Brighten the Corner Where You Are by Carol Bruneau

Confession time: I don’t care for the paintings of Maud Lewis. This is heresy for a Nova Scotian, but it’s true. Folk art just isn’t my thing. I knew a little about Lewis’ difficult life (the health issues, the poverty, the tiny, painted house) since these facts are added to our tap water, but have never felt motivated to learn more. (And no, I haven’t seen that Maudie movie because movies also aren’t my thing.)

I had faith in Carol Bruneau’s ability to make me care about Maud Lewis, however, so I ordered a copy and, lo and behold, my faith was justified. It’s very good.

It takes courage to tell a story so familiar to so many in such a fresh way and it takes skill to know when and how to inject that story with moments of lightness and grace and humour. Bruneau’s got ’em . I think Maud Lewis would be pleased.

Many Lives Mark This Place by John Hartman

This is a really tough one. As much as I love the three primary concerns of this book (writers, art and Canadian landscapes), I really don’t love Hartman’s style of portraiture. Aside from his sitters all looking ugly and misshapen, I don’t care for the way their heads and upper bodies are floating above their chosen landscapes, with no connection between the two. It’s a strange choice since each writer contributed a piece about their relationship with the terrain. Why not show them actually in it?

Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple

When Dorothy Whipple submitted this perfect specimen of domestic fiction back in the early 1950s, her publisher was lukewarm about it, apparently, since the fashion in literature had turned decisively to action/adventure-type books and Someone at a Distance just didn’t fit the bill.

It’s true that the plot summary probably sounds boring to thrill-seekers: Avery and Ellen have been happily married for 20 years. They have charming, precocious children, a lovely house and extensive gardens, and work that they each find personally and financially fulfilling. Then Avery’s cranky old mother hires a beautiful, young, French woman named Louise to serve as her companion and it becomes clear the clock is ticking on Avery and Ellen’s perfect lives.

This is a quiet novel, for sure, but it definitely isn’t boring. Whipple is such a master at scene-setting and pacing and characterization that I couldn’t put it down. Highly recommended for anyone who doesn’t care for (or needs to take a break from) Scandinavian police procedurals, courtroom thrillers or post-apocalyptic hellscapes.

The Five by Hallie Rubenhold

An excellent book that I can’t recommend highly enough.

Rubenhold encourages us to look past the sensationalism of Jack the Ripper to the desperately hard lives (and horrific deaths) of the women he slaughtered. These were ordinary women with regrettably common problems (poverty, addiction, unstable relationships) in a time when there was no social safety net or chance at independence and self-reliance for women.

It’s infuriating that these women were immediately written off as “just prostitutes” and have continued to be in the almost century-and-a-half since by writers and so-called experts and (ugh) Ripper tour guides — most of whom are happy to lazily spout the same old tripe about the women before getting to what they consider to be the really good stuff: gushing over a murderous psychopath revered for his ability to escape detection. How screwed up is that?

Read it.

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

I hadn’t read Bird by Bird in years so when the 25th anniversary edition popped up on Overdrive, I checked it out. I didn’t love it quite as much as I did the first time, but only because her voice and advice weren’t the revelation now that they were way back when.

Lamott isn’t perfect (and I’m positive would never ever claim to be), but her advice is practical and caring and inspirational all at the same time. How I wish I’d had a creative writing teacher like her.

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb

I confess I didn’t expect to like this book. New York Times bestsellers with blurbs by Katie Couric on the cover don’t tend to be my cup of tea. No offense, Katie.

But I did like it. Gottlieb has a clear and honest writing voice and her recounting of her personal misfortunes and interesting career arc – or career zigzag, I should say – is every bit as compelling as her stories about the patients she sees.

Definitely recommended, but be prepared to get a little teary from time to time.