Tag Archives: review

Review: Triburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

TriburbiaTriburbia by Karl Taro Greenfeld

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A group of Tribeca fathers that have breakfast together after dropping their kids off at an elementary school makes up the cast of characters in this novel. Triburbia is built like a set of merging short stories and depicts these rather unlikeable (for the most part) men and their problems with relationships, families, and their careers, layered over with the changes happening in the neighbourhood.

Karl Taro Greenfeld has hit a high mark with this first novel. It is engaging and hits some important issues (bullying, infidelity, journalistic shenanigans, etc) without being preachy. His description of the relationships (or lack thereof) between these men seems spot on.

This book is definitely worth hanging in there for a while if the disconnectedness of the initial chapters is off-putting. It is ultimately satisfying.

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Review: Cockroach by Rawi Hage

CockroachCockroach by Rawi Hage

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Hage’s writing never fails to seduce. His protagonist is not particularly appealing in the usual way, but I began to care for him even as he stumbles through life, seemingly unable to have normal relationships with those around him. Much of the novel takes place in a Montreal winter and our immigrant cockroach avoids the sun, stumbles along the frigid streets, bumming cigarettes and food, and stealing. He is (I believe) unnamed in the novel.

So why did I care?

Because there is some damaged core to this character. A childhood of violence and hunger in his homeland. A suicide attempt for which he is receiving free psychiatric out-patient care. Cockroach expresses his love for those around him in sometimes (very) inappropriate ways, yet we understand him, and want the best for him.

This is not a pretty story. But it is reality for those who live on the margins. Hage has captured these lives in previous novels and hits it out of the park with this one.

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Perhaps my focus was misplaced….

Yuja Wang. (c) Christian Steiner, UC Berkeley
Yuja Wang. (c) Christian Steiner, UC Berkeley

Yuja Wang played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No.1 last evening with brio. Enjoyable. Yet I spent the much of the piece marvelling at her outfit, worried that something would go horribly wrong.

Her dress was something like this except with a more fitted, v-shaped bodice:

On her feet she wore something like these:


She has an interesting bow when acknowledging applause. Very fast and deep. I kept expecting her to lose her balance and tumble forward.

After her performance, and surveying the audience for this late night performance, I imagined female Asian teenage pianists saying to their mothers “See! She wears micro-minis and stilettos, and Maestro Oundjian called her one of the best pianists on the planet! You gotta lighten up about my clothes, Mom….”

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Review: “Up and Down” by Terry Fallis

Up and DownUp and Down by Terry Fallis

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A thoroughly enjoyable read, Fallis’ third novel hits the hot spots. Canadiana, Sherlock Holmes, feisty elderly female bush pilot, public relations, and the International Space Station are all part of this fast-paced work that kept me engaged right to the end. It lost a star for predictability, but even though I knew where it was going, it was a fun ride nevertheless. His rather broad humour is not for everyone, but i found it didn’t quite cross the line into slapstick (although it comes close a couple of times.)

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The Bootmakers of Toronto will be hosting Fallis for a gathering on September 21. I hope to be there.

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Book club: The Demonologist by Andrew Pyper

This novel had been getting a lot of buzz when we decided to include it in our reading list. As today’s moderator suggested, it would appear that Andrew Pyper was trying for that sweet spot where genre fiction overlaps literary fiction, but as a group, we were not convinced that he was successful.

Pyper’s protagonist in The Demonologist is David Ullman, a Milton scholar who is offered an all-expenses paid trip to Venice if he will visit a particular address and use his expertise in the area of demons to assess a situation. He brings his daughter Tess with him and she is captured and drawn into the underworld.  The rest of the novel follows Ullman in his attempt to find and rescue her.

What worked:

We agreed that the story was interesting.

We thought he had moments of good writing.

There were some good action sequences.

We liked the relationship between Ullman and fellow professor Elaine O’Brien: a non-sexual, cross-gender friendship.

The cover (both dust cover and hardcover) were well done.

What didn’t work:

The novel reads too much like a screenplay. It seemed made for film, and not the literary fiction audience that we suspect he was going after.

We didn’t understand what was really going on. Does Ullman really believe there are demons that can intervene in our lives? Did important bits in flashbacks in the novel really happen, or were they subject to perceivers’ error?

Many of us were simply not very engaged in the novel. In a comparison between Pyper and Dan Brown (for example), those of us who admitted to being familiar with the latter rated Brown as better at engaging the reader in the story, and better at owning up to the agenda of the protagonist (in Brown’s case, and anti-Vatican stance, for example.)

The novel needed a(nother) good edit.

Overall rating: 6/10 (with a range of 5-7)

I hosted this month and decided to go for a Venetian theme, even though a relatively small part of the novel takes place in Venice. (As someone pointed out, this was probably a better theme than roadside diners/motels in terms of meal options.) Because of my Sunday morning committments, I chose a mainly cold buffet meal.

We lunched on a caprese salad, scampi alla Veneziana, crostini al radicchio Trevisano, proscuitto e melone, cheeses (a Romano sheep’s milk cheese and some asiago), and drinks made of prosecco, campari, and peach juice.  My spouse picked us up a Cappuccino Dacquoise for dessert.

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Our new favorite soap – Dalan Antique


We picked up a five-pack of this soap at our local Turkish grocer (Marche Instanbul) on Dufferin north of Lawrence. It appears to be almost pure olive oil and has a wonderful creamy texture, a sort of neutral scent, and appears to last a long time. At 5 large bars for $5.99, it’s a good deal too.

[Marche Istanbul has great “bagels”….a difference experience from our usual Bagel House bagels (Montreal-style) but a nice change. The pastries are good as well.]

It’s Monday….what am I reading?


Curiosity by Joan Thomas

read and reviewed Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier a couple of weeks ago, a novel based on the same historical figure.  I started this one, but decided that I wanted to give it more time as the subject matter was too familiar.

Girl Crazy
Girl Crazy by Russell Smith

Back in the day when I read The Globe and Mail (Canada’s other national newspaper), I enjoyed Russell Smith’s columns on dressing for men.  I’ve also readhis book on the same topic (and recommend it for the style-challenged.)  This is the first fiction I’ve read by him and my mini-review is here.

In progress:

Think of a Number book image
Think of a Number by John Verdon

This is an absolutely stunning first novel.  The main character in this thriller is a retired police detective who is approached by an old school friend about some threatening letters he’s been receiving.  The characters are very well developed, and the story moves forward quickly, with growing suspense.  I’m about three-quarters of the way through and will be hard-pressed to put this down and get some work done around the house.  One of the highlights of the summer so far!


Parrot and Olivier in America
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (audiobook)

I’m about halfway through the audiobook edition of this am am loving it!  The narrator, Humphrey Bower, is terrific. The novel has two main narrators, the French Olivier and the English Parrot, and he captures them both with aplomb, as well as various other characters.  A terrific read for anyone who likes historical novels.


Predictably Irrational, Revised And Expanded Edition

Still working on this extremely interesting book.  Many counter-intuitive results from his studies and it kind of blows out some of the underpinnings of economic theory.


For the Win
For the Win by Cory Doctorow

Still plugging away on this. I want Michael to read it.

Next up:

blueeyedboy by Joanne Harris

The Parabolist by Nicholas Ruddock





It’s Monday…what am I reading? August 9th edition.

Completed over the last week:

The Shallows

Interesting take on shortening attention spans due to extensive use of online media.  I expected to get some info on how to prevent this from happening.  Instead, I came away thinking that perhaps there is a fundamental change happening that is equivalent to the move from oral history to written.  Very thought-provoking.

The Lake Shore Limited

I haven't read anything by Sue Miller since The Good Mother (15 years ago).  This story is about a playwright's use of events around 9/11 in her work and how it affects those closest to her.  The structure is somewhat novel as she shifts the narrator in each chapter.  The characters were interesting and unusual: for example, a brother and sister who are separated by fourteen years in age, leading to more of a mother-son relationship.  

Summer At Tiffany

A lovely, short memoir written by a woman who spent a wonderful summer in 1945 working at Tiffany's New York with her best friend.  It nicely evokes the tenor of the times, the club scene, clothing, dating life, and the end of the war.  More detailed review to follow.  A fun, summer read.

In progress:

Parrot and Olivier in America
Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (audiobook)

Have just started this latest novel from Peter Carey.  I've been listening to it on my dog-walks and have found myself flopping down when I get home for "just another chapter."  I've only met Olivier so far, the son of a French aristocrat, and we're still in France.  It's set in the 19th century and extremely enjoyable, particularly the French accent of the reader.

Predictably Irrational, Revised And Expanded Edition

I've read quite a number of books on decision-making lately and this one has really captured my attention.  I'm only about a quarter of the way in, but Ariely is knocking holes in basic economic theory around supply and demand based on his experimental discoveries about how people make purchase decisions.  Very compelling (so far)!

For the Win
For the Win by Cory Doctorow

A young adult (I think) novel about the gaming world, I"m having a little bit of trouble getting in to this as it's not my usual genre.  But the characters are interesting and I'm going to plug along.

Next up:

Girl Crazy
Girl Crazy by Russell Smith

Back in the day when I read The Globe and Mail (Canada's other national newspaper), I enjoyed Russell Smith's columns on dressing for men.  I've also read his book on the same topic (and recommend it for the style-challenged.)  This is the first fiction I've read by him and am looking forward to it.

Curiosity by Joan Thomas

This appears to be another novel about 19th century fossil hunter Mary Anning.  I read and reviewed Remarkable Creatures by Tracey Chevalier a couple of weeks ago, a novel based on the same historical figure.  It will be interesting to compare their treatments of this subject matter.

“The Truth About Delilah Blue” by Tish Cohen: Review

This is the third novel by Tish Cohen that I have gobbled up:  I loved Town House and The Inside Out Girl and so put The Truth About Delilah Blue on my library hold list as soon as I knew it was to be released.  

Lila Mack has lived with her over-protective father since she was eight, believing that her mother no longer wanted to be in her life.  Now at age twenty, she is trying to pursue art with no funding from her father.  Deciding to work as a life model seems to be a great way to get some free art lessons, as she can listen in to the instructor while she poses.  Her mother, who has been searching for her for years, reconnects with her and some pieces fall in to place for Lila.  But it’s not a straightforward happy reunion/ending, and Lila/Delilah finds herself having to take on the role of parent to her parents much sooner than she expected.

Cohen writes with great sympathy for each of the three main characters in this novel, drawing us into their lives as they try to make sense of shifting roles.  She is able to write about this dysfunctional family with an eye to all sides of the story, to parents who both feel they need(ed) to protect their child from the other, and from the child/woman who has to redefine her relationships with parents who are not who she thought they were.

The Truth About Delilah Blue is a funny and poignant novel, but not depressing.  The past is what it is, and Cohen writes honestly about the way forward for Lila who has difficult choices to make as she learns the truth about the present.

Highly recommended!