Monday, 18 September 2017

The Tenant of Windfell Hall

   "The Tenant of Windfell Hall", written in 1848, is about a woman who arrived at Windfell Hall with her son and a servant.  The house had not been lived in for years and stories circulated in the farming community about this quiet, beautiful, young woman. 
    A local farmer, Gilbert Markham, fell in love with her and tried to stop the rumours. Helen allowed him to read her diary and that is where we get her back story of domestic abuse.
   The stories of Helen's husband and his 'buddies' were thought to be too graphic and disturbing for the times.  They were a group of misogynistic, alcoholic brutes, a story that is always disturbing.  
   But Anne Bronte's answer to these arguments was this:
When we have to do with vice and vicious characters, I maintain it is better to depict them as they really are than as they would wish to appear.  To represent a bad thing in its least offensive light, is doubtless the most agreeable course for a writer of fiction to pursue; but is it the most honest, or the safest? Is it better to reveal the snares and pitfalls of life to the young and thoughtless traveller, or to cover them with branches and flowers?"

   Anne's sister, Charlotte had the last word.  
   After Anne died, Charlotte prevented republication of her sister's book.  
   She felt that it violated not only the conventions of the times, but also violated the law.  That is, leaving her husband was against the law, not the abuse.
  The novel certainly reminds us of the difficult life of women who lived a hundred years ago.   
  In fact, the book was written under an alias- a man's name, of course (Acton Bell).
  And you can see from the cover, that it was written in three volumes.  I loved the language, and learned many new words, such as "poltroonery".  But my word for Anne is VERBOSE!

Friday, 15 September 2017

Bronte family

I am reading a novel by Anne Bronte, 
so decided to reacquaint myself with the Bronte family.

   The father, Patrick was a minister who loved poetry and published several books.  He was married to Maria, who died in 1821, at age 36, leaving six young children.
  He moved the family to a very gloomy parsonage that overlooked a graveyard.  The children wrote stories to entertain themselves.

   The three oldest girls, Marie, Elizabeth and Charlotte were sent away to an all-girls' school, where the living conditions were poor and a typhoid epidemic swept through the school.  Both Maria and Elizabeth got very sick and were brought home, where they died- the same year.  They were aged 10 and 11.

   The 3 sisters who were left, all wrote novels, each publishing under an alias.  
   Charlotte wrote 3 novels: "Jane Eyre", "Shirley", and "Villette".  She died at age 38 perhaps of tuberculosis, although she was very sick from her pregnancy.  She had only been married for a few months.
   Emily wrote only one novel, "Wuthering Heights" and died at age 30. Her death was also attributed to tuberculosis, although there is much written about the harsh climate and the unsanitary conditions of their home - water that was contaminated by runoff from the graveyard.  Many coughs and colds.  Poor food.
    Anne wrote two books: "Agnes Grey" and "The Tenant of Wildfell Hall". She died at age 29, the same year as her brother died, again attributed to tuberculosis.
   Brother Branwell ( the only son) died at 31 after a life of alcoholism and wild living.
   In spite of the poor health of all the children, the father outlived them all, dying at age 84.    
   So much sadness in this family, but their writing lives on.

Monday, 11 September 2017

A New Kind of Christianity

    It seems strange that our views on spirituality have not changed much over the years- just become more embedded.
   This author suggests a different reading of scripture- not from a constitutional approach but as a library of stories, that can teach us about the nature of God.
  He ends up with a loving God rather than a judgmental God.  He does not see the purpose of the church to 'save' people and get them to heaven.  His vision is a church that develops Christlike people.

His thoughts will be accepted as a fresh approach to Christianity by some, heresy by others.
   Brian McLaren was a pastor of an non-denominational church for many years and has developed what is being called an 'emerging church'.  He is now writing full-time and has written many books since 2000.
   He certainly doesn't deal in 'doctrine' but asks questions and sometimes suggests another way to look at an issue.
  It has been 500 years since the Reformation and perhaps this is a new awakening of the church.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

The Woman in Cabin 10

    When I deliver books to the retirement home, I take requests from the residents.  One woman has been waiting for "The Woman in Cabin 10" for months.  It is very popular with a long waiting list.  The library informed me that the book was waiting for me to pick up, but I am not due for a retirement home visit yet, so I decided to quickly read it before delivering it.  I wanted to see why it is so popular.
  I am certainly not one to review a murder mystery.  I have never understood the fascination with murder- in books, movies, or T.V. show.  But many people love this genre.
   The protagonist, Lo Blacklock, a journalist, is given an assignment on a luxury cruise.  Sounds lovely, right?
  Well, Lo was an emotional mess, having experienced a home invasion as well as a romantic tangle before boarding the ship. Too much for one woman and by the time she boards the ship, she is dependant on booze and drugs.  So..  How reliable is her story of seeing a body pushed over the side of the ship?
  One reviewer said that she would have liked to have pushed Lo over the side of the ship.  I didn't say that...remember, I don't like anything about murder.  But....

Saturday, 2 September 2017

eclectic reading

   Last week I realized that I was involved in a strange assortment of books.  That is not surprising because, at one time, I belonged to a classic book club, a modern fiction book club and a non-fiction book club with spiritual relevance.  So every month I read a variety of books.  But I don't often have three books 'on the go' at the same time.  
   After a few days, I decided to finish one at a time- easier to appreciate each one and put all my thoughts into that book.
  These are the books that I was reading:

    Many people are thinking that we need a change of focus in the Christian church.  The Reformation was 500 years ago.  Is there a need for another shift?   


A murder mystery that is on everyone's reading list this year.  Why?

  We all know the novels of Charlotte and Emily Bronte.  But what about their sister Anne?

  Can you guess which one I decided to finish first?  The murder mystery was definitely not my favourite, but you have to keep reading in order to keep all the 'clues' in your mind.  Got it finished first. Then the religious book.  It was heavy, and I needed to stick with it to appreciate the whole picture.  And now I am enjoying the classic.  Love Victorian literature!  The words!  The words!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

The Buddha in the Attic

   Some of us will like this book .  Some of us won't.  Some of us will find this way of writing irritating, because there is no narrative.  Some of us will enjoy the content and will stick with the book.  Some of us will just drop the whole thing from irritation.  Some of us will want to discuss this book with friends.  Some of us will never want to hear of the book again.  Some of us will not enjoy this type of writing. 
  I was one! And the preceding paragraph shows how this book was written.

  "The Buddha in the Attic" was strongly recommended to me and I must admit that the subject matter is certainly interesting- picture brides brought from Japan to San Francisco a hundred years ago.    
  From their journey on the boat, wondering about their future life, to their wedding night, to the backbreaking work, to the birth (and sometimes death) of babies.  And then the treatment of the Japanese in the war.  Great content.
   But the style of writing did not work for me! 
  There were no specific characters and no plotline.  For some people, this was a creative method of presenting this history of Japanese picture brides.

  These same issues are dealt with in another book that I enjoyed-
"Honolulu" by Alan Brennert.
   There are several 'picture brides" in this novel, but Jin is the central character, taking the name "Regrettable".
  This novel has great character development. You can read about it here.

Friday, 25 August 2017

Anita Diamant

   In 2003, I read "The Red Tent" for a book club.  This is the review that I wrote then:
   This Jewish author is a fabulous storyteller!  The story is told by Dinah (Deenah) who says in the prologue; "I am so grateful that you have come.  I will pour out everything inside me so you may leave this table satisfied and fortified.  Blessings on your eyes.  Blessings on your children.  Blessings on the ground beneath you.  My heart is a ladle of sweet water, brimming over. Selah."
Dinah is the Biblical sister of Joseph and the daughter of Jacob.  This book gives a different perspective from the brief Biblical account.  It is a woman's perspective and it is fiction.
From the small details of life in Bible times to the catastrophic events, they are all woven into a spellbinding story- including Dinah's experience of her own death.  The introduction peaks your interest and the conclusion weaves in all the loose threads.  A deeply satisfying story!
"Blessings on your eyes and on your children.  Blessings on the ground beneath you.  Wherever you walk, I go with you. Selah"
It is a passionate and earthy story portraying the continuity and unity of women.

Anita Diamant
   Anita is an American author who has written 5 novels as well as 6 guides to modern Jewish practice.  I just read another of her novels, "The Boston Girl".  It has not been as popular as "The Red Tent" but there are still many good reviews.
   However, this is one of those times when I don't necessarily agree with the popular opinion.
   I found the book a disappointment.  

   Eighty-five-year-old Addie Baum is being interviewed by her granddaughter with the question: "How did you get to be the woman that you are today?"  The whole book is the answer to that question and it covers the years 1900-1985.
   It seemed like a recitation to me.  Growing up a Jewish daughter of immigrants in Boston, she had total recall of all the events, but the telling was too sterile for me.  I never really got into Addie's mind.  It was a portrait of one woman's life in a generation of women finding their way in a changing world.  Addie was spunky and interesting, but the events of her life were skimmed over and left me unsatisfied at the end.

Friday, 18 August 2017

The Welcome Committee of Butternut Creek

Jane Myers Perrine majored in English and Spanish during her university years.  She became a Spanish teacher and also an ordained minister.  Then she began to write and has written 10 books in the Christian romance genre.  
One of the main themes is matchmaking.  The setting in this book is a small town in Texas, where a young minister has arrived to take over the responsibilities of the local Christian church.  Three of the women in the church run the social life of the congregation and try to control the new minister, Adam Jordan.  Miss. Birdie even wants to decide on the hymns (all the old ones), and tell the minister when he needs his hair cut.  But the three ladies meet often to discuss who is sick and who needs help.  They would provide childcare, furniture, anything needed - always lots of fried chicken, cakes, bread, etc.
  I thought the focus would be on the minister, but there is a young Afghanistan vet who has lost a leg.  He falls in love with his physiotherapist, who has two young boys.  And most of the story is about him trying to get his hands on beautiful Willow.

   Two lovely covers for this novel.
There is a follow-up book called "The Matchmakers of Butternut Creek", where the church ladies work on getting a wife for the pastor.

A nice small-town story with interesting characters.

Monday, 14 August 2017

Seven Sisters: Book Three

The third book in the Seven Sisters series arrived and I read most of it at the beach.
You can read about the second book here.
Each book deals with one of the sisters, raised by a  multimillionaire in Switzerland.  When Pa died, each girl was given clues to her heritage.
The third sister, Star, is quiet and thin.  She has spent her life enveloped in the life of her sister CeCe.  They were always together.  Star could write but not speak well.  Her sister had dyslexia, but spoke loudly and clearly for both of them.  And so, it was difficult for both of them, having been co-dependant for the first twenty years of their lives, when Star attempted to make some space between them in order to search for her heritage in London England, specifically in a book store.  Star got a job there and, through the owner, Orlando, she learned the story of several generations of her biological family.  It included the King of England and the writer Beatrix Potter, oh, and she also met her biological mother. And, of course, she fell in love.
   Once again, there is great complexity to the long saga.  It continues to peak your interest in the adopted father, Pa Salt. Who was he, and how and why did he adopt these girls?
  I admire this writer for the huge task she has taken on.  There are so many themes and storylines, that as soon as I finish, I want to start again.  But... another whole year before the next book will be released!

Saturday, 12 August 2017

The death of reading threatens the soul

This article in the newspaper caught my attention. 
The picture is very appealing, but I was also interested in the author.
Philip Yancey is a well-know author of books concerning spiritual matters. 
 Now he is concerned about the lack of reading.
Yancey believes that the internet and social media have trained the brain to read a paragraph or two and then start looking around.  He is speaking from a personal perspective.
I used to read three books a week.  One year, I devoted an evening each week to read all of Shakespeare's plays.  Another year I read the major works of Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.  But I am reading many fewer books these days , and even fewer of the kinds of books that require hard work."
Explanation:  When we learn something quick and new, we get a dopamine rush-MRI brain scans show that the brain's pleasure centres light up.  E-mails satisfy that pleasure centre as well as Twitter and Instagram and Snapchat.
   My only experience in social media is this blog and e-mails.  I don't have a cell phone, even though it would be very convenient at times.  But, I am not willing to give up my personal space.  I do not want to be available every minute of the day.  I need time to think my own thoughts and, to be honest, I don't want to hear every detail of anyone's life.  People can find me if they need me.  I still find the house  telephone a disruption- especially when many calls are advertizing.  I need to find a way to turn off the ring.  It disrupts my plan of the moment.  That's why I love e-mail, where you can answer when you wish- or not!
   A 2016 Neilsen report discovered that the average person spends  more than 10 hours a day with media- radio, TV, and all electronic devices.  Not much time left for reading!
   It appears that discipline is more important than ever.
Bill Gates reads 50 books a year
Mark Zuckerberg reads at least one book every two weeks.
Elon Musk grew up reading two books a day.
Mark Cuban reads for more than three hours every day.
Arthur Blank, co-founder of Home Depot, reads two hours a day.
These busy people make time to read and so can we.  It's important!

"Books help define who I am". (Philip Yancey)

Thursday, 3 August 2017

"The Bookshop on the Corner" by Jenny Colgan

   What a cheery cover!  I  picked up this book while travelling.  I enjoy reading 'books about books'.  This book has been compared to "The Little Paris Bookshop" which I wrote about here.
  But I realize that I really enjoy non-fiction 'books about books' more than fiction- books like "Read for Your Life" by Joseph Gold.  The theme of books in a novel seems like a good thing, but doesn't necessarily make the book "a great read".

   Nina Redmond, 29,  was a librarian in England, who lost her job because the library "was going to compress the library services into the centre of town, where they would become a "hub", with a "multimedia experience zone" and a coffee shop and an "intersensory experience".  
   This caught my attention because I have complained about the changing concept of libraries.  Check it out here.
    Nina decided to follow her dreams and moved to Scotland, bought a van, and filled it with books that had been discarded from the library.  She would make her living selling books.
   A cute concept for the book but there were so many aspects that just weren't realistic.  I could never visualize this van, because it had a table and chairs, shelves of books and a chandelier.  At one point she mentioned "lots of families started to crowd into the van". And she drove this van from town to town.
   Perhaps the most unrealistic aspect was the effect on the town- "And as Nina looked around the little village in the sunshine, she couldn't help but notice something.  Everyone was reading.  People out in their gardens.  An old lady in her wheelchair by the war memorial. A little girl absent-mindedly swinging on the swings.  In the bakery, someone was laughing at a book of cartoons, at the coffee stand, the barista was trying to read and make someone cappuccino at the same time.  Nina was amazed.  It couldn't be- surely- that she had turned an entire town into readers.  It seemed that she had".
  Well, not only did she perform that miracle, but she also discovered a very poor family with a disabled mother, and she completely changed their future.  
  The title of this book in the U.K is "The Little Shop of Happy-Ever-After".  Perhaps that is a better title?

   I do love librarians- here is a blog that I have written about unusual ones.  Click here.

Thursday, 27 July 2017

Jeff Shaara

Three generations at Gettysburg
  My husband loves Gettysburg!  And the Civil War - mostly the strategy of battle.
  In 2010, he went for his fourth visit to Gettysburg- this time with our son-in-law and grandson.  
  On this trip he was introduced to Michael Shaara's book "The Killer Angels".  The cover of that book says, "A novel about the four days of Gettysburg". That was an important moment for John.  He has always been interested in warfare, especially the Civil War. This book provided the opportunity of getting inside the heads of all those involved in the war.  The book won a Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and was later made into the movie "Gettysburg".
   Unfortunately, Michael Shaara died and his special way of storytelling in the middle of battle was gone.  Then his son Jeff decided to try to continue his father's legacy.  And what a success!
  Twice I have surprised John with a gift of Jeff's books.  The first one was in 2015.  You can read about it here.  John enjoyed those books so much that I ordered more the next year.  Click here.
  Well, the first books were a gift for our 55th anniversary, so this year, for our 57th anniversary, I had a better idea.  We went to visit Jeff personally at his book-signing in Pookeepsie, New York- a two day drive that we made into a six day holiday.

 John was overwhelmed with emotion at seeing his favourite author up close and personal.  Jeff gave a great talk and signed many books.
  His wife was so friendly and gave us a great deal of attention.  She realized how important this visit was for John.
Note from John:
Occasionally, in life, we are privileged to have a 'mountain top experience'. This was an exceedingly great one for me!
Thank you, Jeff!

Tuesday, 18 July 2017


H.G.Wells 1866-1946
   This month our classic novel is "The Time Machine" by H.G.Wells.
   His writing is so magnificent that he was nominated four times for the Nobel Prize for Literature.
   Wells is credited with popularizing the concept of time travel by using a vehicle that can travel forwards or backwards in time.   There have been three feature films, as well as two television versions and many comic book adaptions.  His work has also inspired other novels and media productions.

   I have compared H.G.Wells with Jules Verne.  They are both called the "Father of Science Fiction".  

Jules Verne 1828-1905

   Our book club previously read "Around the World in Eighty Days". You can check it out here.  
   Verne only focused on technology and principles that were scientifically possible, or assumed to be possible.  This sub-genre is called "mundane science fiction".

   When thinking of these two men- one French, the other British, I began thinking about two science fiction authors of our day - one American, one Canadian.  I have already written about my favourite, Rob Sawyer. You can read about him here.

  I connect Rob with Michael Crichton because I heard Rob talk about spending 3 months of every year reading non-fiction science material.  He remembers being interested in an article about the possibility that amber may hold dead mosquitoes that have blood in
their bellies, and it just might be the blood of dinosaurs.  Hence, the possibility of cloning dinosaurs.  You know the rest of the story.  Michael Crichton was also reading that article and wrote "Jurassic Park".  Two interesting men and great science fiction authors.

Michael Crichton
Rob Sawyer

Saturday, 15 July 2017

James Michener, continued

Some interesting biographical information about this author:
- didn't know his biological parents or place of birth
- raised by Mabel Michener- a Quaker woman in Pennsylsvania
- became a high school English teacher, then a university professor
- conscripted in W.W. II- naval officer, travelling in the South Pacific Ocean
- ran as a Democratic candidate for a seat in the U.S. House of Representatives
- Secretary for the 1967-68 Pennsylvania Constitutional Convention
- member of the Electoral College
- wrote about his political experience: "Presidential Lottery: The Reckless Gamble in Our Electoral System".  He preferred the direct popular vote, which would have saved the Americans from the situation that they are in now.

   James Michener is known for his lengthy books and meticulous research.    His books have been made into stage plays as well as movies.

 He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1948 for "Tales of the South Pacific".
 He was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1977.

A fascinating man.  I am searching for a copy of his biography "The World is My Home".

Monday, 10 July 2017

"Recessional" by James Michener

  Before I retired, I had been reading "Recessional" and was sharing my enjoyment of James Michener's writing with my co-workers.   
  So, when I retired, the staff presented me with this collection of his work. 

     Soon after retirement, I got very involved with book clubs and, sad to say, this great collection became a lovely decoration on my bookshelf.        The bookends were part of the gift and added to the decoration.    Aren't they adorable?
Oh, yes, and here are the paperbacks.  I read "Hawaii" aloud to John and it took 75 days. 
You can read about it here.

   Since the summer is starting, there is less time needed for book clubs, so I decided to re-read "Recessional".  The title refers to the music played at the end of a church service and the plot is around a retirement residence in Florida.  All of Michener's books are lengthy.  Now I remember my love/hate relationship with Michener.  He loves to write detail, detail, detail.  Sometimes I love it, sometimes I hate it.  I experienced that seesaw in re-reading this book.  It is 21 years since I read it the first time, and now I am the age of the residents (older than some).  It certainly was a different experience.
   End of life issues are a dominant theme in the book, so I wasn't surprised to learn that he wrote this book when he was 88 and died two years later.

Friday, 7 July 2017

"The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper" by Phaedra Patrick

   Arthur Pepper is a 69 -year-old widower.  On the first anniversary of his wife, Miriam's death, he is cleaning out her clothes and finds a charm bracelet with several charms on it- an elephant and a book each have an engraving.  There is also a tiger, heart, ring, paint palette, thimble, and a flower.  Arthur has never seen this bracelet throughout his long marriage.  He realizes that there were things about his wife that he did not know about and he becomes "curious". 
   I very quickly connected this book to another book about a widower- "A man Named Ove" by Fredrick Backman.  I wrote about that book here.  I really didn't enjoy that book.
   This book was a better read for me, although not great.
  As Arthur searches for clues about the charms, and thus about Miriam's life, he meets some very unusual people.  In that respect, it reminded me of "The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry", who also met interesting people on his journey.
   For those who enjoyed those two books, this would be a fun read.
  A first book for this author, it is not well-written, but has some interesting aspects.  It is a quick, okay read that must be loved by many people because it is being made into a movie.
  Aren't the covers interesting?  The author lives in England and is writing a sequel.  This book is also being translated into many languages.  Perhaps a simple, wacky book like this is what most people like to read.

Saturday, 1 July 2017

Preston Library Book Club

Preston Library Book Club

   This picture was taken when we were just getting ready to discuss "Through Black Spruce".  These people are such good readers that the double narrative and non-linear storyline did not bother them. In fact, the book rated 8.4 out of 10 - a very high rating.
   This is a library book club and the pretty lady with the flowers is the librarian who helped us get started.  Unfortunately, the library board has decided that we need to be run by volunteers, so Jennifer will not be with us in an official capacity.  We wanted to show our appreciation of her work on behalf of the book club and we said it with flowers.
  There was an interesting discussion about Joseph Boyden's Indigenous roots - or the lack thereof.  Personally, I think he represents the Indigenous community so well that I really don't care about his genealogy.

Since we are celebrating Canada Day, it is a good time to learn about the Indigenous people and celebrate their role in Canada.
      Happy Canada Day!

Friday, 30 June 2017

"Through Black Spruce" by Joseph Boyden

    Preparing to lead two book clubs in their discussions of "Through Black Spruce" has taken a great deal of time.
   I found the dual narratives and the non-linear story line made the book a challenge to read in the first place.  I realize that many people enjoy this type of storytelling and I have tried to get beyond the structure and make sure that we get to the heart of the story and understand what Joseph Boyden was trying to say.
   We are reading this book for Indigenous Book Club Month, with the purpose of "increasing our awareness and understanding of the Indigenous people".
Joseph Boyden
   Joseph visited our city in 2006, when we read "Three Day Road" for One Book One Community.  This book is supposedly a follow-up, although it is very different.  It is the story of the son of one of the characters in "Three Day Road".
   There has been some controversy about Boyden's Indigenous roots.  I have read much of the firestorm, but mostly I appreciate the quote from Wab Kinew: "Indigenous membership is multi-faceted.    It can include blood but also adoption.  We cannot have identity police."
   Joseph has admitted that his blood connection is distant and that he has been unable to trace the specifics.