Monday, 30 May 2016

"Girl Runner" by Carrie Snyder

   This novel begins with the protagonist, Aganetha Smart, at 104, living in a nursing home.  A young couple arrive to take her out.  It is believed that they are just going outside for a visit, but they take her to the farm where she grew up.
   Aganetha had been an Olympic runner and the story brings in vignettes of her youth.  I enjoyed reading about her life on the farm where she loved to run and balance on railings or even on running horses.
   Aganetha moved to Toronto where she worked at Packer Meats and began training. She became pregnant, and the story of the birth is released in small details throughout the book, leading to the climax, revealing the significance of the young couple who take the 104 year-old Aganetha from the nursing home.

  Carrie Snyder, the author, is also a runner, and she agreed to speak to our book club.  I asked about the non-linear aspect of her writing and she said that the story just came to her that way.  She began thinking about Aganetha at 104 and she developed the story from there.

Preston Library Book Club

Friday, 27 May 2016

"The Last Van Gogh" by Alyson Richman

Alyson Richman
   Alyson Richman lives in New York and has written 7 books, all receiving good reviews and high ratings.  
   I was so impressed with her writing that I wanted to read another of her books.
  "The last Van Gogh" got a four star rating on Amazon, but most of the others rated even higher.

   Dr. Gachet had trained as a medical doctor, but he became interested in natural medicine.  And so, he became a homeopath. He cultivated plants and herbs in his garden to use for his tinctures. He experimented with the remedies with himself and his family.  He gathered the flowers, roots and special leaves and soaked them in alcohol.  After two weeks, he would press the herb-steeped solution through a wine press and funnel the liquid into flasks.
   Dr. Gachet was most interested in artists because he felt that they were subject to 'melancholy' and he encouraged them to come to Auvers, France to recuperate from their illnesses by using his elixirs.
  This book focusses on Vincent Van Gogh's last 70 days under Dr. Gachet's care in Auvers.
  Dr. Gauchet's daughter fell in love with Van Gogh and that is the heart of the story.
  This author writes beautiful, descriptive sentences.  That was my reason for checking out another of her stories.  In this novel, she described in detail not only the paintings and the method of painting, but also the flower beds, clothes,  food, etc.  
"At my piano, my fingers stretched out to reach him.  As if the ivory keys were ladders to his heart.  I struck each note with the precision of a harpist, plucking out a melody that I imagined could reach only him".
  There was very little plot in this novel.  It could have been written in 100 pages instead of 300 pages.  And so, I felt that the description overwhelmed the story and I found myself skimming through the description to get to some 'action'.  

Both a love story and a historical novel.

Monday, 23 May 2016

"The Lost Wife" by Alyson Richman

"A rapturous novel of first love in a time of war".
   This is the advertising for this novel.  And rapture it is!  First love- estatic, euphoric.  The cover captures it!
   This author is a master of words!  The writing is sensuous- involving all the senses. Quote: "There are two sensations of skin you will always remember in your lifetime: the first time you fall in love- and that person holds your hand- and the first time your child grasps your finger". 
Another quote" "You hear in the person you're destined to love the sound of those yet to be born."  
   This story is an emotional roller coaster- the love, the war, Auschwitz.
   The Nazi invasion of Prague separates this couple for sixty years!  Providence gives Lenka and Josef another chance.  Lenka's granddaughter is marrying Josef's grandson in New York.  Both Lenka and Josef believed that the other had died many years before.  Each had married and had children and grandchildren.  But the memory of the first love never left either of them.  Sixty years is a long time and they barely recognize each other when brought together by fate.
   This is an amazing story that was well-researched.  It includes the stories of several people whose lives are documented in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
   I really struggled with the horrors of Auschwitz-  so difficult to understand the depth of suffering.
   I was disappointed that the reunion of Lenka and Josef is only mentioned briefly at the beginning and the end.  The rest of the book briefly tells Josef's story but relates Lenka's story in detail.  She is "The Lost Wife".  They had been married very briefly before being separated.  I wanted to know what they would say to each other after sixty years, but the novel stops at their first recognition.

  This is a very emotional novel about the power of first love, the resilience of the human spirit, and the strength of memory.

Friday, 20 May 2016

Civil War Trilogy

   These books arrived at our door this week- a surprise for my husband.  He loves the writing of Jeff Shaara because Jeff helps you understand events from the viewpoint of those involved- the soldiers, the generals, everyone involved.
  And, as a special perk, each book is autographed.

   Jeff's father, Michael, born in 1928, wrote "Killer Angels" in 1974.  He taught literature at Florida State University while writing fiction in his spare time- drinking coffee and smoking long into the night.  This stress caused heart failure at 36, but he recovered and continued writing.  "Killer Angels" won the Pulitzer Prize in 1975 and was made into a movie with the title "Gettysburg".  Michael died of heart failure in 1988.

  The son, Jeff, graduated from university with a degree in criminology, but after his father died, he began writing historical fiction, documenting the American wars.  He has now written 13 novels that have been on the New York Times bestsellers list.
   He added to his father's writing by adding a prequel and a sequel, to completely document the Civil War.
   In the autograph for his father's book, he wrote: "For my father's legacy".
   I surprised John once before with Jeff Shaara books.  Read about it here.
P.S. To say that Jeff Shaara books are well-received in this house is an understatement!

Monday, 16 May 2016

"The Excellent Lombards" by Jane Hamilton

Jane Hamilton
  This novel is the growing up story of Frankie (Mary Francis) Lombard.  Members of her extended family own a farm with several buildings and an apple orchard and Frankie is fiercely in love with the whole operation.
  I have enjoyed Jane Hamilton's writing in the past and read this promotion on the cover:  "This is the book Jane Hamilton was born to write, and it is a book that thrilled me to read.  "The Excellent Lombards" is, in fact, magnificent".
That quote is from Ann Patchett who is an author of great renown and I expected a 'great novel'.
  Well, this novel is not 'magnificent', nor did it thrill me.
   When I began reading, I was enjoying Jane Hamilton's ability to write beautiful sentences.   For example:  "The harvest was a wild living thing that you were  trying to tame while all the while it was dragging you behind, arms out, flailing, in the chase. But here, was the miracle: Despite the chaos, the lack of planning, the bad feeling between Sherwood and my father, there was also an overriding unity of purpose, a reverence for the family history, a love for the soil within the property lines."                       
  But eventually, I needed more than well-written sentences.  I was looking for more plot.
  The novel described Frankie's life on the farm, her school life, her friends, and quirky family members.   Mostly she loved the farm so much that she never wanted to leave and was concerned about the other financial interests in the property, as well as the challenge of keeping the town from overtaking them.  Change is inevitable and Frankie is desperate to keep things as they are.
  This book reminded me of "The Orchard" by Theresa Weir.  That book was a memoir and dealt with environmental issues as well as family dynamics.  It was much more interesting.
  This novel really needed some 'pizzazz'.

I have read two other books by Jane Hamilton and enjoyed both of them much more than "The Excellent Lombards".  


Friday, 13 May 2016

The Price of Life

  Amanda Lindhout and Nigel Brennan were kidnapped in Somalia.  I have written about Amanda's book, "A House in the Sky".  This is Nigel's story.
  The book is printed in Australia and very hard to find in Canada.  But I could not rest until I heard Nigel's thoughts.
   It is a very different book- mostly because it is not written by professional writers.  The language is crude and often confusing. 
   Nigel's sister and sister-in-law collaborated on this book.  I was very interested to read about the story from the point of view of the family, interspersed with Nigel's account of the kidnapping.
   The first thing that I noticed was the difference in their family situations.  Nigel had two brothers and a sister. Each of his siblings was married with three children.  They all lived close to the parents and Nigel had previously helped to build a large house for their parents.     
  When the kidnapping happened, Nigel immediately recognized the seriousness and was very worried about his family.  He was the youngest child in his family and was a wandering playboy.  He had just spent time in Scotland with his girlfriend.  But Amanda was able to convince him to join her in Somalia.  She talked about projects that would help his photography career but he was also interested to see where the relationship with Amanda would go.
   The second thing that caught my attention was the complexity of an international kidnapping.  The family home in Australia was swarmed with officials of all sorts.  There were representatives from DFAT (Department of foreign affairs and trade), AFP (Australian Federal Police), QPol(Queensland Police), FLO (family liaison officer). This is the confusing part of the story because there are so many 'negotiators'.  The family use short forms for everything, so they talk about 'negs' for negotiators.
  Operations central was set up in the family home with the telephone in the centre.   The walls became filled with charts containing strategy for negotations- what to say, what not to say, how to answer questions, what questions to ask.  I didn't realize from Amanda's story that there was so much communication - not only with Adan (in Somalia) but with kidnap specialists all over. The negotiator in Nairobi kept changing. There was a TPI (Third party Intermediary) who went in person to negotiate with Adan in Somalia.  He offered $250,000.00 but that was refused.  Amanda's family was not offering any money, content that the government would look after it.
  Nigel's sister, Nicky, was trained to answer the phone calls.  The house was busy with people coming and going.  The family was completely consumed from the moment of capture.
  Members of all the groups were constantly changing as other people were brought in.  Eventually they moved 'operations central' out of the family home because there were grandchildren also running around.  The family was discouraged from using e-mail or cell phones because of security.  Also they were discouraged from fund raising or any form of publicity.  In Brisbane the 'negs' set up MIR (Major Incident room) and in Canberra there was ICC (Incident Coordination Centre).  There are many kidnappings every year and there are international negotiators.
  And so, the story rotates between the three authors- Nigel, Nicole (sister), and Kellie (sister-in-law).  
  Nigel tells how "guilt chews away at me".  He writes that Amanda was a powerhouse in the first week .  She did most of the talking while he struggled to come to terms with what was happening.  Perhaps Amanda was more nonchalant because she had already been kidnaped once for a short time and also she told Nigel that her mother had been held hostage 11 years before, in Japan.  This explains why Amanda was not as devastated as you would expect.
  But as Nigel writes further about their situation, you realize that he had a much, much easier time physically than Amanda.  After Amanda was separated from him, they found ways to communicate and he was aware of Amanda's abuse. 
  When it was getting close to a year since the abduction, with no progress and very little contact with Nigel, the family wanted to try a private negotiator.  They had researched and looked for  help in many places.  Nigel's aunt was willing to give them some money and she organized a trip to Vancouver with Kellie and Nicole to meet Amanda's parents and hopefully make a plan together.
  The actual final negotiations got very bizarre. Such a complicated country to be trying to make a plan that sticks!
  Another surprising thought is that you can go to jail for 25years to life for paying ransom.  So, getting the money out of the country and into the right hands was certainly dangerous.
  At one point, the sister-in-law that was doing all the work wondered why Nigel was in Somalia.  "I wanted to know if Nigel met up with Amanda to get his leg over.  If so, I hoped that shag was worth it cause it's been nothing but trouble for the rest of us".
   This book really added insight into the kidnapping.  I found it fascinating!

Monday, 9 May 2016

A House in the Sky

   I read this book before it was announced for O.B.O.C.  It is the true story of a kidnapping in Somalia.
  The first half of the book frustrated me as I tried to understand Amanda.  She was warned and warned about going to "the most dangerous place in the world".  She was told that she would be raped and beheaded.  She knew that reporters needed ransom insurance.  She saw a corpse along the road that had been beheaded.  She ignored everything.  I could never relate to her. She had magical thinking. 'It won't happen to me'.  And she convinced Nigel to go with her! 
   I was so distressed about the harm she caused the two of them but also many others, including the families at home.
  I pondered Amanda's life and wondered if her childhood is the key to understanding Amanda.  She tells in the book about her mother bringing home men who were violent, and I realized that Amanda was used to being in danger.  As a young child, she was reading National Geographic to escape, while her mother's boyfriend was punching holes in the wall.  I also read that Amanda's mother had been involved with a cult in Japan and was abducted there.
    Amanda's connection with her mother interested me.  I would expect that she would be upset with her mother for not protecting her in childhood, but she really loved her mother.  Did she turn into her mother?
  If any of this is true, it would help me understand how she was nonchalant when abducted and able to remember every detail.
   This book certainly does initiate conversation because there seem to be two reactions and people line up on one side or the other.  
  One side says that Amanda was too cocky for her own good.  She constantly ignored advice from people who knew what they were talking about, e.g the fixer, Ajoos.
  The other side is that she is just adventurous- like the explorers, mountain climbers, and other people who have pushed the limits.
  And what about her charity?  When Amanda was freed, she began a charity to educate girls in Somalia. I felt that Amanda had put so much pressure on her family that her number one responsibility should have been to repay her debts to them.
  Another thought (about her charity for education) is that some of the hostage takers were 'educated'.  Does education really solve the problem of Islamic fundamentalism?  And why would she desire to return to the place of torture?  

  Apparently Amanda has been cancelling speaking engagements because 'Adam', who was a key figure in the kidnapping has been arrested, and she is obviously still suffering P.T.S.D.  Hope you got the picture.  Lots of strong thoughts.  

Friday, 6 May 2016

The 5 Love Languages

Gary Chapman
 Gary Chapman is a relationship counsellor.  Who doesn't need one of those?

   I saw him interviewed by Oprah and recognized the value in his thinking.
   He writes about expressing love in five different ways and the importance of finding your partner's 'language'.  I understand his idea that everyone doesn't 'speak the same language', because I have always told my husband, "Don't tell me you love me, show me".  And he does- buying groceries, preparing meals, etc. after 56 years.

   These are the love languages according to Gary Chapman:

-words of affirmation
-acts of service
-receiving gifts    
-quality time
-physical touch

    This is a good reminder of all the thoughtful things that can be done to make life more satisfying for a couple.  Although 'receiving gifts' isn't really of interest to me, I do love a new puzzle book every once in a while- especially when it took a lot of searching to find the kind that I enjoy.
   And 'words of affirmation' are always necessary.  Who doesn't appreciate a compliment or a word of encouragement?

   Gary Chapman's research shows that the 'in-love state' only lasts a couple of years.  So when the real work begins, it is helpful to know the 'love languages'.  

  The author also believes that the '5 love languages' are helpful with friends and family.  In fact, he has written books for singles and children.  
"Inside every child is an 'emotional tank' waiting to be filled with love.  When a child really feels loved, he will develop normally, but when the love tank is empty, the child will  misbehave".

Monday, 2 May 2016

"The Burgess Boys" by Elizabeth Strout

When I discovered that I had missed reading one of Elizabeth Strout's books, I decided to get right at it.

Once again, Shirley Falls, Maine is the setting for part of the book.  There is an influx of Somalian refugees and the town is divided on their acceptance of these residents.

"About the Somalis, a few townspeople did not speak at all: They were to be born as one bore bad winters or the price of gasoline or a child who turned out badly.  Others were not so silent.  One woman wrote a letter that the newspaper published.  "I finally figured out what it is I don't like about the Somalis being here.  Their language is different and I don't like the sound of it.  I love the Maine accent."

The Burgess Boys, Bob and Jim had long ago left Shirley Falls for New York City- both involved in law.  So their experience was needed when their nephew, Zachary, still living in Shirley Falls, threw a pig's head into a mosque.  Zack was charged with a hate crime.

   I had great difficulty completing this novel.  I feel a connection to Elizabeth Strout because of her beautiful language.  But, this book just could not keep my attention.  There was not enough plot to push my way through, but I persevered.
   The infusion of immigrants could have had real relevance to our lives, but this book was totally lacking.
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------  "Olive Kitteridge" was obviously the best novel written by this author.  It won a Pulitzer Prize and was made into an HBO miniseries that won an Emmy.  But the last two books have been disappointing.

I have enjoyed Elizabeth Strout's writing in the past because
- her plots are linnear and easy to follow
- I enjoy the small town of Shirley Falls
- the writing is beautiful
- she writes about human nature

Amy and Isabelle               2003
Abide With Me                  2006
Olive Kitteridge                 2008
The Burgess Boys              2013
My Name is Lucy Barton  2016

I will continue to be a fan but hope that future books will return to the standard of the first ones.