Today, we went to the nearby Cookworks kitchenware shop where Akemi browsed while I offered the woman at the cash some book recommendations for her upcoming vacation (John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War and Jeannette Walls’ The Glass Castle).  Moments earlier, we had been at our local chain bookstore where Akemi hunted for a cookbook for dogs (cooking for dogs as opposed to cooking dogs or a book for dogs who cook) while I called out an employee on one of his “recommended” reads.  I’d been checking out the back wall when I happened to notice Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life among the Staff Picks.  A fine book but, as I pointed out in my capsule review, nowhere near the brilliant work the critics would have us believe.  Unless, of course, said critics could explain the nonsensical ending or what, exactly, was so fiercely original about a conceit and structure that has been used in almost every scifi series ever produced .

“Hey, you’re Mike,”I said, stepping up to the employee.

“I am,”he said, smiling down at his name badge.

“You recommended Kate Atkins’s Life After Life.”.  

“I did,”he said, suddenly awkward and unsure of himself, looking like someone whose deep, dark secret had just been exposed.


Glancing about anxiously: “What do you mean?”

“The ending didn’t make any sense.”


“Also, everyone talks about how original it is but if the fact is the going-back-repeatedly-in-time-to-fix-things story is as old as science fiction itself.”

“Well, yes…but I saw it as more a collection of short stories….”

“But they’re not short stories.  They’re a novel with a single storyline…that ultimately doesn’t make sense.”

Lowering his voice and levelling with me: “I didn’t even think it was that great but I had to come up with a book to recommend.”  Beat.  “I didn’t even finish it.”

Aha!  I knew it!  A week earlier, I’d gone to a rival book shop and questioned another employee’s recommendation of Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places, a book that concludes with one of the most ridiculously coincidental reveals in crime thriller history.  She too admitted that, in retrospect, she may have been rather hasty in suggesting that one.

Don’t get me wrong.  Both books are well-written.  But they’re flawed – in ways other equally well-written but lesser known books are not.

Which is why I try to read A LOT, everything from well known writers to first-time authors, fiction and non-fiction alike, lauded or not, so that when I recommend a book, I can do so with confidence.  Sure, much of it comes down to subjective personal taste, but there are objective failings of certain books that are impossible to excuse.  Although some readers will try.

Last week, my sister sent me a text, asking me to recommend her some non-genre books.  After some consideration, these were the titles I suggested:

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

We Are Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

City of Thieves by David Benioff

Misery by Stephen King

The Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon (I’d argue its SF classification)

Camp Concentration (like SoD, it’s classified as SF but it straddles the line)

Fool by Christopher Moore

The Psychopath Test: A Journey Through the Madness Industry by Jon Ronson

Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris

The Man Who Ate Everything, and It Must Have Been Something I Ate by Jeffrey Steingarten

A Series of Unfortunate Events by Lemony Snicket (the entire series)

Thoughts?  Agree?  Disagree?

What are YOUR top recommended reads (including genre fiction).  Let’s debate.  I’m in a feisty mood!

30 thoughts on “May 4, 2014: Recommended Reading!

  1. I think you should go back to Chapters, ask to speak to the Store Manager, then offer to provide 25 book recommendations. Tell them what you do for a living, and they will surely give you your own bay. People love Customer Recommendations.

  2. Oh, I don’t know if I actually have recommended reads in the fiction realm. I’ve read some non-fiction stuff that has been excellent, sometimes challenging and often inspirational.

    As noted last night, I went to an interesting offal dinner at a local inn, so I thought I’d post some pics and maybe some admittedly uncultured commentary.

    Here’s the Shadow Lawn Inn, where the dinner was. It’s only about a 5 min drive from my house! So, I walked.

    The themed candleholders – made from a thigh bone:

    Given the “trashy” theme of the meal, the menu was a crumpled up piece of paper on the bread plate. Note the faux (I hope) “blood splatters”.

    The first course, “Cow got your tongue?” Corned beef tongue, lentil-bacon vinaigrette, radishes, carrot top salsa verde.
    I actually liked this dish quite a bit, but I did find the tongue a bit “rich” for my taste. Or maybe I mean texture. Whatever, it was a nice start.

    “How to Get Ahead” 5 hour pho brothed braised pig headcheese, green goddess gribiche, shaved raw asparagus, smoked bonito, pickled red onion.
    Head cheese is actually the one thing I’ve had before and never really liked – and this was not really an exception. I was greatly helped though by the accompanying tastes, and the asparagus was perfect.

    “Marrow Bones St. John” – parsley-shallot-caper salad, curry oil rubbed toasted sourdough.
    My favourite dish of the night. The roasted marrow was scooped out onto the bread, topped with the salad and a bit of rock salt added. Delicious.

    “The Colonel Would Approve” Southern fried sweetbread nuggets, homemade sriracha and ranch sauces, arugula, celery leaves, crispy pig’s ear.
    It was.. interesting. The “sweetbread” has an oddly chewy consistency, but otherwise tasted okay, I supposed dominated by the seasoning in the coating. Perhaps thankfully.

    “I’ll Have What She’s Having” (A reference to that movie where she’s eating a Reuben sandwich) – braised beef heart reuben, sweet and sour red cabbage, raw New Brunswick sheep’s milk cheese, little gem salad, kimchi 1000 island
    Hmm. I’m not sure if it’s just because I was getting full, it was getting late, or I was just tired, but this was my least favourite. I found the heart had a certain metallic aftertaste, and the cheese was overly strong and dominating. It had a bunch of strongly flavoured elements, which I didn’t really feel went well. I actually didn’t finish it.

    “Move Over Carrot Cake” – parsnip cake, burnt miso caramel, crispy chickpea crumble, caramelized carrot-bacon ice cream, parsnip chips, blood orange glaze.
    I was kind of not looking forward to this because I typically HATE parsnips, but.. it was pretty good. The ice cream part was excellent, but the chickpeas were cooked less than I prefer leaving them more simply hard than actually crunchy.

    I should add that each course was paired with a different beer supplied by Picaroons, a very popular (and in increasing demand) New Brunswick brewery. Some excellent craft beers were there and in some ways they were the highlight of the night.

    Anyway, it was fun and a great night, although not something I’d necessary want to do again next week.

    1. I would have loved this. Too bad about the Reuben. Not convinced by the dessert.

  3. I haven’t read most of the books on your list, so I can’t comment on most of them. I loved Speed of Dark. I tried to read Fool, but just couldn’t get into it.
    Book recommendations are a tricksy thing. It helps to know the tastes of the reader. What sort of things does she like to read?

    Books I often recommend:

    Good Omens by Neil Gaiman.
    Old Mans War by John Scalzi
    Swordspoint by Ellen Kushner
    Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (oxford edition)

    Also, the Tiffany Aching books by Terry Pratchett: The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith (ah, Wintersmith) and I Shall Wear Midnight. Tney are classified as young adult, but worthwhile for adults as well, in my opinion. And pretty much any Pratchett though I find that some prefer the City Watch books and others, the Witches.

    That’s all that come to mind at the moment.

  4. Oh, the “ah, Wintersmith” was an editorial comment from me, not part of the title. I just kind of like that one and just listened to it on Audiobook a couple of months ago. Dang. I need to be more careful with my bolding. Sorry.

  5. I would recommend anything by David Balducci. I haven’t read “Old Man’s War” but it’s my to do list.

    gforce: It was an interesting meal but I would have stuck to the garnish. 🙂 Would you eat there again?

  6. Moments earlier, we had been at our local chain bookstore where Akemi hunted for a cookbook for dogs (cooking for dogs as opposed to cooking dogs or a book for dogs who cook)…

    Well I’m glad you cleared that up! 😀

    Let’s debate. I’m in a feisty mood!

    You sure are! Poor worker Mike. Ambused by a professional book gunslinger. The store should ask some of their more prolific book buying customers for their opinions… like you. Why can’t we use your list above as our Book of the Month Club? Take ’em one at a time. Already have The Speed of Dark down, and I loved that book.

  7. See…Jenny Horn and I agree… Top customers should be making the recommendations.

  8. Heh Make the store employees squirm. The guy works in a bookstore and couldn’t come up with another recommendation? tsk

    I haven’t read any of the books on your list, except for Misery. I don’t read books as much as I used to. Got addicted to Twitter. *sigh* Recently, though, I decided to tackle the three stacks of books over there. Can totally recommend anything by Jeffrey Archer. Just finished And Thereby Hangs a Tale. Tell Sis to try The Eight by Katherine Neville. I may have recced that one here before.

    Are you watching W5 right now? It’s about service dogs who help military personnel with PTSD.

  9. W5 will be on CTV Vancouver in a few minutes. Interesting piece on the dogs. I’ve started feeling a fair bit better since Roxy died. Actually looked on the local Humane Society website last night and spotted a dog that, if I think I can afford another, bigger mouth to feed, is one that intrigues me. A 7 or 8 month old collie cross. She’s not available for adoption yet and would have to love my cats and vice versa, but just window shopping didn’t hurt as much as I thought it would. One of these days. Maybe.

  10. Um, sorry. One more comment. Just a correction. I’ve been feeling a fair bit better lately than I have since Roxy died. Losing her is going to hurt for a long, long time but the good days are out numbering the bad.

  11. I was quite amazed recently that The Amazing Race Canada has gone international, they were in Hong Kong recently. I genuinely wonder how many legs will be outside the country, I guess it all depends on the budget.

  12. @gforce: Thanks for the pictures! The Inn looks lovely and the dinner intriguing. I don’t think I could manage eating so much food and drinking so much beer. But I might be willing to give it a try…

  13. @Joe: Regarding the reuben, it MAY have just been that I was getting full, so it could just have been that. My first thought on tasting the cheese though was, “well, that’s enough of that.” It actually reminded me of the yak cheese that I had in Nepal. A very strong, heady smell and flavour. I can’t think of another North American cheese that would be quite like it. Again, I could have just been tired. Also, full of beer. 🙂

    It’s interesting that the chef (who introduced and explained each course), said that he REALLY wanted to do a chocolate brownie with pig’s blood for dessert, but couldn’t find a suitable supply of said liquid. Small mercies, I suppose. 😉

    @Tax Dixon: I would absolutely eat there again. The dishes were very well prepared, and their normal fare is really quite good. Although, it has been quite a while since my previous time there, so things could change I guess.

  14. I really enjoyed Old Mans War. I tell people about that one. I didn’t finish Life After Life when you told us that before about it, so it sits on the shelf of misfit books.

  15. i recommend books based on what the person asking is interested in, but if you’re looking for general stuff….

    just one more thing by peter falk
    from sawdust to stardust by (the bio of deforest kelly) terry lee rioux
    the amelia peabody series by elizebeth peters
    (i think you read the first one)
    the masters of rome series by colleen mccullough
    roma: a novel of ancient rome by steven saylor
    (it’s slightly more interesting than the follow-up empire: the novel of imperial rome)
    the silver wolf by alice borchardt
    (it’s better than the two follow-up novels, IMHO)

  16. I don’t know what happened to the first sentence…maybe my browser up-chucked? This is what it was supposed to be:


    I don’t know what this says about my reading habits, but I have not read any of your book suggestions. That doesn’t mean I not interested though. Unfortunately, things are a bit crazy for me right now with work and home projects, car repairs, and two weeks of running my son out to his Civil Air Patrol Spring Encampment weekends (his flight received a 1st place in Drill though!). As a result, I’m barely keeping up with the BOTM club. Maybe next month will be better…

    @Sparrow_hawk yesterday:

    Creature Feature was a Saturday night staple of my middle school years. Do you remember Count Gore De Vol? When he came back on the air in ’84, I was too busy in college to follow him then. At least Svengoolie is still on the air, even though I only catch one or two of his show a year.


    Actually, it was 2001: A Space Odyssey that bewildered me. All of the kaleidoscope graphics at the end and then a winking baby? What the heck was that?!? Then I read Arthur C. Clarke’s book and went, “Oh, okay. I get it now,” Kubrick could have spelled it out a little more for the literal minded among us, like myself.

  17. I’m with everyone else in that I try to base my recs off what I think an individual may like but if I list my favorite AND books I think are honestly good, I’d say:

    Good Omens, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman
    The Black Jewels Trilogy, Anne Bishop
    Call Me By Your Name, Andre Aciman
    Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe
    Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow series’, Orson Scott Card
    Incarnations of Immortality, Piers Anthony
    Unwelcome Bodies, Jennifer Pelland
    The Great Gatsby, FS Fitzgerald
    Proof, David Auburn
    The History Boys, Alan Bennett

    Those would be my fiction, non-comic book/graphic novel recommendations. The last two are actually plays, but I think they fit, still.

  18. “a cookbook for dogs (cooking for dogs as opposed to cooking dogs or a book for dogs who cook)

    Isn’t English wonderful?

    I’d be hard pressed to list my favourite books. Books that changed my life, however:

    The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy by Douglas Adams – This had a profound effect on me when I read this in my teens. This book is responsible for me becoming a “reader” in adult life.

    Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams – This book showed me that even if you haven’t got a clue what the hell is going on the final chapter can make all the difference.

    It by Stephen King – I knew I was right to be afraid of clowns!

    The Amtrak Wars by Patrick Tilley – Probably the first “pulp” sci-fi series I read.

    The Night’s Dawn Trilogy by Peter F. Hamilton – I still dream of turning this into a TV series.

    The Lord Of The Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien – I found the books pretty dull but the movies gave me my start in the VFX industry.

  19. Joe, I keep recommending this author – Lee Goldberg of the Monk T.V. series books. He wrote them before they became a series.

    He also wrote a sci-fi book called, The Walk. It is not an overly long read, and is about “The Big One”, the Earthquake that levels Los Angeles, and a man, a TV executive who survives to walk home across the rubble. There is a very interesting side bit that will surprise you at the end. Dare I say, if the book had been written about Vancouver and a certain Show Runner/Writer, it could have been you that Goldberg wrote about.

    I also really liked Stephen King’s “The Green Mile”.

  20. @Glowyzoey who said: “Are you watching W5 right now? It’s about service dogs who help military personnel with PTSD.”

    I missed W5 however, it was interesting that you said that. That is what I used to do – not act as a service dog, 🙂 I used to counsel military members coming back from overseas. The most difficult thing for them is to be told by coworkers and ranking officers to get their crap together, suck it up and be a man. Old habits and attitudes are hard to break in the Armed Forces.

  21. I agree with Jenny Horn, you need your own section!

    Reminds me of when my hubby (computer programmer) has to correct the geek squad at best buy (or other techie places). He ends up overriding their advice to nearby shoppers. He can’t stand to hear misinformation being given out! My hubby is not their favorite customer. 😉

  22. If I can’t believe in staff pick’s at my local book store, there’s nothing left to believe in.

  23. If you want a nonfiction recommendation, I’d say The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver. That’s a book that EVERYONE should read. It should be a required book in high school.

    Eagerly awaiting your takedown of May’s BOTM!

  24. No recommendations. My tastes are far too different from yours. Also, I’m a slow reader, or – should I say – an easily distracted reader, so it sometimes takes me ages to finish, or even start, a book. I’m also a picky reader, and can’t just read one book after another (unless they’re of the same series) without everything blurring together, or just becoming bored. I need time to digest what I read, and time to get to know the characters.

    I will make one suggestion (not a recommendation since, although I have the book, I have yet to read it):

    If you go this route, make sure to get the right one (the Mike Richardson book) as there were two written last year. This one is a beautiful hardcover book with art reminiscent of ukiyo-e prints, and free of any Keanu Reeves influence. 😉


  25. Since The Speed of Dark is the only one I’ve read of the above, and I’m lucky to read 1 book every 3 years, I’m not the person to have a conversation with about this subject.

  26. I had a friend who was a mid-level manager of sorts at a major book chain in Toronto. She was always transfered calls from media outlets whenever they called to survey what novel or book was their topseller, top pick or on their most recommended list. She would just list off whatever she felt like or remembered seeing in the store. It was that scientific.

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