Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off The Shelf (My Book Recommendations)

Before you read my book recommendations, I should tell you that I've been accused of being a "book snob." I studied English lit and I like to keep a certain standard of reading even today. But I'm not reading Shakespeare or Chaucer, friends. I like to find books that are equal parts entertaining and artfully written. And I think these three books fit into that niche.

On the scale from pure entertainment to complex literary tome, none are anywhere near the Harlequin book (which I consider the far end of the scale of pure trashy reading). But they vary from clear page-turner to more introspective. Let's look at my three recent reads individually.

The Mountain Story: A Novel by Lori Lansens

This is a great one to enjoy right now in the dying days of summer. You could definitely take The Mountain Story to the beach - and make sure somebody else drives home so you can keep reading. Absolutely a page-turner, but also nicely written. The author, Lori Lansens, was born not too far from here in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, but now lives in the Santa Monica Mountains with her family. The book is praised on its cover by Ann-Marie MacDonald, who wrote one of my favourite books ever, Fall On Your Knees. Says MacDonald, "Equal parts poignant drama and palm-sweaty suspense; Lori Lansens has delivered a page-turner." Great minds think alike. Haha.

The Mountain Story tells the tale of Wolf Truly, who, on his eighteenth birthday, leaves his desert trailer park (and a trailer stuffed with people) on a mission to jump from the mountain that towers over Palm Springs. (I'm not giving anything away - this is right on the book jacket.) A series of events quickly leads him to get lost on the mountain with three women of various ages. From the cover: "Five days. Four lost hikers. Three survivors." So you know somebody is going down at some point. But who? When? And how? Believe me, the suspense will keep you reading on into the night! The drama on the mountain is interwoven with the tale of Wolf's oft-sad childhood. The Mountain Story is compelling from start to finish.

The Truth According to Us: A Novel by Annie Barrows

A solid combo of page-turning intrigue (although without as much action as The Mountain Story) and capable writing, The Truth According to Us took me a bit longer to get into, but after a while I was hooked. Author Annie Barrows not only wrote The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, she has also written the children's book series Ivy & Bean, which my daughter really loves. I wrote about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society in this post. It's another book I'd highly recommend. The Truth According to Us is a very different story, but also interesting.

The novel alternates between the first-person narrative of twelve-year-old Willa Romeyn, third-person narration and letters from various characters. Willa is the key figure in this book, although there is a cast of several other interesting characters. Willa has reached an age where she is becoming curious about the world of the adults around her and she's on a quest to find the truth about their stories/lives. Most intriguing of all is the long-ago death of a handsome young man who figured strongly in the lives of her aunt (now her guardian) and her father. Willa also tries to understand just what her father is doing on his road trips as a salesman and whether it is, in fact, legal.

In the meantime, without the fortune they once had, her family has taken in a boarder, Miss Layla Beck. The daughter of a United States senator, this once-privileged young woman has been cut off from her allowance and sent to find employment with the Federal Writers' Project, writing the history of the remote mill town of Macedonia, West Virginia. She too becomes entangled in the history of the Romeyn family. If - like me - you take some time to get into the storyline, then - like me - you probably also won't want The Truth According to Us to come to an end. I was immersed in this small town in 1938 and I was kind of loath to leave it.

His Whole Life by Elizabeth Hay

I feel like I'm so "Canadian" when it comes to my book preferences. What does that mean? I don't know for sure. It's just a feeling you get when you read Margaret Atwood or Jane Urquhart. It's introspective and little bit sad (but without explicit violence). There isn't a ton of action, the language is rich and you feel reflective when you read these books. On this list, Elizabeth Hay's His Whole Life is the most Canadian. For one thing, Elizabeth Hay is Canadian. Duh. But also the book is so introspective. Close to 400 pages without a whole lot going on, relatively speaking.

Things don't go well for you if you're a dog in this novel. And some of the people don't fare well either. The novel forms around ten-year-old Jim, his Canadian mother and his American father. But for me, the star of the story is the cottage in the woods by the lake. Spending summers by the lake is just such a part of our identity in this area of the world. As I was reading His Whole Life, I yearned to be sitting by a lake with a tall glass of iced tea in my hand. A large part of the action is set in New York City too, but, although I love NYC, I was basically waiting for the events to bring us back to the woods.

As Jim's parents' marriage deteriorates, mother and son spend more time at the family cottage in Canada with friends. Set in the mid-1990s, His Whole Life parallels the possible end of the marriage with the upcoming referendum to determine whether the province of Quebec will separate from Canada. Spoiler alert: it didn't. In truth, I didn't find that aspect of the story as compelling as the personal story, but it's timely in that it looks at aspects of Pierre Trudeau's life (relevant seeing as his son is now prime minister of Canada). There's a lot about how human beings veil the truth in this book too. And a lot about how loved ones hurt each other. It's a slower pace than the other two books, but nice to delve into on a quiet day. Read it in summer on the dock. Or in winter when you dream of being on the dock under the warm sun.

What about you?

Are you a book snob or do you read for pure entertainment? Or maybe you're somewhere in the middle? Have you read any of these books? Are there any titles here that grab you? Finally, what have you read (and hopefully enjoyed) lately?

*I was provided with books for review purposes. No other compensation was received. All opinions are authentic and my own. (Except when I share them with Ann-Marie MacDonald.) This post contains affiliate links.


  1. thanks for the recommendations! I requested the 1st two from the library to read :)

    1. That's great! If you get a chance to read them, let me know what you think of them. :)

  2. Book recommendations - yay! I totally know what you mean about books feeling Canadian...

    1. Right? You would understand, being Canadian and American all in one. :)

  3. We have very similar tastes in books.
    I just finished Mountain Story (couldn't put it down) and His Whole Life is on my to read shelf. I am currently reading I Will Find You.

    1. I guess we do have similar tastes!:) I Will Find You sounds like tough subject matter.