in time, using all the means at one’s disposal.

Although the author uses a great variety of mediums, all this can be done with a minimal amount of spending on art materials.

The Painted Art Journal is a very good resource for anyone wishing to embark on a project of self-discovery and personal chronicle using mixed media. It breaks down the barriers between text and image, and opens up all possibilities for self-expression.


Oliver, Jeanne. The Painted Art Journal. North Light Books, 2018.

Will be available in early July. Thanks to North Light Books for making this book available for review on Net Galley.

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Gabriel Campanario, The Urban Sketching Handbook: Architecture and Cityscapes: Tips and Techniques for Drawing on Location


I absolutely love this series of Urban Sketching Handbook by Quarry Books. They are just beautiful and are designed to look like sketchbooks including the elastic closure. They are straight to the point with many illustrations of the principles, tips and techniques discussed. This book focuses on composition, scale, depth, contrast, line and creativity in sketches of the built environment. The author emphasizes how delightful it is to take the time to stop and appreciate the diversity we can see in building in different places and how they reflect culture and how people use space. Building and cityscapes do not need to be spectacular to be a good subject for urban sketching, but our creativity in handling the subject can make every sketch a thing of beauty and wonder.

The last third of the book shows what effects can be achieved by using pencil, pen, watercolour or mixed media. In fact, many types of writing and drawing implements can be used for sketching! How much stuff you bring along on a sketching exhibition will be limited by the weight of your bag!



Campanario, Gabriel. The Urban Sketching Handbook: Architecture and Cityscapes: Tips and Techniques for Drawing on Location. Quarry Books, Beverly, MA, 2014.

Lisa Scottoline, One Perfect Lie


I have not been reading tons of bestsellers in the past few years… and lately I was looking for some easy-going reading, suspenseful, if not totally realistic. This book delivered on that count, grabbing my attention from the get go and the ending did keep something of a surprise until at least the last 20 pages.

When we first meet Chris Brennan, he is looking for a teaching job in a small Pennsylvania town. We know right from the start that he is hiding something and I presumed from the hints that the author dropped that he was a Bad Guy. No, wait… a REALLY BAD GUY. I expected him to be a sociopath, using vulnerable teenagers to meet some unspeakable needs and that he intended to gain the confidence of some of the boys he was coaching on the basketball team to execute some very evil, very gory plot. However, what I did not get was why there was a great sense of hurry, why he had to get done quickly, why there was some kind of deadline to be met.

When I realized who he really was and what he was really up to, I realized how misled I had been right from the beginning and could start of concentrate on the real mystery, which Chris was also trying to resolve.

Things do wrap up quite neatly at the end, maybe a little too neatly, like a nice, positive fairy tale, but it was a good read for a nice, quiet long weekend at home.

Beyond the entertaining story that this book tells, it raises questions about the importance of trust, honesty and authenticity in creating viable relationships. Can relationships work where there is a lack of trust? Is there such a thing as lying (or omitting to tell the truth) in order to protect someone? Is it justifiable to lie or to use people unwittingly in order to gain information or further one’s goals for the greater good? What can lack of authenticity lead to in relationships? Or psychologically for the person whose occupation constantly requires them to pretend to be someone or something they are not? These are not questions that have an easy answer. The book raises them but does not necessarily provide answers as they are attached to the specific situations that the characters find themselves in. However, they may occur in our lives as well and we may be able to find parallels. These might be interesting questions to debate in a book club.

Thanks to the publisher for making this book available for review through NetGalley. The book was published on April 11, 2017.


Scottoline, Lisa. One Perfect Lie. St. Martin’s Press, 2017.

Book club discussion questions provided by the author:


Paula McLain, Circling the Sun


Circling the Sun is a novel based on the real life of Beryl Markham, a British woman who grew and lived most of her unconventional life in Kenya. What I liked in the novel, besides the well-paced storytelling, was the description of life in Kenya from Beryl Markham’s point of view. While I found in the beginning that it did not have the same liveliness as Isak Dinesen’s Out of Africa, I soon began racing through the book.

Given that Beryl Markham lived in Kenya at the same era as Dinesen, a lot of the same characters, such as Denys Finch Hatton, Barkley Cole, Lord Delamere and Bror Blixen. As the colony was a small world, the British were quite likely to run into each other. Beryl Markham was a lover of Denis Finch Hatton, and worked doing air born reconnaissance for Bror Blixen in preparation for safaris.

Beryl Markham was exceptional because of the way she flaunted conventions to make her own choices. She was a certified horse trainer when the occupation was exclusively occupied by men. She also became a certified commercial pilot in the early age of commercial flight. She is not mentioned in Dinesen’s Out of Africa (the book) but a character in the movie version is said to be based on her (but that can only be very loosely as they do not seem to have the same character at all).

I was wondering about the meaning of the title… Here is my attempt at making sense of it: Maybe Beryl’s life is a series of attempts at meeting goals that eluded her (success, financial stability, happiness, recognition…), that looked like trying to reach to sun, with the related danger of burning one’s wings.

I enjoyed this book as much as I had enjoyed The Paris Wife a couple of years ago. I do enjoy fiction based on some facts (I recently ran into the term “exofiction” for this). I always end up looking up extra info on it and learning quite a bit in the process, in addition to enjoying a good story and good writing, when the job is well done.

Please do go on to read the 2 reviews with the asterisks below… far more critical of the book than I am (at the risk of making me look like a really lazy reviewer!).


McLain, Paula. Circling the Sun. Bond Street Books (Random House), 2015.

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* http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/02/books/review/circling-the-sun-by-paula-mclain.html?_r=0


* http://maebookblog.blogspot.ca/2016/06/circling-sun-by-paula-mclain.html


Melissa Lenhardt, Sawbones


This Western novel was inspired by the appreciation that the author’s father had for Larry McMurtry‘s Lonesome Dove. In the book, the main female character, a young doctor accused of committing murder in New York City, flees to the frontier to start a new life. The convoy she travels with through Texas is attacked by Indians and she is the lone survivor. One of the officers involved in her rescue is injured and she treats him, saving his life. They fall in love and they flee together when information about her real identity surfaces and she is threatened.

The writing is conventional and effective; the author is a good storyteller. The emotional dimensions of the book, though, remain superficial and could have been better exploited. We are told about emotions but the writing is not conducive to experimenting them vicariously, especially when it comes to the development of love and affection between the main character and the officer she saves. I found the first half of the book quite interesting but the second half felt more rushed.

The portrayal of characters and their relationships were rather stereotypical. There are some attempts at introducing nuances (such as when the young doctor gets to know the prostitutes who serves the frontier town) but most are one-sided stereotypes. Even accounting for the fact that the novel is set in the 19th century, it constricted how interactions and dialogues were handled in the novel.

Future works may show an evolution in a direction that might make them a more satisfying read for me.

I was given access to this book by the publisher through Net Galley.


Lenhardt, Melissa. Sawbones. Redhook Books, 2016.

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