Saturday, 29 April 2017

"Karolina's Twins" by Ronald Balson

   This book was recommended to me by a fellow reader that I met in a book club.  She thought I would love it.  Well, it is a powerful book and I found it overwhelmingly sad.  Of course, what book about the holocaust is not sad?
   And how are we affected because of the emotional space that we are in from our life or from our last book?
  I had just been reading "The Seven Sisters" novels that have fairy tale elements- large mansion, boats on Lake Geneva, fascinating sisters with a mysterious but wonderful father.  Pure fiction.   "The Storm Sister" had a story within it of a young girl on a farm in Norway, singing as she brought home the cows.  That really drew me in and I was fascinated with this character who became an opera singer.  So much spectacular scenery and music.  I was not emotionally prepared for the horrors of the holocaust.

  Lena Woodward, a wealthy elderly woman was haunted by her life in occupied Poland during W.W. II.  She had promised her childhood friend, Karolina, that some day she would find 2 sisters that were lost during the war.
  And so, Lena hired a private detective and lawyer in her search.  She needed the lawyer because her only son was trying to declare her incompetent so that she would not spend money on this search.
another cover for the book
  The novel began with Lena telling the lawyer of her life during the holocaust.  The details were horrendous and were described day after day.
  When the search for the girls got underway, I was more drawn in to the novel.  The first section was important to the story but told in a blunt way.

  Ronald Balson, the author, is himself a lawyer, practicing in Chicago.  His travels to Europe provided the motivation for his novels.  This novel is inspired by true events.  His other books are "Once We Were Brothers", "Saving Sophie", and "The Trust".

  Readers interested in the holocaust will appreciate this book.  There are twists to the story and the writing is so good, that it has taken me time to be able to write about the story.  I even had difficulty starting into another book.

  I would like to go back to the green hills of Norway with the young girl 'singing the cows home'.
  One thing my new reader friend did not know about me is that I have been known to enjoy living with my head in the sand.

Friday, 14 April 2017

The Storm Sister

  How delightful to settle in with another of Lucinda Riley's books on the Seven Sisters.  I really love her writing!
  I wrote about the first book here.  
  Pa Salt, living in luxury in Switzerland, adopted the girls from all over the world and named them after the stars in the constellation "Pleiades".
  The girls have the last name D'Apliese.  Change the letters around and you get "Pleiades".  One of the many mysteries about Pa Salt.  Apparently his name is also an anagram.  Can't figure that one out.
    Pa has died and each book begins with this sentence: 
"I will always remember exactly where I was and what I was doing when I heard that my father had died."
  Each book focusses on one of the sisters, telling about her relationship with Pa, and the information he left about her heritage.

Maia  followed the trail of clues to Brazil.  Her fascinating story was in book one.
Alcyone (Ally) finds her ancestors in Norway.  Book Two
Asterope (Star)  Book Three is being released this week.
Celaeno (CeCe)  Next year.
Taygete (Tiggy)  The Next year.
Electra  The next year.  A long wait, but so worthwhile.
Merope- actually there is no Merope- another mystery!
But this last book will reveal all the secrets of this unusual family.

  The books are long and filled with fascinating stories, that all intermingle.  I am loving this series.  It takes me on a wonderful journey.  I can wait and anticipate the next book.  However, I found this time that I had to look again at the first book to recall the intricacies of the plot.  I may have to buy the books, but they are only in hardcover at present.  If I wait until the end, they may release a lovely paperback version of the whole series. 

Monday, 10 April 2017

A Long Way Home

   "A Long Way Home" is a memoir written by Saroo Brierley.  It is a moving story of a five-year-old boy who is lost in India.
  I have been reading about the unbelievable number of children living on the streets in India- 400,000 was the number quoted.  Some children live there with their parents, some have escaped an abusive family.  Poverty and abuse are common in the big cities.
  Saroo was lost while out with his  older brother. He was five years old and his experiences on the street are hard to read.   
   But eventually he was adopted by a wonderful Australian couple. 
   I loved reading about this couple who chose not to have biological children, but instead to open their home to homeless children.  They prepared his bedroom with Indian artifacts and even fabric across the dresser from India.  Wonderful parents!
  At thirty, Saroo was able to discover his original family.  And so, he wrote his memoir.
  Hollywood came calling and changed a lot of things - the title for starters.  Saroo had discovered that his birth name was Sheru Munshi Khan and "Sheru" means "lion".  And now the book cover looks like this:
   I will admit that Dev Patel was very good in the movie, but this cover takes the focus off the little lost boy and puts it on Saroo's search for his home in India.  The strip across the face on the cover says, "The search begins".   Saroo used Google Earth for many months, searching for his home. Because he was so young when he left, he didn't know the real names for any of the cities and towns.  He claims it was like searching for a needle in a haystack.
  His search for his biological family was important to the story, but I hate this cover!
  Here is a worst cover!  What???
I am not a fan of movies, but this movie did inspire me to buy the book.  I should have read the library copy because I so dislike these new covers on the books, and that's all that you can buy now.
  The movie was nominated for six Academy Awards.  Nicole Kidman played the role of the adoptive mother.  That pleased me because Nicole Kidman had been Saroo's adoptive mother's favourite actress.  How exciting for Saroo's mother!  She deserved this thrill!  She is the hero in this story.

Friday, 7 April 2017

"They Left Us Everything" by Plum Johnson

   When Plum Johnson's mother died, she and her brothers were left with a 23-room house filled with 'STUFF' - rooms of old furniture, cupboards full of food, bins and bins of letters, documents, and diaries.
    What a great discussion this book evoked from our book club at the library.   Some of us were delighted by the idea of being left with so much of the previous generation.  Others were not so pleased.  I was horrified!
   This is a true story.  And Plum read all the letters, and diaries left by her mother.  AND, she related some of the contents of those personal writings in this book.  That was over the line for me.      When did diaries become public property?  It was bad enough that Plum read everything, but I was not pleased that she relayed parts of those writings for public scrutiny.   Horrors!

   This was the first cover of the book.  It certainly looks more old-fashioned.  I like the emphasis on the word 'EVERYTHING'.
  We were interested in discussing family relationships because everybody has family stories.  This book hit a nerve with many people.
  Mother-daughter relationships were mostly emphasized because it is usually the daughter that is caring for the elderly parents.  In this case, the father had died previously.
   The mother in this non-fiction book was most interesting.   When she was a young woman working in New York city, she sent her dirty laundry by train to her parents' home in Virginia for the servants to wash, iron and return (with a meal included).  The mother lived for a time in London, Hong Kong, Virginia and finally settled on the shores of Lake Ontario in this huge house, which was left to her children when she died at 93.
   This book has been very popular and here are two other covers for the book.
   I really love covers and I appreciate when the cover really captures the essence of the story.
  I don't understand the significance of the orange cover, but the bottom cover shows a line of bathing suits.  The mother of the family was very hospitable, inviting people to visit or even move in if they were in need.  The mother had a swimming pool built and kept a stock of bathing suits for visitors.

   This book, a memoir, won the RBS Taylor Prize in 2015.  The ceremony was in Toronto and the author received $25,000.00 along with the responsibility of mentoring a beginning writer.
  I was unfamiliar with this prize because I don't read much non-fiction.  But I was interested in reading the list of winners.  The prize was initiated in 2000 and the first winner was Wayne Johnston for his memoir "Baltimore's Mansion".  I loved that book!
  This prize is awarded for a non-fiction book that combines superb command of the English language, an elegance of style, and subtlety of thought and perception.  We all agreed that this book has all these elements.
  It was a great choice for a book club!

Monday, 3 April 2017

Canada Reads is over for another year

  Our Canada Read discussion group met for one final hurrah.  But it wasn't particularly joyful.  We generally agreed that this was not a good year for Canada Reads.  You can read about our discussion group here.
  The book selection was not great- no real winners for me.  The panel never seemed to gel.

   The 'reality show' aspect was bothersome to Chantal and also to us.  We realize that the program is meant for entertainment, and it would not get such a following if it was a 'literary discussion'.    
  However, when they vote the best book off first in order to give their book a better chance of winning, it loses credibility.
  The selection of books this year included a fable, two science-fiction, one non-fiction and one literary fiction.  The fable won.

Humble the Poet was supporting "Fifteen Dogs" and did a very good job, but I still don't understand the book.  So, for me, it is Canada re-reads because I will need to read it again to finally understand what it is about.  It certainly is not about dogs, but about human consciousness.