It’s the end of the year, a time when many of us look back on the past twelve months, remembering the highs and lows and in-betweens. 2012 was a good year for me. I graduated from library school a year ago, and a few months after that, I felt that I had enough time and energy to start this blog. I’m so glad I did; not only has it given me a very good reason to fill my reading time only with well-written and appealing books, it’s also introduced me to so many intelligent and interesting people. Thanks to all of you who have stopped by my blog, and a special thank you to those who have left comments.
So, doing a bit of personal stock-taking, I’ve come up with a list of my five favourite books I’ve reviewed in 2012, accompanied by brief summaries:
Come, Thou Tortoise by Jessica Grant
Come, Thou Tortoise is an absolutely wonderful story about love, loyalty, and the many different faces of honesty from first-time Canadian novelist Jessica Grant. The main character, Audrey “Oddly” Flowers, receives a phone call from her uncle telling her that her father has had a terrible accident and is in a coma. Her father dies while she is on her way home, setting Audrey off on a journey to learn some important truths about her past, begin a promising future and reunite with a steadfast tortoise named Winnifred, who makes an excellent if unexpected narrator. Darkly funny, this offbeat and insightful coming-of-age novel will appeal to teen and adult readers who enjoyed Marika Cobbold’s Guppies for Tea and Miriam Toews’ A Complicated Kindness.
Brooklyn, Colm Toibin
It’s the early 1950s in Enniscorthy, Ireland, and quiet, unassuming Eilis Lacey is having difficulties starting her adult life. She lives at home with her mother and sister, and hasn’t been able to find a job. Her sister invites an American priest over for tea, and he arranges a job and lodging for Eilis in Brooklyn, New York. Although her immigration, her employment, and her living situation have already been organized on her behalf, Eilis must navigate the new world all on her own. This novel, in many ways, is the story of Eilis’ coming-of-age. Written with clarity and grace, Brooklyn documents the everyday experiences of immigrants during the 1950s. There are no heroes and no villains in this story, just Irish, Italians, Jews, and African-Americans trying to find their way in a new place and a new time.
A Matter of Life or Death or Something, Ben Stephenson
Arthur Williams is a ten year old boy who feels adrift in the universe. He lives with his adoptive father, Simon, and they see a lot of his confident, cheerful Aunt Max and her phobia-plagued husband, who incidentally is also called Max. Simon, Max, and Max make up Arthur’s entire social world; he is home-schooled, and spends all his free time in the forest near the house exploring, thinking about trilobites, and imagining the magnificent adventures his real father must be having somewhere else. One day, Arthur finds a journal buried under some leaves and begins to read about broken-hearted depressive named Phil. When the journal suggests a possible suicide, it unhinges Arthur. He sets off on a mission to discover what happened to Phil, and if Phil is still alive, to track him down and keep him in the land of the living. The quest, of course, is as much about Arthur as it is about Phil, and what Arthur doesn’t expect is that he saves himself along the way.
The Other Side of the Bridge, Mary Lawson
Arthur and Jake Dunn are two very different brothers. Arthur is slow, reliable, and honest, whereas Jake is quick, impulsive, and charming. Arthur’s dependability around the farm has earned him his father’s respect, and Jake’s very existence after a string of miscarriages has won him his mother’s love. The boys each have the approval of one parent and desperately crave the good opinion of the other, which sets up a dangerous dynamic. The novel opens with Jake throwing knives near Arthur’s feet as some sort of a game; when the blade sails directly into Arthur’s foot, Arthur glances at Jake’s face and suspects malice. This knife game repeats over and over again throughout the Dunn brothers’ childhood, culminating in Jake’s seduction of the only girl Arthur has ever loved. The Other Side of the Bridge tells what happens after the story is supposedly over. After the prankster falls, after the girl makes an unlikely match, there, for Lawson, is where the real story lies. That is where characters struggle with unbearable truths, learn resilience, and find their way to happiness.
The Olive Harvest, Carol Drinkwater
The Olive Harvest is a story of resilience, triumph and love set in the beautiful and volatile Provence. Inthe third instalment of the trilogy, Carol and her husband Michel arrive at the farm with a list of projects to be completed on an already stretched budget. Shortly after settling in, they are involved in a car accident that leaves Michel seriously injured, but he returns to Paris to try to save his struggling production company instead of staying at the olive farm to heal. As Michel’s difficulties bring about a depression, Carol learns that she may be alone in Provence permanently. Faced with no olives to harvest, an invasion of wild boar, and financial worries, Carol turns to her Provencal friends for help. Their knowledge, ingenuity and enthusiasm guide Carol through an otherwise dark time, deepening her connection to her adopted home. The Olive Harvest is a beautifully written, moving testament to the people and the landscape of Provence.
Also, to show my appreciation for your interest in the blog, I’m going to hold an end-of-the-year draw on December 31st . If you’d like to enter, simply leave a comment with your thoughts on any of the books I’ve reviewed in 2012. Results will be posted on January 1st, and the winner can email me the book choice and mailing address.