Monday, 23 April 2018

"The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" by Robert Louis Stevenson

classic book club choice

   This very short story is called 'a gothic novella' and was published in 1886.  The plot takes place through the eyes of the lawyer Mr. Utterson, who has been a friend of Dr. Jekyll for years.
  One day, Mr. Utterson was walking on the street behind Dr. Jekyll's house.  This house was connected to the back of Dr. Jekyll's house.  A man, coming out of the house, knocked over a child on the street, and Mr. Utterson chased him.  When he looked into this man's face, he was sick.  The man's eyes were lifeless and cold.  His mouth was twisted. Looking at him gave Mr. Utterson a sense of horror.
  And so, of course, this man was Mr. Hyde who is the evil part of Dr. Jekyll.  Dr. Jekyll had done chemical experiments that resulted in his ability to change from the kind Dr. Jekyll to the monstrous Mr. Hyde.  He was able to separate good and evil.

   Robert Louis Stevenson was bedridden at the time of writing this story and was inspired by a nightmare.  He wrote the story in three days, then took 6 weeks to refine it.

Robert Louis Stevenson 
  The story has been interpreted in many ways.  Some people see it as a social commentary on society in England at the time- 'outward respectability and inward lust'.
  Stevenson was sick most of his life and I was interested in reading the story of his life in "Under the Wide and Starry Sky" by Nancy Horan.  Check it out here.
  Stevenson only lived to age 44, but he wrote many books, short stories and poetry.
  The books that remain popular are "Treasure Island", "Kidnapped", and "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde".

Friday, 20 April 2018

"Never Let Me Go" by Kazuo Ishiguro

   Dystopian novels seem to be popular these days.  And this is a science fiction dystopian novel.
   It is written by a Nobel Prize-winning author Kazui Ishiguro.  It has won many awards and citations.
  The author, who is also known for "Remains of the Day", has called this novel 'his most uplifting novel', because it is the only one to feature a wholly sympathetic cast: Kathy H., our narrator, is a thoroughly likable, thoroughly sensible, thoroughly ordinary young girl, which makes what happens to her all the more upsetting.

Kazuo Ishiguro
   And what happens to her?  Well, it is dystopian, so be prepared.  The novel is about a boarding school, 'Hailsham', peopled by clones who will be used for organ replacement.  The teacher told them, "Your lives are set out for you.  Before middle age, you'll donate your vital organs.  You were brought into this world for a purpose."  If they are lucky, they may spend a few years being a 'carer' for those who are 'donating'.
   And, also of interest, is the fact that each person was copied from a normal person, so they are interested in finding their 'original'.

   The content was not of interest to me, but the writing was worse.
Most of the novel is Kathy going back and forth in her mind to her years at Hailsham: "I want to tell you this, but I have to go back and tell you this"...back and forth, mostly remembering conversations.  Lots of emotion, very little plot.
   Perhaps this is a better cover:

Monday, 16 April 2018

"Thursdays in the Park" by Hilary Boyd

   I cannot pass by bookshelves- even in the drugstore!  I surely believe that books belong in the book store or the library, BUT, I still have a quick look at the books for sale in the drugstore when I pass by.

  This cover caught my eye. So I bought it.   
  Jeanie is turning 60 and her husband constantly calls her 'old' and wants her to sell her business ( a health food store) and move to the country.  In spite of her objections, her husband buys a house in the country anyway.
  I guess the rest is predictable.  Jeanie takes her granddaughter to the park every Thursday and who does she meet?  A grandfather with his grandson.  This man is friendly and kind and listens to her.  Well, you know the rest.
  Guess that is the kind of book that would be in a drugstore- or an airport.  A quick read with very little depth or originality.
  One quote that was interesting about turning 60:
"Sixty is heaven", she had told Jeanie as they sat having tea.  "The world is done with you, you become to all intents and purposes invisible, particularly if you are a woman.  There's childhood, then adult conformity---work, family, responsibility---then just when everyone assumes it's all over and you're on the scrap heap of old age, freedom! You can finally be who you are, not what society wants you to be, not who you think you ought to be".
  When I finish reading a book, I check the internet to see what other readers think.  One person called it 'gran-lit'.  Probably that is a made-up category, but it is about a grandmother.
  Another reader compared the book to 'literary waterboarding'.  Well,  maybe not that bad- most people gave it 3*'s out of 5*'s.

Friday, 13 April 2018

"The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time"

   This is a very fascinating and unusual story of 15-year-old Christopher Boone, who is autistic.  He does not understand human emotion and can't stand crowds or being touched. He thrives on structure, order and predictability.  However, when he finds the neighbour's dog impaled on a garden fork, he is determined to find the killer.  It turns out to be his father.  Christopher discovers not only this terrible secret but a worse one- his father had told him that his mother had died, but she had actually left with the next door neighbour.  Christopher decides that he cannot live with his father anymore and attempts to catch trains and subways to London where his mother lives.
   Christopher is a brilliant mathematician and that part was beyond my understanding.
   I found this book fascinating because it was so unusual.  There were charts and graphs and pictures as Christopher tries to explain how he understands things.  What insight into an autistic person's life. 

Short and powerful story!

Since this is my second time reading this novel, I have questions of the author.

Mark Haddon

1.) How did you understand autism so well?
2.) Are you a mathematician?

My research shows that he is not autistic himself, although he has worked with disabled children.  He says that he only read one book about autism.
His major in college was literature.

This novel was published in two identical editions with different covers, one for adults and one for teenagers.  The author said, "To my continuing amazement, it seems to have spread round the world like some particularly infectious rash".

Monday, 9 April 2018

"The Reason I Jump" by Naoki Higashida

  An upcoming book club choice is: "The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time", a novel about a boy with autism.  
  In preparation for that discussion, a book club member recommended that I might be interested in reading a non-fiction account of a boy with autism : "The Reason I Jump: the inner voice of a thirteen-year-old boy with autism".  This teen lives in Japan and was diagnosed at age five. This book is a translation.   
  The format of the book is interesting.  He answers 58 questions about his experience of autism with short, insightful answers.
Naoki Higashida

   Although there is a wide spectrum in the autism disorder, mostly there is a communication problem.  Here is part of Naoki's answer to the question "Why can't you have a proper conversation?"
  "I can never say what I really want to. Instead, verbal junk that hasn't got anything to do with anything comes pouring out of my mouth.... But having started with text communication, now I'm able to express myself via the alphabet grid and a computer, and being able to share what I think allows me to understand that I, too, exist in this world as a human being".

I really had no understanding of autism.  But I discovered that it is a brain abnormality that shows up on a brain scan.  It is more common with boys and it may be genetic.

Another quote:
Question: "Why do you memorize train timetables and calendars?"
Answer: Because it's fun!  We get a real kick out of numbers, us people with autism.  Numbers are fixed, unchanging things.  The number 1, for example, is only ever, the number 1.  That simplicity, that clearness, its' so comforting to us...Invisible things, like human relationships and ambiguous expressions, however, these are difficult for us people with autism to get our heads around."

  The young man who wrote this book, only 13 years old, is very insightful and I learned a lot about autism.  Now I am ready to read a fictional story and I will be able to understand it better.

Friday, 6 April 2018

"Every day" by David Levithan

   After the stress of Canada Reads, I was delighted to get caught up in this out-of-this-world novel.  And here is the cover.  I think I picked this book mostly because of the cover.  I wanted to be floating around in space- out of this world.
  A very bizarre plot- are you ready?
This is the promotion on the cover:
"Every day a different body,
Every day a different life.
Every day in love with the same girl."
It is the strangest love story that I have ever read!
   "A" is the spirit that goes to bed in one body and wakes up in another body- girl, boy, black, white, large, small- always different, but always the same age, 16, and in the same geographic location.  He tries to be very sensitive to the body that he is in, and make it easy for that person to return the next morning.  Of course, there is no explanation of why this is happening, because it is out-of-this-world and an intriguing fantasy.
   But, while inhabiting Jason's body, "A" falls in love with Jason's girlfriend Rhianna. He has access to Jason's thoughts, so he knows that Jason has not been treating Rhianna well. And so, he tries to keep track of Rhianna after leaving Jason's body.  That becomes interesting and eventually he has to explain to her what is happening.
   Surprisingly enough, she tries to adapt to the possibility of a boyfriend who is in a different body every day.  There are lessons to be learned there.
  There is a sub-plot of the after-effects of his takeover of another young man, but it never made sense to me.
author-David Levithan
  This book has been made into a movie and there is also another novel written from Rhianna's point of view.  I have read that it is not as interesting as the story of "A", popping in and out of different bodies. 
  The ending of "Every Day" is not completely satisfying.  But the writing is spectacular!  It provides an escape from the 'real world'.

Monday, 2 April 2018

Canada Reads: final thoughts

   Canada Reads is over for another year.  I don't expect to read the five choices next year.  I have been increasingly disappointed in the choices.  This year, the books were overwhelmingly distressing.  Too much sadness in four of the five books to digest in such a short span of time.
  The distress of reading these books was compounded by family discussion on Easter. Some of the family attended the "March for our Lives" in Washington last weekend.  The pain and agony in the world seems overpowering.
  I am reminded of a poem by William Wordsworth:
"The world is too much with us; late and soon,
Getting and spending, we lay waste our powers;
Little we see in nature that is ours;
We have given our hearts away, a sordid boon!
This Sea that bares her bosom to the moon;
The winds that will be howling at all hours,
And are up-gathered now like sleeping flowers,
For this, for everything, we are out of tune;
It moves us not. - Great God! I'd rather be
A pagan suckled in a creed outworn;
So might I standing on this pleasant lea,
Have glimpses that would make me less forlorn;
Have sight of Proteus rising from the sea;
Or hear old triton blow his wreathed horn."

   Instead of Proteus, we can think in Christian terms at Easter of the resurrection, and be hopeful.
  We all need balance in our lives- in our reading as well as life itself.  Spring is in the air and the world is full of possibility.

   Oh, yes, the winner of Canada reads was "Forgiveness".  Jeanne Beker really did a good job of promoting the book and had some thoughtful things to say about the need, in the midst of such world crises (yes, that means more than one), to 'build your soul'.  Amen!

Friday, 30 March 2018

Canada Reads: book 5

Book 5: "The Boat People" by Sharon Bala

   This book is fiction although it is based on fact.  The fact is that boats arrived in Vancouver from Sri Lanka during the civil war (2009-2010).  They were carrying  refugees, hoping to be allowed to stay in Canada.
   The characters in this book are fictional, but went through the regular stages of immigration- hearings and detention reviews, that take months or years.
  This fictional boatload of 500 refugees was detained in prison. The women and children were in one location, with the men in another location.    This was a problem right from the start because the main character, Mahindan (whose wife had died in childbirth) had a 6 year-old son, Sellian, who was separated from the only person he knew. Mahindan had difficulty getting immigrant status because he had been a mechanic who had repaired a vehicle that was used by a suicide bomber. 
  After several months in the women's prison, Sellian was placed in a foster home, where he could not speak the language or understand the culture.
  The government had great concern about bringing these refugees into the country: "We will protect the nation's sovereignty.  We will not allow our refugee system to be hijacked by an army of terrorist clones".
  Well, this book broke my heart.  I'm afraid that I have 'opened my eyes' too much to the suffering of the world.  Here is another cover, showing the man and his son.

   This book will be presented by Jozhdah Jamalzada.

Mozhdah is an singer/songwriter, born in Afghanistan.  At age 5, her family arrived in Canada. She was raised in Vancouver, studying journalism, philosophy and political science.  She returned to Afghanistan to create a T.V. show.  

Monday, 26 March 2018

Canada Reads: book 4

Book 4: "American War" by Omar El Akkad

  This is a dystopian novel.  The prologue talks about the 2030's and 2040's - "before the planet turned on the country and the country turned on itself".
  The Second Civil War in the United States begins in 2074- goes on for twenty years. It is triggered by the climate crisis- the north is banning fossil fuels.  A young southern girl, Sarat Chestnut, is the main character and the novel tells how she was affected by the violence as a child, became a killer and was tortured for years.  She found the ultimate revenge in the horrifying climax.
  It has been called "a notable book of the year, by The New York Times book review, and it is a Globe and Mail 'best book'.
  I hated every page.

This book will be defended by Tahmon Penikett, an actor, who grew up in Whitehorse.
He said that the book is about religious bigotry, regional hatred, racism, sexism and fake news.  I didn't see any of those things.  I saw bombing, fighting, killing, and torture.
He said that it has echoes of America today.  And that, alone, is a scary thought. 
What is the appeal of this book for so many readers?  One of the reviews online said "The war lasts for nearly twenty years, with unmanned drones and biological warfare and good old-fashioned terrorism making a ruins of the South."  What is appealing about that?
Let's face it.  I never understood the appeal of dystopian novels.  Most people have enough challenges in their life, that they don't need to add the sense of hopelessness that these novels invoke.
If people enjoy this writing, they have a right to read it.  However, why would Canada Reads recommend that 'all of Canada' read this book?  It baffles me!

Friday, 23 March 2018

Canada Reads: book 3

Book 3:  "Forgiveness: A Gift From My Grandparents" by Mark Sakamoto
  This is a non-fiction book about two of the authors' grandparents- his paternal grandmother and his
maternal grandfather, during the second world war. The book intertwines the story of Ralph MacLean, who was captured and spent some years in a POW camp, with the story of Mitsue Oseki, whose family was uprooted from British Columbia to be interned on a sugar beet farm in Alberta.
  Both families had their lives completely changed
Mark Sakamoto is a lawyer who has worked in politics.
as the war affected them in different ways.  Although each family experienced man's inhumanity and brutality, they learned to forgive. 

  The end of the book is the story of the author's mother who lived a very destructive life of abuse and addiction.  He also had to learn to forgive his mother. 
   I did not like this book.  I thought it would only be of interest to the author's family.  There are many much better books about World War II- the Japanese internment as well as the bombing and fighting.  
  This book was full of minutiae- too many small unimportant details.  It started out as an essay and I think that was sufficient.  The rest was filler.
  However, there are many people who thought this book was great and I am waiting to see what the panel for Canada Reads will have to say
about it.

Jeanne Beker
  Jeanne Beker will be defending this book. 
  She is a Canadian television personality, fashion editor, author, and newspaper columnist.  She was appointed a member of the Order of Canada and received a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.  

Monday, 19 March 2018

Canada Reads: book 2

Book 2: "The Marrow Thieves" by Cherie Dimaline

   What an ominous cover!  It certainly does reflect the tone of the novel.  It is a young adult novel and I compare it to "The Road" by Cormac McCarthy.  They are both post apocalyptic and very dark.
   In this novel, the indigenous people are being hunted AGAIN!  This time for bone marrow to solve the problems of the rest of the world.  A teenage boy, Frenchie, joins a group to escape the "Recruiters" who are rounding them up and taking them to 'marrow-stealing' factories.
  I recognize the value of great story-telling to shed light on important issues.  That is what dystopian novels do for us, but I find them so difficult to read.
  I also recognize that I get too involved in the novel.  At one point in the story, Frenchie listened to the stories of the others in this disparate group of people 'on the run'.  Each individual story was heart-breaking and Frenchie said, "I wanted to throw up.  I felt the bile burn at the base of my throat,  I couldn't take anymore".  At this point in the novel, I understood exactly what he meant.  Every story was so distressing. 
  But I realize that in this novel about 'the hunted trying to hunt', the basic question is: "What does it mean to be human?"
  Lovely to read about the Anishinaabe people.  But so, so sad.

Jully Black

Jully Black is called "Canada's queen of R and B". She will be defending this novel for Canada Reads.  She is known for championing causes and attempts to use her career as a platform to inspire others to celebrate the greatness that is in everyone.
Cherie Dimaline

But I want to also celebrate the author of this book - Cherie Dimaline, a Canadian Metis writer.  This book has won many awards.

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Canada Reads 2018: Book 1

2018 theme: "One Book to Open Your Eyes"

Book 1: "Precious Cargo" by Craig Davidson
   What a great cover and title, although the title is also a Bruce Willis movie.
  But I love this cover- the colours, picture, and overall effect.  It does what covers should do- draws you into the book.
  I was really expecting this book to be my favourite, so I read it first.  However, I was disappointed, not really sure why.
  First, let's talk about the content of the book.  The subtitle is: "My year of driving the kids on school bus 3077".  It is a memoir.

Craig Davidson
  Craig Davidson had been trying to write, but was feeling like a failure.  In the midst of despair and poverty, he took this bus-driving job.  He was responsible for five children with special needs- autism and cerebral palsy amongst other emotional and physical disabilities.  He wrote the book to explain how the relationship with these children changed his life.
   I think the overwhelming theme is stated on page 202: "Why are some of us so fortunate while others are not?"  And so, it seems to be about the author grappling with life issues.  Probably for him, it was a year of emotional growth.  The book was written several years after the experience, when he was more settled into his life.  By this time, was experiencing acceptance as a writer and had a wife and baby boy.

  Why didn't I love this book?  Hmm.  Possibly I felt he was trying to be funny but missing the mark.  Perhaps I felt that it was pedestrian, uneventful.  It seemed like a short story that was padded and padded, with descriptions of the bus, the weather, etc.  I also thought he gave too much detail on the bathroom needs of one of the boys.  That is often my problem with memoirs - invasion of the privacy of other people, although I do realize that the author had permission from all of the parents and they saw the book before it was released.
Greg Johnson

   Greg Johnson will be defending this book for Canada Reads.  He is a 'weather guy'.  He is one of Canadian Geographics Magazine's top 100 explorers, and worked on the show "Tornado Hunters".

Monday, 12 March 2018

Frances Hodgson Burnett

Frances Hodgson Burnett

   "The Secret Garden" is such a profound, but simple novel!
I think it affected me deeply because the delights of nature seem to have been mostly forgotten in our world today.  The change of seasons and the birds and animals are not noticed as we hustle around, absorbed by technology.
   I was also affected because I am reading through the choices of Canada Reads this year and I am deeply disturbed by the content. My reading choices do affect my phyche and I find it disturbing to focus on man's inhumanity to man in such detail.

  Frances Hodgson Burnett told her friend Vivian, "I never could write anything that would bring unhappiness into the world.  There is enough of that in all our lives that we cannot get away from.  What we all want is more of the other things- life, love, hope- and an assurance that they are true.  With the best that was in me, I have tried to write more happiness into the world."
  Well, Frances, I appreciate that!  
  I was so interested in this author that I tried to find her biography. However, the only one that I could find was written by this friend, Vivian, who admitted that she did not want to cause upset, so didn't delve too deeply into Frances' life in the biography.
   But here are the facts:
Frances Hodgson Burnett (1849-1924) was born in Manchester, England, married twice and had two sons.  What her friend Vivian would not want to dwell on, is the fact that both marriages were very difficult and one of her sons died young.  Frances was extremely hard-working and was often not well.
  Frances' father died when Frances was 3 years old.  He had been a successful businessman but with his death, there was no income for his wife and five young children, who had lived comfortably in a large house with a maid and a nurse-maid in England.  So they moved in with relatives until Frances' uncle suggested that they join him in Tennessee, where his business was flourishing.  Frances was 16 at this time and was writing constantly.  
  However, the uncle's business did not continue to flourish and Frances' family lived in poverty in the United States. Frances' first story was published at 19- imagine that!  She was writing constantly for magazines and making a good income, so that she was able to move her family into a better home when she was 20.  Her mother died the next year.

Frances wrote 53 novels and 13 plays.
She is best- known for her three children's stories: "Little Lord Fauntleroy" (1885), "A Little Princess" (1905), and "The Secret Garden" (1911).
"Little Lord Fauntleroy" really established her as a writer.  It was made into a play and was very popular.
Frances herself made clothes for her sons, using lace collars and frills.  In fact, she dressed her boys in velvet suits that became very popular.  She let their hair grow long and she curled it every day.
   However, the book that has lasted over the years is "The Secret Garden".
  Frances had a home in Long Island but also loved visiting England.  She had a vast social circle.  She crossed the Atlantic 33 times.
  In the 1880's, Frances became interested in a series of religions- Christian Science, Spiritualism, and Theosophy. I think these beliefs were woven into the writing of "The Secret Garden".
  I really enjoyed "The Secret Garden" and found the author most interesting!

Friday, 9 March 2018

"The Secret Garden" by Frances Hodgson Burnett

classic book club choice
    Isn't this a delightful cover?  And what a wonderful story!                                       Mary Lennox, born in India, was "the most disagreeable-looking child ever seen".  She had a sour expression and was always ill.  She was 9 when her parents died in a cholera outbreak.  She was sent to England, to her uncle Archibald Craven, a hunchback who was also sour, who had a son, Colin, who was also sour and very ill- at least everyone thought that he was (including himself). What developed was a grand adventure for Mary, who had been kept in two rooms in a 100 room mansion with only servants bringing food.  But that didn't stop her inquiring spirit. She discovered the "Secret Garden" that was kept hidden and locked because Archibald's wife had died there.  Her exciting adventures with nature were shared with her young servant Martha and Martha's brother Dickon.  And, eventually, she shared the 'wonders of nature' with Colin, who had not been out of his room for years.  Thus began a journey of healing for Mary, Colin, and eventually spread to Colin's father, Archibald.
1.) "Perhaps the beginning is just to say nice things are going to happen until you make them happen".
2.) "Thoughts are as powerful as electric batteries".

"The Secret" that they discovered is the power of the mind and the power of nature.

   It was interesting to me that, back in 1911, the author used the term "The Secret".  It referred to the garden but also the healing they discovered there, by the power of their minds.

   It reminded me of the recent book called "The Secret", which is based on the law of attraction, claiming that thoughts can change the world! Of course, this theory is termed 'pseudoscience' because it cannot be proven, but who hasn't experienced how thoughts and words can change the perception of any circumstance?
  I was delighted with this book and even more interested when I read about the author.  I will write my next blog about....
Frances Hodgson Burnett

Friday, 2 March 2018

Freedom To Read

Freedom to Read Week
February 25 - March 3, 2018

   My daughter has suggested that I write a blog on this topic.  I think it is to remind me of the fact that when she entered senior school, she brought home almost every book that I had learned about when I took a course on controversial teenage novels.  Even earlier than that, she had brought home a book from the church library- "Go Ask Alice" by anonymous.  As she was reading, she was asking the meanings of words that I really didn't want her to know yet.  So I decided to read that book, and, actually, I agreed that she should read it.  Perhaps she was a little too young, but it was a book about drugs and I felt that it gave a really good understanding of what happens when teens get involved in drugs. But I really didn't want her using that language.  She is a social worker now, so I guess it didn't damage her too much.  Her language is fairly classy.

   Not many books are banned in Canada.  I could only find evidence of seven and I have never heard of five of them. 

Books that have been banned in Canada:
The Hoax of the Twentieth Century - a book that denies the holocaust
Lethal Marriage- the story of Paul Benardo and Karla Homolka
Lolita- a professor obsessed with a 12-year-old
The Naked and the Dead- an American novel of World War ll
Peyton Place- a steamy expose on a small American town
The Turner Diaries- blueprint for terrorism
White Niggers of America- about the F.L.Q.

   But here is a more interesting list of Canadian books that have been challenged.  I understand about books being challenged because I was a children's librarian and was challenged a few times- always by a parent who was not a reader but picked out quotes that were disturbing.  
   My thinking is that you cannot condemn a book unless you have read every word.  And, children can learn that they shouldn't use that language- what is the bigger issue in the book? (As in "Go Ask Alice")

Books that have been challenged in Canada:

"The Diviners" by Margaret Lawrence
"The Book of Negroes" by Lawrence Hill
"Three Wishes" by Deborah Ellis
"Underground to Canada" by Barbara Smucker
"The Apprenticeship of Duddy Kravitz" by Mordecai Richler
"Lives of Girls and Women" by Alice Munro
"When Everything Feels Like the Movies" by Raziel Reid
"Essex County" by Jeff Lemire
"The Wars" by Timothy Findley
"This One Summer" by Mariko Tamaki
"The Handmaid's Tale" by Margaret Atwood

  I have read seven of those books and all I can say is that "When Everyone Feels Like the Movies" was one of the worst books that I have ever read, but other readers feel that it has a message for the youth of today.  So be it!
  I wish I had something profound to say about banning books, but I don't.  I realize that it is a slippery slope, so let's appreciate our "Freedom to read"!

Monday, 26 February 2018

Gretchen Rubin

   I am struggling through the Canada Reads' choices for this year.  The theme is: 'Open Your Eyes' and I am finding that the books are not only opening up my eyes, but they are making me even more disturbed about the state of the world than I already was.  As though watching the daily news doesn't already affect me in that way.  Focussing on the horrors of the world is no good for my psyche.
  So...I picked up my copy of "The Happiness Project" to get me out of this angst.
  Well, I didn't really find Gretchen Rubin helpful even though she has done extensive 'happiness' research.

A friend recommended this Youtube song to help me out of my funk, and remind me that most people are good.

    With this cheery country and western song playing in my head, I just got back to the things that make me happy- family, friends and travel.  The books that I create, remind me of those great things in my life.

   So I planned some more trips and worked on books about past trips.  And I got back to reading my book club choices and thinking about all the book clubs that I have belonged to.  
   I have made two books about my travels with my friend, Terri on 'Bookwomen' trips. These trips combine books and travel. 
   These memories make me happy, so I better get busy creating more- memories and books.

Friday, 23 February 2018

The Pearl Sister

How I love this series!
This is the fourth book in the series.
Another book filled with interesting storylines, moving to different locations in the world.
A family of sisters who were all adopted, are now finding out the history of their birth families.
Each book is a long saga and there are two main alternating storylines in this book-  Ce Ce's present life and the story of her ancestors as she is discovering it. 

The author, Lucinda Riley, is speeding up her writing.  Her first books were a year apart, but this book was out 6 months after the last one.
Here are the other three books.

The Seven Sisters :Maia. Read about it here.
The Storm Sister: Alcyone (Ally) Read about it here.
The Shadow Sister:  Asterope (Star) Read about it here.

The Pearl Sister:   Ce Ce has dropped out of art college and is at loose ends since her sister Star, who had always been her shadow, has moved on with her life.
  I am particularly enjoying this book because it takes you to Australia.  I have been there and remember many of the places that are mentioned in the story.
   The complexity of the plot is astounding, weaving historical events into the storylines, with so many fascinating characters.

Monday, 19 February 2018

Sue Monk Kidd

   A book club choice for this month is "The Invention of Wings" by Sue Monk Kidd.  I have read it twice already, so this time I listened to the CD's.
   Click here for my thoughts on the book in 2014, the year that it was written.  I wrote in that blog that this book is missing the exquisite language of the author's previous books.  I now take that back.
   Everything about this book is marvellous!  Characters! Plot! Language! Setting!  It is inspirational and fabulous!  Perfect for February- black history month!

 "The Secret Life of Bees" is the first book that I read by this author.  I loved it! 
Location: peach farm in South Carolina
Lily Owens was four when she accidently shot her mother (while her parents were fighting).  Her father was cruel and eventually Lily ran away with Rosaleen, the black maid.  Lily and Rosaleen were taken in by the calendar sisters- August, May, June, April.  August had been Lily's mother's nanny.  This household of  black women nurtured Lily as she was able to come to terms with her life.  Marvellous, descriptive writing!  Couldn't put it down!  Strong, nurturing black women in the time of segregation. 

   I also loved this novel by Sue Monk Kidd.  A different theme this time!  
   Inside the church of a Benedictine monastery on Egret island, off the coast of South Carolina, there is an ornate chair carved with mermaids.  Jessie Sullivan returned to this island because her mother had cut off a finger and planted it in front of a statue of St. Serena.  She was consumed with guilt (after the assisted suicide of her husband) and followed the example of the saint.  The concern with the mother is difficult enough.
   BUT, speaking of guilt...Jessie fell in love with guessed it, (it is a monastery) a monk!  Jessie was at a difficult time in her marriage: "Twenty years - when the marriage glue gets so old it starts to harden and crack".  And so, the affair began.  Brother Andrew said,"We'll be damned and we'll be saved- both".
  In fact, the affair brought Jessie to life.  She said,"I had the sense of being out on the furthest frontier of myself.  It was a surprisingly beautiful outpost".
  But she did return to her husband, where: "There would be no grand absolution, only forgiveness meted out in these precious sips.  It would well up from Hugh's heart in spoonfuls and he would feed it to me.  And it would be enough".
    This book is filled with metaphors and similies.  Fabulous writing!

   And here is the author.  Sue Monk Kidd- fabulous author!  She has written other non-fiction books, but these novels are extraordinary!
   She lived most of her life in Georgia, but is living in Florida now.  I hope she is working on another novel!
   Her husband is a minister and some of her non-fiction books are of a spiritual nature.
   She was influenced in her 20's by the writings of Thomas Merton.

Friday, 16 February 2018

" Do Not Say We Have Nothing" by Madeleine Thien

   Three interesting covers for this complex, extraordinary story of China during the Cultural Revolution.  Actually the novel goes back and forth in time over decades. 

   Each of the three covers focuses on different characters in the novel.  The first cover shows the main character La Ling.  The third cover represents her father's friend, known by the name "Sparrow", who was a composer.  The middle cover, I believe, represents La Ling's great aunt and uncle who endured the cruelty of labour camps.  Actually, the great uncle went missing (portrayed well in the cover photo). 
   The most extraordinary thing about this book is the theme of classical music that weaves throughout the plot.  The early characters were involved in the Shanghai Conservatory, until the drastic changes of the Cultural Revolution.  The music constantly ran through the heads of the characters, especially Bach's Goldberg Variations, played by the Canadian musician Glenn Gould.  I greatly enjoyed listening to this music on YouTube.

  The title of the book comes from the Chinese song "The Internationale": 
          "Arise, slaves, arise!
          Do not say that we have nothing
          We shall be the masters of the world!"

   Can you believe that I was entranced with this novel?  I cannot believe it myself.  How the author drew me into the lives of these characters and entwined me into the complexity of the story.  Sometimes I had no idea what was going on.  There was so much chaos, violence, separation, and death.  The storyline was also chaotic- back and forth through the generations.  Of course, it was so much more heart-breaking, because it was based on fact.   But the beauty of the writing held me captive.
Madeleine Thien- author

Monday, 12 February 2018

"A Doll's House" by Henrik Ibsen

classic book club choice:
Setting: Norway, 1879
Characters: Nora and Torvald Helmer, married for 8 years with 3 children
Plot:  The marriage is the focus of the play.  Torvald treats Nora like a child, calling her his little squirrel, as they frisk around.  She is never taken seriously and Torvald claims to love her and desires to protect her and 'teach' her.  She plays into this role, since she was also treated like a child or doll in her relationship with her father.  
  At the climax of the play, Torvald is expressing his love for Nora by saying that he wished that she was in danger, so that he could risk his body and soul to save her.  Strangely enough, she is in danger and she finds out how he really reacts to a real dangerous situation.  Whoops!  Be careful what you say!
Nora reacts in a way that you would not expect in 1879.
What was the reaction?  Wikipedia says: "It aroused a great sensation at the time, and caused a storm of outraged controversy that went beyond the theatre to the world newspapers and society".

  This is a play and, although the words are wonderful to read, it is even better when you can see the facial expressions and tone of voice.  Very powerful!
  It is available on Youtube in a movie with Anthony Hopkins and Claire Bloom.  It is spectacular!

Friday, 9 February 2018

"Dolly: My Life and Other Unfinished Business"

  Dolly is such a conundrum- so fake and glittery on the outside and so sincere and sweet on the inside.  I enjoy her music and have visited Dollywood.
  I was just in the mood for some 'downhome stories' and I also thought it would be fun to read about the Country and Western singers of the past.
  I smiled at her story of a 'pie supper'.  The girls took pies and the guys bid on them and sat with the girl whose pie they bought. It never happened in the town where I grew up, but I have read about it in other stories.  Living in the country has its benefits in their creative attempts at entertainment.
  Of course, the real creativity was with the mother who gave birth to 12 children before she was 35.  She sewed up gashes and kept her family safe and healthy while making games of everything- like making 'stone soup' for supper.
   The peddler came in an old school bus, with pots and pans rattling, people got their false teeth from the funeral home (really?), school clothes were made from flour sacks.  wow!  The stories she can tell about living in the 'hollers' of the Smoky Mountains in Tennessee!

Another reason that Dolly is a conundrum is that she exudes sex, but has been married for 51 years and, by all accounts, is a one-man woman, although she admits that they are not together much because he stays away from the limelight.  But she always goes home to him.
She just turned 72.  Can you believe it?