Janet Lee’s Book Guide 2015

Stupid Christmas is so stressful; you spend hours trying to find that freakin’ perfect gift for someone—who doesn’t even deserve it—before deciding on a three-pack of Ferrero Roche.  If you are in such a pickle, here are some handy dandy book suggestions to satisfy your greedy mate, family member, friend, secret Santa, strange cousin, or your mortal enemy that you share a tiny office at work who cuts her toenails at her desk.

These suggestions are eight of my favourite—and two least favourite—books that were published in 2015. As usual some spoilers.

The Nice

The Country of Ice Cream Star – Sandra Newman- Knopf Canada

For the smarty-pants, late teen-early 20’s niece who is constantly smugly telling you how cool Hermione Grainger and Katniss Everdeen are and that you don’t understand strong women characters. This’ll show her.

Notable Quote: One hand stroke nervy on his whitish cat. She rumble in her chest, blink lazy pleasure.

Description: In a dystopian world, where no one lives to be over 20 and they have some real rockin’ names like Problem Four Tool, My Sorrow Nine Wang, and Cat Fancy Thirteen Ba, Ice Cream Star embarks on a lofty mission. She needs to take her Sengle people away from the dangerous roos and find a cure for the WAKS that is giving her brother, Driver Eighteen Star, the posy. If that sentence confuses you, welcome to the club. The whole book is like that. You get used to it. Then you start talking like them. In public. People stare. These kids are hard drinking, smoking, fighting, and fucking bad asses and have hard, brutal lives, but they roll with it.

Dear Leader – Damian Rogers – Coach House Books

For your next door neighbour who you always thought was a witch and scared you as a kid. You don’t leave a card.

Notable Quote: I was born with the head of an owl and the eyes of a cat./The ninth abandoned palace of the marquise was like a velvet-lined meth lab./I learned later she wasn’t real royalty, just an out-of-work actress./I’m not used to living with so little sleep.

Description: This book of poems is not afraid to tackle any subject. These are very scary poems written in very pretty ways. Death, paranoia, teenage shame, cults, cats, toilet paper snake thieves, Yoko Ono. No subject is too dark.

 The Familiar – A Rainy Day in May Volume 1, and Into the Forest Volume 2 – Mark Z. Danielewski – Pantheon

For all cat lovers, whether they be young or old, smart or dumb, or sane or crazy.

Notable quote – How much [vastly {immensely <unfathomably> tremendously}…] Anwar loves [t]his child.

Description – A girl finds a cat; it will take 27 volumes to tell the story. Each volume is approximately 900 pages long. Many sentences look like the above quote. There are nine different story lines.  I’m pretty sure the cat is mystical. That is all I know. This book is way smarter than me. Try it, I dare you.

First Year Healthy – Michael DeForge – Drawn and Quarterly

For that crush you are trying to impress by showing him/her what a groovy comic book nerd you are.

Notable Quote – I dreamt about a cat later that night. It wasn’t moving or doing anything much at all.

Description- A woman, with pigtails that look like yoga balls, recently released from hospital after having a very public and mortifying outburst takes up with an illegal Turk. The Turk has a kid from a previous relationship with a round old bitch who dies. They move into her house. He has a dangerous job that puts her in a sticky situation. Naturally, no one will help her because, you know, the outburst and people are meanies. Fortunately, there is a holy cat.

Harmless – James Grainger – McClelland & Stewart

For your husband or boyfriend who irritates you to no end. The biggest problem is he has no idea why. This may help.

Notable Quote – You read about these personal catastrophes, relieved that your kid wasn’t missing, but also secretly disappointed to have missed out on the experience, because how often in this bloodless age do you get the chance to test your mettle against the elements, against the bad guys?

An unmanly man takes his daughter to his ex-girlfriend and frenemy’s farmhouse. That is his first mistake. Life in the country is not safe, people! They get way too high and behave like teenagers who stole booze from their parent’s liquor cabinet for the first time. Unfortunately, the actual teenagers go missing. Unmanly man and frenemy stumble off into the woods to find them, but instead find a very active forest filled with coyotes, pornographers, and Vietnam vets. There was a chicken.

 The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Ilmari Jӓӓskelӓinen – Thomas Dunne Books St Martin’s Press

For that gnome enthusiast in your life. We all have at least one.

Notable Quote: When Ella Milana left Silja Saaristo’s house, she had a headache and a cinnamon jar.

Description: Ella moves back to her home town called Rabbit Back. She gets invited to an exclusive writing group of nine members that is held by her favourite childhood author; they share a secret. The author disappears, garden gnomes behave suspiciously, library books get awfully sick, and then there’s the boy. Now I don’t know what most Finnish writing groups are like, but if this is any indication my writing group is kind of boring.

The Vegetarian – Han Kang – Portobello Books Ltd

For your roommate who is always going on about his/her fucked up family that seems perfectly normal to you.

Notable quote:  My father-in-law mashed the pork to a pulp on my wife’s lips as she struggled in agony. Though he parted her lips with his strong fingers, he could do nothing about her clenched teeth.

Description: A man who prides himself on being average, loses his shit when his average wife—except for the fact she refuses to wear a bra (scandalous!) —decides to become a vegetarian to thwart her crippling nightmares about being attacked by cats, pigeons, and other wild creatures. He rats her out to her family and they are horrified. Then the wife’s brother-in-law takes an unbrotherly interest in her (or at least her Mongolian mark). Finally, her sister is left to pick up the pieces. Let me tell you, boys suck in this book. This is a dark look into when mental health—or perhaps a demon— plagues an unremarkable, conservative family.

Wind/Pinball – Haruki Murakami – Bond Street Books

For Starlee Kine at Mystery Show.

Notable Quote: I would pull a hot dog from my pocket and gnaw on it.

Description: I’m not writing one. It’s Murakami. It’s super. There are cats and simple meals.  Instead, could someone please answer some questions I have about the above quote?

Did men usually walk around with hot dogs in their pants in 1973? Is it cultural? Wouldn’t it make your pocket damp? Wouldn’t it get all linty? Was it raw? Was it cooked? If it was cooked, wouldn’t it burn you? Would hugging be uncomfortable? Wouldn’t it break? Was there more than one? Wouldn’t you be chased down the street by a pack of Akitas? How do you gnaw on a hot dog, seems like something you would chew instead, don’t you think?


 The Naughty

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara- Doubleday

For your 72-year old aunt who is always rambling on about how bad her life is – this will show her, plus it will keep her busy for a long, long time.

Notable Quote: …he now recuts over old cuts, using the edge of the razor to saw through the tough, webby scar tissue: when the new cuts heal, they do so in warty furrows…

Description- The blurb for this book is a lie. It says it is about four friends, but it is not. Two disappear quickly and we are left with Jude and Willem. Here is the gist of this 736 page book: Jude is secretive, friends wonder about him, Jude cuts, Willem worries, Jude cuts, Willem worries, flashback to Jude’s most tragic childhood. Jude feels self-conscious and cuts, Willem worries, flashback to Jude’s most tragic childhood. Jude has good things happen, Jude is secretive and cuts, Jude has a doctor that does nothing and should lose his license, Willem becomes a big star but still worries, flashback to Jude’s most tragic childhood. Jude tries to kill himself, Willem worries, flashback to Jude’s most tragic childhood. Jude has bad things happen and cuts, Jude’s doctor and friends worry and do nothing, Jude feels self-conscious and cuts … {reader who is a mental health worker tried to explain what is wrong about the book to the book; book don’t care}

Gold, Fame, Citrus –Claire Vaye Watkins-Penguin

For the ultimate victim.

Notable Quote: All that time he let her think she was the flimsy one.

This sentence! This @%*#&% sentence! This sentence highlights all the problems I had with this book. This is a dystopian novel—no water, lots of sand dunes. The main protagonist, Luz, squats in an abandoned mansion with her boyfriend, Ray. He tries to get her to do projects to keep busy, so she plays dress up—that’s a project isn’t it. Then they steal a baby—another project—and hit the high road looking for water. Because she is so dumb, they have to separated or die. Luz meets up with a cult, gets a dicking from the handsome and charismatic cult leader (because aren’t they all), and gets addicted to a dystopian drug while neglecting the stolen baby. It is never her fault, ever. She is slightly redeemable at the end, but I think we were to feel bad or sad for her. I cheered.


*If there is lesson to be learned of this best/worst of list is that books that have cats in them are way superior to books that don’t. Obviously.



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