Autopsy of a Boring Wife

by Marie-Renee Lavoie
translated by Arielle Aaronson
First sentence: “I’ve always thought it terribly pretentious to gather all your loved ones in one place in order to say: the two of us, right new right now and in spite of the overwhelming statistics, declare that we, temporarily bonded by the illusion of eternity, we are FOREVER.”
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Content: There’s talk of sex and some swearing, including f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section of the bookstore.

The publisher is calling this a “Quebecois Bridget Jones Diary” so I went in expecting a quirky heroine who’s a bit of a hot mess and trying to get her life in order. I expected it to be funny. It’s neither of those things.

On the eve of their 25th anniversary (which seems like not a long enough time, considering they have three kids and two are out of college and only one is starting college… I suppose their oldest could be 23, but he seemed older than that.), Diane’s husband tells her he’s leaving her. She’s boring, he says, and he’s found Better Love with his 30-year-old secretary. At age 48 (again, seems young, but that’s just me), Diane has NO idea what to do with her life, which had (even though she has a full-time job) revolved around her husband and children.

What follows is a pretty interesting (though not funny) exploration of the five stages of grief from a woman who is mourning the loss of her marriage. It wasn’t until the end that I realized it: Diane went through each stage as she tried to right her life back and tried to figure out where to go from here. It was thoughtful, yes, and bittersweet, but nothing like what I was expecting.

Which doesn’t make it bad. It just isn’t what the publisher promised.

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Audiobook: The New Farm

by Brent Preston
Read by: Chris Henry Coffey
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Or listen at Libro.fm
Content:  There’s some swearing, including a handful (6 or so) f-bombs. It’d be in the sociology or gardening section of the bookstore, if we had it. 

To be honest, this is usually the sort of book that my husband would read: the story of a couple of Canadians who got tired of working the office grind and city life, and decided to head out to the country and start an organic farm. I don’t know if that’s something he would like to do, but it’s definitely something he admires. I don’t know what made me pick it up; I suppose I was curious to see what went goes into making a sustainable, small, organic farm work and survive as a business. And I guess it just sounded interesting. 

And it was, for the most part. Preston and his wife Gillian had a super huge learning curve with this farm, and he doesn’t mince words about all the things that went wrong. Or how much money they lost during their first two or three years. He was also pretty frank about how running a small, sustainable, organic farm is a community effort: they started making progress financially when they reached out and found communities to be a part of, and ways to increase their reach. Growing excellent produce isn’t enough (though it’s important); you also need to have ways to reach people, and ways to get help working the farm. 

I did pick up some good gardening tips, things to help with the soil in our little garden, and things to help with growing plants better. And I did find the narrator entertaining (though I assumed it was the author reading it; I was mildly disappointed when I found out it wasn’t). My only real complaint is that it only went through the first couple of seasons, and it just kind of … ended. That may have been my version of the audiobook, but the narrative just stopped. But, if that’s the only complaint, it’s not that bad. 

Still Life

by Louise Penny
First sentence: “Miss Jane Neal met her maker in the early morning mist of Thanksgiving Sunday.”
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Content: There are a few f-bombs, and some other mild swearing as well as few instances of disturbing violence. It’s in the mystery section of the bookstore.

I’ve been meaning to read this one for a while, just to see what the fuss about the Inspector Gamache stories are (we have a ton of customers who just love this series). This is the first one, which takes place in a small village in Quebec, around Thanksgiving weekend (which, since it’s Canada, is in mid-October…). A local woman, Jane Neal, dies in a hunting “accident”, pierced through the heart with a hunting arrow. Gamache is called in from Montreal to solve this case. There are ups and downs, setbacks and advances, and a junior detective that I didn’t get why Gamache was so impatient with. It’s a pretty simple plot, and one in which I guessed the ending early on, but then second guessed myself, so I was pretty miffed when it turned out to be the person I guessed.

It was an interesting portrait of a small town, but I didn’t love Gamache enough to want to revisit this series again and again. Still, I’m not disappointed to have read it.

Hag-Seed

by Margaret Atwood
First sentence: “The house lights dim.”
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Content: There’s some swearing, including multiple f-bombs. It’s in the adult fiction section, but it has crossover appeal for those who are theater/Shakespeare fans.

Felix is the best, most innovative, most desired director around, and he’s on the cusp of Something Great with his interpretation of The Tempest. But, just as he was getting started with that, an unforseen bit of treachery outs Felix from his role. He’s sent off to the wilderness, where he finds, eventually, a job as a theater teacher in a correctional facility. He finds enjoyment teaching the felons (it’s a minimum security prison) the ins and outs of Shakespeare. And then, he learns that those who betrayed him are coming to visit, and he realizes that his Time Has Come; revenge is nigh.

Yes, if this sounds like the plot of The Tempest, you are correct. Very much so. And, I think, the better you know the play, the better this book is. As one who has seen it (once), and knows the general plot, but not all the intricacies of the play, I… enjoyed it. I liked the Fletcher Correctional Players best; I liked how they interpreted Shakespeare, rewriting the play to fit them. My favorite part of the book, perhaps, is the end, when the players come up with plausible futures for their characters. So, it was accessible and enjoyable to someone with a passing knowledge of the play. I do wonder, though, if you’ve never been exposed to The Tempest at all, if you’d be able to get into and enjoy this. (Just wondering…)

Thoroughly enjoyable, especially if you’re interested in a different approach to Shakespeare.

The Truth Commission

by Susan Juby
First sentence: “First let me say that this will not be an easy tale to tell, so I’ll warm up with an author’s note.”
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Review copy pilfered off the ARC shelves at my place of employment.
Content: There’s some discussion of rape and bullying and a character doing drugs, but there’s no swearing, etc. It’s currently in the Teen section (grades 9-12), but I’d give it to a 7th or 8th grader.

This is going to be quick since I need to head to work. The basic story: Normandy Pale (she’s a girl) goes to an elite art school on an island off the coast of British Columbia. Her claim to fame? Her older sister immortalized a very awful version of their family in a cult popular graphic novel.

Normandy has never been happy with this, but when her sister shows back up into their lives (having suddenly left a prestigious art college in California), she’s really not happy. Add to that her friends Neil and Dusk (her name is really Dawn, but her personality is more Dusk-like) deciding that what they need to do is elicit Truth from people who aren’t fully honest with themselves, Normandy’s a bit of a mess.

Told as a work of “creative non-fiction” (complete with footnotes), this is really a delightful read. Juby’s exploring things like perception and truth, and whether or not it’s good to be honest with each other and with ourselves. It has a messy ending (being “true to life”), and some bumps along the way (the parents were particularly milquetoast) but in the end, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Swallow

by Charis Cotter
First sentence: “There’s no place for me,”
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Content: It’s kind of confusing and a little bit creepy, though the chapters are short and to the point. It would be in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Polly is lost in a sea of siblings and foster siblings. Her father is a pastor and feels a need to rescue lost children, much to Polly’s dismay. Rose is lost as well, but for the opposite reason: she is the only child of very busy, distant parents who don’t spend much time with her at all. Its 1963 in Toronto, when these two meet, and because they both have an interest in ghosts — well, Rose can see them, so it’s not really an interest — they embark upon a mystery when finding a gravestone with Rose’s name in the graveyard behind their houses.

If that sounds convoluted and sort of strange, it’s because this book is, well, convoluted and sort of strange. I think Cotter was going for atmospheric, but for me it just came off as creepy and weird. And unnecessary. Perhaps it was just me; this was the last of the Cybils finalists that I read, and I was worn out on fantasy by this point. But, the characters seemed wooden, the parents unnecessarily strict or absent, the story too forced for my taste.

The twist that happens didn’t work for me, either.

Which is to say, this was my least favorite. Though, it’s probably just me, and there’s some kid out there who loves twisty ghost stories with shocking reveals.

The Madman of Piney Woods

by Christopher Paul Curtis
First sentence: “The old soldiers say you never hear the bullet that kills you.”
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Content: There’s nothing, language wise. However, Curtis tackles some pretty heavy issues: slavery, of course; but also Irish immigration, abuse, racism. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore, but I would exercise caution about giving this to sensitive children. Good for discussion, though.

It’s 1901, and Benji is a pre-teen in the all-black town of Buxton, Canada. He has a couple of younger siblings that get on his nerves, a best friend who is a good orator, and is both an aspiring newsman and someone who loves the woods. Red is a pre-teen in the nearby town of Chatham. His grandmother was an Irish immigrant, and he’s positively scared of her wrath. He spends his days in school, with his friends — one of whom has an alcoholic, abusive father — and at home dealing with his grandmother.

They’re the most unlikely of friends, but when they do meet, they hit it off.

Which comes in handy the night that the Madman of Piney Woods — a local homeless black veteran of the Civil War — is shot. It’s up to Benji and Red to make everything turn out, if not okay, then at least better than it could have ended.

Perhaps I should have taken the time, once I figured out that this was set in the same place, to reread Elijah of Buxton. Maybe I would have connected to it better. But, I think the main problem I have with this one is that the plot took a long time to show up. It’s told in alternating chapters, one Benji (who was more interesting than Red), one Red. And it took FOREVER for them to meet. (More than halfway through the book!). Once they met, the plot picked up, and I was able to finish fairly quickly. I did appreciate that Curtis was exploring ideas and themes that are tough to manage: the way humans treat other people being the primary theme. It’s an important thing to expose kids to, and to do so with a bit of a mystery story (more or less) is a good thing.

But that wasn’t enough to make me love this book, even though I really wanted to.