13. The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning (Margareta Magnusson)

Screen Shot 2018-02-09 at 11.04.51 AMThe Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family of a Lifetime of Clutter is a simple guide to cleaning house and ensuring your family does not inherit a house of clutter, junk and memories to sort through after death.  It is a simple, quick read with reminders and suggestions to tame the stuff of everyday lives.

Margareta Magnusson describes herself as being between eighty and one hundred years old.  I picture her as a spry octogenarian who has kept current with technology.  She described getting help to organize her computer and recommended organizing pictures on a USB key which might not be common for her age demographic.  She shares her experiences cleaning the homes of loved ones after they passed and her own experience downsizing her own things.

The ideas in her book are simple, de-cluttering, considering purchases and organizing.  It makes a reader consider the possessions that are important to us, those that we would want to give to others, those that might end up in the dump and those that might be embarrassing when found!  I joke with my kids that I don’t want to see my signed book collection ending up in a big garage sale!

This book reminds me of the monumental task that Plum Johnson had as she described her experience clearing her family home in They Left Us Everything.  It also makes me consider the story of Stone Diaries and how Daisy’s life in a long-term care home was reduced to a drawer with a few items once the family home is sold, the children have grown up and spouses are deceased.  The three books make one consider their possessions and focus on what is truly important.

This is a quick read and one that I would recommend borrowing from the library.  The ideas are simple and common sense so it is more of an inspiration to get more organized and get rid of clutter.

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12. Suzanne (Anais Barbeau-Lavalette)

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 9.55.42 PMSuzanne was a beautifully written, creative fictional story of the author’s maternal grandmother.  She researched, imagined and pieced together a life lost to her family.  She wrote the story trying to recreate her grandmother’s life after discovering a selection of pictures after her death in 2009.

This novel was written in French by Anais Barbeau-Lavalette and later translated into English by Rhonda Mullins.  I am happy that it was part of the Canada Reads 2018 long-list or I may have missed this rich narrative altogether.  I also loved how Coach House Books published Suzanne with thick, quality paper – the same paper used when they published Fifteen Dogs which was the 2017 Canada Reads winner.

After reading The Book of Eve, last week, the similarities were obvious.  Both tales are set in Montreal (or at least part of Suzanne) with a strong, female characters that struggled against the expectations of society.  While Eva ran away from her spouse after her son was grown, Suzanne escaped parenthood, marriage and her role as a daughter while seeking her freedom, creativity and independence.  Suzanne was an artist and had created both poetry and paintings.

The story is told by Suzanne’s grand-daughter.  It is written in short snippets of text, broken down into segments of time as the author recreates Suzanne’s independence during the Quebec revolution, women’s liberation and civil rights campaigns.  Three generations are forever impacted by her absence and her grand-daughter weaves a fascinating family history.

More details are available in an article, Anais Barbeau-Lavalette’s Book Suzanne explores the meaning -and cost- of freedom as published in the Montreal Gazette.

Both the novel and article leave the reader thinking about Suzanne.  I would definitely recommend taking some time to read this unique creative history of a an independent woman who gave up her family for her freedom.  although Suzanne was not part of the Canada Reads Short List, I do think that this is an “eye-opening” story which would be great to pick up… after you read the short list!

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11. The Wisdom of Sundays (Oprah Winfrey)

Screen Shot 2018-02-06 at 9.30.47 PMFiguring that I would gain some wisdom from the guests of Oprah’s Super Soul Sundays, I borrowed the compilation of highlights, The Wisdom of Sundays:  Life-Changing Insights from Super Soul Conversations, from the library.  While I enjoyed the texture of the cover, the rich pictures and thick pages, I was disappointed to discover less a strong religions focus rather than a more generic spiritual focus.

Now sharing my opinion, I did find some words of wisdom including:

“Over time are negative about someone else, we are actually affecting ourselves.  and the other think that’s important is every time you judge someone else, it’s just a projection of our own self-judgement” (Jack Canfield).

In fairness, the book does have some helpful ideas from spiritual thought leaders (some that I recall after returning the book are Cheryl Strayed, Elizabeth Giller, Deepak Chopra and Shonda Rhymes).  I am sure that it has been a bestseller as the knowledge is pulled together from Oprah’s interviews.  Perhaps the podcasts are more helpful than the snippets in a book.

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10. Fallen Feathers (Tanya Talaga)

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 6.12.18 PMAs part of the Canada Reads 2018 long-list, Fallen Feathers: Racism, Death and Hard Truths in a Northern City is truly an eye-opening account of racism and the terrible loss of 7 indigenous young adults.  These deaths occurred between 2000 and 2011 in Thunder Bay, Ontario.  It is shocking to read about the lack of police response and mistakes during the investigation and coroner’s examinations.  It is hard to imagine that students in Northern Canada have little access to school and are forced to move South leaving behind their families and support network.

With a lack of secondary school options, indigenous families have few options but to send their sons an daughters to Thunder Bay to ensure their education.  The young adults end up boarding in this city with various amounts of supervision and support.  Unprepared for new freedom and city life, 7 of these students became involved with a mixture of alcohol and drugs and sadly died or drowned in unexplained circumstances.

The families were far away, notified sometimes days later and poorly supported after their terrible losses.  In addition to the loss of their child, these families dealt with their own generations of issues related to horrific experiences in residential schools.

This book truly was eye-opening and I hope, will make Canadians stop and think of the racism that continues today.  These students would have been future artists, hockey players, educators, parents and contributors to society.  Their potential was lost to the river, to substances and their families were denied answers, investigation and closure.  This is a book that Canadians need to read and is a well-written narrative which makes me think about the difficult choice of indigenous families to choose keeping their family together or sending their children away for education at a time when young adults need their family support the most.  I hope that this book makes a difference and that no more lives are lost to the river because of racism and indifference.

Posted in Canadian, Non-Fiction | Tagged , | 4 Comments

9. The Book of Eve (Constance Beresford-Howe)

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 5.03.42 PMIn a time of #metoo, as the media highlights far too many stories of abuse, misogyny and inappropriate behaviour, it is interesting to read a book first published in 1973 and reflect that, in many ways, not much has changed.  The Book of Eve is the story of Eva, a girl, a woman, a wife, a mother and a grandmother who struggles through relationships, an unhappy marriage, motherhood and then suddenly picks up and leaves it all behind.

Eva suddenly grabbed a few things in a suitcase, called a taxi and exited her home, her marriage and her family.  She left a 40 year marriage and a demanding husband who had provided but had been abusive and had little respect for his wife.  She found a room in a basement and made the best of it, getting by on her scanty monthly pension cheques, scavenging for items to sell and reflecting on her new freedom and her past relationships and experiences.

Her son pleaded with her to go back home, her grand-daughter was shocked to run into her and see her unkempt appearance but she was able to find a caring relationship, with a much younger man, when she least expected it.

Montreal born, Constance Beresford-Howe published 10 novels including two more in the Voices of Eve series.  She died at age 93 in January 2016 and this article by the Globe and Mail shares more interesting details of her life and works.   She was reported to have had a happy marriage and sadly, her husband died two weeks after her death.

This is a great book, a quick read and makes a reader reflect.  It is a book that leaves me pondering and grateful that I am lucky that I don’t need to say #metoo.   It leaves me thinking that the PhD educated author was ahead of her time and a strong advocate for women.  I will be keeping my eyes out for more of her books!

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8. The Line Painter (Claire Cameron)

Screen Shot 2018-02-04 at 10.03.13 AMPrior to meeting Claire Cameron at the Grimsby Author Series, I prepared by reading all 3 of her novels including The Line Painter, The Bear and The Last Neanderthal.  All 3 of these novels are very unique in their both their story line and their narration.

The Line Painter was Claire Cameron’s first novel.  It is a quick read, a thriller set in Northern Ontario along Lake Superior.  What could be worse than driving a lonely, northern road, in the wee hours of the morning when your car breaks down?  Not only that but your cell reception is spotty and your bladder is full!  Carrie has fled her job, her home and is trying to escape her grief after her boyfriend was killed in an accident.  Imagine her relief (and fear) when a truck pulls up to assist.

Her rescuer is Frank, who takes his job as a line painter seriously.  His truck slowly travels North repainting the lines on the road.  Carrie’s apprehension turns to fear as she learns more about the line painter.

It is hard to give any more details without a spoiler so I will suggest that you give this book a try.  It will draw you in and is hard to put down without finishing it to the end.  It is a book that I read in an evening and a future blog post will describe the evening meeting Claire Cameron.

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Canada Reads – Short list Announced

Screen Shot 2018-01-30 at 7.47.39 AMAs followers of the blog know, I LOVE Canada Reads!  This annual debate celebrates books by Canadian authors. Its’ game show format can be cutthroat at times but encourages Canadians to read books that they may not otherwise read!

What a great way to start the morning by finding out the short listed books and the defenders!!

Here is a link:  http://www.cbc.ca/books/canadareads/meet-the-canada-reads-2018-contenders-1.4505780

Which books have you read?  Which will you read?

I have already finished (and was awed by) Forgiveness by Mark Sakamoto, have been lucky to meet (and have a signed copy) of Craig Davidson‘s Precious Cargo and won a goodreads giveaway copy of The Boat People!

Posted in Canada Reads, Uncategorized | 2 Comments

7. The Leisure Seeker (Michael Zadoorian)

Screen Shot 2018-01-21 at 9.40.56 PMI learned about The Leisure Seeker reading the CBC list of books becoming movies in 2018.   The novel was written by Detroit author, Michael Zadoorian, shared the journey of an elderly couple who kidnapped themselves and headed on a cross-country trip destined for Disneyland.  I had never heard of the author, or the book, but sometimes these lists have some great gems.

Ella and Jack had been married for almost 60 years.  They had spent many cross country trips in their vintage leisure seeker (camper van) in their younger years.  Ella had been diagnosed with cancer and Jack had dementia.  Between the two of them they managed but both experienced the challenges of their diagnoses.  Ella hid her pain from Jack who has brief moments of lucidity but at times drove her crazy with his repetitive questions.  He did recall bits of their past and remained able to drive them through deserts, busy highways and mountains – all the way from Michigan to California.

Their middle aged children were frantic and begged them to come home.  They threatened to call the police but the couple were steadfast in their wish to enjoy their trip  through memories as they watched old slides and driving down route 66.  Despite their challenges they were full of spunk and determination.

I enjoyed the sentiment of the book and it is one that I will ponder and wish that I could share more without providing a spoiler.  I think that the tale might suit itself better to a movie.  Donald Sutherland seems like the perfect Jack although I am not sure if Helen Mirren will quite suit the plus sized Ella with her thinning hair.

One thing that puzzled me was the discrepancy between the detailed descriptions in the book and the front cover.  It seemed odd that the narrative described the leisure seeker as a camper van while the front cover which showed a tow along camper.  Not only that, but Ella was described with thinning hair and a wide backside yet the book has two healthy looking seniors in leisure suits, both with abundant hair.  This seemed to a disturbing miss yet I know that authors often have little say relating to the covers (and titles) of their books.

Overall, I did enjoy The Leisure Seeker.  I am not sure that I will head out to the movie theatre but will watch for this one when it comes to Netflix.

 

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6. Braving the Wilderness (Brené Brown)

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 9.38.23 AM“The wilderness is an untamed, unpredictable place of solitude and searching.  It is a place as dangerous as it is breathtaking, a place sought after as it is feared.  But it turns out to be the place of true belonging, and it’s the bravest and most sacred place you will ever stand” (Brené Brown).

Brené Brown is an accomplished storyteller, a researcher, an educator, an author and a speaker.  She has been highlighted on the Oprah show.  She is an expert in courage, vulnerability, empathy, and shame.  Her TEDtalk on vulnerability has had over 7 million views!  Braving the Wilderness is her 5th book and talks about true belonging and the courage to stand alone.

Braving the Wilderness was a bit of a disappointment to me.  After watching her TEDtalk, I was expecting more wisdom, more tips, more depth.  The book does reinforce that it can be difficult to be yourself.  It can be different to stand up and share a dissenting opinion.  It can be difficult to spend time alone… braving the wilderness.

Brown shares her research on the quest for belonging and the feelings of loneliness that is prevalent in society.  She adds chapters on:

People Are Hard to Hate Close Up.  Move In – This chapter uses the example of social media and assumptions about others.  It shares the importance of getting to know people and spending time together.  It reinforces the simple advice I share with my team to pick up the phone and get to know the partners we work with instead of sending emails.  It is so much easier to work together when we have a relationship, reducing the risk of email misperception and terse comments that we would never make during an actual conversation.

Speak Truth to Bullshit. Be Civil – How many of us know individuals who sound so knowledgable, present themselves well, get ahead but really don’t have the expertise?  Are you involved in the presention of  situations in an “are you with us or against us”, black and white way?  How often are we afraid to speak up and have a dissenting opinion?  This chapter gives examples of how important critical thinking, authenticity and speaking up can be. It spoke of inclusive language and highlighted the importance of being careful of the words we use.

Hold Hands. With Strangers – The importance of human connection and belonging was described through funerals, marches and also highlighted by a link to this video of Liverpool football club fans singing together.

Strong Back. Soft Front. Wild Heart – this analogy speaks to having a strong spine to support your softer front and chase your dreams.

Overall, there were some important messages in the book but it did leave me looking for more.  It is an easy read full of distilled research with the last third of the book full of references if you are looking for more detail.  I do think her message is important and will give her other books a try.

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Robyn Harding: Different Drummer Books/Book Club

Screen Shot 2018-01-20 at 9.03.48 AMIt has been a pleasure to spend two evenings with Robyn Harding, author of The Party.  The first was in December, at Little Drummer books, and was an intimate book event with Robyn Harding and Roz Nay.  The second was, via FaceTime from her home in British Columbia, when she joined our book club for a personal discussion.

Robyn, a filmmaker and author of 5 novels and a memoir, is promoting her latest novel.  The Party is the tale of a sweet 16 party gone wrong and a family trying to hold things together and keep up appearances.  It shares a glimpse behind the facade of a family with a beautiful house, expensive car and perfect daughter when one incident begins to unravel the family.  The reader ponders their own highschool experience (and worries for their teens) as they learn that everyone is hiding something!

Robyn has two teens and was inspired by thinking about the different ways families handle drinking and drugs.  Families have different rules which can easily lead to challenges.  This situation started her thinking about “what if something went wrong”?  This, coupled with the ideas of the “cool” kids in highschool and the fact that highschool is something to endure, inspired the novel.   We discussed how highschool is often something to endure yet life does get better from there which is a perspective that students likely don’t see.

This author feels privileged to write full-time and encouraged the audience, in Burlington, to go for it.  With education in journalism and work experience in advertising she wrote her first book during a maternity leave in 2003.  She kept it very quiet not even telling her mom until she was finished.  She noted the importance of being prepared for the business side of writing, the vulnerability of putting your work out into the world and being prepared for negative reviews.

I always like to know about author’s reading habits.  Robyn does read while she is writing.  She recently read The Interesting by Meg Wolitzer and is looking forward to reading The Woman in the Window (now our March book club read).

What is next for Robyn Harding?  Inspired by the news clips about the wife of a Canadian serial killer volunteering at her children’s school, her next book will be Her Pretty Face.  It is coming out in July and will address the an intense friendship between women who both have secrets in their past.

It was fantastic to meet Robyn who was generous both of her time and in sharing her experience.  The logistics of a FaceTime meeting were a bit of a challenge but it was great to hear an insider view of her book and learn more about her experience as an author.  Thank you Robyn Harding!

Posted in Author event, Book Club, Book signing, Canadian, Fiction | Tagged , , | 3 Comments