Audiobook Review: The Rosie Project

rosieThanks so much to Audiojukebox and Simon and Schuster Audio for sending us Graeme Simsion’s quirky and adorable audiobook The Rosie Project (it arrived just in the nick of time as I could not listen to one single second more of The Silver Star by Jeannette Walls– a book that I could not finish). This story was predictable, a bit over-the-top and somewhat unrealistic but it was as charming as hell and I fell in love instantly with both Don and Rosie.

The story is told from the blunt and extremely logical point of view of Don. He is a genius Professor of Genetics, a black belt in Aikido and most likely has Asperger’s (although he does not see it– he hilariously gives a lecture to parents of children with Asperger’s in one of the opening chapters, obliviously describing his own personality quirks and getting all of the children riled up in the process– “Aspies Rule!!”). He prefers bike riding to driving, keeps a strict schedule for meals and activities and automatically calculates the BMI of everyone he meets (like you do). He enjoys his life but is a bit lonely– he can count the amount of friends he has on one hand. He recalls that his old friend, Daphne, once said that he would make someone a good husband. Launch The Wife Project– a questionnaire that will pick him the perfect mate thus eliminating the need for dating (which Don is disastrous at! The Peach Ice Cream Incident, The Jacket Incident, The Night of the Speed Dating).

Rosie is a mess. She is a PhD candidate in philosophy working as a barmaid at a gay bar. She has struggled with her identity ever since she found out her dead mother’s deep dark secret– a one-night-stand with a fellow student the night of her med school graduation. Her “father”, Phil, may not be her real dad (no wonder he treats her like shit and doesn’t keep his promises). Her life is turned upside down when she meets Don after his best friend Gene “throws her in as a wild card” Wife Project candidate (a swearing, smoking, vegetarian who constantly shows up late and is bad at math? Surely not a candidate for The Wife Project!! HA HA!!!). Their lives will never be the same!

Don and Rosie are TOTALLY unsuitable for each other and their one date creates a chaos like Don has never experienced before. She definitely should not become his wife (in fact, Don considers Rosie to be “the world’s MOST incompatible woman”). But, for some reason he feels a compelling need to help her out and The Father Project is born (Don creates a capital letter title for all events and activities). Queue the hilarity as they collect DNA samples of no less than 100 potential fathers, travelling all over Australia and America to solve the mystery. Hanging out with Rosie to complete this project is frustrating, annoying and extremely confusing for Don but he has also never had so much fun in his entire life. Will Don and Rosie ever find love??

This book just SCREAMS movie adaptation and I will be the first in line at the theatre when it comes out (as long as they don’t cast someone stupid like Jennifer Aniston as Rosie). It made me laugh and it made me cry! DELIGHTFUL!! 3.5 stars.

‘Tell me something I don’t know,’ said Rosie for no obvious reason.
I quickly searched my mind for an interesting fact.
‘Ahhh…The testicles of drone bees and wasp spiders explode during sex.’

Book Review: The Lion Seeker

13642507The Lion Seeker was a novel received from Random House Canada sometime during the early Summer, then this Fall, it became a finalist for the 2013 Governor General’s Literary Award. It is also our Wink 3 Book Club choice for our November meeting. So, knowing all of this, I embarked on The Lion Seeker’s journey.

Rating: 3.5
The Lion Seeker
A Novel by Kenneth Bonert
2013 / 576 pages

In the tradition of the great immigrant sagas, The Lion Seeker brings us Isaac Helger, son of Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, surviving the streets of Johannesburg in the shadow of World War II
Are you a stupid or a clever?

Such is the refrain in Isaac Helger’s mind as he makes his way from redheaded hooligan to searching adolescent to striving young man on the make. His mother’s question haunts every choice. Are you a stupid or a clever? Will you find a way to lift your family out of Johannesburg’s poor inner city, to buy a house in the suburbs, to bring your aunts and cousins from Lithuania?

A thrilling ride through the life of one fumbling young hero, The Lion Seeker is a glorious reinvention of the classic family and coming-of-age sagas. We are caught — hearts open and wrecked — between the urgent ambitions of a mother who knows what it takes to survive and a son straining against the responsibilities of the old world, even as he is endowed with the freedoms of the new. (adapted from Goodreads)

The description above is not the one that I should have used here, the one that should have appeared is from the inside book jacket.  Did Bonert write this description? It did summarize beautifully The Lion Seeker, and was written much in the same flavour as Bonert’s writing. (sorry, I have since handed the book off to Jackie here at the Literary Hoarders). As well, and at times while reading I had the distinct impression of reading other Canadian works such as (East Coast author’s) The Bishop’s Man or even Glass Boys as the feeling and pace or writing was not always laid out for the reader to see on the page, there seemed to be much hidden innuendo and secrecy. The Lion Seeker overall, is slow to build, but when it does it reaches to wonderful heights.

At points while reading, the altering use of stunning, descriptive writing changing to choppy dialect or slang is what I found jarring or difficult to follow. It broke up the flow of reading for me.  For instance:

“The wounds on his face, his head, are nothing – a bruised eye socket (it’s doubtful Oberholzer even made a fist, just an open-handed swat, probably the same way he smacks his wife), plus a scabbed scrape on the forehead where’s there’s a bump like a cue ball, and a thick rope of purple lower down that his collar can hide – but he is badly hurt inside, under the skin, in his heart and in his mind, his spirit. ”

“When he closes his eyes it does not stop the tears. These tears have a viscous quality, they’re not surface water, they come up from the broken thing deep in him, they seep like translucent gel to slowly wet the pillow where he lies on his side.”

And then, the dialogue parts:

-Jumped, four of the bastards. Your lovely shvartzer friends.

– Genuine? Where was this?

-I’d rather not chit-chat about it. I’m tryna forget it happened, like.



_I said these crimes.


The Lion Seeker is a sweeping saga about Isaac, a Lithuanian Jew settling in South Africa with his younger sister and mother. The trio have fled their unstable life in Lithuania to join their father/husband. Unfortunately, Isaac’s mother is disconcerted to find him settled in a ghetto-like existence, not much unlike what they left behind. Isaac’s mother is extremely focused and desperate to bring over her sisters she has had to leave behind with numerous reunion promises of a better life in South Africa . 5 sisters she is desperate to get out. 5 names Isaac is sat down and told to repeat over and over again, showing and matching each name to the face in the picture her mother always has with her. The only way this can be achieved however, is to make far more money than her husband’s watch repair business brings in. She is constantly after Isaac to keep up the”quick rich money making schemes” and is devastated when he finally, after many attempts otherwise, listens to his father instead and learns a trade with the cars. Working with cars is something that Isaac truly loves. Yet this earns nothing but disgust and contempt from his mother.

There is also the very disfigured face on Isaac’s mother that is covered up, both literally and figuratively. The lower part of her face is horribly scarred and before she came to South Africa was forced to wear a veil that covers the lower half of her face. There is a great secrecy surrounding this disfigurement and it is shrouded in veils of secrecy, much like the veils his mother used to wear to cover the wound. Isaac is forever curious to understand why and how this happened to his mother, and also the reason why she is so very desperate to bring her sisters to her, away from Lithuania. Why is his mother always crying over her collection of papers and letters? Why is the date of April 17th so significant and why does she never discuss her past?

We journey with Isaac through childhood, adolescence and adulthood, through his experiences with his one great love, his jobs, his disappointments and slow realization of what it means to be a Jew prior to WWII.  Isaac seems only aware of class differences, certainly it is a glaring difference in his relationship with Yvonne. His great love is denied by Yvonne’s wealthy family, and she too ends up breaking his heart over it. All the while though, Isaac remains a bit oblivious to the fact that it is not only his class difference that stands in between him and Yvonne. He is a bit oblivious as well in his own racism against the black people of South Africa, unable to correlate it to the racism directed towards the Jews.

The Lion Seeker builds with prose that is at many times graceful, it compels you to keep turning the pages. Isaac slowly comes to realize his mother’s past, the growing fear of the oncoming war and the treatment of the Jewish people in South Africa. The story quickly glosses over Isaac’s time fighting in WWII but at the end, all of those graceful words explode on the page in a gut-wrenching end:

Jager killed over a hundred thirty-five thousand human beings in a few weeks, without mercy. His men and their helpers, they extinguished the Lithuanian Jews. A thousand years of history, more, gone. Vilna was the Jerusalem of the North. Our yeshivas famous for their genius. What this showed them is that it could be done. That people wanted to help them do it, that this was logistically possible. That nobody cared. It was the first time they started killing children in masses. And women, old people. All the rest of it – the camps, the gas – followed from this, like a fire from spark.” (page 560)

The Lion Seeker was a very good read and I’m glad I had the opportunity to read it. It did not win the Governor General’s Literary Award, that honour went to The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.  3.5 stars.

Book Review: Bellman and Black by Diane Setterfield

17571907It’s been a great number of years since Diane Setterfield has graced us with her work. I’ve eagerly searched and searched “new Diane Setterfield” after closing The Thirteenth Tale. Is it on purpose that she has taken 12 years to produce another? Is Bellman & Black out at the right time so as there can be no immediate comparison to anything The Thirteenth Tale gave us? Perhaps?

At any rate, Bellman & Black was a fairly good read but The Thirteenth Tale was better, in my opinion. I’m also not alone in that opinion apparently. One example comes from Michelle, over at That’s What She Read.  She provides a very nice summary of some of the very same thoughts I had upon closing the final page of Bellman & Black. You can read those thoughts here.

The cover for Bellman & Black is wonderfully arresting and the pages inside contained crisp, short chapters filled with writing that was oh so right.  Setterfield did not disappoint with her writing, certainly. She does write with great beauty and description but none of it is over-done or superfluous in any way. For example, Setterfield’s Rook:

“A rook’s feathers can shimmer with dazzling peacock colours yet factually speaking thee is no blue or purple or green pigment in a rook. Satin black on his back and head, on his front and towards his legs his blackness softens and deepens to velvet black….His black feathers are capable of producing an entrancing optical effect….He captures the light, splits it, absorbs some and radiates the rest in a delightful demonstration of optics, showing you the truth about light that your own poor eyes cannot see.”

Yet, Bellman & Black just didn’t reach the level of high expectation that I set for it. It turned out to be a well-written story with stunning detail in some points, but just an okay story at best. Bellman & Black is the tale of William Bellman and his eventual fall from grace following an event involving a rook and a few of his friends at the time, well pushed into his past. William is the disgraced son from a disowned father that is taken under the wing of his uncle to work at Bellman Mill. William, while considered something of an illegitimate child, does possess just the right looks and sings with a beautiful voice at every Sunday’s mass and is a very hard worker, skilled at whatever he turns his attention toward.

It is here, during the first half of the book with the buildup of William and his life, where you got the sense that he suffers from the Tom Cruise (or Will Smith) Syndrome. William is the best at everything. As soon as he starts at Bellman Mill, he flourishes. Under his eye the Mill does as well, turning considerable profit, becoming the first to create and mill new colours, to offer new services, to expand and make every single worker happy inside all because of his suggestions and attention. He is the very best at everything he does, just as Tom Cruise played the very best brother, the very best fighter pilot, the very best race car driver…you get the picture. It becomes tiring to read. This also goes on for a considerable amount of time and the “creepiness” of this tale takes some time to actually creep in. Actually, it never truly does achieve the level of creepiness I was anticipating.

Always in the background are the rooks and one man dressed all in black. This mysterious man appears at every single funeral of those close to Will. See, slowly all those close to Will die in some manner. He is always around to either try to save them, or to watch them die. And yet, again, it just doesn’t really register to Will that this is happening to him for a reason. The reader, and Will, never truly get the sense of that foreboding presence of death or danger. The rooks that are also ever present are to serve a reminder to Will of what he did as a young boy. But it never seems as though Will gets that, nor is the reader provided with a heightened sense of foreboding because of their presence . Yes, they are there, always present and Will does become very uneasy all the time when one is around, but it just misses that heightened level of eeriness you would expect. When the mysterious man in black finally comes out from the shadows and makes a deal with Will, that too doesn’t come about with an ominous or edginess aspect. Here again is where we see that Will is the very, very best at everything, including bettering the medical profession. When “the fever” strikes everyone in Will’s family, it is only Will that can diagnose, treat and come up with remedies for his family. Unfortunately, all but one, his beloved first-born, Dora survives (and of course Will, himself).

This is where “the deal” with Black is born. On the evening he is finally able to connect with this mysterious Mr. Black (as Will now determines his name to be), Dora recovers from the fever. Although she remains sickly and never recovers her former beauty, she is alive. It is during the time while Will is burying members of his family one by one that another idea forms in his mind. This idea however is one he attributes to Mr. Black. Will leaves the enormously successful Bellman Mill and sets about creating Bellman & Black. This is a new form of millinery and one focused on mourning. Bellman & Black is in the business of death. Will is consumed with building and working at Bellman & Black. He becomes obsessed with work, lives in his office and never stops working. This is what is to be his “punishment”. It’s remarkably lacklustre isn’t it? For, only as he nears the end of his life does he realize that he never took the time to remember or to hold close any memories dear to him of his family and his life.

And there you have it. Not creepy, not really a ghost story that chills you to the bone, more of a cautionary tale to take the time to smell the roses. As Michelle from That’s What She Read wrote, the book’s end is quite anticlimactic. Yes, I agree with that completely. As well as these thoughts (see, like I said, Michelle read it the same way as I did. 😉 ) :

The first half is so detailed. Everything about William is well-established and minutely described, from his unusual appetite for work to his unflagging optimism and even his beautiful relationship with his wife and children. One understands his motivations, his dreams and desires, and his utter contentment. The second half however remains clouded in mystery and unresolved questions. It is almost as if Ms. Setterfield was in a rush to end her novel and therefore did not grant it as much care and time as the first half of the story. Nothing changes about William, but answers are less than complete, if at all, and William’s downturn – if one could call it that – continues to be somewhat inexplicable. The appearance of Mr. Black and the business William opts to start are so unexplained as to appear random rather than careful plot points. William’s unanswered questions about his partnership with Black as well as his own doubts and confusions are meant to connect the reader with the main character but do more harm than good. This jaggedness in the story does serve to increase the air of mystery that resonates throughout the novel, but at the same time it causes a disharmony within a reader that lessens one’s interest and creates a level of impatience with the lack of answers. Had the first half of the story not been as explicit in its details, readers would not be quite as uninterested in the deliberately vague second half of the novel.

I don’t think I could have summed it up any better than that. Therefore, Bellman & Black is a disappointing read overall, but certainly not due to Setterfield’s gift of writing, which is lovely, but because the “promised” eeriness or horror never truly emerges. There definitely is disinterest and ultimately a serious let down in the second half of the book and its ending. 3.5 stars.

As a boy, William Bellman commits one small cruel act that appears to have unforseen and terrible consequences. The killing of a rook with his catapult is soon forgotten amidst the riot of boyhood games. And by the time he is grown, with a wife and children of his own, he seems indeed, to be a man blessed by fortune.

Until tragedy strikes, and the stranger in black comes, and William Bellman starts to wonder if all his happiness is about to be eclipsed. Desperate to save the one precious thing he has left, he enters into a bargain. A rather strange bargain, with an even stranger partner, to found a decidedly macabre business.

And Bellman & Black is born. (

Thank you to Random House Canada for allowing us the pleasure of reading Bellman & Black in advance of its publication date.

Book Review: What’s So Funny?

conwayConfession: I love Tim Conway.  I consider myself an immensely lucky person because I had the opportunity to witness his brilliance on the wonderful (and missed) Carol Burnett Show when I was growing up. Thanks to those years, I was excited to delve into Conway’s new book, What’s So Funny? My Hilarious Life.

Now I like him even more.

Many thanks to Howard Books for sending a free copy of What’s So Funny? – a book that’s already taking up space in my heart.  With grace, wit and truly astounding humility, Conway offers up his childhood, school years, army days, and life in show business.  He takes his readers from his days with his beloved parents to the ridiculous antics of his sketch comedy. What I didn’t realize until this book was that the crazy person I saw on the screen was (is) Conway on a daily basis.  Comedy is this man’s core, and a good day is marked by the opportunity to make people laugh.  Conway is as charming as he is funny.  His deadpan banter still leaves so many of today’s comedians in the dust.  He never found the need to be vulgar, or put anyone down.  His heart would shine through the jokes, and it was just impossible not to like the guy.

What I enjoyed most about the book was Conway’s descriptions of the pranks he would pull, and the behind-the-scenes details of the skits.  My rule of thumb is that if a book can get me to laugh out loud, then it’s worth my time.  Well, after about the 10th time that I erupted in surprised laughter, I determined that What’s So Funny? is worth your time too.  Yes, I’ve made that decision for you.  Even if you’re not entirely familiar with Tim Conway, I assure you that his antics will help melt away the day’s stresses.  Isn’t that the mark of a good read?  Losing yourself in the antics of another, and coming out with a grin on your face?  I’ve decided that it is.  I’ve also decided that the world needs more Tim Conway.  You can see by the observation below that Conway’s funny bone runs the length of his body:

That’s all I ask of life, residual laughter.

Tim Conway

What leaps from the pages of his book is his love of family and friends, and his passion for the lighter side of life.  Capable of turning any situation into mischief, Conway has endeared himself not only to those closest to him, but also to his audience.  The book made me want to run out and buy a set of Carol Burnett DVDs, with a hefty side of Dorf.  I was also thrilled to read the insight behind some of my favorite Tim Conway moments, especially the Elephant skit.  (If you don’t know what that is, please look it up. You won’t be sorry.)  He had me worried there for a moment though…. I had almost reached the book’s end before he showed his cards on that one.  Sneaky.

If you want to harken back to very funny times, including the antics of wonderful comics like Bob Newhart, Harvey Korman, and of course, Carol Burnett, then What’s So Funny? is a must read.  4 happy stars for Tim Conway’s new book, and a fond look back to a delightful time in comedy.  Here’s to many more years, Mr. Conway!