The Last Painting of Sara de Vos by Dominic Smith

IMG_2596“…tracking a collision course between a rare landscape by a female Dutch painter of the golden age, an inheritor of the work in 1950s Manhattan, and a celebrated art historian who painted a forgery of it in her youth.”

Inspired by female Dutch painters of the Golden Age, The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is composed of stories from three different time periods, which center around a painting created by the fictional Sara de Vos. In the author notes, Dominic Smith explains that he used “biographical details from several women’s lives of the Dutch Golden Age” in creating the character of Sara de Vos, and her story and the time period are brought to life through beautiful and expressive detail.

As mentioned, the book moves back and forth between three different time periods chapter by chapter. The first one being Amsterdam in 1631 when Sara de Vos becomes the first female painter to be admitted to the Guild of St. Luke as a master painter. We are taken through momentous moments of her life including how she came to create the painting called At the Edge of a Wood, which becomes the centrepiece and connecting thread in the novel. The second time period is set in 1957 New York, where we meet Marty de Groot who is the owner of At the Edge of a Wood and what has come to be known as the only surviving work of Sara de Vos. A grad student, Ellie Shipley agrees to create a forgery of the painting for an art dealer and her story inevitably becomes interconnected with the owner of the painting. Lastly these stories converge in the year 2000 in Sydney, Australia where Ellie is a successful art historian and curator, and her past involvement in creating a fake Sara de Vos painting may become exposed.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos is an intriguing novel that weaves together three interesting stories and brings to life a fascinating figure in Sara de Vos and an historic part of the art world in the Golden Age. It is very well written with characters that are full of depth and nuance. The stories and time periods weave together seamlessly, with each being captivating and engrossing in its own way. I enjoyed delving into the various aspects of the art world and particularly learning a little about female painters during the Dutch Golden Age, which I am interested in learning more about and exploring further. This is a well written and researched novel that I would recommend to those with an interest in art and history.

My Last Continent by Midge Raymond

IMG_2572“The end of the world, the beginning of everything.”

Set in Antarctica, My Last Continent tells the story of Deb Gardner who studies penguins and acts as a tour guide during travel and research season. She fell in love with the continent and it is the one place she truly feels at home. It is also there that she meets Kellar, who is in search of home himself, and together they face the challenges of having a relationship when the draw they feel toward Antarctica keeps them apart. During one research and tourism season,  a cruise liner sends out a distress signal and Deb becomes part of the rescue, learning that Kellar is one of its passengers.

My Last Continent is told in flashbacks from the lead up to a shipwreck to past moments that were significant in Deb’s life. The picture the author paints of Antarctica is amazing and the issues it brings up regarding the effects of tourism on the continent is quite interesting. The relationship between Deb and Kellar is the focal point of the story, and unfortunately I did not feel the connection between the two characters and never fully engaged with that aspect of the novel. I did absolutely love the setting and appreciate all the fascinating information and facts throughout. It is a place and topic I will definitely look to read more about.

Bookshelf: Odd and Quirky Reads

img_2291Sometimes a book is just different. It surprises you, it confuses you, it makes you think, and perhaps leaves you scratching your head. But most of all it captures your attention and provides a unique reading experience. I love books like this. Looking at my bookshelf, there are five books that standout to me as odd and quirky reads that were surprising and confusing in all the best ways.

1. The Room by Jonas Karlsson
A story about a man named Björn who discovers a small, secret room that becomes his refuge from the open floor-plan office space and his co-workers. An amusing and wonderfully unique story.

2. The Blue Girl by Laurie Foos
Told through alternating perspectives of three mothers and three daughters, it tells the story of a time when a mysterious girl with blue skin was saved from drowning. After which, the mothers take turns visiting the blue girl and feeding her moon pies that contain their secrets. An odd concept but one that is very well executed.

3. The Beautiful Bureaucrat by Helen Phillips
Josephine is hired as one of many bureaucrats entering an endless amount of numbers into something only known as “The Database.” Her new position and her husband’s increasingly odd behaviour begins to take its toll, leading to an unsettling discovery.

4. All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders
A unique book with elements of magical realism, fantasy, and science-fiction. Patricia is a witch with a deep connection to nature, and Laurence is a genius when it comes to science and technology. They find friendship in the challenging times of their youth, but end up going their separate ways only to reunite as adults, at a time when the world is descending into chaos.

5. I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid
Told from the perspective of an unnamed woman who is taking a road trip with her boyfriend, Jake, to visit his parents’ farm.  The woman is unsure of her new relationship and is thinking of ending things.  However, the trip doesn’t go as she thought it would and things take a strange turn during an unexpected detour. Creepy and unsettling.

What are some of your favourite odd and quirky reads?:)

Margaret the First by Danielle Dutton

IMG_2420“It was indescribable what she wanted. She was restless. She wanted to work. She wanted to be thirty people. She wanted to wear a cap of pearls and a coat of bright blue diamonds. To live as nature does, in many ages, in many brains.”

Margaret the First is a dramatization/re-imagining of the life of the 17th-century duchess, Margaret Cavendish. She was a writer who published works that included plays, poetry, and science-fiction that tackled topics of gender and power during a time when it was something women did not do, at least not under their own name. Margaret is a fascinating historical figure and Margaret the First covers her life, mostly through first-person perspective, with Margaret recounting her own story. This changes towards the end of the book where it switches to third person perspective as it wraps up.

“Yet how hard it is to point to a moment. To say: there, in that moment, I changed.”

This is an interesting book that depicts the life of a historical figure in a unique and intriguing way. With short chapters and captivating prose, the author provides a fascinating perspective of Margaret’s life and her writing and accomplishments during the challenging times of the 17th-century. It is a compelling dramatization and a good read for fans of Margaret Cavendish and also for those who maybe are not familiar with her, but are interested in a brief introduction. I myself do not have extensive knowledge of the duchess but thoroughly enjoyed this depiction and perception of her life and career, and found it to be a great starting point for further research on the subject.

Nine Women, One Dress by Jane L. Rosen

IMG_2371“A beautiful dress holds a little bit of magic in it.”

Consisting of a series of little stories with a specific little black dress as the connecting thread, Nine Women, One Dress is a lovely book to get lost in over the summer months. While I originally thought the novel would be nine separate stories about nine different women, I was pleasantly surprised to find that it was told through many different points of view. There are of course the interesting female characters, which included a salesgirl at Bloomingdales, an executive assistant in love with her boss, a private detective, and a young up and coming model. Also included are the perspectives of the men, such as the famous Hollywood actor, the salesman at Bloomingdales, the boss of the executive assistant, and also the creator of the famous “it” dress, among many others.

Each little story is interesting and engaging as it skips from one character to the next, slowly leading the reader to the conclusion of each narrative. The layout and presentation of the book as a whole is very well done, creating a lovely little collection that is funny, sweet, and heartwarming. I particularly enjoyed the use of the little black dress as a connecting thread, and viewing the dress from the perspective of the creator, the fashion industry, and of course the woman who wears it. Each character is compelling in their own way and each narrative offers something amusing. The style of storytelling is very comparable to the movie Love Actually, so if you are a fan of that then this is a book for you. A charming, delightful summer read. 

Dark Matter by Blake Crouch

IMG_2376“No one tells you it’s all about to change, to be taken away. There’s no proximity alert, no indication that you’re standing on the precipice. And maybe that’s what makes tragedy so tragic. Not just what happens, but how it happens: a sucker punch that comes at you out of nowhere, when you’re least expecting. No time to flinch or brace.”

Jason Dessen is abducted from the life he knows. After an attack, he wakes up to a world that is not his own, where the facts of this newfound reality are very different from what he had come to know. He is not married to the woman he once called his wife, his son was never born, and instead of a job as a college professor he is instead a celebrated physicist. It is the life he had sometimes wondered about, the one in which he had made a different choice, where career had come before family. Jason struggles to come to terms with this new reality, while trying to figure out what is happening and how he can possibly find his way back home.

Dark Matter is an intriguing science-fiction thriller that explores some interesting concepts, any of which I mention would be hovering around spoiler territory so I will proceed with caution. The story is suspenseful from the start as we are introduced to Jason, his family, and his life, along with his thoughts and feelings on the road not taken. It is very action based and at times has the feel of an action movie screenplay. While it certainly provides a thrilling ride, the constant action does take over the novel to the point where the characters, apart from Jason, feel very one-dimensional. There is an obvious message the author is trying to convey and by the end of the novel it comes across as rather heavy-handed. However, if you are looking for an action-packed thriller based around interesting scientific theory, Dark Matter is a great option.

*ARC provided by NetGalley. Publication date: July 26, 2016.

I’m Thinking of Ending Things by Iain Reid

IMG_2331I’m thinking of ending things. Once this thought arrives, it stays. It sticks. It lingers. It’s always there. Always.

Jake once said, “Sometimes a thought is closer to truth, to reality, than an action. You can say anything, you can do anything, but you can’t fake a thought.”

And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t want to be here.

With a vague and minimal description, I’m Thinking of Ending Things is mysterious and intriguing from the get-go.  It is told from the perspective of an unnamed woman who is taking a road trip with her boyfriend, Jake, to visit his parents’ farm.  The woman is unsure of her new relationship and is thinking of ending things.  However, the trip doesn’t go as she thought it would and things take a strange turn during an unexpected detour.

The first part of the novel is largely conversation between the girlfriend and Jake, on the philosophy of life, relationships, and loneliness.  There is an eerie feel from the beginning, however it is during the second part of the novel where the thriller element really comes to fruition, with the uncertainty of what is happening and how it will all unfold.  The story is very well written, and the author does a great job of creating an atmosphere that is creepy and just plain unsettling.  It is a book that will most likely leave you with that “what did I just read?” feeling, and it may not be everyone’s cup of tea. For me however, it worked.  It kept me guessing, changing my theory about what was happening, and best of all it had me eagerly turning the page. This is one of those novels where the more I think about it and really sit with it, the more I like it and appreciate the author’s intention and execution of the story as a whole.  At 224 pages I’m Thinking of Ending Things is a pretty quick read, and one I feel is definitely worth a try.