Clearly, my blogging has been a bit behind this fall so I am catching up and providing mini-reviews of the last books of 2018 as we end the year. Tomorrow, I will post my reading highlights and lowlights of the year as we turn a fresh page to 2019.
80. Too Young to Escape (Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch)
This was a terrific story, written with a middle-grade reader in mind. It is a story of bravery as a family escapes Vietnam for a better life, ending up in Canada. This families’ plight should be taught in school and enable those born in Canada to understand the life and death choices that families have made to get to freedom.
As a mother, it is hard to imagine sending off my husband with one of the kids, hoping for the best and waiting months before knowing if they had reached safety. It is hard to imagine a time before the internet, before texting and apps like Facebook that provide quick responses when this family had to wait for a letter bringing news that their loved ones had made it! As a mother, I can’t imagine that dreadful choice of escaping to dodge bullets and keep 3 young children safe yet knowing that the youngest was left behind in Vietnam.
I loved meeting this amazing family who were all reunited after many years apart and appreciate living in Canada, a country where they can be safe and have opportunities that they would not have experienced in Vietnam. As in all her books, Marsha Forchuk Skrypuch has done a fantastic job capturing the raw feelings of hope and resilience. She helps students consider the plight of others, living through war and devastation. I look forward to her next book and am thankful that the Branford Public Library held an event to launch this terrific book!
81. The Christmas Star (Donna VanLierre)
As part of a December challenge to read Christmas Stories, I listened to The Christmas Star during my commutes. It was pleasant, light and predictable. It told the story of a little girl, living in foster care who befriends the school janitor, introducing him to a woman at the after school program. Both adults care for the young girl and the magic of Christmas creates a happy ending.
82. Becoming (Michelle Obama)
Although Becoming had a bit of a slow start, I loved learning more about the strength and caring of Michelle and Barack Obama. I had no idea of that Michelle had grown up living in a tiny apartment above her aunt’s house. Her mother stayed home to care for Michelle and her brother while her dad never missed a day of work at a water plant. Her parents supported the importance of education and Michelle studied diligently, eventually completing a law degree from Harvard.
As she worked in her first law office, she was assigned the mentorship of a new law student who was none other than Barack Obama. Despite “fake news”, I learned that Barack Obama had his own complicated upbringing and certainly did not grow up with a silver spoon!
Reading Michelle’s life story, the commitment of this couple to the greater good and all the sacrifices to family time, helped me understand the power of this couple to make a difference in the world. From her vegetable garden at the White House, her commitment to healthy children and to Barack’s fierce determination to be president, they made a difference to the people of America.
This was an inspiring read and I am looking forward to the Michelle Obama event in Toronto this May.
83. The Bookshelf of Yesterday (Amy Meyerson)
The Bookshelf of Yesterday was an entertaining book to listen to during my commutes. It was the story of a young woman’s search for answers after her Uncle died, leaving her a scavenger hunt of clues. The hints were deliberately hidden in books and old letters that had been entrusted to others for safekeeping. Her Uncle left a trail of family history which enabled her to learn about her past and discover herself.
84. The World According to Garp (John Irving)
John Irving’s The World According to Garp celebrated its’ 40th anniversary this fall. I eagerly picked up a copy, expecting to love it a second time around. It had likely been about 25 years since my first read through and my first copy had experienced an unfortunate accident in the bottom of a canoe. At that time (early 90s), relaxing on a camping trip, I had loved the story.
The second read took me about 3 weeks. I struggled to get through it, remembering snippets and slowly recalling the story. Although it was ahead of its’ time in many ways, with feminist ideas and a strong transgender character, it was so obviously written from the perspective of a man and had me rolling my eyes at times.
Lessons learned, sometimes revisiting an old favourite is just a disappointment!
85. The Tent (Margaret Atwood)
It was amazing to receive a signed copy of the tent from my CanadianContent Goodreads Group Secret Santa. These, very short, short stories were a couple of pages and were a great way to end each night. Having said that, I will need to revisit them as reading Atwood’s prose before bed is not the best time for contemplation!
86. The Crown (Jennifer Robson)
Thank you to Harper Collins for sharing an advance reader copy of The Gown. I had looked forward to reading this novel after hearing Jennifer Robson speak at the Brantford Public Library where she shared the idea of this novel as well as at the embroidery she had attempted during a trip to London to research the book.
This was an engaging story of a young embroider who was living independently after losing her parents and her beloved brother before and during the second World War. It highlights the perseverance of a group of women to complete, with painstaking detail, the beautifully embellished wedding gown of Princess Elizabeth at a time when England needed something to celebrate.
I love historical fiction and think that this book struck a chord as I thought about my late Grandmother who had attended the Queen’s coronation a few years after the setting of the book. Robson continues the pattern of her meticulous research and has woven a story that not only entertains but helps readers have a greater understanding of England following World War II.
87. The Deal of a Lifetime (Frederik Bachman)
Thanks to my husband for this great collection of 3 short stories which he picked up, knowing how much I had enjoyed A Man Called Ove. I had mistakenly thought that this was a holiday book when I started reading it on Christmas morning. As I powered through the stories, I was especially struck by the second tale which described the experience of a grandfather, son and grandson as they came to terms with the grandfather’s dementia. This collection is poignant and beautifully written and it just might be a good idea to have a box of tissue handy for the middle story!
Finishing this book reminds me that I must read Beartown which has been recommended to me multiple times (Sarah, Layne, Shannon).
88. The Library Book (Susan Orlean)
Thanks to my brother for another great Christmas gift, The Library Book. This non-fiction book told the story of the Los Angeles (LA) Public Library which sustained an enormous amount of damage and the loss of many books during a fire which was thought to be arson.
The book not only described the fire and investigated the suspect but it shared details about libraries, the loss of books during war, the past history of library administration in LA along with the complex workings of the shipping department as it shared books with multiple branches.
While I loved the topic and detail of this book, it would have benefited from a bit more editing. There were a couple of repeated parts and I struggled, at times, to keep up with the way the chapters jumped back and forth between topics.
89. Oryx and Crake (Margaret Atwood)
In 2018, I have read Cat’s Eye, The Tent and now Oryx and Crake, the first of a dystopian trilogy. I was lucky to meet Margaret Atwood at an event at the Stratford Theatre and appreciate her creativity and spunk each time I read her work.
Reading Oryx and Crake made me think about both The Hunger Game and Divergent series and wonder if Atwood’s writing had inspired these authors to write their tales which had many similarities?
The reader slowly comes to understand the stories of Oryx and Crake through the eyes of Snowman, the remaining human who had been born in a previous way of life. He is supervising the “Crakers”, designer humans in a world devoid of technology and community while he tries to stay safe and avoid the pigoons and wolvogs.
This first book, in the series, describes how the world had gotten to this point and I look forward to learning more about Snowman and what is to come in the next two books including The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam.
90. Spark of Light (Jodi Picoult)
The January book club read is Spark of Light which is a fictional tale of an abortion clinic under fire. It is told from multiple perspectives and it begins at the end of hostage deliberations after some hostages have been released. It then travels back by the hour to help the reader to understand what had happened before.
Again, Jodi Picoult has spent a great deal of time researching her topic (including witnessing abortions at different stages and speaking to individuals who had chosen to terminate pregnancies). She brings the issue to life including the perspective of a young girl and her aunt awaiting an appointment for birth control, a woman that has just had the procedure, an “anti” who was disguised as trying to obtain information for an abortion and the doctor and staff who supported women to make choices.
While I struggled with the literary device of telling the story backwards, I enjoyed this quick read which makes a reader ponder their own feelings on the issue. I for one, am glad to live in Canada where women have choice! I am sure that it will be a dynamic discussion on Wednesday!