Tag Archives: reviews

Here Comes the Sun….

Little darlin’…it’s been a long cold lonely winter.

Little darlin’… it seems like years since it’s been here.

Today felt like the right day to get back to my blog. My last post was in December and I’ve been carried through the last few months on the backs of those who love me. 

Some of the things that I look forward to, cultural events, travel, singing, have been whizzing by me and I’ve only been able to partially engage. These past two weeks I have struggled with a very bad cold that started in my chest, and is ending there. My allergies have compounded the problem, but I feel like I’m coming out on top.

I am feeling the need to write more, to find creative ways to express myself, both publicly and privately. I have signed up for a webinar that introduces LifeJournal software to see if that might be a platform that I could use for my personal writing. I need to pick up knitting needles, or an embroidery needle, or set up a sewing space to get back to a quilt I’ve started. My plan is to claim a basement bedroom that is normally used for guests as a place where I can leave my work out for short periods of time.

We have some interesting things on the cultural calendar this month, and I hope to use this space to blog about them.

We’re seeing the play High starring Kathleen Turner at the Royal Alex next week. We’ve also got tickets for the TSO’s performance of Holst’s The Planets for which Michael will be joining us. His school music program does their May Lyrics concert that week as well. The following week we have another Books on Film event at TIFF featuring Graham Greene’s novel The Third Man and 1949 film starring Orson Welles.

My reading life has suffered somewhat recently, but I recently finished Alan Hollinghurst’s The Line of Beauty. My review over at Goodreads read:

I love Hollinghurst’s prose, and would have given this five stars. But I can only take so many pages of coke-fuelled gay sex and this novel went over my limit. 

That aside, it captures the times so aptly: the British class structure; and the world of rich young men (and their hangers on) who want to DO something, like publish a glossy art magazine; the intersection of race and wealth; and what sexual sins are forgivable.

I also had a quick re-read of the Keep Toronto Reading pick Girls Fall Down prior to Sunday’s book club gathering. I’m currently at work on The Vault by Ruth Rendell. Next up will be Peter Robinson’s latest(?) called Before the Poison, a stand-alone mystery, not part of the Inspector Banks series.

Enough for today but I’ll be back soon. May is looking up!

Book review – Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood.

Cat's EyeCat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 5 of 5 stars


An absolutely brilliant novel that I wish I’d read years ago, although perhaps would not have been able to take it all in back then. Atwood’s protagonist Elaine expresses so much about what it means to be a woman, and speaks words that resonate deeply with me.


The story follows Elaine from her childhood in Toronto during WW2 through her life as an artist, and her eventual move to in Vancouver. Her return to Toronto for an opening of a retrospective of her work frames the narrative as she reflects on the difficult experiences of being bullied as a pre-teen.


I can’t recommend this book highly enough.


View all my reviews

Related articles

Enhanced by Zemanta

TIFF roundup: Monday

I’m (obviously) quite far behind on my mini-reviews, but a day of film-screening leaves me wiped by the end of the day. I’ve been tweeting some thoughts, but here are my capsule summaries.

Rampart (Dir. Oren Moverman, USA)

Woody Harrelson stars in this rogue-cop drama set in LA. A masterful performance with strong support from the actors playing his ex-wives (who are sisters in the film and live together) and daughters. The twist (for me, who’s not really a rogue-cop-film viewer) is that this guy is very articulate and wraps his crap in big words and charming delivery. (4/5)

(One more screening Sunday the 18th)

Behold the Lamb (Dir. John McIlduff, UK)

A small film (budget $200,000 and filmed in 20 days) it stars a young actress who had only done stage work and a lorry driver and amateur theatre actor. This is a gritty but somehow charming story of two people whose lives intersect over a 24 hour period. It involves a car theft, the transport of a lamb, a foster child, and a lot of beautiful, grey Irish scenery. And a lot of Catholic imagery that the director said was not originally part of the story, but was pointed out to him part way through the writing of the screenplay. (3/5)

(One more screening on evening of Friday the 16th)


Anonymous (Dir Roland Emmerich, Germany)

This is soon-to-be-released in theatres (Oct 28) and there’s been lots of press about it. The premise is that there was no-one names William Shakespeare who actually wrote the plays and poetry attributed to him. Good performances and terrific cinematography. My ignorance of British history made it a bit difficult to follow the family/dynastic relationships. (4/5) ( The Official site has lots of good info that I wish I’d read before seeing the film.)

(One more screening on Saturday the 17th, but save your cash and see it in commercial run.)

Beloved (Les Bien-Aimés) (Dir Christophe Honoré, France)

Starring Catherine Deneuve and her daughter Chiara Mastroianni, this musical(!) set in France, spanning decades from 1964 to the 90s, was extremely enjoyable. When asked “why a musica’l in the Q&A, Honoré claimed that he is not comfortable writing about love and it was easier for him to have his characters sing during the emotional moments of the film. Not a typical musical, there are no big theatrical moments, or much dancing. Just characters, walking down the street (or playing billiards) and singing about their feelings.

(One more screening on Saturday the 17th)



TIFF roundup: Weekend 1

Well, things are off to a great start.  I saw four films this weekend and here are my thoughts.

Friday afternoon:  Urbanized (Director: Gary Hustwit, USA/UK)

This was the world premiere for this film and the Ryerson Theatre was filled with Jane Jacobites and other #TorontoElite (to use a hashtag favoured by Spacing editor Shawn Micallef.) Inspiring and uplifting, this is a film that should be seen by anyone interested in the future of our cities, how to make them more liveable and sustainable, and how to improve the lives of even the poorest of slumdwellers by thoughtful, citizen-centric design. A survey of cities from around the world, this film calls us to action, even in the face of a city government that seems intent on turning the clock back. Official website.  (5/5) 

Saturday Morning: Ides of March (Director: George Clooney, USA)

We attended the second (and last) screening of this film at the festival.  Clooney plays a presidential candidate during the Ohio primary and Ryan Gosling is his media guy. The story is good, well-paced, and interesting, and the film was very enjoyable. Clooney was fine, but I thought Gosling was slightly miscast for the part. His character didn’t come across as bright enough for the role, but I’m not sure whether it was the casting or the writing. The big buzz should go to Paul Giamatti, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and Marisa Tomei for their supporting roles as campaign managers for the opposing candidates and a NY Times reporter. It was their performances that really carried the film. Official website. (4/5)

Saturday afternoon: House of Tolerance (Director: Bertrand Bonello, France)

A languid, sensual, two-hour film about a fin de siecle brothel in Paris, this film was carefully researched and brought to being with great care. It’s a frank look at the lives of these women, at the same time enslaved and surrounded by opulence, at the risks they encountered and the friendships they formed. There was a good Q&A with the director after the film and I asked about the use of music behind some key scenes. The opening credits have a kind of 60s blues thing (see trailer), and a climactic scene close to the end is scored with The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin. Bonello did not see this as any more anachronistic than using opera music not coming from a gramaphone. This was also a subject of great discussion after the premiere at Cannes. (4/5)


Sunday noon:  Take this Waltz (Director: Sarah Polley, Canada)

This was a stunner of a film. What hits you right from the beginning is the warm, vivid, palette she has chosen for the film, representing female desire (as Polley remarked in the Q&A after the screening.) Very well cast with Michelle Williams as a twenty-something woman Margot, married for five years to Lou (Seth Rogen). When Daniel (Luke Kirby) enters her life in one of the many comedic scenes in the film), her previously domestic situation starts to unravel. This is a film with both intense drama and high humour, handled deftly by Polley and woven into a dreamy yet realistic portrayal of what happens when the gleam starts to go off a relationship. Sarah Silverman plays Lou’s sister, a recovering alcoholic, and had vocal coaching for the film to “speak Canadian”. See this movie! Official site. (5/5)

Here’s a shot from the Q&A after the screening.  From L to R: Sarah Polley, Luke Kirby, Sarah Silverman, Seth Rogen.


When Fenelon Falls by Dorothy Palmer – A review.

When Fenelon FallsWhen Fenelon Falls by Dorothy Palmer
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Remarkable, funny, heart-breaking and completely original. A must read for children of the Ontario 60s, adoptees, and those with a passion for children. It takes a few pages to get into the rhythm of Palmer’s voice, her brilliant use of language, but it is well worth persevering. This is a novel that I will not soon forget.

View all my reviews

Tide Road by Valerie Compton – A review.

Tide RoadTide Road by Valerie Compton
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This novel grabbed at my heart. A woman mourns the disappearance of an adult daughter and the book intertwines narrative from the mother’s past and present as she struggles to come to terms with this tragedy.

Set mainly in the 1960s on Prince Edward Island, Valerie Compton describes island life with fondness and care. Life is speeding up with the coming of colour television and direct-dial telephone service, but the deep emotional threads in this novel take time to untangle. Alternately meditative and jarring, this story is difficult to put down. Highly recommended.

Thanks to the publisher Goose Lane for my copy.

View all my reviews

WWW Wednesdays…and book giveaway!


Haven’t participated in this recently,  All you need to do is answer these three questions, and post your link over at Should Be Reading:

  1. What are you currently reading?
  2. What did you recently finish reading?
  3. What do you think you’ll read next?

Here goes!

Currently reading:  I’ve got three four books currently ongoing:

  1. Richard III by William Shakespeare.  Trying to get through this before my trip to Stratford on Thursday.  I really need to buckle down and make a serious effort to get at least through the first two acts. Then Act III can be a surprise, LOL!
  2. The Likeness by Tana French.  This is a big book, clocking in at just under 700 pages. It’s the second police procedural by this author and is set outside of Dublin. An intriguing premise: a young woman is found dead, and she is the spitting image of a police officer who used to work undercover. The ID on the body is that of the undercover officer’s “persona” and said officer ends up going back into character, pretending that the woman didn’t actually die, and moving in with her housemates. Hard to put down!
  3. The Last Summer of You and Me by Ann Brashares. I’ve just started this audiobook and don’t have much to say about it yet. It’s the first adult novel by Brashares who wrote the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and other YA titles.
  4. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain. I’m reading this via DailyLit and am about 15% of the way in. There are funny bits interspersed with boring bits.  

Recently finished:

  1. The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman (audiobook). Excellent fantasy adventure, and that’s high praise from me as I don’t usually enjoy fantasy literature. I’m looking forward to the rest of the trilogy. Philip Pullman narrates the novels and there is a cast of other readers which makes the audiobook very enjoyable.
  2. Brooklyn by Colm Toibin.  Beautfiful novel about a young woman who immigrates from Ireland in the late 50s. If any of my readers would like my copy, drop me a line and it’s yours. First come, first served! Email, comment, Facebook, whatevs…
  3. The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. Loved the format of this novel set at an international newspaper headquartered in Rome.  Tells the story of the paper in chapters, each the story of an employee or reader of the paper. Chapters are interspersed with third person narratives about the history of the company.  Funny, poignant, and well-deserving of the accolades it’s received.

Up next:

  1. Needled to Death by Maggie Sefton.  This is a book from the “Knitting Mystery” series. It’ll go quickly after I finish The Likeness. Got this one from Value Village a few months ago.
  2. Alone in the Classroom by Elizabeth Hay. This novel’s been getting some great buzz. Got it from the library.
  3. Black Rose by Nora Roberts. This is my next audiobook. It’s the second in the “In the Garden” trilogy and a follow-up to Blue Dahlia that I read a couple of weeks ago. It’s a romance novel with some gardening and genealogy thrown in to keep it moving forward. Can’t beat a good romance in the summer!


It’s Monday….what am I reading?

Well, I finished up last quarter’s Seasonal Reading Challenge with my best score ever!  So I’m on to a new reading list and heading full steam ahead. Last week I finished up a couple of Peter Robinson mysteries and The Silver Pigs on audio, just under the May 31st wire for the challenge.  I already had a bunch of books checked out of the library for the new challenge and whipped off a few right away:

  • The Sunday Wife by Cassandra King.  A middle-aged woman discovers who she is apart from her role as a minister’s wife.  Set in the South, I really enjoyed this novel. 
  • Lovers by Vendela Vida.  I didn’t know what to expect from this and came away thoroughly satisfied.  A middle-aged widow returns to a villiage in Turkey where she and her late husband spent their honeymoon.  She meets a peculiar cast of characters and has insights into this stage of her life.  Hard to put down.
  • The Eternal Smile: Three Stories by Gene Luen Yang. A collection of appealing graphic stories, light on text.
  • Thrifty: Living the Frugal Life with Style by Marjorie Harris.  I wanted to like this, and the sections with stories about Margaret Atwood are interesting, but there’s not much new here for someone already actively pursing this kind of lifestyle.
  • An Invisible Sign of My Own by Aimee Bender. An odd little book, one that I should have loved given the protagonists peculiar relationship with numbers (something like mine), but I had difficulty “getting” it.  Loved her novel The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake though.

Currently on board are

  • Blue Dahlia by Nora Roberts.  A guilty pleasure, Roberts’ stories.  I’m listening to this gardening-oriented book (first of a trilogy) on my iphone. Besides gardening, it’s got love, lust, a ghost, children, a dog, and Southerners….all great subjects for a romance novel!
  • An Experiment in Love by Hilary Mantel.  I picked up Wolf Hall when I was in England and found it in a seaside cafe, used, for a pound.  I’ve had An Experiment in Love on hold for a while, so want to get this one read before it’s due back at the library.
  • A Connecticut Yankee At King Arthurs Court by Mark Twain.  My friend Kathleen is just about through War and Peace via DailyLit (the email-based service that sends you a short bit of a novel every day to help you get through the classics.)  I read a couple of books this way years ago, but she’s encouraged me to give it another go. I get the bits in my feed reader every morning. This book has 142 parts and I’m reading two a day do it will take me about 10 weeks to read.

Up next:

  • Richard III by WIlliam Shakespeare.  I’m heading to see the play at Stratford with some girlfriends in a couple of weeks and had better get this under my belt by then
  • How Shakespeare Changed Everything by Steven Marche.  This is a quick read and has been widely (and well) reviewed, so it’s in my bag.
  • The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman. A debut novel that’s getting raves.
  • The Likeness by Tana French.  A great new-ish voice in the police procedural genre.  Looking forward to this, her second book.

As always, you can check out the settings of my books on this google map Where Am I Reading 2011?

Monday Reading Round-up (and book giveaway!)

I missed last week’s reading roundup, so I will herein confess that I did very little reading while on vacation.  However, I got through two novels and got going on a third.

  1. I started and finished another YA novel, The Mysterious Benedict Society.  It had been highly recommended when it first came out in 2008 and I found a copy in the checkout line at Winners just beore we left for England.  (There is a reason why they keep those lines long.) It involves a group of four children who are selected through an interesting series of tests to helpa Mr. Benedict foil some nasty business that is going down. The children are interesting and the story moves quickly.  It’s the first of a series and I hope read the rest.  I left it in the bookshelf at our inn in Folkestone with a handwritten Book Crossing ID in it.
  2. I then picked up Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians which I loved.  The story follows a family of nobles, in which the father has died and the mother is waiting for the son to marry and take over the estate. His sister, eighteen, is also expected to “come out” and behave as women did in those days.  The most interesting part of the book to me was not the plot (although it was good) but the description of how life was changing during that time (1901-1910) in terms of societal morés: the role of women, relationships between nobility and their servants, the advent of the motorcar, the rise of socialism, and feelings about the monarchy.  This is the first writing by Sackville-West that I’ve read, and I’ll be sure to read more.
  3. Peter Robinson’s The Summer That Never Was came next. The thirteenth Inspector Banks novel, it was as good as I expected.  Robinson is one of my favorite mystery writers and this was no disappointment.  I hope to read the next three in the series as part of my GoodReads challenge this quarter.   

When I got home, I grabbed Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville on my Kindle and breezed through that novella.  I had heard reference to Bartleby in a number of different places and decided it was time to actually read the piece.  The story of a law office and a clerk who, when asked to perform a task, says “I would prefer not to.” And the conseqences on the office of this piece of work action!

I didn’t really listen to audiobooks while I was away, but it was great on the plane trips there and back. I finished up Under the Net by Iris Murdoch and then listened to Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.  Loved the Murdoch, and as it turned out, had already read the Atkinson, but listened to it anyway as I had forgotten much of the plot.  It’s the first of the Jackson Brodie series of mysteries and I definitely plan to listen to more (which, hopeffully will actually be new to me!)

At present, I’m re-reading Fifth Business by Roberston Davies.  I think I must have read it thirty or more years ago, and that I was too young to appreciate it for more than the simple plot.  I am absolutely loving it and will be diving into the other two books in the Deptford trilogy. I’m also listening to Nick Hornby’s A Long Way Down which is hilarious and moving, like much of his wonderful fictioin. I’m nearly finished both of these and so will soon by moving on to my to-read pile, which includes:

So. The giveaway. 

I would love to pass on my copy of The Edwardians. If you are interested, either leave me a note in the comments or send me an email (janet (at) berkman (dot) ca). I’ll draw for the lucky winner and contact you for mailing/delivery info. 


    The reading pile.

    We travel on Friday, so I’ve been in a mad dash to finish up the library books I have to return before we leave.  Currently on the nightstand (and in my purse, and on the coffee table…)

    • Under the Net by Iris Murdoch. I don’t have a hope of finishing this library book, so I went looking for it in Indigo last night.  It was marked as £8.99 or $23.95 CDN!  For a paperback!  So I grabbed in for my Kindle at $10US last night.  
    • The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart.  I picked this up while I was waiting for Michael at a 3 hour rehearsal and had neglected to put a book in my bag.  It was displayed in the check-out line at Winners and I’ve wanted to read it for some time.  I’m just a couple of dozen pages in, but I think it will only increase my appreciation for Young Adult lit.
    • The Postmistress by Sarah Blake. An audiobook, this is set in WWII in the US and London. It’s a download from the library and has almost expired, so it’s at the top of my list.

    Recently completed:

    • Double Fault by Lionel Shriver. Just finished this last night. I love Lionel Shriver, and have read most of her books.  This one tells the story of a couple who are both on the tennis circuit and how their rankings affect their marriage. I found it very engaging and, although I don’t follow or even really like the sport, the commentary on the world of tennis, competition, and rankings was very interesting. It isn’t one of her best books, but recommendable nonetheless.
    • An Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. Martin is such a polymath. Comedian, actor, musician, and author. Set in the New York art world, the novel is narrated by an art writer.  He tells the story of the rise and fall of Lacey Yeager, who morphs from a young assistant at Sotheby’s to a gallery owner. I learned a lot about the art business while enjoying this novel that is full of intrigue, affairs, and exclusive parties. Highly recommended.
    • Becoming George Sand by Rosalind Brackenbury. This novel left me cold, and I had to force myself to finish it.  A writer, who is having an extramarital affair and researching George Sand, starts to identify with her subject. The action (if you can call it that) switches between the present day and the story of Sand and Chopin. Pass it by.
    • Saving CeeCee Honeycutt by Beth Hoffman. A preteen girl suffers while living with her bipolar mother. After her mother’s death, she is adopted by a great-aunt who whips her down to Savannah into a world of Southern women, gentility, and eccentricity. This novel has been compared to The Help, but that’s an exaggeration. They’re both set in the South, but this book is much lighter in tone. It was a fun read.
    • Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress by Dai Sijie. Zouheir put me on to this wonderful novella, originally published in French. Somewhat in the same vein as Reading Lolita in Tehran, two young men being re-educated during the Cultural Revolution in China discover a suitcase with a bunch of (forbidden) french novels by Balzac and others. The audiobook was read by actor B.D. Wong and was very moving. I highly recommend this book.
    • Incredible Edibles:  43 Fun Things to Grow in the City by Sonia Day and Barrie Murdock. This is a wonderful little book with great instructions for starting a small city garden (even one just in planters.) The copy I read was from the library, but I ended up buying this book to help me start a garden this year.

    This is the selection I’m packing on my travels. They will likely not all get read, but a couple of long flights and time on my own at the castle should provide me with lots of reading time.

    • Case Histories by Kate Atkinson.  I chose this because it’s set in England and is the first of the Jackson Brodie mysteries. It’s on my iPhone.
    • The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West.  Another novel set in England, Sackville-West was born in Kent (where we’ll be spending a few days). I haven’t read anything by her before and am very much looking forward to this (and possibly visiting Sissinghurst Castle where she lived for a while.
    • A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. Love Hornby’s books, and this has been downloaded onto my iPhone for listening.
    • The House at Riverton by Kate Morton. I quite liked Morton’s The Forgotten Garden, and this is another one set in the Edwardian period. It’s on my Kindle.
    • Bartleby the Scrivener by Herman Melville.  It keeps coming up in various things I’m reading, so it’s on my Kindle.

    Next week I’ll hope to post an update on my reading from England!