Well, after 19 months and 22 posts the Tastefully Done bookclub has decided to call an end to this blogging experiment.  We hope you’ve enjoyed our reviews and general nonsense.

Thanks for reading, and keep turning those pages!

“A great book should leave you with many experiences, and slightly exhausted at the end. You live several lives while reading.”
― William Styron, Conversations with William Styron

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Inherent (Ad)vice

inherent_vice_coverI came across some tips for reading Pynchon a little too late to be of help for our book club. The Pynchon Wiki, which I stumbled on the day before our meeting, tells newbies to “just enjoy the ride” and not to worry too much about confusing plot twists, references that are beyond reach, the plethora of characters, and frequent lack of closure. One fan advises: “Once you’re hooked by the humor, the density of detail and the, well, magic . . . you can always go back and try to understand more of it later. Hell, read it for fun next time too. You find yourself getting more of it each time; and that’s half the pleasure.”

As I was casting about for a book to choose for our club, I kept running into Thomas Pynchon’s name among the greats. I had read Inherent Vice a few years ago and being one of his more accessible novels, I thought it would be a fun one to pick. Described on the cover as “part noir, part psychedelic romp,” the book follows hippie private eye Doc Sportello in late ’60s L.A. as he tries to unravel one mystery after another, starting with (and all linked to) the disappearance of his ex-girlfriend’s new flame. Sadly, since I failed to impart the above advice, many members simply gave up. It being my second time through (and having seen the Paul Thomas Anderson film) I was at an advantage. Being unconstrained by the sometimes-slippery plot left me open to so much more.

I was struck most by the sheer beauty of the writing. Pynchon is a lover of drawn out, serpentine sentences that are rich in imagery and dense in detail. Setting the scene one day at sunrise, he writes: “In the little apartment complexes the wind entered narrowing to whistle through the stairwells and ramps and catwalks, and the leaves of the palm trees outside rattled together with a liquid sound, so that from inside, in the darkened rooms, in louvered light, it sounded like a rainstorm, the wind raging in the concrete geometry, the palms beating together like the rush of a tropical downpour, enough to get you to open the door and look outside, and of course there’d only be the same hot cloudless depth of day, no rain in sight.” (p. 98) And there’s something luminous like this on most every page.

The underlying themes in the novel crystallized for me on this reading as well. Pynchon explores the paranoia of the era (along with the shady government forces that give cause), fidelity (both toward individuals and beliefs), spirituality, morality, and the challenge of hanging on to one’s ideals in an increasingly dark world. This last is perhaps best said here: “. . . and here was Doc, on the natch, caught in a low-level bummer he couldn’t find a way out of, about how the Psychedelic Sixties, this little parenthesis of light, might close after all, and all be lost, taken back into darkness . . . how a certain hand might reach terribly out of darkness and reclaim the time, easy as taking a joint from a doper and stubbing it out for good.” (p. 254)

Much more could be said (there is a whole Wiki after all) but let me leave you with what we could all agree on: the deliciousness of Bigfoot’s favourite snack and how much fun it was to make. We used this recipe for Chocolate Dipped Frozen Bananas (except omitted the coconut oil and used dark Chipits chips; bathed half the bananas in toasted pecans). Far out!


– Brigid

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Life After Life

What if you could live again and again, until you got it right?

This was the question posed by my first book club pick, Life after Life by Kate Atkinson. life-after-life-e1364310158304I wanted my first pick to be something that would spark some good discussion, and also remove a book off of my lengthy “to-read” list on Goodreads. As a firm believer in fate, I constantly wonder “what if?” and was excited to read a book that tackled that exact subject.

Life after Life follows the story of Ursula Todd, an English girl that has an infinite amount of lives. Every time she dies (and she dies quite often at the beginning of the book) she comes back to life and is given the opportunity to change her destiny. While she doesn’t remember exactly causes her death, she has this sense that something is wrong, which is enough to enable her to make a different decision.  Whether that decision was the right one or not is completely up to the reader.

I was relieved to find out that everyone that attended the “intimate” book club enjoyed Life after Life as much as I did. Some of Ursula’s lifetimes were really hard to stomach, but overall I think everyone enjoyed her journey. It was fascinating to experience both sides of World War II, and there were enough interesting characters to hold everyone’s
attention over 477 pages!

One of the major discussion points that came up at the meeting was whether we thought Ursula “got it right” at the end. Even when she made all of the “right” decisions, it is debatable whether it was the happy ending she wanted. It was also really interesting to see which events changed drastically based on her decisions, and which ones were completely unaffected.

As an aside, if you really liked the character of Teddy, Kate Atkinson just released her new book “A God in Ruins” that follows his life story.  I’m curious to see how Ursula ties into the story, given how radically different some of her lifetimes ended up being. The reviews are quite positive, so it may be worth a look if you’re on the hunt for something new to read.

– Martina

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You liar! You f*cking liar!

I felt as though we had been reading some strong novels, and I wanted to lighten things up a bit.  I glanced a few “most popular” lists, and came across We Were Liars by E. Lockhart.  The editor’s notes bragged of a twist, included a map (love!), and the setting was a world entirely unknown to me:  old money New England.  Goodreads backed up my choice with several 5 star reviews and readers, who I now know must have been HAF or directly related to the author, proclaimed emotional reactions and that they “profoundly loved” this book.  Sold!

What a fool I was.

This book sucked.  It was easy to read.  That is it’s only redeemable quality.  The characters were underdeveloped to the point that not only do we only know about 5 general facts per person, what we do know is stereotypical bullshit.  Poor little rich girl?  Boring.  Drunken sisters fighting over daddy’s money?  Yawn.  Steely, racist grandfather wielding his wealth in order to control his family?  Over it.  What was supposed to draw in the reader did the opposite:  this was 300 pages of meaningless, pointless drivel.

Am I being harsh?  I really don’t think so.  Here’s the basic plot:  Wealthy family each has a home on a private island off the coast of Martha’s Vineyard.  The cousins – the bizarrely named Liars, who, to my knowledge, don’t tell lies – are tired of their families bickering over money and possessions and decide to teach them a lesson.  The lesson backfires and the family is forever changed.  There is a romance between one of the Aryan grandchildren and a – gasp – visible minority with a name any gal couldn’t help but love …Gat.  To me, his name sounded like a noise I make when I have a cold; to Cadence, it’s a symphony of heartbeats and sweet nothings.

One member noted that the overdramatic declarations and actions do mirror those of a teenager, for whom this novel was written.  Fair enough.  But I dare think most 15 year olds would read this, turn to their friends, and state:  “bitches, get real”.

What could E. Lockart have done to salvage this book?  Well, how about some character development?  And perhaps have a plot twist which isn’t quite so obvious.  The setting could have been lovely, but filling it with characters so vapid, self-righteous, and dumb completely negated it.

My apologies, book club.  I usually pride myself on choosing excellent books which I know would spark a great discussion and would be a solid read everyone would enjoy.

If I

were to put We Were Liars

in that category,

I’d certainly be



See what I did there?


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An “Absoloodlely” Epic Book

The Power of One, by Bryce Courtenay has been around since 1989 but strangely none of our members had heard of it!  All these different versions of the book are proof of its longevity:


Despite its ‘self-help’ style title, it is not that. While there is plenty of self-discovery along the way, it is young adult fiction. The novel is divided into three parts that tell the story of a young boy named Peekay on his journey through boyhood in South Africa and the ways in which racism plays an integral part within his life and the lives of those around him. Oh, and there’s boxing. And shamanism. And Nazis. And murder. And a rooster named Granpa Chook.

When this book came out my husband, then a pre-teen, felt it changed his life and has forever proclaimed this to be his favourite book. His older sister and mom read the book as well and fell in love with the story and still speak highly of it to this day. After hearing about this book for nearly 8 years, I decided book club might be a great place to try it as it came with glowing reviews. In fact, my husband proclaimed, “This will probably become someone’s favourite book of all time.”; a bold statement for sure and, unfortunately, nobody has proclaimed it to be their favourite book.

However, all members at the meeting were in agreement that it was a really good book. As previously mentioned, it is lengthy! A long book made of seemingly smaller stories and events, some were exciting, some scary, some funny, some boring and some very, very interesting. On a whole, we enjoyed learning about the racial divide in South Africa, particularly that between the English and Afrikaaners that was a result of the Boer War (1899-1902). We enjoyed the colourful characters that helped to shape Peekay’s life, in particular Hoppie and Doc.

Some criticisms of the book included whether or not the characters and events that took place were believable or overly exaggerated, or whether or not the message of the book should instead be changed from “the power of one” to “the power of the community”. Personally, I did not connect with the portions of the book where Peekay befriended Morrie (or Hymie, depending on the version of the book you had!) and found myself glossing through this portion.

I won’t spoil the end for you but the concluding scene of the book had some members moved and others questioning if they ever really knew Peekay at all. Did he act ‘first with the head and then with the heart’? That’s up to the reader to decide…


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Christmastime is the most wonderful time of the year

As a group we spend the calendar year meeting to discuss the books that we’ve read and when we get together we use our meetings to be social and to catch up on one another’s goings on, but seldom do we celebrate!


Christmastime is in fact the most wonderful time of the year. It is a time where we can indulge and eat and drink be merry, all to our heart’s content (or, well, more than usual). One where we can share the traditions that we grew up with and cultivate ones of our own.


Traditions of gift giving… and taking and giving and taking…. and who knows what you’ll receive! Cheese plates, steamware and (highly coveted) tea pots, oh my! Where hot chocolate flows and egg cups are multipurpose, where we sing Christmas carols and we regale one another with the choice riddles and jokes that one typically finds in Christmas crackers.


And while the holiday season has come and gone, and we fall back into our daily routines, we take care to the remember the people that mean so much to us within Bookclub and those members that exist abroad.


Now, regarding the Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night: as our meeting was coming to a conclusion and members started to leave, Laina on her way out sent me a message saying, “Go immediately to our elevator. Sweetest dog ever in there. Why???” to which I replied, “That’s how we do. You’re welcome.” because I am a nincompoop. After much trying Laina was finally able to get me to understand the urgency of the situation and I left the few members that were still in attendance and, yes, as it turned out, there was a very lovely, very obedient, well trained and well taken care of dog in my elevator. Just waitin’.

It had a collar with a number that I called but it was the number for the City of Vancouver and their automated voice messaging system. I called it approximately 8,001 times hoping that I keyed in the correct extension I’d get a human person. No. I called the SPCA: automated voice messaging system; I called the 9-1-1 non-emergency line who referred me back to the SPCA (see previous result). I spent the next 30 minutes with the dog trying to figure out what to do next. At this point my absence went noticed and at 1 am we went knocking on doors to try to find this poor dog’s owners.

Eventually we decided to bring the darling in and leave it on my balcony. We made signs and posted them throughout the building. At around 2 am there was a knock on my door and joy abound this dog’s owner was found! We discovered that our canine companion was named Sam and that Sam was a boy. We escorted Sam and his owner back to their apartment and all was well. The next day the SPCA gave me a call back and as it turns if you find an animal in the nighttime, and you choose to take responsibility of it, it’s yours until the morning hours.

Should future you find yourself in such a situation, I would recommend having some awesome, cool, calm and collected ladies at your side to talk you down from your crazy ledge. To you all my gratitude has knows no limits.

Sam the dog

Sam the dog


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Reading challenge

Have you ever tried a reading challenge?  I tried it for the first time last year and loved it. There are a few approaches you can take:

Pick a number
My main goal last year was to get back into a regular reading habit. To that end, I used the goodreads reading challenge widget to pick a number that would challenge me but I felt was achievable. In the end I read 37 books of my 40 book challenge, which I was pretty happy with. Full disclosure, I definitely focused on good short reads at various parts of the year, so you can find yourself making compromises to achieve this goal. Overall though I found that I read more, it encouraged me to keep a closer track of the books I read, and I enjoyed it enough to sign up again this year.

Picking a number isn’t the only way to approach reading challenges. You could also…

Work through the alphabet
This one is quite popular on goodreads this year, and if you like the support of joining a group it may be the one for you. The premise is that you work your way through book titles which start with each letter of the alphabet, either in order or as you feel like it. A friend of mine is blogging about this very challenge and I have every confidence it will be worth reading. Check out her blog here!

Genre hopping
Maybe you’ve been sucked into a genre vortex lately and need that extra push to escape. Why not try a genre hopping reading challenge this year? All you have to do is choose a range of genres or sub-genres you don’t normally read (I recommend choosing at least 5) and aim to read a certain number of books from each by year’s end. Choosing a mix of fiction and non-fiction genres can be especially rewarding. Top 100 genre lists are a good place to start if you’re looking for inspiration, and a few years ago SF signal put together a great flowchart of NPR’s top 100 scifi and fantasy picks which you can find here.

A walk through time or space
A good way to diversify your reading habits is to look outside of your usual time period. One approach is to read 2 or 3 books published in each decade over the past 100 years. Alternatively, you could read a book published in each year during a certain timeframe. Reading books set in different locations around the world is also popular. The ‘Around the World in 80 Books’ group on goodreads has straightforward guidelines, 5 challenge levels, and a lot of book suggestions.

If all this sounds like a bit too much trouble you could print out PopSugar’s 2015 Reading Challenge list which has a nice mix of random conditions and comes in a delightful tickbox format.

Happy reading in 2015!


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