Book Review Blitz – December

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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.00.38 PMThis 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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.01.02 PM

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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 6.59.40 PMAlthough 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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.02.43 PM

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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.01.30 PMJohn 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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.03.09 PM

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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.03.54 PMThank 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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.04.17 PMThanks 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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.04.39 PMThanks 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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.04.59 PMIn 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)

Screen Shot 2018-12-31 at 7.05.25 PMThe 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!



 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Book Review Blitz – October/November

68.  An Ocean of Minutes (Lim, Thea)

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 10.02.46 AMThank you to Viking Publishing for an advance reader copy of An Ocean of Minutes (won through Goodreads).  Although it took me a while dig into this story, it was terrific that it became one of the books short-listed for the 2018 Giller Prize.

It was an interesting premise, the main character’s partner contracted a terrible flu and the only way that she could afford to save him was by signing on with a company providing health benefits.  The company happened to send workers with specific skills into the future.  She sacrificed her own freedom, leaving behind her boyfriend and beloved aunt, and headed years away with a plan to meet again at a certain time and place.

Of course, the trip did not go smoothly and she was sent to a different year.  As she acclimated to a new time and culture, she waited to be reunited with her partner.

At the time of reading, I did not appreciate the ending but as I reflect back, it seems more realistic.  It was fun to meet the author and have my book signed at the Between the Pages event in Toronto.


69.  The Sea Prayer (Hosseini, Khaled)

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 10.26.58 AM

The Sea Prayer was more like a picture book helping , readers to understand the risks individuals will take to escape countries such as Syria.  Like The Kite Runner, A Thousand Splendid Sons and And the Mountains Echoed, it makes readers thankful for living in Canada and helps readers reflect on the experiences of families in war torn countries.

 

 


70.  Motherhood (Sheila Heiti)

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 10.03.35 AMI have to say that I would NEVER have read this book if it had not been part of the Giller Scotiabank short-list.  I struggled to finish it and would never have got to the end, if it I had not been part of this amazing book contest.  I do strive to have all the Giller short-listed books signed at the Between the Pages event but was happy to have borrowed this one from the library.

I am not sure, if I just could not relate (being the mother of 4 and having a great relationship with my own mom) but this book made me cranky.  It was supposed to be fiction but really seemed more of a memoir… and one that went on and on, wrestling with the idea of whether the narrator (or maybe the author) should have a child or not.

I think it could have been more palatable if it was a short story (or perhaps an essay) but it was too long, too repetitive and read like a LONG, dry stream of consciousness of the author.

Of note, this author included MANY yes/no questions throughout the book which she answered by the flip of a coin.  Towards the end, it was difficult to force myself to read them and stay focused.

In the end, to each their own and it seems to be a book that received many polarizing responses.  In my Goodreads group, there were those that could not relate yet there were others who were impacted by the voice of the narrator and truly appreciated the book.


71.  Whiskey in a Teacup:  What Growing Up in the South Taught Me About Life, Love & Baking Biscuits  (Reese Witherspoon)

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 10.10.50 AMWhiskey in a Teacup was another book that I was glad to have borrowed from the library.  It was inspired by the author’s grandmother who thought that the combination of a woman’s beauty and strength was like “whiskey in a teacup”.  The book included both text and many pictures which shared Reese Whitherspoon’s thoughts on topics such as entertaining, holidays, home decor and books.  It included recipes and tips inspired by her Southern roots of hospitality.

Although I enjoyed reading this and flipping through the pictures, it is not a book that I need to own.  I do appreciate that Reese promotes a love of reading and found that her section on reading and book clubs was the highlight of this book!


72.  The Next Person You Meet in Heaven (Mitch Albom)

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 10.36.31 AMMitch Albom has done it again!  He has composed a fable that helps readers reflect on the difference that make in other people’s lives without realizing the impact.  As a sequel to The Five People You Meet in Heaven, this tells the story of Annie who’s life had been saved by Eddie in the first book.

Annie has grown up and is getting married when a terrible accident reunifies her with the man who had saved her life.  As she meets individuals in heaven, she reflects on the challenges in her own life and learns the impact that she has made on others.

Like all of the Albom books, this is a book that makes readers think about their actions and how they can positively impact others.  It is the perfect book to read as the new year arrives and help readers realize the importance of being kind to others!


73.  A Stranger in the House (Shari Lapena)

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 10.38.53 AM

A Stranger in the House was an enjoyable audiobook to keep me company during my commute.  It was a light, although predictable, “read” as the listener tried to figure out who was the murderer.  I would recommend  this book as a palate cleanser or for an easy book to focus on and keep you company in the car.

 

 


74.  25 Awesome People I Know (Sarah Pass)

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 10.09.56 AM

Written by a local entrepreneur, this book compiles anecdotes and life experience from 25 individuals that Sarah Pass knows.  These people are local, everyday individuals with unique stories to tell.  It is a reflective book which helps readers realize the importance of getting to know the people you meet.  The collection reinforces that everyone has a story to tell!

 

 


75.  Washington Black (Esi Edugyan)

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 9.41.05 AMBy now, everyone knows that Esi Edugyan has won the Giller Scotiabank Prize for her latest novel!  I was privileged to meet her at the Giller Between the Pages event as part of the pre-Giller prize event and look forward to meeting her at the Grimsby Author Series in the spring.

After reading Washington Black, I have mixed feelings.  The writing was beautiful and I enjoyed the overall story but I did struggle with the probability of events which blended the horrific history of slavery with the fantastical journey that Washington Black ended up on.  After being rescued by the plantation owner’s brother, it was hard to believe that Washington Black could not only evade the slave catcher, but be part of journey in a flying machine, end up in the Arctic and then participate in the building aquariums, to showcase ocean creatures, in London.

Perhaps the greatest success of this novel is that it makes a reader think, to really ponder the dreadful experience of slavery.  Edugyan writes beautifully and this is a book to slowly enjoy.

76.  Bag of Bones (Stephen King)

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 10.29.31 AMThe October book club challenge was to each choose a Stephen King book to read and then discuss with the group.  This was the second October that we had re-visited (and perhaps rediscovered the talents of) this author, who many of us had read in younger days.

I enjoyed listening to the audio version of  Bag of Bones (narrated by King himself) which was the story of a man, grieving his beloved wife.  As he tried to figure out how she had spent her last days, he was led to Sarah Laughs, his summer home, where he became involved with a maelstrom of past grievances and terror which spanned generations of a quiet cottage community.

I truly enjoyed listening to Stephen King narrate this novel and could easily visualize the tale and the strongly written characters.  Although Can Lit is my focus, I am in awe of the talents and creativity of Stephen King!


77.  Elevation (Stephen King)

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 9.45.55 AMElevation was more of a novella than the door stopper sized books that Stephen King often writes.  It could be read in one sitting and like always he builds a vivid pictures of his characters.  This book told the story of a man who kept losing weight no matter how much he ate but who repaired his contentious relationship with the “lesbians next door” who’s dog kept pooping on his grass.  King showed how relationships could be improved, with effort and kindness.

After following Stephen King on twitter and seeing how much he hates the current president, who has blocked his tweets, I cannot help but feel that this novella is in response to the divisive, mysoginistic and damaging impact of Trump.  Elevation sets an example of reporting relationships and shows how kindness and caring for others can make a difference!


78.  Half Spent Was the Night (McKay,  Ami)

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 9.57.10 AMHalf Spent Was the Night was part of my pre-Christmas reading, a novella, featuring the strong, female characters of The Witches of New York.  The book highlighted the witches’ divinations and preparations for the holidays including the tradition of roasting chestnuts.  It also shared a few recipes of the time ending with the excitement and trepidation of a masquerade ball.

I am not sure how this book would resonate with readers that had not first read The Witches of New York as I felt that I needed a bit of a reminder of all the characters as I caught up with them in the story.  I am grateful to have met Ami McKay but my favourite novel by this author remains The Birth House.


79.  Bibliophile (Jane Mount)

Screen Shot 2018-12-30 at 10.37.40 AMBibliophile was a fun book of pictures and facts about books, genres of books, book stores and libraries.  Illustrated by the author, it added a few books to my TBR (to be read) pile and suggested bookstores and libraries that I would like to visit!

 

 

 



 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

67. Up from Freedom (Wayne Grady)

Screen Shot 2018-12-29 at 9.34.20 AMSeptember was a very hectic month with the kids heading back to school and swimming, with my campaign for school board trustee and catching up at work after summer holidays.  Up from Freedom was the ONLY book that I was able to finish in September!

This book was written by Canadian author Wayne Grady who did not discover his own black family history until he was an adult.  It tells the story of the son of a slave own, protesting against his father’s treatment of slaves.  He leaves, taking a female slave with him who he later discovers was pregnant.  The trio live together as a family and after their “family” falls apart, he questions their relationships, where his “wife” really felt free in their relationship as he headed out to search for her son.

I enjoyed meeting Grady at the Grimsby Authors Series and learning that this book was inspired by a family story.  It was well-written and a book that helps readers reflect on the terrible history of slavery.

 

Posted in Author event, Canadian, Fiction, Grimsby Author Series | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Book Review Blitz- August

My mission this weekend is to get back on track, to get caught up on my book reviews and make a small dent in my accounts of author events.   These reviews are from the end of August when I had the luxury of some reading while we relaxed and explored New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island.  We had nightly family reading time as we wound down from days exploring, whale watching, hiking and visiting some tourist attractions.  I will note that although I really enjoyed the Anne of Green Gables and L.M. Montgomery sites, the kids were not as enamoured!

Here are some quick reviews from my August reading:

61.  People of the Book (Geraldine Brooks)

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 11.35.06 AMWhat a terrific story! I think I must be one of the few readers who has not already enjoyed this book.  I am not sure why I waited so long.!  It not only had engaging narrative but shared a dreadful history helping a reader understand the terrible legacy of the persecution of Jewish people throughout history.

The story was told through the viewpoint of young woman, a rare book expert, who worked to conserve a recently discovered Haggadah(a precious Hebrew manuscript) in Sarajevo.  As she finds clues within the book, the books history is revealed and the reader is introduced to brave Jewish individuals and families who attempted to preserve their culture and religion despite horrible circumstances.


62.  Educated (Tara Westover)

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 11.35.26 AMThe only way that I can describe this book, is t compare it to a train wreck.  It is disturbing to read the unbelievable tale of Westover’s childhood but you just can’t put the book down.  Her story is unbelievable and shocking.  It makes the reader angry to think of the neglect and abuse yet the reader can marvel at the the author’s irrepressible hopefulness, resilience and will to learn.

Westover was born into a Fundamentalist, Survivalist family that stocked up or the end of the world, storing away canned foods and supplies.  Although undiagnosed, her father (and the rest of the family) was impacted symptoms that likely represented bipolar disease.  The children were “homeschooled”, and I use that term loosely as they were often responsible for their own learning.  The family never sought medical attention despite severe significant accidents including trauma, burns and even head injuries.

Escaping the family home, she was astonished to learn about how other families lived.  She needed much counselling and support as she chose to embark on university education while losing the support of her family.  Remarkably, despite incredible odds, 3 children of this family would earn PhD’s estranging themselves from their family.

Educated makes a fantastic book club discussion!


63.  The Forgotten Road (Richard Paul Evans)

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 11.36.26 AMReaders may think of Christmas tales (like The Mistletoe Promise) when they see a book by Richard Paul Evans.  He has written over 35 books and writes stories that impart life lessons through fiction.

The Forgotten Road began when a successful pitchman missed his flight.  After a horrific plane crash, he was presumed dead.   Instead of declaring this near miss, he embarked on a pilgrimage.  He walked the famous Route 66, dealing with hardships like being robbed, working with migrant workers and learned lessons from the many interesting people that he met along the way.

Apparently, this is the second book of the trilogy which was an easy read.  I am not sure that I will go back and read the other two but I will likely pick up one of his Christmas stories in December to get into the holiday spirit.


64.  I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You (David Chariandy)

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 11.35.55 AMI’ve Been Meaning to Tell You is a heartfelt and honest letter to the author’s 13 year old daughter.  It shares challenges and highlights of his experience growing up in Ontario with his Black/south Asian heritage.  He not only shares his experiences but imparts knowledge and a sense of identity for his daughter with hopes of her being proud of her heritage and confident as she grows into a  young woman.

After meeting David Chariandy at a One Book One London event and reading both Brother and I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You , I have a greater understanding of the perspective and the challenges that youth experience.  I hope that it will be easier for his daughter and the younger generations to live in the diverse communities of Ontario.


65.  The Saturday Night Ghost Club (Craig Davidson)

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 11.36.49 AMThis was a great coming of age story to read while we were camping in New Brunswick and PEI.  Set in Niagara Falls, it tells the story of a neurosurgeon looking back on his childhood, summer days and his relationship with his quirky Uncle.

The cover was terrific – a retro style look reminiscent of books that I read in my teen years!  Along with the cover,  I loved all the eighties references which will have readers reflecting back on their own childhoods, having the independence to bike with their friends, shopping at Woolco and sporting pencil cases with photos from the Goonies!

The topic is very relevant in a time when so many are dealing with mental health challenges and it gives readers perspective of the challenges people face and how they are impacted.

This is my second book by Craig Davidson and it shows the diversity of his writing.  Precious Cargo is a great memoir and I will eventually get to Cataract City which is sitting on my bookshelf!


66.  The Alice Network (Kate Quinn)

Screen Shot 2018-11-17 at 11.34.37 AMThe Alice Network is another great example of learning history through fiction.  It describes the bravery and strength of women acting as spies during the war which might not be widely known.

The novel is set after WWII when a young woman is struggling with an unwanted pregnancy.  Enroute to Switzerland to take care of her “little problem”, she escapes her mother’s judgemental guidance and sets out in London to find her beloved cousin who had not been in contact since WWII ended.  She meets a couple of unlikely allies as she searches, discovers the fate of her cousin and and slowly learns the heartbreaking story of a  female spy during WWI.

It is not only a quick read but a terrific story and the reader is treated to a synopsis of what is fiction and what is true history at the end of the book.  It is a novel that makes one learn about the quiet bravery and small missions that make a difference during the war.  A great book for YA girls too!

Watch for my September reviews coming soon!

 

Posted in Book Club, Canadian, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Non-Fiction, Novels about Books, Summer Blitz | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

A Legacy of Little Free Libraries, Rest in Peace Todd Bol

Greetings readers,

I am sorry if you have been missing my reviews but don’t worry, I will be back soon!  Although I have been on hiatus, I did want to take a few minutes to recognize a literary hero.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 8.16.47 PM

credit to the Little Free Library website

Sadly, Todd Bol passed away today after a short illness with pancreatic cancer.  He was the founder of the Little Free Library organization which shared books around the world.  He leaves a legacy of over 75,000 Little Free Libraries in 88 countries which is an amazing way to share a love of reading!

This fabulous initiative began in 2009 when Bol built a LFL that was modelled after a one room schoolhouse, in Hudson, Wi.  The LFL was a tribute to his mother, a former school teacher, who loved reading.  His neighbours and friends loved it so he built several more to give away.  His original goal was to encourage the building of 2509 LFLs which has clearly been surpassed.

 

Check out LFLs near you on the world wide map.

Screen Shot 2018-10-18 at 8.17.09 PMLittle Free Libraries keep sprouting up everywhere and in honour of the legacy Bol leaves, I encourage you to build a LFL to share books with your neighbours, add books to an existing, local LFL or share a book with a friend!

Need to know more?  Here is a link to my LFL page:  Franklin Street Little Free Library.

Rest in peace Todd Bol.

 

Posted in Little Free Library, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Summer Blitz # 2 (59 & 60)

In an effort to get caught up on my book reviews, here is a snapshot of a couple more books that have been part of my summer reading.

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 9.58.40 PM59. The English Patient (Michael Ondaajte)

Many of us have read or at least watched the movie, The English Patient. Originally published in 1992, it tells the story of an unidentified, badly burned man.  This man, presumed to be English, was being cared for by a Canadian nurse (Hana) in an abandoned hospital in Italy at the end of the war.  The couple was joined by Caravaggio, whose experience in the war is unclear but was a Canadian thief and by a Sikh Sapper named Kip who was assigned to disarm bombs left by Hitler’s troops as they abandoned Italy.

The odd group spends their evenings together, telling tales of their experiences and revealing their physical and emotional scars, as the story of the English patient is slowly revealed.

It was a great honour that Michael Ondaatje’s novel won the coveted Golden Man Booker Prize, earlier this year.  This award was chosen by the public who voted from a list of the last 50 Man Booker Prize winning books.

This was my second time reading the novel which slowly entranced the reader to keep turning the pages to discover the origin of the English patient and learn the circumstances leading up to his injuries.   Like his book Warlight, published earlier this year, the readers are treated to a different perspective of the days following the war and learn a bit about history as they delve into the well-described characters.

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 9.57.27 PM60.  The Sickness (Alberto Barerra Tyska)

In preparation for my September book club meeting, I borrowed The Sickness from the library.  Our theme for this month is Venezuela, celebrating the heritage of one of our members.  The novel is set in Venezuela yet the challenges of losing a parent are universal.

It was a quick read and but I struggled with the logistics of consent and the sharing of information.  Perhaps the medical system is different in Venezuela but it was surprising that results would be provided to the son of a capable patient leaving him the difficult task of sharing the bad news.  As he debated whether to deliver the  life limiting prognosis to his father, one of his patients was dealing with his hypochondria and attempting to gain advice from the doctor.

It was an interesting story but I struggled with finding the threads between the two story lines and was hoping for more closure at the end.  I do look forward to our discussion both about issues of death and dying and learning more about the country of Venezuela.

Posted in Award, Book Club, Canadian, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Summer Blitz | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

58. Starlight (Richard Wagamese)

Screen Shot 2018-08-13 at 12.00.33 AMThank you to Allie McHugh at Penguin Random House for sharing an advance reader copy of Starlight in exchange for an honest review.  I had been patiently waiting to learn more about Frank Starlight and understand what had happened after Medicine Walk ended.

The late Richard Wagamese is one of my most favourite authors! Canada has lost an amazing story teller, one who shared his own struggles and whose characters portray the generational devastation from residential schools, the sixties scoop and government assimilation policies.  His beautiful prose leads to learning, acceptance and understanding while highlighting the importance of healing, forgiveness and the ability to start fresh.

Sadly, Richard Wagamese passed away in the midst of writing Starlight.  This novel is the sequel to Medicine Walk and is another book that all Canadians should read (along with mention Indian Horse and Ragged Company)!  I love that the publisher has stayed true to his words, publishing the story as he wrote it and not creating an ending on his behalf.  The story may have ended before the reader was ready, but I appreciate the publishers note at the end, explaining what his family and friends had understood about his plans to end the book.  This was authentic and respectful of this amazing storyteller who left the world too soon.

Starlight continues the tale of Frank Starlight.  He remains on the farm, working the land and supporting a friend.  Sadly, the old man had passed away but he had left a legacy through his quiet love, teachings and the land which he left to Frank.  Life changed dramatically when he offered shelter to a woman named Emmy and her daughter who had escaped a violent relationship.

Through Frank’s calm demeanour and his love of the land, he helps the pair rebuild their confidence and happiness.  He shares his art of nature photography and slowly they learn to trust each other despite Emmy’s worry of her past coming back to haunt her.

After finishing the story, I was left wanting more.  Many times, I felt like I wanted to pick up the book and continue with these characters that I had grown to respect and appreciate.  Wagamese’s art was not only telling a story but building amazing characters that seemed real and stayed with the reader after the books were closed.

I am so sorry that this is the last works of the great Richard Wagamese and hope that he is at peace knowing that his stories are making a difference.  Through fiction, he is helping change the narrative of Canada as readers become allies by learning more about the terrible mistakes of the past and learn to support the work towards reconciliation.

Posted in Canadian | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

Summer Blitz (books 50 to 58)

With apologies to my book followers, this summer has been filled with beautiful, sunny days and I have been a bit slow with my book reviews!  In order to catch up, I am doing a summer blitz, grouping together some shorter reviews into one post.


Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 9.28.04 AM50.  Emily Climbs (L.M. Montgomery) – For a long time, I have meant to discover the Emily stories after enjoying the Anne of Green Gables series.  I was not disappointed, see the combined review of the 3 books in the series: here

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 3.39.01 PM51.  Still Waters (Amy Stuart)

I have been privileged to meet Amy Stuart twice.  She is gracious in sharing her encouragement to other writers and could be the woman next door.  She is a mom (of boys) so we know that she is busy, and a teacher, yet has been able to publish not one, but two novels!  She is a role model for her family and for aspiring writers.

I enjoyed reading her first novel, Still Mine, which was a book that kept me turning the pages, anxious to learn the plight of the girl who had disappeared.  In Still Waters, Clare returns as an inept investigator, nursing her wounds from Still Mine and hoping to uncover what happened to a missing woman and her young son.  As Clare becomes enmeshed in the community of High River she discovers that everyone has a secret!

This book is the second in a trilogy and I am looking forward to the next instalment!

Screen Shot 2018-06-17 at 9.35.40 AM52.  Emily’s Quest (L.M. Montgomery)  – this is the culmination of the Emily series and describes the adulthood of Emily who has become a successful author.  See review here

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 4.05.16 PM53.  The Breadwinner (Deborah Ellis)

It was terrific to meet Deborah Ellis at the Brantford Public Library where she shared her experiences,  as an author, travelling to other countries and helping others that are less fortunate, to a crowd of adults and children.  I had never read any of her books which are geared to middle-grade students and enjoyed the tale of Parvana, a young, Afghan girl, taking great risks to support her family after her father was put in jail by the Talib.

The book is a great introduction to injustice in the world and should help students realize how lucky they are to live in Canada.  The author’s commitment to assist others is evident in that all the royalties from The Breadwinner are donated to Women for Women in Afghanistan which is a charity dedicated to the education of Afghan girls in refugee camps in Pakistan.

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 4.16.45 PM54.  The Story Girl (L.M. Montgomery)

As I slowly enjoy the novels written by the beloved author, Lucy Maude Montgomery, I listened to the audio version of The Story Girl.  Unlike the Anne and Emily characters, the children in this book are not orphans.  They are spending a summer with their cousins while their father works (it was not all rosy as they had experienced the loss of their beloved mother).  The children enjoy time exploring Prince Edward Island and are kept under the spell of the Story Girl who weaves elaborate tales to keep them occupied.  The Story Girl is a book that kept me smiling and thinking of a simpler time when children played outside, shared stories and were not held captive by the technology of computers, cell phones and video games.  It was a delightful “read” as I discover other books written by of L.M. Montgomery.

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 4.20.15 PM55.  The Great Atlantic Bucket List (Robin Esrock)

As we considered our summer plans, we enjoyed pursuing The Great Atlantic Bucket List which shared many fun experiences on the East Coast.  The author had clearly enjoyed all of the locations and adventures including whale watching, kayaking and forward-facing repelling down a cliff.  The book contained many ideas for dining, travel and enjoying a family vacation.  It is a great resource for anyone considering a trip to the Canadian Maritimes!

 

 

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 4.31.38 PM56.  The Plant Paradox (Stephen Gundry)

In my efforts to live a healthy lifestyle, I was curious about the Plant Paradox.  It was written by a doctor, actually a cardiac surgeon, so one would think that it would have been supported by peer reviewed research.  Although there were some interesting ideas at the beginning of the book, I grew more and more disillusioned as I listened further into the narrative.  The author completely lost me when he spoke of plants “protecting themselves”, of his patients who had been able to cure themselves from cancer through diet and how ALS patients could stall their disease from progressing.  I am glad that this was a borrowed audio book as I would not have liked to support this kind of writing at a time when many are looking for quick fixes to weight loss challenges.

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 4.45.45 PM57.  Cat’s Eye (Margaret Atwood)

Cat’s Eye was our July book club pick.  Meetings during the peak holiday season have limited attendance and of the 4 of us, who were able to join, none of us had finished the book by the meeting date.  I would go on to be the only one to finish the book which was chosen in honour of Canada Day.

It was not my favourite Atwood book to read but I did enjoy the way she focused on the richly described characters with little focus on plot.  Written in 1988, it was a slow read taking me two weeks to finish, but her prose is so lovely and I was left pondering the experience of Elaine Risley as she participated in a showing of her art and reflected back on her unique childhood experiences, the cruelty of young girls and her experiences with past lovers that led her to her art.

Margaret Atwood is speaking at Stratford and I am looking forward to hearing this energetic author speak in September!

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 5.04.07 PM58.  The Outsider (Stephen King)

No author can rival the great Stephen King for his creepy tales that keep readers on edge!  I still remember sneaking his book, Christine, under the covers and reading into the wee hours of the night as a young teen… regretting it later when my parents left in the middle of the night to go to the hospital, leaving me in charge of my younger brothers, in our country home… thinking of that devilish car!

Until I was finished, I had not realized that this book was linked to his Mr. Mercedes trilogy.  I was kept hostage reading for two days until I had finished the thick book and was left thinking about the arrest of Terry Maitland, popular Little League coach.  The case seemed cut and dried with Terry’s DNA all over the victim and crime scene until their was plausible evidence of Terry’s alibi including DNA and sightings at a conference.

In true Stephen King style, the reader is kept turning the pages, trying to understand what supernatural events are occurring and who is responsible.  After reading The Outsider, I will now have to circle back to the Mr. Mercedes series.


These are a few reviews of my summer reading.  What are you reading?  What have been your favourite summer reads?  Have you read and enjoyed any of the books in this post?  Please feel free to comment below and enjoy the last couple of weeks of summer reading before the frenetic back to school days begin!

Posted in Audiobook, Book Club, Canadian, Fiction, Historical Fiction, Non-Fiction, Stephen King, Summer Blitz | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

48. Marilla of Green Gables (Sarah McCoy)

Screen Shot 2018-08-12 at 3.12.24 PMAs a lifelong fan of the Anne of Green Gables series (written by L.M. Montgomery), I was thrilled to receive an advanced reader copy of Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy.  Thank you to William Morrow Publishers and Harper Collins for sharing this novel, for an honest review, which delves into the early life of Marilla.  This provides insight into her childhood, her adolescence and her young adult years, long before she adopted and was touched by the precocious, red-head, Anne with an “e”!

Fans of Anne of Green Gables will come to understand Sarah McCoy’s version of what led Marilla to her straight-laced, stern approach to child-rearing.  Readers are introduced to the 13 year old Marilla in 1837 as she awaited the arrival of her Aunt Izzy who had come to assist the family as they looked forward to the arrival of the next Cuthbert baby.

With the help of Aunt Izzy, Marilla learns to make red currant wine and hones her dress-making skills.  She is also influenced by her Aunt’s strong independent streak.  The young Marilla experiences a great loss, takes on household responsibilities and sacrifices her happiness and a chance at love due to her own stubbornness.

It was interesting that this character would be linked to the Underground Railroad.  This was an unexpected twist which I am still pondering.  The Underground Railroad led many slaves to freedom but I had not been aware of a Prince Edward Island connection.  It is intriguing to consider whether the proper Marilla would have become involved in this rescue and makes for a thought-provoking storyline.

Overall, I loved the book!  I have enjoyed rereading Anne of Green Gables and finishing the entire 8 book series so it was a treat to consider the experiences that had formed the severe but kindly Marilla Cuthbert.  In many ways, this book was an opportunity to reflect on a book that I had enjoyed in my childhood, much like revisiting Laura Ingalls in Caroline: Little House Revisited.

Marilla of Green Gables is the first book that I have read that has been written by Sara McCoy and I will be keeping my eyes open for her other novels.  I chuckled to read that her dog is named Gilbert – after Anne’s beloved tormentor (later her husband)!

Posted in Fiction, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

47. One Story, One Song (Richard Wagamese)

Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 10.43.03 AM“Stories build bridges to undiscovered countries – each other”.

Richard Wagamese was a huge loss to #CanLit but his beautiful stories will endure and resonate.  It is not surprising that Joseph Boyden described him as a “national treasure”.  One Story, One Song is a collection of his experiences and life lessons where the reader is treated to his honesty, insight and perspective which was inspired by his challenging life.

Written by Wagamese, at the age of 54, this is a terrific book to pick up and savour a couple of stories at a time.  It is divided into directions:

East – Humility which he described as the “ability to see yourself as part of something larger… as the great, grand clamour of our voices, our spirits raised together in song”.  In this section he spoke of the bears and the sacred places on the land which grounded him.  It was interesting to learn that he and his spouse bought and renovated a rooming house, removing the active addicts and supporting those that struggled who were “victims of life’s rampant unpredictability”.  He speaks of improving the building both through hard work and paint as well as by hearing the stories of the tenants and helping to make their lives more positive.

South – Trust which he defines as “the ability to open  yourself up for teachings” where he talks about his marriage and his experience learning about the land while living in a foster home.  Even thought the books was written in 2011, his message of not “deliberating on our differences” but using “language to unite us, not divide us”  is an essential message as we deal with current governments, both in the United States and even within Ontario that require lessons in inclusivity and the importance of diversity.

West – Introspection is described as a place of vision, of understanding how teachings can change lives and provide balance.  Highlights of this section include a traditional story of the loon who’s call is to remind us to pay attention and be aware of the teachings.  He shared some of his experience as a journalist covering First Nations issues and how, sadly, so little has changed.  He spoke of the importance of connection, silence (time to reflect) and indulged the reader in describing his writing place.

North – Wisdom is the culmination of teaching and the importance of sharing the learning with others.  He wrote about finding help to understand and worth through his feelings of “unworthiness” and described the love he has discovered with his wife, Debra.  The anecdotes described the care that they have for their tenants and how they try to touch their lives as well as important people along the way, like a teacher who gave him a picture of Martin Luther King when he was being bullied.  He ended with notes on suicide, truth and reconciliation, surviving the sixties scoop and knowing what is important – a simple life and appreciating Canada, “the greatest country on earth”.

The book is completed with the final words of “to be continued” and I hope that the legacy of his thoughts and words are continued through readers who are touched and impacted by his stories and life lessons.  Richard Wagamese lived a challenging life, with abuse, addiction and loss.  He lived the consequences of his parents experience of residential schools yet he shares powerful stories, lessons of hope and delves into healing and understanding what is important:  love, community, nature.

Both his fiction and non-fiction are beautifully written, powerful stories that Canadians need to read.  Not sure where to start?  I would suggest picking up Medicine Walk (my favourite book) or Indian Horse.  Not feeling like reading?  Watch the movie Indian Horse and share it with others, it is important that Canadians understand the brutal history that has impacted Indigenous Peoples and move forward in a way to celebrate connections and community so that history does not repeat itself.

Posted in Canadian, Non-Fiction | Tagged , , | Leave a comment